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 "".  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. [Update to this sentence, see my post "'Doc' Weir Revisited" 6/10/23.] 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.