“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” — Gandalf to Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Greetings! It’s Gary, the sometime Music Editor, again, with another mostly Tolkien edition. Now, there are worlds of essays, theses and tracts that could be (and probably have been) written about the parochialism and indeed colonialism inherent in the first two sentences Prof. Tolkien puts in Gandalf’s mouth in the quote above. For there’s little doubt that Tolkien saw his hobbits as avatars of the English Everyman, homely and stodgy, set in his conservative ways, yet capable of rising to the occasion with nobility and heroism should circumstances call for it, while glossing over the fact that to millions of subject persons around the world, the British Empire more closely resembled the subjugation and enslavement offered by Saruman and Sauron, than the bucolic and carefree life of The Shire.
And yet … And yet, I know of no words that more accurately sum up our philosophy here at Green Man Review than Gandalf’s final sentence there — about “food and cheer and song.” What we try to do here, as we savor these cheerier aspects of life, is reflect a bit on the questions posed by the arts, and maybe prompt you to do the same.
This time out the Tolkien content is mostly books and one film review; I hope to have a graphic novel review to share in the near future.
Asher took an in-depth tour of Tolkien’s The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book. The author, he says, spoke of Bombadil in two ways: ‘On the one hand, he has called Bombadil both the spirit of the dwindling English countryside and the spirit of natural science: “the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are ‘other’.” On the other hand, he has suggested that the reason he couldn’t bring himself to keep Bombadil out of The Lord of the Rings is that he represents something larger, something best not left out, though he hesitated to look too closely at what that was. One can surmise that this is true both of Tom as he appears in the Ring saga and also as he appears in the Adventures.’
‘Every Christmas between the years 1920 and 1943, the ever-so-blessed children of J.R.R. Tolkien received some of the most unique mail that a child could ever hope for: letters from Father Christmas himself!’ says Cat in his splendid review of Letters From Father Christmas — both the book itself and a readers theater style performance of them at his local bookstore. ‘Beautifully illustrated and delivered in various ways, they told of all kinds of things that happened at the North Pole, and about the folk who lived there with Santa.’
And Craig reviewed the audio version of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas audio, read by Derek Jacobi. ‘For those who may not be familiar with his work, I’ll simply say that you are in for a treat. Jacobi was the perfect choice for this reading. Not only has he read other Tolkien works but his voice resembles that of a kindly grandfather, ideal for the character of Father Christmas.’
Grey wrote an admiring review of J.E.A. Tyler’s The Complete Tolkien Companion, which she said is an invaluable reference. ‘Tyler is an author and journalist who is, in my opinion, one of the best authors of general “Tolkien guides” available today. While his scholarship may not be as extensive as that of some other authors, he has the ability to see the entire legendarium and its interlinking components, and to lay out and cross-reference those components with an understanding and clearness of text that makes his work easily accessible to readers, from the Tolkien neophyte to the Tolkien scholar. If you only have one reference book on Tolkien on your shelf, it ought to be this one.
Jack bestirred himself to read and review J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beowulf and the Critics, a collection of different versions of a lecture by Tolkien on the ancient Anglo-Saxon epic. He recommends it, with a caveat. ‘Just keep in mind that our dear don was writing a treatise on Beowulf that takes into account the entire thousand-year history of that ballad as a cultural object. Bloody Hell! He does a rather neat job in some forty-five or so pages of giving you everything, and I mean everything, you’ll ever need to know ’bout Beowulf. Just drink lots of very strong coffee before reading it – you’ll need the caffeine!’
‘Tolkien lived in that long-vanished era when letter writing was an intrinsic part of daily social and business activity,’ Jack says in his review of, what else, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. ‘There were few phones, obviously no e-mail, and telegrams were used only for very urgent business. (He did use airgraphs, a special postal service to reduce the mail volume, for letters to Christopher and the like.) But the proper gentleman or gentlewoman wrote letters — lots of letters! And Tolkien was, like the hobbits he created, a perfect English gentleman.’
He also reviewed and contrasted a couple of reference books aimed more at a general audience, Robert Foster and the Brothers Hildebrandt’s Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, and J.E.A. Tyler and Kevin Really’s The Tolkien Companion. He definitely prefers the latter. ‘ Tyler rightfully assumes that one has either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings in hand and is simply seeking more information. And information is what you get in The Tolkien Companion — a generous serving of lovingly detailed material that will enhance your understanding of these books every bit as much as The Annotated Hobbit will do. Tolkien’s World from A to Z just can’t compare to it!
Kathleen reviewed her copy of Tolkien’s Smith of Wooten Major & Farmer Giles of Ham that she first read when she was 13, a time when many readers of her generation were disappointed by them. ‘They aren’t epic, or sweeping, and there are no elves, hobbits or dwarves in them. That’s been a problem with a lot of Tolkien’s non-LOTR over the years, and not even the elf-centric The Silmarillion pleased most of his audience. But dismissing Smith and Farmer Giles is as much a loss to a reader as is ignoring the appendices of LOTR itself.’
