Monday, November 24, 2008

WOTD: Plumb

It’s been a little while since my last WOTD; perhaps a better acronym would be WOTW or even WOTM. But as often happens, I was recently asked whether I knew anything about the origin of the word plumb — not the fruit; that’s plum — and as most often happens, I do know something.

Plumb is one of those surprisingly useful words. It can be a noun, adjective, adverb, and verb, with a range of apparently unrelated meanings — apparently unrelated, but as we’ll soon see, in fact connected by a central metaphor. As a noun, a plumb is a simple tool: a weight fixed to one end of a line. It’s used to determine depth or verticality. For depth, one drops the weighted end of the line in and lowers it until the weight touches the bottom; the length of the line meted out at that point is the depth of the hole, water, or what have you. To establish verticality, one simply lets gravity pull the weighted end downward, then one marks the line. Why is it called a plumb, then? The word comes from Old French plomb(e), in turn from Latin plumbum “lead”. If you remember your Periodic Table of the Elements, you’ll know that the symbol for Lead is Pb (= Plumbum). A plumb line is so called because the weight attached to one end is usually a small lead ball.

The word and some of its compounds (e.g., plumb bob, plumb rule, or plumb line) goes back at least as far as Chaucer. In his late 14th-century Treatise on the Astrolabe, he describes “a plomet hangyng on a lyne” as well as the use of “a plom-rule” “[t]o fynde the lyne meridional to dwelle fix in eny certeyn place.” The word also appears in the Promptorium Parvulorum, the first English–Latin dictionary (compiled in 1440).

Because one use for a plumb is to determine depth, the verb to plumb eventually took on a metaphorical shading, “to explore the depths, to examine, to probe” — as in “to plumb the limits of human understanding”. And because another use for a plumb is to determine verticality with precision and exactitude, an adjectival and adverbial use developed, meaning “perfect(ly), exact(ly), complete(ly)” — as in “plumb center”, “plumb crazy”, or “plumb done in”. This usage is generally more colloquial, regional, or rural.

Let me close by calling your attention to two or three related words. Everyone knows what a plumber is, but most people don’t realize that plumber and plumbing derive from an underlying reference to lead — as in a pipes made out of that metal. Lead for our drinking water?! Perish the thought!

And how about the verb, to plummet, meaning “to drop downward rapidly” — just as a lead weight does! And finally, the colorful noun, aplomb, meaning “confidence, poise, skill” — the very opposite of leaden, isn’t it? But it comes to us from the French à plomb “perpendicular” — perpendicularity, naturally, being a measure taken with a plumb.

So, till next time, I hope y’all found this post plumb int’resting. (Did I really just write that? *groan* :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Perelandra Project

With the success of recent films based on the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as well as that of the musical version of The Lord of the Rings, you might be thinking, isn’t it about time for an opera based on Perelandra, the second book of Lewis’s Space Trilogy?

Well, the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society and the Donald Swann Estate agree. As they explain here, “The opera [Perelandra] was written in collaboration with C.S. Lewis between 1960 and 1964. The sale of the film rights shortly after Lewis’ death, however, placed a long-term embargo on its performance. The opera is now receiving a long-awaited second premiere. It is to be performed in its original, three-act version as a ‘theatrical oratorio’.” The music is by Donald Swann, also known (among other things) for the musical adaptations of Tolkien’s songs and poems published in The Road Goes Ever On. The libretto — which C.S. Lewis called “just stunningly good. It brought tears to my eyes in places” — is by David Marsh.

The performance will take place in Oxford, England on 25, 26, and 28 June 2009. And what’s an opera without an international colloquium on the novel? This will take place at Oxford University over 26–7 June, with a keynote address by Walter Hooper. You’ll find the Call For Papers, which “may treat [any or] all aspects of Perelandra (literary, theological, historical and other)”, here. The deadline for abstract proposals is 20 April 2009.

As if that weren’t enough, they’re also running a competition for original artwork inspired by the novel. Submissions will be judged by the eminent fantasy artist, Alan Lee, also known for his illustrations of Tolkien’s world. Winners may be displayed at the opera and colloquium, and could even earn a spot in the CD, production book, and other accompanying material. Plus, there’s a first prize of £100 and two second prizes of £50. Submissions must be received by 15 February 2009. For more details, follow this link.

