Christina writes: In some ways, this past summer was the most pleasant for gardening since our greatly expanded landscaping in 2010. There were periods of very hot weather, but less extensive than before and with breaks in between. Also, since there was enough rain that we had no local water restrictions, I could set drip hoses or sprinklers as I did other garden tasks during the day, rather than Wayne and I both losing free time before breakfast every other day, in order to use only watering cans or hand-held hoses, and only before 8:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m.
In my last garden notes, almost four months ago, I commented that many plants and bushes seem to flower earlier each year, even supposedly late-flowering varieties which now are almost over by mid-August. This was true again this year, though our Rose of Sharon which began to flower early did continue to do so well into September. However, most of our annuals did very well and enjoyed an extended season, since we did not have a hard frost until the night of 28/29 October, several weeks later than usual. The red salvia at the corner of our driveway put on an exceptionally brave show, and a couple reflowering varieties of daylilies continued to produce the occasional bloom through October. As autumn progressed, the holly berries turned red, forming splashes of colour at the front of the house.
I was able to enjoy eating apples from our own trees: one (the Fuji) was especially productive, while another (Honeycrisp) produced only a few, and the third (Gala) none. The apples were rather small, even though Wayne thinned the new fruit early on to promote growth of the rest – not enough, it seems. Next year we must be even more drastic, be sure to apply cedar rust preventative at the right time, and maybe give the apple trees extra water. (On the subject of apples, I was delighted last year and again this year that our local whole foods shop for a brief time had my favourite Cox’s Orange Pippin available from an orchard in Vermont. This variety is very popular in England, but practically unknown in the U.S.A.)
During the autumn, I have started to plan for next year. For example, there were several clumps of phlox, all the same colour, already in the perennial bed when I came to Williamstown in 1995, sections of which I have periodically uprooted as they expanded, but this year, two small clumps looked particularly unhappy: very leggy, with yellowing leaves, and (despite spraying) attacked by mildew. I decided they should go, and had our landscaper remove them. I’ll decide next spring whether to replace them with more phlox of a different colour, or with something entirely different. I had the largest clump cut back and the space filled by subdividing some of the adjoining peonies, which were no longer producing so many flowers. Elsewhere, I had some of our larger hostas subdivided and the spare sections planted at the back to replace a Hydrangea quercifolia which had not survived the 2012–13 winter. I also had some of the iris clumps subdivided, but not all replanted. I love these in the spring when in flower and the leaves are still upright, not so much during the summer: as they grow tall and bend over, they encroach on the space of adjoining plants and look very untidy.
While Wayne was roaming Home Depot one weekend looking for materials for refitting the garage and potting shed, I spent my time in their garden section and was tempted by packs of bulbs. Since some of my earlier bulb plantings are no longer producing flowers (or have been dug up by squirrels), I bought 60 mixed daffodil bulbs to add to those planted sparsely around the apple trees; 75 crocus, partly to be planted in clumps in the beds and partly in the lawn; 75 grape hyacinth (Muscari) to add to an existing border; and 24 dwarf iris and 30 snowdrops to go in the beds along the front of the house. As plants begin to die back in autumn, I keep my spirits up by looking forward to the spring.
As our perennials faded in October and November, I began to cut them back. Some, such as the Shasta daises, reveal fresh growth when cut back. A few perennials, such as the heuchera with their variously coloured leaves, continue to look good, and I prefer to remove damaged leaves in the spring. By the time the first hard frost came at the end of October, killing most of the annuals overnight, most of the leaves were already off the trees. One day the Guinea impatiens stood with bright flowers above a thick layer of leaves, the next they were shrivelled, and when I went out to pull them up I had to push the leaves away to find the plants. We get a lot of leaves, mainly maple and birch, most of them are from trees in surrounding gardens.
It was not until the 20th November that our landscaper’s men came to do the autumn cleanup. They finished cutting back the perennials, cleared leaves from the beds which they then spread with compost that had been forming in large bins constructed from concrete blocks (Wayne calls these the ‘gun emplacements’) at the back extension of our property. The men needed to clear as much compost as possible to make space for the leaves they cleared from the beds and lawns. There were so many leaves, in fact, that they had to compact them somewhat by trampling on them, and even so the bins are almost overflowing. The men finished work that first day by giving our lawns their final mowing of the year. They then returned to spend the morning erecting fences to protect those plants most appetizing to deer, who might come out of the nearby forests at any time of the year but are most likely to visit in winter when food is scarce. We have some sympathy for them, but they can have quite a devastating effect, nibbling bushes down to the ground. Another reason for not encouraging them is that they carry Lyme disease, which can be quite serious if not quickly diagnosed. Unfortunately, the workers (no longer employed!) who took the fences down in the spring did not label them properly, and it took our landscaper, his two men, and me some time to unroll each bundle of wire netting and work out which piece went where.
A few days later, we had the first snowfall of the winter, not much in the wintry scheme of things in western Massachusetts, but enough for Wayne to brush (rather than shovel) it from the drive. Most of it soon melted. We have had several flurries since then, which have kept a sprinkling of white on the ground but, thankfully, not the heavy snowfalls that were at one time forecast for Thanksgiving.
Wayne writes: One of the home improvement projects I wanted to tackle when we had our renovations done in 2007 was a re-fit of our potting shed (attached to the north end of our garage), but as we ran out of time and money I put it on my long-term list of things to do myself. This year, I was determined to get at least most of the work done before (as has always happened before) cold weather set in and I had to postpone the job until spring. My conception of the shed has changed several times since my parents and I bought our house in 1978. For a long time, we kept it as originally described by the realtor, for garden work and as a convenient place to store the lawnmower and other tools. A previous owner had put up a cantilevered counter out of scrap wood, and had covered the stud walls with the remains of pallets from a local manufacturer; and in the latter, numerous nails had been driven willy-nilly, on which one could hang the odd rake or shovel. It was all as amateurish as could be, but a low priority for change as the years passed, both of my parents passed away, Christina and I married, we had book contracts, and so forth. At one point, I considered making the shed over into a printing shop, but as it’s unheated this was hardly practical; and since we rarely do actual repotting of plants, there was no point in restoring that function to the space. Instead, we decided to make it a small workshop, with a proper workbench and storage for hand and power tools, which I have used on a regular basis for repairs and odd jobs and wanted finally to organize, ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’.
In 2007, the most we could afford for the shed was to have an unsteady floor of bricks and carpet (talk about amateurish!) replaced with one of poured concrete, and overhead lights and ground-fault electrical outlets installed. Six years later, this past summer, I got busy at last, removed most of the scrap lumber from the shed walls, and mapped out what I could do economically, using new pegboard panels bought from Home Depot together with panelling and plywood left over from our renovations and spare shelving and brackets brought over from Christina’s London flat when she moved to Williamstown in 1995. I was pleased to make use of these materials, with a lot of galvanized screws, with a minimum of cutting except for short lengths of shelving installed between some of the studs. I already had a tool cabinet on wheels; instead of trying to build a workbench, I found one on Amazon of the right size, on which I mounted a small vise at one end. I have another, larger wood vise still to mount elsewhere on the bench, but that will be a little trickier.
As shown in the photos, many of our hand tools are now neatly hanging on pegboard, and there is ample shelving, or large plastic bins, for power tools and supplies. I re-mounted on metal brackets an old shelf that had been at one end of the shed, and we use this now to store clay pots. Below this is a new long shelf, on which are a variety of watering cans. On adjoining walls are more pegboard panels, for hanging metal plant rings and stakes, and hooks of various sizes for other purposes. In the garage proper, I mounted two lengths of a metal pegboard, called (really) the Holey Rail, on which now neatly hang our shovels, rakes, push brooms, and the like, as well as small ladders. Finally, next to the door from our house into the garage, I mounted another pegboard panel, and on this we store our small gardening tools: secateurs, loppers, trowels, etc. Home Depot have done very well out of this project, especially in supplying pegboard hooks, but it’s very satisfying to be able to find the tool you’re looking for &endash; provided that one remembers to put it back when finished with it.
