The Mixed Legacy of Christopher Tolkien | The Imaginative Conservative

Image result for J.R.R. Tolkien

“Only the works published during J.R.R. Tolkien’s lifetime should be considered canonical, whereas the unfinished works collected, collated, and edited by Christopher Tolkien should be considered extra-canonical. I would even venture to suggest that Christopher Tolkien’s work should be considered as footnotes to his father’s corpus and not an extension of it…”

— essay by Joseph Pearce

Source: The Mixed Legacy of Christopher Tolkien | The Imaginative Conservative

Opinions will differ, but I have to confess, I am inclined to agree with this perspective. Even from an early age – I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in 1977, at age 11, and The Silmarillion not much later – I have had a sense that Christopher Tolkien’s edited and compiled contributions to the Middle Earth legendarium of his father were, let us say, of a second tier. Not apocrypha, precisely; but certainly deuterocanonical, to use terms I would not learn for some decades after that original reading!

Since Christopher Tolkien’s passing, and the outpouring of encomia to his memory, I have come to appreciate more fully the degree to which he was a collaborator (a junior collaborator, it must be said, but a collaborator nonetheless) – perhaps even, in a certain limited sense, a co-creator – with his father in the development of the latter’s legendarium. But that has not altered my early-formed perception that he, to some extent – maybe a significant extent – rode the coat-tails of his father’s name and fame.

On the one hand, his life-long work as executor, curator, editor, and compiler of J.R.R. Tolkien’s copious literary legacy exhibits a remarkable, and admirable, level of filial devotion. One cannot help but be impressed, and as I say, admiring. On the other, it (rather conveniently) meant that he never had to actually do anything on his own. I know from my own experience that it is a far simpler matter to edit and compile the works of others (and it would doubtless be even easier with one as well-known as one’s own father) than it is to generate original content of one’s own.

In any case: as the essay notes,

“We should be aware… that Christopher was making subjective judgments with respect to his father’s intentions, which may or may not be valid. And we should also bear in mind that Tolkien did not feel that any of the material in Christopher’s History was ready for publication, which is why it wasn’t published. At best, the raw materials that Christopher Tolkien stitches together are unfinished works; at worst, they are rejected pieces of work that Tolkien never intended to bring to fruition or to see the light of day.”

Now, some of that lack of publication had to do with J.R.R. Tolkien’s publishers, and their sense (and in some cases, Tolkien’s own) of what the reading public would be interested in – what would sell, in other words. But the critique is not unreasonable or inaccurate, even so.

To give an idea of how drastically Tolkien himself could change his original concepts, it may be worth noting that the earliest form of the character that became Strider – heir of Isildur, Ranger of the North, Lord of the Dunedain, and last King of Gondor and the West at the close of the Third Age and the dawn of the Fourth – was originally a “wild” hobbit named Trotter, with wooden feet. What might Tolkien have done with his “unfinished tales,” if he had had the time, energy, and in some cases, desire to bring them to published form? Impossible to know.

I would, however, agree with Pearce that The Silmarillion represents something of a special case. It was by far the most complete and fully-formed of J.R.R. Tolkien’s unpublished works; it was also, as his surviving correspondence makes clear, one he had hoped and intended to publish, one day (although he was unsure of how it would be received). This, combined with the fact that it was published so soon – only four years after his death – makes it much closer to simply editing the work of a living author (though of course it lacks his final imprimatur) than any of the twelve volumes of compiled and edited tales collectively known as “The History of Middle Earth.” It is certainly, as Pearce points out, at least “quasi-canonical.”

In any case, the late Christopher Tolkien is to be commended for preserving and curating so much of his father’s work, which otherwise might have been moldering in boxes, or worse yet, discarded entirely. As Pearce accurately notes, “his painstaking editing of his father’s unfinished and discarded works can help all lovers of Middle-earth to further appreciate the genius who gave us The Lord of the Rings.” But that doesn’t necessarily place them in the same league as those works of his which were published under his – J.R.R. Tolkien’s – authority, and in his own lifetime. Nor, if I may indulge in supposition, do I think that The Professor would have wanted us to think them so!

 

Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

Image result for ellis peters brother cadfael
Sample covers of three of the books in the series of medieval mysteries, The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, by Ellis Peters.

Any writer who can make a living by her pen can be proud of her work, but it wasn’t until 1977, when A Morbid Taste for Bones introduced Cadfael, that Pargeter made her bid for literary immortality.

Source: Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

The Anglophilic Anglican has alluded to this excellent series of historical mysteries – “The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael,” by Ellis Peters (nom de plume of medieval scholar, author, and Shrewsbury, England, resident Edith Pargeter) – but I have not addressed them directly. Let me make up for that omission, now!

For those who may not be aware, the Cadfael Chronicles are a long-running series of medieval mysteries comprising 21 volumes – 20 novels and a short-story collection – written between 1977 and 1994, and set in 12th-century England: specifically, in the years 1137–1145, in and around the town (city) of Shrewsbury, near the Welsh border, and its Benedictine monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The protagonist, the eponymous Brother Cadfael of the aforementioned monastery, is both monk and herbalist, as well as a sort of medieval private investigator; a veteran Crusader and one-time sailor who – having seen much of the known world, in his first half-century or so – has chosen this quiet (?) harbor to live out the remainder of his earthy life.

