Thursday, April 22, 2010

Another of my reviews goes online

The second this week! I’ve owed Jeremy Edmonds of The Tolkien Collector’s Guide a review of Black & White Ogre Country for an embarrassingly long time. I have finally made good on that promise, and the review is available online now. Follow this link to read it.

For those unfamiliar with this book, it’s a small collection of short stories by J.R.R. Tolkien’s younger brother, Hilary, along with supplementary information, both biographical and contextual. The book is beautifully illustrated by Jef Murray and quite delightful. For Ronald’s fans, there is a reproduction and transcription of part of a previously unpublished letter in which Tolkien refers to the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night. In it, one will notice the conspicuous use of some distinctly Tolkienian vernacular.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My review of Tolkien's View is available online

A few months ago, I wrote a book review of J.S. Ryan’s new collection*, Tolkien’s View: Windows into His World, for the sixth volume of Hither Shore, the annual journal of the Deutsche Tolkien Gesell-schaft (i.e., the German Tolkien Society). That issue has just gone to press, so it should be reaching subscribers in print very soon, but one of the editors wrote to ask whether I would mind his making the review public now, as part of a compilation of online material in support of the annual Tolkien conference this weekend in Jena. This year, the theme is “Tolkien und die Romantik” (I trust no one needs a translation of that), and there are several book reviews in addition to mine available to read.

These will not stay up forever, so if you’re interested, read them now. I’m told the reviews will be removed (or the link disabled) in a couple of weeks. But if you’ve been curious about Ryan’s new collection from Walking Tree, my review should give you some idea of what to expect. You’ll find the review nestled about halfway down this page. (Don’t let this page scare you off; some of the reviews are in German, but mine is in English.)

* As you will see when you read the review, this retrospective collection is new, not the contents thereof, some of which are more than forty years old! This is also just the first of two volumes. I’ve seen a preliminary table of contents for the second volume, but I can’t speak about it yet. It is to be hoped we will see the concluding volume later this summer, or perhaps early in the fall.

UPDATE: No need to panic about the possibly ephemeral link I gave above. The good folks at Walking Tree itself have also now posted the review (with permission from the publisher of Hither Shore and me).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

To beer or not to beer? Why, to beer, of course!

It’s been about a year since the last post on my “beer travels”, so I suppose it’s high time for an update. I’ve added a new country (maybe two) to the list, and I’ve tried a few nice brews from more familiar places recently.

First, the newest country: Lithuania. Quite unexpectedly, I came across Švyturys Maksimum at a local package store. A little research after the fact reveals that this brewery, along with one in Latvia, is part of the same consortium that exports the Russian Baltika label to the U.S. The brewery has been around since 1784, reaching back impressively to a time when it was still controlled by Prussia! This brew is a hefty 7.5% abv, and it comes in a 500 ml bottle, so be prepared to take one on the chin if you haven’t had enough to eat beforehand. I think this is why I found the website so positively mesmerizing!

Maksimum is not bad. It’s a very pale staw-colored malt liquor, with a big creamy head and nice lacing. The mouthfeel is heavy, and it reminds me of nothing so much as an ancient Northern mead. I can imagine a group of kolbítar — Norse, I know; but give me a little longitude here; my Lithuanian needs brushing up! — gathered around the hearth, passing bottles of this back and forth to keep warm. It’s a little on the heavy side, like a “chewier” European version of Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo or Midas Touch. It’s maltier than it looks, but overall, not bad.

Much nicer was a French beer from the Alsace region (pictured above right). I had to try this for two reasons: it’s from Alsace, hence it’s sort of a German beer in France, or vice versa; and it’s called Fischer Amber! This is a 6% abv brew, in a 1 pt 6 oz bottle. The brewery is younger than Švyturys, dating to the year of Napoleon’s death (1821). A short creamy head tops off a lovely amber ale. Lightly carbonated, with strong herbal and mineral notes, resembling a Dortmunder-style beer. More yeast than hops, and almost no malt. Very dry and crisp, with quite a nice, refreshing flavor. This is only the second French beer I’ve gotten hold of (the other is the ubiquitous Kronenbourg 1664).

The second new (?) country I’ve visited is Singapore. The question mark indicates that I may have tried this before. I can’t quite recall. Singapore is on my list, but it left absolutely no trace in my memory. Anyway, I just tied — again? — Singapore’s Tiger Lager (est. 1932). A serviceable, medium-bodied lager, pale amber in color. Very drinkable, but not particularly memorable. (Hence why I’m not altogether certain the beer is new to me.)

