Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Fans and Scholars?

As I was revising my last blog entry on The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrùn, my comments on Tolkien ‘ret-conning’ the old sagas made me remember a discussion we had a few years back in the Tolkien Newsgroups, Tolkien Scholars / Writers (2006-07-12)1

The discussion started with a question on whom were the ‘top 10 of Tolkien scholars’, but the perspective that I remembered in this context was better captured in the question, ‘Would a scholar for example ask whether elves have pointed ears or balrogs wings?’ The central question here is whether this kind of ‘story-internal’ questions are really scholarly? Is it so that there are some topics, some questions, that belong wholly or predominantly in a fan culture and are frowned upon in scholarly circles, and others that belong wholly or predominantly in a scholarly culture that are frowned upon in fan discussions (or somehow out of reach for fans)?

We didn't reach a conclusion back then, but I have occasionally been wondering about this question since then.

It would be easy to point at many of the on-line discussion fora where fans2 discuss Tolkien's works and say that these discussions are predominantly taking the story-internal view (and the perspective they take is very often that of creating the kind of consistent whole: a particular vision of Tolkien's sub-creation that can then be standardised and even canonised), and when you read some of the scholarly work such as e.g. the contents of Tolkien Studies which prides itself with the subtitle, An Annual Scholarly Review, the perspective is predominantly story-external (there are many approaches to this type of view of which the biographical and the source-critical are but two).

I think, however, that the picture is more complex than a superficial scan of the titles and abstracts of these papers, books and discussions would suggest.

First of all it seems to me obvious (and entirely non-controversial) that the portrayal of a dichotomy is too simplistic: at every turn we see the two approaches mixed so that fans may cite biographical or source-critical points in order to argue their own story-internal view, and scholars will argue a story-internal point in order to support their analysis3. Not only that, but while there is certainly a trend to have the main emphasis in different parts of this scale, you can also find fan-discussions where the main emphasis is on what would, in the simple view, be seen as scholarly topics, and scholarly work where the main emphasis is story-internal.4

The other point I'd like to make in this connection is neither new nor not original to me. However, I think it deserves to be highlighted now and again.

A while back (OK, actually it's been more than seven years), Michael Drout posted on his blog on ‘Becoming a “Tolkien Scholar”’ in which his main point is that the scholarly study of Tolkien is still very open and to a large extent dominated by independent scholars, so that it is possible to contribute even without academic tenure or formal education.

Drout goes on to note that
I know for a fact that there are a lot of people out there who know a lot more about the internal elements of Middle-earth than I do. These people are enormous resources for Tolkien scholarship, and they should be encouraged and listened to, not mocked or derided. I think that my additional training in literary study, ancient languages and linguistics gives me the opportunity to add value and context to the analysis and discovery by people who work only within the materials of Middle-earth, but I don't ever pretend that I know more about Middle-earth than they do.
This goes right to the heart of what I aiming at here: the interdependence of the two perspectives that I have outlined above.

This interdependence seems to me to be stronger for fiction that is set in a sub-created world because of the nature of the sub-creative process. We know that in Middle-earth, Tolkien's personal views are fully integrated into the fabric of the sub-creation — most careful readers will be able to point out where his Roman Catholic faith is immanent in the nature of causation in Middle-earth. I know that for Tolkien there is a very strong connection between his personal interests, ideas, beliefs etc. and the way that things work in his sub-created universe, and though I cannot say to what extent it applies to other authors in general, I suspect that there is a tendency for this connection to be stronger the more of the world the author sub-creates her- or himself.

Whatever the details, I will claim that this connection is particularly strong in Tolkien's case, and that this linked to the fortuitous situation that Drout describes in the passage quoted above. The story-internal perspective deals with how things work inside Middle-earth, but solving such questions tells us something about what Tolkien thought. On the other hand, knowing what Tolkien thought can often solve the question of how something is supposed to work.

Sometimes a question may come out of hand — the infamous balrog wings is a good example — but even there a kernel of relevant scholarship may possibly be found. I once saw the argument that the reason that angels in Christian imagery are portrayed with wings is because they were thought of as insubstantial. The reasoning, as I recall it, was that insubstantial associated with air, air with flight, and flight was symbolised with wings.5. If this is true, then it could be relevant to know if balrogs had wings, because it might possibly tell us something about Tolkien's view on evil (the balrogs, too, were insubstantial spirits in their origin, but presumably became bound to their shapes in a state that approached incarnation: see ‘Ósanwe-kenta’ for details).

