Saturday, 2 March 2013

Tolkien Transactions XXXIV

February 2013

February has been marked by a period of calming of the onslaught of Tolkien-related news-items that has marked the previous months — otherwise I would probably have had to give up trying to present this, as I ran into a combination of off-line obligations in the latter half of the month that left me with nearly no time to pursue Tolkien-related matters on-line.

This month it has suited my purposes to sort the contents under the following headlines:
1: News
2: Essays and Scholarship
3: Commentary
4: Reviews and Book News
5: Interviews
6: Tolkienian Artwork
7: Other Stuff
8: Rewarding Discussions
9: In Print
10: Web Sites
11: Sources

= = = = News = = = =

Lynn Maudlin, MythCon, Tuesday, 5 February 2013, ‘Douglas Anderson, Scholar Guest of Honor’
Douglas Anderson is confirmed as ‘Scholar Guest of Honor’ at MythCon 44. I am always trying to tell myself that limitations of time, money and other obligations are good for me as they give me something to dream about :-)

Lynn Maudlin, Friday, 22 February 2013, ‘Mythcon 44 (July 2013): Progress Report 1 Available’
If you already know that you will be going to Mythcon this July, you have probably already seen it. Otherwise taking a look in the progress report might convince you to consider it seriously (unless the price of going is prohibitive — like, if you are, for instance, coming from Denmark).

JF, Tuesday, 26 February 2013, ‘A new blog — Teaching Tolkien’
On the arrival of a new blog in the Tolkien ‘blogosphere’ — this one, as indicated by the name, devoted to the use of Tolkien in teaching, specifically in basic education (by which I mean the first ten years of school ... roughly; school systems being so very, very different from country to country it is impossible to make any hard limits). Thank you very much for that link, Jason!

DB, Wednesday, 27 February 2013, ‘jan howard finder’
On the death of long-time Tolkien fan Jan Howard Finder. His activities seem to have been mostly in organising things, and mainly in the US, so I have not been aware of him, but evidently his death is a loss to the Tolkien fan community, particularly in eastern USA.

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =

NMB, Wednesday, 6 February 2013, ‘Making Middle Earth’
On the meaning, in the Edda of the Old Norse word Miðgarðr as used by Snorri in the Norse creation myth. As Brown notes, the latter part, garðr, can refer both to the fence itself and to that which has been fenced in (and derived meanings such as ‘fortification’), and she notes that Kevin Wanner suggests that Snorri's meaning may have been the former — the fence itself, so that the Miðgarðr is the fence running down the middle ... Since Miðgarðr is usually translated Middle Earth, it is interesting also in a Tolkien-related context (though it is, of course, quite clear what Tolkien meant by Middle-earth).

JF, Sunday, 10 February 2013, "Did Tolkien coin the plural "dwarves"?"
It is usually said that Tolkien coined the plural ‘dwarves’ himself, but did he? Jason has found some intriguing examples predating Tolkien's use, and there are more in the comments. And with all due respect to Nelson (in the comments — remember to read them), I would say that more examples (in works that Tolkien is likely to have known) confirms the idea of borrowing more than the idea of several independent coinings, though of course Tolkien's description of this usage as originally ‘a mistake of grammar’ points in the other direction (though I suppose one could argue that such a mistake also becomes easier to make if one has a model to follow for it). The inspiration for Jason's post was a post, from just a few days before, by John Rateliff on the use of ‘dwarves’ by Roger Zelazny as certain proof of borrowing from Tolkien: JDR, Thursday, 7 February 2013, ‘Zelazny's dwarves’
While I'd agree that Tolkien is the most likely source for Zelazny, he is evidently not the only possible source, and we cannot claim definite proof.

