Monday, April 26, 2021

The Lost Scottish Origin of a Fairy-Tale

The story is titled either "The Woodman and the Elves" or "The Woodman and the Goblins." It tells of a woodman who finds some overly large eggs in an unfamiliar part of his forest. He brings them home, and they hatch, giving forth six goblins or elves (the terms are used interchangeably). The woodman raises them by himself, but they are unruly, save for when he lights a lantern at night, and the sight of it transfixes them. I won't give away the ending here. 

But the story itself appears in a handful of anthologies, like Tim Kirk's Ghosts and Goblins (1982), and Wilhelmina Harper's 1936 anthology of the same name, where it is named "The Woodman and the Goblins" and credited to J. Berg Esenwein and Marietta Stockard. But this isn't really correct. For when Esenwein and Stockard first included the story in their own collection of Children's Stories and How to Tell Them (1917), they had a short preface (omitted from the reprints) which notes:

This story is re-told from a version given a Texas teacher by an old Scotch friend. The quaint, humorous style of the original has been kept, with condensations and slight shifts of events to give greater unity to the plot. It would be difficult to find a better Hallowe'en story, for there is just enough of the supernatural element, and the pictures are vivid and real. It is a pure fun-story of a high order.

The version that Esenwein and Stockard refer to was also called "The Woodman and the Goblins" and it appeared in The Elementary School Teacher for April 1904, where its authorship is given as by John Duncan of Edinburgh. The Texas teacher (signed only "M.F.") notes that the story "was told by Mr. Duncan to a group of little children just before Halloween. The children begged to be allowed to act it out."  A three-page, five-act version of the story as a play (with all the dialogue by the woodman)  is included right after Duncan's story in The Elementary School Teacher. M.F. notes that: "The initiative was the children's; the product is their own. . . .  They found their complete satisfaction in playing the story out to the school Halloween morning."  The tale reappeared in at least one US newspaper, The Pittsburgh Press, for 27 October 1912, just before Halloween. 

But the story doesn't end there. Recently a very rare children's book was reprinted. It is called The Woodman and the Elves, and it was originally published by Valentine & Sons of Dundee, Scotland.  It is undated, but the National Library of Scotland dates it to circa 1905. Its author/artist is given as John Duncan. It includes twelve full-page color illustrations. And the reprint claims that this John Duncan is the famous Scottish artist John Duncan (1866-1945), despite the fact that the only book published on John Duncan, The Paintings of John Duncan:A Scottish Symbolist (1994) by John Kemplay, doesn't mention it. Nor does this book mention the few other books that Duncan is known to have illustrated, like Donald A. Mackenzie's Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend (1917). But it tells us, biographically, that Duncan came from Scotland to Chicago in 1900 to teach art at the Chicago Institute, and returned after the 1902-1903 academic year. Thus he was in America for three years just prior to "The Woodman and the Goblins" appearing in The Elementary School Teacher, a U.S. publication. 

That the story is by the same John Duncan is confirmed by an article in the October 1903 issue of Good Housekeeping, "Some New Drawings to Old Fairy Tales," which includes one of Duncan's rough drawings for "The Woodman and the Elves."

The new reprint of The Woodman and the Elves is an elegant volume, with the full-page illustrations on the right-hand page, and a facing page text translated into Swedish, but with the corresponding original English text printed at the rear of the book. Translated as Skogvaktaren och vättarno, it was printed in Tallinn, Estonia, in 2020. It has a new afterword  by Hans Rosenberg (in Swedish), and a paragraph of endorsement by David Tibet (in English, calling it "one of the oddest children's stories I have ever read" and noting "I love this book, which does indeed feel like a dream both in its reading and in its recalling"). The book (ISBN 9789197875158) is priced at €15 plus shipping, and to order it, email: info <at>

There are thus three main versions of the tale. The 1904 text by John Duncan; the revised version by Duncan published in book form circa 1905; and the 1917 rewritten version by Esenwein and Stockard. I prefer the text of the first version, it is livelier, with more detail and local color. Duncan's subsequent revision may have been hampered by having the text on one page with an illustration on the facing page. That likely limited how much text could appear on the page before an illustration. (And Duncan's book text has an unfortunate extra paragraph at the end, leaving the woodman to find himself alone again.)  The Esenwein and Stockard rewritten version is diminished from the original. Thus I share the 1904 text below (click on the images to make them larger).  Enjoy. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Tolkien Scholars Write Fantasy: a Follow-up

 Four years ago, I posted a column titled Tolkien Scholars Write Fantasy! It covers just what the title suggests, Tolkien scholars who also have published fantasies. This is a follow-up, updating the original post with newer books and editions that I happen to know about. As with the previous post, I'm keeping the arrangement alphabetically by the last name of the author.  (And as with the old post, readers are welcome to add further authors/titles in the comments.)

Sue Bridgwater 

Sue Bridgwater's The Dry Well did indeed come out as announced for 2017.

Jessica Burke and Anthony Burdge 

In 2020, the duo's Myth Ink Books released their new book of Lovecraftian horror, Eldritch Tides

Matthew Dickerson

The third volume of Matthew Dickerson's fantasy trilogy, The Daegmon War, came out in 2017 under the title Illengond.

Verlyn Flieger

Verlyn Flieger has published a volume collecting her two  short pieces reworking Arthurian materials, "Avilion" and "The Bargain", under the title Arthurian Voices (2020).  It has an enthusiastic preface by the late Richard C. West.  

John William Houghton 

The first two of John William Houghton's related novels (in The Thaumatruge of Annandale series), Rough Magicke and Like a Noise in Dreams, have come out in Kindle format in 2020, followed by a new third volume, The Advent of the Yule Queen in 2021.


