Tolkien Reading Day – A Shelf Tour by Between Pages (Guest Post by Rucha)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


Tolkien Collection Shelf Tour Guest Post

Hi, I am Rucha and I blog at Between Pages. Although I have always been an avid reader, my blogging journey began only about six months ago, largely thanks to the lockdown. In the past six months, I have blogged a couple of times about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings – each time feeling a little intimidated by the sheer scope of his works.

I am somewhat of a late comer to the world of Tolkien and Middle Earth having read the books only about 6 years ago. That was a different world, when I would spend about 2 hours travelling to and back from work, and it was a perfect time to finally pick up The Lord of the Rings. I fell in love almost instantly – and hopelessly – with Middle-earth, and till date if anyone asks me a fantasy world where I’d like to live, my answer’s always been Middle-earth. 🙂

So naturally the first on my Tolkien Shelf Tour are my very first beloved copies of the trilogy that I’d bought second hand. I nearly sold them off as my book collection started growing, and also since I recently acquired a more coveted LoTR box set, however, fortunately, I changed my mind and decided these are far too precious to let go off. I really love their worn-out spines and beautiful yellowing pages and I think someday I’d like to hand these down to my children and grandchildren.

The new collection I own is the 60th anniversary edition by Harper Collins. I bought it recently, largely out of vanity I should admit. These are hard backs with a slip case and the dust jackets feature Tolkien’s own original (and unused) designs.

I especially love the fold-outs in these books. Each of the three books have maps, and The Fellowship has a bonus foldout of the runes from the Book of Mazarbul.

This box set also comes with a Readers Companion, which is a perfect resource especially for those who wish to delve deeper into the marvelous world of Middle-earth.

And finally, almost perfectly timed for Tolkien Reading Day, this is my diary, with a stunning gold foil illustration of Frodo, Sam and Gollum at the foot of Mount Doom dated 24 March 3019. It is a special edition Moleskin that truly commemorates the epic tale of The Fellowship. 

I especially loved the accompanying (fold-out) timeline of Frodo and Sam’s journey and a guide to the Cirth Alphabet.

As book lovers, we cannot help buying beautiful books the moment we see it; however, building my Tolkien collection over the years has taught me the importance of not only mindful book collection but also cherishing and preserving old books.

Once again, I’d like to thank the lovely folks at Pages Unbound for letting me guest blog and geek out about my love for The Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth and Tolkien. It truly forms a very important part of my life and more often than not I have found myself leaning on its themes of hope, friendship and comradery whenever I’ve needed to bring some perspective in my life.

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Hi! I’m Rucha, an avid reader who loves to find inspiration between the pages of the books she reads. I created my blog Between Pages mainly to share book reviews but it has now grown into a dedicated space to share my immense love of books and book inspired experiences.

Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien ed. by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


Perilous and Fair book photo

Information

Goodreads: Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 2015

Official Summary

Since the earliest scholarship on The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, critics have discussed how the works of J. R. R. Tolkien seem either to ignore women or to place them on unattainable pedestals. To remedy such claims that Tolkien’s fiction has nothing useful or modern to say about women, Perilous and Fair focuses critical attention on views that interpret women in Tolkien’s works and life as enacting essential, rather than merely supportive roles.

Perilous and Fair includes seven classic articles as well as seven new examinations of women in Tolkien’s works and life. These fourteen articles bring together perspectives not only on Tolkien’s most commonly discussed female characters—Éowyn, Galadriel, and Lúthien—but also on less studied figures such as Nienna, Yavanna, Shelob, and Arwen. Among others, the collection features such diverse critical approaches and methods as literary source study, historical context, feminist theory, biographical investigation, close-reading textual analysis, Jungian archetypes, and fanfiction reader-response.

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Review

Overall, this collection is essential reading for anyone who loves Tolkien, and it will provide some eye-opening arguments for anyone who thinks Tolkien’s women are flat or his portrayals are sexist. The authors consistently offer evidence that while, of course, Tolkien would not have held the views of a 21st-century feminist, the women in his books are nuanced and powerful and generally subvert gender expectations rather than fulfill them. Tolkien was also a champion of women academics in his personal life, and we have no evidence to suggest he didn’t like or respect women.

