8 September 2021 | David Bratman
… Northfarthing Beer was a project when we ran the 1995 Tolkienists Mythcon. One of our members, a connoisseur of the more demotic forms of alcohol, was determined to brew and bottle his own beer. We had quite a lot of it around that Mythcon, and I witnessed some of it actually being drunk.
The fun part of the planning was designing a label for a purported Shire-hobbits’ beer. Kevin Farrell drew the illustrations, a scene of fields of grain in front of Bag End, and a copy of Tolkien’s view of Bilbo in his front hall, only with huge stacks of beer barrels on either side. And I had the fun of composing the label text, which I’ll preserve here.…
❧6 September 2021 | David Bratman
I heard a few papers at the very tail end of Oxonmoot early this morning. One presenter discovered, to her surprise and delight, that Tolkien’s mythological depictions of light actually express wave-particle duality. Another noted the number of Tolkien’s school and college textbooks that survive to this day and wondered, where did he keep them when he was off serving in WW1? He didn’t have a family home to store stuff like this in. Unfortunately there isn’t really an answer. And a third was a discussion of the geopolitics of Numenor chock full of terms like colonialism, imperialism, and exceptionalism,…
❧4 September 2021 | David Bratman
… I also got to hear the interview with Dimitra Fimi, who has been mentoring so many younger Tolkien scholars that the chat function was trying to think of appropriate powerful-mother metaphors. Galadriel? Melian? She also does a lot of interpreting Tolkien for the media, which led to the suggestion of the title Professor for the Public Understanding of Tolkien. A lot of good questions about whither Tolkien studies. She sees specialization arising: more “bespoke” criticism about specific aspects. But I liked most her story about discovering Tolkien. Already a BA-holding ESL teacher in her native Greece, she saw a student reading a Greek translation of The Silmarillion and asked what’s that? The idea of one man’s mythology was attractive, so she followed the student’s advice and read The Lord of the Rings first — fortunately in English, because (she says) it makes a big difference which language you encounter a story in first. Then she came to the UK to do grad work in Tolkien and the rest is history.…
❧3 September 2021 | David Bratman
… There was a very interesting panel on translating Tolkien. Marcel Bülles (from Germany) spoke of the economic imperatives which often keep publishers from undertaking translations. As the topic of discussion was technical posthumous Tolkien books like the History of Middle-earth series, I wondered if there was much of an audience deeply interested in Tolkien — for you have to be very deeply interested in Tolkien to want to tackle these — that didn’t have enough English to read them in the original? I posed this in the chat, and was informed: maybe not in countries like Germany or Slovenia, where knowledge of English is widespread, but otherwise in Hungary, where it isn’t.
José Manuel Ferrández Bru (from Spain) spoke of the invisibility of non-English language Tolkien scholarship to the English-speaking readership, instancing the increased attention his biography of Tolkien’s guardian (who was Spanish by birth) received after it was reissued in English translation. I’m uncomfortably aware of this gap, and I’d like to do something about it.…
❧2 September 2021 | David Bratman
1. It’s the first day of Oxonmoot, the The Tolkien Society conference, and I’m attending online again, though all I was able to get to today was part of an interview with Carl F. Hostetter, Events having kept me away from the rest. That he wants to just study and enjoy Tolkien’s languages without forcing them into an artificial standard grammar reminds me of the way I just want to read Tolkien’s stories without wanting to have them made into movies. It’s the number of people who feel otherwise in both cases that puzzles us.…
❧18 August 2021 | David Bratman
… Nevertheless it was a gripping movie, atmospheric in the good sense as well as the stereotypical one. Not an action movie at all, but mostly quiet (this must be why so much mumbling) and, like the poem, insistently but not didacticly homiletic. Dev Patel as Gawain has to act more with facial expressions and body movement than words, and he captures the character very well. An awesome work of film-making.
