Friday 2 January 2015

Tolkien Transactions LIII

December 2014

First of all, I hope you have all had a very happy Yule, and I wish you all a prosperous, happy, and Tolkienian New Year!

Next, I will remind you of the 2015 birthday toast on Saturday, January 3rd, when you are supposed to toast to “The Professor” at 21:00 (9 PM) local time. For much more information, see the Tolkien Society's 2015 birthday toast pages – and don't forget that you can join the Tolkien Society ...

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

One advantage of writing up these things myself is that I get to be the sole arbiter of what I find interesting and Tolkien-related – the two primary criteria for inclusion in these transactions (besides the obvious one, that I must have seen it). Besides this brief notice, I shall therefore militantly ignore anything to do with the recent Hobbit film as it, by my judgement, fulfills neither of these criteria.

These transactions are posted on my blog, Parma-kenta (Enquiry into the books) and on the Tolkien Society web-site.

This month it has suited my purposes to sort the contents under the following headlines:
1: News
2: Events
3: Essays and Scholarship
4: Commentary
5: Reviews and Book News
6: Interviews
7: Tolkienian Artwork
8: Other Stuff
9: Rewarding Discussions
10: In Print
11: Web Sites
12: The Blog Roll
13: Sources

= = = = News = = = =

Emma Townshend, The Independent, Wednesday, 6 August 2014, ‘Tolkien's black pine: Why do we love old trees?
One of the articles that got produced on the news that the famous black pine of the Oxford Botanic Garden were to be cut down due to it posing a danger to the public.

Emma Townshend, The Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, 6 August 2014, ‘Tolkien fans' fury after tree collapses
Another article (by the same author as above, but in a different paper) on the felling of Oxford Botanic Garden's Pinus Nigra, this one focusing on the outrageous agression by certain people claiming to be fans of Tolkien.

Cheezburger, Friday, 22 August 2014, ‘All Good Journeys Must Come to the End
Just for fun ...

Cheryl Eddy, Wednesday, 3 December 2014, ‘Sotheby's Is Auctioning These Rare Tolkien Illustrations
A couple of interesting illustrations were up for sale at Sotheby's on 9 December along with some other “antiquarian books and manuscripts from an English country house”. The Tolkien items are two original illustrations by John Blanche of the Battle of Five Armies and the Downfall of Númenor respectively. The catalogue also includes many other wonderful items that have no relation to Tolkien.

Dimitra Fimi, Friday, 12 December 2014, ‘Tolkien and the Welsh language (and other news)
News on various projects that Dimitra Fimi has been involved with, including a couple of BBC iWonder guides.

Forces War Records, Friday, 12 December 2014, ‘Did Trench Fever Save 'The Hobbit'?
The information here is certainly not new (it is available in John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War), but I don't think that the admission and discharge book from the Casualty Clearing Station of the Officers' Hospital has been published before, and the two-day casualty statistics (38 dead, 63 missing and 166 wounded) for the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers are different period than the one Garth reports (41 dead or missing and 117 wounded), but are presumably for the same battle from 19th – 22nd October, but for a different period, or otherwise different records show different numbers.

N. Smerker, Wednesday, 17 December 2014, ‘Beowulf Through Tolkien
Announcing a course this spring exploring Beowulf through Tolkien and Vice Versa, taught by Professor Tom Shippey and Nelson Goering.

Tom Boggioni, Friday, 19 December 2014, ‘Swiss Tolkien collector opens lavish museum with its own Hobbit-hole and Balrog
The Greisinger Museum in Jenins is hardly news, but it's brilliant to see it making the news. The article explains what you can see at the museum.

Joe Gilronan
Do not disturb the water

= = = = Events = = = =

Shaun Gunner, Monday, 8 December 2014, ‘Tolkien Society Seminar 2015
On the Tolkien Society Seminar, to be held on the 4th July 2015 at the Hilton Hotel in Leeds. The theme in 2015 will be Tolkien's earliest works, through to his service in the Great War. This seems almost made for the likes of John Garth and Andrew Higgins, which makes me truly sad that I shan't be able to go.

The Tolkien Society, Wednesday, 24 December 2014, ‘Merry Christmas from the Tolkien Society
With the nice artwork by Anke Eißmann that was also on the Christmas card that was sent to members of the Tolkien Society.

