Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Was John Betjeman the new McGonagall?

So, the hotel we stayed in in London was within sight of the Marble Arch.  And in our room was a little brochure giving a brief history of the Arch itself. And in that brochure they reprinted a poem about the Arch by Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman which I thought fell in the so-bad-it's-good category. Here's it is in somewhat abbreviated form.

How beautiful the London air, how calm and unalarming
This height above the archway where the prospects round are charming.
Oh come and take a stroll with me and do not fear to stumble.
Great Cumberland, your place I see, I hear your traffic rumble.
See Oxford Street on my left hand, a chasm full of shopping.
Below us traffic lights command the starting and the stopping.
And on my right the spacious park, so infinitely spacious,
So pleasant when it isn't dark but when it is -- good gracious!
. .  . trodden by unheeding feet a spot which memory hallows:
Where Edgware Road meets Oxford Street stood Tyburn's fearsome gallows.
What martyrdoms this place has seen, what deeds much better undone.
Yet still the greatest crime has been the martyrdom of London . . . 

--JB, 1968

Not having read much of Betjeman's stuff, I can't say how typical this is of him. Was his poetry, and his championing of Victorian erections like the Albert Memorial, all part of a pose, like carrying a teddy bear with him when a student at Oxford?

--John R.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tolk Folk in Oxford and London

So, it was great to see the Tolkien Exhibit in the Bodleian, and I know how  lucky I am that we were able to make it over and take it all in. In addition, I got to see some Tolk folk and spend some time among like-minded people: always a pleasure. We missed out on a few get-togethers (with Dimitra F and Andrew H) when the schedules of when we were free and when they were free just didn't mesh. But we got to spend some time with Yoko (always a pleasure), and John Garth (whom I hadn't seen in quite a while), and Charles N and Jessica Y and David D. I got to meet (briefly) Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodley's Tolkien Archivist who I think was the driving force behind organizing the show. I got to go to John Garth's talk* (looking at the emergence of Tolkien's mythology) and also Stuart Lee's presentation about the 1968 'TOLKIEN IN OXFORD' tv show: he's been able to unearth some missing pieces of Tolkien interview that were filmed but cut before the initial broadcast.

In short: it was a great trip.

And that's not even counting our trip to STONEHENGE,** our following in the footsteps of some of the events in Ben Aaronovich's RIVERS OF LONDON series,*** my getting to pet a semi-tolerant cat in Lecock, or our pleasant stroll in Hyde Park, complete with gawking at the architectural horror that is The Alfred Memorial. And more . . .

By my reckoning this is the 8th time I've been to England (research trips in '81, '85, '87, and 2007; our 1992 Honeymoon AND Tolkien Centenary conference; a quick trip to a friend's wedding in '94; our anniversary visit where we actually got to go places and see things together in 2012, and now this).

And by the end of this trip I found myself already thinking about the when and wherefores of the next time.

--John R.
current reading: THE FIGURE IN THE SHADOWS by John Bellairs (rereading)
current audiobook: another NERO WOLFE mystery (the tenth, more or less right in a row) 

** Janice says that on our previous visit to Stonehenge I said 'This is one of the best days in my life'. Going again --and getting inside the circle this time--- felt like an extension of the same day. Wow.

***including seeing a memorial in honor of Sir Charles Chaplin, tthe greatest of all film comedians, and some woodwork by Grinling Gibbons -- who I've heard about for years but never seen anything of his before.

Friday, September 21, 2018

In Oxford☦️

Sept 8th
So, whatever you've heard about the Great Exhibition of Tolkien art and manuscript and artifacts currently being held at the Bodleian, I'm pretty sure it fell short of the truth. This is hands down the best Tolkien Exhibit ever mounted.* And the catalogue is just as impressive: I need to go back and check, but I think there are items in display that aren't in the catalogue and items in the (massive) catalogue that aren't on display.

Any Tolkien fan attending this --and there were a lot of them the day I got to go in, when I think they were admitting them fifty at a time-- will find himself or herself drawn to different treasures, depending on what draws you to Tolkien in the first place. I think three that especially stood out for me were things I'd never seen before: first, the first map of the Shire (which I'd hoped to include in the expanded edition of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT but not been able to pull it off); second, several pages from THE BOOK OF ISHNESS, including ones I'd never seen or seen before (far more vibrant and striking in color than I expected); and third, THE SILMARILLION title page. I'm not sure whether this was for the 1930 Quenta or the 1937 Quenta Silm, not having taken notes at the time, but I was struck by how much it conveyed the sense that THE SILMARILLION was a real book, incomplete or no: a substantial work and not just a smattering of parts.

I'm glad I had two solid hours with it. My friend Yoko, who's on a sabbatical in Oxford working with the Tolkien papers, drops by every day to see the exhibit, which seems to me an entirely reasonable proceeding: wouldn't any of us, given the chance, do the same? Afterwards I got a chance to briefly meet Catherine McIlwaine, who put together both the exhibit and catalogue: just long enough to congratulate her on her superb work.

In short: if you're at all interested in Tolkien, and you get a chance to see it, do so. You'll be glad you did.

--John R.
(belatedly blogging)

*Based on the ones I've seen, and the catalogues of those I missed.
-- Unless you count the very early ones back in the late fifties, where Ready sent out the entire manuscript collection to a few lucky libraries. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Here in Oxford

So, nine hours on the plane was worth it, along with the accompanying jet lag, to find ourselves here in Oxford. Specifically, here in our room at Christ Church, which it turns out rents out rooms during the vacations during term-time. Yesterday I was too tired for much, but we did stroll around in the Covered Market (interesting to compare it with Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which sprawls by comparison. We found the place for the Tolkien Exhibit without any trouble and even gave the gift shop a preliminary poke-about.

On our way back to Christ Church College we took a side-trip and climbed the Saxon tower, where I saw a sheela-na-gig (first time to see one, as opposed to just pictures or drawings of them), touched five of the tower’s six great bronze bells (no longer rung, less out of fear of cracking the bells and more from concern how the vibrations from the bells might shake the tower.  I managed to make myself climb all the way to the roof, where I crouched and enjoyed the  view as long as I cd stand (thus repeating my performance at Bath cathedral the last time we were over here in 2012). One of these days I’m going to make my way to the top of one of these too-tall towers and not be able to make my way back down, like Pickles the Fire Cat, but today was not that day.

After two hours or so of fighting off sleep with less and less success, I finally gave in and turned in around seven o’clock, pm, local Oxford time: about eight hours off Seattle time and our internal clocks.

And twelve hours later I woke up, we breakfasted in the dining hall at Christ Church with a roomful of other visitors, and we headed over to see The Great Exhibit: the biggest, and best, Tolkien display ever mounted. More on that tomorrow.

—John R.
—tired but not jet-lagged,
—Christ Church college, Oxford.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Xikses the Cretan

The Gray Mouser's true name, according to the early abandoned Leiber story THE GRAIN SHIPS, was Xikses of Crete. 

Personally I rather like the idea of the character not having any real name, just a name he's called by: it tells you all you need to know about his childhood -- and his not taking any other name of his own choice says all we need about the kind of person he grew into.


Final preparations for the England trip: re-watching the documentary STANDING WITH STONES (Highly Recommended)