Monday, June 30, 2008

The Tunguska Incident

So, a hundred years ago today,* on the morning of June 30th 1908 (June 17th in the Julian calendar, which was still in use in Russia at the time), something happened in the sky over Siberia, though exactly what is still a point of contention even now.
Since the area was so remote, twenty years passed before the first expedition arrived at the site to try to figure out just what had happened. Piecing together the physical evidence (trees knocked down in a thirty-mile diameter area but still standing in the epicenter), eyewitness accounts (from traders and herders close enough to see the fireball but far enough away to survive the blast), and indirect evidence reported hundreds and thousands of miles away (a train almost derailed by seismic waves, air pressure graphs, odd nighttime luminescence), led to the conclusion that something had exploded a few miles up in the air. The generally accepted theory was that it was a meteorite, but lack of a visible crater and some other anomalies have led some to speculate that it was a comet; more exotic theories ascribe the Event to a UFO, or the Earth's collision with a black hole, or a speck of antimatter. The theories are interesting in themselves for what they reveal about our evolving obsessions over the last century; here are a dozen of them listed in chronological order, taken from Surendra Verma's THE MYSTERY OF THE TUNGUSKA FIREBALL [2005]:

#1: a meteor [1908]
#2: a comet [1934]
#3: anti-matter [1941]
#4: a UFO [1945]
#5: a laser beam from space [1964]
#6: a mini black hole [1973]
#7: a massive lightning ball [1977]
#8: a plasmoid ejected by the sun [1984]
#9: a geometeor erupting from the earth itself [1991]
#10: a Mad Scientist [1994] (specifically, Nikola Tesla's death ray)
#11: a massive methane venting [2001] (the epicenter is a swamp/bog, after all)
#12: mirror matter [2003] (like antimatter, but different)

In retrospect, it's surprising that it took so long for the 'Mad Scientist' theory to be put forward, or that the UFO idea came so early (two years before the 'flying saucer' craze started). Despite so many theories, two definitely dominate the discussion: the meteor (based on eyewitness accounts and sheer probability) and the comet (to explain the lack of a crater or visible debris). And since the fuzzy edges of science are where the new mythologies flourish, we'll probably get more ingenious theories before the meteor/comet debate gets definitively settled.

In the meantime, time I think to dig out my favorite story based on the Tunguska Incident, Dunsany's "A Big Diamond", from THE TRAVEL TALES OF MR. JOSEPH JORKENS [1931] (far better than D. R. Bensen's AND HAVING WRIT [1978]) while listening to Alan Parsons (without The Project)'s 'Return to Tunguska' (from A VALID PATH [2004]).


*Nt: drafted on Monday, June 30th, though not posted until Wend. July 2nd

Congratulations Are In Order

So, over the weekend GAMA (the 'Game Manufacturers' Association') handed out the Origins Awards (so called because they're presented at Origins, the yearly gaming convention overseen by GAMA). The awards tend to seesaw back and forth between popular games that define the genre (those most people play and that most of the industry talent works on) OR to small, quirky, innovative games (with minuscule audiences but cutting-edge potential), depending on who's writing the rules that particular year. But despite their contentious history, the awards actually reward outstanding achievement more often than we have any right to expect.

This weekend marked one of those times. For the first time ever, the same person won both the Non-Fiction and the Fiction awards in the best book category:

Non-Fiction Publication of the Year
Hobby Games: The 100 Best
Published by Green Ronin
Edited by James Lowder

Fiction Publication of the Year
Astounding Hero Tales
Published by Hero Games
Edited by James Lowder

Both are worthy winners, and both faced strong opposition (the Fiction title beat out a DragonLance novel by Hickman & Weis, as well as a Forgotten Realms/Drizzt novel by Bob Salvatore, among others). I'm particularly pleased to see the 100 BEST HOBBY GAMES book win, since I'm a contributor (one of one hundred). I would have been pleased to see it win in any case, since it's an imminently readable book, full of good things, where a hundred industry professionals tell you about a game they like and why.

So, congratulations to Jim on getting a pair of statuettes to reward his labors. Well done!

--John R.

current audiobook: JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Worst President Ever?

So, President Bush sometimes rejects criticism by saying that he prefers to leave evaluation of his administration to the judgment of history.

Bad mistake, it turns out. If early results are any indication, history will judge Bush far more harshly than his contemporaries do.

Four years ago, near the end of his first term, a survey of historians had 81% judging his presidency a failure, 11.6% of whom ranked him as the worst president ever. Only about one in five (19%) judged him a success.

