When I fill a teakettle full of water, and put it on the stove, and turn on the burner, it's VERY IMPORTANT to turn on the burner underneath that kettle. Rather than, for example, the empty kettle on the next burner.
Also, when the kettle's enamel begins to melt onto the burner, sticking the two together, it can be a little tricky thinking of a good place to put the kettle without damaging a countertop, or sink, or indeed anything else. Fortunately I had a wooden dowel outside, lashed horizontally from the railing on the balcony, to hang it from while it cooled down. Though I suspect the hummingbirds would have preferred I put it somewhere else (the other end of that dowel supporting one of their sugar-water feeders).
Probably going to need a new kettle at some point. Possibly a new burner-element too. Ah well.
Fortunately this one counts as an Incident, rather than a disaster, on the Rateliff scale of things.
So, now that I'm back from Minneapolis, the next trip is only about ten days away: a visit to this year's MYTHCON, being held in Dallas Texas July 9th through 12th. I'm presenting an updated version of my paper on R. Rider Haggard's influence on JRRT, and also taking part in a panel discussion of Tolkien's sources.
For a good overview of this year's conf, cf. the following link:
If you're going to be in the area, or know you'll be attending, be sure to look me up during the weekend. While there are always some good papers, the real fun of a Mythcon is getting together with people, finding out what they've been working on, and meeting folks who hitherto have only been names on title pages or in online discussion groups. I'm glad to learn, from the latest version of the schedule, that Jared Lobdell, whom I haven't seen in at least a decade, will apparently be there (although his presentation is scheduled opposite mine, alas). There are also folks attending I only see once in a blue moon, like the Glyers and the Hunnewells, and others I see once or twice a year at most, like David Bratman and Bruce Leonard and Mike Foster and Merlin De Tardo, and some I'll be meeting in person for the first time, like Janet Croft and Jason Fisher and David Oberhelman. I'm particularly looking forward to the performances of THE MASQUE OF THE MANUSCRIPT (which I enjoyed when I first got to read it, in the British Library's Reading Room back in 1981) and a reading of an exchange of letters between Warnie Lewis (one of my favorite Inklings) and a missionary pen-friend, presented by Mike and Diana Glyer.
So, today we got back from a trip to Minneapolis to get together with some friends, and returned this afternoon to find all three of our cats healthy and very happy to see us again. We cd tell the cat-sitting, our next-door neighbor, had done a good job taking care of them.
After a little unpacking, looking through the mail, and getting settled back in, we were headed out to dinner when we ran into our neighbor, who told a story on herself that's too good not to pass along.
Apparently everything went fine while we were away, until yesterday. While out of the balcony (watering some plants for us, I think, wh. was v. nice of her), our neighbor happened to look over the balcony and saw one of our cats on the grass one floor below, looking up at her. Horrified that one of our cats had escaped, she rushed downstairs, where by calling it and offering it food, she finally managed to get it to come inside on its own accord. Once inside, it went out onto the balcony. Just as she was beginning to relax, she glanced over and saw our other two cats were sitting staring at it, all puffed out and hissy. That made her worry, so she looked around carefully, and found our third cat upstairs in some hidey-hole. Which meant that the cat she'd brought in wasn't our cat at all but a stranger who looked somewhat like one of them (Rigby). So she isolated the newcomer onto the balcony, where she tried to convince it to go into the cat-carrier we'd left out, just in case anyone needed to go to the vet for any emergency while we were away). It had v. definite ideas about cat carriers and wasn't having any of it, so it jumped up on the rail and then, before she could stop it, jumped off. It landed in the grass, apparently fine (Rigby used to do that jump occasionally, though we eventually convinced her it was a bad idea), and walked away.
So, no harm done. The stranger got some food for its trouble, our cats got something to liven up their otherwise uneventful day while we were away, and our neighbor, who cd have just kept quiet about the whole thing, since it turned out okay, gave us a story I'll enjoy telling and re-telling.
And our cats tonight? All rallied round, curled up in laps or nearby on the couch, v. much glad to have their people with them again. I'd quote Pippa Passes at them, but I don't think they're into Browning.
