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Mythlore

Janet Brennan Croft, editor



Volume 40, № 1

18 October 2021

In this issue: 11 peer-reviewed articles, 1 editorial, 3 notes, 13 reviews.

Editorials

Editorial

Janet Brennan Croft, p. 3

This is our largest issue of Mythlore to date; in fact, at 288 pages, we have reached the limit at which we can keep our postage rates at their current level, so you won’t ever see a larger issue under our current subscription model.

Peer-reviewed articles

All worthy things: The personhood of nature in J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium

Sofia Parrila, p. 5

This paper argues that J.R.R. Tolkien’s portrayal of plants, animals, and geographical features as morally complex persons is central to the ecocentric model of environmental stewardship developed within Tolkien’s legendarium. Tolkien’s Middle-earth writings endow non-human beings such as animals, plants, and even rivers with personhood by emphasizing their individuality, their capacity for interpersonal relationships, and their agency to make moral choices. I build on work done by critics such as Matthew Dickerson, and Jonathan Evans (Ents, Elves, and Eriador) to find a practicable and inspirational environmental ethic in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales. The most common philosophical framework for analyzing Tolkien’s environmentalism is a Catholic model of stewardship. But a traditional stewardship ethic, in which environmental responsibility belongs to human beings acting as God’s stewards, risks falling into anthropocentrism or a sense of entitlement over a nature that is understood as resources existing for human extraction. By analyzing three of Tolkien’s works — The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and the unfinished tale Aldarion and Erendis” — this paper argues that Tolkien was aware of the limits of human environmental stewardship. Tolkien’s Catholic Christian background and his deep love for natural features interact to create an ecological ethic indebted to the stewardship model, but in which humanity does not have a monopoly on stewardship, and in which the value of non-human Creation comes directly from its personhood.

The shape of water in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

Norbert Schürer, p. 21

Water is omnipresent in many shapes and forms in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. To most critics, this water symbolizes melancholy, hope, and salvation — but then these scholars treat all water as if it were the same. In contrast, I demonstrate that there are six always intertwined and overlapping aspects or facets of representations of water: instrumental (to move the plot forward), geographical (to set up distinctions and boundaries), figurative (images of water employed in rhetorical devices), mystical (magical incarnations of water), pathetic (mirroring the emotions of characters), and intentional (creating meaning by prefiguring and intensifying character’s ideas and decisions and by developing the plot). In addition, I trace similarities between representations of water in The Lord of the Rings and the symbolism of water in our primary world. In the interaction of the six aspects, for instance in the chapter Helm’s Deep,” representations of water in The Lord of the Rings show that there are always good and bad possibilities in every situation, and they encourage readers to take responsibility and make the best of these possibilities.

Mirrors to the underworld: Reflective portals between life and death in the Harry Potter series

Trenton J. McNulty, p. 43

This article argues that reflective surfaces throughout all seven Harry Potter novels symbolize thresholds between discrete worlds. By displaying Harry’s dead parents on the other side’ of the Mirror of Erised, the text draws on the Myth of Narcissus and various other mythological death-mirrors to create the impression of an inverse afterlife realm where the dead live again, supporting the central themes of death and grief in the series. By drawing upon Lori M. Campbell’s theory of object porters,’ the article shows how the gradual transformation of this framework through more abstract reflections (eyes, creatures, lakes) reveals a deep symbolic framework woven throughout the entire series, with further roots in Farah Mendlesohn’s sub-genre classifications as well as modern fantasy literature. When paired with John Granger’s contention that Harry’s confrontations with death parallel the descents of monomythic heroes across time, the text’s spatial symbology allows it to effectively signal the boy wizard’s escalating awareness of mortality and willingness to face it, courting death in the name of life.