This could well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — especially to see the opera, which has only been performed once before, more than forty years ago. For those who can’t make it, a recording is in the works, but if you have the means (alas, I don’t!), then this is a combination of events that shouldn’t be missed.

(Hat-tip to Gary for bringing this to my attention! :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

A new publication in an unknown encyclopedia

As some of you know, I have written entries for a couple of different encyclopedias — The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (ed. Michael D.C. Drout, 2006), and Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Encyclopedia (ed. Robin Anne Reid, coming out in two volumes at the end of this year). This week, I’m happy to report another — in the online Literary Encyclopedia — even though the announcement may be greeted by vacant expressions.

The Literary Encyclopedia has been around for quite some time (since 2000), yet it appears to be still largely undiscovered. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s better known in the U.K., where it originated. What is it, exactly? Well, apart from the simple answer — an online literary encyclopedia, duh :) — it is “an expanding global literary reference work written by over 2,000 specialists from universities around the world, and currently provides more than 5,500 authoritative profiles of authors, works and literary and historical topics and grows by 60–70 articles each month. [...] The Literary Encyclopedia offers good coverage of canonical literature originally written in English, French, German and Russian, and is extending its coverage of Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek. It is built on historical principles so that all our data can be arrayed by date, country and genre and readers can explore writing in its historical context. [...] The publication is very much a living relationship between current scholars and readers and not a repository of information formerly published in printed works.”

Quite an ambitious undertaking! Its more than 5,000 entries add up to more than nine million words. It also has more than 20,000 placeholders for entries they’d like to see written. With no practical limits as to scope or length, this is where an online encyclopedia has the opportunity to leave a print encyclopedia far behind. But what about the quality? From what I’ve read (admittedly, only a tithe), the entries are solidly researched, accurate, and well written. As with any collection by many hands, however, there may be a bad entry here or there. If you find one, send them some feedback. (And there’s another advantage an online encyclopedia has over a print publication.)

So, back to me. My first entry for them is a roughly 2,800-word essay on the Inklings. (Note that you’ll only be able to read the first 500 or so words without a paid subscription. More on that in a moment.) Following this, I will be writing a series of entries on works by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. If you have absolutely nothing better to do, you can search these out among their forthcoming entries. A new one should be appearing every two or three months from now until, oh, some time in the middle of 2010. For anyone curious to see it, an abbreviated version of my publication vita is online as well, here.

As far as The Literary Encyclopedia’s other contributors on the Inklings, I’m in good company. The encyclopedia currently has essays by Brian Rosebury (the biographical entry on Tolkien, as well as entries for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion), Dimitra Fimi (Unfinished Tales), and Peter Schakel (the biographical entry on Lewis and entries for several of his works).

Now, as I hinted above, The Literary Encyclopedia is not free — but considering some of the “encyclopedias” that are free, it may be wise to remember that old adage, “you get what you pay for.” In any case, a membership isn’t going to set you back too much — and considerably less than buying a print encyclopedia. At present, it’s about $19.95 USD for a full year. There’s also an option for one-time, one-month access. And here’s another good reason to spring for access, or better yet, to encourage your public or university library to do so: The Literary Encyclopedia grants free memberships to institutions of higher education in countries whose per capita income is lower than the world average. So you’re being a good Samaritan too. If you want to bug your librarian about this, here are some talking points.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Michael Crichton’s “Beowulf”

By now, you’ve probably heard the news that Michael Crichton died last week after a protracted struggle with cancer (read his obituary at The Guardian). His death was private and unexpected (he had completed a new novel, scheduled for release next month, now postponed). Most readers have come to associate Crichton with techno-thrillers and scientific mysteries built around the latest “bleeding-edge” technology of the day in which they were written — e.g., the mind/computer connection (The Terminal Man), cloning (Jurassic Park), virtual reality (Disclosure), time travel (Timeline), nanotechnology (Prey), global warming (State of Fear), and so on. Despite an obvious sympathy for technology, Crichton’s novels are usually cautionary tales, warning readers about the dangers as well as (perhaps even more than) the benefits of new technologies.

