Monday, January 9, 2017

Clyde Kilby's Collected Essays

So, just before Christmas arrived the new book by the late Clyde Kilby, A WELL OF WONDER: ESSAYS ON C. S. LEWIS,  J. R. R. TOLKIEN, AND THE INKLINGS (ed. Loren Wilkinson & Keith Call; Mount Tabor Books/Paraclete Press 2016). I'd been asked to provide a blurb and had been happy to submit one,* which I'm glad to see they used. Here's  what I said in the blurb:

As the first decades of Inklings scholarship 
recede from living memory, it's good to see 
the papers of an influential critic from that 
period made available again. Kilby is now 
mainly remembered for founding the Wade
Collection, but he was also among the first
to see the Inklings as a coherent writers' group,
and the pieces collected herein make the case
for considering these authors in context
with each other's work. Perhaps the out-
standing piece is his short account of
meeting C. S. Lewis at Oxford in 1953;
published in 1954, this is one of the earliest
memoirs of Lewis to see print, and it's good
for it to see the light of day again after
more than a half-century.

In the current book, this piece appears as Chapter 2: "My First (and Only) Visit with Mr. Lewis", p. 16-19.  The two men met for about half an hour, by appointment, in Lewis's office at Magdalen. Lewis was fifty-four at the time and engaged in compiling the bibliography for his O.H.E.L. volume; he talked about all the exercise he got from lugging folios about and disparaged the idea of naming 'periods' of literature, like "the Renaissance" ("an imaginary entity responsible for everything the modern reader likes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries"). They spoke of Palestine, and Lewis expressed a curiosity over whether the re-establishment of Israel (it having been created as a new nation only six or seven years before) wd mean a rebuilding of the Temple and a restoration of sacrifice.

Questioned about art and Xianity, Lewis pooh-poohed the idea of Christian literature: "He said the same relation existed between Christianity and art as between Christianity and carpentry" -- that is, that a carpenter might be a Xian but this didn't mean that he produced 'Xian carpentry'. Told of Wheaton College's founder's description of a novel as "a well-told lie", he dissented strongly, saying that "one is far more likely to find the truth in a novel than in a newspaper".   They talked a little about the then recently deceased C. E. M. Joad**

Asked when he might come to America, he was emphatic that this cdn't take place before his retirement. As for a specific invitation to come that very summer, he replied "he had to get some vacation then, and a trip to this country [i.e., the US] would be anything but a vacation." He autographed a book for Kilby, somewhat reluctantly (Kilby does not say which one of CSL's bks it was, only that he had brought it with him). When Kilby expressed a wish to hear Lewis lecture, Lewis first said there were no lectures scheduled (presumably the visit took place during one of the breaks between terms) and teased Kilby for being a "professor [who wanted] to hear a lecture while on vacation". They talked a little about metaphor and then Kilby, fearing to overstay his welcome, departed.

In addition to the Lewis piece, the volume also gathers together pretty much all the account of Kilby's meetings with Tolkien that had been originally published in Kilby's little book TOLKIEN AND THE SILMARILLION.*** I haven't gone through and compared to see if all that material is now here, but certainly most of it is, making this essay collection a good place to read an account by someone who had the chance to read virtually all of THE SILMARILLION during Tolkien's lifetime.

There are also a number of essays on Lewis and on Tolkien, largely focusing on Xian aspects or interpretations of their work, as well as an essay apiece on Williams and on Sayers, and at least two on CSL, JRRT, et al being considered together as 'the Oxford Group'

All in all, well worth having on the shelf.  As an extra added bonus, the dust jacket has a nice picture of four Inklings together: Dundas-Grant, Hardie, Havard, and Lewis. It's a well-known piece, but this is the best reproduction of it I've seen, and its presence here is appropriate, given that Kilby was co-author of the book IMAGES OF HIS WORLD, the first to gather together photos of Lewis and his friends.

--John R.

*after all, with the exception of Deborah Sabo I think Kilby and I are the only Tolkien scholars to have been at Fayetteville, Arkansas -- albeit decades apart.

**whom Tolkien once described as 'Joad of Joad Hall', suggesting that his personality bore more than a little resemblance to Kenneth Grahame's Mr. Toad

***herein  titled Chapter 15: "The Evolution of a Friendship and the Writing of The Silmarillion
At thirty-three pages I think this is the most substantial memoir of Tolkien yet published, aside from the FAMILY ALBUM.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The New Arrival (Kilby's Collected Essays)

So, I'd started to draft a post two days ago and then decided to put it off till I cd do a more thorough job. Except that it seems that when I went to hit "Save" I accidently hit "Send" instead.

