Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Well, So That Is That: Poems

Well, So That Is That

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree.

Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes--

Some have got broken--and carrying them up to the attic.

The holly and mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,

And the children got ready for school. There are enough

Left-overs to do, warmed up, for the rest of the week--

Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,

Stayed up so late, attempted--quite unsuccessfully--

To love all our relatives, and in general

Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again,

As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed

To do more than entertain it as an agreeable

Possibility, once again we have sent Him away

Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,

The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

--W. H. Auden.

For the past couple of days we have been dismantling the effects of Christmas and putting them away; a rather time-consuming task around here, but necessary to be done quickly, I think. They've been up since shortly after Thanksgiving, and nothing seems more melancholy than trees and decorations lingering after their purpose is done. Although I only bought a couple of stocking holders and a small pair of decorative deer, I now seem to require another storage tub, as everything refuses to pack back neatly as it was. Some people leave stuff up till after New Year; in parts of England all decorations, especially in churches, had to be taken down by February 2 (Candlemas) and all mistletoe, holly, and evergreens burned (it was considered bad luck if any of that stuff remained in private homes after that date, especially mistletoe).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Good King Wenceslas: Favorite Carols


Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,

When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,

When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,

Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"

"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;

Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:

Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."

Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;

Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;

Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."

"Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly.

Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;

Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

This song is based on the legends about the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907-935); Wenceslaus is the English version of his original name in the Czech language, Vaclav, and though he was only a duke in his lifetime he had the title of king conferred on him after his death by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. Wenceslaus was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death, and his cult grew up and was popular in Bohemia (which became Czechoslovakia) and England. The story goes that he would go about at night barefoot and give alms to widows, orphans, those in prison, and all wretched or afflicted by difficulty.

The carol "Good King Wenceslas" (which is how he spelled it) was published by English hymnwriter John Mason Neal in 1853; it may be a translation of an original Czech poem. It is set to the tune of "Tempus Adest Floridum" ("Now is the Time for Flowering"), a 13th Century spring carol (there used to be carols for every season). The Feast of Stephen is December 26.

The first time I ever really noticed the song was in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, where the ancient wizard Merriman Lyon and his young student Will Stanton enact the carol to travel through time, riding it to return to an earlier era. Terry Pratchett in his Discworld parody of Christmas Hogfather doesn't think much of the their version of Wenceslaus, preferring a king who would bring about the social conditions that would make charity unnecessary (which is all very well, but folks could starve to death before that happens). But the best reference to Wenceslaus to me is this exchange from Walt Kelly's Pogo:

Albert and Churchy (singing): Good King Sauerkraut- Look out!/ On your feets uneven-/While his nose just run about/ A-sniffin' and a-sneezin'!

Pogo: Hold it! Hold it! Wenceslaus is king!

Churchy: Winklehof? Winklehof is king?

Albert: What happened to Good King Sauerkraut?

Churchy: He must o' died. Take off yo' hat, boy.

Albert: Died? I didn't even know he was sick.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Let's Have A Ding-Dong, Then!"

From the 1928 Book Of Knowledge.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


From the 1928 Book of Knowledge.

From the Anglo-Saxon phrase Waes Haeil ('Be Healthy!'), wassailing is a very old custom in Great Britain. There are two basic forms of this toast or salutation: in one, groups go from door to door with a festive drink (usually spiced ale or wine and apples), sing happy wishes to the householders, and recieve some form of token payment in return. In the other, groups of men go out into the orchards and barns and salute the trees, splashing cider on the roots and placing apples or cider-soaked toast on the roots and branches, in hopes of an abundant new year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"We're Despicable": From Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol


We're despicable.

We make ourselves

Plain sickable.

Berate ourselves,

Hate ourselves


Still none us of wishes he

Would change.

We're slick and shifty birds,

With fingers quick

As fifty birds.

While stealing your purse

Or your ticky-tock

Just for a kick we knock

You flat!




We're just blankety-blank-blank

No good!

We're not tea party blokes,

No chitty-chat

Or artichokes.

We're twice as blood-thirsty

As cannibules,

And wilder than animules

Are we!

We're reprehensible.

We'll steal your pen

And pencible!

Then sneer at you,

Leer at you


And really we ought to be

In jail!




We're just blankety-blank-blank

All bad!

