Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Attercops, coming soon!

I am happy to keep a promise by announcing the good news: “Dwarves, Spiders, and Murky Woods: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wonderful Web of Words”, the paper I gave at the C.S. Lewis & Inklings Society conference in Oklahoma City this past April, has been accepted for publication. The paper, with one or two small revisions, will appear in the next issue of Mythlore, coming this October. I have written book reviews for Mythlore for a couple of years now, but this will be the first piece of original scholarship I’ve had published there.

And what’s even better than being asked to submit the essay by the editor in person? Getting an equally enthusiastic response from the journal’s anonymous reader. The most important point in the reader’s comments was that I had managed to make a linguistic paper readable. That has always been my goal: to take something that I’m truly passionate about, but which (in the wrong hands) quickly becomes overwhelming or dry as dust, and often both. So I’m really pleased to hear an opinion that mine are the right hands for the subject matter. :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mythcon 41 Schedule

Hello, everyone! The schedule for Mythcon 41 is now available online. For those chomping at the bit, or for anyone still on the fence about coming, take note that Mythcon 41 is going to be a big, full, well-attended event with more than forty papers*, eight panels, eight hours of writers' track programming, and two presentations in a readers’ theater format. We’ll also have a dealers’ room, art show, auction, and a lot else besides. More than 120 people are registered to attend, and it’s not too late to join in the fun. You can register here through July 2, or at the door. And unlike many conferences, we also have individual day-rates, so if you could only attend one or two days, don’t let that stop you coming out.

* As you’ll see from the schedule, these run the gamut, from J.R.R. Tolkien to C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams to George MacDonald, J.K. Rowling to Stephenie Meyer — and much more. I beleive it’s also safe to say that ours will be the first Mythcon ever to feature papers on The Devil Wears Prada and Bishop-Prince Petar II Petrović-Njegoš. (No, those aren’t the same paper! :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Middle-earth Minstrel Reviewed

The newest issue of Beyond Bree has added another voice to the recent harmony of works on music and/in/inspired by Tolkien. Its “Music Issue” (June 2010) offers sheet music to four Tolkien-themed songs (a rarity these days; sheet music, I mean, not songs), and it also features reviews of three new publications on the subject of music and Tolkien. These are the Walking Tree collection, Music in Middle-earth, reviewed by editor Nancy Martsch; the Lembas Extra 2009 special issue, “Tolkien in Poetry and Song”, also reviewed by Martsch; and (on the cover) Middle-earth Minstrel, reviewed by Chris Seeman. Since I contributed to that collection, I wanted to offer an excerpt or two.

Seeman begins by noting that the book’s stated goals represent “an ambitious agenda for so slim a tome (200 pages). Like most collected volumes, this one has its ups and downs. The majority of the contributions are quite valuable, however, and as the first attempt to tackle this topic in a comprehensive way, the book is well worth reading, regardless of where one’s particular interest may lie.”

Seeman then goes on to address my essay, the first in the book, immediately:
Jason Fisher’s “Horns of Dawn: The Tradition of Alliterative Verse in Rohan” opens the collection with a seemingly well-worn exercise: the elucidation of parallels between Tolkien’s invented Rohirrim and the historical Anglo-Saxon culture whose literature he studied professionally. Fisher’s real interest, however, is in exploring intertextual resonances in Tolkien’s narrative of Théoden’s arrival at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Drawing attention both to Beowulf (“To those sorrow-hearted men with the dawn when they Hygelac’s horn and his trumpet and his battle-song they heard”) and to the etymology of the Eldarin root ROM, with its associations of hunting, horn-blowing and dawn breaking in the East (cf. Oromë, Valaróma, Rómen), Fisher uncovers multiple layers of signification — mythological, philological and poetic — in this pivotal scene.
It is always nice to be read and reviewed, and I look forward to reading what other reviewers have to say. To my knowledge, this is the first published review of the book, but others will definitely follow, and I will share excerpts — favorable or otherwise — as I encounter them. My thanks to Chris Seeman for taking the time to read and report on the collection.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Водка со всего мира

