Saturday, March 30, 2013

out of the loop

The only professional-category Hugo nominees I'm familiar with are the movies of The Hobbit and The Hunger Games, both of which I thought rather lame. I haven't even seen The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature. I feel deeply ashamed, or out of it, which may be the same thing.

Friday, March 29, 2013

many days

since I've last posted here.

1. Several days of deep intensive library research mode, the followup to my last post on the bibliography I was compiling. This involved trolling in various other databases for supplementary material, followed by mad dashes around to various local academic libraries in search of verification for problematic items. Insert here long amusing account of quaint difficulties of access to these libraries, from visitor registration to time limits on the computers to alien parking meters.

2. B's brother Righteous was having a Big Round Number birthday, and invited friends and family over to celebrate. We were amused by the amount of meat served on the munchies table, considering that he and many of the guests are Catholics and it was a Friday in Lent. The things wrapped in bacon seemed to be considered as having some sort of waiver, because what was wrapped inside the bacon was shrimp, and they don't count. Whether the shrimp actually cancels out the bacon, though ...

3. Quick segue to my own religion, and an early seder celebrated by Lisa DH's large family out on the coast, who've had me as their guest for many years now. Grrrreat matzo ball soup, lots of lamb, lots of wine. Newer and bigger house, and a good thing too as there were 19 of us. Next year, Jenna (our hostess) says, we'll start earlier, so it doesn't get dark, and eat out in the large side yard. And in the meantime, I said, next fall she should have a sukkah.

4. Driving trip to LA. Reason: maintenance shutdown at B's workplace gives her the rare chance of a few days off. Stayed with Dr. G, daughter and dog. Tutored daughter on state capital quiz for school. Tutored dog on bringing the ball back so we could throw it again. Also visited Sherwood Smith for scones, Sarah Beach for deli sandwiches at Canter's (plus impromptu driving tour of downtown Hollywood), Lynnsky for (in my case unearned) senior discounts at Souplantation, and others for others. Gave aforementioned daughter an autographed Smith novel; gave Dr. G FJM's book on fantasy rhetoric which, as I'd guessed, she didn't already have. Visited LA zoo which had meerkats, but not enough big cats and an entire dearth of penguins. Visited large used bookstore, previously unknown to me, which had a cat of the usual size.

5. Today is Good Friday, and Pippin, rather to his own surprise, is fasting. What has converted him to catholicism? In another hour, he is going in to the vet to have his teeth cleaned. Off now to prepare for persuading him that that's going to happen.

6. Imminent: a. Huge collection of journal proofreading that piled up while I was gone. b. Concert review to be tucked in before c. Family Easter celebration. d. and e. and f. ...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

cut and paste

Some years ago now, I was flying a computer terminal at a library for a living, when I noticed my colleague at the next desk trying to design a poster on hers. She had the text all laid out nicely, and a space left for an illustration. But every time she pasted the illustration in, even though it was the correct size for the space, it pushed the text all wonky and out of alignment.

After she tried this several times, I suggested that she print the poster master out without the illustration, and then paste the illo in the old-fashioned way, physically with scissors and glue. That solved the problem.

I thought of that incident when faced with the bibliography I'm now assigned to compile. My colleague who did the basic searching in professional databases sent me the raw results in no particular order, which is what I'd asked for, since there was no point in asking her to put them in final alphabetized order. It's easier for me to verify the results and catch missing items if they're in classified order, e.g. all the papers from one theme anthology or from one journal together, so I'd have to re-sort them anyway.

So I get the results: a Word file with 230 Web database entries pasted in. I need to sort them into uncertain kinds and an unknown number (it turned out to be 16) of categories, in particular order within each. I could do this by opening up a random number of blank Word documents and cut and paste all day, but that much repetition of Ctrl-C and Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V and Alt-Tab would be wearisome, not even counting the easy possibility of accidentally cutting without pasting and losing an item, and not finding this out until I count them all up again on finishing, and then pawing through the saved copy to look for what's missing.

