Review of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Sources of Inspiration

Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Sources of Inspiration(to the main page on Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Sources of Inspiration)

The following are extracts from a review that appeared in Tolkien Studies 6 (2009) on pages 294-299.

Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings": Sources of Inspiration, edited by Stratford Caldecott and Thomas Honegger. Zurich and Jena: Walking Tree Publishers, 2008. [vi], 242 pp. $25.00 / 12.60 (trade paperback) ISBN 9783905703122. Cormarë Series No. 18.

In the Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien attempted, emphatically and ultimately unsuccessfully, to shape the reception of his masterpiece and, in so doing, to mute discussion of its motive, meaning, and sources. In his now-famous words: "I should like to say something here with reference to the many opinions or guesses that I have received or have read concerning the motives and meaning of the tale. The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them. . . . As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. . . . Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written . . . " (FR, Foreword, 6).

That the author was unconvincing and unsuccessful in this attempt is no surprise. The result of this failure, we know, has been the development of scholarship on Tolkien. Stratford Caldecott and Thomas Honegger's collection contributes to a growing scholarly tradition and thereby participates in a larger shaping of the critical appreciation of, and exegetical approaches to, The Lord of the Rings. Many of these ten essays result from a Tolkien Studies conference held in 2006 at Exeter College, Oxford. Caldecott, in his Introduction, characterizes the conference as a sign of "the 'coming of age' of Tolkien Studies" (5) and finds significance in the fact that it was held at Tolkien's former college at the initiative of the Rector, Frances Cairncross. Completing the circuit from Tolkien's student days to the current day is indeed noteworthy. Especially when viewed against the backdrop of the political, social, and economic realities of the intellectual and collegiate world, the imprimatur of Exeter a Tolkien conference does in fact signify a milestone for the field. [...]

The volume is divided into three sections: Part One — Biographical; Part Two — Mythos and Modernity; and, Part Three — Mythos and Lo- gos. The first part is clearly the strongest of the three. It contains excellent essays by John Garth and Verlyn Flieger and an enlightening entry by Peter Gilliver, Edmund Weiner, and Jeremy Marshall, all editors on the Oxford English Dictionary. Garth's essay, "Tolkien, Exeter College, and the Great War," satisfyingly extends and amplifies knowledge and insights from his very fine book, Tolkien and the Great War (2003). Readers of this piece will enjoy a kind of insider's view on Tolkien's time at Exeter, one that is infused by intimacy and buttressed by detail, depth, and documentation. [...]

The Gilliver, Weiner and Marshall chapter offers an excellent glimpse of Tolkien as a lexicographer and philologist. The extended riff, in Gilliver's section, on Tolkien's "ability to make a task take longer than expected" — in reference to his association with a Chaucer volume for Oxford University Press (begun in 1922 and ended, inconclusively, in 1960) — is particularly gratifying. [...]

(extracts from book review by Gerald Seaman, Ripon College, Ripon, Wisconsin)

Read other reviews of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Sources of Inspiration

Read reviews of other Walking Tree Publishers books