At the Cross-Roads

Cover of The Lord of the Rings A Reader's Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

My monthly Tolkien reading yesterday from A Reader’s Companion by Hammond and Scull took me on a journey into the ancient past, both in Tolkien’s Legendarium and in our own world. The rise and fall of empires; the hubris of man and his futile pursuit of immortality; the triumph of time over all things . . . all of this from a few lines of a two hundred year old poem about a three thousand years dead king.

It all started with a note (p. 485) referencing this passage in Chapter 7 Journey to the Cross-Roads in Book Four of The Lord of the Rings:

Continue reading “At the Cross-Roads”

Chief Critic, Collaborator and Cartographer ~ R.I.P. Christopher Tolkien

The Ides of January. The day Gandalf’s challenged “You cannot pass” to the Balrog in Moria. Christopher Tolkien, the youngest son of J.R.R. Tolkien, passed away yesterday at the age of ninety-five. The Tolkien Society posted the news on their website earlier today, which rapidly spread across social media and news sites.

“Someone else always has to carry on the story.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I heard the news via a chat message from my good friend and President of the Tolkien Society of Kansas City as I was returning to work from lunch. It was difficult to focus on projects and conference calls this afternoon, when all I could think about was the loss of such an amazing man who devoted his entire life to his father’s legacy. I am eternally grateful but also deeply saddened. My prayers and condolences are with his family.

“I wisely started with a map.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Growing up reading and re-reading The Lord of the Rings in the 1970s, I did not know, at the time, that the maps were drawn by Christopher. It’s his fault, then, that I despair of reading any other epic fantasy that doesn’t include a well drawn map to aid me in building the author’s subcreation virtually with my mind’s eye. Christopher’s drafting skills set a high bar and my first and favorite maps are his maps of Middle-earth and Beleriand (see photo below).

Christopher’s fold-out map from my First American Edition of The Silmarillion

For the last two to three years, I’ve had the honor and privilege of studying several of Christopher’s publications of texts from his father’s prolific treasure of unpublished draft manuscripts, sketches, and poems. I’ve done this in my local Smial but also online through the Mythgard Academy. I have barely scratched the surface of what Christopher was able to decipher of his father’s sometimes incredibly illegible scrawls and publish in a readable format for study and contemplation. The following quote is just one of the tantalizing treasures buried in Christopher’s published research in The History of Middle-earth:

“(2) Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along [?without further] . . . . . . . — if asked!

. . .

In (2), most frustratingly, I have not been able to form any guess even at the altogether illegible word.”

Christopher Tolkien, The War of the Ring, p. 98

Rest in peace, Christopher, and Godspeed your journey into the West.

“There is a place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

My Top 50 Books from Last 10 Years

The end of the year and this decade arrived unexpectedly. Well, not completely unexpectedly for the former, but the whole ‘where did the twenty teens go?’ thing caught me by surprise. I’ve been reading and listening to ‘decade in review’ articles and podcasts for the last couple of weeks. Which inspired me to analyze my reading of 965 books over the last ten years.

The following compilation of ‘Top Five’ books for each year starting in 2010, do not include my occasional re-reads of favorites, like the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Jordan, Donaldson and Modesitt.

2010 (read 102) 

  1. Blackout/All Clear by Willis (Hugo/Nebula/Locus Best Novel Awards) 
  2. Under Heaven by GGK 
  3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Stein 
  4. A Civil Compaign by Bujold 
  5. Breath and Bone/Flesh and Spirit by Berg 

2011 (read 75) 

  1. Wars of Light and Shadow (books 5-9) by Wurts 
  2. The Lions of Al-Rassan by GGK 
  3. The Wise Man’s Fear by Rothfuss 
  4. The Empire Trilogy by Feist & Wurts 
  5. Ready Player One by Cline 
Continue reading “My Top 50 Books from Last 10 Years”

Book Review: A Tolkien Compass

A Tolkien Compass cover

A Tolkien Compass

Edited by Jared Lobdell

Published (paperback): 1975

Read: November 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Partial Synopsis: Contributors analyze Gollum’s character transformation, the psychological journey of Bilbo, the regime set up by Saruman at the end of Lord of the Rings and its parallels to fascism, the books’ narrative technique, and Tolkien’s rich use of myth and symbol.

List of Essays

Contents courtesy of the ISFDB entry for this edition (“Publication: A Tolkien Compass,” n.d.):

My Favorite Essays

I found most of the essays collected in A Tolkien Compass to be intriguing and thought provoking. At least three of them added twenty new books, journals and articles to my to-be-read queue. The notes alone on a couple of the essays were three or four pages in length and sent me down fantastic research rabbit holes. I can’t decide which essay is my absolute favorite, so I’ll list my top five here (in author alpha order):

  • Huttar, Charles A. “Hell and the City: Tolkien and the Traditions of Western Literature”
  • Miller, David M. “Narrative Pattern in The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Rogers, Deborah C. “Everyclod an Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien”
  • Scheps, Walter “The Fairy-tale Morality of The Lord of the Rings
  • West, Richard C. “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings

Honorable Mentions include Agnes Perkins’ “The Corruption of Power” and U. Milo Kaufmann’s “Aspects of the Paradisiacal in Tolkien’s Work”

My Thoughts

A Tolkien Companion, originally published in 1975, amazed me with the depth of insight and scholarship gleaned from the then available works published by Tolkien and about Tolkien’s writing. I saw at least one reference to the manuscripts archived at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Yet, these essays still pre-date the publication of The Silmarillion and the volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Unlike Master of Middle-earth, however, I did not gain any new revelations about Tolkien’s Legendarium, but I did experience profound and thought provoking moments. If I had to choose my favorite essay from the collection, it would probably be Richard West’s “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings” because I had to restrain myself from recording the entire essay as an audio excerpt.

I recommend this to people interested in delving deeper into Tolkien’s writing.

Continue reading “Book Review: A Tolkien Compass”

This Week in Middle-earth

A year ago today, I attended my first Tolkien Studies conference, hosted by the Tolkien Society of Kansas City at Park University.  I even helped re-enact the scene where Frodo is wounded by the Witch-king (I played the part of Wraith #5 in the video taken by Corey Olsen which is no longer available according to Twitch).

IMG_2364I’m looking forward to my second Moot next weekend in Waterloo, Iowa, also called MiddleMoot (because we alternate years between the two locations – back in KC for 2020).

MiddleMoot 2019

A Reader's Companion to the Lord of the Rings by Hammond & ScullAnd since I start off October by celebrating or at least contemplating being another year older, I decided to start a Twitter post series based on the Hammond & Scull Reader’s Companion to The Lord of the Rings, in which the timeline is very accurately tracked as the story unfolds.  So on the morning of September 30th,  the last day of that month, I finished reading “The Uruk-hai” chapter in The Two Towers and picked up the Reader’s Companion to read their research and notes on the same chapter, but instead I wondered what was happening “on this day” in Middle-earth?  So I returned back to the chapter “A Knife in the Dark” from The Fellowship of the Ring and found the corresponding entry for last Monday:  Continue reading “This Week in Middle-earth”

Movie Review: Born of Hope (4 stars)

Born of Hope movie poster

Born of Hope: The Ring of Barahir

Release date: December 1, 2009

Director/Producer: Kate Madison

Official Website: http://www.bornofhope.com/

Watched: late September 2019

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I stumbled across this fan film last week while researching (translation: falling down another Tolkien rabbit hole) the backstory of Gilraen, mother of Aragorn. I am always interested in Tolkien’s female characters because there are so few of them and nearly all of them have surprising agency considering Tolkien’s times. The Tolkien Gateway article for Gilraen includes a link at the very bottom that delves deeper into her tragic tale, gleaned from The Lord of the Rings Appendices and other Legendarium sources: The Tragedy of Gilraen, Aragorn’s Mother

Gilraen probably has the saddest epitaph of any of Tolkien’s characters (except perhaps Turin and his sister):

Onen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim.
“I gave hope to the Dúnedain; I kept none for myself.”

Gilraen could not see the light for the growing darkness and despaired, living only half as long as she should have, as one of the few remaining Dúnedain.

Continue reading “Movie Review: Born of Hope (4 stars)”

More on Mass Market Paperbacks aka One Book That Ruled Them All

I just checked my email and received an eblast from Tor.Com (one of my favorite publishers) which included the article below, which expands on my less-well-researched post from yesterday.

 

ONE BOOK TO RULE THEM ALL

How The Lord of the Rings Changed Publishing Forever

Last week marked the anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday, prompting Alan Brown to take a look back at the 1965 Ballantine paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings, which ushered in a new age for both Middle-earth and the publishing industry—and, of course, helped changed the lives of generations of fans in the process.

[Read more]

Four Decades of Fellowship

The Fellowship of the Ring

Part One of The Lord of the Rings

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Read in late 1976 or early 1977

Rating:  Five Stars

Review originally published at GoodReads

1976 Ballantine Fantasy Mass-Market Paperback Edition (well read condition with some interior handwritten remarks)

This battered well-read edition of The Fellowship of the Ring still stands on my book shelf, amidst it’s younger, better bound, brother editions. While reading essays contained in Meditations on Middle-Earth, it struck me that nearly all of these authors (many of whom I’ve read and enjoyed their own authorial subcreations), enjoyed a similar life-altering reading experience at about the same point in time as myself.

To confirm my theory (and increasingly dim memory of my life four decades ago), I pulled this paperback off the shelf and became immediately distracted by the notes written to me by my friends on the backside of the covers. No one signed their epigraphs, but I can still decipher the handwriting and put faces to scrawlings. But back to my original quest: The actual publication date of this mass market paperback (also confirmed here at GoodReads): 1976

If I acquired this edition that year, and read it then (which I have no doubt I did), I would have been either 11 or 12 years old (depending on the time of year; my birthday occurs in early October). If I received this edition (and their companions) in the following year (1977) the oldest I would have been reading it would have been 13. But I remember reading Lord Foul’s Bane in paperback (published mid-1978) after reading Tolkien’s masterpiece, so I’m reasonably confident I was either twelve or thirteen when I first visited Middle-Earth. Continue reading “Four Decades of Fellowship”

Happy 127th Birthday!

Today we celebrate the 127th anniversary of the birth of our favorite philologist and author J.R.R. Tolkien. Join me this evening at nine o’clock (in your local time zone) to raise a glass in his honor.

“All you need to do is stand, raise a glass of your choice of drink (not necessarily alcoholic), and say the words “The Professor” before taking a sip (or swig, if that’s more appropriate for your drink). Sit and enjoy the rest of your drink.”

For more information about this annual tradition, please visit the Tolkien Society‘s “Raise a glass to the Professor in honour of his 127th birthday” press release post.

Returning to Tolkien Depths

For the past eighteen months, the Void that is my job, sucked all my spare time and forced me to back-burner several personal projects, including a deep dive into all things Tolkien.  Back in May of 2017, I had just discovered the local chapter of the Tolkien Society, the Smial of the Withywindle.  Oddly, they were finishing up their group read of Dune by Herbert, which I had also recently re-read via an excellent audiobook edition.  Over that summer, we read The Tolkien Reader and Tree and Leaf.  I threw in Humphrey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography for good measure.  I kept up with our other group readings, but the work project increasingly encroached on my reading time.  I also didn’t let my employment interfere with our inaugural MiddleMoot on October 6, 2018.

20181027_080058

Within a week, I will have reached the final milestone of my epic project and can return to a somewhat slower pace at work.  And not a moment too soon, since the Tolkien Society of Kansas City is also doing a ‘deep dive’ into The Lord of the Rings by reading, concurrently, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the Shadow.  For the first month (November), our plan is to read the first four chapters of each book and discuss it at our next meeting on November 30th. Continue reading “Returning to Tolkien Depths”