Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dunsany IV

And here's another of Lord Dunsany's little parables, once again from FIFTY-ONE TALES [1915]. It was tales such as this one, I think, that won him the admiration of Mencken, who thought of him more as a satirist than a fantasist. People always write about Dunsany's elevated style, as if he had only one note in his repertoire, not realizing how good he was at plainspeech when he wanted to be; his best plays often juxtapose the two to good effect, as here.

A note on the title: in American English, the equivalent title would be "The Politician & the Prostitute". The Saint is of course St. Peter, traditionally the Keeper of the Keys to the Gate of Heaven.*

"The Demagogue and the Demi-Monde"

A demagogue and a demi-mondaine chanced to arrive together at the gate of Paradise. And the Saint looked sorrowfully at them both.

"Why were you a demagogue?" he said to the first.

"Because," said the demagogue, "I stood for those principles that have made us what we are and have endeared our Party to the great heart of the people. In a word I stood unflinchingly on the plank of popular representation."

"And you?" said the Saint to her of the demimonde.

"I wanted money," said the demi-mondaine.

And after some moments' thought the Saint said: "Well, come in; though you don't deserve to."

But to the demagogue he said: "We genuinely regret that the limited space at our disposal and our unfortunate lack of interest in those Questions that you have gone sso far to inculcate and have so able upheld in the past, prevent us from giving you the support for which you seek."

And he shut the golden door.

*an image still alive & well today in a thousand cartoon, not to mention most recently in Coldplay's "When I Ruled the World" from VIDA LA VIVA: 'For some reason I can't explain/I know St. Peter won't call my name'

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The President Quotes Tolkien?

So, saw an interesting post today by someone purporting to identify sources for inspiring lines from the President's not-quite 'State of the Union' speech last night. Among the sources claimed were great orators like JFK and Wm. Jennings Bryan and Dan'l Webster, or great writers such as the author of The Book of Isaiah or Shakespeare, was -- J. R. R. Tolkien.

I think most of these so-called source identifications are dubious, but the idea that we now live in a world where someone can suggest in that sort of context that the President is drawing on Tolkien's words for inspiration, and expect to be taken seriously, is amazing. Somewhere out there the ghost of Edmund Wilson is silently harumphing its disapproval.

Here's the relevant passage , from Aaron Zelinsky's "Obama's Rhetorical Inspirations: Presidents, Poets, and Hobbits":

6)"But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary."*

Fear not, Hobbit-fans. You have not been left out of the speech! J. R. R. Tolkien is this phrase's progenitor. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gildor Inglorion declares that, "Courage is found in unlikely places."

and here's the link to the full post:

current music: THE SMITHEREENS 'The Beatles' B-Sides.

*Note: my own recollection is that Obama actually said "ordinary Americans, who are anything but 'ordinary'".

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wireless, part one

So, here's the text for the first half of the second of Tolkien's two contributions to the Linguaphone Institute set of English language lessons from circa 1930.

In this recording, Tolkien and A. Lloyd James switch places, so that Professor James is the speaker of this first part. I'm no expert in old tech talk, but the part about "a five-valve set" sounded rather odd to my ear. Based on my grandfather's old set inherited by my cousin, I'd guess that perhaps what we call vacuum tubes the British called valves. And it is rather amusing to hear the plug for the Linguaphone itself in this final piece in the fifteen-record set.

To follow: the dialogue between Tolkien and James about the wonders of 'wireless'.

Lesson Thirty: "Wireless"


"Wireless," or "Radio" as it's sometimes called, is the most wonderful discovery in an age of discoveries. Seated comfortably in your home, you can hear music, lectures, and news broadcast hundreds of miles away. By means of wireless telephony, you can carry on a conversation with a friend on the other side of the world.

I listen in almost every evening. I began, like most amateurs, with a simple crystal set with ear-phones and an outdoor aerial attached to the roof, but now I have a five-valve set, with an indoor frame-aerial and loud-speaker. The results are excellent. I can cut out the local station quite easily and have no difficulty whatever in getting almost any station I like in Europe. I don't profess to know anything of the technical side of the business. One of my friends -- Hughes -- talks very learnedly about long and short wave lengths, dials, batteries, condensers, oscillators, self-induction and other coils, switches, high and low tension, but it's all Greek to me. I know just about enough to turn the knobs and tune in to the station I want.

I use my wireless set a good deal for keeping up my foreign languages: I find it a very useful addition to the Linguaphone Courses. When I want to hear German, I tune in to somewhere in Germany. France gives me French, Spain Spanish and Italy Italian. And what a blessing wireless has been in times of disaster at sea. Thousands must owe their lives to this discovery of the twentieth century.

Random Fact #1

Random Fact #1:

In 1923, Seattle banned cricket.

