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Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-Earth Hardcover – 1 Jul 2005

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: University of Toronto Press; 2 edition (1 July 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802038719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802038715
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 2.3 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,523,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

Perilous Realms is a pleasure to read. Marjorie Burns writes in a style that is literate and graceful, avoiding the stiff and stuffy prose of much of today's critical writing. With this valuable piece of work, Burns displays a thorough knowledge of both Norse and Celtic literature of the medieval period, and by focusing on the hitherto-undervalued Celtic aspect of Tolkien's fiction, fills a gap in the spectrum of Tolkien scholarship.' Verlyn Flieger, Department of English, University of Maryland

About the Author

Marjorie Burns is a professor in the Department of English at Portland State University.

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Format: Paperback
Much of the mythology that Tolkien created for England, in his novels, comes from the two backgrounds of Celtic and Norse. Burns' Perilous Realms, the first book of its kind, studies the ways in which the Norse and the Celtic influenced Tolkien's writings - a heck of a lot, mind you. Additionally, Burns brings together and discusses the many dualities that Tolkien shifted back and forth from throughout his novels (peace and war, pagan and Christianity, home and road, among a great many others). After reading this book, I appreciated the Lord of the Rings author all the more. And, in turn, reading this book made me really appreciate Burns as an author with her detailed, scholarly, yet friendly approach in Perilous Realms. I enthusiastically recommend this book. It's an essential read for any Tolkien fan. Fascinating and highly informative.
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Format: Paperback
The early English shared much the same mythological universe with Norse culture. It's the celtic weevil we've to guard against. That is how we come to have authors peddling 'celtic' runes and other such nonsenses.

Happily for enthusiasts evidence of cultural empire-building is everywhere in this book. The Ring was not intended to stand for Britain. Why would it? Tolkien did not consider himself 'British'. As he said in his Letters, "I love England - not Great Britain and certainly not the British Commonwealth." Similarly the Hobbits were specifically English.

Tolkien emphasized as much in the `Prologue' to the Fellowship of the Ring. According to author Tom Shippey (quoted in Harrington) Tolkien makes the whole history of the Shire correspond 'point for point' with the history of early England. Likewise Sam Gamgee was: "a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself." (Tolkien Letters, p.88).

Mythologies appeal to the universal and the local simultaneously. But Tolkien was quite specific. 'Celtic' mythology wouldn't do. Tolkien's preferred frame of reference was the 12th century Finnish Karvala he admired so much. This was to be his template for restoring to England something of what she'd been stripped of by the Normans. He would, he said, 'restore to the English an epic tradition and present them with a mythology of their own' (On Fairy Stories).

Whereas the aim was to fashion a series of legends which would serve as a mythology for his people, a gift to the nation, 'celtic of any sort,' he observed, is 'a magic bag, in which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars 9 reviews
51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WITHOUT APOLOGY 19 May 2006
By Hank Napkin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the finest characteristics of Tolkien's work is that it is easily as enjoyable to think about as it is to read. And despite the completeness, volume and excruciating detail of his literature, his work in particular exhibits a singular ability to create the desire for even more among his readers. Given the depth and range of Tolkien's legendarium connections and inferences fly in all directions and the concentration required in tracking them down and relating them to the work is obviously why they call it Tolkien Scholarship. Consequently, there is almost no shortage of books, critical and scholarly works available to those interested in making the kind of connections capable of greatly expanding their appreciation and comprehension of Middle-earth, its sources, intricacies, meaning, philosophy, structure and context. And "Perilous Realms" is one of the finest.

Marjorie Burns has accomplished something a bit rare for readers of Tolkien. This is a book that remains inviting and accessible without sacrificing any intellectual weight. Her focus on linking narrative sources of "The Silmarillion", "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" to Celtic and Norse mythologies does not narrow the field -- this approach proves more than adequate to the task of bringing the vastness of her subject within reach.

