Sacrifice - Christina M. Heckman

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

Though organized into paragraphs, most of this entry is just a list of sacrificial characters.  These examples are thoroughly sourced to The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, but there is almost no critical treatment, apart from the weak introduction and conclusion.  The former strays unnecessarily into a discussion of the Boethian and Manichean views of good and evil; the latter is a trite note on what Tolkien once called “the ennoblement of the humble”. The appearance of only Tom Shippey in the bibliography shows the entry’s weakness (the See also list, however, is quite good).  Heckman’s focus is on “self-sacrifice or sacrifice chosen to preserve good and defeat evil”, and though this is an important theme in Tolkien’s works, she should, but does not, indicate that Tolkien uses the word “sacrifice” in other ways: in the waning years of Númenor, for example, “men made sacrifice to Melkor that he should release them from Death” (The Silmarillion, p. 273).

The list of noble sacrifices Heckman provides are variable in supporting her general argument.  To defeat Sauron, the Elves and Dwarves don’t “sacrifice their pride, forgetting ancient rivalries”: except for the particular example of Legolas and Gimli, this is just not at issue in LotR.  Lúthien and Arwen relinquish their immortality for personal love not the greater good, and Heckman misreads The Silmarillion when she calls these acts “redemptive because they unite the two kindreds”: the passage she cites presents Lúthien’s act more as exchange than sacrifice: she is lost to the Eldar, but her likeness lives on in her descendants.  And it’s stretching to see sacrifice in the Ents’ decision to “relinquish their rest” when they choose to overthrow Isengard.  The sacrifice of the Elves, in relinquishing the power of the Three Rings and thus Middle-earth to defeat Sauron, is a stronger but problematic case, as the Elves face defeat whether the One Ring is destroyed or not.

The deeds of Finrod, Galadriel, Théoden, Gandalf, Frodo, and even Aragorn, enumerated by Heckman, are clearer examples of sacrificial action.  But her presentation of Gandalf’s sacrifice, for instance, is merely descriptive: Gandalf faces the Balrog, falls, is mourned, and returns.  In fact, her description of his reappearance is so matter-of-fact that it’s hard to see how Gandalf sacrificed himself at all.  Likewise Frodo’s case is oddly managed, concluding with the remark that “Despite Frodo’s enduring pain, his sacrifice is most significant.”  Despite?

To interpret these cases, Heckman could have started with Tolkien’s own comments: Gandalf's decision to face the Balrog alone was a “humbling and abnegation of himself in conformity to ‘the Rules’ … all his mission was in vain” (Letters, p. 202).  And Frodo at Mount Doom was in a “sacrificial” situation, “in which the ‘good’ of the world depends on the behavior of an individual in circumstances which demand of him suffering and evidence far beyond the normal” (Letters, p. 233).  But even this obvious beginning is missing here.


Saint Brendan – Jared Lobdell

Commentary by Jason Fisher, June 20, 2007

This short entry suffers most from a striking lack of any attempt at organization – all its facts are run together in a single, very long paragraph — itself composed of just a few very long sentences. Otherwise, there is some useful information here. It’s a shame it’s all mashed up the way it is, with lengthy parenthetical quotations from Tolkien just adding to the disorder. I give Lobdell credit for mentioning Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader – an excellent point of comparison. But I have to take that credit back again for his egregious misquote of Samwise at the end of The Lord of the Rings (for the record, it’s “Well, I’m back,” not “Well, I’m home”).

Lobdell missed a great opportunity to mention Tolkien’s lesser known poem “The Nameless Land,” which also alludes to Brendan. And he should have mentioned or at least included in his 'Further Reading' The Annotated Hobbit, Shippey’s The Road to Middle-earth, Flieger’s Splintered Light, and Carpenter’s biography. In the weak See also, Lobdell is right to refer readers to “Ireland”, a far superior entry in comparison to which “Saint Brendan” really suffers. Additionally, he should have included “Mythology, Celtic”, “Sauron Defeated”, and “Poems By Tolkien: Uncollected.”

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

To be fair, Lobdell merely refers to “Well, I’m home” as a Tolkienian motif, without specifically attributing the phrase to Sam or even The Lord of the Rings.  And as Jason Fisher observes, Lobdell does at least tell readers why St. Brendan appears in this Encyclopedia, describes Tolkien’s poem “Imram” about Brendan with reference to its imagery and themes, and notes its publication in Time and Tide and Sauron Defeated.

On the other hand, Lobdell doesn’t address the merits of the poem or Tolkien’s reasons for writing it; he doesn’t make much of its connections to Tolkien’s other works; and includes no comments on “Imram” by other critics (in addition to the absent works listed by Fisher, Paul Kocher comments on the poem).  Perhaps he assumed those would be more thoroughly addressed in the articles on Tolkien’s poems (Tom Shippey and Reno Lauro each afford it a short paragraph).  But if the poem is covered elsewhere, why have this separate entry?

Finally, Lobdell quotes Tolkien on the “Celtic” beauty he tried to bring to his stories without noting the source of this comment (Letters, p. 144), and he writes that the poem “was published … as Tolkien’s friend Lewis was writing his Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader.’”  But Lewis’s book was published in 1952, with “Imram” following in 1955.


Saint John - Bradley J. Birzer

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

Citing a passage from Tolkien’s largely unseen essay, “The Ulsterior Motive”, that was printed in Humphrey Carpenter’s The Inklings, Birzer notes that Tolkien took John as his patron saint.  Birzer speculates on Tolkien’s reasons for this, but he never indicates what Joseph Pearce mentions in the “Saints” article, where it is somewhat less appropriate: Tolkien’s birthday, January 3rd, is the “Octave” of St. John’s feast day, December 27th (as noted in Letters).

Birzer’s suggestion that John’s attention to “the gift of imagination” is what endeared him to Tolkien is interesting, as is the slim connection he makes to Tolkien’s “subordinate” heroic figures.  Still, Birzer should have examined the opposite case: why did C.S. Lewis, as Carpenter reports, think St. John was quite unlike Tolkien?

On a tangential note: according to the index, “The Ulsterior Motive” is mentioned only twice in the Encyclopedia (here and in the article on C.S. Lewis), as is not surprising for a work of which only a few snippets have been released.  Tolkien himself said that the essay, which was his response to Lewis’s book Letters to Malcolm, “would not be publishable” (Letters, p. 352).  Still, it would be nice to see the release of at least the non-libelous passages, for what they might reveal of Tolkien’s life.

Comments by squire, August 15, 2007

N.E. Brigand makes a good point about "The Ulsterior Motive". Its continued unpublished existence should remind us that perhaps not all points of Tolkien's complex personality have been encompassed by current scholarship. For instance, here I found interesting Tolkien's humiliated remark that he felt like a "shabby little Catholic" after Lewis's withering snub. It suggests to me that Tolkien's pride in his faith remained occasionally tempered by the shame he and his family were subjected to in protestant England after their conversion (and also re-emphasizes with his returning crack 'Evangelical' that not all English anti-Catholics were C. of E.). Typically of accounts of Tolkien's religious life, Birzer's article "Catholicism" speaks only of the pride.

In his other article Birzer also mentions the anecdote about Tolkien using St. John's gospel in Anglo-Saxon classes, but there he does not give us the detail that the passage in question is a poem -- nor does it refer the reader here for that telling detail.


Saint Oswald – Jared Lobdell


Comments by Jason Fisher, June 20, 2007

Almost the entirety of Lobdell’s first very long paragraph (a bit more than half a column) consists of straight quotations from Tolkien. This should have been replaced with a much shorter summary of the point, followed up with some consideration of its importance.

The second paragraph, though mercifully shorter than the first, is nothing more than a recital of useless facts, introduced by a prominent “in fact”, as if to say we’re in for a real treat. Sadly, not so. The third and final paragraph is an unhelpful assortment of genealogical facts (which reads like the “begats” in the Book of Genesis) and ends with no conclusion at all. A couple of the names in the paragraph jump out at me in italics. Why? I have no idea.

A useless, useless, useless entry.


Saints - Joseph Pearce

Comments by squire, August 17, 2007

After an all-too-brief consideration of Tolkien's devotion to Saint John, Pearce spends the rest of his article on the Virgin Mary, "Queen of All Saints", with the standard recapitulation of her connections to Elbereth and Galadriel in Tolkien's fiction. The too-long conclusion, about Tolkien's personal belief in miracles through the intercession of saints, leading to his literary theory of eucatastrophe, seems to have left the topic completely.

Why did Pearce not tackle the concept of "Saints", as the article's title invites? Are there any analogues to the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints in Tolkien's legendarium? Is Eärendil a Saint? Is Eonwë, herald of Manwë? Is Lúthien? Gandalf? Durin the Deathless? Are the Valar "saints" in the sense that they (or at least Varda, Manwë, and Ulmo) receive prayers and have access to Eru? Or are saints strictly an invention of an organized religion, which is precisely what Tolkien wished to keep out of his invented world?

One's faith in Pearce as an authority on this topic is lessened, not heightened, by his citation of only his own books in the 'Further Reading'. See also ignores the adjacent three articles on Saints Brendan, John, and Oswald, not to mention the less consistently alphabetized "Aquinas, Thomas", "Augustine of Canterbury, Saint [etc.]", "Augustine of Hippo", "Bede (St. Bede [etc.])", and "Guthlac, Saint" articles. The presence of eight articles on saints in the Encyclopedia seems to suggest that more could have been done here than an orthodox shakedown of St. Mary.


Sam - Stephen Yandell

Comments by squire, June 23, 2007

The organization is a bit random, and the character analysis is not as deep as it might be, but the essence of Sam is here. The really interesting part is at the end, when Yandell suggests that Sam most represents the part of Tolkien that kept him from completing The Silmarillion after The Lord of the Rings was written. This makes Sam the ur-hobbit, so to speak, where "hobbit" becomes the one-word descriptor for the leavening element that was missing from the Silmarillion material.

