Monday, November 30, 2020

RIP: Richard C. West (1944-2020)

Richard at the 1987 Mythcon in Milwaukee
 It is with great sadness I note the passing of my old friend and fellow Tolkien and fantasy scholar Richard C. West, from covid-19.  He passed in the early morning of Sunday, November 29th, 2020, in Madison, Wisconsin, and will long be missed. He was 76. 

Myself and Richard at the 1992 Tolkien Centenary Conference in Oxford

Monday, November 23, 2020


Dorothy Braby's 1956 illustration in The Radio Times
The Being Human 2020 festival, and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow, sponsored a session on 19 November 2020 on "Celebrating the Centenary of A Voyage to Arcturus". Moderated by Dr. Dimitra Fimi of the University of Glasgow, the panelists included novelist Nina Allan, Professor Robert Davis (also of the University of Glasgow), and myself.  It was a fine event, and I note that Nina has posted on her blog her own contribution to the session, and since I've also had a few requests, I thought I'd do the same here. The actually centenary was on the 16th of September, and for that date I wrote a blog post at Wormwoodiana, which has a number of illustrations and links to some other online things, like Bill Holloway's 1970 student film of  Arcturus.  My (untitled) piece for the Glasgow event follows here.


David Lindsay was born in 1876 in Blackheath, a suburb of London. His father was Scottish, from a large family in Edinburgh. His mother came from a farming family in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Lindsay had two siblings: a brother Alexander, who was six and a half years older than him; and a sister, Margaret, three years older. His brother, under the pen name “Alexander Crawford”, published six novels (four in book form, some serialized in newspapers) and a handful of short stories in the 1910s before his early death in 1915 at the age of 46.

David was educated in London and in Jedburgh, Scotland. He followed his brother at Colfe's Grammar School in Lewisham, which he attended from 1885 until December 1890, when David was fourteen. Around this time the father simply disappeared, and was presumed dead until years later when it was learned that he had emigrated to Canada, and started a new family there. Lindsay was sent to an uncle in Jedburgh, and finished his schooling there. Around 1893 he joined a firm of insurance underwriters in London, and worked his way up in positions over the next twenty-odd years. During these decades he read voraciously, novels as well as philosophers including Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, and he planned someday to turn to literature. Meanwhile he kept notebooks of his observations and personal philosophy. In a literary club, after the outbreak of World War I, he met Jacqueline Silver, and they were married in December 1916. Lindsay was 40 and Jacqueline 18. They would have two daughters.

Lindsay did war service in London with the Grenadier Guards. In 1919 Lindsay and his wife settled in Cornwall, a decade later they would move to Ferring, near Worthing in West Sussex, and after another ten years finally to Hove. In Cornwall Lindsay began his first novel in April 1919. It was finished by March the following year, when it was accepted for publication by the first publisher to whom Lindsay submitted it, Methuen of London. Then titled Nightspore in Tortprism, Methuen insisted on two provisions. 1) The manuscript be cut by 15,000 words, and 2) the work be retitled A Voyage to Arcturus. Lindsay complied, re-writing the book (and changing the name of Tortprism to Tormance—the original manuscript does not survive), though he regretted the change of title, which removed Nightspore as a character from the reader’s active attention. The book was published on the 16th of September 1920. Methuen printed 2,500 folded and gathered sheets, but initially bound up only 1000 copies. The book sold poorly. 1000 further sets of sheets were scrapped as waste paper, and the book was remaindered a few years later. The first edition sold only 596 copies at full price, but the whole bound run of 1,500 copies did in fact sell out. One of the first reviews appeared in the Times Literary Supplement on 30 September 1920. It was not favorable, and I wish I could read the whole of it here for its complete obtuseness. Clearly the anonymous critic (which later research has revealed to be Adelaide Champneys, daughter of the famous architect Basil Champneys) was a poor choice as reviewer. She noted that Lindsay captures “the elusive quality of the worst kind of nightmare”; the plot appears to be “a riot of morbid fancy”. The book is “consistent in respect of its uniform unwholesomeness.” The review ends: “It is, no doubt, a legitimate aim of the writer of fiction to make the flesh creep; scarcely, we think, to make the gorge rise.”

