Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reviewed, reviewing, and reviewing reviewed

I learned recently that Hither Shore, the annual publication of the Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft (German Tolkien Society), printed a review of The Silmarillion: Thirty Years On in its most recent number. I contacted Thomas Honegger, who sits on the editorial board for Hither Shore, and he kindly put me in touch with the reviewer, the esteemed Thomas Fornet-Ponse, who in turn kindly sent me a copy of the review.

Mit Hilfe von einem Freund (danke, Mark Hooker), I polished up a translation of the two paragraphs that pertain to me, the first explicitly, the second more implicitly. I’ll give you the original German first, then the translation — and please feel free to suggest improvements:

Strukturanalogien zwischen Elias Lönnrot, Tolkien und Hieronymus fragt, insofern alle drei ähnliche, nämlich mythopoetische Aufgaben in ihrer jeweiligen Sammlung und Kompilation von Texten durchgeführt hätten. Andererseits widmet er sich auch der Rolle Christopher Tolkiens, die in ihrer mythographischen Dimension ebenfalls große Ähnlichkeiten zu derjenigen Lönnrots und Hieronymus’ aufweise.

Wie bei den beteiligten Personen nicht anders zu erwarten, sind die Beiträge durchgängig von hoher Qualität und versprechen sowohl dem schon gut informierten Leser einige interessante Einblicke als auch dem weniger gut informierten (dem allerdings wohl noch einige mehr).

Jason Fisher had an entirely different approach [from that of Michaël Devaux]. On the one hand, he looked at the coincidences in the area of content or structure between the works of Lönnrot, Tolkien and Jerome [i.e., Hieronymus], in so far as the three are similar, namely the mythopoeic aspect of each of their collection and compilations of texts. On the other, he discusses the role that Christopher played in the mythographic dimension, and how it was similar to those of Lönnrot and Jerome.

As is to be expected with the people taking part in the project, the contributions are of a high quality throughout, and promise to provide the already well-informed reader with a number of interesting insights, and the less-well-informed reader with even more.

Thomas informs me that this review, essentially unchanged, will also appear in the upcoming Inklings Jahrbuch für Literatur und Ästhetik, published by the Inklings Gesellschaft. His favorable comments are counterbalanced against the first Amazon review of The Silmarillion: Thirty Years On (if review you can call it). One Carol Reed has this — and no more than this — to say: “Some of these people need to get a life. I was hoping for some discusion of the inconsitencies and contridictions in Tolkien’s work..” The spelling errors are hers; I’m resisting the temptation to [sic] my dogs on her. ;)

And so, I suppose in the category of “needing to get a life”, I’ve written four new book reviews of my own recently. The first, on the Douglas Anderson collection, Tales Before Narnia, was printed in the current issue of Mythprint. You can read it here (and don’t forget about this post, where I track my Mythprint reviews).

I have two book reviews in the current issue of Mythlore. I review Myth and Magic: Art According to the Inklings, edited by Eduardo Segura and Thomas Honegger (read it here), and Arda Reconstructed: The Creation of the Published Silmarillion, by Douglas Charles Kane (read it here). The latter is currently on sale; if you follow the link to Amazon, it’s 27% off right now — very helpful for an expensive book like this!

Finally, I think I can let this cat out of the bag officially, now that the issue has gone to press, I have a review forthcoming in Tolkien Studies, Volume 6. There, I review Martin Simonson’s The Lord of the Rings and the Western Narrative Tradition. I’m afraid I can’t give you a copy of this to read, but I’m told the issue should be arriving around the end of June. For those of you with Project Muse access, you may see it a couple of weeks sooner.

As I hinted in the title of this post, some folks have been discussing my reviews too. This is invaluable to me, not just as proof that my hard work is actually being read, but also in terms of substantiating (or not) the opinions I made such an effort to share. Some of you may have noticed that Eduardo Segura and Martin Simonson visited Lingwë to comment. If you missed them, back up to this post and read the comments. John Rateliff also gave me a little feedback in the comments to a post on his own blog (I admit, I solicited feedback). Furthermore, rank and file readers — as opposed to the authors or editors — have brought up my reviews in various recent online discussions: here (in the comments), here (you may have to register), and here (in Dutch).

