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A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to…
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A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to Faerie (1997)

by Verlyn Flieger

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1012183,820 (4.03)3
J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Silmarillion have long been recognized as among the most popular fiction of the twentieth century, and most critical analysis of Tolkien has centered on these novels.  Granted access by the Tolkien estate and the Bodleian Library in Oxford to Tolkien's unpublished writings, Verlyn Flieger uses them here to shed new light on his better known works, revealing a new dimension of his fictive vision and giving added depth of meaning to his writing. Tolkien's concern with time--past and present, real and "faerie"--captures the wonder and peril of travel into other worlds, other times, other modes of consciousness.  Reading his work, we "fall wide asleep" into a dream more real than ordinary waking experience, and emerge with a new perception of the waking world.  Flieger explores Tolkien's use of dream as time-travel in his unfinished stories The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers as well as in The Lord of the Rings and his shorter fiction and poetry. Analyzing Tolkien's treatment of time and time-travel, Flieger shows that he was not just a mythmaker and writer of escapist fantasy but a man whose relationship to his own century was troubled and critical.  He achieved in his fiction a double perspective of time that enabled him to see in the mirror of the past the clouded reflection of the present.… (more)

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Verlyn Flieger is one of the great Tolkien scholars, with a wealth of knowledge that has enriched many students of the maker of Middle-earth. But in this one case, I think Flieger has gone somewhat astray. I don't think Flieger understands Faërie.

This is not a rare thing. Faërie is the land of folklore -- but folklore has moved away from it. Our society as a whole dropped the medieval Romance -- until Tolkien himself successfully revived the genre. These days, we don't read The Franklin's Tale or Sir Orfeo; we read Agatha Christie or F. Scott Fitzgerald -- novels, not romances; stories of people, not motifs. Even the ballads show this trend -- the supernatural is key to "Thomas Rymer" or "Tam Lin," very old songs indeed, or even to a murder ballad like "The Twa Sisters" (where a murdered girl's corpse becomes a musical instrument that tells the tale of her murder). But newer ballads of murder just tell of "bloody knives" or poison, or if two lovers are separated, it's not because of a Woman of the Elves, it's because one of the lovers' mothers doesn't want X, who doesn't have any money, marrying her precious child!

Flieger looks at the effects of time, but I don't think you can understand time in Faërie unless you hear of Thomas the Rhymer being taken away by the Queen of Elfland, and returned after a long stay that takes almost no time. Or of Sir Orfeo watching Heurodis being captivated (in the true sense: taken captive) by the King of Faërie beneath a "ympe tree" where worlds cross, and riding in the King's hunt until Orfeo's music wins her release. Tolkien knew. Tolkien saw the barren lands left by the ancient plagues; he dreamed of the water sweeping all before it; he knew how thin was the line between our world and... that other world. (No, that other world does not really exist, but it lives in our hearts and our folktales.)

Of course I can't prove I'm right. Flieger knows more about Tolkien's life and works than I do. But where she sees allegory, or at least "applicability," I see the themes that went into so many folktales, because they speak to some ancient yearning in us -- a yearning that Tolkien so brilliantly captured. I can't help but think that this book is too modern a take on an ancient mystery. ( )
  waltzmn | Nov 10, 2017 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2540819.html

This is another of Flieger's lucid explorations of Tolkien's thought, this time looking at his interpretation of Time, as evidenced both by the time distortions experienced by visitors to the fairy realm (be it the Fellowship in Lothlórien or Smith when he leaves Wootton Major) and by the prophetic dreams revealed to many of his characters, Frodo most of all. This is all tied in very nicely with the received wisdom of time-travel between the wars - I must admit I tend to think of it in terms of Wells and Doctor Who, vessels voyaging through the timelines, but there is also the tradition of Dunne and Priestley, which Tolkien was much more comfortable with and which reached its peak in his unpublished The Notion Club Papers. This book, slim as it is, will be a lot more comprehensible if you've already absorbed the huge volumes of the History of Middle Earth. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Nov 1, 2015 |
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Epigraph
And see ye not yon bonny road
  That winds about yon fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
  Where thou and I this nght maun gae.
    --"Thomas Rymer"
 
...certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of "exile."
    --J. R. R. R. Tolkien
 
And as he were of faierie
He scheweth him tofore here yhe.
    --John Gower, Confession Amantis
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J. R. R. Tolkien's academic career spanned a period of nearly forty years, from his first appointment in 1920 as Reader in English Language at Leeds University until his 1959 retirement from the position of Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford.
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J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Silmarillion have long been recognized as among the most popular fiction of the twentieth century, and most critical analysis of Tolkien has centered on these novels. Granted access by the Tolkien estate and the Bodleian Library in Oxford to Tolkien's unpublished writings, Verlyn Flieger uses them here to shed new light on his better known works, revealing a new dimension of his fictive vision and giving added depth of meaning to his writing.

Tolkien's concern with time past and present, real and faerie captures the wonder and peril of travel into other worlds, other times, other modes of consciousness. Reading his work, we fall wide asleep into a dream more real than ordinary waking experience, and emerge with a new perception of the waking world. Flieger explores Tolkien's use of dream as time-travel in his unfinished stories The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers as well as in The Lord of the Rings and his shorter fiction and poetry.

Analyzing Tolkien's treatment of time and time-travel, Flieger shows that he was not just a mythmaker and writer of escapist fantasy but a man whose relationship to his own century was troubled and critical. He achieved in his fiction a double perspective of time that enabled him to see in the mirror of the past the clouded reflection of the present. [retrieved 7/29/2015 from Amazon.com]
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