Thursday, October 28, 2010

Miriam Lichtheim (EGYPT, part two)

EGYPT, con't

One of the things reading PHARAOH'S FLOWERS did was reminded me of Miriam Lichtheim's* three-volume set of scrupulous translations ANCIENT EGYPTIAN LITERATURE. I've had this set for quite a while, and enjoyed reading it v. much; I'm looking forward to re-reading it at some point after I've done some more background reading, the better to appreciate it (e.g., reading the whole of THE BOOK OF GOING FORTH BY DAY). In the meantime, I enjoy dipping into them now and again.

Of these, Vol. I I inherited from Taum; Vol II I bought about five years later at the long-vanished Blake's Books in Milw, and Vol III I thought I'd picked up at the museum store at the Field Museum next to their impressive Egypt room, but I've written in it that it was one of my earliest purchases on either my memory is faulty or I must have seen it in the museum store on my first visit there, passed on it, later regretted having not picked it up when I had the chance, and then not been able to find it again on my second visit.

In any case, Lichtheim's series covers everything from Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts (which fall into what we think of today as 'THE BOOK OF THE DEAD') to brief autobiographies, hymns, cosmogonical myths, wonder stories, wisdom literature (think Proverbs), even love poems. One of my favorite bits was an inscription of a pharaoh who, on a long trip across the desert, got thirsty. He ordered that a well be dug so others crossing that desert after him shdn't have to suffer like that, and put up a marker with the inscription to explain why the way-station was there. Now that's my kind of pharaoh.

What particularly struck me this time I looked into the books were the love poems included in her second volume (THE MIDDLE KINGDOM). One of these is so short and simple as to be essentially timeless: a mere six lines from Papyrus Harris 500:

My heart thought of my love of you
When half of my hair was braided;
I came at a run to find you
And neglected my hairdo.
Now if you let me braid my hair
I shall be ready in a moment.
(Lichtheim, Vol. II, p. 191)

That sounds to me v. like one of Ezra Pound's translations from the Chinese. Another, also from the same papyrus, is quite different:

I shall lie down at home
And pretend to be ill;
Then enter the neighbors to see me,
Then comes my beloved** with them.
She will make the physicians unneeded
She understands my illness!

--I found this one striking for its similarity to courtly romance motifs C. S. Lewis claimed (in THE ALLEGORY OF LOVE) to have been the invention of the 12th century. I suspect the attitudes described were already old when those lines were written down, some three thousand years ago. People don't change much.

Speaking of which, another piece included in the same volume is the wonder tale The Two Brothers, which Tolkien famously evoked in ON FAIRY-STORIES (see Anderson/Flieger p. 37 et al). This comes from Papyrus D'Orbiney, and it's rather a nice touch that we actually know who wrote this papyrus -- that is, the name of the scribe, Ennana, who carefully copied it down near the end of what we know as the Nineteenth Dynasty.


*the late Miriam Lichtheim, I shd say, since a quick check shows that she died a few years back at the age of ninety. Apparently she was a Turkish-Israeli Egyptologist: an interesting combination, and highly respected in the field.
**Lichtehim's original reads "sister" here, and she explains that "brother" or "sister" were terms of endearment between lovers in Egyptian custom. That strikes a somewhat creepy tone to the modern ear, however, so I made the substitution.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


So, while I seem to be in an Egyptological mood, I might as well take advantage of it to make three quick related posts.

(1) One of the books I took with me to read on my recent trip (#II.2874) was PHARAOH'S FLOWERS: THE BOTANICAL TREASURES OF TUTANKHAMUN by F. Nigel Hepper [2nd ed, 2009], a beautifully illustrated little book. I'd seen this in one of the book catalogues I've been getting ever since I started going to Kalamazoo, clipped it out, and then amazingly enough not lost the reference in the intervening months before I finally got around to ordering it.

It turns out to be very much the sort of book you'll really like if you like books like this, and I most definitely do. Basically Hepper, a researcher at the Kew Botanical Gardens, takes every kind of plant found within Tutankhamun's tomb (wood, spice, food, fiber) and explains whether it was native to Egypt (papyrus, willow, linen/flax), not native but capable of being grown there in carefully tended gardens or fields or orchards (cornflowers, wheat, olive trees, barley), or exotic imports (birch-bark, cedar of Lebannon, myrrh, frankincense). It was disappointing to learn that stories of seeds taken from the tomb being planted and sprouting are spurious. Like Hepper, I find myself curious about what persea fruit might taste like. And I enjoyed his story about the amazing discovery, a few years ago, of tiny grains of tobacco in some New Kingdom tombs. How cd this be, when tobacco is a New World plant? Turns out that (a) 19th century archeologists loved them their snuff and (b) our modern equipment for detecting and analyzing plant residue has become fantastically sophisticated. It was also interesting to learn that Egyptian beekeepers wore no sort of protective garments -- Hepper assumes they just had to suck up getting stung as part of the job; I suspect they simply used slow, gentle movements to avoid alarming their bees.

Of all the things found in the tomb, though, the one that surprised me the most was the discovery that King Tut liked watermelons. I had no idea they had watermelons (recognizably like the roundish ones still popular today) in ancient Egypt, but they found a batch of watermelon seeds in the tomb -- apparently the Egyptians liked to eat them like sunflower seeds.

