Friday, February 1, 2008

More readers’ assessments of S:TYO

Earlier this week I stumbled on two threads discussing The Silmarillion: Thirty Years On. Both began with capsule reviews — or perhaps it’s more accurate just to call them summaries (like the one I discussed here) — written by the same individual, calling himself Hyalma. The first, and more detailed of the two, was in Russian (13 January); the second, apparently just an abridgment of the first, was in Polish (24 January). I made a crude but almost readable attempt to translate these myself, but I’ll spare myself the embarrassment of sharing those efforts here. :) Fortunately, I had my friend Mark Hooker to help me clean them up. Not only that, but at my request (in a roundabout sort of way), the author has now translated his Polish post into English, which you can read here.

For the more detailed Russian version, here’s the substance of it (just the portion of it pertaining to my chapter — this is my blog, after all!):

The author compares “The Silmarillion,” “The Kalevala,” and “The Vulgate [Bible].” In each instance we are dealing with a great deal of text that has not been completely organized, which should be brought to the attention of its “compilers,” J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien, Lönnrot, and Jerome.

About the influence of “The Kalevala” on Tolkien’s work (The History of Kullervo, The Cottage of Lost Play, Sampo > Silmarils etc., the drawing “The Land of Pohja”). The word kuluvai from the early Quenya text “Narqelion” is associated with the name Kullervo both phonetically and semantically (both are derived from Quenya and Finnish, where they have the meaning “gold”). In addition, the author describes the Quenya borrowings from Finnish: aino, leminkainen, ilma, urulóki, and the names of the bears in Tolkien’s [Father Christmas] Letter[s]: Paksu and Valkotukka. As originally conceived, “The Silmarillion” was supposed to contain a lot of poetry. Christopher simply did not include it in [sic] the “Lays of Beleriand.”

Further about the parallels between “The Silmarillion” and “The Bible”, “The Silmarillion,” and the “Old Testament,” which a number of critics have written about, etc. [In] any discussion of which Bible “The Silmarillion” should be compared to, you have to pick the Vulgate, the basic text of the Roman Catholic Church. St. Jerome’s work also interested Tolkien from a philological point of view. His desire to return to the sources undoubtedly impressed Tolkien, who himself translated the Book of John [sic] for the Jerusalem Bible.

Christopher’s role in the publication of “The Silmarillion” was similar to Lonnröt’s role in the publication of “The Kalevala,” and Jerome’s role in the translation of “The Bible.” The author touches on the problem of “The Fall of Doriath,” where Christopher had to fill-in the blanks in the text himself. It seems that Christopher’s work is only one of the possible “Silmaraillions”, just like Lennröt presents us with one of the possible “Kalevalas”, and St. Jerome one of the possible Bibles. [Reproduced without permission]

Now, let me point out that the assertions made in this summary are those of its author and not necessarily exactly what I wrote in my chapter. A case in point: I never made such a bold claim as that The Silmarillion “was supposed to contain a lot of poetry” (emphasis mine); rather, I said it “might well have been full of poetry [...] For one example, Christopher elected not to include in The Silmarillion any of the thousands of lines of poetry that would later comprise The Lays of Beleriand.” And of course, even there I overstated my case (before all of you descend on me with corrections!): Christopher in fact included about 30 lines closely adapted from The Lay of Leithian. But my point was to highlight the prevalent editorial choice: a great deal of the material underlying the “Silmarillion” was indeed in verse form, but of it, almost none (a mere 30 lines) made it into the published Silmarillion.

Anyway, quibbles aside, it’s fantastic to see that the book is being read. Judging by what I’ve seen so far (in Russian, Polish, and English), it’s being read a good deal more than the previous Walking Tree title in which I was published (Tolkien and Modernity). Many of the comments suggest that there isn’t much in the book that’s new, with the exception of Agøy’s essay, which was roundly praised. I would quibble with the complaint about newness, too, but again, I’ll take being read over being ignored any day.


  1. Jason

    Hope well - I just posted on my blog some comments on the the two Tolkien books I read this week - The Frodo Franchise and Silmarillion 30 Years On - both of which I thought was a great and your article in Sil:30 Years On was one of my favs and as you will see its got me thinking of other parallels such as with Homer and Beowulf and how these were put together you also got me back to Eliot's Finnish Grammer which I got on Ebay about a year ago!!! As they say in my biz bravo! write more please.

    Thanks, Andy

  2. Thanks Andy! Always great to hear from you, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. I’ll also comment on your blog post there, and I may quote from it in a new post here. If I may paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes:
    The wit how subtle, how profound,
    [The blogosphere’s] tangled webs unwound

    As they say in my biz bravo! write more please.

    Thanks! And I have, and I am. If you feel so inclined, I have another chapter in print in Walking Tree’s Tolkien and Modernity Volume 1, which deals with the question of free will versus determinism (abstract, here).

    I also have a chapter in Truths Breathed Through Silver: The Inklings’ Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy which, despite the date of 1 February shown on Amazon, is not quite out yet. Hopefully, it will hit the shelves in another month or two.

    And I also have two other chapters forthcoming. But not dates or details that I can release as yet. So stay tuned and keep reading! And thanks again for the compliments. :)