Other, perhaps more plausible, examples can be found:
  • What is the detailed nature of the agency of the Master Ring? Sentience? Sapience? Free will?
  • Was the Master Ring influencing Isildur to make him reject Círdan and Elrond's advice? And if so, how was it influencing him?
  • What is the nature of the invisibility conveyed by the Rings of Power (except by the Three)?
These questions are some that have been debated in fan fora (as far as I know without reaching consensus), and where the answer might tell us something about Tolkien's thoughts that would be relevant for Tolkien scholarship — but also where scholarly findings might contribute to resolving the questions.

So, my dear fellow Tolkien fans, geeks and enthusiasts, let us not be ashamed of quarrelling over the shape of Elvish ears or Tom Bombadil's place in the taxonomy of Middle-earth. Let us rather work to keep these discussions at a level where we can attract also Tolkien scholars to our discussions to our mutual benefit. Why should it not be considered a legitimate subject of Tolkien scholarship to discuss in detail whether the Master Ring could think and whether it had free will? (Now, there's a paper I'd like to see in Tolkien Studies!)

1^ Also available from Google Groups: Tolkien Scholars / Writers  Back

2^ I actually don't like the word fan all that much and I try to avoid using it of myself, mostly for the association with fanaticism. I prefer to describe myself as a Tolkien enthusiast or geek — possibly obsessed, but not, I think, fanatic. It is, however, a widely used word so that references to an on-line fan community or on-line fandom will be instantly recognised, and therefore use the word here to include also my own activities and the fora where I am active.  Back

3^ To give just a single example, Verlyn Flieger's discussion of the workings of Elvish free will in Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World would qualify as using a story-internal question to argue a point in a scholarly work.  Back

4^ An excellent example of this is Vladimir Brljak's paper, ‘The Books of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metafictionist’ in Tolkien Studies 7 in which the main points is to argue a specific metafictional, but entirely story-internal, tradition of transmission for the books.  Back

5^ I do not know whether this explanation is correct, or a mistake (possibly a previously held, but now abandoned, explanation) — I offer it here only to exemplify my idea. I also realise that I am stretching credibility by choosing the balrog wings example, but that is interesting as an example precisely because it doesn't get much more absurd than the Balrog Wings Flame Wars.  Back

Tolkien Transactions XIII

May 2011

Good thing that I do not believe in unlucky numbers . . . ;)

This is, of course, actually the fourteenth or fifteenth issue of my extract of the most interesting Tolkien-related occurrences on the internet over the past period — it just happens to be the thirteenth bearing this particular name ;-)

May has come, and May has gone, and now I've collected what I think was the most interesting stuff for a Tolkien enthusiast to read in May. You should of course take as read all the usual disclaimers about newness, completeness and relevance (or any other implication of responsibility) :-)

= = = = News = = = =

JDR, Friday, 6 May 2011, ‘Run-up to Kalamazoo’
JF, Monday, 9 May 2011, ‘More Tolkien at Kalamazoo’
And an update
JDR, Tuesday, 10 May 2011, ‘Tolkien at Kalamazoo 2011 (revised schedule)’
John Rateliff and Jason Fisher supplement each other in pointing out all the Tolkien-related presentations, round-tables, panels, discussions and other events at this year's Kalamazoo Medieval Congress. Attending the congress is likely to remain forever just a dream (and I suspect that I would be like a fish out of the water if I ever did manage to go), but the list of events is certainly always intriguing.

Ben Yakas, gothamist, Sunday, 8 May 2011, ‘Is This The Greatest NY Times Correction Of All Time?’
Linked to by David Bratman on his Calimac blog under the title, ‘They'll know better than to %&!* with Tolkien fans next time.’, this is the story of the NY Times running afoul of some basic Tolkieniana and having to correct.

Co.Design, Tuesday, 10 May 2011, ‘Infographic Of The Day: The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, Plotted’
A nice plot, and though it is based on the Peter Jackson films, I think that, at this level of portrayal, they follow the plot of the books close enough for us to ignore the differences if we will (yes, it would be nice to have the minutes run-time translated to dates in the Shire Reckoning of the book, and to remove Aragorn's small private detour in the middle of Two Towers, but I have no problem living with these).

