Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Peter Jackson's HOBBIT

Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Peter Jackson's HOBBIT

So, after three years of back-and-forthness, the news is now official: Peter Jackson will be making a film of THE HOBBIT.


Indeed, two films. New Line and MGM finally agreed to a split of the largess that is likely to result, and somehow New Line and Jackson have resolved their acrimonious dispute (no doubt more details on this will be forthcoming in good time). Production starts sometime in 2009, with the first part to hit theaters in 2010 and the second to follow a year later in 2011. Given the tradition set down by the LotR films, I strongly suspect their release dates will be the week before Christmas in each case.
What's not yet clear is whether Jackson will be directing or merely producing.

The news that it'll be two films is interesting, but not unexpected. And it raises the interesting question: where would the best place be to divide the story? This is obviously something I had to give a lot of thought to when we realized THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT wouldn't all fit into one volume. In the end, I went with ending Vol. I with their departure from Lake Town, so that all the scenes at the Lonely Mountain were gathered together in the second volume. But if I were Jackson, I'd place the break between the two films somewhat earlier, with Bilbo's first glimpse of The Lonely Mountain at the very beginning of Chapter X: "The Lonely Mountain! Bilbo had come far and through many adventures to see it, and now he did not like the look of it in the least" (THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT page 241). --For me, that strikes just the right sort of ominous note in switching gears between the journey out and the problem confronting the characters when they finally arrive.

Three years. A long time to wait, but it'll fly by quickly in a constant stream of speculation, news releases, teasers, and the like. Here's hoping they do a good job, keep to Tolkien's story, and in the end produce something as impressive as the LotR films. We'll hope, and we'll see.

--John R.

current reading: Philip Larkin, FURTHER REQUIREMENTS. (reviews, broadcasts, &c.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Call for Errata

So, I have a chance to make a few corrections for the next printing of the English edition of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT. I'm going through and compiling a list of all the ones I know about; if you've come across an error or omission, or what you think might be one, please let me know within the next day or two.
--John R

Hummingbird Wars

So, a few weeks ago I finally managed to figure out a way to hang the hummingbird feeder off the balcony rail, rather than having it on a branch of the tree out back. This also has the advantage of moving it away from the suet feeder, which attracts much larger birds. And we were happy to see that it didn't take long for the hummingbird to find its new spot. In fact, we see it much more often now than before, since it's just outside the kitchen window. But we also quickly noticed that we have at least three different hummingbirds coming to the same feeder, and that two of them were squabbling over it. Since I'd heard hummingbirds are highly territorial, it seemed a good idea to buy a second feeder just like the first, which I hung on the opposite end of the same dowel supporting the first feeder -- that is, about four feet away.
Not far enough, I'm now realizing. Today we saw two hummingbirds fighting over the same feeder. It was an amazing sight: they dive-bombed each other, dashed about back and forth, and I think in a few case deliberately bumped into each other. It was like to angry giant bees going at it, or baby stirges; I even imagined that the other birds were staying safely out of the way as they whizzed by. So, in the interests of peace and harmony, this afternoon I rigged up another dowel and moved the second feeder to the other end of the balcony. Perhaps fifteen or twenty feet will be enough room that they can share. We'll soon know: the third hummingbird, the one not involved in today's acrobatics, came up while I was setting up the newer feeder in its new place. Nice to find that they don't consider me a threat -- I was actually within about two feet of it at one point -- though this may just mean they know I'm old and slow (as indeed are all humans, by hummingbird standards).
So, we'll see how it goes. We're committed now to seeing all three (and any others that may come by) through the winter; no abandoning a bird feeder after it's too late for the birds to head south! At least having it off the balcony will make it easier to check on each morning: last year the feeder sometimes froze and we'd have the sad sight of a hummingbird buzzing around it, unable to break through to the nectar inside (usually a quick poke with a nail through the feeding tube wd do the trick). Though have to confess it still throws me to see hummingbirds in the air when there's snow on the ground . . .


Monday, November 26, 2007

Dating a Tolkien Tale (Mr. Bliss)

So, one of the benefits of living in this, the Golden Age of Tolkien Studies, is that we're getting very close to understanding the sequence between Tolkien's various works, thanks to tomes such as the Scull-Hammond Chronology (Vol. I of their COMPANION & GUIDE). There are still a few places where it's hazy just where a work fits in, such as FARMER GILES OF HAM (where an equally good case can be made out for its either immediately preceding or immediately following upon THE HOBBIT), but by and large the sequence is coming into focus.
Today in connection with something else I was working on I came across something that might lock down another piece of the chronological puzzle. There are two suggested dates for the little picture book Tolkien drew called MR. BLISS: 1932 or shortly thereafter, or the summer of 1928. The 1932 date was suggested by Humphrey Carpenter in TOLKIEN: A BIOGRAPHY (page 163, [1977]), on the basis that Tolkien bought his first car in 1932 and had several misadventures of his own in driving it (being apparently entirely self-taught as a driver) which in turn Carpenter felt inspired the story.
This date was challenged in 1982, just after the story's first publication, by a letter Joan Tolkien (JRRT's daughter-in-law) wrote to THE SUNDAY TIMES on 10 Oct. 1982, in which she stated that her husband Michael, the Tolkiens' middle son, 'clearly recalled the tale being told to them and it appears in a diary he kept as a Dragon school summer holiday task in 1928'. On the basis of this, Scull & Hammond include it in their Chronology under the entry for '?Summer 1928' (Vol. I, page 146). However, there are two indicators that shows Carpenter was probably right after all.
First of all, in the catalogue that accompanied the display of Tolkien manuscripts in conjunction with the 1987 Marquette Tolkien Conference, Jared Lobdell cites a letter from Christopher Tolkien stating the latter's belief that the handwriting was 'from the 1930s rather than the slightly more florid manner he employed in the mid-1920s (CT to JL, 11 Feb. 1987). Since no one is more familiar with his father's handwriting and manuscripts that Christopher Tolkien, his opinions carry considerable weight in such matters.
Second, in a 1964 letter to Christopher Bretherton (LETTERS pages 347-348), Tolkien notes that he made up the name 'Gaffer Gamgee' during a vacation to Lamorna Cove in Cornwall, near Land's End, and that 'the name became part of family lore'. Scull and Hammond (Chronology page 164) date this vacation specifically to August/September 1932, based no doubt on the account in THE TOLKIEN FAMILY ALBUM, which actually reproduces a photograph from this trip of Tolkien digging in the sand with his children (page 62). This dating becomes significant, because Gaffer Gamgee makes a cameo appearance in MR. BLISS: his name appears on page 37 ('old Gaffer Gamgee is trying hard to hear') and the old man himself, with long beard, wearing a bowler hat, and hobbling along on two canes, is shown in the illo on page 36. Therefore, if it's true that Gaffer Gamgee entered the family lore during the trip to Cornwall in 1932, MR. BLISS as we have it must postdate that vacation.
Given that Tolkien did not finish THE HOBBIT until January of 1933 (if my reconstruction of that work's composition is correct), then MR. BLISS must date from no earlier than the summer of 1933. In any case, it was certainly complete by the fall of 1936, when it was submitted to Allen & Unwin as a possible follow-up to THE HOBBIT (along with FARMER GILES, THE LOST ROAD, the QUENTA SILMARILLION, THE LAY OF LEITHIAN, and other works).


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lovecraft plays

So, last night Janice and I and a bunch of friends from the reading group (Allan, Yvette & James, Lisa & Shaun) met up at Open Circle Theater and saw this year's cycle of Lovecraft plays. We'd been lucky enough to see these twice before, in 2004 ('Narlathotep', 'Dreams in the Witch House', and the puppet play 'The Doom That Came to Sarnath') and again last year ('The Colour Out of Space', 'The Thing at the Doorstep', and 'Strange Magics').* This time around they had a set of four plays: 'The Picture in the House' (one of HPL's weakest stories v. effectively used as a frame-story for the next two tales), 'Nyarlathotep', 'The Cats of Ulthar', and 'Dreams in the Witch House'. As usual it was great fun to see what they could do with the old Lovecraft stories, given the constraints of a small cast, small stage, and small budget. And once again they proved that enthusiastic acting, a good feel for the material, and a few creative special effects can go far. Seeing these makes me want to tackle an adaptation myself. Their new venue wasn't quite as good as their old one, but there's not much they could have done about that, since the little theatre they've used in years past was demolished over the course of the past year.
I'll definitely be going back again next year.

*Having unfortunately missed the 2005 triptych of 'The Shunned House', 'Cool Air' and "Shadow Over Innsmouth'

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I'm Back

Wow, November already. Where did October go? I suppose between the reading/book signing at the University Bookstore (and the preparation that went into that), the reading and signing in Milwaukee (ibid, since I prepared a different piece of text for that), the Blackwelder Lecture at Marquette, the visit to the Archives, the (too-brief) visit to the Wade Collection, some time with the in-laws, preparations for the trip to England, and then the two weeks in the Bodleian I let time get away from me; time now to get back to regular posting.
Many thanks to all who came to the two readings & book signings, and to those who co-ordinated the events and made them possible. I'm gratified the Blackwelder Lecture went as well as it did -- I'm told there were about ninety people in the audience, and I got to have some good discussions with people after the signings and lecture. Saw a lot of friends in Milwaukee whom I don't get to see nearly often enough. While at Marquette I spent my time in the Archives looking at the John Boorman movie script for his never-filmed LotR movie. It's full of fascinating ideas, but it's not Tolkien, not by a long shot. Those who whine about Peter Jackson's changes to the story, myself included, don't realize how lucky we were that Boorman didn't get to be the one who filmed his vision of Tolkien's world instead.
The long-planned, long-delayed trip to England was wonderful, and exhausting. The last time I was there was a very brief visit (arrive on a Friday, leave on Sunday) to be best man at two friends' wedding, and even that was almost fourteen years ago (Dec. 1994). The last time I was in the Bodleian was a single day during the Tolkien Centenary Conference in 1992, and then I was looking at C. S. Lewis's THE DARK TOWER (which some folks at the time were claiming wasn't genuine -- folks who never bothered to examine the Ms for themselves), not their JRRT materials. So this was really the first time since May 1987 -- twenty long years ago -- that I had time to delve into their Tolkien holdings. And what a collection it is! In addition to the many hours spent in the library, I also got to visit The Kilns (which I'd only seen once, from outside, twenty-six years ago), walked up to see Tolkien's house on Northmoor Road, got to meet my editor at HarperCollins, had lunch with one of the editors of the O.E.D., saw the bronzes of JRRT at Exeter College and the English Faculty Library (both times without knowing they were there until I glanced up and saw them), saw the First Emperor exhibit of terracotta warriors in the British Museum (amazing stuff), had tea with CSL's biographer, had tea with a member of the Tolkien family, toured a Welsh castle (the Temple of Nodens just down the road being closed), and got to see some old friends, some of them for the first time in years.
And now I'm back.
More later.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In Praise of Sharp-Eyed Readers

So, I'd missed a comment by 'Johan' to a previous post in which he pointed out an omission I'd missed. On page 835, TN5 reads "Book I [of LotR] ends with his [=Frodo's] collapse at the Ford and Book II with him awaking already safe in Rivendell some days later". As Johan points out, there's a verb missing in the second clause: it should read "and Book II begins with him". While I'm at it, "awaking", which is technically a transitive verb, really shd be "awakening", which can be intransitive or transitive as the occasion demands.

