Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tolkien Studies 11: an announcement

On behalf of myself and my co-editors, Michael D.C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, here are the expected contents of volume 11 of the journal Tolkien Studies. All of the works are now in the hands of our publisher, West Virginia University Press, and the volume is scheduled to be published in hardcover and on Project MUSE very soon. - David Bratman, co-editor

Tolkien Studies 11 (2014)
  • John Garth, "'The road from adaptation to invention': How Tolkien came to the brink of Middle-earth in 1914"

  • Sister Maria Frassati Jakupcak, OP: "'A Particular Cast of Fancy': Addison’s Walk with Tolkien and Lewis"

  • Nelson Goering: "Lŷg and Leuca: 'Elven-Latin,' Archaic Languages, and the Philology of Britain"

  • Bernhard Hirsch: "After the 'end of all things': the long return home to the Shire"

  • Richard Z. Gallant: "Original Sin in Heorot and Valinor"

  • Michael A. Wodzak and Victoria Holtz Wodzak: "Visibílium Ómnium et Invisibílium: Looking Out, On, and In Tolkien’s World"

  • Verlyn Flieger: "But What Did He Really Mean?"

  • Michael D.C. Drout, Namiko Hitotsubashi and Rachel Scavera: "Tolkien's Creation of the Impression of Depth"
Book Reviews
  • The Fall of Arthur, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, reviewed by Verlyn Flieger

  • Qenya Noun Structure, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Gilson, Patrick H. Wynne, and Arden R. Smith; Qenyaqetsa: The Qenya Phonology and Lexicon, together with The Poetic and Mythologic Words of Eldarissa, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Gilson, Carl F. Hostetter, Patrick Wynne and Arden R. Smith, revised 3rd printing; Proceedings of the Third International Conference on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Invented Languages, Omentielva Nelya, Whitehaven, 2009, edited by "Beregond," Anders Stenström; reviewed by John Garth

  • J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, edited by Peter Hunt, reviewed by Gerard Hynes

  • The Riddles of The Hobbit, by Adam Roberts, reviewed by Thomas Honegger

  • The Loss and the Silence: Aspects of Modernism in the Works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien & Charles Williams, by Margaret Hiley, reviewed by Catherine Butler

  • The Making of Middle-earth: A New Look Inside the World of J.R.R. Tolkien, by Christopher Snyder; The Essential Tolkien Trivia and Quiz Book: A Middle-earth Miscellany, by William MacKay; reviewed by David Bratman
  • Merlin DeTardo, "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2011"

  • Rebecca Epstein and David Bratman, "Bibliography (In English) for 2012"

At the Tolkien journals panel at PCA/ACA this year, I announced that we'd be reprinting another rarely-seen scholarly item by Tolkien. We have the item and the permission, but the timing proved to be bad for getting a commentary by the deadline, so that's been put off till next year.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Menlo, fourth day

Ran up there again for one of the free dinner-time concerts, this one because it featured Brahms' Piano Quintet, my first favorite work of chamber music. Fabulous performance, energetic and gutsy. Just what I wanted and needed, and it was free.

Back by way of the storage locker, where I'm going through my mother's correspondence files. Also includes things like birthday cards. Found the Mother's Day card I supposedly gave her when I was two months old, that sort of thing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

trailer critic: Hobbit part 3

Chapters 14-17 of The Hobbit are the darkest, most serious part of the story, and since they'll obviously be the center of Hobbit III, The Battle of the Five Armies (why the Five Armies?), it'll be the opportunity Peter Jackson has been waiting for to do what he does best, or, more accurately, to do what he does most.

I find little to poke fun at in the Part 3 trailer, unlike my reactions to the last one, but what I do find is a lot of repeats of Jackson's Greatest Hits shots.

0.02. Film logos floating through space! OK, that may be new to Jackson, but it's a direct steal from George Lucas's classic "paragraphs in space."

0.15. The character-study shot with a battle going on in the background.

0.24. The scene that looks like a matte, whether it actually is or not.

0.28. The helicopter shot over people walking across a mountain.

0.28, simultaneously. The Tolkienian lyrics set to the dreariest, gloomiest tune possible.

