Review of In the Nameless Wood
The following review appeared in Mythlore 33.1 (2014) and is reproduced here with kind permission.
Mythlore is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal published by the Mythopoeic Society that focuses on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and the genres of myth and fantasy.
Link to the website of the Mythopoeic Society.
IN THE NAMELESS WOOD: EXPLORATIONS IN THE PHILOLOGICAL HINTERLAND OF TOLKIEN'S LITERARY CREATIONS. J.S. Ryan. Edited by Peter Buchs. Zurich and Jena: Walking Tree Publishers, 2013. Cormare Series. No. 30. xv + 365p. US $24.30 ISBN 978-3-905703-30-6.
WALKING TREE PUBLISHERS HAVE FOLLOWED THEIR 2009 publication of the first volume of Professor J.S. Ryan's essays, Tolkien's View: Windows into his World, with this second volume of twenty-three essays edited by Peter Buchs. As with the first volume, Walking Tree should be applauded for their work with Professor Ryan - one of the few living Tolkien scholars and writers who had a personal connection with J.R.R. Tolkien. Ryan studied with Tolkien at the School of English at Oxford University, and throughout both volumes of essays Ryan indicates (usually in the many and not-to-be-skipped-over footnotes!) that he is drawing his observations and conclusions from past personal communication with Tolkien, either one-on-one conversations or the lectures Tolkien gave at Oxford. In this sense alone, this collection of essays are invaluable to the Tolkien reader and scholar in gaining a closer insight into Tolkien's thoughts on certain key narrative and philological ideas. However, added to this are Ryan's own insights from his years of exploring how Tolkien's primary world academic and philological studies inspired the development and themes of his own mythology.
As with the first volume, many of the essays in this volume have appeared previously in various now hard-to-find journals and publications. As the subtitle of this volume suggests, each of these essays are explorations into the philological hinterland of Tolkien's literary creation. Ryan digs deep into the etymological truth behind one particular word or group of related words, and by doing so offers the readers speculative suggestions as to where Tolkien may have derived a specific name or concept. These suggestions are also backed up with a wealth of source information (again, usually in the not-to-be-passed-over footnotes) that direct the reader to texts that Tolkien would have studied in his formative years. The editor of this volume, Peter Buchs, indicates in the introduction that many of these works are now online and can be accessed by students for further exploration.
This volume consists of a prequel essay, "'The Nameless Wood' and 'The Narrow Path'" (based on a speech Ryan gave at a Mythopoeic Conference in New South Wales in 1986) and then four thematic sections of essays:
The volume concludes with an original essay, "J.R.R. Tolkien and the Ancrene Riwle, or Two Fine and Courteous Mentors to Women's Spirits."
Ryan's method of applying combined textual and linguistic analysis to Tolkien's literary creation can be seen in full flow in the 'prequel' essay "'The Nameless Wood' and 'The Narrow Path,'" which takes the reader on a journey through the dark and nameless forest of the Ancient East, the Myrkvithr of Old Germanic tales. Along the way Ryan makes some interesting observations on the role of the forest as a liminal place between that which is safe and that which is the place of the other - the woodland realm inhabited by unknown forces, dragons, 'woodwoses,' and outlaws. Ryan analyses the old Germanic word walt, which meant both 'wood or forest' and 'wilderness, uninhabited place.' Ryan uses this depiction of the forest to explore textual, philological, and metaphysical ideas around the concept of barriers and the passage from one land to another or from the world of reality to a more dangerous and ominous outer one (4). This rather dense and intriguing analysis includes an interlude at The Forest of Dean which Ryan suggests, based on anecdotes that were going around Merton College in the 1950 and 1960s, was the inspiration for all the forest and forest-themed notions in Tolkien's life (13).
