The Keys of Middle-Earth: Discovering Medieval Literature through the Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien

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Tolkien and Lewis: Literary Analysis

Tolkien mollifies readers from either disposition. The authors, Stuart D. However, Lee and Solopova are quick to assure that they do not intend to imply that the medieval texts included in their book were the direct sources for Tolkien's fiction.

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Instead Lee and Solopova describe their goals: "To many, this world [of medieval literature] remains forever hidden, held secret within academic research libraries and universities. And to some, who have been exposed to this world full of strange stories of men and women living long ago, told in even stranger languages, this world is both bewildering and daunting.

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Yet this is the arena in which Tolkien's imagination roamed, a world to which he devoted most of his life. The Keys of Middle-earth , therefore, is aimed at unlocking that world" 4. Thus The Keys of Middle-earth can be described as a medieval source-book, not as a book of Tolkien's sources. True to their goal, the bulk of The Keys of Middle-earth is devoted to introductory material.


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Lee and Solopova both have doctorates in medieval literature, edit medieval texts, and teach medieval literature. Their ability to introduce the complexities of medieval languages, texts and manuscripts, and vernacular poetics in accessible prose free of scholarly jargon is admirable and is a good model for any instructor of undergraduates or non-specialists. With lucid ease they discuss the problems of determining the author, date, and place of composition for many medieval texts in the general introduction and later more specifically with regard to each text.

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The introductory section concludes with five essays outlining thematic and technical parallels between medieval literature and Tolkien's fiction, namely the theme of the quest, genre of epic, use of runes, alliterative verse, and importance of names. These essays share the virtues of being both concise and nuanced. Their methodology follows a consistent organization: each section begins with a summary of the events referred to in Tolkien's books and an introduction to the medieval text, including its language and the history of its manuscript transmission.

Next Lee and Solopova analyze relationships between Tolkien's work and the medieval text. Then the medieval text is presented in its original language with a translation in modern English on the facing page These translations are original to this book. I particularly appreciate that they maintain poetic lines in their translations of the medieval poetry.

Students tend to forget they are reading a poem when translations are presented as prose. The editions of the texts with facing page translations alone would make this book a valuable resource for students. The introductory commentaries on the Old English, Middle English, and Old Norse literature highlight their thematic, generic, linguistic, and aesthetic parallels with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While many of the parallels were first noted and discussed by Tom Shippey and others, Lee and Solopova offer particularly intriguing discussions of the fight at Balin's Tomb at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring with The Fight at Finnsburg and the "Cynewulf and Cyneheard" episode.

Another original contribution is their analysis of the similarities between Tolkien's description of the mumakil or war elephants of the Haradrim in The Return of the King and AElfric's description of elephants in his Homily on the Maccabees.

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Elizabeth Solopova

The texts of the Old English poems are based on those in Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records although punctuation has been altered to correspond with the translations. The excerpt of Sir Orfeo is based on the text in the fourteenth-century Auchinleck mansucript National Library, Edinburgh, Advocates Synopsis About this title The Keys of Middle-Earth introduces the reader to the world of medieval literature through the fiction of J.

Review : '[The Keys of Middle Earth] provides a wide range of texts with insightful introductions and commentary on each of the texts that have been chosen for elucidation. Holmes, Notes and Queries "About this title" may belong to another edition of this title. Learn more about this copy. Other Popular Editions of the Same Title.

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Search for all books with this author and title. Customers who bought this item also bought. Stock Image. Tolkien Lee, Stuart D. Used Hardcover Quantity Available: 7. Seller Rating:.


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