Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bad puns can be hobbit-forming

In a recent post to the Mythopoeic Society’s email listserv, John Rateliff shared an early reference to Tolkien in Robert Heinlein. John wrote (very slightly edited):
Recently I’ve been re-reading what I suppose is Robert Heinlein’s only fantasy novel, Glory Road. While it’s packed full of allusions to fantasy characters and titles and settings — e.g. John Carter and Dejah Thoris, Ettarre, Storisende and Poictesme, Barsoom, The Red Fairy Book, The Twilight Zone — I was surprised to find a passing Tolkien reference:

She: “. . . we come to a brick road, very nice.”
He: “A yellow brick road?”
She: “Yes. That’s the clay they have. Does it matter?”
He: “I guess not. Just don’t make a hobbit of it …” [1]

This passing pun does not of course mean Heinlein actually read the book […] but it does show his awareness of Tolkien, and his assumption that his audience would share than awareness, a full year before Tolkien went mainstream with the Ace Book controversy in 1965.
This pun — based on the idea of a hobbit = a habit, good or bad — has become so hackneyed in the fifty years since that I now cringe every time I see it, which is still very often. There’s another worn-out pun I see a lot. This one is based on the idea of Tolkien = talking — e.g., “that’s what I’m Tolkien ’bout!” I’m not sure which one has been the more abused of the two, and neither is particularly good. But I got to wondering about the earliest uses of the hobbit = habit.

The first usage to come close to this is the exchange of letters to the editor of The Observer in 1938. On 16 January 1938, The Observer published a letter, signed “Habit”, in which the reader inquired about Tolkien’s sources in The Hobbit [2]. Tolkien’s “jesting reply” (cf. Letters #26, 4 March 1938) was published four days later. I haven’t read the original letter. It’s available from The Observer’s digital archives, but not for free — does anyone have a copy they might share? Without the original at hand, I don’t know whether the original inquirer went beyond merely signing as “Habit”; if not, the tiresome old pun we know today is barely inchoate. The similarity of the words is played on, but the writer may never have gone so far as a pun. Even in his reply, Tolkien is not particularly explicit about it. He calls “the Habit […] more inquisitive than the Hobbit” (Letters #25), but he doesn’t actually go in for the pun either.

Tolkien never seems to stoop to such a low jest himself, in all the writings I can recall. He did connect the two words in another letter I know, but more coincidentally, I think, and not in jest — “The Hobbit was not intended to have anything to do with [‘the matter of the Elder Days’]. I had the habit while my children were still young of inventing and telling orally, sometimes of writing down, ‘children’s stories’ for their private amusement” (#257, 16 July 1964). And he acknowledged the pun again many, many years later: “A review appeared in The Observer 16 Jan 1938, signed ‘Habit’ (incidentally thus long anticipating Coghill’s perception of the similarity of the words in his humorous adj. ‘hobbit-forming’ applied to my books)” (#319, 8 January 1971). It seem likely that Nevill Coghill shared this pun with Tolkien directly at one of the many dinners they attended together, or during meetings of the Inklings; I’m not aware that he ever put in into writing. But Coghill was certainly among the earliest to make this joke; it may even predate publication of The Lord of the Rings. But we can’t be sure. Tolkien refers to Coghill’s pun in 1971, and we have no idea how far back he is looking. It could be five years or ten or more.

In writing, the pun became very common after 1965, with the Ace episode and the revised edition of The Lord of the Rings leading to an enormous growth in Tolkien’s popularity, especially in America. Perhaps the best-known of these early pieces is Henry Resnik’s “The Hobbit-Forming World of J.R.R. Tolkien”, published in The Saturday Evening Post (2 July 1966). Not long after, Joseph Mathewson got into the game with “The Hobbit Habit”, published the September 1966 issue of Esquire. The following winter, Charles Elliott published a peculiarly sour piece in Time called “Can America Kick the Hobbit? The Tolkien Caper” (24 February 1967). A few months after that, Matthew Hodgart reviewed The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Tolkien Reader in The New York Review of Books, captioning his review, “Kicking the Hobbit” (4 May 1967). And then there is Mary Lou Loper’s “Fun is Hobbit-Forming at Tolkien Party”, Los Angeles Times (19 September 1967). And Dainis Bisenieks’s “The Hobbit Habit in the Critic’s Eye”, in Tolkien Journal 3:4 (November 1969). And this is just a selection.

