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Tolkien's Literary Resonances

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  • Steve Schaper
    What are the views of the worth of _Tolkien s Literary Resonances_? I m pondering getting it.
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 10, 2003
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      What are the views of the worth of _Tolkien's Literary Resonances_?

      I'm pondering getting it.
    • David S. Bratman
      ... Here s the review I wrote for Mythprint of the book I presume you re referring to: George Clark and Daniel Timmons, ed. _J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 10, 2003
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        At 12:54 PM 3/10/2003 , Steve Schaper wrote:
        >What are the views of the worth of _Tolkien's Literary Resonances_?
        >I'm pondering getting it.

        Here's the review I wrote for Mythprint of the book I presume you're
        referring to:

        George Clark and Daniel Timmons, ed. _J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary
        Resonances: Views of Middle-earth_. Greenwood Press hardcover, 213 pages,
        $58, ISBN 0-313-30845-4, 2000.

        Not too long ago, Greenwood Press issued two important new collections of
        essays on Tolkien. _Tolkien's Legendarium_, edited by Verlyn Flieger and
        Carl F. Hostetter, discussed "The History of Middle-earth" series and our
        new understanding of Tolkien's other works obtained through it. The
        present collection focuses on _The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit_, and _The
        Silmarillion_. Some of these essays began life as Mythcon papers, and most
        of them are comparative studies of Tolkien and other authors, particularly
        those from whom he may have derived ideas. Perhaps the best of this group
        is Jonathan Evans's discussion of Tolkien's use of Old English and Old
        Norse dragon lore in _The Hobbit_ and _The Silmarillion_. Charles W.
        Nelson's attempt to find one race in LOTR to embody each of the Seven
        Deadly Sins is very intriguing, if a little strained. In other essays,
        George Clark compares Bilbo's, Frodo's, and Sam's heroism to Beowulf's and
        Beorhtnoth's; William Rogers and Michael Underwood compare Gollum to a
        similarly degraded character in H. Rider Haggard; Roger Schlobin finds
        numerous thematic similarities between LOTR and _Sir Gawain_; Debbie Sly
        compares Valinor to Milton's cosmos; Tanya Wood compares Tolkien's theory
        of literature with Sir Philip Sidney's; and C.W. Sullivan points out, but
        does not take very far, LOTR's use of forms and techniques of saga and
        fairy-tale in the form of the novel.

        Turning to more recent comparisons, David Sandner discusses C.S. Lewis's
        creation of Narnia, and how it resembles both theory and practice of
        Tolkien's sub-creation. In a most interesting essay, Faye Ringel applies
        Harold Bloom's theory of the anxiety of influence to four recent women
        writers of fantasy (including MFA winners Patricia McKillip and Delia
        Sherman), showing how both a love for Tolkien and a desire to find their
        way out of his path influenced the creation of fantasies very different
        from his.

        What all these essays have in common is their demonstration of the rich
        applicability of Tolkien's work. Schlobin, for instance, takes care not to
        claim that Tolkien derived his themes from _Gawain_ (though he thinks it
        likely), but the similarities show the care Tolkien put into crafting his
        work, and the rich reward in store for a thoughtful reader.

        A few essays are less comparative. W.A. Senior uses Tolkien's evocation of
        great loss and sorrow to defend him from charges of light
        escapism. Geoffrey Russom gives a close analysis of metrical structure in
        Tolkien's verse. He does not address the vexed question of whether the
        verse is any good, but like the other critics in this collection, he
        demonstrates that Tolkien took care in his work. This essay may be paired
        with Joe R. Christopher's discussion of Tolkien's poetic diction in
        _Tolkien's Legendarium_, and Ursula K. Le Guin's similarly close study of
        the prose of LOTR in the forthcoming _Meditations on Middle-earth_.

        Lastly, the finest two essays in the book are by the two most distinguished
        scholars. They show that, even after 45 years of commentary, it's still
        possible to say something startlingly new about _The Lord of the
        Rings_. Tom Shippey begins by showing that evil in Tolkien's characters is
        a form of self-delusion, a cognitive dissonance between their ethics and
        their behavior; and concludes by praising Tolkien for his close integration
        of public and private morality. Along the way he compares C.S. Lewis's
        similar treatment of these themes, and contrasts with contemporaries who
        ignore the vital issue of public morality. And Verlyn Flieger will bring
        every reader up short with her observation that Tolkien's favor towards
        trees was not unmixed: what Saruman is cursed for doing in Fangorn is
        exactly what hobbits, in Merry's historical account, are praised for doing
        in the Old Forest. The only difference is motive, which can hardly matter
        to the trees. How his writing led him into this inconsistency, and why, in
        the end, it compliments Tolkien to point it out, are subjects that take up
        the remainder of the essay.

        These two searingly thoughtful essays would grace any critical
        collection. But all the contributions are well-put and worthwhile, a
        bouquet of demonstrations of the depth, subtlety, and resonance of
        Tolkien's fiction.

        - David Bratman
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