The SFFaudio Podcast #345 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, Bryan Alexander, and Professor Eric S. Rabkin talk about the Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon.
Talked about on today’s show:
1937, Jesse has a radical thesis, is this book a true story?, I’m not really happy I just think that I am, Alice In Acidland, drugs, what do we mean by true?, arachnoids and ikthyoids, a summary of Last And First Men, the unnamed narrator, astral projection, the contents of this book, not history but a personal experience (of imagination), standing on a hill, an interesting fantasia, considering the size of the universe, Star Trek with Nazi costumes is possible and perhaps even inevitable, The Truman Show, the nature of infinity, an Italian who would be perfectly happy to use the word true about this book, “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark.”, bitterness, Dante Alighieri, a lyric poem, Olaf Stapledon was a philosopher, a blazing panoply, an image of the rose, OS, “One night when I had tasted bitterness I went out on to the hill.”, an abiding faith, the original meaning of comedy, comedies end in marriage, sitcoms, both narrators acknowledge their psychological state, an exponential rhythm, overhead obscurities in flight, a Doppler shift, the other Earth, Valtu, a composite character, planets – > solar systems -> galaxies, a fractal experience, an encompassing wisdom, marriage as a small atom of community, spirit inhabited rock, a World War I novel, 1986, Eric taught Star Maker to Bryan, memories imbricated upon each other, the preface, Stapledon was an ambulance driver in WWI, looming WWII, militarism, seeing the sunny side of a ruined planet, Merseyside, too smashed up to really be alive, a 1930s novel, fascism vs. communism, how to organize the self and society, a secular myth, a shock to civilization, the cycle of mechanization, terrible mutations, the onset of the tank, a sense of horror, WWI and WWII as two different episodes, the Spanish Civil War, shaking off colonialism, materialistic industrialization, the only wait out is an act of faith, how can we not think of the Star Maker as a monster, “struck dumb with shame”, limitations of the audio medium, Bryan’s keyboard, C.S. Lewis, why C.S. Lewis didn’t like Star Maker, a Lewis-nemesis, crusades, the Great War on Terror (2 decades old), mindless religious violence, anticipations of subsequent Science Fiction, The High Crusade by Poul Anderson, two 20th century philosophies, Freud and Marx, neurosis and sublimation, genitals with sense organs, radio pornography, the feelies from Brave New World, crisis of labour, ideologies as philosophical artifacts, not Dave Singer, separated by space and time, supplementary parentheses, adduction of Christianity, three linked universes, playing for the souls of the creatures, a timeless heaven and a timeless hell, Earth, Mars, and Venus in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, suffering for the redemption of the Earth, explicitly not a Christian view, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy as a response to a paragraph in Star Maker, all the Christs of all the worlds, “a basket of Christs”, this is Arthur C. Clarke, a tour of Science Fiction in the future, this is The Mote In God’s Eye, The High Crusade, the novel itself is a universe, cosmos vs. universe, Jesse’s theory about the Game Of Thrones universe in the TV show, what Clarke does this in slight watercolours Stapledon paints in bold oils on a massive canvas, Arthur C. Clarke’s life changing moment, copying out the scales of magnitude, Bryan’s son, encapsulating, it is Stapledon, Dante is Dante in The Divine Comedy, The Divine Comedy as political revenge, Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno, Stapledon is not a punishment guy, when Lovecraft looks out of the universe…, when Stapledon looks at the same vista he’s not as melancholy about it, The Cats Of Ulthar, contemporaries, philosophical horror, long distance psychology, like Poe, fairy tales, handling fears, we get to feel, this is an education effort, quite special, a genre issue, the roller-coaster moment, looking at the vocabulary, eldritch and ichor, lucidity, feeling, the etymology of the word “vermin”,
I reflected that not one of the visible features of this celestial and
living gem revealed the presence of man. Displayed before me, though
invisible, were some of the most congested centers of human population.
There below me lay huge industrial regions, blackening the air with
smoke. Yet all this thronging life and humanly momentous enterprise had
made no mark whatever on the features of the planet. From this high
look-out the Earth would have appeared no different before the dawn of
man. No visiting angel, or explorer from another planet, could have
guessed that this bland orb teemed with vermin, with world-mastering,
self-torturing, incipiently angelic beasts.
