Evolution Of Tolkien's Mythology: A Study of the History of Middle-earth
by Elizabeth A. Whittingham
Edited by Donald E. Palumbo & C.W. Sullivan III
Review by The Wombat
McFarland Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780786432813
Date: 24 September 2007 List Price $35.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The monograph The Evolution of Tolkien's Mythology by Elizabeth A. Whittingham and subtitled A Study of the History Of Middle-earth looks at Tolkien's life, his works and their development over the many years during which Tolkien wrote and rewrote his mythological construct, including The Lord of the Rings, and the many influences and sources for his universe. Dr. Whittingham is a lecturer at SUNY Brockport. She earned her B.A. at Robert Wesleyan College, her M.A. at SUNY Brockport and her Ph.D. at SUNY Buffalo. She has written and presented many papers associated with the works of JRR Tolkien.
In Chapter 1, "Influences in Tolkien's Life," Whittingham explores such influences as his early losses and blessings, friendship and war, his life in a basically male only society, CS Lewis, the Inklings, being a husband and father and storyteller, and how he desired to create a myth for England.
In Chapter 2, "Tolkien's Mythology of Creation," she compares and contrasts mythological and biological cosmogonies with Tolkien's cosmogony and how it changes over the course of Tolkien's life. In particular, she notes how Tolkien removes a storytelling framework and develops a tripartite creation model more similar to what is found in the Bible.
In Chapter 3, "Tolkien's Mythology of Divine Beings," Whittingham compares and contrasts mythological gods, goddesses and biblical angels with Tolkien's hierarchy of divine beings. She notes the many changes Tolkien makes over the 40 years he wrote and rewrote, how he viewed them, as well as the changes of Tolkien's concept of the feminine in his mythology.
In Chapter 4, "The Physical World Of Middle-earth and of Eä," she looks at mythological and biblical cosmologies and how Tolkien took these cosmologies and created his own unique vision, which tended to change, and was never resolved, as with much of what he wrote over the years. This included Tolkien's struggles with the concept of a flat world, versus one that is round.
In Chapter 5, "Death and Mortality Among Elves and Men," the longest chapter in the book, Whittingham takes us through various struggles that Tolkien has with this concept. While Elves are immortal and Men not, their destinations at the end of the "World" appear to be different. At various stages in his life and writing Tolkien varies his approach to this concept. Tolkien has to deal not only with life-and-death, but reincarnation and afterlife. In addition, she points out Tolkien's struggle to match up his story with his Catholic beliefs.
In Chapter 6, "The Last Days of Middle-earth," she explores Tolkien's concept eucatastrophe along with mythological and biblical eschatologies. How Tolkien's universe struggles against reoccurring defeat with a great hope of a healed world in the end.
In Chapter 7, "The Final Victory," Whittingham discusses the diverse forces that help shape the changes as well as the end result of Tolkien's mythology. In particular, the effect of the publication of The Lord of the Rings had on his writing. Tolkien was forced to confront the contradictions in his "history" and explore further his philosophical attitudes toward religion. He also needed to add and explore material brought up by The Lord of the Rings. How over the years, Tolkien moved away from a Norse concept of the universe, and much closer to that of his deeply held Christian beliefs. How, despite reoccurring defeats, he held out the great hope of an end, which was much better and glorious.
This book is quite accessible and as with other academic books on Tolkien, and this is an academic book, one feels that maybe an additional 20 college courses in languages, mythology, theology, etc. would be quite useful. Ms. Whittingham has brought together, in a concise manner too, many factors that influenced Tolkien's writings. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, though it highlighted the many deficiencies in my educational past. If you enjoyed the historical aspects of The Lord of the Rings, as I did and do, I believe, you'll enjoy this book.
I experience great joy and a little sadness when I visit in Middle-earth. I think you will enjoy this book and find pleasure in maybe a little joy in exploring how the world of Middle-earth and universe in which it exists came about.