0.33. The dimly-lit majestic interior.

0.42. The foot shot.

0.48. The majestic interior that's gloomy even though it's full of gold.

0.57. The army that looks and moves as if it's made of tin soldiers.

1.03. The auto race.

1.06. The really badly-done CGI critters.

1.14. The voice that echoes impressively even though there's no cause for it to echo.

1.16. The single-combat warrior.

1.19. The general exhorting his army from a height so far up they wouldn't be able to see him.

1.24. The appearance of a character who doesn't belong in this movie.

1.26. The ridiculous bridge.

1.32. The general exhorting his army in a voice so quiet they wouldn't be able to hear him.

It's true that The Lord of the Rings repeats much of the plot of The Hobbit, but I never get the feeling of "been there, done that" when reading the books. But that's all over this movie.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Carmel, only day

For driving south of here, the #2 traffic-jam-avoiding rule is "Never drive through Gilroy while the Garlic Festival is on." Unfortunately, as the #1 rule is "Never drive to Santa Cruz on a summer weekend; are you crazy?", that left me with no feasible route to get to Carmel on Sunday for my review assignment at the Bach Festival.

I decided to go through Gilroy and avoid the alliummanes, if that's the word, by bypassing the highway through the farm roads on the other side of town. Got there just in time for the pre-concert lecture, having parked (which is not as difficult in Carmel as you may think) and walked over.

My assignment was to review David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion, a strange, unearthly work that made a huge impact in the contemporary-classical world when it premiered a few years ago. I'd asked to cover this one: I'd found recordings opaque at best, but suspected it would yield its attractions in a live performance. It did.

Also on the concert program: unaccompanied choral works by those peerless contemporary masters Tavener, Pärt, and Górecki, leaving no excuse not to go.

And, since the Little Match Girl Passion had been chosen for the festival for its structural descent from Bach's St. Matthew Passion, they were putting on the Bach the same year, indeed the same day, in the afternoon with the new stuff in the evening. So I had tickets to both, and settled down in my seat at 2:30 to hear the St. Matthew Passion for, in fact, the first time.

Nobody had told me how long it is.

It's three hours long. Three hours. Three. Hours.

(And full of libel against the Jews, but that aspect at least I was expecting.)

So it's a lot less concise, or dramatic, or elliptical, or tuneful, or almost anything than Handel's Messiah. What it was was thin, airy, placid, and strangely un-boring for all that. I survived without twitching, and so did everybody else, including the guy next to me who anxiously asked me how many intermissions there'd be. (One.)

There was actually time for dinner. Last time in Carmel I ate at a place with terrific sand dabs (a local fish). I was still dreaming of those, so I went back and had some more.

And the Lang? Ghostly, eerie, creepy, and contemplative as the Bach had been. Narration delivered in strange piping telegraph bursts. Weird as heck, in the way in which "weird" is a compliment.

Much less trouble driving home, which is good because it was late.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Menlo, third day

The first Young Performers Concert, and the only one I'll get to this year. Also the only time at this year's festival I get over to the Menlo-Atherton CPA, usually the most frequent venue.

The performers are older than usual this year, mostly in their late teens, and sometimes a little more interpretatively wobbly than usual. Somebody needed to tell the violist and cellist in the Schumann that you really need to dig into that second melody. Best piece on the program is the least heard: Smetana's Piano Trio in G Minor, its three movements parceled out among three groups of performers. Dark and intense.

Came home to find that the bottlebrush bushes, which the gardeners for the complex never trim and which I've watched become huger and more top-heavy during the 7 years we've lived here, have finally toppled over and landed in my parking space. Happier that my car wasn't there at the time. Now to see how long they'll take to be cleared out.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Menlo, second day

Back on Wednesday to Menlo for another day's worth of events, culminating in the marathon Zemlinsky concert I was contemplating on Monday.

Which by today was turned into this review. I let just a little of my irritation with the lecture on Monday creep into my third paragraph. Menlo has a chronic tendency to act as if the music's purpose is to give us insights into the composer's biography, and I will try quietly to undermine that assumption as much as I can.

On the other hand, I admired the actual performance - more than I did the works, in truth, though for those of us who go for the rarified in classical music they were certainly interesting works. Perforce, in the circumstances - which included not knowing the works as well as I'd like - my review is more of a description of the repertoire shot through with occasional comments on the performance.

