Saturday, January 4, 2014

on the day after Tolkien's birthday

Yesterday evening I happened to browse upon JRRT's entry in Wikipedia. The only other time I took a close look at this was years ago, to establish that it had fewer factual errors in 11,000 words than Tolkien's World Book entry did in a couple hundred words.

This time, however, I found a more recently added howler faithfully reproduced from its source. In the biographical section under World War II, it notes that in 1939 Tolkien
took an instructional course at the London HQ of the Government Code and Cypher School. However, although he was "keen" to become a codebreaker, he was informed in October that his services would not be required at that time.
Source for this info and characterization is a 2009 news article on newly-released government documents, saying that "although he was ''keen'', Tolkien - a professor of English literature at Oxford University - declined a £500-a-year offer to become a full-time recruit." Further down the article, it explains that "A record of his training carries the word ''keen'' beside his name."

Ah. Does it, then? I remembered this point coming up in an e-mail group discussion at the time of the article's publication. I didn't have time last night to provide the source citation that Wikipedia demands, but this morning I looked up the archives of that e-mail group, logged into my now rarely-used Wikipedia account, and added the following observation to the source footnote for the word "keen":
Tolkien scholar Anders Stenström has suggested (Mythsoc Yahoo Groups list, 20 Sep 2009) that "In all likelihood, that is not a record of Tolkien's interest, but a note about how to pronounce the name."
Let's see if that survives the maniacal Wikipedia editors.

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