the stellar wars, too lucid for more tribal patterns, sympsychic partnership, angelic vermin, more real than all the stars, like two close trees grown together, difference can be strength, the Orson Welles radio version of The War Of The Worlds, versus the Martians our differences don’t make a hill’s worth of difference, The Lord Of The Rings, looking for the Ents and the Entwives, there are Ents in Star Maker, the holy sex transmission that never got off, the ships worlds,
It was a strange experience to enter the mind of an intelligent ship to
see the foam circling under one’s own nose as the vessel plunged through
the waves, to taste the bitter or delicious currents streaming past
one’s flanks, to feel the pressure of air on the sails as one beat up
against the breeze, to hear beneath the water-line the rush and murmur
of distant shoals of fishes, and indeed actually to hear the
sea-bottom’s configuration by means of the echoes that it cast up to the
under-water ears. It was strange and terrifying to be caught in a
hurricane, to feel the masts straining and the sails threatening to
split, while the hull was battered by the small but furious waves of
that massive planet. It was strange, too, to watch other great living
ships, as they plowed their way, heeled over, adjusted the set of their
yellow or russet sails to the wind’s variations; and very strange it was
to realize that these were not man-made objects but themselves conscious
Sometimes we saw two of the living ships fighting, tearing at one
another’s sails with snake-like tentacles, stabbing at one another’s
soft “decks” with metal knives, or at a distance firing at one another
with cannon. Bewildering and delightful it was to feel in the presence
of a slim female clipper the longing for contact, and to carry out with
her on the high seas the tacking and yawing, the piratical pursuit and
overhauling, the delicate, fleeting caress of tentacles, which formed
the love-play of this race. Strange, to come up alongside, close-hauled,
grapple her to one’s flank, and board her with sexual invasion. It was
charming, too, to see a mother ship attended by her children. I should
mention, by the way, that at birth the young were launched from the
mother’s decks like little boats, one from the port side, one from the
starboard. Thenceforth they were suckled at her flanks. In play they
swam about her like ducklings, or spread their immature sails. In rough
weather and for long voyaging they were taken aboard. At the time of our
visit natural sails were beginning to be aided by a power unit and
propeller which were fixed to the stern.
nothing like this in Science Fiction, Lloyd Abbey’s The Last Whales, an elegiac book, another sub-genre of Kindle based pornography, much of William Wordsworth’s poetry is admired too simply, Eric reads Lines Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, the houses with windows like sleeping eyes, watching the lives of dreams, the houses are sleeping not the people within them, the smokeless air, lying still, what makes the beauty, The World Is Too Much With Us, a cry for God, Fungi From Yuggoth (IX): The Courtyard by H.P. Lovecraft:
It was the city I had known before;
The ancient, leprous town where mongrel throngs
Chant to strange gods, and beat unhallowed gongs
In crypts beneath foul alleys near the shore.
The rotting, fish-eyed houses leered at me
From where they leaned, drunk and half-animate,
As edging through the filth I passed the gate
To the black courtyard where the man would be.
The dark walls closed me in, and loud I cursed
That ever I had come to such a den,
When suddenly a score of windows burst
Into wild light, and swarmed with dancing men:
Mad, soundless revels of the dragging dead—
And not a corpse had either hands or head!
deemed unfit, body horror, Robert E. Howard, M.R. James, ever more capacious mentalities, being taught by groups, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Inner Light, The Horla by Guy de Maupassant as a horrible version of this, Passengers by Robert Silverberg, Boneland by Jeffrey Thomas, from a microscopic perspective, these things pass, bodyless timelords, a swarm of locusts, eugenics, Chapter 9, cultural and eugenical means, The King In Yellow (The Repairer Of Reputations) by Robert W. Chambers, the lethal chamber, Futurama, Providence, Alan Moore, criticism of Moore, turning everything Lovecraft hates into love, Last And First Men was a bestseller in 1930, the fifth generation, the Martian hive-mind, what is the moral ideal that Stapledon hopes that we move toward?, individuality in community, a literary allusion, a race on Venus, from epoch to epoch, that scaling thing again, the problem with fascism, fasces, is this a Darwinian