Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Rest of Kalamazoo XII

Then came the conference itself.

I attended all the Tolkien sessions on Thursday and Saturday (that being the grouping this year),
including the business meeting to plan out proposals for next year's sessions. We came up with some good topics  though I'm not sure how the paper I hope to do wd fit in under the umbrella.

I also went to the two CSL sessions (back-to-back on Friday)* and the two for Tales After Tolkien (ibid Sunday), though I missed the latter group's business meeting, not having noticed that when they changed the time they changed the location too. I thought both seem to have expanded their target audience with good effect.

I'm happy to say the overall level of the Tolkien papers was high. There were one or two that I thought cd have done with a tighter focus, but I thought the average was as good as I've seen at Kalamazoo.

Rather than try to review each paper, I'd like to mention two that stick in my mind a week and more later: the papers by Andrew Higgins and Kristin Larsen, respectively. AH has the knack of writing about Tolkien's invented languages in a way accessible to non-linguists like myself. In this case, he looked at four character's names from THE FALL OF GONDOLIN to see what use Tolkien made of them in the later mythology: Egalmoth, Ecthelion, Glorfindel, and Legolas. Of these, Egalmoth vanished altogether. Ecthelion survived only as the name of a Steward of Gondor (in fact, Denethor's father). Glorfindel resurfaced in LotR, with the original character who had borne that name being brought back to life (literally) to reappear in the later legends (cf. the last chapter of LotR Bk I and the first of LotR Bk II). And Legolas was taken over and applied to a wholly new character, as if the original elf of Gondolin had  never existed. AH concludes that Tolkien valued 'a well-crafted name' and sought to reuse them, using different strategies, when occasion offered.**

KL's piece, by contrast, was astronomical in focus, looking at Tolkien's fascination with an astronomical event that can't actually take place: the evening star appearing within the dark part of a crescent moon. She found two visual depictions of this in his early watercolors  (see MacIlwaine #65 p.203) and more in descriptions such as the original 1914 Earendel poem. For someone like me who was a serious astronomy hobbyist back in my Scouting days*** this was great stuff, especially since she tied it in with the Ptolemaic system. It's been known since ancient times that the moon is nearer us than any other astronomical body, but apparently a point of contention arose between those who thought Venus and Mercury were within the orbit of the sun, like the Earth and moon, and those who thought they lay outside the sun's circle, like the outer planets Mars and Jupiter and Saturn. After several years of close scrutiny of Tolkien's astronomical bits, she's coming to the conclusion that JRRT wasn't so much concerned to get his astronomy right as to capture his inner vision, possible or not, and that some of the stars and constellations he names may be fantasy invention and not correspond to any real-world equivalents.

My own paper was the last one in the last session Saturday. I'd finished the draft just before heading out to Kalamazoo but not had a chance to give it a trial read-aloud until Friday night. To my dismay I discovered that it took me twenty-two minutes to read, whereas we only get about fifteen minutes each on a panel. So I went in and did some fairly drastic cuts, shortening it by more than a third. When I mentioned this to the session moderator at mid-day Saturday, she said that actually we had time and it'd be fine if I did the whole piece. Which I did, grateful to not have a choppy delivery the way it wd have been in the abridged version.

As for the conference as a whole, there was actually a boycott going on in which Medievalists Of Color were staying away in protest over a recent dust-up between those sympathetic to the alt-right and social justice warriors. It was hard to tell if this was having much of an effect or not. On the one hand, the Tolkien sessions were really well attended and pretty much filled the room most of the time. On the other, the dealer's room was really quiet: there didn't seem to be many people book-buying until lateish on Saturday afternoon, when things really picked up.

Courtesy of Nodens Books (thanks Doug), I was able to have two recent things I worked on available in the book room: the little chapbook CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH, and the Flieger festschrift A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS in both hardcover and trade paperback. Hope the people who picked up one or the other enjoy them.

Myself I was extremely moderate in my book-buying this year, coming home with only four books I hadn't had when I arrived.First was a hardcover of THAT HIDEOUS NOVEL,**** and second a collection of East Anglia folktales and folklore edited by M. H. James, a cousin of the great M. R. James. Third I picked up a book on the Master himself: MEDIEVAL STUDIES AND THE GHOST STORIES OF M. R. JAMES (by Patrick J. Murphy, 2017). Finally, we made an after conf. visit to the great used bookstore in Three Rivers, a bit south of Kalamazoo itself, where I picked up the fourth, a picturebook I hope to pass along to one of my great-nieces.*****

For all the papers and panels and interesting new (and old) books, like Kalamazoos before the best of all was lots and lots of Tolkien-talk with my fellow Tolkienists.

And now to revise my Kalamazoo paper and start making notes for the follow-up piece. And turn back to CLASSICS OF FANTASY, which I had to put aside in mid-revision in order to work on my Kalamazoo paper.

--John R.
--still slogging through a dreary Seattle-based urban fantasy but looking ahead to better things, like the (MR) James and (non-MR) James books.

*organized by Joe Ricke and sponsored by the Lewis Center at Taylor College.

**this probably accounts for the slightly disconcerting presence in Gondor of some characters with Silmarillion names, like Hurin of the Keys; the name was probably no more unusual in late-Third-Age Minas Tirith than Alexander or Arthur are today.

***when I cd still see a lot more stars than is  now the case, though part of that is due to light pollution in these parts.

****not a book I'm fond of, but one I occasionally need to reference and the only one of the space trilogy I hadn't had in hardback, the paperback of which is starting to wear out.

*****yes, I'm getting to that stage where my nieces have nieces.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The TOLKIEN Biopic

So, the organizers of Tolkien Day in Kalamazoo arranged for a special showing of the new TOLKIEN biopic to a room full of Tolkien scholars. We were on the whole a skeptical bunch as to whether the filmmakers cd pull it off, but willing to see how it had come out.

The first thing that struck me was the trees. Tolkien famously said you can't get much about trees into a play, one reason he considered drama inferior to fiction, but the filmmakers showed this is not necessarily the case for film. I don't know whether the director, or cinematographer, or both shd get the credit, but the long loving bits as the camera pans over trees, past trees, and esp. up trees from trunk to branches helped quietly establish a setting that felt Tolkienesque. In fact this one aspect of the film was so successful I'm sorry they didn't do it even more.

The look and feel of the movie was also a success: it had that Merchant Ivory look about it that captured the place and the time (turn-of-the-century Birmingham). Maybe it's just me, but I find it much easier to relate to shows set in the near-past (say the last century or so), with their familiar clothes, furniture, etc., than to costume drama of earlier periods, which have a certain stagey-ness for me.

Also of note was the even-handed treatment of how being poor and an orphan deeply restricts a person's options -- I was going to say, in that time and place, but the same applies equally to the modern day. And the movie scores points for not making villains out of the people who stand in Ronald and Edith's way, like Fr. Francis (lacking empathy but comes round in the end) or Mrs Faulkner (the landlady, self-centered but not malicious).

So much for the good. The not-so-good came from the problem that's bedeviled many a biopic before it: the difficulty of showing on screen an internal process, whether it be art, or music, or writing.  To their credit they tried with the 'cellar door' scene showing young Ronald creating a story out of an invented name.* It's therefore odd that they avoid having any of Tolkien's real drawings and paintings appear, or to use his actual invented languages. Presumably this wd be because of failure to get permissions to do so, but why then are they able to close the film w. the actual first words of THE HOBBIT? Bit of a puzzle, that.

I also have to admit that I liked the invented (amalgam) character 'Sam' as Lt. Tolkien's batsman. But the scenes of a fever-strickened, delirious Tolkien wandering around No Man's Land at the Somme in the midst of an all-out attack, seeing hallucinations of a Balrog** et al were bizarre. Apparently they wanted to show Tolkien on the battlefield but not have him take part in the battle, but it didn't work at all for me.

The greatest shortcoming of the film, however, was simply that it was oh. so. slow.  Every scene seemed to go on too long. There's not any particular bits that I'd advocated cuttiing; it's the pacing of the whole that got to me. This movie feels much, much longer than its actual running time.

Perhaps this is a result of my knowing Tolkien's life-story extremely well, so that I knew everything that was going to happen at the beginning of each scene (the only surprises were the things they made up, which thankfully were surprisingly few). I've heard from some who have seen it who knew nothing of Tolkien's life, and they found the story of the doomed group of Tolkien's friends*** deeply moving.

So, not a disaster some feared, not the travesty it cd have been, just not the success I'd hoped for.
On the whole I'll count that as a bullet dodged.

