Monday, August 24, 2009

New Books this Summer ... *NOT*

A few months ago, I wrote (here, and here) about the upcoming publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of The Book of Jonah. As I said there, the publisher informed me that the original publi-cation was being bumped from July to “the end of August”. Well, since the end of August is now approaching rapidly, I dropped them a line to inquire again.

Alack! We are now looking at February, 2010. My contact explained: “I’m afraid we’ve had to postpone this title with a view to publish at the same time as Doubleday in the US. The new date is now late February 2010. You might want to keep an eye on Doubleday for their own release date as we will not be able to sell our own edition in the US.”

So, in addition to the new date, there is now the fact that Doubleday will be publishing an edition in the United States (where Darton, Longman & Todd will not be selling theirs). There is nothing at the Knopf Doubleday website as yet, so I can’t comment on price and contents of the U.S. edition for now. I will certainly keep you apprised when/ if I learn anything more.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Books this Summer: Part Two

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate my friend Jonathan Himes on the publication of a new critical edition, translation, and commentary on the two Old English fragments usually called “Waldere”. His book, The Old English Epic of Waldere (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), has won a ringing endorsement from Tom Shippey, who wrote:
Though long overshadowed by Beowulf, the romantically-discovered fragments of the Old English epic of Waldere give us our earliest vernacular glimpse of the Nibelungs and related legends. Jonathan Himes’s new edition now combines scholarly rigour with reader-accessibility, puts the case for identification of the speakers, and provides welcome expansion on the background of the legend, the problems of the manuscript, and issues both archaeological and literary. It will replace all previous editions and give a new stimulus to study of an often-bypassed poem.

By way of a further bridge to the world of Tolkien (if Shippey weren’t enough), one of those previous editions Jonathan’s book will make obsolete is Arne Zettersten’s (Manchester University Press, 1979), the first to use ultraviolet light to facilitate otherwise difficult readings [1]. In addition to consulting these prior editions and the prevailing scholarship on the fragments, Jonathan has also returned to the source, examining the fragments first-hand in an effort to resolve outstanding textual cruces in the manuscripts. But lest you worry this edition is aimed at paleographic specialists only, Jonathan makes clear in his preface that “[t]he whole introduction” (at least) “is written to be intelligible to ordinary readers that they might deepen their appreciation of Old English poetry” [2]. Likewise, the translation. Also welcome are ten illustrations (adaptations of drawings from the original Anglo-Saxon manuscripts) by Jonathan’s brother, Brent. Please note that you can read excerpts by following both links above; the CSP website, in particular, offers a substantial preview (thirty pages).

One final note of interest: Jonathan gives an acknowledgement to Dr. Robert Boenig, “a fine medievalist and mentor” [3]. Boenig is known for, among other things, the wonderful collection of primary texts, Anglo-Saxon Spirituality: Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 2000) as well as essays on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis [4]. But on a more personal level, it was under Bob Boenig’s tutelage that I took my first serious steps in learning Old English, at Texas A&M University in the Fall of 1993. I would venture to guess he probably doesn’t remember me, since I decided not to continue with graduate school. I imagine that, for a time, Dr. Boenig was concerned about my sudden disappearance, but I hope he would be pleased to learn that I have continued my study of Old English over the years, even if I never earned the piece of parchment to substantiate it to a hiring committee. :)

[1] See Kiernan, Kevin S. “Old Manuscripts/New Technologies.” In Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: Basic Readings. Ed. Mary P. Richards. New York: Routledge, 1994. 37–54.

[2] Himes, Jonathan B., ed. The Old English Epic of Waldere. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009, p. xiv.

[3] loc.cit.

[4] For example, “Tolkien and Old Germanic Ethics.” Mythlore 13 (1986): 9–12; and “Critical and Fictional Pairing in C.S. Lewis.” In The Taste of the Pineapple: Essays on C.S. Lewis as Reader, Critic, and Imaginative Writer. Ed. Bruce L. Edwards. Bowling Green, OH: Popular, 1988. 138-148.

Friday, August 14, 2009

New Books this Summer: Part One

In addition to two other books now on the horizon — Elizabeth Solopova’s Languages, Myths and History, and Tolkien’s own translation of The Book of Jonah — Walking Tree has just issued the surprise announcement (a surprise to me, anyway) of a new collection of essays by J.S. Ryan, Tolkien’s View: Windows into his World. Even better, this is just the first of two volumes — the second, according to the preface by Peter Buchs, will appear next year. This collection, now available, includes twenty essays by Ryan, all but one previously (and variously) published over the past four decades!

Thanks to, I can share the full table of contents with you. The fourth essay, “Trolls and Other Themes – William Craigie’s Significant Folkloric Influence on the Style of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit”, is a new piece written expressly for this collection, and by its title promises to be fascinating. Here’s what readers can look forward to (omitting only the front and back matter):

Part A. Early Biographic Pieces and Emerging Tastes
  • Those Birmingham Quietists: J.R.R. Tolkien and J.H. Shorthouse (1834–1903)
  • The Oxford Undergraduate Studies in Early English and Related Languages of J.R.R. Tolkien (1913–1915)
  • An Important Influence: His Professor’s Wife, Mrs Elizabeth Mary (Lea) Wright
  • Trolls and Other Themes – William Craigie’s Significant Folkloric Influence on the Style of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit
  • Homo Ludens — Amusement, Play and Seeking in Tolkien’s earliest Romantic Thought
  • Edith, St. Edith of Wilton and the other English Western Saints
Part B. The Young Professor and his Early Publishing

  • Tolkien and George Gordon: or, A Close Colleague and His notion of ‘Myth-maker’ and of Historiographic Jeux d’Esprit
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: Lexicography and other Early Linguistic Preferences
  • The Work and Preferences of the Professor of Old Norse at the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1945
  • The Poem ‘Mythopoeia’ as an Early Statement of Tolkien’s Artistic and Religious Position
  • Tolkien’s Concept of Philology as Mythology
  • By ‘Significant’ Compounding “We Pass Insensibly into the World of the Epic”
  • Barrow-wights, Hog-boys and the evocation of The Battle of the Goths and Huns and of St. Guthlac
  • Dynamic Metahistory and the Model of Christopher Dawson
  • Folktale, Fairy Tale, and the Creation of a Story
  • The Wild Hunt, Sir Orfeo and J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Mid-Century Perceptions of the Ancient Celtic Peoples of ‘England’
  • Germanic Mythology Applied – the Extension of the Literary Folk Memory
  • Perilous Roads to the East, from Weathertop and through the Borgo Pass
  • Before Puck – the Púkel-men and the puca
In both content and mission, this collection would seem to have much in common with Tom Shippey’s Roots and Branches (also Walking Tree, 2007). Both Ryan and Shippey knew Tolkien (though Ryan, earlier, and much better), both have focused their academic studies around the same medieval Germanic Lit. and Lang. as Tolkien, and both bring a “creation from philology” approach to their research on Tolkien’s own fiction. Ryan can go one better than Shippey in having attended Tolkien’s lectures at Oxford in the middle 1950’s. As such, he is one of the few still living who can attest to what Tolkien was like as a teacher and mentor. (Another is Arne Zettersten, whom I have once had the pleasure of meeting. A topic for another post is Zettersten’s book on Tolkien, available only in Swedish for now.)

Sometimes Ryan and Shippey have covered similar ground, but other times, “J.S. Ryan finds sources for some of the elements of Tolkien’s work not discussed by Shippey” [1]. In any case, they are both source-scholars and philologists in absolutely the best sense, and therefore particular role models to me, since I consider myself cut from the same cloth — though obviously, of nothing close to the same caliber and experience.

Yet I’ve read very little of Ryan’s work, for the very straight-forward reason that most of it seems to be out of print! [2] From essays published in journals like Seven and The Minas Tirith Evening Star, to his collection of lectures, Tolkien: Cult or Culture? (published in 1969, but still a relevant question!). Considering the number of times Ryan’s work has been cited, however, it’s a shame so much of it is so hard to lay hands on. But perusing the summaries in Judith Johnson’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Six Decades of Criticism is enough to show that I would find a great deal to interest me in Ryan’s body of work. And therefore, a very loud “thank you” to Walking Tree for bringing out these two volumes!

