Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The January Butterfly

So, a piece in the local paper here reports that, all arguments about Global Warming by politicians aside, the people who really pay attention to such things, gardeners, have no doubts that spring is coming sooner. The proof of which is that the little map of the U.S. with different colored zones representing where to plant a given seed in March, or April, or May, is being revised to represent 5-degree shift since the last time the map was undated twenty-two years ago. As a biology professor cited in the piece is quoted as saying, "People who grow plants are well aware of the fact that temperatures have gotten more mild throughout the year, particularly in the winter time . . . There's a lot of things you can grow now that you couldn't grow before"

A case in point: here it is, the end of January, and I've been walking around outdoors in my shirtsleeves, often with the sleeves rolled up. This is the third day that temperatures have been around 70 degrees. Yesterday I saw a yellow butterfly go by, confirming that this wasn't a one-day fluke.

A butterfly. In January. Granted, winters are milder here in SW Arkansas than the Seattle area or (God knows) Milwaukee. But still, seventy degrees? It won't take a groundhog later this week to tell me winter's basically over, whatever cold snaps might intrude between now and true spring. The narcissus are already blooming, the pansies are thriving, and it won't be long till the daffodils join them.

Tomorrow I set out iris at Williamson St. We'll see how they do.

--John R.
current reading: THE WOBBIT, AFTER LOVECRAFT: THE COLD CASE OF ROBERT SUYDAM (sequel to THE HORROR AT RED HOOK), MURDER IN CANTON (the final story in the Judge Dee series).

Monday, January 30, 2012

So Far Today . . .

So far today I've
--gotten a car assessed
--gotten car tabs (one day ahead of the deadline)
--gotten a local Newspaper subscription re-started
--paid rent
--visited a slightly odd gift shop on the courthouse square
--gone to the post office
--gone to the bank
--eaten out for lunch
--and finally gotten online again, for the first time since returning to Magnolia (two days ago).

Now we'll see how many things off an expensive 'to-do' list for the week I get through in the afternoon. Replacing my ailing, failing cell-phone wd be good, but it's not even near the top of the remaining list, alas.

--John R.
current book: POETS & MURDER by Rbt van Gulik (third reading: 1990, 1993, 2012)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Greenwood Tea Room

So, since I had several days in Shreveport this week, I decided that if I found myself with any spare time at all I shd try to find a little more about the city, where I stay for a night or two once or twice a year but never get a chance to poke around in outside the hotel, since I only come here on family visits. This time, I decided to try to find at least one good restaurant and one interesting walk.

Between various touristy booklets in the hotel lobby and some online searches, I found several places that looked potentially interested. Some turned out no longer to exist when I went there, or at least not at their listed locations. Some were too far away (i.e., not actually in Shreveport but in the outlying area). Some I simply didn't have time for, since most of my stay is devoted to a family crisis. But one I did try out was the Greenwood Tea Room on Line Avenue.

I admit I had reservations about the place, since it's inside a gift shop, and Janice and my's experience with a similar set up in Portland (or, actually, in the Portland area) last year had been a little disappointing. Also, looking at their web site, I discovered that the owner-operator is a big fan of Glen Beck,* so I knew her views and mine on many issues wd be worlds apart.

In the event, I'm glad I went: it turns out to be a really neat shop. I was particularly taken with some contemporary angel art that reminded me of the art in Gaiman's THE DAY I TRADED MY DAD FOR TWO GOLDFISH (wish I knew the name of the artist). I was at the wrong time of day for High Tea (given the chance, I'd have chosen what they call their Scone Tea), so I had an early lunch followed by late breakfast. That is, I had two cups of soup: one of their Victorian Soup (which was new to me) and one of their tomato basil (wh. also had a lot of other things in it, like carrots). This I followed with a freshly baked blueberry scone with lemon curd and whipped cream, all accompanied by a small pot of strong black tea kept nice and hot by a tea light.

