Saturday, June 12, 2010

Middle-earth Minstrel Reviewed

The newest issue of Beyond Bree has added another voice to the recent harmony of works on music and/in/inspired by Tolkien. Its “Music Issue” (June 2010) offers sheet music to four Tolkien-themed songs (a rarity these days; sheet music, I mean, not songs), and it also features reviews of three new publications on the subject of music and Tolkien. These are the Walking Tree collection, Music in Middle-earth, reviewed by editor Nancy Martsch; the Lembas Extra 2009 special issue, “Tolkien in Poetry and Song”, also reviewed by Martsch; and (on the cover) Middle-earth Minstrel, reviewed by Chris Seeman. Since I contributed to that collection, I wanted to offer an excerpt or two.

Seeman begins by noting that the book’s stated goals represent “an ambitious agenda for so slim a tome (200 pages). Like most collected volumes, this one has its ups and downs. The majority of the contributions are quite valuable, however, and as the first attempt to tackle this topic in a comprehensive way, the book is well worth reading, regardless of where one’s particular interest may lie.”

Seeman then goes on to address my essay, the first in the book, immediately:
Jason Fisher’s “Horns of Dawn: The Tradition of Alliterative Verse in Rohan” opens the collection with a seemingly well-worn exercise: the elucidation of parallels between Tolkien’s invented Rohirrim and the historical Anglo-Saxon culture whose literature he studied professionally. Fisher’s real interest, however, is in exploring intertextual resonances in Tolkien’s narrative of Théoden’s arrival at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Drawing attention both to Beowulf (“To those sorrow-hearted men with the dawn when they Hygelac’s horn and his trumpet and his battle-song they heard”) and to the etymology of the Eldarin root ROM, with its associations of hunting, horn-blowing and dawn breaking in the East (cf. Oromë, Valaróma, Rómen), Fisher uncovers multiple layers of signification — mythological, philological and poetic — in this pivotal scene.
It is always nice to be read and reviewed, and I look forward to reading what other reviewers have to say. To my knowledge, this is the first published review of the book, but others will definitely follow, and I will share excerpts — favorable or otherwise — as I encounter them. My thanks to Chris Seeman for taking the time to read and report on the collection.


  1. I wonder if there is a faint sound symbolism between the roots *ROK and *ROM, neighing being rather horn-like in addition to the use of both horses and horns in hunting and the use by cavalry troops of bugle calls.

  2. John, it’s certainly possible. The k and m phonemes aren’t very close phonologically, but it could be that Tolkien settled on similar enough roots to reflect a semantic proximity. To argue that it was intentional would be more difficult (requiring an exhaustive exploration of the histories of these roots), but after the fact, you’re right that there is a nice resonance between them.

  3. Hi Jason!

    I'm one of the editors and authors of "Music in Middle-earth" and am currently reading "Middle-earth Minstrel". As you wrote in a previous post, I also find that they overlap very little indeed and complement each other (I like your harmonic metaphor!). It's interesting to see how two publications on the same long-neglected topic developed independently and simultaneously. Obviously, its time had come.

    As you can imagine, I’m very much interested in the issue of ‘Beyond Bree’ that you mention above. I’m trying to find a way to procure it here in Europe.

    I’ll be back to comment when I finish reading your chapter. As a musician, I confess to having perused the chapters that deal with my favourite topic first...


  4. It’s wonderful to hear from you, Heidi, and congratulations on the publication of your book! You’re quite right: the time had come for further elaboration on the theme. Isn’t it telling, just how easily we find ourselves turning to musical metaphors? :) As for the special issue of Beyond Bree, I am sure the editor can arrange for copies; write to Nancy Martsch (beyondbree [at] yahoo [dot] com).

    I look forward to any further thoughts you may have on the collection and on my own contribution to it. Middle-earth Minstrel was recently reviewed in Mythprint as well, which I edit for the Mythpoeic Society. I would be happy to arrange for a review of Music in Middle-earth as well, if you could send a review copy. If you would like to, you can drop me an email message at visualweasel [at] yahoo [dot] com.

  5. I contacted the people at Walking Tree and asked them to send you a copy of the book for reviewing. I was able to look into BB's review via a friend who has it and am happy that the topic has generated interest and positive comments.

    It's interesting to see that the reviewer noticed MiM's stronger emphasis on the music aspect rather than the poetry. That's what happens when a musician, not a literary academic, compiles a book like this!

  6. Thanks for talking to Walkng Tree on my behalf, Heidi. I have a couple of reviewers I work with on a regular basis who are both very well qualified to talk about Music and Tolkien, both together and separately. :)