Sunday, August 7, 2022

RIP: J. S. Ryan

 J.S.Ryan (top left) and J.R.R. Tolkien (bottom right) 
A quick note to remark on the passing of Tolkien's former student, J.S. Ryan, who later published a number of books on Tolkien. Ryan died in early July at the age of approximately 93. I say approximately because Ryan himself had a policy of never giving out his birthyear ("lest it be used against me" he once wrote me). However, as his parents were married in 1928, and considering genealogical records (including ship's passenger lists from the 1950s), it seems pretty certain that his birthyear was 1929. John Sprott Ryan was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, educated in New Zealand, England and Australia. He spent most of his academic teaching career at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. 

He was a student at Merton College, Oxford, under Tolkien, from 1954 through 1957 (both appear in the 1955 Merton College photo, above) , and later went on to write many articles on Tolkien. The first of these, "Germanic Mythology Applied: The Extension of the Literary Folk Memory", appeared in Folklore, Spring 1966; Tolkien himself found it "nonsensical". It was reprinted in Ryan's 1969 volume Tolkien - Cult or Culture?, one of the earliest book-length studies of Tolkien. From there, Ryan published a large number of articles, often elaborating on small points in Tolkien's life, in diverse venues such as Anor, Inklings-Jahrbuch, Ipotesi, Orana, Quadrant, The Ring Bearer, and others, as well as in fanzines such as Minas-Tirith Evening-Star (of the American Tolkien Society), and scholarly journals such as Mythlore (the journal of the Mythopoeic Society). Several of his contributions to Minas Tirith Evening-Star were collected as The Shaping of Middle-eath's Maker: Influences on the Life and Literature of J.R.R. Tolkien (1992), as by John S. Ryan ["J.S. Ryan" being his usual byline], edited by Philip W. Helms and published by the American Tolkien Society. 

His most significant collections for the Tolkien scholar remain the two published by Walking Tree Publishers (edited and prefaced by Peter Buchs), Tolkien's View: Windows into His World (2009) and In the Nameless Wood: Explorations in the Philological Hinterland of Tolkien's Literary Creation (2013).  

 2012 edition
In 2012, a slightly-corrected reprint of Tolkien - Cult or Culture? was issued through the Heritage Futures Research Centre at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, in a reportedly very small edition, which received little attention. (My copy was expensive and not easily procured.) 

Ryan's studies of Tolkien are not without frustrations. As pioneering works, he often missed vital connections in order to focus on less significant ones, and beyond a small essential core of Tolkien scholarship, Ryan rarely engaged with the publications of other Tolkien scholars. Yet his essays are well-worth reading for the inspiration they can give for further research. 

A fuller appreciation of his life and career (with photos), appears here in Pulse News of the University of New England in Armidale.

No comments:

Post a Comment