Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gandalf disses Dumbledore

Okay, not exactly. But for those who enjoy a little gossip, I came across a tasty tidbit this morning. Apparently, when Richard Harris passed away, Ian McKellen was approached about the part of Dumbledore — dueling sirs. :) But McKellen has this to say about the question:
People say to me, ‘Don’t you wish you’d played Dumbledore?’ I say no! I played Gandalf! The original. There was a question as to whether I might take over from Richard Harris but seeing as one of the last things he did publicly was say what a dreadful actor he thought I was, it would not have been appropriate for me to take over his part. It would have been unfair.
That sounds like a reasonable response to me. Though with the recent revelations about Dumbledore’s sexual preferences, perhaps Sir Ian would have been the best choice after all. (Sorry, couldn’t resist teasing.)

The rest of the article is also well worth reading, ranging, inter alia, from Tolkien to Rowling to Pullman (McKellen is the voice of Iorek Byrnison in the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, debuting next week). How I wish I could see his King Lear! He was brilliant in the 1995 film adapation of Richard III.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Upcoming publications on Tolkien and Lewis [Updated]

Forgive the surfeit of ego, loyal readers, but what is a blog for if not to trumpet one’s own successes from time to time? And so, armed with that flimsy excuse to crow, I have several announcements of impending publication to share:

First, my contribution to Walking Tree’s The Silmarillion: 30 Years On is finally on the horizon. There’s even a cover design — quite a nice one, too. Walking Tree have finally opted for cover illustrations. The book hasn’t shown up in Amazon’s inventory quite yet, but it should be there any day now. [Update: It’s on Amazon now, here.] Uncharacteristically, the Walking Tree page doesn’t enumerate the contents, so here’s what I have (the titles may have changed; this was early, provisional information):

- Nils Ivar Agøy, The Supposed Audiences of the Ainulindalë, Valaquenta, and Quenta Silmarillion
- Rhona Beare, A Mythology for England
- Michaël Devaux, The Origins of the Ainulindalë
- Michael D. C. Drout, Reflections on Thirty Years of Reading The Silmarillion
- Jason Fisher, From Mythopoeia To Mythography: Tolkien, Lönnrot, And Jerome
- Anna Slack, Moving Mandos: Subcreation and the Voice in the Tale ‘Of Beren and Luthien’

There was also supposed to be a seventh chapter, but its author (who shall remain nameless) was unable to deliver it after all. Too bad. It promised to be very interesting indeed. Perhaps we’ll see it in another collection some day. In any event, I’m absolutely delighted to join the ranks of these other seasoned scholars, some of whom I’ve worked and corresponded with before, others of whom I’ve never personally met.

Second, another book chapter, which began as a conference paper in early 2006: “Tolkien’s Felix Culpa and the Third Theme of Ilúvatar.” This will be appearing in Truths Breathed Through Silver: The Inklings’ Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy, edited by Jonathan Himes, and forthcoming from Cambridge Scholars Publishers in February 2008. I don’t know the full table of contents for this volume yet, but I can tell you that it’s got chapters by some very big names in Inklings studies, including: Tom Shippey, Rolland Hein, Thomas Howard, Ralph Wood, and Joe Christopher, just to name a few. And again, I’m humbled to share pages with such luminaries.

Third, I’m currently in a mad dash to finish a promised chapter for Tolkien: The Scholar as Minstrel, a new book edited by Bradford Lee Eden. This title is forthcoming — or perhaps I should say it’s being considered; I don’t know the state of their agreement — from Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, some time in 2008. My contribution will be “Horns of Dawn: The Tradition of Alliterative Verse in Rohan.” No clear idea of the rest of the contents, but I’ll post with more information when I have it. I do have an idea of the dozen or so contributors, but sharing that list might be premature.

And finally, another conference paper turned book chapter: “Tree of Language, Tree of Tales: A Shared Metaphor in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien” was accepted for inclusion in Through the Wardrobe: Essays on C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, to be published next year. The editors are John Briggs and Craig Svonkin of the University of California Riverside, but I don’t know the publisher yet. More details as they develop.