The most moving thing of all, and the one biggest take-away from the book (aside from my ever-increasing admiration for ancient people's ingenuity in discovering food resources) are the flowers that were found in the innermost coffin, laid directly on the young king's body. It drove home, as nothing else does, that this is not 'an archeological sight' but a burial: it's not hard to picture the young widow placing them there just before the lid was put on for the last time, just as people still do today.

In short, a fascinating little book, lavishly illustrated (in both black & white and color). I might have to follow it up by searching down one of the books mentioned in its bibliography, Zohary & Hopf's THE DOMESTICATION OF PLANTS IN THE OLD WORLD [1993], assuming it's non-specialist enough to not be too opaque to a general reader.



Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hitchens re. Lewis & Tolkien

So, today when listening to my current audiobook -- Christopher Hitchens' new autobiography HITCH-22, I came across a passing mention of Tolkien and Lewis. Checking a print copy at my friendly neighborhood bookstore, I transcribed the passage, which turns out to be a footnote on page 78. Since I think relatively few people who enjoy reading Tolkien will be reading Hitchens' book, thought I'd share it -- particularly since there's no mention of it in the book's index.

However, it's pretty dismissive, so if such things annoy you, best to stop reading now. I'll insert a little spoiler space to help:

In a footnote to a passage describing his passion for a fellow student, Hitchens writes:

"It was Guy, now dead for some time but in his later years an amazingly successful seducer of girls, who first insisted that I read the Greek-classical novels of Mary Renault. If this was all he had done for me, I would still be hoarsely grateful to him. While other boys plowed their way across the puerile yet toilsome pages of Narnia, or sank themselves into the costive innards of Middle Earth, I was following the thread of Ariadne and the tracks of Alexander. The King Must Die; The Bull from the Sea: Athens has seldom trumped Jerusalem with greater style or panache."

I'm a bit suspicious of this passage, since it's describing Hitchens (b. 1949) when he was the equivalent of a high school student, apparently roughly 15 or so (circa 1964), which seems about right for folks to read LotR but a bit old to be discovering Narnia for the first time.

The irony, of course, is that Hitchens apparently doesn't know that both Tolkien and Lewis were admirers of Renault's work, particularly the two novels he cites. So while he drags them in to score some points, they wd actually have been in agreement with him about Renault's merits.

current audiobook: HITCH-22
current novel: THE RED PYRAMID

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ravenstone Castle

So, we stayed in a lot of places on our recent trip -- at Harbor House in Wheaton for me (in two different rooms) for the first (solo) stage of the trip; then together for the second phase in a hotel in Rockford, at my brother-in-law's, at Lake Lawn Lodge in Delavan (where I had a great walk into the nearby woods and even saw hitherto unsuspected beehives), and finally in Ravenstone Castle, a new(ish) B&B just outside Harvard, Illinois.

We hadn't even known there was a B&B in Harvard, so when Janice discovered about Ravenstone Castle when preparing for this trip, it seemed something we'd really regret passing up. Basically, it's a castle in the middle of an old cornfield on the outskirts of town. Here's what it looks like outside:

The decor inside is all tapestries, medieval-themed paintings, &c. We stayed in the King Arthur room, but the last day we were there got the tour of the other rooms: the Queen Elizabeth room, the Egyptian room (the odd-man-out so far as the medieval/renaissance theme went, but by far the most impressive of the lot), and a fourth room they've just completed, the v. neat Unicorn room (which has a set of six Unicorn-&-the-Maiden tapestries). To get an idea of what the first three of these look like, check out the following link:

We also enjoyed walking around the back and seeing the frog pond (at one point sadly depleted, we were told, by serving as the temporary haven of a little rescued turtle, who apparently enjoyed his time there more than the tadpoles did). And of course, it being us, we were particularly glad to make the acquaintance of three of their six cats: Sir Peter (whom, in deference to Dorothy Sayers, I dubbed 'Lord Peter'),** a fluffy white cat w. black patches I dubbed Lady Harriet, and a sleek black cat with white whiskers and an amazing voice whom I called Orbison.***

All in all, someplace I'd gladly stay again -- though next time we might need to go for a shorter stay so as to pull out all the stops and stay in the Egyptian Room -- having just read a fascinating little book on all the plants found in King Tut's tomb, and just started today on Rick Riordan's latest, THE RED PYRAMID, I'm primed on the subject right now.


*I particularly liked The Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton, which looked v. preRaphaelite.

**For a picture of Lord Peter, click here:

***since I already know a black cat with a Siamese voice named Elvis (of Tindalos House), it seemed appropriate to extend the Sun Records theme to another black cat. His voice was too mournful to make me think of Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash seemed inappropriate, and there's no need to insult a cat by comparing him to Jerry Lee Lewis.

I'd forgotten that they mentioned the castle had been the subject of a local news segment, which Janice has just tracked down for me. If you'd like to see a little video about the castle, here's the link:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Day at Marquette (part two)


Of course I'd hoped to get through more than I did, and the two other projects I'd thought of spending a little time on after I finished with my main task (a look at Taum's papers and some more time with Boorman's LotR script) will, like my hoped-for time at the Wade to work some more on THE DARK TOWER and the Major's diaries, have to wait for Another Time.

