2014 Tolkien Society Awards

The winners of the inaugural Tolkien Society Awards were announced at the Tolkien Society’s Annual Dinner in Hay-on-Wye, UK on April 11.

Best Article
John Garth, ”Tolkien and the boy who didn’t believe in fairies”

Best Artwork
Jenny Dolfen, “Eärendil the Mariner“

Best Book
Paul Simpson and Brian Robb, Middle-Earth Envisioned

Best Novel
J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Fall of Arthur

Best Website
Emil Johansson, LOTR Project

Outstanding Contribution Award
Christopher Tolkien

Commenting on her award, artist Jenny Dolfen said, “I was delighted to hear that my watercolour piece ‘Eärendil’ had been voted Best Tolkien Artwork of 2013 by the wonderful people of the Tolkien Society. To see that people who are so deeply into Tolkien’s works, ideas and philosophies see the same sort of connection in one of my paintings is wonderful, and the greatest support that any artist can wish for – thank you!”

Best Website winner Emil Johansson said, “It was a huge honor to receive the TS award and I was very humbled by the recognition. Knowing that people enjoy what I do is what keeps me going.”

[From the press release.]

Tolkien’s Beowulf Translation Hits Stores in May

packshotOn May 22 HarperCollins will publish Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien. The existence of the translation has been known for decades and Tolkien’s 1936 lecture “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” revolutionized the academic study of the Old English poem, but this will be the first time the public had had an opportunity to read Tolkien’s version of the classic.

The new book is edited by Christopher Tolkien, who comments:

The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work, very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication. This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to form also a commentary on the translation in this book.

From his creative attention to detail in these lectures there arises a sense of the immediacy and clarity of his vision. It is as if he entered into the imagined past: standing beside Beowulf and his men shaking out their mail-shirts as they beached their ship on the coast of Denmark, listening to the rising anger of Beowulf at the taunting of Unferth, or looking up in amazement at Grendel’s terrible hand set under the roof of Heorot.

But the commentary in this book includes also much from those lectures in which, while always anchored in the text, he expressed his wider perceptions. He looks closely at the dragon that would slay Beowulf “snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed when he discovers the theft of the cup”; but he rebuts the notion that this is “a mere treasure story”, “just another dragon tale”. He turns to the lines that tell of the burying of the golden things long ago, and observes that it is “the feeling for the treasure itself, this sad history” that raises it to another level. “The whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real. The ‘treasure’ is not just some lucky wealth that will enable the finder to have a good time, or marry the princess. It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.”

Sellic spell, a “marvellous tale”, is a story written by Tolkien suggesting what might have been the form and style of an Old English folk-tale of Beowulf, in which there was no association with the “historical legends” of the Northern kingdoms.

John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War, writing in The Guardian, notes that a decade ago scholar Michael Drout tried to get the poem published, but the plan fell through. Fortunately, the text at last has been prized from the vaults of the Bodleian.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]

Get Ready To Read Tolkien’s “The Fall of Arthur”

British readers are reminded by Tolkien Society chairman Shaun Gunner that a brand new J.R.R. Tolkien epic, The Fall of Arthur, will be released in that country on May 23. (The book was released in the U.S. yesterday.)

Gunner comments:

We are all used to seeing Tolkien’s stories set in Middle-earth, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen Tolkien write about legendary Britain. We know Tolkien loved the powerful alliterative verse of Anglo-Saxon epics so Tolkien’s own re-imagining of Arthur’s downfall in this format will make for an interesting read. This is fundamentally important in terms of considering Tolkien’s academic career and his wider creative process, but it will also be fascinating to see how The Fall of Arthur – written before The Hobbit – may have parallels in Tolkien’s other stories.

It is always important when a new book is published by such a well-known and much-loved author, but this is particularly special due to the poetic format and subject matter. I am in no doubt that we will see the same skill and creativity on display in The Fall of Arthur as in Tolkien’s other works – this book will be a permanent feature of the Arthurian canon for centuries to come and will add to Tolkien’s own reputation as one of the most brilliant writers this country has ever produced.

HarperCollins says Tolkien set aside this work to write The Hobbit. It was left untouched for 80 years:

The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere’s infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred’s rebels and foreign mercenaries.

Christopher Tolkien edited the manuscript and wrote three essays for the book, (1) about the literary world of King Arthur, (2) the deeper meaning of the verses, and (3) his father’s work to bring it to a finished form.

Hobbit Twacks!

The LOTR geneology project has created a visual aid for moviegoers…

Here are some choice links to stories inspired by the imminent release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

(1) If you’re curious about the movie’s score, listen to the closing theme, ”Song of the Lonely Mountain” by Neil Finn.

