A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien ed. by Stuart D. Lee (review)
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Reviewed by
Lee, Stuart D. ed. A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014. xxxiv, 568 pp. £120.00. ISBN 978-0-470-65982-3.

In his excellent analysis of Tolkien’s prose, Steve Walker pointed out that “seldom has a literary work stirred such a maelstrom of critical controversy as swirled around The Lord of the Rings at its publication.” More than half a century later, this statement keeps on being more than correct. That maelstrom of critical approaches has increased steadily to reach an impressive number of publications on Tolkien’s work in recent times, as we all well know, and as this journal attests to issue after issue.

The book reviewed here is an heir of such new approaches and reassessments of Tolkien’s oeuvre. It brings some order to this morass of publications and posthumous books, so diverse in scope and academic depth and quality. Tolkien and his work have finally entered [End Page 177] the canon of Anglo-American studies, marked by being admitted into the prestigious Blackwell Companion collection next to topics such as “American Gothic,” “Translations Studies,” “Victorian Literature and Culture,” or “Modernist Poetry,” just to quote the topics of the immediately previously published four volumes of the series. Carefully edited by Stuart D. Lee—one of the outstanding names of recent Tolkien critical scholarship and co-author of one of the most imaginative books on the relationships between Tolkien’s fiction and medieval English literature (Lee & Solopova)—the volume is divided into five main thematic areas—Life, The Academic, The Legendarium, Context and Critical Approaches—preceded by an editorial introduction.

After the customary and, in this case, rather extensive pre-introductory material—Acknowledgements, Notes on Contributors, Editorial Practices and Abbreviations and a Brief Chronology (i-xxxiv)—the editor offers a brief and concise introduction that appropriately describes the philosophy and the contents of the volume. In a volume of considerable length and with so many sections and chapters, the reader appreciates not having to read a review-like introduction. With this brief account the reader has the essential information needed to immediately plunge into the different and well-structured sections of the volume.

“Part I: Life” (5-24) presents a biographical approach to Tolkien’s life. Dealing with Tolkien’s biography in less than 25 pages constitutes, as the Old English poet once said, an enta geweorc indeed, a highly difficult task, as attested by the in-depth previous work of Carpenter and the exhaustive thousand-page long chronology by Scull and Hammond. Notwithstanding, John Garth in “A Brief Biography,” the only chapter included in this section, succeeds in presenting an excellent contribution to the topic. Garth, author of one of the most fascinating biographical books on Tolkien and his experience in the Great War, manages to summarize the essence of Tolkien’s life in a well-built chapter. Those who have never read a biography of Tolkien will be able to have a clear picture of the necessary background to go on reading the rest of the volume. Those who are already familiar with Carpenter’s Tolkien biography and The Inklings and Scull and Hammond’s Companion & Guide will have a perfect summary of the main events to refresh those readings and to have the appropriate contextual/historical perspective for the other sections in the Companion.

“Part II: The Academic” (25-76) contains three articles covering Tolkien’s main occupation in medieval studies, Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. Since his fiction was so deeply influenced by his love and knowledge of medieval languages and literatures, it is most logical that this Companion opens with a section devoted to trace this area in his life. Thomas Honegger’s “Academic Writings” deals with Tolkien’s [End Page 178] scholarly publications on words, language, and literature, from the most famous ones on Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, to the lesser-known works on some Old English poems and texts. Honegger’s survey is sound and provides the reader with the necessary understanding of how these academic pieces “have become increasingly inter- and metatexts for the interpretation of Tolkien’s works of fiction and...