LS, Sunday, 10 February 2013, ‘English is not North Germanic’
I was a bit in doubt as to whether to include this or not, but as I have had my fun with the claim that modern English was a Scandinavian language, I think it is fair to include this detailed rebuttal. Larry's rebuttal is quite detailed and, I admit, at points (i.e. most of it) rather above my own level of linguistics, but I can get the gist of much of it, and I have no problems understanding the conclusion (but where's the fun in that, Larry? ;-) )

NMB, Wednesday, 13 February 2013, ‘Snorri the Hobbit?’
Nancy Marie Brown has had a Tolkienian month :-) Referring to a book (linked in the post — also see under websites below), that argues that Hobbits share some characteristics with the the old Norsemen, Brown argues that Snorri Sturluson, the Edda writer, would himself have made an excellent Hobbit, even down to the lack of courage. I am not sure to what extent I'd buy any kind of ‘source’ argument on this, but the comparison is interesting (also, and perhaps more specifically, the more general comparison in the book by St. Clair) and I think a fruitful path of investigation could be found without claiming the vikings a direct source for the Hobbits (to what extent, for instance, might Tolkien have let his admiration of the old northern literature influence his picture of the rural West Midlands Englishmen that were the more direct source for the Hobbits?).

EJ, Saturday, 16 February 2013, ‘An Interactive Analysis of Tolkien's Works’
I know I am prejudiced: I love Tolkien and I love statistics, but ... wow! Emil has made a page here that begins a stylometric analysis of Tolkien's best-known works. There are word-count metrics (including a special page for characters), sentiment analysis, character co-occurence network diagrams and other interesting statistics. I hope that this will prove but the beginning of the use of stylometric (or leximetric) analyses of Tolkien's works. See also commentary by Marcel Aubron-Bülles, Sunday, 17 February 2013, ‘An Interactive Analysis of Tolkien's works -’
where Marcel does an enthused review of Emil's work above.

Karl E. H. Seigfried, Wednesday, 27 February 2013, ‘Tolkien's Heathen Feminist, Part One’
Based on Tolkien's admiration for the ‘noble northern spirit’, Seigfried here ties Éowyn firmly to norse heathen tradition (at least before she kisses Faramir). This being just part one of two, it is perhaps unfair to criticize it for things not yet mentioned, but I do hope that Éowyn's change of heart will come up (where she, in many ways seems to turn away from those aspects of the ‘heathen feminist’ that Tolkien may have found inappropriate: she is still a cup-bringer, but no longer a shieldmaiden).

= = = = Commentary = = = =

Il, February 2013, ‘The Hobbit Read-Thru’
Starting on the 2nd with his reading of chapter 8, ‘Flies and Spiders’, in which Ilverai makes a comparison between Tolkien's later statements in his essay ‘On Fairy-stories’ and the circumstances surrounding Bombur's dream in this chapter. I don't think the argument is entirely successful, among other things because it fails to notice the special role of dreams generally in Tolkien's stories. In a follow-up posting about the same chapter, Ilverai takes a look at the connections between the The Hobbit and Tolkien's Silmarillion mythology (unfortunately I do not have the time needed to write the detailed criticism that this post deserves — there is much in it that is good, but also a number of minor errors that detract from the whole).

BC, Friday, 8 February 2013, ‘Tolkien nods: The saga of Trotter's feet’
About Trotter, the Hobbit ranger, his clogs, and his feet ... I quite agree with Charlton that Strider / Aragorn is a distinct improvement on Trotter, though I am less affected about the story — creativity usually takes one down a lot of blind alleys before finding the right path through (just look at the many revisions of, in particular, the central stories of Tolkien's mythology: Beren the Elf captured by Tevildo, Prince of cats?).

BC, Saturday, 9 February 2013, ‘At what precise point did The Hobbit-sequel change into Lord of the Rings’
While I fully agree with Charlton — and Shippey that he refers to — about the pivotal nature of the ideas that are presented here, I think the concept of identifying a single point as marking the change of the second Hobbit into The Lord of the Rings is mistaken. Still, there is some value in identifying the various points at which Tolkien has an idea that opens up an imaginative space for him (and in identifying the idea itself as well as how that particular idea opens up new narrative possibilities, such as Shippey does in the essay Charlton quotes from).

