Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm in Wheaton > Rockford > Harvard > Delavan

So, my research trip to Wheaton ended about five o'clock on Friday, after which, having said my goodbyes to the Good People there, I drove over to Rockford -- taking the back way, through Sycamore and St. Charles -- where in due course I was reunited with Janice. Hooray! After some good visits in Rockford (last night) and Harvard (this afternoon), we're now in Delavan. More later on our visit here to a town where we once lived for three years. We did drive by and saw that the house where we lived is still here, although from the long low dumpster parked in the drive that seemed to be filled with house innards it looks to be undergoing a major renovation inside (long overdue). So, unlike three of the most important places to me that I've ever lived (the house at Monticello, the house in Magnolia, and Janice's apartment on the lower East Side in Milwaukee), it's still there.

It was a great research trip; one of those pieces of pure research where you're gathering information on a topic of great interest to you or from a major source you haven't had a chance to examine in depth before, without being aware ahead of time of what you might find or what use you might ultimately put it to. I gained a lot of insight into Warnie's character and his situation during his final years, and a lot about CSL's compositional habits I hadn't known before (by transcribing the first four chapters of THE DARK TOWER manuscript).

For now, this in-depth immersion in the unfinished story has led me to five questions to which I do not know the answers.

(1) Lewis specifies that the name 'Dark Tower' comes from Browning -- i.e., the famous poem CHILD ROLAND TO THE DARK TOWER CAME (one of Browning's masterpieces and a favorite of mine, which I have on tape masterfully read by James Mason). So do further Browning analogies underlie Lewis's piece? And how might they affect our interpretation of Lewis's story?

(2) 'Lewis', the narrator, says he and MacPhee have agreed to not describe the face on the idol in the Stingman's chamber in the Dark Tower because people reading the work would be able to recognize it. What is he getting at here? Whose face is it -- a contemporary figure like Hitler or Stalin, or some English politician or scientist Lewis particularly disliked, whom the escaped Stingerman in our world would seek out and make contact with? Or a historical figure like Napoleon (it can't be someone from much further back, because most people could recognize Alexander or Caesar or anyone from antiquity)? If we're meant to be able to guess his identify from what Lewis says, I confess I'm utterly unable to do so.

(3) The very fact that MacPhee has discussed this with Lewis after the fact, after the events in the story are over, shows that the Scotsman survives the adventure. We also know that Scudamour survives his adventure in the Othertime, since he's able to report back to Lewis et al about what happened to him (the basis of Chapters V thr VII). With EDWIN DROOD we at least have some illustrations from the unwritten sections of that work, but no outlines or notes survive telling us what would have happened in the missing portion of THE DARK TOWER (even if Lewis didn't have it planned out in detail he must have had some idea of where it was going, particularly what Biblical myth it would uncovere as a living reality). What other hints do we have about the conclusion of the work?

(4) The people of the Othertime live in an insect-ized society, with workers, soldiers, stingermen, and drones. The workers live in cells -- again, like bees. So why is there no Queen of the 'hive'? Why is their culture dominated by Stingermen? Lewis said that as a child his two greatest fears/phobias were of insects and domination by women: this seems an ideal chance to combine them both projected into one vision of horror. Perhaps (a) there is a Queen, and we just do not meet Her in the fragment we've got (i.e., that Lewis was saving this for a climactic revelation) or (b) he was going by pre-18th century beliefs about a King Bee, so that what was mere projection in our world cd be presented as fact in the Othertime.

(5) Why is 'Lewis', the narrator, not a character in THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH? He's in OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET in the epilogue/final section, has an enlarged role in PERELANDRA in the opening pair of chapters (and again briefly at the end), is a major character in the first four chapters of THE DARK TOWER, and I don't think appears for even a page within the story of THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH. Why the divergence, the departure of the pattern?

--John R.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

At the Wade

So great a mountain of treasure/manuscripts to consult. So small a hobbit/researcher. Like Bilbo, upon arrival you soon realize that it might take you a hundred years to read it all.

Today marked my second day at the Wade, which means that this research trip is now halfway over. And I'm far from halfway done.

Yesterday I spent closely scrutinizing the manuscript of THE DARK TOWER (that is, the photocopy of the sole manuscript, the original being in the Bodleian, where I consulted it in 1992).

