Friday, September 28, 2012

The New Arrival / I Am Interviewed

So, today I got interviewed by a local (Milwaukee) NPR affiliate for a little piece on THE HOBBIT. It's to be broadcast sometime early next week. Once I've had a chance to hear it, if it went reasonably well, I'll post a link here to it.

Also today had a long phone call about an interesting little project that I certainly hope comes off; more about this as things develop.

And finally today in the mail arrived HOBBITVS ILLE, the new Latin translation of THE HOBBIT by Mark Walker. I'd gotten to see this for the first time when we visited HarperCollins one of our last days in London and got to see Chris Smith (my editor, to whom I'll always be grateful for his patience over MR. BAGGINS) and to meet David Brawn, the grey eminence of Tolkien publishing. We arrived at the HC offices a little early, which meant I had a chance to look at the big display of just-published books, among which were three copies of the Latin HOBBIT -- two of which were marked "not for sale", wh. immediately raised my hopes that I might be able to purchase the third. Alas no, but David Brawn very kindly arranged to have me sent a copy, for which I am grateful.

For those who haven't seen this yet, it's along the lines of WINNIE ILLE PU: a classic of children's literature translated into Latin. I know they've also done this with ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and the back of the book carries an advertisement for URSUS NOMINE PADDINGTON (which I don't think anyone'll need me to translate for them); it wdn't surprise me if WIND IN THE WILLOWS hadn't gotten the Latin treatment at some point. I'm not much of a Latinist, but I know I'll be amusing myself for some time to come seeing how familiar passages in THE HOBBIT came out in Walker's translation. Here, for example, is part of Gollum-talk, from the chapter AEnigmata in Tenebris:

post nonnullum tempus Gollum secum laetus sibilauit:
"est bonum, mi pretiossse? est sucosum? est gustandum ad mordendum?" 
e tenebris Bilbonem aspiciebat.

Even on a first look, have to say I'm impressed to see they've fixed the runes on the title page to correspond to the Latin title, rather than reprinting the English text in runes. They've also done the same with the two runic inscriptions on Thror's Map ("Tabula Geographica Throris"), replacing the originals with Tolkienesque runes which I presume match the new Latin text.

But best of all is its cover, which reproduces Tolkien's wonderful painting "Conversation with Smaug" transformed into a mosaic. A better analogy for what the book itself does, reproducing the familiar in a new fashion that simulates something v. old, wd be hard to find: nicely done.

--John R.

P.S.: Janice says: They should get the artist who did this cover for their next Calendar!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Another Lecture

So, tonight I gave the second of my two lectures at Corey Olsen's TOLKIEN PROFESSOR class, via Skype. As before, on Monday, it was a really good group of students who gave a raft of good questions, not all of which I knew the answers to --the best kind, since they start me thinking. The thing I always liked best about teaching, back in the day, was that inevitably a student wd come up with a question or a perspective or an insight that had never occurred to me.*

This time my topic was the outlines and plot-notes for THE HOBBIT: what do they reveal about Tolkien's compositional method and what glimpses do they offer into remarkably differing paths the narrative for that story might have taken, from Bilbo's solo journey back through Mirkwood (west to east) to seek help freeing the dwarves from forced labor in the elvenking's halls to the absence of any 'Battle of Five Armies', its place in the story being taken by a battle (sans dwarves) between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains that ensnares Bilbo on his journey homeward. And, of course, the odd but vivid account of Bilbo killing Smaug, floating away in a golden cup on the dragon's blood, and later becoming hard and brave from contact with the dragonblood (shades of Sigurd!).

The question I myself came up with from looking again at this material is this: in Plot Notes B, the first to project events all the way to the ending of the story, Bladorthin (= Gandalf) refuses any share of the dwarves' treasure nor later of the troll's treasure. The very last words of these Plot-Notes, on a line all their own, is "The wizard's reward" (H.o.H.366).  As a student pointed out, from the 'geo-political' perspective of THE QUEST OF EREBOR it's clear that Gandalf's reward is a dragon-free western Middle-earth, the Kingdom Under the Mountain and Dale re-established, and so forth. But it seems improbable, to say the least, to think this had been in Tolkien's mind that early. Far more likely, if it'd been anything along those lines, it'd simply been the better world resulting from the defeat of the goblins and expulsion of the Necromancer.

