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]


Robert said...

z =/= 0
unless there's some British pronunciation of 0 I'm not aware of. Or that Americans pronounce 'zeroing' 'zeeing'.

Jason Fisher said...

How fortunate you are to have gotten to see this! Wow, I'm really envious. I know someone who has a galley proof of The Two Towers, but advance page proofs of Fellowship, and Ransome's copy?! Incredible.

N.E. Brigand said...

Is John a Peter Greenaway fan -- thinking of A Zed and Two Noughts, perhaps?

Magister said...

Out of curiosity: What is the typo in Time and the Gods?

(I have myself noted a horrible typo in all modern editions of The King of Elfland's Daughter that goes back to at least 1969.)

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Robert
Yes, I see my brain just skipped a grove. Thanks for the corrective.

Perhaps 'typo's not the best way I cd have described it -- textual error perhaps? There's a long piece which ends TIME & THE GODS, called "The Journey of the King". This would have been Dunsany's third book by itself, but the publisher wanted more text to fill his second one so he curtailed the writing of it and included it in TIME & THE GODS. Which is just as well; its repetitive structure means that more episodes wdn't have produced a better book.
As for the error: each of the prophets stands up and gives the King his own version of the afterlife that awaits. One prophet's vision so upsets the King that he orders his guards to seize him, but they date not and the prophet simply walks out. Except in the final segment, when the King gives up on philosophy and decided to send for the wine and the dancing girls instead, it lists all the prophets who join him at the festivities, and mistakenly includes the name of the prophet who left.
So there you see. A small error, but it's aggravating that no one's corrected it in a hundred and four years.


Magister said...

Ah I see -- yes, that is annoying.

The error that I discovered in The King of Elfland's Daughter is in chapter XXI, in the paragraph that begins "For years he had wondered through many": a line of text has disappeared and been replaced by another line that also appears in its correct spot. The correct reading of the affected sentence is

"Then he called to his mother across that mighty gap, those few paces of airy twilight lying over the fields, which had upon one side Earth and the haunts of men, and the time that we measure by minutes and hours and years, and upon the other Elfland and another way of time."


John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Martin:
Thanks for the corrective! I see that this corresponds to page 141 of the old Ballantine 'Adult Fantasy Series' paperback [1969] (the version I read) and also co-incidently enough to p. 141 of the Del Rey trade paperback from 1999. I don't actually have a hardcover of this book, unfortunately, and so was unaware of the gaff. I'll print out yr correction and stick it in my copy for future reference; many thanks.