MFS Modern Fiction Studies 50.4 (2004) 980-1014
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Shaun F. D. Hughes
When Wayne Hammond and Douglas Anderson's descriptive bibliography appeared in 1993, it listed translations of Tolkien's works, principally but not exclusively of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, into thirty-four different languages from Afrikaans to Ukrainian (389-409). No doubt other languages have been added to this list in the intervening decade, making a mockery of Nigel Walmsley's confident assertion in 1983 that the events of 1968 meant that "[t]he Zeigeist which had nurtured Tolkien's ascendancy was dead: by the end of 1968 The Lord of the Rings was a cultural anachronism" (85). In some sense it was a cultural anachronism long before 1968 and continues so to be, but this has done nothing to diminish its popularity. Meanwhile, Peter Jackson's cinematic interpretation has taken Tolkienamania to loftier heights than even in the 1960s because this time it is more than just "the young, disaffected section of the Western industrial middle class" (Walmsley 73) that has responded to the appeal of Tolkien's narrative. The following pages will look at some of the international scholarship from what might be called this second wave of the Tolkien phenomenon. It just so happens to include works only from North America and Europe, but it could just as well have easily included works from Australasia, 1 while language limitations have precluded consideration of work in say Russian or Japanese. Because the emphasis here is on Tolkien's fiction, excluded from this consideration are also the recent extensive studies mostly in languages other than English dealing with Tolkien's invented languages.2
In 1973 Tolkien wrote to a "Ungfrú ADalsteinsdóttir" with respect to a forthcoming translation of The Hobbit, saying that he "had long hoped that some of my work might be translated into Icelandic, a language which I think would fit it better than any other I have adequate knowledge of" (Letters 430).3 Tolkien died three months after writing this letter, so he did not live to see the appearance of the Icelandic translation, which did not reach the reading public until 1978.4 Now has appeared in Icelandic the first book-length study of Tolkien's work, Tolkien og hringurinn ("Tolkien and the Ring"). The author, Ármann Jakobsson is a well-known and widely published scholar of medieval Icelandic literature, especially the konungasögur ("Sagas of the [Norwegian] Kings"). In the preface, Ármann relates how his father read The Hobbit to him and his brother simultaneously translating the text from English into Icelandic. Since there was no Icelandic edition available at the time, he had to wait until his English was good enough to tackle The Lord of the Rings in the original (and this may be why all quotations from Tolkien are given both in English and Icelandic). Many readings later he set out to write his book as an appreciative reader attempting to elucidate why it is that the Lord of the Rings has so affected him and countless others (7). [End Page 981] The...