As an adaptation of the poem? Some parts, like the first encounter with the Green Knight, were impressively faithful to the original. Others, like, well, pretty much the rest of the story, wandered off and didn’t always make sense.…
❧1 August 2021 | David Bratman
I got to the computer in time for my 9 AM Zoom panel (11 or 12 for the other panelists) on Tolkien’s poems “Errantry” and Bilbo’s song of Eärendil and their startling similarity. My job was to describe the writing process by which one poem turned into the other, a description aided by the existence of 22 varying drafts, quoted in full or part in the posthumous books. Janet Brennan Croft in her contribution to the panel suggested that not only are they the same poem, they’re the same character, and “Errantry” is some sort of hallucination that Eärendil suffers during his first, frustrated attempt to pass the shadows that protect Valinor. I’m not sure I believe it, but it’s an interesting theory.…
❧31 July 2021 | David Bratman
This was the first of a two-day online Mythcon, something we (the Mythopoeic Society) weren’t prepared to do last year, and are doing in a sort of half-baked manner this year, hence “Halfling.” Full daytimes of three tracks of programming, each track with its own Zoom link, plus additional conversation rooms which (unlike Zoom chats) can be preserved, in a separate service called Discord. About 160 people signed up, typical for Mythcon, and most of the papers had about 12 – 25 attendees, typical for Mythcon. Outstandingly user-responsive tech team.
The day began with an informal gathering in one of the Zoom rooms, featuring a lot of discussion of how unexpected spellings threw us as children. Most memorable was one man who confessed that he stopped reading T.H. White because the word sword had a w in it.
I got through 6 papers and discussion sessions before the typical hot afternoon intermittent failures of my internet connection caused me to give up. Learned surveys of the historical philology and of the Christian faith at the root of Tolkien’s work and an inter alia demonstration that Gandalf is the result of Tolkien rethinking who Odin ought to be; discussions of the whither of the Society’s awards and of favorite fantasy short fiction; and a paper on Superman.
This last was particularly interesting,…
❧26 July 2021 | David Bratman
… 4. this would be a good article on the love between Frodo and Sam if it didn’t keep trying to erase the distinction between love and sexuality. Some deeply loving relationships are sexual. Some aren’t. You can’t use even physical expressions of tenderness to determine whether one is. (Try plugging a mother-child relationship into this template and see what happens.) .…
❧16 July 2021 | David Bratman
A recent conversation presented me with a chance to answer the question, “If Tolkien is my favorite fantasy author, who are my other favorites?”
To answer this, I’m going to have to turn back to a long-ago time, before recent fantasy giants like Martin and Pratchett, before even Donaldson and Brooks, not quite before the Ballantine Unicorn’s Head series but before I was aware of it, and report on my perplexity at the recommendations I was getting from friends and helpful librarians for “things like Tolkien” to read after him. They were sword-and-sorcery authors like Robert E. Howard, and the likes of comic-book superheroes. I tried these things, but I was not even remotely attracted to them. I could see the superficial resemblance — battles involving mighty heroes, often in a semi-barbarian pseudo-medieval landscape — but that’s not what Tolkien was about, or what he was like. They were badly written, crudely plotted, and their heroes were all like Boromir. The likes of Frodo and Sam didn’s even exist there. They only had the crude surface resemblance, and not what I went to Tolkien for: his soul, his depth of creativity, his sense of morality. I quickly learned that surface resemblance has nothing to do with what makes Tolkien distinctive or worthwhile.….
❧3 July 2021 | David Bratman
Today was the first day of the Tolkien Society’s online seminar on diversity and representation in Tolkien’s works. I’d signed up eagerly to attend this, but I didn’t get to hear or see a damned bit of it.…
❧24 June 2021 | David Bratman
… This stricture becomes useful … when Ross gets to a brief, hasty, and sloppy consideration of Tolkien (p. 642 – 43). Again he starts by citing parallel or overlapping interests, including Tolkien’s own retellings of the Siegfried stories, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, which at least he’s up to date enough to know about. He then notes that “Tolkien fans have sometimes argued that the manifest resemblances to Wagner result from a common use of older sources,” an argument he could have gotten from my own article on Tolkien and music, though I’m not cited; but he then adds, “but the claim does not withstand scrutiny.” Only because he doesn’t scrutinize it very much. Ross says that Tolkien’s One Ring “has no plausible antecedent” except Wagner’s; but, even leaving aside the glaring fact that it doesn’t have to have an antecedent, the relationships between the Ring and the magic, especially the invisibility factor; the role of the Ring as treasure; the way in which its power is used; the whole history of its ownership; etc., etc., are so totally different in the two stories as to leave nothing in common but a magic ring with a curse on it (the curses, and their nature, are totally different too: Tolkien’s isn’t even actually a curse, it just functions as one). And a cursed treasure is a fairy-tale motif a lot older than Wagner.…
❧18 June 2021 | David Bratman
Katherine Langrish also praised both Lewis and Tolkien for the sense they give “of the physicality of the world.” If you thrust a shovel into their landscape, there’d be real soil underneath, unlike some fantasy worlds which feel like you’d break through into empty air.…