Thursday, September 30, 2021

Back in Kent

 So, it's good to be back in Kent after a long (four week) research trip spent in the Marquette Archives. Once again my work focused mainly on fine-tuning the Map of the Manuscript I've been working on for about four years now. This schematic shows the sequence in which every draft of every chapter of THE LORD OF THE RINGS was written, making it much easier to navigate between the vast amount of material in Marquette's collection.  I made a lot of little fixes (and some not so little). As usual I learned a lot: it's impossible, for me at any rate, to spend any amount of time with the manuscripts without thinking of some project I'd like to work on, if only there were time.

And of course I enjoyed being back in Milwaukee. I've been away from the area twenty years now but still have a lot of friends in the area, some I got to see (which I enjoyed) and some I didn't manage to sync up with (hoping for better luck next time). Plus I got to visit the cat cafe twice, ordered out from my favorite Milwaukee restaurant (and trying out several I hadn't been to before), got some frozen custard, had a few long walks around the East Side, visited a bookstore famous for its cats, only to discover its longtime cat had died just two week before. No C.o.C. game in The Walnut Room, but then  my visit did fall during GenCon.

And now after the better part of a week spent settling back in it's back to work on the current project Monday. 

---John R.

--current reading: A KNIFE IN THE DARK.

--PORIUS by J. C. Powys

Friday, September 24, 2021

Six Books

Here's a question about staying power. 

WATERSHIP DOWN has been out nearly fifty years now. THE LORD OF THE RINGS is more popular than ever after more than sixty years.

So, of the books listed below, which do you think will stand the test of time and still be read twenty, thirty, forty years from now?


Ben AaronovichThe Rivers of London series


Susanna ClarkJonathan Strange and Mr. Norell


Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games


Jonathan Howard — Johannes Caball, Detective;  'Jonathan Caball and the Blustery Day' and other stories (uncollected)


Daniel O'MalleyThe Rook


Philip Pullman Northern Lights.

--John R.

--current reading: "A Long-Expected Party"

--last day at Marquette 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Radio Adaptation of LUD-IN-THE-MIST

So, thanks to Doug A. for the news that BBC4 is broadcasting an audio-drama of Hope Mirrlees's highly respected but seldom read LUD-IN-THE-MIST (1926), one of the great classic fantasy novels. Here's a link:

and here's another with more detail, including that Neil Gaiman will be doing a cameo. How Hitchcockian of him.

History suggests (WRINKLE IN TIME, DARK IS RISING, EARTHSEA) that adapting fantasy is a tricksy business and prone to disaster.

On the other hand, I’m more hopeful for their ability to do a radio play than a film adaptation. And  it’ll raise her profile and introduce some people to her book, which is all to the good.

So I’ll be looking forward to it but trying to keep from getting my hopes up too much.

—John R.
--current reading: many parts of LotR and the LotR-relevant portions of HME (esp. Vol. V).

Monsters of the Id? (Milwaukee downtown art)


So, here's something new since my last visit to Milwaukee: a statue on  Wisconsin Avenue east of the river that I can only describe as a local variant of Jonny Quest's monsters of the id.

Or maybe that just holds for those of us who were part of that show's original audience (and thus scarred for life).

--John R.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

September 22nd

So, happy Bilbo's birthday (though I think of it as Silmarillion day.

As my time for my current research trip winds down,  there's always that final rush to get things to a good stopping point.  It's been a successful trip, and I've enjoyed seeing old friends and being in Milwaukee again (after all, I lived here for more than ten years). What can you say about a city that not only has a zeppelin mooring post downtown but also a bronze statue of a heroic little mother duck and three of her ducklings?

Still, it'll be nice to be back home again.

--John R.

--current reading; THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH and snippets of other things. I abandoned Douglas Adams' unfinished novel because it seemed appropriate.  --JDR

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Marquette Project

Left to right: Ed Sanchez, head of Marquette's Library IT; 

myself (John D. Rateliff), Tolkien scholar; 

Erik Mueller-Harder, software developer and Tolkien scholar;

 William Fliss, curator of Marquette's Tolkien Collection.

 So, for the past four years* I've been coming to Marquette twice a year to work on an ongoing project. I was finally able to share it as a work in progress at the Tolkien day gathering at Kalamazoo's Medieval Congress (the last time they had an in-person gathering --2019?). Now it's been officially announced. Here's yesterday's announcement on Facebook:


J R R Tolkien Collection - Marquette University Libraries


New posts on this page are infrequent, but that doesn’t mean we’re not busy at Marquette!! This has been an incredible month as we work on the system for digitally reprocessing the manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings. Here is the core team: Ed Sanchez, head of Library IT, John Rateliff, Tolkien scholar extraordinaire, Erik Mueller-Harder, software developer and Tolkien scholar, and Bill Fliss, curator of Marquette’s Tolkien Collection. After years of mapping the collection, we are finally designing the system for navigating the virtual collection. It will make life so much easier for scholars who visit Marquette to study the manuscripts. (Copyright prevents us from just sharing the system, with its 10,000+ images, online.) The project has been exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Meetings have been intense but productive as we work through known obstacles and anticipate future challenges. Truly, “There shall be counsels taken / Stronger than Morgul-spells.”

