Monday, May 31, 2010

Vacation Weekend, Day Three: Baking Bread

So, today I stayed home all day, making rolls.* It was nice to have a down day: not working on a paper (having finished up the Notes & Bibliography on "Inside Literature" very late on Friday), not running errands (we'd taken care of that Saturday & Sunday), & just not having anywhere I had to be at any particular time.

I took advantage of it to read a book I'd started a few weeks back and had to put aside: THE INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE by Maryrose Wood [2010]. This is one I came across while checking the 'young adult' shelves at the Borders in Federal Way, looking for something Riordan-esque after reaching the final volume in the Percy Jackson series.

One of the ways I decide whether or not to read a book about which I know nothing is to open it up somewhere in the middle and read a page or two. If I find that I want to know who these people are, and how they got in the situation they're in, and what happens to them next, then I read the book. If I don't care, then more likely than not I give it a pass unless I have some other good reason to read it.

In this case, I got lucky: having now read the entire book, I'd say the passage that initially caught my eye is probably the best in the whole book. Here's an excerpt, in which three feral children, whom the heroine (a young governess) has been training to wear clothes, speak rather than growl, and generally behave more like people than animals, are given their 'Eliza-Doolittle-at-Ascot moment, performing "The Wreck of the Hesperus" at a dinner party when somehow a squirrel gets into the room and ignites all their predator instincts:

"After what seemed an eternity but was obviously not (in fact, calling any length of time 'an eternity' is yet another example of hyperbole in action), the children succeeded in cornering the squirrel near the doors that led out of the ballroom. Then, in what was either a brilliant stroke of luck or a bit of disastrously poor timing, depending on whether you were rooting for the squirrel or the children, the doors swung open.

'My word!' exclaimed Mrs. Clarke [the housekeeper] . . .

Somewhere in its nut-sized brain, the squirrel must have recognized its only chance for escape. With a desperate lash of its tail the rodent bolted between Mrs. Clarke's legs, through the doors of the ballroom, and disappeared into the vast house beyond.

The children froze, but only for a moment. Then Cassiopeia raised her tiny fists in the air. 'Mayhem!' she bellowed, pointing out the door.

Spurred on by her battle cry, the yapping Incorrigibles tore off after the squirrel, in hot and, it must be said, happy pursuit.

A traumatized hush fell over the party guests . . .

--I have to admit it was that 'Mayhem!' that got me.

And now, on to the four other books I'm currently reading
--SHE [1887]


*using my grandmother's recipe, of course

HOBBIT film delayed?

So, just saw the headline that Guillermo del Toro has just quit as director of the forthcoming HOBBIT film(s) -- not from any falling out with Peter Jackson (he's staying on as part of the scriptwriter team) but because the studio, wh. is rumored to be in financial trouble (something that seems endemic to film studios these days), keeps delaying giving them the green light to start shooting. Here's the link to the version of the story I saw, no doubt one of many:

Not much in the way of details at this point, but let's hope this is just a hiccup and does not derail the project altogether. Given the money involved, I find it hard to believe these films won't get made, but a lot of things that have been more-or-less decided cd come unglued at a time like this. So, here's hoping they get back on track sooner rather than later.
--John R.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Vacation Weekend, Day Two: Game Day

So, today we went over to Jeff & Kate's house for one of their excellent Game Days that they host two or three times a year. Had a great time visiting w. folks, some of whom I hadn't seen in too long. It was a special treat to get to see the two little kittens Kate is watching for the neighbors while they're away -- it's been a while since I've seen kittens that small: I'd guess about five or six weeks old.

As for the games, I got to play ALHAMBRA for the second time (the first being the last time they had a game day), which I find I rather like, even if I'm not particularly good at it (I came in last place, fifth out of five). Then we set to with a somewhat larger group (seven players) and played THE ARKHAM HORROR. Last week I'd gotten to play the newer version from Fantasy Flight Games [2005], which I'd only played once before (at Bill & Michele's, right after it came out) and found totally incoherent. This time it went better, since several of the people playing knew the rules well, but I still found it pretty much of a mess.

