Nov. 14th, 2015

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Another View on the State of Tolkien Criticism Today

The L. A. Review of Books published an essay on "Tolkien Criticism Today"by Norbert Schürer.

In 2800 words, Schürer discusses seven critical publications (from a variety of publishers) published from 2013-2015.

The seven publications are: Tolkien Among the Moderns (2015), University of Notre Dame Press; Tolkien in the New Century (2014), McFarland; Arda Inhabited (2014), Kent State University Press; Tolkien's Sacramental Vision (2014), Second Springs Books; Tolkien The Forest and the City (2013), Four Courts Press; Light Beyond All Shadow (Reprint 2013), Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; and A Companion to J. R. R. Tolkien (2014), Wiley Blackwell.

His conclusion, based on this incomplete group of publications, is that Tolkien criticism today is in a "sad state" (para. 4) with few exceptions (he lists Jane Chance, Michael Drout, and Verlyn Flieger as the excellent exceptions). The reason for this "sad state," he claims, is:

Academic literary criticism has long been caught between these two versions of Tolkien — the difficult litterateur and the successful populist. On one hand, critics do not want to be seen as fawning fans, so their writing adopts a scholarly tone. On the other hand, they want to appeal to fans, so they have to cater to popular sentiment. They need to address controversial topics, but they cannot attack the author if they want to find readers among fans, and while they often try to address the entirety of Tolkien’s published imaginary writings (known as the legendarium) they can only rely on readers being familiar with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and often only in cinematic form (para. 3).


He approves (somewhat) of Tolkien: The Forest and the City but considers the Companion to be the best and to also supply "academic cachet" (para. 22).

Not surprisingly to anyone knows me, I completely disagree with his assessment of the state of Tolkien Studies generally. I believe some of the critiques he levels against Tolkien Studies are true of all bodies of literary criticism. In other cases, I argue that he is simply ignoring evidence that would contradict the he has made, claims that are inflated and unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.

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