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The seven ‘essays’ by J.R.R. Tolkien assembled in this new paperback edition were with one exception delivered as general lectures on particular occasions; and while they mostly arose out of Tolkien’s work in medieval literature, they are accessible to all. Two of them are concerned with Beowulf, including the well-known lecture whose title is taken for this book, and one The seven ‘essays’ by J.R.R. Tolkien assembled in this new paperback edition were with one exception delivered as general lectures on particular occasions; and while they mostly arose out of Tolkien’s work in medieval literature, they are accessible to all. Two of them are concerned with Beowulf, including the well-known lecture whose title is taken for this book, and one with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, given in the University of Glasgow in 1953. Also included in this volume is the lecture English and Welsh; the Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford in 1959; and a paper on Invented Languages delivered in 1931, with exemplification from poems in the Elvish tongues. Most famous of all is On Fairy-Stories, a discussion of the nature of fairy-tales and fantasy, which gives insight into Tolkien’s approach to the whole genre. The pieces in this collection cover a period of nearly thirty years, beginning six years before the publication of The Hobbit, with a unique ‘academic’ lecture on his invention (calling it A Secret Vice) and concluding with his farewell to professorship, five years after the publication of The Lord of the Rings.


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The seven ‘essays’ by J.R.R. Tolkien assembled in this new paperback edition were with one exception delivered as general lectures on particular occasions; and while they mostly arose out of Tolkien’s work in medieval literature, they are accessible to all. Two of them are concerned with Beowulf, including the well-known lecture whose title is taken for this book, and one The seven ‘essays’ by J.R.R. Tolkien assembled in this new paperback edition were with one exception delivered as general lectures on particular occasions; and while they mostly arose out of Tolkien’s work in medieval literature, they are accessible to all. Two of them are concerned with Beowulf, including the well-known lecture whose title is taken for this book, and one with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, given in the University of Glasgow in 1953. Also included in this volume is the lecture English and Welsh; the Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford in 1959; and a paper on Invented Languages delivered in 1931, with exemplification from poems in the Elvish tongues. Most famous of all is On Fairy-Stories, a discussion of the nature of fairy-tales and fantasy, which gives insight into Tolkien’s approach to the whole genre. The pieces in this collection cover a period of nearly thirty years, beginning six years before the publication of The Hobbit, with a unique ‘academic’ lecture on his invention (calling it A Secret Vice) and concluding with his farewell to professorship, five years after the publication of The Lord of the Rings.