So there you have it. From soonest to latest to appear. And I trust you’ll all rush out (or rush online) to get your copies the minute they’re available — if only to read the chapters by Shippey, Drout, Agøy, et al. But hey, I’ll take whatever exposure I can get. :)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New thoughts on the etymology of “Tolkien”

J.R.R. Tolkien famously discussed the etymology of his own surname in a letter to his American publisher, Houghton Mifflin in 1955, where he also seemed to register some annoyance at repeated misspellings of it. This misspelling probably owes something to the frequency of a similar suffix, –stein, in German names; I run into the same thing myself when people assume that my last name must be spelled Fischer — which I hate. Even when there’s a logical reason, misspelling a prominent individual’s name is simply careless, and I can certainly understand why Tolkien would have lost patience with it. And as if spelling it incorrectly weren’t enough, many people mispronounce it, too. Tolkien himself explained: “I am nearly always written to as Tolkein [sic] (not by you): I do not know why, since it is pronounced by me always –keen.” [1] But I digress ...

Of his cognomen, Tolkien wrote the following note:

My name is TOLKIEN (not –kein). It is a German name (from Saxony), an anglicization of Tollkiehn, i.e. tollkühn. But, except as a guide to spelling, this fact is as fallacious as all facts in the raw. For I am neither ‘foolhardy’ nor German, whatever some remote ancestors may have been.” [2]

Here we have Tolkien’s typical sense of philological humor, as the German tollkühn, of course, means “foolhardy” in English. It’s a compound, actually; just as “foolish” and “hardy” are more or less antonymic in English, so are German toll “mad, crazy” and kühn “bold”. Tolkien puns on his own name in The Notion Club Papers with the invention of Rashbold — so far as I know, unattested as an anthroponym, but actually attested as an English calque for Germanic dummkúhn “foolhardy, rash, rashbold, temerarious”. [3] I wonder whether Tolkien knew this (apparently unique) source!

But though this was Tolkien’s sense of his own name, was it correct? Could there be another explanation? It’s a somewhat strange, almost denigrating meaning, isn’t it? But even so, I would never have questioned this etymology had I not come across a rather arcane volume called The Teutonic Name-System Applied to the Family Names of France, England, and Germany. This surprising treasure trove takes a topical / etymological approach to anthroponymy, with introductory chapters on simple forms, diminutives, phonetic additions, patronymics, compounds, and so forth; followed by more fascinating chapters on Our Natural Enemies, The Brute and Its Attributes, The Gods of the North, and The Station in Life, among many, many others. In a chapter called The Warrior and His Arms, we find the surname Tolkien attested, like so:

The following root seems to be referable to Old Norse dolgr, foe, Ang.-Sax. dolg, vulnus [Latin “wound, injury”]. SIMPLE FORMS. Old Germ. Tulga (West Gothic king, 7th cent.), Tulcho. Eng. TULK. Mod. Germ. DULK. PHONETIC ENDING. Old Germ. Tolcon, 10th cent. Eng. TOLKIEN, TOLKEN. Mod. Germ. DULCKEN. [4]

As a side note, is the similarity between the names Tolkien and Tulkas a mere coincidence? Probably, but it’s tantalizing fodder for wild theories nonetheless! ;)

Does it make more sense for the etymology of one’s surname to refer to foes, weapons, wounds, and so forth, than to a state of foolhardiness (by which attitude I suppose one might have acquired more than one’s share of wounds, hahae)? I don’t know. Was Robert Ferguson right about its origins (e.g., he does not explain, merely asserts, the arrival of the –n)? Again, I don’t know. But it is interesting to see the name attested, on record, and with a very different etymology. Would that I could ask the Professor about it. I am sure it would have made for a very lively discussion!

[1] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981, p.428.

[2] Ibid., p.218.

[3] Bailey-Fahrenkrüger’s Wörterbuch der Englischen Sprache. Zwölfte Auflage, gänzlich umgearbeitet von [Twelfth edition, completely reworked by] Adolf Wagner. Jena: Friedrich Frommann, 1822, p.182.

[4] Ferguson, Robert. The Teutonic Name-System Applied to the Family Names of France, England, and Germany. London: Williams & Norgate, 1864, p.184.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beowulf and Tolkien

There’s an interesting article in Salon today comparing the new Beowulf film by Robert Zemeckis with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Much better researched and argued than usual for its type. And it gets major bonus points from me for the author’s discussion of Tolkien’s landmark essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” as well as for quoting from his poem, “Mythopoeia.”

