Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Qenya Alphabet, Tolkien Studies 9, etc.

Just published is The Qenya Alphabet by J.R. R. Tolkien, edited by Arden R. Smith, issue number 20 of the journal Parma Eldalamberon.  Here Smith presents some forty documents by Tolkien, examples of his Elvish lettering that is now known as tengwar and associated with Fëanor, though at the time of creation of these documents, beginning in 1931, there is no indication of these associations.  The documents are a motley bunch---some are clearly examples of Tolkien practicing the craft: there are excerpts copied from Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" in Through the Looking-Glass, from the Pater Noster, from "God Save the King", and from various contemporary letters that Tolkien had written (to E.V. Gordon and C.S. Lewis, among others).  And there are also examples in various styles of handwriting, from versions with pointed letters, to more cursive ones, formal and less formal. Arden Smith has done an excellent job presenting these documents, transliterating them as well as presenting normalized versions, and providing a wealth of commentary. For, in addition to the information on the elvish writing system, there are a number of biographical and literary insights that can be gleaned from the examples Tolkien used. Highly recommended. For ordering details, click here.

Over at the blog Mythoi, Morgan Thomsen has a very interesting post about "Tolkien and the Illustrations of Robert J. Lee".  It describes eighteen illustrations to a reprint of chapter one of The Hobbit in an anthology The Children’s Treasury of Literature, edited by Bryna and Louis Untermeyer, published in England in 1966.  While Thomsen makes many interesting points, the context around this anthology is much more complex and deserves to be delineated further.  

The Children's Treasury of Literature is merely the British retitling of the American anthology The Golden Treasury of Children's Literature (1966), which itself is only a selection of material from a ten-volume series, published from 1961 through 1963 by the Golden Press, the New York office of the Western Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin, a publisher known in America for the "Golden Books" series of books for children (hence the "Golden" in the U.S. title, which doubtless meant little to a British audience so the word was removed). Tolkien's chapter from The Hobbit, with the illustrations by Robert J. Lee, originally appeared in volume 5, Wonder Lands (1962). This volume begins with extracts from The Little White Bird by J.M. Barrie (including the first appearance of the character Peter Pan, predating Barrie's play), a section from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, followed by the Tolkien chapter, then an excerpt from The Happy Moomins by Tove Jansson, and sections from T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, George Macdonald's The Princess and the Goblin, and Dinah Maria Mulock Craik's The Little Lame Prince. Interestingly, the other excerpt that Robert J. Lee illustrated in this volume is that by Tove Jansson, who was herself an illustrator, and coincidentally in the same year as this volume was published (1962) she illustrated the Swedish translation of The Hobbit.

Thus Robert J. Lee's illustrations date from 1962, not 1966, and in that context can be understood as coming from the time before the explosion of popularity of Tolkien's work which began in 1965, not after it, and perhaps in some small way this volume contributed to that great surge in public awareness. Robert J. Lee (1921-1994) was born in California, and educated at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.  He was an instructor at the Pratt Insitute in Brooklyn in 1955-56, and became an associate professor at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York, in 1962. The first of many books he illustrated was This Is a Town (1957), by Polly Curran, and Lee did other work for the Golden Press, including Fifty Famous Fairy Tales (1965). 

Lee's illustrations to The Hobbit are printed slightly differently in the 1962 book from the 1966 one, though the page layouts are identical in the two volumes (i.e., pages 54 though 78 in the 1962 volume are laid out identically to pages 462 through 486 in the 1966 volume). Morgan Thomsen detailed Lee's eighteen illustrations in the 1966 volume in his blog: four in full color, five duotone, and nine monochrome. In the 1962 version, there are four in full color, six duotone, and eight monochrome, the difference being in the illustration of Belladonna Took (Thomsen's #3, duotone in brown and black on page 56 of the 1962 book; monochrome in black on page 464 of the 1966 volume). 

Of the other duotone illustrations,  sometimes the brown and black of 1962 becomes blue and black in 1966 (Thomsen's #1,#8, #9, #18) or the green and black of 1962 becomes yellow and black in 1966 (#11), while the colors of the monotones shift too: the brown of #6 in 1962 becomes blue in 1966; the brown of #12,  #15, and #16 in 1962 becomes black in 1966; the blue of #13 in 1962 becomes black in 1966; and the green of #14 and #17 in 1962 becomes black in 1966. The full color illustrations (Thomsen #2, #5, #7, and #10) are almost the same, though the colors are slightly different.


