Monday, September 13, 2010

My next Tolkien publication

At my first Mythcon (in 2006), I delivered a paper on “Sourcing Tolkien’s ‘Circles of the World’: Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi.” The abstract for that paper ran as follows:
“The Circles of the World,” among Tolkien’s most evocative tropes, appears to have escaped attention in the otherwise exhaustive history of Tolkien source-hunting. Still, I feel it may be possible to unravel some of its origins. Tolkien’s metaphorical “leaf-mould of the mind” was that place where sources, inklings, and mythological images mingled and coalesced into new ideas, and I’ll attempt to show how Tolkien’s figurative “Circles of the World” may have emerged from three such disparate sources: the Ynglinga Saga of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla; the Latin Vulgate Bible, with particular emphasis on the Book of Wisdom; and perhaps even the Hereford Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world on display in the West Midlands of Tolkien’s youth. In the end, at this late stage in Tolkien source-hunting, it can be difficult to uncover substantially new (and sufficiently verifiable) source-traces; however, in this case, I believe I have something new to offer to Tolkien Studies.
The paper was well-received, and it even led to my being invited to give a half-day presentation at a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on J.R.R. Tolkien (in 2009). I’ve been asked more than once in intervening the years whether this paper would ever appear in print. I’m happy to say the answer is yes, the essay will be part of a new collection called Middle-earth and Beyond: Essays on the World of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Kathleen Dubs and Janka Kaščáková. The editors are in the final stages of preparing the manuscript now, and Cambridge Scholars Publishers has accepted the project for publication, perhaps as soon as the end of this year.

I can’t give you the table of contents for the collection just yet; but suffice to say that it’s heavily weighted to the other side of the Atlantic. In fact, I might be the only American in the book (or at least, the only scholar living in America)! I’ll share more detailed information as I get it, but in the meantime, Kathleen Dubs describes the collection this way: “the essays include stylistic analyses, sources and analogues — including the grotesque (a current trend in literary studies), motifs and symbols, and a linguistic analysis, as well two very different interpretations of Tom Bombadil (one rather short but provocative).” More details to come!


  1. Congratulations! Yours was the paper I enjoyed most at the Mythcon in Norman, and I look forward to seeing it in this collection.

  2. Thanks, N.E. Always nice to hear!

  3. Congrats, Jason - that's wonderful! Just got back yesterday from seeing ROTK to a live orchestra on Saturday. It was cool. A great day to celebrate the victory of good over evil. :)

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie :)

  4. Jason,
    Not having read or heard your paper, have you explored the various roots of circular world? For example the "rive" Ocean that surrounds the world (i. e. circular earth) as well as the "spheres", see Lewis' Discarded Image...circular levels.

  5. Larry, yes, I do explore these to some extent. And I do cite Lewis’s The Discarded Image and Studies in Words, among other things. It’s a big topic, though, and so I do not mean to (nor could I) explore all possible sources and analogues for the world-circle concept. I’ve kept myself to the three that struck me as the most probable direct influences on Tolkien’s thinking.

  6. I'm not sure you can make that claim. Think about how early in Tolkien's life he was exposed to Greco-Roman mythology....itself taken up into Middle English and Renaissance literature....all texts taught in school. I'm not saying that those three you identify are not an influence or not worth looking at in relation to Tolkien...but I don't think the claim can be sustained that they are the "most likely" or most important. Just my .02.

  7. I’m not sure you can make that claim.

    Au contraire, mon frère; I can make any claim I like, hahae. Seriously, though, maybe you’d care to actually read the substance of my argument before dismissing my conclusions out of hand? If so, you’ll get your chance soon enough as publication of the collection draws near. :)