Tolkien Studies

Michael D.C. Drout, editor


5 October 2021

In this issue: 9 peer-reviewed articles, 5 notes, 6 reviews.

Peer-reviewed articles

“The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun”: Sexuality, imagery, and desire in Tolkien’s works

Yvette Kisor, p. 19

The book publication of The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun in 2016 brought to wide attention a text first published in 1945 and likely completed in 1930 (Aotrou xi). The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun,” based on Breton models,1 relates the story of a childless Lord (Aotrou) and Lady (Itroun),2 and the Lord’s choice to seek out the help of a corrigan who then attempts to coerce him into sexual intercourse as payment once twins are born; when he refuses, he dies, followed shortly in death by his Lady. Neither sees their son and daughter grow up. Belonging to an earlier period than Tolkien’s better-known works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and associated with his early experiments in turning medieval poetry of many genres into modern English verse of various forms,3 it belongs as well to his early work with the Silmarillion materials and is especially associated with The Lay of Leithian.” In fact, as Christopher Tolkien points out, it can be conclusively shown that The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun interrupted the composition of Canto X of The Lay of Leithian” through comparison of written dates in both manuscripts (Aotrou xi). It is published along with two Corrigan” poems, renderings into English of Breton lays, and speaks to an early interest of Tolkien’s in Celtic literature, specifically the lays of Brittany, not generally acknowledged.4 This interest of Tolkien’s could seem merely an early diversion, not nearly as important as his lifelong study of Beowulf, for example, and his deep engagement with Old English and Old Norse literature. Certainly his professional engagement with Beowulf and Old English more broadly is of prime importance, as has been acknowledged. However, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun” is not simply an early interest quickly discarded or merely a formal exercise in the craft of verse. It reaches out in various directions, both towards other writings from the 1920s and 1930s and even to his later, best-known work, The Lord of the Rings.…

“A translator is not free”: J.R.R. Tolkien’s rules for translation and their application in Sir Orfeo

Curtis A. Weyant, p. 63

Amidst a description of many difficulties related to the translation of the Middle English poem Pearl, J.R.R. Tolkien complained in a letter to his aunt, Jane Neave, that a translator is not free” (Letters 317). While he did not delineate a set of rules by which translators are shackled, over the years of his career as a professor, author, language inventor, and, indeed, translator, Tolkien occasionally offered thoughts about what constitutes a good translation, and in some cases he even prescribed rules — or at least guidelines — which translators should follow to produce a worthy translation. Some of these thoughts are revealed in letters like the one to his aunt, while others are found in the notes of his translations of texts in Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and other languages. Still others can be discovered in the narrative and apparatus of his fictional works, such as Appendix F to The Lord of the Rings. Pulling together these diverse thoughts on translation scattered throughout Tolkien’s writings affords an opportunity to better understand his varied works, both popular and academic, in a new light.…

Faery, faith, and self-portrayal: An allegorical interpretation of Smith of Wootton Major

Josh B. Long, p. 93

… At the height of Tolkien’s popularity in 1966, he agreed to give a talk as part of a series on Faith and Literature” at Blackfriars, the Dominican house of studies in Oxford. But when he arrived at the event, he read from one of his stories instead, the then-unpublished Smith of Wootton Major. In his opening remarks, he apologized for not speaking on poetry, briefly introduced Smith, and explained that it is not an allegory — properly so-called” (qtd. at C&G 3:1217).1 If this is all he had ever said about this short tale, fewer critics would have been inclined to read it allegorically.2

“This gift of freedom”: The gift of Ilúvatar, from mythological solution to theological problem

Magne Bergland, p. 131

Among the many themes present in his writings, J.R.R. Tolkien himself on several occasions emphasized death and deathlessness as being particularly important to him. Thus in his reply to one reader’s attempt at interpreting The Lord of the Rings:

I do not think that even Power or Domination is the real centre of [The Lord of the Rings].… The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race doomed’ to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race doomed’ not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete. (Letters 246) …

Túrin the Hapless: Tolkien and the sanctification of suffering

Douglas C. Kane, p. 145

The story of Túrin Turambar is the knottiest and most conflicted of all the tales in J.R.R. Tolkien’s vast legendarium. Developed out of Tolkien’s first attempt at story-writing, Túrin’s story went through more permutations than any other part of Tolkien’s mythology, and he continued to work on an array of conflicting and overlapping versions throughout his lifetime. Nonetheless, the most problematic aspect of Túrin’s story is one that was established in the very beginning and never was abandoned by Tolkien. Despite Túrin’s flawed nature, and despite his violation of one of the most sacred tenets of Tolkien’s own faith, it is Túrin who is destined to achieve the final defeat of Morgoth Bauglir, the ultimate manifestation of evil in Tolkien’s secondary universe; and of all the heroes of the Children of Eru, he is the only one counted among the people of the Valar, the deities of Tolkien’s mythology.

