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The Bulletin of the Tolkien Society

A few weeks ago I mentioned having joined the Tolkien Society. Today I received in the mail a welcome letter and a copy of the April 2023 Amon Hen, the Bulletin of the Tolkien Society.

The packet was hand addressed, with nice U.K. postage stamps. International mail always looks so exotic!

Amon Hen is very nicely printed on heavy paper. The April issue contains some beautiful artwork, a photograph of Tolkien, and seven articles.

Soon I will write a letter to the Amon Hen editor begging them to do an article on Tolkien and his typewriters, hoping that photos of Tolkien with a typewriter exist.

A strange book about fairies

Source: eBay

The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. W.Y. Evans Wentz, Oxford University Press, 1911. edition

The English historian Ronald Hutton has persuasively argued that there is no continuous history of paganism in the British Isles. Rather, during the 19th Century there was a revival of, and a romanticization of, interest in Celtic paganism. This book, published in 1911, is almost certainly a product of that romanticization and revival. Yet, despite the apparent credulity of its author, W.Y. Evans Wentz, there is much in this book that is genuine, in that Wentz’s interviews were with old folks who were describing actual folk memories as opposed to any new material made up by 19th Century romanticizers.

My biggest surprise with this book is that it is superbly written. The first few chapters are lyrical, picturesque descriptions of the places where Wentz traveled to do his interviews — Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, Brittany, and the Isle of Man.

First editions of this book are rare and very expensive. At present, two first editions are listed on eBay, one at $750 and the other at $999.95. Because the book has been in the public domain for quite some time, there are many reprints for which the text, I assume, was taken from

Wentz, though he obviously was very intelligent and wrote beautifully, must have been quite a poseur. One of the photos of Wentz on Wikipedia shows him dressed in an elaborate Tibetan costume. It seems there wasn’t any form of mysticism that he wasn’t into, including Theosophy. Yet I think Wentz’s book about fairies contains real scholarship with his snapshot of folk beliefs — folk beliefs that I suspect actually were continuous and accounts of which he captured from about 1907 to 1910. Wentz’s papers are at Stanford University and Oxford University.

Only for the woke

I was greatly amused a few weeks ago to read that right-wingers were having fits because Chick-fil-A, a company that struts its “Christian” right-wingery, was market-testing a cauliflower sandwich. I had never been to a Chick-fil-A for two good reasons: I don’t want to patronize a company that struts its right-wingery, and I haven’t eaten chicken for years.

But today, while on a grocery run to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods in Winston-Salem, I felt a bit peckish, and I happened to be near a Chick-fil-A. So why not try out the cauliflower sandwich and have a bit of fun thumbing my nose at the deplorables? It seems the test sandwich is available only in Denver, Charleston, and Greensboro/Winston-Salem. Those three places are places that vote blue.

Surprise, surprise. It tasted just like fast food, though fortunately it didn’t taste like chicken. If the cauliflower sandwich is still on their menu a year or two from now, perhaps I’ll even go have another one.

The Tolkien Society

Letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to an American fan. The letter was posted recently to the Reddit group /r/typewriters.

After I saw this letter in the Reddit /r/typewriters group, I Googled for Tolkien’s address to have a look at the house. In that search there was a link to the Tolkien Society.

A Tolkien Society! Now that is cool. According to the web site, the Tolkien Society has existed since 1969, with Tolkien’s blessing. Tolkien also was the society’s first president and remains the honorary president today. It seems to be a fairly small, but viable and active, organization.

One of the first things I noticed is that, each year, they have a gathering at Oxford called Oxenmoot. This year’s Oxenmoot is August 31 through September 3 at Saint Anne’s College. Next year’s World Science Fiction Convention will be in Glasgow, August 8-12, 2024. So I immediately wondered whether an American traveler might be able to attend both WorldCon and Oxenmoot next year on the same trip. I have emailed the Oxenmoot chair to encourage that.

I instantly joined the Tolkien Society for a year, to see what they’re like and what they’re up to. They create some printed periodicals, and I’d paid a bit extra to have those mailed to me in the U.S.

Tolkien, by the way, is known to have loved typewriters. His favorite typewriter was a very expensive Varitype. He did use other typewriters, though, and the letter above clearly was not typed with a Varitype. The characters are very sharp and even, so my guess is that the letter was written with an electric typewriter. Tolkien was known to have had some painful rheumatism in his hands, so an electric typewriter would have been easier for him to use.

The media are blowing it again

It was of course a given that yesterday’s indictment of Donald Trump would be a media circus. The media are addicted to Trump, not because Trump matters anymore (he doesn’t; he’s ruined) but because of the spectacle that Trump has always created as a way of seducing and using the media. Truth is, the media (especially cable news, which I don’t watch) would do just about anything to keep the Trump circus going.

