Masters of Middle-earth Studies

 N. E. Brigand, in conjunction with his Diary review of "Fandom" by Anthony Burdge and Jessica Burke, December 30, 2007

In Michael Drout’s introduction to the Encyclopedia, he explains that it is meant to include both “’Tolkien Studies’—scholarship about Tolkien the author and his works of literature—and ‘Middle-earth Studies’—analysis of Tolkien’s invented worlds, histories, languages, creatures, etc.”  To demonstrate the value of Middle-earth Studies, Drout writes, “What kind of critical insights could a critic have about the madness and despair of Denethor without understanding what exactly it was that Denethor saw in the palantír?  (Hint: this information must be ferreted out of Appendix B.)”

Here Drout is referring to the theory, nowhere confirmed by Tolkien, that Denethor sees Frodo imprisoned by orcs in the Tower of Cirith Ungol (as noted in the Encyclopedia’s article on Denethor), and so wrongly believes that Sauron has regained the Ring.  This is the insight of Tom Shippey, in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (pp. 171-174).  Shippey intends by this interpretation to explain Denethor’s exclamation, in “The Siege of Gondor”, that “the Enemy has found it” (i.e., the Ring).  Referring to chronology in “The Tale of Years”, Shippey connects incidents from two widely separated sections of the book in a nice bit of literary detective work.  (However, not all scholars agree with Shippey’s interpretation: Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, in The Lord of the Rings: A Readers Companion [pp. 547-548], offer a different explanation for Denethor’s remarks.)

Shippey’s close reading in this instance is one of the pre-eminent examples of Middle-earth Studies, precisely because it is more than Middle-earth Studies.  His work is done in support of a larger argument, in which he demonstrates the ironic effect of Tolkien’s interlacing plot structure, and furthers a comparison of the ways that parallel characters, Denethor and Théoden, respond to despair.  But do Shippey’s efforts differ from the careful attention and research that critics use to analyze any work of literature?  After all, it is regular practice in literary analysis to refer to paratextual material like Tolkien’s appendices.

If there is a difference, it is due to the sheer size and complexity of the imaginary history and geography created by Tolkien, and the literary effects that can be missed if the reader doesn’t keep track of the details.  For instance, Christine Brooke-Rose, in A Rhetoric of the Unreal, argues that The Lord of the Rings is over-weighted with realistic minutia and dismisses the finer points of Tolkien’s created world as an unnecessary “megatext”.  While making this case, she identifies Elrond as Arwen’s brother, describes the Hobbits’ swords as “dwarf-made”, and claims that Gandalf fights a Troll on a “bridge of fire” in Moria.  Mistakes such as these make a difference to the meaning conveyed by Tolkien’s characters, objects, and scenes.  To that end, I suspect that Drout’s main purpose in calling for the Encyclopedia to include Middle-earth Studies was to ask that contributors have a thorough knowledge of the finer points of Tolkien’s creation, to avoid errors like these, before applying literary theory to his works.

What Drout can’t have intended was the response of some contributors, who take his request too much to heart. They all but abandon Tolkien Studies for Middle-earth Studies, often in the form of mock-historical surveys of characters or places.  Examples can be seen in greater or smaller parts of the “Éomer”, “Shire”, “Bilbo”, “Wilderland”, “Gríma”, and “Palantíri“ entries, among others.  Articles like these have been criticized in this Diary, and elsewhere. John Garth complains of articles “whose sole frame of reference is Middle-earth, as if such entries had strayed in from the old-style Tolkien encyclopedias” like Robert Foster’s The Complete Guide to Middle-earth.  Kelley M. Wickham-Crowley decries entries on characters “that rehearse attributes and deeds … [in the manner of] the admittedly useful guides to Tolkien and Middle-earth that give descriptive information … [but] there is no reason why critical thought need go missing”.

Like most of the Encyclopedia’s Middle-earth efforts, these articles present the genre’s simplest form, merely rearranging the scattered information that Tolkien provides about characters, settings or artifacts into histories that match his stories’ internal chronology.  Much more complex approaches are possible.  Though the practice of Middle-earth Studies dates back to at least the 1960s, the term was apparently coined by John Ellison and Patricia Reynolds in Mallorn 31 (which I have not seen) and was used again by Reynolds as an umbrella heading for four articles in the Proceedings of the 1992 Tolkien Centenary Conference.  Their titles suggest the tenor of the field’s more in-depth efforts: “A Physics of Middle-earth”, “Explorations into the Psyche of Dwarves”, “The Geology of Middle-earth”, and “Writing and Allied Technologies in Middle-earth”.  Similar exercises can be found in Henry Gee’s book, The Science of Middle-earth, which considers such matters as the biological implications of Legolas’s ability to see clearly a troop of riders from 15 miles away, and Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth, which speculates on the geologic history underlying Tolkien’s landforms.

A few articles in the Encyclopedia pursue a similar course, to varying degrees.  According to the family trees in LotR, Merry was an only child, and Pippin was the youngest in his family. Tolkien never mentions these facts in his narrative, but the Encyclopedia articles on these characters use these points to comment on their psychology.  Some entries on geographical subjects (e.g. “Misty Mountains”) include statements on the geology of Middle-earth, usually derived from the supposition in Fonstad’s Atlas.  The “Mordor” and “Koivië-néni and Cuiviénen” articles go a step farther, guessing at the history of the Sea of Nurnen and of Cuiviénen, respectively, where Tolkien is silent, or only vaguely suggestive; these two entries also respond to earlier work by Fonstad, Foster, and wikipedia.  “Biology in Middle-earth” applies evolutionary principles to Tolkien’s imaginary creatures.  Most notably, Gene Hargrove’s “Tom Bombadil” article argues that Bombadil is actually Aulë the Vala in disguise.

Hargrove’s entry is a key example of the limitations of Middle-earth Studies.  Tolkien wrote that he intended Bombadil to be an enigma.  Hargrove acknowledges this, but like many frustrated fans before him, he is determined to solve the puzzle.  It is possible that Tolkien privately had some story-internal explanation for Bombadil that might yet be divined by a critic, but Hargrove offers no larger reason to speculate on Bombadil’s identity.  As in most such investigations, he sets aside literary matters to examine only subjects internal to Tolkien’s invented world and its history, as if Middle-earth were an independent creation on which Tolkien’s stories merely report (please note I am not claiming that these writers actually believe that Middle-earth is real).  Often these studies pose and then respond to questions about Tolkien’s imaginary world that he “himself never tried to answer”, as explained by Michael Martinez, who has become one of the best-known practitioners of Middle-earth Studies, in a series of internet essays and books (including Visualizing Middle-earth and Understanding Middle-earth).

In fact, such questions could be asked, endlessly, about the world in which any author’s stories take place.  Not just Middle-earth but all fictional settings can be imagined to extend far “offstage” in space and time.  Tolkien’s work attracts this kind of speculation because he was so thorough in its creation, so that matters that he chose not to discuss are perceived by readers as lacunae.  David Bratman has written that “a large part of Tolkien’s appeal is that such conjecture is possible without becoming risible”.  But where an apparent mystery has no bearing on the effect of Tolkien’s texts as literature, particularly on the fringes where the explanations provided by Middle-earth Studies become very tenuously connected to Tolkien’s work (a recent linguistic example supposes that the language spoken by the “wild were-worms in the Last Desert”, creatures mentioned once in The Hobbit, might be flavored by Chinese), scholarship gives way to a mix of logical dexterity and creative fill-in-the-blanks.  Such efforts demonstrate command of Middle-earth’s details, and great skill at resolving statements from disparate texts into a believable whole, but they can be judged only by their own internal consistency and rhetorical skill.  As Richard West recognized as far back as 1972 (see Scull and Hammond’s Reader’s Guide, p. 197), that is neither criticism nor scholarship: Middle-earth Studies, tied to just one source, is at best a subset of Tolkien Studies.  One reviewer of Michael Martinez’s work has aptly called his work “a fun intellectual game for Tolkien fans to play, a kind of fan-fiction that wears a historian's mask”.  There is a similar activity in studies of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories that begins with the assumption that the characters really existed (again, not as a genuine belief but as the basis for speculation).  That field of inquiry is called “The Game”.  Appropriately, Tolkien himself used the same term: as he labored on the LotR appendices, he wrote: “I am not now at all sure that the tendency to treat the whole thing as a kind of vast game is really good” (Letter #160).

