Monday 4 April 2011

Tolkien Transactions XI

March 2011

Time for a new issue of my attempt to extract the best (in my highly subjective estimate) of Tolkien related ‘goings-on’ on the 'net. Anything appearing in the Tolkien Transactions is under strict quality assurance to ascertain that it complies with the three strict selection criteria, which are:
1: I have seen it
2: It has some kind of Tolkien connection (at least in my mind)
3: I have deemed that it is interesting enough to share

Regardless of how much time I (mis)spend reading blogs and other stuff, I will never be able to find everything (that's criterion number 1), so please chime in with interesting stuff that you have found elsewhere that you find ought to comply with criteria 2 and 3. Nor do I imagine that all of this is new to you, so the usual disclaimers apply about newness, completeness and relevance (or any other implication of responsibility) :-)

= = = = News = = = =

Rob Sharp (The Independent), Friday, 4 March 2011, ‘Rescued from the bonfire, the lost work of C S Lewis’
It may be telling of my general interest in the other Inklings that I had no idea (I resisted the pun here) that there was a supposedly lost translation of the Aeneid by C.S. Lewis — that is, not until finding that it has been found :) The story of how this work nearly ended in cinders is at once tragic and thought-provoking: after such a story I am inclined to be even more grateful to Christopher Tolkien's great work to preserve his father's literary legacy.

JF, Friday, 4 March 2011, ‘Lewis's Lost Aeneid’
Jason Fisher takes up the thread with Lewis' Aeneid translation, providing additional details and ending by expressing his hope that ‘it opens the door a little wider to let Tolkien’s unpublished Beowulf translations come through in the near future as well.’ All I can say to that is an enthusiastic ‘Amen!’

Morgan et Al., Sunday, 6 March 2011, ‘'Introduction to Elder Edda' by Tolkien?’
A small lesson on wariness when finding seemingly Tolkien-related items on-line. This one is fortunately rather primitively done, but others are not. The Tolkien Collector's Guide is a good place to ask about for advice if you find something that sounds dodgy — or too good to be true.

PhysOrg, Friday, 11 March 2011, ‘The Eye of Sauron’
Cosmic powers!
Here is an image of the Eye of Sauron that manages what Jackson's did not (to me): to appear as an ominous presence, incorporeal, a mental projection, a symbol of power.

JDR, Thursday, 24 March 2011, ‘THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT, second edition’
There will be a second edition of Rateliff's The History of the Hobbit. In that connection, Rateliff issues a call for errata:

JDR, Friday, 25 March 2011, ‘The New Arrival: Arne Zetterstein’ (sic)
I can't decide if it is only because I am envious that I don't have the books, but sometimes I do wish that bloggers would refrain from merely posting that now they have received (or ordered, even) a new book and wait until they have actually read it. A solid review would be far more useful. I do think that I'll need to get hold of this — in Danish, of course ;)

Andrea Shea (wbur), Friday, 25 March 2011, ‘Middle-Earth Conference Revived After 40 Years’ (sic)
There have been some reports on this, the third ‘Conference on Middle-earth’ which follows a mere forty years after the second, and arranged by the same person, Howard Finder, now 72 years old and diagnosed with prostrate cancer.
There is more on this conference on its web-site, and a more in-depth article that preceded the conference here:
Geoff Edgers (Boston Globe), Thursday, 24 March 2011, ‘At Westford conference, a fellowship of Tolkien fans’

JF, Thursday, 31 March 2011, ‘Conference schedule for CSLIS 14’
Even if you are a Tolkien enthusiast with little sympathy for the work of his friend, C.S. Lewis, there is likely to be something of value for you at the conference of the C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society (CSLIS), which was held this weekend. In an ideal world I'd have the time and the money to go to every conference I'd like, and this would be one of them. Now I'll just wait for reports to filter through.

