Thursday, April 27, 2017

New Arrivals

So, times when I visit Marquette, I almost always find out about new books on Tolkien that have come out since I was last there. And this time was no exception. Having ordered some of said books while I was there, I found some of them waiting for me when I returned home, and others came in one by one over the following days. Haven't had time to read these yet, but here's a quick listing, in case there are others out there who might be interested if they'd come across them.

TOLKIEN AND SANSKRIT by Mark Hooker (cf. the review of same that had just been published on the online JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH).

DEEP ROOTS IN A TIME OF FROST: ESSAYS ON TOLKIEN by Patrick Curry. I've read Curry's first book but hadn't seen this collection, put out by Walking Tree Press in line with their earlier Shippey collection.

Renee Vink's WAGNER AND TOLKIEN: MYTHMAKERS. This one came a few days before its companion volume, Christopher MacLachlan's TOLKIEN AND WAGNER: THE RING AND DER RING. I've started reading the Vink, which is even-handed and helpful so far.

Gareth Knight's THE MAGICAL WORLD OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN. I have Knight's book on JRRT, CSL, CW, & OB but hadn't read it, and hadn't known about this little Tolkien-focused spin-off (one of four, apparently) until I saw it on the Marquette shelves in the old Memorial Library. It's a quick read, and while I think the Golden-Dawnish magical ritual based on Tolkien's legendarium included in it might well have given Tolkien fits the author gets points from me by at one point saying that just because he sees a resemblance between something in Tolkien and something he's interested in doesn't mean Tolkien intended any such echo.

ON THE PERILOUS ROAD: AN UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY by Elizabeth Currie & Alex Lewis. Having already written one imaginary biography, Currie & Lewis (aka 'Elansea') now seem to be shifting their focus to presenting Tolkien's life against world political events of his time (like the Cuban Missile Crisis).

JOHN RONALD'S DRAGONS by Caroline McAlister (text) and Eliza Wheeler (art): a picture book children's biography of JRRT. There's been one of these before that came out a few years ago; this is a far better book. Not only does it accurately depict Tolkien's life without any errors that I noticed and has a certain elegance (e.g., in the picture of young JRRT standing in the church). The authors also know their stuff: I was impressed by the number of specific details the artist worked into the backgrounds; these people actually know their stuff. So far it's my favorite of this whole set of new books.

Three more books aren't focused on JRRT but have their Tolkienian connections:

BUILDING IMAGINARY WORLDS: THE THEORY AND HISTORY OF SUBCREATION by Mark J P. Wolf (a serious look at a subject that's getting more and more attention. This one isn't Tolkien focused or D&D focused but casts its net wide, everything from Yoknapatawpha County to computer gaming. Probably the most accessible part is an extensive (56p) Appendix listing subcreated worlds from Homer to 2011. This one will provide much food for thought when I eventually get around to reading it.

IRELAND'S IMMORTALS: A HISTORY OF THE GODS OF IRISH MYTH by Mark Williams. Someone had sent me a link to a highly favorable review of this* just as I was heading out to Marquette. It's just the kind of book I like, and I've been trying to locate something along these lines ever since I read Lady Gregory's retelling of the Tuatha de Danaan myths back in high school. The author describes his purpose as "to determine how the multitudinous medieval Tuatha De Danann slimmed down and came into focus as the pantheon of one of the world's great mythologies" (Preface, p. xvii). This will be one to read slowly and savor.

ROD OF IRON: THE ABSOLUTE RULERS OF ENGLAND, by Milton Waldman (1941). I've never known anything about Milton Waldman other than he was the recipient of Tolkien's Letter to Waldman and that he delayed our getting THE LORD OF THE RINGS by three or four years (and risked our getting it at all). Finding out that he was a historian, I tracked down his book on the three figures he considers the tyrants of England: Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Cromwell; he also devotes (less) space to less successful tyrants like Charles the first. I dipped into it while down and out with the pneumonia and discovered that it reads well: Waldman has the gift of holding a strong point of view which he is able to express memorably and unambiguously (e.g. his description of Charles' queen: "daughter of Henry IV of France and consequently of that House of Bourbon whose capacity for learning nothing and forgetting nothing was to shape its destiny along lines so curiously parallel to the Stuarts" [p. 109]).