Of course, it's quite possible -- even likely -- that Tolkien had something else entirely in mind for "the wizard's reward". Something far less abstract and more concrete. As another student pointed out, this line cd even refer to some reward the wizard gives the hobbit (like the Old Took's magic studs). Or, I might add, vice-versa.

Interesting possibilities, but unresolvable at this distance in time, alas.

Still, glad I had this chance to join in the fun on the Mythgard Institute HOBBIT class.

--John R.

current reading: FILES ON PARADE by Wm Ready.

*my all-time favorite was a Marquette student who asked me why the Wife of Bath was childless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Me at Marquette (October 3rd)

So, here's some other big news I'm a bit late in sharing: next week I'm giving a talk on THE HOBBIT at Marquette University, as well as an informal presentation earlier the same day with a class studying THE HOBBIT there*

Here's a link to the official announcement of the event:

Unlike most of my talks, which are heavily footnoted, this will be more of an 'oral history' or anecdotal account, passing along stories about the twists and turns of how the manuscripts of Tolkien's most important works happened to wind up in a city he never visited at a university with which he had no previous ties. If you're in the area, come join us -- the more the merrier.

And, I shd note: this is just the first of three events Marquette is hosting to celebrate THE HOBBIT's seventy-fifth anniversary year: A month later (November 8th), Wayne and Christina are giving a presentation about Tolkien's Middle-earth Art, focusing no doubt on their recent excellent THE ART OF THE HOBBIT (which I saw in Blackwells on our recent Oxford trip, but wh. I don't think is out yet over here). Wish I cd go to this;** I've heard them talk on the subject before, but they're constantly finding new things to say about it and it's always worth hearing them again

Then in February (I nearly typed "next spring", but Febr. is still deep winter in Milwaukee) they're hosting A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION OF PETER JACKSON'S THE HOBBIT, with Robin Reid, Yvette Kisor, Edward Risden, and Richard West: all people I know from Kalamazoo (Richard of course I've known far longer than that: he was best man at my wedding!) and, coincidently, all four are contributors to a book I just finished co-editing, and all five of us contributed to Jan and Phil's book on the earlier Peter Jackson movies (PICTURING TOLKIEN). This is another event I'd like to attend but probably won't be able to manage, given the two thousand miles separating me from it.

So, this year is a good time to be a Tolkienist living in or near Milwaukee. Not to mention the year-round attraction of having the Tolkien manuscripts there and available for study.

* my topic there is 'how to become a Tolkien scholar'.

**unfortunately, after the family crisis trips in January, the non-crisis family + Leocon/Austin trip in April, Kalamazoo in May, Pennsylvania in June-July, England in September, and Marquette/Rockford in October, and one more family trip to come before the end of the year, I'm pretty well tripped out to for 2012. Here's hoping 2013 includes more staying at home with the cats (all three are sharing the room with me as I type this, keeping me in their sight in case I try to slip off again)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Well, that went well

So, last night I used Skype for the first time* to deliver a brief lecture, followed by an hour and more of questions & answers, to Corey Olsen's class studying THE HOBBIT [cf. The Tolkien Professor and Mythgard Institute].  My topic was 'the origin of THE HOBBIT', and I talked about the two competing origin stories -- the myth of an oral hobbit preceding the one we have today contrasted with the documented account describing the creation of the written tale wh. I give in the introduction of my book ("The Chronology of Composition"). As part of the preparation for this, I went back and listened again to Michael Tolkien's wonderful talk to the Tolkien Society back in 1977 where he discussed the Hobbit apocrypha he and his siblings created deriving from their father's tale, as well as a briefer account he gave to a local radio station (don't have a date for this one; think it was either 1975 or 1977): wonderful stuff. The students had a lot of really interesting questions, some of which I didn't have answers for, and some I hope they follow up on and write-up into articles of their own (like the role of the FCL in Tolkien's development as a writer, or the origin of wizards in his works).

Being new to Skype (thanks to Janice for getting it all set up for me), I was amazed how smoothly it all went. Me, here in west coast Pacific time (6.30 pm), giving a talk co-ordinated and moderated by someone in east coast Eastern time (9.30 pm), with one of the participants who lives in England having sat up late in order to be able to take part (hi Andrew!), despite its being 2.30 am (Greenwich time) for him.