Tolkien wrote this because he himself engaged in Middle-earth Studies.  In fact, it was a central part of his creative method: he wrote many stories and essays to explain apparent mysteries in earlier texts.  For example, Unfinished Tales includes a short history of “Queen Berúthiel”, written to explain a name appearing just once in LotR.  Letter #214 includes an elaborate explanation of hobbit birthday customs, intended to resolve an inconsistency between descriptions in the LotR Prologue and “The Shadow of the Past”.  The writing of LotR itself, as shown in the relevant History of Middle-earth volumes, is replete with instances of Tolkien trying to figure out “what really happened” as he built his masterwork.  But Tolkien had the advantage of being the author of literature, not history, and he was not engaged in Tolkien scholarship.  When something in his texts appears inexplicable, or where the texts are silent, the likeliest causes are that Tolkien intended ambiguity for its artistic effect, or that he didn’t care, or simply that he erred.  Judged in terms of history, physics, sociology, etc., Middle-earth will be found wanting, because its “facts” are subservient to their use in the story.  The Encyclopedia’s entry on “Maps”, for instance, rightly observes that the map that Tolkien used to coordinate the timing of his characters’ travels in LotR makes no allowances for a round Earth.  This means that, judged in real-world terms, journeys in the story’s southern field of action cover too much distance in too little time.  This is not a problem that can resolved by correcting the maps against some real landscape.  The only source for resolving inconsistencies in Middle-earth is Tolkien, and often he has nothing to say.

However, Middle-earth Studies does belong in the Encyclopedia, not as a method but as a subject. It is an important example of how readers respond to Tolkien, and deserves treatment similar to what the Encyclopedia affords to Tolkien’s reception in diverse countries and cultures.  This ought to have been managed in two ways.  First, for those subjects in which there is an established speculative response, that reaction should have been discussed, but clearly identified as a much-constrained form of literary analysis.  The “Technology in Middle-earth” article, for instance, mentions Tolkien’s curious portrayal of the Shire, where alone in Middle-earth umbrellas and mechanical clocks are found, but never attempts to explain why Tolkien allows these anachronisms.  Here it would have been appropriate to note that this inconsistency has been the subject of much comment by readers, who have tried to explain it as either an instance of relics that linger from the advanced Númenórean technology described in The Lost Road, or as the result of later errors in the “Red Book” manuscript tradition, by which the story of LotR is imagined to have been transmitted to the modern reader.  These clever interpretations are well-known enough to deserve both notice and response, including the best (story-external) solutions, which are that the Shire’s modernity is in keeping with the hobbits’ literary role as representatives of the modern reader, and that The Hobbit was written with less attention to internal consistency than Tolkien later gave LotR.

Second, Middle-earth Studies itself should have been the subject of some analysis: What are its tenets?  Who are its main practitioners?  How has the field developed?  What are its failings?  How does it insinuate itself into literary scholarship?  Even Christopher Tolkien sometimes slips, as when he writes in Unfinished Tales (p. 12) how his father “revealed”  –rather than “created”– new information on the Drúedain people, who first appeared in LotR.  When has Middle-earth Studies yielded results for Tolkien Studies, as with Shippey’s ideas about Denethor?  I particularly like Verlyn Flieger’s theory that Frodo, like Sigurd or Arthur, receives his sword by withdrawing it from a beam, though Tolkien never says explicitly that he does so (and most readers miss it).  Finally, what are the main subjects of Middle-earth investigations?  These questions could have been answered in a separate entry, as part of the “Tolkien Scholarship” articles, or in the entry on “Fandom”.  That article ignores one of major subjects of fan discussion, though it is raised briefly in Drout’s introduction, where he writes, “sadly, we will still not determine whether or not the balrog has functional wings—that is a question beyond any resolution”.  But that question can only have come to light when two different fan interpretations first collided, in the lost dawn of Middle-earth Studies.  Has anyone ever traced the history of that raging controversy?  Who knows – the Encyclopedia never mentions balrog wings again.


Michael Drout, Ed., J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia:
Scholarship and Critical Assessment

Review by Lisa Spangenberg in Green Man Review (special J. R. R. Tolkien issue), September 23, 2007 (reproduced without permission from Green Man Review; Copyright by Green Man Review.)

The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment is a very large book, weighing just under 4.5 pounds, with 800 folio size two-column pages, including a list of the forty-six contributors, an alphabetical list of entries, a thematic list of entries, and an index. Right from the start, the Encyclopedia was meant to be the starting reference in terms of Tolkien scholarship, in terms of his fiction, his scholarly publications, and his biography. Michael D. C. Drout, the author of Beowulf and the Critics, and an editor of the scholarly journal Tollkien Studies, is the Editor, with Douglas A. Anderson, Marjorie Burns, Verlyn Flieger, and Thomas Shippey as Associate Editors. That list of names, with the addition of another handful more, is pretty much the list of the top Tolken scholars.

Like many other medievalists, I read Michael C. Drout's blog Wormtalk and Slugspeak regularly. In fall of 2003 when Drout posted that Routledge had hired him to edit the Encyclopedia, and he wanted volunteers to write scholarly articles, I responded with alacrity. I was tapped to contribute seven articles, and did. That's something to bear in mind as you read this review, since I'm almost certainly biased.

Drout marshaled his contributors and assigned entries, began requesting changes to submitted entries at about the time Routledge was bought by Taylor and Francis. The Encyclopedia almost died before printing, but since it was well advanced, it was approved for publication. But it was, as it turned out, publication without editorial support -- that is, without proofreaders or copy editors, or . . . well, the usual support staff one expects from a publisher.

Slightly over 500 entries range in length from 150 words to a few lengthy and very thorough entries of several thousand words on topics like the "Languages of Tolkien," by one of the leading experts, Carl F. Hostetter. In addition to the editorial board members, there are roughly another 120 contributors. Most entries are followed by a list of works cited, and cross-references to other entries. Unfortunately, many entries lack bibliographic references or cross-references.

Especially well done entries are Hotstetter on the "Languages of Tolkien," and "Elvish Compositions and Grammars," Tom Shippey on "Literature, Twentieth Century: Influence of Tolkien" and "Scholars of Medieval Literature, Influence of," Verlyn Flieger's "Time" and "Faërie," "Poems by Tolkien: The Hobbit," "Poems by Tolkien: LOTR," Marjorie Burns on "Old Norse Mythology," Don N. Anger on Tolkien's "Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman and Post-Roman Site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire" (on Tolkien's early article about the temple dedicated to the Celtic deity Nodons), and Carol A. Leibiger's "Charms." Tolkien scholar Gergely Nagy manages to be scholary, erudite and precise without being boring, no easy task.

It is apparent that editorial and production values were sacrificed in Taylor and Francis' effort to publish the Encyclopedia as expeditiously as possible. There are formatting and typesetting errors, grammar and proofreading errors, cross-references to non-existing articles (many of which were hastily merged into other entries by the publisher, against editorial advice, and without including the promised "blind" entries) and infelicities of various sorts that copy editing would have caught. The ordering of entries is such that the Encyclopedia doesn't seem to follow any alphabetic standard; "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Edition" with E. V. Gordon" is listed under S, while "Sir Orfeo" is listed under O.