Here are some brief thoughts on the individual essays:

“The History of Scholarship on Female Characters in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium: A Feminist Bibliographic Essay” by Robin Anne Reid

This essay lists feminist articles about Tolkien’s work, beginning in the 1970s (when there were only two) and continuing to 2013, right before Perilous and Fair was published. Reid summarizes the articles and gives readers an idea of what feminist Tolkien scholarship has looked like and where it might go, but I admit I’d probably find this bibliography much more useful if I were planning to do some research myself. For pure reading value, this is mildly interesting, but I think it can be skipped unless you actually want to go read some of the articles listed.

“The Missing Women: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lifelong Support for Women’s Higher Education” by John D. Rateliff

I understand what this essay is doing. The idea that Tolkien was mired in a nearly all-male world (and that he preferred it that way) in ingrained in many people’s understanding of Tolkien and his life. Rateliff even quotes parts of Humphrey Carpenter’s biography that argue explicitly this point- and this may be why so many people believe it, since Carpenter’s biography is generally considered the definitive one. However, it’s still a bit funny that, in order to correct this misconception and demonstrate that Tolkien knew women and was even a staunch supporter of them academically when others weren’t (coughLewiscough), Rateliff found it necessary to comb letters, archives, and people’s personal memories in order to make a list of every time Tolkien ever interacted with a woman.

“She-who-must-not-be-ignored: Gender and Genre in The Lord of the Rings and the Victorian Boys’ Book” by Sharin Schroeder

An interesting comparison between Tolkien’s work and the “boys’ book” genre that early critics dismissively accused The Lord of the Rings belonging to. It seems weird today that anyone would accuse LotR of being a children’s book and I don’t 100% see the need any longer for people to “defend” Tolkien’s work. However, Schroeder does go beyond that to explain how gender in LotR compares to that in popular Victorian boys’ books and touches briefly on some books Tolkien might have been familiar with or read in his own youth. It focuses heavily on She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard (as it’s one of the few books Tolkien explicitly mentioned in an interview), which frankly didn’t mean much to me as I’d never heard of the book before.

“The Feminine Principle in Tolkien” by Melanie A. Rawls

An excellent look at masculine and feminine characteristics and Tolkien and the important point that both men and women need to embody both characteristics. (This essay is quoted in a few of the other essays, so definitely an influential piece to pay attention to.)

“Tolkien’s Females and the Defining of Power” by Nancy Enright

Enright explores the power that Tolkien’s women have. She has an interestingly extensive discussion of Arwen, considering many readers write her off as barely even being in The Lord of the Rings.

“Power in Arda: Sources, Uses, and Misuses by Edith L. Crowe

Crowe argues that Tolkien’s works can fit in with some definitions of feminism and also points out the importance of female power and involvement in creation in The Silmarillion. She also makes the intriguing point about how important renunciation of power in Tolkien is and how not killing plays such as important role, rare in modern fantasies.

“The Fall and Repentance of Galadriel” by Romuald I. Lakowski

This is one of those essays that really highlights how much Tolkien revised his writing and how much was never fully resolved. There are different versions of Galadriel’s story, but the only things we can say for certain about her are in The Lord of the Rings because otherwise Tolkien was constantly revising his material concerning her. However, this is an insightful look at what we do know and what different information would mean for readers’ interpretations of her character and her power.

Cami D. Agan, “Lúthien Tinúviel and Bodily Desire in the Lay of Leithian”

This essay reads into silences in the text and asks, “How then might it affect the text to assume that Lúthien and Beren consummate their love in the forest?” (172). This is not my favorite approach to literary criticism (How would it affect the text to assume something happens that readers have no direct evidence actually happens?), but Agan still manages to make interesting arguments about Lúthien’s power and how it’s tied up with her body. Personally, I haven’t read Lúthien’s story recently, and I would like to be more familiar with it to have any stronger opinions on this essay.

“The Power of Pity and Tears: The Evolution of Nienna in the Legendarium” by Kristine Larsen

Nienna is another figure I’m not 100% familiar with, but this look at the value of pity and tears is convincing, and of course one can see the importance of pity in The Lord of the Rings, as well. Larsen also discusses whether pity is considered a particularly feminine trait and what that might mean.

If this topic interests you, you can check out one of our previous guest posts, “She Who Weeps:” The Value of Sorrow in Tolkien.