The second theme that Ryan picks up on in this prequel essay is the ever present 'path' that leads the hero through this dark and liminal space, usually to a place of refuge where the hero is put through a series of tests or temptations before reaching their objective. Ryan explores the word path, which has a shady etymological history (the type Tolkien loved to explore), citing several possible origins-from C.T. Onions who defined it as "a way beaten or trodden by the feet of men or beasts," to Joseph Wright's "a steep and narrow way, a footpath on an acclivity; a wooded glen," to Walter Skeat who believed it to be connected to the Latin batuere-to beat "the thing/place beaten down" by the feet, especially of those who might be hastening along it. Ryan also indicates that Wright defined a path as "A Roman road; gen. in place-names" (15-16). This third sense give the path a romantic association with such Victorian storytellers as Charles Kingsley and Rudyard Kipling (citing the Roman Road in Pook of Pucks Hill). Ryan suggests we can see all these different potential origins of the word 'path' used by Tolkien in his early 1915 fairy poem "Goblin Feet" which mentions "the road," "I hear [...] the padding feet," and "the crooked fairy lane" (16-17).
Ryan expands this analysis to the Victorian fascination with "the form, location and survival of the dramatically straight ancient roads and paths, especially of and in the southern and south eastern counties of England" (17). Ryan ties all this Tolkienian etymological investigation together by suggesting that "there has been intense linguistic and topographic speculation in England for more than a century about the form and origin and meaning range, various subliminal associations-and so as to the socio-cultural and landscape significance-of the Modern English word, path" (19). This first prequel essay is a masterful sprawling exegesis through the concepts of the nameless wood and the path and sets the tone for the textual and philological exploration to follow.
The five essays in "The Ancient Middle East and its Associations" each explore the influence of Near Eastern mythology and language study on some key concepts and place names in Tolkien's mythology. Ryan states that this influence would have come to Tolkien through the study of comparative philology texts- especially the works of the leading British Assyriologist and linguist A.H. Sayce (1846-1933) who taught at Oxford in 1919. Sayce's The Principles of Comparative Philology (1874) and The Introduction to the Science of Language (1879) were key texts for undergraduates during Tolkien's time at Oxford. One of Ryan's footnotes asserts that Tolkien did study these works when he was an undergraduate and evidence of it can be found in Tolkien's papers (44).
The first of these essays, "Indo-European Race-Memories and Race-Fears from the Ancient City of Uruk . . . and so to Tolkien as the quietly Speculative Philologist," starts with a philological supposition that the Ancient City of Uruk, the largest Sumerian city in the epic poem Gilgamesh, gained an evil reputation and thus became the source for several words for evil creatures, demons and monsters. Ryan suggests that this evil association started in the Early Dynastic period (c.2360 B.C.E) when a Semitic court official usurped the throne, took the name Sargon, and established the first Mesopotamian or Akkadian Empire. In the Akkadian language Uruk took the form 'Erech.' In a footnote, Ryan plants a Tolkienian link by comparing Sargon the Usurper to Sauron "who, from a fair beginning, then became 'the Dark Lord', the most terrible ruler in Middle-Earth" (38n2). One wonders if Ryan is stretching the point a bit too much here, especially as we are not given any more biographical background on Sargon and whether he started out in the same moral position as Sauron. Ryan then uses passages from Gilgamesh to suggest that Uruk/Erech gained this evil reputation because the rulers enslaved people to build their walls. The people were finally given a deliverer in the form of Enkidu, whom Ryan calls "a Sumerian wild man who lived with wild animals" (39). Ryan draws a comparison between Enkidu killing the wild bull sent by the god Anu to trample the city and the Ents and their destruction of Isengard in The Lord of the Rings. Building on Uruk/Erech and the idea of evil, Ryan then suggests a whole series of words including Modern Arabic Wark, Latin Orcus, Orcades, and Modern English Ogre. Ryan suggests that it was from this grouping of words, all derived from this common root in Uruk, that Tolkien derived his name for his Orcs.