No. It was much easier to do this the old-fashioned way, physically. I printed out the whole shebang. I made a big open space on the kitchen table. (My desk? Don't be ridiculous. Even if I cleaned everything off, which isn't going to happen, there's not enough room.) I cut the entries all up with scissors, put them into piles, regrouped and subdivided the piles, laid each related group out in order and then laid down rows of Scotch tape to fasten them together. This gave me a series of what looked like paper-and-tape Venetian blinds. I carefully inserted these delicate objects into a manila folder, I took them to Kinko's, and I photocopied them all onto fresh, uncut paper.

And there's my working bibliography, all sorted out and ready for notations, corrections, insertions, and any other editing. After which I'll type it all up afresh. Much easier this way.

Friday, March 15, 2013

saved by the strike

I can hardly believe my luck, or the bizarre and distressful way it's being communicated to me. The musicians of the San Francisco Symphony have gone on strike, and, as deadlines pass, one by one, the performances of this week's concert program are being canceled.

My editors have now thrown in the towel on coverage of the week's program altogether. This means that I will not have to review Mahler's Ninth Symphony after all. "You know I'm not a Mahler fan, don't you?" I told my editor when he'd assigned the program to me, two weeks ago. "But I've covered difficult music before, so OK."

In the interim, I've actually been listening to various recordings of the work, and studying the score and musicological analyses. I'd gotten a handle on its structure, which was something; and I was actually bracing myself to finding out if MTT could make any coherent sense out of its emotive mess, or create any moments which touch my soul or move my heart, as composers like Brahms or Bruckner or Sibelius do routinely. Some conductors, I find, make Mahler's Adagio finale sound like Bruckner, which helps, a little; others emphatically don't.

Now I won't have to know; I won't have to sit through this garrulous, crapacious thing again; and I won't have to find a sympathetic and understanding way to write about it. You go, strikers.

(As for the strike issues themselves, anyone minded to say that musicians earning $150,000 a year are coddled and pampered whiners should think of how much you'd sound like the cretins who said the same thing about schoolteachers and their munificent three-month vacations. Do you know how much the symphony administrator makes? Do you know how much the conductor makes? He's a great conductor, to be sure, but he'd be nothing without great musicians. Do you know how much work beyond paid rehearsal time it takes to keep up this level of proficiency, and how expensive worthy instruments are to purchase, and how much the necessary schooling cost? Do you know how much, beyond money, a supportive working environment is worth to any employee of any organization? SFS's timpanist is leaving, a critical blow to the orchestra's unity, because he's sick and tired of having to fight management for the simple requirement of practice space in the hall - a timpanist, unlike a violinist, cannot tuck his instrument under his arm and go practice any old where. Workers don't want to strike; they lose pay and self-respect when they do; so, if they do, they're trying to say something worth paying attention to.)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

authors getting away with it

An incidental remark I made during my presentation on The Hobbit at the Valparaiso Tolkien conference got more attention in audience comments afterwards than anything else I said.

I was making a point about the actual beginning of the story - By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous ... - and noted that this comes only after two pages worth of expository explanation introducing hobbits in general and Bilbo in particular, and I casually interjected that no author would be able to get away with that today.

What did I mean by that? What I meant is that, despite their long and honorable history, expository introductions seemed to be shunned in contemporary fiction. Stories have to begin with something happening, under some delusion that this is the only way to pull readers in. Tell that to the author who began his book, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," or even more to the author who began his book, "You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" - directing you to read some other book first, yet! But that's what authors are told now: you have to grab the reader at the first sentence.