Yandell does not complete his analysis of this question - to compare Sam to the hobbit heroes Frodo and Bilbo, and to a lesser extent Merry and Pippin (who grow into heroes) - in favor of a somewhat generic conclusion about Tolkien's interior conflict between high romance and low comedy. But Sam's heroism, more romantic and less motivated than Merry and Pippin's, is actually evident from the beginning of Fellowship, where he is introduced as a pupil of Bilbo's in more convincing terms than Frodo himself. Some have argued that Sam is Bilbo's heir, in his role in LotR -- torn as Bilbo was and Frodo is not, between mundanity and romance.

The question comes down to just how "comic" Sam is. Yandell comes close in his citations of Tolkien's commentaries about Sam, but misses the remarks that Sam is the true "hero" of The Lord of the Rings (e.g. Letters, #93, #131), a counterintuitive proposition that never fails to shock new readers whose attention is always on Frodo and Aragorn, despite the fact the book ends with Sam's words, "Well, I'm back."

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

At the conclusion of Yandell’s opening paragraph, he does quote Tolkien calling Sam “the chief hero” in Letter #131.


Saracens and Moors - Sandra Ballif Straubhaar

Comments by squire, August 17, 2007

This article might have been better titled "Haradrim" or "Southrons"; that might have helped Straubhaar keep her focus on Tolkien. As it is, she spends most of the article reviewing the sources for Medieval European and Victorian English images of various North African and Near Eastern peoples. However, she never characterizes those images, except to say they represent "extreme racial and cultural alterity" while simultaneously showing with examples like Saladin and Othello that the "otherness" was fictional, ambivalent, and anything but extreme.

So when we finally get to Tolkien's Haradrim in The Lord of the Rings, we still have no specific real-world references. All the colorful quotes in the world don't help us see how Tolkien actually adapted any real cultural constructs for his Africanic enemies of Gondor. But "enemies" remains the word, by any conventional reading of the story, no matter what Straubhaar says about the Southrons being "noble and proud" or "misled" like good old Saladin.

Straubhaar also fudges the racial issue: it is disingenuous to say that "Moor" means "Muslims of African and Iberian origin" without adding that the word also connotes a very dark-skinned African of no particular religion. Tolkien's critics have seized on his use of enemy hordes from what we might think of as North Africa and Arabia ("swarthy men"), and his "half-trolls" of Far Harad, clearly Negroes from Central Africa, to accuse him of promoting morally prejudicial racist imagery. Rather than frittering away her word count with asides about C. S. Lewis, the Easterlings, South African blacks, and Dante, Straubhaar should have investigated to what extent Tolkien's transformation of Africa and Africans in his fiction represented ideas or realities -- from Medieval or modern times.

The 'Further Reading' is unhelpful; Said's Orientalism is invaluable for understanding Christian Europe's historical response to its southern and eastern neighbors, but I believe there is other critical work that actually addresses Tolkien's specific take on this issue. See also is missing "Middle-earth", "Gondor", "Race and Ethnicity in Tolkien's Works", and "Race in Tolkien's Films". And as with her "Easterlings" article, I am surprised she does not give a cross reference to my article "South, The" which must have been on her list of the Encyclopedia's articles, since this one was not on mine at the time of my deadline.


Saruman - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, March 15, 2007

This is okay as far as it goes, though a little disjointed and out of focus. The extended and completely overweight mini-essay on the name Saruman practically derails the article right out of the station. Once past that, Evans makes some good observations on Saruman's ultimate perdition, his effective foreshadowing by Gandalf at the Council, the devices of his rhetoric at the denouement at Orthanc, and his diminishment in the Shire. The ending unfortunately peters out to no effect, relying on an unattributed quote from the book about his deathly dissipation that Evans has already described.

I wished for a more conventionally-organized account of Saruman's role in The Lord of the Rings: one that followed the chronology and brought out more clearly that Saruman was a traitor to both the West and to Sauron, and that his initial drive to power was aimed at conquering Rohan. For finer details, such as how Tolkien came to invent him as a device to explain the absence of Gandalf during Frodo's journey to Rivendell, the later Unfinished Tales material on his earlier relationship with Valinor, Gandalf and the Shire, his role as a foil for the Ents, and his replacement as the White Wizard by Gandalf, there was obviously no room.

There are some annoying errors, too. Saruman's name in Valinor was Curumo; it was the Elves of Middle-earth who called him Curunír. Gandalf does not use Saruman "as an unwitting double agent to discern Sauron's secret plans". His flashes of anger during the parley with Gandalf are anything but "carefully controlled". Gandalf does not pronounce "his removal from Orthanc". An editor should have caught such clumsy constructions as "Saruman is portrayed as a character who...", "the only extensive scene featuring him in the whole book", and "he appears considerably reduced in stature finally as an exile vagabond in the Shire".

Evans comments on Saruman's character throughout, in asides and non sequiturs. What is missing is some more systematic consideration of what Saruman represents to the story as a whole, and his symbolic relationships to Gandalf, Radagast, Galadriel, Treebeard, Theoden, Gríma, Denethor, Sauron, Celebrimbor, Fëanor, and Aulë.


Satan and Lucifer - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by Entwife Wandlimb, January 19, 2007

Matthew Dickerson wrote a nice entry on “Satan and Lucifer”. He's a computer science professor at Middlebury College, but he also coauthored From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy, which he lists under “Further Reading.”

The first two paragraphs of his encyclopedia entry are a survey of the doctrine of Satan, which I suspect many readers might skim over despite their clarity. The other three paragraphs of the entry compare Morgoth with the biblical Satan and Milton’s Lucifer. I particularly enjoyed the distinction between the Norse Loki and Satan/Morgoth.

To nitpick, I wish we had a little less doctrinal survey and a little more on Tolkien’s personal beliefs as reflected in his letters.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

Four critical works appear in Dickerson’s bibliography, but none are cited in his text.  The article’s treatment of Satan in the Bible is very helpful; if Dickerson was relying on the “Milton” and “Old Norse Literature” articles to support his scantier explanations of Loki and the Lucifer of Paradise Lost, he should have included them in his See also list.

One error: Dickerson says that Morgoth is called the “Father of Dragons”, a name Tolkien actually gives to Glaurung.


Sauron - Jared Lobdell

Comments by squire, February 4, 2007

There really are better ways to write a short reference article than firing random shotgun blasts of quotes at the page. Even Sauron, the prime agent of Dark Evil across two Ages of Middle-earth's history, deserves better than this.

To begin at the false beginning, Sauron does not "begin as the Necromancer, in The Hobbit." He begins as Tevildo, Prince of Cats in the Book of Lost Tales - whose cat-like Eye survives even into The Lord of the Rings.

But to be most useful, this article might have started with some true facts about Sauron as he appears in LotR. That is how most Tolkien readers know him, after all. From that point one could backtrack to fill in his background, both within the legendarium, as the demon-vassal of Morgoth in the First Age and the Dark Lord redevivus in the Second Age; and without, by recounting how his character developed and changed as Tolkien extended his Silmarillion tales into the world of The Hobbit and its sequel, so that the vaguely menacing Necromancer did in fact eventually "become" Sauron the Great of the War of the Ring.

Sauron makes several memorable personal appearances in the Silmarillion legends, and at least one in LotR; Lobdell does not make use of them to explicate the character. Instead he quotes from Tolkien at length to make points that a single summary sentence could have made.

Tolkien speculates several times in his letters and later unpublished essays on the nature of Sauron and his power, and how he differed from Morgoth, the "other" Dark Lord; Lobdell never mentions these, inexplicably spending an entire paragraph on a meaningless change in wording in one of Tolkien's Silmarillion drafts.

Sauron has a prime role in the Akallabeth, facilitating the downfall of Númenor; this phase of his career is completely ignored in a closing paragraph of confusing chronology that arrogantly asserts that Sauron's role in The Lord of the Rings is fully known and understood by the reader.

Sauron as the devilish antagonist of Gandalf, personification of the One Ring's corruption, and general symbol of Evil in Middle-earth has been the subject of innumerable critical analyses for over fifty years now; my favorite is Kocher's entire chapter analyzing Sauron as a character. Lobdell gives no critical references, but spends another paragraph on the minor point of the etymology of Sauron's name. There is no "Further Reading" list and a laughably short "See also" section.

The style of the article is (unsurprisingly) confusing (and circular, e.g. "Tolkien attempted (or began an attempt) once and for all..."), but features a minimum of parenthetical asides (for once). On the other hand, the speculation about the origin of the Necromancer character (in a Victorian romance about Bluebeard) was very interesting to me (at least).

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

John Rateliff has recently confirmed that even in the Hobbit drafts, the Necromancer was the same character “who was defeated by Beren & Luthien”.  This doesn’t overturn Lobdell’s supposition that the character of Sauron was influenced by Gilles de Retz in The Black Douglas, a book that Tolkien acknowledged as a source for The Hobbit’s wargs (Letter #306).  But it does weigh against Lobdell’s supposition that “In his beginnings, in Tolkien’s mind, it may have been that Sauron was a man”.

This article does at least include long quotes (all properly cited!) from Tolkien’s letters and various HoMe volumes, which gives readers parts of Sauron’s biography within the mythology, and a little hint of his development over the course of Tolkien’s writings(though as squire notes, Sauron’s role in the downfall of Númenor goes unmentioned). 

But Lobdell’s closing sentence makes clear the limitations of his article: having taken Sauron’s story to his reappearance in the Third Age, “of course what happened thereafter is told in The Lord of the Rings, and (unlike the story of the First Age) need not be retold here”.  Retelling Sauron’s story should never have been the point of this article.


Sauron Defeated - Jason Fisher

Comments by squire, December 5, 2006

This offers a kind of bare-bones summary of this interesting volume of The History of Middle-earth. Fisher restricts himself to giving the basic outlines of the material, with occasional editorial commentary by himself.