Menlo's write-up on Zemlinsky began with the statement that "He was known to have said, 'My time will come after my death.'" (Possibly from here) Wait a minute, I thought: didn't Mahler also say "My time will come"? Turns out that apparently he did (he meant "when people get bored with Richard Strauss"). So that was my inescapable lead.

The prelude concert before it was good, in the manner that I described it at the end of the review. What there wasn't space or a good spot to mention was the Wednesday noon talk, by the Escher cellist on his slightly wacky project undertaken earlier this year to walk the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route in northern Spain, with his cello, stopping in each church along the way to play some Bach. Accompanied, which was no less improbable a notion, by a film crew to record it all. And then to put up a web site about it and finally - what's not yet complete - to assemble the footage into a film. OK ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

what we have come to

See my previous post on the upcoming biographical movies on Tolkien.

Now we have this helpful little article, which says:
Tolkien and author C.S. Lewis ... bonded over the horrors they witnessed as WWI veterans, as well as writers' block with their two masterpieces, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia series. It was actually the Catholic Tolkien who convinced his agnostic friend to convert to Christianity, which obviously helped get the creative juices flowing in crafting Narnia, Aslan, etc.
Most of this comes out of the commenter's imagination, not even that of the moviemakers.

Tolkien and Lewis didn't bond over war horrors, which - in keeping with a stoicism common among veterans of both world wars - they didn't much like to talk about explicitly. Lewis's main comment about his memory of combat is that it was so "cut off from the rest of my experience [that it] often seems to have happened to someone else." Instead, they bonded over their love of myth and fantasy. What Lewis exclaimed to a childhood friend after meeting Tolkien was that he was "the one man absolutely fitted, if fate had allowed, to be a third in our friendship in the old days, for he also grew up on W[illiam] Morris and George Macdonald."

Lewis never suffered from writers' block. Ever. If Tolkien developed a jealousy towards Lewis, that facility was likely to be a reason. And it was Lewis's facility at turning out finished, or at least passable, prose, in particular. Tolkien did get stuck at times. But writer's block was not his real problem. He turned out reams of pages. But he kept niggling at his works and rarely got anything finished. Lewis churned it out with hardly a second thought.

Lewis wasn't an agnostic. That word does come from the original article, and it's wrong. He was an atheist, or more accurately a hater of God. Tolkien did help him overcome it. But by the time he stepped in, Lewis had already become a deist, a non-specific believer. It was encounters with many other Christians among his friends, the men who shared his values and interests, that had pushed Lewis in that direction. What Tolkien helped Lewis do was accept Christianity in particular, and he did it through their shared love of myth, by arguing that Christ was the true myth, the story that moves you as any myth does, but which really happened. (You want to read Lewis's Surprised by Joy, which explains all of this.)

Obviously without Lewis's conversion he'd never have written his Christian myths about "Narnia, Aslan, etc." (a phrasing suggesting its author doesn't know much about Lewis's fiction except that there are things called Narnia and Aslan in it), but Tolkien did not thereby "help get the creative juices flowing," because Lewis didn't need that help. See above about facility.

The one thing the author gets sterling right is knowing that The Chronicles of Narnia is a series and The Lord of the Rings isn't.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Menlo, first day

The Music@Menlo festival has begun, so I'm plunged into that again, though a little less intensely than previous years. I'm reviewing a small marathon concert on Wednesday of all four string quartets by Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942), and since he's an Expressionist composer and that's not my native musical tongue, I decided to attend the introductory session on his quartets today, because I'll need all the help I can get.

It wasn't much. Help. Actually. Though the performing quartet played a few excerpts, the session consisted largely of their violist talking in an impenetrable accent - he pronounced disciples so as to rhyme with bicycles - about the TMI of Zemlinsky's personal life. For instance, did you know that he dated Alma Mahler before she married Gustav? Neither did Gustav, and boy was he pissed when he found out. Alma had eventually turned Zemlinsky down because he was ugly (cue presenter unsuccessfully trying to find a photo of Zemlinsky being ugly).

He also found hidden coded messages in Zemlinsky's work, of the kind that led me to drop out of Honors English. For instance, he was sure there had to be some significance in the fact that Zemlinsky's rather extensive Second Quartet is 1,221 bars long. Sure enough, it turns out that Schoenberg's Second Quartet, on which Zemlinsky's was explicitly modeled, had premiered on December 21st.

