Sunday, 27 July 2014

Tolkien Inside Anglo-Saxon Society

A review of Dr. Deborah A. Higgens, Anglo-Saxon Community in J.R.R. Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings. Oloris Publishing, 2014.

Much has been written about the Anglo-Saxon sources to Tolkien’s work, and I cannot claim to have read all of it. I have, nonetheless, been looking forward to reading this book ever since I first saw it announced in December, as the book promised a more detailed view of the Anglo-Saxon cultural sources and their use within The Lord of the Rings than what I have previously seen.

I started reading the book on my smartphone, which was an error. I had previously read fiction on the phone with no problems, but though the reading application works nicely with non-fiction, I found that I too often lost the thread while reading because too little context was visible at the screen at any given time. When I finally got myself a real e-reader and started reading on that, I found that I could move on at a much greater pace and that I got far more out of my reading. Eventually I went back and read the first chapters again, this time on the bigger screen of the e-reader, and this time getting the full benefit of chapters that had initially left me somewhat unconvinced.

Given the secrecy surrounding the release of Tolkien’s Beowulf, I doubt that Oloris Publishing could have had any knowledge of the plans, but the announcement on March 19th of the upcoming release of Tolkien’s translation and commentary could not have been better timed with the release on the 25th of Deborah Higgens’ book (announced in December 2013) if it had been planned – serendipitous seems the word here.

In addition to the chapters found in the contents list, there are a number of sub-chapter headlines that structure the discussion. In order to give an overview of this, I give here the full contents list, including such sub-chapter headlines:
2On Fairy-Stories and Monsters
“On Fairy-Stories”
Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”
Of Monsters and Heroes: Themes in Beowulf
Of Monsters and Heroes: Themes in The Lord of the Rings
Heathen and Christian Elements in Beowulf
Heathen and Christian Elements in The Lord of the Rings
Structural Artistry in Beowulf
Structural Artistry in The Lord of the Rings
Of Faërie and Monsters: The Bigger Picture
3Tolkien Enters the Anglo-Saxon Community Through the Mead-Hall Building
The Mead Hall: An Introduction
The Mead Hall in Anglo-Saxon Society: Structure and Description
The Mead Hall in Old English Poetry: Structure and Description
The Mead Hall in The Lord of the Rings: The Culture of Rohan
The Riders of Rohan: Tolkien's Anglo-Saxons
4The Role of the Lord, Comitatus, and Gift-Giving within the Mead Hall
The Function of the Mead Hall in Anglo-Saxon Society
The Function of Mead-Hall Society in Old English Poetry (excluding Beowulf)
The Function of Mead-Hall Society in Beowulf
The Function of Mead-Hall Society within Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
The Function of the Mead-Hall Feast within The Lord of the Rings
5Lady with a Mead Cup: The Lady and Her Role as Cup-bearer, Ambassador, Wife, and Warrior
The Lady in Anglo-Saxon Society
The Lady in Anglo-Saxon Poetry
The Lady as Portrayed in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
Works cited

The general structure of the book is such that Dr. Higgens first introduces a topic, then discusses this topic with respect to the Old English culture –  first with respect to Anglo-Saxon society and then with respect to its poetry – and last she discusses how Tolkien applies this in The Lord of the Rings.

Higgens starts by introducing the central idea of her book – that Tolkien partook in the community of the Anglo-Saxon scóp, shaping is new, original, story in part by manipulating older idea and elements as did the scóps of old. As a scholar, however, Tolkien also entered the Anglo-Saxon world as a critic, through its texts; Lewis’ comment that Tolkien “had been inside language” (Carpenter) may forget the fact that Tolkien was as much inside the stories of these languages, absorbing them even as he understood them and commented upon them. Higgens writes,

Tolkien hearkens back to a literary community shrouded in mystery and Faërie, from Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon poetry to medieval legend. He enters that community both as a critic, examining lost elements of an heroic society, and also as an insider, who manipulates, as did ancient poets, the elements of Story to create his own great fairy-story.

The remainder of the introduction gives an overview of the lay-out of the book, introducing each chapter in turn. As my review moves on, I will introduce each chapter with a quotation from this part, so as to allow Higgens to introduce the intention of the chapter.

Chapter Two is a review of Tolkien’s two articles, “On Fairy-Stories” and “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” and their relationship to Tolkien’s place within the Anglo-Saxon literary community.
In this chapter Deborah Higgens explores Tolkien’s entry into the Anglo-Saxon literary community as a critic through his two seminal lecture-essays, ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’ (Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture for 1936) and ‘On Fairy-stories’ (Andrew Lang lecture for 1938–39).

First Higgens revisits the points from Tolkien’s essays that she wishes to use in the discussion of the other aspect of Tolkien’s relation to the Anglo-Saxon literary community – that of the story-teller. Using the critical vocabulary that Tolkien develops in these two essays on his own work – even to the point of quoting his descriptions of the Beowulf poem and poet while applying them to The Lord of the Rings and its author – Higgens demonstrates how Tolkien’s analysis and understanding of the story-telling tradition is also reflected in his own stories.

With respect to the fairy-story essay, Higgens emphasises the ‘sense of reality’ that is created by Tolkien’s stories, and suggests that this is also related to Tolkien, as a cook, drawing himself from the Cauldron of Story, and picking, among other elements from the Cauldron, also from the Anglo-Saxon world that he knew so well.

One of the essential points that Higgens makes in her discussion of the essay ‘On Fairy-stories’ is that while the essay mainly deals with authored fairy-stories, most of it is also applicable to the broader group of folk-tales (a point that has also been made by Verlyn Flieger, and which I used in the paper I read at The Return of the Ring).

As can be seen from the contents list above, Higgens’ reading of the Beowulf essay is split into several sub-sections dealing with some of the major elements of the poem, discussing first the major themes in Tolkien’s critical approach and then how Tolkien applied them in his own work. Given the centrality of Beowulf to the understanding of the Anglo-Saxon world, it is fully justified to spend extra time with this essay.

Discussing first ‘Monsters and Heroes’ she notes the central role that Tolkien in his essay gives to the monsters of Beowulf, both for the story itself and for the development of the Hero, and then she compares this to his use of the monster and the hero in his own work. Moving on to ‘Heathen and Christian’ elements, Higgens notes how Tolkien took the philosophy of unyielding will from the heathen north but combined it with his ideas on the eucatastrophe (as developed in ‘On Fairy-stories’). She writes,

Tolkien used the ancient poet and his work as a rubric for his own writings. As professor of Anglo-Saxon at Merton College in Oxford, he intellectually and emotionally lived in the Anglo-Saxon world so completely that he could not but embrace it while writing his own myth.

Looking finally at ‘Structural Artistry’ the claim is that the structure of Tolkien’s own story, The Lord of the Rings, in many ways follow a similar structure to Beowulf as he himself analysed the latter. Higgens notes that while it “may not be Tolkien’s entire or only theme, yet he presents the same heroic-elegiac element in The Lord of the Rings as is present in Beowulf” and she goes on to explain the majority of The Lord of the Rings as a this kind of heroic elegy as a prelude to a dirge.

At the more concrete level, she likens Frodo’s confrontations with first the human-like wraiths (at Weathertop) and later his symbolic death to Shelob to Beowulf’s confrontations first with Grendel and in the end his death to the dragon.

Chapter Three, “Tolkien Enters the Anglo-Saxon Community through the Mead Hall,” defines the manner in which Tolkien enters the Anglo-Saxon community in its widest sense.
In this chapter, Higgens discusses Tolkien’s personal “entry into the Anglo-Saxon community”, first as a young boy and man discovering the myths and legends of the North and later through both his philological work and his work as a story-teller.

A large part of the chapter is also devoted to the physical structure of the mead hall and its construction based on archaeological evidence and poetic evidence and how Tolkien uses the idea of the hall in The Lord of the Rings, including an interesting comparison of between Heorot and Meduseld as physical structures.

Higgens approaches, but doesn’t quite reach, the integral ideas of cultural identity that Tolkien works with, and where language, stories (myth and folk-tale) combine with the physical lands and the people of the land to a unique cultural identity. See for instance this discussion at the LotR Fanatics Plaza, A Strong Sense of Place:

In the last sub-section of chapter 3, Higgens speaks of ‘The Riders of Rohan: Tolkien’s Anglo-Saxons’. With this particular subject, I had hoped to find a response to Thomas Honegger’s paper, ‘The Rohirrim: “Anglo-Saxons on Horseback”? An Inquiry into Tolkien’s Use of Sources’ in Tolkien and the Study of His Sources edited by Jason Fisher. This paper is, however, not on the bibliography, though I will greatly recommend it to anyone wishing to investigate this question.