The problem is that authors who follow this advice grab the reader in a vacuum. Because it's all action and no exposition, you don't know who you're looking at, where they are, what's going on. You have to struggle to pick that up as you go along. And, to assist you in that struggle, and since exposition is in fact necessary, it has to be salted in, and that's another problem: usually it's salted in by characters giving little expository speeches to each other so that the reader can overhear them. Even from skilled authors, this is awkward and clumsy. (I once wrote of my irritation with Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, the entire plot of which is driven by what Lyra happens to overhear on various occasions.)

And the third problem is that this is all written in a cinematic manner. This is vexing. Movies don't always avoid written expositions: George Lucas popularized expository paragraphs floating through space to begin his unquestionably successful movies. Defenders of movie desecrations of the books they're based on are fond of saying, "Movies are different from books," as if the particular differences in question needed no justification. Well, if movies are different from books, then why can't books be different from movies? But they aren't.

My latest attempt to read a recent fantasy novel was Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers, and I single this one out because Powers is a skilled author who's given me great reading experiences before. But this one was too much.

The opening sentence of the novel is, "The felt-padded base of the ivory bishop thumped faintly on the marble chessboard." When I read that sentence, I see a screenplay. "FADE IN. CLOSE-UP: ivory chess bishop thumping faintly as it is placed on a chess square." You don't know who's playing chess or where they are or anything except the date, 1845, on the previous section-title page (title card on the movie screen). In succeeding paragraphs, the camera pulls back, and you see the players, an old man and a girl. It's a movie, not a novel: you still don't know who they are, or their relationship. The old man is described: his face "was in shadow ... and all she could see under the visor of his black cap was the gleam of his thick spectacles."

This is cinematic description again. You are looking at him from the camera POV of the girl, but not through her eyes, because, as you soon afterwards learn, the man is her father and she knows him well. Only a stranger, or a movie camera, would be concentrating on the shadowing of his features; someone who knew those features would not.

Conveniently, the two enter into a conversation about the man's past and the girl's absent mother - conveniently for the reader, who can get the necessary exposition by overhearing them. Well, all right, they might have such a conversation at some point, and that's why the author picked this particular moment to introduce them. But then the old man delivers himself of this exclamation about his wife: "Poor Frances Polidori! Working for wages in strangers' houses now! It was a bad day for her when she became Frances Rossetti, married to this half-blind wretch who earns nothing anymore."

Who would speak of his wife to their daughter in this distant and formal manner? Even the most skilled author can't disguise the fact that he says her names so that the reader can overhear him and learn what they are. By this time, you should be gathering that the protagonists are historical figures, Gabriele and Christina Rossetti, but what an unearthly clumsy way of showing it. If Tim Powers can't do better than this, I thought, I am not sufficiently interested in the remaining 506 pages.

I pointed this out at our book discussion meeting, and the response was mulish. "Oh, so we're just talking about the prologue now, are we?" said one, as if the prologue weren't as legitimate a part of the book as any other, and more important than some, as it's where the reader is introduced to the characters and lured into the story. "It's a stylistic choice," snapped another, as if that somehow excused it from criticism, as if everything in a novel isn't a stylistic choice, as if expressing our personal responses to these stylistic choices weren't the whole purpose of a book discussion meeting, as if we hadn't been expressing those personal responses for an hour of discussion already. As if stylistic choices weren't the way we judge books, and weren't the essence of literary value.

If you want to know why I get grumpy about literature, look to the books.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

concerts attended

While I've been writing about my trip to Indiana and the Tolkien conference therein, I've also been attending concerts.

1. San Francisco Symphony, Davies, Wednesday.
This was a good one. MTT made Brahms's First Symphony sound light and fleeting, and if he can do that to that block of indominable granite, he can do anything. Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, with Yuja the Unavoidable, was soft and pillowy. A new piece by Sam Adams, son of John, sounded pretty good too. I'm only sorry I was still feeling too ill to fully appreciate the experience.

2. Aeolus Quartet, Campbell, Thursday
Stanford noon concert, so I didn't know what I'd get until I arrived. Berg's Op. 3, oh well. Then, Sibelius' Op. 56, played as if Berg also had written it. Dry, rattly, academic up the wazoo.

