I believe that legends and myth are largely made of truth, and indeed present aspects of it that can only be perceived in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear. -- J.R.R. Tolkien in his collected letters.
Come in -- My name's Mackenzie and I'm the sometimes grumpy Librarian here at Green Man. Having finished reading through Peter S. Beagle's works this summer, I'm once again reading The Hobbit, lovely novel that it is! How many times have I read it? At least a half dozen. Maybe a lot more as I wore out a hardcover edition I got in the Sixties.
Like me, most of the staff here at Green Man have a deep and loving affection for the late Oxfordian Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon studies John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and his written works, a relation which is rumoured by many here to have started when he made use in the Thirties of our library for research and our pub for a good pint of ale while he had long conversations with many of the staff, musicians, and visitors there.
When he read in the Pub, there was no doubt he had a fine voice, both for reading as you can hear him reading a poem in Elvish from The Lord of the Rings, and singing, a trait he shares with Beagle who's a fine reader and singer as well. Some say that Peter's the American equal of Tolkien as a writer -- a claim I'll not quibble with.
(A digression for a minute... Did you know they turned the trilogy into a musical? With Finnish musicians from JPP -- short for Järvelän Pikkupelimannit which in English means Little Folk Musicians of Järvelä, appropriate given The Lord of the Rings and the hobbits therein! -- helping compose and perform the music? I'm not kidding. Just take a minute and read the review now as our reviewer says that it succeeds 'more often than it fails, and as a whole it is an entertaining and enjoyable experience.'
Oh, do read this review of the soundtracks for the films as Howard Shore composed the scores and The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra performed all of them. Rather a good effort I'd say. Another Tolkien flavoured music project worth checking out is the Tolkien Ensemble and Christopher Lee's At Dawn in Rivendell -- Selected Songs and Poems, an interesting if vocally flawed undertaking. Another musical endeavour is Colin Rudd's Songs of JRR Tolkien which is, according to our reviewer. 'a wonderful companion to the novels, and a vivid reminder of Tolkien's dense, green-and-gold prose' which the reviewer recommends it highly.)
If you want an opinion of what he sounded like reading his work, there's a look at him reading excerpts from The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil in this review. And may I recommend the trilogy as done in full by the Beeb as a radio drama? Even I who find the written version to be irritating loved this wonderful dramatization! But let's not forget the version dramatized by Rob Inglis as he has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and, and our reviewer says 'his old-school English voice is a perfect match for the books.'
Now there's even older recordings of him here -- let's see where that Victrola got off to...
So, while Mackenzie's off looking for the Victrola – yeah, we've really got a Victrola in here, as well as a 21st century sound system that's practically sentient – I'll sign you in. I'm one of the Several Annies, and the Library desk is my post this afternoon.
Oh my yes, Professor Tolkien is a hero to a great lot of us here in the Green Man. Especially the younger Library staff, like me – I'm not quite past my seven-year apprenticeship (Mackenzie is quite old fashioned) and Tolkien was one of the storytellers I got with Mother Goose and Brothers Grimm when I still wore pajamas with feet. Mackenzie wrinkles his autocratic nose over The Lord of the Rings, (and Liath says the Elvish sociology is shocking) but we Juniors all think it's one of the best fantasies of the 20th century.
Why do we love Tolkien? Well, he's unique. He himself based the structure of his stories on classic quest tales – but Professor T., being a real scholar, went to the original sources to study the method and art. His style has since been copied over and over ad nauseam, to the point where Middle-earth and all his creations are treated like public domain. A lot of fantasy readers scorn his works because of the flood of imitations, good and bad, that followed him. And that is a great loss to the scorners, because he's an original.
Professor Tolkien was an heroic bard, a man very much of the Twentieth century who nonetheless brought the style and voice of a skald into modern literature. A lot has been written about whether or not his WWI experiences influenced the plot of his trilogy -- I think that's like asking if he deliberately breathed while he wrote it. Of course he drew on those experiences! And whether or not it was conscious really doesn't matter at this distance – he took the formative horror of his generation, focused it through the prism of scholarship, and created a story of enduring beauty out of blood, mud and despair.
