Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Inadvertent Piercing

So, Rigby, our Senior Cat, loves to be up high. She loves to leap on things, and is apt to use us (esp. me, since I'm already somewhat stooped over) as stepping-stones to get where she wants to go. So tonight, thinking she looked a little at loose ends, I thought I'd indulge her by putting her atop the bookcases in the living room, a spot she used to visit a lot before we re-arranged things and took out her mid-points between High and Low.

She seemed pleased enough, but had ideas of her own: rather than jumping atop the bookcase, she decided to explore and climbed behind the books on the top shelf (intermittently a favorite spot of hers). Unfortunately she soon realized there wasn't room and, after an amazing act of turning around in a v. small space, came back out on my shoulder again. And that's where things began to go horribly wrong.

I thought she'd now want to continue on her way to the bookcase's top, while she debated whether to jump down or give the shelves another try. And in the process, I moved, and she moved, and then she lost her balance and grabbed hold of whatever was handy to steady herself. Which turned out to be my left earlob. Into which she sank a claw, which promptly got stuck there so she cd not draw it out.

It was at this point that I tried to convey to Janice that something was amiss, but it's remarkably hard to say what you mean in a few well-chosen words at such times. I meant to say something like 'Rigby's claw is stuck in my ear; can you help us get loose?', but it probably came out more like 'Ah - she's - um - Can you - ah! - some . . .' In any case, one glance conveyed the situation and she came to our rescue -- though by the time she reached me Rigby had pulled loose and was off. Now all we had to worry about was the blood leaking out of my ear.

Luckily, I always carry a handkerchief, and with Janice's help I soon had my involuntary piercing (luckily it didn't go quite all the way through) washed and disinfected. It bled more than I wd have expected, but then with our experience of cat-bites &c [cf. "The Cat-Bite Incident"] we know that's a (relatively) good thing.

Except that about ten minutes later when I checked to see that it'd stopped bleeding, my touch accidently started it up again. This time I had to resort to a second handkerchief, and then a third; plus a bandage, and then another; and eventually a hand-towel drapped over my shoulder to avoid getting more blood on my shirt.

All of which sounds extremely dire and yet it wasn't: it was simply a small injury that didn't even particularly hurt but that wdn't stop bleeding and stay stopped. I literally cdn't finish the dinner dishes because I had to hold one hand to the ear.

That's when we decided to consult the Home Remedy people Janice had discovered via NPR a few weeks back. Their suggestion: put ground pepper* on the little cut and bandage it over, and there'd be a good chance it'd stop the bleeding.

We tried it.

It did.

And now I'm wondering if it'll leave a mark, to go with the nonfunctioning joint from The Catbite Incident or perhaps the scar from the pillow fight. I guess we'll see.

As for the cats, Rigby is sleeping peacefully on Janice's leg, Hastur is doing the Rug Otter, and Feanor is curled up in a box on my desk upstairs. Peace and harmony restored.

So, how was your evening?

--John R.

*black pepper, that is. I wdn't advise using habaneros or anything along that line

Monday, November 28, 2011

The New Arrivals

So, one of the problems about not-blogging when I get busy or just bogged down is that the things I want to blog about (books arriving, the 'Occupy' movement, unnecessary surgery) tend to pile up, so that the longer I wait the bigger the log-jam.

Case in point was the most recent post about the new book arrival, wh. was also my newest publication; finally got this off a day or two ago, after having begun a week before. During that time, another three packages with books arrived on the door step. So in the interests of playing catch-up, the following descriptions may be briefer and brisker than wd otherwise be the case.

In any case, this current lot represent books I ordered to fill in around the corners, mindful of the difficulty that can result if I wait too long (e.g., the ridiculous prices some books on Tolkien shoot up to when they go out-of-print).*

New Tolkien Book #1: Martha C. Sammons' WAR OF THE FANTASY WORLDS [2010]. This is one of two books I've been meaning to get for a year or so but kept putting off month by month because of the expense (in this case, $45 for a text that sans notes &c. runs less than 200 pages).* I'm interested in this one, because books on Tolkien and Lewis tend to conflate the two, which I think does an injustice to both: they were v. different men, with v. different ideas and aesthetics; more alike perhaps in their goals than in how they tried to reach them. Sammons, by contrast, looks to stress the differences between their writings. We'll see if she's able to do justice to an interesting thesis.

What shd have been New Tolkien Book #2, Alison Milbanks' CHESTERTON & TOLKIEN AS THEOLOGIANS, was also fairly pricey ($40 for a 200 page paperback), and while quite interested to see what she had to say about Tolkien as theologian (a topic about wh. not much has been written), I admit to being put of by the fact that what I've read of Chesterton's theology (ORTHODOXY) didn't make me inclined to read more if I cd avoid it. In this case, looks like I hestiated too long: Amazon cancelled this book from my order, claiming the book is no longer available. I can still get it used, but again there's the dis-encouragement of now having to pay $40+ for a secondhand book

Book #3 is Oliver Loo's A TOLKIEN ENGLISH GLOSSARY ("2004-2009"). That title might cause some confusion, given that Tolkien is writing in English, but the subtitle clarifies things: A GUIDE TO OLD, UNCOMMON AND ARCHAIC WORDS USED IN THE HOBBIT AND THE LORD OF THE RINGS. So, if you were a bit puzzled by words like "eyrie" and "furrier" when first read THE HOBBIT, this is the book for you; Tomnoddy, Attercop, Lob, and Cob all make an appearance. On the other hand, it's cluttered with words that are far from exotic, like "rug" and "toe"; Loo seems to presuppose that his target audience is a bright ten-year-old. Which is all well and good, but it means that practically anybody who'd buy his book wdn't need it, having already mastered difficult words like Glossary and Archaic. I'm sure his inspiration must have been the (v. useful) glossary of archaic words Christopher Tolkien appended to THE BOOK OF LOST TALES, but Loo sets the barrier much, much lower. I suspect his book wd be of most help to non-native speakers reading LotR in English but not entirely conversant in the large vocabulary Tolkien delights in using.

