Tolkien Notes 11
Tolkien Projects Update
The pocket edition of Farmer Giles of Ham, based on our edition of 1999, was published as scheduled by HarperCollins on 27 February. As far as we know, there will not be an American edition, but the HarperCollins printing can be purchased easily from sources such as Amazon U.K. and Book Depository. On 2–3 February, we completed our text for The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, and are awaiting proofs. With that done, we turned to our revision of The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, and completed that on 3 March. Since the original typesetting was not available for amending, Wayne recreated all of the 191 pages to which we made additions or changes. We limited ourselves to the same total number of pages in the volume, to avoid extensive renumbering and re-indexing, but managed to add a few notes as well as correct typographical errors and notes which were out of sequence.
Revised on 3 May 2014 to correct our statement about settings.
2014 is the beginning of the 60th anniversary of the first publication of The Lord of the Rings (1954–5). Where did the years go since we edited the work for its 50th anniversary? We have revised our ‘Note on the Anniversary Edition’ for the occasion.
Two versions of the new edition are to be published on 19 June 2014. One will be in three hardback volumes with adaptations of Tolkien’s dust-jacket designs, issued in a boxed set with our revised Reader’s Companion. Our understanding is that this will be a reprint of the existing standard Lord of the Rings, without further corrections. The other version will be reset, including further corrections we have noted in our online addenda and corrigenda, with the index revised to account for new pagination. This will be a deluxe hardback in a ‘special transparent slipcase’ and with Alan Lee’s illustrations for the centenary edition brought back into print.
Tolkien’s drawing New Lodge, Stonyhurst, which we reproduced in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (fig. 28), sold on 19 March at the auctioneer Bonham’s in London for £8,215 (including premium) against a house estimate of £3,000–5,000. It had been offered three years ago by the auctioneer Tennants, but failed to sell with an excessively high estimate of £15,000–20,000.
While on the faculty at Leeds, Tolkien began, but did not complete, an alliterative verse translation of Beowulf into Modern English, and worked also on a prose Modern English translation, completing the latter by the end of 1926, though not to his satisfaction. He included a few lines from the verse translation in his preface to the Clark Hall Beowulf in 1940, and other extracts have appeared posthumously, the longest in The Lost Road and Other Writings. We ourselves saw the manuscript at Oxford and quoted part of the prose translation in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. Both translations have long been high on lists of desiderata among Tolkien enthusiasts. Now Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, edited by Christopher Tolkien, is to be published on 22 May, by HarperCollins U.K. in both deluxe and regular editions, and in a regular edition only in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
We had known that Christopher was working on this – he consulted us on a related point in our Companion and Guide: Chronology – but not its precise contents or projected date of publication. We’re looking forward to it very much, and are glad that it will contain as well some of Tolkien’s lecture notes on the poem and his story Sellic Spell, an attempt to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon tale that lies behind the folk- or fairy-tale element in Beowulf. Tolkien’s friend Professor Gwyn Jones read Sellic Spell and said that it should be prescribed for all university students of Beowulf. We certainly enjoyed it when we read it in the Tolkien Papers at the Bodleian.
In our previous Tolkien Notes we wrote of the recent ‘collector’s edition’ of The Lord of the Rings published by HarperCollins. We should have mentioned, in relation to our comparison of different printings of the 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings, that the ‘collector’s edition’ follows the ‘A’ typesetting and the 2011 HarperCollins three-volume paperback, and retains the errors noted in our analysis of February 2012.
Many collections of essays on Tolkien have been published (we noted one edited by Peter Hunt in Tolkien Notes 10), and more are being planned. There can now be little argument that Tolkien is worthy of serious scholarly consideration, and from any number of perspectives. But does the result have to be of such a mixed quality? Inevitably, we suppose, this would be the case with any subject as the number of notes and essays written about it increases. Too often, though, we find ourselves grinding our teeth over some bit of writing, saying ‘That’s not so’ or ‘Hasn’t he read XYZ?’ or ‘Where’s the evidence for that?’ And the more one knows about Tolkien, the harder it is to read critical works without being highly critical oneself.
Tolkien: The Forest and the City (the jacket adds J.R.R. at the start of the title), edited by Helen Conrad-O’Briain and Gerard Hynes (2013), is a case in point. We took issue at once in the foreword to the collection, where Darryl Jones writes that it is ‘quite unlikely that Tolkien would get a university teaching post today, let alone three successive chairs in two front-rank universities’, because he published so little in his field; and that ‘we now know that Tolkien poured very much of his scholarly energy into developing, refining and elaborating his own private system of mythology’ (p. 6). Has Prof. Jones not read our Companion and Guide in which we show, at exceptional length (indeed, for most of the Chronology), how much of his scholarly energy Tolkien poured into his teaching, his supervising, and his administrative duties?
