Monday, June 15, 2009

Tolkien Studies 6 available on Project Muse

For those of us with Project Muse access, the latest volume of Tolkien Studies is now online, here. For those without, print copies should be shipping any time now. I’ll report back when I’ve received mine. But now that the issue is officially available through at least the one channel, and now that I’ve had a chance to skim through it (with a more thorough reading to follow), I beg your indulgence while I crow a little*. Yes, I know how self-involved that sounds — but this is my blog. :)

First, and most significantly, I have a book review published in this volume, on Martin Simonson’s The Lord of the Rings and the Western Narrative Tradition (Walking Tree, 2008). I won’t summarize it here, other than to say the book is well worth reading — but I invite you to check out the full review and to send me any feedback you may have. The author himself commented on it, here at Lingwë, noting that “[i]mpressive references to [Northrop] Frye’s notebooks and quite inconceivable cross-checkings in obscure e-magazines denote an uncommon seriousness.” I hope that whets your appetite to learn more, but on the other hand, it might scare you away, hahae. The review runs on pages 264–72.

Elsewhere in the issue, two books to which I made contributions are reviewed. One of these is Truths Breathed Through Silver: The Inklings’ Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy, a rather slim volume edited by Jonathan B. Himes, assisted by Joe R. Christopher and Salwa Khoddam (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008). The eminent Richard C. West is the reviewer, and I’m pleased to report that he endorses the book with a very positive review. My essay, “Tolkien’s Fortunate Fall and The Third Theme of Ilúvatar”, (he writes) “examines the topos of the felix culpa (God bringing a greater good out of an evil deed) from Melkor to Gollum, noting that the author’s mythology is not completely consistent with his Catholic orthodoxy (he was not originally trying to do that and his models, after all, were mostly pagan) but is imbued with his deep-rooted Christianity.” He goes on to conclude the review by saying that “[t]he editors should feel gratified that every chapter in this little book is well-written, scholarly, and worthwhile for students of mythopoeic literature.” Especially, I would add, for fans of C.S. Lewis, the subject of the majority of the essays.

The other book is The Silmarillion: Thirty Years On, edited by Allan Turner (Walking Tree, 2008), reviewed by Anne Petty. (I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that she was the reviewer, because my paper builds on some of the work she herself began with an essay in Tolkien Studies, Volume 1.) This book, as some of you know, is also very short, containing only six essays. I therefore expected the reviewer to be able to go into greater detail about each one, and Petty doesn’t disappoint. I’m also pleased to say that she recommends the book highly. She begins: “Allan Turner’s well-balanced and thoughtful collection of essays chosen to commemorate the thirty-year publication anniversary of The Silmarillion is a welcome addition to Tolkien scholarship. The volume is slim at 176 pages, but the depth and breadth of thought encompassed in these essays makes it well worth owning.” So, by all means, buy one! ;)

Now, I’d like to quote Petty’s comments about my essay at greater length, and hopefully two paragraphs is still within the bounds of Fair Use. *smirk* Here’s what she had to say:

Of special interest to me as a reviewer is Jason Fisher’s article, “From Mythopoeia to Mythography: Tolkien, Lönnrot, and Jerome,” because it reflects in some degree my own study of the Kalevala’s influence on Tolkien. Fisher’s essay focuses first on the similarities of content and language (epic themes and linguistic borrowings) found in the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, and The Silmarillion—the “Mythopoeia” section of the article. He then points out that in style, these two works are quite different. The style of The Silmarillion, as many have said, could be better described as biblical, which provides Fisher a segue into his extended discussion of the Bible’s influence (in particular the Latin Vulgate) on Tolkien’s work. Says Fisher, these contact points “between the Bible and The Silmarillion, we will see, extend beyond the purely stylistic and into the domain of content and theological influence as well” (123).

In the “Mythography” segment of his essay, Fisher concentrates on Christopher Tolkien’s role as literary executor for his father’s vast and sprawling creative output. Having convincingly established the resonances of both the Kalevala and the Vulgate within The Silmarillion, Fisher takes an in-depth look at the ways in which Christopher Tolkien’s handing of his father’s legendarium resembles the work done by the compilers/editors of those influential works, namely, Elias Lönnrot and St. Jerome. In clear, logical prose, Fisher explains the major focus of his study: whereas “J.R.R. Tolkien may have been emulating the product of Lönnrot’s and Jerome’s efforts, Christopher Tolkien was emulating the process” (127). Of particular significance is Fisher’s discussion of Christopher’s editorial choices—and changes—that produced the 1977 volume. Fisher suggests that Christopher Tolkien, with assistance from Guy Kay, added more than mere compilation expertise in creating the Silmarillion manuscript, in particular, the section titled “The Ruin of Doriath.” Whether such editorial liberties enhance or detract from the final outcome remains
debatable, but there can be no question, according to Fisher, that “the published Silmarillion more accurately represents a daunting complex of choices” (135) that reveal as much about Christopher Tolkien as the endless revisions do about his father.

Finally, Petty concludes: “As you can see, I’m very favorably impressed by the offerings of The Silmarillion: Thirty Years On. Its technical faults (another proofreading round for typos would have been advised) are small, and its contributions to Tolkien scholarship are considerable. Each of the authors in the volume has valuable ideas for readers to draw on and perhaps carry further.” Indeed, I issued just such a call for further research in my essay, and (unbeknown to me then) the call was answered by Douglas Kane in his new book, Arda Reconstructed (which I myself have reviewed in the journal, Mythlore). This is just how a community of scholars should work. One scholar builds on the work of another, whose own work in turn provides a foundation for even further research.