The pun continued to resurface in the years after Tolkien’s initial splash. For example, in connection with the Rankin/Bass animated version of The Hobbit — e.g., “Will the Video Version of Tolkien be Hobbit Forming?”, by John Culhane, in The New York Times (27 November 1972). Then with the publication of The Silmarillion — e.g., “Kicking the Hobbit” by Richard Brookhiser, in The National Review (9 December 1977); “Hobbit Forming”, by Anthony Burgess, in The Observer (18 September 1977); and “The Hobbit Habit”, by Robert M. Adams, in The New York Review of Books (24 November 1977). Carpenter’s biography attracted the same kinds of headlines — e.g., “Hobbit-forming”, by John Carey, in The Listener, Vol. 97 (12 May 1977); and again, “Hobbit Forming”, by Nick Totton, in The Spectator (14 May 1977). And now of course, with the advent of the Peter Jackson film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the pun has become ubiquitous and endless.

But that’s what was so interesting about the source in Robert Heinlein that John Rateliff discovered: it predates the earliest of these by a couple of years. In poking around the virtual stacks, I’ve actually found another reference in fiction that predates Heinlein. It’s in the June 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in a short story called “Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXIII”, written by Reginald Bretnor, under the anagrammatic pseudonym Grendel Briarton. A feghoot is a short story ending in, and whose whole point is, a dreadful, groan-inducing pun; learn more about feghoots and their history here. So, this particular feghoot builds up to the pun we’ve been talking about here, though the pun was much younger at the time:
Scarcely ten minutes later, he was summoned back by a cry of great agitation.

“Mr. Feghoot!” the alarmed writer exclaimed. “Look — there’s a being! He — he’s only four feet tall, with red cheeks, and a brass-buttoned coat, and — and short breeches. And his feet are all furry! He’s telling me the most wonderful story. But — but he’s a hallucination. He simply took shape there! And you told me the drug would do me no harm!”

“My dear Tolkien,” said Ferdinand Feghoot. “I said it was harmless. I never said it was non-Hobbit-forming.” [3]
But even this isn’t the earliest printed use of this pun that I have found.

For that, you have to go back almost a decade further. On 24 April 1955, The Providence Journal published a very short review of The Two Towers, tersely entitled “Hobbit-Forming”, by Maurice Dolbier [4]. The review is just two paragraphs — the first alarmingly full of plot spoilers for a contemporary review! The review is accompanied by a drawing of Frodo by designer and artist Walter Lorraine, the art director at Houghton Mifflin at the time, and the illustrator of the first US edition dust jackets of The Lord of the Rings. You can sort of make out his illustration in the photo above — apologies for the poor quality, but it’s a sixty-year-old newspaper reproduced from microfiche. Lorraine himself would be an interesting subject for a future post!

A bit off the subject, but still à propos of word-play, isn’t the name Dolbier an interesting coincidence, considering Tolkien’s invention of Dolbear in The Notion Club Papers. I haven’t looked very deeply into the frequency and etymology of these surnames, though I do know there’s an attested variation, Dolbeer, which may be from Welsh Dolbyr “the short vale” or from Dalbyr, a town on the Jutland peninsula, where the family may have originated.

Anyway, to sum up. While it’s possible that Nevill Coghill used the pun earlier than this, I’ve seen no evidence of it in print. And there is the letter to The Observer in 1938, but its author not have gone all the way. I’d like to see that letter if I could. Can anyone antedate the pun to earlier than Dolbier’s use, published 24 April 1955? The pun would still have been pretty fresh and fairly clever in 1955. Unfortunately, it’s been used about a million times since (no exaggeration).



[1] Heinlein, Robert A. Glory Road. 1964, pp. 82–3.

[2] Letters to the Editor, The Observer (16 January, 1938), p. 8.

[3] Bretnor, Reginald [as Grendel Briarton]. “Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXIII.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 24:6 #145 (June 1963), p. 102.

