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A.J. Carlisle

A.J. Carlisle

An Author’s Journey: Worlds of Medieval Literature (4) King Arthur, Pt 4: Supernatural Wonder

Good Morning, Everyone!

Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Bradley James (Arthur) in "Merlin" (BBC tv series, 2008-2012)

Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Bradley James (Arthur) in “Merlin” (BBC tv series, 2008-2012)

King Arthur still looms large in the popular imagination, his name usually evoking equally legendary and supernatural images.  Most familiar, perhaps, are the images of the ‘Wart’ pulling from a stone the enchanted sword Excalibur in Disney’s animated classic, The Sword in the Stone (itself an adaptation of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King); then there’s Colin Morgan’s wonderful portrayal of a teenaged Merlin for five seasons on the eponymous BBC tv series, magically protecting Camelot while the future (also-teenaged) ruler trains by his side, and featuring a reimagined Guinevere, Lancelot, Perceval, and Knights of the Round Table who all desultorily join Arthur before his final battle.

The Attainment: "The Vision of the Holy Grail to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval" ;  No. 6 of Holy Grail tapestries woven by Morris & Co. 1891-94 for Stanmore Hall; Wool and silk on cotton warp; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

The Attainment: “The Vision of the Holy Grail to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval” ; No. 6 of Holy Grail tapestries woven by Morris & Co. 1891-94 for Stanmore Hall; Wool and silk on cotton warp; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975)

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)

Most famously, there’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘s 1975 take on the legend that skillfully critiqued medieval religion and popular culture as Graham Chapman’s Arthur, John Cleese’s Lancelot, Michael Palin’s Sir Galahad, & Terry Jones’s Sir Bedevere et al rode broomsticks-cum-horses through a parody-filled medieval landscape. (“It’s just a flesh wound!”/ “How could a 5-ounce bird possibly carry a 1-pound coconut?” / “Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.”)

Rochefoucauld Grail (3-vol. compendium of English & French Arthur legends, 14th c).

Rochefoucauld Grail (3-vol. compendium of English & French Arthur legends, 14th c).

For all of the cinematic examples above, the wellsprings for these renderings of Arthur’s legend actually lie deep in the medieval literary tradition, the canon flowing from the imaginations and quills of a select number of 12th-15th Century writers.  I last discussed the “martial” and historical aspects of Arthur, and today want to touch on the theme of “supernatural wonder” that one associates with Arthurian lore. This theme is a unique blend of pagan and Christian elements, as Corinne Saunders elaborates in the introductory paragraphs of her essay, “Religion and Magic”:

"The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon" (Edward Coley Burne-Jones, oil on canvas, 1898)

“The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon” (Edward Coley Burne-Jones, oil on canvas, 1898)

Archibald & Putter's "The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend" (2003)

Archibald & Putter’s “The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend” (2003)

[Excerpt from Corinne Saunders, “Religion and Magic”]: The themes of religion and magic, interwoven in the supernatural, are crucial to the Arthurian legend. Many of its most resonant motifs, both secular and sacred, are linked to the supernatural (quest and adventure, magic and enchantment, prophecy and destiny, miracle and marvel, the search for the Holy Grail), as are some of its most powerful figures (Merlin, Morgan le Fey, the Fisher King).  The leitmotif [recurrent theme] of the supernatural echoes through Arthurian romance from its origins in the twelfth century to its modern manifestations.

Carbonek, Castle of the Fisher King & the Holy Grail (Alan Lee)

Carbonek, Castle of the Fisher King & the Holy Grail (Alan Lee)

Writers such as Chrétien de Troyes, the Gawain-poet, Malory, Tennyson, T.H. White, and Marion Zimmer Bradley engage in vastly different ways with the supernatural, but it remains a constant, fundamental to their narratives.  While in some contemporary works the supernatural is reduced or floats free of Christianity, the intimate connection between magic, religion and romance, established over something approaching a millennium, is not readily lost.  Magic and the supernatural more generally provide romance with its quality of the marvelous, but may also be treated with profundity and realism.  Medieval Arthurian legend, the focus of this essay, reflects a Christian world view in which the supernatural is assumed to play a part, and in which religion does not negate the possibility of magic.  Some of the central tensions in Arthurian romance, however, arise from the clash between different sorts of supernatural, in particular between the secular (with its origins in the pagan) and the sacred, and the ways that chivalric ideals engage with these.

"The Quest for the Holy Grail" (oil painting, Arthur Hughes, d. 1915)

“The Quest for the Holy Grail” (oil painting, Arthur Hughes, d. 1915)

Morgan Le Fey (Frederick Sandys, 1864)

Morgan Le Fey (Frederick Sandys, 1864)

[continued excerpt from Corinne Saunders, “Religion and Magic”]: The thought-world of the later Middle Ages included a complex mix of ideas of magic and the supernatural, which stretched back through classical and Judaeo-Christian as well as Germanic and Celtic belief and ritual.  Classical thought was infused with a strong sense of the supernatural: this was a world of gods and daemons, spirits who could act for good or ill. Classical literature told of celebrated practitioners of magic such as Medea and Circe, and of the flesh-devouring, child-killing strix or witch. There was also a strong tradition of what would come to be termed natural magic: Pliny’s Natural History ferociously condemns magic as dependent on the powers of demons, but also repeatedly refers to the extraordinary attributes of plants, stones and animal substances.  The oppositions between secular and spiritual, natural and demonic, licit and illicit magic established within the classical world remains crucial.

Carlisle's World: Illustrated Folio of Parzifal (13th c.)

Wolfram von Eschenbach’s “Parzifal” (c. 1200) “…imagined the Grail as a stone, its power instilled by a Eucharistic wafer brought by a dove every Good Friday, [regenerates] the phoenix, prevents illness, age and death, and provides food and drink of all kinds.”

Sir Bedivere returning Excalibur (art by Aubrey Beardsley, in Sir Thomas Malory’s "Le Morte D' Arthur")

Sir Bedivere returning Excalibur (art by Aubrey Beardsley, in Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte D’ Arthur”)

[continued excerpt from Corinne Saunders, “Religion and Magic”]: In the early Christian world magic was associated with the pagan. Augustine states categorically in The City of God that magic is demonic, whereas miracles occur through faith.  Yet, like Pliny, Augustine readily accepts as part of God’s universe the marvelous in nature, such as the properties of plants and stones.  Theologians of the early Middle Ages followed Augustine, identifying pagan superstition as demonic and heretical, although its endurance is clearly indicated by the many references to practices such as the rise of amulets, love-magic, medical magic and divination in secular and canon laws, penitentials and sermons, as well as the existence of collections of charms and remedies … . [END Excerpt:  Corinne Saunders, “Religion and Magic,” in Elizabeth Archibald and Ad Putter, eds., The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009; at 201-202.]

