Sunday, May 31, 2009

I Can Has Wikipedia?

So, yesterday I found out that I have my own entry on Wikipedia. I don't know when this happened, or who might have instigated it, but apparently it's been up for a few months (perhaps around March?). As I understand it, you're not supposed to mess with yr own wikipedia entry, so I'll just make a few observations.

Most of what's there relates to either my work on roleplaying games (esp. D&D) or my Tolkien scholarship. I like the opening line, which states that I was born (leaving it a mystery when or where). At the bottom it gives the three categories to which my page belongs: "Dungeons & Dragons game designers", "Living People", and "Tolkien Studies". I'm particularly grateful for the middle one.

Clicking on that final category, by the way, reveals that there are forty-four entries that belong to it, and that I'm one of thirteen people so far with an entry. I give the whole list of entries below: in its inclusions and omissions, a good example of the way wikipedia grows; I'm sure that by this time next year a lot of the missing names will be better represented.** In the meantime, it's both a 'huh?' and a 'wow' moment to discover that there's now a page about me out there. Who knew?

--John R.


* Tolkien research


* A Guide to Middle-earth
* Douglas A. Anderson
* The Atlas of Middle-earth


* Beowulf and the Critics
* Richard E. Blackwelder


* The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community
* The Complete Guide to Middle-earth


* David Day (Canadian writer)
* Michael D. C. Drout


* J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia
* Epic Pooh


* Verlyn Flieger
* Karen Wynn Fonstad


* Peter Gilliver
* Diana Pavlac Glyer


* Wayne Hammond
* The History of Middle-earth
* The History of The Hobbit


* The Individuated Hobbit


* J. R. R. Tolkien Collection
* The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide
* J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography
* J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator
* J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century
* Journeys of Frodo


* The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien
* The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion


* Mallorn (journal)
* Marquette University Special Collections and University Archives
* Middle-earth canon
* Mythlore
* Mythopoeia (genre)
* Mythopoeic Awards


* John D. Rateliff


* Christina Scull
* Tom Shippey
* Martin Simonson


* Tolkien Studies
* Tolkien's Legendarium
* Tolkien's Ring
* Tolkien's legendarium
* Tolkien: A Look Behind "The Lord of the Rings"


* Walking Tree Publishers

**Some names that should be on the list do have their own wikipedia pages and simply aren't tagged as belonging to this category, like Diana Pavlac Glyer and Humphrey Carpenter.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Meanwhile, Back In New Zealand . . .

So, yesterday I finally managed to get hold of the 20th anniversary issue of EMPIRE magazine ("June 2009"), with its joint interview of Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro (pages 136-140). The two men do a good job of describing the upcoming films in broad terms, and their answers are clearly meant to reassure the nervous that the project is in good hands.

Where They're At:
They've finished the story outlines and 'treatment' for both parts of the two-part HOBBIT film, and the studios have signed off on their treatments. This means they're now ready to begin work on the scripts (and, the interview having been some two months ago, are probably well into this stage by now). Having the 'treatment' locked in means they now pretty much know what the film will include at a scene-to-scene level. This being the case, they're ready to start casting, since they know now specifically which characters will be included. They're already been at work on models (maquettes) and will soon do the location scouting for filmed-on-location outdoors scenes (one of the features everybody agrees Jackson & company did a splendid job with on the original trilogies of movies). They have oral agreements from McKellan and Serkis to reprise their roles as Gandalf (the Grey) and Gollum, respectively, but apparently don't have contracts locked in yet. Rather to my surprise,* Howard Shore is returning to score both films, proving that the Tenniel-&-Carroll analogy holds after all. Perhaps he's realized that the Jackson trilogy will be the film scores he's remembered for, and perhaps he'll find del Torro easier to work with. Also, Alan Lee and John Howe are back as part of the design team and starting work "very soon" (again, by now they're probably already at it).

What Will They Keep?
They specifically criticize the Rankin-Bass film for eliminating Beorn, and reject the views of "some people" that the Spiders of Mirkwood shd be cut. "We wanted to keep every iconic moment" seems to be their mantra. Hence the expansion to two films rather than cutting to fit into a single one: "We just decided it would be a mistake to try to cram everything into one movie". Del Torro also calls out at one point the interesting feature of THE HOBBIT being that almost all the villains Bilbo encounters can speak, as opposed to LotR "where monsters were not often articulate" (e.g., Shelob and the Balrog, the Nazgul and their winged mounts).