Lisa reviewed a fairly obscure Tolkien text, Narn I Chîn Húrin, or The Tale of the Children of Húrin, which takes place many thousands of years before the bits we’re all more familiar with. ‘There are the usual things one expects in Tolkien’s mythic prose; it’s archaic but less like the King James Bible than some of his work, and a bit more like Norse saga. That said, there are influence and motifs from Siegfried and Norse saga, and the Finnish tale of Kullervo in the Kalevala. There’s a bit of medieval Irish too, in terms of the effects of the curse; it’s reminiscent of geasa like the one Macha put on the men of Ulster. But for all its archaism and tragic mythos, The Children of Húrin is extremely readable, and a very well made book.’
Liz wrote a monster review of the 2003 HarperCollins five-volume edition of Tolkien’s The History of Middle-Earth. The history was an immense undertaking for all involved, and the review was likewise. ‘At his death, J.R.R. Tolkien left a huge body of unfinished and often unorganized writings on the mythology and history of Middle-earth. In The History of Middle Earth (HoME), his son, Christopher, has sought to organize this huge collection of drafts, revisions and reworkings into an organized and intelligible whole.’
Liz also reviewed some collected essays and lectures of Tolkien’s, published as The Monsters and the Critics, which Jack also touched on at some length in his review of Beowulf and the Critics (see above). ‘These seven essays provide a glimpse into Tolkien’s intent as a scholar, translator of texts, and novelist. Just as Sir Gawain’s shield device, the pentangle, gave graphic evidence of how Gawain’s virtues were inextricably linked, this book shows how Tolkien’s interests in philology (i.e., historical linguistics) and the art of fantastic fiction were bound together, each giving life to the other.’
Matthew was impressed all around by the audiobook of Tolkien’s translation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” as read by Terry Jones (yes, that Terry Jones). ‘One of Tolkien’s first scholarly works was a modern English translation of the 14th century alliterative poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Although there have been a handful of translations since, Tolkien’s stands out as accomplishing a two-fold mission that few others have achieved. He brings the poem into the modern idiom in a way that is readable, but he also retains the alliterative metric structure that the anonymous Gawain poet was trying to revive.’
Matthew also reviewed a helpful reference book, Christopher Tolkien’s The History of Middle-earth Index, which gathers the indexes from all 12 volumes of The History of Middle Earth into one volume. ‘The Index contains every entry from the separate indexes of the History, as well as Christopher Tolkien’s explanatory text that prefaces each separate index. However, instead of gathering all the references to a particular name under one heading, Tolkien has chosen to keep the entries separate. Thus, we have a separate heading for Beren’s appearances in the first volume, followed by an entry for Beren’s appearances in the second volume, etc.’
Warner reviewed the award winning book by academic Holly Ordway, Tolkien’s Modern Readings, in which Ordway lays to rest the notion that all Tolkien read was medieval literature. ‘It is a fascinating volume at times, veering from works still known to current readers all the way to quiet, esoteric works that have largely passed into oblivion. The book focuses on works likely to have influenced the creation of middle earth related works (specifically The Hobbit, Lord of The Rings, and the Silmarillion) and proving Tolkien read them.’
‘Now I admit that I groaned at first, muttered somethin’ about all the shite that the Jackson films have loosed upon the buying public such as Gollum bookends and Gandalf hats to name but two products,’ Jack recalled about the time he learned he was to review The Real Middle Earth on DVD. ‘However, I found this DVD to be both pleasantly low-key and well worth watching. Indeed it’s narrated by Ian Holm, a definite reason to watch it!’
Robert has a treat for us: three chocolate candies from Chocolove: ‘Chocolove is an American company headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, that produces chocolate bars and candies using all natural ingredients and following the traditions of European chocolatiers. What came across my desk was three packages of “nut-butter cups” — one the classic peanut-butter cup, and two made with almond butter.’
One of our Diverse Voices got ’round to reading the original DC series Watchmen when it was issued as a collector’s box of 12 editions – and read it all in one go! ‘It is rich in meaning, in imagination, in visual and verbal motifs, to dizzying degree. Watch the Rorschach blobs, the embracing lovers, the viscous gloss of moving blood, the clock. Moore is ambitious and he set a remarkable standard. My favourite episodes are four and ten — the monologue-driven time travel of the first and the sheer colour and energy of the second are pleasing and meaningful to degrees usually reserved for tosh such as War and Peace. And reading the more relevant Watchmen should take considerably less time.’
In new music, Tatiana reviews Hajda!, the debut album by Hajda Banda, which she says ‘…is a captivating journey into the rich musical traditions of the Podlasie region in eastern Poland, the western parts of Belarus, and Polesye on the Polish-Ukrainian-Belarusian border. The album showcases the band’s commitment to preserving and innovating rural music from the borderlands, infusing it with their unique style and ideas.’
