Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
Winter Is the Best Time
by David Budbill
Winter is the best time
to find out who you are.
Quiet, contemplation time,
away from the rushing world,
cold time, dark time, holed-up
pulled-in time and space
to see that inner landscape,
that place hidden and within.
David Budbill, “Winter Is the Best Time” from While We’ve Still Got Feet. © 2015 by David Budbill. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, coppercanyonpress.org (buy now)
Today is the birthday of women’s rights reformer Lucretia (Coffin) Mott, born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, in 1793. She went to public school in Boston for two years, and then, when she was 13, she enrolled in a Quaker boarding school near Poughkeepsie, New York. After two years there, she was hired on as an assistant, and then a teacher. She quit when she found out that she was being paid less than half of what the male teachers all made, simply because she was a woman; the experience sparked her first interest in women’s rights. In 1811, she married fellow teacher James Mott, and the newlyweds moved to Philadelphia. Ten years later, she became a minister in the Society of Friends, as the Quaker church was called, and she was a popular public speaker on matters of religion and social reform.
She was active in the abolitionist movement when she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton on a ship to London; both were on their way to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. They were attending as delegates, but found that the convention would not let them speak because they were women; they were even seated in a separate area, behind a curtain. The two women resolved then and there to organize a convention for women’s rights as soon as they returned home. It took eight years, but eventually they did: the Seneca Falls (New York) Convention of 1848.
Mott wrote, “The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, because in the degradation of women, the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.”
Herman Melville (books by this author), age 21, set sail aboard the whaling vessel Acushnet on this date in 1841 from the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, bound for the Pacific Ocean. Melville had no experience as a whaler, and not much as a seaman, either, although he’d sailed to Liverpool, England, and back during his few weeks as a cabin boy on a merchant ship. But he loved the sea, and he was eager to learn. Whaling was still big business in 1841; whale oil from blubber was the most widely available fuel for artificial lights, powering household lamps, streetlights, and even lighthouses. It was also one of the most popular lubricants, used in factory machines, sewing machines, and clocks.
Melville learned the ins and outs of whaling, helping to harpoon the whales, harvest them, and process their oil aboard the ship. He also listened to the tales his fellow whalers told, particularly of a legendary white sperm whale called Mocha Dick. Knickerbocker Magazine had described the whale in 1839: “this renowned monster, who had come off victorious in a hundred fights with his pursuers, an old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength. From the effect of age, or more probably from a freak of nature, … he was white as wool! … Numerous boats are known to have been shattered by his immense flukes, or ground to pieces in the crush of his powerful jaws.” Melville also met the son of Owen Chase, who had survived a whale attack on the Essex 21 years earlier, and he read Chase’s account. It gave him material for Moby-Dick, which begins, “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”
It’s the birthday of the writer who created Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and Gollum, and introduced millions of readers to a place called Middle-earth and a magical ring. J.R.R. Tolkien (1892) (books by this author), creator of The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1955) trilogy, was born on this day in Bloemfontein, South Africa, the son of a banker and a former missionary.
His family moved to England when he was four and his mother taught him and brother at home. Tolkien was reading by four and learning the rudiments of Latin. His mother had an interest in botany and they roamed the English countryside, with Tolkien illustrating plants and trees. Two of his cousins, Mary and Marjorie, created a secret language called “Animalic.” Tolkien created a more complex one called “Nevbosh,” and later, another called “Naffarin.” Later in life, Tolkien recalled his love for Arthurian legends and said, “I desired dragons with profound desire.” His Aunt Jane had a farm named Bag End.
At 23, he fought with the Lancashire Fusiliers in World War I, he said, because “in those days chaps joined up or were scorned publically. It was a nasty cleft to be in for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage.” He was wounded and not many of his friends lived. The battles Tolkien endured profoundly influenced his thoughts on the nature of good and evil, ideas he would explore in the saga of Middle-earth.
Tolkien became a professor of Language and Literature at Oxford. It was while paging through a student’s exam booklet that he came across a blank page and suddenly found himself scribbling, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” He started writing an episodic quest about a small, human-like creature with hairy feet named Bilbo, upon whom the fate of civilization rests. He called it The New Hobbit and showed it to his friend C.S. Lewis, who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis mentioned the book to an editor friend of his, who passed it along to a publisher. The publisher’s 10-year-old son loved it and the book, The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again, complete with illustrations by Tolkien, was published to wide acclaim (1937). It sold out its first print run in six weeks. Tolkien was surprised by the book’s success. He said, “It’s not even very good for children.” The publisher asked for a sequel.
It took J.R.R. Tolkien either 14 or 17 years to write three books, tapping with two fingers in an attic, that came to be known as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Three volumes, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, were published from 1954 to 1955. They came with a 104-page appendix and detailed maps. Linguists praised his invention of the “Elvish” language, noting its consistent roots, sound laws, and inflexions. Critic Edmund Wilson was scornful of the books, though, calling the series, “A children’s book which has somehow gotten out of hand.”
People read much more into the books than Tolkien would admit to. He said: “I don’t like allegories. I never liked Hans Christian Andersen because I knew he was always getting at me.” Pirated paperbacks of The Lord of the Rings began appearing in America during the 1960s and the books, with their ideas about environmentalism and society, were quickly adopted by the counterculture movement. Fan clubs sprang up. College students tacked up posters of Middle-earth on dorm room walls.
Tolkien removed his phone number from the public directory; he was getting too many late-night night calls from readers asking if Frodo had completed his quest or if Balrogs had wings. The book inspired games like Dungeons and Dragons and Dragon Quest, and rock-and-roll bands like Led Zeppelin wrote songs like “Misty Mountain Hop” in homage to Middle-earth. Fans have composed poems using the Elvish language of Quenya, and the books have been made into plays, films, and video games. They have never gone out of print.
The Harvard Lampoon published a parody of The Lord of the Rings called Bored of the Rings (1958), in which Merry and Pippin were known as “Moxie” and “Pepsi.” The BBC ran a show called Hordes of Things (1980). There’s a film called Dork of the Rings (2006), and cartoonist Jeff Smith wrote a 1,500 page graphic novel called Bone inspired by his love of Tolkien’s books. He calls it “Bugs Bunny meets Lord of the Rings.”
About his compassionate, lazy, tiny Hobbits, J.R.R. Tolkien once said: “There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colors (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner which they have twice a day when they can get it).”
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