Specifically, a city ordinance forbade "the playing of cricket in Seattle parks without the express permission of the City Council".

source: SEATTLE SOUTH ASIAN free newpaper, February 2009, page 17: "Cricket in Seattle: A Brief History", part I by Deb K. Das, ex-Managing Editor, CRICKETER International (N. Amer. Ed).


Monday, February 23, 2009

Sir Terry Pratchett

So, here's some good news I shd have shared earlier: Terry Pratchett, who's mainly known for writing the DiscWorld books, as of last week has now become Sir Terry. This makes him the first fantasy author to be knighted for writing fantasy. Wm Morris might have been knighted had he accepted the poet laureateship when Tennyson died (he refused, due to his contempt for Queen Victoria and all her minions). Edward Plunkett was already a baron (Lord Dunsany) before he began writing. Eddison had a good shot at eventually rising to a knighthood but retired early instead in order to devote his final years entirely to his work. Tolkien received a CBE (the honor one rank below a knighthood) and would probably have been knighted eventually, had he lived long enough.

Here's the link to Pratchett's post-ceremony interview (about ninety seconds), in which he not only wears a great hat but also points out how chuffed he is to receive this award for "services to literature" when he's known as a fantasy author. Given that he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's a year or two ago, I'm glad they went ahead and gave him the award now, while he could still enjoy it.

As a longtime Pratchett fan ever since Richard West introduced me to THE COLOUR OF MAGIC and THE LIGHT FANTASTIC (the only two in the series available at the time), who's read all but five of Pratchett's books, this is happy news. Good for him.

So, who might be next? My money is on Philip Pullman, who has already been granted the CBE, though J. K. Rowling, who got the OBE, might get there first between her vast fortune, her charitable work, and Pullman's controversial stance on religion.

--John R.

A. R. Rahman

So, I was struck by the news that last night A. R. Rahman won the Oscar not just for his soundtrack to SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE but also for best song from the same movie. Although he's v. prolific, I only know of Rahman through his Tolkien connection, as the man who oversaw the music for the LORD OF THE RINGS MUSICAL. I'm not altogether clear just which parts of that now-closed production's music he wrote, since Christopher Nightingale ("musical supervisor and orchestrator") and the Finnish group Varttina are also credited; my impression is that Rahman took all the disparate bits and pieces and welded them smoothly together.

For anyone interested in my response to the LotR soundtrack, here's my post from last April:

All I can really add now is that the cd has had staying power; I'm still listening to it on occasion almost a year later -- though now in addition to the 'Hobbit' songs I think the orcs vs. elves music at the climax might now be my favorite part; it's unintentionally funny where the elves sing their way to victory.

So far as I know, there's still no dvd of the stage show, just the cd of its soundtrack and Gary Russell's OFFICIAL STAGE COMPANION.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Farewell to Saturn

So, one of the first posts I made on this blog, when I was just starting it up almost two years ago now, was titled "A Farewell to Saturn", about saying goodbye to our car after we'd replaced it with a hybrid.

It seems from yesterday's news that the entire country will now be forced to follow suit, with the announcement that General Motors is phasing out Saturns over the next year or so. Also soon to be gone are the PT Cruiser, which I have fond memories of as one of the best rental cars we've ever had, from a trip a few years ago. Pontiacs and Hummers are also said to be on the chopping block, but I have no sentimental investment in the one and despise the other, so that news doesn't really strike home (I'm more interested in Pontiac the resistance-leader than in the cars sort-of named after him).

What is beginning to sink in is that this depression is not just going to be a big one, and a long one, and a hard one, but that it'll change us. Some things will go away, for good. So that when we finally do bounce back, it'll be a different country, in a different world. A sobering thought.

Of course, if Detroit had just made better cars . . . but it's no good wishing for 'what if's.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dunsany III

So, continuing our Dunsany series, here's another little gem from FIFTY-ONE TALES [1915]:

"The Workman"

I saw a workman fall with his scaffolding right from the summit of some vast hotel. And as he came down I saw him holding a knife and trying to cut his name on the scaffolding. He had time to try and do this for he must have had nearly three hundred feet to fall. And I could think of nothing but his folly in doing this futile thing, for not only would the man be unrecognisably dead in three seconds, but the very pole on which he tried to scratch whatever of his name he had time for was certain to be burnt in a few weeks for firewood.

Then I went home, for I had work to do. And all that evening I thought of the man's folly, till the thought hindered me from serious work.

And late that night while I was still at work, the ghost of the workman floated through my wall and stood before me laughing.

I heard no sound until after I spoke to it; but I could see the grey diaphanous form standing before me shuddering with laughter.

I spoke at last and asked what it was laughing at, and then the ghost spoke. It said: "I'm a-laughin' at you sittin' and workin' there."

"And why," I said, "do you laugh at serious work?"

"Why, yer bloomin' life 'ull go by like a wind," he said, "and yer 'ole silly civiliation 'ull be tidied up in a few centuries."

