Saturday, August 27, 2016

Stephen Colbert is Brilliant (Frodo & the Ring)

So, I have Janice to thank for sending me this link, which I wd otherwise have missed.

Stephen Colbert has long been notable for being a self-confessed Tolkien fan (indeed, a Tolkien nerd), and proud of it.

Typically this has taken the form of his display of knowledge that shows he's not just read THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT but THE SILMARILLION as well and is conversant with the VALAQUENTA and AINULINDALE, able to recall facts about the books off the cuff. Now for the first time he's moved from being just a fan (albeit a famous one) to, I wd argue, being a Tolkien scholar as well.

In a recent segment Colbert offered up an insight into THE LORD OF THE RINGS I don't remember ever coming across before. In essence, he argued that Gandalf knew Frodo would fail in his quest to destroy the Ring, because he'd seen with his own eyes that Frodo could not throw the ring into his own fire at Bag-End. Letting that sink in, I think Colbert is on to something here, and that it's a major point that had never occurred to me.

If Gandalf sees for himself that Frodo is already too tightly tied to the Ring even before settting out on his quest, then he knows that Frodo will never be able to toss the Ring into the Fires of Doom. However good-intentioned Frodo is, he's already too far in the power of the ring.

Therefore, I think it's fair to extrapolate that Gandalf must have had a contingency plan: that another person (himself, Sam, Strider) would need to be there to take the final step after Frodo had accomplished the grueling task of getting the Ring to the right place at the right time.  That is, unknown to himself, Frodo's quest was never to destroy the ring: it was to bring the ring to the place where it could be destroyed. And he achieved his task, at great cost, and was duly honored for it, but privately haunted for failing in the second test (a bit like Gawain's hyper-honor at the end of SGGK).

That's where my cogitation on Colbert's observation led me, anyway; I'd be curious what others make of it.

--John R.
currently in: Magnolia, Arkansas


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Worst Song Ever Recorded?

So, yesterday I was in Wal-Mart for the first time in months (in fact, the same Wal-Mart I was last in, the last time I was back here in my hometown in Arkansas), when over the loudspeakers they played "I've Got a Brand New Pair of Rollerskates". Which just goes to show that while the good music of the sixties and seventies is always with us, so too are the bad. And among the bad, for the worst of the worst I would cast my vote for "I've Got a Brand New Pair of Rollerskates, You've Got a Brand New Key". There may be worse songs out there (it was, after all, the era of Yoko Ono), but this is the worst I know of that actually got a lot of air time before slinking into well-deseerved obscurity.  It was almost worth hearing it one more time for the pleasure of when it stopped.

--John R.
currently at: The Greek Theatre, Southern Arkansas University

So, I have to say Wal-Mart more than made up for it when I went back the next day, and heard Tears for Fears playing over that same sound system. Then I have to wonder what Smith and Orzabal would think  if they knew their work was one day destined to entertain Wal-Mart shoppers in Magnolia, Arkansas. Just another sign that you do the work and let the legacy take care of itself.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The New Arrival (LEAF BY NIGGLE)

So, Monday's mail brought not just the latest issue of VII* but the newest Tolkien book: the first stand-alone publication of his 1942-43 parable LEAF BY NIGGLE. I gather this was released in association with (or at least contemporaneously with) the one-man show that's currently touring in England -- and, I hope, will make it over here in good time.

Most who enjoy Tolkien will have read this already, thorough collections such as TREE AND LEAF (which paired it with OFS), THE TOLKIEN READER (which added FGH, ATB, OFS, and HBB to make the classic collection**), both during Tolkien's lifetime. Postumously THE TOLKIEN READER's place was taken by TALES FROM THE PERILOUS REALM  (which added SWM; a later re-issue added ROVERANDOM as well).  It's nice to see it get to stand on its own for once.

As for the book itself, it's a handsome little volume, only about sixty-four pages (including backmatter) with a tree and a bicycle on the cover and an Afterword by Tom Shippey. Shippey's interpretation of Tolkien's tale is purely allegorical and strictly autobiographical.

