Friday, February 14, 2020

The Washington State Primary

So, this week we had a micro-election: only one thing to vote for on the ballot, whether to renew a school levy. Naturally I voted for this -- supporting public education is a Good Thing in my book.

Then today came the voter's pamphlet for our next election: the primary for this fall's presidential race. We vote on March 10th -- less than a month away.

The Republican side of this is simple: the only option is to vote for Trump or don't vote at all.

The Democratic side is,  predictably, messier. If anything there's an over-richness of options (rather like the Republican campaigns of 2016 and 2012). Of the twenty-three people who at some point were running for the nomination, thirteen made it this far, or at least were still running at the point when this pamphlet went to press. Ironically among those to have dropped out is Washington state governor Jay Inslee, who wd have been a 'favorite son' candidate if he'd gotten this far.

The candidates who made the ballot are

Michael Bennet
Joe Biden
Michael Bloomberg
Cory Booker
Pete Bettigieg
John Delaney*
Tulsi Gabbard
Amy Klobuchar
Deval Patrick
Bernie Sanders
Tom Steyer
Elizabether Warren
Andrew Yang

At this point my first choice is still in the running despite troubles in Iowa and New Hampshire, and my second choice is still running and doing quite well -- so I can still entertain what-if scenarios wherein one gets the nomination and the other is his or her running mate. We'll see.

I do wish the list had fewer billionaires (as in: none) and fewer old men. It does feel like some of the candidates who don't get the nomination cd make for interesting Cabinet Secretaries. Again, we'll see

--John R.
--current reading: the MURDERBOT series by Martha Wells. didn't know they wrote them like that anymore: highly entertaining.

*I thought I'd been following the campaign fairly close, but admit to not having heard of Delaney before








*among those to have dropped out

Thursday, February 13, 2020

So this is what Diversity looks like

So, I don't much follow the local news since our city's local paper ceased issuing a print edition a few years back and went to being a news web-site rather than 'paper' as such. Which means I wdn't have seen the following (from a regional news station) had Janice not drawn it to my attention.

It turns out Kent, one of the outlying towns that make up the Seattle area, where we live, is the tenth most diverse city in America.

https://komonews.com/news/local/kent-named-one-of-most-ethnically-diverse-cities-in-america

I'm surprised by this because 'diversity'' turns out to look perfectly normal. I've lived in areas with large minority components pretty much all my life. What's different now is how many ethnicities and nationalities one city can absorb with little outward sign. The school behind my house may belong to a school district prepared to teach kids in a hundred and thirty languages but it looks like any other school. The Kent library has an impressive array of books in a surprising number of languages but is just like any other town library.

And I say: Welcome.

--John R.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Colbert vs. The Hobbit (-eh-)


So, thanks to friend Stan for pointing out that Steven Colbert had some Tolkien content on his show last week. Here's the link, with the lead in to the Tolkien talk starting at about the four and a half minute mark:

The context for this is his guest's having just finished reading the entire Harry Potter series to his daughter, raising the question of what next. Colbert maintained that at age ten she wd now be ready to plunge into THE LORD OF THE RINGS. When the father suggested THE HOBBIT instead, Colbert responded with -eh-   At six or even eight, he said, maybe THE HOBBIT wd have done.

Given his status as a stalwart Tolkien fan, I was surprised to find him so dismissive of what I think is one of Tolkien's masterpieces. It was revealing that the parts of THE HOBBIT he really likes are the parts that tie in with LORD OF THE RINGS and THE SILMARILLION: the Gollum story, the swords from Gondolin, the Elvenking. It sounds to me as if he loves LotR and is deeply conversant in THE SILMARILLION, but not much interested in Tolkien's other work, like FARMER GILES or SMITH or, it turns out, THE HOBBIT. 

I know there are some people who like THE HOBBIT but not LotR  (a minority opinion).

And there are quite a few who view THE HOBBIT as just a 'prelude' to LotR, something you need to get through to get on to the good stuff (a much more widely held view, though one I think wrong). I find a lot of people in this position had read LotR first and then THE HOBBIT, like Colbert himself.