I think he's matched only by Mervyn Peake (Gormanghast, Titus Groan, Titus Alone) for sheer enormity of creation. And in fact, there is a school of fantasy – China Mieville epitomizes it, I feel – that has drawn its epic roots from Gormanghast rather than Middle-earth. The difference between Peake's and Tolkien's magnum opii, though, is that Peake tragically went mad while he wrote his – Tolkien took what should have driven him mad, and made a coherent tale out of hideous chaos.
And that's just the trilogy! His body of work is huge, and hasn't been plumbed to its depths yet, luckily for all us readers. There are all the highways and byways of Middle-earth, which far too many folks don't explore. Take a look at Farmer Giles of Ham and Unfinished Tales; there's more than one world in there. Don't scorn the 'non-hobbit' works like The Silmarillion, either; the elves were a lot livelier in the youth of the world, and their adventures and misdeeds are amazing. I've liked the Lady Galadriel a lot more since discovering what a wild bad girl she was when she was young.
Some of older Library staff really do say Professor Tolkien visited here in the Thirties, and oh, how I wish I had been here to listen! They say he was both a perfect researcher and a perfect guest; always handled the books to Mackenzie's satisfaction, and could usually be persuaded to sing a bit in the pub of an evening. Though he did have a tendency to sing his own stuff – and back in the Thirties, no one knew how familiar those would get someday, and how fond of them most of us would be.
Still, an Oxford don with an extra pint or two under his waistcoat is almost required to recite his own work, don't you think? And as Mackenzie himself reminds us all when he reads aloud from the Professor's books -- Tolkien read all this out loud to his friends to test it first. It was drawn from a verbal heritage of saga and ode, and it's still damned good when read aloud. And since Mackenzie does quite a job even on the middle bits he claims to abhor – well, I think he likes the old Professor's stuff a bit better than he lets on … don't tell him I said that, though!
We do a handful of new reviews for you this edition -- some of new books, some of books that escaped being reviewed earlier.
Kathleen Bartholomew starts off the new reviews with a look at book she's treasured since her childhood, Tolkien's Smith of Wooten Major & Farmer Giles of Ham. She says, 'Smith and Farmer Giles have the advantage of being completed by Tolkien himself, and are lovely, polished tales. . . . They are the work of a very modern and well-educated scholar -- but like all Professor Tolkien’s work, they feel like an echo of the sunlit fields and shadowed woods of the British mythic landscape that he so loved.' Read all her thoughts here.
Kim Bates read a book about the Inklings, the literary group to which both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien belonged -- Diana Glyer's The Company They Keep, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. She says that Glyer 'paints a lovely picture of the group, comparing it to other writing groups, and gives a general idea of what some of the members were like, along with a glimpse of its social norms and conventions.' And she believes 'that readers serious about the authors, or serious about writing, will enjoy this book. It gives a glimpse into a rarified, fascinating world that, along with the authors, has passed with the 20th century.' Go here for the full review.
Jack Merry brings us a lively review of Karen Wynn Fonstad's The Atlas of Middle-Earth, of which he -- er, Mackenzie -- says, 'But the genius of Fonstad's work is that it is as if it was an actual atlas of a place as real as the Republic of Scotland is. The maps are discussed as if they were real landscapes, drawn according to the restraints a map maker would have in drawing the bonnie banks of Scotland. For each area of Middle-earth, the history of the land is taken into account, as well as geography as it related to the whole of Middle-earth.' Go read his whole write-up!
Liz Milner asks, 'So why read The Silmarillion if it is difficult?' And offers by way of an answer, 'It can stand on its own as a work of art. The first test of a mythology, invented or otherwise, is that it does a satisfactory job of explaining the world in striking, unforgettable language and images. The universe Tolkien creates in the book haunts its readers and makes them see this world in a new light. Scattered through the lists of names are passages of rare beauty.' For more of Liz's in-depth analysis, read on.
Lisa Spangenberg takes a look at three Tolkien-related books for this special issue. First up is an older work by Tolkien, The Tale of the Children of Húrin, which she describes as 'archaic, but less like the King James Bible than some of his work, and a bit more like Norse saga. . . . But for all its archaism and tragic mythos, the Children of Húrin is extremely readable, and a very well made book.' You can read her full review about this tragic tale here.