Other recent brews I’ve sampled include several from Rio Blanco, a microbrewery in Texas, including a wonderful rye pale ale; new seasonal ales from Magic Hat in Vermont (including Spring ’10, Lucky Kat, Vinyl, and one or two others that escape my memory); and Fröst, a new (and coincidentally) Dortmunder-style ale from Shiner, also in Texas. If you ever visit Texas, Shiner is the beer to try. We have several good breweries here (including also Rahr in Fort Worth, and St. Arnold in Houston), but Shiner is king, and for good reason.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Middle-earth Minstrel now available

According to Amazon, the release date is April 21 (next Wednesday), but the book is available now on the McFarland website. You might still want to (pre)order with Amazon, though, since the price of the book will qualify you for free shipping. Ordering direct from McFarland will cost you $4 more. That’s in the U.S.; I’m not sure which option is better for international collectors.

I got a review copy in yesterday’s mail*, so I’m holding the book in my hands at this very moment. The cover is even nicer than it looked in photographs; it’s got a beautiful glossy finish, and the text and illustrations are sharp. I’m not wild about the spine (poor color contrast between the background and the author and publisher’s colophon), but I suppose I’m being picky. Inside, high-quality 50# alkaline paper in a pale cream color, sharp ink, expert design and layout. Some readers may find the type just a bit on the small side (especially that of the notes and bibliographies). The book is 207 + [viii] pp., but considering the size of the type, this is probably the equivalent to 250 or even 300 pp. from most other publishers.

I also skimmed through the two lists of errata I had sent to Brad Eden during the galley proof stage, and I was very pleased to see that nearly everything I caught was corrected before the book went to print. One typesetting error that was not corrected was my use of the Greek word γνώμη. The galley proof had acute accents over three letters (?!), and it had the second letter as an upsilon instead of a nu. The first letter looked then (and now) more like a Roman wye than the Greek gamma, but it’s close enough. The final book corrects the second letter, but there are still two acute accents (over the omega and the eta). Ah, well, I suppose a few errors will get through no matter what you do.

The only thing I hadn’t seen yet was the index. At a fairly quick look through it, it’s pretty good. I spotted a few oversights, e.g., the entry for Cynewulf misses the reference to him on p. 66, perhaps because the name was misspelled in the galley proof. I pointed it out, and it was corrected in the final book, but maybe not before a draft of the index was laid down. Also, the index has Eärendel [sic] for Eärendil. I’ve noticed a few other idiosyncracies and omissions, but overall, it appears to be a good, serviceable index. One nice feature is that Brad identifies (parenthetically) which entries in the index are music bands — helpful, because there are many.

Having read the book already, I can recommend Middle-earth Minstrel: Essays on Music in Tolkien as a very good collection with much to offer readers with an interest in Tolkien, music (modern as well as medieval), or all of the above. I realize I have a bit of a bias, of course, and I look forward with great anticipation to the comments of disinterested reviewers. But I’m a reviewer myself, and as such, I read a lot of Inklings studies book. I can therefore say honestly that this is one of the good ones. Please share your opinions here in the comments when you’ve had a chance to read it yourselves.

* This is not my contributor copy, but rather a copy sent to me as the editor of Mythprint. When I have identified a suitable candidate to review it, I will be sending this copy out to him or her. If you’d like to volunteer to do the job, drop me a line.

Monday, April 12, 2010

CSLIS 13 Conference Report

I have just returned from a wonderful two days in Oklahoma City attending the 13th annual conference of the C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society. It’s been three years since the last one of these I attended (then, at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas). Why does this sound the beginning of a confession? “Forgive me, Father, for I have not been to CSLIS in far too long …” :)

As usual, the event was jam-packed. Over only two full days, there were forty-five presentations (four of them plenary). Of these, thirty-four dealt with C.S. Lewis, fifteen with J.R.R. Tolkien (including mine), three with Charles Williams, two each with G.K. Chesterton and Dante Alighieri, and one each with George MacDonald, Dorothy Sayers, J.K. Rowling, and H.G. Wells. Note that the numbers add up to more than forty-five, because many papers dealt with more than one author. Moreover, papers by a couple of talented undergraduate students from Oral Roberts University dealt with three authors each: Abby Griffin looked at Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams; and Jonathan Hall talked about Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling.

