Sunday, January 26, 2020

Charles Noad comments (was Christopher's Masterpiece)

So, Charles Noad had a comment to add to the discussion following my post 'Christopher's Masterpiece'. Rather than have it appear at the end of ten other messages, I decided it'd be better if it were a bit more prominent as a new post all its own. Here's what Charles has to say:

Charles Noad writes
I am a bit puzzled about the matter of my alleged suggestion that Guy Gavriel Kay was mainly responsible for the composition of Chapter 22 of the published Silmarillion, 'Of the Ruin of Doriath'. I heard the same allegation from someone else the other day. Now, having consulted the original text of my combined review for the Tolkien Plaza of Elizabeth A. Whittingham's The Evolution of Tolkien's Mythology, Dimitra Fimi's Tolkien, Race and Cultural History, and Douglas Charles Kane's Arda Reconstructed, I can only find one passage which seems of relevance:-

"[Kane] notes (Kane, p. 216) that in The Road to Middle-earth Tom Shippey cites ‘Thingol’s death in the dark while he looks at the captured Light’ (of the Silmaril) as an example of Tolkien’s genius for creating compelling images. However, ‘Thingol’s death in the dark recesses of Menegroth was completely an invention of the editors’, hence ‘The fact that as renown[ed] a Tolkien scholar as Shippey would have this kind of mistaken impression is a strong indication of the need for a work like the present one.’"

There are a couple of points here. First, unquestionably the passage about Thingol's death is an invention of the editors, but whether one editor had a greater input than the other is something we simply don't know. More widely, this throws little light on the composition of the chapter as a whole. I think it reasonable to suppose that Kay's nascent creativity in the matter of narrative played a part in the published Silmarillion, but, again, we don't know the details. Unless Christopher Tolkien kept some sort of detailed diary of the process of composing the published Silmarillion, or Kay one day breaks his silence on the matter, I doubt if we'll ever know.

So, in the light of the available evidence, I think we'll have to settle on a Scotch verdict for this.
--Charles Noad, January 27th 2020

Many thanks to Charles for the clarification. I'll have to see if I can put down my own thoughts on G. G. Kay and the 1977 SILMARILLION in a post of my own soon.  --John R.


N.E. Brigand said...

Not only Tom Shippey but also Verlyn Flieger and Brian Rosebury have mistakenly referred to the scene of Thingol's death as J.R.R. Tolkien's work, which I think may further show how good a job Christopher Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay (in whatever proportion) did in crafting it.

Doug Kane said...

Thanks, John. And Charles. I wish I could find a copy of the review itself, but it doesn't seem to be archived at the Wayback Machine, and the Plaza is long since defunct. I was, however, able to find an archived discussion about the review in which I quote the statement from Charles that I was remembering:

"The process of producing a finished narrative requires a slightly different set of skills than those required for producing an edited text of initially ‘inchoate’ papers. The latter needs a great deal of analytical intelligence together with specific skills in understanding the relationships between texts, the ability to decipher handwriting sometimes verging on illegibility, a sensitivity of judgement, and the like, qualities which, I feel, any reasonable judge would concur that Christopher Tolkien abundantly displays in The History of Middle-earth. But producing a finished narrative from the results of having edited the texts into legibility and comprehensibility is a slightly different matter. It requires, or at least may require depending on the state of the material being edited, a degree of creativity. Here I think is where Guy Gavriel Kay enters the picture. Starting with The Fionavar Tapestry (1985-6), Kay has shown himself to be one of the leading authors of literate high fantasy. He is a full-fledged professional writer of fiction in a way that Christopher Tolkien isn’t and even his father wasn’t. (To digress: J.R.R. Tolkien was a professional when it came such things as, for example, the evolution of vowel-sounds in West Midlands Middle English — and much else. In that kind of study he was one of the most learned people on the planet. But as a writer of fiction I have always considered that he belonged in the ‘(very) gifted amateur’ category. He was indeed creative, but not in a professional have-it-all-wrapped-up-by-the-publisher’s-deadline kind of way. What he produced in the way of fiction (and non-fiction) was, of course, of an extraordinarily high standard — or you wouldn’t be here reading this — but it was often written slowly and with great effort.) Given that it was Kay’s idea to produce a finished narrative rather than a scholarly version (indeed, he has since gone on record as being against the publication of Tolkien’s unfinished texts in the History), I would submit that the published Silmarillion owes a good deal in the matter of editorial decision-making to his input. Let me be clear here. I am not saying that we can lay all the presumed ‘failings’ of the published Silmarillion at Kay’s feet, thereby removing all responsibility for its apparent ‘defects’ from Christopher Tolkien. But I am saying that the presence at a critical juncture in preparing the publication of the ‘Silmarillion’ material of this creatively gifted young man had a significant effect on the shaping and editing of that material. One would like to know more."

So while Charles was not specifically discussing the Ruin of Doriath chapter, he did suggest that Kay was more suited to the work of creating a finished narrative than Christopher, and certainly that chapter required the most work in that direction. I apologize if I overstated the case.