Taniquetil - Jason Fisher

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 3, 2007

In a solid article, Fisher describes the geography of Tolkien’s original holy mountain, gives a history of its appearance in Tolkien’s work, explains the meaning of its names, notes its real world analogues, and relates Tolkien’s own repetition of its imagery with lesser sacred pinnacles (though to Fisher’s list I would add the Silvertine, where Gandalf’s mission was “taken up” by “Authority” [Letter #156], and Halifirien, whose name is Old English for “holy mountain”).

Comments by squire, April 3, 2007

Fisher's fine analysis slackens in the last paragraph, with his comment about Taniquetil's "diminishing afterimages" in Middle-earth. While I agree that Taniquetil is the ur-mountain of Tolkien's legendarium, its afterimages that Tolkien envisioned again and again are complex and multidimensional. They should not be reduced to a quick list to round off a short essay -- especially a list that mixes up explicitly hallowed peaks (Mindolluin, Menaltarma), visually striking but not particularly sacred peaks (Mount Taras), and manmade towers (Elostirion, Barad-dur).

The relationship of towers to mountains in Tolkien's works is an entire essay in itself. Sticking for the moment to mountains, Taniquetil's symbolism as an intersection of earth and heaven, or mind and sight and hearing, can been seen in less obvious but more explicitly potent heights in The Lord of the Rings, such as Weathertop, Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw, and Zirak-zigil.

Fisher's perceptive comment about Barad-dûr with Sauron's all-seeing Eye is good. But in the world of the Silmarillion where Taniquetil and the Valar are more present in the story, we might think instead of Thangorodrim, where Húrin was made to sit in all-seeing witness to Morgoth's evil designs: an obvious burlesque of Taniquetil, where Manwe and Varda see and hear all the world's sufferings.

 

 Tavrobel (or Tathrobel) - Michael W. Perry

Comments by squire, January 31, 2007

This brief account of the Elvish settlement on Tol Eressea where the Lost Tales were composed seems to get in most of the basic facts, but suffers from a fairly casual style and organization.

Without claiming a complete knowledge of the early HoME volumes, I think at some point in Tolkien's ever-changing reconception of the frame-narrative of his mythology, Tavrobel becomes the home of the scholar Pengolod after the fall of Gondolin, and he is the one who writes the Elvish histories in the Golden Book, so that Eriol/Ælfwine becomes a translator, not a transcriber.

It could be made clearer what sequence of houses and villages Tolkien occupied during the 1916-17 period, so that the suggested parallels between his own lodgings where he wrote The Book of Lost Tales, and the House of a Hundred Chimneys where Eriol and/or Pengolod stayed, would make better sense.

I recently discovered that Hammond and Scull in Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator propose one of the houses that the Tolkiens actually stayed in, rather than the great house at Shugborough, as an inspiration for the House of a Hundred Chimneys.

Finally, it seems idle to speculate what Tolkien did or didn't notice about the parallel between the Irish monasteries and his fictional Tavrobel as places where ancient books lingered to be rediscovered ages later. He may well have intended the parallel to be picked up by his readers without his aid.

If, as Perry's bibliography suggests, only Flieger has commented on the meaning of Tavrobel and its relation to Tolkien's later device of the "Red Book of Westmarch" as the vehicle for the transmission of The Lord of the Rings, it just goes to show how much critical work is still to be done in reading and commenting on The Book of Lost Tales.

It's good that the re-use of the name Tavrobel in the later versions of the Túrin saga is noted, though space constraints seem to have limited any further explanation beyond Christopher Tolkien's speculative comment.

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

Perry never mentions Tolkien’s poem, “An Evening in Tavrobel”, published in Leeds University Verse 1914–1924.  The poem is mentioned in the article on that collection and described in the entry, “Poems by Tolkien: Uncollected”, but none of the three articles refers to either of the others, and the index listing for “Tavrobel” leads only to this entry and that on “Great Haywood”.

 

T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society) - John Garth

Comments by squire, March 28, 2007

Here is an excellent summary of the story of Tolkien's boyhood circle of artistic friends, given by the expert Tolkien biographer Garth. It is a very familiar story indeed to those who have read Garth's sources: his own book and Carpenter's biography. Garth carefully conveys the TCBS's own high estimation of itself, not his own.

It is perhaps too early to expect more in the context of Tolkien studies. Yet I am always put off by Tolkien's early poetry.  I shouldn't wonder that the first  idealistic achievements of his and his friends' youth, cut off too soon by the war, acquired an elegiac permanence in Tolkien's mind that transcended their worth, and so has been conveyed inevitably to his biographers. The death of a thousand TCBS's among the educated men of England and the other Powers in the Great War must have been a commonplace of that time. Yet what was their future anyway, after maturity extended its heavy hand? The geniuses that survived to create great works of art in later life, like Tolkien, were perhaps no rarer than in more peaceful times, and what they survived was not so much the War, as adulthood.

 

Technological Subcultures: Reception of Tolkien - Lisa L. Spangenberg

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

This is a fascinating look at a world unknown to me.  Spangenberg explains how Tolkien’s work caught on with computer programmers (“hackers”) in the 1960s, she lists a number of examples of his influence in that realm, and she offers some useful advice regarding computer passwords.

I would like some clarification on the chronology of Tolkien’s effect on the likes of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, ARPANET, and the Perl scripting language; apart from her last paragraph (a catch-all on dormitories, asteroids, and a film-inspired prank), the only dates in Spangenberg’s history are the 1965 appearance of LotR in paperback and the “Great Worm” computer virus of 1988.

How has the Tolkien interest among hackers fed back into other Tolkiena?  Spangenberg includes a pointer to the “Gaming” entry in her See also list, but what about connections to other fan responses?  Since she writes that hackers were drawn to Tolkien particularly for his detailed subcreation and his artificial languages, has the computer subculture affected Tolkien fanfiction, art, “Middle-earth studies”, or scholarship of Tolkien’s languages?

Comments by squire, April 3, 2007

N. E. Brigand has touched on the most interesting aspect of this subject, which Spangenberg barely investigates: what is it about Tolkien and dweebs, nerds, wonks, geeks, and dorks? No one could be more anti-"technological" than Tolkien, yet his imaginary proto-medieval magical world captivated the obsessive, super-logical, highly analytical minds of computer programmers from the start.

Spangenberg has done some fine research here into some of the episodes that highlight this seemingly strange conjunction. But I wonder that  in some Cultural Studies field no one has yet embarked on a serious inquiry into the appeal of Middle-earth (and related cultic fantasy and sci-fi realms) to the so-called "technological subculture". For instance, are philologists (c. 1870-1950) and computer programmers (c. 1950-200?) similar personality types?

It would also be interesting to me to learn if any of Tolkien's works besides The Lord of the Rings has really had an impact on the computer guys. Spangenberg tries to connect Tolkien's term "Great Worm" (Glaurung from The Silmarillion) to the so-called "Great Worm" internet virus of 1988 - but I wonder if that might not come from Dune, instead?

 

Technology in Middle-earth - Shana Worthen

Comments by squire, February 27, 2007

From beginning to end this article reads like a collision of a History of Technology textbook and the Dummies' Guide to Middle-earth.

A variety of sentences cribbed from academic surveys on the subject, randomly conjoined with clumsy examples from Tolkien's stories, show an almost total lack of understanding of what technology meant to Tolkien, and makes the entire thing into an exercise in absurdity. (The Elves "capture the light of a star in a bottle" - enough said.)

Technology as a concept may be used to analyze Tolkien's imagined worlds, but for starters it would be well to remember that the word itself was not common even in Tolkien's time. Strictly, the whole point of technology is that it is a scientific and methodical approach to making tools. That is a very new concept. Tools have been made by men from the beginning, but always in an ad-hoc and undirected way. To apply the rules of science (propose, test, verify, refine, mass-produce) to the process of invention was not a characteristic of medieval or ancient minds, even the minds of the very intelligent and skilled engineers and artisans of those times. In Worthen's defense, here she is only following the lead of a host of ambitious historians of science, anxious to project contemporary scientific modes of thought back through the ages.

Definitions aside, I would take "technology" in Tolkien to stand for industrial mechanization. As such, Worthen's odd examples of technology in the lands of the Free Peoples are somewhat bizarre: mushroom picking, making wastepaper baskets, and using center-hall hearths are not examples of a certain level of technology, but examples of the absence of technology. She is of course more correct in seeing technology in Isengard, Mordor, and the Shire under Sharkey's rule, since in Tolkien's world technology is essentially evil.

Unfortunately, she obscures this obvious dichotomy in her determined effort to show that each race in Middle-earth is defined by its particular "technology".

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

My 1964 printing of Webster’s defines technology as “the science or study of the practical or industrial arts”, whereas wikipedia (at the moment) gives “the relationship that society has with its tools and crafts”, a definition that jibes with Worthen’s explanation that technology concerns all “tools and techniques”.  Tolkien probably would have disputed that interpretation – does the word “technology” even appear in his writings? – but in the twenty-first century, I’m willing to grant Worthen her subject, as a replacement for separate entries on tools, crafts, and the applied sciences as portrayed in Tolkien’s fiction. 

It’s a big topic, though.  And it’s a shame Worthen is limited to “Middle-earth” because Verlyn Flieger’s 2005 edition of Smith of Wootton Major includes a long essay by Tolkien in which he offers some fascinating comments on craftsmanship.  (In fact, Worthen limits herself to the Middle-earth of LotR: for example, dwarves are described as being, following a decline, “still competent miners”.)