book?, parasitism, symbiosis, evolution, Marx dedicated Capital to Darwin, getting rid of Harper, mutual aid, The World, the Flesh & the Devil by J.D. Bernal, astronomy, Peter Kropotkin (Mutual Aid: A Factor Of Evolution), mutual slaughter, profit in fraternization with the enemy, like Rod Serling The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street, gentleness as a religion, the entangled bank (in Origin Of Species), functional stability arising out of local possibilities of violence, virtue in the creator is not the same of virtue in the creature, a third position, the sense experience of a star, in the center of this paragraph, free will and determinism are compatible, always bigger, a selfless star, the normal voluntary motor activity of a star, if you empty your ego and just feel others, perfect selflessness allows entrance into perfect community, getting your karma clean, dark matter, the science is pretty damn good, the key word is “lucid”, the vast emptiness enables the insight into the stars, rubies lay behind me, the sky’s familiar diamonds, all possible light, watch Steven Universe, ageless like Star Maker, the tag cloud, world and worlds, Oswald Spengler, growth -> change -> decay, the myth at the end, the course of empire paintings, The Decline Of The West, Arnold J. Toynbee, future histories, we could see if we were lucid, a great Götterdämmerung moment, the Russian civil war, The White Goddess, The Golden Bough, subsequent Science Fiction, for those who haven’t yet read the book…, the most disliked and most liked book, what kind of a novel is this?, an epic poem crossed with a lyric poem, erroneous expectations, feel better about your fishwife and your step children, back to Lovecraft, a writer of ideas, Odd John and Sirius are more like regular novels, Jack London’s Star Rover, more swords fewer wives, Frank Herbert, God Emperor Of Dune, when you frame it that way…, Accelerando by Charles Stross, full time IT professionals writing SF, Ted Chiang and Cory Doctorow, Ted Chiang can do anything, lapidary, Jorges Luis Borges wrote an introduction for Star Marker, A Story Between Jest and Earnest, Love and Discord.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Talked about on today’s show:
Book 4, from The Taming Of Smeagol to the end of The Two Towers, or “Don’t get tangled-up with a spider”, or “Frodo slogging through the marshes forever”, or “nothing but a bunch of people walking”, Jesse’s least favorite, so gloomy, poems, flora, fauna, stew, Julie thinks it’s necessary, encounters, the overall gloom, the purification of Frodo, also Sam, carry-on and finish-off, Sam as the hero, Sam telling the story, Sam is the lowest of the low, the evolution of Sam, Sam is jealous of Gollum, Jesse loves the meta-stuff, “Mr Frodo, sir”, Smeagol must save them both, once upon a time, “Tell me more about Sam, dad.”, the huge elf warrior, Gollum’s story, we’re never the villain, what inspired Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains, seeing it from the orcs’ point of view, how well structured, looking forward and looking back, nuanced and multi-layered, Tolkien’s reputation, a very black and white moral sensibility…, the other point of view, the creation of orcs, Melkor, one of the seven gods of Middle Earth, the blight of Mordor, the flowers on the crown, dark and light, Frodo and Gollum, old and beautiful vs. old and pitiable, they could have been each other, the argument between Gollum and himself, the editing, why is Gollum bad, stinker and slinker, Sam’s apology to Smeagol, Smeagol is passive aggressive, the timing as the greatest tragedy of the whole book, Cory Olsen, the lost opportunity, twisting the promise, what the ring has promised him, Gollum the great could eat fish three times a day!, his modest dreams, like a dog off a leash, he’s like a dog in every way, guilty dogs, dogs turning on their masters, fish are sweet to Gollum, everything that we like he hates, calling Gandalf’s words to mind, the big picture, the eye is looking for you, Smeagol’s contribution, even the worst evil, chance if chance you call it, diverting evil to good, the deal with Faramir, another structural thing, three travelers in a land, Riders Of Rohan, who be you, it is totally a mirror, Aragorn and crew, revealing vs. being discovered, the righteous, blindfolded again, a foreshadowing of Éowyn, well the Rohirrim are great but…, bear that in mind, Faramir’s mind reading power, who are the Númenóreans?, Jesse thinks it is wisdom, not so much about race, it’s because he’s full of lore, the mind reading thing, Galadriel’s telepathy, “No”, “come hither”, ESP?, character vs. race, country first (Borimir) vs. wisdom first (Faramir),
I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.