The next essay in this section, "Oath-Swearing, the Stone of Erech and the Near East of the Ancient World," continues this theme by focusing on the Stone of Erech in The Lord of the Rings, suggesting it came from Tolkien's study of Near Eastern mythology via the philological works of Sayce. Ryan also draws parallels between Tolkien's Black Stone of Oath-Swearing and the Ka'ba-the small shrine located near the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca. Ryan suggests that Tolkien's use of these elements associated with the Near East may reflect his attempt to convey an early proto-history of the Indo-Europeans and their own subconscious memories of their ancient past. Ryan sums this up as "Thus, the whole becomes a classic illustration of the Tolkienian uses of the mediaeval story-telling device, inventio, or the combining of a selection of known ingredients-or at least familiar to him-to produce new artistic tensions and fresh literary insights" (69).
In "Saruman, 'Sharkey,' and Suruman: Analogous Figures of Eastern Ingenuity and Cunning," Ryan suggests a possible Eastern origin for two of the names of Tolkien's fallen wizard Saruman, an alternative to the more popular Germanic-based origin of OE saeru 'craft, device.' Ryan bases this on the alternative nick-name that both the men and orcs of Isengard call him-Sharkey-which Saruman characterizes as "[a] sign of affection" (LotR VI.8.1018). Ryan quotes from "The Annals of Sargon," which mentions a vassal called 'Suruman' who is said to have possessed great skills in metal work as well as considerable greed (74), and lists several dictionaries in which the word 'shark' is glossed as 'a greedy fellow or fish.' Ryan offers a comprehensive rationale for the Eastern origin of Saruman. Again, all very intriguing observations linked to an alternative philological study that we tend not to immediately associate with Tolkien.
Ryan's tantalizing and too short "Túrin, Turanian and Ural-Altaic Philology" suggests that Tolkien's construction of the names 'Túrin' and 'Turambar' (first attested in the early c. 1915 "Qenya Lexicon" and in the 1917-1920 The Book of Lost Tales) may have originated in a term that the 19th century linguist Max Müller coined in his Lectures on the Science of Language (1861-1863). Müller refers to a certain division of proto-language speakers who came out of the Central and Northern Asia as Turanians, from an original name Tura which implies the swiftness of their horses. Müller makes the point that the Turanians spoke an agglutinative language and that the Northern division of the Turanian family was also called Ural-Altaic or Ugro- Tataric, ancestor of later languages like Finnish and Hungarian. Ryan suggests that Turanian would have been in Tolkien's mind when he invented his name for the Kalevala-inspired hero Túrin Turambar-whose origins can be seen in Tolkien's earliest retelling of the Finnish Kullervo story in October 1914 (published in Tolkien Studies 7). Ryan also brings in Sayce's philological work again: in his The Principles of Comparative Philology (1874) Sayce also explored the Turanian language group in relation to languages that included Finnish, Lapp, and Mordvinian, and suggested Turanian was one of the earliest forms of a primitive European language and a counterpart of the Indo-European languages. Ryan suggests that the concept of the Turanians was an important linguistic and speculative link to the pre-history of Europe and nearer Asia for Tolkien. Ryan's observations are certainly interesting here; however the date of this essay (1983) shows that it does not take into account some of the later work that has been done on Tolkien's Túrin and his relation to the Finnish Kalevala-primarily the work of Verlyn Flieger, who edited and published Tolkien's original story of Kullervo for Tolkien Studies 7. In her article "Tolkien, Kalevala, and 'The Story of Kullervo," Flieger shows that according to Domenico Comparetti's The Traditional Poetry of the Finns (1898), there were some places in Finland where the hero Kullervo was known as Turo or Turikkinen (193). Tolkien may have been just as likely to have derived the name Túrin from this source as the philological one via Müller that Sayce proposes. I would suggest that a student exploring this pathway go armed both with Ryan's essay and Flieger's work in this area.
