Palantíri - Jason Fisher

Comments by squire, December 18, 2006

A rather disorganized essay. Many of the basic "facts" about the palantiíri are here, but in no particularly logical or hierarchical order. Information from the Unfinished Tales essay imperceptibly blends into a recounting of the part the stones play in The Lord of the Rings, yet the two sources are quite separate, stylistically and authoritatively.

The palantíri are a classical fantasy device in LotR; in UT they become almost technological in their specifically defined modes of operation. An account of their mythological forbears and their birthing in the History of the Lord of the Rings might have been in order in this Encyclopedia entry. I would like to have learned whatever the experts have concluded were the roots of Tolkien's particular twist on the "crystal ball" of fortune-teller lore.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 16, 2007

“Some might argue their role was as important as that of the Silmarils, though more subtle and less dramatic.” Fisher concludes his introductory paragraph with this suggestion, which he presumably intends to support with the rest of his article.

Unfortunately, though Fisher goes on carefully to explain the fictional history and imagined properties of Tolkien’s seeing-stones, with information derived from LotR, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The Road Goes Ever On (the last work provides a good linguistic note), the comparison sits uneasily. This is partly because Fisher never defines his terms – are the Silmarils and palantíri being compared in the role of artifacts within the story, or plot devices, or significant symbols? – and partly because Fisher’s article is too constrained by a “Middle-earth studies” approach that doesn’t allow for the questions I just raised, leaving it just a superior entry in the manner of Foster’s Guide.


Paradise – Matthew Dickerson

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 16, 2007

Dickerson makes a useful distinction between a lost Edenic paradise and a heavenly paradise to come (Milton is never named, however) but makes no mention of medieval traditions that connect these ideas; two examples known to Tolkien should have been mentioned. 

First, there is the geography described by Dante, in which the original earthly paradise sits atop the mountain of Purgatory; from there souls rise to heaven, a situation that clearly parallels the fate in Tolkien’s mythology of mortal souls, who as Dickerson notes pass to the halls of Mandos in Valinor before leaving the world.

Second, there is the landscape of Pearl, in which the narrator glimpses heaven from an unnamed land; as Shippey has noted, this may represent the earthly paradise (see The Road to Middle-earth, 2003 ed., pp. 180 and 218-219).  By ignoring this reference, Dickerson also misses Shippey’s suggestion that Lothlórien may represent a glimpse of Paradise in LotR

Dickerson might additionally mention Cuivienen, the original lost Eden of the elves, as well as Tolkien’s vagueness about the first land of his Men.  On the other hand, Dickerson handles what material he does present on Valinor fairly well – although his assertion that Lórien is one of the two “most holy places” in Valinor is not supported by the text, as far as I know – and he also includes some discussion of Paradise as expressed in Smith of Wootton Major and Leaf by Niggle

I do wish he’d cited one or more of the four other authors listed in his bibliography.


Parodies - David Bratman

Comments by squire, January 3, 2007

This is a difficult topic since parodies generally exist below the radar of traditional bibliography. Bratman has accumulated and reviewed a noble number of references, both in book form and on the even more ephemeral internet. A bibliography of websites and publishers is sadly missing.

The article follows a more or less straight line, reviewing the suspects in chronological and format order. His terminology seems inexact: "serious pastiche" seems to become "comic pastiche" at one point, and "satire", "lampoon", and "parody" are interchanged with thesaurus-like ease ("Ai! A Thesaurus!"). His discussion of just why Tolkien's literary style is "resistant to comic parody" is tantalizingly unclear; he seems dangerously close to suggesting that Tolkien's prose is already a parody of its medieval and pulp-fiction sources!

One almost wishes for more humor in the article itself: a clever parody of Encyclopedia prose style would seem to have been within the topic's scope. Bratman seems not to have found particularly funny any of the parodies of Tolkien that he has so diligently unearthed. His conclusion, that "serious scholars" as well as "casual readers" are split between those who find Tolkien parodies funny and those who don't, seems curiously out of place unless it is self-referential.


Pearl: Edition by E.V. Gordon – Patricia Tubbs

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 24, 2007

Really a terrific essay. I had thought the topic, frankly, to be of only satellite importance to Tolkien studies, but Tubbs takes what little there is and makes more of it than one might have thought possible. I found her concluding paragraph to be particularly persuasive! The essay is packed with details throughout, all of them useful and interesting (to me, anyway), and Tubbs even comments on the value of the edition in the context of the profession of Middle English studies – a contextualization all too often missing from entries of this type.

One thing I found interesting was Tubbs’s observation that the edition was “the first in thirty-two years”. That long delay was obviously due to the edition’s multiple gestations, but what’s interesting to me is that, if Gordon and Tolkien had been able to publish it soon after they began it (say by 1926), their new edition would have come only about five years after the last (and which edition was that?). So, what led Gordon and Tolkien to think a new edition was needed at the time they began theirs? Or was it not needed, but prompted solely by the success of Sir Gawain?

One typographical error I noted in the text: stroÞemen should be stroþemen; it looks as though an upper-case thorn was substituted for the lower-case during page layout. The Further Reading is excellent. A few corrigenda for the See Also. For “Gordon, E.V.”, read “Gordon, E.V. (1896 – 1938)”; for “Middle English Vocabulary”, read “Middle English Vocabulary, A (1922)”; for “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo: Edited by Christopher Tolkien”, read “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo, Edited by Christopher Tolkien”; for “Wanderer”, read “Wanderer, The”.

Penance - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, May 2, 2007

Drout strikes a fine balance here between Catholic doctrine and literary theme. After establishing his terms (penance is not about punishment and suffering but rather the transformation of alienation into joy when reconciled with God after sinning), he picks three rather arbitrary examples of the "penitential motif" from Tolkien's fiction. His explication of each is crystal clear and quite satisfying.

Satisfying, but limited. The examples he gives don't really meet the condition he sets for them at the end: that the "underlying penitential motifs" are one of the reasons for the strong emotional reaction Tolkien arouses in his readers. Leaf by  Niggle's penance scene is certainly central to that short story; but Boromir's repentance for attacking Frodo, or the return of the Elves to Valinor at the end of the War of the Jewels, seem hardly large enough moments in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion to help explain these books' popularity.

Yet Drout is surely right that LotR, at least, is shot through at a satisfactorily deep level with penance. For better examples, I'd suggest that Aragorn's life's labor to "repair Isildur's fault"; the Elves' confession that making Rings of Power was an error; Faramir's misguided, almost suicidal effort to appease his father for the death of Boromir; even Gollum's struggle to redeem himself through service to Frodo, are all more comprehensive examples that show the power of Drout's thesis.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, July 9, 2007

I don’t agree with squire that the theme of penance need underlie a large section of narrative in order to have a powerful emotional effect.  The examples he suggests of Aragorn mending Isildur’s error, and the Elves repenting the creation of the Rings, seem to me less moving than Boromir’s death, and I like how Drout has identified the penitential structure of contrition, satisfaction, confession and absolution that supports that scene.