Similarly, I'd only played the original Chaosium version of ARKHAM HORROR once before (again at Bill & Michele's), ten years back when Lester Smith came to town. But I'd rather liked it, and playing it once again confirmed that this is a really good game despite its quirks -- far better than the much fancier later version. I'll definitely be playing this one again, and more than once a decade.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vacation Weekend, Day One: Blake Island

So, today we did something new and different: a Northwest luau at Tillicum Village on Blake Island. Janice had learned about this a while back and it sounded like fun, so we decided to give it a try. After all, why not compare the local area's native traditions with those of the Hawaiian luau we went to a few years back (2007, I think -- or was it 2006?). That time things started well but gave way to a torrential downpour that drenched us, drowned the torches, and made the performers' stage so slick the dancers eventually had to give up. Still, the food was great (before it got too soggy) and the whole event was definitely something I'd try again (hopefully on a dryer night).

For this one, we drove over to Tukwila Station and took the Sound Transit up to University Street (which, confusingly enough for non-Seattle-ites, is not part of the University District but 'Downtown' -- the university actually being on the other [north] side of downtown and somewhat to the east). From there we walked down to the waterfront (Pier 55), where we took an excursion boat over to Blake Island, just the other side of West Seattle's Alki Point. To while away the time the tour guide kept up a fairly interesting patter about the docks' history, the settlement of Alki Point and why they abandoned it to shift to what's now the Pioneer Square area, and a bit about Chief Seattle. A tribal dancer (part Makah, part Tsimshian) also displayed his blanket (a nice bright yellow), talked a bit about the area's native cultures, and performed a few moves. Kudos to them both for avoiding Tour Guide Humor and keeping it informative.

Once there, upon coming ashore outside the Longhouse we were greeted with mugs of warm clam chowder, which truly hit the spot. By tradition, you're supposed to throw the clamshells in it onto the path and stomp on them to crush them up, thus constantly renewing the path itself; I neatly stacked mine to the side, where I later saw some kids have the fun of playing giant on them. Then we went inside and poked around the giftshop side of the tribal longhouse until it was time for the meal; the most interesting thing here by far was the cooking area, where you cd watch the stacked wood in the flame pits cooking the salmon, which were in alder frames not in the fire but arranged upright in a circle around it. So that's how it's done -- not what I'd pictured at all. And soaking up some of that nice heat from behind the rail a few feet away felt pretty good too.

In the main room of the longhouse, we were escorted to our seats, from which we got up and went through the buffet line at the end opposite the performing area. Salad, brown bread, 'three bean salad' (I only counted two -- since when area 'cherry tomatoes' a bean?), rice with wild rice, some fruit, a stew with beef and venison and I think buffalo as well (don't think I've ever eaten venison before), and the main event: the fresh-cooked salmon. Plus waiting back at our tables we also each had a little berry-cake slice waiting for the desert. Add hot tea and it was quite a meal. I have to say it was the best salmon I've ever had. I used to eat a lot of fish back in the days when I went fishing a lot with my father and later with my grandmother, but fell off after they died -- I not only completely gave up fishing myself, having become too tender-hearted, but never really took to store-bought fish all that much. So if by contrast I'd say anyone who really is a big fish-eater really should try this place out; it's well worth the time and money.

After the meal things went dark and we got the dances. There were eight native performers, all of whom seemed to know their stuff. The costumes were good but I especially liked the bird-masks they used for the final number for the three bird-minions of the cannibal god; the clack! of their beaks were particularly effective. My favorite of all the dances came near the end: the dance of the Terrible Creature, a sort of wendigo-monster that rampaged about and somehow always eluded capture by disappearing whenever it was trapped. I guess with my predisposition towards fantasy I'm more partial to action and drama than to slow, ceremonial pieces, like the one where they displayed their blankets like male birds doing plumage-dances. The one thing I wish they'd done differently would have been to have had live music -- the prerecorded stuff was good but a bit remote from the actual-live-in-person dancing.

When it was all done, we had another chance to look around, which is when we looked through the little cultural museum. There were plenty of photos of what was apparently the biggest event to ever take place there: an economic summit hosted by President Clinton in 1993 and attended by all the Pacific Rim leaders: the premier of China, the prime minister of Japan, the Sultan of Brunei, the leaders of Australia and New Zealand, someone from Thailand, I think the President of the Philippines as well, and definitely representatives from Singapore and Hong Kong (this being before Hong Kong's re-incorporation back into China). Lots of photos from the event set against the same backdrops we were next to ourselves.