--I'm really looking forward to sharing news about this project as it moves from creating a 'map of the manuscripts' (my contribution to the project), a graphic representation** to quickly guide researchers to a specific draft of a specific chapter of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, a framework that will provide the basis for an electronic database that will use this 'map' to quickly access a high-quality scan of any page out of the thousands in the collection.***

I think this project, when fully realized, will build on Christopher Tolkien and Taum Santoski's work in the late eighties to make it far easier for visiting scholars using the collection to track a specific scene or passage or motif's first appearance within the story. It'll be a particularly valuable tool for those who use it in conjunction with the relevant HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH volumes built upon that work.

  Exciting times. And the next stage of a long-simmering project nearing culmination.



*except the plague year, 2020, when travel and research were alike impossible.

**think of the London Underground 'map' as an example

***including any text on the back of a page, such as pages from student essays

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Live in A Hobbit House

So, from time to time we hear about someone who's created their own version of a hobbit hole. Some go so far as to live in them. But this is the first one I've heard of who decided to dress the part, and even organize a re-creation of the journey of the ringbearer by what seems to have been a pleasant stroll to Mt Vesuvius to toss the ring in their local volcano. Except they decided to give the ring to some passing kid. Which, thinking about it, wd make a pretty good origin story for a future Dark Lord Jr.

Here's the link

--John R.

--current reading: LORD OF THE RINGS manuscripts, mostly.

Monday, September 6, 2021

More on Re-Wilding Dunsany

So, thanks to friend Greg for this link providing further news about the current Lord Dunsany's project of letting a good part of the grounds surrounding Dunsany Castle (one of the Castles of the Pale, and home of the Plunketts for a good many centuries now) go back to nature.

This piece is a bit unusual from my point of view in that it doesn't mention my Lord Dunsany, the great fantasy writer, except obliquely in the line

"Other Plunketts were leading figures in politics and the arts"

I do admit to curiosity about the current lord's independent film, THE GREEN SEA, although I have not seen it yet.

It is nice to have a Lord Dunsany who's on nature's side, as opposed to the great hunter his great-grandfather (I think it was) was.

Thanks again to fellow Burrahobbit Greg R.

--John R.

Tea, with Cats

 So, Saturday I got to drop by my favorite cat cafe,* Milwaukee's SIP AND PURR.

Their set up is somewhat different from Purrfect Pals' model. Here instead of having their meet-the-cats adoption/socialization room inside a large pet store (e.g. PetsMart) they have a cat cafe. First you go through the ‘cafe’ part, ordering a beverage if you like, and then proceed into the cat-room, where for about ten dollars  for the next hour you can pet as many of the free-roaming cats (about ten) as feel so inclined to indulge you. Two of the cats are permanent residents (Nacho and Nero, I think); the rest are all up for adoption.

 I try to visit whenever I’m in Milwaukee, and yesterday was this trip’s time. I’m glad to report that while feathers-on-a-stick is their local favorite they greatly enjoyed the laser pointer and string-and-chain toys I’d brought.** At one point I had five cats chasing the little red dot as a pride, which is unusual.

These cats don't get walks of course since it’s in a busy urban area, but from their behavior it's very obvious that they are well-socialize with plenty of attention when they want it as well as quiet spots they can retreat to when feeling the need for a little down time.

Anyway, it’s nice to see different models of cat adoption room appearing in different parts of the country.

—John R.

*and, to be fair, I think the only cat cafe I've managed to visit in person.

**asking permission of the staff first to make sure this was okay

Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Dancing Bears of Numenor

So, one distinct feature of THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH is the degree to which it emphasizes what we already knew from other sources: that in his final years Tolkien ceased to be as interested in story than in World-building. It's as if he wants to get everything down, every detail as it occurs to him or emerges out of some other text, before it's too late.