Ah, the bragging song. The point in any musical when some less than totally admirable character (or his supporters) explains with verve and gusto just who he is and what he does. Snow Miser and Heat Miser in The Year Without a Santa Claus. Richard Henry Lee in 1776. Jubilation T. Cornpone in Li'l Abner. Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. These are the humming, toe-tapping tunes that people bring away even from less than memorable productions. And in Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol it is this song sung by the laundress, housekeeper, undertaker, and pawn shop owner as they divvy up Scrooge's belongings. After one viewing my nephew went tromping around humming the tune and any lyrics he could remember for an hour afterward.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol has the honor of being the first animated Christmas special, premiering in 1962. The lyrics to this song are by Bob Merrill and the music by Jule Styne; it is sung by Royal Dano, Joan Gardner, Laura Olsher, and the great Paul Frees.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rudolph Restored: Don't Call It Claymation

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the longest-running, most highly acclaimed special in the history of television. It's been on every year since 1965; as such I'm only a year or two older myself, and I've seen it just about every time it's come around. I've hesitated about getting a video copy for years. Having a special available all year round makes it somehow...well, less special. But there have been years when I've only seen part of it, and sometimes missed it altogether. So last year when I saw The Original Christmas Classics (Limited Keepsake Edition) on sale I bought it, to have a fail-safe resource on hand. The set includes Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, The Little Drummer Boy, The Cricket on the Hearth, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, and Frosty Returns, along with a CD of songs from the specials.

I had seen Rudolph on TV that year, so payed little attention to the DVDs at the time. But when Thanksgiving rolled around this year I went looking for stuff on The Mouse On The Mayflower (always hoping for a DVD release), and that led me to a website dedicated to The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass. What I learned there sent me scrambling to my copy to check it out. It turns out that this is a restored version, including material that hadn't been seen since the original airing.

The original version ended with Rudolph, Santa, and the other reindeer flying off. After protests from viewers wondering about the fate of the misfit toys, a new epilogue was added with Santa picking them up and dropping them off (via umbrella) to new homes. Space had to be made for this: the original duet of Rudolph and Hermey the Elf singing "We're A Couple Of Misfits" was replaced by the much shorter "Fame and Fortune," and several lines of dialog were cut near the end.

After Santa takes off, Clarice proclaims, "He'll be a hero after this!", to which Rudolph's mother replies, "Yes, our hero!" "That's my buck!" Donner says proudly. Yukon Cornelius points out the departing team to his own mis-matched sled-dogs (who have resolutely refused to pull his sled the entire show) and says, "Now...ya see how it's done!! Waaaahooooo!"He throws his pick in elation, it falls, and he tastes it. "Peppermint!" he exclaims. "What I've been searchin' for all my life! I've struck it rich! I've got me a peppermint mine! Waaahooooo!" Hermey smacks his forehead and falls back into the snow.*

Last year many of the original "Rudolph" puppets were found. After the original production they were given to a member of the staff who took them home, who over the years had placed them under her Christmas tree. Her children and grandchildren had been allowed to play with them, and they had been stored under no special conditions in her attic. Some of the figures were in extremely poor shape (apparently Sam the Snowman and Yukon Cornelius had melted together). But over the past months the Rudolph and Santa figures have been meticulously restored, using museum preservation grade care. These figures are not "claymation," like Gumby or the California Raisins. They are special puppets with articulated metal joints that are moved in tiny increments and then filmed, giving the illusion of motion; the same process that produced the original King Kong and The Nightmare Before Christmas. These metal joints had corroded away, but now the figures are fully restored, posable, and Rudolph is even wired for nose-blinking action. The picture above shows how they appear today.

For more details on Rudolph, Rankin/Bass, and childhood wonder in general, go to Rankin-Bass-Historian at People like Rick Goldschmidt who have the time, resources, and tenacity to pursue and preserve our childhood memories deserve our thanks and praise. I know his books are now on my wishlist.

*This peppermint mine is referenced in the unfortunate Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good News, Everyone!

The latest pair of Futurama action figures are out: Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (along with Nibbler figure!) and Hermes Conrad. Both figures come with Build-a-Robot pieces for Roberto, the craziest, stabbiest, robbingest robot of them all. I've been waiting for a Professor Farnsworth figure since the series first started. Next in the series are Chef Bender and Mom, the rapacious head of the future's most be-tentacled conglomerate, Mom's Friendly Robot Company.
I got those figures at Hastings; the other's I picked up a month ago at the latest Eckman's Card, Comic, and Toy Show. The Saruman is not exactly an action figure, in that it is not articulated. The staff is removable. The Ephialtes (from the movie 300) was only three bucks, and comes with spear, shield, and alternate head for the traitorous, malformed warrior. The Death Variant action figure is a tie-in with a comic, Dawn, that I've never read: I just like the figure's style. He comes with an axe. I already have an Albert action figure from Corpse Bride, but I kept that in its package; this one was only three dollars so I bought it to open and enjoy. The pipe is attached to his hand. Where's the fun in that?
But the oddest thing we picked up was a devil mask, the very same make and model that our oldest brother wore at a Halloween over forty years ago. It was a memory, but also something of a childhood trauma; that mask scared us away from messing around in the toy closet for a long time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Not Exactly Ten Books