Next up, Lisa looked at Verlyn flieger's Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien's Mythlogy. Lisa says that 'Interrupted Music is a brilliant study of Tolkien's mythic creation, with particular emphasis on the role of the lesser known works behind Lord of the Rings. Flieger follows the creation of Tolkien's mythology from inception to final flowering, relying heavily on the twelve volume History of Middle Earth. Flieger, very appropriately, compares the History to a musical score (Tolkien's creation myth described the creator Eru singing creation into existence), and describes the present book as her attempt to examine the structures underlying Tolkien's mythology.' Read more for the details!
Lastly, Lisa looked at a project in which she has some personal investment, the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment, edited by Michael Drout. You'll have to read her full review for the details, but she concludes that 'Despite some less than satisfactory results, the Encyclopedia is well-done overall, and very useful. It belongs on the shelf of the serious Tolkien scholar and enthusiast.'
We would be remiss not to note that Lisa will be reviewing John D. Rateliff's The History of the Hobbit, a two volume look at that work which includes the complete unpublished to now draft of The Hobbit and little-known illustrations and unpublished maps, along with a new edition of the classic work itself!
Ahhh, so you stopped by The Inn of the Prancing Pony on your way here? And the Innkeeper suggested you come here if you wanted to read a first edition of The Lord of The Rings? It's here, as well as a first edition of The Hobbit; both with Professor Tolkien's fussy little water colours. Let's start you off with The Hobbit as it's a delightful tale. I should note that The Annotated Hobbit will add a lot to your understanding of that tale though I shudder at the idea of the trilogy getting the same treatment... You'll need to read it in that comfy chair over by the windows overlooking the back gardens as it's far too rare to leave the Library!
Forgive my poor manners -- I see that you are as hungry as a hobbit after your long journey here. So let's head down to the kitchen where Mrs. Ware is preparing Elevenses, a snack similar to an English afternoon tea, but consumed in the late morning.
Her Elevenses are fit for Bilbo himself! It is generally less savoury than brunch, and might consist of some cake or biscuits with a cup of tea or coffee, but knowing Mrs. Ware, I expect it'll be much more than just a simple repast as our redoubtable Mrs. Ware would never lay out a slab of sweet biscuit folded less than one hundred times before baking (she's been heard to count), and this morning is no exception! Soft ripe cheeses and even riper figs and dates adorn the table (the latter gathered by nimble, invisible hands of the Djinns and spirited from warmer lands to our autumnal halls). We've butter tarts, currant scones, swedish cardamom rolls, dishes of almonds, thick wedges of fresh bread, and tiny silver bowls of still-warm pudding.
And over there; slices of lightly-sugared oranges, peppered cucumbers, and a pot or four or six of honeys and jams. This slice of delightfully dense, sweet biscuit, though it would melt in the mouth with no assistance, should be generously slathered with sweet cream butter just so, and there's nothing like a cup of thick Barcelonian chocolate to round the whole repast...
Now that we've satisfied ourselves as well as any respectable hobbit would've, let's get back to discussing the subject at hand... And yes, the apple tarts with cheddar cheese crust were quite tasty! I do believe Mrs. Ware says that's an old family recipe.
Yes, we've reviewed most of his major and even minor works such as The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, The History of Middle-earth (which was edited by Tolkien's son, Christopher Tolkien), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, The Green Knight, Smith of Wooten Major & Farmer Giles of Ham, The Father Christmas Letters, The Road Goes Ever On, and of course, The Monsters and the Critics -- his splendid essay on Beowulf.
Even the films by Jackson and Bakshi (the latter had its script written by Beagle) get looked at. My opinion of the Jackson films? As well done as can be expected given that film is almost never loyal to its printed sources.
But did you know there's a veritable cottage industry of books about Tolkien and his works? I thought not as you're a reader, not an academic! If some here think that the musicians in the Neverending Session are a plague, they've never encountered a group of Tolkien fanatics, errrr, experts in full flush. It's enough to scare a man to retreat to the Pub!
As Librarian here at Green Man, I do find it fascinating that so many folks here and in The World Outside have spent so much effort looking at various aspects of the man and his works. Looking at the indexes we keep in the Library, I see more than two hundred mentions of Tolkien and his works in Green Man in just the past decade alone! Roots & Branches, one of our other periodicals, has articles on his works as far back as before the Second World War, and Le hérisson de sommeil (The Sleeping Hedgehog), the in-house newsletter for our staff, is full of notes about his visits here.