Mythopoeic Society, Tuesday, 17 May 2011, ‘Mythopoeic Awards: 2011 Finalists Announced’
Of particular interest in this special context is that four of the five finalists for the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies are on Tolkien, while the last is on C.S. Lewis Narnia books. I also see that I lack two of the four Tolkien-related finalists, so I had better free up some room in my Tolkien budget ;)
JF, Tuesday, 17 May 2011, ‘2011 Mythopoeic Award Finalists’
Jason Fisher follows up on the announcement of the finalists here.

Associated Press, Wednesday, 18 May 2011, ‘Hobbits beware! To test emergency broadcast system, Hungary says severe floods in Middle-earth’
Belonging in the light section of this month's news is the story that the Hungarian authorities have been using Middle-earth locations when testing their emergency broadcast system.

Josh Vogt, Monday, 23 May 2011, ‘Families celebrate Middle Earth Weekend in Birmingham, UK’
A brief report from the Middle-earth Weekend in Birmingham.

JDR, Tuesday, 24 May 2011, ‘Doug's New Tolkien Blog’
Doug Anderson's new blog http://tolkienandfantasy.blogspot.com.

PC, Thursday, 26 May 2011, ‘The Hobbit Facsimile First Edition to celebrate its 75th Anniversary’
It appears that HarperCollins is serious about publishing a facsimile of the first edition of The Hobbit on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the book.

DAA, Monday, 30 May 2011, ‘News and Notes’
Doug Anderson comments a bit on some of the comments about Tolkien Studies vol. 8 (including the length of one of the reviews), and adds a few news, at least one of which has a clear Tolkien interest.

JF, Tuesday, 31 May 2011, ‘My book is moving forward’
Some news on the progress of Jason's forthcoming collection (as editor and contributor), Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays. The book deals with source criticism in a Tolkien context, and I am looking forward to having some of my preconceptions challenged. In general I see little or no use for source criticism that does nothing more than note a plausible source — but when source criticism goes on to explore what it might mean for our understanding of Tolkien's text, then my mood tends to change (in some ways one of my favourite books of Tolkien criticism, Verlyn Flieger's Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World, can be seen as an extended exploration of the source critical point that Tolkien was inspired by Owen Barfield's ideas, particularly those expressed in Poetic Diction).

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =

BC, Sunday, 1 May 2011, ‘An Experiment with Time by J.W Dunne and the Inklings’
Bruce Charlton raises the interesting idea that Lewis, Tolkien and other of the Inklings were so fascinated by Dunne's basic idea (regarding foresight in dreams, not regarding the nature of Time) that they tried it out themselves and found similar effects that satisfied them that it worked. I am fascinated with this idea, though I also remain rather sceptical (too much of the physicist, I suppose): I would like to see some better evidence that could suggest that the Inklings, both as a group and / or as individuals, had experimented with Dunne's ideas — I cannot think of any evidence with respect to Tolkien in particular that would, in my opinion, necessarily suggest more than fascination with the idea (i.e. evidence that cannot be fully and satisfyingly explained by the claim that Tolkien was fascinated with the idea at a literary level).
Charlton follows up on the idea with a later blog post here:
BC, Wednesday, 25 May 2011, ‘C.S Lewis as dreamer’
Not being a Lewis expert, I find it hard to comment either way. The timing of the episode mentioned could be important: would this be before or after Charlton thinks Lewis experimented with Dunne's ideas — if after, I think the omission of that in this context would be important.

BC, Friday, 6 May 2011, ‘Anti-dwarf prejudice - justified?’
I was rather surprised to find Bruce Charlton arguing that general prejudice against Dwarves should be justified: this really does go against my reading of The Lord of the Rings, but that is precisely one of the things that I enjoy about Charlton's blog — whether I agree or not, his posts usually do force me to think at least twice, and I generally learn something from that.

BC, Sunday, 15 May 2011, ‘Dom Jonathan Markison OSB = Gervase Mathew OSB’
Just a brief note from Charlton that he agrees with the identification of the character Dom Jonathan Markison in The Notion Club Papers with Gervase Mathew. The evidence is, I think, compelling, but I can't help ask if this can tell us more about the fictional character and his role in the Notion Club, or if it can possibly tell us more about the role of Mathews in the real club, the Inklings.