Then there is Karl Kinsella’s attempt to link Tolkien with the Arts and Crafts architect Edward Schroeder Prior because of ‘their shared vision of an idealized English landscape . . . [and] a remarkably similar architectural image’ (pp. 92–3). The suggested connection is very tenuous and the argument heavily laboured, indeed nullified by Kinsella’s admission that there was no ‘direct connection between the two’ and that ‘there is nothing to suggest that Tolkien ever saw Prior’s designs for West Bay’s [Dorset] new promenade’ to which Kinsella points in particular. Rather, Kinsella says, ‘Tolkien must have been aware’ of a ‘vibrant discussion’ about the relationship of the built environment and the landscape (p. 97). Prior’s (unrealized) West Bay promenade has rounded rooflines and rounded (but not round) windows, which Kinsella compares with Hobbit architecture. But Hobbits tended to build in hills, which are naturally rounded, so their windows tended to follow in form; and rounded forms are common in English vernacular architecture, not just of buildings out of the Arts and Crafts movement in which Prior was involved; and such forms were by no means original to the English, in fact the oculus (round window or opening) dates from antiquity.
As for Meg Black’s assertion that a tree in Tolkien’s Hobbiton colour plate was his response to the tragedy of Guernica, an echo of the ‘oak of Guernica’ which survived the attack – well, let us look at this carefully. The Guernica massacre occurred on 26 April 1937; articles about it, and about the oak, soon began to appear in the Times of London. On 31 August, Tolkien sent to George Allen & Unwin his painting The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water to be forwarded to Houghton Mifflin for the American edition of The Hobbit. ‘The image’, writes Black,
depicts a sweeping view of Hobbiton, focusing on a distant field outlined by a low rock wall. The most noticeable aspect of this field is that in the focal point stands a tree. This is not to say that this is the party tree, which did not yet exist, but it is suggestive that [Tolkien] placed a tree at the centre of his landscape. This artwork was completed within months of the bombing of Guernica in which the tree most central to the Basque community was highly discussed. Although it is unlikely Tolkien intended at that time to give the tree such a prominent role in his future texts, his inclusion of a central tree suggests the possibility that events abroad were already influencing his work. [p. 172]
The tree in question must be the one on top of The Hill, as that is the one in a field within ‘a low rock wall’. But that is not the party tree. The party tree, as The Lord of the Rings makes clear, was in a field below Bag End, not above it (or on top of it). Also, there are many trees in the picture, including the chestnuts near the Mill which would themselves figure in The Lord of the Rings. And most tellingly, Tolkien had already drawn the tree at the top of The Hill in his pen and ink drawing of the subject, indeed all of the trees later depicted in his colour plate, for the first printing of The Hobbit, by 17 January 1937, three months before the events at Guernica. In any case: there is no reason to think that the party tree grew from the influence of any of the numerous trees famous in history, literature, myth, or legend, let alone the Guernica oak.
The Forest and the City is a collection of papers delivered at a conference at Trinity College, Dublin in 2012 with the aim of addressing a perceived relative neglect of ‘Middle-earth as landscape and built environment’. (‘Relative’ is the operative word, and arguable.) The presenters included notables in Tolkien studies such as Shippey, Fimi, Honegger, Flieger, and Drout, as well as younger scholars new to the field. There is certainly no lack of good points made among them, if sometimes marred by jargon. Tom Shippey (‘Goths and Romans in Tolkien’s Imagination’) as always is erudite and entertaining, and conference co-organizer Gerard Hynes’s own essay, ‘“The Cedar Is Fallen”: Empire, Deforestation and the Fall of Númenor’, deserves mention as an clear, intelligent look at imperialism and environmental destruction in Tolkien’s works.
2014 is the 700th anniversary of the founding of Exeter College, Oxford, where Tolkien studied as an undergraduate. To mark the occasion, the Rector of Exeter College, Frances Cairncross, with Hannah Parham and others, has produced Exeter College: The First 700 Years (London: Third Millennium Publishing, 2013). It provides, within the larger history, interesting perspectives on the college that Tolkien knew, and includes three pages on Tolkien as an undergraduate written by John Garth.
Another, much later Exeter luminary, Philip Pullman, contributed two pages of undergraduate reminiscences. His were happy days, he says. Theoretically he read English, but spent little of his time in scholarly pursuits. He couldn’t ‘get on’ with Old English, and his impression of a lecture was that ‘it consisted of an elderly don reading slowly and indistinctly out of a book of his own, which I thought I could read rather more quickly myself, if I could find it in the library’ (p. 178). Pullman recalls dining with the Rector, together with two student friends, Caradoc and Richard. The guest of honour at the dinner was Tolkien, who asked Richard how the students were ‘pronouncing Anglo-Saxon these days’; but Richard ‘could only open and close his mouth like a fish’. Tolkien then turned to Caradoc and asked if he enjoyed The Lord of the Rings; but Caradoc hadn’t read it. ‘That was the end of Tolkien’s conversation for the dinner’ (p. 179) – presumably, with the students, if not with the Rector. (Christina remembers having heard this story related somewhere before.)
In his article ‘The Educational Value of Esperanto: The Word of Tolkien in The British Esperantist’, Oronzo Cilli discusses the extracts from a letter by Tolkien published in The British Esperantist in 1932, but also new information about Tolkien, the British Esperanto Association, and the Esperanto congresses in Oxford in 1930 and 1933. We have incorporated some of this in our latest (nearly ready) addenda and corrigenda.
Oronzo Cilli’s website (tolkieniano.blogspot.it) includes other Tolkien-related resources, and he has produced in print a bibliography of Tolkien’s works published in Italy: J.R.R. Tolkien: La bibliografia italiana dal 1967 ad oggi (Bari: L’Arco e la Corte, 2013). Another book by Oronzo, Tolkien in Italia, is forthcoming.