A few months back the same historian repeated the poll of his fellows, and discovered that now over 98% consider Bush a failure, and less than 2% rank him a success. Within those whose judgment was critical of the current administration's place in history, 61% ranked him the worst president ever, and the remaining 35% placed him in the bottom ten (several apparently put him in second-worst place, right next to James Buchanan).

So, in as short a space as four years, the number of professional historians who judge our current president as the worst to ever hold that office has more than tripled: from 19% to 61%. Granted, it's an unscientific poll. And it's true that instant history can go badly off the rails. But it can also lay down judgments that stand the test of time: the portrayal of Hoover in Frederick Lewis Allen's excellent ONLY YESTERDAY [1931] as a well-meaning, energetic executive utterly incapable of handling the crisis history dealt him accords well with the consensus opinion ever since*, while Haynes Johnson's SLEEPWALKING THROUGH HISTORY [1991] remains a superb account of how Reagan pursued his agenda during his years in office (and the damage he inflicted on our country in the process).

However, in the end I am doubtful. It seems overwhelmingly likely that history will judge George W. Bush very harshly indeed. But the Worst Ever? I'm not even sure he's the worst in my lifetime. But then that's a subject for another post.

--John R.

* even sharper in its criticism, and even more strongly in line with subsequent judgements, is Allen's SINCE YESTERDAY [1939], since it covers the disastrous final year and a half of Hoover's term.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Bad Is It?

So, last night my father-in-law called from Yellowstone, where he's working for the summer, and happened to mention that from the ridge where he was calling he could see smoke from the fires in California.

From Yellowstone. Which is in Wyoming. A state that does not even border upon California.

Granted, you can get a great view from up there, just a few miles from the continental divide. But still.

A bad time to be a wild tree in California.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference (schedule)

And, as promised, here's the sequence of papers and presentations from the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference, as re-constructed from my notes. I've sometimes used descriptive titles rather than the formal titles given by the authors to the final papers in order to better convey the contents of each piece. When I eventually turn up my copy of the program book I'll post a more authoritative version, but for now this shd give a pretty good idea of how rich with good things that conference was.


I. Opening Remarks: Chuck Elston, Marquette Archivist.

II. Christopher Tolkien's Statement, read by Taum Santoski (outlining the first four volumes of the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH SERIES).

III. Jared Lobdell: Tolkien as the Last Edwardian [this piece was given pride of place as the first full presentation]


IV. Jim Allan: Invented Languages [On Writers who used Invented Languages before Tolkien]

--Taum's remark after this session ended: "this is going to be an interesting 3 days"



V. KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Dr. Joseph McClatchey: "I Wonder What Kind of Tale We've Fallen Into?"


VI. Lyle Dorsett: Detailed description of The Wade Center's Inklings collections at Wheaton.

VII. Taum's Santoski: Detailed account of Marquette's negotiations (through Rota) to purchase Tolkien's Manuscripts in the 1950s. [draws heavily on unpublished contemporary documentation]

VIII. Dr. Blackwelder reads Paul Kocher's piece on demonstrations of Illuvatar's love and mercy towards his creations. [Prof. Kocher being too old and frail to make the trip himself]

IX.Darrell Martin's presentation of THE SILMARILLION as it stood in 1966 when Kilby saw it, with a detailed comparison between Kilby's notes and the published book.
--Darrell either included in this or followed it with either readings or discussions of "The Second Prophecy of Mandos" and "The Awakening of the Elves" (the elvish fairy tale/counting tale).

X. ROUNDTABLE discussion: Deborah Rogers, Jared Lobdell, Darrell Martin, Verlyn Flieger, Dr. McClatchey, myself, Mike Foster, & Richard West.
--the first topic: Religious Aspects of Tolkien's Writing (Verlyn, Mike, Jared, Darrell, McClatchey, Deborah), followed by discussion.
--the second topic: Tolkien Among His Contemporaries (Deborah, JDR, Mike, Verlyn, Richard, Jared), followed by discussion that threatened to get off track re. whether or not Tolkien was a 'dirty pro'.
--the third topic: Tolkien and Fantasy" (Jared, McClatchey, Darrell, JDR, Verlyn), followed by yet more discussion.

XI. Clyde Kilby (Guest of Honor speech). [Unfortunately, no copy of this survives among the papers in Taum's box, and the totality of my notes regarding it in my 1983 notebook read "Kilby (see pocket ntbk)" --i.e., I took notes from his talk in a separate mini-notebook that has yet to resurface.]