The oddest part of Sauron Defeated is the fact that two thirds of it is not the finale to The History of The Lord of the Rings, but instead covers the material called The Notion Club Papers and other Numenorean lore that Tolkien wrote before he completed LotR. Fisher takes this for granted. Yet Christopher Tolkien himself was upset by this forced dichotomy; as have been so many subsequent readers that the paperback tetraology of The History of the Lord of the Rings sub-series offers an anomalous slimmed-down fourth volume, The End of the Third Age. This omits the Numenor material, for those who just want to read about Frodo and Aragorn, not Lowdham and Jeremy.

I know that Alex Lewis, for one, uses Tolkien's discursion into the Notion Club Papers before LotR was finished to argue that even in 1945 the author was not sure what relationship his new epic had with the Silmarillion material. Likewise, Verlyn Flieger treats with The Notion Club Papers extensively in her book on Tolkien's literary uses of time and time travel. Fisher notes none of this; there is no bibliography (despite an unfortunate "Further Reading" header, alone and forlorn).

Fisher's style is also a bit over the top. "Penetrating analysis" is not the essence of Christopher Tolkien's work in The History of the Lord of the Rings: textual reconstruction is more like it, by CT's own admission. The announcement "Christopher Tolkien presents for the first time" the epilogue with Sam begs the question of when the second time might be. "Taps into the Númenorean legend in quite a novel way" hardly characterizes The Notion Club Papers, for those who have read Tolkien's earlier HoME work, The Lost Road. The general tone resembles an enthusiastic publisher's or fan's blurb rather than a critical review.


Saxo Grammaticus - Scott Kleinman

Comments by N.E. Brigand, March 26, 2007

This is about as good as a 250-word entry can be.  In three short paragraphs, Kleinman briefly introduces his subject, connects him to Tolkien’s scholarship and fiction, with a nod to Tom Shippey, and even includes a caveat about the uncertainty of such source-work as he presents. 

Kleinman’s treatment left me wanting to know more, as a good entry should.  I wish he had been allotted space to include more specific citation, as well as some indication of why Tolkien’s Legendarium appears in his bibliography, and why his See also list includes “Eärendil”. Having no Latin or Old Norse, I can only guess that there is a connection to the names Orvendil and Aurvandil that Kleinman mentions in passing.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

I have since learned that Tolkien refers specifically to Saxo Grammaticus, and in reference to Eärendil (as “Horwendillus”) in “The Notion Club Papers” (p. 301 of Sauron Defeated), though Kleinman doesn’t mention that work.


Sayers, Dorothy Leigh (1893–1957) - Richard C. West


Comments by Jason Fisher, February 8, 2007


West’s short biographical blurb is solid, so far as it goes, but it fails to establish more than a tangential connection to J. R. R. Tolkien. A more important point of contact lies hidden in Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker (1941). West mentions the book but fails to illuminate the important similarities between it and Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories”, which was written around the same time. In both works, the creative impulses of man (which Tolkien calls sub-creation) are likened to the creative powers of God – a key argument buttressing many of Tolkien’s and Sayers’ other writings.


A smaller point: though West does mention Sayers’ translation of Dante, I would also have mentioned her translation of The Song of Roland from the Old French, which is still in print today. This establishes additional, albeit minor, points of contact with Tolkien (cf. “The Carolingians”).


And finally, I’m very surprised to find Candice Fredrick and Sam McBride’s Women Among the Inklings: Gender, C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams missing from the bibliography.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, March 26, 2007

As West notes, Tolkien read at least Sayers’ “Lord Peter Wimsey” novels (with mixed feelings) but he never met her.  As much could be said of many writers during Tolkien’s life; presumably Sayers receives her own entry because of her friendship with Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis, and her contribution to Essays Presented to Charles Williams, the collection to which Tolkien offered “On Fairy-stories”. 

Unfortunately West doesn’t mention the Essays, nor does its entry appear in the See also list.  He also doesn’t say how he knows that Sayers and Tolkien read each other’s work. In fact Tolkien mentions Sayers on p. 82 of Letters. Presumably Sayers comments on Tolkien in her collected letters, no volume of which appears in West’s bibliography. 

West might also have included an article from the Proceedings of the 1992 Centenary Conference, “Tolkien, Sayers, Sex and Gender”, by David Doughan, who examines the dislike Tolkien professed for Sayers’ later mysteries.


Scholars of Medieval Literature, Influence of - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, August 17, 2007

There's a lot to learn here, and a lot to enjoy. Like Tolkien and Chambers, Shippey cherishes the ideal of a "fluent, often colloquial" essay. His review of philological scholarship up to Tolkien's time is wide-ranging and staggeringly erudite. One thrills to imagine that Shippey has read not just the corpus of ancient northern European literature, but also the critical and editorial commentaries on it that have been produced over the past two centuries. He brings alive academic debates that are now long dead, and he shows that Tolkien the philologist was a late, English-speaking, entry into a world that was dominated until his time by German and Scandinavian experts.

But structurally, Shippey is often too fluent, too colloquial. To remind us of the nominal subject of his essay, his long epic of the history of pre-Tolkien philology repeatedly hints of how Tolkien was "influenced", negatively or positively, by this warriors' catalog of scholars. In fact, at times Shippey is almost coy in noting which interpretation of Beowulf Tolkien was eventually to adopt in his 1936 lecture; perhaps he should have started in media res as he did so successfully with his C.S. Lewis article.

The problem of condensation is obvious too. Despite the intimidating length of this article, all too often Shippey breaks off or leaves a line of thought unfinished. What were Tolkien's "rather different views" from his famous Beowulf lecture, as expressed in Finn and Hengest, on the need to read Old English literature on its own terms? Shippey uses "likely" and "surely" to characterize their intellectual relationship, but do we have any idea what Tolkien actually thought of R. W. Chambers? Whatever became of Liedertheorie: Shippey calls it "effectively dead" by 1912, yet elsewhere he says it is "not without some grounds", citing the Saga of the Volsungs. And did Tolkien despair of the lack of an "English" mythology because of the creation of the United Kingdom in the 18th century -- or because of the Norman invasion of the 11th?

Notably missing is any discussion of what "influence" (if any, as per C. S. Lewis) Tolkien's contemporary colleagues may have had on him; Shippey mentions Onions, both the Gordons, and Dickins as professional acquaintances of Tolkien's, but only E. V. Gordon's The Battle of Maldon is given as something Tolkien "clearly" had in mind when doing work of his own. And after all this buildup, one wants to know just how Tolkien was perceived by his fellows, both domestic and foreign, when they considered his work in the light of all that had come before.

Still, this is very fine. I loved Shippey's connection of Tolkien with Macaulay in the matter of their fictional "Lays"; the revelation that English philology in the 19th century was regarded by foreign scholars as being populated by cranks and losers; his speculation as to why Tolkien got his big break at Oxford; and his long but fascinating profile of R. W. Chambers as a kind of academic proto-Tolkien, literarily speaking.

The 'Further Reading' looks superb, of course. As for the See also.... well, it seems probable to me that Shippey limited this list to what he thought were the most germane cross-references to his article. But even his occasional asides are worth reading by those who might be researching other aspects of Tolkien and his works. Although I would add "Ancrene Wisse", Battle of Maldon, The", "Beowulf: Tolkien's Scholarship", "Bliss, Alan (1921-1985)", "Danes: Contributions to English Culture", "Danish Language", "Epic Poetry", "Farmer Giles of Ham", "Finn and Hengest", "Gordon, Ida (1907-)", "History, Anglo-Saxon", "Homecoming of Beorhtnoth", "Icelandic Language" (oops! doesn't exist), "Inklings", "Kolbítar", "Lang, Andrew (1844-1912)" (oops! doesn't exist), "Lays of Beleriand, The", "Middle English Vocabulary, A (1922)", "Old Norse Translations", "'On Fairy-stories'", "Oxford", "Silmarillion, The", "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo, Edited by Christopher Tolkien", and "Wrenn, C.L. (1895-1969)" (oops! doesn't exist), I even more wish that those articles had referred their readers to this one, which seems to be a kind of lost child of the Encyclopedia.

Beyond regret, passing into rage, is the feeling one has on discovering that none of the four "Beowulf" articles refers to this piece, which does so much to establish their very context.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 5, 2008

Do we have any idea what Tolkien actually thought of R.W. Chambers?

In Letter #15 Tolkien refers to Chambers as an “old and kindhearted friend”.  And Douglas Anderson’s 2006 article, “R.W. Chambers and The Hobbit”, in Tolkien Studies 3, discusses their friendship and scholarly interaction at length.


Seafarer, The - Leslie A. Donovan

Comments by squire, January 28, 2007

It's really nice, the way Donovan sums up the contents and themes of this Old English poem, establishes Tolkien's professional expertise in editing and interpreting it, and finally uses everything she's said to point out specific examples of its influence on Tolkien's fiction.


Seafarer: Ida Gordon Edition - Alexandra Bolintineanu

Comments by squire, January 28, 2007

With reference to my review of The Seafarer article just above this one, this is another, particularly egregious, example of a topic that could have been one article rather than two. In the Thematic table of contents, the poem itself is considered to be among Tolkien's "Literary Sources: Anglo-Saxon", while his scholarly edition of the poem is considered to be "Scholarship by Tolkien: Medieval Literature". Perhaps the problem is that the editors conceived of and collected the work using only the thematic schema, without considering the sequential duplications and absurdities that the alphabetic order reveals.

That said, one must regard Bolintineanu's and Donovan's two reviews of the same poem as one would the competing arguments of two loudly opinionated people at the same party. Once pulled into separate rooms, so to speak, the two authors do diverge into the respective specialties of their separate articles, and Bolintineanu's account of the Tolkien-Gordon edition is quite interesting.

Her conclusion, that we will never know Tolkien's own critical interpretation of the poem, since he abandoned his critical edition for Ida Gordon to rework and complete, seems less relevant than Donovan's strong case for its influence on his fiction. It could have, I think, usefully led to a review of the issue of Tolkien's lifelong dilatoriness in publishing a body of scholarship in the quantity that was expected of a professor at Oxford.


