A little more than two years ago now, I received an interesting inquiry from Didier Willis, the President of “Le Dragon de Brume”, a small French non-profit association promoting J.R.R. Tolkien and publishing essays about him and his works. In their own words, “créée en octobre 2010, le Dragon de Brume a pour objet de promouvoir, par la diffusion ou la représentation d’études et de travaux de recherche, la connaissance des œuvres de l’auteur britannique J.R.R. Tolkien dans le monde francophone.” It seems they had published their first collection the summer before (that is, 2011), called Tolkien, le façonnement d’un monde, Vol. 1: Botanique et Astronomie. As part of that collection of essays on Middle-earth botany and astronomy, they’d translated and reprinted an essay by Kristine Larsen. How could they not, seeing as Kris is the world’s greatest expert in the intersection of Tolkien and astronomy?
They were, it transpired, beginning work on a companion volume, and Didier was writing to request permission to translate and reprint another of Kris’s essays, this time “Sea Birds and Morning Stars: Ceyx, Alcyone, and the Many Metamorphoses of Eärendil and Elwing”, which attentive readers will know was published in my own book, Tolkien and the Study of His sources: Critical Essays. I was certainly amenable — Kris’s essay is a fantastic one, and I was thrilled it might be read more widely, and perhaps even lead some readers back to my book (follow and share the link!) — and the rest of the permissions issues were quickly worked out. Two years ago this month, they began their work on it.
Some months later (now we are up to November, 2012), Didier wrote me again. He had been discussing the permissions involved in reprinting one of his own articles, written for l’Arc et le Heaume, a publication of Tolkiendil, another, larger French non-profit promoting Tolkien. Coincidentally, one of my own essays, “La Jeune Fille Elfe dans la Forêt: Une Image Récurrente chez Tolkien” (previously unpublished), had been translated and printed in l’Arc et le Heaume. Didier’s essay inquired into the possibilities of sourcing Tolkien’s conception of Númenor in a curious medieval mappa mundi (collected in Cotton Tiberius B.v), which depicts a star-shaped island near the Pillars of Hercules in the Strait of Gibraltar. They really do look alike, two asterisks in the ocean. How appropriate for an asterisk-reality! Didier went on to make the responsible search all scholars make for other research bearing on their own, and this led him to another essay dealing with Tolkien and mappae mundi. Care to guess?
Indeed, this was my own essay, “Sourcing Tolkien’s ‘Circles of the World’: Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi”, which appeared in a collection called Middle-earth and beyond: Essays on the World of J.R.R. Tolkien. So, Didier wanted to work out permission to translate and reprint this article, to appear alongside his own. All the parties were in agreement, and this work commenced.
At long last, I am thrilled to report that Tolkien, le façonnement d’un monde, Vol. 2: Astronomie et Géographie has now appeared — this very month in fact. And in it are Kris’s essay and mine. You can read about the collection and peruse its full table of contents by following this link.
I happen to have before me print copies of both volumes — thank you very much, Didier! — and they are quite nice! No indexes, alas, but they make up for it by the inclusion of a lot of carefully chosen illustrations, maps, and figures. Alongside Didier’s and my essays, for example, are reproductions of the mappae mundi being discussed. Alongside Kris’s essay are reproductions of manuscript pages from Christine de Pizan and Guillaume de Machaut from the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
I highly recommend both volumes for anyone with an interest in Tolkien and the ability to read French. That’s probably a lot of you. I haven’t read the entire two-volume set yet — only a few essays so far, like the translations of Kris’s and mine, Didier’s and one or two others — but the range of subject matter is impressive, even within each volume’s deliberately narrow scope. Some of the scholars’ names are already familiar ones — Damien Bador, Bertrand Bellet, and of course Didier Willis (who alone has six essay in the two volumes!) — while others are new to me, as I am no doubt new to them. But that’s part of the fun and excitement of reading a collection assembled halfway around the world. Different voices, different histories, different cultures of reception. Yet through it all, the Professor, his magnificent creations, and our shared admiration for them.