Schedules as packed as this one, with as many as three sessions running simultaneously, always present some tough choices. I chose eighteen papers catering (mostly) to my own personal interests and tastes. Some highlights (kept to a few, for the sake of brevity, and given in the order I heard them):

(1) Abby Griffin’s look at Adamic figures in the works of the Inklings; during the Q&A, I suggested Abby take a look at “The Tale of Adanel”, from Tolkien’s Athrabeth;

(2) Mike Milburn’s investigation into Tolkien’s idea of Truth (capital T); Mike has an essay in the forthcoming volume of Tolkien Studies;

(3) Joe Christopher’s thoughtful inquiry into the significance of Lewis’s allusions to Dante in his early poem, “The Nameless Isle”;

(4) Emily Redman’s paper on the seven deadly sins in Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader; Emily contrasted Lewis’s representation of these sins with that seen in the 13th and 14th centuries — in Dante and the anonymous morality play, Mankind, respectively;

(5) Jonathan Himes’s close look at the Bodleian manuscript of Lewis’s controversial and unfinished novel, The Dark Tower; it was especially exciting to hear Jonathan discuss unpublished fragments that Lewis struck from the manuscript.

The plenary presentations were (as usual) in a class entirely by themselves. Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia, gave an enthralling two-part talk (some two hours of material altogether). In it, he summarized the findings he has published in his book, and he discussed how the insight came to him. A wonderful speaker, he had us on the edge of our seats — not easy to do first thing in the morning. For those of you who couldn’t see him in person, you must read his book!

Diana Glyer gave a terrific and lively after-banquet keynote speech, in which she discussed the central hypothesis of her own book, The Company They Keep: whether, and to what extent, Lewis and Tolkien (and to a lesser degree, the other Inklings) influenced one another, and moreover, what “influence” itself really means. I say “hypothesis”, but the persuasive power of Diana’s argument is such that it is hardly that any longer. I regard it as established fact. If you haven’t read Diana’s book, put it on your list as well. Go ahead and do it right now. I’ll wait.

Finally, a real gem, the very Arkenstone of the entire weekend’s embarrassment of riches: Diana Glyer and Michael Ward performed a reading of selected letters from the unpublished (as yet) correspondence of Major Warren Lewis and Blanche Biggs, a missionary doctor stationed in Papua New Guinea. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, Warren Lewis? But trust me, their correspondence, of which we heard roughly a quarter of the extant material, was funny, affectionate, clever, and in the end, profoundly moving. It brought tears to my eyes. For anyone thinking of coming to Mythcon in July, we are planning to stage the same performance — take my word for it, you will not want to miss this. (Notice I’ve refrained from my usual habit of peppering a paragraph with exclamation points, just so you’ll take me seriously. Do.)

Oh, and one last thing, at the risk of immodesty (as if the photo above weren’t immodest enough already* :). The CSLIS held a competition this year for the best papers by scholars, graduate students, and undergraduates, and I won first prize in the scholar category — “best in show”, in the words of Diana Glyer. Seventeen papers were submitted for consideration, roughly one in three on the conference schedule, and the winners and runners-up were:

Best Undergraduate Student Paper: “Ringwraiths, Dementors, and the Un-Man: Evil Incarnate in the Worlds of Tolkien, Rowling, and Lewis,” Jonathan Hall, Oral Roberts University

Honorable Mention: “The Yellow-Booted Enigma: Tom Bombadil’s Role in The Lord of the Rings,” B.J. Thome, Oral Roberts University [Great title, eh?]

Best Graduate Student Paper: “The Planetary Architectonics of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy,” Seth Wright, Baylor University [“Look at the big brain on Brett!” ;)]

Honorable Mention: “Blood and Thunder: Penny Dreadfuls and the Novels of G.K. Chesterton,” John C. Moore, Baylor University

Best Scholar Paper: “Dwarves, Spiders, and Murky Woods; J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wonderful Web of Words,” Jason Fisher, Independent Scholar [My use of alliteration was obviously a cheap trick to curry votes. :)]

Honorable Mention: “A Tryst with the Transcendentals: C.S. Lewis on Goodness, Truth, and Beauty,” Donald T. Williams, Toccoa Falls College

Congratulations to all the other winners! Needless to say, I was thrilled to win, and I am very grateful to the committee (Joe Christopher, Jonathan Himes, and Larry Fink) for taking the time to read and consider so many wonderful submissions. Theirs must have been a very difficult job.

Next year’s CSLIS conference will be held at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma (dates to be determined, but probably a week or two after Easter). I plan to be there, and I hope some of you will too. It was wonderful reconnecting with old friends and making new ones — including people who knew me from this blog, or from Mythprint. What a small world it is, after all. I hope you’ll come out to CSLIS 14 next year, and help make it a little smaller still.

* By the way, I had no idea my hair looked so bad on Saturday! I wish somebody had told me. Ah, well. The silver lining: just when my ego threatens to explode, a couple of unflattering photos appear to let some of the air out.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What makes it all worthwhile

The first issue of Mythprint with my hand at the editorial tiller sailed out to subscribers about a week ago. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Much of this has come from subscribers I know personally (at least online), but a few days ago, I got an email from a Mythprint reader I have never met. It was so kind and so meaningful to me that (with his permission) I wanted to share it with my Lingwë readers.
Hello Jason Fisher —

My name is Philip Rose and I teach math and computer science at Carroll College here in Helena, Montana. I’ve been a subscriber to Mythlore and Mythprint for … I don’t know how many years, but many. I’m 68 and I can’t remember not being a member of the Mythopoeic Society.