Of course the success (or lack thereof) of Lee in capturing the essence of Tolkien's story remains in the eyes of the beholder. 

Finished copies of Tolkien Studies volume 9 (2012) have recently shipped, and the text of this volume has been available via the subscription database Project Muse for some weeks now.  When I left Tolkien Studies back in March, I had already drafted some of what would have become the "Book Notes" section for this volume.  Since the content of what I wrote is not covered in the new volume, I figure I might as well share it below.


Books Notes

Perhaps the most curious Tolkien publication of 2011 was a new edition of Oliphaunt, a twenty-four page picture book illustrated by Dan McGeehan, published by The Child's World, Mankato, Minnesota, part of their series of "Poetry for Children". Oddly there is no mention of copyright for the Tolkien poem, and this edition was apparently withdrawn soon after publication.  ISBN 9781609731557.

Another curious publication that appears to be a new book is J.R.R. Tolkien's Double Words and Creative Process: Language and Life, by Arne Zettersten, published by Palgrave Macmillan. Though the book itself gives no hint, it is merely a translation into English (presumably by the author himself) from the Swedish original, Tolkien--min vän Ronald och hand världar [Tolkien: My Friend Ronald and His Worlds] (Stockholm, 2008).  Though much of it is based on previous Tolkien scholarship, Zettersten adds interesting recollections of conversations with Tolkien. His style is, unfortunately, discursive and repetitive. Price $85.00. ISBN 9780230623149.  

From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages (Oxford University Press), edited by Michael Adams, has, as one of its eight chapters, "Tolkien's Invented Languages"by E.S.C. Weiner and Jeremy Marshall, two of the three co-authors of The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary (2006). Tolkien-scholar Arden R. Smith also contributes a chapter on "Confounding Babel: International Auxiliary Languages". Price $19.95. ISBN 9780192807090.

The Journal of Inklings Studies debuted in 2011, with two issues, no. 1 (March 2011) and no. 2 (October 2011).  These issues are predominately concerned with C.S. Lewis, and the only Tolkien-related content is a book review of Dinah Hazell's The Plants of Middle-earth, a book published five years earlier in 2006. One hopes for more (and timelier) Tolkien coverage in future volumes. For more information, see ISSN 2045-8797 (print); 2045-8800 (online). 


Here's the cover of the 2011 version of Oliphaunt. I note that the publisher's website gives more details, showing a few sample pages, but says that "This product is not available for purchase (Withdrawn from sale)". See here

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A New Interview with Christopher Tolkien

Just a quick post to point out a new interview with Christopher Tolkien appeared in French in Le Monde for 7 July 2012.  The full article is on the web here, and a translation into English by Sedulia Scott appears here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Publishing Mordor-style

Academic publishing is at root a kind of scam.  The publishers get away with not paying academics (or paying them very little) because academics mostly need the publishing credits and the exposure which is vital to their academic survival, and they are (supposedly) earning a living by teaching.  This was the traditional model for the bulk of the twentieth century.  With regard to an academic journal, like Tolkien Studies, the editors make a contract with an academic publisher, who regularly brings out each new issue of the journal and deals with all aspects of printing and distributing.  Most of the time (and this is true for Tolkien Studies) the editors receive nothing other than some extra copies of the finished issues of their journal, donating time as well as personal costs while the publisher keeps all the profit (if any) or absorbs the loss (if any).     

This is the model upon which we at Tolkien Studies signed a contract with West Virginia University Press in December 2003.  Pat Connor was then the director West Virginia University Press, and he told us that it usually takes a new academic journal about five years to establish itself and pay its own way.  Just as volume 3 of Tolkien Studies was coming out in 2006, Pat told us we’d managed to do this in three years.  The trade offs with this kind of arrangement are easily understood.  We had a publisher to publish and distribute our work, and our audience of Tolkien readers and scholars had the opportunity to purchase their own copies of the journal and support it—or at least to use the journal in libraries that had purchased it. Not an ideal system, but the trade-offs made it work.

