Monday, September 17, 2007

Two Threads (THE HOBBIT: Is It Or Isn't It?)

So, thanks to Johan, I've now seen two more posts on the "LotR Fanatics" forum discussing my book; one back in May (LotRFanatics thread) that includes some first impressions and bitter cries about the lack of a separate index for that volume, and another more general one from July (second thread). While reading the book itself will resolve most of the questions and queries that arose there, it's interesting to see how many of them hover around the question of THE HOBBIT's status regarding the legendarium: whether it was originally "quite unconnected" and only later retrofitted as part of his larger mythology or whether it was part of that mythology from initial conception. One curious feature of the discussion was to see unnamed "leading Tolkien scholars" cited on occasion as purportedly disagreeing with me, but no citation or even identification is ever forthcoming of who these mysterious anonymous figures might be, nor why their identities must remain a deep dark secret. V. odd. Of course I'm well aware of the fact that the current consensus holds, following Christopher Tolkien's discussion in HME VI, that THE HOBBIT stands apart from the legendarium. Tolkien himself took both positions at different times, so a simple appeal to authority cannot resolve the matter; my goal was to present the argument for, since the argument against was so well known that the other alternative had been neglected. Largely of course it comes down a matter of definition: does the appearance of characters, names, places, creatures, and items from the QUENTA and Lays in the draft of THE HOBBIT show that Bilbo's world is the same as that of the older stories, as I argue, or are these all merely incidentals without significance outside themselves, as had previously been the consensus view?** Does Tolkien's statement that he "consciously based" THE HOBBIT on "the 'Silmarillion', a history of the Elvish, to which frequent allusion is made" (LETTERS p.31), made in a context where he was carefully explaining at length the sources and origin of the book, carry as much weight as I think it does, or can it be explained away? Since Tolkien is subtle, his statements on any given point often show complexities that are easy to miss at first glance (a point made very well in Marjorie Burns' PERILOUS REALMS): fairly laying out the evidence for both sides of a disputed point, whether the relationship of THE HOBBIT to the older works or the starting date for the composition of the book or some similar topic, is I think one of the most valuable things a scholar can do, not far behind presenting new (i.e., previously unpublished) texts or discovering some new (previously unknown) information about a book or author we didn't know before.

Which brings up another point made in passing: someone in one post on the second thread referred to Christopher Tolkien as "primus inter pares" ('first among equals') among Tolkien scholars. I don't think that begins to cover Christopher's importance: he stands in a category of his own, far above all the rest of us. Christopher Tolkien knows more about his father's works, and more about JRRT himself, than any other Tolkien scholar can ever hope to. He is, literally, irreplaceable. This does not mean he is infallible --in later volumes of HME he sometimes corrects statements made in earlier volumes in the later of more evidence or further consideration-- but it does mean that the first step in writing about any of JRRT's posthumously published works shd be to see what CT has to say about it. That's our starting point.

Changing the topic a bit, one of the other items that showed up in these discussions is much simpler to resolve: the rumored fairy wife of some Took ancestor (in the 3rd edition) and the rumor of elven blood (in the 1960 drafting) are one and the same, since Tolkien used 'fairy' as a synonym for 'elf' in his early writings (cf. BLT II.10, where Luthien Tinuviel is referred to as 'a fairy').

The ROVERANDOM point raised a time or two is easily resolved without proving the main case one way or the other, but full explication will take its own (eventual) post.

--John R.
current reading: THE INTELLECTUALS & THE MASSES by John Carey (who thinks intellectualism is a scam and seems to despise most twentieth century British writers)

**In my view, the most abrupt and dramatic departure from the older material of the legendarium in THE HOBBIT is the appearance in Bilbo's story of dwarves as non-evil characters, something completely unprecedented in his earlier Middle-earth writings.

1 comment:

Jason Fisher said...

Your comments on Christopher Tolkien — very well put. I couldn’t agree more.