“At Home and Abroad: Éowyn’s Two-fold Figuring as War Bride in The Lord of the Rings” by Melissa A. Smith

I dislike assertions that Tolkien’s writing was “influenced” by his wartime experience (though, of course, one’s life experience must imbue one’s creative works in some way), but the argument that Eowyn can be read as a war bride is persuasive and explains things like how quickly she and Faramir develop a romantic relationship. Smith points out that Tolkien seems to acutely understand something of women’s psychology here, what it means to be left behind in war, what it means to fall in love with someone you recently met, etc.

“The Valkyrie Reflex in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Galadriel, Shelob, Éowyn, and Arwen” by Leslie A. Donovan

This piece stands out in the collection for bringing in Arwen and Shelob, along with Galadriel and Eowyn. I do think the lists of “and this is how Character X has valkyrie characteristics!” went on a bit long for my tastes. (Apparently luminous eyes are notable, and all these characters have descriptions of their eyes?) But the look at how Tolkien might have been influenced by depictions of valkyries is intriguing.

“Speech and Silence in The Lord of the Rings: Medieval Romance and the Transitions of Éowyn” by Phoebe C. Linton

A very good essay looking at Eowyn, as well as what her apparent silences in the book indicate. I think, however, it raises similar points as other essays in the book do, as Eowyn is an obvious subject for a look at “women in Tolkien,” and I probably would have enjoyed this more if I’d read it on its own or if I’d read it first rather than practically last. I can only read the same quotes about Eowyn and what they mean so many times, no matter how interesting I think they are.

“Hidden in Plain View: Strategizing Unconventionality in Shakespeare’s and Tolkien’s Portraits of Women” by Maureen Thum

I’m always on the fence about comparative essays. Thum makes insightful points about the subverting of gender expectations in Twelfth Night and The Lord of the Rings, but I think she could have written two entirely separate essays; the points about Shakespeare don’t really illuminate Tolkien. Additionally, her arguments about Eowyn and Galadriel are convincing but don’t strike me as overly different arguments from other essays in this collection. It’s a fine essay but certainly not my favorite in this book.

“Finding Ourselves in the (Un)Mapped Lands: Women’s Reparative Readings of The Lord of the Rings” by Una McCormack

A good look at Tolkien fan fiction and the way women authors have chosen to write themselves into the story of LotR where they feel they have been excluded. This is interesting from an academic viewpoint, but I can’t say it made me particularly curious about reading the fan fiction itself, as McCormack herself admits some of it can be Mary Sue-ish as authors work out how to insert female characters– as female knights, as original side characters, as lovers of existing female characters, etc.

Briana
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Would You Survive As a Member of the Fellowship of the Ring? (Quiz)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

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Instructions

*Click on the flow chart to make it bigger.

Would you survive if you joined the Fellowship of the Ring and went on the journey to toss the One Ring into Mount Doom? Take our short quiz to see if you have the skills to make it all the way to Mordor and back– or if you’ll suffer the fate of Boromir.

Let us know in the comments if you survived!

Other Lord of the Rings/Tolkien Quizzes

My Tolkien Collection (Guest Post by Meg)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


I decided for this event that I will share my Tolkien collection. While it isn’t much, I still love it.  

The Books

LotR Book Collectino

I will start with the books, as I fell in love with The Lord of the Rings through the books. Obviously, I started with The Hobbit, and I fell in love with the series automatically. I loved Middle Earth a lot. You might not understand why Merry and Pippin were even part of the Fellowship because they caused the journey trouble. Merry and Pippin were the youngest, and they are troublemakers. Yet you eventually understand why they are part of the quest that starts in The Two Towers.  

The Movies

I started by watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy– and also loved it automatically. It was with the films that I started to pick up on parallels with one of my other favorite books, Harry Potter: spider attacks, the Ring, Sam/Frodo, Merry/Pippin, and Dark Lords. The Ring reminds me of the horcruxes, the relationship between Sam and Frodo reminds of the trio, and the relationship of Merry and Pippin reminds me of Fred and George.  

For Christmas, I asked to get to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But guess what happened: I ended up getting both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies!

The films are some of the best ways to spend a rainy day. The trilogy is incredible in many ways despite the length of the films. The music fits perfectly, and I feel emotionally connected to the Hobbits while still loving Aragon and the other characters. I automatically was connected to Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin.  

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Visit Meg at Meg’s Magical Musings.

