one of the larger Confederate cities that never did fall to the Yankees,* thanks to the failure of the Red River campaign. Also, or so I'm told, a place whose founder and namesake broke up a 140 mile long log jam (the 'Great Raft') in order to open the Red River to navigation -- including my birthplace, which is a good seventy miles upriver from here.
So, the Iraqi war winds down at last. Ironically, given that the timetable for withdrawal was negotiated by Bush, who had no intention of honoring the agreement,* and that it forces Obama to keep a campaign promise that he's since repudiated. Turns out they both didn't take into account how much the Iraqis hate being an occupied colonial state run by a puppet government. And so, after killing roughly five percent of the country's population and created the chaos that led about another twenty percent to flee (either to relocate in other areas of Iraq to escape 'ethnic cleaning' or to leave the country entirely for Jordan et al), in the end we settle for the Vietnam option: leave behind massive amounts of armaments,** withdraw to a fortress-embassy, and Go Home.***
So, on Saturday came a new cd: THE LORD OF THE RINGS SYMPHONY, by Howard Shore, performed by the '21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus', who are apparently based in Lucerne (Switzerland), and directed by Ludwig Wicki. This is not to be confused with THE LORD OF THE RINGS: SYMPHONY No. 1, by Johan de Meij, which has been around for more than two decades now. Instead, it's Shore's scores for the LotR films adapted into symphony form, more or less. I say 'more or less', because it's rather unusual for a symphony to have six movements (four is traditional). Here, of course, the six parts correspond to the six books that make up Tolkien's LotR, rather than (as I expected) a three-part structure deriving from the three Peter Jackson films.
So how is the music? Well, if you disliked Shore's scores (as a small but vocal minority does) you won't like this either, since it derives from the film music. Surprisingly enough, I found it less impressive than the original individual soundtracks from which it derives. Played too softly, it vanishes into the background; played loudly, I found I had some trouble identifying where in the story we were at different points (which had not been the case with the three soundtracks). I'd thought this would be tighter and have greater impact than the longer scores, but I think the opposite turns out to be the case. This shorter version seems to me to have less focus, oddly enough.
Such at any rate is my first impression. It's entirely possible Shore's symphony will grow on my over time. But for now I think I'll be more likely to re-listen to the cds I have (FR, TT, RK, the stage musical) and that this might drift towards the back of the shelf. We'll see. At least it has more impact than the de Meij, which I've never been able to listen to all the way through without my attention wandering -- though I see that there's a new recording of this out, from the London Symphony Orchestra. If anyone has heard this, I'd be interested in how it compares to the earlier recordings: does it have more character?
. . . by Michael Martinez, as the second in a series of pieces he's doing with Tolkien scholars (the first, last week, was with MYTHLORE editor Janet Croft; next week's being with Wayne & Christina (Oct. 28th), followed by Michael Drout (Nov. 4th) and then John Garth (Nov. 11th). Mine mostly focuses on THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT, but does expend to other matters Tolkienian as well. Here's the link:
So, today a friend* sent me a link to the following mediation by a fellow practitioner of the fine art of footnoting, about the melancholy prospects e-books offer those of us who like our footnotes (and I do).
I have to say I haven't found things too bad yet, but then most of the books I read on the Kindle don't have much in the way of notes, and most of the books I read that are thickly be-noted I read as actual books (e.g., most Tolkien scholarship). Ironic that a format that shd be able to easily accommodate something like a note shd make cross-referencing more difficult and not less. Especially when audiobooks have by and large solved this problem -- I was particularly impressed by the deft treatment of footnotes in the audiobook of Susanna Clarke's STRANGE & NORRELL, where each notes was given its separate track on the cd, making them easy to skip for those who had a mind to press on, while most listeners could enjoy them as they came. But then JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL might be a special case, since I ultimately concluded that the notes were better than the story there -- that is, that Clarke's world-building was superlative while the main plot was less interesting than the setting it took place in. That's rare.
