Friday, February 25, 2011

Details on Light Beyond All Shadow

What a great year for new Tolkien collections this is shaping up to be! I mentioned recently that The Ring and the Cross would have a companion volume, Light Beyond All Shadow, and I can now share some further details. The release date has not yet been set, but here are the cover and the complete table of contents. One odd thing: the ISBN shown on the cover is the same as the one assigned to The Ring and the Cross. Probably just a placeholder, but I hope someone at FDUP has noticed!

Light Beyond All Shadow: Religious Experience in Tolkien’s Work
Edited by Paul E. Kerry and Sandra Miesel
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface / Paul E. Kerry
  • Introduction: Exploring Tolkien’s Universe / Sandra Miesel
  • Water, Ecology, and Spirituality in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth [sic] / Matthew Dickerson
  • Divine Contagion—On the Nature of Power in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings / Roger Ladd
  • Reflections of Christendom in the Mythopoeic Iconography of Middle-Earth [sic] / Anne C. Petty
  • The Biblical Structure of The Lord of the Rings / Glen Robert Gill
  • Ymagynatyf and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Roman Catholicism, Catholic Theology, Religion in The Lord of the Rings / Jared Lobdell
  • I am the Song, Music, Poetry, and the Transcendental in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth [sic] / Julian Tim Morton Eilmann
  • Tolkien: Lord of the Occult? / John Warwick Montgomery
  • The Fantastic Secret of Tolkien’s Fairy Tales: Literature and Jesuit Spiritual Exercises / Robert Lazu
  • Life-Giving Ladies: Women in the Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien / Sandra Miesel
  • Where two or three are gathered: Tolkien and the Inklings / Colin Duriez
  • Peter Jackson, Evil, and the Temptation of Films at the Cracks of Doom / Russell W. Dalton
  • Songs of Innocence and Experience, or, What Remains of Tolkien’s “Catholic” Tale in Jackson’s The Lord of Rings / Christopher Garbowski
  • Bibliography
I hope I don’t seem overly fussy, siccing Grip, Fang, and Wolf on the capital E in “Middle-Earth” above, but it’s a real pet peeve of mine, to which I always have the same irrepressible reaction —“You cannot pass!” :)

I realize that many people regard “Middle Earth” and “Middle-Earth” as perfectly acceptable, but I do not. Never have and never will. “Bag-End” and “Bag End” are both okay (Tolkien used the former in The Hobbit, the latter in The Lord of the Rings), but it is Middle-earth, full stop. Anything else and I’m going to correct it, add an asterisk, or mark it [sic]. It’s nothing personal. :)

By the way, this title is pretty similar to that of a collection I knew Christopher Vaccaro to be working on some time ago. That collection had the working title, Bodies of Light and Shadow: Corporeality and Embodiment in the Texts of Tolkien, and I saw a very promising early table of contents at the beginning of 2008. Gosh, three years have gone by already?! I will have to check with Chris to see where his book stands now. Until I hear, I won’t say anymore about it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Verlyn Flieger’s forthcoming collection

On the heels of other recent announcements I have made here, there is more welcome news in Tolkien publishing. A new collection of Verlyn Flieger’s essays will be published by the Kent State University Press this summer under the title, Green Suns and Faërie: Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien (ISBN 978-1-60635-094-2; list price $24.95). I’m told the cover features Ted Nasmith’s painting, The Glittering Caves of Aglarond. It looks like a wonderful collection, bringing together most of Verlyn’s uncollected essays on Tolkien — along with several new ones — in a single convenient volume.

Courtesy of Verlyn herself, and with the permission of the Kent State University Press, I am pleased to share the full table of contents below. Since most of the essays have appeared in print before, I have briefly annotated previous publication in square brackets where appropriate. Those without annotation are new essays. (These annotations are mine, not Verlyn’s; consequently, any errors are likewise mine. Please let me know if you spot a problem.)


