Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More information on The Book of Jonah

I have received some additional details on The Book of Jonah from the publisher — still scant information, but I thought I would share what I have. First of all, it appears that the July release date is looking more like the end of August. I have put in a request for a review copy — fingers crossed. :P

I can also tell you that the book is being edited by Brendan Wolfe and will feature a foreword by Sir Anthony Kenny. The nephew of Alexander Jones, general editor of The Jerusalem Bible, Kenny had a first-hand perspective and may be able to offer one or two interesting morsels. He described a meeting with Tolkien about the project in his memoir, A Path from Rome: An Autobiography (1985), calling Tolkien “a difficult collaborator” [1].

According to the marketing collateral DL&T sent me, “Kenny [in his foreword] recalls his own memories of working on the Jerusalem Bible and the impact made by its groundbreaking publication” — no mention of Tolkien there. But then:
[Editor] Brendan Wolfe tells the little-known story of how Tolkien, then at the height of his fame as the author of The Lord of the Rings, agreed to join the team of Catholic writers and scholars working on a major new translation of the Bible into English in the early 1960s.The result was the Jerusalem Bible, still celebrated for its elegant, timeless English. Wolfe shows the resonances between the story of Jonah and the whale, Tolkien’s contribution to the JB, and themes in his other writings.
Just what form the exploration of these resonances will take — whether an introdutory essay, footnotes, commentary, or some combination of all of these — we’ll have to wait and see. I still have a difficult time imagining how the book will be more than a hundred pages.

And finally, as to the question of the translation itself. The marketing collateral sheds little light, I’m afraid. It refers only to an “[e]xclusive translation”, calling the book “[a] beautiful new presentation of one of the best-loved Bible stories in a translation by J.R.R. Tolkien.” Note that the credit for the translation is here given entirely to Tolkien (pace Carpenter). Moreover, “exclusive” does not mean new — it may simply acknowledge that the trans-lation is and has always been copyright DL&T. The flyer gives no indication whatsoever of any material by Tolkien not previously published. It’s probably safe to assume there won’t be any. Update: Or perhaps there will be. See the comment from Jeremy Edmonds below.

One final note: this isn’t the first foray into the world of Tolkien by DL&T. They’ve published one previous book about him — Stratford Caldecott’s Secret Fire: The Spiritual Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien, a 160-page [2] monograph examining Tolkien and his works from a theological vantage.

[1] Kenny’s memoir is cited both by Scull and Hammond in their Reader’s Guide, and by L.J. Swain in his entry on “Judaism” in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Ed. Michael D.C. Drout. New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 314–5.

[2] This figure is from the DL&T website, where the book is apparently still for sale for £9.95; however, according to Amazon, the book is only 144pp. and is no longer available. Has anyone read Caldecott’s book? I’ve read one or two of his essays, but not Secret Fire.


  1. I have confirmed with the publisher that the book will contain "unpublished material which was not used in the Jerusalem Bible as published in 1966." I have further questions pending as well. :-)

  2. Very interesting, and thanks for letting us know. I’m definitely curious about this, and I look forward to learning more as time goes on.

  3. Hello there, Jason. This is Eduardo Segura writing from Spain. Just wanted to thank you for the kind and fair review of the volume Myth And Magic. Art according to the Inklings you prepared for Mythlore that was formarded to me by Professor Thomas Honegger. A lot of problems arose in the making of the book, and so the final result shows a lack of 'inner consistency', as you wisely noted.
    Anyway, I wanted to let you know I appreciate your work: this blog is for me a continuous chance to keep learning. Thank you so much.
    As for The book of Jonah, I guess 'difficult collaborator' means exactly what we know from Rayner Unwin's reports of those happy years, but -maybe- without the understanding of the way a genius' mind works: a niggler 'if you follow me'.

  4. Hello, Eduardo. Thank you so much for stopping by and introducing yourself. I also really appreciate hearing your thoughts about my review (and my blog); I’m relieved to hear you felt it was fair. Reviewers have a tendency to focus on the negative (perhaps a little too much, sometimes), so it’s nice to hear from authors and editors that we didn’t go overboard. :)

    And yes, I think you are right about the “difficult collaborator” assessment. It’s accurate, without a doubt, as E.V. Gordon and many others could also have attested — but the collaboration, when forthcoming, must have been worth the effort and the wait.

  5. I thought fairly well of Caldecott's book, which showed some subtlety in discussing the Catholic theological and moral presence in Tolkien's work, and not just in LOTR either. Not the "Look, it's really a Catholic textbook!" approach you see from some.

    The two titles, "Secret Fire" (UK) and "The Power of the Ring" (US) are the same book with only a few revisions, btw.

    But I wouldn't judge a publisher's way with Tolkien entirely on one book. I don't know what unpublished material they have, but making a whole volume out of Jonah strikes me as potentially spinning some very thin cloth. We shall see.

  6. Thanks for your “btw”, David. I didn’t know they were basically the same book. Since it’s also a short book, I’m guessing that a fair amount of the material from Caldecott’s several published essays on the subject is duplicated.