Friday, October 30, 2009

Teaching Tolkien — update!

This past summer, I wrote about Marc Zender’s class at Harvard, “Tolkien as Translator”, as part of the broader topic of Tolkien in the classroom. Well, I’m pleased to pass along news that Marc will be teaching the class again, this time at the Harvard Extension School. While I’ve only seen the bulk of the Harvard campus from the outside, I’ve actually been inside one of the buildings of the Extension School (my oldest friend taught an English class there a couple of years ago), so I have a nice mental image of what Marc’s class might be like. Like my friend’s class, Marc’s will take place during the evenings — specifically, Wednesday evenings from 5:30–7:30. Classes start early next year, January 27, 2010.

Dick Plotz will be back for coming class, and this time, he’s bringing a friend: Robert Foster, author of A Guide to Middle-earth (1971), revised and expanded to include The Silmarillion and republished as The Complete Guide to Middle-earth in 1978. Now, that is exciting stuff! I still have a heavily thumbed and sometimes dog-eared copy of Bob Foster’s book from my childhood. Tolkien fanatics the world over owe him so much. His encyclopedia Tolkieniana was much better than J.E.A. Tyler’s Tolkien Companion (with its twee preface, fortunately abandoned in the 2002 revised edition). I hadn’t realized it until now, but Tony Tyler died very recently (October 2006). Tempus neminem manet. Requiescat in pace.

For those in the greater Boston area who might like to take the class, follow this link to learn more about it. To go directly to the syllabus in PDF format, this link. And at the risk of appearing insufferably self-congratulatory, I must take a moment to share this comment from Marc:
I wanted you to know that your comments back in May were instrumental in effecting a couple of changes to the syllabus, including the addition of the more complete edition of “Nomenclature”, and the general correction of my thoughtless usage of *Middle-Earth, with post-hyphen majuscule [...]
I am very happy to have been of service! The next time I make it to Boston, we should compare notes over a pint (or two).


  1. How ENVY i am at this moment :)

  2. The good news is that the more classes like this one there are, and the more widely, and loudly, the news about them is shared, the more universities around the world will finally agree it is high time Tolkien be taken seriously in academe.

  3. Thanks again, Jase, for helping to spread the word regarding my Tolkien classes. And you're most definitely on for that pint (or two) next time you make it out this way.

    I should mention, for those who may be interested, that you don't actually have to live in the greater Boston area to participate in this class. “Tolkien as Translator” is also accessible as a distance course, with online lectures, readings, and a discussion forum. This means that you can enroll from pretty much any corner of the globe with a reasonably fast internet connection. (As an example, my class this semester includes students from Europe and Central America; I even have two students presently serving in the Middle East.)

    Finally, if grades stress you out, you can enroll as a non-credit student. This would still give you access to all of the lectures, the readings, and the forum (i.e., the most enjoyable parts of the class), but you wouldn't need to write the tests. So I'd like to think that this class has a little something for everyone.

  4. Harm J. Schelhaas10/30/2009 7:41 PM

    Yes, I do envy those with the opportunity to attend those lectures and hear and meet Dick Plotz and Bob Foster!

    Looking at the syllabus, I'm slightly tempted to try my hand at writing some précis of the weekly readings. I've got most of the readings available at home, what I lack are the Mythlores, the articles from American linguistic (or like) magazines, Seventeen and Scolar and Storyteller, both of which I thought I might have - apparently I bid on them once or twice but didn't get them. Also, Tolkien Studies #6 hasn't come round to these parts yet - previous instalments I could buy at Oxonmoot at reduced price, but that arrangement seems to have fallen through this year. Oh yes, neither does my personal library stretch to Mark Zender's own notes on the Orcish Curse; and I've never heard of Insistent Images. Needless to say, all this is the kind of stuff that I would also look for in vain in any Dutch University Library. I know one or two people I could borrow those Mythlores from, and probably Seventeen and Scolar and Storyteller ...

    I would certainly love to kibitz at The Prancing Pony!

  5. Marc, thanks for the clarification on the who and the how. I didn’t realize (but probably should have) that students could enroll from anywhere in the world through “distance learning”, nor that there was a “gradeless” option. Remote students don’t get to meet Dick Plotz and Bob Foster, but will Dick and Bob participate in your online forum at all?

