Friday, February 15, 2008

Silmarillion studies: past, present, and future

Feedback continues to roll in on The Silmarillion: Thirty Years On. This time, I’d like to share some comments from Doug Kane, whose book, Arda Reconstructed: The Creation of the Published Silmarillion, is forthcoming from Lehigh University Press later this year or early next. Doug’s response is especially germane, since his own work on The Silmarillion grapples with some of the very questions I raise in my essay in S:TYO. In fact, had it been published a year ago, Doug’s book would have been essential reading for me in the preparation of my chapter. At one point in the essay, I wrote:

The full extent of these changes, both in the “Ruin of Doriath” and elsewhere, is not immediately clear — this is one of the side-effects of an invisible editorial hand — however it might be possible to set passages from the published Silmarillion side by side with the corresponding drafts published in The History of Middle-earth (or with the original manuscripts in the Bodleian, where necessary) and to systematically ascertain the precise nature and degree of alteration made by Christopher and Guy Kay. To undertake that analysis is outside the scope of my paper, and the particulars are not central to my argument in any case. What is important to realize is that Christopher became, perforce, much more than mere editor in certain sections of The Silmarillion.
This side-by-side comparison is precisely what Doug is doing in his book, so I for one am very eager to get my copy of it. In some ways, my essay in S:TYO was a call for Doug’s book, or something like it, before I knew of its existence. The process he is undertaking will not be uncontroversial, but I think it’s a project that has merit, and I will be very interested to read Doug’s conclusions.

But to return to my essay, “From Mythopoeia to Mythography: Tolkien, Lönnrot, and Jerome,” here’s an excerpt from what Doug had to say about it:
I jumped forward in the book and read your article. I liked it a lot. It is well researched, well argued and well written. The precedent of the creation of the Kalevala in particular is an apt one, and the point is nicely made (I haven’t read Anne Petty’s article in the first Tolkien Studies, so much of that material was new to me). But most importantly (certainly from my point of view), you shine a rare light on the importance of Christopher’s work in the creation of the published Silmarillion. [...]

That [side-by-side] analysis, of course, is largely what I did do in my work (although, sadly, without access to the Bodleian manuscripts). Interestingly, however, the basic conclusion that I come to is largely the same as yours. Your essay lays a good groundwork for my book, while having a sufficiently different main focus to have value in and of itself. I am pleased that it has found its way into print.
This was very gratifying to hear, as it was precisely what I hoped to achieve with the essay, to “shine a rare light on the importance of Christopher’s work,” the value and importance of which can hardly be underestimated. The question has been approached before, as in Charles Noad’s 2000 essay “On the Construction of ‘The Silmarillion’” (in Tolkien’s Legendarium, edited by Verlyn Flieger and Carl Hostetter), but much work still remains to be done in what we might call ‘Silmarillion studies’, even thirty years on from its first appearance in print.

I hope that my essay has helped to open the door a bit wider, and that Doug’s research and related studies will continue to develop, furthering our understanding of and appreciation for The Silmarillion in all its actual as well as its potential forms.

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