"Secret Vice, A" - Arden R. Smith

Comments by squire, April 30, 2007

I've never read "A Secret Vice" and enjoyed Smith's apparently comprehensive summary of its contents and theme.

As with other articles in the Encyclopedia that cover similar aspects of Tolkien's art, I missed a sense of context, both internal and external. Internal, because as with "On Fairy-stories", Tolkien apparently turns a review of a general philological subject (here the "hobby" of invented languages) into a presentation strictly of his own tastes and preferences in that area. I got the sense from Smith's article that Tolkien actually had no idea of the prevalence or patterns by which children and adults generally invent languages but was only interested in explaining and justifying his own. External, in that (as with "Alphabets, Invented") Smith does not present any critical response to Tolkien's essay; or show that any academic work has been done before or since on the subject of invented languages, by which we might relate Tolkien's apparently extraordinary tastes and talents to more general examples of the phenomenon.

Without maligning this article which on its own ground is of very high quality, I'd note that this lack of external context is consistent with Rosebury's warning that Tolkien has been too often worshipped by his fans and even critics "in a temple in which he is the solitary idol."

See also is good, but incomplete: "Alphabets, Invented" and "Languages: Early introduction and interest" also belong here; as does, oddly, "Elvish Compositions and Grammars" which contains at least references to the Elvish poems Tolkien includes in his essay. On the other hand the article "Poems by Tolkien in Other Languages" does not take on Elvish as an "other language" and so has no relation to "A Secret Vice" - I have shared Smith's confusion here, having wondered several times why Tolkien's Elvish poems as literary works were not covered in the Encyclopedia.


Sexuality in Tolkien’s Works – Anna Smol

Comments by Jason Fisher, January 24, 2008

I approached this entry with my usual mental checklist of points and references, and Smol satisfied all of them – and more.

The pièce de résistance was her inclusion of “The Fall of Arthur”, which I was fully prepared to find missing. A terrific entry, the very model of what an “Encyclopedia [of] Scholarship and Critical Assessment” ought to offer. And as with Smol’s other entries, here is another very impressive 'Further Reading' and See also!


Shakespeare - Janet Brennan Croft

Comments by squire, January 24, 2007

A fine survey of Tolkien's expressed disdain for Shakespeare (as literature) and the accompanying paradox of the many instances of a "dialogue" between him and the Bard in his fiction. Croft is an "expert" on Tolkien's relation to Shakespeare, but because her work was to edit a collection of essays on the subject, she succeeds (where many an "expert" in this Encyclopedia fails) in citing more opinions and observations than just her own.

However, it is hardly a distinguishing feature of educated authors writing original stories in English to betray a debt to Shakespeare! What gives the entire article its kick is the myth that Tolkien did not "like" Shakespeare. Accept that this is a myth, and the examples of influence that follow become far less remarkable.

The conclusion is quite overblown, comparing Tolkien to Shakespeare directly. It's a comparison that fails on many levels, starting with the four-century lea d that Will enjoys in the literary longevity and influence stakes. A better ending might have been to take the opposite tack, and show how Tolkien's writing, aside from the "dialogues", does or does not measure up to Shakespeare's, and why.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

Apart from the weak conclusion, I find this to be a very strong article, more thorough than most of the encyclopedia’s articles that show either influence or similarity between Tolkien’s work and that of other authors. As squire says, Croft refers to many other critical opinions (not all from her recent collection) and even to a biographical study, by J. S. Ryan, that covers ground missed by Carpenter.


Shaping of Middle-earth - Amy H. Sturgis

Comments by squire, June 18, 2007

This is, generally, a sound summary of the contents of one of the most difficult-to-love volumes of History of Middle-earth. This is the book that is the subject of David Bratman's famous anecdote of the Tolkien scholar who, when Bratman tried to say that Shaping improved on a second reading, gasped "you read it twice?"

Sturgis, unfortunately, does not give the book some context as to its actual place in the History it is a part of. For instance, she never mentions that the 'Sketch' was written to provide a reader of Tolkien's epic poems (later published in HoME III, The Lays of Beleriand) with a grasp of the entire legendarium as it stood at that point. She passes over the key point that the 'Sketch', and the Quenta that followed, are not just "the only complete account of the First Age", but the turning point in Tolkien's approach to writing his legends. From then on, the material that would eventually become The Silmarillion was characterized by Tolkien's so-called archaic 'heigh style', rather than the mock-Morrisean medieval pastiche that makes The Book of Lost Tales so lively, distinctive, and faintly ridiculous. Some critics have even suggested this was a wrong turning, that Tolkien squeezed the juice out of his tales by making them too serious and sterile for their own good.

Similarly, the early "Annals" that appear in this volume mark the beginning of one of Tolkien's most fascinating and frustrating modes of story-composition. In an attempt to give chronological structure and consistency to his intertwined legends, he often began a simple list of dates and annalistic notes, that soon ballooned into detailed new narratives and rewrites of existing tales (this is apparent even in the various chronologies that appear in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings). The Annals thus compete with the actual written-out stories as non-obvious sources for analyzing Tolkien's ever-changing conception of his legendarium.

Even more interestingly, the Annals that specifically appear in Shaping are attributed to Ælfwine/Eriol, Tolkien's old English voyager who was the narrator/recorder of the Elvish Lost Tales. This shows that Tolkien was trying to preserve his original "framing narrative" even as he was separating the Quenta itself from that same device. Then there is Tolkien's fascinating experiment with putting Ælfwine's records into Ælfwine's language, that is, his translations of the Annals into actual Old English! Again, Sturgis presents the facts of all the fascinating material in this volume, but does not analyze it at all.

The concluding paragraph, aspiring perhaps to such analysis, is instead a bland collection of platitudes about the "value" of the volume to Tolkien studies. 'Further Reading' is also dismayingly inadequate, lacking (for starters) the indispensable Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth by Flieger and Hostetter.


Shelob - Marjorie Burns


Comments by Jason Fisher, February 7, 2007


A largely excellent essay all around. Very solid, and it hit all the major points I expected it to hit as I read along. It seemed well-argued, well-structured, and it seemed to strike a good balance between summarizing the narrative details, citing possible analogues, and addressing the most common critical approaches to Shelob. The comparison with Galadriel is especially good. The only surprising omission from the story summary is Gollum’s betrayal of Frodo and Sam to Shelob and his hope to reclaim the Ring thereby.


Some additional small points that were missed: Burns ought to have mentioned where, exactly, Shelob lived and pointed out that she gave her name to the pass, Cirith Ungol, in the Mountains of Shadow. Mention of the Elvish name of her lair, Torech Ungol, would also have been appropriate. Additionally, Burns might have augmented her parenthetical comment about Shelob’s great age by tracing her apparent flight from Beleriand following the War of Wrath (“flying from ruin”, she came to the Ephel Dúath “before the first stone of Barad-dûr”).


Her bibliography is also solid and it included all but one of the works I expected. The omission is Timothy R. O’Neill’s Individuated Hobbit: Jung, Tolkien, and the Archetypes of Middle-Earth, which dovetails nicely with the Mythlore article she did cite.

Comments by squire, February 7, 2007

I would add to this my belief that Shelob's sexuality is over-emphasized by critics. The primary theme that Shelob represents is not lust but gluttony. Images of eating and excreting prevail in her descriptions. Partridge pre-emptorily defined sex as the key to  Shelob's identity, and the sheer "sex-appeal" of the argument seems to have survived the subsequent demolition of Partridge as a Tolkien critic, as Burns's article demonstrates. But Chance, in A Mythology for England, though her analysis is dismayingly inexact, seems nevertheless to me to be more on the right track.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, February 20, 2007

I agree that this is in most respects a good entry.  Burns could hardly have ignored the critical literature which interprets Shelob sexually, but her failure to consider Shelob as figure of appetite is all the more odd in light of her chapter on food symbolism in Tolkien’s work, titled “Eating, Devouring, Sacrifice, and Ultimate Just Deserts”, in her recent book, Perilous Realms.  Among her comments there on Shelob is this: “For the Orcs and Shelob (and for Sauron, the devourer of souls), the repulsion we feel over what they eat is magnified by the pleasure each takes in the willful infliction of pain.  This above all is what gives spice to Orc or Shelob meals” (165).  However, Burns’s book does appear in the article’s bibliography.


Shire, The - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, March 1, 2007

There is way too much "Middle-earth Studies" to this article. Most of it is mock-descriptive, or even hopelessly historical (chief events in "Shire history"? why?). 

Only the last paragraph admits that the Shire is literary fiction, and by then it is too late to begin to look into the rich secondary literature on how the Shire relates to the rest of Middle-earth, English geography, Faërie, the pastoral ideal, Eden, industrializing and postwar England, the English nursery, Victorian rural mythology, and the ideas of time travel and the frame narrative. Instead we are treated to a last few inaccurate bromides about anachronism and anomalies.

Comments by Jason Fisher, March 2, 2007

In addition to what’s missing – pretty thoroughly inventoried by squire already – much of what’s in the entry doesn’t belong there. In addition to the random selection of events from the Shire Reckoning, presented entirely out of any context, why do we have a paragraph on the different kindreds of the Hobbits? This is more than adequately covered in the entry on Hobbits. Also, Stanton’s claim that the Shire “is probably the best-defined geopolitical unit in all of Middle-earth” is a contentious one, requiring defending. But he doesn’t even try.

The entry is also rather strangely written at times – e.g. “In these four areas, the topography of the Shire is pleasingly varied but tame: hills, brooks and rivers, woodlands and meadows.” Pleasing to whom? To Stanton or to its inhabitants? Tame(d) in what way and by whom? And – splitting hairs, I know – the omission of a serial comma leads to confusion here, too.

Turning to the 'Further Reading', it’s nice to see some attempt to point readers to other critical perspectives on the Shire (e.g., Burger), but unfortunately, it’s too little too late. What’s most troubling is that two of his references (Fonstad and Strachey) are really nothing more than maps. And why is Languages in the See also?

