Sunday, April 30, 2023

You-Tube posting of Glasgow SIR GAWAIN Event

So, those who missed the event is honor of Tolkien's SIR GAWAIN lecture can see the panel of four speakers here on-line. Even though this is one of Tolkien's lesser known essays it's well worth making closer acquaintance with. Here's the link: 

--John R.

--current reading: Tolkien's Sir Gawain essay

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Tolkien's Sir Gawain Lecture

So, this month marks the 70th anniversary of J. R. R. Tolkien's delivering a talk on SIR GAWAIN & THE GREEN KNIGHT at the University of Glasgow. Unlike his famous essay BEOWULF: THE MONSTERS & THE CRITICS (which revolutionized Beowulf studies by arguing that work shd be studied for its literary merit, not mined as a historical artifact), and ON FAIRY-STORIES (the seminal statement establishing modern fantasy as we know it).* Meanwhile, his Gawain piece has largely been neglected. But that seems likely to change, thanks to the Gawain event held today in Glasgow --indeed the same city, same university, and same building as the original site where Tolkien appeared.**

As is become usual these days, the event was in mixed in-person/on-line form. I was one of the virtual attendees --I gather several hundred people in all. I understand the panel of speakers will be put up on You-Tube for non-attendees to enjoy: if so I'll put up a link.

About This Event

On 15 April 1953, Tolkien delivered the W.P. Ker Memorial Lecture, on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, to an audience of 300 at the University of Glasgow. The essay was published posthumously, in 1983, in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, edited by Christopher Tolkien. 

Join us at Glasgow on Thursday 27 April 2023, 5-6:30pm, on-campus (Joseph Black Building) or online, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the lecture and its significance, Tolkien's links to Glasgow, and the importance of the Sir Gawain text in Tolkien's creativity. 

Our panel of speakers will feature:

  • Professor Jeremy Smith, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Lydia Zeldenrust, Lecturer in Middle English Literature, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Andoni Cossio, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow
  • Chair: Dr Dimitra Fimi, Senior Lecturer in Fantasy and Children’s Literature, and Co-Director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic 

For those attending on-campus, there will be an opportunity to see a pop-up exhibition with documentation related to Tolkien’s appointment as the 1953 W.P. Ker Memorial Lecturer (including a hand-written letter by Tolkien), in collaboration with Archives & Special Collections, University of Glasgow.

--John R.

*Recently A SECRET VICE has gained prominence and influence in the world of language creation.

**They worked out which was the original room but it was no longer available, having been converted from lecture hall to smaller labs.


Monday, April 24, 2023

Fanfiction encounters the real world

So, a few days ago the story broke about how a fanfic writer was trying to extract $250 million dollars from Amazon and the Tolkien Estate. After a bit of poking around the best account of it I saw on the internet is a piece on the PC Gamer site by Tyler Wilde:

According to them, the sequence of events seems to have run roughly like this.

1. Fanfic author Demetrius Polychron registers the copyright for a novel called THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE KING (sic).  (2017)

2. D. sends a letter to Simon Tolkien (JRR's grandson) describing the book and asking for the Estate to review the Ms.  The Estate ignores query.

3. D. hires a lawyer, who renews his idea of collaboration.   (2019)

4. The very next day, the Tolkien Estate, who don't fool around when it comes to protecting JRRT's copyrights,  rejects any idea of collaboration.

5. D. personally delivers a copy of his Ms to Simon T's home. 

6. Receiving no reply, D. asks for his Ms back and informs S.T. of his plans to self-publish the book and six sequels.

7. D's book is published (September 2022)

8. D. sues Amazon and the Tolkien Estate for $250,000,000.

9. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE KING disappears from Amazon. (April 21st 2023)

For those who are curious, a plot summary of the book can be found at the Fractal Books site:

 Long before the arrival of Annatar, the original Rings of Power were forged by Celebrimbor and Narvi in Eregion near the Misty Mountains. These first magic Rings were far more powerful than those that came after and were corrupted by Sauron to be fought for in the War of the Ring.

