Friday, February 15, 2019

Tolkien in New York

So, it's taken me a week, but here's my write-up of the second day of our Tolkien trip to the Morgan event in New York City.

Feeling somewhat drained by the events of the day before, we made a late morning of it on Thursday, February 7th, the second full day of our trip and the one scheduled to end with the big event: the reception.

We had lunch with Wayne and Christina, whom we hadn't seen in far too long (having missed the last two of our once-a-year gatherings), then the four of us went away from the restaurant noise and back in the Library Hotel's Reading Room, a large comfortable area on the second floor with all the comforts: lots of tea, a selection of cookies, chairs around small tables, lots of books, and a generally relaxed, welcoming air, where we caught up on things.

After a break to rest up for the big event -- I'm still trying to learn to pace myself as I get my stamina back -- it was time to head over to the Exhibit.  I didn't take my usual extensive notes but for once just relaxed and enjoyed the lectures.

First up was Richard Ovenden, head Librarian at the Bodleian, who spoke about the Bodleian's history, some recent acquisitions,* and their Tolkien holdings.  Then came Catherine McIlwaine, the Tolkien Archivist (yes, the Bodleian does have a dedicated position just to manage the Tolkien collection, given how large it is** and how frequently consulted); I think she said that 140,000 people came to see this Exhibition while it was at the Bodleian. I think she also spoke about the three central themes of the Oxford exhibit being scholarship, imagination, and family.  Third came Verlyn Flieger, who spoke with her usual eloquence, suggesting that Tolkien has become a lens through which to see the world, and related how Priscilla Tolkien had visited the exhibition when it was in Oxford and been struck by how her father was now far more than a popular writer but had grown to be an international figure. All three then took comfy chairs for a Q&A session, the general theme of which was Tolkien as an international figure, but the only lines that stay in memory were (1) the question from McIlwaine to Verlyn: why Tolkien? why not (say) Isaac Asimov? To which Verlyn responded "Tolkien is better"; i.e. a better writer. (2) McIlwaine describing how Tolkien had a gift for "inventing things we felt like we always knew". and (3) Verlyn describing "the essence of his genius: LOSS".

Then followed the Reception: where we had a clear mix of two groups. Half the people who were there, the conspicuously well-dressed ones, had come because it was an event at the Morgan.*** The other half were there for the Tolkien: they'd come to see the paintings and maps and manuscripts and memorabilia. Myself, I seized this opportunity for a last quick run through to look at a few favorites one more time: comparison between the LotR and Silm maps confirmed the location of Belegost and absence of Nogrod; the presence of Himling as an Iceland-like island and beyond it the Vinland-like TOL FUIN, clearly the surviving remnant of Taur-na-Fuin, the original Mirkwood. And I enjoyed one last glimpse of the 1915 & 1928 Ishnessses and mythological paintings, with their bright vivid colors so unlike his later style and palette. Had they been published in the 1960s they wd no doubt have become favorite black-light posters. I know I wd like to have had them on my walls.

One of the nice things about the occasion is that even though we were far from home there were a number of familiar faces, despite the face blindness, both at the lecture and the reception. Some I see mostly at Kalamazoo: John Holmes (a contributor to the Flieger festschrift), Eric Mueller,**** Yvette Kisor; others at Mythopoeic events like Janet Brennon Croft, and some at both, like John Houghton (with whom I worked as one of the editors on the Shippey festschrift). It was nice to have a little more time with Verlyn and Carl. I got to meet Catherine McIwaithe and congratulate her again both on the exhibit itself and the equally impressive catalogue (which ought to win all kinds of Awards). She told me that one of the criteria when selection a page of manuscript for the display was legibility: it being frustrating for a visitor not to be able to make out what the author had written. That wd explain the inclusion of a lot of examples of his most beautiful calligraphy rather than textually significant scrawls. She also said they'd picked someone who wasn't well-versed in Tolkien to do the initial sort-out of Tolkien's newspaper doodles, so they got visually appealing pieces for display that didn't rely on prior knowledge to appreciate. I looked around for Cathleen Blackburn to thank for her patient replies to many requests for permissions to quote from various Tolkien manuscripts over the years  but I think she had already left.

One really interesting surprise at the end of the evening was a talk by Simon Tolkien, JRRT's grandson, which I enjoyed v. much but cannot now recall any specifics therefrom.

Finally we wrapped up with dinner with Carl Hostetter, Marquette Tolkien Archivist Bill Fliss and his wife Kristin, and the two of us. A nice way to wind down from an eventful and pleasurable evening.