See that case of books over there where one of the Several Annies is working? That's the myriad books on Tolkien that we have collected over the past half century -- though the last twenty years have seen the most published. I think there's over a thousand books, chapbooks, and monographs in print currently that presume to know something about Tolkien which they think that you should know, i.e. the languages of Middle-earth gets a full book to itself (though the work itself is piss poor according to our reviewer) as bloody near everything else. Hell, there's even The Origins of Tolkien's Middle-earth for Dummies -- another book that the less said about, the better. Shudder!
What else has been covered? Maps, blessed maps of Middle-earth, get a first class treatment here as our reviewer noted here: 'John Howe (who also worked on the recent film adaptations) and Brian Sibley have attempted to recognize the importance of maps to Tolkien's world. In their intention to honor, they have not failed -- there is no doubt that these maps are beautiful.' Ahhh, maps warm any librarian's heart! Not that the man himself wasn't an artist in his own right as you can see in J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator and the Father Christmas letters that he wrote and so charmingly illustrated. Speaking of letters, a more serious compilation of his correspondence is looked at in this review.
Tolkien's Legendarium -- Essays on The History of Middle-earth is, as our reviewer notes, 'a collection of scholarly essays honoring the completion of The History of Middle-earth and commenting on it at length. The collection is divided into three sections. Section One covers the development and structure of the twelve-volume History of Middle-earth itself; Section Two deals specifically with Tolkien's invented languages; and Section Three treats aspects of Tolkien's craft as storyteller and worldmaker.' Cool, very cool.
We should not forget Alan Lee's The Lord Of The Rings Sketchbook as he helped immeasurably to define the look of Tolkien's Middle-earth including the Peter Jackson films. I for one can't wait to see what The Hobbit looks like in Jackson's more than capable hands!
Biographies of him? Oh, there's a number of dandy ones. One of the better efforts is Tolkien and the Great War -- The Threshold of Middle-earth, but I'd be dreadfully remiss to overlook J.R.R. Tolkien -- Author of the Century and Tolkien -- A Biography, both of which are indeed worth reading!
Looking for a more generalized companion? Start with The Lord of the Rings -- A Reader's Companion which is but an appetizer to the feat that the same authors do in their two volume (!) set called The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide. I think the first companions date back to the Sixties when the first pirated editions of the trilogy appeared in the States, but most of the other good ones are from much later . Some are just plain silly as in the case of the egotistically named The Rough Guide to The Lord Of The Rings -- Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Middle-earth, some over-specialized for the general reader such as you (Untangling Tolkien -- A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings), some just right as in the case of The Complete Tolkien Companion, and some not-very-well-conceived (Tolkien's World from A to Z -- The Complete Guide to Middle-earth), and The Magical Worlds of the Lord of The Rings is written in a breezy, easy-to-understand style. Those should get you started on honing your knowledge of Tolkien's work!
What else is good? Readings on J.R.R. Tolkien was a pleasant surprise to our reviewer, Tolkien -- A Cultural Phenomenon presents a critical assessment of the entire body of J.R.R. Tolkien's works, The Lord of the Rings -- The Mythology of Power and Tolkien's Art -- A Mythology for England are works which many hardcore Tolkien academics pooh bah but which are well-written and jargon free (which may be why they have disdain for them), Meditations on Middle-earth has writers such as George R. R. Martin, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Charles De Lint reflecting on their perceptions of Tolkien, and finally I must note The Inklings, an even-handed look at the Oxfordian group of academics including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien -- essential reading to fully understand Tolkien. Worth mentioning is Following Gandalf -- Epic Battles and Moral Victories in the Lord of the Rings which is one of the very best Tolkien studies books to be published in recent years.
On the spirituality in Tolkien's work, we have two works, J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth -- Understanding Middle-earth and Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues -- Exploring the Spiritual Themes of The Lord of the Ring. 'Eh', you say, 'what spirituality?' Good question. These books attempt to answer that question with some success... Oh, do also look at Christian Mythmakers which also takes a look at the Inklings.