Elanor, daughter of Samwise, is nervous the night before her debutante party in the Shire. In the 22nd year of the reign of the High King Elessar the Blue Wizards return from out of the East bearing perilous news: the rest of the Rings of Power have been found and they are in deadly danger. Thus begins the War of the Rings to End All Wars of the Rings. Before it is over Elves, Hobbits, Dwarves, Men and magical races long forgotten or never seen before will join the Quest for Celebrimbor’s originals and the last of Sauron’s corrupted Rings of Power.

Elanor, two Hobbit friends, the Crown Prince Eldarion of Gondor, his Elvish uncles the Princes Elladan and Elrohir of Gondor join the Wizards Alatar and Pallando of Aman in a war across Middle-earth fighting for their lives.

If they fail, they will witness the return of the Valar Morgoth, the source of Evil and former Master of the long defeated Sauron. With all the Rings of Power at his command, Morgoth will enslave the whole of Middle-earth – forever.

Doctor Who as Gandalf

So, recently I rewatched one of the old Harryhausen films, SINBAD & THE EYE OF THE 
TIGER (1977). I knew that Patrick Troughton, one of the most fondly remembered actors to play DOCTOR WHO (The Second Doctor, 1966-69), was in it. What I didn't remember is how strongly his Grecian alchemist and sage, Melanthius, resembles Ian McKellen's Gandalf the Grey.

Also, while looking this up I took the time to confirm something I'd heard years ago: that Troughton had a small role in THE OMEN (which I've never seen). It was interesting to see how much Troughton's serious role there, which consisted mainly of running away, resembled his comedic Dr. Who scenes, which also featured a lot of running away.* 

--John R.
Current reading: Wm Morris THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END
Current viewing:  THE ARK (streaming)

*except for the gruesome ending --THE OMEN is a horror movie after all.


Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Lord Dunsany's THE REWARD (from FIfty-one Tales)



One's spirit goes further in dreams than it does by day. Wandering once by night from a factory city I came to the edge of Hell.


The place was foul with cinders and cast-off things with shapeless edges, and there was a huge angel with a hammer building in plaster and steel.  I wondered what he did in that dreadful place. I hesitated, then asked him what he was building.  'We are adding to Hell,' he said, 'to keep pace with the times'.  'Don't be too hard on them', I said, for I had just come out of a compromising age and a weakened country. The angel did not answer.  'It won't be as bad as the old hell, will it?' I said.  'Worse', said the angel.


'How can you reconcile it with your conscience as a Minister of Grace,' I said, 'to inflict such punishment?'  (They had talked like this in the city whence I had come and I could not avoid the habit of it.)  


'They have invented a new cheap yeast', said the angel.


I looked at the legend on the walls of the hell that the angel was building. The words were written in flame, every fifteen seconds they changed their colour,  'Yeasto, the great new yeast, it builds up body and brain, and something more'.


'They shall look at it for ever', the angel said.


'But they drove a perfectly legitimate trade', I said; 'the law allowed it'.


The angel went on hammering into place the huge steel uprights.


'You are very revengeful', I said.  'Do you never rest from doing this terrible work?'


'I rested one Christmas Day', the angel said, 'and looked and saw little children dying of cancer. I shall go on now until the fires are lit'.


'It will be very hard to prove', I said, 'that the yeast is as bad as you think'.


And the angel made no answer but went on building his hell.



So, as part of my re-acquainting myself with Dunsany, I've been re-reading some of his more obscure works. While I made a good-faith effort between 1987 and 1990 to read everything Ld D wrote, there were some things that I only read once and others not published until after I'd finished the dissertation and moved on to other projects.


One such obscure item is IF I WERE DICTATOR, a small (107 page) booklet from 1934 that was part of a series of at least eight authors. It's not a serious treatise but more a listing of pet peeves and what he'd do about them if he were put in charge. Writing very much tongue in cheek (he names his dictator The Grand Macaroni and his minions the 'gold shirts'), he restrains himself for the most part.


There's not much here that's memorable, but he does let himself go when he devotes a brief section to the issue of why people not overtly evil nevertheless do evil in the world —for example, food adulteration*—but the words cd just as easily apply to environmental degradation:



The men who do these things are not the public's enemies because they hate their kind, but because of the limitation of their vision. They cannot see farther than the means that make them and their families rich; they cannot see the harm that they are to the community, and to their own families which are part of the community. 


p. 57: 

On a completely different topic, another passage states in passing that

The last war was won with a fortnight or so to spare, the people of the now Disunited Kingdom having been as close as that to starvation.  