MM, Monday, 11 February 2013, ‘Middle-earth Revised, Again’
Michael Martinez is absolutely correct in pointing out the problems inherent in any attempt to define some version of Tolkien's Middle-earth as inherently more ‘authoritative’ than other versions. Martinez discusses primarily two aspects in this: the timeline of Tolkien's conception of Middle-earth within his mythology and the timeline of the public's access to material about this. Another aspect is in the discussion of whether the important conception is that in Tolkien's mind, or the one that Tolkien's words (sub-sub-?)create in the mind of the reader. I believe that I would agree with Martinez on the last point that it is Tolkien's conception that is interesting (even if we may not agree in every detail about how Tolkien at any given point conceived of his mythology), but I am sure that others will disagree.

David A. King, Thursday, 14 February 2013, ‘'The Hobbit': A Failed Cinematic Journey’
Whether one agrees or disagrees with King's assessment of Jackson's first Hobbit film (I don't agree in every respect myself), his comments on Tolkien's story are well worth reading (although I am not sure I agree that the journey ‘there and back again’ is really a quest — at least from Bilbo's perspective).

H&S, Sunday, 17 February 2013, ‘Tolkien Notes 4’
Some various notes including comments on Tolkien-related articles in the October 2012 issue of Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine and details about the ship and route that Mabel Tolkien and her two boys, Ronald and Hilary, took when travelling from South Africa to England.

Daniel Grotta, Wednesday, 20 February 2013, ‘Why You Won't Be Reading a New Tolkien Biography’
Daniel Grotta is known for writing a Tolkien biography about the same time as Humphrey Carpenter was doing his official biography. As the Tolkien family had asked Tolkien's friends to speak with Carpenter and thus support the official biography, Grotta met some resistance and only got to speak with people who did not wish to comply with the family's request — let's just say that such a group is bound to have a somewhat higher percentage of people with an axe to grind than overall group of acquaintances. In addition to this problem, Grotta uncritically reports some rather dubious claims(I know we are some 35 years on and have a much greater body of evidence to build on now, but today some of the claims seem to me quite obviously fabricated). Well, it appears that Grotta would have liked to cash in on the current popularity of Tolkien with a second edition, but this is mercifully stopped by copyright laws, and now Mr Grotta has his own axe to grind ...

BC, Thursday, 21 February 2013, ‘Was Tolkien not a niggler?’
Based on the history of The Lord of the Rings Bruce Charlton reaches the conclusion that Tolkien wasn't really a natural niggler (as Tolkien claimed). Looking more broadly at Tolkien's writings, I come to the opposite conclusion: Tolkien was very much a niggler.

JDR, Monday, February 2013, ‘"Taking the Part of Trees’ (Post Number One Thousand)"
Congratulations to John Rateliff with his thousand blog posts, and thanks for them!
His story about relating early to Tolkien's stories because they take the part of the trees is interesting, just as is his point that we all respond to these books in different ways. Another example of the different responses are the various films — and here I don't just mean that some like a film and others dislike it, but rather that, regardless of our overall reactions, the aspects that each dislike or like are so different.

HR, Monday, 25 February 2013, ‘Setting the Stage’
On how it has come to be that a group of 5th and 6th grade English language learners happen to be reading The Lord of the Rings: they were clamouring for more Tolkien after having read _The Hobbit_! (Good kids, that!) In another post from this day (‘The Journey Begins’) Rodgers tell how many of her students have found their first readings to be well within their reading capabilities — a topic she expands upon in the following post, ‘All in the Family’ from 27 February.

MB, Wednesday, 27 February 2013, ‘How to misappropriate a gardening picture. Enter: Clarence Elliott. Exit: J.R.R. Tolkien.’
A very nice picture of one Clarence Elliott in his greenhouse taken by Valerie Finnis has often been misrepresented as being of J.R.R. Tolkien. It isn't, and Marcel here sets things straight — though of course we can only hope that the information will disseminate even wider than the mistake ...

HR, Thursday, 28 February 2013, ‘Making Connections’
About making connections between the text they are reading and other texts and/or their personal experiences. I wonder what difference it does to the reading experience for these kids that English is not their native language. I was already fairly proficient in English before I read The Lord of the Rings in the original language, but evidently these children have to pay attention to what they're doing in another way, but whether this attention on the writing itself (and the meaning of the sentences) makes them see more things, less things or just different things from children to whom the language is more natural is something I don't know.

