For goodness sake, has it really been two weeks since my last post?! I’m terribly sorry about that. :)
Part of my silence of late is explained by the fact that I’ve been busy organizing and selecting from my notes, doing satellite reading for, and then writing a book review. I haven’t been working on it for quite six months, but it almost feels like it. Anyway, the review is finished, and at almost 4,000 words, it’s pretty substantial.
I’m not going to dig any deeper for now (you’ll have to wait for it to appear in print), but I wanted to share some related findings, specifically on Northrop Frye’s view of Tolkien. In the book I was reviewing, the author bases part of his analysis on Frye’s theory of literary modes (as systematized in Anatomy of Criticism), so I’ve found myself reading Frye again.
Tom Shippey was probably the first to invoke Frye in Tolkien studies, though several others have done so since (and with varying degrees of success). I don’t have a first edition of The Road to Middle-earth, but I’m assuming the short discussion of Frye’s modes goes all the way back to 1981. If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know. In any event, Shippey pointed out that “[t]here is another way of approaching the question of the trilogy’s literary status, which has the further merit of concentrating attention on its prose style as well as on poetry. This is via Northrop Frye’s now-famous book, The Anatomy of Criticism (1957), a work which never mentions The Lord of the Rings, but nevertheless creates a literary place for it with Sibylline accuracy.” He goes on to explain: “Mr. Frye’s theory, in essence, is that there are five ‘modes’ of literature, all defined by the relationship between heroes, environments, and humanity. [...] Clearly the mode intended [to characterize The Lord of the Rings] is the one below ‘myth’ but above ‘high mimesis’, the world of ‘romance’ whose heroes are characteristically ‘superior in degree [not kind] to other men and to [their] environments’.” 
Shippey is correct: Frye does not mention Tolkien or The Lord of the Rings in Anatomy of Criticism. (However, he does mention C.S. Lewis and other writers related to Tolkien studies.) Who would have expected him to? Frye’s book was published only two years after The Return of the King. But ... As part of my research for the book review, I came across a couple of very interesting items which, together, tell a somewhat different story.
First, I learned that Victoria University Library (in the University of Toronto system) holds first edition copy of The Lord of the Rings personally annotated by Frye — among some 2,000 other similarly marked volumes! Apparently, Victoria is to Frye was Marquette and the Bodleian are to Tolkien. According to VU, the copies Frye read are British impressions from 1956. I am unaware of any definitive proof he read and annotated them in that year or the early the next, but I suspect he did (more on why in a moment). If he did, it would have given him a hypothetical opportunity to have included Tolkien in Anatomy of Criticism. I would love to get a look at the scholia with which Frye illuminated his copies! It’s possible there is some date evidence there as well, which would also be valuable.
As a short sidebar, there’s a slight question in my mind about the date of 1956 – because there was no impression of The Return of the King in that year. The second impression dates from November 1955, and the third, January 1957. But it could simply be an oversight. Assuming the date is correct for the other two volumes, Frye’s set was most likely a 5th or 6th impression of The Fellowship of the Ring, a 4th impression of The Two Towers, and a 3rd impression of The Return of the King. A valuable set, even without Frye’s annotations! And I’ll just leave it there for now. </geekOut>
As I hinted above, there is a little more evidence to place Frye’s reading as early as 1956. The University of Toronto Press has been systematically publishing the hundred or so personal notebooks Frye kept on his academic research, and from which he produced most of his published scholarship. Last year, Volume 23 in UTP’s Collected Works of Northrop Frye, imaginatively entitled Northrop Frye’s Notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism, hit the scholarly circuit. My local library doesn’t own a copy, but I managed to get one from Texas Tech University through interlibrary loan. And hwæt to my wandering eye should appear?
Frye mentions Tolkien three times in the material from which (in part) he assembled Anatomy of Criticism. The raw material for Anatomy published here consists of some eighteen notebooks — now that is some meticulous work! Frye continued adding notes to some of these after the publication of his book, but the internal evidence (as I make it out) suggests that Frye’s comments about Tolkien date from c. 1956–8. In a couple of cases, it’s pretty apparent to me that the notes antedate publication of Anatomy of Criticism. The bottom line? Frye apparently had read The Lord of the Rings before publishing his watershed book, and he had even imagined where it fit into his theory of modes! Shippey was correct on both counts: that Frye never mentioned him in Anatomy (a mere technicality, as it transpires), but also that the “romantic” is the most applicable mode. By the way, for those keeping score, Frye did mention Tolkien a number of other times in other books — e.g., The Secular Scripture (1976) and in the Notebooks on Romance (2004). The point here, though, is the evidence to connect Frye’s thinking about Tolkien to the early and seminal Anatomy of Criticism, published immediately on the heels of The Lord of the Rings.
In two of the three instances where Frye mentions Tolkien, it is in the context of laying out his theory of modes (six of them, rather than five, in these drafts; in itself, probable evidence to antedate the notes). Tolkien is connected in both cases to a mode Frye calls “sentimental romance” — in the company of writers such as Goethe, Hugo, Scott, Hawthorne, Melville, Morris, and MacDonald. Sounds about right. In the first of these two, Frye just happens to mention “Faerie” on the same page!  He also mentions “mythopoeia” elsewhere (in association with William Blake).
The third Tolkien reference is of a more subjective nature. Here, Frye writes: “I thought I had this in: in reading Tolkien, which I did with great & almost uncritical pleasure, it nevertheless struck me, somewhere around Appendix VI, that there was a point at which the imaginative turns into the imaginary.” 
1) “Had this in” — what? Does Frye mean to say he thought he had included the observation in the manuscript of Anatomy of Criticism, but then realized he hadn’t? Or is he referring to another notebook? There’s no immediate context to clarify that. And herein lies the difficulty in trying to interpret personal notes! 2) “Appendix VI” must be Appendix F; the appendices in The Lord of the Rings are represented by letters, not Roman numerals. Assuming he does have Appendix F in mind, unless his memory lapsed, what would he mean by identifying it (i.e., the very end of the book) as the point at which he questioned the imaginative vs. imaginary? Any theories? 3) It appears here pretty unequivocal that Frye enjoyed reading Tolkien. Elsewhere, I have seen mildly disparaging comments (e.g., The Secular Scripture) reported to suggest Frye did not. 4) And what about that larger assertion he makes here, that “there was a point at which the imaginative turns into the imaginary”? Any comments, anyone? I’ll save mine for another day; I’ve rambled on too long already. I know that Frye wrote a relevant essay, “The Imaginative and the Imaginary”, but I haven’t managed to read it yet. Obviously, much food for thought — and a cud to last a good while longer still.
It is fascinating to see this early discussion of Tolkien, even at such brevity, and especially associated with Frye’s most important work. And the irony of finding the needle in this haystack of notebooks is hardly lost on me. Frye’s voluminous notebooks are indeed not unlike Tolkien’s own mountain of drafts, recensions, and scribbled notes. The History of Middle-earth, too, stands analogous to (and a mere shadow of) the “notebooks project” at UTP. That both these Zettelkasten are now available should keep scholars busy for many years to come.
 Shippey, Tom. The Road to Middle-earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. Rev. and expanded ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2003, p. 210, 211.
 Northrop Frye. Collected Works of Northrop Frye, Volume 23: Northrop Frye’s Notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism. Ed. Robert D. Denham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007, pp. 111, 274.
 Ibid., p. 284.