Review: Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien (Guest Post by Kim)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


Roverandom Review

In the summer of 1925, J.R.R. Tolkien, his wife Edith, and their three young sons went on an unexpected holiday to the Yorkshire coast. Tolkien’s second son, Michael (aged four), brought his favorite toy– a little black and white dog figurine. Michael took the dog everywhere, ate with it, slept with it, and refused to put it down no matter the circumstance. Except for the day when Tolkien and the older two boys went for a walk along the seashore. Excited to skip stones into the water, Michael put his beloved toy dog down on the beach. The toy disappeared among the beach’s white stones, and though Tolkien and the two boys returned to look for it the little dog was gone. Michael was devastated by the loss of his beloved toy, and to help make him feel better, Tolkien did what he always did best: he told the children a story about a little dog– a real dog– named Rover, who barked too much and annoyed a wizard, who turned him into a toy. Rover ended up in a shop window, where he was purchased by a woman and given to a little boy. While the boy loved Rover, all Rover wanted was to be a real dog again.

One day, the boy took Rover to the beach, and Rover was separated from him. Rover didn’t mind at first, given that he was free to do whatever he wanted, but upon realizing that being a tiny toy on a big beach presents its own problems, Rover was suddenly afraid. What if the waves got him? How would he ever get off the beach?

Fortunately, another wizard appeared to help Rover escape the incoming tide while a friendly gull flew Rover to the moon, where he encountered other dogs and began a series of wonderful adventures.

Like all J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories, Roverandom grew in the telling. From its origin in the summer of 1925, it was lengthened with new adventures and gained story elements and imagery that sharp-eyed readers of Tolkien’s primary works (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion) will recognize, though it never actually touches Middle-earth.

What Roverandom does share with The Hobbit is Tolkien’s respect for his young audience. Though many children’s stories of the time would talk down to children, use very simple vocabulary, and shy away from danger, Tolkien saw this as disrespectful to children, whom he believed were braver and more sophisticated than many other adults thought. Both Bilbo Baggins and Rover encounter mortal peril, which they survive thanks to help from friends or by their own wits. Once they have faced danger, they discover that they are braver than they thought. And both have grand adventures they never would have imagined had they stayed inside the day a wizard showed up at the front gate.

Another mark in Roverandom’s favor (at least in this reader’s opinion) is the lack of a grand moral lesson. In Tolkien’s works, the wicked do not always receive their comeuppance, Good does not always win out in the end, and beautiful things do not always last forever. But that is the nature of the world and the tales we invent. Tolkien is quoted as saying, “A safe fairyland is untrue in all worlds”, and this holds true even in the stories he wrote for children. If there is any great lesson to be learned here, it is that small people– and smaller dogs– have the courage to overcome frightening things. And also, maybe, that it is a good idea to be polite.

While The Lord of the Rings and its attendant works receive the bulk of the literary world’s attention, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a variety of stories outside his legendarium. But even among these, Roverandom receives even less attention than, say, Smith of Wootton Major or Leaf by Niggle. And that’s a shame because Roverandom has all the charm and appeal of The Hobbit and will appeal to adults and children alike.

As with The Hobbit, the seed of the story of Roverandom did not come from Tolkien’s desire to be a successful children’s author or to even be published at all. Both books grew out of the bedtime stories Tolkien told his children. It was fortunate for those children, listening raptly back in the 1920s and 1930s– and for the rest of the world– that he decided to write the stories down, and then expand upon and polish them until they became the works we know and love today. The Hobbit may be the most famous of Tolkien’s books for children, but it is not the only one. Roverandom is a delightful story that deserves more recognition and will appeal to anyone, whether they are four years old and grieving the loss of a toy dog, or are much older than and looking for someone to take them on a grand adventure.

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Visit Kim at Traveling in Books.

The Power of Revisiting the World of Tolkien (Guest Post by Edith-Marie @ Short Girl Writes)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the full schedule of events by clicking here.


The Power of Revisiting The World of Tolkien

When I was a kid, my parents did “Family Read-Aloud”–every night after we cleaned up from dinner, they would take turns reading a chapter from a book to my brother and me. We worked through many a tome that way–the Chronicles of Narnia series, a wide variety of Carl Hiaasen and Cornelia Funke books, and, of course, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The first time I read those books on my own, I was in seventh or eighth grade. 

It’s been a while since then, and while I have enjoyed discussing the books with friends over the years, I didn’t seriously revisit the books until this past summer, when I was doing an internship in a remote, mountainous area. With a lack of wifi and meager cell service, I brought a crate of books (and a plethora of art supplies) to keep myself occupied. One of the books I brought along was my copy of The Lord of the Rings, which I stole from my brother at some point. Dog-eared, with food and drink spills adorning it, the book is well-loved and perused. 