So defined, Worthen still falls short with this article.  Her introduction includes the dubious proposition that good and evil uses of technology differ “in ends, not means” – doesn’t Tolkien mean the Ring to be a refutation of that idea?  Following her introduction, she simply provides one paragraph each on the technology of Hobbits, Men, Elves, Dwarves, Ents, Wizards, and Orcs, in which a few examples are connected to real-world technological history: so Gandalf’s fireworks date to ninth-century China, and the open hearths of Rohan were antiquated in Europe by the fourteenth century. 

Her comments on individual races include needless speculation, overgeneralization, and unsubstantiated claims.  What point is there in specifying that bells in Rivendell and Minas Tirith “may or may not be mechanically regulated; the author does not say”?  Do all Tolkien’s men really “live in fortified cities and rely on agricultural trades for their subsistence and income”?  Where are the “large castles” built by orcs?

More importantly, Worthen never gets past the most elementary analysis of her topic.  She notes that “hobbits possess some of the most recent technologies in Middle-earth”  including umbrellas, wastepaper baskets, and mechanical clocks, but how does she know that technology developed in Middle-earth exactly as in the real world? She then says that this contrasts with their pastoral lifestyle, and comments that the existence of a postal service and museum indicate “a systematically-organized civic body”. 

But she never asks: what do these contrasting elements tell us about hobbits?  Why did Tolkien portray them in this way?  Likewise for the other peoples she describes.  And what are the larger patterns in Tolkien’s presentation of technology, and what does that mean for the story?

 

Television: U.S. Coverage - Anthony Burdge and Jessica Burke

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

The first half of this article touches on TV-related subjects that are covered elsewhere in the Encyclopedia. The animated cartoons of The Hobbit and The Return of the King are discussed in the article on "Rankin-Bass Productions, Inc."  There are also articles on unfilmed LotR adaptations, Ralph Bakshi’s LotR film, and Tolkien’s 1960s reception in the U.S. As Burdge and Burke note, Tolkien was interviewed for the BBC in 1968, but never for American television. Then there comes an exaggerated claim that “Tolkien fans waited for two decades [after 1980] to have his name mentioned on American television”  -- as one counter-example, the incomplete fan archive for the Jeopardy quiz show lists 16 references to Tolkien on that one program just between 1990 and 1999.

Only on reaching the year 2000 do Burdge and Burke turn to their real subject: TV coverage afforded Tolkien because of Peter Jackson’s films. They write that Jackson’s films have brought more fans to Tolkien (“particularly [by] airing on cable television” – no source is given for that claim).  But although it lists some titles, this article’s purpose seems to be to steer readers away from most of the film-inspired TV programs, because Tolkien gets short shrift.  The exception are two National Geographic documentaries, applauded for investigating “what may have inspired Tolkien to write his tales of Middle-earth”.  That sounds like faint praise: how do these studies compare to printed Tolkien scholarship?

Comments by squire, April 3, 2007

This really does seem like an article looking for a subject. "Coverage" in TV terms implies an ongoing story. Tolkien is not a story. Burdge and Burke document a series of unconnected programs, mostly oriented toward film treatments. The upshot is that American TV "coverage" of Tolkien himself has been almost nil, but has rather focused on promoting entertaining adaptations of his stories.  Anyone with a knowledge of American television would say, "And what exactly did you expect? The Tom Shippey Hour, Tuesdays at 8 (7 Central)?"

It is idle to compare whatever attention Tolkien may have gotten on the air with "printed Tolkien scholarship". However, since the two 2002-03 National Geographic specials named are the best that Burdge and Burke can offer as "coverage" of Tolkien (as opposed to films of his work), it would have been nice to get a more detailed analysis of just how Tolkien was presented to the mass TV audience.

 

Tertullian - John Walsh

Comments by N.E. Brigand, March 21, 2007

This entry is meant to be complementary to William Smith’s article on Alcuin.  Tertullian asked, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?”, an attack on classical legends that Alcuin echoed six centuries later with “What does Ingeld have to do with Christ?”, in a screed against Northern mythology.  Tolkien discusses Alcuin’s query in his Beowulf lectures, the subject of Smith’s article.  Walsh tackles the question as it applies to The Lord of the Rings.  In this, he follows Tom Shippey, who in both The Road to Middle-earth and J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century proposes LotR as a mediation of Christian and pagan ideals, though Walsh never refers to Shippey.

Did Tolkien ever mention Tertullian?  Walsh quickly drops him in favor of Alcuin, and working from Tolkien’s lecture, seizes on a reference to Ingeld’s story as “chiefly interesting as an episode in a larger theme” to make a underdeveloped connection between Beowulf, Christ, Frodo and Ingeld as heroes of stories built on a larger history.  Then he observes that LotR includes both pagan and Christian elements, mercy preeminent among the latter, and concludes by overreaching in describing Gandalf’s sacrifice and rebirth as “the same as Christ’s Harrowing of Hell and resurrection”.

There is no See also list, which should refer at least to Alcuin, Beowulf and the Critics, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, Frodo, and Mercy.

 

Textual History: Errors and Emendations - David D. Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, October 9, 2007

Judging by Oberhelman’s essay, the title perhaps ought to have stipulated that its scope is limited to The Lord of the Rings. I can see why Oberhelman made this choice; however, I would have liked to see the discussion expanded to cover at least The Hobbit, also, had the space been allowed. The material here is good, judiciously selected, and well summarized, even if the subject is a bit dry.

The 'Further Reading' is perfectly sufficient, but one wonders whether there might be more out there. In the See also, “Tolkien, Christopher” should read “Tolkien, Christopher Reuel”. I would also have expected to see cross-references to those volumes of The History of Middle-earth that specifically treat with The Lord of the Rings.

 

Textuality - Gergely Nagy

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

Nagy opens by writing that his subject is “[n]otoriously difficult to define”, and indeed this article is full of slippery abstractions.  More specifics would help non-theorists like myself.  What I could understand is interesting, but I am left with many questions:

I think that Nagy is right to note that “Tolkien’s texts are nearly always claimed to be texts inside his fictitious world” –though some examples would be helpful here– but is he right that Tolkien’s texts are “largely about how texts and stories told in them are used by cultures and individuals”?  Is LotR “largely” about the use of texts?

Is Nagy correct to cite pp. 308-17 of Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle-earth (3rd edition) in support of the idea that Tolkien’s use of a “whole complex of variant texts” to suggest depth, “most notably” in LotR?  Shippey’s intention in those ten fascinating pages, if I follow him correctly, is to relate Tolkien’s multiple versions of the story of Beren and Lúthien to the various real-world retellings of the Völsungasaga, to show how Tolkien was attempting to create depth in a different way than he had achieved it in LotR (where his usual method was to refer to older tales, not to retell the story of LotR – though there are exceptions, like the poems describing the ride of the Rohirrim, and Sam’s speculation on the steps of Cirith Ungol).

What does Nagy mean when, citing work by Verlyn Flieger and himself, he writes that “it is always the individual variant … of the story that criticism examines”?  Does he mean that criticism should examine only individual variants of multi-textual stories?  Or that it cannot help but do so, that it is impossible to examine multiple variants?

Nagy refers to “Tolkien’s focus on the written text as the only appropriate medium in which the creation of a world can be performed” – what are the alternatives that Tolkien rejected?  And what about the creation of our world?

Tolkien’s “insistence on texts as artifacts”, Nagy claims, includes “his painstakingly constructing a few pages from the Book of Mazarbul” – how does the fact that those pages are runic transcriptions of English affect their status as fictional artifacts?

Finally, I return to my request for specificity: couldn’t Nagy have explained why his subject matters in more concrete terms than that it leads to “important theoretical considerations about the different discourses of culture (such as history, theology, economics, politics, etc.), observable in these texts [that] shape a representation of any world”?  Just one example of how Tolkien’s textual efforts bears on “history, theology, economics, politics” would make this article much clearer.

 

Theoden - Hilary Wynne

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

The first two-thirds of Wynne’s article relates Théoden’s life as if told by a later historian.  There’s no point in providing readers with the names of Théoden’s parents, or listing the dates he and his father reigned, or writing that “He lay in state in Gondor before being borne back to Rohan to be laid to rest”, especially if no significance is attached to these facts. 

Wynne’s approach also doesn’t fit well with her eventual comments on Théoden as a literary character (which follow a too long explanation of the Old English meaning of his name).  Wynne’s comparison between Théoden and Denethor is good but familiar, and given without attribution; the entry has no bibliography.  So also her remark on the archetypal nature of Théoden’s renewal “has often been” made before, she says, but not by whom.  Wynne concludes by noting, at too little length, the power of two of Théoden’s scenes.  One of them is his cry Arise now, arise, Riders of Théoden! from “The King of the Golden Hall”; however, at that point he brandishes not his own sword (as Wynne claims) but Éomer’s. 

(An editing oddity: Théoden is stripped of his diacritical mark in the title and throughout the article, though the name is spelled correctly in Wynne’s “Éomer” article and elsewhere in the encyclopedia.)

 

Theological and Moral Approaches in Tolkien's Works - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, April 1, 2007

Dickerson proves mostly true to his commission. He does not just cover The Lord of the Rings, but considers the underlying theological and moral axioms in much of Tolkien's fantastic fiction, including Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wootton Major, and the "Ainulindalë" and "Valaquenta" in The Silmarillion. His essay on a difficult topic is clear and well-organized. His 'Further Reading' list is excellent.

