A Tolkien Compass Paperback – 1 Apr 1977
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Note that this is NOT the 1977 edition (in spite of the publication date listed by Amazon for this item as April 1977). It does NOT contain Tolkien's own Guide to Translating Names (which he wrote to help foreign translators of LotR after being very annoyed by some of the ones used in foreign translations of 'The Hobbit'). That appeared in the original edition, but for copyright reasons, not in this one (anyone wanting it now has to buy Hammond and Scull's Readers' Companion). It does contain a new 2002 essay by the editor in its place, in which he sets the reprint in context.
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It's a compilation of essays, by various people. Among them are Bonniejean Christensen's
study of Gollum in "The Hobbit" -- there were two versions of the "Riddles in the Dark"
chapter; Walter Scheps's "Fairy-Tale Morality of Lord of the Rings," which studies the ethics
of Tolkien's trilogy as well as traditional fairy-tales; Agnes Perkins and Helen Hill's essay on
power, corruption, the lust for power, and the One Ring; Deborah C. Rogers's study of
humanity both in the "everyman" hobbits and in the noble Aragorn; Robert Plank's study of
the Scouring of the Shire and how it reflects fascism; and several others. On the downside, Dorothy Matthews' "The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins" is okay, but rather off-balance because it explains a hobbit's mind in complex jargon -- those don't go together.
But there is a major problem. I was fortunate enough to find a first-edition paperback of this book, from the 1970s, and the last part of it is a special meaning and pronunciation guide by J.R.R. Tolkien himself. It's a wonderful bonus, and worth the price of the book alone. But for some reason, the chapter has been removed from the reprinted "Tolkien Compass." It's just essays, no Tolkien -- I'm not sure why it was removed, but it was.
"Tolkien Compass" is a good collection of scholarly essays on various facets of Tolkien's
work, which aren't dumbed down but also aren't too hard to understand. If the extra guide chapter had been included, this would have been a reissued treasure. As it is, it seems very incomplete.
What on earth am I talking about? Tolkien was a genius at keeping his hand out of philosophical discussions; hence, the ferocity of all of us latter-day "Besserwisser." Still, some of his quotes make clear at least a significant part of his underlying belief system. Here's my favorite:
"Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil."
This is my Tolkien speaking. And if you can fully grasp what he is saying here, scales of immeasurable weight and opacity will fall from your eyes. In this day and age it is all but impossible to fathom such topsy-turvy Ludditism, yet as extreme as the quote may sound, it affords a very peculiar philosophical angle.
Don't believe me? That's your right. I've scanned a few books which purport to perform "deep analysis" on Tolkien, and I find most of a few, if not even more, lightweight and pseudo-intellectual. Perhaps "...Compass" is worth a read, but after its Scouring analysis, sorry, I won't be reading anymore of it.