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Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays [Paperback]

Jason Fisher

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Book Description

1 Aug 2011
Over the past four decades, source criticism--the analysis of a writer's source material--has emerged as one of the most popular approaches in exploring the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. Since Tolkien drew from a wide range of disparate sources in the construction of his legendarium--from The Book of Lost Tales to The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings, and beyond--an understanding of the sources Tolkien used, as well as how and why he incorporated them, can enhance readers' appreciation of his works immeasurably. This compendium by leading Tolkien scholars describes the theory and methodology for proper source criticism of Tolkien's works and then provides practical demonstrations of the approach. Ranging widely across Tolkien's works, as well as across the periods and genres from which he took inspiration, the essays provide the most balanced and comprehensive demonstration of source criticism ever collected in a single volume.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommend * * * * * * 13 Aug 2011
By J. Long - Published on
Jason Fisher has done an admirable job editing this collection of essays (he is also a contributor). This book remains the single best essay collection on Tolkien's sources. If nothing else, you should buy this book for the contributions by topnotch scholars Tom Shippey (author of The Road to Middle-earth & Tolkien: Author of the Century), John D. Rateliff (editor of the two-volume History of The Hobbit), and Diana Pavlac Glyer (author of The Company They Keep). All three of these writers have received the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for their books.

There are a number of other articles by lesser known Tolkien scholars, but they are just as interesting and astute. Beyond the three mentioned above, my personal favorites were Kristine Larsen's "Sea Birds and Morning Stars," and Thomas Honegger's "The Rohirrim: 'Anglo-Saxons on Horseback'?"

The one criticism I have of this collection is I wish that it was a bit longer--I personally would have liked to have seen at least one contribution from the editors of Tolkien Studies (Anderson, Drout, Flieger). And, of course, there is still much more to be said about Tolkien's sources--this book doesn't pretend to be exhaustive (is any book?), but it remains a worthwhile contribution to Tolkien studies in particular and source study in general.

I highly recommend this book to general readers and libraries alike. If you like books about Tolkien and his fiction, this is a must have and must read. It is multifaceted enough for everyone to find something enlightening, thought-provoking, or compelling. I, for one, found all three.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must read for academic Tolkien fans 11 Jan 2012
By Arador - Published on
"Tolkien and a Study of His Sources" is a collection of essays written by current Tolkien scholars, reflecting on different works and authors who may have influenced Tolkien. Three introductory chapters (written by Tom Shippey, E. Risden and Jason Fisher) address source criticism itself, to give the reader a better understanding of the topic. Included among the Tolkien topics addressed are: Biblical and Mesopotamian sources, ancient Greek myths and stories, Byzantium and Gondor, Anglo-Saxons and the Rohirrim, William Caxton's "ring" stories, the influence of H. Rider Haggard and John Buchan on Tolkien's writing. Each chapter is footnoted and contains a list of sources, for those seeking more information.

Though Tolkien himself did not like source criticism and he discouraged fans from trying to deconstruct his works I feel that this book has much to offer the modern reader. Modern readers are even further removed from the works that Tolkien studied and loved than when his books were first published, and I feel that this book helps regain some of the ground that has been lost. I am a fan of Tolkien's works and have done some academic reading on the Professor. This book contains academic essays, and I learned a great deal from it. Some chapters were of higher personal interest to me, such as the Anglo-Saxons and Byzantium, but the variety of topics benefited the book. It's definitely peaked my interest to read several of the works listed in the bibliography.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anyone interested in deepening their understanding of Tolkien's work should read this book 21 Aug 2011
By D. Kane - Published on
The study of Tolkien's sources is a somewhat controversial topic, in large part because the author himself seem to suggest that source study was a dubious proposition, famously quoting George Webbe Dasent, who said "we must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled." Yet as is true about so much about this complicated man, it is not so simple. Tolkien's creativity was sparked by so many different influences that it is impossible to comprehend how he created his immensely popular art without examining those sources, and how he incorporated them into his "soup". Jason Fisher has brought together some of the brightest lights in Tolkien scholarship to provide the most comprehensive examination of this important topic that has yet been gathered. And the best thing about this collection is that it helps to open the door to more; far from making any pretensions at being "complete" (which would be a foolishly impossible claim to make) this book leaves the reader both satisfied and ready for more!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for All Tolkien and Literature Lovers 7 Sep 2011
By Mr. Andrew Higgins - Published on
This is a must read book for all lovers of Tolkien and related literature and studies. I have long been a fan of Jason Fisher's blog Lingwe Tales of a Fish where he has explored narrative and linguistic links between key primary world source works and how they influenced Tolkien and the development of his legendarium. Now Jason has advanced this even further by putting together a book that is not only an excellent study of the types of source materials Tolkien used to cook his "soup" but also has given us a "how to" manual on how to work with source materials and how they may have or not influenced Tolkien. This is a book I will refer to many times and have already read some of the chapters twice The insights by such leading Tolkien scholars as Tom Shippey, Thomas Honegger, John Rateliff, Mark Hooker and Jason Fisher himself (among many others) are invaluable and this book fills a gap in Tolkienian scholarship that is much needed. I always judge the usefulness of a book by the number of highlights and underlnes in it after only the first pass at reading and believe me this book is well marked. i would recommend this first of what I hope will be many more books by Jason very highly to all and think it will be used and much referenced in Tolkien and related studies going forward.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Fresh, Exciting! A Tolkien Enthusiast's Best Friend! 31 Aug 2011
By Lillyput90 - Published on
Tolkien and the Study of His Sources is, in my opinion, a brilliant work! It combines academic genius with pure enthusiasm, which lifts the book to an all new level, a level I haven't before encountered in Tolkien-related essay compilations. I particularly enjoyed the final essay in the collection: Biography as Source. Jason definitely saved the best for last! It is an exciting new collection, including references to previously unpublished letters by Tolkien, and exploring new and less-traversed paths of source study, particularly regarding the source of the people of Rohan, which has previously been accredited to the Anglo-Saxons.

The most refreshing part of this most excellent collection is the fact that the everyday reader will not have any trouble comprehending it. It can be disheartening for an up-and-coming scholar to buy a collection of essays, only to find that they are bogged down with uninterpretable academic jargon, referenced to sources which anyone who isn't a college professor would find difficult to gain access to, or just plain dull. This book is the exact opposite in every way! I am an undergraduate, would-be-scholar, Tolkien enthusiast, and I understood, comprehended, and personally enjoyed every chapter in this very exciting collection! Three cheers to Jason Fisher for organizing and editing "Tolkien and the Study of His Sources"!
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