This is a list (with short descriptions) of books that have come into my library since I finished my last "10 Books A Day" post. So here's what I've been reading and reviewing lately.

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. In which the wizards under Mustrum Ridcully must field a soccer team in order to secure a hefty financial bequest for their college, two star-crossed lovers from opposing soccer clubs alike in gracelessness and indignity try to get together, and goblins are getting the same Pratchett makeover that his trolls have benefited from. I'm still in the middle of reading this and enjoying it enormously.

King Arthur and His Knights (compiled) by Elizabeth Lodor Merchant. Apparently edited from Blanche Winder's great edition, with doses of verse from the likes of Tennyson thrown in for good measure. A good but odd sort of volume.

The Mammoth Book of the Supernatural by Colin Wilson. Another chunky overview of the field by Wilson, who knows how to get to the meat of a matter, present it , and give his idea of what the implications are without being a mystagogue.

Wizards by John Matthews. I cannot resist the subject, especially when presented in a lavishly illustrated edition with pictures ranging from medieval manuscripts to the latest movies. Though I wish they used less purple, orange, and bright green on the cover.

Wizards: A History by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart. A much more scholarly approach to the subject of the figure of the wizard, as distinguished from the witch. You can tell right away it's serious because it has a) footnotes and b) only illustrations in black and white.

The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel. This is the paperback tie-in for the movie, a reprint of the 1975 edition that I read in middle school so many years ago. Keel is great, and greatly suggestive, in that he never declares he has figured out what is going on. He never says that aliens are real, that aliens are false, that aliens are something else entirely from extraterrestrials. He basically says that there's some weird s**t going on, something is messing with us, and make of it what you will.

Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia by Carol Rose. A companion volume (and published before) her Giants, Monsters and Dragons: An Encyclopedia. This book takes on the more ethereal denizens of the mythical realms. Scholarly but not boring, full of great old illustrations, and more complete than lesser compendiums (covering more world mythologies than simply European), this is a beautiful browser that any folklore lover should have.

Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuin. Part of a juvenile series about winged cats.

Henry and the Paper Route by Beverly Cleary. I had this book in grade school. Has great illustrations by Louis Darling. The amazing Beverly Cleary is 93 years old now. I was never much into her books, but kind of nibbled around the edges.

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, illustrations by Ernest H. Shepherd. Who of course illustrated The Wind in the Willows and the Winnie-the-Pooh books. This and the last two books were all from a grade school teacher's garage sale, and carry the nostalgic scent of the class room on them. This book is an elderly one, and has the particularly hardy covers and re-inforced spine necessary to last over much handling. I never had a copy with the Shepherd illustrations in it, so it fulfills several criteria for collection for me.

Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials by Wayne Douglas Barlowe, Ian Summers, and Beth Meacham. This book has been hovering around my awareness for thirty years or so. I've always kind of wanted a copy, but not enough to expend hugely on it. So when I saw this one at a garage sale for ten cents I snapped it up, and it now sits next to my Barlowe's Guide to Fantasy. It's main feature is of course Barlowe's solid illustrations of aliens of various kinds, presented in an almost textbook format, with scale showing how they compare to humans and other aliens.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hobbit Casting Announcement

