Friday, April 26, 2019

Tolkien Estate on the Tolkien BioPic

So, the Tolkien Estate is making it as clear as possible (which is pretty clear) that they do not support, endorse, or approve of the forthcoming Tolkien biopic, due out in a few more weeks:

--John R., who will be seeing it in a room full of Tolkienists. Luckily I don't expect a replay of the time I was present when the Tolkien Society's London smial saw the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT for the first time (around 1985 I think), where I came in for a good deal of blame for being a fellow American of the folks who made it ('Your lot did it!').

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Jared in his element ('It seems to me')

So, here's a picture of Jared from the 1987 Marquette Tolkien Conference/MythCon in Milwaukee. Jared is on the right, talking with Christopher Tolkien (center) and I believe Charles Huttar (left); I can't identify the figure in the background.

I looked through our photo albums hoping to find one of Jared as I remember him in my mind's eye: sitting behind a table, delivering a talk or a paper, in which his favorite phrase "It seems to me . . ." wd make its frequent appearance, but this is a thoroughly acceptable substitute.

I myself met Jared in early 1982: my copy of ENGLAND & ALWAYS is dated W. Febr 3rd 1982 and inscribed to me by Jared on March 6 1982, which was probably our first meeting.

I'm not certain but I think we met through my having just published my piece "She and Tolkien". As I remember it Jared wrote in to the journal (MYTHLORE) protesting that he'd discussed those same ideas in an not-yet-published book I'd not seen, and earlier made a presentation along those lines at a con I hadn't attended. I hunted down a copy of his book once it was out and, finding out he'd be in Madison, took the bus over.  I'd already made at least one run over to Madison to meet Richard West and attend a meeting of the Univ. of Wisc. Tolkien Society, taking the bus over in the afternoon and the last bus back at night, and I can't now remember whether Jared was at the Tolk. Soc. meeting or whether he was in town for WisCon a short time later.

In any case, it soon became a regular event for me to go over to WisCon each year to see Richard and Jared and others (such as Matt Fisher, Jan Bogstad, Phil Kaveny). Within a few years we had been joined by Verlyn (circa 1984) and Taum (about the same time or a little later) and others, like Doug Anderson and Paul Thomas and John Aussem.

Then came the 1983 MARQUETTE TOLKIEN CONFERENCE, organized by Chuck Elston, the Marquette Archivist; Terry Margharita, the Archives' Secretary; and Taum Santoski. I was not asked to present a paper but I did what I cd to help out, including writing virtually everyone who'd published a book on Tolkien to date and letting them know about the conference in case they wanted to attend; several did. Jared was one of the keynote speakers, along with Clyde Kilby, who had actually known Tolkien, and Dr. Joseph McClatchy who taught a course on the Inklings at Wheaton College.*

I think between them the 1983 Marquette conference and the 1987 MARQUETTE TOLKIEN CONFERENCE (aka The Marquette Mythcon) were the high point of Jared's career as a Tolkien scholar. He was the chairman of the Papers and Panels committee** and had grand plans for publishing a three-volume set of the proceedings through Garland Publishing, where he was now working as an editor: two volumes of Tolkien papers and a third on papers presented at the conference focusing on other authors, like Mervyn Peake, Kenneth Grahame, and John Ruskin. But while the conference was a smashing success (esp. due to the presence of Christopher Tolkien as Guest of Honor***) the proceedings failed to appear, the job at Garland went away, and in the end
the legacy of our papers & panels committee was some excellent pieces delivered at the conference and some unusually good issues of MYTHLORE over the next year or so.

After that we still saw each other at WisCons but eventually the charm of being on the same panel with the same people each year began to wear thin. In addition to Jared's self-destructive tendencies,
which were uncomfortable to witness, he was one of those people who took up all the air in the room. 

I think for me the breaking point was when I was on a Dunsany panel at WisCon, I think in 1989 but at any rate after I'd started my dissertation on Dunsany. There were three of us on the panel: Jared and Richard West and myself and we had an hour. Jared went first and talked for fifty minutes. Richard went next and rushed through what he had to say in nine. That left me with a single minute in which to thank the audience for coming and to assure them I had things to say about Dunsany, if only there were time.