--John R.

current book: 1948
current e-book: THE HOUSE OF SILK

*Frederick & McBride's WOMEN AMONG THE INKLINGS being a case in point, having only attracted minor attention until it went out of print, whereupon prices soared.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Newest Publication: Volume 258

So, Thursday a week ago brought a copy of my latest publication to the porch: a reprint of my 2007 Marquette lecture " 'A Kind of Elvish Craft': Tolkien as Literary Craftsman", which had first appeared in TOLKIEN STUDIES volume four [2009]; before that it'd been the 2007 Blackwelder Lecture at Marquette. I'd been surprised and pleased when a few months ago I got a request from Cenegale (formerly Gale) Publishing, the folks who do long series of encyclopedia-sized books like CONTEMPORARY LITERARY CRITICISM and NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE CRITICISM and TWENTIETH CENTURY LITERARY CRITICISM,* asking if they cd include a reprint of my piece in their latest volume. This was new territory to me, but after taking advice I said sure, asking for a copy of the volume in question in return. And now, after being backordered for a month or two, here it is: Volume 258 of TWENTIETH-CENTURY LITERARY CRITICISM.

Rather than author-by-author, which had been how volumes by Gale I'd consulted in years past had been organized, this volume has three sections, each devoted to a different literary movement: The Abbey Theatre (p. 1-123), The Confessional School of Poetry (p. 124-203), and The Inklings (p. 205-313), followed by over 150 pages of indexes. My contribution is the concluding essay of the third (Inklings) section; while familiar enough with the Abbey Theatre through my work on Lord Dunsany (whose first plays were produced there, before he had a falling out with Lady Gregory), I confess I had to look up who the 'Confessional School' were -- turns out this is their label for Berryman, Lowell, Plath, Sexton, and W. D. Snodgrass (the last of which I'd never heard of before, I'm sorry to say; the rest are all famously manic-depressive).

Since others interested in Tolkien and in the Inklings might want to know what's in this volume (besides my piece, of course), here's a run-down on the contents of their 'Inklings' section:

After an anonymous Introduction (perhaps by series editor Kathy Darrow, or one of her thirteen-person-strong editorial staff) comes a select bibliography of Representative Works by Barfield, Cecil, GKC, Coghill, Dyson, Fox, CSL, WHL, Lindsay, Geo MacD, Mathew, CT, JRRT, Wain, & Ch Wms. The inclusion of Chesterton and MacDonald, neither of whom was ever an Inkling, is explained by their being considered formative influences on the group. It may be significant that in this bibliography of suggested reading Tolkien is represented by just five works (HOBBIT, LotR, Silm, Letters, plus Middle English Vocabulary), far less than CSL (thirteen, including BOXEN) or even Wms (eleven), being about the same as Barfield (six), Cecil (four), and Warnie (five).

Next up come the reprinted essays, as follows:

(1) Gareth Knight, fr. The Magical World of the Inklings (1990) [201–214]

(2) Fredrick & McBride, fr. Women Among the Inklings (2001) [214–230] (including a section on Sayers, 'Not Quite an Inkling")

(3) Diana Pavlac Glyer, Mythlore essay (2007) [230–236]

(4) ibid, fr. The Company They Keep (2007) [236–265]

(5) Walter F. Hartt, "Godly Influences: The Theology of JRRT and CSL", Studies in the Literary Imagination, 1981 [266–270] (L & T as Xians)

(6) Maria Kozyreva, "Chesterton's World in the Mirror of His Poetry", Inklings Jahrbuch, 1996 [270–275]

(7) Rbt W. Maslen, "Towards an Iconography of the Future: CSL and the Scientific Humanists", Inklings Jahrbuch, 2000 [275–285] (which devotes a good deal of space explicating THE DARK TOWER, I was glad to see, since I consider this work overly neglected)

(8) Rolland Hein, "Doors Out and Doors In: The Genuis of Myth", Truths Breathed thr Silver (2008) [285–290]

(9) David L. Neuhouser, "The Role of Mathematics in the Spiritual Journey of Geo. MacD", Truths Breathed thr Silver (2008) [290–297]

(10) Kerry Dearborn, "The Sacrament of the Stranger", Truths Breathed thr Silver (2008) [297–303]

(11) JDR "A Kind of Elvish Craft", from TOLKIEN STUDIES Vol. VI (2009) [303–313].

--I was interested to see that three essays come from the same book, a book I happen to have published a review of a year or two back.*

Finally comes an extremely brief (two-item) list of Further Reading, being a piece by Rachel Falconer ("Rereading Childhood Books: CSL's The Silver Chair") & another by Carl Phelpstead ("Auden and the Inklings: An Alliterative Revival") [313]. Given how impresive Phelpstead's recent TOLKIEN & WALES book looks, I'll have to track down a copy of this latter, which appeared in JEGP back in 2004.

And that's basically it. I'm pleased to see my essay get picked up and reprinted in a new venue, and hope it helps disseminate my argument (Tolkien was a meticulous writer who made every detail count, who used stylistic variations to prompt his readers' creative involvement in his subcreation) to new audiences. We'll see.

--John R.

current reading: THE DIARY OF EDWARD VI, 1547-1553

current audiobook: TOLKIEN & THE GREAT WAR by Jn Garth

*as well as, it turns out, less well-known lines like NATIVE NORTH AMERICAN LITERATURE.

