Chapter

Minor Works, 1914–1973

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Abstract

Tolkien’s literary career spans almost sixty years, from shortly after the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, when he was twenty-two, until shortly before his death in 1973. Roughly the middle third of his creative life (1937–1955) is dominated by the composition of The Lord of the Rings. But the first third was a period of apprenticeship, of scholarly eminence and literary obscurity. Tolkien’s most influential contributions to scholarship and criticism — notably the edition (with E. V. Gordon) of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the essay on Beowulf — date from this period, and the essays ‘On Fairy Stories’ and ‘On Translating Beowulf’ followed only a little later. The only literary compositions to achieve publication before 1937 were a handful of poems, printed in obscure magazines: one, ‘Goblin Feet’, which Tolkien came to dislike intensely for its prettifed and diminutive ‘fairy’ imagery,1 appeared in a couple of anthologies in the early twenties. But Tolkien was writing prolifically during this period, as is abundantly demonstrated by the five posthumous volumes of work edited by Christopher Tolkien: The Book of Lost Tales (two volumes), The Lays of Beleriand, The Shaping of Middle-earth, and The Lost Road.

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