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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Reading Group meeting 10/12/11


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

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7:11 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

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7:11 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Our last meeting before Christmas turned into a real hobbit feast – the usual biscuits were supplemented with copious amounts of mince pies of all kinds, and some seasonal Frosted Fancies. In the absence of a firkin of Old Winyards though, we made do with tea and coffee!

In discussion about what to read after the Letters, we decided on The Notion Club Papers. They are not well-known, but are a fascinating addition to the Tolkien canon – well worth investigating. They are included in Vol. 9 of the Histories of Middle-earth: ‘Sauron Defeated’. And this can be obtained as a single paperback.

Our reading for this session was from letter 261 to Letter 300.

We began our afternoon’s deliberations with Pat, Angela and Chris all remarking on the fact that Tolkien now seemed to be getting fed up with the amount of ‘fan mail’ he was getting. As Angela noted, this was in part due to his telephone number in Oxford remaining in the local directory rather than being ex-directory. Julie suggested that in the 60s the Trekky generation were treating Tolkien in the same way as the stars of Star Trek. The cross-over between the two worlds was reaclled – ‘Mr. Spock’ [Leonard Nimoy] singing a song called ‘Bilbo Baggins’ (badly!) Julie also noticed that Tolkien seemed astonished by a fan letter from Iris Murdoch. Mike noted that in 292 he wanted fan-fic stopped.

We noted that he was also anxious about copyright problems which put him to the inconvenience of having to revise some bits of LotR in order to be able to claim copyright over the text in USA.

Pat remarked that Tolkien objected to the name of the Tolkien Society of America in Letter 276, and turned down the invitation to become a member. I suggested this would have made discussion impossible, while Ian thought it was clearly impractical because of the distance [no email in the 60s!]

Mike observed that his letters were often full of truly witty put-downs, better often than Oscar Wilde! Laura, on the other hand, noted that Tolkien had been hurt by belittling comments about his home. Ian commented that Tolkien didn’t believe it was necessary for his home to reflect him.

Mike then remarked that there seemed to be a brutal honesty between Auden and Tolkien that shows up in some of Tolkien’s letters to Auden, especially in his apology to Auden for recent ‘tartness’, but that this must indicate a strong bond between them that allowed them to respond to one another like this.

Laura commented that in 268 Tolkien answers a letter about Shadowfax accompanying Gandalf into the West at some length and without a sense of dismissal.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Pat then asked why Tolkien described CS Lewis’s preference for being read to as a ‘peculiarity’. Vicky commented that it is very nice to be read to, while Mike suggested that Lewis was drawing out Tolkien’s ideas. Ian proposed that when reading aloud you have to work at getting your message across to the ‘audience’, and this was especially relevant to Tolkien, who habitually spoke too fast. Angela remarked that even when one is alone it can be helpful to read your own work aloud, and Ian said that when he was reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he used to read it aloud to himself, and that way not only did the Middle English become more understandable, but the flow of the story could be kept up better than when reading silently, because when silent reading the temptation can be to reread interesting or difficult passages.

I was misreading a sentence in letter 280 when Tolkien refers to the response of academic colleagues to his work on SGGK and Pearl: ‘Some … have their pistols loose in their holsters.’ I wondered why Tolkien would use a reference to popular Westerns. Laura and Ian pointed out that this had nothing to do with gunslingers in Westerns, and everything to do with Tolkien experiences as an officer in WW1 – Ian thought it was an image of officers loosening their pistols ready to leap out of trenches and into battle!

Pat noted that in 281 Tolkien defines his generation as one not given to the use of Christian names among friends and colleagues. Mike noted in 270, and Ian in 288 that Tolkien distinguishes degrees of formality according to the person addressed.

Vicky was surprised at Tolkien opinion of Robert Graves in 267when he described Graves as having ‘a bonnet full of bees’… Must have looked like Siegfried/Sigurd in his youth, but and Ass), and Ian thought that he was being humorous.

Julie was surprised that Tolkien liked Azimov.

Pat, picking up her theme of Tolkien and money, noted that after all the letter pleading impoverishment Tolkien is prepared in 288 to put up the money for a bronze bust of himself rather than settling for a plaster one. Ian took this to be a sign of his concern with his ongoing image and its physical fragility.

Ian picked up Tolkien’s careful delineation of matters to do with the name ‘Erech’ in 297 (a draft letter), and suggested that it still allows us scope for linking names and matters in LotR back to possible sources, while avoiding the overconfidence of the writer of the infamous newspaper article ‘Oo those awful orcs!’ who pronounced on matters as if he knew the answers. Laura picked up Tolkien’s careful distinction between Dwarfs and Dwarves and the origins of the dwarf names.

In a change of topic, Angela remarked on the influence of Tolkien’s mother an aunt on his education, especially noting the importance of then as strong women as opposed to the situation Edith his wife found herself in. A recent biography of Tolkien draws attention to her discontent. Ian noted that Tolkien’s mother was an independent character once widowed.

Angela then went on to note Tolkien’s comparison of himself and Rayner Unwin in terms of Gondor and Rohan with himself in the subordinate situation of Rohan. Laura wondered if this just fitted with his love of horses.

Angela continued the animal theme with her notice in 300 of the story of the man who said he saw a dragon on the Mount of Olives. The story was told to Tolkien at second hand and no explanation was ever forthcoming. I thought some connection with the dragon = Satan might underlie the story, but such conjecture is unresolvable.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Mike noted that in 298 CSL is credited with the re-establishment of the Inklings, and he particularly liked clubs and gangs, but defined this as a vice in the Screwtape Letters. Angela remarked that he was the driving force for the Inklings the sceond time round.

Chris looked at 277 in order to explore the infamous American emus – the images used on the cover of the Ballantine edition of The Hobbit. Tolkien expressed his dislike to the publishers representative only to be told that the illustrator had not had time to read the book! Ian noted that Tolkien had become gradually more pragmatic about matters of publication, but condemns what he doesn’t like. Kathleen observed that in the 50s and 60s American paperback often had covers with weird illustrations quite unrelated to the actual story.

Having run out of time again we only have to read to the end of the letters now for our January meeting. Then we shall begin The Notion Club Papers.

Apologies for the messy start to the blog report resulting in 2 deletions!

7:16 AM  
Blogger Gildor said...

This is not very Tolkien, but over the Christmas break I have been reading the latest Pratchett ("Snuff"). In this one, he recognises that goblins are "human" too. Commander Vimes, the honest cop, is on holiday when he finds himself caught up in a nasty case of anti-goblin genocide. This made me re-think the situation post-downfall of Sauron, when under the rule of King Elessar it was considered ok for military detachments to go around wiping out surviving colonies of orcs and goblins. Tolkien reallly does seem to have been lacking when it came to the matter of the lower hominids post-Sauron.

4:05 PM  

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