Brief Review of Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien
Edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan
Mythopoeic Press 2015: ISBN 9781887726016
This is an outstanding book, one that will prove as significant a turning point in the study of women in Tolkien’s life and writing as Jason Fisher’s Tolkien and the study of his sources has proved to be in the question of the value and necessity of source studies.
In Perilous and Fair, the editors have drawn together fourteen essays; seven are described as classic and have been reprinted from earlier publications, in order to draw together seminal ideas and scholarship on the topic. Seven are new and are published here for the first time. ‘Central to these articles is a consistent recognition that, although Tolkien’s fiction undeniably contains many more male than female characters, women fulfil essential, rather than merely supportive, roles in Middle-earth and in his life.’ (3)
The first of the new articles is placed at the beginning of the volume; Robin Anne Reid’s ‘The history of Scholarship on female Characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium: a Feminist Bibliographic Essay.’ This is an invaluable survey and assessment of the situation to date, and shows the increase in the number of works focusing on the issue of the female in Tolkien (a number certain to increase as this book provides scholars with insight and information.)
This is a brief personal review and I therefore don’t intend to provide an assessment of each individual essay. There are five sections covering the following topics;
• Historical perspectives
• Power of gender
• Specific characters
• Earlier literary contexts
• Women readers
I can’t think when I last read a collections of essays in which each one was as interesting, inspiring and readable as these; I found it as un-put-downable as any engrossing story. Some Tolkienists will of course have made an instant bee-line for this title; I would urge all others to do the same, whether you think you are interested in the topic or not; you will certainly be so after reading it.
To close, a quotation from Anna Smol, as printed on the back cover of the volume;
‘An invaluable book that should put to rest persistent clichés about women in Tolkien’s work and life…’
The painting of Galadriel is by John Howe