Undersea Landscape: Features Named After Tolkien Characters - Jeniffer G. Hargroves
Comments by Jason Fisher, February 2, 2007
More a curiosity than anything else, the topic is nevertheless competently covered by Jennifer Hargroves. I was unaware of this information, in fact, and found it interesting -- in passing -- though of no larger importance to Tolkien's work, and of limited importance to the larger discussion of his popular cultural impact. And if we're going to have an entry on undersea landscape features named after Tolkien, then where is the entry on the orchid named after Tolkien's Shelob (the species Miltassia shelob)? And why stop there?
More to the point, a couple of specific comments. First, Hargroves' writing is just a bit vague for my taste; she seems to blur back and forth between referring to the undersea features and the fictive geography of Middle-earth. When she writes, "The undersea ridge is named after Isengard, the peak upon which Saruman's tower, Orthanc, was built", is the peak she is referring to one of the undersea features, or is Hargroves saying that the Isengard of Middle-earth was a peak? For the record, it was not (it was "a circle of sheer rocks that enclose a valley as with a wall"), so she's either mistaken, or being unclear. I suspect it's the former. Second, why does Hargroves' bibliography include a reference to "On Fairy-Stories"? I can't see any relevance to the topic. I'm likewise unclear on the importance of some of her "see also's".
Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 5, 2008
Hargroves notes that the undersea “Isengard” is a ridge, which makes it one of the few sea-floor elements whose Tolkienian identity (if we take the name as used in The Lord of the Rings to refer to the rock wall surrounding Orthanc) does “reflect the type of feature being named”, which Hargroves reports as a guideline for underwater nomenclature. She never mentions how inappropriately most of these names have been bestowed: Eriador, Gondor, and Rohan are large regions in Tolkien’s fiction but underwater the names have been given to mountains, while the undersea Lórien is a knoll in contrast to Tolkien’s forest.Since the Encyclopedia’s publication, a longer article has appeared in volume 4 of Tolkien Studies on scientists’ use of Tolkien’s names: “SAURON, Mount Doom, and Elvish Moths: The Influence of Tolkien on Modern Science”, by Kristine Larsen.
Unfinished Tales - Eduardo Segura
Comments by N.E. Brigand, June 1, 2007
“It can be assumed that the Unfinished Tales are true to his mind also from the point of view of the adequate tone and consistency of both the text and the style of language as ‘backcloth’ for the main legends, those concerning Gondolin, Turambar, Númenor, and especially the War of the Ring.”
That is a typical sentence from Segura’s article, and clearer than some of his passages. The language ranges from pretentious (“sealed by an oath whose echoes still resonate over the mountains and plains”) to casual (“something that can be checked out in many of his published letters”). Many phrases seem to have been translated by machine, like this: “they have become essential for an upright understanding of the author’s notion of Sub-creation”. But even had the phrasing been cleaned up, many problems would remain.
I suggest that a 1,200-word scholarly article on Unfinished Tales should contain:
Description of the critical response to the text. Tom Shippey, Brian Rosebury, and David Bratman have all commented intelligently on UT. Here, no one other than J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien is cited, and there is no Further Reading list (and no See also references, either).
At least one paragraph on each of the book’s four sections, with a sentence or two for each of the book’s fourteen chapters, more for the longer chapters (the “Narn î Hin Húrin” is more than 100 pages long). Instead, a couple of chapters go completely unmentioned (“The Hunt for the Ring”, “The Battles of the Fords of Isen”), a few more are referenced only by title, and the remainder each get a phrase. By the way, this means that the “Narn”, “Aldarion and Erendis”, and the rest get almost no treatment in the encyclopedia, beyond supporting references in articles such as “Túrin” and “Gender”.
General remarks on the collection, on such subjects as Tolkien’s writing methods – sometimes “driving several subjects abreast by means of interlaced notes”, as Christopher Tolkien (CT) says; the sheer number of texts left incomplete and the decision to publish these explicitly “unfinished” works; and the relationship between the presentation style of UT and that of The Silmarillion and The History of Middle-earth volumes.
Segura includes just a little of this, but much of his entry is commentary on the ‘Silmarillion’ legends without reference to Unfinished Tales.