But he essentially skips the "Quenta Silmarillion" in The Silmarillion. That consciously mythic set of legends, written in the 'heigh style', as Tolkien put it, should definitely have been checked against Dickerson's list of Tolkien's "theological and moral approaches": a monotheistic mythology with a messianic Christ figure; emphasis on moral rather than military heroism; an objective morality established by God, with forgiveness only possible through grace; an actively involved Creator who responds to prayer.

Whether Dickerson's list covers the Silmarillion or not (and to me, checking off the list above, it raises fascinating points of similarity and difference between Sil and LotR), we as Dickerson's readers should not have to be doing this. LotR is a "late" work of Tolkien's, compared to the Sil, and though it is certainly his most mature work, he did actually spend most of his life on creating the Sil as a coherent work of mythology. LotR's 10-14 years of composition are only a fraction of that period. No discussion of "Tolkien's Works" can ever ignore the Silmarillion cycle without inviting a certain level of scorn.

I'm not even going to mention The Hobbit. I will, however, close with a mini-rant that the following article "Theology in The Lord of the Rings" by Cath Filmer-Davis cannot help but revisit much of Dickerson's ground here. Dickerson's article is listed in the Thematic category "Literature"; Filmer-Davis's is in the "Themes and Thematic Elements" category. What's up with that? Why? Why? Why?

 

Theology in The Lord of the Rings - Cath Filmer-Davies

Comments by Entwife Wandlimb, January 21, 2007

Cath Filmer-Davies wrote “Theology in The Lord of the Rings,” a one-sided entry lacking supporting references.  She compares the imagery and plot of LotR to a Roman Catholic view of life as a pilgrimage.  Regrettably, she does not support this view with the works of any other writers.  Her one citation outside of LotR is from Carpenter’s biography, quoting Tolkien as saying “I dislike allegory wherever I smell it.”  Is she unknowingly contradicting Tolkien again when she insists that Galadriel symbolizes “the church in its feminine aspect of ‘the bride of Christ’…not the Virgin Mary”?  Perhaps she hasn’t read Letters, where Tolkien compares Galadriel to Mary three times.  It is neither cited nor listed under further reading.  She also asserts “Elves seem to fulfill an ecclesiastical role in function if not in social structure and ceremony.”  An interesting notion, but it does not reference any other work and her next statement compares the elves to the Church, not the clergy.

On a petty note, she refers to Gollum as “the Gollum” three times.  The only time she doesn’t use the definite article before his name is when quoting Gandalf’s words in RotK.

Her Further Reading list is anemic: “Roman Catholicism” in The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church and Carpenter’s biography.  There is no “See also” list.

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

Filmer-Davies isn’t contradicting herself, as Entwife Wandlimb suggests: she is trying to show that despite Tolkien’s claims, “there is a decided element of allegory” in LotR.  It’s curious that this article, like the preceding one by Matthew Dickerson, opens by acknowledging Tolkien’s distaste for allegory (Dickerson is much stronger in his separation of allegory from implication).  And why did Filmer-Davies feel it was necessary to specify that she didn’t mean allegory “in the sense of portraying political events”?

She follows this introduction with a helpful summary (for me) of the Catholic doctrines concerning original sin, grace, and the sacraments, at the conclusion of which she lays out the argument she will be making in the rest of her article: the story of LotR represents, in Catholic terms, a life’s journey.

But immediately Filmer-Davies falters, when she claims that “[t]he title, the epigraph of the trilogy and the very first chapters are all concentrated on the notion of evil”. Thus right away she must pause to explain how the Shire is evil. She also never explains how the Prologue and the maps fit her scheme.  Then she takes up the same allegorical approach that Joseph Pearce managed better in his article on “Christ”: the Ring as original sin.  But through the rest of her article, Filmer-Davies struggles with consistency: the Elves, who “fulfill an ecclesiastical role”, depart at the story’s end; likewise, “so will the church cease to function on earth when its purpose has been accomplished”.  But in that case, LotR represents not one life’s journey but all of history.  (And Tolkien said that Aragorn in the Fourth Age would be a “priest king” – Letters p. 206.)

Filmer-Davies should never have structured this article as a single allegorical scheme.  Rather, working from Tolkien’s somewhat contradictory statements that first, LotR is “fundamentally” Christian, and second, that he removed almost all religious elements from it, she ought to have attempted an explanation of both the few hints of religion given within the story (“May the Valar turn him aside!”) and some of the likelier symbolic elements she identified. That is, given that Tolkien was unlikely to have intended an overarching allegory, what were his particular intentions, and how does he succeed?  (On the last point, she might have noted that some critics have complained that a lack of religion hurts the story.)

 

Thingol - Marcel R. Bülles

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

With nods to Randel Helms and Tom Shippey, Bülles notes connections to Kalevala and Sir Orfeo.  He mentions Tolkien’s repeated use in other contexts of the imagery of Thingol’s encounter with Melian.  Though Flieger’s comments on Thingol go unmentioned, Splintered Light does appear in Bülles’ bibliography.  There are references to The Silmarillion, several HoMe volumes, The Hobbit, LotR and Tolkien’s letters.  And yet I find this article unsatisfying.  Maybe it is the changes in tense.  Or the disjointed summary that explains that Thingol was charged to lead his people to Valinor but never explains that he didn’t return there himself.  Or the unnecessary report that Letters contains no important comments on Thingol.  Or Bülles’ concluding sentence, a description of Aragorn and Arwen from LotR, that ends with an ellipsis.

 

Thorin Oakenshield - Jo-Anna Dueck, Paulina J. Gibson, Gerda Marz, and Sharon Tanhueco Schmitt

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

Though Dueck appears alone in the encyclopedia’s list of contributors, the byline for this article also credits Gibson, Marz, and Schmitt.  Most of their entry is a chronological telling of Thorin’s life, taken from The Hobbit, LotR and perhaps Unfinished Tales –information from “The Quest of Erebor” is scanted – though no attempt is made to identify those sources, apart from one mention of The Hobbit.  The history is presented clearly but with unnecessary elaboration: so they write that Thorin in the Dimrill Dale, “never lagging during the battle … bravely killed many Orcs that day” – while not unlikely, this is only supposition.

Thorin’s character is accurately but uninterestingly described: for example, “He had strong leadership qualities and willingly took charge”.  But no attempt is made to place him as a figure in The Hobbit or in Tolkien’s fiction as a whole.  William Green has commented on Thorin’s dragon-like behavior upon recovering the gold.  Paul Kocher has noted how the songs of the Lake-men lead Thorin to see himself as a returning king rather than a treasure hunter.  For Tom Shippey, Thorin, especially in his speech patterns, represented an aspect of the ancient Northern world: “Thorin, though long-winded enough, does not talk about calculations, but about things…” (The Road to Middle-earth, 3rd edition, p. 73).  Some of this should have appeared here, along with some comparison of Thorin to Tolkien’s proto-dwarf, Mîm, or to that model of stubborn pride, Túrin, or to Gimli, or perhaps to Théoden, who has a similar heroic death.

Two late paragraphs explaining the nature of dwarves of the Völuspá and Nibelunglied belong rather to the “Dwarves” article, and anyway make no attempt to explain why Tolkien changed the legends as he did.  Michael Stanton’s Hobbits, Elves and Wizards appears in the bibliography, though Thorin is mentioned only once in that book.  “Pride” and “Exile” should be added to the See also list.

 

Time - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, February 2, 2007

This long complex article treats with a very slippery topic. What is Time, after all? Nevertheless Flieger tackles it, and touches on what seems like most of the important ways in which Tolkien dealt with the abstract concept of Time in his stories.

But the article is really not organized very well. She returns several times to Tolkien's "time-travel" stories The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers, each time pausing to re-explain what they are. She defines at one point several categories or motifs that Tolkien seems to use ("fields of Time", "Other Time", "standing outside Time"), but fails to use them as they beg to be used: to organize her subsequent discussion of Time in his fiction. She introduces Tolkien's fascination with the mechanics of time measurement, but fails to return to the subject, although his chronologies and his calendar systems are strong features of the Lord of the Rings appendices and speak loudly about his instincts that time could be quantified.

For all of Flieger's natural erudition, I feel this article has the earmarks of a first draft. Some strict editorial oversight or peer review would have quickly turned this into the truly masterful essay it should have been.

Also, as an acknowledged expert on the subject (she literally wrote the book on this one), Flieger cites but one source other than her own work. Perhaps no other Tolkien critic has tackled the subject. The omission of the crucial Dunne book from the bibliograpy is odd. So is the lack of even one general/popular history of time-space theory to give the reader a chance to follow up her point that Tolkien's obsession with the metaphysics of space-time was not at all unusual in the 1930s and 40s.

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

Concerning Smith of Wootton Major, Flieger explains how the hero can make long journeys in Faery without exceeding “the compass of a single day” in his village.  I wish she had noted how Tolkien plays with this idea in the very structure of the tale: the smith’s experience of Faery begins when he clasps the magic star to his forehead at dawn on his tenth birthday, and ends at dusk nearly forty-eight years later when he relinquishes it and describes his wanderings to his son as having lasted “All the way from Daybreak to Evening”. 

Concerning The Hobbit, Flieger feels that work “in particular … uses time as a natural marker of supernatural events”, and gives the example of Durin’s Day, when the sunlight reveals the keyhole on the Lonely Mountain, but I can think of only one other instance: the conjunction of midsummer and moon that illuminates Thorin’s map at Elrond’s house.

