Monday, June 9, 2014

Another new Tolkien collection from McFarland

The books keep rolling off the presses! I’ve just gotten the final table of contents from Brad Eden for his new collection, The Hobbit in Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on the Novel’s Influence on the Later Writings. This one isn’t available for sale on Amazon yet, but McFarland has just added it to their own website (here).

This is project I’ve been aware of for some time. Brad sent out of a Call For Chapters in late May, 2013 (one year ago, almost to the day). The idea was to provide
an edited volume discussing research and scholarship on the influence of The Hobbit on the revision and expansion by Tolkien of the larger Middle-earth legendarium. Christopher Tolkien has stated in writing that the writing and publication of The Hobbit in the 1930’s had no influence at all on Tolkien’s ongoing expansion and revisions of his legendarium. Recent scholarship and detailed research has shown, however, that Tolkien was influenced by the plots, characters, and ideas presented in The Hobbit, some of which had an extraordinary effect on subsequent expansions, revisions, and new concepts within his legendarium.
I saw an early table of contents last August, and it looks like all of the chapters represented there have made it into the final book, along with a few additional ones. For a time, I was planning to offer a chapter also, though I had some concerns about the scope of the topic. I was worried the topic just wasn’t that fruitful, at least not if taken narrowly. John Rateliff’s and Verlyn Flieger’s chapters were obviously the kernel of the idea and both clearly have important and compelling things to say on the subject, but beyond that, I didn’t think there were enough explicit threads showing the influence of The Hobbit on the later development of the legendarium to base an entire collection on. And what threads there were had already been largely explored, or so it seemed to me. So I wasn’t sure what I could add on that subject. But Brad suggested that he was open to broader topics, so I proposed something. In the end, though, I wasn’t able to commit the time it would have required this past autumn, in part because of deaths in the family, surgery on one of our dogs, and other irruptions of ‘real life’, as it is called.

Looking at the table of contents now (see below), I still have the same concerns. Don’t get me wrong — all of the chapters sound interesting! It’s just that several of them don’t seem very closely connected to Brad’s stated mission with the collection. But if “a book focusing on how The Hobbit influenced the subsequent development of Tolkien’s legendarium […] was sorely needed” (marketing blurb), then one should expect there to be enough to say about that without venturing off down side alleys, however interesting they might be. But we’ll see. Perhaps some of these chapters will surprise us by revealing unexpected connection and causation.

The cover, shown above, features original artwork by Tom Loback, a well-known artist and enthusiast of Tolkien’s invested languages and scripts. The table of contents, presumably now final, follows below.

The Hobbit in Tolkien’s Legendarium:
Essays on the Novel’s Influence on the Later Writings
Edited by Bradford Lee Eden

Introduction / Bradford Lee Eden


Anchoring the myth: the impact of The Hobbit on Tolkien’s legendarium / John D. Rateliff

From Nauglath to Durin’s Folk: The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Dwarves / Gerard Hynes


“It passes our skill in these days”: primary world influences on the evolution of Durin’s Day / Kristine Larsen

A scientific examination of Durin’s Day / Sumner Gary Hunnewell


French influences

Tolkien’s French connection / Verlyn Flieger

Northern influences

Tolkien’s Northern fairy-story / Jane Chance


From “The Silmarillion” to The Hobbit and back again: an onomastic foray / Damien Bador

Animal sentience

Civilized goblins and talking animals: how The Hobbit created problems of sentience for Tolkien / Gregory Hartley


Seeing in the dark, seeing by the dark: how Bilbo’s invisibility defined Tolkien’s vision / Michael A. Wodzak

Bilbo as Tolkien personified

A Victorian in Valhalla: Bilbo Baggins as the link between England and Middle-earth / William Christian Klarner

The characters of Beorn and Bombadil

Beorn and Bombadil: mythology, place, and landscape in Middle-earth / Justin T. Noetzel


Travel, redemption, and peacemaking: hobbits, dwarves and elves and the transformative power of pilgrimage / Vickie L. Holtz Wodzak