I did have one nice bit of serendipity, when Richard asked me if I'd seen the new Wm Gray book. I had not, but he pointed out that I was listed in its index. So after he'd had a look at it, he let me borrow it for a minute. In full its title is FANTASY, MYTH AND THE MEASURE OF TRUTH: TALES OF PULLMAN, LEWIS, TOLKIEN, MACDONALD, AND HOFFMAN (Palgrave Macmillan [2009]). So many books have been coming out about Tolkien these last few years that I've slacked off buying the ones focused on multiple authors which only have a chapter or so devoted to JRRT,*** but I see from the Gray that I'll have to mend my ways.

Of its entires relating to me, two were to MR. BAGGINS, which of course I was happy enough to see. But to my surprise and delight the rest were to my essay from the 2004 Blackwelder conference: "And All the Days of Her Life Are Forgotten: LotR as Mythic Prehistory". I had put a lot of effort into this piece and been pleased with how it turned out, feeling I was on to something, an aspect of Tolkien's work that hadn't gotten the attention it deserved. So I confess I'd been disappointed when my contribution met with the dismissive review by Brian Rosebury (himself the author of an excellent bk on Tolkien's style), in which he summed up what he thought was my thesis and then asked "Why should this matter . . . ?" (TS.IV.284-285). My 1981 Haggard piece, the 1985 Wms & Tolkien piece, and my 1992/1996 Tolkien & Lewis piece had all been quoted from or referred to a fair number of times, so I was a bit disappointed that this piece, aside from David Bratman's scrupulously neutral summary in The Year's Work (TS.VI.330), had apparently sunk without a trace.

Gray, by contrast, devotes most of a brief section of his book ("More Trouble with Human History"--specifically, pages 80-87) to a summary and critique of my argument. In the process he makes exactly the kind of point I wd make if I were revising the essay today: that CSL describes something v. like what I think Tolkien was doing on one level with the term "supposals" -- something I only noticed about two years ago when re-reading the CSL collection ON STORIES when researching another project. I'm only sorry I didn't have a chance to look at Gray's book in more detail; now I'll have to order a copy. Unfortunately, being from Palgrave Macmillan,**** it will not be cheap (indeed, checking just now I see it's fifty pounds).

So, a good visit. As always, too brief, but it did feel good to be back in the Archives again.

--John R.

***e.g. Dickerson's HOMER TO HARRY POTTER, which I only picked up the night of his Wade lecture. I've only had a chance to skim this so far, and can report that he v. much does not like Phillip Pullman.

****also the publisher of Dimitra Fimi's book, winner of this year's Mythopoeic Award.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Day at Marquette (part one)

So, today (Wend. Oct. 20th) we drove up from the Harvard Castle* and I got to spend the day at Marquette while Janice had fun lunching with friends from her days in the Milwaukee office (Judy, Monica, and Nancy), seeing the Mitchell domes, and revisiting the old neighborhood (seems like the Beans & Barley is still there, though the sushi shop of doom is long gone, and the earth opened up and swallowed part of the nearby street). The theme of places where I used to know being torn down continues, and seems to be accelerating. From the freeway we saw that Tory Hill -- a v. pleasant green space on Marquette's SE corner few students paid any attention to -- is now buried beneath a new Law Building.** Coming down Wisconsin Avenue from 27th street to the Marquette area, we passed building after building where businesses that'd already been there when I arrived in 1981 we now gone, at least one (the florist shop) with a 'Lost Our Lease' sign in the window. But the biggest surprise was my discovery that my apartment on 17th street--where I lived when I took my doctoral exams, struggled over my dissertation topic, and helped plan two Tolkien conferences--is now gone, its building, and the building behind it, and the parking lot on the corner all now vanished beneath what will be the new Engineering Bldg once it's completed.

I'd planned to meet three friends for lunch, and had decided for old time's sake to meet up at Angelo's, the local Italian place at the corner of 16th and Wells where I went many a time with Taum back in my Marquette days. When I heard that morning that Angelo's too was soon to close, I was glad I picked it and looked forward to eating their lasagna one last time. Unfortunately, when Richard (West) and I arrived to meet up with Jim (Pietrusz) and Jim (Lowder), we found it was already too late: Angelo's was closed, with fond farewell and we'll miss you -type messages scribbled on the door and wall in chalk. Gah! Meanwhile, I found out later from Janice that her apartment on Kenilworth, where we lived after we first got married (and indeed where we had the marriage ceremony itself), is now not just gone but replaced by some ugly condos. So far as I know that just leaves the Abbotsford, the place in Hales' Corner, and possibly the house on 25th street remaining of all the places I lived in the Milwaukee area, and I wdn't bet on the 25th street house's having survived, given that it was in a 'transitional' neighborhood. Too bad; I'm the kind of person who likes physical corolaries to my memories.