Flieger casts an impressively wide net, referencing the Lost Tales, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, the two unfinished time-travel stories, Smith of Wootton Major, “On Fairy-stories”, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” (an especially nice touch) and an unpublished essay on “Elvish time”.  Unfortunately, though the ‘Further Reading’ list includes her own A Question of Time, she doesn’t indicate that two paragraphs from the last item were published in her book’s third chapter.  Besides Tolkien’s Smith and two of Flieger’s own books, the only other work in her bibliography is an online 2004 essay that seems hardly worth including; it is no advance on A Question of Time.  The See also list is inadequate: there are no references to “Calendars”, “Lothlórien” or “Faërie”.

 

Time Travel - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, February 2, 2007

Another example of an "odd couple" of articles, and by the same author as so often is the case. But compared to "Time" this is a model of focus. Her discussion of the mode of time travel that Tolkien favored, the para-psychological (compared to the physical, a la Wells), is very good, and as with the other article she takes care to place Tolkien in a contemporary context with other writers of his time who treated with the same theme. (Along with the authors she cites, James and Balderstone, I thought of one of my favorite mid-century British authors, Nevil Shute, whose An Old Captivity and In The Wet feature dream-state time travel, into the past and future respectively.)

Her analysis of Merry's memory in the barrow of being a warrior of old Arnor is odd, as it was also in "Time": I have always interpreted Merry's experience not as one of psychological time travel, but of possession by a long-dead ghost, if such a distinction can be made.

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 5, 2007

Her analysis of Merry's memory...  That has always been my interpretation as well, but I don't think it need necessarily conflict with Flieger's theory. After all, memory is a kind of time travel (though by definition, always backward); and the more vivid the memory being relived, the more successful the trip back in time, one might say. Merry's possession, in which he speaks with the voice of another and actually clutches his breast, could very well be called psychological time travel, I think. Verlyn Flieger's keynote address at the University of Vermont, April 8, 2006, "Deep Wells of Memory" (unpublished, so far, I believe) elaborated on her Merry / Barrow hypothesis in much greater detail, though, which may account for my willingness to take the argument at face value in the present entry on "Time Travel".

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

Flieger’s article on Merry’s time-traveling has now been published as “The Curious Incident of the Dream at the Barrow: Memory and Reincarnation in Middle-earth” in Tolkien Studies 4.

 

Tol Eressëa - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, August 8, 2007

As Drout points out, Tol Eressëa in one form or another was a constant presence in Tolkien's mind for fifty years. Drout is less clear on the creative circumstances of its transformation from "England" (was this its identity in "The Cottage of Lost Play" story, or not?) to a kind of vast ferryboat for transporting the Elves across the great Sea to Elvenhome, which he attributes unsatisfyingly to The Silmarillion. The references to other literary instances of a far western Isle in English and Celtic tradition are very welcome, but again  seemingly conflict with the "Lonely Isle's" unexplained early role as England itself. And once again a reference to Númenor threatens to frustrate an unwary reader.

However, Drout may perhaps be excused these lapses because, as with his "Eldamar" article, he is after sweeter fare. His main point is that Tol Eressëa is Tolkien's archetypal image of an inaccessible but beautiful place, whether distant in time (an earlier Elvish England) or in space (an Elvish paradise across an ocean of water, or later, air).

He is right, of course. But his arguments for Eldamar ("the combination of the natural and the wrought") and Tol Eressëa ("the combination of beauty with deep loneliness") both conclude that their subjects represent the apex of Tolkien's cultural esthetic (Eldamar: "his conceptions of absolute beauty"; Tol Eressëa: his "most aesthetically effective creations").

Drout does perceive a distinction between the two places' essences: one is perhaps more intellectual, the other more emotional. But the distinction is so fine, and his own rhetoric so similar, that I wish he had addressed this duality more explicitly. For instance, why not ask what was the difference for Tolkien between Eldamar, on the shore of a vast Bay of the heavenly mainland with its white city, tower, and haven; and Tol Eressëa, on an island in that Bay, with its white city, tower, and haven? As Drout notes, both even have hauntingly beautiful lamps by their twilit shores! So which place came first? Or are they in fact the same place in a world where Tolkien had at a very deep level failed to keep his notes in order?

 

Tolkien Reader, The - John Walsh

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

Why did The Tolkien Reader merit a separate entry?  All of the volume’s components are covered in other articles, except for Peter Beagle’s introductory essay, which could as easily be discussed in the article on "Tolkien Scholarship: 1954-1980"; Walsh affords it just two sentences of description.  This is in keeping with the rest of his entry, which consists of a short summary for each item.  There is one amusing typo, when Walsh writes that Farmer Giles “gets the dragon’s horde”.

Comments by squire, April 3, 2007

Equally funny is the idea that "Leaf by Niggle" is essentially about impermanence.

 

Tolkien Remembered: Humphrey Carpenter – Don N. Anger

Comments by Jason Fisher, September 25, 2007

Never having seen this documentary myself, I found Anger’s entry on it quite interesting. He covers the short program thoroughly, from all appearances, and offers some value judgment on it as well. A good substitute for most of us who haven’t seen it, and may never get the opportunity. The 'Further Reading' is not particularly impressive, but then, how could it be for such a narrow topic? The See also is likewise perfectly sufficient. Should Anger have included Taniquetil, since he mentions the mountain in the entry? Perhaps, but it probably isn’t necessary.

The strangest thing is how this entry, helped by its irregular title, highlights the fact that Humphrey Carpenter does not get an entry of his own. As a result, the subject of his two important books – the biography of Tolkien and the history of the Inklings – has to be relegated to tangents in various other entries, such as this one.

 

Tolkien Scholarship: An Overview - Brian Rosebury

Comments by squire, March 11, 2006:

The fluidity and concision of this article leaves me in awe, as usual, of Rosebury's distinctive critical panache. Among the strengths here are a clear sense of organization, a respect for the different ways in which criticism can be classified, and a wonderful ability to look forward as well as backward. As elsewhere, he lays into the fans for their sins as much as he does the naysayers.

And if the article is wound just about as tightly as it can be without bursting -- well, after all, it is just an introduction to three further in-depth articles on Tolkien criticism. Whether that was the right way to go is, as usual, for the editors to dwell on in retrospect.

The only caveat I would offer is that Rosebury is preaching to the choir at the seminary school. That is, if you don't already have some familiarity with the various annals and schools of Tolkien criticism to which he refers, I imagine this article must be somewhat opaque, despite his best efforts to be clear in so short a space.

His closing comment about the internationalization of the Tolkien phenomenon is especially penetrating; one of the strengths of the Encyclopedia is that it addresses this question, albeit at a fairly primitive level, with its "Reception of Tolkien in...[tiny Belgium, China, North Borneo, etc.]" series of articles.

 

Tolkien Scholarship: First Decades: 1954-1980 - Richard C. West

Comments by squire, April 4, 2007

West is himself the annotator of a major bibliography of Tolkien scholarship that covers this period, as he quietly notes at the end of this fine retrospective. He makes it fairly clear that he is singling out here only the best, most robust works from the "pre-Shippey" era of Tolkien studies.

Ah, Tom Shippey. Encyclopedia editor Michael Drout, and Hilary Wynne (author of the companion post-1980 article on Tolkien scholarship), suggested in their 2000 article "Tom Shippey...and a look back at Tolkien criticism since 1982" that the time is coming when Shippey's Author of the Century [and by implication Road to Middle-earth] will mark for Tolkien scholars "a convenient benchmark back beyond which they need not read."

West's article does not confront or acknowledge this bibliographic declaration of war and its implicit challenge to the relevance of pre-1980 Tolkien Scholarship. It would have been valuable, I think, for him to have treated openly with the problems of academic trends and styles, fashions and follies, and to have either defied, embraced or qualified Drout and Wynne's terms of endangerment.

For instance, either the proceedings of the 1969 Tolkien seminar at the U. of New England in Australia are still worth reading (in West's opinion), or they are not - but West is ambiguous here and almost seems to be lauding the event for its historical value rather than its current relevance.

The other way to interpret West's approach is that it is merely nostalgic. Is this essay not really a bibliographical essay, but a memorial of the good old days before the internet, when the Tolkien cult and its peripheral academics were a smaller and less established bunch - when a new insight or angle on Tolkien was easier to achieve because so much less had been written? Or should readers of the Encyclopedia take advantage of this entry's really excellent 'Further Reading' list, and make a huge effort to acquire and read the books and articles West has reviewed, before proceeding further with their Tolkien researches?

I can't quite tell.

 

Tolkien Scholarship: Institutions - Cecilia Barella

Comments by squire, June 8, 2007

This is an odd article. There is no introduction to explain the theme of the article. Barella's first section, vaguely titled 'University', seems to be an attempt to treat the Academic world in general as an "Institution" of Tolkien scholarship, but it simply rehearses the gradually easing prejudices against Tolkien studies. The rest of the article is a series of short sketches of the supposedly major institutions that conduct or host Tolkien studies.

In a work like the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, there is certainly a place for a pure reference article like this. Two flaws stand out. One, Barella's prose is distractingly awkward or ungrammatical at times. Two, there is no critical distance in the writing: some of the descriptions of the various institutions read as if they were taken directly from the relevant promotional web pages or brochures.

The See also could be broader in scope: for instance, by including the three other "Tolkien Scholarship" articles, "History of Middle-earth: Overview", and "Publications, Posthumous".

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

Squire said: Some of the descriptions… read as if they were taken directly from the relevant promotional web pages

For the most part, that is just what Barella has done.  Of the 1,908 words in Barella’s article, just 103 (5%) are presented explicitly as quotation, in the form of three separate passages. Only one of the three is fully attributed, to Scott McLemee’s 2004 online conversation with Michael Drout.  Another, describing “The Lord of the Rings Research Project” is not sourced, but can be traced to online announcements by Martin Baker, one of that project’s coordinators.  Barella’s third acknowledged quote is attributed to Jane Chance, but Barella fails to identify where Chance’s comment appears.  In fact the source is Tolkien the Medievalist (p. 2).

