Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In Praise of Dr. Terry

Late last week the current issue of Southern Arkansas University (SAU*) alumni  magazine arrived. I usually put this aside to skim through later but wind up never getting to, but this time my attention was drawn by the cover story, to the effect that the university president, Dr. Rankin (whom I remember from the days when he and his wife were sponsors of our church youth group), has announced his retirement, effective next year. There was also a tribute (and terrible photo) to the late, multitalented Jake Whitehead, who I remember in the SAU production of A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (I was in the pit band and so saw each night's performance; he was far better than Zero Mostel in the same role). I was interested to see a former junior high/senior high classmate of mine and her husband giving a large check for the 'naming rights' to a pavilion being put up on campus. But the item that really threw me was all but the last line on the last page, listing as among the recently deceased with connections to SAU (students and faculty) "Dr. Robert Terry (Former Professor), Feb. 12, 2014"

I hadn't seen Dr. Terry in years (since about '86, I think), but he was once a big part of my life. I took more classes from him than anyone else during my undergraduate days (May 1977 thr August 1979). I remember taking Classical Roots from Dr. Smalling** (which included reading the Illiad, the Odyssey, Greek tragedies, even a late Greek romance), and both Shakespeare and also Transformational Grammar (where I learned all about sentence structure) from Mr. Whitman, brilliant and sardonic and occasionally scathing. But I took at least three classes from Dr. Terry. Memorably, in one of them where we were to select and critique a famous work of criticism (I think Lowe's ROAD TO XANADU was one***) he let me choose C. S. Lewis's THE ALLEGORY OF LOVE, which I found hard going (never having read the works Lewis was discussing) but was grateful for the chance to slowly read and absorb.

I also owe Dr. Terry a great debt in that he taught the first Tolkien class I ever took. It came about like this: about half-way through my time at SAU (which was accelerated because of CLEP, summer school, and taking 17 hours of credits most semesters****) I found out there was a process by which students cd petition the department to offer a special studies course. The requirements were to get a certain number of students to sign a petition stating that they wd take the course if offered, and to find a faculty member willing to teach it. Dr. Terry was willing, so that semester (fall 1978, I think) we had a course on Tolkien. Since Dr. Terry wasn't a Tolkien expert (though he'd read all the major works), I consulted with him on the syllabus -- what books we'd study and in what order. I know my copy of BEOWULF: THE MONSTERS AND THE CRITICS (the Arden Press facsimile edition) dates from that class. I taught Tolkien in other contexts later -- using THE HOBBIT as the book my freshmen wd write their research papers on at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) in the fall of 1980 or spring of 1981, and again twice at Marquette in the mid & late '80s (including the last semester I taught there, spring of 1991), and taught or co-taught a series of continuing ed. courses at Marquette on Tolkien, on his precursors, on his followers, et al from 1988 through about 1992 or thereabouts.

Dr. Terry also helped me understand part of Tolkien's life that hadn't made much sense to me from Carpenter's biography. Dr. Terry was an outside grader of standardized tests, and spent a few weeks each summer gathered somewhere with other graders, working their way through some 200 tests apiece a day (or at least that's the number that sticks in my memory). Tolkien was famously grading just such a batch of student papers when he fortuitously came up with and wrote down the line of gibberish "In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit".

The last time I saw Dr. Terry was when I asked his advice during the period when I was going through dissertation proposal hell,***** so this wd have been the summer of 1986. I'd hoped he might be able to give me some advice, an outside perspective. In this I was disappointed -- he spent the entire time waxing eloquent on the wonders of Amway, to which he was a recent convert. Still, I'm grateful to Dr. Terry, a great teacher who was willing to help a student pursue his enthusiasm even if it didn't lay along the same lines as his own interests.  I still have THE GOLDEN HIND, the fine collection of Tudor poetry and prose he had co-edited; it's from Dr. Terry's class that I was able to recognize and put a name to Emerson Lake & Palmer's use of skeltonics. I'm sorry that I didn't keep in touch after that, but I'm grateful to have been in his classes, and to have had him as a professor.  I suspect he, more than any other teacher, was responsible for my going into English as my major and subsequently making it my major course of study in graduate school.

