Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Reorganizing My Library

So, one thing about staying home and practicing social distancing is that it's helped me concentrate on my current project, as well as provided an impetus to learn some about various online virtual meeting programs.

It's also made for a good time to straighten up my Tolkien shelves. By clearing other things away I managed to add a shelf to those dedicated to books on Tolkien, so that I now have eleven shelves of books about Tolkien in my office. At a rough average of about thirty to thirty-five books per shelf, that's a lot of books (somewhere between three hundred and four hundred books). There's a twelfth of my own Tolkien publications (i.e. MR. BAGGINS, WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, TOLKIEN'S LEGENARDIUM, &c). And this is not counting the shelves of books by Tolkien, shelves for Tolkien journals, a shelf for Tolkien-audio, and a shelf for current projects.*



The main problem with books on Tolkien --and it's a good problem to have-- is that they keep writing new ones. And while I reluctantly gave up trying to get everything a few years ago, there are still interesting and original works coming out that I want to read. So every once in a while I need to integrate the new-ish books into their proper places. I also do some re-arranging to keep essential books, those I frequently consult, ready at hand.

Here's a list of recently added (within the last year or two) or recently moved books:


Amy Amendt-Raduege. THE SWEET AND THE BITTER: DEATH AND DYING IN J. R. R. TOLKIEN'S THE LORD OF THE RINGS

Craig Bernthal. TOLKIEN'S SACRAMENTAL VISION: DISCERNING THE HOLY IN MIDDLE EARTH

John M. Bowers. TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER

Devin Brown. TOLKIEN: HOW AN OBSCURE OXFORD PROFESSOR WROTE THE HOBBIT AND BECAME THE MOST BELOVED AUTHOR OF THE CENTURY  [and yes, all that is in his title]

Jane Chance. TOLKIEN, SELF AND OTHER: "THIS QUEER CREATURE"

Christopher Vaccaro & Yvette Kisor, ed. TOLKIEN AND ALTERITY   [festschrift for Jane Chance].

Oronzo Cilli. TOLKIEN'S LIBRARY: AN ANNOTATED CHECKLIST

Lisa Coutras. TOLKIEN'S THEOLOGY OF BEAUTY: MAJESTY, SPLENDOR, AND TRANSCENDENCE IN MIDDLE-EARTH

Leslie A. Donovan, ed APPROACHES TO TEACHING TOLKIEN'S THE LORD OF THE RINGS AND OTHER WORKS     [MLA]   [two copies, one hc one tp]

Martha Driver & Sid Ray, ed. THE MEDIEVAL HERO ON SCREEN: REPRESENTATIONS FROM BEOWULF TO BUFFY

Angie Errigo. THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE LORD OF THE RINGS

Dimitra Fimi. CELTIC MYTH IN CONTEMPORARY CHILDREN'S FANTASY: IDEALIZATION, IDENTITY, IDEOLOGY

Dimitra Fimi & Thomas Honneger, ed. SUB-CREATING ARDA: WORLD-BUILDING IN J. R. R. TOLKIEN'S WORK, ITS PRECURSORS, AND ITS LEGACIES


[here I'm reserving a spot on John Garth's new book, due out the month after next, so I won't have to redo the shelving when it does arrive]


Catherine McIlwaine. TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH  [Bodley catalogue]

Vincent Ferre & Frederic Manfrin, ed. TOLKIEN: VOYAGE EN TERRE DU MILIEU

Verlyn Flieger. THERE WOULD ALWAYS BE A FAIRY TALE: MORE ESSAYS ON TOLKIEN

Philip Ryken. THE MESSIAH COMES TO MIDDLE EARTH: IMAGES OF CHRIST'S THREEFOLD OFFICE IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS

Toby Widdicombe. J. R. R. TOLKIEN: A GUIDE TO THE PERPLEXED

Helen White. RACE AND POPULAR FANTASY LITERATURE: HABITS OF WHITENESS


--John R.
current reading: Trilobite book.

*Note that this is also the room that's home to most of my rpgs, with two and a half bookcases filled with D&D rulebooks, boxed sets, and modules, plus another bookcase filled with CALL OF CTHULHU

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Dee Brown wd be proud

So, there's a movement underway to posthumously revoke the medals given to soldiers who carried out the Wounded Knee massacre back in 1890.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/nov/28/warren-bill-revoke-medals-of-honor-wounded-knee-massacre

Some moments in US history are so iconic, like the events at Wounded Knee or My-Lai, that they need some sort of commemoration. We need to remember both the best and the worst of our history. But I don't think gestures designed to punish people who have been dead a hundred years or so is the way.