As the event was wrapping up, Janice and I went for a walk around the park -- not too far, lest we miss the boat, but far enough to get well and truly among the greenery. We also, just before setting out, saw a raccoon from the museum room's windows, v. deliberately making its way down the path towards the water. We'd planned to end up strolling around looking at the totem poles in from of the longhouse, but fell into conversation with a woman who works at the Longhouse store, part Dakota, part Crow, who had lots of stories about the old days, particularly those who 'never surrendered'. I can easily see the viewpoint that those who survived the American campaign against the Sioux from circa 1876 to 1890 and its aftermath wd never get over it, any more than might a survivor of the Holocaust.

The ride back was uneventful. So, a successful Feast Day, complete with a souvenir mug I brought back with a nice native american pattern on it (too bad I forgot to ask which tribe's art this was). I found myself wishing, on the way back, that the Duwamish wd get their act together and finally build that longhouse along the mouth of the Green River they've been talking about for years: as the people who lived on the land where I live now I'm naturally more interested in their culture than that of the neighboring tribes -- but, lo and behold, just now while checking to make sure I'd gotten the spelling of names like "Makah" and "Tsimshian" right, I discovered that the Duwamish Longhouse opened in 2009. Not much information available on their website (, but this will definitely go on the schedule for a local trip to make later this summer.

--John R.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Two Thoughts from Kalamazoo

So, while at Kalamazoo I got to go to a lot of good talks, and listen to a lot of good discussions -- like Stuart Lee's piece on THE BATTLE OF MALDON, which quoted from unpublished Tolkien material explaining JRRT's intriguing ideas about the OE poem, or Deborah Sabo's, which revealed some fascinating new information about Lake Villages as they were understood and portrayed in Tolkien's time (a subject I wrote on in MR. BAGGINS, but she knows a lot more about it than I do). But oddly enough, looking back on it afterwards, I think the two most striking things that stand out in my memory from all the presentations I went to were two comments made almost in passing.

The first came not in a paper but in the discussion afterwards. I think the comment was made by Amelia Rutledge, following the 'Tolkien & The Bible' session. Trying to distinguish between Tolkien's and Lewis's approach, she said "Tolkien was a Creative Theologian; Lewis was an Apologist". That is, in retrospect Tolkien appears much bolder in proposing new ideas about God and his creation. Lewis, by contrast, was defending current dogma and so devoted much less time and energy into speculation. It's not that his mind was any less creative than Tolkien's, but that he was trying to find new ways for folks to believe in established ideas. I'm not sure the distinction holds, but it's an interesting idea I'm going to be mulling over for a long time to come.

The second came not so much from what the person said as in the juxtaposition that made in my mind with something else I'd been thinking on. Here I think the speaker was Peter Grybauskas who, apropos of something else, observed that in the disasters of 1916 Tolkien was "Left Solitary & Alone -- was that what made him the Writer he became?" (or at least that's how I set it down in my notes; his phrasing may have been somewhat different). I've been thinking about Diana Pavlac's theories of the Inklings as a demonstration of the importance of the impact a writer's group has on an author. But here's a major example of the exact opposite phenomenon: here's it's the writer suddenly being shorn of his writer's group (through the death of two of the other three core members) that provided the impetus for an explosion of creative energy. I think this can be reconciled with Diana's theories fairly easily, but I look forward to hearing her views on this come July.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Spacious and Desirable Hobbit-Hole

So, thanks to friend Wolf for pointing me towards this link, showing an amazingly detailed model of Bag-End. Looking at it, I was reminded of the famous Queen's Doll House from the 1920s, so meticulous that they commissioned original stories for the miniature books in its library (one of which was M. R. James' "The Haunted Dolls' House" --cf. the acknowledgments page of A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS). Here's the link:

All I can say is that I'm impressed. This one really ought to be on display at someplace where people can go and enjoy seeing it in person. I especially loved the pumpkins in the little garden and the pie-shelf in the pantry. The only problem I can see is that it's so heavily based on the set design from the Jackson films that I suspect it really cdn't be displayed without their permission.

Still, an impressive Art Project. Who needs Hobbiton USA when you can poke through Bag-End at yr leisure like this?

--John R.

current reading: FIVE PANTOMIMES by Lord Howard de Waldon (Th. Evelyn Ellis) [1930]

Monday, May 24, 2010


So, today's mail brought the new issue of MALLORN (#49), the journal of the Tolkien Society, and with it my latest new publication: the Guest Editorial.

