“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!