But though he’s better known for these techno-thrillers, they aren’t the only kinds of books he wrote. He wrote a good deal of nonfiction, for example, including books on the medical industry, the artist Jasper Johns, and an excellent memoir, Travels. If you like exotic and adventure travel, give this book a try. He also wrote a couple of terrific historical novels. (And I’m not thinking of Timeline, which is half-historical, half-techno-thriller.)

From The Guardian obit:

He returned to books with two historical novels, The Great Train Robbery (1975), based on the 1855 theft of gold from a London to Folkestone train, and, the following year, Eaters of the Dead, one of his best and most overlooked books. Presented as a lost manuscript written by an Islamic envoy kidnapped by Vikings in 932 [sic *], it was a retelling of the Beowulf story, which he originally wrote on a bet that he could make that myth relevant to a modern audience.

Now I’ve read almost everything Crichton wrote, but when it came to picking a book to read in memoriam, I chose Eaters of the Dead, which I hadn’t read since some time in college. (You may know it as The 13th Warrior; the novel was reissued with that name, regrettably, after a rather poor film adaptation about ten years ago). Like most of Crichton’s other early novels (e.g., The Terminal Man, The Andromeda Strain, and The Great Train Robbery), it’s quite good — better than you might guess if you’ve only ever read the most recent Crichton. Tight, well-written, and engrossing. But Eaters of the Dead is perhaps the “Crichton novel” least like any of the others. As The Guardian pointed out, it’s a kind of retelling of Beowulf, but much more as well.

The novel is presented as a lost manuscript, a meta-narrative frame many writers before and after have used, including Tolkien [1]. The novel, then, is held out to be a part of the historical account made by Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, a genuine historical figure who visited the Rus (Vikings in the region of the Volga, in modern-day Russia, whence the name). Ibn Fadlan is a primary source of our knowledge of several Viking social practices, including the famous cremation by funereal pyre [2]. But Crichton, very cleverly, incorporates a retelling of the Beowulf legend as part of this manuscript, planting, as it were, the “historical” seed for the genuine Beowulf poem. This, of course, is bound to appeal to fans of mythology — and of Tolkien, who wrote from a similar angle (and who likewise admired Beowulf).

As Ruth Johnston Staver explains in A Companion to Beowulf

Eaters of the Dead [...] attempts to retell Beowulf’s story through the foreign voice of the Arab Ibn Fadlan. The new story, while recognizable, is changed to a point of confusion, at least for unwary readers. The confusion begins with the novel’s format. It is apparently a manuscript translated from the Arabic and Latin and written around AD 922 by an Arab emissary from Baghdad, who was sent to meet with the King of the Bulgars and was caught up on a side adventure. The novel opens with an introduction that appears to be a scholarly history of the manuscript, and it sounds like real histories of manuscript fragments. There are places, names, and dates, but they are all fictional. All through the novel this pretense is maintained, with fictional scholarly footnotes on the translation and a fictional appendix. [3]

The names are similar, yet not the same. Why? Crichton probably means to reflect the vagaries of history. His names are different enough to suggest that either his Ibn Fadlan or the genuine Beowulf poet has gotten them wrong, or at least, not quite right. Instead of Beowulf, we have Buliwyf; for Grendel, wendol; for Hrunting, Runding; for Heorot, Hurot; for Hroðgar, Rothgar; and so on. The pairs of names feel like they could easily be authentic erosions, one from the other. Likewise, the story is similar, and yet not the same. Instead of one Grendel as in the poem, the novel gives us an entire tribe of creatures, the wendol, whom Crichton implies in the faux-pendix, may be an isolated group of Neanderthals who survived into the historical period. There are conflicts between wendol (Grendel), their mother, and a dragon, but they occur in a different order in the novel. One of Crichton’s most inventive manipulations relates to the dragon. In the novel, the glowworm dragon of Korgon, it turns out, isn’t quite what it appears:

At first,

Here is what I saw: high in the air, a glowing fiery point of light, like a blazing star [...]. Soon appeared a second point of light, and yet another, and then another. I counted past a dozen and then ceased to count further. These glowing fire-points appeared in a line, which undulated like a snake, or verily like the undulating body of a dragon.