After he stopped visiting Wisconsin, and after I stopped going to WisCon and then moved out to the Seattle area, we no longer ran into each other and fell out of touch, aside from the occasional email. These past few days I've tried to remember the last time I saw him. For certain at the 1989 WisCon, that being the last time I was on a panel with him; possibly thereafter at a MythCon or two but I can't be certain about that. But can it really be thirty years?

In the end I think my strongest memories of him are from being on panels with him at WisCons and MythCons and discussions afterwards arguing this or that point raised during the panel. It was great fun, if a bit odd, to see him advance some striking but ultimately untenable idea in the presence of those like Doug and Taum and Verlyn, all of whom were certainly able to hold their own against him, even when Jared was in full flight. And I almost always learned something I didn't know from the back-and-forth of our conversations, even if we each ended as unpersuaded as ever of the other's position.

As a final point I shd note that Jared was not only a Tolkien scholar but also published on C. S. Lewis: his book about the Ransom series was notable for his acceptance of THE DARK TOWER as a genuine Lewis work (something on which I agreed with him). He was one of three people I know of who have ventured to predicted how the story wd have ended had Lewis completed it.  He also edited a collection of Charles Williams' book reviews of detective stories which make for enjoyable reading, esp. recommended for those who think of C.W. as a rarified figure. Near the end of his life he'd become interested in Nevill Coghill and Hugo Dyson.

Looking back on him now I think early on Jared adopted CSL as his role model, for good and for bad. Good, because Lewis was a massively erudite and articulate man, loyal to his friends and with an appreciation of popular fiction as well as 'literature'. But bad in that Lewis was fond of making outrageous and self-evidently false propositions and then using his rhetorical gifts to try to make his audience agree.

In the end, the Inkling I think he most resembled was not Lewis but Dyson: intelligent, amusing, exasperating.  I'll miss him.

--John R.

*Among other things, this conference is memorable because it's there that I met Wayne Hammond, whom I immediately introduced to Richard West, marking the meeting of two great bibliographers.

**along with Richard West as the committee's Secretary and myself the third member of the three-person committee. If I'd thought of it at the time I'd have given myself the non-title Ordinary Member.

***and one of my favorite authors, John Bellairs, as Author Guest of Honor.

Jared and Calquing / The Fall

 Continuing the theme of Jared's major contributions to Tolkien studies, here's how he described/defines THE LORD OF THE RINGS:

a six-book, three-decker feigned history that uses the medieval
 technique of polyphonic narrative to tell what is essentially 
an adventure story in the Edwardian mode

—ENGLAND & ALWAYS, page ix

Jared stood out among Tolkien scholars for his belief that LotR was not a fantasy (a genre he did not believe existed) but an old-fashioned adventure novel of the kind written by H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan, Conan Doyle, et al.: in short, though I don't remember him ever phrasing it this way, that LotR had more in common with Conan Doyle than BEOWULF.

In arguing that Tolkien was influenced to some degree by the popular fiction of his youth, Jared was a leading figure among several fellow Tolkienists exploring the same theme at that time, including Giddings & Holland (who were proposing with reckless abandon that Tolkien's main sources included Victorian popular novels like LORNA DOONE) and myself (my first substantial work of Tolkien scholarship was "She and Tolkien", a close look at elements in Rider Haggard's four-book SHE series that found their way into Tolkien's legendarium).*  But I wd never have gone as far as Jared went. My own researches were into Tolkien's role in the emergence of fantasy: it seemed and seems obvious to me that there was such a genre as 'fantasy', and that the work of writers like Wm Morris, E. R. Eddison, and Lord Dunsany bore a strong family resemblance to what Tolkien was doing.

Looking back, I think Jared and I had so many good conversations because we disagreed on so much. We had as common ground a strongly-held belief that Tolkien was a great writer whose work deserved, and repaid, close attention, but we disagreed on virtually all the details.

