Katharine Kerr February 27th, 2007
I subscribe to the (London) Times Literary Supplement, and in the 16 February issue there was an amazing statement made about JRR Tolkien’s work. Â A review of a bookÂ called IN SEARCH OF THE HOLY GRAIL: the quest for the Middle Ages, is titled “Away with the elves.”Â The book looks like a pretty standard work of “reception studies” –Â ie, a book about how our culture and others have viewed and reacted to a particular book, artwork, culture, whatever –Â focused onÂ various views of the European Middle Ages.Â Â The reviewer (Alex Burghart)Â makes an amazing mistake, one apparently shared by the author, Veronica Orgenberg.Â Â I say apparently in her case because I’ve not read the book, and the reviewer may well have got it wrong.
Anyway, the gaffe: they think that Tolkien’s works are set in the Middle Ages.Â Haven’t they read LotR?Â Or even THE HOBBIT?Â Burghart even says that those who “buy into” Tolkien’s stories “rarely go on to read medieval history.”Â Â Why would they?Â I can only assume that Burghart (and perhaps Otenberg as well) have never read Tolkien, or if they have, they’ve done so very badly.
Tolkien’s work takes place in that great Never-When of mythology, of course.Â If those who read “go on” to any field of study, it would be mythology, folklore, or linguistics.Â If we had to assign it a time period from “real” history, it would have to be Iron Age, I suppose — long before the Roman Empire, long long LONG before the Christianity that marked the European Medieval world.Â But it doesn’t fit in the Iron Age, either — in fact, one could pick the world apart and assign different cultures to different points in time.Â One could, but the exercise would be meaningless.
I do wish that people who criticize Tolkien would read the books first.Â If nothing else, good scholarship demands it.