The idea of a composer manipulating his phrase style and the whole structure of his work to produce this meaningless, trivial, and inaudible piece of symbolism croggled me, and raised some followup questions in my mind. 1) If Zemlinsky had been British, would he have penned a quartet that was 2,112 bars long? 2) If Schoenberg's quartet had happened to have premiered on January 1st instead, would Zemlinsky have written a quartet eleven bars long? The presenter failed to address any of these urgent questions.

Following that came the Listening Room, one of a series of presentations of recorded music related to the year's concert themes. One of the composers being heard this week is Haydn, so the Listening Room included excerpts from some Haydn symphonies: mid-period ones, since they're little-known but interesting. This delighted me, as they're my favorites. Alas, the presenter didn't make particularly interesting choices of excerpts.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tolkien on film

Not his works, this time: Tolkien the person. News article on two competing bio-pics* of Tolkien's life in the works.

As we say among my people, oy. The problem with movies based on facts, as with movies based on novels, is that they inevitably overshadow those facts, and then people concerned with getting the facts right have to spend the rest of their lives patiently explaining that It Wasn't Really Quite Like That. Even if the movie is faithful, it will oversimplify things. And the better the movie is as a movie, the more it will overshadow those facts. (After all, our film image of how the sound barrier was broken is the pretty good and [in some aspects] fairly accurate 1983 The Right Stuff, not the pretty bad and horribly inaccurate 1952 Breaking the Sound Barrier - though see Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff, on which the film of that name was based, for how disruptive the other movie's untruths were at the time on attempts to explain to laymen, especially those responsible for funding aerospace, what was actually going on.)

First we have a movie on Tolkien's earlier life, "particularly his formative years at Pembroke College and as a soldier in World War I, and how it influenced him and his work." I don't think they mean Pembroke College, which he was attached to as a don in 1925-45. I think they mean Exeter College, which he attended as an undergraduate in 1911-15.

Well, it had better be his early years. "Tolkien led a complicated and colorful life," it says. Not after he returned to Oxford as a don in 1925, he didn't: as Humphrey Carpenter's biography famously remarked, "And after this, you might say, nothing else really happened." The complexity and color of Tolkien's life after that was - as Carpenter explains - all internal, and hard to depict on film. (I've noted how on The West Wing, the speechwriters in the throes of composition are usually depicted by the hapless method of having the actors crumple up sheets of paper and toss them on the floor, a convention even resorted to in Shakespeare in Love, set at a time when paper was so rare and valuable that discarding it like that would have been insane.)

And perhaps it could be done. I've been pleasantly struck with how John Garth's biography Tolkien and the Great War, which is limited to those early years, has been enjoyably read with profit even by readers not familiar with The Book of Lost Tales or the other early writings of Tolkien's whose creation is the focus of Garth's work. If the filmmakers deign to take Garth's book (better and more detailed than Carpenter's on its topics) as their source, that'd be at least a good start.

But I fear it will overegg the custard, as we can see by turning to the other movie, an account of Tolkien's friendship with C.S. Lewis, aimed as a "faith-based" audience. It seems that it will be less about the friendship than about it being "poisoned by jealousy, paranoia and creative and religious differences." Oh dear. Retroactive grumbles that Tolkien issued two or three decades later have poisoned - yes, that's the right word - our image of what was still, during WW2 when this movie is set, a warm and intimate friendship despite occasional misgivings on Tolkien's part, and despite fierce arguments which, for both Lewis and Tolkien, were much of the fun. Tolkien once boasted of the Inklings gathering for "a most amusing and highly contentious evening, on which (had an outsider eavesdropped) he would have thought it a meeting of fell enemies hurling deadly insults before drawing their guns."

Will the movie capture that paradox? I fear not, though the filmmakers could usefully educate themselves by reading chapter 4 of Diana Pavlac Glyer's The Company They Keep, which is all about it. Apparently, hostile relationships are more popular to read about than friendly ones, so if there's no or minimal hostility, you make it up or exaggerate it. Already several years ago I had to write, in an article discussing Tolkien's discomforts with the Inklings, that "the attempts by some biographers to inflate this into a seething jealousy are certainly wrong."

I could say more - in a Christian movie, there's unlikely to be a hidden agenda to use the authors' conflicts to discredit their works, which is what is often driving the "jealousy" story - but I'm more interested in the movie producer's comments in the story backing up the "poisoned" summary. "Lewis becoming the poster boy for Christianity upset Tolkien," he says. Well, it upset Lewis too. That wasn't his plan, any more than it was Tolkien's plan to become the poster boy for hack-and-slash fantasy sagas, and both writers' success put them in bad odor with their more aesthetically decorous academic colleagues.

Then the producer says something really astonishing: "And obsessive genius Tolkien is blocked, terrified of finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, for fear of the strange, psychotic visions which torture him." Let's leave aside the fact that Tolkien never wrote a book called The Fellowship of the Ring: that was the title applied, long after the work was finished, by the publisher to one-third of The Lord of the Rings when they decided to publish it in three volumes. Let's focus instead on those "strange, psychotic visions." What strange, psychotic visions? Is this an assumption that no-one can write as creatively as Tolkien without being so tortured? That's absurd. Aside from not speaking very intelligibly (worse after he got dentures), Tolkien was an ordinary man living a normal academic and suburban family life. He didn't wander around Oxford at night in his bathrobe declaiming cryptically to the heavens, as does J.B. Timbermill, Michael Innes' fond but eccentric caricature.

Maybe, just maybe, the producer is thinking of something mentioned in an article by John Garth (but which relates to volume 2, The Two Towers). In 1944, stuck at the beginning of Sam and Frodo's journey to Mordor, Tolkien paid a visit to his old school in Birmingham, and wrote that he "couldn't stand much of ... the ghosts that rose from the pavements" and immediately left the precincts. He meant, Garth explains, not his memories of school days, but the ghosts of actual dead men: his classmates who had been killed on service in WW1. "By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead," as he later noted.

What a haunting image, "the ghosts that rose from the pavements." Garth is at pains to note that Tolkien did not necessarily mean more than a figure of speech by this. But he also observes that Tolkien did on other occasions have visions, or - as Tolkien clarified it - "perhaps [an] apperception which at once turned itself into pictorial form in my mind." Garth says, "Tolkien's imagination, or his perception, was sometimes indistinguishable from vision."

And he came home from Birmingham and soon wrote "The Passage of the Dead Marshes," one of the most searing chapters of The Lord of the Rings, with its images of dead faces in the mere. It broke his writer's block and sent the tale of Sam and Frodo's journey to be finished quickly in a burst of effort.

Could a movie capture the delicate interplay of reality and vision, of inspiration and creation, described here? I hope so, but I can't expect anything. Frodo's visions - and they are visions, not actual realities in his world - of a wrinkled Bilbo groping for the Ring or of Galadriel "seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful," were transformed into some of the most inept images in Jackson's movies. (My joke is that Jackson misunderstood the meaning of the word "terrible.")

It'll be tough. Any attempt to convey Tolkien's creativity in dramatic form is going to be tough. It's tough enough writing literary studies of his inspirations, and those have scholarly backing and the space to pursue it. I treat these words of Tolkien's as gold: "An author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience, but the ways in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and ambiguous."

One other matter. Garth notes, and Glyer notes as well, that this visit to Birmingham was immediately preceded by a meeting with Lewis, who, Tolkien writes, "is putting the screw on me to finish" writing the book. And sure enough, soon he did get on with it. Tolkien explained later that "only by [Lewis's] support and friendship did I ever struggle to the end of the labour" and that "the unpayable debt that I owe to [Lewis] was ... sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience."

So here's an example of it. Make your movie about that.

PS: Supplemental

*I insist on the hyphen. Otherwise the word looks as if it's to be pronounced "bi-opics."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

another one

I'm posting this link not for the list of the author's favorite tv shows (which includes some favorites of mine as well as some I've never heard of), but for the opening two paragraphs, which are a fine justification for negative criticism.

I was intrigued by a passing reference to a book of movie criticism, "Hatchet Jobs, Dale Peck's showy (and smart) collection of pans."  I hadn't heard of this particular book, but I was aware that among Roger Ebert's many review collections were some just of his zero-star reviews.

The reason that intrigues me is that I remember the time a Tolkien scholar and Peter Jackson enthusiast named KT, in one of those desperate "shut up because I say so" moves, responded to my screed against Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies by hoping that such writings would quickly die out - they haven't - on the grounds that nobody's interested in reading negative reviews.  Her theory was that fans of the work in question won't want to read it being trashed, and people who don't like the work won't care about it.