And then there are those of us who love both THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS (the majority) -- and often much much more. Many in this group read THE HOBBIT first, then went on to read LORD OF THE RINGS (sometimes after a gap).

I count myself lucky to belong to the most inclusive of these groups. I'm sorry to find Mr. Colbert's sympathies more limited than mine, but though we eventually come to a parting of the ways I'm glad our road runs together for as much of its length as it does.

--John R
--current reading: ALL SYSTEMS RED by Martha Wells. The Murderbot series, Book I
(v. enjoyable; a loan from friend Jeff)


Monday, February 10, 2020

A Baggins Passes

So, day before yesterday I was sorry to hear about the death at age 91 of actor Orson Bean who played (that is, provided the voice for) Bilbo Baggins in the 1977 Rankin-Bass HOBBIT. This animated movie was much reviled, and with good reason. But back in the late 70s we Tolkien fans had to make due with what we cd get, and so I got this two-record set of the soundtrack (on Saturday December 24th 1977) and listened to the album over and over again in those pre-home VCRs days.

 And the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT did have two things going for it. First, it was better than Bakshi's LotR.* And second, it had a remarkable array of voice talent. The great John Huston made for a great Gandalf, and Richard Boone (his last role) a languid yet menacing Smaug. Hans Conried was an excellent Thorin and Bean made for a slightly snarky Bilbo (the line of his that sticks in my mind is his comment upon learning he has a magical ring of invisibility: "How convenient!").**

I'd never seen Bean in anything before, and I don't remember seeing him in anything afterwards, with the major exception of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999), a movie I recommend but won't say anything more about because of spoilers.

So, thanks for the memories, Mr. Bean.

--John R.

*though even Bakshi's dud was better than the horror that was the Rankin-Bass RETURN OF THE KING.

**I pass over without comment on the more eccentric vocal castings that didn't come off: Cyril Ritchard as Elrond, Otto Preminger (!) as the Elvenking, and 'Theodore' as Gollum.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Levees

So, I'm happy to report that the levees along the Green River held and we didn't have a flood here this week in Kent. But it was a near thing.

We've had a lot of wet weather, and the reservoirs can only hold so much. So sometimes they have to let as much water through the dam as they can, to make room for more water on the way, given that it hadn't stopped raining yet. Better to have a controlled release if they can and let the levees do their work.

They send out the warning in stages. Phase Two involves an email and a phone call letting those of us down on the valley floor know that there might be some flooding in rural areas upstream of Auburn (the next town over).*

The Phase Three warning came at 1.13 in the morning, which is an unsettling time to get a do-not-panic-all-is-well phone call. It let us know that "Moderate flooding" was expected but that urban areas shd be okay. Later that day (Thursday) Janice and I went out walking on the Green River Trail near the Neely-Soames House and were startled by how high the river was. I'd only seen it this high before once; Janice said this was the highest she'd ever seen it.

Friday evening came the Phase Four warning, which is rather alarming:

The Green River is in flood phase 4. Major flooding may occur. Critical flood control levees may weaken from saturation. Sudden changes in flood conditions are possible including rapidly rising water, widespread inundation, road closures, and utility disruptions. Be alert and prepare to respond quickly. 

At this point, all you can do is have flashlights near at hand in case the power fails (it did not), know where the cats are so we cd grab them up in case a hasty exit was called for, and hope the levees do their job.

They did.

We wd probably have been okay, since as low down as we are (about thirty feet above sea level) we're not at the lowest point of the valley floor. But it was still a relief when they went back to Phase Three, meaning that the crisis had passed. And it's good to know that the levees are in good shape. They've been upgrading and reinforcing the levee in stages ever since the last big scare about nine years ago.**  Nice to know preparedness paid off.

To wrap things up, Saturday we went walking along the Green River in Tukwila just east of SouthCenter, and it was a good-god-amighty moment seeing the submerged underpasses and flood level markers showing how high above sea level the water got at various places. We saw one that hit 26 feet, with a red mark to indicate flood level just over 31 feet. Too close for comfort. And seeing the river about three times its normal width due to having submerged so much of the banks on either side was deeply unsettling. And Algernon Blackwood was right: stands of willows do make a distinctive sound when half-submerged in racing floodwaters.

