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in response to an illustration that Pauline Baynes did for a poster, Tolkien wrote a more particular analysis in an unpublished essay (quoted in John D Rateliff's The History of The Hobbit): Gandalf was "a figure strongly built with broad shoulder, though shorter than the average of men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!"

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Image Of Gandalf: Part Two

The first picture shows Gandalf by Tim Kirk. Tim Kirk produced one of the first Tolkien Calendars (1975) not illustrated with art by Tolkien or Pauline Baynes. As such I believe he set many precedents in Tolkien iconography to this day. His Gandalf towers over Bilbo, and recalls a famous picture of Odin by Georg Von Rosen.

The second Gandalf is from the 1977 Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit. This design recalls the work of Arthur Rackham, and neatly solves the dilemma of drawing Gandalf as having, per Tolkien's description, "long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat" by doing away with the brim of the hat. (As an interesting side note, long eyebrows are a sign of wisdom in Oriental art. The influence of Oriental design, such as the use of round doors in both Hobbit and Japanese architecture, might be a subject worthy of further study.)

The third Gandalf is from Ralph Bakshi's incomplete 1978 animated epic, The Lord of the Rings. This Gandalf's over-all bluish color scheme reminds me of Disney's Merlin from The Sword in the Stone. Bakshi used a technique called rotoscoping; that is, he filmed the action with people in costumes and then drew over that to capture the motion. Strangely enough, they recorded the voice work first, then had models dressed in costumes (not the voice actors themselves in all cases) mime to the soundtrack.

The fourth Gandalf is by John Howe, and was produced for The 1991 J. R. R. Tolkien Calendar. This shows Gandalf, not in any of his famous poses such as meeting Bilbo or riding an Eagle or fighting the Balrog, but simply travelling through Middle-Earth as he did for hundreds of years, going about his business on foot and in all weathers, earning his name as the Grey Pilgrim. This picture struck a chord with many Tolkien fans, even before Peter Jackson selected it out as the model for Gandalf for his movies and gave a copy to Ian McKellan to use as inspiration.

Which of course Ian McKellan brilliantly did as the fifth Gandalf. I can understand how Sir Ian could prefer the outfit for Gandalf the White as less bushy, layered, and heavy, but I still like Gandalf the Grey better, just as I would have to say I like The Fellowship of the Ring better than the other two movies. This is just a matter of temperament: I like FotR for the same reasons some people don't like it as much, because it is slower and has more history and character exposition and less action. It is like McKellan's portrayal of Gandalf the Grey; a little fussy but more human and approachable.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Image Of Gandalf: Part One

Sometime in the latter half of the 1920's, J. R. R. Tolkien purchased a postcard reproducing a painting by Josef Madlener called Der Berggeist (The Mountain Spirit). It shows an old man with a broad-brimmed hat and a red cloak, petting a white deer that nuzzles his hand; they are near a tiny stream in a tree-lined, airy, mountainous valley. Years later, on the paper cover in which he carefully preserved this picture, Tolkien wrote "Origin of Gandalf." This postcard, by a German painter of a figure from German folklore, was the jumping-off place for Tolkien's imagination, and the seed for the image of the most recognizable wizard (after Merlin) in all Western literature.

But it was, of course, just a starting spot; Tolkien did not use the personality of Rubezahl (as the Mountain Spirit is known) or Madlener's design or color scheme exactly. Here is how Tolkien describes Gandalf as he is first seen in The Hobbit: "All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was 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." This is the figure that Tolkien produces exactly in his only full color sketch of Gandalf that has been published to date. This picture is of particular interest in that it gives some idea of the height of the hat and the length of the staff as Tolkien envisioned them. I believe the use of the blue hat and the grey cloak might have their origins in the appearance of Odin the Wanderer; this is how the Norse sky-god disguised his appearance when he travelled unknown among men. And this is Gandalf before he was called Gandalf the Grey. That title is only developed in The Lord of the Rings, and distinguishes him when he is considered as a member of a high and noble Order. Here his monochromatic ensemble is accented by touches of blue, silver, and black.

Years later, in The 1984 J. R. R. Tolkien Calendar, in the illustration for November, Roger Garland produced a painting that is surely a re-imagining of the Madlener postcard in a more exacting Middle-Earth context. Here Gandalf (though his beard is not so long as Tolkien describes, and his boots are yellow) sits by a small stream in a tree-lined, airy, mountainous valley. There is a deer (a stag, in fact) in the background; its distance, especially in contrast with the original, seems to emphasize the wizard's isolation as he travels on his mission, although his contemplative air as he surveys the beautiful scene could indicate that he is considering what is at stake on that task.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Halloween Peanuts 2009

Misleadingly marketed as "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" tie-in toys, these are available at the CVS Pharmacies at $6.99 each. Charlie Brown as a vampire, Lucy as a witch, and Schroeder as the Phantom of the Opera, with Snoopy and Woodstock in burglar-type masks (isn't there a specific term for these? Vizards, or something?) and a weird thin standee vinyl skeleton.