West Virginia University Press has just published Volume One of “Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review” edited by Douglas Anderson, Michael Drout, and Verlyn Flieger. It is a collection of individual independent scholarly articles. The key word for this work is scholarly and it needs to be approached as such for full appreciation. At minimum, it is essential to have read “The Silmarillin” and, optimally, the “History of
Middle-earth” series and “The Unfinished Tales” in addition, of course, to “The Lord of the Rings”. The insight to be gained is well worth the effort of preparation.
The articles are as follows: “Light-elves, Dark-elves, and Others: Tolkien’s Elvish Problem” by Tom Shippey, “Tom Shippey on J.R.R. Tolkien: A Checklist” compiled by Douglas Anderson, “The Adapted Text:
The Lost Poetry of Beleriand” by Gergely Nagy, “‘Do the Atlantis story and abandon Eriol-Saga'” by Verlyn Flieger, “Identifying England’s Lonnrot” by Anne Perry, “Sir Orfeo: A Middle Enlgish Version by J.R.R. Tolkien” by Carl F. Hostetter, “Frodo’s Batman” by Mark Hooker, “Tolkien’s Prose Style and its Literary and Rhetorical Effects” by Michael Drout, and”When Philology Becomes Ideology: The Russian Perspective of J.R.R.Tolkien” by Olga Markova. There are three additional shorter notes: “A Note on Beren and Luthien’s Disguise as Werewolf and Vampire-bat” by Thomas Honegger, “Possible Echoes of Blackwood and Dunsany in Tolkien’s Fantasy” by Dale Nelson, and “Bibliography for 2001-2002” by Michael Drout with Laura Kalaforski and
The articles vary in ease of reading. “Frodo’s Batman”, comparing Sam to the soldier-servants of the
First World War is the easiest and accessible to readers who have read only “The Lord of the Rings”, as is the
article on the Russian perspective. The Middle English “Sir Orfeo” is the most difficult. This is not Tolkien’s
previously published modern English version of “Sir Orfeo”. Unless your Middle English is much better than mine, I suggest having the modern English version in hand when reading this one. Familiarity with “The Lost Road” and “The Notion Club Papers”, the latter found in “Sauron Defeated, are needed for the understanding of the “‘Do the Atlantis story” article.
My personal favorite article is Professor Drout’s on “Tolkien’s Prose Style”. It goes a long way toward
illustrating that Tolkien’s ‘archaic’ language was carefully chosen for multiple levels of meaning. There is a tightly
reasoned syllogism involving King Lear, Denethor, and the Lord of the Nazgul which is exquisite. The argument
rests on the text of the confrontation of Eowyn (as Dernhelm) with the Lord of the Nazgul in The Battle of the
Pelennor Fields chapter from “The Return of the King.” The language of this profoundly moving scene is very
precise and carries great power because of it.
I first read “The Lord of the Rings” as a fifteen year old, more than thirty years ago. Even in youth, the
grace and beauty of Tolkien’s words would draw me to pause to savour them. Subsequent readings through the
years continue to reveal further subtleties and splendours. This collection of articles gives valuable perception into how Tolkien created such power with his words, and, as I think he would be pleased to know, a greater appreciation of the English language in its fullness. I look forward to subsequent volumes with great eagerness.