pegkerr: (Default)
"That’s where my comb went,"

said Fiona as she dug through The Unfinished Tales of Numenor.
pegkerr: (candle)
I have not been posting much because as you know, hey, cancer. But more than that, a cascade of Bad Events over the past few months (i.e., Rob's cancer), including a few more I haven't even talked about here have made things to start to feel pretty rough after almost a year of feeling quite good.

The Wave - Committee Suit
The Wave - Committee/Council Suit (Bridge card)
I am the One who can see it, in the distance but coming toward me, like a gigantic wave rising over the landscape, a doom I cannot escape. I want to flee, but I know that it's hopeless to even try. I just stand, paralyzed, knowing exactly what will happen as I watch it tower above me, crystal drops scattering like poison, and I wait for it to smash into me, sweeping me away to drown in cold nothingness.


For me, this card is about the vulnerability of fearing a recurrence of mental illness (specifically, depression in my case). I suppose it could be about anything you see coming toward you that you fear but cannot stop. Actually, now that I think about it, it would be applicable to cancer treatment, too, after you've received a diagnosis and before you start treatment.

It's also a reference to something I found in Tolkien's letters which he eventually worked into his fiction: he had a troubling recurring nightmare for years about a wave coming toward him across a landscape:
At the climactic moment of the Lord of the Rings, Faramir says to Éowyn that he is reminded of a "great dark wave climbing over the green lands and above the hills, and coming on, darkness unescapable. I often dream of it." The couple are as yet unaware of the passing of Sauron, but the symbolism is apt. Tolkien puts into Faramir's words a recurring dream that had troubled him since childhood: a "dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming up out of a quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands".

Tolkien felt that this 'Atlantis haunting' was symptomatic of a tale of universal mythic applicability, a theme "so fundamental to 'mythical history'--whether it has any kind of basis in real history…that some version of it would have to come in [to his legendarium]". Tolkien's version of the Atlantis legend was the tale of the downfall of Númenor, explicitly identified with Atlantis in many of the versions of the story that Tolkien wrote. The first was in the sketch for the novel The Lost Road, drafted around 1936 but soon abandoned.
Original reference here.
pegkerr: (Fiona)
She has been traveling between school terms and has been catching us up about her travels to Bath, Oxford and Stratford-on-Avon. She told us all about the Jane Austen walking tour she took in Bath.

Fiona: "...and I got to try some of the Bath mineral waters!"

Me: "Is it as nasty as they say it is?"

Fiona: "I've tasted things that are much worse. After all, you made me drink milk, growing up."

She also saw the graves of Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis within a 24 hour period, which was just mind-bendingly brilliant.
pegkerr: (Loving books)
Mark Oshiro of "Mark Reads" (of Mark Reads Twilight and Mark Reads Harry Potter fame) is now tackling J.R.R. Tolkien. He is on chapter 5 of the Hobbit and has just met Gollum.

It's hilarious.

You can also follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkDoesStuff.
pegkerr: (The beauty of it smote his heart)
[ profile] linwesingollo reminds me that I need to poke around more at this new site I registered with several months ago: Middle-Earth Network. (On Twitter at @MiddleEarthNet and on Facebook here). Anyway, one of the cool things they offer is Dunedain Radio, which features talk and music 24/7. Listening to it now; lovely!

I could get used to this.
pegkerr: (candle)
Here's a fanfic in the Lord of the Rings universe, which is one of the best fictional depictions of depression and what it's like that I've ever seen. Another Way of Leaving. About this story, the author, Jodancingtree, writes:
What if Frodo had not been given the option of going with the Elves? His wounds are not healing, and the desire for the Ring torments him. Is death his only escape? Caution: suicidal depression.
I was so impressed by it that I wrote to her a number of years ago, and she replied, mentioning, if I remember correctly, that she had a relative who committed suicide. She gets it. A wonderful character in the story is Radagast the Brown, a minor character in Tolkien's work, the wizard with dominion over animals and birds. The story isn't long, only a little over 10,000 words or so.

She went on to write a much longer work which recounts the tale of how Frodo goes with Radagast back to Mordor and in doing so, was healed from his despair: Following the other wizard: Journey into Healing. Moving and insightful. (Also notable in that Frodo actually makes friends with orcs, which is something I've not seen before. It's not played for laughs, and she absolutely makes it work. She wrote two more sequels after this, following the story of one of those orcs: The Queen's Orc and The Grey at the End of the World.)

