Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tolkien's Jonah

So, the current issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (Vol. 4 No. 2) finally arrived a week ago Monday, and it was well worth the wait.

First and foremost, it provides us with a new Tolkien text: his translation of THE BOOK OF JONAH for the England-language version of THE JERUSALEM BIBLE -- not the version published back in 1966, which it turns out was reworked by another hand (one Alan Neame, responsible for imposing a consistent style on the Old Testament section), but the text as Tolkien himself submitted it to Alexander Jones, the project's editor. In addition, an accompanying essay by Brendon N. Wolfe (the J.I.S.'s Tolkien editor) provides background and context to Tolkien's involvement in the project. There are plenty of quotes from Jones's letters to Tolkien, but unfortunately not of Tolkien's side of the correspondence (which wd have figured largely into the previous, unsuccessful attempt to publish Tolkien's JONAH). We learn that Tolkien did a translation of the first chapter of ISAIAH as a sample, though only two verses from this are included in Wolfe's essay. Also, and rather surprisingly, that Tolkien was against using "thee" and "thou" in this project, given that he skews towards the archaic in his own translations. As Jason Fisher has pointed out, Tolkien does use an unusual word at one point, describing the vine that grows to shade the prophet as a "colocynth", a word few readers of his text would have recognized (it's a plant better known as a bitter apple or, most colorfully, the vine of Sodom, a sort of desert melon). Here's the link to Jason's piece (the comments to which are also interesting):

All I have to add to this is that the translation/adaptation of JONAH Tolkien was probably most familiar with, the Gawain-poet's PATIENCE, opts for the familiar and homey over the exotic and strange, calling it a wodbynde (woodbine, a kind of honeysuckle)

Finally, it was news to me that the poet Roy Campbell would probably have been one of the translators but died before beginning work on his section (the 'Song of Songs') --though given Campbell's reputation it might be just as well that his name was not associated with the project.

As for the rest of the issue, it includes what must be one of the final pieces by the late Stratford Caldecott as well as a lengthy piece on CSL's weird claim that Jesus can't be viewed as a great but non-divine teacher; it's interesting to see how Baynes, the author, places Lewis within a tradition that was skeptical of claims for Biblical inerrancy but accepting of the miracles at the core of the Xian story --v. much 'mere Christianity' as Lewis understood it.

Best of all, perhaps,*  is the announcement in the editorial of this issue of a new venture by the folks behind THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES, a series publishing for the first time major works by various Inklings such as Warnie Lewis's MEMOIR of his brother (extracts of which served as a Foreword to the 1966 edition of CSL's LETTERS), the complete GREAT WAR philosophical papers by Barfield and Lewis (presently known only through Lioney Adey's excellent summary and explication), and Barfield's long poem RIDERS ON PEGASUS (a.k.a. 'The Mother of Pegasus'). Here's hoping this series gets established and thrives: not only are all these projects eminently worthwhile but any Inklings scholar or serious fan of their works can easily think of other titles worthy to be added to that list.

--John R.
current reading: THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (comics)

*(aside from the publication of Tolkien's JONAH itself, of course)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What a Week

So, Monday afternoon (a week ago yesterday) I returned home after a good session working on my FALL OF ARTHUR paper on the laptop at the local Starbucks to find a window smashed, a door twisted out of shape, two other doors standing open, and the apartment burgled. My first thought was, is the thief or thieves still inside? My second was, what if the cats got out? With that in mind, I went inside and had a quick look-around: lots of stuff disturbed, some things missing, no sign of the cats or the intruders. So I called 911,* had another quick look inside, and then waited for the police.** The officer arrived within just a few minutes, and after a quick question we went through the townhouse room by room. I mentioned being worried about the cats, who might have been so spooked they bolted through the open doors and, being housecats, didn't know how to take care of themselves once they were outside. The policewoman said, 'well, there's one of them now'. And indeed it was: Feanor came out of wherever he was hiding, probably upon hearing my voice. I still didn't want him to get out, so I put him on the balcony on the other side of the sliding door as a temporary measure. Didn't find Hastur, but suspected she was probably well-hidden, given that she goes to ground whenever friends come over; turned out she was under the bed, so I put Feanor in with her, along with some food and water, on the other side of a secure door.

The officer dusted for fingerprints but said the intruder seems to have worn gloves. We lost a laptop, some binoculars, and a set of silverware still in its original presentation box, none of which we expect to see again. No large items were taken -- nothing that wd have taken two people to carry, or that wd have been conspicuous if someone had been seen carrying it. The officer concluded it was likely a single person with a backpack. I was tasked with writing up a report of everything that was missing, to be submitted by the police along with a case number: brand names and serial numbers are apparently a big help. After the officer left I tried comforting the cats a little, made a hasty start on the list, did a slightly more thorough look-through from room to room, and then went to get Janice.