[1] Michael D.C. Drout and Hilary Wynne, “Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and a Look Back at Tolkien Criticism since 1982”, Envoi 9.2 (Fall 2000): 101–34, p. 108.

[2] Some of Ryan’s essays (especially those published in Mythlore) can still be gotten in back issues. His essay, “Folktale, Fairy Tale, and the Creation of a Story”, which is included in this new collection, was previously printed in Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism (ed. Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs, Houghton Mifflin, 2004).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hemingway’s Silmarillion?

Hemingway’s Paris notebooksMy apologies for more than three weeks of dead air here at Lingwë. The culprit was a half-day presentation I gave on Tolkien, Gothic, Old Norse, and Old English at Texas A&M University at Commerce a couple weeks ago (first, the preparation for it kept me away; then, catching up on the rest of my to-do list). But an opinion piece I recently read — the latest chapter in an ongoing debate — prompts my return today.

As long-time readers will know, I’m a big fan of Ernest Hemingway. For example, I began (but haven’t managed to finish) a series of posts on Hemingway’s short stories. In the July 19 issue of the New York Times, A.E. Hotchner, long-time friend and later biographer of Hemingway, writes about a new edition of Hemingway’s posthumous memoir, A Moveable Feast. As Hotchner describes it, this is:
a significantly changed edition of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece, “A Moveable Feast,” first published posthumously by Scribner in 1964. This new edition, also published by Scribner, has been extensively reworked by a grandson who doesn’t like what the original said about his grandmother, Hemingway’s second wife.

The grandson has removed several sections of the book’s final chapter and replaced them with other writing of Hemingway’s that the grandson feels paints his grandma in a more sympathetic light. Ten other chapters that roused the grandson’s displeasure have been relegated to an appendix, thereby, according to the grandson, creating “a truer representation of the book my grandfather intended to publish.”
Hotchner then recounts his own friendship with Hemingway and personal involvement with the book during the late 1950’s, and he dismisses any claims by Seán Hemingway — whom Hotchner will not even name (he is simply “a grandson” with an axe to grind) — that Mary Hemingway “cobbled the manuscript together from shards of an unfinished work”, or that she herself invented the final chapter. Hotchner asserts that Hemingway “certainly intended it for publication”, and says moreover that the book as published is in fact “essentially” what Hemingway left behind. And he seems to be in a position to know. It was, in fact, Hotchner who suggested the title, “A Moveable Feast” (Hemingway’s own erstwhile description of Paris, he says).

And Hotchner’s indignation goes further. “Someone who inherits an author’s copyright is not entitled to amend his work,” he says. “With this reworking as a precedent, what will Scribner do, for instance, if a descendant of F. Scott Fitzgerald demands the removal of the chapter in ‘A Moveable Feast’ about the size of Fitzgerald’s penis, or if Ford Madox Ford’s grandson wants to delete references to his ancestor’s body odor.”

I think this is a legitimate cause for concern, but it bears pointing out that Seán Hemingway obviously sees things differently. Clearly, there are two sides to the story here.

In his review of the new edition, Christopher Hitchens describes the edition’s additions: ten additional sketches, followed by a selection of “fragments”. While readers may be glad to have them, one can (and probably should) ask whether Hemingway wanted them to be published at all, or published as part of this book. A question like this is often unanswerable; however, in this case Hemingway himself wrote that “for reasons sufficient to the writer [i.e., himself], many places, people, observations and impressions have been left out of this book.” By what right are they inserted back into it by a later editor, even if related by blood? Ah, but are these really Hemingway’s words at all? Seán Hemingway contends that the author’s preface was a fabrication!