Janet Brennan Croft, Thursday, 31 March 2011, ‘Mythlore 113/114 Table of Contents’
This issue of Mythlore also promises to be a great read for Tolkien enthusiasts. Essays include investigations of The Battle of Maldon, Pearl and Purgatorio as inspirations for Tolkien, an essay on Tolkien and Wagner (a subject where Wagner-lovers are prone to exaggerate the similarities wildly, and Wagner-haters are prone to emphatically reject even obvious similarities), and one on Túrin and Aragorn's different approaches to fate from Janet Brennan Croft's own hand. On the MythSoc list she has also announced that this issue was sent to the printer on the last day of March.

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =

David Levary, Jean-Pierre Eckmann, Elisha Moses, and Tsvi Tlusty, Friday, 11 March 2011, ‘Self reference in word definitions’
This paper deals with an analysis of a dictionary using network graphs with directed links. The authors investigate only nouns, and link from a word to those words that occur in its definition. This creates a graph that has some interesting characteristics. In particular they found that there was a ‘core’ of 6310 that appear somewhere down the definition chain for nearly all the words in the dictionary. Within this core, they found that it could be decomposed into a number of strongly related components in which there are circular definitions of five or fewer steps. These components were further investigated.
The manner in which we were able to reach the core suggests the somewhat counterintuitive idea that all words are conceptually interconnected. (‘The Decomposition’ p. 3)
Their finding that the graph can be decomposed into a number of strongly connected components that are semantically strongly related, and which are (on average) introduced in English about the same time suggests to me that these semantic components are close to what Barfield was thinking of — one component, one original, un-splintered, semantic concept. That this appears to be the same for words introduced in Old English and the scientific words introduced in the last couple of centuries suggests either than Barfield was wrong in his idea about some primordial language in which these conceptual clusters were contained in one word, or that this primordial language lies so far back in the history of language that the thousand years or so covered in this study is insufficient to show any temporal variation. Finally, from the conclusion:
While the central concept of the loop cannot be directly communicated, we propose that the juxtaposition of the partially defifined elements within the loop allows the receiver to infer the common link among the words, thereby completing the definition of all words in the loop. Such a system is consistent with our finding that words within a loop tend to enter the lexicon at the same time and, if correct, suggests that definitional loops are not simply a mathematical artifact of dictionaries, but rather a key mechanism underlying language evolution. (‘Conclusions’ p. 5-6)

Simone Pompei, Vittorio Loreto, Francesca Tria, Monday, 21 March 2011, ‘On the accuracy of language trees’
It is well-known that Tolkien was a philologist, and that philology is basically a scientific approach to historical lingustics, particularly to the evolution of langauages and the relations between them. This article takes the ‘science’ part a step (or more) further than I think Tolkien would have imagined, using 'state-of-the-art
distance-based methods for phylogeny reconstruction using worldwide linguistic databases' the authors strive to contribute to the field of historical lingustics, the aim of which they state is ‘inferring the most likely language phylogenetic tree starting from information concerning the evolutionary relatedness of languages.’ Combining staticstics and lingustics — how could it be better? ;-)

Daniela Schiller and David Carmel (Scientific American), Tuesday, 22 March 2011, ‘How Free Is Your Will?’
Over the past few years, the topic of free will and fate has been very popular in Tolkien circles, being the focus of the Tolkien Society Seminar in 2008, papers by Verlyn Flieger and Carl Hostetter in Tolkien Studies vol. VI (2009) and by Thomas Fornet-Posse in vol. VII (2010), of essays in various issues of Mythlore and of countless discussions on the internet. Thus I thought it would be interesting to include an article on some contemporary neurosurgical research that bears on this issue.

Tony DiTerlizzi (Los Angeles Times), Friday, 25 March 2011, ‘'The Hobbit' illustrated by Maurice Sendak? The 1960s masterpiece that could have been’
Based on the idea that unearthing pieces of the publishing (or in this case, almost-publishing) history of Tolkien's works is also an interesting contribution to Tolkien scholarship. This piece retells one side of the story of an abandoned attempt to get illustrator Maurice Sendak to illustrate an edition of The Hobbit. Here we get Sendak's version filtered through an interviewer in 2004 who has retold it to DiTerlizzi. Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull tell the story slightly differently e.g. in the LotR-Fanatics Plaza:
See also
JDR, Monday, 28 March 2011, ‘Sendak's HOBBIT’
In which Rateliff summarizes and comments upon the above.