Here’s a nice excerpt that gets straight to the point of how and why Zemeckis’s Beowulf is fundamentally flawed (even if it may be an exciting and dazzling visual spectacle — I haven’t seen it yet):

“Beowulf” doesn’t fail because it changes the story: It fails because it is so busy juicing up the story that it does not create a mythical universe. It has no transfiguring vision. It seizes upon an ancient tale, whose invisible roots run deep into our psyches, and uses it to construct a shiny, plastic entertainment. It takes a wild fable and turns it into a tame story. But “Beowulf” is the kind of story that is meaningless unless it is part of a cosmology. It is, in short, a myth.

A very astute criticism.

Has anyone seen the film yet? Anyone planning to? I probably will, but with carefully managed expectations. I haven’t seen any of the previous film versions, but I have read Michael Crichton’s The Thirteenth Warrior (the novel’s original — and better — title is Eaters of the Dead). A very enjoyable retelling of the myth. Speaking of which, another very original adaptation is John Gardner’s Grendel.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Another item for my to-do list

Frightening!There’s something I’ve had on my to-do list for quite a long time now: to blog about my wife Jennifer’s to-do lists. I’m not trying to be all “meta” — I’m serious. Her to-do lists are, depending on how you look at them, either a thing of terrifying beauty — or just terrifying. You can see one of them above (that’s right: I said one of them). Click on it for a closer look (not that this will make it any more legible, hahae). And it may sound like a joke, but sometimes, if you look closely, one of the items on her to-do list is ... wait for it ... to make a new to-do list. No kidding! :)

And here’s the truly amazing thing: as much as you can see on her lists, she’s got probably ten times that much in her head, stuff that never makes it all the way to a list. It’s impressive, and a bit intimidating.

But I just came across someone else with an interest in to-do lists. Sasha Cagen has written a book about them, with many examples (culled from the over 5,000 she’s collected). Some are strange, some disturbing, some sad, some funny. All are pretty interesting. Here is a book trailer (a surprisingly good one, unlike others I’ve blogged about).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Weasleys’ Magic Clock can be yours — sort of

This is fun. Microsoft Researchers in Cambridge (appropriately enough) have developed a technology-based answer to the Weasleys’ Magic Clock — you remember, the one with a hand that indicates the location of each member of the family. Microsoft’s version, which they call the Whereabouts Clock, was clearly inspired by Rowling’s — which is pretty incredible in an of itself. From one of their documents:
The idea of a clock displaying location rather than time, of course, is not new. In the Harry Potter books, the Weasley family has a magic clock with hands for each member of the family indicating their location or state. Our initial design for the home uses icons rather than mechanical hands, and displays only four categories of location [...] We also rely on technology rather than wizardry to make the clock work!
How about that! Where most technology solutions of this sort plot the location of friends and family on maps or cell phones, Microsoft’s new test product shows just how far-reaching J.K. Rowling’s influence on popular culture has become.

Now, if only the Microsoft Whereabouts Clock had a setting for mortal peril like the Weasleys’ Clock!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lloyd Alexander, before Prydain

Before Prydain, there was Time Cat, Lloyd Alexander’s first foray into fantasy fiction for young people (and a very entertaining read), but before that, Alexander wrote several memoirs which are all out of print and pretty difficult to find. Growing up, I can remember seeing them atop the flyleaf “Also By” list again and again: And Let the Credit Go (1955), My Five Tigers (1956), Janine is French (1959). I always wondered about these books, but I could never find one. And it’s gotten still more difficult. Recent searches on Bookfinder show that Alexander’s first published book, And Let the Credit Go, will set you back quite a bit of your own credit: anywhere from $90 on up to more than $300! Janine is French goes for upwards of $65; but My Five Tigers, at least, you can get for an affordable price: $15 and up.

So imagine my surprise when I came across a copy of My Five Tigers at Half Price Books recently. In fact, it was an original hardcover, published by Thomas Y. Crowell in 1956, with a pristine dust jacket identifying the copy as a second printing. Also interesting is the fact that, as a pre-Prydain book, the dust jacket blurbs talk Alexander up for his translations and memoirs alone, which offers a very interesting, and very different perspective on the man who would later become so famous for his fantasy. So, altogether a fantastic copy in rare condition for its age (just over fifty years old). The price? $3.00. No, I’m not kidding! Is that good fortune smiling down on me, or what?!

