Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A new review of my book — from a surprising reviewer!

It’s been four years since Tolkien and the Study of His Sources appeared, so you can imagine my surprise at seeing a new, and quite substantial, review in The Journal of Inklings Studies. The review is by Faith Liu, an undergraduate at Hillsdale College in Michigan. You read that right: an undergraduate.

Liu will be earning her bachelor’s degree in English and Music next year, and in the meantime, she is also a pianist, voice instructor, and producer at a small, independent film studio. I didn’t know any of this when I read her review, nor would I ever have guessed. Her review does not read like the kind of work one normally expects from undergraduates; it’s far more mature and self-assured.

It turns out she also reviewed the late Stratford Caldecott and Thomas Honegger collection, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Sources of Inspiration, in the previous issue of The Journal of Inklings Studies (Vol. 5, No. 1, April 2015), something that failed to catch my attention six months ago when I leafed through it. The contributor blurb in that issue says (in part) that Liu’s “passion for storytelling has led her to study Tolkien at Oxford University, direct college opera and short film, and read the entirety of LOTR aloud — ‘with voices’ — to her siblings.” Her blurb in the most recent issue says much the same and confirms that her review of my book is just the second time she’s written for the journal.

And that may be the entirety of her work in the field to date. At least, I haven’t been able to discover anything else. If that is true, and these two reviews comprise the bulk, or even the entirety, or her contributions to Tolkien studies to this point, then the quality of her reviews and her obvious familiarity with the subject matter are all the more surprising and impressive! You don’t normally see this kind of work without a few false starts leading up to it. Don’t take my word for it; read them and see for yourself! You can read the Caldecott/Honegger review here, and the review of my book here.

To sum her up on my work, here is her concluding paragraph:
It is refreshing to see, in what is already a thriving community, a discussion of why and how to go about Tolkienian source study, and rarely is it undertaken with such attention to detail and demand for high standards. Though the collection could use a conclusion (one is otherwise left with the melancholy aftertaste of Glyer and Long’s discussion of Smith of Wootton Major), and more attractive cover design, Tolkien and the Study of His Sources is, on the whole, a triumph: a collection accessible to both the enthusiast and the academic, with extensive footnotes and bibliographies providing ample food for the reader seeking to go beyond. The work of these scholars is not chemical analysis of predigested dinners; rather, it is the attempt to unlock the secrets of an old family recipe. Some attempts bring new insight into a dish, while others indulge in more insubstantial speculation, but all serve to promote a greater appreciation for the discipline, for the dish, and for the chef himself.
To judge by the example of these two reviews, I would say Faith Liu is off to a great running start in the field, and not just because she liked my book — though of course, liking my book is an obvious sign of intelligence! ;) All kidding aside, she is critical at several points, and I found her to be criticisms fair and articulated well. I certainly look forward to seeing more of her work, whether more book reviews or, even better, some scholarship of her own.