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Mythopoeic Society

a non-profit organization devoted to the study of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, the Inklings, and the genres of myth and fantasy


Reviews

Various Scholarly Journals

Fastitocalon: Studies in Fantasticism Ancient to Modern. 1.2 (2010). Ed. Thomas Honegger and Fanfan Chen. ISSN 1869-960X. €15/issue; subscribe through the publisher, Wissenschaftliche Verlag Trier.

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Journal of Inklings Studies 1.1 (March 2011). Ed. Judith Wolfe. ISSN 2045-8797. ₤14.90 annually for US subscribers.

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VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review. 27 (2010). Ed. Marjorie Lamp Mead. ISSN 0271-3012. $16.50 for US subscribers.

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Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review. 7 (2010). Ed. Douglas A. Anderson, Michael D.C. Drout, and Verlyn Flieger. ISSN 1547-3155. $60 for US subscribers.

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Reviewed by Janet Brennan Croft


[This review originally appeared in Mythlore 115/116.]

In a field which one might consider to be growing over-crowded with scholarly journals, it is encouraging to find that in fact there is plenty of high-caliber material to go around, and even a surprising amount of previously unpublished source material to give scholars more to work with. May it continue to be so!

I reviewed the first issue of Fastitocalon in Mythlore #111/112, and it is living up to its initial promise. While we do not share exactly the same focus, Mythlore readers will find much of interest here. The lead article, by Bruce Wyse, is “Consuming Life: Narcissism, Liminality, and the Posthuman Condition in Bulwer-Lytton’s A Strange Story.” In this tale, a man who acquires bodily immortality loses his soul in the process and becomes quite literally post-human—”he is what remains when what is reputedly the essence of the human is withdrawn from the rational animal” (93). Wyse reads a “gothicized” (103) response to Darwin in Bulwer-Lytton’s depiction of the utter self-centeredness of the soulless, once-human Margrave. Roger Bonzetto and Fanfan Chen continue the theme of immortality with “The Evolution of the Quest for Immortality in Science Fiction and the Fantastic: Spirituality, Corporeality, Virtuality.” I found it a rather disjointed survey of the history of mankind’s quest for immortality, and felt it didn’t quite work to lump mythological and religious stories in the same category as gothic and science fiction tales. One valuable observation, though, concerns the gradual historical identification of the potentially immortal spirit of the human being with the brain rather than with another organ or permeated throughout the body. Anna Caiozzo follows this with “Some Notes on Depictions of Immortals in Medieval Oriental Manuscripts,” oriental in this case meaning Islamic, and these notes, while also somewhat disjointed, do provide some interesting insights into a religious and mythological system not well known to many Westerners.

Thomas Scholz’s “The Making of a Hilarious Undead: Bisociation in the Novels of Terry Pratchett” disproves the truism that critical analysis of humor tends to kill its subjects; this article manages to leave Pratchett’s undead still kicking at the end. Scholz uses Arthur Koestler’s concept of bisociation to show how Pratchett’s humorous undead achieve their effects through the intersection of “two self-consistent but habitually incompatible frames of reference” (142), here primarily standard social conventions and the expected behavior of the undead. As readers become accustomed to this intersection, Pratchett is then able to use these characters as “part-time protagonists” (147). Scholz then demonstrates what happens when these frames of reference fuse but do not collide, in the less successfully humorous ghosts of J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts.