XII. Dr. Blackwelder: ruminations on unconsidered details of LotR [includes interesting statistics re. Tolkien's works, like their being 50 named characters in THE HOBBIT and 318 in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, with another 314 in the Appendices; adding in THE SILMARILLION, UNFINISHED TALES, and ATB brings the total to 907]

XIII. Verlyn Flieger: "Perception is Creation" [applied the Indeterminancy Principle to the effect of Tolkien's invented languages within his tales].

XIV. Anders Stenstrom: "Exopoemic, Epipoemic, & Empoemic" [proposed a new three-part classification for all Tolkien criticism; probably generated the most discussion of any presentation at the conference].

XV. Lester Simons. "Tolkien's World: Compelling and Appealing, But Why?" [The longtime Tolkien Society membership secretary posed an intriguing question, then spent the hour moderating the ensuing discussion, ending the conf. on a high note.]

Note: Fr. Campbell sent in a piece that was to be read in his absence by Taum Santoski, but in the event it was not actually presented because we were running out of time at the end of the conference.

--Of course, the conference was more than the sum of its papers. For example, while getting myself a cup of tea, either just before the first session or in the mid-morning break that first day, I met Wayne Hammond for the first time. I recognized his name at once from the addendum to Richard West's bibliography he'd published a few years before, introduced him to the person I was with (who may have been Richard himself; I'm a little vague on that point), and suggested he sit with us for the next session -- thus beginning a friendship that's lasted twenty-five years.


I should explained the absence here of some presentations listed in my previous post. The above are the presentations I actually attended; in some places, the papers were double tracked, so that attending one session meant missing another that was opposite it. In many cases, the choice was, as Chrysophylax says, cruel hard. Another reason why getting to read the submitted papers afterwards when I was helping the editors get the project into shape was so satisfying -- esp when a submitted paper differed greatly from its analogous presentation, as in the case of Darrell Martin's piece.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference

So, as I mentioned in a post from a few days ago, recently I've been digging through boxes in the storage room, and among the things I've unearthed in my sorting is a box containing almost all the papers from the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference -- the first Tolkien conference I ever attended and still one of the very best. As promised, here's a list of the papers and presentations, in alphabetical order:

R. E. Blackwelder: "Reflections on Literary Criticism and Middle-earth"

Fr. Robert B. Campbell: "The Theme of Joy in The Lord of the Rings and its Importance in the Plot Development" (in absentia)

Lyle Dorsett: "Tolkien and the Inklings: Archival Resources at the Marion E. Wade Collection"

Verlyn Flieger: "Words and World-Making: The Particle Physics of Middle-earth"

Karen Wynn Fonstad: "Mapping Middle-earth"

Mike Foster: "In the Hands of the Ring-Maker: J. R. R. Tolkien's Revisions of Manuscripts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings"

Gary Hunnewell: "Sauron is Alive and Well in Argentina: The Evolution of Tolkien's Audience in America"

Paul Kocher: "The Many Guises of Love" (read in absentia by Dr. Blackwelder)

Jared Lobdell: "Sequels in the Edwardian Mode: A Problem in Calquing"

Darrel Martin: "The Silmarillion from Manuscript to Publication"

Joseph McClatchey: "I Wonder What Sort Of A Tale We've Fallen Into?: Myth, Monomyth, and Mythopoeia in the Literature of Middle-Earth"

Taum Santoski: "A History of the Acquisition" [a history of Marquette's acquisition of the Tolkien manuscripts]

Anders Stenstrom: "The Aspects of Research Towards Tolkien's Secondary World: A Set of Concepts"

Roundtable Discussion of Tolkien Criticism: (i) Religious Aspects of Tolkien's Writings, (ii) Tolkien and His Contemporaries, (iii) Tolkien and Fantasy
Panelists: Mike Foster, Verlyn Flieger, Jared Lobdell, Darrell Martin, Joseph McClatchey, John Rateliff, Deborah Rogers, & Richard West (moderator).

--I've not yet found my copy of the program with the schedule, but I did find the notebook in which I took notes on the talks. Looking through them, I was reminded that not only is the Guest of Honor speech, by Clyde Kilby, missing from Taum's box, but there were a number of informal presentations that did not get written up and submitted for the proceedings, such as Jim Allan's or Lester Smith's. Accordingly, and since the sequence was as important part of the conference, I'll be re-construction a schedule and posting it as well as a complement to the preceding list of papers.

--John R.

