One of my oldest and closest friends died today from the covid virus.
A modest and kindly man, I don't think Richard ever realized that he was one of the best of the best of Tolkien scholars.
I will miss him terribly.
Rest in peace.
So, I've been reading (or more accurately re-reading) a number of books by David Lindsay, whose first and most famous book, A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, celebrates its centenary this year. And I was struck by something I had previously passed over without its drawing my attention: a striking parallel between Lindsay's book and Lewis's THE DARK TOWER. Lewis openly confessed his debt to Lindsay, particularly to OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, but I don't think I've seen anyone extend the influence to include the final, unfinished fourth book of the Ransom series.
I'm all tied up with other projects right now, but if I were going to write this up I'd focus on one of the most striking things in A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS. Lindsay's work is famous for the way his protagonist grows new organs and appendages once he enters the alien world, the first of which is a breve, described as "something hard on his forehead . . . a fleshy protuberance, the size of a small plum, having a cavity in the middle, of which he could not feel the bottom" (VtA.44)
This is strongly paralleled by what happens to Lewis's hero: when Scudamour jumps through the chronoscope, switches places with his double, and arrives in the Otherworld, he acquires a sting growing out of his forehead: "It was broad at the base and narrowed quickly to its point, so that its total shape was rather like that of a thorn on a rose-branch . . . It was hard and horny, but not like bone . . . and . . . [d]ripping with poison" (DT.33). But where Maskull's breve granted him telepathy, The Stingerman's sting converts those he attacks with it into automatons.
In addition to this major point of the appearance of otherworldly organs on the forehead, three other paralleled elements between Lewis's unfinished work and Lindsay's odd masterpiece might be worth exploring.
First, the seance that opens Lindsay's book, along with the materialization of a being from the other world into our own, parallels the projection of images from another world that opens Lewis's. MacPhee even has an exchange with Orfieu about the validity or otherwise of psychical research.
Second, there's the image of the Tower that so dominates Lewis's story, while a similar tower frames Lindsay's work, appearing first as the Observatory early in the book, then reappearing as Krag's tower at the story's climax, containing the long sought for route into the true world, Muspel.
Third, it might be worthwhile to do something with the theme of doubles: Maskull and Nightspore in Lindsay's book (so that one cannot appear until the other is gone) and Scudamour/the Stingerman in Lewis's.
As I said, I'm too absorbed in something else to write this up and develop the argument. And besides, I've already had my say about THE DARK TOWER in my essay on the interrelations between Lewis's Ransom books, esp the first and fourth one) and Tolkien's two time travel stories.* And I've also already said pretty much what I had to say about A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.**
On the other hand, if anybody has explored / developed the DARK TOWER / VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS parallels and I just missed teir piece,*** I'd be happy if someone points me to it.
*this appeared in TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM, an unofficial festschrift for Christopher Tolkien (2000)
**in my online monthly column CLASSICS OF FANTASY: Lindsay's strange masterpiece was the focus of the sixth essay (January 2003). It's no longer up on the Wizard's site but can still be found online with a bit of internet searching
***I think I've read all the scholarship on DARK TOWER, but you never know
So, here's something I had on Kickstarter which has now arrived: the new rpg based on the Sargasso Sea stories of Wm Hope Hodgson. Called GREY SEAS ARE DREAMING MY DEATH, it draws on such classics as "The Voice in the Night" and "The Derelict" to craft a horror-at-sea game. I've now skimmed this but haven't looked at it in detail because (a) I definitely want to play this but (b) one of the other people in my gaming group may opt to run it,* (c) in which case I wdn't want to know any spoilers. But (d) I may wind up running it if no one else wants to be Captain (i.e., DM).
It looks like one of those games with a v. narrow focus, which is what you want in a specialty themed rpg such as this one. I hope they've captured the theme of doomed pluck that is so distinctively Hodgsonian, while at the same time introducing some more readers and gamers to one of the greats (and one of the most overlooked of authors of his era who deserve to be called great).
