Monday, April 19, 2010

My review of Tolkien's View is available online

A few months ago, I wrote a book review of J.S. Ryan’s new collection*, Tolkien’s View: Windows into His World, for the sixth volume of Hither Shore, the annual journal of the Deutsche Tolkien Gesell-schaft (i.e., the German Tolkien Society). That issue has just gone to press, so it should be reaching subscribers in print very soon, but one of the editors wrote to ask whether I would mind his making the review public now, as part of a compilation of online material in support of the annual Tolkien conference this weekend in Jena. This year, the theme is “Tolkien und die Romantik” (I trust no one needs a translation of that), and there are several book reviews in addition to mine available to read.

These will not stay up forever, so if you’re interested, read them now. I’m told the reviews will be removed (or the link disabled) in a couple of weeks. But if you’ve been curious about Ryan’s new collection from Walking Tree, my review should give you some idea of what to expect. You’ll find the review nestled about halfway down this page. (Don’t let this page scare you off; some of the reviews are in German, but mine is in English.)

* As you will see when you read the review, this retrospective collection is new, not the contents thereof, some of which are more than forty years old! This is also just the first of two volumes. I’ve seen a preliminary table of contents for the second volume, but I can’t speak about it yet. It is to be hoped we will see the concluding volume later this summer, or perhaps early in the fall.

UPDATE: No need to panic about the possibly ephemeral link I gave above. The good folks at Walking Tree itself have also now posted the review (with permission from the publisher of Hither Shore and me).


  1. Kinda funny to bother to translate Quellenforschung in an English text which will appear in a mostly German context! But I jest; someone will surely appreciate it. I always used to hate those embedded quotations from famous so-and-sos in French or German which "everyone" was supposed to be able to understand, plonked into the middle of an academic paper otherwise in fairly plain English.

  2. Hahae, true, John. I guess I’m guilty of writing for an English-speaking audience. I believe that in Hither Shore, they translate reviews so as to present each review in both English and German. Let’s hope they’ve left out my appositive phrase. :)

    As to those jaw-crackers, most are now gone, largely swept away in the anti-German sentiment of the mid-20th century. Of the many once common German terms, only ablaut and umlaut are particularly common nowadays, I think, yes? But reading the older texts (including some of Tolkien’s), one will come across the likes of Sprachwissenschaft, Lautverschiebung, Grammatischer Wechsel, and much worse besides.

    But as Tolkien himsef once wrote: “The bespectacled philologist, English but trained in Germany, where he fed presumably on Lautverschiebung and sour Umlaut, and lost his literary soul, is shown to be a bogey and duly laid.” (“Philology: General Works”, The Year’s Work in English Studies 1923, p. 37)

    And such words as Lautverschiebung and Quellenforschung are perhaps the kindling for the pyres of those old-school philologists.

  3. Hi Jason,

    I have recently discovered your blog and I think it is very well put together. Have you ever read "TOLKIEN A Look Behind The Lord of the Rings" by Lin Carter? I have only just finished the section that summarizes The Hobbit and the three Lord of the Rings books and already it annoys me. I went and wrote an unfavourable review about it on I was THAT annoyed with it! Thankfully I only borrowed it from the library and didn't buy it! The author lists Elwing as Luthien and Beren's daughter and Eowyn as Theoden's daughter (twice). I would love to know what you think of it,


  4. Hi, Lilly (if I may). Lin Carter’s book is pretty notorious as an amateurish and facile job. I was impressed with it at age 12, but once you learn a thing or two about Tolkien, you start seeing just how bad this book is. That being said, it was one of the earliest serious attempts at discussing Tolkien’s sources and professional life. For all its faults, at least it has that. I was surprised to see that it was reissued in 2008. I wouldn’t have thought there was any further market for it — except perhaps as a historical curiosity.

  5. I'm pleased that you agree with me! I really can't take any of the rest of the supposedly "factual" information in this book seriously. It might be true but then again, there were already a couple of BIG mistakes so that leads me to believe there are more.....anyway I'll finish it, just to be fair. There was also a statement about Tolkien taking the Old Norse word "midgard" for his name "middle earth". It failed to mention the Old English connections with the word "middengeard" and the likes (so far, I haven't got all the way through). I study Old English and Old Norse and I mean you see the word Middengeard the minute you read Caedmon's Hymn. Anyway....I am consoled with the fact that the two volume "History of the Hobbit" books were excellent!

  6. Yes, you’re right about middangeard, but the Old Icelandic miðgarðr would have made a nearly equal impression on Tolkien’s mind. Indeed, the entire Germanic spectrum would have been swimming in his imagination, from Gothic *midjun-gards to Old Saxon middil-gard to Old High German mitti-gar(t).

  7. Man, you certainly know your stuff! I have a lot of catching up to do I can see, lol. Do you have a keyboard adapter that lets you type the letters "thorn" and "eth"? How many dead languages have you learnt? I'm working on two (Old English and Old Norse), would love to pick up Latin at some point but WOW you seem to know a whole heap!

  8. Man, you certainly know your stuff!

    That’s what they pay me for. Er, wait. Nobody’s paying me! Who do I have to see about that? ;)

    I type the special characters using standard Unicode values. On a PC, you hold down the ALT key and type the code on the numeric keypad (e.g., ALT + 0254 for a lower-case thorn: þ). I do this so often, I know most of the codes by rote.

    How many dead language have I learned? Well, I’m not bold enough to consider myself fluent in any of them (along the lines of being able to get by if I were dropped off in 10th-century Mercia via time machine), but I have studied several of them seriously, and a number of others on a more casual basis.

    The ones I know best are Old and Middle English, Old Norse, Old French, Medieval Italian, and Latin. I have solid foundations in Gothic, Old and Middle High German, and Old Saxon — and I’m learning more of them all the time. And I know just enough to get myself in trouble in Old Low Franconian (i.e., Old Dutch), Ancient Greek, Medieval Welsh, Old Church Slavonic, etc. I’ve also studied a number of modern languages, and I can get by tolerably well in French, Italian, and Spanish. To a lesser extent (e.g., reading with a dictionary) in German, Swedish, and Portuguese. And I have a decent grounding (but couldn’t carry on a conversation with a native) in perhaps a dozen others. I’ve been studying languages since I was about ten years old (that’s roughly thirty years now). You pick up a lot in that kind of time.

    It sounds more impressive than it really is. And it certainly looks more impressive here on my blog, but a large part of that is simply being a good researcher. It’s not as if I’ve memorized Feist’s Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der Gotischen Sprache! :)

  9. Harm J. Schelhaas6/13/2010 4:12 PM

    Yes, I know about being a good researcher — I hope I’m half as good as Jason, but I’ve always been a bit of a library buff. I do have an odd personal library and some research tools, so I know that it is sometimes easy to impress on blogs or discussion boards with research stuff. A very basic example I remember is when on a Dutch fantasy board a discussion sprang up about the name ‘Lilith’ and an orthodox calvinist disputed its biblical connection. So I quoted the passage in Biblical Hebrew and Latin. It helps to have about fifteen odd bibles in six different languages (more than one translation in two of them) around the house, it helps even more to have access to on-line bible text sites.

    On keying thorn and eth, under Windows, if you install what is called the ‘US (international)’ keyboard, you can key them as ‘ALT GR-t’ and ‘ALT GR-d’ respectively, both capital and lower case.