My very last recommendation is for the Tolkien fan who has really deep pockets and an even deeper interest in all things Middle-earth as our reviewer will tell you: 'The History of Middle-earth offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine a great writer's creative development over a period of sixty years. At his death, J.R.R. Tolkien left a huge body of unfinished and often unorganized writings on the mythology and history of Middle-earth. In The History of Middle-earth, his son, Christopher, has sought to organize this huge collection of drafts, revisions and reworkings into an organized and intelligible whole.' And he succeeded quite well!
Now which of the Several Annies filed away that errant chapbook on Tolkien's visits to our Pub and what he read there that I can't find? And surely by now it's time for High Tea complete with freshly baked scones, strawberry jam, and drawn butter! Set The Hobbit aside if you can as we, like hobbits, need a more than merely decent repast from time to time!
As we leave you this edition, we have comments gathered in our Pub from various writers and other book folk which Green Man respects enough to ask their opinions on what their favourite piece of writing by Tolkien was. I think you'll find their replies to be fascinating as I certainly did!
Neal Asher leads off with his choice: 'Lord of the Rings, quite simply because I loved it. I remember the Hobbit being read to me when I was a young school kid, and when I first walked into a library my mother asked me what I liked, I said I liked The Hobbit and when directed to the relevant shelf picked up a copy of The Two Towers. I read them out of order first, but have since read them in order many times.'
Kage Baker has an interesting choice: 'I'm going for heresy and saying 'Farmer Giles of Ham'. Especially with the original illustrations by Pauline Diana Baynes. It's a perfect witty fable, a little gem of storytelling. Tolkien didn't write much short fiction, and it's a pity-- he was perhaps more accomplished in the short form. He didn't write much comedic material, either, which is also a pity, because he was good at it. Heroic seriousness and tragic declines of kingdoms and the suffering of hobbit protagonists suit tastes more refined than mine, I'm afraid; myself, I'm one of the groundlings. I like it when the man in the funny mask steps onstage.'
Peter Beagle said 'You mean my favorite writing by Tolkien? Probably the story of Beren and Luthien, which I've always loved - or maybe the one now published as The Children of Hurin. One or the other.'
Elizabeth Bear says it's The Lord of the Rings. 'Because I am predictable. No, seriously. If I were aiming for arty, I would say 'Leaf By Niggle,' but I think LotR is a stunning and massive accomplishment, beautifully written, and honestly it gets me right where I live. I'm not unaware of having some problems with it from a political standpoint, but the character arcs, the study of how war and evil change the world and everyone who comes in contact with them, even the defenders--that rings very true for me, as a story that needed to be told.'
The Hobbit is the choice of Paul Brandon: 'As much as I love the depth of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit has a particularly sacred place on my bookshelf, as it was one of the first books read to me. Not sure if it counts in the strictest sense of the question, but I also like Humphrey Carpenter's The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. A nice insight into him.'
Like many others, The Hobbit is the favourite of Tobias Buckell: 'Oh, it's The Hobbit, hands down. I mean, I adore the novel because unlike Tolkien's later work, it's not overburdened. It's a lean, well paced, adventure that takes you on this incredible tour through Tolkien's countries and peoples and mythologies. I read it every couple years just to experience it all over again. I know The Lord of the The Rings is more popular in common culture, but I struggled through it and tried to pick them up recently and just found that I really kept waiting for things to just move. Frankly I thought the movies were a big improvement, although there were parts just kept limping along, like the end, that reminded of reading the books.'
Emma Bull positively raved about her liking for Tolkien: 'Still The Lord of the Rings, man. Probably because of the bit with the mushrooms. And also, Strider? Cool. Aragorn, unfortunately, not quite as cool.But Shadowfax equals eternally cool.'
Cassandra Clare picked a favourite passage: 'My favorite of Tolkien's books is The Return of the King, mainly for the beautiful passage which goes: 'No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades.' It's such a wonderful passage and it always gives me shivers when I read it.'
