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Anderson, Douglas A. Tales before Tolkien.

ANDERSON, Douglas A. Tales before Tolkien. Random House, Ballantine, Del Rey. 432p. c2003. 0345458559. $14.95. SA The purpose of this book is to dispel the notion that "fantasy begins with J.R.R. Tolkien." Anderson, editor of The Annotated Hobbit, correctly observes that fantasy is present in the Iliad, the Odyssey, Beowulf, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, among other works. Tolkien, an Oxford professor who specialized in medieval literatures, clearly drew upon a rich literary tradition to the point "that there exists almost a dividing line between fantasy written before Tolkien and fantasy written afterward."

Anderson contends, "to better appreciate Tolkien's achievement one needs to better understand Tolkien's own roots and the roots of modern fantasy." To that end, this anthology presents the reader with 22 selections, arranged chronologically. Anderson used the following selection criteria: each work must have been written before the publication of The Hobbit in 1937; each writer must have been born at least five years before Tolkien (1892-1973). Some of the stories have specific connections to the work of Tolkien; some are Tolkienian even though it is unlikely Tolkien knew of them; some are clearly works Tolkien would not have known.

Each selection is preceded by head notes in which Anderson provides some brief background on the author, possible links to the work of Tolkien, and publication information. For example, the first selection, "The Elves" by Ludwig Tieck, is considered one of the best German "literary fairy tales" and its influence on Tolkien is "very evident." The last selection, "A Christmas Play" by David Lindsay, is a work that has never been published previously although Tolkien is noted to have read Lindsay's novel, A Voyage to Arcturus, "with avidity." Although brief, Anderson's remarks are informative and thoughtful.

In presenting background on Austin Tappan Wright, Anderson notes that "in scope and in detail his history of Islandia rivals Tolkien's own creation of Middle-earth," although it is clear that Tolkien never read Wright's work. It is equally clear that Tolkien did not know of the work of Kenneth Morris but that "he would have appreciated Morris's deft evoking of the religion of the Vikings" in "The Regent of the North." Anderson also observes "how easily war gives rise to fantasy in Arthur Machen's 'The Coming of the Terror'" as well as in the works of Tolkien. This collection serves the dual function of illuminating the sources of Tolkien's inspiration and providing easy access to a number of excellent stories by largely unknown writers. Anthony Pucci, English Dept. Chair., Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY
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Author:Pucci, Anthony
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2004
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