Book review: “Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review Volume II 2005”

by Dec 5, 2005Stories

A Review of Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Volume II 2005

Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Volume II 2005 is edited by Douglas A. Anderson, Michael D.C. Drout, and Verlyn Flieger and published by West Virginia University Press. At 325 pages, this volume is nearly the length of last year’s inaugural edition. A brief summary of each of the articles will be given.

The first article, `”And She Named Her Own Name”: Being True To One’s Word in Tolkien’s Middle-earth’ is by Richard C. West of University of Wisconsin-Madison. This deals with Lúthien before Morgoth in Thangorodrim throwing off her disguise `and she named her own name’. The theme is the place of truthfulness in Middle-earth and how this changed over time. The earliest versions of the tale from 1917 through the mid 1920s allowed the heroes to lie when in dire circumstance. The influencing factors of pre-Christian mythology and Judeo-Christian belief are considered in the evolution to the point where heroes were expected to tell the truth and keep their word. This publications checklist for the author follows the article.
“Parallel lives: The Sons of Denethor and the Sons of Telamon” by Miryam Librán-Moreno is the second paper. This draws the comparisons between Denethor and his sons and the sons of Telamon, Ajax and Teucer, from the Iliad. The relationships of the fathers with their favoured older sons and the less valued younger sons are discussed. The character traits of the older sons are compared with those of the younger sons. This article is well footnoted with appropriate quotations from the Iliad in the original Greek with English glosses.
This is followed by “The White City: The Lord of the Rings as an Early Medieval Myth of Restoration of the Roman Empire” by Judy Ann Ford. Gondor at the time of the War of the Ring is compared with 5th-6th century Rome. There are many apt parallels. A 5th century work called the `Getica’ by a Goth named Jordanes is discussed. This work grafted the history of the Goths and by extension, the Germanic peoples, onto that of ancient Rome. In like manner, The Lord of the Rings as a `myth for England’ becomes as prequel to the Germanic peoples. The rule of Aragorn fulfils the hopes of Gondor in contrast to the ever unfulfilled attempts of the Germanic kings to restore Rome.
“World Creation is Colonization: British Imperialism in `Aldarion and Erendis'” is by Elizabeth Massa Hoiem. The tale of Aldarion and Erendis is found in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. The arguments set forth here are not, in my opinion, supported by the text and reflect an agenda that is not Tolkien’s. I would advise caution in the interpretation of this article.
The next article is “‘Tricksy Lights’: Literary and Folkloric Elements in Tolkien’s Passage of the Dead Marshes” by Margeret Sinex. This, pardon the pun, was most enlightening. The influence of northern France after the battle of the Somme on the landscape description of the Dead Marshes is acknowledged. Literary and folklore sources of the preternatural elements are explored. Most interesting of all is the discussion of the influence of the Passage of the Dead Marshes on the characters and the changes it works.
“Tolkien and Modernism” by Patchen Mortimer discusses Tolkien’s use of fantasy, not as escapist, but grappling with very real, modern issues: war, pollution, industrialization, and the rise of dictators. It well puts to rest the picture of Tolkien as pure reactionary. The fascinating contrast of images of dawn/dusk and sun/stars alone would make the reading of this piece worthwhile. It is perhaps well summarized by the following quotation from page 126 “In the final analysis, one might say that Tolkien is engaged in a delicate balancing act – mourning the past while facing the future, and transcribing the modern age with tools of the past.”
John Wm. Houghton and Neale K. Keese are the authors of “Tolkien, King Alfred, and Boethius”. This is a very complex argument on the nature of evil in The Lord of the Rings. Understanding of this requires that one has Tom Shippey’s treatment of this in J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and The Road to Middle-earth. Any comment on the merits of the various viewpoints is far beyond my ability but this is still a “must read” paper. A presentation pertaining to this article was made at Tolkien 2005 by Thomas Fornet-Ponse, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the German Tolkien Society.
Next follows “A Definitive Identification of Tolkien’s `Borgil’: An Astronomical and Literary Approach” by Dr. Kristine Larsen, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Central Connecticut State University. This is a delightful piece and one of the most accessible to the non academic reader. It was very relaxing after some of the heavy philosophy and literary criticism. Dr. Larsen was also a speaker at Tolkien 2005, presenting on Tolkien’s lunar creation myth.
“Love: `The Gift of Death'” by Linda Greenwood is perhaps the most difficult though it does become much easier to understand about midway through. It analyses some of Tolkien’s motifs in the light of Decontructionism. The subtitle `The Gift of Death’ is taken from Jacques Derrida’s book of the same title. But perseverance is worthwhile as some important ideas on death and immortality in Tolkien are expressed.
Michael J. Brisbois’ paper is entitled “Tolkien’s Imaginary Nature: An Analysis of the Structure of Middle-earth”. He begins b pointing out that Nature in Middle-earth is close enough to the primary world to be intelligible: both have a sun, moon, stars, gravity, seasons of the year, etc. He then moves to the onomastics (system of naming) of Middle-earth, showing that is systematic and self consistent in the naming of familiar geographic elements: “amon – mountain”. A long discussion follows concerning the five internal laws of Middle-earth expostulated by Randel Helms’ book Tolkien’s World
(Helms, Randel Tolkien’s World Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974). These intend to show the specific aesthetic laws that are underlain by Catholic belief. It is not possible to form a definitive opinion of this without having read Helms’ own work. Brisbois then demonstrates the links of nature in Middle-earth to medieval theology with its basis in Providence. In both systems, acts against nature are seen as immoral. He draws in the medieval debate whether people hold dominion over or are stewards of nature. Tolkien clearly falls on the stewardship side. Brisbois then gives his classification of nature into binary opposition of Passive/Active. Passive subdivides into Essential and Ambient, Active into Independent and Wrathful. These are then amply illustrated with examples from the text.
Douglas A. Anderson contributed “Obituary: Humphrey Carpenter (1946-2005)” which does not shy away from Mr. Carpenter’s subsequent ambiguous feelings about his biography of Tolkien. It is a quite sensitive handling that does justice both to the late Mr. Carpenter and to the truth.
There are four shorter notes. “The Birthplace of J. R. R. Tolkien” is on the history of the Union of South Africa by Beth Russell. “J. R. R. Tolkien and W. Rhys Robert’s `Gerald of Wales on the Survival of Welsh'” is a linguistic note by Douglas A. Anderson. “Gilraen’s Linnod: Function, Genre, Prototype” by Sandra Ballif Straubhaar analyses the poetic form of the line `Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim’ from Appendix A of The Return of the King. “Little Nell and Frodo the Halfling” by Dale Nelson deals with the Tolkienian and Dickensian pictures of the industrial despoliation of the English countryside.
The penultimate section is nearly 40 pages of book reviews. There are far too many to list but there are several reviews of books that I have personally read:
Following Gandalf by Matthew T. Dickerson, The Road to Middle-earth: Revised and Expanded Edition by Tom Shippey, Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon by Brian Rosebury, Tolkien Through Russian Eyes by Mark T. Hooker, and Tolkien and the Great War: the Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth. I found the reviews to be thorough and appropriate (or at least similar to my own opinions).
The book ends with a section entitled The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2001-2002 which lists and briefly describes the many Tolkien related works during the time period. The most significant are Beowulf and the Critics edited by Dr. Michael Drout and Douglas A. Anderson’s annotated edition of The Hobbit. The publications are organized by category. This and the book review section are helpful as the number of Tolkien related works have become overwhelming in numb.


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