As a fan of the potent potables, I’ve written on Lingwë about beer, tequila, and more exotic spirits from time to time. I intended to write up reports of some other tastings too (notably, wine and rum), but I never got around to those. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a local vodka festival featuring 59 different vodkas from all over the world, and I thought I’d share the results. Now, before I begin, let me say that I’m really no expert on vodka. I love a good gimlet or caucasian, with the occasional dirty martini thrown in just to stir things up, but I don’t know nearly as much about vodka as I do about, say, tequila. Still (no pun intended), I don’t like to pass up the opportunity to try new and interesting things, and so, here’s a report on some (not all) of the vodkas I had the chance to try:

Absolut Boston, Limited Edition (Sweden)
This is the third in Absolut’s limited edition of vodkas meant to capture the spirit of a city (following New Orleans and Los Angeles; next year will bring the fourth, Absolut Brooklyn). This vodka is infused with black tea and elderflower, and if that sounds strange, it is; but let me tell you, it was really good. Right up my street. It would be fantastic in a Long Island Iced Tea.

Belvedere IX (Poland)
Belvedere IX is so named because of the nine ingredients macerated with the vodka: cinnamon leaf, sweet almond, eucalyptus, açai juice, black cherry, jasmine, ginseng, ginger and guarana. It was every bit as warm and exotic as that sounds. I’d highly recommend it. I also tried a basil martini made with the regular Belvedere — that was delicious — and the Belvedere Pink Grapefruit — disappointing.

Boru (Ireland)
I didn’t have this one straight, but rather in what they called the “original” martini: with maraschino cherry liqueur from Padua, vermouth, and a dash of bitters. Quite lovely. The only reason I sidled up to their table, I have to admit, was because the vodka was Irish, but I’m glad I did. Getting to try a genuine cherry liqueur was a bonus.

Crystal Head (Canada)
This vodka (pictured above) is 90% marketing. It is to vodka what Cabo Wabo is to tequila (with Dan Ayckroyd and Sammy Hagar completing the analogy; that’s Mr. Ayckroyd’s autograph on the bottle above). This vodka, its pushy and scantily-clad barker tried to convince me, is the smoothest in the world because it’s filtered through diamonds. She was not kidding about the diamonds (and frankly, that’s ridiculous), but it wasn’t particularly smooth; in fact, I found it had a pretty harsh bite. Not worth the price, unless you really like that bottle.

Grey Goose La Poire (France)
They were offering this in a martini with Amaretto and lemon juice, which sounded great, but I tried it neat. The pear flavor was really nice, not too sweet, not too strong. Something about the pear really married well with the warmth of the vodka.

Hangar One Buddha’s Hand Citron (California, USA)
Buddha’s hand is an exotic (and freakish-looking) citrus fruit from Asia, which I’ve seen for sale but have never tried. Naturally, then, I had to give this a go. It was very nice, quite dry, with a pleasant citrus note. Not sweet like the innumerable orange vodkas (or Three Olives’s Rangtang, which is orange/tangerine), but much more like a kefir lime. The Danish Frïs makes a lime vodka, but I haven’t tried it, and so can’t compare it to this one.

Prairie (Minnesota, USA)
Notable mainly because it’s organic, kosher, and gluten-free (made entirely from Midwest corn). It was a smooth vodka, quite nice. A much better use of corn than for making high fructose corn syrup or a tithe of your car’s gasoline.

Titos Handmade Vodka (Texas, USA)
A very good corn vodka grown and made in small batches in Austin, Texas, not too far from where I live. I tried it because it’s local, and I like to support local business — especially when they’re sustainable and responsibly managed. It’s not head and shoulders above other vodkas, but it feels good to put your money into a local business, rather than into the coffers of a gigantic international mega-brand.