But there remains a nagging sense of Apologia, especially in her chapter on the technique Tolkien uses to add dimension to his principal characters. Here, as with the work of Shippey and others, the reader can't help but get the sense that there's some element geared at the appeasement of mainstream literature and literary critics who so often dismiss Tolkien's work, in many cases unread. Burns' critical insights are strong enough without the seemingly obligatory nod to those literati who choose, simply on the basis of their personal preference, to remain blind and deaf to Tolkien. Such critics' denial of the worth of this work isn't based on literary criteria anyway. So it's safe to assume they'll remain unswayed, whether they become aware of the intricacy and depth of these works or not. With or without them, Tolkien's work is hardly short of either advocates or legitimacy.

That said, Burns' language remains concise, her presentation remains linear even through the often less-than-linear ambles that make much of Tolkien so compelling. Her writing favors clarity over the overtly technical. And, perhaps most importantly, her insights are actually highly original, their exposition extremely convincing. This book complements and informs the content of many other works on Tolkien rather than merely burnishing already familiar ideas. Her ability to illuminate both the far-reaching and fundamental concepts within the literature makes this one of the most enjoyable and informative critical books you'll read on Tolkien's work.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting review 14 Dec. 2011
By Will Jerom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a fan of Tolkien since childhood I enjoyed this book. I don't necessarily agree with every point of view or proposition that Burns makes, but she does illustrate some fascinating possible connections between Tolkien's work and Celtic and Norse mythology. Other literary influences are also included, and the book seems a valuable corrective to the overemphasis on Tolkien as a Christian, Catholic writer. True, Tolkien was a Catholic, and this has important and undeniable implications for his work. Burns, however, explores some of the non-Christian influences further than other writers or biographers of Tolkien have done. Burns explores these links, without making too strong a claim about their definitive nature. In short, she offers a valuable explanation, without claiming to have the only valid explanation of Tolkien's influences.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Useful for Any Aspiring Tolkien Scholar 12 Jan. 2011
By Lynette Dumont - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was extremely useful to me when I was writing my capstone thesis for my undergraduate degree. I wrote on the topic of Tolkien's use of Celtic mythology, and this book was one of the most helpful books I found. Burns supports her analyses very well, and presents them in an easy-to-read fashion. She discusses in this book a subject that is often dismissed out-of-hand and prematurely in the realm of scholarly works on Tolkien--his use of Celtic myths and tales of Faërie. Many people who have reviewed this item have committed this cardinal sin, dismissing Burns's work as a pack of heinous lies--despite the fact that Burns is meticulously careful with backing up her analyses with examples from almost every main text Tolkien wrote. This book is an essential for anyone who aspires to be a Tolkien scholar or even a scholar of modern fantasy literature--and it is easy enough to read that even people who are just fans of Tolkien's works will be able to enjoy it.
4.0 out of 5 stars Slight misnomer 6 Aug. 2014
By Mick McAllister - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an interesting book, and worth reading if you have more than a passing interest in Tolkien. However, the subtitle is a bit of a misnomer. Roughly half the book has little to do with Celts or Norse. Those chapters that do (notably the one on Tolkien's landscapes) are very informative. Burns explores Tolkien's love/hate relationship with Celtic materials very well.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HIGHLY recommended book - PERILOUS REALMS 31 July 2007
By A.K. Douglas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Here's a book any serious reader of Tolkien ought to read. What Burns does better than other critics is to show how Tolkien has a double way of looking at things. Her main topic is how Tolkien combines Norse and Celtic mythology in his fiction to make a mythology for England, but Burns also show how Tolkien maintains a balance between several other beliefs or viewpoints: war and peace, high ranking people and humble Hobbits, or the attractions of home and the appeal of the road.

Two chapters I particularly liked are "Iceland and Middle-earth" and "Eating, Devouring and Sacrifice." The first is an original study of how William Morris influenced Tolkien, especially in The Hobbit. The second shows how Tolkien uses the metaphor of eating throughout his fiction.

I do not understand how the other reader/critic of this book could possibly construe any PERILOUS REALMS as a rehash. They must not have read the same book. I found this book to be full of new information, new connections.

I HIGHLY recommend this book.
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