Academic journal article Mythlore

In the Nameless Wood: Explorations in the Philological Hinterland of Tolkien's Literary Creations

Academic journal article Mythlore

In the Nameless Wood: Explorations in the Philological Hinterland of Tolkien's Literary Creations

Article excerpt

IN THE NAMELESS WOOD: EXPLORATIONS IN THE PHILOLOGICAL HINTERLAND OF TOLKIEN'S LITERARY CREATIONS. J.S. Ryan. Edited by Peter Buchs. Zurich and Jena: Walking Tree Publishers, 2013. Cormare Series. No. 30. xv + 365p. US $24.30 ISBN 978-3-905703-30-6.

WALKING TREE PUBLISHERS HAVE FOLLOWED THEIR 2009 publication of the first volume of Professor J.S. Ryan's essays, Tolkien's View: Windows into his World, with this second volume of twenty-three essays edited by Peter Buchs. As with the first volume, Walking Tree should be applauded for their work with Professor Ryan-one of the few living Tolkien scholars and writers who had a personal connection with J.R.R. Tolkien. Ryan studied with Tolkien at the School of English at Oxford University, and throughout both volumes of essays Ryan indicates (usually in the many and not-to-be-skipped-over footnotes!) that he is drawing his observations and conclusions from past personal communication with Tolkien, either one-on-one conversations or the lectures Tolkien gave at Oxford. In this sense alone, this collection of essays are invaluable to the Tolkien reader and scholar in gaining a closer insight into Tolkien's thoughts on certain key narrative and philological ideas. However, added to this are Ryan's own insights from his years of exploring how Tolkien's primary world academic and philological studies inspired the development and themes of his own mythology.

As with the first volume, many of the essays in this volume have appeared previously in various now hard-to-find journals and publications. As the subtitle of this volume suggests, each of these essays are explorations into the philological hinterland of Tolkien's literary creation. Ryan digs deep into the etymological truth behind one particular word or group of related words, and by doing so offers the readers speculative suggestions as to where Tolkien may have derived a specific name or concept. These suggestions are also backed up with a wealth of source information (again, usually in the not-to-be-passed-over footnotes) that direct the reader to texts that Tolkien would have studied in his formative years. The editor of this volume, Peter Buchs, indicates in the introduction that many of these works are now online and can be accessed by students for further exploration.

This volume consists of a prequel essay, "'The Nameless Wood' and 'The Narrow Path'" (based on a speech Ryan gave at a Mythopoeic Conference in New South Wales in 1986) and then four thematic sections of essays: 1 1

1. The Ancient Middle East and Its Associations (5 essays)

2. Romano-British Lydney and Its Remarkable Importance for Tolkien's CEuvre (4 essays)

3. The North and West Germanic Tradition and Christianity (9 essays)

4. Twentieth Century Oxford & England (3 essays)

The volume concludes with an original essay, "J.R.R. Tolkien and the Ancrene Riwle, or Two Fine and Courteous Mentors to Women's Spirits."

Ryan's method of applying combined textual and linguistic analysis to Tolkien's literary creation can be seen in full flow in the 'prequel' essay "'The Nameless Wood' and 'The Narrow Path,'" which takes the reader on a journey through the dark and nameless forest of the Ancient East, the Myrkvithr of Old Germanic tales. Along the way Ryan makes some interesting observations on the role of the forest as a liminal place between that which is safe and that which is the place of the other-the woodland realm inhabited by unknown forces, dragons, 'woodwoses,' and outlaws. Ryan analyses the old Germanic word wait, which meant both 'wood or forest' and 'wilderness, uninhabited place.' Ryan uses this depiction of the forest to explore textual, philological, and metaphysical ideas around the concept of barriers and the passage from one land to another or from the world of reality to a more dangerous and ominous outer one (4). This rather dense and intriguing analysis includes an interlude at The Forest of Dean which Ryan suggests, based on anecdotes that were going around Merton College in the 1950 and 1960s, was the inspiration for all the forest and forest-themed notions in Tolkien's life (13). …

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