Other factors have grown up in recent years that complicate this scenario.  On the one hand, the bean-counters at universities have been putting the squeeze on university presses, not merely to break even, but to contribute to the fiscal bottom line of the university.  On the other hand, the rise of electronic publishing has brought about some major changes in the industry, and some of these changes are especially pernicious. These ill-effects are mostly seen in the adding of a new set of middle-men between the publisher and the reader—the firms that distribute “content”. These firms make their money in various ways—e.g., via attaching advertisements on the web, or by taking subscription fees. The people who get squeezed by this scenario are the creators of the “content”—the writers, editors, artists, musicians, etc. There is a fascinating book by Robert Levine that details this problem in all of its manifestations called FreeRide: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How theCulture Business Can Fight Back; unfortunately, despite the subtitle (which is slightly altered for its paperback edition) it doesn’t provide any feasible solutions. 

The way this problem arises in academic publishing is in the rise of subscription databases for which libraries have to fork up an annual fee just for access to large databases of various journals (and if a library doesn't pay the annual fee, it loses access to all of the back issues, which is not the case with printed volumes). The fees that are charged to libraries amount to extortion, and some small fraction of these fees are passed on to the original publishers of the various journals.  This problem has been getting an increasing amount of attention in the last year or two.  See:

“Library, Inc.” by Daniel Goldstein in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Many additional articles center their point around scientific journals, but journals in the humanities are under the same yoke. Some in the sciences have begun boycotts.  See: 

“Publishers Be Damned!” by Stephen Foley, in The Independent

So, how does this all relate to Tolkien Studies?  Well, Tolkien Studies was picked up by Project Muse, one of these subscription databases which can only be accessed at a member library—i.e., one that pays Project Muse a subscription fee. Project Muse in turn pays West Virginia University Press an annual fee based on usage of Tolkien Studies articles.  Though by contract West Virginia University Press is supposed to supply the editors of Tolkien Studies with an annual statement, the only time we actually got one was in November 2008.  Here we learned that West Virginia University Press was receiving a payment from Project Muse of nearly $20,000 for usage on volume 5 (2008), this income being completely separate from the usual subscriptions and expenses. 

The timing of this financial statement coincided with Pat Connor leaving West Virginia University Press.  A replacement took over as Director, with whom we had virtually no contact for a few years.  Gradually, however, we noticed changes.  After Tolkien Studies volume 6 came out, I received queries from a good number of people asking why it wasn’t available through Amazon, as each new volume had been in the past (sometimes in discounted form).  Eventually I was told after querying the Press that the higher ups had decided to eliminate ISBNs on the individual volumes and thus they could only be ordered directly from the Press (direct sales equals more money for the press).  The next year I learned that volume 6 had gone out of print (the only volume of Tolkien Studies to do so), and was told that for some reason the Press didn’t do as many copies as with the other volumes. 

As Book Review Editor for Tolkien Studies, I incurred additional expenses when mailing review copies to reviewers, and buying copies of some books to be reviewed because a number of publishers refused to supply review copies. (These expenses add up, especially when you mail books overseas.)  For the first several volumes, we editors split these costs among ourselves.  But as I learned that West Virginia University Press was receiving healthy payments from Project Muse, I checked with Pat Connor who told me that I could save my receipts and the Press would cover those costs. 

When I submitted my receipts (amounting to some $250) in early 2011, the new Director, however, proved difficult and stand-offish, refusing to reimburse me more than $100 and then refusing to have any further discussion of the matter.  It’s one thing to do all this work on Tolkien Studies for nothing, but it’s another to be treated like the lowliest orc, who must pay out of their own pocket for the privilege of being a slave, owing to the scorched-earth policies of the likes of Barad-dûr University Press.  In fact it’s really galling. The impasse dragged on for many months, with various turns and wrinkles that I needn’t go into here.

