Monday, April 26, 2010

"Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics": The Brilliant Essay that Broke Beowulf Studies

I have an essay up at the Scholars Forum of Lotplaza: Link Here.

I discuss some of the negative effects of Tolkien's great essay. Usually they have very good comments at Lotrplaza. To see them you click on the "scholars forum" link at the top of the page and then select the discussion thread.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Catching Up

I seem to have this tendency to write a provocative post just before I leave for a place where I don't have internet access. In this case, it was the post about my dream school and a spring trip to hike in Shenandoah National Park. With the dog and his short little legs, we went up and down mountains, splashed in waterfalls, and I caught my first few brook trout on a fly (of course it took me many, many years and my daughter caught one on her first try). Now I'm off to give a lecture at Washington College in Maryland, and I arrive back just in time for my son's sixth birthday party and a bunch of relatives arriving for that and because my brother is running the Boston Marathon.

So I'll just use this post to tie up some loose ends and clarify a few things.

First, one reason I haven't posted much is that I was in proofreading hell. But the new edition of Beowulf and the Critics is now proofed and back to the publisher, so that's moving along. It may be a while, though, before it actually gets printed, as we still have to index (though I can in some ways just mod the old index), but it's much closer now, and there's a 2010 date on the copyright page.

This is a completely corrected, revised and expanded edition. The expansions include the text of a previously unknown note by Tolkien that was part of the drafting of Beowulf and the Critics (found by Christopher Tolkien and included with his permission in this volume), an identification of all the voices in the "Babel of Voices" allegory, and a discussion and illustration of the structural evolution of "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics." The corrections are thoroughgoing: I proofed the entire thing against the microfilm (my reading of Tolkien's handwriting has inexplicably gotten better) and received help from many scholars as well.

Now, on to Professor Drout's Academy of Wisdom and Learning. I received many interesting comments and emails, which I will try to address at some point. But at this time I just want to say this: I agree that it's not always the case that people with Ph.D.'s are better teachers than people without them. That wasn't the point of the post or the plan. The point was to suggest a model of an academy that would create an educational atmosphere that would be highly beneficial to certain students (and certain teachers). I think a place where the teachers were all new Ph.D.'s, all starting on the academic career path, all wanting to learn how to teach, and all part of a research organization would produce such an environment. I specifically designed the plan not to be a permanent career for anyone. The point is for people to flow through the system, share ideas, get energized, provide their own energy, and inspire some students, and then go off and do great things elsewhere. That's also why I chose the salary base of $ 42,000 per year. It's competitive for adjunct pay, but not something that a professor would stay at for more than two years (and it also illustrates, by the way, how bad the pay is for adjunct teachers, when 42K is considered a pretty good one- or two-year position by people who have on average 11 years of higher education).

There are surely weaknesses in the plan, and a school would probably be better served in some ways (not all) by long-term, experienced teachers who stuck to the institution. But I think that the flow of new talent through the system, the chance to do research in an interdisciplinary environment and involve high-school students in that research, and the chance to create an environment in which teaching and research were shared and valued and which in turn would show the students that their intellectual contributions were valued, well, I think it would have been a cool place to go as a student, as a teacher and, now, as the head of school (if some philanthropist wants to give it a shot).

Now to finish that lecture I'm giving tomorrow...