Sunday, September 10, 2023

Tolkien and A.E. Coppard

I have long wondered whether Tolkien had ever read anything by A.E. Coppard. In the rear of my anthology Tales Before Tolkien (2003), I included a note on Coppard in the final section, “Author Notes and Recommended Reading.” It reads:

Coppard, A[lfred]. E[dgar]. (1878-1957)

British writer, who specialized in the short story, many of which fancifully describe rural England. While Coppard published numerous collections, his own selection of his best work, The Collected Tales of A.E. Coppard (1948), was very successful, and it provides a good introduction to the author’s writings. (p. 429)

In his Foreword to his Collected Tales, Coppard noted that the short story “is an ancient art originating in the folk tale, which was a thing of joy before writing. . . . The folk tale ministered to an apparently inborn and universal desire to hear tales, and it is my feeling that the closer the modern short story conforms to that ancient tradition of being spoken to you, rather than being read to you, the more acceptable it becomes.” It is a view with which Tolkien would have felt some affinity.

Recently, Andoni Cossio discovered a photograph of Tolkien at an Oxford party for the writer A.E. Coppard. It appeared in The Tatler and Bystander of  Wednesday, 11 February 1953. We haven’t have an exact date yet for the party, but it was in honor of Coppard’s 75th birthday on Sunday, 4 January 1953. Oxford would not have been in session that early in January, and the Hilary Full Term actually began on 18 January 1953, so the party would seem to have been sometime in late January or early February (before the 11th, when the photograph was published).  

There are actually four photographs published from the event, accompanying the “Talk Around the Town” column by Gordon Beckles in that issue of The Tatler and Bystander. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)


In one photograph, we see Tolkien standing with Richard Hughes, who reviewed The Hobbit favorably in 1937, and who would provide a blurb that would be used on the flaps of all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955). Other literary figures seen in the photographs include Enid Starkie, Louis Golding and C. Day Lewis. The caption to the photograph with Tolkien notes it was taken in the Beckington Room at Lincoln College, Oxford, presumably the place where the reading and reception took place.

Coppard did not study at Oxford, but he lived in the Oxford area from 1907 through 1919, when he was a clerk and an accountant at the Eagle Ironworks. In Oxford he met for the first time other people interested in books, and he began writing. His first of many books of short stories, Adam & Eve & Pinch Me, was published in 1922 by the Golden Cockerel Press.

There is some correspondence files, held at Texas A & M University, of the American poet and academic David Louis Posner (1921-1985) from the time when he was at Wadham College, Oxford. Apparently, he was responsible for planning a dinner for Coppard, probably separate from the public reading and reception. There are a number of cards and letters sent to Posner at Wadham dating from 1 December 1952 through 24 January 1953. Jonathan Cape, who had over the years published a number of Coppard’s books, was the first to accept, writing on 1 December 1952 and suggesting other people to invite. Those who declined the invitation included Leonard Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Robert Gibbings (who had joined the Golden Cockerel Press in 1924, and who had published a number of Coppard’s books), and Christopher Sandford (who took over the Golden Cockerel Press in 1933, and published one further Coppard title, Tapster’s Tapestry,  in 1938). The final letter in the collection declining the invitation to the dinner was dated 24 January 1953, so the dinner and the public reading seem to have been not long afterward. We can narrow this down a bit further owing to the discovery of an article on the “Short Story” in the Liverpool Daily Post for Monday, 2 February 1953, which mentions the “birthday tribute paid during the past week by Oxford University to a famous short story writer on reaching the age of seventy-five” (Coppard is later named as “the recipient of the Varsity honour”). The “past week” would have been from Sunday the 25th to Saturday the 31st of January. (Readers of the Liverpool Daily Post may have seen this article as a follow-up to one “Remembered Veterans” by “Brother Savage”, from 3 January 1953, in which it states, “the approach of his [Coppard’s] birthday on January 4 has prompted Cecil Hunt, a literary colleague, to suggest that there must be many who would wish this milestone in Coppard’s life to be ‘garlanded by gratitude for the pleasure his work has released.’”)  At present, the week of January 25th is the closest we can get to the specific date of the event.

