Sunday 28 August 2011

Source Criticism

I am about to embark on reading Jason Fisher's new book, Tolkien and the Study of his Sources, and I thought that I would carry out a little experiment — I am, after all, an experimental physicist by education ;-)

Now, before I start reading, I will record some of my thoughts on source criticism, and when I have finished Jason's book on the practice, I'll post again to note any developments and changes in my position.

First off, what is source criticism? Having decided to do this experiment, I realize that I don't really know the formal definition as such. I know that it involves the identification of more or less probable sources of inspiration for elements in a story — e.g. Kullervo in the Kalevala as the original inspiration for Túrin Turambar — but I don't know if the term is used to cover more than just the identification of the possible source, so here at least there is something for me to learn ;-)  However, for the purpose of this post, I will use ‘source criticism’ to refer to the activity of identifying sources exclusively.

So, source criticism …

Generally my first criterion when evaluating literary criticism is whether it affects my appreciation of the work in question — I like it best if it can heighten my appreciation or deepen my understanding, but I guess that such a positive effect is a luxury one cannot always insist on :-)  Now, in my experience this is very rarely, if ever, achieved by source criticism alone (in the sense given above) — not that it doesn't occur in any study that takes its outset in source criticism, but the effect is then achieved by combining the source criticism with other, often comparative, approaches.

Tolkien discourages source criticism in e.g. his essay On Fairy-Stories, but that is, in my view, not a good reason in itself to abstain from it, even with regards to Tolkien's own writings — he also discourages the study of an author's biographical details, and that at least is a widely accepted and appreciated area also within Tolkien studies, including the study of biographical details as sources of inspiration for his fiction (where source study and biography meet), and I greatly appreciate good biographical studies that give me an increased understanding of the man behind the art.

This also implies one route in which source criticism can be expanded upon: if Tolkien (or some other author — my considerations are not limited to Tolkien, though his work is my focus) knew something and adapted (consciously or not) it into his own art in a given way, does this, then, tell us anything about the man himself? E.g. about his position with respect to the source?

Another route might be to turn the focus to the source itself. The mere fact that Tolkien may have known some other work doesn't necessarily mean that it is interesting to me, but some further description and criticism of the source might make me appreciate the source more (or make me interested in experiencing the source personally).

One can also imagine the route of speculative extrapolation: if indeed Tolkien based some element of his fiction on a certain source, can we then use that assumption to tell us something about this element in Tolkien's fiction, that is not obvious from a study only of Tolkien's work itself?

It should not be too difficult to expand upon this list of routes, but the common characteristic is that even if they do take their outset in source criticism, they all move beyond the mere identification of a possible source and add something that is not, in the sense I use it here, source criticism. When used in such ways, I am all in favour of source criticism as a good and sound basis for critical studies, and I have thoroughly enjoyed many such studies (e.g. by Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey to name a couple of the most prominent scholars in the field).

Unfortunately that is not always the case.

Much of the source criticism that I have seen has been self-congratulatorily satisfied with identifying a source, demonstrating the erudition of the critic rather than attempting to understand Tolkien's work in any greater depth. These are, I realize, quite harsh words, but I must insist that the mere identification of a possible source and noting a number of more or less obvious (and occasionally strained) similarities is, in and of itself, quite uninteresting — it is only when the study is expanded beyond the mere source identification that it has the power to add value for the reader (exceptions can probably be found to this blanket rejection, but I do believe it is true for the vast majority of possible source critical studies).

This also brings me to speak of the problematic elements that mar at least some source critical studies. I will refrain from citing explicit examples of the various types of problematic behaviour, and so you will have to trust me that none of this is my own invention.