Sorry about that: I'll have the real post up later today

current reading: a book by Toni Tennille that shd have been called 'Love Didn't Keep Them Together'
current dvd: Saiunkoku, Beatles' cartoon show, the James Mason "20000 Leagues"

Friday, January 6, 2017

Sales of C. S. Lewis (+BBC CSL piece)

So,  when posting about best-selling genre authors a few days ago, I shd have noted that JRRT's friend C. S. Lewis also made the top ten, coming in at #6 with estimated sales of 120,000,000 -- which, while about a third of Tolkien's estimated sales, still staggered me. I wdn't have thought the Chronicles of Narnia sold anything like that number. Perhaps those paperback editions of MERE CHRISTIANITY, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, et al, on the Xian shelves of the religious section in stores like Barnes & Noble account for a large portion of that amount. It's certainly not OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET (Lewis is not that widely read among science fiction fans) or, say, THE DISCARDED IMAGE (probably my favorite of Lewis's books, and certainly the one I learned the most from).

Also, I learned a few days ago (thanks to Andrew F. for the link) that the BBC's Radio Four has a half-hour show devoted to CSL up on their website. Part of their Great Lives series, it discusses the life and legacy of Lewis, with historian Suzannah Lipscomb and chaplain Malcolm Guite praising Lewis while host Matthew Parris presents a slightly more skeptical perspective. Libscomb appreciates that Lewis "approaches the past on its own terms" (a point of view CSL considered a necessary corrective to what his friend Barfield called 'chronological snobbery'). Somewhat to my surprise they cover his liaison with Janie Moore straightforwardly. They also get points in my book for including a snippet of Lewis's own voice along with archival bits by four people who knew him (only the fourth of whom, Humphrey Carpenter, is identified*). Carpenter makes the interesting point that CSL refused to let people talk to him about their private lives for the v. good reason that he might then feel pressure to respond in kind, and (as his more recent biographer McGrath has made abundantly clear) he had excellent reasons for not wanting folks to know about his private life. More importantly, the host, Parris, puts his finger on something that I think doesn't get enough attention in discussions of Lewis's work. Parris said that when reading Lewis he often got the feeling that Lewis wrote with ulterior motives. I've always felt that way myself, and it's seriously gotten in the way of my enjoying such works as A GRIEF OBSERVED and TILL WE HAVE FACES, spoiling a good deal of CSL's work for me.

So, a positive but not haliographical look at CSL's life, well worth checking out.
 Thanks again to Andrew F's sharing the link.

--John R.

*the third is named "Peter", but I have no idea which of the no doubt many Peters CSL knew in his lifetime this might be, nor do I recognize either of the first two voices. At any rate, it was good to hear Carpenter's voice again; his relatively early death was a great loss.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cat Photos: Helena, Peetie, and Sheena

So, I don't seem to have a photo of Old Man Hank*, but here are photos of little Helena, Peetie, and Sheena, taken by one of my fellow volunteers and shared among the group:

--John R.

*more's the pity, since he has a lot of charisma

Walking Cats (W.1/4-17)

So, I didn't write up a cat report last week, but with the adoption of Mario and with Hank's heading up to the clinic we were down to just two cats when I arrived on Wednesday (the 28th).

SHEENA is big, black, and placid and wants to be left alone by the other cats so she can enjoy her favorite place, a blanket atop the bins just outside her cage. She's what I call a lazy predator in that later on she rolled onto her back and enjoyed a game of laser pointer, happy as a clam so long as she didn't have to actually get up and move around.

Little HELENA  looks almost like an ocelot cat and is amazingly small for a full grown three-year-old cat. She enjoyed the catnip and played all the games I offered with enthusiasm.  

Mid-way through my shift two new cats arrived from the shelter: PEETIE (a chunky black-and-white cat with half-mast tail and a love of attention) and Old Man HANK (back from the clinic and demanding to be put back in charge of the cat-room).   It turns out that Helena hates boy-cats. She'd been fine with Sheena over in her corner but got very wound up after the arrival of the two boy-cats, and let fly the hisses when they approached her cat-stand (which by that point she very obviously considered her cat-stand). 

Even though it was already fairly late in my shift, I went ahead and welcomed Mr. Hank back by taking him for a walk;; think he enjoyed the chance to stretch his legs and have a bit of a walkaround after being in the carrier.

As for this week (Wedn. the 4th), I was a little late arriving this morning but nonetheless was able to walk all four cats for twenty to thirty minutes each, ranging all over the store. 

HELENA went first, because I figured she was the one most likely to get wound up by the other cats the longer we waited.

Then it was SHEENA OPRIA’s turn, followed by PEETIE TEK. Last came HANK, who was inclined to grumble over having had to wait but enjoyed his time out. I think Peetie got the most attention (people like his tail) but pretty much all got noticed and had a chance to explore.

We had one man in visitiing the cats and asking lots of questions about adopting a single cat or two cats at the same time; he had concerns that one would be lonely but two might not get along. I encouraged him to come back in the evenings and talk to an adoption councilor; hope he does some follow-up. 

