Friday, October 19, 2018

Tolkien (Briefly) on Betjeman

So, while looking up to see what Betjeman might have had to say about Tolkien, I quite forgot that Tolkien twice mentions Betjeman in LETTERS.

The first, from a 1954 letter to Raynor Unwin overviewing reviews of FELLOWSHIP, laments

I must say that I was unfortunate in coming into the hands
 of the D. Telegraph, during the absence of Betjeman. 
My work is not in his line, but he at any rate is neither
ignorant nor a gutter-boy. Peter Green seems to be both . . .
(p. 184)



The second comes a few years later, when Tolkien is pleased that THE ADVENTURES OF TOM BOMBADIL is selling surprisingly well, for a book of verse;


[A&U] have made me an advance, since 'T. B.' 
sold nearly 8,000 copies before publication 
(caught on the hop they have had to reprint hastily),
and that, even on a minute initial royalty, means
more than is at all usual for anyone but 
Betjeman to make on verse!
p. 322

From this I conclude that Tolkien seems not to have felt any animus against Betjeman and does not envy his success so much as he enjoys sharing in similar good fortune. As for Eliot, Tolkien seems to have largely ignored his existence. Although the two men's work once almost appeared in the same volume,* one gets the sense of contemporaries living in different worlds like, say, Virginia Woolf and Robert Frost.

--John R.
--current reading: that biography of Fr. Francis (almost done -- thirty pages to go), Tolkien manuscripts.


*Eliot was to contribute an essay on Williams' plays to the memorial volume ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS but ultimately didn't have time to do the piece; this is the volume now made famous by the inclusion of JRRT's OFS**

**a piece of Tolkien's that we know Wms liked.




Thursday, October 18, 2018

Betjeman (briefly) on Tolkien

So, my recent post on Betjeman and Dunsany was really a side-trek from my original intent, which was to see if there were any Tolkien references in Betjeman's collected letters. There was one solitary mention that I think's worth sharing, but it's in the context of Betjeman's thorny relationship with C. S. Lewis and thus requires some unpacking.

In brief, Lewis had been Betjeman's tutor at Oxford, and the two men rubbed each other the wrong way. Without going into details, Betjeman blamed Lewis for B's Oxford career being cut short, and for  taking steps to prevent his getting a teaching job elsewhere afterwards. In later years B. referred to CSL as ''My great enemy and ex-tutor Lewis' [p. 389; 1946] and  '. . . Mr C. S. Bloody Lewis, the tutor who sent me down from Oxford' (p. 233, in a 1939 letter to T. S. Eliot, whom Betjeman addressed as 'Dear Poet'). The phrase 'mocks C. S. Lewis' even has its own entry in this volume's  index.

Eventually Betjeman more or less got over his animus for Lewis -- becoming England's most popular, best selling poet might have helped -- though he did not exactly forgive and forget and continued to snipe at CSL occasionally:


'Oh God to be in England . . . 
Yes even for a glance at Lewis
 striding tweed-clad to Headington'
(308; 1942, writing from Ireland) *


What seems to have been a key factor is the lessening of Betjeman's grudge was his writing a long letter to Lewis (p.250-253; 13 December 1939), which he seems to have never actually sent. Betjeman opens by saying he has

'just expunged from the proofs of a preface 
of a new book of poems of mine . . . 
a long and unprovoked attack on you'


After going over the differences between them, he  concludes that he and L. are antithetical in their approach to poetry. He judges that Lewis's poems are 'philosophical or metaphysical or abstract or something I do not understand', whereas he describes his own approach as visual. By this I take him to mean that Lewis's poems are about ideas and Betjeman's are a response to natural beauty and architecture.  This is ironic, given that we know the inspiration for some of CSL's fiction were 'pictures' he found in his mind, and that Lewis mounted a charge against Eliot** almost the same as that which Betjeman is leveling upon Lewis. It's also ironic that the poem B. focuses on as the epitome of what's wrong with Lewis's poetry, 'The Planets', has in recent years been seized upon as The Key to unlocking architectonics supposed to underlie some of his most popular work. B. particularly objects to the line 'Lady Luna in light canoe':

I don't see how anyone who has looked at the moon
can think of it as 'cruising monthly' in a light canoe. 

For Betjeman,
'It seems to me as out of touch as your talk 
about Dragons with Tolkien in a Berkshire bar 
must have seemed to the Berkshire workman'.


Which brings us, by roundabout route, to Tolkien. For this is clearly a reference to the six lines of alliterative verse Lewis created to demonstrate Old English metre:

We were talking of dragons, Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire bar. The big workman
Who had sat silent and sucked his pipe
All the evening, from his empty mug
With gleaming eye, glanced towards us;
'I seen 'em myself', he said fiercely.

