Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Feanor watches tv

So, thanks to Janice having heard good things about it, we watched the documentary THE LION IN YOUR LIVING ROOM, which I highly recommend.

Midway through it, Feanor got down from Janice's lap, walked halfway across the room, and sat himself down to watch what was going on. I think he was listening more than watching, attracted by a section in which they played a variety of different cat vocalizations; Janice thinks he was mainly looking. In any case, it definitely attracted his attention (usually it's Hastur who watches the tv at odd moments, but she was in another room at the time).

By the way, that's my Sime in the background to the upper left; to the right of it are Janice's two Naismiths.

--John R

The Cat Report (W. November 30th, 2016)

Annabell Lee’s adoption means that there’s just two cats in the cat-room today: LILLITH (8 yr old mature cat, white w. grey) and SHEENA OPRIA (12 yr old senior cat, solid sleek black). They’re no longer in their extended lodging but back in their usual two-unit cages.

Lillith came out at once, as usual, and settled herself in the tube in the outer room. She wasn’t much in the mood to play, but she did have two walks. She’s chatty when out and about, but quiets down when something gets her attention. Her favorite parts of the store are the shelves with the bags of cat litter just to the left of the cat room and the far wall, the quietest part of the store. She was quite interested in the pet beds along that wall, and wanted to try some out for softness and size. 
   Between the walks I discovered that she had some tangles, so set to working on them. She didn’t think much of my technique, but I did get some of the knots worked through; if we do this bit by bit it shdn’t take long to get her fur all nice and untangled.

Sheena has made a lot of progress. Last week she hid in the back of her cage, as far away from me as she cd get. She seemed to like my petting her, but resisted any efforts to get her to come towards the front of the cage (she went and hid in her dirt box each time I tried). This week she came up to the front of the cage right away and enjoyed a good petting. Based on the good advice someone posted this week (sorry; I’ve forgotten who), I moved her over to the top of the cat-stand in the outer room, where she stayed for the next two hours. She loves being petted, arching her back and putting her tail in the air, but has a quick switch when she wants you to stop. She seemed frightened by all the games I offered but did like the catnip. She was so panicked by the collar that I gave up my idea of walking her right away. To calm her back down afterwards I gave her a towel-bath with a wet towel; she followed this up with a proper thorough tongue-based grooming of her own, just to show me how it was done.

In other news, we had a donor who brought by forty cans of wet cat food: brands such as Weruva, Fancy Feast, and Blue Wilderness. I’ve stashed then inside the bench.

Glad to hear the news about Annabell Lee, and Skittles (who I didn’t even meet), and Oscar the rv cat. I have friends who sold their house, bought an r.v., and hit the road with their two cats a year ago, and they report that their cats are doing fine: they watch the outside (which changes every few days) with great interest, but are very emphatic about staying INSIDE where it’s nice and safe. Let’s hope the same proves to be true of Oscar.

Had to say it made my day when I heard that Edison had found a new home. Needing a new home at his age, having been really sick with the kalki, and having lost his bonded partner, he really deserves a break.

No health concerns; both cats seemed to be fine.

—John R.
(written under the scrutiny of my own two cats, sleeping on separate corners of my desk and soaking up the lamplight)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Verne on Verne

So, as I continue to make my way bit by bit through Lottman's biography of Verne, I think the following is going to be my favorite quote from the book:

Mr. Jules Verne is the creator of a new genre 
and has earned a place of his own in 
contemporary literature. A lively storyteller, 
the equal of our finest novelists, he is at the same
 time one of the best scientific minds of our time. 
No one has endowed fiction with greater realism; 
in reading his books one wonders whether they 
are really the product of the imagination.*

The author of this paean to Verne's work is, it turns out, Verne himself. That is, the words above are Verne describing his own work, taken from a circa 1866 blurb he wrote to accompany one of his early novels. I tried to imagine one of the Inklings writing this about his own work and drew a blank  (Wms might think it but I don't think even he wd say it in print).