The editorial and production decisions made by Francis and Taylor included omitting all of the hundred or so illustrations that had initially been intended as part of the book, and completely changing the carefully designed cross-reference system. These both adversely affect the value and utility of the final book; the price, $175.00 (or more), is still what one would pay for a scholarly illustrated encyclopedia though it is now without them, and the utility, because it can be very difficult to find a particular entry because so many smaller entries were merged but not cross-referenced. If you're curious, you can read Michael Drout's posts about the behind the scenes editorial process here.

To compensate for some of the cross-referencing and indexing oddities, Drout has posted links to a corrected Thematic List, a list of Contributors and Articles, and links to Merlin de Tardo's Corrigenda. Curious readers who are not able to purchase the Encyclopedia themselves may find browsing Squire's J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia -- A Reader's Diary worthwhile; Squire and his fellow reviewers are exceedingly knowledgeable about Tolkien's own output and about Tolkien scholarship. A proposal to put all of the entries, with corrections, online in a wiki, is underway at the J. R. R. Tolkien Encylopedia Portal.

Despite some less than satisfactory results, the Encyclopedia is well-done overall, and very useful. It belongs on the shelf of the serious Tolkien scholar and enthusiast, right along The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. But given the exceedingly high cost of the Encyclopedia, most people will simply have to hope that their local academic library is lucky enough to purchase one of the very few (800 versus the initially planned 2500) copies produced, or the the wiki project is successful.

I think Professor Drout said it best:

In the end, I'm disappointed that Routledge / Taylor and Francis marched the ball down the field almost to the end zone and then decided to punt. This is still a very, very good resource, but it could have been a great one, and I'm disappointed that it's not.


J.R R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment

Review by Kelley M. Wickham-Crowley, in Tolkien Studies IV, May 2007 (excerpted and reproduced without permission)

[Note: Most of Prof. Wickham-Crowley's detailed critiques of specific Encyclopedia articles have been omitted, but the article titles and the thrust of her criticisms are identified in blue bracketed inserts. To give points of comparison to this very thorough review, links to the articles' Diary reviews have been provided. - squire, August 29, 2007]


This encyclopedia project is ambitious for its serious attempt at internationally diverse coverage of scholarship and critical assessment of Tolkien, of his scholarly and literary writings, and of the historical and literary contexts and influences involved. It seems fair to judge the success of the encyclopedia by the stated aims of its editor. Michael Drout's introduction makes it clear that he saw this encyclopedia as an effort to be if not all things to all people, as close as he could manage. He aimed to appeal to and include work by "varied and interconnected communities and individuals" to "bridge gaps and bring together separate branches of knowledge" (xxix), including within Tolkien scholarship the study of Tolkien and his works (Tolkien Studies) and analysis of specifics in such inventions as worlds, peoples, and tongues (Middle-earth Studies) but also bringing in a wider range of interests and writers.

Knowing such a task might be endless, Drout made his editorial choices with an eye to "connections outside of Middle-earth" (for example, discussing the Haradrim within Tolkien's history but also in connections to medieval texts) and in terms of "reception and significance" including contemporary literary criticism and theory (xxix). While acknowledging that Tolkien scholarship is yet a young field the world over, he made a case for including analysis and interpretation here though critical views may change. He wanted Tolkien's scholarship covered "by experts in the individual specialities" (a British phrase though Drout is American), in particular as it "is not always accessible or understandable to the lay reader" (xxx), an attitude somewhat patronizing, especially given his willingness as an academic to open this project (rightly) to knowledgeable writers who are not. To counter "incorrect or merely trendy viewpoints," he sought over "120 contributors, from various countries" and asked them to approach issues "without tendentiousness and to attempt to explain the various sides of difficult issues" (xxx). He also added entries so that Tolkien could be seen within his own historical contexts, and, having to limit the range of such inquiry, he tried "to err on the side of explanation." These parameters seem laudable and reasonable, and the volume often surprises and rewards a reader. Thanks to an advisory board comprised of associate editors who also produce this journal, an impressive collection of contributors labored on it.

Their work, however, was badly served by Taylor and Francis Group, who bought out Routledge, discontinued their encyclopedia division, and let its editors go while this volume was in production, publishing it only because of how far along it was in the process. Drout's online discussion of difficulties with the publisher lists major problems  . . .  In fairness, while Drout may find it odd that the press did not contact the over 125 contributors for corrections, that is not uncommon and usually considered part of an editor's work whether for an anthology or for an encyclopedia unless otherwise agreed in writing, so his efforts to gather corrections from his writers should be seen as outside his own previous experience but not unusual. He did receive a second set of proofs which coincided with a bout of pneumonia, but in any case, the book went to press without another once-over by anyone but seemingly incompetent copy-editors. Drout comments that "contributors should not be blamed" as they did not proof final articles and his efforts to protect them from undeserved criticism is admirable. The press should bear the blame for not committing to a quality product—at the least it will bear its name, and given the popularity of all things Tolkien, they should perhaps have fired the marketing board instead of the encyclopedia editors if they truly reduced production numbers. Most readers will neither know nor care that Taylor and Francis Group does not want to deal in encyclopedias; they will simply see a useful but shoddy product and blame those whose names appear in it. But before a reader decides not to purchase or use this text given these problems, read on: a wealth of serious and perceptive material makes this flawed volume an important step in assessing the works and influences of Tolkien.

One of the greatest strengths of the encyclopedia is the sheer diversity of scholarship represented. Contributors come from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Canada, England, Germany, France, Finland, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Hungary, Wales, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and all over the United States, a remarkable range. They represent academics, independent scholars, librarians, lawyers, publishers, computer experts, and a variety of serious amateurs, members often of Tolkien societies. The entries on the reception of Tolkien's work in various countries show how the coloring of national character further diversifies Tolkien studies.  . . . [positive examples: Italy, & Russia]  . . . Cultural Studies practitioners should also be glad of the scholarly range, as entries on fandom, merchandising, fan art and fiction, gaming, popular music, Peter Jackson's movies, and technoculture track popular culture and its versions of Tolkien's influence.  . . . [positive examples: Fandom, Peter Jackson, Popular Music, & Technological Subcultures]

The format of the encyclopedia profits greatly from an analytical index, less usefully from alphabetical and thematic listings of entries at the beginning. The alphabetical listing in fact seems superfluous, and I found the list of writers and their entries provided by this journal's reviews editor much more helpful. The main need for any of these tools stems from the interconnectedness of entries (an occupational hazard in Tolkien studies) and idiosyncratic entries or alphabetization, where one must look under T for Tom Bombadil or under S for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but under O for Orfeo, Sir and the "Old English Apollonius of Tyre." Would anyone look first under T for "Tolkien Scholarship" entries instead of S, or "Tour in the Alps, 1911" instead of "Alps, Tour of" without a clue to do so? (Actually, many of us might have tried something more like "Hiking" or "Walking Tours" for the latter.) The omitted blind entries (redirecting a reader from a presumed entry to the one actually appearing) would have helped, of course, as would completed cross-references, but so would following common practices such as alphabetizing names by surnames and all titles by the first word after an article. Combining entries, something Drout mentions as requested by the press, could have proceeded even further. The difference between a character in a work and a work named for the character is a clear one, but separating them into two entries (as in Farmer Giles of Ham and the text of that name), often immediately next to each other, creates unnecessary overlap and at times unfavorable comparisons between them.  . . .  [negative examples: Shire, Hobbits, Thomas Aquinas, & Law]

Theoretical and critical approaches are represented in individual entries on eco-criticism, Marxist and class issues, race issues, feminist, gender and sexuality issues, Jungian theory, and subject theory and semiotics. The volume is sometimes less successful in presenting such approaches. The list itself shows some idiosyncrasies.  . . . [negative examples: Jungian Theory, & Homosexuality] . . . More positively . . .  [positive examples:  Fictionality, Textuality, Silmarillion, Environmentalism, Environmentalist Readings, Feminist Readings, & Gender; negative: Éowyn]