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

I haven’t read Strachey, but Fonstad’s map of the Shire is accompanied by a 600-word essay that includes ten specific citations, as compared to one cite in Stanton’s 1,000 words here.  There are nine sources in Stanton’s bibliography, but much of his information originates in the LotR Prologue and Appendices, which are never mentioned. 

A few questions: Stanton writes that the addition of the Westmarch means “the total area of the Shire is thus about” 21,000 sq. miles – why adopt a viewpoint of more than 32 years after the events of LotR?  How does he know the Shire post is “somewhat casual”?  Where does Tolkien say that the Northfarthing has “frequent winter snow”?  And to whom is the Green Dragon “famous”?


Silmarillion, The - Gergely Nagy

Comments by squire, March 2, 2007

It is a pleasure to read such a fine "flagship" article as this one. The Silmarillion, and the "Silmarillion tradition", each properly defined and distinguished by Nagy, are so central to any study of Tolkien that it would have been a true shame had this been handled badly.

He gives first the textual history, both during and after Tolkien's lifetime; then a quick summary of its stories and themes, and finally and most importantly, a review of its critical reception so far. Rampant errors in copyediting suggest that Nagy never received feedback from his editors. Possibly because of that, there are at least three points that I think could have stood some rethinking and revision.

One, there is no cross-reference or coordination of Nagy's integrated history of the writing of the Silmarillion with the appropriate History of Middle-earth volumes, although at the end he gives due attention to the HoME as a posthumously published Silmarillion apparatus.

Two, in his summary he ignores the relative weight of the Quenta Silmarillion (First Age) section within the tradition compared to the rest of Middle-earth's history; and within the Quenta he does not mention the trend noted by Tolkien himself away from the Elvish annals and towards the heroic adventures of Men in aiding the Elves in their war with Morgoth. In general he does not discuss the Sil in terms of Tolkien's ideas about Elves v. Men.

Three, in his brilliant theoretical commentary on the quality and literary import of the Sil, he writes as if the "final presentation frame" of Bilbo being the compiler had been executed in the 1977 edition, which is hardly the case. He does not address Christopher Tolkien's own retrospective doubts as to how the Sil should have edited and presented, and he underplays the flaws, including the writing not by JRRT inserted in the final chapters of the Quenta, that CT himself has since revealed and apologized for.

Still, I don't want to downplay the value of this article. It seems to me to be an excellent roadmap to what I hope will be some truly comprehensive and up to date scholarship on the entire Silmarillion corpus.

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

Nagy’s entry includes all the elements necessary for a great Silmarillion article, but misses the mark due to some lapses in quality and an imbalance in his presentation. 

Following a good, short introduction on the difference between The Silmarillion of 1977 and the complex of “Silmarillion” texts (not usually abbreviated “Silmarillion (tradition)”, as only he terms it here), Nagy describes the development of Tolkien’s legendarium in the first and longest of the entry’s three sections. I think it is given in excessive detail, since the encyclopedia has an overview article on The History of Middle-earth by David Bratman -- which does not appear in Nagy’s See also list (Nagy lists only the Book of Lost Tales of the HoME volumes; and also refers to a non-existent entry on “Rhyming Poetry”).  I have a general familiarity with HoMe, and could follow Nagy’s intelligent but densely-packed explanation, but I wonder if readers new to those texts or even to The Silmarillion itself will understand this history – and surely this article was partly intended to serve as an introduction for just those readers.

Generally, Nagy seems to assume that his readers are already familiar with the contents of the published Silmarillion. He explains that the “Ainulindalë” is “strictly speaking independent of the ‘Silmarillion’ proper (as the Quenta tradition)” without ever having explained what the “Quenta” is, beyond a name in a list.  He likewise discusses the development but not the nature of the “Valaquenta”.  Concerning the 1937 “Quenta Silmarillion”, Nagy pauses to note that it includes a previously introduced “end of days” story, without indicating the importance, if any, of that story.  And when Nagy writes that “the themes and motifs that emerged” in LotR “made necessary the revision of earlier stories (such as the character of Galadriel, or the One Ring itself)”, does he mean that the Ring and Galadriel emerged in LotR or that they were present in the “Silmarillion” and revised because of LotR?  And is Galadriel a “theme” or a “motif”?

Nagy’s history concludes well, particularly in two clear paragraphs on the publication of The Silmarillion and HoMe volumes (he also ought to have mentioned Unfinished Tales).  However, as squire notes, to write that the conceit of the “Silmarillion” as Bilbo’s translation “finally became its presentation frame” is to accept unquestioningly Christopher Tolkien’s post facto explanation from the foreword to Lost Tales I; even if that was the final intent of J.R.R. Tolkien, it is nowhere evident in The Silmarillion.  And Nagy should have noted that Christopher Tolkien's and Guy Kay’s “selecting and arranging” also including some wholesale inventing where they couldn’t resolve inconsistencies.

I think Nagy’s second section, “Summary and Themes”, is too short, particularly the summary, scarcely longer than the encyclopedia’s synopsis for Farmer Giles of Ham.  Nagy confusingly writes that the story presented in The Silmarillion, implicitly including Second and Third Age events, “had been largely fixed from its first emergence in The Book of Lost Tales”, but Tolkien conceived of the later Ages well after abandoning the Lost Tales.  In fact, about 80% of The Silmarillion is First Age history, but Nagy’s précis covers that material in only five sentences. 

Curiously, in this Silmarillion article there are multiple references to Galadriel, Frodo and Bilbo, but Beren, Finrod, Finwë, Lúthien, Melian, Thingol, Túrin and Ungoliant, to name only characters who receive separate Encyclopedia entries, go unmentioned (they also don’t appear in the See also list) along with Gondolin, Nargothrond, Angband, Beleriand, Glaurung, Ulmo, the Kinslaying, and the Music of the Ainur.

Turning to “themes” (and where are “characters” or “styles”?), Nagy bizarrely claims that, “The Silmarillion is primarily a context for The Lord of the Rings, explaining a number of allusions in the later work.”  He ably goes on to show how The Silmarillion can serve this purpose. But that wasn’t Tolkien’s original purpose, nor does Nagy demonstrate that this is how most readers approach the text.  However, Nagy does well in briefly enumerating some major “Silmarillion” themes.

He continues on strongly into his final section, “Reception and Criticism”, though even with more than two columns to fill, his comments suffer from compression.  He should have provided citations for the “explicitly disappointed reception” that the 1977 Silmarillion received, and also examples of the “Silmarillion” studies in which “medieval models and parallels have been efficiently mapped”.  His bold, complicated theoretical arguments, largely derived from the work of Verlyn Flieger and from his own articles in Tolkien the Medievalist and Tolkien Studies I – though only Flieger is cited in his text – are heavy on jargon and at times come across as unsupported assertions: he fails to convince me, for instance, that “how cultures deal with traditionally meaningful stories” is one of the most important ideas in The Silmarillion.


Silmarils - Jason Fisher

Comments by squire, August 15, 2007

Jason Fisher spends too much time recounting the tale of the Silmarils, and too little on what they mean. He opens with the interesting point that Tolkien's early mythology the Lost Tales did not emphasize the Silmarils very much although it had roughly the same plot structure as the published Quenta Silmarillion. After retelling at length the published version, Fisher returns to that early phase of Tolkien's creation in his conclusion, proposing that the Kalevala's "Sampo" was a kind of model for the Silmarils as a meaningless MacGuffin. Fisher's closing sentence, about how Tolkien subsequently "chose" to adapt the Sampo "in whatever ways he wished" begs for more interpretation of just what the Silmarils did end up meaning in the long tale we have just been retold.

For instance, why did the Valar allow the Eldar to make the Silmarils? Was their making a sin: are they Good, or Neutral? How is it that Morgoth could possess them without being destroyed as Carcaroth, Maedhros, Maglor and Shelob were? How do the Silmarils relate to the Rings of Power as central metaphors for Tolkien's two great epics? How is their light variously described, and how does it relate to other manifestations of Light in Tolkien? If they contain the light of both Trees, then why, by the interesting etymology that Fisher gives us, is their name more suggestive of silver than gold -- and so of Telperion, the elder tree and ancestor of the light of Ithil, the Moon?

Fisher's 'Further Reading' list is first class. See also is relatively short for so central an element in Tolkien's fiction: it could surely include "Arkenstone", "Elves", "Elves: Kindreds and Migrations",  "Magic: Middle-earth", "Palantiri", "Pride", "Silmarillion, The", "Symbolism in Tolkien's Works", "Technology in Middle-earth", "Ungoliant [etc.]", "Valar", and "Valinor".

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 5, 2008

While the plot summary should have been shortened, I think it might also have been brought forward: Fisher doesn’t explain that the Silmarils are jewels until halfway through his second paragraph.  Likewise his note on the name “silmaril”, while necessary –and I love the connections to “Idril” and “mithril”– could certainly have been compressed.

It’s good that Fisher describes the changing conception of the Silmarils over time, but his chronology isn’t clear: for instance, from Tolkien’s fiction, he only quotes from the 1977 Silmarillion.  But when did Tolkien decide on the jewels’ importance?  When did he start calling his First Age saga the “Quenta Silmarillion”?  Fisher doesn’t say.  And his history describes the Silmarils at the end of the First Age as in their “final resting place”, but this ignores the tradition of the Second Prophecy of Mandos, which foretells that they will be recovered and broken to restore the Two Trees.


Sin - Jared Lobdell

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 1, 2007

A sloppy, confused, and not very useful essay. Lobdell’s opening needlessly complicates the issue by introducing a series of challenges to any straightforward, practical definition of sin – not a promising beginning. Lobdell fails to convince me that the distinctions between the views of Paul, Matthew, James, Origen, and Augustine – not to mention his needless differentiation between Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene, which even Lobdell admits “has added little … to the discussion of sin” – are of any real use in understanding sin as a concept in Tolkien’s fictive creations. Tangents attempt to bring Tolkien into the view, but they don’t go anywhere – for example, if “the Medieval view of sin … is miles from Tolkien’s view,” why is this so? Lobdell makes no attempt to substantiate the claim in the first place, nor to explain why Tolkien might have adopted such a different view, if he did.