Eugenio M. Olivares Merino continues his article from Fastitocalon 1.1 with part two of “Reporting the Stubborn Undead: Revenants and Vampires in Twelfth Century English Literature.” He summarizes and discusses a number of stories of revenants from this time period and analyzes elements they have in common with later vampire folklore and literature. In “Arthur Conan Doyles [sic] Dracula,” Robert Eighteen-Bisang presents plausible evidence that the Sherlock Holmes tale “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client” is a retelling of Dracula, with the supernatural elements rationalized away in Holmesian style. Doyle and Stoker were known to be friends and had collaborated more or less closely on such projects as a serialized novel and a Doyle play produced at Stoker’s Lyceum theatre. Douglas A. Anderson concludes the issue with “A Note on M.R. James and Dracula,” some clever literary detective work tracing a reference by James to a possible source for Dracula through a misleading claim by Peter Haining and back to its actual publication. It is unlikely this was an actual source, but it has certain parallels with the novel. Anderson’s “Notes on Some Neglected Fantasists” column for this issue provides bio-bibliographical information on James Dickie (Yaqub Zaki), editor of a collection of vampire stories, and C. Bryson Taylor, author of two novels and many magazine stories.

The Journal of Inklings Studies is a collaborative project of the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society, the Charles Williams Society, and the Owen Barfield Estate, and the editorial board plans to focus on the theology, philosophy, and literature of Lewis, Barfield, Williams, and Tolkien, and their “intellectual and literary peers and forbears.” Subscribers to the print edition also have full access to an electronic version online, and reviews are open access online. This is a promising new journal, though its mission and audience will nearly duplicate that of Seven. But JIS has scored a bit of a coup with its initial issue, printing some hitherto unpublished Lewis material. Paul Tankard, following up a lead in the papers of theatre critic and producer Kenneth Tynan (who had been Lewis’s student at Oxford), gives us “C.S. Lewis’ Brush with Television.” He describes two hitherto unreported filmed interviews with Lewis for Tynan’s short-lived program Tempo, the first dealing with “Eros and the Arts,” and the second, titled “The Oxbridge Octopus,” with the influence of Oxford and Cambridge on the arts. Footage has not survived for either program, but the article is followed by a transcript of the interview for the former. Some of the topics Lewis covers are the differences in technique in drawing and in writing about a nude, some historical examples of erotic writing, the morality of depicting the sexual act, even between married partners, in writing, and the value of the dirty joke. As the editor points out, Lewis has used some of the same arguments and examples elsewhere.

J.G. Bradbury, in “Charles Williams’ Arthuriad: Mythic Vision and the Possibility of Belief,” explores Williams’s use of myth, in T.S. Eliot’s words, to make “the modern world possible for art”: a world in which religion is no longer as accessible as a system to arrange and present symbol and meaning in poetry needs an alternative organizing principle. The Arthuriad’s organization around the Grail as a mythic object provides a bridge allowing a modern view of the world to approach the religious. Don W. King, in an excellent companion piece to his article in this issue of Mythlore, considers “The Early Writings of Joy Davidman”—the poems, fiction, and non-fiction she produced before she began writing for New Masses. In particular, he examines several poems and two short stories in her college’s literary magazine, her master’s thesis, and two poems in the literary journal Poetry.

The issue concludes with two lengthy review articles. Kenneth McLure, in “Owen Barfield and the Poetics of Salvation: A Review of Two Barfield Novellas,” uses the recently reissued Night Operation and Eager Spring as the basis for a discussion of the “imagination of disaster” in modern literature and how this ties in with Barfield’s defense of poetic logic as a path for balancing reductionist materialism and anti-material spirituality, or rational truth and poetic truth. P.H. Brazier reviews William Gray’s Fantasy, Myth, and the Measure of Truth and Phillip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ in “Truth and Fantasy, Reality and Fiction.” I found this disappointing; Brazier engages primarily with his own distaste for atheism and for Pullman as a representative atheist, and has little to say beyond that; it impressed me as disappointingly narrow, bitter, and poorly written and edited.

VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review, or Seven, is a well-established journal now on its 27th annual issue. We have reviewed it off and on over the years in Mythlore. Like JIS, this issue includes some previously unpublished Lewis material; Steven A. Beebe has located a fragment of a Lewis manuscript thought to be a draft of the introduction for the never-completed collaboration between Lewis and Tolkien, Language and Human Nature. In “C.S. Lewis on Language and Meaning,” the concepts developed in this fragment are compared to Lewis’s other writings on language and meaning and to both contemporary and current linguistic theories on written and oral communication. The fragment itself follows the article.