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =
Highlights with some Tolkien connection from December:
Viking Hall discovered in Sweden” – Interesting find with threads to Lejre and Beowulf (8 December)
Norse Elements in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien” – A 2002 essay by Martin Wettstein looking into some of the Old Norse elements in Tolkien's work – some of these are possibly not entirely as straight-forward as Wettstein makes it appear, but overall it seems a reasonable introduction. (15 December)
‘In the hilt is fame’: resonances of medieval swords and sword-lore in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings” – A reference to a 2006 article from Mythlore vol. 25. But Mythlore is always worth an extra mention. (17 December)
Beowulf mini-series being created for television” – One should probably not start rejoicing before seeing the result, so let us be hopeful, but still await the 13 episodes from ITV before getting worked up ... (19 December)
Can you answer the Riddles of The Hobbit?” – I somehow find it difficult to believe that any of my readers will have problems remembering the answers to the ‘Riddles in the Dark’ in The Hobbit. (20 December)
The Year in Review: 1014” – Just because that idea is so good fun and therefore worth sharing :-) (31 December)

University of Oxford, Monday, 1 December 2014, ‘Tolkien Podcasts
A collection of podcasts with the keyword "Tolkien". The latest contributions are three podcasts from December 1st from the ‘Tolkien in Oxford’ at Merton College with Andy Orchard leading in true Tolkienian style with recitation from Beowulf.

Marcel Aubron-Bülles, Thursday, 4 December 2014, ‘Visit Tolkien's Birmingham (ca. 1890) via the British Library's Flickr
Pictures and images have always been important in the study of Tolkien and his work. There are, of course, his own work collected e.g. in Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, The Art of the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the upcoming Art of The Lord of the Rings as well as illustrations in various books, but also pictures from Tolkien's life (e.g. The Tolkien Family Album). This find of Marcel Aubron-Bülles' of images of Birmingham in Tolkien's earliest years is a valuable contribution to this, as it makes it easier for us to imagine the world in which Tolkien grew up.
The images from the book The Making of Birmingham can be found here, and you can also download a pdf of the whole book.

John Garth, Tuesday, 9 December 2014, ‘Tolkien's death of Smaug: American inspiration revealed
The parallels to Longfellow's Hiawatha have long been known and acknowledged (Tolkien himself indicated that he knew Longfellow's poem), but John Garth here extends the likely source connections, including the special death of Smaug in The Hobbit. Having come to expect Garth's work to be well-written, lively, interesting, and well-argued, I suppose it is unavoidable that he will some day fall short of the standard he has set – but that day has yet to come.

Emil Johansson, Saturday, 13 December 2014, ‘Character Mentions in the Lord of the Rings
Emil Johansson has produced a number of very nice graphs and statistics on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in this case an overview of the number of times a character is mentioned on any given page of The Lord of the Rings. Such graphs can be very revealing – e.g. by showing how much any given character is referred to when they are not present on stage in the narrative (as e.g. Frodo and Sam during book III, or the rest of the Company of the Ring during book IV).

Simon Cook, Friday, 19 December 2014, ‘Concerning Hobbits
I am always suspicious whenever people speak of any source as the source for some concept in Tolkien's writings – in most cases (certainly when the concept is something more complex than a single word), the use of the definite singular form is unwarranted, but in most cases the use of the indefinite could save that: suggesting that something might be a source for that concept (of course we also get a number of claims where even that is unwarranted).
Simon Cook takes a look at John Rhys' peculiar ideas about a race of british aborigines predating the Celts, and it does indeed seem likely that this does add something to the mix that is the Hobbits, but to claim that it is the only, or even just primary, source for the Hobbit race seem to me unlikely.

Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, Sunday, 21 December 2014, ‘Lord of the Rings Comparison 2
A valuable comparison of the text in new editions of The Lord of the Rings including the new editions from the last three years. A must read!

Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, Tuesday, 30 December 2014, ‘Tom Bombadil Addenda & Corrigenda
Another chance to exercise the superlatives! This set of addenda and corrigenda to their recent pocket edition of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, includes discussion of some of their decisions on what to include and what to omit from the volume, of some possibilities that they didn't consider, and on an error. It also includes a passage from a 1954 letter by Tolkien to Nevill Coghill, the quoted passage giving Tolkien's answer to Coghill's request for explanation of Tom Bombadil.

= = = = Commentary = = = =

Elliander Pictures and King Edward's School, Sunday, 30 November 2014, ‘Tolkien's Great War
A wonderful half-hour film about Tolkien and his TCBS friends in the Great War. Told by John Garth and faculty members from King Edward's School in Birmingham.

Thomas J. West, Tuesday, 2 December 2014, ‘Tolkien and the Political Pleasures of Sadness
I am not sure what the ‘political’ is doing in the title, but I think West captures something about the sense of sadness and loss in Tolkien's Hobbit work. My only quibble with this is that West omits discussion of the other side of it – the hope that is also present in Tolkien's work. Verlyn Flieger has an excellent (of course!) discussion of this in her introduction to Splintered Light.

