Review of Tolkien's Shorter Works

Tolkien's Shorter Works(to the main page on Tolkien's Shorter Works)

The following are extracts from a review that appeared in Tolkien Studies 6 (2009) on pages 302-308.

Tolkien's Shorter Works: Proceedings of the 4th Seminar of the Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft & Walking Tree Publishers Decennial Conference, edited by Margaret Hiley and Frank Weinreich. Zurich and Jena: Walking Tree Publishers, 2008. [8], vi, 352 pp. $22.70 / 11.60 (trade paperback) ISBN 9783905703115. Cormarë Series no. 17.

This volume brings together sixteen essays first presented at a May 2007 conference held at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, jointly sponsored by Walking Tree Publishers (in celebration of their tenth anniversary) and the German Tolkien Society (Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft). The focus of both conference and collection is on Tolkien's shorter, lesser-known works, which the editors note have been unfairly Book Reviews overshadowed by his longer, better-known works such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. [...]

[t]he proceedings' contents range widely among the works in question. Smith of Wootton Major proves to be the most popular topic, being the focus of six essays; the other works considered here include Farmer Giles of Ham (four essays), "Leaf by Niggle" (three), "On Fairy-stories" (two, although others cite it), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (with one essay devoted to the collection as a whole and four more to single poems within it), and single essays looking at The Homecoming of Beorthnoth, Roverandom, "Ides Ælfscyne" (one of the Songs for the Philologists), "Bilbo's Last Song," and "Mythopoeia". [...]

Allan Turner's "'Tom Bombadil': Poetry and Accretion" looks at how Tolkien incorporated a disparate group of mostly Book Reviews pre-existing poems into the world of The Lord of the Rings, primarily by the framing device of the preface to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. [...] Turner also does a good job of tracing how a single poem changed over time to gradually become incorporated within the mythology (8-9) [...]

The other three essays devoted to Bombadil poems all look at "The Sea-bell," generally recognized as perhaps Tolkien's finest poem, each in connection with another work. Maria Raffaella Benvenuto stress[es] the dangers inherent in any mortal's contact with the Otherworld and plac[es] Tolkien's work into context with earlier treatments of the theme [...]. Anna E. Slack's far-ranging "A Star Above the Mast: Tolkien, Faërie and the Great Escape" investigates the roles played by belief in, and the right attitude towards, Faërie. [...] Margaret Hiley's "Journeys in the Dark" argues that both "The Sea-bell" and Smith of Wootton Major represent failed quests, since both feature visitors to Faërie who ultimately return home without mastering that strange realm. [...] Margaret Hiley's "Journeys in the Dark" argues that both "The Sea-bell" and Smith of Wootton Major represent failed quests, since both feature visitors to Faërie who ultimately return home without mastering that strange realm.

With Thomas Fornet-Ponse's "Theology and Fairy-Stories: A Theological Reading of Tolkien's Shorter Works?" the emphasis shifts to "On Fairy-stories." Fornet-Ponse explicates Tolkien's theory, as expressed in "Mythopoeia," "On Fairy-stories," and elsewhere, that human creativity is the consequence of humanity itself being a creation.

(extracts from book review by John D. Rateliff, Kent, Washington)

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