**a review which prompted one contributor to write a rebuttal that has since appeared in MYTHLORE; I'd like to write a counter-rebuttal but haven't gotten around to it yet.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Well, This Won't End Well

So, Wednesday morning as I was driving along Military Road north towards the PetsMart where I volunteer with the Purrfect Pals cats, I saw an unusual and disconcerting sight. I was stopped for the light when a pickup truck passed me headed east. After he'd gone by, I noticed there was something dragging behind his truck. It took me a few seconds to realize it was a red plastic gas can, resting right side up, held by some cord and scooting along the asphalt. The tailgate of his truck was down, and I suppose he'd had the gas can in the back and it'd fallen out but somehow had gotten its handle tangled in something that kept it attached to the truck. By the time I processed what I'd seen, he was gone and I had no way to overtake or catch up with him (given that I was stopped for a red light and other traffic had the right-of-way at that busy intersection). I think he may have gotten on the on-ramp for I-5 North, but I hope I'm wrong about that. I didn't hear any news reports that evening of dramatic incidents on the expressway, so I suppose it all worked out okay. Maybe the gas can was empty, though I don't think so from the way it stayed right-side up. Maybe someone else was able to flag him down before there was any damage done. I don't suppose I'll ever know, but the memory of that alarming sight will linger . . .

--John R.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dirda on Doyle (and Dunsany)

So, quite by chance on Monday* we learned that the author of a new book on Arthur Conan Doyle (called ON CONAN DOYLE) wd be giving a talk or reading Tuesday night up at Elliott Bay Books, one of our favorite (but rarely visited, due to location) Seattle bookstores. We made plans to attend, if all went well, but in the event weren't able to make it -- not surprising, considering the workday schedule, traffic, early darkness, &c. A pity, but so it goes.

Curiously enough, my attention had been drawn to Dirda just a few days before in a post to the MythSoc list by Wendell Wagner, who included the quote:

"What Conan Doyle is to the detective story, Dunsany is to the modern fantasy: the Master"

That's a statement I agree with completely. There were detective stories before Doyle (e.g., Poe's Dupin), and there was fantasy fiction before Dunsany (cf. Wm Morris). But each man remade the genre, so that everyone who came after was influenced by their achievement.** It's rare to come upon a right-minded individual who feels as I do on this point, so I'm naturally am curious to find out more, being both a Dunsany scholar (one of the few people who can claim that, I suspect) and a longtime admirer of the Holmes stories.

I haven't been able to find a copy of Dirda's book yet, but thanks to Google Books I've now discovered that most of his discussion of Lord D. focuses on the Jorkens stories. This is rare; most people who know Dunsany at all know him through his so-so novel THE KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER; those who really like him know of his early short stories (the ones written between 1905 and 1916), which are superb,*** and perhaps a few of his plays like A NIGHT AT AN INN. But, on further reflection, Dirda's praise of the Jorkens tales makes sense; they're club stories, and probably the most Holmesian of Dunsany's work (in the 22B Baker Street sense, not in the content)**** In this he's in agreement with S. T. Joshi, who also admires the later Dunsany and once chided me for my agreeing with Dunsany himself (and Lovecraft, for that matter) that Dunsany's later work marked a significant falling off. Dunsany is one of those people who kept on writing long after he'd run out of things to say, and his lesser later works damaged his reputation and got in the way of folks rediscovering his earlier masterpieces.

Still, I'm glad to see Dirda give praise where praise is due, and look forward to reading his book about Doyle -- a fascinating, talented, and gullible man who created a character more memorable than himself.

--John R.

*as in I saw part of the Seattle newspaper lying abandoned at a table when I stopped in a coffee shop at Kent Station to have some tea while I waited for Janice to get off work, and glancing through it saw a piece about Dirda's pending presentation.

**one might extend the example to include Wells for science fiction, though there the match is not quite so tight (there's Verne to consider).

***the best body of fantasy short stories in English, by far; perhaps Borges and Kafka are his peers if you go multilingual.

****Dunsany did write some fair detective stories himself, the most famous of which, TWO BOTTLES OF RELISH, Alfred Hitchcock declared the story he'd most wanted to do for ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, but been unable to because the mores of the time wdn't have stood for it (e.g., the murderer getting off scot-free, quite aside from other unpleasant details we need not go into).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Bad Movie and A Bad (Audio-) Book

So, on Friday we sent to see a movie the former English major in me had been hankering after for a while, although Janice had her doubts and had suspected we'd be better off waiting for it to reach the three-dollar theatre.

Lesson number one: listen to the wife.

ANONYMOUS scores points as a costume drama -- if you like the look of Elizabethean England, this film does a good job of conveying it. Also, it has Derek Jacobi in the modern-day frame story (a minute or two at the beginning and maybe a half-minute at the end). Other than that, there's not much to say in its favor. And here's where the spoilers start.

As an action film, it fails: it feels like events move in slow motion, and things aren't made easier by frequent extended flashbacks. It's pretty hard to keep straight when we're in the present day of the story (e.g., 1601 or thereabouts) or a few decades (a generation or two) earlier. And the fact that different actors play the characters at different ages, it takes a lot of attention and some guesswork to figure out who's supposed to be who and when. Also, it's talky, but not in a good way (as a film about Shakespeare might well be); this movie cd lose a half-hour or more and no one wd miss it. It's a bad sign that the brief snippets of Shakespeare soliloquies jump out from among the drab-by-comparison dialogue of the movie; these people only sound like 'Shakespeare' et al. when they're quoting the real Shakespeare.

As a historical drama it looked pretty but had the fatal flaw of having characters who have the name of historical figures but are unlike the actual person in every conceivable way. This is a pet peeve of mine: if I encounter a character in a story named 'Conan Doyle' or 'H. P. Lovecraft' or 'John Tolkien', I want that character to be more or less like the actual person, or at least recognizably so. In this case the movie's cast are utterly unlike what we know of the historical people they're supposed to be: Elizabeth, the Cecils, Ben Jonson, Essex, and (God knows) Shakespeare -- who in this movie didn't just not write the works of Shakespeare but is illiterate: he can read (even sophisticated love-poetry) but not write even a single letter, like 'i'. Moreover, he's a talentless ham actor, a blackmailer, and a murderer; the actor who plays him seems to be alternately channelling Weird Al Yankovich and Ya-hoo Serious. No, really.