Lewis and Clarke in the Caves: Art and Platonic Worlds in Piranesi

Julie M. Dugger, p. 63

Susanna Clarke’s 2020 novel Piranesi openly acknowledges its debt to C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Piranesi’s imagined world, the House, is modeled after Charn from The Magician’s Nephew in the Chronicles: both feature uninhabited and apparently endless series of halls. Clarke’s world is not Lewis’s, however. As she puts it, I always liked Charn better than Lewis liked Charn,” and the House in Piranesi is not a cold, dead shell, but the beloved home of the novel’s eponymous narrator. Piranesi’s handling of the relationship between models (like Charn) and their differing imitations (like Piranesi’s House) is important because a theme both Lewis and Clarke explore is the relationship between Platonic ideals and their imperfect copies. Following Plato’s Republic, with its hierarchy of intelligible, physical, and mimetic-artistic worlds, both Piranesi and the Chronicles of Narnia are multi-world stories in which one world echoes another. But just as Clarke adapts Charn into the more positively-connotated House, she also adapts Lewis’s Platonism. Unlike the Chronicles, which feature a Neoplatonic heaven influenced by Plato’s description of the intelligible world, Clarke’s novel features a narrator who questions the existence of any higher knowledge at all, and focuses instead on a critique of the relationship between Plato’s physical and artistic worlds. In contrast to Plato, Clarke presents artistic work not as an inferior imitation of the physical world, but as an interpenetrating influence on it. By exploring art’s influence as it pays fond but dissenting homage to the inspiration of Lewis’s work, Piranesi encourages us to reflect on what, during a time of critical reassessment and canon revision, we owe to the stories that have made us. While Piranesi is far from a morally-relative novel, in the absence of an ethos of perfection, it fixes meaning neither in the works of a nostalgic past nor in those of a progressive present. Past and present, art and society, fantasy and realism are all reciprocally constructive. Understood in static isolation, the worlds of the mind are troubling and perilous. But in our connections to them, they matter, becoming a comfort and light in our own rough times.

Just reading A Spell for Chameleon: An appreciation with caveats, and an elegy

Dennis Wilson Wise, p. 86

In 1977, a landmark year for fantasy publishing, Piers Anthony’s A Spell for Chameleon emerged as one of the era’s most popular fantasy novels. Since then, however, the novel’s reputation (as well as Anthony’s) has fallen precipitously. The reason for this, I suggest, involves our changing habits of critical reading, which view Anthony’s sexism and outdated gender stereotypes as conduits for deeper and more reactionary viewpoints like misogyny and anti-feminist ire. In contrast, I argue that a surface” reading of the novel can help recover those meanings foreclosed by more critical approaches. In particular, I examine A Spell for Chameleon in light of Bink’s sexist views, the novel’s odd rape trial, and the presence of a confessed misogynist within the text.

Responsibility and critical thinking as markers of adulthood in two coming-of-age fantasy series: Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching novels and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimeus trilogy

Anna Köhler, p. 103

Empirical studies have found that young people do not conceptualize adulthood as something achieved by reaching various traditional milestones, but rather as the result of more intangible psychological processes. They overwhelmingly agree on the importance of two aspects: taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions, and developing personal beliefs and values independently of one’s parents or other influences. This paper explores the role that responsibility and critical thinking (as prerequisite to developing personal beliefs) play in the coming of age of the protagonists of two young adult fantasy series: Tiffany Aching in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and Nathaniel in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy. While Pratchett and Stroud approach these issues from opposite directions — with one protagonist willing to take on responsibility and think independently, and the other long refusing to do so — they both essentially advocate the same values, suggesting that responsibility and critical thinking are not only markers of adulthood, but markers of being a good person. Both promise young readers that accepting responsibility and questioning the things they are told may not always come easy, but that doing so is inherently empowering.

The conscience of Solomon Kane: Robert E. Howard’s rhetorics of motive, world, and race

Gabriel Mamola, p. 123

In this article I use key definitions from the writings of C. S. Lewis and Hannah Arendt to analyze the portrayal of conscience as motive” in Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane stories. I propose a reading of Kane Saga” as unified by a single underlying fantasy narrative structured around the development of Kane’s conscience across several adventures set in Europe and Africa. In doing so, I attempt to construe these stories of Howard’s earliest Sword and Sorcery” hero as a fruitful place for critical engagement with Howard’s rhetorics of race, motive, conscience, and action. In doing so, I push back against the dearth of scholarship about Howard’s Kane stories relative to scholarship about his Conan stories, and I offer some potential ways in which scholars of fantasy might more effectively navigate Howard’s rhetorical treatment of race.