Having been a member of the Society off and on for going on thirty years now, it was quite an honor to be asked. And I find myself in good company: this adds my name to an interesting and eclectic list of guest editorialists, including Tom Shippey (#45), Tanith Lee (#46), and Jn Garth (#48).

As for my topic, I called the piece "How Do We Know What We Know?", and discussed how working scholars take pieces of evidence and assemble them to give us clues about things we don't have direct knowledge on -- like, say, when did the Inklings begin to meet?* When did Tolkien write MR BLISS: circa 1928 or circa 1932-33?** Did he write FARMER GILES before or after THE HOBBIT?*** Did Tolkien really think the ground in Ireland was saturated with ancient evil?****

But it's not so much the specific answers that I focused on as the ins and outs of the process. Which is better: when the evidence is sketchy but all points in one direction (as, for example, in the probable date Tolkien finished THE HOBBIT) or when we have more evidence but it's contradictory (as in when Tolkien started THE HOBBIT)? Are we allowed to reach conclusions at all, or shd every date be surrounded by a cloud of "perhaps" and "maybe" and "might" and "possibility" &c? There's a lot of evidence still out there: how long do we wait to gather it before proceeding to conclusions, or at least preliminary conclusions that may later get shored up or disproved by new evidence, or a new assemblage of the evidence?

I think the next big step in Tolkien studies will be when someone assembles a detailed timeline focussing solely on all Tolkien's writing, as scholars have done decades ago with other major writers (e.g., Chaucer), so that we get a better idea of when he was working on what, what works were being carried on concurrently (e.g., THE LAY OF LEITHIAN and THE HOBBIT), &c. Taum attempted this back in 1984, but there just wasn't enough information out there yet for it to hit a sort of internal critical mass. We're a ways off from that yet, but I think we're getting close: within a decade we shd be there.

I end with a mention of how much I'm looking forward "to seeing what projects, by scholars whose names I don't even know yet, will see the light of day over the coming decade" -- and I shd have added, what awards they'll be winning.

Exciting times ahead.


*answer: circa 1933-34.
**answer: prob. circa 1932-33.
***answer: prob. before, but the question is still open.
****answer: who knows? My guess is the anecdote is true but referred to a specific spot, not the whole island.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Errata: 28 Days

So, one thing I learned while at Kalamazoo was that there's another error in THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT that had hitherto eluded me. And not a typo either, but a factual error on my part. Specifically, Kristine Larsen, a keen-eyed astronomer & Tolkien scholar, has read my attempt to set in order all Tolkien's notes trying to reconcile the recalcitrant moons in THE HOBBIT to match what our real-world moon would do. And apparently at two points when laying out Tolkien's adding up the passing days between phases I repeat Tolkien's error and give the moon's period as 28 days.

Which, of course is wrong: the moon's cycle takes twenty-nine and a half days from New Moon to New Moon (or indeed to repeat any point, whether Full Moon, three-days-past-full gibbous, or whatever).

I shd know better -- after all, I have one of those beautiful moonphase poster calendars hanging on the stairwell -- but if anything slipped by me I'm not surprised it was in this section, which was by far the hardest part to edit of the entire project, and not just for its illegibility. To see Tolkien's mind go round and round over the same points without being able either to resolve the contradictions or be willing to abandon a hopeless project (since they cd only be fixed by altering one or more of the "fixed dates") was bad enough, but editing it required me to get into the same frame of mind to try to follow his line of thinking, which led to a lot of near-sleepless nights those two weeks I was working on this section.

Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Kristine for the specific page numbers where my gaff occurred -- one I've located (page 828, Text Note 2), where I shd have followed up with a correction mentioning the actual length needed. I'll make an update to this post when I find the other.

Still, at least I'm only repeating Tolkien's mistake, rather than taking something Tolkien had right and changing it to be wrong, which would have been embarrassing. The King of Gaffs in the book remains my passing reference to Gower as the author of PIERS PLOWMAN, wh. is as bad as referring to "Shakespeare's DOCTOR FAUSTUS" wd have been.

--John R.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Poke-em-with-a-Stick Wednesday: Seattle Boycotts Arizona

So, it's official: the City of Seattle is now boycotting the state of Arizona in protest over their new Juan Crow laws. You can find the news story, which includes a link to the text of the official resolution adopted by the City Council, here:

Interestingly enough, while you wdn't think Arizona (in the midst of all its turmoil) wd pay any attention to a symbolic gesture like this, it turns out they're well aware of how this is playing out across the nation; here's an Arizona news story reporting the news about the Seattle boycott.

