Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Utter Stupid Waste of War


"The utter stupid waste of war, not only material but moral and spiritual, is so staggering to those who have to endure it. And always was (despite the poets), and always will be (despite the propagandists) - not of course that it has not is and will be necessary to face it in an evil world. But so short is human memory and so evanescent are its generations that in only about 30 years there will be few or no people with that direct experience which alone goes really to the heart. The burnt hand teaches most about fire.

"I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment: the millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days - quite apart from torture, pain, death, bereavement, injustice. If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of the hearens!"

Letters, #64, page 75-76

I am able (allowed) to have sufficient duties (distractions) during my day to avoid remembering or dwelling upon the "sum total of human misery all over the world." I often wake, work, rest and sleep for days at a time without much heartfelt concern or even recognition of the evil that exists around me, whether next door, in my community, my nation or the world.

But when I do faintly remember or realize, the effect is truly staggering, deeply discouraging, horribly frightening.

But only for a moment.

I blink, and the moment passes, and I continue on.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Place Called Heaven

"There is a place called 'heaven' where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued." 
Letters, #45, page 54
Heaven is difficult (impossible for me) to imagine. The best I can do is to associate it with supreme joy, goodness, health and fulfillment. But Tolkien's reference here to heaven seems entirely imaginable, completely reasonable, wholly comprehensive. 
It makes me long even more for heaven.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Writer's Block

December 19, 1937 must have been a happy day for Tolkien. On that day he sent a letter to his publisher to say, 

"I have written the first chapter of a news story about Hobbits--'A long expected party'."

Two months later he reports,

"The Hobbit sequel is where it was, and I have only the vaguest notions of how to proceed...I found it only too easy to write opening chapters - and for the moment the story is not unfolding."

By July of 1838 Tolkien seems to have despaired of further progress:

"The sequel to The Hobbit has remained where it stopped. It has lost my favour, and I have no idea what to do with it...I am really very sorry: for my own sake as well as for yours I would like to produce something...I hope inspiration and the mood will return. It is not for lack of wooing that it holds aloof. But my wooing of late had been perforce intermittent. The Muses do not like such half-heartedness."

"Half-heartedness" describes well my own personal writing habits, as well as "intermittent". This blog is an attempt to "woo the Muse", but inspiration and mood strike me but once or twice a week at best. And even then it is in the form of short, quick notes like that which I'm writing this moment. 
Blocked.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Duty and Desire

On learning of the success of The Hobbit, and the possibility of the public desiring a second book about hobbits...

"At the moment I am suffering like Mr Baggins from a touch of 'staggerment', and I hope I am not taking myself too seriously. But I must confess that your letter has aroused in me a faint hope. I mean, I begin to wonder whether duty and desire may not (perhaps) in future go more closely together. I have spent nearly all the vacation-times of seventeen years examining, and doing things of that sort, driven by immediate financial necessity (mainly medical and educational). Writing stories in prose our verse had been stolen, often guiltily, from time already mortgaged, and has been broken and ineffective. I may perhaps now do what I much desire to do, and not fail of financial duty. Perhaps!"

I share a bit of this sentiment of Tolkien's. I think that every choice of mine regarding employment has been made in order to do what I desire to do, only to find out that it was not what I desired to do, and it became a job of necessity, working to pay the bills.

I no longer have much of a faint hope of doing what I desire to do.

In this I envy Tolkien.

Quotation from The Letters, #17, page 24

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Dismayed with Disney

"It might be advisable, rather than lose the American interest, to let the Americans do what seems good to them ---  as long as it was possible (I should like to add) to veto anything from or influenced by the Disney studios (for all whose works I have a heartfelt loathing)."

Here is seen the pragmatic side of Tolkien, the side that is concerned with finances and food in the pantry and coal for the fire. For his "mad hobby" in the end should contribute somewhat to the household expenses. 

But his vehemence against Disney puzzles me a bit, tho it does not strike me as entirely unjustified. I've never visited any Disney amusement park, and I feel no urge to attempt such a visit. The crowds for one thing, the expense for another. The shallow, sanitized presentation of "good and evil", the clean, fashionably color-matched costumes, the chasm between what the public sees and what the staff see...

Hmm...perhaps I do understand Tolkien's vehemence? 

Quotation from The Letters, #13, page 17

Maps &c. for 'The Hobbit'

"I have redrawn (as far as I am capable) one or two of the amateur illustrations of the 'home manuscript', conceiving that they might serve as endpapers, frontispiece or what not. I think on the whole such things, if they were better, might be an improvement. But it may be impossible at this stage, and in any case they are not very good and might be technically unsuited. It would be kind if you would return the rejected." 

This is the earliest reference I have seen to The Hobbit. Humphrey Carpenter notes that C. S. Lewis had read an early text of the book in 1932, though it was still lacking the final chapters. The completed typescript was sent to Allen & Unwin Publishers on October 3, 1936. By the time of this letter, January 4, 1937, the book had been accepted for publication and Tolkien was attempting to provide maps and illustrations. 