 . . . [W]hile few but editors and reviewers will probably read the volume in its entirety, by doing so, one notices especially how "one-note" many entries on Christian readings of the texts are. Perhaps this effect comes in part from their having applicability rather than theoretical grounding: matching beliefs or doctrines to textual elements becomes akin to allegorical equations, and measuring whether a detail fits theological doctrine has at best a compare-and-contrast flavor. Such applications amass data but too often advance narrowness rather than insight, confirming a view rather than opening others, and robbing the text of the very newness and eucatastrophe Tolkien celebrated. If such were the only entries sampled, they might well cause a reader to reject the whole: force-feeding often causes the stomach to rebel.  . . . [negative examples: Christ, Church of England, Incarnation, Redemption, & Morgoth/Melkor; positive: Old Norse Mythology, Christian readings of Tolkien, Christianity, Resurrection, & John Tolkien]

My training as a medievalist in literature and archaeology often had me turning to relevant entries with delight, and those discussing Tolkien's scholarly publications were particularly appreciated. While medieval sources and languages have been well connected to Tolkien's work thanks mainly to Shippey, much remains to illuminate our reading.  . . . [positive examples: Lydney Park, Elf-Shot, Exile, Seafarer, Wanderer, AB Language, Ancrene Wisse, Katherine Group, Battle of Maldon, Charms; negative: Runes, Caedmon, Langland, Genesis, & Brut by Layamon]

The quality of entries can run the gamut from masterful to pedestrian. Many of the most trustworthy and rewarding entries are by well-known names in Tolkien studies. Verlyn Flieger writes always with elegance and clarity on complex topics…[positive examples: Barfield, Faërie, Frame Narrative, Memory, Time, & Poems in Hobbit and LotR] . . . [positive example: Elvish Compositions]. . .  Tom Shippey's entries, as always, concisely show the value of medieval literatures as well as his learnèd and readable insights. Richard C. West marshals exemplary concision and documentation in his eight entries…[positive examples: Finnish, W. H. Lewis, Fr. Mathew, Sayers, Túrin, & Early Tolkien Scholarship] . . .  Gergely Nagy consistently ranges across multiple theoretical approaches with perception and clarity, yielding suggestive and sophisticated results. David Bratman's thirteen entries are equally direct and informative…[positive examples: HoME Overview, Peoples of Middle-earth, & Posthumous Publications] . . .  John Garth's ten entries provide ample references for further study…[positive examples: Artists’ Influence, English and Welsh, & Francis Thompson] . . .  Jared Lobdell's best entries showcase his original perspectives and detailed erudition. He wrote twenty-three entries, far more than anyone else, in a consistently perceptive and lively manner.  . . . [positive examples: Cave, Devil’s Coach-Horses, 20th C. England, Gothic, Lombardic, Welsh, Mr. Bliss, Roverandom, Sin, & St. Brendan; negative: Angels, Pilgrimage, & St. Oswald] . . .[negative detail: Literary Influences 19th and 20th C.] . . .  Douglas A. Anderson's continued attention to minute details of biography enriches his entries ….[positive examples: Tolkien family members, Dagnall, d’Ardenne, Gordon, T.C.B.S., Tolkien’s library, & LotR publishing history] . . . [positive examples: Race and Ethnicity, & Charges of Racism].

But alongside excellent or responsible entries are things less good. Whether one cites the press, the writer, or the editor, it is clear that even if errors were not edited out, some corrections were incorporated. For example, in Verlyn Flieger's entry on Owen Barfield, his age at death is described both as "a month into his hundredth year" (50) and "just eleven months short of his hundredth year" (51)—the latter is correct. So how do we evaluate the multitude of errors in word omission, grammar, spelling, spacing, word division, and bibliographic format, given that certain authors seem to have consistently clean, correct, and detailed entries while others have embarrassing mistakes…[negative examples: Prophecy, Prehistory] . . .  One might assume that the press should have caught entries out of alphabetical order …[examples: Farmer Giles of Ham/Farmer Giles, Northern Venture/Northern Courage, & Tolkien Scholarship/Tolkien family] . . .  or a mistaken header (614) or bibliographic format errors. Even more egregious is the omission of any bibliography whatsoever from a large number of entries, which does seem an editorial fault. Contributors should have been urged especially to provide thorough and complete references from the start (Drout says that "necessary bibliography is included in each entry," xxxi, but clearly not).  . . . [negative examples: Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Russia, Smith of Wootton Major, America in 60s; positive: Finland, Early Tolkien Scholarship] . . . Some entries had blurry boundaries: . . . [negative examples: Comedy, & Humor].

Arguably some omissions occur because topics have no scholarship published on them. In some cases, the material breaks new ground, as in a theoretical approach not previously applied, but in many, it seems the writer wrote based on general and easily available knowledge, something not appropriate to a work of "scholarship and critical assessment," or delayed putting bibliography in until too late.  . . . [negative examples: Augustine of Canterbury, Anglo-Saxon Missions, Rivendell, Descent, Merry, Pippin, Gimli; positive: Augustine of Hippo] . . . . For characters in particular, entries that rehearse attributes and deeds suffer in comparison to more sophisticated analysis where we learn something or are graced with a perceptive insight or new direction of enquiry. A great difference exists between critical assessment and the admittedly useful guides to Tolkien and Middle-earth that give descriptive information. While Middle-earth studies, in looking at that world's "ingredients," might seem predisposed to such summaries, there is no reason why critical thought need go missing.

Reviewing an encyclopedia can be unsatisfying for both a reviewer and her readers. For every entry discussed, many more might be omitted despite equal claims to praise or correction, so comments and stopping points can seem arbitrarily applied. The added difficulties with the press complicate any review here. But this volume represents one place where those outside as well as within Tolkien studies and interests can indeed connect across communities, and at its best, offers suggestive richness and new directions for further work. If the editors hoped to help strengthen legitimation of Tolkien scholarship, the volume as it stands will not do so. Despite a title suggesting scholarship and critical assessment as central, execution was marred by a failure to delineate expectations and apply standards of quality across any type of entry, independent of failings by the press. But its successes and flaws become equally useful as signposts, aiding those who engage in critical assessment as further enrichment of Tolkien's legacies.



Interview with Squire a contributor to the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia

On the site Tolkien Library, March 11, 2007 (reproduced with permission)

In October 2006 we saw the publication of Michael Drout's J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. From day one we could read on Michael Drout's blog the news that instead of 2500 there were only made 800 copies of this book. He was very frustrated in the way that the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia was rushed into print without adequate final editing and not happy with the result. Then there were not many reviews on line, except from some contributors. Maybe the book turned out to be too expensive? It seems most people expected the book to be something 'more' for such a lot of money. Ironically if they had printed more copies, the price might have been cheaper. Still, I believe the project was a good one, and so do many people. Especially the on line community has now taken over the project and is starting to turn the book into a very useful unit after all! There are some interesting projects, of which the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia - A Reader's Diary is by far the most interesting contribution so far. I'm also looking forward to the work that will be undertaken by the Tolkien Gateway who are planning to put all entries of the encyclopedia on line and will edit the articles, if the quality will be high this will be very promising.

Here follows an interview with Squire, one of the contributors of the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia and also the man behind the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia - A Reader's Diary.


Drout's encyclopaedia - an insider's view

On the site The Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza, February 10-27, 2007 (reproduced without permission)

Geordie, 2/10/07:

Here is a link to an interesting site - it's a set of reviews of Drout's Tolkien Encyclopaedia [aka the Routledge Encyclopaedia] by one of the contributors, who certainly doesn't pull any punches! Very entertaining [and informative]

Here's a sample - it's about the entry for Bilbo Baggins, and expresses a view I agree with - that of treating Tolkien's legendarium as 'real', and the thorny topic of 'Middle earth studies' as opposed to 'Tolkien Studies'.

This article suffers from the odd problem of seeming to take Bilbo as a real person. While it recounts Bilbo's career in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with concision and accuracy, it does not take the point of view that he is a fictional character in those two books.