Yesterday being my last full day in Shreveport, I stopped by one last time, and yet again found them going above and beyond. I'd thought they served until four, but it turns out this is when the shop closes; the tea room part usually shuts down at three. However, finding out that all I wanted was a pot of tea and a scone, they insisted I come in and sit down while they got together tea and scone for me. It was a comforting touch to be so welcomed by strangers: a reminder that Southern hospitality really does exist.

So, many thanks to the tea room folks for a quiet, calming moment in an uncertain week.

And now, on to Magnolia!

--John R.

*cf. for example her post re. her trip to the holy land to attend his rally last October ( http://host.pappapak12.com/~glenwood/article_21/Ancient-Israel-October-2011.htm ). I was particularly puzzled by the statement that of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, only "one to two percent" were fanatics who hated America, which totals "91 million" radicals. It's been a long time since I took a math class (12th grade!), but I'd thought 1% of 1.2 billion was 12 million, making 2% twenty-four million. Don't know where the 91 million figure comes from (that's about seven and a half percent, by my reckoning). In any case, more projection on our part than any correlation to reality.

Friday, January 27, 2012

My Week

So far this week, I've
--flown half-way across the country, and driven several hours more
--gotten a brief get together with fellow Tolkienist Jason Fisher
--spent a lot of time in Shreveport visiting hospitals
--walked along the Red River
--eaten far too many meals at Cracker Barrel (the only restaurant night-blind me can find in Shreveport after dark)
--seen a hawk, and a heron (large & white), disturbed sunning turtles, heard (but not seen) a kingfisher, saw some mourning doves, and puzzled mightily a mockingbird
--been a bit surprised by seventy-degrees in January
--bought a box of 'Promise Tea' (which comes with a scriptural quote on each tag, but unfortunately doesn't seem to come in tea flavor)
--found a v. friendly tea shop down on Line Avenue,* which I visited not once but twice
--and prepared myself for the hardest part of the trip, which is yet to come.

More later

--John R.

current reading: THE EMPEROR'S PEARL by Rbt van Gulik
just finished: BOOK GIRL AND THE CORRUPTED ANGEL (the Phantom-of-the-Opera entry into this enjoyable but disturbing series)
current ebook: THE WOBBIT (a parody of THE HOBBIT) by Paul Erickson

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tolkien Among the E-Books

So, one of the v. first (indeed, I think THE first) e-books I bought when we first got the Kindle, several years ago now, was THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT, quickly followed by THE SILMARILLION and THE BOOK OF LOST TALES (vols. I & II).

I'd been wanting a searchable copy of Tolkien's books for years, and here they were, available at last. At that time there were relatively few books on/about Tolkien available either as e-books or as audio-books. And, oddly enough, they tended to be not the great classics of Tolkien scholarship -- Carpenter, Kocher, Shippey, Flieger, &c -- but Xian interpretations of Tolkien's work (Kreeft, Wood, Rutledge, Arthur). By and large that still seems to be the case, but a quick check of Amazon's Kindle store shows that a lot more titles are becoming available, both by (SIGURD & GUDRUN) and about (the Jason Fisher collection, to which I'm a contributor).*

Which made the following paragraph appearing in the newest BEYOND BREE particularly interesting. Coming at the end of a piece about e-books and Tolkien, David Brawn (who oversees Tolkien publishing at HarperCollins), while not divulging sales figures, says that

are . . . two of the best-selling backlist ebooks
on the market . . . Tolkien's books are once again
experiencing a period of growth as we approach
the 2012 HOBBIT movie . . . while ebook sales are
increasing, so are the sales of the physical books",

concluding that while for some authors ebook sales come at the expense of their tradition books, this does not seem to be the case with Tolkien, whose ebooks seem to be selling both to those who already had the book as well as new readers -- "which is good news for the author".

--BEYOND BREE, current issue, p. 8

So, taken in conjunction with my last post about Tolkien having written not one but two of the best-selling books of all time, add in that for the present sales show no sign of slacking; he remains ubiquitous in our culture, for now and hopefully for a long time to come.

--John R.
still in Grand Prairie, Texas

*indeed, some Kindle-only books on Tolkien can be found there now; I'll have to check some of these out to see if any are worthwhile. Some look potentially interesting, while about others I am doubtful. We'll see.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tolkien Among the All-Time Best Sellers?

So, many thanks to Allan G. who sent me the link to a blog (Punkadiddle*) which is doing a countdown of the ten best-selling books of all time, as determined by Wikipedia.** Both the blog entry, on THE HOBBIT (which ranks #4 in their listing) and the list itself (and the means by which they determined it, leaving out giveaway books like Gideon Bibles) are of interest. But what particularly struck me was not the gob-stopping news that JRRT wrote the fourth best-selling book of all time (keeping in mind the disclaimers just mentioned) but that he also wrote the third all-time bestseller as well!

That is: THE HOBBIT ranks fourth on their list, with 100,000,000 copies sold. That's one hundred million copies. Which is a lot of books. But it's a distance second among Tolkien's works on the list, THE LORD OF THE RINGS having sold half again as much: 150,000,000 copies (whether sets or individual volumes they did not say). That's a quarter of a billion copies altogether for those two books.

I'm reminded of something Janice said, years ago as we were leaving a Half-Price Books up on the Brown Deer Road in Milwaukee, about imagining how our civilization wd appear to archeologists of the distant future, who wd decide that we had v. few books but really, really liked them.

I'm also reminded of the famous Locus poll (circa 1987/88, I think) of all-time favorite fantasy works, in which Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS came in first. Followed by J. R. R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT as number two. Followed, I think by Le Guin's A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA as a rather distant third. The poll's compiler I remember went to lengths to point out that the winner of the fantasy poll outperformed the winner of the science fiction poll they ran at the same time (this being after all a science fiction journal) by a magnitude of degree.

The dual placement of both books on the Wikipedia list, which together take up a third of the list of all books that have sold 100 million or more copies, is what's really staggering, and re-inforces once again that THE HOBBIT has an audience of its own. If Tolkien had written only THE HOBBIT, I'd argue, he wd still be remembered as one of the great writers of his time.

Not just King of the Mountain: without him, there'd be no recognized genre of fantasy literature, and the people who wrote what we'd call modern fantasy wd be talented eccentrics following their individual muses, like James Branch Cabell, E. R. Eddison, and Hope Mirrlees.

All hail not the King Under the Mountain but The King Up On The Mountain, for letting us share the view.***

--John R.
--writing from what turns out to be Grand Prairie, Texas



***(cf. Tolk's allegory of the tower in The Monsters & The Critics).


UPDATE (Jan. 27th): thanks to Allan for pointing out that 250,000,000 is a quarter-BILLION, not a quarter-million, as I'd mistyped. I've corrected this above. Thanks Allan! -- JDR

Thursday, January 19, 2012

1st Edition Returns!

So, the best news I heard today is that the original 1st ed. AD&D hardcover rulebooks -- the PLAYER'S HANDBOOK, the DMG, and the MONSTER MANUAL -- are being reprinted. Since this is the best version of my all-time favorite roleplaying game, it'll be good to see it available again after so long. Granted, it's only a limited release according to this article, but for the finest rpg rules set ever written to be back in print is definitely a good thing. And it's also for a relatively good cause, the Gygax project, which is trying to build a statue of the (co-)creator of rpgs in Lake Geneva. Here's the link:

Having only recently learned of the 'Old School Revival', I'd been somewhat baffled that fans of 1st ed. AD&D were rewriting the rules and publishing their own variants of them (e.g., Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess), rather than hunting down any of the thousands of used copies of the original books that must still be out there at Half-Price Books and various online sites. Now I find the originals are finally coming back into print, albeit briefly, and I cdn't be happier. I suspect most copies will be snatched up by longtime gamers for the nostalgia, but I hope at least some sets find their way into the hands of younger gamers who decide to give the classic game a try. Here's hoping.

--John R.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hobbits in Bloemfontein

So, I was waiting in the dentist's office today for a follow-up visit, and glanced through the latest issue of TIME. Noticing a piece on the African National Congress's 100th anniversary and its having been founded in Bloemfontein, which I hadn't known before, I thought it a pity they'd left out mention of Bloemfontein's most famous onetime resident, JRRT.

Turns out I spoke too soon. Turn the page, and there's the following paragraph:

"The short drive to Maphikela House [where the ANC
was supposedly founded] crosses South Africa's divide.
I start in leafy all-white suburbs, home to cafes, bookstores
and the Hobbit Boutique Hotel, modeled on the fantasies of
Bloemfontein's most famous son, J. R. R. Tolkien.
Then I cross the railroad track, and I'm in the township:
no trees, full of potholes and all black.
Where my tourist map indicates Maphikela House
should be is instead an abandoned warehouse, the windows
smashed, graffiti by its broken door announcing

--"How the ANC Lost Its Way" by Alex Perry,
TIME January 16, 2012, page 36

--the part about no trees, wh. suggests Haiti-style endemic poverty, wd particularly horrify Tolkien, I thought.

I'd heard of various Hobbit-hotels and Tolkien-themed houses in California and New Zealand and Montana, but this is the first time I've heard of anything commemorating him in the country where he was born. Poking about a bit on-line, I found a pretty good description of the place here:

--sounds like a nice place, although their mention of a pool and doing things BEFORE breakfast makes me wonder how hobbitish it can be (Janice points out that perhaps they mean Second Breakfast, wh. wd indeed fit). For a four-star guest house, their prices are pretty reasonable: 330 Rand for three nights in the more modest rooms (about $42) and 450 Rand (about $56) for the more expensive ones.

Poking about a bit more, I found the hotel's own website:

The emphasis on food and comfort here does indeed show the Van der Westhuizens, who run the place, got it right, on this point at least. Must admit I'm curious about the 'historical items' they mention. There seem to be twelve rooms, each named for a LotR character. It's an interesting list, including seven of the Fellowship (no Boromir, and more surprisingly no Gandalf):


I doubt that I'll ever find myself in Bloemfontein, but if I did I'd certainly want to stay there, and wd try out their high tea if we were just passing through (assuming I'd be admitted to a "women's tea").

*they actually have Gimli's name as "Gimley" on the website, but since they also have "Pippen" on the same list but correctly spelled (Pippin) in the slideshow, I suspect this is a typo on their website, not for the room itself.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Crow in the Snow

So, thanks to Janice for sending me the following link (which she in turn got from Steve Brown's site: thanks, Stan!). It shows a crow playing in the snow with a game obviously of its own devising. That is, it's taking some kind of lid it's found, flying with it to the top of a steep roof, and then tobogganing down, wings flapping all the way. Then once at the bottom, it fishes the lid back out, flies back to the roof-peak, and does it again. Notice how it takes care to get the lidright-side-up. From the voices of the people recording this, it must be taking place in Russia (though it cd also be Ukrainian for all I know).

So: as impressive as it is seeing how smart crows are as shown by their ability to make tools to get food, somehow it's even more human to see one inventing a game with its own rules.

Here's the link. My wife insists I made hee-hee-hee noises all through watching it, which I deny.

--John R.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The New Arrivals!

So, Friday brought some long-awaited arrivals: three boxes filled with four copies each of the new, improved, one-volume second edition of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT. These are my author's copies, mailed to me from Glasgow near the end of October; I assume they got delayed by all the holiday mail in-between. At over 5 kgs each,* they're a pretty hefty bundle.

Two are already spoken for, and the rest go on the smallish stack downstairs of my remaining copies of the first edition (the trade paperback version).


--John R.


Here's what Janice had to say about it, reposted from her Facebook:

The sound of John's author copies of the 1 volume The History of the Hobbit arriving on the door step.
We've now got 13 hobbits. I wonder where we can find a dwarf to make up our lucky number?

*each box that is, not each book

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

There Once Were Two Cats from Kilkenny . . .

There's a Nobel Peace Prize in the offing for whoever can resolve this one:

Oh, the humanity!

Thanks to Janice for sharing the link.
--John R.

current reading: Cerebus the Ardvark (scattered issues).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Lost HOBBIT cartoon (1966)

So, here's a lost mathom: a twelve-minute cartoon version of THE HOBBIT slapped together by American animators forty-five years ago in order to fulfill a contractual obligation and keep their option on adapting Tolkien's book open.

That such a piece once existed was known, but I was not aware that the footage survived, much less had a chance to see it before.

I'll save commentary for a follow-up post: here's the film.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Fifth Edition

So, today Wizards announced that work has now officially begun on Dungeon & Dragon's Fifth Edition.* Here's the link:


Observation #1: Never thought I'd see the day when D&D news was reported in the NEW YORK TIMES, or FORBES (see below), or like venues. Like Tolkien's having become ubiquitous in our culture, it's a sign that D&D is now mainstream: so many millions of people grew up playing it that it's lost that weird scary outsider tinge that caused us all so much trouble back in the '80s.

Observation #2: My reservations about 4th edition -- which I tried to like but never cd warm to** -- turn out to have been pretty much universal. Having been given to understand from various quarters that I was a troglodyte if I didn't embrace 4e, it's surprising now to see in report after report that mine was the near-universal reaction, not the exception.

As for who'll be writing it, Wizards not only confirmed months of rumors that Monte Cook will be in charge of the project (a good choice!) but went ahead and announced the entire design team:

So it's Monte Cook as lead designer, with Bruce Cordell (yay, Bruce!***) and Rob Schwab (whose work I don't really know, having postdated my time at Wizards). Also glad to hear Miranda Horner is the editor: I don't think they cd have made a better choice.

As for what the game will be like, Mike Mearls (who replaced Bill Slavicsek as head of the rpg group) is saying that it'll be a universal system that's adaptable to any previous edition -- something that sounds good in a pie-in-the-sky sense as a goal but which it's difficult to see how it'd work in practice. I think rather than saying it'll taste like Coke and New Coke and Classic Coke all at the same time, he's suggesting it'll be bottles of carbonated caramel-colored water wh you add yr preferred favorings to. That's not too far off from what 1st edition AD&D (the most popular version of the game ever published) was: a core rule set which people heavily adapted with their own 'house rules'. Seeing how they try to actualize that will make for a fascinating next six months.

Now I need to get signed up for one of those playtests . . .
And keep an eye out for Ewalt's book.

--John R.

*actually ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS' 5th edition, the fifth edition of D&D, by Troy Denning (the Black Box/Rules Cyclopedia set), having come out some twenty years ago.

**to the extent that I found myself giving up playing what'd been my favorite game for a quarter-century rather than play "4e", which just didn't feel like D&D. Compare similar reservations reported in the Forbes article about the 5 e announcement:

***one thing I'm particularly proud of in my twenty-year off & on again rpg editing career is that I edited Bruce's first published adventure, THE GATES OF FIRESTORM PEAK. His work was outstanding, even then.

Have to say though I'm sorry to see from this that Wizards still has a Development Team, since it's long been the greatest impediment to their releasing top-quality product. Perhaps its role has evolved since I was there

For more on the big news, cf. the following links. Thanks to Janice, who passed them along to me (along with the ones above), their having originally had been gathered by Miranda Horner:

Riding the S.L.U.T.

So, this time we got the 'do something this month we've never done before' out of the way early. I have an appointment downtown later this week, in an area of Seattle I don't know v. well. That being the case, and given my ability to get lost when driving in unfamiliar neighborhoods,* we decided to scope out the route over the weekend, so that on the actual day I'll be less likely to take a wrong turn and show up late.