What short story did Coppard read?  It would be interesting to know, but so far there is no firm evidence on the matter. That Posner kept a single Coppard autograph manuscript with his  letters about the dinner might suggest that he obtained the manuscript from Coppard at this time. The story is catalogued as “Chinfeather,” dated 3 November 1939, and comprises eleven leaves, heavily corrected. It was published in the Coppard collection Ugly Anna and Other Tales (1944).   

If Coppard had read a recently completed story, then the likely candidate would be “Lucy in Her Pink Jacket,” written in a few versions between 18 November 1952 and 17 January 1953, when the latest draft was typed. It was published in Esquire in December 1953, and collected in an eponymous volume in 1954.

Of course it needn’t have been either story, which are here entertained merely as possibilities with some slight circumstantial evidence. Hopefully, future research will fill in the gaps about this occasion.

Thanks to Andoni Cossio (ORCID: 0000-0003-2745-5104) and John Locke for assistance on this piece.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Lord Dunsany as Lord Insany

The poet John Betjeman (1906-1984) had two volumes of his letters published posthumously, the first, covering 1926-1951, published in 1994; and the second, covering 1952-1984, published in 1995. John Rateliff covered some aspects of them in a blog post over at Sacnoth’s Scriptorium. In particular, he noted Betjeman’s nickname for Dunsany, “Lord Insany,” used during the 1940s when Betjeman was friendly with the man but also exasperated by him too. John notes that “Lord Insany” was a behind-the-back nickname of Dunsany used by colleagues at Athens University in Greece, where Dunsany taught as the Byron Chair of English in 1940-1941.*

Betjeman’s views on Lord Dunsany were somewhat complex, and the moniker “Lord Insany” actually came from Dunsany’s own family, and predates his time at Athens University. Here are a few details that bookend Betjeman’s views of Dunsany in the 1940s, one from the early 30s, the other from the late 50s.

Betjeman apparently met Dunsany in the very early 1930s, according to Elizabeth Longford’s autobiography, The Pebbled Shore (1986). Longford had become friends with Betjeman, Maurice Bowra, Evelyn Waugh, David Cecil, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Frank Pakenham, when she was at Oxford, beginning in 1926. She married Frank Pakenham in 1931, and by her marriage she became a relative of Dunsany, whom she knew as “Uncle Eddie.” (Frank Pakenham would later become the Earl of Longford, and his wife, Lady Longford.)

In August 1931, before her marriage to Pakenham, Longford writes of a gathering at Pakenham Hall in County Westmeath in Ireland (one county west of Dunsany Castle, in County Meath):

My sister Kitty, Maurice Bowra, Evelyn Waugh and I played tennis together. We were all about the same height but Kitty was the one who could hit the ball. Uncle Eddie, the poet and writer (Lord Dunsany), came over for lunch one day and conducted a literary seminar with Maurice, David Cecil and the rest of us. Accidentally the maestro [Frank?] referred to Tolstoy’s novel as “Peace and War”. This put Maurice in a quandary. A few minutes later he took the deferential way out and also referred to “Peace and War”. “War and Peace, not Peace and War,” thundered Uncle Eddie. “They always said Oxford was no good, and now I see they’re right.” The Pakenham children loved him, calling him Lord “Insany”, a title which endeared him to John Betjeman. (p. 130)

After Dunsany died in October 1957, Betjeman devoted the first paragraph of his regular Spectator column, “City and Suburban”, to Dunsany's passing, with clear affection:

Many authors, when one meets them for the first time, are comparatively unimpressive compared with their books. But Lord Dunsany, who died last week, never disappointed. He was every inch a poet, playwright, storyteller, Irish peer, big-game hunter, painter, modeller in clay, Conservative politician, soldier and country gentleman, all of which occupations he followed in the busiest and most-enjoyed life I have seen. He was a tall, splendid-looking man with a young voice, decided opinions and boundless energy. He was very happily married and had the good manners of an Edwardian autocrat. Unexpected things roused his anger. One of them was manufactured salt in advertised brands (he mistrusted everything that was branded and advertised)—if he found this on a dinner table, no matter whose house it was, he would say, “Send for some ordinary kitchen salt and bring two glasses of water.” He would then pour some of the branded salt into one glass and the kitchen salt into another. The kitchen salt dissolved, but the branded salt left a white deposit at the bottom of the other glass which he said was either chalk or ground-up bones. He was one of those people who made you feel on top of the world and that all those who disagreed with you were petty crooks who would be beaten in the end. He talked with all the fantasy of his own Jorkens stories. (1 November 1957, p. 13)
Dunsany was clearly larger than life in many ways. 