It staggers me that forty-plus years on from D&D there's still no rpg based on Hodgson's masterpiece, THE NIGHT LAND.** They've borrowed a few monsters Hodgson's other works (HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, the end-of-time NIGHT LAND); a closer look shd tell whether they've successfully integrated this into their late nineteenth/early twentieth century sea setting. One way or the other I'm looking forward to finding out.
*This is made all the more probable when I found out tonight that three of the seven people in our Monday night game backed the Kickstarter.
**I initially thought DARK SUN wd be that world but was sadly disappointed to discover it was an uberConan setting instead.
So, a while back Janice shared the clip below with me, and I thought it encapsulated what T. S. Eliot was trying to say in the final section of THE HOLLLOW MEN (1925):
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
So, I had kind of tuned out news about the Tolkien tv series currently in the works, feeling detached from the project once I realized that I was not their target audience (as opposed to the Peter Jackson movies, which I followed closely from v. early on). Which is why I initially missed the announcement that the people working on the Amazon project are looking to hire extras "comfortable with nudity".* And that they have hired an 'Intimacy Coordinator' to oversee sex-scenes to make sure actors and actresses appearing in them are treated respectfully.
Nude extras is one thing -- say for example a shot of the elves awakening at Cuivienen (I doubt if they were created fully clothed). Hiring an Intimacy Coordinator sends a different kind of message: that this series will be less Peter Jackson and more Game of Thrones. That's not surprising, but it is disappointing.
For a rumination on the issue of nudity in the new series, see the following post from www.theonering.net:
--current reading: LINDBURGH by Scott Berg, a light novel, and David Lindsay's THE WITCH
*BEYOND BREE, Nov. 2020 issue, page 10
So, it's now been officially announced that the next book by Tolkien (that is, the next book of new material by JRRT) will be out in June:
THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, edited by Carl Hostetter (co-editor of TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM).
The write-up on Amazon doesn't have much information yet, other than that the book is 400 pages and the official release date June 1st.
I gather that this book draws from the period when Tolkien had largely abandoned or set aside work on his various narratives and was shifting more and more into world-building. Or to put it another way, rather than a grand narrative here we'll be seeing Tolkien's attempt to set down as much as he cd about Middle-earth.
I suspect it'll feel rather like LETTERS, where he addressed so many queries from his readers. For those of us who came along too late to write to the Professor and pose questions ourselves, this book just might contain the answers to things we've always wanted to know.
In short, not a book for the casual fan, but it promises to be full of good things for those of us who want to know all we can about Tolkien's subcreated world. Congratulations to Carl for bringing all this disparate material together.
I've already pre-ordered my copy.
P.S.: Here's the announcement of the news in THE GUARDIAN:
Every cat from last week having been adopted, we started over with a whole new set of cats again yesterday.
So, today was the long-awaited Centenary Seminar in honor of David Lindsay's A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS (1920). The timing wasn't too bad for an overseas event eight time zones away: 6pm Greenwich time and 10 am out here in the Pacific Northwest.
Dimitra Fimi was host and moderator and did a good job setting things up and then moderating the Q&A at the end.
Of the three speakers, independent scholar Doug Anderson gave a fact-filled overview of Lindsay's life and writing career --a good thing to have if you're new to Lindsay and for those who know some helpful for clearing up various mistakes in previous accounts. My favorite new fact I learned: J. R. R. Tolkien owned three copies of A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS: one of the 1920 original, one of the 1946 reprint just after Lindsay's death, and one from the 1963 edition that more or less marked the point at which Lindsay's work came to be more widely known.
Novelist Nina Allan, whose THE RIFT contains some Arcturan echoes, discussed Lindsay's legacy to his fellow science fiction writers. I think my major takeaways from this was inherent in the realization of this being the centenary, that VtA came out at a mid-point between the early days of Verne/Wells and the classic era of science fiction in the 1930s.
Finally Professor Rbt Davis compared Lindsay's work with various theological thinkers and schools of thought, particularly Gnosticism. He quoted a v. interesting passage from a letter he'd received from Philip Pullman regarding both what Pullman sees as Gnostic affinities in his work (the evil imposter-god) and his greatest departure therefrom (Pullman's celebration of the natural world as good, not evil).
Quite a lot of interesting material within a short space, well worth watching.