Then it was back to the room for packing up to speed our way to the airport early (v. early) the next morning. Where we in fact arrived so very early that Janice got us re-booked onto an earlier flight, which meant we got back to Seattle early, just as the heavy snow was beginning to fall, and were able to collect the cats from where they'd been boarding and convinced TARKUS and LADY TYBURN we hadn't abandoned them forever after all.

So, a quick trip, but oh so worth it, both for the chance to see these original manuscripts and maps and paintings again and for time with fellow Tolkien scholars. If you get the chance to see this exhibit don't pass it up.

--John R.

--current reading: Brand's new book on Clay, Calhoun, and Webster (a bit disappointing) and Berg's biography of Lindbergh (a book about twice the length needed about a brave and multi-talented man who was a failure as a human being). As far as read-aloud books go I've finished up SPOON RIVER, begun and finished SONGS OF INNOCENCE and SONGS OF EXPERIENCE (been too long since I read some Blake) and am now hesitating between THE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH and Browning (some of the dramatis personae).

*for example, they recently received Robert Bridges' archive, a century past's poet laureate about whom few wd nowadays be interested, did it not contain within it the papers of his friend Gerard Manley Hopkins, which Bridges had taken into safekeeping upon his friend's untimely death.

**I believe she said it took up two hundred boxes, not to mention three hundred books from Tolkien's library. Impressive, esp. when taken together with her reminder that Tolkien was never a full-time writer.

***my wife had a conversation with two well-dressed ladies who said that having seen the exhibit they were now going to read the book.

****hope I got his name right; he's the one behind the Tolkien Art Index project, which he demonstrated at Kalamazoo either last year or the year before and which, besides being nothing short of brilliant, finally realizes one of Dr. Blackwelder's old projects.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Day at the Morgan

So, having got the missing suitcase thing worked out, we had a late breakfast and walked down to the Morgan, where I spent the next two and a half hours looking through the Tolkien Exhibit we'd come so far to see (again). The venue is less crowded and the room brighter at the Bodleian, where I suspect the lighting was kept muted to preserve the artifacts (I once saw a William Blake display in what cd only be discribed as a dark room). There were fewer items on display --a t a guess, maybe about half as many. And yet that still left a mort of treasure, as I suspected. I had time to spend with each item, and to linger and look long and hard at some pieces, such as the art and maps, without feeling I was being rude or blocking others from seeing things.

The item that moved me most was the elegant and confident title page for the 1930 Silmarillion, the only complete and finished version of the book, which shows how clear and detailed was Tolkien's vision for the book.

I also loved the early mythological art (circa 1915) and the Ishnesses from about a decade later. For the former I was impressed first by how small they are -- the famous world-ship drawing is about the size of my hand -- and how packed with significant but elusive detail, such as the painting of Kor framed by the Two Trees but the fact that the frame is the trees doesn't come out until you've taken the piece in for a while, or at least that was my experience.

As for the Ishnesses, even though I'd seen these just months before I was struck anew by the brightness and vibrance of the colors (or colours). It felt odd to see Tolkien abandon his usual color palette of green and blue for vivid red and orange. And their inclusion of a tree-drawing Tolkien made when he was twelve established how talented me was, and from an early age.

And of course there were many small details I'd not noticed before, esp in the maps (like one map of Middle-earth that included not just the island west of Lindon formed from the Hill of Himling but had another larger island further to the west (West?): Tol Fuin.  I learned for the first time the location of Belegost but cd not find Nogrod.  And it was nice to see the two pieces of the Moria gate pastel reunited again.

In addition to the items on display, we ran into John Holmes, contributor to the Flieger festscrift (green great/great green) and a regular attendee at Kalamazoo, and learned a lot about his current project, which sounds interesting. Later we had dinner with Verlyn herself, and Tolkien philologist Carl, and got to meet another festschrift contributor, Thomas Hillyard.

Oh, and we got to poke around inside the New York Public Library, which is not only a grand building full of fine art* but also, it turns out, has my book (nice to know). And, later, Grand Central Station, seen no doubt in any number of old movies** but hitherto never brought into focus.

Looking forward to more meetings, and more time with the exhibit, and the panel and afterwards.

--John R.

*one piece that caught my eye was a portrait of the Astor who died on the Titanic, whom I've always showed admirable dignity in the face of disaster.