Anyway, I highly recommend the first two stories for anyone who has ever had to deal with mental illness (or loved someone with it), especially depression. If you read them, drop me a comment to respond; I'd really like to hear from you.
pegkerr: (Default)
Wine for Normal People:
"A podcast for people who like wine but not the snobbery that goes with it." Elizabeth Schneider is a Certified Specialist of Wine and Sommelier, but also a normal person making wine easy and accessible. Rick Breslin is Founder of Hello Vino, a free app providing wine recommendations on your mobile device.
Subscribe through iTunes. On Twitter at @NormalWine and on Facebook here. See also Elizabeth Schneider's blog here. (Find out about Hello Vino here. Hello Vino is on Twitter at @hellovino)

Tolkien Professor:
My name is Corey Olsen. I am a tenured English professor at Washington College and a PhD in medieval literature, and I have been a student of Tolkien's works for as long as I can remember.

On this website (and through my podcast feed on iTunes), I will be posting many different kinds of material, mostly in the form of digital audio files. The heart of my work on this site is my extended, in-depth lecture series on Tolkien's major works, but I have also provided several methods through which we can enter into a more interactive conversation. All of my recorded material is completely free; I hope you have as much fun listening to them as I have making them! I have become increasingly frustrated with the separation between academics and general readers, and I am determined to come out of the cloister and spend my own career sharing my scholarly work with the public. I founded this website because I wanted to connect with other people who are eager to be included in a thoughtful literary conversation about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Since I launched this site in July 2009, listeners have downloaded more than 1,200,000 of my lectures.
He's also on Twitter at @tolkienprof and on Facebook here.
pegkerr: (A light in dark places LOTR)
A newly translated Russian novel retells Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings from the perspective of the bad guys. From Laura Miller's column at Salon:
As bad lots go, you can't get much worse than the hordes of Mordor from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Led by an utterly evil disembodied entity who manifests himself as a gigantic, flaming, pitiless eye, and composed of loathsome orcs (or goblins), trolls and foreigners, Mordor's armies are ultimately defeated and wiped out by the virtuous and noble elves, dwarfs, ents and human beings -- aka the "free peoples" -- of Middle-earth. No one sheds a tear over Mordor's downfall, although the hobbit Sam Gamgee does spare a moment to wonder if a dead enemy soldier is truly evil or has simply been misguided or coerced into serving the dark lord Sauron.

Well, there's two sides to every story, or to quote a less banal maxim, history is written by the winners. That's the philosophy behind The Last Ringbearer, a novel set during and after the end of the War of the Ring (the climactic battle at the end of The Lord of the Rings) and told from the point of view of the losers. The novel was written by Kirill Yeskov, a Russian paleontologist, and published to acclaim in his homeland in 1999. Translations of the book have also appeared in other European nations, but fear of the vigilant and litigious Tolkien estate has heretofore prevented its publication in English.

That changed late last year when one Yisroel Markov posted his English translation of The Last Ringbearer as a free download. Less polished translations of brief passages from the book had been posted earlier on other sites, but Markov's is the "official" version, produced with the cooperation and approval of Yeskov himself. Although the new translation's status as a potential infringement of the Tolkien copyright remains ambiguous, it may be less vulnerable to legal action since no one is seeking to profit from it.

The novel still has some rough edges -- most notably, a confused switching back and forth between past and present tense in the early chapters -- and some readers may be put off by Yeskov's (classically Russian) habit of dropping info-dumps of military and political history into the narrative here and there. For the most part, though, "The Last Ringbearer" is a well-written, energetic adventure yarn that offers an intriguing gloss on what some critics have described as the overly simplistic morality of Tolkien's masterpiece.
Read the rest at the Salon link above.
pegkerr: (Default)
[ profile] kitgordon reminds me that today is Professor Tolkien's birthday.

If you'd like to join the world-wide birthday toast at 9 pm Minneapolis time, info is here.

pegkerr: (Default)
An interesting essay over at, Beowulf vs. Lord of the Rings: "One is a living universe, the other a 3-D voyage to schlockville. A great essay by Tolkien ["The Monsters and the Critics"] helps us understand why."

I winced on Neil Gaiman's behalf upon reading this. I'll admit I wasn't much inclined to see the Beowulf movie to begin with. I still want to read the Seamus Heaney translation, though.

Icon meme

Oct. 18th, 2007 09:52 pm
pegkerr: (Default)
I got this meme from [ profile] minnehaha:

Comment on this post. I will choose seven userpics from your profile and you will explain what they mean and why you are using them. Post this along with your answers in your own journal so others can play along.