Part One: Tolkien Sub-creator
  • Fantasy and Reality: J.R.R. Tolkien’s World and the Fairy-story Essay [Mythlore 22 (1999)]
  • The Music and the Task: Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth [Tolkien Studies 6 (2009)]
  • Tolkien and the Idea of the Book [The Lord of the Rings 1954–2004, ed. Hammond and Scull]
  • Tolkien on Tolkien: “On Fairy-stories”, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
  • When is a Fairy story a Faërie Story? Smith of Wootton Major [Myth and Magic: Art according to the Inklings, ed. Segura and Honegger]
  • The Footsteps of Ælfwine [Tolkien’s ‘Legendarium’, ed. Flieger and Hostetter]
  • The Curious Incident of the Dream at the Barrow [Tolkien Studies 4 (2007)]
  • Whose Myth Is It?
Part Two: Tolkien in Tradition
  • Tolkien’s Wild Men From Medieval to Modern [Tolkien the Medievalist, ed. Chance]
  • Tolkien and the Matter of Britain [Mythlore 87 (Summer/Fall 2000)]
  • Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of the Hero [Tolkien: New Critical Perspectives, ed. Isaacs and Zimbardo]
  • Bilbo’s Neck Riddle
  • Allegory Versus Bounce: Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major [Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 12/2 (2001)]
  • A Mythology for Finland: Tolkien and Lönnrot as Mythmakers [Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader, ed. Chance]
  • Tolkien, Kalevala, and “The Story of Kullervo” [A new essay, or perhaps some of the editorial apparatus published in Tolkien Studies 7 (2010)]
  • Brittany and Wales in Middle-earth
  • The Green Knight, the Green Man, and Treebeard: Scholarship and Invention in Tolkien’s Fiction [Scholarship and Fantasy, ed. Battarbee]
  • Missing Person [Mythlore 46 (Summer 1986)]
Part Three: Tolkien and His Century
  • A Cautionary Tale: Tolkien’s Mythology for England [Probably the same essay published in The Chesterton Review 28.1/2 (February/May 2002); reprinted in A Hidden Presence: The Catholic Imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Boyd and Caldecott]
  • The Mind, the Tongue, and the Tale
  • A Postmodern Medievalist [Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages, ed. Chance and Siewers]
  • Taking the Part of Trees: Eco-conflict in Middle-earth [J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances, ed. Clark and Timmons]
  • Gilson, Smith, and Baggins [Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Sources of Inspiration, ed. Caldecott and Honegger]
  • The Body in Question: The Unhealed Wounds of Frodo Baggins
  • A Distant Mirror: Tolkien and Jackson in the Looking-glass [Studies in Medievalism: Postmodern Medievalisms, Volume XIII (2003; published 2005)]

Friday, February 18, 2011

Books versus “books”

There has been a lot of discussion lately on the Mythopoeic Society’s Yahoo group about digital books and e-readers. I am hardly in a position to comment on the relative merits of the different e-reader devices, since I have avoided the whole technology like a knuckle-dragging luddite. I could comment on some of the theoretical benefits of electronic texts, of which there are many, but for what it’s worth, I thought I might take a few moments to share some of my reasons for resisting this whole movement toward electronic books, just to be a countervailing voice. Normally when I do this, there is a technophilic rush to contradict or explain away each point of my argument, and I don’t mind if some of you champions of e-readers do that here and now, but I’m not really making these points to start a debate; rather, just to explain where I am coming from. Having said that, I welcome your comments.

Who owns my books?

When I buy a physical book, it is mine. Not just “mine” in some transitory way, but literally mine (without irony-quotes), for all time, to do with as I like. I can read it a hundred times, lend it, give it away, burn it, use it as a paperweight, keep open a window, whatever. Electronic books are only “mine” as long as the hardware doesn’t malfunction, the terms of agreement do not change, I don’t violate a warranty or license agreement, etc.

Imagine if those of us who have copies of the Ace “pirate” edition of The Lord of the Rings woke up one morning to find that somebody had come into our homes while we slept, removed these books from our bookshelves, and perhaps left a few dollars in their place. This is essentially what happened in 2009 when Amazon removed “unauthorized” copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from Kindles around the world. If that is not ironic — Big Brother reaching down from the cloud and taking something you thought was yours — I don’t know what is. There was a good deal of blowback, and Amazon claims they would not do the same thing in the future — I know that all techologies go through growing pains — but I do not want a retailer ever having access to my books. Why should they? What possible justification is there?

