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.


  1. What a wonderful reminder of my working days at the Oxford Mail. ATHAR CHAUDHRY