this is the guy, the BBC radio drama, you ran all the way to me!?, Tolkien is teasing us, an echo of Galadriel, grey eyes glinting, not if I found it on the highway, “It’s not a romance novel, Julie.”, “Wow, what a guy!”, David Wenham, Aragorn is a ranger of the North and Faramir is a ranger of the South, Sam’s oliphant, what false promises did Sauron make to these guys?, dressed like Robin Hood and the merry men of Sherwood, one of the most religious things in The Lord Of The Rings, a meeting in the secret lair, Sam’s overspeaking reflecting Frodo’s overspeaking back in the Prancing Pony, heart over head, another geographical reflection, behind a waterfall, Helm’s Deep, seeing Rohan, seeing the storm, the dark skies, Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul, the chapter titles, The Passage Of The Marshes, The Black Gate Is Closed, Of Herbs And Stewed Rabbit, ruin the conies, the homely things, pots and pans, the phial of Galadriel, the Checkov’s shotguns, the belt that Borimir was given, the magic items, used once, Hobbits learn to cook before they speak, the rope!, Shelob stings Frodo like when Frodo is stung by the morgul blade back at Weathertop, running blindly on the bridge, Cirith Ungol, Shelob is Ungoliant’s daughter, the children of Shelob inhabit Mirkwood, South African spiders, how many time has the ring been worn?, Bilbo at the party, Frodo at the Prancing Pony, Frodo at Weathertop, Frodo at Amon Hen, Frodo at Borimir’s confrontation, Sam at Shelob’s lair, the ring’s effect on Sam, different people are effected differently by the ring, Frodo’s power with the ring would be to command, the ring is like a computer, if you think google is the internet…, the ring gives invisibility as a basic power, it gives Sam the power of sharp hearing and translation, Frodo can see more, Sam’s superpower is listening (he was an eavesdropper), as they approach Mordor the ring gets heavier and more powerful, leap from a precipice into a fire, it also blinds Frodo, the ring’s perception, “the master’s back”, because it is linked to Sauron, like a dog?, back to the magic items, if you play Dungeons and Dragons, a bow of plus to killing orcs, even Borimir’s gift, Sam’s dirt, Frodo’s phial, Sting from Frodo to Sam, leaving the Mithril armor, and then there’s the rope, the tying of the rope, is it a magic rope?, Galadriel’s rope?, that’s not her gift, words have power, another manifestation, “We got rope” [says some random elf], cloaks, rope, and bread, who is following?, is Gollum really allergic to the rope, if somebody tied me up, he can’t eat the lembas, he hates light, the ropes, and the nice things, climbing down Dracula-style, he knows his knots, the mystery from the previous, what happened to the entwives?, back in the Green Dragon Inn, “oh those tales”, the Ents tell where the Entwives went, the Brown Lands are brown, Jesse found a thread somewhere on the internet, Teleporno, a lot of digital ink was spilled, the last paragraph of page 258, just after watching the storm, “the skirt of the storm”, primed for finding the entwives, looking at Fanghorn,
At last they were brought to a halt. The ridge took a sharper bend northward and was gashed by a deeper ravine. On the further side it reared up again, many fathoms at a single leap: a great grey cliff loomed before them, cut sheer down as if by a knife stroke. They could go no further forwards, and must turn now either west or east. But west would lead them only into more labour and delay, back towards the heart of the hills; east would take them to the outer precipice.
“There’s nothing for it but to scramble down this gully, Sam,” said Frodo. “Let’s see what it leads to!”
“A nasty drop, I’ll bet,” said Sam.
The cleft was longer and deeper than it seemed. Some way down they found a few gnarled and stunted trees, the first they had seen for days: twisted birch for the most part, with here and there a fir-tree. Many were dead and gaunt, bitten to the core by the eastern winds. Once in milder days there must have been a fair thicket in the ravine, but now, after some fifty yards, the trees came to an end, though old broken stumps straggled on almost to the cliff’s brink. The bottom of the gully, which lay along the edge of a rock-fault, was rough with broken stone and slanted steeply down. When they came at last to the end of it, Frodo stooped and leaned out.
ties it too a stump, got this rope from the elves, oh I don’t want it elf rope behind, the rope is not magic, not really high fantasy, the birch stump untied the rope!, the last of the entwives, Frodo and Sam aren’t looking out for the entwives, “10 points for creativity”, a structural argument, they untie their bonds and sit down on a stump, answering any and every question, Julie goes with Tolkien’s answer, Jesse argues for the book over the author, here’s proof that the entwives are there, every time Galadriel’s name gets mentioned, the last thing he says is Galadriel and he strokes the rope, there is no truth of the matter, we cannot go to Middle Earth except by reading this book, Jesse keeps marshaling the argument, “you will find friends”, “Elrond is right”, two hobbits sit down on a stump and are taken by a tree, on the edge of a forest, symmetrically it works, an undefeatable argument unless, if were trying to solve mysteries…, the fragrant area, it used to be, this place had its history too before it was the Brown Lands, there are things we don’t know and things Tolkien didn’t know about it, world-build the hell out of it, structurally: the time, a three day foot journey to the west and a three day foot journey to the east, near simultaneous action, the end of page 70, even the wind is mapped out, Emun Myul, “almost felt you liked the place?”, a magic talking tree, the final nail in the coffin, the birch, the word book comes from the word birch, bravo bravo, the mystery is left there, when we were talking about the word stuff, Tom Bombadil,
‘It’s a trap!’ said Sam, and he laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword; and as he did so, he thought of the darkness of the barrow whence it came. ‘I wish old Tom was near us now!’ he thought. Then as he stood, darkness about him and a blackness of despair and anger in his heart, it seemed to him that he saw… a light in his mind, almost unbearably bright at first…. Far off… he saw the Lady Galadriel… in Lórien, and gifts were in her hands. And you, Ring-bearer, he heard her say, remote but clear, for you I have prepared this.