Speaking of 1984, it is not too hard to imagine a cloud-based analog to the memory holes whereby information can be made to disappear. It’s not so hard to imagine a horrifying Orwellian scenario here. It’s bad enough that U.S. intelligence agencies want to be able to examine your library borrowing history; how long until they demand warrants to sneak around in your e-reader too? I won’t digress to paint any further paranoid pictures — though I could — but the bottom line is that I do not want third parties having a back-door into controlling what I can and can’t read on a reader. For all sorts of reasons. What if publishers want to “correct” their texts in real time, updating people’s electronic copies silently and without permission. To allude to another recent development, what if the powers that be eventually decided to reach into people’s e-readers and change nigger to slave in copies of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? With e-readers, there is no reliable fixity of the text. I have a big problem with the very idea!

Once books are mine, whether “unauthorized” or not, I consider them mine. Just because Amazon promises they won’t reach out to a Kindle and remove something doesn’t mean you should believe them. The fact that they can is a problem. Technology wants to be used, or abused; if it’s there, it will be. And with the proliferation of e-book readers, you’d have to secure promises — and trust them — from all the different vendors. Why should this be necessary? I might warm up to e-books if I could believe they were really mine and that once I had purchased them, no one could touch them without literally breaking into my house. And one closing note on the point of ownership. Right now, we buy our books, for once and always; but as more and more people move to e-readers, how long until the model changes, and we are no longer buying books once, but merely renting them or paying a licensing fee each time we want to read them again? Publishers must be salivating at the very idea. I hear that the music industry — the pioneers of digital formats and players — have designs along this very line.

Format wars and the problems of technology

A book is a book — or should be. To read it, you only need eyes (or fingers, if the book is printed in braille). Yes, electronic texts have some advantages over print ones, of which perhaps the biggest is the ability to do powerful searches. But until these vendors can agree on a standard format, instead of fighting over their own proprietary ones — none of which add anything to the “technology” of reading — I am prepared to sit this out and wait. I read PDFs on my computer, and they are very useful. But that’s about as far as I’m prepared to go.

I don’t want to have to worry that the electronic books I might buy will only “work” on this device or that device. If I have purchased a big library of books for a Kindle, then decide I’d rather have a Nook, do I have to buy all those books again? Is it possible to transfer a digital library from one reader to another? I hope it is, but I’d be surprised if the vendors were cooperating. Maybe there are techniques or workarounds to get a digital book from one device to another. Is it easy, quick, painless? Probably not. Certainly not easier than handing a copy of physical book to a friend. And these techniques work only so long as the vendors don’t change their formats and device specifications. People will always find ways around limitations or attempted sandboxing, but if you deal in real books, it’s a moot point. And as avidly as people are trying to hack formats and devices to bypass their digital rights management and other limitations, the various hardware and software vendors are working just as furiously to circumvent that circumvention. It’s a vicious cycle which does nothing but compound the problems of format and technology.

And what about technology? The “technology” of the physical book is millennia old. Even printing with movable type is more than five centuries old (in Europe; movable type was invented in China four centuries earlier still). The “bugs” in the book — scribal error, palimpsests, material durability, legible typefaces, and sometimes even real bugs eating holes in the paper — these have basically been worked out. Computers are only a couple of generations old, and handheld digital devices of the e-reader variety have been around less than a decade. Even setting aside the generally quite poor standards of software development — and believe me, I have had an inside view of this for fifteen years now — one can’t expect anything but bugs. It’s going to be decades before the e-readers are as reliable as, say, an analog television used to be. (I have to say “used to be” because the analog television is now a living fossil, quickly going the way of the rotary dial telephone.)

A few other issues

Since I don’t use e-readers, I can’t answer this, but how long until you start seeing unavoidable commercials when you want to read a book? I have a blu-ray player, and not only do I have to update the firmware constantly even to watch many newer movies (which drives me absolutely up a wall), but the many-tentacled film industry and its technology partners have colluded to force me to watch commercials or movie trailers before I can enjoy the movie. Have you guys noticed this? You usually can’t go straight to the blu-ray menu anymore, and you usually can’t skip a trailer either (sometimes you can fast-forward, sometimes not). We don’t have car and beer commercials at the beginning of ours discs yet, but it can only be a matter of time — and with the firmware model, they can add this into all our existing players any time they like. How long until something like this happens with e-books? Why wouldn’t they force you to see an ad for other books from the same publisher, or whatever, if they could? They have total remote control over your device, don’t they?