A good example, and perhaps the most controversial of Jared's theories,  wd be his argument (in Chapter Two of ENGLAND & ALWAYS) that Middle-earth is a prelapsarian world and that some characters like Aragorn, Faramir, and others, are unFallen, while others (e.g. Denethor) are Fallen. As Jared saw it, the Fall came to humankind individually, a process lasting thousands of years and still incomplete at the time of our story.
   For their part, he maintained that the Elves were unFallen as a race: still in a state of Edenic Innocence. When I argued that the behavior of the Noldor in THE SILMARILLION showed otherwise, he responded by asserting that THE SILMARILLION was a collaborative work and that it was impossible to tell which parts were JRRT and which might have been added by CT.**

Less controversial, but to me more puzzling, was his argument based upon calquing. Jared had borrowed the term from Shippey, whose ROAD TO MIDDLE EARTH had only been out for a year or two and was as-yet almost unknown over here, for his 1983 Keynote Speech opening the Marquette Tolkien Conference, but I found his usage confusing. His prime example was piecemeal translation, such as rendering the word loud-speaker as 'haut parleur'. This is clear enough, and his application of it to LotR essentially pictures that world as a patchwork of piecemeal borrowings --an example might be basing the Shire on a Warwickshire village but Rohan on an Anglo-Saxon kingdom and Gondor as a fading Rome at the end of Empire. All this I get well enough. But I don't understand what Jared means when he says

"when we say that Sherlock Holmes is a calque, 
we mean the archtype he represents is, in his character, 
calqued on the Victorian world of 221B Baker Street"

--Jared's 1983 keynote speech, draft typescript page 5

I find myself similarly at a loss when, a page later, he says

"Chesterton in The Napoleon of Notting Hill 
and The Man Who Was Thursday wrote calques
of his own mediaevalism, so to speak, on to the
modern world: in that sense one might be con-
sidered a sequel to the other."

--ibid, page 6

Finally, at one point in the roundtable discussion of Tolkien,*** Jared seems to extend the meaning of the term even further:

"fantasy is that particular form of mythopoesis 
which calques an entire secondary world upon 
a primary world."

--typed transcript of Roundtable discussion, page 25

I have to admit I don't understand what this means. The best I can suggest is that in the end the term 'calque' became for Jared a synonym of 'overlay'.


*The original piece appeared in MYTHLORE back in 1981; a revised, expanded, and largely rewritten version appeared in Jason Fisher's book TOLKIEN AND THE STUDY OF HIS SOURCES (2011).

**This argument was, of course, fatally undercut when the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH series began to appear v. shortly afterwards.
   Jared's wariness regarding THE SILMARILLION and his rejection of the authority of Tolkien's posthumously published work was in fact shared by several other prominent Tolkien scholars at the time; Darrell Martin's presentation at this same 1983 conference did much to settle the point decisively.
   Oddly enough, while reluctant to consider THE SILMARILLION as representing Tolkien's thought, Jared would often quote C. S. Lewis's words as evidence to what Tolkien was intending or thinking, taking it as a given that anything Lewis said cd be taken as speaking for Tolkien as well ---an early form of what I've come to think of as Kreeft's fallacy.

***The participants were Richard West (moderator), Jared Lobdell, Verlyn Flieger, Darrell Martin, Mike Foster, Deborah Webster Rogers, Wheaton's Dr. Joseph McClatchy, and myself. The three topics for discussion were (1) Tolkien and Xianity, (2) Tolkien and his contemporaries, and (3) Tolkien and Fantasy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A picture of Jared

So, here's a photo of Jared in congenial surroundings, either in the Green Room at the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference (assuming that conf. had a Green Room, which I'm not sure about) or in his suite in Mashuda Hall at the 1987 Marquette Tolkien Conference/MythCon.

Thursday, April 18, 2019


So, I'm finding it hard to sum up my friend Jared in a single piece, and have decided to make a series of smaller posts and see how that works.

As a Tolkien scholar, Jared had three main claims to fame.

First, he had briefly corresponded as a youth with C. S. Lewis and later J. R. R. Tolkien, writing  a fan letter to each and receiving a reply both times, although unfortunately neither letter survives.

