A FEW WORDS, A FEW PICTURES (Or Determining How Many Words a Picture is Really Worth at Current Market Value)
By John Howe

I’ve often considered that artists should be subject to restraining orders, forbidding them to approach any closer than 100 yards to writing about their ownwork. Alas, I am a convicted and incurable recidivist, and like most of my earnest colleagues, am already serving a life sentence, so a few words won’t hurt.

Those of you who’ve had the pleasure (or the misfortune) of meeting me will likely know I feel very strongly about this whole business of making pictures. (Deep inside me is a thoroughly repressed professor, chained up and living on bread and water.)

So, when offered the opportunity to do a book where I could actually say what I think, I was not going to keep my mouth shut or my typing fingers idle. I spent this spring chained up and living on bread and water, fingers madly dancing their two-step over my keyboard typing words in a frenzy of ardent application (I am an out-of-touch-typist at best), handed it all over to the editor and… well, nothing. That’s publishing. The six months separating the frenzy of creation and revision from actual publication are often disconcerting. Now that interview time is coming around, I’ve forgotten most of what I wrote. [More]

Dragon*Con 2007: Tolkien Track Highlights - TORN Table
Celebriel reports, Well another Dragon*Con has ended, and Tolkien Track attendees are still busy this week editing photos, uploading videos, emailing new and old friends, and getting costumes and props cleaned and safely put away. Here are just some of the track highlights this year (not including Anne Petty’s Dragon Smackdown and TORn’s ‘The Hobbit’ DragonCon Presentation, which are covered separately).

Friday night: An Evening in Bree. This Friday party traditionally gets the weekend into high gear, with most attendees in their best Lord of the Rings finery eager to catch up with friends, enjoy the great bands (The Brobdingnagian Bards and Emerald Rose), and dance like hobbits at The Green Dragon.

This year there was no costume contest, and there was a scary medical emergency (which fortunately, we understand as of Sunday, the individual survived), but the ballroom was full and was even closed for crowd control for a time.

Saturday morning: The fourth annual parade through the streets of Atlanta featured a record number of participants and thousands of spectators. Middle Earth was again well represented. View CNN’s feature with parade footage here. Find video of the whole parade uploaded in sections on YouTube. The parade was followed by the LOTR/Arms of Middle Earth pizza lunch on the 10th floor of the Marriott.

Saturday morning: Tolkien Costuming. Michael Cook, Marcia Banach and Jules Kelly gave an excellent workshop on costume design, materials, and fabrication. Marcia and Jules detailed each layer of their elaborate new King of the Dead and Soldier of the Dead costumes (see photos), and Michael offered solid advice on leather and weaponry. Attendance was limited only because the official schedule listed their panel at 11:30PM rather than AM.

Other high points included talking to the delightful Peter Beagle in the Walk of Fame and hanging out at the TORn fan table in the Hilton, where the new Smaug Kills t-shirts were on sale, visitors picked up free Sideshow Collectibles gift cards, and fans inspected and signed the Help the Hobbit Happen petition (currently at over 62,000 signatures.) Track Director Jean Baughman and her staff once again did a great job planning the programming, keeping everything on schedule, decorating the track room, providing raffle prizes, and dispensing advice and support to attendees and presenters alike.

Anne Petty at Dragon*Con
Celebriel writes, Who better to talk about dragons at Dragon*Con than Tolkien scholar and author Anne Petty? Anne’s talk, “Glaurung vs Smaug: Dragon Smackdown,” helped kick off the Tolkien Track on Friday and was repeated on Sunday.

Anne reminded us that Tolkien called dragons “a potent creation of men’s imagination,” and she took us through the characteristics of dragons and dragon tales as classified in Finnish scholar Antti Aarne’s Tale Type Index, published in 1910 and now known as the Aarne-Thompson Tale Type Index after English translator and scholar Stith Thompson. These include:

  • The hero fights a mythical dragon
  • The dragon sleeps on treasure
  • A human steals from the dragon’s horde
  • The dragon guards a water source
  • Dragon’s blood is poisonous
  • Dragons’ eyes and their voices can cast spells
  • Dragon’s blood gives magical properties
  • Dragon’s have an exposed vulnerability (which the hero or an accomplice must discover)

Anne explained that Tolkien knew dragons from childhood, from stories in Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book, first published in 1890 and still in print, which included “The Story of Sigurt.” He visualized dragons as worms, long and skinny, and in length 20 feet or more, very different from the squat, bulky dragons known most commonly in the west from the St. George legend. She noted that the dragon in the Rankin-Bass animated “The Hobbit” of 1977 is fairly is close to Tolkien’s vision – an Eastern dragon not a Western one.