30 review for The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    Tolkien was a pretty devastatingly smart guy, who didn't only create a world and languages of his own, but was a serious and intelligent scholar who knew many languages, modern and archaic, and had a wide interest in different literatures and mythologies. This volume contains seven of his academic essays: for a modern academic, the volume of his work -- however influential and inspiring -- would be insufficient, with the pressure to publish all the time. Good thing he isn't a contemporary academ Tolkien was a pretty devastatingly smart guy, who didn't only create a world and languages of his own, but was a serious and intelligent scholar who knew many languages, modern and archaic, and had a wide interest in different literatures and mythologies. This volume contains seven of his academic essays: for a modern academic, the volume of his work -- however influential and inspiring -- would be insufficient, with the pressure to publish all the time. Good thing he isn't a contemporary academic: his careful editing and long thought is what made his lectures and essays so accessible. This volume includes two essays on Beowulf: his very famous one, from which the title of this volume derives, and the one he wrote as an introduction to Clark Hall's translation. The first one is, of course, one of the first points of call for anyone studying Beowulf, and rightfully so. The volume also contains an essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, his famous essay 'On Fairy Stories', an essay on 'English and Welsh', an essay about the invention of languages, and his valedictory address, given when he left Oxford. All of them are well worth reading. They're not dry at all, but warm and passionate as Tolkien was warm and passionate, and of course, intelligent. I wish I could have heard him lecture (although, some people who went to his lectures could say that too, given his reputation of being a mumbler).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    I wish had Professor Tolkien around to pick his brain, but this book is an adequate substitute, and, I think, indispensable for anyone who teaches Beowulf. Tolkien's titular essay is largely responsible for changing the attitude toward Beowulf in literary circles. The epic was considered important for what it could teach us of the Anglo-Saxons, but it was Tolkien who convinced the literati that it had literary merit, too. Highly recommended to fans of Beowulf. I wish had Professor Tolkien around to pick his brain, but this book is an adequate substitute, and, I think, indispensable for anyone who teaches Beowulf. Tolkien's titular essay is largely responsible for changing the attitude toward Beowulf in literary circles. The epic was considered important for what it could teach us of the Anglo-Saxons, but it was Tolkien who convinced the literati that it had literary merit, too. Highly recommended to fans of Beowulf.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    Prior to the delivery and publication of these lectures in 1936 the poem of Beowulf was mined by scholars looking to find information on Germanic antiquities, some for nationalistic reasons and others out of a genuine interest in the past, but few explored the poem for its own literary merits. Major publications on the poem included works by Axel Olrik and R.W. Chambers, while both books made vast explorations into the origin of the legends and comparisons between Scandinavian material, neither Prior to the delivery and publication of these lectures in 1936 the poem of Beowulf was mined by scholars looking to find information on Germanic antiquities, some for nationalistic reasons and others out of a genuine interest in the past, but few explored the poem for its own literary merits. Major publications on the poem included works by Axel Olrik and R.W. Chambers, while both books made vast explorations into the origin of the legends and comparisons between Scandinavian material, neither attempted any analysis of the poems poetic value. In defence of probably the greatest Beowulf scholar ever, Frederich Klaeber in his major edition of the poem did include three sections in the introduction to the text that focused on the literary aspects of the poem. In this groundbreaking lecture, Tolkien criticised scholars who ignored the fantastical episodes like the dragon fight, the encounters between Grendal and his mother and also skipped over the poetic value of the poem, in favour of looking for sources on the Germanic past. Instead Tolkien called for scholars to explore the poem for its own literary value. The whole essay seems to foretell the direction that Germanic studies would take in the aftermath of World War Two. The challenge laid down by Tolkien was immediately taken up by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur in his Art of Beowulf. This was followed by numerous publications that analysed the literary merits of beowulf, most notably three volumes by Edward Irving. The whole trend reached a stunning high point in Fred C. Robinson's Beowulf and the Appositive Style in the 1980s. With the birth of the Neo Traditionalist school in recent years, the search for parallel material, combined with Tolkien's call for literary analysis, seems to have made a comeback. With publications from Theodore M. Anderson, Helen Damico, Andy Orchard, Richard North and Christine Ruaer, Beowulf studies seem to be heading in interesting directions once more. While I'm not a huge reader of modern fantasy literature and have only had one quick read of Tolkien's fantasy novels, mainly out of a strange curiosity and people constantly asking me irritating questions involving medieval studies and Tolkien's novels. This leads me to wonder if we should be reading Beowulf and other medieval literary works in the same way that someone would read a modern fantasy work like Lord of The Rings or a Harry Potter novel? Did the audience that listened to the poem in say the Tenth century hear this poem in the same way that we read the Hobbit or watch Star Wars?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    The title essay (still going for best title of a critical essay) together with 'On Translating Beowulf' capture that poem, at least if you are a romantic like me. Gloriously written and elegiac in mood, these may rob your heart, and perhaps you can cheat, read them instead of Beowulf and yet understand. The title essay (still going for best title of a critical essay) together with 'On Translating Beowulf' capture that poem, at least if you are a romantic like me. Gloriously written and elegiac in mood, these may rob your heart, and perhaps you can cheat, read them instead of Beowulf and yet understand.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Molly

