Friday, December 2, 2011


So, another book to arrive the same time as the Sammons and the Loo (but in a different package) turned out not to be anything like the book I thought I was ordering. According to, they were offering a book by Tom Piccirilli (a name new to me in Tolkien scholarship) called DECONSTRUCTING TOLKIEN. From the title, I assumed this was a Deconstructionalist interpretation of JRRT's work, which sounded bizarre enough to be potentially entertaining -- perhaps worthy to go on the same shelf as Giddings & Holland or Eaglestone. I mainly know deconstructionist theory second hand, having suffered through a lot of it while at Marquette (the department there was theory-mad in the eighties; don't know if that's the case today); my own take on it was that it stated the blindingly obvious as if it were profound, and in practice more closely resembled performance art than literary criticism (I'm thinking here in particular of a dubious talk by Gayatri Spivak, Derrida's translator), at a critical symposium Marquette hosted. But I only saw an interesting and insightful application of deconstructionist ideas for the first time this past year at Kalamazoo. That made me realize that the two--deconstructionism and Tolkien-- can actually be brought together and be worthwhile, so I decided to opt for the book.

Turns out it's not at all as advertised. For the first thing, Tom Piccirilli (whoever he is) didn't write it: all he did was contribute a two and a half page introduction. The bulk of the text that follows is by Edward J. McFadden III, who I also hadn't heard of: turns out he's the editor of FANTASTIC STORIES OF THE IMAGINATION, which is described as 'one of the largest fiction magazines in the country'.

Also, it turns out the book has nothing to do with Deconstruction; the author just used the term in the sense of getting back to basics. So too the subtitle (A FUNDAMENTAL ANALYSIS OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS) doesn't have anything to do with Fundamentalism.

As for the book itself, it turns out I'd seen it before, on Doug Anderson's shelves, when I was visiting there last year. It's too bizarre to have forgotten, but any note I made of the title at the time has since gotten misplaced, and at any rate I was certain I didn't have any book on Tolkien by anyone named Piccirilli. As indeed I still go not.

The weirdest thing about this book is not the mis-ascription of authorship by but the fact that only about every other chapter is by McFadden. The rest are by an eccentric array of authors: Edgar Poe, H. G. Wells, Jane Yolan, Chaucer, and Lovecraft. McFadden's procedure is to write an essay, then follow it up with a story (e.g., Wells' THE VALLEY OF THE SPIDERS or Poe's WILLIAM WILSON), then another essay, then another story, and so forth. Sometimes the reasons why he includes a particular story are self-evident (e.g. the Wells, which is a sort of "Leiningen & the Ants" except with spiders rather than formians). In other cases, it's nothing short of baffling (Chaucer's THE COOK'S TALE*)
And the book itself? Well, so far I haven't had time to read it, but the bits I dipped into (e.g., the chapter on changes made in Tolkien's story for the Peter Jackson film) seem okay.** I'll try to post an update once I actually get around to reading the thing -- but my first impressions remain that this book'll wind up being on the fringes -- not as far out there as Vander Ploeg,*** but still not one of those that winds up being central to Tolkien studies either. We'll see.

--John R.
current reading: ON CONAN DOYLE by Dirda
current audiobook: THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST by Larsson

*included, McFadden says, to show how Tolkien imitated Chaucer's language in LotR

**quote #1: "picture your greatest literary influence . . . on plastic cups at Burger King"
quote #2: "I don't think that fantasy has been well served by cinema"
quote #3: I could hear the text of the book in my head as I watched the scene"

***this is the one that reveals the Elves are really lizards from outer space. No, really.

1 comment:

Kate Ebneter said...

Did you ever read this? I read it recently and my brain still hurts at how painfully bad it was.