3. Sarah Chang (violin), Oshman, Monday
One weird violinist. Soapy, moaning lower range; warbly middle. While playing, wears a facial expression almost kabuki in the intensity of its tragic expression. Also wears ill-fitting dresses. Played the Vitali Chaconne, without much bite. The violin edition of the Prokofiev flute sonata, not much bite there either. And some bastard's arrangement of bits from West Side Story that mucked up every ballad in the show.

4. Chamber music showcase, Campbell, Tuesday
More Stanford nooning. Student groups, one of which gave off a superbly tough first movement of the Shostakovich Second Quartet, with enough real bite to send Sarah Chang packing.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

my dog ate my law degree

(for the explanation of that title, read on)

Indiana. A state I usually encounter in the form of passing through it to get somewhere else. But on this trip it was my destination, and, while my exact goal was in the northwest corner (in the Central time zone), there was also something drawing me over to the northeast side (in the Eastern time zone).

But first I had to get there at all. I was scheduled to fly in by Southwest to Chicago Midway, via Orange County, on Tuesday the 26th. That turned out to be the day of the big snowstorm (the one before the last one). Everything looked fine until we got to OC, at which point we were abruptly informed that the next leg had been canceled. The gate agent and I had a long discussion of what to do next. Eventually we concluded that the best course was to send me home and try again the next day. He issued me a free voucher for the flight home and told me I could get the rest at the San Jose airport.

So my Tuesday consisted of flying to the LA area, sitting around the airport for an hour, and then going home, a fine combination of pointless scurrying about and Veblenian conspicuous consumption. On top of which, when I got to San Jose, it turned out he'd issued the new ticket in an incorrect manner, and it took a supervisor an hour on the phone with tech support to get it straightened out. And on Wednesday it took three more supervisors to confirm that the ticket was indeed valid, but I got on the plane with no serious delays and arrived in Chicago only 27 hours late. My rental car and my hotel room in Chicago, about which I'd communicated by phone, were still waiting for me. The storm was over, the streets and highways were all plowed and driving was easy (though walking could be treacherous), and I abandoned my plans for a day in Chicago, which I'd visited often enough, and preserved the day and a half before the start of the conference for NE Indiana, a country new to me, instead.

What drew me irresistibly was the U.S. Vice Presidential Museum, a small private foundation at the Dan Quayle Center - for yes! it is he - in Huntington, Dan's home town south of Fort Wayne. No buff of US political history trivia could afford to miss this. It's a two-story building, ex-courthouse from the look of it, with a brief panel display on each and every Veep the U.S. has ever had. Stars mark out the ones from Indiana, of whom there've been five. The effect is a not overly pushy attempt to place Dan within an honorable history. The displays include original newspaper pages with articles on the Veeps, going back to the 18C, including detailed articles reporting the deaths of every VP who's died in office, of whom there've been quite a few; reproduced photos and cartoons; and, starting in the 20C, original signed letters, some of mindboggling triviality ("Dear sir, The signature at the end of this letter will supply the autograph you requested. Sincerely yours,"). Of greatest interest were the museum-supplied placards on each VP, which were judiciously written and largely free of factual mistakes, but absolutely loaded with grammatical clangers and typographical errors. Just the way to honor a man who couldn't spell "potato". I forget exactly how they mangled the name of Nixon's opponent in the Kitchen Debate, but their rendering began with an H.

A more lengthy display, set out of chronological order on the side wall, honors Dan the man himself. There you will see the shards of his J.D. diploma from Indiana University, which his dog ate. Somehow that fate sums up Quayle perfectly for me. And, tucked in the frame where the corner of the diploma ought to be, is a snapshot of the dog that did it.

