Taking the plunge

Well. So, I’ve finally bought a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the 50th anniversary edition. I’ve never read it, actually. (No teasing!) I read The Hobbit back in high school, and The Silmarillion recently on the recommendation of a friend, but that’s been the limit of the relationship between me and Professor Tolkien’s “sub-creation” up to now.

And since I’m no longer a teenager with too much time on my hands and thus able to read and re-read many times a single book in order to figure out its details, and don’t relish the idea of therefore being lost in the welter of invented languages, weird but vaguely familiar names, and imagined histories, I’ve also picked up a copy of The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, and have ordered a copy of the same authors’ The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion. These, particularly the latter which is a very helpful-sounding commentary, will undoubtedly be very helpful. The former is, as the title connotes, a more wide-ranging reference work on J. R. R. Tolkien’s vast and (to me) bewildering body of work. I’m sure it will make sense of it all. I have not picked up a copy of the companion volume to the Reader’s Guide, which is primarily a detailed chronology of Tokien’s life. That’s a bit out of my interest range, though I’m impressed by its level of detail and the usefulness of such a work for those whose field of study is Tolkieniana.

The 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings is a very nice piece of bookmaking, though my copy is slightly marred by some stray spots of glue on the cover—an annoyance, but not severe enough to warrant a return. (I approach it this way: my copy came with pre-added character!) It’s a grayish-black leather hardcover, with slipcase, register (the bound-in ribbon marker), gilt page edges, two bound-in maps (these are bound in a little awkwardly, and my thus suffer tearing as I’ll undoubtedly need to consult them; unbound maps in a pocket would have been a better option), a few color illustrations, and two color text (red and black). I figured that if I’m going to read this book, I may as well have a nice copy of it! And it is indeed quite nice. It is also a corrected text, and one of the editions to which the references in the Reader’s Companion is keyed, so that will be very helpful.

I’m thoroughly impressed by the Tolkien scholarship that I’ve seen. I really didn’t know anything about it beyond a few weeks ago, when I read through the blog (Wormtalk and Slugspeak) of the fascinating and funny Professor Michael D. C. Drout of Wheaton College. With his Tolkien hat on, he is editor of The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, co-editor of the journal Tolkien Studies (available online at Project Muse, for those with access), author of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Beowulf and the Critics. With his Anglo-Saxon hat on, he is author of How Tradition Works: A Meme-Based Cultural Poetics of the Anglo-Saxon Tenth Century, and has produced recordings of his readings of Anglo Saxon texts (available at Anglo-Saxon Aloud, Beowulf Aloud, and Ango-Saxon Aloud: Greatest Hits). It’s particularly in the book reviews included in the various issues of Tolkien Studies that I’ve found such help in selecting the useful reference works I mentioned above. The various articles are quite interesting, as well. From the most recent issue: “‘A Kind of Elvish Craft’: Tolkien as Literary Craftsman” by John D. Rateliff, “Talk to the Dragon: Tolkien as Translator” by Ármann Jakobsson, and “The Music and the Task: Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth” by Verlyn Flieger are just three that are intriguinginly titled, and that I’ll be reading through soon. Very interesting!

I’m also impressed by the dedication and deep knowledge of his father’s work displayed in Christopher Tolkien’s editorial work on his father’s (fortunately vast) corpus of notes, drafts, art, and so on. It’s absolutely amazing what he’s accomplished in that regard. I first became aware of the important role he played in this regard in reading the preface to The Silmarillion (the second, corrected edition). I look forward to enjoying more of his work. The History of The Hobbit is a critical edition including drafts and a detailed investigation into the writing of The Hobbit [my mistake; this one is actually by John Rateliff, incorporating Tolkien’s drafts and such]. I’ll certainly be reading that. His [Christopher Tolkien’s] massive Complete History of Middle Earth, looks like a great read, actually. I’ll probably pick that up, too. I’ve also heard very good things about The Children of Húrin. His latest is a presentation of his father’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, an original English version of the old Norse tale, and not one of the Middle Earth books.

How very intersting!