Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Snergs Fraud Multiplies

It is fairly well-known that Tolkien's Hobbits were inspired by The Marvellous Land of Snergs, a 1927 children's book by E.A. Wyke-Smith. Tolkien wrote in the notes for his lecture/essay "On Fairy-stories" that “I should like to record my own love and my children’s love of E. A. Wyke-Smith’s Marvellous Land of Snergs, at any rate of the snerg-element in that tale, and of Gorbo, the gem of dunderheads, jewel of a companion in an escapade.” 

A couple of years ago, a British publisher released a re-written version of the book, though the book still uses the Tolkien quote as though the reader of this new version will be reading the book that inspired Tolkien. But it is not the same book, not even close. I wrote about it on this blog back then, "When the Snergs book is NOT the Snergs book."

Recently I discovered a newly published US edition, and following up, I realized that this shady production has perpetrated more translations than Wyke-Smith's actual book has had. I recommend anyone interested in the book that actually inspired Tolkien avoid these frauds. Here follows the (alphabetical) non-English language Snergs Hall of Shame. (At least currently ...)









Sunday, August 7, 2022

RIP: J. S. Ryan

 J.S.Ryan (top left) and J.R.R. Tolkien (bottom right) 
A quick note to remark on the passing of Tolkien's former student, J.S. Ryan, who later published a number of books on Tolkien. Ryan died in early July at the age of approximately 93. I say approximately because Ryan himself had a policy of never giving out his birthyear ("lest it be used against me" he once wrote me). However, as his parents were married in 1928, and considering genealogical records (including ship's passenger lists from the 1950s), it seems pretty certain that his birthyear was 1929. John Sprott Ryan was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, educated in New Zealand, England and Australia. He spent most of his academic teaching career at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. 

He was a student at Merton College, Oxford, under Tolkien, from 1954 through 1957 (both appear in the 1955 Merton College photo, above) , and later went on to write many articles on Tolkien. The first of these, "Germanic Mythology Applied: The Extension of the Literary Folk Memory", appeared in Folklore, Spring 1966; Tolkien himself found it "nonsensical". It was reprinted in Ryan's 1969 volume Tolkien - Cult or Culture?, one of the earliest book-length studies of Tolkien. From there, Ryan published a large number of articles, often elaborating on small points in Tolkien's life, in diverse venues such as Anor, Inklings-Jahrbuch, Ipotesi, Orana, Quadrant, The Ring Bearer, and others, as well as in fanzines such as Minas-Tirith Evening-Star (of the American Tolkien Society), and scholarly journals such as Mythlore (the journal of the Mythopoeic Society). Several of his contributions to Minas Tirith Evening-Star were collected as The Shaping of Middle-eath's Maker: Influences on the Life and Literature of J.R.R. Tolkien (1992), as by John S. Ryan ["J.S. Ryan" being his usual byline], edited by Philip W. Helms and published by the American Tolkien Society. 

His most significant collections for the Tolkien scholar remain the two published by Walking Tree Publishers (edited and prefaced by Peter Buchs), Tolkien's View: Windows into His World (2009) and In the Nameless Wood: Explorations in the Philological Hinterland of Tolkien's Literary Creation (2013).  

 2012 edition
In 2012, a slightly-corrected reprint of Tolkien - Cult or Culture? was issued through the Heritage Futures Research Centre at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, in a reportedly very small edition, which received little attention. (My copy was expensive and not easily procured.) 

Ryan's studies of Tolkien are not without frustrations. As pioneering works, he often missed vital connections in order to focus on less significant ones, and beyond a small essential core of Tolkien scholarship, Ryan rarely engaged with the publications of other Tolkien scholars. Yet his essays are well-worth reading for the inspiration they can give for further research. 

A fuller appreciation of his life and career (with photos), appears here in Pulse News of the University of New England in Armidale.

Monday, January 17, 2022

An Update on Things Tolkien- and Inklings-Related

My short note "Tolkien's Friend Selby" on Tolkien's correspondence with G.E. Selby (1909-1987) was just published by The Tolkien Society in a recent issue of Mallorn issue 62, Winter 2021 (pp. 34-35). Selby's bookplate, at right, appears here courtesy of Oronzo Cilli. 

