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!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Ubiquitous Fantasies of the late 1970s

When Del Rey published Terry Brooks's The Sword of Shannara in April 1977, they launched it with an unprecedented marketing campaign for a fantasy novel. Thus it reached the bestseller lists, a triumph of marketing over content.  Other publishers saw the opportunity for large sales of fantasy novels.  I remember a handful of books that were omnipresent for many months in every bookstore I visited during the wake of the success of The Sword of Shannara. These are the ones I recall. 

Niel Hancock's first tetralogy "The Circle of Light" sported covers by Gervasio Gallardo, which deliberately evoked the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series (for which Gallardo did many covers) which had ended a few years earlier. 


The first of the quartet, Greyfax Grimwald, came out in April 1977, followed by Faragon Fairingay in June, Calix Stay in August, and Squaring the Circle in October. These were followed by two further tetralogies, "The Wilderness of Four," in 1983, and "The Windameir Circle," in 1985-1991, along with a standalone volume, Dragon Winter, in March 1978 (which has a faux-Gallardo cover). The second quartet also had real Gallardo covers, as did the first volume of the third quartet. But sales must have diminished as the series went on, and the books went out of print. Tor's Starscape imprint, for young adult books, revived the first quartet in 2004, with silly, off-putting covers, and they sank without a trace. 

Richard Monaco's Parsival, appeared in hardcover and trade paperback in November 1977. The cover and interior illustrations are by David McCall Johnston, another cover artist of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. It was followed by The Grail War (hardcover and trade paperback, 1979) and The Final Quest (hardcover 1980, mass market paperback 1983).  A fourth volume, Blood and Dreams, appeared as a mass market original in 1985.



Stephen R. Donaldson's trilogy of "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever" came out in hardcover in October 1977, but weren't ubiquitous until the Del Rey mass market paperbacks appeared, Lord Foul's Bane in August 1978, The Illearth War in September 1978, and The Power That Preserves in March 1979.  With static covers (by Darrell Sweet), Del Rey again reached the bestseller lists with these books, despite the main character being an unpleasant leper who refuses to believe in the fantasy world in which he finds himself. It was another triumph of marketing over content.  Donaldson went on to publish a second trilogy, "The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever" (1980-1983); and a third series, expanded to a quartet, "The Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" (2004-2013). 

 And finally, there is Nancy Springer's The White Hart, published in December 1979 (cover by Carl Lundgren). It was the first of a five book series, later named "The Books of Isle" (1979-1983), though the second volume, The Silver Sun, is reworked from an earlier volume The Book of Suns, published in June 1977 and marketed as general fiction rather than as fantasy (cover shown below for comparison). 

 These are the books I thought of as ubiquitous between 1977 and 1980. Any one have other candidates?



Tuesday, June 15, 2021

When Did the Public Learn to Expect "The Silmarillion" as an Actual Forthcoming Book?

By the mid-1960s, it was fairly common knowledge that J.R.R. Tolkien was trying to ready for publication a volume called The Silmarillion.  But when and how did that title become known?

The first appearance of the word “Silmarillion” in public was as early as in 1938, in the letter Tolkien wrote to The Observer, which appeared in their 20 February 1938 issue. Tolkien wrote à propos of The Hobbit:

My tale is not consciously based on any other book—save one, and that is unpublished: the ‘Silmarillion’, a history of the Elves, to which frequent allusion is made.

By the time Tolkien’s sequel to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, was published in 1954-55, it can be safely assumed that almost no one recalled the 1938 reference.  But in the appendices to volume three, The Return of the King, there are two mentions of the word, but neither imply that it might be a volume to be published in the primary world. 

The first is in Appendix A, Section I “The Númenoran Kings”, part (1) “Númenor”, at the end of the third paragraph:

The silmarilli alone preserved the ancient light of the Two Trees of Valinor; but the other two were lost at the end of the First Age, as is told in the Silmarillion.

That is the first edition text.  In the 1965 revised edition, the final clause reads “as is told in The Silmarillion.”

The second is in Appendix F, Section I “The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age”, in the final sub-section headed “Dwarves”:

Dwarves. The Dwarves are a race apart. Of their strange beginning, of why they are both like and unlike Elves and Men, the Silmarillion tells.

