Review of Reconsidering Tolkien

Reconsidering Tolkien(to the main page on Reconsidering Tolkien)

The following are extracts from a review that appeared in Tolkien Studies 3 (2006) on pages 190-193.

Reconsidering Tolkien, edited by Thomas Honegger. Zurich: Walking Tree Publishers, 2005. 209 pp. $20.75 (trade paperback) ISBN 3905703009.

This volume of essays consists primarily of papers presented at a special Tolkien session during the 2004 European Society for the Study of English conference. [...] [T]he essays mostly deal with language and metalinguistics in some way — the concept and origin of language in Middle-earth, language as symbol or motif, language as both carrier and subject of knowledge and magic, and so on — at an academic level.

Marion Gymnich leads off with an admirably clear overview of the metalinguistic features of The Lord of the Rings. [...] Her essay includes an interesting sidelight on Tolkien's use of certain child-like linguistic features in Gollum's speech patterns.

"Tolkien as Philo-Logist," contributed by Eduardo Segura and Guillermo Peris, attempts to show that the coherent nature of Tolkien's subcreated world is directly related to his philology, or love of language, and that his intent to create myth, where words and events can be polysemic, or have many meanings, precludes allegory. [...]

In his essay, Thomas Honegger postulates that academics with a background in medieval studies may be better equipped to approach Tolkien's work critically than those whose area of study is Tolkien's contemporaries. The ideal critic would be one who shared Tolkien's own academic background in medieval languages, literatures, and cultures and was therefore familiar with his sources. [...] The convincing explanation he gives for the origin and meaning of the voices Niggle overhears discussing his case, for example, show that the specialized knowledge of the medievalist can shed important light on such questions. [...]

Paul E. Kerry contributes an essay on The Lord of the Rings as history. One intriguing observation he makes is that the structure of the individual appendices owes a great deal to medieval models of historical writing [...].

Natasa Tucev offers a Jungian reading of Frodo's character using the archetype of the shadow, focusing on his wounds by knife, sting, and tooth. Like many Jungian readings of Tolkien, it is quite densely packed and seems forced at times, but does open up some interesting new avenues to explore in the relationship between Frodo and his shadow Gollum.

Jean-Christophe Dufau's article [...] investigate[s] the motifs of tree, labyrinth, and town, and their reflections in linguistic structures, as metaphors for the personal and spiritual development of the characters. There is an interesting reading of Gandalf's actions at Moria gate, where he tries to untangle the clue written above the carven trees. [...]

Dirk Vanderbeke contributes an intriguing critique on scientific knowledge in the "closed world" of Middle-earth. [...]

Martin Simonson, in his essay "The Lord of the Rings in the Wake of the Great War," attempts to place Tolkien in the literary context of his contemporaries. He compares Tolkien to the modernists; writers who, as the essayist points out, mainly did not serve in the war and generally took an anti-historicist approach to the use of time and literary reference in their works, creating a sort of jumbled collage. Their writings are both highly self-referential and full of references to preceding literature of all periods; without footnotes, the reader unfamiliar with these works is soon lost in a private secondary world fully accessible only to the author. In contrast, while the reader's experience of The Lord of the Rings is enhanced by knowledge of The Hobbit and The Silmarillion and medieval literature, Tolkien consistently contextualizes his references, integrating the history and literature of Middle-earth into the story and making his secondary creation accessible to the reader from the first reading. [...]

Like Simonson, Connie Veugen also refers to Northrop Frye in her analysis of Aragorn as seen in different media. [...] She [...] proceeds to a close analysis of one particular scene (the meeting at the inn at Bree) in a radio adaptation (Brian Sibley, 1981), an animated movie (Ralph Bakshi, 1978), a live action movie (Peter Jackson, 2000), and the Vivendi computer game based on the book. She takes into the account the limitations of different media [...].

[T]his collection suffers from a light editorial hand in places; many of the essays could have used some tightening or clarification, and there are several minor typographical errors. An index would have been highly desirable, particularly since the titles and abstracts of the essays do not always do justice to their content. For the reader interested in issues of language and metalinguistics, this is an intriguing group of essays that could well lead to further insights and research. The references to European scholarship on Tolkien, often unavailable in indexes available to American academics, are a valuable resource in themselves.

(extracts from book review by Janet Brennan Croft, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma)

Read reviews of other Walking Tree Publishers books