And yes, the irony that Seattle wd make a specific exemption to keep 'big brother' cameras, run by an Arizona firm, operating here is, well, ironic.


current reading: "Liquid Music" (in MIDDLE EARTH MINSTREL) and "C. S. Lewis's 'The Meteorite' and the Importance of Context" (in the newest issue of MYTHLORE).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The New Arrival: Norwenglish

So, when I arrived home yesterday from the Kalamazoo trip, we found a book waiting for me on the porch. This is something that'd popped up on amazon, under their 'recommendations' ('if you like Book X, you're sure to enjoy Books Y & Z!') when I was looking at something else. Their system is obviously triggered by a few keywords (e.g., "Tolkien" or "manga"), but on the whole it seems a remarkably poor judge. In this case, however, I was intrigued by the fact that there was apparently a book on Tolkien that I knew nothing about. It sounded from the brief description* as if it might wander off into, shall we say, eccentric directions, a la Vanderploeg's notorious QUEST FOR MIDDLE-EARTH.

We'll, it turns out to be a v. slim little volume -- more a pamphlet than a book, really, w. only 34 pages, many of them half-blank. But its most notable feature is its sheer irreadability. The author clearly wrote his essay in some language other than English (probably Norwegian), then used an internet translation program to Englishize it. The results are, shall we say, unfortunate, but fascinating in their sheer awfulness, and strongly reminiscent of the opening credits of MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL, except that instead of Moose it keeps bringing up "Thousands Of Years!"

The argument, so far as I can make it out, seems to be that Tolkien's chief inspiration was Norwegian Viking Culture, which Carlson claims has been in the same place for at least the past ten thousand years. This came as a surprise, given that Norwegian is an Indo-European language and thus I wd have thought cd only have come to that part of the world much more recently than that (I assume displacing the Lapps). In any case, he soon wanders off into a discussion, rather hard to follow, asserting that Middle-earth/Norway is a plus-space alined with Good and Light and plusness, while Eisengard (Isengard) is an Outgard or outside-place of minus alined with Darkness and Evil. Albert Einstein comes into it at one point, for having allegedly worked out a mathematical proof of the existence of God ("where that scientifically work is today maybe in Pentagon -- can't know"). Carlson advances the somewhat dubious assertion that all Einstein's work was "100% perfect" so that "No more explanation need ever -- Einstein's work was complete without any faults . . . USA accepted Einstein and understood he was right in all his doings". After that it gets a little weird . . .

I can't manage any kind of summary of the final half of this little book; among its stranger moments is a passage that contains one of the relatively few references to Tolkien:

"The King and the Queen are crowned and live luckely [sic] all the time in their castle in the New Jerusalem. The sun sets down in red in the horizon -- over the castle and new days to come in Middle Earth. Pure symbolically there is being told by Tolkien that "The Ring" at last get throw away and made in to nothing in the "Doom Rock" -- and thereby just disappear for ever. "The ring" it self is though not evil -- only the human being who can be evil -- the ring it self has only a mission and that is to bring a message through to the humanity and that message itself is a good message." This follows a passage that seems to come out of nowhere about "a rubin . . . the color of a rose" (???) which has been "digitalizesed" [sic], a ring apiece for the King and Queen ("The Queens ring is stolen from time -- that's the problem. It has to be fetched back"), a rose for the queen (who we're told is both a candle and a pearl), &c.

To get a flavor of Carlson's prose, here's a link that reprints his Prologue


And, short as it seems, there's actually even less here for your money ($14.40) than its mere 34pages wd indicate: at one spot there's a five page section that gets repeated without any indication the author has done so (so muddled is his prose, and so repetitive, that it took me a while to realize this); elsewhere it's a full page recycled; here a paragraph, and everywhere lines and phrases used over and over again.

So, overall I'd have to say this is the most inept and incompetent publication I've ever seen. Even mimeographed fanzines with clip art show more professionalism and coherence. Worth checking out only if you are a fan of Wm McGonagall, Amanda McKittrick Ros, and other writers of that distinctive stamp. Maybe I shd take it to Mythcon to see if anyone wants to do a round-robin reading from it.