Here were the icons [ profile] minnihaha K. asked me about:

This is from the movie Sense and Sensibility (of the Jane Austen novel of the same name) and it pictures the actress Emma Thompson in the part of Elinor Dashwood. Throughout the book (and movie) the reserved Elinor ("Sense") stands in contrast to her sister, the romantic passionate Marianne ("Sensibility"). At the course of the novel, Marianne, who has always rather looked down upon Elinor for what she terms her coldness, learns that Elinor feels just as passionately as Marianne herself, except that she (unlike Marianne) exercises discipline over her emotions for a variety of reasons: because it is more honorable, more temperate, and because she does not wish to give her family and friends pain when she herself is hurting. My emotions have always been a difficult part of my own character to manage, and much of the process of my maturation has been learning how to handle them appropriately. I have adopted what I call my "Elinor Dashwood" mode (and I use this icon) to describe those times when my emotions may be tumultuous and painful, but I do not feel it is appropriate to make a parade of them, or to speak directly in my LiveJournal of what is bothering me. See this entry where I began the metaphor, and all of my entries tagged "Elinor Dashwood" here.

and Both of these icons (as well as my default icon) are representations of what I have come to call the Holy Tree. I first became aware of the term by reading Tolkien: he loved trees dearly, and they became central to his mythology, as depicted in The Silmarillion. (In the first manifestation of the world, there was no sunlight or moonlight. Instead, there were the Two Holy Trees, Telperion and Laurelin, from which shone golden and silvery light.) This idea has mingled in my imagination with my favorite poem of all, Yeat's The Two Trees. (I was introduced to it by Loreena McKennitt, who sang it as a song on her album The Mask and the Mirror.) The poet speaks of a magical tree which grows within the human heart, and contrasts that with a false vision of a blasted, barren tree, which may be seen when demons hold up their bitter glass (a mirror). To me, this poem is about one of the central struggles of my life, and it words it so beautifully. I am too apt to believe the demons who hold up the bitter glass, and show me a vision of a blasted and barren tree. I have been trying to see more clearly the holy tree, which the poet assures me grows within my own heart. The song is also a damn good description of cognitive therapy, one of the best I've ever read. When depression gets its claws into me, my tormentors are, indeed, the "ravens of unresting thought," who shake their ragged wings, alas. The key, the poet says, is to turn the eyes away from the bitter glass, with its false vision of the blasted tree, back to the holy tree within the heart. The first tree icon, highly stylized, I posted because I was considering it as a possible tattoo (it was on the cover of a devotional booklet distributed by my church). I still love the design, but I know it would have to be simplified and I am not sure I will ever do it (the idea of my getting a tattoo does horrify some members of my family). The second tree icon was taken from a watercolor done by Tolkien himself, picturing the Mallorn trees of the Golden Wood (from The Fellowship of the Ring).

This candle is an evocation of another important concept from Tolkien: A light in dark places, when all other lights go out. (This is a reference to the Vial of Galadriel, which was a source of light to Frodo in the cave where he encountered the spider Shelob. I use this icon when the depression seems to be waxing and the Light seems to be waning. I use it to remind myself that there is still light there, and I need to remember and draw courage from that.

This is a line from Pride and Prejudice, something said by the insufferable, bossy Lady Catherine DeBourgh. I swiped it from I thought it might be good to use when I wanted to comment on other people's journals, although since I swiped it without permission I feel guilty about having it and so I haven't used it that often. It was actually these Pemberley icons that gave me the idea of creating my Tolkien icons.

This is a picture of the ice palace in St. Paul, taken from the air, at night. I was trying to write a fantasy novel, where the central character was the architect designing it. Unfortunately, I lost my way, and the book has been abandoned for now.
pegkerr: (All that I have done today has gone amis)
Oh, Túrin, Túrin, Túrin. When will you ever learn?

Talk about hamartia. Oy.
pegkerr: (Default)
Another lovely essay from [ profile] fictualities, this one on Frodo's freedom to choose and what this means thematically.

(Really, I shouldn't keep having to point to her excellent essays; just friend her yourself so that you have the pleasure of reading them on your own friends page.)

*hums along to music playing*

Far over the Misty Mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away 'ere break of day
To claim our long forgotten gold . . .
pegkerr: (Default)
This poem, "The Two Trees," by Yeats, is my favorite poem in the world. I was introduced to it by Loreena McKennitt, who sang it as a song on her album The Mask and the Mirror. (Which is a corking good album, and you should get it. Yes, you should.) Listen to a clip from this beautiful song here.

I have thinking a great deal about the holy tree in the poem. To me, this poem is about one of the central struggles of my life, and it words it so beautifully. I am too apt to believe the demons who hold up the bitter glass, and show me a vision of a blasted and barren tree. I have been trying to see more clearly the holy tree, which the poet assures me grows within my own heart. The song is also a damn good description of cognitive therapy, one of the best I've ever read. When depression gets its claws into me, my tormentors are, indeed, the "ravens of unresting thought," who shake their ragged wings, alas. The key, the poet says, is to turn the eyes away from the bitter glass, with its false vision of the blasted tree, back to the holy tree within the heart.

