Wednesday, February 21, 2024

R.I.P. Richard Mathews (1944-2024)

I just googled to see if my old friend Richard Mathews was still the Director of the University of Tampa Press, only to find out that he died last month.

I met him at the 1987 Mythcon in Milwaukee, where we both appeared on a panel on David Lindsay. We found we had many common interests. Richard had published, with Borgo Press, a short book on Tolkien, Lightning from a Clear Sky (1978), and other short books on William Morris and Brian Aldiss. His most notable work was the Twayne volume Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination (1997; reissued in 2012), which was filled with insights despite the somewhat odd structure of the book (presumably imposed upon him as part of the series it was in). Richard also contributed introductions to some of the William Morris reprints for the Newcastle fantasy series in the 1970s. 

He was devoted to his work at the University of Tampa Press, from which I see he retired in 2020. I worked on one long term project that would have excited him very much, and I was looking forward to showing it to him. But that cannot happen now, alas.  

Read more about Richard here:

In Memoriam, from the University of Tampa Press 

Local obituary

and a 2011 interview.

Condolences to his family and many friends.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Tolkien on Max Beerbohm

 Oscar Wilde by Max
The New York Public Library recently hosted an exhibition on Max Beerbohm: The Price of Celebrity from October 20, 2023--January 28, 2024. A small book (around one hundred pages), with text by Margaret D. Stetz, with Mark Samuels Lasner, describes many of the items showcased in the exhibition. 

Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) is perhaps best remembered as a caricaturist (he signed his work "Max"), but he was also an essayist and drama critic. His two most famous pieces of fiction are the novel (his only one), Zuleika Dobson, or, an Oxford Love Story (1911), a satire of undergraduates, and the clever short story, "Enoch Soames," about a lesser poet from 1897 who makes a deal with the devil and travels one hundred years into the future for an afternoon, in order to ascertain his own posthumous reputation. 

Item 70 in the exhibition is a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to J.G. Riewald (1910-2006), a Beerbohm scholar who had written to Tolkien as a Professor at Merton College to ask if he knew of any personal stories about Beerbohm, who had been at Merton College as an undergraduate, and who had been made and honorary Fellow there in 1942. Tolkien replied on 20 August 1948 that he knew little of Beerbohm, whose "published cartoons ... amuse me" while Beerbohm's literary work "usually fails to amuse me." (quoted from p. 91 of the book). 

We don't know what of Beerbohm Tolkien had read (there are no Beerbohm books listed in Oronzo Cilli's Tolkien's Library, 2023), but Zuleika Dobson came out late October 1911, just as Tolkien had commenced his own undergraduate studies at Oxford, so it seems likely that Tolkien would have encountered it.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Fairy-tale Versions of Beowulf

In Tolkien On Fairy-Stories (2008), Verlyn Flieger and I noted that in Tolkien's research notes for his famous lecture/essay, Tolkien queried himself twice about whether on not Andrew Lang had included a retold Beowulf in any of his Fairy Books--the first time briefly, but in the second instance with a bit of commentary: 

A Fairy Story. But when retold (seldom) it is not retold as such. For what the poet did to it was for his own purposes--rel[ated] to the substance but not the manner of the story. It should be retold as a fairy-story. [Tolkien On Fairy-stories, p. 100]
Verlyn and I suggested that this note (probably dating from 1943) might have been the germ for Tolkien's fairy story version "Sellic Spell" (in existence by the summer of 1945), which was unpublished at the time our book came out. "Sellic Spell" has since been published in Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell (2014), edited by Christopher Tolkien. It appears there in final form (occupying 26 pages by itself), with additional material including an introduction and commentary on the drafts by Christopher, and a version by Tolkien in Old English. 

I checked the twelve Andrew Lang colored fairy books when researching Tolkien On Fairy-stories, but found no fairy tale version of Beowulf. Since then I have worked with others of Lang's various anthologies for children and, oddly (considering its title), in Lang's The Red Book of Animal Stories (1899), I found two chapters covering the Beowulf story. As usual, Lang was the compiler of stories written by other people, and the Beowulf sections, and other stories about "unscientific animals" (to use Lang's phrase) were told by Mr. H.S.C. Everard, or Harry Stirling Crawfurd Everard (1848-1909), who was best known as a writer of columns on golf, for newspapers, magazines, and specialist journals. 

Everard's "The Story of Beowulf, Grendel, and Grendel's Mother" and "The Story of Beowulf and the Fire Drake" were illustrated with plates by H.J. Ford--two for the first story, one for the second. (I  copy all three along with this posting.) Both stories are short, and you can read the first here, and the second here. Both of the Everard versions have some interesting Tolkienian aspects, in details that do not come from the original. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Off-trail Hobbit Illustrations: Chris Riddell Part Two

When I made my previous post, I did not know that Chris Riddell had earlier illustrated Tolkien in a similar anthology of illustrated extracts. Thanks to Trotter for pointing this volume out to me. And the earlier book turns out to be a far more interesting book than the one I had known about, for a number of reasons. 