Another example of penance in LotR, less powerful but strikingly in line with the motifs Drout outlines, is Pippin’s confession after stealing the palantír, followed by Gandalf’s forgiveness.


Peoples of Middle-earth - David Bratman

Comments by squire, May 25, 2007

The Peoples of Middle-earth (HoME XII) is a bit of a dustbin, containing the LotR Appendices material, and all the fragmentary papers left over after eleven volumes of The History of Middle-earth had told the full story of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. Bratman limits himself to summing up the contents of this volume, which he does well, as always.  But he barely comments on the articles or the volume itself, either as a work of compilation or as the last of its series. It seems easy to guess that no other criticism has been specifically directed at this volume either, but as there is no 'Further Reading' list, we cannot be sure. The See also list could be much more complete, too.

This is the final volume of The History of Middle-earth. There is perhaps something to be said here about how Christopher Tolkien functioned as his father's executror/editor at the end of his task in 1996, compared to when he began, with the Silmarillion in 1973-77. One of Bratman's best points is that the choicest bits of Tolkien's late writings, that might properly have belonged in this last volume, were scavenged early on for The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales -- leaving Peoples bringing up the rear twenty years later with rather scanty highlights.

It might have been worth reviewing the question of why the LotR Appendices (begun in the 1940s during LotR's writing, but completed in the early 1950s for publication, after the late 1940s Silmarillion revisions that are covered in HoME X & XI) were separated from the four History of the Lord of the Rings volumes (VI-IX) that they properly belong to from a LotR reader's point of view. Attentive readers have discovered that some material excerpted in Unfinished Tales reappears in Peoples, complete; at the time of editing UT, it seems CT had a different perception of what rated publication.

Also of interest is the appearance of Pengoloð in writings from the 1950s when the Silmarillion was essentially finished, showing that Tolkien was still holding in his mind his old framing device of that Elvish scholar compiling the Quenta Silmarillion for transmission to later readers. And the last pieces mentioned, conspicuously called "Unfinished Tales", are the barely-begun "sequel" to The Lord of the Rings, and the tale of the first return of the Numenóreans to Middle-earth, and should have gotten at least some contextual commentary.


Phial - Jason Fisher

Comments by squire, April 12, 2007

For all its length, this article barely touches on the core issue - what is the meaning and the power of Galadriel's phial - before veering away again into less profitable speculations on the origins of the word or its occurrence in other literature. The key paragraph on the various critical interpretations that the phial has received is too short, too vague, and too unattributed, to satisfy.

Fisher's examples of interpretations ask more questions than they answer. One wonders what the relationship of the container to the contents is; why the phial gives off light when it does; and why the phial as a totem is compared to the Ring when its power is most useful against the darkness of Morgul or Shelob, rather than Sauron. The core relationship of the phial, between Water and Light, is central to Frodo and Sam's survival of their passage to Mount Doom, but where else in the legendarium is that particular relationship explicated?

Fisher's references to other authors' uses of "phial" or earlier versions of the word are impressive in their erudition - though he can only hint, rather than show, that Tolkien was aware of them. I would like to have learned what the relationship is between "phial" and "vial" (as suggested by Malory's "vyolle") in terms of why Tolkien chose to use the less common spelling; Fisher approaches this question with his note on the Victorian fairy-tale revival of "phial", but does not pursue it.

Over all, the coyness of his expression ("It seems reasonably likely", "I will close with a last reference", "it may be amusing to speculate", etc.) does not flatter his arguments. The 'Further Reading' list is intriguing; the See also is, so rarely, overly broad. How the articles on "Carolingians" or "Shakespeare" might advance a reader's understanding of the issues surrounding Galadriel's phial is quite unclear.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 3, 2008

A Google search reveals that Shakespeare did use the word “phial” in at least Richard II and Sonnet 6, though Fisher doesn’t mention this.  The See also reference to “Carolingians” is presumably due to Fisher’s discussion of Charlemagne and Roland.

There is one memorable analysis of Tolkien’s phial that Fisher never mentions, perhaps deliberately. Brenda Partridge, in “No Sex Please—We’re Hobbits”, feels that the phial, as used by the hobbits against Shelob, “represents a phallus more potent than their swords” and calls it a “superhuman, symbolic male organ” (p. 189-190 of J.R.R. Tolkien: This Far Land).  To that end, she makes much of Tolkien’s phrasing in Frodo’s encounter with Shelob: “Frodo’s hand wavered, and slowly the Phial drooped.”


Philately - Jeff Sypeck

Comments by squire, May 26, 2007

I have to say, I'm bowled over by the very concept of this article. Sypeck has conscientiously collected every instance of postal stamps that relate in some way to J. R. R. Tolkien, and pasted them down in his album, neatly and in order.

First, stamps as they appear in Tolkien's fiction: the anomalous postal service of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings (although strictly speaking, stamps are not mentioned!). Next, real-life postage stamps with Tolkien as their subject, in order of issue. Then, imaginary stamps made up by, first, Tolkien (in the Father Christmas letters) and later, by fans (and the Finnish region of Karelia). It all climaxes in a satisfyingly circular way with the magnificent collision of two mighty Fandoms: the revelation of, a massive fan-fiction-type creation entirely about the anomalous postal service of the Shire!

Is there any connection between all these bits of Tolkienian philately? Is there any meaning to it all? None that Sypeck offers, but we have to accept that that can hardly matter to those who love both stamps and Tolkien.


Philo-Semitism - Michael Coren

Comments by N. E. Brigand, December 5, 2006

Michael Coren's article on "Philo-Semitism" is poor and could be entirely cut, as all of its points are better made in three other entries. Coren is vague and includes no internal citation and no bibliography. He doesn't even address the concept of philo-semitism, which wikipedia defines as "an interest in or respect for the Jewish people, and the historical significance of Jewish culture" (a subject that receives better treatment in the entry for "Judaism"), instead devoting the entire article to a weak defense against unspecified charges of anti-Semitism (a subject that is handled better in the entries on "German Race Laws" and "Nazi Party").

 Two introductory paragraphs give only general and unsupported statements that anti-Semitism was "far from uncommon" in mid-20th Century England, that some writers of the time felt a "poignant ambivalence" (whatever that is) toward Jews, and that Tolkien's writing is not anti-Semitic. Here is what Coren writes to defend Tolkien from charges of anti-Semitism:

 - Although Tolkien said in a radio interview "that the Dwarves perhaps demonstrated certain Jewish qualities" (that's Coren -- there is no direct quotation of Tolkien or anyone else in the article), since Tolkien's Dwarves "were brave, loyal, tenacious, and tough", Tolkien could only have meant the comparison to be complimentary. No mention of the easy misreading of Tolkien's intent as comment on the stereotype of Jewish greed. No mention of Tolkien's observation that the Dwarves were like Jews in that they were a wandering people, often living as exiles in foreign cultures. 

