Wednesday, May 25, 2016

HERUMILLION and the Ring of Earth

So, I'm now on the third day of a two-week research visit to the Marquette archives, and enjoying it immensely. This time I'm centering on the very early manuscripts of LotR (by and large those covered by Christopher Tolkien in HME.VI: THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW.  CT did a superlative job presenting those texts, printing the most interesting ones and briefly summarizing or excerpting from others when, as was frequently the case, there was no room to print them all in full; plus providing his usual incisive commentary pointing out links between various drafts and outlines. Somehow, though, I'm starting to get the impression that folks are forgetting about the material Christopher didn't cover.

A case in point: you'd think HERUMILLION, the Elvish name for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, would be better known. After all, it appeared in print as long ago as 1983/84 in Taum's catalogue to go with the exhibit at the Marquette Tolkien conference, and was reprinted less than a year ago by Wayne and Christina in their ART OF 'THE LORD OF THE RINGS'.

And yet HERUMILLION deserves to be better known, because of its obvious parallelism to SILMARILLION: The story of the Silmarils (SILMARILLION) and The Story of the Rings (HERUMILLION). The paired titles even help reinforce Tolkien's conception that THE SILMARILLION and THE HERUMILLION were companion books: two parts of a single mythology.

Less significant perhaps, but still important enough that you'd think it'd be well-known by now, are the elvish names for the Rings of Earth, Sea, & Heaven.*  The Three Rings themselves are mentioned several times in published texts: cf. HME.VI.260, where they are called "the Three Rings of earth, air, and sky". But so far as I known their elvish names only appear once (Marq. 3/1/12:3)  and, again so far as I know, haven't been published.

Which just goes to show, I guess, how rich an archive the Marquette Tolkien manuscripts are: going on sixty years now of folks coming in and poring over them, and there's still a hoard of treasure there left to find.

Excelsior!, as they (used to) say.

--John R.

current reading: THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW (naturally). Also just starting the Derleth chapter of THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS (My, Mr. Joshi dislikes Mr. Derleth with a deep and abiding dislike).

*Which, unfortunately, I can't give here because that would be unauthorized publication. Maybe someone'll do a piece one day on the significance of the shift for Galadriel's ring from the Ring of Earth (perhaps meant to like her to Palurien?) to the Ring of Water.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

620 East Knapp Street

So, yesterday after wrapping up the first day's session at Marquette, I made a little pilgrimage to a literary spot. Or at least that was my intent; in practice it became more like a bit of literary tag.

Years ago, when I was reading through Lovecraft looking at Dunsany connections, I was bemused to discover that Robert Harrison Blake, the hapless protagonist of HPL's last tale, THE HAUNTER IN THE DARK, lived at 620 E. Knapp Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- this being in fact Robert Bloch's home, Bloch having been the model for Lovecraft's character. I'd made an attempt at the time to locate the address, only to find that whatever house once stood there had long since been knocked down to clear the margins of the highway. Too bad, but so it goes.

Except that Monday evening I noticed that I'd made a small but significant mistake: I'd gone to West Knapp Street, not to the actual address east of the river. So while making a run to buy some groceries to tide me over the next two weeks I parked the car and walked to E. Knapp to see what might be there.

The answer is: nothing that dates back to Bloch's day. Whatever house or apartment building Bloch once lived in, that street address has now vanished and the spot is now covered by block-long apartment complex, I think designated as housing for the elderly (though that may have only applied to the building across the street). Pity there's no little blue historical marker for the author of PSYCHO, or for its fictional significance through its use in Lovecraft's story. Had there been an oldish house still there I think I'd have spun a CALL OF CTHULHU scenario out of the idea that, just as part of the Haunter makes its way into Blake's consciousness in the latter's final moments, so too some part of Blake must have gone into the creature, so that it might later be found haunting the spot where Blake had once lived before his ill-fated journey to New England.

current reading: THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW (re-reading; excellent!); THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS (resumed)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A picture from Kalamazoo

So, thanks to Merlin de Tardo for the following picture of our 'Asterisk Tolkien' panel, and thanks also to Deidre Dawson for sharing. I'm the one in brown.

It was a good panel, and a good series of Tolkien sessions overall. As usual, it's not just the presentations but the people that make me look forward and want to come again next year.  And it came as a nice surprise when Jane Chance quoted from my "The Missing Women" piece during her plenary lecture -- v. nice of her.

In other news, it looks like the revisions to my essay on Tolkien's FALL OF ARTHUR (presented at Kalamazoo a few years ago) have proved acceptable, so that shd be coming out later this year if all goes well.

Now I need to polish my Nodens piece --writing out all the endnotes, putting together the bibliography, reading several pieces folks brought to my attention that may be relevant to my piece., revising a thing or two I got wrong (or at least not as right as it shd have been).  And of course there's also the festschrift: should have the working Table of Contents posted here within a few days.

But first, there's Milwaukee. More on this soon.

Here's the picture:

--John R.
(at the airport, en route)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Vaughn is my Hero!

So, the Friday night of Kalamazoo I was upset to find that sometime during that day I'd lost my lucky coin.