Then he fell to laughing again and this time audibly; and, laughing still, faded back through the wall again and into the eternity from which he had come.

--Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I Am Esteemed

So, I've just finished Kenneth Hite's TOUR DE LOVECRAFT (Atomic Overmind Press, 2008), thanks to a loan of the book by Friend Jeff. It's definitely good enough that I'll be looking to pick up my own copy, so I thought I'd help spread the word to other fans of the Cthulhu mythos who might be interested.

It's an odd little book, only just over a hundred pages, which is essentially a compilation of fifty-one blog posts, each devoted to a single Lovecraft story. He begins with "The Tomb" (June 1917) and goes straight through them all in chronological order, ending with Lovecraft's last story, "The Haunter of the Dark" (November 5th thr 9th, 1935). The book's greatest weakness is that he assumes you're thoroughly conversant with every tale Lovecraft ever wrote; if you can't instantly recall, say, "The Tree" or "He" in great detail, then you'll be a bit lost, since he doesn't provide any kind of summary. The best solution, of course, would have been to have taken a few weeks to read this, first reading the story and then Hite's take on it afterwards, one by one all the way down.

It's still an interesting commentary. Hite's not afraid to praise where he thinks it due, as with "The Colour Out of Space" (which he holds to be Lovecraft's v. best; I think I'd rank it HPL's best horror story. And he's not afraid to knock a story he thinks overrated, like "The Outsider" (where I think he's dead wrong; I suspect he disparages the story mainly because it's a first-person mood piece that's hard to generate a game scenario out of). A critic or reviewer who's actually willing to voice his opinions is a Good Thing, and Hite's not shy on this point. For one thing, agreeing or disagreeing with him gets the reader involved in the book. For example, I think he's dead wrong about "The Thing at the Doorstep" (which I give high marks because it contains Lovecraft's only major female character, and one of his few attempts to actually capture something of the times he's living in) and also about At the Mountains of Madness (a tedious bore that would have been better at a quarter its bloated length); "The Shunned House" is also far sillier than his analysis makes it.

Perhaps the strongest point in Hite's treatment is the way he emphasizes the first appearance and re-appearances of typically Lovecraftian themes, how early stories anticipate later ones, how some themes build over several iterations to a crescendo while others simply taper off.* I think this is the part that makes his book most worth reading. He does sometimes wander off into tangents (e.g., devoting a good chunk of his discussion of "The Cats of Ulthar" into speculations about one character's name) -- a legacy perhaps of the book's blog-roots. And his categorization of some stories as 'Poe' tales and others as 'Machan' is an oversimplification (and he rather scants M. R. James' contribution), but still his critiques provide food for thought. He sometimes draws on critics, from scholars like Joshi to fanboys like Lin Carter and Price, but has no compunction about disagreeing with them when he thinks they're wrong.

And this is where I come into things. To my astonishment, as I was reading along, I came across a mention of myself in the discussion of "The Strange High House in the Mist" (TOUR DE LOVECRAFT, page 63):

"The estimable John Rateliff calls 'Strange High House' Lovecraft's 'single best story,' which is going a trifle too far in my opinion, but it's certainly HPL's single best fantasy story, better even than 'Sarnath' or 'Cats of Ulthar,' not least because it has a complexity and a multi-dimensionality not usually found in Lovecraft's fantasies . . ."

This hearkens back to my Classics of Fantasy piece (installment number IX) on HPL's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath:

I'm surprised, and flattered, that Hite read it, much less engaged with one of its comments, particularly since he makes clear that the DREAM-QUEST itself isn't his cup of tea (TOUR pages 66-67); another sign, I think, of the eclecticism that went into this little book.

So: not an essential work of Lovecraft scholarship, nor meant to be, but an enjoyable read and a fine way to brush up on his stories while looking at them in a new light that may shake the cobwebs off stories you haven't read or re-read in a while. Recommended.**

--John R.

*His ignoring all the stories Lovecraft "collaborated" on (i.e., ghostwrote) enables him to simplify his task, but it'd have been better if he'd resisted temptation to break his own rule and include one such piece, and not one of the better ones either ("Through the Gates of the Silver Key").

**By the way, Hite's Introduction does a pretty good job of setting the stage and conveying Lovecraft and the history of Lovecraft scholarship as he seeing them, while his Conclusion nicely wraps things up. His own listing, and ranking of, the seventeen tales by Lovecraft upon which Hite considers his opinion shd rest appears herein, on page v.
I'd advise skipping Tynes' maudlin meanderings that make up the Foreword, though.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Visiting Miss Lucy

So, today Janice, her kohai Patti, and I met up down at the Pacific Science Center to see a v. old relative -- the 'Lucy' exhibit (there through March 8th). We've been to the old World's Fair grounds before, of course (usually for the Cat Show or Antiquarian Book Fair), but this was my first time in the Science Center. The waterpark area was nice, with the human-powered waterwheel and archimedes screw being my favorite of the hands-on displays (the two-ton ball suspended on water you could easily move with a push of your hand was nice too, but we now have one just like it opposite the library in Kent). I'd never seen an Imax film before, so we watched their documentary on the Nile, which unfortunately turned out to be about an attempt to ride down the river from its source in Lake Tana all the way down to Alexandria. The nature footage was wonderful, but I'd hoped there'd have been more pharaohs and less paddling through rapids. The reed boats seen briefly at the beginning immediately captured my attention, having been an enormous fan of Heyerdahl's Ra Expeditions back in the day; also striking were the images of Meroe (the royal tombs of Nubia), which I'd read about but not seen.