The Grail Found: "Galahad & the Dying Amfortas" (Edwin Austin Abbey, 1895)

The Grail Found: “Galahad & the Dying Amfortas” (Edwin Austin Abbey, 1895)

Le Morte d'Arthur — The Battle of Cad Camlan, Arthur vs. Mordred (art by Arthur Rackham)

Le Morte d’Arthur — The Battle of Cad Camlan, Arthur vs. Mordred (art by Arthur Rackham)

Whenever adopting any of the Arthurian supernatural wonders, some of today’s fantasists would do well to study such influences as classical times (Greco-Roman Antiquity), Judeo-Christian beliefs, and pagan (Celtic & Welsh) practices.  You can still write a story in the Arthurian vein without knowing about these origins, of course, but I think that a reader is better entertained when an adventure is wrought with some of these elements in mind.  Respectively, Arthur’s  ‘defense of Britain’ is a concept that needs some grounding in Roman frontier-life or knowledge of late-antique modes of kingship for verisimilitude; we may enjoy an idealized Camelot of the High Middle Ages, but the myth of Arthur is compelling because of the conflation of its (possible) 6th Century roots in provincial British vs. Saxons conflicts and a hyper-idealized late-medieval English/French court life.

Arthurian Knights: "Parsifal vor der Gralsburg" (Hans Werner Schmidt, 1928)

Arthurian Knights: “Parsifal vor der Gralsburg” (Hans Werner Schmidt, 1928)

"Lancelot & Guinevere" (illus. by N.C. Wyeth, from Malory's "The Boy's King Arthur," 1917)

“Lancelot & Guinevere” (illus. by N.C. Wyeth, from Malory’s “The Boy’s King Arthur,” 1917)

Then, there’s the infusion of Judeo-Christian religious ideals into the Arthurian stories.  To me, this inheritance is on of the least tended to in modern fantasy because of the emotional charge that electrifies any expression of Hebrew, Christian, or Muslim faith within the fantasy genre; and, “literally,” God help any author tries to seriously engage any or all of these religions in a fantasy story! Religiosity, however, can’t be ignored in the Arthurian tradition.  Indeed, can we really imagine any Arthurian tale without a chivalric ideal informed by the Christological allusions to sacrifice, obeisance, etc? Without the knight kneeling in vassalage to a feudal lord-cum-spiritual guide? Both of these relationships mirror aspects of the monotheistic belief that lies at the heart of a Biblical tradition that transformed Western Europe and the British Isles in the Middle Ages. Without such a religious presence, there’d be no Joseph of Arimethea or Holy Grail, no piously questing Knights of the Round Table, nor even Guinevere retiring to a convent, to name just a few examples.

Celtic Origins of the Arthurian Legend: "Garden of the Hesperides," in Rolleston et al's "The High Deeds of Finn & Other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland" (illus. by Stephen Reid)

Celtic Origins of the Arthurian Legend: “Garden of the Hesperides,” in Rolleston et al’s “The High Deeds of Finn & Other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland” (illus. by Stephen Reid)

Romance Tropes in "The Mabinogion" (Alan Lee)

Romance Tropes in “The Mabinogion” (Alan Lee)

Lastly, without the Celtic and Welsh traditions that predated the advent of Christianity in Britain, whence warlocks such as Merlin, or witches/fairies like Morgan le Fey? One could probably study many of the Arthurian works in isolation — e.g., finding all of the Christian and 15th century references in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur — but, to me, the admixture of explicitly rendered Christian themes and fabled phenomena such as Stonehenge and the druids, the Gaste Forest (Wasteland), white stags and wild hunts, the Lady of the Lake, the Questing Beast, Nimue, and the Otherworld of Annen Verden is where Arthur’s tales truly come to life.  Appreciate the Classical & Judeo-Christian elements, but never forget the Welsh and Celtic ‘pagan’ traditions that infuse all of the writers’ works!

Inspiration of Medieval Language & Literature: "The Beguiling of Merlin" (Edward Burne-Jones, 1872-1877)

Inspiration of Medieval Language & Literature: “The Beguiling of Merlin” (Edward Burne-Jones, 1872-1877)

Cei and Bedwyr with the Salmon of Llyn Llyw come to Caer Loyw to rescue Mabon

Cei and Bedwyr with the Salmon of Llyn Llyw come to Caer Loyw to rescue Mabon

If you take into account folk tales such as the Mabinogion or Culhwch and Olwen, you start drawing from some of the same traditions that the 12th century Geoffrey of Monmouth did when he wrote the Vita Merlini (“Life of Merlin”) and related the young wizard’s prophecy about why a castle couldn’t be built on an outcropping of apparently solid rock (Merlin said that two dragons fought in a pool below, a red beast, emblematic of the Britons, and a white one, which represented the Saxons).

Drawing upon such a diversity of historical, religious, and mythological traditions is the fun part of writing fantasy, and also one of the reasons why the Arthurian legend has endured for almost a thousand years.

Thanks for visiting!  A.J.

The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction

The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction

An Author’s Journey: “Amazing Stories” of Science Fiction: Book Review of James & Mendlesohn’s “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,” 2

Good Afternoon, Everyone!

I’m in the midst of starting the summer season by re-reading both Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Terry Pratchet’s Discworld books, literary journeys that should keep me entertained well into fall.  Revisiting Arrakis and the sustained, millennia-long tale of the Atreides family also goaded me into picking up a copy of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, a wide-ranging collection of essays on various aspects of sf (edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Andrew M. Butler's essay—Chapter 9's

Andrew M. Butler’s essay—Chapter 9’s “Postmodernism and science fiction”—groups Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 book, “Slaughterhouse-5,” as among ‘postmodern’ sf works. (Here: Tralfamadore)

Kazuo Ishiguro & Neil Gaiman (

Kazuo Ishiguro & Neil Gaiman (“Let’s talk about genre,” BBC Radio 4, 5/28/15)

Although published 12 years ago, the book’s comprehensive view of Science Fiction remains relevant in an entertainment industry that teems both with various expressions of the sf genre & little agreement on what’s meant by the term. (For a recent discussion of the blurred lines of “genre fiction” in today’s marketplace — and whether science fiction and fantasy are pejorative labels — jump to this 9-minute BBC radio interview with Neil Gaiman & Kazuo Ishiguro

Robert A. Heinlein,

Robert A. Heinlein, “Starship Troopers” [1959 introduction of idea of powered armor exoskeletons]

Ursula K. Le Guin,

Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Left Hand of Darkness” (Alex Ebal)

Back?  Great.  Let’s return to James & Mendlesohn’s text.  Last time I reviewed the ‘history’ section of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, and today we’ll conclude with some highlights from the its last two parts, ” Critical Approaches” and “Sub-Genres and Themes.”  While one might argue that the diversity of works in the “The History” section are themselves exercises in critically surveying sf, four essays give readers a sense of some possible academic “Critical Approaches”:  Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.’s “Marxist theory and science fiction,” Veronica Hollinger’s “Feminist theory and science fiction,” Andrew M. Butler’s “Postmodernism and science fiction,” and, finally, Wendy Pearson’s “Science fiction and queer theory.”

