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Reviews

Various Scholarly Journals

North Wind #29. Fernando Soto and John Pennington, eds. A Journal of George MacDonald Studies. 2010. ISSN 0265-7295. Available with membership, $18 annually in US.

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VII #28. Marjorie Lamp Mead et al, eds. An Anglo-American Literary Review. 2011. ISSN 0271-3012. $16.50 for US subscribers.

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Tolkien Studies #8.. Douglas A. Anderson, Michael D.C. Drout, and Verlyn Flieger, eds. Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review. 2011. ISSN 1547-3155. $60 for US individual subscribers.

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Reviewed by Janet Brennan Croft


[This review originally appeared in Mythlore 117/118.]

North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies has moved into the digital age. The opening article in this issue, by editorial intern Gretchen Panzer and editor John Pennington, “George MacDonald in the Virtual Library: The North Wind Digital Archive and the Evolution of MacDonald Scholarship,” chronicles North Wind’s entry into digital humanities scholarship with the digitization of its entire back run, now available online at http://www.snc.edu/ english/ nwarchive.html. The authors take this opportunity to review the history and current state of MacDonald scholarship by looking at trends in their own journal and elsewhere in the field. The Appendix to this issue consists of an article title list in order of publication, with subject headings.

Daniel Gabelman, in “‘The Day of All the Year’: MacDonald’s Christmas Aesthetic,” points out that MacDonald refers to Christmas far more frequently than any other church holiday in all of his works, and his accounts of family celebrations of the season are delightfully Dickensian. The author explores the centrality of the Incarnation to MacDonald’s imagination, finding that MacDonald’s ability to “see the shadow of the cradle even at the cross” is the source of his theological emphasis on transformative joy.

In “Getting Lost in The Princess and the Goblin,” Natalie L.  Merglesky shows how, in reaction to the predominating rational and empirical modes of thought of his age, MacDonald attempted to validate the importance of the imaginative and Romantic through his fairy tales. In The Princess and the Goblin, MacDonald uses the familiar experience of getting lost as a way to awaken the imaginations of Irene and Curdie to the “extra-ordinary possibilities of an ordinary experience” (36). “Getting lost” wakes them up to the previously unknown and opens their eyes to the numinous.

Tania Scott’s “Good Words: At the Back of the North Wind and the Periodical Press” demonstrates the usefulness of reading At the Back of the North Wind the way readers would originally have encountered it—as a serialized publication in Good Words for the Young. In this light, the episodic nature of the story makes more artistic sense, and it is also worth noting that individual chapters occasionally reflected and built on themes from other items—articles, poems, editorials, etc.—published in the same issue.

Osama Jarrar’s “Children’s Fiction Discourse Analysis: The Critique of Victorian Economics in George MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie” is a somewhat disjointed article—it’s heavy on discourse theory at the beginning, but it doesn’t come back and tie it all together at the conclusion. Nevertheless, Jarrar has some interesting points to make about the way the fairy tale mode gave MacDonald a useful and instructive way to criticize self-interest, privatization, and the utilitarian and centralized economics of his contemporary England.

Two short articles follow. “A Royal Pain: The Comic Spirit in George MacDonald’s ‘The Light Princess’” by Greg Levonian  is a brief note analyzing the princess’s laughter and the contrasting sober characters using theories about humor proposed by Bergson and Freud. Robert Trexler’s “Dombey and Grandson: Parallels Between At The Back of the North Wind and Dombey and Son” notes a number of striking plot and thematic parallels between the two novels and speculates that MacDonald consciously borrowed from the earlier work.

The issue concludes with Daniel Gabelman again, with his textual study “‘Tell Us a Story’ (or ‘The Giant’s Heart’) in The Illustrated London News.” This short story first appeared in a Christmas Supplement of the News, then became one of the tales interpolated in Adela Cathcart, and finally was published in Dealings With the Fairies. This issue reproduces the original text, complete with framing story, concluding poem, and two illustrations.