* Olivia Manning and her husband were in Athens at the time Dunsany was there, and her character Professor Lord Pinkrose in The Spoilt City (1962), the second volume in her six-part series, Fortunes of War, is believed to have been based on Dunsany. See here.


Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Walking Trees by Rosa Mullholland

Recently, David Haden, at his Lovecraftian blog Tentaclii, noted that an old and rare children's fantasy is now available in pdf-form for the first time (link accessible here). This is a curious short novella The Walking Trees: A Story for Children by Irish writer Rosa Mulholland (1841-1921). It is comprised of ten chapters, and originally appeared in three issues in volume 4 (1876) of The Irish Monthly. The story was collected in Mulholland's The Walking Trees and Other Tales (Dublin, M.H. Gill and Son), dated 1885 but published in late 1884 for the Christmas market. The book contains three other tales ("Little Queen Pet and Her Kingdom"; "The Girl from under the Lake"; and "Floreen's Golden Hair"), along with four illustrations. This edition, and a subsequent one published in March 1897, was apparently distributed in England by Simpkin, Marshall and Company. 

The suggestion of walking trees in the title makes the story immediately interesting to anyone (like me) studying the literary roots of Tolkien's fantasies, for the walking trees of the title reminds us of Tolkien's Ents and the Huorns of Fangorn Forest. So I downloaded the pdf and read it. 

It is an odd story, kind of in the style of George Macdonald's fairy tales. It follows a young boy, Leo, who believes that the seven tall ash-trees, which he can see against the horizon during the daytime, move around at night. So one night Leo parks himself in one of the trees, and indeed the trees all walk away, taking Leo with them. They soon reach the sea, where the trees have come to enjoy the fresh air, and from there, Leo climbs into the clouds. Sadly, that is the last we see of the walking trees.

But Leo's journey continues. He wants to get to the moon, but in the end doesn't, distracted by other things, like meeting, successively, three Hours of the night. First Leo reaches the Gates of Sunrise, and sees the sun with its "curious little round eyes and a wide mouth," marching across the sky on little spider legs. Then he encounters a lark, and the summer-cloud children, who float around strangely. Then he goes to the bad-weather country, and meets the rain-children, who tell Leo of the Storm King. This brings us through chapter nine, and Mullholland's imagination as well as readerly interest has been flagging for some time.

In the final chapter,  Leo finds himself alone in a great white world of snow. He enters a snow forest, and meets a snow-girl in the boughs, who tells Leo she can't come down until the Snow Queen turns in her sleep. And soon the Snow Queen turns, and the story ends bizarrely:  the ice-forests and snow-lawns dissolve away, and the snow children and rain children fly circles around Leo. Then:

Just with this there was a loud report and a hissing noise, and a flaring light. Leo looked round wildly, and beheld capering overhead a fierce-looking being, brandishing a red-hot, two-pronged, gigantic fork in its claw. Before he had time to scream, the terrible weapon was thrust into the skirts of Leo's little knickerbocker jacket, and as he went whirling through the air he heard a chorus of mocking laughter and the cry-- "Hurrah! hurrah! he's off with the forked lightning!" 

And there it ends. Is Leo supposed to be dead, or to have entered some nightmare?  The reader is left entirely hanging. One can easily see why this never became a popular children's story! 

And the Tolkienian resonances are very minimal. The story does exemplify some of the various preoccupations in Victorian children's stories-- with what happens in the hours of the night, the interest in the moon, and even the Gates of the Sun, etc. Aspects like these are found in Tolkien's earliest mythology (the Cottage of Lost Play, the Man in the Moon, etc.), but there is no sense that any of these derive from Mullholland's odd tale. 

