Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Twenty years!

Jennifer and MaxIn addition to being Halloween, and much more important to me than Halloween, today is the twentieth anniversary of the day Jennifer and I became best friends, back in high school (Grapevine High School, the classes of 1988 and 1989, respectively). We had met a couple of years before that, and we wouldn’t become a couple for a further eight, but today’s a very special day to us. We also just attended Jennifer’s fifteen-year college reunion (University of Dallas, class of 1992), where I had the opportunity to hear a great many wonderful things about Jennifer — all of which (and more) I already knew, of course.

So, what does all this add up to? I thought it was high time I introduced my better half. Actually, she’s more like my better two-thirds. ;)

We first met in French class — once again, French opens a romantic door for me! (But that’s another story for another post.) Jennifer was a sophomore in French II, and I was a freshman in French III, having already taken two years in junior high school. Jennifer was going to be participating in a French spelling bee (which I had done — and won — a year before, in my old school district in Houston), so our French teacher sent Jennifer my way. (I’m tempted to leer at you and suavely say, “Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly”, except those who knew me then will tell you just how unsuave I was. And am. :) I made a pronunciation tape for her (the geeky equivalent to a mix tape?), and we had a couple of practice sessions, too, I believe.

Fast forward two years. Jennifer’s now a senior in high school, and I’m a junior. We met again in Physics class, which Jennifer took in a desperate attempt to convince her genius high school boyfriend (who attended a different school) that she was “intellectual” enough for him. Don’t get me started on that! (Maybe Jennifer herself will explain in a comment.) Anyway, Jennifer was struggling with the class, so I tutored her — a process which culminated in her outscoring me on the final exam. I’d say it was because I was a good tutor, but the real reason is that I was too smitten to concentrate! We became best friends that year and have never looked back!

We didn’t go the same universities, but we called and wrote the entire time. Hearing from Jennifer was something I looked forward to just about every week. She even called me on Valentine’s Day, 1990 — from Rome, an event I memorialized in a poem. (Yes, I really am “that guy.” :)

After several flirtations and close calls, and a lamentable (but fairly short) period when we were on the outs, it was in the fall of 1995 that we finally both fell for one another in the same place at the same time. How appropriate, falling in love in the fall. (Cue the treacly music. ;) We fell instantly and completely, too. No need for a coy courtship when we’d been best friends for eight years already! Very When Harry Met Sally. We considered that day our marriage proposal, engagement, ceremony, and reception, and have celebrated it on the same day every year since (September 10). The years that followed haven’t all been a honeymoon, of course; we’ve had more than our share of hardship, but I wouldn’t trade a second of it, since I’ve had Jennifer to share it (or endure it) with.

What can I tell you about Jennifer herself? First, that she’s absolutely perfect for me. She complements my every fault, and she supports me in every possible way — even to her own detriment, which I really have to learn how to stop taking advantage of. She’s the single most generous and thoughtful person (let alone woman) I’ve ever known. She’s also gorgeous, flirty, funny, and the sexiest dancer I’ve ever had the pleasure (and sometimes discomfiture) to try to keep up with. Where she’s a fluid and sensual dancer, I galumph around like a blur of three left feet and half a dozen elbows, and always threatening to dust off the old breakdancing moves — look out for the white guy! But I’m getting better under her tireless terpsichorean tutelage. (As I understand it, I have to learn to loosen the hips. Good advice for any man, no?)

But more than any of this, she gets all the credit for my being who I am today. Without her — first as a high school crush, then as my best friend, and now as my wife (and all three at once) — I would be little more than an introverted and unaccomplished puddle of neuroses. I get credit for my own unbounded enthusiasm for J.R.R. Tolkien, languages, and literature, sure, but everything else is Jennifer. I’m a lucky, lucky man. :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pasta sauce from Middle-earth?

A few weeks ago, my wife came across pasta sauces by “Middle Earth Organics” at our local Whole Foods Market. She knew I’d get a kick out of that, so she bought us a couple of them. Turns out, they’re very good!

