Wednesday, November 5, 2014

C.S. Lewis and the Inklings: Faith, Imagination, and Modern Technology

With the ink almost dry, the time has come to share the news of a new collection on the Inklings that I co-edited with my colleagues Salwa Khoddam of the Oklahoma City University and Mark Hall of Oral Roberts University. The new volume, C.S. Lewis and the Inklings: Faith, Imagination, and Modern Technology, is the third in a series of collections to come out of the conferences of the C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society, which I have attended seven times now. The theme of the 16th annual conference in 2013, “Fairytales in the Age of iPads: Inklings, Imagination, and Technology”, provided a large part of the impetus for this collection, and the new book features six essays on this theme. Faith and imagination, of course, tend to be reliably perennial subjects at this conference.

The two previous collections in this series are Truths Breathed through Silver: The Inklings’ Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy, edited by Jonathan Himes, with Joe R. Christopher and Salwa Khoddam (2008); and C.S. Lewis and the Inklings: Discovering Hidden Truth, edited by Salwa Khoddam and Mark R. Hall, with Jason Fisher (2012). I contributed to both of these volumes, and I assisted with the editing of the second and also designed its cover. I took a seat at the table of editors this time around, also contributed a chapter, and again did all the formatting and designed the cover (which you can see above right).

For those who may be interested, I’m happy to share the table of contents here, omitting the usual front and back matter. Three of the chapters focus on J.R.R. Tolkien, nine on C.S. Lewis, three on George MacDonald, and one on Dorothy Sayers. These last two, as I’m sure most of you know, aren’t Inklings per se, but MacDonald has been called an imaginative forebear of the Inklings, and Sayers was on the fringe of the group. We’re hoping the book will be available for purchase by December, and I’ll post again when that happens.

In the meantime, here’s what you can look forward to:
Part I. Faith—C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis’s and Karl Barth’s Conversions: Reason and Imagination, a Realisation—fides quaerens intellectum
Paul H. Brazier

C.S. Lewis and Theosis: Why Christians Are Meant to Become Icons of God
Ralph C. Wood

“Triad within Triad”: The Tripartite Soul as a Structural Design in C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy
Hayden Head

Part II. Imagination—C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald and J.R.R. Tolkien

Entering Faerie-Land: Reading the Narnian Chronicles for Magic and Meaning
Peter J. Schakel

To Risk Being Taken In: C.S. Lewis on Self-Transcendence
Aaron Cassidy

C.S. Lewis’s Problem with “The Franklin’s Tale”: An Essay Written in the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Year of The Allegory of Love
Joe R. Christopher

Redeeming the Narrator in George MacDonald’s Lilith
Jonathan B. Himes

Reflections in the Mirror—Anodos and His Shadow, Frodo and Gollum: The Doppelganger as a Literary Motif in George MacDonald’s Phantastes and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
Mark R. Hall

The Erlking Rides in Middle-earth: Tradition, Crux, and Adaptation in Goethe and Tolkien
Jason Fisher

Part III. Modern Technology—C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien

Looking into the “Enchanted Glass”: C.S. Lewis and Francis Bacon on Methods of Perception and the Purpose of the “New Science”
Salwa Khoddam

The Abolition and the Preservation of Man: C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, and Wendell Berry on Education
David Rozema

Medieval Memento Mori and Modern Machine in Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Nine Tailors
Denise Galloway Crews

Ecology in the Works of George MacDonald: Nature as a Revelation of God and His Imagination
David L. Neuhouser and Mark R. Hall

Whiner or Warrior? Susan Pevensie’s Role in the Novel and Film Versions of The Chronicles of Narnia
Eleanor Hersey Nickel

The Palantíri Stones in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as Sauron’s Social Media: How to Avoid Getting Poked by the Dark Lord
Phillip Fitzsimmons

Monday, November 3, 2014

Jonah and the Colocynth

After more than five years of (recent) anticipation, which might easily have stretched on indefinitely, Tolkien’s translation of Jonah has arrived! You can read my previous posts on the subject, of which I found there were a surprising number, by following this link.