But where shall wisdom be found? The Lord of the Rings and the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible

Mattie E. Gustafson, p. 145

Wisdom literature is a kind of writing that evolved in the ancient world as soon as mankind began to explore the meaning of life and sought understanding and insight. The Hebrew Bible contains three canonical books that scholars consistently identify as wisdom literature – Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. This paper explores the connections (common content, shared plot elements and structure, similar characters with similar struggles and perspectives, and even themes and outlooks), between this body of wisdom and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Specifically, this essay will define wisdom literature, and then compare wisdom literature to Tolkien’s work in three ways: generally — looking at shared overall characteristics; individually — looking at Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes separately and comparing each to The Lord of the Rings; and cumulatively — proposing that the three wisdom books, when taken together, offer a complex and nuanced overall theme, and demonstrating that this theme is also present in The Lord of the Rings.

“Taliessin in the Rose-Garden”: A symbolic analysis

Joseph Thompson, p. 163

In this analysis of a poem from Charles Williams’s Taliessin cycle, Taliessin in the Rose-Garden,” I sought to demonstrate that our reading of the poem could be helped with the use of certain traditional categories of symbolism. In particular I focussed on how Williams adapts the classical model of hylomorphism to offer his own take on the relationship between spirit and matter. That he was able to accomplish this through the medium of poetry is a considerable testament to his skill and the scope of his vision. I also tried to show where hermetic ideas encroach upon his Christian storytelling, potentially posing problems for an orthodox reading of his poetic cycle as a whole.

The enigmatic loss of Proto-Hobbitic

Thomas Honegger, p. 179

This paper investigates two questions. First, why did Tolkien assign the Hobbits a Mannish language of the upper Anduin, akin to that of the Rohirrim” (LRC §F.1.18) as the first language of which we have some knowledge? Second, why does Tolkien deny the Hobbits a distinct linguistic identity and turn them into linguistic chameleons?

How Tolkien saved his neck: A lusinghe proposition to the Oxford Dante Society

John R. Holmes, p. 193

Despite Tolkien’s decidedly Northern” literary preoccupation, he has long been assumed, as a medievalist and a Catholic, to have at least a passing interest in and knowledge of Dante’s Divine Comedy, though all that has been confirmed in print so far is his membership in the Oxford Dante Society (20 February 1945 to 15 February 1955), and the fact that he read a paper to the Society on November 11, 1947. A pencil manuscript of Tolkien’s paper, however, entitled A Neck Verse,” survives in the Tolkien Archives at the Bodleian Library, and it reveals that he read it with attention, in Italian, and brought his Northern” scholarship to bear on the Southern” genius of Dante. A synopsis of the paper, with a few quotations, reveals a self-dramatized persona of Tolkien as what he calls a Northren Man,” a surprising reference to the 1922 novel Babbitt, which Tolkien elsewhere cited as influencing The Hobbit, and a Germanic Romance history of two words from Dante, bruno and lusinghe.

Notes

Keystone or cornerstone? A rejoinder to Verlyn Flieger on the alleged conflicting sides” of Tolkien’s singular self