- Tolkien's "conservative Catholicism" is assumed by some (who?) to imply anti-Semitism, but "This reveals a misunderstanding of conservative Catholicism and of anti-Semitism". No further explanation.

 - Tolkien "exhibited implicit support" for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War (no specifics of Tolkien's support -- see Letters) might imply anti-Semitism, but this was because of the Loyalist anti-Catholicism and didn't indicate a support for fascism and anyway, "anti-Semitism was largely irrelevant within the Spanish equation".

 - Tolkien was opposed to the Nazis before even some British leftist writers like Wells and Shaw, who "took far longer to publicly condemn Nazism than did Tolkien". No information about Tolkien's supposed "public" condemnation.

 - Asked by the potential German publisher of The Hobbit if he was Aryan, Tolkien replied with regret that he wasn't Jewish, that "the company would never be allowed to publish him", and that Germans were perverting "the genuine Nordic spirit". Coren fails to note that this letter was the version not sent to the publisher (it is believed that they got a letter in which he refused to declare his racial background), that the letter says nothing about withholding The Hobbit from the publisher (though that was the de facto result of the letter that was sent), and that Tolkien didn't use the word "Nordic", which he disliked.

 - Tolkien's friendship with C.S. Lewis soured because of Lewis's marriage to Joy Davidman, and some (who?) have attributed this to her being a convert from Judaism; rather it was her off-putting brashness: "Edith Tolkien certainly found her a difficult woman".  Coren fails to note Davidman's status as divorcee, the fact that Tolkien learned about the marriage secondhand, and the fact that Carpenter's biography says that Edith and Joy became friends when both were in the hospital at the same time.

Pilgrimage - Jared Lobdell

Comments by squire, June 11, 2007

After the first two sentences you can ignore the rest of this article. But then they don't make much sense either, except to suggest that despite Gandalf's identity as the "Grey Pilgrim", pilgrimage has little to do with The Lord of the Rings.

This is erudition gone mad. It will tell you nothing about the theme of pilgrimage either in Tolkien's fiction or in his scholarship; and I doubt it will tell you much about any other manifestation of pilgrimage in English literature either. Time after time, with Chaucer, Lydgate, Langland, Bunyan, Fenimore Cooper and the Gawain poet, Lobdell lays down the groundwork for some point to be learned from each new author that he produces out of his bag of references. At that moment, he immediately moves on to the next one, without actually saying anything about either pilgrimage or Tolkien.

For an example taken from Lobdell's concluding paragraph, I would be pleased if anyone would help me understand how Tolkien's commentary on the hunt in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where he notes the use of the word "quest" for the hounds' pursuit of three species of beasts, and then suggests the beasts are symbols for the three ages of Man, has anything to do with pilgrimage.

Like the article, the provision of meaningful 'Further Reading' and See also lists also seems to have been left as an exercise for the reader.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 3, 2008

Two further oddities in Lobdell’s article should be mentioned.  First, Lobdell gives a modern English translation of the 17th Century (modern) English of John Bunyan, but not of the 15th Century Middle English of John Lydgate.  Second, Lobdell claims that only in a passing comment in Farmer Giles of Ham does Tolkien ever mention in his fiction “the one indubitable quest of pastoral England that has endured to the present day, the hunt”.  But what of Oromë, or of the Wood-elves pursuing the deer in The Hobbit, or even of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli’s pursuit of the orcs across the plains of Rohan?


Pippin - Janet Brennan Croft

Comments by squire, November 22, 2006

A fine article. Quickly reviews Pippin's role in the plot of The Lord of the Rings, along with some biographical notes from the Appendices; then gives an accurate but (necessarily) confusing summary of his invention from The History of Middle-earth. The second half of the article -- how refreshing to see a well-proportioned word count -- discusses Pippin critically as a literary character and the uses Tolkien makes of him in the story.

The only thing I miss is a little treatment of the Tooks and their importance to the Bagginses in The Hobbit and their impact on Shire culture in LotR. The irony of the inexperienced young Pippin in contrast to his eminent family plays strongly at the beginning and end of LotR. But these are quibbles.


Plants - Patrick Curry

Comments by N.E. Brigand, May 27, 2007

Curry opens with a Tolkien quote that also appears in the first paragraph of Matthew Dickerson’s entry on “Trees”, concerning their “maltreatment” by humankind.  How were the two articles, both of which appear under “Themes and Thematic Elements” in the encyclopedia’s subject index, meant to differ?  Though Curry quickly explains that trees “were not the sole objects of Tolkien’s attention and affection” for plants, he still devotes one of his six paragraphs to the mallorn tree. 

The rest of his article barely extends beyond mere description of Tolkien’s invented niphredil, lebrethon, simbelmynë, elanor and athelas.  Curry notes a possible real-world source for the elanor, but has nothing to say on the literary purpose and effect of Tolkien’s plants.

With a tight word count, Curry can be forgiven for claiming that mallorn trees are found only in Lothlórien (plus one in the Shire), which is true in The Lord of the Rings though emended in Unfinished Tales to include their presence in Númenor and Aman.  But he’s wrong to say that Númenóreans brought athelas to Middle-earth “at the beginning of the Second Age”: 700 years would pass before they could manage that journey.


Plato - Gergely Nagy

Comments by squire, June 6, 2007

This is a bit of a grab-bag. Nagy knows his Plato, certainly more than I do at least, and shows impressive resonances between Plato's and Tolkien's understanding of the power of literary mythmaking. Unfortunately, Nagy admits this does not constitute "influence", which weakens the effect somewhat. Still, Plato is Plato and as with similar articles on Dante and Shakespeare, it was interesting and valuable enough for me at least just to get a feeling for how Tolkien resonated with one of the philosophical and literary keynotes of Western culture.

Nagy also offers some more distinct examples of Platonic and Neoplatonic images and metaphors that might relate to Tolkien's fiction, such as a ring of invisibility and the idea of light as the prime creative force; but even as he does so he seems to concede that these are commonplace archetypes, even if Plato did do them first.

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 6, 2007

Another door Nagy could have opened, admitting a narrow shaft of Platonic light into his discussion, is the fact that C.S. Lewis was a dyed in the wool Neoplatonist. It’s quite likely he would have brought Plato (among other Classical sources) into the circle of the Inklings on a fairly regular basis.