Lobdell only really delves into Tolkien in the second and fourth of his five paragraphs. But even here, he makes claims I’m not sure he can back up. Why does he write that the textus receptus ("accepted text") for Tolkien’s idea of the Fall is in “Myths Transformed” and not in the published Ainulindalë and Quenta? Perhaps it would have been, had Tolkien been able to complete the transformation of the mythology; but since he didn’t, its use is questionable. Also, Lobdell’s assertion that “Middle-earth … is neither fallen nor unfallen” requires elaboration. If it is neither of these, then why not, and what then is it? Lobdell (rather slyly) points to his own book for the answers.

In the end, Lobdell does very little to tackle the central issues of how Tolkien used sin in his writings – not to mention, its relationship to Good and Evil, Mercy, Penance, Redemption, and Temptation (all of which, save the last, have their own entries in the Encyclopedia).

As a side note, many passages bothered me for more superficial reasons. For example, Lobdell’s Origen / Original pun (which he dares to call “Tolkienian”) is much too twee for my taste. Similarly, the mnemonic “paggles” has no place in a serious essay. And is it really necessary to explicitly tell us that “Melkor = Morgoth”?

The 'Further Reading' is not particularly good, omitting many relevant works on Tolkien and religion. The See also misses several key entries, e.g., “Mercy”, “Penance”, and “Redemption”, not to mention the various entries on Christianity and Catholicism.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo, Edited by Christopher Tolkien - Carl Phelpstead

Comments by squire, April 14, 2007

Phelpstead unravels a most complex tale about as well as can be expected. I found it to be heavy going, trying to keep straight three different translations of three different poems, all started by Tolkien at different times in his career and none published at his death. To ask that this article be "consolidated" with others on similar subjects in the Encyclopedia becomes absurd, because the ultimate result would be one huge article on Tolkien and Middle English; still it is weird that the next article after this one is on Tolkien's 1925 edition (not translation) of "Sir Gawain". Phelpstead takes for granted that his readers will understand the difference between a scholarly edition (Tolkien published it) and a scholarly translation (Tolkien never published it) of a Middle English work like Sir Gawain, but I had to slap myself a couple of times to keep the two straight in my head.

Not long ago, while doing some research on translations of Pearl, I got the impression that Tolkien's 1925/1940/1975 translation is now considered to be a bit out of date: modern students are steered towards other translations, based on the amount of editorial emendations the translators have made to the original manuscript. Without knowing much more than what I read on the internet, I found the idea of scholarly "fashions" intriguing, and I wonder if Phelpstead could not have taken a paragraph or two to tell us where Tolkien's translations of these three poems currently stand in the Middle English academy's favor.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

Michael Drout, in his recent Tolkien Studies article, “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Medieval Scholarship and Its Significance”, writes that Tolkien’s translation of Pearl, “by near consensus opinion among medievalists, is the most successful Modern English translation of that poem.”  So I think Phelpstead’s article is too short, and needs that extra paragraph suggested by squire to address the artistic achievement and reception of Tolkien’s actual translations: not one line from any of the three poems is quoted here.


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Edition with E.V. Gordon - Gerald Seaman

Comments by squire, April 14, 2007

Seaman kicks off in high gear, spins out, and recovers for a fabulous finish.

The account of Tolkien's relationship to Sir Gawain in his early years, and of the technical distinction of his and Gordon's scholarship, is first rate. I particularly liked the notes regarding the current status of Tolkien's edition - and as well, the current popularity of his posthumously published translation (see previous article's review). Seaman does not say just why or by what this 1925 edition has only "recently" been superseded, but at least we have some idea of how Tolkien's scholarship has endured.

Unfortunately, he then drifts off into an interesting but irrelevant account of Tolkien's years at Leeds, and the unfortunate later career of E. V. Gordon. It's all very well, but let's face it: for better or worse, Seaman should have left this material for the more relevant articles by other contributors.

But the final paragraph, on critics' connections between Sir Gawain and The Lord of the Rings, is fascinating; and fully justified, since the poem Sir Gawain does not have its own article in the Encyclopedia under the theme "Sources". The long and thorough 'Further Reading' list should gladden any researcher's heart.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

In contrast with the preceding article by Carl Phelpstead, on Tolkien’s translation of Sir Gawain and two other poems, which sticks perhaps too closely to the history and description of the texts finally published in 1975, this entry seems mis-titled, as only the second of its four paragraphs is actually about Tolkien and Gordon’s 1925 edition of Sir Gawain.  Instead, most of the first paragraph is about Tolkien’s lifelong relationship with the poem, including material covered in Phelpstead’s entry and in the article on Tolkien’s 1953 essay, “A Fourteenth-Century Romance” (missing from Seaman’s See also list).  The third paragraph is a biography of Gordon, who has his own entry.  And Seaman concludes with connections between Sir Gawain and Tolkien’s fiction, which is excellently done, as squire observes.

Seaman’s See also list includes two pre-announced entries which don’t appear in the published Encyclopedia.  One, titled “Pearl, Sir Orfeo: Edited by Christopher Tolkien”, was apparently superseded by Phelpstead’s article on the 1975 translation of all three poems, but Seaman seems to have believed that the other article would skip Tolkien’s translation of Sir Gawain.  Another, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, was presumably intended to have addressed the poem’s influence on Tolkien.  (Seaman also lists a non-entry on “Beowulf”.)  Both elements are now incorporated into Seaman’s conclusion here.  For Seaman, the changes largely worked out, apart from his misleading title, but it seems Phelpstead may have found himself squeezing commentary on three poems into space originally meant for two.


Smith, Geoffrey Bache (1894-1916) - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, June 23, 2007

This is a competent, almost excessively detailed, review of the abbreviated life of G. B. Smith, one of Tolkien's closest friends who, as mentioned in the revised Foreword to The Lord of the Rings, was dead by the end of the Great War. Smith's greatest contribution to Tolkien's development seems (as per Carpenter) to have been encouragement of his poeticism. Anderson covers this, but does not add any kind of evaluation of Smith's talent as a poet, although Tolkien, with the aid of their King Edwards School English master Reynolds, managed to publish Smith's extant poetry posthumously. In fact there is a separate article "Spring Harvest, A" on this collection, and the only real question remaining at the end of Anderson's article is: Why? Why separate the article on Smith's poetry from the article on Smith's life?


Smith of Wootton Major - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, March 31, 2007

Flieger is a scholar with an unmatchable expertise in Smith of Wootton Major. She has published a critical edition that incorporates the "companion essay" that Tolkien wrote for it, to which she refers in this article, and her coverage of this lesser but interesting book is erudite and comprehensive given the article's relatively short length. She places the story in context with Tolkien's other short works (but not with The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion, unfortunately), reveals its roots in Tolkien's dissatisfaction in 1964 with George MacDonald's concept of fairyland, very briefly covers the plot, setting, and characters, and reviews its critical reception and its various interpretations.

Flieger's prose is dense and dry, perhaps revealing the compression she has been forced to perform; but also suggesting that Smith of Wootton Major is anything but a tale that is just plain good to read. I wish she had made more clear how much, if any, of her interpretation is based on a reading of the text, and how much is based on Tolkien's companion essay.

As so often in the Encyclopedia, this expert contributor shuts the reader out from further inquiry: the bibiography meagerly gives only her and Tom Shippey's 2001 article. Tantalizingly, Flieger does make it clear there has been substantial attention paid to Smith. In her essay she cites the positive and negative reviews the book got on publication, Tolkien's own off-center allegorical key, and three serious symbolic interpretations that the book has received. One is Paul Kocher's, from his excellent nine page essay on Smith; but neither Kocher nor the source for any of the others is identified or referred to in 'Further Reading'. The See also list is disappointing as well.


Smith of Wootton Major (Character) - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, March 31, 2007

The peculiar duality of the Encyclopedia's thematic schizophrenia strikes again. For once, the result is coherent, though still puzzling in the editorial context. Flieger discusses the book as a whole in the previous article. Dickerson in this article tackles Smith, the lead character, and gives him a brief but thorough critical workup. The articles do not really overlap, rather they are intensely complementary; so the logical question arises, why not combine them?

One answer is, obviously, that we cannot know whether Flieger in a longer article with a more comprehensive treatment of Smith, would have (for instance) mentioned Dickerson's interesting point about Smith's resemblance to MacDonald's character Anados. Nor are we sure that Dickerson, writing about the book and Smith together, would have included (for instance) Flieger's expansive range of interpretations which so transcend his simple "autobiographical allegorical" one. By effectively assigning Smith of Wooton Major to two contributors, the Encyclopedia here succeeded in giving the reader some additional value for the price of reading two articles.

But this is so rare an occurrence, that it hardly counterbalances the rampant inefficiencies so common elsewhere in the Encyclopedia where two nearly identical articles appear, often side by side.

Dickerson's 'Further Reading' and See also are almost completely different from Flieger's (and there is no article on "Leaf by Niggle" for Dickerson to reference).


“Some Contributions to Middle-English Lexicography” - Jane Beal

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

A fascinating, detailed summary of Tolkien’s six-page 1925 linguistic article, which I have never read.  Beal gives Tolkien’s preferred definitions for all twelve Middle English words he discusses.  She lists nine languages, fourteen texts, and nine scholars cited by Tolkien to indicate the range of his knowledge.  She also notes that the article reveals something of Tolkien’s personal interests and point-of-view, including “insight into his perception of gender roles … in medieval literature”.  I would have like a little more of this, along with some indication of how Tolkien’s work here connects to his other scholarship, and how it has held up, if indeed it has ever been referenced since 1925: this entry includes no bibliography.  The See also list includes non-existent entries on “Middle English”, “Philology”, and “Scholarship”.