Why? Well, because the movie's theme is that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare. Why? Because Shakespeare was a nobody -- a working man's son rather than a rich nobleman by birth, a man who picked up how to write plays by acting in them rather than studying poetics at a prestigious university. Whereas adherents of the 'Baconian' and 'Oxfordian' theories argue, essentially, that only someone important -- a nobleman, a person of wealth in a position of power -- cd have written poetry and plays this good. This is particularly funny, because virtually all the great poetry and prose and plays of the Elizabethan and Jacobin eras* were written by commoners, people we'd never have heard of had they not been writers: Spenser and Marlowe and Jonson and all the other known playwrights (Kyd, Greene, Nashe, Dekker, Beaumost, Fletcher, &c), Donne, &c. &c.; about the only exception is Sir Philip Sydney (who died young) and perhaps Walter Raleigh (remembered for a poem or two).

Finally, as a conspiracy movie it's so far-fetched that it made my brain want to escape out my ears. I knew to lower expectations when I saw an interview with the director in which he explained about an illegitimate son of Elizabeth's being the rightful heir to the throne -- which just goes to show that he doesn't really know what the words 'rightful heir' and 'illegitimate' mean. Even worse is a line given to the nobleman portrayed in the film as having really written all the plays ascribed to Shakespeare that all writing is political; unless it has a direct political aim, what's it good for? Gah!

Basically this movie desperately needed Geoffrey Rush, and to not take itself so seriously.

And, as David Bratman observed on his own blog, the title shd really be 'Pseudonymous'

And, at the same time, I was listening to the audiobook version of THERE ARE THINGS I WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT STEIG LARSSON AND ME by Eva Gabrielsson

Lesson number two: a book about an interesting book might well not be interesting itself.

Basically, this book sets forth the claim by Larsson's longtime companion to be his Yoko Ono. She argues that she should control all the literary rights to Larsson's estate, as well as write the fourth book in his 'Millennium Trilogy' (despite the fact that she needed a co-author just to write this short memoir and manifesto) -- better known over here as 'The Girl Who . . . ' series [THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO; THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE; THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST], and decided who gets all the money from his books. Unfortunately for her during their thirty years together they never got around to getting married, and Larsson never bothered to draw up a will, which means that his nearest relatives (his father and brother) inherit the estate. She considers this monstrous, and rails against the unfairness of it all, without ever convincing the reader that (a) she's capable of writing the next book** or (b) has any more insight into Larsson than any other reader of his work -- she knows a lot more about him personally, of course, but that's not the same thing.

At least Gabrielsson's book is better, and more interesting, that ANON. But that's not a particularly high bar to make.

--John R.

*and most other eras, at that. Lord Dunsany is a rare exception for the twentieth century.

**and that's not even getting into the morality or otherwise of going the 'V. C. Andrews, TM' route.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Am Scouted (sort of)

So, about a week ago I got a call out of the blue asking if I'd be interested in dropping by a local Starbucks on Saturday and finding out more about the president's new jobs bill. I haven't been paying much attention to the latest round of debacle in DC, having largely tuned out after the disaster of the 'debt ceiling' fight --which in turn followed on the tax-cut-extention disaster, which in turn succeeded the train-wreck that was the health-care debate. After all that battering, I've scaled back on what political news I read in recent months, mostly following the bemused follies of the Republican candidates and wondering which one will be running as Third Party against Romney come the fall. Checking the calendar to find we weren't already scheduled for something else we needed to be doing at that time, I said sure.

Turns out "yes" isn't good enough; these people are persistent. They called again to confirm, and then yet again, but this third time they no longer presented it as a one-on-one presentation or information dissemination but mentioned that it was being run by the Obama re-election committee. Okay; I'd been a big supporter of the president during his run for office, and despite my deep disillusionment since at his repudiating most of the things he ran on I was curious to see what this latest proposal that wasn't going to get enacted was all about.

So, we showed up, got ourselves some tea (chai), and had a long talk with a v. nice guy who identified himself as the state director of the re-election campaign -- partly about specifics of the bill (insofar as the information sheet and little pamphlet he gave us laid them out) and partly about what the president shd or cd do to gain support. I'm afraid that while some of the bill's provisions sound good in the abstract (others, like cutting back on collecting Social Security, don't; that's just guaranteeing bigger trouble down the line), he wasn't able to convince us that it was anything but moot: Obama's assumption is that this time the other side will see reason, and compromise, and raise taxes. Why on earth shd they start acting responsibly now, when simply sabotaging the national government has worked so well for them for three years now? It was interesting to hear that he's about to resort to the 'executive orders' route of governing by fiat, which seems v. unlike his everybody-must-agree-upon-this style, but even that won't solve the major problems, all of which require funding and thus congressional support.

In the end, we were asked if we'd be interested in doing any volunteer work with the campaign. So we might end up stuffing envelopes at some point, or I may wander around the neighborhood knocking on doors; get-out-the-vote stuff (though neither of us is interested in making phone calls, having been on the receiving end of too many ourselves). Maybe at some point my enthusiasm will be rekindled, but at this point I really doubt it. Too many broken promises, too many surrenders without a fight. We'll see.

--John R.

current Kindle-book: 1956 (re. Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis)

Sunday, November 13, 2011


So, the second new Tolkien book to arrive this past week was THE ART OF 'THE HOBBIT', by Wayne and Christina. I'd known this one was in the works for a few months, and even got to see a preview of some of its highlights this summer. It's a beautiful book, and one that anyone interested in Tolkien, Tolkien's art, or in THE HOBBIT, will want to get their hands on it as soon as possible (I got mine via amazon.co.uk). Their previous JRRT: ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR [1995] was a major work that shd be on every Tolkien scholar's shelf, and this is a worthy, if more narrowly focused, successor.

Basically they've brought together every known illustration, map, or rough sketch Tolkien made for THE HOBBIT,* arranged them into order of where they fit into the story, and added a page or so describing each piece or set of closely related pieces. One particularly nice feature is that they've been able to use multiple gatefolds to bring together sequences, where Tolkien went through a series of attempts to capture a particular scene, like The Hill at Hobbiton, or the Elvenking's Gate, or Smaug flying 'round the Mountain.