Tolkien the Medievalist is also the source of another 38 words by Chance from the same passage, transcribed in this article exactly but without quotation marks that would indicate the words are Chance’s.  Likewise, Baker’s announcement is the source of another 17 words that Barella doesn’t identify as quotation.  In total, some 1,008 words (53%) of Barella’s text is lifted, without attribution, from online sources.  This borrowed text is not set off with quotation marks or indentation; and the sources are identified neither in her text or on her ‘Further Reading’ list, although they are obvious: as squire perceives, each of Barella’s sections, on Marquette University’s library, the Wade Center at Wheaton College, Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the Tolkien Society, the Mythopoeic Society, Forodrim’s “Arda Format” system, and the journals Tolkien Studies and Vinyar Tengwar, copies large amounts of text from the relevant web sites.

Additionally, Barella’s first section, on “University” Tolkien scholarship, quotes not only from McLemee and Chance as noted, but borrows two more sentences from the Tolkien Studies site.  Her Bodleian Library section also uses text from the Marquette site.  And some of the Vinyar Tengwar material also comes from wikipedia.  Only Barella’s paragraph on the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo seems to be original.

Three further comments deserve further response.  First, Barella writes that Jane Chance, Michael Drout, Verlyn Flieger, and Tom Shippey have between them taught Tolkien to “hundreds” of students – has that number by now surpassed one thousand?  Second, the “Arda Format for Structural References” is no sort of institution, but a method for referencing Tolkien’s works, developed for the journal Arda by Forodrim, the Swedish Tolkien society.  Third, Barella’s description of the annual Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo includes a note that Tolkien scholarship there has since appeared in “journals, theses and books”, but she never mentions any of those works, not even the three collections largely derived from the Kalamazoo conferences: Tolkien the Medievalist, Tolkien and the Invention of Myth, and Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages.

 

Tolkien Scholarship: Since 1980 - Hilary Wynne

Comments by squire, February 7, 2007

To read this article while in the midst of a browse through the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia is rather like being a freshman at a lively faculty cocktail party and noticing someone sitting in the corner, taking notes. It's both awkward and confusing.

Wynne inevitably comments on the work of a large number of contributors to the Encyclopedia. The reader immediately begins comparing her judgements against both his own knowledge of the works in question, and his own impression of the scholars' more recent contributions to the Encyclopedia. In my case, I have to say I mostly agree with Wynne's unsurprising ratings. Self-doubt immediately asks how the Kool-aid tasted.

Wynne was Encyclopedia editor Michael Drout's colleague in assembling their monumental review of the state of Tolkien scholarship in 2000, of which this article is more than a little reminiscent. Aside from the minor questions of why Shippey's Author of the Century, and the scholarly journal that Drout co-edits, Tolkien Studies, were not mentioned, there is little I can think of that is misplaced in her survey. Others may disagree, and I would welcome their contributions to this Diary.

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

This useful but error-prone entry is adapted from a fine article that Wynne co-authored with Michael Drout for Envoi in 2000 on Tolkien scholarship since 1984. Wynne even lifts an entire paragraph from that article verbatim (from “And Flieger has not only written the second-best book” to ”gave voice to his and their longing”) without any indication that she is quoting herself, though the earlier work is listed in her bibliography.  Wynne’s somewhat careless adaptation also explains: the appearance of Verlyn Flieger’s 2005 work, Interrupted Music, three paragraphs after her other books have been discussed; the listing of Brian Rosebury’s book by its 1992 subtitle Critical Assessment in the text, but by its 2003 title Cultural Phenomenon in the bibliography; and the absence of texts published from 1981 to 1983, like Tolkien’s Letters, or Flieger’s 1981 article on Frodo and Aragorn in the Isaacs-Zimbardo collection mentioned below.

Wynne describes Gergely Nagy’s “The Great Chain of Reading” from the Tolkien the Medievalist collection as “the single most important article published in Tolkien scholarship in the past fifteen year[s]”.  I think Nagy’s “The Adapted Text” from Tolkien Studies I is better, but as squire notes, Tolkien Studies goes strangely unmentioned in Wynne’s article.  That journal should have been mentioned not only for its new scholarship, but also for its reviews, including David Bratman’s annual “Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies” essays.  J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey, whose absence also is noted by squire, is mentioned by Wynne, but only in passing (as “Author”) in her comments on the Proceedings of the 1992 centenary conference.

In her penultimate paragraph, Wynne identifies five important articles but not where they can be found, and those articles don’t appear in her bibliography.  Also, those articles include Gene Hargrove’s “Who is Tom Bombadil?”, an error-ridden and poorly-argued essay (scarcely better than Hargrove’s poor "Tom Bombadil" entry for the encyclopedia) that Wynne terms “the best scholarly treatment of this enigmatic figure”.

There are many small mistakes.  “Anderson’s editions” are among the “essential” works listed in Wynne’s opening paragraph, but these are not identified in her text or bibliography.  Later she says that Reading The Lord of the Rings is better than “the Giddings collection”, but she never otherwise mentions the latter work; the reference is to J.R.R. Tolkien: This Far Land, a 1983 work edited by Robert Giddings.  Wynne mentions that Zimbardo and Isaacs’ 2004 anthology, Understanding The Lord of the Rings, reprints essays from “their original collection” of 1968, Tolkien and the Critics, but it also largely reprises their Tolkien: New Critical Perspectives, a 1981 edition.  The index to The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien was expanded in 1999 not 1995.

 

Tolkien, Arthur Reuel (1857-96) - Colin Duriez

Comments by squire, August 8, 2007

It seems unsupportable not to have an article about J. R. R. Tolkien's father in this Encyclopedia. Yet it also seems there is little to say about him, both for his own life and for his impact on his son, who never knew him. Duriez does as well as can be expected, I suppose: Arthur comes off as an ambitious workaholic, and Ronald reveres his father's memory in the abstract. Should Duriez have mentioned Tolkien's rather decided rejection of his father's Anglo-German heritage in favor of his mother's old Midlands family, the Suffields?

One thing I never knew before reading this was that Arthur was one of six siblings and had as well an entire step-family from his father's first marriage. This puts a distinct weight to the accounts of J. R. R. Tolkien's mother's estrangement from her late husband's family after her conversion to Catholicism: no Tolkien biography I've encountered mentions any interaction between Tolkien and over half a dozen aunts and uncles on his father's side.

I wonder why Duriez imagined there would be an "Africa" article?

 

Tolkien, Baillie (1941-) - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, June 23, 2007

Aside from some resume-like biographical data and one brief quote showing her perception of her father-in-law's talents, there is little here about Baillie Tolkien herself. It is possible to indulge a prurient interest in the Tolkien family's personal lives by reading this article between the lines, but that is probably not the point. Rather the most interesting thing about the second Mrs. Christopher Tolkien is that she edited the first and perhaps the later editions of The Father Christmas Letters after J. R. R. Tolkien's death.

Editions, yes - and here this article takes a radical turn into something completely different: Anderson gives us four detailed paragraphs of the publishing history of this book. Unfortunately, he does not make clear what Baillie Tolkien's responsibilities for the later editions were, especially in the matter of the bad 1999 book design (this is blamed on the publisher) and the successfully redesigned version put out in 2004 (thanks to her "continued involvement"? Anderson does not say).

Ideally, this section should not be in this article at all, but in "Father Christmas Letters", which makes no mention of the different editions. But since it is here, a familiar question arises: how is it that the other article neither mentions Baillie Tolkien nor gives a reference to this article? How would a researcher into the "Father Christmas Letters" even find this valuable information?

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

That perceptive remark by Baillie Tolkien, on allegory and symbolism in Tolkien’s work, comes from a 1976 catalogue for an exhibit of Tolkien’s drawings.  However, the Encyclopedia’s articles on “Symbolism” or “Allegory” don’t have cross-references to this entry; and the index doesn’t refer to this article in its listings for those subjects, so readers interested in those topics will only discover Ms. Tolkien’s comment by accident.

Also, the opening acknowledgements in the 2000 collection, Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on “The History of Middle-earth”, edited by Verlyn Flieger and Carl Hostetter, thank Baillie Tolkien for “assistance and encouragement”, so she has apparently been involved with Tolkiena in other areas beside the Letters from Father Christmas.

 

Tolkien, Christopher Reuel - Thomas Honegger

Comments by squire, December 11, 2006

A lovely, straightforward, biographical sketch. Clean, and relatively crisp. How refreshing to learn something of his earlier academic career, and to see the odd progress he made out of, and then back into, his father's literary shadow. One would always, somehow, like to know more about what it is to be Christopher Tolkien.

It is perhaps inevitable that Honegger should not offer any interpretation of C. Tolkien's life, beyond the obvious factor that CT himself was allowed to correct this article. CT is something of a lightning rod among Tolkien fans, because of his role as the eminence grise of the Tolkien Estate. His character has been both disparaged and defended by fans who do not know him. They discuss his personal life with the gossipy attention that movie stars receive in more mainstream popular subcultures.

All that may have no place in a critical Encyclopedia, I admit. But I could wish that Honegger had spent less time summarizing the contents of The History of Middle-earth, which is comprehensively covered elsewhere in this book, and spent more time commenting on the growth and development of CT's editorial style during his most productive years as his father's literary executor, 1973-1996. HoME is filled with little clues and first-person asides that give the attentive reader a most touching portrait of a sensitive, intelligent, extremely knowledgeable, hard-working, and perhaps rather conflicted man.