Chapter Four, “The Function of the Mead Hall: The Role of the Lord, Comitatus, and Gift-Giving,” explores the actual function of the mead hall within Anglo-Saxon society, in Old English poetry, and in the feasts described in The Lord of the Rings.
This chapter goes through the role and function of the mead hall in various Anglo-Saxon cultural expressions and discusses how Tolkien reflects this in The Lord of the Rings. The role of the mead hall is extended to include the functions and rituals that were performed in the hall – the societal bonding that takes place in the mead hall, the feasting, gift-giving and, particularly, the comitatus bond between the Lord of the hall and his thanes. The mead hall is described as the central focal point for Anglo-Saxon society – belonging to a lord, but in a manner that I find reminiscent of Tolkien’s overall description of the role of the ruler (I find that Tolkien portrays the ruler as essentially a servant of the society as a whole – kingship is as much an obligation as a right).

Higgens points out that several elements of this mead hall society and the associated feasts and rites are reflected not only in the society of the Riddermark and Meduseld, but also in other cultures in The Lord of the Rings, not least the Elves, where we see many elements of the Anglo-Saxon mead hall culture reflected in the meetings, and not least the feasts, with Elvish rulers in both Rivendell and Lothlórien.

Chapter Five, “Lady with a Mead Cup: The Lady and Her Role as Cup-bearer, Ambassador, Wife, and Warrior,” examines the function of the wife of the lord or king as reflected in Anglo-Saxon society, Old English poetry, and in Tolkien’s incorporation of the Lady in his story.
The role of the queen, the Lady, in Anglo-Saxon society is well summarised in the title of the penultimate chapter, and once again the central role of the mead hall is emphasised with the Lady of the hall contributing to the construction of communal identity through the bonding that is a result of partaking in the communal rituals of the hall.

In Tolkien’s work, the role of the Lady is seen through both Galadriel and Éowyn, discussing how they each fulfil their roles as cup-bearers, ambassadors, wives and warriors. The character analysis of Éowyn, seeing her through the lens of the Anglo-Saxon Lady of the mead hall, is a joy to read, and adds an important chapter to the list of character studies of characters from The Lord of the Rings.

Chapter Six, the conclusion, addresses the value of ancient mead-hall culture, the decline of this culture, and the need to preserve some of its codes for our present day.
In her concluding chapter, Deborah Higgens returns to the practice of applying to himself and his own work Tolkien’s own critical comments on the poets of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and on fairy-stories in general. This technique is excellently suited to summarising, and collecting all the various threads of her discussions, and Higgens manages reasonably well with tying the threads into a firm knot.

Wherever the book stays within the main track of Tolkien’s manner of relating to Anglo-Saxon culture both as a critic and as a story-teller and myth-maker, the discussion is informative and flows quite well, though sometimes it seems to me that Higgens has more to say than what fits easily under the umbrella of Tolkien’s understanding and literary use of Anglo-Saxon culture. These side-tracks are not always as successful as the threads in the main track of the book.

I could also have wished that Higgens had chosen to respond more directly to the work of others – she mentions Tom Shippey, but not his discussion of the Anglo-Saxon elements in Rohirric culture (both in The Road to Middle-earth and in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century), and other contributions to this topic are also ignored such as the one by Honegger mentioned earlier or Anna Smol’s entry on ‘History, Anglo-Saxon’ in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment.

The discussions of Anglo-Saxon society are interesting, and I have learned much about this from reading this book, but in terms of new perspectives on Tolkien’s work, there are, for me, two points where this book truly shines are. First when Deborah Higgens applies Tolkien’s own critical vocabulary and analysis to his own work, allowing us to understand Tolkien’s work through Tolkien’s own understanding of fairy-stories and Anglo-Saxon poetry. Secondly the character analysis of Éowyn as an example of the Anglo-Saxon Lady stands out as an important contribution to our understanding of her character.

These three, the solid introduction to Anglo-Saxon society and culture, the application of Tolkien’s own critical approach to his own work, and the character analysis of Éowyn, are ample reason for reading Dr. Higgens’ book, and fair reasons for me to recommend it warmly – though perhaps particularly to those of us whose prior knowledge of Anglo-Saxon culture is not so thorough.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Tolkien Transactions L

June 2014

All the usual disclaimers apply about newness, completeness and relevance (or any other implication of responsibility) :-)

These transactions are posted on my blog, Parma-kenta (Enquiry into the books) and on the Tolkien Society web-site.

This month it has suited my purposes to sort the contents under the following headlines:
Essays and Scholarship
Reviews and Book News
Tolkienian Artwork
Other Stuff
Rewarding Discussions
Web Sites
The Blog Roll

= = = = Beowulf = = = =

BC, Sunday, 1 June 2014, ‘Review of JRR Tolkien - Beowulf: a translation and commentary
As idiosyncratic a review as one could expect, but not without virtues. The idea that Tolkien's commentary on Beowulf shows Tolkien at work as philologist is intriguing, though Charlton appears to forget — or chooses to ignore — that the old-fashioned philology that Tolkien practiced was close to being an exact science: it was a matter of rules and predictability; indeed the predictability is at the very heart of the so-called asterisk-forms, which Shippey has emphasised.

Ken Raymond, NewsOK, Sunday, 1 June 2014, ‘Tolkien's 'Beowulf' battles critics
Fortunately I do not have to try to assess the impact of Tolkien's Beowulf translation and commentary on modern Beowulf scholarship. At a guess, the new book will probably be cited more than most (if not all) other Beowulf research published in 2014, though that is, of course, not necessarily a good measure of its impact. It would seem rather unfair to expect it to revolutionise the field like his 1936 Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics – few scholars get to completely revolutionise their field twice within the same sub-branch (I've tried to think of an example in physics, but failed, though I can come up with a couple that revolutionised their field in two different sub-branches). Though this review by Ken Raymond is generally positive, it does repeat some of the misunderstandings about Tolkien's own view of his transation that also Kevin Kiernan has propounded. For an intelligent answer to these misunderstandings, I recommend reading the ‘Beowulf - Reactions and Reviews’ thread linked in the discussions section., Monday, 2 June 2014, ‘Eight Videos about Beowulf
It would probably take quite an effort to completely convince me that the timing of this post on featuring eight videos (ranging from 1'28" to 18'30") has nothing to do with the recent release of Tolkien's Beowulf, but it doesn't really matter, does it – the videos are quite interesting. The one with professor Patrick Brian McGuire shows him in Lejre, not far from where the photos from my May transactions were taken.

MM, Tuesday, 3 June 2014, ‘In the Grokking of the Beowulf
Some interesting notes on the dating of various lecture notes in the new Beowulf and the relation (in terms of time of composition) between various material from Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary and material from the composition of The Lord of the Rings published in The History of Middle-earth volumes VI—IX

Jim Beckerman, Wednesday, 4 June 2014, ‘New Tolkien translation music to the ears of Ramapo teacher
Not so much a review as an interview with Yvette Kisor abour her impression of the book (I presume that most of the facts that are not in direct quotations are nonetheless supplied by Kisor). I do wonder, though, if Kisor really intends to assign all of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary to her spring 2015 class.

Jeff Sypeck, Sunday, 8 June 2014, ‘‘Bless with a hard heart those who surround me…’
A frank and intelligent review of the new book. Jeff Sypeck, at least as I read it, seems to suggest that Tolkien was too obsessed with conveying the meaning of the poem, and thereby lost some of its other qualities – “lest some beloved philological pebble be lost,” as he says.

Dimitra Fimi, Tuesday, 10 June 2014, ‘Dr Dimitra Fimi on Sellic Spell and Folktales
From the Tolkien Society and Middle-earth Network Launch Party for Tolkien's Beowulf, Dr Dimitra Fimi talks about the story Sellic Spell and its character as a folk-tale.

Ben Gardiner, Harper Collins, Tuesday, 10 June 2014, ‘Designing Beowulf
A short description of the visual design of the dust-jacket for Tolkien's Beowulf and the process leading up to it, this provides an interesting insight into one of the many processes that take place in the publishing of a book like this.