So thanks Dr. Terry. Much appreciated. Rest in Peace.

--John R.
current reading: THIS PROGRESS by Bernard Ackworth [1934] (C. S. Lewis's crackpot friend)

*just before I attended, they changed the name from the much more euphonious Southern State College. Alas.

**to my fascination, I found that some of the more bizarre ideas CSL put forth were accepted as standard dogma by Dr. Smalling. It was also Dr. Smalling who, upon finding out that I preferred THE ODYSSEY to THE ILLIAD, replied: you would.

***a book I confess I've still never read.

****looking back, I'm surprised I had time to do all this and two part-time jobs too. As Joseph Conrad wd say: ah, youth.

*****but that's a story I'll save for another day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Cat Report(s)

So, I've been a bit remiss in getting the reports of how the shelter cats up for adoption at the Tukwila PetsMart have been doing these past few weeks; here's an omnibus update

With eight cats, most of them more or less unsociable, it's starting to feel like the room is filling up again.  I got there late today (was almost there when remembered something I'd left at home and had to go back), and stayed till almost 1 to make up for it. Also forwent the walks, except for a brief outing with Alexi (see below).

Janice and I have two cat-stands we'd like to donate, and I brought the first one in today. Didn't want it littering up the area outside, so found a place for it in the room. Cher, if we don't want to keep it for the room, might the shelter or another volunteer like it?

Glad to report that there were no sneezes, no drooling, no throw-up. Aside from Alexi, who's skin and bones, the cats all seem healthy. Bayou's ears are a little dirty, but I helped on that account at least a little.

This time I was sure to let Tawny and Molinni out first so they could claim their favorite places (on opposite ends of the bench). I put Buxter atop the cat-stand by the cabinet and Maebe atop the cabinet itself. Phoenix put herself in the rondel (the lowest level of Buxter's cat-stand), while Perry roamed around the cat-stands near the door. Tawny hissed whenever Perry got atop her basket, and Perry hissed at Bayou to let him know he was to Keep His DIstance, but other than that no dust-ups. I put Bayou atop the cages, and once he'd thoroughly explored it he decided he liked it plenty good. He even figured out how to use the steps to come and go (haven't had them out in a long time, but didn't take him long to work it out). Alexi stayed inside, but I wanted to make sure to clean her cage this time so I lifted her out and put her in Phoenix's cage while I cleaned the double-wide (Phoenix was a little put out, going into her cage two or three times, finding another cat there, and coming back out again; otherwise this plan worked pretty well). 

A little before noon, I pulled Alexi out from where she was hiding, put the leash on her, and took her outside. I sat in the chair just outside the room and held and petted her for ten or maybe fifteen minutes. She initially buried her face in the crook of my arm and trembled, but after a while she calmed down some and started looking around. Think it did her some good to have a change of pace; once back in the room I put her back into her own cube and she ate some dried catfood and also some wet. Think we should watch her intake v. carefully, since she's so very very thin and it'd be easy to miss the signs because of Bayou eating out of the same dishes &c.

The most affectionate cats today were Perry-the-Winkle, who also wins the Most Talkative award. Buxler was also v. affectionate today; she's really mellowed.

There were lots of visitors, particularly from about 11.30 onward. One woman said she'd adopted her cat from here a couple of years ago, though I didn't recognize the name. One couple said they were looking for to adopt but didn't seem to click with any of our cats. I gather this was a preliminary round;  hope they'll come back and try again.

And that's about it for this morning.

--John R.

[didn't write up a report for the next day, Wedn. the 20th, but here's the one for the next week:]


Great news that MR. KASPER has found himself another home, and taken home a play-pal with him. Hope things work out well for him this time: he needs room to run and play and generally just be a cat.  Now if only Mr. Scruffs cd be so lucky.

With MISTY BUMBLE having come and gone without my ever seeing her (taking the cat-stand I donated with her), we're back to eight cats again in the cat room.