I couldn’t help but wonder whether Tolkien Enterprise (aka Saul Zaentz) knows about this, or would have any legal complaint about the use of “Middle Earth”. They cast a pretty wide net on the worldwide exclusive rights to “names of characters, places, scenes, things and events” from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and they’ve been known to send out many a C&D over even the most modest offenses. They have every right to profit (in perpetuity, even) from their shrewd purchases of these rights, of course; but sometimes, common sense ought to prevail, I think, especially when a company intends no connection whatsoever with Tolkien. Or when a word or name isn’t Tolkien’s own original creation.

There’s a defensible argument to be made that “Middle Earth” is not Tolkien’s own invention (he admitted as much himself), and that “Middle Earth” may or may not be the same thing as “Middle-earth”, but I’ve never known Tolkien Enterprises to care much for fine distinctions like that. If there’s a licensing fee to be bled from somebody, their professional leeches are always ready with the instruments of torture.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Evanesco! I said, Evanesco!!

I first read this yesterday, but today I came across another version of the story with a better headline: “Harry Potter fan turned in to a road cone head”— and it had pictures! The little Harry Potter fan pictured to the right is pretty adorable, isn’t he? And in the wake of the Dumbledore story, about which I hope to weigh in soon (I think), isn’t it refreshing to see something so cute and light?

Apparently, three-year-old Charlie Thomas put the bright orange traffic cone on his head because it looked like a wizard’s hat. Then, when it wouldn’t come off, I read that he tried a vanishing spell. Industrious little chap! Unfortunately, that didn’t work either. Maybe because he didn’t have a wand. Eventually, the family had to call in reinforcements.

What I don’t get is how it could have taken six firemen to get the traffic cone off his head. I could see two or three: one or two holding onto Charlie, while one pulled on the cone. But six? What were they all doing?!

And by the way, little Charlie’s shirt has some pretty good advice on it. But as he’s only three, he probably couldn’t read it. ;)

Funny where you run into yourself ...

Ego-surfing this morning, I happened to come across an unexpected link in a vrey recent laundry list of other links captioned as a “Recopilación de artículos MSDN Magazine sobre Seguridad Informática.” The compiler of the list introduces it with the assertion that “la seguridad es el asunto más importante de la informática hoy en día” — very true!

The link was to an article I wrote about computer viruses some four years ago. I had pretty much given up ever seeing that one again. Those who know me know that one of my biggest complaints (dissatisfactions, really) about computer writing is its very limited and transient nature. What’s relevant today is irrelevant by tomorrow, or at least by the day after. And this is why I’ve largely stopped doing that kind of writing, lucrative though it can be.

Anyway, for those who are used to the more philosophical, literary, right-brained Jason, take a look at my 2003 article for a wholly different perspective on me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

“The cops are in full chase of the villains” [Updated]

Yes, but are they chasing the right villains?

[Update: I just heard from Carl Hostetter that this item is, in fact, authentic. He himself was its original source, though this auction is not his. See the comments.]

I just came across this auction on eBay for a deluxe edition of The Children of Húrin, accompanied by a bookplate purportedly signed by Christopher Tolkien. The signature on the bookplate actually looks pretty authentic, and Christopher Tolkien has been signing bookplates — so, if it’s a forgery, then it’s at least a competent one. But it all comes crashing down with the “copies of the two letter to authenticate de signature.” That’s right. According to the seller, Christopher Tolkien wrote to him personally, in his own hand, enclosing a dozen (!) signed bookplates for his use. Problem is that the letter, even beyond being a very tall tale to swallow in the first place, doesn’t sound much like Christopher Tolkien. [Update: And yet it is; so what do I know?!] Some excerpts:

Here are the sticky labels, written & signed with great pleasure [...] also the two pages of the Quenya text. On the subject of signatures, the Tolkien Estate with its myriad eyes discovered the other day that copies of The Children of Húrin are offered for sale on e-bay, with forged signatures (mine & Alan Lee’s) for $269.95 [...] These items have emerged in Canada & I’m told that the cops are in full chase of the villains. As to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list — this is truly weird: I hope it will not be followed by clamorous disappointment!