After the film, it was time to get in line for the Lucy Exhibit. There was a good crowd but not an overwhelming crush of people, which helped. We decided to eschew the audio-tourguide in order to focus on things at our own pace, though as usual the people standing around listening to them got in the way somewhat. Most of the exhibit had nothing to do with Lucy or hominids but instead was a presentation of Ethiopian culture. The most striking things here were, hands down, the rock-cut churches and a trio of memorial statutes. The former were vast churches created by starting at ground level and digging down, removing all the rock outside the area you've decided will be the church's outer walls, and stopping when you've created a cruciform church made out of one single huge piece of rock, set in the huge cavity in the earth you've created all around it -- so far as I could tell, it's entered from the top (the flat roof). Never seen anything like that before. The memorial posts, by contrast, were v. simple, but v. creepy: long wooden branches or slender trucks with a face carved on one end and the bottom left natural, stuck up like posts in the ground. Some of the icons (triptychs and the like) were also interesting because while some of the figures in them looked Ethiopian, a surprising number seemed caucasian, at least to my inexpert eye. Perhaps it was simply a case, like anime, where the figures look differently to viewers from different cultures.

When at last we did reach the 'Lucy' part of the exhibit, it was well worth it. First there was a long row of cases centered in an inclined aisle going up, with a hominid skull in each case. While v. impressive to see, these turned out to be casts, not the originals. They did have an interesting hominid family tree up on one wall, which I was glad to see included homo florensis (the newly discovered 'hobbits' of Indonesia), and it was nice to be able to pick up and compare some fossil skull casts at one table. The real thing however was waiting in the next and final room, with the forty-plus bones laid out reverently on black velvet on a flat table. Oddly enough, while viewing them I strongly had the sense of being present at a human burial.* A nearby cast in an upright case showed all the pieces assembled as they'd be on an intact skeleton, while another upright case showed their 'artist's reconstruction' of what Lucy might have looked like in the flesh.

I'm glad I went. I'm unlikely ever to find myself at the museum in Ethiopia where these bones are usually displayed, and it would have been worth a longer trip than just to Queen Anne hill to be able to spend time with this fascinating fossil in that final room. I was reminded of our visit to the Burke about a year ago (or was it two?), which holds another famous human skeleton, Kennewick Man. But that one's not on display, or at least wasn't then, back when the 're-bury-it' lawsuits were still going on. On the way out we passed through the inevitable museum shop, which had an interesting array of books on human fossils and related subjects which I ended up passing on because I couldn't settle on which one to get. I did pick up some Ethiopian tea ('Black Tea, Cardamom, Cloves, Cinnamon, Orange'), which sternly instructs the brewer to serve it with honey, not sugar ('Sweeten Only with honey as cane sugar is not part of the traditional Ethiopian diet'). I made up a pot tonight and it's quite good. I was surprised to find that it has whole cardamom seeds, not the grounds stuff, and chopped up bits of cinnamon bark as well, not the powered stuff we usually get; they'd also been generous with the cloves (there were about eight cloves in the double-teaspoon or so of tea leaves I used to make the pot). I was careful to pass up the Ethiopian cookbook they had for sell, prominently displayed everywhere in the museum shop, since the only time I've gone out to an ethnic restaurant where I found the food absolutely inedible was an Ethiopian restaurant. No doubt I was simply unlucky, but it's still an experience I'm unwilling to repeat.

And now, back home, drinking my Ethopian tea, I've dug out Johanson & Edgar's FROM LUCY TO LANGUAGE, a huge coffee-table sized book I picked up at Wheaton ten years ago that has full-sized photographs of almost all the important fossil hominid skulls. I hadn't known the 'ardipithecus' genus, and I see that when my book was published they only knew of one species for it (A. ramidus). I'll have to look about for a suitable update to Johanson & Edgar . . .


*Janice, for her part, was startled to see that they'd written on some of the actual bones -- just inventory numbers to keep track of individual artifacts, no doubt, but still . . .

