From slab to tablet

New Addenda and Corrigenda for the “now so big, it’s square-shaped!” new edition of the J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide.

If your letter box and/or wrists can’t quite cope with such hefty slabs, I see there are now Kindle ebook tablet editions of the 2017 edition. Although these don’t show up as links from Amazon’s hardback/boxed-set page. Here are the links to the ebooks:

* Volume 1: Chronology (£24)

* Volume 2: Reader’s Guide – PART 1 (£5)

* Volume 3: Reader’s Guide – PART 2 (£24)

So £53 for the lot. Not bad, and on the Kindle these are also keyword-searchable to boot (albeit individually, rather than all three at once — I know of no tool that will index across multiple .mobi files, even they were to be DRM free).

What is the difference between Reader’s Guide – PART 1 and PART 2? The publisher’s description is useless on that point. But thankfully there’s a view of the Contents page on Google Books:

Apparently the Index in Vol. 1 and Vol. 3 are both duplicates of each other, and presumably they refer to the pages of the print version.

Bombadil as guardian-spirit for LoTR

Ah, Bombadil. Whatever else he may be, he’s an excellent ‘door-guard’ guardian-spirit for The Lord of the Rings, preventing unworthy readers from entering the rest of the book — the readers who just can’t get their dull heads past the idea of what they see as merely a ‘jolly annoying singing garden-gnome, with a fish for a wife’.

Palmer’s shipwreck

Interesting. The Samuel Palmer painting “Robinson Crusoe …”, owned by and occasionally on display in the city museum at Stoke-on-Trent, is (like its subject-matter) a survivor of what was once a large and now-lost part of Palmer’s work…

   “Samuel Palmer is not usually thought of as a painter of the sea. However, his son A.H. Palmer included five coastal scenes amongst the 22 illustrations of his Life and Letters, and described one work, ‘Storm and Wreck on the North Coast of Cornwall’, as ‘one of the best of [his] sketches from nature’. The coast features in a number of the elaborate exhibition watercolours of the mid-century, such as ‘Robinson Crusoe guiding his Raft into the Creek’ (1850, City Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent) and ‘Farewell to Calypso’ (1848—49, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester). In addition to these, exhibition records show that in the 1850s and 1860s Palmer exhibited a considerable number of paintings which focus on the contemporary life of the British coast [mostly Cornwall and Devon]. In many cases we know these works only from their titles, because they sold very well, and disappeared into private collections straight after the exhibitions. Palmer evidently shared the preoccupations of other artists of the time: he made detailed studies of wave movements, and explored narrative subjects drawing on the life of the British fisherfolk, with all its anxieties and dangers. These works are from the middle period of Palmer’s life, which has been unduly neglected by art historians. The standard account of Palmer focuses on the visionary Shoreham years, which came to an end in the early 1830s, and the ‘vision recaptured’ in the Milton and Virgil illustrations of his last years, starting in 1865.”

— from Christiana Payne, “”Dreaming of the marriage of the land and sea”: Samuel Palmer and the coast” in Samuel Palmer Revisited, 2010.

I never knew that, despite having several books on Palmer on my shelves.

Stoke’s “Robinson Crusoe …” is not especially inspiring at first glance. I remember a girl I was looking at it with in the Museum, some years ago… she could obviously see nothing in it. ‘Just another example of pretty-pretty patriarchal/imperialist art’, seemed to be her implied political stance. But there are multiple resonances to be seen in it, for those who can discern the deeper cultural and literary contexts.

I see that the Ashmolean also has a fine Palmer painting of the Arthurian site of Tintagel in Cornwall. Since much of his sea work still seems to be in the Midlands/North West, I wonder if his surviving sea works might be brought together to make the nucleus of a cheery summer exhibition circa 2020, at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. Accompanied and bulked out by similar British sea paintings featuring or alluding to myth and legend?

There might also be a side-room that explains the spiritual concerns of the Staffordshire Hoard makers with the sea, and the symbolic resonances they gave it in their art and poetry. Perhaps paired with the other great English sea-poetry written written in North Staffordshire, later, by the Gawain-poet in poems such as Patience and Purity. That would link through to Tolkien (a Gawain-poet expert), who had formative experiences in Staffordshire while he was nurturing the foundational centre of his legendarium – the mythic mariner Earendel.

Perhaps such an exhibition could be co-organised with some large gallery in Cornwall, to share the costs.