BC, Monday, 16 May 2011, ‘John Wain versus C.S. Lewis and the nature of The Inklings’
Very interesting piece on the cultural agenda of the Inklings and whether they, as a group, were conscious of this agenda.

JF, Friday, 20 May 2011, ‘A new collective plural?’
A discussion of Tolkien's use of the word valour in the sentence ‘leading a great valour of the folk of Lebennin and Lamedon and the fiefs of the South’ from the arrival of Aragorn with the Dúnedain and the people from the lower Anduin to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Remember to read also the comments, which provide new angles and possibilities.

JF, Monday, 23 May 2011, ‘An apocryphal anecdote?’
The minutiae of Tolkien's life are also of interest to Tolkien scholars, so the question of whether Tolkien actually did take the time to show around an American visitor, and once student, to Merton during a very busy period in 1953 is relevant — did he even treat these American visitors, Stanley Vestal and friend, to Danish lager in his own room? The last bit is even more interesting — unless the quality of Danish lager has degenerated considerably in the past six decades, it would say nothing good about Tolkien's taste in beers if he kept Danish lager in his room . . . ;-)

JF, Thursday, 26 May 2011, ‘The ends of worms — and their beginnings’
A curious observation on the ends and beginnings of worms in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Good catch, I say, though I am otherwise completely with N.E. Brigand in asking ‘what does it mean?’ I think that I am, personally, more inclined than many others to accept coincidence as at least a partial explanation (Tolkien being Tolkien would, as the rest of us are, be inclined to reproduce certain thought-patterns without conscious thought or connection), but I would still prefer a good explanation that could convince me that it was deliberate.

LS, Saturday, 28 May 2011, ‘And now for something completely different....’
The title might make one expect something reminiscent of Monty Python, but if such is your expectations, you will be disappointed. Instead we are treated to a piece of Beowulf scholarship: the paper that Larry read at this year's Kalamazoo. I do realize that there are more serious aspects of the discussion (I strongly suspect that the correct glossing of a single word in Beowulf would by itself be considered a worthy subject for a paper at Kalamazoo), but ultimately the paper discusses ‘where Grendel's hand is displayed after Beowulf's victory.’ A good and worthy story-internal question that differs from a discussion of Balrog Wings mostly by the age of the English upon which the reading hinges ;-) Oh, and do go and read the paper, it's actually quite interesting and of course it is written by a stapol of AFT & RABT; though I won't pretend to get every single hint and detail, I certainly have no problem following the discussion.

BC, Monday, 30 May 2011, ‘Tolkien speaks from the past to us now?’
I am not sure that I can quite unravel all the multi-dimensional time-threads, both fictional, perceived, dreamed and real, that are involved here — or maybe I am trying too hard to think about it. There is something both attractive and repelling about the idea of Tolkien encoding a ‘message’ to the reader in this way. I remain intrigued, attracted even, but unconvinced.

= = = = Reviews and Announcements = = = =

Bethany Waugh, Mythprint, Tuesday, 10 May 2011, ‘The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films’
This review originally appeared in Mythprint vol. 48 no. 2 (whole no. 343) in February 2011.

Edward J. Kloczko, Monday, 16 May 2011, ‘Parma Eldalamberon 18’
This review originally appeared in Mythprint vol. 48 no. 2 (whole no. 343) in February 2011.

DAA, Tuesday, 17 May 2011, ‘Tolkien Studies volume 8 at the Printer’
Along with the news implied in the headline, Doug Anderson also lists the contents of the eigth volume of Tolkien Studies. The essay section is dominated by names that I do not immediately recognize, which doesn't necessarily mean anything except that I am incredibly dense at times ;) On the other hand I am tempted to take it as a sign that the editors of Tolkien Studies are deliberately trying to promote a new generation of Tolkien scholars — a practice that I would agree strongly with.
This year it seems that the main body (if not all) of the previously unpublished source material is in John Garth's contribution, ‘Robert Quilter Gilson, T.C.B.S.: A Brief Life in Letters’ which focuses on a person in Tolkien's early life (a period that was also in focus in Verlyn Flieger's edition of Tolkien's retelling of the story of Kullervo and his Kalevala essays from volume 7). The ‘Notes and Documents’ section also includes a contribution by Janet Brennan Croft titled ‘The Hen that Laid the Eggs: Tolkien and the Officers Training Corps’ which I look forward to get a closer look at.
JF, Wednesday, 18 may 2011, ‘Tolkien Studies 8’
Jason Fisher follow up on Doug Anderson's announcement on his own blog.