--John R.

current reading: Recently finished up a biography of Warren G. Harding by John Dean, part of the Schlesinger presidential series. Disappointing: Dean admires Harding and overdoes the rehabilitation bit.

Currently trying to force my way through Megan Lindholm's WIZARD OF THE PIGEONS, a mid-eighties urban fantasy set in Seattle that has certainly not aged well and is thoroughly unpleasant to boot (I've already gotten through the cat-mutilation scene and skipped the pages describing in extreme detail what it's like to chop off the heads of a bunch of chickens, including your special pet).

*for me this scene had echoes of one in A BEAUTIFUL MIND where the main character invents new constellations.

**unless it's meant to evoke the Sauron of the opening scene in Peter Jackson's FELLOWSHIP.

***i.e., the TCBS: John Ronald, Chris Wiseman, Rob Gilson, and Geoff Smith, to whom he paid tribute a half-century later, and one of whom I was fortunate enough to meet.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Back from Kalamazoo

So, after a week away I'm now back from Kalamazoo and back at work at my desk again -- much to the cats' satisfaction, as they like to be able to keep track of me.

It was a busy week -- one of those times when I'm too busy doing something to blog about it. Time to make up the arrears before memories of the details begin to fade.

First off, I took part in the Tolkien Day event, where we take advantage of so many Tolkienists gathering for the Medieval Congress, where there aren't enough slots for us all to present in, to hold what is essentially a one-day conference. I did my "Tolkien's Meteorite" piece there last year and this year teamed up with Marquette Tolkien Archivist Bill Fliss to tell folks about the manuscript reprocessing project, showing them the new organization I've been working on these last few years, whereby every draft of every chapter of the LotR manuscripts and typescripts is placed in relation to where it goes in the sequence of composition (the horizontal axis) and also in the development of that specific chapter (the vertical axis). Essentially it's like a giant flow chart. Since it has to cover some ten thousand pages, it's pretty large: the mock-up we had for show-and-tell at the presentation is a banner about twenty-four feet long, and that doesn't include the Front Matter (foreword, preface, title pages, tables of contents, ring-verse) and Appendices (which have their own separate line of development). This being a Tolkien project, in homage to the Professor we call it The Tree.

By the way, several people took pictures of us holding up the banner; if you're one of them, please send me a copy.

Tolkien Day was followed by The Film. That is, the organizers had arranged for a special showing of the new biopic on Tolkien (called, with admirable directness, TOLKIEN). More on this in a separate post tomorrow.

--John R.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Ready for Kalamazoo

So, the day before yesterday I completed my paper for Kalamazoo, "The Flat Earth Made Round and Tolkien's Failure to Finish THE SILMARILLION'. It's a good feeling to have it all done and printed out, ready for delivery.

I'm scheduled to deliver it Saturday at 3.30 as the third of three speakers on a panel; as you can see, I'm in v. gd company.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, drop by and let me know what you think.

--John R.

Session 449 Tolkien’s Legendarium and Medieval Cosmology, Saturday 3:30 BERNHARD BROWN & GOLD ROOM 
Organizer: Judy Ann Ford, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce Presider: Judy Ann Ford 
“It Lies Behind the Stars”: Situating Tolkien’s Work within the Aesthetics of Medieval Cosmology 
Connie Tate, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce 
Cynewulf, Copernicus, and Conjunctions: The Problem of Cytherean Motions in Tolkien’s Medieval Cosmology 
Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ. 
Binding Faerie with the Chains of Time: Tolkien’s Failure to Finish The Silmarillion John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar 

P.S.: I shd have mentioned that the title of my paper has changed, its focus have shifted somewhat in the writing. Which is unusual for me; usually I have the title for a piece v. early on and it stays the same all the way through publication.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

One Week to Kalamazoo

So, it's now just one week before I depart for the Tolkien events at the Medieval Congress, which I'm v. much looking forward to. For the past few weeks I've been working away at my paper, hoping that even if not complete I'd still have enough material to fill my time slot. Now I've gotten far enough along that I have more paper than I have time to deliver. So from this point on it's less a matter of finishing my paper than to extract a satisfactory abridgment for presentation. Here's hoping it goes over well.

--John R.
--current reading: THE RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY by Jared Lobdell

Friday, April 26, 2019

Tolkien Estate on the Tolkien BioPic

So, the Tolkien Estate is making it as clear as possible (which is pretty clear) that they do not support, endorse, or approve of the forthcoming Tolkien biopic, due out in a few more weeks:

--John R., who will be seeing it in a room full of Tolkienists. Luckily I don't expect a replay of the time I was present when the Tolkien Society's London smial saw the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT for the first time (around 1985 I think), where I came in for a good deal of blame for being a fellow American of the folks who made it ('Your lot did it!').

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Jared in his element ('It seems to me')

So, here's a picture of Jared from the 1987 Marquette Tolkien Conference/MythCon in Milwaukee. Jared is on the right, talking with Christopher Tolkien (center) and I believe Charles Huttar (left); I can't identify the figure in the background.

I looked through our photo albums hoping to find one of Jared as I remember him in my mind's eye: sitting behind a table, delivering a talk or a paper, in which his favorite phrase "It seems to me . . ." wd make its frequent appearance, but this is a thoroughly acceptable substitute.

I myself met Jared in early 1982: my copy of ENGLAND & ALWAYS is dated W. Febr 3rd 1982 and inscribed to me by Jared on March 6 1982, which was probably our first meeting.

I'm not certain but I think we met through my having just published my piece "She and Tolkien". As I remember it Jared wrote in to the journal (MYTHLORE) protesting that he'd discussed those same ideas in an not-yet-published book I'd not seen, and earlier made a presentation along those lines at a con I hadn't attended. I hunted down a copy of his book once it was out and, finding out he'd be in Madison, took the bus over.  I'd already made at least one run over to Madison to meet Richard West and attend a meeting of the Univ. of Wisc. Tolkien Society, taking the bus over in the afternoon and the last bus back at night, and I can't now remember whether Jared was at the Tolk. Soc. meeting or whether he was in town for WisCon a short time later.

In any case, it soon became a regular event for me to go over to WisCon each year to see Richard and Jared and others (such as Matt Fisher, Jan Bogstad, Phil Kaveny). Within a few years we had been joined by Verlyn (circa 1984) and Taum (about the same time or a little later) and others, like Doug Anderson and Paul Thomas and John Aussem.

Then came the 1983 MARQUETTE TOLKIEN CONFERENCE, organized by Chuck Elston, the Marquette Archivist; Terry Margharita, the Archives' Secretary; and Taum Santoski. I was not asked to present a paper but I did what I cd to help out, including writing virtually everyone who'd published a book on Tolkien to date and letting them know about the conference in case they wanted to attend; several did. Jared was one of the keynote speakers, along with Clyde Kilby, who had actually known Tolkien, and Dr. Joseph McClatchy who taught a course on the Inklings at Wheaton College.*

I think between them the 1983 Marquette conference and the 1987 MARQUETTE TOLKIEN CONFERENCE (aka The Marquette Mythcon) were the high point of Jared's career as a Tolkien scholar. He was the chairman of the Papers and Panels committee** and had grand plans for publishing a three-volume set of the proceedings through Garland Publishing, where he was now working as an editor: two volumes of Tolkien papers and a third on papers presented at the conference focusing on other authors, like Mervyn Peake, Kenneth Grahame, and John Ruskin. But while the conference was a smashing success (esp. due to the presence of Christopher Tolkien as Guest of Honor***) the proceedings failed to appear, the job at Garland went away, and in the end
the legacy of our papers & panels committee was some excellent pieces delivered at the conference and some unusually good issues of MYTHLORE over the next year or so.

After that we still saw each other at WisCons but eventually the charm of being on the same panel with the same people each year began to wear thin. In addition to Jared's self-destructive tendencies,
which were uncomfortable to witness, he was one of those people who took up all the air in the room. 

I think for me the breaking point was when I was on a Dunsany panel at WisCon, I think in 1989 but at any rate after I'd started my dissertation on Dunsany. There were three of us on the panel: Jared and Richard West and myself and we had an hour. Jared went first and talked for fifty minutes. Richard went next and rushed through what he had to say in nine. That left me with a single minute in which to thank the audience for coming and to assure them I had things to say about Dunsany, if only there were time.

After he stopped visiting Wisconsin, and after I stopped going to WisCon and then moved out to the Seattle area, we no longer ran into each other and fell out of touch, aside from the occasional email. These past few days I've tried to remember the last time I saw him. For certain at the 1989 WisCon, that being the last time I was on a panel with him; possibly thereafter at a MythCon or two but I can't be certain about that. But can it really be thirty years?

In the end I think my strongest memories of him are from being on panels with him at WisCons and MythCons and discussions afterwards arguing this or that point raised during the panel. It was great fun, if a bit odd, to see him advance some striking but ultimately untenable idea in the presence of those like Doug and Taum and Verlyn, all of whom were certainly able to hold their own against him, even when Jared was in full flight. And I almost always learned something I didn't know from the back-and-forth of our conversations, even if we each ended as unpersuaded as ever of the other's position.

As a final point I shd note that Jared was not only a Tolkien scholar but also published on C. S. Lewis: his book about the Ransom series was notable for his acceptance of THE DARK TOWER as a genuine Lewis work (something on which I agreed with him). He was one of three people I know of who have ventured to predicted how the story wd have ended had Lewis completed it.  He also edited a collection of Charles Williams' book reviews of detective stories which make for enjoyable reading, esp. recommended for those who think of C.W. as a rarified figure. Near the end of his life he'd become interested in Nevill Coghill and Hugo Dyson.

Looking back on him now I think early on Jared adopted CSL as his role model, for good and for bad. Good, because Lewis was a massively erudite and articulate man, loyal to his friends and with an appreciation of popular fiction as well as 'literature'. But bad in that Lewis was fond of making outrageous and self-evidently false propositions and then using his rhetorical gifts to try to make his audience agree.

In the end, the Inkling I think he most resembled was not Lewis but Dyson: intelligent, amusing, exasperating.  I'll miss him.

--John R.

*Among other things, this conference is memorable because it's there that I met Wayne Hammond, whom I immediately introduced to Richard West, marking the meeting of two great bibliographers.

**along with Richard West as the committee's Secretary and myself the third member of the three-person committee. If I'd thought of it at the time I'd have given myself the non-title Ordinary Member.

***and one of my favorite authors, John Bellairs, as Author Guest of Honor.

Jared and Calquing / The Fall

 Continuing the theme of Jared's major contributions to Tolkien studies, here's how he described/defines THE LORD OF THE RINGS:

a six-book, three-decker feigned history that uses the medieval
 technique of polyphonic narrative to tell what is essentially 
an adventure story in the Edwardian mode

—ENGLAND & ALWAYS, page ix

Jared stood out among Tolkien scholars for his belief that LotR was not a fantasy (a genre he did not believe existed) but an old-fashioned adventure novel of the kind written by H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan, Conan Doyle, et al.: in short, though I don't remember him ever phrasing it this way, that LotR had more in common with Conan Doyle than BEOWULF.

In arguing that Tolkien was influenced to some degree by the popular fiction of his youth, Jared was a leading figure among several fellow Tolkienists exploring the same theme at that time, including Giddings & Holland (who were proposing with reckless abandon that Tolkien's main sources included Victorian popular novels like LORNA DOONE) and myself (my first substantial work of Tolkien scholarship was "She and Tolkien", a close look at elements in Rider Haggard's four-book SHE series that found their way into Tolkien's legendarium).*  But I wd never have gone as far as Jared went. My own researches were into Tolkien's role in the emergence of fantasy: it seemed and seems obvious to me that there was such a genre as 'fantasy', and that the work of writers like Wm Morris, E. R. Eddison, and Lord Dunsany bore a strong family resemblance to what Tolkien was doing.

Looking back, I think Jared and I had so many good conversations because we disagreed on so much. We had as common ground a strongly-held belief that Tolkien was a great writer whose work deserved, and repaid, close attention, but we disagreed on virtually all the details.

A good example, and perhaps the most controversial of Jared's theories,  wd be his argument (in Chapter Two of ENGLAND & ALWAYS) that Middle-earth is a prelapsarian world and that some characters like Aragorn, Faramir, and others, are unFallen, while others (e.g. Denethor) are Fallen. As Jared saw it, the Fall came to humankind individually, a process lasting thousands of years and still incomplete at the time of our story.
   For their part, he maintained that the Elves were unFallen as a race: still in a state of Edenic Innocence. When I argued that the behavior of the Noldor in THE SILMARILLION showed otherwise, he responded by asserting that THE SILMARILLION was a collaborative work and that it was impossible to tell which parts were JRRT and which might have been added by CT.**

Less controversial, but to me more puzzling, was his argument based upon calquing. Jared had borrowed the term from Shippey, whose ROAD TO MIDDLE EARTH had only been out for a year or two and was as-yet almost unknown over here, for his 1983 Keynote Speech opening the Marquette Tolkien Conference, but I found his usage confusing. His prime example was piecemeal translation, such as rendering the word loud-speaker as 'haut parleur'. This is clear enough, and his application of it to LotR essentially pictures that world as a patchwork of piecemeal borrowings --an example might be basing the Shire on a Warwickshire village but Rohan on an Anglo-Saxon kingdom and Gondor as a fading Rome at the end of Empire. All this I get well enough. But I don't understand what Jared means when he says

"when we say that Sherlock Holmes is a calque, 
we mean the archtype he represents is, in his character, 
calqued on the Victorian world of 221B Baker Street"

--Jared's 1983 keynote speech, draft typescript page 5

I find myself similarly at a loss when, a page later, he says

"Chesterton in The Napoleon of Notting Hill 
and The Man Who Was Thursday wrote calques
of his own mediaevalism, so to speak, on to the
modern world: in that sense one might be con-
sidered a sequel to the other."

--ibid, page 6

Finally, at one point in the roundtable discussion of Tolkien,*** Jared seems to extend the meaning of the term even further:

"fantasy is that particular form of mythopoesis 
which calques an entire secondary world upon 
a primary world."

--typed transcript of Roundtable discussion, page 25

I have to admit I don't understand what this means. The best I can suggest is that in the end the term 'calque' became for Jared a synonym of 'overlay'.


*The original piece appeared in MYTHLORE back in 1981; a revised, expanded, and largely rewritten version appeared in Jason Fisher's book TOLKIEN AND THE STUDY OF HIS SOURCES (2011).

**This argument was, of course, fatally undercut when the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH series began to appear v. shortly afterwards.
   Jared's wariness regarding THE SILMARILLION and his rejection of the authority of Tolkien's posthumously published work was in fact shared by several other prominent Tolkien scholars at the time; Darrell Martin's presentation at this same 1983 conference did much to settle the point decisively.
   Oddly enough, while reluctant to consider THE SILMARILLION as representing Tolkien's thought, Jared would often quote C. S. Lewis's words as evidence to what Tolkien was intending or thinking, taking it as a given that anything Lewis said cd be taken as speaking for Tolkien as well ---an early form of what I've come to think of as Kreeft's fallacy.

***The participants were Richard West (moderator), Jared Lobdell, Verlyn Flieger, Darrell Martin, Mike Foster, Deborah Webster Rogers, Wheaton's Dr. Joseph McClatchy, and myself. The three topics for discussion were (1) Tolkien and Xianity, (2) Tolkien and his contemporaries, and (3) Tolkien and Fantasy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A picture of Jared

So, here's a photo of Jared in congenial surroundings, either in the Green Room at the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference (assuming that conf. had a Green Room, which I'm not sure about) or in his suite in Mashuda Hall at the 1987 Marquette Tolkien Conference/MythCon.

Thursday, April 18, 2019


So, I'm finding it hard to sum up my friend Jared in a single piece, and have decided to make a series of smaller posts and see how that works.

As a Tolkien scholar, Jared had three main claims to fame.

First, he had briefly corresponded as a youth with C. S. Lewis and later J. R. R. Tolkien, writing  a fan letter to each and receiving a reply both times, although unfortunately neither letter survives.

Second, he had edited one of the earlier books on Tolkien and his works, 1975's A TOLKIEN COMPASS, which is famed for printing Richard West's article on Tolkien's use of interlace narrative in LotR (still one of the best essays on Tolkien all these years later) and Bonniejean Christensen's piece on THE HOBBIT, the first to point out in detail the changes in the Gollum chapter between the first and second editions of that book. And, in those days when the publication of any new material from JRRT himself was prized as a pearl beyond price, Jared's collection included as an appendix GUIDE TO THE NAMES IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS by JRRT himself, a piece the Professor put together for the aid of translators.

Third, he had set forth his own ideas on Tolkien in a 1982 book ENGLAND AND ALWAYS, which argued that the three most important things about Tolkien were (a) his strong affinity with Edwardian adventure stories, (b) his being a philologist, and (c) his being a (conservative) Xian.