Images, top to bottom: red salvia, then still hanging on beneath our locust trees; the ‘birch bed’ in front of the house, put to bed for the winter, with anti-deer fencing around holly and euonymus; our ‘gun emplacement’ bins, filled with leaves and other garden waste that will make lots of compost; the potting shed, now also a workshop; the east wall of the shed, with pots, watering cans, and such.
The Pocket Farmer Giles of Ham
The fiftieth anniversary edition of Farmer Giles of Ham, which we edited in 1999 with an introduction and notes, the text of the first, manuscript version of the work, Tolkien’s notes for a sequel, and a map of the ‘Little Kingdom’ by Pauline Baynes, will return to print in a ‘pocket’ edition from HarperCollins. This is due to be published on 27 February 2014. Pauline Baynes’s upper cover art for the 1978 edition has been adapted once again, now with a blackletter capital ‘H’ in ‘Ham’ to suggest the mock-medieval nature of Tolkien’s tale. HarperCollins asked if we had any corrections to make to our text; we pointed them to our addenda and corrigenda here, and will be interested to see if any of these are taken up, space permitting.
Once upon a time in The Tolkien Collector, we used to collect entries for Tolkien items offered in booksellers’ and auction catalogues. We gave that up eventually, when the majority of offerings were made online, in electronic catalogues or through services such as abebooks and eBay. But some dealers still issue catalogues, and we take note of Tolkien offerings when they appear, mainly to see how much a particular book is bringing now in the marketplace (and usually to be glad that we already have it and didn’t pay quite so much). In Blackwell’s Rare Books (Oxford) latest Antiquarian & Modern catalogue, a copy of the first one-volume paperback Lord of the Rings (Allen & Unwin, 1968) is listed at £200 (item 252), spine ‘lightly faded’ and with ‘minor rubbing along edges’ and ‘a small crease’ in the bottom corner of both panels illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Also in the catalogue, as item 253 and priced at £300, is a copy of the Society of Antiquaries Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman, and Post-Roman Site in Lydney Park (1932), containing Tolkien’s appendix ‘The Name “Nodens”’. This is said to have ‘occasional light foxing’ and the binding ‘sunned overall with two small damp-spots to [the] back cover’, spine slightly worn, and ‘edges browned’.
Maud and Miska Petersham, husband and wife illustrators beloved in Wayne’s childhood, are the subject of a recent book by Lawrence Webster, Under the North Light: the Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham (Woodstockarts, 2012). Late in life, after Miska’s death, Maud planned to publish a Who’s Who in Fairylore, and for this sketched ‘The Family Tree of Fairy Folk’, in one corner of which is a hobbit relaxing with his pipe.
On October 3rd, we had just received the new regular and de luxe British editions of The Hobbit, illustrated by Jemima Catlin, and as described in our previous post, Christina had just reorganized our Hobbit bookcase to allow for growth. When it came time to put away the new copies, however, we found that the new editions were too tall for the space! and Christina needed to revise our Hobbit shelves once again. Library management is never-ending.
The post this week has brought two new editions of The Lord of the Rings. First to arrive was the ‘collector’s edition’ by HarperCollins, with each of the three hardcover volumes bound in decorated cloth and issued without dust-jackets. The text is that of the fiftieth anniversary edition, with the expanded index, the general map of Middle-earth printed in black and red on each front endsheet, and the map of Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor in black and red on each back endsheet. Although these volumes are available separately, we bought them in a slipcased set with the recent ‘collector’s edition’ Hobbit: each volume of The Lord of the Rings in our copy is the first printing, and The Hobbit is the third.
We have also had the new deluxe edition published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, bound in a dark grey suede-like cloth (leatherette) with deep black and gold lettering and decoration. The outer corners of both the boards and the pages are rounded. The bottom margin is cut unusually close for a hardcover, and the binding is tight though flexible. Again, the text is that of the fiftieth anniversary edition, with the expanded index; the larger maps are printed, in black only, at the end of the volume. The 2013 HMH catalogue describes this as a ‘pocket edition’, which at 8¼ × 6 × 2¼ in. presupposes a large pocket. The catalogue also calls for ‘gilt edges’ but the only gilt is applied to the rings stamped on the upper cover and spine.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, a book of commissioned essays edited by noted children’s literature specialist Peter Hunt, has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan in the Children’s Literature subset of their series New Casebooks. As usual when we receive a new Tolkien-related book, we turned first to its bibliography, to see which sources have been used, and if any essential or more up-to-date references have been omitted – often a good method for judging the quality of a book in advance of reading. In this case, instead of documenting the works cited by the essay authors (for which one must look at individual sets of endnotes), Hunt makes suggestions for ‘Further Reading’. About half of these are works on Tolkien in particular, with the rest on fantasy and children’s literature in general.
Under the heading ‘On Tolkien’s life’, Hunt lists only four works: Carpenter’s Biography, Tolkien’s Letters, John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War, and Carpenter’s The Inklings. All well and good: but (though it’s hardly modest for us to ask) where is our J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, with its long Chronology, numerous biographical Guide entries, and substantial information not published elsewhere? Seven years on since its publication, one can no longer claim that the Companion and Guide is new and unfamiliar; and indeed, Hunt does include it, but in the section ‘On Tolkien’s work’. There he writes:
Tolkien may well be unrivalled for the ‘comprehensive’ reference works devoted to him. Every possible (it might seem) cultural and literary reference in his books is tracked in J.E.A. Taylor’s [sic] The Complete Tolkien Companion, 3rd edn (London: Pan, 2002). But that book’s 736 pages pale beside the nearly 1000 pages of Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (London: HarperCollins, 2008 [i.e. the revised trade paperback]), which is in its turn dwarfed by the 2304 pages of Hammond and Scull’s The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion [sic], 2 vols (London: HarperCollins, 2006).
Did Professor Hunt perhaps group these books together because they run to a large number of pages (is size their only virtue?), or because they happen to share the word companion in their titles? Tyler’s work, an encyclopedia of characters, places, etc. in the ‘matter of Middle-earth’ (and less useful than Robert Foster’s Complete Guide to Middle-earth), in fact does not include ‘every possible . . . cultural and literary reference’ in Tolkien’s works – far from it. Nor is our book of annotations to The Lord of the Rings comparable to Tyler’s work, but is of a very different sort. And as for our Companion and Guide, although it’s concerned with Tolkien’s works, it’s also, and primarily, biographical (or historical) rather than critical, and so would have been more naturally categorized in the Hunt volume under ‘On Tolkien’s life’.
We quibble about this because the Companion and Guide is often forgotten as a biographical source, or at least not used in that regard to the extent it might be. As John Garth wrote in Tolkien Studies 4 (2007), ‘with the arrival of the Companion and Guide there ought now to be no excuse, beyond sheer laziness, for other biographers to use Humphrey Carpenter’s 1977 J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography as virtually the sole source of information about Tolkien’s life, as too many have done’ (p. 258). Later, in Tolkien Studies 6 (2009, p. 315), David Bratman judged (though we ourselves would not go so far) that the Companion and Guide had ‘instantly superseded Humphrey Carpenter’s long-standard Tolkien: A Biography as the source of first reference for biographical data on the man’. And in Amon Hen 203 (January 2007), David Doughan more succinctly called the Companion and Guide ‘probably the most useful biographical reference on Tolkien ever’ (p. 28). Very welcome comments, all, and only a few of many. We would hope that the length of the Companion and Guide would not put off readers – as a reference book, it hardly demands that one read it straight through (though some have done so) – nor can its cost be considered high for a work of that length. We don’t find it cited (neither is the Reader’s Companion) by any of the authors in Hunt’s book.