So, thanks to a loan from my friend Jim Pietrusz (thanks, Jim), I've now seen the History Channel documentary TOLKIEN'S MONSTERS, part of a recent series with the overall title CLASH OF THE GODS*. It's relatively brief (about fifty minutes), with pretty good production values (except for the computer-generated dragon) and an array of experts, the most recognizable of whom were Michael Drout (a co-editor of TOLKIEN STUDIES), Dimitra Fimi (author of one of this year's finalists for the Mythopoeic Award), and Corey Olsen (the 'Tolkien Professor').** Their introductory statement makes great claims for Tolkien, identifying THE LORD OF THE RINGS as "The greatest myth of modern times" and "the most ambitious mythological journey since THE ODYSSEY".
The main thing that struck me as I watched the film was how the different pieces were assembled. They'd have an expert appear just long enough to say a line or two. These bits of film are preceded and followed by voiceovers by the narrator which set them in the context of the documentary's overall storyline, the point of which was to argue that Tolkien's two main influences were (1) The Bible and (2) World War I.*** Most of the film consists of two kinds of re-inactment (apparently by uncredited actors in Lithuania, if I interpreted the closing credits correctly): of scenes from Tolkien's book (heavily influenced in look-and-feel by the Peter Jackson movies) and scenes featuring an actor portraying Tolkien himself.
My main problem with the film is that I felt a disjunction between the script, which was clearly written by someone who'd done a good deal of research, and the images, which were clearly filmed by someone who'd never read the book. Thus sometimes the image or re-inactment on the screen did match the voiceover but still managed to be egregiously wrong, such as showing The One Ring with a crisscrossing pattern all over its outer surface. My favorite example was the film to match the narrator's description of Bilbo finding the Ring in Gollum's cave -- represented by showing an elderly hobbit walking with a stick or cane coming up to a big chest in a cave or tunnel, opening it, and looking within in amazement.**** In the words of my friend Anders Stenstrom in another context, "Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!"
That said, it's surprising that they got some details right which you wdn't expect, such as dressing their actor playing Tolkien in a coat that actually looks like one Tolkien wears in a famous photo (albeit that thise photo was taken decades after 1928, the year they claim he wrote 'in a hole in the ground'). Even better, they show 'Tolkien' writing with a dip pen, which was indeed his habit. And they get points for including 'The scouring of the Shire': the return to a ruined homeland. But they get so much visually wrong (portraying THE SILMARILLION as an ancient book having a scuffed Victorian-era cover, not having LakeTown be over water, representing the Battle of Five Armies by some footage of men riding warhorse, forgetting that the actor portraying Odin shouldn't have both eyes) that it's hard not to quibble*****
As for the ideas, some of them are solid enough, but their claim that Tolkien was influenced by The Bible more than any other work seems to me shaky -- are we really meant to think about Christ's Temptation in the Wilderness when Frodo's standing in the Cracks of Doom? Is that why they omitted any mention of Sam from the Mount Doom scenes? For that matter, what's up with the claim that Orcs are Capitalists ('thinly disguised'), their acts driven by interest in profit? Color me unconvinced.
In the end, the most haunting thing about this film was the presence of Tolkien himself, in the footage of the silent figure of the actor representing him, who occasionally looks up to make eye contact with the viewer. It was quiet disturbing when, instead of 'Frodo' fingering the Ring, at one point late in the film it shows 'Tolkien' with The One Ring in his hand. Not quite sure what the message was there, nor of the later scene of 'Tolkien' standing behind 'Frodo', silently observing him, immediately followed by one of 'Frodo' standing behind 'Tolkien', giving him the same silent scrutiny. Interesting, and unsettling.
Overall, I'd say this is not one of the best documentaries out there, but it's worth watching, so long as you remain skeptical about their sweeping claims re. Tolkien & Xianity, and don't mind casual errors here and there. I'll probably watch more in the series, if only to compare their treatment of classical and Norse myth with that of Tolkien.
*a rubric probably intended to capitalize on the recent film CLASH OF THE TITANS.