Personally, I like these six lines better than I like what little I've read of Betjeman, but I see B's point that trying to impose one poet's aesthetic on another is likely to end badly. And indeed  Betjeman wraps up his critique with the plea that if ever Lewis comes across another student who wants to immerse himself in poetry rather than study philology, would he please send him on to a different tutor, like Coghill?***

--JDR

*a precursor of 'there goes C. S. Lewis —it must be Tuesday', perhaps?

**I'm away from my books, but I think the poem in question was titled 'A Confession': it was a belated rejoinder to TSE's 'Prufrock'

***B. actually mentions several names, any of whom he considers cd have done a better job than CSL in tutoring him: 'Nichol Smith or Blunden or old John Bryson or Nevill [Coghill]'

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Every Little Bit Helps: HME VIII.98


So, in the work that I'm doing with the Tolkien manuscripts here at Marquette I came across something I thought I'd share. 

I'm now working my way through the various drafts of The Taming of Smeagol (what became the opening chapter of LotR Book IV) and was looking at a semi-legible passage transcribed by Christopher Tolkien (HME VIII.98 Note 5 point 2), who was able to read almost but not quite all of a note Tolkien wrote himself about Bombadil and the Ring. Thanks to the new high-resolution scans of all the manuscript pages, with the ability to zoom in and enlarge (and rotate) the text, today I was able to puzzle it out. Here's the text as printed by Christopher:

Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along [?without 
further]  .......  —if asked!

The missing word is bother(TS I.1): 

Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along [without further]  
bother —if asked!

I have to stress that I was only able to work this out due to Christopher's already having provided the two difficult words without and further, and the ability to greatly enlarge the original without distortion or losing focus. As they say, on the shoulder of giants.

So, another small piece of the puzzle for those who, like me, are happy with a new addition to our knowledge of Tolkien, however minor. Enjoy!

--John R.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Walnut Room

So, the Plaza Hotel, the place where I'm staying during this research trip to Milwaukee (to work with the Tolkien manuscripts in the Marquette Archives therein), has a meeting room off its Art Deco cafe
called The Walnut Room, with wood-paneled walls, a great long table, shelves of books, comfy chairs, and a fireplace. When I first saw it I thought 'Wow. This wd make a great setting to play CALL OF CTHULHU.'

Last Sunday I got to prove that it was true.

When my friend Jim Lowder (who I knew before, during, and after our respective stints at TSR) suggested the possibility of getting together for a game, I immediately thought of the Walnut Room. While Jim made some invitations and gathered a group, I arranged through the hotel to reserve the room for most of the day Sunday (the 14th).

I don't want to give the story away, in case Jim decides to run it again, but I can say I had a great time playing jazz musician S. E. 'Easy' Henderson and hope Chaosium will print it at some point.

--John R.

Here's a picture for posterity; thanks to Jim for sharing. I'm the one in yellow hoisting a cup of tea. Jim is to my right, wearing the green Chaosium shirt. To my left is Dale Donovan, another TSR stalwart from the Old Days. Next to Jim is Ben Riggs, D&D podcaster, who's working on a book about the TSR/WotC buyout. The other three are members of Ben's group, whose names I'd gladly include if I'd thought to write them down at the time. Anyway, good gamers all.






--current reading: THE NECROMANCERS by Rbt Hugh Benson (1909)


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Betjeman on Dunsany

So, while I have the resources of the Marquette Memorial Library available to me in the down time from working on my main project (evenings and breaks), I was checking Betjeman's Collected LETTERS for any mention of Tolkien. There's only one sole allusion in the index, which I'd like to devote a post of its own to. But in addition to some things B. had to say about C. S. Lewis (which I expected) I fd several references to Lord Dunsany (which I did not).  Not as scathing as his comments on CSL, for whom B. felt an abiding rancor,  but not anything Dunsany wd have liked to see in print (or indeed out of it).

The first reference comes not directly from B. but from a comment made by the editor of this Life-and-Letters, B's daughter Candida Lycett Green. Describing a weekend stay at Dunsany Castle in the early 1940s, when Betjeman was acting as a kind of cultural good-will ambassador
(his official title was Press Attache to the British Ambassador), Green says

  • He was prepared to listen to the poems of the outrageously conceited Lord Dunsany (to whom JB always referred as 'Lord Insany'), who kept his most recent compositions in his top pocket and brought them out at a moment's notice.  He even sent the manuscript of one of Dunsany's novels to Hamish Hamilton. Literary criticism was not all that Dunsany begged of him either. He wanted help with 'an export license for the shotgun cartridges from England; I can neither work nor exist without any sport or exercise,' he wrote (3 November 1942).  [p.271; emphasis mine]


This sounds to me more like an isolated writer desperate for some feedback.  The general lack of respect for Dunsany's talents and personality pops up again in a mock-letter B sent to tease the wartime censors:

  • I write this down / Dunsany-wise, straight off  (p. 315, letter of 3 May 1943)



Here the allusion is probably a dig at Dunsany's facility with verse and his disinclination to revise anything he wrote. While Dunsany did write a few genuinely moving poems, his reputation as a poet suffered from his disdain for Modernism (he felt English poetry more or less ended with Tennyson) and his failure to restrain himself and refrain when inspiration failed (in THE YEAR, his verse diary, he is sometimes reduced to versifying about what they listened to on the radio that night: hardly the stuff to form a platform from which to challenge Eliot et al)



The third reference is more elusive yet. In a letter of 28 February 1946, Betjeman comments on a friend's critique of the draft of an essay B. has written by saying

  • The remarks of Insany's [i.e., Lord Dunsany] certainly read as though I subscribe to them. The whole point of the paper was to show that I did not. But I will expunge them since they are liable to the interpretation you put on them. (p. 383)

Just what Dunsany's position was seems impossible to recover. I wd suspect it was Dunsany's views on modern poetry, but follow-up remarks indicate that the subject of the piece seems to have been 'the Englishman's approach to Ireland' (cf. the detailed outline on p. 384) and show that B. deleted 'remarks about the nuncio' and also deleted a reference to the idea that 'once a Catholic always a Catholic'.

So far as the nickname 'Lord Insany' goes, this is not Betjeman's invention but was given to Dunsany (presumably without his knowledge) by fellow members of the English faculty of the University of Athens in the early days of World War II, or so I was told by David Abercrombie when I interviewed him in Edinburgh in 1987. Still, it's good to have confirmation, contemporary and in print.  And it forms a useful mnemonic for those who can't remember Dunsany-rhymes-with-Rainy.


At least  B. seems to have liked Dunsany Castle and enjoyed his visit there:

  • In July that summer [?1942] my parents spent the weekend at Dunsany, a great reconstructed mediaeval castle w. a Wyatt-style staircase, swords and helmets, tigerskins and ancestral portraits, set in an undulating park of ancient oaks. JB's favourite place to sleep was in the small attic room decorated w. Celtic art nouveau designs of twisted snakes. [p. 273]


And it's good to know that B. wholly approved of Lady Dunsany, who was a delightful person by all accounts.

  • 'Lady Insany [Dunsany], the wife of the present peer, is the best example of unconscious correctness that I have met. She is also a saint. [p. 525; letter of 2 November 1950]*


--John R.
current reading: JILL by Philip Larkin (1946) and THE MYSTERY OF THE LOST CEZANNE by M.. L. Longworth (2015)


*by 'unconscious correctness' he means instinctive good manners, innate put-you-at-your-ease etiquette


UPDATE 10/13
I thought it went without saying, but perhaps I shd emphasize that Dunsany was, of course, quite sane, he cd just afford to indulge his eccentricities. He had a number of strong opinions, such as being opposed to the mutilation of dog's tails, thinking that lampshades were on upside down (he felt they shd channel light up towards the ceiling, not down towards the floor), and a deeply held belief that table salt was dangerously adulterated (when on a visit he insisted his hostess provide him with ground up rock salt). As he got older, these became hobby horses, but nothing more.





Friday, October 12, 2018

Greg Stafford dies

So heard the sad news today that Greg Stafford died. He was one of the foundational figures in role-playing games, a legendary figure of comparable stature with Gygax and Arneson and Petersen. He was not only the creator of PENDRAGON, one of the finest rpgs ever written -- I put it in my top three, alongside AD&D (1st edition) and CALL OF CTHULHU -- but also founder of Chaosium, one of the few companies from the early days of rpgs to survive down to the present and long known for being a class act in an industry where such a appellation was and is pretty rare. I'm glad I got to meet him once when he was down in Chicago for a visit, an event having something to do with the Arthurian journal AVALON TO CAMELOT.

Here's a link to the Chaosium announcement.


https://www.chaosium.com/blogvale-greg-stafford-1948-2018/


--John R.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Thoughts in a Starbucks

So, Sunday I was in a Starbucks next to what was once Webster's on Downer, one of Milwaukee's finest and much-lamented bookstores, when a song on their  background music sparked the thought:

'Louis Armstrong had so much talent he cd even make jazz sounds good'.

