Friday, July 26, 2013

Twenty-one Years

So, Thursday was our twenty-first anniversary. Last year we went to England for a long-planned trip to celebrate our twentieth; this year something more local and low-key seemed in keeping. So we went to the EMP ('Experience Music Project'), the ugliest building in Seattle,* taking the Link and then Monorail (the third time I've ridden it, I think; much less unsettling than before)  to see their Tolkien Exhibit.

To be fair, the Tolkien display was only one part of one exhibit (FANTASY: WORLDS OF MYTH AND MAGIC), and that was only one of several shows currently on display. But it was, naturally enough, the highlight of the visit for me. I'd been worried the exhibit might run its course and wrap up before I got a chance to see it. I played a v. minor role early on in the planning of this show (e.g., suggesting specific pages of Tolkien typescript that might make a good display),** and I was curious to see how it had all eventually turned out. Seeing the final exhibit, I realized that my ideas had largely been literary (including a time-line of major fantasy works and authors), whereas the EMP's focus is on movies and tv shows. Hence there were lots of props and costumes from fantasy movies. The same was true of the science fiction and horror exhibits as well, which included a three-pages section of Stoker's original typescript for DRACULA (turned to the famous scene where Mina is forced to drink blood like a kitten) and some of Jim Henson's notes for DARK CRYSTAL  but was mainly devoted to things like the captain's chair from STAR TREK (and tribbles), an Emperor Dalek, Mr. Pointy from BUFFY, the flying saucer model from PLAN NINE, and the like. They'd also come up with a tarot-like set of iconic archetypes for use in 'build your own fantasy world' hands-on electronic displays for kids.

All in all, I thought they did a good job. Among the non-Tolkien material was Le Guin's notebook containing her outline/rough table of contents for A WIZARD OF THE [ISLANDS >] ISLES (later published as A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA), a page of typescript from R. R. Martin,*** Lester del Rey's letter to Terry Brooks about changes he wanted to make in his SHANNARA book (oddly enough, del Rey claims "I've written fantasy for 35 years, edited it for 20, . . . lectured on Tolkien . . . "), along with three original cards from the prototype deck of what became MAGIC: THE GATHERING (Angel, Spider, Black Knight), at least one of which I recognized the art as coming from an old TSR product (the DUNGEON board game, I think). They also had a loop of film going of Martin, Brooks, and one or two other people I didn't know talking about why their works were the way they were (Martin was grousing about John Harrison's rejection of world-building in fantasy).

Another room had art, including a piece by the Brothers Hildebrandt that, while awful, did draw an interesting observation from Janice: back then, villains had good teeth.

The Main Event, of course, was the Tolkien case, the only spot in all three exhibits that had a guard standing next to it to prevent people from taking pictures (he stopped three separate attempts just in the short time we were there). They had roughly a dozen items, which included:

1. a timeline in Tolkien's writing whose four columns kept track of what various members of his vast cast were doing: I think the our columns were Frodo and Sam / Gandalf and other members of the fellowship / Men and Allies / Orcs and Enemies.  This is among the most interesting material that came to Marquette after I'd left, so I'm much less familiar with it than most of the other LotR Mss.

2.  the page from LotR showing a sketch of the Moria gate.

3. a page from Bk II Chapter V of LotR

4. a page from the Bladorthin Typescript of THE HOBBIT (typescript with handwritten additions)

5. a copy of the Ace FELLOWSHIP (a pristine copy, which I don't think has ever been read)

6. an old wood-grain box first edition first printing of the old original three-booklet set of DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS

7. a open spread from a 1st edition DandD rulebook (the DMG I think), which actually looked a little small -- wonder if it'd been trimmed or cut down a little.

8. a (smallish) Pauline Baynes map of Narnia

9. one of Baynes' original illos to Narnia (from THE LAST BATTLE)

10. a copy of THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (early enough that it listed it as the first book in the series; late enough that it indicated it was indeed part of a series)

11. the big Pauline Baynes map of Middle-earth, signed by both Baynes and Tolkien. This I think is the original painting by Baynes which Joy Hill told me about, which Tolkien had cut down, cropping off the top and bottom friezes of the Fellowship and bad guys, respectively.