AH, Sunday, 27 March 2011, ‘Turambar and the Foaloke - Etymological Archaeology’
Andy Higgins dives into the possible origins of three names found in a non-erased pencil version underlying a page of Tolkien's early ‘Turambar and the Foalokë’ story. As with Jason Fisher's zestful play with the word-webs surrounding the spiders of Mirkwood, my fascination of words tends to lower my defences — it doesn't matter if Andy is ‘right’ in the sense of actually inferring connections that existed between words in Tolkien's mind (whether conscious or not) — the playing with the words is for me rewarding in and of itself.

‘Trotter’, Wednesday, 30 March 2011, ‘Invented Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien - MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY PDF file’
Perhaps this is rather ‘olds’, but since I hadn't seen this before, it was news to me ;) Trotter gives a link to a pdf-version of a booklet that is associated with the exhibition ‘The Invented Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: Drawings and Original Manuscripts from the Marquette University Collection’ which was held at the Haggerty Museum of Art in the end of 2004 and start of 2005. The booklet reproduces a number of Tolkien items from the collections of the Marquette, and also includes Zettersten's essay, ‘The AB Language Lives’.

‘Trotter’, Wednesday, 30 March 2011, ‘Tom Shippey Lecture 23rd March 2011 Cardiff’
Links to the first two parts of a recording of the lecture Tom Shippey gave on 23rd March in Cardiff with the title ‘Writing into the Gap: Tolkien's The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun’. I fully share Trotter's hope that UWIC will eventually get the whole lecture on-line. For updates you might follow the YouTube channel associated with Dmitra Fimi's courses at UWIC:

= = = = Reviews = = = =

Perhaps this section would be more appropriately called ‘Book Announcements’, but some of all these books that we see announced must at some point be reviewed as well ;-)

DB, Thursday, 3 March 2011, ‘walleyed criticism’
This is not an example of damning with faint praise — Bratman calls it a ‘calimac Demolition Special’, and goes on to point out inconsistencies in the book. The name of the book or the author is not revealed, but clearly others do know — one comment claims this ‘possibly the worst — and certainly the worst written — piece of Inklings criticism’ the commenter has ever seen. The greates value of reviews, in my opinion, is that they help us prioritize the books we'd like to get, or, in this case, not get.

Emily A. Moniz, Mythlore 111/112, Thursday, 3 February 2011, ‘Middle-earth Minstrel’
The Mythlore review of Bradford Lee Eden's (ed.) book, Middle-earth Minstrel has now appeared on-line. Moniz is quite positive, and I look forward to finding the time to take this book down from my shelf.

PC, Tuesday, 8 March 2011, ‘A Tolkien Tapestry: Pictures to accompany The Lord of the Rings’
Pieter Collier of the Tolkien Library site has made a book on Cor Blok's illustrations of Tolkien's work. I am myself not very visually minded, preferring the printed word to an illustration, and as such I am, as Tolkien described himself, a ‘man of limited sympathies (but well aware of it)’ and the work of Cor Blok lies ‘almost completely outside them’ as Charles Williams' work did of Tolkien's. However, I suspect that if Pieter's book accompanies Blok's pictures with some attempt to analyse and criticize them as narrative figurative art, then this might help bring them inside my sympathies.

JDR, Thursday, 10 March 2011, ‘Hillard's MIRKWOOD (spoilers)’
John Rateliff has managed to get through Hillard's book, and doesn't recommend it. Rateliff also offers another theory for why the Estate may have issued a cease-and-desist order against this book (see also the section on news in the February issue of the Transactions for more on the legal issue) — and no, it is not just because it is a very bad book, which it apparently is.

