Edited by Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter.
Greenwood Press, 2000.
ISBN 0-313-30530-7, 274pp. Hardback.
Review by Christopher Kreuzer
This review first appeared in two parts in Amon Hen 164 (July 2000) and 165 (September 2000)
This collection of essays was directly inspired by the completion of the monumental twelve-volume The History of Middle-Earth series (HoME). A few words may help to set the scene. Edited by Christopher Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien's son), the HoME series continued and expanded upon the posthumous publication of Tolkien's works, started in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Attaining unprecedented levels of detail, the series revealed the evolution, over half a century, of a vast store of connected myths, legends, and fairy tales.
This is the 'Legendarium' referred to in the title. However, of all Tolkien's works, these must rate as among the least read. Your reviewer must confess to only having read volumes I and II, The Books of Lost Tales. This is in part due to the incomplete nature of some of the works, their ever-changing content (Tolkien frequently rewrote and altered his stories) and the (admirable) desire of Christopher Tolkien to publish all these drafts, along with extensive scholarly commentary. He did not, however, attempt to reach a definitive conclusion on all aspects of the Legendarium, and much room for debate remains. While this does not make for exciting bedtime reading, the wealth of available material kick-started the entire field of Tolkien scholarship, to which this book is the latest addition - suitably acknowledged by a moving dedication to Christopher Tolkien.
However, while containing much scholarly material and with the majority of the essays written in an academic style, there are several essays which are accessible to the reader who has ventured little further than The Silmarillion but is aware of the general thrust of the HoME series. There are fourteen essays collected under the title Tolkien's Legendarium, and they range from the obscure and scholarly (requiring some detailed understanding of HoME or the material under discussion) to more accessible and readable tracts (where the references serve more as guides for those inspired to read Tolkien's original texts).
The editors, both well-known Tolkien scholars in different fields, have adopted HoME-type abbreviations for citations of Tolkien's works. Other works cited are then listed after the footnotes accompanying the essay. This practice, along with citing published works in italics and offsetting quoted passages from the main text, produces a format that is pleasing to the eye, does not interrupt the flow of the essays, and yet contains references enough to satisfy the most ardent scholar.
The first of the three sections into which the book is subdivided concerns the history of the Legendarium. Four essays follow a brief publishing history, written by the original publisher, Rayner Unwin.
All four essays consider the HoME series as a whole. Christina Scull picks out several threads from the HoME "tapestry" in her essay 'The Development of Tolkien's Legendarium'. This includes a particularly illuminating 'history' of the Silmarils as they develop. It is this type of treatment of the HoME material that is especially accessible to those who have never read HoME, and should inspire many to dip into the series using the indices, which are very comprehensive.
In contrast, Wayne G. Hammond's essay, 'A Continuing and Evolving Creation', is a fascinating discussion of the fundamental writing style of Tolkien, which involved a slow evolution and painstaking rewriting of the tales. Tolkien is aptly compared to Niggle in Leaf By Niggle, and the book's dedication is followed by a lengthy quote from this same work, so fundamental is this style to the eventual state of the Legendarium. Hammond argues convincingly that, while these layered writings put many people off HoME (and indeed meant that Tolkien could never bring himself to publish The Silmarillion in his lifetime), it is this particular trait of many versions of a tale existing that eventually imbues his writings with the uncertainty and realism of genuine history and myth - in other words, a necessary part of his genius.
One of the most ambitious essays in the book (and the longest at 38 pages) is Charles E. Noad's 'On the Construction of The Silmarillion'. However, this essay (along with others) suffers from lack of distinction between arguments which paraphrase Christopher Tolkien's comments in HoME, and original arguments presented by the author and inspired directly by the texts in HoME. Indeed, much of the essay seems to merely summarize and draw together an abundance of HoME references to support a rather convoluted argument. It is worth struggling through these however, as the final five pages are a very readable conclusion which contains an outline for the Silmarillion as Tolkien may have intended it! Ambitious indeed, and no doubt highly controversial.
