Saturday, February 13, 2016

They're Reading My Review in Kathmandu

So, one of the nice things about publishing with THE JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH (JTR), I've discovered, is the after-publication reports they send out every month or so letting authors know where their pieces have been downloaded. In this case, my review of Witte & Richards' THE HOBBIT PARTY,* it's been downloaded about 180 times (though of course not everybody who downloaded it has necessarily read it; some may have saved it for a never-to-be-gotten-to 'later'). Still, nice to know it's getting out there.

This kind of feedback is particularly welcome because authors of scholarship usually get only anecdotal evidence of what people thought of their work (people telling you in person or by email that they liked/disliked it). The usual way to know if a piece went over well or not is in the short term seeing whether anyone comments on it (for example, what kind of comments it gets from members of the audience if its been delivered at a conf, like Kalamazoo or MythCon. In the long term, it's whether it gets cited by subsequent authors working along the same lines -- for example, my piece on Tolkien and women seems to be getting cited a fair amount, which is gratifying; by contrast, there's v. little feedback on book reviews unless the reviewee takes offense (as has occasionally been the case).

Looking at the information provided to me by the Valpo folks who maintain the JTR site, it's been downloaded by fifteen institutions. Some of these might have been expected -- for example, that Valparaiso and Wheaton College are on the list, given their deep interest in JTR and all things related to the Wade Center's Seven Authors, respectively. MIT and Apple Inc. are a bit further afield, though the roots of Tolkien fandom lie deep in smart-computer-people culture.  I admit that Johannes Gutenberg-Universitaet Mainz took me by surprised, but then I'm not v. plugged into the diverse and vibrant Tolkien field in Europe (aside from the UK, of course). And who wd have thought there were Tolkien fans among the USAISC (US Army Information Systems Command)?

More interesting than the institutions are the individuals (as individuals are usually more interesting than institutions). Apparently 68 downloads have been in the US (a little over one-third of the total). Not surprising the UK is next, with 31, but I was surprised that third place (17) went to Portugal, rather than France (11) or Germany (8) or Canada (6). The Netherlands and Poland tied for seventh place (5 each), followed by Denmark (4), After this we have a smattering of downloads from all over: 2 each for Austria, Switzerland, Iran, Italy, Japan, and Norway, and a single download each from Australia, Finland, Israel, India, Lithania, Luxembourg, Malta, Nepal (that's the one in Kathmandu), Pakistan, Romania, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and Taiwan. There's a similar break-down for the US, but I won't go into that, other than to note my bemusement that the most recent US download seems to have been in Redmond, Washington, which is here in the greater Seattle area only about a half hour's drive from here (depending on traffic: it's a north-east suburb while Kent is a south-central one).

So, in a few cases I think I know who a particular reader might be, but for the most part this information shows me how much of a writer's audience might differ beyond what he or she imagines, and in a really interesting way. Even though I'm a late adaptor,** this is a bit of technology I can really appreciate.

--John R.
just finished: RAISING STEAM (another late DiscWorld novel; disappointing but readable) and a short antiquarian piece by Major Hayman Rooke from 1777. resumed: LONDON FOG and the 1932 Wheeler & Wheeler report re. excavations nr Gloucestershire.

**THE WIFE SAYS: "I wouldn't be describe you so much as a late adaptor as a reluctant one"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Blurbs That Never Were (RIchard Burton on Tolkien)

So, here are a few more unexpected people writing on Tolkien for the 1966 Tolkien-themed issue of DIPLOMAT magazine:

First up, here are a few more blurbs that never were drawn from this material:

"the great mythic work of our time" (Timothy Leary)

"Tolkien is one of the great writers of our time" (Richard Burton)

"a book of great charm and poignancy" (Howard Nemerov)

"in one essential respect the work is unique as far as I know: 
a version of the Quest in which the object is not to get 
but to get rid of; not to possess, hence not to be possessed." 
(Howard Nemerov)

And then here are three more pieces to go with the alreadly-posted Leary, in their entirety:

Richard Burton
I consider, and have considered for some years, that Tolkien is one of the great writers of our time. Despite my love and loyalty to T. H. White's The Sword and the Stone, Professor Tolkien searches even deeper. In a different way my children enjoy his works just as much.

