Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Milton Waldman Wednesday"

So, today was a good day in the Archives.

Whenever I arrive for another of my periodic research trips, the first day I'm somewhat overwhelmed. So much to see, so much to do, so much to read, so much to try to find out.  Plus there are a lot of memories, good and bad, from my time at Marquette and in Milwaukee. Then during the second day things settle down a bit; I get a sense of how best to go about doing what I want to get done.

That pattern's certainly repeating itself this trip. Yesterday being my first day I was all over the place, picking up the threads of where I left off during my last trip, back in September (and the one before that, back in May). Today I started to come to grips with things, ruled out a few false starts, and got going. It's early days yet, but I'm hopeful of getting a lot done during this visit.

So today I had a very minor discovery that made me feel good. I was trying to work out the sequencing of things like the earliest title pages (including the ones with 'herumillion' on it) and the first table of contents, in which chapter 12. 'The Ring [Goes South >] Sets Out' was followed by just two more, as yet unwritten, chapters: 13. The Return of Gollum (which wd eventually become Book IV chapter 1) and 14. The City of Stone (which wd become the basis of Book V Chapter 1; The City of Stone = Ondor/stone land = Gondor; i.e. Minas Tirith). Tolkien knew there wd be at least one more chapter after that, so he wrote down a 15 as a placeholder but did not put a chapter title next to it; if he had, I suspect from various early outlines that it wd have been something like The Cracks of Doom.

All this is well-known, and deeply revealing about just how short a book JRRT thought THE LORD OF THE RINGS wd be. But what I found today related to efforts Tolkien thought of making with the goal of making the book shorter.  On an old mailer which once held various notes relating to LotR (esp., it seems, its early stages) I noticed a faint pencilling of the words

Milton Waldman

This seems to have been a reminder by Tolkien that he was going to meet with Waldman, or at least be in touch with him that day. This is of course the person at Collins who tried to lure him away from Allen & Unwin with what turned out to be empty promises to publish THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE SILMARILLION together. Given that background, the other jottings on the outside of the same mailer perhaps gain some context. First in ink Tolkien wrote notes to 'cut slightly' Bk II Chapter 1 (='Many Meetings') and to 'cut some?' from the beginning of Bk II Chapter 2 ('The Council of Elrond'. And below this, with a different pen, he jotted down 'Reversal subject' and 'beginning of pass. [=passage?] where speaker combines.'

These I can't make much of, but it seems clear that Waldman was trying to get Tolkien to cut down THE LORD OF THE RINGS some, and Tolkien was making a good-faith effort to trim a bit here and there. In the end it wdn't be enough: Collins demanded huge cuts, Tolkien refused and withdrew the book. It was not until Rayner Unwin put two and two together and did some mending of fences that efforts to publish LotR, through Allen & Unwin got back on track again.

In the end, Allen & Unwin did publish LotR in all its thousand-page glory, and a quarter-century later THE SILMARILLION as well (which spent over twenty weeks at #1 on the NYT bestseller's list), while Collins merged with Harper Brothers to become Harper-Collins, Tolkien's publisher today.

For me, the most important takeaway from this elusive little snippet is that it suggests Waldman was more hands on in his dealings with Tolkien than had heretofore been my impression, to the point of considering specific passages in the work that might stay or go. Here's hoping that someone writes a definitive, detailed account of the whole Waldman/Collins episode at some point. There's quite an interesting story there, if anyone has access to the materials (publisher's files, correspondence, &c) from which to reconstruct it.

--John R.
current reading: THE END OF THE THIRD AGE (endlessly fascinating), THE GREY MANE OF MORNING (dour)

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