Tolkien’s translation appears in the new issue of the Journal of Inklings Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (October 2014). It is short — naturally, since Jonah itself is one of the shortest books in the Bible — spanning just four pages (5–9). But even so short a translation is valuable new primary material for Tolkien studies. The translation is followed by Brendan N. Wolfe’s essay, “Tolkien’s Jonah”, which is also full of interesting material, including liberal quotation from Fr Alexander Jones’s letters to Tolkien as well as Tolkien’s draft opening to the book of Isaiah! Just to give you a taste, but without stealing all the journal’s thunder: “Heavens hearken, earth give ear, for Jahveh speaks […]” [1] It reads almost like a piece of Beowulf.

Tolkien’s Jonah is a very interesting piece of work and will take time to explore thoroughly. But one small thing in particular really caught my attention while reading it.

Here is the King James Version of Jonah 4:6: “And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.” The English Standard version also uses “gourd”. The Common English Bible calls it a “shrub”, the Complete Jewish Bible “a castor-bean plant”, the Contemporary English Version “a vine”, the Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition “an ivy”, the International Standard Version “a vine plant”, the New American Standard Bible “a plant”, the New International Version “a leafy plant”, the New Revised Standard Version “a bush”, and so on. That pretty much covers all the variations I’ve seen in English language Bibles. So what does Tolkien say?

If you’ve read Jonah in the Jerusalem Bible, you’ve seen “castor oil plant”, but that’s not what Tolkien originally wrote; that was the work of the reviser. And that proves the importance of seeing Tolkien’s original translation. He did consider the castor plant. According to Wolfe, Tolkien even “cop[ied] out the entry for ‘castor’ in the OED, exchang[ed] notes with Jones on the subject, and ultimately opt[ed] for ‘colocynth’.” Colocynth? I can’t recollect ever having seen this word before. Here is Tolkien’s translation of the verse in question: “Then Yahweh God appointed a colocynth to grow up over Jonah, so that it might cast a shade upon his head and relieve his discomfort; and Jonah had great delight in the colocynth.” Now that’s interesting!

The original Hebrew here is קִיקָי֞וֹן [qî·qā·yō·wn], and apparently no one is quite sure what kind of plant this is. It’s a hapax legomenon in Scripture [2], and no further explanation of it is ever given. It’s quite singular in my experience that Tolkien chose this word. Colocynth (I have learned) derives from Ancient Greek κολοκυνθίς “wild gourd”, and it is known more commonly as the bitter apple, bitter cucumber, desert gourd, vine of Sodom, etc. It’s native to the regions of the Biblical world, and it looks like a tiny watermelon (see the photo above).

The reviser evidently didn’t like Tolkien’s theory. This may have been Alan Neame, who was engaged to edit and harmonize the translations of the books of the Old Testament for the Jerusalem Bible, or it may have been someone else involved. This person changed “colocynth” to “castor oil plant”, but how interesting is Tolkien’s translation! And so typical of Tolkien to expend so much thought on a single word!

[1] Quoted in Wolfe, Brendan N. “Tolkien’s Jonah.” Journal of Inklings Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (October 2014): 11–26, p. 19. Wolfe is quoting with permission from Tolkien’s unpublished draft of the first chapter of Isaiah, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Tolkien A37/1). Wolfe quotes a little less than fifty words, meaning a sizeable chunk of primary work remains unpublished.

