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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Best Tolkien criticism?


Aug 31 2012, 6:56am

Post #1 of 9 (1123 views)
Best Tolkien criticism? Can't Post

What do you all think are the best works of Tolkien criticism?

After a lifetime of reading Tolkien, I finally decided to read some Tolkien criticism - specifically, Tom Shippey's "JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century." Before this, the closest I've come is reading Christopher Tolkien's editorial notes in the various volumes of the legendarium. I'm loving Shippey's book, and now I'm curious to see what else out there is worthwhile. Any suggestions?

(This post was edited by mandel on Aug 31 2012, 6:57am)


Aug 31 2012, 1:04pm

Post #2 of 9 (649 views)
Recs [In reply to] Can't Post

One of my favorites is The Battle for Middle-earth by Fleming Rutledge. Granted it is meant to focus on the spiritual elements of the story, but I think it a very good analysis overall. I did not care for her interpretations of Merry and Pippin-- but when I wrote her a letter to say so, she very graciously wrote me back, and said she agreed with me!

I'm also reading Tolkien in the Land of Heroes, (not to hand at the moment, so can't remember the author) and it's pretty good so far. I love Shippey's books, all of them, but particularly Author of the Century.

Registered User

Aug 31 2012, 4:15pm

Post #3 of 9 (669 views)
My favorite critics and scholars [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, if I am going to be really pedantic, I would have to say Christopher Tolkien. Seriously, he should be because he has the the greatest opportunity and motivation to really know the material (not that I never disagree with him)! Seriously, I appreciate a lot of Tolkien scholars. Today I think my personal favorite is Verlyn Flieger. Because at this exact moment, I am using her book A Question of Time: J. R. R. Tolkien's Road to Faerie, which won the 1998 Mythopoeic Award for Inklings studies, and stands up against the intervening years of readings, the movies, and scholarship. (She has a ton of other books, articles, and interviews available.) I am using that Question of Time book today as a resource for an article I am writing, so she is on my mind. Another book I like a lot is Tolkien the Medievalist, a collection of articles by a number of scholars edited by Jane Chance (London: Routledge, 2002), I have referred to it in writing character biographies for The Silmarillion Writers Guild numerous times.

There are also a couple of scholars (I'd have to look them up, one of them has a Hungarian name) who really struck a chord with me who have written about Celtic influences upon Tolkien's work (I know about Tolkien moaning about not having Celtic influences and he was ranting justifiably against a particular misinterpretation--calling his Elvish names Celtic! God forbid! Who would not rant under those circumstances.)

I tend to find least useful, after the out-and-out Catholic apologists, who try to make his work into a theological tome, are the encyclopedic listings (and often filled with errors) of names, definitions and locations, or answering to specific questions. I have the originals and they have indices. I like scholars who think about what they are reading, look at the connections to history, Tolkien's own influences, and the way in which he used those, consciously and unconsciously.

I think one's purpose and interests are what is key for choosing books and articles about Tolkien's work that one will find most compelling and useful. It's a rich field to mine. I loved Michael Martinez articles when I first started writing fanfiction--he gave me details and insight. Today, not so much, although I read all the new ones I can find out of curiosity to know what he is up to. I know the details from the originals now and I don't necessarily agree with a lot his interpretations or method. But they were extremely useful to me at one point.

I could go on and on, but I am struggling to meet a deadline.

Tol Eressea

Aug 31 2012, 8:41pm

Post #4 of 9 (592 views)
Off the top of my head - [In reply to] Can't Post

- I'd recommend Shippey's 'The Road to Middle-earth', which is sort of but not quite a precursor of 'Author of the Century', and goes into the philological side of things very well. For the 'Lit.' side, I'd recommend Brian Rosebury's 'Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomonon'. Also of note is a very old book of Tolkien criticism called 'Master of Middle-earth', by Paul Kocher. it was published before the Silmarillion, but its treatment of Sauron & the nature of evil - and Aragorn, have never been bettered, IMO. It also has a chapter on Tolkien's shorter works, such as Leaf by Niggle and farmer Giles of Ham. Rather unusual, that. 'A Tolkien' Compass' ed. by Jared Lobdell is another oldie but goody.

Some other books which may interest you are not works of criticism, but guides - Scull and Hammond produced two massive works some years ago; these are: 'The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide' (in 2 volumes) and 'The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion'. Both of these are essential.


Aug 31 2012, 9:46pm

Post #5 of 9 (580 views)
Those are all excellent [In reply to] Can't Post

I would point out that Verlyn Flieger has written other books besides "A Question of Time". "Splintered Light" was her first and it is very good indeed. I found the third one, "Interrupted Music," a little less exciting but it may be because I was used to Flieger by then.

John Garth's "Tolkien and the Great War" is particularly about Tolkien's early composition years during his service in WW I, but it's good stuff.

William Green's "The Hobbit: A Journey Into Maturity" is a good book about you know what. It points out that ways in which the earlier book far surpasses its reputation as a mere juvenile classic, and also shows that its primary themes have very little in common with LotR.

There are many, many newer books out which I haven't kept up with, not to mention the innumerable shorter articles (which are only sometimes re-issued in collections). Tolkien Studies, the annual scholarly journal, does a great job of reviewing "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies" and has done so since its first issue in 2004.

In my experience, very little of what is available on the internet is of "scholarly" quality. Your library is your best friend in this search - good luck!

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
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Sep 1 2012, 1:04am

Post #6 of 9 (540 views)
Tolkien and the Great War [In reply to] Can't Post

I second that rec. It is my favorite biographical treatment of Tolkien.

Also I forgot to mention The History of The Hobbit is fascinating! It's not edited by Christopher, but by John D. Rateliffe [sp?] I find it even more fascinating than some of the HoMe volumes!


Sep 1 2012, 3:16am

Post #7 of 9 (621 views)
One more to add... [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays, collected by Jason Fisher, who often posts here as visualweasel.

Join us NOW in the Reading Room for detailed discussions of The Hobbit, July 9-Nov. 18!

Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


Sep 2 2012, 2:15am

Post #8 of 9 (591 views)
Thanks [In reply to] Can't Post

Wow, thanks for all the suggestions! I think that after Shippey's book, I might just re-read TH and then tackle The History of the Hobbit, which I've never even cracked open. Then, I'll dip into other of your suggestions!


Oct 3 2012, 2:22pm

Post #9 of 9 (449 views)
Another thanks! [In reply to] Can't Post

I will be picking up some of these suggestions, so thanks! Smile

Don't be hasty.


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