The conflict between Morlocks and Eloi in H.G. Wells's

The conflict between Morlocks and Eloi in H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” as an example of “science-fictional estrangement” for social models in Csicsery-Ronay’s essay, “Marxist theory and science fiction” (Here, Morlocks from the 1960 film, “The Time Machine”)

Csicsery-Ronay’s essay on Marxist theory is a superb example of the possible rewards awaiting sf readers who want to critically reflect on the field:

…Marxist theory has played an important role in sf criticism, especially in the last third of the past century.  Since the 1960s, many of the most sophisticated studies of sf have been either explicitly Marxist in orientation or influenced by Marxist concepts adopted by feminism, race-criticism, queer theory and cultural studies. Although relatively few critics and writers in the genre have been avowed adherents of Marxism, sf and the closely related genre of utopian fiction have deep affinities with Marxist thought in particular, and socialist thought in general.

Utopia becomes dystopia: Arthur C. Clarke's

Utopia becomes dystopia: Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” [concept art by Neal Adams]

In its simplest terms, sf and utopian fiction have been concerned with imagining progressive alternatives to the status quo, often implying critiques of contemporary conditions or possible future outcomes of current social trends.  Science fiction, in particular, imagines change in terms of the whole human species, and these changes are often the results of scientific discoveries and inventions that are applied by human beings to their own social evolution. These are also the concerns of the Marxist utopian and social imagination.

Feminism & revival of sf utopianism in the 1970s: Joanna Russ,

Feminism & revival of sf utopianism in the 1970s: Joanna Russ, “The Female Man” (art by Peter Andrew Jones)

Marx’s system combined a sophisticated critique of the capitalist economic system, a conception of history as the dialectical process of human self-construction, and a vision of a universally just and democratic way of life in the future as the goal of human history.  Although Marxism’s role as political practice and prophetic mode has weakened with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the ascendancy of multinational capitalism, many of its key concepts have been adopted by other critical social movements and branches of scholarship. Race-critical and feminist thought has borrowed the Marxist historical model, substituting people of colour and women for the working class as emphasized historical agents. It frequently models racism and sexism on bourgeois ideology, as racial hegemony and patriarchy are modeled on the capitalist mode of production.  Thus marginalized humanity acts like the proletariat in a model of progressive coming-to-consciousness and revelation of the contradictions between ideology and its practice…From its earliest forms, utopian fiction has depicted imaginary just and rational societies established in opposition to exploitative worldly ones...

Planetary ecology & world-building in Frank Herbert's

Planetary ecology & world-building in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”

'Hard sf' & Allen Steele's

‘Hard sf’ & Allen Steele’s “Chronospace” (2001)

Again, while the book was written in 2003, Part 3’s “Sub-genres and themes” offers a host of essays that essentially characterize the state of the sf through the present-day, a testimony to the comprehensive editorial approach taken by editors James and Mendlesohn.  A short list here of the authors and essay titles should give a sense of the thoroughness and expansive coverage of the work:

Gwyneth Jones, “The icons of science fiction”
Joan Slonczewski & Michael Levy, “Science fiction and the life sciences”
Kathryn Cramer, “Hard science fiction”
Gary Westfahl, “Space opera”
Andy Duncan, “Alternate history”
Edward James, “Utopias and anti-utopias”
Ken Macleod, “Politics and science fiction”
Helen Merrick, “Gender in science fiction”
Elisabeth Anne Leonard, “Race and ethnicity in science fiction”
Farah Mendlesohn, “Religion and science fiction”

Alexei Panshin,

Alexei Panshin, “Rite of Passage” (1968) — What Gwyneth Jones calls the “complete starship” novel where social engineering, town planning, & education share the adventure story.

Gwyneth Jones essay, “The icons of science fiction,” is an essay that accomplishes much ground in ten pages; from a clearly stated premise ― “the icons of sf are the signs which announce the genre, which warn the reader that this is a different world; and at the same time constitute that difference” — Jones defines sf “icons” as representing “something both supernatural (or at least other-worldly), artistically conventional (in that certain features are mandatory) and yet clearly belonging to the public domain.” She proceeds to divide the article according to the most commonly found sf topoi: (1) Rockets, spaceships, space habitats, virtual environments; (2) Robots, androids (and gynoids); cyborgs and aliens; (3) Animals, vegetables, and minerals; (4) Mad scientists and damsels in distress; and, finally, a conclusion that points to (5) “Traditions and challenges” with which the new generation of sf writers will have to contend as the modern world’s technological advances (quantum research) and entertainment expectations (CGI) intrude into the borderlands of the future once reserved solely by sf writers and futurist visionaries.

The text is a superb contribution to the academic side of sf studies, and even the casual reader will appreciate the well-exemplified arguments made throughout the book; indeed, each chapter/essay offers a chance to revisit the sf genre from its origins to the state of the field in the early 21st Century, and I well understand how the book earned the 2005  Hugo Award for “Best Related Non-Fiction Book.” Check it out!

Have a great week, and thanks for visiting!


An Author’s Journey: “Amazing Stories” of Science Fiction: Book Review of James & Mendlesohn’s “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,” 1

Good Morning, Everybody!

Frank R . Paul:

Frank R . Paul: “Future Atomic City” (1942)

It’s an exciting time to be a Science Fiction fan because the wide-ranging and diverse potential of the genre is enjoying an unprecedented popularity; that is, while there was certainly a steady increase in SF offerings when I started reading “the classics” in the 1980s (Asimov, Bester, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein, LeGuin, Moorcock, et al), today’s proliferation of the genre in literature, comic books, tv shows, films, & gaming reveals  demand on a scale perhaps only dreamed of by original SF creators of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Henri Hillinick's matte painting for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film,

Henri Hillinick’s matte painting for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, “Forbidden Planet” (1956)

3788-1Those creators and their stories are the subject of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).  James & Mendlesohn’s introduction situates the text as a part of an “ongoing discussion” within the Science Fiction (sf) community, organizing their topic by dividing this book of essays into three parts:  “The History,” “Critical Approaches,” and “Sub-Genres and Themes.”

James Gunn

James Gunn

A foreward by sf legend James Gunn—24th Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and author of innumerable sf books—sets the tone for this fascinating book, with Gunn giving his own synoptic history of the sf genre, beginning with an anecdote from 1971’s inaugural meeting of the Science Fiction Research Association and focusing on the pulp magazines, rise of fandom, academic assessments, and sf’s rise in mainstream publishing.

Alfred Bester's

Alfred Bester’s “The Demolished Man” (1953) was part of the “New Wave” science fiction…

The following essays elaborate on these phenomena, with appreciated attention in the first section to the origins and history of sf.  Space permits only a brief look below at a couple of essays, but the entirety of the 19th and 20th Centuries are canvassed in articles by established academic and popular authorities in the field:  Damien Broderick’s “New Wave and backwash: 1960-1980,” John Clute’s “Science Fiction from 1980 to the Present,” Mark Bould’s “Film and Television,” and Gary K. Wolfe’s “Science fiction and its editors.”