Today I skimmed through Warnie Lewis's diaries for 1962-1966, taking copious notes of interesting bits left out of the excellent Kilby-Mead edition of them, BROTHERS & FRIENDS.

If I'm to finish my work on THE DARK TOWER, I'll have to devote both of the remaining days to it. And if I'm to finish the final years of The Major's diaries, that'll take most of the remaining time too.

Decisions, decisions, and no bad choices . . .

Otherwise, today I was delighted to get to see my friends Doug Anderson, who drove over from Michigan, and Richard West, who came down from Madison.* I hadn't known that Charles Huttar, who edited the first book an essay of mine was published in (THE RHETORIC OF VISION, to which my contribution was a piece on Charles Williams' only prose play) was also visiting the Wade today. I hadn't seen him in years, and don't think we've ever had an extended conversation before, so it was nice to have a chance to visit with him a bit (the four of us heading over to the student union together for lunch).

Yesterday's HOBBIT DAY celebration was delightful. I turned out to be the guest of honor, and did a little presentation based on identifying who Tolkien gave his twelve author's copies of THE HOBBIT to back in September 1937. Others read out favorite passages from Tolkien's works, and Laura the organizer played a wide variety of Tolkien-inspired music (mostly performances of Tolkien's hobbit-poems). One of those enjoyable gatherings of like-minded people where A Good Time Was Had By All.

And tomorrow morning, at 8.30 am, I'm to be interviewed on the local campus radio, WETN.**

After which it's on to the Wade for another day's research.

--John R.

*We even got to visit the Theosophical Society's wonderful library, which I'd known about but not seen before.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I'm in Wheaton!

So, last night I arrived for a four-day research trip in the Wade Collection. This one focuses mainly on THE DARK TOWER and Warnie Lewis's diaries, among the many riches (indeed, treasures) they have here.

Tonight I'm taking part in a Hobbit Day celebration at the Wade Center at 7 pm

I'm also going to be interviewed live on the college radio station (WETN) at 7.30 Thursday morning.

Also tonight is the 25th anniversary celebration of The Burrahobbits, the Milwaukee Tolkien Discussion Group I helped co-found not long after the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference. I'd love to be there, but couldn't make it work, what with not being able to see well enough to make the (long) drive back in the dark. So near, and yet still so far! Horray, Burrahobbits!

More later.

--John R.

current reading: TOLKIEN: CULT OR CULTURE? by J. S. Ryan [1969]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

White Supremacists March on Washington

So, this past weekend about 50,000 to 70,000 people went to Washington DC -- ostensibly to celebrate the legacy of 9/11*, but really to protest the presidency of Barack Obama. From the signs shown on the news, they were apparently a collection of 'Birthers', 'Deathers', and 'Tea-baggers' united only by hatred of the new president and his administration.

Coming as it does almost a half-century since Martin Luther King's March on Washington, which drew a quarter-million people, I view this event as affirmative-action for racists. It's only fair the white supremacists have their turn. After all, according to wikipedia it's been over eighty years since the Ku Klux Klan had its big rally in D.C. (1925), and this year's gathering more than doubled their turnout of about 25,000.

All irony aside, it took a while, but I'm not the only one who's noticed the racist undertone to the anti-Obama movement. I can see folks getting caught up in the 'birther' conspiracy theory -- it re-enforces the preconception that he's 'not really one of us'. The 'death panels' idea simply shows how stupidly gullible people can be; no big surprise there. And as for the tea-baggers, both tax deadbeats and 'states rights'/secessionist sentiments have never been too far away from the surface.*** 

But that the same people just happen to converge in belief on all three entirely unrelated points shows something else is at work here: a deep, deep desire to de-legitimize the president. A rejection so visceral that I reluctantly have come to conclude that it's racist at heart: a desperate attempt to deny the reality of our now really, truly having a black president.

And now, just in the past day or so, I find I'm not the only one. Yesterday came the brief notice by Josh Marshall on

Then, of course, there was the article to which Marshall referred. I don't usually have much use for Maureen Dowd, who seems to think she's Dorothy Parker in the same way Geo. W. Bush thought he was Abraham Lincoln, but here I think she deserves credit for connecting the dots:

And then just tonight came news that our greatest ex-president has weighed in on the issue: I guess hitting 85 (as he will next month) means you can speak your mind. And remember that this is the man who ran against Lester Maddox, Georgia's would-be George Wallace: he knows racism when he sees it.