‘Greendragon’, Wednesday, 11 June 2014, ‘Tolkien's Beowulf – a review
A review of Tolkien's translation of the Beowulf poem and of Christopher Tolkien's preface and notes (the author has not completed the rest of the book yet).

Almudena Nido,, Saturday, 14 June 2014, ‘Grendel: Boundaries of Flesh and Law
Though not related to Tolkien's Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, this article (a paper from a 2012 conference) diving into Grendel would still belong here, I think. We know how Tolkien championed the monsters of the poem as essential, and this article, takes an even closer look at Grendel, specifically.

SM, Saturday, 14 June 2014, ‘First Saturday in June
The Southampton Tolkien Reading Group has started reading Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary in June. As usual the comments arising from their discussions are well worth reading, including a likely error in the translation (they where thy should have been).

= = = = News = = = =

Please refer to the news section of the Tolkien Society web-site: news for June 2014
News appearing on that site will only be reported here if I have something to add beyond what is said there.

Eriq Gardner, Hollywood Reporter, Tuesday, 10 June 2014, ‘Warner Bros. Wants to Disqualify Tolkien Lawyers in “Hobbit” Fight
I suppose it will be no surprise to anyone reading this that I would like to see the rights of Saul Zaentz Co. and Warner Bros. reduced and limited at much as at all possible, and preferably revoked entirely. Reading about these incessant legal battles, however, is tiring – how on earth can it be a problem that anyone wishes for the people who know best to be heard in a case?

David Emerson, The Mythopoeic Society, Wednesday, 11 June 2014, ‘Mythopoeic Awards finalists announced
Ooohh! Exciting! As usual I focus on the scholarly awards, and particularly the one in Inklings studies. I don't know the two books on Lewis that are among the finalists, but the Tolkien books look good. While I think that not all of the contributions to Jason Fisher's book meet the standards he sets out in his own paper, I would still say that this book is a very welcome contribution to Tolkien studies. The same is, I would say, the case with Mark Atherton's book, though I have not yet finished it. Corey Olsen's book seems to me to be aimed more at an introductory level – but it is undoubtedly a great resource for drawing in younger students who need a taste of how one can approach a beloved text with respect that increases one's appreciation rather than lowering it (as was, unfortunately, often the case with the literary criticism I was supposed to do when I went to school).

Joe Gilronan
Lake Town (13 Dwarves and a Hobbit named Bilbo)
Adi Bloom, TES Connect, Wednesday, 11 June 2014, ‘Tolkien: 'The Hobbit goes down well at school, but teaching is depressing'
The story of a letter sent to teacher Anne Mountfield from J.R.R. Tolkien in response to a letter from one of her fourth-graders that she had forwarded to Tolkien with a covering note, thanking him for helping her (throught the means of The Hobbit) to keep her class silent and attentive. To the typed response, Tolkien added a more personal response to the teacher, showing his desire to go back and tell his own teachers of long ago what impact they had made on him. An image of the whole letter can be viewed at the auction site: Bonhams – lot 277
See also Alison Flood, The Guardian, Thursday, 12 June 2014, ‘JRR Tolkien called teaching 'exhausting and depressing' in unseen letter and Peter Jacobs, Business Insider, Wednesday, 18 June 2014, ‘J. R. R. Tolkien Has A Touching Message For His Former Teachers In Newly Discovered Letter

Lynn Maudlin, Mythopoeic Society, Saturday, 21 June 2014, ‘Mythcon 46 Dates & Location Announced
Hoping to go to the 46th MythCon next year? Then see here where you might find yourself as July turns to August in 2015 ... See also the Progress Report 2 for this year's Mythopoeic Society Conference (June 27)

Kris Swank, Mythgard Institute, Tuesday, 24 June 2014, ‘CFP: Tolkien at Kalamazoo 2015
In this call for papers, you can also learn what the paper sessions on Tolkien will be at the 2015 Kalamazoo International Medieval Congress:
  • Tolkien's Beowulf (no big surprise there ...)
  • Tolkien and medieval Victorianism (nice title – inviting curiosity)
  • Tolkien as linguist and medievalist (thinking set theory, I wonder if they mean the union or the intersection here ...)
See also Kris Swank, Mythgard Institute, Wednesday, 25 June 2014, ‘Sneak Peek @ K'zoo 2015 includes Tolkien panels as well as the more detailed information from Anna Smol below.

Trish, Mythgard Institute, Tuesday, 24 June 2014, ‘Mythmoot III: Ever On…. Registration is open!
On the third Mythmoot to be held in January 2015.

Idan Schneider, C-Section Comics, Friday, 27 June 2014, ‘Politically Incorrect Tolkien
This one has been making its rounds in Tolkien circles, and it's a good enough joke to share. But though most of these more stupid accusations (Tolkien being misogynist, racist, anti-semitic, etc.) can be easily refuted and summarily rejected, we also do need to keep in mind that Tolkien did hold some views on the importance of biology (both in terms of inheritance and sex) that would be very controversial today (and which science would have severe issues with), though he was very moderate, possibly even progressive, eighty years ago.

AS, Sunday, 29 June 2014, ‘Tolkien and medievalism sessions, K'zoo 2015
The most detailed break-down of Tolkien and related sessions at the 2015 K'zoo congress that I have seen so far. As always I regret that I am unlikely to be able to attend ... some day, perhaps.

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =
Highlights from June:
Viking Nicknames” (1 June), — Thorinn Eikinskjaldi, anyone? I wonder if a Dunlending could be called Ulf? At least one of the examples mentioned is ‘Ulf the Squint-Eyed’, which of course reminds me of the squint-eyed southener in Bree. Tolkien's work is full of nicknames, many of which follow the old Germanic forms.
‘Warrior-women’ in Viking Age Scandinavia? A preliminary archaeological study” (3 June), — Not quite Éowyn, but almost ...
Quid Tacitus . . . ? The Germania and the Study of Anglo-Saxon England” (6 June), — OK, so I'm a bit slow, but reading Deborah Higgens' book on Tolkien and Anglo-Saxon culture has brought it home sharply how much of our knowledge of the early Germannic tribes we owe to Tacitus.
Anglo Saxon and Viking Ship Burial – The British Museum” (9 June), — A report from a talk at the British Museum by Norwegian archaeologist, Jan Bill, who talked about “various Viking burials and attempted to compare and contrast English and Norwegian funerary methods.”
Demonic Magic in the Icelandic Wizard Legends” (25 June), — Oooh!
The effects of Viking activity on Scandinavian society” (29 June), — more Troels than Tolkien, I admit, but still. It might be highly interesting also to see some research on how the popular image of Viking mythology and society influences contemporary Scandinavian societies – this might actually have a more Tolkienian angle as the presence of the old mythology in contemporary culture in the Scandinavian countries was one of the things that Tolkien mentions as something he missed in his own England.

Michael Flowers, The Tolkien Society, Monday, 9 June 2014, ‘A Hemlock by any other name…
An excellent piece of research by Michael Flowers into the possible dating of the 1917 event that led to the fictional event where Lúthien and Beren meet and she danced for him in the woods. Looking at the flowering periods of some likely species of white umbellifers in the most likely spot (Dent's Garth by Roos), Michael Flowers argues that the event must have taken place in the latter half of May (roughly). As the conclusion is based on a number of assumptions regarding the specific species of umbellifer, the specific spot, and the exact correspondence of flowering periods in 1917 and 2014, I cannot share Flowers' confidence in the strength of his evidence, and at this time I would say that his argument opens possibilities, but that it is not strong enough to refute other possibilities.

JDR, Tuesday, 24 June 2014, ‘Lithe
A nice little personal discovery by John Rateliff – it may be that many people knew this already, but I knew as little as John Rateliff.

DF, Friday, 27 June 2014, ‘Mythgard classes, Tolkien's Beowulf, JTR, Tolkien Companion and Kalamazoo
Yay! Dimitra Fimi is blogging – for real! This blog-entry summarises a lot of recent news from Dimitra Fimi on Tolkienian matters, including a video of a Mythgard lecture from Fimi's course on ‘Celtic Myth in Children's Fantasy’.