I did my best to demonstrate the importance of Tolkien's art to the story in THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT, but there I only had twelve plates and two frontispieces to convey what they've used 144 pages to get across. And it's wonderful to see (particularly for those of failing eyesight, like myself -- the community of Tolkien fans and scholars alike being an aging one) the pieces are, as Wayne & Christina point out, "reproduced . . . as large as possible" [p.17], rather than shrunk down (as I needed to do to 'stuff every rift with ore', as Jn Keats wd put it). It helps that this is an oversize square-format book (ten & a half by ten & a half inches) in a handsome slipcase, resembling the original edition of PICTURES BY TOLKIEN more than it does ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR.
The results are, I repeat, wonderful. Tolkien didn't have much confidence in himself as an artist, but like Thurber and Lofting (fellow artistic autodidacts) his work is distinctive and instantly recognizable; it's part of the tales.

And this is a definitive collection: there are a few pictures here even I've not seen before -- for example, the more detailed picture of Elrond's house [#18], or the rough sketch of Eagles' Eyrie [#40], or the first version of The Three Trolls Are Turned To Stone [#14] (I find I prefer the trolls' faces here to the final version). And many more here reproduced in sharper detail than ever before -- e.g., all the dwarven activity at The Back Door [#69]. Others I've seen at some point but not paid much attention to; here they stand out much more when placed in the right context (like #35: The Misty Mountains, which had previously been tucked at the end of the index of ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR [H-S#200]).

This book is relatively text-light, compared with ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR, which is as it shd be: here the focus shd all be on presenting Tolkien's art as clearly as possible. Their introduction does a good job of covering a great deal of territory in relatively little space: only eighteen pages to discuss the origins to the book, explain how the art came to be created, and comment on the "rich visual experience" of the results. I particularly admired the economy with which they addressed various complex and thorny issues -- as, for example, dating when Tolkien began and finished the story:

". . . around 1930 (the evidence is too contradictory to give a precise date), [Tolkien] began to write [The Hobbit]" [p.9]
". . . It may have reached substantially its published form by the time Tolkien lent it to C. S. Lewis around the start of 1933, or it may be that its final chapters . . . were not composed until Allen & Unwin showed an interest in the work in 1936" [p. 10]

--While I think the 1930 date is pretty firm, that's a great way of getting a lot of information judiciously into v. little space (even the choice of the word write is significant, given speculation about oral tales); likewise, they acknowledge but do not take a position re. the Carpenter hiatus. Anyone who's delved into the complexity of the evidence re. these two points can appreciate how difficult it is to clearly explain them without oversimplification: here I think there's just the right amount of simplification for this context (where the emphasis is, and shd be, all on the art).

Finally, I'm envious of one thing. They've pulled off something I wanted to do in RETURN TO BAG-END but in the end wasn't able to: assemble all eight known pictures of Bilbo** onto one spread. In my case, I simply ran out of space, and in the end agreed w. my editor at HarperCollins that it'd be better to include two more new pieces rather than devote a page to reproduction of pieces already appearing elsewhere in the book, esp. given how small the eight pieces wd have to be to all fit onto one (nine-inch by six-inch) plate. Freed of that restriction, Wayne & Christina reproduce enlargements of them all. Looking at these side-by-side is illuminating: it's clear that Tolkien had a v. clear image of what Bilbo looked like; despite his difficulty with drawing faces there's a recognizable likeness in BB's features in the majority of the portraits. It's also interesting to note that Bilbo wears some sort of footwear in four of the eight pictures (Tolkien having meant to insert a passage re. Bilbo's getting shod at Rivendell before heading up into the mountains but never having gotten around to doing so). Well done!

--John R.
*with the possible exception of the tracings of the two hasty sketches of Gandalf's hat that appear in the end of the new one-volume H.o.H. [p.901]

**at the doorstep of Bag End, inside Bag-End smoking, in the bushes by the trolls, barrel-riding (two images from different versions of this scene), bowing to Smaug (in silhouette), resting in the Eyrie, and in the sketch he drew for Houghton Mifflin, this last having first been reproduced in H.o.H.).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The New Arrivals: ART OF THE HOBBIT and MR. BLISS

So, a while back my wife saw a box from amazon.co.uk that had just arrived and asked, 'have we run out of books over here that we now have to start importing them?'

Well, maybe. It used to be in the old days that the only way to get ahold of a book published in England but not the US was to set up a trade with someone in England wherein you'd buy books for them over here and ship them over there, while they'd buy an equivalent amount of books over there and ship them over here. I've had three book-trades going on over the years (with Jessica Yates, and Christina Scull, and Charles Noad), and I have them to thank for many items I'd never have been able to come across myself (such as the limited edition HOMECOMING OF BEORHTNOTH and all those Pratchetts Charles stood in line to have signed for me), and sent off many a volume from this side to hold up my end.

Nowaday with amazon.co.uk, it's easier to just buy direct -- but not always, as some items can only be sold in one country or the other (e.g., the soon-to-be-released Kindle version of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT, which initially at least will be UK-only, alas). You can get killed on the exchange rate and shipping, but for some books it's worth it. And the latest such are two that arrived together on Wednesday: the new edition of MR. BLISS, and THE ART OF THE HOBBIT

To take the first one first, I remember the days when MR. BLISS was The Great Unknown: we knew there was an unpublished hand-illustrated children's book by Tolkien at the Marquette Archives but v. little about what it was about. My first letter to the Archives (which Chuck Elston showed me still in the files years later) was in fact a request to see if I cd have a copy made (they said no). And so the first task on my first weekday in Milwaukee once I arrived there in August 1981 was to go to the Archives, introduce myself, and ask to see MR. BLISS. I spent what little free time I had (this was the opening week of grad school for me to work on my Ph.D.,* and also the week I started teaching freshmen English at Marquette, along with all the business of moving into a new apartment in a new city) transcribing it into a notebook (which I still have, having unearthed it from among The Boxes not long ago). And I remember shortly thereafter when the photographers came in to take careful pictures of the original book in preparation for its publication the following year (in 1982).