Edgar Allan Poe,

Edgar Allan Poe, “Sonnet—To Science” (1829)

Part 1.  The history
Because of their foundational aspects in the books, the initial two essays in the history section deserve closer attention.  The first essay, Brian Stableford’s “Science fiction before the genre,” covers a considerable amount of ground in 16 pages; beginning in the 17th Century with the popular interest that began in the scientific discoveries of the time, Stableford gives examples of utopian fantasy, imaginary voyages, and dream stories that never quite rose above the level of unique literature until the experimental works of Edgar Allan Poe (“Sonnet—To Science”).  He sees aspects of what became sf in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s  Frankenstein, but finds that the work’s Romantic trappings actually made it ‘anti-sf’ because of its fatalism about progress.

Walt Disney's 1954 film

Walt Disney’s 1954 film “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea”

Jules Verne,

Jules Verne, “From Earth to the Moon” (1867; here, one of first English translations of “De la terre à la lune”)

Stableford cites Jules Verne as the writer who first took seriously scientific inquiry in stories that used imaginatively rendered technological devices for travel extraterrestrial (From the Earth to the Moon), subterranean (Journey to the Centre of the Earth), and marine (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea).

H.G. Wells,

H.G. Wells, “The War of the Worlds” (1898; reprinted here in 1927 Frank R. Paul cover of “Amazing Stories”)

The essay here has the admirable quality of tracing simultaneous sf developments in Great Britain, the U.S., and France as newspapers and magazines of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries provided forums for fledgling sf writers to experiment with new milieus and expressions.  After Verne, Stableford sees H.G. Wells expanding upon Verne’s fascination with matters technological by introducing visions and dreamscapes into futuristic speculation (The Time Machine, War of the Worlds) and moral fables that included elements of romance (The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man).

Edgar Rice Burroughs,

Edgar Rice Burroughs, “A Princess of Mars” (1917)

Magazines and pulp novels were part of the flurry of periodicals that attended the rise of sf in the early 1900s, a time when Edgar Rice Burroughs’s short story, “Under the Moons of Mars” became the first novel in the Barroom series, A Princess of Mars, and inviting a host of imitative tales that started introducing concepts of magic portals and parallel worlds (Abraham Merritt’s “The Moon Pool” [1918] and Francis Stevens’s “The Heads of Cerebus” [1919]).

The second essay in this historical section, Brian Attebery’s “The magazine era: 1926-1960,” assesses the pivotal role that magazines played in promoting sf as what Attebery usefully defines as a “… mode of storytelling, but also a niche for writers, a marketing category for publishers, a collection of visual images and styles and a community of like-minded individuals.”

“The War of the Worlds” (Paramount Pictures, 1953)

Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967), portrait by Fabian Bachrach

Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967), portrait by Fabian Bachrach

Brian Attebery’s story begins with the namesake of the World Science Fiction Society’s “Hugo Awards,” Hugo Gernsback, whose Amazing Stories magazine (f. 1926) seriously attempted to define the sf genre—initially the  style of writing was called ‘scientification’— and in the first issue Gernsback called for more creative works to follow the examples of Verne, Wells, and Poe, with a magazine format and perspective that intended to “… supply knowledge that we might not otherwise obtain-and…supply it in a very palatable form.’ In other words (Atterby writes), sf, as Gernsback envisioned it, ‘was primarily a teaching tool, but one that did not make its teaching obvious.’

Ways that sf writers accomplished this teaching were by following these what John Cawelti grouped as “adventure, mystery, and romance,” with mystery the most prominent form of the early pulps.  Attebery next outlines the fictional formulas that characterized the magazine stories of this period:

E.E. 'Doc' Smith's

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s “Skylark” Series (here with cover art by Frank R Paul)

space opera: E. E. ‘Doc Smith’s’ “Skylark” and “Lensmen” series, where any  “…one of his interchangeable heroes coming across a spaceship in distress, single-handedly defeating a band of space pirates, making friends with a bizarre but good-natured alien and rescuing a beautiful woman.”

Poesque horror: most notably this branch of sf could be seen in Weird Tales magazine (1923-1954), with H.P. Lovecraft blurring the boundaries between fantastic landscapes and supernatural horror

Frank R. Paul sf art; cover,

Frank R. Paul sf art; cover, “Amazing Stories” (1941)

sympathetic aliens & sf technology:  for a couple of decades, the stories that appeared in magazines featured what Attebery calls ‘blandly indistinguishable’ human beings who confronted alien beings and space ships that started to be popularized with the artwork of Frank R. Paul, who “…translated words into images—space ships, domed cities, goggle-eyed creatures—that are still being used to represent the future in advertisements, movies and television shows.”

young scientist saving the world, usually with help of mentor’s daughter:  Attebery writes, “…using this basic plot structure, the [sf] writer could introduce variations regarding the nature of of the threat (aliens, rival scientists, natural disasters) and the invention (a time machine, a device to accelerate evolution, a death ray).  The tone could be sombre, rapturous or comic. The ending, though, was nearly always happy, a vindication of the young hero’s character and the reader’s belief…”

“Amazing Stories,” Vol. 1, no. 1 (April, 1926)

These formulas were successful, with circulation to Amazing Stories reaching over 100,000 subscribers in just a few months; unfortunately, Gernsback overextended himself and went bankrupt in the early 1930s, but a spate of magazines successfully imitated his format and tried to meet demand for ‘thought-variant stories’—Science Wonder Quarterly (1929), Astounding Stories (1930), and Marvel Science Stories (1937), with expansion of formats in editor John W. Campbell’s Astounding Stories-era that are still familiar today:  “… chatty editorials, the advertising (for radio kits, scientific publications, correspondence course, razors and body-building regimens) and, perhaps most significantly, the letters from the fans.”

Clifton's Cafeteria, Los Angeles (original site of LA Science Fiction League)

Clifton’s Cafeteria, Los Angeles (original site of LA Science Fiction League)

Attebery traces the interaction between fans and editors during this period (1930s-1950s), where correspondence both within the pages of the magazines were paralleled by the rise of fan clubs and sf associations, the most important of which was 1934’s Science Fiction League, whose offshoots  “… carried on the fan tradition of meeting, arguing, publishing non-professional magazines for one another and generally behaving more like active partners than passive consumers.  One group, the Futurians, included many of the most important writers in the next generation: Frederick Pohl, Damon Knight, Judith Merril, Cyril Kornbluth, Isaac Asimov and James Blish…”

Isaac Asimov's

Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series

Robert A. Heinlein,

Robert A. Heinlein, “The Roads Must Roll” in “Astounding Science Fiction” (June, 1940)

Within this milieu, thanks to the influence and editorial decisions of Campbell in Astounding Stories, important sf writers began to reshape the genre into a form that still retains the contributions of each:

Robert A Heinleinin “The Roads Must Roll” (1940) established the prototype of the Astounding Stories engineer/technocrat as action hero

Isaac Asimovin the Foundation stories, invented a scholarly society & ‘psychohistory’ that predicts fall of a galactic empire

A.E. Van Vogt:  “created dream-like narratives about psychic supermen in hiding” and shifted part of the sf form into realms of fantasy

Klaatu & Gort arrive in

Klaatu & Gort arrive in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951)

Arthur C. Clarke,

Arthur C. Clarke, “Childhood’s End” (1953)

By the 1950s, when feature films began attempting to meet the growing demand for the expanding genre and fan-base, Attebery notes that ‘Science fiction for grown-ups’ began to appear in new magazines such as New Worlds (U.K.) and Galaxy Science Fiction (U.S.), when writers such as Arthur C. Clarke (Childhood’s End), Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man), Theodore Sturgeon (More than Human), and Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) led a creative sf explosion of works that eventually transcended the magazine format and yielded a new kind of sf novel that would become popular in the 1960s.

“Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine,” Vol. 1, n. 1 (Spring, 1977)

That transition in itself created new kinds of issues with the dissemination of sf stories—the shift from a newsstand distribution model to a book format that needed publisher promotion being the most notable—but Attebery’s essay more than satisfies in its conclusion that, fittingly, the major sf magazine that survived into the 1980s and 1990s was Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, a periodical that still made room for out-of-the-box ideas in an increasingly competitive and book-dominated marketplace.

Next Time:  Book Review, Part 2:  “Critical Approaches & Sub-Genres and Themes” 

Carlisle Kickstarter Update_VIDEO of Last Friday’s “The Codex Lacrimae” at Off-Center, the Denver Center for Performing Arts

Good Morning, Everyone!

Yesterday, Charlie Miller with Off-Center at the DCPA just sent me this You Tube link to the official VIDEO of my performance last Friday at “The Kick-Off Cabaret!”

Enjoy, and please keep spreading the word about this project … we’ve got 25 days left, and I’m 20% funded.  That’s fantastic, but we’ve still got a long way to go!

All my best,

AJ promotes Kickstarter project

AJ promotes Kickstarter project “The Codex Lacrimae” (Off-Center at the Jones Theatre, DCPA; Friday, March 13, 2015)

Carlisle Kickstarter Update: “The Codex Lacrimae” at Friday’s DCPA Off-Center’s “Kick-Off Cabaret!”

Good Morning, Everyone!

I just wanted to give you an update on how things went at this past Friday’s “Kick-Off Cabaret,” where I promoted my Kickstarter project at the Denver Center for Performing Arts in front of a packed, 200-hundred seat Jones Theatre.

To channel the favorite word of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, the event was “FANTASTIC!”

Off-Center actors Justin & Regina were the emcees for the

Off-Center actors Justin & Regina were the emcees for the “Cabaret”-themed evening & brought “tomes” of laughter to introduce me…

My five-minute presentation had the good fortune of being introduced by the hilarious emcees for the evening, Justin & Regina. I’m so grateful to them for bringing an infectiously good vibe to my act—from their blocking and scene-work to enthusiastic performances, these two actors really brought their A-Game to my project!

Sharing some personal background & describing

Sharing some personal background & describing “The Codex Lacrimae” project

The theater atmosphere & large screens allowed me to quickly share my “1980s Teeange Geek Equation,” or how early influences of obsessive reading, comic books, SciFi & Fantasy, and Dungeons & Dragons shaped my desire to write epic fantasy novels.

The moment of creation: learning about the Krak des Chevaliers and Saladin!

The moment of creation: learning about the Krak des Chevaliers and Saladin!

I then let the audience know about the influence that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had on my decision to become a medieval historian, & revealed the “moment” when the story that became “The Codex Lacrimae” popped into my mind: learning that the 12th Century Hospitaller castle of the Krak des Chevalier hadn’t ever been taken by Saladin.
I closed the “pitch” part of the presentation by telling how the $6,500 goal would be used to line-edit and publish a new trilogy of books, and then narrated a scene from the novel, “Chapter 11: Trouble in the Library.”

Regina & Justin acted out the scene as

Regina & Justin acted out the scene as “Sister Nikola” and “Andreas the Chaplain,” recreating the moment in the Krak’s scriptorium where the villainess tempts the teenaged apprentice!

I got some great feedback after the show, and over this past weekend already jumped to 20% funding of the project thanks to some recent sizable pledges!

Now, $110 of that recent pledge activity came from the Off-Center itself!  Here’s how it worked: besides wanting to blend the “turbo-charged” artistic patronage system of Kickstarter with the vibrancy of live-theater, curator Charlie Miller thought it important that the audience have a say in which acts should get a portion of the ticket sales for the night!

That meant that for every $15 ticket sold, $5 would go to an audience member’s preferred act.

Q & A session after show, where I replied to question about Codex Lacrimae's plot!

Q & A session after show, where I replied to question about Codex Lacrimae’s plot!

DSC_3065We’ll see in coming days Friday night’s experience translates into getting “The Codex Lacrimae” closer to (or over!) its $6,500 goal, but I want to THANK Charlie, Emily Tarquin, Hope Grandon& the entire Off-Center entire cast & crew for all of their help and support in promoting my work.

I think that Charlie’s entire idea was brilliant, and as the Off-Center is a “testing” venue for the Denver Center for Performing Arts, I wish Off-Center many more future Kickstarter/Theater events as successful as Friday night’s was!


Now, that being said, I’m still only 20% funded on my Kickstarter campaign, with 27 days left until it ends on April 13th, so please keep watching this space for more updates!

Also, I’d really appreciate you taking a moment to visit the website (and share the link with friends and followers) and make a pledge: help bring a new epic fantasy into the world!

All my best (and keep spreading the word!),

Leonard Nimoy as King Arthur (in play based on T.H. White's

Leonard Nimoy as King Arthur (in play based on T.H. White’s “Once and Future King”)

An Author’s Journey: Loss of Leonard Nimoy & “King Arthur: Contexts of Language, Love, & the “Heroic” in High Middle Ages: Part 2 of 2

Good Evening, Everyone!

I’m still saddened by the loss of Leonard Nimoy, who died on Friday, Feb. 27th at 83 years’ old.  I wish heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

For those who are criticizing William Shatner’s absence at the funeral, I’d ask only that you respect all of the family & friends who are bereaved by the death of Mr. Nimoy, and focus on the loss to Trekkies everywhere of a truly remarkable man.

Leonard Nimoy (Arthur) and Barbara Williams (Guinevere) in

Leonard Nimoy (Arthur) and Barbara Williams (Guinevere) in “Camelot” (1973)

Nimoy & Shatner (January 2015)

Nimoy & Shatner (January 2015)

Personally, I think that critics of Shatner’s grieving (really, people?) should mind their own business. Would you want anyone telling you how to mourn a friend?  Indeed, it’s one thing to appreciate the contribution Shatner and Nimoy made as Kirk & Spock in the imaginary worlds of Starfleet & the Federation in the context of 20th Century Science Fiction, but I find it quite an (appallingly) other thing to condemn Shatner for meeting a charity obligation and not making the funeral of a friend. I know that being a celebrity de facto makes one every’s action open to critique, but let’s leave this matter well enough alone.