So while the media were focused on the circus, the real story yesterday was submerged.

The most important part of the real story from yesterday is that Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal, was elected to the state supreme court in Wisconsin. And it wasn’t that she merely squeaked by. She won by 11 points. In the 2016 presidential election in Wisconsin, Trump won over Hillary Clinton by a slim margin — 47.22 to 46.45. In the 2020 president election, Wisconsin started to recover its sanity. Joe Biden beat Trump by a slim margin, 49.45 to 48.82.

Yesterday’s 11-point margin says a great deal about how fed up this country is with Trump and with Republicans. At this point, except in the reddest of places, Democrats can win just by fielding candidates who are reasonably sane and sensible. As MAGA Republican clowns flaunt Republican meanness and know-nothingness in front of the cameras, Republicans are doing all of Democrats’ campaigning for them. Does anyone see a trend that would indicate that the Republican Party is capable of squelching the clowns and finding a presidential candidate for 2024 who can expand the appeal of the Republican Party rather than causing voters to beg Democrats to save them?

While the media ran photos of Marjorie Taylor Greene in her aviator glasses screaming into a megaphone, Heather Cox Richardson calmly reports in this morning’s newsletter that “There were far more Trump opponents than supporters in the crowd outside the courthouse.”

As I see it, here is where we stand today. Trump is defunct. There will be more indictments in Georgia and from the U.S. Department of Justice. Even if Trump somehow got the Republican nomination for president in 2024 (are Republicans that stupid?), Trump would lose in a landslide. Whatever happens with Republicans in 2024, Republicans are probably fatally split. MAGA Republicans probably would just stay home if Trump is not on the ticket. Democrats certainly have a problem to solve, because of Biden’s age and the lack of a younger rising star (at this point, anyway). But the Democratic Party of today has much smarter leadership than, say, the Democratic Party of 2015.

The media, no doubt, will continue to try to scare us by saying, for example, that the New York indictments are weak. That line keeps the circus going by flattering Republicans while keeping Democrats scared. What the media want is turmoil and circus, with story lines that tell us that the elections of 2024 are going to be really, really close and that Trump might be on the ticket.

Yesterday’s election in Wisconsin tells us something else. It tells us that most Americans are horrified by what they’ve seen of Republicans and what Republicans do with power. Not only that, the Republican Party is split. Trump, who you will remember did not win the popular vote even in 2016, is a guaranteed loser.

If the leaders of today’s Democratic Party are as smart as I think they are, then in 2024 we should see a Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities in Congress. This country’s fascist nightmare will be over. As for the Republican Party, should we call it suicide? Or should we say that Trump destroyed the Republican Party the same way he destroys everything he touches?

Slowly, reality returns

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Many news outlets are reporting this morning that MAGA-world is freaking out about Trump’s indictment. Are they? I don’t see much sign of that. It looks to me to be just the usual theater in which the usual passengers in the MAGA clown car perform in front of the cameras for “the base.” One way that I try to keep an eye on the local Republican Party is to watch their Facebook group. There has been only one post there about the indictment. It linked to Trump’s statement from wherever he posts these days in which Trump tries to stir up enough rage to get people into the streets and to send him money. But reporters in New York wrote last night that not a single Trump supporter showed up outside the district attorney’s office. I seriously doubt that any more fools wearing red caps are willing to go to prison for Trump. Those days are over. And while some of the groundlings, as an expression of their demoralization, may send money to Trump, the cold-hearted big-money donors know better than to waste any more money on Trump. We must try to follow the money if we want to understand what the Republican Party will try to pull off next.

If we are fortunate — and I think it may be the case — then the demoralization of Trump world has begun. They know he’s guilty, and they know that the indictment in New York is not nearly as serious as the indictments we’ll see in Georgia and from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The sort of people who show up and cheer at Trump rallies don’t know a thing. But you can be sure that Republican grandees much farther up the food chain who do know some things have got to figure out how to pivot. Those grandees know that Trump is finished, kaput, ruined, useless. Trump is worse than useless now, actually, because the grandees have to figure out how to get the groundlings to turn on Trump and to be open to new concoctions of deception and resentment that might have a chance of keeping Republicans from being crushed in the 2024 elections.

This is a real test of the mainstream media, and now is a good time take some measures on the degree to which news outlets are willing to deceive us in order to keep us clicking and to keep their ratings up. Politico, for example, wrote a piece the day before Trump was indicted saying that the New York grand jury was going to break for a month and that there would be no indictment for at least a month. Politico wrote that piece as though it was something new, though in fact that month had been part of the grand jury schedule all along, as the district attorney of course knew. Huffington Post and other outlets then took that idea and ran with it (see below), and no doubt it got them lots and lots of clicks. Remember this deception in the future when assessing how much we should trust Politico and Huffington Post.

