Wayne writes: When I finished my bibliography of Tolkien in 1992, my publisher, pleased with the result, asked which author I would like to tackle next. I replied at once: Arthur Ransome. Ransome (1884–1967) is by no means a household name; indeed, I have often had to point out that my subject was the writer Arthur Ransome, not the artist Arthur Rackham. But he is a significant figure in twentieth-century English children’s literature, and has long had a devoted following. Many of his writings are still in print. I did not myself read any of his books until I was in my thirties, when I came upon the attractive Godine edition of Swallows and Amazons. I was immediately swept up in the adventures of the Walkers and Blacketts and their friends, and by the quality of Ransome’s storytelling. It was also a pleasant coincidence that Ransome and Tolkien had admired each other’s work.
From an early age, Ransome had literary ambitions, and as soon as he could, he left his native Yorkshire for London, where he became a freelance writer. He took on assignments of all kinds and on subjects in which he was no expert, to make a living and learn his craft. Such a romantic adventure was still possible in those days, at the turn of the twentieth century. The earliest known book to bear Ransome’s name is, remarkably, The A.B.C. of Physical Culture, published in 1904. He also wrote articles and stories for a variety of magazines. Other books, written or edited by Ransome, soon followed, including A History of Story-Telling in 1909 and, most notoriously, his 1912 study of Oscar Wilde. For remarks in the latter, he was sued (unsuccessfully) for libel by Wilde’s sometime lover Lord Alfred Douglas.
In the meantime, Ransome married somewhat impulsively and, before long, unhappily. In 1913, he made his first trip to Russia, both to escape his failed marriage and to study native folk stories; this resulted in his popular Old Peter’s Russian Tales (1916). In 1915 he became the Petrograd (present-day Saint Petersburg) correspondent for the London Daily News & Leader. He was not in Russia when the revolution began in November 1917, but quickly returned to his reporting, interviewed Lenin and Trotsky, and fell in love with one of Trotsky’s personal secretaries, Evgenia Petrova Shelepina. Though (in my view) he was never a Communist or Socialist himself, because he admired the Bolsheviks and recognized, in a world still at war, the value of Russia as a counterforce to Germany, Ransome sought to explain the truth about the Soviet republic as he saw it. His Six Weeks in Russia in 1919 (1919) and The Crisis in Russia (1921) were issued by George Allen & Unwin, whose enlightened director, Stanley Unwin, was willing to publish books with unorthodox views.
Ransome remained a journalist for nearly a decade longer, moving to the prestigious Manchester Guardian. He travelled in eastern Europe, to Egypt and the Sudan, and to China, and with Evgenia pursued his love of sailing. They were married in 1924, as soon as Ransome’s divorce from his first wife was absolute. Further books appeared, including the sailing classic Racundra’s First Cruise (1923) and The Chinese Puzzle (1927), and columns on his other love, fishing (‘Rod and Line’). In 1929, asked by the Manchester Guardian to become their regular correspondent in Berlin, Ransome instead became a freelance journalist and wrote his most famous book, inspired by a group of children he had known in his beloved Lake District and by his golden memories of sailing on Coniston Water.
Swallows and Amazons was published in 1930. Its great success was a turning point in Ransome’s life. Histories of children’s literature point to it as the model ‘holiday story’, or story of realistic adventures experienced by children during school holidays. Although some of the child protagonists are perhaps too ‘good’ by today’s standards, which is to say, they get along and are well-mannered, and no sexuality enters into the picture, they are nonetheless real, and so are their experiences, sailing and camping with adult supervision often only on the fringe, and not omitting real work and responsibility, and physical danger. From my adult perspective, the four Walker children and the two Blackett sisters are friends such as I wish I had growing up, and no doubt they were regarded as friends by the children who eagerly awaited a new ‘Swallows and Amazons’ title more or less annually until 1947. The first sequel, Swallowdale, followed in 1931, and ten more books in the series in Ransome’s lifetime. A thirteenth was left unfinished, but published with other material in 1988. The fifth book, Pigeon Post (1936), won the first Carnegie Medal. But Ransome’s masterpiece is the sixth in the series, We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea (1937).
When I was writing my Tolkien bibliography, I found that I had to collect Tolkien’s works in order to describe them, libraries having supplied only a fraction of the existing titles and variations. The result is a very large collection. When I began to write about Ransome, I vowed that I would not follow the same route, but would rely on libraries (which was more feasible for Ransome than for Tolkien) and on private collections; and I managed to do so, as far as the bibliography (Arthur Ransome: A Bibliography, 2000) was concerned. But strong admiration for an author, and strong interest in the variety of books produced by someone who was by turns a storyteller, critic, essayist, editor, foreign correspondent, fisherman, and sailor, were more than enough to lead me willingly, or at least without protest, into another avenue of collecting.
Today our Ransome shelves extend to around thirty linear feet. Christina had, among the books she brought to our marriage, some early printings of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ titles, and I have been able to buy a few – again, I came to Ransome very late – but only a few, as they can sell dearly. Ransome is collected widely enough that his scarcer books can command prices more than I can afford; on the other hand, not all who sell Ransome know him very well, and bargains can be had. For example, I found the very rare A.B.C. of Physical Culture on abebooks for under thirty dollars, and Ransome’s second book, The Souls of the Streets (1904), for only twenty. EBay has been helpful as well, and odd volumes, such as Pond and Stream (1906) and The Book of Friendship (1909), have turned up at antiquarian book fairs or in secondhand shops.
Several of Ransome’s works have been published, or reprinted, along with many books about Ransome, by Amazon Publications, an adjunct to the Arthur Ransome Society (TARS), which I joined soon after its founding in 1990. The Society journal, Mixed Moss, is essential to the Ransome enthusiast. TARS has also been involved with audio versions of the books and with videos, most of which are likewise on our shelves, as are reasonably faithful and sympathetic film adaptations of some of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ stories.
Images, top to bottom: My first copy of Swallows and Amazons; a small part of our Ransome shelves.
Christina writes: Towards the end of April Wayne and I made a six-day trip to exhibitions in Washington, D.C., New York, and New Haven (about which more in a later post). Since temperatures in April had been lower than normal during the day and quite cold at night, spring at home was not as far advanced as usual this time of year. When we left Williamstown (about 43 degrees north latitude), the trees were still leafless, and of shrubs only the forsythia in a neighbour’s garden was in bloom. In our garden, lilacs, spireas, and Japanese willows were hinting that their buds were about to open. Our first few daffodils opened up only two days before our trip, always late compared with those in sunnier areas – or maybe it’s the varieties I planted. But at least we had enough rain that we did not have to begin watering as early as we did in 2012.
As we drove south into a more and more advanced spring, gradually bare trees gave way to fresh green leaves, and eventually to flowering varieties in full bloom, pink, white, and red, with more colour provided by the occasional rhododendron. Near the National Gallery in Washington (about 39 degrees north latitude) was a long row of azaleas thickly covered with white flowers or half-open buds. Many trees were in blossom, including some cherries, but for the most part had already passed their peak. Driving north again, in the garden of friends in Pennsylvania we found beautiful grape hyacinths and other flowers and shrubs, now in a more woodland setting. In New York City (about 41 degrees north latitude) we saw more flowering trees in Central Park, outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and beautiful magnolias outside the Frick Museum; while in nearby Greenwich, Connecticut, the daffodils were over, replaced by an army of tulips.
Spring began to recede as we returned north, but back at home we found many more daffodils out in our garden, and most of our shrubs had small, tender leaves. Hostas, not visible at all when we left, were just emerging. During the last few days of April, I was busy in the garden. Rather later than usual, because our trip prevented frequent watering of new plants, I bought and planted some violas (twelve six-packs) to edge some of the beds – fewer than during the past few years, but the place where I usually found a good and varied supply had already sold most of its stock. I also spent time cutting away dead or winterburn-damaged leaves from underneath the new growth of brunnera, heuchera, and astilbe. Since the ground was very dry after only one rainfall during our absence, Wayne got three hoses out of the garage and linked them to faucets. Mainly using sprinklers for a couple of hours each day, everything except the lawns had been watered by Tuesday this week.
