No, unlike Bilbo, I am not going away; you will all be stuck with me for quite a long while yet. But I do have an announcement, and a pretty big one. A few of you will know this already, but for the most part, I have kept it pretty quiet. But here it is: I am delighted to be able to announce my first book! Some of the details could still change a little, but I have checked with my publisher, and they have given me the green light to go public. Alors, allons maint’nant!
“The Bones of the Ox”: J.R.R. Tolkien and Source Criticism is being published by McFarland. If you know your Tolkien, you’ll recognize the quotation from “On Fairy-stories” (itself a quotation of Sir George Dasent). This phrase spotlights the central issue of the book: source criticism, as applied to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a multicontributor collection which I have been assembling, then editing, for more than two years now. Its purpose is basically two-fold: (1) to explain and justify source criticism as a valid critical approach to Tolkien’s works, and then to lay out a systematic methodology for how it ought to be conducted; and (2) to demonstrate it through a series of new source studies, ranging across Tolkien’s works and through the many periods and literary sources from which he borrowed — and transformed — so many ideas, images, characters, episodes, phrases. To put it another way: (1) theory, and (2) practice. In the end, I hope also to answer the inevitable, “so what?” That is, what is the point? What good does source criticism do us as readers? What can we learn, and why should we care? I happen to believe there are very good answers to these questions.
Why has it taken so long for these seeds to bear fruit? Admittedly, a lot of the time was spent in plan(t)ing the book: ruminating on what I wanted to accomplish with it, what it should do that other books about Tolkien have not done before, and so on. Then too, I spent a good while considering which scholars I wanted to invite into the project, after which I sent out personal invitations to that effect. Nearly all the scholars I wanted — those whom I most admire and whose research fits best the goals of my book — were able and eager to accept. A few others were eager but unable; there is only time enough for just so many projects. But as things turned out, I had such an embarrassment of riches that I could not have accepted more in any case. For that reason, I never needed to run a general call for papers — and this explains how the project remained so secret.
We then met — online mostly; in a few cases in person or by telephone — “to discuss our plans, our ways, means, policy and devices”, the kinds of essays I was looking for, what I hoped the book could bring to Tolkien studies, and so on, and then the writing began. As drafts came in, we moved into a collaborative stage — posing and answering questions, tracking down ref-erences, reading drafts, suggesting revisions, reading and commenting on those, and so forth. And then came more editing, copyediting, structural arrangement, and layout — which was a much bigger job than I had bargained on. If I make it sound exhausting, it was! But exhilarating too. I have a completely new appreciation now for the work that goes into a multicontributor collection — such as many a one I have so cavalierly marked up with the reviewer’s pen. Well, turnabout is fair play, and I expect no less thorough a treatment from my reviewers as I would give this collection myself (as indeed I have already given it myself). I think it can stand up to the best and the worst of them.
So here we are. I walked to the post office and mailed off the final manuscript to Jefferson, North Carolina this very morning. As you can see from the photo above, it’s a pretty big one. I never quite appreciated just how big until I printed the whole thing out, all 325 pages of it. To give it another metric, it’s a bit more than 100,000 words — longer than The Hobbit. It consists of eleven chapters, of which three deal with the theory, and eight the practice, of source criticism. Treat this table of contents as preliminary — though I do not expect it to change in any substantial way. I hope after reading this you will be as excited about the book as I am. In addition to a preface, index, and various other front and back matter, the contents are:
- Introduction: Why Source Criticism? / Tom Shippey
- Source Criticism: Background and Applications / E.L. Risden
- Tolkien and Source Criticism: Remarking and Remaking / Jason Fisher
- The Stones and the Book: Tolkien, Mesopotamia, and Biblical Mythopoeia / Nicholas Birns
- Sea Birds and Morning Stars: Ceyx, Alcyone, and the Many Metamorphoses of Eärendil and Elwing / Kristine Larsen
- “Byzantium, New Rome!”: Goths, Langobards, and Byzantium in The Lord of the Rings / Miryam Librán-Moreno
- The Rohirrim: “Anglo-Saxons on Horseback”? An Inquiry into Tolkien’s Use of Sources / Thomas Honegger
- William Caxton’s The Golden Legend as a Source for J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings / Judy Ann Ford
- She and Tolkien, Revisited / John D. Rateliff
- Reading John Buchan in Search of J.R.R. Tolkien / Mark T. Hooker
- Biography as Source: Niggles and Notions / Diana Pavlac Glyer and Josh B. Long
I don’t have a release date yet, but when I know it, you’ll know it. Stay tuned for more news as it develops.