Thursday, October 28, 2010

Parma Eldalamberon 19

Welcome news from Chris Gilson last night: the latest issue of Parma Eldalamberon (“The Book of Elven-tongues”) has gone to the printer! Interested parties can order their copies now by following this link.

Issue #19 is 108 pages, comprising “Comparative Tables”, representing the phonological relationships between Valarin, Quenya, Lindarin, Telerin, Noldorin, Ilkorin, Danian, and Lemberin, plus the Mannish language, Taliskan; an “Outline of Phonetic Development”, written in the late 1930s or 1940s, which relates the sounds of Quenya to those of Primitive Eldarin, inter alia; and an “Outline of Phonology”, a 1950s revision of the preceding.

This material promises to be quite juicy! I find that many fans of Tolkien’s languages seem to be interested in little more than vocabulary — “what can I learn to say in Elvish?” — but I find theoretical essays and tables like these to be just as fascinating as the lexis. Sometimes more. They really bring home, more than a mere catalog of words could do, the magnitude of Tolkien’s accomplishments in recreating an entire historical linguistics, ranging across a full spectrum of interrelated languages.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I’ve made it into the Encyclopedia Britannica … sort of

Just a quick notice today. A friend brought this to my attention on Monday: content from Mythlore, the peer-reviewed journal of the Mythopoeic Society, is available in the online Encyclopedia Britannica (in a section of their website captioned “Additional Content”). Follow this link to see everything they have; follow this link to see what they've got by yours truly (so far). You can’t read entire articles or book reviews unless you have a subscription to the EB, but if you do, this is a convenient way to read Mythlore.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

J.K. Rowling’s time scheme

I’ve got Harry Potter on my mind these days. From my recent thoughts on unplot-table buildings to the very stuff of the plot itself.

Via Text Patterns, the excellent blog of Alan Jacobs — who got it from Slash Film (and where did they get it? Rowling’s website?) — comes a great treasure for Harry Potter fans and scholars: a page of detailed plot notes for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On a purely serendipitous note, this page happens to represent exactly the part of the book I am (re)reading at this very moment, so it is all very fresh in my mind. Since this is already available online in at least two places, I will reproduce it for your convenience here as well. (A note to Ms. Rowling or her representatives: I will be happy to take the image down upon request. Since I am unsure of the original source or the image, I don’t know whether it’s meant to be shared or simply “got out”.)

This page of notes reveals many interesting things. First and foremost, it demonstrates the meticulous care Rowling took with her plots. The page is arranged by date along the vertical access and by character, group, or concept (e.g., the Prophecy) along the horizontal. The notes also give some hints about the intermediate stages in Rowling’s imaginative process. For instance, the “title” column shows preliminary chapter titles; these often differ from those in the final published book. The page also shows other differences, of which perhaps the most notable is Professor Umbridge’s original first name: Elvira (in the published books, Dolores). I can see why Rowling considered Elvira (it contains the word “evil”), but perhaps she abandoned it because of the unwanted association with Cassandra Peterson’s comic horror hostess, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark? Or maybe it was too similar to the name, Minerva. In the end, Dolores is also very apt: the name means “sorrows”. It’s almost more schoolmarmish to my ear than Elvira.

For stories as complex and interwoven as Rowling’s, such plot notes would not only be useful, but probably essential, for keeping track of all the various loose ends. They are almost as meticulous as Tolkien’s tables for The Lord of the Rings [1]. In fact, Rowling’s notes resemble Tolkien’s synoptic time-schemes very closely. Tolkien also plots time on the vertical access and arranges his plot notes by character or group along the horizontal. (I’m not suggesting Rowling got the idea from Tolkien, just that they kept their parallel storylines straight in similar ways.) I will not reproduce any of Tolkien’s manuscript here, but you will find a reproduction of one of his synoptic time-schemes on p. 37 of the gallery catalogue, “The Invented Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: Drawings and Original Manuscripts from the Marquette University Collection” (available for free in PDF format here). I was fortunate enough to be able to examine this document for myself, up close and personal, back in 2004 — and you need to be three inches away from it in order to puzzle through Tolkien’s handwriting!

I would like to hope we will see more of Rowling’s notes in the future. I have to imagine that university libraries the world over are already engaged in a furious (and private) bidding war over her manuscripts. Perhaps one day, scholars will be able to consult them, and fans will be able to view them on exhibit. Such plot notes and other paratextual material can reveal a great deal about how authors work.