I think the biggest surprise, to me, is Verne's relationship with his publisher, which was closer to Elvis's with Col. Tom Parker than Tolkien's with Allen & Unwin.  I wd even go so far as to describe most of Verne's writing as Work For Hire. The publisher kept Verne on a retainer, paying him a yearly income that was later re-arranged into a monthly stipend. The copyrights belonged to the publisher, not the author, and the publisher also had great influence over the stories' contents. Sometimes Verne wd pitch a book to his publisher for inclusion in his ongoing series EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGES (in which almost all his books appeared), only to have the publisher reject it. Sometimes the publisher (M.Hetzel) demanded the ending of a book be re-written; in a few cases he assigned Verne a topic (generally it seems for his non-fiction works).  One of Verne's great ambitions, never realized, was to be made a member of the French Academy; I wonder if rumor of his arrangements with his publisher got out and counted against him (given that bias against work-for-hire continues to the present day).

In any case, pecking away at the biography has made me think I really shd at some point read up a bit on the Franco-Prussian war and the resulting Commune. It's also convinced me it's time to re-read one of the classics: TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Here's hoping I can find a good-quality Kindle edition.

--John R.

*JULES VERNE: AN EXPLORATORY BIOGRAPHY by Herbert R. Lottman (1996), p. 119

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I Remember the Memory Wars

So, here's an interesting piece on Repressed Memory Syndrome, and the evidence that 'repressed' memories are all-too-often false memories (that is, that the process designed to recover lost memories creates the memories it's trying to find).  A major figure in that fray has just won a major award, the John Maddox Prize, given to scientists who stand their ground in the face of outside pressure.

My take on this would be that every genealogist knows that people get things mixed up; that things  you'd think everyone would remember get lost while some things get handed down in surprising detail (for example, in my family there are two distinct versions of the story how my great-grandfather died on his way to church,  an event that took place a hundred and two years ago).*

The mutability of memory also came up in Gerald Posner's book on the Kennedy assassination, CASE CLOSED (1993), in which he discusses at one point how witnesses' memories of the event has changed over time.

As an Inklings scholar, of particular interest to me is the collecting, sifting, and evaluating evidence regarding literary events. When did the Inklings first begin to meet? When did Tolkien start THE HOBBIT?  When did he finish the earliest draft? When witnesses disagree -- for example, Fr. John and Michael Tolkien directly contradict JRRT's accounts of THE HOBBIT's origins -- how do we decide which is more accurate? When we have evidence that comes from an unreliable source, do we ignore it entirely or use it with caution?

So, it behooves us to have an awareness of the tricks memory plays. I know I have to watch out myself when quoting something somebody told me decades ago. Stories evolve over time, and it's all too easy to embellish and 'improve' a story if you're not careful.

--John R.
just abandoned: FARHENHEIT FOUR FIFTY-ONE (half-way through). doesn't hold up well on re-reading, all these years later.

*The solution I used was to write down all the information I could when interviewing someone about this or that side of the family, then go back and sort it all out later as best I cd.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A. A. Milne vs. P. G. Wodehouse

So, I've long known about the bad feeling between A. A. Milne and P. G. Wodehouse,* stemming from Milne's accusing Wodehouse of treason for some stiff-upper-lip broadcasts PGW made about the lighter side of being in a German detention camp in the early days of World War II.** Told he'd have to face a tribunal and explain himself when he returned to England, Wodehouse went to New York instead and didn't return to England until thirty years later, when he was invited by the Queen to come and accept a knighthood.

I'd known that Wodehouse, who was famous for his sunny disposition, had let the matter pass aside from writing one short story that created a Milne analogue in order to mock his poetry.

What I had not known until tonight/yesterday is that Wodehouse took a few more digs at Milne, the best of which took the form of a joke that goes something like this:

Wodehouse was once reported to have said 
that he had started a “Try to Like A.A. Milne 
Club.” There were no takers, until one man 
joined, only to resign a week later. “Since 
joining the association,” he explained, “I have 
met Mr. Milne.”

For more details about the two men's uneasy relationship, see

For a much more detailed account of Wodehouse's wartime broadcasts, see the book WODEHOUSE AT WAR, which I think (it's been a long time since I read it) includes at least some of the actual broadcasts in the interest of letting those curious read and decide for themselves.