The 2011 volume of VII again provides us with some previously unpublished or hard to obtain texts of interest. First, David C. Downing and Bruce R. Johnson study “C.S. Lewis’s Unfinished ‘Easley Fragment’ and his Unfinished Journey.” This 1927 manuscript, held in the collection at the Wade Center, consists of two draft chapters of Lewis’s only attempt at a realistic novel. The first chapter describes a ferry-crossing of the Irish Channel in realistic detail; the second veers towards more metaphysical territory, though at this point Lewis had not yet converted to Christianity. This article reproduces the fragment, and the commentary places it within Lewis’s development as a writer and thinker and speculates that part of the direction in which the story appears to be headed may have been influenced by Lewis’s experiences helping care for Janie Moore’s brother during his mental breakdown.

In “Nocturnal Anarchist, Mystic, and Fairytale King: G.K. Chesterton’s Portrait of George MacDonald,” Daniel Gabelman makes the point that contemporary MacDonald criticism finds its fons et origo in C.S. Lewis’s “baptism” by Phantastes on the eve of war in 1916, and tends towards analysis of his more adult and mystical themes and a certain dismissal of his style based on Lewis’s assessment in the introduction to his MacDonald Anthology. However, if MacDonald criticism had instead had G.K. Chesterton as its father, its focus might today be different. Chesterton’s first encounter with MacDonald was with The Princess and the Goblin in childhood, and the portrait of the author that emerges from his essays and other mentions is that of “a mystic ‘half mad with joy’” (37), always concerned with “the mysterious dance of gravity and levity” (38) and filled with “the gravity of a child at play” (Chesterton qtd. 39). The article includes two drafts of Chesterton’s essay “George MacDonald. The Mystic,” and VII’s website makes available two articles from The Daily News here reprinted for the first time.

Chris Willerton, in “Dorothy L. Sayers and the Creative Reader,” traces the development of Sayers’s Trinitarian theory of creativity from the early war-time essay Begin Here (1941) through The Mind of the Maker (1941) to the later essay “Towards a Christian Aesthetic,” comparing and contrasting it with reader response theory, Bloom’s theory that all readings are misreadings, and other ideas about creativity, and providing a useful way to use her theory in judging the reaction of a reader or a critic to a given piece of work. But why did Sayers chose this topic for a war-time essay? In part this was due to her “holistic view of civilization” and ability to see the dignity and creative opportunities available in all work, and her opinion that the “alert and ready” citizen would be best prepared for the work of post-war reconstruction by wide and responsive reading. A fascinating article that would resonate even further by bringing in the Sayers essays “Are Women Human?” and “Why Work?”

In “The Ainulindalë and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beautiful Sorrow in Christian Tradition,” Michael David Elam examines the concept of “beautiful sorrow” in Christian philosophy and how it can be applied to the creation story in Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Sorrow “recognizes the contrast between what-is-and-shouldn’t-be (the actual) with what-ought-to-be-but-isn’t (the ideal)” (62); thus “[s]orrow is a proper response to lack of goodness” (67) and its beauty resides in its looking towards the good. Therefore the beauty of the third movement of Ilúvatar’s music lies in its sorrow for the marred world’s departure from the good and the hope that it will be set right. The author also makes the observation that the poignancy of eucatastrophe lies in the restoration of order—the “what-ought-to-be” that nearly wasn’t and the “impotence of chaos to resist” being set right.

Pageants depicting local historical events and legends in a series of short plays, poems, tableaux, etc., were an important form of popular entertainment in late 19th and early 20th century England. In “Dorothy L. Sayers and the Somersham Pageant of 1908,” Martin Ferguson Smith has gathered information on the previously unknown participation of Sayers in the 1908 pageant in Somersham, shortly before her departure for boarding school at the age of fifteen. Sayers wrote several historical poems and performed on the violin, and the article identifies two pictures of Sayers, thought to have been from a school performance of Coriolanus, as actually dating from this pageant.