It's too late now to get this fixed in the US edition, but I'll pass it along to the good folks at HarperCollins for the trade paperback set, for which I'm beginning to gather a list of errata.

The second proposed correction by Johan relates to an illegible word on page 833. The passage reads "4 mm = 4/10 [illegible] = 20 miles" (this being the eighth line on page Ad.Ms.H.16a). Johan proposes, very reasonably, that the missing word is "centimetre", since 4 mm does in fact equal 0.4 cm. Unfortunately, this is not possible, since the illegible word seems to begin with a descender (i.e., a letter with a down-stroke, such as p- or q- or g- or y-). In fact, it turns out to be -f; looking at this squiggle again with a fresh eye yesterday I was able to crack it this time. It's not a single word but three separate ones run together: "of 50 miles". Thus, the correct reading of this passage shd be

"in the LR map 1 centimetre = 50 miles [;] the distance from Ford to head of path down is 4 mm = 4/10 of 50 miles = 20 miles."

Many thanks to Johan for having sparked my re-examination.

And, while I'm at it, many thanks to Jeff, author of my favorite blog, for showing me how to turn web addresses (such as http://grubbstreet.blogspot.com/) into links (such as grubbstreet).

--John R.

current reading: THE INTELLECTUALS & THE MASSES, by John Carey (who currently has some harsh things to say about Mr. Nietzsche).
current audiobook: JOHN ADAMS, by David McCullough (having gotten to the part where Adams, as envoy to the Dutch, just opened the world's first American embassy)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Two Threads (THE HOBBIT: Is It Or Isn't It?)

So, thanks to Johan, I've now seen two more posts on the "LotR Fanatics" forum discussing my book; one back in May (LotRFanatics thread) that includes some first impressions and bitter cries about the lack of a separate index for that volume, and another more general one from July (second thread). While reading the book itself will resolve most of the questions and queries that arose there, it's interesting to see how many of them hover around the question of THE HOBBIT's status regarding the legendarium: whether it was originally "quite unconnected" and only later retrofitted as part of his larger mythology or whether it was part of that mythology from initial conception. One curious feature of the discussion was to see unnamed "leading Tolkien scholars" cited on occasion as purportedly disagreeing with me, but no citation or even identification is ever forthcoming of who these mysterious anonymous figures might be, nor why their identities must remain a deep dark secret. V. odd. Of course I'm well aware of the fact that the current consensus holds, following Christopher Tolkien's discussion in HME VI, that THE HOBBIT stands apart from the legendarium. Tolkien himself took both positions at different times, so a simple appeal to authority cannot resolve the matter; my goal was to present the argument for, since the argument against was so well known that the other alternative had been neglected. Largely of course it comes down a matter of definition: does the appearance of characters, names, places, creatures, and items from the QUENTA and Lays in the draft of THE HOBBIT show that Bilbo's world is the same as that of the older stories, as I argue, or are these all merely incidentals without significance outside themselves, as had previously been the consensus view?** Does Tolkien's statement that he "consciously based" THE HOBBIT on "the 'Silmarillion', a history of the Elvish, to which frequent allusion is made" (LETTERS p.31), made in a context where he was carefully explaining at length the sources and origin of the book, carry as much weight as I think it does, or can it be explained away? Since Tolkien is subtle, his statements on any given point often show complexities that are easy to miss at first glance (a point made very well in Marjorie Burns' PERILOUS REALMS): fairly laying out the evidence for both sides of a disputed point, whether the relationship of THE HOBBIT to the older works or the starting date for the composition of the book or some similar topic, is I think one of the most valuable things a scholar can do, not far behind presenting new (i.e., previously unpublished) texts or discovering some new (previously unknown) information about a book or author we didn't know before.

Which brings up another point made in passing: someone in one post on the second thread referred to Christopher Tolkien as "primus inter pares" ('first among equals') among Tolkien scholars. I don't think that begins to cover Christopher's importance: he stands in a category of his own, far above all the rest of us. Christopher Tolkien knows more about his father's works, and more about JRRT himself, than any other Tolkien scholar can ever hope to. He is, literally, irreplaceable. This does not mean he is infallible --in later volumes of HME he sometimes corrects statements made in earlier volumes in the later of more evidence or further consideration-- but it does mean that the first step in writing about any of JRRT's posthumously published works shd be to see what CT has to say about it. That's our starting point.

Changing the topic a bit, one of the other items that showed up in these discussions is much simpler to resolve: the rumored fairy wife of some Took ancestor (in the 3rd edition) and the rumor of elven blood (in the 1960 drafting) are one and the same, since Tolkien used 'fairy' as a synonym for 'elf' in his early writings (cf. BLT II.10, where Luthien Tinuviel is referred to as 'a fairy').

The ROVERANDOM point raised a time or two is easily resolved without proving the main case one way or the other, but full explication will take its own (eventual) post.

--John R.
current reading: THE INTELLECTUALS & THE MASSES by John Carey (who thinks intellectualism is a scam and seems to despise most twentieth century British writers)

**In my view, the most abrupt and dramatic departure from the older material of the legendarium in THE HOBBIT is the appearance in Bilbo's story of dwarves as non-evil characters, something completely unprecedented in his earlier Middle-earth writings.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Charlie Chaplin at the Paramount

So, every year about this time the Paramount Theater in downtown Seattle hosts a month of silent movie nights, accompanied by live virtuoso organ music, just as they were first presented the better part of a century ago. We've only been able to make it to two or three of these performances over the years, unfortunately, but for those who might be interested this year's line-up couldn't be bettered. They're showing three Charlie Chaplin shorts each night, and they've chosen them from the twelve he made just when he gained full creative control over every aspect of his filmmaking. Each is about twenty minutes long and features an ensemble cast, so that the same actors re-appear in different roles in each film. I've seen seven of these twelve, and the best of them rank right up there with CITY LIGHTS and THE GOLD RUSH: silent film comedy just doesn't get any better, and they can still give post-silent film competition a run for the money.

Here's the schedule; if someone does make it, drop me a line and let me know how you liked them.

Sept 10th (obviously, these are already past, but I include it for the sake of completeness)

Sept 17th

Sept 24th

Oct. 1st

--if you only get to one of these, I'd recommend the Oct. 1st showing.* THE CURE has Charlie as an inebriated dandy going to a health spa to dry out; hilarity ensue as his presence makes things spiral out of control. A short clip from this film made its way into Michael Moore SICKO. THE IMMIGRANT, the only one of these to fully feature 'the little tramp' character, mixes pathos with slapstick in CC's characteristic manner; still moving, AND funny, today. THE ADVENTURER features Charlie as an escaped con trying to blend into a party; it has the least plot but plenty of manic energy.
--John R.

*although ONE A.M., which is entirely a solo performance after the opening sequence, is an almost plotless tour-de-force that has never really been equaled as an example of the intransigence of inanimate objects and the inexorable move from order to chaos.

In Praise of Neil Gaiman

So, a while back I wondered in a post if in his script for the forthcoming BEOWULF movie, which from preliminary accounts is grossly unfaithful to the original story yet pretends otherwise, Gaiman had 'jumped the shark'. While I still have very low expectations about the BEOWULF movie (other than a fervent hope that at least it's better than the last one, BEOWULF & GRENDEL --which shdn't be hard, but you never know), in the weeks since I've seen STARDUST and, just this past week, re-read the book (STARDUST, that is) as well as for the first time reading CORALINE (the only one of his novels I'd missed) and just last night finishing up ADVENTURES IN THE DREAM TRADE (a collection of nonfiction pieces).

First, STARDUST the movie. Great fun. Not really in the tradition of PRINCESS BRIDE, to which some had compared it, being far less snarky and self-conscious; more like the old Aladdin and Sinbad movies with better effects, better story, and better acting. While full of humor it succeeds by taking itself seriously, rather like the old DOCTOR WHO. They changed the story a great deal, but for the most past for the better (the final battle with the witches was too long and drawn out for my taste, and I wouldn't have minded the airship section, while charming, being shortened by about half). It's been a long time since Peter O'Toole has played an out and out villain (THE RULING CLASS, maybe?), and it was great to see he hasn't lost his touch. Both the leads were great, as was Michelle Pfeiffer as the villain and all the supporting cast. Plus, of course, a witty script, less gritty and more light-hearted than the novel. And here's one case where no one can blame the moviemakers for "ruining the author's book" since Gaiman himself is the film's producer. Highly recommended.

Second, STARDUST the novel. I'd read this with my local fantasy reading group (hey folks) a while back and been vaguely disappointed -- nothing to complain about, but I'd just read some of his excellent short stories and had much higher hopes. I'd found in the year and more since that the book's story and characters had almost entirely vanished from my memory, which is very unusual for me -- I remembered it much less than any of his other books I'd read. Re-reading it now after seeing the movie I think the film's better; the book reads like a novelization rather than a stand-alone fantasy novel or fairy tale. There are some Dunsanian echoes in the book that I'd be sorry to miss, the Stormhold bits are v. good, and his practical approach to Faerie works v. well, but overall I'd rank it at the bottom of his fiction, alongside AMERICAN GODS. Not bad, just not as good as I expect from Gaiman. As an added bonus, the edition I read this time has a bonus short story at the end: while I didn't particularly like its frame story, the story within that frame was superb.