Dateline: Wellington, New Zealand.--Security and silence has been extremely tight around both script and casting for producer Peter Jackson's new project The Hobbit, a follow-up (actually a "prequel") to his enormously popular and profitable The Lord of the Rings films, explaining how Bilbo Baggins came to acquire the cursed Ring while helping a band of dwarves destroy a dragon. However, a minor breach of this security (involving a portion of script being left in the ladies' room of a prominent Wellington restaraunt) has prompted Phillipa Boyens to make a preemptive revelation of certain script details and casting. In an impromptu press conference Boyens announced that the British actress and writer Dawn French has been tapped to portray Bombur, a prominent dwarf in the band of thirteen that accompanies Bilbo on his quest.
"It's all an attempt on our part to 'girl up' our movie," she declares. "If there was very little female presence in The Lord of the Rings, there is practically none in The Hobbit. It's a real sausagefest. Fortunately Professor Tolkien himself provides us with an out from this difficulty." Although all the dwarves are referred to as "he" in the book, Boyens points to a footnote in the trilogy as the source of her inspiration. "It says that Dwarf women look exactly like the Dwarf men, beards and all, and that they only travel abroad in times of great need or danger. Well, what need could be greater than re-establishing the Kingdom Under The Mountain?" Boyens states that the robust character of Bombur put her immediately in mind of Dawn French, who has long been one of her inspirations and role models.
"Dawn will naturally bring her enormous comic talent to this role. Bilbo never knows that Bombur is a she, of course, and when Dawn turns her part of the Unexpected Party into a flirtatious feast, Bilbo thinks it's all part of an eating contest. There will be this undercurrent all through the films of Bombur having a little crush on him and Bilbo being totally oblivious to her. But Bombur will not only be just a fat funny dwarf. She will be a deadly warrior, one of the best of Thorin's Company, and Dawn is already taking lessons with Polish axe-master Lev Czernog to give her the skills to dazzle her way through the Battle of Five Armies."
When pressed for further details on the eagerly awaited film, Boyens merely smiled enigmatically. "You'll just have to be patient. It's a long, complex process, and fraught with contingencies. This was just a fluke; greater caution will be taken with scripts until we're ready to make more announcements. And in the meantime, some people will have to remember to flush twice."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Favorite Quotations: Dethklok

Senator Stampingston: Gentlemen, it's clear we're in a universally precarious situation. Dethklok has summoned a troll.

General Krosier: That's impossible. There's no such thing as trolls.

Senator Stampingston: Then how do you explain the dead unicorns?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Courting


When thunder blasts the firmament

And foul clouds pall the stars

And fitful moon peers through the trees

As if through prison bars,

Where roads are lone

And ways are dark

There Bill's bare bones

Go walking stark.

Springing from an abandoned lane

Through a dense woods blasted boles

Under a rusty ruinous bridge

Green pestilent water rolls.

Under that span

Her coffin sank

And so Marie

Goes walking dank.

And sometimes, at the worst of times

When ill stars rule the skies

And awful omens stalk abroad

And the night air's full of cries,

Bill and Marie

Sometimes will meet

To dance till dawn

On bony feet.

--Bryan Babel.

Jack Frost Painting Pumpkins

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

From The Back Of The Book

The back cover of the Walt Disney Comic Digest #8 from February 1969. Time it was, and what a time it was...

Old-Fashioned Halloween Card 2

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Image Of Gandalf: Part Seven

The most detailed description that Tolkien gives of Gandalf is, of course, in The Hobbit: there Bilbo sees "an old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots." Years later, in response to an illustration that Pauline Baynes did for a poster, Tolkien wrote a more particular analysis in an unpublished essay (quoted in John D Rateliff's The History of The Hobbit): Gandalf was "a figure strongly built with broad shoulder, though shorter than the average of men and now stooped with age, leaning on a thick rough-cut staff as he trudged along...Gandalf's hat was wide-brimmed (a shady hat, H. p. 14) with a pointed conical crown, and it was blue; he wore a long grey cloak, but this would not reach much below his knees. It was an elven silver-grey hue, though tarnished by wear--as is evident by the general use of grey in the book...But his colors were always white, silver-grey, and blue--except for the boots he wore when walking in the wild...Gandalf even bent must have been at least 5 ft. 6...Which would make him a short man even in modern England, especially with the reduction of a bent back." In the LOTR, in the chapter "Many Meetings," Frodo sees Gandalf as "shorter in stature than the other two [Elrond and Glorfindel]; but his long white hair, his sweeping silver beard, and his broad shoulders, made him look like some wise king of ancient legend. In his aged face under snowy white brows his dark eyes were set like coals that could leap suddenly into fire." So Gandalf is described as an altogether shorter and sturdier figure than the rather wiry, weedy wizard some illustrators seem to favor. Details of the hat and the staff clear up certain questions: the staff being rough-cut, not crafted, seems to indicate that any stick would do for a staff, rather than some ceremonial specially prepared rod.