= = = = Commentary = = = =

Ralph C. Wood, Monday, 2 June 2014, ‘“Sad, but Not Unhappy”: J.R.R. Tolkien's Sorrowful Vision of Joy
Despite a few errors (a couple of which touch, I admit, fairly sore spots with me), and despite the obvious Christian agenda making me cautious, I found this opinion piece quite interesting. Filing it under ‘opinion’ emphasises the nature of applicability in this piece, which is an advantage, not least because the author's interpretation differs from Tolkien's interpretation on a number of specific points (some of which are quite central to the piece). Overall I would say that the piece, despite the inclusion of Tolkien's description of The Lord of the Rings as ‘a fundamentally religious and Catholic work;’, clearly shows that the author is unfamiliar with The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, which I think is quite a shame as that might have enabled the author to enter into a more informed dialogue with Tolkien himself on the interpretation of the text. If you read this, you should be aware that it does not agree with Tolkien's own interpretatation of his story on a number of points, but with that in mind, it is still an interesting reaction to a couple of Tolkien's stories.

MB, Sunday, 8 June 2014, ‘Not a Tolkien quote: You can only come to the morning through the shadow
I agree wholeheartedly with Marcel that “You can only come to the morning through the shadow” is not merely incorrect, it is a distortion of what Tolkien actually wrote. So, now remember it!

DB, Wednesday, 25 June 2014, ‘Hwæt! am I going to talk about today?
About a talk by Arden R. Smith on Tolkien's Beowulf – I'd have loved to have more details from the talk, but we can hope that they will come at some point anyway.

= = = = Reviews and Book News = = = =

JF, Tuesday, 3 June 2014, ‘New Book on Tolkien and Modernism
An early (before reading the whole book) pre-review of Tolkien and the Modernists by Theresa Freda Nicolay. At this point Jason Fisher seems cautiously positive, with the main issue being the odd lack of earlier work on the topic in the bibliography.

H&S, Tuesday, 3 June 2014, ‘Aragorn, Part Two
Christina Scull's review of Elizabeth M. Stephen's book on Aragorn, Hobbit to Hero: The Making of Tolkien's King. Coming after the review of Angela P. Nicholas' book, Aragorn: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Undervalued Hero in part one (see transactions for May), it is difficult not to compare the two reviews. Christina Scull seems a little less enthusiastic in this case, and uses more space to simply summarise the book's contents. In the end, I am, however, left with the impression of a book that will complement Nicholas' book quite well, for a reader who is willing to make the investment of time and effort.

The Telegraph, Tuesday, 3 June 2014, ‘Britain's best-loved children's book? Winnie-the-Pooh
The relevant point here is of course that Tolkien's Hobbit comes in at fourth place after Winnie the Pooh, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar (perhaps I ought to get hold of the latter, which I haven't read). Personally I think Tolkien's book deserves a place on such a list mainly for its incredible suitability for reading out loud.
I agree with Tolkien's own assessment of the narrator, and with Flieger's assessment (‘Tolkien on Tolkien: ldquo;On Fairy-stories,” The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. In Green Suns and Faërie: Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 54–64), and I think that Tolkien's greatest mistakes with the 1960 Hobbit was that he didn't go far enough, and that he didn't go through with it.

A. A. Nofi, Saturday, 7 June 2014, ‘Tolkien and the Peril of War, by Robert S. Blackham
A short review of Bob Blackham's 2013 book on Tolkien in WWI. Judging by this very brief review, it would appear to cover a sub-section of the grounds covered by John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War, which Bob Blackham surely knows well, and it would have been good to have a discussion of what Blackham's book adds to the knowledge that is in Garth's book, but such a discussion would probably be more at home in a review for a periodical by one of the active Tolkien and Inklings societies.

JDR, Sunday, 8 June 2014, ‘TOLKIEN'S BEOWULF (First Impressions)
As he says, some first impressions of Tolkien's Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary that does not go into details about the contents, but looks at it at an overview level – what is actually in the book, and what is not.

JF, Monday, 9 June 2014, ‘Another new Tolkien collection from McFarland
About a new collection edited by Brad Eden, The Hobbit in Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on the Novel's Influence on the Later Writings. The collection does look promising, and with some very interesting contributions by leading scholars (and also a few that I would not normally seek out), but while the title suggests a very narrow topic field, it does not seem that it has been possible to stay within that topic – several contributions (even some of the promising looking ones) appear to wander rather far from the titular topic of how The Hobbit specifically influenced the later evolution of Tolkien's legendarium.

James Hamilton, Wednesday, 25 June 2014, ‘Book Review: The Hobbit – J.R.R.Tolkien
A nice little review of The Hobbit – perhaps not such a bad thing to remind people that there is an actual story behind those films ...

= = = = Tolkienian Artwork = = = =

Lauren Davis, Tuesday, 3 June 2014, ‘These Medieval-Style Tolkien Illustrations Are Like Nothing We've Seen
The Tolkien illustrations by Sergei Iukhimov are of course not new, but this collection is quite nice, and as Iukhimov does not appear to have a web-site of his own, I suppose this is a way to make his work better known.

Jenny Dolfen
JGi, Monday, 9 June 2014, ‘We are pleased to announce we sold this original of Joe's for £1000. This is the 4th original of his we sold in the last 30 days. Get one while you can!
Congratulations to Joe Gilronan, and it really is a very good picture!

JGi, Thursday, 19 June 2014, ‘Lake Town (13 Dwarves and a Hobbit named Bilbo).
A new charming picture by Joe Gilronan depicting the arrival of Bilbo and the Dwarves in the vicinity of Lake Town. A slightly different take than most, but it makes for a good composition.

JD, Monday, 21 June 2014, ‘Thoughts about crowdfunding for graphic and written projects
Upon the fully deserved success of Jenny Dolfen's Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for her Darkness over Cannae illustrated novel, Jenny Dolfen has collected a few thoughts.
Also, though it is not really Tolkien-related, make sure to check Jenny's wonderful picture, Imbolc, which she posted on 21 June on her blog!

Sergiu, Thursday, 26 June 2014, ‘Fire and Smoke
I am not sure what Sergiu may have had in mind here, but to my eyes it would be a great illustration of Smaug – or perhaps even more of one of the dragons of the original Fall of Gondolin from The Book of Lost Tales.

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

EJ, Saturday, 7 June 2014, ‘Character age at the time of the Hobbit
Emil Johansson continues his commendable effort to plot and graph us through Tolkien's best-known works, here with a chart of the ages of the various characters at the time of the events of The Hobbt.

MB, June 2014, ‘Not a Tolkien quote
In June Marcel Aubron-Bülles has added three more ‘Things J.R.R. Tolkien has never said, done, written or had anything to do with’ to his over-growing series. I am very grateful to Marcel for the work he puts into this, and I am only too happy to try to spread the word. These are all found in the quotes section of The Tolkienist's blog, as they include the non-Tolkienian quotations, ‘You can only come to the morning through the shadow’, ‘Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation’, and ‘It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit’. And let's take it one more time: THESE ARE NOT BY J.R.R. TOLKIEN! So stop passing them on as his work!

JGa, Tuesday, 17 June 2014, ‘Secrets of The Hydra: how Tolkien research uncovered lost Wilfred Owen magazines
Though the Tolkien connection is rather tenuous (a sidetrack from his Tolkien research), the story that John Garth tells in this post is still captivating and heart-warming.

Jeanette Sears, Sunday, 29 June 2014, ‘In Tolkien's Footsteps in Switzerland
The charming story of a journey to Switzerland following in the footsteps of Tolkien's famous 1911 trip.

= = = = Rewarding Discussions = = = =

User ‘Lord of the Rings’, The LotR Plaza, May – June 2014, ‘Beowulf - Reactions and Reviews
A collection of intelligent responses to Tolkien's Beowulf and the reviews.

= = = = Web Sites = = = =

Dr Dimitra Fimi
Dimitra Fimi has redesigned her website, so that it now appears with a fresh and inviting look. More importantly (at least for those of us for whom contents are more important than form) there is also a blog – hopefully we will here get a bit more than just headlines for the papers and classes, perhaps even some of the insights that have earned Dr Fimi such great respect in the wider Tolkien community (nudge-nudge, wink-wink).

= = = = The Blog Roll = = = =

These are blogs you really should be following yourself if you're interested in Tolkien ...
I've just reduced the list to those who have posted in June (whether Tolkien-related or not), without giving details on the posts (beyond that which is given above).

Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond (S&H), ‘Too Many Books and Never Enough

Jason Fisher (JF), ‘Lingwë -- Musings of a Fish

Dimitra Fimi (DF), ‘Dr Dimitra Fimi: Academic and Writer

Pieter Collier (PC), ‘The Tolkien Library

John D. Rateliff (JDR) -- ‘Sacnoth's Scriptorium
NN (+NN) Tolkien-related posts in June 2014

Marcel Aubron-Bülles (MB), ‘The Tolkienist
See archive for June 2014

David Bratman (DB), ‘Kalimac's Journal

Jenny Dolfen (JD), ‘Jenny's Sketchbook

Anna Smol (AS), ‘A Single Leaf

Various, The Mythopoeic Society

Various, The Tolkien Society (TS)

Various, Southfarthing Mathom

Emil Johansson (EJ), ‘LotR Project Blog

Michael Martinez (MM), ‘Middle-earth

Bruce Charlton (BC), ‘Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers

= = = = Sources = = = =

New sources in June 2014:

Dimitra Fimi (DF), ‘Dr Dimitra Fimi: Academic and Writer
Now also with a blog, and a nice subscribable feed! Also see above.

James Moffett(JM), ‘A Tolkienist's Perspective
Claiming to be ‘meant for beginners, and avid fans alike, to J.R.R. Tolkien’ this blog seems to me mostly directed towards the beginners (but then, I am not sure I know what would suit the ‘avid fan’).

For older sources, see

Monday, 9 June 2014

Tolkien Transactions IL

May 2014

What a fantastic month! It's May, it's full spring, it's Tolkien's Beowulf and all are happy! Wonderful :-D

These transactions are posted to the usenet newsgroups rec.arts.books.tolkien,, and alt.books.inklings, and the usenet version can be accessed at
These transactions are also posted on my blog, Parma-kenta (Enquiry into the books):, on the Tolkien Society Web-site,
and on LotR Fanatics Plaza in the books forum:

This month it has suited my purposes to sort the contents under the following headlines:
1: Beowulf
2: News
3: Essays and Scholarship
4: Commentary
5: Reviews and Book News
6: Tolkienian Artwork
7: Other Stuff
8: Rewarding Discussions
9: Web Sites
10: The Blog Roll
11: Sources

= = = = Beowulf = = = =

It will surprise no-one that the release of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary has got a lot of attention towards the end of this month, but unlike earlier, I will here focus only on the few pieces that have provided interesting perspectives for me (whether I agree or not).

Taking Beowulf back to Heorot
Reading for my daughter at the historical site of the 7th-9th century mead-halls in Lejre
Photo: © Troels Forchhammer
I have not yet found the time to sit down and read through Tolkien's book. I did take it on an excursion, though, going to the historical site of the kings' mead-halls in Lejre, and there read for my daughter Tolkien's translation of the approach of Beowulf and his men to this particular site. A fine afternoon that was.

Ethan Gilsdorf, New York Times, Sunday, 18 May 2014 ‘Waving His Wand at 'Beowulf'
A preview, really — one gets the impression that Gilsdorf has not had an advance copy to read and is reporting on the fuss about the upcoming release rather than on the book itself.

Katy Waldman, Slate, Tuesday, 20 May 2014 ‘J.R.R. Tolkien's Beowulf translation finally arrives.
I cannot help but think that the basis of the comparison of Tolkien's and Heaney's Beowulf translations is fundamentally flawed. The two translations have completely different purposes, making them essentially incomparable. Still, the review is certainly interesting even if one finds the comparison irrelevant.

Jeremy Noel-Tod, The Telegraph, Tuesday, 20 May 2014 ‘Beowulf, translated by JRR Tolkien, review
Another review that primarily looks at the translation as intended as a work of art to attract and captivate a reader, but while I agree that this perspective is also relevant, I do not think that it is reasonable to make it the primary perspective since this was evidently not Tolkien's primary purpose in making the translation.

Jamie Portman, Montreal Gazette, Wednesday, 21 May 2014 ‘Behold! A new Tolkien work
Jamie Portman has spoken with HarperCollins' publisher of Tolkien's Beowulf, David Brawn, who offers some other perspectives. At one point Brawn is cited for saying (about Sellic Spell) that ‘It was the sort of thing he enjoyed doing - creating something in the form in which it might have existed had it been written a thousand years ago.’ It seems that the ideas first suggested, as far as I know, Tom Shippey, about Tolkien's work as asterisk-myths and ‘writing into the gap’ are now accepted as truth (not surprisingly, and I fully agree with it, by the way).

Tish Wells, McClatchy DC, Wednesday, 21 May 2014 ‘Tolkien's 1926 translation of ‘Beowulf’ published
Overall this is a fairly sober review that focuses on the Beowulf translation, as well as on ‘Sellic Spell’ and the two poems. In comments on the translation itself, Tish Wells writes that ‘What comes through clearly in Tolkien’s translation is a reflection of a time and a culture.’ This seems in many ways to echo well with the position of Deborah Higgens in her recent book, Anglo-Saxon Community in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Andy Orchard, Thursday, 22 May 2014 ‘Beowulf translation 'shows Tolkien's originality'
A 3'23" interview / review by current Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor at Oxford. A couple of excerpts: ‘It's excellent. It's very Tolkienian, I'll put it like that’ and ‘What Tolkien has to say is fresh and original.’

Patrick Worrall, 4 News, Thursday, 22 May 2014 ‘Tolkien's Beowulf: a 'great gift'
Even without anything else, this would be worth it just for the opening: ‘The long Hwaet! is over’ (yes, I like my puns raw and unpolished) :-) Fortunately for others with a different taste in puns, there is also other aspects to commend this review — primarily the discussion of Tolkien's deep understanding of the culture of the Old English poem: both the culture described in the poem and the culture in which it was composed.

Joan Acocella, Monday, 26 May 2014, ‘Slaying Monsters: Tolkien's “Beowulf”
(This article is currently dated 2 June, but it first appeared in my feed on 26 May) This is probably one of the best reviews that I have seen (along with John Garth's). Not just because Joan Acocella likes the book, but also because of the attention to, and respect for, what Tolkien was trying to do with the translation: ‘And what is won by the archaism—or just by the willingness to sound strange, as in the 'feet and hands'—is a rare immediacy.’

MD, Monday, 26 May 2014 ‘J.R.R. Tolkien's Beowulf Translation
‘Some quick thoughts’ according to Michael Drout himself, but clearly of great value to the rest of us. Obviously his praise of Tolkien's alliterative translation of Beowulf (some 600 lines according to Drout) leaves us yearning even more for this additional bit, wondering why it was not included in the present volume.

Kevin Kiernan, Thursday, 29 May 2014 ‘Publishing Tolkien's Beowulf translation does him a disservice
Kiernan's criticism of the decision to publish Tolkien's Beowulf translation has in some ways come to stand as the exponent of this criticism. Though I, obviously, do not agree with the conclusion, I have to say that some of the reviews that I have seen makes me more appreciative of the concerns. Where Kiernan is wrong is, I believe, in two issues: first of all, Tolkien's criticism of his own work should always be taken with a grain of salt (and sometimes with a pound of salt), and the fact that he had his son, Christopher Tolkien, type out his manuscript translation some fifteen years after completing the initial version also shows that it was not a work that he merely put in a drawer and tried to forget. Secondly, despite the reviews that seem to contradict this, I think that most readers of this book will be able to discern that Tolkien's purpose with this translation was different from e.g. Heaney's — after all, most of the reviewers seem to grasp this fact quite well.

Michael Alexander, The Guardian, Thursday, 29 May 2014 ‘Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary review — JRR Tolkien's long-lost translation
Another review and commentary by a man who is himself a scholar of Beowulf (and has published a translation). Alexander is more appreciative of the work than Kiernan, but he also states that ‘The felicities of Tolkien's version will be evident only to readers familiar with the Anglo-Saxon original.’ I hope that this is not true, though perhaps the rest of us will have to work a bit at fully grasping these felicities.

John Garth, New Statesman, Thursday, 29 May 2014 ‘J R R Tolkien's Beowulf: one man's passion for the threshold between myth and reality
Unsurprisingly, Tolkien scholar and biographer John Garth adds new perspectives on the new book. John Garth's review has a focus on what this book tells us about Tolkien as a man, and about that particular Beowulf part of the leaf-mould from which so many fantastic tales grew.
A view of the field where a succession of Scyldinga
mead-halls are marked by turf banks in the terrain.
Photo: © Troels Forchhammer

= = = = News = = = =

The Tolkien Society
The News aggregation on the new Tolkien Society web-site is a great place to watch — I am seriously considering to not mention anything that has appeared there unless I have something extra to say about it.

