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17649First impressions of the Drout Encyclopedia

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  • David Bratman
    Dec 22, 2006
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      That's _J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment_,
      ed. Michael D.C. Drout (Routledge, 2007 - that's the copyright date, 2007).
      I haven't read it all by any means, but I've looked through it and noticed

      1. What a huge volume (774 pages, letter size) with big print. Yes, I
      know, the print on most books may be too small, but it's a good thing the
      publishers didn't provide wider margins or the space-wasting illustrations
      found in most books of this kind, or it'd be even more physically unwieldy.

      2. Thank goodness, none of my contributions were mangled in copy-editing.
      In fact they seem to have been hardly touched at all, which is less than
      most of my editors, good or bad, do. In particular, "Further Reading"
      sections. Either I didn't know, or forgot being told, that articles should
      have these. In a few places where I did quote works and provide
      bibliographical citations these have been put as "Further Reading", but
      look at my entry on Parodies, which discusses eight books and three web
      sites, and nobody either asked me for full bibliographical references or
      added them themselves. Granted that I should have done so without being
      asked, but: did anybody edit this book?

      3. "See also" references are rampantly inconsistent. For one instance, my
      entry on Jim Dundas-Grant of the Inklings mentions Dr. Havard, and there's
      a "see also" to my entry on him; but that entry on Dr. Havard does not
      mention Dundas-Grant and does not have a see also to him, where it would be
      needed. The entry on "Education" (vague title, turns out to mean Tolkien's
      education) ends abruptly at his high-school graduation, with no indication
      in the "See also" or anywhere else that the story is taken up under
      "Oxford", which is basically a biography of Tolkien for his years there and
      says virtually nothing about the context of the place.

      4. The Oxford entry also contains what may be the most unintentionally
      hilarious sentence in the book, on p. 491: "Tolkien's secret engagement to
      Edith would end soon with Edith's reception into the Roman Catholic
      Church." This sounds for all the world as if he dumped her for turning
      Catholic, when what is evidently meant is that her becoming Catholic meant
      the engagement need no longer be kept secret. Yes, context makes it clear
      (eventually), but why trip up the reader on the way?

      5. Some of the entries on characters and places in Tolkien's work read like
      entries for a Foster's Guide to Middle-earth rather than for a Tolkien
      encyclopedia, starting out describing their place in the sub-creation (i.e.
      as if they were real) and only later getting to their role as fictional
      creations. This would be less irritating if the entries written this way
      didn't also fail to say where the sub-creational information on them comes
      from. I know, and you know, but prospective readers of the encyclopedia
      don't. But other entries of this kind, by different hands, are quite
      conscientious. Checking on which ones wrote which way, I can't say I'm a
      bit surprised.

      6. Again, did anybody edit this book? There are two separate entries on
      the book _The Adventures of Tom Bombadil_, explaining the same things, one
      by Gene Hargrove under its title, and one by Tom Shippey under "Poems by
      Tolkien: _The Adventures of Tom Bombadil._" Did nobody notice?

      7. Why is there a biographical entry on Susan Dagnall, the go-between who
      brought _The Hobbit_ to Allen and Unwin, and none on the Unwins, who
      continued to be so important in Tolkien's life? They're only mentioned in
      passing in various places; nothing about them as people. Did anybody edit
      this thing at all?

      8. I'm not going to count the other rampant inconsistencies in what got
      entries and what didn't, and in approach, length, etc of comparable
      entries. There's just too much. Except to note that some topics are
      chopped up into tiny bits under different entries, while just about
      everything on Elvish linguistics is under one very long entry, "Languages
      Invented by Tolkien" by Carl Hostetter, which is so clear and so good that
      it suggests the entire encyclopedia should have been written this way, as a
      set of long essays on broad relevant topics instead of little bitty ones on
      a lot of peripheral topics some of which are barely connected to Tolkien at
      all. Look at the entry on Aquinas, which begins by noting that Tolkien is
      never known to have mentioned him. _That's_ a promising start in a Tolkien

      9. This is not my copy. I borrowed it. The price being charged
      contributors - or anyone else for that matter - is obscene, and despite
      some valuable material I can hardly call the book worth it.

      David Bratman
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