So, All Is Well. But I'd rather not come that close to having An Adventure, if it's all the same to the Powers That Be.


In the midst of all this I think the thing that amused Janice most was my response to the lights flickering. Facing the prospect that we might lose power and possibly spend a day or two sheltering in place, I made myself busy in the kitchen making up six thermoses*** and caraffs of hot tea to see us through.


--John R.
--current reading: a lot of old manga that's on its way out the door


*(I've never actually gotten a Phase One warning, which I assume is just an internal state of alert among the dam-minders)

**when the dam was compromised and they had to sandbag the levee for a year or so till they cd get the dam repaired

***thermosoi ?




Thursday, February 6, 2020

Kay and Christopher

So, I've been delayed getting this post up by three smallish projects I wanted to get off my desk. Don't want to bog down and get distracted again so I'll try to keep this short.

First off, thanks for the many interesting and well-informed Comments.

My own take on the the respective roles of Christopher Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay in putting together the 1977 SILMARILLION is simple: I don't know of any evidence that Kay wrote any of it. And I wd be surprised if he did.

I think it far more likely that Kay helped in the sorting and sequencing of the manuscripts, that all-important stage of surveying just what materials existed for each chapter or associated work, after which Christopher wd have decided just which Ms he wd use as his text(s). I think Kay also served as a sounding board, whereby Christopher wd occasionally ask his opinion on specific points. Sometimes Christopher took Kay's advice, and we know of one or two specific examples. But the decisions wd have been entirely Christopher's to make.

In short, I see the Christopher/Kay working relationship as paralleling Christopher's working relationship with Taum Santoski a decade later on the LotR Mss, probably because I was there to see the latter.


By contrast, Kilby's role a decade before CT/GGK 's work was quite different: every other day or so for a month Kilby dropped by Sandfield Road and picked up a typescript of a given chapter of SILM, talking about the preceding chapter with Tolkien*, and repeated the process day by day. So what he saw was the latest version of the component pieces (including associated documents like the ATHRABETH), what I call 'the 1966 SILMARILLION'. Of the three --Kilby, Kay, and Taum -- I think Kilby had the least input and Kay probably the most, with Taum between the two, closer to Kay than Kilby.

And I'm grateful to them all.


--John R.
--current reading: Richard Sala graphic novels (EVIL EYE, THE CHUCKLING WHATSIT)



* though given the interconnectedness of everything in Tolkien, in practice they spent more time talking about the legendarium than that day's specific piece.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Charles Noad comments (was Christopher's Masterpiece)

So, Charles Noad had a comment to add to the discussion following my post 'Christopher's Masterpiece'. Rather than have it appear at the end of ten other messages, I decided it'd be better if it were a bit more prominent as a new post all its own. Here's what Charles has to say:



Charles Noad writes
I am a bit puzzled about the matter of my alleged suggestion that Guy Gavriel Kay was mainly responsible for the composition of Chapter 22 of the published Silmarillion, 'Of the Ruin of Doriath'. I heard the same allegation from someone else the other day. Now, having consulted the original text of my combined review for the Tolkien Plaza of Elizabeth A. Whittingham's The Evolution of Tolkien's Mythology, Dimitra Fimi's Tolkien, Race and Cultural History, and Douglas Charles Kane's Arda Reconstructed, I can only find one passage which seems of relevance:-

"[Kane] notes (Kane, p. 216) that in The Road to Middle-earth Tom Shippey cites ‘Thingol’s death in the dark while he looks at the captured Light’ (of the Silmaril) as an example of Tolkien’s genius for creating compelling images. However, ‘Thingol’s death in the dark recesses of Menegroth was completely an invention of the editors’, hence ‘The fact that as renown[ed] a Tolkien scholar as Shippey would have this kind of mistaken impression is a strong indication of the need for a work like the present one.’"