12. a similarly big Barbara Remington map of Middle-earth, which I don't think I'd ever seen before. It had typically grotesque Remington figures crawling up and down the margins of the picture at top and bottom and on either side, but the map itself was beautifully done; much better than Baynes, I thought.

--interestingly enough, some of these were marked as being from the personal collection of Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen -- is he a Tolkien fan?**** Others came from Marquette, and still others from the Wade at Wheaton.  Small, but a nice display, and it got a lot of attention as the first thing you saw when you walked in the door right on the right as you came in.***** Being so immersed in Tolkien and all things Inkling as I am, it was interesting to hear folks' comments as they looked over the manuscripts et al. A few were surprised to learn of the Lewis-Tolkien connection; another delighted to see where the dragon's name had been changed from Pryftan to Smaug

Visits to the Science Fiction and then the Horror exhibits followed. Unfortunately the music exhibits that loom so large as a reason for the EMP's very existence are heavily themed towards Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, two talented musicians I'm not much interested in, so we ended with a stop by the museum store, where I bought an (overpriced) HOBBIT t-shirt, and (overpriced) HOBBIT notebook, and an (overpriced) oddity: a movie tie-in artbook that doesn't include any artwork from the movies. Entitled TOLKIEN'S WORLD: A GUIDE TO THE PEOPLES AND PLACES OF MIDDLE-EARTH by Gareth Hanrahan (text) and Peter McKinstry (art). Skimming through it, I have to say it's quite odd. Sometimes the illustrations are closely based on what appears in the films (e.g., Gandalf's staff, the ents' attack on Isengard), other times it'd strikingly aberrant (as in the picture of Bilbo on p. 10-11, whom they bizarrely make look a lot like Janet Reno. And where did Hanrahan get the exact numbers for the size of each of the Five Armies that took part in the epic battle in THE HOBBIT?

Following our lengthy perusal of the exhibits, we took the monorail back and then walked further downtown to a place Janice had heard of, The Grill from Ipanema. This turned out to be a Brazilian-style restaurant where they serve meat like it was dim sum, brought to your table on huge skewers, swords, and the like: eighteen different meats in all (steak, chicken, steak, sausage, steak, ribs, steak, buffalo, steak, lamb, steak, pineapple, and steak-steak-steak) with many different seasonings and different preparations. I had trouble at the start because I asked for well-done and kept getting promised the next one wd be well-done, only to have it medium rare each time. Luckily we had a good waitress who after about fifteen-twenty minutes of this decided to believe me when I said that by 'well done' I meant all-the-way-done with no pink no red and made sure I got plenty of that. We ate ourselves silly, including a great dessert (a kind of tiramisu unspoiled by coffee), then walked back to the light rail more slowly than we'd come.

Today (Friday), day two of our celebrations, we went to the LeMay car museum and had Tea down in Sumner, but that I think I'll save for another post.

--John R.

*even uglier than the Seattle Public Library, though the latter made a good-faith effort to outdo the shapeless melted mess that is the EMP building.

**the main advisor was fellow ex-WotC designer Rob Heinsoo, one of the key designers behind DandD fourth edition. The reason for selecting typescript rather than manuscripts, by the way, was the simple fact that typescript is easier to read, especially if you're trying to make out something in a glass case. Museum directors think of these things, it turns out.

***utterly without typo or revision

****it's now Janice's theory that the whole EMP is Paul Allen's attic, which he funded in order to have a place to Keep His Stuff.

*****N.B.: Janice, whose spacial memory is better than mine, says the manuscripts were in the second room we entered, not the first.

current reading: THE INKLINGS OF OXFORD by Harry Lee Poe, TOWARD THE GLEEM by T. M. Doran, and PLANET NARNIA by Michael Ward

1 comment:

Gareth Hanrahan said...

Hi John,
I found this post on a random egotistical google-search.

I extrapolated the numbers for the Battle of Five Armies from the figures given in the Atlas of Middle-Earth. The only solid numbers given are for Elves and Dwarves; the Enemy simply has 'a great host', but 10,000 seemed at least plausible.