--John R.
current reading: WOULD I FIGHT, ed. Keith Briant & Lyall Wilkes (1938)

*author of the Winnie-the-Pooh and Bertie-and-Jeeves stories, respectively

**most people don't think creating the rough equivalent of HOGAN'S HEROES is a war crime. Milne however had a job to do at the propaganda department and wanted to make an example of Wodehouse.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How Volcanoes Work, according to Verne

So, I was bemused by the following passage in Verne's THE GOLDEN VOLCANO, written circa  1899. In what I suppose we might call a misinformation dump, he has a character explain how volcanoes work and get it gloriously wrong:

"Volcanoes, as you know, are all -- and this can be definitely 
asserted -- located at the edge of the sea or near it -- Vesuvius, 
Etna, Hecla, Chimborazo -- in the New World as well as the Old. 
The natural conclusion to be drawn from this is that they must 
be in underground communication with the oceans. Water filters 
into them, quickly or slowly, depending on the composition of 
the soil. It reaches the interior fire, where it's heated and turns 
to steam. When this steam, trapped in the bowels of the earth, 
attains a high pressure, it creates an internal upheaval and tries 
to escape to the outside, dragging ashes, slag, and rocks out 
through the chimney, surrounded by swirling clouds of smoke 
and flame. That, without any doubt, it the cause of eruptions 
and probably of earthquakes, too . . ."

All eyes were on the engineer at that moment. The explanation
 he had just given of volcanic phenomena was certainly 
an accurate one.


I don't know if this faux-science was something that's been put forth as a legitimate theory of vulcanology or if it's just an idea Verne had come up with and was throwing out there. I suspect the latter.  I'm pretty sure the realization that Yellowstone is a caldera of a supervolcano came after Verne's time, so we can't fault him there, but there are many volcanos that are a long way from the sea. Maybe it depends on how generously we define "near" the sea to be.

Also, I have to say that after all the build-up I was a little disappointed to find that the mountain of the title was 800 to 1,000 feet tall.

--John R.

THE GOLD VOLCANO: Reading Minor Verne

So, the current book I'm reading is an impulse-read plucked off the shelf of the local library to read while on a trip: THE GOLDEN VOLCANO by Jules Verne --one of the books left unpublished at Verne's death in 1905 and rewritten by his son for posthumous publication.  This edition goes back and strips out all his son's changes, printing the original Verne-ian version for the first time.

I was a big fan of Verne back when I was about ten to twelve, and read (and reread, repeatedly*) all the classics: TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, and, best of all, THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (which I first read way back in 1972).

In later years when I came to reread all these as a adult, I was disappointed both with the writing and with the bogus science involved (given Verne's reputation for writing fact-based extrapolation).  I made a concerted effort to read the newly translated versions of THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, books which I'd heard had been greatly changed by their nineteenth century translators, only to find that I much preferred the old vintage translations over the new scrupulously corrected ones that took pains to have their books accurately represent what Verne wrote. It's a rare case in which I'd say the people who monkeyed with these stories at the time knew what they were doing and actually did improve them.

I've also in recent years sought out minor Verne titles, partly to see if there were any gems I didn't know about and partly because you can get an really good idea of someone's talent by reading their second-tier books).**   Here are the ones I've read:


Given the low quality of all these, I think it's pretty clear that I can give up with a clear conscience and not worry about missing any hidden gems.

I've concluded that if you come across a book by Verne you never heard of, you're probably better off giving it a pass. And when re-reading the old classics like AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS (which I think holds up best of them all), don't bother seeking out the most recently translated one; an old Illustrated Classic will probably do just fine.

--John R.
current reading: THE GOLDEN VOLCANO, by Jules Verne (verdict: don't bother)

*I also read FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON but it didn't grab me and I've never re-read it.

**for example, I'm quite fond of Woolf's NIGHT AND DAY (her attempt to write like Jane Austen), and was fascinated and disturbed by H. G. Wells' MIND AT THE END OF ITS TETHER (his final despairing pessimistic work, in which he decided he'd been wrong to think that mankind could create a better world).