Owen A. and Adelene Barfield share “In Search of Lucy: The Life of Lucy Barfield,” a brief biography of the adopted daughter of Inkling Owen Barfield and dedicatee of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They speculate that Lewis took into account his spiritual duty as her godfather in creating the character Lucy Pevensie, with all her strengths and flaws. Tom McAlindon follows this with a similar personal reminiscence, “C.S. Lewis Remembered: Cambridge, 1957-1960.” McAlindon studied for his PhD under C.S. Lewis’s direction, and describes his lecturing style (contrasting it with that of F.R. Leavis) and thesis supervision style (comparing him to Muriel Bradbrook, who joined Lewis in mentoring his work near its completion). The author was not personally close to Lewis, but in retrospect developed a deep appreciation for Lewis’s teaching abilities and work ethic in spite of the joys and sorrows of his personal life during that period.

John Rateliff introduces and footnotes the next previously unpublished document in “Introduction to ‘Woodland Prisoner’: Clyde S. Kilby Speaks on Tolkien.” He describes the circumstances surrounding the never-printed proceedings of the 1983 Tolkien Conference at Marquette University, and provides some background for Kilby’s speech, his last major talk on Tolkien before his death in 1986. The text of “Woodland Prisoner” follows: while the talk primarily consists of memories of Clyde Kilby’s association with J.R.R. Tolkien in the latter years of his life and working with him on organizing the materials of The Silmarillion in the summer of 1966, Kilby also uses “Leaf by Niggle” as a central metaphor for discussing Tolkien’s constantly delayed and deferred work on The Silmarillion and other projects, and finds the line from “Mythopoeia,” “We make by the law in which we’re made,” to sum up Tolkien’s creative philosophy.

Next we have two poems by Owen Barfield, “Rust” and “She” (the latter previously unpublished). Brett Foster introduces and explicates them, and reflects on the place of poetry in Barfield’s entire literary output. The introduction does lack somewhat in failing to provide dates that would help place the two poems properly in the evolution of Barfield’s development as a poet. Samuel Joeckel’s useful article, “C.S. Lewis and the Art of the Apologue,” proposes that considering The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce as apologues (works “organized as a fictional example of the truth of a formulable statement or a series of such statements,” quoting Sheldon Sacks, a sort of “moral allegory” [72]) rather as than novels or fantasies can correct certain critical misunderstandings about their structure, characterization, and plot, and provide the reader with a better set of criteria by which to judge their success against the rules and conventions of this specific genre.

Two review essays round out the issue. Ralph C. Wood, in “The Argument from Joy: G.K. Chesterton as Thinker and Theologian,” considers a number of recent books in which G.K. Chesterton is read as a theologian, not just an aphorist, essayist, and author of fiction, poetry, and drama. Notable among the works considered are Stephen R.L. Clark’s G.K. Chesterton: Thinking Backward, Looking Forward (2006), Alison Milbank’s Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians (2007), and Aidan Nichols’s G.K. Chesterton, Theologian (2009). Kirsten Jeffrey Johnson summarizes the history and trends of George MacDonald criticism in “A Critical Reinstatement: Dearborn’s The Baptized Imagination,” asserting the importance of his influence on Lewis, Chesterton, Tolkien, and Sayers in particular. She considers Kerry Dearborn’s The Baptized Imagination: The Theology of George MacDonald (2006) the best exploration so far of “MacDonald’s pivotal role in the development of a theological understanding of the Imagination” (96) and a much-needed corrective for recent mistaken critical trends.

Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review 7 is an intimidatingly thick issue, clocking in at 401 pages. As usual, it is rounded out by David Bratman’s “The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies” for 2007 and the “Bibliography (in English)” covering items published in 2008.