    You’ve probably seen Harm’s comment. Do you provide copies of any of the supplemental class reading to students, as I would suppose? I’m guessing you don’t actually expect them to own (or purchase) copies of out-of-print books like Scholar and Storyteller (though it is worth owning) or back issues of Mythlore (though they are easy to get and fairly inexpensive), not to mention the lesser known journals. Other than the main texts (The Lord of the Rings, etc.), it’s pretty common for classes to provide copies of readings — and actually necessary, I would think, in the case of remote students.

  6. So, I have to ask. When is Bob's book not dog-eared? (Sorry, I am only good for snarky comments while on the road.)

  7. Thank you for your questions, Harm and Jase! I can see how the syllabus and website may be a little unclear on a couple of these points, and I'm happy to provide additional details.

    The guest lectures will be videotaped and broadcast along with my own, so distance students will indeed be able to watch them online and thereby “meet” Dick and Bob virtually, if unfortunately not in person (unless, of course, they opt to travel to Cambridge for the guest lectures, which is an option). I will also be inviting Dick and Bob to participate in the online forum, but they're both very busy men. (Dick's a cytopathologist in civilian life, and Bob's a software engineer.) So it might be that their participation is limited to a virtual chat at a set time, perhaps in tandem with their guest lecture, if it turns out that we simulcast the lectures (which is indeed a possibility, though at this point it depends entirely on our “on campus” class size, as only the smaller lecture theaters presently incorporate this technology).

    As for the readings, you're absolutely right that we can't expect students to have access to such specialized journals as Mythlore, Tolkien Studies and Vinyar Tengwar. (Nor even, for that matter, to Names, Proverbium and Seventeen.) As indicated on the second page of the syllabus, students are only required to purchase their own copies of The Lord of the Rings (in the 50th anniversary edition), whereas “[a]ll of the additional assigned readings are available as pdf downloads from the course website”.

    Now this isn't strictly true, in that rather than maintain an independent archive of these readings I actually provide links to most of them as already available through Harvard's enviable library system. As an enrolled Extension student, one has access to Tolkien Studies (via Harvard's online subscription to Project Muse), Mythlore (via Harvard's collections and its pdf-request service) and numerous other journals. Some readings are of course already available online (e.g., Arda Philology, Carl Hostetter’s “Elvish as She Is Spoke” and some of Bob Foster’s Complete Guide) while those that don't fall neatly into either of these categories are indeed made available in a “reader” for registered students. As Jase notes, this practice is pretty common in college classrooms.

  8. Yo, Jason, someone made an interesting comment to me today I had never read or heard before: Tolkien was supposedly upset about Lewis's reference of his world in That Hideous Strength (I think that's what he said; idk, I've never read the Space Trilogy). I believe it was the one about the Numenoreans. Anyway, do you know anything about this?

  9. Also, I could find no link for how to register, how much credit hours were, etc.

  10. Alex, for registration information, send Marc Zender an email; his address is on his class website (link above).

    As for Lewis, he did borrow a reference to Númenor, which he spelled Numinor in That Hideous Strength. Martha Sammons (in A Guide Through C.S. Lewis’s Space Triology, p.168) defines Numinor as “True, utter West; Atlantis; Eden. Fallen land beyond the sea.” It’s well-known that Lewis definitely got the idea from Tolkien — he admits it himself in the preface to That Hideous Strength. See also Tolkien’s letter to Hugh Brogan of 11 September 1955, and several others; also, Lewis’s letter to Mrs Johnson of 25 May 1957.

    But I don’t know that Tolkien was genuinely upset by it. I think he may have been a little annoyed that Lewis misspelled it (under the influence of Latin nūmen “divinity, divine will”, of which Tolkien intended no such association (unless perhaps unconsciously). But if I am not misreading Tolkien’s references to this (or missing some further comment elsewhere), he was never actually angry with Lewis over it.

  11. It just occurred to me that it might not be clear how Latin nūmen, with an e, would lead to the spelling Numinor, with an i. To clarify, the stem vowel in the declension of nūmen changes to i (e.g., genitive nūminis). Therefore, the English word numinous, which Lewis certainly had in mind when he heard Tolkien reading his legends of Númenor to the Inklings.

  12. Just to add, in the letter to Hugh Brogan, Tolkien attributes Lewis's mispelling to his having heard the name rather seeing it written himself. And while he calls it a "plagarism" he seems to not hold that against Lewis since Lewis was expecting Tolkien's legends of the first and second age to soon be published. I've not heard that he was genuinely angry about it.