But then,

[...] the glowworm dragon of Korgon bore down upon us in thunder and flame. Each blazing point grew larger, and baleful red, flickering and licking; the body of the dragon was long and shimmering, a vision most fierce of aspect, and yet I was not afraid, for I determined now that these were horsemen with torches, and this proved true. [4]

So, what appeared to be a dragon, and was “recorded” in the poem, Beowulf, as the genuine saurian article, is here in Ibn Fadlan’s manuscript account revealed to have been nothing more than a clever, and doubtlessly effective, military stratagem. This has the feeling of genuine historicity, don’t you think? How else to explain a dragon? Unless, of course, they really existed. (Did they? :)

It all boils down to a gripping medieval tale in its own right, presented through a frame of feigned historical authenticity, with many points of contact (but not total congruency) with Beowulf. It’s not your run of the mill Michael Crichton, certainly, but every bit as good as his best techno-thrillers, and perhaps deeper and better written than most of them. [5] If you’re looking for a way to remember Crichton, and especially if you haven’t read Eaters of the Dead, why not give it a try? I daresay even Tolkien would have thought it a cracking good tale.

* Kidnapped is overstating it a bit; compelled would be more accurate. And the action takes place in AD 922, not 932. Tsk, tsk, tsk, basic fact-checking. ;)

[1] For more on Tolkien’s use, as well as discussion of the tradition, see Mark Hooker’s essay, “The Feigned-Manuscript Topos,” in A Tolkienian Mathomium. Llyfrawr, 2006, pp. 153-177.

[2] See further, Ibn Fadlan, Ahmad. Ibn Fadlan’s Journey To Russia. Ed. Richard N. Frye. Princeton (NJ): Markus Wiener Publishers, 2005. This is the first complete English translation of Ibn Fadlan’s writings.

[3] Staver, Ruth Johnston. A Companion to Beowulf. Westport (CT): Greenwood Press, 2005, p. 189. See the entire discussion of the novel on pp. 189–91.

[4] Crichton, Michael. Eaters of the Dead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976, p. 126.

[5] For a more developed critical comparison, read Hugh Magennis’s essay, “Michael Crichton, Ibn Fadlan, Fantasy Cinema: Beowulf at the Movies,” in Old English Newsletter 35.1 (Fall 2001), in HTML or PDF format.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Company They Keep released in softcover

If you’ve been waiting to pick up a copy of Diana Pavlac Glyer’s landmark study of the Inklings, now’s the time. The publisher (the Kent State University Press) allowed the hardcover to go out of print (regrettably) — but they’ve made up for it now by releasing the book in paperback a couple of weeks ago. This says a lot, actually; most books on Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inklings never get a second printing, or never go from hardcover to soft. The book is now also quite a bit more affordable than it used to be. So if you’ve been dilly-dallying for while now, then just follow this link to The Company They Keep and order yourself a copy. :)

If you still need to be convinced, let me just point out that Diana’s book won the 2008 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies (beating a set of very impressive finalists), and was even nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Related Book, which is practically unheard of for Tolkien, Lewis, and Inklings studies. In The Company They Keep, Diana challenges the conventional wisdom (from Humphrey Carpenter on) that the Inklings really didn’t influence each other in any particularly striking ways — challenges and overturns it decisively. The work was something like twenty years in the making — and some of us can remember getting the first inklings of it (pun intended ;) almost that long ago in Diana’s paper, “More than a Bandersnatch: Tolkien as a Collaborative Writer”, delivered at the Tolkien Centenary Conference in 1992 (and published in its proceedings, which are now, sadly, out of print — see what I mean about most of these specialized books of the Inklings?).

And maybe a couple of blurbs would help. In his review in Tolkien Studies 4 (2007), Dale Nelson wrote that “Glyer is to be commended for restrained use of jargon despite writing about a subject that must have offered much opportunity for displays of literary theory. [...] Glyer shows incontrovertibly that the Thursday evening sessions did function as a writers’ group, as such groups have been anatomized by recent theorists. She is thorough.” Dale’s review is available online if you have Project Muse.

