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Book Reviews / British, Irish, and Postcolonial Literatures
review cannot justly illustrate the suggestiveness of Lewis's work: there is much to think about here, and more to be written about modernism and religious experience. At points underlying premises could be more explicit (particularly regarding the significance of biography) or fuller discussion beneficial. It matters that churchgoing scenes typically immerse characters whose beliefs are indeterminate or Protestant in monumental Catholic edifices, and juxtaposing Joyce and a thinker from a Catholic milieu with the other figures studied here could be of interest. These are minor concerns, however, about a book that should prove to be very influential.


Stacy Burton
University of Nevada, Reno 

Dimitra Fimi. Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits. New York: Palgrave, 2009. ix + 240 pp.
In Tolkien, Race and Cultural History, Dimitra Fimi traces the development of J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium from its conception through its partial realization in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and beyond to Christopher Tolkien's posthumous publication of his father's manuscripts and notes. Fimi's main concern is to explore the correspondences and contradictions between Tolkien's personal and professional development in light of the shifts in philosophical, cultural, and scientific thinking taking place around him in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras through his death in 1973. Enlarged, Fimi views her project as "a case study for comparative research between fiction and biography, and the ways in which such comparisons can be mutually illuminating." While acknowledging the slipperiness of biographical analysis, she convincingly reasons that Tolkien's "endless documentation of how he viewed his own work and its meaning" in letters, essays, and the like supports the relevance of such an analysis (7). Fimi makes excellent use of all of the materials Tolkien left behind, which she deftly intertwines with her historical and literary research to provide an exhaustive, interesting, and original look at his legendarium, both as a whole and in the fragments of its evolution. Tolkien, Race and Cultural History is a model of clarity and organization, being divided into three main sections that logically unfold to analyze Tolkien's process, from "How It All Began" to "Ideal Beings, Ideal Languages" and finally "From Myth to History." In part 1


Fimi seeks to establish the "central" position of the elves in Tolkien's mythology for providing "a viewpoint from which deep human questions are explored through a Secondary World" (10). Using his early poems, as well as The Book of Lost Tales and his children's stories as her primary texts, Fimi considers how Tolkien's earliest thinking about fairy beings transforms from an "imitation of ancient myths . . . into a spiritual and theological goal" (11). Here her work takes into account Tolkien's personal theology and "admiration" for the Finnish Kalevala (53), as well as the English impulse toward having a "national mythology" (51), which brought folklore and fairies to the forefront of his society at a time when his "mythological project" began to take root in his mind (53). Throughout her study Fimi emphasizes Tolkien's famous love of language, but in part 2 she really hones in on the relationship between Tolkien's construction of original languages and his subcreation of "Ideal Beings" (63). Here Fimi's line of inquiry becomes especially innovative, yet troublesome, as she wonders about the validity of accepting Tolkien's "often reproduced . . . claims that the languages came first and the mythology followed" (64). Fimi's basis for looking at these "claims" more critically is that Tolkien's earliest writing—prior to his invention of his elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin—included "'fairy' subject matter" that was "later incorporated into the mythology" (65). While this argument remains valid, one might point out that just because Tolkien's early work focused on Faerie does not absolutely mean that his later, most important work was not begun as a result of the language construction that more immediately preceded it. Also, to support her proposition that the languages may not have come first, Fimi points to Tolkien's "distinct motive for mythmaking," his interest to provide his country with a mythology "as opposed to just providing his invented languages with a world where they could exist" (66). Again, this makes sense, but it is necessary to emphasize that for Tolkien the languages would be a major—if not the most crucial—part of mythology construction, and once created, could have provided the impetus for him to believe himself capable of such a project. So even if the idea for a mythology emerged foremost in his mind, devising the languages may have been his real first step toward its realization. Recognizing these possibilities, Fimi's exploration leads her to conclude "that language and mythmaking did begin independently, but became interconnected very early in Tolkien's career as a writer. . . . Myth-making gave Tolkien's languages their deep inner meaning and significance" (66–67). Part 3 offers perhaps the most intriguing thread of Fimi's study as she considers how Tolkien's "ideas and writings of the 1930s came

Book Reviews / British, Irish, and Postcolonial Literatures
to fruition" as part of a "gradual change of focus from myth to history" (121). In chapter 9, Fimi addresses an often-overlooked facet of Tolkien's legendarium, his creation of "A Hierarchical World" and its implications for the author's own historical moment. Rightly assessing the centrality of men in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a new facet of Tolkien's thinking, Fimi sketches nineteenth- and twentieth-century theories of race with which he would most likely have been familiar. For Fimi a contradiction exists between Tolkien's public rejection of the kind of racial prejudice associated with Nazism (135–40) and his hierarchical organization of "fair-skinned 'races' of men in Middle Earth who are invariably on the good side" and the "Men of Darkness," most of whom fight on the side of evil (146). Fimi does not explicitly acknowledge here that in The Lord of the Rings "darkness" need not (and often does not) refer to skin color. Rather, light and dark operate as signifiers of goodness or its absence. Hearkening back to Melkor's theft of the Silmarils, the gems that house the light of the Trees of Valinor in the Silmarillion, Sauron and his Black Land are "dark" in the sense that they lack things that are of the light, that is, belief, joy, imagination, and perhaps most importantly, diversity. Sauron's One Ring is designed to bind all beings into one faceless entity. Sauron denies the notion of race because he denies the notion of difference, while the rest of Middle-earth consists of diverse peoples who must learn how to accept each other if they are to defeat Sauron. While Fimi overlooks this distinction, she helpfully exonerates Tolkien from "the charge of racism" on other grounds. First, because "literature has its own internal rules," Tolkien would be devising his peoples according to the "conventions and norms" of Middle-earth. Second, since her study is historical, Fimi is obligated to assess Tolkien's approach to race based on the values of his own time, not on those of the twenty-first century (157). For the scholar, the high fantasy aficionado, or the avid fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Fimi's study is both sophisticated and accessible. In particular, the book contributes to Tolkien studies, as well as to cultural and mythopoeic studies, because Fimi takes Tolkien's work in its entirety, as a legendarium, illuminating his creative process and its outcome in terms of how they may have been shaped by his response to outside forces in his lifetime. Such an approach cannot help but further solidify Tolkien's credibility within academia, which quite deservedly continues to grow.


Lori M. Campbell
University of Pittsburgh 

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