Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The First Review

So, I've been on tetherhooks for months, waiting for the first review, knowing full well that it's such a long book that I'd probably have to wait quite a while. Now at last that wait is over: today I discovered the following online review of MR. BAGGINS, apparently posted in a review blog sometime last month:

Delighted to hear that she felt after reading it that she understood knew more about the way JRRT's mind worked. Hope she similarly enjoys the second volume in good time. Also hope she doesn't give up her search for THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT, an excellent book in its own right.

In the meantime, Woo-hoo.


UPDATE (Sat. Sept 1st)
A little more exploring has turned up the reviewer's blog, in which she discusses her first impressions while reading the book.

Glad to hear it made her want to read THE SILMARILLION. Hard for me to realize that it's been thirty years ago this month that my copy of that book finally arrived. It's now been longer since THE SILMARILLION was published (30 years) than it was between the publication of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and its long-delayed prequel (22 years).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Correction (date of Tolkien's Andrew Lang lecture)

A few posts back, I mentioned the first essay in Hart & Khovacs' TREE OF TALES: TOLKIEN, LITERATURE, AND THEOLOGY --i.e., Rachel Hart's "Tolkien, St. Andrews, and Dragons"-- in the course of which I made reference to

"Tolkien's 1947 St. Andrews lecture which became 'On Fairy-Stories'"

However, the next day in the Comments David said

"Oh, I do hope they didn't say Tolkien gave the lecture in 1947."

In fact, no, she doesn't. That mistake was entirely my own, absent-mindedly typing in the date of the facsimile letter she reproduces, which Tolkien sent to Professor T. Malcolm Knox with a presentation copy of ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS on 17 December 1947. Hart gives behind-the-scenes background on the Andrew Lang lecture series, including the date Tolkien delivered his own lecture (Wednesday, 8th March, 1939), the information that JRRT was one of three potential speakers that year (the first two of whom turned St Andrews down*), how much Tolkien's honorarium was (thirty pounds), and the date upon which he was issued the invitation. Since the latter date does not appear in the Scull-Hammond chronology, which merely notes "There seems to be no record of when the invitation to lecture was sent to Tolkien" (Scull-Hammond, THE J.R.R.TOLKIEN COMPANION & GUIDE, Vol. II: READER'S GUIDE, pages 686-687), here's the date for those (like me) who'll pencil it into their copy: 8th October 1938.
It shd go on page 222 of Vol. I: CHRONOLOGY --or, rather, the entry that currently appears on page 211 shd be moved to page 222 instead under this specific date.


*These were Sir Gilbert Murray, who would eventually deliver the next lecture in 1947, the series having fallen into abeyance during the war years, and Lord Hugh Macmillan, who delivered the 1948 lecture.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Has Gaiman Jumped the Shark?

So, thanks to links forwarded by friends and postings on the Mythsoc list, I'm beginning to hear a good deal about the forthcoming BEOWULF movie, and almost all of it fills me with foreboding.
I'd had hopes for this one, since (a) BEOWULF is a good story that should translate well to film and (b) Neil Gaiman is the scriptwriter, and I have a huge respect for his encyclopedic grasp of mythology, fantasy, and folklore, as reflected particularly in THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and SANDMAN and his short stories; he's been less successful, to my taste, at drawing from it effectively in his novels so far.
So what are we to make of his insistence, over the director's objections, that Beowulf strip buck-naked before wrestling Grendel, on the grounds that "It's in the [original] poem"? Or his regret that they had to leave out all the profanity from the dialogue (again, on the claim that the original was full of swearing) because of the need for a PG-13 rating? Or the inclusion in the movie of a scene of Grendel's mother crooning "Give . . . Me . . . Son!" as she tries to seduce the hero, so she can get pregnant with another Grendel to "reestablish her dominion over the kingdom"? And what's with the idea that old King Hrothgar is "corrupt", when the poem goes to lengths to establish that he is an honorable old man, admired far and wide for his wisdom?
I can think of various possible explanations, none appealing.

(1) Gaiman never really said this; the reporters who quote him made it up. [Unlikely]

(2) Gaiman is joking, pulling the reporters' legs. [Also unlikely]

(3) Gaiman doesn't know the original Old English poem very well and has simply been working from a synopsis, so he doesn't know how flagrantly these changes diverge from the actual work. [Highly likely if it was any Hollywood screenwriter but Gaiman, unlikely with Gaiman]

(4) Gaiman has written and re-written the screenplay so many times that by now he's completely forgotten what's in the original and what's Gaiman. [Plausible?]