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to tell you how much I enjoyed the latest issue (electronic); Vol. 47 No. 3; Whole No. 332. In both layout and content it is certainly one of the best issues I’ve ever seen. You have some excellent goals and the background to bring them to fruition. My own favorite parts of Mythprint are the book reviews; over the years I’ve found a number of books that I wouldn’t have known of if not for the reviews.

Best wishes for all success in your position as the new editor. You are certainly off to a good start. I look forward to future issues of Mythprint.

Best wishes always,
Philip B. Rose
In the currency of compliments, this is the kind of thing that makes a demanding volunteer position like this worth everything it pays.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A novel kind of March Madness

The good folks over at “First Thoughts” have just concluded a Tournament of Novels, in which sixty-four great works were pitted against each other in four brackets, in the same style as the NCAA March Madness tournament. “First Thoughts” is the blog of First Things, a periodical “published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society” (so says their website). For those unfamiliar with the magazine, as I was until now, be sure to take a look at one of the feature articles in their current (April 2010) issue, “Science Friction”, which discusses, among other things, the 1943 kerfuffle between C.S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke. You can read the article online, here.

But back to the Tournament of Novels. As with any bracket competition, a lot depends on how the original sixty-four contenders are selected, as well as how they are seeded against one another. Such subjective issues set on one side, the list was very broadly representative of the best works of world literature (but disproportionately favoring Western Europe and the United States). A few choices and omissions were surprising, but most of the greats are there: Tolstoy, Melville, Twain, Hawthorne, Austen, Joyce, and plenty of others. Of more interest to Lingwë readers, I daresay, we had authors such as Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, Stephen King, Frank Herbert, and of course, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Well, it’s fait accompli now. And the results were a repeat of many surveys before — Waterstone’s in 1997,’s in 1999, and plenty of others — crowning Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as the ultimate champion. In fact, in the Tournament finals, The Lord of the Rings decimated Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by roughly nine to one.

This merely confirms what we have known all along, that The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest novels ever written. At the same time, I think my wife has a good point that the novel largely owes its impressive showing in surveys of this sort to the cult of Tolkien. She’s right. How many Melville or Twain fanboys do you find out there, scribbling away obsessively on blogs and discussion groups? Not many.

For those who are curious, the complete list of contenders follows. Any glaring omissions, in your opinion? Any peculiar choices here? Who do you think should have won? And if the answer reconfirms the vote of the masses, then do you agree with Twain as runner-up? Or would you have rather seen a different second place finsher? Myself, I was disappointed at the omission of Graham Greene. And there were no representatives of the modern African novel. How about Chinua Achebe or Ben Okri? Nothing from the Far East either.

Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky
Ulysses, Joyce
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald
Moby-Dick, Melville
Robinson Crusoe, Defoe
Pale Fire, Nabokov
Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon
Pride and Prejudice, Austen
Wuthering Heights, Brontë
Starship Troopers, Heinlein
Ender’s Game, Card
Daniel Deronda, Eliot
To The Lighthouse, Woolf
The Lord Of The Rings, Tolkien
Atlas Shrugged, Rand
Brave New World, Huxley
1984, Orwell
Gulliver’s Travels, Swift
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Carroll
On The Road, Kerouac
The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger
Lord of the Flies, Golding
To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee
Beloved, Morrison
Wise Blood, O’Connor
The Way We Live Now, Trollope
The Wapshot Chronicles, Cheever
Gone With The Wind, Mitchell
Madame Bovary, Flaubert
David Copperfield, Dickens
Jane Eyre, Bronte
A Bend In The River, Naipaul
A Clockwork Orange, Burgess
Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, Twain
Don Quixote, Cervantes
The Hunt For Red October, Clancy
The Big Sleep, Chandler
Arrowsmith, Lewis
Herzog, Bellow
In Search Of Lost Time, Proust
Brideshead Revisited, Waugh
Invisible Man, Ellison
Native Son, Wright
One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Márquez
Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth
The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting, Kundera
The Charterhouse Of Parma, Stendhal
The Stand, King
The Plague, Camus
The Sound And The Fury, Faulkner
The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway
The Call Of The Wild, London
Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut
The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne
The Trial, Kafka
The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan
U.S.A. (Trilogy), Dos Passos
Dune, Herbert
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Adams
The Moviegoer, Percy
Under The Volcano, Lowry
Charlotte’s Web, White
Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury