- The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2011
Tom Bombadil still confounds readers. Tolkien scholarship in 2011 compared Tolkien’s deliberately enigmatic character to Leo Tolstoy’s Platon Karayatov, John Buchan’s Amos Midwinter, a Buddhist bodhisattva, Hades, the Green Man, and two saints, Guthlac and Bernard. With Tolkien adaptations looming again at the cinema (many studies, on all themes, refer to the then-forthcoming Hobbit movies, at that time expected to appear in only two installments), serious attention was given this year to the character’s absence from the screen. In popular thought, this is an obsession of Tolkien scholars, but it has actually not been much considered before. These articles appeared in Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy, edited by Janice M. Bogstad and Philip E. Kaveny (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), among enlightening and frustrating considerations of the screen works that began appearing a decade earlier. Images from those movies have become standard illustrations in studies of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (but not in Picturing Tolkien, where they would be more useful); warnings of the movies colonizing the literature were correct.
That was one of seven collections for the year, each with a different focus. Of the others, the most unified was Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays, edited by Jason Fisher (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), a valiant effort to address programmatically the subject of Tolkien’s influences, and the key example in a minor trend in this year of systematizing responses to Tolkien’s work, seen also—to better and worse advantage—in linguistic essays by Måns Björkman and Helios De Rosario Martínez, analysis of The Lord of the Rings maps by Ina Habermann and Nikolaus Kuhn, and Martin Barker’s work on the international reception of Gollum.
A third gathering, Light Beyond All Shadow: Religious Experience in Tolkien’s Work, edited by Paul E. Kerry and Sandra Miesel (Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), is a companion piece to The Ring and the Cross, edited by Kerry alone (that work, nominally published in 2011, actually appeared in 2010 and was discussed in last year’s survey). This is the rare book that quotes too few of Tolkien’s actual words. Its contents, generally more attentive to the Silmarillion texts than the earlier collection, are similarly varied in their piety and considered under multiple headings below. So are the contributions to the fourth collection, actually Band 8 of Hither Shore: Interdisciplinary Journal of Modern Fantasy Literature, an [End Page 259] annual publication of the Deutschen Tolkien Gesellschaft, this time bearing the title Tolkien and the Middle Ages, with Patrick Brückner, Thomas Fornet-Ponse, and Judith Klinger as lead editors.
Two proceedings from European conferences appeared: issue 3 of Arda Philology for the Third International Conference on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Invented Languages, conducted in Whitehaven in 2009, as edited by Anders Stenström (“Beregond”) for Sweden’s Arda Society; and Lembas Extra 2011 for the 6th Lustrum of Tolkien Genootschap Unquendor, the Dutch Tolkien Society, edited for them by Cécile van Zon. Finally, the essays in Ring Bearers: The Lord of the Rings Online as Intertextual Narrative, edited by Tanya Krzywinska, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, and Justin Parsler (Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press, 2011) concern The Lord of the Rings Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (“MMORPG”; other formulations are also used) launched in 2007, in which a few hundred thousand players interact in a simulacrum of Middle-earth.
The year’s most notable book, and winner of the Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Scholarship, is Carl Phelpstead’s Tolkien and Wales, finding more connections to Welsh language and literature than might have been thought possible. Of the several other monographs devoted wholly or in large part to Tolkien’s work were studies of his contributions to environmentalism, Modernism, and religious instruction, as well as a large general reference guide. And then there were biographies, five of them, including one meant for children and another by Arne Zettersten, who knew Tolkien in life. So did Cor Blok, whose...