For those who cdn't make the live event, they've put footage of the presentations up on YouTube:
So, being a Tolkien scholar, I'm professionally interested in unfinished books. THE SILMARILLION is not the end-all and be-all of Tolkien's literary achievement, and Tolkien wd still have, and deserve, a major literary reputation even had the SILMARILLION never been published, or indeed failed to survive. But we're fortunate to have it.
Even more fortunately we have both THE SILMARILLION as editorially assembled by Christopher Tolkien (1977) as well as the many constitute parts he presented in chronological sequence between 1980 and 2018. And this enables us to witness Tolkien's struggle to find the right form and format to present his mythology, and to compare it to the similar woes of other authors immeshed in parallel difficulties.
Here's I'm thinking not of the kind of unfinished book like Dicken's THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD or Austen's SANDITON, where the author knew where he or she was going and simply had the misfortune to die before reaching the end. Pound's THE CANTOS may fit in this category: the poet certainly failed to provide the grand synthesis at the end that he'd promised at the beginning of the project, but it's impossible to tell whether this was due to a flaw in Pound's schema or failure due to his encroaching mental illness (or both).
I wd also set aside Poe's THE NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM or Coleridge's KUBLA KHAN, where I take the 'incompleteness' as a narrative guise assumed by the author.
Closer is Hawthorne's DOCTOR GRIMSHAWE'S SECRET, where the author flailed around, uncertain of characterization or plot, having a setting and a whiff of an idea he can never come to grips with, no matter how many times he returns to the beginning and tries again (i.e. he knew Dr. Grimshaw had a secret but had no idea what it was). By contrast Twain's THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER shows an author who knows what he wants to say but can't find the right presentation, struggling between three radically different versions that were editorially assembled after his death, rather like Christopher's SILMARILLION. To give another example, I'm currently reading David Lindsay's THE WITCH, which its author reluctantly put aside, having written himself into a tangle he cd not get out of, that of attempting to present the ineffable in words. It's hard not to feel for an author who desperately wants to finish a work but just can't find the way.
And then there's the work which is not so much unfinished as unbegun: a sort of phantom text that exists mainly in the mind of the writer, with v. little if any of it actually set down on paper (or extant in electronic files). The most notorious example is probably Truman Capote's ANSWERED PRAYERS, excerpts from which he described in detail, consistently, over a long period, yet precious little was found among his papers at his death. To pick another example recently in the news, Harlan Ellison's THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS anthology was frequently announced as 'forthcoming' for the last forty-five years of the editor's life; promises of a posthumous edition are being met with a certain skepticism.
In contrast to works obstructed by writer's block, some works remained unfinished because the author had too much to say and cdn't apply an internal editor, like the main character in the film WONDER BOYS. I understand this was the case with Thomas Wolfe, whose novels were extracted from a wordy matrix by his editor, Max Perkins, but have not looked into that case myself. Certainly Ellison's JUNETEENTH (aka THREE DAYS BEFORE THE SHOOTING) and Foster Wallace's THE PALE KING seems to fit this pattern.
In the end I'd say we're lucky: to borrow Tolkien's analogy not only do we have the soup that is the 1977 SILMARILLION but Christopher Tolkien gave us guided tours of his kitchen for a behind-the-scenes look at how it was all put together (the History of Middle-earth et al).
And we can be grateful that JRRT didn't meet the fate of the writer's-blocked author in Clark Ashton Smith's unsettling story "The Nemesis of the Unfinished".
--current reading: Scott Berg's LINDBERGH
P.S. On a personal note, I shd add that the eventual release of the Beach Boy's famous unrecorded album SMILE made my friend Franklin Chestnut very happy.
So, forty-five years or so ago science fiction's enfant terrible, Harlan Ellison, announced as forthcoming the third and final book in his DANGEROUS VISION series (circa 1973), a follow up on DANGEROUS VISIONS (1967) and AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS (1972), which wd sum up and encapsulate the New Wave. And then the book didn't appear. Year after year Ellison wd report on progress of the book, listing stories and authors who wd be included, and announcing a publication date (or, as it turned out, dates, one after another).
