The Staffordshire Hoard: the book

The Staffordshire Hoard: An Anglo-Saxon Treasure, being the 640-page official Research Report of the Society of Antiquaries. The book was supposed to ship at the end of September 2019, but it hasn’t been getting reviews or a “Look Inside” tab on Amazon. An article in The Sentinel (10th October) suggests why — the shipping date has slipped by over a month…

“This book will be available to buy from 1st November”

Given the dates, it seems to me most likely that the Hoard originated in a turbulent time (655-658) in Mercia. The years between the death of King Penda and early years of the rule of King Wulfhere and his restoration of Mercia. My own working theory would be that it was a purging of ‘tainted’ gold and similar items, by the new King Wulfhere early in his reign. Mostly a purging of items made for Peada and given from Northumbria by Oswiu, items which there had been petty disputes over, or which now was deemed too pagan or which had failed to bring good fortune in battle. By burying it in secret, at more or less the centre of the kingdom as it then was, the items would be deemed ‘cleansed’ and returned to the earth.


A Midsummer Tempest – a Midlands fantasy novel

The prolific American science-fiction author Poul Anderson also wrote historical fantasy novels. One was even set here in England and had a witty earth-mysteries / dark-faerie twist.

A Midsummer Tempest (1974) is an alternative history fantasy set in an England in which Shakespeare’s Fairy Folk are real and the English Civil Wars are partly an early-steampunk affair with airships. Better, I see it has scenes set in Buxton, the Welsh Marches of Shropshire and Stratford-upon-Avon. There’s even a passing mention of Stoke. A quality local(ish) fantasy novel that I had no idea existed. Who knew?

At just 200 pages it’s not one of those over-padded 1990s/2000s “thick as a brick” fantasy books, either. Nice.

It was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and the Nebula Award for Best Novel. It also won the Mythopoeic Award. And that was back in the 1970s, when awards in fantasy and SF still meant something.

Gawain walks

Stoke and Newcastle Ramblers are soon to do walks over more-or-less the ‘Gawain country’, which may interest those who have read my recent book on Gawain in North Staffordshire. I’m uncertain if they’re even aware of Sir Gawain but their relevant 2019/2020 walks include, in order of possible/likely Gawain travel…

Mow Cop(?)
Biddulph Moor(?)
Rushton Spencer
Out of Peak Forest
Ecton Hill and the Manifold Valley
Alton Common

Tolkien 2019 Programme and videos

The Birmingham Tolkien 2019 Programme, now online in PDF.

It was a roaring success, apparently, other than a slightly cramped venue. Sadly the event was too expensive for me, despite the relative proximity of Stoke-on-Trent to Birmingham. It would have cost at least £400 to do it properly. But it’s good to see the booklet online and giving an excellent summary with abstracts. A small selection of videos of the talks is also online at YouTube from The Tolkien Society, and others will probably filter out in due course.

For my own future reference, talk of interest to me at the event:

* “The Wright Stuff”, Ian Spittlehouse. The influence of Joseph Wright at Oxford. This is “the third in a series re-appraising the work of Joseph Wright and its influence on Tolkien”, so one assumes a book at some point. One might hope also for a substantial appendix that surveys all his other tutors.

* “The lost connections of Tolkien’s first map of The Lord of the Rings: Reconstruction”, Erik Mueller-Harder. Again, one of a three-part series, and one thus assumes these will become a book at some point if the rights can be obtained for the required images.

* “Rivers of flame and a great reek rising: volcanoes and the horror of the sublime in Tolkien’s Legendarium”, Sian Pehrsson. Not looking in the right places, judging by the abstract, but it sounds interesting.

* “Blessed trees? The White Trees of Gondor and the Royal Oak compared and contrasted”, Murray Smith. The author admits there’s no real evidence of a linkage, but I can see that it’s a perfectly valid comparison to make given the historical context and Tolkien’s politics.

* “Forests, Trees, Huorns, and Ents”, Johanne Tournier. Appears to be a broad survey of Tolkien’s close attention to trees in his life and work.

* “The Shape of Water in Tolkien’s Middle-earth”, Norbert Schurer. Judging by the abstract, ‘water’ is obviously too slippery and vast a topic to grasp all in one go. But the paper could be stimulating.

* Five or Six Ponies?, Jessica Yates. A small niggling problem in the text of The Lord of the Rings re: the journey to the Old Forest, and apparently now with three possible solutions. I like small puzzles like that, not least because they can often lead one on to bigger discoveries.

* A conference report mentions a study of Nodens and how Lovecraft might have gone on to work elements of the lore into his Legendarium, though I don’t spot it in the programme booklet.

I see that the book Tolkien’s Library has been published and is rather chunky. The free 10% sample for Kindle readers gives the introduction and the first 90 entries (and curiously, no table-of-contents). There appears to be no dating on the entries re: when read. I assume there’s a date-ordered “book X was read in year Z (or decade Y)” table at the back, so that one can glimpse something of his intellectual progression.

“It’s yummy up ‘ere”

Stoke and the district seems to be getting a bit of a sweet tooth. Not only are the Cherry Bakewells made at Trent Vale in Stoke

“In the last five years, Premier Foods has invested more than £22 million at its Stoke-on-Trent facility to improve the production process, with the introduction of more automation and technology.”

But we’ll soon have a big fancy chocolates factory too…

“Daniel’s Delights now employs 22 staff at the former Royal Doulton works in Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent. … The company has doubled its turnover to almost £2m in the past two years … The £440,000 in funding from Lloyds Bank will allow the business to buy its existing four-storey premises, along with the property next door to allow space for its expanding team.”

There are also quite a lot of edible nibbles being produced out at the old Cadbury’s milk chocolate factory, near Eccleshall. Now run as Knighton Foods. Apparently they produce a whole range of powdered yummies, of the Angel Delight packet type.

The Cherry Bakewells are on the telly tonight in a documentary, if you’re still a live BBC watcher. It’s not going to make up for years of the mainstream media slagging off Stoke, but it’s a start. Let’s just hope they don’t frame the factory footage with the usual stock footage of grotty Stoke back-alleys.