    5 Stars because I'm biased on anything Tolkien. :) I skipped the Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight essays because I haven't read the stories yet and I want to read them before I read Tolkien analyze them. On Fairy Stories is an excellent essay that I enjoyed thoroughly. The Valedictory Address was a bit tricky to follow but maybe when I read more about what Tolkien did when he was working at University it will make more sense. 5 Stars because it's Tolkien and he writes very well. 5 Stars because I'm biased on anything Tolkien. :) I skipped the Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight essays because I haven't read the stories yet and I want to read them before I read Tolkien analyze them. On Fairy Stories is an excellent essay that I enjoyed thoroughly. The Valedictory Address was a bit tricky to follow but maybe when I read more about what Tolkien did when he was working at University it will make more sense. 5 Stars because it's Tolkien and he writes very well.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    An extraordinary collection of Tolkien essays from the 1930s to 1950s. Make no mistake, these addresses were serious presentations to serious, and qualified audiences; which the casual reader is not. His essays on Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight changed my perception of those works. His essay on translating Beowulf adds to my appreciation of the challenges of both translators and readers of translated texts. His On Fairy tales I have lauded elsewhere, was it appears also in The Tolkie An extraordinary collection of Tolkien essays from the 1930s to 1950s. Make no mistake, these addresses were serious presentations to serious, and qualified audiences; which the casual reader is not. His essays on Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight changed my perception of those works. His essay on translating Beowulf adds to my appreciation of the challenges of both translators and readers of translated texts. His On Fairy tales I have lauded elsewhere, was it appears also in The Tolkien Reader. The essays on English and Welsh and A Secret Vice were enjoyable and informative, though the latter and the closing Valedictory Address strike me as filler. A very good, if difficult read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Freddy

    (Only read the title essay since I don't actually have the book). An excellently argued case that picks apart common criticism of 'Beowulf' - although I don't completely agree with Tolkien's POV, I do see more of the beauty of the poem than I did on a first read of it. As well as being a cohesive essay, the prose of it is so beautiful, and you can tell how much Tolkien loves the poem: "In its simplest terms it is a contrasted description of two moments in a great life, rising and setting; an ela (Only read the title essay since I don't actually have the book). An excellently argued case that picks apart common criticism of 'Beowulf' - although I don't completely agree with Tolkien's POV, I do see more of the beauty of the poem than I did on a first read of it. As well as being a cohesive essay, the prose of it is so beautiful, and you can tell how much Tolkien loves the poem: "In its simplest terms it is a contrasted description of two moments in a great life, rising and setting; an elaboration of the ancient and intensely moving contrast between youth and age, first achievement and final death."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    The first time I read it, I swooned. Then I revisited it in grad school, and I swooned again. There is only one author I've ever read who would not only understand but also think to write the following: "And in the poem I think we may observe not confusion, a half-hearted or a muddled business, but a fusion that has occurred at a given point of contact between old and new, a product of thought and deep emotion. "One of the most potent elements in that fusion is the Northern courage: the theory of The first time I read it, I swooned. Then I revisited it in grad school, and I swooned again. There is only one author I've ever read who would not only understand but also think to write the following: "And in the poem I think we may observe not confusion, a half-hearted or a muddled business, but a fusion that has occurred at a given point of contact between old and new, a product of thought and deep emotion. "One of the most potent elements in that fusion is the Northern courage: the theory of courage, which is the great contribution of early Northern literature. This is not a military judgement. I am not asserting that, if the Trojans could have employed a Northern king and his companions, they would have driven Agamemnon and Achilles into the sea, more decisively than the Greek hexameter routs the alliterative line--though it is not improbable." No, really, who else would compare the Trojan War to Greek hexameter's effect on alliteration? It is one of my life goals to educate myself into understanding what this really means. Re. the fusion between old and new, this all ties back to my friend, whom our writing community recently lost, Jason Wenger. His first day of workshop, when we were all asked to go around the table and state our writing philosophies in a nutshell, Jason said he wanted to "say something old in a new way." Our professor heckled him for this, said something like, are you serious? I'm getting a bit scared, as if Jason were saying he planned to be unoriginal. But no, I knew what he meant and I think most people in the class did. He was talking about myth and the heart of storytelling, the stories that haven't essentially changed any more than people have in the last several thousand years. Well, this same professor, God bless him, got my goat later that semester by referring to fantasy/sci-fi as "all that crap in the corner of the bookstore" or something like that. And so I went out in a tizzy and copied Tolkien's essay and some other materials for everybody and tried to start a discussion about what genre fiction is and what it isn't, and why it might still want to be called genre rather than "transcendant of its genre" if it is well or masterfully written. Anyway, I spent a lot on the copies and then Jason said about all the reading I'd given out, "That's so messed up," to which I laughed and said, "You don't have to read it, you know."...My presentation ended up getting rushed and kind of sucking--this workshop was not fertile ground for it anyway--but when I got to the quote above from Tolkien, I remember saying, "And Jason Wenger, this one's for you," and going on to read that line vindicating his writing philosophy about the fusion of the old and the new. I hope that he got something out of the whole experience. I would like so much to be able to ask him about it now.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Snowfalcon