Monday, July 17, 2023

R.I.P. Charles E. Noad (1947-2023)

Charles in 1987
My friend Charles Noad was found dead on Thursday of last week. I met him at a meeting of the Northfarthing Smial (of the Tolkien Society) in London, on the 2nd of July 1978, so our friendship goes back a full forty-five years. He befriended many Tolkienists, and kept extensive accounts with some of us Americans, as he supplied us with UK books, and we supplied him with US ones. He worked much behind-the-scenes in Tolkien scholarship, proofreading for Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle-earth series, and other Tolkien-related books by various scholars. His eagle-eye as a proof-reader was legendary. He published a number of essays, perhaps the most notable being his contribution ("On the Construction of The Silmarillion") to Tolkien's Legendarium (2000), edited by Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter, which was a festschrift for Christopher Tolkien. Charles also published a booklet in 1977, The Trees, the Jewels and the Rings. He served for many years as the Bibliographer of the Tolkien Society, and frequently contributed book reviews, and (sadly) obituaries, the latter often in collaboration with Jessica Yates, to Tolkien Society publications.  

My correspondence file with Charles
In memory of Charles, I have been browsing through our large correspondence files. They are just over six inches thick--and most are actual letters that passed through the mails. (Charles didn't really embrace emails until the 2010s.) When we met I was eighteen, and he the grand old man of thirty. In 1978, he no longer had any copies of his booklet to give away, so I was presented with a copy of the typescript. We met up whenever I was in England (infrequently), and I recall one visit he made to America, for the 1987 Mythcon in Milwaukee, at which Christopher Tolkien was one of the Guests of Honor. (Charles had made one previous trip to the US back in the 1960s, when he showed up at Richard West's door unannounced!) 

Charles must have had some inkling that his health was failing, for in February he wrote me of finally setting up a will. I last exchanged emails with him in June, at which time he seemed fine. I will really miss Charles, and the Tolkien-world has lost a quiet giant. 

 Christopher Tolkien and Charles, at Keble College, 1992, sent to me by Charles

Friday, June 9, 2023

"Doc" Weir Revisited

In a post from 2021 on this blog, I wrote:

Doc Weir* (1906-1961) had self-published as a booklet one of the first internal studies of Tolkien’s invented world, A Study of the Hithlain of the Wood-Elves of Lórien (1957), the year before he joined science fiction fandom.

I must revise this statement, as I have finally seen the item referred to. It is catalogued in library databases as though it is an item written and published by the author in 1957. Thus it seemed to be the first booklet of Middle-earth studies--that is, a study of some interior aspect of Tolkien's invented world (or at least "fictional" nonfiction, set within the world of Middle-earth). But this is incorrect. 

The library catalog refers to it as a typescript copy, and it is held in the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy at the University of California, Riverside. And that is what it is: a typescript of eight pages with a titled cover page. The cover page notes that the quotations from The Lord of the Rings come from a 1957 printing of the book.  Weir's address is also given on the page, below the note on the text that was used.  It reads: "Primrose Cottage, Westonbirt Village, nr. Tetbury, Glos. England."

From I Palantir, August 1960
Seeing this in context, it is clearly a submission manuscript, not in any sense a booklet or a publication. The essay appeared in the fanzine I Palantir, issue no. 1 (August 1960). I Palantir was founded by, and its first two issues edited by, Ted Johnstone and published by Bruce Pelz, both Los Angeles fans; the next two (and final) issues were both edited and published by Pelz. Pelz (1936-2002), was a famous Los Angeles fan, whose very large collection of fanzines is now part of the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy at the University of California, Riverside.  It seems that the Weir typescript is the original submission copy to the fanzine.

And it likely dates to 1960, a submission by a fan in England to a forthcoming fanzine in Los Angeles. The date of 1957 for the printings used of The Lord of the Rings thus has no exact correlation to the date of the essay. 

So that leaves open the question of what was the first booklet published about Tolkien? My current guess: Astra's Tower, special leaflet no. 5 (May 1961), written and published by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a 26 page fanzine which includes a Preface (p. 2) by Bradley and her essay "Of Men, Halflings and Hero Worship" (pp. 3-25). And what was the first booklet of Middle-earth studies?  Marion Zimmer Bradley's fan fiction "The Jewel of Arwen" came out in I Palantir issue no. 2 (August 1961), but did not appear on its own as a booklet until 1974. Were there other items in between?