What Will They Add?
A significant amount of screen time will be devoted to Gandalf's activities when he's not with Bilbo & company. Both meetings with the White Council** and Gandalf's explorations into Dol Guldur will be on-screen, and there's mention of Jackson & del Torro "having to deal with Sauron . . . how exactly he manifests himself and what form he's in", which suggests at least on-screen glances at The Necromancer, whether or not he and Gandalf have an upclose and personal encounter. Also, there's mention of including Thrain's backstory. Their general procedure seems to be nicely summed up in the line "we're sort of fleshing out The Hobbit and expanding it sideways, up and down". Although it's not specifically stated, it sounds as if all of Thorin & Company will be there, though Jackson states their intention to develop "five or six" to concentrate on in their interactions with Bilbo. This of course is v. close to what Tolkien himself did: we have much stronger impressions of what Thorin, Balin, Fili & Kili, and Bombur (and to a lesser extent Dori and Gloin) were like than, say, Oin or Bifur. There's no mention of whether they have David Salo or another Tolkien linguist at work on creating them either some dwarven dialogue (for scenes of dwarves talking to dwarves, either on Thrain's expedition, in the Kingdom Under the Mountain before its fall, or even whispered conversations between Thorin's dwarves) or more Sindarin (for overheard elf-talk during all those weeks and weeks when Bilbo is trapped being a permanent burglar in the Halls of the Elven King) or even Black Speech (at Dol Guldur).
Also, on a 'look and feel' note, I was surprised to see that Mike Mignola and Wayne Barlowe have joined Lee & Howe on the design team. I hope this doesn't mean the appearance of Bilbo's world will be dragged off into a more cartoony or alien-techy direction.

What Will They Change?
"We are trying to make the book a little less random" -- in large part, it seems, by telling some of it from Gandalf's point of view rather than keeping to Bilbo all the way through. This makes a lot of sense from a filmmaker's point of view, and there's also the market pressure to consider in that fans of the original Jackson trilogy will want to see old favorites appear if they can be worked in. Then too most viewers will come to the film(s) having already seen the LotR movies, and not fresh as a new reader to the world as most first experience THE HOBBIT as a book.

For me, their approach runs the danger of making a movie that's less like THE HOBBIT than "The Quest of Erebor" or even "The 1960 Hobbit". So it'll be interesting to see how they guard against that peril.

A Few Good Quotes:
"the beauty of The Hobbit is that, ultimately, the point of view is a smaller adventure in a very rich world"

"We've done a lot of things we hope Professor Tolkien would have approved of" -- a forlorn hope, I suspect (I don't think Tolkien cd ever have brought himself to fully approve of any adaptation of his works), but it will serve them well to have this as a good goal to shoot for.

So. We'll see. They start shooting in March (2010), with the first film to debut about two and a half years from now in December 2011. But make no mistake: a lot of people are already hard at work on this one (del Torro mentions "six, seven hours every day for the last few months"), and will be at least through the dvd release of the second film (say about the end of 2013, assuming we get expanded editions again with THE HOBBIT as we did with each film that made up Jackson's LotR).

*and proof that Douglas Kane got it right in his comment on my previous post about the film(s) back in April

**a good excuse to work Galadriel and Saruman into the story, along with more Elrond, but does this mean we'll finally get to see Radagast the Brown, himself and in person? Callooh, Callay.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The NEXT New Tolkien (The Book of Jonah)

So, I'd no sooner finished my slow, careful prowl through SIGURD & GUDRUN (which includes, among other things, an excerpt each from both Tolkien's prose and alliterative translations of BEOWULF, not to mention his overview of the ELDER EDDA, his version of the VOLUSPA, and fragments from his Old English poem about Attila, along with numerous illuminating quotes from his lecture notes on Old Icelandic), when I discovered that there's another new Tolkien book due out in July: THE BOOK OF JONAH, tr. JRRT. The entry for it on seems to be pretty much just a placeholder for now, but has details about the book -- format (trade paperback), price (just under eleven pounds), number of pages (104), release date (July 20th), publisher (Darton,Longman & Todd, Ltd) -- and is taking preorders. Here's the link:

I would have found out about this a few days earlier if I'd been reading the right blogs -- i.e. David Bratman's entry of the 25th ( ); one factor of getting too busy and behind on things is that at such times I don't check the blogs and sites I usually visit daily.

