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Donald Swann

    music     Middle-earth     Tolkien

Though it may seem a slight departure from the usual theme here at Vermont Softworks, I’d like to take a moment to remember Donald Swann, for today is his birthday.

Some readers will recognize him as the composer and tenor of the English comedic duo Flanders and Swann. Their best-known songs are probably “I’m a g-nu,” “The hippopotamus song,” and “Madeira M’Dear?” — though I have to say my favorites may be “The reluctant cannibal” and “Misalliance.”

In fact, Swann was a serious and prolific composer, producing not only nearly 2,000 songs, but choral works, musicals, operas, and instrumental works as well.

One particularly near and dear to my heart is his song cycle, The Road Goes Ever On, with poems of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien approved highly of Swann’s music. (A good transfer of the original LP with Swann on piano and William Elvin, tenor, can be found on YouTube here — but you’ll probably want to try to hide the video of the guy smoking while dubbing the LP.)

Just over a week ago — on Bilbo’s and Frodo’s birthday, in fact — Richard G. Leonberger gave a lecture/recital at the Marion E. Wade Center. The lecture is quite accessible, and presents a good bit of information about the history of the cycle up through the current year. Oh, anyone who is interested in Elvish lyric diction should pay close attention about 25 minutes in.

The agreeable performance (sadly miked from the audience) begins at the 41-minute mark. Schubert, anyone?

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The Tolkien Art Index

    Tolkien     Middle-earth     art

The Tolkien Art Index

The Tolkien Art Index is live! 463 pieces of art by J.R.R. Tolkien are listed — essentially, everything that has been published that is even tangentially related to Middle-earth.

At this point, there are titles, descriptions, notes, tags, dates, cross-references — essentially everything except thumbnail versions of the images themselves. These are ready to add, but I must first secure permission to post them, and I have only just now initiated that process — so we’ll need to be patient!

I hope this will be of use to the Tolkien research community. Please do let me know if anything seems awry!

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Announcing: The Tolkien Art Index

    Tolkien     Middle-earth     art

Purpose and Scope

The ultimate goal of this index is to list all of the published artwork of J.R.R. Tolkien: drawings, paintings, maps, sketches, doodles — everything, in fact, that might be construed as art other than items consisting purely of Tengwar or Cirth writing. For these, see the excellent Mellonath Daeron Index of Tengwa Specimina (DTS) and Index of Certh Specimina (DCS), respectively.

Such an index should ease scholarly discourse and provide an unambiguous shorthand for referring to Tolkien’s artwork.

Currently, the index comprises only art related to Middle-earth in particular and Arda in general. Other Tolkienian art — whether fantastic or firmly grounded in the primary world — will ultimately be added; however, other projects are currently of higher priority.

The index should be online and available at http://tai.vermontsoftworks.com/ sometime in July.

Organization

There is no perfect order in which to list these works. Perhaps the most obvious possibility is date of composition; unfortunately, for most of Tolkien’s artwork we would be forced into educated speculation as to the exact date — and often (especially in the case of maps), composition of one work continued for months or years.

Categorizing works (as “maps,” “sketches,” “elevations,” and so forth) is also a mechanism fraught with gray areas of forced interpretation and decision-making: is a bird’s-eye view of the Falls of Rauros a map? A sketch? And what of the drawings of Farmer Cotton’s house? And when the index is expanded to include all of Tolkien’s art, would it really make sense to include his sketches of real-world houses in the same categories?

Another possibility would be to organize items by their geographic location, but then the question of scale becomes problematic: if we create a classification for “Mordor” and place sketches of Mt. Doom and Barad-dûr and Shelob’s lair in it, then where should we place a map that includes Mordor, Rohan, and Gondor?

At the end, it seemed best to follow the time-honored practice of organization by accession number; that is, more or less, assigning each item a unique number as we first come to it. Improving a bit on such a “system,” we can imagine a world in which the TAI was created in the early twentieth century, with new artwork added to it as it was published. And this, indeed, is what we’ve tried to recreate, with the first items listed in the index detailing the artwork published in the first edition of The Hobbit from 1937, and the last items cataloguing material published for the first time in The Art of The Lord of the Rings in 2015.

The cardinal rule of such a system is that the numbering will never change, so as new items are added to the index — whether because they are published for the first time or because they were not originally within the scope of the index — they will simply be added to the end. As with so much else, this too is a compromise; however, it does mean that everyone may simply and safely refer to (for example) TAI #67 and it will in perpetuity unambiguously refer to the watercolor “Nargothrond” that appeared as figure #33 in Pictures of J.R.R. Tolkien, as figure #54 in The Art of The Hobbit, and as the April feature in the 1979 Silmarillion Desk Calendar — and which was first published as the May feature in the Allen & Unwin 1978 Silmarillion Calendar.

Acknowledgements

For listing the details of publication, most information came from the published items themselves, in our library at Vermont Softworks (sc., my bookshelf). For those items which we do not own, however, invaluable help came from Wayne G. Hammond and Douglas A. Anderson’s 1995 J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography and from The Compleat Gyde to Tolkien Calendars.

Images

Obviously, this listing will be far more useful if it includes images of the works in question. Users will be able to tell at a glance which draft of Thror’s map or which of the various Nargothrond illustrations is being referred to. I am applying to the pertinent librarians at the Marquette and Bodleian libraries for permission to include small thumbnails with each entry, such as those shown in the sample image here. These thumbnail images are ready to be uploaded to the server once we have received the Estate’s approval; until then, no images will be shown. Under no circumstances will full-sized images be available.

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2017-08-05 update: Adjusted the example TAI number now that I’ve frozen the numbering. Corrected “the Tolkien Estate” to the Bodleian and Marquette librarians, regarding permissions. Updated the example image.

“Tolkien Anniversaries” symposium before the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo)

    cartography     conferences     maps     Middle-earth

I’ll be reworking the paper I gave a few weeks ago at Tolkien in Vermont at Brad Eden’s “Tolkien Anniversaries” symposium, held the day before the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University.

“The river Swanfleet: A journey from the Misty Mountains to flat fenlands and half-way back again”; or, “How the discovery of Tolkien’s annotated map of Middle-earth by Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford extricates Pauline Baynes’s cartographic reputation from the marsh of Nîn-in-Eilph

Just as Christopher Tolkien’s exacting work in The History of Middle-earth has provided both the basis for and the standard with which we measure research into his father’s Middle-earthly subcreation, so too have his maps of the west of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age long served as both the canonical representation of Middle-earth and the gauge with which we have measured all subsequent Media-terrestrial cartography.

The recent discovery of the map that J.R.R. Tolkien himself annotated for Pauline Baynes’s reference in producing her 1970 poster map, however, now provides a welcome opportunity to explore some issues that J.R.R. Tolkien said “give some trouble,” and which Christopher Tolkien agreed have “bedevilled … representation on the maps.” Of particular interest is the mysterious relationship of “Swanfleet” to the fens of Nîn-in-Eilph and the Glanduin River, about which Christopher Tolkien, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, and Karen Wynn Fonstad have all implicitly or explictly concluded that Baynes “misunderstood.”

This paper demonstrates that Baynes had it right all along, and that this is a rare case where Christopher Tolkien went astray, taking Hammond, Scull, and Fonstad with him. Along the way, we will also make brief excursions to several little-known rivers in Gondor and through the famed vineyards of Dorwinion.

The full list of paper titles, scholars, and abstracts may be found in this PDF.

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