--John R.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Books at Kalamazoo

So, I'm just back from Kalamazoo tonight and one of the first tasks in sorting out the stuff I brought back and getting back to work is finding places on the shelves for the new books I bought over the extended weekend. Here's a list w. some brief annotations:

MIDDLE-EARTH MINSTREL: ESSAYS ON MUSIC IN TOLKIEN, ed. Brad Eden [McFarland, just out]. -- I'd held off ordering this one in hopes it'd be available in the Book Room, which it was (I think its official release date was the 15th). Its contents range from a piece on phonoaesthetics and a comparison of THE LAY OF LUTHIEN with SIR ORFEO (hm!) to an extensive piece on Tolkien's musical influences (Gregorian chant, Wagner, Sibellius) and music inspired by JRRT (Oliver, de Meij, Russell &c) by David Bratman, which I'm looking forward to reading.

THE VALE OF YORK HOARD. This is one of the 'British Museum Objects in Focus' little booklets which describe in great detail some artifact from the museum's collection. While in London back in 2007 I picked up four of these,* which I enjoyed greatly, so I thought I'd learn about this one as well. I was more interested in the forthcoming one (Sept/Oct?), which I ordered, on the FRANKS CASKET. I also ordered a similar but non-series from another publisher about a similar hoard found in Staffordshire.

SUTTON HOO AND ITS LANDSCAPE: THE CONTEXT OF MONUMENTS by Tom Williamson. I don't know if I'll ever get to Sutton Hoo, but this looked like a nice overview, well illustrated, of the site and its background.

ENGLAND'S BOY KING: THE DIARY OF EDWARD VI, 1547-1553. This is just an impulse buy; I thought it might be interesting to learn a little more about the last Tutor king by hearing his own voice, given that I have v. little impression of his personality.

WORDCRAFT: NEW ENGLISH TO OLD ENGLISH DICTIONARY AND THESAURUS by Stephen Pollington. Looks to be a handy one-way dictionary in which you look up the modern English word and it gives you the Old English equivalent(s). Might be a useful supplement to Clark-Hall's ANGLO SAXON DICTIONARY, which is what I generally use (a legacy from Taum's library). I'd love to have the Bosworth-Toller, but at least it's available online (and in all its bound glory in Suzzallo-Allen.

ELVES IN ANGLO-SAXON ENGLAND by Alaric Hall. An interesting-looking book on a v. interesting topic. I'm particularly looking forward to reading its third chapter, "Female Elves and Beautiful Elves" -- he devotes six pages just to "AElfscyne", wh. of course is relevant to anyone interest in Tolkien's poem "IDES AELFSCYNE".

NINE MEDIEVAL ROMANCES OF MAGIC, tr. Marijane Osborn. Among the contents are the opening section (the non-prophetic parts) of THOMAS OF ERCELDOUNE, accompanied by the more familiar version of the legend, THE BALLAD OF THOMAS RYMER. Also SIR LAUNFAL (a personal favorite), a little fragment from LYBEAUS DESCONUS (which I've not read, but is by the same author as SIR LAUNFAL), and TIM LIN (Child Ballad #39). Osborn was there at the conference and delivered a paper at an evening session the first night that I'm told was quite good: I was there in the audience, but two nights running of three to four hours' sleep a night, plus a trip out fraught with storms and delays and rebookings and reroutings had by that time caught up with me so much that I had a hard time following any of the four presentations at the evening session -- much to my annoyance, both at the time and afterwards, since what little bits I cd focus on seemed quite interesting.

MIDDLE ENGLISH ROMANCES, ed. A. C. Gibbs. Includes excerpts from KIGN HORN and HAVELOK THE DANE, both of which I've been wanting to pick up (too bad there's no GUY OF WARWICK as well). I had been hoping to find two Univ. of Exeter Press volumes covering some of the same ground (having just finished their ST. BRENDAN volume, picked up at the conf. two years ago, and having found their WACE and LAYAMON volumes last year) but my luck failed there.

Also on its way is PHYSIOLOGUS, a new translation from the Latin, wh. I ordered after skimming their display copy -- given how much trouble I had finding a reliable translation at Suzzallo-Allen when working on the Bestiary poems for my Kalamazoo presentation, I thought it'd be worthwhile picking this up to have on hand henceforth. I almost bought the EETS volume of the Middle English Physiologus in the Powells Room, which I'd thought was well done when working w. it recently, but ultimately decided against it, since Suzzallo Allen does have that one.