Monday, June 23, 2008


So, so long as I've been talking about the hummingbirds, I might as well mention the other birds we've been feeding. The goldfinches continue to be the birds we see the most of, since we have a finch feeder full of finch mix, though some house sparrows also join them. Most of the juncos (snowbirds) are now gone, which makes the behavior of the pair who've stayed behind all the more striking. The chickadees haven't been coming around lately (since I had to give up leaving nuts for them on the balcony when the squirrel started coming around), nor have the red-winged blackbirds (the best singers of them all) -- but then the blackbirds come around more in the spring and winter, so that's not surprising. Recently the starlings returned, and the elegant grey-feathered grey-beaked birds that I think are young startlings have been around a lot down in the yard and in the maple. The crows are, as ever, in constant attendance, and follow me whenever I go on walks, in case I leak peanuts. I haven't seen the flicker (woodpecker), whom I once rescued from inside the townhouse (when we dropped by to visit it while it was still under construction, before we moved in), in a while, but she's a shy one and I might just have missed spotting her (and her visits also seem to be seasonable as well, with this being the off-season). There are also the ground-birds (sparrows, the occasional robin, and sometimes passing pigeons) who like to check out the area below the feeder for whatever falls below; these birds are of particular interest to our cats whenever they're outside.

In addition to the hummingbird feeders (two at present) and the finch feeder, I have a suet feeder hanging from a tree out back. This used to be a favorite of the chickadees
and the flicker; the crows are fascinated by it but don't have the right kind of feet to hold on to it. Sometimes one will land on it and hang upside down for a few seconds, pecking vigorously to get some suet to take with it when its hold slips, while one or two others will wait below for any loose bits that might fall.

The day before yesterday I made my own suet for the first time, from a recipe Janice found online for me. The birds seem to love it -- they went through three days' worth in the first day, so I had to make more tonight -- but this may just be because it's softer than the commercial blocks of suet I had been buying and it's easier for them to take off a chunk and fly away with it. Certainly the crows seem to like it. So here's the recipe I've been using: if anyone has one that produces a somewhat harder cake of suet I'd be glad to hear it.

Melt 1 cup of crunchy peanut butter and 1 cup of lard. Add 2 cups of oats, 2 cups of cornmeal, 1 cup of flour, a third of a cup of sugar, a half-cup of raisins, and a half-cup of sunflower seeds. Mix and spoon into empty suet containers. The recipe also called for a half-cup of safflower seeds, but I cdn't find any and it seems to work just fine without them.

--John R.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Talking to Hummingbirds

So, a week ago Thursday I heard a hummingbird's voice for the first time -- a faint little sound rather like that represented in English orthography by "tsk". At first I thought I was hearing one of the juncos, who have been very vocal this spring (we think a pair of them are nesting in a nearby tree, since they throw fits whenever our cats get close to it), but then I saw the hummingbird at the feeder (less than ten feet away from the window I was looking out of), and when I made my nearest approximation of the noise back at it, it broke off feeding and hovered there. We tsk'd back and forth at each other three or so times, then it took off at top speed.
Just to make sure I wasn't imagining it, I made the same noise at a hummingbird when I was out on the balcony today, and it immediately made the same noise back at me again.
So there it is: hummingbirds aren't totally silent, as I'd assumed, though they aren't exactly songbirds either. Live and learn.

And while I'm mentioning hummingbirds, I shd say that hanging a second feeder on the opposite end of the balcony seems to have headed off Hummingbird Wars this year, at least so far. I've seen as many as three at a time (one at the feeder -- the little grey female -- and the other two chasing and being chased). One visited so often, and took on so much serum each time, that I was convinced she was taking it back to her nestlings and that sooner or later we'd see her return with a string of miniature hummingbirds hovering at the feeder in a queue, like little ducklings. But it seems, upon consulting the books, that this is not the case; once the babies start to fly they're pretty much the same size as their parents, though it warns that their landings are far from graceful (apparently learning to land is the hardest part). And this last week we did see a hummingbird whose hover was a little wobbly, so I think the babies are out and about now.

In any case, the hummingbirds have definitely sized me up as no threat; today the male (the ruby-headed one) came to the feeder just after I'd rehung it, so I was standing right by the rail, where I could easily have reached out and touched him (though he'd have been long gone before my hand reached the spot, of course). He decided he didn't mind me being there at all, but he did object to my talking. It was nice to be close enough to see his tongue (hummingbirds don't suck up nectar like a syringe but lap it up with their long, flexible tongues); Janice and I a little later while sitting outside enjoying a cup of tea saw one lick the tip of its beak, exactly like a cat licking its lips, before it flew away.