Glad to report that there were no throw-ups today, not even a sneeze. Only health concerns are the ongoing concern over Alexi's not eating and Buxter having carefully deposited some feces on a blanket at the front of her cage. 

Gave walks (fairly brief ones) to Perry, Phoenix, and Tawny, and a carry-around to Alexi. The only thing that interested ALEXI was the little forest of four cat-stands placed together. She went under this and immediately perked up, looking around alertly rather than cringing with that haunted look in her eyes. Once back in the room I put her in the top of the cabinet with a blanket or two for cover.  Interestingly enough, after everybody had gone back into their cages at end of shift, when I left the room to dispose of the trash I came back to find her eating from the food-dish; think she thought I'd left for the day and it was safe to come out. And she'd been stretched out across the front of the cage when I arrived, so maybe she comes out more than I'd thought, just not when there's people in the room who might be Cat Eating Fiends.

For his part, BAYOU was very shy today; came out a few times but dashed back in anytime he thought I might go over to that side of the room. Even hissed at me once or twice. Don't know if this was due to his sister's absence or if he was just having an easily-spooked day.

TAWNY was in good form today. I'd been surprised last Wednesday by her coming out of her spot on the bench to join in the other cats' games (she turns out to be good at Gopher and Bug-on-a-Stick). She did the same today, and clearly enjoyed herself pouncing on an old toy called a Cat Dancer I'd found and brought in (more than a decade ago it'd belonged to my cat Parker, who'd been v. fond of it; apparently it hasn't lost its appeal).  She let me pet her just a little, and some visitors as well, but still prefers the hands-off approach. She did explore the room, both last Wednesday and again today, which seems to me like something of a breakthrough. 

MOLINNI mostly stayed on the bench but spent a fair amount of time around the door. She joined in games some but mostly just wanted to look about, without any interference from me, and see what there was to see. She seems pretty comfortable with her routine (aside from going-back-inside time, which she objects to on principle).

MAEBE claimed the top of the cat-stand by the door, where she accepted petting as Her Right and Due, and showed enthusiasm for games, esp. the Cat Dancer (which she shared, alternating, with Tawny). She  was so pleased that she groomed her blanket as well as herself; something of an odd sight. For her part, BUXTER continues to mellow: she spent the morning atop the cat-stand by the cabinet, very pleased to be petted early and often, and deeply reluctant to go back into her cage at the end. 

PERRY was quiet today (aside from her usual chorus of mews when petted). What an adorable cat. I put her up on the cage-tops and she found a spot she loved so much I wound up putting her and all in cage at end of morning. 

Finally, PHOENIX, well-behaved as always, spent the morning in the rondel, which has definitely become her new favorite place. She too was miffed to eventually have to go into her cage but accepted an apology in the form of a small, low-carb treat.

There were some visitors, but they were casual cat-lovers rather than potential adopters. 

And, on a different topic, glad to hear that the HomeAgain microchips are reliable, since that's what my two cats at home have.

--John R. 


(includes notes for Sept 3rd as well)

Didn't get a cat report written up last week (Sept 3rd), when things were still adjusting from the arrival and quick adoption of Bellah and TL (so quickly that I never saw either one), followed in turn by the adoption of Big Bayou and Shy Alexi. Since there were only six cats, I walked them all: those who did best were Buxter and Phoenix by far. Phoenix really is a sweet cat: she saw a PetsMart employee stocking a shelf and went up and rubbed him, purring. As for Buxter, she was baffled by the size and complexity of the store but very willing to explore and enjoy being out. Her favorite part was exploring the cat stands and especially the cat cushions; she even got some belly rubs.  Once back in we had lots of games. Maebe loved the feather duster, proclaiming it Legitimate Prey. Mollini enjoyed a one-on-one game of bug-on-a-stick, except the other cats kept joining in: Tawny, then Perry, then Maebe.  Tawny in fact several times came out to play whatever game was going on; I forget that she's one of the younger cats in the room -- it's nice to see her begin to act like it. At one point Tawny had a game all her own, until Maebe intercepted it; later Perry (whom I've taken to calling 'Smith' -- she just looks like a Smith) and Buxter were like tick and tock, each attacking opposite ends of a string swinging like a pendulum.

