Sometimes the Map doesn’t show everything, and you have use your wits and get a little help. So I found out on my trip Tuesday to Bradley University to see Douglas A. Anderson, the editor of The Annotated Hobbit. The map I printed off the internet did not show that part of the University was under construction, and the street I had planned on using was closed. I have a terrible sense of direction, but was able to find the Hall I was looking for with a little help from a couple students. I had to put up with light rain or drizzle just about all the way there and back, but it was not exactly comparable to Bilbo’s adventures along the way.
The event titled “Annotating The Hobbit & Other Adventures” was billed as as a “lecture.” The format was actually more of an interview conducted by Mike Foster, the North American representative of the Tolkien Society. Both are very articulate and have a very open demeanor and great sense of humor. The audience also was given a chance to ask questions. The following was gleaned from his answers.
Doug Anderson became acquainted with Tolkien in the summer of 1973 when he was visiting his older sister. He complained he was bored, so the sister gave him The Hobbit to read. At first he was put off by the strange book covers by Barbara Remington, but he soon found out that those covers had very little to do with the books. He was drawn in by the scope of Middle-earth and the detail of the created world.
Anderson first became interested in Tolkien scholarship in 1978 after college when he participated in a summer program at Oxford. There he met members of the Tolkien Society, and was able to use the University Library.
In 1986, Anderson’s first publication came as the introductory “Note on the Text” to the new Houghton Mifflin edition of The Lord of the Rings. His latest is an edition of On Fairy Stories that he edited with Verlyn Flieger using previously unpublished manuscripts. This work is only available in the United Kingdom.* He is presently working on a book of interviews with and remembrances of Tolkien.
An audience member asked what Anderson admires about Tolkien’s writings now, compared to when he was thirteen. He commented that as he has read more widely through the years, Tolkien’s writings have taken on broader meaning. A characteristic of great writing is that you see something new every time you read it.
Fantasy writers who have come after Tolkien have “an elephant on their shoulders” trying to live up to what he was able to accomplish. Few have been able to write on his level. A couple writers who are in the same league are Ursula Le Guin and Mythago Wood. Anderson also is impressed by J K Rowling (although she needs an editor, especially for her later books) and recommends Jonathon Carroll’s The Land of Laughs.
Thank God for men like Douglas A. Anderson who are able to give us a little help along the way as we journey though Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
*UPDATE 29 March, 2009 – I now have a couple copies of Anderson and Flieger’s On Fairy-Stories available in my eBay store. Here is the link: iHaveAnInkling Bookstore