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Life in the Time of Coronavirus

March 21, 2020

It has been some months since we posted to our blog. This has been due to work (and general laziness), not to COVID-19. We wanted our readers to know that we’re safe and sound, at least so far.

Williams College sent its students away for spring break a week early. They are to take their classes online until the end of Spring Term. Faculty now have only a short time to revamp their syllabi and change their teaching methods to suit the new reality of ‘social distancing’, and librarians like Wayne are similarly having to adapt. Like most of the Williams staff, Wayne has been working from home since last Wednesday. Since he can no longer provide rare books and manuscripts to students and faculty in person, he’s filling the hours checking catalog records, revising bibliographical descriptions, planning summer exhibitions – hoping that the exhibition galleries will re-open by summer – and meeting colleagues online. He’s also standing by to scan or photograph materials, though this falls short of experiencing the immediacy of original objects.

Since we’re both of an age, and since Christina has an artificial heart valve, we’re being especially careful about exposure. At the beginning of March, we went to New York City for the antiquarian book fair, one of the two big buying trips Wayne does as Chapin Librarian every year. Concerns about the virus were then only just becoming urgent, with elbow bumps beginning to replace handshakes. The fair was less crowded than usual, though in density of people far in excess of the levels now recommended. Of course, fewer buyers meant less competition, and Wayne did well in the five hours we allowed. Since it was Christina’s birthday, we bought for our home library something she had wanted for many years, the two-volume set of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung (1910–11) illustrated by Arthur Rackham. We couldn’t find one of the deluxe copies bound in white vellum, but spotted a first printing of the trade edition, itself somewhat deluxe, in very good condition and with its rare original dust-jackets.

Earlier this week, we learned that at least one of the dealers at the fair later tested positive for the coronavirus, and a few others were assumed to be infected. None of these was among those we visited, and most of those Wayne spoke with the longest have told him they’re doing fine. We ourselves have now passed the fourteen-day mark since the fair, without symptoms. We’re staying in as much as possible; each of our dentists and Christina’s hairdresser cancelled appointments as they too distance socially (to adapt the phrase), and we expect that other events in our diaries will have to be rescheduled also. For the time being, Wayne is making the weekly supermarket run solo, for perishables and prescriptions, to spare Christina the effort. Wayne having read about the fragility of supply chains, we had begun to build up a stock of non-perishables and other supplies even before our New York trip, and that has proved to be a good thing as our local supermarket now has many empty shelves and bins which are not being restocked very quickly.

A booklist from Sotheran’s, the London dealer, received about a week ago included an amusing note:

The nightmare of self-isolation – fourteen days at home, unable to leave the house, and nothing left on Netflix. And then you turn to the beautiful prints you bought that brighten up the walls, and the lovely books that stir your imagination and fill up the hours to the brim. Actually, is two weeks long enough?

Two weeks wouldn’t make much of a dent in the books we want to read and already have, let alone those yet to come, or the music we want to listen to, or videos to watch (we don’t do streaming, but have many DVDs). So fourteen days would not be a hardship – or fourteen months, for that matter. Christina, being retired, spends most of her time at home anyway; through the winter she has kept busy continuing to index our collection of Tolkien-related cuttings, letters, and ephemera. With spring having arrived, she’s looking ahead to work in the garden once the local nurseries re-open (we hope) starting April 1st. When not at the library, Wayne is still picking away at our long-expected book on Pauline Baynes. Together we wrote a brief obituary of Christopher Tolkien for the newsletter of the Children’s Books History Society, and are preparing a longer appreciation of Christopher for the next number of Tolkien Studies.

Stay well!

  1. Tim Vandenberg permalink
    March 21, 2020 7:38 pm

    Glad you two are well! I was literally just searching my emails to see when the last communique was sent out, so the timing is perfect! Please stay safe & healthy in this time!

  2. March 21, 2020 9:41 pm

    I’d like to second this – glad you are well!

    Keeping fingers crossed for you and your loved ones!

  3. Alan Reynolds permalink
    March 22, 2020 4:26 am

    Stay well, Christina & Wayne.

    love from Alan & Louise


  4. janet nelson-alvarez permalink
    March 22, 2020 6:51 am

    very relieved to hear that you both are fine. Will very much look forward to the appreciation of Christopher and the book on Pauline. I’m sure that our current situation is different for everyone…but right now, it has made me feel very aware of the connectedness of our human family. Stay well!

  5. March 23, 2020 1:48 pm

    Ƿesaþ hāle! Bēoþ gesunde! I am glad to see that you both are fine. I am on the 2-weeks quarantaine. I hope we all will have more time now to write new texts, new books!