It is, perhaps, fortuitous that I re-read the series during a year that was tumultuous for so many, including myself. Middle-earth is a lovely world to get lost in, and the stories found in these books are at times funny and other times poignant (and sometimes, they’re both). I have remarked to several people before that the stories sometimes read as if the characters appeared in Tolkien’s living room and told him about their lives. 

But I think the importance of these books, and why they have remained so popular, is not just how well-written they are but also how much they resonate with people. Ultimately, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a story of hope, perseverance, and change. The task the Fellowship is given–take the Ring to Mordor–would be impossible if they did it on their own. Even Frodo, the Bearer of the Ring, must be borne himself. Along the way, they take loses and face immense hardships, but they also gain new friends and have moments of heartfelt camaraderie. And, perhaps most importantly, none of them are the same at the end. Their experiences throughout the books make them all different, and at the end, when Frodo sails off with Bilbo, Gandalf, and the remaining Elves, I always feel both sadness and joy. On the one hand, it’s not easy to watch one leave their friends. On the other hand, they have changed, and so have Frodo’s wants and needs. It’s representative of the new age they find themselves in after the defeat of Sauron. 

Perhaps that’s the time we’re in now. The past year has certainly been difficult on many levels, and it has forced us all to adapt. We aren’t supposed to be the same people at the end of our personal adventures. Maybe we’re not destroying a ring of great power for the betterment of Middle-earth, but we all have our own personal Mount Dooms to climb. And I have found that, if you ever need a place to go as you climb, the world of Tolkien is always there. 

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Edith-Marie started her blog Short Girl Writes in January of 2016. When she’s not reading, writing, or writing about either of those things, she’s a college student, majoring in international studies with a concentration in global health.

Tolkien Reading Event 2021: Introduction and Schedule

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

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SCHEDULE

  • March 21: The Power of Revisiting the World of Tolkien (Guest Post by Edith-Marie @ Short Girl Writes)
  • March 22: The Richness of Tolkien’s Female Characters: Eowyn
  • March 23: Why You Should Read The Silmarillion (Guest Post by Mary Drover)
  • March 24: How Obsessed with The Lord of the Rings Are You? (Quiz)
  • March 25: Review: Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien (Guest Post by Kim)
  • March 26: My Tolkien Collection (Guest Post by Meg)
  • Non-Tolkien Post: 5 Classics from the Middle Ages I Recommend (Classic Remarks)
  • March 27: The Richness of Tolkien’s Female Characters: Lobelia Sackville-Baggins
  • March 28: Would You Survive As a Member of the Fellowship of the Ring? (Flow Chart)
  • March 29: The Lord of the Rings Books and Movies – A Comparison (Guest Post by Linda White)
  • March 30: Tolkien Opinions and Habits Survey Results
  • March 31: Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien ed. by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan (Review by Briana)
  • April 1: Tolkien Reading Day – A Shelf Tour by Between Pages (Guest Post by Rucha)
  • April 2:
  • Non-Tolkien Post: Classic Remarks
April 2021
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ON TWITTER

Use the hashtag #TolkienReadingEvent21 to follow our event and share your thoughts on Tolkien! We’ll also be sharing discussion questions and polls.

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MORE TOLKIEN RESOURCES

For quizzes, discussion posts, reviews, and more, check out our Tolkien post master list here.

Tolkien's Lost Chaucer by John M. Bowers

Information

Goodreads: Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: December 3, 2019

Official Summary

Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer uncovers the story of an unpublished and previously unknown book by the author of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien worked between 1922 and 1928 on his Clarendon edition Selections from Chaucer’s Poetry and Prose, and though never completed, its 160 pages of commentary reveals much of his thinking about language and storytelling when he was still at the threshold of his career as an epoch-making writer of fantasy literature. Drawing upon other new materials such as his edition of the Reeve’s Tale and his Oxford lectures on the Pardoner’s Tale, this book reveals Chaucer as a major influence upon Tolkien’s literary imagination.

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Review

Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer is a fascinating look at a book most people–even during Tolkien’s lifetime–had no idea he was working on, a student edition with selections from Geoffrey Chaucer’s works which Tolkien was to gloss and provide notes for. A co-editor would provide the introduction. Bowers work helps position Tolkien as a scholar who was not only interested in Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic literature but also a Chaucerian who was deeply familiar with Chaucer’s work and could even recite some of The Canterbury Tales from memory. This sheds new light on Tolkien as a reader and an academic and on Tolkien’s own fiction and ways it might have been influenced by Chaucer.