The issue starts with Vladimir Brijak’s “The Book of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metafictionist,” demonstrating the value of taking Tolkien’s metafictional framing strategies—most notably the Red Book of Westmarch, with its evolution through various translators, redactors, narratizers, annotators, and copiers—seriously as a literary device linking to techniques used in both Beowulf and postmodern fiction. In Borges’s terms, this structure of pseudo-editorial conceits would serve to “increase, rather than undermine, its mimetic potential” (20), and certainly the frame imbues The Lord of the Rings with the qualities of “verisimilitude, depth, credibility, and so forth” (5). Péter Kristóf Makai contributes “Faërian Cyberdrama: When Fantasy becomes Virtual Reality,” which applies concepts from Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories” to ludology or game studies, and specifically to fantasy-based computer games, whether narrative-based or immersive virtual reality worlds. The concepts of Escapism and Faërian Drama are particularly useful in understanding the appeal and legitimacy of virtual reality games, and how the player functions within the game. Michael Milburn, winner of the Alexei Kondratiev Student Paper Award at the 2010 Mythcon, examines how Tolkien’s conceptions of imagination and human creativity agree or disagree with another well-known theory in “Coleridge’s Definition of Imagination and Tolkien’s Definition(s) of Faery.” Milburn draws not just on the published essay “On Fairy-Stories” but also its various drafts and the introductory essay to Smith of Wootton Major to show how Tolkien’s ideas evolved.

Thomas Fornet-Ponse weighs in on the elves/fate—men/free will debate recently revitalized by Verlyn Flieger’s 2008 Mythcon talk with “‘Strange and free’—On Some Aspects of the Nature of Elves and Men.” He considers the difficult problem of reconciling fate and free will in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, where the differing origins and ultimate destinies of Elves and Men confuse the issues further. The author investigates Tolkien’s writings on the fëa and hröa (roughly, soul and body) of Men and Elves, examples of free will exercised by Elves and incidents of providence acting through Men and Hobbits, the nature of Ilúvatar’s foreknowledge and the lesser foreknowledge granted to the Ainur, and the differing ways in which the souls of Men and Elves are bound to the world and their attitudes towards bodily death. Fornet-Ponse agrees with Flieger that the free will of Men is a powerful thing that can affect fate, but concludes that Elves have free will too, though it is impacted by their binding to the circles of the world.

Mary R. Bowman takes a look at Tolkien’s professional involvement with Maldon throughout his career in “Refining the Gold: Tolkien, The Battle of Maldon, and the Northern Theory of Courage.” She shows how his thinking on Byrhtnoth’s actions and the courage of his followers evolved, demonstrated through his fictional critiques in The Hobbit, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorthelm’s Son, and The Lord of the Rings. Especially useful is her analysis of the chapter “The Choices of Master Samwise” as she shows his choices paralleling and criticizing those made by Byrhtnoth’s men. Thomas Honegger’s “Fantasy, Escape, Recovery, and Consolation in Sir Orfeo: The Medieval Foundations of Tolkienian Fantasy” is an eye-opener; while there has been some work on the influence of specific aspects of Sir Orfeo on Tolkien’s depiction of Faërie in The Hobbit and Smith of Wootton Major, this is the first major discussion about its broader influence on the concepts Tolkien outlines in “On Fairy-Stories.” Fantasy, recovery, escape, enchantment, eucatastrophe, and consolation can all be found it this relatively short work, and medieval commentaries that interpret it as a Christian story also bear a strong resemblance to the epilogue of “On Fairy-Stories” and its relation of fairy stories to the Gospel.