From that point on Lindsay’s writing career was increasingly troubled. He published only four more novels before his death in 1945 at the age of 69. The Haunted Woman was serialized in the London newspaper The Daily News in 1921, and came out in book form in 1922; Sphinx came out in 1923; The Adventures of M. de Mailly in 1926; and Devil’s Tor in 1932. His total output was small: seven novels (two unpublished at his death), one 57 page typescript of “Sketch Notes for a New System of Philosophy” based on his discarded notebooks; and a fairy play written for his daughters one Christmastime in the mid-1930s. I was very pleased that Lindsay’s daughters allowed me to publish for the first time the “Christmas Play” in my 2003 anthology, Tales Before Tolkien.

The common key to all of Lindsay’s writings is found in his “Sketch Notes,” and exemplified in Arcturus. It is that our visible, primary world is a sham, and that the real world of the spirit lies underneath this sham, occasionally visible or recognized. The pain-motif in Arcturus is often misunderstood; pain to Lindsay was a phenomenon of this sham world, one which reminds us of the existence of the real world.

After Arcturus, all of Lindsay’s novels are earthbound. The Haunted Woman is a kind of metaphysical thriller of the type soon afterwards to be written by Charles Williams. Sphinx tells of a man who invents a machine to record dreams, and thus accesses the real world via the dreams. Devil’s Tor, set in Dartmoor, concerns the worship of the Mother Goddess, and an associated talisman that was anciently broken in halves, but will be rejoined in modern times for the betterment of all humanity. The Adventures of M. de Mailly, a historical adventure novel of early 18th-century France under Louis XIV, is often derided as a pot-boiler, despite Lindsay’s own assertion that it was not one. Oddly, it was the only novel by Lindsay to achieve an American edition (where it was retitled A Blade for Sale) during his lifetime.

Lindsay never lost faith in Arcturus. In 1932, when Devil’s Tor was about to come out, Lindsay reclaimed the publishing rights to Arcturus from Methuen, though he was unable to get another publisher to reissue it. Finally Victor Gollancz reissued it in 1946 the year after Lindsay’s death. Gollancz, as a fledgling publisher, had met Lindsay in the late 20s and early 30s, and he admired Arcturus, but did not then dare to republish the book.

Gradually Arcturus picked up admirers. One of the first, in 1925, was L.H. Myers, the novelist and fringe Bloomsbury member. Lindsay and Myers became friends, and Myers's multi-volumed novel The Near and the Far was clearly influenced by Lindsay's Arcturus. In the early 1930s Myers got science fiction writer Olaf Stapeldon to read Arcturus, and at the same time he got Lindsay to read Stapeldon's Last and First Men. Desmond MacCarthy called Arcturus “a great experience” and J.B. Priestley said it was “a grand piece of wild imagining.”

In early 1937 C.S. Lewis read the book, which his friend Arthur Greeves had highly recommended to him. And Lewis shared it immediately with J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien wrote of Arcturus in 1938: “I read Voyage to Arcturus with avidity… no one could read it merely as a thriller and without interest in philosophy, religion and morals.” Lewis called Arcturus “that shattering, intolerable, and irresistible work” and basically stole its plot for the first two books of his Ransom cycle, Out of the Silent Planet, published in 1938, and Perelandra, 1943. In a letter from 1947, Lewis noted that “from Lindsay I first learned what other planets in fiction are really good for; for spiritual adventures.” Lewis championed Arcturus until his death in 1963. Tolkien cited Arcturus in his unfinished “The Notion Club Papers”, published posthumously in 1992. At Tolkien's death in 1973, three copies of Arcturus were found in his library: a second-hand copy of the first edition of 1920; and the Gollancz reprints of 1946 and 1963.

Interest in Lindsay really picked up after the 1956 BBC Third Programme radio dramatization of Arcturus. In 1963, Arcturus finally appeared in an American edition, published in a line of Macmillan Classics of Science Fiction. Sadly, the text was line edited by a copyeditor who not only changed punctuation but words and phrases. This edition was introduced by the naturalist Loren Eiseley, an odd choice, but the editor of the series, Kenneth Heuer, wrote me that he'd first approached others (Bertrand Russell turned him down, as he didn't like the book! T.S. Eliot, and W.H. Auden, Heuer thought, also turned him down.) The corrupted text appeared in the Ballantine paperback, with cover art by Bob Pepper. It appeared in 1968 and when through several printings in the US and the UK. By this point the book had really caught on.

