Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Something I Didn't Know about C. S. Lewis

So, for purposes of a piece I'm working on I decided I needed a copy of C. S. Lewis's COLLECTED POEMS.* I already had the two Hooper volumes (POEMS, 1964, and NARRATIVE POEMS, 1969, as well as SPIRITS IN BONDAGE, 1919) but wanted this newer edition edited by Don King for its notes and more inclusive collection.

Looking over the volume now that I have it, it's striking how few poems Lewis wrote towards the end of his life. Here's a quick breakdown, starting in 1950.

1950: 3 poems
1951: 2 poems
   January 1951: Janie Moore dies
   February 1951: Lewis fails to become Professor of Poetry
1952: 4 or 5 poems**
1953: 2 poems
1954: 8 or 9 poems
   1954: Lewis switches from Oxford to Cambridge
1955: 1 or 2 poems
1956: 5 poems
   April 1956: Lewis marries Joy Gresham
1957: 1 poem
   March 1957: Lewis marries Joy Davidman
1958: 1 poem
1959: 1 poem
1960: 1 or 4 poems
   July 1960: Joy Lewis dies
1961: none
1962: none
1963: 1 or 2 poems

--John R
--current reading: OUR LADY OF DARKNESS by Fritz Leiber

*its full title being THE COLLECTED POEMS OF C. S. LEWIS: A CRITICAL EDITION, ed. Don W. King (2015), 485 pages.

**the second number in each of these 'or' entries includes one or more doubtfully dated poem(s).

Monday, October 23, 2017

Philip Pullman is a Raven

So, over the weekend I saw an interview of sorts given by Philip Pullman in conjunction with the release of his new book, volume one of THE BOOK OF DUST (a prequel/sequel to HIS DARK MATERIALS). Instead of the give-and-take of a traditional interview, this one consisted of questions submitted by an array of people with Pullman's responses --an arrangement that tends to lead to less spontaneity but also more thoughtful responses.

For me the best takeaways from all this were (1) his answer to the question of what his own daemon would be:

I think she’s a raven. She belongs to that family 
of birds that steal things – the jackdaws, the rooks,
 crows and magpies – and I admire those birds. 
I applaud their enterprising way of dealing with 
the world and their intelligence. I love the way 
ravens fly: they are the most acrobatic and daring
 birds. So I would be very pleased if my daemon 
were a raven.

and (2) looking at his photo accompanying the article and thinking that he looks like a hobbit.

Here's the whole piece:


--John R.
current reading: a mediocre CALL OF CTHULHU module.
my next purchase: LA BELLE SAUVAGE.

P.S. Apropos of the recent discussion here re. Milne, another recent interview w. Pullman reveals the unsurprising fact that Pullman doesn't like Milne. He also has harsh words for Nesbit, and, surprisingly, Grahame. I'm sorry to here he can't appreciate the latter, who laid the ground for Pullman's own work, but so it goes.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The New Arrivals (CAS & HPL)

So, this week brought two more books in the mail, one I was expecting and one I'd ordered a few months back and forgotten was on its way (though I'm v. glad to have it).

The former is the latest from Nodens Books, THE LAUGHING ELF by Ronald MacDonald. No, not that Ronald MacDonald, but one of the sons of old George MacDonald, author of PHANTASTES and THE LIGHT PRINCESS and the Curdie books. It seems that in addition to Geo. MacDonald's eldest son Greville writing a biography of his parents, Greville's brother Ronald was also an author, of more than a dozen books (two co-written with Ronald's son, mystery writer Philip MacDonald). I'm currently struggling through REMAINS OF THE DAY* and Christopher Milne's autobiography, so haven't had a chance to read this one yet.

The other book, from Hippocampus Press, is a massive (666-page, not counting the appendices) tome containing all the surviving correspondence between H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith: some 330 letters exchanged over a period of fifteen years.

In the old days, scholars looking to find a passage in Lovecraft's selected letters had to wrestle their way through the hundreds of pages of the non-indexed five-volume set of Lovecraft's letters from Arkham House. But in recent years we've seen a new approach: individual volumes, each reprinting Lovecraft's complete exchange with a specific correspondent -- say, all his letters to and from R. H. Barlow (2007) or Donald Wandrei (2002). Or, now, Clark Ashton Smith.

Even though I don't expect to work my way through this for some time to come, the timing is good, since I've just received word that the big book of Smith's artwork is just now shipping: IN THE REALMS OF MYSTERY AND WONDER, from Centipede Press.

So, a good week for the books, if not for the bookshelves. Oh for a tardis of a library. Though I have now reached the point at which there are more books going out than coming in.

--John R.

*a good book for those who think Henry James is too action-packed and plot-driven.**

**THE WIFE SAYS (and I paraphrase): Ain't that the truth

Friday, October 13, 2017

Liverpool is Birmingham!

So, more signs that make it look as if the in-the-works Tolkien biopic may actually happen: they're scouting out sites where they might do location filming. At least that's what I gathered from the following little piece posted yesterday:


So, many things can and no doubt will go wrong with this project, but it's still live at this point, which is further than any previous such effort got.