By last Sunday, daytime temperatures climbed into the high 60s and low 70s Fahrenheit, and all of the plants seemed to be trying to make up for lost time. Hostas appeared to grow about an inch a day; the Virginia bluebells came into flower, as did some of the brunnera; our grape hyacinths pushed up; the PJM rhododendron likewise flowered, with the viburnum and bleeding hearts following after; and periwinkle is in wild profusion. Yesterday, I noticed that the lavender in our front garden was showing the first hints of green, and that yellow waxbells were just emerging from the ground. On Tuesday, with the grass already quite high, our landscaper, Dan, cut our lawns for the first time this season with his riding mower. The following day, his men edged the flower beds that adjoin lawns, and also laid soaker hoses (which Wayne had sorted and labelled) on some of the beds, while Dan spent a short time trimming and pruning. Today the men mulched the garden. Now, apart from some periodic fertilizing and planting any larger shrubs we add, everything will be mainly in our hands. We’ll lay sprinkler hoses on three other beds and water as needed (and as allowed by the town, if we get drought conditions again). Wayne will be doing the later mowing and I will begin a new, constant round of weeding, dead-heading, and trying to keep edges clear.
I think that this is my favourite time of year, because almost everything in the garden is still to come. Only the early snowdrops and dwarf iris have already died away. From now on, as I welcome each new bush or plant that flowers I will also be sad to see blossoms fade. Perennials demand less work, since most survive from year to year, but most have a relatively short period of flowering. That is why at the end of May, when there should be no further chance of frost for the season, I’ll plant some areas with annuals which have a long flowering life.
Images (top to bottom, all taken before mulch was laid, some showing how dry the ground has been): daffodils, among Virginia bluebells and lamium, in our main perennial bed; daffodils, grape hyacinths, and pachysandra in the more wild garden around azaleas and rhododendrons; new violas, with a daylily and part of a soaker hose bordering holly bushes and a rose of Sharon; two kinds of spirea, daylily, sedum, hens and chicks, and one of our landscape boulders in the bed immediately in front of our house; periwinkle flowering among the occasional dead leaf and beneath lilac and viburnum by the street.
It isn’t often that we find on eBay a piece of Tolkieniana we haven’t seen or heard about. Earlier this month, a seller in the U.K. offered an LP recording called Giles, described as an adaptation of Farmer Giles of Ham with original ‘folk/progressive’ songs, recorded by students in England backed with guitar, organ, flute, and other instruments. This is the sort of thing we’ve added to our Tolkien collection when it comes cheap, but Giles was not: the final bid was £206.
In our blog post of 2 March 2012, we reviewed new evidence which allowed us to reconsider our dating of Tinfang Warble and The Grey Bridge of Tavrobel, poems by Tolkien which he preserved as cuttings from a publication ultimately identified by John Garth as the Inter-University Magazine. We had assigned these poems in the Chronology volume of The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide to ?1923–1926, but later emended this to ?1925–?1927 and identified those issues of the Inter-University Magazine in which each poem could have appeared – among them, for both poems, vol. 8, no. 2, in the first part of 1927. Now a correspondent, Fiona Mercey, has pointed out to us an important clue in the Roman Catholic magazine The Tablet for 28 May 1927, available online:
The May issue of the Inter-University Magazine, in the production of which Father Martindale now has evidently a capable assistant, deals attractively with many matters of interest. In ‘The Holy Maries,’ C.M. Girdlestone discusses at length the legend relating to the Holy Cave, ‘high up in the face of a grey limestone cliff, inland from Marseilles.’ H.J. Parkinson commends Mr. Hilaire Belloc’s ‘The Catholic Church and History’ in ‘The Catholic Student of History’. . . . Other notable articles [and features] include . . . verses by J.R. [sic] Tolkien and Wilfred R. Childe.
We recalled at once that the article by Girdlestone described here is also mentioned in a note on the other side of Tolkien’s preserved cutting of Tinfang Warble, as a feature appearing in the same issue, and that part of an article on the Catholic student of history is printed on the reverse of the cutting of The Grey Bridge of Tavrobel. From this we can conclude that Tolkien’s poems were first published together in the Inter-University Magazine for May 1927 (i.e. vol. 8, no. 2), and have revised our Companion and Guide references accordingly.
Having located the digital version of The Tablet, thanks to Ms. Mercey, we searched it for other references to Tolkien, and were pleased to find several mentions from which we created new Companion and Guide addenda and corrigenda, given here and here. The most satisfying of the Tablet articles, after that which pointed us to the correct Inter-University Magazine, was found in the issue for 15 February 1936: this noted that the latest number of the Abingdon Annual, published by Our Lady’s School, a ‘well-known convent school’ in Abingdon, near Oxford, includes ‘a poem or two’ by Tolkien. One of these (if there are more than one) is presumably the early version (or printing) of Shadow-Bride for which there is a reference in Tolkien’s papers, associating it with an ‘Abingdon Chronicle’ – another bibliographical question which has long eluded us. See our entry for the poem in the Reader’s Guide.
Our friend Alan Reynolds recently called our attention to an article by Laura Donnelly-Smith in the 8 January 2013 George Washington Today, ‘A Ticket to Middle-earth’. This concerns a first edition copy of The Lord of the Rings with an autograph note by Tolkien to one E. Rasdall, who had sent Tolkien books to be signed. Curiously, the manuscript does not belong with the Lord of the Rings owned by George Washington University (GWU, in Washington, D.C.), at least the first volume of which was owned by a Christine Cusnich (according to the article; the University’s online catalogue gives the name as Christine Curnick). Instead, the note, described in the GWU catalogue as a postcard, may refer to a set of The Lord of the Rings offered online in 2002: this comprised a fifth printing of The Fellowship of the Ring (February 1956), with a tipped-in slip inscribed by Tolkien to Ernest Rasdall, and first printings of The Two Towers and The Return of the King (1954 and 1955), each with Tolkien’s autograph on the endpaper.
The GWU postcard from Tolkien to Rasdall, dated 21 March 1956 and referring to a parcel of books, would fit well with this set – though it’s puzzling why one volume should have had an inscribed slip while the other two were directly signed. Another puzzle is that the same, or a very similar, set of The Lord of the Rings, now with the slip in a first, not fifth, printing of the Fellowship and a custom solander box, was offered in 2004 with another letter from Tolkien to Rasdall, written in 1964 and referring to Tolkien’s Tree and Leaf and The Silmarillion. Some readers may recall Christina’s article in Tolkien Collector 23 on the ‘sophistication’ of Tolkien books, that is, how booksellers or owners of them mess about with provenance or dust-jackets or other features to make their copies more ‘special’ or more marketable. This seems to be the case with the Rasdall Fellowship, where the inscribed slip moved from a fifth printing to a more valuable first printing – unless Tolkien provided two inscribed slips, for two different printings of the Fellowship. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing for sure, unless further Rasdall correspondence comes to light.
The Donnelly-Smith article assumes that Rasdall was a book collector, and indeed this was true. He was an ambitious collector who apparently wrote to authors and artists and asked for autographed slips or signed copies. A web search of ‘E. Rasdall’, ‘Ernest Rasdall’, ‘E.H. Rasdall’, or ‘Ernest H. Rasdall’ finds many examples of letters and autographed books associated with him, now scattered among institutional collections or currently on offer from dealers. The Lord of the Rings set offered in 2004 was put up for auction at Sotheby’s London in 2005, but failed to sell. In the same auction was a copy of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962) which Tolkien autographed for Rasdall, and which sold along with a related letter.
A recent book by Gary Raymond, 3-Minute J.R.R. Tolkien: An Unauthorised Biography of the World’s Most Revered Fantasy Writer (Lewes, East Sussex: Ivy Press, 2012), looked interesting when we saw it on Amazon UK, but the thought of studying so deceptively complex an author in three-minute chunks gave us pause. Raymond divides the main part of his book into three sections, Life, Work, and Influences, each consisting of twenty openings designed much in the manner of web pages and devoted to a particular topic. Each left-hand page is divided into an outer column containing three paragraphs of about equal length, devoted to aspects of the topic which can be read in only three minutes, while a parallel column contains a ‘3-Second Quest’ with a further small piece of information, references to ‘Related Thoughts’ elsewhere in the book, and a brief quotation, usually by Tolkien. The right-hand pages meanwhile are occupied by collaged illustrations.
