New TheOneRing.net staffer MrCere sends in this report from Douglas Anderson’s book tour in Salt Lake City, Utah:
Douglas Anderson, author of the recently re-released “The Annotated Hobbit” spent a couple of hours with me before the bookstore event to talk about his latest work and all of his works. He knows TORN and remarked how friendly the TORN staff and patrons were during his time at Comic-Con in San Diego this past August. Doubtless, he will be a friend of TORN for a long while I suspect.
Anderson is a Tolkien fan’s Tolkien fan. While the staff and users of TORN are steeped in the lore and legend, Anderson has had deep, constant and scholarly study of all of the good professors works from his translations, to his art and his poetry. He also has contact with the almost legendary Tolkien estate and knows Tolkien’s own children and probably they call him “friend.” He enjoys the works on the level that TORNados do, but he understand them and appreciates them with a greater depth and understanding as well. Something like the good professor himself, Anderson appreciates words, and language. He applies philology to the works in order to understand what Tolkien was thinking and doing as he put words here and there or as he incorporated literary in-jokes directly into his texts.
We read a good yarn and know that it also transcends the story and delves into the power of myth and touches us in our lives but Anderson understands that Tolkien was exploring the territory of Beowulf and understands the layers of thought there that I at least, didn’t know existed.
In one of my favorite revelations, Anderson talked about Tolkien’s poetry. I have often heard the poetry in “Hobbit” and “Rings” criticized, and while I liked it and thought it served the story, I always felt that the literary critics knew a bit more than me and I never imagined it to be on par with Shakespeare or Donne. Anderson enlightened me.
Tolkien was writing in medieval meter and while I can know that as a fact, Anderson was kind enough to recite an example or two and explain how they worked which took me from knowing to understanding, at least a little. W.H. Auden, among the premier poets of the 20th century, adored Tolkien’s poetry and really understand what he was working with. Simply, he wrote on a level that worked for his story and was understandable for his readers, but for those with eye to see and ears to hear, there are many more things happening in his poems than the casual reader, and many literary critics, understand. The professor’s works were on our level and at the same time far above our depth.
“He was using medieval meter,” Anderson said. “And really nobody does it any better. It was culturally modeled on modern language using an archaic mode. That isn’t a talent that maybe anybody aspires to but he did it damn well.”
Anderson’s passion is what he called “Literary archeology.” Wow.
Anderson is not at all limited to Tolkien’s works but studies fantasy literature but is especially fond of discovering obscure authors. To explain his finds is more complicated than I can rip out tonight for TORN but for my newspaper I will explore this in a bit more depth. One thing that was interesting, to me at least, is that one of the authors he helped remember was a former staff writer at my paper in 1947. His book “Devil Drum” an horrorish voodoo novel is being reprinted by a small press and Anderson is writing the forward to the book.
Interesting to many TORNados is the strong belief Anderson has in the genre of fantasy as valuable literature, and not as escapist crap. (Although he admitted crap exists in fantasy as in every other written genre including realism.) He would and could go toe-to-toe with many literature folks and aggressively defend fantasy.
He explained that realism came to dominate culture around the 1920s and a generation adopted it as the only viable medium and taught others that all else was worthless. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and others obviously didn’t agree. Ursula La Guin addressed this in “Language Of The Knight” should anybody care to pursue if further.
“Fantasy is liberating,” Anderson said. “It allows writers to approach big questions that the very restricting realism doesn’t allow. Realism came to dominate and when that generation shuffles off this mortal coil it (fantasy) will return.”
I will comment that it is returning even now in popular culture, as witnessed by TORN, the internet and the changing face of Hollywood which is more and more fantasy oriented. “Geeks” are becoming so common that we are taking back society. In Anderson’s words, while quoting Tennyson, “The old order changeth and giveth way to the new.” He quoted that again during that night’s slide show presentation answering a question about the great theme of Lord Of The Rings.
“Fantasy rates at literature, simply. If people can’t see it, that is their problem. They fail to see what is grand.” (I bet somebody could make that their new TORN footer.)
Yes, Virginia, there was fantasy before Tolkien. Many of the folks I meet in every day life think honestly that Tolkien invented the genre. I asked Anderson to talk about it but even a short reading in “The Annotated Hobbit” will make it obvious that Tolkien has fantasy influences all around him and even as a child enjoyed hearing Faerie stories. There is a book, I missed the author, called “Roots Of THe Mountain: Fantasy Before Tolkien.”
What Tolkien did do, if I understood Anderson correctly, is help update fantasy and myth for the 20th century and leave an indelible mark on it.
OTHER QUICK NOTES: Anderson doesn’t mind the movie centered people who come on board and read the books. Perhaps we should be nicer to newbies?
He did not update “The Annotated Hobbit” for the movies but the timing was fortunate.
He feels that the Tolkien family isn’t from a Star Wars generation that loves movies the way “we” do and really fail to see the big deal about it all. The media (me) are like bloodhounds trying to get quotes from them and they really think it isn’t their place to comment. At one point Christopher had a helicopter flying over his out to take pictures.
There is more produced by Tolkien (poetry at least) that hasn’t hit the public. It might be seen “soon.”
There is a strong possibility we will see “The Annotated Lord Of The Rings.” (YES!) Anderson, after being asked by Christopher about it said, “They will be great.” Meaning he didn’t want to tackle it but looks forward to reading it someday. Christopher has very meticulously organized all his papers and eventually they will likely see the light of day. Exciting no?
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE: Young child Q: “How do you know all this stuff?” A: “I read and read for years and years.”
Q: “What about Tom Bombadil” Anderson quotes Tolkien in a radio interview, “Tom Bombadil is a very curious fellow and we will not interfere.” Tolkien then changed the subject. Anderson mentioned that Tom, Christopher’s doll, was flushed down the toilet, prompting Tolkien to write about him years before LOTR.
Q: World War I & Tolkien A: “The War played a very central role (in Tolkien’s life.)” He has lice and trench fever and his experience was ghastly. “It was a very potent experience and I think it influenced him in a powerful manner.”
I believe dear TORN friends, that that is enough. Others will fill in their reports from Seattle and Portland, but that was my lunch and evening’s entertainment with Douglas Anderson, author of The Annotated Hobbit.