Third, CORALINE. Not having read this one before, I was delighted to find it his best novel yet, fit to rank alongside the best of his short stories and his two pictures books (THE DAY I SWAPPED MY DAD FOR TWO GOLDFISH and THE WOLVES IN THE WALLS -- CORALINE has definite affinities to the latter). Don't want to give any of it away in case others haven't read it yet, so I'll stop at just saying it's distinctively Gaiman, yet Ray Bradbury would I think have been proud to write this one. It's that good.

Fourth, ADVENTURES IN THE DREAM TRADE is a NESFA collection of introductions, afterwords, and appreciations Gaiman wrote for books and authors such as Fritz Leiber, Lord Dunsany, Hope Mirrlees, and others. It also has several poems, three of them excellent ("A Writer's Prayer", "Neil's ThankYou Poem", and "How to Write Longfellow's Hiawatha"), several song lyrics ("A Girl Needs a Knife" seems to combine Dorothy Parker with "Sunny Came Home", v. effectively), a few short-shorts, and (providing more than half the book's bulk) a blog about AMERICAN GODS, covering the period between when the book was finished and when he finished the various book-signing tours, a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at all the seemingly endless things that have to be done once a book is "finished". Like CORALINE, I'll definitely have to track down and buy a copy of this; it's something I want on my shelves.

So: while I'll suspend judgment on Gaiman as a screenwriter until I see BEOWULF, this bout of reading has reaffirmed just how good a writer of fiction he is (if there's a better fantasy short story writer living, aside from Ray Bradbury, I'd like to know about him or her) and introduced me to extended amounts of his nonfiction for the first time. I'd say rather than jump the shark he made the old cartilage-fish sing, dance, and jump backflips. In short, an impressive performance.

--John R.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Fifth Review/Taum's work

Here's another, more a description of the book and circumstances that that gave rise to it than a review, but taking note of my roleplaying ties as well (appropriate enough, given my dozens of rpg credits over the past fifteen years). The site also has a good notice of Diana Pavlac Glyer's THE COMPANY THEY KEEP just above the notice on my book and a brief piece on CHILDREN OF HURIN immediately below it.

Fifth Review

And, while not a review, here's a discussion regarding my conclusion that THE HOBBIT was part of Tolkien's legendarium from its inception: see the 'Lord of the Rings Fanatics Forum'

LotR Fanatics thread

One poster makes a comment to the effect that "I don't suppose there is any chance of us ever seeing Santoski's drafts for Mr. Baggins". In fact, as I note in my Introduction (H.o.H. vol. I p. xxviii), I've deposed a complete copy of Taum's unfinished edition at the Marquette Archives so that those who wish to compare his work with mine can do so, just as I deposited a complete, unedited transcript of the entire manuscript (page by page, line by line, stroke by stroke) so that others could compare my reading of Tolkien's handwriting with the original manuscripts. (If any do so and come up with a better reading of a difficult passage, I hope they'll share their guesses with me so I can pass them along here.)
Unfortunately, while Taum's transcription is more or less complete, he had not yet drafted the accompanying commentary, so I don't think he had addressed this particular point -- at least, not that I remember. But he was as aware as I of Tolkien's letter to Selby on the one hand (the original letter was exhibited at Marquette in 1987, and a transcription appears in the exhibition catalogue) and the mention of Beren and Tinuviel within the manuscript on the other. I don't know how much weight he put on Tolkien's letter to THE OBSERVER, in which JRRT stated

"My tale is not consciously based on any other book--save one, and that is unpublished: the 'Silmarillion', a history of the Elves, to which frequent allusion is made" (LETTERS OF JRRT p. 31).

For me, at any rate, Tolkien's explicit statement that THE HOBBIT was "consciously based" on THE SILMARILLION is the clincher.

I shd probably correct one misapprehension, where a poster says Taum's "tragic death interrupted a brilliant scholarly career at Marquette" -- Taum's death was indeed tragic; I saw him almost every day during the last year of his life, even after he entered the hospice. But he was not a student at Marquette: he was one of the finest examples I've ever known of an independent scholar, and in fact made his living as a bartender, working at a private club during the evenings to support himself so that he could work with the manuscripts by day. Just before the end of his life he had decided to go back to school to pursue an art degree, but his coursework was at UWM (the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee), not Marquette.

current reading: CORALINE by Neil Gaiman

Book Signing in U-district

So, two weeks from tonight is my first book signing for THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT, at 7pm at the University Bookstore on Tuesday Sept. 25th. We'll start with a reading, followed by a Q&A, then the signing itself. Please let people in the area you think might be interested know about the event, and drop in a line if you think you'll be able to make it.

Here's the official online schedule of the Univ. Bkstr's upcoming readings and signings, including the notice for my event:


Hope I'll see you there.
--John R.

Current (re)reading: Neil Gaiman's STARDUST
Current anime: LE CHEVALIER D'EON

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Fourth Review

New reviews continue to pop up, some of them in unlikely places. The latest one I found is in the Church Times, of all places, "the world's leading Anglican weekly newspaper", from the July 27th issue. As with Rilstone's review, it's linked with CT's THE CHILDREN OF HURIN, although most extraordinarily this one reviews my book first. Also unusual, and striking, is their reproduction of two nice, lesser-known illustrations for THE HOBBIT from my book. As for the book itself, they seem to like it well enough ("a mass of information, but often in a lively style"). Of particular note is their drawing attention to my comments on nomenclature, which I found a particularly tricky part to write: "On languages, which are important for the word-music of Tolkien's names, [Rateliff] is usually a careful consulter of experts rather than an expert himself." Fair enough. The CoH review that follows is appreciative and well worth checking out.
Here's the link: http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=42450

--John R.

Countdown: Two weeks to U.S. release

Sunday, September 2, 2007

And Yet Another . . .

Here's the third of the three reviews of my book I found this week. It's by far the longest, the best-informed (from the point of view of the reviewer knowing his Tolkien), and certainly the snarkiest. The author, Andrew Rilstone, is a fellow rpg designer (who worked on the ONCE UPON A TIME storytelling card game) and editor (of the sorely missed INTERACTIVE FANTASY, the first, and only, scholarly journal examining roleplaying games), though I don't think we've ever met. The review of MR. BAGGINS/RETURN TO BAG-END takes up the second half (approximately seven pages) of his long review of CHILDREN OF HURIN and HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT together on August 21st.


Rilstone quite likes the book, I think, but pulls few punches: he thinks my book "monumental -- indeed, . . . rather too monumental" and notes that my commentary "will almost certainly tell you more than you wanted to know". But he also credits me with "Christopherian attention to detail", which I consider high praise, thinks "some of [my] literary archeology is fascinating", and considers me "very good at pointing up the thematic links between THE HOBBIT and THE SILMARILLION". Since the latter was one of my major aims, it's enheartening to hear that the message got through, and that a by no means reverent reader found it convincing. With that under my belt, I can roll with his slightly querulous hrumph about the twelve pages devoted to Radagast (besides, David Bratman already did a much wittier job drawing attention to that in his blog over a month ago: cf. http://calimac.livejournal.com/?skip=20, scrolling down to the entry for July 17th). Best of all, Rilstone puts my book to its intended use; he reads through the texts I present and draws his own conclusions from them. Nothing could be finer than to find people using my book as a starting point from which to launch Tolkienian investigations or ruminations of their own.


And Another

Looks like reviews have begun to appear, I just hadn't been looking hard enough. This one is very brief, but favorable, and puts me in truly excellent company: it's a real honor to have my book reviewed alongside the work of Stephen Jay Gould (whose THE MISMEASURE OF MAN is a real masterpiece, although his WONDERFUL LIFE got a comeupance from Jimmy Carter, of all people). It's also amusing, given that I have a friend named Stan (www.stannex.com), to read about a new novel out there about the founding of a new religion called 'The Stan'.
I do have to admit that I was surprised to find that there was anybody these days who would willingly allow people to refer to them as "Colonists"; live and learn. And I was vastly tickled to find myself described as a "master scholar": it makes me feel like I should channel Keye Luke and use the phrase 'Young Grasshopper' a lot.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The First Review

So, I've been on tetherhooks for months, waiting for the first review, knowing full well that it's such a long book that I'd probably have to wait quite a while. Now at last that wait is over: today I discovered the following online review of MR. BAGGINS, apparently posted in a review blog sometime last month:


Delighted to hear that she felt after reading it that she understood knew more about the way JRRT's mind worked. Hope she similarly enjoys the second volume in good time. Also hope she doesn't give up her search for THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT, an excellent book in its own right.

In the meantime, Woo-hoo.


UPDATE (Sat. Sept 1st)
A little more exploring has turned up the reviewer's blog, in which she discusses her first impressions while reading the book.


Glad to hear it made her want to read THE SILMARILLION. Hard for me to realize that it's been thirty years ago this month that my copy of that book finally arrived. It's now been longer since THE SILMARILLION was published (30 years) than it was between the publication of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and its long-delayed prequel (22 years).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Correction (date of Tolkien's Andrew Lang lecture)

A few posts back, I mentioned the first essay in Hart & Khovacs' TREE OF TALES: TOLKIEN, LITERATURE, AND THEOLOGY --i.e., Rachel Hart's "Tolkien, St. Andrews, and Dragons"-- in the course of which I made reference to

"Tolkien's 1947 St. Andrews lecture which became 'On Fairy-Stories'"

However, the next day in the Comments David said

"Oh, I do hope they didn't say Tolkien gave the lecture in 1947."

In fact, no, she doesn't. That mistake was entirely my own, absent-mindedly typing in the date of the facsimile letter she reproduces, which Tolkien sent to Professor T. Malcolm Knox with a presentation copy of ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS on 17 December 1947. Hart gives behind-the-scenes background on the Andrew Lang lecture series, including the date Tolkien delivered his own lecture (Wednesday, 8th March, 1939), the information that JRRT was one of three potential speakers that year (the first two of whom turned St Andrews down*), how much Tolkien's honorarium was (thirty pounds), and the date upon which he was issued the invitation. Since the latter date does not appear in the Scull-Hammond chronology, which merely notes "There seems to be no record of when the invitation to lecture was sent to Tolkien" (Scull-Hammond, THE J.R.R.TOLKIEN COMPANION & GUIDE, Vol. II: READER'S GUIDE, pages 686-687), here's the date for those (like me) who'll pencil it into their copy: 8th October 1938.
It shd go on page 222 of Vol. I: CHRONOLOGY --or, rather, the entry that currently appears on page 211 shd be moved to page 222 instead under this specific date.