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jimmy Carter, Book-signing Machine

So, last weekend Janice saw a notice that former president Jimmy Carter would be in town on Wednesday (Feb. 11th), doing a signing at the University Bookstore. Going to their website to see what it said about the event, we learned that he would only sign for people who had a 'signing ticket', which were being given out with each purchase of his new book. Showing up on the night of the event and producing a signing ticket meant you could get him to sign the new book, plus one of his previous books. He wouldn't be giving a talk, nor would there be a question-and-answer session (no doubt because of all the character assassination he's been ambushed with since his previous book). But he would be doing a reading from his new book, followed by the signing.

This sounded interesting. I'd been impressed by his previous book, PALESTINE: PEACE NOT APARTHEID, though I didn't agree with his proposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Since it seemed likely that tickets would sell out for the event, especially since it was being held in the University Bookstore (with its relatively small readings/signings area), I went down to the U-district on Monday and bought the book (WE CAN HAVE PEACE IN THE HOLY LAND) and got my signing ticket. And, for good measure, I picked up PEACE NOT APARTHEID, so that it could be the 'backlist' title we got signed.

Wednesday we made sure to get up to the U-district in plenty of time, even allowing for traffic. The first sign we had that this was an unusual event was when we walked past the motorcade (five big black cars long), which was parked in the alley behind the bookstore. The next was the huge crowd of people inside, more than I've ever seen packed into the store before. It turned out the signing was already underway, about twenty minutes before it was scheduled to start. We'd half-expected that it'd be moved to another, larger venue, as with Alan Lee talk a few years back (which shifted across street to the Methodist Church). But no, it turned out the bookstore people --or perhaps it was Carter's people-- had things down to a science. Get in line here, check your bags here (nothing hand-held allowed but a book, not even a wallet or cell-phone), and go up the stairs. They had Mr. Carter behind a table, with the line passing in front of it behind a roped-off area. I showed our signing ticket and handed over the books to the nice lady, who opened them to the title page and passed them to a guy who passed them to Mr. Carter. He signed each person's book, looking up to make eye contact as he did so, then the guy on the other side took them and handed them to the person who handed them back to us. Then we went back downstairs again, collected our satchels, and walked out -- all done at about five minutes after the event was supposed to start.

All this was v. different from the one previous time I'd seen Mr. Carter, when he was doing a book signing in Milwaukee's Harry W. Schwartz bookstore in the Iron Block building (circa 1991?), where each person in line actually got to talk to him v. briefly as he signed (in my case, I said I hope he was having a pleasant stay in Milwaukee; he thanked me and said he was). When I'd been at the bookstore on Monday a ran into the person who coordinates a lot of their book-signing events and got to enjoy a chat with him for a bit; he told me Mr. Carter was indefatigable and would stay as long as it took to sign everybody's book. Given his age (84), I'd wondered at that. But now, seeing him in action, I can well believe it.

As for the book itself, this has been such a busy week that I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it compares with the earlier one. From appearances he's made this past week on news programs, I suspect I still won't support his thesis, but it'll be interesting to see the case he can make for it. In any case, it looks to be a quick read, and I know from his last one that it'll be v. straightforward in its presentation, leaving no doubt about what he thinks can, or should be done. We'll see.


current reading: TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer [2005], TOUR DE LOVECRAFT by Kenneth Hite [2008]

UPDATE: (2/17-09)
And, just today, I saw that an anti-Carter book has already come out from Mike Evans, a sort of latter-day Hal Lindsay. The book itself is of less interest to me than the marketing campaign: it was featured in the current PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY on the front cover, the back cover (full-page ad), and both the front and back inside covers, with a bullet point boasting about the million-dollar ad campaign to push the book. Wow.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentinus or Valentine

So, today is St. Valentine's Day. As a rule, our holidays tend to have very little to do with the events that they're supposed to commemorate, or even their ostensible origins. Bunnies hiding candy eggs to celebrate resurrection and the defeat of sin and death is a bit of a stretch, for example. Sixth-generation Americans drinking green beer and pretending to be Irish relates to British missionary work in pagan Ireland how? But I ythink my favorite in this regard is Valentine's Day, both because it's a holiday that serves a great purpose in the here & now --celebrate the person you most love in your life; let them know how much you cherish them-- but also because its origins are so murky.

On the one hand, we know nothing about Valentine, other than that there were several figures of that name in early Xiandom, some of them martyrs. Later apologists fixed on a particular one of these as the original 'St.' Valentine, but their identification seems fairly dubious.

On the other hand, we have VALENTINUS, a very well known Xian theologian of the same era, the most influential teacher of his day and a much beloved figure to his many disciples; it was widely believed (truly or not we do not know) that his own teacher had been a disciple of Paul himself -- a sort of third-generation apostle.* It seems v. likely that 'Valentine', about whom we know nothing except a legend that he was beloved by all who knew him, and the gifted Xian leader Valentinus, author of works such as The Gospel of Truth, were one and the same.