And now, over a week later, we're still dealing with the aftermath, and will be for weeks to come: getting the broken window fixed, exploring options about making the downstairs more secure, replacing the damaged door, thinking of ways to prevent a recurrence. The folks at the Apple store told Janice how to remotely delete everything on her vanished laptop, which she's done (and just in time too; someone tried to access it the next day). Lots of passwords have been changed, just to be on the safe side.

The week's weirdness didn't stop there. Wednesday afternoon I spent babysitting for the daughter of a friend; we watched anime together (RANMA 1/2) and generally had a good time, but it did mean a hard drive home afterwards in the dark (my night-vision seems to have declined a few more notches since the last time I was up that way at night). Thursday I watched cats at the cat-room, filling in for someone else who'd taken my usual Wednesday shift the day before (thus having enabled me to do the babysitting); Friday we had one of our 'Work-at-John's day'. And through it all the cats were unusually sociable, staying with us and settling in whichever room we were in.

Saturday after a busy week we got together with friends and watched the last Japanese-made GODZILLA movie, which was simply bizarre, an attempt to throw in every monster they cd from every previous such movie, topped off with a soundtrack by Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer fame). Sunday we visited a friend in the hospital; first time I've ever visited a psychiatric ward, which was a strange experience (lots of rules and regulations, some of which you'd expect and others you wdn't). Yesterday and today things have been getting back on track: good progress on the Tolkien paper (which I need to wrap up by the end of the year) and in general things slipping out of on-edge, waiting-for-the-shoe-to-drop mode back into daily life. Monday evening we even had our usual D&D game (we were short a player so our characters ran away a lot).

And yet today, when I thought things really were back to normal they cut down my favorite trees in all of Kent. So there may still be more weirdness in the offing.

In the end, though, we only lost stuff: the only thing that's irreplaceable being the silverware, which had belonged to Janice's parents. The burglar cd have trashed the place, which he didn't. Various small things, of no particular value but irreplaceable because of the memories associated with them, were passed by, for which we're grateful.  Janice and I and the cats are all safe. And we've seen friends going through rough times that makes us realize we're still among the lucky ones. But it'll still be a long time before we altogether get over it.

--John R.
current reading: A HISTORY OF ANCIENT EGYPT and an unpublished dissertation on JRRT.

*I've since been instructed in no uncertain terms that I shd have done this in the opposite order, calling 911 first. Live and learn.

**having been burgled once before, back in my Marquette days, I know that there's a difference between a robbery, which involves a threat of violence, and a burglary, which is simply theft. There's nothing like being on the receiving end of a burglary to make one sympathize with Smaug's point of view.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Cat Report (Th. 11/13-14)

So, with new arrivals we're up to five (soon to be seven) cats: BUXTER and MAEBE, little CLOUD, and newcomers TIZZY and ANUBUS AUGUSTUS; two kittens will join us as soon as they recover from their spay/neutering.

Have to say things were remarkably peaceful. The cats distributed themselves around the room, divvying up favorite spots, then settling down to enjoy a good snooze, all without a hiss or growl among them.

MAEBE (our dark calico) and BUXTER (our tuxedo cat)  were in good form today. Maebe showed off her leaping skills: up atop the cat-stand by the cabinet, a quick walk along the cagetops, and then back across to the top of the cat-stand by the door, which she claimed for her own. Buxter originally chose the top of the other cat-stands but then moved to share the same cat-stand as sister Maebe.  Haven't seen them look so much like a bonded pair since they moved into separate cages. Both were playful as well: Buxter enjoyed the string game and Maebe did as well, but what really got Maeve excited was the gopher game, which she played with enthusiasm.  Buxter had a walk a little before noon: she went bird-watching. I made sure she stayed well back, but her attention was certainly riveted.

Little CLOUD (our little pale yellow mama cat) explored a lot around the cabinet end of the room, having first established a base camp in the rondel under the cat-stand by the cabinet. She was very friendly, even downright gregarious at times, and mewed for attention quite a lot. While still a natural-born burrower (she's going to spend lots of time exploring the backs of closets in whatever home she winds up in) she's really come out of her shell. She doesn't like walks, though; too scary she thinks.

TIZZY (grey and white, with light and dark shades in the grey), whom I think I'll call 'Talker', is one of our two new males: a very vocal cat who talks back if you talk to him. He's on the shy side but does well so long as he has his cage door open to allow for a hasty retreat if something spooks him (which happens a lot). He decided, very reasonably, that he preferred Anubus's larger cage to his own and spent a good time hanging out in there. Loves being petted and talked to (not necessarily in that order).