Speculative Mythology: Tolkien’s adaptation of winter and the devil in Old English poetry

Joshua T. Parks, p. 163

Not only do J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth writings include fairy tales, mythological adventures, linguistic exercises, and theological reflections; they also provided their author with a place for scholarly play. Tolkien’s fictional work often serves as a philological sandbox, free from the demands and criticisms of a scholarly audience. For example, as several scholars have noted, the Gothic names of the Rohirrim’s distant ancestors (Vidugavia, Vidumavi, etc.) suggest that the Rohirrim’s real-world counterparts, the Anglo-Saxons, might have had Gothic ancestry.1 This conjecture is much safer hidden in fictional genealogies than it would be in a scholarly publication. In this essay, I explore another example of such scholarly play: Tolkien’s treatment of the relationship between the devil and winter in Old English poetry. The Old English Genesis, elegies like The Wanderer and the Seafarer, and hagiographies like Andreas all suggest an implicit connection between Satan’s desire to hold a throne in the north, Satan’s role as a spiritual opponent to the saints, and winter weather’s parallel roles as both northerly menace and spiritual threat. Tolkien borrows these themes in his invented mythology and adds an explicit, causal connection between them. His Satan figure, Melkor (later named Morgoth),2 is a dark lord upon a dark throne in the North” who created temperature extremes and who brings spiritual and physical danger as well as a Fell Winter upon his realm (S 205). The Old English poems considered below might compel an imaginative reader to wonder what a mythological connection between the north-dwelling devil and northerly weather might look like. Melkor is Tolkien’s answer to that question, an answer that he also incorporates into the theology and aesthetics of his mythology as a whole.…

“To trees all Men are Orcs”: The environmental ethic of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The new shadow

Stentor Danielson, p. 179

In the last few decades, a number of works have aimed to examine the environmental ethics implicit in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. The bulk of this scholarly attention has focused on the text of the published Lord of the Rings, with some secondary consideration for The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. In doing so, most scholars1 have passed over what may be Tolkien’s most explicit statement about environmental ethics in his writings about his legendarium: a debate in The New Shadow — his abortive attempt to write a sequel to The Lord of the Rings (Peoples 409 – 21) — between the characters Saelon and Borlas that directly considers the proper relationship of humans to nature, and the limits of our exploitation of it.…

“What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!”: Gandalf the wandering deconstructionist in The Hobbit

Michael A. Moir, Jr., p. 195

In The Lord of the Rings, the wizard Gandalf is a font of wisdom, a brave and self-sacrificing guide, and a kind of earthbound angel. His original appearance in The Hobbit, however, does not foreshadow the angelic origin he is later given or his reserves of wisdom; while he serves as a deus ex machina who gets Thorin and Company out of a number of tight spots early in the novel, he is a comic figure with limited powers and knowledge. For example, he cannot or will not read the Elvish writing on the blades found in the trolls’ cave, and his spells are unable to keep the wolves and goblins at bay for very long in the Misty Mountains. In The Individuated Hobbit: Jung, Tolkien and the Archetypes of Middle-earth, Timothy O’Neill claims that the Gandalf of The Hobbit is merely an old conjurer with much dignity who could not bear looking ridiculous” (O’Neill 73). The implication in O’Neill’s description is that Gandalf is somehow ridiculous, and indeed, despite his capacity for getting his friends out of the occasional scrape, he is often clownish. Much of the humor in Tolkien’s characterization of the wizard comes not from actions or, as O’Neill would have it, affronts to his dignity, however; it comes instead from Gandalf’s frequent soliloquies on the ambiguities of spoken language. In his approach to language as an ever-shifting play of signifiers in which the signified is never quite stable, Gandalf pioneers an approach to the analysis of language that would be taken up thirty years later in the late 1960s by Jacques Derrida and his deconstructionist acolytes.…

Depth, globalization, and the domestic hero: The postmodern transformation of Tolkien’s Bard in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films