Jared himself provides a single-page summary of his argument in ENGLAND AND ALWAYS in his later book THE RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY (2005), so I can give this in his own words rather than through the lens of my rephrasings:

Sequels in the Edwardian Mode: A Problem in Calquing
In my original study of The Lord of the Rings as as an "adventure story in the Edwardian mode" I defined that mode by a number of characteristics . . . These characteristics, it seems to me, present a particular problem for sequels, or even additional works, by the authors of Edwardian adventure stories. This problem, in turn, suggests some reasons for the nature of The Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales—including their unfinished state—as well as suggesting that it may be worth-while to consider the ways other authors dealt with it, or failed to deal with it. All this is my topic here.

The characteristics of the adventure story in the Edwardian mode were these: First, the story is framed in familiarity. In this, it is like a fairy-tale, but unlike the fairy-tale, its action is time-specific. Second, the characters are types, though they may rise to the dignity of archetypes. Third, and connected with the second characteristic it is the character of nature, not the character of the actors, that are "realized" (in the French sense of the word). Fourth, the adventurers are not solitary, but they are frequently (in fact, almost universally) a happy few. Fifth, the adventurers are narrated (frequently in the first person) by the most ordinary of the happy few. Sixth, there is a recurring motif (perhaps the recurring motif) of the past alive in the present. And seventh, the world of the adventurers is essentially an aristocratic world. It might also be argued that there are fewer shades of grey in the actions of the characters than we are accustomed to seeing in our present-day world."

—Jared Lobdell, THE RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY, 2005, p. 167

More later
current reading: re-reading (for the fourth time) Jared's ENGLAND AND ALWAYS (1982)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Jared Lobdell

Just heard today from Doug A. (thanks Doug) that my friend and fellow Tolkien scholar Jared Lobdell died a few weeks ago on March 21st. I hadn't seen him in quite a few years but we kept in touch with the occasional email, maybe once or twice every other year. Our most recent exchange had been when I sent him a copy of my little CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH chapbook, thinking he might like it. Working out the timing from when I mailed it, I think it must have arrived just a little too late for him to have seen it.

I'll try to write up some memories of Jared as I knew him over the next few days.  As The Wife Says: "It's hard to write a short piece on a complicated man".

--John R.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Stone Table (unauthorized Narnia)

So, thanks to Gregory R. and Richard W. for the news about a new, unauthorized, unpublished, and perhaps unpublishable Narnia book: THE STONE TABLE. Written by Francis Spufford, whose work I don't know but is apparently well thought of by those who do, it's set between the events of THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW and THE LION, THE WITCH, & THE WARDROBE.

Spufford claims to have written it without regard to publishability, then self-published an edition of seventy-five copies, which he gave away to friends, and also allowed friends to post the first two chapters online (which I have not seen). This seems to be flirting with the line between fanfiction and under-the-radar semi-publication, a kind of side-stepping presumably intended to prevent the hammer that smiteth coming down from the Lewis Estate.

For those who have been around a while, this is reminiscent of how the great Lindskoog-Hooper feud began: a nun wrote an eighth Narnia book and asked Lindskoog's help in getting permission to publish from the Lewis estate. The estate, predictably, said no. Whereupon Lindskoog started an investigation that evolved into a vendetta against Hooper, the man acting as the estate's literary advisor, who'd said no. Let's hope things don't get so badly out of hand this time around.

Here's how Spufford justifies the project:

“If you’re going to play with someone else’s toys, then you need to be very clear that they are someone else’s toys. You need to be clear that you’re not profiting by it, that it’s a homage that doesn’t tread on the toes of the real books.”

For more of a discussion of the issues involved, see

My own position is that

(a) Using another author's setting and characters puts the writer doing so in an equivocal position. The results can be interesting and occasionally amusing, but it's not in itself a praiseworthy act or even a neutral one. When kept to the level of fanfic, that self-limiter obviates most of these objections. It's not surprising that the best such efforts have a strong degree of parody in them.

(b) Eight Narnia books is about seven too many.*

--John R.
current reading: THURBER ON CRIME --not as good as WODEHOUSE ON CRIME but amusing.

*for those concerned that an eighth book wd break the pattern some believe is encoded within the seven-book cycle, this is not in itself a problem for those of us unconvinced that any such pattern exists.

Fanzines Live!

So, I'd been under the impression that fanzines are in decline,* as part of the whole print-culture shifting over to online-culture, for everything from newspapers to manga. Apparently not, according to an item in the current issue of THE SHEPHERD EXPRESS, Milwaukee's free radical newspaper:

Saturday April 6th 2019

Milwaukee Zine Fest @ Milwaukee Public Library Centrall Branch 10:30 a.m.

Though the internet has given voice to anybody with an opinion and a laptop, it has done little to curb zine culture. As long as there is paper, it seems, there will always be writers, music fans, artists and cartoonists eager to self-publish their works. Dozens of such zinemakers will be displaying and selling their work at the 11th annual Milwaukee Zine Fest, a free event that also features workshops. Zines from all over the Midwest will be on display, including ones dedicated to feminism, horror, politics, punk and comics. After the fest there will be a meet-and-greet and zine swap at Facilitating Situations (706 S. Fifth St.) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and then a casual mingle at Fuel Cafe’s Walker’s Point location.**


Didn't make it to the event, but glad to see there's still an avid group carrying on the tradition.

--John R
current reading: THURBER ON CRIME

*always exempting the ever-amazing Nancy Martsch, who has brought out her Tolkien newsletter BEYOND BREE monthly since the early '80s.
**for some reason, auto-replace went to town on this draft; think I've got its unwelcome substitutions out but can't swear to it.

A Bad Day for Whistleblowers

So, Julian Assange was taken from embassy in London today. Plans to extradite him to the U.S. are already in the works.

I wondered what wd happen to his pet cat, but he seems to have seen this coming and made arrangements accordingly:

--John R.
--current reading: THURBER ON CRIME, ed. Rbt Lopresti

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Lincoln read Poe

So, I had no sooner posted my piece about Presidents who enjoy reading detective novels than I found a nice piece on the subject much more up-to-date than the one I was citing (coming from last year, rather than 1934).* Better still, it revealed more about the circumstances surrounding FDR's THE PRESIDENT'S MYSTERY STORY.

The piece is called "The Mystery Buffs in the White House" by Craig Fehrman (NYT, May 23rd 2018). Here's the link.

The most interesting thing about Fehrman's piece is the news, not previously known to me, that Lincoln read, and liked, Poe.

The president-mystery bond began with Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe, who were born within a month of each other in 1809. Like a lot of 19th-century readers, our 16th president was wary of popular fiction . . . But Lincoln made an exception for Poe, reading his pioneering detective stories soon after their publication; he could quote full passages from classics like “The Gold-Bug.”

. . . Consider how one of Lincoln’s contemporaries described his relationship to Poe: “The absolute and logical method of Poe’s tales” appealed to “the bent of his mind.”

 Later on we're told that (Theodore Roosevelt also read Poe) 

By contrast,

  Calvin Coolidge liked detective stories by S. S. Van Dine. 

I'm curious about Fehrman's source for his Lincoln-read-Poe story and may try to track down his book to see what evidence he cites for this.

--John R.

Presidential Smoking

So, on second thought, I thought it'd be fun to set down head usher Hoover's observations on the smoking habits of the presidents he knew -- especially given how presidents today have to hide that they smoke at all, ever.

Here's the quote:

   Harding was the only President I ever saw who smoked cigarettes. He also smoked pipe and cigars, and chewed tobacco moderately. Cleveland chewed tobacco, but never smoked.* Harrison smoked a little. McKinley had a passion for cigars and was perhaps the most intense smoker of all the Presidents during my time. One never saw him without a cigar in his mouth except at meals or when asleep. Neither Roosevelt** nor Wilson ever smoked or chewed. Taft smoked when he came to the White House, but stopped soon after and never took up the habit again. Coolidge smoked moderately, occasionally a pipe, but more often the best quality of Havana cigars, which were always given to him. He used a one-cent cigar-holder on a fifty-cent or seventy-five-cent cigar. Hoover smoked incessantly. The bigger and the stronger, the better he liked them, but they must always be a good brand. With the burdens of office he increased his smoking.

   The only First Lady whom I have known to smoke was Mrs. Coolidge, and she never did so in public.