Except that Valentinus isn't listed among the Church Fathers, because his followers ultimately did not become the mainstream of Xianity, and all his works were ultimately condemned as 'heretical'. So I suspect we have in 'St. Valentine' is the ghost of the memory of the person with all its content (what he actually taught) hollowed out. If so, in 'St. Valentine's Day' we have the Church devoting a feast day to commemorate a person who is condemned as a heretic under a slightly different spelling of his name.

Me, I think it just goes to show how differently we can appear in the eyes of our friends from those of our enemies. So it's a day that celebrates finding the best in others, especially those we love.

Happy Valentine's Day, all.

*cf. also Polycarp of Smyrna, who was venerated in his own lifetime as the last surviving person who had known one of the original twelve disciples (John the Evangelist).

UPDATE: (2/16-09)
I forgot that I wanted to include a brief mention of Japanese celebration of Valentine's Day, as represented in anime and manga. If these are to be trusted, they've taken our holiday and refined it in some interesting ways. On Valentine's Day itself, instead of an exchange of cards and flowers it's specifically a day when girls (and women) give gifts to guys; home-made chocolate seems to be the most prized gift of all. Then, one month later, the guys are supposed to respond on 'White Day' by giving some small gift to the person who gave them a special gift on Valentines. An interesting varient on the theme.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tolkien's Least Favorite Holiday?

So, I've now had time to read through the Hilary Tolkien book (#II.2768]. It's v. slight, and is less a book of stories than some remembered local characters and escapades of youth slightly recast in semi-fictional form (for example, one page is devoted to Fr. Francis Morgan's dog). In a way, it reminds me slightly of my great-grandfather (Rev. Newton Smith)'s memoirs which he wrote as a v. old man in that the organization is associational. Like those memoirs, there are striking bits in passing that bring vividly to life a vanished world. In this case, these come more towards the middle and end of the book than the beginning, which is a bit precious in its attempt to strike a bedtime-story mode. Particularly chilling is his laconic summary of his World War I experience:

"Somme, Vimy Ridge, Arras, Sanctuary Wood, Oppy Wood, Italy, Nieppe Forest, Merville, Amiens, Namur, Longueval, Falfemont Farm, Bethune, Ypres, Bray sur Somme, Albert, Mons, Charleroi, and home"

--Not being a WWI scholar, I've only heard of about half of these battles, but I hadn't realized there was anyone (that is, any single person) who survived all of them while serving all the way from 1914 to 1919.

The best parts for a Tolkienist are the photos near the end of Mabel T. (whose hair looks to have already been going grey in her mid-thirties, something I'd not known before), a pair of Hilary & his wife Magdalen, and best of all a photo of the two brothers looking, well, like brothers, arm in arm, both smoking pipes. Even better are two small snippets from a 1971 letter by JRRT in which he inveigles against Guy Fawkes Day:

"As for Bonfire Night -- that was a great Festival with us when the children were young. But I hit on the excuse of making it a 'continuous birthday' jamboree for the boys (Oct 22, Nov 16, 21), and also a carrying on of the ancient Incoming of Winter Festival, so that no shadow of that abominable business of 1605 was allowed to fall on it. Certainly one of the wickedest, cleverest, and most successful pieces of Government propaganda in history! . . . When I lived in Yorkshire the 5th was not remembered; but the old Mischief Night with larks and rowdyism went on. All the same I should be sorry if the new propagandists against fireworks were successful! I would rather have my Catherine Wheels and backarappers, and squibs and all that domestically than all the municipal display in parks. But I know such domestic fun needs a stern and competent manager! We used to hoard large quantities of horse-chestnuts, and fill our small bonfire with them: they provided quite a lot of unexpected pops and bangs"
(pages 70-71, emphasis mine).

--this ties in with two references by Hilary, the first on page 52, about how during the WWII "You couldn't have bonfires unless they were put right out and nothing showing" (his orchard was only twenty miles from Coventry, wh. was destroyed by German bombs), and the second on page 42, about what a great bonfire they had the year when he lost a lot of trees to a windstorm. I hadn't thought of it before, but now I see that asking an English Catholic to celebrate Guy Fawkes' Day is rather like asking a Southerner to celebrate Lincoln's Birthday -- some might not be bothered by it, since most of us don't think too hard about our holidays, but the keener a sense of history the person had the more likely there'd be objections.

