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  • The Mirror Crack'd: Fear and Horror in J.R.R. Tolkien's Major Works
  • John William Houghton
The Mirror Crack'd: Fear and Horror in J.R.R. Tolkien's Major Works, edited by Lynn Forest-Hill. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008. viii, 246 pp. $69.99 / £34.99 (hardcover) ISBN 9781847186348.

This anthology comprises ten essays, with an Introduction and Conclusion by the editor, and an index. Three of these essays (those by Maria Raffaella Benvenuto, Amy Amendt-Raduege, and Julie Pridmore) grew out of a session of the same name (sponsored by the Tolkien Society and [End Page 272] organized by the editor) at Leeds University's 2006 International Medieval Congress, which had the theme "Emotion & Gesture."

Maria Raffaella Benvenuto's brief essay, "From Beowulf to the Balrogs: The Roots of Fantastic Horror in The Lord of the Rings," argues that the darker, gothic, side of Tolkien's work has been ignored in favor of its brighter realms. H. P. Lovecraft, she points out, traced much of modern horror fiction back to medieval sources, and in fact the terrifying elements of The Lord of the Rings regularly have earlier and more recent parallels and antecedents: various critics have pointed out resemblances between the Balrog and Surtr, Gollum and Grendel, the Ringwraiths and vampires, Sauron and the deathless sorcerer. All of these are, Benvenuto says, masterpieces of horror, and they illustrate the range of topics available for further research in Tolkien's dark side.

Jessica Burke, in "Fear and Horror: Monsters in Tolkien and Beowulf," asks "what the monster is and how it exists in relation to appetite, corruption, the quest for power, and the nature of evil" (15). Drawing on sources as diverse as Darwin's studies of emotion and feminist biblical scholarship, she considers Melkor, Sauron, Ungoliant, Shelob, Gollum, Grendel, Grendel's mother and Cain. Monsters are deformed versions of ourselves, used since the Middle Ages as a tool of self-understanding; pushed to the margins, they are both warnings against and scapegoats for the violation of society's rules. Even in the safety of reading, they excite terror, particularly when they invite us to imagine our being unmade. Thus, the Beowulf-poet terrifies by showing a world in which monsters and heroes alike will be unmade. Melkor seeks to unmake Arda, Grendel, Heorot. Gollum resembles both Grendel and Shelob in monstrous ways: nonetheless, he is finally horrifying because we identify with him and can imagine how we might be unmade in the face of a challenge too great for us. The discussion of evil (28-31) misconstrues the Augustinian/Boethian position, and there are some errors in detail, e.g., Tolkien suggests that Shelob came from drowned Beleriand, not Númenor (32) and the Beowulf-poet says that Cain, not Grendel, is the father of all monsters (36, cf. lines 111-115).

In "Of Spiders and (the Medieval Aesthetics of) Light: Hope and Action in the Horrors of Shelob's Lair," Reno E. Lauro begins an overview of medieval aesthetics with a historical sketch of the Early Middle Ages (anachronistically identifying St. Patrick as an agent of Anglo-Saxon Christianity, the missionaries to the English as Augustinians, and Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor), then contrasts the medieval Neo-Platonist and Aristotelian philosophies of light. Tolkien's imaginative reconstruction of the Crist's reference to "earendel" recovers (à la Barfield) an "ancient semantic unity" deeply tied to a metaphysics of light. Beginning with the Flame Imperishable in the "Ainulindalë" (which Lauro, citing [End Page 273] Tolkien's letter to Milton Waldman, connects, with little textual support, directly to the Two Trees), light is a fundamental element of the legendarium, as also is its absence, darkness as a privation of the good. Shelob's Lair harkens back to the darkness of the Void, and the light of Eärendil not only gives hope to Sam and Frodo, but calls them to action. Similarly, for Tolkien creativity, sub-creation, is a form of recovery of semantic unity which constitutes "a call to confront, resist and transform the world" (70, emphasis in original). Sub-creation as practiced by the Elves at their best is a form...


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