In 1970 William Holloway made a student film of the novel, over seventy minutes long, at Antioch College in Ohio. For a few years it had some national distribution in the US, and then it disappeared for decades, until in 2003, when Holloway restored it and released it on DVD. After Holloway's death in 2014, his sons put the film up on youtube.

In 1976, Lindsay's unpublished novel The Violet Apple appeared, along with a severely edited portion of his final novel The Witch. The Violet Apple concerns the planting of two ancient seeds purported to be from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, from which a stunted apple tree grows that gives forth two small violet apples, the eating of which brings about a metaphysical raising of concsciousness. The Witch is a remarkable dream-vision of a man being allowed to pass through the three musics of death while still living, and thus able to report on the experience to his fellow mankind.

In 1979, critic Harold Bloom published the only novel of his long career, The Flight to Lucifer: A Gnostic Fantasy, which is a turgid reworking of Arcturus, which Bloom would champion in his chapter on fantasy in his 1982 critical work Agon. Afterwards, Bloom would never let The Flight to Lucifer be reprinted. But other authors would be inspired by Arcturus too.

In 1983 Paul Corfield Godfrey wrote the score for an opera based on Arcturus, performed in Cardiff, and in 1985 another opera of Arcturus was performed in Los Angeles. Many artists and musicians have also been inspired by Arcturus. You will already have seen some of the artwork that appeared on various covers of the book in Dimitra's introduction. Of musicians there are relevant works by Ron Thomas, Daniel Kanaga, Henry Kaiser, and Vakula. Just last year, in Australia, there was Phil Moore’s Heavy-Metal Steampunk Sci-Fi Musical of Arcturus.

The publisher Victor Gollancz met Lindsay only a couple of times, but he left a brief memoir. Gollancz wrote: “He struck me as a person of singular charm and gentleness, not at all what one would expect from the pain motif of Arcturus. I remember only two things about him. The first is that he seemed to me far more a Beethovian than of a writer. The second is that he made a remark which, on the face of it, was the most outrageously arrogant I have ever heard given and yet was, in fact, the expression of a profound humility. He said, 'Only a very few people will ever read Arcturus: but as long as even two or three people will listen to Beethoven, two or three people will read it.'

A Voyage to Arcturus is now one hundred years old. It is hailed as a classic of Scottish literature and of fantasy literature. Lindsay's audience has now far surpassed the two or three people he once foresaw.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

When the Snergs book is NOT the Snergs book

 It is fairly well-known that the 1927 children's novel The Marvellous Land of Snergs by E.A. Wyke-Smith was popular with J.R.R. Tolkien and his children, and was an important influence on The Hobbit (1937).  There have been a  number of editions reprinting this important book, including its iconic illustrations by George Morrow. 

Just published in England is a new book titled The Marvellous Land of Snergs, but it is here credited to Veronica Cossanteli, with illustrations by Melissa Castrillon. It is said, on the cover and title-page, to be "based on the original by E.A. Wyke-Smith." But what does that really mean?

The book is published by Chicken House of Frome, Somerset, and the publisher Barry Cunningham describes in "A Message from Chicken House" opposite the title page that, while he loved the original Snergs book, he found it old-fashioned, so it has been "reimagined" for today's young readers. The cynical would note that the original book is in the public domain, and that the publisher has commissioned a modernized knock-off, published under the original title so as to confuse readers into thinking they are reading something close to the original book. But this new version is not very close to the original book, though it takes some of the original characters and scenes, adds to them a bunch of new characters and scenes, sometimes renaming them, and sometimes remaking them into entirely different characters. And the process of modernization tends to diminish Wyke-Smith's sharp humor, making for a very bland result. 

The earlier cover
That a cynical approach to this exploitation is appropriate is shown in a number of ways.  The front cover boasts that this version is "The story that inspired The Hobbit."  It is not.  The rear cover shows prominently Tolkien's famous commendation of the original edition--it is a recommendation for the original book, not for this bowdlerized version. The publisher also evidently wavered on how to credit the authorship of the book, for an earlier cover is currently still on the web (at, for example) which gives the authorship as by "E.A. Wyke-Smith retold by Veronica Cossanteli" (see at right; click on the covers to enlarge).

Both scholars of Tolkien, and readers wishing to experience the book that Tolkien and his children loved, should avoid this exploitation and instead seek a reprint of the original. It is sad to see Wyke-Smith's book treated in this manner.  