***these two were gifts from my friend, the late Jim Pietrusz.

****I've been trying to remember whether I read TRIBULATIONS OF A CHINAMAN IN CHINA a few years back or simply read a little and then gave up, skimming the rest.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Inklings Murder Mystery ("The Sinister Student", ) SPOILERS

So, I've now finished the fourth of Kel Richards' C. S. Lewis mysteries. This one I think reads better than the rest, simply so far as readability goes. But like the previous books in the series, it does have what was for me an absolute jump-the-shark moment. I think in general if you liked any of those previous books, you'll probably like this one too. And if you didn't like them, there's not much hope for this time round.

First, there's the murder mystery -- which need not be taken too seriously, given that the murder victim is revealed on the back cover of the book. Richards tends to favor wildly improbable methods of murder he pulls out of the hat; in this case the murder weapon and hence murderer are obvious from very early on.

Second, there's the P. G. Wodehouse sections. Whenever Richards' point-of-view character runs into the girl he's sweet on, they lapse into faux-Bertie Woosterisms (what ho, what ho). They even mention by name several times a Wodehouse character (Florence Cray, one of Bertie's onetime ill-matched fiancees). I'm a great admirer of Wodehouse myself, so I'm glad to see that Richards is too, but his imitation shows that it's harder than it looks. In short, Richards is not just not another P. G. Wodehouse: he's not even another P. H.  Cannon.

Two things that are very much to the good in this book, that makes it stand out and made it a more enjoyable read, for me at least, than its predecessors, is the Oxford setting and the inclusion of J. R. R. Tolkien as a character. I'm obviously a soft touch when it comes to books set in Oxford, and much more so when it comes to Tolkien. And for all this faults, Richards does produce a character named 'Tolkien' who actually plausibly resembles the real person of that name -- something many who have written JRRT into their stories as a character have utterly failed at. It's also nice to see a reconstructed Inklings meet (one Thursday night in Lewis's rooms, the other on a Tuesday at the Eagle & Child), with a plausible roster of Inklings in attendance: Lewis himself, Warnie,* Tolkien (who reads them his just-finished last chapter of THE HOBBIT), Nevill Coghill, Adam Fox, and latecomer Hugo Dyson. I'm sorry to see Dr. Havard doesn't make an appearance at either meeting, but then they were an informal group and it wasn't at all odd that one or another of them cdn't turn up at their gatherings, so I just told myself Humphrey was busy at the clinic that week. And while in his previous books Tolkien was just mentioned a time or two, he's a fairly major minor character this time around: after the point-of-view character (Young Morris) and CSL, I'd say Warnie and Tolkien probably show up the most often, often to comment on the ongoing events.

As for the jump-the-shark moment, for me this came when the rather odd visiting researcher who kept trying to meet Tolkien and Lewis, and seemed strangely informed about their works (including ones not-yet-published), turned out to be a time-traveller from the future who'd come back to Oxford 1936  in his tardis specifically to meet those two great writers. His tardis has a functioning chameleon circuit, so it takes the form of a wardrobe, thus giving Lewis the idea of travelling to another world by entering a wardrobe. And while it's clear the traveller isn't Doctor Who himself, he might as well be; he even uses a sonic screwdriver at one point to uncover a clue for Lewis et al. And if I'm reading Richards rightly, it's the time-traveller who's responsible for the famous bargain between Lewis and Tolkien: he certainly accidentally gives JRRT the idea of writing a story about Atlantis.

So, not a turn of events that I saw coming, and not one that I thought improved his book. If it had worked for me, I suppose I'd be calling it jump-the-genre instead of jump-the-shark. I suppose I shd give him points for originality, but is it originality to be the first person to have a really bad idea?

--John R.

*in one rather nice touch, Richards admits in an endnote that he calls Warnie 'the Major', even though he now knows Warnie was still Captain Lewis at the time, simply because it sounds right: Warnie is widely known as 'the Major' among fans of the Inklings.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Abandoned or in Abeyance? (Another Tolkien/Lewis project)

So, while trying to find out more about the Tolkien/Lewis film that I saw at the Milw. Film Festival, I came across mention online of a play about the two men's friendship. Most of what I could find out about it dated to two years back, and I've not been able to find out if the project is still in the works or has drifted off into the last of might-have-beens; I'll give an update if I do find out more.

