Monday, August 24, 2009

TolkLang Review

Thanks to Johan, I've now learned of another review of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT back in September 2007 that I'd missed. It appeared on the Tolk Lang list, which evolved out of Julian Bradfield's legended Elven language journal of the early 80s, QUETTAR. The full review (or rather the fullest of his series of posts*) can be found at . For those who aren't interested in the minutia of Elvish  -- a fascinating topic, but v. much an acquired taste -- I excerpt some of "Lalaith" (Andreas Moehn)'s comments below.


Although 'Lalaith' starts by saying that "I think we have to be thankful to him for publishing Tolkien's material", she finds my efforts sorely lacking:


"For the linguistically minded, Rateliff  . . . has not much to offer: His tentative glosses . . . reveal rather his ignorance of Elvish languages than actual insights."


regarding my comments on the dating of Durin's Day, she says

"Rateliff . . . further blurs the issue by reading English manuscripts through American glasses . . . he critisizes Tolkien for calling the solar solstice "Midsummer's Eve" though in fact it was the beginning of summer - but actually, the only problem here is Rateliff's profoundly American ignorance"


Nor does Tolkien himself escape her censure:

"Tolkien . . . at his worst: Despite his acclaimed romantic love for nature and his mental fatherhood to the Green party, he reveals himself here as a city-person who has hardly even LOOKED at the Moon, not to mention understood its celestial motions"


". . . This is not the only one of Rateliff's wrong accusations. Also he blames Karen Fonstad for silently shifting the Unexpected Party from 27th to 26th, overlooking that the latter date is established by Tolkien himself in "The Quest of Erebor"."


"Rateliff may have had honest intentions, but the results fall dramatically short against Christopher Tolkien's HoMe volumes and do neither Tolkien nor Taum Sandoski justice who was originally determined to publish "The History of the Hobbit"."


". . . Vol. II at last provides the Index that I direly missed in Vol. I. Alas, its level is sadly reminiscent of the original "Letters" Index."


"the whole corpus thus deteriorates into a sad but fitting postscriptum to a well-intended but occasionally too sloppy editing. As a read, the two volumes of Hobbit History are certainly worthwhile, as a reference, they are too often a failure."


Of all these, I'm glad to have the point about Fonstad drawn to my attention, and will craft a piece of errata to address the issue. The point about the disjunction between astronomical autumn (Sept 21st to Dec 21st) and colloquial British usage (August, September, October), which Christina Scull had earlier suggested to me, is more complex and needs to be written up as a separate post. I can bear up to the charge that my Index is as good as the one prepared by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien for the original edition of LETTERS with equanimity, but I do object to her sneers at Tolkien for knowing nothing about astronomy and calendars -- a simple glance at the appendices of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and the draft material at Marquette shows that's nonsense.**


As for Moehn's other charges, it's a little late in the day to set the record straight on all points. The one line that I find really stings is her invocation of Taum Santoski.  I don't suppose that 'Lalaith' ever met Taum (given that she misspells his name), but he was my closest friend, and the thought that I failed the task he entrusted me with is bitter indeed.


Other than that, I'm sorry she didn't enjoy my book, but frankly it's hard to get worked up over a negative review almost two years after the fact -- it's kind of like finding out that someone you don't remember from high school wrote something dismissive about you in a classmate's copy of your yearbook. Somehow, life goes on.


--John R.


current reading: THE PLEASURES OF A FUTUROSCOPE by Lord Dunsany [written 1955; published 2003]


*see also her posts of July 21st (#46.82; Bladorthin), July 22nd (#46.83; Fang), July 26th (#46.87; Radagast), July 31st (#46.88; Dorwinion), & Sept. 3rd (#46.94; Bladorthin again).

**For my own thoughts of what's going on with Tolkien's ultimately unsuccessful struggle to reconcile the events in THE HOBBIT to a real-world calendar, and what it reveals about the pictorial element in Tolkien's drafting of scenes, see my piece "A Kind of Elvish Craft" in the current issue of TOLKIEN STUDIES.


Jason Fisher said...

You can’t please all the people all the time. And some people, you can’t please any of the time. ;)

As someone who has also read and reviewed your book, I found the excerpts you quoted pretty far off, and unnecessarily acerbic. Not that your book is faultless — but who can claim one that is? This “Lalaith” person’s tone alone leads me to choose not to read the fuller posts. It’s a shame to clothe the finding of a few genuine errors in such a shabby garment.

Like you said, life goes on.

N.E. Brigand said...

If it's any consolation --not that you appear to need consoling-- your book was cited at least thirty times during a recently concluded, nineteen-week, chapter-by-chapter discussion of The Hobbit at