Saturday, July 7, 2012


I have been doing some reading, albeit not as much as I ought to be doing, in the hopes of getting some paper ideas together.  It had not been going entirely well (as I think I may have mentioned), but today, I was able to get some work done on one idea that has been clamoring for release from the dark and depraved confines of my head into the significantly brighter confines of the page.  I am pleased by the development, and I mean to follow up on it.  If I can make things work, or get them to work, the way I want them to, I will be in good shape.

But I am not going to talk about that paper.  Instead, I'll talk about something only barely tangentially related to it, and that through more removes than Hollywood is from Kevin Bacon (on average, maybe).*  No, I am going to talk about something that occurred to me when I was reading Vladimir Brljak's "The Books of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metafictionist" (Tolkien Studies 7 [2010]: 1-34).  In the article, Brljak traces changes in Tolkien's conception of the Middle-earth narrative arc as a redaction from a received translation of older histories and asserts that the metafictional narrative--that is, the frame of the tale as the redaction--serves to highlight the unattainability of the story, simultaneously making it a valid work of sub-creation and reinforcing the removal of the sub-creation for the observable reality of the readership.  Brljak employs a substantial amount of textual evidence from the primary Middle-earth narrative arc (The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings) and from subsidiary sources (namely the History of Middle-earth series) to support his point, doing a fair job of it, although there is certainly more that could be done.

As I read Brljak's article, I was struck by the parallels between what he identifies as the presentation of the metanarrative frame within The Lord of the Rings and that identified as being present in the excellently-named Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.  On my bookshelf, I have a translated edition of the text (my Latin is really rusty, okay) carried out by Michael A. Faletra.  He remarks, as others have, on the Galfiridian comment that the History is a translation of a yet older text given him by another scholar (15); in the translation, the comment appears in the second paragraph of the dedicatory epistle (41).  In discussing the gift from the older scholar, Walter, Faletra notes that, if the book exists, it "contained not the continuous narrative that Geoffrey presents but a collection of miscellaneous historical materials" (15).  Faletra has more to say, as might be expected, and I have been interested in it for other reasons, but those other reasons are not what I want to address now.

It was the assertion of the likely-never-to-be-found-because-likely-never-existing book from Walter as a collection of diverse accounts and bits of lore, to which Brljak's depiction of Tolkien's metafictional frame struck me as parallel.  Just as Faletra is skeptical that Walter's book will ever emerge (21), Brljak reminds his readers--who are presumably also Tolkien's--that there is no actual Red Book (the source-text identified in The Lord of the Rings as being the ultimate source of its narrative) (9).  Just as Faletra asserts that Geoffrey "was dealing with a surplus of information and that he added, deleted, compressed, embellished, and rearranged" it (21), Brljak notes that "the most drastic of the quantitative changes [to the narrative of The Lord of the Rings from the metafictional Red Book] were those of subtraction" (10) and that qualitiative changes were necessary to take the text from its partial origin in diaries to a third-person narrative that encompassed more action and information than that to which the characters who contributed most to that narrative could provide (11-13).  And just as Brljak asserts that "A key element in Tolkien's fiction is an elaborate metafiction...about the way in which parts of a heterogeneous 'chronicle' came to be transformed into literary narratives" (21), Faletra asserts that Geoffrey gives us "history, as we might put it today, as literature" (30).  In the views of both critics, both texts employ their presentations of themselves as reworked from earlier sources to secure a hold on the reader's imagination, thereby securing for themselves something approaching permanence.

I am certain that more can be done regarding the two critical commentaries, and I may, in time, return to them.  But for now, I will point out only that if Brljak and Faletra as correct in their assertions as I think they are, we have one more point of correspondence between Tolkien's work and Arthurian literature--and there is some work to do in that line of inquiry.

*The link is where it is on purpose.  I promise.

Works Cited
~Brljak, Vladimir. "The Books of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metaficitonist." Tolkien Studies 7 (2010): 1-34. Project Muse. Web. 21 June 2012.
~Faletra, Michael A. Introduction. The History of the Kings of Britain. By Geoffrey of Monmouth. Ed. and trans. Michael A. Faletra. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview, 2008. Print. 8-34.
~Geoffrey of Monmouth.  The History of the Kings of Britain. Ed. and trans. Michael A. Faletra. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview, 2008. Print.

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