Additionally, the 'Further Reading' looks good at a glance but could have gone still further. I could suggest adding (and this is just a sampling of what a quick search turned up, and in addition to references to Plato in other full-length studies of Tolkien – e.g., Flieger's Splintered Light):

Christopher, Joe R. “The Memory of a Sunken Land: Numenor as Atlantis.” Appendix U, June, 6-9.

Joeckel, Samuel T. “Search of Narnia on a Platonic Map of Progressive Cognition.” Mythlore 22.1 (83) (1997): 8-11.

Rose, Mary Carman. “The Christian Platonism of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.” Neoplatonism and Christian Thought. Ed. Dominic J. O'Meara. Norfolk: International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, 1981. 203-12.

The See also could have profited by “Caves and Mines”, “Sauron Defeated”, and (to judge from the Encyclopedia’s Index) “Music in Middle-earth”.


Poems by Tolkien in Other Languages - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, February 16, 2007

It's very hard not to praise this article, as it displays Shippey's usual mastery of his subject. What's not to praise is the lamentable fragmentation of the "Poems by Tolkien" topic into six separate articles, and the inevitable confusion and overlap that results.

In the case of this article, the sub-topic seems pretty distinct, being Tolkien's poetry in languages other than English... and Elvish (why? is Elvish not "another language"?). Still, Tolkien's creativity is not so easily compartmentalized, and Shippey runs up against this fact in his discussion of The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers, where poems in Old English appear side by side with their equivalents in Modern English - the former are the subject of this article, and the latter are not, yet they were written at the same time on the same subject by Tolkien and surely deserve consideration in the same article. The Modern English versions are covered in "Poems by Tolkien: The History of Middle-earth".

Encyclopedia politics aside, Shippey takes as his theme the urge of poetic philologists like Tolkien to write "asterisk-poems", poems that represent imagined ancestors in Old or Middle English of present day English poems, in imitation of the plausible "asterisk-words" that philologists invent to give ancestry to a modern-day descendant vocabulary. He does not, unfortunately, offer an opinion on the artistic quality of the results.

A side note: Shippey, as should be expected, comes through with a gloss on Tolkien's poem Bagme Bloma, which was written in an imagined Gothic, that exposes the poverty of understanding of the same verse by the contributor of the "Gothic Language" article.

It is utterly tantalizing that in closing, Shippey tells us there is purportedly a poem by Tolkien in Old Norse, the "New Lay of the Volsungs", that has not yet been published!

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 27, 2007

It is utterly tantalizing that in closing, Shippey tells us there is purportedly a poem by Tolkien in Old Norse, the "New Lay of the Volsungs", that has not yet been published!
This sounds similar but not identical to what Shippey says in Tolkien and Iceland: The Philology of Envy:
There is, for instance, a well-known gap in the Codex Regius manuscript of the Poetic Edda, where some eight pages of the Sigurðr cycle are missing. But Tolkien wrote two poems to fill this gap, in Old Norse, in the appropriate meter, which are called, we believe, Sigurðarkvida hin nyja and Guðrunarkviða hin nyja. Unfortunately these remain unprinted. (emphasis mine)
It's a little strange to see these differences in the details between two Shippey essays.
I found it surprising that Shippey, despite a complete-sounding inventory ("eleven poems by Tolkien, and five fragments, survive ..."), failed to mention the complete (if short) Old English poem at the end of Tolkien's Obituary for Henry Bradley (q.v. in the Encyclopedia).

Poems by Tolkien: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, February 16, 2007

In the saga of the six "Poems by Tolkien..." entries, things start to get a little gnarly here. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is the only book by Tolkien that is purely an anthology of his poetry, and it is covered exactly by two different Encyclopedia articles, one under the theme of his poems, and one under the theme of his published books. Needless to say, it ought to have been possible to avoid this  total overlap of Encyclopedia topics, and David Bratman's outraged rant is in this case certainly justified.

That said, Shippey wins the contest, with this article giving a more nuanced and informed commentary on the sixteen poems of the anthology. His attention to the origins and publication history of each poem tend to outweigh his summary and evaluation of the verse. Tolkien himself was both vain and defensive about the quality of his poetry, and his sensitivity about publishing a volume of light verse is documented in Letters. It would have been worth while, I think, for Shippey to have offered a bit more critical opinion on the quality and art of the poems.

I was annoyed that Shippey neglects to mention that Errantry and Song of Eärendil have more in common than their meter, being the beginning and end of a remarkable poetic evolution from the Nursery to the Hall of Fire, but I was slightly consoled by the complete cross-reference at the end of his article. There he tells us where in the collected Tolkieniana additional information may be found about Errantry and the other poems of complex ancestry.

Would this be the wrong place to note that Paul Kocher gives in his book a complete commentary on the poems of Adventures, that inexplicably does not make it into Shippey's 'Further Reading' list?

As a final note for the Department of Redundancy Department, many of the poems in Adventures were re-worked by Tolkien from earlier versions published in obscure university journals. Those earlier versions are, surprise! covered by Shippey not here but in his companion article, "Poems by Tolkien: Uncollected" -- except for those that are covered by another contributor in the "Poems by Tolkien: The History of Middle-earth."


Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 3, 2008

“The truth is”, Shippey writes, “that Tolkien had written all these poems” before undertaking The Lord of the Rings, but this is not quite true of “Bombadil Goes Boating”, whose twenty-line antecedent from the mid-1930s, as printed on pp. 115-16 of The Return of the Shadow, is very far from the finished poem, which is eight times as long.  And it is certainly not true of “Cat”, which was written in 1956, as Shippey himself notes.


Poems by Tolkien: The History of Middle-earth - Reno E. Lauro

Comments by squire, February 17, 2007

This is kind of a portmanteau article. The 12-volume HoME covers Tolkien's life-long creative output in prose and poetry, and there can be no real thematic unity to any article that attempts to review all the poems in it. And in fact the 3-1/2 volume HoME subseries The History of the Lord of the Rings, with its extensive discussions of the early drafts of the poems that appear in LotR, is not included here. This article really just covers HoME Vols. 1 & 2, a small part of 3, all of 4 & 5, and the second half of 9. A better title might have been "Poems by Tolkien: The Silmarillion and Númenórean Legends".

But Lauro's coverage and commentary on the poems that did stay in his brief is very good, and in fact the first section, covering the poems in the Book of Lost Tales volumes, is the best part, suffering only from an overemphasis on dates and biographical background. After that things deteriorate rather quickly, swirling into the encyclopedic whirlpool.

Volume 3 of HoME, The Lays of Beleriand, contains nothing but poetic renderings of the Silmarillion stories, and Lauro struggles to avoid the trap that befell the doubled-up contributors on The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. He succeeds, by covering only the shorter poems from that volume which were in fact ignored in the Encyclopedia article on Lays. Ironically, neither contributor directs their readers to the companion article to get a complete picture of the contents of that uniquely poetic HoME volume, although Lauro at least assures us that such an article exists.

