Saturday, March 30, 2013

New Biography of Father Francis

So, the news got posted on the MythSoc list this week (thanks, Juanito) that a new biography of Fr. Francis Morgan, Tolkien's guardian, has just been published: LA CONEXION ESPANOLA DE J. R. R. TOLKIEN ("Tolkien's Spanish Connection"). The author is Jose Manuel Ferrandez. This is great news -- Fr. Francis is one of the really important people in Tolkien's life --essentially his foster-father -- yet he's someone about whom we know relatively little, with most of that little being concentrated in the seven years or so between the death of Tolkien's mother (1904) and JRRT's departure for Oxford (1911).

Unfortunately, there's a catch. As befitting a book published in Spain about someone who was (half-) Spanish, the book itself is in Spanish.

Now, I took Spanish in junior high and high school. But that was the typical school-Spanish as taught in the U. S., which gives you some vocabulary but really only teaches you how to read Spanish lessons in textbooks. Still, I had a pretty good teacher (Mrs. Gatling), and it stuck for a few years.

  When I got to college (Southern Arkansas University or S.A.U.; formerly S.S., or Southern State College) they didn't teach Spanish, so I took French (from Mrs. Souter, who actually was French, having grown up in Brittany). Fayetteville didn't have a foreign language requirement for the Masters, but Marquette did for the doctorate. I asked if I cd do Spanish, since I already had several years' experience with it, if by now pretty rusty. To which I was told no, the choices were (a) French and (b) German.* The way my graduate school advisor (a Deconstructionist) put it, this requirement was so I cd read literary criticism in other languages, with the implication that most of the lit. crit. worth reading (e.g., Derrida) was French. Besides, he said, nothing had ever been written in Spanish I needed to read, except maybe DON QUIXOTE.  So I chose French, since I already had a grounding in that, and took a course (in reading, not speaking, the language) that enabled me to pass my exam. The end result of which being that though I can't exactly claim to read French, I am able to get the general gist of what a piece in French is saying. It helps that (a) I have a good vocabulary in English and can recognize a lot of French cognates to words in English, and (b) I've found I know the nouns and adjectives better than the verbs -- so I can read a review, for instance, and tell what the author is writing about but not what he or she thinks about it. It made for an interesting experience earlier this year when a piece of mine was published in French,** reading through a text I was v. familiar with (after all, I wrote it) and seeing how much of the detail I cd follow in another language.

Despite this, I've regretted having to make that choice. Already by that time (circa 1984, when I was evolving the ideas that became my first dissertation proposal) it was becoming clear that French was not a language I was likely to spend a lot of time working with. Had I chosen German, I cd have read the Grimms and Kafka in the original. Had I been able to choose Spanish, I cd have read Borges (and, now, Ferrandez). Perhaps it's time to see about freshening up the remains of my Spanish, with this book as a test case.

At any rate, I've ordered a copy, so more on that when it arrives.***

*And Old English, of course, which I took at both Fayetteville and Marquette.

**"Un Fragment Detache: Bilbo le Hobbit et le Silmarillion"

***it's not available on, but abebooks lists it.

Here's the book's description from the original MythSoc list post. The link to the author's website is well worth following: he includes there more information about the book as well as several excerpts, both in English and in Spanish:

A biography of Fr. Francis Morgan, the guardian of Tolkien, is published in Spain. The book entitled "La Conexion Española de J.R.R. Tolkien" (J.R.R. Tolkien' Spanish Connection) have 262 pages and is published by Editorial Csed. The author is Jose Manuel Ferrández who already published articles on the relationship between Tolkien and Fr. Francis in Tolkien Studies or in Mallorn.

The book is about the familiar origins of Fr. Francis, his relationship with the Birmingham Oratory and the Cardinal Newman and  obviously on his personal and intellectual influence on Tolkien.

Unfortunately this book is only available in Spanish.

More info in the website of the author:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comment on my book. Maybe in the future I can convince my editor to publish an English version.