All in all, a nice little book that I'm happy to have. If it weren't already spoke for on the Tolkien shelf I'd put it alongside Giono's THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES and Merwin's UNCHOPPING A TREE.

--John R.

*haven't had time to read this yet, but v. much looking forward to their publication here, for the first time ever, of PUDAITA PIE, the Lewis brothers' collection of sayings of their father that made him look bad, and to a review-essay of four biographies wh is full of well-deserved praise for Raymond Edwards' new Tolkien biography (the reviewer also liked the Zaleskis' book for its treatment of Wms and inclusion of Barfield).

 **LotR, H, and THE TOLKIEN READER made up the three books that most people in the sixties and first half of the seventies who liked Tolkien read)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

MythCon and the MythSoc Awards

So, I cdn't make it to this year's MythCon (after having v. much enjoyed last year's event in  Colorado), but was v. interested to see the schedule of presentations. Thanks to David Bratman for posting the schedule before the event:

and also for his post-con report of some of the event's high spots:

Looking at the schedule, there are definitely papers I wd have attended, given the chance:

--Rbt Boenig's Plenary lecture  -- having been impressed with Boenig's book (which I believe won last year's award), I'd like to hear more of what he has to say.

--Joe Christopher's latest piece on the Lindskoog Scandal

--Chip Crane on the evolution of Tolkien's prose style

--Talley et al on Tolkien's unsung heroes

--Himes's piece on CSL's hypocrisy as a critic (a look at Lewis's late, unsatisfactory AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM)

--David Bratman's "C. S. Lewis: Numenorean" (being myself deeply interested in how THE LOST ROAD, THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS, & THE DARK TOWER intersect with Lewis's space trilogy)

--both Croft's pieces: the one on post-Tolkienan faerie drama, and esp. the other on JRRT's Introductions, Prefaces, and Forewords.

--Fitzsimmons's piece on Barfield (there being so few presentations on OB, I try to never miss an opportunity to see one).

--and lastly Lazo's "C. S. Lewis Got It Wrong (and Why It Matters): Unraveling an Unpublished Mystery" (mainly to find out what his topic is and, depending on the answer, what he had to say about it).

As for the Mythopoeic Awards, congr. to all the nominees and esp. the winners. It was good to see what is almost certainly the best book ever written on Ch. Wms., one of the Society's three tentpole authors, get the nod (Lindop's THE THIRD INKLING). And it was also good that Williamson's book on the emergence of modern fantasy (a book I liked so much I contributed a cover blurb to it) also was honored.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Giving Finland A Mountain

So, here's a fun story, the best 'good news' item I've heard in ages:

Norway is thinking of giving Finland a mountain, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Finland's becoming independent back during the dark days towards the end of The Great War.

There's precedent for such minor border adjustments, both within countries (for example, Tennessee and Arkansas periodically adjust their mutual border to take into account shifts in the Mississippi) and between them (e.g. between Finland, Russia, and Norway, as noted in the article itself).

The amount of territory involved is miniscule (0.015 sq km), and would have the effect of shifting Finland's tallest point from the side of a mountain to share a mountain with the Norwegians, each having one of its two peaks within their (adjusted) territory. In Finland's case, their peak wd then become the tallest peak in Finland.

There are a few Norwegian nationalist who object to the deal, and it turns out the Sami community* does too (feeling that a wide swatch of northern Scandinavia shd be stateless), but it sounds like this goodwill gesture is likely to come to pass.

Here' the link

current reading: INTO OTHER WORLDS by Roger Lancelyn Green (disappointing) and THE WIZARD OF LEMURIA (Lin Carter's first novel; arrived yesterday)

*the people previously known in the past as the Lapps.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ace vs. Ballantine, 1962

So, here's one final surprising takeaway from Richard A. Lupoff's book on Edgar Rice Burroughs's contribution to popular fiction: the discovery that Tolkien in 1965 was not the first time Ace Books and Ballantine had tussled over publication of works whose copyright status was uncertain. In fact, the Great Copyright Controversy, as it's sometimes called, over the two rival paperback editions of Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS was, if anything, a re-match between Donald Wollheim at Ace and Ian Ballantine at Ballantine. The following passage is fairly lengthy, but I found it fascinating for the light it shed on paperback fantasy/science fiction publishing in New York in the early to mid 1960s, and the context against which the slightly later LotR battle wd play out.

In following Lupoff's account, it's important to note that later in his career Burroughs became his own publisher. Accordingly, "Burroughs, Inc." is both the family publishing business (which fell quiescent after Burroughs' death) and the Burroughs Estate (which remained selectively active). Lupoff was an editor for Canaveral Books, so he had a ringside seat for the events he recalls forty years later.

[Following Burroughs' death in 1950, official Burroughs Inc.] editions began disappearing from bookstores. Book dealers active in the field both then and now recount their experiences of being unable to obtain books ordered from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Reprint editors tell of comparable experiences. Donald A. Wollheim, soon to be with Ace Books but then with Avon, tells of attempting to secure paperback rights to Burroughs' work and receiving for reply only rebuffs—or total silence.

It seemed almost as if Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., was attempting to bury the writings of Burroughs, and attend to more lucrative matters such as the licensing of the Tarzan character for motion pictures, comic strips and magazines, and other commercial exploitations.

For 12 years this was the situation, while Burroughs, except for the Tarzan adaptations, became virtually a forgotten man. A coterie of loyal fans kept the lamp of memory flickering, and a semi-professional publisher would now and then risk lawsuit with an underground edition of a few hundred copies of some "lost" Burroughs work.

In 1962 everything changed. Jack Biblo and Jack Tannen, operators of a used books store in New York, learned through a copyright search that approximately half of the Burroughs canon was in the public domain. That is, the copyright had lapsed 27 years after first publication, and had not been renewed as legally required. Anyone who wanted to reprint Burroughs could, permission or no, provided only that they stayed within the out-of-copyright list.

Biblo and Tannen set up a publishing house called Canaveral Press and announced an ambitious program of reprinting Burroughs in hard-bound, illustrated editions. In short order Wollheim of Ace Books announced a similar and even more ambitious program of paperback reprints. Ballantine Books produced a trump card with the claim that they had obtained Burroughs' Inc.'s permission, and thus would reprint copyright as well as public domain material. Dover Books announced its own, somewhat smaller, Burroughs program.

For a time there was utter chaos. From a drought of Burroughs there was now, suddenly, a flood. Where a given title had been out-of-print for decades, there were now two, three, four competing editions on sale at once. Eventually, fortunately, a measure of order was restored when a new administration at Burroughs, Inc. negotiated settlements with the various publishers involved.

Canaveral obtained exclusive hardcover publishing rights for a time. They eventually produced two dozen Burroughs titles including several first editions.* Dover limited its program to a few omnibus volumes of Burroughs, then retired from the field.

Ace and Ballantine split the paperback rights more or less down the middle—Ace got [the] Pellucidar and Venus series, Ballantine got Tarzan and Mars. Other titles were parcelled out one by one. For hardcover first editions of remaining Burroughs manuscripts, Burroughs Inc. published a single title, and in recent years has allowed various small presses to produce others.

In this fashion, this immensely popular author came back into his own after a hiatus of 12 years.

—MASTER OF ADVENTURE: THE WORLDS OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS, rev. ed. 2005, pages xxxviii-xxxix (emphasis mine).**

The key elements here that parallel the slightly later events over Tolkien's book wd be (1) the refusal of the authorized publisher to grant permissions for paperback reprints, despite approaches by several publishers; (2) this leading to the discovery by Wollheim that the official publishers probably didn't have undisputed rights to material (and hence cd not legally sub-let rights they might not actually have); (3) which led to the official publisher normalizing the situation by striking a deal that led to the recognition of an officially authorized edition (which in Tolkien's case led to the unauthorized rival being driven from the field).