I give another talk there on Thursday night (6.30 my time; 9.30 Eastern). This time we'll be looking at the outlines or Plot Notes for THE HOBBIT -- not just for what they tell us about JRRT's compositional method (something well worth studying in its own right) but also for the glimpses they give us into alternate worlds, different ways THE HOBBIT could have come out. Some v. different indeed. I'm looking forward to it.

And, before I forget: congratulations to Corey for the publication this past weekend of his new book: EXPLORING J. R. R. TOLKIEN'S THE HOBBIT, just out from Houghton Mifflin (or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as I suppose I shd call them). I think this marks the vanguard of a whole wave of HOBBIT-themed books we'll be seeing over the next two-three years, and we're off to a good start.

--John R.

*aside from a test run a few weeks ago, just before we left for England, to see how it actually worked. (Hi,  Mary!), and a brief test with Corey to make sure All Was Well.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tonight, I Lecture

So, tonight's my first lecture to the Mythgard Institute's HOBBIT course, at 6.30 Pacific Time (9.30 East Coast time zone). I'll be talking about the origins of The Hobbit.

The second lecture comes on Thursday (Sept 27th; same time), when I talk about Tolkien's outlines for The Hobbit and the different directions the story might have taken.

Looks like a good group and a good course; here's hoping the lecture itself goes well.

More later.

--John R.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Back to London

So, another night's sleep under the effects of cold medicine, and I'm apparently no longer wearing my pitiful hat. Which is good.

Things are beginningto wind down now on our big trip. Today we left Newton House ( wh I recommend) and traveled by train back to London for a few days more at Celtic House. Spent the fternoon at th British Museum, wh we'd intended to visit a lot when in London bu only manged twice, due to their earlyish closing time. Janice feeling it'd be nice to see something non-Egpytian for a change, we visited their Assyrian rooms and took our time w their amazing displays of lion hunts, city sieges, and much more. Truly amazing stuff. After that we were running out of time, but briefly visited the Mesoamerican room (saw a precolumbian codex), the early life-in-England rooms (Beaker people, Celts, Roman Britains, et al). So vast are their riches that you run into the extraordinary in every room --- the Lindow Man here, the Lewis Chessmen there. Didn't have time to see the Sutton Hoo treasure; maybe another time.

After tht was laundry, and sipper at a v gd Turkish resaurant (Antalya, on Southampton Row), and then a quiet evening watching the new Hobbit trailer (about wh more later when I've had time to think about it and a chance to see it again) and read a little.

Only one more full day, then a travel day ending in home again. Do miss the furry little faces.


Current reader: Who Owns Antiquity.   and. Verne's Hunt for the Meteor

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Merton, Magdalen, and Ashmolean

So, today was our last full day in Oxford, and we got a lot in despite a late start and my being a slow-moving recooperee. First we went to the Ashmolean, which I never got to my last trip five years hence, where we not oly got to see Arthur Evans' Minoan exhibit, wh was great, but also their Old English room, with the Alfred Jewel. Dimitra and Andrew had highly recommended this display when we saw them on Sunday, and it lived up to their description. So there's something I first learned about and saw a picture of in that old Time-Life series about the ancient world when I was about ten or eleven that I never thought I'd see in person. They also had an item on display from the 'Thame hoard' -- shades of Farmer Giles? -- wh I'll have to find out more about.

Lost track of time among their Egyptian exhibit, and almost made us late for our lunch at Merton with Stuart Lee (editor of a forthcoming collection I'm contributing to) and his colleage Elizabeth Solopova (w whom he collaborated on a Tolkien book a few years ago, The Keys of Middle-earth), as well as John Garth, whom I'd gotten to meet when I was here lasr. See Merton's Senior Common Room was purely amazing, and we greatly enjoyed the guided tour thereafter, wh included seeing the medieval college library' a few of whose books are still chained. And it was moving to see the very street Tolkien walks down in Tolkien in Oxford.