*These were Sir Gilbert Murray, who would eventually deliver the next lecture in 1947, the series having fallen into abeyance during the war years, and Lord Hugh Macmillan, who delivered the 1948 lecture.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Has Gaiman Jumped the Shark?

So, thanks to links forwarded by friends and postings on the Mythsoc list, I'm beginning to hear a good deal about the forthcoming BEOWULF movie, and almost all of it fills me with foreboding.
I'd had hopes for this one, since (a) BEOWULF is a good story that should translate well to film and (b) Neil Gaiman is the scriptwriter, and I have a huge respect for his encyclopedic grasp of mythology, fantasy, and folklore, as reflected particularly in THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and SANDMAN and his short stories; he's been less successful, to my taste, at drawing from it effectively in his novels so far.
So what are we to make of his insistence, over the director's objections, that Beowulf strip buck-naked before wrestling Grendel, on the grounds that "It's in the [original] poem"? Or his regret that they had to leave out all the profanity from the dialogue (again, on the claim that the original was full of swearing) because of the need for a PG-13 rating? Or the inclusion in the movie of a scene of Grendel's mother crooning "Give . . . Me . . . Son!" as she tries to seduce the hero, so she can get pregnant with another Grendel to "reestablish her dominion over the kingdom"? And what's with the idea that old King Hrothgar is "corrupt", when the poem goes to lengths to establish that he is an honorable old man, admired far and wide for his wisdom?
I can think of various possible explanations, none appealing.

(1) Gaiman never really said this; the reporters who quote him made it up. [Unlikely]

(2) Gaiman is joking, pulling the reporters' legs. [Also unlikely]

(3) Gaiman doesn't know the original Old English poem very well and has simply been working from a synopsis, so he doesn't know how flagrantly these changes diverge from the actual work. [Highly likely if it was any Hollywood screenwriter but Gaiman, unlikely with Gaiman]

(4) Gaiman has written and re-written the screenplay so many times that by now he's completely forgotten what's in the original and what's Gaiman. [Plausible?]

(5) Gaiman has done a complete re-imagining to the story, a la his radical takes on various fairy tales in short stories, and lacks the courage to say so. [Possible, but then why wouldn't he boast of his contribution? It's not like Hollywood places any value on fidelity to the story being adapted.]

None of these is really satisfactory, and once the film is out it may turn out not to be as extremely bad as all the advance hints indicate. But if it is, it'll be a sad day for Gaiman fans everywhere.

And here I thought this film would be BETTER than the disaster that was BEOWULF & GRENDEL, or THE THIRTEENTH WARRIOR for that matter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

New Arrivals

So yesterday came a long-expected package with three books on Tolkien I'd had on order since May.

#1, THE FRODO FRANCHISE by Kristin Thompson. I've been really looking forward to this book on the making of the Peter Jackson films ever since I found out Kristin was at work on it, having read her excellent article in the journal LIGHTHOUSE a while back. Only a few pages into it so far, but it promises to fulfill all expectations. More on this one later.

#2, TOLKIEN & SHAKESPEARE, edited by Janet Brennan Croft. Somehow I'd gotten it into my head that this was the latest release from the Mythopoeic Press, along the lines of their TOLKIEN ON FILM, also edited by JBC. Not so, it turns out. Some familiar names among the contributors (the late Dan Timmons, Anne Petty, Judith Kollmann, Jessica Burke, and Croft herself) and others that are not so familiar (to me at least). It's an interesting concept, comparing Tolkien's work to various plays by an author he greatly disliked; be interesting to see how they pull it off.

#3, TREE OF TALES: TOLKIEN, LITERATURE, AND THEOLOGY, edited by Trevor Hart & Ivan Khovacs. This one I ordered cold, not knowing anything about its contents. It's a slim little volume (only 132 pages, with notes, bibliography, and index accounting for thirty pages of that) of seven essays; Colin Duriez, who I met at the Centenary Conference in Oxford in '92, is the only one of the authors I'm familiar with. From the subtitle I'd assumed this would be yet another book on Tolkien & religion. In fact, its focus is much broader than that -- for example, the first piece is about Tolkien's 1947 St. Andrews lecture which became 'On Fairy-Stories'; as an added bonus, it reproduces a previously unpublished Tolkien letter in facsimile.

All in all, a nice bundle of new reading material that'll keep me going for some time to come.


current reading: OWEN BARFIELD by Simon Blaxland de Lange; THE FRODO FRANCHISE by Kristen Thompson


current project: just completed the draft of my Marquette talk; now for tightening up and fleshing out, as appropriate.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Tolkien's Bees

So, the new issue of AMON HEN, the newsletter of the Tolkien Society, arrived today. Still no review, but a nice notice about RETURN TO BAG-END now being available through their Tolkien Trading Company, as well as an interesting short account of a visit to Sarehole Mill, about which I'd just been doing a little quick research for a point I wanted to make in the Marquette talk. But the piece which particularly caught my eye comes near the end, with a notice that the July 2007 issue of BEECRAFT ('The Official Journal of the British Beekeeper's Association') has an article on Tolkien. Apparently its authors have detected a possible shortcoming in Tolkien's bee-lore, pointing out that 'the native British honey bees didn't actually have yellow stripes . . . the stripy bee . . . is actually a 19th century Italian import' (AMON HEN #206 p.33). This is of course a reference to Beorn/Medwed's bees, which were "bigger than hornets, much bigger . . . the drones were as big as a small thumb, and the bands of yellow on their deep black bodies shone like fiery gold" (MR. BAGGINS p.232). The article suggests that this "may indicate that Italian bees had become commonplace around Birmingham by the time Tolkien was a child there". Quite possible, in which case this would be like the Purple Emperors, an accurately recalled detail from Tolkien's childhood. But then too it's only fair to point out that Bilbo is far from his home here, over the Edge of the Wild, and that the bees he sees at Beorn/Medwed's strike him as strange and remarkable. So we cannot rule out either possibility, since Tolkien was surprisingly well-versed in insect lore; someone who met him a year or so before his death told me that the conversation somehow got onto wasps, which he talked about for some time, in the course of which she discovered he knew an amazing amount about them. So the exoticism could cut both ways. Tolkien would certainly have been deeply distressed by the great bee die-off currently in progress over here, about which more later.
If I'd known about the British and Italian bees before, I could have added another footnote. Ah well. Still, it's interesting to see all the unusual places Tolkien turns up. I wonder if they know about his bee-poem from SONGS FOR THE PHILOLOGISTS?


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Quote #1: Cutting-Edge Thirteenth Century Science

So, my favorite line from Fr. G. Ronald Murphy's GEMSTONE OF PARADISE: THE HOLY GRAIL IN WOLFRAM'S PARZIVAL, an interesting book about why Wolfram portrays the Grail as a stone rather than a cup or platter, is the following quote from the great scholar Albertus Magnus (d.1280):

". . . nearly all kinds of stones sink in water"

Reading this, I was immediately reminded of the reply 'very small rocks!' from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. In Albert's defense, the context of the chapter makes it clear he was including ice as a kind of rock, since it was translucent like some gemstones. A good example of how statements that sound absurd may actually make sense in their original context, and how categories that seem perfectly obvious to us can look arbitrary and comical from the outside.


That Which Was Lost . . .

. . . Is Found, thanks to my wife and our Senior Cat.

Last Tuesday night I lost my ring -- not the wedding ring, fortunately (given that Wednesday was our anniversary), but the silver ring spelling out my name in Egyptian hieroglyphs which Janice gave me ten years ago (Dec. 1996), which I wear on my right hand. I missed it when I was doing dishes that night, but I'd been so many places earlier that evening that tracing it proved impossible: I'd gotten the charcoal ready for grilling, walked all three cats in three different directions, re-potted several plants, and also planted a few things in the yard to help repair some unintended collateral damage from the complex's groundskeeping crew. I searched that night and the next day; Janice searched; I even went through the trash and recyclables in unpleasant detail, all to no avail. Having reluctantly resigned myself to the loss, I was beginning to wonder if the Mid-East Imports place in Milwaukee's Mayfair Mall, where we got the original, might still be there, since I'm doing a booksigning in that mall a little over two months from now.

And then, when I got back from last night's D&D game, Janice handed me the ring. She'd taken Rigby out for a short walk, and when they were coming in she looked down and there it was, simply lying on the back patio. Did it spill out when I dumped out the trash or recyclables and I just didn't see it? Had it been under a planter? Was it out in plain sight all that time and our eyes just skipped over it each time we searched? No knowing. But Rigby (and Janice) are the Heroes of the Household. Praise them with Great Praise!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter

So, I've been avoiding most of the articles about Harry Potter, first in order to avoid the inevitable spoilers and then because, once I'd read the book, there didn't seem to be much point. But a brief piece in last week's TIME rather stumped me. The author, Lev Grossman, argues that Rowling's work is a radical departure from the mainstream tradition of fantasy because it's not Christian, like the work of "her literary forebears", JRRT and C.S.L., concluding that "Rowling has more in common with celebrity atheists like Christopher Hitchens than she has with Tolkien and Lewis". [TIME, July 23 2007, page 15]

Well, I don't think she derives all that much directly from Tolkien or Lewis, but she's definitely in the fantasy tradition. The idea that this tradition had been predominantly Xian before the first Harry Potter book, however, strikes me as decidedly odd. Granted, George McDonald was a former preacher (until his congregation sacked him) and his piety is deeply ingrained in all his work. But Wm Morris was anything but orthodox; Lord Dunsany sometimes used Xian imagery in sentimental fashion (e.g., at the end of "The Highwayman") but ended one of his novels with the 'happy ending' of having a priest convert to paganism and preside at a ritual sacrifice; E. R. Eddison was himself pagan, a devout worshipper of Aphrodite; Cabell might have been an old-school Episcopalian but you'd never know it from JURGAN et al; and so forth. If most of the famous fantasy writers of the past were Xian, they certainly kept it out of their work, to the extent that L. Sprague de Camp (not the most perceptive of men) openly wondered how a Christian like Tolkien could write fantasy.