Thankfully the new Archives is still there, and I enjoyed seeing Matt (the Archivist) and Susan (the Archives Secretary) and having a chat with Mark (who's in charge of the Indian Missions records), who I hadn't seen the last time or two I'd been there. Richard came over from Madison (via the faltering service of the Badger Bus, once a stalwart method of getting back and forth between the two cities) to join me, and I'm glad I took the time out at lunch for the get-together with Jim and Jim, both of whom I don't get to see nearly as often as I'd like. We caught up on each other's current projects and recent horror/war stories and just generally enjoyed the chance to get together. Then it was back to the Archives for Richard and myself. I had a busy day but did just get through everything I needed for the main project I was working on (the Kilby piece I'd just done a lot on at the Wade the week earlier), thanks to Matt Blessing's generosity with his time and providing access to the materials I needed to see. It was fascinating to read about events I'd participated in from a different perspective, and to see bits of my life preserved in a fashion in the official record.


*Ravenstone Castle, just outside of Harvard, Illinois. Since it's worthy of a post in itself, I'll hold off on further description here.

**the v. one in which Feingold and his challenger had their debate a few days later

Monday, October 18, 2010

Charles Williams' Example for Lewis?

So, despite my not being able to make it to Diana Pavlac-Glyer's talk at the Wade this week

her ongoing work to assert mutual influences between the Inklings came to mind last week while I was working with the Williams papers. I knew Wms was prolific: he usually came out with several books at year he either edited or wrote, along with a slew of articles and reviews and poems. But the checklists and bibliographies I'd seen don't really convey an idea of the sheer mass of material he produced, or just how quickly he worked. The particular piece I was looking at -- preserved in the form of a seven-page typescript -- his personal archivist Raymond Hunt referred to as a 'weekend job', and believed he cd assign to a specific two-day period in which it was written.* The Wade's Wms holdings includes drafts of novels, multiple drafts of many plays, essays, poems, lecture notes, &c. &c. Here's their listing of over four hundred separate Mss and Tss in their collection:

Now, this got me to thinking. Lewis is also remembered as an epically prolific author, but it's often been remarked as curious that he was very slow in getting started. In the first ten years after he became a don, he published only one significant article and one major book. Plus, of course, he researched and wrote his famous lecture series published posthumously as THE DISCARDED IMAGE. It's sometimes been said that at an American university he probably wd have been denied tenure for such a sparse publication record. But that all changed in the late 30s/early 40s (being away from home I can't consult the bibliographies to narrow down the date), after which he became famously productive, issuing a steady stream of articles and books and letters.

Why the change? Well, in as far as anyone has offered an explanation, it's been that somehow his conversion was responsible -- that converting to Xianity lit a fire under him that never went out, and the speed at which he wrote and published was one aspect of this. How do we know, though, that this isn't a case of post hoc prompter hoc? I'd like to suggest another possible stimulus that I think is equally plausible: what if the example of Charles Williams played a role? One of the strongest influences on a writer is the example of other writers. Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield, and Greeves -- the circle of writers the young CSL was most familiar with -- were not particularly productive so far as their publication record went, and often worked on projects for years without getting them published. But Williams, who transferred to Oxford in late 1939 and was in close contact with CSL for the remainder of the war years, wrote quickly and published immediately, exactly as the latter CSL did. I don't think this is the sort of thing that's susceptible to proof, but I'd be interested to see the evidence laid out and see if an interesting pattern may emerge.


*Hunt's twenty-volume set of typed transcriptions of Wms' collected works ran to well over three thousand pages -- apparently all in chronological order, as near as he cd get it. Didn't have time this visit, but I'm looking forward to seeing the originals of these next visit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


So, last week I got to spend five days going research at Wheaton. While I always enjoy the chance to visit the Wade Collection, I find that I get a lot more done when I'm here for an extended trip (several days in a row) than when I have a sequence of single-day visits, even if they add up to the same number of hours with the material. I think the longer trips enable me to hit some kind of critical mass, just as I get a lot done writing or editing when I concentrate entirely on project rather than try to fit it in with a few hours a night.

This trip was also unusual for me in that while I spent some time (roughly half the visit) with Tolkien-related projects -- specifically, looking some things up in the Clyde Kilby archives, which turn out to be full of gems -- this marked the first time I've worked with the Charles Williams papers. Their archive of Williams letters and manuscripts is vast. I was looking for an item by Williams that was reported lost in 1946 which I'd heard might still survive. Not only does it turn out to survive, but in at least three separate typescripts, which I collated together. Interesting stuff. I was also interested to discover that in his letters Williams' tone is completely different depending on whether he's writing to a man (in which case he's relatively straightforward) or a woman (in which he's flirty, playful, commanding, flattering, intensely personal). I also spent some time on various smaller projects, like the ongoing effort to prove that C. S. Lewis wrote J. R. R. T.'s TIMES obituary, and briefly following up on various small points that arose while working on other things. I did not, alas, have a chance to get any further on THE DARK TOWER or the Major's diaries, the chief focus of last year's visit, which will have to stay in abeyance until next year's visit.*

Another great thing about the visit was not just getting to see the great folks at the Wade but managing a get-together with my friend Darrell Martin, who I hadn't seen in so many years that we cdn't exactly work out when the last time had been; certainly more than a decade and possibly as long ago as the last X-Con I attended (in 1991 in Milwaukee, just before Taum died). And I got to attend a lecture at the Wade by Matthew Dickerson, co-author (w. Jonathan Evans, who wrote a great article on Tolkien's dragons) of a book on Tolkien and ecology that I'd just begun reading. Diana Pavlac will be there next week, but afraid the timing just doesn't work out for that one for me. Still, a great trip full of interesting discoveries.