The two links David provided are to Jason Fisher's blog, which gives a detailed account of what's known about the book so far; in each case, be sure to read through the comments for the additional information about the book turned up by Larry Swain & others. Here's the first relevant post:

and his follow up

So, looks like this little publication will cast some interesting new light on what's generally been viewed as a minor Tolkien publication. The main question is what all the book will contain to transform his translation of The Book of Jonah (one of the shortest books in the Bible) into 104 pages. Will they include correspondence w. JRRT? His work on Isaiah and Job? A detailed introduction setting straight the record of his involvement with the Jerusalem Bible project?* A lot of pictures and a really big font? We'll see in another two months or so.

--John R.

P.S.: One connection I keep expecting people to make that, so far as I know, no one has yet, is that the best-known Middle English adaptation of the Jonah legend is found in the Gawain/Pearl manuscript and is universally considered to be one of the four known surviving works by the Gawain-Poet (or Pearl-Poet), on whose works Tolkien was considered a major expert. Called PATIENCE, it's a hilarious near-Chaucerian portrayal of the hapless prophet.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Am Blessed

So, sometimes we have one of those moments that makes us go "Wow. That was something special, really something to remember."

That happened to me yesterday afternoon. I'd noticed the hummingbird feeder was empty, so I was making up a fresh batch of sugar-water.* I brought in the empty feeder to clean,** refilled it with the last of the last batch, and took it back out to re-hang. I'd no sooner reached the balcony railing, however, before a hummingbird came and hovered a short way off, waiting for me to put the feeder back on its hook so it could get on with it. Instead, I decided to simply hold the feeder out toward it and see if it would come. After a few seconds' hestitation, it did, taking its time and drinking its fill before zipping off again. I've never been this close up to a hummingbird before and had plenty of time to take in its individual feathers, the little black tongue after each good long sip, the silence of its wings even when they're moving at a blur while it hovers.

Truly a moment to cherish. And one that made me think how much our preconceptions shape what we see. If it'd been a yellow jacket, I probably wd not have admired her elegance and grace but simply been nervous about being stung. But that knowledge of my limitations doesn't diminish the wonder of the moment.


--John R.

*1 cup sugar, 4 cups water, stir, boil, cool, bottle. Keep in refrigerator till need.

**humming birds are v. vulnerable to bacteria that can grow in the sugar-water when it's been out in the sun for too long, so I always clean each of our two little feeders each time it needs filling.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I Am Nominated

So, I just learned today that THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT is a finalist for this year's Mythopoeic Award -- specifically, the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inkling Studies. I'm one of five finalists, of which three are books on Tolkien, one on C. S. Lewis, and one on Charles Wms. Here are the five:

Gavin Ashenden, Charles Williams: Alchemy and Imagination (Kent State, 2008)

Veryln Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson, eds. Tolkien on Fairy-stories: Expanded Edition, with Commentary and Notes (HarperCollins, 2008)

John Rateliff, The History of the Hobbit, Part One: Mr. Baggins; Part Two: Return to Bag-end (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford, 2008)

Elizabeth A. Whittingham, The Evolution of Tolkien’s Mythology: A Study of the History of Middle-earth (McFarland, 2008)

--So, obviously I'm in good company. Of these, I've read most but not yet all of the (excellent) Flieger/Anderson expanded edition of OFS, and read (and reviewed) the Whittingham. The Ward has gotten a lot of good word of mouth, but Narnia has never been among my favorite Lewis, so I haven't read this one. I've been meaning to pick up the Ashenden book, about which I hear interesting things, but haven't done so yet; this will probably spur me on.

For a list of the finalists for the other three awards (Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy, and Non-Inklings Fantasy Scholarship), here's the link:

and here's the list of all the past winners of the Inkings Scholarship Award, lacking only last year's winner (Diana Pavlac Glyer, for THE COMPANY THEY KEEP):

The winners will be announced at the banquet at this year's Mythcon in July.

--John R.

Where Did May Go?

