Sunday, February 28, 2010

When is a Hobbit a Hobbil?

So, Friday I got an e-mail from Diego Segunda, who kindly resent some errata after hearing about my Errata loss in the computer crash a few months back. Some of these were typos and misprints, some pointed out errors (fortunately minor) that I'd made, and some suggested additional relevant points I could have added at specific points. Welcome though this was, I was much more excited about the accompanying news of his recent discovery, described at greater length in his blog post:

For those who don't read Spanish (and my own Junior High/High School Spanish has atrophied to an alarming extent), here's the gist:

We know that the word HOBBIT appears in Denham's list from the 1850s, but we don't know where Denham got the word. It's not in Reginald Scot's THE DISCOVERIE OF WITCHCRAFT [1584], his primary source. Of the five texts we have of Denham's list, only the last two include the word "hobbit" (one of these being in the collection THE DENHAM TRACTS, published long after Denham's death).

We also don't know if Tolkien was aware of Denham's list. It's my own belief that Tolkien made up the word independently, but it's a debatable point. In any case, finding out where Denham got it would be a real breakthrough.

And that's just what it looks like Diego might have done. Starting from my discussion of Mr. Denham's Hobbit in Appendix I to RETURN TO BAG END, he noted that Denham cites Capn. Francis Grose as his source on a particular point. Following up on this, Diego has tracked down Grose's 1787 book A PROVINCIAL GLOSSARY, WITH A COLLECTION OF LOCAL PROVERBS AND POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS, which I was totally unaware of, and found therein several of the names absent from Scot but appearing in Denham, making it v. likely that Grose is Denham's source for these creatures. Among them are a number of Northern folk-lore creatures (i.e., so identified as Northern by Grose), like the bar-guest, boggart, boggle, dobby, fetch, swarth, and most importantly hobbil, hobgobbin, hobgoblin, and hobthrust/hob o t'hurst.

Grose glosses both HOBBIL and HOBGOBBIN as "a natural fool, a blockhead".
By contrast, he defines HOBGOBLIN as "an apparition, fairy, or spirit"
HOBTHRUST, which like Denham he believes properly breaks down as HOB O T'HURST, is "a spirit, supposed to haunt woods only".
In addition, he also gives HOB/HUB ("the back of the chimney: to make a hob, to make a false step; probably hence to hobble"), HOB-NOB ("at a venture, rashly"), and HOBBETY-HOY ("neither man nor boy, a young man between both").

So, while 'hobgoblin' and 'hobthrust' are much as in Denham, with 'Hob' equaling Lob or Brownie, Grose's two new variations 'hobbil' and 'hobgobbin' both seem to belong to the 'Hob' = 'rustic simpleton' tradition.

The most intriguing thing about this though is that, since Denham's various lists do have some typos, this opens up the possibility that HOBBIT in his 1853 list might well be an accidental mis-spelling of HOBBIL. If so, then Diego has in all probability found Denham's direct source. Even if not, the combination of HOBBIL and HOBBETY (in Hobbity-hoy) is suggestive.

Points for future research (some of which I hope to carry out later this week -- if so, I'll do an update):

(1) the text Diego used is from the 1811 reprinting of Grose's book, this being the verison available on Google Books

--how is the word spell in the orignal 1787 edition? (Suzzallo-Allen has a microfilm, so that point shd be easy to resolve).

(2) Did Haigh or Wright cite Grose in their respective works? If so, this wd increase the chances that Tolkien was aware of Grose's book. (I believe Suzzallo-Allen has Wright but not I don't have access to a copy of the Haigh)

So, the search goes on, but Diego has opened up a new avenue of inquiry, which tends to confirm the rustic, hob/lob, and Northern associations of our missing hob(bit). Well done!

--John R.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Point, Counterpoint

So, yesterday Anne showed me this statement of belief, and I was much impressed. If you decide to watch, make sure you stay with it all the way to the end -- this is something that has to be read in full or not at all.
--John R.

Here's the link:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sound Familiar?