That was one of the sillier arguments I'd ever read.  KT must come from some planet uninfested by those pesky irrational creatures called hu-mans.  Here on Earth, ruthless pans are very popular: some of Dorothy Parker's most famous quips take that form ("the gamut of emotions from A to B"; "Tonstant Weader fwowed up"), and Ebert's killer reviews are some of his most popular.  (Although I enjoyed watching Shyamalan's The Village, I think the last two paragraphs of Ebert's review are the classic of pans.)

I'm no Ebert and no Parker, nor even Dale Peck, but on my own level of achievement, my Jackson screed seems to have tickled some readers.

And it isn't even a review of the movies.  If it had been, it would have been, if not exactly positive, a lot less negative than what I wrote.  As I said in the piece, "I give Jackson an A on visuals and props, a B on the films as independent pieces of work divorced from the book," and fail him only on faithfulness to Tolkien's tone and spirit, which was my entire topic.  That the movies are profoundly unlike the book is something that KT, who defends this on the grounds that they had to make it different because it's a mooooovie, ought to be in agreement with me on, against those fans who consider the movies and book interchangeable.

Monday, July 14, 2014

in the South

We went to San Diego primarily to see B's sister, who's been ailing - but who is, thankfully, both surviving and cheerful. That made it a rather hermetic trip and there wasn't much else done, but we did get out for a couple of things.

1. We saw Geeks! the musical, which is set at ComicCon and plays through it to the middle of next month. We knew we were in for a low-rent job when we could hardly find the theatre, tucked behind a dry cleaner, and when the doors didn't open until the supposed showtime. On the other hand, the show then got started in ten minutes, which you can do in a 60-seat theatre on a slow Thursday when it's only half-full.

Cast quality was mixed - it's not good when your worst singer, not even ready for a high-school show, is the male romantic lead - but the music was lively and the plot and script very clever, with references to lots of media favorites, including Buffy and, yes, Tolkien ("Have you ever actually read him?" "No, but I saw the movies"), and a whole song in which one enthusiast tries to teach the rest of the characters the sequence of Doctors Who. B liked a couple of the performers and the song in which the two female characters extolled female heroes, but she was otherwise underwhelmed, either wincing (at the bad singing, or the in-your-face depictions of sexuality) or holding her ears (the recorded keyboard accompaniment was too loud). I was more tickled by the script and pleased by the acting, which was better than the singing.

2. The Safari Park, out near Escondido, which is no longer merely the tram-ride through imitation savannah that it was when we last visited some 23 years ago, but now incorporates a full zoo as well, almost though not quite as large as the mother ship in Balboa Park and considerably less steep in terrain. Like the mother ship, it has three walk-through aviaries, which are my favorite kind of exhibit in zoos. Here, one of the aviaries is devoted purely to lorikeets. You can bring in nectar to feed the lorikeets, and then they'll sit on your shoulder and poop down onto your foot. But they're great to see. And the staged bird show - at an amphitheater nearby - is fabulous, much more fun than the cheetah run, for which you have to grab a space 45 minutes in advance if you hope to see anything, and which is then over in literally five seconds, a 540 to 1 ratio in time expenditure. Throughout the zoo, many fabulous animals you've never heard of, or at least I haven't: my memory dredges up some of the names as the Hydrox, the Blobel (that can't be right), and the Gerund.

It was a hot summer day, and the lions were living up, or down, to their name by lyin' around. So were the meerkats (that's one meerkat and three reflections). On the other hand, we followed around with fascination the adventures in the lagoon of the mother duck and the two tiny newborn ducklings, so cute.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Christopher W. Mitchell