First, here's the link to the Indiegogo pitch, during which they raised just over $3500, which had been their goal to fund the drafting and development of the play. I'm curious if anyone who backed this project got a copy of the play (the reward for the $75 donation) or the Tolkien/Lewis timeline he compiled (what he called his 'eReseach' and was offering to share at the $250 level).

Next, there's this piece from the Tolkien Library site, which includes an interview with Reed about the project.

Finally, there's this piece from a local (Vancouver-area) source

Putting all three of these together, we learn that the playwright is Ron Reed, who's associated with the Pacific Theatre in Vancouver and has performed in their production of FREUD'S LAST SESSION (he played Freud) as well as elsewhere playing CSL in SHADOWLANDS; he's also in the past written a play about Geo. MacDonald (A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR)

Reed was attracted to the idea of telling the story of Tolkien's friendship with Lewis by the idea that by day Tolkien was the most boring lecturer in the most boring subject at Oxford,*  while by night he was creating what became a a seminal work of great modern literature.

The idea, at least at one point, was for the play to focus on Tolkien & Lewis's friendship: starting when they first met, Tolkien's role in Lewis's conversion (or more properly I suppose re-conversion), Lewis's encouragement of Tolkien's works,** and their drifting apart over differing opinions of each other's works and CSL's marriage with Joy Gresham.

Reed is to be the playwright, while someone named Shauna Johannesen was to be the project's 'dramaturg', which as described by them seems to be roughly what at TSR we called "editing" and which in other contexts I've seen called "development": taking a complete draft and turning it into a polished publishable piece.

The only other interesting detail I could glean was that David Downing was apparently involved in the project in some way, since an autographed copy of his book was being offered as the reward for one of the higher levels of donation in its Indiegogo pitch.

My main questions, after reading what these various websites had to say, are
(1) how far did this project get? Is the a finished play (polished or unpolished)?
(2) if a script does exist, is there any way to get a copy, now that the Ingiegogo pitch has expired?
(3) also, did any of the backers of that pitch see the T/L Chronology? It sounds like a really useful research tool in and of itself?
(4) finally, is this project still in the works, or has it expired and quietly been put aside? I suspect the latter, given that the most recent mention I cd find of it dated back about a year and a half -- but you never know, so if anyone with more information out there is willing to share, I'd be interested in learning more about the current status of this project.

--John R.
current reading: THE GOLD VOLCANO by Jules Verne (posthumous publ.)

*I suspect some, such as Tom Shippey, would object strongly and eloquently to that characterization.

**by which I suppose they mean Lewis being hurt over Tolkien's dislike of Narnia.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

a second Tolkien film (TOLKIEN'S ROAD)

So, while on the subject of Tolkien films, and picking up where I left off a month or so ago, there's another Tolkien film I've seen recently, this one on-line.

TOLKIEN'S ROAD is a short student film, made in 2014. About half an hour long, it's available free on You Tube (apparently there's no way to get it in more permanent form, e.g. on dvd) -- at any rate, not that I've found so far anyway.

To be fair, it's important not to hold this little film to too high a standard: it's not a professional release, it's been made available for free, and the whole thing is pretty much an ambitious student project.

That said, there's nothing in this film to warm the cockles of a Tolkien scholar's heart. This film is terrible. It takes the approach to Tolkien that appears in Humphrey Carpenter's radio play  IN A HOLE IN THE GROUND THERE LIVED A TOLKIEN, in which JRRT wanders about muttering smaggabaggins at neighbors while burning breakfast, and J. I. M. Stewart's fictionalized Tolkien analogue Prof. J. B. Timbermill, who winds up sitting on the green chatting with hippies and motorcycle gang members, completely cut off from reality.

This film's Tolkien wanders around Oxford, occasionally meeting up with C. S. Lewis (we know it's Lewis because Tolkien calls him 'Jack' and he smokes a pipe) as well as running into characters from his mythology all the time. He's haunted by recurring nightmares in which he relives his experiences on the Western Front, seeing his friend G. B. Smith and the rest of the TCBS being bayonetted by orc-faced German officers. This ongoing trauma has prevented him from finishing THE BOOK OF LOST TALES, whereupon a quaint little man with furry feet steals Tolkien's only copy of the (unconvincingly neat and tidy) BOOK OF LOST TALES; the rest of the story is Tolkien's attempt to get it back while distracted by elf-maidens, confronted by what is either a balrog or a black rider, rescued by a Strider-analogue* and a Gandalf look-alike, &c, &c, &c. Like I said, it's quite short (only thirty-five minutes long) but seems a lot longer; it took me three tries to get all the way through it.

