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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Fantasy from Bantam Books after the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series ended

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series ended in 1974. Other publishers had capitalized on the trend of marketing books as fantasy, and some publishers had started their own lines. Bantam Books was then well-known for their science fiction line, and at this time they marketed a small number of their titles as Fantasy. This advertisement (from a Bantam book published in the Spring of 1976) gives a list.
Of the thirteen titles listed here, I have seen only five that were labelled specifically as "Fantasy." The three books by Samuel R. Delany were labelled science fiction, as are the titles by Frank Herbert, Mack Reynolds, and Joanna Russ. Bantam published a number of titles by Ray Bradbury, but all the copies I've seen are labelled science fiction instead of fantasy.

The most significant fantasy titles that were published by Bantam between 1974 and 1976 are the three volumes of the Earthsea Trilogy (back then there were only three books). All three have nice uncredited covers: the art is by Pauline Ellison (b. 1946)--there is a nice profile of her: Part one here; and part two here. (I confess I'm more fond of her style of illustrations as shown in part one.) The Bantam paperback of A Wizard of Earthsea came out in August 1975; The Tombs of Atuan in September 1975; and The Farthest Shore in October 1975.
The other two fantasy titles are odder and off-trail books. The first is The Man Who Lived in Inner Space, by Arnold Federbush (1935-1993), published in May 1975. It is labelled "Fantasy" on the spine.
The final book is Star of the Unborn by Franz Werfel (1890-1945), who was born in Prague but wrote in German. The original edition was posthumously published in 1946, and translated into English in the same year by Gustave O. Arlt. It is a strange visionary novel that reminds one of works by Olaf Stapledon and David Lindsay. The Bantam edition (labelled Fantasy on the spine) was published in May 1976. The intriguing cover art is by Gene Szafran.
These five titles make for an odd fantasy list, but most of them would not have been out of place in the original Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, and would also be of considerable interest to readers of the Ballantine series.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Competition for the Balllantine Adult Fantasy Series?

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series proper began with the May 1969 publication of The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt. Over the next year Ballantine published one or two additional titles per month, and other publishers were certain to have noticed the success of the series.

Paperback Library was one such outfit. It had been founded in 1961 and by the end of the decade it was known for publishing a lot of science fiction, a lot of westerns, and a lot of tie-in books to the popular television series Dark Shadows. Their attempt to move into the fantasy market was in the end limited to four titles, all published in 1970. It was apparently not very successful. Warner Communications bought the firm in 1972, and by 1972 the Paperback Library output had descended to a trickle, with the final books coming out in early 1973.

The fantasy imprint apparently had no name, beyond the label of "Paperback Library Fantasy Novel" which appeared at the top of the front cover of each book. However, like the unicorn masthead of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, these four books each have a device of a centaur wielding a bow and arrow.

The four titles are as follows:

The Citadel of Fear, by Francis Stevens (August 1970).
The Serpent by Jane Gaskell (October 1970)
Atlan by Jane Gaskell (October 1970)
The City by Jane Gaskell (October 1970)

The Francis Stevens book has an introduction by Sam Moskowitz, riddled with his usual errors (this introduction is the source of the erroneous idea that H.P. Lovecraft had written an appreciation of Francis Steven back in 1919. Lovecraft's fellow Providence resident Augustus T. Swift had in fact written a letter to Argosy in 1919 in praise of Stevens. Moskowitz simply presumed that Augustus T. Swift was probably a pseudonym of Lovecraft's, and Moskowitz began his introduction by quoting a long passage from Swift's letter, attributing it to Lovecraft, and not even mentioning Swift's name).  The cover artist's name is not printed anywhere, but you can clearly see the artist's signature, Steele Savage, in the art itself in the lower middle of the front cover.
The three volumes in Jane Gaskell's trilogy had previously been published as "science fiction" by Paperback Library in 1968. With the new October 1970 printings, they are each now labelled as "A Paperback Library Fantasy Novel." And they have new uncredited cover art, but I'm pretty sure the art is by Michael Leonard.

There is one further release from Paperback Library of potential interest. This is the September 1971 issue of The Tritonian Ring by L. Sprague de Camp. It was published not as a fantasy, but as science fiction. Yet the cover art (uncredited, but probably by David McCall Johnston, who did some covers in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, including those for the Evangeline Walton books), and the blurb comparing it to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, certainly give more of a fantasy vibe than a science fiction one. 