Michael Livingston

Michael Livingston's most recent books have been non-fiction, but he had two works of fiction published since my last survey. Both are Kindle-only, The first was a short work, At the End of Babel (2015), and then a prequel to his historical fantasy series, The Shards of Heaven, titled The Temples of the Ark: A Tale of Alexander the Great (2016).  

Edward S. Louis (actually E.L. Risden)

Edward S. Louis has published a number of things, only some of them fantastical in nature.  First is a ghost story, Wiskalo Chookalo: The Haunting of Uppsala, Wisconsin (2018).  More recent titles include The Quantum Detectives (2020), set in a future London, and a baseball novel, White Shoes (2021).

John Rosegrant

John Rosegrant published the fourth  and fifth books in his series, respectively Marrowland (2018) and Makeless Made (2018). 

Martin Simonson 

Volume one (Golgrim's Keys) of the  trilogy The Scarecrow and the Storms has been retitled and reissued as The Wind in the Wild Lands (2019), part one of The Faceless Keeper saga, with illustrations by Anke Eissman. The second volume was due to be republished in November as The Broken Light of Summer, but covid-19 has interfered.  I do hope that the third volume (so far unpublished) will make it out this time. Distribution of volume one hasn't made it to the US, but I give a link to the page here

Friday, February 5, 2021

A Few Random Notes

A few months ago I saw an interview with novelist John Crowley, in which he observed of his most recent book, Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr (2017):

My most recent book was sent in MS to some twenty editors; some were entirely uninterested, but a small number thought the book was great. But because the publisher didn’t see profits from such an oddity it was refused, until at length one editor with a private label within a big house took it. 

The full interview is here;  but my takeaway from this comment is how sad it is that a major talent like Crowley would be welcomed by so few publishing houses. It fits right in with the sad situations of other writers I admire and regularly read.  Jonathan Carroll published his newest novel in Polish translation in January 2019, and in Italian in late 2020.  It is titled Mr. Breakfast, but I've seen no evidence that any English-language publisher has bought it or that any such publication in English is planned.  Patricia McKillip's most recent novel, Kingfisher, came out in 2016.  Nothing since. Though she has slowed down in publishing, I wonder if there is there another factor. I used to enjoy Michael Cadnum's adult horror novels (e.g. Ghostlight), but he turned away from adult novels about twenty-five years ago to write children's novels, and many of them are pretty good, and pretty interesting. But his last book from a trade publisher was nearly a decade ago, Seize the Storm (2012), though he self-published a few disappointing collections in 2018.  Why has he stopped?  Market concerns?  All of this is depressing for mid-list writers, as well as for readers. 

On the J.R.R. Tolkien front, a few months ago I was by chance connected with the nephew of a man who photographed Tolkien late in life. Photographer Athar Chaudhry had come to England via Pakistan and Kenya. Known as "Mac" he was a press photographer from the 1960s through the 2000s. (His brother Azhar was also a photographer on the staff of the Daily Nation in Kenya, and took portraits as well, of Charlie Chaplin, Sophia Loren, and Bollywood stars.) "Mac" worked mainly in sports photography, but did portraits of Tolkien and Roald Dahl in the early 1970s when he worked for the Oxford Mail. I learned of one fine photograph he took of Tolkien from Humphrey Carpenter, who thought it was one of the best Tolkien photographs from late in his life. It appeared in the Oxford Mail on 22 March 1972. We editors of Tolkien Studies arranged for a part of the photograph to appear on the cover of Tolkien Studies Volume II (2005).

An alternate photograph, clearly from the same shoot, has also appeared on the web. 

If anyone knows of the Roald Dahl photograph, or where it appeared, I'd be grateful for the details. 

Also on the Tolkien front, Mary Fairburn (b. 1933), the artist who submitted her drawings to Tolkien in 1968--drawings approved by Tolkien, and finally published in the 2015 Tolkien Calendar, has published her autobiography, Borne on the Wind: Memoirs of an Artist (2020). Details and some interesting photographs appear at the publisher's website here, along with contact details for ordering copies. 

Thanks to Zanne Chaudhry for information on his uncle, and to Paul Tankard for the news on Mary Fairburn.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

RIP: Alison Lurie (1926-2020)

I'm saddened again to report another death, this time of novelist and children's literature expert, Alison Lurie, at the age of 94. A long time ago I was one of her students, and we kept in occasional touch and swapped books in the years afterwards. She gave a nice blurb for the 1996 reissue of The Marvellous Land of Snergs, by E.A. Wyke-Smith, the 1927 children's novel that inspired The Hobbit. I recall that she also asked me for suggestions for inclusion in her Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales (1993), and presented me with an inscribed copy on publication.  

Around 1990, I had picked up an inscribed copy of Leonard Cline's first novel God Head (1925), and when it arrived in the mail, I noticed the inscription was to Bun and Harry Lurie, from a time when Cline and his second wife were in Chicago, and I knew Alison had been born in Chicago in 1926, so I rang her up and asked the obvious question.  "Those are my parents." she replied. "And I remember that book.  It has a face embossed in the cover."  Her parents had lived in Detroit, where Cline had worked on the Detroit News and where he had many connections. Alison also recalled Cline's second wife, Katharine Gridley (another Detroiter), and put me in touch with her sister Jennifer Cooke who told me what she could about the Gridley family.  Alison also suggested an explanation of the inscription (see right), and said that lots of apartment buildings at that time had paintings of old galleons on the walls as you entered.  

I always found Alison kind and friendly, unlike many of my other professors back then.  I read a good number of her books, and reviewed one, her short story collection Women and Ghosts, a few years ago at Wormwoodiana

The obituary at The Guardian sums up her achievements nicely.

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

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