Second, he had edited one of the earlier books on Tolkien and his works, 1975's A TOLKIEN COMPASS, which is famed for printing Richard West's article on Tolkien's use of interlace narrative in LotR (still one of the best essays on Tolkien all these years later) and Bonniejean Christensen's piece on THE HOBBIT, the first to point out in detail the changes in the Gollum chapter between the first and second editions of that book. And, in those days when the publication of any new material from JRRT himself was prized as a pearl beyond price, Jared's collection included as an appendix GUIDE TO THE NAMES IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS by JRRT himself, a piece the Professor put together for the aid of translators.

Third, he had set forth his own ideas on Tolkien in a 1982 book ENGLAND AND ALWAYS, which argued that the three most important things about Tolkien were (a) his strong affinity with Edwardian adventure stories, (b) his being a philologist, and (c) his being a (conservative) Xian.

Jared himself provides a single-page summary of his argument in ENGLAND AND ALWAYS in his later book THE RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY (2005), so I can give this in his own words rather than through the lens of my rephrasings:

Sequels in the Edwardian Mode: A Problem in Calquing
In my original study of The Lord of the Rings as as an "adventure story in the Edwardian mode" I defined that mode by a number of characteristics . . . These characteristics, it seems to me, present a particular problem for sequels, or even additional works, by the authors of Edwardian adventure stories. This problem, in turn, suggests some reasons for the nature of The Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales—including their unfinished state—as well as suggesting that it may be worth-while to consider the ways other authors dealt with it, or failed to deal with it. All this is my topic here.

The characteristics of the adventure story in the Edwardian mode were these: First, the story is framed in familiarity. In this, it is like a fairy-tale, but unlike the fairy-tale, its action is time-specific. Second, the characters are types, though they may rise to the dignity of archetypes. Third, and connected with the second characteristic it is the character of nature, not the character of the actors, that are "realized" (in the French sense of the word). Fourth, the adventurers are not solitary, but they are frequently (in fact, almost universally) a happy few. Fifth, the adventurers are narrated (frequently in the first person) by the most ordinary of the happy few. Sixth, there is a recurring motif (perhaps the recurring motif) of the past alive in the present. And seventh, the world of the adventurers is essentially an aristocratic world. It might also be argued that there are fewer shades of grey in the actions of the characters than we are accustomed to seeing in our present-day world."

—Jared Lobdell, THE RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY, 2005, p. 167

More later
current reading: re-reading (for the fourth time) Jared's ENGLAND AND ALWAYS (1982)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Jared Lobdell

Just heard today from Doug A. (thanks Doug) that my friend and fellow Tolkien scholar Jared Lobdell died a few weeks ago on March 21st. I hadn't seen him in quite a few years but we kept in touch with the occasional email, maybe once or twice every other year. Our most recent exchange had been when I sent him a copy of my little CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH chapbook, thinking he might like it. Working out the timing from when I mailed it, I think it must have arrived just a little too late for him to have seen it.

I'll try to write up some memories of Jared as I knew him over the next few days.  As The Wife Says: "It's hard to write a short piece on a complicated man".

--John R.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Stone Table (unauthorized Narnia)

So, thanks to Gregory R. and Richard W. for the news about a new, unauthorized, unpublished, and perhaps unpublishable Narnia book: THE STONE TABLE. Written by Francis Spufford, whose work I don't know but is apparently well thought of by those who do, it's set between the events of THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW and THE LION, THE WITCH, & THE WARDROBE.

Spufford claims to have written it without regard to publishability, then self-published an edition of seventy-five copies, which he gave away to friends, and also allowed friends to post the first two chapters online (which I have not seen). This seems to be flirting with the line between fanfiction and under-the-radar semi-publication, a kind of side-stepping presumably intended to prevent the hammer that smiteth coming down from the Lewis Estate.

For those who have been around a while, this is reminiscent of how the great Lindskoog-Hooper feud began: a nun wrote an eighth Narnia book and asked Lindskoog's help in getting permission to publish from the Lewis estate. The estate, predictably, said no. Whereupon Lindskoog started an investigation that evolved into a vendetta against Hooper, the man acting as the estate's literary advisor, who'd said no. Let's hope things don't get so badly out of hand this time around.