Of particular interest to those who do not have the time to wade through all twelve HoME volumes would be David Bratman's 'The Literary Value of The History of Middle-earth'. In this essay, Bratman discusses the styles in which the various parts of the Legendarium were written (The Books of Lost Tales being described as an "antique" and "archaic" style) and so helps to explain why some passages from Tolkien resonate so in the mind. In one memorable example, he highlights the changes in style in the passage from The Fellowship of the Ring where Trotter evolves into Strider at the Prancing Pony in Bree. In the process he manages a sideswipe at "lesser authors" who would not have revised or put as much effort into the text!
The real goldmine though is the bullet-pointed list that concludes this essay. Here Bratman picks out the literary gems of HoME, and directs people to various volumes according to their tastes and interests.
The second section of the book contains three essays on "The Languages" of Middle-Earth. The first two essays, by Christopher Gilson (Gnomish is Sindarin) and Arden R. Smith (A Feigned History of Runic Origins), are fairly well-presented arguments, but are so obscure that they will probably be of interest only to fellow linguistic enthusiasts and scholars. The final essay in this section, 'Three Elvish Verse Modes' by Patrick Wynne and Carl F. Hostetter, is exemplary in its clarity of explanation, as the linguistic origins and meanings of the elvish terms are elucidated.
Of even greater interest to the lay reader interested in Tolkien's poetry is the detailed analysis of Strider's tale of Tinúviel as chanted to the hobbits in a dell on Weathertop. If on the other hand you think that discovering that the magical effect of the poetry arises from feminine line endings using trisyllabic present participles ending in '-ing' rather spoils the effect, this essay might not be for you. For your reviewer, though, this essay was the highlight of the book so far.
The third and final part of the book, 'The Cauldron and the Cook', consists of six further essays. As the editors explain in the introduction, the section title is inspired by "Tolkien's own metaphor of the Cauldron of Story", and the essays "look at Tolkien as a poet and storyteller". The emphasis moves towards detailed literary analysis, with more of the authors hailing from professional academia.
In 'Tolkien's Lyric Poetry', Joe R. Christopher, while recognising that The Lord of the Rings is Tolkien's great prose romance, turns the spotlight on his lesser works. He selects four poems from HoME, and attempts to place them in their context, both as works of 20th century literature and as part of a Romantic tradition. Christopher does this with a detailed breakdown of the structure, content, and possible meaning and significance of the pieces. At times the level of detail can be annoying, but the numerous literary references (including Poe, Chaucer, Tennyson, Coleridge, and Dante) demonstrate the wide-ranging knowledge one would expect from a Professor of English.
More accessible to the lay reader is Paul Edmund Thomas' discussion of 'Some
of Tolkien's Narrators'. This covers the many styles found in The Hobbit,
and traces the metamorphosis of the narrative voice in The Lord of the
Rings. In a series of well-illustrated arguments, Thomas uses examples
from the text to showcase Tolkien's versatility as a writer who could use
many different narrative perspectives. In particular it is interesting to
learn that the direct style of address, (such as:
off they went into
another song as ridiculous as the one I have just written down), which
makes The Hobbit so memorable, was later to be regretted by Tolkien.
'The Footsteps of Ælfwine' by Verlyn Flieger is a more difficult essay to describe. On the one level it traces an aspect of Tolkien's writings ('aelfwine' - the elf-friend) throughout his works. In a deeper sense though, it strikes to the very heart of a writer's craft by discussing the framework for the telling or mediation of a tale. As well as the complex figure of Eriol/Ælfwine, Flieger also discusses the time-travel character of Alwin Lowdham found in The Notion Club Papers, Frodo himself, and Smith from Smith of Wootton Major. All these characters act as foci, mediating the telling of the mythic aspects of the stories. In a moving closing passage, Flieger makes the ultimate link, naming Tolkien as the overarching elf-friend.
'The Lost Road, The Dark Tower and The Notion Club Papers' is an examination of the origin, relationship and evolution of these three time-travel tales. In this piece, John D. Rateliff has managed to bring together a wealth of primary references, such as letters, to support his arguments about the important roles these tales fulfilled. The resulting story makes fascinating reading, especially the contrast between the development of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis as writers.