and that happens again, Sam brings light by thought, the big theme, with this phial, brandishing this light, intolerable light, unbearable light, the infection of light, Frodo asleep becoming a phial of light, Sam seeing it in Frodo, Frodo fading?, Frodo purified?, light going through him, the pincushion effect!, Frodo the white, the trend of weariness, the fate of all the elves, Mythgard Academy, that’s a choice, The Choices Of Master Samwise, you noodle!, everything that happens in the last book, foolish choices (wise choices), signing a contract you haven’t read, who would have the ring now?, somebody cut this open, the orcs had orders, in the floaty ghosty of the eye, the black hand only has four fingers, does Sauron have a body?, rolling Frodo into a ditch, all my choices have proved ill, what good lay in choice?, the very last map in The Two Towers, the wetwang and the entwash, Rohan, the new book The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski, telling the story of The Inklings, Lewis’ atheism and conversion, intertextuality, reading each other’s minds, Eagle And Child pub, Hugo Dyson, an alternate theory on the entwives, the vocal mannerisms of treebeard are those of C.S. Lewis, the question is not: “where are the entwives” but rather “where are our husbands?”, Dorothy L. Sayers, a male exclusive club, christian apologetics, a shoo–in.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The SFFaudio Podcast #319 – Jesse, Julie Davis, Seth, and Maissa continue their journey through The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien with a discussion of Book III “The Treason of Isengard” (aka the first half of The Two Towers).
Talked about on today’s show:
Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes instead of six volumes due to paper shortages; surprise, Jesse prefers shorter volumes; Ayn Rand’s thick books, and thin books like Anthem; pocket editions of The Hobbit; small books make us feel like giant Alice in Wonder characters; The Two Towers is the shortest volume, though Return of the King is bulked up by appendices; as a first-time reader, Maissa appreciated the quick pacing; Anthony Boucher’s review claims the volume makes “inordinate demands” on readers; overwhelming back history; the difference of reading review and reading for pleasure; reading at Shadowfax speed!; “hope is in speed”; the poetry of Tolkien’s prose; Anglo-Saxon influence on alliteration in Rohan speech; the beauty of Tolkien’s descriptions; Gimli’s descriptions of the caves; the illegitimate heirs of Tolkien can’t compete with Tolkien’s command of language; the Orcs as comic relief; three factions of Orcs set against the three races of runners; Legolas and Gimli working through their differences; evil by definition does not make alliances; Saruman’s cloak of many colors as a symbol of evil; the Orcs’ lack of coöperation; who is the wandering old man in the hat?; the contrast between the Orc draught and Ent draught, similar to Gandalf’s flask of Miruvor in Book II; the persistent symbolism of waters and drinking in this volume; similarities between Rohan and Anglo Saxon culture; linguistic parallels between the speech of the Rohirrim and Old English; “sister-daughter” and different familial relations in Rohan; the emerging importance of Éowyn; the underpopulation of Middle Earth; parallels between the Third Age of Middle Earth and Europe after the “fall” of Rome; Gondor = Rome to some Tolkien scholars; Dan Carlin’s Blueprint for Armageddon on World War I; the influence of World War I on Tolkien’s writing; flood and trench imagery of Orthanc recalls the devastation of World War I; Middle Earth (and the modern world) is in a time of transition; conversation with Éomer about the persistence of legends; “not we, but those who come after, will make the legends of our time”; people tend not to recognize they’re in a time of transition; Jesse deftly defines “Flotsam and Jetsam” for us and ties them into the book’s backward-looking and forward-looking symbolism; Tolkien’s love of etymology; action like the Ents’ storming of Isengard happens off-stage; Agatha Christie style foreshadowing with Longbottom Leaf; we don’t really care about Helm’s Deep; “Aragorn joined Éomer in the van”; horrible tree puns; Old Forest as the Fangorn of the West; we’re pretty sure the Entwives are hanging out there; the Elves are less interesting than Ents because the Elves are too perfect; the Elves talked the Ents into wakefulness; Shadowfax’s race of horses can understand the speech of men; the pre-speech age of human beings and Koko the gorilla; the Rangers are the detectives of Middle Earth; Voltaire’s Zadie and Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin from The Murders in the Rue Morgue; debate about existence of evidence for the Entwines–stay tuned to the next volume!; finding the Entwives = Mission Impossible (cue theme); the growth (in many ways) of Merry and Pippin; Gandalf’s foresight in allowing them to join the Fellowship; “they are the pebbles that began the avalanche of the Ents’ rising”; the three runners sped 220 kilometers in four days; it proved fortuitous that Pippin found the Palantir; the Palantir is FaceTime with Sauron; Merry and Pippin were key to Boromir’s redemption; return of the black swans–and the eagle!; Ariel in The Tempest by Shakespeare does all the work for Prospero, just like the eagles; Gandalf actually performs magic in “The Voice of Saruman” chapter; the voice in Dune; Gandalf takes over the council of wizards; the blue wizards aren’t present because they’re too “swear-y”; the recurring importance of choice; Tolkien is always on the side of free will; Aragorn’s decision not to follow Frodo; Palantir are the “seven stones” of Gondor’s flag; the Palantir is neither good nor evil; Palantir symbolizes communication of superpowers between the world wars, and the iconic red phone; The Victorian Internet by Tom Standee: the telegraph is the best thing since sliced bread; the lazy visual shortcuts that the movie takes with the Palantir and with Saruman’s influence on Théoden; The Man Who Never Was; meanwhile, Sam and Frodo are slogging through; the inevitable breaking of the Fellowship; the four elements in Gandalf’s death and resurrection; more Lovecraftian weirdness in the bowels of Middle Earth; Gandalf has changed; Norse worm gnawing at the roots of the World Tree; Treebeard as shepherd of the trees; “boom, boom, dahrar!; Net names tell the whole story of things; Freebeard’s bed isn’t for sleeping; Shakespeare’s disappointment at Shakespeare’s sleight-of-hand with the trees of Birnam Wood not actually coming to life in Macbeth; “fear not, till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane” almost perfectly echoed in The Two Towers; nobody does Elves better than Tolkien; the joy Tolkien must have had writing about trees.
