Saturday, July 14, 2012

student of Tolkien

(as in, studying the subject. To be a pupil of the man himself, the form should probably be "student of Tolkien's")

When the journal Tolkien Studies was being established, along about ten years ago, the editors asked me if I'd care to participate in this enterprise, in the form of being on the advisory board and writing a survey of "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies" for each annual issue of the journal. I'm sure that I was asked because I was a prolific - and varyingly enthusiastic and caustic, depending on the merits of the book - reviewer of Tolkien scholarship, writing frequent book reviews, especially for Mythprint of which I'd up until recently been editor. In the late 80s, I'd written for Beyond Bree a survey, potting, in a paragraph each, every book about Tolkien that had ever been published, because I'd read them all. (There were a lot fewer then than now, to be sure.)

It was an honor. Tolkien himself had written the survey on philology for the journal The Year's Work in English Studies for several years in the 1920s (and I chose the title of my own survey specifically in honor of that fact). The first thing I did was sort through my shelves of Tolkien literature in search of the books that would need to be covered in the first year's survey. I already had almost all of them.

Time passes. Each year since then I've gathered up the material and written the survey - only once did I find a paper so incoherent I had to give up trying to describe it - but eventually I began to think of stepping down. I was no longer quite so proactive in gathering books in advance as I'd once been, and I'd been doing the job a lot longer than Tolkien did his. The 2008 survey, published last year, was the catalyst. It included the huge bulk of the proceedings of the 2005 Birmingham conference, a hundred papers, as many as the rest of the year's work combined.

I took on a collaborator. It had to be someone whose knowledge of the topic was both broad and deep, two qualities not often found in combination. On that basis, Merlin DeTardo was almost self-recommending. We split up the work, and did it again this year; the 2009 Year's Work in issue 9 of TS is now in press. The plan was that eventually I'd hand it over. But it's happened sooner than I expected.

Earlier this year, Douglas A. Anderson, one of the founding co-editors of the journal, resigned his position. (It wasn't a happy parting, alas. You can read Doug's account of it here.) Now the other editors have asked me to take his place, and I'm handing the Year's Work entirely over to Merlin as of next year.

Now this is intimidating. I feel like Thomas Jefferson, on arriving in France as U.S. ambassador and being told, "So, you replace Dr. Franklin?" He replied, "No, I succeed Dr. Franklin. No man can replace him." Doug was, and is, the master of facts and trends in Tolkien publishing and on the historic roots of Tolkien's creativity. He's an old friend of mine, and I wish him the best at carrying on his scholarly activities elsewhere. We've been communicating about his impending next anthology, and I hope it sees the light soon.

Meanwhile, I'll be working with two other friends, the other co-editors of the journal: Michael D.C. Drout, the master Beowulfian among Tolkienists, and Verlyn Flieger, who more than any other scholar feels the heartbeat of Tolkien's genius. (And the nature of Doug's publishing concerns has not escaped us, I assure you.) My primary job will be organizing the book reviews, starting with next year's journal. Some of you will be hearing from me. But that comes later. In the meantime, there's a ship to be built.

1 comment:

  1. Keep Doug's standard high (pun intended) as you, Merlin, Verlyn, and Michael build the ship and sail on.

    Mike Foster
    Metamora, Illinois