--John R.
--current reading: JILL by Philip Larkens (just started)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

More Aubusson Tolkien

So, thanks to Denis for another bit of film showing the unveiling of the Glorund tapestry and, as an added bonus, TANIQUETIL (The Halls of Manwe) as well, another of Tolkien's iconic paintings from the mythology.  This clip, in French without subtitles, is just under two minutes in length; to see it, scroll down the page that pops up when you click on the link. This time Adam Tolkien puts in an appearance as well; nice to see them both.

https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/nouvelle-aquitaine/creuse/aubusson/aubusson-tisse-tolkien-deux-nouvelles-tapisseries-realisees-1553156.html


Thanks also to Druss, who in a comment on my earlier post sent a link that shows fourteen pieces of Tolkien art: five from THE HOBBIT, two from LORD OF THE RINGS, four from THE SILMARILLION, and three from THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS.

Here's the link:

https://www.cite-tapisserie.fr/fr/création-contemporaine/aubusson-tisse-tolkien/les-œuvres-de-la-tenture-tolkien


What a great project. I look forward to the unveiling of new tapestries as they're completed. And I'm grateful to Denis for letting me know not only that such a project was in the works but this far along; many thanks.

Having seen the originals of a lot of Tolkien's art at one time or another (most recently just under a month ago in Oxford), I'm all the more amazed when I think of how small a lot of his pieces are --those from THE HOBBIT are generally the same size as the page of the book they were designed to fit -- and how well they scale up. Magnificent.

--John R.
--in Milwaukee, starting up Week Two tomorrow.




Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Biggest Shock from First Reading THE SILMARILLION in Sept 1977: evil elves.

 So, I've been thinking back on the initial reception of THE SILMARILLION, and remembering how negative the reviews were and how no one challenged their demonstrably false claim that people might be buying the book but no one was actually reading it: that's not the conclusion that twenty-one consecutive weeks as #1 book on the NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers list wd normally lead to, it being far more probable that word of mouth kept people trying out the book in a widening circle all that fall and winter. 

For my own part, having read the appendices of LotR(parts of it many times) I found the Silmquite readable with only one major flaw: too many names that started with 'F' or 'A': Finwe and Fingolfin and Finarfin and Fingon and Finrod and Feanor, not to mention Aegnor, Angrod, Amras, Amrod,* and Aredhed. Plus of course Celegorm and Curufin and Caranthir. It's like the French kings with too many Louises; more variety among the family names wd make it less difficult to keep track of the large cast of characters (e.g., the fifteen cousins, Finwe's grandchildren, who are the major characters of the Elves wars of Beleriand).  Perhaps the strangest thing about the book, looking back now, is that an author so supremely talented in fantasy nomenclature as Tolkien left us with so many similar sounding names.**

Even so, the solution was easy: I started the book over again as soon as I finished, with the page in the back with the family trees bookmarked for easy reference during that re-read. Though truth to tell it was really only with the third read that I really started to get the hang of it.


As for the story, The Silmarillion itself, I was struck by how many surprises it held even to the most diligent reader of Tolkien's earlier works already in print. 

For example, Feanor is mentioned several times in LotR, most notably in the palantir chapter when Gandalf wishes he cd have seen him at work in person. Here at Marquette I just finished reading the manuscript passage that brings in Feanor in a different context, as the one who made the Three Rings of Earth, Sea, and Sky: one text asserts that Feanor made the Three but it was The Great Enemy who brought them across the great sea to Middle-earth.

Absent from any of these references was any indication of the evil that Feanor did, the long stream of deliberate heinous acts that ultimately destroyed his family and followers and the greater part of his people. And while he was the most evil elf depicted by Tolkien, he was not alone: many of his followers committed horrific acts as well. And yet no hint of evil elves had found its way into THE LORD OF THE RINGS, where the elves have put all that behind them.

To use an analogy, who knew the Vulcans had once all been Romulans?

--John R.
--in Milwaukee, one week in

*whom we learned much later, via HME, never reached Middle-earth at all but died along the way; he essentially becomes his twin brother's imaginary companion, so far as they story is concerned -- which does explain why the two never appear separately or undertake independent action anywhere in the main tale.

**the intended effect, of course, wd have been to convey family kinship through nomenclature, as with Malory's names for the House of Orkney, the five brothers Gawain and Agravaine and Gaheris and Gareth and Mordred, where the first and last go back to much earlier stages of the legend and the others were added later by writers introducing spin-offs to fit a few more knights into an already crowded Round Table. 



