Facts on File, an award-winning publisher for the school and library market, is releasing a new book on Tolkien due to hit shelves in August 2011. It is titled Critical Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien. It is written by Jay Ruud, who is a professor of English and Chair of the English department at the University of Central Arkansas, and former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Northern State University. His area of specialization is medieval literature.
I took a few minutes to ask Professor Ruud some questions about this upcoming book.
Can you give me a general overview of the approach you are taking in the book on Tolkien criticism?
The book follows the format of the Facts on File “Critical Companions” series. That is, it begins with a biography of the author, then gives synopses of and commentaries on his works, and ends with an “additional entries” section which contains short encyclopedia-like entries on a variety of things, including people, places and events in Tolkien’s life as well as aspects of his legendarium. The end of the book includes a chronology of Tolkien’s life and woks, an annotated list of major Tolkien web sites, and a bibliography of Tolkien’s published works and secondary works about him consulted in the composition of the book.
What is the intended readership?
The book is intended for high school students and teachers, for public libraries, but also for college undergraduates beginning to study Tolkien. I would say that the vocabulary of the book is intentionally on a high school level, but that the ideas in the book are dealt with on a level that would not be inappropriate for an undergraduate college classroom.
What is your personal connection to Tolkien? For example, when did you first read one of his books? Do you teach a critical Tolkien or fantasy class?
I became a fan of Tolkien when I first read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in high school in the 1960s. I’ve occasionally taught Tolkien, most often the Hobbit, in introductory literature classes. I’ve also made scholarly presentations on Tolkien at medieval conferences, and have published an article on Saruman, Gandalf, and rhetoric in the journal Mythlore.
What need do you feel you are addressing in Tolkien criticism?
As a reference work, This text is certainly less thorough than Scull and Hammond’s 2-volume Companion and Guide or Drout’s Tolkien Encyclopedia. Where it stands out, I think, is in the thorough summaries and commentaries—each significant event of every chapter is detailed and discussed, so I don’t think there is a better companion for somebody actually reading the works for the first or even the second or third times.
How deep into the canon does your Companion go? Do you source/discuss the History of Middle-earth, for example?
The section of Tolkien’s works contains entries not only on Tolkien’s creative works, but also on all of his scholarly publications and his published poems. The volumes of the History of Middle-earth, as well as Unfinished Tales, are included in a separate section that is chiefly descriptive rather than interpretive.
Can you give some examples of your secondary sources you used when working on this book?
I’ve looked at, and cited, a number of scholarly articles concerning Tolkien. There are more than 100 items in my secondary bibliography, mostly by important Tolkien experts like Humphrey Carpenter, Tom Shippey, Jane Chance, Wayne G. Hammond, Christina Scull, Verlyn Flieger, Michael D.C. Drout, John Garth, and the like. I’ve also made extensive use of Tolkien’s own letters.