In addition to all these, there were several more I'd have liked to pick up but didn't:
(1) TOLKIEN'S THEOLOGY OF BEAUTY: MAJESTY, SPLENDOUR, & TRANSCENDENCE IN MIDDLE-EARTH by Lisa Coutras (Palgrave, 2016), a beautiful-looking book (appropriately enough) that I'd somehow failed to hear anything about until I saw it on the Archives' shelves.

(2) TOLKIEN, SELF & OTHER: "THIS QUEER CREATION" by Jane Chance (Palgrave 2016); this looked like a collection of Chance's essays, which it'll be nice to have all in one place.

Both these I'm going to look for at the Palgrave booth at Kalamazoo: who knows, maybe they'll bring a few along for the show.

(3) CRITICAL INSIGHTS: THE HOBBIT, ed. Stephen W. Potts (GreyHouse 2016). This is a promising looking collection of essays on THE HOBBIT, w. contributors including figures like Jared Lobdell, Kris Swank, and Jason Fisher. Unfortunately this one is really expensive: $105 new and almost double that ($208) used. In fact, it's so expensive that in the end I decided I simply cdn't afford it. Alas. Consider this the one that got away.




--John R.

current reading: Wm Morris, THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END (just finished)**
current audiobook: DOWAGER EMPRESS CIXI by Jung Chang (just finished)**



*which link I've misplaced, it now being buried among notes from the trip. Thanks to whoever sent it; sorry to have not acknowledged it properly at the time.

**both worth a post by themselves, if I have time to write them up.






Thursday, April 13, 2017

thag you very buch, part two

So, it wasn't a cold: it's pneumonia.
Antibiotics are our friends.
--John R.

current reading: ROD OF IRON by Milton Waldman
current viewing: early DOCTOR WHO

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Appendices That Might Have Been

So, one of the interesting side-effects of studying an author's works is that the better you know them the more inevitable they look. It's like listening to a classic recording of a favorite song or watching a well-known film: rejected drafts, alternate takes, deleted scenes all show how a work could have been different than it wound up being, yet the path chosen becomes very much the 'right' path in our minds.  This is why glimpses into roads not taken are so important.

I was looking at a good example of this during my recent time at Marquette--a document I'd never looked at before, one of the last pieces of LotR manuscript to reach Marquette (Mss-4, Box 2, folder 16, pages 1-2: Early Contents Material). This is essentially a collection of Tables of Contents for LotR put together at various times.* I mentioned in my last post how Tolkien totaled up the page count of each of LotR's six Books to get an idea of just how long the completed book was. His purpose for doing so seems to have been to get a sense of how much room there was for ancillary material. He had already allotted within his 927 page, 89,000 word total a foreword (12 pages) and the Epilogue (5 pages); now on that same sheet he jotted down titles of things he wanted to include in the Appendix:

Of the languages of the Third Age and of Translation

The Calendar

Chronology of the Tale

The Script and the Runes

Genealogical Tables

Maps
   1. General Map of the Westlands
   2. The Shire
   3. Gondor and Mordor

List of Names with notes on their pronunciation and derivation

Of the Rings of Power

The Fall of Numenor

Of Aragorn and Arwen Undomiel

Chronology of the Third Age: The Tale of Years

The Heirs of Isildur

The House of Eorl

Of Durin's Race

Angerthas Moria

Pennas Golodrina

Lammas Veleriandzen

Dangweth Pengolodh

Lay of Luthien

Pennas iNgeleid

Most of these pieces made it into the six Appendices in some form and fashion; others had to wait for the 1977 Silmarillion, like the Fall of Numenor (in the form of The Akallabeth) and 'Of the Rings of Power', and a few never quite made it in, like the List of Names,which seems to be ancestral to the promised (but never completed) Index to the first edition.

