MFS Modern Fiction Studies 50.4 (2004) 1015-1028
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A Tolkien Checklist:
"Selected Criticism 1981-2004
Richard C. West
The scholarly and critical literature on the oeuvre of J. R. R. Tolkien was already extensive two decades ago when it was covered in bibliographies by Åke Jönsson (A Tolkien Bibliography 1911-1980: Writings by and about J. R. R. Tolkien; 1984, rev. ed. 1986), Judith A. Johnson (J. R. R. Tolkien: Six Decades of Criticism, 1986), and my own Tolkien Criticism: An Annotated Checklist (1970; rev. ed. 1981). It has grown enormously since, nor are there any signs of abatement in the near future. Some catching up is in order.
To keep this effort to do so within normal article length, what I am offering here is a highly selective list. There is not space here to provide a supplement of everything that has been published since the eighties (but see Drout and Wynne in the section on review articles below). I propose to limit this checklist to items in the English language (largely in the interests of space, for our colleagues with other native tongues are producing good work). Per the subject of this journal, I list studies relating only to Tolkien's fiction, not to his works of scholarship (there is a growing body of work on that), nor to adaptations of his fiction to stage or film or other media (whereon there is a plethora of articles and books). I am including only studies published in print format, not anything done on the myriad Tolkien-related pages on the World Wide Web.
I have not, however, entirely excluded work done in fanzines or outside academia. While the excellent material in such venues can be spotty in appearing, there is still a great deal of it. Drout and [End Page 1015] Wynne quite understandably lament the inclusiveness of the MLA bibliography without any guidance as to quality (I hope I can help a little here) and the difficulty of finding items that are not from the major publishers (fortunately, more libraries are acquiring such). (Also I, who selfishly live within commuting distance of both of the following fine facilities, recommend occasional visits to the Special Collections at Marquette University Library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and to the Wade Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, both of which have extensive holdings of Tolkien-related magazines.)
As to judging the quality of critical studies, that we must do as we have ever done, with what wits we have. A publication in a periodical that has gained some repute is likely to be worthwhile, at the least. Mythlore (from the Mythopoeic Society) has been a solid academic journal at least since Professor Theodore Sherman assumed its editorship a decade ago, but also many substantial essays appeared in it from the beginning. Mallorn (from the Tolkien Society based in England) also has its gems, as do Arda (from Sweden but many articles are in English), Beyond Bree (the monthly newsletter of the Tolkien Special Interest Group of American Mensa), Minas Tirith Evening-Star (from the American Tolkien Society), Niekas (of general science-fiction interest, but remember that Robert Foster's excellent Guide to Middle-Earth was initially serialized here), and other fanzines. The occasional conferences sponsored by the societies of fans always have some good papers (admittedly often from academics). Students of Tolkien's invented languages should follow Parma Eldalemberon, Tyalië Tyelelliéva, and Vinyar Tengwar, which often publish primary material from Tolkien's manuscripts as well as secondary studies of how he constructed these languages and the use he made of them.
In the state of extant scholarship, Tolkien as author has stood, at best, a little outside the main canon of English literature and, at worst, been excluded from it and that often with some hostility. While there has been some very good work (and some not so good) done by trained academics, this has mostly been published in scattershot fashion in a variety of journals where an occasional article might find acceptance. Meanwhile his enthusiastic readers have...