I'm very sad to report on the passing of my friend of over forty years, Tim Wickham-Crowley, in late October, after a battle with cancer. Tim was a sociologist, specializing in Latin America, but also a keen Tolkien fan (whose wife, Kelley, is a noted medievalist and Tolkien scholar). I commissioned his one contribution to Tolkien scholarship, a book review of Tolkien through Russian Eyes (2003), by Mark T. Hooker, which appeared in Tolkien Studies: Volume II (2005). Tim is greatly missed by all who knew him. A full obituary from The Washington Post appears at Legacy.com here

Timothy P. Wickham-Crowley
 A recent mailing of the Friends of Arthur Machen had an interesting notice in Machenalia about an "Inklings Festival and Arthur Machen" that took place in Wichita, Kansas, in October 2021. One of the speakers was Christopher Tompkins, of the Darkly Bright Press (a small US press specializing in Arthur Machen), who discussed the fact that Victor Gollancz, when reading the manuscript of Charles Williams's War in Heaven [then titled The Corpse] in March 1930, called upon Arthur Machen to be an outside reader for it. In the summer of 1927, when Gollancz worked as an editor at the publisher Ernest Benn, he had hired Machen to be a regular reader for Benn. Gollancz soon left Benn to found his own publishing firm, and since Williams's novel, like Machen's The Great Return (1915), has the Grail showing up in contemporary Britain, Machen clearly seemed to Gollancz a good outside reader. According to the report in Machenalia, "Machen made corrections to some Hebrew and Latin in the MS, corrections that appear in the final version. Since, in the correspondence with his publisher, Williams expressed an interest in seeing The Great Return, it seems he hadn't yet read it" (p. 6).  I look forward to Christopher Tompkins writing this all up.  

It's hard to believe that Chris Mitchell, Director of the Wade Center for nearly twenty years, died at age 63 as long ago as 2014. I can still hear his quite distinctive voice in my head from our many meetings. Recently published is a tribute volume, The Undiscovered C.S. Lewis: Essays in Memory of Christopher W. Mitchell (Winged Lion Press, 2021), edited by Bruce R. Johnson. Of course the content heavily favors C.S. Lewis, but there is one article on Tolkien, "Across Western Seas: Longing for the West in Tolkien's Legendarium," by Laura Schmidt, Archivist at the Wade Center (who worked alongside Chris for many years). And other Inklings are represented too, including Nevill Coghill, who appears in Walter Hooper's contribution (probably Hooper's final writing before his death in December 2020). In all it's a fine tribute to Chris, who passed away at far too young an age.

I note here the recent publication of Tolkien & The Lizard: Tolkien in Cornwall 1914 (2021) by David Haden. It is published only as a pdf--ordering information here. This is an independent offshoot of a larger project that Haden is current engaged on. Haden also maintains a fascinating Lovecraft blog, Tentaclii, which I recommend. And he has a further offshoot Tolkien publication, Cracks of Doom: Untold Tales in Middle-earth, which he describes as:

 "a fully annotated and indexed list of ‘Untold Tales’ in Middle-earth, pointing out the ‘cracks’ where new fan-fiction might be developed. There are 125 entries and these usually lightly suggest ideas for story development. It will also be useful for scholars seeking to understand what Tolkien “left out” and why, or those interested in ‘transformative works’ and fandom." 

Available as a Lulu trade paperback, or an ebook version via Amazon, the fuller details (and link to a sample pdf) are here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Some New Tolkienian Checklists, etc.

I've had a number of recent publications that I'd like to note here. 

First, Tolkien Studies no. 18 (2021) is out, and it contains a fine obituary of Richard C. West by John D. Rateliff, paired with my updated "Richard C. West: A Checklist"--originally published in Tolkien Studies no. 2 (2005).  

Also, in the current issue of The Journal of Tolkien Research, vol. 13 issue 2 (2021), I have published three indices, as follows:

1. "Index to The Journal of Tolkien Research Volume 1 through Volume 13 issue 1" updated from its two previous appearances. 

2. "Index to Tolkien Studies Volume 1 (2004) through Volume 18 (2021)"

3. "A Checklist and Index to Lembas Extra 1985 to 2019"

All three are freely available as pdfs here

I also posted a new up-to-date version of my "Tom Shippey on J.R.R. Tolkien: A Checklist through 2022" at my Academia.edu page, here.  This is the third version of it. The first appeared in Tolkien Studies no. 1 (2004), and an updated one, "Tom Shippey on J.R.R. Tolkien: A Checklist through mid-2014," also appears on my Academia.edu page.  