[4] Dolbier, Maurice. “Hobbit-Forming (Review of The Two Towers).” The Providence Sunday Journal 24 April 1954, Section 6, p. 10. My enormous gratitude to Kate Wells and the Providence Public Library for this scan.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Another new Tolkien collection from McFarland

The books keep rolling off the presses! I’ve just gotten the final table of contents from Brad Eden for his new collection, The Hobbit in Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on the Novel’s Influence on the Later Writings. This one isn’t available for sale on Amazon yet, but McFarland has just added it to their own website (here).

This is project I’ve been aware of for some time. Brad sent out of a Call For Chapters in late May, 2013 (one year ago, almost to the day). The idea was to provide
an edited volume discussing research and scholarship on the influence of The Hobbit on the revision and expansion by Tolkien of the larger Middle-earth legendarium. Christopher Tolkien has stated in writing that the writing and publication of The Hobbit in the 1930’s had no influence at all on Tolkien’s ongoing expansion and revisions of his legendarium. Recent scholarship and detailed research has shown, however, that Tolkien was influenced by the plots, characters, and ideas presented in The Hobbit, some of which had an extraordinary effect on subsequent expansions, revisions, and new concepts within his legendarium.
I saw an early table of contents last August, and it looks like all of the chapters represented there have made it into the final book, along with a few additional ones. For a time, I was planning to offer a chapter also, though I had some concerns about the scope of the topic. I was worried the topic just wasn’t that fruitful, at least not if taken narrowly. John Rateliff’s and Verlyn Flieger’s chapters were obviously the kernel of the idea and both clearly have important and compelling things to say on the subject, but beyond that, I didn’t think there were enough explicit threads showing the influence of The Hobbit on the later development of the legendarium to base an entire collection on. And what threads there were had already been largely explored, or so it seemed to me. So I wasn’t sure what I could add on that subject. But Brad suggested that he was open to broader topics, so I proposed something. In the end, though, I wasn’t able to commit the time it would have required this past autumn, in part because of deaths in the family, surgery on one of our dogs, and other irruptions of ‘real life’, as it is called.

Looking at the table of contents now (see below), I still have the same concerns. Don’t get me wrong — all of the chapters sound interesting! It’s just that several of them don’t seem very closely connected to Brad’s stated mission with the collection. But if “a book focusing on how The Hobbit influenced the subsequent development of Tolkien’s legendarium […] was sorely needed” (marketing blurb), then one should expect there to be enough to say about that without venturing off down side alleys, however interesting they might be. But we’ll see. Perhaps some of these chapters will surprise us by revealing unexpected connection and causation.

The cover, shown above, features original artwork by Tom Loback, a well-known artist and enthusiast of Tolkien’s invested languages and scripts. The table of contents, presumably now final, follows below.


The Hobbit in Tolkien’s Legendarium:
Essays on the Novel’s Influence on the Later Writings
Edited by Bradford Lee Eden

Introduction / Bradford Lee Eden

THE EVOLUTION OF THE DWARVEN RACE

Anchoring the myth: the impact of The Hobbit on Tolkien’s legendarium / John D. Rateliff

From Nauglath to Durin’s Folk: The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Dwarves / Gerard Hynes

DURIN'S DAY

“It passes our skill in these days”: primary world influences on the evolution of Durin’s Day / Kristine Larsen

A scientific examination of Durin’s Day / Sumner Gary Hunnewell

THEMES

French influences

Tolkien’s French connection / Verlyn Flieger

Northern influences

Tolkien’s Northern fairy-story / Jane Chance

Linguistics

From “The Silmarillion” to The Hobbit and back again: an onomastic foray / Damien Bador

Animal sentience

Civilized goblins and talking animals: how The Hobbit created problems of sentience for Tolkien / Gregory Hartley

Invisibility

Seeing in the dark, seeing by the dark: how Bilbo’s invisibility defined Tolkien’s vision / Michael A. Wodzak

Bilbo as Tolkien personified

A Victorian in Valhalla: Bilbo Baggins as the link between England and Middle-earth / William Christian Klarner

The characters of Beorn and Bombadil

Beorn and Bombadil: mythology, place, and landscape in Middle-earth / Justin T. Noetzel

Pilgrimage

Travel, redemption, and peacemaking: hobbits, dwarves and elves and the transformative power of pilgrimage / Vickie L. Holtz Wodzak

Environmentalism and authorship

A Baggins’ backyard: environmentalism, authorship, and the Elves in Tolkien’s legendarium / David Thiessen