Senator Wm Proxmire
DIPLOMAT Magazine's recognition of the unique talents of Mr. Tolkien is another sign of his growing popularity with children and adults alike. Long may his literary qualities wave.

Howard Nemerov
As Mr. Auden (I think) said of The Lord of the Rings when it first came out, there's no middle way: you either love it or you somewhat coldly detest it. (Edmund Wilson, about the same time, argued the second course, though I found it hard to believe we had both read the same work.)  I've read it several times, at long intervals, and once took a closer view of it with my students: have always found it a book of great charm and poignancy in its melancholy stoicism and delicate equivocations among child, man, beast and other beings, the entrancing distance that allows it to be a political fable—the truest poetry is the most feigning!—as well as a story about growing up, or about refusing to grow up and having in consequence the best of Middle-earth, though the best be none too good. I much admire the ingenuity and consistency of the working-out, even to the historical and scholarly apparatus, and remark that in one essential respect the work is unique as far as I know: a version of the Quest in which the object is not to get but to get rid of; not to possess, hence not to be possessed.

 --of these, I'd say the Nemerov is the most thoughtful (sounds like he actually taught LotR at one point, which I hadn't known before) and Proxmire's the least (given that you can't tell if he actually read the book or not).  There are a few other pieces from misc. folk (e.g., President Johnson's older daughter), but these four are the most striking.

recent/current reading: Pratchett's UNSEEN ACADEMICS (a dud) and RAISING STEAM (better, so far), Aaronovich's RIVERS OF LONDON, BOOK FOUR (a highly readable series; recommended), and A HISTORY OF THE VYNE by Chaloner Wm Chute (1888; facsimile reprint).

P.S.: Thanks to David Bratman for pointing out (in his comment on my previous post) that Burton was a friend of one of Tolkien's friends and fellow Inklings: Nevill Coghill.
--John R.

The Cat Report (W. 2/3-16)

What a change it makes to the Cat Room now that Houdin and esp. Zoe have been adopted; hope Houdin’s second adoption works out better than his first and that Miss Zoe’s new home is so good it was worth the wait.

In the absence of two such active cats, things have quieted down. FLURRY (our cream torbie fluffball) seems to have claimed seniority, despite being the youngest of our current cats, and that’s mellowed the room. The four cats tend to avoid each other but aren’t hostile to each other or to visitors (though Flurry still nips on occasion; think she needs a tennis ball to sink her teeth and claws into and bite and kick). As usual she used my shoulders as a stepping-stone from her cage to her cat-stand. Flurry even came down to floor level on her own and loved it when I later put her on the top of the cabinet: she sat up there like she was the queen of the world. I took her out for a walk — she was nervous but not panicked. So she’s expanding beyond just her cage and that one spot on that one cat-stand. I’m impressed with how much she’s come out of her shell: both last week and this one when I arrived she was buried behind her blanket, as usual, but came out at once when she heard my voice and her name and came to the front of the cage wanting to be petted through the bars, grooming my finger-tips all the while. That’s a tremendous change, and all to the good.

MIMOSA (our sleek little black-and-orange not-quite-a-calico) also had a walk, but she did more actual walking. She too was nervous but fast, exploring mostly around the little hall by the cat room and the passage that leads past the bathrooms. Later on she explored all over the cat-room, in and out of other’s cages as well as eventually putting herself back to bed in her own. She loves her catnip. Saw one bit of odd behavior: she saw a small child outside the room through the glass and hissed and hid. In fact, she acted just as if she’d seen a dog. Not at all like her usual self — triggered some bad memory, perhaps? 

Mr. TEDDY (our gentle furry so-black-he’s-kind-of-brown giant) was his usual lazy predator self — meaning that he enjoyed batting at any toys that came by, but they had to come to him; he was enjoying being all sprawled out too much to actually get up and chase them. He was mostly around the door until I shifted him to the cage-tops, which he enjoyed. Love the little fang he has sticking out on the lower left; it really gives him character. Hope he doesn’t lose it when it’s time for him to see the dentist. 

And as for Miss ELANOR (our little calico tabby), she’s sweet and shy and oh so thin. She kept going up to her food dish and then going away again without eating anything: I saw her do this six times. She did lick all the gravy off some canned food, so at least that’s something, but wish we cd find out her favorite food. 

Health concerns: mainly Elanor’s still not eating. Teddy has dander, but that’d take a good bath to fix. Think Flurry has some tangled hair on her chest but she didn’t want me to investigate further. If so, cutting those tangles out will probably be a two-person job. 

--John R. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Shooting in Renton

So, last week the recent spat of gun violence hit home, or very near it, when a man shot a woman in a local theatre --'local' in this case being in the next suburb over, Renton, where we lived the first year or so we were out here. It's a theater I've gone to occasionally, enough to know it's one of the newer, and nicer, in the area.

The gunman owned the gun legally and had a concealed carry permit; he claims he took it to the theatre with him because he wanted to protect himself in case of a theatre shooting, like the ones that have made so many headlines in recent years. Exactly what happened isn't clear at this point, but the end result was that he shot a random moviegoer, then left the scene. She survived, in part because of first aid provided by another moviegoer who'd had military training, but any local reading the story can tell how dangerous the wound must have been by the fact she was taken to Harborview; that's the place with the trauma unit where they take the most direly injured. Here's the link:

So, there it is: bad, but it so easily could have been worse. It highlights how intrinsically dangerous guns are (he's far less likely to have caused so much damage if he'd dropped a knife or hammer).

And since then, we've had another area shooting, this time at a homeless camp up in Seattle itself, in which two people were killed and several more injured; the attackers are still at large: *

Finally, just to once again drive home the lethality of guns, here's a piece that argues that more people have died from being shot than the total number of U.S. dead in all the wars we've fought from the Revolution onward -- about 1.5 million, all told.

One and a half million of us. That's a lot of people. And counting.


current reading: The Rivers of London series, book three

*the most interesting part of this article to me was the Seattle mayor's straightforward acceptance of blame for not having done enough to help the homeless, despite his ongoing efforts. Rare to see a mea culpa like that.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Timothy Leary on Tolkien

So, yesterday I had to pull out an old piece of Tolkieniana: the 1966 issue of DIPLOMAT magazine dedicated to JRRT, complete with hobbit recipes, a condescending and clueless cover article, and the invaluable 'Tolkien on Tolkien' (which told us a lot of interesting things we had no other way of knowing, until LETTERS came along and reprinted it in re-arranged form).

Looking over it again after a gap of quite a few years, the thing I found most fascinating were the testimonials by figures such as Timothy Leary, Richard Burton, Senator Proxmire, and President Johnson's daughter.

Since this issue is long out of print and I don't think its contents are v. easy to access, here's what Leary had to say:

Timothy Leary

   J. R. R. Tolkien is a psychedelic writer. He "turned on" not with LSD but by immersing himself in the study of ancient languages, transcending space and time, leaving the twentieth century, and seeing himself as a pre-Chaucerian scribe. He has returned from his trip and communicated his views in the great mythic work of our time. The Lord of the Rings is a great epic in the Homeric-Joycean vein.

   Like all great mythic sagas, Tolkien's trilogy is written at many levels and has generated countless schools of interpretation, all of which seek the Message. To me, The Lord of the Rings is a morality play-magical statement of the good-evil situation. Evil is power. (Note I do not say "power is evil", a weaker game statement). Evil uses metal, fire, stone, machinery and atomic energy to control, to manipulate, to conquer good. Good for Tolkien is seed, wisdom, freedom, beauty, harmony of growing things. At a time when our planet is in danger of destruction at the hands of mechanical power, Tolkien's poetic and moral message is to cherish the wisdom and freedom which we find around us in the order and beauty of nature.

   To many of us who have followed the "yoga" of LSD, Tolkien's trilogy is vital.

--so, there it is. A bit odd, but I've read worse.

blurbs that never were:

"the great mythic work of our time" (Timothy Leary)