After paying my respects to Elbridge, Millard, Hannibal, Schuyler, Chester, Levi, Adlai, Garret, Calvin, Alben, Lyndon, Hubert, Spiro, Danforth, and their less distinctively-named colleagues, I drove off to Fort Wayne, a city whose utter lack of any other perceptible distinctions is possibly in part responsible for its ability to preserve one of those great packed-full-to-the-ceiling, it-goes-on-forever-into-yet-more-rooms used bookstores that used to be common everywhere. I went in thinking, "I probably won't buy anything," but came out an hour later with several bargains of the "I always wanted this" variety, from theology to musicology. It's called Hyde Brothers. If you find yourself in that part of the world, and wonder what you're doing there, which you will, this is where you want to go.

South Bend, although a noted university seat, comes up short in the bookstore department. The Notre Dame campus, however, was interesting. Though surrounded by permanent road signs specifically directing football fans to overflow parking lots, the central campus eschews gridiron-worship and instead absolutely drips with Catholic iconography. B. would have loved it. Besides Notre Dame, South Bend appears to be notable for two things: it's where Studebaker autos came from, and it makes chocolate. Chocolate being more portable than universities or obsolete cars, of course I brought some home.

East of South Bend, Indiana proves to have, as I've found in Pennsylvania and Ohio before it, an Amish country, and where there is an Amish country, there will be seas of Amish kitsch surrounding groaning boards of hearty Amish restaurants. I wound up at this one, where my dinner featured emphatically juicy fried chicken. It was pressure-fried, so, though the spicing is different, it's strikingly reminiscent of what KFC original recipe chicken was like fifty years ago, when the Colonel was still making it himself. Another great meal.

Driving through snowy Indiana countryside, much of it on back highways, little ribbons of asphalt bisecting wide fields of white, was a little spooky - it's a long time since I've driven in snow country when the weather's on. Judging from what I saw in the towns and by the roadsides, the principal retail product of the state of Indiana appears to be the firework. I'd heard that the inhabitants put the word "Hoosier" on everything, but the only example of that I went by was a small building announcing itself as Hoosier TaeKwonDo.

Friday, March 8, 2013

more posts about music and food

or, Valparaiso Tolkien conference, continued.

The prospect of a scholarly conference with two concerts included is a large part of its appeal for me. On Friday evening, Eileen Moore, who also presented a paper, performs her song-cycle "Maidens of Middle-earth." She's commissioned original poems about or in the personae of Tolkien's female characters, set them to music, and sings them herself. The composition style sits somewhere between the lighter end of classical art song and the more ruminative of contemporary singer-songwriter, finally settling on the latter because, though Moore writes for piano rather than guitar, she accompanies herself, and no lieder recitalist would do that. Her voice is rounded but not very carrying in the acoustically unforgiving recital hall, and the lyrics, which are not printed in the program book, are hard to make out. Comic songs are distinguishable from the others by vampingly straightforward accompaniment and by a nasal tone in the singer's voice.

On Saturday, a large amalgamated concert wind band plays the Lord of the Rings Symphony by Johan de Meij, with the composer conducting. That's the whole program, but fortunately it's a big work, some 45 minutes. It's apparently a staple of the concert band repertoire, a body that exists in complete isolation from the classical symphonic one, and which is absorbingly eager for performer- and listener-friendly modern works, as the concert band world lacks both the entire 19th century sitting on its back and a cadre of academicians demanding sterile aridity. None of that here. I know this work well from a couple of recordings I have, and I described it fondly in my article on Tolkien and music, but I'd only heard it live once before, an occasion best forgotten about. This is a much better performance, starting with sloppy roughness but gathering itself together quite well after a movement or two. De Meij demands, and receives, rough growls from the soprano sax in the role of Gollum and gruff sounds from some other soloists in appropriate spots. He conducts, left-handed, in even tempos, fairly fast, with a fine balance to the peroration of the Big Tune in the finale, just barely not too slow. His interpretation emphasizes the dramatic recalls of earlier material that litter the score, with a particular vividness to the trombones in the exciting transition moment in the "Journey in the Dark" movement.