[1] Scholars can examine these plot notes and time schemes — some 74 pages of them if my math isn’t off — at Marquette University. See MS. Tolkien, Mss Series 1, Box 2, Folder 31; and Mss Series 4, Box 2, Folders 17–18, 36.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The contents of Middle-earth and Beyond

Last month, I announced that one of my conference papers was being published in a new collection, Middle-earth and Beyond: Essays on the World of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Kathleen Dubs and Janka Kaščáková, forthcoming from Cambridge Scholars Publishers. Today, I’m happy to be able to share the full table of contents. There looks to be some really interesting stuff here, even if there isn’t any overarching theme or method to organize the collection. Moreover, the bulk of the contributors are European, and many of them Slavic, so the collection should offer some valuable new perspectives.
  • Introduction, by Kathleen Dubs
  • Sourcing Tolkien’s “Circles of the World”: Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi, by Jason Fisher
  • Staying Home and Travelling: Stasis Versus Movement in Tolkien’s Mythos, by Sue Bridgwater
  • The Enigmatic Mr. Bombadil: Tom Bombadil’s Role as a Representation of Nature in The Lord of the Rings, by Liam Campbell
  • Tom Bombadil — Man of Mystery, by Kinga Jenike
  • Grotesque Characters in Tolkien’s Novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by Silvia Pokrivčáková and Anton Pokrivčák
  • “It Snowed Food and Rained Drink” in The Lord of the Rings, by Janka Kaščáková
  • “No Laughing Matter”, by Kathleen Dubs
  • “Lit.”, “Lang.”, “Ling.”, and the Company They Keep: The Case of The Lay of the Children of Húrin Seen from a Gricean Perspective, by Roberto Di Scala
Like the last CSP collection to which I contributed, this will be rather a slim volume: eight essays, plus an introduction and front and back matter. Judging from the table of contents Janka sent me, the book will be about 150 pages, of which my essays occupies 1–18. And this is the second consecutive book in which the editors sent my contribution up to bat first; I must be doing something right. :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

J.K. Rowling among the Inklings

The title of this post invokes a rather well-known work of Inklings scholarship, Women among the Inklings (Candice Fredrick and Sam McBride; Greenwood, 2001). The book discusses, among other things, women on the fringe of the Inklings’ coterie: the members’ wives, friends, and fellow authors. A notable example is Dorothy L. Sayers, often mistaken for an Inklings or nominated by fans as an “honorary member”. J.K. Rowling is not discussed in this book — after all, her Harry Potter novels were still very new at the time Fredrick and McBride were writing it. And of course, Rowling was not a contemporary of the Inklings, so any (hypothetical) mention of her would have been off the main subject of their book.

But Rowling, like Sayers, is frequently described as an “honorary Inkling”, or said to be following in the tradition of the Inklings. The latter is certainly true. The Internet is awash in such conversation (a simple Google search will do the trick), and essays and even books have been published which argue the case. A couple examples: (1) “A Tale as Old as Time, Freshly Told Anew: Love and Sacrifice in Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling”, by Margarita Carretero-González (in Myth and Magic: Art according to the Inklings, eds. Eduardo Segura and Thomas Honegger; Walking Tree, 2007), and (2) The Hidden Key to Harry Potter: Understanding the Meaning, Genius, and Popularity of Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels, by John Granger. For a taste of Granger’s thesis, check out his online essay, “Harry Potter and the Inklings: The Christian Meaning of The Chamber of Secrets”.

It is not surprising, I suppose, that Rowling is compared most to C.S. Lewis, and after that, to Tolkien. I have done likewise myself, here. But I’m writing today with another inkling: has J.K. Rowling read Charles Williams?

A highly specific motif caught my eye while reading Williams’s 1930 novel, War in Heaven, one that will look very familiar to Potterphiles:
.....“I’m — I’m in rather a hole, sir. I — we — can’t find the house. […] It doesn’t seem to be there.” [After ruling out a mistaken address and the thick fog, the conversation continues.]
.....“Stop a minute,” the Commissioner interrupted. He rang his bell and sent for a Directory […]. “Now go ahead. Where do you begin?”
.....“George Giddings, grocer.”
.....“Samuel Murchison, confectioner.”
.....“Mrs. Thurogood, apartments.”
.....“Damn it, man,” the Commissioner exploded, “you’ve just gone straight over it. Dmitri Lavrodopoulos, chemist.”
.....“But it isn’t, sir,” Pewitt said unhappily. “The fog’s very thick, but we couldn’t have missed a whole shop.”
.....[The Commissioner accuses Pewitt of being drunk and drives over to Lord Mayor’s Street to see for himself. They feel along the wall in single file, peering in each window, but cannot find the chemist’s shop.]
.....“I suppose you think the devil has carried it off,” the Assistant Commissioner said […]. “Damn it, the shop must be there,” he said. But the shop was not there.
.....Suddenly, as they stood there in a close group, the grounds beneath them seemed to shift and quiver. […] Again the earth throbbed below him; then from nowhere a great blast of cool wind struck his face. […] A strange man was standing in front of him; behind him the windows of a chemist’s shop came abruptly into being. [1]
And then, a little further on, from the other perspective:
”Why then should we delay?” the Greek said. “I have hidden this house [i.e., the chemist’s shop] in a cloud and drawn it in to our hearts so that it shall not be entered from without till the work is done.” [2]
To put it into the nomenclature of Harry Potter, it certainly sounds like the house has been made “unplottable”. Recall this descriptive passage from The Sorcerer’s Stone: “It was a tiny, grubby-looking pub. If Hagrid hadn’t pointed it out, Harry wouldn’t have noticed it was there. The people hurrying by didn’t glance at it. Their eyes slid from the big book shop on one side to the record shop on the other as if they couldn’t see the Leaky Cauldron at all. In fact, Harry had the most peculiar feeling that only he and Hagrid could see it” [3].