--Ike Hoover, 42 YEARS, p. 290

Times change: I find it hard to imagine a president today chewing tobacco. Another fact our author mentions in passing that's hard to get my head around is that the first bathtub was installed in the White House during Arthur's administration -- i.e. in the 1880s, before even Ike Hoover's time, though not by much. Before that I guess folks just did without or let a washcloth suffice.

Sometimes change really is progress.

--John R.

*I can't but wonder if this had any cause/effect relation with his cancer in the roof of his mouth, for which he was secretly operated on while in office.

**again, remember that this is TR, not FDR, who was famous for his cigarette holder.

Eowyn's Thee and Thou

So, in my early days of reading, and re-reading, and re-re-reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS over and over again, I used to be puzzled by the scene in which Eowyn begs Aragorn to take her with him when he takes the Paths of the Dead. Not by the content of their exchange but the style. Why, I wondered, did she suddenly switch to formal, archaic English (Bible-speak) at such a time?

wilt thou go?

wilt thou not let me ride . . . ?

I beg thee!

Years later, when I was no longer thirteen and had studied grammar* and gained some fluency in reading archaic speech (like the time in college when I read the entire FAERIE QUEENE between waiting on customers at the local drive in),** I came to realize that there are, or were, two usages of these archaic pronouns in English (thou, thy, thine, thee). The first and by far most dominant is its association with formal, remote speech, like in the King James Bible. The second, forgotten by just about everybody who wasn't a Quaker or historian of the language, was for intimate use: this is how you refer to people you are close to. Thus it was to add an extra layer to Eowyn's laying bare her feelings in this brief exchange.

So there's a disconnect here: Tolkien is trying for one effect and instead achieving another.  I suspect this was less of a problem when Tolkien was writing this scene (circa 1946) than it is now because over the course of the last century we've lost 'poetic diction', despite Owen Barfield's best efforts on its behalf. Ezra Pound announced its doom as far back as 1911, but there were many hold-outs among traditionalists for a generation or so.

Tolkien did make judicious use of these archaic pronouns in other contexts, particularly in THE SILMARILLION, as in Cirdan's words to Gandalf in OF THE RINGS OF POWER AND THE THIRD AGE (Silm.304) and in the exchanges between God and the angels (or, if you prefer, Eru and the Valar) in the AINULINDALE (cf. Silm. 15, 17, 19).  I strongly suspect that this is what those early reviewers of THE SILMARILLION when it first came out meant when they complained that it 'read like the Bible', and I strongly suspect that this is the only part of THE SILMARILLION read by those critics.

Tolkien also used deliberately archaic language in most of his translations as an essential part of his goal of making medieval works understandable to a reader unversed in the original language (Old English, Middle English, medieval Welsh) without making it sound as if it'd been written by a modern-day author -- but more on this later.

--John R.
--at the end of week three in Milwaukee.

*and picked up smatterings of Spanish, French, and Old English

**alas for The Rocket, Magnolia Arkansas's drive-in theatre, long gone.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Presidential Reading

And now, for something completely different.

Came across a short section in the book I'm reading, which is made up of short sections, little anecdotes:* Ike Hoover's 42 YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE, a behind-the-scenes look at nine presidents by a member of the White House staff.

This particular passage, just two paragraphs long, goes like this:


   Most of the Presidents of my time liked detective stories or at least mystery stories. There were exceptions, of course, like Roosevelt, who with all his reading, and he was perhaps the greatest reader of any President I knew, never read mystery stories. Current literature as published in magazines was his favorite. Wilson read the Christian Science Monitor, which he said was the only paper in America that told the truth. Wilson and Hoover, the former especially, were incessant detective story readers. Coolidge also enjoyed such stories; nevertheless, like Taft, he confined his reading principally to the daily papers. Taft especially seemed to read nothing else and would delve into every page of all the papers he could conveniently get hold of. Harding didn't seem to read much of anything. A game of chance or skill was more to his liking. Men like Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley varied their reading, not confining themselves, so far as I could notice, to any particular line.

   All read the yellow journal made up in the office of clippings, news items, editorials, and stock market reports. Coolidge and Harding watched these carefully. Wilson, Taft, McKinley, and Roosevelt never seemed to notice them. Hoover seemed to watch them. 

--Ike Hoover, 1934, pages 271-272 

By 'Roosevelt' he means TR, not FDR, the latter having been famous for his love of detective stories -- so much so that he came up with the plot for one that was then written in round-robin style by a collection of well-known mystery writers of the time.  Or so I'm told, never having seen the book in question, THE PRESIDENT'S MYSTERY STORY.

--John R.

*a similar section (SMOKING HABITS, p. 290-291) tells which presidents smoked, and what. And the one First Lady who smoked (never in public)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Taking Names to Yourself (Turin vs. Gollum)

So, yesterday I came across a passage in "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol" that had never struck me as odd before; now it's piqued my curiosity. 

In the immediate aftermath of Smeagol's near-repentance scene, Sam spoils Gollum's last chance to turn from evil by accusing him as "sneaking". When Frodo wakes and Gollum calls himself "a sneak", Frodo advises*

Don't take names to yourself, Smeagol, said Frodo. It's unwise, whether they're true or false

This sounds very much like advice that Turin shd have been given. Not that he wd have taken it, being Turin: Always trying to escape who he is and what he's done, taking on names in an attempt (never quite successful) to put the past behind him. 

But then what are we to make of many-named characters throughout LotR, such as Gandalf and especially Aragorn? Is Aragorn the ultimate anti-Turin?

--John R.
--currrent reading: 42 YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE by Ike Hoover (1935)

*this advice is all the more effective, given that Frodo takes pains to address Gollum by his original name, which has had the effect of reinforcing that side of his personality 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


So, one of the little puzzles about THE LORD OF THE RINGS I've never seen addressed involves the Synopses that appear at the beginning of the second and third volume (omitted from the one-volume editions, I was surprised to learn).

The relevant passage tells how FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING ends
with "the fall of Boromir to the lure of the Ring; with the escape and
disappearance of Frodo and his servant Samwise; and the scattering
of the remainder of the Fellowship by a sudden attack of orc-soldiers,
some in the service of the Dark Lord of Mordor, some of the traitor
Saruman of Isengard. The Quest of the Ring-bearer seemed already 
overtaken by disaster" (TT.9-10)

What's remarkable is the passage I've marked for emphasis. Here in the summary of Volume I we are told things the reader could not learn by reading FELLOWSHIP, indeed not until the opening pages of Volume II:  that the Fellowship has been attacked by orcs. This information is not within the last chapter of the previous book, which ends with the Fellowship scattering, running off in all directions. And it's later yet, though still in the first chapter of TWO TOWERS, that the survivors figure out the orc-band has divided loyalties between Mordor and Isengard.

I think it's extraordinary that Tolkien wd include in a summary information not contained in the thing being summarized (in this case, Volume I of LotR).  Thinking the synopsis might have been put together by someone at Allen & Unwin, years ago I wrote to Rayner Unwin with a query, asking who had written these synopses: someone at A&U or Tolkien himself. Mr Unwin kindly replied, saying that it was of course Tolkien himself.*

So there it is: Tolkien's synopsis contains information not in the thing being synopsized,

Given how carefully Tolkien seeds information within his tale and how carefully he doles it out when the time comes, I have to conclude this is entirely deliberate on his part, I assume to heighten the drama of the second volume's in medias res opening.

I suspect this has gotten such little attention because most of us come to TWO TOWERS fresh from having just finished FELLOWSHIP and plunge right in, having no need for a synopsis of the book we just finished devouring for the dozenth time. In any case, obviously this is a minor point (or otherwise I wd have seen somebody else mention it in all these years). But it remains a bit of a puzzle, to me at least.

--John R.
current reading: Barlow's COLUMBIAD (1807). finished with the poem and on to the (extensive) endnotes; the author's efforts to explain what he's talking about take up about 20% of the whole.

*as confirmation of this, Archivist Bill Fliss points out to me that Marquette holds Tolkien's typescript of both pieces: 3/5/26 (TT) and 3/7/49 (RK).

Monday, April 1, 2019

Marquette's Tolkien Fans oral history project

So, I meant to post this a week ago, just after the article concerned was printed, but the car crash I was in last Tuesday threw me off my schedule* before I'd gotten beyond the draft stage.

