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Truth or Consequences

January 31, 2010

Instead of writing more blog posts this month, we have been busy fulfilling a promise we made to write a paper on some aspect of J.R.R. Tolkien for the ‘Scholars Forum’ area of the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza website. As always, what we expected to be a simple matter of re-using material prepared for other purposes turned out to be complex and time-consuming. More ideas kept coming to us, many facts needed to be re-checked, and there were some differences of opinion to resolve.

The final paper, ‘Truth or Consequences: A Cautionary Tale of Tolkien Studies’, is concerned with the use (or abuse) of evidence in writing about Tolkien. As we write in our first paragraph:

As Tolkien scholars we have been concerned mainly with biography (Tolkien’s life), bibliography (the publication of his works), and textual analysis (the development and transmission of his writings), as well as the study of Tolkien’s paintings and drawings. In the course of this work we have spent a great deal of time gathering information and an even greater amount judging the results. Since good scholarship is built upon a strong foundation of facts, as far as possible the scholar must ensure their veracity. Every piece of evidence must be considered, uninfluenced by any private bias or agenda. Is it correct? Is it genuine? Is it exaggerated? Is it invention? Is a document an original or a copy? Is an account first-hand or hearsay, contemporary with the event or remembered long after? There are many questions to be asked, not always with certain answers, if one is to get at – or at least closely approach – the facts of a matter distinct from myth, rumour, or opinion.

The full text may be read on this page. Comments are invited in a separate forum thread, and elements from the paper have inspired related threads elsewhere on the site.

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