Tag Archives: Chaucer

Tolkien’s Long Procrastination in the Same Direction

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote essays and myths for years before the publication of The Hobbit in 1937. Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics is also published this year. The Lord of the Rings is published in three volumes during 1954-55. And through all of this time, the author may have been thinking he should possibly find time to write something deep on Chaucer.

His research student V.A. Kolve said, “He confessed to me once that some were disappointed by how little he had done in the academic way, but that he had chosen instead to explore his own vision of things.”

Tolkien himself said, “I have always been incapable of doing the job at hand.”

John M. Bowers has written a book on the long academic project Tolkien intended to return to. He reports,

[Tolkien] confided to his publisher in 1937 that Oxford would merely add The Hobbit to his “long list of never-never procrastinations” (Letters, 18). Fiction-writing simply did not count in terms of academic production, especially after Tolkien had idled away his two-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship. “The authorities of the university,” he would lament when The Lord of the Rings was in press, “might well consider it an aberration of an elderly professor of philology to write and publish fairy stories and romances” (Letters, 219). He explained to his American publisher this widespread view of his failings: “Most of my philological colleagues are shocked (cert. behind my back, sometimes to my face) at the fall of a philological into ‘Trivial literature’; and anyway the cry is: ‘now we know how you have been wasting your time for 20 years’” (Letters, 238).

1386: Chaucer’s Chaotic Year

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Now Newly ImprintedJeff Strowe tells us, “If Chaucer were alive today, he’d be on the front page of ‘US Weekly.'” His marriage was strained by personality and circumstance. His employment was tedious. His world was remarkably unclean and violent, which isn’t what many people imagine when thinking back to 1386. Strowe pulls these details from Paul Strohm’s new book, Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury.

The best parts of Strohm’s book deal with the byzantine intricacies and flat-out craziness of life in the 14th Century. Primitive sanitation practices caused awful putrid smells to waft upwards, baking residents of Chaucer’s neighborhood with a daylong, unceasing stench that, despite its’ unceasing presence, undoubtedly caused constant suffering by those caught in the down and upwind paths. Several hundred feet away also laid forth the severed heads of various vagrants, thieves, traitors, and “enemies” of the King.

There’s also some time spent on his literary efforts, though they don’t make up the bulk of the book.