Here's how Spufford justifies the project:

“If you’re going to play with someone else’s toys, then you need to be very clear that they are someone else’s toys. You need to be clear that you’re not profiting by it, that it’s a homage that doesn’t tread on the toes of the real books.”

For more of a discussion of the issues involved, see

My own position is that

(a) Using another author's setting and characters puts the writer doing so in an equivocal position. The results can be interesting and occasionally amusing, but it's not in itself a praiseworthy act or even a neutral one. When kept to the level of fanfic, that self-limiter obviates most of these objections. It's not surprising that the best such efforts have a strong degree of parody in them.

(b) Eight Narnia books is about seven too many.*

--John R.
current reading: THURBER ON CRIME --not as good as WODEHOUSE ON CRIME but amusing.

*for those concerned that an eighth book wd break the pattern some believe is encoded within the seven-book cycle, this is not in itself a problem for those of us unconvinced that any such pattern exists.

Fanzines Live!

So, I'd been under the impression that fanzines are in decline,* as part of the whole print-culture shifting over to online-culture, for everything from newspapers to manga. Apparently not, according to an item in the current issue of THE SHEPHERD EXPRESS, Milwaukee's free radical newspaper:

Saturday April 6th 2019

Milwaukee Zine Fest @ Milwaukee Public Library Centrall Branch 10:30 a.m.

Though the internet has given voice to anybody with an opinion and a laptop, it has done little to curb zine culture. As long as there is paper, it seems, there will always be writers, music fans, artists and cartoonists eager to self-publish their works. Dozens of such zinemakers will be displaying and selling their work at the 11th annual Milwaukee Zine Fest, a free event that also features workshops. Zines from all over the Midwest will be on display, including ones dedicated to feminism, horror, politics, punk and comics. After the fest there will be a meet-and-greet and zine swap at Facilitating Situations (706 S. Fifth St.) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and then a casual mingle at Fuel Cafe’s Walker’s Point location.**


Didn't make it to the event, but glad to see there's still an avid group carrying on the tradition.

--John R
current reading: THURBER ON CRIME

*always exempting the ever-amazing Nancy Martsch, who has brought out her Tolkien newsletter BEYOND BREE monthly since the early '80s.
**for some reason, auto-replace went to town on this draft; think I've got its unwelcome substitutions out but can't swear to it.

A Bad Day for Whistleblowers

So, Julian Assange was taken from embassy in London today. Plans to extradite him to the U.S. are already in the works.

I wondered what wd happen to his pet cat, but he seems to have seen this coming and made arrangements accordingly:

--John R.
--current reading: THURBER ON CRIME, ed. Rbt Lopresti

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Lincoln read Poe

So, I had no sooner posted my piece about Presidents who enjoy reading detective novels than I found a nice piece on the subject much more up-to-date than the one I was citing (coming from last year, rather than 1934).* Better still, it revealed more about the circumstances surrounding FDR's THE PRESIDENT'S MYSTERY STORY.

The piece is called "The Mystery Buffs in the White House" by Craig Fehrman (NYT, May 23rd 2018). Here's the link.

The most interesting thing about Fehrman's piece is the news, not previously known to me, that Lincoln read, and liked, Poe.

The president-mystery bond began with Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe, who were born within a month of each other in 1809. Like a lot of 19th-century readers, our 16th president was wary of popular fiction . . . But Lincoln made an exception for Poe, reading his pioneering detective stories soon after their publication; he could quote full passages from classics like “The Gold-Bug.”

. . . Consider how one of Lincoln’s contemporaries described his relationship to Poe: “The absolute and logical method of Poe’s tales” appealed to “the bent of his mind.”

 Later on we're told that (Theodore Roosevelt also read Poe) 

By contrast,

  Calvin Coolidge liked detective stories by S. S. Van Dine. 

I'm curious about Fehrman's source for his Lincoln-read-Poe story and may try to track down his book to see what evidence he cites for this.

--John R.

Presidential Smoking

So, on second thought, I thought it'd be fun to set down head usher Hoover's observations on the smoking habits of the presidents he knew -- especially given how presidents today have to hide that they smoke at all, ever.

