Support for Tolkien in Vermont conference at UVM

The University of Vermont has financially supported an annual “Tolkien at UVM” conference for most of its ten-year history. My understanding is that this has not been a large sum, but has been sufficient to pay a speaker’s honorarium and travel fees, as well as to provide a simple breakfast and light refreshments through the day.

I was told UVM had found that the bequest which had been funding the event should not have been used for such a purpose (fair enough: these things happen), but that no effort was made by the university to find an alternative source of support or to provide any stop-gap funds even for the scheduled 2013 conference or its engaged keynote speaker.

Andy Peterson drafted the following letter to the editor of UVM’s student newspaper, The Cynic1, which our colleague Mark Kaminsky and I whole-heartedly signed.

1 2018-04-19: Link again updated — the fourth time(!) — to reflect latest URL.

Ð


Dear Editor,

We are writing to express our appreciation for both Chris Vaccaro, Senior Lecturer of English, and to The Tolkien Club at UVM for their outstanding work during the 10th annual Tolkien at UVM conference.

This year’s conference was organized in the face of financial adversity and administrative apathy.

With no funding from the college, the students of The Tolkien Club offered their time and money to make sure that those guests and lecturers in attendance were provided with coffee and donuts for breakfast and pizza for lunch. These students took it upon themselves to welcome the Tolkien academics who journeyed to Vermont for the conference. Their hospitality and generosity was much appreciated by all in attendance. We offer a tip of the hat to Anders Albertsson, Haley Markosian, Brenden Anderson, Braden Kaiser, Kerry Oster, and Corey Dawson for making us feel welcome. We look forward to seeing them again at next year’s conference.

Tolkien at UVM is the only conference of its type that is held annually on the East Coast. As such, it is an event that has been attended by such Tolkien luminaries as

and many other noted academics from other institutions including Middlebury, Rice, and Harvard.

These academics are a veritable “Who’s who” of Tolkien studies. They and many other independent scholars gather at this conference to share their thoughts and ideas about Tolkien’s legendarium. Of particular importance is the presentation of papers by students of Tolkien Studies under the scholarship of Chris Vaccaro. As Tolkien Studies is one of the only academic areas that allow for independent scholars to be actively involved in scholarship, this platform for their work should not only be encouraged but eagerly supported by the administration at UVM.

Chris Vaccaro should be congratulated for organizing the annual Tolkien at UVM conference for the past ten years. It is our hope that future conferences will be well-funded by the administration at the University of Vermont and that, once again, academics from all walks of life will gather to hear the thoughts of both the current and the next generation of Tolkien scholars.

Sincerely,

  • Andrew C. Peterson, ALB candidate, Harvard ’14
  • Mark Kaminsky, MIT/Lincoln Laboratory; ALB cum laude, Harvard ’10
  • Erik Mueller-Harder, Vermont Softworks; ALB cum laude, Harvard ’99

The books on the shelf

Over the last few days, Andy Peterson and Timothy Boyd have pointed me to two very different on-line articles about Tolkien films.

One was Ethan Gilsdorf’s interview over at Wired magazine with Philippa Boyens, one of the screenwriters for Peter Jackson’s three-part movie of The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings before that. (Boyens is of course not to be confused with Pauline Baynes, Tolkien’s friend and illustrator.)

The other article was “Concerning Christopher — An Essay on Tolkien’s Son’s Decision To Not Allow Further Cinematic Licensing of His Work”, an essay posted by “JPB” at TheOneRing.net.

JPB doesn’t break much new ground, but he does thoughtfully take us step-by-step to the conclusions that Christopher Tolkien “has the legal right to make the call, is a good choice to be the one making the call,” and “knows his father’s wishes better than anyone,” — before finally concluding:

When people get their Tolkien only from the films, or plays, or role-playing games, or other adaptations, they are missing the true value of his father’s work. Christopher has devoted much of his life to combating this problem…. That’s what I think Christopher is doing — fighting what he sees as “the long defeat” — wherever he can, not only publishing as much of his father’s work as he can, but preventing further erosion of his father’s written word by simply not allowing further adaptations to take place.1

It looks now as if our family will be going to see The Hobbit this weekend. This decision is not made lightly: in addition to the question of giving New Line Cinema $US 40, our nearest movie theaters are 35 minutes’ drive. And what will we see when we get there? Indeed, not The Hobbit that I’ve been reading since 1973. Boynes says that the book

has got a lot of issues as a story in terms of a film adaptation. Something that’s not film friendly, so to speak.2

She’s right: The Hobbit is not well suited to a film adaptation. Even of The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to Molly Waldron in 1955, “I think the book quite unsuitable for ‘dramatization’” — and it’s widely thought that the episodic nature of The Hobbit would work even less well as a modern film. In Boynes’s own words, though, the movie is a story that they wrote:

I think we managed to write a story where we have too few dwarves, not too many.3

3 Ethan Gilsdorf, “A Conversation with Philippa Boyens”, as above; emphasis added.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:

I would ask [adaptors] to make an effort of imagination sufficient to undersand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds … his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about…. The canons of narrative art in any medium cannot be wholly different; and the failure of poor films is often precisely in exaggeration, and in the intrusion of unwarranted matter owing to not perceiving where the core of the original lies.4

4 J.R.R. Tolkien, letter to Forrest J. Ackerman (probably in the spring of 1958), in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #210.