(2) Christopher Tolkien’s first-ever press interview, published in Le Monde on July 9, is available online. Christopher is not a Peter Jackson enthusiast:

Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25,” Christopher says regretfully. “And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”

This divorce has been systematically driven by the logic of Hollywood. “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. “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. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”

(3) I’m betting the Tolkien estate wishes it could inflict on Jackson the same fate a court just inflicted on Global Asylum’s faux Hobbit film:

A U.S. District Court in California granted a temporary restraining order on Monday preventing a parody of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” from going on sale three days before Peter Jackson’s movie opens in theaters nationwide.

Global Asylum, a film production company that makes parodies of blockbuster films, such as “Transmorphers” in place of ‘Transformers,” has made a parody of “The Hobbit” titled “Age of the Hobbits.” It was set to go on sale on DVD, Blu-Ray and online platforms December 11.

(4) Scholars interested in The Hobbit know all roads lead to… Milwaukee? Well, if not all roads, surely a superhighway or two. That’s home to Marquette University, where Christopher Tolkien deposited many of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original manuscripts:

Yes, Tolkien fans: the stories belong to the ages, but the manuscripts belong to Marquette University. It has been so since 1957, thanks to a very smart librarian, William Ready, who had been hired the year before to help fill a then-new Memorial Library. He approached the not-yet-famous Professor Tolkien through a British rare-book seller, struck a deal for less than $5,000, and in 1957 and 1958 the boxes from Oxford arrived: “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” in longhand drafts, typewritten manuscripts and page proofs, with revisions and rejected fragments, along with minor and then-unpublished texts and other papers. After the professor died in 1973, his son Christopher sent more papers still, until Marquette came to hold the vast machinery of Middle-earth in all its original parts, along with thousands of pages of articles, commentary and fan fiction — the vast forests and foothills of secondary scholarship now girding Mount Tolkien.

[Thanks for these links goes out to David Klaus, Martin Morse Wooster and Andrew Porter.]

Tolkien’s Fall of Arthur Coming in 2013

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur, a never-before-published poem over 200 pages in length, will be released by HarperCollins in May 2013.

HarperCollins says Tolkien set aside this work to write The Hobbit and it was left untouched for 80 years:

The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere’s infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred’s rebels and foreign mercenaries.

Christopher Tolkien edited the manuscript and wrote three essays for the book, (1) about the literary world of King Arthur, (2) the deeper meaning of the verses, and (3) his father’s work to bring it to a finished form.

The poem’s opening lines appeared in The Guardian:

Arthur eastward in arms purposed
his war to wage on the wild marches,
over seas sailing to Saxon lands,
from the Roman realm ruin defending.
Thus the tides of time to turn backward
and the heathen to humble, his hope urged him,
that with harrying ships they should hunt no more
on the shining shores and shallow waters
of South Britain, booty seeking.

John Lundberg observes how different this verse form is from that of 15th century poet by Thomas Malory in his piece for Huffpost Arts & Culture:

Tolkien, who passed away in 1973, took the Arthurian legends so far back, in fact, that he passed over hundreds of years wherein blank verse was the standard form of English epic poetry. That means his new poem won’t feature the rhythms you’d recognize from most English language epics, like translations of Dante’s The Divine Comedy … Tolkien instead embraced the Old English tradition of alliterative verse — the language of Beowulf and much of the medieval poetry he loved.

The stock question at times like this, against all sense, is whether Tolkien’s latest posthumous work will live up to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, or even “Leaf by Niggle.” Despite what’s known about Tolkien’s procrastination and perfectionism, I believe it speaks for itself that any manuscript he left in the drawer is one he knew he was capable of improving if he chose to invest the effort. So Tolkien fans should be delighted to get a peek at The Fall of Arthur – which was by no means certain to happen – and be pleased if it is readable and appealing.

Christopher Tolkien on Sigurd and Gudrún

The Guardian has interviewed Christopher Tolkien, now 84 and living in France, on The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, the new book by the late J.R.R. Tolkien which he prepared for publication:

Responding via fax to a series of questions about The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, published for the first time today, Christopher Tolkien expressed the hope that it would show a different side to the author of the much-loved classic The Lord of the Rings….

“My hope is that some of those who appreciate and admire the works of my father will find it illuminating in respect of Old Norse poetry in general, in his own treatment of the fierce, passionate and mysterious legend, and in this further and little known aspect of him as both philologist and poet. Above all I hope they will take pleasure in this poetry.”

Comments by Andrew Porter and others follow the article.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]