Wednesday, February 21, 2024

R.I.P. Richard Mathews (1944-2024)

I just googled to see if my old friend Richard Mathews was still the Director of the University of Tampa Press, only to find out that he died last month.

I met him at the 1987 Mythcon in Milwaukee, where we both appeared on a panel on David Lindsay. We found we had many common interests. Richard had published, with Borgo Press, a short book on Tolkien, Lightning from a Clear Sky (1978), and other short books on William Morris and Brian Aldiss. His most notable work was the Twayne volume Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination (1997; reissued in 2012), which was filled with insights despite the somewhat odd structure of the book (presumably imposed upon him as part of the series it was in). Richard also contributed introductions to some of the William Morris reprints for the Newcastle fantasy series in the 1970s. 

He was devoted to his work at the University of Tampa Press, from which I see he retired in 2020. I worked on one long term project that would have excited him very much, and I was looking forward to showing it to him. But that cannot happen now, alas.  

Read more about Richard here:

In Memoriam, from the University of Tampa Press 

Local obituary

and a 2011 interview.

Condolences to his family and many friends.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Tolkien on Max Beerbohm

 Oscar Wilde by Max
The New York Public Library recently hosted an exhibition on Max Beerbohm: The Price of Celebrity from October 20, 2023--January 28, 2024. A small book (around one hundred pages), with text by Margaret D. Stetz, with Mark Samuels Lasner, describes many of the items showcased in the exhibition. 

Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) is perhaps best remembered as a caricaturist (he signed his work "Max"), but he was also an essayist and drama critic. His two most famous pieces of fiction are the novel (his only one), Zuleika Dobson, or, an Oxford Love Story (1911), a satire of undergraduates, and the clever short story, "Enoch Soames," about a lesser poet from 1897 who makes a deal with the devil and travels one hundred years into the future for an afternoon, in order to ascertain his own posthumous reputation. 

Item 70 in the exhibition is a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to J.G. Riewald (1910-2006), a Beerbohm scholar who had written to Tolkien as a Professor at Merton College to ask if he knew of any personal stories about Beerbohm, who had been at Merton College as an undergraduate, and who had been made and honorary Fellow there in 1942. Tolkien replied on 20 August 1948 that he knew little of Beerbohm, whose "published cartoons ... amuse me" while Beerbohm's literary work "usually fails to amuse me." (quoted from p. 91 of the book). 

We don't know what of Beerbohm Tolkien had read (there are no Beerbohm books listed in Oronzo Cilli's Tolkien's Library, 2023), but Zuleika Dobson came out late October 1911, just as Tolkien had commenced his own undergraduate studies at Oxford, so it seems likely that Tolkien would have encountered it.