P.S.  I'm adding here the cover of the William Ready book on Tolkien as mentioned by David Bratman in the comments below. The cover art is clearly meant to recall Barbara Remington's mural published on the 1965 Ballantine editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Early Dust-Wrappers of The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison (1882-1945), was first published by Jonathan Cape of London in May 1922, with interior illustrations and a dust-wrapper design by Eddison's brother-in-law, Keith Henderson (1883-1982). Here is the front dust-wrapper of the 1922 edition.

An American edition, published by Albert & Charles Boni of New York, appeared four years later, to the month, in May 1926.  It retained all the interior illustrations by Keith Henderson, yet has a new dust-wrapper illustration. Here is the wraparound dust-wrapper of the 1926 edition, followed by the same art's appearance on the endpapers.

The artwork is uncredited, and a bookseller recently catalogued it as by Henderson, but it's not in Henderson's usual style, and I have long understood that the art was by someone else. But by whom? Here  is a closeup of the artist's recognizable monogram from the lower righthand corner:

The stylized "A"monogram was regularly used by the Russian-born American artist Boris Artzybasheff (1899-1965). Here is a similar worm-styled creature from a closely contemporary book, The Wonder Smith and His Son (1927) by Ella Young, which was wholly illustrated by Artzybasheff. This art is spread over two facing pages.

Notice the stylized "A" monogram at the upper right of the art.  And compare the eye-motifs running all along the top of the serpents' bodies in both illustrations. The motifs are closely similar. Clearly the art on the dust-wrapper of The Worm Ouroboros was by Artzybasheff, not Henderson.

Artzybasheff was also contracted to illustrate Ella Young's subsequent book, A Tangle-Coated Horse, but when it came out in 1929 it had illustrations by Vera Bock.  Interestingly, this conundrum is solved in the correspondence between Ella Young and Kenneth Morris.  Ella Young's publisher was Longmans, Green of New York, and it was on her recommendation that Kenneth Morris placed his novel Book of the Three Dragons with Longmans.  Morris was very angry to learn that Longmans decided to cancel the contract with Artzybasheff for Ella Young's book, and have Artzybasheff illustrate Book of the Three Dragons instead.  Yet when Longmans published Book of the Three Dragons in 1930, it was with illustrations by yet another artist, Ferdinand Huszti Horvath. In October 1930 Morris wrote to Ella Young that "I am content with having escaped Artzybasheff—heresy though it be to say so!"

What about Artzbasheff's art did Morris find so objectionable?  His letters make it clear that Morris thought that "dragons are the most beautiful and graceful of God's creatures: surpassing the swan for grace, the gazelle for beauty."  Artzybasheff's dragons, particularly the one on The Worm Ouroboros, are more comical than beautiful, and not representing the elegant and spiritual creatures as envisioned by Morris. As talented as Artzybasheff clearly was, his art was not a good match for the writings of Kenneth Morris. Nor for those of E.R. Eddison as well.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Did Clark Ashton Smith read Tolkien?

This topic came up several years ago, but has gained currency on the web. There are no letters by Smith in which he discusses Tolkien, but only in a reminiscence by Smith's late-in-life friend, Dr. William Farmer (1938-2015), in which Tolkien is discussed. The full April 2005 interview with Farmer by Larry Fischer is available here at Eldritch Dark, but let me quote the relevant Tolkien-related passages (my emphasis added in red):
L F: Which books published since CAS's death do you wish you could have shared with him?
Dr F: Oddly enough, probably the Harry Potter series — Clark would have loved the subtle fun poked at the English public schools — and the manner in which real evil is contrasted as something far more sinister than the trivial media representations, and posturings of Satanists. The best translations of Kazantzakis were not available and he would have loved those works — particularly I think, his Odyssey, A Modern Sequel. [T.E. Lawrence's] Seven Pillars of Wisdom was not available to the general public when he was young, and I don't think he ever got to it again, and by the time I had read this great work, Clark was gone. I would like to have re-visited Tolkien's stuff with Clark after I had a master's seminar with Dr. Tolkien in '63. I think, too, that some of Don Fryer's work inspired by Clark would be good to have gone over with Clark — he would have appreciated Don more, and would have had more opportunity to get to know him as I did. I think he might have enjoyed seeing [Ray Bradbury's] Martian Chronicles on film — the advent of the video could have been interesting to share with Clark. Most "sci-fi/fantasy" or "sword & sorcery" has not captured my interest or attention — to have been worth discussing with Clark, there must be more than just story — there must be some deeper current that stirs beneath the surface, subtly gripping the reader and leaving him uncertain as to what just happened to him at the end of the book — "best look again..."
L F: How much Tolkien and C.S. Lewis did CAS read, and what did he make of what he read?
Dr F: He read all of it he could get his hands on — The Allegory of Love would have frustrated him because he had little Greek, Italian, and Anglo-Saxon and the book is not foot-noted.