I also admire Terry Pratchett's footnotes, which are a distinctive feature of his style of humor (or perhaps humour); a feature I think he derived (along with so much else) from Douglas Adams's HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE. And of course in my own work I've always thought that, having learned grammatically how to construct compound-complex sentences, it'd be a pity not to use them. I'm also fond of parentheticals (a trait I share with Tolkien).** And I like footnotes. Sometimes my footnotes have footnotes (usually marked with a dagger). Sometimes I need to distinguish between two sets of notes, such as between Denham's notes and my notes in the DENHAM TRACT I reproduced in an appendix of H.o.H. And sometimes different notes do different things, as with the Notes to my commentary vs. the Text Notes to Tolkien's drafting in my presentation of the HOBBIT Mss.
So, as not just a reader of footnotes but also an inveterate writer of notes, I'd be sad to see the passing of the footnote -- but I trust that endnotes will still be with us, if a little harder to access. And if all else fails, we'll still have parentheticals.
**it's a feature I greatly enjoy in FARMER GILES, LotR, and esp. THE HOBBIT, and something I miss in THE SILMARILLION.
So, this week the mail brought a book I only learned about through amazon.com's 'Recommendations',* Jay Rudd's CRITICAL COMPANION TO J. R. R. TOLKIEN: A LITERARY REFERENCE TO HIS LIFE AND WORK. This is a hefty book (650 pages) at a hefty price ($75)** that seems to have just slipped out without anyone being aware it was in the works or, so far as I can tell, that it's now been released.
I think this is because its target audience is clearly libraries (the publisher is Facts on File), and its intended readers are high school and college students who need to write a book report but don't necessarily want to read the book in question. It falls into the same territory as Michael Drout's TOLKIEN ENCYCLOPEDIA or Wayne & Christina's COMPANION & GUIDE in its attempt to cover Tolkien's life and (especially) works through a series of encyclopedia-like entries, but unlike those seems to be largely a one-man show. Rudd has clearly put an enormous amount of work in on this book, but I'm not sure how many Tolkien scholars will find themselves making much use of it: its intended reader is the non-specialist.
I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, but on a quick skim it seems that Rudd derives most of his information from relatively few sources (e.g., Carpenter and Garth seem to provide pretty much all the biographical information). I haven't found any signs yet of original research, such as distinguish the Hammond-Skull, while it lacks the Drout project's all-star cast, which largely offset that production's flaws.
As usual when first looking at a great big book like this, I check the relative accuracy and quality by reading a few entries on topics I know really well -- like THE HOBBIT. Here Rudd starts by saying that "The origin of The Hobbit is well-known" and then proceeds to get several of the salient facts wrong. Oddly enough, Rudd devotes three paragraphs to describing the existence and significance of the 1960 Hobbit but never mentions that it's been published. I suspect from this that his book was a long time in the works, and so wasn't able to take advantage of books published within the last half-decade or so (just as my own MR. BAGGINS wasn't able to draw much from the Hammond-Scull).
Rudd's method is to first provide a brief overview, then a synopsis of the text, then commentary on the book, then some notes on major characters, ending with a selective bibliography. In the case of THE HOBBIT, the whole entry runs some thirty-five pages (p. 95 to 129), of which fourteen are a plot-summary. The commentary that follows is a bit eccentric -- for example, he asserts that Bilbo is the Grail Knight and Bard the Fisher-King -- and its general thrust is suggested by his including in this entry's Suggested Reading: Northrop Frye, Joseph Campbell, Jung, Propp.
The sheer bulk of the synopses indicate that this really is a book meant for the non-specialist (cf. the paragraph or two summarizing each poem in ATB). But that being the case, if this book is going to be the only authority someone checks when reading about Tolkien, it's all the more important that it get the facts right. A quick skim makes me worry on that front (e.g., "Thorin is the grandson of Thrain, the last dwarvish King under the Mountain"), but I may have just been unlucky and come across more than my fair share of the sort of inevitable slips that occur in any large project.*** I'll certainly be dipping into it and reading more over the next few weeks.
So, my initial impression: an impressive achievement, but to be used with some caution.
current reading: THE ZERO STONE by Andre Norton 
current audiobooks: The Learning Company lectures on Skspr***
*i.e., 'you seem to buy everything there is to buy w. Tolkien's name on it; why not buy this too?'
**making it the latest of a recent run of budget-busting bks on Tolkien.
***Captions are a particular problem, as when a photo of the Radcliffe Camera states that "The manuscript of Roverandom was discovered among Tolkien's papers in this library" (p. 333). Um, no. Also, at least four times cover art for movie tie-in editions of various volumes of THE LORD OF THE RINGS are inexplicably described as "coloring book editions". However, these gaffs shd not be held against Rudd himself, since captions for most publishers are not written by a given book's author and are invariably inserted into books at a v. late stage, usually too late for even the editor to double-check them.
****not surprisingly, they think Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. I gather the new movie just out about Skspr ("Anonymous") subscribes to one of the various conspiracy-theories instead.
UPDATE Oct. 17th: I've corrected the spelling of "Roverandum" to "Roverandom", as per D.B.'s comment -- JDR
So, today I finally managed to pick up next year's Tolkien Calendar, the second in a row with Cor Blok's pug-ugly art. The most interesting part is the 'A Tolkien Tapestry' centerfold, arranging dozens of his LotR illustrations into sequence in tiny thumbnail format. The actual monthly displays give us more of his signature pieces, such as most of his characters being armless, and Gollum-as-a-duck, which sounds like a joke but unfortunately isn't. There are some odd choices of composition as well -- has anyone else ever devoted a painting to Grima spitting? (cf the one for October). I hear there's a book due out soon explaining how he came to do this project, Tolkien's response to it (or what parts of it he saw), &c -- all of which actually sounds more interesting than the art itself. Which is, as I might have said, pug-ugly.
I did have an amusing exchange with the sales clerk at Barnes & Noble when I bought it that went something like this.
He: oh, Tolkien calendar.
Me: yes. Tolkien's said to have seen and actually approve some of the art.
He (after long, considering pause): perhaps what Tolkien saw isn't these pieces . . .
Me: or perhaps Tolkien was a kind-hearted man.
current reading: THE STAR BEAST by Rbt. A. Heinlein (just finished)
So, I thought of naming this post something like "TSR (New Fish, Twenty Years On)", but in the end had to go with the Sgt. Pepper reference.
Today marks exactly twenty years since I started work at TSR, back in the Lake Geneva days. I was one of four new hires that month, so we all had the 'New Fish' lecture together from Jim Ward, the head of our department; my immediate bosses were Steve Winter (AD&D core group) and Bruce Heard (D&D group).
Of the four of us, I started first (Monday October 7th, 1991). Rich Baker and Thomas
Reid started together a week later (Monday October 14th) and Wolfgang Baur started the week after that (Monday October 21st). I suspect I started a week before Rich and Thomas because when the nice lady at TSR called and offered me the job and asked when I could start work I answered, well, that afternoon and the next day are pretty busy; would the day after tomorrow (a Wednesday) be okay? They assured me that the next Monday (the 7th) wd be fine, which gave me the rest of that week to finish up my paper on Charles Williams' best play (TERROR OF LIGHT) for the Huttar-Sckakel collection (THE RHETORIC OF VISION, eventually published in 1996). I was living in Milwaukee at the time, so I cd commute from where we lived on the Lower East Side; I suspect the others got hired on the same day and were given two (or, in Wolf's case, three) weeks to move into the area.
A lot of water under those bridges since then. Rich quickly became one of TSR (& later WotC)'s best designers, as well as at one point a brand manager (of the Forgotten Realms) and novelist in the TSR book line (I recommend his Ravens' Bluff novel, although my favorite of his novels, the BIRTHRIGHT one, never got published in its original form, alas). And now Rich has just completed the unprecedented achievement of spending twenty consecutive years working in the rpg department at TSR/WotC. No one else has ever done that in TSR/WotC's thirty-eight year history,* and there can't be many at any rpg company who can boast a similar record.** Well done, Rich!
Thomas*** went from editing (with the occasional freelance design) to eventually brand manager of the core AD&D line (wh. throughout the early nineties was overseen by Steve Winter, one of the unsung heroes of TSR days), before eventually leaving to work in the computer game industry, like so many others who got their start in rpgs (cf. Jeff Grubb as an outstanding example). Last I heard, he was back in Austin, still working on novels and computer games.
Wolf I see the most of, since we're in the same gaming group (though with the newborn his attendance is mostly in abeyance right now). He became consecutively the editor of DUNGEON and then DRAGON, as well as building up quite a reputation as a freelance designer, particularly of al-QADIM. He was also the first of us to leave TSR, making the move to Wizards well before TSR went on the rocks and eventually leaving WotC in turn before the layoffs started there a few years later. These days he manages his own little rpg empire, Open Design (for which I've freelanced several times), with his own magazine KOBOLD QUARTERLY.
And I, through three distinct stints at TSR (1991-1996), WotC (1997-2001), and WotC/Hasbro (2003-2005), got to work with a lot of great people, many of whom I still consider close friends, and got to work on a lot of great projects, most of which I'm proud to have my name on. And through it all, in what little bit of "free time" I cd manage, I kept plugging away at MR. BAGGINS, which I'd started in earnest just about the time TSR hired me (Taum having died in August, less than six weeks earlier), though in the end I was only able to finish it by working full-time on the thing in the year and a half after I left WotC for the final time. And since then it's been the Independent Scholar route, buttressed by the occasional freelance.
*Kim Mohan, their managing editor (the final set of eyes who proofreads every rpg product before it goes out the door) has been there longer overall -- I remember he got his twenty year pin not long before I left for the last time in December 2005 -- but he'd had a hiatus, having worked at TSR (where he was the second editor of DRAGON MAGAZINE), left to follow Gygax to New Infinities, and then came back after Gygax's new company collapsed.
**Lynn Willis of Chaosium, perhaps?
***historical trivia fact: Thomas's grandmother is one of the two people who could testify that Lee Harvey Oswald had been in the Texas Book Repository at the time Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, having run into him at the soft drink machine as he was making his way downstairs a minute or so after the shooting (the other being Robin MacNeil, later of the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, who had a brief exchange with Oswald as the later was leaving the building).
Update: having half-drafted this piece, I fell into one of my not-posting spells that strike every now and then, and so am only now (Fr. 10/14) resuming. In the meantime I've been able to see a few more old friends from TSR days of yore: Miranda Horner, Bruce Cordell, and Monte Cook. Been good to reminisce and catch up a bit on what they're doing now. Many the best thing about working in the rpg industry is the number of really interesting, really nice people you get to meet along the way. --JDR
So, a few months back (February-March) I got an unexpected request from an unexpected source. The folks at Gale Publishing (aka Cengage Learning) wanted permission to reprint my essay, "A Kind of Elvish Craft: Tolkien as Literary Craftsman", which I'd originally written as my 2007 Blackwelder lecture at Marquette and then, to my great delight, had published as the lead article in TOLKIEN STUDIES (Vol. VI ). Gale are famous for printing small editions of library-only books, long series about authors, and the like. My piece appears in TWENTIETH CENTURY LITERATURE CRITICISM, Vol. 258. *
Or so I'm told. I haven't had a chance to check for myself, since my contributor's copy hasn't arrived. So, if you find yourself in a library which carries the series and happen to notice whether this new volume is on the shelves yet, let me know. Suzzallo-Allen, based on their online catalogue, seem to have most of the set but not the newer volumes yet.
But, in any case, thought I'd share. Woo-hoo.
*Here's a link that gives an idea of what a typical volume in the series is like:
So, I've just finished reading a book I came across on one of the downstairs bookcases while we were staying at Trout Lake (nr Mt Adams, just north of the Columbia River gorge) last week, and which our hostess* v. kindly loaned to me: Jack London's BEFORE ADAM . It turned out not to be much of a book -- there's a reason that most of what London wrote goes unread these days, aside from a few classics -- but was interesting in several ways.
First off, as a early man/primitive man story, it reminded me both of a story about cavemen by H. G. Wells (the title of which I've forgotten) I came across years ago when leafing through bound volumes of THE IDLER in the Marquette Archives in search of Sidney Sime artwork (one of the ones I found I'd love to have a reproduction of: "The Brother of Ali Baba Lost in the Woods" -- but unfortunately in the years since I've lost the reference)** and THE INHERITORS by Wm Golding -- wh. I've not read and know only through a presentation on it I attended at one of the first WisCons I went to (hence, in the early 80s, since I moved to Milwaukee in August 1981 and first attended WisCon the following February).
London's story is much closer to Golding's in its bleak depiction of one race of early men being systematically exterminated by another, and I wd not be surprised if it were a source. In Golding's case, it's the Neanderthals (who are the point of view characters) being wiped out by Cro-Magnon (i.e., our ancestors). In London's he depicts a time when there were three distinct races of humans living in close proximity:*** The Tree People (who still retain a lot of arboreal features), The Folk ('missing links', who include the narrator), and The Fire People (who are more advanced, with bows and language).
What interested me are two features that v. much remind me of Tolkien's THE LOST ROAD.
First, the narrator is a modern-day man haunted by vivid dreams of a previous life in which he was Big Tooth, one of The Folk. This seems v. like the Errols in LOST ROAD and for that matter Ramer and Arry in THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS. One thing that had puzzled me in Tolkien's time-travel stories was his insistence at one point (I forget where) that the modern day characters were not re-incarnations of their Numenorean selves but inherited memories of those events through being descendents of those distant ancestors.
That didn't make any kind of sense to me -- either they were re-incarnated or they weren't -- but London's book makes much the same claim. His modern-day narrator is not the same person come to life again in a new body, but a descendent of the person who felt and thought and acted long ago. A Lysenko-ist, London believes that memories can be inherited genetically. Thus, for example, he argues that the dream of falling some people have, but always waking up before hitting the ground, is because those people are descended from hominids who fell from trees or other high places but caught themselves before hitting the ground. London claims that no one has the dream of hitting the ground, because those individuals died in the fall and hence had no descendents to passed on the traumatic memory to. Which is no more absurd, I suppose, than the modern claims some make that people are afraid of snakes because of little furry mammals being hunted by the dinosaurs (people are afraid of snakes because they're taught to be afraid of snakes. duh.).
Now, this seems v. like what Tolkien must have been getting at. The Errol father-and-son pair are not literally the two Numenoreans re-incarnated, the way elves can re-incarnate (with the same soul and personality), but ancestors of the modern-day Englishmen who under the right circumstances can re-awaken those inherited memories and re-experience events in their ancestors' lives. Which of course ties in to 'the past alive in the present' (to give one of Jared Lobdell's catchphrases from ENGLAND & ALWAYS a new application) in the NCP, where past events can erupt explosively in the present. In the abstract, described like that, it sounds much more like a David Lindsay novel than anything we associate with Tolkien. Which is perhaps just a good reminder that Tolkien's not as predictable as we sometimes think.
*better known as Marjorie Burns, author of PERILOUS REALMS. Thanks again, Bijee.
**this was back when I was working on my Dunsany dissertation, a section of which is devoted to the wholly remarkable Dunsany-Sime partnership.
***the accompanying introduction (by McKiernan) and afterword (by Eisley) to the edition I read were careful to point out that London was quite wrong in depicting multiple hominids alive at the same time -- which, amusingly enough, is itself quite wrong, as recent discoveries such as the Flores hobbit reveals.
So, today began this fall's session of Dr. Dimitra Fimi's online Tolkien class, J. R. R. TOLKIEN: MYTH AND MIDDLE EARTH IN CONTEXT. I've been interested in this since first hearing about it a few years ago, and this time around I'm going to be auditing it. Here's a brief description of the course:
So, last night I finally finished my current project* (only one month late), an essay for the French Tolkien journal TOLKIENDIL. Read it out loud to Janice tonight, who didn't find any passages that needed to be toned down, so it's good to go. Sent it off before midnight, and will compile the Bibliography to accompany it tomorrow. Even better, this is really two deadlines in one: this same piece will form the core of my paper at the Medievalist Congress in Kalamazoo next May, so I'm well ahead of schedule there -- although I'll have to work out how to shorten the delivery time by half and still have a coherent presentation. But that's a good problem to have.
And so today I would be celebrating The Dance of Doneness, except that we just got back from our week's vacation to Trout Lake (near the foot of Mt. Adams), where we stayed with friends Bijee and Don (a.k.a. Tolkien scholar Marjorie Burns and her husband, Don Willner), followed by two days in Portland (and some serious poking about in Powell's--two sessions totaling somewhere between four and five hours worth, I'd say). So in a sense we've pre-celebrated. And one way in which we did so -- going out to tea together -- formed something of a running theme over the last few days.
Having arrived in Portland Wednesday night, Thursday we visited the Lan Su Chinese Gardens in Portland, a favorite of ours (this is I think our third visit there). And, as is our tradition, we ended up by visiting the teahouse after an hour or so of first the tour and then wandering about. This being a Feast Day,** I had an order of their fava beans (wh. they call 'horsebeans') and Janice their mooncake, each accompanied by fine tea in tiny pots and minuscule cups and, as an added bonus, live music on a kind of Chinese zither made of oak and redwood. Janice had an interesting thought that we were able to confirm: the Chinese music notation the perormer was using on her sheet music is nothing like the standard staves and notes we use in Western music. Interesting. And I got to see both a Magnolia and a Mimosa ('silk tree') in the garden -- though no actual tea trees. I always enjoy visiting Chinese gardens, and I'm already looking forward to the next one, whenever that eventually comes.
Friday it was the Portland Japanese Garden's turn, which we'd seen once in the company of my sister-in-law maybe a dozen years back. Unlike the Chinese gardens I've seen (e.g., the Lan Su in Portland and Sun Yat Sen garden in Vancouver), which are inclosed in a wall and include a number of buildings within the garden itself, Japanese gardens have much more open space, far fewer structures, and tend to have a steep green cliff forming a backdrop on one side (though whether this is happenstance or a deliberate feature I do not know). Now I'm curious to visit a formal English walled garden when we're over there sometime next year and compare it as well.
Afterwards we had been planning to see the Portland Zoo, but having gotten a late start we went right to the next item on our itinerary: high tea at Tea Thyme & Lavender in Beaverton, on the west side of Portland. This turned out not to be a tea room as such but an antique store; the reason they ask for reservations is that it gives them time to clear off a table and make a place to sit. The high tea that followed was unusual in having a distinct French touch (e.g., gateau rather than cake, &c). It was okay, but I find I'm of the mind that lavender is better as a scent than as a flavor ingredient in a scone.
Friday night having seen us arrive back in Kent to a welcoming array of kitties, we drove into Seattle Saturday afternoon for this year's Northwest Tea Festival, where we roamed around the room sampling many, many teas from the tiny free cups they give you when you come in. They also gave each attendee a free canvas tote bag, and I managed to fill mine with purchases of four ounces of Yunnan here, a small packet of Dian Hong there. Last year (or was it the year before?) when visiting the Tea Festival with friends Anne & Sig, we'd all seen much taken w. a 'tea wheel', a sort of color chart listing adjectives suitable for describing tea flavors and undertones. This year they had a smaller, portable version available for purchase, so naturally I got one.
And finally, today (Sunday the 2nd) we decided to make up for the rather disappointing high tea of two days ago by revisiting a tea room we'd really liked on our two previous visits (once for Janice's birthday, once w. our friends Gwen and Stan): the Secret Gardens down in Sumner. It did not disappoint: good strong tea, a pleasant setting, and most excellent tea-treats. We ate till we cd eat no more, then made our way home to reflect on an interesting vacation and prepare ourselves to plunge back into the new workweek tomorrow morning. It promises to be a busy one . . .
current reading: BEFORE ADAM by Jack London 
just finished: THE BRICK MOON [1869; 1899]
*"A Fragment, Detached: THE HOBBIT and THE SILMARILIION"