“On J.R.R. Tolkien’s Roots in Gdansk” – now online

Newly online:

* Ryszard Derdzinski (Juliusz Zebrowski trans.), “On J.R.R. Tolkien’s Roots in Gdansk“, November 2017, PDF online March 2018.

Tolkien knew about the Polish line in his family tree, since he mentioned it in a major speech in 1955…

“I am not a German, though my surname is German … I have inherited with my surname nothing that originally belonged to it in language or culture, and after 200 years the ‘blood’ of Saxony and Poland is probably a negligible physical ingredient” — Tolkien in English and Welsh (1955).

The Saxony bit seems dubious now but is explained by a family tradition, as explained by Carpenter in the 1977 biography…

“Opinion differed among the Tolkiens as to why and when their ancestors had come to England. The more prosaic said it was in 1756 to escape the Prussian invasion of Saxony, where they had lands.”

A 1938 letter by Tolkien (Letters, No. 30) states…

“My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany.”

But according to the new article the paternal line can be traced back to many generations in “Kreuzburg, East Prussia” (aka Kreuzberg, now Slavskoye, Russia). Then in the nearby port city of Gdansk (which “was then Lithuanian”), from where they took ship to London as Lutheran emigres skilled in the furrier trade.

Map: Königsberg is marked with red and Kreuzburg was about 20 miles east of it, about under the “erg” bit of its name label.

According to various historical maps of the tribal migrations, and current thinking on the origins, Kreuzburg was ‘ground zero’ for the bulk of the Gothic tribes. Which at first glance may seem to explain Tolkien’s early interest in them. Either that, or the Polish dimension to his family tree later (circa 1939-55?) came as a wonderful surprise to him — that the Goths who had fascinated him since boyhood emerged into history from exactly the place where his father’s family had originated.

On the other hand, perhaps the surprise of Poland wasn’t found to be very wonderful. Or maybe he never really knew much about or trusted the Poland connection that he evidently knew about in the 1950s. Because he firmly rebuts a late claim that his ‘Saxony’ surname actually originated from Poland…

Letters, No. 349. From a letter to Mrs E. R. Ehrardt, 8th March 1973:

I do not understand why you should wish to associate my name with TOLK, [meaning] an interpreter or spokesman. This is a word of Slavonic origin that became adopted in Lithuanian (TULKAS), Finnish (TULKKI) and in the Scand. langs., and eventually right across N. Germany (linguistically Low German) and finally into Dutch (TOLK). It was never adopted in English.

Thus his boyhood interest in the Goths was not spurred by knowing early on that his paternal family-tree went back to Kreuzburg. This is confirmed by his 1955 letter to Auden stating that his discovery of both Gothic and Finnish were accidents which happened while he was browsing through books out of sheer curiosity…

“I learned Anglo-Saxon at school [in Birmingham] (also Gothic, but that was an accident quite unconnected with the curriculum … Most important, perhaps, after Gothic was the discovery in Exeter College library, when I was supposed to be reading for Honour Mods, of a Finnish Grammar. It was like discovering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavour never tasted before. … [the fascination with it proved] nearly disastrously as I came very near having my exhibition [funding] taken off me if not being sent down. Say 1912 to 1913 [for the first interest in Finnish].” — Letters, No. 163.

The Gothic book had been purchased in error by a schoolmate who thought it might help him with his Bible studies, circa 1908-09. It didn’t help, and thus Tolkien — realising what it was — took the book off his hands for a modest sum. One imagines that the first word the tree-loving Tolkien looked up in it was “Tree”. He would have found that in Gothic this was bagyms, and that “the Germanic congates vary in their final syllable”. Old Swedish having Bagyn. Baggins, if you like.

The sounds of Lindisfarne

Chris Watson, In St Cuthbert’s Time (2013), a four-track album of mixed field-recordings that’s now free on YouTube. It can also be purchased as a high-quality FLAC download or had via Amazon Music for £7.

“The Sounds of Lindisfarne and St. Cuthbert. To celebrate the exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels at Durham Cathedral, award–winning wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson has researched and recreated the sonic environment of the Holy Island as it might have been experienced by St. Cuthbert (c. 634 – 687 A.D.).”

Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert is also a fascinating insight into life in a wild Britain that was still only nominally Christian, and in which the peasants would still openly jeer at the misfortunes of the monks and curse them for taking away the old pagan ways of their ancestors. In fact, it’s quite a page-turner in its pre-PC 1955 Penguin translation (not the best, apparently, but the most readable). Who knew Bede could be fun to read?