What's most obviously missing overall is some kind of expansion and commentary on his meaningful opening sentence: on how to a remarkable degree the Silmarillion mythos was originally conceived of as deeply intertwined cycles of poetry and prose, but was published in the end with almost no poetry in it at all. Such a discussion would have to treat with the artistic quality and tone of Tolkien's Silmarillion poems as they relate to the author's life-long literary growth and his ever-changing outlook on what the Silmarillion was meant to be. This discussion, which is actually fundamental to a consideration of all his lyric and narrative poetry, is absent not just here but in all the articles on this topic.

A fascinating and relevant article on this problem is unaccountably omitted from the 'Further Reading' list: Nagy's "The Adapted Text: The Lost Poetry of Beleriand" in Tolkien Studies I. Other missing references that come quickly to mind are Wynne and Hofstetter's "Three Elvish Verse Modes" and Christopher's "Tolkien's Lyric Poetry", both in Tolkien's Legendarium, that indispensable commentary on HoME.


Poems by Tolkien: The Hobbit - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, February 17, 2007

Flieger strikes a perfect balance between a laundry list of the poems in The Hobbit, a review of what they have in common (a sense of orality and easy rhyming for reading aloud to children), and an in-depth analysis of each one's poetic and artistic qualities and its contribution to the story.

There is a proper effort to relate his poesy here with that of his larger works; Flieger addresses the lack of one of his favorite modes, alliterative verse, and how "The Road Goes Ever On and On" became the link between Bilbo's and Frodo's stories. She does not, however, comment on the "Tom Bombadil" moment of The Hobbit: the "Tra Lally!" verses of the Elves of Rivendell, which make their subsequent connection to the Elven folk of LotR and The Silmarillion rather difficult to believe.

I also think  the Dwarves' "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold" and "The Wind Was On the Withered Heath" are superior poems to the rest, and should be compared to the Lay of Leithian and Gimli's song in Moria as studies of how when Tolkien was telling effective and atmospheric stories using rhymed verses, the distinction between Elvish and Dwarvish sensibility seems to disappear.

A lack of references and 'Further Reading' is noticeable and regrettable, as Flieger usually provides these.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 3, 2008

Flieger writes of “Far over the misty mountains cold”, the dwarves’ lament for the lost treasure of Erebor, that readers “may suppose this to be a song passed from generation to generation for centuries”.  Except, of course, that it has only been 120 years, less than half the normal dwarf lifespan, since the mountain was sacked, an event that some of these dwarves personally witnessed.


Poems by Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, February 18, 2007

What a tour de force, for Flieger to survey and comment upon each of the 75-odd poems embedded in the prose epic The Lord of the Rings. Her comments vary (almost randomly) from a mere record of meter or subject matter, to an informed review of sources or an incisive take on how the poem serves the story. As always, Flieger's seemingly casual insights, such as the glimpse of Shakespeare in Bilbo or the comment about Gollum qua poet, are alone worth the price of reading this very long article.

However, there seems to be a sense of her treading water in places. For instance, the repeated emphasis on the numeric count or differing authorship of the poems in each book, that doesn't seem to go anywhere; the throwing up of hands when looking for something to say, for instance on "Through Rohan over fen and field", "Gondor! Gondor!" or "In Dwimordene"; the noticeably livelier tone when discussing the Anglo-Saxon inspired alliterative verses (reflecting Flieger's academic expertise), and the sudden and slightly trite ending, are all signs of over-hasty composition, perhaps.

I'm utterly baffled by her take on "Over the LAND there LIES a long SHAdow" ('having neither rhyme nor meter, without verse best defines the form...the least traditional and most modern'). I've always thought this darkly mystic prophecy was strongly alliterative with a loose but distinct four-beat rhythm. And she inexplicably ignores the quote from the Elvish Lay of Leithian in Gimli's "The world was young", wrongly treating it as an entirely "Dwarvish" composition. I wonder if she omitted Gilraen's short linnod by choice or oversight, since it is found in the Appendices.

Overall, there is the question of priorities. This article is twice as long as the Encyclopedia article on The Lord of the Rings itself. Although that is really an argument for a much longer and more comprehensive article on LotR than was provided, still it is possible to imagine the review here of the individual verses being shortened or grouped by class. That would have allowed more space at the end for a discussion of the big picture: why and how Tolkien has so many poems in this book compared to his other works, his own opinion of them, their effect on the reader, their quality when considered independently as poems, and whether their insertion in some places but omission in others follows any plan on the author's part.

Flieger gives a good 'Further Reading' list, although only one (Russom) seems to be an actual critical consideration of the poems themselves. Has Tolkien's verse really received so little attention from his students?


Poems by Tolkien: Uncollected - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, February 18, 2007

A reader interested in Tolkien's poetry who has gotten through the preceding five articles may well feel some fatigue at facing this last one, a self-described scrabble through the "remainders". Shippey does his best, of course, but really there is no subject here. For one thing, the poems differ wildly in date, subject, theme and mode. Then we find that "Uncollected" does not mean "unpublished" -- many of the poems described seem to appear somewhere in the vast corpus of Tolkien scholarship; the rest of course do remain almost inaccessible in various archives. Shippey does not discuss why some but not others of these lesser ephemera of Tolkien's have been rescued from oblivion, nor whether they should have been. 

I found his reference to "Once Upon a Time", a third Bombadil poem I had never heard of, intriguing. Unfortunately he does not cite which anthology carries it; and a quick pageflip to the "Tom Bombadil" and "Goldberry" articles got me nowhere, since neither one mentions or cites any of the Bombadil poems at all. *scratches head*

There is, for one last time, quite a bit of overlap, either literally or thematically, with poems that have been discussed in the other "Poems by Tolkien..." articles. Yet some are still missing. Had Shippey skipped his paragraph on Imram, which is covered (with a different emphasis, to be sure) in "Poems by Tolkien: HoME", he might have found room for "Wilt thou learn the lore that was long secret", the alliterative fragment from "The Istari" in Unfinished Tales. He might at least have offered the reader a link to the article on "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son", which is as much a poem by Tolkien as anything else treated in the "Poems by..." articles, but which for some reason is never mentioned therein; likewise with "Mythopoeia", another Tolkien poem which gets its own article and so is seemingly erased from consideration or even cross-reference here.

Shippey includes "Rhyme Schemes and Meter" in his See also list. That article never made it to publication, perhaps being replaced by "Alliteration" (which itself refers to an also non-existent "Rhyme Schemes and Alliteration"!).

