Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In the new volume of Tolkien Studies …

My apologies for the extended fermata here at Lingwë. I never intended this to become a full hiatus, and the lengthiest one in the six-year history of the blog. Those of you who know me personally will know some of the reasons for it, and for those who doesn’t, suffice it to say it’s been an eventful summer.

For the occasion of my return to blogging, and at the risk of immodesty, I wanted to crow about some appearances in the most recent issue of Tolkien Studies, something I’ve done before (here, for example).

I’ll start with a few appearances in the “Bibliography (In English) for 2011”, compiled by Epstein, Bratman, and DeTardo. Here, my book, Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays, appears, along with each of the contributors’ essays, each listed under his or her own name. In addition, three reviews of my book are noted, those by Alan Turner in Hither Shore, Mike Foster in Mythlore, and Nancy Martsch in Beyond Bree. And lastly, one of my own book reviews, of the late Dinah Hazell’s Plants of Middle-earth, published in the Journal of Inklings Studies.

Next, Merlin DeTardo offers a few choice comments in “The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2010”, which I’ll quote in full. The first:
Jason Fisher offers two winning source studies. He shows how “Horns of Dawn: The Tradition of Alliterative Verse in Rohan” (Eden 7–25) further strengthen that country’s likeness to medieval England and specifically the Kingdom of Mercia. In addition to various musical relations (including Béma—the name in Rohan for the Vala, Oromë—from the Mercian word for “horn” or “trumpet”), Fisher mentionsother parallels like the dikes of Helm and Offa, respectively, guarding against invaders from the west. Presumably because it doesn’t support a connection to Rohan, Fisher doesn’t note that the law of Wihtræd he cites, requiring strangers to sound a horn or be considered a thief (ðeóf), is suggestive of Boromir’s reasons for winding his horn before departing Rivendell. Fisher also tries his hand at “Sourcing Tolkien’s ‘Circles of the World’: Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi” (Dubs and Kaščáková 1–18) by seeking the inspiration for Aragorn’s dying description of the worldly limitations that he expects soon to transcend. Fisher identifies these in the Norse term kringla heimsins used in Ynglinga Saga, the Latin term orbis terrarum—particularly as found in Jerome’s translation of the Book of Wisdom—and medieval T-O maps, like the famous West Midlands example Fisher considers, whose border with the letters M, O, R, and S spells out “death.” Paul H. Vigor echoes Fisher in noting that the Hereford Mappa Mundi is arranged with east at the top like “Thror’s Map: Decoration or Examination?” (Mallorn 50: 50). Vigor hints vaguely at hidden meanings in Tolkien’s maps. (275–6)
And here is the second:
Jason Fisher also considers double meanings in “Dwarves, Spiders, and Murky Woods: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wonderful Web of Words” (Mythlore 29 nos. 1–2: 5–15), an expansion of two posts made to his blog in 2009 about words in The Hobbit, particularly “attercop,” “lob,” and “Mirkwood,” with analysis of etymology in Old English, Old Norse, Swedish, Finnish (particularly the word myrkky “poison”; Fisher presumably has since noticed Tolkien’s “mirklands” in “The Story of Kullervo” [230]), and Tolkien’s invented Mágo (or Mágol). (283)
In addition to these bibliographic and review comments, it turns out that some of the contributors to the volume found reasons to cite my work, something which is always gratifying to see. Thomas Honegger, in his essay “My Most Precious Riddle: Eggs and Rings Revisited”, pointed readers to my entry on “Riddles” in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (which will very shortly, and finally, be appearing in softcover). He also suggested my essay, “Three Rings for—Whom Exactly? And Why? Justifying the Disposition of the Three Elven Rings” (published in Tolkien Studies 5). For those of you who read Lembas, this same essays appears in the new issue, translated into Dutch by Cécile van Zon.

Next, Benjamin Saxton cites me in his paper on “Tolkien and Bakhtin on Authorship, Literary Freedom, and Alterity”, where he observes: “Jason Fisher puts the matter very well when he writes that ‘Melkor is free to move his pieces in the great game that is the struggle for dominion over Middle-earth, but Ilúvatar made—and can change, if he wishes—the rules of the game’ (166)” (171). I’m very happy to see that somebody else appreciated my metaphor for the way free will works in Arda. Saxton goes on to say in a footnote that “Verlyn Flieger, Brian Rosebury, Matthew Dickerson, Thomas Fornet-Ponse, and Jason Fisher offer excellent discussions of the philosophical, theological, and political dimensions of fate and free will in Tolkien’s fiction” (179). The essay to which he is referring is “‘Man does as he is when he may do as he wishes’: The Perennial Modernity of Free Will”, which appears in Tolkien and Modernity, Vol. 1 (edited by Frank Weinreich and Thomas Honegger, Walking Tree Publishers, 2006).

Last of the three essayists, Claudio A. Testi makes references to chapters in my book in his essay, “Tolkien’s Work: Is it Christian or Pagan? A Proposal for a ‘Synthetic’ Approach”. The papers he makes use of are Thomas Honegger’s and John Rateliff’s. It’s a genuine pleasure to see that people are reading and even beginning to use and cite my book. I’ve stumbled on a few others of these, but I’ll save that for another day.

And finally, and certainly most obviously, there is a contribution in this year’s volume written by me. It’s a combined review of two books: Corey Olsen’s Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Mark Atherton’s There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Origins of The Hobbit. Spoiler alert … I had quite a few complaints about them both, but especially about Olsen’s book, which I found very disappointing. I am sorry to say I really wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who is already serious about Tolkien. It strikes me as a crib for high school or undergraduate students, I’m afraid. The space afforded me for reviewing the two books was generous (some ten pages, about 4,300 words), so I was able to dig into a lot of detail to support my impressions, and I welcome feedback — even if you disagree. I won’t try to summarize my thoughts here (any such attempt would rapidly become too lengthy, losing all sense of “summary”). But I would certainly be very interested in hearing from people who have read either book and/or my review of them. I’ve had quite a few private conversations about these two books — Olsen’s especially — and here too, I would welcome discussion of either overall impressions or of specific points. If nothing else, this is the kind of thing that books — and reviewsshould do: lead to long conversations!