To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due.– Hob Gadling, toasting upon Dream’s journey as told in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Season of Mists
What’s that lovely piece of music I’ve got playing in the Library? That’d be Boiled in Lead‘s version of a trad piece called ‘Step It Out Mary’ Not ‘tall trad, but who cares long as it’s great music? I’m playing just BiL this afternoon as I go through the correspondence that’s come in to me this past fortnight.
Some of it is from the publicists we deal with you thought I might be interesting in purchasing for the Library. If I’m interested, particularly if it’s fiction, I see if there’s sufficient interest among the Estate community since the purpose of a work is to be read over and over, not sit on a shelf. And some works never garner enough interest to be worth having. For those books, we use the British Interlibrary loaning system.
Now books by Tolkien and books about him and his work always get great attention here. Indeed Denise has his Beren and Lúthien for review now which has been edited by his son Christopher.
So how about some works by or about Tolkien? Let’s start off with Gary looking at a perennial favorites of lots of us: ‘The long and colorful publishing history of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit continues with a new edition that seems to be aimed at reclaiming the written version of the story as a way to introduce it to young readers. It’s a handsome hardcover book with illustrations by the young Jemima Catlin, who was hand-picked for the assignment by the Tolkien Estate.’
Kathleen has a look at book she’s treasured since her childhood, Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham. She says, ‘Smith and Farmer Giles have the advantage of being completed by Tolkien himself, and are lovely, polished tales. . . . They are the work of a very modern and well-educated scholar — but like all Professor Tolkien’s work, they feel like an echo of the sunlit fields and shadowed woods of the British mythic landscape that he so loved.’
Years ago, a large arrived from a publisher, not an uncommon event here, but this one contained ten volumes of, oh let’s have Liz explain: ‘The History of Middle-earth offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine a great writer’s creative development over a period of 60 years. 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 looks at The Monsters and the Critics: ‘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.’
Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark which has a multitude of persons involved in it gets a review by Baseball fan Richard: ‘To be a fan of a minor league baseball team to be a fan of change. The best thing that can happen to your team’s best players is that they leave, promoted to a higher level. Those who return year after year are those whose careers have stalled out, veteran insurance stashed away in case better players get hurt. Even team names and affiliations change with painful regularity, leaving fans only the experience of going to the same ballpark year after year – assuming the team doesn’t move – to serve as essential continuity.’
He next looks at Lew Freedman’s Baseball’s Funnymen; ‘When most people think of the history of baseball, they think of it in terms of a Ken Burns documentary – soaring music, sepia tones, and a certain reverence for the deeds of players engaged in noble competition. But there are other sides of the game, not the least of which is humor. From the bungling, prank-playing Brooklyn Dodgers of old to the modern day, there have always been jokesters, pranksters and clowns both on and off the field.’
And then there’s book about a baseball game which lasted almost as long as cricket test match which is reviewed by Richard too: ‘Bottom of the 33rd, as scribed by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Dan Barry. The book is his ode to the longest baseball game ever played in an organized league, a 33 inning behemoth staged between the AAA Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket PawSox in 1981. Playing third base for the Red Wings that day was a guy everyone agreed was too big to play shortstop: Cal Ripken Jr. His opposite number for the PawSox was Wade Boggs. Mixed in with these two all-time greats were a few quality players (Bruce Hurst, Bobby Ojeda, Rich Gedman), some journeymen and cup-of-coffee types, and of course the guys who never made it at all.’
Babylon 5‘s ‘Day of the Dead’ as written by Neil Gaiman is a study of what happens when an alien race creates their own strange version of that Hispanic holiday on that space station. Read Asher’s thoughtful look at this episode. This being a Neil related thing, it won’t surprise you that there’s an annotated script which Grey reviews here.
Jane Yolen, Shulamith Oppenheim and Stefan Czernecki’s The Sea King is appreciated by Grey: ‘This lovely folk tale has many old friends in it: Vasilisa the Wise, a beautiful princess who is also a bird; Baba Yaga the witch in her house that runs by itself on chicken legs; the King of the Sea in his underwater palace of crystal; and the innocently wise boy who finds his way because he’s generous and observant. And it has one of the most poignant story lines of all: the father who promises to sacrifice the first thing he sees when he returns home — only to find out that he’s just been borne a son.’
Storm + Calm gets Peter’s approval: ‘Described on their website as ‘a swirling reverie of Scots and Irish song; flute; whistles; fiddles; guitar; bouzouki; bodhran; and Irish dance, HAWP is a Celtic ensemble that combines ancient traditions with modern musical approaches to create a sound truly representative of Celtic culture in the 21st century. This album does just what it says on the tin.’
Robert gives a nod to our Coda with some comments on a collection of early music from Iberia, the Dufay Collective’s Music for Alfonso the Wise, he notes some context: ‘Alfonso X, “el Sabio” (“the Wise”), was king of Castile and Leon from 1252 to 1284, a time when those realms were an outpost of European culture on a peninsula under the domination of the Muslim Moors. He was known as a patron of the arts, and his court was a place where noted scholars, Christian, Muslim and Jewish, met with some of the foremost artists and musicians of the day. This collection, which includes the first known song cycle, ascribed to Martin Codax, gives a glimpse of a time and place which is deliciously foreign while at the same time hauntingly familiar.’
And, digging around in the Archives, we came up with this review of Ivory Consort’s Music From the Land of Three Faiths: ‘ Some medieval scholars consider “Moorish” Spain one of the Golden Ages of an otherwise intolerant and violent era. This is debatable, but it’s indisputable that they left a particularly rich musical heritage.’
More early music, this time from farther north — northern France, to be more or less precise — and rather less secular. Of The Tallis Scholars Sing Josquin, Robert says, ‘Josquin’s masses, motets and chansons are, as Peter Philips notes in his commentary on this collection, “complex, intellectually and vocally, posing problems which have only recently been found to represent a supreme challenge.” Or, more succinctly, “Josquin didn’t write any simple music.”’
Stephen finishes off these reviews off with a look at Troka from the band of the same name: ‘The majority of the music on this CD is composed by members of the band and takes in polkas, waltzes, marches and polkas with occasional forays into Swedish, Irish, Balkan and bluegrass. The arrangements are complex but uncluttered, and steer away from the familiar folk approach of a “lead instrument,” taking the melody while the rest accompany. This is genuine “group,” playing with everything beautifully integrated to the extent that it’s hard to imagine these tunes being performed any other way.’
Our What this time is that of Lars seeing an artist for the first time: ‘While in London in the summer of 1977 I went to the now defunct Southwark Folk Festival and for the first time I saw Martin Carthy in action. The festival was held in a teacher’s training college and the evening ended with Martin performing in the middle of the floor in an assembly room. We were just over a hundred sitting on the floor in circles around him. No stage, no microphones, no spectacular lights, just a man, his voice and his guitar. Pure magic. Do not expect me to tell you which songs he sang. I only remember a powerful ‘The Famous Flower of Serving Men’. But I have been a fan ever since.’