I think this is a big mistake in an Encyclopedia of this kind. "Middle-earth Studies" is the name given to this kind of writing, but it is a false and dangerous road to go down. "Middle-earth Studies" is inherently only a technical sub-specialty of "Tolkien Studies". All that can be "known" of Middle-earth comes from the imaginative writings of one man, so beyond the limited arena of textual evolution it is impossible to make any of the comparative analyses which are the heart of any field of study. This Encyclopedia in particular was supposed to be dedicated to studying Tolkien's works in relation to their author and his world, not as if they had a separate existence. It is juvenile to buy seriously into Tolkien's own device (his "vast game") of presenting Middle-earth as a recovered history, as he himself would be the first to warn us.

I also like the reviewer's verdict on Shippey's entry on Tolkien's contribution to 20th c. literature - one word: 'Perfect'.   

I've literally just become aware of this site myself, so I haven't had time to do more than glance over it. But from what I've seen [and heard of it] I think it's very good. It's an on-going diary type thing; so worth keeping an eye on in future.

Captain Bingo, 2/10/07:

Fantastic site - though the text in the first column is impossible to read without highlighting it - not too much of a problem though. Very informed commentary.

Nieliqui Vaneyar, 2/10/07:

Thank you for the link, geordie! 

I recognize, of course, some of the contributors to the project  - Flieger and Lobdell for example - but a number of others, I have never heard of before, and I wonder exactly what their relationship is to Tolkien writings that suggested to the compilers of this book that they should be allowed to make entries.

For example, the writer on Goldberry - Katherine Hesser.  Having my own agenda as it were (to compile as much referential information on Goldberry into one place as possible), I was surprised to find another writer that I had never heard of and to read Squire's review of the article which suggested I have done far more research into Goldberry then she has. 

In fact from some of the reviews, I've seen far more involved discussions (with detailed references) here on the plaza then what many of Squire's reviews suggest was included.

Oh, well, just wondering.

halfir, 2/10/07:

geordie: As ever we are in your debt!Thumbs%20Up However, given the price of the Drout Encyclopaedia I suspect many will have to rely on these reviews as the base source is at nigh on $US 200 (offered by website discounters) and  I doubt if there will be too many who can afford it, especially given the 'opportunity cost' of what one could do with the money as regards other Tolkien books.

It would appear, also, that, in common with most encyclopaedic approaches to Tolkien, like the curate's egg, it's good in parts. To read, for example, that Gene Hargrove - a totally discredited writer on Bombadil  - has written an entry on The Adventures of Tom Bombadil hardly fills one with confidence!

Geordie, 2/17/07:

I've just been catching up with the lates on this site. Blimey! Take a look at the entry for Oxford. It got a glowing first report by one reviewer, then a blistering taking-apart by another, who as well as knowing his/her stuff, really knows how to deliver a serious academic duffing-up. the gloves are off!

See particularly the comparison, linked from that page. I give a link to the main page here

halfir, 2/17/07:

Ouch! Ms. Fry must be as red as a beetroot! I wonder if she knows Elizabeth Currie!LOL And thanks once again for updating us, I've referenced the site earlier, but as I have a thousand-and-one Tolkien references it's so easy to miss-out and not keep up-to-date.

And Pearce's contribution sounds as if nothing new is being said, which really does demonstrate the dangers of the encyclopaedia approach - a rehashing of old ideas - or - even worse - a rehashing of other people's old ideas!

The more I read of the 'Drout experience' - and its price - the more I see the amazing value - informationally and monetarily of Hammond & Sculls Reader and Companion! Go buy!

However, to be fair to Drout he is as fed up as many of those who have contributed to 'Squiretalk' (which he refers his readers to in his blog) and is even contemplating trying to buy the rights from the current publishers and try to bring some order to mayhem in a republished version.

and perhaps it will be possible, as some commenters have noted, for me to purchase the rights to the Encyclopedia from Taylor and Francis, finish editing it properly, and republish it, perhaps even with the illustrations that I spent weeks finding and soliciting. But that's in the future.....

 See here: {Feb 12 2007}

Aldoriana, 2/17/07

Thanks Northumbrian for drawing our attention to this site! Thumbs%20Up
Hmmm ... As I see, some people do have a lot of spare time Genius
It's always a positive thing to share with other people of same interests one's own impressions/comments on what's published out there, make comparisons, quote from published works and comment pro- or con- , expressing one's personal admirations for one author and criticizing another (of course, and inevitably - based on one's personal tastes and understandings.... )
But certainly, it is, after all, a way of communicating to others what one particular individual has read and thought upon, as well as a way to exchange views/opinions/information....

Geordie, 2/18/07:

Actually, i feel a bit bad now about bringing this to the forum's attention. I haven't read Fry's article on Oxford myself [apart from the version in NE Brigand's piece] But I have read her work before; her piece 'The Enduring Popularity and Influence on The Lord of the Rings' in Vector #236 [July/August 2004] is, I feel a work of proper scholarship; well researched and argued, and well laid out, with a change of font for quotes from other authors [these range from a quote from H G Wells in 1895 to quotes from the Web, with many quotes from actual books in between]. And notes - 68 of 'em, in a four-page article. A proper job.

I don't know what happened with the Encyclopaedia article, but I get the feeling that a lot may have been lost in the mad rush to publication, with little or no regard for editing etc. I'm prepared to give Ms Fry the benefit of the doubt.

Unlike NE Brigand.

But you must admit - when it comes to a bit of 'constructive nastiness' - halfir himself couldn't have done a better job

[saving yer honour's presence, halfir!]

Geordie, 2/18/07:

Back again - [this is a most entertaining site ]

Here's a bit from the review of the entry on Biology in Tolkien's world which I find irresistable:

Another major problem is the Further Reading. First, all four of the items cited are by the entry’s author, and all within the last couple of years, making “Biology of Middle-earth” a vanity entry as much as anything. These references also suggest that Schneidewind may, in fact, be the only person interested in the topic (aside from Henry Gee)! Second, none of the references are in English. The original guidelines for contributors asked for entries in English, where possible, and ones that were not overly difficult to find. Wrong on both counts here. An entry like this ought to have included at least The Science of Middle-earth by Henry Gee, which approaches such questions much more rigorously (see Amy Amendt-Raduege’s review in Tolkien Studies 3). It might perhaps also have directed readers to Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature by David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash, which has recently popularized the kind of evolutionary approach to literature that Schneidewind is attempting here.

Madame Bovary's Ovaries! Hot damn! Another book I've got to buy.

halfir, 2/27/07:

geordie: Having recently updated myself on reviews on this website - through your kindness - I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Encyclopaedia in queston is going to be far less read than this website reviewing what's in it!LOL

Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader’s Diary

On the blog Eldamar: Collezionando l’opera di J. R. R. Tolkien, January 31st, 2007 (reproduced without permission)

On his excellent blog Michael C. Drout gives a link to a reader’s diary of the Tolkien Encyclopedia, of which he is the editor. Squire, the author of the entries, is not just any reader but one of those who contributed to the encyclopedia. With that in mind, and knowing the usual customs of the collegial critic, we might expect the well-known classic ‘editorial blurb’ disguised as a critical book review. It’s entirely the opposite, as can be seen by reading the introduction to the diary that Squire published on his blog.

As the reading continues Squire classifies the articles into three distinct categories, and not a few end up right in the jaws of the Balrog. To the writing of the Encyclopedia a small cadre of Italians has also contributed, a few of whom have already expired under the magnifying glass of the unrelenting inspector. Interesting too is the collection of replies from other auditors, to whom the diary is also accessible.

It is worth noting that Drout himself, on finally getting his hands on the volume, had criticized the final result, putting a good part of the blame on the publisher.