Still, a nice little nugget to add to our knowledge of JRRT, and it's pleasant to finally get to hear Hilary's voice, especially in the latter parts of this book. I'll be looking forward to the second, companion, book w. interest.

current reading: POE'S BROTHER: THE POEMS OF WM. HENRY POE, ed. Mabbott & Allen [1926]

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The New Arrival: Hilary's book

So, today's mail brought my copy of BLACK AND WHITE OGRE COUNTRY: THE LOST TALES OF HILARY TOLKIEN, edited by Angela Gardner and illustrated by Jef Murray. It's a slim little book, only seventy-three pages, but in addition to some reminiscences of early days cast into semi-fictional form like bedtime stories it has a brief biographical section in the end which publishes for the first time several wonderful photographs of not just Hilary but also Mabel Tolkien (looking like she was going grey early), the two brothers Hilary and JRRT together, and a family shot (circa 1955) that includes both brothers and Aunt Jane. And one real little treasure: two snippets from a previously unpublished Tolkien letter written in 1971.
More later.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dunsany II

Here's another of Dunsany's little pieces, a masterpiece of economy, also from FIFTY-ONE TALES [1915].
"Time and the Tradesman"

Once Time as he prowled the world, his hair grey not with weakness but with dust of the ruin of cities, came to a furniture shop and entered the Antique department. And there he saw a man darkening the wood of a chair with dye and beating it with chains and making imitation worm-holes in it.

And when Time saw another doing his work he stood by him awhile and looked on critically.

And at last he said: "That is not how I work," and he turned the man's hair white and bent his back and put some furrows in his little cunning face; then turned and strode away, for a mighty city that was weary and sick and too long had troubled the fields was sore in need of him.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Kalamazoo 2009

So, the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo has now posted their 2009 Schedule. And as usual there're a goodly number of Tolkien presentations among them. Since the entire list is so huge (over six hundred sessions), I've gone through and extracted the Tolkien events. I may not have gotten them all, but this shd represent most of this year's offerings. Some Tolkien-themed papers appear on panels that aren't themselves Tolkien-centric, so I've marked these with an asterisk (*) to help them stand out at a quick glance.

My own event is rather modest: I'm taking part in the Roundtable discussion of the new Flieger-Anderson edition of ON FAIRY-STORIES (Sat. May 9th at 1.30 pm), as one of seven panelists. But the number of well-known Tolkien scholars attending is impressive: Doug Anderson, Verlyn Flieger, Marjorie Burns, Richard West, Jared Lobdell, &c.

In case anyone out there is on the fence mulling over whether to attend this year, here's the link to the entire schedule

And here's the mini-schedule I put together of the Tolkien Track.

Tolkien at Kalamazoo 2009

Th. 5/7, 1.30pm
Session 80
Studies in Old English Literature and the Medievalism of J. R. R. Tolkien
Sponsor: Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Association of Korea
Organizer: Minwoo Yoon, Yonsei Univ.
Presider: Noel Harold Kaylor, Jr., Troy Univ.
Not All That the Authorities Have Said Is True: Questioning Some Notes Made by Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson on Beowulf and The Wife’s Lament
Sung-Il Lee, Yonsei Univ.
The Presentation of Female Characters in Beowulf
Dong-Il Lee, Hankuk Univ. of Foreign Studies
* Loss and Lateness in The Lord of the Rings
Minwoo Yoon

Th. 5/7, 1.30pm
Session 109
Medievalisms at War I
Sponsor: Society for the Study of Popular Culture and the Middle Ages
Organizer: Michael A. Torregrossa, Society for the Study of Popular Culture
and the Middle Ages
Presider: Carl James Grindley, Hostos Community College, CUNY
Richard the Lionheart in Films and Television about the Third Crusade
Lorraine Kochanske Stock, Univ. of Houston
Contextualizing King Arthur Was a Gentleman (1942): The Matter of Britain as World War II Propaganda
Michael A. Torregrossa
* “A Sport and an End”: Militarism in Tolkien’s and Jackson’s Versions of The Lord of the Rings
Mary R. Brown, Univ. of Wisconsin–Stevens Point
Patterns of Violence, Decay, and Redemption in Filmic Beowulfs and Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s Cidade de Deus (2002)
Aaron Mercier, Ohio State Univ.

Fr. 5/8, 3.30pm
Session 375
Teaching Tolkien (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Presider: Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College
A roundtable discussion with Leslie A. Donovan, Univ. of New Mexico; Keith W. Jensen, William Rainey Harper College; Christopher T. Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont; Sharin Schroeder, Univ. of Minnesota–Twin Cities; James I. McNelis, III, Wilmington College Ohio; Paul D. Nygard, St. Louis Community College–Florissant Valley; and Deidre Dawson, Michigan State Univ.

Fr. 5/8, Evening Session (7:00 p.m.)
Session 375
Gaming Neomedievally (A Festive Workshop and Poster Session)
Sponsor: Medieval Electronic Multimedia Organization (MEMO)
Organizer: Carol L. Robinson, Kent State Univ.–Trumbull
Presider: Carol L. Robinson
Gothic Elements in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the PlayStation 3
Morgan Ankrom, Kent State Univ.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) Guilds, Community, and Spectacle Samples
Kevin A. Moberly, St. Cloud State Univ., and Brent Addison Moberly, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington
Quest for Glory: Becoming the Knight Errant
Shaina Edmondson, Univ. of Texas–Arlington
Arthurian Apocalypse: Dark Age of Camelot
Lauryn S. Mayer, Washington and Jefferson College
Music and Culture(s) across Time: Samples in Sid Meier’s Civilization IV
Karen M. Cook, Duke Univ.
Virtually Medieval: World of Warcraft Reconsiders the Middle Ages
N. M. Heckel, Univ. of Rochester
* Neo-Tolkien Neomedieval Gaming
Pamela Clements, Siena College
The Neomedieval Hero: Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (for the PlayStation 3)
Brad Philips, Kent State Univ.