Peter Crowther, writer and editor of PS Publishing, picks The Lord of the Rings. Now here's why: 'As for 'why', well . . . because, for me, it's the best and most enjoyable thing he wrote but also because it proved to be the most important thing he wrote. The Lord of the Rings caused a 'resurgence in the interest in' and a 'taking more seriously of' Faerie and myth. It resulted in both new and existing writers entering the field to try their hand at so-called 'high fantasy' And it directly caused the re-publication of and renewed interest in many great fantasy works from before Tolkien's time (E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, Hope Mirlees' Lud-In-The-Mist, Lord Dunsany's Beyond the Fields We Know, David Lindsay's A Voyage To Arcturus, Hannes Bok's Beyond the Golden Stair, much of Clark Ashton Smith's work and maybe even Lovecraft's dark tales and Howard's Conan books -- there are hundreds more). It's almost impossible to exaggerate the book's and Tolkien's importance.'
It's been a long time for Ellen Datlow since she read his nibs so she says 'I haven't read him in so long I don't remember--I loved all three of the LOTR trilogy and The Hobbit but don't remember exactly why.'
Pamela Dean says she 'unreservedly love The Lord of the Rings, the translation of 'Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight,' and "On Fairy-Stories.''
Once again, The Hobbit proves popular as Jasper Fforde says it's 'The Hobbit, because it's the only one I've read - I liked it a great deal but was never really into spells, wizards and trolls, so never took it any further.'
Christopher Fowler confesses to not being a Tolkien fan: ' I read LOTR when I was at school but didn't really like it. I always preferred Mervyn Peake, who is the greater writer, although in a tighter scope.'
From Christopher Golden came this answer: 'As much as I love The Hobbit , the trilogy always appealed to me more, even as a child. There's a terrible wisdom that hangs over The Lord of the Rings, a thematic undercurrent that is all about mortality and acceptance of the limits of humanity. In so many ways, it's about twilight. Yes, there's love and magic and the brotherhood of human society that we must embrace and relish, but the joy that brings is a wistful joy, draped with melancholy. In the midst of orcs and songs and grand battles and fellowships, those are the things that have always spoken most intimately to me, and what make The Lord of the Rings, in my heart and mind, Tolkien's greatest achievement.'
Deborah Grabien explains why she doesn't like him: 'I can't stand Tolkien. Literally, allergic to his stuff. I read The Hobbit when I was a precocious 14-year-old at the behest of my much-older sister's pompous university chums, and it was made clear to me that I was rooting for the wrong side: I'd have turfed the annoying wizard and told him to take his bloody destiny and stuff it somewhere. I adored the dragon and wept when they killed it. I wanted it to eat all those irritating dwarves. All the twenty something students blathering on about Herman Hesse and Robert Heinlein stared at me as if I'd just dropped in from Mars.
And the trilogy? Ugh. Worse. When I have to stop at page 60 and go back and see what species one of the characters is, there are too many damned species in there.
No Tolkien for me. He makes my teeth itch. That particular meeting is not one I attended.'
Elizabeth Hand gave a lengthy reply: 'I'd probably have to say The Lord of the Rings, which I've read it countless times over the last forty years. It imprinted on me at such an early age — I had the good luck to read it as a kid in the 1960s, when it was still a cult novel, and you had a real sense that you were in some secret, marvelous group of insiders who had visited a place not everyone knew about. Maybe kids discovering it today still have that feeling, in spite of the success of the movies (which I love). I hope so.
But I also find that, as I've gotten older, I'm far more drawn to reread other works, especially in The Complete History of Middle Earth and The Silmarillion (we have very long Tolkien shelves here). I love the Beren & Luthien material, and also the various accounts of Turin, which recently were republished as The Children of Hurin. The dark tone of all of it, the tragic cast and also the recurring motifs involving elves and mortal lovers — great stuff. It doesn't serve the function of comfort reading that LOTR does, and because I'm not so familiar with the stories I can still read them with something like my original sense of discovery. The breadth and depth of Tolkien's achievement really becomes apparent when one reads The Complete History — 13 volumes, including an Index. Every time I go back to them I think, I could be learning Greek, or Ancient Egyptian, something that has to do with the real world.
But then, I'm continually so amazed by what this one man came up with, the intensity and single mindedness of his obsession. And I get sucked into it all over again.'
Jim Hetley came to a quick answer: 'I spent some time thinking over this (maybe fifteen minutes) and think my favorite is The Hobbit. Not an easy choice -- I think The Lord of the Rings is a true masterpiece. But I think that once you've read it, know all the twists and turns and that the Good Guys win, a lot of the scenes lose their impact. If I want to pick up Tolkien to re-read, I'll choose The Hobbit. It's a magical book even when you know the ending.'