The book is a wonderful read, especially for fans of Lloyd Alexander, cats, humorous memoirs — or all three. The books is also charmingly illustrated by Peggy Bacon. In it, Alexander recounts how he became a “cat person” (a reluctant one at first) after returning to America with his new (French) wife, Janine in 1946. Settling in Philadelphia:
That first spring, while Janine set about getting the house in livable shape, I undertook to find a pet. Naturally, I chose a dog: an eight-months puppy from the local animal refuge. I named him Barkis — Barkis the Unwilling — and his conduct was enough to try the patience of the most unshakable dog-lover [...] One day he ran off and never came back. (p.2)
So, at Janine’s urging, they turned to cats. And over the ensuing 120 pages, Alexander recounts the adventures of daily life with their first five felines: Rabbit, Heathcliff, David, Solomon, and Moira (the only female). Each has his (or her) own unique personality, hangups, entertainments, and habits. All of it is delightfully shared with readers. (There is one sad story, but I will say no more than that.) The other thing I should point out is how well-written the book is. Alexander fans will know (and I wrote about this recently) that as good as his novels are, they can begin to feel a little — how shall I put this? — stale? recycled? Again, I mean only the gentlest criticism by this. But My Five Tigers feels very fresh and original! There are very few of the “Alexanderisms” we’ve all come to recognize (e.g., “vexed”, “took to his heels”, “his head swam”, “into the bargain” — sound familiar?).

Also, attentive readers might notice a few images that pop up again in Alexander’s fiction. For example, Rabbit likes to curl up next to an old Irish harp and occasionally pluck at the strings (p.7) — perhaps this helped Alexander to envision the relationship between Fflewddur Fflam and the great mountain cat, Llyan, for The Castle of Llyr. And then there’s the image of Alexander practicing the violin, the noise of which Heathcliff could not tolerate — “Balancing himself on his hind feet, he reached up and sank his claws into my knees. The more I played, the harder he scratched” (p.35). I can’t help but picture Sebastian and Presto from The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian.

So, if you can get your paws on it, look for My Five Tigers. It’s a charming, wonderfully entertaining (and short), book. Alexander fans will simply devour it like so much catnip. And now — any of you have a copy of And Let the Credit Go or Janine is French you could lend out? :)

Monday, November 12, 2007

I Am Legend — a must read!

I don’t read a lot of horror. Well, modern horror, anyway. I’ve read Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Gustav Meyrink, and other, proto-horror. Plus some quasi-horror by people like Ray Bradbury, Chuck Palahniuk, Michael Crichton, and Scott Smith. But Stephen King, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, no, not a one. (Well, not their horror novels; I did read Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, and Anne Rice’s fetish novel, Exit to Eden, published under a pseudonym). It’s a bit surprising, I guess, since I love horror movies, but I digress ...

I just finished reading Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, I Am Legend, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Somewhere between horror and science fiction, but closer to the former, it’s not only a creepy thriller, but an extremely well-written novel. Taut, exciting, inventive. With some very original things to say about vampires. And though written fifty years ago, it doesn’t feel at all dated — which in itself is quite an amazing accomplishment. Give it a look, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I saw a trailer for the upcoming film version, starring Will Smith, which looked quite good. So when I learned the film was based on a novel, I got it from the library. If a movie I’m interested in is based on a book, I’ll usually read it first (as with Jurassic Park, Big Fish, Little Children — to name just a few). Invariably, the novel is better, and I’m sure this will be true of I Am Legend also.

Has anyone else read it? Or other Matheson?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Baltika Porter

“Beer me” another country, folks! (Did anyone see the episode of The Office where Andy Bernard keeps using “beer” as a verb, roughly synonymous with “give”? Classic! And don’t get me started on the Writers’ Strike, but if you love television, help these guys and gals out. Write to the networks and show some solidarity with the people who put all those words in your favorite characters’ mouths!)