For those who have access to the JOURNAL/SENTINEL, Milwaukee's hometown newspaper, the Monday March 25th issue contains a nice piece about Marquette, the manuscripts, and a new oral history project launched recently in which Tolkien fans are given three minutes to answer three questions:

  • When did you first encounter the works of J.R.R. Tolkien?
  • Why are you a Tolkien fan?
  • What has he meant to you?
Some of the early contributor's answers have been spliced together into a sampling of voices which I found surprisingly moving to hear. If you don't have access to the physical newspaper, here's the link to the piece online:

The article also has a nice picture of the Archives, for those who have never been there, and of the current archivist of the Tolkien collection, Bill Fliss.

I particularly want to see how this project develops because on the one hand I've long been interested in oral history projects, such as the one Lyle Dorsett set up at the Wade Center back in the early/mid eighties, interviewing people who'd known Lewis (and Tolkien) and getting their memories and recollections down on tape. And on the other hand I've long been struck by the diversity of Tolkien fandom, ever since I found out how people who liked the book liked it for different reasons, or were drawn to different parts of it. The story of how people discovered Tolkien also interests me, and it's notable how many people remember that moment of discovery vividly for years afterwards.

So, if you'd like to take part in this Tolkienian oral history project, here's the link explaining how you can apply to do so, either in-person at Marquette (well worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood, or indeed if you're not) are remotely via the magic of the internet.

--John R.
--still reading Barlow's bad book (two-thirds of the way through now). I just got through the part about Franklin discovering electricity.

*short version: we got hit by a car running a red light. It flipped our car over onto its roof and left us hanging inside upside down from our seat belts (wonderful things, seat belts). The good news: all three of us walked away. The bad news: my friends' car was damaged beyond repair and we're all a bit shaken. Kind of like a Bond martini: shaken but not stirred.

Spider Pass (Frodo's Elvish)

So, I was working today trying to correctly sequence all the typescripts of the chapters towards the end of LotR Book IV and was struck by something that I'd never thought about before.

Tolkien goes to great lengths to build suspense for the disaster at Cirith Ungol. Several times in the chapters leading up to it he avoids giving its name or otherwise suggests that its name is of deep significance.

Finally Faramir tells Frodo the name -- and it means nothing to him. Similarly Faramir confesses ignorance of its actual meaning.

But we've long been told that Frodo speaks Elvish. Or were the elves of Woody End and elsewhere simply being polite, hailing Frodo as possessing a fluency he simply didn't command? We know that Bilbo has great skill in Elvish. By contrast, is Frodo's grasp of Elvish limited to one or two polite phrases? Is this one sphere in which Bilbo outshines his nephew?

Certainly there's no suggestion that 'Ungol' (spider) is difficult or obscure.

So, slightly puzzling. Going to have to give this one more thought.

--John R.
current reading: 42 YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE by Ike Hoover

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

God Bless Good Samaritans

So, a heartfelt thanks to all the good people out there.

For example, those who help people stuck in an upside-down car.

As in, one that had flipped over after being struck by someone running a red light.

I'm glad to say that everyone's mostly alright, thanks to seat belts doing exactly what they're supposed to do.

So today marks two firsts for me. It's the first time I've been in a car that rolled over on its roof, leaving us suspended by our seat belts. And it's the first time I've ridden in the back of a police car (the officers investigating the crash insisting on driving me to my hotel).

I hope your day was much less eventful than mine.

--John R.

P.S.: Janice is fine, being in Kent, while I'm in the middle of my research trip here in Milwaukee

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Larry DiTillio Dies

So, I was sorry to hear the news from the Chaosium newsletter (Ab Chaos) that gaming legend Larry DiTillio has died. I never got to meet DiTillio -- one of those legendary figures like Greg Stafford (whom I did meet) or Sandy Petersen or Tom Moldvay -- but I highly recommend his work. Among his many achievements, he wrote what I consider the best rpg adventure ever -- and not the one you're thinking of, either.

That is, DiTillio is famed as the author of the legendary MASKS OF NYARLATHOTEP, widely considered to be the best adventure ever written for CALL OF CTHULHU, one of the most widely loved and highly respected of all roleplaying games (now in its thirty-eighth year and seventh edition). But I personally think that, good as MASKS is, there are other CoC campaigns that are even better (including THE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH and especially SHADOWS OF YOG-SOTHOTH).*

More importantly, DiTillio wrote another rpg adventure that is even better: THE GREY KNIGHT, for PENDRAGON. The first adventure for a new game is all-important to that game's success: it tells the players and DM what sort of things their characters will do in the new game.  In the case of THE GREY KNIGHT, the adventure runs the whole range of knightly activity: jousting in a tournament, courtly intrigue, flirtation, combat against fellow knights, magical trickery, and more. DiTillio's adventure deserves particular praise for not making a too-common mistake of setting the adventure around the margins of the game: Here player-character knights get to meet and interact with major characters in the setting, like Sir Gawain and Sir Tor and Morgan le Fay.  A brilliant piece of work.

Here's a tribute to DiTillio from Chaosium:

--John R.

*I might modify that position if I'd ever actually played MASKS; as it is I've read it (a long time ago now) but only played a small part of it.

The Festschrift is a Finalist!

So, I was happy to learn* that A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS is a finalist for this year's Tolkien Society Award in the Best Book category. The competition is formidable: Catherine McIlwaine's phenomenal MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH catalogue of the Bodleian Exhibit, which I'm on record as saying is a major contribution to Tolkien studies, and THE FALL OF GONDOLIN, Christopher Tolkien's final book, the self-announced conclusion to decades of editing and making available his father's works.  It really is an honor to have been nominated, and to stand alongside two such significant works on their shortlist.

Here's the link to the announcement. Voting is still open until Friday the 29th, so if you're a Society member don't forget to sign in and vote.

And here's more about the awards, including past winners:

--John R.

current reading: The Music of the Valar, from BLT; 'They Also Serve' (my favorite Mervyn Wall story, closely followed by 'The Hogskin Gloves'), and THE COLUMBIAD (which is both earnest and inept, a bad combination).

*thanks, Paul, for sharing the good news.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Remedy for Nostalgia

So, one of the most interesting things to turn up in my recent round of sorting down in the Box Room is a folder containing correspondence and other material related to my first dissertation topic, the one which went down in flames.

I find that when I think of Marquette these days what I remember is the good-parts version: spending time in the Archives, my fellow grad students, courses from professors I liked, teaching continuing ed. courses (night school) on Tolkien and fantasy, my long-running D&D campaign, &c.

What I tend to forget is the down side,* and the papers in this folder are a reminder of the latter.

Well into my dissertation process, when I'd done a lot of reading and a lot of thinking and come up with a topic and thesis I thought wd make for a good dissertation ('THE EMERGENCE OF FANTASY AS A MODERN LITERARY GENRE'**),  I found myself at an impasse. Two of the people on my three-person committee (including the dissertation director) approved the topic while the third kept requesting changes, requiring me to re-write the proposal time after time for a period of months (almost a year, all told). Eventually she rejected my topic completely, calling it

"unworkable as a project, 
unpublishable as a book, 
and something that would be ripped to shreds 
if any of it did ever get published"

And that, pretty much, was that. I had to start over again with a new topic with a new committee, not including the person who'd given the thumbs down on my previous effort. That turned out to be my Dunsany project, which I enjoyed researching and learned a lot doing, so no regrets there, though the change in topic did set me back and delay my finishing my Ph.D. by several years. 

At the time I was bitter about it, but over time I've become more exasperated than anything else. If that one committee member didn't agree with my thesis and was determined not to approve a dissertation along those lines, as turned out to be the case, why didn't she just tell me at the start?***
It wd have saved a lot of time and bother all round.

And now, back to Tolkien.

--John R.
--current reading: A FLUTTER OF WINGS by Mervyn Wall

*I had a paragraph about the down side here but on second thought deleted it.
**which might just as well have been called The Role of Tolkien in the Emergence of Fantasy as a modern literary genre.

***she told me later she was trying to do me a favor, since I'd never get a job in academia if I kept writing about fantasy and Tolkien.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The First Review for the Festschrift

So, the first review of A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, by Nancy Martsch, has now appeared, in the current (March) issue of BEYOND BREE.  She covers a lot of ground in the space of a single well-packed page, briefly describing and then evaluating each piece. She devotes the most time to the collaborative essay by Hillyard, Cook, Burns, Rohlin, & Stegen on dream and enchantment, which she judges "a significant contribution" our understanding of faerian drama. She concludes with a words any contributor of this volume will be glad to hear:

"This book is a worthy tribute"

--John R.
--first day back working with the manuscripts again.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Why is Tolkien not an 'Anglo-Saxon'?