Now, given that people are printing up t-shirts to wear expressing solidarity with Congressman Wilson's failure to learn the manners most of us were taught in kindergarden, I'm wondering how long until the tea-bagger-birther-deather-racists start to put the white hoods on and proudly boast about their common ground with the KKK.


*[as if any of use really want to commemorate the unnecessary wars, warrantless wiretapping, torture, and rendition that followed in 9/11's wake]
**[surprisingly enough, the stations that ran Rev. Wright's "God damn America" clip over and over and over again a year ago don't seem to be running the footage from that recent Texas secessionists rally in which the (white) speakers in their cowboy hats shouted out "We hate America"]
***[tax deadbeats were the cause of the first time President Washington had to call up the U. S. Army after the Revolution, while 'states rights'/secession/nullification goes all the way back to Jefferson & Madison's plottings against Washington's and Adams' administrations.]

Thursday, September 10, 2009


So, thanks to various people's postings or sending me links (thanks to David, Douglas, Yvette, & Jessica), earlier this week I heard the latest news about the new Peter Jackson HOBBIT movie(s). Specifically, the lawsuit the Tolkien family brought against New Line a year and a half ago (February 2008) seems to have been resolved. 

Here's the basic story (Associated Press):


Along with the main facts, among the many interesting details here is the major news that "One of the main beneficiaries of the settlement is The Tolkien Trust" -- a group that doesn't get nearly the attention you'd expect, given the good works they do. Also, it names the Estate's lawyer in this case (Bonnie Eskenazi) and asserts that the Estate was "due 7.5 percent of the gross receipts", of which they'd only been paid $62,500 upfront money before production of the first film began.  Quite a discrepancy. 

Seven and a half percent. Of the gross. Wow. 

By contrast to the journalese of the AP piece, a more carefully worded piece (the first, in fact, to announcement the news) is the one by Douglas Kane on The One, which stressed that the settlement still needed to be reviewed and signed off on:


The Reuters news story, also linked off the OneRing.Net site, has an edge over the AP one in one respect, in that it gives the quotes from Christopher Tolkien and Warner Brothers' President, Alan Horn, in full. While Christopher is extremely careful and polite in his phrasing, as we would expect, I was startled by Horn's comment that the studio "deeply value[s] the contributions of the Tolkien novels to the success of our films". Well, I suppose "contributions" is one way to put it.


Finally, though their webmaster seems to be incapable of spelling the word "Tolkien", The Guardian has its own piece similar to the Reuters one but with additional details, such as the Tolkien Trust's being one of the beneficiaries of the settlement, HarperCollins being a co-plaintiff, and the amount originally sued for being 133 million pounds.


So, as usual, by reading a number of different reports you can learn more than from an single story. There's a good deal of disagreement among all these sources about just how much money the films have made (from what Kristin Thompson wrote in THE FRODO FRANCHISE, they're all understating it a good deal). Nor is it clear if the settlement is for the full amount originally asked for or not, since the details are quite properly confidential. But if there's any truth to the AP story about 7.5% gross, then the good causes supported by The Tolkien Trust should get a big boost from this, which is a Good Thing.

And, of course, this means the major obstacle in the way of making the film is no longer in play, so the chances of its being made go from good to excellent. Jackson is said to have recently finished the script (of part one, at least), so we'll probably be coming out of the holding pattern and hearing lots of news about it on a regular basis from here on out.

--John R.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tolkien in Cuba

So, I recently heard from the organizer of the TOLKIEN EVENT in Havana that they'd like to translated my piece on "Tolkien and Roleplaying Games" in their 'Digital Informative' ("Informativo Estronia"). This will be their third annual event -- apparently at the first, in 2007, they had about two hundred and fifty people gathering at a library in Old Havana. The next year, 2008, they almost doubled that. And they're hoping to do better still this year. The big event will be Saturday, September 26th. I'm hoping to get a post-con report afterwards, in which case I'll try to post a follow-up here.

We Tolk folk do show up in unexpected places, don't we? Though I still don't think anyone's beaten the North Borneo Tolkien Society yet . . .