--John R.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Inklings and the Mythos (Dale Nelson)

So, I've now recovered the missing issue of MALLORN* containing Dale Nelson's wide-ranging inquiry into possible connections between the Inklings and Lovecraft's circle, "The Lovecraft Circle and the Inklings: The 'Mythopoeic Gift' of H. P. Lovecraft" (MALLORN 59, Winter 2018, pages 18-32). It's a substantial piece, and in it Nelson raises such topics as the following:

Did the two groups read or were they influenced by each other?

   Answer: Lovecraft read two of Williams' novels, Tolkien read one short story by Smith, Lewis may have been influenced by a Wandrei tale. Nelson also suggests that OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET was influenced to some degree by AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (this seems tenuous) and that the psychic transfer in THE DARK TOWER may owe something to "THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME" (an intriguing suggestion). I found the latter idea the most interesting part of Nelson's paper. Also noteworthy, but less developed, is his idea that there are affinities between "SHADOW OUT OF TIME" and THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS.

Did they admire or were influenced by the same authors (e.g. Blackwood)?

   Answer: to some extent, yes. In addition to Blackwood, whom he judges by far the most important shared influence, Nelson considers Dunsany (whom he--quite unfairly I think--calls "the anti-Tolkien"), Hodgson, M. R. James, Machen, and Haggard. He mentions Poe on the one hand and Morris and MacDonald on the other but only in passing: I shd have thought it beyond dispute that Poe was the seminal author for Lovecraft's group; if the Inklings had anyone comparable it wd be Morris and MacDonald.

Is Lovecraft, at his best, 'mythopoeic' as Lewis defined the term?

   Answer: that depends. Nelson compares Lovecraft with MacDonald, Haggard, and Lindsay, concluding that these lesser lights, not the Inklings, were Lovecraft's peers. He briefly considers Robert Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, both of whom he considers inferior to Lovecraft: Howard "wallows in violence and sexual perversity" while Smith he finds "misanthropic and decadent", his work marked by "nastiness".

In the end, he passes judgment, concluding that Lovecraft just wasn't good enough. A major factor in his being disqualified, in Nelson's eyes, from the top rank is HPL's penchant to conclude his stories dyscatastrophically, rather than with an Inklings-like eucatastrophically.


This is a long and discursive piece, its middle section dominated by two and a half pages in small type of extended quotation from THE DUNWICH HORROR and THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.** The digression on Bombadil is one of the better things I've seen on that much-misunderstood figure. I do have to say I thought it surprising that when the author criticizes Lovecraft's prose it's not for his idiosyncratic (eldritch!) vocabulary but his use of demonstrative pronoun ("a certain overuse of that and those): odd choice.

I remember someone at Kalamazoo about eight years ago mooted putting together a collection of papers for a book on TOLKIEN AND LOVECRAFT: Nelson's piece wd have fitted well into such a setting. Unfortunately so far as I know that project never got as far as a Call for Papers. Pity, since I knew exactly what I'd like to have submitted: I 'd have loved to have done a short piece exploring whether there was any plausible connection between the Things Gandalf finds below Moria and the creatures Ransom encounters beneath Perelandra and the things that haunt various dark lairs in certain of Lovecraft's Mythos stories. Which wd be interesting to do, but wd take a lot of work, while there are so many other interesting projects in various stages of completion to see to first.


All in all, Nelson's essay is an ambitious piece: worth reading, but might have been better expanded into a short book. There's just too much here to cover in a single essay.

--John R.

current reading: TRILOBITE!: EYEWITNESS TO EVOLUTION by Richard Fortey (2000; bought 2005, begun and abandoned 2010)



*It came with a TSA tag in it. I now realize it'd gotten misplaced because it arrived right before I went on a research trip and I took it along, thinking I might be able to read it during my down times in the evening. That didn't turn  out to be the case, and it came back unread in the middle of a folder of photocopies and miscellaneous notes, said folder having been unearthed in a big re-arranging of my office recently.

**a single paragraph from each wd have served him better.




Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Census


So, today I filled out the census form, one of the few truly nation-wide acts a citizen or resident of the U.S. can do.

I'm sure I must have done so before but I can only remember it once, when someone with a clipboard came by when I was living at Kane Place in the smallest of my many small apartments from my student and grad student days. That would be in 1990. The only residents were myself and Parker the cat (then only a year old), who wasn't counted.