To be honest, while it was a thrill to read a new piece by Tolkien, the story itself was a bit of a disappointment. Unlike FARMER GILES OF HAM, which is a little gem in its own right, and THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS, which have a sort of charm of their own, I've never really warmed to MR. BLISS or ROVERANDOM (which I heard a lot about in 1987 but had to wait to read till 1998, like everybody else).

This being the case, I have to say I really like this new (third) edition of BLISS. The first combined a facsimile of the original with typeset text on facing pages -- not really necessary, I thought, since Tolkien used clear and highly readable 'uncial' lettering -- but unfortunately they decided to replace the original cream-colored pages (from natural browning of good-quality paper over the preceding fifty years) with greyish paper, which bleached out the art somewhat.

This was replaced by a beautiful slipcase edition in the same format (facsimile on right-hand pages, facing typeset transcription on facing left-hand pages) but kept the original paper-color, so that the art came through better). I saw this second edition in Blackwells while in England in 2007 but have never seen it for sale over here; they really did a nice job of it.

Now here comes the third edition, which is really two books in one. The front cover shifts the orientation of the book from manuscript's horizontal orientation (i.e., the pages are wider than they are tall) to a more normal vertical orientation (like, say, FARMER GILES or TREE & LEAF or any of the other smallish Tolkien volumes). They've also typeset the whole with the pictures interspersed where needed, making for an attractive little book.

And for those who prefer the original, all you have to do is flip the volume over and there's the whole story again, this time in its original horizontal orientation, facsimile pages, and facing transcription pages. So in fact here we have the same book twice, starting from the respective outside covers and both ending in the middle. It's an interesting and I thought highly effective layout; well done, HarperCollins! There's also a brief (two-page) introduction [unsigned] that sets the stage while adroitly avoiding the various unknowns about the tale (exactly when it was written, its inspiration, &c).

All in all, a nice little volume that shd get a little more attention to this minor but amusing little bit of Tolkien.


--John R.

*and also the week of the infamous episode in which I met with my advisor for the first time, and he told me "I don't want to catch you working on Tolkien while you're here". Ah, those were the days.

Monday, November 7, 2011


So, today brought the long-awaited author's copy of the new, one-volume, expanded edition of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT.


A quick skim shows that the new note about trolls turning to stone (citing Grettir's Saga and Helen Buckhurst) [p. 110] made it in, as did a new page of material about yet another version of Denham's list to surface (the earliest one yet) [p. 854]. The notes and citations in Appendix IV: Tolkien/Ransome, have now been straightened out. All the illustrations from the original edition are here, including both frontispieces and all twelve pages of plates, plus one new illustration: two sketchy depictions of Gandalf's hat [p. 901]. I see to my regret that the additions to the Acknowledgments, esp. my thanks to Charles Noad for all his help proofing this new edition, didn't make it in.

This new edition does have APPENDIX V: AUTHOR'S COPIES LIST, which identifies all the people on a list Tolkien drew up when he was trying to decide who to give his twelve author's copies to.* And it includes the ADDENDUM, or 'Seventh Stage': some new manuscript material Christopher Tolkien found and sent me too late for inclusion in the original edition. I've divided this into six short sections:

i. Timeline of Events [the fifteen days following Durin's Day]
ii. Notes on a Parley [detailed description of the Front Gate]
iii. Responses to Queries [some proofreader's concerns addressed by JRRT]
iv. Personae [an interesting listing of Thorin & Company]
v. Runic Charts [details on using dwarven runes]
vi. Feanorian Letters [details on writing in tengwar, including punctuation and numbers]

It's a great pity that the latter two weren't published in the Longmans Green edition of 1966, which seems to have been when the bulk of this was written -- just think how readers in the initial wave of Tolkien mania wd have loved a detailed account of how to write in Elvish (tengwar, that is). Ah well: better late (forty-plus years) than never.

There were also extensive errata that should have been incorpoarated into this new edition that I haven't had time to check yet; with in any luck, we took care of any remaining typos and fixed various small glitches here and there (Langland! Langland! Langland!)

On the whole, I find I stand by what I wrote; this edition adds a little here and there, but aside from a thirty-two page addition of new material it's substantially the same book as before -- just larger and more portable, with many small refinements of detail.

Contrary to initial report, it does not weigh five pounds, 'only' two pounds thirteen & a half ounces (1.29 kg for the metrically inclined).

As my wife said: IT'S STILL DONE. AGAIN!

--John R.

*I find it vastly amusing that he initially wrote down C. S. Lewis's name, then crossed it off
--not because he didn't want to give him one, but because Lewis already had an advance copy (in order for him to do the reviews). Still, it's amusing.

Local Election, 2011

Election 2011

So, to match Janice's write-up on the various issues and candidates she posted on Facebook, here are my own thoughts re. the local election tomorrow. All opinions are my own.



1125. Normally I'd vote 'yes' on this one, since it's anti-toll road, and I'm an opponent of tolling public roads. I also like it's provision that any toll be specifically targeted to a single road or bridge and retired after that project had paid for itself -- as I understand it, that was the case w. the Tacoma Narrows bridge and the 520 Floating Bridge.

But in the end I had to vote against it because (a) there's a sting in its tail in that it chokes off funding for public transport, like the badly-needed expansion of the new light rail, and (b) Tim Eyman supported it, which means that whatever it says on the surface its true purpose is to defund government. NO

1163: reinstate background checks on nursing home workers. Given the potential for abuse, increasing scrutiny here is a good thing in my book. YES

1183, the hard liquor bill: we got not less than nine flyers asking us to vote against this one (eleven if you count portmanteaux flyers that also opposed 1125 and, in one case, supported 1163), and four against.

This is the rock-and-a-hard-place vote for me, since I'm opposed both to the law as it is and to the proposed change. I don't like the state running liquor stores any more than I like the army fighting unjust wars or a governor executing accused criminals. But on the other hand, I don't want there to be MORE liquor stores, which is what the bill would allow. So as a Prohibitionist I voted NO: fewer hard liquor outlets is better than opening the floodgates.