= = = = Reviews and Book News = = = =

JF, Monday, 4 February 2013, ‘Vinyar Tengwar #50’
Vinyar Tengwar no. 50 is coming soon! Yay!

MB, Wednesday, 6 February 2013, ‘Henry Gee for free in the UK: Download ‘The Science of Middle-earth’ — on February, 6th only’
The special offer is of course long past when you read this, but if you haven't read the review, you should. Marcel's approach to the book is of course different than mine: he was reading the original version with the eyes of a translator and Tolkienist, while I was reading the second edition with the eyes of a scientist and Tolkienist, but while our approaches to the book differ, we both agree that it is a highly recommendable read.

Vibeke Rutzou Petersen, Tuesday, 19 February 2013, ‘Honegger, Thomas, and Fanfan Chen, eds.: Fastitocalon. Studies in Fantasticism Ancient to Modern: Immortals and the Undead.’
Vibeke Petersen reviews vol. 2 of Fastitocalon: Studies in Fantasticism Ancient to Modern, the scholarly journal edited by Fanfan Chen and Tolkien scholar Thomas Honegger. This issue seems not to have any directly Tolkien-related articles, but, based on Petersen's review, several of the articles take up various subjects that are related to Tolkien's fantastic writings — particularly a number of articles dealing with the use of ‘undead’ creatures (zombies, vampires, revenants etc.). Petersen's review is from a March 2012 issue of Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts that has been made available on-line at the date given above.

JF, Tuesday, 19 February 2013, ‘Recent publications’
About some Tolkien-related essays by Jason Fisher himself that have been published recently. In the comments it would seem that another very interesting volume might be in the planning.

‘HorseLover3000’, Thursday, 21 February 2013, ‘The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien - Review’
As they write on the site, these reviews are ‘by kids for kids’ and that is, of course, quite obvious when reading this review of The Hobbit. We are not here dealing with a scholarly analysis or an adult review, but a short and immediate reaction by one of the book's intended audience. If it sometimes seems difficult to recapture that elusive feeling of reading Tolkien's children's tale as a child, reviews such as this may help.

HG, Sunday, 24 February 2013, ‘Opus D’
Henry Gee's five hundredth (congratulations, Henry - and thank you!) post is about a new translation of The Hobbit — to Yiddish.

= = = = Interviews = = = =

Carl E. Olson, The Catholic World Report blog, day, February 2013, ‘Tolkien and Lewis at the Movies’
‘An interview with Dr. Richard Purtill, author of books about J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.’ For me the most interesting part of this was the insight revealed in the answer to the last question, ‘What do you think Tolkien would have thought of the films?’, including the final comment, ‘I'm not sure what he'd think about my books.’ This is not to reflect badly on Purtill, who seems to know what he is talking about, but rather to say that he does indeed know Tolkien well enough to realise that Tolkien probably would have been averse even to much of the modern analysis / criticism of his works (and most likely also to the idea of these transactions).

= = = = Tolkienian Artwork = = = =

Various, February 2013, ‘The Brothers Grimm’
The fan-art galleries on John Howe's web-site have run a Grimm-brothers theme this month. As usual it is a mixed pot of different styles and, let's be frank, levels of skill, but also as usual it is well worth taking a look.

JD, Sunday, 3 February 2013, ‘Eärendil the Mariner’
‘_éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended_’
Though here shortly before being sent over Middle-earth for Men, this envisioning of Eärendil holding Elwing, still in the shape of the gull, to his breast is nonetheless captivating.

JDR, Sunday, 10 February 2013, ‘Tolkien Computer Art’
A commentary on the January issue of Imagine FX where the theme is illustration of Tolkien's world. See also the magazine web-site:

JD, Tuesday, 13 February 2013, ‘The Oath has been awakened ...’
The link is to the second of two posts about this piece, of which the first shows the first (linked from this post) stages of the work on the painting and this one shows the finished work. The painting shows the seven sons of Fëanor riding — presumably against Doriath.

JD, Sunday, 17 February 2013, ‘The harp no longer sings’
Maglor in some undefined future, where the memory of the High Elves has all but faded and ‘where music no longer brings consolation’.