And now I'm looking forward to a day at Marquette this coming week.


current reading: ENTS ELVES & ERIADOR
current anime: THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA, season two

*about the only disappointment, other than that every research trip turns out to be just a little too short when it comes time to down tools on the final day, was that the Wheaton College bookstore's Tolkien shelf had shrunk to almost nothing. It's usually worth a visit, because they carry a wide array of books by and about the seven authors in the Wade Collection. This time, however, while they had a great selection of books by and about Lewis, as usual, they had only five books by Tolkien. By contrast, they had copies of four different editions of G. K. Chesterton's ORTHODOXY, which I'd say was at least three too many. -- JDR

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ransome's Tolkien

So, Saturday I was far enough along in my packing that I got to go down to the Antiquarian Book Fair with Janice and spent a while looking around. This is a great event I only get to every two or three years -- and a good thing too, budget-wise, as otherwise I'd empty out the scholar fund in no time.

This year there were any number of things I'd have liked to have -- various novels and a Jorkens collection by Dunsany, a Van Gulik story I hadn't heard of before, the Arkham House omnibus of all Hodgson's novels -- but I was able to resist: the pieces I was on the look-out for (Dunsany's PLAYS OF EARTH & AIR, a book on NW Pictoglyphs I'd seen but that'd been sold by the time I decided I wanted it last time, any early copies of OSSIAN) were not to be seen. I did buy an old book on Unknown Warwickshire, mainly for a short chapter it had on the Red Horse of Tysoe, but partly to get a little better acquainted w. Tolkien country.

It was Janice who discovered the prize of the show: the James Cummins Bookseller booth which had on display the page proofs of THE LORD OF THE RINGS sent to Arthur Ransome in December 1953, along with Stanley Unwin's letter asking if Ransome cdn't give them a good quote they cd use in promoting the book. Ransome and Unwin went way back, of course,* and I'd done what I cd to document Ransome's interest in THE HOBBIT and his fascinating exchange of letters with Tolkien at the time of that book's publication. I'd known Ransome was sent a copy of LotR -- I now see, consulting the Scull-Hammond CHRONOLOGY, that it was at Tolkien's request -- and it was a surprise and bit of a shock to round a corner and suddenly find myself unexpectedly right in front of it. What's more, the bookseller took them out of the case and showed me the map (in beautiful condition) and a page from the Caradhras episode where Ransome had queried Tolkien's use of "men" to mean the Fellowship. This was of course the exact point Ransome had zeroed in on** in THE HOBBIT sixteen years earlier; nice to see he was not just attentive but retentive as well. I'd have loved to have taken them home with me, but at $50,000 they're beyond the reach of any but the most well-heeled private collector or some major library or museum. I hope they find a good home, where they'll be well taken care of as well as used, rather than simply hoarded. I wonder what Ransome's reply to Unwin was, or whether he and Tolkien exchanged any letters at the time of the LotR's publication as well. If I ever get up to the Ransome archive at Leeds, which seems unlikely, I'll have to look it up and try to find out.

You can find a description of this lot by going to the following link:

There's not a picture of it there, but I did buy a copy of their Catalogue #100, which has a nice two-page spread about this lot, with a color photo of the three volumes and Unwin's letter (partially readable from the angle shown).

They also have some other Tolkien for sale, but nothing this spectacular -- though they are offering a book on Germanic Philology*** from Tolkien's library for only $2.500. On the more affordable end, there's their set of the Ace paperbacks for just $75. For the full list (currently standing at seven books), just go to and type in "Tolkien" in the search box.

The bookseller I talked to, who was extremely knowledgable about matters Ransome-ian (far more so than myself, who's never read A.R.) as well as Tolkien, turns out to have his own book-themed website, which I'll have to check out when I'm somewhere with more reliable web access:

And as for me, I've gone from a room full of valuable books available for sell to a room full of valuable books and manuscripts available for research: the Wade Collection at Wheaton College, where I'll be pursing research on various Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, Other Lewis, et al related projects this week. Today I worked on the detailed explanation of his Arthurian cycle Wms wrote for C. S. Lewis, who transcribed a few passages into his copy of TALIESSIN THROUGH LOGRES and then threw the original away! Turns out that Wms kept a copy -- which was news to me (I only found out about it from a footnote in Diana Pavlac's book) but apparently well-known in Wms circles: Ridler publishes an excerpt from it in her edition of Wms' essays (THE IMAGE OF THE CITY & OTHER ESSAYS, 1958), and David Llewellyn Dodds, in an essay in a book I contributed to (THE RHETORIC OF VISION, ed Huttar & Schakel, 1996), devotes an extended footnote to describing these notes and dating when they were written. Still, seeing the whole piece (and not just the snippets Lewis quotes in WILLIAMS AND THE ARTHURIAD, which turn out to have been paraphrased by CSL) is quite interesting. I'd typed out all the bits Lewis had quoted, and comparing what he included with what he left out is interesting of itself. I think there's potentially a good article in this.