At least five years had passed to this point in the life of Bilbo Baggins. Probably that many more years stewing and brewing on Tolkien's mind before CSL given the incomplete manuscript to read. 

Well over five years to get The Hobbit close to publication. Tolkien was about 45 years old, a veteran of World War One, husband and father, three children, professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, corroborating on a new edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight...

I'm exhausted just thinking about his days! 

More than his great energy and perseverance, his humility strikes me. He did not presume that his attempts at drawing and painting were fit for the book, yet he did what he could. Probably more due to lack of funds, but still...a proud man would not risk putting forth effort that had the potential for rejection. 

A proud, self-centric man cannot risk rejection. 

How many opportunities have I let pass because of fearful, self-centric pride? 

Quotation from The Letters, #5, page 14

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Such a mad hobby!

"I have done done some touches to my nonsense fairy language - to its improvement. I often long to work at it and don't let myself 'cause though I love it so it does seem such a mad hobby!"

Tolkien's "mad hobby" was at the very core, the foundation of all his wild success in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Without the hours spent (stolen from other more "normal" obligations and responsibilities) he might never have written anything at all, at least anything that endures to the present as popular and well-known. 

This gives me faint hope, or justification, for the time I spend on seemingly useless endeavors. I enjoy organizing my digital music, cataloging wild plants, hand-coding HTML and CAD...and posting Tolkien quotes! 

Will it all pay? How will it benefit me or others? 

I don't know. 

Sometimes joy is hard to define or categorize. 

Sometimes joy sneaks up on a person. 

Quotation from The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, # 4, page 8. 

On the art and practice of writing

"I found not being able to use a pen or a pencil as defeating as the loss of her beak would be to a hen."

For several weeks, near the end of his life, Tolkien was unable to use his right arm. He had been used to spending hours each day writing...writing poetry, stories and novels...writing letters for business...corresponding with family and friends. 

I often imagine myself writing as diligently, as "old fashioned", as Tolkien. I can see myself sitting at a rolltop desk or finely crafted secretary, smoking a pipe, serenely composing a handwritten letter to my children, or drafting another chapter for my next novel. I can imagine Tolkien feeling joy as he writes. 

But it's not me. I don't enjoy writing by hand, at least not after a paragraph or so. For me, handwriting is for note taking, or rough drafts (short rough drafts). 

But I greatly admire Tolkien for his ability in, and dependence upon, handwritten letters and documents. 

Quote from The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Introduction, page 1

Tolkien and The TCBS: Some Spark Of Fire

In 1911, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was about 19 years old. He and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman formed themselves into an unofficial and semi-secret society. They referred to their group as "the T.C.B.S.", standing for "Tea Club and Barrovian Society". (They had a fondness for having tea in their school's library, without permission, and in Barrow's Store near the school.)

The four friends kept closely in touch, and in December 1914 they held a "council" at Wiseman's home in London. The group shared ideals and mutual encouragement, and Tolkien found himself inspired to begin to devote much energy toward writing poetry.

Scarcely six months later, Wiseman was in the Navy, and Gilson, Smith and Tolkien found themselves in different parts of the Somme just as the Allied offensive of July 1, 1914 was beginning.

Rob Gilson was killed in action on that day.

Two years later Tolkien wrote a letter to Smith, revealing more of how the group's friendship, and their "London Council" had affected him.

"The TCBS had been granted some spark of fire - certainly as body if not singly - that was destined to kindle a new light, or what is the same thing, rekindle an old light in the world; that the TCBS was destined to testify for God and Truth in a more direct way even than by laying down its several lives in this war...Still I feel a mere individual at present - with intense feelings more than ideas but very powerless...I cannot abandon yet the hope and ambitions (inchoate and cloudy I know) that first became conscious at the Council of London. That Council was as you know followed in my own case with my finding a voice for all kinds of pent up things and a tremendous opening up of everything for me: -- I have always laid that to the credit of the inspiration that even a few hours with the four always brought to all of us."

This blog reflects my own response to some of the inspiration or "spark of fire" that Tolkien felt. In reading the prose and poetry that Tolkien wrote I often find a small, brilliant idea or belief that strongly resonates with me, and I feel a deep urge to share that with someone, with anyone. I especially have found such rekindlings of hope and insight in "The Letters Of J.R.R. Tolkien".

This blog, then, is a channel through which I hope to express the "sparks of fire" that "kindle a new light" for me, or "rekindle an old light in the world". I expect to be able to "find a voice for all kinds of pent up things and a tremendous opening up of everything."

In closing, this blog is in essence a tribute and show of gratitude for the protagonist of "The Hobbit or There and Back Again, being the record of a year's journey made by Bilbo Baggins; compiled from his memoirs by J.R.R. Tolkien and published by George Allen & Unwin..."

,,,and blogged by Milt Reynolds, and published by Google!

Quotations from The Letters Of J.R.R. Tolkien, # 5, page 8.