*as well as the occasional anime: I think BACCANO ends here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

We're in New York City

So, we have a new rule for anytime Janice and I travel together. Henceforth we put one outfit of hers in my bag and one change of clothes for me in hers. That way it'll be easier to cope when one of our bags fails to arrive --that is, if the airline fails to put on the plane a dozen or so people's luggage. Mine among them. Luckily Janice's suitcase made it through fine, but we've had to make a quick run to a nearly store to get some kind of outfit to see me through the shortfall.

On the bright side, here we are in New York City, staying on Madison Avenue in The Library Hotel, which so far promises good things. It apparently gets its name from being right down the street from the NY Public Library, passing by which tonight gave me a chance to see the original great lion statues that are the model for the Mythopoeic Award I got for MR. BAGGINS. The hotel's lobby has lots of bookcases filled with actual, readable books, not faux-book panelling or shelves filled up with sets of lawbooks or agricultural reports or similar reference books of many decades ago nor random junk (I'm looking at you, old omnibus volumes of Reader's Digest). Our own room is assigned a Dewey Decimal relating to architecture and its shelves are well-stocked with books on Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright (lots of these), Art Deco, and the like. And, hidden in a cupboard, a book by Barbara Streisand.

I don't think the cats are enjoying their Cat Hotel nearly as much as this, but it seemed the best option for keeping two door-dashers from staging some kind of Great Escape every time the pet-sitter dropped by to check on them.

Tomorrow: Tolkien.

--John R.
--current reading A RUMOUR OF ADVENTURE: AN INKLINGS STORY by Kees M. Paling (2018)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Day the Music Died

So, sixty years ago today Buddy Holly died, age twenty-two, an event commemorated more than a decade later by Don McLean in his classic piece of Americana, the 1971 song "American Pie":

Long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music
Used to make me smile . . .

But February made me shiver
With every paper I deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step.

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widow-bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died . . . 

That said, I have to admit that I like the music of the 1950s far less than that of the 1960s or much of the 1970s. And of the stars of that era (officially Before My Time), the rock-n-roll star I like best wd be Fats Domino, followed by Presley, who at this best was phenomenal (but who often was far below this best). Holly wd I suppose come in third, mainly for "Everyday" and "That'll Be the Day", followed by a smattering of other people (e.g. Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers) for this song or that. I suppose it's Holly's tragedy that he died so young while it's Presley's that he died at the nadir of his career, so we remember him at this worst and Holly at his best.

That said, I have to admit I like "American Pie" better than any song by Holly. And I think it holds up remarkably well, both as a song and as catchy cryptic.  Rather like "Garden Party", from about the same era, in that respect: the song is enhanced by catching the allusions but does not depend on  a listener's understanding it to enjoy it --rather like modernist (Eliot-era) poetry in that respect.

--John R.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

A Lost Arthurian Manuscript

So, when I saw the news that scholars had found seven manuscript fragments* giving a previously unknown variant of the Prose Merlin from the French Vulgate cycle, I thought of my friend the late Jim Pietrusz, collector of all things Arthurian, who had read a vast number of accounts of the various iterations of the Arthurian legends, and how he wd have loved to have read this story about Merlin's exploits.

I suspect there will be discussions of this material at this summer's Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, and at the great medievalist conference at Leeds as well; have to keep an eye out for an eventual translation/edition.

Here's the link.

--John R.

*equalling, they said, about twenty pages in a modern paperback

Friday, February 1, 2019

Finding that Lost Quote (TotS)

So, this week's work on my current project, the paper for Kalamazoo, ended on a high note when I finally found the quote I was looking for. I was sure it was in Clyde Kilby's little book, but re-reading the relevant sections and re-skimming the rest didn't turn it up. So I cast my net a little wider and, Eureka. There it is, not in Kilby's book as published but in the deleted chapter in which he synopsized the whole SILMARILLION (as it had existed in 1966, based on his notes).

Now that's taken care of it's on to Shippey.  At least here I know where to look (ROAD TO MIDDLE-EARTH, third edition, Chapter 7), thanks to preliminary work on this a few months ago. Here it's more a matter of rereading his discussion of THE SILMARILLION and extracting some memorable Shippey-esque comment from it -- or so I thought. But as sometimes happens with Shippey, reading a passage for one reason made me think of something else that sent me off on a whole new line of thought. We'll see whether it circles back around and turns out to be part of the original topic or insists on becoming the core of a new section.

--John R.
current reading: a Japanese light novel (in translation) and a collection of Charles Addams' cartoons depicting what came to be known as 'The Addams Family'