Hunt’s ‘Further Reading’ is a curiously mixed set of suggestions. It appears primarily to reflect his own reading behind his editorial introduction to the volume, and to have been guided in no small part by Brian Rosebury’s choice of sources in his 2003 Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon. For Hunt, the ‘two essential books on Tolkien’ are Rosebury’s Cultural Phenomenon and The Road to Middle-earth by Tom Shippey, with a nod also to Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, books we ourselves marked as ‘particularly useful’ in the bibliography of our Companion and Guide. But – granting that, as Hunt says, ‘the list of specialist studies [on Tolkien] could be extended almost indefinitely’ – he unaccountably omits any mention, though one would reasonably expect it in a book in which The Hobbit features so prominently, of Douglas A. Anderson’s Annotated Hobbit and John D. Rateliff’s History of The Hobbit; and he recommends the very limited 1983 J.R.R. Tolkien: This Far Land, edited by Robert Giddings, as ‘an assured collection’ while failing to include The Lord of the Rings 1954–2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, cited by several of Hunt’s essayists, and even by Hunt himself, or Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on the History of Middle-earth, or A Tolkien Compass, or the journal Tolkien Studies – to say no more.
Christina writes: One of the most important parts of our home renovation in 2007 was work undertaken to make our basement dry and to add (as we mentioned on introducing this blog) several hundred linear feet of new bookshelves. These were a welcome safety valve in particular for our ‘Tolkien library’ – once, and still at a pinch, a dining room – where our collection of Tolkien’s works was stuffed, too tight for safekeeping and in places double-shelved, into seven large bookcases, seven feet high by three feet wide. Once our ‘stacks’ became available, we moved to the basement a section of Tolkien in translation, thereby gaining space in the library for English-language editions. Works from A Middle English Vocabulary to The Lord of the Rings then occupied the four bookcases on the west wall, and subsequent titles, periodicals, etc. were kept in the three bookcases on the east wall.
This was not as straightforward as it might seem. As far as possible, we try to shelve Tolkien’s books in the order used in Wayne’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography: that is, divided into books by Tolkien, books to which Tolkien contributed or which he edited or translated, periodical contributions, published letters, published art, and miscellaneous, arranged in each section chronologically by title, edition, and printing. (Translations of Tolkien’s works into foreign languages are a section unto themselves, arranged by language.) But unless one has the endless shelves of Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Library, eventually any organizing system for an active, growing collection has to give way to division also by size. Our Tolkien library bookcases have six adjustable shelves, i.e. seven shelves including the bottom one, and enough height that, in general, only the tallest books have to be removed from strict order; but at the same time, for The Lord of the Rings and boxed sets of that work with The Hobbit, following the Bibliography order creates runs of several feet of mass-market paperbacks (e.g. Ballantine editions) or of Allen & Unwin (and successors) one-volume paperbacks, and because these volumes are relatively short, in two bookcases we have been able to insert an extra shelf.
After our rearrangement of the collection at the end of 2007, there was a comfortable amount of empty space in the Tolkien library, and one empty shelf between The Hobbit and Farmer Giles of Ham seemed a reasonable allowance for growth for The Hobbit, since all separate editions of that work published since 1937 occupied just under five shelves. But as new editions have been issued during the last six years, that spare shelf has been almost filled, and there are more books to come in conjunction with the second and third Hobbit films; and although we still had two empty shelves at the end of our Lord of the Rings section (down from three and a half in 2007), more boxed sets will be published soon, so using this space for Hobbit expansion didn’t seem a particularly good solution. In any case, I knew that it would be a major task indeed to move the Lord of the Rings section a shelf forward without breaking up the multiple sequences described in the Bibliography. I also disliked the idea of moving just one shelf of The Hobbit to the end, and moving the section of Farmer Giles of Ham would not provide much space.
Then a few days ago, we were wondering what to do with two small bamboo shelving units we had had in the kitchen but no longer wanted there. These were made to be hung on a bedroom or bathroom wall (I had them in my flat in London), and for only lightweight storage on shelves with low clearance. It occurred to me, though, that they might fit well in one particular spot on the north wall of the Tolkien library, and that they would be suitable for mass market paperbacks on the lower shelves and taller (but relatively lightweight) books on the open top shelf. Ballantine editions of The Lord of the Rings were an obvious candidate; but as there was enough space for only part of the Ballantine run, I chose the later issues, from the introduction of cover illustrator Darrell K. Sweet in 1981, leaving the earlier printings with the main run in our big bookcases, preceding the Allen & Unwin second edition. The removal of the Sweet editions from the second bookcase on the west wall left enough space to move some editions of The Lord of the Rings from the bottom shelf of the first bookcase to the top shelf of the second (Ace Books) and to the taller third shelf (some Allen & Unwin first editions and Houghton Mifflin first editions). Farmer Giles of Ham and other Allen & Unwin first editions moved to the bottom shelf. At the other end of The Lord of the Rings, there are now three empty shelves.
To make room for future issues of Tolkien Studies, I removed the run of Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review from one of the low bookcases under the library’s bow window and placed it on the top shelf of one of the bamboo bookcases. No doubt there will be more Ballantine editions to go in this case as new cover issues appear. In the meantime, we’ve gained some space for more copies of The Hobbit – for a while. Already there are two U.K. editions illustrated by Jemima Catlin waiting to be listed, and the U.S. edition of the Catlin Hobbit is in the post.
Images, top to bottom: Two of our large ‘Tolkien library’ bookcases, with a little room for more copies of The Hobbit (the drapes are a William Morris fabric, ‘Pomegranate’ (or ‘Fruit’); the framed drawing is by Pauline Baynes for Smith of Wootton Major); the relocated bamboo bookcases with relocated books (the decorated tobacco jar, a gift from René van Rossenberg, contains Tolkien-related buttons).
Our post of 4 February, concerning the five titles with illustrations by Pauline Baynes in the series Blackie’s Library of Famous Books, drew replies from fellow collectors, who sent us valuable information. Since then, we have had a helpful response to questions sent to the British Library about their copy of Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and we have been able to determine that Blackie & Son moved their London offices from 66 Chandos Place to 16/18 William IV Street in 1951.
Most interesting of all, we have found that Pauline Baynes art was first included in the Blackie Andersen’s Fairy Tales alongside black and white illustrations by Helen Stratton, whose pictures had accompanied the Blackie Andersen for many years. Two of the copies of this revised Andersen called to our attention, as well as the British Library copy, are illustrated primarily by Stratton, but with a colour frontispiece by Baynes and a title-page drawing after Baynes (adapted from her dust-jacket art for the Blackie Grimm’s Fairy Tales). Since the copies give the first London address for the publisher on the verso of the half-title leaf as 66 Chandos Place (Blackie’s London office from 1941 to 1951), and a ‘Book Production War Economy Standard’ notice also is printed on that page (referring to a conservation scheme which ended in 1949), and in two of the copies there is a 1949 ownership date, we have dated the first appearance of the Baynes art, and of her paintings for an accompanying dust-jacket, to [1949?].
Sometime later, the Stratton art was removed from the Blackie Andersen and replaced with further ink drawings by Baynes, added to her existing frontispiece and title-page art. The text type was reset as well. So far, the earliest copies of this new edition known to us give the publisher’s London address as 16/18 William IV Street, and thus can have appeared no earlier than 1951; and as noted in our earlier post, our copy with this address has an ownership inscription dated 1954, providing a range for the printing date from 1951 to 1954. Since the artist’s copy, preserved in the Pauline Baynes Archive at Williams College, likewise contains the William IV Street address, it seems reasonable to suppose that the copy represents the first appearance of the new Baynes illustrations, and therefore we have dated the new edition to [1951?]. Of course, this conclusion may be refined as more information about further copies comes to hand.
Wayne writes: Late last summer, I was asked to write about some aspect of the work of Maurice Sendak for the Newsletter* of the Children’s Books History Society, as part of an extended obituary and appreciation – Sendak had passed away in May 2012. I chose to focus on two of my favorite Sendak books, The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960) and The Nutshell Library (1962). For the sake of context, however, I looked again at the complete range of Sendak’s work, and in the process recalled that he was once engaged to illustrate a deluxe edition of The Hobbit for J.R.R. Tolkien’s primary American publisher, Houghton Mifflin (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Thereby hangs a tale which has been confused in the telling.
