The Magazine

A Lidless Eye

Early verse that clears the path to Tolkien's genius.

Sep 21, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 01 • By ELI LEHRER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

With enough time and effort, maybe the elder Tolkien could have pulled this enterprise off. But for whatever reason, he set aside the poems.

So Tolkien's poems present an insight into the mind of an artist searching for his muse: They are evidently an early, abandoned experiment with bringing the spirit of the ancient tales he loved to modern readers. This is a task he succeeded at brilliantly in Lord of the Rings. And even here are some intriguing gems for Rings fans: Not only are there magical rings, but the poems also contain references to a "lidless eye"--the embodiment and symbol of Rings arch-villain Sauron--which may be the first time that Tolkien used the phrase in his own creative writing.

And the notes, describing the stories, Tolkien's allusions, and the like, are all first rate. Even when it seems that Christopher Tolkien may be padding the material a little to make it book length, what he says is pretty interesting. Ronald's lecture notes and Christopher's commentary provide a good overview of the nature of the tradition where the elder man was trying to write, the poetic styles, and the numerous obscure allusions.

Tolkien scholars and ardent Lord of the Rings fans may gain some insights into his fiction from reading these poems. The notes provide a very good introduction to the tradition that the elder Tolkien wrote in and, in any case, they're long enough to probably justify a look at the book. But the poems, while somewhat promising, are still in rough draft.

Eli Lehrer is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.