In his review for Mythlore, Andrew Lazo went even further, calling it a “deeply satisfying feast,” and asserting (rightly, in my view) that “Diana Pavlac Glyer has vaulted herself into the company of the very best thinkers and writers on the Inklings.” As if that weren’t enough: “Glyer stands on the shoulders of giants, and yet with balance, style, and sheer hard work she manages to dwarf them.” You can read this review for free, online.

The Tolkien Library also has some good information, here, including this assessment: “While the content of the book is very great, important facts are discussed and compared, and there is tons of interesting information, it remains easy and is very enjoyable to read. This book will probably become the standard book when people need to know something about The Inklings.” They also have an interview.

Hopefully that’s all the convincing you need, but let me just close with this: The Company They Keep belongs on the bookshelves of all serious readers of Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, Barfield, and the rest of the Inklings — and indeed on the bookshelves of writers and students of writing and writers’ communities, too. And now, with an affordable softcover, there’s just no excuse not to pick up a copy. I hope this hasn’t sounded too much like a commercial, hahae, but there are certain books one just feels strongly about. And it’s annoying when they go out of print — but then surprising and wonderful when (as so rarely happens) they appear again. ;)

P.S. The appendix and index by David Bratman are, collectively, a work of art, ne plus ultra. Would be bibliographers and indexers should take them as a model.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast already in progress ...

Friday, November 7, 2008

The origins of Tolkien’s “Errantry” — Part 3

The title of this post may prove to be something of a misnomer, since I’ll be talking less about “Errantry” than about “Goblin Feet” and other early verse; however, today’s long-promised post is the continuation (and most likely, conclusion) of Parts 1 and 2, both very much about “Errantry” — so what the present title may lack in accuracy may be made up for, I hope, in other ways.

By way of a preamble, let me remind readers that the last time we met on the subject, I promised

a third and final part to this series, [...] touch[ing] on some further similarities between Nimphidia and Tolkien’s very early poem, “Goblin Feet” (1915), arguing that, to some extent, the latter may be a kind of bridge between Drayton and “Errantry”. And as a sidebar to this secondary comparison, I’ll offer a comment or two on George MacDonald, yet another early influence whom Tolkien would later disavow and throw to the wargs.

“Goblin Feet” is part of a cluster of early poems Tolkien composed from roughly 1914–1916, earlier by many years than “Errantry”, and yet the latter bears a strong resemblance to the poems of this early period. Like “Errantry”, “Goblin Feet” embodies “the Victorian tradition of fairy tininess and delicacy that he [Tolkien] was soon to abjure” [1] or, in Carpenter’s stronger words, “to detest heartily” [2]. Carpenter tells us that Tolkien wrote the poem “to please [his fiancée] Edith who said that she liked ‘spring and flowers and trees, and little elfin people’” [3].

Tolkien would seem to have liked them well enough himself, to judge by some of the creative output of these years — is it really likely that he detested these diminutive fairies already, but continued to people his poems with them solely for the enjoyment of his wife? Not too likely, I would think. And just how prevalent were these verse-fairies? Let’s take a quick look at a sampling from the period —

  • “Wood-sunshine” (1910) — with its “light fairy things” and “sprites of the wood” [4]
  • “You & Me and The Cottage of Lost Play” (1915) — where two children “rollicked in the fairy sand” and in “fairy towns”, “dancing fairy-rings / And weaving pearly daisy-strings, / Or chasing golden bees” [5]
  • “Tinfang Warble” (1915) — “O the hoot! O the hoot! / How he trillups on his flute! / O the hoot of Tinfang Warble! / Dancing all alone, / Hopping on a stone, / Flitting like a fawn” — and in the earliest draft, Tinfang Warble is a leprechaun! [6]
  • “An Evening in Tavrobel” (1916) — where “brimmed the buttercups with light”, and “gleaming spirits there did dance / And sip those goblets’ radiance”, and “tiny faces peer and laugh” [7]
  • And of course, “Goblin Feet” [8], which I’d like to examine a little more closely now.