The first Gandalf shown here is from David Wenzel's graphic novel adaptation of The Hobbit. Here we see an interesting detail that many illustrators have added or deduced; a travelling pouch that the wizard can keep his bits of things in, like pipe and tobacco, or keys and maps. One wonders if Gandalf toted Thror's Map along with him for 90 years or so, and if he was ever tempted on a cold wet evening to use it to light his pipe!

The second Gandalf is by Judy King Reineitz, and shows Gandalf testing the Ring in the fireplace at Bag End. Here he is much more depicted as the ennobled figure of LOTR, somehow taller and more serious.

The third Gandalf is by Joseph Zucker, from the cover of The Tolkien Companion. Zucker did some design work for the Birthday Party sequence of Ralph Bakshi's version of LOTR. Here too Gandalf has a pouch, a detail added also in Peter Jackson's movies.

The fourth Gandalf by Michael Hague shows Gandalf much more like the "little old man" as he is called in The Hobbit; closer in size to the dwarves and Bilbo rather than the men and elves in Hague's illustrations. His hat seems to be made on a monumental scale.

The fifth Gandalf is by Pauline Baynes, from Bilbo's Last Song. Here she follows to the letter Tolkien's detailed description; perhaps in a bit of waggish revenge she even gives Gandalf the enormous eyebrows sticking out beyond the brim of his hat! God help her with two such terrible sticklers as C. S. Lewis and JRRT; she must have felt quite like Pippin between Gandalf and Denethor sometimes, although on the whole they loved her work.

There are many more Gandalfs, of course, but here I shall have to leave the subject. I hope I have given a good sampling of the history of his iconography, with examples both famous and obscure. Ian McKellan's portrayal has come to dominate the field, as any search on Google Image will attest, but I am sure artists will continue in the future to produce their own interpretations for their own times and styles, and they shall be as varied as ever they were in the past.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Image Of Gandalf: Part Six

Today I'm considering a batch of "fun" Gandalfs. These are illustrations for The Hobbit considered as a children's book (which, of course, it definitely is, but not uniquely so: it tends to span interest through all age groups and can be illustrated to appeal to any level of reader), for a t-shirt, and for a comic book parody. The odd thing about them is that they all have various levels of "Gandalfishness"; if someone points to them and says, "That's Gandalf," you could very well reply, "Oh, yes, I see it," but out of context I wonder if you would recognize them.

The first Gandalf is from the 1975 Rumanian translation of The Hobbit. This Gandalf has a broad fan of a beard, and wears leggings instead of a robe down to his boots. This would be much more practical for wandering, I suppose, but not so iconic as the wizard's robe.

The second Gandalf is from the 1976 Russian translation of The Hobbit. This Gandalf's hat is flat on top, rather than pointed, and sports a peacock feather; more appropriate within the "legendarium", perhaps, for Tom Bombadil than Gandalf. Note the high-heeled boots with pointed toes.

The third Gandalf is from the 1962 Portuguese translation of The Hobbit. I get a rather Calvin and Hobbes vibe off these pictures, probably from the round eyes (this couldn't have existed at the time of course, years before the comic strip). Tolkien knew these illustrations and considered them too "Disneyfied" to be appropriate to his work.

The fourth Gandalf is from that line of t-shirts from the 1970's; no artist is listed, but I assume it is the same that did the Bilbo Baggins shirt from a prior post, Susan Greenwood Sweeton.

The fifth Gandalf is Gondeaf the Wizard from Wally Wood's Plop! comic story, "The King of the Ring." When Gondeaf taps Froydo Biggits, a Habit, to destroy the ring and its' master, Souron, Froydo asks with annoyance, "Why me? Why can't you do it?" Gondeaf explains that since he's a great and powerful wizard, if the Ring made him evil, it would be terrible, but if Froydo was corrupted, it wouldn't matter. Accompanied by some knock-off Disney dwarves and Snyder, the Prince Valiant look-alike "secret king of the world," Froydo's journey is bedevilled by the Nazighouls, Schlob the giant spider, and Glum, whom the Ring has turned into "a rotten evil swamp frog." When Froydo finally pushes Glum into the volcano with the Ring, it explodes, blowing the accursed trinket right into the hand of Gondeaf, who promptly declares that since he was around the Ring a long time, he is now evil. He puts the Ring on and disappears with the comic title's trademark sound effect, PLOP! Wood was a great comic book artist, and I think his story shows great humorous affection for the tale, as well as an understanding of (as opposed to simply mocking) themes and ideas behind the story.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Image Of Gandalf: Part Five

First Gandalf: by Robert Chronister, from the 1980 J. R. R. Tolkien Calendar. I always liked the style of this one: it reminds me of old German-style beer ads when I was a little kid. It's Gandalf busting Sam eavesdropping; technically the window should be round.