And,in case anyone out there's thinking of setting up a feeder, here's the new formula that's proving to be so popular with our hummingbirds: mix one part sugar with four parts water, heat to boiling, stir to dissolve (I think the boiling must keep the sugar from precipitating out once the mixture cools). Once it's cool enough, I bottle it and store in the refrigerator until needed. A lot cheaper than the store-bought instant mix powder I'd been using, without the red food dye the other had in it, and the hummingbirds seem to like it a lot more.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tolkien Sighting

So, yesterday I was in Half Price Books, looking to see if they had any old issues of DRAGON magazine (for future reference, to possibly fill out some gaps in my collection). They didn't, but when looking around I came across a book which provides yet another piece of evidence that Tolkien's gained mainstream literary acceptance.

The book in question is CHAMBERS DICTIONARY OF LITERARY CHARACTERS [2004], which has thousands of alphabetical entries for fictional characters, one per character. Out of curiosity, I looked up several Tolkien names, and was pleasantly surprised to find entries for not just "Baggins, Bilbo" and "Baggins, Frodo" but also Gandalf, Gollum, Aragorn, Sam, and Thorin (as well as "Smeagol: see Gollum" and "Strider: see Aragorn"). They don't seem to have included anyone from THE SILMARILLION (at least Feanor, Beren, & Luthien didn't turn up in a quick search), but Thorin made the cut, showing that not just THE LORD OF THE RINGS but also THE HOBBIT was included.

We progress. Step by step, we definitely progress.



So, last Sunday's D&D game was cancelled, with the results that we had a good block of time unexpectedly open up. Usually we'd spend it reading, going for a walk, watching a dvd, catching up on online news, or walking the cats. But this day it seemed like a good time to tackle some belated straightening and sorting in the box room, the large storage area off the garage. While Janice tackled the garage end of things, I undertook to organize the shelves upon shelves of old issues of DRAGON magazine, DUNGEON magazine, and POLYHEDRON. My attention had been drawn to these because for several days I'd been searching through old issues looking for Gygax's infamous editorial on Tolkien's influence on D&D for a talk I'm preparing on the history of Tolkien roleplaying games (turns out it's in the March 1985 issue, #95, or about thirty issues later than I'd thought). I'd last attempted to get these organized in March 2003, according to some notes I turned up; this time I got them all sorted, duplicates removed, boxed & labeled, with gaps noted. It's a pretty good run of DRAGON; I'm lacking twenty-five out of a total of 360 issues, all but one of them grouped amongst the very early and very late issues (e.g., excepting #15 & #326, I have every issue from #10 through #339). Same with DUNGEON, where I have all but fifteen of 150 issues, with all the gaps here coming at the end after my subscription lapsed (aside from #115, I have every issue from #1 through 130).

And while it feels great to get all this organized on its own set of shelves, there was also the thrill of discovery as I came across long-lost files in the course of searching through boxes that haven't been opened in a long while. Sometimes things I found were puzzling -- why do I have a duplicate copy of Pagan P's DELTA GREEN: EYES ONLY VOL. TWO: THE FATE? (answer: because the copy on my shelf turns out to be a replacement copy bought back in 2000 to replace this mislaid original -- so, there's something that goes on the give-away-to-a-good-home pile. Other puzzles remain: where are all my copies of MYTHLORE? Where's the old TSR artwork I promised Paul Stormberg when it eventually turns up? Where are my notes on the Tolkien game I worked on briefly at Wizards? Where's my photocopy of Vol. III of the original [1973/74] D&D rules booklet, and of the second edition of CHAINMAIL that preceded it? There's a satisfaction in finding the stray issues of AVALON TO CAMELOT (so they can be re-united with the others on my Arthurian shelf upstairs), and I'm delighted to find my notes from my 1985 interview with Christopher Wiseman, but the real finds were threefold:

I. My Lindskoog file, including my original faint, marked-up photocopy (from 1980) of her 1978 piece that started it all. In addition to a lot of photocopies of pieces either advancing or refuting her charges, here's the draft of my scathing review of her subsequent book. It's the only time I've started a review by stating that the author shd be ashamed of herself -- strong words, but I stand by them then & now. My copy of The Cole Report is still missing, but here's The Matson Report, where some friends of C. S. Lewis examined the DARK TOWER Mss and pronounced it genuine. Best of all, here are the newspaper clippings of three pieces by Erlend Clouston that appeared in THE GUARDIAN in 1991-1992 documenting Lindskoog's plagiarism and, more importantly, her lying about it when caught. All this has now been re-united with the upstairs file in the file cabinet containing the more recent material (since, as Marc Anthony might have put it, the evil Lindskoog did lives on after her).