[Translated from the Italian by squire. Corrections are welcome: Sul suo ottimo blog Michael C. Drout segnala un diario de lettura della Tolkien Encyclopedia, della quale è curatore. Squire, l’autore degli appunti, non è un semplice lettore ma uno di coloro che hanno collaborato alla enciclopedia. Date le premesse, abituati alle becere consuetudini della critica nazionale, potremmo aspettarci un classico ‘redazionale’ camuffato da recensione critica. Tutto il contrario, come si può immaginare già leggendo l’introduzione al diario che Squire pubblica sul suo blog.

Man mano che la lettura proseque Squire classifica gli articoli in tre categorie distinte, e non sono pochi quelli che finiscono direttamente nelle fauci del Balrog. Alla compilazione della Encyclopedia ha contribuito anche una sparuta pattuglia di italiani, alcuri dei quali sono già finiti sotto la lente di ingrandimento dell’implacabile scudiero. Interessante anche la raccolta di rescensioni fatte da altri commentori, anche questa accessibile dal diario.

 Vale la pena ricordare che lo stesso Drout, messe finalmente le mani sul volume, aveva criticato il resultato finale imputando buona parte delle colpe all’editore.]


Comments on the standards of citation

N. E. Brigand, in conjunction with his Diary review of "Judaism" by L. J. Swain, January 25, 2007

At this point, it may be helpful to offer a few remarks about reviewers’ repeated references to the encyclopedia’s inconsistent style for citations and bibliographies.

The encyclopedia is subtitled, “Scholarship and Critical Assessment”.  Its introductory matter includes a list of standard abbreviations for Tolkien’s best-known works, which can only be meant for use in parenthetical citations.  The invitations sent to contributors included this instruction: “Every article must include a bibliography”, and also noted that the encyclopedia was to “present the most recent scholarship” and “convey the breadth of scholarship on J.R.R. Tolkien”.  The invitations additionally included a link to the publisher’s (now-defunct) guidelines for contributors, which included rules for formatting the “Further Reading” list.

On the other hand, the list of abbreviations did not appear with the invitations or the entry guidelines – it was made available to contributors only by request.  Additionally, the bibliography rules included some contradictory instructions.  And a guideline forbidding footnotes could be taken to prohibit internal citation; following the encyclopedia’s publication, one contributor privately told me he believed this was the case.  Another contributor has publicly noted his surprise on learning that published encyclopedia entries include “Further Reading” lists.  Both contributors noted that they would have provided the missing information if asked; that some of their entries include parenthetical citation and bibliographies is presumably the result of the editors’ efforts, which were famously stymied by the publisher, Routledge.  Likewise Routledge put off contributors’ request for advice on citations, with assurances that the details would be handled by copy editors.  As Michael Drout has noted, this often didn’t happen.

So criticism of entries for inadequate bibliographies or poor citation style is directed as much at the publishers as at the authors.  Nonetheless, I think such comments are necessary, as they point out what the encyclopedia should have provided to its readers, if only there had been clear instruction to the contributors and capable editing of their work.


Tolkien Air Superiority

Ligon Duncan, posting on Mel Duncan's blog The Corner of River and Rhett, January 9, 2007 (reproduced without permission)

Mel, once again, demonstrates J.R.R. Tolkien "Air Superiority" in this exchange. A friend and colleague of mine had been wistfully longing for a copy of the new and celebrated (though overpriced) J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia but with a wave of his hand, brother Melton opined:

"While most of the content of said tome is excellent, the presentation is awful and it’s ridiculously overpriced. Nothing in there is worth that much money. I got it for X-Mas and was very disappointed. It’s also full of feminist and communist higher critical gobbledy-gook. What you need to get is this. It’s basically a Mathew Henry style commentary on “LOTR.” Fascinating source material.

"And then if you really want to spend more than $100 proceed to this. Quite simply the best stuff out there. I have been most impressed by the scholarship of Wayne Hammond and Cristina Scull. Their knowledge of LOTR development and early Tolkien influence is astonishing.

For Tolkien mojo, I'll take Mel for my team.


First impressions of the Drout Encyclopedia

David Bratman, on the Mythsoc list, December 23, 2006 (reproduced without permission)

That's J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment, ed. Michael D.C. Drout (Routledge, 2007 - that's the copyright date, 2007). I haven't read it all by any means, but I've looked through it and noticed this:

1. What a huge volume (774 pages, letter size) with big print. Yes, I know, the print on most books may be too small, but it's a good thing the publishers didn't provide wider margins or the space-wasting illustrations found in most books of this kind, or it'd be even more physically unwieldy.

2. Thank goodness, none of my contributions were mangled in copy-editing. In fact they seem to have been hardly touched at all, which is less than most of my editors, good or bad, do. In particular, "Further Reading" sections. Either I didn't know, or forgot being told, that articles should have these. In a few places where I did quote works and provide bibliographical citations these have been put as "Further Reading", but look at my entry on Parodies, which discusses eight books and three web sites, and nobody either asked me for full bibliographical references or added them themselves. Granted that I should have done so without being asked, but: did anybody edit this book?

3. "See also" references are rampantly inconsistent. For one instance, my entry on Jim Dundas-Grant of the Inklings mentions Dr. Havard, and there's a "see also" to my entry on him; but that entry on Dr. Havard does not mention Dundas-Grant and does not have a see also to him, where it would be needed. The entry on "Education" (vague title, turns out to mean Tolkien's education) ends abruptly at his high-school graduation, with no indication in the "See also" or anywhere else that the story is taken up under "Oxford", which is basically a biography of Tolkien for his years there and says virtually nothing about the context of the place.

4. The Oxford entry also contains what may be the most unintentionally hilarious sentence in the book, on p. 491: "Tolkien's secret engagement to Edith would end soon with Edith's reception into the Roman Catholic Church." This sounds for all the world as if he dumped her for turning Catholic, when what is evidently meant is that her becoming Catholic meant the engagement need no longer be kept secret. Yes, context makes it clear (eventually), but why trip up the reader on the way?

5. Some of the entries on characters and places in Tolkien's work read like entries for a Foster's Guide to Middle-earth rather than for a Tolkien encyclopedia, starting out describing their place in the sub-creation (i.e. as if they were real) and only later getting to their role as fictional creations. This would be less irritating if the entries written this way didn't also fail to say where the sub-creational information on them comes from. I know, and you know, but prospective readers of the encyclopedia don't. But other entries of this kind, by different hands, are quite conscientious. Checking on which ones wrote which way, I can't say I'm a bit surprised.

6. Again, did anybody edit this book? There are two separate entries on the book The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, explaining the same things, one by Gene Hargrove under its title, and one by Tom Shippey under "Poems by Tolkien: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil." Did nobody notice?

7. Why is there a biographical entry on Susan Dagnall, the go-between who brought The Hobbit to Allen and Unwin, and none on the Unwins, who continued to be so important in Tolkien's life? They're only mentioned in passing in various places; nothing about them as people. Did anybody edit this thing at all?

8. I'm not going to count the other rampant inconsistencies in what got entries and what didn't, and in approach, length, etc of comparable entries. There's just too much. Except to note that some topics are chopped up into tiny bits under different entries, while just about everything on Elvish linguistics is under one very long entry, "Languages Invented by Tolkien" by Carl Hostetter, which is so clear and so good that it suggests the entire encyclopedia should have been written this way, as a set of long essays on broad relevant topics instead of little bitty ones on a lot of peripheral topics some of which are barely connected to Tolkien at all. Look at the entry on Aquinas, which begins by noting that Tolkien is never known to have mentioned him. That's a promising start in a Tolkien encyclopedia.

9. This is not my copy. I borrowed it. The price being charged contributors - or anyone else for that matter - is obscene, and despite some valuable material I can hardly call the book worth it.


Where's what, Gollum?

John Garth, in the Times Literary Supplement, December 22, 2006 (reproduced without permission)

Tolkien encyclopedias have been around for years. The kind of books which might refresh your knowledge of the Gondorian kin-strife or the geography of the Shire, they were intended for those fascinated by the teeming detail of Tolkien's imagined world, not for those seeking to understand his work as literature, let alone for those perplexed by his success. The phenomenon reflected a tendency which only began to recede with the publication of Tom Shippey's study The Road to Middle-earth in 1982. With the same eagerness that enthusiasts staked their claim to Tolkien, literary criticism had spurned him.