From the archives, Big Earl reviewed Deep River of Song: Big Brazos – Texas Prison Recordings, 1933 & 1934, a collection of field recordings. ‘Made entirely of group or call-and-response singing, this disc covers a surprising breadth of the pre-1950s African-American musical spectrum. “Old Rattler” gives us a look at the blues of Leadbelly and Muddy Waters, in the form of a folk song. “I Wonder What’s The Matter,” led by Lightnin’ Washington (one of the stars of this disc) foreshadows slow testifying gospel, and ultimately the Africanization of jazz by Davis & Malaska some 30 years later. While most of this disc was either taken from the black culture mainstream (“Black Betty,” “Long John”) or entered it (“Hammer Ring,” “Great God A’Mighty (Long Hot Summer Days)”), there’s still a fascinating angle to how these songs are performed.’
He also reviewed another recording in the Deep River of Song series, Virginia and the Piedmont. ‘The breadth of talent presented, both amateur and professional, is simply phenomenal. We get to hear a very young Sonny Terry, in full falsetto glory, blowing that great blues rural harp of his. Brownie McGhee is unfortunately rather quiet on these recordings but adds to the proceedings nonetheless. Their scorching version of “John Henry” is alone worth the price of this disc; coupled with their other two tracks, it ups the disc’s desirability considerably.’
Brendan reviewed another of the “Deep River” series, Black Appalachia. ‘The sheer variety of songs here is daunting; there are fiddle reels, work chants, square-dancing numbers, hoedowns, blues, as well just straightforward folk songs. What makes this CD so interesting is that the Lomaxes (travelling with famed bluesman Leadbelly) recorded these songs at a time of great transition for the American folk song. The current crop of rural musicians were taking all of the various American idiomatic styles – the blues, country, ragtime, swing – and melding them to create new sounds.’
David reviewed a handful of the CDs released as part of the Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues juggernaut of the early Aughts. He round them to be a mixed bag but was still enthusiastic. ‘Before the deluge, a lot of this material was obscure and hard to get. Some of it didn’t exist at all. If Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues introduces blues to a new generation, if it causes people to reconsider this powerful American music, then it’s done what many before couldn’t do. Bravo to Columbia/Legacy, and to Martin Scorsese for for their efforts in this worthy cause.’
I reviewed two parts of a three disc package about a towering figure in Black entertainment from the early 20th Century, Bert Williams’ The Middle years, 1910-1918 and His Final Releases, 1919-1922. ‘It’s a tragedy that a talent of Williams’ caliber was restricted to playing the role of the shufflin’ darky, even if it was an act that he perfected. He longed to try his hand at dramatic roles, but at the time the prevailing wisdom was that white audiences wouldn’t accept a black man in any but a comic role.’
I also reviewed Down In Jamaica, a box set celebrating the 40th anniversary of the reggae label VP Records. ‘The set isn’t a bunch of deep or obscure tracks, but rather hit songs by some top artists. It’s taken almost exclusively from singles, which were the main form in which the music was produced. The 94 tracks feature 101 artists on four CDs plus four seven-inch singles and four 12-inch singles.’
Next I reviewed One Night In Indy, a previously unreleased live date by jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery. ‘Just when you think there can’t possibly be any more undiscovered recordings of Wes Montgomery, here comes Resonance Records with yet another one. And One Night In Indy is a truly great record for jazz fans and Montgomery fans – and even for fans of Eddie Higgins, with whose trio Wes is sitting in on this date.’
And I reached way back into the past to review some compilation discs that highlight the work of actor and singer Bert Williams, the most important Black recording artist of the early 20th century. ‘It’s a tragedy that a talent of Williams’ caliber was restricted to playing the role of the shufflin’ darky, even if it was an act that he perfected. He longed to try his hand at dramatic roles, but at the time the prevailing wisdom was that white audiences wouldn’t accept a black man in any but a comic role.’
The Rough Guide to Chicago Blues CD got Richard to reminiscing about his youth. ‘Suddenly there we were, white kids growing up in post-World War Two England, steeped in the music of Chicago’s Southside, pestering record stores for obscure recordings by Black musicians destined initially for the North American “race” market; i.e., the relatively prosperous (anyway, prosperous enough to buy records) urban African Americans whose music this was, and many of whom lived in Chicago.’
Our What Not this time is sort of about Jane Austen, who was an devoted dancer. Extended scenes set in the ballroom are intrinsic aspects of all of her novels. Alison Thompson, noted musician, dancer and writer, wrote an article called ‘The Felicities of Rapid Motion; Jane Austen in the Ballroom’ which was printed in Persuasions, Winter 2000. Persuasions’s the online journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America.
We’ve got these reviews of other works by her, Dancing Through Time subtitled Western Social Dance in Literature, 1400-1918, Lighting the Fire: Elsie J. Oxenham, The Abbey Girls, and the English Folk Dance Revival and The Blind Harper Dances: Modern English Country Dances which is set to airs by Turlough O’Carolan.
I think a bit of rather lively music in the form of ‘Red Barn Stomp’ to show us out this edition will do very nicely. Recorded sometime in June of 1990 in Minneapolis by the Oysterband with June Tabor joining them there as well. The lads were on tour in support of their Little Rock to Leipzig album where you can find another version of this tune.
Ian Tefler, a band member, tells us that the name of this piece was chosen to sound trad. It features John Tefler calling the tune and very neatly incorporates the actually trad tune, ‘The Cornish Six-Hand Reel’ in it as well.