Duncan OfJordanstone, Thursday, 1 May 2014 ‘Concerning Dragons
An animation master class project that is also a tribute to Tolkien's work. Beautifully done! In more than one way, I actually think that this style is more appropriate for Tolkien's work than what we have otherwise seen.
Mary McCool, Friday, 9 May 2014 ‘Students on fire with Hobbit animation raking in 30,000 online views
Telling the story of the animation above — and of the reception.

Daniel Helen, Tolkien Society, Wednesday, 7 May 2014 ‘Omentielva Enquea
On the sixth Omentielva conference, which will be held next year, 6-9 August 2015, at the Greisinger Museum in Jenins, Switzerland.

Wulff & Morgenthaler, Thursday, 8 May 2014 ‘New business partner
Just for laughs ...

Annalee Newitz, io9, Wednesday, 21 May 2014 ‘Man Attacks Car with Sword in Attempt to Slay the Dark Lord Morgoth
Just for laughs ...

EJ, Wednesday, 21 May 2014, ‘Re-read the Hobbit today and found a passage I had forgot about ...
Another ‘just for laughs’ ...

Noble Smith, Thursday, 22 May 2014 ‘J.R.R. Tolkien Reveals TRUE Meaning Of ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ In Unearthed Audio Recording
Much has been made of the upcoming publication of this audio recording of Tolkien from his 1958 trip to Rotterdam. It IS exciting and interesting, but I wish that we could have been spared the hype of this ‘true meaning’ idiotic nonsense. Either this true meaning is the same as Rossenberg reported in his paper for the Centenary Conference (thanks to Janet Brennan Croft for drawing my attention to this) (i.e. ‘nothing at all’), or we have Tolkien purporting two different versions on the same evening of the ‘true meaning’ of his work. The latter should, of course, not surprise anyone — Tolkien was never consistent in his analysis of his own work, and there is no reason to put one version above any other. Still, I nonetheless look forward to being able to hear this recording, but not because I believe I'll learn anyting new about the ‘true meaning of _The Lord of the Rings_’.
For more examples of inane media hype, see also:
Sarah Fox, Friday, 23 May 2014 ‘J.R.R. Tolkien's lost speech regarding the One Ring, the series and the future has been found, and awaits release
Rob Bricken, Saturday, 25 May 2014 ‘JRR Tolkien Explains Lord Of The Rings In Legendary Recording

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =
A few highlights:
Approaches to paganism and uses of the pre-Christian past in Geoffrey of Monmouth and Snorri Sturluson" (5 May) — I trust that the relation of the topic in the headline to the Beowulf poet, and perhaps particularly Tolkien's discussion of the Beowulf poet, is not lost on my readers.
J.R.R. Tolkien's Beowulf published today" (22 May) — not so much a review, but a collection of a few reactions, mostly from medievalists.
Edward I and the Appropriation of Arthurian Legend" (26 May) — As it says in the abstract, this follows in a tradition of " increasing interest in the appropriation of folklore by political leaders [that] has led scholars to investigate potential instances where this may have occurred in the past."
The King in Disguise: An International Popular Tale in Two Old Icelandic Adaptations’ (27 May) — An essay which ‘is intended as a contribution to the current reassessment of the relationship of Old Icelandic saga literature to the European mainstream and of the ways of literary tradition in dealing with oral sources.’
Joe Gilronan, Farewell to Rivendell

AS, Sunday, 4 May 2014 ‘Tolkien Studies at PCA 2014, part one
AS, Tuesday, 6 May 2014 ‘Tolkien Studies at PCA 2014, part two
Report on the Tolkien tracks at the April conference by the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association. Anna Smol's report highlights two particular sessions, a round-table on the state of scholarship on Tolkien and another round-table (in which Anna Smol participated herself) on the Tolkien collection at the Marquette University Archives.

AH, Friday, 16 May 2014 ‘Travels on the Oloremalle — Kalamazoo 2014 Round-Up
Andy Higgins was at Kalamazoo this year, and has written a report — so much there that I wish I could have heard, and now want to see in print ...

AS, Wednesday, 21 May 2014 ‘Kalamazoo blogs and videos
I haven't been through all these to check which ones report on the Tolkien sessions, but there's a long list here, and even if not Tolkien, most of these reports etc. will surely be interesting.

= = = = Commentary = = = =

Lynn Forest-Hill, Southfarthing Mathom, Saturday, 10 May 2014 ‘First Meeting in May
The Southampton Tolkien Reading Group is currently reading and discussing Unfinished Tales and in May they have discussed the Narn i Hîn Húrin — follow these blogs to find valuable insights into this work.
See also Saturday, 24 May 2014 ‘Last Meeting in May

Jonathan Witt, Monday, 12 May 2014 ‘Tolkien, Hobbits, Hippies and War
A very interesting commentary on Tolkien and the idea of the just war. This certainly manages to make me interested in the book Jonathan Witt is writing with Jay Richards.

MM, Wednesday, 14 May 2014 ‘A Blog of Lost Talo
There are some good thoughts here that rhyme well with what scholars are saying elsewhere about Tolkien's ability to immerse himself in medieval (and particularly in Anglo-Saxon) thought. When we remember what Tolkien himself says about the importance of languge in the thoughts and tales of a culture, it is not surprising that he would easily slip into the idiom, vocabulary and structure of the thinking he was trying to portray (as also indicated by the draft letter Martinez quotes from in length).

BC, Wednesday, 21 May 2014 ‘Why modern man is like the orcs
Some thoughts on the matter of Orkish redemption, and more specifically, on Orkish repentance. Charlton posits that the Orcs were not immanently incapable of repentance, but that the lack of repentance was a simple fact of history. Since there is no reference to which Orcs Charlton is considering (that is, from what period of Tolkien's conceptualisation), it is difficult to comment precisely. Tolkien's various comments in various texts related to the second phase of the later Quenta Silmarillion (roughly 1958-62 if I take a very broad view including certain letters) make it clear that Tolkien, at that point, did consider Orcs to be incapable of repentance by their innate nature, and of course the whole question is void for the Orcs as he saw them until some point in the mid-forties. All in all, I think the solution is attractive, but that Tolkien's writings suggest that Tolkien took a different route. I do hope that Charlton himself sees the irony of his claim that people that he disagrees with politically are (almost) like Orcs in this respect.

MB, Monday, 26 May 2014 ‘Tolkien quote: For not all tears are an evil.
By Marcel Aubron-Bülles on quoting Tolkien on the 'net — yes please! Thank you, Marcel.

= = = = Reviews and Book News = = = =

The Tolkien Library
It is, as far as I can find, unfortunately not possible to get a sorting of new posts for a specific month on Pieter Collier's Tolkien Library site, but May 2014 has some interesting posts about the 2015 Tolkien calendar (featuring art by Mary Fairburn), a Tolkien art book, and the release of Tolkien's Beowulf, and the upcoming 60th anniversary edition. Also a couple of articles by other authors (by James Lopez and Simon J. Cook).
Joe Gilronan, Disturber of the Peace

Tolkienseminariet, Monday, 12 May 2014 ‘13 mars 2014
The Swedish Tolkienseminariet continues the series of highly worthwhile reviews of new Tolkien literature — a must read for anyone capable of reading Swedish!

DA, Saturday, 24 May 2014 ‘Lo! Beowulf and Other Topics
On the Tolkien Beowulf, the new on-line Journal of Tolkien Research (also see my transactions for March 2014) and on the paperback release of Tolkien on Fairy-stories.

H&S, Wednesday, 28 May 2014 ‘Tom Bombadil Cover
The cover for their upcoming edition of The adventures of Tom Bombadil.

Miss elfgirl 11, Wednesday, 28 May 2014 ‘The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien — review
A short review in The Guardian's children's review section, where children post reviews for other children.
H&S, Saturday, 31 May 2014, ‘Aragorn, Part One
A review by Christina Scull of Angela P. Nicholas' book on Aragorn, Aragorn: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Undervalued Hero. There is little to say — the review is very positive and Faramir's comment about the praise from the praiseworthy struck me forcefully. The book has immediately been bumped up considerably on my wish-list.