TF, Thursday, 19 May 2011, ‘Thoughts on Reading about Ents’
My review of an article in the recent Mythprint.

JDR, Monday, 23 May 2011, ‘MY LATEST PUBLICATION: Clyde Kilby Memoir’
John Rateliff announces the publication, edited by himself, of Clyde Kilby's speech at the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference (where Kilby was the guest of honour) in the latest volume of VII — the Wade Center's journal on their special-focus authors (Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, Sayers, Barfield, Chesterton, & MacDonald).

JF, Wednesday, 25 May 2011, ‘The first peek into Tolkien Studies 8’
Having had time only to peek into the contents of the latest volume of Tolkien Studies we can hardly call Jason's report a review yet (though I hope that one is forthcoming). I am not sure that I am entirely happy with the idea that others can get the book in hand (or on screen) a month or two before I do, but it's nonetheless interesting to see what is being written. In this case the focus, both of the blog entry itself and of the comments, is mainly on the variations in the lengths of the reviews.

Edward J. Kloczko, Thursday, 26 May 2011, ‘Parma Eldalamberon 19’
This review originally appeared in Mythprint vol. 48 no. 2 (whole no. 343) in February 2011.

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

Philip Normal, NY Times, Sunday, 15 January 1967, ‘The Prevalence of Hobbits’
This interview was pointed out here:
Trotter, Sunday, 22 May 2011, ‘Tolkien Interview’
Where this is thought to be the ‘full text of an interview that Tolkien gave to Philip Norman for The Sunday Times on the 9th August 1966’.

BC, Sunday, 22 May 2011, ‘The Inklings were historians’
This post is presented more in the nature of stating an opinion than as a careful analysis (such analysis may of course nonetheless underlie it). The concluding paragraph states that the Inklings ‘were engaged in trying to reconnect the modern mind with an historical mode of thought, a mythic mode of thought’. My own knowledge of the Inklings as a group is certainly insufficient to comment on that perspective, but though I essentially agree that this also applies with respect to Tolkien in particular, I can't help but think that this, while it certainly hits the target, still is not in the bull's eye. My problems is that at the moment this is a mere ‘feeling’ I've got — I have nothing to show in the way of suggesting what is missing and even less when it comes to actual evidence.

JF, Tuesday, 24 May 2011, ‘Lingwë is four years old today!’
Congratulations to Jason Fisher!

= = = = Rewarding Discussions = = = =

Frodo's Illness (rec.arts.books.tolkien & alt.fan.tolkien)

Having started in April, this discussion was re-invigorated in May by getting side-tracked into a discussion of when Frodo actually put on the One Ring for the first time.

= = = = Web Sites = = = =

I will try to present a couple of sites every month — if I've found a new site (of any kind) that I have found interesting, then I will add that, and then I'll throw in some oldies to keep things rolling ;-)

Douglas A. Anderson (DAA) — ‘Tolkien and Fantasy’
The top new ‘site’ is of course Douglas A. Anderson's new blog that focuses on Tolkien in particular and the fantasy genre in general.

O. Sharp, ‘The Tolkien Sarcasm Page’
Probably well known to all regulars of the Tolkien Usenet Newsgroups, this page nonetheless still deserves to be promoted. This is the home of many wierd things that have originated on AFT and RABT, including the E-text and a number of ‘crackpot theories’. Enjoy!

