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Reviewed by:
  • Reconsidering Tolkien
  • Janet Brennan Croft
Reconsidering Tolkien, edited by Thomas Honegger . Zurich: Walking Tree Publishers, 2005. 209 pp. $20.75 (trade paperback) ISBN 3905703009.

This volume of essays consists primarily of papers presented at a special Tolkien session during the 2004 European Society for the Study of English conference. There is no introductory editorial discussing the title or theme of the volume or its intended audience, but the essays mostly deal with language and metalinguistics in some way—the concept and origin of language in Middle-earth, language as symbol or motif, language as both carrier and subject of knowledge and magic, and so on—at an academic level.

Marion Gymnich leads off with an admirably clear overview of the metalinguistic features of The Lord of the Rings. That Tolkien's use of both invented languages and standard metalinguistic concepts (such as language variation over time and between communities, or the association of language and magic) lend both authenticity and a sense of "otherness" to his work, can be assumed as a given, but the more detailed metalinguistic concepts she discusses are less obvious. The extensive use of Tolkien's invented languages in the Peter Jackson films is seen as one of their strengths, conveying the characteristics of the different races of Middle-earth with minimal exposition. However, the films are not as good at depicting the metalinguistic features of chronological, social, and regional variation and what they imply. Her essay includes an interesting [End Page 190] sidelight on Tolkien's use of certain child-like linguistic features in Gollum's speech patterns.

"Tolkien as Philo-Logist," contributed by Eduardo Segura and Guillermo Peris, attempts to show that the coherent nature of Tolkien's subcreated world is directly related to his philo-logy, or love of language, and that his intent to create myth, where words and events can be polysemic, or have many meanings, precludes allegory. However, the essay is not quite concrete enough to convey all of this clearly and precisely; perhaps the subject is too large for a brief article.

In his essay, Thomas Honegger postulates that academics with a background in medieval studies may be better equipped to approach Tolkien's work critically than those whose area of study is Tolkien's contemporaries. The ideal critic would be one who shared Tolkien's own academic background in medieval languages, literatures, and cultures and was therefore familiar with his sources. Honegger makes a good case for "interpretatio mediaevalia" as a way of understanding a work so unlike other twentieth century literature. The convincing explanation he gives for the origin and meaning of the voices Niggle overhears discussing his case, for example, show that the specialized knowledge of the medievalist can shed important light on such questions. Unfortunately, the essay ends somewhat abruptly, but it is to be hoped that Honegger will continue to work in this vein and help those without a medievalist's background to better understand Tolkien's creation.

Paul E. Kerry contributes an essay on The Lord of the Rings as history. One intriguing observation he makes is that the structure of the individual appendices owes a great deal to medieval models of historical writing, which not only positions the work more as history than as fiction, but also gives it that sense of taking place in the deep past which Tolkien found so appealing in his essay "On Fairy-stories."

Natasa Tucev offers a Jungian reading of Frodo's character using the archetype of the shadow, focusing on his wounds by knife, sting, and tooth. Like many Jungian readings of Tolkien, it is quite densely packed and seems forced at times, but does open up some interesting new avenues to explore in the relationship between Frodo and his shadow Gollum.

Jean-Christophe Dufau's article suffers from a somewhat incoherent start; the opening sentence talks about the "skyward stare" beginning the quest for self-knowledge, but in the next sentence he abandons this motif entirely and turns to the place of the tree in the life of the elves. (Unless one lives in a forest, the view skyward is not equivalent to looking up at the branches of a tree!) However...


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