William Ready, The Tolkien Relation (Warner, 1968)
[originally posted 16May2000]
“Remarkable insight,” says the Chicago Star-Tribune, but I’m hard-pressed to find it. I’d be more forgiving of the many shortcomings of Ready’s critical look at Tolkien (published in America as Understanding Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, a misnomer if ever there was one); collections of essays, since the essays were written at different times, for different audiences, in different frames of mind, usually have a center of gravity somewhat removed from full-length critical studies. And the former is what this feels like, though it purports to be the latter. Ready mixes snatches of biography, criticism, and personal insight into something that wants to be a critical (overly?) look at The Lord of the Rings. While “a critical look at the Lord of the Rings” is far too large a scope for a volume this slim (ninety-six pages) in the first place, the tangents upon which Ready embarks, everything from Tolkien’s abduction by a family servant as a child in South Africa to minor discourses on “Father Giles of Ham” (I always thought that was “Farmer Giles”?) and “Leaf and Niggle,” make me wonder if this wasn’t a five-hundred-page dissertation that got boiled down into something Warner was hoping would hold the attention span of the average well-baked college student in 1968. If so, it’s a miserable failure on all fronts there as well, because Ready’s language is that of the critic, and it’s hard enough to read when you’re sober and paying attention.
Insight? No. Worthwhile? Not really; other, longer, separate works cover biography, criticism, and personal insight much better than this. Worth going out of your way to find? Certainly not. * ½