So, here I am back in Milwaukee for another research trip. But first I wanted to post about a curious passage I came across when reading THE FALL OF GONDOLIN last week (book #II.3500 on the reading list, for those who are keeping count).

The line that caught my eye was Tolkien stating, in a letter to Stanley Unwin,

Unfortunately I am not an Anglo-Saxon

The context in this 1951 letter is Tolkien's recalling the outside reader's report rejecting THE SILMARILLION fourteen years earlier, in which the reader 'allowed it a kind of Celtic beauty intolerable to Anglo-Saxons in large doses'

But why shd Tolkien preface his comments about THE SILMARILLION's refusal to be suppressed with the comment about not being Anglo-Saxon?

Is Tolkien being ironic, along the lines of 'if Anglo-Saxons don't like this kind of stuff, and I do, then I must not be one of them'? I know Tolkien in some times and moods described himself as a Hwicce, but that doesn't seem apropos in this case. Indeed I wd have thought JRRT had a better claim to calling himself an 'Anglo-Saxon' than many, being of Saxon ancestry on the Tolkien side and Anglish descent through the Suffields.

In any case, one of Tolkien's more oblique statements, I thought.

--John R.

current music: THE WHO'S TOMMY (esp. the second half)
current reading: BEREN & LUTHIEN, some Japanese light novels.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Is Jeff Bezos a Tolkien Fan?

So, it's more than a full month since our quick visit to New York to see the Tolkien Exhibit. Accordingly, this seems like now-or-never time to add a brief postscript to my posts about the event.

First off, to repeat: this exhibit is a once-in-a-lifetime event, both in its Bodleian and Morgan iterations, and no doubt in the forthcoming Parisian Exhibit as well. I'm glad I got to go purely for the access to the items on display. But there was more: getting the chance to spend time with Tolkien friends, visiting New York City (albeit briefly) for the first time, hear some interesting talks, and in general enjoy being a Tolkienist among My People.

One interesting side-event took place when during Verlyn's lecture the person sitting next to me (Carl) asked in a whisper if  I recognized the person sitting at the end of the row in front of us. When I said no, he said "that's Jeff Bezos".

As in Jeff Bezos, president of Amazon. The richest man in the world. Sitting in the audience showing every sign of enjoying the talks along with the rest of us.

Later we saw him again at the reception, standing right in front of us during Simon Tolkien's talk about his grandfather, after which Carl spoke to him very briefly (some conversational pleasantry along the lines of 'glad to see you here, Mr. Bezos') and shook his hand. *

Afterwards I did a little digging and found there was precedent in his being at an event at the Morgan:  he had chosen the Morgan as the venue where he announced the release of the Kindle 2 almost exactly ten years earlier (Feb. 9th 2009).

Bezos has Tolkien connections as well, having personally intervened to seal the deal last year when Amazon was negotiating rights to make an ongoing streaming series as a prequel+remake of LotR (also known as 'the billion dollar deal').**

Finally, there was unadvertised presence of several members of the Tolkien family: not only did Simon Tolkien speak at the reception, but I was told that Michael George (JRRT's oldest grandson) was there as well; they also had announced a little earlier in the evening that Priscilla Tolkien had wanted to come but in the end not been able to make it.

Which casts interesting light upon comments made by Douglas Kane on my previous post in which he quotes some intriguing remarks by the head of Amazon Studios, the people who'll be making the new Tolkien adaptations:

In a recent article in the Hollywood Reporter, Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke was bizarrely quoted as saying in "early February" that "The Tolkiens are coming to New York, all those estate holders. The older ladies, who are now, I think, in their 80s and 90s. His daughters and the grandchildren, they're coming to New York, and Jeff Bezos, me, Jeff Blackburn, a team of us are going and they've invited us to a dinner and see some art, some creative work that they haven't shown the world yet." Setting aside the rather astounding fact that the head of the studio that is making this secretive new TV show apparently doesn't know how many daughters Tolkien had, it immediately occurred to me that you had mentioned that Simon Tolkien was in New York on February 7 (presumably just after she made this comment in "early February"). Were any other Tolkien family members present at the reception?

All this came on the same day that Mr. Bezos announced that he was the target of attempted blackmail by the NATIONAL INQUIRER,*** and just the week before Amazon abandoned their plans to set up a major new headquarters on Long Island, so there was clearly a lot in the works, both on the Tolkien and the Bezos front, that week in February.

Leads me to suspect that Paul Allen wasn't the only billionaire to be a Tolkien fan.

--John R.

*that I didn't recognize him myself is unsurprising (that pesky face blindness thing again), but then this is me we're talking about, a person who once walked past Kareen Abdul Jabbar at an airport and didn't notice him.

**more on the forthcoming series in an upcoming post


Saturday, March 2, 2019

NyQuil Days and door-dasher cats

So, having failed to head off a cold, I've spent the last three days trying to ride it out with the help of  rest, punctuated by regular doses of NyQuil. My wandering attention and tired eyes have prevented me from getting much done in the way of reading, unfortunately, though I have made my way through a bunch of anime (some good, some bad). The one good thing about this spell of sickness is the distractions coming in the form of curious inquiry by the new cats (whatcha doing? do Tarkus/Tyburns like it?) who have happily joined me on the couch or in the rocker in trying to sleep my way through it. 

In other news, we've now opened up the garage and box room to Tarkus and Tyburn, the last part of our place that'd been off-limits. They like it. They like it a lot. And luckily they're happy to come back upstairs when the time comes. That just leave two remaining hurdles: the balcony (which Tarkus has visited several times while on a leash; Tyburn after one trial thought it was much too scary) and walks outside (to teach them how to find our place again in case they ever get out by accident).

--John R.


So, casual Tolkien references continue to show up in what you might think unlikely places.

As, for instance, in the middle of a recent piece in The Guardian describing harassment tactics used online by anti-vaccine advocates against people who let it be known they support childhood vaccinations.  

Here's the quote, with the key phrase highlighted in bold:

“We are at the point where doctors are creating their own anti-vaxx social media attack response teams to help other doctors” . . .
One such rapid response team is being organized by Dr Todd Wolynn and Chad Hermann, the CEO and communications director of Kids Plus Pediatrics (KPP) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“If you’re being attacked, we’ll light the signal fires of Gondor, and you’ll have pro-science, pro-vaccine cavalry come to your aid,” Hermann said of the nascent project, called  “Shots Heard Round the World”.
And here's the link to the full article it came from:

As with most other such references I've been coming across, this one is marked both by its appearance in a non-literary context and by the (no doubt correct) assumption that it needs no explanation, that the average reader will know what the author's talking about.*

--John R.
--current reading: THE FALL OF GONDOLIN,   an old issue of LOCUS (Sept 2004)

*actually in this case that assumption applies twice, once when Wolynn & Hermann said the line and again when The Guardian quotes it.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Tolkien in New York

So, it's taken me a week, but here's my write-up of the second day of our Tolkien trip to the Morgan event in New York City.

Feeling somewhat drained by the events of the day before, we made a late morning of it on Thursday, February 7th, the second full day of our trip and the one scheduled to end with the big event: the reception.

We had lunch with Wayne and Christina, whom we hadn't seen in far too long (having missed the last two of our once-a-year gatherings), then the four of us went away from the restaurant noise and back in the Library Hotel's Reading Room, a large comfortable area on the second floor with all the comforts: lots of tea, a selection of cookies, chairs around small tables, lots of books, and a generally relaxed, welcoming air, where we caught up on things.

After a break to rest up for the big event -- I'm still trying to learn to pace myself as I get my stamina back -- it was time to head over to the Exhibit.  I didn't take my usual extensive notes but for once just relaxed and enjoyed the lectures.

First up was Richard Ovenden, head Librarian at the Bodleian, who spoke about the Bodleian's history, some recent acquisitions,* and their Tolkien holdings.  Then came Catherine McIlwaine, the Tolkien Archivist (yes, the Bodleian does have a dedicated position just to manage the Tolkien collection, given how large it is** and how frequently consulted); I think she said that 140,000 people came to see this Exhibition while it was at the Bodleian. I think she also spoke about the three central themes of the Oxford exhibit being scholarship, imagination, and family.  Third came Verlyn Flieger, who spoke with her usual eloquence, suggesting that Tolkien has become a lens through which to see the world, and related how Priscilla Tolkien had visited the exhibition when it was in Oxford and been struck by how her father was now far more than a popular writer but had grown to be an international figure. All three then took comfy chairs for a Q&A session, the general theme of which was Tolkien as an international figure, but the only lines that stay in memory were (1) the question from McIlwaine to Verlyn: why Tolkien? why not (say) Isaac Asimov? To which Verlyn responded "Tolkien is better"; i.e. a better writer. (2) McIlwaine describing how Tolkien had a gift for "inventing things we felt like we always knew". and (3) Verlyn describing "the essence of his genius: LOSS".

