I returned to reading The Annotated Hobbit after a two week hiatus, said hiatus caused by notes and illustration captions found in the Introduction and annotations in the first five chapters. As I noted last week in a Tolkien memorial post, I’ve since started reading and completed several nonfiction titles, some of which actually grew out of The Annotated Hobbit annotations.
The first footnote of Chapter 6 delved into a connection between Tolkien’s us of “Misty Mountains” to a poem from the Old Norse Elder Edda. A few pages later, in the seventh footnote, I learned the chapter name, “Out of the frying-pan into the fire,” is a traditional proverb which The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs has examples of going back to the sixteenth century. But turning to the next page, I discovered the best, and ninth, footnote of the chapter, containing a reference to correspondence, in 1966, between Gene Wolfe and Tolkien on the use of the word warg.
Tolkien described his use of warg in a letter to Gene Wolfe of November 7, 1966: “It is an old word for wolf, which also had the sense of an outlaw or hunted criminal. This is the usual sense in surviving texts. I adopted the word, which had a good sound for the meaning, as a name for this particular brand of demonic wolf in the story.” Tolkien derived the word from Old English wearg-, Old High German warg-, Old Norse varg-r (also = “wolf,” especially of a legendary kind).
Footnote 9, Chapter 6 Out of the Frying-pan Into the Fire, The Annotated Hobbit
In July, the Tolkien Society of Kansas City started reading The Annotated Hobbit with the intention of finishing it in time for this year’s Hobbit Day (annually on September 22nd celebrating both Bilbo and Frodo’s birthdays). The introduction presented me with multiple sources but didn’t provide it’s own bibliography. I made my first inter-library loan request in months for four books, only two of which could be filled by my closest local library. I then re-requested the two from a different larger library. Meanwhile, I received the other two ILL books and two other books I put on hold that were already in the library system. Since Tolkien & The Silmarillion by Kilby was only eighty-nine pages long, I immediately began reading it on Monday and finished it on Tuesday.
Overall, I enjoyed the small memoir of Kilby‘s Summer of ’66 with Tolkien, but by far the most powerful portion was his Postscript, written soon after Tolkien’s death. I felt my chest tightening and my eyes welling up. And that’s when it struck me.
Today, September 2, 2021, is the 48th anniversary of the Passing of J.R.R. Tolkien. I read the Postscript again. I decided I must share at least part of it in the cyberspace aether. I added it as a comment to my final GoodReads status update. Then I decided I should post the Postscript here on my blog.
Most of January I’ve spent distracting myself from my grief. I’ve binge watched shows, including nearly seven seasons of SG1 and both seasons of The Mandalorian. I’ve watched endless Hallmark Christmas movies. I’ve rewatched old favorites, like Sleeping Beauty, Prince Caspian, The Rocketeer and the entire Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings extended edition movie trilogy. Not all at once. I spread them out over three weekends, ending with Return of the King Monday afternoon, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the last office closed holiday until Memorial Day.
I spent the last two years re-reading The Lord of the Rings concurrently with the corresponding volumes of The History of the Lord of the Rings also known as The History of Middle-earth (volumes six through nine). So my head and memory are fresh with respect for what Tolkien got published and also his original imaginings, vision and what you might call deleted scenes as edited by his son, Christopher, who also passed away one year ago on January 16th.
While I appreciate what Peter Jackson managed to produce, much of it is jarring to someone who knows and holds dear Tolkien’s published masterpiece. Dialogue and sometimes thoughts are transplanted into completely different characters. But I digress. Jackson’s adaptation is the best we have at this time and despite it’s flaws, it still provides a window, however slightly skewed, into Tolkien’s Legendarium. I just hope it leads people to the font of Tolkien’s epic fantasy.
Just as I was starting the movie, though, I had a visit from the TSoKC Special Eagle Delivery Service. I received a large care package from my close friends in the Withywindle Smial via our illustrious leader, full of hobbitish victuals and elvish enchantments to further distract me. A hearty ‘thank you’ will be expressed Friday evening during our regular monthly gathering.
I returned to watching Return of the King, but had to take a break when I found myself dozing off at the two hour mark, just as thing were getting interesting around Minas Tirith. I needed to return some merchandise and went in search of a French coffee press (since I have no coffee maker because I mostly drink black teas). Disappointingly two stores had no presses. Although not my first shopping choice, I knew that Starbucks would have a press so I bought one there. When I got home and was able to read the instructions (which were buried inside the press and not readily available at the shop), I learned I cannot use this press with anything but course ground coffee. So no afternoon coffee to wake me up for the second half of Return of the King.
I confess I fast forwarded through most of the Frodo-Sam-Gollum scenes, at least until close to the end when everything is converging. Those scenes are difficult enough to read and doubly hard to watch. Having very recently re-read them, I felt no need to drag my already bruised heart through that much darkness and despair.
During the Seige of Gondor, when a rock troll is pounding at one of the inner gates of Minas Tirith, Pippin and Gandalf discuss death and Gandalf replies with one of those transplanted lines which Sam actually thinks to himself (and references the much maligned Tom Bombadil):
And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Chapter 9 “Grey Havens”, Book Six, The Lord of the Rings
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.