Tolkien's creation of an entire history, obviously biblically parallel, with its own several languages and grammar he admired immensely. In discussing it briefly at odd interludes, he always came back to the basic remembrance: "Sauron is only a servant". He always felt real evil was something Tolkien understood as something infinitely more profound and dangerous than trivial little dilettantes like [Anton] LaVey [of the Church of Satan] and his ilk could imagine — he would be amused by the common theme in many books and films where some very bad person desires great power and calls up an ancient horror he thinks he can control, only to be utterly consumed by it when he at last succeeds.
The comment about Farmer having attended a master's seminar with Tolkien in 1963 rang a bit odd with me, as Tolkien retired from teaching in 1959, but returned for two terms in October 1962 through April 1963 when his colleague C.L. Wrenn was on sabbatical. Tolkien's duties seem to have involved only the giving of public lectures (on Beowulf). I queried Dr. Farmer on this, and he didn't provide any further details. In a post at the Eldritch Dark forum on 30 November 2011 (scroll down, here), he elaborated further:
I cannot say that Clark had read the whole Ring trilogy, and I don't recall the books being available in Paper-back at that time, so I know he didn't own any - I know that he had read "The Hobbit", and at least some of the "Fellowship..." He liked the Hobbit, and admired the inventiveness, particularly in the variation in names and language as relates to species - (cf difference between Dwarf names and Elf names). As I recall, he also expressed admiration for the consistency of the images and "leit motif" over such extended narrative - a gift he admired, but had never attempted. The single quote I recall is his having said that Tolkien appeared to be a true master of language. I was not myself at that time equipped to engage much farther in the discussion as my own knowledge of the books was limited.
Smith died in August 1961, which was indeed four years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings appeared in paperback. All of what Farmer says may be true, but I think it should be qualified a bit. Some of Farmer's comments (here and elsewhere) seem to be projections of his own opinions onto Smith. I really wish we had some first-hand comments from Smith himself in lieu of second-hand comments made forty-some years after Smith's death.

On the other side of the coin, we do know that in 1964 Tolkien read at least one story by Clark Ashton Smith.  L. Sprague de Camp had sent Tolkien a copy of his mass-market anthology Swords & Sorcery (Pyramid Books, published in December 1963).  Tolkien's copy, dated by him July 1964, with some hastily scrawled pencilled notes was on sale many years ago (see here), and I noted that Tolkien didn't much care for the Clark Ashton Smith tale, "The Testament of Athammaus" (which is not one of Smith's best anyway). Tolkien felt the monster was wholly unbelievable and the story had a tooraloo of nonsense in it. Tolkien wrote more diplomatically to de Camp in August 1964 that "all the items seem poor in the subsidiary (but to me not unimportant) matters of nomenclature. Best when inventive, least good when literary or archaic."

Friday, January 17, 2020

Another Dismal Day of January: Christopher Tolkien 1924-2020

In medieval superstition, two days of each month were accounted especially unlucky, the so-called dies mali in Latin, or dismal days in English. For me these dies mali of January will henceforward remind me of the deaths of two friends. Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien's biographer, passed away on 4 January 2005 at the age of 58, and now, fifteen years later,  Christopher Tolkien has passed away in the night of 15/16 January 2020 at the age of 95. These two men taught me more than I can express about the literary life and what it means to be, and how to go about being, a literary scholar. I became friends with Humphrey in the summer of 1978 when I attended a summer program in Oxford. A few years later Humphrey put me in touch with Christopher. Though I had some excellent and helpful teachers in college, none of them affected me as profoundly, or as lastingly, as did these friendships with Humphrey and Christopher. It is too soon for me to comment about Christopher, but here I pass on my condolences to his family and to his wide following among Tolkien readers and scholars. Below I share a photograph, taken at Keble College during the Tolkien Centenary Conference in August 1992, of Verlyn Flieger, myself, and Christopher.  The postcard I am holding shows one of the faces and stone heads outside of the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford.* I had just commented that that particular head epitomized how I felt just before delivering my talk at the conference. (The photo was taken by Marjorie Burns.) It is unfathomable to me that more than twenty-seven years have passed since that day.

*I think. I still have one similar postcard that I bought on that same day.