Leonard Nimoy,

Leonard Nimoy, “Mr. Spock” on “Star Trek”

Here are some links to obituaries, appreciations, and highlights of the Shatner controversy (cited because it allows me to highlight Shatner’s “defense”):

Star Trek's Original Cast

Star Trek’s Original Cast

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) Obituaries & Testimonials:
Huffington Post:
LA Times (Obituary):
LA Times (Appreciation):
NY Times (Appreciation)

William Shatner & Leonard Nimoy, as

William Shatner & Leonard Nimoy, as “Captain Kirk & Mr. Spock” (Star Trek)

Shatner & Nimoy:
LA Times:
LA Times:

I’ll do a future blog on the importance of “Star Trek” and its actors Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Deforest Kelly et al, but right now I prefer to read the tributes to Nimoy and see memories such as this video clip that really shows some fun interplay between Mr. Nimoy and his “Captain Kirk,” William Shatner:

“William Shatner Stole Leonard Nimoy’s Bike”

CARLISLE Codex Lacrimae_Kickstarter Title Page_Staff Pick (12.9.14)As for matters Medieval & Epic Fantastic, I’m very occupied with prepping my Kickstarter presentation next week (Friday, March 13th) at the Denver Center for Performing Art’s Off Center production of “Kick-Off Cabaret,” where I’ll be promoting my currently running KICKSTARTER project to line-edit and publish my novel, The Codex Lacrimae.

Promotional Poster:

Promotional Poster: “Support my project: The Codex Lacrimae” (March 13th only; Denver Center for the Performing Arts, OffCenter Productions)

If you’re in Denver and want to see me speaking live at the Denver Center for Performing Arts’ Off-Center “Kick-Off Cabaret,” please call 303-893-4100 to get a $15 ticket, or visit the following weblink:

For those of you waiting for the rest of the King Arthur lecture that I delivered to a 9th grade Honors English class as a favor for a friend, here it is below!

Enjoy, and thanks for visiting!

“Live long and prosper,”


Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_4 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_4 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_5 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_5 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_6 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_6 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_7 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_7 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_8 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_8 of 8

LIVE APPEARANCE! A.J.’s Kickstarter “The Codex Lacrimae” to SHOW AT DCPA’s “Off-Center Kick-off Cabaret” (Denver, 3.13.15 @ 8:00 p.m.)

Hey, Everybody!

A.J.'s Kickstarter Goal: Mass-Market Editions of

A.J.’s Kickstarter Goal: Mass-Market Editions of “The Codex Lacrimae, Parts 1-3”

Just got the completely fantastic news that on Friday night, March 13th, I’ll be showcasing my Kickstarter project, “The Codex Lacrimae ⎪An Epic Fantasy by A.J. Carlisle” ( in a live presentation at the Denver “Off Center at the Jones Theater!” I’m still in shock and overwhelmed surprise, but with only 9 working days left until the event, I wanted to let you know asap!

So, if you’re in Denver next Friday (or know of anyone interested in patronizing the arts and an epic fantasy writer), please buy a ticket and spread the word! Phone number is 303-893-4100

Promotional Poster:

Promotional Poster: “Support my project: The Codex Lacrimae” (March 13th only; Denver Center for the Performing Arts, OffCenter Productions)

Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Denver Center for the Performing Arts

A little background:  I’m now just a bit over two weeks into a Kickstarter project to fund the line-editing and publishing costs of my epic fantasy trilogy, “The Codex Lacrimae.” (Details can be found at the link here:

Off Center at the Jones Theatre: DCPA

Off Center at the Jones Theatre: DCPA

The Off Center at the Jones Theatre has been in operation for about four years, and is a part of the Denver Center for Performing Arts ( The Off Center venue is devoted to theatrical testing of new ideas and experiences that enhance traditional DCPA programs.

Last week, Charlie Miller, one of the curators of Off Center, liked what he saw on my Kickstarter page while he looked at the over 65 “live” Colorado Kickstarter projects. After sending an official invitation to participate, he gave me a call on Friday and let me know that the “Kick-Off Cabaret” event will feature 8 projects, and that The Codex Lacrimae is the only work of fiction or literature! I was blown away and so appreciative of Charlie’s invitation.

CARLISLE Codex Lacrimae_Kickstarter Title Page_Staff Pick (12.9.14)As you can imagine, this is an amazing opportunity for me to get the word out about my epic fantasy novel, and I especially appreciate the fact that the invitation from the DCPA came shortly after my project was chosen as a “Kickstarter Staff Pic.” I’m honored to participate as a local creator in the Denver area, and thank Charlie Miller and the powers-that-be at the Off Center for selecting me.

Kick-Off Cabaret Flyer, featuring among others A.J. Carlisle's

Kick-Off Cabaret Flyer, featuring among others A.J. Carlisle’s “The Codex Lacriame!”

Here’s the official notice about the event:

Denver’s Off-Center at the DCPA’s “KICK-OFF CABARET”

March 13 @ 8:00 p.m. | One Night Only

Discover the next wave of artists, inventors, and entrepreneurs at KICK-OFF CABARET, a brand-new showcase for up-and-coming projects. “Ted Talk” meets “Shark Tank” meets live performance as eight completely different local Kickstarter project creators – from bakers to inventors to musicians – will strut their stuff to enlist your support.

At the end of the night, you decide which team you want to back and Off-Center will give a portion your $15 ticket to the team of your choice, plus one lucky project will win a one-month membership at Galvanize.

Buy Tickets Here!

Kick-Off Cabaret Flyer cover

Kick-Off Cabaret Flyer cover

The event takes place @ The Jones at the corner of Speer and Arapahoe. Bar @ 7:30pm | Show @ 8pm. KICK-OFF CABARET is presented by Off-Center, the theatrical testing center for the Denver Center of the Performing Arts. Off-Center’s shows are less traditional, less formal, and a little OFF.

So, again, if you’re in Denver next Friday (or know of anyone interested in patronizing the arts and an epic fantasy writer), please buy a ticket and spread the word! Phone number is 303-893-4100

Thanks for taking the time to visit, and why don’t you go take a look at my Kickstarter site for The Codex Lacrimae? Pledges and rewards start at only $10, and I’m really proud of the story … be part of a new kind of epic fantasy!

This novel is a work of passion that’s been 25+ years in the making, and I’d deeply appreciate your support in helping make my publishing dream a reality!

All my best,


An Author’s Journey: King Arthur: Contexts of Language, Love, & the “Heroic” in High Middle Ages: Part 1 0f 2

Good Morning, Everyone!

I’ve been rather busy promoting my Kickstarter project to line-edit & publish “The Codex Lacrimae” trilogy, but yesterday I took a break and gave a guest lecture at a local high school.  A friend of mine who teaches Honors English invited me to speak on King Arthur.