C. S. Lewis on "A Long Expected Party"

For a long time, I've known through various bits and pieces, both from Tolkien and Lewis, that CSL didn't particularly like hobbit chatter. But I hadn't known how strongly Lewis felt about it until this week running across Lewis's letter to Thomas Howard, written in late 1958 (about two months before my birth). Learning that Howard had just read THE HOBBIT, Lewis writes "you are still only paddling in the glorious sea of Tolkien. Go on from THE HOBBIT at once to THE LORD OF THE RINGS . . . nearly as long as the Bible and not a word too long (except for the first chapter which is a botch -- don't be put off by it). THE HOBBIT is merely a fragment of his myth, detached, and adapted for children, and losing much by the adaptation. THE LORD OF THE R is the real stuff." [COLLECTED LETTERS OF CSL, Vol. III, pages 980-981].

There's so much of interest here. First, Lewis's wonderful phrase about "the glorious sea of Tolkien", which is almost as good as "lightning from a clear sky".

Second, there's the comment that THE HOBBIT originated as part of the legendarium, not as an independent work later incorporated within it. And this from the point of view of someone who read Silmarillion texts before reading THE HOBBIT as well as the first person outside the immediate family to read THE HOBBIT as soon as Tolkien finished it. A good witness to have on the side of those of us who emphasis THE HOBBIT's connections to the legendarium versus those who stress the stand-alone nature of the work.

Third, and most startling, is Lewis's dismissal of A LONG EXPECTED PARTY as "a botch"! That's pretty strong language. Tolkien had written, in his comments on his 1967 interview with the Plimmers, that the confrontation between Saruman and Gandalf the White "is in fact one of the very few places where . . . I found L's detailed criticisms useful and just. I cut out some passages of light-hearted hobbit conversation which he found tiresome, thinking that if he did most other readers (if any) would feel the same. I do not think the event has proved him right. To tell the truth he never really liked hobbits very much . . . But a great number of readers do" [JRRT to Charlotte & Denis Plimmer, Febr. 8th 1967; LETTERS OF JRRT page 376]. Now I know that Tolkien was not exaggerating or being overly sensitive. I wonder if Lewis ever used a term like "botch" to Tolkien himself at an Inklings, or how he phrased his displeasure. Lewis also disliked most of the verse in LotR ("poor, regrettable, and out of place" is how Tolkien summed up L's views in a 1953 letter to Rayner Unwin [LETTERS OF JRRT page 169]). The various Inklings always insisted that criticism of works presented at their meetings could be brutal, and taken together with THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS this seems to back it up. I know Lewis considered himself primarily a poet, and Barfield prized that part of Lewis highly; exchanging poems was a main part of their long correspondence. I'm trying to remember if Tolkien ever rates Lewis's poems. He must have liked at least one of them, since he includes it in a draft of BEOWULF: THE MONSTERS & THE CRITICS, paired with one of his own.

Food for thought.

--John R.

current reading: THE PLACE OF THE LION

Monday, September 7, 2009

Plans Deferred

So, last Thursday we decided to go see the circus. Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey was in town, and they'd brought both elephants and tigers with them. Apparently they'd been scheduled to parade through Kent at midday, but by the time I found out about that it was too late to see it -- though Janice heard from their mailman at work that he (she?) had seen a bunch of elephants outside the ShoWare Center.

That evening we arrived in what we thought was plenty of time to see the show, and were somewhat taken aback by the full lots, crowds of people, and numerous protesters. The protesters, about ten or twelve in all, were handing out leaflets, holding up signs, and occasionally shouting out a phrase or two in a rote sort of way. It seems they were from PETA, with whose aims I'm generally in sympathy but who I tend to disagree with here: their goal is to do away with animals in circuses because (a) it's an unnatural lifestyle for a wild animal and (b) they claim that Ringling Brothers abuses its elephants. So far as (a) is concerned, there are precious few wild places left and the surviving animals in them have by and large had to learn how to make accommodations, like the suburban foxes people in Germany feed like stray cats. (B) is a much more serious matter, and I certainly wouldn't give Ringling Brothers my money if I believed it.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to give the circus my money anyway, because when we reached the ticket window we were told that they were sold out of seats together and the only way we could see the show was in separate seating. That idea didn't appeal -- what's the fun of going to something together if you can't enjoy it together? -- so we decided to give it a pass and come back another night, walking through Kent Commons (where Janice treated me to a cup of tea) and then by the new Kent waterpark with its giant rotating Stone of Erech on our way back to the car.