Sherrlyn Branchaw points out a classical source in “Elladan and Elrohir: The Dioscuri in The Lord of the Rings,” comparing the twin sons of Elrond to other sets of twins in Indo-European mythology, and concluding that Tolkien’s conception of Elladan and Elrohir owes the most to Castor and Polydeuces, the twin sons of Zeus and Leda and brothers of Helen of Troy, and secondarily to Amphion and Zethos, the sons of Theban Antiope. In “Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and His Concept of Native Language: Sindarin and British-Welsh,” Yoko Hemmi applies Tolkien’s ideas about “native language”—that language or group of languages which feels like “home” to an individual through ancestry and personal preference—to the linguistic history of Middle-earth and specifically to the curious incidents of Sam and Frodo speaking poems and invocations in Sindarin that they do not consciously know. “English and Welsh” and The Notion Club Papers are the “epitexts” most useful in understanding Tolkien’s theories and providing a way to read their application in The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien has been accused of simplistic depictions of race in the attitudes of his Northern men to the Easterlings and Southrons, and by extension of having racist attitudes himself. Margaret Sinex’s “‘Monsterized Saracens,’ Tolkien’s Haradrim, and Other Medieval ‘Fantasy Products’” demonstrates both that these depictions have ample historic precedent in Tolkien’s classical and medieval source influences, and that what Tolkien did with these sources was in the end far more nuanced than might be expected from a superficial reading. And in “Myth, Milky Way, and the Mysteries of Tolkien’s Morwinyon, Telumendil, and Anarríma” Kristine Larsen proposes possible real-world star and constellation identities for three astronomical terms from the legendarium, based partly on Tolkien’s own knowledge of amateur astronomy and his reading in medieval literature.

This issue of Tolkien Studies also provides us with some previously unpublished or very difficult to obtain source material—in this case, Tolkien’s ‘The Story of Kullervo’ and his essays on Kalevala, ably edited by Verlyn Flieger. “The Story of Kullervo” is a retelling in prose and verse of a tale from Runos 31-36 of the Kalevala, following the original closely but with a number of names replaced with Tolkien’s own inventions. The story bears some resemblance to his later tale of Túrin Turambar. The essay is transcribed from two versions, manuscript and undated typescript, from 1914/1915 and at least three years later, and its purpose appears to be to interest the audience in reading the Kalevala, praising its “race of unhypocritical scandalous heroes and sadly unsentimental lovers” (247) as the sort of undergrowth too often pared away and discarded from more polished collections of tales.

Contributing further to Tolkien’s biography, John Garth’s “J.R.R. Tolkien and the Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Fairies” springs from an anecdote related in one of the manuscript versions of “On Fairy-Stories,” recounting how the young Tolkien once tried to make conversation with a small boy about the probable inhabitant of a poppy flower, and was roundly put in his place by the scientific lad, who told him it contained only “Stamens and a Pistil.” Garth identifies the boy as Hugh Cary Gilson, half-brother of Tolkien’s close friend Robert Quilter Gilson, and the year as 1913 or 1914, based on corroborating evidence from Christopher Tolkien and from Gilson family papers. The article includes biographical information on Hugh’s later life; he was a noted freshwater biologist and taught Zoology at Cambridge.

Finally, this issue’s last major piece is Tom Shippey’s lengthy review of Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún. Shippey considers not just Tolkien’s retellings of Völsunga Saga and the Nibelungeleid and related materials—his techniques, his aims in retelling these stories, and the success of his version in capturing the “daimonic force” (293) of the originals—but also the textual history of Tolkien’s source material and the various influences working with these texts may have had on Tolkien’s legendarium.


Fastitocalon: Studies in Fantasticism Ancient to Modern. 1.2 (2010). Ed. Thomas Honegger and Fanfan Chen. ISSN 1869-960X. €15/issue; subscribe through the publisher, Wissenschaftliche Verlag Trier.

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Journal of Inklings Studies 1.1 (March 2011). Ed. Judith Wolfe. ISSN 2045-8797. ₤14.90 annually for US subscribers.

More Information

VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review. 27 (2010). Ed. Marjorie Lamp Mead. ISSN 0271-3012. $16.50 for US subscribers.

More Information

Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review. 7 (2010). Ed. Douglas A. Anderson, Michael D.C. Drout, and Verlyn Flieger. ISSN 1547-3155. $60 for US subscribers.

More Information