I’m almost finished, but you’ll find my footprint in two or three other places in the issue. First, incidental appearances in the bibliography for 2007, noting the essay just discussed, as well as one of my book reviews from that year (of Tom Shippey’s Roots and Branches). The other two appearances are in David Bratman’s omnibus essay, “The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2006”. There, he assesses two pieces of work I published in 2006. One is my essay in the Walking Tree collection, Tolkien and Modernity. This two-volume set was reviewed in last year’s Tolkien Studies, but with very little mention of my paper — unsurprising, considering the sheer number of essays in question, among which mine doesn’t really stand out. Here, Bratman says more:

The title of Jason Fisher’s article, “‘Man does as he is when he may do as he wishes’: The Perennial Modernity of Free Will” (1: 145–75), quotes an Anglo-Saxon proverb on the freedom of power, not philosophical free will at all, but Fisher dives firmly into the latter subject. Devoting most of his space to the backstory of the philosophical debate as far as Boethius and to summarizing C. S. Lewis’s views on divine intention on the (risky, but here possibly warranted) grounds that they also represent Tolkien’s, Fisher uses examples from The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings to summarize Tolkien’s view as one of free will within certain parameters. This is the same point made more elegantly by Fornet-Ponse [in “Freedom and Providence as Anti-Modern Elements?”], and Fisher adequately sources it in Tolkien’s own words without need of recourse to Lewis, or to Boethius. Fisher’s principal assumption of his own is an argument for free will on the grounds that it would be pointless, as well as cruel, for Ilúvatar to force his creatures to misbehave just so he could punish them for it.

A bit later, Bratman describes an essay I wrote in the rather obscure journal of the George MacDonald Society — for which I am grateful, because otherwise, essays (and journals) like this have a way of disappearing without so much as a ripple. That unfortunate tendency is one of the best justifications, in fact, for a “Year’s Work” article in the first place. Of my essay, Bratman writes: “Jason Fisher’s ‘Reluctantly Inspired: George MacDonald and the Genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major’ (North Wind 25: 113–20) is less concerned with that particular story than with tracing the history of Tolkien’s attitude towards his predecessor. Fisher lists a few distinct echoes of MacDonald in Tolkien’s pre-1940s children’s fiction, and attributes Tolkien’s later dislike of MacDonald to his increasing distaste for allegory and whimsicality.”

Addendum Addenda: Okay, at the risk of seeming to inflate my ego even more, I’ve just come across another footprint. Reading Thomas Honegger’s review of Dimitra Fimi’s book, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), I see that Honegger has cited my review of Ross Smith’s Inside Language: Linguistic and Aesthetic Theory in Tolkien (Walking Tree, 2007), published in Mythlore 103/104. And yet another, bring the total to nine: it was just pointed out to me that Verlyn Flieger mentions my essay from Tolkien and Modernity in her essay on free will. She did likewise when I heard this paper last summer, though more obliquely than here, but I had forgotten all about it.

And there you have it. All of this is, of course, probably the least interesting stuff in this excellent new issue — an issue with major essays by major scholars, and a never-before-published set of notes by Tolkien himself — but at least we’ve gotten me out of the way quickly. I have to confess that the first things I ever read are reviews of my own work. I hope that doesn’t reflect too poorly on me, but really, wouldn’t you? :)

* Okay, while I crow a lot. Gosh, I’m worse than Chanticleer!


  1. Well, were I not impressed overall with your work that I've encountered so far, I'd be jealous! Congratulations and keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks, Larry. I should probably be ashamed of myself for going on at such length, but I suppose I’m still a little too green for that. Anyway, I’ve never been very good at modesty, hahae. No doubt I will someday look back on this post with embarrassment. One can only hope. :)

  3. Both moles and toads need badgers, but I wouldn't excuse myself for a lack of modesty, Jason. After all, this kind of info is partly what keeping private blogs is about, and the reason one visits them is (well, at least partly) to learn more of the blogkeeper's personal opinions and/or triumphs. And in your case they are relevant enough to inspire indulgence and even applause, so keep us updated.

  4. Thanks, Martin. I appreciate the encouragement and indulgence. The reference to Grahame is far too close for comfort, though, hahae. A few lines come to mind: “The clever men at Oxford / Know all that there is to be knowed. / But they none of them know one half as much / As intelligent Mr. Toad!”

    Oh dear, oh dear. :)

  5. This is a wonderful post! I'm glad your work is so well-received and appreciated; you certainly deserve the recognition!

    I haven't read your essay on free will but it sounds like something I need to quote in my revised "Frodo's Elvish Air"! I will have to ILL a copy ASAP!

  6. Thanks so much, Cat Bastet! :)

  7. Hi Jason, It's okay to be proud of your accomplishments, and your contribution to the literature on Tolkien. I enjoyed the discussion linking The Silmarillion with the Kalevala, though I confess I've read neither; I am half Finnish. I enjoyed your observation about how scholarship should work, scholars building upon each other's work. You have a great, and useful site!

  8. Hi Annie. Thanks very much for stopping by and commenting. I really appreciate your kind words. Half-Finnish, eh, and you’ve never read the Kalevala?! For shame! ;)

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  10. I own a copy. Does that count? Seriously, you've given me the impetus to read it, right after I finish Carson McCullers' The Mortgaged Heart. (Before that it was LeGuin's The Other Wind.)

  11. I loved The Other Wind, didn’t you? My wife is a big McCullers fan, too, though I haven’t read anything my her myself. I think you will enjoy the Kalevala (depending on the translator).

  12. My translation is by Eino Friberg. He is described as "the first native-born Finn to do a complete English verse translation...". What do you think?

    I posted a blurb about your blog on my site today.

  13. That sounds promising. I’ve read two translations myself: W.F. Kirby, the one Tolkien read, not particularly good; and F.P. Magoun, which is excellent. Let me know how you like the Friberg.

    Thanks for sending some of your readers over here, by the way. I appreciate that. :)