The biggest difference in Tolkien's case is that while Burroughs was long dead, and the most prized of the books in question had been published a half-century before. Did this inspire the telling line by Tolkien himself about "courtesy (at least) to living authors" that appeared proudly on every copy of the Ballantine text?

In any case, it seems to me a case cd be made for the Burroughs brouhaha of 1962 being an interesting preliminary skirmish, as it were, in the Tolkienian battle of 1965. I'd previously known Lupoff only as the author of the novel LOVECRAFT'S BOOK, which I've had for years but never read. I'm thinking now I shd dig it out and give it a try.

--John R.
current reading: R. L. Green's INTO OTHER WORLDS (still)
current viewing: BACCANO! (brilliant nonlinear storytelling) and HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCE (the single best anime series ever)

*i.e., the first publication, or first book publication, of previously unpublished or uncollected material

** I have silently corrected two obvious typos in the original.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Was Lin Carter a Tragic Figure or a Pulp Hack?

So, when reading Lupoff's book,* I was surprised to come across the following tribute to Lin Carter.
On page 33 Lupoff writes (emphasis mine)

'The late Lin Carter, himself a science-fiction author and one of the most perceptive critics of imaginative literature, stated in his classic study of epic fantasy (Notes on Tolkien, Xero magazine, 1961, 1962): "One such traditional plot device is to open your tale in surroundings, or among characters, familiar to your audience, and by degrees (once the reader has 'identified' and become 'comfortable' with them) to carry him further and further into your make-believe world." '[Nt1]**

At the bottom of this page, Lupoff has added the following note (again, emphasis mine):

[Nt1]'Carter's series of Xero articles served as the basis for his book-length study Tolkien: A Look behind the Lord of the Rings (1969), which in turn led to his stint as Consulting Editor on the fondly remembered Ballantine Adult Fantasy series (1969-1973). Carter was a talented and perceptive literary man who devoted the majority of his energies to producing a barrage of pastiches of the Burroughs and Robert E. Howard variety (touched on elsewhere in this book). He died in 1987, leaving his potential not merely unfulfilled but virtually untouched.'

Those passages I've boldfaced give me pause, because I've always looked on Carter as someone with enthusiasm but not talent or judgment. His A LOOK BEHIND THE LORD OF THE RINGS, filled with errors as it was, introduced me to a lot of writers I went on to read and enjoy, and I think his work writing those little Forewords to the Adult Fantasy Series volumes helped establish a sense of fantasy's having a coherent tradition running form Morris to Tolkien (with precursors before and heirs beyond). But I certainly wd never call him "perceptive" (as Lupoff does twice). And what I've read of his fiction was simply hopeless.

I'm curious: does Lupoff suggest he was a tragic figure because he thought he had it in him to write a novel better than the dreck he actually did write (and publish)? If so, upon what does he base this sense of Carter's "potential"?

Or was Carter able to recognize talent without being able to do more than imitate its outward forms? That wd be tragic indeed if the many books he wrote (nearly a hundred) were all more or less exercises in futility, aping the forms of better writers without being able to capture any of the spark that brings their work to life. But I see no sign anywhere that Carter himself thought that; instead, he seems to have been filled with admiration for his own work (e.g., regularly including it it Year's Best fantasy anthologies he edited).

So, Lupoff's comments suggest there was more to Lin Carter than comes across in his books. If anyone else has insights into what this might have been, I'd be interesting in hearing.

--John R.
current reading: INTO OTHER WORLDS by Roger Lancclyn Green (1958)


**Gary Hunnewell's invaluable TOLKIEN FANDOM REVIEW: FROM ITS BEGINNINGS TO 1964 volume provides the information that this appeared in three parts, in issues number 7, 8, and 9, respectively, taking up a total of just 21 pages.