After parting company after a v. Pleasant time, Janice and I walked down to Magdalen, where we strolled down Addison's Walk, saw the deer frolicking (that's really the only word for it), watched some brave but prudent souls go punting w a gondolier, and enjoyedbseeing three harts, one brown one dappled one black. Zulieka Dobson v much on our minds, what between seeing the Beerbohm Room at Merton and then shortly thereafter the river by Magdalen Bridge. Didn't get to climb the tower, wh is perhaps just as well, but I did point out to Janice roughly where CSL's rooms were where the Inklings met -- wh sparked the memory in me of someone else's showing me that, years ago, on my v first visit to Oxford. But I cdn't quite remember who -- was it Humphrey Carpenter? It must have been; another thing I wish I cd thank him for.

After that it was getting towards the time when things shut down (wh is earlier in England than the US), so as one last stop we went into Blackwell's to see it they had my book. They did. Yay, ego-boo. And, I might add, lots and lots of other books I'd have likedto make off w too, but end of vacation weight-limits and budgetarybrestraints kicked in here. That, and hopes I cd get some of these things -- like the 2013 hobbit calendar -- back in the US, if I'm patient enough.

Finally came a v gd dinner at a Jamie Oliver restaurant, a walk back to Newton House, and an early evening at the end of a great day. The vacation is winding down now, but it's been a great one.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Oxford Castle

So, thanks to the help of nighttime knock-you-out cold medicine, followed today by walking-around cold medicine, I was ambulatory if far from my bet today. We scaled back plans accordingly to things that cd be taken at a stroll, with frequent stops for tea. Our first stop was the Ashmolean, but to no avail, as it turns out they're closed on Mondays. Second stop was Oxford Castle, wh Janice had found out about online. I'd been a bit puzzled by this, since on a previous trip someone had pointed out to me the green erthen mound, looking exactly like a great barrow, that I'd been told was all that remains of the castle from wh the local lords once oppressed the local population.

Turns out this is not quite true: the mound is what's left of the main tower, but a smaller tower and some dungeons remain. The whole had been converted into a gaol, wh was not closed until 1996! The cruelty and brutality of 18th and 19th century justice was horrifying, but the most fascinating thing we learned was that Geoffrey of Monmouth, the man who more or less invented the King Arthur legend, lived and taught here at a school that preceded the university by a century or so. That, and the fact that at least one chamber still survives with the old mound, which you can climb up to but not enter: a stone-lined well chamber that wd do M. R. James proud.

After that we strolled about some until it was tea-time, when we met up w Walter Hooper, the man who's devoted forty-eight years (and counting) to edited C. S. Lewis and knows more about him than anyone else alive. It was a most pleasant meeting. After wards, we strolled about the town some more (down the Broad and bck up the High) until it was time for supper and an early to bed.

And now for more nighttime cold medicine and hopes of a less sniffly tomorrow.

--John. R.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Highclere, Windsor, and Pizza House

So, yesterday's visit to Lord Carnarvon's house was great -- the man himself reminded me a bit of Dunsany's father, and who cd resist the dragons carved everywhere. Though we were a bit puzzled by two matching carvings on our way out, each of a little curled dragon munching a severed human hand in its jaws. Never did get to see what bird was calling in the huge old pines: we overheard someone saying the crows had fought it out with the ravens, and the ravens won, but we never saw anything bigger than purple martins.

Today was another trip out to another castle, this time Windsor. Staggeringly huge, with a proper moat (now dry but still daunting), arrow slits, multiple wards, et al. Much impressed with the books. In the queen's doll house, and picked up a(n enlarged) replica of one, a witty little fairy story from the 1920s. Among the many impressive things we saw were the tombs of King George V &Queen Mary, of Edward IV and Henry Vi (whom he deposed and vice-versa), of Edwards VII and Q. Alexandra (and their son, one of the least likely 'Jack the Ripper' suspects ever put forward), and a vault said to include H.VIII and  Charles I

As if these were not enough, we toured the State Apartments, which were quite nice, but what really blew me away was seeing the famous portraits of Henry VIII and Richard III (whose gravesite some historians say they are close to locating), Henry V and his father, James I and his son Charles I and the latter's family. Not to mention Rembrant's Self Portrait. Wow. They'd had a bad fire in this area a few years ago, but you'd never know that now. The only disappointment was not seeing the old, old trees -

Cathedral, London Stone, and Mandir

The trip continues, with a gathering with some old friends, a visit to St. Paul's Cathedral, stopping by to pay our respects at the London Stone (and pick up the latest TLS, which has a great article about a previously unknown Tolkien artist Tolkien much admired), and going way out to north London to see a Hindu mandir.

