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J.R R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (review)

From: Tolkien Studies
Volume 4, 2007
pp. 266-278 | 10.1353/tks.2007.0033

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This encyclopedia project is ambitious for its serious attempt at internationally diverse coverage of scholarship and critical assessment of Tolkien, of his scholarly and literary writings, and of the historical and literary contexts and influences involved. It seems fair to judge the success of the encyclopedia by the stated aims of its editor. Michael Drout's introduction makes it clear that he saw this encyclopedia as an effort to be if not all things to all people, as close as he could manage. He aimed to appeal to and include work by "varied and interconnected communities and individuals" to "bridge gaps and bring together separate branches of knowledge" (xxix), including within Tolkien scholarship the study of Tolkien and his works (Tolkien Studies) and analysis of specifics in such inventions as worlds, peoples, and tongues (Middle-earth Studies) but also bringing in a wider range of interests and writers.

Knowing such a task might be endless, Drout made his editorial choices with an eye to "connections outside of Middle-earth" (for example, discussing the Haradrim within Tolkien's history but also in connections to medieval texts) and in terms of "reception and significance" including contemporary literary criticism and theory (xxix). While acknowledging that Tolkien scholarship is yet a young field the world over, he made a case for including analysis and interpretation here though critical views may change. He wanted Tolkien's scholarship covered "by experts in the individual specialities" (a British phrase though Drout is American), in particular as it "is not always accessible or understandable to the lay reader" (xxx), an attitude somewhat patronizing, especially given his willingness as an academic to open this project (rightly) to knowledgeable writers who are not. To counter "incorrect or merely trendy viewpoints," he sought over "120 contributors, from various countries" and asked them to approach issues "without tendentiousness and to attempt to explain the various sides of difficult issues" (xxx). He also added entries so that Tolkien could be seen within his own historical contexts, and, having to limit the range of such inquiry, he tried "to err on the side of explanation." These parameters seem laudable and reasonable, and the volume often surprises and rewards a reader. Thanks to an advisory board comprised of associate editors who also produce this journal, an impressive collection of contributors labored on it.

Their work, however, was badly served by Taylor and Francis Group, who bought out Routledge, discontinued their encyclopedia division, and let its editors go while this volume was in production, publishing it only because of how far along it was in the process. Drout's online discussion of difficulties with the publisher lists major problems: bounced emails, not contact from Taylor and Francis, led to his discovery that the press had let his editors go; the initial sections of proofs arrived with errors "from citation format to layout to basic copy-editing mistakes" which he then corrected himself; no proofs were sent to contributors; one hundred illustrations were summarily dropped; blind entries were omitted; some contributors failed to submit their promised work; and finally, the press seems to have printed only 800 of a proposed 2500 copies, though perhaps the numbers were meant to be split between the U.K. and the U.S. In fairness, while Drout may find it odd that the press did not contact the over 125 contributors for corrections, that is not uncommon and usually considered part of an editor's work whether for an anthology or for an encyclopedia unless otherwise agreed in writing, so his efforts to gather corrections from his writers should be seen as outside his own previous experience but not unusual. He did receive a second set of proofs which coincided with a bout of pneumonia, but in any case, the book went to press without another once-over by anyone but seemingly incompetent copy-editors. Drout comments that "contributors should not be blamed" as they did not proof final articles and his efforts to protect them from undeserved criticism is admirable. The press should bear the blame for not committing to a quality product—at the least it will bear its name, and given the popularity of all things Tolkien, they...



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