Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Tolkien and the Nobel Prize

Now this is interesting.

Thanks to Dunsany scholar Martin Andersson -- who wrote an interesting piece on Lord Dunsany and the Nobel in 2018* -- we now know that Tolkien was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature at least three times:

in 1961, when he was nominated by C. S. Lewis.**

in 1967, when his name appeared on the (alphabetical) long list as #58 of 70 nominees.

and in 1969, when he was #90 on the long list of 103 names.

So far as I know he did not make the short list any of these times.

This was not Tolkien's first encounter with the Nobel prize. Back in 1954 he had served as a nominator rather than nominee, putting forward E. M. Foster, that quintessentially English author, for the honor.  Tolkien was clearly chosen for his position as Merton Professor of English, and it's interesting to note that his nomination of Forster was seconded by Sir David Cecil*** and thirded by F. P. Wilson, all three professors of English at Oxford.


We know that C. S. Lewis put Tolkien's name forward in 1961, no doubt from his status as professor of Renaissance literature at Cambridge.


 The nominator who put in Tolkien's name in 1967 is one Gosta Holm, professor of Nordic languages ("nordiska sprak") at the Univ. of Lunds in Sweden. So I suspect he knew or knew of Tolkien through their shared interest in philology.

link 3

The nominator in 1969 was R. E. Wycherley, an archeologist and professor of Greek ("grekiska") at Univ. of North Wales in Bangor.

link 4

Of his fellow nominees on the 1969 list, twelve did go on to win the prize:
Samuel Beckett (that same year, 1969),
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1970),
Pablo Neruda (1971),
Heinrich Boll (1972),
Patrick White (1973),
Eyvind Johnson (1974),
Harry Martinson (also 1974),
Eugenio Montale (1975)
Elias Canetti (1981),
Jaroslaf Seifert (1984)
Claude Simon (1985)
and Gunter Grass (though he had to wait for it thirty years, 1999).

Of these, I have to confess that I've read only two: a lot of Beckett (all his plays and even a few of his novels) and one by Solzhenitsyn (his Nobel Prize speech, which we were required to teach to college Freshmen at Marquette).****

Tolkien doesn't have to worry on one account: the Nobel committee is famous, with the hindsight of history, for passing over many of the greats -- such as from the 1969 list not just Tolkien and Forster but also Auden, Frost, Nabokov, Larkin, and, notoriously, Borges.

--John R.

*appeariing in THE GREEN BOOK, vol. 11, 2018.
**the following year CSL nominated Rbt Frost -- an excellent choice and testimony of how highly he rather the New Engander's work
***fellow Inkling, distinguished biographer, and bete noir of F. R. Leavis
****which the students didn't much care for, though at least Solzhenitsyn fared better than Chesterton though perhaps not as well as Bronowki.

Kickstarting Tolkien Tapestries

So, thanks to Denis B for letting me know that the Aubesson Tolkien Tapestry project has plans to re-create two more of JRRT's iconic artworks from THE HOBBIT in tapestry form. Currently they're running a funding drive on Kickstarter, with a goal of 100.000 euros (about $107,000):


Of the two paintings chosen, one is Bilbo and the Eagle (BILBO WOKE WITH THE EARLY SUN IN HIS EYES), generally considered one of his best illustrations. The other, Bilbo and the Dragon (CONVERSATION WITH SMAUG), is one of my two favorites of all Tolkien's paintings for THE HOBBIT.*

For a closer look at what an Aubesson Tolkien tapestry looks like, take a look at the debut of their RIVENDELL -- which clip, coincidently, includes Christopher's last public appearance


If this is a project you'd like to see come to fruition, the Kickstarter runs till March 21st.

--John R.

*the other being BILBO COMES TO THE HUT OF THE RAFT-ELVES, aka The Forest River, which I have hopes of someday seeing rendered in stained glass.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Art Garkunkel's Reading List

So, while sorting out some old papers last week I came across a reference to Art Garfunkel, of Simon & Garfundel, and his reading list. A little quick research showed that what was true in 2006 is still true in 2020: not only does Garfunkel still keep up his list but he's made it easily available on his website. The total now stands at 1299 books, from Rousseau's CONFESSIONS (June 1968) through the most recent, Atwood's  THE HANDMAID'S TALE.

In addition, Garfunkel has a special list of his favorites, which itself runs to 170 books. I didn't go through his whole list, but of the favorites I've only read twenty-two out of the hundred and seventy. And while my list is longer than his* that's to be expected given that reading is a side-line for a great musician whereas it's a large part of what I do as an editor and scholar.

Here's the list.


*(it currently stands at 3558 from the restart date in 1981, with the previous list having gotten to 536 books between 1975 and 1981)

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Washington State Primary

So, this week we had a micro-election: only one thing to vote for on the ballot, whether to renew a school levy. Naturally I voted for this -- supporting public education is a Good Thing in my book.

Then today came the voter's pamphlet for our next election: the primary for this fall's presidential race. We vote on March 10th -- less than a month away.

The Republican side of this is simple: the only option is to vote for Trump or don't vote at all.

The Democratic side is,  predictably, messier. If anything there's an over-richness of options (rather like the Republican campaigns of 2016 and 2012). Of the twenty-three people who at some point were running for the nomination, thirteen made it this far, or at least were still running at the point when this pamphlet went to press. Ironically among those to have dropped out is Washington state governor Jay Inslee, who wd have been a 'favorite son' candidate if he'd gotten this far.