What the concert struggles to overcome is the acoustics of the college chapel. As soon as I see the inside of this cavernous brick and wood building, which is like a museum of every cliché of 50s Scandinavian modernist architecture you ever dreamed of, I know we're in for trouble. In many of the fortes the massive sound is drowned out by its own reverberations, a ridiculous state of affairs. Fortunately de Meij's clean scoring in quieter passages makes its impact. The percussion in particular is on point throughout.

At the conference banquet afterwards I get to meet de Meij, which for me is a bit like meeting a favorite novelist, and burble my compliments. He gives me his card. I forget where in my travel wallet I've stuffed mine, so I fail to reciprocate, dammit. I learn - actually, he discussed this in his pre-concert talk - that he hadn't been a Tolkien fan before beginning this work in the mid 1980s, but he read The Lord of the Rings then in hopes that it would inspire him to a big composition for concert band. And so it did.

The banquet, by the way, is rich, abundant, varied, and prolonged (to borrow a phrase). Excellent food, served buffet style, all dishes supposedly hobbit-inspired, though the only ones obviously so on sight are the English meat pies and the huge bowl of sautéed mushrooms, plus the dragon-decorated cake. Baked fish is labeled as Gollum's special, but, come on, Gollum actually says in the book that he won't touch cooked fish, and what he'd think of the bacon on top I can't imagine.

The banquet is the highlight of Valparaiso cuisine. For intra-conference snacks we are pointed at the café in the student union, which serves only the kind of fast food I'd rather go hungry than eat. Off-campus, a couple of locally prestigious old-line joints out on the highway prove more prestigious than good. Turkey schnitzel, the house specialty at Strongbow Inn, is unlike any schnitzel I've had before, with the consistency and flavor (and size: very small for the price) of a home-made latke. Kelsey's Steakhouse has a big statue of a steer out front, but the prime rib is dull and unmarbled, and the shrimp that come with it on the surf-and-turf plate are small, undercooked, and just terrible. I'm happier at the stylishly retro burger joint just off campus, which serves me a quick cup of really good, hearty chili when I ask for something I can finish up in half an hour so as to get back to the conference sessions.

Infinitely the best food locally is a dozen miles to the north at Wagner's Ribs, an old favorite which I won't visit this part of the world without stopping at. It's inscrutably located in an out-of-the-way village somewhere off I-94, but I can find it because I read maps, and I finally get there for lunch on my drive back to Chicago on Monday. It's as good as ever. Half a slab of baby backs is crispy crunchy on the outside and tender tender on the inside, and the chicken noodle soup is homemade down to its depths.

In Chicago itself, beforehand, I make ritualistic stops at Giordano's pizza (yes, I know Gino's East is supposed to be superior, but it's only on the North Side, and I don't have time to get up there on this visit) and at a Chicago institution I'd only recently heard of for the first time, Harold's Chicken Shack, which I have to say tastes better without the sauce, I don't care what they tell you.

As for what else I did in Indiana, and the fraught tale of how I got there, one more post ...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

celebrating The Hobbit in the snow

So, as the prospect of attending SF cons has been decreasing in appeal, the appeal of attending specialty Tolkien conferences has been growing in its place. The problem is that they tend to be held in obscure and out-of-the-way places. Oh, here's one at Valparaiso University in Indiana, an easy run from Chicago. It's being convened by the head librarian there, whom I've worked with by email (he edited the book with my paper on Tolkien and music in it) but have never met and would like to. And, since he's also a musicologist, there will be musical events. The conference theme is The Hobbit, in honor of its 75th anniversary (and, sigh, of the movie), and I have this old half-written paper which would be perfect to dust off and present, and it had been inspired by reading John Rateliff's The History of The Hobbit, and he will be one of the principal speakers. And, the date means I can get to the Midwest at some time of year other than when all the seas are boiling hot. So, this will be perfect. I shall go.

