Saturday, January 9, 2016

TALES BEFORE TOLKIEN hardcover special for January 2016

In resorting boxes of books, I've found a cache of new hardcovers of my 2003 anthology, Tales Before Tolkien (Ballantine Books). It was published simultaneously in hardcover (originally priced at $27.95) and trade paperback, but the hardcover didn't get very good distribution. In any case, I bought a number of copies from the publisher way back then, and I can offer these as brand new, fresh out of their boxes.  For the rest of January 2016, or until I run out of copies, I'll offer them for US$13 each, postpaid to US addresses.  I can sign/inscribe copies if requested to do so. Payment via Paypal, to nodensbooks[at]gmail[dot]com.

Anyone outside the US who is interested please inquire (to the same email address) and I'll see what the postage would be (some years ago, the international rates went up considerably. At a rough estimate, postage alone for this book to the UK, via the cheapest option of First Class International, now looks to be around US$26. Sorry, I'm aghast too.)

My original title for the book was Roots of the Mountain: Fantasy Before Tolkien, but the marketing department didn't like that. Here is the table of contents of the book:


“The Elves” by Ludwig Tieck
“The Golden Key”  by George Macdonald
“Puss-Cat Mew”  by E. H. Knatchbull-Hugessen
“The Griffin and the Minor Canon” by Frank R. Stockton
“The Demon Pope”  by Richard Garnett
“The Story of Sigurd”  retold by Andrew Lang
“The Folk of the Mountain Door”  by William Morris
“Black Heart and White Heart: A Zulu Idyll” by H. Rider Haggard
“The Dragon Tamers” by E. Nesbit
“The Far Islands” by John Buchan
“The Drawn Arrow”  by Clemence Housman
“The Enchanted Buffalo” by L. Frank Baum
“Chu-bu and Sheemish” by Lord Dunsany
“The Baumoff Explosive” by William Hope Hodgson
“The Regent of the North” by Kenneth Morris
“The Coming of the Terror” by Arthur Machen
“The Elf Trap”  by Francis Stevens
“The Thin Queen of Elfhame” by James Branch Cabell
“The Woman of the Wood” by A. Merritt
“Golithos the Ogre”  by E. A. Wyke-Smith
“The Story of Alwina” by Austin Tappan Wright
“A Christmas Play”  by David Lindsay

Author Notes and Recommended Reading

Monday, January 4, 2016

The State of the Field in Tolkien Scholarship

First, a quick note to say I've uploaded to my review of Smith of Wootton Major: Extended Edition edited by Verlyn Flieger.  Direct link here.  And a teaser below:

Smith of Wootton Major: Extended Edition, edited by Verlyn Flieger and utilizing the Bodleian Tolkien manuscripts, was first published in Great Britain in 2005. Ten years on there comes a newly formatted pocket edition (6 1/4 by 4 3/4 inches), slightly revised, and with some material new to this edition (mostly comprising illustrations by Pauline Baynes). Neither the 2005 or the 2015 edition has had distribution in the United States—scholars must order the British edition. The differences between the two editions are given a close comparison here, followed by an overdue and detailed description of some of the serious flaws of the original edition which, unfortunately, remain unaddressed in the new one. . . . 

Second, I'd like to call  attention to  a piece by Thomas Honegger, also just posted at, entitled "A Reviewer's Complaint."  It's a short, one-page piece, and you can read it all here. Basically, it notes some alarming trends in recent Tolkien scholarship, ranging from pure sloppiness and the lack of copy-editing, to the more serious lack of engagement with existing scholarship in the field.  I've noted these problems growing in occurrence for some years now. Some potential scholars seem to be treating scholarship as equivalent to the writing of blog-posts--chatty, personal, and one dimensional.  While blog-posts can be just those things (chatty and personal especially) they don't have to be. There are many bloggers whose blogs are up to rigorous standards of scholarship, and I think that's a good thing. Perhaps it is not amiss to suggest that bloggers might practice more scholarship, and that potential scholars should cease to emulate blogs. Honegger's charge that new scholarship exhibits a limited knowledge of the field is more serious and more problematic. The first "scholar" who comes to my mind as guilty of all these traits is Adam Roberts, whose publishing credits include some truly execrable parodies of Tolkien (they sold well enough in England that Roberts has been laughing all the way to the bank), and a cosmetic "revision" of Lin Carter's Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord of the Rings (1969; "updated"--barely--by Roberts in 2003), which manages (among other problems) to retain Carter's basic errors of plot-points.  Roberts moved on to write a book-length blog on The Riddles of The Hobbit (2013), which simply ignores most previous scholarship on the subject. Yet the book was published by a respectable academic publisher, Palgrave Macmillan (What were they thinking?  Merely that they should publish some Hobbit-related book while the Peter Jackson Hobbit films were current? Palgrave should be ashamed.).  Roberts's contribution (on "Women"--probably the worst essay in an otherwise very good book) to Stuart D. Lee's Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien (published by another academic publisher, Wiley Blackwell) similarly has almost no engagement at all with  the work of other scholars. Yet on these credentials Roberts was invited to deliver the second "Pembroke Lecture on Fantasy Literature In Honour of J.R.R. Tolkien" on 2 May 2014, at Pembroke College Oxford. The mind boggles.  Here glib trendiness has pushed aside the opportunity for real scholarship, and the chance to honor Tolkien became instead a slap in the dead writer's face. How completely depressing. I (for one) think Honegger's complaint is too soft. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of the Year Chatter