    The title essay is approaching 90 years old and remains both readable and important. In a few pages Tolkien elucidates a few principles which are still incompletely grasped. First, that the art and acts of our ancestors were not crude, quaint and haphazard. Second, that a thing -- be it poetry or a tree -- should be taken for what it is, and respected by exploring what it is without preconceptions. Let a thing stand on it's own a bit before rushing to prop it up. Third, upon those themes he guides The title essay is approaching 90 years old and remains both readable and important. In a few pages Tolkien elucidates a few principles which are still incompletely grasped. First, that the art and acts of our ancestors were not crude, quaint and haphazard. Second, that a thing -- be it poetry or a tree -- should be taken for what it is, and respected by exploring what it is without preconceptions. Let a thing stand on it's own a bit before rushing to prop it up. Third, upon those themes he guides the reader through an exercise in literary criticism. What I found interesting when I first read the title essay some 25 years ago, is it's connection to another book on my list "Mark As Story". The critical perspective and techniques that Rhoads and Michie bring to Mark are very similar to what Tolkien was espousing almost 50 years previously. If all you know about Tolkien is that he wrote some quaint books that they made movies out of I would strongly recommend exploring these essays. His thought and his philosophy ranged much, much more widely than the fantasy of the Lord of the Rings and his academic love of philology. A final thought ... Tolkien disliked allegory. It was too easy, too insulting to the intelligence of the reader in his mind. Writing being an intimate task, and that being the case. Given the scope of these essays and what they expose ... it's worth considering how -- biographically metaphorical -- the Lord of the Rings may be. It may have taken a work of that magnitude to express the scope of that quiet man's spirit and thought.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Quite possibly the best literary essay ever published. Here, the author of the Lord of the Rings takes aim at scholars who would dismiss the literary merit of the greatest poem published between the fall of Rome and the Thirteenth Century because (dear me!) there are monsters in it. It is a wonderful (if at times dense) reflection on the importance of such supernatural elements in heroic tales. Could be read in tandem with Matt Kaplan's most excellent Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite -- on the sc Quite possibly the best literary essay ever published. Here, the author of the Lord of the Rings takes aim at scholars who would dismiss the literary merit of the greatest poem published between the fall of Rome and the Thirteenth Century because (dear me!) there are monsters in it. It is a wonderful (if at times dense) reflection on the importance of such supernatural elements in heroic tales. Could be read in tandem with Matt Kaplan's most excellent Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite -- on the science of monsters.

  11. 4 out of 5

    ika

    This book is the best insight into Tolkien’s professorial capacity. Not only was he a great author, but also a very influential scholar. His most famous essay, The Monsters and the Critics changed completely the way of approaching Beowulf as a work of art, and not only an archeological finding that may shed some light on the historical mysteries. All in all, it was a great read. I recommend it to anyone who is at least a tiny bit interested in early-medieval literature or fantasy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tommy Grooms

    The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays by J.R.R. Tolkien is an incredible collection of essays/lectures, including his most seminal and famous. Worth the price of admission alone is “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, in which Tolkien defends Beowulf as literature rather than a mere historical curiosity; and “On Fairy Stories”, where Tolkien lays out his theories on the fantasy genre. This collection is an absolute staple to appreciating the creator of Middle-earth.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Phillip

    Tolkien's "The Monsters and the Critics" was a speech he gave when he received one of his academic chairs. The speech single highhandedly revived the discipline of Anglo Saxon studies from a dying thing to something we are still studying. This speech presents one of the few times the author used allegory. Tolkien's "The Monsters and the Critics" was a speech he gave when he received one of his academic chairs. The speech single highhandedly revived the discipline of Anglo Saxon studies from a dying thing to something we are still studying. This speech presents one of the few times the author used allegory.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Haplila

    I already loved LOTR, and this book made me love that series even more. My favorite essay out of the collection was "On Fairy Stories." Whether you're a writer or a reader, it's definitely worth investing some time into. You'll walk away from it with a new appreciation for the significance of stories in our lives. I already loved LOTR, and this book made me love that series even more. My favorite essay out of the collection was "On Fairy Stories." Whether you're a writer or a reader, it's definitely worth investing some time into. You'll walk away from it with a new appreciation for the significance of stories in our lives.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    5 stars but only for people interested in either Beowulf, Tolkien, or Bilbo (if you read it in his voice, this essay is quite endearing).