Evidently, we are to believe that Christopher Tolkien is on very close terms with the seller [Update: Not with the seller, but with Carl.] (even signing the letter with just his given name), and that this auction (unlike all those sham-auctions he warns us about) in the authentic one. I do give him credit for some pretty creative chicanery here — in the same way you can’t help but admire the techniques of a master pickpocket. And the penmanship is more convincing than usual in such auctions, but otherwise, there’s just no possible way to believe this was written by CJRT. [Update: And yet it was. I’m still shaking my head in surprise.]

And it doesn’t help that the listing itself is full of spelling and grammatical errors. My favorite is: “A truly unic book for your considerations.”

Sadly, there are ten bids already, with the price up to $68.00 (the publisher’s list price is $75.00; Amazon’s discounted price is only $47.25). And there are still more than six days left in the auction. I know this item has been reported to eBay, but unfortunately, there’s little else to be done. But I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

[Update: So as it transpires, the signature is authentic, so bid away if this is something you want to add to your collection.]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The newest thing: book trailers

Books that do! ;)Have you heard about the relatively recent new trend of book trailers? More and more publishers are starting to actively market their new offerings through video trailers, just like the ones you see for new movies. Well, maybe not just like them — most of the ones I’ve seen are just atrocious!

The first one I saw, strangely, was for J.R.R. Tolkien’s “new” book, The Children of Húrin — and this one’s actually very well made. It helps that most of the visuals come from the illustrated editions of Tolkien’s books and that the music is very good. Watch it here.

Then, for comparison, stop by the Book Trailers blog and watch a few of those. If you can stand it. Every now and then, you’ll come across a trailer that might actually make you interested in reading the book (almost by accident, as it seems) — but most are bad, bad, bad. Dreadful voiceovers, awful choices for images and logos, and even horrible actors putting on scenes from the books. My favorite of the latter (the worst of the worst, if you will; so bad it almost flips the scale over and becomes good, or at least entertaining, hahae) is the trailer for the hackneyed thriller, Power Play, by Joseph Finder. You just have to watch it to appreciate how truly awful (and inadvertently funny) it is. My favorite line is the over-the-top voiceover: “Now, it’s up to one man ... who wasn’t even supposed to be there.” What is this, a suspense novel or Clerks?!

Another strange one is the trailer for 13 Bullets, by David Wellington, an FBI-versus-vampire potboiler. The trailer consists of time-lapse footage of a guy getting made up as a vampire. At the end, he hisses at us, and then we see the hilarious (unwittingly, I’m sure) tagline: “Vampires that don’t suck.” Get it? ’Cause vampires do suck. Only we’re supposed to think this book doesn’t. So clever. But I’m afraid the trailer that’s supposed to be getting you interested in the book is going to have you wishing for 13 bullets of your own.

And lest you think the books are as amateurish as the trailers, these are real books from real publishers, like Random House and Simon & Shuster. Or at least, some are reputable; others appear to be self- or vanity-published. But if you ever write that great American novel, be sure to visit Jillett Productions, who can custom-tailor a book trailer of your very own at bargain basement prices. No, no; I’m sure they’re very good. Hmm, let me just take a look at one of their samples ... “If you’re like most people, you probably always wondered how to slaughter a wild boar and then feed its head to some flesh-eating beetles.” (Not kidding.)

Oh the humanity! *smirk*

Friday, October 19, 2007

A first: Google alerts me to ... myself!

Well, this hasn’t happened before: I got a Google blog alert (a sort of email-based subscription to certain search terms out on the web or in the blogosphere) featuring one of my own posts. And in fact, it was that day’s post! Talk about quick indexing! Considering my own rate of ego-surfing, this was quite gratifying to see. :)

Here’s a picture (click to enlarge):

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good article on Harry Potter translation issues

I’m getting this up a few days late, but Great Britain’s Times Online has a good article summarizing some of the key news and issues in Harry Potter translation, some of which I have previously blogged about. The article follows on the heels of the publication of the Turkish translation of HP7 (Harry Potter ve Ölüm Yadigarlar), the second official translation to become available, following only the Ukrainian. Of course, as regular readers will know, quite a few unofficial translations have already been circulating!

