Shippey, T(homas) A(lan) 1943-
SHIPPEY, T(homas) A(lan) 1943-
PERSONAL: Born September 9, 1943, in Calcutta, India; son of Ernest (an engineer) and Christina Emily (Kjelgaard) Shippey; married Susan Veale, December 27, 1966 (marriage ended); married Catherine Elizabeth Barton, June 19, 1993; children: Louise Jane, Gillian Margaret, John Ernest. Education: Queens' College, Cambridge, B.A., 1964, M.A., 1968, Ph.D. 1990.
ADDRESSES: Office—English Department, St. Louis University, 3800 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108. Agent—Maggie Noach, 22 Dorville Cr., London W6 OHJ, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England, lecturer in English, 1965-72; Oxford University, Oxford, England, fellow in English at St. John's College, 1972-79; University of Leeds, Leeds, England, professor of English language and medieval literature, 1979-1993; St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO, Walter J. Ong, S.J., Chair of Humanities, 1993—.
Old English Verse, Hutchinson (London, England), 1972.
(Editor and translator) Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English, D. S. Brewer (Cambridge, England), Rowman and Littlefield (Totowa, NJ), 1976.
Beowulf ("Arnold's Studies in English Literature" series), Edward Arnold (London, England), 1978.
The Road to Middle-earth, Allen and Unwin (London, England), 1982, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1983, revised and expanded edition, 2003.
J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, HarperCollins (London, England), 2000, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
Fictional Space: Essays on Contemporary Science Fiction (1990 Volume of Essays and Studies for the English Association), Blackwell (Oxford, England), Humanities Press (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1991.
(With George Slusser) Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1992.
The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, Oxford University Press (London, England, and New York, NY), 1994.
(With Andreas Haarder) Beowulf: The Critical Heritage, Routledge (London, England, and New York, NY), 1998.
(With Richard Utz) Medievalism in the Modern World: Essays in Honour of Leslie Workman, Brepols (Turnhout, Belgium), 1998.
(With Martin Arnold) Appropriating the Middle Ages: Scholarship, Politics, Fraud, D. S. Brewer (Cambridge, England), 2001.
Film and Fiction: Reviewing the Middle Ages, D. S. Brewer (Cambridge, England), 2002.
The Shadow-Walkers: Jacob Grimm's Mythology of the Monstrous, Arizona State University Press (Tempe, AZ), in press.
WORK IN PROGRESS: How the Heroes Talk, a study of early Germanic poetry, and Beowulf and the Origins of England, a literary/historical study.
SIDELIGHTS: T. A. Shippey is a British academic and author of two studies on J. R. R. Tolkien, beloved creator of The Lord of the Rings. Shippey told CA: "I have had two interests over the years: medieval studies, especially the early period c. 700-1000 A.D., and fantasy and science fiction. These interests came together in my two books on Tolkien, The Road to Middle-earth and J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century." In addition to the two works on Tolkien, Shippey has authored scholarly volumes on Old English verse and Beowulf, and has edited collections of fantasy and science fiction stories for Oxford University Press as well as numerous other volumes on mythology, film, and medieval studies.
Educated at Cambridge, Shippey was for a time a fellow at St. John's College, Oxford, teaching much the same syllabus as Tolkien decades before. Shippey explored this academic interest in Old English poetry in his 1972 title, Old English Verse, and in further volumes, such as Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English and his Beowulf, a critical study. In 1982, after moving on to the University of Leeds to the chair of English language and medieval literature, the same chair held by Tolkien fifty years before, Shippey published his first Tolkien book, The Road to Middle-earth. With this work, he attempted to establish a scholarly apparatus for the examination and appreciation of Tolkien's major works, including the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The major thrust of this book was to emphasize the importance of Tolkien the philologist in his writings. Shippey examined how Tolkien's knowledge of Anglo-Saxon and of Gothic languages and their literature helped to shape his own tales. Paula M. Strain, writing in Library Journal, felt that Shippey's "comments are learned and wide-ranging," while a reviewer for Booklist noted that Shippey's "arguments cannot be faulted," going on to claim the author "analyzes with delicacy and good sense" Tolkien's effects. Writing on the same title, a contributor for Kirkus Reviews found Shippey's work "erratically enlightening," and concluded it was "the most useful book on Tolkien since the [Humphrey] Carpenter biography."
Shippey next turned his hand to editing both The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories and The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories. In the former volume, Shippey gathered thirty stories from masters of the genre such as Ursula K. Le Guin, H. G. Wells, Thomas M. Disch, and Frederick Pohl. However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly also noted that some of the classic authors, such as Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, were missing in this "wide and uneven range in the genre." For fantasy stories, Shippey collected tales from Tolkien, Theodore Sturgeon, H. P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, and Peter Beagle in The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories. A contributor for Publishers Weekly felt that Shippey did "an admirable job of collecting entertaining, exotic, and readable tales," and also that his selection "fairly represent[s] the varied trends in fantasy over the last century."