ANUBUS AUGUSTUS (sleek and solid black, our other new male cat -- and what a great name) was playing with Maebe early on, before even coming out of his cage: she was up high peering down at him and he was reaching up with his paw trying to locate her above him. Once out he took himself up high, staked his claim to the box up there, and stayed in his perch all morning. Very self-possessed cat who knows what he wants and takes the most direct route to get it.

Be interesting to see how the addition of two kittens affects the current harmony.

A fair number of viewers and visitors admiring the cats.

No health concerns: everyone seemed okay.

--John R.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Turtles showing Alligators who's Boss

So, today's post wd have been about Tolkien's JONAH, which finally arrived. But that was before I came home at 2.30 and discovered the break-in; the rest of the day's been spent blocking up the burglar's entry route, making a list of what's missing, and changing a whole lot of passwords.

Have to say, burglars are a lot more fun to read about, in stories by Tolkien and Dunsany, than to experience first-hand.

So, instead here's a picture of turtles.*  Look closely: those are not logs the turtles are sunning themselves on.

I know my own mental image of turtles changed a lot after I saw a clip on the BBC of turtles in an African watering hole chasing down waterfowl that landed there. Clearly the turtles in this picture either think themselves lords of their domain or are certain a life-and-let-live pact exists with their fellow reptiles. Let's hope they're right about that.

--John R.

*thanks to Janice for the picture

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The 2015 Tolkien Calendar

So, this past month or so has been a good month for interesting books arriving, some but by no means all Tolkien related. One of the more interesting non-book but Tolkien-related items is this coming year's Tolkien Calendar. I've been trying to find this at my local bookstores for weeks, ever since the 2015 calendars started to arrive in August/September. I finally gave up on the Tukwila B&N a few days after we got back from our trip, and bought it at the B&N down in Federal Way instead (Th. Oct. 23rd) -- only to see it finally arrive at my local store (which had still not had it as late as W. the 22nd) the next day (Fr. the 24th). So it goes.

The illustrator is Mary Fairburn, whom Tolkien himself observed had a rather hobbitish name, and the story of how she came to illustrate Tolkien is an interesting one -- perhaps rather more interesting than the art itself.

As a young artist, Fairburn sent her work directly to Tolkien back in 1968 in hopes that she might be able to do an illustrated edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Tolkien was much impressed by her work and even purchased some of it for himself when plans for the proposed illustrated edition fell through (not to be realized until many years later with the Folio Society and, later, Alan Lee editions). Fairburn herself didn't keep any of the art, but a number of pieces survive because she gave them to a friend who kept them all these years. This calendar collects together the surviving original pieces, most of which Tolkien saw and approved, plus her re-creation of some of the missing ones.

The best piece by far is the one used as the calendar's cover and again as the image for the month of April: the bottom half is Tolkienesque in its use of contour lines, while the top half is distinctly Sime-ish,* esp about the clouds and sky.

In general I much prefer the older pieces, which are more distinctive in style, as well as more surreal and slightly creepy: the Inn at Bree, the Old Forest, the Bridge of Khazad-dum, the Nazgul over Dead Marshes,** and an unusual Treebeard. Tolkien's favorite was the Mirror of Galadriel, perhaps due to its simplicity and her attention to background.

The more recent ones -- of Rivendell, of the Fellowship climbing the lower tree-covered slopes of Caradhras, of Gandalf riding to Minas Tirith -- look fairy-taleish, more like they're intended for a children's book, and have a lighter, greener pallet. The exception is the Cracks of Doom, which is downright Art Deco-ish.

As an added bonus, the calendar also comes with an interesting essay by Paul Tankard giving a brief bio of Fairburn and a history of the project, quoting from her correspondence with Tolkien, and describing how it faltered under the complications and difficulties of both Tolkien's and Fairburn's lives. A more detailed version of this essay appeared in the TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT at the time of the artwork's re-discovery and can be found at the following link:

All in all, it's good to have Fairburn's story, and the previously unpublished passages from Tolkien's letters. It's nice that Fairburn, now 82 and living in Australia, gets recognition and a little glory for her work. And it's good to see the art, which stands up v. well by comparison with what Tolkien art there was in the late Sixties -- this is even earlier, I think, than Tim Kirk, and of course both earlier and far better than The Hildebrandts.


*I'm thinking about the late Sime here, after he'd retired from illustrating and worked away in his studio at Worplesdon on whatever image pleased him, most strikingly a portrait of John on Patmos.