Here's the quote:

   Harding was the only President I ever saw who smoked cigarettes. He also smoked pipe and cigars, and chewed tobacco moderately. Cleveland chewed tobacco, but never smoked.* Harrison smoked a little. McKinley had a passion for cigars and was perhaps the most intense smoker of all the Presidents during my time. One never saw him without a cigar in his mouth except at meals or when asleep. Neither Roosevelt** nor Wilson ever smoked or chewed. Taft smoked when he came to the White House, but stopped soon after and never took up the habit again. Coolidge smoked moderately, occasionally a pipe, but more often the best quality of Havana cigars, which were always given to him. He used a one-cent cigar-holder on a fifty-cent or seventy-five-cent cigar. Hoover smoked incessantly. The bigger and the stronger, the better he liked them, but they must always be a good brand. With the burdens of office he increased his smoking.

   The only First Lady whom I have known to smoke was Mrs. Coolidge, and she never did so in public.

--Ike Hoover, 42 YEARS, p. 290

Times change: I find it hard to imagine a president today chewing tobacco. Another fact our author mentions in passing that's hard to get my head around is that the first bathtub was installed in the White House during Arthur's administration -- i.e. in the 1880s, before even Ike Hoover's time, though not by much. Before that I guess folks just did without or let a washcloth suffice.

Sometimes change really is progress.

--John R.

*I can't but wonder if this had any cause/effect relation with his cancer in the roof of his mouth, for which he was secretly operated on while in office.

**again, remember that this is TR, not FDR, who was famous for his cigarette holder.

Eowyn's Thee and Thou

So, in my early days of reading, and re-reading, and re-re-reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS over and over again, I used to be puzzled by the scene in which Eowyn begs Aragorn to take her with him when he takes the Paths of the Dead. Not by the content of their exchange but the style. Why, I wondered, did she suddenly switch to formal, archaic English (Bible-speak) at such a time?

wilt thou go?

wilt thou not let me ride . . . ?

I beg thee!

Years later, when I was no longer thirteen and had studied grammar* and gained some fluency in reading archaic speech (like the time in college when I read the entire FAERIE QUEENE between waiting on customers at the local drive in),** I came to realize that there are, or were, two usages of these archaic pronouns in English (thou, thy, thine, thee). The first and by far most dominant is its association with formal, remote speech, like in the King James Bible. The second, forgotten by just about everybody who wasn't a Quaker or historian of the language, was for intimate use: this is how you refer to people you are close to. Thus it was to add an extra layer to Eowyn's laying bare her feelings in this brief exchange.

So there's a disconnect here: Tolkien is trying for one effect and instead achieving another.  I suspect this was less of a problem when Tolkien was writing this scene (circa 1946) than it is now because over the course of the last century we've lost 'poetic diction', despite Owen Barfield's best efforts on its behalf. Ezra Pound announced its doom as far back as 1911, but there were many hold-outs among traditionalists for a generation or so.

Tolkien did make judicious use of these archaic pronouns in other contexts, particularly in THE SILMARILLION, as in Cirdan's words to Gandalf in OF THE RINGS OF POWER AND THE THIRD AGE (Silm.304) and in the exchanges between God and the angels (or, if you prefer, Eru and the Valar) in the AINULINDALE (cf. Silm. 15, 17, 19).  I strongly suspect that this is what those early reviewers of THE SILMARILLION when it first came out meant when they complained that it 'read like the Bible', and I strongly suspect that this is the only part of THE SILMARILLION read by those critics.

Tolkien also used deliberately archaic language in most of his translations as an essential part of his goal of making medieval works understandable to a reader unversed in the original language (Old English, Middle English, medieval Welsh) without making it sound as if it'd been written by a modern-day author -- but more on this later.

--John R.
--at the end of week three in Milwaukee.

*and picked up smatterings of Spanish, French, and Old English

**alas for The Rocket, Magnolia Arkansas's drive-in theatre, long gone.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Presidential Reading

And now, for something completely different.