In the end, it's not the amateur nature of this production that puts me off, it's their conception of Tolkien. The idea of Tolkien as someone who wandered around with flowers in his hair, blowing off lectures, and generally hallucinating his way through life is so far from my conception of the man that I can't enjoy its presentation here. The character called 'Tolkien' here is closer to the protagonist of "The Sea Bell" than anything like the real JRRT. And  I've found I really care when I see a fictional portrayal of a real person that doesn't in any way correspond to what that person was really like, whether it's the many recent distorted portrayals of H. P. Lovecraft, the longer tradition of thinking that Conan Doyle in real life was anything like Sherlock Holmes (Holmes was far less gullible), and now the depiction of Tolkien as some kind of out-of-it loon. The real person was far more interesting; why not try portraying him as he was, or something at least approximating him.

Here's the link:


*bizarrely, in the 'Prancing Pony' scene the locals sing a song lifted from the LotR Musical (one of the better numbers, luckily)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Another Tolkien BioPic Project

So, thanks to a posting on the MythSoc list  (thanks Douglas), we now know about yet another Tolkien-related film project in the works-- if by 'in the works' we mean is a hopeful spark afloat on the vast sea of films-that-never-get-made.  I've maintained for a while now that we're not likely to see any SILMARILLION movies for a long, long time to come, if ever, and that the likeliest Next Big Thing in the way of Tolkien films would be a biopic. Here's the link:

This announcement is mostly about the writer/director/producers and doesn't provide much in the way of information about the film itself. The following snippet seems to be about all we know at this point about the plot:

"Story follows Tolkien’s early life and love affair with Edith Bratt, whom he later married. The couple lived happily in Oxford, surrounded by friends, but when war broke out in 1914 Tolkien embarked on four years of battle and hardship, an experience that influenced his Middle Earth stories."

This of course bears only a passing similarity to reality, and while we shdn't judge too strictly from an offhand account like this, it suggests that this will be a work of fiction. If we're lucky some historical and biographical fact will find its way into the film, but I wdn't count on it. It'll probably be very pretty, though, given the BBC-style talent involved: I suspect it aspires to be a 'Merchant Ivory' type film.

Fletcher, the author, seems to be full of projects currently in the works but little that's actually come out yet. The piece mentions his having devoted six years to researching the film and interviewing people: presumably this would be Tolkien biographers such as John Garth (given that Tolkien's main biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, has been dead for over a decade now).

Strong, the director, has worked on a number of well-regarded British shows, from DOWNTON ABBEY to DOCTOR WHO.

Shaye and Lynne famously committed New Line to supporting Peter Jackson's LotR films. Though with a projected budget of twenty million dollars we shd see much less here in the way of special effects. And just in case anyone was wondering, no Sir Peter in sight.

As for the second piece, it reveals a lot more of the mindset with which Fletcher intends to approach the project: Tolkien with PTSD (post-traumatic stress) -- or, as they used to call it in Tolkien's time, shell-shock (which, by the way, Tolkien never had: the record is pretty  clear about that). Note that while the first article concentrates on the John Ronald/Edith love story against a background of war, the second (earlier) piece doesn't even mention her.

It'll be interesting to see what becomes of this project, if anything, and who winds up starring in it

Here's the link:

--John R.
current reading: THE GOLD VOLCANO by Jules Verne

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Inklings Discuss . . . Horror Comics?

So, as part of my work on the festschrift, which is ongoing, I had to confirm some quotes and page references today. And you know how it is: you pick up a book to try to locate one specific passage you need and in the process various odds and bits you've never paid proper attention to before catch your eye. And it was that way with me today.