Tolkien's Legendarium, from which Honegger cites Douglas Anderson's "CT: A Bibliography", also has an important appreciation of CT by Rayner Unwin that I think Honegger might well have included in his reading list.

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

This is a steady, clear article, though two of its four columns duplicate material appearing in the “Publications, Posthumous” and “History of Middle-earth: Overview” articles; I wish that space had been devoted to an expansion of Honegger’s fine but broad comments on the “unique combination of talents, scholarship, energy, and filial duty” that Christopher Tolkien brought to his role as editor of his father’s works.

There are a few small lapses:

  • Honegger notes the absence of “Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings” from the second edition of A Tolkien Compass but not that it has reappeared, in fuller form, in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion

  • It’s not correct to say that Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien has been “superseded” by J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, as the latter omits some artwork from the former. 

  • The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays is notable not only for republishing “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” and “On Fairy-stories” (and the latter already was widely available) but also for the first appearances of the 1953 lecture on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the essay on invented languages “A Secret Vice”. 

  • A few references mentioned in Honegger’s text, like Pictures and Carpenter’s The Inklings, are missing from the bibliography, where I would also suggest the addition of “The Filial Duty of Christopher Tolkien”, a 1977 interview by William Cater. 

  • The See also list could be beefed up with entries for the “Nomenclature” and Faith Tolkien, and stripped of the entry for “Life”, because there is no such article.

  • There are a sprinkling of editing mistakes, like references to both The Book of Lost Tales, Part One and The Book of Lost Tales I in the same paragraph. 

 

Tolkien, Faith - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, June 23, 2007

There doesn't seem to be much reason for this entry. Faith Tolkien's intersection with her onetime father-in-law, who is the subject of this Encyclopedia, is restricted to the bust she sculpted of him, that evidently still graces the English Faculty Library at Oxford. That is a kind of footnote-like item that could have been inserted into the article about her husband, Christopher Tolkien. The rest of her biography, even the very complimentary paragraph on her later ecclesiastical sculpture work executed long after her marriage ended, is not really very relevant to any scholarship or critical assessment of J. R. R. Tolkien.

On a point of detail, however, the date of the separation varies in the articles about this couple: under "Tolkien, Christopher" it is 1963, here it is given as 1964.

 

Tolkien, Hilary (1894-1976) - Colin Duriez

Comments by squire, August 8, 2007

Duriez properly focuses on Hilary Tolkien's memories of his shared youth with JRRT, that seem to have contributed to a few episodes or settings in The Lord of the Rings. Other than that, there is little enough to be said about Hilary, but it is remarkable that he seems not to have gone to college, and was an enlisted man in the Great War.

In other words some kind of intellectual and hence social gap must have opened up between the brothers before they were well out of their youth, which Duriez ignores or takes for granted. His comment that the brothers kept in contact as adults "without too much difficulty" begs for some elaboration. I also suspect that Duriez has not listed all of his sources: Carpenter (the only citation) does not specifically mention the "wenches" insult, nor does he give Hilary's war service record.

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

Duriez’s source for “wenches” is p. 21 of The Tolkien Family Album.

Readers of Tolkien’s letters may be surprised to read Duriez’s assertion that Tolkien and his brother were “able to keep in contact without too much difficulty” – that may be true, but there are no letters to Hilary in the collection, whose index lists only three references to Ronald’s younger brother: two references made late in life to their childhood, and a cryptic reference in 1947 to fans of the then-unpublished LotR: besides C.S. Lewis, the late Charles Williams, and Christopher Tolkien, these included “a solicitor, a doctor… an elderly army officer, an elementary school-mistress, an artist, and a farmer”.  Carpenter’s endnote to that passage indicates that only the first three people can be identified, as Owen Barfield, Humphrey Havard, and Warnie Lewis, respectively, though the artist might be Marjorie Incledon.  Yet as there is no other reference to Hilary Tolkien on that page, the indexer (Carpenter himself?) must have guessed that he was the farmer.

 

Tolkien, John (1917-2003) - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, June 1, 2007

This bare-bones curriculum vitae of Tolkien's oldest son tells us nothing about the man himself until the very end, where we hear of his affection for his father, from whom he also derived a "passion for ecumenism". This last would have been an interesting addition to the articles on "Christianity" and "Church of England", which focus on J. R. R. Tolkien's bitterness toward or dislike for the protestant denominations. In fact, so would the very fact that John Tolkien was a Catholic priest, which is not even mentioned in the "Catholicism, Roman" article.

I believe Fr. John officiated at his parents' funerals; and that Carpenter's biography mentions several other instances of how he and his father kept in touch, especially after Edith died. But along with what John's life tells us about his father, it would have been nice to get a little more sense of the man himself than this article is able to offer.

 

Tolkien (née Suffield), Mabel (1870-1904) - Colin Duriez

Comments by squire, April 19, 2007

A more thorough biographical treatment of Tolkien's mother couldn't be desired.

I would say, give us more on her influence on Tolkien, and less on details of her various homes - but Duriez, citing Tolkien's letters, probably gives us whatever there is on so indeterminate a subject.

Or does he? Where is the mention of Faramir's memory of his late mother "who died untimely, and was to him but a memory of loveliness in far days and of his first grief"? And Duriez passes on (though the "Suffield Family" article does not) Carpenter's speculation that The Hobbit's "Old Took and his three remarkable daughters" refers to Mabel and her two sisters. But any further speculation, such as why Tolkien does not write any mature mother characters of note, would probably be outside the scope of this article.

 

Tolkien, Michael (1920-84) - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, June 10, 2007

Anderson has assembled some remarkable sources to put together his portrait of J. R. R. Tolkien's second son. We get the bald facts of his education, war service, teaching career, and family, but beyond his obviously fond memories of his father's storytelling ability, there is no real evaluation of Michael's personality or talents.

Perhaps nothing more is possible, but I at least missed a note that one of Tolkien's most interesting letters, giving his fatherly advice on sex, marriage and the differences between men and women, was written to Michael. In any case, the first-person anecdotes of Michael's youthful contributions to Tolkien's legendarium are charming.

The 'Further Reading' list is missing Carpenter's Biography - a mundane but necessary source here. See also could be more thorough too: why no reference to "Mr. Bliss", "Hobbits", the articles on the other Tolkien siblings, "Father Christmas", etc.?

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

Anderson writes that Michael Tolkien “defended aerodromes in the Battle of Britain, and later in France and Germany, but was invalided out of the Army.  He returned to Oxford in 1944…”.  Confused?  Scull and Hammond clarify: in 1941, Michael Tolkien transferred from the Army's anti-air artillery to the RAF, and up to 1944 was a rear-gunner in bombers “in which he saw action over France and Germany”. He was invalided out of the RAF in 1944 (i.e., well before the Royal Army saw action in Germany itself.) (Reader’s Guide, p. 1020, emphasis added).

 

Tolkien, Priscilla (1929-) - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, June 10, 2007

Perhaps because Priscilla Tolkien has taken it upon herself to speak more in public in her capacity as Tolkien's daughter, this article is able through ample quotation to give us some feeling for her personality: independent, sympathetic and perceptive. This is not inconsistent with her career as a social worker!

The only thing I missed here is some discussion of the legend that Éowyn's icy independence was inspired by Priscilla's urging her father to include some strong female characters in The Lord of the Rings. If I remember correctly, Ms. Tolkien has spent a lot of time denying that Éowyn is "modeled" on her, but I don't remember if the original story was ever verified.

It might or might not be relevant to this article to note that Ms. Tolkien has also gone on the record at Tolkien conferences as saying that the recent New Line films did not at all do justice to her father's books, at least from the point of view of someone like her who grew up with them and who had a strong sense of what her father valued about the story. As far as she is concerned, her father would not be pleased at all, at all, to see the famous films.

As with the other Tolkien family articles, Carpenter's Biography is strangely missing; but the See also here is particularly weak, listing only the 'Oxford' article.

 

Tolkien, Simon (1959-) - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, August 8, 2007

There's little enough to recommend this article: Simon Tolkien published his memories of his grandfather, and some highlights are given here. The matter of his conflict with his father Christopher Tolkien over the policies of the Tolkien Estate has received sensational if vague coverage, but all that is underplayed here, to put it mildly. The rest is window-dressing: with all respect to Mr. Tolkien, his curriculum vitae and recent second career as a writer of detective novels have nothing to do with the scope of this Encyclopedia.

The lack of a See also list perhaps unintentionally reflects this irrelevance, but why not add "Art and Illustrations by Tolkien", "Bournemouth", "Catholicism, Roman", "Estate", "Jackson, Peter", "Tolkien, Christopher Reuel", and "Tolkien, Faith"?

 

Tom Bombadil - Gene Hargrove

Comments by squire, February 26, 2007

This is infuriating. Although there is plenty of material here about Tom that is accurate, it is mixed in with an unseemly amount of ill-founded speculation, circular reasoning, repetition, and to top it off, clumsy writing.

Without wasting words on a complete plot summary, Hargrove could at least have started his reader out with some mention of Tom's role in the story of The Fellowship of the Ring, to give context to the rest of the article. Nor would it have been a bad idea to cover a bit of Tom's nature like his sing-song speech, and his semi-magical powers; a reference to the long and meaningful poem "Bombadil Goes A-Boating" would not be out of place, I suggest, in an article about Tom.