Dennis Wilson Wise, p. 211

… At one point in The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), the third installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit film trilogy, the sycophantic Alfrid Lickspittle asks Bard the Bowman, The Master’s mantle was there for the taking, but you threw it all away. And for what?” Although Bard declines to respond, the camera pans quickly to Bard’s children. The implication is clear: more than political influence, money, or power, what matters is family. As far as subtlety goes, Jackson will win few prizes. Still, that single pan shot deftly pinpoints a key issue with his adaptation of The Hobbit. Much like Tolkien himself, Jackson criticizes personal greed in his films, or at least a cartoonish version of greed, but he inserts a theme of family values wholly absent from Tolkien’s original tale. One need not look far for an explanation. As film scholar Kristin Thompson explains, most of the highest-grossing films of recent decades are aimed at both adults and children” (74). Given the vast expense of modern blockbusters, Jackson evidently felt the need to make his films reach as wide an audience as possible. Since a family film should depict actual families, however, Jackson chose to transform the grim-faced, grim-voiced Bard, a man with no family cited within the original text, into a sympathetic widower with two daughters (invented) and a son, Bain, whom Tolkien only devised several years after originally publishing The Hobbit.…


Richard C. West, 1944–2020

John D. Rateliff, p. 7

The passing of Richard Carroll West (August 13, 1944 to November 29, 2020) at the age of seventy-six marks the end of a career in Tolkien, Inklings, and fantasy studies that from the very start combined the enthusiasm of fandom with the scrutiny of scholarship. The eldest of eight children, Richard was born and raised in the Boston area. He attended Cathedral High School, graduating second in his class. Both devout and tolerant, he took a modest pride in his descent from the family of Archbishop John Carroll, the first bishop appointed to serve in the post-revolutionary United States. He never thought to impose his views on others, yet when attending cons or academic conferences he was careful to schedule time for mass on Sunday mornings. While still in high school he was already involved with fandom — in this case, comic book fandom. An avid reader and collector of comic books, at the age of seventeen he won a contest in the letters page of a DC Comic. His prize was the original script by Gardner Fox, with editorial annotations by comic book legend Julius Schwartz, of the Adam Strange story Challenge of the Rival Starman,” which appeared in the June 1962 issue of Mystery in Space. It was while pursuing his B.A. in English literature at Boston College, sometime during his sophomore year (circa 1964), that Richard discovered Tolkien.…

Wið or mid? A glimpse into Treebeard’s diachronic perspective

Amber Dunai, p. 235

There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain’t, as you might say. LotR LRC §3.04.042

Thus comments Treebeard — the enormous, troll-like, tree-like creature whom Merry and Pippin have just met — regarding the hobbits’ unusual (to him) haste in revealing their name,” Hobbit, to a stranger: which, at this point in the story, he certainly is. Names are powerful things, he suggests, and one should not be too quick to give others access to them. There are Ents and Ents, after all. You’ll be letting out your own right names if you’re not careful” LotR LRC §3.04.039. Notable, in this exchange, is the ent’s already emerging preoccupation with words, one which matches that of J.R.R. Tolkien, his (sub)creator.…

The year’s work in Tolkien studies 2018

David Bratman; Kate Neville; Jennifer Rogers; Robin Anne Reid; Jason Fisher; John William Houghton; and John Magoun, p. 275

An accounting of 2018’s outstanding monographs on Tolkien should begin with The sweet and the bitter”: Death and dying in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, by Amy Amendt-Raduege (Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 2018). More reduced than expanded or revised from the author’s 2007 thesis from Marquette University, this book won the 2020 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award from the Mythopoeic Society. Pagan saints in Middle-earth by Claudio A. Testi (Zurich: Walking Tree, 2018) is another notable monograph of the year. This book expands on previous work by Testi, including Tolkien’s Work: Is it Christian or Pagan? A Proposal for a Synthetic’ Approach” in Tolkien Studies 10 (2013). Several more books of interest are also described below.…


The worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The places that inspired Middle-earth, by John Garth

Matthew A. Fisher, p. 245

Much scholarship on J.R.R. Tolkien and his creative works addresses nature or environmental considerations. Scholarship rooted in geographic considerations, different from the perspective of nature or environmental concerns, has focused on a few themes. Some works look at the physical geography of Middle-earth. Other work has examined the compass directions and the characteristics of the lands within Middle-earth associated with them. Finally, some individuals have engaged in what I would describe as geographic source criticism,” where they closely examine various geographic locations from Tolkien’s life with the goal of identifying those that served as models for something in The Lord of the Rings. I view this last approach as an attempt to compile a list of equalities where A in the real world equals B in Middle-earth.…