My personal background is in the sciences: I hold a master's degree in physics and a bachelor in computer science, and I work with the mathematical and statistical analysis of industrial tests and test results. As such there is often one particular thing that bothers me in source studies: when they ignore to consider alternative hypotheses (including the possibility of an amalgam of different sources, all pointing in roughly the same direction and alloyed in the crucible of the author's creative imagination). It is fine that they identify some source that may have inspired Tolkien, but if they don't consider alternative hypotheses at all, they can only show that a connection is possible, but say nothing about its likelihood: it is actually possible that I will suddenly tunnel a metre into the air, but it is not at all likely. One alternative that should always be considered is that of noise — that any similarities are merely random (I haven't come across a study that tries to quantify the amount of similarities between randomly selected works, but that could surely be interesting).

This is probably tied closely to the idea seems to underlie some source critical studies, namely that everything must have a source. ‘What is the source of this?’ the critic asks rhetorically, implying that they are not willing to consider the idea that there is no source — that we may be dealing with original invention. If we were dealing with original invention, then the similarities would be random, which is why it would be good to know something about this ‘noise-level’ in literature. I should probably add that I do not think that this is intentional — I don't think that any serious source-hunter would deny Tolkien's originality and inventive imagination, but their focus on the sources makes it easy to accidentally alienate some readers by appearing to do so.

A last practice is definitely not unique to source studies, and may not even be more prevalent there than in other critical approaches, but I will include it here because I have seen it in source studies, and I believe it is an example of mild misconduct in scholarship. I am talking of the practice of stating unconnected (and incontrovertible) facts in such a way that the reader is invited to draw the conclusion that they are connected, even though the scholar cannot make this conclusion her- or himself because there is actually no evidence for such a conclusion. The form it takes in source studies is usually to state facts showing that some source (e.g. in the form of a book) was available to Tolkien, for instance by noting that a book was available in a library at a period when Tolkien had access to, or even was using, said library. This invites the reader to conclude that Tolkien not only had access to the book, but also did access it: a conclusion that is completely without basis — in particular since any evidence that Tolkien did access it (e.g. that he took it out from the library) would surely have been given if it existed.

So, this is where I start. Now I look very much forward to reading Jason Fisher's book — I suspect that the definition that I have used of ‘source criticism’ is too narrow, but I have employed it here as a useful way to speak of the source-finding activity alone. It may seem odd, but I hope to be proven wrong, to be able to see the usefulness of source criticism (i.e. the source-hunting alone, as I have defined it above): it is much as with cheese, which I, unfortunately, intensely dislike, but watching friends and family enjoy a good cheese table (with a good red wine, which of course I can share the enjoyment of), I can get the feeling that my tastes prevent me from enjoying something very valuable. I trust, however, that my reason is more easily persuaded by reason than my taste buds ;-)

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Tolkien and Wales

Carl Phelpstead. Tolkien and Wales: Language, Literature and Identity. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011

Christina Scull has posted a review of this book on her and Wayne Hammond's blog, and overall I agree with just about everything Christina writes, and if you take only one thing away from this, let it be that this is a very excellent book that I recommend warmly!

The contents of the book are:

Definitions, conventions and abbreviations
Part I: Language
1. Encountering Welsh
2. Linguistic taste
3. Inventing language
Part II: Literature
4. Mythological sources
5. Arthurian literature
6. Breton connections
Part III: Identity
7. Insular identities
Appendix: Tolkien’s Welsh books

Overall the book is, as said above, excellent — truly a gem! As a non-native speaker, I often find the academic works on Tolkien to be rather slow to read, but Phelpstead's language makes it easier to read this book without, as I perceive it, loss of clarity or precision. There are few specialized expressions, and those that are there are necessary and are well explained (such as i-mutation and i-affection).

The Chronology lists only the main events discussed in the book along with very few primary events of Tolkien's life (presumably to put the events of the book in context). While there is little there that cannot be found in the Chronology volume of Hammond and Scull's The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, I actually found it very useful while reading to have this overview handy.

The part on languages is well-structured, and gives, besides what is hinted at in the chapter titles, an overview of the books that Tolkien owned on Welsh subjects and which are now in university collections in Oxford (the Bodleian or the English Faculty libraries) — valuable new biographical information — and an overview of the subject of Celtic and Celts both culturally and linguistically — this is a very valuable introduction to the question both as it were when Tolkien lived and as it stands now. Apart from this, the first chapter deals with Tolkien's encounter with Welsh and draws heavily on readily available sources, the second chapter dealing with linguistic taste contains the discussion of the evolution of the concept of ‘Celtic’, but I would have liked more depth in the discussion of Tolkien's personal linguistic taste to go along with his general theory, and in the last chapter that compares Sindarin and Welsh, I would have like to see a discussion of how the sounds, the phonemes, of Welsh influenced Sindarin. There may at times be a tendency to trust Tolkien's statements a bit further than may be wise. We know that Tolkien was given to a certain degree of exaggeration for rhetorical effect and to drive his point home, so I think Tolkien scholars need to be a little more careful when evaluating Tolkien's statements.

The part on literature also gives an overview of the surviving medieval literature in Welsh, Arthurian literature and Breton lays (each in the appropriate chapter). We get an overview in each chapter of the work Tolkien is known to have done pertaining to each area, including the influences that this literature has had on his fiction. Generally these influences on Tolkien's fiction are easier to spot in his smaller works such as Farmer Giles of Ham, Roverandom, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun and the unpublished The Fall of Arthur. With respect to the influences on Tolkien's legendarium, from The Book of Lost Tales to the late Silmarillion writings, the influences are often more conjectural. Phelpstead is clearly far more careful than many other writers, but cannot completely avoid what seems a small confirmation bias. He is, however, (as Christina Scull also notes) careful not to present such conjectures as fact.

The final, single-chapter part on identities presents the reader with an excellent discussion of Tolkien's personal identity as a west Midlander, Mercian or Hwiccian. There are some hints at a deeper theory of identity, but these are, I think, not elaborated enough upon to do the topic full justice. Tolkien's general ideas about regional identity may not be politically correct in our day, but they were nonetheless his and would, I think, deserve a closer investigation in a book that dedicates an entire chapter to Tolkien's own regional identity. I think that further work on this topic would be a valuable contribution to the field of Tolkien studies.

There is little for me to say about the addenda. It starts with an appendix listing the books Tolkien owned on Welsh matters that are now in either the Bodleian Library or the English Faculty Library. The forty pages of end-notes are a mix of references and comments (personally I would prefer to have separate systems for citations and explanatory notes), and they are followed by the bibliography and the index. The index seems to be quite good - only a couple of my test keyword searches failed (Beleriand and Lay of Leithian).

For me, one of the best things of Phelpstead's presentation is his inclusion of background knowledge on many of the scholarly topics that he discusses. While the book touches on many topics, and few can be expected to be experts in all of them, a scholar specializing in medieval Britian language and/or literature will probably find most of this superfluous, but to the non-expert is is invaluable. Where else would I have learned about the kingdom of Hwicce, and why this is relevant to Tolkien?

They say that people generally remember only the first and the last of what you say, so let me repeat what I said in the beginning: if you take only one thing away from this, let it be that Carl Phelpstead's book is excellent: a fine piece of Tolkien scholarship which is a rare pleasure to read, and which I warmly recommend.

Other on-line reviews:

Christina Scull:

Andrew Higgins:

Pieter Collier (announcement):

Monday 1 August 2011

Tolkien Transactions XV

July 2011

July 2011 will, at least in Denmark, be remembered for the tragic events in Norway on Friday the 22nd. When John F. Kennedy wanted to express his sympathy and empathy with the people of the divided city of Berlin, he said that ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ — well, that Friday I wanted to cry from the rooftop that ‘Ei er ein Nordmann!’ — I am a Norwegian.