 A curious example is the passage (.335) about Numenorean bears and their custom of gathering yearly each fall to perform slow but dignified dances. This seems just amusing but irrelevant detail, but it's interesting to note that it marks the re-emergence of an idea that's been in Tolkien's mind for decades. Recall  Tolkien's reference to what we might call a Bear-moot that occurs off-stage in THE HOBBIT in Gandalf's report of what he cd discover about Beorn's nighttime activities.  And there are also dancing bears in THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS: one picture of NPB dancing with some visiting penguins and another (if I remember it rightly) of bear-cubs, red elves, and young snow-men dancing together in a ring. Trying to absorb all the bits and pieces of information in this new book and relating them to Tolkien's more substained works will be a congenial task for Tolkien scholars for years to come. 

One question though,  regarding the following passage:

[The bears] never dwelt in or near the homes of Men, 

but they would often visit them, in the casual manner 

of one householder calling upon another.  At such times

they were often offered honey, to their delight. Only an

occasional "bad bear" ever raided the tame hives.  (.335)

-- am I the only one who catches a whiff of Milne's Pooh here?  

 --John R.

-- current reading: Douglas Adams biography (flawed but interesting).

P.S.: For those who, like me, are fond of turtles, it's good to know that Numenor was well supplied with these: 

"In the south there were some land-tortosies, of no great size; and also some small freshwater creatures of turtle-kind" (.336)

I think, with the exception of the great Fastitocalon, this is Tolkien's only mention of turtles, at least so far as I can remember.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Cool and Busy

 So, so far my favorite line in THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH is the description of the Numenoreans. We're told that, "they became a kind of imitation Elves', especially the Men. 

"Fortunately their wives were cool and busy"

(NoMe .330) 

--John R.

--current reading: D.Adams biography. 

Just How Important is Douglas Adams?


So, I've been reading on a biography of the late great Douglas Adams as part of my mulling over a claim I'm thinking about making to the effect that Adams is arguably the most important science fiction writer of the last few decades (say from about 1977 onwards). And as an offshoot of that, the importance of someone whose impact largely came through novelizations (of the original radio scripts) suggests that during the modern era science fiction has increasingly been dominated by media (unlike fantasy, which has been thrived in both print and film/series).

I don't have any explanation of why this is so, but the more I think it over the more it seems to be the case. The long-awaited SILMARILLION came out in 1977, about a quarter century after it'd been promised, and was on the NYTBR bestsellers list for twenty-one weeks in a row. Shortly afterwards the era of the Tolk-Clones got well and truly underway.  I can't really make myself believe that THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS, which seemed to be on the verge of publication in 1979, wd if published about a quarter century later in circa 2004 wd have been seen as anything but nostalgic, a summing up of an era that was long past.

 --John R.

--current reading: about the dancing bears of Numenor (NoMe .335)

Messages Out of the Void (Douglas Adams)

All alone in a town far from home with a three-day holiday weekend ahead. Time to blog! --JDR

[Adams] cited his two biggest influences as the Beatles and Monty Python

 -- 'Both were messages out of the void saying there are 

people out there who know what it's like to be you'

Lewis famously described that moment as 'what! you too?'* and it's long been associated with his becoming friends with Tolkien.

I suppose for me that'd be my friend Franklin, and later of course Taum.  It's interesting in that the evidence suggests you don't have to be v. much alike in any other way, so long as you have the bond of overwhelming absorption in the shared interest, whatever it may be.


current reading--  HITCHHIKER: A BIOGRAPHY OF DOUGLAS ADAMS by M. J. Simpson (cf p.14)

-- NoMe 

*I think in SURPRISED BY JOY but I'm away from home and can't check the reference.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Establishing Context (The Marquette Archives)

So, I haven't blogged this past week because I've been too busy doing what I came for: working my way through a list of things I wanted to look up in the Marquette Archives. A lot of these are things I've looked at before on previous visits but found out afterwards I hadn't made adequate notes on (as in, notes that made sense when I didn't have the originals in front of me), accompanied by a bit of context when needed. Among the things I've looked at include the King's Letter, the Epilogues to THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the Scouring of the Shire (still a work in progress), Tolkien's doodling about the Muar River (in which he jots down words and phrases from a wartime radio broadcast while drafting the death of Boromir), &c. And there's still lots to go, if there's time, like seeing just how much of the mythology appears in the differing drafts of the Earendil poem. It'd be interesting, for example, to work out which text Tolkien showed to Clyde Kilby in 1964 -- it was one of the ones that (a) didn't come to Marquette in the fifties but was still in Tolkien's possession in the sixties, and (b) describes Earendil's killing of Ungoliant). 

Let's see what I can get through in week two. Though once I get my hands on a copy of THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH my evening reading will be locked up for some time to come . . .

--John R.

--current reading: collection of Averoigne pastiche (nearing the end), COME GO WITH ME (a fascinating unfinished novel by Shirley Jackson), and a biography of Douglas Adams.