Robbie Collin, Saturday, 6 December 2014, ‘The Hobbit: Tolkien's adventures in Hollywood
On some, though not all (I know that was a Swedish film in the seventies, and I also believe that there was at least one more Russian production in the Soviet era) of the many attempts to make a film-adaptation of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. All of these have things to commend them as their creators in each case added things to give them their “particular force or individual life,” (to use Tolkien's expression), but personally I am still hoping for something that I would recognise as Tolkien's' story (Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring was almost there ... almost).

Josh Glancy, Sunday, 7 December 2014, ‘Hobbit guide to our warring world
This article provides an OK, but not excellent summary of some of the points made by John Garth in Tolkien and the Great War (which Glancy acknowledges) and by Tom Shippey e.g. in Author of the Century (which he fails to acknowledge). For a better presentation, read the next article from the Mirror, or, better yet, read Garth's book.

Warren Manger, Sunday, 7 December 2014, ‘The Hobbit: Real life battles that inspired wars of Middle Earth [sic]
Based on an interview with John Garth, this article looks at the influences of Tolkien's experiences on his fiction. If I could, I'd rather put a geas on all the readers to go read John Garth's book, which gives a fuller, and far more rich, picture.

Rumeana Jahangir, BBC News, Sunday, 7 December 2014, ‘The Hobbit: How England inspired Tolkien's Middle Earth
While I am among the first to applaud any effort to bring the Shire home to England, but preferably this should avoid baseless claims such as Lydney Park (which Tolkien probably did not visit), various pairs of tall structures in Birmingham, or the Roman ring inscribed with ‘Silvianus’. The other examples in this list are, however, all firmly attested examples of how Tolkien found inspiration for his sub-creation in the lands he knew and had visited.

Dimitra Fimi, Monday, 8 December 2014, ‘Why do the Elves in The Hobbit sound Welsh?
A quick introduction to Tolkien's Welsh connection. Presented by Dimitra Fimi, this is an excellent introduction, and even if there is little or no new information, it is worth going through for the footage and the presentation.

Richard W. Rohlin, Thursday, 11 December 2014, ‘Richard Rohlin on 'King Sheave'
Discussing Tolkien's poem King Sheave, Rohlin takes a look at the etymological origins of 57 roots in the first stanza of the poem. The result is interesting, but I am afraid the sample is too small for a statistical analysis to be useful for any conclusions – in particular if the analysis appears to confirm the working hypothesis (remember to always look for evidence that will falsify your hypothesis). I hope Rohlin will find time to extend the analysis to all words in the entire poem, as this will provide a much better sample upon which one can actually conclude anything.

Damien Walter, Friday, 12 December 2014, ‘Tolkien's myths are a political fantasy
Well, of course they are ... what did you think? Though I like Walter's point about science using the language of storytelling, or myth, to convey its insight into the world, I think his piece is fatally flawed from the outset. The error, as I see it, lies in the presumption that, because I like a particular work of art, or the works of a particular artist, I need to agree, or even justify, the political or religious views that have shaped the art I like. This is, frankly, utter nonsense!
I am well aware that Tolkien's writings are shaped by his views, of which I disagree with many. But in my opinion, it is better to be able to enjoy something you disagree with than to close yourself to anything disagreeable. Who knows if my enjoyment of Tolkien might not help me grow into a better human being, precisely because he exposes me to ideas that I normally disagree with?

Huffington Post, Sunday, 14 December 2014, ‘7 Reasons Why 'Harry Potter' and 'Lord of the Rings' Should Be Required Reading in School
I don't disagree that the Harry Potter books (perhaps particularly the first three or four books of the series) and The Lord of the Rings would be good choices for schools, but some of the arguments here are, in my opinion, more indicative of the unknown writer's own enthusiasm than of considered thought. She also seems unable to imagine that the books that have so enthused her might not enthuse everyone, nor that some of the books that have bored her might enthuse others, and this also weakens her argument.

= = = = Reviews and Book News = = = =

David P. Goldman, Monday, 1 December 2014, ‘How Tolkien Ennobled Popular Culture (While Star Wars Degraded It)
Most of this post is a review of an extensive 2007 review of Tolkien's The Children of Húrin from a specifically Christian perspective. While I often find the blinkered myopia of those taking this perspective to be problematic, it is nonetheless a perspective that one certainly cannot ignore when trying to understand Tolkien, and Goldman does not ignore other perspectives.

