Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Monster and the Critics by J. R. R. Tolkien

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.

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