Saturday, September 8, 2018

Here in Oxford

So, nine hours on the plane was worth it, along with the accompanying jet lag, to find ourselves here in Oxford. Specifically, here in our room at Christ Church, which it turns out rents out rooms during the vacations during term-time. Yesterday I was too tired for much, but we did stroll around in the Covered Market (interesting to compare it with Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which sprawls by comparison. We found the place for the Tolkien Exhibit without any trouble and even gave the gift shop a preliminary poke-about.

On our way back to Christ Church College we took a side-trip and climbed the Saxon tower, where I saw a sheela-na-gig (first time to see one, as opposed to just pictures or drawings of them), touched five of the tower’s six great bronze bells (no longer rung, less out of fear of cracking the bells and more from concern how the vibrations from the bells might shake the tower.  I managed to make myself climb all the way to the roof, where I crouched and enjoyed the  view as long as I cd stand (thus repeating my performance at Bath cathedral the last time we were over here in 2012). One of these days I’m going to make my way to the top of one of these too-tall towers and not be able to make my way back down, like Pickles the Fire Cat, but today was not that day.

After two hours or so of fighting off sleep with less and less success, I finally gave in and turned in around seven o’clock, pm, local Oxford time: about eight hours off Seattle time and our internal clocks.

And twelve hours later I woke up, we breakfasted in the dining hall at Christ Church with a roomful of other visitors, and we headed over to see The Great Exhibit: the biggest, and best, Tolkien display ever mounted. More on that tomorrow.

—John R.
—tired but not jet-lagged,
—Christ Church college, Oxford.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Xikses the Cretan

The Gray Mouser's true name, according to the early abandoned Leiber story THE GRAIN SHIPS, was Xikses of Crete. 

Personally I rather like the idea of the character not having any real name, just a name he's called by: it tells you all you need to know about his childhood -- and his not taking any other name of his own choice says all we need about the kind of person he grew into.


Final preparations for the England trip: re-watching the documentary STANDING WITH STONES (Highly Recommended)

Friday, August 31, 2018

Shirley Jackson's Biblioholism

So, I've finally finished Ruth Franlin's biography of Shirley Jackson (A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE), after picking it up again upon our return from Arkansas.*

In the course of doing so, I came to realize that Jackson and her husband (the critic Stanley Hyman) were biblioholics.** That is, they bought books -- not unusual in people who wrote stories and reviewed books for a living. But the Hymans did so at a scale which suggests that they enjoyed buying books just as much as they did reading them:

"Shirley and Stanley's main source of books, aside from review copies that poured in from The New Yorker and elsewhere, was the Seven Bookhunters. This group of men traveled around the country buying books from secondhand bookstores and reselling them, often at a high markup . . . Whenever Stanley and Shirley needed an obscure, out-of-print or otherwise hard-to-obtain title . . . they put in a special request to Scher*** . . . [who] was 'as familiar with secondhand bookstores . . . as a policeman is with his beat' . . . 
Stanley was accorded the ultimate privilege: every year he accompanied Scher on a book-buying trip, sleeping in cheap hotels or on the benches of railway stations, eating and drinking with Scher's friends along the way, and buying as many as a thousand books."
(Franklin p. 273-274)

As many as a thousand books a year: that's a lot of books. And they seem to have kept just about everything they bought: Franklin reports that at the time of Jackson's death (from a sudden heart attack at age forty-eight) they had at least twenty-five thousand books, maybe more (Franklin p. 273)

Elsewhere it claims that Hyman knew exactly where every book was (p. 79), but I'm skeptical on this point.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that emerged from reading this biography was learning that Jackson in her life time was famous for two kinds of fiction: the unsettling psychological horror of "The Lottery", THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED AT THE CASTLE, and also for comic accounts of life with a houseful of kids (think PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES, which comes from about the same era). Those latter books and stories are entirely forgotten now, but it's interesting to learn of an author with two distinct reputations, one of which endures and the other vanished away.

Three misc. points worth sharing:

(1) here's a self-portrait of Jackson from the Franklin (p. 159):

(2) here's an evocative  fragment from a poem written by Jackson's pen-friend Jeanne Beatty:

make me a charm
  so the dark won't find me
and the frightful things
rise up behind me. 
(p. 433)

(3) finally, here's a witty clip from one of Jackson's short stories:

I have never liked the theory
that poltergeists only come
into houses where there are children,
because I think it is simply too much
for any one house to have
poltergeists and children
--Shirley Jackson, mother of four (p. 304)


*where I'm happy to report that the courthouse square in my hometown now has not one but two coffeehouses. Go Magnolia.

**cf. the hilarious but all-too-true book BIBLIOHOLISM: THE LITERARY ADDICTION

***Louis Scher, the chief Bookhunter

current reading: THE APPRENTICESHIP OF JRRT by Simon Cook; THE FALL OF GONDOLIN ed. Christopher Tolkien; STONEHENCE: A NEW UNDERSTANDING by Mike Parker Pearson.
current audiobook: THE SILENT SPEAKER by Rex Stout (a Nero Wolfe mystery).

Monday, August 27, 2018

Thought of the Day (Evening Edition)

Colds: They're not over when you think they're over.

--JDR, older and a little wiser

And I'm Back

Sorry all for my laggardliness in posting: first I got busy, then distracted, then was off to Arkansas, rounding this all off with a cold that had me going the Dayquil/Nightquil routine. I'm now on the mend and shd be back to posting tomorrow.

Thanks to all for the comments, which shd now all be up; my responses shd also be up sometime tomorrow. 

--John R.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Haster at Sixteen

So, it's been sixteen years since we brought Hastur home from the pet store, a tiny adorably gooney torbie kitten just a few weeks old. Over time she's gone from being our middle cat (of three) to a solo senior.

Happy birthday little Hastur

--John R.

Hastur at her most Salvador Dali-ish, demonstrating her prodigious whiskers

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Is There a Leiberist in the House?

Or, even better, a Fischerian?

I've been trying to sort out which of the early drafts and fragments of Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories have been published in recent years. I know about three:

(1) ADEPT'S GAMBIT, by Leiber, a complete early draft of which was published in 2014 with an extensive commentary by H. P. Lovecraft. I have and have read this.

(2) THE GRAIN SHIPS, also by Leiber: a fragment of a novel set in Hellenic times that was eventually reworked and completed by Leiber and published as THE SWORDS OF LANKHMAR. Apparently this fragment was published a few years ago in a collection of misc. writings by L; I've ordered a copy of said book and shd soon have the answer to that one.

(3) QUARMALL, by Harry Fischer. This was eventually taken up by Leiber and used as the core of his THE LORDS OF QUARMALL. What I'd like to know is if Fischer's early version has ever been published, and if so where.

Anyone know the answer to this one?

--John R.
current reading: still the Franklin/Jackson bio.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Shirley Jackson was One of Us

So, a little more poking about in the Shirley Jackson biography (A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE, by Ruth Franklin) shows that though she does not seem to have written fantasy herself deplored the trend towards realistic children's fiction, having herself grown up on the Oz books. When she discovered that her daughter "had a series of dreams about an imaginary country, Shirley encouraged her to draw maps of it and (perhaps recalling the language she once invented) make up languages spoken there." (Franklin p.166).

The reference to Jackson's invented language harkens back to her college days at the University of Rochester:

Rather than following her syllabi, Jackson pursued 
her own intellectual interests: at one point she spent hours 
devising an invented language called Lildsune, complete 
with grammatical rules, and even wrote poetry in it. 
(Franklin p. 58)*

No wonder she liked Tolkien!

But the story about Jackson I liked best was The Dime of Wind:

When eight-year-old Laurence asked his mother how 
he ought to spend a dime, she suggested that he give it
to the birch tree in front of their house. He promptly went 
outside and asked the tree for a dime's worth of wind. 
To Shirley's amusement, a massive hurricane struck that night. 
"All we could figure was that wind must be very cheap indeed 
for him to get that much for a dime" she wrote.
(p. 166)

--current reading: the Franklin.

*apparently Jackson's Lildsune material is now in the Library of Congress

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Shirley Jackson liked THE HOBBIT

So, a few weekends ago Janice and I took the mass transit up to the waterfront, where we strolled about a while before boarding a ferry over to Bainbridge Island for an afternoon of poking about. We'd done this a few years back and enjoyed it, so doing it again seemed like a good way to vary the routine. It was.

Among the things we did was drop by both of the bookstores we saw, the used books one back up an alley (where they had an india-paper edition of THE HOBBIT, among other items of interest) and the big one right on the main street. Since I'm actively trying to cut down on the number of books coming in while trying to balance them against books going out, I looked but did not buy. And the most interesting thing I looked at was a new biography of horror writer Shirley Jackson.* I think of Jackson as a talented writer whose work I'm not particularly interested in (rather like Flannery O'Connor), so I was intrigued to find two references to JRRT in the index. 

The first passage describes Jackson reading THE HOBBIT to her children:

In the Hyman household,**  intellectual curiosity and creativity were cultivated and nurtured. There was singing around the piano and dancing in the living room and art projects at the kitchen table . . . One year, dismayed to discover the children's lack of familiarity with the Bible, Shirley and Stanley read from it every night at the dinner table. Shirley also read her favorite books aloud to the children at bedtime: the Oz series, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (which she preferred to The Lord of the Rings), fairy tales. (Franklin, p. 168)

-- so not only was THE HOBBIT a favorite book of Jackson's, but we find out she was one of those (a respectable minority) who prefer the earlier book over the sequel.

A second reference to Tolkien is more elusive but even more intriguing, coming during Franklin's discussion of Jackson's correspondence with Jeanne Beatty, a fan who turned into a pen pal. Jackson and Beatty were drawn together by a mutual love of children's fantasy, especially the Oz books. We are told the two women discussed a wide range of books 

"from the Oz books to C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Frank Baker's comic mystery novel Miss Hargreaves, about a young man who invents a fictional character and discovers, to his astonishment and eventual chagrin, that his invention has come to life . . ." (Franklin p. 430).

Unfortunately, Franklin does not include what Jackson said about Tolkien, but it's interesting to note that she was ahead of the curve: the correspondence with Beatty seems to have peaked in 1960 and thereafter fallen off, and Jackson herself died in 1965, just about the time Tolkien was taking off.  

--John R.
--current reading: Ruth Franklin's SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE


**Jackson was also Mrs. Stanley Hyman

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The TSR Product List (con't)

So, to continue:

It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I'm a maker of lists. My most successful and long-running list is undoubtedly my reading list.* But the runner up wd undoubtedly be my list of all rpgs products published by TSR.

I don't remember now whether I'd already started this before coming to work at TSR in 1991** but probably not: I think it was seeing the Games Library, and Mail-Order Hobby Shop, and on other editors' and designers' shelves (esp. Slade Henson's), that made me realize how much TSR had put out that I'd never heard of.

So I started a list, starting with things I had (the AD&D rulebooks, both first edition and second edition, and a bunch of modules).  Each entry gave the item's product code (e.g. X2) if any, title, author, date, and sometimes a brief note --e.g., that RM4 House of Strahd is an update of I6 Ravenloft. Making the list revealed a lot of gaps --if I had C5 The Bane of Llewellyn it meant there was probably a C1 through C4 and might be a C6.***

So the list grew, expanding to cover TSR's other roleplaying games as well, and all TSR novels, pick-a-path books, and miscellaneous items like the Finieous Treasury. And at some point the idea came of publishing it as part of the TRIVIATHALON, released in 1996 to celebrate some occasion that none of the people involved can now remember. As described in my previous post, one side of this poster-sized sheet had 100 tricky questions that tested players' knowledge of the game.**** And the other side was my list.

I had to change some things at TSR's behest. The most important was that I had to remove the author's name from each entry***** and add its stock number instead (e.g. #9058)  --a change I regretted then and now. And all the material on all TSR's other rpgs --TOP SECRET, GAMMA WORLD, GANGBUSTERS, BOOT HILL, AMAZING ENGINE, ALTERNITY, and a handful other more obscure ones-- all had to go; a pity. But it was still a pretty good piece of work, I think, and useful to those like me who wanted a quick listing that gave a sense, backed up by specific detail, of the sheer range of creativity that was TSR's AD&D.

So, it's good to have a copy of this uncredited publication again after all these years.

--John R

*which lists, in order, of all the books I've read all the way through since August 1981 (I just finished book #3454c).

**October 7th, to be precise. It was a Monday. Rich Baker and Thomas Reid started a week later, on the 14th, and Wolfgang Baur a week after that, on the 21st.

***there is.

****this is not to be confused with the AD&D trivia game, which came on cards in a box

*****TSR's execs were at the time big on the idea that it's the brand, not the talent, that attracts the gamers. We all disagreed.

My that's a lot of asterisks

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The TSR Product List

So, I confess that in my slow sort-out of boxes filled with papers and miscellaneous contents I'm not just trying to get things better organized: I'm also looking for a few things that got swept up in the Sea of Stuff.  Like my copy of The Jade Hare or my beat-up old orange cover B3. Palace of the Silver Princess. Or somethings that ought to be in my slender folder of things by and relating to John Bellairs (like the photo of the two of us taken when he was Guest of Honor at the Marquette Tolkien conference in 1987). Or some cartoons by Dave Sutherland I mislaid long ago, Or my run of MYTHLORE, esp. the early issues. Or my list of all TSR rpg releases.

This past week (Tuesday) I hit a jackpot and found a copy not of the original list but of the published version, which appeared as part of the 1996 AD&D TRIVIATHILON. This was a D&D/AD&D trivia contest, held for some special reason nobody seems to remember, that folded out into a double-sided poster-sized sheet. On one side were one hundred questions about the D&D/AD&D game. Some of the questions were relatively straightforward (#39: How many metal coins in a pound? #15: What is the proper name for polar halflings?*). Some were more involved (#27: Lord Ragnar (fighter 16) has 12 hp after fighting six mummies. Deliah (cleric 18) casts every "cure wounds" spell she can. How many hit points could Regnar regain?). And some were downright tricky (#98, which relates to a piece of art I can't reproduce here). My favorite was  #38, which I cd never have guessed:

At a roadside inn, a weary human scout and a dwarf swordsman 
meet a resting halfling cutpurse and a gnome trickster. 
Under 1st edition rules, what do they all have in common?

I remember that everyone in the department donated bits of trivia, and that Steve Winter sorted through and picked out the best, put together the master list with the official list of answers, and was responsible for judging the results. I don't know how many people took up the challenge and sent in filled-out entries, but Steve tells me there was one perfect answer: 100 out of 100 right.

But for all that, it's the other side of the page that most concerns me, because I wrote it.

(continued on next post)

*I don't remember this one without going to look it up, and I edited the book it came from!

No Two Copies of the Same Book

So, thinking some more on The NECRONOMICON and other faux-books such as THE RED BOOK OF WESTMARCH, I was reminded of something Dr. Tim Machan said in a colloquium at Marquette back in the late ‘80s (prob. ’88-‘89). Dr. Machan was a medievalist, a specialist in Old Norse literature who came too late for me to take any of his classes but stood out as being the only member of Marquette’s faculty to take part in the 1987 Marquette Tolkien conference with his excellent piece on VAFTHRUTHNISMAL and RIddles in the Dark.

One of the points he made in his colloquium was to state that, before the advent of printing, there was no such thing as two copies of the same book. Despite the best efforts of the scribe, a copy would introduce errors. Passages would get added, passages would get dropped -- sometimes by oversight, sometimes deliberately. Comments written in the margins had a way of working their way into the main text of the next iteration, while passages that had gotten garbled would be 'fixed' as best the scribe cd manage.

And of course that's in cases when the scribes were trying to be faithful, which was not always the case. Sometimes the scribe thought he knew more than the previous scribe about a particular point and would improve it. Sometimes he was right, sometimes not.

Add to this that the creation of a medieval tome was an expensive business, comparable to buy a luxury car today, and the fact that there were so few copies of medieval texts; only important things got written down, and only the most important among those would still be considered important enough a generation or century later to be copied once the original started wearing out.*  And in the case of a book like THE NECRONOMICON, it has the added disadvantage that it's written by a madman and copied and read by those who are either crazed in the first place (or they wdn't be drawn to its contents) or are driven mad by the extended close contact needed to hand-copy the whole.**

In the case of a benign work like THE RED BOOK, here too we know that the content differs from copy to copy: that the Westmarch (Shire) copy includes material not found in Minas Tirith (Gondor) copy and vice versa. So even where great care is taken to make a faithful transcription, still material gets added and dropped (we're told that most copies omit BIlbo's TRANSLATIONS FROM THE ELVISH).

In any case, another element to consider when conceptualizing what THE NECRONOMICON was like, or expanding the range of what it could have been like. Ironically it supports the original treatment in early editions of the CALL OF CTHULHU game rather well, where a curious Investigator cd pick up any of the major Mythos tomes (NAMELESS CULTS, MYSTERIES OF THE WORM, the NECRONOMICON Itself) and hope to find among its jumbled contents a passage relating to almost any aspect of the Mythos; later attempts to identify the specific contents of a given tome cd actually undercut an accidental bit of verisimilitude.

--John R.

--current song: "Powderfinger"
--current reading: Ryken's Wade Center Hansen Lecture expanded into a book

*for some idea of what didn't survive, see Wilson's THE LOST LITERATURE OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND
**things are a little better when it comes to printed books, since typesetters were notorious for not being able to read the texts they were printing

Sunday, July 8, 2018


So, here's a thought.

I was re-reading Lovecraft's THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS and came across one of those passages that effectively serve as info dumps of the Mythos.

In the story, Vermont farmer Henry Akeley, who has first-hand experience with the Mythos, tells what he knows in a letter to Miskatonic professor Albert Wilmarth, who knows a good deal about such things second hand, from reading the books there in his university's library. Here's how Lovecraft's Wilmarth describes the exchange:

. . . a terrible cosmic narrative derived from the application of profound and varied scholarship . . . I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsthoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R'lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L'mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum . . . worlds of elder, outer entity at which the crazed author of the Necronomicon had only guessed in the vaguest way


I'd always thought of THE NECRONOMICON more as a grimoire than anything else--that being the use Wilbur Whateley puts it to in THE DUNWICH HORROR. But Wilmarth's description makes me wonder: what if THE NECRONOMICON were more like a collection of stories (think Ovid)?  Most of the items in Wilmarth & Akeley's list have a story devoted to it, either by Lovecraft himself, or one of his friends and correspondents, or one of the writers of a previous generation from which HPL directly borrowed. What if we were to think of THE NECRONOMICON as a compilation of stories? Thus WHISPERER is the Yuggoth tale; CALL OF CTHULHU the story about Great Cthulhu and Rl'yeh; DUNWICH HORROR the tale where we learn about Yog-Sothoth; DREAM-QUEST the Nyarlathotep tale, and so forth. The middle part of the list allude to works by writers of the generation before Lovecraft, still alive and writing when Lovecraft was beginning his career: Bierce (Lake of Hali), Chambers (The Yellow Sign), and Dunsany (Bethmoora).

The analogy's not perfect  --so far as I know there's no story about Yian, or some of the other more obscure items towards the end of the list. And the chronology's all off. But it's still striking, and Lovecraft deliberately left some things vague so he cd add to or adjust elements in the Mythos as needed for later stories. The Mythos was open-ended, and to some degree self-contradictory, like a real mythology.

For instance, in what way might Bethmoora come up in Akeley and Wilmarth's pooling of their knowledge? The best way for them to have learned the legend of what happened to this city is to hear it from a deranged cultist (Akeley) or read it in an Arkham book (Wilmarth). And that legend would closely correspond to the actual tale written, and published, by Dunsany (in A DREAMER'S TALES, 1910).  For another example, if a fictional character reading about The Yellow Sign in the NECRONOMICON is learning pretty much the same story as a real-world reader reading Chamber's tale "The Yellow Sign", then the closest approach we can make to replicating the contents of THE NECRONOMICON is to compile an anthology of the relevant tales.

At any rate, that the idea I'm currently playing around with, musing over and seeing where it goes.

--John R.

UPDATE (Th.7/12-18)
My friend Charles N. (hi, Charles) points out in an email that Snorri's PROSE EDDA sounds a better match for Alhazred's NECRONOMICON: cryptic poems with explanatory background added. He further suggests that

many, if not most, of the 'authentic' quotations from the Necronomicon 
were in fact poetry in the original Arabic, but only survived as prose 
in the successive Greek and Latin translations.

We do know there's at least one "chant" in the book, referred to as such by Wizard Whateley (in THE DUNWICH HORROR) as lacking in his damaged copy.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

the children of Lilith

So, sometimes there's a gemstone hidden in the dross.

In this case, the dross is a volume of WEIRD TALES stories by Seabury Quinn, and the gem was a brief passage from a Rossetti poem I hadn't read:

. . . bright babes  had Lilith and Adam
Shapes that coiled  in the woods and waters
Glittering sons  and radiant daughters

And if this were not enough, thanks to the wonders of the Internet I was able to quickly track down and read the entire poem ("Eden's Bower"), in the process finding a second quotable passage that draws a chill, esp. when juxtaposed with the first:

. . . in the cool of the day in the garden
God shall walk without pity or pardon.

--John R.
current reading: "The Whisperer in Darkness" by H. P. L., plus a book of short stories by Seabury Quinn

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Third Silmarillion

So, the day before yesterday one of those annoying online ads along the lines of 'if you liked that, you'll certainly like this' actually came through with something I'm interested in learning about: the forthcoming boxed set of THE GREAT TALES by JRRT, the stand-alone volumes THE CHILDREN OF HURIN, BEREN & LUTHIEN, and the soon-to-be forthcoming FALL OF GONDOLIN, all of them edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee.

I was struck by how this fulfills one of Tolkien's plans for his never-completed book.

Of the several different ways Tolkien thought of presenting THE SILMARILLION, the first was a synoptic QUENTA accompanied by several smaller associated pieces: Annals, the Ainulindale or Valaquenta, Akalabeth and something on the languages, and so forth. This is pretty much THE SILMARILLION as we got it in 1977: a concise, coherent account drawn from multiple layers of drafting.

But another way to see the book is as a collection of disparate materials: poems, tales, annals, essays, histories, philological excursions, and all. Think Translations from the Elvish, by B.B.  And this is pretty much what we got the second time around, with THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH in all its twelve volume glory.

And now another iteration, this one alluded to in his LETTER TO WALDMAN, will see print: the Great Tales each as a stand-alone book in the series known as THE SILMARILLION.* We're fortunate not just that all this material survives and has been published but that we have multiple ways of accessing it to see which suits this reader or that reader best.

These are good times to be a Tolkien fan, or scholar.

--John R.
--current reading: Seabury Quinn stories (bad, but not as terrible as I remembered from a previous try).
--current audiobook: Nero Wolfe.

*all the more so if the rumor proves true and this third volume also includes what little was set down of the fourth and final Great Tale: THE TALE OF EARENDIL, bringing the set to as complete a state as is now possible. In any case, we'll soon know.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

I Was Wrong (The 1930 Hobbit)

So, as I mentioned in my last post, the newly arrived splendidly illustrated catalogue for the current Bodleian Tolkien exhibit, TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE EARTH by Catherine McIlwaine, contains valuable new information about the dating of THE HOBBIT.

For years we've been bedeviled by contradictory information as to when Tolkien started the book: Tolkien's emphatic statement that it was after he moved to the new house on Northmoor Road, vs. his two eldest sons' insistence that it had been at some point while they were still at their previous house (right next door), and therefore sometime between 1926 and 1929. Now we have new evidence which makes the earlier date certain. McIlwaine writes

Tolkien began to write The Hobbit in the late 1920s, 
reading it to his sons in instalments during the evening
in his study, the proper 'place for such amusements'.*
His eldest son John recorded in his diary for New Year's 
Day 1930, 'In the Afternoon we played in the Nursery. 
After tea Daddy read The Hobbit'.
(McIlwaine p. 290)

That about as decisive as anyone cd possibly wish. This is the best kind of evidence: first hand, contemporary, and unambiguous. We're lucky to have it.  I'll have to go back and revise my account in MR. BAGGINS giving the chronology of the book's writing.

My preliminary conclusion in the light of this new evidence is that what we have in JRRT's account of sitting at this study in the new house on a summer's day writing that iconic first sentence of his book is a composite memory. In his 1964/65 Guerroult radio BBC interview he describes a mental image that he now realizes is a 'beautifully worked out pastiche' of his father's house in Bloemfontein with his grandfather's house in Birmingham, features of both appearing in a composite in his memory. Something of the same must have been the case in his memory of creating that first page of THE HOBBIT.

Now if only more evidence wd turn up to help nail down when Tolkien finished the book as well.

--John R.

*quoted from LETTERS OF JRRT, p. 21

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Bodleian Tolkien Exhibit Catalogue

So, Thursday we found a note on the door that FedEx had failed to deliver a parcel but wd try again. The next day a heavy (6kg) package arrived from Oxford, being the two catalogues for the just-opened Tolkien Bodleian Exhibit. One, TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH is a four hundred page work showing the more than 180 items that make up the exhibit (an 'item' sometimes being multiple pages, such as several closely related maps or letters. The second is TOLKIEN TREASURES, a smaller a hundred and forty-four page softcover filled with gems from the displays; this one concentrates mostly on the art work with fewer manuscripts, letters, and photographs.
Both are by Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodley's Tolkien Archivist. It'll take time to absorb the riches contained in these books, but a few things do pop out on a first page-through.

First off, this is a beautiful book. It doesn't just reproduce a stunning array from Tolkien's papers but also has a lot of information. The first eighty pages of the book contain six essays by Tolkien luminaries:

J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biographical Sketch by Catherine McIlwaine
Tolkien and the Inklings by John Garth
Faerie: Tolkien's Perilous Land by Verlyn Flieger
Inventing Elvish by Carl F. Hostetter
Tolkien and 'that noble northern spirit' by Tom Shippey
Tolkien's Visual Art by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

There's much here, and in the pages that follow, that I'll enjoy going through and absorbing, esp. since it now looks like I'll be able to see the exhibit after all sometime near the end of its run. I've already been struck by the first page of THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS, by Terence (later Terry) Pratchett's thoughtful fan letter re SWM, by the news that Tolkien was part of the Cretaceous Perambulators (I have to go back now and compare the text given in the little 1983 pamphlet of the same name with Tolkien's draft text on Catalogue p..245), by the realization that Tolkien kept a good deal of his fan letters, or at least a judicious selection of the cream of the crop (e.g.,, the one he got from Iris Murdoch -- didn't spot the one from Mary Renault, alas).

All in all, a wealth of material, highly recommended to anyone interested in Tolkien's life and interested in this extended glimpse into how his mind worked as an author (and artist and linguist).

One particular highlight for me is conclusive evidence that Tolkien had already started work on THE HOBBIT before summer 1930, which I had argued was the no-earlier-than-by date.  Thanks to a mention in Fr. John Tolkien's diary for 1930 we know know JRRT was several chapters into the book by New Year's Day, a few months earlier. So I was wrong about Tolkien's start date, a topic important enough that I'd like to devote a separate post to it.

But for now, and between now and when I'm over there, I'll be reading and re-reading this major acquisition too my Tolkien Library.

--John R.
--current reading: BEYOND NEW HORIZONS

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Danny Kirwan dies

So, yesterday I heard about the death of Danny Kirwan, the chief creative force behind my favorite Fleetwood Mac album, BARE TREES (1972). Kirwan had joined the group when he was eighteen or nineteen and been fired when he was about twenty-two, about the age most folks finish college, mainly for being a mean drunk, and spent most of the succeeding years a derelict. A pity, since I think he was the most talented of all the many talented guitarists to pass through that group in its half-century of existence. I'd even go so far as to say that I think the Kirwan/Christine McVie dominated BARE TREES deserves to be ranked with the much more famous Buckingham/Nicks/Christine McVie FLEETWOOD MAC 'WHITE ALBUM' and RUMOURS. In addition to songs like the title track and 'Child of Mine', Kirwan's best instrumental ('Sunny Side of Heaven')* can be found here as well as well as the playful near-instrumental 'Danny's Chant'. And now the grimly beautiful 'Dust' takes on new resonance: melancholic but melodic.**

When the white flame in us 
  is gone 
And we that lost the world's delight
  Stiffen in darkness
Left alone
  To crumble in our separate night

When your swift hair is quiet in death
  And through your lips corruption 
Thrusts to steal the labour of my breath

When we are dust 
When we are dust  
When we are dust  

--John R.
--today's album: BARE TREES; today's song: DUST; current reading CHASING NEW HORIZONS by Stern & Grinspoon

*even better, perhaps, is the instrumental version of his song 'Dragonfly' as adapted by the London Rock Orchestra
**the lyrics are taken from a Rupert Brooke poem, the latter stanzas of which are rather more hopeful than Kirwan's version. The album also includes the great Christine McVie piece about being on the road, 'Homeward Bound'.

Friday, June 15, 2018

North Texas RPG Con

So, this time last week I was in Dallas, attending the NORTH TEXAS RPG CONVENTION as one of their special guests. I'd been a bit apprehensive about going, giving that a lot of living legends in TSR history wd be there -- like Tim Kask, the original editor of THE DRAGON and later champion for FINIEOUS FINGERS, who I never did meet; and Merle Rasmussen, creator of the original TOP SECRET, who I did.*

As it turns out, folks were very welcoming and I had a great time.** I got to play not one but two sessions of my favorite game (1st edition AD&D), both run by Paul Stormberg, who I knew as a Greyhawk guru and friend of Dave Sutherland in the latter's latter days; we've exchanged the occasional gaming-related email with over the years.

The first game was THE MANSION OF MAD PROFESSOR LUDLOW by Jim Ward. This had appeared in one of the first issues of DRAGON magazine I ever saw (the mid-40s) back when I was just getting into the hobby, years before I met and came to work for Jim. We all played boy (and girl) scouts exploring the weird mansion of a mad scientist; v. Jim Ward-ian.

The second game was the sample dungeon from the original DMG expanded into a full-length module. A great idea, and we had great fun with it. I remember Jonathan Tweet having worked on his own version of this at some point (presumably adapted to third edition) but don't recall if that ever got into print. I'm only sorry we didn't get all the way through (prob. inevitable in a four-hour slot). Anyway, a good time had by all.

The third game was a change of pace: Jeff Grubb running a CALL OF CTHULHU scenario of his own. Inspired by the original Lovecraft story that gives the game its name, it pitted our curious but clueless Miskatonic University college students against Weird Creepy and Violent Supernatural Things Going On. I'd played an earlier version of this a good ten years or more ago but that didn't prevent my enjoying this iteration.

I never did locate the Tolkien gaming room until the last evening of the con (having walked right by it all weekend), when I sat in on a session of The One Ring rpg; from what I saw I'm impressed yet again now good a job they did of crafting a Tolkien-specific rpg. Pity about the (near) tpk.

And then of course there was the Dealers' Room, from which I emerged with a book about Dave Arneson and a recent reprint of DARK TOWER, the first module I ever bought but now in rather dilapidated condition; having a new copy has filled me with the ambition to run it. If I get to go back next year, this wd be my choice of what to run. That, and the old D&D module MAZE OF THE RIDDLING MINOTAURS adapted from solo to group play.***

A good trip, and some great games. We need more events like this one.

--John R.

* more recent luminaries included Jon Petersen, who is continuing the good work of PLAYING AT THE WORLD on his blog, which I definitely need to start checking out on a regular basis.

**it helped to see familiar faces like Jeff Grubb, Steve Winter, and Bill Webb, who I see in my (more or less) weekly D&D game, plus getting to meet some folks I'd previously only known from online.

***my copy fortunately being fully keyed.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

More on the Oxford Exhibit

So, David B. has posted a detailed and appreciative description of the Tolkien Exhibit at the Bodleian:

And John Garth has published a review of the exhibit and relates the thoughts it evoked for him about the interconnectivity of all Tolkien's work.

In addition to the exhibit itself, the Special Events that will accompany it throughout its run have begun:

I don't know the first of the three named speakers (whose name has now rotated out of the updated site), but I'm told by someone who was there that Verlyn and Dimitra were "were brilliant as ever". I don't doubt it.

Reading through David's and Garth's piece has started me thinking that with Tolkien everything we have is at the cost of something else. We wd like there to be more paintings, but we shd know that they'd be at the cost of more stories. Or more stories, but that wd come at the cost of some scholarship. Or more scholarship, but that wd cost us more on the languages. It's all connected, and each piece we have is at the cost of something we don't have.

Or, to put it another way: what we don't have (e.g. SILMARILLION) we don't have because we do have something else (e.g., THE LORD OF THE RINGS).

--John R.
--waiting in the airport for my flight to Dallas and an Old School rpg convention: NTrpgCON

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Most Important Tolkien Event of the Year

. . . is taking place this week in the Bodleian Library. In fact it started today; a major new exhibition of J.R.R.T.'s manuscripts, artwork, and associated items (like his iconic pipe). A full catalogue will be out in a month or two, as well as a shorter, simpler version for those a little less deeply invested in all thing Tolkienian. Wish I cd be there!

Here's a piece in today's GUARDIAN that gives a basis overview:

And here's a brief mention* of the special lectures that accompany the exhibition and turn it into an event:


5 JUNE 2018,

A celebration of Tolkien and his creations, with special guests Dame Marina Warner, Prof Verlyn Flieger and Dr Dimitra Fimi.


I'd love to hear an account of how it all goes.
--John R

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

WotC Days (2001) -- layoffs

So, we had a plumber in last week, which meant we had to move about fifty boxes to the other side of the box room so he could open up the wall and get at the pipes that were misbehaving. This being too good an opportunity to miss, we sorted through several boxes that have lain undisturbed for a long while now, throwing away a good portion of what was in them but plucking out some items of interest, at least to me.

Case in point: a seating chart at Wizards of the Coast, showing who was in which cube. This was clearly in the old building on Lind, not the current location.

This page is of added interest because I marked it up at the time to show who got laid off in the June through July 2001 layoffs, including myself.  I can date it from indicators like the absence here of Jon Pickens, who had been the longest serving department member when he left in the previous round (December 2000), and the presence of Charles Ryan, who came up to join us in Seattle at that point (the only member of Last Unicorn to do so when WotC shut down the offsite autonomous branch). And it's distinct from the next round (which came sometime in 2002, I think), which took out some not marked here, like Dale Donovan.

Not all of the people marked here as leaving the department left the company. Some left on their own dime, like (I think) Thomas Reid, who wanted to concentrate on his novels. Some, like Dave Eckelberry and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes transferred to other departments, like Cards R&D or boardgames. And some, like me and Duane Maxwell, Jason Carl and Owen Stephens, Steve Miller et al, were simply out of luck.

At any rate, a curious historical relic wh. I thought I'd share, since one thing WOTc had in common with TSR was that its inner workings were entirely oblique, so that the outside world was usually completely unaware of who was in-house and who was out-of-house/freelance, and who did what on what project. This gradually changed as the internet made it far easier to keep track of such things, but even as late as when I left for the last time in December 2005 most people who followed the game closely still had relatively little idea of the department as a whole, and who did what on what projects.

Here's the chart:

--who's starting to wrap up my major proofing project and turning my mind to NTrpgCON

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Books at Kalamazoo

So, I usually come back from Kalamazoo with a stack of books, both new books about Tolkien I hadn't seen before and medieval works connected with any of several ongoing projects. This year I brought home an interesting miscellany, mostly catching up on the new releases from Doug Anderson's Nodens Books.

Nodens Books titles:

LATE REVIEWS by Douglas A. Anderson (2018)
—this is the project I've long known under the name OBSCURE DEAD AUTHORS, after a memorable WisCon panel some two decades or so ago. No one knows more about forgotten authors and overlooked books than Doug, and his 'Late Reviews' can pluck out the one thing worth remembering a neglected book for. Really looking forward to reading this one.

THE CULT MURDERS by Leonard Cline (1928) [writing as Alan Forsyth]
—a tragic figure almost wholly forgotten today, Cline wrote a searing work of naturalism (GODSTALK) but is remembered today only for the past-life regression novel THE DARK CHAMBER, which seems to have influenced Lovecraft, esp. in THE RATS IN THE WALL. He also wrote some detective stories while in prison, of which this is one.

—I wrote about this one's title story in my review of Doug's TALES BEFORE NARNIA: it's cited by CSL as an inspiration for his THE GREAT DIVORCE (and probably also provided a key idea for THE DARK TOWER).

SPHINX by David Lindsay (1923)
—the least significant of this author's seven books, but when the author is as extraordinary as Lindsay even his minor works are worth reading, at least once, to see what he was up to. After all, even on a bad day Hieronymus Bosch is still Hieronymus Bosch.

FINGERS OF FEAR by J. U. Nicolson (1937)
—this one I know nothing about, other than that it sounds like one of the thrillers Bertie Wooster enjoys reading. I'm looking forward to reading it sometime when I need a change of pace.

MONK'S MAGIC by Alexander de Comeau (1931)
—another book I know little about but which sounds rather Fersey-ish (as in Mervyn Wall's THE UNFORTUNATE FURSEY). And if this author can capture even a little of Wall's light touch it'll be well worth reading.

FERELITH by Lord Kilmarnock (1903)
—a book I know nothing about, yet.

GOING HOME by Barry Pain (1921)
—I've never read anything by Pain; looks like a good place to start, nice and short

—M. R. James-ian stories of much more recent vintage than most of Nodens Books' releases. Read this one last year on Kindle; now picking up the hardcopy book for easier access..

Aside from the Nodens Books collection, I came home with a few more. Four of the five are gifts, and much welcome.

THE NATIVE AMERICANS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY by Thomas, Miller, White, Nabokov, and Deloria; ed Betty & Ian Ballantine (1993) —a big illustrated picture book.

AUTHENTICATING ANCIENT INDIAN ARTIFACTS by Jim Bennett (2008)—filled with beautiful pictures of flintworks both real and reproduced.

INDIAN MOUNDS OF THE MIDDLE OHIO VALLEY by Susan L. Woodward & Jerry N. McDonald (2002)—lots of little maps of the interior of Indian mounds. Not only interesting in itself, but every D&D player can always use more maps of barrows.

THE SILVER VOICES by John Howard—a gift from someone I got into a long conversation with last year that seemed oddly at cross purposes, at the end of which it turned out he and I were talking about two different authors: John Howard in his case and Jonathan L. Howard (author of the Johannes Cabel books) in mine. Now thanks to his generosity I have a way of comparing the two before next year's Medieval Congress rolls round.

Finally, among the notes in Higgins' INKLINGS & ARTHUR volume I saw a reference to what sounded like a really interesting article that had appeared in a journal (ARTHURIANA) who always have a booth at Kalamazoo, so I made a note to look it up and buy that issue if possible. It was, and I'm looking forward to reading THE LOST ARTHURIAN PLAYS OF ELIZABETHAN ENGLAND. Wish Jim Pietrusz were still with us; I'd enjoy discussing this one with him.

Also, I ordered one book seen at the conf. and it's already arrived, so it shd get at least an honorable mention as an at-Kalamazoo-conference-purchase: TOLKIEN & ALTERITY ed Christopher Vaccaro & Yvette Kisor (the new organizers, starting next year, of the Tolkien at Kalamazoo papers track. The volume is dedicated to Jane Chance, without whom there wd be no 'Tolkien at Kalamazoo', nor the community of scholars it created, nor the three excellent volumes of presentations from the Tolkien track. They have a good group of contributors; I'm particularly looking forward to Verlyn Flieger's THE ORCS AND THE OTHERS. Though I must confess some look to go outside my comfort zone.
We'll see.

--John R.
--who's also ordered a pile of MYTHLOREs to catch up to the current issue, having recently lagged behind, and also order the catalogue for the big Tolkien Exhibit about to be unveiled at the Bodley this week.

UPDATE (W. May 30th)
Make that THIRTY years ago, at least, for that WisCon panel. Thanks to Doug A. for pointing out the time passed. --JDR

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Kalamazoo, Day Four (Saturday May 12th)

continued and concluded


So, Saturday brought the last full day of papers. Since there weren't any sessions dedicated to Tolkien (aside from the noon business meeting), and because I'd had such good luck coming across Paul Peterson's piece in a non-Tolkien themed panel the day before, I decided to wander further afield again by attending a session called OUT OF THE BOX, OUT OF THE BOTTLE: AMBIGUOUS SUPERNATURAL ENTITIeS IN MEDIEVAL MAGIC

My curiosity was rewarded by not one but two papers which told me things I didn't know that I was happy to learn.

Unfortunately I took next to no notes of this session, with the result that while I remember liking the opening paper well enough (HALF ETAYN AND THE GODDES MORGNE: THE AMBIGUITY OF THE PRETERNATURAL IN SGGK by Kersti Francis) I can't remember any details. But it was the middle session that really got my attention: TALKING HANDS AND BESTIAL SPIRITS: INVOKING PLANETARY SPIRITS IN MEDIEVAL LATIN MANUALS OF IMAGE MAGIC by Lauri Ockenstrom. This piece explored a topic (image magic) about which I knew nothing, but my attention was arrested when I realized that his description provided context for The Vyne Ring, which I'd researched a year or two back when working on my Nodens paper; he even showed a piece of art that echoed the only surviving image of Nodens in the so-called Lydney Tiara. I hope he publishes his piece so I can learn more about Planetary Spirits and the paraphernalia involved in conjuring them.

And Samuel P. Gillis Hogan's FAMILIAR WITH FAIRIES: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LATE MEDIEVAL AND EARLY MODERN FAIRY CONJURING TEXTS contained reference to something I wished I'd known about back when working of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT: Gillis Hogan mentioned an old legend about summoning three fairies who would then give the summoner a magic ring of invisibility. I'll have to track this down to add it to the list of Rings of Invisibility I blogged about back around 2008. So here's hoping this piece sees print as well.

XXII.  Saturday noon came the  TOLKIEN AT KALAMAZOO BUSINESS MEETING, at which we brainstorm topics to submit for next year's Medieval Congress. Despite a rather odd encounter in which someone outside the group dropped by essentially trying to encourage us to have a more upbeat attitude, it was a well-run and productive meeting, which left us with a range of interesting topics dealing with Tolkien and many things Medieval to propose for next year.

After that I headed back over to the book room. Turned out there were two more Tolkien papers, each appearing in a context where it was the only Tolkienian piece in its session, both of which I'd heard mentioned in passing the day before but not been able to find in the program book when it came time to decidedd whether to go to it or not. The first was EALA EARENDEL: OLD ENGLISH EUPHONY AND TOLKIEN'S HIDDEN GOD by Alfred Kentigern Siewers (1.30pm Saturday afternoon) and the other TOLKIEN AND BOETHIUS: CHANCE MEETINGS AND DOOMED HEROES by Brian McFadden (3.30pm ibid)

Instead, during this time I hung around the book room and talked with various Tolk folk who came by. Which is, after all, one of the best parts about being at a conference full of people who share your interest.

If I'd been staying nearby I wd have sought out the two sessions on the C. S. Lewis track on Sunday morning, among the last events before things wrapped up for another year. But by this time we were sleep-deprived and not really up to getting up early enough to make the drive in from Marcellus, so gave that a pass this year. It was nice to see Joe Ricke, the driving force behind the CSL track, come to several of the Tolkien presentations.

And that, aside from yet much more Tolk talk during the day and into the night on Sunday, and the challenges of getting home in a time of thunderstorms, that was pretty much it for this year. A good Tolkien at Kalamazoo this year, and already looking forward to next's

--John R.
current reading: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DINOSAURS, which is as interested in the first half of that title subject as the last.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Kalamazoo, Day Three (Friday May 11th)

continued from previous post

FRIDAY MAY 11th 2018

morning sessions:
No Tolkien events scheduled this morning, so went to some medieval papers instead, in a panel with the forbidding name IN A WORD: PHILOLOGY, ETYMOLOGY, LEXICOGRAPHY, SEMANTICS, AND MORE IN GERMANIC, the first paper in which (EVIDENCE OF LANGUAGE CONTACT IN OLD NORSE NAMES by Paul Peterson) looked at the interesting phenomenon of lots of people with Celtic names being among the settlers of Iceland -- were these still thought of as 'foreign' several generations on? My notes on the second paper (THE ONOMASTICS OF HONOR IN BEOWULF by Pater Ramsey) are so sketchy that I can't say much about his piece other than that among the things he discussed was the name of Hrothgar's queen and that he called Hunferth by that name. The third paper, Ilya V. Sverdlov's DOCH NICHT DEN RING, OR WAGNERIAN INFLUENCES ON LotR BEYOND THE TETRALOGY: THE CASE OF PARSIFAL, took it as a given that Wagner's Ring cycle influenced JRRT (quote: "He can deny it all he wants") and wanted to suggest possible influence from another of Wagner's works. I thought his comparisons too generic to really make his case, but perhaps I was a little detached because I'd somehow gotten the impression, from too-hasty scanning of the program book, that what I'd come to hear was a presentation suggesting influence from Wulfram's PARZIVAL --which is something I've only ever seen suggested by the late Dr. Rhona Beare. Anyway, the last presentation in the set (PROVERBS AS WEAPONS OF SUBVERSION: HEATHEN SORCERERS IN TWO LATE ISLENDINGA-SOGUR by Richard L. Harris) can be simply summed up by two quotes: "no good will come of this" -- when 'this' is consulting a sorcerer -- and the memorable line "they do terrible things to those poor witches"

early afternoon sessions (Friday 1.30)


XVI. SMAUG'S HOARD, DURIN'S BANE, AND AGRICOLA'S DE RE METALLICA: CAUTIONARY TALES AGAINST MINING IN TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM AND THE CLASSICAL TRADITION by Kristine Larsen found some interesting parallels between Tolkien's views of mining (Isengard vs. Dwarves) and a mixed medieval/renaissance tradition (Agricola, Spenser, Milton). As usual, approaches Tolkien's legendarium from a somewhat different direction and finds some interesting things thereby.

XVII. TOLKIEN'S FRANCISCAN ENVIRONMENTALISM by Deidre Dawson was a typically well-researched and wide-ranging piece which began with Voltaire (unusual in Tolkien scholarship) and ended with Francis of Assisi, citing examples both of environmentalism and anti-environmentalism within the Church. Among her more interesting quotes was one from Charles Huttar stating that the concept of biocentrism (that the nature world is not human-based) was "utterly un-Xian". I also came away with a reading list from this one; e.g. THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES and "THE LANGUAGE OF TREES". Her piece made we hope somebody writes one paralleling Francis of Assisi's love of animals with Tolkien's love of trees.

XVIII.  THE FRANCISCAN AND BENEDICTINE* ROOTS OF TOLKIEN'S ENVIRONMENTALISM by Vickie Holtz Wodzak wrapped up the session by linking Radagast the Brown with Francis of Assisi (wears brown, befriends animals, 'bird-tamer') while Gandalf she saw as more Benedictine; there was also some discussion of Bombadil's delight in the natural world and Sam's gardening

*the official title in the program book said DOMINICAN, but this was apparently in error.

later afternoon sessions (Friday 3.30)

 by Matthieu Boyd argued that the Breton ballad ("Lord Nann and the Korrigan") that underlay Tolkien's recreated Breton Lay (A&I) is an authentic medieval survival, not a nineteenth century invention. As an added bonus, he sang us part of the ballad in the original Breton.