(5) Gaiman has done a complete re-imagining to the story, a la his radical takes on various fairy tales in short stories, and lacks the courage to say so. [Possible, but then why wouldn't he boast of his contribution? It's not like Hollywood places any value on fidelity to the story being adapted.]

None of these is really satisfactory, and once the film is out it may turn out not to be as extremely bad as all the advance hints indicate. But if it is, it'll be a sad day for Gaiman fans everywhere.

And here I thought this film would be BETTER than the disaster that was BEOWULF & GRENDEL, or THE THIRTEENTH WARRIOR for that matter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

New Arrivals

So yesterday came a long-expected package with three books on Tolkien I'd had on order since May.

#1, THE FRODO FRANCHISE by Kristin Thompson. I've been really looking forward to this book on the making of the Peter Jackson films ever since I found out Kristin was at work on it, having read her excellent article in the journal LIGHTHOUSE a while back. Only a few pages into it so far, but it promises to fulfill all expectations. More on this one later.

#2, TOLKIEN & SHAKESPEARE, edited by Janet Brennan Croft. Somehow I'd gotten it into my head that this was the latest release from the Mythopoeic Press, along the lines of their TOLKIEN ON FILM, also edited by JBC. Not so, it turns out. Some familiar names among the contributors (the late Dan Timmons, Anne Petty, Judith Kollmann, Jessica Burke, and Croft herself) and others that are not so familiar (to me at least). It's an interesting concept, comparing Tolkien's work to various plays by an author he greatly disliked; be interesting to see how they pull it off.

#3, TREE OF TALES: TOLKIEN, LITERATURE, AND THEOLOGY, edited by Trevor Hart & Ivan Khovacs. This one I ordered cold, not knowing anything about its contents. It's a slim little volume (only 132 pages, with notes, bibliography, and index accounting for thirty pages of that) of seven essays; Colin Duriez, who I met at the Centenary Conference in Oxford in '92, is the only one of the authors I'm familiar with. From the subtitle I'd assumed this would be yet another book on Tolkien & religion. In fact, its focus is much broader than that -- for example, the first piece is about Tolkien's 1947 St. Andrews lecture which became 'On Fairy-Stories'; as an added bonus, it reproduces a previously unpublished Tolkien letter in facsimile.

All in all, a nice bundle of new reading material that'll keep me going for some time to come.


current reading: OWEN BARFIELD by Simon Blaxland de Lange; THE FRODO FRANCHISE by Kristen Thompson


current project: just completed the draft of my Marquette talk; now for tightening up and fleshing out, as appropriate.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Tolkien's Bees

So, the new issue of AMON HEN, the newsletter of the Tolkien Society, arrived today. Still no review, but a nice notice about RETURN TO BAG-END now being available through their Tolkien Trading Company, as well as an interesting short account of a visit to Sarehole Mill, about which I'd just been doing a little quick research for a point I wanted to make in the Marquette talk. But the piece which particularly caught my eye comes near the end, with a notice that the July 2007 issue of BEECRAFT ('The Official Journal of the British Beekeeper's Association') has an article on Tolkien. Apparently its authors have detected a possible shortcoming in Tolkien's bee-lore, pointing out that 'the native British honey bees didn't actually have yellow stripes . . . the stripy bee . . . is actually a 19th century Italian import' (AMON HEN #206 p.33). This is of course a reference to Beorn/Medwed's bees, which were "bigger than hornets, much bigger . . . the drones were as big as a small thumb, and the bands of yellow on their deep black bodies shone like fiery gold" (MR. BAGGINS p.232). The article suggests that this "may indicate that Italian bees had become commonplace around Birmingham by the time Tolkien was a child there". Quite possible, in which case this would be like the Purple Emperors, an accurately recalled detail from Tolkien's childhood. But then too it's only fair to point out that Bilbo is far from his home here, over the Edge of the Wild, and that the bees he sees at Beorn/Medwed's strike him as strange and remarkable. So we cannot rule out either possibility, since Tolkien was surprisingly well-versed in insect lore; someone who met him a year or so before his death told me that the conversation somehow got onto wasps, which he talked about for some time, in the course of which she discovered he knew an amazing amount about them. So the exoticism could cut both ways. Tolkien would certainly have been deeply distressed by the great bee die-off currently in progress over here, about which more later.
If I'd known about the British and Italian bees before, I could have added another footnote. Ah well. Still, it's interesting to see all the unusual places Tolkien turns up. I wonder if they know about his bee-poem from SONGS FOR THE PHILOLOGISTS?