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.


  1. Scholarship is of course to be found everywhere, as Tolkien knew very well (letter 241):

    Sir John Morris Jones, a famous Welsh scholar (and author of the grammar that I bought with prize-money as related) said, commenting on the work of a learned French scholar (Loth) on Welsh metres: ‘I get more learning and sense on the topic out of my postman.’

    “Which did not mean, of course, that Loth was as ignorant as a mere postman ‘passing the time of day’; but that the postman was better read and more learned than a French professor. It may have been true – in Welsh matters. For as a ‘poor country’ even yet Wales has not learnt to associate art or knowledge solely with certain classes.

    Which means that if we have (or certain professional ranks), so much the worse for us. Do we know who this Loth is, O Tolkien Sourcerer? Dr. Google is not helpful today.

    1. Hey, John, nice to hear from you! It’s been a while. Then again, I’m not as prolific a blogger as I once was. But you always have interesting things to say, so thanks for chiming in.

      As for Loth, Sir John Morris-Jones was referring to Joseph Loth (27 December 1847 – 1 April 1934). In addition to his more purely linguistic work, Loth is important for having translated the Mabinogion into French. The book Morris-Jones had in mind was probably La métrique galloise depuis les plus anciens textes jusqu’à nos jours, published in Paris in 1900. Interestingly enough, the book is part of the Ancienne Librairie Thorin et Fils (emphasis added). I don’t know that the book was ever translated into English, so evidently Morris-Jones must have read it in French. Actually, there may be a little more to say about this, so I might have to capture this in a small blog post of its own. Much obliged for calling my attention to it, John. :)

  2. Hey, I think the cover design is sufficiently attractive!

    All kidding aside, that is some very impressive writing. It is quite refreshing to see. And the fact that a significant review is appearing now, four years after Bones of the Ox, erm, I mean Tolkien and the Study of His Sources first appeared, is a great validation of the lasting worth of the work.