If we believe Hotchner, the book was finished by Hemingway himself, who gave Hotchner “the completed manuscript of the Paris book to give to Scribner’s president.” It was certainly not entirely complete — it evidently had no title as yet, for example — but Hotchner says it was essentially a finished work. Why then is there such debate, why do so many contend it was “cobbled” or “pasted together” by Mary Hemingway? I admit I am no expert on the provenance of the manuscript(s). I wonder, though, whether the typescript Hotchner transported to the offices of Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York survives. If so, one should be able to turn to it for Hemingway’s own vision of the work, no? And if that were so, I can’t see what the fuss is all about. The fact that there is such a fuss, then, suggests there probably is no (surviving) typescript.

What troubles me more than the addition of the new material — which, honestly, I would like to read — is the removal of much of the final chapter, supposedly (but definitely? can we be so sure?) invented by Mary Hemingway. The scholarly approach would be to search the Paris notebooks for this material, but even if it weren’t found, that wouldn’t rule out Hemingway’s having written it from scratch in the late 1950’s in Cuba. Was this final “wistful paean to Hadley Richardson” a “removeable” feast? Alas, the jury is apparently still out.

All of this naturally reminds one of analogous situations with other deceased authors, their posthumous publications, and their Estates. Comparison to Tolkien’s unfinished “Silmarillion”, edited and published by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, is perhaps natural — though there are some major differences.

For one, Christopher Tolkien was much closer to his father than Seán Hemingway could be to Ernest — for the very obvious reason that Seán Hemingway was born after his grandfather’s 1961 suicide. He never met the man. Christopher Tolkien was therefore in a far superior position to know his father’s wishes for his book than Seán Hemingway could have been. Also, the state of the respective authors’ manuscripts is not really comparable, from what I know. Too, there is nobody analogous to Hotchner in Tolkien’s milieu. And while for their final books both Tolkien and Hemingway drew at their end of their lives on raw material written many decades earlier, an important distinction is that Tolkien was writing and revising this material almost the entire time; whereas, Hemingway hadn’t even seen the Paris notebooks in thirty years! (And there are plenty of other differences as well.)

Nevertheless, the problems and decisions confronting the editor of any posthumous publication are often very similar. And for two such beloved authors as Tolkien and Hemingway, the stakes in “getting it right” are high. Here, Seán Hemingway discusses specific differences between the Paris notebooks and the first published edition of A Moveable Feast. If you’ve read Doug Kane’s Arda Reconstructed: The Creation of the Published Silmarillion, the rhetorical habiliments of Seán Hemingway’s argument may sound very familiar — from “snippets of text” to the “intentional and carefully conceived narrative device” to the “order of the chapters” to judgments that “this kind of editorial decision [...] seems completely unwarranted”. Any one of these phrases could have equally come from Kane. And Doug, if you’re reading, I don’t mean that to sound condescending or dismissive. You’re in good company. :)

So, was A Moveable Feast Hemingway’s “Silmarillion”, a work he sketched out, even substantially, but never quite completely finished? And Seán Hemingway and Christopher Tolkien, both scholars in their own right (Classics and Old Norse, respectively), quite independent of their work on their relatives’ unfinished books — how much common experience do they share? Both have champions as well as critics. In the case of A Moveable Feast, much (to me) depends on this finished typescript to which A.E. Hotchner refers. On the other side of the Atlantic, there is certainly no such thing — a single complete manuscript with genuine author/ity — for The Silmarillion.

For what it’s worth, if I have to render a personal judgment, I find myself siding with Seán Hemingway (and Christopher Tolkien, mutatis mutandis). He can, after all, present evidence on the basis of extant documents as to the nature and extent of changes made to the final book. What he cannot do, it seems to me, is answer whether there might have been intermediate steps, now lost, in which those changes came into being by Hemingway’s own hand. (As such, “restored edition” is perhaps a misnomer.) Likewise, many claims of editorial intercession on Christopher Tolkien’s part may be answered in the very same words. Hotchner’s claims, on the other hand, require documentary evidence which I am not sure exists. If it did, the debate would be, would have been, easily resolved, and yet it rages on. Unless Hotchner can demonstrate, rather than merely assert, that the final chapter, the author’s preface, and other textual “discrepancies” (from the point of view of the Paris notebooks) came indeed from Ernest Hemingway and not from Mary or Scribner’s editor(s), then his accusations must be treated as opinion, not fact.