The Times article also addresses some of the basic difficulties inherent in translating fiction — especially fantasy fiction involving made-up worlds and words. Tolkien knew this problem particularly well, and he famously prepared a detailed (and sometimes tetchy) Nomenclature to assist translators of The Lord of the Rings.

Perhaps Rowling should have done likewise.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Two etymological updates

Toward the end of August, I blogged about the etymology of the toponym, Pakistan. In the comments, my friend Gary and I discussed what we did and didn’t know about the word ferengi, with its apparent meaning of “foreigner”. Two points to make about this. First, surprisingly, the word (spelled ferenghi) is scattered all through Lloyd Alexander’s latest (and last) novel, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, which I am reviewing for Mythprint. There, it’s used with essentially the same meaning of “foreigner” or more specifically, “European”. Second, I continued to search around for better evidence of the word’s sources and meaning, and I finally found it in a Somali dictionary: “ferenji masculine noun: white infidel, non-Islamic European person.” That is to say, very close indeed to kafir, which we were also discussing.

Then, going all the way back to June, I wrote about the etymology of another toponym, Stonehenge. Funny I would have forgotten this, but Tolkien makes clear his own view in the essay, “English and Welsh”, where he writes:
There stands still in what is now England the ruinous fragment of an ancient monument that we have long called in our English fashion Stonehenge, ‘the suspended stones’, remem­bering nothing of its history. [1]
Isn’t the writing here wonderful? I had mentioned Old English hangian “to hang, suspend” in my discussion, and here we have Tolkien’s agreement with that theory on record. I can’t help but think he would also have liked the Hengest interpretation, as I also wrote at the time. Lucky I came across this while reading the essay again (for another purpose altogether).

[1] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983, p.175.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What we’re up against

Take a look at this op-ed from today’s Livingston Daily (out of Livingston, MI), entitled: “Harry Potter can make kids suicidal.” This is the kind of thing Harry Potter fans are up against. It’s the kind of thing book fans are up against, come to that. Visions of Fahrenheit 451 are dancing before my eyes here, folks.

The author starts off with this gem: “Why are Americans duped into reading and admiring Harry Potter books?” First of all, I don’t think one can be duped into admiring anything. One either does or doesn’t, based on one’s own rubric of art. Second, how are we being duped into reading the Harry Potter books? Really, I want to know.

“By reading these Harry Potter books, your children could be opening themselves up to a spirit realm in which they can become depressed and suicidal.” I would tend to agree with one of the commenters, who goes out on a limb “to wager that the bible causes many more suicides than Harry Potter does.” And I think there are plenty of other, more immediate influences than either. How about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, even? :) In any case, I know it’s an opinion piece, but can the author point to any scrap of evidence for such a baldly invective accusation? I doubt it. Rather, it’s a completely unsubstantiated claim aimed purely at alarming and manipulating overprotective parents.

Oh, but it gets worse: “[your child could] become entrenched with it to the point of demonic possession, and then, through hatred or revenge, could cast a spell or curse on a school teacher, classmate, boss, neighbor or you as a mom or dad. As a result of the curse, you could become seriously ill to the point of death.” So, now your child’s going to become depressed enough to kill you (magically, of course) — all because of reading the Harry Potter books. *rolls eyes*

Perhaps I should just dismiss such ravings out of hand; perhaps I shouldn’t even dignifiy them with attention in my blog. But I’m afraid that dismissal could be construed as tacit agreement. Not by you or me, but by others of John Carr’s mindset, or those who are undecided and easily manipulated. “You see?” they may say. “No objections! This John Carr fellow must have an impregnable argument.” *rolls eyes again*

That’s the road that leads to book burning.

Friday, October 5, 2007

“Hringbogan” — it has a nice ring to it ...