Today we moved on to Oxford, and had a great lunch with two more Tolk folk, but since I've got a cold and just took some nighttime cold medicine, I'll stop now before it . . .

Thursday, September 13, 2012

and London again

Wend. marked our last morning in Bath, wh. we spent having a pleasant walkaround, first along the Avon on a shady bike path (passing some honeysuckle along the way), then along the Crescent again (where to my surprise we saw a magnolia tree --thought I'd seen three poss. ones before, but this one in bloom and close up confirmed it), then the Circus w. its five great old trees, and finally a sit down for a cup of tea at 'Boston Tea Party' before heading back to grab our bags and check out. To the station, and back to London.

After returning to Celtic House, we went and did laundry, during wh. Janice (bless her) sent me off to Skoobs Book store while the washers washed. Found four books there: one by Christopher Tolkien (a collaboration w. Nevill Coghill I've been looking for for a long time), one by Joseph Wright, a Flann O'Brian, and a Wodehouse (the book I've been trying to read on Kindle proving discouragingly skewed).

That night was a Jack thr Ripper walking tour, wh. was interesting but during wh. we got soaked in a sudden downpour

And today was a trip down to Highclere House, home of Lord Carnarvon, patron of Howard Carter's King Tut excavations. Everyone talks about how sad it was that he died just after his years of trying finally paid off: think how sad if he'd died the year before, rather than the year after!

John R.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


So, I've now back in Bath, wh. I've not visited since 1985, when I came to try to persuade Elizabth Holland (of The Shores of Middle Earth fame/infamy) of the error of her ideas while she tried to convince me of the errors of mine. We neither of us succeeded, but it was a pleasant memory, and returning all these years later we fd Bath a pleasant. Place to stay. Sunday we saw a steam fair (but alas not a steam punk fair) -- familiar carnival rides w. old fashioned sideshow booths of the sort always showing up in manga. Then we saw the Crescent (where we looked so much like tourists that we were asked to pose as some), and the circus (not at all like you're prob. thinking).

Next day we went to Stonehenge, and Salsbury Hill, and Avebury, as well as stops by two villages, Lacock and Castle(less) Combe. One of the best days of my life. Finally getting to see Stonehenge, and spend an hour walking about it, was even better than I cd have imagined. Made mr wonder if if we're poss., in this lifetime, to see the Pyramid and the Sphinx; one trip of a lifetime at a time.

Today had tea at the Jane Austen House (wh. is not, it turns out, in Jane Austen's house -- and bit ironic, given that she disliked Bath), went to the Roman Baths, drank the water (I had three cups), had Tea in the Pump Room, and climbed the Tower of Bath Abbey, wh. was hard for an acrophobiac but worth it to see the bells.

Tomorrow it's back the London, and on to the next stage of the trip.

More later.


Current reading:Around the World in Eighty Days (Verne).

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sphinx and Pyramid and Mousetrap

So, yesterday I saw a v. sad stone lion, and an Easter Island statue.

Today, I saw the Sphinx (or part of him, anyway), and a pyramid (or a piece of one), and The Mousetrap. And I discovered that Assyrians topped their oblisks w. ziggurats. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

--John R.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The New Arrivals & The New Publications

So, in a few hours I leave on a two weeks' trip. And what shd arrive in today's mail? Not just the newest volume of TOLKIEN STUDIES (IX), but also the much-anticipated Tolkiendil journal, L'ARC ET LE HEAUME ('Le Mag de Tolkiendil').

Both of these include new publications by me, plus a lot of interesting pieces by others I'm looking forward to reading.

The Tolkiendil piece, "Un Fragment, detache: BILBO LE HOBBIT et LE SILMARILLION", is my examination of the relationship between THE HOBBIT and THE SILMARILLION, in which I weigh the evidence on both side and conclude that the former was always part of the legendarium.

And I'm in extremely good company, other authors including Shippey, Le Guin, Th. Honeger, Jason Fisher, Ted Naismith, and JRRT himself, as well as a number of authors whose names are new to me, and whom I'm looking forward to reading for that reason: Pantin, Sainton, Turlin, and Bellet.