This week (Sept 10th) brought two new cats into the mix, bringing us back up to eight: PERRY (Smith), MOLLINI, PHOENIXTAWNYBUXTERMAEBE, and newcomers LITTLE PANTS & LITTLE FEET (or, as I like to call them, the Little Sisters).  No walks, since I wanted time to get a sense what the room was like with the new bonded pair in it. Pleased to say they're all getting along fairly well. Smith and Mollini had a hissing contest at one point, which Smith won, greatly to her satisfaction, but other than that all was quiet: the cats snoozed, explored, played, permitted themselves to be petted, and generally just hung out.  

The two newcomers, LITTLE PANTS AND LITTLE FEET, mostly kept to themselves. The bolder of the two (the bobtailed one -- Feet?) came out several times, explored, and played, dashing back to home base when spooked. The shy one (with the corkscrew tail -- Pants?) stayed in most of the time but came out for a few cautious explores around that side of the room. She was nervous at having to come out when I did their double-wide but didn't panic or anything like that; she just hovered nearby watching my progress until all was ready for her to go back in. One good sign is that before I'd let them out I was playing the bug-on-a-stick game with Smith (with Maebe and Mollini both joining in with enthusiasm), and when it swished past their cage Little Feet reached out and managed to snag it and draw it into their cage, where both sister proceeded to paw and play with it. So even as shy as they are right now they're still interested in games.

PHOENIX had a very quiet day. Didn't want to sit on my lap or be petted; just went to her rondel and stayed there. Maybe a little gloomy? Have to make sure she gets a walk and some one-on-one time next week.

BUXTER was mellow. She went to her favorite place, the top level of the cat-stand by the cabinet, and stayed there all morning (Buxter above, Phoenix below). She enjoyed the occasional pet, stretching and getting into position for what part of her she wanted petted, but sat out the games. 

TAWNY was very playful; any game I started with any other cat she came and wanted to join in, abandoning her basket-on-the-bench to do so. While I was cleaning cages she entertained herself by the door, pouncing on anything stirred by the breeze. She's quite willing to share a game with another cat or two, so long as she gets her turn with whatever they're chasing or pawing (string or bug-on-a-stick or laser pointer). She'll let me pet her a little now but still very much dislikes a hand reaching into her basket -- may be some bad memory there? I always just pick up the basket and elevator-carry her over to her cage when it's time to go back in, which avoids all the upset.

MOLLINI actually let me hold her in my lap and pet her a little when she first came out. She later let me reach a hand out to her, both while she was in her cubbyhole and when out and about, and didn't swat or pull back. She does revert to her don't-touch mode when she thinks she's going to be picked up. Found one trick she really liked: having the short cat-stand before her open cage, so she can sit on it seeing all there is to see but with a quick retreat ready to hand. She spent a lot of the morning playing around the door area and seemed to get along fine with Tawny, Little Feet, and Maebe, though she and Smith exchanged hisses whenever Smith thought Mollini got too close. She loved the crinkly paper, the bug-on-a-stick, the string games, and laser pointer, though looks like bouncing balls do nothing for her. 

SMITH claimed her spot and defended it from all comers (Mollini, who jumped up there unawares and beat a hasty retreat). It turns out she only talks when being petted, whereupon she becomes very vocal. She loves games but wants the game to come to her rather than have to chase after it on her own. She's about the age of my two cats at home, and her play reminds me of theirs: lots of paw action but not much body movement. She loves attention and loves being petted.

MAEBE played string games, bug-on-a-stick, more string games, and yet more string games. Didn't think to try the gopher game, but suspect she'd like that too. All this playing while never leaving the top of the cat-stand by the door, which has become her favorite spot (a nice bookend to her sister Buxter atop the other cat-stand over by the cabinet). She's pleased to be petted, and perfectly willing to nap, but it's the games that made up her favorite part of the morning.

