As some of you know, I have written entries for a couple of different encyclopedias — The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (ed. Michael D.C. Drout, 2006), and Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Encyclopedia (ed. Robin Anne Reid, coming out in two volumes at the end of this year). This week, I’m happy to report another — in the online Literary Encyclopedia — even though the announcement may be greeted by vacant expressions.
The Literary Encyclopedia has been around for quite some time (since 2000), yet it appears to be still largely undiscovered. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s better known in the U.K., where it originated. What is it, exactly? Well, apart from the simple answer — an online literary encyclopedia, duh :) — it is “an expanding global literary reference work written by over 2,000 specialists from universities around the world, and currently provides more than 5,500 authoritative profiles of authors, works and literary and historical topics and grows by 60–70 articles each month. [...] The Literary Encyclopedia offers good coverage of canonical literature originally written in English, French, German and Russian, and is extending its coverage of Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek. It is built on historical principles so that all our data can be arrayed by date, country and genre and readers can explore writing in its historical context. [...] The publication is very much a living relationship between current scholars and readers and not a repository of information formerly published in printed works.”
Quite an ambitious undertaking! Its more than 5,000 entries add up to more than nine million words. It also has more than 20,000 placeholders for entries they’d like to see written. With no practical limits as to scope or length, this is where an online encyclopedia has the opportunity to leave a print encyclopedia far behind. But what about the quality? From what I’ve read (admittedly, only a tithe), the entries are solidly researched, accurate, and well written. As with any collection by many hands, however, there may be a bad entry here or there. If you find one, send them some feedback. (And there’s another advantage an online encyclopedia has over a print publication.)
So, back to me. My first entry for them is a roughly 2,800-word essay on the Inklings. (Note that you’ll only be able to read the first 500 or so words without a paid subscription. More on that in a moment.) Following this, I will be writing a series of entries on works by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. If you have absolutely nothing better to do, you can search these out among their forthcoming entries. A new one should be appearing every two or three months from now until, oh, some time in the middle of 2010. For anyone curious to see it, an abbreviated version of my publication vita is online as well, here.
As far as The Literary Encyclopedia’s other contributors on the Inklings, I’m in good company. The encyclopedia currently has essays by Brian Rosebury (the biographical entry on Tolkien, as well as entries for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion), Dimitra Fimi (Unfinished Tales), and Peter Schakel (the biographical entry on Lewis and entries for several of his works).
Now, as I hinted above, The Literary Encyclopedia is not free — but considering some of the “encyclopedias” that are free, it may be wise to remember that old adage, “you get what you pay for.” In any case, a membership isn’t going to set you back too much — and considerably less than buying a print encyclopedia. At present, it’s about $19.95 USD for a full year. There’s also an option for one-time, one-month access. And here’s another good reason to spring for access, or better yet, to encourage your public or university library to do so: The Literary Encyclopedia grants free memberships to institutions of higher education in countries whose per capita income is lower than the world average. So you’re being a good Samaritan too. If you want to bug your librarian about this, here are some talking points.