Unfortunately, 3-Minute J.R.R. Tolkien contains a large number of factual errors, such as that Tolkien died on 2 November 1973 rather than 2 September (p. 58), and that he met all three of his closest friends in the T.C.B.S. in France in 1916 (p. 34; actually, he met only G.B. Smith; Rob Gilson was killed less than a month after Tolkien arrived in France, and Christopher Wiseman was a naval officer far from the Western Front). One of the more serious problems is Raymond’s misunderstanding of the Oxford system of education and of Tolkien’s studies there from 1911 to 1915 (p. 32): the examination for which Tolkien received a Second Class in 1913 was Moderations, not a final degree, so it was not as a ‘postgraduate’ that he transferred to the English School. Nor did Exeter College have a special English department, though it was the Rector of Exeter who suggested to Tolkien that he change schools. Tolkien’s tutor, Kenneth Sisam, was not a member of Exeter, but assistant to A.S. Napier, the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature and Rawlinsonian Professor of Anglo-Saxon. Nor was Tolkien introduced at this time to the study and mythology of Old Icelandic: he had already discovered them while at King Edward’s School, and even read a paper on the Norse sagas on 17 February 1911 to the School’s Literary Society. Another major error is the assumption that ‘the [Second World] war had little effect on Tolkien’s work at Oxford’ (p. 52) and allowed him time to concentrate on The Lord of the Rings: as we show in the Chronology, he was busier than ever during the war, and cadet courses ran consecutively with no breaks.
Thus issues found in the ‘Life’ section. ‘Works’ includes such errors or omissions as describing Aragorn as the son of the Steward of Gondor (p. 76), and Éowyn as Théoden’s daughter (p. 80). Raymond’s knowledge of the Second Age of Middle-earth is also a little shaky: on p. 86 he says that Sauron using the Ring ‘enslaved the most powerful army of Men, the Númenóreans’, and that Sauron was defeated at the end of the Second Age by ‘Isildur and a surviving Númenórean army’ (Sauron pretends to surrender when faced by Ar-Pharazôn’s army and is taken prisoner to Númenor, and the army that defeated him at the end of the Second Age was an alliance of Elves and Men led by Gil-galad and Elendil).
The best part of the book is its illustrations, including some photographs of Tolkien and one of Rayner Unwin we had not previously seen published. Otherwise, there are views of places associated with Tolkien, covers of and illustrations from his books, as well as, unfortunately but not surprisingly these days, images from the Jackson films, featured prominently throughout.
Edit, 20 April: We neglected last night to include a link to new addenda and corrigenda to the Reader’s Guide: this is now in place. Also today, we have added to our Chronology addenda (for convenience slipping it into the batch for 19 April) another reference to The Tablet, concerning the Pax Romana Congress of 1928, in which Tolkien had a role; this was kindly brought to our attention by Jason Fisher, who thought to search The Tablet for ‘Tolkein’ as well as ‘Tolkien’! We have done this now ourselves – also for ‘Tolkine’, just to be on the safe side – and were interested to find a reference to Tolkien receiving his B.A., within an article which gives a good description of Oxford in the midst of the war, on 6 November 1915.
Christina writes: We had more snow this past winter than we did the year before, but mainly in the form of frequent falls of only a few inches which generally melted within a week. These were interspersed with short periods of intense cold, as a result of which several of our shrubs, and also hellebores, suffered damage from winter burn since there was no snow cover to protect them. Spring flowers have been late this year: I did not see any snowdrops in our area until about mid-March, and then only on south-facing areas with exposure to the sun.
Although our landscaper’s men do most of the spring cleanup, I like to do some it myself, partly to be frugal, but also to get exercise, and because it gives me a sense of achievement. In early March, on warmer days between snowfalls, I gathered some of the branches and most of the larger twigs that littered our lawns and flower beds, though I could do nothing in the areas enclosed by anti-deer fencing. I also cut back the baptisia and St. John’s wort which I had left untouched during the autumn cleanup, since these plants still provided some green. On the last weekend in March (Easter), I spent several hours clearing debris from the area around the hellebores and cutting off dead leaves. I was delighted to see that all would soon be in flower, though none in time for such an early Easter. I then began to work on our big perennial bed to the east of the driveway, clearing debris and removing dead leaves and stalks from perennials, and re-establishing sharp edges between the bed and the lawns. But we promptly had another snowfall, and it was a few days before I could resume work. I finished with the perennial bed and the adjacent area around our two big locust trees on the first weekend in April, and during the past few days cleared the adjoining bed facing the road, with lilacs surrounded by periwinkle. Some of the periwinkle towards the road looks very brown, presumably damaged by salt from the town ploughs.
Our landscaper came to prune our three small apple trees at the end of March. We will keep our fingers crossed that a late frost won’t eliminate apples and holly berries as happened last year. Earlier this week, the deer fences came down. Once the big cleanup is done, and areas with shrubs are mulched, we’ll get soaker and sprinkler hoses laid. Despite more snow and rain in the first three months of 2013 than we had in 2012, I was surprised at the dryness of the soil. I have been watching the bushes carefully, hoping to avoid the problems we experienced last year when those that apparently survived the winter in good shape suddenly looked half-dead from lack of water in mid-April. One mountain laurel at least has suffered so much from winter burn that it will probably have to be replaced. I also see no signs of life on the two ‘Purple Gem’ dwarf rhododendrons that lost all of their leaves last summer. We’ll replace them with something else, perhaps dwarf spirea as they do well elsewhere in the garden and are quite colourful. I was about to start watering, but we have had heavy rain during the past few nights, with more promised, so maybe that won’t be necessary. The ground is now nicely moist around our apple trees.
Our snowdrops did not amount to much this year. I should probably plant more this autumn. The dwarf iris are in flower, and the daffodils are a few inches above the ground, but it is too early to be sure how many will actually produce blooms. As I did my cleanup I could see that many of our perennials were showing signs of coming back to life – iris, peonies, shasta daisies, bee balm, sage, sedum, heuchera, astilbe, etc. (not to mention flowering weeds in the lawn); but others are still dormant. There are thick buds on the lilacs and the viburnum.
I almost changed the title of this post. When I finished it in draft a few days ago, it looked as if spring had indeed come at last, but at the end of the week we had another blast of cold air and freezing rain. Happily, most of the ice has melted now, except in shadows and hollows, and the sun made a brief appearance today – but we may have more snow tonight!
Images, from top: dwarf iris, with hens and chicks in the background; sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ starting to peek out; flowers in the lawn (a weed, but pretty).
Although the text of Tolkien’s Roverandom has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1998, it has not been available as a separate volume since 2008, when the story (sans our editorial additions) was added to the collection Tales from the Perilous Realm. This situation will be remedied at the end of June, however, when Roverandom will be one of only two books reissued by HarperCollins as part of a special promotion, Independent Booksellers Week, in which a few titles from larger publishers will be released exclusively to independent bookshops. Three months later, the books will become available through other channels, such as Amazon, and will go also into the international markets. The new Roverandom, including our introduction and notes, will be in the same format as the recent pocket edition of The Hobbit, and will have a fresh cover for the occasion, featuring Tolkien’s Lunar Landscape, with borders borrowed from his Hobbit illustration The Front Door (The Art of The Hobbit, fig. 76).
Having decided that our Tolkien files have become overstuffed with printouts and photocopies that have outlasted their interest, we have been doing some heavy weeding (while saving more digitally), and in the process have been reminded of odd bits of information or, often, speculations that have appeared on the Web or in print. One such was a fanzine letter which suggested a remarkable resemblance between a hill near the village of Symondsbury, Dorset, and Weathertop in The Lord of the Rings. The writer strongly believed that Tolkien must have seen the hill in question, named Colmer’s Hill, as it is near Lyme Regis, which Tolkien occasionally visited on holiday; and just as strongly, that it was his direct inspiration for Weathertop.
This of course is an unanswerable question, unless there should come to light some letter or diary entry by Tolkien saying yes, this was his inspiration, or no, it wasn’t. Until then, all one can do is compare the hill in our world with the brief description Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings, where Weathertop is the highest in a line of hills, ‘a little separated from the others’, with ‘a conical top, slightly flattened at the summit’, and upon it ‘a wide ring of ancient stone-work’. Colmer’s Hill is striking in its landscape, and entirely conical (not just at its top), but in sedate, even manicured surroundings compared with the wilds around Weathertop, and with relatively picturesque Caledonia Pine trees at its summit rather than old stones.
It looks, in fact, more like Tolkien’s picture of The Hill for The Hobbit – though here too we would hesitate to make a connection, and can point to yet another paper in our files, in which the writer suggests – rather less strongly than the supporter of Colmer’s Hill as Weathertop, but positively nonetheless – that Bilbo Baggins’ Hill was inspired by Bredon Hill in Worcestershire, near the fruit farm Tolkien’s brother Hilary had in the Vale of Evesham. We ourselves see no resemblance between Bredon Hill, with its old earthworks and 18th-century folly, and the Hill in Hobbiton-across-the Water; but each to his own. As Tolkien wrote in On Fairy-Stories: ‘If a story says “he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below”, . . . every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but specially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word.’
We have posted to our website new addenda and corrigenda to our Tolkien-related books The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, and The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (general, Chronology, and Reader’s Guide).