There are a couple of points here. First, unquestionably the passage about Thingol's death is an invention of the editors, but whether one editor had a greater input than the other is something we simply don't know. More widely, this throws little light on the composition of the chapter as a whole. I think it reasonable to suppose that Kay's nascent creativity in the matter of narrative played a part in the published Silmarillion, but, again, we don't know the details. Unless Christopher Tolkien kept some sort of detailed diary of the process of composing the published Silmarillion, or Kay one day breaks his silence on the matter, I doubt if we'll ever know.

So, in the light of the available evidence, I think we'll have to settle on a Scotch verdict for this.
--Charles Noad, January 27th 2020



Many thanks to Charles for the clarification. I'll have to see if I can put down my own thoughts on G. G. Kay and the 1977 SILMARILLION in a post of my own soon.  --John R.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Celia Sisam on Tolkien

So, among the interesting odds and ends I found while reading through John M. Bowers' new book TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER was the following surprising comment, offered as OUP editor Kenneth Sisam's opinion of JRRT, transmitted to us second hand.

In a footnote Bowers quotes from an email he received from Sisam's daughter (herself a scholar of note) that includes a judgment of Tolkien over the Tolkien/Gordon edition of Sir Gawain to the effect that EVG did all the work: 
"I gathered from my father that that edition 
was almost entirely the work of his co-editor, 
E. V. Gordon, as Tolkien was so dilatory and 
didn't produce his share" (Bowers 54–55). 

I suspect here Celia Sisam is conflating Gawain with Pearl, another project which Tolkien began in collaboration (again with E. V. Gordon) yet failed to finish, turning over all his material to Gordon's widow who drew on it to complete the edition herself. The Clarendon Pearl strongly resembles The Clarendon Chaucer in inception, abandonment, and Tolkien's willingness to turn over all his material to another editor. It differs primarily that in this case a new editor stepped up to finish the work.

That Tolkien and EVG were equal partners in their creation of the Gawain edition is certainly the impression that emerges from  Douglas A. Anderson's "An Industrious Little Devil" (in TOLKIEN THE MEDIEVALIST, ed Jane Chance, 2003), which I take to be the definitive piece on their relationship. It also seems unlikely that if Tolkien were to have performed so badly on SGGK that the Press wd promptly sign him up for another similar project. Still, it comes as a striking example of the anti-Tolkien sentiment that lingered for so long among some of his fellow academic scholars


--JDR
--current audiobook; Aaronovich on conspiracy theories;
--current reading: Lehner on Pyramids, Christopher Tolkien's RETURN OF THE SHADOW (rereading)

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Christopher's Masterpiece

So, I've been thinking back over Christopher Tolkien's extraordinary achievements and wondering which was the most exceptional.

A strong case can be made for the 1977 SILMARILLION. In retrospect, now that all the component pieces of that work have seen the light in the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH series we can see just how difficult his task was, and how comprehensively he mastered it. Special mention shd be made of one of the few passages of that work which we know Christopher himself wrote, rather than extracted from some manuscript of his father: the death of Thingol down in the dark beneath Menegroth, looking at the light of the Silmaril. Had Christopher not told us so, I don't think any of us cd have guessed that this deeply evocative and memorable scene was written by CT rather than JRRT himself.

And then of course there's THE HISTORY OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS (HME. VI, VII, VIII, IXa, & XII), the part of his massive manuscript publication project that I suspect is for many people the most deeply interesting, offering as it does a scrupulously detailed behind the scenes look at a great author creating his greatest  work.

A personal favorite of mine is THE SAGA OF KING HEIDREKS THE WISE. This was the first book of Christopher's I ever came across (in the library at Southern State College), the first saga I ever read (and hence my introduction to that whole world of Icelandic myth and legend). It's also a model of clarity and editorial restraint.

And finally there's a volume I cd wish for that we're never likely to see: SELECTED LETTERS of CT. I think he must have been the greatest letter writer I've ever known -- always to the point, occasionally cutting, with a special kind of deftness whereby just the right word seemed to appear just when he needed it.  The only writer I can think to compare him to stylistically wd be P. G. Wodehouse, with the wit but not the whimsey.