Gwyneth Jones says her favourite work is The Lord Of The Rings: 'Why -- Because I read it when I was a child, in bed with bronchitis. My mother brought me the three big volumes, successively, from the library, I'd never met anything like it, and it was just wonderful entertainment for a sick child. I grew out of LOTR, but will never forget that thrill.
More why: I've never felt the slightest temptation to open the massive prequels and spin-offs of Middle Earth fantasy, I just don't have that gene, and I feel the Tolkien industry doesn't need my money. And the other works are either too scholarly, or everything about them is represented in LOTR anyway.
I admired 'Tree and Leaf' when I read it, long ago, but I'm not sure if I still would.'
Playwright Larry Kirwan says 'I like The Hobbit for the sheer economy of a great story. But I love The Lord of the Rings for its complexity of plot and character. It's the kind of book that can inspire you and remain with you many years after reading it. I'm more of a Graham Greene type person but Tolkien, at one point, put words to some of my yearnings and instincts.'
OR Melling is busy working on her new novel but she gave his a quick answer: 'As a child, I loved reading fantasy - CS Lewis, E Nesbit, JM Barrie and so on - but when the librarian offered me The Hobbit and said "it's about little men with hairy feet" I recall giving her one of those withering looks only children can give. Why on earth would I want to read a book about men with hairy feet? I did finally read The Hobbit when I was 12, after I had read The Lord of the Rings, and discovered that my initial suspicion was correct. I did not like the book at all, particularly its depiction of the elves. This was a great surprise, of course, considering that I had absolutely fallen in love with The Lord of the Rings. It is still one of my favourite books to this day. Aside from The Silmarillion - which I endured like all faithful fans - I have not read any other of Tolkien's works.'
Cheryl Morgan likes some Tolkien but detests one work by him: 'I haven't read much Tolkien in a long time - not since I got bored stupid by The Silmarillion -- but I did read and enjoy both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings many times when I was a kid. The first book that popped into my head, however, was Tree and Leaf. I can't remember a lot of Tolkien wrote in 'On Fairy Stories', but I do remember that this was where he defined the concept of 'subcreation', an idea that was to totally transform both fantasy fiction and gaming. Tolkien did far more than simply create some well-loved books.
From Richard Morgan, we get this answer: 'Hmm.... ...I'm not a big fan, to be honest (though I liked the films). I suppose it would have to be one of the LOTR trilogy, but I'm not sure which - I last read those books when I was about fourteen or fifteen, which I think is probably about the right age. They don't really stand up as adult fiction. Uhm..... I guess I'd say The Return of the King because the bulk of the really gritty unpleasant stuff is in there - Pelennor fields, pyre of Denethor, the siege of Minas Tirith (remember the hail of severed heads?), the worst extremities of the journey into Mordor, that kick ass show-down between Eowyn and the Nazgul - and it's a short book if you don't bother with the appendices. But then it's all ruined by the "shit, watch out for the socialists" coda and the inevitable hobbit's eye happy fucking rustic ending. Oooh, Arrr, Mista Frodo, suhr. Etc. Oh, look - read Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword instead - same length, more or less, same basic source material and a far finer sensitivity for its requisite ethos, about ten times the human intensity, and no happy ending. Definitely for grown ups.'
The Hobbit is the favoured work of Tim Pratt: 'The Hobbit, which is the only work of his I've made it all the way through.' He grinned and added 'I'm one of those fantasy writers who was most assuredly not influenced by Tolkien, because I could never even make it through The Lord of the Rings. Clearly it's my loss, since so many people have been so moved by his work, but it's simply not to my taste.'
Cherie Priest says 'Hrm. I'm afraid I'm not very Tolkien-interesting, really. I read and more or less enjoyed The Hobbit, but I very much loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Alas, I've never been able to finish anything else he ever wrote. I've tried and tried, but it bores me to death. Truly, I am a loser of the very lowest caliber ...'
Career choices are sometimes the result of reading his nibs as Josepha Sherman notes heer choice is 'The Lord of the Rings, because it is magnificent! And 'On Fairy Stories,' because it turned me into a folklorist.'