In the latter, I was thrilled to find these two opinions: “Ach, Als Jason Fisher er enthousiast over is, heb ik er redelijk wat vertrouwen in” [Well, if Jason Fisher is excited about it, I have a lot of confidence]; and “die recensie van hem is nogal een lap, maar ook zeer de moeite waard om door te lezen” [This review from him is quite a piece, but also very worth reading].

It’s quite something to realize that there are people as far away as the Netherlands reading my reviews. And I am humbled to learn of their faith in my judgment. It spurs me to work ever harder. :)


  1. Gary Schmidt5/28/2009 6:03 PM

    Hey, and now you can read a guy from New York commenting on your review of a Dutch review of your review. It's quite a hall of mirrors, isn't it? :)

    Congrats on all the recent recognition -- you deserve it! (and a belated congrats, too, on two years of posting!).

  2. Well done! I'm glad so many scholars appreciate your work. :)

  3. My thanks to Gary and Cat Bastet. And yes, Gary, a hall of mirrors indeed — an apt metaphor. Now what you need to do is get somebody else to respond to your comment about my post about a reader’s feedback on my review, hahae. :)

    I notice too that you’re calling yourself “a guy from New York” now, no longer from Boston. End of an era, eh?

  4. A comment on your realization that there are people as far away as the Netherlands reading my reviews: Well, as Arne Zettersten told me when he was visiting my university to discuss his book on Tolkien: "They are active* in Holland."

    * active in terms of energetic, keen, lively

    Ardamir / Johan Olin

  5. To what book on Tolkien are you referring? I don’t think I’ve heard anything about this! I met Arne Zettersten once myself, back in October 2004 during a conference at Marquette University. In fact, I sat with him for dinner during the coincident Bree Moot, and we had a wonderful conversation about Indo-European lingustics, etymology, and Tolkien. What a nice man!

  6. You do reviews? Who knew? ;-)

  7. Jase, Zettersten's book has the Swedish title "Tolkien: min vän Ronald och hans världar" and is currently only available in Swedish. It was released about one year ago. An English translation of an interview with Zettersten about his book has been posted at the LOTR Plaza here:

    I own and have read the book myself, and I think you could say that it is a mix of a biography, scholarship and Zettersten's own experiences of Tolkien. I heard that there are plans for a revised English edition.

  8. Thanks for the information, Johan. It seems Zettersten’s book hasn’t made the news very widely here in the United States. Perhaps I shall try to remedy that (so far as my small blog can help). I hope we do see an English translation in the near future, though I may buy a copy in Swedish just the same.

  9. Your "small blog" can sometimes help a lot. For instance, the information that you and others posted here about the Book of Jonah got quoted at David Bratman's blog, which in turn got quoted at John Rateliff's blog. Between those three, I'm sure quite a few people got to see the information. And I'm sure that it probably was cited other places, as well.

  10. That’s true, Doug, and thanks for pointing it out. Luckily, I have among my readers some who are better known, and better connected, than myself. And as for being cited in other places, that’s also true; I know of at least three others. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see it in the next issue of Beyond Bree as well. It’s all about networking, isn’t it?

  11. Hahae, so you got to hear of our Dutch conversation about your review - and Douglas Kane's book of course, but it was really your review that made me mention it when someone asked about books dealing with the [i]History of Middle-earth[/i] series.

    Confusticate and bebother that Mark Hooker! No indeed not - he is an agreeable person who writes knowledgably and entertaining, and I like him very much.

    Also, our discussion was by no means private; Tolkien Society Unquendor's forum is explicitely public: we want as many as are conversant with Tolkien's works and competent in the Dutch language to read, or even take part in our discussions on Tolkien, his works and their reverberations.

    But I was interested to see my words quoted - but actually the words surrounding them were more relevant. I'll quote the remarks to which I was reacting as well:

    Serindë: "There was a review in the last issue of [i]Beyond Bree[/i] [referring to Nancy Martsch's review that Doug himself has also referred to on his forum - HJS] that was not that positive. The author in places let his own (subjective) opinion play to great a part."

    Fileg: "Oh well, if Jason Fisher is excited about it, I have sufficient confidence in it."