Friday, October 2, 2020

The 50th Anniversary of RED MOON AND BLACK MOUNTAIN by Joy Chant

On 10 June 1970, Rayner Unwin sent J.R.R. Tolkien a proof copy of a book he was to publish in the fall. Unwin suggested similarities between the book and The Lord of the Rings, and hoped that Tolkien would enjoy it, adding:  "If you do may I unashamedly ask that you tell me so in precisely one sentence and to allow us to use your commendation to help the book along?"  Tolkien apparently mislaid the proof and the letter, for six weeks later Unwin's secretary sent Tolkien a second copy of the book.  But after Tolkien's death, the original proof and letter turned up and were sold as part of Tolkien's library.  

We don't know if Tolkien ever read any of the book, for he seems to have left no mention of having done so. Yet the book, Red Moon and Black Mountain by Joy Chant, was published by Allen & Unwin on 15 October 1970, and this month marks the book's fiftieth anniversary. 

The author was Eileen Joyce Chant (b. 1945), who went by the name Joy Chant. Some years later she married and became Mrs. Eileen Joyce Rutter, so various references sources say that "Joy Chant" is the pseudonym of "Eileen Rutter." This overstates the case, and it is perhaps more accurate to say that "Joy Chant" is the pen-name, and original name, of Joy Rutter.  Be that as it may, it was her first book. It was followed by a nonfiction booklet, Fantasy and Allegory in Literature for Children and Young People (1971); a prequel to Red Moon and Black Mountain entitled The Grey Mane of Morning (1977); another related novel, When Voiha Wakes (1983), and an art-book of Arthurian stories, The High Kings (1983), illustrated by George Sharp.  And then Chant basically ceased publishing. 

Sadly, because Red Moon and Black Mountain was one of the earliest and best of the fantasies of the post-Lord of the Rings generation. It is indeed a product of a writer who has read and absorbed Tolkien, as Chant's comments on Tolkien in her 1975 essay "Niggle and Númenor" make apparent:

The Lord of the Rings is above all a story. There is no question that it is out of step with every current literary fashion: it is extrovert rather than introvert, it has heroes, it delights in the music of words and names and the unselfconscious celebration of beauty; it is active, optimistic, affirmative. At a time when writer swere turning inward, making their chief concern the development and motivation of character, Tolkien was writing books that are pre-eminently narratives. . . .  Tolkien's craftsmanship is astonishing. 

Red Moon and Black Mountain had a number of editions through the 1980s, but after Chant ceased publishing, it went out of print. It's US debut was in the acclaimed Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, and a later edition featured a Frazetta cover. In celebration of the book's fiftieth anniversary, I present a gallery of covers from 1970 through 1983. 


Tony Raymond, Allen & Unwin, 1970, and 1977

Bob Pepper, Ballantine Adult Fantasy, 1971

Ian Millar, Ballantine Adult Fantasy, 1973 reprint

Puffin 1973

Herbert Danska, Dutton, 1976

The Brothers Hildebrandt, Del Rey, 1977

Unwin Books, 1982

Frank Frazetta, Bantam 1983

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Ul de Rico and The Rainbow Goblins

In recent readings of various books by Richard Adams, I pulled off the shelf one that I'd forgotten I owned.  It's The Legend of Te Tuna (1986), a 24 stanza poem based on figures from Polynesian mythology. It was originally published in a limited signed edition by a Los Angeles press in 1982, and then it appeared in a newly illustrated trade edition in England in 1986. I bought it not for the Richard Adams, but for the illustrations by Ul de Rico (the working name of Count Ulderico Gropplero di Troppenburg), and reading the book at last has inspired me to revisit the rest of Ul de Rico's work.  Sadly, it is a small opus. 

Born in Udine, Italy, in 1944, he studied in the 1960s at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, and has lived in Germany for many years.  He has published only four books, but might be better know for his art that appeared in a small number of films.  Notably, he worked in the art department and did the skies and clouds in the film Flash Gordon (1980).  He is credited as the "Scenery, creature and costume designer" for The Neverending Story (1984), which was filmed in Munich. It is based on Michael Ende's novel of the same name, but this film is more an orgy of color and puppetry than the reflection of a literary novel.  It brought about a filmic sequel, The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter (1990), which is tepid and dull, and doesn't relate to the original novel.  Ul de Rico is credited in it as a character designer in the Animation Department, but I suspect that this refers to his creation of characters for the original film (the new characters invented for the sequel are quite lacklustre and uncharacteristic).  