Contemporary interpretations of The Hobbit

Polytemporality and epic characterization in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: reflecting The Lord of the Ring’s [sic] modernism and medievalism / Judy Ann Ford and Robin Anne Reid

The wisdom of the crowd: Internet memes and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey / Michelle Markey Butler

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New Book on Tolkien and Modernism

Even though he lived at the right time for it and went through many of the same experiences that formed the crucible of Modernism, Tolkien has not very often been thought to exemplify the movement. Most critics regard him as already a bit old-fashioned even in his own day, more often thought of as a reincarnation of the Beowulf-poet than as a Great War author, for example (though interestingly, Tom Shippey has made both of the preceding arguments). [1] For my part, I see Tolkien as fitting in various ways into both movements — perhaps a bit less obviously as a Modernist, but the case has been made before and need not be rehearsed here. [2]

Now, a new full-length treatment of this question is on the horizon: Theresa Freda Nicolay’s Tolkien and the Modernists (order it here), coming from McFarland this summer (or sooner — I have a review copy in my hands now). I’m only just beginning to dig into it, so this is not the time for a proper review, but I wanted to make readers aware of the new book — particularly those with an interest in Modernism, as well as those who may feel that critical treatments of Tolkien lean disproportionately to Medievalism.

The book is relatively short at 193 pages. It comprises an introduction, seven chapters, a bibliography, and an index. The latter is pretty short (only about two full pages), and exhibits some idiosyncrasies. For example, there are sub-entries under “Tolkien, J.R.R.” for The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, but each of these also has its own entry in the index, repeating all of the page references. The same process is repeated for C.S. Lewis and his works. At least the page references in these duplicate entries match!

The chapters run as follows:

1. Rekindling an Old Light
2. Industrialism, Instrumentality and “antiquity so appealing”
3. The Lord of the Rings: “Insubstantial dream of an escapist”
4. Modernist Disaffection and Tolkienian Faith
5. The World as Wasteland: The Landscapes of Loss
6. The Wasteland Within: Alienation in Tolkien and the Modernists
7. Postmodern Monsters and Providential Plans

Having so far only read the introduction, some of the conclusion in Chapter 7, skimmed a few passages here and there, and examined the bibliography and index, the book looks to be pretty solid at first glance. But — and again speaking only from a first, cursory look — Nicolay seems to have developed her argument largely in a vacuum: though she cites several of the major Tolkien scholars, it looks like her bibliography omits mention most of the critical work on Tolkien and Modernism that comes readily to my mind (e.g., Mortimer’s essay already mentioned [2]; Modern Fiction Studies 50:4 (a special issue devoted entirely to Tolkien); Jane Chance and Alfred K. Siewers’s Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages; Frank Weinreich and Thomas Honegger’s two volumes of Tolkien and Modernity; Martin Simonson’s The Lord of the Rings and the Western Narrative Tradition; to name a few). I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve read the entire book, but ordinarily, one ought to demonstrate familiarity with and then build on or expand the work already done in the scholarly community.

In any event, an(other) extended treatment of this subject is certainly welcome, and I look forward to reading it straight through. Once I’ve done so, I’ll be back with fuller comments. I’d welcome the same from any of you as well.



[1] See “Tolkien as a Post-War Writer.” Scholarship & Fantasy: Proceedings of the Tolkien Phenomenon (1993), ed. by K. J. Battarbee. Anglicana Turkuensia 12 (1993): 217-36. And “Tolkien and the Beowulf-poet.” Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien. Walking Tree Publishers, 2007.

[2] See, for example, Mortimer, Patchen. “Tolkien and Modernism.” Tolkien Studies 2 (2005): 113–29. Mortimer concludes: “But to be a modernist one does not have to embrace modern era or belong to any specific school. One simply has to faithfully document the modern condition, while operating under certain aesthetic assumptions about the primacy of the artist and the role of language in shaping life. At the very least, Tolkien was, as Flieger terms him, a ‘reluctant modernist,’ […]” (127).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

New Tolkien collection — and a new publication credit

A little more than two years ago now, I received an interesting inquiry from Didier Willis, the President of “Le Dragon de Brume”, a small French non-profit association promoting J.R.R. Tolkien and publishing essays about him and his works. In their own words, “créée en octobre 2010, le Dragon de Brume a pour objet de promouvoir, par la diffusion ou la représentation d’études et de travaux de recherche, la connaissance des œuvres de l’auteur britannique J.R.R. Tolkien dans le monde francophone.” It seems they had published their first collection the summer before (that is, 2011), called Tolkien, le façonnement d’un monde, Vol. 1: Botanique et Astronomie. As part of that collection of essays on Middle-earth botany and astronomy, they’d translated and reprinted an essay by Kristine Larsen. How could they not, seeing as Kris is the world’s greatest expert in the intersection of Tolkien and astronomy?

They were, it transpired, beginning work on a companion volume, and Didier was writing to request permission to translate and reprint another of Kris’s essays, this time “Sea Birds and Morning Stars: Ceyx, Alcyone, and the Many Metamorphoses of Eärendil and Elwing”, which attentive readers will know was published in my own book, Tolkien and the Study of His sources: Critical Essays. I was certainly amenable — Kris’s essay is a fantastic one, and I was thrilled it might be read more widely, and perhaps even lead some readers back to my book (follow and share the link!) — and the rest of the permissions issues were quickly worked out. Two years ago this month, they began their work on it.

Some months later (now we are up to November, 2012), Didier wrote me again. He had been discussing the permissions involved in reprinting one of his own articles, written for l’Arc et le Heaume, a publication of Tolkiendil, another, larger French non-profit promoting Tolkien. Coincidentally, one of my own essays, “La Jeune Fille Elfe dans la Forêt: Une Image Récurrente chez Tolkien” (previously unpublished), had been translated and printed in l’Arc et le Heaume. Didier’s essay inquired into the possibilities of sourcing Tolkien’s conception of Númenor in a curious medieval mappa mundi (collected in Cotton Tiberius B.v), which depicts a star-shaped island near the Pillars of Hercules in the Strait of Gibraltar. They really do look alike, two asterisks in the ocean. How appropriate for an asterisk-reality! Didier went on to make the responsible search all scholars make for other research bearing on their own, and this led him to another essay dealing with Tolkien and mappae mundi. Care to guess?

Indeed, this was my own essay, “Sourcing Tolkien’s ‘Circles of the World’: Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi”, which appeared in a collection called Middle-earth and beyond: Essays on the World of J.R.R. Tolkien. So, Didier wanted to work out permission to translate and reprint this article, to appear alongside his own. All the parties were in agreement, and this work commenced.

At long last, I am thrilled to report that Tolkien, le façonnement d’un monde, Vol. 2: Astronomie et Géographie has now appeared — this very month in fact. And in it are Kris’s essay and mine. You can read about the collection and peruse its full table of contents by following this link.

I happen to have before me print copies of both volumes — thank you very much, Didier! — and they are quite nice! No indexes, alas, but they make up for it by the inclusion of a lot of carefully chosen illustrations, maps, and figures. Alongside Didier’s and my essays, for example, are reproductions of the mappae mundi being discussed. Alongside Kris’s essay are reproductions of manuscript pages from Christine de Pizan and Guillaume de Machaut from the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

I highly recommend both volumes for anyone with an interest in Tolkien and the ability to read French. That’s probably a lot of you. I haven’t read the entire two-volume set yet — only a few essays so far, like the translations of Kris’s and mine, Didier’s and one or two others — but the range of subject matter is impressive, even within each volume’s deliberately narrow scope. Some of the scholars’ names are already familiar ones — Damien Bador, Bertrand Bellet, and of course Didier Willis (who alone has six essay in the two volumes!) — while others are new to me, as I am no doubt new to them. But that’s part of the fun and excitement of reading a collection assembled halfway around the world. Different voices, different histories, different cultures of reception. Yet through it all, the Professor, his magnificent creations, and our shared admiration for them.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Brief History of The Hobbit

On the Tolkien Society’s Facebook page, Neil Holford recently shared a link to a forthcoming book, A Brief History of The Hobbit, by John Rateliff and J.R.R. Tolkien, to be published this coming September by HarperCollins. At 400 pages and priced at £9.99, it’s clearly not the same two-volume treatment I reviewed in Mythlore almost six years ago. But what is it, exactly? An abridgment, I presumed, but to find out more, I went straight to the source. John Rateliff, after all, is practically my next-door neighbor! :)

John clarified the scope of the project, and he doesn’t mind my sharing, so here you go. It is indeed an abridgment of the one-volume revised edition, in which John’s goal is “to reduce the size of the book by half without leaving out any of the Tolkien. […] You could say the original edition was Tolkien and Rateliff in roughly equal portion, while this version will be mostly Tolkien.”

In other words, what John is pruning is his own commentary and notes. He’s cutting that down aggressively, aiming to preserve only the essentials, and leaving mostly just the original draft text of The Hobbit. It should be a welcome addition for those fans who might have found the complete History a bit overwhelming — although personally, I revel in minutiae. Likewise, it will be a convenient copy to have nearby for when one need only refer to the draft text of the novel. The original treatment can be just a bit unwieldy when one only wants to look up a draft passage and nothing more. This will give us the best of both worlds. Looking forward to it!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Stepping down from Mythprint

Hello, friends. The title of this blog post pretty much says it all, and many of you may have heard this announcement already somewhere else. But after roughly four years, I am stepping down as editor of Mythprint. I’ll stay on for a little while during the transitional period, but the more important thing is that the Mythopoeic Society is in immediate need of a new editor! If any of you are interested, please let me know.

And for any of you who don’t receive Mythprint already, I thought I’d copy the farewell editorial from my last issue here:

This is a bittersweet moment. After nearly four years and thirty-five issues — certainly not as many as some illustrious Mythprint editors of yore, but not the shortest tenure either — the time has come for me to step down as editor. The issue you are now reading is my last one, following which the leadership in the Mythopoeic Society will be actively searching for a new editor. I will be remaining on hand for a little while to advise and assist in the transition, but I won’t be producing new issues of Mythprint from this point forward.

Some have asked me privately why I’ve made this decision, and I don’t mind answering that question publicly. Over the past year or two, my work schedule, home obligations, and personal research and writing projects have all become more demanding and have more than taken over, meaning that I no longer have the kind of time that Mythprint requires — and deserves. I had hoped that changing the schedule to a quarterly cadence would have made the difference and that I’d have been able to hold on another few years, but unfortunately, it hasn’t helped as much as I’d wished. I also think it’s time for someone new, with new ideas and more time and energy than I can give. I had actually reached this decision some time ago, but I didn’t want to leave the Society’s leadership body while we were still a Steward short of our full complement, but since David Emerson has come on as Webmaster, now the right time for my exit.

I lay down the mantle feeling really good about what I’ve accomplished during my time as editor — perhaps most importantly, bringing Mythprint into the digital age with electronic subscriptions. This in turn has led to an increase in the number of international members, which I think is very good for the Society. I’ve published some important pieces over the last four years, including interviews, Mythcon and other conference reports, anniversary celebrations, the Glen GoodKnight memorial issue, and more than 120 reviews of books, films, and stage productions. The number of subscribers jumped dramatically in the months following my assuming the post, up by more than 100 at one point, to a six-year high of 395 (possibly longer; I only have numbers going back to November 2006). Subscribers have gone up and down since then, but are still averaging near record high numbers since November 2006. So I can resign on what I feel is a very positive note.

So as I said, Mythprint is in need of a new editor! If you are interested in assuming the post, then the Mythopoeic Society’s Council of Stewards would like to hear from you! If you have questions about the job, I will be very happy to answer them. And I will be around to assist the new editor with getting started and in making contacts (publishing, contributing, and otherwise). It’s a very rewarding job and a great chance for one of you to give something back to the Society that gives all of us so much. For now, farewell and thank you all for your support and feedback over these past four years.

Best wishes,
Jason Fisher
Editor (outgoing), Mythprint
mythprint@mythsoc.org

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Commenting on Lingwë

I have been fighting a losing battle with spam here on Lingwë for the last couple of years. Originally, I wanted to allow anyone to comment, even anonymously, with no obstacles to avoid or hoops to jump through. That worked for a while, but eventually I started to get enough anonymous spam that I decided to require people to be registered somewhere and to have logged in. That solved the problem for quite a while too, though it did inconvenience a few regular readers. I am pretty firmly against captchas. I hate them myself, so I never wanted to inflict them on anyone. So, this was the state of things until this year.