Shippey returned to Tolkien as a subject with his 2000 title, J. R. R. Tolkien. Teaching in the United States, at St. Louis University, Shippey furthered the arguments begun in his earlier The Road to Middle-earth, in particular that Tolkien's fantasy fiction was "fundamentally linguistic in inspiration," as the author writes in his book. Shippey examines The Lord of the Rings in light of Tolkien's deep knowledge and appreciation of Anglo-Saxon literature. Further, he takes to task those critics who have attacked Tolkien for his popularity. He also takes advantage of recent polls in England and the United States that indicate large numbers—if not a majority—place The Lord of the Rings at the top of the list of the greatest books of the twentieth century. In making such an assertion in his book, Shippey also risked rousing the same body of critics who regularly disparage Tolkien. However, on the whole, his critical study was well received.
Writing in Harper's, a contributor felt that Shippey's "commentary is the best so far in elucidating Tolkien's lovely myth." This same critic, however, questioned the appellation of 'author of the century,' requesting that "Tolkien stand beside such humbler mythmakers as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Georges Simenon." James E. Person, Jr., reviewing the title in Insight on the News, noted that Shippey "partly proves his thesis" that Tolkien was first in terms of book sales, in the development of a distinct new genre, and as writer of quality fiction. This contributor added that Shippey's central idea, "however, is that Tolkien told a cracking good story skillfully interwoven with a worldview reflecting the 'moral imagination' written of by Edmund Burke." Ralph Wood, writing in a lengthy Christian Century review, further explained Shippey's thesis of Tolkien being the "quintessential author of the twentieth century," by noting first that the former century was one of the bloodiest in history, but also one full of technological promise. Wood observed that "Tolkien, according to Shippey, offers what allegedly greater writers do not: a convincing narrative and mythological confrontation with the unprecedented violence and horror of late modern life, yet without despairing over the victory of the forces of goodness and life." Wood also noted that Shippey "is right to contend that Tolkien's intuition of this new all-pervasive evil gives his work a deep appeal to those for whom religious belief is no longer possible."
Aaron Belz, reviewing Shippey's second Tolkien title in Books and Culture, noted that "Shippey shares with his subject a deep, abiding passion for philology," and that it was "in no small part . . . this knowledge that made Tolkien's imaginative creations not merely believable but eerily resonant with modern imaginations." By an examination of many words in the text of Lord of the Rings as well as the names of characters in the book such as Frodo and Saruman, Shippey finds Tolkien's inspiration in Anglo-Saxon and Old English, according to Belz. The same critic concluded that "much more is contained in the pages of Tom Shippey's book, which is a thorough and highly readable study." Similarly, Martin Morse Wooster, writing in the American Enterprise, noted that "Shippey decisively demonstrates that Tolkien's exhaustive effort [in his fifteen years of writing The Lord of the Rings] produced one of the few twentieth-century novels likely to endure." Wooster also lauded Shippey's achievement, calling him a "crisp, forceful, and intelligent writer who has produced a highly readable appreciation" that is also "the ideal companion for readers." Richard Jenkyns also devoted a lengthy review to Shippey's book in the New Republic, in which he examined various aspects of the critical study, including fictional techniques. "Shippey skillfully analyzes the different registers of language used by different speakers in the story," according to Jenkyns, who also focuses on Shippey's discussion of Tolkien's critical reception, noting that "Shippey's assault on Tolkien's detractors is the most swashbuckling part of the book: he makes merry mischief and scores some hits." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly also commended Shippey's work, calling it a "wonderfully readable study . . . [which] makes an impressive, low-key case for why the creator of Middle-earth is deserving of acclaim." Likewise, Morris Hounion, writing in Library Journal, remarked that Shippey "convincingly argues that Tolkien deserves to be ranked as a major literary figure." And Booklist's Ray Olson proclaimed Shippey's book "magisterial."
Shippey concluded to CA: "What connects [an interest in medieval studies and fantasy and science fiction] to me is a sympathetic interest in strange and different cultures. My long-standing interest in science fiction meanwhile predisposes me to see technological reasons for cultural and literary differences in early societies; it is also an effective safeguard against what I call the 'Mark Twain fallacy,' the habit of seeing history as a progression leading fortunately and inevitably to ourselves."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Shippey, T. A., J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, HarperCollins (London, England), 2000, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
American Enterprise, January-February, 2002, Martin Morse Wooster, review of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 54.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March, 1993, Tom Easton, review of The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, pp. 166-167.
Booklist, May 15, 1983, review of The Road to Middle-earth, p. 1184; September 15, 1992, Roland Green, review of The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, p. 130; March 15, 1994, John Mort, review of The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, p. 1333; May 15, 2001, Ray Olson, review of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 1724.
Books and Culture, January-February, 2002, Aaron Belz, review of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 27.
Christian Century, November 21, 2001, Ralph Woods, review of J. R. R. Tolkien, pp. 24-29.
Harper's, September, 2001, review of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 81.
Insight on News, October 29, 2001, James E. Person, Jr., review of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 27.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1983, review of The Road to Middle-earth, p. 168.
Library Journal, April 15, 1983, Paula M. Strain, review of The Road to Middle-earth, p. 826; September 15, 1992, Jackie Cassada, review of The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, p. 97; June 1, 2001, Morris Hounion, review of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 163.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April, 1994, John Kessel, review of The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, pp. 18-28.
New Republic, January 28, 2002, Richard Jenkyns, review of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, August 17, 1992, review of The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, pp. 491-492; February 28, 1994, review of The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, p. 76; May 7, 2001, review of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 234.
Science Fiction Studies, July, 1994, Jake Jakaitis, review of The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, pp. 252-253.