Friday, October 5, 2018

Aubusson Tolkien

So, thanks to friend Denis (thanks Denis), I found out about what might be named the Tolkien Tapestry Project, whereby the weavers at Aubusson, one of the world's great tapestry makers (who have been in business at least since the early 1500s), have recreated perhaps Tolkien's most iconic painting in tapestry form. With a little poking about on the internet* I turned up film of the unveiling of BILBO COMES TO THE HUTS OF THE RAFT-ELVES (aka THE FOREST RIVER). The film runs about six minutes and is in French with English subtitles.

As a rarity the film features an appearance by  Baillie Tolkien, who has usually kept a low profile but here does a fine job representing the family.

There are also other handwoven Tolkien tapestries in the works: at the end they show a small piece of their next project, Glorund -- a curious choice (I wd have expected Smaug) but an interesting one. Only 7500 woman-hours of weave-work left to go!

Dare I hope that somewhere down the line we'll see the fulfillment of one of my dreams: large-scale recreation of some of Tolkien's art -- THE FOREST RIVER, LOTHLORIAN IN THE SPRING, HOBBITON, SMAUG -- in monumental stained glass? And if so, where wd they be mounted?

Here's the link;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFhVGCvcH_A


--John R.
current reading: the Stonehenge book (now past the midway point)


*you can get the same result by going to google and typing in 'Aubusson' and 'Tolkien'

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Not the quote I''m looking for

Day Two at Marquette

So, I mentioned in my last post that I was looking for a quote I recall from the George Bernard Shaw play SAINT JOAN, which I read some thirty years ago (along with MAJOR BARBARA, TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD, SHAKES VS. SHAV, and best of all HEARTBREAK HOUSE) and have never been tempted to reread since.

Except that now I need the quote for something I'm working on, which I remember but not precisely enough for quoting --and besides, I need the page number and all for correct citation.

On my first go yesterday I cdn't find the exchange, which I remembered as being about people believing in the flat earth because it fit what they cd see with their own eyes. After all, believing in a round earth involved embracing an abstraction over the immediate and concrete. I was beginning to fear I'd need to read the whole play to find these lines. I did find what seemed to be Shaw's comment on the scene in the Preface:

"She never doubted that the sun went round the earth: she had seen it do so too often."

While this conveys the same sentiment, it wasn't the exchange in dialogue I remembered, and lacked its sting.

Luckily today I found what I was looking for, through the somewhat circuitous route of the Australian Gutenberg Project. Here's the quote:

LA TRÉMOUILLE. And who the deuce was Pythagoras?

THE ARCHBISHOP. A sage who held that the earth is round, and that it moves round the sun.

LA TRÉMOUILLE. What an utter fool! Couldnt he use his eyes?

That's the quote I was looking for, except I remembered them as having mentioned Copernicus, not Pythagoras; good thing I looked it up.

--JDR
current reading: Stonehenge book, some odds and ends by Shaw.


Monday, October 1, 2018

I'm at Marquette

So, first it rains, then it pours, as they don't say in Bree.

Or in this case, having gotten to see the Tolkien Exhibit in the Bodley on a quick trip to Oxford, today I started a one-month stint with the manuscripts in the Marquette Archive. Today was the first day and it feels like I'm off to a good start, trying to sort out the manuscript sequence that records Tolkien's resumption of work on LotR after his break by Balin's tomb.

I brought with me three book: UNCLE CURRO: JRRT'S SPANISH CONNECTiON, which I'm now reading; the new edition of THE FALL OF GONDOLIN, which I've been looking for the chance to dig down into; and Raymond Edward's underrated TOLKIEN biography, which I skimmed a year or two ago and wanted to read and absorb. Plus a plethora of other titles on the Kindle, where I'm currently reading about recent excavations at Stonehenge and the vicinity. And now two books by Bernard Shaw checked out of Marquette's Memorial Library, one of which is to look for a quote I remember from reading the play SAINT JOAN back in graduate school and the other a collection of short stories (who knew that Shaw wrote short stories?). I've never read one of Shaw's famous Prefaces before, so that shd be interesting.

And after an evening being interviewed about old TSR days I got to wrap up the evening watching a Bodleian podcast (or 'bodcast'): a forty-two minute presentation by Tom Shippey on Tolkien as Morris-ian and philologist*, which I v. much enjoyed. Shippey was in fine form, full of interesting information presented through strong opinions. Highly recommended.

I even learned more about two new forthcoming Tolkien books: TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER by Jn Bowers, which I knew was in the works but nothing more than that about it, and TOLKIEN'S LIBRARY by Cili Oronzo, which was wholely new to me. More good things on the way.

Here's the Shippey link: enjoy

https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/tolkiens-turning-point-tolkien-and-history-tongues


--John R.


*thanks to Bill F. for the link.