Finally, as the book room was closing down I picked up a little booklet from Phil Kaveny's booth, THE HORRORS WE BLESS: RETHINKING THE JUST-WAR LEGACY by Dan Maguire, who was a famous, not to same infamous, Marquette professor in my time there but whom I never had, since we were discouraged from taking any courses outside our own department (including a famed medieval history lecture that wd have been enormously useful to those of us who took Medieval Literature as one of our three fields). So now I'll get a taste of what I missed all those years ago.

A few non-book items from the Book Room shd be interesting: audio recordings by 'The Chaucer Studio' of performances of SIR GAWAIN & THE GREEN KNIGHT, KING ARTHUR'S DEATH (excerpts from the ALLITERATIVE MORTE & the STAZAIC MORTE), HORN CHILDE, PATIENCE (the Gawain-poet's hilarious version of Jonah), & PEARL. These shd make for entertaining listening during driving, or so I hope. We'll see.


*on the LEWIS CHESSMEN, the QUEEN OF DARKNESS, an Easter Island statue, and the SUTTON HOO HELMET.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Countdown to departure . . .

So, tomorrow I have to get up far too early to head out to Kalamazoo.

Printed copy of my paper, "Inside Literature: Tolkien's Exploration of Medieval Genres"?


Ibid. my Hobbit Roundtable piece exploring the Hobbit/Silmarillion link?*


Reading material for the flight? Headphones & Ipod for music? Laptop fully charged?


Acrophobia ready to engage just as we start down the runway?


If you're going to be joining the fun at Kalamazoo starting Thursday, be sure to catch me and say hi at some point. I'll be the one in the brown fedora.


*finished just last night.

Tolkien Documentary (II)

So, I've now watched the second in my stack of Tolkien documentaries, J. R. R. TOLKIEN AND THE BIRTH OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS [2004]. Turns out that while I picked this up (at Half Price Bks) in 2005, I never watched it -- I'm sure I'd remember this one. Must have gotten lost in the shuffle.

In essence, it's a one-hour retelling of Tolkien's life, with a narrator voiceover to a montage of still photos mixed with plenty of little film clips as well (much of it modern-day film inexpertly antiqued, with faux-scratches added, always in the same spots). So, if you want to know what various streets Tolkien lived on over a century ago look like now, this film will satisfy yr curiosity.

Oddly enough, it devotes about two-thirds of its time to his early life: by the time they get to the end of WWI they only have about twenty minutes of screen time left. I think this is probably in imitation of most children's biographies, which tend to focus on the subject's childhood, but it means shorting the period when he actually wrote all the things that make people want to know about him in the first place.

My verdict? Mostly harmless.

By watching this, you won't learn anything you wouldn't have learned from reading Carpenter (indeed, if you read TOLKIEN: A BIOGRAPHY you'd know much more than you'll get here). The main virtue of this documentary is that it shows a lot of the places Tolkien lived and worked in his life, esp. in Birmingham. And, if it's genuine, the best photo I've seen of their house at Bournmouth.

The main drawback: some of their photos are faked. That is, if they don't have a picture of the thing they're talking about, they go ahead and show you something they think might look like it without informing you of the substitution. The fact that they're willing to fake stuff undermines the viewer's confidence: that early photo looks like it might actually be Bloemfontein, but I strongly suspect the family photos of the Suffield and Tolkien clans they show are just some random Victorian-era photos they turned up.

minor annoyance #1: when discussing Tolkien's self-identification with the Beren & Luthien story, instead of the Tolkiens they show a guy with elf-ears as Tolkien/Beren and then an elven couple (with elf-ears v. much modeled on the Peter-Jackson film) for Edith/Luthien & Ronald/Beren. Not only does it look really stupid, but apparently they don't get it that BEREN'S NOT AN ELF.

minor annoyance #2: they don't know how to pronounce JRRT's second middle name, Reuel. Fair enough, but consistency wd be nice. Here the first time it's pronounced Rowell, as if it rhymed with 'Howell' or 'Powell'. Thereafter it's Raoul, wh. makes me think more of Tears for Fears' album RAOUL & THE KINGS OF SPAIN than JRRT.

minor annoyance #3: their suggestion that Tolkien blotted out the memory of having been bitten by a spider when he was a year and a half old due to suppressing a traumatic memory. My theory wd be that he didn't remember it because most folks don't remember things that happen to them when they're less than two, you know?