Tolkien wrote “Goblin Feet” at the same time (even over “the same days of April [1915]”) as “You & Me and The Cottage of Lost Play”. It’s a precious little poem, bordering on twee, and very much of the same flavor as “Errantry” and Drayton’s Nimphidia, as we’ll see in a moment. Tolkien, of course, came to hate it. Reminded of it in 1971 (a half-century after writing it!), Tolkien said “I wish the unhappy little thing, representing all that I came (so soon after) to fervently dislike, could be buried for ever” [9]. Such vehemence! But I think it would have been a shame to lose the poem, myself.

Even quoting selectively, the likeness between it, “Errantry”, and Nimphidia is striking:

... I am off down the road
... Where the fairy lanterns glowed
And the little pretty flittermice are flying:
... The air is full of wings,
... And of blundering beetle-things
That warn you with their whirring and their humming.
... O! I hear the tiny horns
... Of enchanted leprechauns
And the padding feet of many gnomes a-coming!

The poem, with its diminutive vantage point, its “flittermice” and “beetle-things”, not to mention “the gauzy wings of golden honey-flies” near the end of the poem, fits perfectly into the Elizabethan (and later, the Victorian) fairy tradition on which I elaborated in the previous two posts. The use of the word gnome is interesting, though, isn’t it? Around this time (and in the years immediately following), Tolkien was still using words like fairy, fay, and gnome in The Book of Lost Tales — which would eventually become elves (note: not elfs). But Tolkien would come even to lament the choice of elves. He wrote in 1954, “I now deeply regret having used Elves, though this is a word in ancestry and original meaning suitable enough. But the disastrous debasement of this word, in which Shakespeare played an unforgiveable part, has really overloaded it with regrettable tones, which are too much to overcome” [10]. And so we’re back to Tolkien’s grudge with Shakespeare, Drayton, and their mileu, by whom fairies, gnomes, and elves had all been debased. Yet clearly, early on, his poetry was indebted to the “debased” images they developed.

A loose end I promised to come back to is the question of Tolkien’s original liking for George MacDonald, which later turned into a strong distaste. I’ve written about this elsewhere [11], so I won’t rehearse the entire argument here, but in the same letter from which I’ve just quoted, Tolkien acknowledges that his orcs “do to some extent resemble” “the goblins of George MacDonald.” A few months earlier, Tolkien wrote to a different correspondent, “They [orcs] are not based on direct experience of mine; but owe, I suppose, a good deal to the goblin tradition (goblin is used as a translation in The Hobbit, where orc only occurs once, I think), especially as it appears in George MacDonald, except for the soft feet which I never believed in” [12]. Hm, now why should the “soft feet” of “goblins” sound familiar? Hm, could it be “the padding feet of many gnomes a-coming” in “Goblin Feet”?

(And as a side note, Gollum has soft, padding feet, too. We read that Gandalf “gathered that his padding feet had taken him at last to Esgaroth, and even to the streets of Dale, listening secretly and peering,” if you remember. Gollum, I daresay, would have been only too happy to grub around among the lines of Tolkien’s early poem for its “flittermice”, “beetle-things”, “coney-rabbits”, “glow-worms”, and “honey-flies”.)

I think it must be admitted that in spite his professed odium for Shakespeare’s and Drayton’s fairies, and later for the soft feet of George MacDonald’s goblins, he owed something to each of them at various points in his early career. Moreover, despite assurances that the dislike came about “so soon after” them, Tolkien’s use of precious, diminutive fairies persisted for at least two decades beyond these early poems (to “Errantry” in the early 1930’s and into The Hobbit, where it finally began to change). And we’re lucky that early work such as “Goblin Feet” was not “buried for ever”, as it allows us to trace this imaginative debt.

Unlike “Goblin Feet” and most of the other early poems we sampled above, “Errantry” evolved into a more serious and mature poem, thereby escaping the murrain Tolkien laid on “Will Shakespeare and his damned cobwebs.” Had it not, then surely Tolkien would have wished it lost as well. One can only wonder what similar goodies remain unpublished [13]. Perhaps in time, we may see an even greater preponderance of Drayton’s fairies come to light in the lively verse of Tolkien’s youth. I — for one — hope they come indeed. In Tolkien’s own words: “Come sing ye light fairy things tripping so gay.”

