Read Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-Earth by Marjorie Burns Online


J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) is increasingly recognized as the most influential writer of the twentieth century. Sales of his books remain exceptionally high, and Middle-earth fan clubs flourish around the world. The massive success of the film versions made of The Lord of the Rings, and released between 2001 and 2003, have only added to his popularity.Throughout his life, TJ.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) is increasingly recognized as the most influential writer of the twentieth century. Sales of his books remain exceptionally high, and Middle-earth fan clubs flourish around the world. The massive success of the film versions made of The Lord of the Rings, and released between 2001 and 2003, have only added to his popularity.Throughout his life, Tolkien was acutely aware of the power of myth in shaping society; so much so, that one of his earliest ambitions as a writer was to create a mythology for England. The Middle-earth of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit was to serve as a stand-in for Britain and North-western Europe and is strongly based on a variety of influential literatures and beliefs, particularly the Celtic and Norse. Perilous Realms is the first book to focus consistently on the ways in which Tolkien balances these two ancient cultures and unites them in a single literature. Renowned Tolkien scholar Marjorie Burns also investigates the ways Tolkien reconciled other oppositions, including paganism and Christianity, good and evil, home and wayside, war and peace, embellishment and simplicity, hierarchy and the common man.Even those who do not know Beowulf or the Arthurian tales or northern European mythology come away from The Lord of the Rings with a feeling for Britain's historical and literary past. Those who recognize the sources behind Tolkien - and the skill with which he combines these sources - gain far more. Perilous Realms gives this advantage to all readers and provides new discoveries, including material from obscure, little-known Celtic texts and a likely new source for the name 'hobbit.' It is truly essential reading for Tolkien fans....

Title : Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-Earth
Author :
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ISBN : 9780802038067
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 225 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-Earth Reviews

  • Erika
    2019-05-22 12:03

    This book is extremely useful to me while I'm writing my thesis paper for my undergraduate degree. I'm writing on the topic of Tolkien's use of Celtic mythology, and this book was one of the most helpful books I found. Burns supports her analyses very well, and presents them in an easy-to-read fashion. She discusses in this book a subject that is often dismissed out-of-hand and prematurely in the realm of scholarly works on Tolkien--his use of Celtic myths and tales of Faërie. Burns is meticulously careful with backing up her analyses with examples from almost every main text Tolkien wrote. This book is an essential for anyone who aspires to be a Tolkien scholar or even a scholar of modern fantasy literature--and it is easy enough to read that even people who are just fans of Tolkien's works will be able to enjoy it.

  • Othy
    2019-05-26 06:38

    Horribly disappointing. Not only does the author write about rather basic understandings of Tolkien, she also seems to almost completely miss the depth of what makes his writing amazing. While the book began as a decent discussion of the roots of Tolkien's works, Perilous Realms quickly fell to become confusingly off-topic and, at some times, simply sad. I closed the book when the author began discussing the fight between Frodo, Sam and Shelob as being a "sexual encounter." Really. Why hasn't our culture outgrown psychoanalysis (i.e. childish readings about sex) yet?

