Tuesday, December 4, 2018

eine Festschrift für Flieger

A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger, edited by John D. Rateliff (Gabbro Head; available in print from Amazon, with e-book coming this month)

A Festschrift is a useful German term, designating a collection usually honoring a distinguished scholar, and in that case consisting of essays in the scholar's field by students and colleagues, often drawing from that scholar's work.

J.R.R. Tolkien has two scholarly Festschriften, one published soon after his retirement and the other posthumous. Of scholars who themselves study Tolkien, there are Festschriften of one sort or another honoring Christopher Tolkien, Richard Blackwelder, Tom Shippey, and now Verlyn Flieger.

I come not to review this book, because I'm in it, but to praise it. John Rateliff has assembled a raft of distinguished scholars who have built on Verlyn Flieger's deep thoughts and penetrating insights into Tolkien.

I knew I was in good hands with the first essay, Amy Amendt-Raduege on the development of Merry and Pippin into maturity and heroism. This is exactly the theme I placed on the last Mythcon I chaired, and never have I seen this prime example of it so clearly expounded on.

There's a lot more good ones: Marjorie Burns on pre-echoes of The Hobbit in Grahame and Buchan, a paper I heard her give at a small conference years ago; Thomas Hillman and colleagues on the role of dreams in Tolkien, a highly Fliegeresque topic; Thomas Honegger also on heroism in LotR and what Tolkien accomplished by not making the story into a Chanson d'Elessar; John Rateliff himself on everything you need to know about the mysterious Romano-Celtic god Nodens to understand Tolkien's scholarly note on the name's philology; Anna Smol on sub-creation as practiced by the characters in several elusive Tolkien stories; Kris Swank on several clear Irish literary parallels in Tolkien's work; Richard C. West's clear and detailed study of The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son, including why Tolkien spelled the name that way; and many others.

There's two papers regarding Tolkien's recollection of writing a childhood story about a "green great dragon," examining why his mother told him it ought to be a great green dragon instead; one of which, by John R. Holmes, points out that if you look up "green great" in Google Books today, you'll find a lot of Tolkien scholarship about this very incident: "We peer into the linguistic telescope to find ourselves staring back."

There's also some papers on Verlyn's own fiction, mostly on how her work reflects on Tolkien's; and some brief personal essays honoring her scholarship and her teaching.

My own piece discusses what I've learned from Verlyn's scholarship as to what makes Smith of Wootton Major such a perfect fairy-story. I think I hit on something, because I've already received two e-mails complimenting me on such observations as "[the interpretation of the plot] seems to me to be dyed into the fabric of the story" and "What fantasies in unthinking imitation of Tolkien's have taught me is that all the appendices in the world will be of no appeal, will be just so much empty data, if the story isn't moving and meaningful."

I hope we have left Verlyn Flieger well-honored.

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