So, not surprisingly, re-acquainting myself with THE FAERIE QUEENE after all these years*, this time as an audiobook, has made me want to go back and read some more about the work as well. I wd have started with C. S. Lewis's SPENSER'S IMAGES OF LIFE, although this posthumous book (put together from Lewis's lecture notes after his death by a friend) didn't do much for me when I first read it. But then that was a decade or so after I'd read the Spenser, so re-reading it immediately after experiencing the poem again might have a different effect. In any case, finding out will have to wait until I have a chance to run up to Suzzallo-Allen library again for another day's work in their wonderful Reading Room, probably sometime next week.

But then I realized I had a better piece of Lewis criticism on Spenser close at hand: the half-a-chapter he devotes to THE FAERIE QUEENE and Spenser's other works in THE OXFORD HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE: ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, EXCLUDING DRAMA** (surely one of the least appealing titles any major critical work ever struggled under). And I no sooner started looking through it than the following passage struck me.

Lewis here is talking of Spenser's struggles to bring a long, complex, interconnected work to completion, but almost everything he says could, I think, just as easily be applied to Tolkien's epic struggles with The Silmarillion. Since the paragraph quoted (from pages 379-380) is so long, I've broken it up into shorter paragraphs for easier reading:

Spenser did not live to complete the great poem which was his life's work. It would be salutary if instead of talking about the Faerie Queene we sometimes talked of Fragment A ([Books] I-III), Fragment B ([Books] IV-VI) and Fragment C ([The Cantos of] Mutabilitie). This would help to remind us that the inconsistencies we find in it are those of a partially written work. The letter to Raleigh***prefixed to Fragment A gives us, no doubt, the design that was uppermost in Spenser's mind when he wrote that letter. It had not, in its entirety, been in his mind at all stages during the composition of that Fragment. It had been in some degree abandoned when he wrote Fragment C.

There is nothing surprising about this. There is a stage in the invention of any long story at which the outsider would see nothing but chaos. Numerous alternatives, written, half-written, and unwritten (the latter possibly the most influential of all) ferment together. Passages which no longer fit the main scheme are retained because they seem too good to lose; they will be harmonized somehow later on if the author lives to complete his work. Even a final revision often leaves ragged edges; unnoticed by generations of readers but pointed out in the end by professional scholars.

There is a psychological law which makes it harder for the author to detect them than for the scholar. To the scholar an event in fiction is as firm a datum as an event in real life: he did not choose and cannot change it. The author has chosen it and changed it and seen it in its molten condition passing from one shape to another. It has as many rivals for its place in his memory as it had for its place in the final text.

This cause of error is of course aggravated if the story is labyrinthine, as Spenser's was. And it is aggravated still further if his professional duties permit him to work on his story only at rare intervals. Returning to work on an interrupted story is not like returning to work on a scholarly article. Facts, however long the scholar has left them untouched in his notebook, will still prove the same conclusions; he has only to start the engine running again.

But the story is an organism: it goes on surreptitiously growing or decaying while your back is turned. If it decays, the resumption of work is like trying to coax back to life an almost extinguished fire, or to recapture the confidence of a shy animal which you had only partially tamed at your last visit. But if (as is far more probable) it grows, proliferates, 'wantons in its prime', then you will come back to find it
Changed like a garden in the heat of spring
After an eight-days' absence.
Fertile chaos has obliterated the paths . . .

Particularly telling, I think, is the observation about "professional duties permit[ting] him to work on his story only at rare intervals", which was certainly the case for Tolkien. I find Lewis's experience apparently differs greatly from mine on one point in that he asserts it's easy to pick up the thread of an essay that's been set aside for a while; I find it otherwise. Though that might explain Lewis's prolificacy.

In any case, an interesting comment on one author's dilemma that I thought applied equally well to another's.

--John R.


*I originally read it in the Variorium Edition, checked out of the college library volume-by-volume, in snatches while working at the Rocket Drive-In. And though I've re-read parts since (Bk I, Bk III, the Cantos of Mutability) I've never re-read the whole.

**the O.H.E.L., or 'O HELL', as Lewis called it.

***think: Letter to Waldman?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grim Reading

So, I bookmarked this story a few weeks ago but didn't read it until last night. Deeply interested if you want to know what goes on at Guantanamo Bay; deeply disturbing if three prisoners being tortured to death (a fourth tortured at the same time survived) isn't your idea of democracy.

Here's the link:

--John R.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tolkien at Kalamazoo, 2010

So, when mentioning Mythcon (in Dallas) and the Festival in the Shire (in Wales) a few posts back, I should have followed these up with an update on this year's Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, which once again has a robust Tolkien track. This is my third year going to Kalamazoo: the first just to see friends and find out what the event was like, the second to also take part in one roundtable (on OFS), and now to present a paper and also be on a roundtable. Here's the schedule for their various Tolkien events:

Thursday, 10 am session:

NEH Summer Institute “J. R. R. Tolkien: The Real and Imagined Middle Ages” One Year Later

Organizer: Judy Ann Ford, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce

Presider: Judy Ann Ford

Just a War Theory to Rule All Them History Classes? A Model for High School

Paul Wexler, Needham High School

Free Will and the Enemy: A Study in the Dichotomy of the Orcs

James Tustin, Clark High School

By Paths Appointed

Leta Edwards, NEH Summer Institute on Tolkien

Beowulf and the Early Middle Ages

Ethan Dolleman, NEH Summer Institute on Tolkien

The Symbolic Power of Water

Diana Caddell, Austin Community College

Tolkien as Father

Sandra Pettit, NEH Summer Institute on Tolkien

Friday, 10 am session:

Medieval Fantasy, Alchemy, and Modern Science in Tolkien’s Legendarium

Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo

Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce

Presider: Robin Anne Reid

Elvencentrism: “Elven Nature Preserves” in the Works of J. R. R. Tolkien

Ann Martinez, Univ. of Kansas

“Worlds on Worlds”: Tolkien, Lewis, and the Medieval and Modern Theological Implications of Extraterrestrial Life

Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.

Inside Literature: Tolkien’s Explorations of Medieval Genres

John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar

J. R. R. Tolkien and The Battle of Maldon: An Example of “Freer” Verse?

Stuart D. Lee, Univ. of Oxford

Friday, 1.30 pm session:

Tolkien and the Bible

Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo

Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce

Presider: Christopher T. Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont

Neues Testament und Märchen: Tolkien, Fairy Stories, and the Gospels

John William Houghton, Hill School

“Justice is not healing”: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Pauline Constructs in “Finwë and Míriel”

Amelia A. Rutledge, George Mason Univ.

Tolkien on the Old English Pater Noster: Digging Niggling Calligraphy

John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville

The Lord of the Fish: Tolkien and the Book of Jonah

Michael Foster, Independent Scholar

Friday, 3.30 pm session:

Tolkien as Scholar, Translator, Academic

Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo

Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce

Presider: Bradford Lee Eden, Univ. of California–Santa Barbara

Tolkien as Pearl Maiden: Exhortation as Parable

David Thomson, Baylor Univ.

Casting Away Treasures: Tolkien’s Use of The Pearl in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings

Leigh Smith, East Stroudsburg Univ.

The Pearl and The Jewels: Beren and Luthien and The Pearl

Janice M. Bogstad, Univ. of Wisconsin–Eau Claire

Friday Evening:

Tolkien Unbound: Readers’ Theater Performance

Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo

Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M


Presider: Merlin DeTardo, Independent Scholar

Readings from Sigurd and Gudrun

Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College: Jennifer Culver, Univ. of Texas–Dallas; and Bradford Lee Eden, Univ. of California–Santa Barbara

“The Road Goes Ever On” by Donald Swann

Eileen Marie Moore, Cleveland State Univ.

The Lord of the Ringos

Michael Foster, Independent Scholar, and Amy Amendt-Raduege, Whatcom Community College

Saturday, 10 am session:

The Hobbit (A Roundtable)

Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo

Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.

Presider: Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar

A roundtable discussion with Jennifer Culver, Univ. of Texas–Dallas;

Deborah Sabo, Univ. of Arkansas–Fayetteville;

John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar;

Corey Olsen, Washington College;

Janice M. Bogstad, Univ. of Wisconsin–Eau Claire; and

Merlin DeTardo, Independent Scholar.

Saturday, noon:

Tolkien at Kalamazoo

Business Meeting*

Saturday, 3.30 pm session:

Medievalism in Music and the Fine Arts**

Sponsor: Studies in Medievalism

. . . . . . .