= = = = Tolkienian Artwork = = = =

JGi, Tuesday, 1 April 2014 ‘New work: Farewell to Rivendell (The Passing of the Elves).
As noted in my last issue, I seemed to have missed some things due to a feature in my RSS reader. This wonderful picture of Elves leaving Rivendell (for the Grey Havens and Tol Eresseä, surely) was among those I missed, but I now try to make amends.

JGi, Friday, 9 May 2014 ‘Farewell To Bagshot Row
A small piece depicting a scene from, I suppose, Three is Company (it cannot be from The Grey Havens as it would then have to be New Row instead of Bagshot Row)

JGi, Saturday, 10 May 2014 ‘This Week in Middle-earth features one of my works
The work in question being a very nice picture of Rivendell with the Last Homely House.

JGi, Tuesday, 13 May 2014 ‘Disturber Of The Peace
Gandalf arriving in The Shire.

If you haven't yet, I'll encourage you to hurry over and support Jenny Dolfen's brilliant ‘Darkness over Cannae’ project that is doing a pre-order/fundraiser at Indiegogo:

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

MB, Wednesday, 7 May 2014 ‘Call for Papers: 'World made of heroes' at University of Porto, Portugal
A call for papers for this converence to take place in November in Porto in celebration of the the 60th anniversary of LotR.

Daniel Helen, Tolkien Society, Friday, 30 May 2014, ‘Staffordshire Tolkien Walk’
Three walks through Staffordshire with a focus on places linked to Tolkien, who lived in Staffordshire with Edith when Tolkien was stationed in England during the Great War.
The first walk goes from Penkridge Library over Gypsy Green to Brocton Camp on Thursday, 3rd of July.
A walk of Cannock Chase starting out from Brocton Coppice on Thursday, 18th September.
The last walk goes from Brocton Coppice to Great Haywood with a tour of Great Haywood on Tuesday, 7th October.

Daniel Helen, Tolkien Society, Friday, 30 May 2014 ‘Tolkien Translates Beowulf
Announcing a presentation by Tolkien linguistics scholar, Arden R. Smith of the Elvish Linguistc Fellowship. The presentation will take place on Tuesday, 24th June, in San Francisco, and if anyone is in the area to hear it and write about it, I'd be grateful.
Joe Gilronan, Rivendell – A Hobbit's Tale

EJ, Saturday, 31 May 2014 ‘How far and for how many days Frodo travelled in each book
The idea is brilliant, but I have to admit that I find it somewhat odd to stop the whole thing at the end of chapter 3 of book VI and forget about the substantial travelling done in the last six chapters. I know that Fonstad only includes pathway tables for that part in her Atlas of Tolkien's Middle-earth, but it is not particularly difficult to estimate the last bits, particularly since Fonstad does include a map of ‘The Road Home’ giving her best estimate of the route that was taken.

= = = = Rewarding Discussions = = = =

The Thread (TM)
The URL is, unfortunately, not going to help you unless you are a member of the Tolkien Society Facebook Group. The Thread is, as one poster described it, a collection of highly concentrated whimsy. As of writing (9 June) the Thread is up to 4721 comments — it's good fun, and though the posting frequency is decreasing, I do not doubt that we'll hit the 5000 mark before too long.

MB, Monday, 14 April 2014, "A History of ‘The One Thread up’ until commentary 2,533."
But you should in any case be able to enjoy the summary that Marcel did. Of course it only covers the first 2533 posts of the Thread, but it gives a good impression of what the Thread is.

= = = = Web Sites = = = =

The Tolkien Society
I know I mentioned it a couple of months ago also, but the Tolkien Society has a new web-site with the same high-quality contents as before, and with addition of blogs, news etc. The news, blogs etc. have been taking off a bit more slowly than the main site, but this has now become a very valuable resource, that I hope can continue (being depending on voluntary work, there is always the risk of other things taking priority). Make sure to check the news regularly (or subscribe to them) and if you haven't already, I recommend you to join our fellowship:

= = = = The Blog Roll = = = =

These are blogs you really should be following yourself if you're interested in Tolkien ...
I've just reduced the list to those who have posted in May (whether Tolkien-related or not), without giving details on posts not discussed above.

Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond (S&H), ‘Too Many Books and Never Enough’

Pieter Collier (PC), ‘The Tolkien Library’

Douglas A. Anderson (DAA), ‘Tolkien and Fantasy’

John D. Rateliff (JDR) — ‘Sacnoth's Scriptorium’

Marcel Aubron-Bülles (MB), ‘The Tolkienist’

David Bratman (DB), ‘Kalimac’

Anna Smol (AS), ‘A Single Leaf’

Various, The Mythopoeic Society

The Tolkien Society (TS)

Southfarthing Mathom (

Emil Johansson (EJ), ‘LotR Project Blog’

Michael Martinez (MM), ‘Middle-earth’

Bruce Charlton (BC), ‘Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers’

= = = = Sources = = = =

No new sources in May 2014

For older sources, see

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Tolkien Transactions XLVIII

April 2014

This issue of my Tolkien Transactions is already much delayed, and there is, I think, no reason to delay it any further. It does seem to me that I must have missed some things at the start of the month, but though I have tried to look back, it is a feature of my RSS reader that posts that I have marked as unread nonetheless disappear from sight after little more than a month.

All the usual disclaimers apply about newness, completeness and relevance (or any other implication of responsibility) :-)

These transactions are posted to the usenet newsgroups rec.arts.books.tolkien,, and alt.books.inklings, and the usenet version can be accessed at
These transactions are also posted on my blog, Parma-kenta (Enquiry into the books):
and on LotR Fanatics Plaza in the books forum:

This month it has suited my purposes to sort the contents under the following headlines:
1: News
2: Essays and Scholarship
3: Commentary
4: Reviews and Book News
5: Interviews
6: Tolkienian Artwork
7: Other Stuff
8: The Blog Roll
9: Sources

= = = = News = = = =

Daniel Helen, TS, Wednesday, 16 April 2014, ‘Beowulf Launch Party’
On the on-line launch party for Tolkien's Beowulf translation that the Tolkien Society organises along with others.

Shaun Gunner, TS, Sunday, 20 April 2014, ‘Inaugural Tolkien Society Award Winners’
The winners of the first Tolkien Society Awards — congratulations all!

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =
As usual, I don't think you need me to point out the many intriguing headlines on old Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian culture, so I will just point out ones that have stuck out more than usual for me:
‘The Concept of Time in the Medieval World View’ (2 Apr) — The concept of time is of course also hugely important in Tolkien's Faërie, so this article is quite interesting, though I would have liked to see even more about the meeting of secular time with eternity.
‘Returning the King: The Medieval King in Modern Fantasy’ (5 Apr) — A 2012 Master's Thesis.
‘Theories of the Nonsense Word in Medieval England’ (8 Apr) — A Ph.D. dissertation from Princeton, 2013 ... confusticate and bebother these scholars ... :-)
‘Old Norse Influence in Modern English: The Effect of the Viking Invasion’ (12 Apr) — I guess there was just no way that I could leave out something with that headline, was there ;)
‘Enabling Love: Dwarfs in Old Norse-Icelandic Romances’ (27 Apr) — On the role of dwarfs in medieval and later folklore — including a role as enablers of love.
‘Boethius’s Misguided Theodicy: The Consolation of Philosophy’ (28 Apr) — Anicius Boëthius is often mentioned in relation to Tolkien. Though I think it is often because Boëthius offers a philosophical foundation that is medieval and yet relatively accessible to a modern audience, it is nonetheless relevant for the student of Tolkien to also keep an eye out for insights into the medieval religious philosophy represented by e.g. Boëthius.

Susan Abernethy, Friday, 18 March 2014, ‘Offa, Anglo-Saxon King of Mercia’
You do know, I trust, that Tolkien identified himself as Mercian or Hwiccian, but how well do you know the history of Mercia and Hwicce? My own knowledge is certainly not above appreciating a bit of a history lesson on King Offa of Mercia.
Jef Murray
Echoes on the Road

AH, Monday, 21 April 2014, ‘Travels on the Oloremalle — The Musings of a Tolkien Researcher’
Andrew Higgins has started blogging on the Tolkien Society web-site, calling his series of blogs the ‘Travels on the Oloremalle’ (referring to the Olórë Mallë — the Path of Dreams — in The Book of Lost Tales). Andy is doing a Ph.D. on the earliest stages of Tolkien's mythology, and his bloggings are a must-read for anyone interested in the genesis and emergence of the Middle-earth mythology.