The Puffin Treasury of Children's Stories was published in 1996. No editor is given, but a likely reliable source credits the editing and the unsigned foreword to Anna Trenter. The book was retitled for the 1997 U.S. edition as The Viking Treasury of Children's Stories, and in a 1998 UK edition, published by Penguin Books, it became A Favourite Treasury of Children's Literature

The volume contains thirty-six selections. Most are extracts, but eleven are self-contained short works. To the Tolkien fan, in addition to the extract from The Hobbit, there are other welcome things, including three items illustrated in color by Pauline Baynes.  The first is an extract from T.H. White's The Once and Future King, which has four illustrations. The second is an extract from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, with six illustrations (which apparently were done for this specific volume, and are not reprints); and the third item is the short story "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde, with eleven illustrations. 

There is also a short story by Tolkien's biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, one of his Mr. Majeika series, which is predominately made up of short novels. The short story originally appeared in a magazine for younger children, Puffin Flight, in 1988. And one other selection has some extra interest:  "Spotty Powder" by Roald Dahl. It is described as one of several chapters cut from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because "there were too many naughty children." It was first published in Puffin Post in 1973.

The extract from The Hobbit is from Chapter 12, "Inside Information."  Chris Riddell provides only three illustrations (elsewhere in this volume Riddell also illustrated an extract from The Wizard of Oz, and the story "Professor Branestawm's Christmas Tree" by Norman Hunter). 

Here is a full-page Smaug:

Here is Bilbo stealing the cup:

And here is a dwarf (Balin) carrying Bilbo:

Riddell's dragon is interesting, but I can't say I think much of his hobbit or his dwarves.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Off-trail Hobbit Illustrations: Chris Riddell

The Puffin Twentieth-Century Collection of Stories (1999), edited by Judith Elkin, is a collections of extracts from 23 children's books, each extract illustrated by a different artist, in varying modes. The Tolkien extract is from the Troll chapter of The Hobbit, and its illustrations are by Chris Riddell. 

The full-page illustration is towards the end of the extract, and depicts Gandalf. 

Here are the Dwarves:

And Bilbo:

And the Trolls:

There are seven illustrations in total, but some are small and minor.  The best of these is that final depiction of a troll:

Monday, November 20, 2023

Off-trail Hobbit Illustrations: Michael Hague

Michael Hague illustrated the 1984 edition of The Hobbit, but that wasn't the only time he illustrated scenes from The Hobbit.  Also in 1984, the Easton Press published a special edition of The Hobbit with a frontispiece by Hague that is not included in any other edition of the book. I show the title page and frontispiece here: 

 Click to enlarge

One aspect of this illustration is incongruous with the text in the book.  Can you spot it?  (I append the answer at the bottom of this blog entry.*) 

In 1995, Hague returned once more to Tolkien, including an extract "Bilbo Baggins and Smaug" in The Book of Dragons, selected and illustrated by Hague. The first page of the extract has what might appear to be an illustration for Tolkien, but it isn't:

The dragon framing this page appears on the first page of every selection in the book. Most selections have one full-page color illustration, plus a number of smaller ink drawings. The color illustration for the Tolkien selection is here:


This is somewhat similar (but with brighter coloring) to Smaug's depiction in the double-spread illustration in Hague's 1984 edition.

The single Hague ink drawing accompanying the Tolkien text in The Book of Dragons is here: 

That sums up the off-trail Michael Hague Tolkien illustrations that I know of. Does anyone know of more? 

* The incongruity of the Easton Press frontispiece is that when the Bilbo and the Dwarves come to the Lonely Mountain (after their time in Laketown), Gandalf is not with them.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review: Its Origins and Evolutions

So David Bratman of Tolkien Studies just posted here that Verlyn Flieger is retiring from the journal after 22 years. I wondered: has it really been that long since Mike Drout and I first discussed the idea, and asked Verlyn to join us in founding the journal?  Yes, it has indeed been 22 years.  I dug into my old emails with Mike. Here is the seed of the whole operation.

I emailed Mike in the wee hours of 27 September 2001:

I have thought for years that we need some journal to publish a “Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies”. In fact, for some years I have wanted someone to found a _Tolkien Studies_ academic journal. I’d happily work for it and contribute. But we’d need some academic affiliation to sponsor it and to get legitimacy. I wouldn’t think that it needed to be a frequent periodical, but if we could get some place to do it as an annual (in which someone could do a Year’s Work…), well, count me in.

Mike replied on the same day, agreeing, and suggesting perhaps Verlyn Flieger (whom, at the time, Mike had briefly met only once at Kalamazoo) could also be involved. I then asked Verlyn, and she immediately came aboard. Thus Tolkien Studies was founded.

I lasted ten years, until 2012 (see here for the reasons I left). David Bratman was added when I left. And Verlyn lasted 22 years. Now welcome to Yvette Kisor as the newest of the three co-editors. Mike remains on, 22 years and counting. I look forward to TS20, which David says is due out later this year.