Since traffic is always uncertain, I'm going mass transit all the way. Most of the trip will be on the light rail (what I think of as the 'Orca', though that's really the name for the commuter pass to ride it), taking it from its southmost stop at SeaTac airport up to its current northernmost terminus** at WestLake station.

From there it was a short walk to the new streetcar, which I've never been on before. It reminded me v. much of those in Portland and also Minneapolis: v. nice. Not sure what they call it these days: the original name for this brainchild of billionaire Paul Allen was the South Lake Union Transit -- right up until the time they actually launched the thing and realized what the obvious acronym wd be. Now it's officially 'the S. Lake Union streetcar'.

Two stops later and I was at my destination, walking around to get a good sense of the streets leading up to it. In the course of which, I went inside a Whole Foods for the first time -- having seen this many times on TOP CHEF, it was amusing to finally enter one. Glad to report that they carry both Cheshire and Wensleydale, both of wh. I've had a hard time getting lately at my regular cheese shop down at Pike Place Market, though both highly overpriced.

From there, we walked down to the market, where we looked around for a bit and ended by having two cups of tea (Bailin Gongfu) at the crumpet place (v. nice!). Then it was back to the light rail, back to where we'd parked, and back home again for a quiet evening.

And now all's ready for the big event on Thursday: more about this later.

--John R.
current reading: THE CHINESE LAKE MURDERS by Rbt van Gulik [1960]

*not being able to read street signs till they're past plays a large role in this. I usually do lots of circling back once I realize I've passed my turn, but this is harder in a busy area with lots of one-way streets, like downtown.

**they're currently working to extend it north & east to the University District, wh. will be altogether a Good Thing; eventually it'll go all the way up to north Seattle. It wd have gone across the floating bridge to Bellevue as well, but the mayor who backed that plan didn't come into office until too late.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tolkien's Application for War

So, yesterday Janice sent me a link to an interesting document now available online, courtesy of the National Archives: Tolkien's application to become an officer in World War I.

It's chilling to see this form, knowing how many men who filled it out discovered later that it'd been an involuntary suicide letter, condemning them to a horrible death in an unnecessary war.

That aside, a few details do stand out, almost a century later, about how things were done back then:

First, that this was an application for a "temporary" commission, one to last only until the end of the war.

Second, the question about whether he cd ride a horse: a relic from an earlier day and a different kind of war.*

Third, the curious question (v. high up on the list) asking for assurance that he's "of pure European descent". I assume this requirement is to screen out 'half-castes', as they were called in those days -- British citizens who had a parent or grandparent among the colonial peoples the British had conquered and subjugated. I know that in such a deeply racist society as prewar (and postwar) Britain such folk faced all kinds of societal ostracizing, but had not realized their background precluded their serving as officers as well.

Still, a remarkable document. A good example of how context and foreknowledge affects the effect of what we read and see, how something as simple as a form letter can be weighted with sinister forboding when we know what all awaited him in the next few years.

--John R.

*though in point of fact being able to ride in training camp turned out to be just about the only thing Tolkien enjoyed about his military service.

UPDATE (Tues. Jan. 10th):
I hadn't realized that this link originated with Mike Foster, whom I shd have credited. Sorry Mike! --JDR

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tolkien's Style (Nobel, con't)

So, one point I wanted to follow up on in my previous post about the news of Tolkien's having been nominated (though obviously as a long shot*) for a Nobel Prize in literature was focusing in on the specific reason given for his rejection: literary critic Anders Osterling's judgment that Tolkien's prose did "not in any way measur[e] up to storytelling of the highest quality". David Bratman, in his comment on my original post, points out the difficulty involved in judging the prose style of a work in a foreign language. I don't know how members of the Swedish academy generally handle this -- it's unlikely they're all fluent in all the languages in which the major nominees write -- but I'd think they'd be wary of making stylistic judgments based on translations. Something worth finding out more about.

In any case, I don't think Osterling's charge shd pass unanswered. Even though made fifty years ago, its only being released now means that it'll soon be seized upon by Tolkien bashers as evidence that Tolkien's really not a literary figure but simply a pop-cultural phenomenon.**

Attacks on Tolkien's style are endemic, but oddly enough some of them come from people who are otherwise well-disposed to Tolkien's work, in the midst of essays which praise Tolkien and stress his importance as a writer, which is somewhat bizarre. Prime examples include Stephen Medcalf, whom I saw giving a major presentation in which he kept reading out loud individual sentences from LotR and saying how bad they were, as if it were self evident (neither I nor I think anyone else in the audience agreed). An early and influential example is Burton Raffel in his essay in Isaacs & Zimbardo (TOLKIEN & THE CRITICS, 1968) in which he pillories Tolkien's prose and suggests readers love this stuff purely because of the storytelling.

I don't know why Tolkien scholars have been so slow to challenging the Medcalfs and Raffels in their midsts, when they've been all too eager to take on clueless outsiders like Harold Bloom and Edmund Wilson. I've done what I cd in my recent articles, esp. the Marquette lecture that appeared in TOLKIEN STUDIES, "A Kind of Elvish Craft, Tolkien as Literary Craftsman", to argue that Tolkien is a v. careful stylist who deliberately weighed the effect of each word. The only person I know of who's made a spirited and detailed defense of Tolkien's style a major aspect of their work is Brian Rosebury in the two editions of his book (the first of which I greatly admire, the second of which I've only skimmed as yet). I hope there'll be more work along these lines, so that the Tolkien-bashers aren't met with silence or worse a half-grudging admission that one of the most widely read and obsessively re-read writers of our times really cdn't write v. well. Which is nonsense, pure and simple.

--John R.


current reading: THE CHINESE LAKE MURDERS by Rbt Van Gulik

*does CSL's nominating him demonstrate that Lewis was prescient about a great writer in their midst who had not yet been recognized (which is how I'd like to take it) or simply prone to cronyism (which the evidence of the whole making Adam Fox Professor of Poetry and promoting his pad Ch. Wms as among the greatest poets of the century)? Or, perhaps, some mix of the two?

**there were no comments on the Guardian piece when I first read it, but later that same day there were a long string, and even a quick skim of a few showed the Tolkien-bashers were already out in force. Any popular author, or director, or actor, generates a crowd of anti-fans who delight to deprecate his or her work at any opportunity, and Tolkien is no exception.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tolkien's Nobel

So, thanks both to the MythSoc list (thanks Alana) and also friends (thanks Bijee), today I learned about the time Tolkien was nominated for a Nobel Prize. Apparently the Prize Committee seals their records regarding any particular year's deliberations for fifty years, and for the past few years a Swedish journalist named Andreas Ekstrom has examined the newly revealed results. This year it was the 1961 records that were made public, and Osterling discovered that JRRT was one of those up for the Literature prize, along with luminaries like Rbt Frost, E. M. Forster, Grahame Green, and Lawrence Durrell: the award eventually went to Ivo Andrie (whose work I confess I've never read, and know nothing about).

It's not so much that Tolkien didn't get a Nobel that's interesting as the revelation that he was ever considered for one. And so shortly after his masterpiece, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, came out (six-seven years earlier). And that his nomination came from his old friend C. S. Lewis, who'd apparently been asked as a recognition of his status as Cambridge professor.

The reasons for some candidates' rejection are strange. Frost, for example, was rejected as too old (86), while Forster was not only too old (82, I think) but something of a burn-out case (he'd only published one novel in the preceding fifty years, and that'd been over thirty years earlier) Durrell they considered obsessed w. sex. Greene came in second place (while the article doesn't say so I suspect Greene's thrillers counted against him as lowbrow 'entertainments'), and Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen) in third.