  6. Troelsfo permalink
    March 23, 2020 2:36 pm

    It is so good in times like these that we have this opportunity to keep up with how friends are doing – especially when they’re doing well. Thank you for the update – and “what all the others said …” 🙂

  7. A. R. permalink
    April 21, 2020 9:14 am

    (I’m not sure if you can be contacted by replying to the wordpress newletter…hopefully…)

    I’m not sure if you’ve come across these very interesting illustartions before, described as by ‘Peter Klúcik – Illustrations for unpublished version of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” 1990’.
    Thanks and very best regards,


    Here is the link:

    (I’ve place a ‘space’ between each dash, full-stop, and so on, to pass the link on to you here)

    And from the bottom of the page:

    “Long-time illustrator Peter Klúcik was asked to illustrate J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit soon after communism fell in 1989. For this project he created around 40 illustrations that were rich in detail and conveyed the mysterious atmosphere of the book very well. But the publishing house commissioning them failed to adjust to the market economy and lost the right to publish the book. A second one approached him….

    Before he gave up illustration, Klúcik created pictures for around 40 books, including Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. But the book that enabled him to expand his imagination the most and brought him to the path he later set out on was the last one he illustrated – Tolkien’s The Hobbit. From the evil-looking but funny hairy squirrels to the curly tails on the flying dragons, it was an easy transition to his dreamed-up world inhabited purely by animals.”


  8. Nicholas Watkinson permalink
    June 22, 2020 6:55 pm

    Hello, I’ve just this week taken delivery of the 2017 Companion and Guide, and I’m new to this website and can’t see where else to comment. Being voluntarily more or less housebound at the moment I’ve started reading the Chronology. I think there’s a typo on p. 22, where an entry presumably for 18 Feb 1910 is given as 18 Feb 1909. Also – I was looking ahead to my birthday (alas! not mentioned) – on p. 456 what is presumably meant to be 1 June 1954 is given as 1 June 1964. But more seriously I’m puzzled by your note on p. 824 to the entry for 28 June to 1 July 1913, in which you discuss some problems with dating. You mention Tolkien’s December birthday – but he was born in January 1892. His being ‘nineteen or twenty’ would therefore have occurred in 1911 and 1912 (until 3 Jan 1913), not 1912 and 1913 as you suggest, and so indeed most likely too early to have quizzed a child born in 1910 about the inhabitants of plants. I’ve looked at the corrigenda section of the website but see no reference to these pages there – are you still collecting possible corrections?.

    • June 22, 2020 7:37 pm

      Thanks, Nicholas. We’re always interested in knowing of possible corrections. We had already noted the 1954/64 error for correction in our next group of addenda and corrigenda, but not the 1909/10 error. As for the note on p. 824, we’re at a great loss as to how we could have said that Tolkien was born in December, and indeed, that would make him nineteen or twenty in 1911 or 1912. Fortunately, that doesn’t invalidate the rest of our note.

      We hope to post new addenda and corrigenda soon, and are surprised to see that it has been nearly two years since the last batch. There have been many new works about Tolkien to consider for information or comment, not least Maker of Middle-earth and John Garth’s Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien.

      • Nicholas Watkinson permalink
        July 17, 2020 7:34 am

        Thanks for your prompt reply, and also for the new corrigenda recently released. I’m about half way through the Chronology now but have been distracted by other books. However I’ve noticed a few more things which I think are not covered by the July 2020 post.
        p.114, 19 Nov 1918 – reference to St John’s Street in Oxford, where all other references are deliberately to St John Street as per note on p.826
        p.275, 11 Jan 1943 perhaps an asterisk is not needed for Michael Tolkien as he has one on p.13 in the general entry for the year 1905 (I assumed at first it was meant for Michael George, but then he does not have his own article)
        p.305, 13 Feb 1945 line 5 should be ‘impossible for him’ not ‘impossible from him’
        p.353, 15 Jun [?1948] line 12 should be ‘Ch. 11 of …’ not Ch. II of …’
        p.360, towards the end of the of the long note for Aug 1948 to Aug 1950, Homeward Bound needs an opening quotation mark
        p.381, 3 Apr 1950 last sentence should be ‘cannot understand why it was sent to him’ or cannot understand why it has [or had] been sent to him’, not ‘cannot understand why it was been sent to him’
        pp.843 and 844 the special notes for 16 Jan 1936 and 8 Dec 1936 are in the wrong order
        p.933 (index) and so also p,1699 of Reader’s Guide, there is no reference to E.E. (Edith) Wardale on p.14 of the Chronology – actually it might be useful to have both the ‘E.E.’ and ‘Edith’ in the index entry as she is referred to both ways at different places in the text.

        I’m sorry to have sent this just after your post of corrections, rather than just before – but rest assured that reading the Chronology has been absolutely fascinating, and I’m enormously impressed by your diligence and persistence

      • July 17, 2020 9:13 pm

        Hi, Nicholas, thanks for your further comments. We’ll take note of most of them for our next round of addenda and corrigenda. We don’t know where the reference to Chronology p. 14 came from for Edith Wardale, or how “E.E.”, included in the first edition index, dropped out in the second.

        On p. 275, we included the asterisk for Michael Tolkien as shorthand indication that more about Michael George could be found in the article for his father Michael.

        On p. 353, l. 12, “Ch. II” is correct. This is in a quotation from Tolkien, and it’s how he wrote the reference for Ch. 2 — it’s not a misprint for “11”. We make the reference clear in our words starting later in that line: “i.e. Book II, Chapter 2” (“The Council of Elrond”).

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