TF, Saturday, 12 March 2011, ‘Mythlore issue 111/112’
A review of the seven Tolkien-related essays in the autumn 2010 issue of Mythlore. Most of the essays are excellent and all of them contain something worth reading, though the density of the ‘worth reading’ stuff does vary somewhat :-)

JDR, Wednesday, 9 March 2011, ‘THE HOBBIT (Children's Play)’
A review of a children's play based on The Hobbit. Rateliff doesn't say if it is the case for himself, but I like to think that I'd be inclined to hold a children's play to a less exacting standard than a Hollywood production. Rateliff certainly seems to have enjoyed himself.

Brian Warmoth, Thursday, 24 March 2011, ‘Sam Bosma's ‘Hobbit’ Illustrations Are Nothing Short of Awesome [Art]’
Praise for Sam Bosma's Hobbit illustrations. I might not go quite as far in my praise of Sam Bosma's illustrations in general, but I do think they are very good, and my appreciation of his Hobbit illustrations is of course coloured by my knowledge of this work, and my familiarity with the author's own illustrations of his story. However, even though I think that some of the illustrations don't work for the story, I still find that there is generally something interesting in the illustration as a commont to Tolkien's story (more than as an illustration of it). A good example of this is his goblins.

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

Leo Grin, Big Hollywood, Saturday, 5 March 2011, ‘Eucatastrophe: The Ennobling Fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien Part 3’
In this third installment Leo Grin works his way to to Tolkien's concept of Eucatastrophe, ending up concluding that ‘Eucatastrophe is revealed truth on a biblical scale’. As earlier the treatment is perceptive and essentially correct, and the conservatism of the web-site is not intrusive. Leo Grin's series is still a good choice for an introduction to Tolkien criticism.
Leo Grin, Saturday, 12 March 2011, ‘Bored with the Good: The Ennobling Fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien Part 4’
Leo Grin continues his series aimed at an American Christians and political conservatives. This time the political agenda shines through far more clearly than in the previous installments, which detracts considerably from the quality. Skip this if you're likely to get upset over fools trying to twist Tolkien's work to support their own political agenda --something I generally find utterly foolish regardless of what that political agenda might be. There might be an interesting discussion in what Tolkien's actual political views were — and perhaps even to what extent his views on the ideal society can at all be called political.

BC, Sunday, 6 March 2011, ‘Do orcs deserve mercy?’
Well, do they? Prior to The Lord of the Rings (and, in my opinion, far into the writing of LotR) Orcs were actually demonic: spawned in subterranean slime and with hearts of stone. At some point while writing LotR, Tolkien appears to have had a change of mind (one of many) and decided that Orcs were corrupted Children of Ilúvatar. This would later be the cause of much speculation as evidenced in the texts in ‘Myths Transformed’ (part five of Morgoth's Ring). But what if they were still demons? Would that solve the ethical problems without logical inconsistencies?

DB, Monday, 21 March 2011, ‘a classification of Tolkien scholars’
Heh! Heh! ;-)

= = = = Rewarding Discussions = = = =

JDR, Wednesday, 23 March 2011, ‘Harold Bloom disses Tolkien — again’
The interesting point here is not so much that Harold Bloom dislikes Tolkien: that is neither new or controversial, and he is of course perfectly entitled to his prejudices (and I am certain that he is completely indifferent to my disagreement with one or more of them). The interesting part is the ensuing discussion in the comments. This ranges from discussing the concept of ‘canon’ (as in Bloom's book The Western Canon) and longevity as an important aspect in that, to a discussion on the weight of new and old in academic curricula. Quite interesting even for a physicist.

= = = = In Print = = = =

Amon Hen no. 228, March 2011

‘Along the Road’
A progress report from the Return of the Ring: the great Tolkien Society conference next year in Loughborough. Among other news they announce three special guests that are confirmed, Ted Nasmith, Jef Murray and Corey Olsen. Much as I delight in the artwork of Nasmith and Murray, and enjoy Olsen's podcasts (I am looking very much forward to meeting him), I hope that we'll have the pleasure of even more of the recognized Tolkien scholars.

