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Old 04-11-2021, 02:36 PM   #1
Bęthberry
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So what do you all think of the new book on Tolkien?

So, Holly Ordway has a new book out, _Tolkien's Modern Reading_. She makes lots of claims for her research, but I'm not so sure the book really lives up to its billing.

Who has read it here? Any thoughts about it?
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Old 04-11-2021, 03:11 PM   #2
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Thank you for reminding me to get hold of this book, i'd love to come back and post my thoughts then.

Care to explain more how you have or have not enjoyed it?
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Old 04-11-2021, 04:17 PM   #3
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It's really the first I've heard of this.

Being an old school reader of actual books, as opposed to e-readers, I'll try to find it in the local library.

As an aside, it's good to see you, Bb!
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Old 04-11-2021, 06:57 PM   #4
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I'm quite interested in it too because my area of specialisation is to a much greater extent the influence of modern literature on Professor Tolkien (especially William Morris) than the influence of medieval literature. Obviously medieval literature had a very big influence, probably the largest one, but we've all got to have our niche.

Having not had a chance to get hold of a copy yet, I'd also be curious to hear your thoughts Bęthberry.
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Old 04-11-2021, 07:58 PM   #5
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Oh a new thread today too. Today is a good day. Like the other posters I'm just first hearing about this new book. Posting here to stay updated.

From what I've gathered/heard about it (so take as whatever hearsay is worth to you), Holly Ordway attempts to disprove Carpenter's biography; that Carpenter presents Tolkien as a "backwards thinking medievalist" but actually he enjoyed modern literature and authors as well.

Granted, I don't know anything about Carpenter other than his Tolkien biography. The biography seems a bit narrow-minded, or perhaps selective in what influenced Tolkien. I'm also reading Letters this year as my resolution, and they were probably careful/selective over what to make public, but I never got the impression that he was being dishonest/disingenuous to Tolkien. I'm just enjoying reading the insights of a brilliant author.

In general, Carpenter doesn't seem much different from other Tolkien scholarship I'm familiar with and/or have read. There is so much of it out there and I would say there's more bad than good. As with most Tolkien scholarship, I think they fall into a similar trap of narrow-mindedness. They sort of zone in on a singular argument and then stretch out their argument beyond what the evidence they gathered proves.

I bring this up because you have piqued my interest in this new book, as well Bb. Thank you! And like I said, reading through Tolkien's letters this year, I would agree with Holly Ordway if the premise of her argument is, Tolkien enjoyed and was inspired by modern literature as well as medieval literature. So far, from what I've been able to find is she seems to want to prove Carpenter wrong, or that his biography is a disservice to Tolkien scholarship. I hope that's not the case, because I think it could be interesting learning more about how modern literature might have influenced Tolkien, but I do get turned off when scholars get tunnel-vision.
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Old 04-11-2021, 11:11 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Boromir88 View Post
Tolkien enjoyed and was inspired by modern literature as well as medieval literature.
I think this is an important point, and it's one of the reasons I choose to focus on the modern influences. There is a lot of scholarship on the medieval influences to the extent that sometimes it feels like Professor Tolkien sprang forth full-formed from the head of the Beowulf poet with no regard for the centuries in between. Occasionally I do feel like the influence of later literature is overlooked.

As just one example, the influence of Morris is very clearly discernible if one reads his prose romances. This ranges from the intentional use of archaic language and the interspersing of verse throughout the prose to the use of place and character names repurposed from Scandinavian myth and folklore.
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Old 04-12-2021, 02:20 PM   #7
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1420!

There's lots I could say but I'll leave that for later.

For now, I will say that I think Ordway slams Carpenter way too much. He was, after all, controlled in what he could say by the family and the Tolkien Estate, who, as Boro suggests about the letters, were highly selective in what they wanted to be known.

First biographies rarely offer the final or best word on an author. They are a starting point. The problem is that with Tolkien there have been so very few subsequent biographies based on new scholarship and studies, John Garth' on Tolkien and WWI and Raymond Edwards, who focuses more on Tolkien's academic work and ideas. Compare that to about 10 biographies on CS Lewis.

There is very little in Ordway's book that scholars like Hammond and Scull and Dimitra Fimi haven't already uncovered, although she does offer some new insights. There has been much written on Morris and MacDonald and Tolkien previous to her claims. Ordway simply maps it, so the info is all in one place. She too is also highly selective and prone to hunches.

I would also say that her rhetorical stance is heavy handed and for me immediately raises questions about her methodology.

"Nuff said for now.
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