I learned a few days ago that Amon Hen, the monthly publication of the Tolkien Society in Great Britain, had just published a review of my book in its most recent issue. I am afraid I let my subscription lapse some years ago, so I had to beg a copy of friends. The editor very kindly obliged. I had been warned already that it was not particularly flattering, but I have no objections whatsoever to a critical review — if it is an informed, carefully considered, and constructive one. Sadly, this review is not that. I hesitate to call it a review at all.
I am really at a bit of a loss after reading it. It comes across as less a review, per se, than the personal credo of a true believer. How dare I look behind the curtain, and that sort of thing. For those of you who know it, I was reminded a bit of the preface to the first edition of J.E.A. Tyler’s The Tolkien Companion (1976). This preface, with its true-believer silliness, was wisely dropped from the more recent reprint edition of that book. But it appears there are still fans of this stripe going strong, dutifully defending the Professor from every perceived attack of scholarly investigation. The nerve I have!
It’s a great pity, in my view, that a serious scholarly book, which ought to call for a serious scholarly review, should be subjected to such careless and pointless ramblings. And of the shameful abuse of a Tom Shippey quotation, the less said the better! My consolation, of course, is that no serious reader will take seriously a “review” of this sort. But I have already said too much, when I had intended to remain above the fray. Let me say no more now, but allow the review to speak for itself. I welcome your comments and reactions (though let's keep it civil).
TOLKIEN and the Study of His Sources CRITICAL ESSAYS
Edited by JASON FISHER
(McFarland, 2011 www.mcfarlandpub.com ISBN 978-0-7864-6482-1; PB 240pp)
reviewed by Adrian Tucker
Source Criticism – something to strike fear and loathing into the hearts of those of us who like to believe that The Lord of the Rings is a true account of an alternative world history. We can console ourselves with the knowledge that Tolkien felt the same way.
Clearly someone with his classical education would have been aware of the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire, and would have used it to give a sense of familiarity to his history of Númenor; but to quote Tom Shippey in his Introduction “no-one needs to know… to appreciate The Lord of the Rings.” Still, there are those who must enquire into everything, and the name for such people is Source Critic.
Anyone can set themselves up as a Source Critic: there is no academic qualification to be attained, only access to a Search Engine such as Google. Just type in a word like “Uruk” and see what pops up. It won’t be long before there’s an App for it!
There are various areas to be explored, such as Biblical, Nordic, Classical, Byzantine, Anglo-Saxon, and Medieval; but the most interesting for me is contemporary fiction.
My School Library, like Tolkien’s, was stacked with Henty, Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, and Buchan. Like him, I was brought up on adventure, and treasure hunts in the Wild Places, unlike modern children, who have to make do with gritty tales of urban realism.
I was surprised to learn that J.R.R. was a fan of She, a tale which enchanted my early years, but it never occurred to me to regard it as a source for Galadriel! Indeed, Ayesha seems to me a much more powerful figure than the Lady of Lórien, who plays a fairly peripheral part in the Destruction of the One Ring. Almost any tale of mines and caves can contain allusions to Moria or Cirith Ungol, but we have to show that Tolkien actually read them and he has admitted to having read Haggard in his schooldays. Unlike him, I missed out on John Buchan’s historical novels, which are hard to find nowadays except perhaps in a Charity Shop.
Anyway, this is all quite fascinating, so long as it does not spoil one’s appreciation of the Book which never disappoints, no matter how many times it is re-read. Let those who wish, seek for Sources even in the pages of The Beano!!