Most of my contact with the census has been with censuses past, back when I got interested in family history while in Scouting as a result of working on the Genealogy merit badge. I never did get the badge, for reasons I no longer remember,* but I learned a lot about my ancestry from talking to both my grandmothers and writing to great-uncles and great aunts. I can sum up what I found out like this:

1. We've been here a long time. I could only find one ancestor not born in this country, my great-great-great grandmother, who came over from the Scotch-Irish part of Ireland as a child in the 1790s.

2. We're all Southerns: mostly from Arkansas but also Mississippi and Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky, Virginia, and South Carolina. Even today most of my relatives like in Arkansas or Texas (I'm the outlier here, having lived all over Arkansas but then shifting to first Wisconsin and now Washington state).**

3. Old censuses and similar records are useless in establishing something I really wanted to know: when the name took on its current spelling (Rateliff, with a silent e). That's because just about everybody used to get it wrong, so if you saw a reference to a Ratliff or Ratcliff it was just as likely to be the census-taker's mistake as an accurate record.

It was interesting getting to know a lot of far-flung relatives I'd never met, but I eventually came up against a brick wall, that being the farthest back living memory cd go. I found that lots of people remembered their grandparents' names, so if you cd talk to a member of your grandparents' generation you cd go back as far as yr grandparents' grandparents (that is, your great-great grandparents). But when I came across an ancestor named John Smith I knew that was as far as I was going . . .

--John R.

--current viewing: THE RETURN OF THE KING, all three hours and twenty minutes in one uninterrupted go.


*I still have my old sash, which has forty-six badges, so it was not for lack of diligence.

**Wisconsin because of the Tolkien and Washington for the D&D.



Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Laptop Bounce

So, the good news is that my laptop bounces when knocked off the top of a three-foot-tall bookcase.

 No harm done.

The bad news is that there's one more place I can't leave my laptop, now that the cats have added it to their leaping repertoire.

 You can't count on being lucky twice.

--John R.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tolkien Reading Day

So, today is Tolkien Reading Day,* a yearly celebration of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. I usually don't take part** but this year through Janice I learned that the Tolkien Collector's Guide site had organized an interesting collection of Tolk folk to read aloud a wide array of Tolkien's works, everything from Verlyn Flieger reading "Aotrou & Itroun" to Dimitra Fimi's seven year old son talking about THE HOBBIT. Even though it was at the last minute, they were good enough to let me join in with a brief  contribution, "The Dragon's Visit" (original version, 1937) at 2.45 today, right at the end of Clifford Broadway's reading of the LotR chapter "The Houses of Healing".

 Here's the link to the description of the event and list of participants:

https://www.tolkienguide.com/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?post_id=24576&fbclid=IwAR1MntWwqUKjlZudsazpkvYu5attmnlyOOPLMDhPJYjntRtHhnCRENrPzXs#forumpost24576

And now back to my work for the day --wrestling with the various texts of the AINULINDALE.

--John R.


*probably inspired by Bloomsday, held by Joyce scholars each year on June 16th.

**it may not be literally true but it feels like for me the term 'Tolkien reading day' applies to as many of my days as not).

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Soames Museum, or Derleth's pastiche

So, as a side-note to my previous post, another usage in the same Derleth story  ("The Adventure of the Six Silver Spiders" in THE MEMOIRS OF SOLAR PONS by August Derleth. Mycroft & Moran, 1951)  seemed to raise some questions on Derleth's usage of pastiche.

At one point during this story the clues lead Pons and his  dimmer-than-Watson sidekick to The Soames Museum on 16 High Holburn Street. We are told that

The building housed the one-time collection 
of the late Sir Rowley Soames, and such pieces
 as had been added by various donors since his time
 (p.147)

Now, this is obviously the Sir John Soane's Museum, the famous London landmark,* located at Lincoln Inn Fields. The usage Soames/Soane's may be a simple slip, and the change in address perhaps forced upon Derleth by the exigencies of the story (Pons has to crack a cipher to learn the location). But why Rowley instead of John? Did he simply not know the given name and popped something in, not having time in those pre-internet days to look it up? Did he simply not care? Or were the changes deliberate, just as his most transparent minimal changes made the Solar Pons stories publishable in the first place without interference from the Doyle estate.

I'm inclined to pass this off as a piece of local color by a Wisconsin author trying to re-create an ambiance of 1920s London, on par with the frequent descriptions of the English countryside which the person being spoken to cd see for himself. But I can't shake the suspicion that Derleth is putting in a proprietary touch here and there.

--John R.


*I've enjoyed enjoyed both my visits to the Soane, once to view the collection and once for a wedding reception. A friend of mine (a major Tolkien scholar) worked here for many years.


UPDATE: I've fixed the typo. Thanks David