Friday, September 21, 2018

In Oxford☦️

Sept 8th
THE GREAT BODLEIAN TOLKIEN EXHIBITION (September 8th 2018)
So, whatever you've heard about the Great Exhibition of Tolkien art and manuscript and artifacts currently being held at the Bodleian, I'm pretty sure it fell short of the truth. This is hands down the best Tolkien Exhibit ever mounted.* And the catalogue is just as impressive: I need to go back and check, but I think there are items in display that aren't in the catalogue and items in the (massive) catalogue that aren't on display.

Any Tolkien fan attending this --and there were a lot of them the day I got to go in, when I think they were admitting them fifty at a time-- will find himself or herself drawn to different treasures, depending on what draws you to Tolkien in the first place. I think three that especially stood out for me were things I'd never seen before: first, the first map of the Shire (which I'd hoped to include in the expanded edition of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT but not been able to pull it off); second, several pages from THE BOOK OF ISHNESS, including ones I'd never seen or seen before (far more vibrant and striking in color than I expected); and third, THE SILMARILLION title page. I'm not sure whether this was for the 1930 Quenta or the 1937 Quenta Silm, not having taken notes at the time, but I was struck by how much it conveyed the sense that THE SILMARILLION was a real book, incomplete or no: a substantial work and not just a smattering of parts.

I'm glad I had two solid hours with it. My friend Yoko, who's on a sabbatical in Oxford working with the Tolkien papers, drops by every day to see the exhibit, which seems to me an entirely reasonable proceeding: wouldn't any of us, given the chance, do the same? Afterwards I got a chance to briefly meet Catherine McIlwaine, who put together both the exhibit and catalogue: just long enough to congratulate her on her superb work.

In short: if you're at all interested in Tolkien, and you get a chance to see it, do so. You'll be glad you did.

--John R.
(belatedly blogging)

*Based on the ones I've seen, and the catalogues of those I missed.
-- Unless you count the very early ones back in the late fifties, where Ready sent out the entire manuscript collection to a few lucky libraries. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Here in Oxford

So, nine hours on the plane was worth it, along with the accompanying jet lag, to find ourselves here in Oxford. Specifically, here in our room at Christ Church, which it turns out rents out rooms during the vacations during term-time. Yesterday I was too tired for much, but we did stroll around in the Covered Market (interesting to compare it with Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which sprawls by comparison. We found the place for the Tolkien Exhibit without any trouble and even gave the gift shop a preliminary poke-about.

On our way back to Christ Church College we took a side-trip and climbed the Saxon tower, where I saw a sheela-na-gig (first time to see one, as opposed to just pictures or drawings of them), touched five of the tower’s six great bronze bells (no longer rung, less out of fear of cracking the bells and more from concern how the vibrations from the bells might shake the tower.  I managed to make myself climb all the way to the roof, where I crouched and enjoyed the  view as long as I cd stand (thus repeating my performance at Bath cathedral the last time we were over here in 2012). One of these days I’m going to make my way to the top of one of these too-tall towers and not be able to make my way back down, like Pickles the Fire Cat, but today was not that day.

After two hours or so of fighting off sleep with less and less success, I finally gave in and turned in around seven o’clock, pm, local Oxford time: about eight hours off Seattle time and our internal clocks.

And twelve hours later I woke up, we breakfasted in the dining hall at Christ Church with a roomful of other visitors, and we headed over to see The Great Exhibit: the biggest, and best, Tolkien display ever mounted. More on that tomorrow.

—John R.
—tired but not jet-lagged,
—Christ Church college, Oxford.



Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Xikses the Cretan

The Gray Mouser's true name, according to the early abandoned Leiber story THE GRAIN SHIPS, was Xikses of Crete. 

Personally I rather like the idea of the character not having any real name, just a name he's called by: it tells you all you need to know about his childhood -- and his not taking any other name of his own choice says all we need about the kind of person he grew into.

