Sunday, May 15, 2022

Unwin and Tolkien agree

 So, there's the famous episode where JRRT, a year after THE  HOBBIT was published, angrily repudiated Germany's anti-Semitic laws -- specifically by refusing to make an official statement declaring that he was not Jewish, such a statement being required by his prospective publisher for a German edition, which wd have been the first translation into another language (See LETTERS OF JRRT, page 37, letter of 25 July 1938 for details).

I thought I remembered a different incident in which Unwin made his own opposition to anti-Semitic madness clear. It's years ago now since I read Stanley Unwin's autobiography, THE TRUTH ABOUT A PUBLISHER--the title is a play on Unwin's famous polemic about the publishing business, THE TRUTH ABOUT PUBLISHING--and I couldn't find a specific passage I was looking for. 

My memory said that in his autobiography Unwin told the story about foiling Nazi anti-Semitic laws, which forbid anyone  of Jewish ancestry from owning a business. To get around this, Unwin bought three or four German publishers for a token price (say, a pound) . Then at the end of the war he returned them to their original owners for the same token price.

Does anyone out there remember this episode? Am I looking in the wrong place for it (i.e., is it in David or Philip Unwin's autobiography instead)?

Although I wasn't successful in finding the anecdote I wanted, I did find a different passage that shows Unwin, to his credit, as having taken an anti-Nazi stance early on (1933), as opposed to others (like Roy Campbell, who was enthusiastically pro-Hitler at that point). Here's the passage:

It was . . . an interesting indication of the mounting

 indignation at the Nazi treatment of the Jews when,

 in April 1933, I received a discreetly worded letter

 from my good friend Dr Gustav Kilpper, the 

representative of Germany on the Executive, that,

 although it might easily be misconstrued if the

 suggestion came from Germany, they felt that, 

in view of the tension in the atmosphere, it would

be wise to postpone the Brussels Congress to 1934

 . . . It proved, however, too late to do so.

At the Brussels Congress Dr. Kilpper went much 

further than such an enlightened man had any 

justification in doing in defending the Nazis,

 who showed their appreciation by turning him

out of office. Following the Congress he 

urged my son and myself to join him on a

holiday on the Eibsee, which under other 

circumstances we would gladly have done.

 My reply read as follows:

'I very much appreciate your letter of the 11th 

July with its kind invitation. But the news that

 reaches me this morning of the glorification

 of the murderers of my friend Rathenau --

one of the most enlightened and noble-

minded men I have ever met -- makes

 it more than ever clear that Germany 

under the present regime is no place

 for me. That an assassin could be 

regarded in 1933 as a hero is incredible. 

What are we coming to?

[THE TRUTH ABOUT A PUBLISHER, 1960, p.401-402]

The context of this, for those like me who know less about the Weimar republic than Wikipedia does, is something like this: Unwin, who was the leading British expert on international publishing issues, had played a large role in the revival of the International Publishers' Congress, which had lapsed in 1920 just after the end of The Great War. It held biannual meetings with a rotating host city (starting with Paris 1931).  

Rathenau is Walther Rathenau, Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic, the only Jewish member of the Republic, who was assassinated in 1922 by a reactionary anti-Semitic group, the Organisation Consul. The assassins were hunted down: some died in a police shoot-out, others went to prison, and some evaded punishment, so far as I can tell. Following national mourning, a number of monuments were put up in his honor.  Then when the Nazis came to power they knocked down the monuments in Rathenau's honor and replaced them with monuments celebrating his murderers. That's the outrage that had Unwin so worked up.

--John R.

current reading: Thorne Smith's SKIN & BONES -- a minor late work comprised almost entirely in dialogue.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Tolkien Influencers -- a list

 So, thanks to J.E. at  Tolkien Collector's Guide for this link to a post that not only lists twenty-five Influencers but also what each thought about the footage they were shown and their impressions of the Showrunners.

There's a lot of interest here, but it'll take a while to absorb. I am glad to see the event organizers brought in a few voices from Latin America. 

--John R.