Jeff Smith’s “Bone”: Revising Tolkien and Lewis’s Antimodernist Fantasies

Andrew Taylor, Western Michigan Univ.

Sunday, 8.30 am session:

Tolkien Un-bodied

Session 533 Valley II 202

Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo

Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce

Presider: Benjamin S. W. Barootes, McGill Univ.

To Be or Not to Be? The Enigma of the Balrog in Tolkien’s Mythology

Bradford Lee Eden, Univ. of California–Santa Barbara

Tolkien’s Ramblin’ Men

Peter Grybauskas, Univ. of Maryland

“It is enough to make the dead rise out of their graves!”: Tolkien, Oliphant, and Gendered Conventions of the Supernatural

Sharin Schroeder, Univ. of Minnesota–Twin Cities

Sunday, 10.30 am session:

Teaching Tolkien (A Roundtable)

Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo

Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce

Presider: Judy Ann Ford, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce

A roundtable discussion with Victoria Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.;

Michael Foster, Independent Scholar;

Jon Porter, Butler Univ.;

Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.;

Corey Olsen, Washington College; and

Benjamin S. W. Barootes, McGill Univ.

All in all, quite a wide spread of topics. I'm looking forward to it.

--John R.
current audiobook: THE FAERIE QUEENE (Bk I)

*This is where new panels and roundtables for the next year get proposed.

**This is a Tolkien paper on an otherwise non-Tolkien panel. There may be more, since I searched for the word "Tolkien" and may have missed a Tolkien-related paper that didn't include his name in the title (e.g., if it used "Middle-earth" instead).

A Proud Moment

So, this past weekend, my wife referred to me as Dread Pirate Roberts.
And in a good way.
--John R.

current audiobook: THE FAERIE QUEENE (Book I)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

the weekend

The Short Version:
So, the good news is that bloodstain came off the ceiling.
Turns out it helps if you get to it when it's still fresh.
And how was YOUR weekend?

The Long Version:
So, Feanor caught another goldfinch -- for the first time since last August -- and brought it inside, where he released it into the living room while Janice and I were having lunch.
Pandemonium ensued. I took the bird away from Feanor, and then had to intervene when Rigby decided she would to be able to dash in and take over. Luckily it was still very much alive, despite a bloody wound on its head like the Great Beast in Apocalypse, and flew around a good deal, at one point hitting the ceiling before fetching up in the window, where it tried to get out. I thought that showed good sense, since nothing good was happening to it inside. I managed to catch it twice, it having gotten away because I was afraid to hold it too hard given its injuries and the famously hollow bones of little birds. Luckily, it flew to the same spot each time, so I was able to recapture it and, with Janice's help, get it in a little box. Next we quickly looked up the name of the animal shelter who'd helped us last time (see August 31st 2009 post) and called them. Luckily they were still open another forty-five minutes, so we headed out in a hurry -- Janice driving, myself holding the box. The bumps seemed to disturb it, so I held it in mid-air the whole trip, taking care to hold the box shut despite its pushing hard at one point; our talking also seemed to upset it, so we had a silent trip.
In the end, we got there; they took over; we left a small donation to be shared between the clinic and the wildlife rescue/rehab people they turn the animals over to. Here's hoping it makes a full recovery. Certainly there was still plenty of life in it, if they could staunch that head wound and give it a chance to heal.
And from there we went straight to the store to buy, among other things, a collar with a bell for El Predator.

And we did other interesting and/or enjoyable things (played Cthulhu, had a Mithlond meeting, saw PRINCE CASPIAN), but I suspect that moment of high drama will stick out in our memories among the weekend's events.

--John R.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Farewell to Nocturnals

So, Sunday Janice and I went to the zoo for the first time in a long time. We usually go to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma once or twice each per year, but last year was so crowded that we wound up missing both.

Our visit now was prompted by Janice's seeing the news that they were shutting down the Day & Night Exhibit at the end of this month (i.e., only two weeks away); Yet another casualty of the Great Recession, like the Kent Animal Shelter (the county's funding for this only runs through the end of June,* after which the city has to find a way of paying for it themselves) and Renton Library (which recently voted on whether or not to abandon its independent system after ninety-odd years and just become a branch of the King County Library System; haven't heard how that one came out); the zoo simply can't afford to keep all its exhibits going, so they're shutting down one of their oldest buildings that needs the most maintenance/renovation.

Since I'm much taken with turtles and bats, we made sure to pay a farewell visit. The good news is that it turns out they're keeping the Reptile House open (we celebrated by petting a snake). Also, though the Night House is shutting down, they're keeping some of the animals, like the fruit bats, and moving them in alongside other exhibits. For more details, check this link:**

The bad news is that the vampire bats were already gone, though the fruit bats put on a good display.

Still, we had a good visit: in addition to the reptiles and nocturnals, we had a great time seeing the tigers and snow leopards. I got to stare eye-to-eye with a komono dragon (odd, since they usually ignore visitors, but it was definitely tracking me), we went into not one but two birdcage exhibits (though we were too late to feed the little seed-eaters). We saw the little giraffe, the hippos and elephants having their nom, the lions in repose, and two peacocks keeping an eye on the popcorn stand as it closed down (I have a feeling they clean up any spills). Wrong time of year for the raptors, unfortunately, but that's just a good reason to come back in the spring.

All in all, a good day. Between this visit, and our having passed by the Seattle Aquarium the day before on our way up to see the Sculpture Park, we'll definitely have to do a little more zoo-ing this year.

--John R.

*it was to be the end of January, but they got an extension.
**didn't see any mention there of what their plans are for the owl (a frogmouth, I think) we saw in there. Perhaps it'll join the other owls in the raptor exhibit.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

more on 'Festival in the Shire'

So, while I was discussing this summer's upcoming Welsh Tolkien conference, I shd have mentioned the 'Festival in the Shire Journal', an online 'publication', edited by Colin Duriez, that can be found here:

So far it's rather more interesting than yr usual convention progress report. For example, in the first issue* they reprinted Daphne Castell's 1966 interview with JRRT, along with a profile piece on Castell herself, explaining how she came to do the interview and how it came to appear in such an unlikely place as Michael Moorcock's science fiction magazine. The current issue has a history of the Tolkien Society and an excerpt from Kilby's book. I didn't see anything indicating how often new issues will be coming out, but if these first two issues are anything to go by, it shd be worth checking the site from time to time between now and August.

--John R.

The 'Festival in the Shire'

So, speaking of Tolkien conventions, there's another one in the works for this summer, but this one's far further afield (for me, at least) than Texas. The Festival in the Shire is being held, oddly enough, not in the Shire itself (that is, Warwickshire) but at a resort in central Wales* from Friday August 13th through Sunday August 15th.

This is a three-in-one event, designed to appeal to Tolk-folk of all persuasions.

First, there's the 'Conference' -- a full track of Tolkien scholars presenting papers and keynote speeches with an emphasis on Welshness is JRRT's works. The line-up includes some familiar (and several outstanding) authors, and a fair number whose work I'm not familiar with. The six keynote speakers are Tom Shippey, Doug Anderson, Jn Garth, Verlyn Flieger, Jane Chance, and Corey Olsen; other familiar names of note include Dimitra Fimi, Gergely Nagy, and Colin Duriez.

Second, there's the 'Festival', which sounds as if it cd best be described as 'put yr elf ears on'. Here's all the dressing-in-character fannish activities gathered into their own track. Think of it as a Tolkien-focused medieval/renaissance faire; with Tolkien-inspired Celtic music performances.

Third, there's the 'Exposition', which is an art show with a number of Tolkien artists in attendance; apparently there'll also be a big display of Tolkien-related paraphernalia as well --swords, jewelry, and the like -- and a book display as well.

I know that if I cd attend, I'd be all over Track I, the conference, but yr milage may vary.**

Here's a link to their list of Tolkien scholars expected to be in attendance:

and here's the draft schedule for their presentations:

I expect to find out a little more about this at Kalamazoo in May, where I'll be seeing some of the participants.

*Pafiliwn Bont, the convention site, is apparently in Pantyfedwen, about fifteen miles from Aberystwyth. Aberystwyth itself, like the seaside resort in THE PRISONER, is on the western coast of central Wales, but from the photos included on their site under "Local Information/the area", the conference site itself seems to be inland.

**I'd also take advantage of being in the area to made a side-trip to the Hill of Arbeth, where Pwyll saw the Lady Rhiannon ride by in the First Branch of the Mabinogi (a work Tolkien partly translated from the original medieval Welsh, though he didn't get as far as this scene).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

See you in Dallas?

So, it's now more or less official; I'll be going to Mythcon* this year as a Special Guest.

The Guests of Honor are Tim Powers (author) and Janet Brennan Croft (scholar).

The dates are Friday July 9th through Monday July 12th.

The place is Southern Methodist University** in Dallas, Texas.

The theme is "War In Heaven". Guess I'll need to re-read THE BOOK OF ENOCH and ENUMA ELISH before this summer.

Janice and I haven't been to a Mythcon in several years,*** so this will be a nice change for us. An added bonus is that it's close enough to the Ark-la-tex area that I'll be able to drive over for a family visit afterwards, making this two vacations in one.

So, if you're going to be at Mythcon this year, let me know; it's always good to get together with Tolk folk.

--John R.

*more formally known as the 41st Annual Conference of the Mythopoeic Society.

**home of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, but don't hold that against them.

***I've been to five in all, I think (six if you count the Oxford Centenary Conf) and served on the committee for two of those; Janice has been to more than I have.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Audio-Forums is Closing

So, I was sorry to get an e-mail a few days ago that Jeffrey Norton Publishers of Guilford, Conn. are going out of business on February 10th (i.e., a week from yesterday). While they did a lot of learn-to-speak-a-foreign-language tapes (including an interesting-looking series on Native American languages), I became aware of them because they were the North American distributors of the cassette containing J. R. R. Tolkien's 1964/65 interview with Denys Gueroult for Radio BBC -- the best single interview we have of Tolkien: not just by far the longest but also the one for which his interviewer did the most preparation and asked not just intelligent questions but follow-ups. As an added bonus, the flip side was an interview with the highly opinionated but occasionally insightful poet Basil Bunting, whose works I'd never even heard of before buying this tape.

So, I don't know if the Tolkien/Bunting cassette is among the items still available -- it was a few years ago when I wrote to them to order a back-up copy, just in case mine ever wore out -- but if you're interested in finding out you'd better act now.

--John R.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"My Cat Jeoffry"

So, while I was in a cat mood, I thought I'd share one of my favorite cat poems, written by poor Christopher Smart, a friend of Dr. Samuel Johnson's, circa 1759-1763* but not published until 1939. It's an excerpt from a much longer (1200 line) unfinished poem called JUBILATE AGNO ('Rejoice in the Lamb'). I've abridged it somewhat and inserted some breaks for emphasis.

Jubilate Agno (My Cat Jeoffry)

by Christopher Smart

For I will consider my cat Jeoffry.

For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.

For . . . he worships in his way . . . wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.

For . . . he leaps up to catch the musk . . .

For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.

For this he performs in ten degrees.

For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.

For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.

For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws exended.

For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood

For fifthly he washes himself.

For sixthly he rolls upon wash.

For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.

For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.

For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.

For tenthly he goes in quest of food.

For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.

For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.

For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.

For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.

For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.

For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electric skin and glaring eyes.

For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.

For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.

For he is of the tribe of Tiger . . .

For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.

For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.

For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.

For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.

For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.

. . .

For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.

For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.

For he is tenacious of his point.

For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.

For he knows that God is his Saviour.

For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.

For he is of the Lord's poor . . .

--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.

For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.

For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.

For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what what it wants in music.

For he is docile and can learn certain things . . .

For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.

For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.

For he can catch the cork and toss it again.

For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.

For the former is afraid of detection.

For the latter refuses the charge.

For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.

For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.

For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.

For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land . . .

For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.

For I perceived God's light about him . . .

For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.

For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.

For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.

For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.

For he can swim for life.

For he can creep.

*while he was in the asylum (they'd put him away for "religious mania" -- i.e., falling down on his knees and praying in public).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Rabbi's Cat

So, while on San Juan Island back in September, I saw an interesting-looking graphic novel in a bookshop called THE RABBI'S CAT but didn't buy it because the art was so ugly. But the premise was interesting enough that I remembered it and thought I'd track it down later. My first attempt through the King County Library System was a failure, for reasons I'm not quite sure of, but my second a few weeks ago (this time preceded by an online search to find the author/artist's name) succeeded. To my surprise, I found out that the same author, Joann Sfar, had done another interesting-looking graphic novel that'd caught my eye in the local Barnes & Noble a while back and also that there was a sequel to his other book (THE RABBI'S CAT 2). So, I put in requests at the library for all three.