“Aragorn and Legolas went now with Eomer in the van.”
By Seth Wilson
The SFFaudio Podcast #273 – Jesse, Seth, Mr Jim Moon, and Cory Olsen (The Tolkien Professor) talk about J.R.R. Tolkien’s character Tom Bombadil – as he appears in The Lord Of The Rings and The Adventures Of Tom Bombadil.
Talked about on today’s show:
Tom Bombadil as a character spans Tolkien’s literary career; “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” written early but revised later, while “Bombadil Goes a-Boating” post-dates The Lord of the Rings; comparing the different stages of Tom Bombadil; not the same Tom from “The Stone Troll” poem; Pauline Baynes as illustrator of Tolkien’s and C.S. Lewis’s works; Tolkien changing up song order in The Lord of the Rings; Tolkien’s recording of the troll song (see video below); “Princess Mee”; Tom’s imperviousness to rain is his only outwardly magical quality; “Tom Bombadil doesn’t fit”; Tom’s exclusion from the films was a good thing; Tom’s prose resembles his poetry; no one knows what to make of Tom Bombadil; is Goldberry dying?; The Little Mermaid; the Hades and Persephone myth; more on Tom’s contradictions; Goldberry tied to the land; Tom and Goldberry are childless; Babylon 5; Tom Bombadil’s place (or lack thereof) in Tolkien’s cosmology; the cats of Queen Berúthiel; “a story is better with some mysteries”; Tolkien’s poetry is wildly experimental in terms of meter; Tom’s trochaic meter; Väinamöinen in Finnish Kalevala myth cycle as influence for Tom Bombadil; on Tom Bombadil’s career; similarities between Tom Bombadil and Bjorn as opportunities for rest in the respective plots; derivative fantasy neglects these important rest stops; “yellow cream and honeycomb, white bread and butter” was served at Tom and Doldberry’s wedding feast; the importance of landscape and description in Tolkien’s work; dreams; Valinor is not Westerns, thankfully; no barrows in the films, sorry Jesse; Mr. Jim Moon’s podcast on wights; Old/Middle English’s many words for “man”; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; oral transmission of stories; Lord of the Rings would not have been publishable in today’s climate; Frodo’s relationship to the ring; Tom Bombadil and gravitas do not go together; Tom Bombadil’s D&D alignment is “flowers”, followed by “true neutral” as a close second; on the necessity of choosing sides; why don’t the hobbits call on Tom later?; Corey suggests The Tolkien Reader for further reading.
Posted by Jesse Willis
C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius and Reluctant Prophet
By Alister E. McGrath; Read by Robin Sachs
13 hours 56 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Oasis Audio
Themes: / biography / religion / fantasy / medieval literature
Before setting out on this review, I must apologize for the liberal use of the first-person pronoun, which I normally use sparingly. This book intersects my personal and professional interests at several points, so I’m not even going to attempt an objective, impartial review, if such a thing is even possible. I am, as Lewis was, a student of medieval literature, though I can only dream of reaching his depth of knowledge and scope of imagination in this field. Furthermore, I undertook part of my studies at Oxford University, which was home to Lewis for much of his life. The City of Dreaming Spires, as Matthew Arnold called it, exerted a profound influence on Lewis’s life and work, and having walked its winding cobbled streets and ancient quadrangles it’s easy to understand why. Last, but certainly not least, Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia had a profound impact on my intellectual and imaginative development as a child. In this I suspect I’m not alone, and I hope this review will encourage readers to learn more about the life and mind behind one of the wellsprings of modern fantasy.