In 'Gandalf and Odin' Marjorie Burns adds to a long tradition of attempting to identify possible source material for literary works. While your reviewer was also struck by the similarities of a few of the earliest tales in The Book of Lost Tales to Nordic myths, the parallels can only be taken so far. Although Burns does acknowledge that Tolkien could have been inspired by any number of other mythologies and literary traditions, she proceeds from this qualifier to review and array a long list of Odin-like characteristics in Tolkien's writings. Some are convincing, such as the identification of the Eagles of Manwe with the Eagles of Odin, and the Ragnarok scenes to be found in HoME. Others however are less certain, such as the spreading of evil in Middle-earth being identified with the Loki figure in Norse legends. Surely the central argument can only be weakened by using examples that are too vague to be identified with any one mythology, and can only be ascribed, if at all, to a general melting pot of literary traditions?
The final essay, Richard C. West's 'Túrin's Ofermod', is a well written discussion concerning the Old English phrase 'ofermod'. This means 'pride', particularly culpable pride, and West follows a discourse on the word, as found in The Battle of Maldon, with the classic illustration of this trait as found in the tragic tale of Túrin. The HoME series allowed a fuller appreciation of the development of this aspect of the story through several drafts, and West gently guides us through these.
The book also contains a bibliography of Christopher Tolkien's works, compiled by Douglas A. Anderson. Overall, Tolkien's Legendarium is a splendid collection of essays that would be a worthy addition to the bookshelves of Tolkien scholars. For those who have not read any of The History of Middle-Earth series, the book is probably best read after reading at least The Book of Lost Tales. Even without this basic understanding of HoME, the Scull, Bratman, Wynne & Hostetter, Thomas, Rateliff, and West essays are all accessible to Tolkien readers, and the other essays could well inspire further interest and reading in the diverse range of subjects covered.
Caedmon Audio (Harper Audio), reference CF 1477
$12.00 ISBN 0-694-52223-6
(See also the next review, which covers a larger and better collection of the same material.)
I am very happy to be able to review this lovely tape. The blurb on the back of the box states that this series of tape recordings was made in 1952 and was the turning point that rekindled Tolkien's faith in The Lord of the Rings [this story told in full by George Sayer can be found both in The Proceedings of the JRR Tolkien Conference 1992, and In Tolkien: A Celebration ed. Joseph Pearce] and led to him resubmitting the manuscript for publication. This single 50-minute audio cassette comes in a presentation card slipcase with a photograph of Tolkien on the front. Lifting the front reveals on the left hand side Tolkien's famous painting of Smaug on his pile of gold (the silly image of Bilbo is mercifully cut off). Facing the dragon on the right is the briefest of contents lists and details of two other Tolkien audio recordings available from Caedmon.
It is unfortunate that the contents listing gives only the relevant book and chapter, and neglects to reveal the titles of the pieces being read. This is not very helpful to the listener and could give the impression that the cassette contains more than is actually the case. (In fact, as the whole thing comes shrink wrapped you are unlikely to get even this much indication before purchase, as the back cover says nothing at all about which pieces are included in the selection.) The cassette itself, held in a black plastic tray that slides out of the case, is of the usual if uninspiring transparent type with the title printed in white.
However, the recordings themselves are the thing. My only criticism of the recordings is that several of the items are cut off far too sharply. In one or two instances we seem to lose the last syllable with an audible click. Remastered as the recording certainly has been, there seems little excuse for such poor editing. This is a minor criticism, however, in the broader picture. Here we have Tolkien reading in full the chapter 'Riddles in the Dark' from The Hobbit. A revelation to this listener was discovering Gollum speaking in a shrill Welsh accent! (Okay, it probably isn't really Welsh, but it sounds so to these untutored ears.) [It's Welsh.]
The Fellowship of the Ring excerpts are a mixed bag of twelve poems and songs. Rather than list the twelve poems individually, I shall concentrate on what are to me the real gems. We start with Gandalf's rendition of the Ring Inscription from 'The Shadow of the Past', with Tolkien's pronunciation of Morrrdorrr... adding greatly to the import of the words. Given their signal importance to the whole of the Middle-earth mythos it is particularly unfortunate that the recording is cut so (too) promptly at the end of this piece.
Want to hear Tolkien chortle? His laugh of evident delight at the end of a spirited rendition of Water hot!! leads one to wonder at the celebration of bath-time in the Tolkien household!