Turning to the TOLKIEN STUDIES, this is a much slimmer volume than the last few, but that's not necess. a bad thing -- they'd started out about this size and then slowly been growing in thickness, volume by volume; this might represent scaling back a little. In addition to four articles, the Year's Work, and a "Bibliography for 2009" (is this a new feature?), there's the book review section, wh. contains my own modest contribution to this issue. There are only six reviews this time -- of Phelpstead's excellent book on TOLKIEN AND WALES (the Mythsoc's book-of-the-year), rev. by Marj. Burns; Dubs and Kascakova's MIDDLE-EARTH AND BEYOND: ESSAYS ON THE WORLD OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, which I review; Liam Campbell's ECOLOGICAL AUGURY, rev. by Kristine Larsen; Jason Fisher's TOLKIEN AND THE STUDY OF HIS SOURCES (in which I have an essay), rev. by Paul Thomas; Jan & Phil's PICTURING TOLKIEN: ESSAYS ON PETER JACKSON'S LotR (in which I have an essay), rev. by Anne Petty; & Paul Kerry's volume THE RING & THE CROSS, probably the best book I've read on Tolkien and Xianity, rev. by Jonathan Evans.

So, between my review, and the review of my piece on Tolkien and Rider Haggard, and the review of my piece on Bombadil's omission from the films, quite a lot here. Which, alas, will have to wait until I get back from England.

More later

--John R.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tolkien-inspired Stained Glass

So, it's no surprise that among the many artistic renditions of scenes in Tolkien's work, someone would come along and do some stained glass designs. I think it cd be argued that some of Tolkien's own work wd lend itself well to stained glass adaptation: I've always wanted a stained glass version of Bilbo Comes to the Hut of the Raft-elves, for instance, and a lot of the heraldic devices associated with the SILMARILLION wd make good stained-glass rondels.

Here's the link to Jian Guo's pieces, courtesy of Janice

Of the five pieces linked to here (I'm not clear on whether this is the whole set or merely a representative sample), "Rest in Gildor's Forest" is notable for depicting a scene we rarely see illustrated -- though it's also the only one in which I spotted a factual error (four hobbits where there shd only be three). The five pieces, in their proper sequence, are

"Birthday Party of Baggins"
"Rest in Gildor's Forest"
"Deep Into Moria"
"Welcome from Lothlorien"
"Gates of Argonath"

Given that all these fall within the first volume of LotR, I wonder if there'll be a second and third set to cover THE TWO TOWERS and RETURN OF THE KING. I wdn't be surprised if these five aren't at some point made into posters (a la the old "The Journey Begins", with its almost black-light vividness of colors).

In any case, an interesting example of what Tolkien, in his Letter to Waldman, called "other hands".

--John R.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The New Arrival: PARMA Twenty

So, things continue to arrive -- and we haven't even begun to hit the wave of Hobbit-themed/ related books that shd stretch over the next two or three years.

This one is as far from a movie tie-in as is possible to imagine: the latest issue (Vol. XX) of PARMA ELDALAMBERON, the long-running series of linguistic documents by JRRT edited by a team consisting of Bill Weldon, Chris Gilson, Arden Smith, Carl Hostetter, and Pat Wynne. This particular volume is of interest even to those for whom elven linguistics are a dark mystery, in that it focuses on Tolkien's alphabets -- specifically, documents written in tengwar, Tolkien's beautiful invented elven script. This 160-page volume is full of facsimile reproductions of page after page in Tolkien's flowing tengwar, each followed by a literal transliteration and then a normalization (e.g., replacing phonetic spelling with normal English spelling). These are not Quenya texts: the words, when deciphered, are English (or, in a few cases, Latin): only the alphabet/writing system is invented.

Among the contents are many prayers (e.g., The Lord's Prayer) and nursery rhymes (e.g., The Three Wise Men of Gotham, There was a Crooked Man, Old King Cole), and poems ("The Walrus & the Carpenter" and Tolkien's own "Bombadil" and "Errantry"), along with some misc. ("God Save the King" and the opening lines of BEOWULF).

Best of all, there is also some interesting original content: a diary entry (for May 23rd [?1931]), the opening page of an otherwise unknown modern-day story ("Littlehampton"), a three-page fragment the editor has dubbed "Philosophical Thoughts", and several letters.