A final note on the Encyclopedia's treatment of Tolkien's poems: I believe the entire subject  of "Poems by Tolkien" was originally assigned to one contributor, who proved unequal to the task. In a last-minute rush the topic was divided up into six articles and handed out to the three valiant contributors I've just reviewed. While the idea of considering the poems of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in dedicated articles makes sense and worked out in the end, the other four sub-topics lent themselves to a lot of overlap and confusion. I think a thematic (epic, lyric, and comic) or topical (Silmarillion legends, derived from Tolkien's professional work, and personal interests) organization might have allowed contributors to cover more coherently the lifelong interweavings and recyclings of Tolkien's fertile but economical poetic imagination.

P.S. As per my comment on the relative length of the articles on LotR and LotR's poems (1:2), it is worth noting that the Encyclopedia allots about 23,000 words to 13 articles on Tolkien's poems, and 30,000 words to 23 articles on Tolkien's prose fiction. (This counts HoME 3 and Homecoming... as poetry.) Whether this was an appropriate division of resources I leave to better judges of the worth of Tolkien's writings than I.

Comments by squire, July 23, 2007

It was recently brought to my attention that Tolkien left a small body of comic contemporary verse relating to the Inklings, which gets no mention in this article (or any of the others except a brief quote in "Williams, Charles"), though it has actually seen publication or gotten critical attention. I am mostly referring to the satirical tribute "A Closed Letter to...Charles Williams", kind of an evil twin to "Mythopoeia", which is printed in full in Carpenter's The Inklings. Also, there are extant examples of Tolkien's silly but clever clerihews, as discussed in a 1992 article by Joe Christopher. It is a downright shame that these did not rate a mention in this article, even if they are not "literary" in their aspiration.

If we are allowed to peek at the new Hammond & Scull collation, we will find in "Poetry by J. R. R. Tolkien" (Vol. I), about 40 "unpublished" poems listed. Shippey's commission here, of course, was "published but uncollected"; but perhaps some acknowledgement should have been made that there remain quite a few Tolkien poems, of whatever quality, for some future scholar to anthologize.


Poland: Reception of Tolkien - Marcin Morawski

Comments by squire, June 18, 2007

I would say this is worth it for the bibliography alone, a fascinating list of Tolkien scholarship, mostly in Polish, of course. But the flavor is authentic, and gives a good idea of the range of subjects that Tolkienists in Poland have been writing about, since at least 1971.

Much of the article itself is, as so often, a recital of the history of the various translations and an identification of the leading fan organizations and activities; what's interesting there is the mention of conventions and festivals as well as the usual sites and 'zines. The paragraph on Tolkien scholarship is not always found in the "Reception of..." series, and is very welcome.

I'm probably repeating myself, but I wish Morawski had attempted to capture the "national spirit" by which the Poles take their Tolkien. He makes it clear that Tolkien has been embraced in Poland. Why? Is there any intersection with Polish folk traditions in Tolkien's adapted mythology, or do his linguistic constructions translate well into Slavic idiom? Why was Poland the first Communist bloc (not "block", by the way) country to translate Tolkien, and what were the censor's objections? And who, if known, is the readership of Tolkien's translations; and what, if any, Polish tradition of Tolkien-style epic fantasy fiction has arisen in his wake, as in English-speaking countries?


Politics - Hal G. P. Colebatch

Comments by squire, February 14, 2007

Buried in this rambling thing are the bones of a good article on Politics in Tolkien. Part of the problem is that it is unclear if the topic is Tolkien's politics as personally held by him, or the politics that he devised for his imaginative fiction. Another part of the problem is the lack of some kind of coherent theory of what "politics" is, against which to judge Tolkien's versions of it; Colebatch tries to distinguish between "power politics" within a society, and the "metapolitics" of competing ideologies, but it's unclear if this is the best way to analyze the problem of Sauron, for instance.

It is very annoying in a serious critical essay about Tolkien to have to read about how Peter Jackson did it in the New Line films; and as for Darth Vader's unexpected (and predictably banal) appearance, the less said the better. I'll conclude with my broken record of complaint that Colebatch gives only his own critical take on the subject, and then cites only his own book (which at least explains Lord Vader's cameo).


Popular Music - Anthony Burdge and Jessica Burke

Comments by squire, April 1, 2007

Heavy going. Burdge and Burke's style is weighted down with cliché, vapid sentimentality, inexact critical vocabulary, and infelicitous if not actually  ungrammatical expression.

They do, however, give an extensive and broad review of musical compositions influenced by or based on Tolkien's works, from the 1960s to the present. I'm unfamiliar with most of it, so I feel I learned quite a lot. On the other hand, their characterization of Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings Symphony" has enough factual errors (e.g., it is an originally arranged suite from the movie scores, not "excerpts"; it is played by local symphonies worldwide, not the "Howard Shore Symphony") that I must take the rest of their specifics with a little salt.

The critical characterizations here seem mostly to be Burdge and Burke's, or undocumented hearsay, and they are almost uniformly (and breathily) positive. The only exceptions seem to be Howard Shore's film score symphony, and Leonard Nimoy's performance of "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins". I would like to have to read more incisive and penetrating criticism of all this music, from the perspective of  popular culture rather than fan culture; or is Tolkien-inspired music only meaningful to Tolkien fans?

This conundrum, also raised by Lobdell in his article "Criticism of Tolkien, Twentieth Century", raises the still-unanswered question of whether Tolkien's place in modern culture is that of a widely accessible work of art, or of a pop fantasy series with a cult of slightly-crazed fans (and fan-musicians, in this case). This question seems not to have occurred at all to Burdge and Burke.

Although the 'Further Reading' does give two valuable-looking websites on Tolkien-inspired music, a discography would have been even more useful.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 3, 2008

The article is incorrectly titled: it should be “Music Inspired by Tolkien”, since some of the music here is “popular” neither in reception nor in genre, as for example Johan de Meij’s Symphony No. 1 “The Lord of the Rings” (twice incorrectly referred to as “the de Meij Symphony”, though de Meij has written two others) and the Hobbit Overture of Carey Blyton (who was, incidentally, not a “her”).  Notably absent here is Aulis Sallinen, one of the most esteemed of living composers, whose Hobbit ballet is mentioned in the article on “Finland: Reception of Tolkien”.  (And neither article refers, etc.)  Speaking of Sallinen, one of his major works is an opera based on the Kalevala, which raises the question of how music inspired by Tolkien’s work compares to other adaptations.  As noted in “The Road Goes Ever On” article, Donald Swann made an opera from C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra; likewise, Tolkien’s admirer, W.H. Auden, was the inspiration for Leonard Bernstein’s second symphony, sparked by Auden’s long alliterative poem, The Age of Anxiety.

