- Tolkien's Shorter Works: Proceedings of the 4th Seminar of the Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft & Walking Tree Publishers Decennial Conference
This volume brings together sixteen essays first presented at a May 2007 conference held at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, jointly sponsored by Walking Tree Publishers (in celebration of their tenth anniversary) and the German Tolkien Society (Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft). The focus of both conference and collection is on Tolkien's shorter, lesser-known works, which the editors note have been unfairly [End Page 302] overshadowed by his longer, better-known works such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Their goal, therefore, is to call attention to these works and show that they are more substantial and significant than has been generally realized—their thesis, in brief, being "that 'short' these works may be but 'minor' they are not" (iv–v).
This is a fine plan, and the proceedings' contents range widely among the works in question. Smith of Wootton Major proves to be the most popular topic, being the focus of six essays; the other works considered here include Farmer Giles of Ham (four essays), "Leaf by Niggle" (three), "On Fairy-stories" (two, although others cite it), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (with one essay devoted to the collection as a whole and four more to single poems within it), and single essays looking at The Homecoming of Beorthnoth, Roverandom, "Ides Ælfscyne" (one of the Songs for the Philologists), "Bilbo's Last Song," and "Mythopoeia". 2 Wholly absent are The Father Christmas Letters (in either their original or revised and expanded form), Mr. Bliss, "The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun," or "Imram." The contributors' European perspective offers the chance for fresh views on mostly well-known material, and the collection's concept allows its contributors to range widely—I cannot recall, for example, seeing any critical work on Roverandom since it originally appeared a decade ago, while "Mythopoeia," "Ides Ælfscyne," and "Bilbo's Last Song" have suffered similar neglect. That said, it must be observed that, despite the claim in the introduction that "each contribution was carefully proof-read" (v), the volume is somewhat editorially lax. Most notably, my copy had the wrong back cover text, giving a blurb describing The Silmarillion Thirty Years On, another book Walking Tree released at about the same time;3 native English speakers will also be struck by the occasional unidiomatic word choice.
It is disappointing that a collection devoted to remedying the relative lack of attention that has been paid to Tolkien's minor works should itself in its introduction make no mention of the two major previous attempts to deal with these works: Paul Kocher's pioneering work (the sixty-page chapter "Seven Leaves") in Master of Middle-earth (1972) and the Tolkien Society's Leaves from the Tree: J.R.R. Tolkien's Shorter Fiction (1991), with contributions by Tom Shippey, Christina Scull, Charles Noad, and others. A number of the individual essays herein quote from Kocher, and several more draw on pieces in Leaves from the Tree; recognition of their significance in Hiley and Weinreich's introduction would have helped place this volume within the larger context of Tolkien criticism as a whole. The volume also unfortunately lacks any index, making cross-reference between the individual essays difficult.
As for the essays, Allan Turner's "'Tom Bombadil': Poetry and Accretion" looks at how Tolkien incorporated a disparate group of mostly [End Page 303] pre-existing poems into the world of The Lord of the Rings, primarily by the framing device of the preface to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Turner is excellent on the importance of "apparently unnecessary detail" in Tolkien's world-building (10), and for his observation that Tolkien's first published poem, "The Battle of the Eastern Field," can be said to set the pattern for his poetry...