Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Frozen Custard, Tolkien Manuscripts, and Old Friends

So, this time last week we had just gotten back from a week in Milwaukee, a trip that included getting together with old friends like Jim Lowder, Jim Pietrusz, Jeff and Jan Long (fellow original members of The Burrahobbits, a fantasy book-discussion group I helped found a quarter-century ago), and Mike Foster, among others, as well as meeting new folks such as three young Tolkienists accompanying Mike on his annual visit up from mid-Illinois to the Marquette Archives, one of whom (Adam Smith of Tolkien Library.com) had interviewed me a while back, while another was a fellow D&D player. Sorry I didn't get to spend more time with these three, but I did get to spend most of two days in the Archives, mainly looking at the various film script for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, especially those by Chris Conkling (what eventually morphed into the Peter Beagle script for the Ralph Bakshi movie) and John Boorman (brilliant but bizarre, for his never-filmed 1970 LotR project). I also got to look at a newly arrived Tolkien letter from 1964/65, and spent a little time with the Timelines. These latter arrived at Marquette near the end of my time there, around 1990, and I've always meant to give them a close scrutiny someday, making this an ongoing project I can pick up again on my next visit where I left off this time.

In addition to the Tolkien work, Janice and I took some time out to enjoy visiting restaurants we've missed since leaving the area: a grand meal at Mader's, which still lives up to its old standards; a breakfast with friends at Miss Katie's Diner; frozen custard (in my case, a caramel peac, as we used to call it the summer I worked at Leon's*). About the only old favorite we missed -- aside from those no longer there, like the Coffee Trader -- was Genghis Khan on Highway 100, which set the standard for Mongolian Barbeque in my book, but I think we more than made up for it by sharing a pie-in-a-bag from The Elegant Farmer. Needless to say, the Atkins was in abeyance for the duration, but has now resumed since our return.

It was interesting to see signs of change yet with many old landmarks the same as they'd ever been. There's lots of construction on the Marquette campus: both Parent's Park and Tory Hill are now gone. I took a little time and went into the old library, which I hadn't entered since the Archives shifted to the new building next door several years back; turns out they left almost all the books behind in the old building (Memorial Library), rather than shifting them to Raynor Library. I collected several items from the shelves to photocopy various bits out of (more on these later), and went down to where the old Archives used to be and tried to figure out exactly where the Lincoln Room and The Vault (or Cage) used to be; now that floor's all compressed shelves for old bound periodicals.

It was also nice to visit the Lakefront; we saw a wonderful octopus kite that I wish I had a picture of, and went into the War Memorial for the first time. The period posters for World War I and WW II were interesting, esp. the 'Great War' ones' menacing depictions of 'the Huns', but I was somewhat creeped out by a room with big paintings of the Enola Gay and Bock's Car, the two planes that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,** with individual photographs of the entire crew of each plane and a glowing report of their missions. Brrr.

On a sadder note, we swung by the house where we were married and found that it was in the process of being torn down. Given how beautiful the woodwork was in Janice's upper flat, it's a real shame; apparently it and the house next door are making way for condos. And yet when we swung by Kane Place, the decidedly downscale apartment building where I was living when I got Parker, it's still there and looks just the same, at least from the outside. I thought at first glance that The Abbotsford, where I lived the first two years I was in Milwaukee, was gone as well but it turned out just to be blocked from view by new construction; if this keeps up I'll soon be haunted by detailed memories of buildings that no longer exist.

We did get a drive down to Rockford, though, so as to get together with some Coulters, and thus experienced some real sweltering summer weather; I'd forgotten how the 'lake effect' with its cool breezes really makes a difference.

All in all, a delightful trip which reminded us both of how much we enjoyed living in Milwaukee. It was especially good to be there at a time when we got to see a lot of Tolk. folk whose company we enjoy, a little sad to think of those who are no longer with us, like Taum. I know I got a lot done, and I'm already looking forward to next visit.

--John R.

*the inspiration for Arnold's in HAPPY DAYS, and still a Milwaukee icon.
**I hadn't known they were planning to drop the bomb on Kokura but were diverted by cloud cover and so decided to destroy Nagasaki instead.


Ardamir said...

Hi John, what does the Tolkien letter from 1964/65 deal with? Has it been published before somewhere (like Letters from JRRT) or is it unknown to the public?

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Ardamir.

Clyde Kilby quoted a two-sentence passage from it in TOLKIEN & THE SILMARILLION (1976), page 31: "[Sam] was the youngest son of a stupid and conceited old peasant. Together with his loyal master-servant attitude, and his personal love for Frodo, he retains a touch of the contempt of his kind (moderated to tolerant pity) for motives above their reach." Kilby wrongly attributes this to a letter from Tolkien to Vera Chapman, and implies that it was written in September 1973 (note 8, page 83).

In fact, the letter in question was printed in the memorial issue of MYTHPRINT that appeared in Sept. 1973. It's not to Vera Chapman (the founder of the Tolkien Society, who had another letter in that same issue) but Joan O. Falconer, who dated it to "late 1964". Here's the excerpt as it appeared in MYTHPRINT:

"I would say that the impression of greater age in Sam as compared with Frodo that you feel is due to the representation in these two persons of two quite different characters, each with a quite different background and education. Sam in part of his more complex character retains the sententiousness, and indeed cocksureness, of the rustic of limited outlook and knowledge. He was the youngest son of a stupid and conceited old peasant. Together with his loyal master-servant attitude, and his personal love for Frodo, he retains a touch of the contempt of his kind (moderated to tolerant pity) for motives above their reach. From this in some degree comes his slightly paternal, not to say patronizing attitude to his master; but of course it is mainly derived from the fact that after the encounter by Weathertop Frodo was a sufferer, a person injured and in pain, and also after Rivendell grievously burdened. Sam's protective and almost elderly manner was largely forced on him by circumstance . . ." (MYTHPRINT, Sept 1973, page 3).

One point the original now at Marquette does clear up is the date: Tolkien's letter to Falconer is dated
"January 24th 1965"

So, in answer to your question: a small part of it isn't that hard to find (in Kilby's book), a larger part can be found with digging (for those few with access to a complete run of MYTHPRINT), and the whole letter can only be seen at Marquette -- which of course is well worth the visit for this as well as many other reasons.

--John R.

Ardamir said...

Thanks for that, John!