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:
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.
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.
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).
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honor and privilege of studying several of Christopher’s publications of texts from his father’s prolific treasure of unpublished draft manuscripts, sketches, and poems.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:
Rest in peace, Christopher, and Godspeed your journey into the West.
Normally we would meet at Inklings’ Books and Coffee Shoppe for this event, but as Inklings’ has moved to Liberty and is currently under renovation, we will meet at Catch 22 and then take a brief tour of the new Inklings’ space.
The official toast occurs at 9:00 pm. Remember, if you can’t join us in person, simply raise a glass of your preferred beverage at precisely 9:00 pm and say, “The Professor!” and use the hashtag #TolkienBirthdayToast to share on your preferred social media platform.
Please Note: Catch 22 does not accept reservations. If for some reason we are inundated with hobbits, we may need to change venues. Any changes will be announced on our Facebook page as well as via Twitter.
Today would have been the 121st birthday of C.S. Lewis. A week ago today marked the 56th anniversary of his death, which was, at the time, overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy.
To celebrate his birthday, I decided to read the second essay found in the 1969 edition of Selected Literary Essays by C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. Interestingly, the copy I checked out from the Kansas City Public Library may be a first edition. If not, it’s been in circulation for fifty years, as evidenced by date stamps through early 1996, after which, I assume, the Library moved from analog to digital (card catalog to barcodes):
I originally checked out this volume specifically to read the 21st essay entitled “Psycho-Analysis and Literary Criticism” which was referenced in a footnote in an essay I read recently in A Tolkien Compass. For today, though, I wanted to celebrate the friendship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, so I read, instead, the second essay entitled “The Alliterative Metre.”
The essay covers many of the rules governing alliterative verse, including these definitions:
The half-line consists of Lifts and Dips. Every half-line must contain neither more nor less than two Lifts.
A Lift is either (1) one syllable both long and accented (as the first syllable of ogre or mountain); or (b) two syllables whereof the first is short but accented, and the second unaccented (as the first two syllables of merrily, vigorous, melancholy, evident).
A Dip is any reasonable number of unaccented syllables whether long or short.
Despite my best efforts, I quickly got sidetracked by yet another footnote. It all began with a short example alliterative verse, composed (I’m assuming) by Lewis.
We were TALKing of DRAGONS, | TOLkien and I In a BERKshire BAR. | The BIG WORKman Who had SAT SILent | and SUCKED his PIPE ALL the EVEning, | from his EMPTy MUG With GLEAMing EYE | GLANCED toWARDS us; "I SEEN 'em mySELF', | he SAID FIERCEly
Note: Syllables printed above in capitals are Lifts, the rest are Dips.
The first and most distracting footnote followed the word ‘fiercely’ and read:
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.
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”
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.
The second week of November looked and felt more like the first week of January. My commute Tuesday morning (the day after Veterans’ Day) involved icy drizzle and in at least one hair-raising incident on an icy untreated bridge (Thanks, Kansas City, Missouri, for being consistent in your street maintenance over the last 25 years). At least the traction control works in my new van. By lunch time, the drizzle had converted to snow blown by a bitter cold north wind (see photo above taken right before I ventured across the circle drive for a cup of soup at the Mixx).
Last week I attended the monthly Hobbit Happy Hour of the Tolkien Society of Kansas City. We returned to City Barrell where our two teams were victorious in LotR trivia back in September. During one of my conversations with friends and new acquaintances, I learned that circulation of print editions was down at the Plaza Branch of KCPL. I am as much to blame as anyone else since I’ve almost completely switched to audiobooks and ebooks over the last decade. Anything I read in print is because it’s out of print and/or only available as a printed edition.
MiddleMoot 2019 (last month in Waterloo, Iowa), like most conferences, consists of multiples sessions competing for the same time slots. Like all good stories, plays and, in this case, moots, there is a beginning, a middle and an end where we all gather together. In between, decisions must be made.
Since I wanted to support my fellow Withywindle Smial presenters, Sessions 2 and 4 were already decided. Thus I need to decide between female grief as foresight or interruptions and musing for the first session. I went with the former for various reasons, but mostly because I’m not a writer of fiction (just a reader), my life is one long interruption and I was intrigue by the concept of female grief as foresight and subcreation, especially after reading about Aragorn’s mother, Gilraen. I created an audio recording of the session on my iPad, but Jude Bleile was so soft-spoken, even with a microphone, that I won’t share that recording here to avoid listener frustration.
Our Smial Hangout is a great place discuss Tolkien, his books, etc. but we also have discussions about board games, trivia and, of course, share the latest and quite often Hobbit-hilarious meme. For example, today we ‘fell back’ and Merry and Pippin had this to say about it:
Other memes shared in October in no particular order:
As is the case with all great works of art, J. R. R. Tolkien‘s masterpieces generously repay close attention and study. In this thoroughly entertaining and perceptive volume, winner of the prestigious Mythopoeic Society Scholarship Award, Professor Kocher examines the sources that Tolkien drew upon in fashioning Middle-earth and its inhabitants-and provides valuable insights into the author’s aims and methods. Ranging from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to The Silmarillion and beyond, Master of Middle-earth opens the door to a deeper and richer appreciation of Tolkien’s magnificent achievement.
I became aware of this out-of-print book recently while listening to Season Three of the Prancing Pony Podcast. For my birthday, I decided to ‘splurge’ and purchase actual print books (which I haven’t done regularly in years because I prefer ebooks and audiobooks; the former because I can control the size of the font as my eyes age and the latter because I spend ninety minutes in a car five days a week). I found a reasonably priced used paperback edition if The Master of Middle-Earth along with a used paperback edition of A Tolkien Compass, edited by Jared Lobdell.