More on Tolkien’s Library

A detailed response to the criticism of the new book Tolkien’s Library, from the author.

Half of it is a usefully detailed investigation into Tolkien’s likely input into the Davis revision of the Tolkien & Gordon edition of Gawain.

Tolkien and borders

Some interesting sounding papers in a Tolkien session planned for the Leeds International Medieval Congress 2020…

Borders in Tolkien’s Medievalism III.

* Boundaries and Marches: Marked and Unmarked Edges in Tolkien’s Maps, by Erik Mueller-Harder, Independent Scholar.

* The Walls of the World and The Voyage of the Evening Star: The Complex Borders of Medieval Geocentric Cosmology, by Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State University.

* Time-Travel, Astronomy and Magic Mirrors: The Borders between ‘Reality’ and ‘Otherworlds’ within Middle-earth, by Aurelie Bremont, Sorbonne Universite Paris.


Possible Black Friday – Cyber Monday ebook discounts on Amazon, of interest to readers of this blog.

Alan Garner’s autobiography (Alderley Edge).

Tolkien’s Library, first edition.

A Wulfhere novel

A historical novel reprint is coming soon from publisher DMR. It’s Wulfhere (1920) by A.B. Higginson. The name of King Wulfhere will be familiar to those who know the local history of early Mercia, and who have even perhaps visited his hill-fort between Stone and Stoke. The novel vividly tells his ‘life story’, such as it can be known. The novel originally ran as a serial in the top-selling Adventure magazine in the USA but was not subsequently collected as a book. Said to have been an inspiration for Robert E. Howard, of Conan fame.

The new single-volume 2019 edition is not yet listed as a page on Amazon or DMR, but is said to be due in a month or so.

The light of Day

I’ve now seen the 10% free sample for David Day’s new A Dictionary of Sources of Tolkien. All was going well until I got half way through the ‘A’s and hit “Alcuin of York”. Alcuin as “comparable” to Gandalf? After that I began to spot many “is comparable to” and similar broad statements. While I found some entries informative, a few seemed to be grasping at straws. “Bard the Bowman” for instance, is deemed to be modelled on the Greek Apollo. Really? I also sensed a slight pro-Christian and pro-King Arthur tilt on some of the entries, more so than might naturally to be expected to come from dealing with Tolkien material.

The book’s introduction states it was written for the “general” reader, and as such it appears (at least in the ebook) to feel free to dispense entirely with footnotes and references. We are left to wonder, for instance, about “Alfirin” (Simbelmynë) when it is stated that… “As a flower, Tolkien himself compared it to the anemone” [as understood by the ancient Greeks], in terms of where to find the reference for that. The Tolkien Letters offer only…

“I have not seen anything [i.e.: in either life or botanical reference books] that immediately recalls niphredil or elanor or alfirin: but that I think is because those imagined flowers are lit by a light that would not be seen ever in a growing plant and cannot be recaptured by paint. Lit by that light, niphredil would be simply a delicate kin of a snowdrop; and elanor a pimpernel (perhaps a little enlarged) growing sun-golden flowers and star-silver ones on the same plant, and sometimes the two combined. Alfirin (‘immortal’) would [in name-translation] be an immortelle [i.e. flower that does not loose its colour when picked and dried], but not dry and papery [as a dried immortelle is]: [in its growing form] simply a beautiful bell-like flower, running through many colours, but soft and gentle.”

The Flora of Middle-earth has it that… “Tolkien considered it to be an imagined kind of anemone” but the reference there is to “Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings” section in the 2005 Reader’s Companion. The Tolkien Gateway entry on “Simbelmynë” (Alfirin) also has this claim and reference. One then needs to be savvy enough to know that the Reader’s Companion and the Reader’s Guide are quite different reference books by the same authors, published just one year apart, and that their shorthand titles are easily confused. On consulting the correct book, we find Tolkien’s guide to his overseas translators offering…

“an imagined variety of anemone, growing in turf like Anemone Pulsatilla, the pasque-flower, but smaller and white like the wood anemone. … the plant bloomed at all seasons [yet] its flowers were not ‘immortelles’ [for the nature of ‘immortelles’, see the Letters quotation above].

Thus Day’s conflation of Tolkien’s advice to his translators and the outlining of a Greek myth…

“As a flower, Tolkien himself compared it to the anemone, which the Ancient Greeks associated with mourning: when the goddess of love Aphrodite wept over the grave of her lover Adonis, her tears turned into anemones.”

… does not support the run-on implication that it was Tolkien explicitly making the link with the myth. Also, the myth as given seems a little ‘off’. Since Ovid (Metamorphoses X) has it that the mythic flower in question is purple, not white, and made from the mingled “nectar” of Aphrodite and the turf-splashed blood of Adonis. Nor is there a “grave” in Ovid, as Adonis is a shepherd-boy and has been gored in the leg by a boar, hence his blood on the close-cropped turf. Later Bion of Smyrna was more coy, and in his telling of the tale he turned the implied-sexual “nectar” into “tears”.

Anyway, the free 10% for Day’s A Dictionary of Sources takes you to the ‘Be..’ entries, and you can make your own judgements. But on the basis of their being enough of interest in the sample, I’ll be looking for a paper copy when the price gets low enough — as it surely will due to the likely sales levels. But then I’ll be marking it up with a scoring system for each entry. Which means that I need the paper edition. Another reason to prefer paper here is because the ebook appears to lack any linked table-of-contents for the main entries. Paging through its entries on a Kindle 3 is thus a pain. Possibly this is remedied by a hyper-linked index at the back, but I wouldn’t like to spend £17 on finding out that there isn’t one.

A local ghost story for Halloween: “Crewe”

Who knew? One of Walter de la Mare’s best short ghost-stories is “Crewe”, set in Crewe railway station.

When murky winter dusk begins to settle over the railway station at Crewe its first-class waiting room grows steadily more stagnant. Particularly if one is alone in it. The long grimed windows do little more than sift the failing light that slopes in on them from the glass roof outside and is too feeble to penetrate into the recesses beyond. And the grained massive furniture becomes less and less inviting. It appears to have made for a scene of extreme and diabolical violence that one may hope will never occur.

Available free at in text. Not free in audio, except in abridged form.

It was published 1930 in his collection On the Edge: Short Stories, and thus we might plausibly assume it to have been written in the last years of the 1920s.