Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In Memoriam: Recent Passings of Tolkien Scholars

One of the sad editorial tasks I was involved with at Tolkien Studies was the writing of brief memorials for recently departed colleagues and fellow Tolkien-scholars.  Here follows the memorials I would have suggested for the time period since I left Tolkien Studies to the present, in reverse chronological order (i.e., the most recent passing first).  

Anne C. Petty (1945-2013) passed away from cancer on July 21st, 2013.  Born Anne Cotton, she married William Petty in 1964.  They had one daughter. 

Petty was educated at Florida State University (B.A. 1966; M.A. 1970; Ph.D. 1972).  She published One Ring to Bind Them: Tolkien’s Mythology (University of Alabama Press) in 1984.  It was reprinted (with a new introduction and a revised bibliography) in 2002.  Tolkien in the Land of Heroes: Discovering the Human Spirit followed in 2003. She also published Dragons of Fantasy: Scaly Villains & Heroes of Modern Fantasy Literature (2004; 2nd edition 2008), which includes a section on Tolkien’s dragons. 

Petty’s essay on “Identifying England’s Lönnrot” appeared in the first volume of Tolkien Studies (2004) and she contributed three entries (“Allegory”; “Finland: Literary Sources”; and “Folklore”) to the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Assessment (2007), edited by Michael D.C. Drout, as well as essays on “Shakespearean Catharsis in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fiction” in Tolkien and Shakespeare (2007), edited by Janet Brennan Croft, and “Reflections of Christendom in the Iconography of Middle-earth” in Light Beyond All Shadow (2011), edited by Paul E. Kerry and Sandra Miesel.  She also reviewed The Silmarillion: Thirty Years On (2007), edited by Allan Turner, for Tolkien Studies volume 6 (2009).  An interesting interview with Petty about her work appeared in the Green Books section at in 2004, see here.   

Petty’s novels include two volumes of a projected quartet about Australian aboriginal dreamtime, Thin Line Between (2005) and Shaman’s Blood (2011), as well as another work of dark fantasy, The Cornerstone (2013), and a literary suspense novel set in Petty’s home state of Florida, Hell and High Water (2011), co-written with P.V. Le Forge. 

In 2006, Petty formed Kitsune Books, with the stated intention of making available well-written books that are "slightly off the beaten path". She published a novel by Verlyn Flieger, The Inn at Corbies' Caww, and an anthology on The Mythological Dimensions of Neil Gaiman, edited by Anthony S. Burdge, Jessica Burke, and Kristine Larsen, among some two dozen-plus publications.  Petty closed down Kitsune Books in December 2012, after the onset of illness. 

Dinah Hazell (1942-2012), author of The Plants of Middle-earth: Botany and Sub-creation (Kent State University Press, 2006), passed away in Menlo Park, California, on December 14th, 2012. She was survived by her husband, George Tuma, Emeritus Professor of English at San Francisco State University, with whom she had designed and co-edited the online journal Medieval Forum and co-taught a popular class on The Lord of the Rings as epic literature.  Her husband passed away one month to the day after Hazell. 

Maggie Burns (1954-2012), the former Margaret Whetnall, passed away in her sleep on August 31st 2012. Born and raised in Birmingham, England, she was educated at St. Hilda’s Ladies College, Oxford (A.B., 1977).  She married Peter Burns in 1982; they had two sons.

Professionally she worked in the Local Studies and History department at the Central Library in Birmingham, and she made a specialty of studying the local connections of Tolkien’s family.  A number of essays—results of her extensive research—appeared in Mallorn and Amon Hen, two the publications of The Tolkien Society, as well as on the Birmingham Library’s website. She planned a book on the Tolkien and Suffield family connections with Birmingham.  It was virtually finished at the time of her unexpected death.  One hopes it can be published as a memorial. 

Michael N. Stanton (1938-2011) got his PhD. at the University of Rochester, writing his dissertation on the English poet Robert Southey.  He began teaching at the University of Vermont in 1971, becoming Emeritus Professor of English upon his retirement in 2001.