For those with a further interest in this subject, let me recommend Dimitra Fimi’s essay, “‘Come sing ye light fairy things tripping so gay’: Victorian Fairies and the Early Work of J.R.R. Tolkien”, published in Working with English: Medieval and Modern Language, Literature and Drama, 2, pp. 10–26. Dimitra has much of interest to say about “Goblin Feet”, “Wood-sunshine”, et al., though her focus is on the Victorian tradition (whereas, I am looking much further back). Read her essay online, here.

[1] Shippey, Tom. “Poems by Tolkien: Uncollected.” The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Ed. Michael D.C. Drout. New York: Routledge, 2006, p. 533.
[2] Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977, p. 74.
[3] loc.cit.
[4] The poem is unpublished but quoted in part in Carpenter, p. 47.
[5] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Book of Lost Tales. Part One. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984, pp. 20–1.
[6] Ibid., p. 115. Christopher Tolkien notes that his father dated the poem to 1914; however, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull date the earliest manuscript to April 1915. See Scull and Hammond’s J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide, p. 1007.
[7] Leeds University Verse, 1914–1924. Leeds: Swann Press, 1924, p. 56–8. The poem is a revision of an earlier one, called “Two Eves in Tavrobel”, composed in July 1916. See Scull and Hammond’s J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, p. 125.
[8] Oxford Poetry, 1914–1916. Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1917, pp. 120–1.
[9] Quoted in BoLT1, p. 24.
[10] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981, p. 185.
[11] Fisher, Jason. “Reluctantly Inspired: George MacDonald and the Genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major.” North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies 25 (2006): 113-120.
[12] Letters, p. 178.
[13] “Wood-sunshine”, for example, and a companion poem to “An Evening in Tavrobel”, among others known and unknown.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tolkien in Vermont (April 2009)

It’s a little way off yet, but Chris Vaccaro asked me if I could help spread the word on the Tolkien conference at the University of Vermont next April. As regular readers of Lingwë will know, I’ve attended this conference for the past three years (read about Tolkien 2008 here, Tolkien 2007 here). Unfortunately, I won’t be able to be there next year, but I can highly recommend it — whether you give one of the papers or just enjoy them.

Here’s the CFP for anyone who’d like to submit a proposal:

Tolkien at the University of Vermont 2009, an academic conference devoted to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, will be held at the UVM in Burlington , Vermont on Saturday, April 11th and Sunday, April 12th. The keynote address will be delivered by Professor Jane Chance of Rice University.

The conference organizers seek 20-minute papers on any topic related to Tolkien or his texts, but the following topic will be given priority consideration: sex and/or gender in Middle-earth or related to Tolkien’s life or works.

Please send a one-page abstract electronically to Christopher Vaccaro at or by mail to James Williamson at 400 Old Mill, University of Vermont , Burlington , VT 0540 as early as possible. Please include Tolkien 2009 in the subject line. Deadline is January 30th, 2009. For further information, contact the conference organizers.

Ladies and gentlemen, sharpen your pencils. :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Read my newest book reviews online

As I wrote recently, I have two new book reviews published in the latest issue of Mythlore. The news — they’re now available to read online for free at the Mythopoeic Society’s website. Point your browsers here, and let me know what you think:
  • My review of Ross Smith’s Inside Language: Linguistic and Aesthetic Theory in Tolkien. This book has also been reviewed by Dimitra Fimi for Tolkien Studies, in Volume 5 (pp. 229–33). A review by Carl Hostetter for VII is forthcoming.
  • My review of Verlyn Flieger and Douglas Anderson’s expanded edition of Tolkien On Fairy-stories. So far as I am aware, this is the first published review of Tolkien On Fairy-stories. Anyone know of another?
As I understand it, the reviews published in Mythlore will be available online for each issue from now on. We can thank the Mythopoeic Society’s webmaster, Randy Hoyt, for this. And so, let me return that favor by pointing out that Randy has just published the newest issue of his excellent ‘mythozine’, Journey to the Sea. In it, you’ll find a great interview with Verlyn Flieger, among other goodies. Following the interview, Randy directs readers back to my review of the expanded edition of Tolkien On Fairy-stories that Verlyn Flieger co-edited.

We’re all one big happy family, aren’t we? :)