* Actually Arthur R. Weir, known familiarly as "Doc" because of his advanced degree in chemistry.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The Tale of Two Anthologies (of Vampires and Werewolves)

The Dark Shadows Book of Vampires and Werewolves (Paperback Library, 1970) is an anonymously edited collection of nine stories. all to do with (as the title suggests) vampires and werewolves. It is purportedly edited by Barnabas and Quentin Collins, the (fictional) vampire and werewolf characters, respectively, of the popular daytime television show, and it includes a six page introduction signed with their names.  The selection of stories is rather unusual, including some well-known stories (by John Polidori, E.F. Benson, M.R. James), along side of lesser-known names (Bruce Elliott and "Dolly").  It was clearly put together by someone with knowledgeable and eclectic tastes. Various online sources suggest that it was edited either by "Marilyn Ross" (the writer of many Dark Shadows novels from the same publisher, actually the prolific W.E.D. Ross--known as Dan Ross--1912-1995, using his second wife's name as a pen-name), Jonathan Frid (the actor who played Barnabas Collins), or someone named Bernhardt J. Hurwood. If the actual editor had been either of the first two names, it seems likely that the publisher would have credited them, at least for the publicity value.

The Dark Shadows Book of Vampires and Werewolves appeared in print in August 1970, copyright by Dan Curtis Productions, who produced the television show. It has the same essential cover design of all the other Dark Shadows books---an oval cover illustration including the title, surrounded by a gold color. (See a list here --scroll down a bit-- of the Dark Shadows novels, with covers.)

Interestingly, in December 1970 the same publisher issued a very similar book, The Dark Dominion, subtitled "Eight Terrifying Tales of Vampires and Werewolves." Anonymously edited, it again has an eclectic and informed selection, and one tale translated by B.J. Hurwood. There is no introduction, and it has the feel of being leftover tales from the Dark Shadows anthology, especially with regard to the cover design--the familiar oval illustration surrounded by gold. 

So I wondered: could the books have been edited by the same person? Might the original volume have been planned to be bigger, and the second volume made up of leftover tales? It turns out that my guess was correct. When I looked into Bernhardt J. Hurwood, everything felt into place. 

Hurwood (1926-1987) was a prolific free-lance writer, who published over sixty books. His archive of papers are held at the Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. I am grateful to Tyne Lowe, Manuscript Archivist at the Browne Popular Culture Library, for her assistance on this question. 

The brief answer is that the archive confirms that Hurwood was commissioned to edit a larger volume, which was to be called The Barnabas Collins Vampire and Werewolf Reader. There are a number of  prospective contents pages, with notations of copyright status and amounts to be paid for materials still under copyright. Dan Curtis Productions rejected half of the material, and it was decided by the publisher to bring out The Dark Dominion, for which no approval by Dan Curtis Productions was needed. Hurwood was excited that, having two books, he would get paid twice. But no second payment was forthcoming, and by January 1971, Hurwood was complaining to his editor at Paperback Library, noting his firm belief that all publishers do their best to screw their writers if they think they can get away with it. Whether Hurwood ever got paid for the second anthology is unknown.

But the mystery of editorship of both anthologies is resolved. Bernhardt J. Hurwood edited both The Dark Shadows Book of Vampires and Werewolves and The Dark Dominion. The books stand alongside other anthologies actually credited to him, including Monsters Galore (1965) and Passport to the Supernatural (1972), and several collections of his own supernatural fiction for juveniles, including Ghosts Ghouls & Other Horrors (1971), Vampires, Werewolves & Other Demons (1972), Eerie Tales of Terror & Dread (1973), Chilling Ghost Stories (1973), and Strange Curses (1975). He also wrote novels under various pseudonyms, including Dracutwig (1969) as by Mallory T. Knight, (to quote the cover blurb) "the outrageous adventures of a luscious little sexpot  who is the daughter of Dracula, has a body like Twiggy -- and turns into a vampire every time she makes love!" Hurwood's work on the nonfiction book Terror by Night (1963) convinced him of the "heavy sexual undertones" in the folklore of vampirism and lycanthory, and he continued with other nonfiction books of this type, including Monsters & Nightmares (1967), Vampires, Werewolves and Ghouls (1968), and Vampires (1981).  Hurwood also branched off into writing sex-books, including nonfiction like The Golden Age of Erotica (1965) and The Bisexuals (1974); manuals like The Joys of Oral Love (1975), The Whole Sex Catalogue (1975), as well as erotica like When Maidens Were Deflowered and Knightly Lost Their Heads (1967), as by D, Gunther Wilde. 

The Bernhardt J. Hurwood Collection at the Browne Popular Culture Library looks to be a fascinating resource. For a wealth of detail, see the Finding Aid to the Collection here.