Thursday, May 22, 2014


1. A neighborhood that I remember from my days in Seattle - and subsequent visits - as a blank unwelcoming industrial zone awkwardly situated in the middle of the city is about to be transformed by a new Amazon corporate headquarters. What effect this will have on congestion, housing prices, etc., I don't know, and what I think of Amazon as a corporation would not pass the child-friendly test, but purely in terms of the geographic amenity of the city, it strikes me as a good thing.

2. It's long been a tenet in my corner of Tolkien scholarship that part of the greatness and vividness of his work comes from the fact that he knew directly, and intimately, the medieval literature that inspired him. The secondhand photocopy quality of some of his epigones could be due to their knowing this material only second-hand, through Tolkien himself, or his own earlier imitators. Some of us think that really makes a difference, but it's a tough argument to make to the skeptical. So I was more than intrigued to see essentially the same argument being made for a similar devolution, over a much shorter time scale, regarding the declining quality of Saturday Night Live. (It really gets to the point in the next-to-last paragraph, but read the whole thing for the full argument.)

3. Speaking of Tolkien scholarship, his translation of Beowulf is about to appear. I haven't seen it yet, but it's been getting skeptical and even dismissive reviews. Both of these reviewers, and anybody else reading or reviewing the translation, should remember what Tolkien wrote in 1940 about the Clark Hall prose translation:
Beowulf is not merely in verse, it is a great poem; and the plain fact that no attempt can be made [in prose] to represent its metre, while little of its other specially poetic qualities can be caught in such a medium, should be enough to show that ... [a prose translation] is not offered as a means of judging the original, or as a substitute for reading the poem itself. The proper purpose of a prose translation is to provide an aid to study.
In other words, sit down with the translation under one hand and an edition of the original Anglo-Saxon text under the other, and read the original - Tolkien would tartly inform you that Anglo-Saxon is not a difficult language for a Modern English speaker to learn - with your eyes darting over to the translation to help gloss the words and increase your understanding of their meaning.That's what it's for; that's what it should be judged as.

4. Somebody I once knew long ago reminiscences about one of the most fabulous musical experiences of his life: hearing June Tabor sing "White Rabbit." What do you know, you can hear this wonder on YouTube.