These checklists and indices all began as personal aids to my memory--I spend too much time searching for various things I know I read some place in, say, some volume of Tolkien Studies, but which one?  I thought I would share them in case other people might find them useful. I may polish up a few more, and post them similarly. One serial I'm happy that I don't need to index is Mythlore, for there is already an excellent index, Mythlore Index Plus, compiled by (and maintained by) Janet Brennan Croft and Edith Crowe. It is freely available here.

And speaking of Mythlore, my book review of God and the Gothic (2018) by Alison Milbank, recently appeared there in issue no. 139 (Fall/Winter 2021).  The full issue is available here, while my review is also available at my Academia.edu page (link above). 

I have a short note coming out this winter in the next Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society. A few other non-Tolkien-related items are under consideration at other journals, and there are a few other Tolkien-related pieces close to completion. More about them once they land. 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

THERE AND BACK AGAIN (1932) by C.H. Dodd: Any Influence on THE HOBBIT?

It must have been around five years ago that Tom Shippey asked me if I knew anything about There and Back Again (1932) by C.H. Dodd, as a potential influence on The Hobbit.  I think he had been asked the question himself at some conference, and thought I might know. But I didn't.
Well, it turns out that the book itself is quite rare, and it took years for me to find a copy to read.  And the results are interesting. 
The book is a collection of ten tales by Dodd, with a short preface, along with illustrations by his wife, P.M. Dodd, and one illustration, discussed below, by his stepson, John Terry.  In the one-page Preface (signed from Manchester, October 1932) Dodd notes the inspiration for two of the tales (an anonymous writer of the ninth century for one, a writer in Punch for the second). He continues:  "The rest of the tales are, to the best of my belief, original, except in so far as they are founded on folk-tale motives which were common property long before my time."  And so they are.  And the title of the book comes from a similar folkloric source, given on the title page: 
How many miles to Babylon?
   "Three score and ten."
Can I get there by candlelight?
   "There and back again." 
The author Charles Harold Dodd (1884-1973) was a prolific theologian and probably the most influential British New Testament scholar of his time. (His younger brother, A.H. Dodd, 1891-1975, was a well-known historian.) He was educated at University College, Oxford, from 1902 through 1906  and had a demyship at Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1907 to 1911, for research on early Christian epigraphy. After he was ordained in 1912 he spent three years as a minister in Warwick. He returned to Oxford in 1915 as the Yates Lecturer (later Professor) in New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Mansfield College. In 1930 he left Oxford to accept the Rylands Chair of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester, and in 1935 became the Norris Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, a position which he held until his retirement in 1949.

There and Back Again was Dodd's only work of fiction.  The stories are mixed in kind, a few have affinities with folk tales or fairy tales, but most have an underlying and sometimes subtle message. In "The Conqueror" an Assyrian king believes a prophecy that the greatest man in Nineveh will die that night, thereby he anticipates his own death.  But when the beloved slave Obed dies instead, the king renounces the crown and determines to become more like Obed. "The Three Ways" is an allegory of three brothers who each attempt to reach a house on a mountaintop. In "The Wrestler" the story of Jacob is told, who wrestled all night with an invisible adversary only to have a surprise at dawn. 

But are there any Tolkien connections or correlations here?  In recounting Dodd's life above I noted his Oxford connections, so it's possible that he and Tolkien may have been acquainted, but there is no evidence of such acquaintance. And per the stories themselves, there are a few Tolkienian resonances. In "The Royal Visit" an Old Man is called a "gaffer"---but that usage is somewhat common.  In "The Wrestler" the invisible adversary with which Jacob wrestles wants to be released before dawn, for "at dawn, as everyone knows, all ghost and goblins must get them to their lairs" (p. 51)--a slight similarity with the Trolls turning to stone at dawn in The Hobbit