Now, as a sign of the coming of age of Tolkien studies, we have two works of reference which attempt to breach the old barriers. One compiles the work of 128 contributors, the other is written by two authors; each publication exemplifies the benefits and disadvantages of these modes of production.

The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia seethes with insight and opinion. It benefits greatly from articles by acknowledged experts, such as Shippey himself, and Verlyn Flieger, the author of Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World (revised edition 2002). The guiding hand of Michael Drout, an Anglo-Saxonist, is evident in the high proportion of medieval entries, which further emphasizes both Tolkien's contribution to English philology and English philology's contribution to Tolkien. There are valuable articles on the medieval cultures, languages and philosophies familiar to Tolkien but not to most readers. What might have surprised the old professor is the use made of critical theory: race and gender studies, subject theory and semiotics, textuality and orality. In between, among much else, are discussions of translations, fandom and film. All this is worthwhile: the more Tolkien's success baffles the sceptics, the more it demands serious examination.

Less welcome are descriptions of fictitious characters, places and totems whose sole frame of reference is Middle-earth, as if such entries had strayed in from the old-style Tolkien encyclopedias.

The admirable articles on Gollum and Gandalf, which probe literary technique and mythical parallels, ought to have served as models for the rest. It is to be hoped that a revised edition, whether printed or digital, might streamline the entries and iron out the distracting errors and overlaps.

Like the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, the Reader's Guide volume of The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide lists people and places of significance to Tolkien. But it is much more thorough: every faculty colleague at Leeds and Oxford appears; every available work, down to the shortest individually published poem, receives a summary and (where possible) a textual and critical history.

The Silmarillion, compiled by Christopher Tolkien from a complex of texts, is wisely treated in discrete sections by chapter.

The Reader's Guide bears no resemblance to the old-style Middle-earth encyclopedias; its focus is on biographical, bibliographical and textual matters.

This methodical thoroughness is only to be expected from Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, who wrote the standard guide to Tolkien's visual art and last year produced a Reader's Companion to The Lord of the Rings. However, the handling of themes and critical issues here is less ambitious than in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. It is also easy to lose one's way in the Reader's Guide, which would have benefited from headwords on each page as well as a thematic list of entries, or even division into a "Who's Who", a "Where's Where" and so forth.

Scull and Hammond draw on some of the family papers previously seen only by Tolkien's authorized biographer Humphrey Carpenter, and they also gather much information from more dispersed material; so it is a pity that they have not methodically provided source notes. For anyone examining Tolkien's life, their 800-page timeline should prove invaluable. No biographer now should have any excuse for regurgitating (as too many have done) Carpenter's venerable but slight biography of 1977.

It is tempting to call these impressive works of reference definitive, but that would miss the point. The mapping of a complex critical and contextual landscape by Michael Drout's team, and Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond's generous dispensation of biographical and textual apparatus, should facilitate further exploration of Tolkien as a writer, not make it unnecessary.


Drout, ed., J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia

Carl Hostetter, on the Mythsoc list, December 13, 2006 (reproduced without permission)

I just received my copy of Drout, ed.'s, J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia this evening[1] and have spent about an hour reading in it. I thought I'd share some initial thoughts.  

Leaving aside the price,[2] which seems outrageous (though it is unfortunately not out of line with academic publishers who aim their works primarily at libraries, not at readers), this is a book that nonetheless contains quite a bit of meat for the price of the meal. Most of the important Tolkien scholars are represented here (the most obvious exception being Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, who were engaged in their own great works at the time), and those whom you have come to know and trust do not disappoint in their articles, which make for important reading.  

Unfortunately, among this meat there are some veins of gristle, as well as some other, mysterious substances. The "ists" appear here and there to assert their favorite "isms" at Tolkien's expense, and there are some frankly strange articles even apart from these, such as the one on "Missions from Anglo-Saxon England" that, while no doubt entirely accurate in its contents, makes not one mention of Tolkien or his works, and seems entirely unconnected with the titular purpose of this Encyclopedia.[3]  

The greatest flaws of this work are the unevenness of its contributions, and the large number of editing and typographical errors. Both of these can be laid at the feet of the stern insistence of the publisher to meet a really completely arbitrary deadline (esp. given the price of the volume: one cannot imagine that Routledge believed it would appear on shelves in the malls this Christmas!). What was needed, and I think had been planned by editor Drout, was at least a few months subsequent to getting all the articles in hand in which he could uniformly proof, edit, pare, cross-reference, and (where necessary) fill in any remaining gaps in the scope. Unfortunately, Drout was denied that chance by the editor (as those of us working with Drout at the end can painfully attest), and even such corrections as were supplied by those of us who were able to see some of the work in galleys are only partially evidenced in the published work, leaving many glaring errors intact. Needless to say, such flaws as remain in the published work do not redound to the glory of Routledge as an academic publisher; but then, in my (admittedly limited) experience, academic publishing generally seems ever less and less interested in quality than in quantity.  

Nonetheless, if one can make allowance for such blemishes, on balance, I think the volume important and even worth the money (if one can afford it). Which of course only makes its flaws, entirely avoidable save for the impatience of the publisher, all the more lamentable.  


[1]: Michael D.C. Drout, ed., J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2006.

[2]: For fellow contributors: I ended up having to buy my own, as I was politely but firmly informed by the Routledge rep. that contributors were not due copies. The best deal I found, even better than the contributor's discount offered by Routledge, is to order from Barnes and Noble online as a "B&N Member" for $140 w/ free shipping -- even if you have to pay the $25/ year fee to become a member, this works out to be a better deal -- and then also apply the coupon code D3W6C9D (expires today, alas!) for an additional %25 off.  

[3]: A fact I mentioned to Dr. Drout upon seeing it in galleys, but which he, alas, seems to have been unable to do anything about.

Re: Drout, ed., J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia  on the Mythsoc List, December 13, 2006, by Carl Hostetter (reproduced without permission)

A P.S.: I should note that typos in articles are not always the fault of the author of the article. In reviewing my own articles I noticed a glaring error that was introduced in copy-editing: a mechanical replacement of "as" used as a conjunction of time ("as these were posited during..") with "because", yielding a completely altered and nonsensical sentence. I can hardly be the only one whose article was similarly mangled, though I was one of only a few afforded a chance to review galleys by the publisher (because of the technical nature of my articles, being on the languages). I also was able to see large parts of alphabetical sections containing my own articles, and did my best to proof them, but as mentioned previously, not all corrections I supplied made it into print. Again, not redounding to Routledge's glory.


A Fine Addition to the Critical Landscape

Jason Fisher, on Customer Reviews, November 28, 2006 (reproduced without permission)

First, in the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I, too, am a contributor to the Encyclopedia. Second, let me explain my rating. I'm inclined to give this impressive reference work five stars -- but cannot quite do so, for two reasons: 1) the price is quite high, indeed in my opinion it is probably higher than necessary, and 2) it isn't quite the book it could have been, had Mike Drout's original vision been realized. For example, it was supposed to include hundreds of illustrations as well as blind entries, etc. There's a whole drama behind the publication of the Encyclopedia ... but that being said, let me focus on the task at hand: offering a capsule review of the work.

It is quite an impressive and diverse collection of entries, by an equally impressive and diverse collection of scholars. I feel quite overwhelmed and honored to be represented among them. Luminaries like Tom Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, Douglas Anderson -- and too many others to begin to name -- give the Encyclopedia tremendous depth. Also, you'll find a wealth of the latest critical approaches and ideas represented here. Mike Drout has accomplished no less than a Herculean labor here -- and it has really paid off. There's definitely plenty to interest any serious Tolkien fan.