The same applies if we think of the Potter series as children's literature: you'd never know from reading ALICE IN WONDERLAND that "Lewis Carroll" was actually Rev. Charles Dodgson; the only god to show up in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS is Pan, not Christ; Doctor Doolittle never goes to church in any of the Hugh Lofting books that I can recall; there's no Xianity, explicit or implicit, in the Hundred Acre Wood (despite C.J.L. Culpepper's hilarious essay to the contrary in THE POOH PERPLEX); if there's a church or graveyard in Oz, I missed it. There have been talented Christians working in the field, like L'Engle and Lewis himself, but they stand out because they're a minority, not the mainstream.

So why does the piece in TIME think otherwise? Is it as simple as Grossman's never having read any fantasy except Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling, and concluding 'one of these things is not like the others'? Have to admit that seems the likeliest explanation to me.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Tale of Two Black Mountains

So, one of the interesting things I discovered in working on MR. BAGGINS was that "The Lonely Mountain" was not Tolkien's original name for the place that had held the Kingdom Under the Mountain. In fact, as the original manuscript page makes clear (Marq. 1/1/22:4), Tolkien originally wrote "the Black mountain", then at some point cancelled the word "Black" and also at some point (not necessarily the same time) capitalized "Mountain".
Now, in itself this is simply another example of Tolkien changing his mind about the proper name of a person or place within the tale, alongside Medwed > Beorn, Gandalf > Thorin, and Bladorthin > Gandalf. But just this week while looking something up in THE SHAPING OF MIDDLE-EARTH, I was reminded that this is not the only place where Tolkien used the name:

"Morgoth flees from Valinor . . . and returns to the Northern World and rebuilds his fortress of Angband beneath the Black Mountain, Thangorodrim." (Annals of Beleriand, first sentence; HME.IV.295).

This is made all the more interesting by the fact that these two references are more or less contemporary with each other. Tolkien began work on THE HOBBIT in the summer of 1930, according to our best evidence, and the page naming The Black Mountain as the goal of their quest belongs to that very first layer, one of the three surviving sheets of what I have named 'The Pryftan Fragment'. And while we don't know the exact date of the "(Earliest) Annals of Beleriand", they were written to accompany the 1930 Quenta, so they must date from 1930 or very shortly thereafter.

While I don't think this means that the dwarves and wizard were inviting Bilbo along for a raid on the ruins of Thangorodrim, it is interesting to see Tolkien try out a name or idea in two entirely different contexts at about the same time (and a warning that not all places which share the same name are necessarily the same place). More interesting still, even after the lost dwarvenhome became 'the Lonely Mountain' some connection between the two remained in Tolkien's mind, some mental image: compare his depictions of The Lonely Mountain in the painting "The Death of Smaug" with his drawing of Thangorodrim in "Tol Sirion" (PICTURES BY TOLKIEN, plate 36; see especially the original pencil sketch on the left-hand page of this spread).

Was there ever a writer so adept are adapting and re-using odds and ends from earlier works into later parts of his ongoing mythology?


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Do Unto Others . . .

Came across an interesting idea in the June 16th issue of TIME. There's a huge imbalance between the number of people who need organ transplants and the number of people who have signed up to be donors, resulting in long delays and many deaths. The new proposal is blindingly simple: in order to be eligible to receive a transplant, you also have to have volunteered to be a donor. Those who don't want to be donors for religious or personal reasons can therefore simply opt out ("neither a borrower nor a lender be"). Interesting . . .


Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Death in the Somme

Wednesday they buried a fellow member of Tolkien's regiment, Private Richard Lancaster, ninety years after he died on the Western Front. The full story can be found here:


It's a rather forlorn account in its very simplicity. Apparently about seventy bodies are found each year in the Somme even now, almost ninety years after the war ended. Lancaster, who like Tolkien belonged to the Lancashire Fusiliers, was one of 360,000 British war dead whose bodies could not be recovered. Some, like the remarkable horror writer Wm Hope Hodgson (THE NIGHT LAND, CARNACKI THE GHOST-FINDER, "A Voice in the Night"), were blown to bits, leaving nothing to bury; others, like Lancaster, died in action and were simply never found among the mud and chaos of No Man's Land (reflected in Tolkien's work in The Dead Marshes, which envisions the rotting bodies transformed into their folklore equivalents, Corpse Candles). Lancashire is unusual in that, unlike most of the bodies or body parts uncovered in recent years, they were able to identify him (unlike the two other bodies found with him).
Reading this, it's hard not to think how lucky we were. Tolkien could easily have died in that battle, leaving behind only a few odd poems about Earendel (i.e., the abortive volume THE SHORES OF FAERIE), as his friend G.B. Smith left behind only enough poems to fill one slim volume, the aptly named SPRING HARVEST. Having entered the war so late, we Americans don't remember it as the devastating event it was for all the countries of Europe*: Lord Dunsany tells the story of having gone to the funeral of an old teacher of his around 1930 or so and realizing that Dunsany himself was the only survivor from his year. It somehow seems apt to quote what Dunsany intended to be his epitaph, written when he was posted to the Western Front (not long after having been shot in the head by the rebels during the Easter Uprising, but that's another story):

Farewell my readers. Though the Press Bureau
Is dumb about the way by which we go
Yet somewhere close I know there waits for me
A nameless ship upon a censored sea.

And so farewell, for bits of nickelled lead
Flit all day long about our destination.
A poet, if he gets one in the head,
Does no more singing in that incarnation.


*(my own grandfather served in it and came home safely, while a great-uncle returned a life-long invalid from a gas attack).

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


So, the day before yesterday my copy of Part II: RETURN TO BAG-END arrived from amazon.co.uk.
And there was much rejoicing.

A list of the inevitable errata will soon follow, with rather less rejoicing.
All in all, however, it's a beautiful book; the good folks at HarperCollins did a wonderful job taking the huge text files I sent them and converting it into these handsome volumes. I'd like them even if there weren't my own; as it is, I'm positively doting.
And now that the complete book is out, we wait for the first review. Here's hoping.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tancredo is Evil

So, I've held off making political posts here, in case they'd offend anyone who just wanted to read the latest Tolkien bits I was working on. But there's so much going on that now seems a good time to start commenting on it. Those not interested in the sad state of US politics are advised to skip this one.

We recently got a gift subscription to TIME, and since the issues had been piling up I've been making a concerted effort to read through them so they can move on to recycling. Some things stand out: for example, the magazine is much more conservative than I remember it, certainly more conservative than NEWSWEEK is these days. Given its history, this should not be surprising, but it's just another example of how easy it is to buy into the myth of the 'liberal media'.

Of particular interest, in a horrifying train-wreck sort of way, is the brief piece that appeared a few weeks back on Congressman Tancredo, one of the minor candidates running for the Republican nomination this year. Until recently, I've know very little about him, and was happy to keep it that way, but as he'd no doubt hoped taking part in the debates has raised his profile and given him a platform for spreading his ideas.* Here are a few gems from his Q&A in TIME:

--he doesn't think climate change is caused by human activity, but claims that opposing immigration is environmentally sound ("if a person moves here from another country, they automatically become bigger polluters")

--he thinks we shouldn't have a national identity card, because that smacks of the Mark of the Beast (yes, I'm paraphrasing, but he genuinely did bring up the Book of Revelations imagery). However, every citizen should have "a Social Security card that can't be fraudulently reproduced" (comment: this is like having money that can't be counterfeited or a web immune to hackers or a missile-defense system that can't be sabotaged: pious nonsense that can't be made to happen in the real world)

--"we should have a moratorium on all immigration--legal or not--for at least three years . . . an immigration time-out . . . in order to assimilate the people who have come here already" (not even the Alien & Sedition Acts, which have been notorious for over two hundred years, went this far. welcome to a new low in the history of our country)

--his solution to immigrants picking crops? Genetically engineer food so machines can harvest them instead. He specifically praises tomatoes with "tougher skins [that] could be picked by machine" as a move in the right direction. This one is a double whammy: he both advocates replacing people with machines ("a reduction in low-wage workers") to eliminate jobs AND would rather see our food tampered with than allow immigrants to work agricultural jobs.

--finally, though it doesn't come up in this piece, it's good to keep in mind that he's one of the three Republican candidates who went on record as not believing in Evolution.

Conclusion: it's just barely possible he might ride an anti-immigrant wave into the vice presidency, just as Nixon managed to ride McCarthyism into a spot alongside Eisenhower on the 1952 ticket, but I doubt it. Tancredo's breed of xenophobia would have been mainstream Republicanism in the 1920s, but today it's an ugly throw-back, like David Dukes' brief political career in the 1980s. Well before the election he'll have slunk back into the hole he crawled out of. Ultimately he'll probably wind up being a right-wing pundit, a la Buchanan (a fellow anti-immigrant isolationist).

We'll see


*I maintain that there are three types of presidential candidates: (1) Those who are running because they think they might actually win, like Edwards, Obama, Clinton, McCain, Romney, & Guiliani; (2) those who are running for vice president though they won't admit it, like Huckabee and Tommy Thompson and Dodds; and (3) those like Tancredo who are running as 'issue' candidates, with no hope of winning the nomination but hoping to raise their profile so they'll become sought-after spokesmen for their pet causes, which worked well in the past for Kucinich and Sharpton and, God knows, Jesse Jackson.

Did Tolkien Complete the Silmarillion?

Yesterday while walking the cats I had a strange thought: what if Tolkien did, in fact, complete the Silmarillion? As part of the preparation for my Marquette paper, I've been mulling over the need to periodically revisit the conventional wisdom in a field (e.g., Tolkien studies) in order to see if it needs recasting in light of further evidence. Certainly a number of the standard beliefs about THE HOBBIT dating from the time of Carpenter's biography in the late 1970s -- that it was begun in the 1920s, that it was abandoned in the early '30s and the final chapters only written just before publication, that it was originally unconnected to the legendarium -- proved either flat wrong or at the very least extremely problematic in the light of close scrutiny. What of our other assumptions might need adjusting?