And, just to show there's no escaping a book that's got yr name on it, today I bought a copy of the original edition of the book I've been working with the past two weeks, ARTHURIAN TORSO [1948] -- and found a typo in it (on p. 171, Lewis's reference to "p. 24" shd actually be to page 74 instead. Alas. Kind of like when I found a typo in Dunsany's second book no one had noticed between 1906 and then -- and yet the story in question has been reprinted several times since with that error still in place. Sigh.

--John R.

current reading:
--just finished TOLKIEN'S SANCTIFYING MYTH by Birzer (disappointing!)
--just started PHARAOH'S FLOWERS: THE BOTANICAL TREASURES OF TUTANKHAMUN by Hepper (fascinating book)


*I don't have my books at hand to check this, but my memory is that Unwin had stood by Ransome back during the Great War

**using this, it strikes me for the first time that it must be an Americanism. At any rate I've never heard of anybody zedding in on something.

***GERMANIC PHILOLOGY, by Richard Loewe, tr. J. D. Jones [1913]

Friday, October 8, 2010


So, earlier this week (Wednesday I think) I was surprised to see two honeybees on one of the hummingbird feeders. First, because I've seen so few honeybees this year (it was a bad year for insects all round, but esp. for honeybees), and second because I've never seen one try to get at the hummingbird's nectar before -- yellowjackets try on occasion (but they've been rare this year too -- too cold and too dry, I think), and we have a good many bumblebees on the bee-bush in back, but the honeybees were a surprise. I think this is our third year of having the hummingbird feeders on the balcony, and this marks a new first.

Then the next day there were five honeybees on one feeder and six on the other. The hummingbirds don't seem to like it. They can deal with the wasps, with both sides mutually buzzing the other, but the bees settle in and won't budge. I cd put on the bee-guards that come with the feeders, but that seems hard on the bees (who are having a hard time of it anyway, what with Colony Collapse Disorder and all).

And about the same the day after (today). I don't think it'll be too long before the bees are gone for the year, so the hummingbirds shd be okay. But it's odd they appeared so suddenly. Perhaps they came because the other sources of food (flowers, blossoms) are disappearing for the fall. We'll see how long they keep coming up, and how the hummingbirds deal with it.

--John R.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Friend Franklin

Today I got the bad news that my friend Franklin Chestnut had been taken ill last week and rushed to the hospital where, after various complications arising from previously undiagnosed diabetes, he died on Sunday.

It was good of Franklin's sister to get me the news, which couldn't have been easy given that we've never met. I'm grateful to her for letting me know, and for sending a link to the brief obit posted at the funeral home's site; beyond those bare facts you can get a better idea of what he was like, and why people liked him, by clicking on the "view all memories" link at the bottom of that page and seeing the memories of Franklin people posted there.

Given how rarely I saw Franklin -- only two get-togethers since we left Fayetteville in '81 -- it's really hit me hard that he's suddenly gone. There are some people you depend upon always being there, even if you're not in touch, and for me Franklin was one of those people. We'd been grad students together at Fayetteville in the Master's program there, and after I moved up to Milwaukee and he moved back to Russellville we kept in touch, exchanging letters --at first every few months, eventually about every other year or so. His were full of what he was reading, what new music he was listening to, and what he'd written lately; mine were full of my latest scholarly projects, recent record purchases, and any new authors I'd come across.

Early on he'd sent me his master's thesis, and later on some of his poems, but always on the condition that I not make any copy and sent them back after I'd read them: He was the shyest author I've ever known. So that now I find that aside from his letters I only have one poem ("The Blind Man Describes the Color Green"), my favorite of them all, though the details of why it was exempted I no longer remember.

I'm particularly sad that I don't have a copy of his master's thesis, which was an introduction to fantasy literature and survey of all the major authors. I enjoyed reading this v. much, and I learned a lot from the way he organized the material and put the authors in context to each other. I was pretty new to fantasy at the time, having just seriously expanded beyond re-reading Tolkien about two years before. I'll always be grateful to him for introducing me to the work of John Bellairs: I remember that the passage he excerpted from THE FACE IN THE FROST was the pumpkin coach episode. I learned a lot from Franklin, and remember sharing my enthusiasm for Thorne Smith and Lord Dunsany with him when I discovered their work in the summer and fall of 1981, respectively.*

But whereas the rest of us in the Master's program together there at Fayetteville all took the two extra classes to fulfill the degree requirements (30 hours of coursework, or 24 hours plus a master's thesis), Franklin opted to write the thesis, since he wasn't going on to a doctoral program afterwards (that is, since he already had a library science degree, his Masters in English wd be for him a terminal degree, like a M.F.A. for creative writing students). He was the only one of us to do this, and it turned out disastrously. When he submitted it to his committee, the department (for reasons unclear at the time or afterwards) added a fourth member to his committee, who disliked his simply having presented a lot of information in a clear and coherent manner (as was appropriate for a survey and overview) rather that trying to view the material through the lens of critical theory. She convinced the rest of the committee to demand he re-write it, which he did. Then she demanded a second rewrite, which he did. Then she demanded a third rewrite (that is, a fourth version of the entire thesis). Whereupon he put it in a drawer, never again to see the light of day. A pity, since it was good work and would have served as a really good introduction to the genre -- I certainly would have cited it in my own dissertation, had that been an option.

