Wandering Through the Public Domain #14

A regular exploration of public domain genre works available through Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Librivox.

By Colleen McMahon: I recently saw Tolkien, a fictionalized telling of the early life of that author. I enjoyed the movie, which was pretty standard biopic fare. It hits all the tropes — childhood trauma, close friends, inspiring mentors, war experiences, and young love, ending just as he began writing his most famous works.

The heart of the story is the friendship between Tolkien and four school friends, one of whom is Geoffrey Bache Smith. Smith was at Oxford with Tolkien, and both left the university to serve in the Great War. Smith died at the Somme in 1916. After the war, Tolkien worked with Smith’s mother to publish a book of his poetry. He also wrote the introduction to the book.

DB at Kalimac’s Corner wrote a post with more information about Smith, the book’s publication, and Smith’s actual poems, including some details that the movie changed for narrative purposes:

If you’ve seen the new bio-pic Tolkien, you’ll have noticed a fair amount of attention devoted to the poetry of Tolkien’s friend Geoffrey Bache Smith, one of his school fellowship the T.C.B.S., who died on duty in World War I in December 1916. There’s a scene in which Tolkien tries to persuade Smith’s mother to allow a collection of his poems to be published.

In fact, Mrs. Smith initiated the idea of the collection, asking Tolkien to gather up any poems of her son’s that he had copies of, and the book was actually published, with a brief introduction by Tolkien, in June 1918.

I had mentioned this here several months ago when I wrote about public domain Tolkien works, but as the film has raised interest in Smith and his poetry, I thought I’d mention it again. If you are curious about it, A Spring Harvest by Geoffrey Bache Smith (1894-1916) is on Project Gutenberg here.

The film’s lovely images of the spires of Oxford also reminded me of a poem that I read for a Librivox Short Poetry Collection last year. It’s from Great Poems of the World War — “The Gentlemen of Oxford” by Norah M. Holland:

The sunny streets of Oxford
Are lying still and bare.
No sound of voice or laughter
Rings through the golden air;
And, chiming from her belfry,
No longer Christchurch calls
The eager, boyish faces
To gather in her halls.

The colleges are empty.
Only the sun and wind
Make merry in the places
The lads have left behind.
But, when the trooping shadows
Have put the day to flight,
The Gentlemen of Oxford
Come homing through the night.

From France they come, and Flanders,
From Mons, and Marne and Aisne.
From Greece and from Gallipoli
They come to her again;
From the North Sea’s grey waters,
From many a grave unknown,
The Gentlemen of Oxford
Come back to claim their own.

The dark is full of laughter,
Boy laughter, glad and young.
They tell the old-time stories,
The old-time songs are sung;
They linger in her cloisters,
They throng her dewy meads,
Till Isis hears their calling
And laughs among her reeds.

But, when the east is whitening
To greet the rising sun,
And slowly, over Carfax,
The stars fade, one by one,
Then, when the dawn-wind whispers
Along the Isis shore,
The Gentlemen of Oxford
Must seek their graves once more.

Turning to more firmly genre material, several authors with recent birthdays turn up on Project Gutenberg. Ed Earl Repp (1901-1979) has one story, “The Day Time Stopped Moving”, originally published in Amazing Stories in 1940. It’s been recorded twice for Librivox.

Charles D. Hornig (1916-1999) published a zine in the 1930s called Fantasy Fan. As Cat Eldridge wrote in the birthday feature recently, Fantasy Fan included

…first publication of works by Bloch, Lovecraft, Smith, Howard and Derleth. It also had a LOC called ‘The Boiling Point’ which quickly became angry exchanges between several of the magazine’s regular contributors, including Ackerman, Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.

Project Gutenberg has 8 issues of Fantasy Fan from 1933-34. As far as I can tell, no one has recorded anything from these yet, but it might be a fun project to put together a set of dramatic readings from the angry letters columns — I’ll add it to my ever-growing list of “Librivox projects I want to get around to one day”!

Recent Librivox releases:

This is a short booklet on science fact commissioned by the U. S. Energy Research and Development Administration (Office of Public Affairs). It tells the story of the origins of nuclear physics in terms understandable to an audience with minimal technical background. What were the steps through history – the discoveries that built upon one another – from alchemy to chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, and quantum mechanics, that led to our understanding and harnessing nuclear energy? Asimov was a great writer of both science fact and fiction who wrote or edited more than 500 books, published in 9 of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification.

In any status-hungry culture, the level a man is assigned depends on what people think he is—not on what he is. And that, of course, means that only the deliberately phony has real status!

A collection of twenty stories featuring ghoulies, ghosties, long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night. Expect shivers up your spine, the stench of human flesh, and the occasional touch of wonder. You may also feel more jumpy tonight than usual. This collection has a LOT of H.P. Lovecraft, plus some Poe, M.R. James, and some more obscure authors.

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