Hargrove focuses almost exclusively on the problem of Tom's identity. Although his treatment of this question is thorough, it unfortunately leads to the - I'll say absurd - theory that Tom is Aulë the Vala of smithcraft and fabrication (in disguise). This makes Goldberry Yavanna, by the way.

Without getting too far into the problems with this, I'll note that Hargrove's article has in contradiction to this theory both Tolkien's statement that Tom is meant to be an enigma (and Tolkien in his letters was usually glad to explain any keys to his story that were not apparent to his correspondents); and Hargrove's own earlier analysis that "Tom relates to the world through pure science and poetry rather than applied science and technology". Nor is it effective to defy Goldberry's clear identification as a water-spirit with the argument that "if Tom is not Tom" then Goldberry must not be Goldberry either, which must prove that...Tom is not Tom.

The conclusion meanders off into the wilds of The History of Middle-earth and is lost therein. The Further Reading egregiously cites two editions of Hargrove's Tom-as-Aulë theory. There is no See Also cross-reference.

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

Hargrove’s entry is largely a reduction of his 2004 article, stripped of its inline sources.  This makes it harder for readers to check his facts:

  • Hargrove explains, without citation, that Tolkien integrated Bombadil into Middle-earth by making just a few changes, writing: “for example, the feather in his hat was changed from peacock to swan-wing”.  Hargrove’s information here comes from Letter #240. This actually notes that Bombadil in LotR (his first Middle-earth appearance) has an unidentified blue feather; the swan’s feather only appears in the 1962 version of the poem, “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”.

  • Hargrove writes that the question “Who is Tom Bombadil?” is asked three times in LotR. It isn’t. 

  • He turns to Grimm to explain the name “Forn”. Tolkien himself notes the word’s Scandinavian meaning in “Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings”. 

  • He claims that Bombadil is “the only powerful being in Middle-earth not worried that touching the Ring will corrupt him”, but Sauron and Saruman also seem not to fear that result.

Hargrove shows some interesting similarities in Tolkien’s portrayal of Goldberry and Yavanna, which are too abbreviated here but clearer in Hargrove’s earlier essay. However, Tolkien might have used this common imagery for other purposes than to establish a shared identity. 

To Hargrove’s credit, one of the works in his bibliography, “What is Tom Bombadil?” by Steuard Jensen (whose name is misspelled) argues against Hargrove’s theory that Bombadil is Aulë.

 

Tour in the Alps, 1911 – Marjorie Burns

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 29, 2007

This is a pretty good entry on what is, after all, rather a minor episode in Tolkien’s life. It’s yet another example of the fragmentation, for good or ill, of the biographical coverage in the Encyclopedia. But as I say, the entry is pretty good, offering a number of worthwhile points to justify its existence.

Yet I still have a few small concerns. First, the entry could have done with some paragraphing and better organization. As it is, almost an entire column goes on as one, unbroken paragraph, followed by a second one of almost laughable brevity. Second, there’s a rather noticeable typographical mistake: “Celebdril” [sic] for “Celebdil”. Third, “Tolkien does not relate […]; nor does he suggest […], but it is easy to speculate.” Yes, perhaps too easy. I find these two speculations on Burns’ part the least convincing material in the entry. Fourth, the conclusion is basically a throw-away. These are nice quotations from Tolkien, but they offer little of substance to leave us with.

And finally, why did Burns omit the famous story of the postcard of Josef Madlener’s painting, Der Berggeist? Admittedly, as Douglas Anderson has pointed out, there is reason to question that Tolkien could have gotten the postcard on this trip; however, Carpenter relates that he did, and the story is well-known. The postcard (as a famous illustrative source for Gandalf) would seem to deserve a brief mention here, as the association between it and the Alps tour is a strong one. Assuming this were added, one would also want to put “Gandalf” into the See also.

Comments by squire, June 29, 2007

I tend to give Burns a little more credit with her speculation that the spiders episode and the releasing of the flood may have contributed to the story scenes that she mentions. And as far as the final quotes are concerned, Jason Fisher is correct that in the article as it stands they're not a particularly strong conclusion. But on reading them I recalled as many others must have too, the famous Bilbo line: "I want to see mountains again, Gandalf -- mountains". The simple addition of that quote from The Lord of the Rings would have made a perfect ending to a perfectly good article.

 

Towers – David D. Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, September 4, 2007

This is a very good entry on towers and their meaning and larger symbolic and thematic functions in Tolkien’s fictive Middle-earth. In addition to some analysis clearly his own, Oberhelman also deploys a broad assortment of published critical perspectives.

Two observations were especially welcome: the connection to the tower metaphor in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” and the comparison to the tower in David Lindsey’s Voyage to Arcturus – though Oberhelman could have strengthened this point still further by noting that Tolkien “read ‘Voyage to Arcturus’ with avidity”, as he wrote to his publisher in 1938.

For a fairly short entry, Oberhelman does a good job of covering most of the towers one could wish to see confronted. A couple of exceptions, had the editors granted him a more generous word count: the beacon-hills of Gondor and the earlier Minas Tirith (built by Finrod on Tol Sirion, later called Tol-in-Gaurhoth).

The 'Further Reading' is really quite good. The See also is fairly complete, but I could see adding “Mountains” and “Palantíri” to it.

Treason - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, June 29, 2007

Dickerson's article is sound overall, but he attacks his topic with a shotgun, or as he puts it, "Treason, taken in the widest possible sense". I feel that treason should be defined more narrowly, along the lines of active betrayal of duty or faith, otherwise every act of villainy or even moral weakness in Tolkien's fiction becomes "treason".

So while I agree with Dickerson that Gorlim, Uldor, Maeglin, Mîm, and Gríma are guilty of treason, I feel that Denethor's case is more complex; he does not so much betray Minas Tirith as fail it. As for treason that is justifiable when held to the standard of a 'higher law,'  to Huan's case I wish Dickerson had added the more well-known example of Beregond, who is exonerated of treason by just such reasoning.

The best sections here are Dickerson's comparison of Maeglin's melodramatic betrayal of Gondolin in "The Book of Lost Tales II: The Fall of Gondolin", with the same scenario as presented in the drier The Silmarillion; and the observation that the instances of treason mentioned invariably turn out to be "instruments toward good" from a larger or more removed point of view.

 

Treason of Isengard, The – John F.G. Magoun

Comments by Jason Fisher, September 25, 2007

Fantastic! This is certainly one of the best of the History of Middle-earth entries, and for once, I am at a loss to find anything to complain about! Magoun covers the most important aspects of the contents of the book – differentiating between Tolkien the father and Tolkien the son when necessary. Even better, he summarizes the reception of the book and offers some examples of how it has been used, both successfully as well as unsuccessfully, by scholars. The 'Further Reading' is sensational. The See also may be overly broad; though all of the items in it appear to be relevant, at least in the main, this fact may not be readily apparent to the Encyclopedia’s readers.

 

Tree and Leaf - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, August 8, 2007

This is very strange. Sometimes you get what you wish for, and...

Dickerson  takes a rare opportunity presented by the physical edition of Tree and Leaf, which (in its second edition) joins "On Fairy-stories", "Leaf by Niggle", and "Mythopoeia". He attempts an integrative summary of Tolkien's philosophy of subcreation as it applies to his own mythmaking aspirations. If one of the complaints about the Encyclopedia is that too many of the articles are too limited in scope, here is one that tries for more.

A couple of things get in the way. One, Dickerson is competing with existing articles on "On Fairy-stories" and "Mythopoeia". He both refers readers to those articles and attempts to summarize their arguments himself. Two, "Leaf by Niggle" has no separate article, and Dickerson writes as if it does. As a result, "Leaf by Niggle" gets no really thorough consideration in the Encyclopedia. Three, Dickerson seemingly twice gives us his "quick summary of the three pieces", once briefly in the third paragraph, and once again with slightly more detail in the fourth and fifth paragraphs (in the fourth, his transition from "Mythopoeia" to "On Fairy-stories" is not consistently highlighted). Surely he could have consolidated this part of his essay.

Most importantly, Dickerson attempts to show that all three works convey the same message -- despite their different genres (a qualification he spends too much time on). But equally important, I should think, would be some critical estimation of how these works' messages differ as well. For instance, "Leaf by Niggle" may be an allegory, but it is clear to readers that Niggle is a "mythmaker", i.e., like Tolkien? Or is he any artist whose reach exceeds his grasp? In other words, is "Leaf by Niggle" really just an autobiographical story that illustrates the arguments of "On Fairy-stories" and "Mythopoeia", as Dickerson maintains?

Dickerson is on solider ground in pointing out the similarities between the other two pieces, but I would have liked a little more investigation into Tolkien's understanding of the differences between "Myth" (treated in the poem) and "Fairy-story" (treated in the essay). Although he calls both "subcreations", did he really think they were the same thing with the same purpose, merely going by (I suppose) different names?

Dickerson's conclusion is pretty well done, though. There are some interesting tidbits I would like to know more about. What's this about the existence of "seven different versions" of "Mythopoeia" (no mention of this in its own article)? Why Tolkien did not think to include this poem in his edition of Tree and Leaf, while his son did 24 years later? Did either Tolkien write any kind of foreword or preface to Tree and Leaf that might have given us their angle on why this collection was published in the first place? (I know JRRT mentions the project in the published Letters.)

In fact, except for publication dates, Dickerson does not treat Tree and Leaf as a Tolkien book per se, but as a collection of previously written pieces (making its inclusion in the category of Tolkien's "Works of Literature" a little questionable). So mightn't this article have shed its nominal guise and just treated its subject under the Thematic title "Subcreation" or "Mythology"? And then "Leaf by Niggle" might have gotten its own article.