I've now read them all, and they're well worth checking out. The set-up for THE RABBI'S CAT is better than the pay-off, and the art is indeed hideously ugly throughout, but if you're a cat-owner, after reading it you may find yourself treating your fine feline friend just a little better, in hopes that, if he or she cd talk, your cat'd express a higher opinion of you.

The story features a rabbi living in Algeria early in the twentieth century (my guess would be sometime in the 1920s), his daughter, and their cat. One day the rabbi comes home, finds their parrot missing, and discovers that his cat has learned how to talk; it tells him the parrot had to go away suddenly and they're not to wait up for him. The rabbit rushes to his daughter and says, my cat has learned how to talk -- but he lies! The rest of the story pretty much follows from there: the rabbi's attempts to find out if his cat is a Jewish cat, the cat's occasionally caustic observations, and a time-capsule look at a lost way of life. Among the highlights, two in particular stand out.

The first comes when the rabbi visits Paris and winds up wandering the streets in the rain, unable to even ring a doorbell to find a place to stay or carry his faithful cat because that would violate the Sabbath. Eventually he snaps and goes to a restaurant, where he orders "the least kosher meal in the universe": ham with milk, blood sausage and live oysters, snails and seafood and "a good wine named after a church or a Virgin Mary". Then, before eating, he asks God to "Tell me not to do it. Tell me I've deprived myself of these foods for sixty years and that it served some kind of purpose . . . Tell me that when my wife died it was your will and it was a part of your design . . . " Nothing. So he eats "Just this once . . . Lord. Tomorrow I'll go back to fearing you". And he does.

The second comes near the end of the second book where someone who's fled a Jewish community in Bolshevik Russia goes with his African wife and the cat seeking a Black Jerusalem somewhere beyond Ethiopia. After many adventures they find the city, only to be indignantly rejected by the inhabitants, who refuse to believe that there could be such a thing as someone who's both white and Jewish at the same time. In the end the three of them decide not to tell anyone about what they've found: as the Russian, who's a painter, says "Telling things like they are is not my job". Given that this is the last line in the book, one assumes Sfar would agree.

There are also two nice minor scenes, one in each book. The first comes when Rabbi Sfar* makes a visit to the gravesite of an illustrious ancestor, on the way there running into an old travelling singer named Sheikh Muhammad Sfar, apparently a cousin, who is also on his way to visit the grave. But en route the rabbi's cat and the sheikh's donkey get into a terrible argument over whether the person whose grave they're going to see is "a rabbi" (as the cat says) or "a great Sufi, a saint" (as the donkey maintains).

The second comes in the second volume, when in crossing the Belgium Congo the party of travellers come across Tintin** -- who's not named but who is nonetheless unmistakable, right down to his little dog (dismissed by the cat as "a moron"). Rather surprisingly, though, Sfar's portrayal of Tintin is entirely negative": this "young reporter who seems very sure of himself" never stops talking, shoots everything in sight, and treats the rabbi, sheikh, and painter as if "he [thought] we're retarded". I didn't realize you were allowed to dislike Tintin if you were French-speaking. Good to know.

In addition to the two volumes about the Rabbi's Cat, the third graphic novel, THE PROFESSOR'S DAUGHTER, was actually the best of the lot. For one thing, the art is far better; turns out this one was written by Sfar but drawn by someone else (Emmanuel Guibert). It's the story of how one day the Professor's lovely and independent daughter takes a mummy, Imhotep IV, out of his display case and out to tea. Events quickly spiral out of control, as the hapless Imhotep falls in love with her despite many obstacles (not least of which is his having been dead for 3200 years). It's a strange yet moving story; even Queen Victoria makes an appearance (in her most pig-headed 'we-are-not-amused' mode). I think my favorite moment was when Imhotep dreams of his long-dead children in a scene that strongly reminded me of Ray Bradbury, who used a similar motif in one of his Martian Chronicles ("Where we are, the Nile still teems with fish and you're still king"). Recommended!

--John R.

*yes, the author/artist does give his own name to the characters.

**presumably during the adventures recorded in Tintin's second book, TINTIN IN THE CONGO [1930-31].

Monday, February 1, 2010


So, about a week ago now, I got an interesting letter from Brazil pointing out some mistakes I'd made in MR. BAGGINS. I'm always glad to get errata, especially since I lost all the saved email I'd received containing errata when the old computer went wonky a few months back.* It's even better when it's not a passage where I'd spotted a problem myself. In this case, my correspondent, Rodrigo Bergamaschi de Azevedo, pointed out three potential problems, all clustering in the discussion of Chapter IX and relating to the wood-elves and Elvenking.

First, he points out that when on page 407 I talk about Galadriel and FInrod's father, Finarfin, I state that "some of [his] children were golden-haired because of his Vanyar wife". In fact, it's Finarfin's mother, not his wife, who came from the Vanyar. So the point stands, but I've placed the intermarriage at the wrong point; it shd be one generation further back.

Second, in the line "neither a Light-elf (Vanyar) nor a Deep-elf (Noldor) but a Sea-elf (a Sindar, one of the Teleri of Middle-earth)", there's a slight disconnect between the singular Light-elf, Deep-elf, and Sea-elf with the parenthetical forms, which are plural. Obviously the sentence needs to be recast somewhat, and since I prefer the sound and appearance of the more familiar plural forms (Vanyar/Noldor/Sindar) over their less well known singular equivalents (Vanya/Noldo/Sinda) I'd rephrase it along the lines of "neither a Light-elf (one of the Vanyar) . . ." &c

Finally, the most interesting point is something no one else had pointed out to me before. On page 410 I stated that Thingol was "one of the original elves, the very first generation (said to number one hundred and forty-four) to awaken at Cuivienen, the elven Eden". In fact, as Rodrigo points out, this cannot be the case. His reasoning is twofold. First, we know that Thingol has a brother, who replaces him as leader of the Teleri after Thingol's ensnarement by Melian.** But the first elves to awaken were all of a generation: without parents, how can there be siblings?

Actually, I don't think this objection nullifies my suggestion, since we have the example of the Valar, all of whom belong to a single generation, that individuals created at the same time can still be "brothers" or "sisters". If Manwe and Melkor, Mandos and Lorien and Nienna, Orome and Nessa, why not Elwe and Olwe?.

But Rodrigo's second point is unassailable: that the original 144 elves all come in 72 mated pairs, with each awaking beside his or her mate (cf. HME.XII.420-424). And since it's a crucial part of Thingol's story that he met and married Melian, then obviously he could not have been of that first generation. Which raises the whole question of what happened to those original Awakened, and just how vast a span of time would have been needed to generate what must have been many generations of the whole vast elf-host of those who departed on the journey west and those who stayed behind.***

So, Thingol is definitely one of the patriarchs of Cuivienen, but not quite as primeval as I suggested. Good catch, Rodrigo.


*i.e., all the errata I had not yet listed on my website -- the geniuses at the Apple Store, where I took the old laptop to be fixed, erased all my stored e-mail without telling me they were going to do that. Live and learn.

**in fact, he has two, since at a very late date (circa 1959?) Tolkien added a younger brother, Elmo, to Elwe and Olwe -- mentioned, I think, only once (page 350) of HME.XI: THE WAR OF THE JEWELS.

I find this one of Tolkien's occasional unfortunate namings, like Tirion upon Tuna -- he cd not have known about Sesame Street and Tickle-Me-Elmo, but still for me the name has 'hick' associations, most memorably demonstrated from Gygax's use of it in T1. Village of Holmett for the names of the two ranger brothers pretending to be the local dim-wits, Elmo and Otis (Elmo's sole line of dialogue is "My brudder Otis gave it to me!").

***The true answer, I suspect, is that this myth of the 144 is a v. late (again, circa 1959) addition which Tolkien did not take very seriously or bother to work out the larger implications of -- though he did show it to Clyde Kilby, so there was at least the potential of its fitting into The Silmarillion as he saw it at the time (summer 1966).