Ah well. Here's hoping hobbit proverbs prove true for the third try, and hence the next documentary.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Preparing for Kalamazoo . . .

So, the good news is that I've now finished the draft of my paper for Kalamazoo: "Inside Literature: Tolkien's Explorations of Medieval Genres". Still needs work (not least, coming up with a better subtitle), but at least I now have a completed paper for the presentation.

The bad news? On a trial run, it took me thirty minutes to read. My available time on the panel? Fifteen minutes.

So, now it's a matter of coming up with a satisfactory abridgment for oral presentation that will make sense, not leaving out any necessary parts of the argument while also not being too jarring to the ear. Tricky, but shd be do-able.

And now to turn, a little later than I'd like, to drafting out my bit for the Tolkien Roundtable on THE HOBBIT, where I also have a lot to say and even less time to say it (about ten minutes).

-John R.
current reading: The Voyage of St. Brendan (13th century Dutch version)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Among the Classics

So, today I was walking by a table marked "Classics" in the local Borders Bookstore when my eye was drawn by the sight of a familiar book: THE HOBBIT. Since I'm always interested in the context in which Tolkien is presented -- e.g., whether he's shelved in Fantasy/Sci.Fi. or Fiction or Literature or given his own little section -- I stopped and jotted down the titles of the other books sharing the table. Here they are, in no particular order:

Animal Farm
The Great Gatsby
Crime & Punishment
A Lesson Before Dying
The Stranger
Treasure Island
The Hobbit
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; bound with Through the Looking Glass
The Once & Future King
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Grapes of Wrath
East of Eden
Les Miserables
The Catcher in the Rye
Franny & Zooey
Brave New World + BNW Revisited
Wuthering Heights
And Then There Were None
Fahrenheit 451
Robinson Crusoe
Invisible Man (Ellison)
Lady Chatterley's Lover

So there you have it: twenty-six books, chosen I suspect more or less at random. Only three by living authors, so far as I cd tell on a quick check. Some are literary (in the sense that everyone admits they're part of the canon, taught wherever there are lit. classes), like the Austen. Others are modern classics that, although in newer genres, have shown staying power over decades, like the Bradbury and I suppose the Christie. A few are children's classics, like the Stevenson, or have now been re-assigned to children's literature although originally written for adults, like the Defoe. And which of these categories does THE HOBBIT belong in? I'd say the second and probably also the third.

And how many of these have I read? Sorry to say, only fifteen. And how many of those would I re-read again? Perhaps half, maybe as many as two-thirds.

And what book wd I most want to be added to that table, given my druthers? Something by Twain -- maybe LETTERS FROM THE EARTH or perhaps a collection of humorous tales and sketches (he was a better tale-teller than novelist).

--John R.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Feral Pansy

So, a few days ago I picked up some zinnias, marigolds, and wallflowers to plant in the yard,* mainly to protect other plants already there. And today I finally got them into the ground.

The marigolds went around the Mimosa (which isn't doing too well, unfortunately--the buds that'd been green earlier this spring have now disappeared).

The zinnias went around the day lilies, which only got set out about two months ago and have been mowed down twice already. Arrgh.

And the wallflowers got planted alongside the fence next to the feral pansy.

Feral pansy? Well, I'm not sure what else to call it. Pansies of course are supposed to be annuals, rather than perennials (so that they die every winter and you have to plant new ones every year). But for several years now I've noticed that on occasion one or two pansies will come up on their own in places where I'd had some the year before. At first I thought these were hardy survivors that somehow made it through the winter on their own. More recently, I've concluded that they're self-seeded from last year's plants.

In any case, a lone pansy (and a v. nice one, by the way) came up in a rather exposed spot where it didn't look to have much chance to make it, so I've now planted wallflowers in a row next to it, both to keep mowers away and to remind me to water it, come the dry season.

Flowers, check. Tomato plants, check. Magnolia-in-a-pot (now three of them, each about two inches high), check. Now if I cd just find a way to grow sunflowers again . . . We'll see.

*pansies, because they're one of my mother's favorite flowers; zinnias, because I remember them from Monticello when I was growing up; and wallflowers because, while I only first came across them a few years ago, I kinda like them as a nice old-fashioned flower whose heyday was before my time.