Time passed, authors died, others withdrew their contributions, new ones were added in. So notorious did the unreleased book become that one disgruntled former contributor, Christopher Priest, wrote a chapbook THE BOOK ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER chronicling the history of the project (1987, revised & expanded 1994). Ellison kept promising the book's imminent release and offered no explanation for a delay that stretched from years to decades and ultimately for the remainder of Ellison's life, and then some.
I always assumed that Ellison had given himself a bad case of writer's block by promising that he wd write definitive essays on the contributors and include these in the book, which wd be a comprehensive state-of-the-art presentation of Science Fiction as it ought to be (i.e. New Wave). My guess when I first learned of the interminable delay was that the book wd never be published in H.E.'s lifetime but wd appear, sans essays, some six months or so after his death.
Turns out I was partly right. This last week the Ellison estate (in the unlikely avatar of J. Michael Straczynski, of BABYLON FIVE fame) announced the book will be ready next April (i.e., April of 2021, about half a year from now), or about three years since H.E.'s death. Though note that this is a start-looking-for-a-publisher date, not an actual see-it-in-print publication.
Oddly enough Stracznski reveals plans that will complicate the task of trying to finish up the book. For one thing, a number of works by authors who died in the meantime will be returned to their estates. Some stories are being dropped as too dated. Some new stories are being solicited, presumably to make the collection seem more up to date. And one new story by a new, never before published author will be included, apparently as a publicity stunt. All these changes suggest it'll be a sort of hybrid: some old, some new, ultimately representing neither the New Wave of the 1970s nor the field as it is today. For a critique of difficulties inherent in the project, see David Bratman's comments in his blog:
And for information about the official announcement, see Mike Glyer's ever-trusty and ever-informative FILE 770:
On a personal note, I was glad to hear that Tim Kirk art, apparently commissioned circa 1973-74, wd be included: for those not aware of his work, Kirk illustrated one of the first Tolkien Calendars, setting a high bar that many who followed (e.g. the Hildebrant Brothers) failed to meet.
So, we'll see whether this iteration of this long-promised book sees the light of day.
current reading: David Lindsay's THE WITCH (an unfinished book even longer in the tooth than anything by Ellison).
So, some of the cats who come to the cat room come from prison -- specifically, the detention center at Monroe, Washington, about thirty-five miles from the cat room. Here's a recent article describing the program:
Basically these are feral cats, most of them from hoarders and cat colonies. Many have never had an owner so they tend to panic when picked up or touched. The prisoners socialize the animals, holding and interacting with them until they come to associate humans with more than just food.
And since it never rains but it pours (as they say in Bree),* here's another recent story about a joint effort by a number of animal-rescue groups to help offset the lack of community resources to take care of the cat local population in Hilo, Hawaii (on the Big Island). I wdn't be at all surprised if some of these abandoned strays and feral cat-colony cats wind up at Purrfect Pals.
--current reading: THE RIFT
*the weather report suggests we'll be able to test this maxim ourselves soon
So, thanks to Doug A. for pointing out the announcement of the forthcoming book APPENDIX N: THE ELDRITCH ROOTS OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS by Peter Bebergal (Strange Attractor Press, 2021). This seems to be an anthology gathering together a selection of titles from the 1st edition AD&D Recommended Reading list --not a discussion of the stories, such as Jeffro Johnson's APPENDIX N: THE LITERARY HISTORY OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (2017), which I believe began life as a series of blogposts. Instead Bebergal is reprinting works by sixteen of the authors so named by Gygax back in 1979.
This "selection of short fiction and resonant fragments" are taken from sixteen authors, of whom eight are named in the article linked to above:
H. P. Lovecraft
The write-up also promises that the book will be accompanied by a chapbook novella of A. Merritt's PEOPLE OF THE PIT.
That seems to me a pretty good list, though the scholar in me cannot forbear to point out that Tanith Lee, while worthy of being included on her literary merits alone, did not in fact appear in Gygax's list. This suggests a certain slipperiness for criteria.* And I find myself curious as to the other eight authors might be.
One curious feature of the book is its presentation as a D&D adventure, GG1. Descent into the Temple of Appendix N, clearly a homage to Gygax's D1. Descent Into the Depths of the Earth (1978).