The beginning of the book provides a detailed look at the history of the student edition of Chaucer–how it came about, how Tolkien was chosen to work on it, what work he did (or did not) complete for it, what happened to the manuscripts and notes, etc. This is interesting if one wants to know how Tolkien could have done significant work on Chaucer that basically no one knew about or discussed, and it gives a decent portrayal of Tolkien as a scholar–someone who was incredibly thorough, often at the expense of actually finishing things. (There’s probably a whole conversation to be had about academia in general here, to be honest, as Tolkien is compared to scholars who were more well-known and prolific but admitted to just kind of moving on if they weren’t certain about something in what they were working on, instead of trying to figure it out.)

Personally, I was more interested in the next section of the book, which gives an overview of what Tolkien had drafted for his glosses and notes. This section does require the reader have a working knowledge of Chaucer’s “minor” poems, as no summaries are provided, but if you are familiar with the texts Tolkien was commenting on, it’s fascinating to see his thoughts. Bowers also notes where Tolkien’s opinions or commentary is different from other Chaucer scholars’ views–and how much over his page limit for the manuscript his notes extended, as he delved deep into the history of certain words. (The book also emphasizes that Tolkien as a scholar and lecturer was very much a philologist commenting on individual words in individual lines, rather than making general arguments about literature–interesting, as he clearly had a profound understanding of literature and would have been able to analyze it in a lecture.)

Finally, Bowers explores how Tolkien’s familiarity with Chaucer might have influenced his own writing, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. “Tolkien’s sources” is, of course, a favorite topic for Tolkien scholars, who have compared Gandalf to Odin, noted that a cup is stolen from a dragon hoard in both Beowulf and The Hobbit, etc., so it’s no surprise people would want to know what Tolkien might have “taken” from Chaucer. In many places, Bowers’s arguments are convincing, and one can definitely imagine Tolkien reading a scene or seeing a theme in Chaucer and having it in the back of his mind somewhere. At times, however, Bowers seems to be stretching. For instance, there are cases where I wonder if Tolkien was influenced by Chaucer…or just medieval literature in general, which of course is notorious for reworking and recycling various themes, characters, plots, and so forth. There are also times where I would argue Tolkien was probably not “influenced” by much of anything. Can one really argue that the fact Dwarves arrive at Bilbo’s house in discrete groups in The Hobbit is somehow related to the fact that the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales show up in different-sized groups? I think not.

Overall, however, Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer is an excellent, clearly well-researched book that will help Tolkien scholars and fans see the author and his work in a new light and remind them that, as a medievalist, he was actually familiar with works written after the Anglo-Saxon period.

Briana
5 stars

Why The Fellowship of the Ring is Worth Reading (Guest Post by Elli @ NeedtoRead)

Tolkien Event 2020 banner

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

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Why The Fellowship of the Ring Is Worth Reading

A beautifully-written book about wizards, elves, hobbits, and a treacherous journey to save the world.

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure, Fiction

Summary

The One Ring holds a power that could destroy their entire civilization, if it gets back to its master. The only way to stop it is to destroy it. But doing so isn’t as easy as it sounds. The adventure starts with two hobbits, Frodo and Sam, who set off on an journey to bring the One Ring to Mount Doom in Mordor, the only place where it can be destroyed.


When I first decided to read The Fellowship of the Ring, I was intimidated.

I’d tried reading the book before, but it always took so long to get through the beginning. I also had other books that I wanted/needed to read, and I thought that The Fellowship of the Ring wasn’t worth my time.

But a few weeks ago I decided that I was going to commit to reading it. I wasn’t going to read anything else until I finished it, and I was going to push through the boredom no matter how much I wanted to stop.

Now I realize that I was wrong: reading The Fellowship of the Ring was definitely worth it.

From the beginning of the book, the reader’s attention is grabbed. You right away become interested in Bilbo and Frodo, the most mysterious hobbits in the Shire. Frodo was an orphan when he was taken in by Bilbo, and they both share a love for adventure that most hobbits don’t have.

But something fishy is going on; it seems that Bilbo’s Eleventy-First (One Hundred and Eleventh) birthday party is going to be different from the usual. At the end, Bilbo disappears into thin air while giving a speech.