Let’s let Levi Stahl tell it: Continue reading “Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads”

Three books added to my reading list

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It is only occasionally that The Anglophilic Anglican writes book reviews, and to post on books I have not yet read is unprecedented. But these are three that not only pique my interest, but which I feel may turn out to be important reads. If I am right, I shall review them after I’ve read them! But for now, I’m simply sharing my interest, with the thought that they may prove of interest to my readers, too. As usual, the italicized, indented sections of text are quotes, in this case from the relevant Amazon listings:

Andrew Willard Jones: Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX (2017).

Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX by Andrew Willard Jones explores in great detail the “problem of Church and State” in thirteenth-century France. It argues that while the spiritual and temporal powers existed, they were not parallel structures attempting to govern the same social space in a contest over sovereignty. Rather, the spiritual and the temporal powers were wrapped up together in a differentiated and sacramental world, and both included the other as aspects of their very identity. The realm was governed not by proto-absolutist institutions, but rather by networks of friends that cut across lay/clerical lines. Ultimately, the king’s “fullness of power” and the papacy’s “fullness of power” came together to govern a single social order.

Before Church and State reconstructs this social order through a detailed examination of the documentary evidence, arguing that the order was fundamentally sacramental and that it was ultimately congruent with contemporary incarnational and trinitarian theologies and the notions of proper order that they supported. Because of this, modern categories of secular politics cannot be made to capture its essence but rather paint always a distorted portrait in modernity’s image.

In both my B.A. studies – in which I pursued a self-designed major in medieval studies, including history, literature, and philosophy – and my Masters work in early and medieval Christianity, one thing that was a given was the perennial tension, sometimes struggle, and sometimes conflict, between Church and State. It wasn’t something that was defended; it didn’t need to be. It was simply a foundational, underlying assumption.

But even then, I caught glimpses hinting that there might be more to the story; Continue reading “Three books added to my reading list”

Students learn more effectively from print textbooks than screens, study says | Business Insider

Books and Tablet

Our work has revealed a significant discrepancy. Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer.

Source: Students learn more effectively from print textbooks than screens, study says – Business Insider

“Teachers, parents and policymakers certainly acknowledge the growing influence of technology and have responded in kind. We’ve seen more investment in classroom technologies, with students now equipped with school-issued iPads and access to e-textbooks…

“Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

“As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.”

This doesn’t surprise me a bit. There is something… superficial, for lack of a better term… about pixels on a screen compared to printed words on a page. They don’t stick in the mind – never mind sink down into the heart and soul – the way actual, physical, tangible books do.

And I had to chuckle at the comment that, “it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.” Ya think? Given a choice, most school-age kids – and even many adults – would prefer ice cream or candy over solid, nourishing foods, but if health and well-being is the goal, that preference is a poor predictor. Our preferences, as humans, are not always to our own benefit, in a whole range of scenarios!

That said, the person who shifts over from a steady diet of soda-pop, fast food, and sweets to a steady diet of nutritionally beneficial foods generally will eventually come to prefer the latter, even wondering how on earth they could have ever stood to eat and drink the junk they’d eventually given up. And a person who shifts from a relationship pattern of one-night stands and superficial hook-ups to the love and commitment of a steady relationships is usually glad they did.

I suspect a shift from screens back to books, as a general rule, might have a similar effect. This is not to say the shift should be 100%! Even the most nutritionally-aware eater enjoys an occasional sundae, or slice of birthday cake. And screens aren’t likely to go away, in our larger society, short of a major X-class solar flare zapping our technology back to the 19th century, and students need to know how to use them.

Besides, as this article points out,

“One of the most consistent findings from our research is that, for some tasks, medium doesn’t seem to matter. If all students are being asked to do is to understand and remember the big idea or gist of what they’re reading, there’s no benefit in selecting one medium over another.”

However, “when the reading assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, students may be better off reading print.” This is a distinction which should be kept in mind, in my opinion, both in school and in life! I have noticed the phenomenon myself, in my own reading, although I had not attempted to articulate it prior to reading this: I read faster on-screen, but engage the text – and the ideas behind it – better when I’m reading from a physical print medium.

And generally feel better and more satisfied after having completed the reading task, as well, which ties into another of the study’s conclusions:

“There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there’s clearly something important that would be lost with print’s demise. In our academic lives, we have books and articles that we regularly return to. The dog-eared pages of these treasured readings contain lines of text etched with questions or reflections. It’s difficult to imagine a similar level of engagement with a digital text.”

There are both tangible and intangible benefits to directly, physically engaging with specific, individual books: their look, both the design of the book itself and the wear-and-tear it has received over the months, years, or decades; their heft, in which even the difference between a mass-market paperback, a trade paperback, or a hardback book can be significant, not only in weight but in the feeling of permanence and solidity it engenders; and even the scent: for many of us, the smell of old books is a part of their appeal, reminding us that they have been around, cherished and re-read, for in some cases a very long time. Conversely, the smell of a new book can be exciting in a different way, carrying with it the sense of beginning an adventure. Many of these benefits are substantially reduced, or lost entirely, if our reading is mostly or entirely on electronic screens.