David Doerr, ‘Regarding the Importance of the Date March 25th in J.R.R. Tolkien's Literature’
A fine little overview of the date of the Annunciation, its use in Tolkien's work and its various real-world references. We know that Tolkien chose this date deliberately and carefully, and so one might suspect a bit of typological intention on Tolkien's part.

Mark Bednarowski, ‘Plight of the Dwarves’
An overview history of the history of Durin's folk in the Third Age until Thorin's company set out one morning in the 2941st year of the Third Age. It's a good little overview that Bednarowski has put together, and I have only a couple of very minor quibs: it is very nearly certain that the Seven were not originally ‘made for the Dwarves’ regardless of whether Durin was given the first of them directly by the Mirdain as believed by the Dwarves themselves (and by me); it is possible that the Ring had some influence on Thrór's decision to wander out alone with only Nár as his companion, but in that case it must have been an indirect influence since the Dwarves were not dominated by their Rings; and finally I could have wished that Bednarowski had commented on the remarkable oversight on Gandalf's part when he relates how ‘[n]early a century will pass before Gandalf will realize the full significance of what he obtained from a pitiful old Dwarf locked in the pits of Dol Guldur’ when he has already explained how Gandalf had been searching for Thrain in Moria just five years prior to finding him in Dol Guldur.

Michel Bouchard, ‘Studying Tolkien . . . in Quebec!’
A very nice story from a student who defied custom and braved mockery to do his Master ‘s thesis on Tolkien — studying 'the lives of Frodo, Sam and Gollum using Silvio Fanti's work on micropsychoanalysis to help [him] understand the power of the One Ring over the mind if its bearers.’ If Bouchard's thesis can be written in a style similar to this piece, there is no doubt that he could successfully publish it (beyond the one copy that is now sitting in the university library).

Ruth Lacon, ‘The 2011 Tolkien Calendar’
Kudos and accolades for this excellent review, which balances nicely between respect for the artist and his vision and criticism when he doesn't achieve it. As Lacon puts it, ‘once an artist gets one full Tolkien calendar, we often see more of their work, so learning how to judge Cor Block's art now may well be useful in future.’ Given that she must have been writing this prior to Pieter Collier's announcement of his book on Cor Blok's art, I find that statement remarkably foresighted. She does go on to introduce the reader to just that — accepting Blok's stylistic choice from the outset, she criticises each month's picture on its own merits. I particularly love the first two sentences of the comments for July: ‘It might seem very odd to criticise Cor Blok on grounds of artistic timidity, but this one I feel driven to. If you're going to deny Renaissance realistic perspective, don't shilly-shally — go the whole way.’ Anyone having problems extending their sympathies to encompass Cor Blok's work (which includes myself) should read Ruth Lacon's review, not to have their prejudices confirmed, but to have them challenged in an intelligent manner.

Mythprint vol. 48 no. 3, March 2011, Whole no. 344

Berni Phillips Bratman, ‘Pardon Me, Is That an E-Reader You Have?’
Berni Bratman has been trying an e-reader herself and has been gathering responses from other ‘mythies’ who also use various e-readers, all of which experiences she has gathered into this article on e-readers. Personally I am still holding out — not because I don't want to use an e-reader, but because I want the e-books I buy to be available on my phone and my PC as well as on a dedicated reader. I suspect that when the market mature we will see a consolidation of one or two formats (I'm old enough to remember the old Betamax vs. Video-disc vs. VHS competition for the early video market), and at that point I think it will be easier to have support for the same format on all devices.

Larry Swain, ‘Elizabeth Solopova. _Languages, Myths and Histo-ry: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fiction_’
Larry reviews this book written particularly for ‘the under-graduate literature course in Tolkien’, commenting on strengths (particularly the treatment of Gothic and Finnish influences on Tolkien's work) and weaknesses (particularly the lacking treatment of Tolkien's work in Middle English and of Greek and Latin influences), and ends by recommending this book ‘even for the experienced Tolkien fan and scholar.’