I was looking up something relating to THE HOMECOMING OF BEORHTNOTH and came across a mention of an Inklings meeting that was held at the Eagle & Child in Oxford on November 9th, 1954: exactly sixty-two years ago yesterday. Present were CSL and Warnie, McCallum, Mathews, JRRT, and semi-Inkling Roger Lancelyn Green (to whose diary entry we're indebted for this account). They discussed Tolkien's just-released LotR, and horror comics, and who was the greatest man to come from each country in the British Isles, deciding on Edmund Burke for Ireland, Sir Walter Scott for Scotland, and Shakespeare for England, although there were dissident votes for Pitt or Wellington for the latter spot (apparently the Welsh need not apply).

The first and third topics here sound pretty much in line with the sort of things I'd expect to read that the Inklings were talking about, but the middle topic brought me up short, and I was surprised not to have noticed it before on any previous reading of this passage. We know that Warnie, Lewis, and Tolkien were quite open in admitting that they read and enjoyed works in the then rather disreputable field of science fiction. But that they would be conversant in comic books came as a bit of a surprise, and horror comics at that. I tried to come up with a mental image of Professor Tolkien, or CSL, reading, say, EC Comics, and I admit the image wdn't come. Curious.

Of course it's possible that they were discussing horror comics without having actually read any of them; the topic was a hot one at the time, that being the same year that the notorious book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT came out, which I gather more or less argued that reading comics lead to a life of crime.

So, one of those occasional bits of evidence that challenges our preconceptions. They're good for you, if occasionally disconcerting.

--John R.
most recent viewing: MISS HOKUSAI and THE MARTIAN.
current reading: THE GOLD VOLCANO by Verne.

P. S.
I forgot to include the important detail of what book I was looking things up in when I found this: it was the invaluable Scull & Hammond CHRONOLOGY, page 444.  --JDR

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


So, the newest book by J. R. R. Tolkien was published this past week, on Thursday.

Waiting is hard: my copy is currently on its way to me but the time between the 3rd, when it came out, and the 17th, when it's due to arrive, seems long.

And this even though I've had a copy of the poem itself for years that I've read many times since
getting a photocopy of the original magazine publication back around 1978, when I was in college (thanks Jessica) and making a concerted effort to find and copy all Tolkien's misc. pieces (and all the pieces about him I cd locate with the aid of Richard West's TOLKIEN CHECKLIST). And I like this poem quite a bit: I've written about it (in my contribution to the Shippey festschrift) and even helped organize a dramatic reading of the whole piece (at Kalamazoo, several years back). 

So why am I so glad to soon have the same poem in book form? For one thing, it'll be easier to shelve and keep track of than the photocopy has been (though I mostly solved that problem a few years back by putting the now somewhat battered copy in its own binder, as I also did with other pieces such as "Imram" and "For W. H. A.").* And for another I've been curious to learn whether the volume would contain any other of what we might call Tolkien's medieval poetry (or more accurately, poems in medieval modes), most of which is uncollected, some even unpublished. 

And then, a ray of light: thanks to Janice pointing out that the book was already available on Kindle. As a result, I've been able to get and read it before my (paper) copy has even arrived. And for those who, like me, are curious, here's a quick breakdown of this slim volume's contents:

Note on the Text by Christopher Tolkien
This is followed by Verlyn Flieger's introduction, wh. puts the piece in context (both among Tolkien's other works and from Breton legendry (Villemarque et al)

part one: the published LAY.
just over 500 lines, plus explanatory notes

part two: the two CORRIGAN poems
first poem: about a changeling (76 lines)
second poem: about the witch in the woods, the sinister Fey (104 lines). this piece later formed the core of A&I.

part three: draftings
fragment (29 lines)
manuscript drafts (5 pages and 12 pages)
fair copy (490 lines)
typescript (also 490 lines), with notes re. revisions; probable text-copy for the 1945 publication.

part four:  comparison of specific passages
--sources (Breton, French, English)
--Tolkien variants (e.g., the second Corrigan poem vs. corresponding passages in A&I)

And for the book as a whole?

My advice: pick this one up. Sooner rather than later.

It's a great chance to see a very different side of Tolkien from that on display in, say, FARMER GILES OF HAM or the Hobbit works.

As Verlyn Flieger says in the very first line in her Introduction: "Coming from the darker side of J. R. R. Tolkien's imagination . . ."

--John R.
current reading: THE CURSE OF SAGAMORE by Kara Dalkey

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