Morgan Thomsen, Thursday, 11 December 2014, ‘Tolkien's 'Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation'
A description of the publication, in the French La Feullie de la Compagnie
, of three short texts by Tolkien on Elvish reincarnation. We can only hope that this material will also soon be available to an international audience.
Emil Johansson, Monday, 15 December 2014, ‘Tolkien's beautiful letters from Father Christmas to his children
It has been the season for some attention on the Letters from Father Christmas. Emil Johansson shows a few images, including the 1933 letter with transcript.

James Heiser, Wednesiday, 17 December 2014, ‘A Review of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Beowulf"
As it says, a review of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. The reviewer finds much to commend the book, saying that “readers may readily come to regard” Tolkien's book as “both readily accessible to the popular reader and of substantial merit to scholars in the midst of their studies.”

Theresa Jackson, Thursday, 18 December 2014, ‘Biography Gives Quick Look At Tolkien
A review of Devin Brown's biography of Tolkien, Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century. While this review is quite positive, it is also clear from this review that Brown's book doesn't really add anything new compared to the biographical information in Carpenter's Biography, Garth's Tolkien and the Great War and Scull and Hammond's Companion and Guide – three books that I will strongly urge anyone interested in Tolkien's biography to buy.

Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards, Wednesday, 24 December 2014, ‘Are Hobbits For Hippies? Or, How Would J.R.R. Tolkien Vote?
What better than get a chance to present your own book? Getting the authors to write about the topic of their book seems a good solution, provided you agree with the authors' world view, but it is hardly the road to a balanced review. Witt and Richards, from everything I have seen about their book, mostly provide us with an example of a very strong projection bias: projecting their own views onto Tolkien and then going to the source to confirm their pre-made conclusions. It is true that Tolkien in many ways should be considered conservative, but he would nonetheless have been appalled at the positions of the people who self-identify as conservatives in modern American or British (or for that matter, Danish) politics. Not that he would have liked the alternatives any better – he would have found some small aspects to agree with in all positions, and much more to be horrified over: Tolkien's views simply do not exist on the modern political compass.

Ilia Blinderman, Friday, 26 December 2014, ‘Read J. R. R. Tolkien's "Letter From Father Christmas" To His Young Children
Another article about Tolkien's Letters from Father Christmas, this time featuring the 1925 letter with transcript.

= = = = Interviews = = = =

Carlotte and Denis Plimmer, Monday, 8 December 2014, ‘JRR Tolkien: 'Film my books? It's easier to film The Odyssey'
Originally published in The Telegraph magazine on 22 March 1968 under the title ‘The Man Who Understands Hobbits’, this is the famous Plimmer interview with Tolkien, who was not wholly satisfied with it, though evidently the Plimmers did take much of his commentary to heart (they had sent Tolkien a draft for the interview, to which he sent a ten-page typewritten commentary).

Wayne G. Hammond, Friday, 26 December 2014, ‘Love, Career, Tolkien
The full text of Wayne Hammond's answers to the questions for last month's interview in the Williams Record along with some additional comments.

= = = = Tolkienian Artwork = = = =

Various, December 2014, ‘There and Back Again
The flavour of the month for December 2014 at John Howe's web-site was “There and Back Again” which, unsurprisingly, included many hobbit-inspired pictures by the various contributors.

Graeme Skinner, Wednesday, 10 December 2014, ‘In the Shire
A nice little hobbit hole with a blue door.

Joe Gilronan, Thursday, 11 December 2014, ‘New painting Moria "Do not disturb the water"
The fellowship is gathered on the Eregion side of the lake before the West gate.

Graeme Skinner, Sunday, 14 December 2014, ‘For Sale by Auction
The notice of the auction on the gate as Bilbo returned.

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

BBC, ‘BBC Archival Footage: In Their Own Words British Authors – J.R.R. Tolkien
Since BBC have themselves linked to this Youtube video from their archives, I presume it is OK to do it here as well. First aired in 1968, this video (and part 2, which is linked in the description) features an interview with Tolkien by BBC's John Izzard in the BBC series In Their Own Words British Authors.

Austin Gilkeson, Monday, 8 December 2014, ‘How I Defeated the Tolkien Estate
As everyone reading this regularly will know, I am pretty much a humourless nerd when it comes to Tolkien, so you will not be interested in what I think of this satire. Better men than I have found it hilarious (I did smile, several times, even!)

T.J. West, Friday, 12 December 2014, ‘Teaching Tolkien: Biographical, Textual, and Historical Approaches
Some speculations into how one might go about teaching an entry-level course on Tolkien, discussing various possible approaches to such a course, and what kind of books might go into it.

