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.


galadhorn said...

Dear John,

You wrote:

"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."

Can you write more about two other references to Joyce in Tolkien's papers?

Thanks for your review :-)

John D. Rateliff said...

dear Reikhardus

One is a brief reference in a draft of. "A Secret Vice" and the other scribbled on the back of one of the LotR Mss pages at Marquette. The Secretvice one also references Gertrude Stein.
Hope that helps

Morgan Thomsen said...

I note that Parma Eldalamberon 20 appears to be one of the first publications (perhaps the very first?) to give a reference (on p. 8, n. 7) to the new material included in the one-volume edition of The History of The Hobbit.