- Doors into Elf-mounds:J.R.R. Tolkien's Introductions, Prefaces, and Forewords
Tolkien wrote many forewords, prefaces, and introductory notes over his long career, both to his own and to others' works. This "paratextual" material is often overlooked but is quite interesting in its own right when examined as a body. Writing an introduction for another's work is what Diana Pavlac Glyer (adopting terms from the work of Karen Burke LeFevre) would call the act of a "resonator"—a form of collaboration (in the broadest sense of collaboration) that encourages, supports, and promotes the work of another writer (68–69) and is especially valuable coming from an established scholar sponsoring the work of someone relatively new to the field. In Tolkien's case, for many of these works he was also an "editor," even if not acknowledged as such on the title page, who took care to read the manuscript carefully and "offer feedback or advice that result[ed] in very specific changes" (101), in some instances even working with the author over a period of years. Much of this work was with editions of primary texts, and as Tom Shippey points out,
In the modern academic world, editing [a primary text] is often regarded as a low-prestige occupation, not requiring the literary skills for a successful monograph. [But] Editing is the foundation, the most important part of bringing ancient works and forgotten authors back to life. All the rest is merely superstructure.(41)
Editing for Tolkien was therefore not only a form of collaboration with the person creating the edition, but with the long-dead original author or transcriber of the piece as well. The paratextual material associated with his own writing then takes us to another level of collaboration, where the author steps outside his own work to play the role of pseudo-editor.1 [End Page 177]
"Note." 1918. In A Spring Harvest, by Geoffrey Bache Smith. London: Erskine MacDonald, 1918. 7. About 150 words.
The first foreword Tolkien published was his "Note" introducing a posthumous collection of poetry by his close friend Geoffrey Bache Smith, who died of gas gangrene following minor shrapnel wounds in France at the end of 1916 (Anderson 617). Smith was one of the core members of the T.C.B.S., Tolkien's group of friends from King Edward's School, and an early encourager of Tolkien's writing; serious-minded, his ambition was that the group would "re-establish sanity, cleanliness, and the love of real and true beauty" (quoted in Garth 105) through their writings.
Upon Smith's death, Tolkien began implementing his friend's wish (passed on by Smith's mother) to have his poetry published. Tolkien served as editor, assisted by their mutual friend Christopher Wiseman, and R. W. Reynolds, one of their instructors at King Edward's, helped find a publisher (Anderson 617). Hammond and Anderson report that Wiseman claimed Tolkien did all the editing but wanted to share the credit, but in the end neither of their names is formally listed as editor (281). The collection, titled A Spring Harvest (a reference to a life cut short in early youth by war), was published in 1918.
Tolkien's introductory note is brief and primarily concerned with explaining the origin and order of the poems, including when and where they were written. But in conjunction with the all-too-short chronology of Smith's life facing the title page, Tolkien's mention that many poems were written in France during a year "broken by one leave in the middle of May" and that the final version of the concluding poem, "The Burial of Sophocles," was "sent [to Tolkien] from the trenches," is particularly poignant. Tolkien concludes that "beyond these few facts no prelude and no envoi is needed" (7). What is left unsaid is that Smith spent two days of that May 1916 leave with Tolkien and his wife Edith, who had married only two months previously. The young men met several times when both were in France, the last time in August, though they kept up a frequent correspondence until a few weeks before...