Joint Resolutions

8205: this is v. much an editor's bill, standardizing the Constitution's text so it agrees in various places about the state's residency requirement to vote in elections. YES.

8206, the rainy day fund. The tobacco settlement was squandered by tax deadbeats in the state legislature (think this was back in the early Bush days), and the rainy day fund that replaced it under Gregoire has been a godsend to keeping the state from going under during the Great Recession. This bill requires extra deposits into the fund in boom times so that a little of that windfall is there to offset the next crash. YES.


County Assessor, Lloyd Hara, unopposed. Seems to have done a decent job. YES

Director of Elections, Mark Greene vs. Sherril Huff: HUFF. As Janice points out in her facebook post re. the election, Greene rambles about how they did him wrong back in '04 rather than trying to explain what he'd do if elected. And so, while it might be fun to have an anti-interventionalist playwright in a major elective post, I'm going with the incumbent here.

Appeals Court Judge, Michael Spearman, unopposed. YES. Judge Spearman sounds like a good candidate, and I trust Gregoire's judgment in having appointed him to the post he's now seeking election to.

Port Commissioner, Richard Pope vs. Gael Tarleton: TARLETON. Pope comes across as a tax deadbeat who wants to divest port assets; Tarleton talks about transparent bidding, disaster preparedness, clean air standards, and free wi-fi at the airport. This one's a no-brainer.

Port Commissioner, Dean Willard vs. Bill Bryant. Both these candidates sound good, and I cd go with either of them. In the end, I gave Willard the edge because of what Janice wrote re. Bryant's favoritism towards executives over workers. WILLARD.


Deborah Ranniger vs. Bailey Stober: RANNIGER. Not only is she a strong supporter of city parks (one of the nicer things about living in Kent), but Stober ran a nasty attack ad in the local paper. Stober also seems to have a background of not paying his own bills, while critical of the current city council for not managing finances better (ironic, that). In the abstract, Stober is the more attractive candidate; we cd use a community activist on the city council. But the closer you look the less he walks the walk.

Les Thomas vs. Nancy Skorupa: THOMAS. Thomas lists a string of achievements that have bettered Kent in recent years, then goes and ruins it by going pie-in-the-sky, promising to cut taxes while providing even more good things. Skorupa just whines about taxes without offering anything. And so even though Thomas did some annoying grandstanding recently at council meetings, he edges out the (other) tax deadbeat.

Bill Boyce vs. Debbie Raplee: normally Boyce wd get my vote here, but his having been on the school board that provoked the teacher strike two years back has to count against him. I've been unable to find out how he voted back then, but he seems to have been on the anti-teacher side of the issue. Raplee as incumbent gets to align herself with the various good things Kent has done to keep afloat in recent years. So, RAPLEE, by default.

Dana Ralph vs. Michael S. Sealfon: Ralph doesn't make much of a case for herself, but then Sealfon doesn't really give any reason at all why we shd elect him, other than that he seems to think he shd have the job. RALPH.


Larry Sims vs. Russell Hanscom: SIMS. Even though Sims didn't bother to submit a profile to the voter's pamphlet, he still outperforms Hanscom, who can't decide whether he'll serve or not if elected (cf. KENT REPORTER, Oct 21st, p.2). Ironic, given that Hanscom's voter profile boasts of how he's "committed to making the Kent School District the best . . . in the State". Yeah, right. Sims' statement printed in the local paper basically says he thinks things are on-track and wants to keep them that way. I'm okay with that.

Karen L. DeBruler: an actual teacher, running unopposed. No-brainer. DEBRULER.

Debbie Straus vs. Leslie Kae Hamada: HAMADA? Neither candidate spoke strongly to me, but Straus seemed more pie-in-the-sky about "our mission to Successfully Prepare All Students for Their Future" (caps hers), as if she thinks in bullet points.


Paul Joos vs. Mary Alice Heuschel: JOOS. Flyers in the mail seem enthusiastic for Heuschel, but I'd rather have a stakeholder like Dr. Joos making decisions about a hospital than an outsider with no hospital experience, like Heuschel (a school superintendent). Besides, I like Joos' promise to reduce the number of administrators and hire more nurses instead.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

November 1st, 1931

Today (Tuesday the 1st) would have been my father's eightieth birthday. It was my last full day in Magnolia, so I was able to go by and put flowers on the grave. I still picture him as looking like he did when I knew him, and since he died just after turning thirty-seven I find it almost impossible to picture what he'd look like as an old man. How I'd love to have the chance to talk to him, adult to adult, and ask his opinion of this and that. I know he'd be particularly interested in following the presidential election, the 'tea party' nonsense, and other current events. But as wistful as I am for the forty-two (now almost forty-three) years without, I'm grateful for the ten years I had with him. Storyteller, songwriter, teacher extraordinaire, and a great dad. Rest in Peace.

--John R.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tonight I'm in . . .

. . . the city where I saw the only president I've ever met and shaken hands with: Lyndon Johnson, when he was running for re-election back in 1964, when I was not quite six years old.*

. . . the hometown of Scott Joplin, the great ragtime composer. We stopped by the local museum, which boasted online and in see-Arkansas-sites literature that they had Scott Joplin's piano. Well, sort of. That is, they had a piano known to have been in town when Scott Joplin was growing up here. And it's known that some of the families for whom Joplin's mother worked as a maid allowed little Scott, who was something of a prodigy, to play their pianos. So it's possible that Joplin once played this particular piano, out of all the hundreds of pianos he must have played in his life. But there's no proof of any sort to say he did.
--I did get to see the Scott Joplin mural a few blocks away, when I was roaming around the deserted and slightly dilapidated streets downtown, looking for the (well-hidden) museum. I'm not usually much for murals, which I take to be a sign of faux-nostalia festooning decaying courthouse squares, but this one was oddly touching. In any case, it's put me in a mood to listen to some of his music, esp. SCOTT JOPLIN PIANO RAGS, performed by Joshua Rifkin (which I discovered back in the Lake Geneva library and eventually found my own copy of).** I may even dig out TREEMONISHA (or, then again, I may not).