We wrapped up the morning with some games for Peetie and Helena: mouse-on-a-stick, catnip bubbles, bootlace, laser pointer (the last by far their favorite). Helena discovered the catnip in the bottom of my bag just as I was putting them in their cages, so each had to have a pinch. 

So: Hank considers all the other cats his minions, Helena is v. territorial; Sheena wants to enjoy her spot and Peetie wants to play.

Health concerns: Hank seems fine, but I noticed he sneezed several time immediately upon coming back into the room from his walk.  Think his ears might need clearing but noticed this too late to do so today.  

N.B.: Hank likes to steal Peetie’s food.

--John R.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Tolkienian Prayer

So, thanks to Janice for spotting and sharing with me the following link to a prayer-of-the-day feature on the BBC Radio 4 site

I thought this piece (by a Dundee chaplain, Rev. Duncan MacLaren) quite nice. Though if allowed one niggle I'd point out that Niggle isn't painting a preexisting Platonic tree. In Tolkien's theology of creativity, Niggle's tree did not exist until he started to paint it.

Still, this, the one-man play currently touring England and Scotland, and the recent publication of LBN as a stand-alone booklet for the first time have all between them raised the profile of Tolkien's little parable: a Good Thing.

--John R.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy Tolkien Day

So, today is Tolkien's birthday.*

Which makes this a good occasion to share the following list of all-time best selling fantasy / science fiction / horror authors. Top honors go to J. K. Rowling and Stephen King, but JRRT is close behind in third place, and the list's compiler notes that Tolkien's total sales might be much higher than the numbers reported (350,000,000 copies).** Here's the link to the piece:

And here's the relevant paragraph about Tolkien:

3) JRR Tolkien (c. 350 million)Tolkien's sales are likewise incalculable: 100,000 copies of a pirated version of The Lord of the Rings were sold in the United States alone in under a year, so the figures for unauthorised versions of the book in other countries are completely unguessable. What remains certain is that The Lord of the Rings is the biggest-selling single genre novel of all time, and possibly the best-selling single novel of all time. More than 50 million copies of the book have been sold since 2001 alone. The 100+ million sales of The Hobbit alone have also been bolstered significantly by the new Peter Jackson movies. If anything, the above figure may well be the most conservative on the list and Tolkien's sales may be vastly more than King's.

It's unclear to me whether a three-volume set of THE LORD OF THE RINGS wd be counted as one book or three, but "possibly the best-selling . . .  novel of all time" has a nice ring to it. And it's interesting to note that had Tolkien written only THE HOBBIT, its sales alone wd be enough to make him tie with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, and Suzanne Collins for 7th/8th/9th place.***

As an old-time TSR employee, I was interested to see that shared-world authors get more respect here than they used to get from some bookstores and libraries back in the day: Bob Salvatore comes in at #28 (30,000,000 books) for his FORGOTTEN REALMS Drizzt books)**** and Hickman & Weis tie for #42/43 (22,000,0000) for the DRAGONLANCE Chronicles. And I'm happy to see that my friend Jim Lowder appears at #283 for an impressive half-a-million books.

TSR authors aside, I'm glad to see that some of the greats like Pratchett (#11; 85,000,000+) and Adams (#17; 50,000,000+) made it. Seeing all these names in a list like this calls out a lot of oddities: that Phillip Pullman's sales for THE GOLDEN COMPASS series are roughly double those of Rbt E. Howards' CONAN books; that Ursula Le Guin and Fritz Leiber are down in the four-million range (#122 & 113, respectively), roughly half their estimate for Ray Bradbury (#87), while Neil Gaiman has 40,000,000+ to his credit (#22; three quarters of this are the graphic novels).

Less easy to spot are the absences: I cd find no mention of Dunsany, or Eddison, or Hughart, or Morris, or McKillop. Which goes to show that some seminal authors sell in great numbers (e.g. Tolkien) while others are vastly influential but that's not reflected in their sales (e.g. Dunsany).

All in all, pretty impressive, given that the original print run for THE HOBBIT was, I think, 1250 copies. ***** The seeds of authors like Tolkien have grown into some pretty impressive trees.

Congrats to all the authors who made the list, and to the many many good authors who didn't.

current reading: THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR (moral: don't sell fake antiques to the Koch brothers; they're not the forgiving type)

* (125th, but who's counting?)
**for which thanks to Janice
***I'm sorry to see that BORED OF THE RINGS clocked in at #226, having sold more than a million copies; THE SODDIT (#320) accounts for another 150,000
****Ed Greenwood, creator of the Realms, comes in at #149 for around three million books.

*****my mistake: I see from checking the Hammond-Anderso DESCRIPTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY that the number shd be 1500