Who are the 'Tolkien Influencers'?

So, I know what a Tolkien fan is. And I know what a Tolkien scholar is. Now I've been introduced to a new term: Tolkien Influencer. As in, someone who has an online Tolkien-themed site with a following. Between twenty-five and thirty of whom were flown to London (with a day-trip to Oxford) to watch a twenty-minute clip from the forthcoming Amazon Rings of Power series.

Only a few of them were named in the article I saw,* and I'd be interested to hear who the others were --in particular how many of them are people whose name I know.

Here's the list so far:

Corey Olsen, 'the Tolkien Professor', founder of Signum University

 Shaun Gunner, chair of The Tolkien Society

Justine (last name unknown), as representative from

Kaitlyn Facista, of 'Tea with Tolkien' (new to me)

I am bemused to learn that the main purpose of the event seems to have been to reassure the gathered Influencers that Amazon series' special effects will be Peter-Jackson worthy.  That wd never have occurred to me as a major concern. In fact I don't think it'd have made a top ten list, if had a top ten list. Which just goes to show I'm not the target audience. But I remain a curious bystander. And I'm glad these folks got to enjoy a visit to Oxford while they were in the neighborhood, more or less. 

--John R.

---current reading: SKIN & BONES by Thorne Smith (1933)

NEWS OF THE DAY: just finished up the last Tolkien-themed session at Kalamazoo for the year.


Saturday, May 7, 2022

Tolkien Day at Kalamazoo

 So, that’s one day down and the better part of a week to go.

I had trouble logging on to Zoom, and by the time Janice got me straightened out I’d missed half of Kris Larsen’s piece. Which is a pity, given how good her stuff typically is.  This one was on orphans and near-orphans in Tolk.  Then came John Holmes on sinister pointing hands in ISHNESS, Maddo, Thror’s Map, and the RK draft cover. I’d never known there was a word for these (manicula), so I learned something. Third came Joe Ricke on Tolkien's THE HOMECOMING (HBB), looking particularly at the stage directions. I had no idea there were so many versions (fourteen) of this play, with the earliest version (in rhyming verse) accounting for five drafts plus two fragments. And as always I’m glad when a presentation tells me something about Tolkien I didn’t know before.

After a seven minute break for lunch, things resumed with Vickie Holtz-Wodzak suggesting Bram Stoker as a source for several scenes in Tolkien (mostly involving three wolf-attacks).* Then came Robin Reid with an examination of the recent online flame war against the Tolkien Society. I was impressed by her demonstration that it’s possible to discuss contentious events in a measured tone. I was fading by this point and so missed the last event of the day: the latest of Eileen Moore’s “Maidens of Middle-Earth” art songs.

And now comes a break until a Tolkien & Evil panel at two o’clock (my time) this Tuesday.   

Then comes a panel on Tolkien and medieval animals (everything from bats to dragons to bestiary lore) Thursday at six a.m. (gah!), followed later that day (four pm) by a roundtable in honor of Richard West.

Friday brings the business meeting (bright and early at 8 am), followed by THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, a roundtable focused on the new collection of Tolkien material edited by Carl Hostetter (I was supposed to be on this but had to bow out during the chaos of earlier this year).

Saturday wraps things up with a Dante and the Inklings panel, which seems to be folding previous years’ C. S. Lewis at Kalamazoo into the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group. Then things wrap up with a misc. grouping that includes pieces on ’The Dragon is not an Allegory’ (here, here), Sam as Boethian (nice to see a non-augustinian piece), and ’Tolkien, Augustinian Theodicy, and Lovecraftian Evil’ (cd be interesting to see HPL in such august company). 

And then that’d wrap things up for another year.

*She had a point, but I wd have thought S. R. Crockett Tolkien's immediate source. 

Thursday, May 5, 2022


So, while I've been working away trying to wrap up a big long-term project, all kind of Tolkien events have been announced. 

