Monday, May 28, 2007

Fifteen Years

So, yesterday at about six p.m. I finished the index.

That in itself doesn't sound like much, but it means the last piece of work for the book is now behind me. That means today I'm not working on the book: I'm finally off deadline, for the first time since I signed the contract (20th August 1992), at which point I'd already been working on the book off and on for several years (first in conjunction with, then trying to revise the work of, Taum Santoski). Like Gorey's Mr. Earbrass, I expected to be wandering around from room to room, vaguely petting cats and leaving teacups scattered about, but this turns out not to be the case. Instead there's a vast sense of relief, of sheer doneness, coupled with a sense of new possibilities. Janice is off work this week, so we'll have a chance to do stuff together: take some long walks, visit Pioneer Square or Pike Place market, or maybe even go out to a movie (I think the last thing we saw was The Prestige, though can't swear to that). We even made tentative plans for an overnight trip up to Vancouver to see the book on a bookstore's shelves, but unfortunately the Canadian bookstores don't seem to be stocking it yet, so perhaps its May 16th release date there has been pushed back.

Not that there aren't things to do. There's the Marquette lecture to write ("A Kind of Elvish Craft: Tolkien as Literary Craftsman"). There are some book reviews I've wanted to do, such as of the new Barfield biography and the Evans-Dickerson book on Tolkien and environmentalism. There are books to read for the sheer fun of it, like Diana Pavlac's new book on the Inklings and Hearn's Tales of the Otori series, along with the last of the Derr Earl Biggers novels if I can track down a copy. There's the next research trip to plan out (England, in November), now that I have my passport renewed, and calculations to make on how to best use the available time to spend as many hours in the libraries, with the primary collections, as possible while I'm there.

And of course there are chores that have long been put off that now need attending to: the cats are all due long walks. The mounds of paper around my desk need sorted, filed, and otherwise put in order. The Box Room needs a major sorting to get all those papers out of boxes and into file cabinets so they're accessible, and I need to make the difficult decisions about what of the books, games, and magazines stored down there to keep and what to let go of (and what to do with the culls). And it's back on Induction for me as of yesterday to see if I can't take off some of those pounds I regained over the last year and a half or so while chained to the desk.

But the book will still be done. Looks like June 18th, three weeks from today, is the revised release date for Volume II. And, in these parts at least, there will be much rejoicing.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Book Arrives

So, a week ago tomorrow my copy of MR. BAGGINS arrived on the porch, thanks to the speedy service of I immediately poured myself a strong cup of tea and went upstairs to sit down in a sunbeam and leaf through it. It's taken me fifteen years to reach this point, and I had to savor the moment.
My first impression was simply 'wow'. The production department at HarperCollins did an amazing job, from the beautiful cover (by Tolkien himself) to the clean layout. Despite all that I packed into it, the book doesn't feel crowded. Better yet, I was struck by how it doesn't just look like a book (after all these years as files on computer screens and unwieldy masses of print-outs), it looks like a Tolkien book, typeface and all.
Since then I've been utterly buried in last-minute things for Part Two. I've now seen pdfs of the final text of everything but the index, and the sharp-eyed folks at H.C. caught a few typos that had slipped by, for which I am grateful.
As for Part One, I'm still adjusting to the idea that it's actually out, and that people are reading it (several of whom have dropped me notes; many thanks all). Maybe it'll all seem real once I finally down tools on Part Two; we'll see.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

They Call Them . . . 'Fobbits'

Reading an article in the Jan/Feb issue of the ATLANTIC MONTHLY presenting yet another unworkable scheme outlining how we can "win" the war in Iraq, I was struck by a comment the author made in passing.

Apparently the majority of military personal we send to Iraq* never leave the military bases we've set up there, which are officially known as Forward Operating Bases. Since these are called "FOBs" for short, those soldiers who actually go out and patrol have dubbed their stay-at-home counterparts who never leave the base "fobbits".

Tolkien truly has permeated our culture when soldiers in combat make puns based on his lexicon, and use an analogy from his work to heap scorn upon their underperforming comrades.


*it's not clear whether this includes the mercenaries (or "contractors"), of whom there are some 48,000 currently serving in Iraq.

citation: THE ATLANTIC, January/February 2007, Vol. 299 No. 1, "Streetwise" by F. J. "Bing" West, page 76.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Book Is Out . . . Maybe

So, according to, Part One of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT: MR. BAGGINS, is now available in England, the release date having been moved up a week (from May 8th to May 1st). One friend has passed along word that she received a notice that her copy has shipped, and the amazon uk site now lists it as 'in stock' and available for express shipping (indeed, it's currently #365 on their best seller's list). Alas I have not yet seen a copy myself, nor heard from anyone who has one in their hands, so I can't confirm that the actual physical book is out there yet.
In other news, it's due to hit the bookshelves in Canada on the 16th. The US release will be a few months later, timed to coincide with the 70th anniverary of the book's initial 1937 release in September.
Meanwhile, all the final corrections for Part Two: RETURN TO BAG-END are now in, and I'm deep in the index; hence the passage of several days between posts. I'm so busy that it's hard for me to quite take in that it's almost over: suspect I'll be like the novelist Mr. Earbrass in Gorey's THE UNSTRUNG HARP, wandering around leaving unfinished teacups strewn about the place.


A Farewell to Saturn

So, the new car came home on Monday night, which temporarily made us a three-car family. Since two people with three cars is just plain silly, we'd made plans to donate the old Saturn to a worthy cause: Purrfect Pals, via We wanted to just go by and drop it off, but they don't allow that for some reason; all donated cars have to be picked up by them instead. It took them several days, but they finally did come by late on Thursday afternoon. Farewell, old gold Saturn: hope your next owner enjoys you for a long time to come, and that the charity gets a good price from it for Purrfect Pals*

*the no-kill shelter from which we got our middle cat, HASTUR

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Tolkien Anecdote

A while back I turned up a reference to Tolkien's having been the vice-president of the Oxford chapter of the Catenian Association, a fraternal order of Catholic laymen. A little further checking brought to light a mention of Tolkien in an editorial in their newsletter (CATENA No. 868, Feb. 2002, page 3). After mentioning the "unprecedented success" of the first Peter Jackson film, the editor goes on to mention that

"the author JRR Tolkien was of course a Catenian. A Birmingham man, he was Professor of English at Oxford and was Founder Vice President of Oxford Circle in 1944 into which Frank Pakenham (later Lord Longford) was initiated. In 1945 at the second annual Circle dinner, Brother Tolkien proposed the toast to Provincial Council, (according to Peter Lane's account in the history of the Association) 'in a most amusing way which included an actual toast in Anglo-Saxon'."

I've also found another reference which states that Tolkien was that chapter's President from 1945-1946 and remained active through at least the early 1950s; this accords with the brief account in the Scull-Hammond COMPANION & GUIDE (Vol. II p.958) which cites an unpublished letter regarding a group dinner from 1951.

Peter Lane's account is no doubt the book THE CATENIAN ASSOCIATION 1908-1983: A MICROCOSM OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CATHOLIC MIDDLE CLASS [1982]; I've ordered a copy and will post again after it arrives if there's anything more about Tolkien in it.