Not to have gotten the award is no disgrace -- in more recent years the committee rather pointedly refused to give it to Borges, for example, and one prominent member of the Academy went on record to say that not to have given it to Dinesen was a big mistake. It must also be said that some of the past winners strike most today as decidedly eccentric choices: I've always found it a good trivia question to ask folks if they can name the first writer in English to win the prize (Rudyard Kipling, of all people). And it's hard to feel that purely literary judgments were made when Winston Churchill got it for his histories (explaining the brilliance of his own career). But it's also gone to those whose work has stood the test of time, like Yeats (when he still had a lot of great poetry yet to write) and T. S. Eliot (who received it when he was something of a spent force, though there's no way they cd have known that at the time).

The reason given for rejecting JRRT, however, is striking. In the words of committee member Anders Osterling, "the result has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality". So we can add another name to the Edmund Wilson Hall of Fame of those who Got It Wrong. Here's the link to the piece:

One further interesting bit it that we'd known for several years now that C. S. Lewis considered Tolkien Nobel-worthy material, just not that he'd acted on it. In a January 7th letter to Alastair Fowler,* Lewis wrote

"In confidence. If you were asked to nominate a candidate for the Nobel Prize (literature) who wd be your choice? Mauriac has had it. Frost? Eliot? Tolkien? E. M. Forster? Do you know the ideological slant (if any) of the Swedish Academy? Keep this all under your hat"

--Collected Letters, vol. III, p 1224

I'd always assumed Lewis was just expressing an opinion (and one that did him credit), not that he was actually having an imput into who was actually getting nominated. And as we can see three of the four men he mentions did get consideration, while the fourth (TSE) had actually won the award almost a quarter-century earlier.

--John R.

*the same Lewis scholar who authenticated THE DARK TOWER

Sunday, January 1, 2012

. . . And Back Home Again

On Saturday, the third day of my lightning four-day trip, I drove up to Magnolia for some necessary chores. I got a lot done in just three hours or so, and managed to squeeze in time (at Janice's suggestion) to stop by the Magnolia Bake Shop on my way into town (right on the west side of the courthouse square with all its big old magnolia trees) and picked up some of the little tart-sized pecan pies they make so well -- the best pecan pies in the world, so far as my experience goes.

It was kind of strange visiting my home town and not seeing anyone I know (or, so far as I know, being seen by anyone who knows me). I did manage two brief stops by the yard, where I picked a few pansies from among the ones I'd planted during my last visit back in October, but didn't see any of the cats. I also stopped on my way out of town to go by the cemetery and visit my father's and grandmother's graves: the flowers still looked good.

Then it was back to Shreveport for one last evening, for more on the ongoing family crisis (which we need not go into here). I was glad to see two of my nieces, two of my great-nephews, and my youngest niece's soon to be fiance (which I suppose will make him my nephew in law). I also had the rare chance for a long talk with my sister, which I enjoyed but which kept us both up too late. During which time, a lot of fireworks began to go off. Without my really noticing it, New Year's had come.

Sunday it was time for one more quick family visit, then the long drive (non-stop) to Dallas. I'd allowed an extra hour and a half in case of slow-downs or mishaps or delays on the road, but I was in luck, which meant I was able to get together with fellow Tolkienist Jason Fisher for Second Breakfast at a place near Love Field, The Mecca. We had a little over an hour to talk about current projects, past projects, abandoned projects, other people's projects, &c., and of course the movie.

Then it was on to rental car return (which went smoothly), check=in and security (likewise), filling the thermos with Starbucks tea, and seeing if the airport had wi-fi (they did, but only the arm-&-a-leg kind, so I passed). Reading some on the Pyramids book* and, when I needed a break, starting in on LAMENT OF THE FLAME PRINCESS, filled up the time till my flight and also during the flight itself to Albuquerque. In my three hour layover there, I started re-watching the first of the Peter Jackson LotR film, which carried me through all the long flight to Seattle.

And now, reunited with Janice.


--John R.


*I'd had the rare experience the day before of a waitress (at Cracker Barrel in Shreveport) admiring the book and writing down its title and author to be able to find a copy of her own later.