Friday, May 8, 2020

Tolkien's Flat Earth and failure to finish THE SILMARILLION

So, my newest publication is now out, thanks to the good folks at THE JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH:

https://scholar.valpo.edu/journaloftolkienresearch/vol9/iss1/5/

The full title is "The Flat Earth Made Round and Tolkien’s Failure to Finish The Silmarillion".

This is a piece I've been working on for quite a while. I delivered part of it at last year's Kalamazoo (2019) but expanded it a good deal for this final version.

It looks at various elements and events that combined to hinder Tolkien from finishing THE SILMARILLION in the years 1951-1973. In particular I single out two key factors:

(1) the traumatic breakdown of his efforts to publish the book through Collins, leading to a catastrophic interruption of his work on the book

and 

(2) Tolkien's conclusion that many of the most iconic elements in his mythology could no longer evoke secondary belief in modern-day readers.This most intractable of problems facing him led him into an impasse wherein he decided he must make a major change without being able to bring himself to do so".

That at any rate is the gist of the piece, which is available in its entirety on the JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH site. Enjoy!

--John R.

11 comments:

Doug Kane said...

Ooohh! Really looking forward to reading this, John!

daveypeted said...

I think you mean “gist of the piece”... not “gest”.

And “entirety” not “entirity”.

Typos suck! Also, I loved reading your History of the Hobbit books. 🙂

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Doug K.

Knowing what a close study you've made of how the 1977 SILMARILLION was put together, I'll be interested to hear what you think of my effort.

--John R.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Davey p

Thank you for pointing out the typos, which I have gone in and fixed. I know I'd flagged the gest/gist one for correction but must have posted the wrong draft.

Glad you enjoyed THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT. I was lucky to get to do this, and it was very much a labor of love.

--John R.

Marcel R. Aubron-Bülles said...

Another excellent piece on my to-read-list, I am quite sure - thanks for sharing!

Doug Kane said...

I really enjoyed reading that, John! I have a lot of jumbled thoughts, which I may or may not get a chance to organize and write down, but for now I will share two.

One is that I immediately thought of Verlyn's recent MythCon Scholar Guest of Honor address in which she so eloquently described the ways that Tolkien " seems to toggle between diametrically opposite positions." I think this is another reason why he ultimately was unable to complete the Silmarillion in his lifetime.

The second thought is in response to this statement: "Investigating this topic in detail would take an entire book (and I hope to write one)."

I look forward to that day!

Paul W said...

I too look forward to the book! This was just very well done, which I expected. :)
Thank you so much for sharing it.

It's not my area of specialty, but i found the arguments persuasive. I especially like the way you point out the contradictions in how we view Tolkien, and how this is fed by our assumptions that he is one, singular person and personality unchanging, rather then an evolving person, as we all are, who was different at different points in his life.

Since I have found myself paralyzed in my own lesser endeavors when I found that a change in concept invalidated a large mass of previous work I was predisposed to agree with you central thesis.

John D. Rateliff said...

Thanks Marcel
--JDR

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Doug K.
If Verlyn's piece you refer to is the one printed in MYTHLORE #135 ("The Arch & the Keystone") then I have this but have not yet read it -- something which I shd remedy sooner rather than later. Thanks for pointing out its applicability.
--JDR

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Paul W.

Thanks for the comment; glad you liked the piece.

I'm a firm believer that context is important and we shd take it into account when we're fortunate enough to have it.

I have to say that your statement

"Since I have found myself paralyzed in my own lesser endeavors when I found that a change in concept invalidated a large mass of previous work I was predisposed to agree with you central thesis."


pretty much sums up my major point better than i did.

--John R.


Doug Kane said...

Hi John,

Yes, that is the piece that I was referring to. As you probably know, I am a huge admirer of Verlyn's, and I think that piece is one of the most important things that she has written, and one of the most significant pieces of Tolkien scholarship that I have read in the past couple of years.

Best,
Doug