Those are the only real Tolkienian resonances, and since the book itself was published in December 1932, after the vast bulk of The Hobbit had been written, it seems unlikely to have had any influence on Tolkien even if he had known the book.  However, the single illustration by Dodd's stepson (p. 59) is by far the most Tolkienian thing in the book, the single-peaked mountain with a door in the side, rivers with s-curves and trees and dwellings nearby all give a hint of the Lonely Mountain and its environs. Yet even such a striking visual resonance is rendered suspect as an influence primarily because of the chronology. The details in The Hobbit must all have been worked out by Tolkien before he could ever have seen this book.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Shirley Jackson on Tolkien

I have been reading the recently published, 600+ paged tome, of The Letters of Shirley Jackson, edited by her son Laurence Jackson Hyman, and a couple of references to Tolkien are worth noting. Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) is remembered for the 1948 folk-horror story, "The Lottery," published in The New Yorker, and for weird novels such as The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).  

Both references to Tolkien come from letters written to Jeanne Beatty in February 1960.  In the first, Jackson notes that a old family friend "reminds me of the Tolkien RING trilogy; do you know that? or THE HOBBIT? I can't get the kids to read THE HOBBIT although i [sic] love it" (p. 421). The second letter is the more interesting (if perplexing). The relevant portion reads (with Jackson's shunning of capitalization):

i was going to say some awfully profound things about the hobbit because of course that is (i think) the essential of all fantasy; clearly it was not written to satisfy the reader but began years ago when the author lay in bed at night telling himself stories to make up for the spanking or for the fact that other kids wouldn't let him play second base; the non-important things are the ones not important to the author's ego. (why do any of us write, come to that?) i think more of islandia, which is revolting in a sense, full of adolescent prurience (for two hundred pages his hero--a harvard graduate, no less--tries to bring himself in a pitch of boldness so he can put his arm around the heroine, but of course once that first deadly step is taken things move on apace, but still very much of the sixth grade) and yet the book stands as the work of a grown man, and i think that the queen of the elves is exactly what leapt to tolkien's mind when he thought of women; of course, english dons are easily distinguished from errol flynns, and i daresay tolkien's whole knowledge of women might have been early concretized by terror of his headmaster's wife, in any case it is only one step removed from boy's life and you know what they thought of girls there. funny, you don't notice the lack of girls in robinson crusoe; i wonder if that isn't because dafoe never felt called upon to explain that he simply couldn't care less. i am not very coherent; what i am trying to say is that the idea of women as a particularly irritating mystery is very close to tolkien and the islandia man and consequently they get very stiff and sophomoric about the reverence due to queens and princesses and you only know they are not actually the captain of the cricket team of the president of the senior class by the fact that they are insistently referred to as she. i cannot read the second volume of the ring anymore because i think it falls apart, as though as a child he had gone over and over lovingly the fellowship and the good comrades who set out with him ("i will take the ring, although i do not know the way.") on his grail-journey and then found himself, grown-up, without the boy fancy which would continue the story, and had to fall back upon learning and logic to complete it. (surely when he was a boy the book ended with him becoming king of all the countries and on very good terms with his adored mother, the queen of the elves.)

Well, where does one start with this farrago? Jackson clearly knew nothing of Tolkien (or of Austin Tappan Wright, the author of Islandia), and I think her ravings tell us more about what she believed and expected fiction to be about, rather than revealing anything (other than nonsense) about her subjects. Jackson was clearly not much of a literary critic. And sadly her letters aren't very circumspective about her own works--they focus too much on her domestic life. This may please fans of her family chronicles such as Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957), but it will disappoint admirers of her weird fiction.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Subscribing to this Blog by Email Updated

Okay, since Google's Feedburner is closing down their email subscription function for blogs, I have migrated this blog's subscriber list to "follow.it".  If it worked right, subscribers should get this post as usual, but from a different source.  I do know that some supposedly redundant email addresses were purged during the move, so if you were on the list, and want to still be on the list but didn't get this, then resubscribe via the updated "get new posts by email" button at the top right of this blog.  

Apologies for any inconveniences. 

On another front, I have noticed over the last few months that the "My Other Blogs" roll is not functioning properly. When a blog on this list has been updated, the new post is supposed to be reflected in the blog roll.  But that is not always happening, and I don't know why, nor how to fix it.  For example, my Lesser-Known Writers blog has the newest entry on William L. Chester, click here, but the blog roll shows a previous entry from May 9th as a static one.  I'll be grateful for any suggestions about how to fix this!