Though I would not go so far as to call The Lord of the Rings a “poor” film, Jackson and Boynes clearly do not perceive “where the core of the original lies”, and they deliberately alter “the story, in fact and significance” — which Tolkien objects to in the same letter. It seems, though, that Boynes thinks they know better:

There’s always going to be people who have imagined they understand how these things work and how storytelling works. But in the end, you have to accept that they don’t. You have to trust yourself and that’s what we did.5

5 Ethan Gilsdorf, “A Conversation with Philippa Boyens”, as above.

Near the end of that same 1958 letter, Tolkien wrote:

I do earnestly hope that in the assignment of actual speeches to the characters they will be represented as I have presented them: in style and sentiment. I should resent perversion of the characters … even more than the spoiling of the plot and scenery.6

6 J.R.R. Tolkien, letter to Forrest J. Ackerman (probably in the spring of 1958), as above.

Tolkien evidently felt strongly about this, for in 1955 he had written to Terence Tiller at the BBC — who was adapting The Lord of the Rings for radio broadcast — that he placed importance

on the point of not making Meriadoc or Pippin rustic (nor indeed any of the 144 gentry at the party)….7

7 J.R.R. Tolkien, letter to Terrence Tiller 1955-09-10, in Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, vol. 2, p. 12.

That, of course, is exactly what Boynes did do, of course — and though even David Bratman observed that

it didn’t even bother me that much that Jackson turned the Hobbits into Irish peasants, though it would have infuriated Tolkien…. It’s departures from the spirit that I’m worried about….8

8 David Bratman, “Summa Jacksonica: A Reply to Defenses of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Films, after St. Thomas Aquinas”, in Janet Brennan Croft, Tolkien on Film: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. The Mythopoeic Press, 2005.

it still rankles, given Tolkien’s thoughts on the subject. It remains to be seen (well, at least by those few of us who have not yet viewed it) how faithfully Jackson and Boynes put forth Tolkien’s characters in The Hobbit, but I see little reason for optimism. (Just how Tolkien would have reacted to the addition of new characters, of course, can only be imagined.)

Upon hearing that Jackson was splitting The Hobbit into two — and then into three — separate films, I had had some hope that he and Boynes would have done their homework used material such as Tolkien’s “Quest for Erebor” (presented in a shortened form in Unfinished Tales and in a different, fuller form in Douglas Anderson’s The Annotated Hobbit). According to The History of The Hobbit author John Rateliff, however, Jackson

had a very difficult task in that the movie rights extend only to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings…. He’s well aware that there’s a great deal more material set in that world, but contractually not allowed to use that material in the movies.9

9 John Rateliff, quoted in Rachel Nuwer, “The Tolkien Nerd’s Guide to The Hobbit”. The Smithsonian: 2013–01–03.

That Jackson is to some extent hindered from telling the “full” canonical Hobbit story by the Tolkien Estate’s insistence that the filmmakers be strictly limited to material found in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is ironic indeed. But it scarcely matters, for even when not limited contractually, Jackson and Boynes have hardly hewn closely to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. And this brings us right back around again to JPB’s essay on Christopher Tolkien. He writes:

It’s clear … that Christopher thinks his father’s work conveys something vital. He wants us to see what’s so inspiring about those words. I believe, that to his viewpoint, based on his experience over the decades, the more that work is filtered through the imperfect lens of adaptation, and becomes fodder for the grist-mill of popular culture, the further it gets from the purity of its source material.10

10 JPB, “Concerning Christopher”, as above.

Christopher Tolkien lamented:

Le fossé qui s’est creusé entre la beauté, le sérieux de l’œuvre, et ce qu’elle est devenue, tout cela me dépasse. Un tel degré de commercialisation réduit à rien la portée esthétique et philosophique de cette création.11

11 Christopher Tolkien, quoted in Raphaëlle Rérolle, “Tolkien, l’anneau de la discorde”. Le Monde, 2012–07–05.

Or, as translated in the Worldcrunch version:

The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing.12

12 Christopher Tolkien, quoted in Raphaëlle Rérolle, “My Father’s ‘Eviscerated’ Work: Son of Hobbit Scribe J.R.R. Tolkien Finally Speaks Out”. Worldcrunch, 2012–12–05.