Images: The new cover for Roverandom; Colmer’s Hill above Symondsbury, photograph by Ray Beer (Creative Commons license).
Christina writes: Not long after I joined the Tolkien Society in 1981, the Chairman, Jonathan Simons, announced in the bulletin Amon Hen a rather optimistic plan for the Society to raise £100,000 to support artist Paul Gregory in his ‘mammoth project of depicting about sixty scenes from Lord of the Rings, on canvas’. At that time, Gregory had completed four paintings and hoped ‘to stage an exhibition when the paintings are completed in about three to five years’ time’ (Amon Hen 57, August 1982, p. 3). It was an impractical dream for the Society, but as a result, signed posters of some of Gregory’s early paintings were offered for sale to members: to begin with, Caradhras, then a year later, The Ride of the Rohirrim, each image roughly 20 × 33 inches (50.5 × 83.0 cm) plus border. Respectively, these cost £2.30 plus 70 pence U.K. packing and postage, and £3.50 including postage. I bought both, but because of problems with the Society’s sales officer I had to wait a long time for the second. I remember grumbling that if the Rohirrim had been as slow to reach Minas Tirith, they would have arrived too late to save the city. I did not buy a third poster, Death of Boromir, offered in July 1983, in part because I found it less attractive, but also because, in order to provide more income for Gregory, it was released only in a limited, higher quality edition of 500 copies, and even the special price of £68.00 offered to Tolkien Society members was more than I felt able to pay. Gregory did manage to find funding and a sponsor to allow him to devote time to continuing the series. In 1984, I saw the early paintings exhibited at the Barbican Art Gallery, London.
And that was the last I heard of Paul Gregory until recently, when I saw an announcement for the book Beyond Time and Place: The Art of Paul Raymond Gregory from Studio 54 Publications, 2012. All of the pictures I mention below can be viewed in the Gallery section of Gregory’s website. Wayne and I bought the standard edition, hardcover, no dust-jacket, in a slipcase, for £30.00 plus packing and postage. The book is also available in a numbered, signed special edition of 500 copies, bound in red cloth with a signed art print, for £90.00 plus packing and postage. Each page of the book is 12 × 8.9 inches (30.5 × 22.5 cm), double page 17.8 inches wide (45 cm). I mention this because most of the original paintings are very large, some 6 × 10 feet (183 x 305 cm), and made even larger by their elaborate frames. A photograph of Gregory on p. 176 shows him in front of his three-part triptych The Designs of Melkor with the central picture towering over him. In this post I am concerned only with his illustrations of works by Tolkien, which occupy the greater part of the volume (pp. 8–89), including a section on frames. I will just list the other sections: ‘Heavy Metal’ (pp. 90–137), ‘Bloodstock’ (pp. 138–61), and ‘Other Work’ (pp. 162–75). Many of the illustrations are spread across two pages and our copy, at least, is bound so tightly that detail disappears into the shadow of the gutter.
The Tolkien section includes forty-nine paintings (counting the individual parts of triptychs) depicting scenes from Tolkien’s works, mainly The Lord of the Rings, though both The Hobbit and The Silmarillion are also well represented, and there are a few pictures that are not tied to one book (e.g. The Source of the Anduin). Some are designed as triptychs with related subjects: in The Designs of Melkor, the central panel showing Melkor on his throne is flanked by paintings of Glaurung and Ungoliant. The most elaborate painting, Frodo’s Memories, is divided into sixty-one scenes laid out so that the story of The Lord of the Rings can be read more or less chapter by chapter and line by line.
Very little is said about Gregory’s working methods other than that he uses oil on canvas. No preliminary drawings or sketches are reproduced, but the last Tolkien work illustrated, a triptych on the story of Beren and Lúthien, is noted as a work in progress. It consists of three elaborately framed landscapes, similar to Gregory’s finished works with characteristic dramatic lighting effects, but with no figures, which leads me to wonder if for at least some pictures Gregory paints the backgrounds first, working out contrasting areas of light and shade and vivid colour to a nearly finished state, then paints the figures over the landscape. I also note many significant differences between The Ride of the Rohirrim as reproduced on the poster I bought and the version in Beyond Time and Place: was one version reworked? and if there are two variant paintings, why are both not included in the book, like the two versions of Death of Boromir?
Alex Lewis has provided a commentary for each Tolkien picture, describing what is going on and often giving a lot of earlier or future story points not present in the picture. Sometimes he quotes short pieces of Tolkien’s text without putting it in quotation marks. He presumably wrote his descriptions in front of the actual pictures (or enlargeable digital images), since he mentions details hardly visible in the book even with a magnifying glass, such as footprints in The Departure of Boromir. The texts for the two versions of Death of Boromir (or the two pictures) seem to be reversed in order.
In some of his commentaries, Lewis compares Gregory’s work with that of other artists, though it is not clear if he considers the similarity as the result of definite influences or chance likenesses. His comparison of The Ride of the Rohirrim with the work of the American Hudson River School is certainly valid. I think it is too strong, however, to say that Bilbo’s Eleventy First Birthday Party is like a Brueghel painting of merry-making peasants. Rather, this work by Gregory merely shares a thematic similarity. Brueghel’s paintings are full of action, with each figure carefully delineated, whereas Gregory’s hobbits are massed in static groups, suffering from the effects of overeating. As for Grond, Lewis finds it ‘reminiscent of the works of John Martin in its intensity and evocation of an apocalyptic scene’, but Martin did not place large figures in the foreground. That comparison is certainly relevant for several other pictures, though, including Khazad-dûm (Gandalf’s battle with the balrog) and Mount Doom (Frodo at the Cracks of Doom). For the latter, Lewis’s comparison to some of the works of Wright of Derby is also relevant.
Anyone who knows the works of the Hudson River School, John Martin, and Wright of Derby will have a good idea of some major aspects of Gregory’s style. One could also make comparisons with the work of Maxfield Parrish, or Roger Garland – in one (Riddles in the Dark), even Tim Kirk – but each viewer may see different analogues, and artists may develop similar styles without being influenced directly. In any case, Gregory likes dramatic and vivid lighting in both landscapes and interiors. His daylight skies are often filled with turbulent clouds casting dramatic shadows on the ground (e.g. both versions of The Source of the Anduin) or with vivid sunsets contrasting with shadowed areas in the foreground (e.g. Grey Havens and Uruk-hai). In several woodland scenes, shafts of sunlight fall through the trees providing dramatic areas of light and shade (e.g. The Departure of Boromir and Fangorn). In Dead Marshes, the moon casts a very cold white light, yet strangely the moon’s pale reflection in one of the pools casts a red light on the kneeling figure of Frodo. Red fire is prominent in many interiors, often casting lurid reflections on surrounding features (e.g. Khazad-dûm). The middle ground of the vault in The Barrow Wight is filled with an unnatural green light, which becomes a sickly pale yellow over the faces of the unconscious hobbits. Indistinct figures and objects in the foreground are silhouetted darkly against this light, though with a reddish glow towards the viewer. In the distance, yellow eyes peer out of shadowy hooded figures.
Gregory’s choices of subjects suggest that he is more attracted to the dramatic possibilities offered by evil beings – orcs, trolls, dragons. Orcs often appear large in the foreground, sometimes depicted in great detail as in Grond and sometimes backlit as in Cirith Ungol and Uruk-hai. The same is true for trolls. Gregory seems to be especially keen on dragons: in the book, they are featured in no fewer than six paintings, in all but one nearly filling the frame. Although some paintings do include dwarves, men, and hobbits in prominent positions, generally the figures are small in scale and do not dominate the picture (e.g. The Departure of Boromir) and are often lit from behind or at an angle so that their faces are unclear or distorted. Elves seldom appear, and always indistinct. Hobbits are prominent in (of course) Bilbo’s Eleventy First Party, but they are an unattractive lot: some have faces which remind me of cartoons, while others look as if they might have orcish blood. So far, to judge from the book, Gregory has generally avoided figures which require nobility or beauty.
Many of the pictures are shown in frames, some quite simple, others very elaborate, all specially designed, ‘a collaboration of craftsman frame-maker, artist and patron’. A frame often reflects the subject of the painting. That for Grond features a display of weapons, armour, chains, dragons, and skulls; that for Khazad-dûm suggests grey stone ‘reflecting . . . the underground world of the Dwarven kingdom’, with carved faces of orcs on the top and side, some looking almost like gargoyles. Orc faces and weapons also frame The Great Goblin. Sometimes Gregory provides an inner painted frame to the picture, usually with a trompe l’oeil effect: rather strangely, Tom Bombadil (Tom and the four hobbits in the foreground of the Forest with Goldberry in the middle distance) is surrounded on three sides by painted orc faces, while its outer frame more appropriately depicts leafy fronds climbing over worn stone pillars at the sides and winding through decorative lunettes at the top. The painted frame for Melkor suggests a wide band of orange stone, partially reflecting red light from the left of the picture, carved with various designs including a crown, dragons, interlace, and, at bottom right, a heap of skulls which continues in three dimensions on the actual frame.