No health concerns this week, though Tawny has developed the odd habit of licking the glass wall, at a spot beneath the cat-stand by the door. She did it three times, but I have no idea what about that particular spot attracts her.

Last week Buxter had once again neatly deposited some feces on the blanket by the door of her cage -- maybe she needs more space. Any chance we cd shift her to the other double cage?  This week there was no repetition, so maybe she's over whatever little protest she felt she needed to make.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Smilde reviews McGrath (Journal of Inklings Studies)

So, one of the most interesting pieces, I thought, in the newest issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES is the review-essay, by Arend Smilde, of McGrath's CSL biography ECCENTRIC GENIUS, RELUCTANT PROPHET. This is one of those cases where the reviewer continually takes the author to task for writing the book he did and not the book the reviewer would have preferred.

That biographer and reviewer are at cross purposes is apparent from the review's first paragraph, where the reviewer expresses bafflement at McGrath's distinguishing his approach from that of other CSL biographies. It turns out the reviewer has no knowledge of the biographies in question -- but that surely is not McGrath's fault, given that the books are well-known and widely circulated. More significantly, McGrath's biography is intended to be half of a two-volume set, the other book being devoted to in-depth discussion of Lewis's ideas. Smilde is aware of this -- he refers to the companion volume by title -- but not having it to hand he choses thereafter to treat the second book as non-existent for his purposes. Given that the reviewer constantly chastises McGrath for not having dealt with this issue or that, one suspects many of the discussions he wishes to see are in fact in the second volume specifically devoted to exploring Lewis's major ideas in depth.

After a single paragraph touching on a few things Smilde thinks McGrath got right, the remainder of the review-essay runs through the far more lengthy list of things he thinks McGrath got wrong. These range from including too much about Tolkien (can't agree with him there, obviously) and too little about Barfield (a valid point. but again I'd want to check the companion book), and far too much about Narnia (I cdn't agree more). Elsewhere he dings McGrath for making an accurate statement without citing a specific piece of evidence to back it up. To McGrath's exploration of Lewis's abandonment of poetry and shift to fiction Smilde responds by denying that Lewis ever underwent a 'shift to fiction' (which seems a plain disregard of the evidence). He is particularly indignant that McGrath never refers to George MacDonald; for my own part, I was shocked that he fails to mention David Lindsay.

But what to make of Smilde's criticism of McGrath for not including in his (extensive but selected) bibliography of secondary works on Lewis's life and thought two dissertations, one by Norbert Feinendegen (2008) and the other by Adam Barkman (2009)?  The answer lies I think in Smilde's other contribution to this volume, an extensive (sixty-page) essay on what is sometimes called C. S. Lewis's 'argument from desire'. In his abstract to this piece, Smilde states that one of his goals for this essay is "an attempt to make the English-speaking world aware of a major contribution to C. S. Lewis studies published in Germany by Norbert Feinendegen in 2008" (p. 33). This suggests to me that Smilde brings up Feinendegen's and Barkman's names, not because he thinks it likely McGrath would have consulted either, but because they're things Smilde wd have cited had he been writing this book.

In the end, I think Smilde views McGrath's work entirely through the prism of the ideal biography Smilde wd like to read, in which the things that interest him would receive the most attention and topics that don't interest him are scanted. Since the reality (the book McGrath actually wrote) does not correspond to the ideal (the philosophical and theological work Smilde wd have preferred), he finds it "a book of uneven quality, with more low than high points". For my part, I'd say it was a v. good book,  albeit w. some shortcomings. While not the definitive Lewis biography we've all been hoping for, it's certainly the best biography of CSL since Green & Hooper. And that's no small achievement.

Finally, since it's always better to read people for yourself than to rely on other people's descriptions of what they wrote, here's a link to an extensive listing of points about McGrath's book that drew Smilde's attention, with Smilde's comments thereon:


I've only skimmed this, but it's quite interesting to see such erudition on display. My favorites among his critiques and comments were

"This book has a total of 257 sentences beginning with Yet"


"This idea does not seem worth committing to paper." 