John Howe & Alan Lee, Sunday, 24 February 2013, ‘The 2013 Tolkien Calendar’
A collage of a number of pencil drawings in a collaborative piece for the 2013 Tolkien Calendar.

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

EJ, Friday, 1 February 2013, ‘A timeline of the Dwarves in the Hobbit’
Well, what it says, really :-) A timeline for the thirteen dwarves who take Bilbo on the Quest of Erebor. For the six of them that do not appear in The Lord of the Rings on the ‘Line of the Dwarves of Erebor as it was set out by Gimli Glóin's son for King Elessar’ we have no year of birth, and for five of those six there is no known year of death (Ori is known to have died with Balin's colony in Moria).

Mythopoeic Society, Saturday, 9 February 2013, ‘Web Content Editor Needed’
The Mythopoeic Society needs a web content editor, and I haven't heard that the position has been filled, so if you would like a unique opportunity to contribute to Tolkien (and general Inklings and mythopoeic) fandom, this is your chance ...

EJ, Friday, 8 February 2013, ‘Timeline of the Elves in Tolkien's works’
I'm a little in doubt where to put Emil's infographics, so they end up here. This time a graph showing the divisions of the Elves in time — a bit more detailed than the rough graph in The Silmarillion. Now also available as a poster that you can hang on your wall and thus never be in doubt as to whom the Falmari were :-)

Amy H. Sturgis, Sunday, 10 February 2013, ‘I'm going to the Shire — and you can, too!’
Essentially an announcement that Amy Sturgis has been invited as guest scholar to the third Long-Expected Party, a Tolkien-themed event to be held in Kentucky in the summer of 2014.

Unknown, Sunday, 10 February 2013, ‘Join the Army, See Middle Earth’
Just for fun!

EJ, Monday, 11 February 2013, ‘What kind of morning is it?’
Also just for fun :-)

= = = = Rewarding Discussions = = = =

‘What did Sauron think Aragorn thought he was doing?’
On the last day of February, Steuard Jensen asked this question in rec.arts.books.tolkien and about what Sauron thought Aragorn intended with the attack on Mordor after the victory before Minas Tirith, and the ensuing discussions are proving very interesting.

‘devoid of history’
A quite interesting thread based on the history = progress idea that underlies social Darwinism.

‘Barrow Wight's ritual’
A thread about the purpose / intention of the Barrow Wight's ritual. This made me go search for references and gave me an opportunity to collect my thoughts on the topic, which was quite rewarding for myself, at least.

‘In Defense of Ungoliant Being a Maia’
An attempt to justify the view that Ungoliant, in the published Silmarillion is definitely a Maia.

= = = = In Print = = = =

Beyond Bree, February 2013
Apart from Mark Hooker's ‘Would a Hobbit by Any Other Name be as ...’ column (this month the word is ‘Ortherworldly’), Beyond Bree is this month dominated by reports and reviews. Of the Hobbit film, of Corey Olsen's book, of a music CD (The Elder Days by Galadhrim), of Judith Klinger's Sub-creating Middle-earth (a Walking Tree book), of a Russian TV-production of The Hobbit, and on ‘The Return of the Ring’ where Bruce Leonard finishes his report with the closing ceremonies.

= = = = Web Sites = = = =

‘Gallery Package - J.R.R. Tolkien’
Pictures of J.R.R. and Edith Tolkien at 76 Sandfield Road in 1961. Photographs taken by Pamela Chandler in the garden and in the study. Also a few other pictures. Wonderful!

Gloriana St. Clair, ‘Tolkien's Cauldron: Northern Literature and The Lord of the Rings’
A book that ‘studies the sources of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings’ arguing that ‘Tolkien was a scholar of Old Norse literature and much of his work in the Lord of the Rings is informed by his knowledge of old Norse mythology, Eddic poetry, and saga. Tolkien's use of these sources enriched this complex story of Middle-earth.’

Teaching Tolkien
Holly Rodgers is guiding a group of 10 through 12 years old children with English as a second language through The Lord of the Rings, and she is blogging about the children's reactions to the book, which are both perceptive and charming.

= = = = Sources = = = =