Coming up soon, there's the first Annual Tolkien Lecture at the University of Birmingham, being held Friday May 27th --just three weeks away. The speaker is Dimitra Fimi (a good choice); the topic "I HOLD THE KEY: J. R. R. Tolkien through interviews and reminiscences" (also a good choice).

Here's a short abstract posted online:

“This lecture will meander through several interviews Tolkien gave during his lifetime, as well as reminiscences of people who knew him well (family, colleagues, publishers, friends). Though this material remains uncollected and scattered in various (often obscure) publications, it often reveals fascinating facets of Tolkien's inspirations, creative process, and the construction of a "biographical legend".

I/ve long been interested in this material and so checked to see if I cd watch this remotely, and found that it's an in-person event. And so far as I cd find there aren't any plans to make it available online afterwards. Considering how valuable the material is, and how hit-and-miss peoples' use of it has been, let's hope her lecture gets published at some point down the road.

There's another Tolkien-related event I've just recently learned about, but I'll avoid discussing it because I don't think there's been an official announcement on this one yet.

A big event now close enough to be described as looming is this year's  Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, starting on the 9th (i.e., the beginning of next week) -- even earlier, for those attending the pre-con Tolkien event on Saturday the 7th.  The Tolkien panels at the Congress itself shd run through Saturday the 14th, so I'm hoping to see quite a few of them on Zoom.

Also there's the Flieger Silmarillion classes starting on the 15th (of May; first of four sessions).

And, a little further out, the Marquette Tolkien exhibit in August.

And after that the Watership Down conference in early September:

To sum up:  a lot of good things coming up for the Tolkienist (and fantasist in general) over the next few days, weeks, and months.

--John R. 

current reading: THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH (Pullman), & finding it so far a slog.

I may give up and switch instead to re-reading one of Thorne Smith's screwball comedies in novel form.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Tipping Point

So, this week I've been putting in a lot of time in the ongoing project of sorting things down in the box room. Then Thursday  I made a realization. I'm pretty sure that I'm now more than half way through. There's still a lot to do, but I've gotten more done than remains to do.

Things I've got sorted and out the door include most of the miniatures, and boardgames, and card games, and anime, and manga, and non-TSR rpgs (lots of these), and D&D boxed sets and modules and rulebooks, and lots and lots and lots of books. 

This latest round has involved moving boxes that had been blocking shelves. Now I've got access for sorting my row of Judges Guild modules, plus the shelf of Mayfair Role Aids. Plus what I think are full runs of Chaosium's fiction lines (Cthulhian and Arthurian), not to mention over a hundred old TSR novels, of which I'm keeping eight. And a lot of books, some of them scholarly works on fantasy, going back all the way to my first (abandoned) dissertation topic.  

Many boxes remain, but once I've got the current stacks of books double-checked and boxed up and off that'll open up some space to work. So, progress.

--John R.

current reading: AMONGST OUR WEAPONS (the latest Rivers of London book with its Monty Python title; just finished) and  THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH (Philip Pullman's sequel to HIS DARK MATERIALS; just started).

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Four thousand, two hundred, and fifty Books

So, while I had all the pieces of my reading list out and in one place, I decided to look at things from the other end, starting from the first entry and running all the way up to the present day.

 The first list, starting in August 1975, ran to book #536 when it broke off in April 1981 --not because I decided to quit but because I lost the little notebook that had the most recent entries in it, accidently leaving it on the Underground.  I restarted the list that August (1981) and have kept it going ever since. This second list now runs to 3688 books.

Finally, after I'd lost the entries that shd have made up the most recent entries of the first list, I jotted down all the books I cd remember that I read during that gap. I came up with twenty-six titles -- not all, but better than nothing.

So, while my math skills aren't what they were, I make out the total from all three lists as this:

First List: 536 books

Lacuna: 26 books

Second List: 3689 books and counting.

536 + 26 + 3689 = 4250.*

And counting.


*or, I shd say, 4251, since I finished another book while drafting this post ---STILETTO, the latest by Daniel O'Malley, a disappointing sequel to his excellent, Classics of Fantasy worthy THE ROOK.