I was at the Rivoli in Camberwell last night waiting for my daughter, and spying on folks as Helen Garner has trained us all to do.
I saw three young fellows meeting up, and overheard them picking their film. One said, "I can't bear to sit through that musical again." The other said, "The Hobbit, then?" and when the reply was affirmative, said, "for the second time!"
(I went to Les Miz, came home and googled this fellow. Goodness, he was fabulous!)
But in the meantime, since Christmas and a massive relocation of our books around a larger family of shelves, a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien that I forgot I had made its casual reappearance on my occasional table. So I have just completed Humphrey Carpenter's concise and gentle 1976 appraisal of Tolkien's life and his rise to fame. (There are of course many other things I could have read, if I'd had the inclination.)
There were many chuckles: there are some hilarious moments in this book. Just as a taste, here's Tolkien on the letter he received from a real Sam Gamgee while he was still attending to fan mail himself:
"For some time I lived in fear of receiving a letter signed "S. Gollum". That would have been more difficult to deal with."
The Carpenter bio is the only one I've ever read, and only now. For some reason Tolkien's life never interested me before. But in these pages I learned about another astonishing person, one whom Carpenter calls 'extraordinary' for good reason. The philologist Joseph Wright apparently went to work as a mill hand in Yorkshire aged six - taught himself to read at fifteen, and rose through his own night-school and a walking study tour of Germany to a doctorate, and from there to becoming a professor at Oxford, where he trained Tolkien, one of the most brilliant, if dilatory, philologists at the university. 'Oh, we used to dream of living in a corridor....'
I think reading this readable, dare I say personable biography, which was reissued in 2000, is a great antidote to escaping the monster truck that The Hobbit films seem to have turned into. Though it is sobering to research collectible copies of Tolkien's works. And Les Miserables was fine, though I did struggle with the vertiginous camera work. (Would it have really hurt to have a few more shots of FX-ed Paris, the barricades and the people, instead of chasing the leads around like Lars von Trier?)
I have a niece who is apparently spending her holidays reading Les Miserables. I'll be content to reread some snippets in the introduction to my undergrad collection of Hugo's poetry, which I never read properly when I was her age anyhow. Like Boaz, I was asleep then.
Happy New Year, everyone.