Solomon and Saturn - Kathryn Powell

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 15, 2007

This article is well done, but with some frustrating repetition: it duplicates the article, “Riddles: Sources”, but with an even narrower focus on just the Old English source for Gollum’s “dark” and “time” riddles in The Hobbit


Song Contests - David Gay

Comments by squire, May 7, 2007

Gay knows his stuff. His review of the Finnish and Norse roots for Tolkien's use of the "song contest" and the related theme of the "power of song" is deep and quite interesting. He also skims close to, but does not land on, a connection with the riddle contest; and he mentions a song contest that ends with a dwarf turning to stone at sunrise. It's all fascinating, for those interested in Tolkien's sources.

What is missing is a sense of balance. Gay's summary of Finrod's song contest with Sauron is barely sufficient to establish the connection with the Kalevala and Poetic Edda examples that are apparently Gay's main interest. It should be the other way around. Gay should have focused on Tolkien's work, not his sources.

Finrod's song contest with Sauron is, first of all, retold in the Lay of Leithian at second hand, and in the published Silmarillion at third hand. We do not hear the contest, we hear about the contest in the form of a poetic retelling. Second, the contest is structurally quite different from Gay's sources: the themes of the singing bounce back and forth, reflecting Finrod's and Sauron's competing tactics; but Finrod's final attempt to invoke the nobility of the Elves in order to resist Sauron's evil, founders on the Elves' own sins such as the Kinslaying, which Sauron retells to complete Finrod's destruction. This battle for moral superiority seems quite different from the Kalevala and Poetic Edda duels that Gay cites as Tolkien's examples, where the songsters compete only to display greater knowledge.

As for other examples of song contests in Tolkien, they're rare enough to make one wonder why this article is here at all. But is it reaching, to think of the Ainulindalë as a kind of primeval song contest between Eru and Melkor? Is it reaching, to think of the Song of the Ents and Entwives as a kind of beneficent song contest?

Gay's secondary topic, the idea of the song of power, is not unconnected with the primary topic. But what is it doing here? Readers will hardly know to look for it under this title. Still, his Danish song "Power of the Harp" is a good example of a source for Tom Bombadil's threatened song to destroy Old Man WIllow unless he releases Merry and Pippin. Why stop there? Why not mention Tom's song that destroys the barrow wight (and isn't there a hint of a contest, between two sung charms/curses, in that scene as well)? And especially why not mention Lúthien's songs, that subdue Morgoth and melt Mandos's heart, in The Silmarillion? I'm less sure about Sam's song in the Tower of Cirith Ungol, but in a way it overcomes the power of Mordor and leads to Frodo's liberation. Indeed, seen in a certain light, few of Tolkien's songs are not songs of power, but Gay does not go there.

The references tend to confirm that Gay is on a wrong track: the 'Further Reading' has no Tolkien criticism at all; and See also does not mention Lay of Leithian or any other aspect of Tolkien's legendarium save the single article "Music in Middle-earth".

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

This might stray too far from Gay’s subject, but the themes of Finrod’s contest with Sauron, noted by squire, are very reminiscent of the weaving contest of Arachne and Athena in classical mythology.  There Athena illustrates one of her triumphs as a goddess, only to be bested by the mortal Arachne’s imagery of the failings of the gods.


South, The - John F. G. Magoun

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 4, 2007

A very good treatment of the topic.

Magoun opens with the claim that “the South … is the least symbolic of the four cardinal direction,” but in the absence of entries in the Encyclopedia on the North or the West (incredibly!), I think the claim ought to be substantiated, even if most readers would tend to agree on an intuitive level. Magoun then refers to the “suggestion … that a hot climate implies evil inhabitants.” Though softened by the word “suggestion”, I think this is too facile a conclusion.

I would say, rather, that the shadow of Sauron may be responsible for much of that evil, but that the inhabitants themselves might be good or evil, individually, just as anywhere else. This is a slippery debate, because Tolkien himself sometimes oversimplified the South in the way Magoun does. But for my evidence that more care is needed here, I would point to Sam’s musings about the dead Southron during the battle in Ithilien. Though these may say more about Sam than about the unknown Southron, I would submit that Tolkien may be cautioning us against a too hasty judgment.

A few random points, all minor. Magoun mentions the South in Valinor, referring to the region called Avathar (though he doesn’t provide this name), but I think it would be more accurate to call this the South in Aman, rather than Valinor. Númenorean should be Númenórean – though the diacriticals are correct in the See also. Magoun mentions “Southrons” as a name for the Haradrim; I would have added “Swertings” also, which is the word used in the tales of the Shire. (As Harad is “the Sunlands.”)

The 'Further Reading' and See also are good. I was pleased to see Magoun work a reference to “Sigelwara Land” into this short essay; though it’s rather a tangent, it’s an interesting one. I will say that the inclusion of an unpublished manuscript goes against the editors' guidance to contributors that references be “preferably those that are available to the general public. Obscure and otherwise hard-to-find works should be avoided.” I was also surprised not to find “The East” in the See also.

Finally, though I’m not sure this was in time for Magoun’s essay, it should be noted that the version of Tolkien’s “Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings” in Lobdell’s book has been superseded by the more complete "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings" in Hammond and Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion.


Spain: Reception of Tolkien - Eduardo Segura

Comments by squire, August 12, 2007

While this piece follows the general pattern of the Cook's Tour "Reception of..." articles, with its emphasis on the history of translations and the local Tolkien Societies, there are a couple of distinctive elements, both for better and for worse.

Segura provides far more detail than usual about the technicalities and even legalities of the business of producing Spanish translations of Tolkien. He gives what is so rarely offered, actual sales volumes of the resulting books, but his assurance that the numbers reflect a "best seller" is tempered by the admission that sales of the Spanish editions of Tolkien include the Latin American market as well as the Spanish one. (And why is there no "Latin America: Reception of..." article?) He diligently notes that the "Spanish" (Castilian? he should have been clearer) translation El Senor de los Anillos does not account for all of Spain's readership. The Catalan translation El Senyor dels Anells is only just out, and the Galician and Basque readership has not yet been served.

Most importantly, Segura twice addresses the issue of how well The Lord of the Rings, a sophisticated but mock-medieval English/Northern European story, translates into the "Mediterranean" and "Romance" world of Spain and Spanish culture. Compared to so many other "Reception of..." articles that ignore this question, Segura's glib assurance that Tolkien's myth is both universal and congruent with Spain's own traditions of "wisdom and enchantment" is less important than his bringing it up in the first place.


Spanish Language - Eduardo Segura

Comments by squire, August 12, 2007

This is charming. Segura takes Tolkien's juvenile love affair with Spanish, courtesy of his guardian Fr. Morgan, and spins it into a reverie about Tolkien's insistence on the importance of the sound of a language in thinking about why a book grabs its audience. Bravely, he concedes that Tolkien's original focus on Spanish as a vehicle for developing an engaging invented language, "Naffarin", was eventually distracted in favor of Welsh and Finnish.

More than most articles about the various languages that Tolkien studied, knew, and put to use, this one really addresses what a specific foreign language meant to Tolkien.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 5, 2008

Segura’s analysis depends on comments made in a 1967 letter to a “Mr. Sands”, a potential translator of Tolkien’s work.  Where is this note to be found?  It’s not in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, and Segura doesn’t provide a bibliography (nor a See also list).  I’m also surprised that he didn’t fit Sands into his preceding article’s history of Tolkien’s translations into Spanish.


Spenser, Edmund – Julaire Andelin

Comments by Jason Fisher, September 25, 2007

Andelin spends most of her short entry explaining how, despite some common source material, The Faerie Queene and The Lord of the Rings are very different, the former allegorical, the latter expressly not. This is an important distinction, to be sure, but might have been expressed much more succinctly, especially as the demonstration of differences doesn’t do much to justify Spenser’s place in the Encyclopedia. But Andelin misses two important points. First, that Tolkien acknowledges Spenser as the last in the line of the more ancient and proper characterization of the Elves – as memorably contrasted with Shakespeare (see Letter #131, Letters p.143; see also “On Fairy-stories”). Second, a very important similarity between Tolkien and Spenser is that both were writing in a deliberately archaic style for their time. In fact, I believe Tolkien disliked Spenser’s archaisms, finding them affected and arbitrary rather than founded on any genuine understanding of sound change in the history of English. However, that they were both employing an archaic style, looking backward to Chaucer in many ways, is central.

Finally, a minor reference, perhaps too much to ask. Would it have been worth noting that early blurbs for The Lord of the Rings compared the work to Spenser, among others? One Richard Hughes “remarked that nothing had been attempted on the same scale since The Faerie Queene” (see Letter #145, Letters p.181).

The Further Reading is not bad. One omission is Nan Braude’s “Tolkien and Spenser” in Mythlore 1.3 (1969), pp.8-13, but I will admit I’m asking a lot to expect a contributor to get her hands on that! Also, I believe both Lin Carter and Giddings and Holland turn to Spenser in their (otherwise dubious) works. The See Also is quite substantial, perhaps even overly so. And I found one erratum in the text itself: for palantiri, read palantíri.


Spring Harvest, A: G. Bache Smith, ed. J.R.R. Tolkien - John Garth

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

In his book Tolkien and the Great War, Garth quotes some stanzas from “The Burial of Sophocles” by Smith, one of Tolkien’s T.C.B.S. friends who was killed in World War I.  One couplet caught my eye for its suggestion of Tolkien’s later poetry: There’s rest within for weary feet / Now all the journey is complete (p. 212). 

In this article on the posthumous collection of Smith’s poetry edited by Tolkien in 1918, Garth doesn’t mention that passage, but he identifies several other images and phrases strongly reminiscent of Tolkien’s work, and cites scholarship by Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey in support of those connections.  Garth nicely contextualizes Smith’s work and shows the influence of other poets on Smith, and by way of a review from another of Smith’s friends, he conveys something of its quality.  Unfortunately, to judge from this article, no comments survive from Tolkien on the merits or flaws of his friend’s poems, whose editing Garth calls Tolkien’s “sole contribution to mainstream modern literature”.