With this background, Anne developed the contrasts and comparisons between Glaurung and Smaug. Glaurung is a dragon of the First Age, the first of Morgoth’s great dragons. His name means “burning,” suggesting that he is a firedragon or uruloki.

Tolkien describes him as a “golden dragon of Morgoth,” “the father of dragons” and “the golden dragon of the god of hell.” In personality, Glaurung is impulsive and calculating in a human sort of way. Glaurung is relative young – we know this because in his early battles his platelike armor has not completely hardened. In “The Children of Hurin,” Turin kills Glauring by stabbing him from beneath. His vulnerability was ignoring or underestimating humans in his focus on the elves.

Smaug, also called a worm and a winged firedrake, is the last of the dragons. He doesn’t work for Sauron or Morgoth but is a free agent. He lives in under the Lonely Mountain (Erebor), which he took from the dwarves, and is red gold in color.

His name means “to squeeze through, like a snake through a hole.” Bilbo noticed Smaug’s vulnerable spot when the dragon was flattered into revealing his diamond waistcoat. A thrush overheard Bilbo telling the dwarves and relayed the information to Bard of Esgaroth, who shot Smaug with an arrow. Like Glaurung overlooking humans, Smaug erred in overlooking hobbits and focusing on his dwarf enemies.

Smaug’s descriptors, while impressive, are not as terrifying as First Age dragon Glaurung’s. He is known as “Smaug the tremendous,” “Smaug the mighty,” and Smaug “the unassessably wealthy.” Smaug is also, we might say, better socialized. It’s almost impossible to imagine a dragon like Glaurung in conversation with Bilbo in “Riddles in the Dark.”

At the end of Anne’s talk, fans discussed who might voice Smaug in any forthcoming production of “The Hobbit.” Among the suggestions were James Earl Jones, Sean Connery, John Rhys-Davies, and Jeremy Irons.

Read more at www.annepetty.com. Check out Anne’s books, especially The Dragons of Fantasy (2004), at the web site.

Tolkien fans everywhere will soon be able to buy into a legend by subscribing to the public appeal to finance a sculpture celebrating the internationally acclaimed author and his Birmingham roots. From October 1st, courtesy of EBay, fans can bid for a metal leaf with a personalised dedication and associate themselves with this most famous of writers.

The iconic controversial 20 ft high “Ent” will be located on Birmingham’s Tolkien Trail close to where the author lived in Moseley Village, and between his childhood home of Sarehole, later immortalised as “Hobbiton” and the Edgbaston of his youth. The Ent, a benign and friendly tree-like being, is depicted striding across a carpet of metal leaves towards Moseley Bog, the inspiration for the “Old Forest” in “The Lord of the Rings.”

The sculptor is Tim Tolkien, grandson of JRR Tolkien’s younger brother, Hilary. Tim already has a track record in creating landmark public art like his spectacular `Sentinel’ sculpture on Spitfire Island in Castle Vale marking the area’s association with the WWII fighter plane.

The giant statue will be fabricated in recycled stainless steel with bronze and copper coatings. The individually wrought leaves will be embedded into a paving of resin bonded, crushed green glass at the base of the Ent. Tim will engrave each unique leaf with wording of the sponsor’s choosing.

There are a total of 400 silver coloured metal leaves, the first of which has been reserved by The Tolkien Society and some others sold to local patrons on a preferential basis. In addition there are 30 larger bronze leaves for corporate sponsors and private donors,

The Moseley Statue Group who finally obtained planning permission earlier this year has always envisaged an international dimension to the public appeal to raise the £80,000 needed to finance the sculpture. Tolkien is a worldwide phenomenon with readers, admirers and devotees in every corner of the globe.

For those familiar with the EBay worldwide marketplace, buying your leaf couldn’t be easier. Type ‘Ent Leaves’ into the search box, and you will be offered the opportunity to ‘Buy it Now’ on a strictly limited number of leaves. £500 will secure you a leaf, but if you are a risk-taker, you can make an offer – and take a leaf out of Tolkien’s book…

All three of Peter Jackson’s hugely successful, Oscar-winning films will be available to see in their original theatrical 35mm with this fantastic all-nighter on 15 September. Tickets £25, £18 concs. [bfi.org.uk]

  • 10.45pm The Fellowship of The Ring (2001) (Cert PG – 178 mins)
  • 2.15am The Two Towers (2002) (Cert 12A – 179 mins)
  • 5.45am Return of the King (2003) (Cert 12A – 201 mins)

Or How All Good Things Come to an End

John Howe writes: I confess to being a creature of habit. Good and bad, of course, but nevertheless…

Closing weekend this weekend in Saint-Ursanne. The banners and statues will remain in place until the end of September, but the rest will be packed away.

Also, given that Alan Lee will be there on the Sunday, a certain amount of congestion is definitely going to occur. I think he will remember his first visit to Switzerland as being… very busy.

The organizers have edited a lovely series of postcards (yes, I know it makes little sense to have these at the END of the exhibition, but put it down to my pain-in-the-neck attitude concerning quality and atmosphere.) They can be ordered via the official site. Most of the photos are courtesy of (the very talented) professional photographer Darrin Vanselow.

Click here to view the postcards
At any rate, as a creature of habit, I initially found difficult the requirements of weekly driving to Saint-Ursanne as the statues were taking shape. Now that I no longer need to, I awake before dawn Tuesday mornings wondering just what it is that’s missing. Initially I looked with some dismay at my “days-John-Howe-present” calendar, now that my presence is not required, I find that I miss being dragged out of my lair. (On the other hand, I’ve finally realized why I don’t teach or give courses on a regular basis.)

I was intending to write something witty and philosophical about how all good things must have an ending, but a certain precipitation of things-to-do has left me high and dry, well above the tideline of idle creativity. Also, with the two books appearing this fall, the curiously dismaying lull that follows delivery and proofreading is now nearly over as the publishing dates draw closer and most spare moments are consumed by details-to-supply, resized-images-to-send and articles-to-go-over just in case I-didn’t-mean-to-say-exactly-that.

Actually, just now I am struggling with essential trivia like just how much was the fine that the Greek court condemned Heinrich Schliemann to pay to the Turkish authorities for smuggling Priam’s Treasure out of Troy under his wife’s red shawl. One source says 5000 dollars, another says 50,000 francs (but WHICH “francs”, or are these the piasters that Turkey used prior to switching to lira, about the same time the judgement was made) or 10,000 francs (or dollars, it depends). And how much is that worth in today’s currency?
Or what year was it in A.D. 1?

Or why do historians call the Phoenicians a “merchant race”? (Is that ALL they did? Are we a “computer race”?) or seem to think the inhabitants of Mohenjo-daro were dull because their bricks are all the same size?

Or more practical matters, such as how much of the face of the northernmost colossus of Memnon was intact before Napoleon’s troops decided it would be perfect for target practice? (As for the one Severus Septimus so summarily stacked up again, which of the blocks are made of sandstone and which of quartzite? And will my editor pay my trip to go see if I asked politely?) Or what might the ceremonial fire-bowl of a high priest of Cahokia have really looked like, or a view of Ultima Thule? How do you walk a songline? What colour was Eve’s hair, and how many legs did that pesky serpent have? Could anyone read rongorongo? Who wrote the letter from Prester John? How many towers in storied Camelot, and how far by boat to Avalon?
Where have all the unicorns gone?

So, with all these interrogations buzzing like pesky bees around (and in) my little head, this witty and philosophical newsletter will not be written. (If I can remember one-tenth of what I’ll have written for the book at hand, I’ll be amply satisfied.)

Thankfully, there are other distractions.

Saint-Ursanne will be auctioning off the sculptures and the banners, as well as the ink-jet prints from the Cloister. A 25-foot fern was JUST what your garden needed? There still might be room in the garage for a 75-foot dragon? That banner of Gollum would be just perfect in the stairwell? Now’s your chance, the auction is here. Starting once the show closes, and ending on September 30th. (The auction pages will be in English, French and German. If they are not quite ready by the time this goes on line, they will be very shortly.)

See you in a few weeks.