Came across a short section in the book I'm reading, which is made up of short sections, little anecdotes:* Ike Hoover's 42 YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE, a behind-the-scenes look at nine presidents by a member of the White House staff.

This particular passage, just two paragraphs long, goes like this:


   Most of the Presidents of my time liked detective stories or at least mystery stories. There were exceptions, of course, like Roosevelt, who with all his reading, and he was perhaps the greatest reader of any President I knew, never read mystery stories. Current literature as published in magazines was his favorite. Wilson read the Christian Science Monitor, which he said was the only paper in America that told the truth. Wilson and Hoover, the former especially, were incessant detective story readers. Coolidge also enjoyed such stories; nevertheless, like Taft, he confined his reading principally to the daily papers. Taft especially seemed to read nothing else and would delve into every page of all the papers he could conveniently get hold of. Harding didn't seem to read much of anything. A game of chance or skill was more to his liking. Men like Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley varied their reading, not confining themselves, so far as I could notice, to any particular line.

   All read the yellow journal made up in the office of clippings, news items, editorials, and stock market reports. Coolidge and Harding watched these carefully. Wilson, Taft, McKinley, and Roosevelt never seemed to notice them. Hoover seemed to watch them. 

--Ike Hoover, 1934, pages 271-272 

By 'Roosevelt' he means TR, not FDR, the latter having been famous for his love of detective stories -- so much so that he came up with the plot for one that was then written in round-robin style by a collection of well-known mystery writers of the time.  Or so I'm told, never having seen the book in question, THE PRESIDENT'S MYSTERY STORY.

--John R.

*a similar section (SMOKING HABITS, p. 290-291) tells which presidents smoked, and what. And the one First Lady who smoked (never in public)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Taking Names to Yourself (Turin vs. Gollum)

So, yesterday I came across a passage in "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol" that had never struck me as odd before; now it's piqued my curiosity. 

In the immediate aftermath of Smeagol's near-repentance scene, Sam spoils Gollum's last chance to turn from evil by accusing him as "sneaking". When Frodo wakes and Gollum calls himself "a sneak", Frodo advises*

Don't take names to yourself, Smeagol, said Frodo. It's unwise, whether they're true or false

This sounds very much like advice that Turin shd have been given. Not that he wd have taken it, being Turin: Always trying to escape who he is and what he's done, taking on names in an attempt (never quite successful) to put the past behind him. 

But then what are we to make of many-named characters throughout LotR, such as Gandalf and especially Aragorn? Is Aragorn the ultimate anti-Turin?

--John R.
--currrent reading: 42 YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE by Ike Hoover (1935)

*this advice is all the more effective, given that Frodo takes pains to address Gollum by his original name, which has had the effect of reinforcing that side of his personality 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


So, one of the little puzzles about THE LORD OF THE RINGS I've never seen addressed involves the Synopses that appear at the beginning of the second and third volume (omitted from the one-volume editions, I was surprised to learn).

The relevant passage tells how FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING ends
with "the fall of Boromir to the lure of the Ring; with the escape and
disappearance of Frodo and his servant Samwise; and the scattering
of the remainder of the Fellowship by a sudden attack of orc-soldiers,
some in the service of the Dark Lord of Mordor, some of the traitor
Saruman of Isengard. The Quest of the Ring-bearer seemed already 
overtaken by disaster" (TT.9-10)

What's remarkable is the passage I've marked for emphasis. Here in the summary of Volume I we are told things the reader could not learn by reading FELLOWSHIP, indeed not until the opening pages of Volume II:  that the Fellowship has been attacked by orcs. This information is not within the last chapter of the previous book, which ends with the Fellowship scattering, running off in all directions. And it's later yet, though still in the first chapter of TWO TOWERS, that the survivors figure out the orc-band has divided loyalties between Mordor and Isengard.

I think it's extraordinary that Tolkien wd include in a summary information not contained in the thing being summarized (in this case, Volume I of LotR).  Thinking the synopsis might have been put together by someone at Allen & Unwin, years ago I wrote to Rayner Unwin with a query, asking who had written these synopses: someone at A&U or Tolkien himself. Mr Unwin kindly replied, saying that it was of course Tolkien himself.*

So there it is: Tolkien's synopsis contains information not in the thing being synopsized,

Given how carefully Tolkien seeds information within his tale and how carefully he doles it out when the time comes, I have to conclude this is entirely deliberate on his part, I assume to heighten the drama of the second volume's in medias res opening.

