In memory of Christopher Tolkien

Christopher Tolkien, son and literary executor of J.R.R. Tolkien, died today at age 95. He was the very first “Middle-earth scholar,” having organized, edited and published many of his father’s works after his father’s death in 1973.

I grew up ignorant of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” Science fiction was my thing. And anyway, my parents tended to discourage us from reading books that had even a hint of magic.

I wasn’t introduced to the LOTR story until 2001. I was in college when Peter Jackson’s “Fellowship of the Ring” movie was released. My friends and I had a regular “movie night” discussion group where we would see a film, then come back to someone’s house to talk about themes and meanings.

We decided to watch “Fellowship.” Many of my friends had the advantage, having read the books when they were younger. To make up for that, I watched “Fellowship” several times before our movie night, in order to immerse myself in the story. Of course, I loved it — and afterward I dove into the books straight away.

A new world opened up in the pages of those books. Reading the end of The Two Towers remains a vivid memory for me. I was gripped until the very end as Sam and Frodo struggled at Cirith Ungol.

Eventually I finished LOTR, and I sought out other Middle-earth adventures. I turned first to The Hobbit, which I also loved very much.

And next, The Silmarillion. The stories of this book were J.R.R. Tolkien’s life work. He constantly tweaked them: writing, rewriting, and starting again. But he never brought it to completion. It fell to Christopher Tolkien to finish what his father could not, and he succeeded in 1977. He published a massive history of his father’s work in The History of Middle-earth series, which he published through the 1980s and 1990s.

After the LOTR movies had all been released, Christopher Tolkien began again to edit and publish more of his father’s stories posthumously. It was perfect timing for me, and I devoured them. Unfinished Tales, The Children of Hurin, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, The Fall of Arthur, Beowulf, etc.

I was late to the party, but I was so glad to find J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. I have read and re-read it — many, many times — over the years with much enjoyment.

The movie was a gateway into J.R.R. Tolkien’s world. But it was Christopher Tolkien’s work as an editor that fully opened the vista for me.

I wrote to the Tolkien Estate in 2010 to thank Christopher for his work. His son, Adam, responded, telling me Christopher would be very pleased to hear it. “His stated wish in producing works such as ‘Children of Hurin’ was the hope that it would attract people who had maybe only seen the films to read further the works of his father,” Adam wrote to me.

Christopher Tolkien dedicated half his life to arranging, publishing, and explaining his father’s vast collection of unpublished works. It’s amazing. And yet it seems a thankless task in many ways. I feel Christopher Tolkien was misunderstood, particularly by fans who only ever saw the movies. My general impression was that many knew him only as “the guy who didn’t want any more movies.” Others seemed to think he invented or manufactured most of The Silmarillion. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Think of what might have happened to J.R.R. Tolkien’s unfinished work in someone else’s hands. They could have licensed the entire legendarium. Invited lesser authors to write “new” Middle-earth adventures. Given his blessing to new movies about Morgoth, Fëanor, Túrin, etc. That would have been a travesty. Instead, Christopher Tolkien stayed true to protecting and enhancing his father’s literary legacy.

Over the decades I have come to appreciate Christopher’s voice as editor. I love reading his notes and interpretations of various fragments and drafts of his father’s work almost as much as the work itself. I love listening to his actual voice, too. YouTube also has a series of clips from a BBC documentary about Tolkien in which Christopher talks at length about his father and the legendarium. And I just love hearing Christopher read passages from the Silmarillion in “The JRR Tolkien Audio Collection.”

I’m sorry his voice is now stilled. But Christopher Tolkien leaves a mighty legacy behind: a lifetime of staggering scholarship.

The Current at 50

Back row: Jeff Kuchno, Clint Zweifel, David Baugher, Wiley Price, Judi Burch Linville, Josh Renaud and Rick Jackoway Front row: Sharon Reus, Michelle McMurray, Kathleen Riddler
Back row: Jeff Kuchno, Clint Zweifel, David Baugher, Wiley Price, Judi Burch Linville, Josh Renaud and Rick Jackoway
Front row: Sharon Reus, Michelle McMurray, Kathleen Riddler

In November 1966, UMSL’s student newspaper published its first issue under the name “Current.” That means The Current turns 50 this year!

To celebrate, this year’s editor-in-chief, Kat Riddler, put together a fantastic banquet for the current Current staff, alumni and other interested folks.

Continue reading “The Current at 50”

Still thankful for the Rams

I’m definitely feeling all the outrage over the Rams leaving St. Louis to return to Los Angeles.

They were, overall, terrible for most of their years in St. Louis. They fleeced us to come here in 1995, and they fleeced us when they left, as we wasted millions hoping to keep them.

Joseph has a Rams jersey that he loves to wear. The older girls want to hate the Rams for going away. Hopefully I can get them all to embrace the Cowboys.

Still, I’d like to remember the bright spots. The “Greatest Show on Turf” years will remain amazing. For me, the Rams run to their second Super Bowl appearance is particularly meaningful.