To appreciate the magnitude of that disaster, you'd have to know that it was bought for me by my father, back when we were living in Little Rock, when I was in second grade (about seven), from a coin shop on University Avenue. And that I've carried it with me most days since, serving as a worrystone. It's one of the few things I have from my father, and the only one I carry around with me on a daily basis.  I lost it once for about a year and a half, back when I was in high school, only to have it turn up in the end having worked its way down inside some furniture (in the way that coins have a way of doing), during which time I found a replacement, but it was never quite the same.

It's gotten misplaced for a day or two from time to time. But losing it this time, in the middle of a conference in another state and only noticing it at the end of a long day with much back-and-forthing between presentations in different buildings, the odds of finding it again seemed slim.

Which is why I was more than surprised, almost stunned, when my friend Vaughn plopped it down next to me the next morning with a certain panache. I'd gone out to dinner with Verlyn and Vaughn and several other Tolk folk  the night before, and since a bunch of us had crammed together in the back seat I'd thought it just possible it'd slipped out then and sent him an email late that evening asking if he could look for it in the back seat. Sure enough, it was there.

So, it's safely back home again where it belongs, in my pocket. And just in case anyone is interested, I'll try to post a scan of what it looks like. I didn't know much about it when I first got it; I now know it's about a hundred and fifty years old (from the 1870s) and Japanese, from some islands (not the main four). It's bronze and used to have a lovely dark patina, but in recent years that has worn off from its constantly being carried. Thanks to Janice for help with the scan, and to Vaughn for rescuing it.

--John R.
--back from Kalamazoo, leaving tomorrow on the next trip: two weeks' research among the Tolkien papers at Marquette.
--current reading: Jared Lobdell's essay on Coghill in the collection FORGOTTEN LEAVES: ESSAYS FROM A SMIAL (2015)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Twentieth Century Fantasy In A Nutshell

As I'm preparing to leave for Kalamazoo (which starts in just three more days), here's a thought I wanted to share. I realized today that my view of twentieth century fantasy can be summed up in a just seven words:

Dunsany is Elvis.

Tolkien is The Beatles.

current reading: THE ASSAULTS OF CHAOS by S. T. Joshi

The New Arrival -- Joshi's Lovecraft Novel (THE ASSAULTS OF CHAOS)

So, just found out about this one within the last few days. When I realized it must be about the only  novel out there which features Lord Dunsany as one of its characters, I knew I had to get it and read it.

So far as I can tell on a first brief glance, it's about Lovecraft and his father teaming up with Dunsany, Machen, Blackwood, Bierce, Hodgson, et al, to go fight the Mythos.  There was a similar, but very very bad book along those lines a few years ago, featuring (so far as I can recall) Conan Doyle, Lovecraft, Houdini, and a Voodoo Queen. There's no Voodoo queen here, so far as I can tell, but there is a potential love-interest for Young Howard named Kathleen. I'm curious to see how Joshi presents these literary men, esp. Dunsany and Hodgson (sad to say I don't think the great M. R. James made the cut).

More when I've had a chance to read on it a bit.

--John R.
current reading: see above.

UPDATE: I was wrong; M. R. James does indeed appear. --JDR

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The New Arrival: The Cthulhu Mythos

So, I finally broke down and ordered a book that I'd had parked in my amazon queue for three years or more: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS (publ.2008). I've long been fascinated by the phenomenon of the Mythos, finding it far and away the most interesting thing about Lovecraft's work, and was surprised to find Joshi writing about the Mythos, given his previous disparagement thereof.

From what I've read so far the book's main value for me is in Joshi's giving the date when Lovecraft wrote each story described; this is useful in getting a sense of the development of his career, and the point at which specific ideas entered (this latter point being the main reason I'm reading the book). Joshi's judgments of the stories' merit or otherwise are typically idiosyncratic. In essence Joshi divides said stories into "the Lovecraft Mythos", of which he approves, and "the Cthulhu Mythos", which he does not. Given his years of working on Lovecraft, it's disconcerting that at one point he summarizes the plot of THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, and gets it wrong.*

For the sake of determining whether a story is or is not part of the Mythos, Joshi singles out several iconic features that tend to distinguish Mythos tales, noting that not all need be present in each story: "fictional New England topography" (Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth), forbidden tomes (the NECRONOMICON), extraterrestrial god-like entities, cosmicism, and (sometimes) a scholarly narrator (p.16–18). I'd drop 'cosmicism' from the list but otherwise think this is a sensible approach.

For Joshi's critique of said stories, by Lovecraft and others, he lays down several principles by which to judge each individual story (p.12):
"intrinsic literary merit"
"skillful and effective prose style"
"competence in the execution of the plot"
"non-stereotypical characters"
"a . . . distinctive message about human life and the cosmos"

This list is of particular interest because I find Lovecraft's work distinctly lacking in just those features. I enjoy reading Lovecraft's stories the same way I've come to enjoy Godzilla movies, but don't think either transcends the category of pulp fiction. Joshi, however, sees a literariness that doesn't register for me. So reading his book I do get to see HPL's work through his eyes, albeit somewhat skeptically.  We'll see if he wins me over as I continue to make my way through the book.

--John R.
--Little Rock Clinton international airport.

*Joshi writers "Randolph Carter seeks to confront Nyarlathotep and demand the return of the 'sunset city' of his dreams" (p.44).  In fact during his quest to find "the mild gods of earth" Carter takes great pains to avoid the Other Gods in general and Nyarlathotep in particular, correctly guessing that this would spell disaster.