But it is Ul de Rico's books which I wish to discuss here. Particularly his first, which appeared in German as Die Regenbogenkobolde (1977), and was translated into English as The Rainbow Goblins (1978). I bought my copy around the time of its first English language publication.  It is a large unwieldy size, about 13 inches by 20 inches. But in this manner Ul de Rico's glorious artwork is showcased around his original short tale. (The paintings were done in oil on oak panels, and in my edition are reproduced at two-thirds the size of the originals. Later editions are in a smaller format.)  The story concerns the seven Rainbow Goblins, each of whom has his own color. They go on a quest to lasso the colors from the rainbow.  It's a delightful children's story, both in the tale and in the artwork.  Two decades later, Ul de Rico penned and illustrated a sequel, The White Goblin (1996).  While it's still enjoyable, the text has moved away from being a simple fairy tale to being that of a moralistic eco-fable. 

His other book reflects his interest in Richard Wagner. It is a retelling of The Ring of the Nibelung (1980), with thirty color paintings published in an oversized volume.  Ul de Rico notes in his introduction, "I did not want to produce stage designs, but have tried to use to the full the medium of book-illustration. This made it possible for me to interpret my ideas without considering the technical problems the stage would present." And that his retelling of the story "is intended only to explain the action in and between the illustrations."  It makes for a marvellous experience. 

Oddly, the Richard Adams volume, The Legend of Te Tuna, is the least interesting of Ul de Rico's works.  Partly this is due to the small size of the book, and partly it is due to the fact that the color illustrations are spread over facing pages, with too much distraction owing to the book's gutter splitting the artwork.

This website shows some of his work here.

P.S. This newly redesigned Blogger format is very user unfriendly, and it really makes it hard to place illustrations. :-(


Monday, June 15, 2020

Tolkien Media: Tolkien Himself on Film

Tolkien from the 1962 interview
I believe that there are only two instances where J.R.R. Tolkien was interviewed on film. The first dates from 1962, and the second from 1968.

The first, by John Bowen, was conducted on 10 December 1962, in black-and-white, for the BBC television program "Bookstand". The episode was broadcast two days later, on Wednesday, 12 December, from 10.15-10.45 pm, though the Tolkien segment took up less than nine minutes. John Bowen (1924-2019) was a writer (of novels and dramas, and two children's books) who also worked in television from 1960 through the mid-1980s. He had been an undergraduate at Pembroke College, Oxford (B.A. 1951), and served as the editor of undergraduate magazine Isis. He then read Modern History at St. Anthony's College (M.A. 1953). Bowen was quite an interesting person.  His Guardian obit is here; and a Wikipedia page here. Some snippets of Bowen's interview with Tolkien have, over time, reappeared in various later programs on Tolkien, the most accessible being a one-minute clip* (just after the 37 minute mark) in the "J.R.R. Tolkien" episode (48 minutes long) of the BBC six-episode series An Awfully Big Adventure (1998). (The Tolkien episode was the fourth, broadcast on 21 February 1998. The other episodes were on E. Nesbit, Kenneth Grahame, Arthur Ransome, Dr. Seuss, and Roald Dahl.)
John Bowen in the 1962 interview

I don't know whether the "Bookstand" episode has ever been made public in its entirety, at least since the original broadcast. In some comments from it that I have seen Tolkien made the point (which has been debated by scholars) that The Hobbit was an attempt to write something outside of his already-constructed world, but the hobbits grew into this world: "they became drawn into it."  Another interesting assertion by Tolkien comes after Bowen's comment that Mordor is based on a principle of absolute evil:  "I don't believe in absolute evil, but I do believe in absolute good." Finally, Tolkien comments that there is no religion in The Lord of the Rings for reasons partly aesthetic, partly authorial, and partly because the book comes at the end of a long series of stories which would already explain why there are no visible temples, etc.

