Tuesday, November 8, 2016


So, the newest book by J. R. R. Tolkien was published this past week, on Thursday.

Waiting is hard: my copy is currently on its way to me but the time between the 3rd, when it came out, and the 17th, when it's due to arrive, seems long.

And this even though I've had a copy of the poem itself for years that I've read many times since
getting a photocopy of the original magazine publication back around 1978, when I was in college (thanks Jessica) and making a concerted effort to find and copy all Tolkien's misc. pieces (and all the pieces about him I cd locate with the aid of Richard West's TOLKIEN CHECKLIST). And I like this poem quite a bit: I've written about it (in my contribution to the Shippey festschrift) and even helped organize a dramatic reading of the whole piece (at Kalamazoo, several years back). 

So why am I so glad to soon have the same poem in book form? For one thing, it'll be easier to shelve and keep track of than the photocopy has been (though I mostly solved that problem a few years back by putting the now somewhat battered copy in its own binder, as I also did with other pieces such as "Imram" and "For W. H. A.").* And for another I've been curious to learn whether the volume would contain any other of what we might call Tolkien's medieval poetry (or more accurately, poems in medieval modes), most of which is uncollected, some even unpublished. 

And then, a ray of light: thanks to Janice pointing out that the book was already available on Kindle. As a result, I've been able to get and read it before my (paper) copy has even arrived. And for those who, like me, are curious, here's a quick breakdown of this slim volume's contents:

Note on the Text by Christopher Tolkien
This is followed by Verlyn Flieger's introduction, wh. puts the piece in context (both among Tolkien's other works and from Breton legendry (Villemarque et al)

part one: the published LAY.
just over 500 lines, plus explanatory notes

part two: the two CORRIGAN poems
first poem: about a changeling (76 lines)
second poem: about the witch in the woods, the sinister Fey (104 lines). this piece later formed the core of A&I.

part three: draftings
fragment (29 lines)
manuscript drafts (5 pages and 12 pages)
fair copy (490 lines)
typescript (also 490 lines), with notes re. revisions; probable text-copy for the 1945 publication.

part four:  comparison of specific passages
--sources (Breton, French, English)
--Tolkien variants (e.g., the second Corrigan poem vs. corresponding passages in A&I)

And for the book as a whole?

My advice: pick this one up. Sooner rather than later.

It's a great chance to see a very different side of Tolkien from that on display in, say, FARMER GILES OF HAM or the Hobbit works.

As Verlyn Flieger says in the very first line in her Introduction: "Coming from the darker side of J. R. R. Tolkien's imagination . . ."

--John R.
current reading: THE CURSE OF SAGAMORE by Kara Dalkey

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