Donald T. Williams, p. 210

In The Arch and the Keystone,” Mythlore 38:1 (Fall/​Winter 2019), 5 – 17, Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger argues that the conflicts and contradictions she sees in Tolkien’s essays and fiction do not call for harmonization but rather should be embraced for what they are: two opposing and conflicting sides of one person, whose contention makes him who he is as well as what he is, the keystone that creates the arch” of The Lord of the Rings (16) out of the friction of the two sides. Her argument has the virtue of helping us to take both darkness and light in the legendarium with full seriousness. Unfortunately, the alleged contradictions, e.g. between the despair of the Beowulf essay and the hope for eucatastrophe in the essay On Fairie Stories,” reflected by light and darkness in The Lord of the Rings, are created by Flieger’s failure fully to understand Tolkien’s biblical worldview, where the impossibility of salvation in this life does not contradict, but is the logical setting for, the hope of a redemption not fully realized until the next. Thus an understanding of Tolkien’s biblical eschatology dissolves the alleged tension and lets us supplement Flieger’s keystone with the cornerstone of Tolkien’s worldview, which shows us that the coherence, rather than the contradiction, of Flieger’s elements can also function as a useful window on the power of Tolkien’s sub-creation.

A holiday by the sea: In search of Cair Paravel

Reggie Weems, p. 226

The Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland is traditionally recognized as an influence on the fictional, imaginative writing of C.S. Lewis. In particular, Dunluce Castle has often been acknowledged as a possible model for Cair Paravel in The Chronicles of Narnia. But Lewis’s own description of the geography of Cair Paravel in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, coupled with several letters he wrote, suggests the possibility of another, earlier and more influential model for the Narnian capitol castle; that of the Bishop’s Palace and Mussenden Temple at Downhill Demesne, adjacent to Castlerock, Northern Ireland.

Reviews

Women tarot artists inspired by the Golden Dawn: Recent publications

Emily E. Auger, p. 242

The Tarot art of Leonora Carrington and Ithell Colquhoun is discussed in the context of other women artists influenced by the Golden Dawn and who created historical Tarot decks. The emphasis is on the recent publications about Carrington and Colquhoun from Fulgur Press, with references to recent books about the Tarot art of Moina Mathers, Pamela Colman Smith, Jessie Burns Park, and Frieda Harris.

Tolkien’s Modern Reading: by Holly Ordway

Kristine A. Swank, p. 249

Ordway’s book aims to challenge an assumption that J.R.R. Tolkien is fundamentally rooted and grounded in the past, partaking only minimally of the modern world” (5). She hopes to accomplish this by proving her main argument that, Tolkien’s modern reading was both more extensive, and more significant in its influence on the legendarium, than has hitherto been recognized” (291). Ordway gathers 148 authors and more than 200 titles that Tolkien is known to have owned or read, and traces their influence on the development of Middle-earth. Despite a number of factual errors, and a flawed assumption that those interested in Tolkien are largely unaware of his interest in modern literature, the text is engaging, avoids academic jargon, and gathers a large amount of information under one convenient cover.

The flight of the wild gander: by Joseph Campbell

Phillip Fitzsimmons, p. 256

The Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension: Selected Essays, 1944 – 1968 is a 2018 addition to The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series. This volume of essays begins with a history of the Grimm brothers and fairy tales, moves on to the author’s ideas on the role of society to the development of mythologies, and ends with the secularization of the sacred. This book would go nicely with his The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959 – 1987, a 2017 reissue of the volume, also for The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series. Both books develop similar themes about mythology using psychology and anthropology as a joint lens for his analysis.

The Saga of the Volsungs: With the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, translated by Jackson Crawford

Phillip Fitzsimmons, p. 261

The Saga of the Volsungs: With the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok is a treat. Both compositions in the volume contain larger than life heroes and heroines who engage in adventures and who fight for the survival and wealth of their clans. They are also consumed — generation after generation — by the blood-feud and by the compulsion to fulfill, to the letter-of-the-word, their unwise vows, and executing them to their last logical and bitter consequences. The stories consist of heart wrenching episodes of treachery, violence, incest, and infanticide. But, both sagas can grow on a reader. They are also tales about an action-oriented people who compete against other families for the scarce resources of the harsh Icelandic natural environment. The reader sees intense love and equally intense hatred. In either case, the stories are not dull and their cumulative effect is to leave the reader with a sense of the tragedy and inevitability of a never-ending fight for survival, love, and the vengeance of the blood-feud. The reader can also see, especially in The Saga of the Volsungs, a source of the inspiration of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and the other works of his legendarium.

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