Tuesday, November 10, 2009


So, recently I've been doing a lot of book reviews -- a lot for me, anyway, given that I work slowly -- for TOLKIEN STUDIES, MYTHLORE, and VII. And late last week (Friday I think) the new issue of MYTHLORE arrived, which has not one but two of my reviews.

The first is for Doug Anderson's TALES BEFORE NARNIA [2008], a superb collection of stories and poems by authors who influenced Lewis,* each with a brief headnote explaining that author's connection with CSL. Doug took the unusual tack of organizing the pieces in the order in which Lewis discovered their work, so early influences (McDonald, Nesbit) come first, fellow Inklings (Barfield, Tolkien,** Williams) towards the middle, and later acquaintance (Roger Lancelyn Green, Bill Gresham) at the end. This works remarkably well. Highly recommended if you're at all interested in Lewis's work, and a worthy companion-piece to his earlier TALES BEFORE TOLKIEN [2003].***

The other is for the second Tolkien-themed book from Cambridge Scholars Publishing, TRUTHS BREATHED THROUGH SILVER, ed. Jonathan Himes. Tolkienists on a budget shd be warned that this is a much slighter book (a third of the pages at four times the cost) with only two of its ten essays focused on Tolkien:**** David Oberhelman's brief but enjoyable piece on libraries in Middle-earth and Jason Fisher's ambitious inquiry into whether Tolkien's mythos might incorporate the felix culpa (he draws what I suspect will be the controversial conclusion that the mythology includes theological elements Tolkien himself didn't agree with). Among its other contents, the outstanding ones I think are Shippey's forceful piece comparing Screwtape's use of language to that in Orwell's 1984 and Himes' valiant but ultimately failed attempt to incorporate all the ideas put forth about THE DARK TOWER into a single comprehensive interpretation, covering both its composition and projecting a hypothetical ending.

I had thought these two would exhaust the 'Rateliff content' of this issue, but to my surprise there's also a detailed review of the latest volume of TOLKIEN STUDIES (by Janet Croft, MYTHLORE's editor),which devotes the better part of a page discussing my article therein ("an appreciative and thought-provoking look at Tolkien as a literary artisan highly conscious of every word he put to paper" ). In a phrase, woo hoo! Although, to be fair, if at one point I was "damning of the Jackson films with faint praise" that wasn't my intention -- when I damn somebody, it's emphatic (I once started a review "The author of this book shd be ashamed of herself") or not at all.

And now I still have all the articles left to read: I'm particularly looking forward to the one comparing the Noldor with the Tuatha de Danaan,***** having been convinced for a while now that Tolkien modeled the Eldar of the First Age on Irish myth and the Elves of the Third Age on Welsh mythology.

--John R.

*not just Narnia, but for all his fiction.

**represented by one of my favorites among his poems, the original version of "The Dragon's Visit".

***one real find is C. F. Hall's "The Man Who Lived Backwards" [1938], which turns out to be the story that inspired one important detail in Lewis's THE GREAT DIVORCE [1945]-- CSL himself acknowledged the borrowing but couldn't remember the author or title of the story, which Doug has now unearthed. And, reading it now, it turns out to have in all probability been an inspiration for THE DARK TOWER [?circa 1944-46] as well.

****two other essays deal with Tolkien in passing, including one interpreting LotR from the point of view of 'Celtic Christianity'.

*****by Annie Kinniburgh


Josh Long said...

John, thanks for bringing my attention to this review of Tolkien Studies. My article was reviewed favorably by Croft as well.

PauloIapetus said...

About the article in Mythlore comparing Tolkien's elves to the Tuatha Dé Danaan , maybe, some of its contents will mirror this essay of Dimitra Fimi that can be found in my blog. I know tht it was already disponibilized elsewhere but in my post it isn't divided in sixteen pieces. Hope that you 'll enjoy.


PauloIapetus said...
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Jason Fisher said...

John, I appreciated both your reviews, particularly the nice things you had to say about my essay in Truths, even if you weren’t totally persuaded by some of the argument. That you found my contribution one of the collection’s “high points” (p. 191) was very gratifying.

Two things I wanted to point out to you. First, you refer to the editor, Jonathan Himes, more often as Hime [sic], at least five times. D’oh! Second, you say that Himes’s essay is “roughly a quarter of the entire book” (p. 188), but that’s a bit of an exaggeration. It’s actually between a fifth and a sixth (30 pp. out of 160). And interestingly, it was originally not going to be part of the book at all, but was added only when another contributor pulled out (it was, nevertheless, still subjected to same peer review process as all the other essays). Just for your information. :)

Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful reviews (and further comments here). I look forward to more of the same in future issues.