So, I haven't been posting for a while, mainly because I was away at the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo (two weekends back, now). Then, as soon as I got back, I had to report for jury duty in downtown Seattle, an area I don't know particularly well, travelling to and fro by bus (except the last day, when I got to take the train home). After a day and a half I didn't make the final cut for one trial, but then did get selected for a second trial. It turned out to be a short one, only a day and a half from start to stop, but all told the two sets of interesting events kept me busy, and once they were over I plunged back into work that had been put on hold in the meantime, one of which is due far too soon (and the other only two weeks later). On top of which it's not too long since my previous trip (in April, to Arkansas) or my next one (to Milwaukee, later this summer). I enjoy getting to go places and see people, and do research, but it certainly puts a lot of pressure on the getting-things-done-on-the-current-project(s) front.

All of which is just my way of explaining why posts have been light on the ground here for the last two weeks, and why they'll now be picking up again. Thanks for yr patience.


most recent book read: THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH by Rbt Kirk [1691] (II.2784)
current reading: ARDA RECONSTRUCTED by Douglas Kane [2009]
current audiobook: GREECE & ROME: AN INTEGRATED HISTORY OF THE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN by Prof. Rbt Garland (The Teaching Company, Great Courses series; courtesy Jeff Grubb). [2008]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Solar Pons

So, was August Derleth dim?

I've always assumed the answer was "no" -- after all, he was a correspondent of the quirkily erudite Lovecraft, who did not suffer fools gladly; the founder and manager of a successful small press, who got into print some authors of real talent who might otherwise have languished; and the author of many books on a wide variety of topics. Granted, a lot of what he wrote was pastiche, which takes a lot less talent than writing original works, but good pastiche takes not just panache but a good deal of knowledge about the original being imitated. But now I'm beginning to wonder.

Most people know him mainly through his "posthumous collaborations" with Lovecraft, which were in fact written entirely by Derleth under the pretext (i.e., deliberate deceit) that he was finishing a Lovecraft manuscript (a Lovecraft story sold for more than a Derleth story, which is why he often tried to pass his work off as someone else's). And while he's been duly credited for preserving Lovecraft's memory and keeping him in print*, it's universally agreed that he deliberately misrepresented Lovecraft's underlying philosophy and substituted his own beliefs instead. But what if he simply grossly misunderstood Lovecraft on a fundamental level?

I suppose what's shaken me is my just having finished THE CHRONICLES OF SOLAR PONS [1973], a (posthumous) collection of Derleth's Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and it's made me realize that Derleth didn't know nearly as much about literature, particularly detective literature, as I'd assumed. I'd picked up a library discard of MEMOIRS OF SOLAR PONS [1951] years ago at a library sale for a quarter and, more recently, MR. FAIRLIE'S FINAL JOURNEY [1968], the only novel in the series, at the latest Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. Both are amusing mainly in the shamelessness of their direct borrowings, which far exceeds that of his 'Cthulhu' stories -- as an analogy, if Derleth is to Lovecraft as Terry Brooks is to Tolkien, then Derleth is to Conan Doyle as Dennis McKiernan is to JRRT. But what's more surprising is that in this latest collection at least Derleth gets things wrong.

"Wrong" not in the general sense of misrepresenting the spirit of the stories, though that's there too (as when Pons shoots a woman dead in a fashion more suitable to a psychopath like Matt Helm than a consulting detective of the old school, or in the story in which Fu Manchu is the beneficent defender of wronged womanhood). Rather, wrong as in presenting Hercule Poirot as French ("The Adventure of the Orient Express", p. 58), or when a book collector displays some of his treasures, including a signed copy of EDWIN DROOD ("The Adventure of the Unique Dickensians", p. 233). There's nothing wrong in making mistakes -- we all slip up once in a while -- but to write an adventure intended to display your knowledge of Dickens and not get the Dickens parts right is dumbfounding.

So, I'm currently at a bit of a loss. Perhaps I'll be in a more charitable mood later, but right now I'm entertaining the thought that Derleth had energy and enthusiasm but not erudition, and it might be this that separates him from HPL more than anything else.


current reading: THE LEGEND OF SIGURD & GUDRUN

*[a claim S. T. Joshi has recently called into question]

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Christopher Tolkien interview

So, I've now seen the new Tolkien book (at the Border's, in the mall), and it looks v. good indeed. It's more substantial than I expected, at about 350 pages. In addition to the two poems (the main event), the commentary, both by CT and excerpted from various notes and lectures by JRRT himself, promises to reveal a good deal about Tolkien's ideas about the Eddas.