Frodo is left with Bilbo’s Ring,and doesn’t know how much power it holds until years later, when the wizard Gandalf tells him of its magic and what danger Frodo is in while he has it.

You are introduced to many different characters, many of whom have a bigger part in the story within the next two books, in addition to their roles in the first one. The Fellowship is comprised of Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry the hobbits, Gimli the dwarf, Legolas the elf, Boromir and Aragorn the men, and Gandalf the wizard.

Sam Gamgee is the most lovable character, in my opinion. He vows to follow Frodo wherever he may go and is always by Frodo’s side as a loyal friend and companion.

The hobbits are underestimated because of their size, but they show true signs of bravery when the Fellowship is in peril. All four of them, especially Frodo, grow and mature as time goes on.

I know that I said this book is overly-descriptive, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You are able to imagine settings in immense detail, as if you were there yourself. You can almost feel the grass under your feet and hear the trees swaying in the wind.

There’s something beautiful about the way it’s written, a sense of adventure that keeps readers turning the pages. After reading it, I decided to watch the movie again, as well, which is also definitely worth watching (if you haven’t already).

There is a lot of plain walking around and background information given in this book, since the journey to Mount Doom is just beginning. But you have to get through it to be able to experience more action in the next two books.

Though it is slow-moving, The Fellowship of the Ring is a great start to The Lord of the Rings. If you are a Tolkien fan and haven’t read it yet, then I highly recommend starting it today.

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About the Author

Elli is a Canadian blogger who wants to share her love of writing and literature by posting about books on her blog, NeedtoRead. She enjoys reading through Pages Unbound reviews, and wants to contribute to their Tolkien event by writing one herself.

Defending Middle-Earth by Patrick Curry

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Information

Goodreads: Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1997

Official Summary

What are millions of readers all over the world getting out of reading The Lord of the Rings? Newly reissued with a new afterword, Patrick Curry’s Defending Middle-earth argues, in part, that Tolkien has found a way to provide something close to spirit in a secular age. His focus is on three main aspects of Tolkien’s fiction: the social and political structure of Middle-earth and how the varying cultures within it find common cause in the face of a shared threat; the nature and ecology of Middle-earth and how what we think of as the natural world joins the battle against mindless, mechanized destruction; and the spirituality and ethics of Middle-earth, for which Curry provides a particularly insightful and resonant examination that will deepen the understanding of the millions of fans who have taken The Lord of the Rings to heart. 

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Review

Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity by Patrick Curry is a classic in the world of Tolkien scholarship, so I find it somewhat surprising I haven’t read it before now.  Perhaps on some level I don’t feel that Middle-earth needs defending; I love The Lord of the Rings and have ideas about why I do and why other people do.  However, finally reading Defending Middle-Earth has sparked some more reflection in me about why other people love Tolkien’s work and why it continues to resonate with readers year after year.

To be fair, the book was published in 1997 and revised in 2004, so it can feel a bit dated at times (I think some of the disgruntled Goodreads reviews are a reaction to this).  This is both in regards to the real-world examples Curry gives about how Tolkien’s work can be applicable to our own lives and to the positioning of the scholarship.  For instance, although there certainly are still academics today who disdain genre fiction, fantasy, and Tolkien’s work in particular, I think the tide has generally changed and the idea that “scholars don’t take fantasy seriously” is today a bit overblown.  University students can take classes on everything from zombie books to children’s literature.  PhD students can specialize in science fiction.  An incredible amount of serious work has been published on Tolkien alone.  So while Middle-earth might need defending to certain people, I think some of the contempt that Curry was responding to at the time of original publication is much less of an issue today.

Nonetheless, the general scope of Curry’s analysis of what makes Tolkien’s work popular and beloved feels timeless.  He focuses on three main categories: the social, the natural, and the spiritual.  One might reductively say this is about the sense of community in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s obvious love of nature, and the clear sense that there is some spiritual meaning in the world of Middle-earth, even as Tolkien’s books rarely overtly mention anything resembling religion.  Curry, of course, goes much more in-depth on these topics, drawing on scholarship and literary theory and even touching on broad topics like why fantasy or myth might resonate with readers in general.  The result is thought-provoking, even if a reader does not agree with all of Curry’s points.

If you’re a Tolkien fan who wants to think more about The Lord of the Rings and the general question of “why people like this stuff,” Defending Middle-Earth is worth a read.

Briana