Before discussing the biography itself, I should say something of its author. Though currently Professor of Theology at King’s College, London, McGrath’s previous post was in Oxford, where I had heard his name spoken with a great deal of respect while I was there. The biography lists ever so slightly in the direction of Christianity, reflecting its author’s background in theology and apologetics, but on the whole it’s a balanced work firmly grounded in scholarly research of Lewis’s works and correspondence. The biography, of course, deals extensively with Lewis’s religious and spiritual development so central in his life and work, but the work by no means white-washes Lewis’s life or even his faith. This audio recording is preceded by an interview with McGrath, whose calm, measured voice assures us as listeners that we’re chosen a trustworthy guide down the path of Lewis’s life.
Like most biographers, McGrath takes a strictly chronological approach, with very few detours either to backtrack or to foreshadow. The narrative takes us through Lewis’s birth and childhood in Northern Ireland, through his lengthy tenure at Osxford University, to his final years as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge. The biography strikes a delicate balance between Lewis’s rich inner life as reflected in his writings and his sometimes tumultuous outer. In the former case, McGrath devotes considerable space to Lewis’s conversion experience and subsequent development of his spirituality. As an academic, I was also pleased that Lewis’s scholarly works, notably on Edmund Spender’s Faerie Queene and Milton’s Paradise Lost, receive some attention. In regards to Lewis’s personal life, the biography charts Lewis’s many professional disappointments resulting from his popular religious work and the rift that formed between Lewis and other Oxford academics. Lewis’s relationships also receive some attention, in particular his long-running peculiar arrangement with the older Mrs. Moore and his controversial marriage to Joy Davidman. Of course, there is significant interplay between Lewis’s inner and outer lives, and McGrath expertly weaves these strands together to illustrate how one sometimes influenced the other. The book concludes by reflecting on the rise of Lewis’s reputation in various circles, religious and popular, after his death in 1963.
Two whole chapters are dedicated to Lewis’s development of The Chronicles of Narnia. McGrath packs a lot of material into these relatively few pages, from Narnia’s inception in Lewis’s mind, to the debate over the proper reading order of the books (Lewis’s ordering, order of publication, or internal chronology), to the works’ modern reception, especially Philip Pullman’s criticism. This section also manages to delve a little deeper, too, highlighting the philosophical and theological underpinnings of this imaginative, not imaginary, world. McGrath deals with the question of whether Narnia is an allegory, and also links the work to Plato’s Republic and the allegory of shadows in the cave. Obviously this is a lot of topics to cram into so little space, and I would have liked a more thorough treatment, but to be fair this is a biography, not a work of literary criticism. McGrath has promised a fuller, more scholarly edition of this book in the near future, which will likely feature copious footnotes providing a wonderful paper trail for the Narnia enthusiast eager to learn more. SFFaudio readers should also note that Lewis’s lesser-known Space Trilogy also receives brief treatment in this biography.
Though built on academic bedrock, C.S. Lewis: A Life is written in a lively, accessible style. McGrath uses Lewis’s own words, or the words of his associates, when possible, which imbues the book with a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the work. I sometimes felt as though I were in the room with Lewis, Tolkien, and the other Inklings as they discussed important religious, mythological, and literary matters. Like Lewis himself, McGrath also has a way of explaining complex intellectual and theological matters in a way that an average reader like me can understand. This is, in my view, the hallmark of any solid intellectual or literary biography. My only criticism of the book, and it’s a trifling one, is that McGrath hardly even alludes to any sexual relations between Lewis and Mrs. Moore, or later between Lewis and Joy Davidman, even though it’s obvious there was some sort of sexual element to these relationships. Perhaps McGrath found this matter distasteful, or thought the book’s Christian readers would. In any case, this omission is to me the one glaring lacuna in an otherwise thorough life story.
Robin Sachs’s stately narration lends the perfect air of British respectability to the audio edition. His pronunciation of some of the book’s more arcane linguistic and literary terms are, for the most part, spot on. As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of an interview with Alister McGrath, is a welcome addition, and provides additional insights into an already insightful work. Another minor quibble: I feel the interview should have been included at the end of the audiobook, rather than the beginning. I prefer to go into a book unbiased by the author’s later thoughts on the book. Again, though, this quibble is very minor. What does conclude the audiobook, however, is an amazing recording of Lewis at his deep-timbres lecturing finest.