[2] See this blog post for some further commentary on the Hebrew word.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Forgotten habits

In a recent post about puns on “hobbit”, I wrote:
The first usage to come close to this is the exchange of letters to the editor of The Observer in 1938. On 16 January 1938, The Observer published a letter, signed “Habit”, in which the reader inquired about Tolkien’s sources in The Hobbit. Tolkien’s “jesting reply” (cf. Letters #26, 4 March 1938) was published four days later. I haven’t read the original letter. It’s available from The Observer’s digital archives, but not for free — does anyone have a copy they might share? Without the original at hand, I don’t know whether the original inquirer went beyond merely signing as “Habit”; if not, the tiresome old pun we know today is barely inchoate.
Er, actually, I have read the original letter! It was about seven years ago, and I had simply forgotten. The mountain of new primary material that has come to light in the last decade is staggering enough that this happens from time to time. Normally, my memory of what I’ve seen is very good — at least good enough to remember there was something and where I probably saw it, if not some of the particulars. That’s enough to get me back to the source where I can refresh my memory on the primary materials I don’t often cite. But in this case, I clean forgot.

So where is it? Why, in the most logical place for it: John Rateliff’s History of The Hobbit, of course! Specifically, it’s in Appendix II, “Tolkien’s Letter to The Observer (The Hobyahs)”. The original letter from “Habit” is reproduced on p. 855 (in both my two-volume Houghton Mifflin first edition and in my one-volume Harper Collins revised edition).

So, now having rediscovered this and reread it, I can say that the original correspondent indeed went no further than merely hinting at the pun through his assumed cognomen. So that’s settled. :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tolkien Studies delayed

The world of academic publishing sometimes moves at about the same speed as the earth’s tectonic plates. At the risk of stating the obvious, Volume 11 of Tolkien Studies has been significantly delayed. David Bratman announced the contents at the end of July (here), and I know we have all been looking forward to it eagerly since then. I got word from West Virginia University Press today that the issue is now expected to be available the second week of November. Yikes, that is some delay! But better late than never, and I hope having some idea when to expect it helps.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The surprising longevity of one Tolkien essay — and a new Tolkien collection

Almost a year ago, out of the blue, I got a request to reprint one of my essays on Tolkien in a Gale reference collection I was told was being edited by Michael Drout. Naturally, I was happy to see the essay go even further that it already had (on which, see below for more), and Gale tends to pay to reprint, which was also nice. I’m not used to earning actual dollars and cents for the work that I do, though when I do get a small payday, it is certainly welcome! And the Gale Literary Criticism series is well respected and widely used in many libraries.

I got in touch with Mike to inquire about this, and he demystified the project. He wasn’t really editing anything, per se. Rather, the publisher had sent him a long list of essays, of which he’d chosen what he thought were the top twenty of so. He also suggested some that weren’t on their long list. And in the end, the publisher made the decisions about what to include and what not to.

So anyway, I took care of the paperwork and then promptly moved on to other things. I had forgotten all about it when a check showed up a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, the book had appeared, or was about to, and I had never heard another word about it. I came up with nothing searching the web, so I wrote to the publisher. They sent me a link to the book: Volume 299 in the Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism series. No wonder I couldn’t find it: at a glance, you’d never know it had anything to do with Tolkien! In fact, the collection actually covers three writers: Jane Addams, Mao Dun, and J.R.R. Tolkien. A strange assortment! The part about Tolkien is specifically limited to essays on The Hobbit, which may be stranger still (or perhaps not: they covered The Lord of the Rings in a previous volume). And finally, the book lists for $360, so I asked the publisher whether they might send me a copy. They did, and it arrived in yesterday’s mail.

Before I describe the new book, I thought I might summarize the remarkable journey of my essay. It began here on this blog, in a series of posts late in 2009. I developed these into a conference paper, which I delivered at the 13th C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society conference in Oklahoma City in the spring of 2010, and for which I won the Best Scholar Paper award that year (the first of five consecutive wins at this conference). The essay was published in Mythlore later that year. Then it was reprinted as a chapter in 2012 in the CSLIS volume, C.S. Lewis and the Inklings: Discovering Hidden Truths, a volume for which I was also an assistant editor (though this had nothing to do with the selection of my essay for publication there). And now it has appeared one more time, in the esteemed TCLC series. Wow, have I gotten a lot of mileage out of that piece of work!