Anyway, sorry for the screed; back to the topic at hand: Baltika Porter (or perhaps I should say Балтика Портер), a delicious dark beer from St. Petersburg, Russia that I just got the chance to try. And when I say dark, I’m talking about a dark chocolatey brown you can’t see through — even if you hold it up to the light (which I did). It looks like a Guiness Stout, and the taste compares favorably. Sweet and malty, with just a hint of bitterness. Not overly carbonated, and therefore a very smooth glass. Porters tend to be a little heavier on the alcohol content, and this one weighs in at 7% by volume.

I can highly recommend Baltika, so if you like beers of the world, give this one a try. (And if dark beers aren’t your cup of ale, Baltika has a lager, a wheat beer, and a pale ale as well.)

Friday diversion: Middle-earth fan film project

Ordinarily, I’m a bit wary of “fan projects”, especially of the film variety. I really have nothing against fandom or its varioius manifestations, honestly, but the production quality of most self-professed “serious” Tolkien-inspired video clips is just so awful, I can hardly watch them. Not to mention the cringe-worthy acting I usually see. Spoofs are a different matter, of course; there, poor production quality can be part of their charm. Here’s one of those that I like.

So it was without particularly high hopes that I pointed my browser to Born of Hope: A Lord of the Rings Fan Film this morning. Well, I was quite surprised by what I found. For a non-commercial project (which it must be, for questions of copyright), the quality is quite astonishing. Take a look at the trailer they’ve put together (on their Media Page as well as here, on Youtube), and I think you’ll be impressed. The acting is not at all bad, the film quality is terrific, and the story appears to be on the right track from what I can see. They’re using samples from the Howard Shore soundtrack(s) of the Peter Jackson films for now (and they should probably think about changing that before they get a C&D), but they have plans for their own original music as well.

The settings look a bit too Anglo-Saxon (which comes as no surprise, considering the film is being made in the countryside of England), but apart from that, they’re doing a really fine job so far. Their orcs were extremely impressive, helped in large part by the involvement of some of the folks who worked with New Line and WETA on Peter Jackson’s films. On their Media Page, they also have a number of “featurette” clips on the project, as well as a couple of pretty professional-looking movie posters they’ve designed.

Stop by and take a look. If only all fan efforts were of this caliber.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tesser well, good readers!

As many of you know, Madeleine L’Engle died only two months ago, not long after Lloyd Alexander’s passing; and so, thinking about all the books I had enjoyed as a child, I decided I would read A Wrinkle in Time again — for only the second time since I first read it some twenty-five (or more?) years ago. The fog of those years had left me with only a few very vague memories of the book, and even those dim recollections were superseded in my mind by images from a Wrinkle in Time filmstrip I can remember seeing in elementary or early junior high school. And now that I’ve read it again, it turns out that some of things I’d remembered must have been from A Wind in the Door or A Swiftly Tilting Planet and not from Wrinkle at all.

Also, interestingly, the library copy I picked up was — in addition to suffering from major water damage and a splitting spine — autographed. “For Heather Winslow,” the neatly penned inscription reads, “Tesser well — Madeleine L’Engle.” When I return it to the library, I’ll have to make sure they know it’s a bit more valuable than they may have thought. I could see a book in its condition landing in the landfill, actually.

So. Impressions.

First, I have to say, at the risk of turning off some readers or offending any big L’Engle fans, that the book is much more obvious and treacly than I remembered. Perhaps this is because it really is genuinely intended for children (as opposed to some books usually classified “for children” but actually suitable for readers of all ages). Its lessons are rather facile and are delivered by a heavy hand wielding a pretty blunt instrument. Not to be insensitive, but it isn’t terribly surprising that the book was rejected by 26 publishers before it finally found a home at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. But it went on to win the 1963 Newberry Award — and made its creator a celebrity of children’s literature — so what do I know? ;)

But setting these complaints aside, the book is enjoyable and interesting overall. The settings and situations are pretty creative, and the characters are appealing. Camazotz and IT are suitably unnerving. Aunt Beast is still a remarkable, inscrutable character. And Charles Wallace is still an enigma, even after all these years. The three angels qua witches — Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which (> Witch, get it? :) — are intriguing. Think of a reverse image of the three Weird Sisters of Macbeth (in fact, Mrs. Who makes the comparison and contrast an obvious one, quoting those famous lines: “When shall we three meet again, / In thunder, lightning, or in rain.” The novel even opens with those famous, and nowadays all too banal, words, “It was a dark and stormy night.” But somehow, here, it works.