(This form is retained in the 1965 revised edition.)

Neither appearance of the word implies an actual primary world book.

The next reference (that I know of)* is to a somewhat hopeful remark in the letters column of John O’ London’s magazine on 3rd March 1960, where a writer signed “J. Burn” of Sheffield (evidently a woman, owing to other comments in the letter) wrote:

… from the reviews I gained the impression that Tolkien’s Lords of the Ring [sic] books were some sort of fairy-tale with humanised animals as heroes. I was not interested in them until an acquaintance lent me the first two volumes. I became an addict, and still look for the advertisement of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien.

It was not long after this that the first remark (again, that I know of) about an actual publication of The Silmarillion came out.  It appeared in the British fanzine Skyrack, issue 20, dated 20th June 1960. In a column by Ken Slater (1917-2008), a well-known and long-standing mail-order bookseller who began bookselling as a hobby in 1947, and in 1954 turned it into a business which ran for more than fifty years. Slater noted:

ORDERS ARE NOW BEING TAKEN by the publishers for Professor Tolkien’s promised new work, provisional title, THE SILMARILLION, which recounts the earlier history of The Ring. The publishers still can’t give a date or a price for the work, but this acceptance of orders is a step forward.

Arthur R. Weir (known as “Doc” Weir) summed up what he expected to find in a letter dated 21 September 1960, published in the letters column (Entmoot) of the first issue of Peter Mansfield’s fanzine Eldritch Dream Quest (November 1960):

À propos of THE SILMARILLION, it should not only tell the story of how the dwarves first came to exist, but should also tell how the Great Enemy originally stole the Silmarilli from Eldamar, and the tale of Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel, and also, of course, of Eärendil their son; presumably it will finish with the fall of Nargathrond, since it was in that that the other silmarils were for ever lost.

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. Weir died in March 1961, so never got to read The Silmarillion. A Memorial Fund was set up and since 1963 has given an annual Doc Weir Award for fan recognition.

By 6th December 1961, in Skyrack issue 40, Ken Slater noted laconically “Tolkien’s ‘The Silmarillion out by Allen & Unwin next October.”

Of course it was not to be, and rumors went on for many years. A version of The Silmarillion, editorially constructed by Christopher Tolkien, finally came out in September 1977.

Does anyone know of any earlier pre-1960 mentions of The Silmarillion as a forthcoming book?

 

*It is possible that word of The Silmarillion got out to science fiction fandom in September 1957 when Tolkien was awarded the International Fantasy Award at a luncheon in London just after the 1957 World Science Fiction Convention—held for the first time in England—had concluded. But none of the reports that I have seen mention any forthcoming work by Tolkien.

Thanks to Dale Nelson for assistance with this post. 

 

 

 

Monday, May 31, 2021

Ballantine's Road Goes Ever On: Bibliographers Off by a Year!

I’ve been looking everywhere in my Tolkien files for something I need that is Hobbit-related, and I even braved my huge pile of unsorted research notes, some of which date back thirty or more years. But at least in the absence of finding what I’m looking for, I can clear up a long-standing mystery about the Ballantine edition of The Road Goes Ever On. It went through three printings, the first was a jacketless undated hardcover, with the Barbara Remington Lord of the Rings mural  inset on the lower half of the upper cover. The other two printings were trade paperbacks, the second printing is designated on the copyright page August 1975; and the third printing January 1978. But each of these list the first Ballantine printing as having been in October 1969. And that is how it is dated in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography.

But I made a research note that I had examined one copy that was inscribed “Christmas 1968”—which, if true, would put the edition back a year in time.  Lin Carter, not normally remembered for accuracy, listed it as an October 1968 publication in his list of sixteen Ballantine precursors to the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, in “Bibliography II” (page 268) of Imaginary Worlds (1973).

And Lin Carter was right. Publishers Weekly for 2 September 1968 lists it with a October 14th [1968] publication date, with notice of major promotion and publicity.

Publishers Weekly, 2 Sep. 1968, p.63

Details and cover scans of the Ballantine printings can be found at Devon Press’s TolkienBooks.US site: the hardcover here, and the paperbacks here. (Now updated with the correct 1968 date.)