on October 16, 2001
Good Tolkien criticism is sadly rare. Given the amount of fan fluff that's out there, this collection of 14 essays, edited by well-established Tolkien scholars Verlyn Flieger and Carl Hostetter, comes as welcome relief. The essays, all of which are based to varying degrees on the mammoth 12-volume _History of Middle-Earth_ (hereafter abbreviated as HoME) that was recently completed by Christopher Tolkien are divided up into three main sections. Section 1 deals directly with the contents of HoME and what it tells us about Tolkien's creative processes, the history of his ideas and his constantly niggling and tweaking of them. Mostly, these essays help 'make sense' out of the complex assemblage of texts, fragments, etc., that make up HoME. One essay also considers the literary value of HoME, raising the thorny question of whether it's useful only as a scholarly tool or whether there is some actual literary merit to the drafts and fragments contained within. Section 2 is rather short and has three essays on Tolkien's invented languages, focussing on how HomE contributes to our understanding of the development of those languages. The last section deals with more conventionally literary questions, specifically examining how the material in HoME sheds light on questions about plot, influences, sources, structure, etc. A particularly insightful essay here is Paul Thomas's essay on Tolkien's narrative voices in the The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and the various drafts thereof-- noting specifically how (and speculating on why) Tolkien changed the nature of the narrative voice between drafts and final product. A few essays in this latter group revisit topics that have already been discussed near-exhaustively (e.g. the influence of Germanic mythologies on Tolkien), but the scholarship is sound and rigorous all the way through. Highly recommended to Tolkien scholars and to Tolkien fans who want an example of what *real* scholarship (as opposed to fannish pseudo-scholarship a la Michael Martinez) looks like.
on July 12, 2002
These essays leave one wanting something more. If you want to learn more about Middle-earth, you want to read a book ABOUT Middle-earth. Not literary criticism where people talk about their parents. Self-analysis may be the bread and butter of criticism, but it doesn't tell you anything interesting. All the history here is rehashed old stuff. Who cares?
You get essays like "The development of Tolkien's legendarium, some threads in the tapestry of Middle-earth." Please let us come up for air. This is the kind of stuff college professors write so they can get tenure. It's more like Cliff's Notes for The History of Middle-earth. Chris Tolkien has already told us all this.
And who really wants to know something like Luthany became Luthien and then Leithien. This book isn't about Middle-earth. It's about how to cure insomnia. You'll learn as much about Tolkien's dwarfs from this book as you will from a can of tomatoes. Visualizing Middle-earth by Michael Martinez is a much better book. Martinez understands that Tolkien's readers want to know more about the world itself. They don't care who held hands in the park on December 16.
Hey if people like this stuff, more power to em. But I want more books on Middle-earth. This book ain't one of them.