Then followed the Reception: where we had a clear mix of two groups. Half the people who were there, the conspicuously well-dressed ones, had come because it was an event at the Morgan.*** The other half were there for the Tolkien: they'd come to see the paintings and maps and manuscripts and memorabilia. Myself, I seized this opportunity for a last quick run through to look at a few favorites one more time: comparison between the LotR and Silm maps confirmed the location of Belegost and absence of Nogrod; the presence of Himling as an Iceland-like island and beyond it the Vinland-like TOL FUIN, clearly the surviving remnant of Taur-na-Fuin, the original Mirkwood. And I enjoyed one last glimpse of the 1915 & 1928 Ishnessses and mythological paintings, with their bright vivid colors so unlike his later style and palette. Had they been published in the 1960s they wd no doubt have become favorite black-light posters. I know I wd like to have had them on my walls.

One of the nice things about the occasion is that even though we were far from home there were a number of familiar faces, despite the face blindness, both at the lecture and the reception. Some I see mostly at Kalamazoo: John Holmes (a contributor to the Flieger festschrift), Eric Mueller,**** Yvette Kisor; others at Mythopoeic events like Janet Brennon Croft, and some at both, like John Houghton (with whom I worked as one of the editors on the Shippey festschrift). It was nice to have a little more time with Verlyn and Carl. I got to meet Catherine McIwaithe and congratulate her again both on the exhibit itself and the equally impressive catalogue (which ought to win all kinds of Awards). She told me that one of the criteria when selection a page of manuscript for the display was legibility: it being frustrating for a visitor not to be able to make out what the author had written. That wd explain the inclusion of a lot of examples of his most beautiful calligraphy rather than textually significant scrawls. She also said they'd picked someone who wasn't well-versed in Tolkien to do the initial sort-out of Tolkien's newspaper doodles, so they got visually appealing pieces for display that didn't rely on prior knowledge to appreciate. I looked around for Cathleen Blackburn to thank for her patient replies to many requests for permissions to quote from various Tolkien manuscripts over the years  but I think she had already left.

One really interesting surprise at the end of the evening was a talk by Simon Tolkien, JRRT's grandson, which I enjoyed v. much but cannot now recall any specifics therefrom.

Finally we wrapped up with dinner with Carl Hostetter, Marquette Tolkien Archivist Bill Fliss and his wife Kristin, and the two of us. A nice way to wind down from an eventful and pleasurable evening.

Then it was back to the room for packing up to speed our way to the airport early (v. early) the next morning. Where we in fact arrived so very early that Janice got us re-booked onto an earlier flight, which meant we got back to Seattle early, just as the heavy snow was beginning to fall, and were able to collect the cats from where they'd been boarding and convinced TARKUS and LADY TYBURN we hadn't abandoned them forever after all.

So, a quick trip, but oh so worth it, both for the chance to see these original manuscripts and maps and paintings again and for time with fellow Tolkien scholars. If you get the chance to see this exhibit don't pass it up.

--John R.

--current reading: Brand's new book on Clay, Calhoun, and Webster (a bit disappointing) and Berg's biography of Lindbergh (a book about twice the length needed about a brave and multi-talented man who was a failure as a human being). As far as read-aloud books go I've finished up SPOON RIVER, begun and finished SONGS OF INNOCENCE and SONGS OF EXPERIENCE (been too long since I read some Blake) and am now hesitating between THE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH and Browning (some of the dramatis personae).

*for example, they recently received Robert Bridges' archive, a century past's poet laureate about whom few wd nowadays be interested, did it not contain within it the papers of his friend Gerard Manley Hopkins, which Bridges had taken into safekeeping upon his friend's untimely death.

**I believe she said it took up two hundred boxes, not to mention three hundred books from Tolkien's library. Impressive, esp. when taken together with her reminder that Tolkien was never a full-time writer.

***my wife had a conversation with two well-dressed ladies who said that having seen the exhibit they were now going to read the book.

****hope I got his name right; he's the one behind the Tolkien Art Index project, which he demonstrated at Kalamazoo either last year or the year before and which, besides being nothing short of brilliant, finally realizes one of Dr. Blackwelder's old projects.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Day at the Morgan

So, having got the missing suitcase thing worked out, we had a late breakfast and walked down to the Morgan, where I spent the next two and a half hours looking through the Tolkien Exhibit we'd come so far to see (again). The venue is less crowded and the room brighter at the Bodleian, where I suspect the lighting was kept muted to preserve the artifacts (I once saw a William Blake display in what cd only be discribed as a dark room). There were fewer items on display --a t a guess, maybe about half as many. And yet that still left a mort of treasure, as I suspected. I had time to spend with each item, and to linger and look long and hard at some pieces, such as the art and maps, without feeling I was being rude or blocking others from seeing things.

The item that moved me most was the elegant and confident title page for the 1930 Silmarillion, the only complete and finished version of the book, which shows how clear and detailed was Tolkien's vision for the book.

I also loved the early mythological art (circa 1915) and the Ishnesses from about a decade later. For the former I was impressed first by how small they are -- the famous world-ship drawing is about the size of my hand -- and how packed with significant but elusive detail, such as the painting of Kor framed by the Two Trees but the fact that the frame is the trees doesn't come out until you've taken the piece in for a while, or at least that was my experience.

As for the Ishnesses, even though I'd seen these just months before I was struck anew by the brightness and vibrance of the colors (or colours). It felt odd to see Tolkien abandon his usual color palette of green and blue for vivid red and orange. And their inclusion of a tree-drawing Tolkien made when he was twelve established how talented me was, and from an early age.

And of course there were many small details I'd not noticed before, esp in the maps (like one map of Middle-earth that included not just the island west of Lindon formed from the Hill of Himling but had another larger island further to the west (West?): Tol Fuin.  I learned for the first time the location of Belegost but cd not find Nogrod.  And it was nice to see the two pieces of the Moria gate pastel reunited again.

In addition to the items on display, we ran into John Holmes, contributor to the Flieger festscrift (green great/great green) and a regular attendee at Kalamazoo, and learned a lot about his current project, which sounds interesting. Later we had dinner with Verlyn herself, and Tolkien philologist Carl, and got to meet another festschrift contributor, Thomas Hillyard.

Oh, and we got to poke around inside the New York Public Library, which is not only a grand building full of fine art* but also, it turns out, has my book (nice to know). And, later, Grand Central Station, seen no doubt in any number of old movies** but hitherto never brought into focus.

Looking forward to more meetings, and more time with the exhibit, and the panel and afterwards.

--John R.

*one piece that caught my eye was a portrait of the Astor who died on the Titanic, whom I've always showed admirable dignity in the face of disaster.

*as well as the occasional anime: I think BACCANO ends here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

We're in New York City

So, we have a new rule for anytime Janice and I travel together. Henceforth we put one outfit of hers in my bag and one change of clothes for me in hers. That way it'll be easier to cope when one of our bags fails to arrive --that is, if the airline fails to put on the plane a dozen or so people's luggage. Mine among them. Luckily Janice's suitcase made it through fine, but we've had to make a quick run to a nearly store to get some kind of outfit to see me through the shortfall.

On the bright side, here we are in New York City, staying on Madison Avenue in The Library Hotel, which so far promises good things. It apparently gets its name from being right down the street from the NY Public Library, passing by which tonight gave me a chance to see the original great lion statues that are the model for the Mythopoeic Award I got for MR. BAGGINS. The hotel's lobby has lots of bookcases filled with actual, readable books, not faux-book panelling or shelves filled up with sets of lawbooks or agricultural reports or similar reference books of many decades ago nor random junk (I'm looking at you, old omnibus volumes of Reader's Digest). Our own room is assigned a Dewey Decimal relating to architecture and its shelves are well-stocked with books on Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright (lots of these), Art Deco, and the like. And, hidden in a cupboard, a book by Barbara Streisand.

I don't think the cats are enjoying their Cat Hotel nearly as much as this, but it seemed the best option for keeping two door-dashers from staging some kind of Great Escape every time the pet-sitter dropped by to check on them.

Tomorrow: Tolkien.

--John R.
--current reading A RUMOUR OF ADVENTURE: AN INKLINGS STORY by Kees M. Paling (2018)