You will have noticed that I’ve several times alluded to the permanence / impermanence issue. Pixels on a screen are fundamentally transient, impermanent. They can be changed or deleted, either individually or en masse; they can be rendered inaccessible for a myriad of reasons ranging from running out of battery, to not having the right operating system (Kindle vs Nook vs ….?), to forgetting your password, and the list could go on.

Yes, physical, printed books can have issues, too. They are vulnerable to fire (though that is rarely an issue) and water (I suppose you could drop yours in the toilet, or the lake, and you wouldn’t want to read it in the rain – but the same could likely be said of your tablet); you could forget it, or lose it… but again, the same applies to your e-reading device. There are simply not so many things that can go wrong with a physical book, as with an e-reader.

There is another concern, too: it is way too easy to get rid of electronic “books.” We humans have evolved, over the centuries, a protective attitude toward physical books, and an aversion to damaging, destroying, or discarding them. Many or most of us would prefer to give old books we don’t need anymore away, or take them to the library for a sale, or donate them, than simply throw them out. And the idea of burning books, or even banning them, carries connotations of police-state totalitarianism.

But what if those books can simply be deleted, or their text changed – quietly, unobtrusively, unnoticed – with a few strokes of a keyboard? What then for the preservation of ideas, the evolution of human thought? At this point, the practical considerations, and even the educational ones, shade over into philosophical and moral concerns. I am not sure anyone has sufficiently addressed these implications of the digitization of our written media.

Of course, the argument so often raised in favour of digital media is that you can carry a hundred (electronic) books in an e-reader the size of a paperback. A veritable library in your pocket, purse, backpack, or messenger bag! And that is an undeniable advantage – at certain times, and for certain reasons. Travel, for instance… if you’re sure you’ll have regular access to an electrical outlet, for charging. If not, you may be better off with one or a few well-chosen actual books.

Otherwise, it is at least arguable whether high capacity is a “feature,” or a “bug”! Distraction, and/or merely superficial attention, is one of the major issues with reading on-screen as opposed to in actual, physical, print media. Carrying a whole library with you in a single, compact device sounds great on the surface, but it may well serve to increase the tendency to engage the text(s) only superficially – and if, as many e-readers do, you have the ability to also go online, there is another two-edged sword.

It’s great to be able to easily look up obscure references or background information for a passage you’re reading. But it also increases the temptation to “just check my email (or Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever) while I’m online,” and before you know it, you’re down the rabbit-hole. As one comment I like (albeit in a rueful sort of way) puts it, “With the internet, we have immediate, 24-7 access to the wisdom of the ages. But most of us use it looking at pictures of cats.” Distraction is a thing.

This has gotten a bit far afield from the specific issue of using screens for reading in an educational context. But it is worth raising the question of whether encouraging students to use screens – whether computers, laptops, tablets, smart-phones, e-readers, etc. – as their primary information source is really serving them all that well, with respect to either their current educational task, or their future.

Like a lot of other forms of technology, screens are useful, but not entirely benign. They are, as the old saying goes, “useful servants, but bad masters.” The problem is that so many of us are allowing them to dictate our lives, rather than the other way ’round. Gotta check my email. Gotta check my Facebook. Gotta check my Instagram. Gotta check my messages. Gotta check, gotta check, gotta check… and respond, of course. And then look up something else. Scan articles. Scan blog-posts. And on an e-reader, scan books… or the electronic facsimiles thereof.

Now, I am aware of the slight irony of composing this objection to excessive use of online devices, online! If my goal was to bash technology entirely, I should be writing it on parchment, with a quill pen… or pressing it into damp clay with a wooden stylus. But I am not. As I said above: “useful servant, bad master.”

I am writing this online because I can reach far more people this way than by mailing it out in letters to people I think might be interested – and even if I were going to print it out and distribute it that way, I’d still type it on the computer, because I can type much faster than I can print or write longhand. Taking advantage of certain aspects of technology for its benefits does not, or should not, immunize us from also considering its problematic elements.

Nor am I limiting myself to electronic media. Before I started this essay, I was re-reading – for the nth time – J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (specifically, the second volume, “The Two Towers”)… using an actual, physical book. Earlier still, I did an online broadcast of Morning Prayer – again, because I can reach more people that way – but using a decades-old copy of The Book of Common Prayer 1928, and reading a meditation from another book originally written in 1858 (the edition that I have was printed in 1890).

It’s one thing to use a variety of appropriate technologies, depending on your needs and intentions. It’s another thing to become so fixated or dependent on a particular one – particularly one with the limitations of electronic screens, as described above – that you don’t end up using anything else. As the authors of the linked essay put it,

“we realize that the march toward online reading will continue unabated. And we don’t want to downplay the many conveniences of online texts, which include breadth and speed of access. Rather, our goal is simply to remind today’s digital natives – and those who shape their educational experiences – that there are significant costs and consequences to discounting the printed word’s value for learning and academic development.”

Indeed.