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Reviewed by:
  • Tolkien the Medievalist
  • Shaun F. D. Hughes
Tolkien the Medievalist, edited by Jane Chance . New York and London: Routledge, 2003. xv, 295 pp. $114.95 (hardcover) ISBN 04152829440.

Tolkien the Medievalist is the first of a "trilogy," three volumes of critical essays that have been prepared under the editorship of Jane Chance of Rice University (the other volumes are Tolkien and the Invention of Myth and Tolkien's Modern Middle Ages). The present volume contains fifteen essays and an introduction (1-12), extensive bibliography (268-84), and, rare [End Page 277] in a collection of this kind, a comprehensive index (285-95). While five of the essays were prepared between 1995-1998, ten of them are revisions of papers presented at the 36th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in 2001. That year Jane Chance initiated the first sessions of "Tolkien at Kalamazoo," a venue which has since developed into a major forum for the presentation of contemporary research on Tolkien's work.

The essays in this volume are gathered together under four headings. The first, "J. R. R. Tolkien as a Medieval Scholar: Modern Contexts" (13-92), contains five essays, or one third of the collection. It opens with a very important essay by Douglas Anderson on the intellectual relationship between Tolkien and his colleague at Leeds University, E. V. Gordon. Most people are aware of at least one of the fruits of that collaboration, the standard edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, (1925), but as Anderson demonstrates their collaboration during the 1920's was much more extensive than this. Nevertheless it was Gordon who had the ability to get things done, and when Tolkien moved to Oxford in 1925, away from Gordon's immediate influence, the collaborative ventures they had initiated together never come to fruition. It was left to others, in particular Gordon's widow, Ida, to complete such projects as the editions of "The Seafarer" and "Pearl." Anderson also analyses the influence of Gordon's work on Tolkien's thinking, and concludes that no matter how important their working together may have been to each other, Gordon was no more successful than anybody else in getting Tolkien to finish material on time or at all. The third essay in this section by Andrew Lazo on Tolkien and C. S. Lewis' mutual influences is an interesting counter-point to Anderson's essay on the role that Gordon played on Tolkien's work.

Verlyn Flieger contributes two essays to the collection. The first places Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories" in the context of folk-lore theory as it existed at the time, and in particular Tolkien's rejection of the positions taken by such nineteenth-century scholars as George Dasent, Max Müller and Andrew Lang. Flieger's second essay which begins section two looks at the figure of "the Wild man of the Woods" and its manifestation in the Legendarium. It is unfortunate that she chose to rely solely on Richard Bernheimer's 1952 study, classic though it is, for a consideration of more up-to-date studies such as those by Bartra and Williams would have made her analyses of figures such as Túrin Turambar and Gollum that much more effective.

Mary Faraci argues for Tolkien's use of the "middle voice" in his 1936 essay "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" to identify the "I" of the essay with the voice of the Beowulf poet in contrast to the "active voice" employed by the scholars whose work is being critiqued. She [End Page 278] argues that the essay too should be regarded as an elegant and subtle work of a master prose stylist. The enduring popularity of Tolkien's essay confirms her insight that the work continues to be read not only for its critical insights, important as they still continue to be, but also for the elegant presentation of the argument.

The first section concludes with an essay by Christine Chism on Tolkien's appropriation of aspects of Germanic myth in his Legendarium, and the misappropriation of similar material by the ideologues of National Socialism, in particular Alfred Rosenberg. This is an important topic, because the...