In "Gollum and the Golem: A Neglected Tolkienian Association with Jewish Thought," Ryan attempts to link Tolkien's Gollum to the Jewish legend of the golem, a human figure made of clay and brought to life supernaturally. Although the word golem does not appear in English literature until 1897, in Henry Ilowizi's story "The Bal-Shem and His Golem," the concept first appeared in late Jewish legend as re-told by Jacob Grimm in his 1808 Zeitung fur Einsiedler (Journal for Hermits). In Grimm's retelling the golem is a figure, akin to a human being, created artificially from clay or mud, and brought to life when the miraculous name of God was pronounced over it. Ryan draws from Talmudic and Jewish medieval traditions of the golem as a creature that served a master, ferreted out secrets, and had the power to prevent (vicious) plots (90). In later Jewish tradition, the golem becomes a creature who is sent by God to protect the Jews, but at the same time an incomplete creature deprived of the light of God. Ryan also links the golem with the legend of "The Wandering Jew." In another one of those treasure-filled footnotes, Ryan states that Tolkien was particularly interested in this legend and found vestiges of it in the character of the old man in Chaucer's "Pardoner's Tale" (Ryan cites personal knowledge from Tolkien's Oxford Lectures in 1955 [90n6]). Ryan makes several convincing links between Tolkien's Gollum and the golem, motivating readers and students of Tolkien to explore these links further.
The second group of essays focusses on the significance and impact of Tolkien's work in the late 1920s on the Romano-British temple complex site of Lydney Hill in Gloucestershire. In the introduction to the volume, Ryan pays credit to Nora Chadwick, 1 who knew Tolkien and was the first to suggest that Tolkien used his experience with his analysis of this site when he was writing The Lord of the Rings (xii).
In 1928-29 Sir Mortimer Wheeler and his wife excavated the Lydney Park site in Gloucestershire. The site showed evidence of settlement since pre-Roman times. In the mid fourth century A.D. it had become a considerable site of pilgrimage with evidence of a series of buildings including a temple dedicated to a pagan god Nodens/Nudens. The Wheelers also found evidence of an iron mine on the site. During the 1928-29 investigations they brought some specialists to work the site, including archaeologist and writer Robin G. Collingwood and a little known and very youthful professor of Anglo-Saxon, one J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien did philological work on the name 'Nodens' and his analysis appeared in the appendix to the site report (reprinted in Tolkien Studies 4). Using this early experience of Tolkien's as a jumping- off point, Ryan suggests several possible literary influences on his later work. In the first essay, "The Lydney Archaeological Site and Tolkien's Portrayal of the King As Healer," Ryan suggests that The Houses of Healing in The Return of the King and particularly the aspect of Aragorn as a healing king may have been inspired by Tolkien's work on the Lydney site. This link derives from a suggestion by Wheeler and Collingwood in the final excavation report that the Lydney site may have been a place of pagan pilgrimage and healing in the late Roman Britain period. Ryan compares the reported geographic layout of the Lydney Site and The Temple of Nodens with Tolkien's later Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith.
The name Nodens/Nudens appears to be cognate with the Old Irish Nuada, who in the 'Irish Mythological Cycle' was the first king of the Tuatha De Danaan. Nuada lost his arm in battle and was given a silver one by the physician Dian Cecht, earning the epithet Airgetlam 'silver hand.' The link with Aragorn as King Healer is brought up in another one of Ryan's footnotes. In his philological analysis of the name Nodens/Nudens, Tolkien suggests that the Germanic stem /neut/ meant to catch, entrap, and so acquire. Under 'entrap' Ryan makes the philological note that Tolkien also associated /neut/ with the Gothic /outa/ which is used in the Gothic translation of St Mark's Gospel to gloss 'fisherman' (one who entraps). Ryan makes the point that in his Gothic studies Tolkien would have read St Mark's Gospel, as it was considered a prime text by his Gothic teacher Joseph Wright. This creates the possible link between the god Nodens and the Christian idea of Christ the Fisherman, and may show evidence of both early Christian and late pagan influence. Ryan characterizes the Lydney Site Complex as "a place of this great cultural change, one where the Roman and the compassionate Christian worlds could be seen in the moment of transition" (119). All very interesting observations, but I am straining a bit to see here the connections with the concept of the King Healer and the site complex of Lydney.