Continue reading “Still thankful for the Rams”

Remembering Benjamin Israel

Higher education had a term for folks like Benjamin Israel: “nontraditional student.” That applied to him in so many ways.

Benjamin died Monday morning. I wanted to share a little bit about his impact.

I first met Benjamin when I worked at UMSL’s student newspaper, The Current. Unlike the rest of us, he was older, with many years of journalism experience under his belt.

Continue reading “Remembering Benjamin Israel”

Ten years

josh_yoli_cascada1

we wrote letters
	and raked leaves

we pleaded 
	and prayed

we vowed in Santa Cruz
	and signed in Coral Gables

we made
	babies and bunuelos

we gained 
	family and friends 
	and facebook

we lost 
	tios and tias 
	and little Jubilee

we endured
	tornados and tantrums
	surazos and suegros

we watched
	Petra and parades

we explored
	D.C. and Del Rio
	Copacabana, Cotoca
	San Antonio, Samaipata

we saved
	and we spent

we loved
	and we left

we gave 
	and we grew

from just me and you
	to those four and us two

vows and visas
looks and laughs
tea and tears 
ten times ten
let us love 
again
and again

“Jerusalem”

israel3

This morning Yoli and I had a rare kid-free couple of hours. We thought it would be fun to to see the new film Jerusalem on the Imax screen at the St. Louis Science Center.

The film is very nicely done. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, it tries to show the different facets of Jerusalem through the inhabitants. The film features three girls: one Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim, who talk about their lives in the different quarters of the old city. The film also features beautiful visuals, and a good helping of archaeology and sightseeing to explain why different faiths care so deeply about particular places.

Watching the film with Yoli transported me back to the year 2000. As the editor of the student newspaper at UMSL, I received a flyer in the mail inviting me to apply for a seminar in Israel for college newspaper editors sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. It didn’t take me long to decide to apply.

Continue reading ““Jerusalem””

The best Christmas present of all time

Two things came up recently which spurred me to write a blog post one year sooner than I originally planned.

The first thing is that I created a new website called Break Into Chat, which hosts a wiki about the history of old BBS door games as well a blog about retro computing topics. You can visit the website to learn more about the reasons why I created it.

The second thing is that my mom has been scanning truckloads of photos from Christmases past, then sharing them on Facebook.

These two seemingly unrelated threads converge in 1993, the year my parents surprised me and my brothers with the greatest Christmas present ever: The Atari Jaguar.

Please take a minute to click the link above and relive the memory with me!

Love, baseball and losses

There’s something about that first love. Or maybe it’s that first loss.

I remember a girl I loved, and the spark of hope that burned in me until the day I found out there was no chance, that she would be with someone else. And I grieved the loss of something which had never come to pass.

It was a time of intense sadness and lament. But I suppose old hopes must die, so that new hopes might live — and be fulfilled.

New joys come, years pass, life transforms but in some long-forgotten place, that loss lingers. A sensitive place. A ticklish place that gets a reaction if you touch it.

In my case, music does it. I’m a sucker for really good break-up albums and songs. It’s not that they resurrect a memory. Rather, the raw pain of the songwriter resonates with me, taps into my own little vein of sadness. I empathize and feel their righteous anger.

Does it work that way with baseball, too? I guess that it does.

Just as someone can remember their first love, I can remember when I first followed the St. Louis Cardinals of my own accord. When I began to collect and trade baseball cards, clip out newspaper articles, memorize stats. It was the early 1990s, and the Cardinals were not very good — but that never matters.

Then came 1996. The year the Cardinals hired Tony La Russa as their manager. The year they got back into the playoffs. The year they were one win away from reaching the World Series.

But then the unthinkable happened. The team unraveled with successive losses — 14-0, 3-1, 15-0 — and missed their opportunity.

As a kid, you grieve. But with baseball hope arises again each spring. There would be false starts along the way, but ultimately the Cardinals did get back into the World Series. Three times. They won it twice, including last year’s mind-blowing comebacks.

This year, the magic somehow seemed to be continuing. A miraculous Game 5 comeback in the division series made me believe it was meant to be. I was excited because my kids were getting into it. Jadzia was beginning to get the arcane rules of the game; Joseph was swinging any bat-like object he could find. Ludi was drawing circles on papers and pretending to keep score.

So when the Cardinals went up 3-1 in the NLCS, just one win away from reaching the World Series again, my heart soared. This was my team, on the verge of winning it all. Destiny.

But tonight it came crashing down. The Cardinals lost their third straight game to the Giants, and their opportunity is gone. It was painful, physically painful to watch. The churning in my stomach would not stop.

I had seen it, lived it before. It was 1996 again, and I mourned the loss of something that never happened. The loss of a dream. It was listening to a breakup album, feeling a resonance with past pain.

A girl. A team. Young loves. Young losses. You get over them, even forget them.

“It’s just a game.” “She’s just a girl.” “There’s always next year.” “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. My heart has already moved on to next spring.

But there’s something about loss. “I need my pain,” a wise fictional character once said.

Maybe we do, Captain. Maybe we do.