Environmentalism and authorship

A Baggins’ backyard: environmentalism, authorship, and the Elves in Tolkien’s legendarium / David Thiessen

Contemporary interpretations of The Hobbit

Polytemporality and epic characterization in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: reflecting The Lord of the Ring’s [sic] modernism and medievalism / Judy Ann Ford and Robin Anne Reid

The wisdom of the crowd: Internet memes and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey / Michelle Markey Butler

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New Book on Tolkien and Modernism

Even though he lived at the right time for it and went through many of the same experiences that formed the crucible of Modernism, Tolkien has not very often been thought to exemplify the movement. Most critics regard him as already a bit old-fashioned even in his own day, more often thought of as a reincarnation of the Beowulf-poet than as a Great War author, for example (though interestingly, Tom Shippey has made both of the preceding arguments). [1] For my part, I see Tolkien as fitting in various ways into both movements — perhaps a bit less obviously as a Modernist, but the case has been made before and need not be rehearsed here. [2]

Now, a new full-length treatment of this question is on the horizon: Theresa Freda Nicolay’s Tolkien and the Modernists (order it here), coming from McFarland this summer (or sooner — I have a review copy in my hands now). I’m only just beginning to dig into it, so this is not the time for a proper review, but I wanted to make readers aware of the new book — particularly those with an interest in Modernism, as well as those who may feel that critical treatments of Tolkien lean disproportionately to Medievalism.

The book is relatively short at 193 pages. It comprises an introduction, seven chapters, a bibliography, and an index. The latter is pretty short (only about two full pages), and exhibits some idiosyncrasies. For example, there are sub-entries under “Tolkien, J.R.R.” for The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, but each of these also has its own entry in the index, repeating all of the page references. The same process is repeated for C.S. Lewis and his works. At least the page references in these duplicate entries match!

The chapters run as follows:

1. Rekindling an Old Light
2. Industrialism, Instrumentality and “antiquity so appealing”
3. The Lord of the Rings: “Insubstantial dream of an escapist”
4. Modernist Disaffection and Tolkienian Faith
5. The World as Wasteland: The Landscapes of Loss
6. The Wasteland Within: Alienation in Tolkien and the Modernists
7. Postmodern Monsters and Providential Plans

Having so far only read the introduction, some of the conclusion in Chapter 7, skimmed a few passages here and there, and examined the bibliography and index, the book looks to be pretty solid at first glance. But — and again speaking only from a first, cursory look — Nicolay seems to have developed her argument largely in a vacuum: though she cites several of the major Tolkien scholars, it looks like her bibliography omits mention most of the critical work on Tolkien and Modernism that comes readily to my mind (e.g., Mortimer’s essay already mentioned [2]; Modern Fiction Studies 50:4 (a special issue devoted entirely to Tolkien); Jane Chance and Alfred K. Siewers’s Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages; Frank Weinreich and Thomas Honegger’s two volumes of Tolkien and Modernity; Martin Simonson’s The Lord of the Rings and the Western Narrative Tradition; to name a few). I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve read the entire book, but ordinarily, one ought to demonstrate familiarity with and then build on or expand the work already done in the scholarly community.

In any event, an(other) extended treatment of this subject is certainly welcome, and I look forward to reading it straight through. Once I’ve done so, I’ll be back with fuller comments. I’d welcome the same from any of you as well.

[1] See “Tolkien as a Post-War Writer.” Scholarship & Fantasy: Proceedings of the Tolkien Phenomenon (1993), ed. by K. J. Battarbee. Anglicana Turkuensia 12 (1993): 217-36. And “Tolkien and the Beowulf-poet.” Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien. Walking Tree Publishers, 2007.

[2] See, for example, Mortimer, Patchen. “Tolkien and Modernism.” Tolkien Studies 2 (2005): 113–29. Mortimer concludes: “But to be a modernist one does not have to embrace modern era or belong to any specific school. One simply has to faithfully document the modern condition, while operating under certain aesthetic assumptions about the primacy of the artist and the role of language in shaping life. At the very least, Tolkien was, as Flieger terms him, a ‘reluctant modernist,’ […]” (127).