Last night, the Washington Post put up an editorial “The Trump indictment is a poor test case for prosecuting a former president.” This is an example of centrist pandering, trying to appear “objective” and trying not to appear too liberal. Let’s remember that in the future in assessing how much we should trust the Washington Post’s editorial department.

Here I can’t resist putting in a plug for what I’ve written here in the past — that Trump is going to prison. It’s not that I found that idea in a crystal ball. Rather, it’s obvious, because Trump’s guilt is obvious, and because I paid no attention to the he’s-going-to-get-away-with-it-all clickbait. Four years of Trump in the White House was not enough time for Republicans to destroy the institutions of government responsible for holding criminals like Trump accountable and to make America safe for Putin-style oligarchs. Eight years probably would have been enough, which is why they were so desperate to stay in power.

Meanwhile, let’s feast on the Schadenfreude and cringe with disgust at the depravity of right-wing operatives and bloviators who would never use the word “justice” until justice comes for a rich fascist criminal pig such as Donald Trump.

Clickbait for liberals

Great Expectations, but not what we were expecting

It’s certainly not my intention to be so contrary in my taste in books and films. It seems I just can’t help myself. While everyone is raving about The Last of Us, with its 96 percent RottenTomatoes rating, I thought (at least after three and a half episodes, which was all I could endure) that it was the worst sort of television trash — dumb and snarky dialogue, irritating low-life characters, and just another lame zombie movie, a genre that refuses to die but really, really ought to.

And now there is a new version of Great Expectations. Its RottenTomatoes rating is 38/33, but it’s one of the best period pieces I’ve come across in a while. I don’t understand this. What’s wrong with me?

All too often (particularly, I think, on HBO) scripts try to deceive us with quirk, snark, zingy insults, and then more quirk and more snark. But real imagination is much less common.

This version of Great Expectations does not stick to the Dickens. It’s re-imagined, and I would even say that it’s improved upon, though I haven’t read Great Expectations since high school. The dialogue is excellent. The cast is superb. It’s very adult. If it were a book, it would be banned in high schools as well as in universities in Florida.

The series started yesterday (March 26) on Hulu. Two episodes have been released so far. The next episode (of six) will be released on April 2.

Here’s a link to the trailer on YouTube. I highly recommend it.

When design was soft and kind

My IBM Selectric I, made in 1974, restored by a former IBM field engineer. The Selectric I typewriters were introduced in 1961. Click here for high resolution version.

I have written in the past about how today’s taste in automobile design is for aggressive-looking, mean-looking, vehicles. Even Volkswagen, whose designs used to charm people, now makes cars that look like they’re sneering at you. The 300-horsepower Arteon Volkswagen looks like a bully, with a vaguely sadistic expression. The sociology of this is no doubt disturbing. But let’s talk about designs that charm, and soothe, and purr, and lower one’s blood pressure, like petting the cat.

The IBM Selectric I typewriter, I believe, is not only the most beautiful typewriter ever made, but also is one of the most beautiful machines ever made. It was designed by Eliot Noyes. It first came on the market in 1961. The Selectric II came along in 1973, and the Selectric III in 1980. The Selectric II and III, though still beautiful machines, don’t have the please-pet-me cat-like curves of the Selectric I, and they’re too wide and industrial-looking to be charming.

Maybe not everyone would see a cat in the design of the Selectric I, but I do, not least because it reminds me of the Jaguar S-type, which was introduced during the same era as the Selectric I, in 1963. I have not been able to find the name of any particular designer for the Jaguar cars. But it seems clear that Jaguar design reflects the taste of Sir William Lyons, also known as “Mr. Jaguar,” who ran the company until he retired in 1972.

For five years, I have been driving a Fiat 500. It’s mouse gray. Though the Fiat 500 is one of the most popular cars in the world, Americans (other than a few people like me) wouldn’t buy them, and Fiat stopped selling them in the U.S. My guess is that the unpopularity of the Fiat 500 is not just because it’s small. It also looks like a mouse, or maybe a vole. Driving a Fiat 500, I suspect, is very healthy for one’s blood pressure, at least until some mean-looking car with a mean driver gets behind you.

