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Posts for Tag: Tolkien

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?

— Ð

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!

— Ð

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.

— Ð

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.

On reading “Here be cartographers”

    cartography     Tolkien

Nicholas Tam, occasional blogger at Ntuple Indemnity, wrote an immensely enjoyable post entitled “Here be cartographers: Reading the fantasy map” last … well, not “last” anything. Last April of 2011.

You know you’re reading a “long-form” blog, when it’s not until the seventh and eighth paragraphs that a writer tells you what he plans to write about:

So when we open up a novel to find a map, we can think of the map as an act of narration. But what kind of narration? Is it reliable narration or a deliberate misdirection? Is it omniscient knowledge, a complete (or strategically obscured) presentation of the world as the author knows it? Or is the map available to the characters in the text? If it is, then who drew up the map, and how did they have access to the information used to compose it? If it isn’t, then through what resources do the characters orient themselves in their own world? And finally, does anyone even bother to think about these questions before they sit down to place their woodlands and forts?

In the post that follows, I am going to informally sketch out a theory of fictional maps, which is to say that I will put up a lot of pretty pictures from novels and talk about why they are neat. There is likely some academic work on this somewhere — I would be astonished if there weren’t — but I’m not aware of any, and certainly nothing that has accounted for modern critical approaches to the history of cartography. Map history and the comparative study of commercial genre literature are niches within niches as it stands, and my aim is to entwine them together.

And so he does. Tam begin’s with “Thrór’s map” printed on the end paper of The Hobbit, observing that it can be thought of as a map drawn by Tolkien for The Hobbit, by Thrór for his heirs, by Bilbo Baggins (copying Thrór’s map), or by Tolkien (copying Bilbo‘s copy). And we’re down the rabbit hole.

With illustrations of different editions of Thrór’s map, and maps from The Princess Bride, Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels, Treasure Island, Star Wars, a Soviet Hobbit, the Oz books, Peter Jackson’s movies, the Duncton books, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, as well as pulling in references to Mercator, Cassini, Barbara Strachey’s Journeys of Frodo, Pratchett, and Carroll.

He concludes:

Mapmaking does not seem to permit carefully targeted ambiguity with the same flexibility as prose alone. With other forms of book illustration, one always gets the sense that the visual depictions could always be replaced or re-envisioned some other way. Maps exert a stronger form of authority: any improvements or revisions by readers or in future editions take place within the author’s borders as if they were immutable, objective truths.

It is a strange twist indeed that we are less liable to accept in fiction than in reality that cartography is a form of language: a medium for our perception of place, not to be confused with place itself. If there is a remedy for this, it may resemble the solution we developed for language, and take the form of self-conscious experimentation with maps as narrative voices — subjective, perspectival, and often unreliable. Literary writing deserves a literary map.

For anyone interested in cartography, fantasy writing, publishing, or semiotics (and, truthfully speaking, how many of us are not?), Tam’s essay is worth reading in full. Make sure you have a good half-hour for it; you’ll likely be thinking about it for days.