Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Kalamazoo Day Two

So, to continue:

THURSDAY MAY 11th (Morning Session):

XI. QUEER BORDERS, HIDDEN KINGDOMS: PERCEPTIONS OF WALES IN JRRT'S WORK by Dimitra Fimi looked at Tolkien's elusive contact with various things Welsh -- things which seem suggestive (e.g. place names) but can't quite be pinned down -- such as a trip he took to Wales as a child to which he referred in old age but about which we know almost nothing. She praised Jim Allan's AN INTRODUCTION TO ELVISH (1978) for how well it holds up, forty years later. I think it was as part of this presentation that she pointed out that the memorable phrase the walls of Wales, which I'd assumed was a well-known usage, is in fact Tolkien's own coinage, which he uses twice (once in FALL OF ARTHUR and once I think in ENGLISH AND WELSH).

XII. BRAN AND BRENDAN AND ERIOL AND AELFWINE by Kris Swank was another piece (the third?) in what has become an excellent series by K.S. looking at Tolkien's Irish antecedents. The focus this time was on THE COLLOQUY OF THE ANCIENTS, a key text in the Ossian story and probably the biggest gap in my own reading of Irish myth. I was pleased to see her call out Wm Morris's THE EARTHLY PARADISE (wh. I'd argue was the key inspirational text that launched Tolkien on THE BOOK OF LOST TALES PROJECT) and Lady Gregory's GODS AND FIGHTING MEN (an old favorite of mine, sadly neglected; where I first learned about the Tuatha de from).

by Yvette Kisor argued that the Korrigan of A&I contributed to the later description of Galadriel. I thought she made her case but unfortunately took few notes and so can't reconstruct her presentation, other than she pointed out the parallels: beautiful fay by her fountain (called by some a witch) granting a  favored visitor magical phial or philtre.

THURSDAY MAY 11th (Afternoon Session):

XIV. THE CLASSICAL ORIGINS OF TOLKIEN'S ELVISH LANGUAGE INVENION by Andrew Higgins looked at Quenya as Elf-Latin, suggesting that Tolkien deliberately made Quenya more like Latin is some ways. It's Andrew's gift that he can talk about Tolkien's invented languages in a way that the nonphilological can follow and appreciate. The big carry-away from his talk for me was a side point, a passing reference to young Tolkien passing his (?Oxford entrance) exams in Greek and in Scriptural Knowledge. I've sometimes seen that argument made that as a Catholic Tolkien wd not have been that familiar with the Bible, which I've always thought an odd claim. But hearing this reference from Andrew, I realized that by finding out what sort of things wd have been on that 'Scriptural Knowledge' test we cd show at least a baseline.

XV. SING, MUSE, THE WRATH OF BOROMIR, DENETHOR's SON: THE WORKINGS OF THUMOS AND LOFGEORNOST IN JRRT by Dennis Wilson Wise makes the case for Boromir as a hero by presenting his words and deeds and beliefs in the best possible light. Feeling that the author has rather stacked the deck against Boromir,  D.W.W. uses the key terms thymos, lofgeornost, and ofermod to provide contexts for his behavior and parallels from classical and medieval (Old English) perspectives.

XVI. TOLKIEN'S CLASSICAL BEOWULF by Jane Chance, the founder of 'Tolkien at Kalamazoo', gave an intriguing piece on Tolkien's famous BEOWULF essay, focusing on his actual presentation of the lecture, in which a relatively young man attacked the conventional wisdom of his elder, distinguished colleagues. She also focuses in on Tolkien's election to the professorship at Oxford to provide context, and details specific scholars, some of them legends within the field (Ker, Craige, Chambers), whose considered opinions he was attacking -- some perhaps even to their faces (I strongly suspect Chambers was there that day in 1936). It wd be interesting to be able to get a sense of the room, of how they responded to his iconoclastic speech.

--more to come.

--John R.
--current reading: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DINOSAURS -- an enjoyable and informative read so far (I started with the next-to-last  chapter).

Friday, May 18, 2018

My Presentation at Kalamazoo (TOLKIEN'S METEORITE)

So, my own presentation for this year's Tolkien Seminar, held the day before the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, was a piece I call 'Tolkien's Meteorite'. This is a work in progress: I've finished the first and second parts (and Appendix) but the third section still needs more work. For those who might be interested, here's the three-paragraph opening that sets up the topic. The first section that follows looks at the evidence for dating the work. The second section contrasts Lewis's and Tolkien's treatment of their common theme. And part three looks at real-world and fictional analogues which might have inspired or influenced either.