Of the mooted but omitted works, I take the Pennas Golodrina to mean something like 'The History of the Noldor'), the Lammas Veleriandzen or 'Languages of Beleriand' I assume is either one of the Lhammas texts printed in HME.V.167ff or a projected later development thereof. The Dangweth Pengolodh ultimately made it into the History of Middle-earth, but not by much: this explanation of how the language of immortals can change appears towards the end of the series, THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE-EARTH (HME.XII.395-402).

The most interesting of all these suggested additions by far, for me, is the idea that Tolkien thought of including the entire LAY OF LUTHIEN within the covers of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I can see the logic of that -- it forms a good matched pair with 'Of Aragorn and Arwen Undomiel' -- but, like the Lammas (the history of the languages spoken on a continent destroyed more than three millennia before), it might be thought of as too much of a good thing, not directly connected with the story of The Ring.


One thing I wish I'd had time to work out is the probable date of these notes. That shd be determinable by looking at the various typescripts of the completed book and comparing the page tallies of each Book to those listed on the accompanying Table of Contents. I suspect  it's not long after he completed the typescript (which he loaned to the Lewis Brothers in October & November 1949). Certainly it seems to be when he's thinking of LotR as a standalone book, rather than accompanied by a separate SILMARILLION volume (as was his plan by February 1950); otherwise things like the LAY OF LUTHIEN, the Dangweth, the Fall of Numenor, the Lammas, and esp. the Pennas, wd naturally go in that Silm. volume instead. And I think  that once he'd abandoned the idea of publishing THE SILMARILLION alongside LotR he wd have been trying to restrict himself to essentials, rather than casting his net as widely as we see here.Unfortunately I have not yet had time to check Christopher Tolkien's account of the creation of the Appendices (HME.XII), which I suspect will shed a good deal of light on all this.


--John R., still in Dayquil/Nyquil land
current reading: Wm Morris (THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END), Renee Vink (WAGNER & TOLKIEN). current viewing: DOCTOR WHO (the Second Doctor).


*one of the more interesting among them notes the date at which each chapter's events occur, right on the T.o.C. page

Friday, April 7, 2017

Just How Long is LotR Anyway? (word counts)

So, back from Marquette and almost, almost over my cold, I'm pondering what was probably the most interesting document I saw while there, a two-page sheet on which Tolkien was trying to work out just what shd go in the Appendices (more on this later, in its own post).

Part of this, of course, depended on how much room he had: how long was the work itself? By his own calculations on that sheet,*  Tolkien worked it out to roughly 89,000 words.

Now, this is far less than he told Stanley Unwin during the period when he was trying to get Unwin to reject the book so Tolkien cd take it to Milton Waldman instead. In February 1950 Tolkien tells Unwin the newly finished book is 600,000 words (S&H Chronology .358). A month later this tally has risen to a million words (S&H.358), and by April to 'one million, two hundred thousand words' (.361); the hapless Unwin was pricing out an edition of '2,500 copies in two large volumes, each of 1392 pages' (.359).

So we know how Tolkien derived the figure of 89,000 words: the question becomes, how did he come up with the 600 thousand and then 1.2 million?

The 600k/1.2 million is the easier of these two questions to answer. Tolkien had told Naomi Mitchison in mid-December 1949 that he hoped to soon see in print 'two long books' (.354): this is clearly (1) LotR and (2) Silm. Since Tolkien was insisting the works be treated as two volumes of a single work, Unwin seems to have taken him at his word and priced it out accordingly, with each volume being 600,000 words in length.

The harder question, for me, is how Tolkien got from his estimate of 89,000 words, probably arrived at shortly after he completed the typescript (Oct 1949; C&H.352), to a claim just three months later that it was more than six times that length. The answer's does not hinge on the appendices, since both tallies omit them: Tolkien is clear in his Feb. 1950 letter to Unwin that the 600,000 total is the book's length 'even without certain necessary adjuncts' (.358) -- i.e., the appendices material. I hate to say it, but I suspect Tolkien blew up the total in order to discourage Allen & Unwin, not realizing how tenacious they wd be in hopes of working out an acceptable compromise.