When Burdge and Burke parenthetically cite Letter #131, they would have done better to use their own words or to quote Tolkien, rather than to closely paraphrase him, as when his “other minds and hands” becomes “different hands and minds”.  They suggest that Leonard Nimoy is only “perhaps” best known for playing Spock.  And Peter Jackson’s films, we are told, “reacquainted” Tolkien fans with Christopher Lee – are Tolkien’s readers known particularly as fans of Hammer horror?


Possessiveness – David Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, January 24, 2008

I like Oberhelman’s use of “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun”, an overlooked work if ever there were one. He might also have turned to Tolkien’s poem “The Hoard” (incorporated into the sphere of Middle-earth with The Adventures of Tom Bombadil from an earlier version, “Iúmonna Gold Galdre Bewunden”, published in 1923).

Overall, the discussion is adequate – at its best where it approaches the thornier matters of how the desires to create and to possess can intersect. It is weaker in all but ignoring temptation, the handmaiden of possessiveness. Oberhelman touches on Sméagol but omits Déagol. And going further, he might have made good antipodal use of the examples of Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, for instance. Returning to The Silmarillion, where Oberhelman enumerates the obvious cases, he misses an important one: the Númenóreans’ possessiveness of life and their temptation by Sauron. And outside of Middle-earth, Smith of Wootton Major provides another instructive example.

In general, then, I would have preferred Oberhelman to venture beyond the usual suspects; however, his allotted space may have made this difficult or impossible. Like the body, the 'Further Reading' feels a little thinner than usual for Oberhelman’s entries.


Power in Tolkien's Works - Robert Eaglestone

Comments by squire, April 13, 2007

Eaglestone seems to be overwhelmed by the problem of what power is in a body of work as morally sophisticated as Tolkien's. After briefly considering the powers of rank, talent, and character, he quickly grasps at the power of knowledge, as explicated by Foucault and related to Tolkien originally by Chance, and he spends the rest of the article developing that idea at tedious length with scant or simplistic references to The Lord of the Rings.

Meanwhile, the clumsily formed rhetorical question in his opening paragraph ("apart from making one invisible, what does the Ring actually do to convey its terrible power?") is never answered, yet as one of the central metaphors of the book, the nature of the Rings of Power should surely have been one of Eaglestone's primary topics.

It goes without saying that an article with the phrase "in Tolkien's works" in its title should not limit itself to The Lord of the Rings. One of the most interesting "arcs" in Tolkien's legendarium, that he recognized only in retrospect when LotR had been crafted on the foundation of the Silmarillion, is the theme that Evil, taking form as the power to compel, dominate and possess, cannot be combated by Good using equivalent power without that Good becoming Evil as a result. So we see the Valar successfully fight Sauron in the Third Age with messengers (the Istari) who forswear power as a weapon, in contrast to their violent interventions or disastrous abstentions against Morgoth in the First Age. Other instances of power defeating itself can be found in The Hobbit and even in Farmer Giles of Ham.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 3, 2008

One of many possible approaches to Tolkien’s use of power that Eaglestone leaves unexamined is Tom Shippey's attempt, in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (p. 115), to show how Tolkien connects to modern and medieval ideas about power.  Shippey contrasts Lord Acton’s 1887 maxim, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, to medieval views, as given in an Old English proverb that he translates as “A man does as he is when he can do what he wants”.


Prehistory: "Cavemen" - John Walsh

Comments by squire, December 4, 2006

It's very hard to tell what this article is about. The first section reviews the "cavemen" that Tolkien added to his Father Christmas stories, then peters out with an timid suggestion that this somehow connects to his Middle-earth legends.

The second half of the article discusses how England lacks a robust native mythology, hence has no mythological "pre-history" the way that Greece and Rome do. The prose meanders, slows, and fizzles to a stop at this point, with some confusing statements about hobbits (who are not the "focus" of Tolkien's First Age pre-history) and a muddling of the concepts of history, legend and pre-history.

The copy-editing is very sloppy at points, too. All in all, an uninformative and unjustified waste of a column of an Encyclopedia page.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 2, 2007

This is a strange article, from the divided title on.  Walsh attempts to encompass the caveman paintings of the Father Christmas Letters, the founding legends of Rome, early English writings, and the creation of the world as related in the Ainulindalë under the heading “prehistory”. That term is not normally applied to periods for which there are written records; but in any case, the Middle English Ancrene Wisse simply doesn’t belong here.

Walsh does note that, because Tolkien’s stories relate events dating to before the creation of the universe, there is arguably no true prehistory in his imagined world.  But Walsh fails to note how Tolkien left deliberate gaps in his history and how he struggled in his “Silmarillion” manuscripts with a presentation that would impart a legendary aspect to his stories of the eldest days. Tolkien meant to cast doubt on their status as what Walsh calls “a cohesive and complete chronicle of history for Middle-earth”. 

Tolkien’s late attempts to radically rework the shape of his world also could have been mentioned. 

Finally, when Tolkien was asked if the Fell Beast of the Witch-king, described in LotR as a “creature from an older world”, was a pterodactyl, he replied in Letter #211 with reference to “older geological eras” and “the new and fascinating semi-scientific mythology of the ‘Prehistoric’”.


Pride - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, June 10, 2007

Evans does a basically sound job with a large subject. As he says in his opening, Pride is the first of the deadly sins, and is also one of the major themes of Tolkien's fiction. The structure here is clear and sensible: first the classical, biblical and medieval readings; then Tolkien's scholarship on the the Germanic variety of the subject , The Battle of Maldon's 'ofermod' and Beowulf's 'oferhyda'; and finally the instances of fatal pride that destroy the various anti-heroes in Tolkien's legendarium, specifically Thorin, Fëanor, Ar-Pharazôn, Boromir and Denethor, and finally Túrin.

Had he devoted a little less room to reviewing the philosophical sources, perhaps Evans might have made a clearer distinction between Tolkien's presentation of pride (honest self-regard) and "overweening pride" (excessive self-regard). There is a hint of this when he notes that "Germanic heroic literature valued boasts of prowess in battle..." but he does not follow it up. If the medieval Christians purported to value actual humility as Jesus taught them to, the pagan Germans would not stoop to that, and I think that fascinated Tolkien when he began to write his heroic mythology.

The resulting tension is far more interesting than that between Christianity's sinners and saints: when is pride too much pride? Isn't Aragorn proud when he declares his titles to Éomer? Isn't Beren proud when he claims Lúthien's love and boasts of his ancestors' deeds? Isn't Bilbo proud when he defeats the spiders or whips the dwarves into shape during the escape from the Wood-elves?  What saves these heroes from their pride? And as for poor Túrin: the drama in his character is that occasionally he does master his pride, or at least tempers it with pity, so that it is never clear to what degree his tragic life is his own fault, or the fault of the curse of Morgoth that lies on him.