In his foreword, art dealer Peter Nahum, Gregory’s patron, gives a brief account of the project. Unfortunately, he makes some comments which are not quite correct. The Hobbit is hardly ‘a tale of a race of simple folk pitted against mighty forces from hell’ – only one hobbit, not a race, after all, is present at the Battle of Five Armies. Also, as far as I know, Tolkien did not express ‘vocal opposition to Nazism and Fascism’ (emphasis mine), which suggests something more active and public than comments in private letters to his publisher and to his son Christopher.
The February number of Locus magazine, reporting current bestsellers in the science fiction and fantasy field, lists The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien at no. 8 among hardcover books sold by Barnes & Noble/B. Dalton. Locus also includes us in the category Art Books on its 2012 Recommended Reading List.
The October 2012 number of Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine includes two pieces of special interest to us: ‘Tolkien after Tolkien: The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-Earth [sic]’ by Robin H. Smiley, together with ‘The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-Earth: An Annotated Checklist of the American First Editions’; and ‘Weaving Fantasy and History: Guy Gavriel Kay’ by Kathryn Smiley, together with ‘Guy Gavriel Kay: [A] Checklist’.
The Tolkien article includes a brief biographical introduction, very compressed and with a few unfortunate errors, such as that Tolkien was taken to England in 1895 after (by implication, because) he was bitten by a poisonous spider, one of the places Mabel Tolkien and her sons are said to have lived together was Jane Neave’s farm, ‘Bag End’ (Mabel never lived there), and The Hobbit was published in 1936 (not 1937). The Tolkien checklist is based in large part on J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography, which went to press before the American edition of Sauron Defeated (HoME no. 9) appeared and does not include the later volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Mr. Smiley finds it unfortunate that the Bibliography has not yet been updated to include volumes ten through twelve – apparently he is unaware of The Tolkien Collector, which has served this purpose since 1992. Smiley’s checklist also includes posthumous books by Tolkien not encompassed by his article title, and a selection of Tolkien-related biographies and reference works.
Kathryn Smiley’s long article on Guy Gavriel Kay is also significantly related to Tolkien, in that it discusses, more fully than any source we’ve seen before, how Kay came to participate in the editing of The Silmarillion (1977). Kay grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the son of a surgeon, one of whose colleagues was Dr. Alan Klass, who was the father of Baillie Klass, who in 1967 married Christopher Tolkien, who became J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary executor. Kay met Christopher several times before Tolkien died in 1973, and when Christopher began to prepare The Silmarillion for publication, he asked the twenty-year-old Kay to act as his assistant. Kay moved to Oxford in 1974 and stayed for a year. In his spare time, he explored, wrote poetry, made notes for his own projects, and met one of his favourite authors, Dorothy Dunnett, who was herself a Tolkien fan. Ms. Smiley unfortunately could not go into detail about Kay’s work with Christopher Tolkien, because Kay prefers not to discuss it, due to its confidential nature.
The October Firsts came to our attention when it appeared on eBay and sold for more than twenty dollars. We went to the magazine’s website and bought the back issue for ten dollars including postage.
It occurred to us the other day that we said little in our J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide about the route young Ronald took when he, his mother, and his brother sailed from South Africa in 1895. Did he go north by way of the Suez Canal, or did his ship sail westward, around the Cape of Good Hope? We knew from The Tolkien Family Album that the family group had embarked on the steamship Guelph at Cape Town, and arrived three weeks later in Southampton, England, but we had not looked into this further. An Internet search led us first to an article on the Polish Tolkien fans’ Elendilion website; this, however, is concerned mainly with the later history of the Guelph.
The Guelph, we found, was a relatively new steamship at the time of the Tolkiens’ sailing. Measuring 4,917 gross tons, it was launched at Belfast in 1894 and at first was employed on the Union Line’s Durban–Cape Town–Tenerife–Southampton ‘intermediate service’, that is, it was a vessel designed for cargo and passengers rather than the speedy shipment of mail. In 1895, then, the Guelph followed a route which included just the far southern part of Africa’s east coast (Durban and Cape Town), as well as the west coast northward to England by way of the Canary Islands. A photograph of the Guelph, with a single funnel and three masts, is reproduced in The Tolkien Family Album and on several Internet sites.
Much later in life, according to John and Priscilla Tolkien in The Tolkien Family Album (p. 18), Tolkien remembered from the long voyage to England on the Guelph ‘two brilliantly sharp images: the first of looking down from the deck of the ship into the clear waters of the Indian Ocean far below, which was full of lithe brown and black bodies diving for coins thrown by the passengers; the second was of pulling into a harbour at sunrise and seeing a great city set on the hillside above, which he realised much later in life must have been Lisbon’.
Having looked into the Guelph, we became curious also about the Roslin Castle, one of the ships of the Castle Mail Packets Co. (one of a series named after castles; this was the second of that name), on which Tolkien’s mother Mabel Suffield travelled to South Africa in 1891 to marry Arthur Tolkien. The Roslin Castle measured 4,267 gross tons at its launch in April 1883, and had one funnel and two masts (ships of this type typically used sail as well as steam). In 1888, she was returned to her builders to correct defects, in particular a tendency to roll, and at that time was enlarged (to 4,487 gross tons) and her passenger accommodation improved. At the time of Mabel’s voyage, the Roslin Castle sailed the west coast of Africa, like the Guelph a means of transporting mail to and from South Africa, but able to carry passengers as well.
Image: The steamship Guelph.
As we have mentioned before, one of our long-term projects is a bibliography of the artist Pauline Baynes. We decided early on that it did not need to be as complex as Wayne’s J.R.R. Tolkien and Arthur Ransome bibliographies, and after much experiment, that its list of books to which Pauline contributed would be best organized by year of first publication, then within each year, in alphabetical order by title. This means, among other things, that we don’t need to determine, or try to determine, for each work an exact date of first publication (as would be needed if listing in strict chronological but not alphabetical order). But we still need to establish a year of publication for each book, and not every title – children’s books are notorious in this regard – includes a publication or printing date. For such exceptions, one must search reference sources for the answer, such as the English Catalogue series or Publishers Weekly, or refer to library copies with stamped accession dates, like those in the British Library, or with dated inscriptions. And even then, problems may remain.
We call one of these problems ‘the Blackie question’, because it concerns certain books published by Blackie & Sons of Glasgow and London. Pauline Baynes’s first work for Blackie was her own rare Victoria and the Golden Bird, published in 1948. This was followed, apparently in 1949–50, by five titles in the series Blackie’s Library of Famous Books: Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass, and Gulliver’s Travels. Each of these includes a colour frontispiece plate and dust-jacket art by Pauline Baynes, and all but The Pilgrim’s Progress includes on the title-page a line drawing adapted from her art.
We have assigned them to 1949 and 1950 for several reasons. The British Library copies of Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and The Pilgrim’s Progress contain the stamped accession date 25 May 1949. The British Library copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales also contains a printed ‘War Economy Standard’ notice, indicating compliance with a Second World War paper conservation scheme which ended in 1949. The British Library copies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass and Gulliver’s Travels contain the stamped accession date 25 August 1950. The English Catalogue records publication of the Blackie Alice in 1950, but does not include the other four Library of Famous Books titles to which we know Pauline Baynes contributed. There is also a visual connection between the Andersen and Grimm volumes which dates them necessarily to the same time: the line drawing on the Andersen title-page is derived from the Grimm dust-jacket art, and the line drawing on the Grimm title-page is derived from the Andersen frontispiece!
Each of the Blackie volumes had multiple printings, but as none of these is indicated by a date or printing number, we have had to turn to other features to distinguish them, the most important of which is the first address given for the publisher on the verso of the half-title leaf. To use Andersen’s Fairy Tales as an example, we have seen three copies:
1) On the verso of the half-title, the first address given for the publisher is ‘16/18 William IV Street, Charing Cross, London, W.C.2’, and on the jacket flap, the price is ‘4/6’ (4 shillings and 6 pence). (This is the artist’s copy, in the Pauline Baynes archive at Williams College.)