I think I'll pass on the deluxe 30 Pound version and hold out for the paperback edition to follow.
More on this one when I find out more. I'll certainly be on the look out for a more complete list of authors, and of what works are chosen to represent the authors already announced.
current reading: THE RIFT by Nina Allan
*Similarly, they speak of Virgil Finlay's having illustrated the chapbook, without mentioning that Finlay has been dead for almost fifty years
So, last week I saw that the list of finalists for the 2020 Mythopoeic Awards has been announced.
And I'm happy to see among them A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS: ESSAYS IN HONOR OF VERLYN FLIEGER.
Here are all five finalists for the award in Inklings Scholarship:
Amendt-Raduege, Amy. “The Sweet and the Bitter”: Death and Dying in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2018.
Fimi, Dimitri. Sub-creating Arda: World-building in J.R.R. Tolkien's Work, its Precursors and its Legacies. Walking Tree Publishers, 2019.
Johnson, Kirstin Jeffrey, and Michael Partridge. Informing the Inklings: George Macdonald and the Victorian Roots of Modern Fantasy. Winged Lion Press. 2018
McIlwaine, Catherine. Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Great Britain; England; Oxford, 2018.
Rateliff, John D. Ed. A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger. Gabbro Head, 2018.
I've read or skimmed all but one of these* and can say that we're in good company.
Congratulations to all the contributors, and to all the nominees.
*while I hear good things about the Johnson & Patridge book, MacDonald is a little outside my purview, so it's further down on my must-read list.
So, I didn't post a write-up two weeks ago because I never got my notes written up. And the following week I didn't go in to the cat room because the room was empty: all the cats had been adopted, leaving the room empty. This week the room was filled again on Wednesday the 4th, yet half those cats had already been adopted by the time I arrived yesterday at noon.
Here's a picture of ELLIE ruling the roost in her new home:
So, when writing recently about the late Len Lakofka's early AD&D setting of Restenford and environs, I completely forgot about one contribution I made to the setting: THE HAND OF THE HIGHWAYMAN.
This was a short (11-page) adventure set in Restenford, available free online as a web enhancement for SONG AND SILENCE, the Third Edition class handbook for Rogues and Bards written by Dave Noonan and myself. My memory of the details is vague, but I think this was put together by Penny Williams for Julia Martin's web team and, based on the credits, edited by Miranda Horner.
I know that Dave wrote the parts describing traps, he having created the trap system in SONG AND SILENCE, while I'm pretty sure I did that part about the Hand of Glory, having myself been interested in that traditional item ever since I first learned of it years before via THE INGOLDSBY LEGENDS and John Bellairs (as well as being a fan of the old Smithereens song).
Here's the link to the piece, --published in 2001 and, surprising enough, still available through the Wizards website.
So, I'm happy to see that a lengthy review of A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS has now been published by THE JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH and is now available for download and viewing at their site:
I'm happy to say that reviewer Deidre Dawson has a lot of nice things to say about the collection while giving it a good detailed critique. I was particularly pleased by the attention to and praise of Taum Santoski's piece, which I took as confirmation that I was right to include this posthumous contribution. So valuable does she find Taum's piece that she suggests it wd have been a good piece to start the book with, creating a category of its own.
Deidre then proceeds to discuss and evaluate each essay in the collection. In the process she reorganizes the essays according to theme, creating a better sense of interaction between the individual pieces. I had experimented with some such groupings when working on the book but eventually abandoned this as imposing more structure than strictly needed. Having already contributed an Introduction, notes on Taum's piece, and an essay of my own, I wanted to avoid further editorial intrusion so far as practical. That said, I particularly enjoyed this suggested order, which some readers might find a useful orientation when reading through the book.
Her only other criticism is with the title: by omitting the word Tolkien from either title or subtitle, I inadvertently prevented it from showing up on as many online searches as wd otherwise have been the case. Mea culpa.
On a personal note, I'm pleased that she has a good word for my own essay ("meticulously researched", "fascinating"). And who could not be pleased by her final summing up:
current reading: Patricia McKillip (last book in the RIDDLE MASTER trilogy), David Lindsay (his unfinished final book THE WITCH).