Some critical analysis along these lines, perhaps, might have supplemented Evans's well-presented series of character plot-summaries that illustrate the most egregious cases of fatal pride in Tolkien's fiction. Evans does provide a valuable 'Further Reading' list, and a really comprehensive See also reference.


Prophecy – Julaire Andelin

Comments by Jason Fisher, August 31, 2007

This short entry fails to offer any real discussion or analysis, and instead opts for a mere “term paper” approach to the subject. Story elements are recapitulated with little or no comment, and no firm conclusions or connections are drawn. What is missing is an exploration of the relationship between prophecy and fate / providence, with perhaps a nod to its antipodal force of chance / luck. Why and how does Tolkien employ prophecy as a narrative element? What is the importance of Mandos’s function as the Oracle of Valinor? And what about other mythological counterparts on which Tolkien may have drawn? Andelin mentions only (and only parenthetically, as it were) Merlin and the Oracle at Delphi, the weakest of examples. What about the tradition of the Sybil? What about Cassandra? What about the Seeress of the Völuspá – called a völva or vala in Old Norse, and surely prefiguring the specialized foreknowledge of Tolkien’s own Valar? What about Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters on whose similar prophecy Glorfindel’s is based (where wyrd refers, again, to Fate)? I wish the entry been less a summary of story points, and more a theoretical and analytical investigation.

Unfortunately, Andelin also confuses the noun (“prophecy”) with the verb (“prophesy”) at several points in the essay. And isn’t there a fine distinction to be drawn between prophecy – foretelling the future through apparently divine inspiration – and a mere prediction, foreboding, or hunch, as astute as these may be? I would like to have seen Andelin probe the differences further instead of jumbling them all together. Or failing that, to limit herself to a discussion of bona fide prophecy, omitting those lesser examples. And why does Andelin call the Dagor Dagorath prophecy a “special instance”? What makes it any more “special” than Mandos’s prophecy on the exile of the Noldor?

Throughout, nothing is said of any critical scholarship on the subject. Isn’t there any? Sadly, the 'Further Reading' points only to Shippey’s Road to Middle-earth. The See also is not bad, but I would add “Dreams”, “Fortune and Fate”, “Riddles”, “Valar”, “Old Norse Literature” and “Greek Gods” (this being the nearest the Encyclopedia has to a more generalized entry on Greek Mythology); But I’m not sure why “Finland: Literary Sources” or “On Fairy-Stories” is here.


Prose Style - Allan Turner

Comments by squire, March 11, 2007

First class. Turner hits all the right notes on this subject which is a particular favorite of mine.

I especially appreciated the inclusion of Letter 171, where Tolkien shows just how aware he was of the accusations that LotR was in too 'archaic' a style. Turner cites his own work, but hardly showcases it, since he also very properly cites Drout, Rosebury and Nagy not to mention the inevitable Shippey. Turner's work's absence from every Tolkien bibliography I've collected just goes to show that a good 'Further Reading' list remains probably the single most valuable aspect of a first class Encyclopedia article.


Pseudonym: Bagpuize, K. - Lisa L. Spangenberg

Comments by N.E. Brigand, March 18, 2007

In one of the encyclopedia’s shortest entries (158 words) Spangenberg squeezes in much good information about her actual subject, Tolkien’s poem, “Progress in Bimble Town”, which he published under the pseudonym.  But why does this poem get its own entry?  And why under this title?  Spangenberg identifies the source of the name “K. Bagpuize”, but doesn’t say why Tolkien chose it, nor if his choice has any literary connection to his study and creation of names in his scholarship and fiction.


Publications, Posthumous - David Bratman

Comments by squire, May 13, 2007

This is as fine a summary of the subject as one could wish for, and Bratman sensibly reminds his readers to look up any of the works mentioned under their own articles for more information. This advice only works some of the time, and either Bratman or the editors should have provided a comprehensive See also that would direct one to the works as they are variously titled in the Encyclopedia, or to the more obscure pieces without articles like "Bilbo's Last Song" or "Vinyar Tengwar" and the other linguistic publications. One other relatively inconsequential quirk: why is this article included in the thematic category "Scholarship by Tolkien: Medieval Literature"?

Bratman's introduction nicely explains the phenomenon of Tolkien's huge posthumous catalog. He credits Christopher Tolkien for editing and publishing the additional fictional material from the legendarium. I wish there was a little more similar information on just who has been behind the scholarly, juvenile, and linguistic side of this business - and why, when the readership would seem to be even smaller than for the additional material on Middle-earth. Who is buying and reading all these books? How have they been received critically, how have they sold, and which are still in print? Has no scholar of popular culture yet analyzed the unstoppable "I'm not dead yet!" Tolkien publishing industry from a marketing and branding point of view?


Publishing History - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, May 13, 2007

Anderson leads off with a fresh point of view, based on his deep knowledge of the scope and history of Tolkien's creative writing: that "the most striking fact is how little he sought publication." Interestingly, we are immediately told of the numerous times Tolkien tried to get a collection of his early poetry published: he received three formal rejections in ten years. During the same time he had many individual poems included in anthologies. Now that may not be the record of an ambitious or dedicated poet, but it is news to me that Tolkien tried to publish a full collection at all! And from what I understand of Tolkien's sensitivity and shyness, the fact that he tried three times is indicative of the strength of his self-image as a poet, that he had acquired in his undergraduate days with the TCBS.

The later part of Anderson' s narrative is more familiar to me, and seems well balanced and thorough to the time of Tolkien's death. An odd final paragraph about his posthumous publications mentions only The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales before chronicling the fate of Tolkien's publisher, Allen & Unwin. Anderson must have known that the article "Publications, Posthumous" would pick up the thread at this point, but he never mentions it or lists it in a See also reference. In fact, there is no See also at all, which should have comprehensively listed such topics as all the Tolkien stories and poems mentioned, the twin article "Textual History: Emendations and Errors", "Manuscripts", most of the "Life of" biographical pieces, and even such mysteries as Anderson's own "Dagnall, Susan" piece.

Anderson's final section, on the complexities of the various editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, is equally good though as mentioned it strangely overlaps "Textual History..". I especially loved the part where the U.S. copyright issues raised in the early 1960s by the Ace Books pirate edition were not settled in court until 1982. There is a short but excellent 'Further Reading' list.

One final comment: Anderson takes his brief for "Publishing History" to mean Tolkien's fiction only. But any reader of the Encyclopedia becomes aware that the publishing history of Tolkien's scholarship is interesting in its own right, and is also entwined with his fiction career. I wish Anderson had included that side of Tolkien's life here. The follow-up article "Publications, Posthumous" does so as a matter of course.