2) Here also on the verso of the half-title, the first address given for the publisher is ‘16/18 William IV Street, Charing Cross, London, W.C.2’. This copy (in our collection) likewise has a dust-jacket, but the front flap is price-clipped. The endpaper bears a gift inscription dated 2 July 1954, providing a terminus ante quem.
3) On the verso of the half-title, the publisher’s first address is ‘5 Fitzhardinge Street, London, W.1’. The price on the jacket flap is ‘6/-’ (6 shillings). This is a demonstrably later dust-jacket, with the original art truncated, and the address shows that the book itself is a later printing. (Example 3 is also in our collection.)
Although Christina recorded some data for the British Library copy of Andersen’s Fairy Tales in 1993, at that time we did not yet understand the importance of the publisher’s address in distinguishing printings, and on a later visit to the British Library, when we made a point of looking at the address in Blackie volumes, the Andersen seems not to have been available. The copies of the Blackie books in the British Library presumably came from the publisher, as part of the requirement for establishing copyright by which copies of a book must be deposited in certain libraries in the U.K. But although one can infer that Blackie deposited copies at the time of publication, this is by no means certain. Nor is it necessarily true that an author or illustrator receives complimentary copies from the publisher immediately upon publication; indeed, if Pauline Baynes received her copy of Andersen’s Fairy Tales from Blackie (she could have bought it in a shop), it was probably at some time after first publication, as indicated by the publisher’s address and explained below.
According to one online account, Blackie & Son had offices at 5 Fitzhardinge Street, London, as early as 1909, but this seems to be in error: many other sources show the publisher at 50 Old Bailey, E.C., already before the turn of the twentieth century, and that they remained there until the office was destroyed by enemy bombing on 10 May 1941. Blackie’s then moved to 66 Chandos Place, ‘temporary premises’ according to Agnes A.C. Blackie in Blackie & Son, 1809–1959: A Short History of the Firm (1959), p. 18, but which served the firm until probably 1952. The Short History states that in 1952 ‘the London Office [was] now situated at 16–18 William IV Street’, but doesn’t say exactly when the move from Chandos Place occurred. The ‘5 Fitzhardinge Street’ address seems to have come into effect around 1961.
Copies (1) and (2) of Andersen’s Fairy Tales noted above, each with the publisher listed at 16–18 William IV Street, therefore must have been issued no earlier than 1952 (or possibly 1951). Since the title was certainly in print by 25 May 1949, the date stamped in the British Library copy, we would expect it originally to have had the publisher’s address as ’66 Chandos Place’, and hope one day to obtain a copy with that point.
Images: Top to bottom, the upper dust-jacket panels for copies (2) and (3) of Andersen’s Fairy Tales as described above. Copy (2) is bound in yellow-green textured paper over boards, while the artist’s personal copy (1) is bound in blue textured paper over boards. The colour difference is notable but possibly not significant: publishers during the war and postwar years used whatever binding materials were available, not necessarily with a consistent colour for the whole of a print run, and did not always bind the whole of a run all at the same time.
Christina writes: When Wayne and I saw The Hobbits: The Many Lives of Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin by Lynette Porter (I.B. Tauris, 2012) among the plethora of titles due to be published in advance of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit film An Unexpected Journey, we hesitated. There had been several books already which dealt with aspects of Tolkien’s works in media, and yet this one claims to be the first ‘to focus on the adaptations made to Tolkien’s hobbits by creative scriptwriters and directors, animators, actors, artists, composers and singers during the characters log and sometimes convoluted journey into popular culture’ – a wide field indeed, and mostly on the fringe of our interests. But in the end we decided, on the basis of a Web preview, that the book seemed to have enough substance to add it to our shelves.
Compared with earlier attempts, Porter’s book is more narrowly focussed, being concerned primarily with the treatment of the five hobbits named in her title, and on Hobbits as one of the peoples of Middle-earth: how adapters choose to present them, to dress them, to distinguish them from Men or from each other (especially Merry and Pippin). But it also spreads its net wider in terms of the adaptations considered. There are no illustrations; Porter relies instead on verbal descriptions for the many visual items she discusses, but provides references in notes to DVDs, YouTube, and so forth. She is particularly interested in the choices made by adapters to omit or change parts of Tolkien’s story or to add new material, and how these decisions alter the characters and the relationships of the hobbits, sometimes strengthening one at the expense of another.
Porter’s introduction and first chapter provide a general survey of the matter to be discussed later in more detail. Her second chapter, ‘Tolkien’s Revised Hobbits’, discusses revisions Tolkien himself made during and after the writing of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; in this she draws on John Rateliff’s History of The Hobbit, Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle-earth, and Douglas A. Anderson’s Annotated Hobbit. She notes how the names and characters of the leading hobbits went through many changes and revisions before Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin finally emerged in their published forms.
The third chapter, ‘The Lord of the Rings in the Movies – Almost’, examines unused screenplays, by Morton Grady Zimmerman for Forrest J. Ackerman in 1958 (some details of which are well known from comments written by Tolkien and included in his selected Letters), by John Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg in 1970, and by Chris Conkling and Peter S. Beagle in the early planning stages of the 1978 Ralph Bakshi film. Porter comments that ‘Zimmerman’s script features caricatures of Merry and Pippin as pesky younger cousins, without differentiating between the hobbits or offering any depth to their characterisation’, and that later screenwriters also ‘often presented one-dimensional hobbits instead of Tolkien’s more complex characters’ (p. 52). She notes the important part played by the ‘Conspiracy Unmasked’ chapter in Tolkien’s book in establishing the characters of Merry and Pippin, and that its omission in scripts is detrimental: ‘Their planning and forethought, as well as their steadfast loyalty to Frodo, are greatly diminished when they merely follow Frodo on a whim, instead of [after] months of planning to accompany their friend and cousin’ (p. 57).
The fourth chapter, ‘Hobbits on Radio and Television’, comments on The Lord of the Rings on BBC Radio (1981) and on the Rankin-Bass films of The Hobbit (1977) and The Return of the King (1980) on American television. Although the BBC production rearranged the story to present scenes in chronological order, it remained close to its source, retaining many scenes omitted in other adaptations as well as many of Tolkien’s own words. Porter thinks that its success lies partly ‘in its varied depiction of the hobbits, producing a story in which each hobbit sounds and acts differently from the others and is true to his book character. The love and compassion the hobbits feel for each other, as well as their new friends specifically and Middle-earth more generally, clearly come through, and the hobbits as a group reveal a complete range of emotions’ (pp. 72–3). The Rankin-Bass films, in contrast, are less close to their originals, though more so than Veggie Tales: The Lord of the Beans (2008) with which Porter ends the chapter: a wholesome tale for children’s television in the U.S.A., promoting a virtue and illustrating a lesson with vegetable characters, based on the Jackson films.
In her fifth chapter, ‘Hobbits on the Big Screen’, Porter deals with the Bakshi Lord of the Rings (1978), Peter Jackson’s three Lord of the Rings films, and the response of fans and the general public. For both of these productions, she discusses the depiction and development of the five hobbits separately and in relation to each other. Bakshi provides them with individuality, and they remain close to the book, though all seem rather young. Jackson’s hobbits diverge from what Tolkien wrote: Merry and Pippin ‘become much more elevated in status’ and ‘develop into more important characters’ (p. 124), perhaps not surprising as Frodo not only seems (indeed, is) much younger than Tolkien’s character but is often ‘out of his depth’ (p. 121), though the film omits some of book-Merry’s more meaningful contributions. Although she is not uncritical of Jackson’s trilogy, Porter is largely supportive of his choices.
Chapter six, ‘Those Musical Hobbits’, begins by describing the stage performances in Toronto and London (2006–8), which necessarily had to make drastic cuts in the story but chose to concentrate on the hobbits, especially Frodo and Sam. Porter then comments on Fellowship! (2004), another musical, but this time a parody; on Johan de Meij’s Lord of the Rings symphony (1987); on Dean Burry’s The Hobbit as an opera to be performed by children (2004); on soundtracks for the various television and film productions; and on other Tolkien-themed musical compositions.
Chapter seven, ‘Hobbits as Art’, discusses Tolkien’s own pictures (with incorrect descriptions of the contents of both J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator and The Art of the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien); artists who have contributed to calendars (saying little about the use of their art on covers or as illustrations for Tolkien’s books) or who were involved with developing visual aspects of the Jackson films; and unofficial art based on the films, including cartoons such as those published in Mad magazine.
Finally, in ‘Making Meaning of Hobbits: The Road Takes Some Strange Turns’, Porter turns from professional adaptations to political interpretations and fan fiction, including the ‘slash’ variety.