So those wd be my choices, but thanks to Christopher's being so prolific and diligent there are plenty more to choose from.*

--John R.
current reading: THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW

*THE FALL OF ARTHUR, anyone?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Day of Mourning

So, today Christopher Tolkien died, full of years.

He was the last of the Inklings, as well as one of the few remaining  combat veterans of World War II.

He will be missed -- all the more so as time passes and the magnitude of his achievements come to be fully appreciated.

I'm glad I got to meet him,

both humble and proud that he entrusted me with editing one of his father's works,

 and always delighted when a letter from France would arrive at certain intervals, addressed in the most beautifully legible handwriting I've ever seen.


The world is a sadder place now that there will be no more of these.



Monday, January 13, 2020

Anatomy of Authors

So, thanks to friend Stan for the loan of a new book of cartoons, just out from Kickstarter:
ANATOMY OF AUTHORS by Dave Kellett, which gently lampoons a wide array of authors (everyone from Austen to Stan Lee). And being a Tolkienist, naturally the first thing I do when picking up a book like this is to look to see if Tolkien's in it. And he is, right on the front cover in fact, which he shares with Shakespeare, Poe and his raven, Angelou, Austen, and Stan Lee. The back cover goes this one better and reproduces the whole Tolkien entry as well as images of Agatha Christie, Douglas Adams, Sun Tzu, and Phillis Wheatley.

I'm happy to say I know who all the fifty-two authors* included, though I'll admit there were some I didn't recognize from the illustration (like Adams -- the towel and cup of tea shd have been dead giveaways). And I confess there are some of these who I've never actually read.
Still, forty-two out of fifty-two's not bad.

If you're a purist, be warned that Kellett's goal is to amuse and he feels no compunction about making stuff up. The people he presents are based on legend, not real life, though there are factual underpinnings when he finds these funny enough. Nor is he too proud to go for low-hanging fruit: his Tolkien entry includes a joke about Tolkien's grocery list.

Interestingly, his illustrations are more true-to-life than his text. Tolkien for example holds a book (BEOWULF) in one hand and a bar glass filled with some frothy foamy drink (labelled THE EAGLE & THE CHILD) hoisted in the other. He's also smoking a pipe at the same time: clearly a multitasker.

As I said, this was a Kickstarted project. I don't know if it's available to those of us who missed the subscriber deadline, but you can find more information here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/smallfish/anatomy-of-authors

And, on the left, you can see the ANATOMY OF AUTHORS cover (you might have to scroll down a little).

Plus if you poke around a bit on his website you'll find Kellett also offers a few posters and a pin for Gandalf Airlines, whose motto is Fly You Fools.

--John R.

*Kellett's definition of author is a generous one, including not just Tolkien and Lewis (C.S.) but Nietzsche, Seuss, Rod Serling, and two Chekovs

current weather: cold. snowing (the first big storm of the season). A good time to stay in with the cats.
current music: Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits (dug out because of the recent news of the ERA, no doubt)
current reading: another book on ancient Egypt, Kidnapping chapter of a Lindbergh biography
current audiobook: VOODOO HISTORIES by Aaronovich (a history of conspiracy theories)


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Tolkien biopic extras

So, I saw the Tolkien biopic (simply named TOLKIEN) at a special showing at last summer's Kalamazoo. At the time I thought it a beautiful and respectful film but found the pacing much too slow. Every scene seemed to be about twice the length it felt like it shd have been.

Accordingly, I knew I'd want a copy to re-see the movie at some later time and to have on hand for reference but was in no hurry to pick one up. Recently it occurred to me that there might be special features on the dvd that might be worth checking out --a 'making of' or 'behind the scenes' or 'The Real J. R. R. Tolkien' or the like.

I've now viewed the disk, and while there are some special features, they're sparse.

First, there's the audio commentary by the director, for those who like such things

There's also a gallery: pictures of the director directing

The sneak peaks show trailers for  a strange array of movies I won't be seeing

By far the most worthwhile of all these extras are the deleted scenes (seven in all) and a First Look mini-documentary.

The  mini--documentary mostly shows the lead actor and lead actress talking about the movie, with a few comments by the director thrown in. Basically these represent the idea behind the movie, what they focused on and why.

