Why are dragons afraid of Americans?

The chief business of an essayist — I speak here of the kind of essayist that I occasionally manage to be, and that better men than I are sometimes reduced to when not at their best — is to tilt at windmills. The second greatest delight such an essayist can know is to tilt at a windmill, in the full knowledge and expectation that it is really a windmill, and that he shall end by making a quixotic fool of himself, and discover in the heat of combat that it is only a giant after all. [Read more…]

The road less travelled by goes ever on

Long ago, I have read, Irving Berlin offered the young and struggling George Gershwin a job as his musical secretary, for the then princely wage of a hundred dollars a week. ‘But don’t take the job,’ said Berlin. ‘If you do, you may develop into a second-rate Berlin. But if you insist on being yourself, someday you’ll become a first-rate Gershwin.’

In the five years since Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings began to be released, there has been a fresh outpouring of critical, academic, and fannish writing dissecting, rehashing, and expanding upon every facet of Tolkien’s work. Probably no other author since Joyce has been subjected to such torrential inquiry; perhaps none since Dickens. If the flow continues a few years longer, Tolkienology may end up second in volume only to the endless study of Shakespeare.

Not all of this outpouring is wasted ink, and some of it is work of exceptional brilliance and inspirational value. I had a flash of insight — even I get flashes of insight from time to time — when I read Tom Shippey’s excellent and audacious Tolkien: Author of the Century. The Afterword on ‘The Followers and the Critics’ changed the whole focus of my thinking with respect to my own work specifically and fantasy in general. [Read more…]