Since this is not likely to come to the attention of the casual Tolkien watcher, and since some of the essays may not be that easy to come by otherwise, I thought I would enumerate the contents as a public service. The Tolkien portion of the book runs from pp. 241–342, a cool hundred pages of valuable essays on The Hobbit collected together for use in libraries. The layout is “encyclopedia style” — large, double-columned pages. It opens with a short introductory essay on The Hobbit, outlining its plot and major characters, themes, and critical reception. This piece is written by Cynthia Giles, a freelance encyclopedist from my old stomping grounds in Dallas. Apart from that, I know nothing about her. At a glance it looks solid, but I haven’t read it closely yet.

This introductory piece is followed by a bibliography of Tolkien’s principal works, which I’ve only skimmed (but I spotted one small error). After this, the “Criticism” section comprises the reprint essays, each of which is given a bracketed paragraph intro. After the essays (enumerated below), there is a short and selective bibliography of “Further Reading”, annotated and categorized (bibliographies, biographies, criticism).

The fourteen reprinted essays and their original publication details are:

Constance B. Hieatt. “The Text of The Hobbit: Putting Tolkien’s Notes in Order.” English Studies in Canada 7.2 (1981): 212–24.

Christina Scull. “The Hobbit Considered in Relation to Children’s Literature Contemporary with Its Writing and Publication.” Mythlore 14.2 (1987): 49–56.

Lisa Hopkins. “Bilbo Baggins as a Burglar.” Inklings 10 (1992): 93–9.

Christina Scull. “The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Other Pre-War Writings: Part Two.” Mallorn 30 (1993): 14–20.

Janet Brennan Croft. “The Great War and Tolkien’s Memory: An Examination of World War I Themes in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.” Mythlore 90 (2002): 4–21.

Olga V. Trokhimenko. “‘If You Sit on the Door-Step Long Enough, You Will Think of Something’: The Function of Proverbs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit.” Proverbium 20 (2003): 367–77.

Brian Rosebury. “Tolkien and the Twentieth Century.” Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 134–57.

Stuart D. Lee and Elizabeth Solopova. “The Hobbit.” The Keys of Middle-earth: Discovering Medieval Literature through the Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 59–122.

Nils Ivar Agøy. “Things to Remember When Translating Tolkien.” Lembas Extra (2008): 42–50.

Thomas Kullmann. “Intertextual Patterns in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.” Nordic Journal of English Studies 8.2 (2009): 37–56.

Dimitra Fimi. “Epilogue: From Fairies to Hobbits.” Tolkien, Race, and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 189–99.

Jason Fisher. “Dwarves, Spiders, and Murky Woods: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wonderful Web of Words.” Mythlore 29.1-2 (2010): 5–15.

Aaron Isaac Jackson. “Authoring the Century: J.R.R. Tolkien, the Great War and Modernism.” English 59.224 (2010): 44–69.

David Day. “The Genesis of the Hobbit.” Queen’s Quarterly 118.1 (2011): 115–29.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bad puns can be hobbit-forming

In a recent post to the Mythopoeic Society’s email listserv, John Rateliff shared an early reference to Tolkien in Robert Heinlein. John wrote (very slightly edited):
Recently I’ve been re-reading what I suppose is Robert Heinlein’s only fantasy novel, Glory Road. While it’s packed full of allusions to fantasy characters and titles and settings — e.g. John Carter and Dejah Thoris, Ettarre, Storisende and Poictesme, Barsoom, The Red Fairy Book, The Twilight Zone — I was surprised to find a passing Tolkien reference:

She: “. . . we come to a brick road, very nice.”
He: “A yellow brick road?”
She: “Yes. That’s the clay they have. Does it matter?”
He: “I guess not. Just don’t make a hobbit of it …” [1]

This passing pun does not of course mean Heinlein actually read the book […] but it does show his awareness of Tolkien, and his assumption that his audience would share than awareness, a full year before Tolkien went mainstream with the Ace Book controversy in 1965.
This pun — based on the idea of a hobbit = a habit, good or bad — has become so hackneyed in the fifty years since that I now cringe every time I see it, which is still very often. There’s another worn-out pun I see a lot. This one is based on the idea of Tolkien = talking — e.g., “that’s what I’m Tolkien ’bout!” I’m not sure which one has been the more abused of the two, and neither is particularly good. But I got to wondering about the earliest uses of the hobbit = habit.