Second Gandalf: by Maurice Sendak. Once more from Sendak's speculative project of illustrating The Hobbit. Rather strange dimensions, but then it's something in the nature of a trial run.

Third Gandalf: by an unknown artist, from the cover of Tolkien and the Critics.

Fourth Gandalf: from the Sierra Entertainment game The Hobbit. This is the clearest picture I could grab off the internet.

Fifth Gandalf: by Carl Lundgren, from the 1980 J. R. R. Tolkien Calendar. A back shot, and the robes are way too long for him to actually stand or move around in them. It's a detail of Gandalf confronting Saruman at Orthanc. Here I think the folds of his robes are rendered in too great detail, especially in comparison to the rest of the picture. I wish Lundgren had produced another picture from Tolkien; I love his work.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Image Of Gandalf: Part Four

First Gandalf by the Brothers Hildebrandt. As I've stated before, the Hildebrandt's were the first visual interpreters of Tolkien to me, and so always hold a special place for me.

Second Gandalf by Michael Kaluta. Kaluta is a comic book artist who contributed pictures to the 1994 Tolkien Calendar. Kaluta's Gandalf is a little more feathery and furry than he is usually conceived.

Third Gandalf by Ted Naismith. Ted Naismith produced many Tolkien Calendars as well as illustrations for The Silmarillion. Naismith's figures are always firmly part of their environments, which are characters themselves. His Gandalf's hat seems pretty tall and skinny.

Fourth Gandalf by Darrell K. Sweet. Sweet produced a series of pictures for Tolkien Calendars that provided the covers for Tolkien's works in the 80's. I've always liked Sweet's solid details, with every fold and ornamentation having it's own weight.

Fifth Gandalf by Alan Lee. Alan Lee has illustrated The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Tales From the Perilous Realm, as well as being one of the main production designers for Peter Jackson's LOTR movies. His characters seem to have what I think of as Celtic suggestiveness, a sort of misty impression that is still strongly evocative of character.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Image Of Gandalf: Part Three

"Gandalf is an angel," Tolkien wrote in a letter to a fan long ago, and it was decades before we could learn more fully what he meant. First of all, Gandalf is a messenger or emissary, the precise translation of the Hebrew mal'akh or Latin angelus. But Gandalf is also a Maiar, a lesser angelic being in the parlance of the legendarium, and is a spirit incarnated in a form that can feel weariness, hunger, fear, and pain, but supported by the angelic nature within to endure long and only slowly show signs of age. He is sent with at least five other "wizards" from the West by the Valar, superior demiurgic angelic beings, as a counter to the growing threat of Sauron in Middle-Earth, not to oppose him by acts of power (which in the past have caused vast cataclysms and destruction to the fabric of the world), but to train, advise, instruct, and encourage the peoples of Middle-Earth to rise up and resist Sauron themselves. As such they appear as old but wise men, not as heroes or figures of awe.

Many point out the similarities of Gandalf to Odin or Merlin or the Mountain Spirit; fewer mention his resemblance to figures in the Bible, and then it is mostly to compare his resurrection to that of Jesus. But he also seems to owe something to the prophets and judges of the Old Testament, especially Moses, Elijah, and Samuel. He has a wonder-working staff, like Moses; a mantle, like Elijah; and he crowns the new king like Samuel anoints both Saul and David. His influence is mainly moral as he travels through the world, giving advice, encouragement, and exhortation; he confounds rulers like Elijah did Ahab or Nathan did David, and heals a king like Isaiah did Hezekiah. And it is a curious fact (to go outside the Bible for a moment) that the investiture of both Gandalf and a bishop of the Catholic Church includes a pointy hat, a staff, and a ring. So I believe there is a subtle but definite Christian strain behind the image of Gandalf.

The Hildebrandt picture seems a fairly strong example of this; it could be titled "The Transfiguration of Gandalf," referring to the moment Jesus reveals his glory to the disciples on the Mount of Olives. The Douglas Beekman Gandalf afterwards makes the religious parallel fairly obvious by giving the wizard a staff that is plainly a crosier, and the Peter Cabas Gandalf after that is from a picture of the Council of Elrond done in a Renaissance style and posed to resemble the Last Supper. In the last picture, by Inger Edelfeldt, Gandalf crowns Aragorn king, giving him the heavenly seal of approval: "Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endure!"