The end has been reached.  I have ceased all involvement with Tolkien Studies.  Things could have been otherwise, but under the new climate of Mordor-styled publishing, I don’t fit in.  Like the scientists in the articles referenced above, I must question the value of putting a institutional pay-wall between a scholarly journal and its audience. It certainly doesn’t help scholarship by diminishing access to a journal solely in order to fill the coffers of its publisher and distributor.  The old model is broken, and there needs to be a new one.  A fair one. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Hobad: The Hobbit in Irish

Michael Everson of Evertype Publishing writes:

Dea-scéala! Foilseofar aistriúchán Gaeilge Nicholas Williams den leabhar "An Hobad" ar deireadh thiar ar an 25 Márta 2012. Beidh clúdach crua air, arna chló maille le léaráidí daite agus léarscáileanna. Más mian leat réamhordú a chur isteach, cuirtear ríomhphost chugam agus beidh mé i dteagmháil leat maidir leis na sonraí cuí.

Great news! Nicholas Williams' translation of "The Hobbit" into Irish will be published at long last on 25 March 2012. The book will be hardcover, printed with colour illustrations and maps. If you would like to pre-order a copy, send me and e-mail and I will contact you with details.

Michael Everson * *
Cnoc Sceichín * Leac an Anfa * Cathair na Mart * Maigh Eo * Éire

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2011 and Some Nobel Thoughts

Last year I had two ancient projects finally see the light of day, and one of my books came out as an ebook.  One of the ancient projects was Tolkien-related, the other not.  The Tolkien-related piece was a short filler article I submitted back in 2006 to CSL: The Bulletin of The New York C.S. Lewis Society.  The two-page piece is titled "The Inklings and Festschriften", and merely surveys the eleven books published to honor nine of the Inklings.  It appears in the May/June 2011 issue.  For information on the New York C. S. Lewis Society, see their web page.  The older book that re-appeared as an ebook is my anthology H.P. Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales. (Clicking on the cover at right will take you to kindle version at Amazon. I believe other e-formats were in the works, so check your favorite platform. The print edition is still also available here.) The project unrelated to Tolkien was an expanded edition of a 1933 collection, titled Devils' Drums, of central-African voodoo-styled horror stories by British writer Vivian Meik.  This book was completed back in 2003 for one publisher, who sat on it for eight years until I pulled it and placed it with a different publisher, Medusa Press, who produced a fine edition, limited to 300 copies.  For further details on the new edition, see Medusa Press's website.  For further information on Vivian Meik, see my entry on him at my Lesser-Known Writers blog by clicking here.

And speaking of my Lesser-Known Writers blog, I should point out that a couple of the entries already posted have Tolkienian associations.  There is an entry on Dora Owen, who edited The Book of Fairy Poetry (1920) in which Tolken's poem "Goblin Feet" was first reprinted, along with an original color illustration by Warwick Goble.  And there is an entry on G.S. Tancred, who edited the slim 1927 poetry volume Realities which contains the first publication of Tolkien's poem "The Nameless Land".  There are more entries on writers with Tolkien-associations in the queue to be published, and in the entries being worked on, so check back. I'm using the Labels function of the blog as a kind of index to it, so if you scan down to Tolkien, and click on it, you'll find  the Tolkien-related posts (currently two in number).  Here are the direct-to-entry links for the entries on Dora Owen and G.S. Tancred.

A number of interesting publications relating to Tolkien came out last year.  Most of these have received (or will receive) good coverage elsewhere, so I'd just like to call attention to a few off-trail items that might otherwise escape under the radar.  These are the first two issues of a new (paperback) serial, The Journal of Inklings Studies.  So far, the Tolkien-related content has been minimal (amounting to one book review by Jason Fisher), but the C.S. Lewis content has been very interesting, and I hope we will see the Tolkien coverage expand proportionally in future issues.  Details and contents listings at the publisher's website.

Michael Saler's As If, discussed in a previous post, is now out.  ***UPDATE, 1/20:  Tom Shippey has reviewed As If in The Wall Street Journal, see it here*** Similarly, Paul Edmund Thomas's new edition of E. R. Eddison's Styrbiorn the Strong, also previously discussed, made its appearance in December.  Oddly, the publisher photographed the main text from the 1926 Boni edition, and set the new material in a different font, making for an inelegant hybrid. But that's a minor complaint compared to the good news that this book is available again.

Finally, a few comments on the news reported by Alison Flood in The Guardian that Tolkien was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1961.  I've seen a lot of snarky comments, the worst of which is probably The Guardian's own headline:  "J.R.R. Tolkien's Nobel Prize Chances Dashed by 'Poor Prose'" .  The Guardian has a history of knocking Tolkien at almost every opportunity, but the article below the headline says something quite different from what the headline implies, AND if you look into the source in the Swedish original, you find the situation is more complicated than the sneering newspaper headline implies.

First of all, we already knew that on 7 January 1961, C. S. Lewis wrote to Alastair Fowler:
In confidence.  If you were asked to nominate a candidate for the Nobel Prize (literature), who wd. be your choice? Mauriac has had it.  Frost? Eliot? Tolkien? E.M. Forster? Do you know the ideological slant (if any) of the Swedish Academy?  Keep all this under your hat.  
What we learned this month, after the fifty-year embargo on the 1961 Nobel discussions was lifted, is that C. S. Lewis, who as a professor of literature was apparently asked to nominate a candidate, did in fact nominate J.R.R. Tolkien.  It was the Nobel jury-member Anders Österling who nixed Tolkien from consideration, as he did several other names proffered.

The article in the Swedish newspaper which broke the news, the Sydsvenska Dagbladet, can be found here. I'm grateful to the Swedish translator John-Henri Holmberg for commenting on this and allowing me to quote him here.  John-Henri writes: 
What Anders Österling wrote about Tolkien was that "resultatet har dock icke i något avseende blivit diktning av högsta klass”, which is actually difficult to translate. Literally, I might try: "The result, however, has in no particular turned out to be 'diktning' of the highest order", but the problem is the word "diktning", which is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means "literary creation, poetry, poetics"; as a verb it means "the creation of poetry, the act of literary creation" etc. Make of it what you will; as a Swede, I'd say that the sense isn't really that Österling (himself a poet and literary critic, in his late 70s in 1961 though he remained active until around 1978) isn't primarily complaining about Tolkien's prose, but of the totality of his literary creation: what he says is that as a whole, The Lord of the Rings just isn't up to par.
Which is of course not what The Guardian says. But to put further context on this, it should be pointed out that the Swedish translation of The Lord of the Rings was then just appearing (the first volume in 1959, and the third later in 1961).  The translation was by Åke Ohlmarks, and Tolkien himself knew enough Swedish to complain of Ohlmark's translation ("guilty of some very strange mistakes") and of the "ridiculous fantasy" that Ohlmarks constructed as a biographical introduction (see Tolkien's letters to Allen & Unwin of 24 January and 23 February 1961, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien).

This leaves one to wonder if Österling dismissed Tolkien based on having seen only Ohlmark's Swedish translation (or only a volume or two of it, since the translation of the third volume had not apparently been published).  John-Henri Holmberg comments:
Incidentally, sure, by now the members of the Academy probably are reasonably fluent in English. Maybe not as much in 1961; remember that Sweden was primarily influenced from Germany during the later 1900s and until WWII. The first and obligatory foreign language taught in Swedish schools was German, until and including the Spring term of 1944; since the Fall term that year, it's been English. Which means that Swedes older than around 30 in 1961 didn't necessarily study much English in school
And about the dismissal of Tolkien, John-Henri wrote further:
The writer expressing this view, the then Constant Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Anders Österling, himself a poet (1884-1981), was already 77 in 1961 (possibly ironic, considering his views on the age of some Nobel award candidates; he continued publishing almost until his death), and had been greatly influenced by Henri Bergson as well as by the British romantic poets. In fact, Österling was quite impressive both as a poet and as a critic; his active work spanned some 75 years, as his first book of poems was published in 1904 and his last in 1978. As a critic, he was famous for his extremely high literary demands, but he remained open to new forms of expression in the arts; in his mid-eighties, in the early 1970s, he wrote appreciatively of psychedelic and hippie culture.
To me, the most newsworthy aspect of this revelation is not that Tolkien was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1961, nor that he didn't win it (the Swedish Academy has a long history of eclectic choices), but that given this small bit of Tolkien-related news those at The Guardian jumped at the opportunity to twist it and sneer.  Shame on them.