II. Taum Santoski material: an unpublished story, some v. pleasant Frank-Lloyd-Wrightish watercolors, his copy of a letter I sent out organizing a Tolkien event back in May 1989 (with a sticky note from myself to Taum on the back telling him about the cat I'd just gotten -- the now-infamous Parker, a.k.a. The Cat Who Bit People*). Also a few letters and postcards we exchanged -- given how often we saw each other, there was v. little correspondence between us; I'm now realizing it mostly consisted of notes we left each other in the Marquette Archives about whatever each had most recently been working on. Also here are his notes for a presentation comparing HME to other posthumous publications of well-known authors (in which, as I recall, he argued that Tolkien's was unique). And, from one note on a postcard to Taum, I can now date exactly when I began work on MR. BAGGINS: January 7th, 1991.

*Thurber analogy deliberate

III. Finally, a typescript of the unpublished TOLKIEN CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS that represents the final, edited versions of the papers presented at the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference. I helped edit these but the book ultimately failed to find a publisher (despite several serious nibbles) and unfortunately remains unpublished to this day. That conference was the start of a lot of connections and friendships that have shaped Tolkien scholarship ever since, and these papers make a fascinating memorial to the 'state of the art' of Tolkien studies a bygone era.

And so now, after a pause to digest and properly file these discoveries so I'll know where they are from now on, it's back to more excavation work.

--John R.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Kalamazoo (final)

As a postscript to my Kalamazoo report, I shd say that anyone even considering going to the Medieval Congress shd plan on setting aside lots of time to spend in the Book Room. Most of one whole building was devoted to the various dealers' tables, which held a wide variety of books on a vast array of medieval topics. I certainly had good luck finding a number of interesting additions to my working library that I bought to help with specific pieces I'm planning on writing down the line (just as I picked up a copy of Tom Taylor's tr. of BARSAZ BREIZ a few years back for a piece I'm planning on "The Lay of Aotrou & Itroun"). Just be warned that it's hit-or-miss whether you'll actually be able to bring the book back with you, as opposed to ordering it (and paying a nicely discounted price at the conference) and having it arrive a few days to weeks later. I think all the ones I ordered have now arrived,* so here's the list:

GRETTIR'S SAGA --tr. Denton Fox & Hermann Palsson [1974; pr. 2005]

--recommended by Marjorie Burns, this is one of the sagas I've never read, so seemed a good time to remedy that omission. Plus, this is the exact translation I'd glanced at in the Lilly Library just the day before.

--ed & tr. W.R.J.Barron & S.C.Weinberg [1989; rev. 2001]

WACE'S ROMAN DE BRUT A HISTORY OF THE BRITISH -- ed & tr. Judith Weiss [1999; rev. 2002, pr.2006]

Translations of the works that formed the backdrop of the alliterative Arthurian chronicle, transitioning between Geoffrey of Monmouth and the 14th century Alliterative Morte Arthur (which in turn seems to have served as the direct model for Tolkien's THE FALL OF ARTHUR. Both will be invaluable for an essay I'd like to eventually write on Tolkien's poem.


I've read various translations of the main version of the Brenden legend, the NAVIGATIO SANCTI BRENDANI, before (most recently John J. O'Meara's), but not been aware of just how widespread the tradition had been, or how many versions there were. This book shd come in handy when I do a piece on Tolkien's IMRAM.


ON ARTHURIAN WOMEN: ESSAYS IN MEMORY OF MAUREEN FRIES --ed. Bonnie Wheeler & Fiona Tolhurst [2001]

Two more Arthurian books, the first on a topic that interests me, the second an impulse buy I may not end up keeping (although the short piece on the three Mrs Loomises is interesting).


--an electronic file on a disk rather than a bound book, this began as a supplement and correction to Ruth Noel's book on Tolkien's Elven and evolved into a stand-alone work.


A book that I'd seen highly praised but hadn't been able to order through amazon (they had it listed & accepted the order, then announced they cdn't fill it), so I didn't want to pass up this chance. And a quick skim now that it's arrived shows it looks to be even better than rumor made it; I'm particularly looking forward to reading Jonathan Evans' piece on Dragons (given his excellent earlier work in this field). How I wish I'd had this when I was working on MR. BAGGINS!