Book Reviews

There has been a good number of book reviews posted at Journal of Tolkien Research since I last posted on this blog, and I invite readers to have a look at them. They include:

Smith of Wootton Major: Extended Edition (2015) by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger
Douglas A. Anderson

A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien (2014), ed. Stuart D. Lee, reviewed by Andrew Higgins
Andrew Higgins

"The Hobbit" and Tolkien's Mythology (2014), ed. Bradford Lee Eden
Thomas Honegger

The Hobbit Party (2014) by Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards
John D. Rateliff

Tolkien's Intellectual Landscape (2015) by E.L. Risden
John Houghton

Access all of them, plus articles, via the front page of the journal.  More book reviews are in the works

A Shiver in the Archives

I've started an additional blog to highlight various discoveries (mostly minor) that I've made in my various researches, ones which don't really have a current place to be utilized, but ones which are worth sharing somewhere.  Check it out here

Daniel Grotta (1944-2015)

Daniel Grotta (formerly Daniel Grotta-Kurska), who wrote the first biography of Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth (Running Press, 1976), passed away in Philadelphia on 13 December 2015.  The error in the book's title ("Middle Earth" for "Middle-earth") is a harbinger for the quality of the text inside.  I'll say no more here about my few encounters with Grotta, but refer anyone interested to the comments section to a post from 2012 at Jason Fisher's blog, Lingwë, which you can access here.  

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Journal of Tolkien Research

In the last few weeks I've posted a couple of new Book Reviews at the Journal of Tolkien Research.  A third review goes live tomorrow (June 1st), and I expect to have enough for new ones to appear weekly through most of June. 

Reviews and articles are now accessible as pdfs, via the front page of the Journal.  Check it out here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An updated checklist of Tom Shippey on J.R.R. Tolkien, and Corrections to the printings of TOLKIEN ON FAIRY-STORIES

In Tolkien Studies volume 1 (2004), I published "Tom Shippey on J.R.R. Tolkien:  A Checklist".  An updated version was requested for the festschrift in honor of Shippey, published last summer as Tolkien in the New Century: Essays in Honor of Tom Shippey (McFarland, 2014).  My updated checklist was initially accepted for the volume, but later un-accepted, and replaced by a short unsigned (not by me)
"Appendix: Recent Work—Shippey on Tolkien Since 2004", which has some mistaken inclusions and a larger number of omissions. My fully-updated "Tom Shippey on J.R.R. Tolkien: A Checklist through mid-2014" is available here as a downloadable pdf, where I hope its does due honor to Tom, despite it not appearing in his festschrift volume. 

Last summer also saw the publication in trade paperback of Tolkien On Fairy-stories, edited by Verlyn Flieger and myself.  Tolkien On Fairy-stories had two hardcover printings, in 2008, and was out of print for some years until the trade paperback appeared in August 2014.  There were a number of problems with the original copy-edited file that necessitated corrections in the various printings, a few of which are significant, so for scholarly reference I made a file of "Corrections to the printings of Tolkien On Fairy-stories" which is similarly available here as a downloadable pdf

Like the above, some of my other writings are available via Check them out here

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lo! Beowulf and Other Topics

Just a quick acknowledgement of the long-awaited publication this week of Tolkien's translation of Beowulf, with such interesting extras as "Sellic Spell" and "The Lay of Beowulf". It's very good to see all of these available for scholarly study at last.