The exception is the introduction by Christopher Tolkien, from which parts of the article are drawn. That introduction is acknowledged only once, when Segura notes, without comment, CT’s various editorial approaches; but elsewhere in this entry, the introduction (including remarks by JRRT) is explicitly quoted but without citation. In yet other places it is loosely adapted, and in one case lifted, without the use of quotes, and weirdly altered: CT’s reference to how Gandalf “came to send the dwarves to the celebrated party at Bag-End” becomes Segura’s comment about Gandalf’s “decision to send the dwarves to the notorious meeting at Bag-End” (underline added). Segura’s own additions, when intelligible, are mostly unsupported assertion and careen from “the deeds of brave climbers” to “the big tree of his inspiration” to Aristotle.
Finally, there are many factual errors in the entry. For example, Unfinished Tales is described as a “collection of stories”, but CT specifically observes that several sections have “little or no element of ‘story’” (UT, p. 3). The book’s material cannot necessarily “be understood without the rest of the books written by Tolkien” – in fact, CT writes, “I have throughout assumed on the reader’s part a fair knowledge of the published works of my father” (p. 4). The stories are not “early versions of important tales” or works that “date from an early stage of Tolkien’s composition”: the material in UT was largely written after the completion of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s own map of Númenor does not appear in UT, though Segura’s phrasing suggests otherwise. And the chapter on the Woses is titled “The Drúedain” not “The Dúnedain”, as Segura has it; this is a pretty significant difference.
One further error is admittedly minor, though interesting to me: Segura writes that Unfinished Tales relates Middle-earth’s history “from the Elder Days until the end of the War of the Ring”. Actually, there are a few references to later events, well into the Fourth Age, including Gimli’s discovery of the original Elendilmir in “The Disaster of the Gladden Fields”, and the rise of the New Shadow in “The Istari”.
Ungoliant (Q., Ungol, Spider + Liante, Tendril) - John Wm. Houghton
Comments by N.E. Brigand, May 31, 2007
This article is oddly presented, structured more like an entry in a dictionary than in an encyclopedia. Houghton breaks his article into two parts, each opening with a phrase describing one of two meanings of “Ungoliant” in Tolkien’s writing. But he covers the second part, on the name’s brief use for Shelob during the creation of LotR, in just one sentence.
The first section, however, is pretty good, outlining Ungoliant’s story clearly, with reference to five History of Middle-earth texts and The Silmarillion. Houghton also identifies a connection with Paradise Lost. The See also list misses "Milton”, but is otherwise excellent. The Further Reading list is short, with only one item.
The parenthetical note in the title, as with several other entries, like “Ælfwine”, “Bede”, “Tavrobel”, and “T.C.B.S.”, is unnecessary, and should have been moved to the body of the article. I suggest the same policy would have been appropriate for the dates of birth and death appearing in (some of) the titles of biographical entries.
Comments by squire, June 1, 2007
Houghton spends space on earlier versions of Ungoliant, as interesting as they are, that should have been saved to discuss her meaning within the story: a spider-creature, apparently not of the folk of the Maiar, who weaves a kind of physical darkness that enshrouds light and even defeats the Valar. What is she in a spiritual and physical sense, why is she female, and does she have any literary ancestors in medieval or modern literature? are three questions that come to mind; Houghton's Paradise Lost reference is certainly an excellent beginning on the last one.
Ungoliant's nihilism complements Morgoth's power lust in the same way that Shelob's does Sauron's in The Lord of the Rings, though as always on a larger cosmic scale. This interesting pair of doubles raises the question of why Tolkien originally named the spider of the pass in LotR "Ungoliant" before settling on Shelob, as Houghton notes in his "definition" (2). Was Frodo's nemesis originally imagined to be the actual Ungoliant? It seems likely to me, in the same way that Tolkien at one time considered having the Rings of Power be the creations of Morgoth.
Since Houghton did take the time to trace Ungoliant's history through the many draft versions presented in the HoME volumes, he should not then have treated The Silmarillion as if it were an independent text: the version of Ungoliant's story told in Morgoth's Ring, which he cites, is for practical purposes the one that Christopher Tolkien used when assembling the published Silmarillion.