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Reviewed by:
  • Tolkien and Modernity 1, and:Tolkien and Modernity 2
  • Shaun F. D. Hughes
Tolkien and Modernity 1, edited by Frank Weinreich and Thomas Honegger. Zollikofen, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2006. [], vi, 246 pp. $19.90 / £10.60 (trade paperback) ISBN 9783905703023. Cormarë Series 9.
Tolkien and Modernity 2, edited by Thomas Honegger and Frank Weinreich. Zollikofen, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2006. [], iv, 279 pp. $19.90 / £10.60 (trade paperback) ISBN 9783905703030. Cormarë Series 10.

As Frank Weinreich and Thomas Honegger point out in their introduction to first volume of this anthology, Tolkien studies are experiencing something of a sea-change. The celebration of Tolkien as the "author of the century" and the resurgence of interest in his work concomitant with the remarkable success of Peter Jackson's film trilogy have begun to rapidly erode the prejudice against Tolkien which has long reigned among the "Pooh-bahs of the canon" in the academic establishment: "Hardcore Tolkienists have to get used to the fact that a critic may not know the difference between light-elves and dark-elves or between Westernesse and Eriador, but that s/he, nevertheless, is able to contribute relevant points to the understanding of the literary quality of Tolkien's work" (1: i). And if Tolkien is being made part of the canon, then one of the important issues to be debated is where exactly does he fit? The sixteen essays in this collection (each volume of which has a comprehensive index) aim at situating Tolkien's work and its concerns squarely in the mainstream of twentieth-century Modernist literature: "The present volume(s) grew out of a wish to further the exploration of Tolkien as a 'contemporary writer', i.e. an author whose literary creations can be seen as a response to the challenges of the modern world" (1: i). [End Page 244]

As might be expected, numerous essays address the issue of Tolkien's "modernity" head-on, especially Anna Vaninskaya in "Tolkien: A Man of His Time?" (1: 1-30), Bertrand Alliot "J.R.R. Tolkien: A Simplicity Between the 'Truly Earthy' and the 'Absolutely Modern'" (1: 77-110) and Thomas Honegger, "The Passing of the Elves and the Arrival of Modernity: Tolkien's 'Mythical Method'" (2: 211-32). All are concerned with positioning Tolkien in the varying intellectual currents and concerns of his time, particularly those of the interwar period. Vaninskaya covers familiar ground with a discussion of Tolkien's debts to William Morris and G. K. Chesterton, but her discussion of interwar rural nostalgia, "little Englandism," and anti-statism and how these movements find resonance in Tolkien's work is more useful. Alliot addresses some of these same concerns without naming them as such, drawing heavily on Tolkien's published correspondence. Tolkien's unease with the infiltration of technology into all aspects of life (he had after all personally experienced the industrialized warfare of the Western Front) is linked to Martin Heidegger's distrust of techné and his praise of the "splendor of the simple" ("Die Pracht der Schlichten," Heidegger 13, see further J. Glenn Gray's essay). But the world Tolkien lived in was anything but "simple," and the autonomy that characterizes the modern individual is at odds with the traditional sense of connectiveness of archaic rural societies. The second half of Alliot's essay is concerned with how Tolkien responded to these dilemmas, for while he set out to recover pre-modern simplicity, his goal was complicated by the further dilemma that "we cannot go back to the earth—or to the truly simple—without at the same time betraying the authenticity of the act of doing so . . . The temptation of the truly simple like that of the absolutely modern does not give any answers . . . it is a refusal to accept our condition and the world as it is" (1: 105-06). Honegger compares Tolkien's use of myth to how it is employed by his contemporaries, particularly T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, coming to the conclusion that The Lord of the Rings "is thus a literary myth, yet one that does not join the general development of modernist literature," although at the same time it is concerned...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1547-3163
Print ISSN
1547-3155
Pages
pp. 244-257
Launched on MUSE
2008-07-09
Open Access
No
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