Most fans are aware of Tolkien's personal identification with the Tale of Beren and Tinúviel. Reading here (as Strider) the abridged version of the greater Tale, Tolkien's voice betrays the personal resonances. Delivered with quiet emotion this is easily the most moving piece in the collection.
But if the poems and songs on the tape are gems, then Tolkien's singing of Sam's Troll Song is the Arkenstone. Nothing I could write here could do it justice, you really must hear it for yourself!
The second to last poem is, according to the blurb that came with the tape,
an unpublished poem that was apparently intended for inclusion in The
Fellowship of the Ring. I am confused by this, because the penultimate
recording is simply Sam's poetic tribute to Gandalf from 'The Mirror of Galadriel'.
Until now I had never found this a particularly moving or significant poem.
However, Tolkien gives the words a simple gravity that perfectly matches the
(supposed) passing of Gandalf the Grey.
Despite the niggles, this is a lovely recording that I can heartily recommend. Indeed, it is worth the price of the cassette just to hear Tolkien sing the Troll Song!
Also available as separate collections are 'Tolkien reading from The Lord of the Rings', and The JRR Tolkien Audio Collection which in fact contains all the recordings from the 'Hobbit and Fellowship' and the 'Lord of the Rings' collections, as well as others read by Christopher Tolkien.
For more details visit www.harperaudio.com or call (in the USA) 1-800-331-3761.
Caedmon Audio (Harper Audio) (USA)
Catalogue number CPN 101. ISBN: 1-55994-675-X
HarperCollins Audio Books (UK); ISBN: 0001056263 List price £8.99
This review first published on www.seventhage.freeserve.co.uk and in Reunion issue 16, March 2000.
Following my review of Caedmon Audio's 'JRR Tolkien Reads Excerpts from The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring', I am pleased to be able to review The Tolkien Audio Collection, read by JRR Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien.
The collection comprises four audio cassettes in a card box. The box itself is nicely decked out in black with accents of green: a slightly "retro" feel. The front illustration is Tolkien's own picture of Hobbiton, looking towards the Hill. It is frustrating (or interesting, depending upon your personality) that the three Caedmon Tolkien collections are each packaged differently. The JRR Tolkien Audio Collection box opens out to present the four cassettes each in their own card sleeve. As I have previously described, 'JRR Tolkien Reads Excerpts from The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring' has the single cassette held in a plastic tray that slides out from the card packaging. Perhaps most successfully, 'The Lord of the Rings Performed by JRR Tolkien' has the cassette in its own plastic box with colour insert card. In each case, unfortunately, the card packaging is flimsy and creases easily (I would recommend buying these at a bookstore if possible, rather than by post).
Turning back to the Audio Collection itself, I will treat the four cassettes in order.
Tape One Side 1: The Hobbit excerpts read by JRRT. Side 2: The Fellowship of the Ring excerpts read by JRR Tolkien. This is the same as that available from Caedmon Audio as 'JRR Tolkien Reads Excerpts from The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring' (CF 1477, ISBN: 0-694-52223-6), reviewed previously, so I will not repeat my earlier comments [which you can read further up the page].
Tape Two Side 1: The Two Towers excerpts read by JRRT. Side 2: The Return of the King - excerpts read by JRR Tolkien. This collection is also available from Caedmon Audio as 'The Lord of the Rings Performed by JRR Tolkien' (CPN 1478, ISBN: 0-89845-223-6). On side one we have Sam and Gollum discussing stewed rabbit (and fish and chips!). Tolkien is better by far reading the tales and songs of Treebeard and the Ents and expressing his (Tolkien's no less than Fangorn's) love of trees and sorrow at their destruction. But for me side two is the stronger, with a powerful and moving account of the Muster and Ride of the Rohirrim. Close your eyes and you are there with Merry amongst Théoden's host on the long ride to Mundburg.
Tolkien is best of all (perhaps understandably) reading the poetry of Rohan: some of which once I taught myself but never rendered like this. This, perhaps, is what it was like to hear the bards of old tell their tales of glory hard won, slaughter upon fields red with blood. A sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Such words and sentiments resound uneasily in these days. Responding (as my heart must) to the words evokes questions about the responsibilities of nation and individual and the proper response to alien aggression.
Tape Three Side 1: The Road Goes Ever On (a song cycle) composed and played by Donald Swann and sung by classical singer William Elvin. Side 2: Poems from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil read by JRR Tolkien. I was delighted to find this selection included. Many moons ago - when I was in my teens, and first discovering Tolkien - I sent off for an LP record (youngsters will have to bear with me: there used to be these things called LPs ...) called The Road Goes Ever On, from a company called Caedmon Records. It became one of my favourites.
To this day, despite wonderful recordings by other artists, The Road remains for me the definitive musical rendering of Tolkien's poems and songs. There was a large format hardback book too, containing the words and musical score, together with commentary by Tolkien himself. [That is currently out of print but can be found fairly easily with specialist second hand book dealers - try Daerons, Thornton's or the Tolkienwinkel on our links page. It's rightly famous also for its beautiful renderings of the Tengwar and for various linguistic commentaries.] The song cycle (side one of the tape) is sung by the appositely named William Elvin to music arranged and played at the piano by Donald Swann (he, I believe, of 'The Hippopotamus Song' fame). All tracks are wonderful, together and taken as a whole, but if I had to pick two special treasures they would be Namárië [Tolkien's own plainchant setting] and Errantry. In days past I taught myself these two pieces and can still sing them in full. Sadly not with Elvin's vocal repertoire.
On side two, Tolkien reads most of the poems from the collection published as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. The collection opens, though, with a spirited rendition of A Elbereth Gilthoniel (the insert incorrectly has this down as being on side one). All the poems are read with great confidence: rather more so than many of the pieces on tapes One and Two. My favourite track is The Sea-Bell, which the insert says is at the end of side one. (These errors are minor in themselves but the number of mistakes in the packaging is disappointing.) The Sea-Bell tells the tale of a mortal carried to mysterious lands across the sea. There he finds none will acknowledge him. In anger and frustration he decorates himself out and declaims in challenge:
Here now I stand, king of this land,
With gladdon-sword and reed-mace.
Answer my call! Come forth all!
Speak to me words! Show me a face!
The pall of darkness and rejection that is the only response recalls to me in miniature the cataclysmic rejection of the challenge of Númenor on the shores of the Uttermost West. The poem is supposedly (little basis in fact) attributed to Frodo (it is subtitled Frodo's Dreme) in his lonely last days in the Shire before his passage into the West. But surely in this rendition we hear Tolkien's own fears and hopes for himself, as he challenges the borders of the Perilous Realm.
Tape Four, sides one and two: The Silmarillion: 'Of Beren and Lúthien' - read by Christopher Tolkien This recording was a total revelation to me, in two senses. I had never before heard the voice of Christopher Tolkien and it was wonderful to discover that he is a fine orator. Going further, I would say the son's telling of this lengthy tale (to his credit it does not seem long and ends all too soon) lends the words a high dignity and presence the father might never have achieved. The second revelation was fully appreciating the interwoven complexity of this, arguably the central tale in the entire Middle-earth mythos. Tolkien is often (slightly mis-)quoted as saying that Middle-earth arose out of a need to develop a world in which his sub-created languages might have been spoken. Listening to the Tale of Beren and Lúthien I realised that in some sense the whole of Middle-earth exists only as a stage upon which the story of their love and doom might be played out. Such an idea is worthy of debate, perhaps, though this is not the place.
Buy this collection and listen to it lots. And be prepared for Middle-earth to get inside you in new ways.
Footnote from Webbie's department: There are various collections available in the USA and UK Harper Audio (Caedmon) labels at time of writing. The Tolkien Collection (4 tapes) have different packagings but more or less the same content, and probably represent the best value. There also exist collections of 3 cassettes, excluding the Christopher Tolkien reading (aimed no doubt at readers only interested in LotR and The Hobbit), and single-cassette packages with readings from the original Tolkien recording, as described by Martin in his first review. This is poorly presented and packaged compared to the larger collections and its main virtue seems to be a slightly lower price (for considerably less material). There is no "unpublished" material on the tape; "When evening in the Shire was grey", the poem Martin refers to, was certainly released on the original Caedmon vinyl album, as well as appearing in The Fellowship.
If anyone who has one of these collections has time to e-mail us a list of the tracks, we would be grateful as there are inadequate details on the packaging.