The first usage to come close to this is the exchange of letters to the editor of The Observer in 1938. On 16 January 1938, The Observer published a letter, signed “Habit”, in which the reader inquired about Tolkien’s sources in The Hobbit [2]. Tolkien’s “jesting reply” (cf. Letters #26, 4 March 1938) was published four days later. I haven’t read the original letter. It’s available from The Observer’s digital archives, but not for free — does anyone have a copy they might share? Without the original at hand, I don’t know whether the original inquirer went beyond merely signing as “Habit”; if not, the tiresome old pun we know today is barely inchoate. The similarity of the words is played on, but the writer may never have gone so far as a pun. Even in his reply, Tolkien is not particularly explicit about it. He calls “the Habit […] more inquisitive than the Hobbit” (Letters #25), but he doesn’t actually go in for the pun either.

Tolkien never seems to stoop to such a low jest himself, in all the writings I can recall. He did connect the two words in another letter I know, but more coincidentally, I think, and not in jest — “The Hobbit was not intended to have anything to do with [‘the matter of the Elder Days’]. I had the habit while my children were still young of inventing and telling orally, sometimes of writing down, ‘children’s stories’ for their private amusement” (#257, 16 July 1964). And he acknowledged the pun again many, many years later: “A review appeared in The Observer 16 Jan 1938, signed ‘Habit’ (incidentally thus long anticipating Coghill’s perception of the similarity of the words in his humorous adj. ‘hobbit-forming’ applied to my books)” (#319, 8 January 1971). It seem likely that Nevill Coghill shared this pun with Tolkien directly at one of the many dinners they attended together, or during meetings of the Inklings; I’m not aware that he ever put in into writing. But Coghill was certainly among the earliest to make this joke; it may even predate publication of The Lord of the Rings. But we can’t be sure. Tolkien refers to Coghill’s pun in 1971, and we have no idea how far back he is looking. It could be five years or ten or more.

In writing, the pun became very common after 1965, with the Ace episode and the revised edition of The Lord of the Rings leading to an enormous growth in Tolkien’s popularity, especially in America. Perhaps the best-known of these early pieces is Henry Resnik’s “The Hobbit-Forming World of J.R.R. Tolkien”, published in The Saturday Evening Post (2 July 1966). Not long after, Joseph Mathewson got into the game with “The Hobbit Habit”, published the September 1966 issue of Esquire. The following winter, Charles Elliott published a peculiarly sour piece in Time called “Can America Kick the Hobbit? The Tolkien Caper” (24 February 1967). A few months after that, Matthew Hodgart reviewed The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Tolkien Reader in The New York Review of Books, captioning his review, “Kicking the Hobbit” (4 May 1967). And then there is Mary Lou Loper’s “Fun is Hobbit-Forming at Tolkien Party”, Los Angeles Times (19 September 1967). And Dainis Bisenieks’s “The Hobbit Habit in the Critic’s Eye”, in Tolkien Journal 3:4 (November 1969). And this is just a selection.

The pun continued to resurface in the years after Tolkien’s initial splash. For example, in connection with the Rankin/Bass animated version of The Hobbit — e.g., “Will the Video Version of Tolkien be Hobbit Forming?”, by John Culhane, in The New York Times (27 November 1972). Then with the publication of The Silmarillion — e.g., “Kicking the Hobbit” by Richard Brookhiser, in The National Review (9 December 1977); “Hobbit Forming”, by Anthony Burgess, in The Observer (18 September 1977); and “The Hobbit Habit”, by Robert M. Adams, in The New York Review of Books (24 November 1977). Carpenter’s biography attracted the same kinds of headlines — e.g., “Hobbit-forming”, by John Carey, in The Listener, Vol. 97 (12 May 1977); and again, “Hobbit Forming”, by Nick Totton, in The Spectator (14 May 1977). And now of course, with the advent of the Peter Jackson film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the pun has become ubiquitous and endless.