I don't know if this is or was a widely held opinion,** but it's interesting, esp. when we remember that Dunsany served in that war, writing official wartime propaganda.


--John R.

current reading: Dunsany (misc)


*a topic he addressed several times in his works, perhaps most directly in the play CHEESO. For Dunsany at his most unabashed on this topic, see my next post, featuring his short piece 'The Reward', from Fifty-one Tales.

**My thinking being more along the lines of Mosier's MYTHS OF THE GREAT WAY.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

The D&D Movie (Honor Among Thieves)

 So, I've now seen the new D&D movie (Honor Among Thieves) and have to say that while not great I enjoyed it. 

The best thing, I thought, was how it hit the right balance between making an adaptation recognizably true-to-its-original on the one hand, and providing newcomers with what they need to know on the other. A good example wd be naming and identifying creatures (owl bear, displacer beast, gelatinous cube). 

Certainly it's far better than the three previous films to bear that name (gone and well forgotten). And Hugh Grant fared better than the hapless Jeremy Irons: here the villain does not so much chew scenery as glory in the Harry Mudd-ness of it all.

While it deserves praise for capturing the flavor of D&D, the best thing about this film is the cast. Surprisingly, it's the women who fare best: the tiefling druid delivered the best performance, closely followed by the barbarian and paladin, with the sorcerer and bard (the star of our show) lagging a bit behind. 

So, on the whole, a success. Personally I'd cut the opening twenty minutes or so, which cuts back and forth between past events and the present right when our story shd focus on getting going. But maybe that's just me.

I'm surprised the credits don't include a line acknowledging Gygax and Arneson (or Arneson and Gygax, depending on yr preference). The only person credited here known for his work on the game is the late Kim Mohan, here labelled 'Loremaster'. By this I assume he must have played some role as a resource for the film folks, to answer any questions about how something they wanted to do in the movie wd work in terms of the game.  There were also two WotC folks, unknown to me, who I assume worked as liason between WotC and the filmmakers.

Finally, it came as quite a surprise to me that the august New York Times wd feature a fairly straightforward review of the film. We've come a long way since fantasy in general and D&D in particular only got written about when it cd be cast as a wink-wink these silly people sort of thing. Now it's so mainstream that it appears on things like those Valpak coupon things that come in the mail (see below). 

Thanks to friend Matt F. for the link:

--John R.

--current reading: THE LAST BOOK OF JORKENS

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Quote of the Day

"it is not possible to eat an onion

and to be eloquent

at the same time"

--KHALED, by F. Marion Crawford (1891)

--AFS #39  (December 1971 

Monday, April 3, 2023

Esteemed Company

 So, today I went in and looked up who else had won the Outstanding Contributions award and found I'm in v. good company. Here's the year-by-year list, extracted from the Tolkien Gateway website:*

2014   Christopher Tolkien

2015   Tom Shippey

2016   Verlyn Flieger

2017   John Garth

2018   Priscilla Tolkien

2019   Catherine McIlwaine

2020   Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull

2021   Dimitra Fimi

2020   Brian Sibley 

--I call rhat good company indeed.

--John R.

--just finished: ALWAYS COMING HOME (even the accompanying cassette)**

--in the early stages: KHALED by F. Marion Crawford

**Yes, we still own, and play, cassette players --in the plural.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

I Am Honoured

So, last night I started receiving congratulations from some of my Tolkien friends--but for what, it wasn't clear. 

Today brought clarity. It turns out that that I've just been given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tolkien Society -- a group I joined more than forty years ago, back in the days (circa 1981) when the people in the Society I had the most contact with were Jessica Yates, Charles Noad, Lester Simons, Brin Dunsire, and Susan Rule.  I've have been a member of the T.S. on and off (mostly on) ever since. 

This took me totally by surprise --I hadn't even known I was up for such an award--but it's an entirely welcome one. Outstanding Contribution Award -- what cd be sweeter than the praise of one's peers?

Here's the official announcement: both up on the Tolkien Society website 

(click on the following link and scroll down to the bottom of the left-hand column)

And File 770, which is as official as they come when it comes to sf/fantasy news (from Smof Mike Glyer)

 And now back to another celebratory cup of tea (Yunnan).

--John R.