News of this might-have-been Hobbit briefly dominated geek websites in March 2011. The key article was written for the Los Angeles Times ‘Hero Complex’ page by Spiderwick Chronicles creator Tony DiTerlizzi. ‘Reinterpretation’, he argued, is ‘integral to the lifespan of a classic, whether book or film’, and each generation of readers should have an edition of a timeless story that speaks directly to them, in a style and design they find familiar. For DiTerlizzi, Maurice Sendak, the beloved Caldecott Medal-winning author-illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are, was ‘the perfect visionary to reinterpret’ Tolkien’s Hobbit.
According to DiTerlizzi – using information he received from Wicked author Gregory Maguire, who in turn had interviewed Sendak – Tolkien requested samples to judge Sendak’s suitability for the job. ‘Begrudgingly, Sendak obliged, creating two finished images – one of wood-elves dancing in the moonlight, and another of Bilbo relaxing outside his hobbit hole smoking his pipe beside Gandalf.’ But (as the story goes) an editor mislabelled these, identifying the wood-elves as hobbits. ‘This blunder nettled Tolkien. His reply was that Sendak had not read the book closely and did not know what a hobbit was. Consequently, Tolkien did not approve the drawings. Sendak was furious.’ A meeting between illustrator and author was arranged while Sendak was in England for the U.K. release of Where the Wild Things Are; but before this could occur, Sendak had a heart attack, putting him in hospital for weeks. At last, the project was abandoned. ‘Had Sendak’s edition been released,’ DiTerlizzi stated, ‘I have no doubt it would have been a smashing success. I even speculate that he would have been asked to continue onward with “The Lord of the Rings.”’
Replies to this article on the ‘Hero Complex’ page were mixed, some agreeing with DiTerlizzi’s opinions, others finding fault with Sendak’s sample drawing of Bilbo and Gandalf at Bag-End (reproduced with the article). Christina and I added our own comments, referring to correspondence about the Sendak Hobbit between Houghton Mifflin and Tolkien’s British publisher, George Allen & Unwin, which we had read in the course of our research. ‘Mr. DiTerlizzi’, we wrote,
says that Sendak was invited to illustrate The Hobbit ‘in the late 1960s’; in fact, Sendak signed a contract in 1964, and asked for a couple of years to do the work. The article implies that the only hurdle to Sendak’s involvement was Tolkien, who in 1967 ‘was still overseeing his Middle-earth empire’; in fact, Tolkien had already, in 1963, allowed Houghton Mifflin to get on with a deluxe ‘Hobbit’ to be illustrated by Virgil Finlay (who seems to have dropped out; Tolkien made some positive comments on his sample picture), and when Sendak was proposed he continued in the same manner. Far from ‘overseeing an empire’, by which we suppose Mr. DiTerlizzi means micromanaging, Tolkien tended to defer to his publishers on business matters. Sendak may have made sample drawings ‘begrudgingly’, but they seem to have been expected of him by all concerned, as from any artist, even one so distinguished.
In regard to the misidentification of the ‘wood-elves’ drawing, the correspondence between Houghton Mifflin and Allen & Unwin in January–February 1967 clearly refers to only one image sent by Austin Olney at Houghton Mifflin, received by Joy Hill at Allen & Unwin, and shown to Tolkien by Rayner Unwin: the picture of Gandalf and Bilbo. Tolkien saw it on 16 February 1967, and on 20 February Rayner wrote to Houghton Mifflin that Tolkien was not ‘wildly happy about the proportions of the figures’, Bilbo being too large relative to Gandalf. There is no indication that Tolkien saw a picture of dancing wood-elves, so any mislabelling ‘blunder’ was of no consequence.
We might have added that DiTerlizzi’s fulsome praise for the ‘spec pieces’, comparing them to ‘etchings by the likes of Rembrandt and Samuel Palmer’, could hardly have applied to more than the one sample drawing (of Bilbo and Gandalf), since – as DiTerlizzi himself noted – only this drawing is known to survive, along with Sendak’s marked copy of The Hobbit, in the Beinecke Library of Yale University; he could not have seen the ‘wood-elves’ drawing, which is nowhere to be found.
In 2004, Christina and I were invited to attend a session of the Children’s Literature New England conference held in Williamstown, at which Sendak was the guest of honor and was interviewed on stage by Gregory Maguire. The story of the aborted Hobbit came up. Sendak spoke with indignation about what had happened, but Christina and I knew that what he recalled didn’t match the archival evidence. Of course, it may be that Sendak misremembered, or that he recalled only what he had been told by Houghton Mifflin; it may be that their account was garbled, or altered to make it less displeasing to an important illustrator; or it may be that Sendak’s ‘wood-elves’ drawing was thought so poor by publishers’ intermediaries that it was deliberately withheld from the author – who, after all, had already illustrated The Hobbit himself. Sendak’s drawing of Bilbo and Gandalf appears to have been done quickly, perhaps under pressure to produce an overdue sample. I wonder if Sendak was ever fully invested in the project – it would be interesting to see what he wrote or drew in his working copy of The Hobbit, as a gauge of his dedication.
When Sendak was approached by Houghton Mifflin about The Hobbit at the beginning of 1964, Where the Wild Things Are had just been published, though it had not yet won the Caldecott Medal. Sendak had received four Caldecott Honor awards, so was already an illustrator of some repute. The cachet of a Caldecott Medal (announced in March 1964 and accepted by Sendak in June) changed the game dramatically. Although Sendak thought that work on The Hobbit would take only two years, three went by before he produced trial art. In the meantime, he illustrated several other books. He never lacked for projects, and after Where the Wild Things Are became enormously popular, he had enough financial security that, having illustrated so many books by others, he was eager to assert, in a way greater than he already had, his own preferences and taste.
At any rate, in 1964 the editors at Houghton Mifflin probably had Where the Wild Things Are particularly in mind, at least as proof that Sendak could handle a tale of ‘there and back again’, if a very short tale compared to Tolkien’s book. It was Sendak’s most ambitious and most impressive work to that date, though in some respects a development of his most common style, influenced by comic strips and cartoons. But he had also made some increasingly sophisticated and very successful ink drawings, based on nineteenth-century illustrations, an influence already at the beginning of his career. Many of these appeared in the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik, which began in 1957. By the time he made his Hobbit specimen, Sendak had done elaborate pen work for (among others) a 1966 collection of stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, George Macdonald’s The Golden Key in 1967 (another near-connection with Tolkien, who had been asked to write the introduction but bowed out, transforming his work into Smith of Wootton Major), and, also in 1967, Sendak’s own Higglety Pigglety Pop!
His Hobbit specimen suggests that he would have illustrated Tolkien’s book in this vein. Would his more developed drawings – especially his very accomplished pictures for The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (1973) – been to Tolkien’s liking? Maybe so, if Sendak had paid attention to Tolkien’s descriptions and visual clues, and if his art was not too outlandish. Tolkien wrote, concerning Virgil Finlay’s sample art for The Hobbit: ‘as long (as seems likely) he will leave humour to the text and pay reasonable attention to what the text says, I shall I expect be quite happy’. And also: ‘With regard to the “redressed” American Hobbit, I am inclined to let Houghton Mifflin get on with it according to their own taste.’ I have no doubt that Sendak too would have been allowed to ‘get on with it’, in some mutually agreeable form. But he never returned to The Hobbit after recovering from his heart attack. Christina and I have found nothing in publishers’ archives to explain why. It may be, as Sendak’s fame continued to grow, that Houghton Mifflin ultimately couldn’t afford him, or that he became more interested (he certainly became more involved, and was very skilled) in designing for theatre and opera. In any event, as Sendak said in his speech accepting the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in April 1970, his ‘passion for making books’ had given him ‘a distinct vision’ of what he wanted his books to be, ‘a vision difficult to verbalize. I am now in search of a form more purely and essentially my own.’ If Sendak had illustrated The Hobbit, I’m sure the result would have been worth seeing, if probably not the masterpiece above all masterpieces that Tony DiTerlizzi predicted.
* My article was published in the March 2013 issue.