The journey is a story the length of Bilbo's memoirs in itself, TK, but I get there. It's spring break, so there's parking in central campus, which is good, because there's snow all over the landscape and the temperature is consistently in the 30s. (Fahrenheit. Had I wanted Celsius, I should have gone to Australia.) Surprisingly, my heavy windbreaker is enough to keep me warm between car and buildings. Though the roads and paths are swept, there's still enough snow and ice underfoot to be treacherous. I wear my crunchy all-weather shoes, to keep a grip, and I use my cane everywhere. I am not losing my balance outdoors, and I am not letting the challenge of staying upright turn me wobbly indoors.

The conference is convened not in classrooms, but in the ballrooms on the second floor of the student union building. It's small, though, maybe 75 people, all of whom know their Hobbit, including a few children. I see a goodly number of old acquaintances in Tolkien scholarship, some of whom rarely come to Mythcon, my usual haunt, but even more I know only by their published work or not at all.

The papers are grouped in sessions, making it a bit chancy to dash between the two programming rooms to catch favored items. Mine is grouped with Judy Ann Ford's on the treatment of the White Council in Jackson's Hobbit movie (a third presenter had canceled). Since the schedule had been posted before the movie came out, I ask Judy afterwards how she knew she'd have a topic. "From the trailers, I could make a good guess it'd be there," she says. "But if it had been saved for the extended edition, I would have had no paper." In fact, though, her paper attends as much to comparing a view of the Council in the book with and without the overlay of The Lord of the Rings on top as it does to comparing either with the movie's. (Regardless, she treats the movie as an entirely separate entity with no authority over Tolkien's work and without any ax to grind over why it's different, a model of how I think the movie should be addressed in Tolkien scholarship.) This fits in well with my paper, which is also about trying to see The Hobbit without The Lord of the Rings breathing over its shoulder, pick your metaphor.

So are a lot of the other papers. Verlyn Flieger argues that Chretien and Malory influenced The Hobbit. Kris Swank argues that The Father Christmas Letters influenced The Hobbit. John Rateliff argues that The Hobbit influenced The Silmarillion, oh yes he does. Years ago, in an online contretemps over Peter Jackson, John had told me that, willy-nilly, I was now an expert on Jackson's LOTR movies. I complained bitterly that that's not what I got into Tolkien scholarship for. Now, after John's paper, I stand in the back with Verlyn Flieger and I recount that anecdote, and I point up to the podium where John had just been speaking and I say, "That is what I got into Tolkien scholarship for, to listen to papers like that." Brilliant stuff.

And there's more. Paul Catalanotto finds the seven deadly sins in Smaug and the seven holy virtues in Bilbo. Michael Fox performs a Proppian analysis of The Hobbit; haven't heard one of those in a while, and it may have been just long enough. Laura Smith compares etiquette-based humor in The Hobbit and in the Pooh books. Thom Foy tangles himself up in a tablecloth woven of the distinction between "truth" and "fact" and says Worraworraworraworra. Justin Noetzel predicts that Beorn will play a major role in the Hobbit movie sequels because he's an all-purpose comic-book superhero. He's invulnerable, like Superman; he grows to giant-size, like the Hulk; and he fights with animalistic fury, like Wolverine.

Of the music, and the feasting, and the setting, and, oh, the journey, more to come.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged, that when you fly on a long airplane flight two seats away from someone with a hoarse cough throughout the flight, that three days later you will develop the same cough, and that, after flying home in cramped conditions two days after that, cough suppressed beneath a blanket of medicine gulped down just before passing through airport security, you'll be completely wiped out and spend the next day trying to catch up on some sleep.

So that's what I did today, and any report on the small but mighty snow-covered Tolkien conference, and its attendant musical festivities, not to mention the State of Indiana, will have to wait.