Humphrey Carpenter, 1946-2005
- Humphrey Carpenter died today (4 January) at age 58. He had spent several
years with Parkinson's Disease. An obituary is on the _Daily Telegraph_
website, at www.telegraph.co.uk: it mentions Carpenter's biography of
Tolkien and his book on the Inklings among many other accomplishments.
- Joan wrote:
>The Tolkien Society told us that some of the authors signed contractsChristina has found in our files a letter that _Proceedings_ co-editor and
>specifying that the Proceedings would be printed once only. However, no one
>ever produced a contract for me to examine, and some of the authors reported
>that they could not recall signing any contract.
Conference co-chair Pat Reynolds wrote on 14 August 1992 to those intending
to present papers at the Centenary Conference. This stated that the
Conference Committee had long planned to publish all of the papers in more
than one volume of _Proceedings_ (as was then thought, rather than one
thicker volume) "as part of the series of both _Mallorn_ and _Mythlore_".
At that time there was also the possibility that some of the papers "on a
specific theme" might appear in a volume "published by a major British
publishing house" (this fell through). But it was quite properly left to
the individual presenter's wishes where his or her paper might appear, and
the recipient of the letter thus was asked to choose from a list of
options, with order of preference indicated if more than one option was chosen:
I would like my paper to be considered for the themed volume.
I would like my paper to be included in the _Proceedings_.
I would like my paper to be forwarded to the editor of _Mallorn_ for
I would like my paper to be forwarded to the editor of _Mythlore_ for
I prefer to submit my paper elsewhere/not to submit my paper for
publication at all.
And after these was a blank to fill in "titles of foreign-language
publications where I may submit my paper".
This was all the "contract" that was sent out, except for a two-page "notes
for contributors" which included the statement: "The copyright of each
paper will remain with its author. The author's right to be associated with
his or her work will be upheld. These right[s] apply similar to artists and
photographers." If I recall correctly, the list of options was, at least in
small part, in response to my huffing and puffing that the editor of
_Mythlore_ did not, by any means, have an automatic right to publish any of
the papers just because the conference counted as a Mythcon (any more than
he did for papers at ordinary Mythcons, as he had been claiming), not
without written permission. It was also, I believe, set out this way
because a handful of presenters had already said that they did not want
their papers to appear in _Mythlore_ (that is, in an individual issue,
never mind that the _Proceedings_ counts as _Mythlore_ 80), for personal
reasons having to do with its editor.
There was certainly nothing in these materials, or in anything else the
presenters received, which stated that the _Proceedings_ could be printed
only once. It may be, however, that some of the individual authors
specified this privately as a condition of publication, or it was specified
as a condition of permission to republish one or more of the essays that
had already appeared in print prior to the conference, or it was a
condition applied by the Tolkien Estate as part of their omnibus permission
which covered quotations from Tolkien's works.
- Humphrey Carpenter first came to my notice in 1977, when his biography of
Tolkien was published. This book distracted my attention effectively from a
few workaday nuisances, such as final exams. It's amazing how well it's
held up over the years. Certainly none of its successors (except John
Garth's _Tolkien and the Great War_, which isn't a full biography) have
measured up to his achievement. Carpenter made a fair number of factual
errors, as it later turned out: some of them because Tolkien's papers had
not been adequately sorted at the time he did his research, so info on what
Tolkien wrote and when he wrote it was lacking. But his errors are mostly
in details: what's important is how well Carpenter captured the spirit and
intellect of the man. His picture of what drove and interested Tolkien was
impeccable, so it's unfortunate that Carpenter lost interest in later
years, and once wrote a radio dramatization script that depicted Tolkien as
nothing more than an absent-minded coot.
Soon afterwards came his book on the Inklings, also still the standard
resource on the subject, though perhaps a less successful work. Carpenter
found Lewis's and Williams's idiosyncracies more puzzling than Tolkien's,
and didn't really have the measure of the men. But he delved deeply into
sources and wore his learning confidently.
After that he was established as a famous literary biographer, and went on
to many other subjects. The first of these was W.H. Auden, possibly
Carpenter's best book, a rich amusing and lucid portrait of the man and his
work. But later books tended to lose something. I was quite disappointed
with his book on Benjamin Britten, which drew him as a man with a really
interesting erotic life who also might have composed a little bit of music
from time to time. But Carpenter could still turn a phrase and make telling
points: I'm especially fond of a footnote in _Geniuses Together_, his book
on the American writers in 1920s Paris, saying something to the effect of
noting that Hemingway is believed to have written most of his fiction while
mildly drunk; and that it works best if the reader is in a similar
condition. (I haven't tried this myself.)
Carpenter also wrote a number of other books, including children's fiction,
that I mostly have not read, but _Secret Gardens_, his critical survey of
the golden age of English children's literature, is another brilliant and