The news came in Friday evening, that Chris Mitchell had suddenly collapsed and died on a fishing trip in Colorado.  He loved the outdoors, and appreciated the natural essence of any place that he found himself in, so at least he had been doing something that he enjoyed and that would - as he would surely put it - help him appreciate the bounty of God's creation.  Though he was taken too soon - he was, I think, 62 or 63, and in wiry good health.
I would have liked to have introduced you to Chris Mitchell.  This photo will have to do.  Of the ones I've seen on various obituaries and tribute pages - there are a lot already, showing how widely he was known and admired - this is the only photo that really looks like him.
Up until a year ago, when he left for a new post that would be more teaching and less administration, he was the director of the Marion E. Wade Center, the Inklings & others study center outside Chicago.  Because he was not just an administrator but a scholar and polemicist, this made him - and I know he'd wince at this characterization, because he was both modest and sensitive to discourse - the high priest of Inklings studies in the US.  He was primarily a Lewisian, but he paid due attention to all seven authors under his care.
He did much to promote their study.  Some of those things I was involved in, and worked with him on.  He was the faculty sponsor and did much for coordination, setup, and running of the Lewis Centenary Conference in 1998; I was vice-chair and executive officer of that conference.  He made available the manuscripts and provided assistance, advice, and logistical help when I edited Charles Williams' The Masques of Amen House in 2000.  He began the process of getting the Wade's rare and valuable book holdings cataloged, and hired me to study the initial feasibility of this project.  We had many long conversations in his office over all these matters.
Most importantly, he accepted and applied the great donation that enabled the Wade Center to move out of a back room in the college library and into its own purpose-built, spacious, free-standing facility.  (And one with a state-of-the-art fire-proof vault for its rare-book and manuscript holdings.)  I attended the dedication ceremony for this building, and a joyous, companionable, and well-organized event it was.
Chris also did other, more personal, things for me.  He fed me Gino's East pizza.  He taught me the meaning of the Book of Job, or tried to.  He showed me the glories of midwestern fireflies.  His faith and spirituality were constants in his life, and, like Lewis, he refused to live in a holy void but applied them to his appreciation and understanding of this-worldly matters.  A good man, a man to inspire his auditors to their own best things.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

library day

This was the day I spent rushing around college libraries to do the final stage of research for the annual Tolkien bibliography. And it had to be done today, because tomorrow is out for obvious reasons, and so is next week for less obvious ones. Most of the work consisted of rummaging through databases available there but not on the open web, and checking in hard copy the things that have to be checked. (e.g. "is that really the paper's title?" and "Sounds interesting, but how much is it actually about Tolkien?")

The two libraries I most use are the University of California at Santa Cruz and Stanford University, but this is the first time I got to both in one day. UCSC is exciting to do research at, because the passes from the machine at the visitor's lot are only good for an hour, so it's necessary either to do a rush job of research or else run back and buy another chit. The library is a modestly fair walk from the parking lot, but at least it's intensely scenic. You know Cornell's famous footbridge over a perilously deep canyon? UCSC has one of those too.

At Stanford, you can buy a pass for up to all day if you want (and many do, meaning the lot is often full, and, if it is, the visitor is pretty much out of luck on a weekday), and the walk to the library, while equally long as at UC, is entirely devoid of terrain warnings. The catch here is that you have to register for a visitor's pass to use the library, and they're only good for up to 8 days a year, so again a little triage in research strategy is necessary. Fortunately a given day's library pass includes in-and-out privileges, as the parking passes don't: they're stamped for that specific parking space by its number, so if you buy an all-day pass and decide half-way through that you need to leave briefly, chances are you'll need to buy another pass on returning.

This year the research was easy, and I found everything I was looking for that was supposed to be there, but the day still wasn't devoid of research follies, such as:
1) The whacked-out database that claimed it had no articles on Tolkien from 2012, unless you searched on a date span beginning 2009 or earlier, in which case it did.
2) The other whacked-out database into which you enter "Tolkien" into the subject line, producing a string reading "SU = TOLKIEN", which then claims it has nothing on Tolkien, but shows a pop-up window offering to re-do the search as a keyword search, which then shows you everything in the database with the word "Tolkien" and everything with "su" as a separate word (which proves to be quite a lot) and everything with a separate "=". Are they kidding you, or are their programmers really that moronic?
3) The article whose title appeared on the title page with an asterisk after it, the asterisk leading you to a footnote noting the author's funding or something of the kind, but which asterisk is reproduced in the databases as if it were actually part of the title.
4) The bane of scholarly bibliographies everywhere, the databases which assume that every article in a scholarly book collection ends on the page before the next article starts. Not always; there could be blank pages so that every article begins on the recto; there could be a leaf devoted to a section header, or whatever. Frippin' amateurs; a few cases of this is an easy way to tell if the bibliographer actually looked at the work or just mindlessly relied on the databases.

Now to type all my hand-edits into the results.