Shreyas Warrier, Thursday, 24 April 2014, ‘Guest speaker explores the mysteries of Tolkien’
A report from a speech by Maria Cecire on ‘Unfashionable Creatures: Tolkien’s 1931 Curricular Reforms and the Fantastic Imagination’ at Brandeis University.

MM, Tuesday,29 April 2014, ‘J.R.R. Tolkien Slept Here’
Being of a scientific persuation myself, I might wish for just a bit more justification / confirming evidence (in the Bayesian sense) than just getting the hypothesized cause before the proposed effect, but otherwise I largely agree with what Martinez has to say here.

Andrew Higgins, Wednesday, 30 April 2014, ‘Travels on the Oloremalle — Questing for The Leaf-Mould of Tolkien's Mind’
Here Andrew, in addition to talking about his current projects, gives some excellent resources for someone interested in trying to understand something of the mind-set of the literature with which Tolkien grew up and which he studied while at university (perhaps it would be more appropriate to describe it in the plural — the many mind-sets of many authors that all form a part of that leaf-mould of the mind in which Tolkien's works grew).

= = = = Commentary = = = =

Josh Jones, Wednesday, 2 April 2014, ‘Read an Excerpt of J.R.R. Tolkien's 1926 Translation of Beowulf Before It's Finally Published Next Month’
Along with an introductory discussion of the poem, Jones compares a few lines from Tolkien's alliterating translation that are, IIRC, known from Michael Drout's work on Tolkien and Beowulf, to Heaney's 1999 translation.

Mabel Slattery, Saturday, 5 April 2014, ‘Why J.R.R. Tolkien's Beowulf translation is one of the best things to happen to literature’
A coherent argument from someone who is not herself a fan of Tolkien's fiction, but a huge fan of his work on Old English.

Sean Michaels, National Post, Tuesday, 22 April 2014, ‘On J.R.R. Tolkien’
‘This is what sets [Tolkien's] Middle Earth [sic] apart from [...]: those lands have fine yarns, but they never taught me anything about myself.’ Need I say more? This is exactly what sets Tolkien's work apart: it allows the attentive and thoughtful readers to learn something about themselves!

Jef Murray
The Knighting of Gimli
Daniel Hannan, Monday, 28 April 2014, ‘Supposing him to be the gardener: Sam Gamgee, the Battle of the Somme and my Great Uncle Bill’
Perhaps not terribly interesting from a Tolkien perspective, but still a good way to approach Faramir's commnet, ‘You are a new people and a new world to me. Are all your kin of like sort? Your land must be a realm of peace and content, and there must gardeners be in high honour.’

= = = = Reviews and Book News = = = =

PC, Saturday, 26 April 2014, ‘Moments of Grace and Spiritual Warfare in The Lord of the Rings’
The question of religious meaning in Tolkien's work is probably always going to be contentious because people will insist on reading their own meaning into his work, and thus tend to either exaggerate or understate the importance of Tolkien's own faith in shaping his work.
Sometimes it is merely a matter of language — I am often far more comfortable with a statement that ‘this is what I get from reading it’ compared to the claim that ‘this is what Tolkien intended us to get from reading it’.
In any case, I have long since found that a bit more than a passing knowledge of medieval Catholic philosophy is invaluable when trying to carefully excavate deeper layers of Tolkien's work.

AS, Sunday, 27 April 2014, ‘Dictionnaire Tolkien review in Medievally Speaking’
Commenting on her review of Dictionnaire Tolkien from Medievally Speaking (see last month), Anna Smol takes up on the question of the translation and reception of Tolkien's works in other languages. This is indeed an interesting topic. Most of the discussion that I know of looks at single languages (comparing translations, discussing translation choices etc.) and it could be interesting to see a thorough study of translations in general (there is Allan Turner's contribution, ‘A Theoreticl Model for Tolkien Translation Criticism’ in the book Tolkien in Translation (ed. Thomas Honegger, Walking Tree Publishers, Cormarë series no. 4).

= = = = Interviews = = = =

Philipp Rhensius, Der Spiegel, Monday, 7 April 2014, "J. R. R. Tolkien und der Erste Weltkrieg: ‘Mordor erinnert an Schlachtfelder und Schützengräben"’
An interview, in German, with John Garth, about his book, Tolkien and the Great War, which has been published in German. The description of the TCBS core as believing with ‘jugendlichem Übermut’ that they could help change the world through Art sticks out — if the interview was conducted in English, I suspect that Garth did not use ofermod to describe the TCBS, but it might not be wholly inappropriate.

Corey Olsen, Wednesday, 16 April 2014, ‘Listen In - Dr. Robin Reid Interview’
An interesting interview with Dr. Reid who will be teaching a course on the cultural studies and audience reception approaches to Tolkien's work.

Stacia Joy, Thursday, 3 April 2014, ‘Author/Illustrator Interview: Jenny Dolfen and 'Darkness Over Cannae'’
A good interview with Jenny Dolfen — mostly about her newest project, ‘Darkness over Cannae’, but of course it is not possible to avoid Tolkien entirely.

= = = = Tolkienian Artwork = = = =

Graeme, Saturday, 12 April 2014, ‘Where are we?’
The two ‘lost’ blue Wizards ...

MB, Wednesday, 16 April 2014, ‘A wealth of art at HobbitCon’
On the Tolkien-inspired art at HobbitCon — and yes, those artists really are good!

Jef Murray, Thursday, 24 April 2014, ‘The Knighting of Gimli’
Gimli being knighted by Galadriel — an interesting way of showing the bond between the two.

Jef Murray, Friday, 25 April 2014, ‘Echoes on the Road’
A scene from Three is Company where one of the three Hobbits (Frodo? He's a bit sturdy, as Frodo was when they set out, and seems the older of the three) is looking behind them with some concern, listening, I think, for the sound of hooves.

Joe Gilronan
A Stroll Through The Shire
JGi, Sunday, 27 April 2014, ‘A Stroll Through The Shire’
Is that Bilbo taken a stroll? Or perhaps a young master Frodo who has gotten used to being the master of Bag End ...

Jools, Monday, 28 April 2014, ‘The Grey Wanderer’
A knitted Gandalf ... and he's a wonder!

JD, Tuesday, 29 April 2014, ‘It's a GO! Darkness over Cannae on Indiegogo!’
Though strictly speaking not Tolkien, I can break my own rules as often as I like, and there was no way that I would not mention Jenny Dolfen's brilliant ‘Darkness over Cannae’ project, that is doing a pre-order/fundraiser at Indiegogo:
This promises to be a both interesting and beautiful historical novel, so get yourselves there and help bring even more perks to the supporters :-D

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

Brian Sibley, Thursday, 17 April 2014, ‘Here There be Dragons’
A single Tolkien-inspired work, but otherwise also a fantastic gallery of artwork from a book of art by Ian Miller — including dragons, and ‘the world that contained even the imagination of Fáfnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril.’ Though not (at least not all of them) Fáfnir, Miller's dragons do make the world a richer place.

Dean Burnett, The Guardian, Thursday, 24 April 2014, ‘Here be dragons: the science of the flying fiery reptiles’
Posted on the day after St. George's day, this article on dragons in general seems highly appropriate. Looking at the plausibility of dragons is, of course, a bit of good fun, but as Tolkien also knew, there is something incredibly attractive about the idea of the Dragon — something that leaves the world both richer and more beautiful for being.

= = = = The Blog Roll = = = =

These are blogs you really should be following yourself if you're interested in Tolkien ...
This month, being late and all, I've just reduced the list to those who have posted in April (whether Tolkien-related or not), without giving details on posts not discussed above.

Pieter Collier (PC), ‘The Tolkien Library’

John D. Rateliff (JDR) — ‘Sacnoth's Scriptorium’

Marcel Aubron-Bülles (MB), ‘The Tolkienist’

David Bratman (DB), ‘Kalimac’

Jenny Dolfen (JD), ‘Jenny's Sketchbook’

Anna Smol (AS), ‘A Single Leaf’

Various, The Mythopoeic Society

The Tolkien Society (TS)

Southfarthing Mathom

Michael Martinez (MM), ‘Middle-earth’

Bruce Charlton (BC), ‘Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers’

= = = = Sources = = = =

No new sources in April 2014. For older sources, see