  16. 5 out of 5

    L

    *review to be posted*

  17. 5 out of 5

    Eustacia Tan

    It's a good thing that this is a book of essays because it's easy to read about one a day (although it's not a light read). The Monsters and the Critics is a collection of essay/lectures given by J. R. R. Tolkien. The essays are: Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics: I realised how rusty the 'literature' part of my brain was because this was difficult for me and it's not aimed at a scholarly audience! On Translating Beowulf: see comments above Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: this was interesting It's a good thing that this is a book of essays because it's easy to read about one a day (although it's not a light read). The Monsters and the Critics is a collection of essay/lectures given by J. R. R. Tolkien. The essays are: Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics: I realised how rusty the 'literature' part of my brain was because this was difficult for me and it's not aimed at a scholarly audience! On Translating Beowulf: see comments above Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: this was interesting and didn't feel as hard - perhaps because I have some knowledge of Arthurian legends? On Fairy Stories: love, love, loved this! (see quotes below) English and Welsh: I will never be able to pronounce Welsh words and I doubt I will learn it but it was a cool essay A Secret Vice: Tolkien's made-up language appears here. Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford: on his department and even though he claims to be a poor lecturer, I wish I had the chance to attend one of his lectures based on the essays here The essays here, while not scholarly, are definitely not as easy as a TED talk. They take work while reading, but the effort is definitely worth it. And by the way, I have tons of saved quotes from On Fairy Stories, like: "Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold." "The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all mannethe of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and starts uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever or sent peril; both joy and sorrow sharp as swords. " "Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted." And lots more. But too many quotes and I would probably just end up transcribing the entire essay. n addition, I think it's worth reading the footnotes here too, because Tolkien's footnotes feel like he's talking directly to you which makes them entertaining and unlike most footnotes. I'm not going to say that all Tolkien fans should read this because it's not really aimed at them (I think). But if you're interested in mythology or philology, this is for you. And if you're a fan of Chesterton, or just a fan of fairy stories, On Fairy Stories is definitely a must-read. This review was first posted at Inside the mind of a Bibliophile

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    I can't believe I'm giving Tolkien less than five stars, but it's more a reflection on me than him. There are seven essays in this collection, one of which I've read before ("On Fairy Stories") and while they all demonstrate his wit and depth of knowledge, some of them went over my head. Obviously the intended audience for the essay about translating Beowulf are students of philology and Old English. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the essay on "Welsh and English" even though again it was a I can't believe I'm giving Tolkien less than five stars, but it's more a reflection on me than him. There are seven essays in this collection, one of which I've read before ("On Fairy Stories") and while they all demonstrate his wit and depth of knowledge, some of them went over my head. Obviously the intended audience for the essay about translating Beowulf are students of philology and Old English. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the essay on "Welsh and English" even though again it was a little over my head. I ended up googling quite a bit about the history of languages in Britain. My favorite essays were the ones about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight--I read Tolkien's version last year and this was a nice refresher of its plot and themes-On Fairy Stories, always a classic, and his "A Secret Vice" where he talks about his love of making up languages and why he thinks that appeals to people. Glad to have this added to my library!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael Arnold

    This is an excellent collection of essays, with some really great pieces I will be reading again. I really do love Tolkien's non-Middle Earth stuff, it's a shame it doesn't get more attention, because it absolutely deserves it. Through Tolkien's mastery of ancient languages, and poetry of the medieval age like Beowulf (which gets two essays here dedicated to it) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Tolkien offers insights that few others can in such an engaging way. But it's his love of language This is an excellent collection of essays, with some really great pieces I will be reading again. I really do love Tolkien's non-Middle Earth stuff, it's a shame it doesn't get more attention, because it absolutely deserves it. Through Tolkien's mastery of ancient languages, and poetry of the medieval age like Beowulf (which gets two essays here dedicated to it) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Tolkien offers insights that few others can in such an engaging way. But it's his love of languages that makes this collection so enjoyable, the only reason to be drawn back a little from this book is that it does not contain the complete text of A Secret Vice. Still a great essay in itself, really interesting for people interested in building languages, but still - there's more to this essay out there. Somewhere.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Thordur