While I was reading Porter’s book, I divided the adaptations discussed into those I knew well, those with which I had at least a minimal acquaintance, and those completely unknown to me. I was also mentally ticking off items in our Tolkien collection.
I know the material discussed in the second chapter very well, not just from the many editions of the relevant books on our shelves, but from many hours spent with the Tolkien manuscripts at Marquette University. When I attended Mythcon in Milwaukee in 1987, I arrived ten days early to spend time with the Tolkien manuscripts, and have made many visits since then, together with Wayne, for research connected with our books. Of the third chapter topics, I have some knowledge of the Zimmerman film scripts from Tolkien’s letters to Rayner Unwin and to Zimmerman himself published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and from others in the Allen & Unwin archive and the Zimmerman papers at Marquette. I have looked at the Zimmerman scripts briefly, but my knowledge of the other scripts previously came only from the paper Janet Brennan Croft gave at Mythcon in 2004, ‘Three Rings for Hollywood: Scripts for The Lord of the Rings by Zimmerman, Boorman, and Beagle’. I find these scripts quite interesting, and often amusing, though almost certainly my feelings would be very different about any actual films based on them.
l have listened to the BBC Lord of the Rings many times, in both its original half-hour and its later one-hour broadcasts. It had a great influence on my life, since it was the broadcasts and related displays of Tolkien books in shops which turned me into a collector of Tolkien books and ephemera, a Tolkien scholar, and a member of the Tolkien Society, through which I met Wayne. I agree with Porter about the vocal qualities of the actors – for me, Michael Hordern is the voice of Gandalf, which is perhaps why, though I quite like Ian McKellen, for me he is not really Gandalf. Porter reports BBC script writer Brian Sibley’s regret at having to omit Tom Bombadil from his adaptation, but makes no mention of Sibley’s later radio dramatization of the missing chapters as part of the BBC Tales from the Perilous Realm.
Curiously, Porter makes only a passing reference to the 1968 BBC radio play of The Hobbit, and says nothing about the American ‘Mind’s Eye’ audio adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I wrote an article comparing the Mind’s Eye and BBC versions, ‘Middle-earth on Radio: Tapes from Both Sides of the Atlantic’, for Amon Hen (no. 95, January 1989, pp. 10–11), in which I noted that all of these versions followed the books quite closely. I preferred the Mind’s Eye Hobbit, partly because it allowed more time for the work and therefore could take a more leisurely approach. The two dramatizations of The Lord of the Rings are comparable in length, but because the Mind’s Eye producers include several scenes not included by the BBC, they had to make cuts throughout, missing subtle points. For this, I definitely prefer the BBC version. We have copies of all four versions on commercial cassette and CD. I also have a vague memory of hearing at least one episode of BBC radio’s Return of the King broadcast in 1956, but only that it concerned Pippin’s arrival at Minas Tirith. It is sad that those early BBC radio dramatizations seem not to have been preserved.
I probably first learned of the Rankin-Bass Hobbit television film when in the early 1980s I acquired a copy of the Abrams large format Hobbit (1977), lavishly illustrated with stills or production art from the film. Neither the Rankin-Bass Hobbit nor the same producers’ Return of the King was shown or available in Britain for copyright reasons. I managed to acquire a copy of the Rankin-Bass Hobbit to show privately during the Tolkien Society’s seminar in 1987. Later that year, after attending the Mythopoeic Society conference in Milwaukee, when I stayed with Gary and Sylvia Hunnewell near St. Louis, they showed me The Return of the King. I was still recovering from Mythcon and rather sleepy, but Gary made sure that I was awake for such gems as the Orcs’ song ‘Where There’s a Whip There’s a Will’ and Pippin’s exclamation to Gandalf that ‘Denethor’s gone loony’. Wayne and I own copies of both films on video and DVD, but I have only vague memories of them, as I have never watched them since my first viewing. As for Veggie Tales, I had never heard of it before reading this book (one can find parts on YouTube).
I did not go to see the Bakshi film of The Lord of the Rings when it was released in cinemas, as advance pictures from it put me off – and as I have said elsewhere, I am not really a film person, preferring live performances. In the mid-1980s, Rayner Unwin gave permission for the bibliographer of the Tolkien Society and me to photocopy Allen & Unwin’s collection of Tolkien press-cuttings. This included many reviews of the Bakshi film, after which I felt that I ought to see what it was actually like and, perhaps desensitized by the many images from it, found it better than I expected – but once was enough. We also have this on both video and DVD.
Wayne and I saw each of the Jackson films once in the cinema, and as mad completist collectors bought the DVDs, CDs of the score, and some of the ‘making-of’ books, most notably those on the art, but we have hardly looked at them. (We have been much more selective in our media-related collection since then.) We began to watch the extended DVD of the Jackson Fellowship, but at the point when Merry and Pippin erupt from the maize (!) field, we looked at each other and agreed that we had better things to do. It was also, of course, a time when publishing deadlines were beginning to loom for us. Later we watched The Two Towers, but only so that we could give an opinion asked of us, not for entertainment. I was somewhat disappointed in Porter’s coverage of Jackson’s adaptation: I had expected a more detailed study of choices which drastically changed the characters of the hobbits. In particular, though she correctly sees film-Frodo as weaker than book-Frodo, she does not comment on the part played in this diminishing by the absence of the Barrow-downs scene and Frodo’s resistance to the Black Riders at the Ford, together with the inserted episodes of him offering the Ring to a Nazgûl and believing Gollum rather than Sam. These among other things made Frodo seem to me wimpish and not very likeable. I agree with Porter that film-Merry was not the responsible, thoughtful character of the book, and that Pippin was given a stronger presence in the film. Unfortunately, I actively disliked the cocky film-Pippin and was further put off by his accent, not only unpleasant to my ears but wholly out of keeping with the speech of the rest of the film-hobbits.
Wayne and I didn’t see the musical in either Toronto or London, but did buy The Official Stage Companion by Gary Russell and a CD/DVD with excerpts. Fellowship! and the Burry Hobbit are new to me, but we have several performances of de Meij’s symphony on CD and cassette, part of a large collection of Tolkien-inspired music. This, however, is another area in which we are no longer collecting so actively, as there is so much of it. I have seen several stage productions of The Hobbit, including an operatic version by Robert Hammersley in Oxford Town Hall in 1987, with a woman playing Bilbo (we even have an audio tape of it). I have seen and enjoyed several performances of Graham Watkins’ The Hobbit, beginning with the first production in Leicester, in June 1984, which included all of the riddles (over the years, the number of riddles was gradually reduced). I saw Rob Inglis give his one-man performances of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at the 1992 Centenary Conference in Oxford, and have a recording of the former. We have an archival box full of theatre programmes and ephemera, not all relating to performances that Wayne or I attended, or all in English. Our book collection includes copies of four dramatizations of The Hobbit published by the Dramatic Publishing Company, Chicago, 1968–96, and a musical version from the Performance Publishing Co. of Elgin, Illinois, 1974. These vary greatly in how close they stay to Tolkien’s story or use his words.
Our collection includes all of the calendars published by Tolkien’s official publishers, as well as many produced by fan groups. Porter is selective in the ones she mentions. The most surprising omissions are Inger Edelfeldt, whose illustration Long Expected Party, teeming with hobbits, is particularly memorable, and Michael Hague, whose calendar accompanied a commission by Tolkien’s official publishers to illustrate The Hobbit. I am also a little surprised that Porter says so little about the editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings illustrated by Alan Lee, since Lee’s pictures and their widespread use in translation made his work familiar to fans long before the Jackson films appeared. Recently, foreign publishers have tended to base their editions on those of HarperCollins, whereas earlier they usually commissioned covers and illustrations from local artists, one of the main reasons that I was attracted to collecting translations of Tolkien, of which we now have a very large collection.
I found Porter’s final chapter the least interesting. I am not interested in fan fiction; I don’t collect it or even read it if it turns up in a periodical to which we subscribe. The few examples I read early had none of Tolkien’s ability, and I felt that the writers were projecting their own often contemporary interests onto Tolkien’s world, making any suspension of disbelief impossible. I might point out that I am equally unhappy about historical novels whose authors know very little about the period in which they are set!
Christina writes: Our book acquisitions in 2012 totalled 355, a forty per cent increase on the previous year, including pamphlets and booklets but not periodicals. There were several reasons for this increase: the publication of many books on Tolkien and reissues of Tolkien titles to mark the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit or in conjunction with the release of the film adaptation; the number of exhibitions we saw last year, resulting in the purchase of catalogues; visits to several Half Price Books outlets; and the many interesting titles we found in shops during our visit to England last May, titles we haven’t seen well represented in American shops.