But now, thanks to Google+, which I must say is one of the most annoying and pushy social media efforts I have ever seen, I have a new problem. Well, not that new, really. I've been putting up with it for most of a year. These spammers are registered with Google+, and so they evade that obstacle I placed on commenting: being registered and logged in somewhere. A number of people (or bots) have been repeatedly spamming Lingwë from their Google+ accounts, always Google+ — especially one pathetic jackass, Brad Maddox; just take a look at his Google+ page for spam, spam, spam, and nothing but spam! — and Google has done absolutely nothing in response to my repeated complaints. In fact, Google+ used to have a conspicuous link to report offenders, but it has either removed or hidden it. One can only guess why. Shame on you, Google. As if the YouTube/Google+ commenting debacle weren't bad enough press.

Anyway, I have finally had to enable comment moderation. I didn't want to do this, because it puts a burden on me of approving every single comment, even the legitimate ones, and this will introduce some latency into discussions. In exchange, though, I have re-enabled anonymous comments. You are now welcome to comment anonymously if you wish — though I still prefer to know who you are, unless you have a good reason to remain secretive about that — and in all cases, I'll be approving comments, and rejecting the garbage. Still no captchas, though. You're welcome! :)

Maybe these spammers will realize their comments are now going nowhere and give up. Though I doubt it. Professional spammers tend to be some of the dullest dullards ever spawned. I think you could hit one over the head with a frying pan each time he spam-commented, and he still wouldn't make the connection.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug

I enjoyed it very much. I thought it was better than part one by quite a bit — and I’m willing to predict its being the best of the three. Without spoiling anything, I enjoyed most of Peter Jackson’s additions to the story, and the ones I didn’t enjoy so much were at least not particularly annoying. I can think of several changes to The Lord of the Rings in his adaptations that bothered me much more. It was exciting, beautifully shot, and once again, the high frame rate was pretty amazing. Especially for Smaug!

And that’s about all I feel compelled to say at this point. Well over 300 messages — and still counting! — have been posted to Facebook and the Mythopoeic Society email list, some of them by me, and that’s not to mention private conversations. That is surely overkill enough to render Bard’s black arrow unnecessary.

I will say one other thing: de gustibus non est disputandum. Feel free to share your opinions here, and even argue with each other, but let’s keep it civil. And as for me, I don’t intend to argue with anyone. :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In the new volume of Tolkien Studies …

My apologies for the extended fermata here at Lingwë. I never intended this to become a full hiatus, and the lengthiest one in the six-year history of the blog. Those of you who know me personally will know some of the reasons for it, and for those who doesn’t, suffice it to say it’s been an eventful summer.

For the occasion of my return to blogging, and at the risk of immodesty, I wanted to crow about some appearances in the most recent issue of Tolkien Studies, something I’ve done before (here, for example).

I’ll start with a few appearances in the “Bibliography (In English) for 2011”, compiled by Epstein, Bratman, and DeTardo. Here, my book, Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays, appears, along with each of the contributors’ essays, each listed under his or her own name. In addition, three reviews of my book are noted, those by Alan Turner in Hither Shore, Mike Foster in Mythlore, and Nancy Martsch in Beyond Bree. And lastly, one of my own book reviews, of the late Dinah Hazell’s Plants of Middle-earth, published in the Journal of Inklings Studies.