Which raises the question: how long is the book, really? If I remember rightly, Lin Carter pegged it at a quarter of a million words, but I have not had time to go back through his little book and confirm or correct my memory on this point. Various internet sites each offer a different total:


The LotR Project: 481,103 words
http://lotrproject.com/statistics/books/wordscount
—cf. 95.356 for THE HOBBIT and 130.115 for SILM


The Cesspit: 473k
http://cesspit.net/drupal/node/1869/
—this tally omits the appendices "and stuff not directly belonging to the text itself."


CommonplaceBook.com: 455.125
http://commonplacebook.com/art/books/word-count-for-famous-novels/
—this total puts it ahead of GONE WITH THE WIND (418.053) but still behind WAR & PEACE (587.287) and way far ahead of THE LION THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE (36.363) and WATERSHIP DOWN (156.154)


Better Storytelling:  455.125
http://www.betterstorytelling.net/thebasics/storylength.html
—this article gives only the totals for the three individual volumes, which I've added together to get the total shown.

Fantasy Faction: 473k 
http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/fantasy-book-discussion/word-counts-of-epic-fantasy-novels/


So there is no reliable exact figure, but the consensus seems to be about a half-million words.

That's one big book, yet still significantly shorter (by about 25%) than Tolkien told the Unwins.

As for those 'certain necessary adjuncts', those will be the subject of the next post.

--John R.
current reading: THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END



*927 typed pages, 48 lines per page, twelve words per line = 88, 992 words (approx.)




Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Another Dunsany sighting

So, I'm always pleased to come across a reference to Dunsany's works, especially when it's one that adds to the evidence of just how popular Dunsany was back at the height of his career (from about 1910 to 1920).*


This one appears in the book JILL THE RECKLESS by P. G. Wodehouse (circa 1920). At 17% of the way through comes this little exchange:


[our heroine is dining at the Savoy with a childhood acquaintance with whom she has just been reunited:]

   ". . . What are you looking at? [asked Jill.] Is something interesting going on behind me?”

   He had been looking past her out into the room.

   “It’s nothing,” he said. “Only there’s a statuesque old lady about two tables back of you who has been staring at you, with intervals for refreshment, for the last five minutes. You seem to fascinate her.”

    “An old lady?”

   “Yes, with a glare. She looks like Dunsany’s Bird of the Difficult Eye. Count ten and turn carelessly round. There, at that table. Almost behind you.”

   “Good Heavens!” exclaimed Jill. [spotting her prospective mother-in-law, Lady Underhill, sitting with her son Sir Derek Underhill MP, Jill’s stuffy fiance.] 



The reference, of course, is to "The Bird of the Difficult Eye" in THE LAST BOOK OF WONDER (1916).** The most interesting part of this is how P.G.W. just dropped it in with no explanation, as if he expected anyone reading his book wd know about Dunsany’s story.

--John R.
current reading: THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END by Wm Morris.


*another one can be found in F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, THIS SIDE OF PARADISE (1920)

**one of Dunsany's thieves' tales, a sequel to "The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller" in THE BOOK OF WONDER (1912) and of a kind with "How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles" and "The Probable Adventure of Three Literary Men" (both in THE BOOK OF WONDER).




Monday, March 27, 2017

The Worst Book on Tolkien Ever Written?

So, there are many contenders for the worst book ever written on Tolkien. There are biographies that make up events that never happened. There are source-studies by those who can't tell credible evidence from casual resemblance. There are people with bees in their bonnets who think that because something deeply interests them it must have interested Tolkien too, despite the lack of any evidence thereto. Some are pedants inflicting a particular jargon on the reader and some have agendas, wanting to recruit Tolkien to shed a little shared glory on their cause.  And there are a few who are just plain crazy.