In the case of the Silmarillion, the obvious answer is that unlike THE HOBBIT or THE LORD OF THE RINGS JRRT never finished the stories of the First Age to his satisfaction, as Christopher Tolkien's outstanding and painstaking presentation of the unfinished texts of THE BOOK OF LOST TALES, the various Long Lays of Beleriand (most notably the Lay of Leithian), the 1937 Quenta Silmarillion, and the 1951 Later Silmarillion make clear (HME I-II, III, V, & X-XI). But the newly-released completed presentation of the Turin story, THE CHILDREN OF HURIN, makes clear that 'The Silmarillion' did not for Tolkien comprise the whole of the legendarium. Instead, Christopher argues that the 1926 Sketch of the Mythology, the 1930 Quenta, and the unfinished 1937 Quenta Silmarillion were all essentially 'summarising' works (CHILDREN OF HURIN p.274-275), drawn in brief from longer works telling specific parts of the story in much greater detail (and greater dramatic immediacy). In fact, if I understand him properly, Christopher suggests that his father's not having completed those longer works may in turn have prevented him from completing the synoptic Silmarillion that was to summarize them and place all the 'great tales' into proper context with each other.

If this is the case -- that is, if we think of 'the Silmarillion' as a synoptic work, rather than as the grand encompassing account of the First and Second Ages that so many of us who first read it in 1977 took it for -- then the case can be made that Tolkien did complete a publishable version of the book back in 1930 or very shortly thereafter (that is, during the same period when he was starting THE HOBBIT). For in THE SHAPING OF MIDDLE-EARTH (HME.IV), there are clear indications that he at that time thought of The Silmarillion as comprised of three component parts: the (Earliest) Annals of Valinor, the (Earliest) Annals of Beleriand, and the Quenta Noldorinwa (i.e., the 1930 Quenta) -- see HME.IV.284. Both annals, although later much revised, existed in complete draft form and the Quenta itself in a fairly polished typescript. And what's more, this form of the 'book' provided a firm basis of all his subsequent Middle-earth works, from THE HOBBIT on, with the possible exception of the Numenor material, which essentially represented a new element entering the legendarium from a different angle.

So there it is: Tolkien is often criticized for his failure to complete works, but I think it was more ambition and unrestrained creativity than uncertainty or procrastination that were responsible -- witness the ambitious expansion of the fairly compact 1930 Quenta into the much more expansive 1937 QS (which he was forced to abandon in order to concentrate on 'the New Hobbit', i.e. LotR), the decision to insert a half-dozen or more chapters into THE LOST ROAD, each of which would recap the main theme of the opening and closing chapters within a new setting (before he'd written the grand finale), &c. And we tend not to give him due credit for the major works he did complete.

So, perhaps it's better not to say Tolkien 'never completed The Silmarillion' and instead to say that, having completed it, he found himself periodically compelled to revisit and revise and greatly expand it, and that he never brought these revisions to final form.

Just a thought.



Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tolkien and the Catenians (revisited)

Now that Peter Lane's book THE CATENIAN ASSOCIATION 1908-1983: A MICROCOSM OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CATHOLIC MIDDLE CLASS [1982] has arrived and I've had a chance to skim it, I find that there are three references to Tolkien within:

(1) page 137: ". . . there was the call by Grand Presidents and Provincial Councils for Circles to be on their guard, when enrolling new men, to ensure that men of the right 'quality' were enrolled rather than men in 'quantity'. Certainly the Association enrolled some distinguished men in this dire period [1923-1939]: there were academics such as Bodkin of Birmingham, Tolkien of Oxford, Phillimore of Edinburgh and Dixon of North Lancs, which at a completely different level there were the Test cricketers Andy Sandham of Croydon and 'Patsy' (christened Elias) Hendren of West London, who entertained many a Circle with their cricketing stories."

(2) page 153: "So, although wartime difficulties led to some Circles . . . being deprived of their Charters [through lack of unevacuated members], those very difficulties in the shape of evacuation led to expansion elsewhere. And another Circle which owed its origin, in part, to evacuation was Oxford, where many Colleges were taken over by various government departments. The opening of the Oxford Circle in October 1944 was notable, at least with hindsight, for the initiation of Frank Pakenham (later Lord Longford) and Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, the Founder Vice-President. In the light of the current interest in Tolkien's work, one would have wished for a recording of the speeches at the second annual dinner of the Oxford Circle, February 1945, when Tolkien proposed the toast to Provincial Council 'in a most amusing way which included an actual toast in Anglo-Saxon'. He was a member of the Association until 1956."

(3) page 160: "In October 1950, the Brothers of the Oxford Circle congratulated their former President, J.R.R. Tolkien, on the publication of THE HOBBIT, but could not have known that they were witnesses to the beginnings of a cult."

--As for the Catenian Association itself, it was (and is) a fraternal order like the Lions Club, Rotary, Optimists, Kiwanis, et al., only in this case drawing its membership from middle-class Catholic businessmen. It was founded in Manchester in 1908, and members originally referred to each other as "Chums", which to me sounds rather Babbitty and which I find rather hard to picture in Tolkien's case; I'm not sure if the habit persisted into the days of his membership. They were particularly interested in getting Catholic schools started, since there were far too few of these to meet the demand early in the century.
The book does cast light on just how few Catholics there were in England at the time -- while the group reached Leeds as early as 1910 and Birmingham in 1912, before World War II there were too few Catholics in Oxford to organize or sustain a local chapter. I wonder if Tolkien might have been exposed to it during his years at Leeds (a period about which we know relatively little), but if so there's no mention of it here. According to Lane's account, Tolkien must have been v. active, since he not only helped found the Oxford chapter and served as its first Vice President but apparently also as its President at some point. We also now have the dates of his membership: 1944 (when the Oxford Circle began meeting) through 1956, though no reason is given for his dropping out.
The detail about his being congratulated on THE HOBBIT in 1950 is curious, since this book was of course published back in 1937 and the second edition did not appear until 1951 (when it was released with little or no fanfare). He had finished THE LORD OF THE RINGS in 1949, but Lane's account specifies THE HOBBIT. A minor puzzle, but at least it shows that his fellow Catenians, then and now, appreciated his creative work.


Tolkien and the Catenians (revisited)

Now that Peter Lane's book THE CATENIAN ASSOCIATION 1908-1983: A MICROCOSM OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CATHOLIC MIDDLE CLASS [1982] has arrived and I've had a chance to skim it, I find that there are three references to Tolkien within:

(1) page 137: ". . . there was the call by Grand Presidents and Provincial Councils for Circles to be on their guard, when enrolling new men, to ensure that men of the right 'quality' were enrolled rather than men in 'quantity'. Certainly the Association enrolled some distinguished men in this dire period [1923-1939]: there were academics such as Bodkin of Birmingham, Tolkien of Oxford, Phillimore of Edinburgh and Dixon of North Lancs, which at a completely different level there were th Test cricketers Andy Sandham of Croydon and 'Patsy' (christened Elias) Hendren of West London, who entertained many a Circle with their cricketing stories."

(2) page 153: "So, although wartime difficulties led to some Circles . . . being deprived of their Charters [through lack of unevacuated members], those very difficulties in the shape of evacuation led to expansion elsewhere. And another Circle which owed its origin, in part, to evacuation was Oxford, where many Colleges were taken over by various government departments. The opening of the Oxford Circle in October 1944 was notable, at least with hindsight, for the initiation of Frank Pakenham (later Lord Longford) and Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, the Founder Vice-President. In the light of the current interest in Tolkien's work, one would have wished for a recording of the speeches at the second annual dinner of the Oxford Circle, February 1945, when Tolkien proposed the toast to Provincial Council 'in a most amusing way which included an actual toast in Anglo-Saxon'. He was a member of the Association until 1956."

(3) page 160: "In October 1950, the Brothers of the Oxford Circle congratulated their former President, J.R.R. Tolkien, on the publication of THE HOBBIT, but could not have known that they were witnesses to the beginnings of a cult."

--As for the Catenian Association itself, it was (and is) a fraternal order like the Lions Club, Rotary, Optimists, Kiwanis, et al., founded in Manchester in 1908. Members originally referred to each other as "Chums", which to me sounds rather Babbitty and which I find rather hard to picture in Tolkien's case; I'm not sure if the habit persisted into the days of his membership. They were particularly interested in getting Catholic schools started, since there were far too few of these to meet the demand early in the century.
The book does cast light on just how few Catholics there were in England at the time -- while the group reached Leeds as early as 1910 and Birmingham in 1912, before World War II there were too few middle-class Catholic businessmen in Oxford to achive critical mass

Friday, June 15, 2007

Did Patrick Curry mean to insult a billion Muslims?

Now that TOLKIEN STUDIES vol. IV has arrived, I'm enjoying making my way through the reviews, which have the usual interesting match-ups between reviewer and topic reviewed. Having once myself written in a review that an author should be ashamed of herself for writing the book I was reviewing, I can appreciate a reviewer's being forced to confess that she finds one piece "a perfectly vile essay" (p. 247). But I was rather taken aback by Patrick Curry's piece on Dickerson and Evans's ENTS, ELVES, AND ERIADOR: THE ENVIRONMENTAL VISION OF JRRT, an investigation of JRRT's work as an expression of Catholic environmentalism -- not because his review is so negative (Curry wrote the only other significant book on Tolkien as an environmentalist, and objects to their exclusion of NeoPagan and New Age environmentalist thought) but because he gratuitously brings in Islam to make a point in a markedly jingoistic fashion.

Specifically, in response to Dickerson and Evans' statement that exploitation of nature is radically at odds with Christian faith, Curry retorts that this "is comparable to maintaining that Islam IS a religion of peace and Marxism IS a philosophy of liberation. They may be, metaphysically; and perhaps they should be, in earthly reality; but in effect, on the ground--where, I would say, it matters most--the truth of all three assertions should be radically doubted." (page 240). I take this to be D. and E. arguing that Xianity, properly understood, involves cherishing God's creation, and Curry responding that if so the record of Xians' stewardship is a poor one, but the form his rejoinder took surprised and dismayed me. The impulse to judge all other religions than your own by their worst manifestations is all too prevalent in the world today, but that doesn't mean we have to give in to it, and this seems a strange place to encounter it.

One unrelated question, from elsewhere in Curry's review: has Beorn struck anyone else as "ruthless[ly] Machiavellian" (p. 242)? I've read Machiavelli of course (including his play The Mandrake Root, which is rather fun) but I can't think of any application of the adjective 'Machiavellian' that I'd apply to the werebear; the only vaguely Machiavellian character I can think of in Tolkien offhand is the Master of Lake-Town, whose actions are wholly guided by self-interest (with ultimately disastrous results). Perhaps I just missed something, but seems an odd characterization of poor old Medwed/Beorn.


