Thursday, September 22, 2022

hobbit day

It was Bilbo and Frodo's birthday today, and going on an unnecessarily extended quest for fried chicken for lunch was an appropriately incongruous way to celebrate it.

In another world, one in which we all had better luck with health matters, I would have spent the later afternoon with a bunch of friends settling toastily into the auditorium at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee, surrounded by its Tolkien manuscript exhibition, listening to Carl F. Hostetter talking about "Editing the Tolkien Manuscript." In the event, neither of us was actually there, and the whole thing was conducted by Zoom. Carl talked more about clues to dating the manuscripts and the characteristics, changing over time, of Tolkien's handwriting and penmanship, than about transcribing the text, defeating challenge though, he admitted, that can sometimes be.

So what should I then find but a post, a couple days old now, by John Scalzi on the decline of cursive writing. He says it's not being taught in schools any more. Oh really? Good riddance; I thought it made no sense when I encountered it (in fourth grade, not, as Scalzi reports as normal, second), some years before Scalzi was born. "Now we're going to learn a new way to write," the teacher said brightly, and I remembered how much trouble it had been to learn the old way to write - printing - and I was dashed if I was going to go through that again.

So I didn't. I just flatly refused to learn cursive, and I never have. Eventually my mother pointed out that I was going to have to learn to sign my name, so I learned enough cursive for that (though I never quite got the hang of the "v"), but that's it. The only things I handwrite these days are 1) notes and occasional first drafts for concert reviews; 2) annotations on printed out proofs; 3) memos to B. on the backs of old one-a-day calendar pages. And those are all printed, not cursive. As a result of which, any future scholars studying my manuscripts are going to have a lot less trouble reading them that Carl, or even sometimes the author himself, has or had with Tolkien's.


  1. Future scholars who didn't learn cursive, however, will experience one more obstacle to the reading of old manuscripts.
    Of course, few people become scholars.

    Dale Nelson

  2. Dale, there are giant swaths of history for which knowing modern cursive won't help one bit in reading period handwriting. Paleographers exist for a reason.

  3. Nice post thank you Edward