Michael Drout, Ed.
J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia:
Scholarship and Critical Assessment.
(Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2006).
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The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment is a very large book, weighing just under 4.5 pounds, with 800 folio size two-column pages, including a list of the forty-six contributors, an alphabetical list of entries, a thematic list of entries, and an index. Right from the start, the Encyclopedia was meant to be the starting reference in terms of Tolkien scholarship, in terms of his fiction, his scholarly publications, and his biography. Michael D. C. Drout, the author of Beowulf and the Critics, and an editor of the scholarly journal Tollkien Studies, is the Editor, with Douglas A. Anderson, Marjorie Burns, Verlyn Flieger, and Thomas Shippey as Associate Editors. That list of names, with the addition of another handful more, is pretty much the list of the top Tolkien scholars.
Like many other medievalists, I read Michael C. Drout’s blog Wormtalk and Slugspeak regularly. In fall of 2003 when Drout posted that Routledge had hired him to edit the Encyclopedia, and he wanted volunteers to write scholarly articles, I responded with alacrity. I was tapped to contribute seven articles, and did.* That’s something to bear in mind as you read this review, since I’m almost certainly biased.
Drout marshaled his contributors and assigned entries, began requesting changes to submitted entries at about the time Routledge was bought by Taylor and Francis. The Encyclopedia almost died before printing, but since it was well advanced, it was approved for publication. But it was, as it turned out, publication without editorial support—that is, without proofreaders or copy editors, or . . . well, the usual support staff one expects from a publisher.
Slightly over 500 entries range in length from 150 words to a few lengthy and very thorough entries of several thousand words on topics like the “Languages of Tolkien,” by one of the leading experts, Carl F. Hostetter. In addition to the editorial board members, there are roughly another 120 contributors. Most entries are followed by a list of works cited, and cross-references to other entries. Unfortunately, many entries lack bibliographic references or cross-references.
Especially well done entries are Hotstetter on the “Languages of Tolkien,” and “Elvish Compositions and Grammars,” Tom Shippey on “Literature, Twentieth Century: Influence of Tolkien” and “Scholars of Medieval Literature, Influence of,” Verlyn Flieger’s “Time” and “Faërie,” “Poems by Tolkien: The Hobbit,” “Poems by Tolkien: LOTR,” Marjorie Burns on “Old Norse Mythology,” Don N. Anger on Tolkien’s “Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman and Post-Roman Site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire” (on Tolkien’s early article about the temple dedicated to the Celtic deity Nodons), and Carol A. Leibiger’s “Charms.” Tolkien scholar Gergely Nagy manages to be scholarly, erudite and precise without being boring, no easy task.
It is apparent that editorial and production values were sacrificed in Taylor and Francis’ effort to publish the Encyclopedia as expeditiously as possible. There are formatting and typesetting errors, grammar and proofreading errors, cross-references to non-existing articles (many of which were hastily merged into other entries by the publisher, against editorial advice, and without including the promised “blind” entries) and infelicities of various sorts that copy editing would have caught. The ordering of entries is such that the Encyclopedia doesn’t seem to follow any alphabetic standard; “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Edition” with E. V. Gordon” is listed under S, while “Sir Orfeo” is listed under O.
The editorial and production decisions made by Francis and Taylor included omitting all of the hundred or so illustrations that had initially been intended as part of the book, and completely changing the carefully designed cross-reference system. These both adversely affect the value and utility of the final book; the price, $175.00 (or more), is still what one would pay for a scholarly illustrated encyclopedia though it is now without them, and the utility, because it can be very difficult to find a particular entry because so many smaller entries were merged but not cross-referenced. If you’re curious, you can read Michael Drout’s posts about the behind the scenes editorial process here.
To compensate for some of the cross-referencing and indexing oddities, Drout has posted links to a corrected Thematic List, a list of Contributors and Articles, and links to Merlin deTardo’s Corrigenda. Curious readers who are not able to purchase the Encyclopedia themselves may find browsing Squire’s J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia—A Reader’s Diary worthwhile; Squire and his fellow reviewers are exceedingly knowledgeable about Tolkien’s own output and about Tolkien scholarship. A proposal to put all of the entries, with corrections, online in a wiki, is underway at the J. R. R. Tolkien Encylopedia Portal .
Despite some less than satisfactory results, the Encyclopedia is well-done overall, and very useful. It belongs on the shelf of the serious Tolkien scholar and enthusiast, right along The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. But given the exceedingly high cost of the Encyclopedia, most people will simply have to hope that their local academic library is lucky enough to purchase one of the very few (800 versus the initially planned 2500) copies produced, or the the wiki project is successful.
I think Professor Drout said it best:
In the end, I’m disappointed that Routledge / Taylor and Francis marched the ball down the field almost to the end zone and then decided to punt. This is still a very, very good resource, but it could have been a great one, and I’m disappointed that it’s not.
Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review. © Copyright 2007 The Green Man Review.
* I should acknowledge responsibility for the entries on Devils, Druids, Fairies, Jones, Gwyn, Mythology, Celtic, Pseudonym: Bagpuize, K., Technological Subcultures: Reception of Tolkien, and Warwick.