And now to find out more about, so as to decide whether or not to watch, the latest 'based-on-a-true-story' film about a twentieth century British author, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

Which, based on Christopher Milne's own account of his childhood in his excellent autobiography, sounds like it's the 'good parts' version, not particularly close to the facts. We'll see.

--John R.
--last day at Archives

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Another Lydney Dog?

So, my forthcoming piece on The Great God Nodens*  includes a section about one among the many mysteries associated with the site of his Temple: lots of dogs, including what's been called the best Roman bronze found in Britain.** Stone dogs, bronze dogs, ceramic dogs, even at least one depiction of a dog on pottery.

It's not surprising then that my attention was drawn to recent news from Gloucestershire, the county in which Noden's temple was found, about the discovery of a bronze dog, one already being associated w. the healing god Aesculapius.***


What's striking about this report is the secrecy involved. The actual site of the discovery is being kept secret --which suggests that they may think there's more there to be found. The artifacts themselves are not on display but are also being kept at a secret location. We may find out that the discovery was near the site of Noden's Temple, or elsewhere in the Forest of Dean, or somewhere near Gloucester. Time, and follow-up reports, will no doubt tell.

--John R.
current reading: ON EAGLES' WINGS by Anna Thayer

*(or, to be more precise, on the background to Tolkien's piece on Nodens)

**so dubbed by Mortimer Wheeler, who was given to grandiosity

***the idea being that the dog has his tongue out because it's been trained to lick people's wounds in order to promote healing

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Hobbit Camp (1977)

So, thanks to Janice S. for the link to this strange, strange story.


Essentially this tells the story of Tolkien's appropriation in the Italy of the 1970s by 'Traditionalism',
a counter counter-culture movement who even staged their own right-wing Woodstock. Which they chose to call "CAMPO HOBBIT", deliberately evoking Tolkien's character. The movement seems to have fallen apart after 1981, but it's disconcerting to see Tolkien's characters used in such a context and for such a purpose.

And equally disturbing to hear that in these days, with the resurgence of white supremacy here and abroad, that this past summer saw a new such gathering forty years on, "Campo Hobbit 40"

The author of the piece, John Last, concludes that

"Middle Earth remains an empty stage onto which ideologues of all stripes can project their politics."

Except, I wd say, it's not. Middle-earth isn't an empty stage: Tolkien has plenty of ideas, strongly and subtly presented, such as his championing of anarchism with the Ents and their Moot, or his critique of apartheid in Bree. You have to willfully misapprehend him, picking and choosing with deliberation aforethought, to get a White Supremacist tract out of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, much less THE HOBBIT.

Given the climate of our times, and previous attempts by various unsavory groups to claim Tolkien as one of their own,* I think we can expect to see more pieces like this. Unfortunately.

--John R.

current reading: ON EAGLES' WINGS by Anna Thayer (2016), a book on Tolkien's use of deus ex machina, and HUEY P. LONG: SOUTHERN DEMAGOGUE OR AMERICAN DEMOCRAFT? ed. Henry C. Dethloff (1967).

*e.g the notorious 'That Noble Northern Spirit'.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Tolkien Spotting: the Italian Princess

So, thanks to the good folks at the Archives (thanks Mark; thanks Bill), I became aware of the passing Tolkien reference in the October/November issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: TRAVELER. In the middle of a piece about Sicily, the author encounters Princess Vittoria Alliata di Villafranca, an expert on the Middle East with a doctorate in Islamic studies, author of several books, "including the Italian translation of The Lord of the Rings" (p. 49). A background in Islamic studies seems to be an unusual mix with translating Tolkien; just goes to show the wide array of interests among Tolkienists, here and elsewhere.

--John R.

Monday, October 2, 2017

I'm at Marquette

So, as of yesterday (after a far too early flight) I'm back in Milwaukee again for another research trip delving into the Tolkien manuscripts here at the Archives. Today was mostly spent reading through  my notes and comparing it against the material I've come to work with -- I have to remind myself where I was when I broke off last time; it takes a while to re-engage with such complex material.

This time rather than staying in on-campus housing I'm in a historic hotel not far from the lake, in a neighborhood with lots of cream city brick buildings all around. A beautiful place that's seen better days but has a lot of character (from what I've seen of them some of the clientele seem to be characters as well). Rather to my surprise, it reminds me of several of my old apartments during my grad school years at Marquette, especially the one on Walker.

So, here's hoping the project goes well, I get lots done, and I don't catch pneumonia like I did last time I came to Milwaukee (which played havoc with my ability to do the research I'd come to do).

--John R.
current music: Alan Parsons & his project, on the I-pod
current reading: THE FIRST FOSSIL HUNTERS, suggesting that legends of the titans and cyclops  and griffins were inspired by Greek and Roman discoveries of huge fossil bones.
current anime: CLASSROOM OF THE ELITE (wrapped up just before the trip)