I used to think it was impossible to lend electronic books — one of their biggest disadvantages, I always said. Apparently, some of the e-readers (and now libraries) do support book lending, in a limited fashion. That’s an improvement, but traditional books retain a big advantage here. And you still can’t give away or sell a digital book, can you?

If you can read, it’s pretty easy to figure out what to do with a book. But looking at an e-reader, or a compact disc, or a DVD, or a flash drive, how do you know this “is” (or “contains”) a book? Which is more intuitive, this or this? Imagine a couple of people opening a time capsule two hundred years from now. One takes out a physical book, the other a flash drive containing an entire library of important works. Who will be reading first? It’s easy for us to think, oh, all these formats and technologies will still be readily available and comprehensible to our descendents in the centuries and millennia to come. For this, the eight-track tape is a cautionary example; an even more compelling one is the piano roll.

Some might say it’s silly to worry about whether people will be able to read our e-books and use our e-readers centuries from now; people can use them and read them today, and that’s all that should matter. That’s a dangerously myopic view. If e-books actually make physical books so costly that publishers stop producing them, and then e-readers eventually die off too, literacy itself could be threatened. I doubt this will happen in my lifetime, in spite of the rabid trendmongering you hear these days to that effect. But a few generations, or a century from now, could we see a return to the Dark Ages when only the clerics and aristocracy could even read at all?

Books are also generally more durable than digital media. Tapes, discs, magnetic and optical storage technologies all erode over time — rather like those thermal paper receipts that fade into oblivion in a surprisingly short time. Books erode too, but much, much more slowly. We have books that are many centuries old, even ones that haven’t been particularly well taken care of — even ones that have been snatched out of a fire! It’s hard to see how a string of a billion 1’s and 0’s could survive as long. Of course, under today’s patterns of data proliferation, dozens or hundreds or thousands of copies are made, remade, saved, resaved, backed up and restored, over and over — but all that upkeep and maintenance just to preserve those streams of data? A single book, well taken care of, has the potential to outlast all of it.

What about electricity? All you need to read a physical book is a little light — fortunately, we still have the Sun, and luckily, nobody has figured out a way to charge licensing fees for using it. To read an e-book, you need electricity. Your e-reader can store a little of this, but in a protracted power failure, your entire library might as well have vanished in a puff of smoke. If you were stuck on a desert island, which would you rather have, a single physical book or your entire library on an e-reader? And setting aside the possibility of power outages, I just don’t like the fact that e-readers mean consuming more. With e-readers, it is no longer enough to use just a very little of the energy we convert from eating and drinking; now we have to consume electricity too. How much doesn’t really matter, it’s more than physical books require, and there is only so much electricity to go around. I think we should be trying to consume less energy, not more, especially since we are stuck (for the present) burning through a finite supply of fossil fuels. Some people argue that printing books means killing trees. But using e-readers comes to much the same thing, because it takes fossil-fuel energy to manufacture and power them. At least you can recycle the paper in unwanted books; the energy spent on digital “books” is unrecoverably gone forever.

Summing up

There are many benefits to electronic texts, without a doubt. I use them myself all the time. But I prefer physical books, and I have physical copies of 99% of everything I have in electronic format. I never read an electronic book when I have the option of reading a print copy. And until most of the problems and limitations I have discussed above are addressed, I don’t imagine I ever will.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Diversion

Okay, just for fun, take a look at the following list and see if you can tell me what all of these things have in common. Be as specific as you can. (If you know immediately, as perhaps one or two of you will, don’t spoil the game right away; give others a chance to guess.)
Bindbole Wood
Girdley Island
Overbourn Marshes
Rushock Bog
Thistle Brook
On your mark, get set, go! :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

More new books — and an excerpt

In the past few days, I’ve gotten the details (and covers) for a couple of new Tolkien collections, which I would like to share here. But before I do that, I am very pleased to announce that Middle-earth and Beyond: Essays on the World of J.R.R. Tolkien (ed. Kathleen Dubs and Janka Kašcáková, Cambridge Scholars Publishing) is now available. Last I’d heard, it was coming next month, but reports are reaching my ears that the book is shipping already.

Even better, as is their wont, CSP has put a thirty-page excerpt online. This includes the table of contents, the introduction, and my essay in its entirety! Such are the benefits of being first in the lineup. So, for those who would like to read my thoughts on Tolkien’s trope, “Circles of the World”, you needn’t wait for a copy of the book! Just follow this link.