In other respects, it has been a good month for Tolkien enthusiasts on the internet. In addition to the usual list of blogs that regularly report on Tolkienian matters, it would appear that the general lull in world events that usually occur every year in the northern summer (in Denmark we call this the ‘cucumber seson’) has left some space for a few Tolkien oddities to reach a greater audience than they would otherwise have done. In this category you will find odd news about Tolkien related builds in Lego, a bridge in Poland and in a game world. The release of the last Potter film inevitably provoked comparisons to that other famous fantasy film series, which, just as inevitably, spilled over to comparisons of the Harry Potter series to The Lord of the Rings. Towards the end of the month, the US newspaper Wall Street Journal referred to Hobbits in an article that was quoted in the Senate, and controversy ensued.

In other ,less frivolous, news, there are now two interesting books available for order: the collection of essays by Verlyn Flieger, Green Suns and Faerie: Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien, and Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays edited by Jason Fisher. Right now I'm trying to find the money to order both — unless someone can get me a review copy of either . . . (hoping) ;-)

= = = = News = = = =

Chris Phipson, Friday, 24 June 2011, ‘Journey of the Fellowship 2011’
A group of people decided to make Lego builds inspired by The Lord of the Rings for the Brickworld 2011 convention. Most of it is very nice, but I just wish they hadn't used the horror from the Jackson films as their model for the Black Tower — complete with the ludicrous eye :-(

NH/JB, Wednesday, 13 July 2011, ‘Gdansk to get Tolkien viaduct?’,Gdansk-to-get-Tolkien-viaduct
The story that the city of Gdansk in Poland may name a viaduct after Tolkien is probably not very interesting in itself, but there are other aspects that may be considered interesting. The mayor suggesting the use of Facebook to gauge interest in the idea shows how much influence the internet has in current politics. The use of Tolkien in this way — naming a new construction in a place with which he had no connection — is also, I believe, fairly new: I don't remember seeing it before, though I would be surprised if this is the very first. We have seen the use of Tolkien's name for selling books (see Douglas Anderson's ‘Tolkien and Fantasy’ blog cited below), and of course there are a number of places, particularly in England, that are using even rather tenuous connections with Tolkien for marketing purposes, but apparently Tolkien has now reached a status where his name can be used to name bridges — and who knows what more? Roads? Buildings? Squares? How about a ‘J.R.R. Tolkien Center’ — a new giant shopping center in Frankfurt? Or a ‘Piazza del Tolkien’ in Naples? It is, of course, a good thing that Tolkien's name can now be used by a town council in Poland to promote themselves to their voters, but I can't help wondering what Tolkien would have thought, had he been alive to see it.

DS, Thursday, 14 July 2011, ‘Wits with Neil Gaiman, Adam Savage, and Gollum: 'I Will Survive'’
Adam Savage once more presents credentials as a certifiable Tolkien geek . . .

With the advent of the final instalment of the Harry Potter film series it is probably inevitable that comparisons will arise between the various hugely succesful fantasy film franchises (which includes the Narnia films and the Star Wars films), occasionally accompanied by comparisons of the original works. A few examples of this genre follow:
James Verniere, Boston Herald, Friday, 15 July 2011, ‘‘Harry’ vs. ‘Lord’: Which will last?’
Steven Anfield, Benzinga, Friday, 15 July 2011, ‘Harry Potter — Just Go Away Already’
Louis Bedigian, Benzinga, Friday, 15 July 2011, ‘Is Harry Potter Better Than Tolkien, Narnia, and Star Wars?’
Michael Gerson, Tuesday, 19 July 2011, ‘Harry Potter and the power of myth’
Allison Gofman & Anaam Butt, PolicyMic, Friday, 22 July 2011, ‘What has stronger political themes, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?’
So far the opinion seems to be to favour Tolkien's work over Rowling's, but I probably won't live to see the final judgement on this war. I went to see the final Harry Potter film myself with the family, and found it a very good film — my only quib being that they didn't seize the chance to improve the story where Rowling had messed it up.

David D. Oberhelman, Mythopoeic Society, Sunday, 17 July 2011, ‘Mythopoeic Awards: 2011 Winners Announced’
As it says — the winners of the 2011 Mythopoeic Awards. The award in Inklings Studies this year goes to a C.S. Lewis book, Planet Narnia by Michael Ward, and the award for Myth and Fantasy Studies goes to Caroline Sumpter for her book The Victorian Press and the Fairy Tale.

Arwen, Sunday, 17 July 2011, "UWIC's ‘J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth and Middle-earth in Context’ Class Starts in October"
Dimitra Fimi's on-line lectures under the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff continues this fall with a course on Tolkien's legendarium:

Arwen, Sunday, 17 July 2011, ‘EXCLUSIVE: Middle-earth Net and The Tolkien Professor Launch Mythgard Institute’
The announcement at Middle-earth News of the Mythgard Institute (see below in the links section).

Wellinghall, Friday, 22 July 2011, ‘Tolkien slept here’
A collection of stories that make various claims about Tolkien's or Middle-earth's relation to some area or other — occasionally some of these claims may actually hold a new hint of something, but unfortunately not very often.

Jeff Mirus,, Friday, 22 July 2011, ‘Ignatius and T. M. Doran: Toward the Gleam’
A review of yet another fictionalisation of Inklings, though this one apparently isn't quite so vocal about it as other recent works. The premise for this book sounds interesting — one could almost call it a kind of intelligent sequel to Tolkien's work, but in the end I suppose it's unlikely that I'll ever read it.

Platform Nation, Monday, 25 July 2011, ‘Minecraft and Middle Earth: One Build To Rule Them All’
There is a new game in town called Minecraft in which you can (probably among many other things) build your own world. Inevitably someone will use it to try to build their version of Middle-earth. I was actually introduced to this by my sons, who had found it very impressive, and I agree. I looked through the Moria part with them, and I strongly suspect that these people are closer to Tolkien's vision of the vast kingdom and mines of the Longbeards than was Mr. Jackson.

DB, Wednesday, 27 July 2011, ‘welcome to the new home’
David Bratman's merry blog has a new provide and a new URL — the ‘Calimac’ blog at Livejournal will probably continue to be updated, but we should expect new posts to appear first at the ‘Kalimac’ blog at Blogspot.

Arwen, Middle-earth News, Thursday, 28 July 2011, ‘EXCLUSIVE: Middle-earth Network Takes on Publishing, Producing, and a Record Label’
I suppose the headline sums it up pretty well. Only time will show what will become of this, and what quality such a publishing effort may entail (whereby I immediately show my complete lack of interest for the record label or film production — there is a good reason why the title of my Tolkien blog translates ‘Enquiry into the Books’).

JDR, Thursday, 28 July 2011, ‘Well, This Is Weird’
I was long in doubt whether to post anything about this, but there is, I think, an interesting comment on Tolkien's sub-creation hidden away in this whole situation.
As I read it, the original WSJ article seems to have been reasonably favourable of Hobbits as such even if it does seem to present belief in this Hobbit scenario as being very naïve. Possibly the intention with the mention of Hobbits is precisely to invoke this naïvitée about how the larger world works, and this would, I believe, be reasonably in line with how Tolkien portrayed the Hobbits.
Speaking of Sam as a more representative hobbit, Tolkien describes some truly typical Hobbit traits:
a vulgarity — by which I do not mean a mere 'down-to-
earthiness' — a mental myopia which is proud of itself,
a smugness (in varying degrees) and cocksureness, and a
readiness to measure and sum up all things from a limited
experience, largely enshrined in sententious traditional
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Humprey Carpenter (ed.),
no. 246 to Mrs Eileen Elgar (drafts) September 1963
This, it would seem to me, is quite close to what the writer of the original WSJ article intends to imply, possibly together with an acknowledgement also of the good sides of the Hobbits — their courage and indomitability, for example (this should not be construed in any way as a comment on the appropriateness, or lack thereof, of the writer's intention).

Kieran Healy, Saturday, 30 July 2011, ‘Text Editors in The Lord of the Rings’
Thanks to Steuard for pointing out this humorous (though doubtlessly, as a comment on text-editors, also at least half in earnest) attempt to link text editors and Middle-earth locations.

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =

JDR, Friday, 1 July 2011, ‘Bilbo's Clue (clew)’
What did Bilbo mean when he referred to himself as ‘the clue-finder’ to Smaug? Well, according to this update by John Rateliff, he certainly meant that he had found the clew. The evidence is compelling that this is another case of a reference remaining in the published book to an episode that was cut — something we also see several examples of in The Lord of the Rings.

JDR, Friday, 8 July 2011, ‘Two Outta Three Ain't Bad’
Not so much scholarship in its own right as a comment on the academic status of Tolkien as an author. Spurred by a claim about signs that ‘an author has "arrived"’ in the book Bloomsbury Pie by Regina Marler (about the Bloomsbury Group), Rateliff takes a look at the signs that Tolkien has ‘arrived’ as an author in the academic world.

DAA, Monday, 11 July 2011, ‘Pre-1970 Paperbacks with Comparisons to Tolkien’
Following up from last month's round-up post, Douglas Anderson here provides us with more marketing comparisons of books to Tolkien's story. I concur with Anderson noting it as interesting that ‘the bulk of these early blurbs seem to have originated with people who had some connections with Tolkien.’ Both interesting and curious.

BC, Monday, 25 july 2011, ‘On JRR Tolkien's The Marring of Men’
This post is really just a pointer to, as Charlton puts it, his ‘only official Tolkien-related publication’, which is an essay / article from The Chronicle of the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society, 2008; Vol 5, Issue 3: 20-29 that he posted on another blog in September 2008. The article, which is essentially an analysis of the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth published in Morgoth's Ring, is, however, well-written and very interesting. Charlton has some points that I haven't seen elsewhere (not that I have seen much criticism of this text, which one would otherwise have thought merited it). Do read the article — it is, in my opinion, well worth the time.

BC, Monday, 25 july 2011, ‘Rank and Pay of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis’
Laying another small piece of the biographical puzzles of the Inklings, Charlton here has something to say of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis, his rank and his pay.

Ruth Lacon, Sunday, 31 July 2011, ‘Image and Glance - Some Thoughts on Tolkien-inspired Art and Illustration’
This is not a mere copy of Ruth Lacon's review of the 2011 Tolkien Calendar in Amon Hen #228 from March (mentioned in Tolkien Transactions XI), but a separate essay that nonetheless shows the same insight and appreciation that she showed in the review. I think the best praise that I can give it is to say that it is insights such as this that makes me wish to make an actual effort to stretch my sympathies to encompass Cor Blok's artwork.

Paul Nolan Hyde, Sunday, 31 July 2011, ‘Emotion with Dignity: J.R.R. Tolkien and Love’
I have no idea when this was originally put on-line, but it came to my attention in a tweet this month. It is a discussion of Tolkien's treatment of the relationship between men and women that takes its outset in a letter to his son, Michael, from March 1941.

= = = = Reviews and Announcements = = = =

Charles A. Huttar, Mythopoeic Society, Thursday, 7 July 2011, ‘Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: Sources of Inspiration’
‘This review originally appeared in Mythlore 113/114.’
Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings_: Sources of inspiration_ is a collection of papers, proceedings from a conference organised by Exeter College with some extra essays thrown in. Huttar finds the volume varying in quality, though he speaks very well of the papers of the biographical section.

Jason Fisher, Mythprint, Tuesday, 12 July 2011, ‘C.S. Lewis's Lost Aeneid’
Jason comments not only on Lewis' verse (which he finds excellent), but also on translation in general — a topic that we know also occupied Tolkien (just see his detailed instructions to translators of The Lord of the Rings).

Maggie Hartford, The Oxford Times, Monday, 18 July 2011, ‘Guide to Tolkien's Oxford’
A brief review of The Pitkin Guide to Tolkien by Robert Blackham.

HG, Wednesday, 6 July 2011, ‘Middle-earth News Just In’
It seems that we can expect a new, revised, edition of Henry Gee's book on The Science of Middle-earth — possibly as e-book or print-on-demand.

Christina Scull, Wednesday, 27 July 2011, ‘Tolkien and Wales’
In her review of Carl Phelpstead's Tolkien and Wales Christina Scull says ‘that it has been a long time since I enjoyed a work on Tolkien as much as I did this one’. Praise from the praiseworthy!

TF, Thursday, 28 July 2011, ‘Tolkien and Wales’
My own review in which I essentially agree with Christina Scull ;-)

JDR, Tuesday, 26 July 2011, ‘The Even Newer Arrival’
And obviously John Rateliff has also received his copy of Phelpstead's book, but has not yet had time to read it ;-)

PC, Saturday, 30 July 2011, ‘A Pocket Hobbit to celebrate The Hobbit's 75th anniversary of publication’
Announcing another book to appear as part of the celebration fo the 75th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of The Hobbit: a pocket edition.

JDR, Sunday, 31 July 2011, ‘More on Horne’
Having read Rateliff's review of the Tolkien biography by Mark Horne is ‘don't buy, but be on the watch for Tolkien-related essays or articles from the author’.

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

JDR, Saturday, 2 July 2011, ‘It Begins’
Rateliff investigates the first small hints at what changes to the story Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit might bring. So, the speculations begins . . .

JDR, Wednesday, 6 July 2011, ‘Poke-Em-With-A-Stick-Wednesday (Joseph Wright Takes On Saul of Tarsus)’
From Virginia Woolf and a character of hers who was inspired by Tolkien's tutor, the philologist Joseph Wright, this turns to Wright's attitude towards women (quite enlightened for his time) and finally to speculations over whether Wright's enlightened attitude may have rubbed off on his famous pupil, Ronald, despite the latter's otherwise often fairly conservative attitudes.

XKCD, Wednesday, 6 July 2011, ‘Delivery Notification’
The Tolkien — or rather the Jackson reference should be rather easy to spot . . . ;-)

Starr Keshet, TG Daily, Saturday, 9 July 2011, ‘On geek girls and Lord of the Rings’
Starr Keshet speculates on the possibility of e.g. a ‘LOTR mini-series that would offer a comprehensive and faithful visual depiction of the beloved trilogy.’ Part of the motivation for such a wish is to see Bombadil included, but while I appreciate the importance of Tom Bombadil in the book and to its author, I am not sure that he would translate all that well to a visual medium. The particular rythm that characterizes all his dialogue would, of course, be strengthened (many readers of the book, including myself, fails to notice this until it is pointed out), but I wonder if the dignity of the character is compatible with a faithful visual representation.

JDR, Monday, 11 July 2011, ‘The New Arrivals: Eddas and Fanzines’
John Rateliff is quite good at blogging about what new books he gets, and here we learn about two new arrivals, both of which have some Tolkien relevance. Both are the third volume of a series — one in a new English edition of the eddas by Ursula Dronke (‘text, translation and extensive commentary’ Rateliff writes), and the other belongs to a series by Gary Hunnewell who is apparently dedicated to producing a survey of all Tolkien fanzines in chronological order, and Rateliff notes that Hunnewell lists
the contents of each Tolkien fanzine, or other science
fiction/fantasy fanzine that had Tolkien content, with a
brief description of each essay or poem or editorial.
Both series are projects that command my respect.

BC, Thursday, 14 July 2011, ‘The Notion Club visualized by Afalstein’
Charlton has found someone who has tried their hand at illustrating episodes from The Notion Club Papers — interesting.

DB, Tuesday, 19 July 2011, ‘Mythcon 42’
DB, Wednesday, 20 July 2011, ‘Mythcon 42: program’
David Bratman's comments / report / review of this year's Mythcon, held in New Mexico. Once again I lament the costs of attending these conferences, which allow me only to attend something every fifth year or so (and probably never in the US).

BC, Sunday, 24 July 2011, ‘If history is myth; then modern socio-politics is also myth’
I suppose one might see this as a kind of manifesto by Charlton. It contains two leaps that I not entirely convinced are justified with respect to Tolkien and the clubs referred to (the TCBS, the Inklings and the fictitious Notion Club): that the ‘core Inklings project’ was ‘the recovery of history as myth’ and that this, even to the extent that it may be true, would mean what Charlton interprets it to mean. Still, as usual one doesn't have to agree with Charlton's analysis in order to find it interesting.

= = = = Rewarding Discussions = = = =

Lotr Plaza: ‘Christianity in Lord of the Rings’
Though actually starting earlier than July, this thread has given me the opportunity to express some of the ideas and thoughts that I have been developing regarding the role of Christianity in Tolkien's writings — both in The Lord of the Rings and in the larger legendarium. With a degree of self-promovation the URLs above are to my own contributions, which should definitely not be taken to imply that there is nothing worth reading higher up on the thread.

Dwarves in AFT & RABT
‘Dwarves baiting Wood Elves?’
‘Jackson's Dwarves are smarter Dwarves’
Steuard must, for some reason, have been thinking of stunted people this month, for his has posted two sets of intelligent comment on the dwarves in The Hobbit, noting that their actions do not always make sense. This has sparked some interesting comments.

= = = = Web Sites = = = =

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

Mythgard Institute
A new project launched by ‘Middle-earth Network’ and Corey Olsen (also known by his kilmessi ‘The Tolkien Professor’) that aims to offer ‘challenging, engaging classes, taught by world-class teachers and leading scholars.’ The classes are on subjects related to Tolkien:
The Mythgard Institute aspires to be an organization that
will support and facilitate teaching and research in
Tolkien studies and related fields into the twenty-first
It costs $150 to audit a class — as they point out, that is a mere $10 per week: about the price of a cinema ticket (actually its a bit less than a cinema ticket here in Denmark: it cost my family $16 per person to watch the last and latest instalment of the Harry Potter saga). I'm sorely tempted, but it also depends on the schedule.

David Simmons (DS), ‘Aiya Ilúvatar’
Steve Morrison was so kind as to point me to the blog aggregator at that had many blogs that I didn't know before. Many of these are now unavailable, and some of them have not seen new posts since 2006 or 2007, but a few of them are still active, and David Simmons' Aiya Ilúvatar blog has contributed an entry to this month's transactions.

TEUNC — probably ‘Tolkien Eccentric Unusual Nut-Cases’
TEUNC describe themselves as ‘a humorous offshoot from the usenet groups and rec.arts.books.tolkien.’ This is, to the best of my limited knowledge, the oldest such organisation. They used to count the highly respected ‘Softrat’ among their membership, and still they have many respected AFT & RABT posters among their membership. TEUNC really defies description — it is one of these things that are like a stone in the shoe that you have grown to like and love and which you wouldn't miss for anything.

UFAT — Who are not TEUNC
Having mentioned TEUNC, I had better also mention UFAT — a rival group for the attention of readers of AFT and RABT. Whatever their position on Balrog wings, UFAT is firmly in the non-pink-fluffy-slipper faction of Balrog scholarship. Sometimes I think one really had to be there . . ..

= = = = 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), ‘Kalimac’
and the old home:

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

Henry Gee (HG) ‘cromercrox’, ‘The End of the Pier Show’

David Simmons (DS), ‘Aiya Ilúvatar’

Troels Forchhammer (TF), ‘Parmar-kenta’

Mythprint — ‘The Monthly Bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society’

Amon Hen — the Bulletin of the Tolkien Society

- and others

Troels Forchhammer

The "paradox" is only a conflict between reality and your
feeling of what reality "ought to be".
- Richard Feynman