--JDR

Final preparations for the England trip: re-watching the documentary STANDING WITH STONES (Highly Recommended)


Friday, August 31, 2018

Shirley Jackson's Biblioholism




So, I've finally finished Ruth Franlin's biography of Shirley Jackson (A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE), after picking it up again upon our return from Arkansas.*

In the course of doing so, I came to realize that Jackson and her husband (the critic Stanley Hyman) were biblioholics.** That is, they bought books -- not unusual in people who wrote stories and reviewed books for a living. But the Hymans did so at a scale which suggests that they enjoyed buying books just as much as they did reading them:


"Shirley and Stanley's main source of books, aside from review copies that poured in from The New Yorker and elsewhere, was the Seven Bookhunters. This group of men traveled around the country buying books from secondhand bookstores and reselling them, often at a high markup . . . Whenever Stanley and Shirley needed an obscure, out-of-print or otherwise hard-to-obtain title . . . they put in a special request to Scher*** . . . [who] was 'as familiar with secondhand bookstores . . . as a policeman is with his beat' . . . 
Stanley was accorded the ultimate privilege: every year he accompanied Scher on a book-buying trip, sleeping in cheap hotels or on the benches of railway stations, eating and drinking with Scher's friends along the way, and buying as many as a thousand books."
(Franklin p. 273-274)

As many as a thousand books a year: that's a lot of books. And they seem to have kept just about everything they bought: Franklin reports that at the time of Jackson's death (from a sudden heart attack at age forty-eight) they had at least twenty-five thousand books, maybe more (Franklin p. 273)

Elsewhere it claims that Hyman knew exactly where every book was (p. 79), but I'm skeptical on this point.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that emerged from reading this biography was learning that Jackson in her life time was famous for two kinds of fiction: the unsettling psychological horror of "The Lottery", THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED AT THE CASTLE, and also for comic accounts of life with a houseful of kids (think PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES, which comes from about the same era). Those latter books and stories are entirely forgotten now, but it's interesting to learn of an author with two distinct reputations, one of which endures and the other vanished away.


Three misc. points worth sharing:


(1) here's a self-portrait of Jackson from the Franklin (p. 159):




(2) here's an evocative  fragment from a poem written by Jackson's pen-friend Jeanne Beatty:

make me a charm
  so the dark won't find me
and the frightful things
rise up behind me. 
(p. 433)

(3) finally, here's a witty clip from one of Jackson's short stories:

I have never liked the theory
that poltergeists only come
into houses where there are children,
because I think it is simply too much
for any one house to have
poltergeists and children
--Shirley Jackson, mother of four (p. 304)

--JDR

*where I'm happy to report that the courthouse square in my hometown now has not one but two coffeehouses. Go Magnolia.

**cf. the hilarious but all-too-true book BIBLIOHOLISM: THE LITERARY ADDICTION

***Louis Scher, the chief Bookhunter


current reading: THE APPRENTICESHIP OF JRRT by Simon Cook; THE FALL OF GONDOLIN ed. Christopher Tolkien; STONEHENCE: A NEW UNDERSTANDING by Mike Parker Pearson.
current audiobook: THE SILENT SPEAKER by Rex Stout (a Nero Wolfe mystery).












Monday, August 27, 2018

Thought of the Day (Evening Edition)

Colds: They're not over when you think they're over.

--JDR, older and a little wiser

And I'm Back

Sorry all for my laggardliness in posting: first I got busy, then distracted, then was off to Arkansas, rounding this all off with a cold that had me going the Dayquil/Nightquil routine. I'm now on the mend and shd be back to posting tomorrow.

Thanks to all for the comments, which shd now all be up; my responses shd also be up sometime tomorrow. 

--John R.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Haster at Sixteen

So, it's been sixteen years since we brought Hastur home from the pet store, a tiny adorably gooney torbie kitten just a few weeks old. Over time she's gone from being our middle cat (of three) to a solo senior.

Happy birthday little Hastur

--John R.




Hastur at her most Salvador Dali-ish, demonstrating her prodigious whiskers