Travis Buchanan, ‘Gospel Echoes in Fantastic Fiction’
In this two-part essay (the first part was printed in the previous issue of Mythlore, whole no. 343), Travis Buchanan investigates Tolkien's description of the components of Fairy-stories, fantasy, recovery, escape and consolation. Having started (in part 1) by asking into the reasons for the popularity of fantasy fiction, Buchanan concludes (in part 2) that this ‘engrossing and enduring appeal’ can, in part, be understood through the lens of Tolkien's discussion, as an echo of the Gospels: ‘through the fantastic, subcreative worlds of a Tolkien or a Lewis, even a J.K. Rowling or a Stephenie Meyer, primary truth may not only be tasted, but the voice of Ultimate Truth Himself overheard, even if only in echo.’ Personally I would have preferred to see an attempt to relate this ‘engrossing and enduring appeal’ of the fairy-story to Tolkien's discussion without having to resort either to being only valid for Christians (are the fairy-stories of other, non-christian, cultures fundamentally different in kind or popularity?) or to a mystical influence (non-Christians perceiving a Truth that is revealed only in the Christian Gospels). But more on this later, I think.

= = = = Web Sites = = = =

I will try to present a couple of sites every month — if I've found a new site (of any kind, but with a Tolkien connection) that I have found interesting, then I will add that, and then I'll throw in some oldies to keep things rolling ;-)

The FAQ of the Rings
First one more of the sites related to the Tolkien newsgroups: Stan Brown's FAQ of the Rings, which I have used nearly as much as I have Steuard's more general FAQ. For questions regarding the Rings of Power, I know of no better on-line resource. Overall the AFT / RABT FAQs should be commended also for providing thorough references to Tolkien's work — something which all too many, even of the most popular encyclopedic sites, sadly fails to do.

The Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza
The LotR Plaza offers many interesting discussions for Tolkien lovers. Having but recently discovered this forum, I can attest to the kindness of the welcome. As so many other web-boards, this one doesn't really offer threading beyond what has been, by old-time usenet regulars, been called the ‘toilet-roll’ model. On the other hand, the options for formatting the text (using tables, font changes, font colours, indenting, italicization etc.) are much greater than on usenet, which allows for some other possibilities. In the end, I think that formatting is at most half the story — the most important thing is the posters, and at the LotR Plaza you will find many very knowledgeable posters contributing in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Slam Blogsma
Sam Bosma's blog. Inspired by the review referred to above, I sought out some more of Sam Bosma's work and stumbled across his blog where he has posted about his work on The Hobbit. Whether or no you actually like his final illustrations, his dicussions of their genesis are, I think, interesting in and of themselves.

= = = = Sources = = = =

John D. Rateliff (JDR) — ‘Sacnoth's Scriptorium’

Jason Fisher (JF) — ‘Lingwë — Musings of a Fish’

Michael Drout (MD) — ‘Wormtalk and Slugspeak’

Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull (H&S) — ‘Too Many Books and Never Enough’

Pieter Collier (PC) — ‘The Tolkien Library’

Douglas A. Anderson (DAA) et Al. — ‘Wormwoodiana’

Corey Olsen (CO), ‘The Tolkien Professor’

David Bratman (DB), ‘Calimac’

Larry Swain (LS), ‘The Ruminate’

‘Wellinghall’, ‘Musings of an Aging Fan’

Various, ‘The Northeast Tolkien Society’ (NETS), ‘Heren Istarion’

Bruce Charlton (BC), ‘Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers’

Andrew Higgins (AH), ‘Wotan's Musings’

Various, The Mythopoeic Society

Troels Forchhammer (TF), ‘Parmar-kenta’

Mythprint — ‘The Monthly Bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society’

Amon Hen — the Bulletin of the Tolkien Society

- and others

You can find the earlier editions at the Tolkien Transactions page at Parmar-kenta:

Troels Forchhammer
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Please put [AFT], [RABT] or ‘Tolkien’ in subject.

And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left
the path of wisdom.
- Gandalf, /The Fellowship of the Ring/ (J.R.R. Tolkien)