Indeed, perhaps the “impact” has been reduced, thanks to the Jackson juggernaut’s effect on the mass consciousness. But the books (as Bratman quotes James M. Cain) are “right there, sitting on the shelf”. Bratman seems to disagree, but as long as we keep picking those books up and reading them — to our selves, our sweeties, our children, — the books will not be forgotten; nor will be their beauty, their seriousness, their aesthetics, or their philosophy. That’s my plan, whether the new movies are close to or far from Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

Rateliff (& Christopher Tolkien) at Marquette

A month ago today, John Rateliff (author of The History of The Hobbit) posted an interesting entry. He begins:

So, two months ago today I was at Marquette, talking to Dr. Machan’s Tolkien class there in the morning (“how to become a Tolkien Scholar”) and giving a talk at the Library in the afternoon about how The Hobbit manuscript wound up in Milwaukee, of all places, including an anecdotal account of what little is known about JRRT’s planned trip there. We had a good turn-out for the latter talk, which they recorded on video. And now they’ve gone through and put together a ten-minute representative excerpt from the Q-and-A session at the end.1

1John Rateliff, “Me, at Marquette”. Sacnoth’s Scriptorium, 2012-12-03.

Here is that ten-minute video. Particularly interesting are his references to Christopher Tolkien’s visit to Marquette in 1987.

Pagination cross-reference for The Lord of the Rings

My friend and colleague Andrew Peterson visited this last weekend to help with the initial work on my new pagination cross-reference for The Lord of the Rings. I had decided to include the following editions:

  1. Second edition of 1965 (Allen & Unwin 1966, Houghton Mifflin 1967): the three-volume hardcover edition for many years considered the “standard”.
  2. Ballantine paperbacks (Ballantine Books): I don’t know whether every Ballantine edition has the same pagination; certainly, the copies I have from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s all do; this is probably still the most common edition in the U.S.
  3. 1994 (Houghton Mifflin 1994): HarperCollins digitized the text for this single-volume 1994 edition illustrated by Alan Lee; though it’s not terribly common, John Rateliff has used it for LotR references in The History of the Hobbit.
  4. 50th Anniversary Edition “A” (HarperCollins & Houghton Mifflin 2004/5): The one-volume setting of the text edited by Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull and at least one subsequent three-volume set with continuous pagination (see A1 – A5 at Hammond & Scull’s Lord of the Rings Comparison). Arguably the closest thing we have to an authoritative edition today.
  5. 50th Anniversary Edition (B): The HarperCollins three-volume setting of Hammond & Scull’s edition (see B1 – B3 at Lord of the Rings Comparison). Essentially the same as the immediately preceding edition, although much less wieldy, somewhat less common, and perhaps slightly more accurate.

I’ve built a database which will contain one record per paragraph of The Lord of the Rings, containing the first few words of the paragraph, the paragraph number within the chapter and book (watch for a posting soon describing how this is assigned), and the page number on which the paragraph begins in each of the five editions listed above. In addition, there are spots to put the correlative page in Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (if there is one) and Words, Phrases and Passages in The Lord of the Rings (in Parma Eldalamberon XVII).

With help from my wife Karen, Andy and I exhaustively entered the relevant page numbers from all seven volumes for all of Book I, and have tweaked the procedures so further data entry should go somewhat more quickly.

Once we’ve entered the rest of the data, I’ll make everything available freely in spreadsheet form. I may also have the time to create an on-line pagination converter and companion iOS app.

With these tools, we’ll be able to easily find quotations in any of these editions of The Lord of the Rings and see at a glance whether there are relevant notes in Reader’s Companion and Words, Phrases and Passages. In addition, we’ll be able to begin using standardized paragraph numbers when we cite passages in LotR.

En route to Tolkien at UVM conference

Mark, Ray, Andy, I, and Marc setting out

Mark, Ray, Andy, I, and Marc setting out

The topic of this year’s Tolkien at UVM conference (the 9th annual) was “Tolkien’s Bestiary”; again, it was hosted and organized by UVM professor Chris Vaccaro.

We hosted former “Tolkien As Translator” classmates Mark Kaminsky, Andrew Peterson, and Ray Saxon — as well as our professor, Dr. Marc Zender.

As you can see from the conference poster, Andy, Ray, and Marc all gave presentations:

9th annual Tolkien at UVM conference

2012 Tolkien in Vermont conference poster

  • Martha Monsson: “Forth Eorlingas: Horses and Ponies in The Lord of the Rings
  • Andrew Peterson: “The Many Faces of Trolls in Middle-earth”
  • Matt Dickerson: “From Goblins to the Valaraukar: Scourges of Fire and Demons of Terror”
  • roundtable: “What To Do with Tolkien’s Orcs”
  • Jonathan Evans: “Tolkien’s Non-Allegorical Bestiary”
  • Ray Saxon: “Manwë’s Messengers: The Role of the Eagles in Middle-earth”
  • Marc Zender: “Mammoths, Mûmakil, and ‘The Old Fireside Rhyme of Oliphaunt’: Tolkien’s Contributions to the Medieval Bestiary Tradition”
  • Kristine Larsen: “A Creature of an Older World”: Tolkien and the “Mythology of the Prehistoric”
  • Gerry Blair: “A Boy and His Dog”
  • Jamie Williamson: “Tolkien and the Codification of Non-Human Beings”