But while that convinced him to leave academia, it didn't sour him on fantasy or reading or scholarship. Sometimes I'd send him a piece I'd done to get the benefit of his response, and I always enjoyed his comments. I particularly prize the letter he sent after I sent him THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT; I keep it in my own copy of MR. BAGGINS.

There's so much more I could say -- about how we met (he and his father came to look at the apartment I was leaving and he was instantly drawn to my record collection and Tolkien shelf),** or our shared love for Tolkien and rock music (esp. the Beatles),*** and cats. About his love of sharing his enthusiasms. About the time he came over, sure he was experiencing audial hallucinations, to ask if I had been playing "L. S. Bumble Bee" on a clarinet (the answer was yes). Or my favorite story when he knocked on my window in some distress and asked if I cd help him find his glasses. He'd looked all over his apartment and they were nowhere to be found. Whereupon I reached out and moved them from his forehead, where he'd absent-mindedly pushed them up sometime earlier, to let them fall into place on his nose, and watched the most beafic expression spread across his face.

In the end, it's so many good memories that make the sudden absence so stark. The last I heard from him, he was reading the BOOK OF ENOCH and John Ashbery (who I know of and actually met once**** but haven't read) and Kennth Koch (who I'd never even heard of). He was delighted that Brian Wilson had finally released SMILE after all those years, and he'd finally gotten a bootleg of the very Beatles concert he'd actually attended, in Memphis during their final tour.***** So I think ending with a musical reference is thoroughly appropriate. If he'd chosen for himself, it wd probably have been something from his hero Dr. Demento. But this song's been running through my head since I heard the news, so I think I'll end with it:

Just yesterday morning
They let me know you were gone.
Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning
And I wrote down this song
I just can't remember who to send it to.

Oh I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought wd never end
I've seen lonely times when I cd not find a friend
But I always thought I'd see you again.

--James Taylor, "Fire and Rain" [1970]

*actually, I'd read THE KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER the year before (circa Feb 1980) but not been all that impressed; it was only after I got to Marquette that I discovered Dunsany's short stories and plays and realized just how good, and how important, an author he was. Similarly, when Franklin had asked me if Thorne Smith was any good I'd said no, since at that time I'd only read TOPPER and been unimpressed; it was that summer's reading of THE NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS, TURNABOUT, and to a lesser extent THE RAIN IN THE DOORWAY that I was convinced and wrote to him saying Smith definitely deserved inclusion in his survey.
**we actually wound up next-door-neighbors, by a process too complicated to recap here, and for a year fed the same stray cats.
***I actually told him about The Record Exchange, the used vinyl store on Dickson Street (the student strip), on that very first encounter, thus speeding his discovery of the place he was to work at by perhaps a matter of days (or perhaps only hours?); he later ran a branch of the store in Jonesburo.
****Ashbery was notorious back then as the only living poet Harold Bloom had approved of in THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE. I asked him what he thought of Bloom's praise and whether it put him under any pressure, and he said no, you pretty much have to ignore what the critics say about you, good or bad, if you're going to be a poet and actually get on with it.
*****in 1966. I always envied him that he'd actually seen the Beatles; being a few years older than me he'd been just old enough to talk his parents into it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Christine O'Donnell, Tolkien Scholar?

So, after Christine O'Donnell's surprise win in the Senate primary in Delaware, there were plenty of articles mocking her for this and that, including a link to what purported to be a listing of whacky things she'd said and done. Wacky or embarrassing or far-out things candidates have said having been dime-a-dozen in this crazy season, I gave it a pass. Thus I missed that one of the things listed against her was that she was a self-proclaimed fan of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I think it was David Bratman's blog* that alerted me to her essay on-line about Tolkien:

That O'Donnell was interested in Tolkien didn't particularly surprise me -- after all, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana is a noted C. S. Lewis fan. But I didn't follow all the links in David's post, so it wasn't until my friend Jim Lowder sent me a link to O'Donnell's appearance on Book TV (recorded back on Dec. 18th, 2003) that I found out about the following video of her presentation on Women in THE LORD OF THE RINGS:**

Obstensively, this appearance was to discuss Bradley Birzer's book, TOLKIEN'S SANCTIFYING MYTH [2003]. But Birzer himself is nowhere to be seen, and actually this turns out to be O'Donnell delivering the same essay she'd written that had already appeared on-line -- which now turns out to have been co-written by her intern, Jenna Murry ("Tolkien enthusiast extraordinaire"), who also turns out to be her niece. The first third of the clip's forty-two minute running time is devoted to their delivering the talk (in many places running so closely to the published essay, even in phrasing, that I assume they were reading a version of it off a teleprompter) followed by a question & answer session.

And how was it? Not bad, considering. I'm still puzzled why Book TV didn't feature the person who actually wrote the book (Birzer) rather than someone who wrote a 1400-word essay on a related topic. But that said, I rather like the format: someone delivering a short talk on a subject followed by audience members sitting around tables with the speaker(s) asking questions: a nice informal set-up. And it's a good topic: one thing the movies achieved was to spark a lot of discussion about Tolkien's characterization, esp. of his women (not just in LotR but throughout his works).