**others whom I did not know included Troy Storfjell, Scott A. Miller, Scott A. Leonard, John Davenport, Tracey-Anne Cooper, Thomas Finan, and Helga Luthers. Having also watched part of the same series' documentary on BEOWULF, I discovered many of the same folks appear in that film as well, which similarly derives a lot of its content not from the Old English poem but the gosh-awful Anthony Hopkins/Angelina Jolie movie from a year or so ago.
***they do have brief segments admitting to influence from BEOWULF, the Arthurian story (the Ring of Luned), VOLSUNGA SAGA, and KALEVALA.
****Later the exact same footage is re-used to show Bilbo finding the golden cup in Smaug's lair, where it fits a little better.
*****i.e., when they aggravate a person pet peeve of mine by showing a page of the BEOWULF manuscript and not having it be the actual one the voiceover is reading from, nor the part of the story they're discussing.
So, just saw a piece in yesterday's paper about how they've found a previously unknown bit of film with Charlie Chaplin, the greatest of all silent movie stars, and probably the greatest of all film comedians. What's more, it may be his first ever appearance in a movie (if not, then the second earliest) wearing the mustache and using the mannerisms of his familiar 'little tramp' character.
Basically, a few months back a film buff bought an old reel at an antique show in Michigan -- a typical Keystone Kops ten-minute short. When he got around to watching it, he was shocked to see someone who looked like Chaplin in a scene. Closer examination reveals it is indeed Charlie C., doing a typical routine. Called A THIEF CATCHER, it was filmed in January 1914 and released the following month. The rediscovered piece debuts at the Slapstick film festival in Rosslyn, Virginia on July 17th; I'll look forward to its eventual release.
So, thanks to a link provided by a post to the MythSoc group, here's the news that Peter Jackson's taking over to direct THE HOBBIT himself is looking a whole lot more likely all the time. Here's the story:
So, thanks to Janice for pointing out to me the Tolkien reference at the end of John Stewart's opening monologue for the Tuesday June 15th edition of 'The Daily Show'. The relevant passage comes about eight and a half minutes into the piece, just before the first commercial break:
So, this week I heard the sad news that E. F. Bleiler died on Sunday, at the ripe old age of ninety. I've always thought he was the best anthologist I've ever come across, not in the usual sense of bringing together a disparate group of materials into one volume and making them feel like they all belonged (e.g., the kind of work Doug Anderson excels at), but as giving the best of a single author's work within a single book.
I don't have all the collections he did for Dover, but his usual procedure seems to have been to read everything the author ever wrote (even such famously prolific writers as Dunsany and Chambers), then collect together all the best stories, add in a few more to give an idea of the author's range, and wrap the whole thing up with an introduction that not only outlined the writer's career but told you why he was worth reading. Invariably he made me end up wanting to read more, and usually when I did I found that what he'd excluded didn't match up with what he'd selected.
His GODS, MEN AND GHOSTS  is simply the best anthology of Dunsany's works ever put together* -- better than Lin Carter's, better than Yeats', better than the one Dunsany himself put out near the end of his life (the only rival is Joshi's recent one for Penguin). I've also an admirer of the ones for R. W. Chambers (THE KING IN YELLOW AND OTHER HORROR STORIES), and Ambrose Bierce (GHOST AND HORROR STORIES). The ones for Algernon Blackwood (BEST GHOST STORIES) and Sheridan LeFanu (BEST GHOST STORIES AND MYSTERIES) are equally well done, but I think they show that these authors, while they have a few good tales, don't really have enough to make a collection this large (both in the 350+-pages range, significantly longer than the Bierce, Dunsany, and Chambers collections).
And it was only about a year and a half ago that I got my own copy of Bleiler's CHECKLIST OF FANTASTIC LITERATURE  (pricy, but worth it), in which he listed all the "Fantasy, Weird, and Science Fiction Books Published in the English Language" up to that date. Along with Tolkien's ON FAIRY STORIES essay, published the year before, I think that in retrospect it's one of the starting points of modern fantasy scholarship.