This last include some to people that have otherwise never appeared in any Tolkien biography, so far as I know,* but also one to E. V. Gordon (whom he addresses, interestingly enough, by his middle name, as "Valentine") and to C. S. Lewis. The former discusses, briefly, their colleague Turville Petre, whom Tolkien seems to have held in higher regard than did EVG. The latter is clearly a cover letter for a description of the elven alphabet, which Lewis had asked to see: an interesting bit of evidence that CSL's interest in the 'mythology' extended beyond just the stories (this is in keeping with the 'documents' approach he chose when critiquing the Lay of Leithian). It also contains Tolkien's resolution not to go off on family holiday that year but to spend two weeks of down time on his own in Oxford.

The diary entry is mostly about Tolkien's day spent gardening until interrupted by rain (and hence time to write up the diary entry), but also includes an interesting bit where he muses over whether his phonetical usage of an invented script will baffle future decipherment, comparing his usage to Pepys' shorthand. One final surprising bit is his writing the line

Anna Livia Plurabelle

at the top of one page, before striking it out: a reference to Joyce's as-yet-unpublished FINNEGANS WAKE, fragments of which (including "Anna Livia Plurabelle") had been published as far back as the mid-20s. This makes the third reference Tolkien made to Joyce's work that I know of, showing he was more aware of (if not favorably disposed to) the work of his contemporaries than is generally assumed.

The so-called 'Philosophical Musings', though brief (3 pages), are also of interest, not just in a mention of Dyson but also for the following comment by Tolkien re. atheism:

. . . We also talked of
idealist philosophy and ath-
eist -- the latter of which
has always been to me
unintelligible: I have
never understood how any-
one nowadays could re-
main in such a position
if position it can be

In short: an interesting issue, and well worth looking through even for the non-specialist. Anyone wanting to order a copy of his or her own shd go to

*one H. M. Margoliouth, an administrator at Oxford, and Dr. Sturrock, the Tolkien family doctor before Havard.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Comic Book

So, a few days ago I was looking through the Tolkien offerings on amazon's Kindle store site and came up with some unusual ones, three of which I ordered. The strangest, and the only one I've looked at in any detail so far, is called ORBIT: J. R. R. TOLKIEN: THE TRUE LORD OF THE RINGS, by Brian McCarthy and Michael Lent. This turns out to be a comic book biography of JRRT from Bluewater Comics, whom I'd not heard of before; part of a line ('Orbit') that includes Keith Richards (!), Howard Stern (!!) and Stephen King.* The Tolkien book is supposed to have come out in May, but I'm having trouble finding out if it actually ever shipped.

Here's an announcement of it as forthcoming on the Bluewater site, which also includes a view of the cover:

Here's the catch-22: I was able to buy the Kindle version of this comic, but it turns out to be virtually impossible to read. My old Kindle is black & white, and reading a comic book page in a swirly blurry style with tiny type all in a space about the same size as an index card is an exercise in frustration. Even after borrowing my wife's iPad reading the comic is difficult and time-consuming: I have to select and blow-up each page and move the cursor around to follow it panel by panel. And even then I ran into the problem that blowing up a panel large enough for me to read it meant blurring the type, meaning I had to choose between small and thus illegible or large but semi-legible. There's got to be an easier way to read a comic.

I can't order a print copy via amazon, because Bluewater chose to make this a comic store exclusive, not sold through any other venue. And upon visiting my friendly local comics shop today (The Comic Hut in downtown Renton, for the first time in much too long**), they told me it's not available through their distributor and hence not something they cd special-order me. In fact, it seems their distributor solicited it in March and cancelled it in April, if I understood rightly, casting doubt on whether it ever came out at all in physical (non-ebook) form.

So there I'm stuck. I'd gladly buy a copy, if I had the option (indeed, I have bought a copy, it's just in a really horrible-to-read format). I'm probably as close to the target audience as they're likely to find (I mean, this wd be the third comic book adaptation featuring JRRT or his work I have).*** But they don't seem to have left open a mean whereby I can get it. I'll post here if that changes.

--John R.
today's song: Medicine Jar.

*apparently at one time they were also thinking of doing a Gary Gygax comics bio, but I don't know if anything ever came of this.
**mainly because I more or less gave up reading comics after I switched to manga.
***the other two being Wenzel's graphic novel adaptation of THE HOBBIT and that strange fantasy story in comic-book form starring Charles Williams, HEAVEN'S GATE, which had JRRT (or a caricature thereof) in a few scenes.