Forthcoming Books

Just been taking stock at how many interesting books on Tolkien, or related to Tolkien studies, are coming out this year. We've already had THE COMPANY THEY KEEP by Diana Pavlac Glyer with David Bratman, the most important new book on The Inklings since Carpenter. Thanks to the newest issue of BEYOND BREE, I've just learned of ROOTS AND BRANCHES, a Walking Tree Press collection of more than twenty essays and speeches by Tom Shippey, which I of course ordered the next day. From Jessica Yates I learned that Shippey's other new book, a major study that has been in the works for a while, is now out: THE SHADOW-WALKERS: JACOB GRIMM'S MYTHOLOGY OF THE MONSTROUS, which revisits Grimm's seminal work TEUTONIC MYTHOLOGY (which Tolkien seems to have dipped into for inspiration repeatedly). Finally, from Jason Fisher's new blog I found out about Dirk Vander Ploeg's QUEST FOR MIDDLE-EARTH, which tries to give Tolkien's Middle-earth a Van Daniken treatment. I suspect Ploeg might turn out to be the same person who published a rather strange piece I came across a while back in which he claimed to be of either elven or Numenorean descent (I forget which); we'll see.

And of course these, all out now, come in addition to two much-anticipated volumes coming in October: The Fleiger-Anderson edition TOLKIEN ON FAIRY-STORIES, which comes out in the U.K. on October 1st, and the Anderson-Burns collection of Tolkien's interviews ON TOLKIEN: INTERVIEWS, REMINISCENCES, and Other Essays, which is due out over here on October 21st.

And finally, thanks to Diana Pavlac Glyer for letting me know that the U.S. edition of my book is finally listed as orderable on amazon.com, with a release date of September 21st. It'll be available both as two individual volumes and in a boxed set containing both volumes of my book along with the new seventieth anniversary HOBBIT.


Monday, June 11, 2007


Yesterday had the rare treat of getting to see the new movie by one of my favorite directors. And, what's more, I got to see it in the theatre (the Varsity, on University Avenue in the U-District). And it was shown with the original dialogue, subtitled not dubbed, and I found out later that my favorite voice actress, Megumi Hayashibara, played the main character. It thus joins the very short list of anime I've seen on the big screen: SPIRITED AWAY, COWBOY BEBOP, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, and STEAMBOY.
For those who enjoy Satoshi Kon's work and have not yet seen PAPRIKA, I cannot recommend it highly enough: it's classic Kon, clearly from the same mind that gave us PERFECT BLUE, MILLENNIUM ACTRESS, and especially PARANOIA AGENT; elements of TOKYO GODFATHERS are here as well, but muted. There's a reason Kon was recently named the best director working in anime after the legendary Hayao Miyazaki (who's in a league all by himself) by a major anime magazine (PROTOCULTURE ADDICTS #90, Jan/Feb 2007).*

First and foremost, this is surrealism done right. First it throws you in the deep end by showing the audience scenes from a policeman's recurring nightmare, then it explains clearly and simply what's going on (a scientist has invented a device that enables those who use it to enter other's dreams as an advanced form of psychotherapy; Paprika is a sort of guide who appears in the dreams and interacts with the dreamer), then it shows the rules it's just laid down start to come unhinged as the situation spirals out of control (someone has stolen several prototypes and uses them to force others into dream-states, with disastrous consequences as their victims sleepwalk out of high windows and the like; the devices also have unanticipated side-effects). As with PERFECT BLUE, things which happen only in the imagination are shown as if they were happening in the real world; as with PARANOIA AGENT, things from the dream world escape into reality, with dire consequences.

Second, this is the best superhero movie I've ever seen. The title character, Paprika, has a joie de vie that's an enormous contrast with the mopey comic book heroes of the last few decades (is there anyone out there who started reading comics after the 1960s who remembers when they used to be fun?). Although created as a persona within the dreamscape by the film's main character, Dr. Chiba (the super-competent scientist in charge of the project who's trying to clean up this mess and find out who within her team sabotaged the experiment), Paprika is quite unlike her real-world analogue: younger, more vivacious, mercurial. Within the dreamscapes, she can go almost anywhere and make herself over into almost anything within whatever environment she finds herself in, but she's not all-powerful, and frequently resorts to 'running away, terribly fast' when the situation calls for it.

Third, it's a suspenseful film that takes the time for character development: all the members of Dr. Chiba's team are vividly presented, from the mad scientist who invented the dream-device (a childlike whale of a man who's both a genius and utterly guileless) to Dr. Chiba herself, as is the detective who becomes ensnared in the case and of course Paprika herself. One reviewer compared it (favorably) to Gaiman, but it's far more fluid, less sinister, and considerably more entertaining than, say, MIRRORMASK. This is definitely one I'll be buying as soon as it becomes available over here; like PERFECT BLUE it'll reward repeated viewings. And, with a dvd, I'll be able to check something I almost missed at the end: a character going into a theatre passes by three posters. The third is an ad for TOKYO GODFATHERS, and I think the second was for MILLENNIUM ACTRESS, but I didn't catch the in-joke and look in time. I'm suspecting the first was for PERFECT BLUE, rounding out all three of Kon's previous films, but we'll see. I'll be wondering if the movie the character is going to see shows up as Kon's next project, but that's probably a little too neat.

Short version: classic Satoshi Kon, and a must-see for anyone interested in his work; highly recommended for fans of anime in general and also those interested in fantasy and science fiction.


*Being named the best after Miyazaki is roughly equivalent to being named the best fantasy writer after Tolkien. Hideaki Anno, of EVANGELION fame, came in next after Kon.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Book Review: IZ


Sometimes, you just have to take a break from your normal routine and do something a bit different. With me, this occasionally takes the form of reading something completely unrelated to anything I'm working on. Most recently, I just finished a book (#2668) about a Hawaiian singer with a fondness for recording shmaltzy old songs like "Wind Beneath My Wings", "Mona Lisa", "Wonderful World", and "Over the Rainbow" with ukulele accompaniment -- which is about as far as you can get from my own musical tastes. Fortunately, his life story is far more interesting to me than his music: here was someone about my own age (our birthdates are less than six months apart), with a lot of charisma and a lot of talent, who died from morbid obesity at age thirty eight, by which point he weighed about eight hundred pounds. He was literally a food addict, and it killed him; the account of his steadily increasing weight, from four hundred to seven hundred to finally eight hundred pounds, makes for painful reading, just as would the account of an alcoholic inexorable decay.
But the music and food addiction are only part of the story; another theme running through the book is his gradual involvement in the 'Hawaiian Sovereignty' movement. I was not aware what a hot topic this is in Hawaii until our visit there last September; essentially, just as many dispersed native american tribes want to reclaim tribal lands and official recognition as a legal entity, so too some Hawaiians want to restore the Kingdom of Hawaii. This is more quixotic than it sounds, since pureblood Hawaiians are almost extinct: I've seen estimates that range from a low of 400 to a high of about 8,000 survivors (out of a total state population of about 1.3 million) -- of whom Kamakawiwo'ole himself was not one, it should be noted; his death certificate (reproduced on page 135) lists him as "Hawaiian/Japanese". Without knowing more about the context, I suspect his music should be ranked with Paul Revere's & the Raiders' "Indian Reservation (Cherokee People)" [1971] as something that helped raised cultural awareness of past injustices -- though in each case it was only part of a wider movement (e.g., in the case of American Indians, Dee Brown's BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, one of those rare books that completely changes the worldview of any reader who pays attention). That wider spectrum ranged from those who wanted past injustices acknowledged (as Clinton did with the "Apology Bill" of 1993, which expressed regret for the US's role in overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy) to those who want to ignore the consequences of the last two centuries and pretend they just never happened. At any rate, an oblique look into an interesting subject I'll have to keep on the look-out for more on it from both sides.


current music: "Mr. Bellamy" by Paul McCartney (from Memory Almost Full)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Context (1937)

Yesterday made a long-delayed trip down to Suzzallo-Allen to do a little research on the Marquette paper, which I started writing this week. Didn't have time to look up all the things I wanted, so concentrated on getting copies of what seem to be the very first pieces of scholarly criticism of Tolkien's work published, the two brief book reviews by his friend C. S. Lewis published in the TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT (Oct. 2nd 1937) and the London TIMES (Oct. 8th). I had the text of the former thanks to Fr. Hooper's collection C. S. LEWIS ON STORIES (pages 81-82) but not the latter, although Doug Anderson quotes a goodly portion of it in THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT (rev. ed. page 18). It'd been far too many years since I'd last read it, so got to make the acquaintance of the library's new state-of-the-art microfilm reader -- which turns out to be just as touchy as any other microfilm reader, but with an impressive array of bells and whistles.

Of the two pieces, two things stand out. The first is that whereas in the TLS piece Lewis mainly compares THE HOBBIT to Lewis Carroll's ALICE books (taking a hint, most likely, from the blurb on the dust jacket; see LETTERS OF JRRT p. 21), in the TIMES piece it's Grahame's THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS instead that dominates. The second is a matter of context. For me, the significant thing about those two issues was the appearance there of these two pieces, but of course they are merely small items nestled among many other notices: in both case not a featured review but a second-tier mini-review. This makes the context amusing: among the more than a dozen other books with which the October 2nd piece shares the page is Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN and Rex Stout's THE RED BOX, one of the early Nero Wolfe novels. The October 8th piece similarly sits next to even shorter reviews of Hemingway's TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and Charles Williams' DESCENT INTO HELL (and an ad for a book of James Thurber cartoons). A good example of how the coincidences of chronology remind us that we over-compartmentalize the things we know. How many people remember that Poe and Lincoln were the same age, or that Tolkien was born the same year as the Red Baron?


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Errata errata'd

As "Trotter"'s comment makes clear, it's hard to get all the errata in one go. And of all errata, it's the omissions, the things that got left out, that are the hardest to spot. In proof of which, I forgot yesterday to mention one important omission from the Acknowledgments: my friend David Bratman's name should have been included among the participants in the Tolkien Symposiums whom I thank on page xxxiii. I've learned a lot from David's presentations, and I always look forward to them.

In addition, while it's not an errata, if there's another edition of the book down the road I'd certainly want to add a name to the acknowledgments on page xxxiv: that of Kate Latham, who saw the book through the final stages at the publisher's.