I'm only sorry I cd never think of a reason to write him a fan letter and thank him for all the good work he'd done. Still, I think he must have known how good he was, and how many people out there are grateful for his work.
current reading: MARK TWAIN'S SPEECHES, ed. Albert Bigelow Paine 
*not that it's the same as the one I'd have put together, given the chance -- but then I know Dunsany's work extremely well, having read everything he published that I cd track down, and tracing uncollected and unpublished works whenever possible.
For a concise and heartfelt tribute to Bleiler, see Doug Anderson's post on WORMWOODIANA:
So, Sunday I was looking up some things in relation to my Haggard & Tolkien paper, and came across a striking point in passing in Wayne & Christina's COMPANION & GUIDE, suggesting that Tolkien was familiar with THE GRAPES OF WRATH:
"A reference to 'Joad' in a letter written in 1948 suggests
that he knew John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (1939)."
--READER'S GUIDE, page 818.
Now, on the surface this is not as unlikely as it looks. After all, it's no more implausible that Tolkien wd know Steinbeck's works than that he wd be familiar enough with Sinclair Lewis to suggest that the word 'hobbit' owed something to the latter's BABBITT (cf. MR. BAGGINS page 59, Nt 6). And there's Clyde Kilby's observation that he "was pleasantly surprised at the familiarity he showed with American literature, especially that of Mark Twain" (TOLKIEN & THE SILMARILLION, pages 30-31). By contrast, fellow Inkling Warnie Lewis knew so little about American lit. that late in life, when sent a postcard of Hawthorne's cottage by Kilby, Barfield, and Lawlor, he cheerfully confessed to never having read Hawthorne "but I like the look of his house" (Lawlor, MEMORIES & REFLECTIONS, page 21).*
But it turns out, the only evidence we have to even suggest it -- Tolkien's mention of the name 'Joad' -- turns out to be a false clue. Rather than a fictional character in an American novel about the Great Depression and Dustbowl (and old Henry Fonda movie), it's far more likely that the 'Joad' Tolkien is referring to is the British philosopher, writer, and radio personality C. E. M. Joad, nicknamed 'Joad of Joad Hall' for his resemblance (in personality) to THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS' Mr. Toad. Tolkien had already referred to Prof. Joad in two earlier letters of October 1943 [LETTERS p. 63); indeed, apparently Joad attended an Inklings meeting on October 26th, 1943. That the same person is intended in Tolkien's 1948 letter is shown by a specific detail: when Tolkien writes that an artist has drawn Farmer Giles "to look like little Joad at the end of a third degree by railway officials" [LETTERS p. 131], he's clearly alluding to the scandal that cost Joad his radio show: he happened to casually mention one day, on the air, that he never paid for rail tickets but simply slipped on, rode for free, and had always gotten away with it for years and years. There was an official outcry, and much tsk-tsking about setting bad examples for the young, and the general upshot was that Joad was driven from public life, suffering a debilitating heart attack shortly afterwards and dying a few years later. A sad end for someone who helped popularize philosophy in the same way Lewis popularized Church of England theology at much the same time.
And, it turns out Wayne & Christina caught the slip almost immediately, the sharp-eyed David Doughan having spotted the slip as soon as the book came out and their correction being posted among their scrupulous online errata (the whole of which makes for a fascinating read all by itself).
Of course, such a tiny slip does not detract from the excellence of their overall essay ("Reading"), which if published by itself wd probably have attracted attention as a major piece of JRRT, pulling together a vast amount of information into a concise space. There's just no avoiding the fact that, when we draw inferences based on sketchy information, sometimes a reasonable guess will turn out to have been wrong. In a sense, a book like THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT or their COMPANION & GUIDE is an ongoing project -- the road really does go ever on, so to speak.
And, since I enjoyed reading this piece so much, I'd like to add a few tidbits:
(1) not only did Tolkien know some Twain (who after all was a celebrity in England as well, having visited Oxford to receive an honorary degree in 1907, just a few years before Tolkien arrived there as an undergraduate), but
(2) he read at least some of GKC's FATHER BROWN stories, since Kilby -- who after all included both Chesterton & Tolkien among the 'Seven' authors of his Wade Collection -- noted of that "He did not care for the detective stories of G. K. Chesterton" -- TOLKIEN & THE SILMARILLION, page 26) [at least as of 1966].
(3) Since Tolkien stated that the title of SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR was "intended to suggest an early Woodhouse" [LETTERS p. 370], it seems likely that he read at least some P. G. Wodehouse.
current reading: many bits and pieces.
*CSL had a good many books by American authors in his library, but a number of these (e.g., Cabell) seem to have belonged originally to Joy, so while he was certainly a voracious reader I don't have a good idea for how much American lit. he knew, aside from the science-fiction magazines he enjoyed.
So, the news yesterday out of Ohio about lightning striking a sixty-foot-tall statue of Jesus and burning it to a cinder in minutes is a good example of an event that invites any number of interpretations.* The event itself is fairly straightforward, but the story depends upon what we bring to it.
The most interesting thing in this, for me, was not about del Toro's decision (which was pretty well covered in the piece which I posted last week), but the news that Jackson had been intending to serve as Second Unit Director -- i.e., that he had volunteered to shoot some scenes while the main director was busy working on the most important shots with the main character(s). I've always suspected that, as a pretty hands-on person, at some point during the next two years he might not be able to restrain himself and wd just take over directing. Sounds like he's inching in that direction, but time will tell.
Also interesting was the reporter's trying to make the case against making THE HOBBIT as a two-parter, arguing that " only one film is needed . . . The Hobbit is a far shorter, simpler tale, and should be shot as a single movie." The same critic, Ben Child of THE GUARDIAN, had written more on this back in December: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2009/dec/11/hobbit-lord-of-the-rings
Personally I disagree: if they have the rights to make two movies, it's pretty clear they're going to make two, given the success of the LotR film trilogy. Better they make two adapting Tolkien's story than one of THE HOBBIT and one of whatever fanfiction they can cobble together from the LotR Appendices as a 'bridge' film. Plus, of course, from my point of view the more HOBBIT the better.
Most interesting of all, was the passing comment re. Jackson and LotR.
"This is the director who transformed The Lord of the Rings from an unfilmable white elephant of English literature into a blockbuster trilogy."
How soon they forget! The idea that LotR represented a classic of twentieth century literature, which some of us have been arguing for a long time, only won widespread acceptance within the last decade or so.
So, I've been reading a lot by, and about, H. Rider Haggard lately in preparation for my MythCon paper ("SHE and Tolkien Revisited"), and a few days ago came across an interesting passage in Haggard's War Diary* entry for Nov. 15th 1917:
Alas! I have to give up my proposed 'She' story. It will not do. My hands are too tied by the contents of SHE and AYESHA. Also it is impossible to keep up interest in a tale laid beyond the confines of our Earth, since before it the average human imagination fails. So there's an end of She! I was reading AYESHA last night. It has weaknesses, but I must say I think that it contains fine things -- the transformation of Ayesha, for instance, and all that it symbolizes. If that is not good of its sort, I do not know what is. On the whole I am glad I attempted the sequel, dangerous as it was. But there I think the venture had better end, although I had thought of some celestial -- or infernal -- scenes.
Given that Haggard did later go on to write a prequel to SHE (SHE AND ALLAN ) and then a prequel to the prequel (WISDOM'S DAUGHTER ), I was surprised to learn that he thought to have written a sequel to AYESHA (itself a sequel to the original SHE, set a generation later), apparently to have taken the form of an afterlife novel set in celestial or infernal domains. I'm reminded of Poe's "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" , "The Colloquy of Monos and Una" , and "The Power of Words"  -- all interesting, but definitely not among Poe's well-known works. Perhaps it's just as well Haggard never wrote up this idea (which wd have come as the final book in the internal chronology of the series) -- after all, as C. S. Lewis memorably said, people read Haggard for the story, not the ideas:
. . . though Haggard had sense, he was ludicrously unaware of his limitations. He attempts to philosophise. Again and again in his stories we see a commonplace intelligence, armed (or hampered) with an eclectic outfit of vaguely Christian, theosophical and spiritualistic notions, trying to say something profound . . .
--CSL, "The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard")
Still, it'd be interesting to know a little more about what he had in mind . . .
*THE PRIVATE DIARIES OF SIR H RIDER HAGGARD 1914-1925), ed. D. S. Higgins 
So, I finally made it all the way through to the end of THE SONG OF HIAWATHA ,* one of those curious works that was once widely read and universally acclaimed, only to fall so far from favor that it's now hard to find folks who have read it all the way through. I've long been interested in such works -- in how works can fall from the canon so completely (an even better example is MacPherson's OSSIAN); in a sense, UNCLE TOM'S CABIN has suffered a similar fate, being transferred from 'literature' to 'social document'.
In the case of HIAWATHA, I'd go so far as to say it's almost impossible to take seriously now -- when one reads of his heroic warrior putting on his mittens before venturing forth, the effect is certainly not what Longfellow intended (they're magic mittens, but still -- thank God Gygax & co. called their versions of this gauntlets of ogre power instead). And it turns out Longfellow's Indians really do say "Ugh" in what he considered a suitable line of dialogue. It's interesting, therefore, to learn that it was already being parodied a short time after it came out,** or to find out that one of Longfellow's friends comforted him by saying it would long outlive all parodies and indeed the Native Americans themselves. Luckily the latter statement turned out to be as wholly untrue as the former; indeed, I'd say anyone's more likely to encounter a parody than the real thing, and that this has been the case for a long time (as Looney Tunes's Little Hiawatha shows).
It's also interesting to learn that accusations of plagiarism over too-heavy borrowing from THE KALEVALA also first popped up soon (two weeks!) after publication. Longfellow himself seems to have claimed he took only the metre from the Finnish and none of the characters or incidents for his story, which is self-evidently untrue to anyone who reads both works. It's ironic that Poe, who'd repeatedly and rather unfairly accused Longfellow of plagiarism in the past for what he felt were too-close echoes of Tennyson, had died six years before HIAWATHA came out -- a bit of a lucky break for Mr. Longfellow, one suspects.
All that aside, my Tolkienist's eye caught an interesting echo of JRRT's work in the final lines of Longfellow's poem, when Hiawatha departs in his canoe and sails off into the sky to join his father, the West Wind (emphasis mine):
On the shore stood Hiawatha
Turned and waved his hand at parting . . .
Launched his birch canoe for sailing . . .
Shoved it forth into the water
Whispered to it: Westward! westward!
And with speed it darted forward
And the evening sky descending
Set the clouds on fire with redness . . .
Left upon the level water
One long track and trail of splendour
Down whose stream, as down a river,
Westward, westward Hiawatha
Sailed into the fiery sunset
Sailed into the purple vapours
Sailed into the dusk of evening
And the people from the margin
Watched him floating, rising, sinking
Till the birch canoe seemed lifted
High into that sea of splendour
Till it sank into the vapours
Like the new moon slowly, slowly
Sinking in the purple distance
And they said: Farewell for ever! . . .
Thus departed Hiawatha . . .
In the glory of the sunset
In the purple mists of evening . . .
To the Islands of the Blessed
To the kingdom of Ponemah
To the land of the Hereafter
--Now, to me that sounds v. like a description of someone taking Tolkien's Lost Road, the old straight path to Eldamar and Tol Eressea and Valinor. And, interestingly enough, this parallel isn't nearly as strong in THE KALEVALA (or at least in the two translations I have of it, by Kirby and Magoun). It might be worthwhile checking out the cognate passage in the Old Kalevala.
Perhaps just coincidence, but Tolkien was at least aware of Longfellow and his work, since in one interview when asked if he'd like to be remembered as a writer or a scholar he compares himself to Longfellow, saying people remember Longfellow for Hiawatha and one or two other things and forget he was a professor of modern languages.
*although I was already familiar with the story from having read (and re-read and re-re-read) the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED version, wh. turns out (as was so often the case) to have been extremely faithful to the original. I think the only work I learned from CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED that I've still never read in its original form is James Fenimore Cooper's THE SPY -- but then, having had to read one Cooper novel, I've never been able to force myself to do it again.
**the all-time best such parody being, of course, Lewis Carroll's HIAWATHA'S PHOTOGRAPHING, which uses the metre with far more dexterity than Longfellow ever does.