It pleases me greatly that typewriters are having a renaissance. And it’s not just typewriter veterans like me. Most of the interest is coming from members of Generation Z. There is a very active Reddit group. It’s charming, really, that young people buy typewriters before they have the slightest idea how to use them. For example, with manual typewriters, they don’t understand that one strikes the keys rather than pressing them. A common question with older typewriters is: Where is the “1” key? That drove me crazy, too, when I was about nine years old, until someone told me to try the lower-case “L” key. Nor do the Generation Z types know that, to make an exclamation point, one first types a period, then backspaces and types an apostrophe. The Selectrics, though, all along had enough room on those tilt-and-rotate type balls for a “1” and a “!”.

Restoration of the IBM Selectrics is very challenging. Fortunately there are still a few old guys around who used to work for IBM. Some younger people are learning. Parts, of course, are no longer made. Some nylon parts in the Selectrics, such as the main drive hub, almost always have cracked, and that doomed an old Selectric. This problem has been solved by people who use 3D printers to make replacement parts, usually out of aluminum.

There also is a lot of interest in learning what kind of typewriters our favorite writers used to use. J.R.R. Tolkien favored the very expensive Varityper machines. Isaac Asimov loved his Selectric I. There are photographs of Hunter S. Thompson with his Selectric I, which was red, like mine. According to the Washington Post, Jack Kerouac used an Underwood portable, Ernest Hemingway used a Royal Quiet Deluxe, and Ayn Rand used a Remington portable. It is sometimes said that it was from Remington Rand that Ayn Rand chose her last name (her birth name was Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum), but I believe that has been disproven. I have rarely typed on Remington typewriters, which is fine with me since I can’t stand Ayn Rand.

Still today, IBM is proud of the Selectric typewriter’s history, and there are articles on IBM’s web site including an article on the Selectrics’ cultural impact.

My bossy 15-year-old cat, Lily, would never tolerate another cat in the house, preventing me from becoming a crazy old cat person. But homeless and scroungy old typewriters, like cats, beg to be rescued, fixed up, and looked after in a forever home.

⬆︎ A 1966 Jaguar S-type saloon. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

⬆︎ A Fiat 500. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

⬆︎ Isaac Asimov with his IBM Selectric I. The illustration, by Rowena Morrill, was for the cover of Asimov’s Opus 200.

⬆︎ Type sample from my IBM Selectric I, which uses a fabric (as opposed to film) ribbon.

Euell Gibbons, 1974

Euell Gibbons, near High Point, North Carolina, February 1974

I came across this photo today while going through an old box of photos. I have sometimes mentioned to people that I once went foraging with Euell Gibbons and took a nice picture of him, but I had never scanned the picture, and I had forgotten what box the photo was in. Today I came across the photo while sorting through my disorganized archives.

It was February of 1974. A reporter friend at the Winston-Salem Journal (which was the first newspaper I ever worked for) had arranged an interview and a foraging trip with Gibbons, who probably was on a publicity tour. My reporter friend asked me to go along, since I at least had a bit of experience with foraging while she had none.

Even on a strawberry farm in February, Gibbons found plenty to eat. After the foraging, the owners of the strawberry farm had invited us to fix lunch in their kitchen, using our foraging finds.

I still remember taking that photo. I saw the row of ducks on the far end of the field, and I realized that if I made a quick dash to get into position, I could get a photo of Gibbons with the ducks in the background. The Winston-Salem Journal, of course, had photographers, and copy-editing, not photography, was my job. But rather than sending a staff photographer over to the next county, they trusted me to come back with pictures.

Sadly, Gibbons died the following year. He was quite a cultural phenomenon in the early 1970s — outdoorsman and natural foods advocate. I am pretty sure that Stalking the Wild Asparagus has been kept in print for all these years. I lost my first edition years ago but replaced it with a new edition that doesn’t seem to have a date other than the date of the first edition, 1962.

WorldCon will be in Glasgow in 2024

I have never been to a World Science Fiction Convention, but I hope do that in August 2024, when it will be in Glasgow.

The annual Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy are given at WorldCon. Hugos are voted on by the fans who attend the convention (unlike the Nebula Awards, which are given by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America).

Preparations for WorldCons begin way in advance. You can follow the progress here. You can also follow the preparations on Facebook by searching for “Glasgow 2024.”

My first thought was to attend only for a day, mostly because Glasgow is such a gloomy city compared with Edinburgh. Yet I respect Glasgow for what it is — an old industrial city working hard to re-invent itself. Though WorldCon is reserving rooms in at least eight hotels, the main events will be at the Crowne Plaza. That’s also where the parties will be, and I think it’s pretty much a certainty that there will be a cèilidh. This may be the only occasion I’ll ever have for attending a proper Scottish cèilidh. So instead of ducking in for only a day, I think I’ll buy a ticket for the entire event and see how it goes.

This year’s WorldCon, by the way, is in China.