So, Friday brought a new experience: for the first time in my life, I got mail from Poland.* Enclosed in the parcel were two items I'd been looking forward to: AIGLOS: ALMANACH TOLKIENOWSKI (volume 18, the current issue) and AIGLOS Special Issue #2 (Summer 2012). Unlike, say, Gary Hunnewell, the master of Tolkien fanzine studies, I've had relatively little contact with the burgeoning Tolkien fandom and scholarship in (continental) Europe, especially eastern and southern Europe, where I know just enough to know that interesting things have been going on for quite some time now. So when I was contacted by The Tolkien Section of the Silesian Science-Fiction Club (Sekcja Tolkienowska Slaskiego Klubu Fantastyki) and asked if I'd do an interview I was pleased to discover they'd even heard of me and my book so far afield (about 5300 miles away). They sent me some questions, I sent in answers, and the results (now translated into Polish) appear on pages 164-169 of the current issue. Here's how the opening paragraph looks (sans the special characters which I can't reproduce on this keyboard):
Wywiad z Johnem D. Rateliffem
John R. Rateliff jest dobrze znanym badaczem tolkienowskim swiazanym z Marquette University, gdzie obronil prace doktorska na temat lorda Dunsany'ego. Na szersze wody swiatowej tolkienistyki wyplynal wraz z publikacja w 2007 roku The History of The Hobbit ['Historii Hobbita']. Wczesniej jednak wspoluczestniczyl w wielu tolkienowskich przedsiewzieciach, miedzy innymi w przygotowaniu zbioru Tolkien's Legendarium. Essays on "The History of Middle-earth" ['Legendarium Tolkiena. Eseje o Historii Srodziemia'].
It's a strange experience seeing yourself described in a language you don't read; I can pick out enough of this to know that this is my mini-bio ("doktorska . . . lorda Dunsany" being a reference to my dissertation of Lord Dunsany). It's stranger still to see your own words and not be able to read them; not remembering exactly what the questions were or what I said in response to them makes the whole piece seem both mine and not-mine at the same time. Interesting experience.
Of course, my piece is far from the only HOBBIT-themed one in this issue; there are reviews of Corey Olsen's and Noble Smith's books, as well as extensive discussion of the Peter Jackson movie. The cartoons scattered through the volume are particularly amusing, since some of them translate extremely well without any need for words (a demonstration of how inconvenient it is for an elf-lord to ride an elk and maintain his dignity) while others are intriguingly elusive (e.g., two elves with I.V.s riding giant snails). There's also a write-up of the Loughborough conference, including a photo of a panel with Verlyn Flieger, Tom Shippey, and two others whom I don't recognize. All in all, the contents look interesting enough that it makes me wish I could read them.
Which is why the other volume included with this one is so welcome: the 'Special Issue' reprints, in English, a number of pieces from earlier volumes. Even on a quick skim I can see one article of particular interest: Tadeusz A. Olszanski's "The First Tolkienists", a look back at the first five critics to publish book-length studies of Tolkien: Carter, Kocher, Kilby, Ready, and Helms. The author notes that Carter and Kocher are readily available in Polish translation, and that he'd been unable to find a copy of Ready at all, so he focuses on Kilby and Helms. I'm looking forward to reading the resulting piece: Kilby remains well-known (both for providing one of the relatively few memoirs of Tolkien and for his role in founding the Wade Collection), while Helms has virtually dropped off the map: I rarely see him cited and think he's more or less vanished from the collective memory. I'm glad to hear Kocher's well-known over there, since I think his is still one of the best books on Tolkien even now, forty-plus years later.
There's also a generous interview section which shows I'm in good company for being a more recent part of that series, with interviews in English with Wayne and Christina, Shippey, Verlyn, Michael Drout, and Alex Lewis (some thirty-six pages in all).
And I have to say the art's pretty good as well, tending more towards a naturalist style with realistic-looking characters rather than a more faerie strangeness often seen in Tolkien-inspired art (the realistic being the approach favored by Tolkien himself). In particular, I think the illustration by 'Kasiopea' on p. 332 of Morwen and young Turin is the best I've ever seen of those two characters, capturing perfectly the proud haughtiness of that pair in their beleaguered days of poverty.
All in all, a nice thing to find in the mailbox on a summer's day. Here's hoping my own piece gets picked up and reprinted in some Special Issue #3 somewhere down the line.
current reading: SEASONED TO TASTE by Harry Bauer 
current autobook: Boswell's LIFE OF JOHNSON, read by Bernard Mayes
*(Even without the return address, I probably cd have guessed this from the huge stamps of Pope John Paul the second)
concert review: Murray Perahia
1 day ago