But that’s what was so interesting about the source in Robert Heinlein that John Rateliff discovered: it predates the earliest of these by a couple of years. In poking around the virtual stacks, I’ve actually found another reference in fiction that predates Heinlein. It’s in the June 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in a short story called “Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXIII”, written by Reginald Bretnor, under the anagrammatic pseudonym Grendel Briarton. A feghoot is a short story ending in, and whose whole point is, a dreadful, groan-inducing pun; learn more about feghoots and their history here. So, this particular feghoot builds up to the pun we’ve been talking about here, though the pun was much younger at the time:
Scarcely ten minutes later, he was summoned back by a cry of great agitation.

“Mr. Feghoot!” the alarmed writer exclaimed. “Look — there’s a being! He — he’s only four feet tall, with red cheeks, and a brass-buttoned coat, and — and short breeches. And his feet are all furry! He’s telling me the most wonderful story. But — but he’s a hallucination. He simply took shape there! And you told me the drug would do me no harm!”

“My dear Tolkien,” said Ferdinand Feghoot. “I said it was harmless. I never said it was non-Hobbit-forming.” [3]
But even this isn’t the earliest printed use of this pun that I have found.

For that, you have to go back almost a decade further. On 24 April 1955, The Providence Journal published a very short review of The Two Towers, tersely entitled “Hobbit-Forming”, by Maurice Dolbier [4]. The review is just two paragraphs — the first alarmingly full of plot spoilers for a contemporary review! The review is accompanied by a drawing of Frodo by designer and artist Walter Lorraine, the art director at Houghton Mifflin at the time, and the illustrator of the first US edition dust jackets of The Lord of the Rings. You can sort of make out his illustration in the photo above — apologies for the poor quality, but it’s a sixty-year-old newspaper reproduced from microfiche. Lorraine himself would be an interesting subject for a future post!

A bit off the subject, but still à propos of word-play, isn’t the name Dolbier an interesting coincidence, considering Tolkien’s invention of Dolbear in The Notion Club Papers. I haven’t looked very deeply into the frequency and etymology of these surnames, though I do know there’s an attested variation, Dolbeer, which may be from Welsh Dolbyr “the short vale” or from Dalbyr, a town on the Jutland peninsula, where the family may have originated.

Anyway, to sum up. While it’s possible that Nevill Coghill used the pun earlier than this, I’ve seen no evidence of it in print. And there is the letter to The Observer in 1938, but its author not have gone all the way. I’d like to see that letter if I could. Can anyone antedate the pun to earlier than Dolbier’s use, published 24 April 1955? The pun would still have been pretty fresh and fairly clever in 1955. Unfortunately, it’s been used about a million times since (no exaggeration).

[1] Heinlein, Robert A. Glory Road. 1964, pp. 82–3.

[2] Letters to the Editor, The Observer (16 January, 1938), p. 8.

[3] Bretnor, Reginald [as Grendel Briarton]. “Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXIII.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 24:6 #145 (June 1963), p. 102.

[4] Dolbier, Maurice. “Hobbit-Forming (Review of The Two Towers).” The Providence Sunday Journal 24 April 1954, Section 6, p. 10. My enormous gratitude to Kate Wells and the Providence Public Library for this scan.