= = = = Sources = = = =

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

Jason Fisher (JF) — ‘Lingwë — Musings of a Fish’

Michael Drout (MD) — ‘Wormtalk and Slugspeak’

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

Pieter Collier (PC) — ‘The Tolkien Library’

Douglas A. Anderson (DAA) et Al. — ‘Wormwoodiana’

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

Corey Olsen (CO), ‘The Tolkien Professor’

David Bratman (DB), ‘Calimac’

Larry Swain (LS), ‘The Ruminate’

‘Wellinghall’, ‘Musings of an Aging Fan’

Various, ‘The Northeast Tolkien Society’ (NETS), ‘Heren Istarion’

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

Andrew Higgins (AH), ‘Wotan's Musings’

Various, The Mythopoeic Society

Troels Forchhammer (TF), ‘Parmar-kenta’

Mythprint — ‘The Monthly Bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society’

Amon Hen — the Bulletin of the Tolkien Society

- and others

Troels Forchhammer

    a while
        ere day
            is done
and all
    your gall
        will soon
            be gone.
- Piet Hein, ‘Advice at Nightfall’

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún

When The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún first came out, I was in two minds whether to buy it or not — after all I have the Eddas and the Sagas in Danish as well as other books on Norse Mythology that recounts the same saga both in prose and poetic forms (one of them with comments), so I thought I was fairly well covered. In the end I decided that, being on a limited Tolkien budget, my money was better spent elsewhere.

Then I was so incredibly lucky that I won a copy of the Houghton Mifflin paperback edition from the Tolkien Collector's Guide, for which I am immensely grateful.

Though the book arrived fairly quickly, I did not have time to start reading it until well into this year, and so I finished it on the train when I was going to camp1 the day before Palm Sunday. (I don't know why I haven't published this earlier — but for a few corrections, it's been done for a while.)

First let me say that I certainly did enjoy the book very much, and the well-informed commentary by Christopher Tolkien taught me much, that had previously been unknown to me about both the fornyrðislag and the complex tradition of this whole cycle of legends.  I recently saw the Danish edition in a bookshop and leafed through it — but I was horrified to see that the Danish verses did not even follow the strict rules of the fornyrðislag even when the English original did (the one redeeming feature was that they had printed the English and the Danish versions of the lays side by side) — knowing myself, I hurried to replace the book on the shelf before I got upset by such … I don't know what is worst, but it must be either sheer stupidity or gross incompetence.

I do not feel competent enough to comment on the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien's choices when composing these poems; Christopher Tolkien's comments offer a valuable insight into these choices along with educated guesses about his father's reasoning, but I was confirmed in my opinion that J.R. R. Tolkien was a true master of the old alliterative verse-forms, and I was confirmed in my own pleasure in that type of poetic form.

If it has seemed a little difficult to fully appreciate what Tom Shippey is speaking of when he describes Tolkien's sub-creative work as the creation of asterisk-legends 2, I think it will be easier now that we have an example where the relation between the preserved material and the asterisk-legend is much closer. For that is essentially what this book is all about: it is the two asterisk-lays that tell the whole story of the Völsungs and the Niflungs such as Tolkien thought they might have been. But this is not all that he does — in his long review-come-commentary in Tolkien Studies vol. 7, Prof. Shippey comments on the task that Tolkien set himself, saying that
finding a clear and satisfying line through all these contradictions and narrative inadequacies cannot have been easy. Yet his training as a comparative philologist assured him that, in narrative as in linguistics or mythology, there must have been a sensible explanation in the beginning, and this must furthermore be recoverable.
In this we see hints both of the philologist's desire to recover or recreate the lost forms, the lost work, but there is also something else: a desire to organise, to create a coherent whole of the disparate and diverging (and re-merging) forms that is so intimately familiar to any Tolkien enthusiast who has tried to dig into the treasure trove of Unfinished Tales and in particular the History of Middle-earth material.

It is of course both interesting and amusing to see Tolkien himself engage in this almost ‘fannish’ activity of ‘ret-conning’ the Völsunga and Niflunga sagas, though one should of course not forget that there was also a far more serious side to his interest, which Christopher Tolkien does something to uncover in the excellent notes and commentary that follows Tolkien senior's lays. Tolkien never lost sight of the underlying reality of varying forms and thought of the whole Völsunga-Niflung cycle as it stands as the result of the merging of two or more, originally unrelated, historical and mythical traditions. Tolkien, I believe, was never in doubt as to which approach was the more serious attempt to understand the story of the Völsungs, the Niflungs and the Burgundians.

^1 For the scouts among you, I did my wood-badge training this Easter — in Denmark this involves a one-week camp training followed by a half-year project and a final weekend. Back

^2This refers to the philological practice of prefixing an asterisk to hypothesized earlier word-forms such as Primitive Germanic *manniz (men), a word that has never been recorded, but which is inferred through the rules of philology. Back