I'd also like to call attention to a new venue for the scholarly study of Tolkien, The Journal of Tolkien Research.  This is a peer-reviewed, online, open-access (FREE to all) scholarly journal. I'm serving as Book Reviews Editor, and am pleased to be working with Brad Eden (Editor) as well as other members of the Editorial Board, including Dimitra Fimi, John Holmes, John Houghton, Robin Reid, and Ed Risden.  And I look forward to working with other colleagues as essayists and book reviewers.  Please explore the site to get an idea of what we're planning and doing, and to watch it grow.

I'm also pleased to announce that Tolkien On Fairy-stories, a critical edition of Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-stories" and its associated manuscripts, edited by Verlyn Flieger and myself and originally published by HarperCollins in 2008, is coming out in an affordable trade paperback edition on August 14th.  Order via by clicking here, and via by clicking here.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Five Notes on C.S. Lewis

I.  With the fiftieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death, there has been a lot of media coverage about Lewis, and in the midst of which there has appeared one new book collecting writings by Lewis that I’d like to call attention to, lest its publication be drowned out by other coverage.  This is Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews, a trade paperback original and a Kindle ebook, edited by Walter Hooper, published by Cambridge University Press as a kind of companion to the volume of Lewis’s Selected Literary Essays that they published over forty years ago. Image and Imagination contains six essays (two of which, including the title essay, are published for the first time), some forty-two book reviews, as well as some obituaries and prefaces to other books. It is pleasing to see Lewis’s reviews of Tolkien’s books collected for the first time, as well as his reviews of a few books by Owen Barfield and his writings on Charles Williams. And there is much more.  Recommended.

II. I’d also like to call attention to what is (I think) a previously unrecorded Lewis publication.  This is a short piece of just under two hundred words (probably taken out of a letter, sent in reply to a solicitation for comment), headed “Comedian of Highest Order”, published in The Mark Twain Journal, volume 9 no. 4 (Summer 1954), page 10.  It concerns not (as one might think) Mark Twain, but George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950):  
“Shaw was a very great man indeed. The danger is that when all the froth and nonsense about his being a philosopher has died down (as it must) a reaction should set in and lead people to forget  his real genius. He was a comedian, in his own time, of the very highest order. . . .  He was a humorist of the more intellectual kind, a master of satire, art and fantasy like Gilbert, Wilde and Aristophanes. In that class no one had more continuous vitality. He is also, in his prefaces, one of the great masters of plain prose. I have often, in that capacity, held him up as a model to my pupils and have learned much from him myself. Peace to his ashes!”

III. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Lewis contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the title is often given merely as F&SF) four items, comprising two short stories and two poems (one published posthumously).  Through the courtesy of Gordon Van Gelder, editor of the magazine since 1997 and owner since 2000, I can give some new details about Lewis’s submissions. 

“The Shoddy Lands” (short story). The contract is dated 30 June 1955, and was signed by Lewis, which suggests that he made the submission himself. The story was published in the February 1956 issue. “Jap ed.” is noted on the contract suggesting that the story also appeared in the Japanese edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

“An Expostulation” (verse). The contract is dated 25 June 1957, and was again signed by Lewis. The poem was published in the June 1959 issue, and thus sat in inventory for nearly two years. Lewis’s Oxford address, “The Kilns, Headington Quarry”, is penciled at the bottom along with the notes “Fr. edition #70” and F&SF 9th, suggesting that the poem also appeared in the French edition and the book The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: 9th Series (1960), edited by Robert M. Mills.

“Ministering Angels” (short story). The contract is dated 8 August 1957, again signed by Lewis. The story was published in the January 1958 issue. An appearance in the “Jap. ed” is also noted on the contract. Interestingly, in the editorial headnote to the first publication in F&SF, Anthony Boucher describes Lewis's story as a repercussion of Dr. R.S. Richardson's controversial article "The Day After We Land on Mars" published in the December 1955 issue of F&SF

“The End of the Wine”  (verse). The contract dates from February 1964, three months after Lewis’s death. The poem appeared in the July 1964 issue. It had originally appeared in Punch for 3 December 1947, and rights for reprinting were arranged through the Ben Roth Agency, who handled North American rights for Punch.  

I had also inquired whether the story “Forms of Things Unknown” (published posthumously in 1966 in Of Other Worlds) might have been submitted, but Gordon Van Gelder could find no information as to whether or not that had happened. 