His earliest publication on Tolkien was an article “Teaching Tolkien” in a 1973 issue of a journal called Exercise Exchange. He also wrote an essay on Tolkien’s use of proverbial language in Proverbium for 1996, and contributed eleven entries (e.g., those on “Bilbo Baggins”, Gandalf”, Hobbits”, Humor”, etc.) to the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Assessment (2007), edited by Michael D.C. Drout.  Stanton’s major Tolkien-related publication was his book Hobbits, Elves, and Wizards: Exploring the Wonders and Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” (St. Martin’s Press, 2001).  For the 2002 trade paperback edition, Stanton added a short chapter on “Hobbits in Hollywood: The Fellowship Film”. In a 2002 interview with the SFRA Review, Stanton noted that “given the title of my book (which was supplied by St. Martin’s editors) I would like to have said more about wizards.”

After the success of Peter Jackson’s films of The Lord of the Rings, Stanton lead some tours of film-related sites in New Zealand, and contributed a short essay “Tolkien in New Zealand: Man, Myth, and Movie” to Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages (2005), edited by Jane Chance and Alfred K. Sievers. Stanton died on December 15th, 2011, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Mystery of Lintips

Here is another piece, drafted long ago, for which I never sought publication because of its short length. 

The Mystery of Lintips

In 1964, J.R.R. Tolkien was invited to contribute to a children’s anthology, the first of a proposed annual series, being edited by Caroline Hillier. Tolkien sent the editor three possible poems in early December 1964, two of which were accepted.  The three poems included one written for an American girl named Rosalind Ramage who had written Tolkien a fan letter in October 1964;  a new poem written in early December 1964 entitled “Once Upon a Time”; and a revised version of Tolkien’s poem “The Dragon’s Visit”, originally published in The Oxford Magazine in 1937.  The poem for Rosalind Ramage was not accepted for reasons of space (it remains unpublished), and Hillier was torn about accepting the other two, also because of space limitations, but in the end she took both.  The revised version of “The Dragon’s Visit” and “Once Upon a Time” appeared in Winter’s Tales for Children: I, published in October 1965.  Both poems were reprinted in The Young Magicians (1969), edited by Lin Carter.

Winter’s Tales for Children: 1 was the first of a series that lasted for four volumes from 1965 through 1968.  Caroline Hillier edited only the first two volumes; the third volume was edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland, and the fourth, by Ted Hughes. Besides the Tolkien poems in the first volume, there are contributions by Ted Hughes (one poem), Rosemary Sutcliff (one story); Philippa Pearce (a story); Kevin Crossley-Holland (one story and three Old English riddles translated into modern English); and Elizabeth Jennings (two poems), who was coincidentally a friend of the Tolkien family for many years.  The volume is illustrated by Hugh Marshall.

Tolkien’s poem “Once Upon a Time” is especially interesting because it is a poem about Tom Bombadil written two years after the collection The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from The Red Book was published, and, more importantly, because there is a mystery to the poem itself with regard to some creatures described in it called lintips.

“Once Upon a Time” is comprised of three stanzas of fourteen lines, each stanza beginning with the phrase “once upon a –”; and the final line of each stanza starting with “once upon a time”. The rhyme-scheme runs aabbccddeeffgg, but the opening line of each stanza also has an internal rhyme—e.g., for stanza one, “Once upon a day on the fields of May”.  The first stanza centers on Goldberry, and she is stooping over a lily-pool and blowing away dandelion clock (i.e., the white seeds that form after flowering).  It is interesting to note the description of “earth-stars” that have opened in the green-grass, whose steady eyes watch the sun climb up and down.  The “earth-stars” are presumably geastrales, an order of various types of fungus commonly called “earth-stars” that are related to puffballs. 