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).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

New Tolkien collection — and a new publication credit

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.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Brief History of The Hobbit

On the Tolkien Society’s Facebook page, Neil Holford recently shared a link to a forthcoming book, A Brief History of The Hobbit, by John Rateliff and J.R.R. Tolkien, to be published this coming September by HarperCollins. At 400 pages and priced at £9.99, it’s clearly not the same two-volume treatment I reviewed in Mythlore almost six years ago. But what is it, exactly? An abridgment, I presumed, but to find out more, I went straight to the source. John Rateliff, after all, is practically my next-door neighbor! :)

John clarified the scope of the project, and he doesn’t mind my sharing, so here you go. It is indeed an abridgment of the one-volume revised edition, in which John’s goal is “to reduce the size of the book by half without leaving out any of the Tolkien. […] You could say the original edition was Tolkien and Rateliff in roughly equal portion, while this version will be mostly Tolkien.”

In other words, what John is pruning is his own commentary and notes. He’s cutting that down aggressively, aiming to preserve only the essentials, and leaving mostly just the original draft text of The Hobbit. It should be a welcome addition for those fans who might have found the complete History a bit overwhelming — although personally, I revel in minutiae. Likewise, it will be a convenient copy to have nearby for when one need only refer to the draft text of the novel. The original treatment can be just a bit unwieldy when one only wants to look up a draft passage and nothing more. This will give us the best of both worlds. Looking forward to it!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Stepping down from Mythprint

Hello, friends. The title of this blog post pretty much says it all, and many of you may have heard this announcement already somewhere else. But after roughly four years, I am stepping down as editor of Mythprint. I’ll stay on for a little while during the transitional period, but the more important thing is that the Mythopoeic Society is in immediate need of a new editor! If any of you are interested, please let me know.

And for any of you who don’t receive Mythprint already, I thought I’d copy the farewell editorial from my last issue here:

This is a bittersweet moment. After nearly four years and thirty-five issues — certainly not as many as some illustrious Mythprint editors of yore, but not the shortest tenure either — the time has come for me to step down as editor. The issue you are now reading is my last one, following which the leadership in the Mythopoeic Society will be actively searching for a new editor. I will be remaining on hand for a little while to advise and assist in the transition, but I won’t be producing new issues of Mythprint from this point forward.

Some have asked me privately why I’ve made this decision, and I don’t mind answering that question publicly. Over the past year or two, my work schedule, home obligations, and personal research and writing projects have all become more demanding and have more than taken over, meaning that I no longer have the kind of time that Mythprint requires — and deserves. I had hoped that changing the schedule to a quarterly cadence would have made the difference and that I’d have been able to hold on another few years, but unfortunately, it hasn’t helped as much as I’d wished. I also think it’s time for someone new, with new ideas and more time and energy than I can give. I had actually reached this decision some time ago, but I didn’t want to leave the Society’s leadership body while we were still a Steward short of our full complement, but since David Emerson has come on as Webmaster, now the right time for my exit.

I lay down the mantle feeling really good about what I’ve accomplished during my time as editor — perhaps most importantly, bringing Mythprint into the digital age with electronic subscriptions. This in turn has led to an increase in the number of international members, which I think is very good for the Society. I’ve published some important pieces over the last four years, including interviews, Mythcon and other conference reports, anniversary celebrations, the Glen GoodKnight memorial issue, and more than 120 reviews of books, films, and stage productions. The number of subscribers jumped dramatically in the months following my assuming the post, up by more than 100 at one point, to a six-year high of 395 (possibly longer; I only have numbers going back to November 2006). Subscribers have gone up and down since then, but are still averaging near record high numbers since November 2006. So I can resign on what I feel is a very positive note.

So as I said, Mythprint is in need of a new editor! If you are interested in assuming the post, then the Mythopoeic Society’s Council of Stewards would like to hear from you! If you have questions about the job, I will be very happy to answer them. And I will be around to assist the new editor with getting started and in making contacts (publishing, contributing, and otherwise). It’s a very rewarding job and a great chance for one of you to give something back to the Society that gives all of us so much. For now, farewell and thank you all for your support and feedback over these past four years.

Best wishes,
Jason Fisher
Editor (outgoing), Mythprint