    I read this in Icelandic. Tolkien wrote an essay in the 1930´s about Bjólfskviða which belongs to the Nordic literature. Tolkien actually never came to Iceland but despite that he did have the ability to read Icelandic fluently. From this source Bjólfskviða he was most likely having inspiration to write the Lord of the Rings. Still Bjólfskviða is written as poetry about a viking time bravery and fights with dragons. Ég las þetta lærdómsrit á einu kvöldi eða svo. Bókin er 104 bls hvað varðar lesm I read this in Icelandic. Tolkien wrote an essay in the 1930´s about Bjólfskviða which belongs to the Nordic literature. Tolkien actually never came to Iceland but despite that he did have the ability to read Icelandic fluently. From this source Bjólfskviða he was most likely having inspiration to write the Lord of the Rings. Still Bjólfskviða is written as poetry about a viking time bravery and fights with dragons. Ég las þetta lærdómsrit á einu kvöldi eða svo. Bókin er 104 bls hvað varðar lesmál, þar af er góður inngangur skrifaður af Ármanni Jakobssyni. Ritgerð Tolkiens um Bjólfskviðu er hins vegar í þyngri kantinum og gott teldi ég fyrir lesandann að vera búinn að lesa Bjólfskviðu rétt áður en farið er útí að að lesa þessa bók.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Abby D. Jones

    This was grand. Granted, much of it was challenging and some of it directly went over my head, but I still enjoyed it. Tolkien's beauty, humor, and passion are easily seen. The more I read his other work, the more depth I find in the already deep wonder that is Lord of the Rings. I will say, the article on Faerie Stories stands out like a beacon. I will regularly return to read it again. This was grand. Granted, much of it was challenging and some of it directly went over my head, but I still enjoyed it. Tolkien's beauty, humor, and passion are easily seen. The more I read his other work, the more depth I find in the already deep wonder that is Lord of the Rings. I will say, the article on Faerie Stories stands out like a beacon. I will regularly return to read it again.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2154968.html This is a collection of seven lectures by Tolkien, of which I think I had previously read only "On Fairy Stories" and "A Secret Vice". As always, they are an interesting insight into how his mind worked, or at least how he wanted us to think it worked. The more academic pieces (in particular the second, "On Translating Beowulf") are somewhat moored in academic controversies of their time, which may or may not have subsided by now and which in any case I http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2154968.html This is a collection of seven lectures by Tolkien, of which I think I had previously read only "On Fairy Stories" and "A Secret Vice". As always, they are an interesting insight into how his mind worked, or at least how he wanted us to think it worked. The more academic pieces (in particular the second, "On Translating Beowulf") are somewhat moored in academic controversies of their time, which may or may not have subsided by now and which in any case I am not close to. But the title piece rises above that to give an argument for appreciating Beowulf as a real story with serious monsters, rather than just a source for scholarly discussion on vaguely related topics, and that is the point made in the vivid metaphor of the man who built his tower on inherited land. The other highlight for me, even as a non-Welsh speaker, is the lecture "English and Welsh" urging those with an interest in the history of the English language not to ignore its nearest geographical neighbour. He makes the same general point made much later by McWhorter, that English shares a significant substratum with Welsh (and he is very insistent that it is Welsh/British rather than the Goidelic languages), though interestingly uses a completely different set of linguistic/grammatical clues to McWhorter in making the argument. So there may well be something to it. "On Fairy Stories" has quite a lot of information about Tolkien's views of other works of fantasy literature, ancient and modern; it is a bit less successful at setting up an analytical framework for looking at fairy stories as a whole (Farah Mendlesohn seems to me to have a more useful and more widely applicable approach), but again he makes a convincing emotional appeal to treat the stories first and foremost as stories for an intended audience, rather than for anything else. His valedictory address, at the end of the book, is an amusing but somewhat rambling justification for wandering off the point for most of his career, but in fact a commitment to an aesthetic of narrative seems to have been precisely the point, one which he successfully communicated through both his fiction and his non-fiction.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    I enjoyed the last three essays in this book much more than the first few. Tolkien's analyses and arguments for his value of Beowulf and Sir Gawain came off to me pedantic and overly intellectual. His passion was clear, but I didn't find the narrow topics interesting enough for a general readership. These essays would make sense as reading assignments in an English graduate-level course, but I couldn't get into them just for fun. The last few essays were much more interesting to me. I enjoyed th I enjoyed the last three essays in this book much more than the first few. Tolkien's analyses and arguments for his value of Beowulf and Sir Gawain came off to me pedantic and overly intellectual. His passion was clear, but I didn't find the narrow topics interesting enough for a general readership. These essays would make sense as reading assignments in an English graduate-level course, but I couldn't get into them just for fun. The last few essays were much more interesting to me. I enjoyed the historical linguistics that Tolkien employed to discuss Welsh and English, and the confession of his "Secret Vice" of creating languages was entertaining. I also thoroughly appreciated his discussion of "Lang" and "Lit" in the last essay. I recommend this book as a whole to fans of Tolkien only. The first part, I recommend to scholars of Old English and Middle English Lit. If you enjoy languages and bureaucratic debates within collegiate institutions, I recommend the last few essays. Overall, a satisfying read for someone who misses being in a classroom. It keeps my mind sharp, at the very least! Plus, I love Tolkien, no matter what. I'm a fan.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Justin Wiggins

    This essay compilation, edited by Tolkien's son Christopher Tolkien, was challenging, inspiring, and profoundly moving. I still remember the night I purchased my copy of this from Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford, England. My favorite essay (they are all good in their own right) is Tolkien's essay on fairy stories he gave as a lecture at St. Andrew' in Scotland in 1939. It is a powerful philosophical work that explores the phenomenon of human consciousness, myth, storytelling, and religion. J.R.R. This essay compilation, edited by Tolkien's son Christopher Tolkien, was challenging, inspiring, and profoundly moving. I still remember the night I purchased my copy of this from Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford, England. My favorite essay (they are all good in their own right) is Tolkien's essay on fairy stories he gave as a lecture at St. Andrew' in Scotland in 1939. It is a powerful philosophical work that explores the phenomenon of human consciousness, myth, storytelling, and religion. J.R.R.Tolkien gave the world some amazing works of literature such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. This book brings back some good memories of reading from it at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, England where Tolkien, Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, Warnie Lewis, and the other Inklings would get together to talk nonsense, literature, theology, and life experience over beer, tea, cider, and pipes.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Melora

    I picked this for the title essay, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," and also the one on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Those did Not disappoint, and "On Fairy-Stories" was also very good (I'd read it before, but it had been a while!). With the other essays in this collection, there was always Some interesting stuff, but also a fair lot that was either beyond my understanding (especially the case with "On Translating Beowulf," although, having just read Tolkien's newly released Beowulf, I picked this for the title essay, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," and also the one on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Those did Not disappoint, and "On Fairy-Stories" was also very good (I'd read it before, but it had been a while!). With the other essays in this collection, there was always Some interesting stuff, but also a fair lot that was either beyond my understanding (especially the case with "On Translating Beowulf," although, having just read Tolkien's newly released Beowulf, I really did enjoy this one) or simply not of much interest to me (particularly the "Valedictory Address"). Still, the good definitely outweighed the uninteresting here -- those top three essays are excellent.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gretchen

    Tolkien is brilliantly insightful on a level that few achieve. His knowledge of language and literature shines in these essays. The five star rating is for a literary scholar. For a fan only of Tolkien's fiction, this may or may not be interesting. But for anyone interested in Anglo Saxon or medieval lit, or in linguistic distinctions, this book is a treasure. Essays include an analysis of Beowulf as a poem, Gawain, the process of creating languages, and drawing distinctions within the disciplin Tolkien is brilliantly insightful on a level that few achieve. His knowledge of language and literature shines in these essays. The five star rating is for a literary scholar. For a fan only of Tolkien's fiction, this may or may not be interesting. But for anyone interested in Anglo Saxon or medieval lit, or in linguistic distinctions, this book is a treasure. Essays include an analysis of Beowulf as a poem, Gawain, the process of creating languages, and drawing distinctions within the discipline of literature. If anyone ever wanted to know where Tolkien got his ideas for his fantasy, this is a glimpse into his genius.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Snufkin

    As of yesterday I am a proud owner of this boxed set! Thank you local charity shop. It is a wonderful collection of his shorter, lighter tales. Whilst still having lots of depth. Tree and leaf is particularly wonderful.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Eadweard

    Fantastic essays, Tolkien's love for languages and myths permeates through all of them. I specially liked "Welsh and English". Fantastic essays, Tolkien's love for languages and myths permeates through all of them. I specially liked "Welsh and English".

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cyr

    This inclusion of "On Fairy-Stories" alone makes this collection worth having. That essay, with its unfortunate and uninspiring title, changed my life. I had always felt vaguely guilty that I was so drawn to fantasy literature, feeling almost that I was "cheating on reality", that I should be more in love with the real world than any fictional one. "On Fairy-Stories" helped cure me of that guilt, and see that the best myths can reveal the truth about the nature of the universe we live in better This inclusion of "On Fairy-Stories" alone makes this collection worth having. That essay, with its unfortunate and uninspiring title, changed my life. I had always felt vaguely guilty that I was so drawn to fantasy literature, feeling almost that I was "cheating on reality", that I should be more in love with the real world than any fictional one. "On Fairy-Stories" helped cure me of that guilt, and see that the best myths can reveal the truth about the nature of the universe we live in better than any "realistic book" can. This is even more true when one is a Christian. I know Christians who feel a book is nonsense and unprofitable if it has "unrealistic" elements, occurrences that they would not believe possible to happen in actual life. I'm not sure how they square that sentiment with a reverence of the Christian Bible, which of course contains giants and giant-killers, references to fantastic beasts, a Dragon, talking animals, miracles, ghosts, sorcery, visions of another world hidden from everyday view, and resurrection of the dead. As Tolkien points out, the story of humanity is the story of the supernatural piercing and penetrating the merely natural world and infusing it with meaning; the most shocking and significant event in the history of the universe, the descent of the eternal One, the Creator-Of-Everything down into creation as a lowly fleshly creature, was the most supernatural event of all. What can one call the Bible if not a Fairy-Tale? It has been dismissed as such by atheists and skeptics for centuries, but they're right - only the point is not that fairy-tales as such are false, stories of "things that can't and have never happened", but that fairy-tales are infinitely more true than stories in which the natural world is the only world, and "reality" is limited to the sort of everyday occurrences that we generally observe, that our lives mostly consist of. I shouldn't wholly neglect to mention "The Monsters and the Critics", an essay that is essential reading if you've ever read Beowulf, heard it lectured upon or spoken of in academic circles, or had contact with it any form.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lynne

    This review only covers the 1936 edition, which contained only this one lecture. It was given by an academic, to academics - have your facing-page translation of the poem handy, unless you already read Old English; also have your Latin dictionary and classical mythology references standing by. This is the original lecture that Tolkien gave to the British Academy about the effect of Beowulf on English literature through history, but especially in the 19th Century. His main focus is on how the cri This review only covers the 1936 edition, which contained only this one lecture. It was given by an academic, to academics - have your facing-page translation of the poem handy, unless you already read Old English; also have your Latin dictionary and classical mythology references standing by. This is the original lecture that Tolkien gave to the British Academy about the effect of Beowulf on English literature through history, but especially in the 19th Century. His main focus is on how the critics never seemed to look at Beowulf as a poem; instead focusing on whether it was historical or mythical, pagan or Christian. He analyses the poem as a poem, and why the poet was successful at his craft. He points out quite a bit of stuff previous critics have overlooked in their various analyses, and calls them out on it, especially their attitude towards the mythological elements - the monsters. There are Tolkien's notes at the end of the lecture, about various references and previous (to 1936) editions of the poem. This lecture became an enormous influence on future editions and translations of Beowulf, and is still a great influence on scholarship of the poem to this day - Google "impact of Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics" to see what I mean, if you're curious. Be prepared to read all day. Or you could read a more recent addition that has the translations included. But it was fun to read the original transcript published by the Oxford University Press. I enjoyed reading it, but it's dense enough that it took a while to get all the way through a mere 53 pages. I also enjoyed his excursions into humor, of the dry academic sort, but they made me chuckle.

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