    Me: "Jason also indicates that Douglas Kane has in places let his own subjective opinion play to great a part, but nevertheless reaches the overall conclusion that the book is very much worth reading. That review of his is a rather long text, but also very much worth reading; then you'll also find out how to approach and value Kane's subjectivity."

    Well, you can now find out under which name I go there ;-) , but it's not done on our boards to reveal the name's of the other participants. Let me just say that over the Whit-weekend, at our annual grand meeting, Fileg set us to try and translate metrically four stanza's of Tolkien's [i]fornyrðislag[/i] verse from [i]Sigurd and Gudrún[/i], just so that we could better appreciate the job she's just done on the lot ...

  12. Thanks for adding to the conversation and better contextualizing those quotations from the Unquendor forum, Harm. I wish I were competent enough in Dutch to participate there regularly, but I do lurk (as you can see). It is always fun to put online monikers and real names together. Fileg has introduced herself to me privately, too, by the way. :)

    Regarding the exercise of attempting to translate some of Tolkien’s stanzas into other languages, while still respecting the fornyrðislag form, that sounds fun — and possibly frustrating, hahae. And of course, it is really only possible (to the extent it is possible) in other Germanic languages. Can you imagine attempting that in Chinese? Now there would be a challenge!

  13. Just for the record, I didn't think that Nancy Martsch's review of my book in Beyond Bree was particularly negative. Her subjective opinions differ from mine on some points (although interestingly she agrees with me on one important point that Jason criticized), but I think she clearly acknowledges the overall the value of the book. And she praises Anushka Mourino's wonderful illustrations, which pleased me greatly.

  14. As she should: the illustrations are wonderful. I would never have expected a book like yours to have illustrations in the first place, but when I saw them, I was just floored.

    As to the rest of Nancy’s review, I didn’t think it was too negative overall, but definitely just as subjective as your book (and just as subjective as my review). Reviewers, however, get the benefit of being more immune to criticism on that score than the authors they review. In some ways, it’s a little unfair. But at the same time, it’s a necessary “immunity” if the larger reading community is to get trustworthy reviews — rather than the kind of “reviews” that are little more than extensions of the publisher’s marketing initiatives.

  15. Harm J. Schelhaas6/02/2009 3:50 PM

    Well, I only translated Serindë's comments. The opinion is hers, any translation error mine.

    I should also point out none of us three have read the book yet - only reviews. I think all three of us want to get hold of a copy and read it!

    P.S. Blogspot seems to change the method for entering and previewing comments forever, and this time I'm slightly peeved. I normally preview often and thoroughly, since I can't change anything here once posted, but with my last post I was tripped up by the latest changes. Ergo the uncorrected "name's" and the BBCode not corrected to HTML. I don't think having to scroll through the preview in a small window is an improvement, nor having to leave that preview in order to change the entry. Also, any first attempt at previewing results in the error "your request could not be processed at this time".

  16. I agree about the difficulties of using the comment window. I have seen that message (“your request could not be processed”) way too many times. It might be possible for me to hack the templates and other HTML components (I know of people who have done this to increase or improve the functionality), and I do have the know-how, broadly speaking — but if I spent my time on that, I wouldn’t be able to write as much actual content for Lingwë. So I have always just lived with the tedious difficulties instead of making any effort to remedy them. But I feel your pain. I too review and review and review my comments before posting them, and yet they still manage to get mangled sometimes.

  17. I get that message every time I post a comment. But it goes through the second try each time, so I don't sweat it.

  18. If the problems with the comments window remain, one solution could be exporting your entire blog to Wordpress.

    Take care and keep up the good work!

  19. Glückwunsch, the translation is very well done!

    Yes, the problems with the comments do remain, yesterday I wasn’t able to post at all.

  20. Idher and Eosphoros: I’m sorry to hear that some of you are experiencing a lot of trouble with the commenting. For my part, I get an error perhaps one time out of ten, so it’s no more than a very mild inconvenience for me. And I have always been able to try the Post Comment button again immediately with success. Perhaps it is (in part) a question of browser compatibility. I could switch to Wordpress, but there were some things about it I didn’t care for when I first evaluated it. Not that I can recall at the moment what those were. :)