As for the deleted scenes, it's pretty clear why each was in the film and why each was taken out. Several include a single really good line (like Tolkien's calling Welsh  'the most beautiful language in the world' or Rob Gilson complaining that he's trying to keep up his art in the trenches but 'I keep running out of brown').  But the time spent on build-up wd have slowed the movie even more.


But the best thing about the movie, by far, remains its treatment of trees. It's a rare talent, but the director has managed to capture and convey Tolkien's love of trees. He even comments on this briefly in his commentary on one scene, and it shows up well in the deleted scene with Fr. Francis in a garden.


So, not essential, but not a waste of time either.

--John R.


Did Tolkien's Piety Affect His Scholarship?

So, in the course of his description of some of the Notes Tolkien made while working on the never-finished anthology now known as The Clarendon Chaucer, John M. Bowers records a remarkable remark regarding the following lines from the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales relating to the Monk (whose tale was one of the three Canterbury Tales included in the Gordon-Tolkien edition):

. . . a monk, whan he is recchelees,
Is likned til a fissh that is waterlees,
That is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystre
But thilk text heeld he nat worth an oystre.
And I seyde his opinioun was good.


Bowers notes that Tolkien found fault with these lines, and ascribes it to Tolkien's faith rather than his scholarship:

As a devout Catholic, Tolkien responded to the portrait's worst 
anti-monasticism by rejecting a particularly unflattering passage 
as spurious: 'we can scarcely accept [lines 180-184], as they
stand in our text, as Chaucer unadulterated.' Editors sometimes
rationalize censoring their texts by claiming anything they
dislike could not have been by their author. Skeat raised 
no doubt about the authenticity of the lines that Tolkien
questioned, nor does the current Riverside Chaucer.

(Bowers 178, emphasis mine)

Certainly Tolkien very much subscribed to the old or 'heroic' school of medieval manuscript editing, wherein modern-day scholars had great confidence that they understood Old and Middle English texts better than did the scribes who were actual speakers of those languages. And Tolkien's subsequent work on Chaucer ('Chaucer as Philologist: The Reeve's Tale') is posited on the idea that the manuscripts of Chaucer's works represent corrupt texts in need of editorial correction. What is remarkable is that Bowers ascribes Tolkien's dissatisfaction with the lines in question directly to their Xian content. So we have Tolkien's statement, without explanation, linked with Bowers' statement, again without explanation.

Reading Bowers' discussion of Tolkien's stance on editing makes me want to dig out my old essay on Tolkien as an editor of medieval texts, given at Kalamazoo a few years back but set aside when still only about two-thirds written down when other projects crowded in and interfered with its completion. Worlds enough and time.


--John R.








Saturday, January 4, 2020

Things I'd Do Differently (Dorothy Everett)

So, a few years back when I was writing my essay about Tolkien's lifelong support for women's higher education, I made no mention of Dorothy Everett, who certainly wd have been included if I'd known of her connection to Tolkien at the time.

Now, reading Bowers' book (TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER), I learn that Everett was among the scholars Tolkien recommended in 1951 as a possible partner to take over and complete the stalled (since 1928) Clarendon Chaucer project.* That Tolkien was willing to turn over the project to Everett is one more piece of evidence that he took women scholars seriously, and I'm sorry I didn't include it in my piece.

So it goes.


--John R.

*looking back now I find this information was available at the time in Wayne and Christina's COMPANION & GUIDE: I simply overlooked it.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Tolkien's Birthday

So, today is J. R. R. Tolkien's hundred and twenty-eighth birthday.

A good time to dig out and reread a favorite from among his many works.  For me, this year it's THE DRAGON'S VISIT, a little gem that exists in two versions --both good, but I much prefer the earlier variant, the one which ends

     The moon shone through his green wings
        the night air beating,
     And he flew back over the dappled sea
        to a green dragon's meeting.

--John R.
--current reading THE PENGUIN HISTORICAL ATLAS OF ANCIENT EGYPT by Bill Manley (1996)

Thursday, January 2, 2020

H. G. Wells' last books

So, just about the time I moved out here, over twenty years ago now, I read a compilation of two little books by H. G. Wells that between them represented his final thoughts on the fate of humanity. Having recently come across the photocopy of this I made at the time, I thought it'd make for an interesting re-reading.