Next up is Paul E. Kerry’s edited collection, The Ring and the Cross: Christianity in the Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press / Rowman & Littlefield). I had been hearing about this book from several of its contributors since August, 2008, and I had begun to despair of its ever arriving! But such is the pace of academic publishing. This is actually the first of two volumes. The second, Light Beyond All Shadow (ed. Paul E. Kerry and Sandra Miesel), is currently in press and forthcoming from FDUP later this year. I’ll share its table of contents as soon as I’m able, but in the meantime, here are the contents of The Ring and the Cross:

Introduction / Paul E. Kerry

Part I: The Ring
  • The Pagan Tolkien / Ronald Hutton
  • The Christian Tolkien: A Response to Ronald Hutton / Nils Ivar Agoy
  • The Entwives: Investigating the Spritual Core of Lord of the Rings / Stephen Morillo
  • “Like Heathen Kings:” Religion as Palimpsest in Tolkien’s Fiction / John R. Holmes
  • Confronting the World’s Weirdness: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin / Ralph C. Wood
  • Eru Erased: The Minimalist Cosmology of The Lord of the Rings / Catherine Madsen
  • The Ring and the Cross: How J.R.R. Tolkien Became a Christian Writer / Chris Mooney
Part II: The Cross
  • Redeeming Sub-Creation / Carson L. Holloway
  • Catholic Scholar, Catholic Sub-Creator / Jason Boffetti
  • “An Age Comes On:” J.R.R. Tolkien and the English Catholic Sense of History / Michael Tomko
  • The Lord of the Rings and the Catholic Understanding of Community / Joseph Pearce
  • Tracking Catholic Influence in The Lord of the Rings / Paul E. Kerry
  • Saintly and Distant Mothers / Marjorie Burns
  • The “Last Battle” as a Johannine Ragnarok: Tolkien and the Universal / Bradley J. Birzer
The other new book is one I’ve been hearing about for a little while, but not nearly as long as the Kerry collection. This is Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy (Ed. Janice M. Bogstad and Philip E. Kaveny, McFarland). Just in the last couple of days the cover and table of contents have been revealed. The former, pictured with The Ring and the Cross, you can see above; the latter follows:

I. Introduction: Tolkien And Cinema / Janice M. Bogstad and Philip Kaveny

II. Techniques of Structure and Story
  • Gollum talks to Himself: Problems and Solutions in the Film Adaptation of The Lord of the Rings / Kristin Thompson
  • Sometimes One Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures / Verlyn Flieger
  • Two Kinds of Absence: Elision & Exclusion in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings / John D. Rateliff
  • Tolkien’s Resistance to Linearity: Narrating The Lord of the Rings in Fiction and Film / E.L. Risden
  • Filming Folklore: Adapting Fantasy for the Big Screen through Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings / Dimitra Fimi
  • Making the Connection on Page and Screen in Tolkien’s and Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings / Yvette Kisor
  • ‘It’s Alive!’ Tolkien’s Monster on the Screen / Sharin Schroeder
  • The Matériel of Middle-earth: Arms, and Armour in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy / Robert C. Woosnam-Savage
III. Techniques of Character and Culture
  • Into the West: Far Green Country or Shadow on the Waters? / Judy Ann Ford and Robin Anne Reid
  • Frodo Lives but Gollum Redeems the Blood of Kings / Philip E. Kaveny
  • The Grey Pilgrim: Gandalf and the Challenges of Characterization in Middle-Earth [sic] / Brian Walter
  • Jackson’s Aragorn and the American Superhero Monomyth / Janet Brennan Croft
  • Neither the Shadow nor the Twilight: the Love Story of Aragorn and Arwen in Literature and Film / Richard C. West
  • Concerning Horses: Establishing Cultural Settings from Tolkien to Jackson / Janice M. Bogstad
  • The Rohirrim, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Problem of Appendix F: Ambiguity and Reference in Tolkien’s Books and Jackson’s Films / Michael D.C. Drout
  • Filming the Numinous: the Fate of Lothlorien in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings / Joseph Ricke and Catherine Barnett
One interesting thing about this book (among many) is that is shares several contributors in common with mine, also forthcoming from McFarland: Ford, Rateliff, and Risden.