Monday, September 8, 2014

The Man Who Knew Tolkien (Not Well)

So, the article that most interested me in the current issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (Spring 2014 issue, the first I've seen) is the modestly-titled memoir by E. G. Stanley, "C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as I Knew Them (Never Well)". Stanley had been a student at Oxford in 1948-51, during an era when CSL and Tolkien had abandoned the Eagle and Child for The Lamb and Flag across the street and, occasionally, the Eastgate.  As such, he attended "all the lectures Lewis and Tolkien gave" during that period, as well as "Tolkien's seminar for graduate students and selected undergraduates" from Michaelmas 1949 onward.  This meant he heard Lewis's lecture series Prolegomena to English Renaissance Literature -- what soon thereafter became the core of CSL's long awaited if prosaically named ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY (EXCLUDING DRAMA). Stanley says of  these "I thought them them and think them still the best lectures I have ever heard".

I think the line that most stood out for me in his description of Lewis lecturing was "He was never reluctant to state his views on any work of literature"; he says Lewis was "scathing" -- a word Stanley applies twice to CSL* -- about some well-known works (he does not say which). Lewis was never his tutor, but Stanley notes that his friend Derek Brewer was tutored by Lewis and "never ceased to be afraid of him" -- which tends to confirm Helen Gardner's judgment that Lewis was not a good tutor but a supremely gifted lecturer. Stanley also describes his own later interaction with Lewis when the latter became General Editor of a medieval and renaissance text series Stanley and Brewer started (w. a third colleague named Shepherd), and shows that Lewis was just as unsparing an advisor as he was a tutor.

The section of Tolkien is considerably shorter (some five or six pages out of a twenty-page piece), although he says he knew Tolkien better than he did CSL, as one of less than a dozen attending his seminars for "four or five terms". He describes Tolkien as "usually very patient, very encouraging, very polite, very friendly", except when a student made a philological blunder, to which Tolkien's response was, in Stanley's word, "sharp": Stanley gives two examples of Tolkien peremptorily cutting short students whom he considered were wasting his time. As a scholar, he notes that Tolkien "did not often publish his views, but when he did . . . his contributions were at once recognized as brilliant, because they were wholly original and right.** Some of his ideas were published, with acknowledgment, by graduate students of his", citing d'Ardenne as an example. Although Stanley does seem mildly scandalized that Tolkien "did not regularly revise his lectures", more or less repeating lectures from the 1920s and 30s well into the 1950s, he thought Tolkien's lecturing (e.g., on SGGK) "full of interesting, highly original ideas".  He confirms my long-held suspicion that it was Tolkien's loss of all his teeth, which happened mid-way through Stanley's undergraduate days, that made him truly difficult to understand: "he . . . began his lecture . . . pronouncing the words of his opening sentence memorably with sh for s and the like: 'You shee you can't do shound shangezh with porshelain.' He always pronounced words indistinctly, but he had never pronounced sibilants like that before" [JDR: although to be fair, there's no s/sh hissing in the recordings made later in Tolkien's life, so he must have gotten better-fitting false teeth somewhere down the line, or at least improved with practice].

Stanley also notes that "Tolkien was always friendly and the undergraduates were treated kindly"; he includes a brief second-hand account by someone*** who'd been one of Tolkien's students back at Leeds, in the early days of his teaching career, who "spoke of him with great affection" and "adjured me not to miss any opportunity to hear him or be taught by him. She had been personally spellbound by his teaching" -- an account I wd have worked into my essay on Tolkien' support of women's higher education, had I known of it in time.

Finally, Stanley recounts the last time he met Tolkien, at a 1972 party to celebrate the completion of Burchfield's Supplement to the OED. Although it'd been two decades since they met, Tolkien remembered Stanley and said he'd read S's subsequent work -- a statement Stanley finds hard to believe and chalks down to "Tolkien's great charm and warmth" and wish to be kind, but I see no reason to doubt Tolkien could remember a former pupil, even after so long. Significantly, Stanley ends with "I shall not forget his warmth, his kindness, and his charm at that party, and when others talk of J. R. R. Tolkien, the renowned author of fantasy fiction, I think of Professor Tolkien, the brilliant philologist".