As for the point raised by "Trotter" in his comment, yes I should have specified that while THE TWO TOWERS came out in 1954, the second printing I use as a reference copy dates from 1955. In fact, I find it interesting that my copies of both THE TWO TOWERS and THE RETURN OF THE KING, which I picked up during a research trip to Oxford in May 1987, both originally belonged to the same person: one Jay O. Eastwick,* who bought them in Teheran in March 1956. I've long known about Stanley Unwin's enthusiasm for selling British books throughout the Empire (or Commonwealth, as it'd become by that time), but it's one thing to read about something in THE TRUTH ABOUT PUBLISHING or THE TRUTH ABOUT A PUBLISHER and quite another to come across first-hand evidence of his strategy in action.


*[or possibly Guy O. Eastwick; can't quite read the handwriting]

Sunday, June 3, 2007


So, every author, editor, and proofreader knows that with every book there will inevitably be typos. No matter how many times you go over your work, there's always something that slips past into print. You hope that when you do find it, it'll be a relatively innocuous blunder, not something that makes you cringe.

Case in point:

Last night I was reading through the description of several new audiobooks in the Blackstone Audio catelogue, when I was bemused by the following synopsis of a new book on Mitt Romney (A MORMAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE?: 10 THINGS EVERY AMERICAN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MITT ROMNEY, by Hugh Hewitt, read by Lloyd James). It reads, in part, "Mitt Romney is a successful businessman and a fiscal and social conservative who won the governorship in one of the staunchest Republican states in America".

Massachusetts a staunchly Republican state? Since when?

This is of course the worst kind of error: one that appears in a perfectly grammatical sentence that makes sense, but happens to be completely wrong -- in this case, the exact opposite of the truth.

In the case of MR. BAGGINS, I've found one example that fits this category: on page 260 I proudly draw attention to the fact that on Plate VI we printed the Tolkien drawing "Firelight in Beorn's House" in color for the first time ever.

Except we didn't. Due to an unfortunate mix-up on my part, the image that actually appears on Plate VI is in black & white, just like all the earlier reproductions (e.g., in THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT, ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR, &c.). So my text refers to what I thought the illustration would be, not to what actually appears in the book.

A second error belongs to the embarrassingly obvious category: the dreaded "see page 000". There were several hundred such cross-references in the book, and one remained that way all the way into the published text, on page 356 of Volume One. Luckily, the reference isn't necessary to make sense of the passage; it's simply a self-evident glitch I wish we'd caught. [Note: For those who are interested, the missing page number(s) are 731 & 761, which discuss the circumstances in 1944 and 1947 that led up to the accidental second edition of 1951.]

Third, there's one purely typographical error, on page 400; a hyphenated word that somehow got its second element capitalized ("ani-Mals" rather than "ani-mals"). I don't know quite how this happened, but while it looks a bit odd at least it doesn't affect the meaning of the passage from coming through.

Finally, there's one error that only fellow editors are likely to catch: a word that should be in italics that wasn't. I refer of course to the second caption on Plate III, where the word "Below" should be italicized, like all the other signposts in this section.

* * * * * * * *

So far, that's the crop; if anyone finds more, please let me know. I did catch one in Part Two while completing the Index, hopefully in time for them to have made the change: in one place I'd used the name "Naugladur" where I meant to say "Nauglath" -- a simple slip on my part. We'll see.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Fifteen Years

So, yesterday at about six p.m. I finished the index.

That in itself doesn't sound like much, but it means the last piece of work for the book is now behind me. That means today I'm not working on the book: I'm finally off deadline, for the first time since I signed the contract (20th August 1992), at which point I'd already been working on the book off and on for several years (first in conjunction with, then trying to revise the work of, Taum Santoski). Like Gorey's Mr. Earbrass, I expected to be wandering around from room to room, vaguely petting cats and leaving teacups scattered about, but this turns out not to be the case. Instead there's a vast sense of relief, of sheer doneness, coupled with a sense of new possibilities. Janice is off work this week, so we'll have a chance to do stuff together: take some long walks, visit Pioneer Square or Pike Place market, or maybe even go out to a movie (I think the last thing we saw was The Prestige, though can't swear to that). We even made tentative plans for an overnight trip up to Vancouver to see the book on a bookstore's shelves, but unfortunately the Canadian bookstores don't seem to be stocking it yet, so perhaps its May 16th release date there has been pushed back.

Not that there aren't things to do. There's the Marquette lecture to write ("A Kind of Elvish Craft: Tolkien as Literary Craftsman"). There are some book reviews I've wanted to do, such as of the new Barfield biography and the Evans-Dickerson book on Tolkien and environmentalism. There are books to read for the sheer fun of it, like Diana Pavlac's new book on the Inklings and Hearn's Tales of the Otori series, along with the last of the Derr Earl Biggers novels if I can track down a copy. There's the next research trip to plan out (England, in November), now that I have my passport renewed, and calculations to make on how to best use the available time to spend as many hours in the libraries, with the primary collections, as possible while I'm there.

And of course there are chores that have long been put off that now need attending to: the cats are all due long walks. The mounds of paper around my desk need sorted, filed, and otherwise put in order. The Box Room needs a major sorting to get all those papers out of boxes and into file cabinets so they're accessible, and I need to make the difficult decisions about what of the books, games, and magazines stored down there to keep and what to let go of (and what to do with the culls). And it's back on Induction for me as of yesterday to see if I can't take off some of those pounds I regained over the last year and a half or so while chained to the desk.

But the book will still be done. Looks like June 18th, three weeks from today, is the revised release date for Volume II. And, in these parts at least, there will be much rejoicing.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Book Arrives

So, a week ago tomorrow my copy of MR. BAGGINS arrived on the porch, thanks to the speedy service of amazon.co.uk. I immediately poured myself a strong cup of tea and went upstairs to sit down in a sunbeam and leaf through it. It's taken me fifteen years to reach this point, and I had to savor the moment.
My first impression was simply 'wow'. The production department at HarperCollins did an amazing job, from the beautiful cover (by Tolkien himself) to the clean layout. Despite all that I packed into it, the book doesn't feel crowded. Better yet, I was struck by how it doesn't just look like a book (after all these years as files on computer screens and unwieldy masses of print-outs), it looks like a Tolkien book, typeface and all.
Since then I've been utterly buried in last-minute things for Part Two. I've now seen pdfs of the final text of everything but the index, and the sharp-eyed folks at H.C. caught a few typos that had slipped by, for which I am grateful.
As for Part One, I'm still adjusting to the idea that it's actually out, and that people are reading it (several of whom have dropped me notes; many thanks all). Maybe it'll all seem real once I finally down tools on Part Two; we'll see.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

They Call Them . . . 'Fobbits'

Reading an article in the Jan/Feb issue of the ATLANTIC MONTHLY presenting yet another unworkable scheme outlining how we can "win" the war in Iraq, I was struck by a comment the author made in passing.

Apparently the majority of military personal we send to Iraq* never leave the military bases we've set up there, which are officially known as Forward Operating Bases. Since these are called "FOBs" for short, those soldiers who actually go out and patrol have dubbed their stay-at-home counterparts who never leave the base "fobbits".

Tolkien truly has permeated our culture when soldiers in combat make puns based on his lexicon, and use an analogy from his work to heap scorn upon their underperforming comrades.


*it's not clear whether this includes the mercenaries (or "contractors"), of whom there are some 48,000 currently serving in Iraq.

citation: THE ATLANTIC, January/February 2007, Vol. 299 No. 1, "Streetwise" by F. J. "Bing" West, page 76.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Book Is Out . . . Maybe

So, according to amazon.co.uk, Part One of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT: MR. BAGGINS, is now available in England, the release date having been moved up a week (from May 8th to May 1st). One friend has passed along word that she received a notice that her copy has shipped, and the amazon uk site now lists it as 'in stock' and available for express shipping (indeed, it's currently #365 on their best seller's list). Alas I have not yet seen a copy myself, nor heard from anyone who has one in their hands, so I can't confirm that the actual physical book is out there yet.
In other news, it's due to hit the bookshelves in Canada on the 16th. The US release will be a few months later, timed to coincide with the 70th anniverary of the book's initial 1937 release in September.
Meanwhile, all the final corrections for Part Two: RETURN TO BAG-END are now in, and I'm deep in the index; hence the passage of several days between posts. I'm so busy that it's hard for me to quite take in that it's almost over: suspect I'll be like the novelist Mr. Earbrass in Gorey's THE UNSTRUNG HARP, wandering around leaving unfinished teacups strewn about the place.


A Farewell to Saturn

So, the new car came home on Monday night, which temporarily made us a three-car family. Since two people with three cars is just plain silly, we'd made plans to donate the old Saturn to a worthy cause: Purrfect Pals, via www.donateforcharity.com. We wanted to just go by and drop it off, but they don't allow that for some reason; all donated cars have to be picked up by them instead. It took them several days, but they finally did come by late on Thursday afternoon. Farewell, old gold Saturn: hope your next owner enjoys you for a long time to come, and that the charity gets a good price from it for Purrfect Pals*

*the no-kill shelter from which we got our middle cat, HASTUR

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Tolkien Anecdote

A while back I turned up a reference to Tolkien's having been the vice-president of the Oxford chapter of the Catenian Association, a fraternal order of Catholic laymen. A little further checking brought to light a mention of Tolkien in an editorial in their newsletter (CATENA No. 868, Feb. 2002, page 3). After mentioning the "unprecedented success" of the first Peter Jackson film, the editor goes on to mention that

"the author JRR Tolkien was of course a Catenian. A Birmingham man, he was Professor of English at Oxford and was Founder Vice President of Oxford Circle in 1944 into which Frank Pakenham (later Lord Longford) was initiated. In 1945 at the second annual Circle dinner, Brother Tolkien proposed the toast to Provincial Council, (according to Peter Lane's account in the history of the Association) 'in a most amusing way which included an actual toast in Anglo-Saxon'."

I've also found another reference which states that Tolkien was that chapter's President from 1945-1946 and remained active through at least the early 1950s; this accords with the brief account in the Scull-Hammond COMPANION & GUIDE (Vol. II p.958) which cites an unpublished letter regarding a group dinner from 1951.

Peter Lane's account is no doubt the book THE CATENIAN ASSOCIATION 1908-1983: A MICROCOSM OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CATHOLIC MIDDLE CLASS [1982]; I've ordered a copy and will post again after it arrives if there's anything more about Tolkien in it.