There were a couple of things I noticed this time, which I would not have on my first reading. For one, Mrs. Whatsit, some of you may remember, had once been a Star who sacrificed herself in the struggle with the Black Thing. Reading this now, I wonder whether this is a direct borrowing from C.S. Lewis. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the character of Ramandu had likewise once been a Star. Wrinkle was published only a decade after Dawn Treader, and both authors were well known Christian allegorists, so it seems a plausible connection.

Another thing I noticed this time was the sonnet analogy (in my copy, pp.191–2). Mrs. Whatsit tangles with the perennial question of free will versus predestination versus the omniscience of God, much as Lewis did in The Screwtape Letters. Her argument amounts to this: the sonnet form itself is a very strict, very rigid structure, comprising various unforgiving rules of rhyme and rhythm; however, within the constraints of the form, the poet is free to choose whatever words he or she likes. This resonates well with the idea that Lewis (and Tolkien, too) tried to convey of a system where both omniscience and free will are compatible. Put another way, the relationship between providence and free will is perhaps like chess: God makes the rules, but Man is free to choose any moves allowed by the rules. Some choices lead to victory, some to defeat, and some to a draw. Though not a religious person myself, I liked the simplicity of the sonnet analogy very much.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Some thoughts on Lloyd Alexander

Over at Sam Riddleburger’s blog, there’s an interesting post (among several) on Lloyd Alexander. Specifically, after reading The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, Sam, a big fan and defender of Alexander, nevertheless asks the question that probably occurs to most of his readers sooner or later, namely:

Why did Alexander write the same book over and over again? Prince Jen, The Iron Ring, The Arkadians and his last novel Carlo Chuchio are basically the same book set in respectively, the Orient, India, Ancient Greece and the Mideast. Meanwhile, other books of his, including Westmark and the Prydain series also feature some of the same characters & situations. By the time you’ve read a lot of his books, it’s hard to tell Lukas Kasha from Gypsy Riska from Sebastian.

I can’t argue with this, really. Nor with the basic Lloyd Alexander plotline Sam presents as applicable to most of his fantasy for children. In my own forthcoming review of Chuchio, I acknowledge as much, pointing to “Alexander’s usual cast of misfits” and other recurring elements from his body of work. So, if this is true, one might ask why, as Sam does in his post. Was it creative myopia or deliberate reflection?

He wonders whether Alexander “felt that he had a great story (and it IS a great story) and he wanted to polish it, to perfect it, to try it out with different backdrops and cultures,” or maybe whether “he didn’t quite realize what was happening. Perhaps he started writing and the characters just always pushed him in that direction. He set a kid on a quest and partway through the book realized that the quest was lame compared to a bigger lesson he could offer.”

I think both are part of the answer. In an interview conducted shortly before he died (part of the press material for Chuchio), Alexander wrote: “I have to hope that maybe this time I got it right. As objective as I can be (which is never really objective), the architecture is right, the structure works.” It sounds to me like Alexander had a sort of prototype story in his mind, an edifice of moral lessons he wished to convey — and he built many (perhaps most) of his novels on this foundation, varying the details and settings in whatever ways interested him at the time, but always retaining that same moralistic foundation. The prototype story does work, and he left us with many examples of similar, but very satisfying retellings of it. I can, however, understand where this could become a bit hackneyed. Fortunately, Chuchio varies in other ways — for example, in its use of the first-person, which was very uncommon for Alexander until late in his career.

I also think that Alexander felt he was doing an important service by representing the underlying values common to all cultures, showing children that we should respect people from all walks of life and all parts of the world. Elsewhere, I put it like this — “Alexander’s sensitivity to ethnic and cultural diversity continues to teach young readers about the cultural mores of China, India, Greece, and the Middle-East as well as Europe” (this is from my forthcoming encyclopedia entry on Alexander for Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Encyclopedia, Greenwood Press, edited by Robin Reid, 2008).

Could Alexander have stretched himself, creatively, more than he did? Yes, he could have. Whether he should have is perhaps not for us to judge; we’ll have to let his reputation stand against the test of literary history. But if I were a betting man, I’d say his place in the canon of children’s literature is perfectly safe.