. . . the city I was born in*** -- though given that I was almost stillborn, was repeatedly attacked by the family cat, and had double pneumonia before I was two, I'm probably lucky we moved away when I was two.

. . . the town my grandmother and oldest uncle on the Rateliff side (Uncle Aubrey) lived in the last years of their lives; I have many memories of going over to visit them, and also Aunt Polly, my father's only sister, during my high school years.

. . . and the city made famous in the old song "Cotton Fields":

When those cotton bolls get rotten
You can't pick very much cotton
In those old cotton fields back home
Well it was down in Louisiana
Just about a mile from xxxxxxxxx.****
In those old cotton fields back home.

*I'm told I was taken to see Senator Kennedy four years before, but of course I have no memory of that. And while I've met Clinton twice, it was before he was president (the first time when as Attorney General he came and addressed Boys State, the second time during a quick layover he made at the Magnolia airport while running for re-election as governor). I've also encountered President Carter twice at book-signings but only spoken to him once, and both those were after his term in office, after he'd transitioned from being a disappointing president into our greatest ex-president. So Johnson is the only president I've seen while he was president.

**ragtime eventually morphed into jazz, but we can't blame Joplin for that; in any case, he was dead by the time that happened.

***I was lucky that in those days the delivery rooms in St. Michael's hospital were on the Arkansas side of the border; I'm told they were later moved to the Texas side, which wd have had me born in Texas.
****in fact, it's more like fifteen/twenty miles, but like Keats' 'stout Cortez' the songwriter preferred a good rhythm over geographical accuracy.

P.S.: It took me longer than I expected to get this post written up properly.
I'm actually back home again now, but I went ahead and kept the format of this "Tonight I'm in" post as if I'd been able to finish it and post it while I was still in Arkansas.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011



So, the day before I left for my trip, the mail brought the latest addition to my Tolkien shelves, Cor Blok's A TOLKIEN TAPESTRY: PICTURES TO ACCOMPANY THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I've already expressed my opinion of Blok's artwork in an earlier post; this deeper exploration confirms me in the opinion that the story behind the picture-cycle is more interesting that the art itself. Imagine what it'd be like to discover that Barbara Remington, in addition to her gosh-awful covers for the Ballantine Tolkiens, had carried on for several years creating over a hundred more pictures in a similar style, only now to be revealed in their glorious awfulness. That's essentially what we've got with this book, except that it's the artist who did the Dutch paperback covers instead of the psychedelic American ones.

What we have here are a hundred and forty pictures, created between 1958 and 1961, retelling THE LORD OF THE RINGS (more or less*) in faux-naif art. I don't think anyone has done this extensive a series, at least not that I've seen assembled in sequence. Oddly enough I thought the back cover of the dust jacket, which creates a mosaic of some thirty pieces seen all at once side-by-side in a great collage, was the most effective presentation. The fact that there are so many pieces in this book means that some scenes that never get illustrated appear here -- Grima spitting, the bath at Crickhollow, the Fellowship being led while blindfolded in Lorien, Nob helping Merry (the only depiction of him I remember ever seeing), or Bill Ferny being hit by the apple. But Blok's art is such that he provides not just a truly inept Gollum (he looks like a splay-footed duck) but possibly the worst Goldberry ever, a truly hideous Galadriel, and worst of the whole lot a gaggle of Ents looking like walking cigars festooned with green rot-fungus.

The most valuable thing about this book is the Tolkien letter reproduced on page 6 (and a paragraph from another quoted on page 7; Blok also summarizes two things Tolkien told him regarding Blok's art on pages 15 and 25 (that he did not want a definitive illustrated edition that wd associate his work with any particular artist [e.g., Carroll & Tenniel], and that Blok had completely misrepresented Gollum by forgetting he was of hobbit-kin).

Blok's commentary is quite interesting, both in his history of the project** and his pointing out specific details in individual paintings -- I'd missed, for example, the fact that Gollum always appears in silhouette, with no refining detail. Reading this in conjunction with looking at the pictures, I'm forced to conclude that Blok is an Erol Otus -- his art only looks inept, and actually is the result of a highly trained artist deliberately choosing that effect -- what Tolkien called elsewhere "the modern mode in which those who can draw try to conceal it."***

In the end there truly is no arguing about taste. And I'm glad that those who find some merit in Cor Blok's work have revived and printed it (and doing a v. gd job of it too, I might add****); it's an interesting project, and worth preserving. But I hope the year after next's Tolkien calendar features somebody whose work isn't just occasionally interesting in a weird and freakish way but actually art I'd enjoy looking at for a whole month at a time per image. Say, a Hobbit calendar using the artwork in Wayne & Christina's new book. Or I'd be happy for an entire calendar illustrated by Tolkien's beautiful calligraphy, given my druthers.

In the meantime, we get Howard the Gollum in Gormenghast.



*some crucial scenes are missing -- for example, Blok seems to lose interest in the latter part of the story: there are only two pictures of minor scenes following the Ring's destruction, one of Gimli and Legolas in the Glittering Caves and one of hobbit-shirriffs accompanying the four travellers.

**his 'Barbarusia' project, which preceded his LotR, was a sort of Islandia for artists; his 'Iron Parachute' which was to follow is a massive still-incomplete graphic novel with Joycean prose (think CERBERUS THE ARDVARK issued as a single volume all at one time but written in a style of FINNEGANS WAKE word-slush).

***JRRT to R. Unwin, December 1965 (cf. LETTERS OF JRRT). Was Tolkien thinking about Blok? No way to tell . . .

****I only found one likely glitch: I don't have a copy of LotR with me to check this, and it's always dangerous quoting from memory, but I'm pretty sure the quote on page 74 doesn't apply to the Inn at Bree but instead to the House in Crickhollow.