I also love it because it seems to reflect what I feel deeply about the heart of flesh/heart of stone.

Tolkien cared deeply about trees, and they are central to his mythology. Thinking about the holy tree, I decided to make several icons using his drawings, and I'm pretty pleased with them:


, which is a detail from his painting "Lothlorien in the Spring."

I would love it if someone who is more knowledgable about icon making than I am could do an icon of just one mallorn from that painting. Does anyone know how to isolate just one tree from that forest and make it an icon all on its own? Thanks for any help anyone might be willing to give!

The site where I got the Tolkien paintings to make the icons is here. The Lothlorien picture is here.

Edited to add: [ profile] knitmeapony came through! Thanks!
pegkerr: (I told no lies and of the truth all I co)
I have been thinking more about the discussion on my post about the United 93 movie. I am rash, perhaps, to go back to this topic, since the discussion waxed rather wroth, but I started thinking in a more general way about story after talking with [ profile] kijjohnson and will try to elaborate on my thoughts here.

I thought about how those who seemed the most uneasy that the movie was made at all particularly stressed that the movie wasn't true. The filmmakers dared to picture and film events which might have happened but others which maybe did not, and how did they dare to do so? First of all, it is all very distressing to relive these events, and second of all, wouldn't this muddling of the true and the fictional simply confuse people?

I realized, suddenly, that for a fiction writer like me (at least when I am not blocked) the question "is this story true?" sounds completely different to my ear than it does to a non-fiction writer like, say [ profile] minnehaha B. (to take a completely random example). When [ profile] minnehaha asks "is this true?" it means, did this event happen exactly this way? What proof do we have? Did the person depicted say exactly that? What was the precise sequence of events? Who knows these things? Are they trustworthy?

But to someone like me, the way I often use story (unconsciously much of the time, although I am looking at this process quite deliberately now) "Is it true?" means, does this tell a true thing about the way people really are? Is it fair? Does it get at the heart of things? Does it reflect the point of view accurately? Does it zero in on what is really matters?

Tolkien talked about the Cauldron of Story in in his essay Tree and Leaf; writers put bits of things into the cauldron, both delicate and unhealthy, and let it bubble and blend, and then eventually serve it up. As to the charge that the elements of the movie are too distressing to deliberately expose myself to again, yes, but the fiction writer part of me is always looking for powerful ingredients to add to my Cauldron. Understand, I don't mean that I have a taste for horror. I mean that there is something in me that seeks out stories of honor, of courage, power, of passionate clashes, of high stakes, choices that matter.

Tolkien had much to say about writing, or the highest form of it which he called "subcreation." Read "Tree and Leaf" to get all of what he says; I certainly can't boil it all down for you in a short LJ post, but much of it is on point here. He defends humanity's urge to make story (which is often under attack). We seek Recovery (a regaining of a clear view, of understanding things as they really are), Escape (not escape from reality--Tolkien cautions us to understand this as Escape of the Prisoner rather than Flight of the Deserter--but the Great Escape from death) and Consolation. United 93 did not quite achieve what Tolkien called "Eucatastrophe," the consolation of the unexpected joyous ending, as it would have if the passengers had managed to fight off the terrorists and safely land the plane. But it was certainly not the Dyscatastrophe, the sorrow and failure, that the other three flights were.

This is not to say that I fail to understand or value what the non-fiction writer sees and values about the story/history of United 93. I see those things, too. But my mind naturally follows other paths.

I remember a television production I saw of the Arabian Nights which was made in 2000, which had a most interesting and subtle consideration of story. The production made extremely clear that Scheherezade wasn't simply telling stories to the king to save her own life, to fascinate him so that he wouldn't kill her. The king, it was clear, was mentally and spiritually ill, sick to the heart by betrayal and unable to trust. She was actually physicking him, choosing and tailoring his stories based not on what would fascinate him the most, but on what he most needed to hear to become mentally whole again. He needed to hear this story because he needed to think about honor, about loyalty, about temptation and how to resist it. The king fell in love with Scheherezade not because he liked the stories, but because she healed him.

There have been cultures which have forbidden story-telling and playacting at all, insisting that people should not tell "lies." Myths are lies, though lies "breathed with silver," Lewis said, before his conversion to Christianity.

"No," Tolkien said, "they are true."

Perhaps the filmmaker has made a "myth" of the story of United 93, a "lie breathed with silver."

I think Tolkien was speaking of a meaning of "true" as I have tried to explain it here.

[Edited to add: [ profile] huladavid reminded me of another issue here: the question of who has the right to tell a story? Only the people it happened to? (What if there are no survivors; does this mean the story can never be told?) Only people from that city? That socio-economic group? That culture? That country? This was something I wrestled with when writing Swans: do I have the right to write from the P-O-V of gay men in New York City when I'm a (mostly) heterosexual chick from the Midwest?]

I may have confused you all horribly. I am not at all satisfied that I have made myself clear. If so, I am sorry. Anyway, your comments are invited--or at least until it all blows up into volcanic explosion and I have to shut it down again.
pegkerr: (leaf on white)
J.R.R. Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892. Join fans and friends around the world at 9:00 p.m. your local time to offer a toast to "The Professor."
pegkerr: (Loving books)
I am re-reading John Myers Myers' Silverlock (I'll do a complete report on it when I do my monthly book list) but just wanted to say that I was totally charmed by the account of the death of James Bowie at the Alamo done in Anglo-Saxon blank verse, which includes, in part:

Gathered the garrison, gave them his orders:
"Houston the Raven is raising a host;
Time's what he asks while he tempers an army.
Never give up this gate to our land.
Hold this door fast, though death comes against us."
. . .
Bold thanes were with him, thirsty for honor,
Schooled well in battle and skilled in all weapons;
Avid for slaughter there, each against thirty,
They stood to the walls and struck for their chieftains,
Houston and Bowie, the bearcat of heroes.
. . .
at last some found him,
Fettered to bed by the fever and dying,
. . . Gladly they rushed him, but glee became panic.
Up from the grip of the grave, gripping weapons,
Gizzardbane rose to wreak his last slaughter,
Killing, though killed. Conquered, he won.
. . .
In brief is the death lay of Bowie, the leader
Who laid down his life for his lord and ring giver,
Holding the doorway for Houston the Raven,
Pearl among princes, who paid in the sequel:
Never was vassal avenged with more slayings!

-- from "The Ballad of Bowie Gizzardbane"

I wonder what the heck Tolkien would have made of it. My hunch is that he might have admired it. It is certainly in keeping with one of the great themes of Anglo-Saxon poetry, the berserker courage of men facing a hopeless end (the sort of spirit he tried to evoke with the story of King Theoden choosing to ride out of Helm's Deep).

Strange to structurally compare the legend of the end of the Alamo, and the myth of Raganok. Anglo-Saxon scops would have recognized it as the same story.
pegkerr: (Default)
I went out this week and bought four CDs, an odd mix but I know them all by heart: Peter Paul and Mary's Album and Moving and Jethro Tull's Songs from the Wood and WarChild.

I have my dad to thank for Peter Paul and Mary, who adored them, but we all listened to them. I would have snaggled several others if I had found them, and I will still look for them. The next one I want to get is In Concert, which was probably the one we listened to the most. There is a very important reference to Peter Paul and Mary in The Wild Swans: after Sean blows up at Elias in the bookstore and disappears, he is playing "Tiny Sparrow" in the middle of the night when they reconcile again; this is the day before Sean tells him he has AIDS. The lyrics were pretty spot on. (I never did get permission to quote them in full; they weren't traditional, although they sound like it, and I wasn't sure I wanted to interrupt the flow to print them in full. I'm still not sure whether that was a mistake or not.) I hope the girls will fall in love with them, too. I'll give them plenty of chance to do so. I did manage to get them hooked on Godspell.

I have my brother Chet to thank for Jethro Tull. He came home every afternoon from school when he was in high school, threw a hamburger under the broiler for an afternoon snack (he had the voracious appetite of a teenage boy) and he would listen to Chicago or Moody Blues or Jethro Tull while doing his homework--he had a lot of it; he was in all AP classes, like I would be when I got to high school myself. (My mother would take it as long as she could, but when she started cooking dinner, we would hear her exasperated admonition "Turn it down!" floating to us from the kitchen.) Chet particularly loved Aqualung and Thick as a Brick. Oddly enough, I don't think he was the one who bought Songs from the Wood; I think I bought that when I went to college (I still have it as an LP down in the basement somewhere). I started wanting to listen to Songs from the Woods again because I've been reading so much about Tolkien the last couple of years. I don't think Tolkien would have listened to Jethro Tull in a million years, and he probably would have thought the band unspeakably vulger, but Ian Anderson feels the same way Tolkien did about hating modernity and the preferability of the distant rural past. I think Tolkien would have loved the title track. It's one of the most hobbity songs I know.

What are some of the essential albums of your childhood that you just had to go out again to purchase as an adult?


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