Wedgwood Millennium Plate
At the turn of the new millennium, Wedgwood issued a series of decorative calendar plates. We have just acquired one of these, for 1999, on eBay, because it is devoted to English literature and celebrates Tolkien along with Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, and Dame Agatha Christie. Each author is represented by a roundel illustration for one of his or her works, or which evokes a body of work. For Tolkien, this is a picture for chapter 12 of The Hobbit, of Bilbo and the dragon Smaug sleeping on his hoard. Bilbo, however, is wearing a helmet (which he acquires only later in the story) and is putting treasure into a sack as large as the hobbit himself (whereas in The Hobbit Bilbo is just able to carry out a single cup). Unlike the figure in Tolkien’s painting Conversation with Smaug, Bilbo is not wearing boots.
Tolkien is among five authors inducted this year into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was founded in 1996 and is now based at the EMP Museum in Seattle, where Tolkien’s three-dimensional portrait has been laser-etched onto a Lucite block. Inductees are nominated by members of the Museum and ‘chosen by a panel of award-winning science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, editors, publishers, and film professionals’. Most of the inductees to date are known more for science fiction rather than fantasy (as far as any distinction can now be made). By coincidence, also inducted in this round was Joanna Russ, who wrote an unpublished play based on The Hobbit.
As mentioned in Tolkien Notes 7, our Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was nominated for a Locus Magazine award in the category of Art Book. In the event, we came in third of five; the winner was Spectrum 19: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.
When Hobbitus Ille, the translation of The Hobbit into Latin by Mark Walker, was published last September, we ordered it at once, and (as collectors) were annoyed to receive a copy of the second printing, not the first. Who would have thought that a Latin edition of The Hobbit would be in so much demand as to need at least two printings by the time of publication? Since Hobbitus Ille isn’t a primary edition of a Tolkien work, only a translation of one, we didn’t bother to pursue a first printing, though we never forget that we didn’t have one. Then, just a week ago, while visiting a Barnes & Noble bookshop in Albany, New York, what should we find but a first printing of Hobbitus Ille! Christina almost didn’t look at the two copies on the shelf, and after checking one of them and finding it was a second printing, she almost didn’t check the other. So now we’re happy, as well as interested to know that copies of the HarperCollins U.K. edition were imported for sale in the U.S.A.
We would have enjoyed seeing the Bodleian Libraries’ current exhibition, ‘Magical Books: From the Middle Ages to Middle-earth’, on display through 27 October, but as we won’t be visiting Oxford before then, we have to make do with the accompanying book, Magical Tales: Myth Legend & Enchantment in Children’s Books, edited by Carolyne Larrington and Diane Purkiss (Bodleian Library, 2013). This includes frequent references to Tolkien, and to some of Christina’s favourite childhood books, as well as others she has discovered and enjoyed as an adult.
Magical Tales reproduces in colour three of Tolkien’s pictures for The Hobbit: his dust-jacket art (with annotations), the watercolour Conversation with Smaug, and a drawing in black and red, Firelight in Beorn’s House. There is also one of his ‘facsimile’ pages from the ‘Book of Mazarbul’ for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s nicely calligraphed manuscript of the first lines of the Old English Exodus with the beginning of a lecture on that poem, and a 1947 manuscript postcard written by ‘Kay’ (Katharine) Farrer to Tolkien, using Anglo-Saxon runes.
The editorial caption for Tolkien’s Exodus manuscript page reads: ‘The word middeangard, found at the beginning of the poem, means “Middle-earth”, and Old English is the language of the Rohirrim, or Riders of Rohan’ (p. 96). On the surface, yes, but as Tolkien points out in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, although he used Old English for the Rohirrim, it was not their actual language. There are pitfalls for the unwary who walk in Tolkien territory! Then there is Ms. Larrington’s unfortunate comment on p. 63, on the evolution of the story of Túrin. Tolkien, she wrote, made use of Norse legend ‘in the early unfinished story The Children of Húrin, begun in the form of an epic poem during the First World War. The tale was finally completed by Christopher Tolkien and published in 2007.’ There are at least three errors in this statement, which conflates several stages of composition. On the same page, her comment that the dwarves in The Hobbit are ‘on a quest to win back the Lonely Mountain from the dragon’ seems to derive from the Jackson film rather than from Tolkien.
Christina writes: As I noted at the end of my last gardening post, May is a busy month in the garden which leaves me little time for weeding. This year the weeds as well as the ‘official residents’ of our garden prospered with plentiful rainfall at the end of May and early June. So, having dealt with most other tasks in May, I was able to devote the first two weeks of June to weeding each bed in turn, occasionally doing a quick sweep of those dealt with earliest to remove new invaders. Luckily, more rainfall meant that I did not need to spend much time watering.
When we began our landscaping in 2010 we planted thirteen mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) along a bed on the far side of a narrow lawn at the back of our house, backing on to part of a neighbouring garden filled with trees. To provide diversity in leaves and flower colour in this long stretch, we chose several different varieties: ‘Nipmunk’, ‘Nathan Hale’, ‘Kaleidoscope’, ‘Yankee Doodle’, and ‘Pristine’. One unintentional result was some difference in shrub size – all looked larger in the nurseries. The three white mountain laurels (‘Pristine’) were always smaller than the rest. One barely survived the 2010–11 winter, and left such a hole that we had it replaced with a ‘Carousel’ (as we could not find another white-flowered variety).
Then in 2012 one of the two ‘Pristine’ survivors was badly damaged by a small branch falling on it from a neighbour’s tree and lost half its branches. This was very noticeable, as it was in a rather wide gap between two larger shrubs. (When planting the shrubs in 2010 the spacing had to be adjusted to avoid large roots from the trees in the adjoining garden.) This year, I had our landscaper remove the damaged ‘Pristine’ and replant it just behind the other surviving one, to suggest more bulk, while planting a new white mountain laurel in the space vacated. I copied this trick from him: in 2010 he suggested replanting in a group the three ‘White Lights’ azaleas we had bought about ten years earlier, which, after blooming for two years, had just hung onto life with a few leaves and maybe a flower every few years. Planted together in 2010, they had some presence and have done well growing into a single shrub, though it is interesting that the colour of their blossom now varies a little, perhaps the result of one of them having spent some years in a different part of the garden.
I mentioned in my May Notes that the buddleia (butterfly bush) we added last year did not survive the winter. We decided to try again, and also to add a second buddleia at the edge of our rhododendron and azalea bed. It took our landscaper some time to find two of the dwarf variety. In fact, he obtained them just before we were about to leave on our Midwestern trip, so we had to ask him to keep them and water them until our return. So far, both of the ‘Lo & Behold “Blue Chip”’ buddleias seem to be doing well, though, having been planted so late, will probably not grow as much as last year’s. I just hope that they survive the winter.
At end of July or in early August, we usually find some gaps in the perennial bed, partly because certain perennials (such as poppies) need to be cut back after flowering, and partly to replace annuals which have not done well. We did not need so much this year, so restricted our visit on the last Saturday in July to the nearest nursery, Whitney’s. At this time of year, most plants are reduced in price, but there is not so much choice. Even so, we found quite a few plants to load into the car. Perennials included a Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis) ‘Peachie’s Pick’, which should provide colour for some time; one sweet William to fill a gap which had developed in the middle of the area devoted to this plant; and an ‘Astra Pink’ balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflora) to put next to blue and white specimens planted last year which are just coming into flower – I had not previously seen a pink variety. Annuals included more superbells, another double impatiens to put beside the three we bought earlier, and four pots of lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflorum), a plant previously unknown to me, two ‘Mermaid Pink’ and two ‘Florida Sky Blue’.
