Professor Verlyn Flieger was a guest of honor at MidMoot 3. She didn’t give a formal lecture. Rather, she engaged us in a conversation about editing. Her stories were fascinating insights into a world about which I know nothing. Except for what Christopher Tolkien puts into the History of Middle Earth series, but of course he’s a unique case.
She consults with Christopher Tolkien frequently. Her general rule is to write down what’s on the page; let the reader decide what JRRT meant. But you can’t do that when what’s on the page is meaningless. For instance, what if JRRT numbered the paragraphs of a lecture, but then presented them out of numerical order?
Tolkien’s legendarily bad handwriting is famous. To me it’s an amusing anecdote. To Prof. Flieger, it’s an endless challenge. Many other things I thought I knew about J.R.R. Tolkien turn out to come from scribbled marginal notes. If there are several versions, and only one of them has such a note, and it’s not the most recent version, do you include it? What if the note is an IOU the author wrote to himself, to fix something later. Do you fix it?
One thing I found amusing is that if you write a book that’s good enough to be translated into other languages, those are opportunities to fix things you missed. She called out the Dutch translator in particular for catching things that are inconsistent among editions. (Sometimes Dutch scholars scare me.)
We spent some time discussing “Faërien drama”. It’s a phrase from “On Fairy-Stories”. Nobody really knows what JRRT meant by that concept. (perhaps It’s a Wonderful Life?) It came up a few other times in our discussions.
Verlyn Flieger’s next project is editing Tolkien’s “Lay of Aotrou and Itroun“. It was published in a journal that promptly went belly-up, so it’s been hard to find for the last 70 years. That has one big advantage: JRRT wrote it out legibly. Apparently it will be printed in facsimile, which will be interesting.