IV. Here is a quotation that A.N. Wilson gives in his C.S. Lewis: A Biography (1990):

“William Empson (no ally) believed, Lewis was ‘the best read man of his generation, and one who read everything and remembered everything he read’ …” (p. 160)
This statement attributed to Empson has resurfaced in various places (in fact, I used it in the introduction to my anthology Tales Before Narnia), but I’ve been unable to find the original source where Empson said or wrote it. Wilson, though he quotes it, does not cite the source, and his book is the earliest appearance of the quote that I can find  Can anyone supply an earlier source?   

V: The following is a letter I wrote that was published in Mythlore #111/112 (2010), pages 161-162, which is worth reprinting here: 

A Footnote to Tales Before Narnia

I recently learned of an uncollected C. S. Lewis letter. Had I known of it when I was compiling my anthology Tales Before Narnia (2008), I would have included an additional author in my list of recommended reading at the rear of the book. While the content of the Lewis letter is of minor significance, it is worth some attention.
            The letter appears in Ferguson on Shiel, an unpaginated micro-published documentary volume edited and produced in 1998 by John D. Squires from his Vainglory Press in Kettering, Ohio. Ferguson on Shiel collects various documents—articles and correspondence—that pertain to the writer M.P. Shiel (1865-1947) as written by (or to) the American bookseller and librarian, Malcolm M. Ferguson (b. 1919), who met the elderly Shiel in 1944 when stationed in England as an American serviceman. Ferguson, who later published a handful of short stories in Weird Tales in the late 1940s, wrote to Lewis on 2 February 1953 (the ellipses are in the original):

            I would like to have read a book which your late friend Mr. Charles Williams did not write, nor did my late, elderly friend M. P. Shiel . . .
            I would like, then, to read a book which I would like you to write. (Like Andrew Lang, I’ve been thinking up books which ought to be) . . .  
            The book which I fancy would concern itself with the discovery of THE BOOK OF JUDAS.  Men of good will would welcome the revelation of such a book’s contents, after confirming its authenticity. Many Churchmen and the Communists would see in such a discovery an opportunity for furthering their own doctrines by seizing this volume and seeing to it that it was distorted according to their ideas. 

Ferguson concluded, “Now I’ve given you my idea, and you are welcome to it. It doesn’t fit in with my other literary luggage.”
            Lewis’s brief response is dated 20th February 1953, and reads in full:  “What a good idea!  It would have suited Shiel (whose books I like) better than me. Like you, I want someone else to write it, you see.  But very many thanks.” 
            The only significant content of Lewis’s letter is the parenthetical mention of his liking Shiel’s books, a fact which I believe is recorded nowhere else.  Shiel was a prolific writer of novels and stories, so from this general statement it would be pure speculation to suggest any particular works by Shiel that Lewis might have read. However, after Lewis’s death in 1963, the Wroxton College Library in Oxfordshire acquired a significant portion of his personal library (the majority of these books are now held in the Wade Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois), and from the listing “C. S. Lewis: A Living Library” made by Margaret Anne Rogers in 1969, we know that Lewis owned at the time of his death two editions of Shiel’s most famous novel, The Purple Cloud (1901), one dated 1946, the other 1963.  The edition from 1946 is likely an American one, published by The World Publishing Company of Cleveland; it may possibly have originally been owned by Joy Davidman, the American woman whom he married in 1956 and who predeceased him in 1960, for some of the books found in his library after his death are known to have been hers. The 1963 edition was apparently that from the nine volume series of “Rare Works of Imaginative Fiction” published by Victor Gollancz in 1963-64.  The Purple Cloud was the first in the series, which also reprinted two other Shiel titles, no. 6 The Lord of the Sea (originally published in 1901) and no. 8 The Isle of Lies (originally 1909). Still, unless the 1946 edition of The Purple Cloud was Lewis’s, we cannot single out which Shiel books Lewis might have read before writing his letter to Malcolm M. Ferguson in 1953.
            The entry I would add to the recommended reading at the rear of Tales Before Narnia follows: 

Shiel, M[atthew]. P[hipps]. (1865-1947)

British writer, born in the West Indies.  In a single letter, Lewis mentioned that he liked Shiel’s books, but gave no specific titles.  From a listing of books from his library made after his death, we know Lewis owned two editions (1946 and 1963) of The Purple Cloud (1901), a scientific romance of a post-apocalyptic world. It is probably Shiel’s most lasting work. His other writings include a collection of lyrical and luxurious short stories Shapes in the Fire (1896), and the stories of the decadent armchair detective, Prince Zaleski (1895).