Wells was a meliorist, which is to say that he believed that by working together it was possible, little by little, to make the world a better place (say, by medical research leading to vaccines or improvements in agriculture; things that improved quality of life). It was slow and hard but real progress was possible.

Writing in the last months of World War II, at a time when he was nearing eighty, suffering from cancer, and living in bomb-torn London, he decided he'd been wrong. In particular he laid a good portion of the blame on 'the necessity common minds are under to believe they have natural inferiors, of whom they are entitled to take advantage' (.11).

His response to this was twofold: one lighthearted whimsical little work and one a pessimistic prediction; the juxtaposition of their dating from about the same time makes them interesting.



THE HAPPY TURNING

In the first of these two little books he celebrates escapism through dreams: 'this delightful land of my lifelong suppressions, in which my desires and unsatisfied fancies, hopes, memories and imagination have accumulated inexhaustible treasure' (.22). Wells embraces not what Tolkien wd call the eucatastrophe of a Happy Ending but what he dubs the Happy Turning of a compensatory dream.

Wide ranged and rambling as this brief little book is, the best parts were Wells' depiction of old age as a time of falling into habits* and the two chapters in which Wells dreams of conversations with Jesus --part five: 'Jesus of Nazareth discusses his Failure' and part seven: 'Miracles, Devils and the Gadarene Swine' (particularly his take on the miracle of the loaves and fishes). The tone of these exchanges reminds me more of Blake (THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN & HELL)  than Lewis (THE GREAT DIVORCE, written at about this time).

The strangest part, by far, is his chapter devoted to cursing sycamore trees. That the book is rambling, not to say weird, is one of the things that marks it as one of those books a writer writes purely for personal satisfaction.


MIND AT THE END OF ITS TETHER

Much more focused, and rather less interesting, is its companion piece, in which Wells announces that humanity, having had its chance, is now headed to extinction. A new species will replace us, which may be descended from homo sapiens or might be wholly unrelated. There's nothing we can do, Wells believes, to avoid this fate. He counsels what at first looks like a form of existentialism but is more probably stoicism: that we each meet the end with what dignity we can muster.


The two approaches, which the book's editor finds diametrically opposed, are in fact easy to reconcile if we take them in reverse order and assume that the withdrawal into dreams is one example of an individual's facing extinction (of individual and species) on his own terms.

So there it is: a great reformer turns in the end, at the end of his tether, to the cold comfort of stoicism and the warm comfort of dreams, and between them still has the wherewithall to engage in a little whimsey. It's as if Tolkien and Lovecraft collaborated on a project: the result wd no doubt be interesting but unsatisfactory.

--John R.
--current reading: Wells, THE MIND AT THE END OF ITS TETHER (#II.3549; a rereading; just finished)

*part 1: 'How I came to the Happy Turning' (.21-22). Wells' description of of his life sinking down into a repertoire of a routine of several favorite outings may strike a cord with those experiencing encroaching age or persistent ill health (I particularly liked the bit about baiting one walk with a visit to a bookstore). All in all, I thought it was the best thing in this little book, the one sign that the author of 'The Truth about Pyecroft' and similar stories had not altogether lost his touch:



In my daytime efforts to keep myself fit and active,
I oblige myself to walk a mile or so on all days that
are not impossibly harsh. I walk to the right to the Zoo,
or I walk across to Queen Mary's Rose Garden 
or down by several routes to my Savile Club, or
I bait my walk with Smith's bookshop at Baker Street.

I have to sit down a bit every now and then, and that
limits my range. I've played these ambulatory variations
now for two years and a half, for I am too busy to go
out of town, out of reach of my books . . .

I dream I am at my front door starting out for the 
accustomed round. I go out and suddenly realise
there is a possible turning I have overlooked!
And in a trice I am walking more briskly than
I have ever walked before, up hill and down dale,
in scenes of happiness such as I have
never hoped to see again . . .