The candidates who made the ballot are

Michael Bennet
Joe Biden
Michael Bloomberg
Cory Booker
Pete Bettigieg
John Delaney*
Tulsi Gabbard
Amy Klobuchar
Deval Patrick
Bernie Sanders
Tom Steyer
Elizabether Warren
Andrew Yang

At this point my first choice is still in the running despite troubles in Iowa and New Hampshire, and my second choice is still running and doing quite well -- so I can still entertain what-if scenarios wherein one gets the nomination and the other is his or her running mate. We'll see.

I do wish the list had fewer billionaires (as in: none) and fewer old men. It does feel like some of the candidates who don't get the nomination cd make for interesting Cabinet Secretaries. Again, we'll see

--John R.
--current reading: the MURDERBOT series by Martha Wells. didn't know they wrote them like that anymore: highly entertaining.

*I thought I'd been following the campaign fairly close, but admit to not having heard of Delaney before

*among those to have dropped out

Thursday, February 13, 2020

So this is what Diversity looks like

So, I don't much follow the local news since our city's local paper ceased issuing a print edition a few years back and went to being a news web-site rather than 'paper' as such. Which means I wdn't have seen the following (from a regional news station) had Janice not drawn it to my attention.

It turns out Kent, one of the outlying towns that make up the Seattle area, where we live, is the tenth most diverse city in America.


I'm surprised by this because 'diversity'' turns out to look perfectly normal. I've lived in areas with large minority components pretty much all my life. What's different now is how many ethnicities and nationalities one city can absorb with little outward sign. The school behind my house may belong to a school district prepared to teach kids in a hundred and thirty languages but it looks like any other school. The Kent library has an impressive array of books in a surprising number of languages but is just like any other town library.

And I say: Welcome.

--John R.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Colbert vs. The Hobbit (-eh-)

So, thanks to friend Stan for pointing out that Steven Colbert had some Tolkien content on his show last week. Here's the link, with the lead in to the Tolkien talk starting at about the four and a half minute mark:

The context for this is his guest's having just finished reading the entire Harry Potter series to his daughter, raising the question of what next. Colbert maintained that at age ten she wd now be ready to plunge into THE LORD OF THE RINGS. When the father suggested THE HOBBIT instead, Colbert responded with -eh-   At six or even eight, he said, maybe THE HOBBIT wd have done.

Given his status as a stalwart Tolkien fan, I was surprised to find him so dismissive of what I think is one of Tolkien's masterpieces. It was revealing that the parts of THE HOBBIT he really likes are the parts that tie in with LORD OF THE RINGS and THE SILMARILLION: the Gollum story, the swords from Gondolin, the Elvenking. It sounds to me as if he loves LotR and is deeply conversant in THE SILMARILLION, but not much interested in Tolkien's other work, like FARMER GILES or SMITH or, it turns out, THE HOBBIT. 

I know there are some people who like THE HOBBIT but not LotR  (a minority opinion).

And there are quite a few who view THE HOBBIT as just a 'prelude' to LotR, something you need to get through to get on to the good stuff (a much more widely held view, though one I think wrong). I find a lot of people in this position had read LotR first and then THE HOBBIT, like Colbert himself.

And then there are those of us who love both THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS (the majority) -- and often much much more. Many in this group read THE HOBBIT first, then went on to read LORD OF THE RINGS (sometimes after a gap).

I count myself lucky to belong to the most inclusive of these groups. I'm sorry to find Mr. Colbert's sympathies more limited than mine, but though we eventually come to a parting of the ways I'm glad our road runs together for as much of its length as it does.

--John R
--current reading: ALL SYSTEMS RED by Martha Wells. The Murderbot series, Book I
(v. enjoyable; a loan from friend Jeff)

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Baggins Passes

So, day before yesterday I was sorry to hear about the death at age 91 of actor Orson Bean who played (that is, provided the voice for) Bilbo Baggins in the 1977 Rankin-Bass HOBBIT. This animated movie was much reviled, and with good reason. But back in the late 70s we Tolkien fans had to make due with what we cd get, and so I got this two-record set of the soundtrack (on Saturday December 24th 1977) and listened to the album over and over again in those pre-home VCRs days.

 And the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT did have two things going for it. First, it was better than Bakshi's LotR.* And second, it had a remarkable array of voice talent. The great John Huston made for a great Gandalf, and Richard Boone (his last role) a languid yet menacing Smaug. Hans Conried was an excellent Thorin and Bean made for a slightly snarky Bilbo (the line of his that sticks in my mind is his comment upon learning he has a magical ring of invisibility: "How convenient!").**

I'd never seen Bean in anything before, and I don't remember seeing him in anything afterwards, with the major exception of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999), a movie I recommend but won't say anything more about because of spoilers.

So, thanks for the memories, Mr. Bean.

--John R.

*though even Bakshi's dud was better than the horror that was the Rankin-Bass RETURN OF THE KING.

**I pass over without comment on the more eccentric vocal castings that didn't come off: Cyril Ritchard as Elrond, Otto Preminger (!) as the Elvenking, and 'Theodore' as Gollum.