A second round of weeding occupied the first week of July, less time than that in June, partly because there were fewer weeds – many crowded out by the ‘official’ plants, but also I was perhaps a little less fussy wanting to get round before we left for the Midwest on 10 July. For the first two days, rain allowed me to skip watering, but this was not to be so on the other days, especially as the temperature rose into the high 80s, accompanied by high humidity. I spent most of 9 July making sure that everything got thoroughly watered. There was practically no rain while we were away, and temperatures reached the low 90s. One of the first things we did when we got back home on 17 July was to set some drip hoses going, and on the 18th spent several hours providing water to all the beds. The lawns, which we generally do not water and which had been cut low in our absence, had developed bare patches. The hot temperatures lasted a few days, then gradually dropped through the 80s during the next week. The latter part of my latest round of weeding, begun on 24 July and completed on 6 August, has been in the much more pleasant conditions of temperatures in the 70s, with lower humidity. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the excessive heat does not return this year, though it’s not unusual to have high temperatures through August.
Generally we have had more rain this spring and summer than in the last few years, no late frosts, and only a comparatively short spell of really hot humid weather. Many of the plants in our garden and elsewhere have flourished in these conditions. Daylilies have produced many flowers. We have a large number of daylilies: ‘Stella D’Oro’ and ‘Purple Waters’ around the lamp-post at the north end of the perennial bed and towards the driveway under the locust trees; a lovely double orange variety given us by a neighbour to one side of the lilacs, and a variety of different colours along the beds at the front of the house: ‘Always Afternoon’, ‘Bali Hai’, ‘Chicago Apache’, ‘Custard Candy’, ‘Daring Deception’, ‘Doubleicious’, ‘Fairy Tale Pink’, ‘Fooled Me’, ‘Going Bananas’, ‘Hall’s Pink’, ‘Mini-Pearl’, ‘Prairie Blue Eyes’, and ‘Rosy Returns’. At the peak, I was deadheading about three hundred flowers a day, almost double if I missed a day, and about two bucketsful after our return from the Midwest. Most of the lilies have already finished flowering or are nearing the end, but I still have about fifty flowers a day to deadhead, and now the shasta daisies are beginning to reach the deadheading stage. Other plants which have done especially well are the oriental poppies, astilbe, and bee balm.
Our rose of Sharon ‘Lavender Chiffon’ produced its first two flowers the day after we returned from the Midwest, and has had more flowers than in any previous year, a glorious sight. But that flowering is very early: our landscaper says that it shouldn’t flower until the beginning of September. Each year, so-called late plants such as black-eyed Susans have been flowering earlier, so that there is very little to flower by early September. The perennial bed suffers the most, though the annuals, mainly along one edge, provide some colour. Elsewhere, shrubs and shade plants provide a variety of leaf colour and shape. At the moment on the spireas, which were pruned after flowering, new growth is providing pink-tinged leaves. And the heuchera in the shade beds produce leaves in a multitude of colours: purple, orange, rose red, light and dark green, and green veined with red.
According to the newspapers, local beekeepers lost most of their hives last winter, and indeed we have had far more bumblebees than honeybees visiting our plants. Their favourites, on which we often see up to a dozen at a time moving from flower to flower, are ‘Copper’, a low-bush honeysuckle, St John’s wort ‘Chocolate Lion’, and, of course, bee balm. Usually we also see bees on the lavender, but that has not done so well this year: it had become very unshapely, and our landscaper cut it right back in the spring. It has not grown back as fast as we expected, nor have its flowers been as plentiful. It may need more time to recover, or perhaps the weather may have been wrong for it, as a neighbour has reported that hers has not done well either. We’ll hope it will do better next year.
Images (top to bottom, taken on a slightly overcast day): part of the bed immediately in front of our house, showing sedum, daylilies, spirea, and Japanese willow; bee balm, catmint, and daylilies around the lamppost; more daylilies in front of the house; rose of Sharon, with a honeybee.
Wayne writes: While growing up in the fifties, I had no contact with any work by Maurice Sendak (1928–2012): no A Hole Is to Dig, no Little Bear, no What Can You Do with a Shoe? Or if I did, my memories of it hide in deep shadows cast by Ernest Shepard and Dr. Seuss. By the time Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963, I was too old for children’s picture books – until I was older still, and could appreciate them on a different level. Instead, my first glimpse of anything by Sendak seems to have been at the end of 1971, when my mother bought the Christmas number of Family Circle. There, among articles on clothes and food and cosmetics, was Sendak’s A Christmas Mystery, with a boy and girl climbing over a snowy hill which proves to be the giant figure of Santa Claus. The art was so appealing that I saved the magazine from the recycling box. Two years later, I preserved another Family Circle, containing Sendak’s illustrated story King Grisly-beard as a special insert. And in 1974, I received as a gift The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm, selected by Sendak and Lore Segal, which contains some of Sendak’s best drawings, influenced by Dürer and Arthur Hughes. From such small beginnings do collections grow.
To this point, I admired Sendak’s art but had no emotional connection to it. That changed in 1975, when I saw on television Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie, Starring the Nutshell Kids. An animated special with music by Carole King, it was adapted, under Sendak’s direction, from his 1960 book The Sign on Rosie’s Door and his four miniature volumes of 1962 published as The Nutshell Library: Alligators All Around, an alphabet book; One Was Johnny, a counting book; Pierre, a cautionary tale; and Chicken Soup with Rice, a book of the months. I was delighted with Really Rosie, I suppose because it captures so well the essence of children’s play such as I knew in my own youth – if without a neighborhood impresario-force of nature like Rosie, the aspiring actress who can ‘turn twelve boring hours into a fascinating day’; and this above all sparked my interest in collecting Sendak, followed closely by Selma G. Lanes’s The Art of Maurice Sendak (1980).
Lanes’s appreciation showed me the wider range of Sendak’s art, and pointed to many books I wanted to have on my shelves. (A new book, Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work, is a good supplement, as is Tony Kushner’s sequel to Lanes, The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present.) Because of other collecting priorities, however, not to mention limited means, I haven’t acquired Sendak’s work as ambitiously as, say, Tolkien, Pauline Baynes, or Arthur Ransome (all subjects of research); therefore my Sendak collection is relatively small, only about five linear feet, and contains only a fraction of the items listed in Joyce Hanrahan’s Sendak bibliography (1985, revised 2001). Nonetheless, I’ve bought most of Sendak’s later books as they appeared or were remaindered, such as Dear Mili and We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, and through good luck have found at reasonable cost some older firsts, most pleasingly The Nutshell Library, sitting forlorn and seriously underpriced on a high shelf in a London bookshop. I also have a signed Where the Wild Things Are, sold by children’s bookseller Books of Wonder in New York when HarperCollins reissued Sendak’s masterpiece for its twenty-fifth anniversary.
For the most part, I haven’t been much concerned to buy only first printings of Sendak titles, preferring to have a particular book in a later printing rather than none at all, and remembering the jaw-dropping prices for Sendak firsts I’ve seen in specialist catalogues and at book fairs. And yet, not long ago I discovered on eBay, for a surprisingly low price, a very good copy of the poster for the Broadway adaptation of Really Rosie; and I see from a spot check of abebooks that current prices for Sendak’s books aren’t that steep after all, autographed copies aside, and that the better dealers seem to be paying attention to the points listed by Hanrahan. So maybe it’s time to go after one or two titles of special interest, and find another inch or two of space on the Sendak shelves.
Images: Poster for Really Rosie; dust-jacket for Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work.
Just over two weeks after we returned from our visit to Washington State, we left again for western parts, though only as far as East Lansing, Michigan where the annual Mythopoeic Society conference was held this year. As usual when travelling to the Midwest, we went by road and took our time. We were glad to exchange hot (high 80s F) and humid weather at home for more moderate temperatures. On the first day, we drove as far as Cheektowaga, New York, near Buffalo, taking sandwiches for lunch and eating our evening meal (grilled chicken marsala) at a Bravo’s Cucina Italiana restaurant in the Walden Galleria mall. Then, to stretch our legs after the long drive, we walked around the mall and noted some items in Pottery Barn and Macy’s to use in further interior decoration – but more about that in a later post.
On the second morning, we drove to Cleveland, Ohio, another three to four hours west. At the Mayfield Heights shopping centre, we ate at a Panera Bread café, a franchise we have enjoyed for lunch in many places since our friends the Hunnewells introduced us to it in St. Louis. Wayne had a grilled cheese sandwich, while Christina chose a strawberry poppyseed chicken salad, which also includes blueberries, pineapple, and pecans. Thus fortified, we walked a short distance to the Half-Price Books outlet in the same complex, one of the three we visited when we were in Cleveland in 2012. (Since then, our favourite, the Rocky River store, has closed.) This time, we found very little among books, CDs, or DVDs. The latter two categories especially seemed understocked (an indication that more people are listening to streaming audio and subscribing to Netflix than buying physical media?), though there were also fewer interesting remaindered or used books. (Has the stock been affected by the growing popularity of e-books? Or is the better stock being put online rather than in shops? Or did we not find much because we already have so much?) We also visited that afternoon the North Olmsted, Ohio Half-Price Books, and similarly found very little to buy.
For supper, we ate at one of our favourite restaurants, the elegant LockKeeper’s in Valley View, Ohio, near our hotel in Independence. For dining, this was the highlight of our trip. Christina began with a beet salad (frisée, mesclun, toasted almonds, goat cheese, red wine vinaigrette), Wayne with an ‘iceberg wedge’ (iceberg lettuce, tomato, hard-boiled egg, crispy bacon, red onion, creamy Gorgonzola dressing). We both followed with lobster ravioli in a tomato cream sauce, then shared a selection of gelato. Delicious!
On the third day, we skipped the hotel breakfast buffet (included in the room rate, but like all franchise hotel buffets, with mediocre food and a limited selection) in favour of a hearty meal at a Perkins restaurant in Wayne’s Ohio home town, Brooklyn. That kept us going while we drove to Michigan. We stopped for lunch at another Bravo’s, in a new upscale mall in Lansing, the state capital. Wayne had a half order (still substantial) of lasagna with a small Caesar salad, Christina one of the daily specials, pesto ravioli with chicken Fra Diavolo (pesto ravioli with grilled chicken and asparagus in a spicy tomato cream sauce). From there it was a short drive to the Kellogg hotel and conference center at the heart of Michigan State University, the Mythcon venue. We registered and were able to check into our room before the usual hour.
Almost immediately, we ran into old friends, and talking with them meant that we missed most of the opening papers. Wayne went to one on Nature in Tolkien’s works while Christina visited the dealer’s room and bought a copy of W.H. Lewis’s The Scandalous Regent: A Life of Philippe, Duc d’Orleans 1674–1723 and of His Family to add to our Inklings collection. She also inspected the items to be auctioned later in the weekend, but found nothing of interest. Meals at the conference, except for the banquet on Sunday, were held across the street in a food court-style dining hall with different kinds of foods served at different stations in a confusing, meandering layout. Most of the offerings were enjoyable – there were particularly good grilled pork chops with apple, roast chicken, and pizzas – though we expect they would have become monotonous if the conference had gone on longer than three days. The amount of fresh fruit, including strawberries, was also unusual in our experience of student cafeterias. Generally we took time over our meals, enjoying conversation with old friends and new acquaintances. The Society stewards’ reception the first evening was also very enjoyable: ice cream was served out of doors on a patio between the centre and an area of walkways through trees.
Each year, the Mythopoeic Society holds a conference (‘Mythcon’) in a different location. A theme for presentations is suggested but not prescribed, so long as they fall within the interests of the Society: the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, and myth and fantasy literature in general. This year the theme was ‘the land and its inhabitants in fantasy’, and whether in this vein or not, papers on Tolkien predominated. We attended more talks on the first full day of the conference. Douglas A. Anderson, editor of The Annotated Hobbit, was the scholar guest of honour and gave a keynote address in the Kellogg Center auditorium, which was so fiercely air-conditioned that our friend Gary Hunnewell called it The Freezer: we were glad that we brought light sweaters with us, though outside temperatures were quite high. After Doug’s talk, we played hooky from the papers (missing one on Tolkien’s landscapes we regret not having heard) and walked to one of the nearby secondhand bookshops, buying only one book for our troubles. Lunch found us once again talking with friends, so that we missed other papers before Verlyn Flieger’s at 2:00 – and because we attended hers, on Tolkien’s trees and forests, we missed what undoubtedly was a good paper on C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair given by our friend Charles Huttar at the same hour. Verlyn’s paper was followed by one on ‘manifestation of spirits as breath and wind in Middle-earth’, given as always with substance and style by Carl Hostetter.
The evening entertainment for the Saturday was a concert in the auditorium by a folk/bluegrass/Celtic group from nearby Saline, Michigan called The Saline Fiddlers – fiddles, cellos, guitars, percussion, with singing and dancing added for good measure. The performers are all local high school students, young but with great stage presence and musical skills. We wondered, though, why such a large group needed amplification in a relatively small space (electric guitars aside). Christina retired early, since amplified music tends to give her a headache. Wayne saw her to our room, then returned to the auditorium and enjoyed the rest of the concert.
On the Sunday of the conference, we had breakfast with friends including Andrew Higgins, new to Tolkien studies and head of membership and development at Glyndebourne opera in England, and musicologist Meghan Naxer (there’s a great deal of interest in music among Tolkien fans!). Andrew gave his interesting paper in the first session of the day, ‘A Linguistic Exploration through Tolkien’s Earliest Landscapes’. Meghan followed Andrew in the auditorium with an expert examination of the Donald Swann song-cycle based on Tolkien’s poetry, The Road Goes Ever On: since we had known Swann personally, and Wayne has long collected Donald’s works, we made sure to attend this paper and weren’t disappointed.
We then took a break and went to lunch early, as our own paper, ‘Writing The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien’, was at 1:00 and we needed to get to the auditorium well before the hour to set up our PowerPoint slides. Our presentation went smoothly and had good attendance, with a long question-and-answer period afterward and kind comments made to us about our talk during the rest of the weekend.
Later that afternoon, we attended Christopher Crane’s paper on ‘narrative ambiguity’ in Tolkien’s writings: Christina was impressed by the weight of evidence, Wayne felt that the presentation could have been more focused and concise. In the evening was the conference banquet, with very good food and conversation, followed by entertainments: a masquerade, Tolkien-related songs built upon pop tunes, and the ‘Not-Ready-for-Mythcon Players’ presenting a mash-up of Watership Down (paper cutout rabbit ears) and Downton Abbey. During these proceedings, but also generally throughout the conference, we were surprised to encounter so many negative comments about Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films – not entirely, by any means, but more than we would have expected. Our friend David Bratman has written more about this.
The conference wound down on the Monday morning. Some attendees left early to catch planes. We split up to attend different papers held at the same time: Christina went to Steven Wissler’s hour-long presentation on ‘healthy creation and fecund procreation in Middle-earth’, which included a discussion of the dysfunctional marriage of Finwë and Míriel, contrasting it with that of Aragorn and Arwen. Appropriately, given the marriage theme of the paper, champagne was served afterward! Wayne, meanwhile, heard two half-hour papers by newcomers to Mythcon, Michael Muniz on love experiences in C.S. Lewis’s later fiction, and Isabelle Guy on the influence of Thomas Aquinas’s natural law on Tolkien.
Finally, we attended the Society’s members meeting, at which we heard that our friend Richard West will be the scholar guest of honour at next year’s conference near Boston, Massachusetts. But we left before closing ceremonies as we had a lunch date with Wayne’s sister and brother-in-law and nieces about an hour’s drive away. There we also met our very lively three-year-old great-nephew Luke for the first time.
We stayed that evening near Toledo, Ohio, and had a supper reservation at Mancy’s Bluewater Grille in Maumee. We had had good experiences there before, but now were somewhat disappointed. We did not remember the atmosphere being so dark and noisy, perhaps because we had always been seated near a window or in a quieter part of the rooms. Our starter of lobster bisque was good. Wayne found his main course, grilled walleye (a Great Lakes fish), less good than on our last visit, but Christina liked her maple bourbon salmon (salmon with butternut squash ravioli and roasted pecans in a maple bourbon sauce). Our salads were either nondescript (Christina’s house salad) or bland (Wayne’s coleslaw). We skipped dessert. [Comment from Christina: I am not a ravioli freak, it was just chance that ravioli was included three times in dishes that appealed to me on this trip.]
The weather had already begun to turn hotter and more humid before we left East Lansing, and on the last two days of our trip became oppressive. Thank goodness for good air-conditioning in our car and hotel rooms! On our drive back to the Buffalo area, where we stayed the final night of our trip, we visited the third of the current Half-Price Books locations in Cleveland, at Mentor, and were more successful with our purchases than at the Mayfield Heights and North Olmsted stores. We also had the opportunity to see a set of American book club volumes of The Lord of the Rings with Tolkien’s signatures and a 1966 inscription, a description of which we’ve posted on an appropriate website.
For lunch, we again visited a Panera Bread. Wayne tried the Sierra turkey sandwich on cheese focaccia, while Christina again had the strawberry poppyseed chicken salad. For supper, we returned to the Walden Galleria, but now chose the Cheesecake Factory over Bravo’s. Christina had our usual orange chicken, now made with a much reduced quantity of the once more generous sauce, while Wayne tried the Moroccan chicken, grilled breasts in a harissa tomato sauce over couscous. Both were very nice.
We returned home the next day, after staying at the Staybridge Suites in Clarence, New York, near one of the Buffalo entrances to the New York Thruway. On our way west, we find it convenient to book at a Residence Inn in the Buffalo area, and when in Cleveland at one or other of the hotels in the suburb of Independence: Residence Inn, Courtyard, Hampton Inn, all adjacent to each other and all much of a muchness. This time we chose the Hampton Inn, where we were greeted first by a harried and (as she was on a previous visit) slightly rude desk clerk, and then by a sticky note on our bed, reading: ‘duvet covers and sheets are clean for your arrival’. We should hope so! At Maumee, Ohio, we were unable to book a room at the Residence Inn this time, so we tried the Homewood Suites and weren’t impressed with the franchise. For breakfast on the day of our return to Williamstown, we ate at a Friendly’s near our hotel. Friendly’s breakfasts are a pale shadow of those at Perkins, but sufficient, and we’re both now able to order from the senior citizen part of the menu. Wayne was struck by the sight of a wall cabinet, with signs indicating that it contained emergency medical equipment – but access was blocked by a stack of child seats!
Roadworks, marked by orange cylindrical cones we took to calling Daleks, were abundant during the trip, especially in Ohio. Some of these stretched for about twenty miles with little indication of actual activity. But except for a major holdup due to an accident near Erie, Pennsylvania, we generally made good time, and were very pleased by the better-than-EPA estimate fuel economy of our Buick Verano. We arrived back in Williamstown mid-afternoon to find it even hotter and more humid than when we left, with no break forecast for another few days.
Two weeks ago, we were briefly in the Pacific Northwest for an annual gathering of friends with similar literary interests (on which see also here and here). As the weather in Williamstown lately has been sweltering, we’ve been nostalgic for the comfortable, light-sweater temperatures we found in Portland, Oregon and (just over the border) Trout Lake, Washington in late June.
It’s a long day’s travel to Portland from western Massachusetts. Our nearest major airport is Albany, New York, an hour’s drive over mountains to the west. We reported the suggested two hours in advance, ate sandwiches from home with coffee from Starbuck’s and iced tea from McDonald’s, and caught a regional flight to Cleveland on schedule. There, with two hours before our onward flight and five hours to come in the air, we found some passable food at a pseudo-British ‘pub’ (fish and chips for Wayne, a chicken cranberry pecan salad for Christina), and with some difficulty negotiated the airport free wi-fi.
Our flight to Portland took off late but arrived ahead of schedule. Our luggage, however, was slow to reach the claim area, and we were delayed in connecting with our friend Paul, who drove us to Trout Lake. By the end of the drive it was getting dark, so we missed some of the splendid scenery while driving beside the Columbia River (but saw it on our return journey to the airport). We arrived at our friend Bijee’s around 10:00 p.m. local time, or 1:00 a.m. by our Eastern body clocks. Both of us were exhausted. Christina was so tired, she could barely stand.
Bijee arranged for us to stay in a lovely house not far from hers, while her neighbours were away. That night, we met the resident cats, Romeo and Tango.* We had been warned that although Romeo and Tango are outdoor farm cats, they might demand entry, and indeed Romeo came calling at the outer door of our bedroom (which opened onto a porch) while we were unpacking. Romeo is a big, friendly ginger cat whom we found it hard not to call Orlando, after the ‘marmalade cat’ in Kathleen Hale’s stories. He spent part of every night of our stay sleeping across Wayne’s legs. But Wayne also thought of him sometimes as the Rum Tum Tugger of T.S. Eliot’s ‘Practical Cats’, who as soon as he comes in, he wants to go out. We were told about, and at last witnessed, Romeo’s ‘party trick’: he likes to leap into the bathtub and drink water from the bottom, if someone will run the tap just a little – but only freshly run water, mind you!
Tango, a black and white cat, also hopped on our bed for inspection the first night, but after that we saw little of him. Romeo spent the first morning of our stay hunting for (and finding) a field-mouse breakfast in the tall grass near the house, while Tango sat, as if on guard and somewhat aloof, near the owners’ two horses in their paddock. Meanwhile, we were enraptured by views of Mount Adams on one side of the house and Mount Hood on the other. Wayne had only our little Canon pocket camera with him, not wanting to carry the bulkier Nikon, but the mountains, Mount Adams especially, are dramatic in every shot.
We enjoyed seeing our friends and talking of Tolkien, Shakespeare, and much else. It was a very successful gathering. We had good food both at Bijee’s and in a pizza restaurant in nearby Bingen, the Solstice Wood Fire Café: Christina had a thin-crust pizza with local pears, blue cheese, and caramelized onions; Wayne had a margherita pizza (marinara, basil, mozzarella); and we shared an apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. The weather, as we said, was very pleasant; there was rain only on the drive back to the airport three days after we arrived. Because we had a Monday morning flight out of Portland, we stayed the Sunday night near the airport. Our friend Richard, who had an earlier flight, was at the same hotel, and we had the rare chance of a long talk with him over supper, especially as it poured rain and we had to wait it out in the Shari’s Restaurant. Wayne had a plate featuring grilled Alaska salmon, while Christina had the strawberry chicken salad. (Wayne now regrets not having had a slice of one of Shari’s famous pies.)
We returned to Shari’s for breakfast, knowing that we had another long day ahead of us and wanting to eat well while we could. Our flight from Portland to O’Hare in Chicago, our least favourite airport, was uneventful, but troubles began as soon as we arrived. We saw that our return flight to Albany was already delayed by two hours due to weather in the Midwest: the regional jet for our route needed to come up from St. Louis but had not been able to leave. Then a fierce storm passed through Chicago, grounding everything. To keep abreast in an airport where there’s no free wi-fi (did we mention that O’Hare is our least favourite airport?), Wayne purchased twenty-four hours’ Internet access from Boingo. We both snacked on Kind bars and bottled water; Christina also had a bag of chips, while Wayne bought a Big Mac for added sustenance.
Our flight was further delayed as the evening wore on, and we feared that it would be cancelled. Many other flights were cancelled, or rescheduled. But finally our plane arrived from St. Louis, the weather cleared, and we left at last. By then, the flight had been delayed for three hours, and we had waited in Chicago for five. The final insult occurred as our plane was pulling back from the gate: we were blocked, our pilot announced, by one of the new, problem-plagued Boeing Dreamliners, which had developed a mechanical fault! Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the big Lufthansa 787 to be moved out of our way.
At last, we returned to Albany around 12:30 a.m., having lost an hour between the Central and Eastern zones, picked up our car from the Park and Fly, and were home by 2:00. Of course, there was very little traffic on the roads at that hour of the night, so we made very good time.
* Romeo and Tango weren’t left on their own or out in the cold. They had access to shelter, food and water were available (in addition to the wild kind), and the house and horses had a caretaker.
Images: Mount Hood in the distance; Orlando (er, Romeo) semi-snoozing; the morning sun on Mount Adams.