  • Michael
    2019-06-20 12:55

    In Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Marjorie Burns presents a broad survey of the many Northern elements in Tolkien’s legendarium, some obvious, and some less so. She explores the way that certain characters (namely, Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron, Galadriel, and Beorn) are presented in a decidedly Northern European light and setting, and draws parallels to such various elements as Icelandic sagas, medieval allegories, and the travelogues of William Morris. Her insights are valuable and interesting to the Tolkien enthusiasts, although the book does bear some deep flaws. Early in the book, Burns draws attention to the presence of opposing inclinations within Tolkien’s themes (home vs. the road, the lofty vs. the vernacular, hierarchy vs. democracy, etc.) and calls them ‘mixed emotions’ or ‘conflicting attitudes.’ To me it seems obvious that these oppositions aren’t mere indecision, but, rather, unifications. These sorts of unifications are rare in literature, and, I believe, show true genius. (“A man does not show his greatness by being at one extremity, but rather by touching both at once,” as Blaise Pascal wrote.) They are present in G.K. Chesterton’s writing as well, especially in Orthodoxy, and in both find their source in their authors’ Christianity, a religion which celebrates both austerity and festiveness, bravery and meekness, etc. One of the more interesting chapters of Perilous Realms explores several sets of antithetical, yet mirroring characters (Gandalf vs. Sauron and Saruman, Frodo vs. Gollum, Denethor vs. Theoden, Galadriel vs. Shelob, etc.). The chapter is inspired, and well developed; though it does have some flaws. First of all, it seems a stretch to say that the positioning of these characters opposite to each other serves to further develop the good characters by giving them “shadow sides.” If anything, it develops them by showing them in even more stark relief, by depicting what they set themselves against. More troubling, she seems to delight in the possibility of sullying our view of these characters. Eg., Galadriel’s chapter ends with the idea of an ‘ingenious bond’ which might allow ‘transgression and degeneration within Galadriel.’ Further, Burns believes certain characters — Beorn, Aragorn, Treebeard — to be exceptions to the rule of sharply defined good and evil within Tolkien’s stories (which she claims to be a fault, without ever giving a single reason why) because each of them carries an air of risk or unsafe-ness. But sheer goodness and the absence of safety are absolutely compatible, as C.S. Lewis has shown us with his Aslan. (“He’s not a tame lion....Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”) Similarly, she also seems unable to understand that willing and voluntary service is in no way contradictory of freedom; rather, it is a deepening and heightening of freedom. She makes the mistake of thinking Tolkien wanted to leave “much of this world behind.” What he wanted to leave behind was the dreary industrialism and social changes that had brought us out of the agrarian and natural worlds and the close familiarity with myth. All this is detailed in his essay, “On Fairy-stories,” which Burns has read and thus has no excuse for not knowing. Other times, the mistakes in Perilous Realms aren’t mere oversights or misunderstandings, but simply poor criticism. Her theory of the word hobbit’s origin, as stemming from a medieval character named “Habit,” is a bit of a stretch. John Rateliff’s discovery, of it probably coming (if not cleanly from Tolkien’s imagination) from a list of names of fairies compiled by an old English folklorist Tolkien was probably familiar with, is by far the likelier and more believable. Later in the book, Burns compares Frodo’s journey to Mordor to a shamanistic journey into ‘darkened realms of the dead.’ This is a stretch of credulity and borders on the absurd. She continues, saying Frodo is there to battle evil and seek a renewal of life. This is only true in such an abstract level that it could almost be said of any mythic story. Frodo goes there to give up his own life, and not to fight, nor to seek life for himself. Frodo’s goal is to give up power. Perhaps nothing could be further from a shamanic journey than this. Burns is also wrong to say we have no doubt that Gollum is doomed. Tolkien tells is repeatedly that he may not be. It is this uncertainty that makes him a great character, and which allows the tragedy of his end to be felt that much keener. This view of hers stems from a bad reading of the book. She similarly says that Boromir is destined to fall and that readers feel no great concern for this. On the contrary, his gradual journey to the edge provides a constant tension until Boromir actually snaps. And though he falls, his heroic and selfless honor, present the whole time up till that point, reasserts itself and makes his death beautiful. Burns, then, not only has problems with moral clarity, she herself is unable to even read it properly. Though detailed and very interesting, the analysis of Eowyn’s role in The Lord of the Rings is ultimately too simplistic and often myopic. It unfavorably compares her disobedience, for example, with that of Merry or Beregond, failing to note that the responsibility she had neglected was far higher and more important than either’s. It is also complained that she is given to be watched over by the Steward, ignoring the fact that she is seriously wounded in both mind and body, a fact which speaks more of the Witch King’s power than her fragility. Further, contrary to her claim that Eowyn and Faramir’s romance is rushed, it is in actuality the most fleshed-out romance in the book! It is in fact the only time we really see any characters fall in love. In fact, the chapters on female characters and eating are almost completely off-topic, having next to nothing to do with the book’s actual theme, Norse and Celtic culture. However, the latter, focusing on the relationships between good and evil behavior and healthy and unhealthy eating habits, is extremely interesting, insightful, and well developed. Her critique of gender is interesting as well, and very sympathetic to Tolkien, though it misses a few points. For example, in regards to gender among the Valar, Burns seems not to realize that their behavior and personalities are not the result of their gender, but vice versa. Don’t get me wrong — Perilous Realms is a great work in the field of Tolkien studies, especially for someone who is new to or less familiar with the Northern mythological elements he frequently utilized. But Burns at times focuses on her subject too closely, treating Norse & Celtic culture as the main or even only influence in Tolkien. She almost entirely ignores the facets of Christianity, anti-industrialism, and environmentalism which make up the real forms of his stories, the earlier folkloric matter only being their raw materials. I feel that this tunnel-vision approach to the writing is very probably behind most of the book’s flaws. Ultimately, Perilous Realms’ ending passages show great understanding of Tolkien and his view of both his own writing and of the world, an understanding, curiously, often absent in other parts of the books. Yet even in these other parts, it is more present than in the criticisms of many other modern writers taking on Tolkien. Burns’ thoughts must be taken with a grain of salt; yet there is no doubt that her book has much to offer to those interested in Tolkien, in mythology, and in the North.

  • ika
    2019-06-05 09:56

    I have enjoyed this book a lot, despite it being one of the must-reads for my dissertation. Burns explores the connections and differences of Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's fiction - gives examples of specific reference points and comments on them in a very understandable way, making it very easy to understand even for the usual Tolkien fan. In a way, she doesn't give an answer which culture was the most influential, and equally stresses the importance of both, which is nice - however one may not fully agree with that. All in all, it was a pleasant and well-organised read, despite some digressions and repetitions.

  • Teshamae
    2019-06-18 08:40

    This is fascinating review of the Celtic and Norse tales that inspired Tolkien. I particularly enjoyed chapter two, "Skin-changing in More than One Sense: The Complexity of Beorn;" chapter five, "Spiders and Evil Red Eyes: The Shadow Sides of Gandalf and Galadriel;" and chapter six, "Wisewomen, Shieldmaidens, Nymphs and Goddesses." This is a must-read for anyone interested in examining Tolkien's works in depth.

  • Carolyn
    2019-06-06 07:02

    Ms. Burns was quite wrong about the Icelandic rock people, both in their physical description and general attributes, which made me doubt the accuracy of the rest of the book, pretty early on. Still, it is an interesting read.

  • Lori
    2019-06-15 06:49

    An awesome analysis, very readable, of both threads that conflict and also coalesce in Tolkien's works. We met the author in Portland, and she's great--very lively, good sense of humor