I suspect this has gotten such little attention because most of us come to TWO TOWERS fresh from having just finished FELLOWSHIP and plunge right in, having no need for a synopsis of the book we just finished devouring for the dozenth time. In any case, obviously this is a minor point (or otherwise I wd have seen somebody else mention it in all these years). But it remains a bit of a puzzle, to me at least.

--John R.
current reading: Barlow's COLUMBIAD (1807). finished with the poem and on to the (extensive) endnotes; the author's efforts to explain what he's talking about take up about 20% of the whole.

*as confirmation of this, Archivist Bill Fliss points out to me that Marquette holds Tolkien's typescript of both pieces: 3/5/26 (TT) and 3/7/49 (RK).

Monday, April 1, 2019

Marquette's Tolkien Fans oral history project

So, I meant to post this a week ago, just after the article concerned was printed, but the car crash I was in last Tuesday threw me off my schedule* before I'd gotten beyond the draft stage.

For those who have access to the JOURNAL/SENTINEL, Milwaukee's hometown newspaper, the Monday March 25th issue contains a nice piece about Marquette, the manuscripts, and a new oral history project launched recently in which Tolkien fans are given three minutes to answer three questions:

  • When did you first encounter the works of J.R.R. Tolkien?
  • Why are you a Tolkien fan?
  • What has he meant to you?
Some of the early contributor's answers have been spliced together into a sampling of voices which I found surprisingly moving to hear. If you don't have access to the physical newspaper, here's the link to the piece online:

The article also has a nice picture of the Archives, for those who have never been there, and of the current archivist of the Tolkien collection, Bill Fliss.

I particularly want to see how this project develops because on the one hand I've long been interested in oral history projects, such as the one Lyle Dorsett set up at the Wade Center back in the early/mid eighties, interviewing people who'd known Lewis (and Tolkien) and getting their memories and recollections down on tape. And on the other hand I've long been struck by the diversity of Tolkien fandom, ever since I found out how people who liked the book liked it for different reasons, or were drawn to different parts of it. The story of how people discovered Tolkien also interests me, and it's notable how many people remember that moment of discovery vividly for years afterwards.

So, if you'd like to take part in this Tolkienian oral history project, here's the link explaining how you can apply to do so, either in-person at Marquette (well worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood, or indeed if you're not) are remotely via the magic of the internet.

--John R.
--still reading Barlow's bad book (two-thirds of the way through now). I just got through the part about Franklin discovering electricity.

*short version: we got hit by a car running a red light. It flipped our car over onto its roof and left us hanging inside upside down from our seat belts (wonderful things, seat belts). The good news: all three of us walked away. The bad news: my friends' car was damaged beyond repair and we're all a bit shaken. Kind of like a Bond martini: shaken but not stirred.

Spider Pass (Frodo's Elvish)

So, I was working today trying to correctly sequence all the typescripts of the chapters towards the end of LotR Book IV and was struck by something that I'd never thought about before.

Tolkien goes to great lengths to build suspense for the disaster at Cirith Ungol. Several times in the chapters leading up to it he avoids giving its name or otherwise suggests that its name is of deep significance.

Finally Faramir tells Frodo the name -- and it means nothing to him. Similarly Faramir confesses ignorance of its actual meaning.

But we've long been told that Frodo speaks Elvish. Or were the elves of Woody End and elsewhere simply being polite, hailing Frodo as possessing a fluency he simply didn't command? We know that Bilbo has great skill in Elvish. By contrast, is Frodo's grasp of Elvish limited to one or two polite phrases? Is this one sphere in which Bilbo outshines his nephew?

Certainly there's no suggestion that 'Ungol' (spider) is difficult or obscure.

So, slightly puzzling. Going to have to give this one more thought.

--John R.
current reading: 42 YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE by Ike Hoover