Comments by squire, July 9, 2007

Although both articles cross-reference each other, I think a strong argument could be made that this belonged in an extended version of the biographical article on G. Bache Smith. It was only while reading this that I got a strong sense of the young man's personality and sensibility, and something of why he and Tolkien were so close.

Additionally, such a choice would have reinforced Garth's approach of reviewing this book entirely in terms of Smith's writing. Although this article is categorized thematically as one of Tolkien's "Works of Literature", there is not a word here about Tolkien's contribution as editor, per se, except the lone remark that this was his "sole contribution etc." (as N. E. Brigand notes above).

The See also should include references to Tolkien's early poetry and fiction, against which we inevitably compare what Garth shows us of Smith's verse.


Subject Theory and Semiotics - Gergely Nagy

Comments by squire, August 12, 2007

I have too much respect for Nagy's writing, which when I can follow it is extremely engaging, to call this article gibberish. The fact remains, on a second or third reading I still can't make head or tail of it. Something about how all elements of fiction must be understood as being from some subjective point of view, which incorporates influences that are both internal and external to that subject?? I dunno. This makes his "Silmarillion" article seem clear as day.

I can only guess that even Nagy cannot write an essay about "subject theory and semiotics" without using the peculiar vocabulary and syntax of that discipline. I daresay that usages like "problematize", "pointing attention to", "highlights the subject's embeddedness in these discourses", "identity is seen as an aspect of", "constitutive aspects of the subject" would in more mainstream venues be red-penciled and returned to author for a rewrite. Here I have to assume they are part of a compressed technical vocabulary comparable to higher mathematics, or similar abstruse disciplines. Perhaps more self-explanatory expressions, if possible at all, would require three or ten times more words to make clear to laymen what adepts can quickly scan, nodding in easy comprehension.

Probably, too, Nagy was constrained by the Encyclopedia's word count to keep this piece too short to allow any other approach than to reproduce subject theory in its own terms, rather than explain it to inexperienced readers in understandable language. Could anything have been done? What is he saying that subject theory tells us about Gollum? about the Ainulindalë? Can I ask, in an educated layman's frustration, Who was the intended audience for this article?

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 5, 2008

Who is this entry’s intended audience?  Literary theorists, I think: on several occasions, Michael Drout has argued for more engagement between Tolkien studies and modern literary theory.  Several of Nagy’s articles, like “Authorship”, “Fictionality”, “Orality” “Textuality”, and this one (the most impenetrable of the bunch), as well as the entries on “Existentialism”, “Gaze”, “Homosexuality” (that is to say, Queer Theory), “Marxist Readings”, and others seem to have been included to improve Tolkien’s standing in the academy.  I’m not competent to say how well the Encyclopedia succeeds. 

But if this article warms Tolkien for the theorists, it certainly won’t endear theory to Tolkienists.  Can macrodynamics be “interested in” something?  How does Tolkien “problematize” mythological or religious discourse?  Why in this article and in Nagy’s entry on “Plato” does he stress this quality – why is it important that fiction “problemetize” its concepts?  Finally, what is a “subject”, anyway?  Nagy’s “Gollum” article suggests it is anything that produces meaning.  Shouldn’t he have defined the term here?


Suffield Family – Patricia Tubbs

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 19, 2007

This is a short, fairly dry, but generally informative essay.

I have mixed feelings about citing Margaret Burns’s private research. On the one hand, this is in direct challenge to the contributors’ guidelines, which directed authors to include only those reference works generally available to readers. And I’m not even sure who Margaret Burns is, come to that. But on the other hand, if Burns is the only source for the aggregation of certain widely dispersed facts, then I see some value in appealing to her work. Tubbs even went so far as to enumerate Burns’s sources, so that the most resourceful readers might possibly track them down first-hand. Still, Tubbs’s first citation of Burns was entirely unnecessary, as the fact it corroborates may be found in Carpenter Tolkien Appendix A as well as in The Tolkien Family Album.

I didn’t take the time to check each and every fact and date here, but one jumped out at me. Tubbs gives the dates for Mabel’s father, John Suffield, as 1833–1930, which is backed up by Carpenter. However, on the genealogical tree in The Tolkien Family Album, John Suffield’s dates are 1802–1891! Looking back at Carpenter, it appears these are the dates of Mabel’s grandfather, another John Suffield, but not the one who married Emily Sparrow (as would appear in TFA). So it appears that Tubbs has it right, and TFA has it wrong. I’d probably never have noticed this were it not for reviewing the present entry.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the claims made in Tubbs’s final paragraph about the conflicting nature of “Tolkien’s dual Sheffield and Tolkien heritage … contribut[ing] to his inner conflict between academic and fictional pursuits.” I was unfamiliar with her source for this claim, Moseley; however, a cursory look at his work (and reviews of it) suggests it may not be the best source. A claim like this ought to be backed up with a better source and/or elaborated upon in more than just a single-sentence assertion if I’m going to buy into it.


Suicide - Richard C. West

Comments by squire, August 11, 2007

This article is hard to get a grip on. West seems to treat all aspects of suicide in Tolkien's fiction exclusively by the standard of how they fit into Christian doctrine -- presumably because Tolkien was a faithful Catholic, in whose view suicide was a mortal sin. West suggests this was Tolkien's main concern, even for his fictional characters.

He even goes as far as to suggest Tolkien "need not entirely despair" about Denethor's soul despite his suicide, because by 1994, the Catholic Church had made allowance for psychological stress in evaluating a suicide's fate in the eyes of God. This was decades after Tolkien's time - why did West not research the catechism that was in force when Tolkien was writing?

Not that there aren't some signs of religion in Tolkien's treatment of suicide. West is strongest when he recounts that Gandalf condemns Denethor for aping the "heathen" practices of evil lords: that word choice suggests that there is some kind of a religious prohibition in Middle-earth against suicide -- although there is no reason to align it with Christian doctrine per se.

But West seems not to acknowledge that suicide in Middle-earth often appears to have nothing to do with the Christian viewpoint. 

  • Gandalf's full line, "The heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair..." is a good working indictment of Túrin, though that is not Gandalf's point. But when we go back to his own time, nowhere in the tale of Túrin is it implied by his people (or by the narrator) that Túrin or Nienor should not on moral grounds have committed suicide (and infanticide); there is only reget that their lives were lost to the cruel workings of fate and/or a divine curse.

  • Sam's suicidal thoughts when Frodo is apparently dead, "...[T]he bright point of the empty fall into nothingness. There was no escape that way. That was to do nothing...", are a remarkably practical and nihilistic view of an afterlife. There is no question of guilt or salvation, just of effectiveness and duty.

  • Fëanor's mother Miriel, burned out by the effort of bearing her son's supernally powerful spirit, lies down and dies, although healthy and uninjured. This may not be suicide as mortals reckon it, but it gave the Elves and Valar a major headache (as retold in "Laws and Customs of the Eldar") about whether her husband was free to remarry when her soul lived but refused to reincarnate. The clear lesson is that she did a bad thing, even under the peculiar circumstances of birthing a genius.

I wish West had paid attention to his own introduction, and been more flexible in considering Tolkien's use of non-Christian traditions in writing his stories. These ranged from Classical, to Northern, to those of his own imaginary world where suicide by mortals and immortals (whatever did become of Maedhros after he cast himself into the abyss?) is judged severely but not cruelly, by the Vala Mandos. Tolkien in his letters explicitly contrasted the non-Christian aspects of his legendarium's fantastic theology with his own beliefs; his stories are not a simple calque of his own Catholic faith, as West seems to believe.


Sweden: Reception of Tolkien - Beregond, Anders Stenström

Comments by squire, August 11, 2007

This follows the usual unimaginative course of most of the "Reception of..." articles, with lists of translation titles and dates, accounts of the various Tolkien societies, etc. There are some interesting points here that I wish Stenström had enlarged upon.

Ake Ohlmarks' self-promotion aside, what was it about his translations that annoyed both Tolkien in the 1950s and English-reading Swedish fans in the 1990s? Why do Swedish fan societies "generally" indulge in "Middle-earthly manners as to dress, naming, and so on"? Are "secret societies" (like Midgårds Fylking) common in Sweden for fan interests? Do Swedish readers identify as strongly with Tolkien's use of Norse sources as Norwegian or Danish readers do? Is two million copies over forty years for Härskarringen (the standard Swedish LotR) a notable sales achievement in Sweden?


Swedish Language - Beregond, Anders Stenström

Comments by squire, August 11, 2007

By thoroughly scouring Tolkien's philological publications and letters, Stenström makes a good case that Tolkien knew Swedish entirely on an academic research basis. This played a minor (though no doubt useful) role in his professional work, and had no apparent influence on his fiction and invented languages. Since that's about it, one has to wonder if this article couldn't have been combined, with Danish and Norwegian, into one on the entire modern Scandinavian language family.


Symbolism in Tolkien's Works - Brian Rosebury

Comments by squire, January 20, 2007

In a very short essay, Rosebury covers all the bases. He comes on strongly for the ideas that an overly symbolic critical interpretation of Tolkien can "strain the sense of the text" and that Tolkien's fiction "sufficiently explains its own elements". I particularly enjoyed his distinction between medieval and modern literary symbolism which puts Tolkien in the modern camp!

A joy to read. Not that I expected anything less from Rosebury.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 5, 2008

Another strength of Rosebury’s beautiful article is how he makes one example serve multiple duties, as with his examination of the Standing Silence of the Dúnedain, and what that ceremony symbolizes both for the characters and (possibly) for the reader.

My only suggestion: since Rosebury points to the symbolism in Pearl; he might have specifically directed readers to one of the Encyclopedia’s articles on that poem, and added to his ‘Further Reading’ list Tolkien’s translation. In the introductory comments Tolkien addresses the symbolic and allegorical nature of the poem.