The second instance of Tolkien being interviewed on film was in 1968 for the BBC program Release, which was normally made up of two twenty-plus minute segments. The Tolkien part, titled Tolkien in Oxford, was filmed between the 5th and 9th of February 1968. It was directed by Leslie Megahey (b. 1944), who like Bowen had been an undergraduate at Pembroke College, Oxford (B.A. 1965), and he and journalist John Ezard (who had previously interviewed Tolkien for newspapers) were Tolkien's (mostly off-screen)** interviewers. The program was broadcast on 30 March 1968, from 9.50 to 10.35, with the Tolkien segment apparently following one on the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The Tolkien part of the program clocked in at about 26 and a half minutes, and in 2014 the BBC posted it online through their archives. It can be seen by clicking here (though there are location restrictions; a google search may turn up other appearances).***

The footage of Tolkien himself is only about seven and a half minutes total. Some of these Tolkien scenes have been clipped and reused in later documentaries on Tolkien. The 1968 program has, basically, four types of filmed color scenes. The most interesting type is those in which Tolkien discusses his works. These were filmed at the Old Palace, the Catholic Chaplaincy in Oxford. Here is an establishing shot showing Tolkien sitting in front of a fireplace.
 Most of this footage shows Tolkien in closeup.
The next type of footage was shot at night while Tolkien watched fireworks at the Dragon School in north Oxford. This footage has little dialogue. (Tolkien's grandson, Simon, then aged 9, appears briefly next to his grandfather at the 13 minute-2 second mark.)
The third type of footage shows Tolkien walking around in the daytime in Oxford, sometimes wearing a hat, sometimes without it.
Besides the above filmed scenes, the 1968 program includes some still photos of Tolkien having lunch at the Eastgate Hotel. Here is one.
The above samples should make it possible to determine the origin of the various clips of Tolkien that reappear in later documentaries.

For many years it was rumored that there was a lot of film footage of Tolkien that was not used.  Finally, beginning in 2001, some of this material turned up****, and recently it has been made available in selected forms. Tolkien scholar Stuart Lee has been very active in presenting this new material. Here is the link to an short (under four minutes) introduction by Stuart Lee in a video put out by the University of Oxford in 2016.

A showing of some of the clips, with commentary by director Leslie Megahey, was arranged in Oxford in 2014. The 37-minute discussion between Lee and Megahey can be heard on a podcast here.

Leslie Megahey spoke at the Annual General Meeting of the Tolkien Society in April 2015. A video (without the documentary audio or visuals) can be viewed here.

BBC Radio 4 also broadcast a nearly one-hour program Tolkien: The Lost Recordings, narrated by Joss Ackland, on Saturday, 6 August 2016. It includes Stuart Lee, Leslie Megahey, and three people (besides Ackland) from the original 1968 film: researcher Patrick O'Sullivan, Tolkien-fan Michael Hebbert, and critic Valentine Cunningham. Also appearing are Tom Shippey, Dimitra Fimi, and Tolkien's Merton College colleague Dr. Roger Highfield. It can be heard here.  (The Joss Ackland narration is annoying, unnecessary, and really regrettable.)

Most significantly, Stuart Lee produced a long history of the program, with transcriptions of Tolkien's commentary, as "'Tolkien in Oxford' (BBC, 1968): A Reconstruction" which appeared in Tolkien Studies volume 15 (2018): pp. 115-176. It is highly recommended. 

I'm very grateful to Charles E. Noad who shared his expertise as I was putting together this post.


*About thirty seconds of this section is available here on youtube (with Finnish subtitles), beginning at the 9-second mark.

**Director Leslie Megahey appears walking alongside of Tolkien near Merton College, at about the 5 minute-20 second mark.

***In the text on the BBC Archive page it names John Ezard incorrectly as "John Izzard", and it suggests that Ezard met Tolkien at his home, implying that some footage might have been filmed there. This seems very unlikely, for a number of reasons, not least of which would be Tolkien and his wife's concern for privacy. They had been very annoyed when W.H. Auden had been quoted in the press in January 1966 as saying of Tolkien: "He lives in a hideous house--I can not tell you how hideous, with hideous pictures on the walls." Stuart Lee has suggested that the shots of Tolkien in front of a fireplace were taken at his home on Sandfield Road. I don't think that Tolkien would have allowed a film crew in. And those shots of Tolkien by a hearth are compatible, if taken from a wider view and from a different angle, with the the close-up shots of Tolkien at the Oxford Catholic Chaplaincy. In fact when you compare the shapes of the arms of the chair in which Tolkien is seated, and the positioning of the beer on the table next to Tolkien, it seems to be the same location. Additionally, it would have been both time-consuming and expensive for the film crew to set-up in Tolkien's house for merely a few shots.