This one was a surprise, since I didn't order it. It arrived in the same box as SHADOW-WALKERS; apparently the publishers threw it in as a freebie as a way of clearing out old stock. Free to a good home, if I can find somebody who wants and can use it.

OLD NORSE MADE NEW: ESSAYS ON THE POST-MEDIEVAL RECEPTION OF OLD NORSE LITERATURE AND CULTURE, ed. David Clark & Carl Phelpstead [2007].(published by The Viking Society, the same group who published Christopher Tolkien's "The Battle of the Goths and Huns" long years ago now.)

--I got this one for Dimitra Fimi's "Tolkien & Old Norse Antiquity: Real and Romantic Links in Material Culture" (Fimi, who teaches at Cardiff University in Wales, is probably best known for her online Tolkien course). The book also contains, amongst other essays, a piece on Morris's adaptations of the Volsunga story and another on Thomas Gray's translations and their role in introducing the English to Norse mythology (although to my disappointment she doesn't discuss his piece on Hervor's waking the dead from Heidrek's Saga).

Finally, not part of the conference itself but among the books I brought back from the trip were some from a stop by a nice used bookstore in Three Rivers: a boxed set of the Ballantine paperbacks of LotR with Remington art on the box; a copy of the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT, which includes art not appearing in the cartoon (shd go nicely with my old set of the albums); and three very old paperback mysteries by Elizabeth Daly, whom a friend had recently recommended (one from the 1940s).

And so there it is: another trip, another nice expansion of the library, and another need to reconfigure the bookshelves. Now if I can only find a good edition/translation of CATH MAG TUIRED . . .

--John R.


*Not quite: I'm still waiting for TOLKIEN STUDIES vol. V, which I preordered there and wh. shd be out soon.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kalamazoo, Part Two

So, belatedly, here's the rest of my Medieval Congress report -- drafted before I left for the Midwest (again) at the end of May, but not posted due to spotty internet access while away and then back-burnered since we got back.

The next day, Friday the 9th, we got off to a late start (which helped offset my lingering jet-laggedness and general lack of sleep from staying up late each night talking). In early afternoon, we went to the Children of Hurin panel, a roundtable featuring Richard West, Faye Ringel, Romauld Lakowski, Elizabeth Crowll, and Vickie Wodzak.

Unfortunately, attending this meant I missed two other Tolkien papers which were part of other sessions scheduled at the same time: Hae Yeon Kim's "The Language of Evil: Visible Signifiers in LotR", which sounded quite interesting [part of the "Medieval Lit. & Film" session], and also Stephen Meyer's "Soundscapes of Middle-earth: The Question of Medievalist Music in Peter Jackson's LotR Films" [part of the "Late Medieval to Modern Medievalism" session].

These were followed in the next session (3.30 Friday afternoon) by the
Style & Re/Vision in Tolkien: panel, made up of Vickie Wodzak's "Widdershins Revising: Tolkien's Revision Strategies in Narrative", Romuald Lakowski's "Smaug & Glaurung: The Difference of Dragons", and Steve Sams' "Understanding Exile as an Element of Tolkien's Anglo-Saxonism"; there was to have been a fourth paper, Alexander Bruce's "A Consideration of Tolkien's Spelling Beorhtnoth", but this was cancelled. Of these, I naturally found the one on Tolkien's dragons right up my alley, and started what I expect to be an ongoing discussion with Lakowski after the session.

Opposite all this was another promising session that I had to miss, called "Anglo-Saxon Studies in Memory of Stephen O. Glosecki II", consisting of Jn Edward Damon's "Grendel's Kin: Myths of Man-Eating Giants", Jn D. Niles' "Beowulf & the 'Grendel' Charters: A Nativist View", and Yvette Kisor's "Totemic Reflexes in Tolkien's Middle-earth". I heard afterwards from a friend who attended it that the whole session was good, and given my interests I particularly regret missing the piece on Grendel and the Giants.

That evening (starting at 7pm) came a full-cast performance of The Battle of Maldon by Edward L. Risden -- not a translation of the Old English poem but a modernist re-interpretation; the person who played the smart Viking ("you go first") was particularly good, as was the English warrior who kept insisting that he was not THAT Godric. This was followed immediately by a two-person reading of Tolkien's "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth", accompanied by a small choir of four or five people to do the monks' chanting and voice of Cnut at the end. Just before the play was the only time I saw Shippey at the conf., but unfortunately did not get to do more than say hello; I would have liked to congratulate him on his retirement.

The next day, Sat. May 10th, was the last full day of the conference.
The Tolkien events started off with Religions & Philosophies in Tolkien as the morning session, but unfortunately I wound up going to the wrong building and so had to cross a fair amount of the campus (down a hill, through a pleasant bit of woods, and across a lake which had the only swans I've ever seen; all in all a wonderful if mistimed walk). Thus I arrived too late for Scott Vander Ploeg's "Tolkien's Consideration of Heresy in LotR", though I did get to hear Bradford Lee Eden's "Worthy of Reincarnation? Worthy of Death? Tolkien's Changing Viewpoints".

This was followed by a walk to yet another building, where some fruitless attempts on my part to access e-mail was followed by the Tolkien Lunch. This is the annual business meeting of the Tolkien at Kalamazoo folks, where they propose session topics to submit to the Congress organizers for the next year. All in all, think the meeting came up with some pretty good topics; I'm particularly pleased at the proposed Saturday evening entertainment, since I suggested it.

After the business meeting, it was time for more papers, starting with the (Sat. 1.30pm) Tolkien's Monsters session, made up of Amy Amendt-Raduege's "The Wight Stuff, or, the Long Dark History of the Barrow-Wight", Samuel Unger's "The Redemption of Wraiths: On the Nature of the Nazgul", Deborah Sabo's "Orc Bodies, Orc Selves: Medieval and Modern Monstrosity in Middle-earth", and Kristine Larsen's "Shadow & Flame: Myth, Monsters, & Mother Nature in Middle-earth". A good session, with some thought-provoking observations.

This in turn was followed (3.30pm) by Tolkien & New Media, the last of this year's scheduled Tolkien events: Robin Reid's "The Crown of Durin & the Shield of Orome the Great: Spirituality & History in Jackson's LotR", Larry Caldwell's "Stern Vision, Earnest Evasion: Neomedieval Catholicism, Peter Jackson, & the Limitations of Popular Cinema", Anna Smol's "Oral Tradition & Performance in Transmedia Storytelling", and James Vitullo's "Cross Currents in Tolkien: Role-Playing and Board Game Influences on the Larger Tolkien Discourse Community". It was an odd feeling seeing the final presenter showing various roleplaying game releases I'd worked on to demonstrate various points.

And that brought an end to the formal events. There were more meals and good discussions with friends, on both Saturday and Sunday, and some serious pokes through the Book Room(s) that ran right up until they closed down. In short, an enjoyable weekend, well worth the trip for anyone seriously interested in Tolkien (and of course anyone interested in medieval literature of every possible description). I was glad to get to see and spend time with old friends (Doug, Richard, Deborah, Phil, Jan), to meet new folks (Merlin, Anna, Deidre, Romauld, Chris V., Robin Reid, and the gentleman who published TOLKIEN STUDIES, whose name I've unfortunately forgotten). I'm sorry not to have had time to visit with Shippey, or with Drout (whom I saw, but only for a minute or so as he was rushing from one place to another) -- perhaps another time -- but it was nice to see Shaun Hughes again after so many years.

In short: Highly Recommended.

--John R.

current reading: THE DETECTIVE FICTION REVIEWS OF CHARLES WILLIAMS, 1930-1935, ed. Jared Lobdell [2003]

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I Am Nominated . . .

. . . for this year's Mythopoeic Award.
To be specific, for this year's Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies. This is given out once a year to a book that looks at the life and/or works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, or the Inklings as a group. It's a great honor to be nominated, and I'm among outstanding company: in addition to MR. BAGGINS/ RETURN TO BAG-END the other four finalists are

Diana Pavlac Glyer's THE COMPANY THEY KEEP
and Gilliver, Marshall, & Weiner's THE RING OF WORDS.

In addition, there's also a separate Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for non-Inklings books, of which the most interesting this year looks to be Tom Shippey's volume THE SHADOW-WALKERS, a collection of essays on the various creatures featured in Jacob Grimms' TEUTONIC MYTHOLOGY; I finally managed to pick up a copy at Kalamazoo, but have not yet had time to read it. And of course there are also awards for best fantasy fiction and best fantasy juvenile fiction; the most striking nominees there are Guy Gavriel Kay's new book (YSABEL)and the Harry Potter series, respectively. For a complete list of nominees and past winners, see the Mythopoeic Society website (

The award itself will be handed out at this year's Mythcon, in about two months' time.

--John R.