Friday, August 14, 2009

New Books this Summer: Part One

In addition to two other books now on the horizon — Elizabeth Solopova’s Languages, Myths and History, and Tolkien’s own translation of The Book of Jonah — Walking Tree has just issued the surprise announcement (a surprise to me, anyway) of a new collection of essays by J.S. Ryan, Tolkien’s View: Windows into his World. Even better, this is just the first of two volumes — the second, according to the preface by Peter Buchs, will appear next year. This collection, now available, includes twenty essays by Ryan, all but one previously (and variously) published over the past four decades!

Thanks to, I can share the full table of contents with you. The fourth essay, “Trolls and Other Themes – William Craigie’s Significant Folkloric Influence on the Style of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit”, is a new piece written expressly for this collection, and by its title promises to be fascinating. Here’s what readers can look forward to (omitting only the front and back matter):

Part A. Early Biographic Pieces and Emerging Tastes
  • Those Birmingham Quietists: J.R.R. Tolkien and J.H. Shorthouse (1834–1903)
  • The Oxford Undergraduate Studies in Early English and Related Languages of J.R.R. Tolkien (1913–1915)
  • An Important Influence: His Professor’s Wife, Mrs Elizabeth Mary (Lea) Wright
  • Trolls and Other Themes – William Craigie’s Significant Folkloric Influence on the Style of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit
  • Homo Ludens — Amusement, Play and Seeking in Tolkien’s earliest Romantic Thought
  • Edith, St. Edith of Wilton and the other English Western Saints
Part B. The Young Professor and his Early Publishing

  • Tolkien and George Gordon: or, A Close Colleague and His notion of ‘Myth-maker’ and of Historiographic Jeux d’Esprit
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: Lexicography and other Early Linguistic Preferences
  • The Work and Preferences of the Professor of Old Norse at the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1945
  • The Poem ‘Mythopoeia’ as an Early Statement of Tolkien’s Artistic and Religious Position
  • Tolkien’s Concept of Philology as Mythology
  • By ‘Significant’ Compounding “We Pass Insensibly into the World of the Epic”
  • Barrow-wights, Hog-boys and the evocation of The Battle of the Goths and Huns and of St. Guthlac
  • Dynamic Metahistory and the Model of Christopher Dawson
  • Folktale, Fairy Tale, and the Creation of a Story
  • The Wild Hunt, Sir Orfeo and J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Mid-Century Perceptions of the Ancient Celtic Peoples of ‘England’
  • Germanic Mythology Applied – the Extension of the Literary Folk Memory
  • Perilous Roads to the East, from Weathertop and through the Borgo Pass
  • Before Puck – the Púkel-men and the puca
In both content and mission, this collection would seem to have much in common with Tom Shippey’s Roots and Branches (also Walking Tree, 2007). Both Ryan and Shippey knew Tolkien (though Ryan, earlier, and much better), both have focused their academic studies around the same medieval Germanic Lit. and Lang. as Tolkien, and both bring a “creation from philology” approach to their research on Tolkien’s own fiction. Ryan can go one better than Shippey in having attended Tolkien’s lectures at Oxford in the middle 1950’s. As such, he is one of the few still living who can attest to what Tolkien was like as a teacher and mentor. (Another is Arne Zettersten, whom I have once had the pleasure of meeting. A topic for another post is Zettersten’s book on Tolkien, available only in Swedish for now.)

Sometimes Ryan and Shippey have covered similar ground, but other times, “J.S. Ryan finds sources for some of the elements of Tolkien’s work not discussed by Shippey” [1]. In any case, they are both source-scholars and philologists in absolutely the best sense, and therefore particular role models to me, since I consider myself cut from the same cloth — though obviously, of nothing close to the same caliber and experience.

Yet I’ve read very little of Ryan’s work, for the very straight-forward reason that most of it seems to be out of print! [2] From essays published in journals like Seven and The Minas Tirith Evening Star, to his collection of lectures, Tolkien: Cult or Culture? (published in 1969, but still a relevant question!). Considering the number of times Ryan’s work has been cited, however, it’s a shame so much of it is so hard to lay hands on. But perusing the summaries in Judith Johnson’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Six Decades of Criticism is enough to show that I would find a great deal to interest me in Ryan’s body of work. And therefore, a very loud “thank you” to Walking Tree for bringing out these two volumes!

[1] Michael D.C. Drout and Hilary Wynne, “Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and a Look Back at Tolkien Criticism since 1982”, Envoi 9.2 (Fall 2000): 101–34, p. 108.

[2] Some of Ryan’s essays (especially those published in Mythlore) can still be gotten in back issues. His essay, “Folktale, Fairy Tale, and the Creation of a Story”, which is included in this new collection, was previously printed in Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism (ed. Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs, Houghton Mifflin, 2004).


  1. Jason

    Happy summer - looks brilliant - in the middle of The Epic Realms of Tolkien - on holiday (after opera festival) I am going to bring a stack of Tolkien books with me (and Russian reading primer!) to read by the pool - so will bring these - unfortunately Tolkien Studies Vol 6 and Elizabeth's langugage book is not yet avail in the UK!! The Epic Realms book is very good and will blog on some points in coming weeks (not by the pool!) - has put my Medieval Welsh studies back on the radar for the autumn.

    Take care Andy

  2. Hi Jason
    Thank you so much for the great news. I have translated part of your article into Polish for our news service:
    I hope you don't mind. Roots and Branches was a great book and the idea of bringing all those important essays into one collection - in my opinion - really works. Looks like it's going to be another successful Walking Tree Publishers book!
    All the best

    Bart Opalinski

  3. Hi Andy and Bart! Thanks for dropping by again and leaving some feedback on the announcement. And no, Bart, I don’t mind at all; I’m delighted to see the news spread as far and wide as possible. :)