This past week Truman G. Madsen died. I have known him for a long time, and like the many other famous people I have known for a long time, he didn’t know me from Adam’s off-ox. When I first started teaching many years ago, Truman was one of those individuals who was frequently asked to address congregations of religious educators in order that they might be benefited from his experience and wisdom. I don’t think that I ever took exception to anything I ever heard him say; I generally took exception when other people took the things that he said out of context and tried to beat me senseless with them.
At the height of his career, Truman was a professor of “Fried Froth” at BYU, as President John Taylor liked to refer to Philosophy. Truman made something more substantial out of the ruminations of self-instructed men. Frequently, those self-interested, meandering thoughts, regurgitated generation after generation by teachers and students alike at universities around the world, became springboards for something of true import and, best of all, even comprehensible when illuminated by his inspiring enthusiasm and clarity.
I am not certain how many books and articles he has written over the years, but he was prolific. I checked the Deseret Book website a few moments ago and he had 14 titles still in print that they were offering to the public. Amazon had 69 books and 6 DVDs in their listing. Brigham Young University has 7 of his addresses at the university available, beginning in 1965 to 2000. The following is a listing of some of the books that have gained some notoriety during the last forty years or so according to one website.
Joseph Smith the Prophet
Defender of the faith: The B. H. Roberts story
Christ and the inner life
Five Classics by Truman G. Madsen
The highest in us
Four Essays on Love
Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels
The Radiant Life
The Life and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph
Presidents Of The Church: Insights Into Their Lives And Teachings
Jesus of Nazareth (Volumes 1-4)
The Sacrament - Feasting At the Lord's Table
The Temple: Where Heaven Meets Earth
The Concordance of the Doctrinal Statements of Joseph Smith
Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen
How To Stop Forgetting and Start Remembering
How to be Loved and Beloved
B.H. Roberts : the Book of Mormon and the atonement
Philosopher and the Quarterback
The Commanding Image Of Christ
The Temple in antiquity : ancient records and modern perspectives
Joseph Smith among the prophets
House of God: The Promised Blessings of the Temple
BYU Studies Vol. 10 No. 3, 1970 - Institute of Mormon Studies
Joseph Smith - Ein Prophet?
BYU Studies Vol. 13 No. 4, 1973
As I browsed through the Deseret News this morning I came across a tribute to Truman Madsen in which the author referred to Truman as the “Lion of LDS Letters”.
“What a winsome title,” I thought. “Maybe it’s even apt.”
Being of a rather fanciful frame of mind, I wondered what my epitaph composer would come up with when I shuffled off my mortal coil.
There may be some justification for a glorious title of some kind. I have written as much as anyone on the planet about the invented languages of J.R.R. Tolkien. There have been more than twenty books and about fifty articles published during the last 25 years or so that have had my name affixed to them. I have given papers all over the United States and Canada at conferences and conventions on Tolkien’s linguistic genius, and even appeared at Oxford University for another one of my erudite takes on Tolkien’s style of writing. The Tolkien Society of America graced me with one of their Honorary Doctorates several years ago and the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship gave me one of their annual awards for work that I had done on the “Father Christmas Letters”. At one point I was the undisputed authority on the languages of Middle Earth. One day many years ago, I became somewhat flushed with the reception that some of my writings and addresses had generated and effused to Trillium how wonderful it all was. She, the well-grounded soul that she is, carefully, but quickly put all of my hyperbole into perspective.
In reference to a recent article that I had written for “Mythlore” she said, “Zaphod, what is the circulation of ‘Mythlore’?” I said that I supposed that it was in the neighborhood of 1200 to 1300 copies, sent throughout the world to individuals and libraries alike.
“Now,” she continued, “during the next 20 years or so, how many people do you think will sit down with a copy of ‘Mythlore’ and peruse your deathless prose?” Being conservative, but loyal to the journal of the Mythopoeic Society, I said that I would estimate maybe as many as 10,000 people might devote a little time to the subject.
“Okay, I will give that to you, my dear,” as a smile began to play upon her lips. “Can you give me an idea as to the population of this planet?” I estimated the total to be about 6.5 billion.
“So, the relative importance of your wonderful little piece of word-smithery and the readership thereof…?”
Well, this past week also marked another milestone in my sojourn in obscurity. I began reading Christopher Tolkien’s latest addition to his father’s posthumous works, “The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun”. I had always considered myself to really be quite informed about J.R.R. Tolkien’s life and letters (I can tell you what “J.R.R.” stands for). I had managed to read just about everything available on the man prior to 1982 when I received my PhD on his works and I attenuated that research for the next 25 years. Both my Masters and Doctorate degrees focused on Old and Middle English language and literature in an attempt to understand precisely what Tolkien was about in his creative works. I dabbled in Welsh, Finnish, Gothic, Old Icelandic, and a variety of other languages and bodies of literature because I knew that he had at least a passing interest in them. Reading Christopher’s introduction to the “Legend”, however, revealed to me again how woefully ignorant I have been regarding J.R.R. Tolkien’s career and expertise. I told Trillium after I finished the introductory materials that I felt like I had successfully explored what I thought was Mount Tolkien, only to discover that I had merely taken a few steps out of the Valley and had ventured only a short way into the Foothills.
So, what is the gist of all this?
I have decided to come up with my own epitaph, one that reflects that which has been bestowed upon Truman Madsen. While my long-time acquaintance may indeed be the “Lion of LDS Letters”, I have decided that I have become the “Titmouse of Tolkien Trivia”.