This is really not surprising: with so many books on Tolkien coming out over fifty years and more (by my estimate I have roughly two hundred on my shelves, and that's not counting the books by Tolkien himself), there are bound to be a few bad apples. But to be so egregiously bad as to stand out takes some doing. And stand out E. Michael Jones's TOLKIEN'S FAILED QUEST (2015) certainly does.

What can you say about a book that faults Tolkien for not being racist enough?

Jones' book, TOLKIEN'S FAILED EPIC, is an e-book (really a chapbook) unavailable, so far as I cd tell, in print form. His thesis is that Tolkien's work fails because while Tolkien  borrowed most of his symbolism and motifs from Wagner, he downplayed and diluted the anti-Semitic message inherent in his source materials.  Or, to put it another way, he thinks that in writing THE HOBBIT, Tolkien  attempted "a corrective re-write of Wagner's anti-Semitic Ring cycle". But since Jones approves of that anti-Semitism, he concludes that  'The legacy of Tolkien's philo-Semitism is unsolvable artistic problems, leading to an ultimately incoherent book'. Or again, 'Tolkien denied his intellectual debt to Wagner because familiarity with Wagner exposed the incoherence of his own writings.'

It does not help that Jones reads Wagner as purely a socio-economic tract (e.g., "In Wagner, the Tarnhelm symbolizes the invisibility of the creditor class in a capitalist society"). That Wagner was a composer whose given medium was music seems never to have occurred to him.  Jones also expects his reader to already be familiar with, and agree with, his (somewhat incoherent) economic agenda (mostly he just rattles on about the gold standard).* Sometimes his prejudices and preconceptions prevent him from seeing what's actually in the text he's trying to impose his views upon. Thus he takes the reference in THE HOBBIT where Thorin talks about the good old days when they didn't need to work as farmers to feed themselves and instead had more time for mining and metalsmithing and crafting: this, in Jones' eyes, is a sign that dwarves, and Jews, are lazy. Again, Jones is quite open in his racism, describing the aftermath of the dwarves' loss of their homeland in the opening of THE HOBBIT movie as "they had to endure the biggest insult of all, they had to work for a living, something alien to the Jewish race". Just in case we don't get his point, he goes on to quote Shakespeare and Aquinas on the "Jewish aversion to work". Similarly, the death of the Master of Lake Town is attributed to "The Aristocracy [being] corrupted by its addiction to Jewish usury and gold".

Jones' book ends on an unexpected and nasty note, as he abandons Wagner and Tolkien alike for a blast of pure anti-Semitism: "The solution to the current economic crisis is the same solution to every other economic crisis of the past 500 years, namely, the elimination of usury. Once usury is eliminated from the economy, those who have profited from it -- the Jews and the modern day Cahorsins -- must make restitution. They must return their ill-gotten usurious gains to the people from whom they stole them. We're talking here about the transfer of roughly $15 trillion back into the pockets of American citizens".

All in all, perhaps it's not surprising that E. Michael Jones is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a purveyor of hate speech.

In the end, it's rather to Tolkien's credit that he doesn't pass muster from such a dodgy perspective.

It's good to fail sometimes, when the standard being judged by are so appalling.

--John R.
current reading: THE GREY MANE OF MORNING



*But then his whole piece is fairly incoherent, with its references to Fatima, and Franco (a "so-called fascist") and Aquinas and Roy Campbell and Baron Rothschild and some guy who was head of the Bank of England in the 1930s and the Prince of Hesse-Cassel, among others. 


Sunday, March 26, 2017

thag you very buch

So, today I'm feeling like Bilbo at Lake Town.

Here I am at Marquette, having cleared the deck and made all the arrangements to see the manuscripts. I know what I want to do and I have all the materials to do it with. And I'd no sooner set to work then I came down with a cold.

After a day or two of struggling to get the better of it, I opted for the plenty of bedrest + Dayquil/Nyquil routine + Allegra. Things seem to be on the mend; let's hope my second week's research goes better than the first.

--John R.
current reading: not much.