In the second stanza, which begins “Once upon a night in the cockshut light”, the earth-stars are closed, and Tom—the Bombadil surname is never given in the poem—is wandering in the wet grass under the stars.  Most interestingly, in lines 9-11, the Moon rises and under his white beams silver drips from stem and stalk of the grass “down to where the lintips walk / though the grass-forests gathering dew”.  Here the lintips are introduced, and they are apparently very small, for they move about near the ground in “grass-forests” where they gather dew. 

Lintips become the central focus of the third and final stanza, which begins “Once upon a moon on the brink of June /a-dewing the lintips went too soon.” Tom notices them and kneels down, saying:  “ ‘Ha! little lads! So it was you I smelt? / What a mousy smell!’” (l. 4-5) Tom tells them to drink the sweet dew, but to mind his feet.  The lintips laugh and move away, leaving Tom to comment that they are the only things that won’t talk to him, or “say what they do or what they be” (l.10). The lintips are as much a mystery to Tom, as they are to the reader of the poem.

Basically, lintips are small creatures that move in the grass during the night and drink dew, and they have a mousy smell. They could be mice, voles, or insects of some sort.  The name lintip/lintips may be an invented word of Tolkien’s like mewlips, some creatures who also feature in a single poem. Additionally, one turns to the O.E.D. without finding any real-world analogues. With the hint in line fourteen of the first stanza, that the poem is set in “an elvish land”, one wonders if lintip might be of elvish construction. The stem lint/lin could be interpreted in elvish in a number of ways (the better of several possible stems include Q lint fluff, down, soft stuff; Q linte swift, quickly nimble)*, but the ending –ip/–tip is not of normal elvish construction, and seems to point lintip away from being an elvish word. 

It seems that whatever lintips are, they will remain as much a mystery to us as they were to Tom.  When I queried Christopher Tolkien on this point, he replied “On lintips I fear I am a total blank” (letter dated 3 September 2005).  

Thanks go to Christopher Tolkien, Alan Reynolds, Carl Hostetter, John Garth, and Eileen Moore, for comments on lintips sent to me over the years.

* I note also that in “A Secret Vice” Tolkien wrote:  “I can also remember the word lint ‘quick, clever, nimble’, and it is interesting, because I know it was adopted because the relation between the sounds lint and the idea proposed for association with them gave pleasure.”  (The Monsters and The Critics, p. 205). 

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I wrote this short review some months ago, and put it aside for posting with other partially-written things that presently remain unfinished for reasons I needn’t go into here. In the meantime I’ve pulled out this review to post separately.   

Mark J.P. Wolf’s new book, Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (Routledge), snuck out without much fanfare late last year.  It basically looks at subcreation from a very broad perspective, covering the subject not only chronologically (from the Odyssey to the present day), but also across multiple forms of media—that is, not just as literature but also as films, television shows, various types of games, etc., as well as what is now called the modern media franchise.  Thus the focus, though there are some chapters on the literature of imaginary worlds, turns more to the various ways in which a modern person can experience and share in these imaginary worlds.  The theory of creating literary imaginary worlds is not shirked, and Wolf builds upon earlier examples such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Macdonald and J. R. R. Tolkien.  Indeed, the latter provides Wolf with the basic terminology (primary world, secondary world, subcreation) that recurs throughout the book. Wolf notes that imaginary worlds “need not rely on narrative structures” but that narrative is the best way for someone to enter an imaginary world, and that the purposes for creating an imaginary world can be very varied (e.g., satire, entertainment, escape, etc.), just as the forms.  While a novel might give rise to a subsequent film or television series, the opposite can happen too (witness Star Trek and Star Wars, which began as a television series and film respectively, yet branched out to novels, graphic novels, etc., and to various considerations of the lesser aspects of world-building, like the books on the Klingon language and the blueprints to the various starships).  People enjoy studying and sharing-in invented worlds from many angles, and the most traditional way—via literary criticism—is shown to be just one way of many. There is much food for thought in this pioneering and thoroughly readable book, which will broaden the way one views the experience of  imagination in the twenty-first century. Highly recommended.  (My sole complaint is that the book is priced too high:  $39.95 retail for the trade paperback, $175 retail for a hardcover.)