The next scheduled piece, Aurelie Bremont's TOLKIEN'S LAYS: SONGS OF LOVE, FAITH, AND DEVOTION?, was unfortunately cancelled, as was the piece that was to close the session, Michael D. Miller's MEDIEVAL SONGS OF LOVE AND WARFARE IN TOLKIEN'S LAY OF AOTROU AND ITROUN, so we proceeded directly to Holmes' piece:

XX.  MATIERE DE TERRE DU MILIEU: JEAN BODEL'S FORMULA AND TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM by John R. Holmes took a look at the twelfth-century formulation of The Matter of France, The Matter of Rome, and The Matter of Britain, suggesting that Tolkien's legendarium is perhaps best thought of as The Matter of Middle-earth. The discussion that followed at one point circled around the question of whether Tolkien ever mentions Marie de France and her work: not until afterwards did the shoe drop that the place to look wd be in his GAWAIN edition.

still later Friday (5.15)
XXI. TALES AFTER TOLKIEN business meeting
—went to sit in on the Tales After Tolkien society's plans to regroup and refocus

to be continued


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Kalamazoo Day Two

So, to continue:

THURSDAY MAY 11th (Morning Session):

XI. QUEER BORDERS, HIDDEN KINGDOMS: PERCEPTIONS OF WALES IN JRRT'S WORK by Dimitra Fimi looked at Tolkien's elusive contact with various things Welsh -- things which seem suggestive (e.g. place names) but can't quite be pinned down -- such as a trip he took to Wales as a child to which he referred in old age but about which we know almost nothing. She praised Jim Allan's AN INTRODUCTION TO ELVISH (1978) for how well it holds up, forty years later. I think it was as part of this presentation that she pointed out that the memorable phrase the walls of Wales, which I'd assumed was a well-known usage, is in fact Tolkien's own coinage, which he uses twice (once in FALL OF ARTHUR and once I think in ENGLISH AND WELSH).

XII. BRAN AND BRENDAN AND ERIOL AND AELFWINE by Kris Swank was another piece (the third?) in what has become an excellent series by K.S. looking at Tolkien's Irish antecedents. The focus this time was on THE COLLOQUY OF THE ANCIENTS, a key text in the Ossian story and probably the biggest gap in my own reading of Irish myth. I was pleased to see her call out Wm Morris's THE EARTHLY PARADISE (wh. I'd argue was the key inspirational text that launched Tolkien on THE BOOK OF LOST TALES PROJECT) and Lady Gregory's GODS AND FIGHTING MEN (an old favorite of mine, sadly neglected; where I first learned about the Tuatha de from).

by Yvette Kisor argued that the Korrigan of A&I contributed to the later description of Galadriel. I thought she made her case but unfortunately took few notes and so can't reconstruct her presentation, other than she pointed out the parallels: beautiful fay by her fountain (called by some a witch) granting a  favored visitor magical phial or philtre.

THURSDAY MAY 11th (Afternoon Session):

XIV. THE CLASSICAL ORIGINS OF TOLKIEN'S ELVISH LANGUAGE INVENION by Andrew Higgins looked at Quenya as Elf-Latin, suggesting that Tolkien deliberately made Quenya more like Latin is some ways. It's Andrew's gift that he can talk about Tolkien's invented languages in a way that the nonphilological can follow and appreciate. The big carry-away from his talk for me was a side point, a passing reference to young Tolkien passing his (?Oxford entrance) exams in Greek and in Scriptural Knowledge. I've sometimes seen that argument made that as a Catholic Tolkien wd not have been that familiar with the Bible, which I've always thought an odd claim. But hearing this reference from Andrew, I realized that by finding out what sort of things wd have been on that 'Scriptural Knowledge' test we cd show at least a baseline.

XV. SING, MUSE, THE WRATH OF BOROMIR, DENETHOR's SON: THE WORKINGS OF THUMOS AND LOFGEORNOST IN JRRT by Dennis Wilson Wise makes the case for Boromir as a hero by presenting his words and deeds and beliefs in the best possible light. Feeling that the author has rather stacked the deck against Boromir,  D.W.W. uses the key terms thymos, lofgeornost, and ofermod to provide contexts for his behavior and parallels from classical and medieval (Old English) perspectives.

XVI. TOLKIEN'S CLASSICAL BEOWULF by Jane Chance, the founder of 'Tolkien at Kalamazoo', gave an intriguing piece on Tolkien's famous BEOWULF essay, focusing on his actual presentation of the lecture, in which a relatively young man attacked the conventional wisdom of his elder, distinguished colleagues. She also focuses in on Tolkien's election to the professorship at Oxford to provide context, and details specific scholars, some of them legends within the field (Ker, Craige, Chambers), whose considered opinions he was attacking -- some perhaps even to their faces (I strongly suspect Chambers was there that day in 1936). It wd be interesting to be able to get a sense of the room, of how they responded to his iconoclastic speech.

--more to come.

--John R.
--current reading: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DINOSAURS -- an enjoyable and informative read so far (I started with the next-to-last  chapter).

Friday, May 18, 2018

My Presentation at Kalamazoo (TOLKIEN'S METEORITE)

So, my own presentation for this year's Tolkien Seminar, held the day before the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, was a piece I call 'Tolkien's Meteorite'. This is a work in progress: I've finished the first and second parts (and Appendix) but the third section still needs more work. For those who might be interested, here's the three-paragraph opening that sets up the topic. The first section that follows looks at the evidence for dating the work. The second section contrasts Lewis's and Tolkien's treatment of their common theme. And part three looks at real-world and fictional analogues which might have inspired or influenced either.

Enjoy! Feedback welcome.

--John R.
--current job: proofing
--current reading: more essays by Martin Amis. Who's certainly no Christopher Hitchens.

Tolkiens Meteorite
—A Preliminary Investigation—

In his fascinating but unfinished time-travel story, The Notion Club Papers, written circa 1944–46 but not published until 1992, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a passage in which the character based upon Tolkien himselfNt1 describes the experience of a meteor falling to earth from the point of view of the meteorite itself through a kind of psychometry or object reading.

At about the same time his fellow Inkling C. S. Lewis wrote a meditation on a fallen meteorite which took the form of a poem simply named ‘The Meteorite’. Published in Time and Tide in December 1946, and probably newly written at the time, it was shortly thereafter reprinted as the headpiece to Lewis’s book Miracles (1947), and hence presumably was felt by Lewis to have some relevance to the theme of that work of apologetics.

It seems beyond happenstance that these two Inklings would be working on different expressions of such a striking common theme at about the same time with no connection between the two. What I’d like to do in this paper is explore the relationship between these two works, starting by seeing if we can establish priority of which was written first. It also behooves us to look for antecedents and analogues, both real-world and fictional, for any common source that might underlie both men’s work.