The mostly 9th Grade students have been reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and my friend thought it would be helpful to frame my discussion around themes of language, the “heroic,” and romance in medieval literature & King Arthur.

It’s always an exciting opportunity to meet the next generation of scholars—and, who knows, possibly there’ll be a medievalist, writer, or fantasy enthusiast in the group!—and such a moment also gives me a chance to resume discussion here of the Arthurian legend! 

So, for the next few blogs, enjoy a free introductory lecture on a favorite medieval legend, framed as “King Arthur & Medieval Contexts of Language, the “Heroic,” and Romance.”

Thanks for visiting, and Enjoy!

P.S. There were 8 PowerPoint slides, so here are the first three that give introduction to historical context, and comments on the development of Latin & vernacular languages before the advent of the “literary” Arthur!

Carilsle_King Arthur Lecture_1 of 8

Carilsle_King Arthur Lecture_1 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_2 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_2 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_3 of 8

Carlisle_King Arthur Lecture_3 of 8

Text to my Daughter: Why “The Flash” Episode 12 —”Crazy for You” — Rocked!


CW’s “The Flash”

Andy Mientus as the Rogue,

Andy Mientus as the Rogue, “Pied Piper”

Victor Garber & Robbie Arnell are

Victor Garber & Robbie Arnell are “Firestorm” on “The Flash”

Hey, Adriane! Just finished watching this week’s episode of The Flash and “ran” the gamut of emotions: pleased to see the continuation/dev’t of the Firestorm storyline; thrilled by the reappearance of Rogue Pied Piper (even though Momma thought it unbelievable that Cisco would’ve been so stupid as to free the prisoner … I thought it believable because of guilt he felt about locking Ronnie into the particle accelerator) …

Grant Gustin's

Grant Gustin’s “Flash” vs. Britne Oldford’s “Peek-a-Boo”

Malese Jow's

Malese Jow’s “Linda Park” as rival to Candice Patton’s “Iris West” on “The Flash”

… stupefied by the awesomeness of the intro of yet ANOTHER Rogue (Peek-a-Boo); amazed by the intro of Linda Park as romantic rival to Iris West (in the funny books for half my life, Linda Park was the romantic interest/wife of Wally West, the former “Kid Flash” who became THE Flash from 1985-2009, after Barry died saving the universe in “Crisis of Infinite Earths” …

“Death of Barry Allen as Flash” in 1985’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths”

Barry Allen Returns in 2009's

Barry Allen Returns in 2009’s “The Flash: Rebirth”

… having original Barry Allen die was shocker 30 years ago, until all great again when Geoff Johns brought him and Green Lantern back to life a few years ago…whew); and FREAKIN’ GEEK-OUT CHILL DOWN MY SPINE at appearance of Gorilla Grodd, who, besides Reverse Flash & Captain Cold, is one of the TOP 5 Flash villains EVER; I know, sounds silly, but Grodd’s of the most original super-villians since Barry Allen led comics into the “Silver Age” in 1959…very cool, and we’ve still got 11 episodes left in the season!

Gorilla Grodd appears in Epilogue of

Gorilla Grodd appears in Epilogue of “Crazy for You” (Episode 12) of “The Flash,”

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Film Comments 2, “Ch. 13: Not at Home”)

Good Morning, Everyone!

During the last couple of years, when reviewing Peter Jackson’s 3-part film adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy book, The Hobbit, I’ve been looking at (1) how events occurred in Tolkien’s novel, (2) how Jackson adapted those events, and (3) concluding with my own assessments on how the cinematic presentation did or didn’t work for me as a Tolkien fan.

Complete at Last: Peter Jackson's 3-Film Adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's

Complete at Last: Peter Jackson’s 3-Film Adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” (2012-2014)

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

That distinction — that is, the difference between the reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the viewing of a Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of that book — needs to be kept uppermost in mind; to do otherwise is simply to measure the success or failure of a film adaptation not on the merits of viewing the film with respect to director Jackson as an auteur, but against preconceived literary expectations that a reader brings from reading a book by novelist Tolkien as an author.

Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro

Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens

Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens

Thankfully, now that the film trilogy is complete and can be assessed as a totality, we can see that Jackson and his fellow screenwriters (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro) have succeeded in bringing a vision of The Hobbit to the silver screen that honors both the novel and a greater vision of Middle Earth that encompasses both The Lord of Rings (film trilogy and books) and, perhaps most importantly, a work that Tolkien himself held closest to his heart for decades, The Silmarillion.

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Silmarillion” (“Cirith Ninniach, the Rainbow Cleft,” Ted Nasmith)

Mythopoeic Forging from 1914-1973, J.R.R. Tolkien,

Mythopoeic Forging from 1914-1973, J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Silmarillion” (“Sauron,” by Alan Lee)

Why “closest to his heart?” Well, Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937 and didn’t succeed in getting The Lord of the Rings published until the mid-1950s.  Why?  Because his approach to publishers always pitched the story of Frodo, Aragorn, Gollum and the rest of the gang as part of a story that began with the series of myths and tales we now know as The Silmarillion. (I’ll discuss this work when we get to some sections in The Battle of the Five Armies that realized aspects of Tolkien’s grander Middle-Earth vision; for example, Legolas and Tauriel at the entrance to the kingdom of Angmar.)

The point here is that until Tolkien relented just after his 60th birthday (!) on the hope of having parts of The Silmarillion published as prefatory matter to what became The Lord of the Rings, no publisher would touch what’s since become his most famous work. George Allen & Rayner Unwin finally agreed to publish the LotR as 3 volumes only when Tolkien removed all material related to The Silmarillion. (The stories in that still-unfinished work were published posthumously in 1977 by Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien — for the full story, see my blog from last year Think about the passage of time in your life; Tolkien began writing the myths that ultimately became The Silmarillion in 1914 (he was 22 years old), and it appears that few things in Tolkien’s life were as close to his heart as this mythopoeic enterprise that lasted until his death in 1973 at the age of 81.

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” (Ch. 13, “Not at Home,” art by Alan Lee)

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” (Ch. 13, “Not at Home,” art by Michael Hague)

SO, in getting back to this three-film epic fantasy that Peter Jackson’s created and wondering why he incorporated so much material that wasn’t in the original novel of The Hobbit, understanding the context of Tolkien’s own attempts to get The Silmarillion published might help understand part of Jackson’s intention.  That is, given the early 2000s legal battles and disputes that surrounded the making of Jackson’s LotR and Hobbit adaptations, it’s doubtful that we’ll ever see an attempt at cinematically adapting The Silmarillion.  We can argue whether or not The Hobbit film adaptation was the place to include such things as the White Council, the Return of Sauron, the Kingdom of Angmar, etc, but at least Jackson & Co. tried to incorporate these aspects from both The Silmarillion and LotR Appendices that Tolkien spent 60 years of his life working on!  That kind of respect for an author’s work is amazing, and contrary to some critics’ irritation that this Hobbit film trilogy runs rather long, I’m grateful that Jackson & Co. have tried to realize so much of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth lore!