  13. Harm J. Schelhaas11/06/2009 10:58 PM

    I think I will send off an e-mail to Marc ...

    Some silly bit on the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Lord of the Rings that Marc requires for the course: I own four different “sub-editions” of the 50th Anniversary Edition, including the HM paperback shown. All have the same pagination, all have different texts! And the one shown isn't the most accurate one, though probably the closest readily available in the US that you can get, and the differences are very few, though the most significant one is in Appendix F II.

    Now if the edition shown really was a 2004 edition, as it says itself, there would be much more differences - however, it contains a text that wasn't published before 2005. HM have still to learn to label their editions correctly ...

  14. Harm, you raise a good point about the recent proliferation of corrected texts, all calling themselves the 50th anniversary edition. I don’t suppose you have collated a list of the differences between them, or know of a website with this information? And what is the difference in Appendix F to which you refer? I’m not sure whether these differences are noted on Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull’s website (which focuses more on addenda and corrigenda); but I could be misremembering.

  15. Doug, yes, thanks for adding that. It’s a good point which, along with the Latin, explains Lewis’s spelling mistake. Personally, I though Tolkien’s use of the word “plagiarism” was somewhat tongue-in-cheek; or if not quite that, then at least not meant to carry the kind venomous accusation the word conveys today.

  16. Harm J. Schelhaas11/08/2009 8:08 PM

    Jason, I've not collated a list of differences, but I've checked my copies against Hammond&Scull’s Reader’s Companion. They give a complete list of differences between the 2004 and 2005 version of the 50th Anniversary Edition, and give a list of three corrections noted for the 2005 paperback and subsequent editions. I have also checked a number of other ‘sub-editions’ in the shops against a representative sub-set of these differences. That yielded the following insights:

    1) The 2004 Deluxe editions, both Harper Collins (bordeaux red) and Houghton Mifflin (blue), and the HC 2004 regular one volume hardcover (black) have the 2004 version of text, at least in the first impression. I wouldn't be surprised if the HM Deluxe continues this in later impressions, but I have not been able to check.

    2) HM's one volume paperback (purporting to be of 2004 - cover as shown by Marc on the course website) has the 2005 text, and continues to have that, as far as I can see. Presumably the HM regular hardback (dj exactly the same as paperback cover) also has that, the HC 2005 three volume hardback (dj’s as Tolkien's original designs) also has the same text, as far as I have been able to ascertain.

    3) HC 2005 (gold) and later (red) one volume paperback and 2005 (white) and later (black or Alan Lee illustrated) three volume paperbacks have the 2005 text with extra corrections - as H&S said they would.

    Now a further difference is that the Deluxe hardcovers and HC regular one volume hardcover, i.e. those with the 2004 text, also still have the old index, slightly corrected, whereas all the versions with 2005 or corrected 2005 text have the new index compiled by Hammond&Scull.

    4) But the final twist is that Harper Collins, with the second impression of the Deluxe hardcover (still bordeaux red) and the second or third impression of the regular one volume hardcover (still black), changed to the second 2005 text (i.e. the one with the extra corrections), but retained the old index!

    So I come to four different versions as to textual content of the 50th Anniversary Edition. All have the same pagination, except for HC three volume paperbacks (HC 3 volume hardbacks do have the same pagination). Of course the three volumes were published as a boxed set with a matching paperback volume of Hammond&Scull’s Reader’s Companion that keys annotations to the other pagination ...

    [I have no information on the HM three volume trade paperbacks (black covers with knobbly illus), nor on the DelRey (formerly Ballantine) paperbacks. I have not seen any sign that the latter ever published a 50th Anniversary Edition.]

    The single non-trivial change between the two 2005 texts is found in Appendix F II ¶20 (the last one before the small print ‘Note’): ‘....., as unlike to the Quendi of old as are butterflies to the swift falcon - .....’. The word ‘swift’ is only present in the later corrected version, and is absent from the earlier versions. It was, however there in both First and Second Editions. It seems to have dropped out with Douglas Anderson’s second revision of the text (Note on the Text dated 1993).

  17. Great information, Harm! The long list in Hammond and Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (pp. 783–812) had slipped my mind (other things on it right now, alas), so thank you for reminding us. And thanks also for the additional notes and observations of your own.