End of First Event. Success Rate: zero

Then, on Saturday night, we drove to Soos Creek Park for the Bat Walk, similar to the Owl Walk we went on in the spring (March, I think). That time we'd enjoyed ourselves and had a nice walk, even though we didn't see any owls. This time we couldn't find the event. The online directions to the spot failed us utterly, sending us up a private road in the wrong area. With the aid of a local map, we drove to several different spots where we thought the walk might be starting, but failed utterly to locate it. Given that Soos Creek Park is eight and a half miles long and that the online announcement of the event (as well as the one I'd cut out from the 'Local Events' pamphlet that'd come in the mail a few weeks earlier) neglected to make any mention of where we were to gather, we eventually gave up half an hour after the scheduled start time, figuring that even if we could find the spot they'd be out on the walk itself by now, since it was only to last an hour and a half altogether.

End of Second Event. Success Rate: zero

Then, on Sunday we decided to try to circus again. Janice had already gone online and bought us tickets, sitting together, for the one o'clock show. We parked well away, allowing plenty of time, and were nonplused when the tickets we'd printed out didn't scan. Turns out they were for the five o'clock showing later that day.

End of Third Event. Success Rate: zero

By now, we were starting to get just a bit put out by our plans for the holiday weekend not going as well as we'd like. So we were careful to arrive in plenty of time, made sure we had the tickets printed out, parked well away and walked an alternative route to avoid the crowds -- and it worked. We got in, we got seated, I even got a cup of tea.

I'd been to see Ringling Brothers once before, but that was a long time ago -- in fact, when my father took me back in 1967 when I was in second grade -- so long ago that it was still owned by the last of the Ringlings at the time (John Ringling North, nephew of the famous Brothers). That was when we were living in Little Rock, and I remember that it was somewhere near the intersection of Asher and University -- next to the K-Mart, I think. My sister must have been with us, though I don't remember, though I don't think my mother was (and, speaking to her that night, she confirms that she wouldn't have gone).

How was the circus itself? Well, having missed Barnum (Thursday's show), and then Bailey (the earlier showing on Sunday), I enjoyed what I thought of as the Ringling Brothers show. I was rather surprised by just how much of the repertoire was 'classic' -- that is, little changed from the acts appearing in Chaplin's THE CIRCUS [1928] over eighty years ago. Instead of a lion tamer they had a tiger act with ten tigers together performing acrobatics. The eleven elephants came out several times and performed their stunts, very impressively. The horses were obviously both talented and very well cared for, and the performing dogs even more so (a good sign, since it makes me think the much more valuable tigers and elephants were similarly well-treated). There were high wire acts, various impressive tumblers, clowns (which were the low point for me, though one skinny fellow in green was an impressive juggler and tumbler). There were magic tricks, like sawing a person in half or piercing a cabinet with spikes. About the only thing missing was a strong man, and I don't think anyone minded dispensing with that. I would have been happy with more of the animals (including the zebras, who don't seem to be as good at tricks as the horses but then are so eye-catching they really don't have to be) and less of the clowns, but if the kids (of whom there were many in attendance) liked the clowns then they served their purpose.

Interesting that when they have zoo animals do any tricks (say at the Point Defiance aquarium or the Woodlands Park raptors show), they always give then a treat immediately after each trick. Not so with the circus animals, who reminded Janice much more of working animals (like a service dog or carriage horse). I've actually seen the argument, in the book TRIBE OF TIGER, that circus animals have more human contact than zoo animals, whose major problems are too-small cages and sheer boredom; I hope that that's true.

End of Fourth Event. Success!

Finally, on Monday we went over for the Grubbs' Game Day, where we got to see a lot of friends and enjoyed visiting with folks. We even played a game of Settlers of Catan, which I'd only played once long ago and which was altogether new for Janice. I tied for next-to-last place but, to adapt the words of Xander Harris, some of us worked for that tied-for-next-to-last place. After that I watched folks plays several games I don't know so as to have an idea how they work for another time; Steve Jackson Games' new REVOLUTION seemed to be popular.

And then back home and prepare for the week to come

End of Fifth Event: Very enjoyable indeed.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

September 6th, 1997

Just realized that it's been twelve years ago today since I moved out here to the Seattle area, leaving the Midwest behind (as I'd shifted from the South to the Midwest sixteen years before that).
A lot of water under that bridge now.

--John R.

current reading: MR FAITHFUL in THE GINGER CAT AND OTHER LOST PLAYS by Lord Dunsany [2007]