Ok. That’s my own preface to these film comments.  Here’s a rundown of the actual events in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit:

Chapter 13, “Not at Home,” begins immediately after the dragon, Smaug, flies off to wreak havoc on Lake-town:

[Begin excerpt:  In the meanwhile, the dwarves sat in darkness, and utter silence fell about them. Little they ate and little they spoke.  They could not count the passing of time; and they scarcely dared to move, for the whisper of their voices echoed and rustled in the tunnel. If they dozed, they woke still to darkness and to silence going on unbroken. At last, after days and days of waiting, as it seemed, when they were becoming choked and dazed for want of air, they could bear it no longer. They would have almost welcomed sounds from below of the dragon’s return. In the silence, they feared some cunning devilry of his, but they could not sit there for ever.

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” (Ch. 13, “Not at Home,” art by David Wyatt)

Thorin spoke: “Let us try the door!” he said. “I must feel the wind on my face soon or die. I think I would rather be smashed by Smaug in the open than suffocate in here!” So several of the dwarves got up and groped back to where the door had been. But they found that the upper end of the tunnel had been shattered and blocked with broken rock. Neither key nor the magic it had once obeyed would ever open that door again.

“We are trapped!” they groaned. “This is the end. We shall die here.”  But somehow, just when the dwarves were most despairing, Bilbo felt a strange lightening of the heart, as if a heavy weight had gone from under his waistcoat.

“Come, come!” he said. ” ‘While there’s life there’s hope!’ as my father used to say, and ‘Third time pays for all.’ I am going down the tunnel once again. I have been that way twice, when I knew there was a dragon at the other end, and I will risk a third visit when I am no longer sure. Anyway the only way out is down. And I think this time you had better all come with me.”

In desperation they agreed, and Thorin was the first to go forward at Bilbo’s side… [End excerpt, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937]

Suiting up for war: Thorin, Bilbo, & the Dwarves (

Suiting up for war: Thorin, Bilbo, & the Dwarves (“The Hobbit,” Rankin-Bass, 1977)

In the remainder of the chapter, the following occurs:

— the hobbit leads the company back down to main level to see where Smaug went

— the group lights torches and search the great halls of Erebor, with Bilbo striking out on his own and finding the Arkenstone

— 3 pages of Bilbo and the dwarves searching, and confirming that Smaug is gone

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” (Ch. 13, “Not at Home,” art by Alan Lee)

— Bilbo receives mithril shirt as partial payment of his 1/14th share of the reward; all of the dwarves find armor and outfit themselves for war

— the company pass the great chamber of Thror and then the skeleton-filled dining hall & chambers, to finally reach the “birth of the Running River”

— pass through the Front Gate and march towards ruins of Dale to have breakfast safely away from the dwarf-kingdom entrance

— 3 pages describing march to watch area and the relative safety of guards’ rock chamber, where the company rests and falls asleep

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” (Ch. 13, “Not at Home,” art by Alan Lee)

“Searching for the Arkenstone & ordering the treasure” (art by Alan Lee)

So, these were the main events of the chapter in Tolkien’s novel. From a narrative standpoint, the chapter complements the previous chapter in conveying a sense of epic scale; that is, in Ch. 12’s “Inside Information,” the focus is on the enormity and seeming invincibility of Smaug, while Ch. 13’s “Not at Home” conveys the vastness of the dwarf kingdom and immensity of the treasure-hoard.  Most importantly — and in a development that I’ve not seen addressed in the film reviews of The Battle of the Five Armies — Bilbo’s discovery of and taking of the Arkenstone is simple theft, with the jewel casting a covetous enchantment on his heart as strong as any Ring of Power:

[Begin excerpt:  … Bilbo was climbing the great mound of treasure. Soon he stood upon the top, and still went on. Then they saw him halt and stoop for a moment; but they did not know the reason.

“Bilbo finds the Arkenstone…” (“The Hobbit,” Rankin-Bass, 1977)

It was the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain. So Bilbo guessed from Thorin’s description; but indeed there could not be two such gems, even in so marvelous a hoard, even in all the world. Ever as he climbed, the same white gleam had shone before him and drawn his feet towards it. Slowly it grew to a little globe of pallid light. Now as he came near, it was tinged with a flickering sparkle of many colors at the surface, reflected and splintered from the wavering light of his torch. At last he looked down upon it and caught his breath. The great jewel shone before his feet of its own inner light, and yet, cut and fashioned by the dwarves, who had dug it from the heart of the mountain long ago, it took all light that fell upon it and changed it into ten thousand sparks of white radiance shot with glints of the rainbow.

Suddenly Bilbo’s arm went towards it drawn by its enchantment. His small hand would not close about it, for it was a large and heavy gem; but he lifted it, shut his eyes, and put it in his deepest pocket.

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” (Ch. 13, “Not at Home,” art by Michael Hague)

“Now I am a burglar indeed!” thought he. “But I suppose I must tell the dwarves about it — some time. They did say I could pick and choose my own share; and I think I would choose this, if they took all the rest!” All the same he had an uncomfortable feeling that the picking and choosing had not really been meant to include this marvellous gem, and that trouble would come of it … [End excerpt, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937]

As evident from the amount of pages Tolkien devoted to Bilbo and the dwarves walking through tunnel and the interior of Erebor, this chapter complements the previous one’s focus on Smaug.  Where the pages of description there about the gigantic dragon gave a sense of proportion to the hobbit’s bravery, this chapter really imparts the vastness of the dwarf kingdom, dragon hoard, & relief the company felt as it emerged from the Lonely Mountain to journey to the guards’ watch where they could observe Dale and Lake-Town in the distance.   Most importantly, Tolkien establishes part of the novel’s climax and end-game by revealing the primacy that the Arkenstone holds in both Thorin’s and (surprisingly) Bilbo’s hearts.

Okay, that’s the recap of Tolkien’s version.  Next time, we’ll see how the chapter fared in Jackson’s work.

Thanks for visiting!
— A.J.

Next time: Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Chapter 13’s “Not at Home!”

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit: Ch. 13, Not at Home” 1 (Graphic Novel adaptation by Chuck Dixon, illus. by David Wenzel)

P.S.  Check out the panels below for the “Chapter 13: Not at Home” section of 2001 The Hobbit graphic novel adaptation by Chuck Dixon (with Sean Deming) and illustrations by David Wenzel.

The work succeeds in giving the reader a sense of Tolkien’s pace in telling the story, as well as spending time with Bilbo and the dwarves in a way that departs from the recent film adaptation of the same events.

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit: Ch. 13, Not at Home” 1 (illus. by David Wenzel)

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit: Ch. 13, Not at Home” 2 (illus. by David Wenzel)

J.R.R. Tolkien,

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit: Ch. 13, Not at Home” 3 (illus. by David Wenzel)

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