Sunday, November 21, 2004

Anthony Boucher

When I was a kid reading The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction back in the latter 1950s, one of the things I liked most about the magazine was Anthony Boucher's book reviews. (A few years later I went to college and discovered Boucher's "Criminals at Large" column in The New York Times Book Review and my life was changed forever. But that's another story.) Last night I was browsing through the May 1958 issue of F&SF and read Boucher's column. I thought what he had to say was pretty interesting, so I'm going to put it here so you can have a look. Boucher slipped up, using "Middle World" for "Middle Earth," but he was (as usual) a pretty perceptive guy:

"Belatedly the news trickles through that the International Fantasy Award, presented at last year's World Science Fiction Convention in London, went to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

"As regular readers of this department may guess, I could not be more delighted. This superb trilogy— consisting of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King—is one of the major achievements of epic imagination in our lifetimes, and your life is the poorer if you have failed to read it. One warning, however: Tolkien's Middle World is, like Baker Street or the Land of Oz, a trap with a firm and powerful grip. Enthusiasm may here pass easily into mania; and once infected by Tolkien's magic, you may never again quite reenter this 'real' 1958 world of satellites and ICBMs and segregation and recession.

"Allen & Unwin, Tolkien's London publishers, have disclosed that the perfectionist scholar is now 'working as best he can on The Silmarillion, which might best be described as the source book for The Lord of the Rings. We cannot,' they add, 'hold out any hope that it will be published this year.' This is news which should reduce at least the English-speaking suicide rate to zero; who could willingly depart from a life which holds such a treasure in its future?"

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