Tolkien’s modern reading: Middle-earth beyond the Middle Ages

Zachary D. Schmoll, p. 249

Holly Ordway’s thesis is paradoxically modest and bold. On one hand, her argument is restrained, as she says that in contrast to Tolkien’s modern reading, principally his medieval reading, but also the study of languages, his personal friendships with the Inklings and other formative experiences, especially in the Great War — occupy a more important place in his creative imagination” (9). The traditional picture of Tolkien, established in the authorized biography by Humphrey Carpenter and reinforced by numerous other works, emphasizes these elements of Tolkien’s inspiration to the exclusion of anything modern. Ordway cites Carpenter’s statement on Tolkien, He read very little modern fiction, and took no serious notice of it” (Carpenter 158; qtd. at 7), as a representative attitude that many have taken towards the Professor of Anglo-Saxon’s reading habits.…

Utopian and dystopian themes in Tolkien’s legendarium: by Mark Doyle

Jay Rimmer, p. 255

Mark Doyle’s Utopian and dystopian themes in Tolkien’s legendarium is an interesting but flawed work of scholarship. Doyle draws from a wide-ranging array of numerous sources, but while the research and the treatment of the sources is impressive, the arguments constructed from them are highly dubious and detract from the overall work. Doyle is at his best introducing a source to the discussion and showing his reader how to fit the new source alongside the others. The weakest moments tend to come soon after the introduction of a source, as Doyle constructs arguments that are often unimaginative and occasionally self-contradicting or highly subjective. It is also difficult to know what audience this book is written for: one constant thread is that Tolkien is better than other authors for a plethora of reasons, and most of Doyle’s high-level, overarching arguments are variations on this theme.…

Tolkien’s cosmology: Divine Beings and Middle-earth, by Sam McBride

Alyssa House-Thomas, p. 260

Sam McBride’s Tolkien’s cosmology sets out to answer a fundamental and sensible question: since Tolkien presumed religious elements to be a component of his fictional work, specifically The Lord of the Rings, and became annoyed with critics who made assertions to the contrary, what are those contents within the fiction itself that suggested divinity to its author, if not to his less perceptive critics? McBride’s book aims to be a systematization and explication of religious elements across Tolkien’s legendarium, with special attention paid to reading a continuity into the relationship between Tolkien’s hobbit-centered tales and his mythological and philosophical efforts composed both before and after The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Though Tolkien’s Roman Catholicism is addressed, the book’s project is to take Tolkien’s writings on their own ground, examining what McBride variously terms the legendarium’s monotheistic polytheism” (xii) and its polytheistic monotheism” (2), treated under both names as if it were a self-consistent theological framework which a reader may observe being ramified to differing degrees of manifestness or subtlety in each of Tolkien’s writings about Middle-earth.…

Music in Tolkien’s work and beyond: ed. Julian Eilmann & Friedhelm Schneidewind

David Bratman, p. 266

This is the third anthology of articles about Tolkien and music. Together with its two predecessors (Music in Middle-earth, edited by Heidi Steimel and Friedhelm Schneidewind, Walking Tree, 2010; and Middle-earth minstrel: Essays on music in Tolkien, edited by Bradford Lee Eden, McFarland, 2010), it demonstrates that music was vital to Tolkien’s imagination. All three anthologies venture outside of the topic of music as strictly defined, into lyrics on their own as poetry, and into Tolkien’s special interest of the music — if it may be so called — of language as studied in philology. The and beyond” of this book’s title, however, alludes to articles discussing other authors in comparison with Tolkien, and to articles covering music inspired by Tolkien.…

J.R.R. Tolkien: A guide for the perplexed

David Bratman, p. 269

Though presented as a subtitle for the volume, A Guide for the Perplexed” is actually the name of the series in which this book appeared. Bloomsbury has published several dozen short, introductory books under this heading, most of them in theology or philosophy, dealing either with concepts or important writers. A few are on literary subjects, either fields (modernist literature, science fiction) or authors. The 20th-century authors covered are otherwise canonical modernists (Eliot, Joyce, Kafka, Woolf), so to find Tolkien in their company is a notable mark of his growth in perceived literary status.…

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