Will Shetterly touches upon the recent films in selecting his favourite piece as he picks 'The Scouring of the Shire' which is 'the part of The Lord of the Rings that Jackson left out. It's the heart of the books: It says no one can hide from the world, but everyone can make things right again.'
Not everyone likes Tolkien as Jennifer Stevenson confesses: 'I don't actually like Tolkien's work. Only read The Hobbit and it left me cold, so I skipped the rest. (aiiee, don't hit me with that wet fish!)'
James Stoddard asks 'Is this a trick question? The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece in so many ways. I recently listened to a reading of the trilogy on CD. Despite having read the book five or six times, I was amazed at how it kept my attention. Only the Council of Elrond chapter flags a bit for me. I see the work differently every time I read it. I thought Sam a silly fellow when I read the book as a fifteen-year-old; now his constant loyalty invariably moves me. But the best part of many excellent scenes is at the Crossroads--the thrown down head of the statue of the ancient king, garlanded with flowers, a single ray of sunlight shining on the shattered visage. 'They cannot conquer forever,' Frodo says, and my eyes always unexpectedly mist over. It is the book's theme, captured in four words. Brilliant.'
Catherynne M. Valente picked The Silmarillion: 'I love The Lord of the Rings. I was once a hardcore Sindarin-speaking LoTR geek, in the days of my misbegotten youth. It is a vast and important book. But I have to say that I feel the book is incomplete without The Silmarillion, which provides a depth and mythology, an understanding of the forces at work, a breadth and beauty that LoTR does not have on its own. I am one of the few who loves The Silmarillion for itself, devoured it in one sitting, had no trouble with the archaic language. It should get more love than it does.'
Gary Westfahl says 'Only a willful contrarian (and I am often a contrarian, but not a willful one) would answer anything other than The Lord of the Rings. I do like his poem 'Cat,' though.'
For Jane Yolen, it's The Hobbit: 'While it's true that The Lord of the Rings is his masterwork and The Hobbit his first attempt at writing (and that, some say witheringly, for children) I have to admit I adore The Hobbit. It has adventure, wonderful characters, fine pacing and spacing, some really scary bits (my daughter ran screaming from the room when the trolls grabbed the ponies, and she refused to hear the rest of it.) And if I could ever write a chapter as good as the Riddles in the Dark chapter I would never have to write again.'
Roads go ever ever on, Over rock and under tree, By caves where never sun has shone, By streams that never find the sea; Over snow by winter sown, And through the merry flowers of June, Over grass and over stone, And under mountains in the moon. Roads go ever ever on Under cloud and under star, Yet feet that wandering have gone Turn at last to home afar. Eyes that fire and sword have seen And horror in the halls of stone Look at last on meadows green And trees and hills they long have known.
We should remind you about our special editions which are our way of looking at specific writers and other subjects worthy of exploring in-depth. Of course, we've done several editions on master storyteller Peter S. Beagle which you can find thisaway and over 'ere. Needless to say, we're very proud of the great edition on Charles de Lint we did.
We did one on the ever fascinating trio of Brian, Toby, and Wendy Froud; naturally we did one on master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien who is much loved by our staff; not to mention ones on Christopher Golden, Kage Baker, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, Patricia McKillip, and Elizabeth Bear.
We, of course, have done music editions as well -- checks out our Celtic music one-off as well as one we did in which staff picked the best CDs that they had reviewed.
Oh, our Editor just reminded me that we did (as if I could 'ave forgotten!) an edition devoted to the now departed and much missed Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology.
We pulled together a look at the Bordertown series that Terri Windling created -- go here for that article. And the late Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood series got an appreciative look-see from us as well.
We have put together a Recommended Series Reading List covering many genres from fantasy to mystery and (of course) sf for your reading pleasure. You can find that list thisaway.
Lastly, we have put together a Recommended Series Reading List covering many genres from fantasy to mystery and (of course) sf for your reading pleasure. You can find that list thisaway.
For our main page, please go here; to search the roots, branches, and leaves of This Tree, use the Google search engine; every past edition of our fortnightly What's New can be found here; for a detailed look at us, go thisaway; and lastly, you report errors over here. Still have questions? Email our Editor here. Provided he's not in the Green Man Pub savouring a properly poured pint of Guinness while listening to the Neverending Session, he'll try to answer your question!
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