About a month ago, I got an interesting comment about the concepts underlying my “wraith” posts from my friend Merlin:
In your third blog post on “wraith”, you write: “From wraiths to bent roads, from rings to dragons (and perhaps orcs and goblins) — we’ve gone there and back again purely by digging into the roots of words.” I’ve just been reading John Holmes’ article on “Art and Illustrations by Tolkien” [in the Tolkien Encyclopedia] and noticed his comments on Hringaboga [sic] Heorte Gefysed, Tolkien’s 1927 painting of a dragon, whose title comes from Beowulf and whose first word Holmes translates as “bent into a ring”.
I replied to Merlin privately, but I wanted to take a little time to assemble some comments for my readers here. One thing led to another, and here it is a month later already! So, at long last, here’s what I thought about Merlin’s very good find.

First, regarding Holmes’s rendering of Old English hringbogan as “bent into a ring”. The word hring is, of course, “ring”, and boga gives us the Modern English word “bow”, as in “arch, angle, corner, anything curved”. Related is bogen “bowed, bent, gave way”, past participle of búgan “to bow (down), bend, swerve”. And here, there definitely could be a connection to the writhen / bent notion I’ve been blogging off and on over the last several months. But Tolkien’s word is a noun + a noun, the common formula for a kenning, so I think I would rather have translated it “ring-bow(ed)” or something of that sort than to introduce the English participial form, but Holmes’s version is close, and more poetic. Its only problem — and a very slight one at that — is that by using the (passive-sounding) participial form, the phrase seems to be begging for an actor, a bender, if you will, rather than simply reflecting the form of a bend, arch, curve, etc. That idea might indeed inhere in Tolkien’s image (as in, looking for the active hand of Morgoth or Sauron in shaping Dragons and Rings, respectively), but perhaps it’s presuming too much, philologically. If Tolkien had meant “bent into a ring”, wouldn’t he have opted for something like hringbogen?

Returning to the title, as Holmes noted, it’s directly from Beowulf, lines 2561-2 — ða wæs hringbogan heorte gefysed / saecce tó séceanne. Several of the editions I consulted translate hringbogan as “coiled (one)” or something similar; however, Harrison and Sharp (roughly contemporary to Tolkien’s early studies of Old English) give “hring-boga, w.m., one who bends himself into a ring: gen. sg. hring-bogan (of the drake, bending himself into a circle)” [1], which accords very well with Holmes’s ‘extraordinary rendition’. :)

Hammond and Scull tell us that Tolkien himself rendered as: “Now was the heart of the coiling beast stirred to come out to fight” [2]. Christopher Tolkien reports a slightly different translation made by his father for the quotation he used as the painting’s title: “the heart of the coiling beast was stirred” [3]. Tolkien, I expect, would certainly have been aware of the idea of a ring hidden in the line, but the fact that he opted for a simpler, more colloquial translation could be taken to mitigate its importance.

[1] Béowulf and The Fight at Finnsburh. Eds. James A. Harrison and Robert Sharp. 4th rev. ed. Boston: Ginn & Co., 1904, p. 256.

[2] From Tolkien’s unpublished translation of Beowulf at the Bodleian, quoted in Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995, p. 53.

[3] Tolkien, J.R.R. Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Chistopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979, plate 40 [n.p.].

Monday, October 1, 2007

Walk to Rivendell ... or beyond

Thanks to my friend Gary for forwarding me an interesting item yesterday: an exercise challenge expressed in Middle-earth distances. As the item says, “Out-of-shape? Middle Earth [sic] geek? Why not walk to Rivendell[?]” Now that sounds like an interesting motivation — to bring a new appreciation to the adventure we’ve all read so often.

What really struck me, reading some of the proposed walking challenges, is just how far those Hobbits really walked — and barefoot, no less! According to the post (and I’m too lazy to verify this myself!), it’s “397 miles from Rivendell to Bag End.” Thinking about my own walking routine, which is something approaching ten miles a week (in a good week), it would have taken me three quarters of a year to get to Rivendell! Though I would surely pick up the pace if I had Black Riders behind me all the way! ;)