Next, Merlin DeTardo offers a few choice comments in “The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2010”, which I’ll quote in full. The first:
Jason Fisher offers two winning source studies. He shows how “Horns of Dawn: The Tradition of Alliterative Verse in Rohan” (Eden 7–25) further strengthen that country’s likeness to medieval England and specifically the Kingdom of Mercia. In addition to various musical relations (including Béma—the name in Rohan for the Vala, Oromë—from the Mercian word for “horn” or “trumpet”), Fisher mentionsother parallels like the dikes of Helm and Offa, respectively, guarding against invaders from the west. Presumably because it doesn’t support a connection to Rohan, Fisher doesn’t note that the law of Wihtræd he cites, requiring strangers to sound a horn or be considered a thief (ðeóf), is suggestive of Boromir’s reasons for winding his horn before departing Rivendell. Fisher also tries his hand at “Sourcing Tolkien’s ‘Circles of the World’: Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi” (Dubs and Kaščáková 1–18) by seeking the inspiration for Aragorn’s dying description of the worldly limitations that he expects soon to transcend. Fisher identifies these in the Norse term kringla heimsins used in Ynglinga Saga, the Latin term orbis terrarum—particularly as found in Jerome’s translation of the Book of Wisdom—and medieval T-O maps, like the famous West Midlands example Fisher considers, whose border with the letters M, O, R, and S spells out “death.” Paul H. Vigor echoes Fisher in noting that the Hereford Mappa Mundi is arranged with east at the top like “Thror’s Map: Decoration or Examination?” (Mallorn 50: 50). Vigor hints vaguely at hidden meanings in Tolkien’s maps. (275–6)
And here is the second:
Jason Fisher also considers double meanings in “Dwarves, Spiders, and Murky Woods: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wonderful Web of Words” (Mythlore 29 nos. 1–2: 5–15), an expansion of two posts made to his blog in 2009 about words in The Hobbit, particularly “attercop,” “lob,” and “Mirkwood,” with analysis of etymology in Old English, Old Norse, Swedish, Finnish (particularly the word myrkky “poison”; Fisher presumably has since noticed Tolkien’s “mirklands” in “The Story of Kullervo” [230]), and Tolkien’s invented Mágo (or Mágol). (283)
In addition to these bibliographic and review comments, it turns out that some of the contributors to the volume found reasons to cite my work, something which is always gratifying to see. Thomas Honegger, in his essay “My Most Precious Riddle: Eggs and Rings Revisited”, pointed readers to my entry on “Riddles” in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (which will very shortly, and finally, be appearing in softcover). He also suggested my essay, “Three Rings for—Whom Exactly? And Why? Justifying the Disposition of the Three Elven Rings” (published in Tolkien Studies 5). For those of you who read Lembas, this same essays appears in the new issue, translated into Dutch by Cécile van Zon.

Next, Benjamin Saxton cites me in his paper on “Tolkien and Bakhtin on Authorship, Literary Freedom, and Alterity”, where he observes: “Jason Fisher puts the matter very well when he writes that ‘Melkor is free to move his pieces in the great game that is the struggle for dominion over Middle-earth, but Ilúvatar made—and can change, if he wishes—the rules of the game’ (166)” (171). I’m very happy to see that somebody else appreciated my metaphor for the way free will works in Arda. Saxton goes on to say in a footnote that “Verlyn Flieger, Brian Rosebury, Matthew Dickerson, Thomas Fornet-Ponse, and Jason Fisher offer excellent discussions of the philosophical, theological, and political dimensions of fate and free will in Tolkien’s fiction” (179). The essay to which he is referring is “‘Man does as he is when he may do as he wishes’: The Perennial Modernity of Free Will”, which appears in Tolkien and Modernity, Vol. 1 (edited by Frank Weinreich and Thomas Honegger, Walking Tree Publishers, 2006).

Last of the three essayists, Claudio A. Testi makes references to chapters in my book in his essay, “Tolkien’s Work: Is it Christian or Pagan? A Proposal for a ‘Synthetic’ Approach”. The papers he makes use of are Thomas Honegger’s and John Rateliff’s. It’s a genuine pleasure to see that people are reading and even beginning to use and cite my book. I’ve stumbled on a few others of these, but I’ll save that for another day.

And finally, and certainly most obviously, there is a contribution in this year’s volume written by me. It’s a combined review of two books: Corey Olsen’s Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Mark Atherton’s There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Origins of The Hobbit. Spoiler alert … I had quite a few complaints about them both, but especially about Olsen’s book, which I found very disappointing. I am sorry to say I really wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who is already serious about Tolkien. It strikes me as a crib for high school or undergraduate students, I’m afraid. The space afforded me for reviewing the two books was generous (some ten pages, about 4,300 words), so I was able to dig into a lot of detail to support my impressions, and I welcome feedback — even if you disagree. I won’t try to summarize my thoughts here (any such attempt would rapidly become too lengthy, losing all sense of “summary”). But I would certainly be very interested in hearing from people who have read either book and/or my review of them. I’ve had quite a few private conversations about these two books — Olsen’s especially — and here too, I would welcome discussion of either overall impressions or of specific points. If nothing else, this is the kind of thing that books — and reviewsshould do: lead to long conversations!