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!