Monday, May 27, 2013

My Newest Publication

So,  the latest volume of VII arrived on Wednesday (vol. 29). This is my contributor's copy, mine being the final item in this issue: a short (for me) review of Arne Zettersten's book JRRT's DOUBLE WORLDS AND CREATIVE PROCESS. I'd really liked Zettersten's talk at Marquette as keynote speaker at the Blackwelder conference back in 2004, so I had high hopes when I heard he was writing a book about his relationship with Tolkien and mildly dismayed when it was released not in English but Swedish (the original Swedish title translates as MY FRIEND RONALD, which is actually a far better title). Luckily for those of us who, unlike Tolkien, are not conversant in the modern Scandinavian tongues, they've now (2011) released an English translation of the Swedish original (2008).

When it finally arrived a few months back, I was at first disappointed; it seemed mostly a re-telling of Carpenter with a new little new bits added here and there. But reading the work turns out to be rewarding: Zettersten has some insights into Tolkien as a working medievalist I've never come across before, and into the way Tolkien himself viewed his two careers, as academic philologist and fantasy writer, and their interaction. Plus he conveys, better than I've seen it anyplace else, just how brilliant Tolkien was as a philologist, and how early that manifested itself. He gives a good example of Tolkien's mastery of his field in recalling his (Zettersten's) having once, in 1972, mentioned a crux in a work he was editing (WALDERE, a fragment of an OE epic), only to find Tolkien entirely familiar with the minutia of the text; it later turned out that JRRT had worked through that text in detail himself fifty-nine years before, in 1913, and remembered his own solution to each crux off the top of his head all those decades later. Impressive.

In the end, despite not being the book I wanted, this is a book I'm glad I got and read; it gave me a new picture of Tolkien as he was in retirement, and he himself saw his work and his relationship to it. Recommended!

--John R.
current reading: MEDIEVAL PETS (2012) by Kathleen Walker-Meikle

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