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17 July, 2014

Medievally Speaking Reviews: Vaccaro, The Body in Tolkien's Legendarium

Please find Leigh Smith's review of Christopher Vaccaro, The Body in Tolkien's Legendarium (McFarland, 2013) at Medievally Speaking. The review was curated by Ilse Schweitzer-Vandonkelaar.


Tolkien’s view of the body is a delicate issue for a medievalist. We who see him as a colleague are suspicious of readings that appear to evince a too-modern fascination with the material. On the other hand, we must admit that many of the conundrums with which all Tolkienists struggle are related to physicality. Where do little orcs come from? Does Sauron always have a body? Does Frodo actually “fade,” and if so, how? What order of being is Tom Bombadil? No one who has read Tolkien seriously can believe he did not think of these questions. Every year, more of his previously-unpublished notes testify to his obsessive attention to detail. Therefore, if we find his treatment of physicality confusing or paradoxical, we must try to explain it. This is the purpose of The Body in Tolkien’s Legendarium, a varied “collection of essays on middle-earth corporeality” (its subtitle), and its editor, Christopher Vaccaro, is well aware of the difficulty. His fine introduction places the major conundrums in their contexts—medieval heroic literature, Catholic theology, World War I—and summarizes the major attempts of critics to use postmodern theory to illuminate Tolkien’s view of the physical. The essays vary in quality, but all will contribute on some level to a reader’s understanding of Tolkien’s work and worldview, and several point to areas where further research is needed. 

Read the entire review HERE.