Marvelous for serious Tolkien Fans

Michael W. Perry, on Customer Reviews, November 4, 2006 (reproduced without permission)

For serious fans of Tolken, and particularly those who like to examine it as a work of literature, this book is a marvelous tool edited by a gifted professor and lover of Tolkien. (His blog is at: wormtalk.blogspot dot com.) And if the price is a bit much for your budget, see if your school or public library might be willing to pick up a copy. Disclaimer: I contributed several articles.


J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia

 Michael D. C. Drout, on his blog Wormtalk and Slugspeak, November 2, 2006 (reproduced without permission)

The Encyclopedia is finally out, so if you have $175.00 and a real interest in Tolkien, you should check it out. Although there are some imperfections (to say the least) I think it is a very useful resource for people interested in Tolkien at all levels.

I also want to give you the story of the imperfections.

I've been working on the Encyclopedia for three or so years now. It was a weird process, as an editor at Routledge contacted me, but then I had to write the proposal, etc., but it basically went well with only a few major glitches (some contributors bailed out at the last second--or actually beyond the last second--and there was a bit of tension when a few important articles were late and the press wanted to boot them). Then, Taylor and Francis bought Routledge and, this summer, decided to close down the encyclopedia division as unprofitable. My editors were let go (no one told me; I found out via bounced emails) and many projects were, apparently, cancelled. The Tolkien Encyclopedia was far enough along that they decided not to cancel it, so for once in my life I lucked out on the timing.

But that didn't stop Taylor and Francis from screwing things up. Back in the early summer I began to receive fascicles of the Encyclopedia for proofing. They were a hideous mess. Everything that could be wrong—from citation format to layout to basic copy-editing mistakes—was wrong, and I spent well over a hundred hours marking up the typescript. This went back to the production people and then, for a long time I heard nothing. And I was shocked to learn that there were no plans to send individual articles back to contributors for proofing: every project I've ever been on has let contributors get a final look. Not this one.

Likewise, there was an inexplicable decision not to include the 100 illustrations I had spent weeks collating. This was never communicated to me until after I asked, and I was not consulted on the decision.

Even worse, when we originally designed the Encyclopedia, there were to be many "blind" entries. So, for example, if you looked up "balrog" it would say "see Monsters." This practice was promised to me because I was asked to aggregate a great many short entries into large pieces to make it easier to find enough contributors. Routledge then refused to put in the blind entries, and though I tried to make an end run to the compositor, that was apparently blocked. So what appear to be bizarre decisions were not so originally: there is no entry on "Ancrene Wisse and Hali Mei∂had" because that article is covered in the "AB Language" and "Ancrene Wisse" and "Katherine Group" entries, but then Routledge screwed up and didn't put in the blind entry. They claim that the index and the thematic table of contents (which sucks a bit) will solve this problem. I am not convinced, and I think that the Encyclopedia would have been much easier to use had they listened to me and followed our original agreement. But at least the content is still all there, even if it takes more work to find it.

But really much worse are the problems of corrections. Although Routledge did not send final proof copies of articles to individual contributors, I personally had been contacting people and emailing back to Routledge sets of corrections that were coming in from the editorial board, various contributors, etc. As we got further into August, I began to get very worried that I was not going to have enough time to proof the entire thing again (as it obviously needed; when you are making 8-25 corrections per column you can't expect to have gotten everything). Around August 17, the entire typescript came back, and it was still a serious mess, with a lot of basic formatting errors, etc. Unfortunately, that was right when I got pneumonia (followed by my son getting pneumonia), and I was out of action for a few weeks. When I did eventually get to proofing and started to return fasciles, I was informed that "we are sending the whole thing to press tomorrow." Really. When I objected, I was told that all the errors I had found (and spent many hours on just for the A-C fasciles) would surely have been caught by the professional copy-editors (who had somehow managed to miss them the first time). The volume went to press and I never was able to see a final version. So there are lots of corrections that were made (for example, Doug Anderson had sent me a pile of corrections that I dutifully sent on but don't seem to have been incorporated). Certainly the contributors should not be blamed, as they had no idea that the press would do something as idiotic as not sending laid-out articles back to contributors for proofing.

In the end, I'm disappointed that Routledge / Taylor and Francis marched the ball down the field almost to the end zone and then decided to punt. This is still a very, very good resource, but it could have been a great one, and I'm disappointed that it's not.

But let me conclude on a more amusing note. For a few weeks I had been badgering Routledge to send me my author's copies, or at least one author's copy, so I could see how the book came out. Finally, on Wednesday, my copies arrived. This is advising week at Wheaton, so I've had students trooping in and out of my office. I showed the Encyclopedia to one, and he said "but isn't that at the library?" Yes, the library had gotten its copy and put it on display two weeks ago and I hadn't noticed it. Doh!


squire said...
Congratulations all the same!
I am very much looking forward to getting a copy -- there has been much discussion already in our Encyclopedia writing group based on 2 copies our members have already gotten.
There are dozens of articles I am dying to read, but even more I look forward to just browsing about, and reading articles on topics I would never think to research on my own initiative!
Your grim account of the Tayor and Francis fiasco explains a lot about the copy editing that seemed inexplicable - thank you for going public with that. Better luck with the online edition!
I'd like to know where one can get it for $175? Amazon's lowest price seems to be about $189 discounted; the list is $200.
N.E. Brigand said...
What an interesting look behind the scenes -- thank you! And I second squire's congratulations. I've already spent many hours reading (the) Encyclopedia, and have already found it useful: Dale Nelson's article on 19th and 20th C. literary influences on Tolkien, for instance, was highly relevant to a recent discussion at Richard Scott Nokes's blog.
InklingBooks said...
For the previous poster, Amazon now has it for $175. It's also ranking at this moment in the 80K range, which is marvelous for a just-out book that pricey.
For once, has a better price: $140 if you're a member. And if I read them right, membership costs $25, making the total $165, not counting what you may save with other discounts over the next year.
I guess your difficulties as the editor-in-chief getting a copy means that minor contributors such as myself won't be getting a copy gratis. Sigh, given my writer's budget, I'll be asking that the Seattle Public and University of Washington libraries get copies I can read.
In addition to writing, I also publish, so get in touch with me if this publisher adds insult to injury and drops the book after a year or two. I can help you find a way to keep it in print permanently.
--Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien
johobbit said...
Likewise, from me, a hearty congratulations, despite the frustrations you endured. It is interesting, as well as most disappointing, to hear of all the aggravations in the process. Thank-you for sticking with it, and for your openness of the situation!
I'm beginning to read through the encyclopedia from cover to cover, and am enjoying the wealth of information that is there. I'm ignoring any editing problems, so rest at ease: I think most people will, if they have any grace. :)
As squire indicated, there are some articles that I will read that, left to my own ways, I wouldn't have investigated otherwise. As a result there is much learning in store for me, which I am excited about.
I'm especially moved by your tribute to Dan Timmons in the Introduction, and am thankful that he was able to contribute despite his failing health at the time.
May this volume bless and stimulate students of Tolkien for years to come.
Jo-Anna :)
Frank said...
You've done all you can Dr. Drout, and we salute you for it. The publisher's incompetence/lack of caring is totally beyond you and doesn't reflect on your efforts in any way.
Chester N. Scoville said...
So that explains why I never got proofs back! Well, certainly not your fault, and it's great that the book's finally out.
Horace Jeffery Hodges said...
Sorry to hear of the mess. And I thought that I had problems getting galley proofs here in Korea!
Anyway, congratulations.
Jeffery Hodges

[Update]. I have learned that Taylor and Francis has only printed 800 copies of the Encyclopedia rather than the planned 2,500. I don't know if these numbers make a difference to collectors or not, but there you have them. Second, if you are a contributor you can receive (supposedly) a 20% discount on the book by emailing Finally, thus far Taylor and Francis has absolutely refused to distribute any contributor gratis copies despite an original promise to do so; I am working on this, but without much success thus far.