Tolkien and the Silmarillion (Lion Publishing 1977)

A short book consisting mainly of the author’s anecdotes of meetings with Tolkien during the summer of 1966, where he encouraged Tolkien to continue his work on The Silmarillion and engaged in literary and religious discussions with him.

Also included are texts on the chronology and geographical composition of Middle-earth, Tolkien as a Christian writer, and the Inklings.

Kilby’s portrait works best on a psychological level, sometimes pointing out the contradictions in Tolkien’s remarks and way of thinking – his ”contrasistency”. At other times Kilby’s remembrances take the form of unconcealed genius-worship. Discussing the chronological beginning of Tolkien’s mythology, for instance, he remarks that ”It appeared to me as we talked together that the whole thing had begun, as he says, at birth. I sometimes felt it was almost prenatal” (p. 48).

In his discussion of the question of Tolkien as a Christian writer, Kilby more or less takes Tolkien’s own words as the final explanation. He points out the obvious similarities between biblical mythology and that of the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings and seems satisfied with Tolkien’s own analysis, ignoring the ”contrasistencies” which could be said to pervade the religious undertones of Tolkien’s work. For instance, citing a poem by the Anglo-Saxon Christian poet Cynewulf, Kilby asks: ”Knowing that it was from such a context that ‘the whole’ of Tolkien’s mythology rose, can we any longer doubt its profound Christian associations?” (p. 58)

If you grant that the work of a writer is capable of being more complex than the writer himself anticipates or acknowledges, Kilby’s question is seen to be purely rhetorical. The Christian associations in Tolkien’s work are clear enough, but they do not stand alone – and it could be argued that a work like Silmarillion is more obviously in tune with Gnostic cosmology than the world of the New Testament. It seems to me that Tolkien and the Silmarillions – while entertaining enough on an anecdotical level – never really delves deep enough into Tolkien’s interesting ”contrasistencies”, at least with regards to his use of religious symbolism and allegory.

 

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Tree and Leaf (Unwin Books 1974)

This is the 9th impression, first published by London’s Unwin Books in this edition 1964. I rather like the graphic design on this version. The cleverly titled Tree and Leaf contains Tolkien’s seminal essay On Fairy-stories, in which he describes the art of sub-creation, plus the allegorical short-story Leaf by Niggle. Other than Tolkien’s own introductory note, there are no other texts included in this volume.

92 pages. Paperback.

 

Realms of Tolkien: Images of Middle-earth (HarperCollins 1997)

The title is slightly misleading, as only a few of the 58 artworks by new and familiar Tolkien illustrators in this book relate specifically to Tolkien’s realms; a variety of scenes, characters, and landscapes are depicted alongside the relevant quotations from The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The History of Middle-earth.

The 20 artists represented here differ dramatically in style, some focusing on the sentimental, folkloristic aspects of Tolkien’s fiction (Eta Musciad, Carol Emery Phenix, Timothy Ide), some clearly more interested in its surreal, nightmarish quality (Cor Block, Lode Claes, Stephen Hickman). The book leaves you with an impression of Tolkien’s ability to inspire varying interpretations in his readers.

Realms of Tolkien also includes a one-page biography of Tolkien and brief but informative texts on (or by) each illustrator.

 

The Mythology of Middle-earth (Thames and Hudson 1977)

I ordered this interesting-looking tome via Amazon’s marketplace for the princely sum of £0.01. The description did not state that it was a library book and so I was a little annoyed when I saw the poor state of the dust jacket. Having removed it, however, I found that the book actually looks much smarter without it.

The Mythology of Middle-earth is written by Ruth S. Noel, aka Ruth Helen Swycaffer Noel, who is also the author of The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-earth and a number of science fiction novels under her pseudonym, Atanielle Annyn Noël. Browsing through its pages I can see references to Plato, Russian folk litterature, and Ra the Sun God, so this should make for an interesting read.

The text is divided into chapters: Themes, Places, Beings, and Things. There is also an Introduction, a Glossary, a Bibliography, and an Index.

Hardback. 198 pages.

 

JRR Tolkien: A Biography (HarperCollins 1995)

This is a paperback “Special Edition” of Humphrey Carpenter’s JRR Tolkien: A Biography, published in Great Britain, 1995, and commemorating 25 years since Tolkien’s death. The book contains some pages of black and white illustrations and appendices along with the biographical text. The appendices include a “Simplified genealogical table”, a “chronology of events”, “the published writings of J.R.R. Tolkien”, and “Sources and acknowledgements”.

288 pages.

 

Leaf by Niggle (HarperCollins 2016)

This small, handsome paperback represents the first publication of Tolkien’s short-story in its own volume.

Leaf by Niggle, written ca. 1939-42, was originally published in book-form as part of the posthumous Tree and Leaf (1964) and reappeared in Tales from the Perilous Realm and other collections. The story about the artist, Niggle, who is distracted from working on his magnum opus, a monumental painting of a Tree, by his neighbour, the gardener Parish, and by the mundane chores of day-to-day life, was written at a period when work on the invented world of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion was taking up most of Tolkien’s time. Niggle’s Tree grows in complexity much as Tolkien’s Middle-earth project did.

Besides this autobiographical reading of the short-story, Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey, in his afterword, also suggests a reading of Niggle’s mysterious journey as a Catholic allegory, supported by Tolkien’s own reference to his “purgatorial story” in one of his letters. Shippey’s afterword is an excerpt from his longer text in Tales from the Perilous Realm.

58 pages.