So, last week a fellow Tolk-folk (thanks Jeremy) sent me a link to an article by a New Zealand poet critiquing the so-called 'Tolkien Industry', or posthumous publications of JRRT's works.
The author, Jack Ross, makes clear that he loves Tolkien and he welcomes the release of new material, such as SIGURD AND GUDRUN, and he's eagerly awaiting "accessible editions" of THE LAY OF AOTROU AND ITROUN and IMRAM (apparently not having noticed that the latter is included in HME.IX) and THE HOMECOMING OF BEORHTNOTH BEORHTHELM'S SON. But he deplores the whole phenomenon of Expanded Editions, such as Verlyn Flieger's SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR, Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull's FARMER GILES OF HAM, Baillie Tolkien's LETTERS FROM FATHER CHRISTMAS, Doug Anderson & Verlyn Flieger's TOLKIEN ON FAIRY-STORIES, and my HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT (he includes the Hammond-Scull ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR as an expansion of PICTURES BY TOLKIEN and the recent re-release of MR. BLISS as well). He's ambivalent about THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH, liking the LotR volumes but feeling that "all proportion has been lost" and that twelve volumes are far too many (thank god he doesn't seem to know about the thirteenth volume containing the compiled index).
For those who don't want to read through the whole post, here's how Ross describes my work:
"[Christopher's] most noticeable legacy, unfortunately, seems to be a ragtag and bobtail (to use a Tolkienian term) of mostly American scholars who specialise in ever more recondite and fatuous explorations of the implications of the papers and manuscripts which Tolkien himself sold them so long ago. Is a two-volume History of the Hobbit really necessary, for instance? Especially on top of Douglas A. Anderson's magnificently-illustrated (and basically light-hearted) Annotated Hobbit of 1988 [s.e.e. (=special expanded edition) 2002]?
"The History of the Hobbit is fun to read, mind you. I enjoyed it greatly. But it's not as much fun as it should be. Because it's 900 pages long. Because it's immensely repretitive and overly detail on points of no consequence. Because its author, John D. Rateliff, has no sense of proportion. Because its publishers know that anything with Tolkien's name on the spine will sell in gazillions (take the recent reprints of parts of Unfinished Tales under the stand-alone title of The Tale of the Children of Hurin, for instance). Rateliff, alas, is no Christopher Tolkien."
After this, he goes on to lament that we don't get works like JOURNEYS OF FRODO or THE ATLAS OF MIDDLE-EARTH or Carpenter's biographies anymore, though he makes an exception for John Garth (and, earlier in his piece, for Tom Shippey). Instead, "[f]or the most part . . . what we tend to see now are compendiums of essays by ghastly Academic second-raters, dictionaries and grammars of Tolkien various made-up languages, and other ever more po-faced and dreary reponses to the simple delights of Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings." (emphasis mine)
After that, he goes off the rails a bit, comparing the editions of posthumous Tolkien books to the ghost-written works published under the name of 'V. C. Andrews (TM)' -- which is a gratuitous slander against the Tolkien Estate, who have striven mightily to clamp down on people publishing sequels and prequels and side-stories set in Tolkien's world for years (and an unending and thankless job it's been, too). His conclusion that "Not even the death of Christopher can halt it now" is pretty tasteless by my standards, and I found his statement that "[Tolkien's] legacy has long since fallen into the burning cancerous hands of . . . the professional Anglo-American Academic establishment . . . from [which] there is, I fear, no escape" funny in light of the fact that most of the works he slammed or praised are done by those outside that establishment: independent scholars like Doug Anderson and myself, journalists and professional writers like John Garth and Humphrey Carpenter, archivists like Wayne Hammond, librarians like Christina Scull, and the like, whereas Ross himself IS ensconced in Academia (according to his bio on his blog, he teaches at Massey University).
So, he doesn't like the kind of stuff I do. Actually, I'm fine with that. I'm sorry he didn't enjoy my book more, but I'm glad he at least found some things of interest there. I think it's fair to sum up his position as saying that he doesn't want another version of THE SILMARILLION, or a different draft of the Bombadil poems, but to see those still-unpublished or uncollected Tolkien works get into print. I'm certainly eager myself to see THE FALL OF ARTHUR, THE BOVADIUM FRAGMENTS, SELLIC SPELL, the BEOWULF translations, and the rest get published. But I differ from him in that I'm fascinated by all the new material revealed by the expanded editions of, say, OFS. And, though I'm not a linguist, I'm happy that the linguistic material is being made available for those whose focus is on the languages, since I don't think mine is the only approach, nor innately superior to others.
And there's where I think Ross and I really part company. We both love Tolkien, and we're both delighted by works published both in Tolkien's lifetime and since. But he, given the choice, would prefer that those works that don't interest him personally never see print at all, even if it meant burning the original manuscripts. In this I think he's part of the F. R. Leavis tradition, which assigns moral worth to its own preferences and condemns all that lies outside it. Whereas I most emphatically am not; I'm glad to recognize greatness even in works that leave me cold.
By the way, if you do follow the link and read Ross's full original post, don't neglect the comments, some of which are hilariously ill-informed -- such as the one lamenting that nothing's been published on the tengwar, apparently written by someone completely ignorant of the work of Arden Smith. I could relate to Ross's own comment that "I just know I'm the hapless slave of whatever new bit of Tolkieniana they choose to issue", but unlike him I don't dread having more new Tolkien to read but delight at the prospect. Funniest of all was a poster's prediction that, ten years after their release date, the Jackson films would be so badly dated that no one could watch them except for nostalgia or kitsch value -- apparently he hasn't looked at a calendar lately, or he would have realized that's only two years away now (THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING having been released in 2001).
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