 

Treebeard - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, April 14, 2007

Dickerson covers many of the most important points about Treebeard as a character: his symbolism as a spokesman for nature versus the forces of industrialism and utilitarianism; his essential neutrality in the "politics" of the War of the Ring; even his development as a character who was first envisioned as a hostile "giant". What is omitted is his gentility, his poeticism, his conservatism, and his amoral realpolitik once aroused.

The key factor here is the distinction between the Ents as a race, and Treebeard as an individual character, which Dickerson does not always seem to keep clear - at least in part because Tolkien does not do so either. It is too bad, though not entirely unexpected, that Dickerson's only 'Further Reading' source (besides Carpenter's Biography - ?) is his own and Jonathan Evans's article on Ents in an environmental context.

 

Trees - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, April 15, 2007

Some parts of this article just sing, such as Dickerson's discussions of the Two Trees, Tolkien's self-identification with trees as seen in Leaf by Niggle and his Letters, and Shippey's thesis that Oaks and Birches are allegories for Lit. and Lang. in Tolkien's lifelong struggle to preserve a philological approach to studying English literature.

Other parts are less clear, such as the characterization of Mirkwood as a positive force in The Hobbit (an example of the occasional and confusing mixing up of the concepts of trees and forests), and the related explanation of how trees are part of a "state of hostility between Man and Nature" in Middle-earth. This issue could have been the launching-pad for a review of the critical literature on Tolkien and trees, which tends to show a deeper ambivalence in Tolkien than Dickerson reports here, and which Dickerson pretty much ignores in his impoverished 'Furher Reading' list.

It is admirable that Dickerson goes past The Lord of the Rings, and devotes so much attention to the tree allegories in Smith of Wootton Major, though I find his conclusion about quasi-Christian tree-symbolism in Tolkien unconvincing. But there are many other examples of important or meaningful trees in Tolkien, often drawn from medieval literary archetypes, that Dickerson might have included in his analysis had he devoted less space to the examples he focuses on. And shouldn't the Encyclopedia have some discussion of the mallorn tree somewhere? The only reference to the mallorn in the index points us to the "Lothlórien" article, where it is fully described but not analyzed, and which does not refer to this "Trees" article.

Finally, it is noticeable that the trees in The Silmarillion do not get much play here on any level. Did Dickerson truly feel that aside from the key image of the Two Trees, Tolkien did not emphasize trees much in his early mythologizing? Could it be that Tolkien's protective or associative attitude towards trees increased as he got older?

It is no longer surprising for me to report that, as with "Lothlórien", this article does not refer to the highly relevant "Two Trees", "Art and Illustration by Tolkien" or "Environmentalism and Eco-criticism" articles, which in turn do not refer to this one. But the twin "Environmentalist Readings of Tolkien" (why?) article, which Dickerson also ignores, does at least point its readers to "Trees".

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

There is a second reference to mallorn trees in the index, for the entry on “Plants” (where the subject is given just a little more attention than in the “Lothlórien” article), but it is easy to miss, because the page number is incorrectly given under the index listing for Mallorn the journal, not the tree.

I agree that Dickerson’s article is promising.  I like that he stretches to consider metaphorical meanings, and would have liked a little more, both from LotR (“Deep roots are not touched by the frost”) and elsewhere (Letter #306 on primitivism and the Catholic Church: “The wise may know that it began with a seed, but it is in vain to try and dig it up, for it no longer exists, and the virtue and powers that it had now reside in the Tree”).  Since Dickerson lists Tree and Leaf among his cross-referenced articles, and since he notes Tolkien’s use of the tree “as a symbol of subcreative art” in “Leaf by Niggle”, it would have been nice for him to add the reference to the “Tree of Tales” from “Niggle” latter-day companion piece, “On Fairy-stories”.

Finally, though Dickerson is careful to note Tolkien’s portrayal of hostile forests (in general contrast with friendlier images of particular trees), he might have additionally mentioned their status as symbols of earthly life, here on “tree-tangled Middle-earth”, as identified by Tom Shippey.

 

Trench Fever - Elizabeth A. Whittingham

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

Whittingham gives a good short description of the miseries of trench life and the lice-borne disease that Tolkien contracted there, clearly explaining the symptoms of trench fever and its treatment, in 1916 and now.  She also gives a chronology of Tolkien’s convalescence, and notes that some of his earliest legendarium material was written during this period.  

This article has no bibliography, which should include at least the Biography by Carpenter and Tolkien and the Great War by Garth.  It also lacks a See also list, where “World War I”, “Great Haywood” and the “Book of Lost Tales” entries should appear.  Whittingham might also have referred the reader to “Health and Medicine”; would it be too much to speculate on whether Tolkien's experience manifested itself in his fiction?

Comments by squire, March 26, 2007:

N.E. Brigand has a nice point about Tolkien's experience with trench fever: the symptoms might be the source for some of the Black Breath episodes in LotR. I also wish Whittingham had taken the time to identify more exactly which parts of the Lost Tales and Qenya language Tolkien worked on during this period, compared to what he had written before.

I think it's been remarked that trench fever very likely saved Tolkien's life, or at least he may have seen it that way. Certainly how he survived the war is more complex than is sometimes stated. Garth, as N.E. Brigand notes, is very good on all these matters, but Whittingham doesn't cite him -- or any other critics who may have tried to relate Tolkien's invalid episode to his state of mind about war, the TCBS, his scholarship and his mythology in the years that followed.

 

Túrin - Richard C. West

Comments by squire, January 13, 2007

This is an excellent precis of Túrin's career and literary history.

The only tragic flaw is that it is entirely West's (superb) summary. He does not give us any indication of what various critics have made of Túrin and his place in Tolkien's legendarium. I recall off the top of my head Rosebury's comment that the tale of Túrin has too much plot to be the equal of the classic tragedies it emulates. The lack of a critical bibliography, starting with West's own seminal article on Túrin, is also dismaying.

 

Turville-Petre, Joan - Jane Beal

Comments by N.E. Brigand, February 21, 2007

Beal’s short article lists the titles of thirteen of Turville-Petre’s works, as well as the titles of four journals to which she contributed.  It also gives the first and middle names of her husband and three children.  Only in the final sentence does Beal explain why Turville-Petre merits an article in a Tolkien encyclopedia: she published Tolkien’s unfinished edition of the Old English poem, Exodus, in 1981.  So why wasn’t this article folded into L. J. Swain’s much longer entry on that book?

 

Two Trees - Patrick Curry

Comments by squire, August 7, 2007

This drops below the weakness of adopting a "Middle-earth studies" approach and flirts with being "fan fiction", or perhaps, "fan scholarship": Curry's writing actually attempts to echo Tolkien's own flowery and romantic prose in The Silmarillion. The sopping result needs to be wrung out and allowed to dry, so that there might be some room for some analysis of why the Two Trees are so important in Tolkien's fiction.

Curry gives us nothing in the way of critical thinking beyond "The Two Trees...reveal the iconic status of trees in both [Tolkien's] work and his life." I would have liked some more of the history of Tolkien's idea of the Two Trees across forty years of writing, some consideration of the meaning of the two colors of their light, their relationship in the stories to the earlier Lamps and the later Sun and Moon, their relationship to the two sexes, Tolkien's use of trees in general to represent light in his invented Elvish languages, and perhaps some research into the possible sources for what seems like quite a mythological innovation by Tolkien.

It is as usual unfortunate to realize that Curry does not refer us to the article on "Trees", which at least deals with some of these questions; but then the "Trees" article does not refer to this one either. See also also omits, at the least, "Astronomy and Cosmology", "Colors", "Darkness", "Elves", "Fëanor", "Gondor", "Light", "Morgoth and Melkor", "Ungoliante etc.", and "Valar". There is no 'Further Reading' list at all.

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

Douglas Anderson has quoted Tolkien as identifying Middle English stories of Alexander the Great as a source for the Two Trees.

 

Tyranny - Christopher Vaccaro

Comments by squire, August 7, 2007

Superficial. After a vague introduction, Vaccaro restricts himself to describing examples of tyrants in Tolkien's Middle-earth stories, and ends with a trite cliché.

Even within this limited scope, he works too hard with too little insight. He gives pride of place to Sauron over Morgoth, perhaps because The Lord of the Rings is better known than the Silmarillion tales. The example of the Mouth of Sauron as the proposed tyrant of the defeated West is overstated; one wonders if Vaccaro simply wished to give a quotation with the actual word. And finally, Tolkien makes it clear that almost none of the hobbit-shirriffs are tyrants; it's Lotho and a few like Ted Sandyman who "take to despotism" in their pathetic hobbit-fashion, and even they are overshadowed in actual evil deeds by the ruffians and the true tyrant of the Shire, Saruman.

Within so short an article, a better approach might have been to focus on the "Thematic" importance of tyranny to Tolkien, as an institutionalized manifestation of the will to Power. One of Tolkien's central concerns is the morality of power, and he uses tyrannical regimes as concrete examples of moral failure in a ruler. In the mid-twentieth century, an era of terrifying dictatorships, it's not surprising he was accused of making simplistic political allegories.

Vaccaro's most interesting statement is that Tolkien in his fiction associated tyranny with mechanized industry and the destruction of the natural environment. These are not particularly associated with classical or medieval ideas of tyranny; nor is it easy to identify the modern tyrant who was destroying Tolkien's beloved English countryside. Vaccaro's perception, as imprecise as it is, highlights how individualistic and retrospective was Tolkien's reaction to contemporary political and economic forces.