Amazing Lord of the Rings Origami

If you read the comments on my posts, or Boingboing, you may have seen this already: my friend Gary sent me a link to some pretty incredible origami, including several great Tolkien-themed pieces. These include an Ent, several Hobbits and Dwarves, and a majestically posed Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. In the latter, there’s a very detailed step-by-step look at how these figures were made.

I may disagree a little bit with how they’re depicted — Look at the ears on Legolas! And why does Gimli have a club and not an axe? And shouldn’t the Hobbits be a little more rotund, a little less vertical? — but there’s no denying that the workmanship is simply stunning. I can scarcely conceive of the effort involved.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Mythlore 99/100

I just got my contributor’s copy of the Fall/Winter 2007 issue of Mythlore. Though I have been a Mythopoeic Society member for some time now, I have never subscribed to Mythlore, but I see now what I’ve been missing. The issue is quite handsome, well designed and put together, and with only an absolute minimum of “advertising” — all of it relevant and tasteful. No “come out to our commune and pretend to be Hobbits in Middle Earth [sic]” type stuff. It’s also bigger than I expected, weighing it at more than 200 pages, all of them packed with content.

As some readers will know, and as I announced here, I have two reviews in this issue. These are C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy, edited by Bruce L. Edwards, on pp. 201–5; and Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien, by Tom Shippey, on pp. 209–12. I’ve read the other two reviews in the issue now, too.

I’ve also read Nick Birns’s essay on Radagast, an almost completely overlooked character in The Lord of the Rings (and even more overlooked in The Hobbit). A very interesting essay which attempts a clever solution to the “enigma” of Radagast. Birns connects his disappearance from the narrative with Tolkien’s own continued revision and transformation of The Lord of the Rings into a progressively darker and more poignant story, growing ever more distant from its origins as a mere fanciful sequel to The Hobbit. In Birns’s own words:
The elegy [reflected in the disappearance of Radagast] is for a kind of storytelling that is now gone from a reconceived Middle-earth, for a light-hearted tale of adventure now turned into a somber legend of loss. (125)
If the rest of the issue is as good as the parts I’ve read and dipped into so far, and I think it will be, then I have a lot of great reading to look forward to. And congratulations to the editor, Janet Croft, for a terrific 100th issue!

Friday, November 2, 2007

New Harry Potter book — but not for you and me

This story is just breaking. Have you heard that J.K. Rowling has finished her first post-Harry Potter book, and that it’s ... another Harry Potter book? Well, sort of. In fact, it’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the fictive tome that plays a pivotal role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — but fictive no more. And the collection of five tales is illustrated by Rowling herself this time (those familiar with her website have probably seen some of her own sketches, which are really very good, actually). The five stories are “The Tale of the Three Brothers”, recounted in Deathly Hallows, plus four entirely new tales: “The Fountain of Fair Fortune”, “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart”, “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” and “Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump”. This is exciting news for Pottermaniacs!

There’s just one problem: there are only seven copies, all hand-written by Rowling, making copies of the real Tales as rare as the fictive one. Seven is a portentous number, no doubt — one for each of the novels in the Harry Potter series (so far). Worse, only one of those copies is for sale. For auction, I should say. Rowling gave the other six away as very special gifts to “'those most closely connected to the ‘Harry Potter’ books during the past 17 years,” while the seventh and final copy is going on the auction block for charity. Sotheby’s is starting the bidding at $60,000, but one can only guess at the final price! And all the proceeds will go to the Children’s Voice Foundation — very laudable. Read Sotheby’s press release here.

This is all wonderful and thrilling, of course. But it’s very disappointing that Rowling’s millions of fans (myself, included) will probably never get to read this new book. At least, not unless or until it is subsequently reprinted — as I hope one day it will be, perhaps as part of Rowling’s rumored Harry Potter Encyclopdedia. Until then, The Tales of Beedle the Bard will remain one of the rarest of Harry Potter treasures.

PS. If you live in the greater London area, stop by Sotheby’s between December 9–12 for an up-close look at the book. And if you do get to see it (Andy, I’m talking to you!), be sure to give us a personal report. For the rest of us, there will be an auction catalog, hopefully including some photos of the book and its contents.