Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The first peek into Tolkien Studies 8

I have begun poking through the essays and reviews in the latest volume of Tolkien Studies, which I now have before me. There is much to read, and much that looks to be of enormous interest, but perhaps the most personally relevant is the review of Brad Eden’s Middle-earth Minstrel, since I am a part of that collection. I hope you will indulge me for beginning there, and offering some excerpts. It is my blog, after all. :)

First, it’s a short review. That was a bit disappointing. Considering the thoroughness of the review of The Ring Goes Ever On, which is nearly one hundred pages, Seaman’s three-page review seems a bit superficial. Two essays in the collection go entirely unmentioned, three others are assessed in just one sentence each, and another two get only two sentences apiece. Four essays form the core of the reviewer’s interest and praise, and each one of these gets a long paragraph, more or less.

My own essay is one of those reviewed in a single sentence, albeit a positive one: “Jason Fisher’s examination of alliterative verse in Rohan and Mercia shows good command of the material and helpfully reveals some of the ‘Old English undercurrents’ in Rohan and its environs” (p. 129). This comes in Seaman’s paragraph on “[o]ther essays in this volume [that] relate somewhat more obliquely to music but deserve mention because they possess inherent scholarly interest” (loc.cit.). That’s good, so far as it goes.

I will say that I agree in large part with Seaman’s overall assessment with the book. But I feel he’s given it rather short shrift. This could be in part because he also reviewed another collection on Tolkien and music in the same volume of Tolkien Studies. That review of Music in Middle-earth (ed. Steimel and Schneidewind, Walking Tree) gets about seven pages of coverage, almost double Middle-earth Minstrel. Admittedly, it’s the longer of the two books, but Seaman discusses every one of the essays in it, and in each case, the essays are described and assessed much more thoroughly — at minimum, in three or four sentences each, often much more. The simplest explanation, I suppose, is that Seaman liked and engaged with Steimel and Schneidewind’s book much more than with Eden’s, but it’s a shame he couldn’t find a little more to say. The latter review, following on the heels of a better, more thorough one, comes across as dismissive by contrast.

Is it a little too self-indulgent of me to spend this much time reviewing a review? Hmm. Well, it’s not very often that reviewers are themselves reviewed, though perhaps they should be. I’ve often thought that reviewers — myself included; good lord, yes! — are given a pass on their errors and oversights even as they criticize authors and editors for theirs. After all, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? So perhaps it’s good to review the reviews, at least from time to time, and not tetchily or at too great a length.

On top of that, it’s my blog, so it should come as no surprise that I want to discuss reviews of my work. If not here, where? ;)


  1. Your comments "peek" my interest.

  2. I see that the volume is now available on ProjectMuse (for those with access to an academic or public library that carries that service), though it's not listed on the main page for Tolkien Studies -- you can access it if you fiddle with the URL for the previous issue. Scanning it quickly, I was amused by a reference to the "Battle of Malden". What's the Old English for "Don't Leave Home Without It"?

  3. of course, I leave my house yesterday to go to Norway for a few weeks, and now I've gotta wait till I get back to check it out! Thanks for pointing out the Project Muse details N.E. Brigand, I guess that'll have to satisfy me for now...

    -Luke (aka Olme)

  4. Damn homophones! N.E. Brigand caught my typo of “peak” for “peek”, and cleverly alerted me to it in the first comment, above. I’ve amended the post’s title, but the blunder will be preserved forever in the direct URL to this page. Nobody’s perfect! :)

    Speaking of another seeming misspelling you noted, N.E.B., while Maldon is far and away the preferred spelling, one does see Malden. It should be Maldon, since the Anglo-Saxon form is Mældún, but there have been quite a few passing examples of Malden over the years.

  5. I admit to being ever so slightly envious that you can read it already ;) Even though I won't have the time for the next three weeks or so, I will have to wait even longer for my paper copy to arrive in Denmark. On the other hand that will give me time to clear a space in the reading list.

  6. Hah, someone else got to peak / peek first.

    100 pages of review for my wife's books? She is already cowering under the bedclothes!

  7. Wellinghall, no need to worry, I’d say. Surely no more than 90 of those pages will be about the editor. ;)

  8. It seems to me that Seaman's shrift with the book is due to his having expected a book on, y'know, music, since that's what the title says it is. Accordingly he devotes most of his attention to the ostensible subject, and since that's only part of the book, it gets only part of a review.

    I didn't consider it a particularly insightful review, though, even though Seaman liked my paper.

    And I certainly wouldn't hold up the review of "The Ring Goes Ever On" as a comparison. "Thorough" is not the word I'd use for that; "lengthy" would be more accurate.