**this picture is accompanied by a rather defensive note to the effect that "Gollum is painted black, in accordance with at least seven references in The Lord of the Rings" --presumably whoever wrote this note had become aware of Tolkien insistence, in his comments on Pauline Baynes' disastrous attempt to portray Gollum, that Gollum is pale-skinned.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tolkien's Shopping List (and a new poem)

So, thanks to Jason Fisher for sharing the news that a London auctionhouse is about to auction off a previously unknown poem by JRRT ("Aredhel went forth in blossom white"). It's a fascinating little piece which retells part of the story of The White Lady, sister of Turgon and Fingon. From the promising and evocative opening reproduced on the auction-house's website, I hope Tolkien continued the poem elsewhere and that this quick draft of the first stanza and a bit more isn't all we have of it.  Still, even if that's the case, we now have more of it that we did before, and its very existence draws attention to a free-spirited figure who unfortunately plays only a small role in the events of THE SILMARILLION.

And, on the back, we get a quick to-do list. Tolkien-bashers have facetiously been talking about "Tolkien's shopping list" for years: now they'll finally get to see how much we Tolkien fans (who are legion) will pay for it. Plus, of course, an unpublished and previously unknown poem. I know I'd love to own it if I had that kind of money.

And if you do have that kind of money, the auction is scheduled for next Thursday, at one o'clock, in Bloomsbury (London); their estimate is that it'll go for between four thousand and six thousand pounds.

Here's the link:

--John R.
Today's song: "Where is the Walrus?" (Alan Parsons Project)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Cat Report (W. 11/5-14)

Tuesday night's adoption of DIVA/Gracie (go, Diva!), plus Wednesday night's adoption of the kittens FUCHSIA and WYSTERIA, leaves us with just three cats left unadopted in the cat-room: BUXTERMAEBE, and little CLOUD.

The kittens were still very much in evidence, though, when I was there yesterday morning: their motto was we're kittens and we're out, and the older cats all coped with this flurry of activity by going high (Maebe, Buxter) or laying low (Cloud). The later strategy, of Cloud's hiding back in the corner in a nice little nest she made by the laundry hamper, particularly intrigued the kittens, who kept going back time after time to check on her and see if she was still there. Maebe started out on the cat-stand by the cabinet but later shifted herself up to the cagetops, where she did some serious snoozing in the cat-box up there; not even the kittens tearing back and forth up there disturbed her.  Buxter settled in her favorite spot atop the cat-stand by the door, where she luxuriated in my giving her a good, long, deep backscratch. She also enjoyed the string game, and showed a real enthusiasm for the soft pink blanket, coming down from her perch to stand on it and do her paws up and down, purring all the while.

Maebe was also interested in the string game while still on the cat-stand; she put such things behind her when she went up high to settle down to some serious sleeping.

Little Cloud showed real progress since last week: a week ago (10/29) she'd been cowering at the back of her cage. Two days later she let me pet her but really, really didn't want to have to come out of her safe territory (the cage). And now this Wednesday (11/5) she came up to the front of her cage and paraded before I even opened the door, let me pick up and carry her, welcomed being petted, and even went for a short walk (beware her wanting to go under shelves, and the speed with which she makes a dash with that goal in mind). She even cried when I put her back in her cage at noon and had to leave for the day. Think she'll quickly become a very sociable cat, at least with people. I'm surprised sometime at how small she is: she and the kittens are about the same length.

As for the kittens, they played with each other all morning. I forgot to bring their favorite mouse-on-a-stick game, but they made do nicely playing with the little plastic eggs, which went skittering as well as any ping-pong balls could have done. Their favorite, though, was the old yarn-and-chain game, which they pursued with vigor. At one point they found and ate some wet catfood that'd been left up on the cagetops, presumably since the night before; by the time I noticed what they were up to it was too late to stop them. And as before they had no interest in being picked up or petted until they crashed around 11, then welcomed being petted while they slept like only tired kittens can. 

Lots of visitors, some of whom said they'd adopted from Purrfect Pals in the past, and at least one who shares my love of small black cats. One woman had forgotten her cat's pre-adoption name but mistook a photo of Kaspar for him, so that's what he looks like (aside from having a notch out of one ear). Before my time, I think: sound familiar to anybody?  Another had a bonded pair named Tig and Tag, but I'm not sure if those were their original names or not. We also had lots of visitors, cat people who wanted to pet and make much of our cats (which the cats enjoyed), plus a fair number of families that viewed the cats from outside. One woman had a blind cat who's twenty-one and a deaf cat who's seventeen, so clearly she's doing something right.

Forgot one thing I forgot to include in the last (composite) Cat Report: when I was in Friday last week I decided to mix things up and so moved the cat-stands around. This interested and pleased the cats greatly, though it made it hard for me to get around in the room (so I put them all back in their usual places before I left at noon). Gracie/Diva was particularly fond of the cave I made for her by draping a blanket over part of the cat-stand closer to the cabinet, turning the middle-sections into a blanket-cave from which she could see out but others cdn't easily see in.

It's been such an amazing month for adoptions. Here's hoping Buxter and Maebe's turns come soon.

--John R.