Russian Standard Platinum (Russia)
One of the biggest vodkas in the world, exported to over 70 countries. Along with Stoli, it’s the very stereotype of Russian vodka. The Platinum variety is filtered first through charcoal, then silver (a gimmick one-upped by Crystal Head; see above). Why don’t they just call it Silver? Or why don’t they spend the money to filter it through platinum? In fact, you can’t filter it through either; they admitted it’s just poured over the metal. Yawn. The vodka was perfectly adequate, but nothing brilliant. It needed a little help to attract the crowds some of the other vodkas were drawing, which explains the ridiculously busty barmaid hawking it. I could post a picture (I took snaps all the whole event), but I think it would exceed the limits of decorum.

Stolichnaya Elit (Russia)
Stoli (and/or Absolut) is what’s normally in my own freezer at home*, but I’d never had the chance to try the Elit before. It was the most expensive vodka of the night ($63.99), but worth it. Incredibly smooth because it’s filtered eleven times. Is that excessive? For fruity mixed drinks, sure, but for a simple martini, I imagine it’s in a glass by itself. (Okay, I promise, that was the last pun. ;)

Ultimat (Poland)
Along with Stoli Elit, one of my favorites of the night. It’s made from wheat, rye, and — the staple of real vodka — potatoes. Very smooth, and less expensive than you’d expect. Another great martini vodka.

Three Olives Bubble (USA/England)
By far the most unusual vodka I tried. It smells exactly like bubble gum, and in my experience, things that smell exactly like some-thing usually disappoint when you get around to tasting them. Not so this time. It tasted exactly like bubble gum, and no one was more surprised than me that I loved it. I can’t imagine there’s anything in the world you could mix a bubble gum vodka with, but you don’t need to. It was crazy good all by itself. Weird, but great. The ideal vodka for body shots in Cancún — not that I’ve ever done anything so wild myself (so far as you know ;).

* For the record, my freezer currently has the last dregs of a fifth of Absolut Citron, and small bottles of Absolut Ruby Red and Absolut Mandarin. There was a liter bottle of Stoli, but we finished it off with White Russians a month or two ago and haven’t stocked back up yet. :)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Google Languages expands again

As long-time readers will certainly know by now, I keep rather a close eye on the offerings at Google Language Tools. Well, those industrious little devils are at it again, with several new languages offered at the “alpha” stage (i.e., likely to be riddled with risible errors). You won’t see these on the main Language Tools page yet; you have to reach the translation results page to get these. I’m not sure why, unless it’s to keep them a bit lower-profile. Anyway, here’s what’s new:
  • Armenian
  • Azerbaijani
  • Basque
  • Georgian
  • Urdu
For a total of 56 languages now available! India and Africa are still grossly underrepresented — for heaven’s sake, Basque is spoken by just a little more than half a million people, where Punjabi is spoken by somewhere between 50 and 100 million. Punjabi is spoken by so many people that estimates can’t keep up* — the Basques can probably count just about every speaker individ-ually! In Africa, Yoruba, Igbo, and Zulu together account for perhaps 60 million speakers, outnumbering speakers of Irish by about 100 to 1. And never mind that adding Urdu is sort of cheating, since they already have Hindi. :)

Ah, well, progress is progress. And of course, when they do finally add Yoruba or Gujarati or even Kyrgyz, I’ll probably be one of the first to know, which means you’ll be among the first to know!

* Of course, most people in India also speak English, which I imagine to be one reason Google is in no particular hurry to accommodate them in their cradle-tongues.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not with a bang but a whimper

I realize it’s been pretty quiet around here lately — I’ve been working on the latest issue of Mythprint, the final progress report for Mythcon, the program book for Mythcon, etc., not to mention thinking about a certain someone’s birthday. But in all that chaos, it slipped my mind that as of May 24, I have been writing Lingwë – Musings of a Fish for three years!

I don’t have the time today to say anything more substantial than that (hence the humble title of this post, with apologies to T.S. Eliot). Contrary to the implications of “The Hollow Men”, Lingwë isn’t going anywhere — though it may take a little time to bring it back to the customary verbosity of its heyday. You know it’ll be a lot of work organizing a literary conference when you agree to do it, but you don’t realize quite how much work until you start falling behind! :)