There are certainly many other windows into the lives of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other Inklings. Despite the influence of these authors on my own life, I have to admit I have not read most of these other works. So I’m very glad that one of the first I’ve read has proved to be such an enlightening and entertaining journey, (mostly) free from the partisanship and polarity that plague some biographies of relatively recent figures. I can’t think of many readers who wouldn’t benefit from or at least be entertained by Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life.
Posted by Seth Wilson
The SFFaudio Podcast #220 – The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster; read by Elizabeth Klett (for LibriVox). This is a complete and unabridged reading of the story (1 hour 13 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Professor Eric S. Rabkin, and Mr. Jim Moon.
Talked about on today’s show:
Novelette or novella, novellini?, E.M Forster wrote some Science Fiction?, genre boundaries, H.G. Wells, adventure, horror, The Time Machine, a critique of English society, dystopias, diegesis, a didactic approach, The War Of The Worlds, a bogus bifurcation of the body and the spirit (or the mind), ambiguous possibility, the “Machine” of the titles, Morlocks and Eloi, a reversal, a complement, prophetic vs. appropriate, looking through my blue plate, this book is the biggest existential critique of my lifestyle, it was lovely to meet Jim and Eric, a caricature and a critique, blackberry season, a swaddled lump of flesh, a curiously intrusive narrative technique, a fable, author backchat, in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, J.R.R. Tolkien, lampshading, breaking the fourth wall, an aural phenomena, a fable, a parable, philosophical scenarios, Plato’s Myth Of The Cave, The Republic, Socrates, ontological imaginary equivalents, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, the narrator isn’t exactly human, “back chat”, man is not necessarily the measure of all things, empiricism vs. rationalism, the unanswerable questions of the stars, everyone is a lecturer in the future, “second hand ideas”, the French Revolution not as it was but as it might be in our society, Alexander The Great’s monstrous rampage through Asia, “the juice of the individual human experience”, we have many books, books as experience generators, Ion, J.R.R. Tolkien, “there is a muse”, the rhetor, aiming out of the subterranean, why are we obsessed with essays?, SAT style essays, a quasi-Aristotelian view of happiness, what does a happy horse look like?, fleet fleets make happy shipwrights, happiness verb, man is not an animal like the others, the body doesn’t matter, man is a mind, big fat babies, the wealthy vs. the working, the bloom of Victorian society (men in sheds), a satire of academia, the Logical Positivists, natural deductive logic, Mr. Jim Moon does a lot of research, rehashing, Terry Jones, Christopher Columbus, Nathaniel Hawthorne, an unexpected continent, the North-West Passage, telling powerful and relevant, the use of the word “idea”, “forms”, Rene Descartes, interpenetration, Orion, the hunter giant,” when you give a bad podcast do you ask for euthanasia afterwards?”, you’re not there for the characters, a very erudite story, Vashti (from the Book of Esther), Purim, the worst possible kind of mother, “the book”, unmechanical, religion, what is the machine exactly?, is the machine Capitalism? Google? Wikipedia? The Internet? Communism?, the beds only come in one size, the six sided cell, a hive society, command societies, totalitarianism, “machines are in the saddle and ride mankind”, the trains make us run on time, a network of machines is the Machine, a perfected machine disallows individuality, “In the dawn of the world our weakly must be exposed on Mount Taygetus”, the worship of Helios, Ancient Greece, the homeless don’t die, despite being set in the future this is a danger in human existence, a perfect social system (utopia), an inversion of the ancient Spartan technique, not to go against the Greek, an inversion of the Garden of Eden story, in real life, a very disturbing story, a hopeful ending, a white snout, sexual competition as in Dracula, have we learned our lesson?, a passion for connection, Wall-E, infantilized adults, vomitorium, Logan’s Run, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, an anti-romantic Eden, “they give me no ideas”, “metal blind”, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, E.M. Forster invented Skype?, pneumatic tube, Paris, Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, the business of Science Fiction isn’t technological prediction, a totalizing synergy, the blue slates, an Edwardian future, the machine religion, humans enslaved by their own social attitude, Cory Doctorow, the mending committee doesn’t know how to fix anything, personifying and deifying the machine, Voltaire’s “The better is the enemy of the good.”, Protagoras, the Sophists, a sophist editorial cartoon, give me money and pay attention to me, an incredibly weak story with spectacularly fruitful ideas, what does it mean to say “I read something and liked it?”, The City And The Stars by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, its left to us to ponder some very deep questions, we’re not at The City And The Stars tech yet, the 1970s and the 1990s was the time for Brave New World, complementary drugs, the work and the context we read them in, recycling of knowledge and group consensus, exciting and relevant for our time, where and when we are when we first read something is important, Against The Fall Of Night, The Catcher In The Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, Have Space-Suit, Will Travel, Little Brother, the civilized society and the outer savage, Dr. Eric & Mr. Moon.
Posted by Jesse Willis