So, an interesting account of how these two gifted but very different men appeared to a particular person at a particular place and time; a valuable glimpse back into a vanished world. Of it all, I was particularly struck by Stanley's twice applying the word 'scathing' to CSL and three times some version of 'kind' ('kind', 'kindly', 'kindness') to JRRT -- the latter of which matches well with John Lawlor's acocunt, among others.

Recommended for all who collect memoirs of CSL (which which I think there are four volumes published now) and JRRT (which we're still waiting for a collection of, but worth the wait once we get it)

--John R.

*Stanley himself can be scathing, as when writing of what he sees as A. J. Bliss's shortcomings as an editor, or when he notes that as an undergraduate he was, in his own words, "arrogantly dismissive" of another Inkling, Nevill Coghill, as a popularizer.

**Stanley gives as one unpublished example Tolkien's explanation for why two words spelled identically the noun 'wind' (breeze) and the verb 'wind' (twist, crank) are pronounced differently

***This was Stanley's own tutor, Stefanyja Olszewska (Mrs Alan S. C. Ross). Scull & Hammond, in their excellent CHRONOLOGY, record Tolkien's being appointed her dissertation supervisor in 1927 at Oxford, but Stanley's account enables us to push her connection w. Tolkien back to her undergraduate days at Leeds. Plus, of course, it's nice to know her full name (and married name) and not just surname plus initial.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Line Up (Kalamazoo Tolkienists)

So, thanks to Doug for pointing out that if you go to the website for the Medieval Congress, there's a photograph of three very familiar faces.


 I don't recognize the person in blue, but the three on the right are

(1) Richard West, author of TOLKIEN CRITICISM: AN ANNOTATED CHECKLIST, one of the very first books on Tolkien (preceded, I think, only by Isaacs & Zimbardo, Ready, and Lin Carter), editor of ORCRIST, longtime member of the University of Madison Tolkien Society (one of the longest lived Tolkien-themed book discussion groups*), and Guest of Honor at this year's Mythcon (a well-deserved honor).

(2) Deborah Webster Rogers, who actually corresponded with Tolkien (see LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, p. 288-289 [Letter #213]), wrote one of the earliest theses on his work, and co-wrote one of the best introductions to Tolkien (for the Twayne English Author series); she was also a contributor to Lobdell's A TOLKIEN COMPASS.

(3) me, listening intently. Wish I knew which session this was, and who was speaking; I'd dig out my notes for that session and re-read them.

I'm curious how this particular picture happened to get chosen, out of all the myriad that must have been available, but I'm pleased and bemused that we look sufficiently scholarly for their purposes.

And having just heard today that my paper topic has been approved, and also that I'll be on a roundtable I was deeply interested in, I'll be going back again next year too (for the eighth in a row, I think). Hope to see you there.

--John R.
current reading (still): A STING IN THE TALE by Goulson [2013]

*now I think in its forty-eighth year

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

More on JONAH

So, thanks to Mike Foster for forwarding the link to more information about the forthcoming publication of Tolkien's JONAH in THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES.  I'd still like to make some comments about the current issue, now that I've had a chance to read some of it, but I'll save that for another post. Here's the link describing the forthcoming Tolkien piece:


Of course, there's another Tolkien/Jonah link I haven't seen mentioned yet in this context, and that is that Tolkien would have been very familiar with the form the Jonah legend took in medieval times: it's retold (with great wit and charm) as PATIENCE, one of the four poems all presumed to be by the same author: the Gawain-poet (also known as the Pearl-poet) -- someone of whose work Tolkien made a special study*

In any case, J.I.S. editor Judith Wolfe's post makes much clearer what we're getting in this new publication: Tolkien's original submission, not the version reworked by another hand and actually published. So this will be an uncollaborative text -- like seeing Warnie's original Biography of CSL rather than the re-edited 'Memoir' published in the original LETTERS OF CSL.  And, given that Wolfe's post includes a facsimile of the first page of a 1955 handwritten JRRT letter to Allen & Unwin that doesn't seem to mention the JONAH project at all (so far as my admittedly uncertain eyesight can make out) but contains plenty of interest about how Tolkien created the final LotR map, it looks as if we'll be getting information on LotR as well as possibly other subjects, in addition to the JERUSALEM BIBLE proper. I'm looking forward to it.

--John R.

*the fourth poem in the manuscript, CLEANNESS (or PURITY), is unfortunately the weakest of the four; far better is a fifth piece (in a different ms. and probably by another hand, probably influenced by the Pearl-poet) called SAINT ERKENWALD, which tackles the problem of the unsaved virtuous pagan and recounts a miracle whereby this injustice is set right, at least in one case.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gygax's List, 1976 version

So, thanks to a comment on my previous post (thanks, Grodog), I've now learned what I never knew before: that an earlier version of Gygax's list had appeared in issue four of THE DRAGON in December 1976. Since not many of us have copies of that issue, and not all that many have a copy of the DRAGON CD-ROM collection of the first two hundred issues, thought I'd reprint the list here for the sake of those, like me, interested in its evolution over time.


Author: From Gary Gygax

Anderson, Poul     Three Hearts and Three Lions
Blackwood, Algernon
Brackett, Leigh
Burroughs, E. R.    John Carter of Mars (etal)
Carter, Lin             Warrior of the Worlds End
deCamp & Pratt     Incomplete Enchanter
                               Castle of Iron (etal)
Farmer, P. J.           Gates of Creation (etal)
Fox, G. F.               Kother the Barbarian (etal)
Howard, R. E.        Conan the Conqueror (etal)
Lanier, Sterling       Hiero's Journey
Leiber, Fritz           Swords of Lankhmar (etal)
Lovecraft, H. P.
Merritt, A.              Creep Shadow, Creep
                               Moon Pool
                               Face in the Abyss
                               Dwellers in the Mirage (etal)
Moorcock, Michael  Stealer of Souls
Saberhagen, Fred   Changling Earth
St. Clair, Margaret  
Tolkien, J. R. R.     The Hobbit
                                The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy)
Vance, Jack          The Eyes of the Overworld
                              The Dying Earth
Weinbaum, Stanley
Wellman, M. W.
Zelazny, Roger       Jack of Shadows (etal)
                               Lord of Light
                               Nine Princes in Amber series

As Allan/Grodog pointed out, only one author here whose name got left out from the DMG list three (two and a half?) years later: Algernon Blackwood, probably best remembered today for THE WILLOWS and THE WENDIGO -- and I don't know if his name was omitted deliberately or through inadvertence.  Curiously enough, this slightly shorter early list includes one book title that got left off the expanded list: Zelazny's LORD OF LIGHT (technically Merritt's FACE IN THE ABYSS got left out too, but I'm assuming it's included under the "et al"). The editing may be a little shaky (et al. is consistently printed as 'etal'), but I give them points for getting the title of Howard's only Conan novel right: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON a.k.a. CONAN THE CONQUEROR, and they also got THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER bit right. At first I'd thought this little list might have been thrown together to fill a gap in the layout of that page, but that's not the case: Kask refers to it prominently in his what's-in-this-issue editorial/introduction.

The newcomers are the late great John Bellairs (whose THE FACE IN THE FROST shaped Vancean magic into something much closer to how it's used in the game), Fredric Brown, de Camp as a solo writer (LEST DARKNESS FALL, THE FALLIBLE FIEND 'et al'), Pratt as a solo writer (THE BLUE STAR), Derleth (presumably for his Lovecraft pastiche/forgeries), Lord Dunsany (perhaps the most influential of all fantasy writers after Tolkien himself), the great Andre Norton, Andrew Offutt (specifically credited for editing a single anthology--why this one, I wonder?), and Jack Williamson.

So, an interesting look back at the roots, not from a gaming perspective but from a fantasy/pulp fiction perspective, genre fiction always having played a huge role in inspiring games, characters, monsters, and scenarios.

--John R.