But hiding a building from Muggles is one thing. Hiding it from other wizards is quite another. The best parallel in Rowling is number twelve, Grimmauld Place. Like Williams’s chemist’s shop, this was the abode of Dark Wizards. But the Order of the Phoenix took it as their headquarters after Voldemort returned to his body at the end of The Goblet of Fire. Consider this passage, which to my ear recalls the motif in Williams very clearly:
.....“Think about what you’ve just memorized,” said Lupin quietly.
.....Harry thought, and no sooner had he reached the part about number twelve, Grimmauld Place, than a battered door emerged out of nowhere between numbers eleven and thirteen, followed swiftly by dirty walls and grimy windows. It was as though an extra house had inflated, pushing those on either side out of its way. Harry gaped at it. [4]
Of course, independent invention is entirely possible. I have never heard that Rowling was a fan of Williams (though she has admitted a liking for Tolkien and especially Lewis). But the resemblance is striking, isn’t it? It could just be possible that Rowling has read Williams and picked up this clever little motif from him. It is remarkably specific, and I can’t recall anything like it anywhere else in my reading history — which is admittedly finite; does anyone else know of a similar motif in literature?

(By the way — and this almost escaped my notice — this is my 300th post for Lingwë – Musings of a Fish. My, how time flutters by.)

[1] Williams, Charles. War in Heaven. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1930, pp. 229–33.

[2] Ibid., p. 239.

[3] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: A.A. Levine Books, 1998, p. 68.

[4] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: A.A. Levine Books, 2003, p. 59.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The new issue of Mythlore

Editor Janet Brennan Croft informs us that the new issue of Mythlore (Fall/Winter 2010) went to the printer yesterday and should be going out to subscribers in about a week’s time. This issue, as some of you know, includes two contributions by yours truly, the lead-off essay and a review of Dimitra Fimi’s book (two-word capsule review: “read it!”). There’s also a review of a book to which I contributed (Middle-earth Minstrel). You’ll find these, and all the other goodies, in the table of contents below. I can’t help but observe that this issue, like the majority of them, is disproportionately weighted toward Tolkien. Not that I’m complaining about essays on the Professor, but all you scholars of Lewis, Williams, Barfield, and other mythopoeic writers — get cracking!

As always, I look forward to feedback on my work, good or bad. Some of the material from my essay has appeared here on Lingwë, where I often try out my research and solicit feedback, but that’s no excuse not to read the essay in print. There’s a fair amount of new material in it, including some really tantalizing bits about Tolkien’s Hungarian-like language, Mágol. So far as I know, these comments are the most detailed yet published on Mágol, and I am very grateful to Pat Wynne for consulting the manuscripts and providing valuable information. (Tolkien’s sketch of Mágol has not yet been published, but Pat is editing it for a future issue of Vinyar Tengwar. I know we all look forward to that!)

Here’s the full table of contents for the new Mythlore:
  • Dwarves, Spiders, and Murky Woods: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wonderful Web of Words, by Jason Fisher
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Orcs: Simple Humanity in Tolkien’s Inhuman Creatures, by Robert T. Tally, Jr.
  • Myth-Remaking in the Shadow of Vergil: The Captive(-ated) Voice of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, by T.S. Miller
  • Corrupting Beauty: Rape Narrative in The Silmarillion, by Lynn Whitaker
  • The Company They Didn’t Keep: Collaborative Women in the Letters of C.S. Lewis, by Sam McBride
  • Master of Doom by Doom Mastered: Heroism, Fate, and Death in The Children of Húrin, by Jesse Mitchell
  • Germanic Fate and Doom in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, by Richard J. Whitt
  • The Thread on Which Doom Hangs: Free Will, Disobedience, and Eucatastrophe in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, by Janet Brennan Croft
  • Simbelmynë: Mortality and Memory in Middle-earth, by William H. Stoddard
And reviews of:
  • Tolkien, Race and Cultural History, by Dimitra Fimi;
  • Charles Williams and His Contemporaries, by Suzanne Bray and Richard Sturch;
  • In the Land of Invented Languages, by Arika Okrent;
  • Millennial Mythmaking: Essays on the Power of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, edited by John Perlich and David Whitt;
  • Middle-earth Minstrel: Essays on Music in Tolkien, edited by Bradford Lee Eden;
  • Harry Potter and Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds, by Travis Prinzi;
  • Fastitocalon 1.1; and
  • Theodor SEUSS Geisel, by Donald E. Pease.