In the next essay "The Mines of Mendip and of Moria, with some Reflectionson The Lair of the White Worm," Ryan suggests that Tolkien's knowledge, depiction, and illustrations of mines and secret passageways was inspired by J.W. Gough's book The Mines of Mendip, an Oxford publication of 1930 which was read by R.G. Collingwood (who as indicated above had worked on the Lydney Site with Tolkien). Gough's book traced the history of mining in the Mendip Hills in the area around Lydney Park back to pre-Roman times. Ryan suggests this book may have come into Tolkien's hands and inspired his thoughts on ancient mining in England and its link in his mythology to the dwarves and the mines of Middle-earth. He concludes by suggesting that Tolkien's description of mines may have also been inspired by a particular edition of Bram Stoker's gothic short story The Lair of the White Worm, published in 1911 with six dramatically colored plates by Pamela Colman Smith, who was a member of the Golden Dawn and the creator of the designs for the classic Rider-Waite deck of Tarot Cards. Again, while there is no direct evidence of Tolkien reading this volume, given the subject matter and its popularity it is not out of the realm of the possible that he did.
In "Ancient Mosaic Tiles from Out the West" Ryan suggests that Tolkien's heraldic illustrations and emblems from the great Elvish households were inspired by the floor mosaics found at the site complex of Lydney and suggests "the smallest item of Tolkien's artistic creation is capable of linking his Middle-earth and its past history to England's own history and legendary (religious) past" (135). I think this is an intriguing point, but would have liked to have seen examples of Tolkien's own creative work printed side by side with the reproductions of the Lydney Hill mosaics to make a better assessment of these artistic parallels.
In the third series of essays, "The North West and Germanic Tradition," Ryan turns to Germanic legend and philology to explore some key ideas and names in Tolkien's mythology. "Frothi, Frodo-and Dodo and Odo" is a philological exploration of possible origins and sources of the name Frodo in Germanic legend and history. Ryan concludes this interesting meander through Old Norse and Anglo- Saxon by suggesting there is ample comparative and figurative material here for our aesthetic, onomastic and etymological satisfaction (147). In "The Knee and the Old English Gifstol as Sacral Symbols of Protection and of Forgiveness" Ryan sees influences for Tolkien's depiction of Gollum's attempt at repentance with similar scenes in the Anglo-Saxon poem The Wanderer and the role of Grendel in Beowulf. Ryan says that Tolkien told him that one of the most painful scenes to recall in The Lord of the Rings was when Gollum approached the sleeping Frodo and touched or caressed his knee (LotR IV.8.714-15), and "[the] fleeting moment […] passed beyond recall" when Sam awoke and accused Gollum of sneaking. The moment of abasement and possible forgiveness by Gollum had passed.
In the next essay, "King Alfred's Developing Concept of 'Wisdom' and its Relevance to Tolkien's Grand Moral Philosophy," Ryan explores how Tolkien's ideas about wisdom may have been shaped by his early study of King Alfred's vernacular Cura Pastoralis ("Pastoral Care"), a text "so carefully crafted for the healing of his nation, both treating of earthly kingship and for directing every man's religious quest" (165). It was included in the 8th edition of Henry Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader (1876), which Tolkien studied as an undergraduate. Through textual comparison of this work with Tolkien's depiction of wisdom in The Lord of the Rings, Ryan deduces that Tolkien adopted Alfred's key concept of wisdom as the extension of pity and mercy to all fellows, however much they have hurt us-certainly the position of both Aragorn and Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings.
In "Uncouth Innocence-some Links between Chrétien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach and J.R.R. Tolkien," Ryan contrasts the character of the Grail Knight Perceval/Parzival and his initial innocence with that of the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. Ryan suggests that both Chrétien and Wolfram's texts explored the medieval concept of the naïve or ill-made knight, the artistic effect of which was to provoke ironic juxtapositions of conflicting values. Ryan suggests that this influenced Tolkien's development of the role of the Hobbits as mediating characters who enter the world of the Elves and great men of Middle-Earth. In the case of Frodo especially, it is the naïve hobbit who becomes the hero in the same way as the 'innocent fool' Perceval/Parzival becomes the redeemer of the Grail. Ryan also explores parallels between Chrétien's and Wolfram's use of landscape and the concept of the pathway and temptations from the path as sources for Tolkien. Ryan suggests that this is certainly not a direct influence but one that is worth further exploration-again we see Ryan planting seeds for further research and investigation.
In a short essay "Lore of Dwarves-in Jacob Grimm and Thomas Keightley" Ryan explores two key source works that Tolkien drew from-Grimm's 1880 Teutonic Mythology (translated by J. Stallybrass) and Thomas Keightley's 1850 The Fairy Mythology, reissued in 1878 as The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves and other Little People (reprinted in 1968)-and makes some interesting philological notes on the character of the dwarves that inspired Tolkien. I was a bit surprised not to see any mention or analysis of Tolkien's earliest versions of the dwarves from The Book of Lost Tales period, which was in print at the time this essay was first publish ed in 1986. This essay seems to indicate that the dwarves started with The Hobbit, and given The History of Middle Earth we know this is not the case.
In "Warg, Waerg, Earg and Werewolf-a Note on Speculative Tolkienian Etymology," Ryan suggests that the origin of the name warg is an example of Tolkien indulging himself in both etymological speculation and restoring to the living English language a pattern of meanings long forgotten. In "The Number Fifteen, Heroic Ventures and Two Horrible Songs," Ryan makes a numerical connection between The Hobbit and Beowulf though the number fifteen. Beowulf comes to Hrothgar's Hall to fight the demon Grendel with a band of fourteen men, just as Bilbo in The Hobbit journeys with fourteen heroic companions on his mission to recover the dwarves' treasure from Smaug-counting Gandalf the Wizard, though he does not make the entire journey-making Bilbo the fifteenth member of the expedition, as in the mocking Goblin song "Fifteen birds in five fir trees" (Hobbit VI.116-117). Ryan contextualizes this through several cases in Germanic literature where the number fifteen is used for magical purposes and incantations, significant because the fifteenth day is half way through the phases of the moon. In also another 'bread crumb' for further investigation he also quotes the sea chant from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883)-"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest / Yo-Ho-Ho and A Bottle of Rum." Ryan states that in 1934 Tolkien may have become aware of an article by Vincent Starret about the real location of Treasure Island-"The Dead Man's Chest, A Stevensonian Research"-which could have inspired his thoughts on this poem and the number fifteen. Again, another pathway to explore.
"Fear and Revulsion in 'the cold and hard lands'" is another short note in which Ryan explores the reaction of evil beings to blessed objects, using the scene in which Gollum says of the Elvish rope "It hurts us, it hurts us" (LotR IV.1.617). "The Origin and Cultural Association of the Place Name Wetwang" explores the place name which in Tolkien's Middle-earth refers to the marshes where the Anduin and Entwash rivers merge and the Anduin subsequently divides into many rivers. Ryan cites Eilert Ekwell's Concise Dictionary of English Place-Names, which locates Wetwang in the East Yorkshire Riding; Tolkien abstracted Ekwell's work in his three The Year's Work in English Studies 1923-1925.
The remaining essays all focus on Tolkien's experience and influences from a contemporary point of view. In "Wild Wood-Place of Danger, Place of Protest," Ryan returns to his inaugural exploration of the forest and wild wood but now sets it in a modern literary context by exploring its depiction in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908). Ryan suggests that Grahame' depiction of the Wild Wood marks a change in the characterization of the wood and forest from the Dark Ages notion of pagan menace, first to the medieval Greenwood, and then to a modern concern with eccentric behaviour as well as the preservation of the pristine landscape. By late Victorian/Edwardian times the wild wood had become the realm of small animals symbolizing the abject poverty and obsequiousness forced upon the hitherto free country folk in wake of the Industrial Revolution (232). Ryan ends by again suggesting that more study needs to be done on the links between Kenneth Grahame and Tolkien-two late Victorian writers who both honored and explored the forests and the paths of the ancient dark woods.
The next essays focus on Tolkien's relationship with two different poets. In "J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Roy Campbell" Ryan explores how the South-African poet Roy Campbell (1902-1957) became an occasional guest Inkling, whom Tolkien seems to have gotten on better with than Lewis at times. Ryan investigates whether Tolkien would have read Campbell's poetry, especially the volumes Flaming Terrapin (1924) and Flowering Rifle (1931). Ryan concludes this essay with a very interesting vignette "The Classic Biography is still to Come," calling for an update to the official Carpenter biography which would include more examples of Tolkien's meetings and encounters with other poets and writers. In the next essay, "Tolkien and Auden," Ryan explores the close relationship between Tolkien and the Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden, who like Tolkien died in 1973. Auden had been one of the earliest reviewers and interpreters of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and wrote the first major reviews of the books in The New York Times. Ryan includes a series of quotes of Auden's early writings on Tolkien's work including a very poignant quote from an essay in the magazine Encounter ("A World Imaginary, Made Real")-that the nature of the work necessitated "scientific historical research" (246).
Ryan reproduces in this essay poems that each wrote for the other. To honor Tolkien's 70th birthday on 3rd January 1962, Auden produced "A Short Ode to a Philologist," which was included in the festschrift English and Medieval Studies: Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday. This rarely printed ode concludes with the lines "What J.R.R. Tolkien has done / As bard to Anglo-Saxon." Five years later Tolkien would return the compliment by penning a tribute to Auden in the journal Shenandoah: "A Tribute to Wystan Hugh Auden on His Sixtieth Birthday" (also known as "For W.H.A."), written in the Mercian dialect of Anglo- Saxon with facing English translation. In the appendix to this essay Ryan also suggests several other links between Tolkien and Auden, including Auden's 1968 published lecture Secondary Worlds, the title of which Auden explained he had taken from Tolkien's own On Fairy-stories. Additionally, Auden's The Elder Edda: A Selection-Translated from the Icelandic by W.H. Auden and Paul B. Taylor, is dedicated to Tolkien and mentions the 'riddle game' used by Bilbo Baggins.
In the appendix, Ryan includes an original essay "J.R.R. Tolkien and the Ancrene Riwle, or Two Fine and Courteous Mentors to Woman's Spirit." The thrust of this essay shows Ryan as a man on a mission. In the introduction to the volume he characterizes the work and analysis he did on this essay as an "endeavour to correct and clarify the ever more numerous stereotypical and journalistic views of Tolkien the man and the writer" (xiii). Here Ryan explores Tolkien's work with several of his undergraduate students, many of them Roman Catholic women, with the series of religious texts found in the Katherine Group of documents. Ryan juxtaposes the wisdom and compassion shown by the authors of these texts with Tolkien's attitude in mentoring the women students who worked on elements of these texts with him. Ryan gives us a highly personal portrait of Tolkien the teacher, mentor, and supporter of very type of narrative and philological exploration that Ryan has suggested in each of the essays in this volume. It is a textually and philologically rich exploration of Tolkien the man, the teacher, and the mentor and a brilliant way to end this volume.
This is a very important volume in Tolkien studies, and each of Ryan's essays can be deeply and widely mined for clues and sources to better understand how Tolkien thought and from where Tolkien may have derived some of his ideas. In the course of one of the essays, Ryan sums up the linkage of Tolkien's linguistic thinking linked and his myth creation in three key points:
Ryan's two volumes of essays will be a resource I will return to again and again in my Tolkien studies and research. I highly recommend them to all who want to travel down the path into Tolkien's own dark forest towards the philological hinterlands of his mythic creations. I do hope a third volume is on the horizon.
1 Ryan dedicates this volume to Frederick T. Wainwright (1917-1961) and Nora Kershaw Chadwick (1891-1972), both inspirational scholars of Europe's Migration Ages and Dark Age Britain, and significant recovers of their country's richly storied cultures and landscapes.