****Some audio clips were used in Brian Sibley's J.R.R. Tolkien: An Audio Portrait (2001), issued on CDs. Some video clips appeared in the not-very-good 80+ minute documentary J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of the Rings--The Definitive Guide to the World of the Rings (2001), the full of which is currently available here. [NB: There is an entirely different documentary of approximately 60 minutes, also released in 2001 and similarly and confusingly titled The Master of the Rings. To add further confusion the 80+ minute documentary was itself retitled and repackaged in 2004 as The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of the Rings.]  Stuart Lee has noted that some of these JRRT clips were subsequently posted online. (The Romanian Tolkien Society sometime posted a sequence of seven video outtakes: numbers 2, 6 and 7 are from the 2001 documentary.  Numbers 3, 5 and 6 are very short and without sound.  The first of the seven can be accessed here--the rest will play sequentially afterwards.) In April 2007, along with the release of The Children of Hurin, two additional clips appeared on BBC's Newsnight. (The 5 minute-10 second news story, which also features Tolkien's grandson Adam, is accessible here, with the two JRRT clips beginning at the 40 second mark, and at the 3 minute-36 second mark.)  Another two clips, spliced together to make nearly three minutes, appears here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Tolkien and Sterling Lanier: the "Lord of the Rings" Figurines

The details of Tolkien's epistolary friendship with the US editor, writer and sculptor Sterling Lanier (1927-2007) are difficult to ascertain, and various accounts differ as to the chronology and extent of their correspondence.  In 1973, Lanier wrote that "it began in 1951" and amounted to some "dozen or so letters we exchanged over the years." In a 1974 fanzine profile of Lanier by Piers Anthony, it notes that Lanier had had "ten years of correspondence" with Tolkien. In 2016,  a book dealer had for sale six letters from Tolkien to Lanier, plus one from Tolkien's wife. That batch began in 1965, when Tolkien had received a second batch of Lanier's sculptures of characters from The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's wife wrote that Tolkien thought the dwarf very good. Though Lanier sculpted professionally, and made his living at it for years, the Lord of the Rings figurines were never released publicly and photographs of them have been few and hard to find. 

Now the same book dealer who had the Tolkien-Lanier letters, has a set of the Lord of the Rings figurines for sale. Here is the page from the recent catalog, along with details of the seller. (Full disclosure: I have no relationship with the seller, nor any involvement with the sale. I am publicizing it here solely because of the chance, at long last, to see the set of figurines and share the photographs with other Tolkien fans. So far as I know, only one photograph--of the Legolas figurine--appeared in print previously, and that as long ago as 1974.) Click on the images to make them larger.

The obituary of Lanier (quoted in the listing) from the Sarasota Herald Tribune is inaccurate in many ways, particularly with regard to the legalities involved in officially licensing any reproduction of the figurines.  Tolkien himself did not control such rights, and his publisher told him (a fact related by Tolkien to Lanier) that such merchandising rights were controlled by United Artists, who--at that time, subsequent to a 1969 contract--owned the film rights to The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien noted that it would please him if it proved possible for Lanier to market his figures subject to paying a small fee to United Artists. But it appears that Lanier never attempted to do so.

How many figures Lanier did of Lord of the Rings characters, or how many sets, is not known for certain. Clearly some of the ones he first sent to Tolkien were trials. As late as November 1972 Tolkien was thanking Lanier for a new bronzed set.

The above set for sale shows nine figures, Gandalf at the left in pewter, with the other eight in bronze, left to right, an orc, Samwise, another orc, Frodo, a third orc, Gimli, Legolas and a hooded Nazgul.

Charles Roberts has an interesting post at the Wonder Book Blog on Lanier, titled "A Sterling Character." Here's the direct link.  (Lanier was a regular customer at Wonder Books beginning around 1985 or so.) I reproduce below two of the photos from that blog, one with several figurines that Lanier had given to Roberts, in the middle of which you can see Legolas, Frodo, and a hooded Nazgul.  Roberts quotes a previous sale listing for a set of figurines as one of only three sets.  The second photo is one of Lanier himself.

Finally, here is a photograph of Lanier's sculptures for three other famous literary characters, Ratty, Toad, and Mole from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.