Enjoy! Feedback welcome.

--John R.
--current job: proofing
--current reading: more essays by Martin Amis. Who's certainly no Christopher Hitchens.

Tolkiens Meteorite
—A Preliminary Investigation—

In his fascinating but unfinished time-travel story, The Notion Club Papers, written circa 1944–46 but not published until 1992, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a passage in which the character based upon Tolkien himselfNt1 describes the experience of a meteor falling to earth from the point of view of the meteorite itself through a kind of psychometry or object reading.

At about the same time his fellow Inkling C. S. Lewis wrote a meditation on a fallen meteorite which took the form of a poem simply named ‘The Meteorite’. Published in Time and Tide in December 1946, and probably newly written at the time, it was shortly thereafter reprinted as the headpiece to Lewis’s book Miracles (1947), and hence presumably was felt by Lewis to have some relevance to the theme of that work of apologetics.

It seems beyond happenstance that these two Inklings would be working on different expressions of such a striking common theme at about the same time with no connection between the two. What I’d like to do in this paper is explore the relationship between these two works, starting by seeing if we can establish priority of which was written first. It also behooves us to look for antecedents and analogues, both real-world and fictional, for any common source that might underlie both men’s work.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Back from Kalamazoo (Kalamazoo Day One)

Well, that was a busy week. In fact, I was so busy going to papers, prowling the book room, and having Tolkien discussions with Tolk folk that I didn't have time to blog about it as it was happening. To make up for that, here is the first of several posts covering highlights of the extended weekend.


The official Medieval Congress started on Thursday, but I flew in Tuesday in order to be on hand for the Tolkien Seminar, an independent event held just before the conference but not part of it. This was held off-campus in the basement of a local church and, I thought, went really well. There were ten presentations in all  scheduled for that first day:

I.  EOMER GETS POETIC: TOLKIEN'S ALLITERATIVE VERSECRAFT by Luke Baugher-Sheldon took a look at Tolkien's alliterative verse and suggested that he may have been the twentieth century's leading practitioner thereof (I think Auden might be most folk's first choice).

II.  THE CLOUD OF UNSEEING: MYTHS TRANSFORMED AND PSEUDO-SCIENTIFIC INTERPRETATIONS OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS by Kristine Larsen looks at nineteenth-century attempts to explain difficulties in the first chapter of GENESIS arising out of its description of Light (Day and Night: First Day) preceding the creation of the Sun and Moon (Fourth Day), comparing this with Tolkien's Myths Transformed in MORGOTH'S RING (HME.X). I found this particularly interesting because just a few days before I'd seen a documentary on Bill Nye (the Science Guy) in which a modern-day Creationist made much the same arguments she'd described from the better part of two centuries ago.

III.  LIKE YET UNLIKE: THE UNCANNY AND THE SODOMITIC IN TOLKIEN'S SARUMAN by Chris Vaccarro looked at Saruman's various sins (pride, anger, impatience), laying stress on various passages and phrases in the draft LotR that presented Saruman in a slightly better light and suggests he is capable of repentance, particularly one scene in which Merry's kind gesture sparks a genuine response. My favorite line was "the wish that the Wicked can be saved". I did find it slightly disconcerting that he pronounced 'Saruman' as if it were spelled 'Sodoman'.

IV. WHO IS MR. BLISS, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY WHAT KIND OF CONCERTINA IS HE PLAYING?: FILLING A MINOR LACUNA IN TOLKIEN STUDIES by Michael Wodzak was an informal but informative piece about two traditions regarding two different versions of this instrument, analogous to the fiddle and the violin: one a folk-instrument for home and local entertainment, the other part of the classical music tradition.

V.  Session V. was unfortunately cancelled; it wd have been about "the ring motif in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages".

after a quick break for lunch, the sessions resumed with my own presentation:

VI. TOLKIEN'S METEORITE: A PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION by John D. Rateliff marked my own contribution to the gathering; more on this one in its own separate post. Thanks to Kristin Larsen I even had show and tell; she brought two small meteorites (one metallic, the other stoney) to pass around. And I brought a flake from a meteor from Mars.

VII. TOLKIEN ON 'HOLIDAY' by Andrew Higgins drew attention to the curious theme of how badly things tend to go in Middle-earth on special occasions (most notably the Fall of Gondolin and the earlier attack on the Two Trees). More generally, he looked at holidays, feast days, and celebrations. It made me wonder: isn't Fr. Christmas's point of view in an exactly inverse position to our own, since his day of work is our day of celebration?

VIII. THE GLISTENING OF DEW DROPS: TOLKIEN, HOPKINS, AND INSCAPE by Vickie Holtz-Wodzak suggested affinities between Hopkin's verse and JRRT's works. While I only know of one direct reference to Hopkins by Tolkien I think it quite likely T. knew at least some of H's work. And certainly there were Inklings connections: Ch Wms edited two major books by Hopkins and I'm pretty sure Ch Wms. brought his friend and co-worker Gerry Hopkins, the poet's nephew, as his guest to at least one Inklings meeting (though I haven't yet had time to hunt down the reference for that).

IX. THE TOLKIEN ART INDEX by Erik Mueller-Harder revealed a project of breaktaking scope I hadn't even known was in the works. It's basically a database with a little thumbnail of each known and published piece of art by JRRT, carefully indexed and cross-referenced so you can quickly search for a specific image, or grouping of images (for example, by typing in a search term such as 'trees'). It reminded me of Dr. Blackwelder's TOLKIEN PORTRAITURE  project years ago. Kudos to Mueller-Harder for having put in so much work to create and fine-tune such an amazingly useful resource.

X. MAIDENS OF MIDDLE-EARTH VIII: WOMEN OF THE EDAIN, performed by Eileen Moore, was this year's representative of 'TOLKIEN UNBOUND (which is sometimes dramatic readings, sometime musical performances)', but I missed it this year because I needed to be in the book room at that time, helping to set up the Nodens Books table.

--John R.

--current reading: a (disappointing) collection of essays by Martin Amis.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

I'm at Kalamazoo

So, I'm now (a) at Kalamazoo and (b) have a wi-fi connection.

Yesterday's 'Tolkien Day' Seminar went well, and my own presentation seemed to go down okay.

Today's already off to a good start with an excellent morning session; in half an hour the afternoon sessions, which also look promising, kick off. I've already run into more Tolk folk than I have time to list here.

I'll post some quick descriptions of the various Tolkien-related presentations when I get a chance.

Meanwhile, it's time to go to the next session. More later

--John R.
curent reading: a most peculiar 'biography' of pulp hero Doc Savage by Philip Jose Farmer.

I''ve already bought my first book of the conference, a volume of ARTHURIANA with an essay in it about the Lost Arthurian Plays of Elizabethean England. Who cd resist?

Friday, May 4, 2018

Getting ready for Kalamazoo

So, Wednesday I reached a milestone in my getting ready for this year's Kalamazoo: I finished the draft of my paper. Now all it needs is a little polishing to improve the phrasing, tighten up any loose ends, rework weak points in the argument, get the notes and bibliography in shape, &c. So it's finished but not Done.

Now comes preparation for the actual delivery. I practiced a read-aloud yesterday and found that it runs about twenty-three minutes, a little over the fifteen-to-twenty minute time slot available to me. So I've now come up with two variant shorter versions which I now need to time.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Bobo Shinn is still missing

Thanks to Pam, via Janice, for this link.

A sad but interesting update to  the cold case of the only person I've ever known who was murdered.

No one knows who killed her, nor where the body was hid.

At this distance in time, it's unlikely her remains will ever be found or her killer identified.

Here's the link.


--John R.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

what I've been up to lately

So, one thing I've come to realize about myself over the years is that I don't multitask.

I admire people who can do a little of this, then a little of that, then a little on something else, switching back and forth between projects as the need arises.  It's rare that I can work this way, something which I tend to forget when thinking about taking on side projects. When I'm working on a project I have to dig down and fill my head with it till I'm like Gorey's Mr. Earbrass writing a novel.*

As a case in point, in a little over a week I leave for the Medieval Congress at Kalamazo, where I'll be taking part in Tolkien Day, a side-session of papers outside their regular Tolkien track.

I've been working on my Kalamazoo paper for some time, since I finished up the festschrift,** but put it aside when I agreed to do a book review that I let grow into more of a project than I'd intended.

Then came the research trip to the Marquette Archives, which was extremely enjoyable and highly productive.

Once back from Milwaukee it was back to work on Kalamazoo piece. I was making good progress when I had to break off again.

Now just a week away it's time to draft the final part of my paper and polish the earlier sessions.

It's going to be a busy week.

--John R.
current reading: the latest Carter & Lovecraft novel from Jonathan Howard

Next time I'll listen to her about taking on too much at once.

*see THE UNSTRUNG HARP, Edward Gorey's first book and the funniest account I've ever seen of the writing process.

**the actual writing of it, that is: I've had the idea to write this piece since about 1987