T.A. Shippey – J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

  Author: T.A. Shippey
Title: J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century
Date read: 10 November to 25 November
Published: 2000
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 347 pages
Genre: Non-fiction
Why I picked it up: Interested in Tolkien
Rating: 4 stars
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I set this post up to be a ‘full’ blog post, but I really don’t have too much to say on this book! I did enjoy it;  I found much of the book to have a fresh perspective, particularly as I haven’t read too much analysis of Tolkien’s work (primarily just The History of the Hobbit). For example, the passage about Baggins as bourgeois and the comparison between that word and burglar, and the description of the ‘modern business’ aspects of Bilbo and the dwarves’ deal, provided a perspective on those aspects of the stories I never really considered before. I also enjoyed the afterwards of the book, in which Shippey considers Tolkien’s imitators but also considers what they don’t imitate, such as language-building and the interlacing storylines. it’s easy to pick out what gets most often imitated (such as races) but I had never thought about imitators in terms of what they don’t imitate, and I think that’s a great thing to think about because it goes to show just how unique and skilled Tolkien was.

I did find the segment ‘The Ironies of Interlace’ about LotR very interesting. Because I had seen the movies before the books, I was familiar with the general plot and wasn’t too surprised my any of the major events while reading the books. However, Shippey examines how the different threads of the story are carefully interlaced and presented to the reader, so that, for example, the reader does not know if Frodo and Sam are alright when reading about Aragorn and co. approaching Mordor. There are even more subtle examples of this careful intertwining, where the characters do not know something but the reader does or one timeline is five days behind another timeline. I’m not doing a very good job at describing this, but Shippey does a great job at explaining this and how there is likely no author today who could pull off such grand scheming. I thought it interesting to consider – what would it have been like to read the books and not know how the plot went? It’s unfortunate that I missed that opportunity, but they still make for a great read! 😛

All in all, a good little read, especially for someone like me, who has enjoyed Tolkien’s works and wants to learn more.