The issue concludes with a review section.


Tolkien Studies 2011 begins with Philip Irving Mitchell’s “‘Legend and History Have Met and Fused’: The Interlocution of Anthropology, Historiography, and Incarnation in J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘On Fairy-stories,’” in which the author examines concepts of progress and evolution in “On Fairy-Stories” in relation to similar discussions by Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, and Christopher Dawson. These writers, while to a greater or lesser extent accepting the mechanisms of physical evolution, object to applying the notion of progressive evolution to the soul and to human artistic activity and the resulting application of labels of primitivism to early human religion and folklore and the privileging of modernism.

John M. Bowers’s “Tolkien’s Goldberry and The Maid of the Moor” is a brief source-study finding a basis for the character of Goldberry in a fourteenth-century lyric with the modern title The Maid of the Moor. This song or poem is about a species of water-sprite, more common in European sources than English, and the author speculates that Goldberry becomes a sort of asterisk-reality version of this water spirit.

Tolkien once said that the Gothic language took him by storm and moved his heart. In “Language in Tolkien’s ‘Bagme Bloma,’” Lucas Annear analyzes two of his short poems in Gothic in Songs for the Philologists, “Bagme Bloma” and “Eadig Beo þu,” not only for Tolkien’s use of known Gothic and reconstruction of asterisk-forms, but also for the tree-imagery and vocabulary choices which resonate with his other work and the overarching love of language shown in the poems’ themes.

Jose Manuél Ferrández Bru, in “‘Wingless fluttering’: Some Personal Connections in Tolkien’s Formative Years,” discusses two aspects of Tolkien’s early life somewhat neglected by biographers: his relationship with his mentor, Father Morgan Francis, and his summer as a companion to two young Mexican boys visiting France. The author provides insights into the character and ancestry of Fr. Francis and the Mexican family. There is a (remotely) possible source for the “wind” riddle in The Hobbit in a book of riddles and verses collected by Fr. Francis’s great-aunt Cecelia Böhl de Faber.

While John Garth quoted extensively from Rob Gilson’s letters in his Tolkien and the Great War, he of necessity concentrated on the letters concerning Tolkien. “Robert Quilter Gilson, T.C.B.S.: A Brief Life in Letters” gives us the opportunity to get to know Gilson for himself—a lively and prolific letter-writer with a deep appreciation for natural beauty and a painterly talent for describing it in words. The letters cover his college years, his love for Estelle Wilson King, his experiences in officer training and later in the north of France in the trenches. There are some interesting observations on Tolkien as a young man from a friend and equal, and a touching final letter from Estelle describing the site of his grave in Bécourt.

My own “The Hen that Laid the Eggs: Tolkien and the Officers Training Corps” describes the training Tolkien would have encountered in his time with the OTC at King Edward’s School, and speculates on how this early exposure to the principles of civilian preparedness plays out in The Lord of the Rings, particularly in the Shire-muster and Hobbitry-in-arms and the chapter “The Scouring of the Shire.”

The issue ends with the usual reviews and other material, including, notably, a nearly 100-page review by Deidre A. Dawson of The Ring Goes Ever On, the two-volume Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 Conference at Aston University. Dawson provides quite detailed critiques of nearly 100 articles and the collection as a whole. It closes out with David Bratman’s ever-useful “Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies” section for 2008, now co-authored with Merlin DeTardo, and the Bibliography (in English) for 2009.


North Wind #29. Fernando Soto and John Pennington, eds. A Journal of George MacDonald Studies. 2010. ISSN 0265-7295. Available with membership, $18 annually in US.

Subscribe

VII #28. Marjorie Lamp Mead et al, eds. An Anglo-American Literary Review. 2011. ISSN 0271-3012. $16.50 for US subscribers.

Subscribe

Tolkien Studies #8.. Douglas A. Anderson, Michael D.C. Drout, and Verlyn Flieger, eds. Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review. 2011. ISSN 1547-3155. $60 for US individual subscribers.

Learn More