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Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings (1969)

af Lin Carter

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792320,404 (3.16)5
Lin Carter introduces readers to Tolkien's epic trilogy, then takes them on a scholarly yet populist journey through the massive web of myths and legends that Tolkien drew on for both imagery and themes during his life's work. Carter's book places Tolkien's trilogy in the context of world mythology and legend and is a tribute to Tolkien's power of assimilation and original vision. This is a useful introduction to the background of the Lord of the Rings for the legions of new fans.… (mere)
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Book twelve is Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord Of The Rings, by Lin Carter (although my version is the updated edition with extra bits by Adam Roberts). I'd been looking to reading this book as it was one of the last one of the books about Tolkien on my bookshelf. I've had it for ages, having bought it in a charity shop at the same time that I managed to pick up a very old single volume copy of Lord of the Rings (so old it doesn't have any appendices in the back).

Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed by it.

The book was originally published in the sixties, but it was obviously republished and updated to take advantage of the Lord of the Rings interest following the films. Once again, it was intending to look at Tolkien's inspirations, which I suppose could have been a point against it from the start as I have read rather a lot about this recently. But that didn't really bother me, it's kind of nice to read things from a different perspective.

What did bother me was that it was written by someone who is supposed to be very knowledgeable about the subject, so presumably is a bit of a fan of Lord of the Rings, but mid way through they described Eowyn as Theoden's daughter. I realise this is probably a bit of a minor thing to pick at (for those who don't know, Eowyn is Theoden's niece, she is referred to as his sister-daughter but this is just another term for niece, the fact that Theoden's only child has died is a bit of a plot point), but the problem is, if you're going to tout yourself as a reliable source, you kind of need to make sure you've got your facts right. There was also a bit of confusion in the bit that discussed how Smeagol came by the Ring.

The thing that bugged me more about the fact that I spotted the mistakes was that there were vast sections of the book talking about ancient texts and documents, which gave summaries of what they were about, which I have never read. Once I found the mistakes in Lord of the Rings I couldn't help but doubt what the author was telling me about the other texts, which was frustrating.

Regarding the other texts that were mentioned, I couldn't always see exactly what influence they had on The Lord of the Rings. Aside from the fact that they were examples of texts which were part of our literary history which when all added together helped to lead Tolkien to write the way he did. I felt like it was a book of summaries about other texts, which I couldn't really be sure I could trust because of the gross errors in the bits that I was familiar with.

There were also four whole chapters taken up giving a detailed summary of what happened in The Hobbit and the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, which felt rather redundant. I understand that someone might be reading it never having read the books before, but it can kind of be assumed that they'll have a passing knowledge of them. I'm not saying it shouldn't have had any summary, but four whole chapters of the book was a little bit of overkill.

I feel like I'm doing nothing but picking holes in the book, but looking back, I can't really think of much positive about it. I wouldn't say I really disliked it, but I don't feel like I got anything out of it. I think I would like to read it without the updated bits because I felt like I could pick those out (one particular paragraph seemed to contradict something mentioned earlier, presumably because it was tacked on afterwards without amending the earlier bit). I wonder if the earlier edition would have been more to my liking.

I'm glad I've read it, because it's been hanging around for ages, but I can't say I'm in any great hurry to revisit it, which is a bit of a shame as it was something I was looking forward to. It's so annoying when I feel like that about books. ( )
2 stem ClicksClan | May 13, 2012 |
http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/tolkienbehind.htm

This book, originally published by Ballantine in 1969, has now been updated by Adam Roberts and republished by Gollancz, billed as "The companion to The Lord of the Rings". Unfortunately, it isn't. Tolkienology has come a very long way in the last thirty-five years, and very little in this book will be new to anyone who has read Humphrey Carpenter or Tom Shippey.

Even in 1969, the Tolkien-hungry reader could not have been completely satisfied by this book. Fully a quarter of it is taken up with a synopsis of the plots of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, material that would surely have already been familiar to the average Tolkien reader. There is a chapter asking if LOTR (as Carter repeatedly abbreviates it) is satire or allegory. (Conclusion: it is neither.) A third of the book is taken up with a survey of other works of epic fantasy, the genre that Carter argues Tolkien's writing belongs to; completely coincidentally, Ballantine - for whom Carter worked as an editor - was publishing or about to publish many of the authors who are namechecked here at the time this book was first published.

Carter identifies epic fantasy as a tradition including Homer, the chansons de geste, Spenser (who is mentioned often), William Morris, Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison, Fletcher Pratt, and Mervyn Peake. He makes no attempt to demonstrate the influences of the earlier writers on Tolkien; indeed where he does identify Tolkien's sources directly, he ends up appearing to argue that The Hobbit is a rip-off of Walter de la Mare's The Three Mulla Mulgars (aka The Three Royal Monkeys) or that the whole of Middle-Earth is based on Wagner's Ring. (Tolkien himself, of course, famously retorted that the only similarity between his ring and Wagner's was that they were both round.)

A single, though long, footnote describes the Swords and Sorcery genre, including the works of Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, Henry Kuttner, Fritz Leiber and indeed Carter himself, but concludes without further discussion that these are "not strictly speaking epic fantasy in the Morris-Dunsany-Eddison-Tolkien tradition at all." This is simply unconvincing. Carter actually reports Tolkien as saying that he was influenced by H. Rider Haggard's She (and one can see that Mount Doom owes something to the climactic scenes of Haggard's novel) and that he enjoyed Robert E. Howard's Conan books; do we know if he actually read Dunsany or Eddison, and if so if he liked them? Carter's distinction between the two types of fantasy is then blurred still further by placing Alan Garner, Lloyd Alexander and Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea firmly in the Tolkien tradition.

Adam Roberts, given the impossible job of updating this rather messy book, sensibly did not try very hard. He has added a chapter on The Silmarillion (confusingly placed before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which fits the internal chronology but not the way in which most readers will come to it) and updated the section on more recent fantasy writers. But the gaps are rather obvious: the foreword, for instance, begins by referring to the 2001-3 film trilogy (presumably a note by Roberts), and then describes the sub-culture of Tolkien societies and fanzines in affectionate detail (presumably Carter's original text), with no reference to the medium through which you are reading these words. He shouldn't really have bothered. The original book may well have been the high water mark of Tolkienology at its time, and should certainly be on the shelf of any committed completist. But it's difficult to see why anyone should buy this edition. ( )
4 stem nwhyte | Oct 20, 2007 |
A study of the origins of the classic trilogy in ancient myth and saga. A snore-fest, despite its intriguing theme. I couldn't read very much of it. ( )
  xenoi | Aug 30, 2007 |
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Orcs, and talking trees, and leagues of grass, and galloping riders, and glittering caves, and white towers and golden halls, and battles, and tall ships sailing. -- J. R. R. Tolkien: The Return of the King
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This book is for all those who have found, or will find, pleasure in the Lord of the Rings. And in particular, it is for JOHN CLOSSON, who has been waiting a very long time to read it.
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Suddenly it seems that nearly everyone is reading a very long and peculiar book called The Lord of the Rings.
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Lin Carter introduces readers to Tolkien's epic trilogy, then takes them on a scholarly yet populist journey through the massive web of myths and legends that Tolkien drew on for both imagery and themes during his life's work. Carter's book places Tolkien's trilogy in the context of world mythology and legend and is a tribute to Tolkien's power of assimilation and original vision. This is a useful introduction to the background of the Lord of the Rings for the legions of new fans.

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