Fr. 5/8, Evening Session (7:30 p.m.)
Tolkien Unbound: Readers' Theater Performance
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.-Commerce
Presider: Robin Anne Reid
Songs for the Philologists
Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar; Sandra Ballif Straubhaar, Univ. of Texas-Austin; Faye Ringel, United States Coast Guard Academy; Bradford Lee Eden, Univ. of California-Santa Barbara; Merlin DeTardo, Independent Scholar; Deirdre Dawson, Michigan State Univ.; Michael Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.; Jennifer Culver, Univ. of Texas-Dallas; and Amy Amendt-Raduege, Independent Scholar.
Baldor's Saga
John Wm Houghton, Hill School; Sandra Ballif Staubhaar; Faye Ringel; Bradford Lee Eden; Merlin DeTardo; Edward L. Risden, Univ. of California-Santa Barbara; Robert F. Tredray, Independent Scholar; Dean Easton, Choate Rosemary Hall School.

A cash bar will be available.

Sat. 5/9, 10a.m.
Session 400
The Children of Húrin
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Presider: Mary R. Bowman, Univ. of Wisconsin–Stevens Point
Lack of Counsel, Not of Courage: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Critique of the Heroic Ethos in The Children of Húrin
Richard C. West, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison
Through Morgoth’s Eyes: Truth in Wartime
Faye Ringel, United States Coast Guard Academy
The Shadow of My Purpose: Gnosticism and the Strands of Fate in the Narn i hin Húrin
Brian Walter, St. Louis College of Pharmacy
Tolkien’s Women in The Children of Húrin
Victoria Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.

Sat. 5/9, 12:00 noon
Tolkien at Kalamazoo Business Meeting

Sat. 5/9, 1:30p.m.
Session 450
Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Presider: Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar, and Verlyn Flieger, Univ. of Maryland
A roundtable discussion with Jennifer Culver, Univ. of Texas–Dallas; Deanna Delmar Evans, Bemidji State Univ.; Dimitra Fimi, Cardiff Univ.; Sandra Hordis, Arcadia Univ.; Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.; John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar; and Ted Sherman, Middle Tennessee State Univ.

Sat. 5/9, 3:30p.m.
Session 498
In Honor of Tom Shippey: J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Next Century? (A Roundtable)
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Presider: John William Houghton, Hill School
A roundtable discussion with Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar; Marjorie J. Burns, Portland State Univ.; Verlyn Flieger, Univ. of Maryland; Edward L. Risden, St. Norbert College; and Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College.

Sun. 5/10, 8:30p.m.
Session 552
Tolkien’s Revisions and Contradictions
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Presider: Bradford Lee Eden, Univ. of California–Santa Barbara
Revising Éowyn: Reading and Rereading Éowyn’s Mind
Mary Faraci, Florida Atlantic Univ.
The Words of Húrin and Morgoth: Microcosm, Macrocosm, and the Later Legendarium
Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
Discrepancies, Divergences, and Etymological Forks in the Road
Eileen Marie Moore, Cleveland State Univ.
Who Are the Real Elves? The Noldor in The Book of Lost Tales and The Silmarillion
Janice M. Bogstad, McIntyre Library, Univ. of Wisconsin–Eau Claire

Sun. 5/10, 10:30p.m.
Session 585
Tolkien’s Poetry and Song
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Presider: Anne Reaves, Marian College
“That was the first Hebung”: Tolkien’s Modernist Metrics in Formalist Garb
John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville
Musical References and Allusions in Tolkien’s Published Poetry
Bradford Lee Eden, Univ. of California–Santa Barbara
“He chanted a song of wizardry”: Words with Power in Middle-earth
Benjamin S. W. Barootes, McGill Univ.
Songs of Long Estrangement: The Poetry of Melancholy in The Lord of the Rings
Robert F. Tredray, Independent Scholar

Sun. 5/10, 10:30p.m.
Session 598
Beowulf as Children’s Literature II
Organizer: Bruce D. Gilchrist, Bishop’s Univ.
Presider: Marijane Osborn, Univ. of California–Davis
* The Giants of Beowulf, Tolkien, and Lewis: Meeting in the Middle
John Edward Damon, Univ. of Nebraska–Kearney
Grendel, Beowulf, and Little Johnny: Translating Ancient Evil and Good for Post-Modern Young Readers
Christopher E. Crane, United States Naval Academy
* “Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes”: A Children’s Beowulf for the Tolkien Generation
Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College