Monday, March 16, 2009

I Am Reviewed . . .

. . . in German (auf Deutsch)!

So, it turns out that the latest volume of HITHER SHORE (HS.IV), the journal of the German Tolkien Society (Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft, or DTG), has a lengthy review of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT.* Not being able to read German, I resorted to the local library, where with a good German/English dictionary I was able to puzzle out a bit of it. Finding that too slow, I decided to give Babelfish a try, with highly amusing but thoroughly unreliable results akin to the subtitles of some Hong Kong import anime. Online tools having failed me, I resorted to a friend who speaks German**, who finding it sticky going passed it on in turn to his parents,*** who were actually born in Germany (or what was Germany at the time). And now, thanks to their kindness in translating this for someone they've only met a few times, I can see what the reviewer (Judith Klinger) has to say about my book(s).

In general, she seems to be v. pleased to have Tolkien's original text, plot notes, and later additions/revisions (i.e., the 1947 Hobbit, the 1960 Hobbit) --"a valuable edition of the text . . . For Tolkien scholars it is an absolutely essential addition to the previously published literature."-- She's dubious, however, about my having included commentary in the same work as the text: since my commentary could not be exhaustive, she feels I shdn't have attempted it at all. That is, while she's pleased that I present "a lavishly annotated archeology of a text" she would have preferred "a pure text edition".

As for my mini-essays, she thinks --"Occasionally they cut an interesting path through the jungle of connections between the texts. In other cases they are too short to exhaust the topic . . . Inasmuch as these essays do not claim to be complete . . . one has to ask what is the use of this combination of an edition of sources with a discussion of the historical motives (and all this in a limited space). The discussions remain necessarily selective."-- I take her point, but I have to disagree here: that a discussion cannot be exhaustive or definitive doesn't, for me, preclude having a discussion at all. She does think I establish THE HOBBIT's essential connection to Tolkien's larger legendarium --"a multifaceted basis for additional studies of Tolkien’s way of writing, for the development of his mythology and for the position of The Hobbit in his opus. His edition gives important insights: Thus it is obvious that The Hobbit was in no time intended as an independent work without reference to the lost stories of Arda."-- She also thinks I document Tolkien's "extraordinary obstinacy in the construction of a truly credible 'secondary world'."

She is displeased over the typos: fair enough. I would certainly have prevented them, if I could, and have sought to find and correct them since. But she also calls me out for at times drawing on David Salo's A GATEWAY TO SINDARIN --"which is controversial among Tolkien linguists." --. I am of course aware of the criticisms of Dr. Salo's book, and while I do not agree with his stance that an irregular form by Tolkien is a mistake (I don't see how a language's creator can make a mistake of that degree), I don't think that undercuts the value of his book, especially for my purposes.

Finally, I shd point out one minor glitch in the review: Tolkien's biographer is not "Howard Carpenter" but instead the late Humphrey Carpenter.

All in all, an interesting review; many thanks for all who helped me find and read it.


current book: FINGERPRINTS OF THE GODS by Graham Hancock [1995].

*many thanks, Matt, for sending it.
**hi Wolf!
***many thanks, Dr. & Mrs. Baur


Robin D. Laws said...

Her objections seem very German.

Jason Fisher said...

Hi John. Did you ever read my review in Mythlore? It was also fairly extensive (ca. 2,700 words). I’d be curious to know what you thought of it.

John D. Rateliff said...

hi Robin.
Are they? I hadn't picked up on that.

hi Jason
I did indeed, and I was impressed by how closely you read my book and how much work you put into the review. I had intended to make posts about other reviews (yours, Mike Foster's, Shippey's) but didn't find the right way to frame them, so they never got written up and posted. The German one I thought I cd talk about without being vainglorious, since I assume most people (a) wdn't come across it and (b) wdn't be able to read it if they did. Perhaps I'll give those others another go, if only as a way to give wider circulation to the problems they point out and corrections they suggest.

Jason Fisher said...

I haven’t seen Mike Foster’s — where was it published? But I did read Tom Shippey’s not long after I wrote mine. It is always interesting to observe what different reviewers pick up on.