In the meantime, if like me you're waiting for your copy to arrive, here's an interesting interview with Christopher about the book, his father's popularity, and other related matters. Thanks to Shelly for the link; I advise clicking on the follow-up button for the full length version.

--John R.

Monday, May 4, 2009


So, if like me you're waiting with bated breath for the release of the new Tolkien book tomorrow, here are two v. nice snippets to enjoy in the meantime.

The first lets you read Christopher's Foreword (or at least a part therefrom), which tells a lot about what's in the book.

The second lets you hear some of Brian Cox's reading from the forthcoming audiobook, which sounds v. nice, as well as shows some of the folks at HarperCollins who work on their Tolkien books, which is also nice. If you watch closely, at one point you can see Tolkien's original manuscript for two stanzas (sixteen lines) of the work.ún-J-Tolkien/dp/0007317239/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1241486297&sr=1-1
[scroll down the page and click on the "Watch a Related Video" bit. I've given the link for the entry on the book, because the video teaser is about one-third shorter.]

This is going to be a good one. Only one day to go . . .

--John R.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Public Libraries in Hard Times

So, about a month ago I read in the Renton free paper that the Renton Public Library is moving towards a merger with the King County Library System. The City Council there has already recommended it, because of the current budget crunch, and it'll soon be going for a city-wide vote if it hasn't already. A pity, I thought. When I first arrived out here in Sept. 1997 I was surprised to find that Renton had its own library, distinct from and independent of the county-wide library system to which, for example, the Kent Library belongs (Renton even has one small branch library, up in the NE expansion of the city). It's also a v. striking building, suspended as it is over the Cedar River -- in effect resting atop its own bridge. I'll be sorry to see this go through, if it does, since the Renton Library, being isolated from the main system, has its own distinct collection the more homogeneous branches lack (for example, lots of old mysteries from the fifties and sixties on the shelves, like Rex Stout and Perry Mason). But it'd certainly be better than closing.

Which is apparently to be the fate of another small Washington town's library. According to a sidebar in last week's issue of REAL CHANGE (a local small press paper sold by the homeless as a way of working for a living rather than panhandling, and thus a Good Thing), the Castle Rock Municipal Library has lost all its operating budget (a ":100 percent reduction"), and a levy to secure new funding failed by four votes. Result: they've been struggling along on donations, and when those run out they'll shut their doors.

By contrast, the Seattle Public Library (which again you'd think would be part of the King County System, but again it isn't), which is mainly famous for being housed in one of the ugliest buildings in the world and for its ostentatious displays of wasted space, is also in trouble: according to the cover story of the same issue of REAL CHANGE, the mayor is shutting down all branches for a week sometime this summer, during which all the people who work there will be placed on an unpaid furlough (essentially like being laid off for a week). Ouch. It would be nice to report that the mayor decided to go without pay himself for a week, but no such luck -- instead he's forgoing a raise he would otherwise have gotten and refunding the city the amount of his most recent raise. He's still going ahead with plans to spend a quarter-billion or so on a new jail since, in his words, "During a recession, crime tends to go up".

All this makes me appreciate the Magnolia Public Library I had access to growing up all the more. While it was rough growing up in a town without a bookstore*, we did have a good library, which I haunted assiduously. And while Magnolia (between 11,000 and 12,000 people) is a good deal larger than Castle Rock (pop.2150), the library there still seems to be doing well -- during my visit last month we saw convicts in stripy suits carrying boxes of books out and, a few days later, drove by the site of the new library (they've moved out of the old post office building downtown a few blocks from the Courthouse square, where they've been ever since they moved out of the jail, and into a large church building on the northern edge of town, right next to the college -- when we went by they'd just taken the steeple off). A kindly librarian, rather frazzled from too much to do organizing the more, even came out and told us the opening date -- I'll definitely have to stop in on my next visit down south. After all, in lieu of any bookstore, it was the library back in 1974 which ordered copies of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE TWO TOWERS, THE RETURN OF THE KING, THE HOBBIT, and (in 1975) WATERSHIP DOWN for me, all of which by now rather worn copies I still have, and re-read, today.

--John R.

*(Robinson's Bookstore was actually a stationary shop that also sold a few Bibles, and the college bookstore, when I eventually discovered it, mainly sold knick-knacks; customers couldn't even walk through and view the area where they kept the textbooks for sale)