Laurence Dodds, Friday, 12 December 2014, ‘The Hobbit: How the 'clomping foot of nerdism' destroyed Tolkien's dream - and the fantasy genre
It's one of these occasions where one can only shrug and say that everybody are entitled to an opinion, but not all opinions are equal. While I have certainly encountered a handful (or less) of Tolkien fans on-line whose behaviour might fall close enough to the charicature that Dodds paints to make it at least somewhat amusing, the vast majority of people I have met in a Tolkien context have been very different from this. If we were to take this seriously, one might have expected a bit of research into the group of people that one tries to paint with a broad brush. If Dodds prefers The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings, then that is all very fine, but I don't see the point of having to justify this by claiming that all the people who feel differently have destroyed the entire fantasy genre.

Olivia Goldhill, Friday, 12 December 2014, ‘The Hobbit: Welcome to the world of Tolkien mania
A somewhat more kindly description of Tolkien enthusiasts, including a favourable description of the Tolkien Society.

CGP Grey, Wednesday, 17 December 2014, ‘The Lord of the Rings Mythology Explained
I have seen many references to this video, and I applaud the idea, and I think they have done better than could have been expected (given the aim to explain Tolkien's mythology in little more than 4 minutes), but there are still too many errors. Besides what we might call linguistic errors (misspelling Saruman's name and erroneous Elvish word-forms), there are some cases of error by oversimplification (including presenting speculative ideas as fact). The most egregious error that I noticed was the misrepresentation of the Gift of Ilúvatar to Men – for some strange reason most commenters fail to realise that the all-important aspect of this is the freedom from fate while alive in Arda, and that mortality is the less important side-effect.

Daniel Helen, Saturday, 27 December 2014, ‘Who are the armies in the Battle of Five Armies anyway?
A look at the five armies, and who they were, including Tolkien's early notes as described in John Rateliff's History of the Hobbit.

= = = = Rewarding Discussions = = = =

LotR Fanatics Plaza, December 2014, ‘Thread: LOTR edition that Tolkien would want me to buy...?
This old (2012) thread was updated in December with some very interesting information regarding new and upcoming editions of The Lord of the Rings from HarperCollins ... and the promise (since fulfilled) from Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond (user Findegil) of an update of their post comparing editions of The Lord of the Rings was also very good news indeed!

LotR Fanatics Plaza, November – December 2014, ‘Tolkien's views of Paganism
A very interesting thread following up on a short discussion on Facebook. This discussion also attempts to look into how Tolkien imagined the pagan's world view and the pagan's outlook.

= = = = In Print = = = =

I received a big envelope from The Tolkien Society this month, containing a Christmas card, Amon Hen no. 250 and Mallorn no. 55 – many goodies there!

Volume 11 of Tolkien Studies has started arriving, but not yet in Hedehusene – hopefully I will receive it shortly ...

= = = = Web Sites = = = =

Blog, “Queerly Different
I do hope that West will continue to occasionally blog on Tolkienian matters (his intention was to declare December 2014 as ‘Tolkien Appreciation Month’), as there are some new perspectives that I find interesting.

= = = = The Blog Roll = = = =

These are blogs you really should be following yourself if you're interested in Tolkien ...
Contents from these blogs will only be reported here if there is something that I find particularly interesting, or posts that fit with a monthly theme. However, you will find below links to monthly archives of posts for months where the blog has featured interesting posts with at least some Tolkien connection. In some cases you may find a headline for a post, if I wish to recommend it particularly.

Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond (S&H), ‘Too Many Books and Never Enough
Archive of posts from December 2014

Douglas A. Anderson (DAA), ‘Tolkien and Fantasy
Archive of posts from December 2014

John D. Rateliff (JDR) -- ‘Sacnoth's Scriptorium
Archive of posts from December 2014

John Garth, ‘John GarthArchive of posts from December 2014

Marcel Aubron-Bülles (MB), ‘The Tolkienist
Archive of posts from December 2014

David Bratman (DB), ‘Kalimac's Journal
Archive of posts from December 2014

Morgan Thomsen (MT), ‘Mythoi
The post from December 2014

Various, The Tolkien Society (TS)
Archive of posts from December 2014

Simon Cook, Ye Machine
Archive of posts from December 2014

Emil Johansson (EJ), ‘LotR Project Blog
Archive of posts from December 2014

Michael Martinez (MM), ‘Middle-earth
Archive of posts from December 2014

Bruce Charlton (BC), ‘Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers
Archive of posts from December 2014

= = = = Sources = = = =

No new sources in December 2014

For older sources, see