I do have to say I'm unimpressed by her research, especially her claim that nothing's been written on Tolkien's female characters before, aside from a few free online essays. She may not have been able to turn up Jessica Yates' "Male Chauvinist Lions", and her piece came out a year too soon to benefit from TOLKIEN ON FILM [2004], several of whose essays devoted a lot of space to Tolkien's characterizations of women compared and contrasted with Jackson's depictions. But what's her excuse for not knowing about Fredrick & McBride's WOMEN AMONG THE INKLINGS [2001]? And of course there's been quite a lot of good commentary on Eowyn, Galadriel, Luthien, et al. in books on Tolkien for years, even if it doesn't necessarily show up on a Google.

All that aside, there are also a few problems in the essay itself -- some just gaffs, like calling Tolkien's book a "trilogy", some more serious. For example, her claim that Arwen is "Tolkien's most popular female character" simply isn't true: that'd either be Galadriel (who O'Donnell only mentions in passing in the essay, though audience questions bring out more in the discussion afterwards) or Eowyn.*** Certainly Arwen is more high-profile in the Jackson films, but exactly the reverse is true in Tolkien's book, where Arwen is kept firmly in the background until a few brief appearances in the denoument, her major role being in the Appendices. It wd be fairer for O'Donnell to say that Arwen is HER favorite female character and be done with it.

Of the three female characters O'Donnell talks about, she goes furthest out on a limb on Belladonna Baggins, referring to her many pre-marriage adventures. But we don't know that she ever had any: all we know is that she never had any after her marriage. O'Donnell also asserts that Belladonna, far from missing her adventures, was "content, even utterly satisfied, in the role of wife and mother". Well, may be. Or maybe not. It wd be nice to think so, but we have no way to know: Tolkien never tells us one way or the other. So it's dubious to assert things that have no foundation of any kind in your source without identifying it as speculation; it undercuts your audience's confidence in what you say about other points.

Where O'Donnell is on much firmer ground is in her discussion of Eowyn, denying that Eowyn has to become 'an honorary man' to achieve anything worthwhile (given that it's the very fact that she's a woman that makes her able to defeat the Witch-King); a nice point. Even better was her (actually, Jenna Murry's) observation about Eowyn's having been forced to live an Arwen life till now; that was an interesting observation that's quite new to me.

On the whole, this is a decent little piece suddenly, seven years later, lifted into the limelight by its author's sudden notoriety. One thing that comes out clearly in the video that you cdn't find out from the essay is that it's the intern, Jenna, who's the real Tolkien expert here -- for example, when she cites the Ungoliant story in the Silm to illuminate a point about Shelob in response to a question. O'Donnell, by contrast, doesn't actually seem to know LotR that well -- for example, she can't remember Glorfindel's or Lobelia Sackville-Baggins' names, and at one point she criticizes a change Jackson makes to Arwen's story, only to contrasting it Tolkien's original -- except that the part she likes isn't in the book but instead another element Jackson added. For her part, Jenna M. quite rightly disparages the movies' portrayal of Faramir, but also occasionally blurs the movie and book together (though not as much as O'Donnell).

I give them points for noticing Tolkien's careful pairing his female characters with the right male character in the end, rather than going for what the audience expected (e.g., Eowyn/Faramir rather than Eowyn/Aragorn), and giving Tolkien credit for recognizing & sympathizing with the women of his day and their limited opportunities (though it wd have been nice to pair this with some biographical information re. Tolkien's lifelong support for women's education). And while the essay limits itself too much by only looking at three characters, the discussion afterwards brings up Shelob and Galadriel and, briefly, Goldberry and the lost Entwives. A question asking where are the female orcs produced two speculations: perhaps they're in the hordes fighting alongside the males orcs, or perhaps the lack of female orcs helps dehumanize them. Obviously, I'd go with the latter solution.

My conclusion: I'd like to see more work in the field from the intern! Has she published anything else in the field in these last seven years?


*. Thanks, David!

**at one point BookTV identifies it on-screen as "Discussion of J. R. R. Tolkien's Depiction of Women", which seems to fairly sum it up.

***I didn't read v. far down in the comments on O'Donnell's 2003 essay, but was amused by commenters asserting how much they'd always wanted to be Eowyn, not Arwen.

Friday, October 1, 2010

World War I Ends?

So, I was stunned when Janice last night pointed me towards a news story on NPR about how Germany is about to make the last of its War Reparation Payments imposed by the Treaty of Versailles eighty-one years ago.

No, really.

I knew that the payments --the classic, textbook example of a vindictive peace settlement-- crippled the German economy in the Twenties and crashed it altogether in the early Thirties. According to Allen's SINCE YESTERDAY, most of Herbert Hoover's attempts to deal with the Great Depression involved trying to work out loan repayment schedules between the Weimar Republic and the Allies; Roosevelt abandoned all that, reasoning it wd be all he cd do to save America from Hoover's mess, and the rest of the world wd have to look out for itself.

And now, all these years later, the last payment (of $100,000,000) is being made -- not to any of the Allies but to private investors who basically bought bonds in them years ago. Should be at least a small boost to Germany's economy to no longer have to make these payments, like finally paying off a credit card you'd run up. Except, of course, this was paying someone else's debt rather than yr own. In any case, an interesting little historical footnote.

Here's the link, both to the broadcast and its transcript:

--John R.