2 April 2022 | David Bratman
According to this article, the star-namers did have Tolkien in mind. Earendel was the name for the morning star (Venus) which Tolkien found in Old English poetry and which inspired him to create the character, originally of the same name, in The Silmarillion. In his later work he took to spelling it Eärendil, and that’s how it appears in the published books. (The diaeresis over the “a” is to remind you they’re two separate vowels, not a diphthong.)
❧30 March 2022 | David Bratman
Monday was my day for researching the annual Tolkien bibliography in the library, having exhausted the free databases at home.… This was the first time I’d been there in three years, but I used to go annually so I remembered it well… Inside the library, masks were required and most everyone had one.… I settled down at a computer and spent five straight hours online searching, interrupted only by the obvious restroom breaks and much more frequent visits to the help desk, starting with one following seeing that the login screen no longer tells you what the visitor login is. (Though it does say there is one.) Then there was a hitch when it wasn’t clear that inter-library access isn’t available to visitors: it actually gives the option to enter a visitor account, and that’s sure misleading. Lastly, when I left, I gave them a list of those databases on their pull-down menu where I found that the link was broken. You’d think they’d check this occasionally themselves, but maybe not. What if they’re paying subscription fees for databases they can’t access? …
As the years have gone by, I’ve had to spend less and less time in the stacks. Even the one relevant serial that UCSC gets in hard copy that no other library in my ambit gets is now available in online databases. And now, I’m finding that the pay databases have fewer items that aren’t in the free databases than they used to. What the pay databases have is more complete citations (irritating to find a great article but the entry doesn’t give the author’s name) and, of course, many of them have full text. These I was grabbing so that I’ll have them available to hand out to the Year’s Work contributors next year.
❧18 March 2022 | David Bratman
Rumor is filtering over from Europe about a new variant virus which hasn’t had much of an effect in the US yet. But it might soon, and thereby lies a practical concern for me.
I had been intending to put off compiling the annual bibliography for Tolkien Studies for another month, in favor of more urgent matters. But this task requires going out to the university libraries to search the proprietary databases. For two years I couldn’t do that because the libraries were closed, and I had to resort to makeshift solutions.
But now the libraries are open, some of them anyway, and I am looking forward to going.…
But before I visit the libraries I have to do first the even more extensive work in my own collection and in the public online databases, so that I can have as much information already down on my list, maximizing the efficiency of my time in the libraries by being able to pass over many of the listed items with “OK, I already have that one.” …
❧16 March 2022 | David Bratman
❧2 March 2022 | David Bratman
I don’t have any further information, but I’ve just heard of the passing on Monday of Priscilla Tolkien, youngest and last surviving of J.R.R. Tolkien’s four children and his only daughter.
Priscilla Mary Anne Reuel Tolkien was born 18 June 1929, so she was 92 years old. She was a little young for The Hobbit when it was being told aloud to her brothers, but by the same token was able to extend the letters from Father Christmas until 1943, when she was 14. At about that time she typed out parts of The Lord of the Rings. She got her university degree from Oxford’s Lady Margaret Hall. Seeking a non-academic role in life out of her father’s shadow and one that would be of practical assistance to the world, she became a probation officer, though in her later working years spent much of her time teaching and training in the broader field of social work.
I met Priscilla Tolkien on a couple of occasions. It was her custom for many years to invite first-time attendees of Oxonmoot, the Tolkien Society’s annual informal conference, to an at-home at the large and rambling yard of her house in the leafy parts of north Oxford.…
❧11 February 2022 | David Bratman
That’s the header I put on a post a decade ago about the impending Hobbit movies, responding to an enthusiast (the part in quotes) by alluding to Strider’s warnings about the Nazgûl.
And that’s how I feel again now that two people have forwarded to me this extensive article about that previously blank slate, the impending Amazon series based on Tolkien’s Second Age.
I cannot recall if I saw anything as detailed prior to either of the sets of Jackson movies, or if I felt quite as sick at heart as I do on reading this. It’s like thinking of your beloved peaceful village, knowing that a vast tsunami is on the way and will overflood it. It will not be possible to deal with other people regarding Tolkien’s work in the future without this getting in the way or at least having to be kicked out of the way, the same way as that’s now true of the Lord of the Rings movies.…
❧5 February 2022 | David Bratman
The Mythopoeic Society decided that, as long as we’re still holding conferences by Zoom, to hold an extra one-day conference in February. The theme of horror did not initially attract me, but I decided to sign up as an attendee once I saw the topic would be horror elements in the Inklings. I’m not interested in horror as a genre or the works that comprise it, but horror elements in fantasy is more intriguing; much as I have no desire to eat spices, but spices in actual food are more appetizing.
That was today. Unfortunately I’m finding that either my interest in, or capacity for, listening to scholarly papers on Zoom has atrophied, so I only attended intermittently. Several of the papers were on Tolkien, often focusing on the sense of menace exuded by some of his forests: the Old Forest and Mirkwood in particular (but not Fangorn, curiously enough).…
❧3 January 2022 | David Bratman
J.R.R. Tolkien was 130 years old today (Monday), the same age reached by his hobbit character the Old Took (Bilbo’s grandfather). Bilbo himself passed it, so we’ll honor him next year. I toasted him with a leftover bottle of Swedish pear cider, the last in the stock of bottles I brought home from Galco’s last July, in the Tolkien Society’s online session. Shaun Gunner read aloud Bilbo’s famous birthday speech, which I guess is traditional.
Afterwards the 160 or so of us who stuck around were distributed into breakout rooms, where I met a Canadian with an interesting theory I hadn’t heard before: that when the Lord of the Nazgul says “Come not between the Nazgul and his prey” to Eowyn, he’s trying to get her out of the way because he doesn’t have Sauron’s permission to kill her as he does for Theoden.…
❧18 December 2021 | David Bratman
Here’s something I hadn’t come across in the previous 18 years: someone who actually likes the scene in Jackson’s Return of the King in which Frodo junks Sam.…
This addition makes J‑Frodo out to be a credulous fool (in falling for Gollum’s maneuverings); and if Frodo could do this, it undercuts the whole basis of his relationship with Sam, which is based on an absolute mutual faith, no matter how cranky Sam becomes (and J‑Sam is abominably cranky).…
❧12 December 2021 | David Bratman
The good fellow who’s been watching his way through all the Hugo-winning (and Oscar Best Picture-winning, too) movies has reached Peter Jackson et al’s The Two Towers. I responded to his enthusiasm for Fellowship here (with a link). I have less to say about his comments on The Two Towers because this time, he’s figured out some of the problems with these movies.…
N. is properly critical of the adaptation of Faramir. J‑Faramir, completely unlike his book counterpart, tries to arrest Frodo and Sam and take the Ring to Minas Tirith, and then inexplicably changes his mind and lets them go. I’d like to get into this from a couple levels, because I think it’s the key to Jackson et al’s failure.…
❧5 December 2021 | David Bratman
More due to other health issues in the host household, I think, than covid concerns, our Mythopoeic Society group’s annual Reading and Eating meeting was by Zoom again this year.… Best reading contribution: L. with a witty and imaginative poem of her own composition in the form of a Gorey alphabet. C. read a Charles Williams Taliessin poem in memory of A., and showed just how powerfully affecting this work can be. I offered something just a week or so out of date, Matt Taibbi’s defense of Thanksgiving.… A gratifyingly large number of suggestions for next year’s book discussion topics, instead of sitting around and looking blank when the question came up. Next up, in March: Maria Dahvana Headley’s Beowulf translation.
❧29 November 2021 | David Bratman
I’ve received my Hanukah present: the new hardcover edition of The Lord of the Rings, with plates containing various illustrations, both polished and sketches, by the author; all previously seen, but most new to an edition of the book they depict.
Besides the illustrations themselves, this is a lovely edition: solid and compact, with a design that feels warm, in contrast to the coldness of the 50th Anniversary Edition, the next most recent I have (ten altogether, why do you ask? And I’m a piker next to some people). The typeface is a pleasure to look at: …
❧28 November 2021 | David Bratman
… I am certain that, when Jackson changed Tolkien’s story, it was because he wanted to, not because some mythical Laws of Movie-Making forced him to. And this is because Jackson boldly violated the conventions of movie-making when he wanted to. And he endured criticism for it: the prime example is the supposed “five endings” of The Return of the King when it keeps seeming as if the movie is about to wrap up with a celebration scene and then it keeps going. Here, Jackson is trying to follow Tolkien, but he’s not doing it very well, because Tolkien’s versions of these scenes don’t read like a series of postponed endings.…
One major movie rule-breaking Jackson indulged in was to make a trilogy of movies that were three parts of one story (again copying the books, albeit ignorantly). Series of interconnected movies, as opposed to stand-alone sequels, were (unusual? unknown?) then. They’re common now, of course, but that’s because the rules consist of “whatever worked for the last successful blockbuster” and The Lord of the Rings was certainly a successful blockbuster.…
❧23 November 2021 | David Bratman
On behalf of my co-editors, Michael D.C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, and myself, I wish to announce a special supplemental issue to vol. 19 of the journal Tolkien Studies. The material for this special issue is now in the hands of our publisher, West Virginia University Press, and the volume is scheduled to be published in softcover and online on Project MUSE in the spring of 2022.
The contents of this issue consists of one document/article, unusually large in both size and importance:
- J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Chronology of The Lord of the Rings,” edited, with introduction, notes, and commentary, by William Cloud Hicklin
Together with this article is a preface by William M. Fliss, and a special introduction by the editors.
— David Bratman, co-editor
❧18 November 2021 | David Bratman
This is just to say, I have this morning jotted down a 550-word outline for what I hope will be my Mythcon Guest of Honor speech. It combines a couple of ideas about Tolkien that I’ve already had floating around in my head (one of them for quite a few years), but it was reading The Nature of Middle-earth that sparked off this particular writing.
❧16 November 2021 | David Bratman
Read them here.
It’s all about NoME (a great abbreviation, as the book is gnomic in more than one sense).
You should also read Jeff LaSala’s thoughtful piece on the subject.
I have one quibble with Jeff. He calls NoME “kind of an unofficial thirteenth installment” for the 12-volume History of Middle-earth, but the 13th volume of HoME already existed before the series was published. It’s Unfinished Tales, most of which would have fit very nicely in parts 2 – 4 of The Peoples of Middle-earth, v. 12 of HoME, if it hadn’t already appeared.
But then what about John D. Rateliff’s 2‑volume The History of The Hobbit? That too surely qualifies. So that makes NoME at least v. 16.
❧15 November 2021 | David Bratman
I’m not going to waste a reply on this latter-day review of Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring movie to the post’s comments section, since I know from experience that the author rarely replies to comments. Instead, I’ll write it here.
This is another golden example of a fan of the Jackson movies not getting what’s wrong with them as adaptations. Again, I don’t mind people liking the movies as movies. What bristles me is when they ship their liking into thinking the movies are adequate specifically as an adaptation of the book.…
❧8 September 2021 | David Bratman
… Northfarthing Beer was a project when we ran the 1995 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.…