My B.A. is a joint honour degree in Medieval History (with the early Anglo-Saxon period as a special subject) and the History of Art. Both of these subjects continue to interest me. I read many books on ancient history and medieval history, and my interest is not confined to Europe. My interest in art has a similar focus, but extends through the nineteenth century. Wayne and I are not particularly interested in contemporary art, but we do enjoy some of the illustrative and decorative art of the twentieth century.
At the beginning of 2010, I wrote a blog post about the seventy-three books I read during 2009. For 2012, I am going to comment on the thirteen books I most enjoyed reading last year – a baker’s dozen because I could not choose which one to discard. During the year, I actually read 121 books. I reached that high number by devoting more time to reading (either by choice or on plane journeys and in airports waiting for planes) and by selecting shorter volumes, or ones with many pages devoted to pictures, in an attempt to decrease the number of titles awaiting my attention proportionately, if not by number of pages.
Several of the books on my list relate to my interest in both history and art, in particular Petra: Splendors of the Nabataean Civilisation by Francesca A. Ossorio (2009). Petra, which I visited in 1978, is a World Heritage site, and its appeal was well summed up by a nineteenth-century visitor as ‘a rose-red city half as old as Time’. Although I already owned two books on Petra, when I saw the superb colour photographs in this large volume, in a Half Price Books, I couldn’t resist adding a third. However, it is not just a coffee table book. The blurb on the front flap notes that the text was written by an archaeologist with expertise in the Roman Middle East, and ‘offers a comprehensive look at the historical and archaeological aspects of the Nabataean city and its still unclear origins’.
Arabs and Normans in Sicily and the South of Italy by Adele Cilento and Alessandro Vanoli (2007), another find in Half Price Books, is similar, discussing both history and art, illustrated with colour photographs. The Normans in the South were dealt with in my B.A. degree, but I had not looked at the subject before from the Arab point of view. The illustrations brought back memories of my visits to Sicily in 1975 and to Southern Italy in 1979.
Another well illustrated book is Making History: Antiquaries in Britain 1707–2007 (2007), published to accompany an exhibition at the Royal Academy, London, but relevant to the smaller exhibition on the same subject we saw at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven early in 2012 (see my post here). The catalogue illustrates a small part of the collection of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, and records the part the Society has played since the early eighteenth century in discovering, recording, preserving, and interpreting Britain’s past. As the catalogue notes, the illustrations include ‘antiquities of international importance, detailed records of lost buildings and objects, paintings of ancient sites and landscapes by Constable, Girtin, Turner, Blake and other artists commissioned by the Society and its fellows, royal portraits from Henry VI to Mary Tudor, and rare historical manuscripts’.
In three of my chosen books, history is dominant over art, and two of the three concentrate on the solving of a specific historical mystery.
Neal Ascherson’s Black Sea: The Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism (1995, Folio Society edition 2011 based on a 2007 emended text) is described in the Folio Society catalogue as ‘part travelogue, part history . . . a dazzling journey around . . . the place where East meets West’.
Ashoka: The Search for India’s Lost Emperor (2012) by Charles Allen is concerned with the story of Ashoka, whose empire around 250 B.C. covered most of the Indian subcontinent. According to the blurb on the dust-jacket, ‘through his quest to govern by moral force alone, Ashoka transformed Buddhism from a minor sect into a major world religion’. But after his death, as Buddhism declined in India, his monuments were destroyed and ‘even the historical record was cleansed so effectively that his name was largely forgotten for almost two thousand years’. Allen follows the rediscovery step by step as enterprising archaeologists record and decipher mysterious lettering on stones and begin to excavate sites, piecing together India’s long-lost history. He concludes with an account of Ashoka and his immediate predecessors and successors, taking into account the not always consistent evidence.
The blurb on the dust-jacket of The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands by Nicholas Clapp (1998) recounts the author’s search for ‘the most fabled city in ancient Arabia . . . described in the Koran as “the many-columned city whose like has not been built in the whole land” [which] was destroyed for the sins of its people’.
Generally I have not bought books on scientific subjects (that is more in Wayne’s department), but in the past few years I have acquired several from the Folio Society, either as one of the free volumes supplied on continuing my membership, or because the titles appealed enough to be included in the four volumes one must choose each year to renew. I read two of these in 2012, and although both are shelved with other books on science, they might also be described as history books. In The Earth: An Intimate History (2004, Folio Society edition 2011), Richard Fortey ‘unlocks the geological secrets of the earth – its origin and the constant processes that destroy and create it. His aim is to unite the natural and human history of particular places with the geological realities that underlie them’ (Folio Society brochure). In doing this, he also records the stages by which geologists and others were able to recover the past history of our world.
The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski was a free gift with my 2012 Folio Society renewal. Wayne already owned an American issue of this work published in 1973, the same year as the BBC publication based on the television series of the same name (which Wayne has on DVD). Many of the illustrations are common to both copies, while others are similar but not identical, or are included only in one edition. The Folio Society volume includes a brief foreword by Melvyn Bragg. This is certainly Bronowski’s most popular book, a well written ‘personal view’ of the history of humanity told alongside a history of scientific knowledge and achievement.
Mughal Architecture and Gardens by George Michell (2011) with superb colour photographs by Amit Pasricha is similar to the book on Petra, but its text is mainly concerned with stylistic developments rather than historical background, so I classify it as an art book. Although I already owned a couple of volumes on Islamic architecture in India, apart from one specifically on the Taj Mahal, they say little about the gardens which were a major part of each scheme. . . . In the first of my blog posts ‘London May 2012’, I wrote about the exhibition of the work of Johan Zoffany that Wayne and I visited, and commented on Zoffany’s attractive pictures of family groups and famous actors and actresses in theatre productions. We did not buy the official catalogue for the exhibition, but the larger and even more lavishly illustrated Johan Zoffany 1733–1810 by Mary Webster (2011) which I read early in the year before we left for England. The emphasis is definitely on the art, but with it comes much information about the social, artistic, and political currents of the times. . . . Wayne has already devoted part of a blog post to the third art book on my list, so I will merely give its title: The Art of Simon Palmer introduced by Elspeth Moncrieff (2011).
I read less and less fiction every year, getting much more pleasure from non-fiction books of the kind listed above. Of the few fiction titles I read in 2012, only one made my list: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett, a young adult Discworld novel about the young witch Tiffany Aching. This was published in hardback in 2010, but I waited until 2012 for a trade paperback edition to match my copies of the three earlier Tiffany novels. I find myself out of sympathy with much of current fantasy writing, but continue to enjoy Pratchett’s works. Although they may seem on the surface to be light-hearted, humorous fantasy set in a strange world with many non-human beings, almost invariably they also have a serious thread concerning problems in our own world. In this book, a spirit of hatred and malice comes from the past and begins to influence people to turn against witches whom it blames for everything wrong with the world.
My last book is Reflections on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones, with a foreword by Neil Gaiman (2012). Diana Wynne Jones was one of my favourite authors, and in my opinion one of the best writers of fantasy, though she never received the recognition she deserved. Her books fill six linear feet in one of our bookcases, all but the earliest bought on publication. They are books which I often feel the urge to dip into again. I heard her speak several times, most notably at a Tolkien Society Seminar in 1987 organized by Jessica Yates and myself. Reflections on the Magic of Writing is a collection of articles, papers, and reviews written between 1978 and 2008. Reading it was both a sad and happy experience: sad because Diana Wynne Jones died in 2011, but happy because it brought back memories of her forthright and amusing manner when speaking and of how much I have enjoyed her many books. She put a lot of herself into her stories, which are often very complex, requiring a second read to discover all of the plot twists. Although some characters appear in several books, each title was fresh, not written to formula. Jones can be very amusing but also very sympathetic in dealing with her characters, their problems and relationships. I can’t name just one favourite, but will mention those I have especially enjoyed: Dogsbody (1975), Charmed Life (1977), The Spellcoats (1979), The Magicians of Caprona (1981), Fire and Hemlock (1985), Howl’s Moving Castle (1986), The Crown of Dalemark (1993), Deep Secret (1997), The Year of the Griffin (2000), and Conrad’s Fate (2005). I just wish I could look forward to more.
Images, top to bottom: Binding for the Folio Society edition of The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski; cover of Making History: Antiquaries in Britain 1707–2007; binding for the Folio Society edition of The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey; dust-jacket for Mughal Architecture and Gardens by George Michell and Amit Pasricha; dust-jacket for Reflections on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones.