When I was updating the Mythopoeic Society’s Inklings bibliography, I thought about placing this book, not among the works of Tolkien’s fiction, but in the books about Tolkien, under “The Secondary World.” There’s virtually no narrative here. It’s all brief essays and notes about the life-spans of the Elves and Númenóreans, the rules by which the Valar govern Arda, and similar topics. Almost all of it was written after The Lord of the Rings was published, but any assumption that it’s therefore canonical is over-ridden by the sense that in most of these pieces, Tolkien is just thinking on paper to himself, figuring things out rather than laying down the sub-creational facts. At least this shows what he was doing instead of the impossible project of finishing up the Silmarillion.
Some of the contents have already been published, mostly in specialty journals on the Elven-tongues. (The more technical linguistic material is edited out here.) But even that will be new to most readers. Here are some things I learned from reading this book.
Sad news, that my friend and the distinguished Tolkien scholar Richard West died on 29 November in Madison, Wisconsin. He was 76 and retired from the University of Wisconsin, where he’d been an engineering librarian. He had been in hospital with another chronic illness and contracted the covid. His wife, Perri, was also in the same hospital with the same thing, and it’s part of the cruelness of the virus that they were unable to see each other. (She’s since reportedly recovered.)
As we approach Black Friday, people are turning their attention to the Christmas, and what Tolkien readers and fans might like to receive. Check out the list below of 10 suggestions which hopefully provide a range of ideas for every one. And, if you’re feeling the need for a pick-me-up, there’s always the option of picking up one of these for yourself! (more…)
So here’s a list of what its author, Derek Draven, claims are “8 things that make no sense about the entire quest,” you know, the one in The Lord of the Rings. Actually, the complaints are more about the movies than the book, but I might be able to shed a little enlightenment here. Mind, this is not researched, just off the top of my head, but this list deserves no more than passing and incidental consideration.
A selection of his sources of inspiration to read for free
In these difficult times many readers turn to the wonderful stories J.R.R. Tolkien has told – tales in which the unexpected heroes step forward to bravely succeed against all odds, where quiet perseverance and an all pervading sense of hope allows everyday people to come through. Tolkien himself knew loss and trauma from his early years, losing both father and mother as well as being a soldier in World War I in which many of his best friends perished.
Barbara Remington has died, at 90. Really old-time Tolkienists will remember her name as that of the artist who created the covers for the first issue of the Ballantine paperbacks of The Lord of the Rings, which may be seen pictured in her obituary here. (Note they’re all actually one painting split into three parts, which was also issued as a single poster without overprinting.)
Ballantine’s goal was to get the books in the shops quickly, to compete with the unauthorized Ace paperbacks, so they gave Remington very little time to work. She hadn’t then read the novel and had little opportunity to find out anything about it, consequently this surreal and impressionistic thing came into being.
Tolkien, unsurprisingly, hated it. He erupted in dismay at the sight, and to the publisher’s attempts at explanation commented, “I begin to feel that I am shut up in a madhouse.” (A quotation I found singularly apt to use as an epigraph when I came to write on Peter Jackson.)
But to those of us who were weaned on The Lord of the Rings in the early paperback years (this cover was used from the first paperbacks in 1965 until about 1973), we imprinted on this bizarre artwork the way a baby bird will imprint on a plastic doll in the absence of its mother. The transition from a peaceful if inexplicable Shire (emus? pink bulbs?) to the hellhole of a blasted Mordor with what look like tissue-paper monsters writhing in front does, at least, convey the point Bilbo made to Frodo about the world they live in:
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?