THE MONSTERS AND THE CRITICS And Other Essays by J. R. R. Tolkien


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Seven essays and speeches, most of them hard to find or previously unpublished, none to be lightly tackled by readers of the Galadriel-groupie school. The title-essay, the great scholar's once-revolutionary plea for the understanding of Beowulf as a profoundly moving and accomplished work of art (especially in its treatment of Grendel and the dragon) rather than the crude muddle of traditions discerned by earlier commentators, remains after nearly 50 years one of the finest documents of modern Anglo-Saxon studies. But it makes no concessions to people who cannot read Latin, Old English, and at least a bit of Old Norse. A preface to a revision of the Clark Hall translation of Beowulf is more accessible to the ordinary earming (poor devil), though the treatment of Old English metrics has now been somewhat superseded. An address delivered on the occasion of Tolkien's retirement from his Oxford professorship assumes a familiarity with curriculum squabbles that are mostly unknown to Americans; another concerned with the fortunes of Welsh in the British Isles assumes not just a knowledge but an aesthetic appreciation of that tongue. A lecture on Gawain and The Green Knight oddly mingles general interpretive sweep and generosity with proprietary crotchets. The same might be said of the celebrated (and already widely available) ""On Fairy Stories,"" though its charm and downrightness are always welcome. From the viewpoint of Ring-readers, the most illuminating thing here is a witty, hitherto unpublished 1931 talk on the ""secret vice"" of making up new languages, an obsession that had shaped Tolkien's imagination since childhood. For most of the other material, the curious editorial decision not to supply translations or general annotations will severely limit the usefulness of the collection. A very stimulating volume--for those who can meet Tolkien on some of his own scholarly ground.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin