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Re: [mythsoc] The Coalbiters

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  • David Bratman
    ... Page 79 of the 1978 edition of Grotta doesn t actually name Buckhurst as one of the Coalbiters. It lists her as among the people whom Tolkien knew who
    Message 1 of 7 , Oct 23, 2011
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      "Michael Martinez" <michael.martinez@...> wrote:

      > --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, David Bratman <dbratman@...> wrote:
      >>
      >> What's the authority for stating that Helen Buckhurst was a member of
      >> the Coalbiters? Or Hugo Dyson?
      >
      > My source appears to be one of your least favorite authors: Daniel Grotta.
      > I should have done more research on the Coalbiters and found some
      > corroboration for his statement.

      Page 79 of the 1978 edition of Grotta doesn't actually name Buckhurst as one
      of the Coalbiters. It lists her as among the people whom Tolkien knew who
      shared an interest in Old Icelandic - which she certainly was, though Dyson
      (also on the list) had no particular interest in Icelandic as far as I
      know - and then says that these people's conversations eventually became a
      club. I can see concluding that Grotta is saying that all these people were
      in the club, but it's also readable as not saying that, and as Grotta has no
      known source for presuming that Buckhurst and Dyson were, I didn't read him
      as saying that, and that's why I didn't know where you got this from. I
      don't see it as an error on Grotta's part so much as sloppiness.

      Grotta also presumes that the Coalbiters grew organically out of pub
      conversations, as the Inklings might have. Such of what we know about the
      Coalbiters (see Scull & Hammond's Companion & Guide, and Andrew Lazo's
      article in _Tolkien and the Invention of Myth_) implies that wasn't the
      case. It seems to have been founded consciously as many Oxford literary
      societies were, though informal conversations surely alerted Tolkien that
      there might be a market for such a club. For this reason, implying that the
      Coalbiters were primarily a pub gathering, as Grotta does and you follow him
      in, seems to be to be misleading, even though the Coalbiters did sometimes
      meet in pubs.

      These days, I would not take any facts from Grotta, or even from Carpenter,
      without checking them against Companion & Guide first.
    • Michael Martinez
      I don t think there is a definitive list for the Coalbiters (Kolbitar I suppose I should say), is there? My copy of the COMPANION is packed up at the moment.
      Message 2 of 7 , Oct 23, 2011
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        I don't think there is a definitive list for the Coalbiters (Kolbitar I suppose I should say), is there? My copy of the COMPANION is packed up at the moment.

        I'll give this some more thought and see if I can revise the paragraph one more time this week. I was only trying to share some background information on Helen Buckhurst, with whom I'm not familiar, for the readers. I should have known using Grotta as a source might prove troublesome. I simply hoped it was a well-researched point. I can see how (if I have interpreted his intent correctly) he might have assumed that all the Oxford Icelandic/Old Norse teachers were included in the group.

        The last thing I want is to see dozens of Websites citing me as a source for something that cannot be proven true or may be established as completely untrue. That's already happened with the whole "Tolkien translated Job" issue.

        --
        Michael Martinez
        http://www.michael-martinez.com/

        YOU CAN HELP OUR WOUNDED WARRIORS
        http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
      • Wayne G. Hammond
        ... Grotta s reliability is so often called into question that it isn t safe to trust him on either facts or transcriptions. In using his book, we looked very
        Message 3 of 7 , Oct 23, 2011
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          David wrote:

          These days, I would not take any facts from Grotta, or even from Carpenter, without checking them against Companion & Guide first.

          Grotta's reliability is so often called into question that it isn't safe to trust him on either facts or transcriptions. In using his book, we looked very carefully at anything he said that wasn't said elsewhere, and usually had to dismiss it as too questionable, if not demonstrably false. Carpenter's biography is more reliable by virtue of his access to all of the Tolkien papers and because it was vetted by persons with their own authority, though with Carpenter too we corroborated as much as possible, and caught him out on a few points.

          I don't think there is a definitive list for the Coalbiters (Kolbitar I suppose I should say), is there?

          There is no definitive list for the Kolbitar, as far as we know. Grotta's principal source for his account seems to have been Nevill (note correct spelling) Coghill, from whose testimony (in an oral history recorded soon after Tolkien's death) he extrapolated at length. Coghill said that on occasion, the Kolbitar met at the Eastgate Hotel or in back rooms of local pubs, and we mention this in the Reader's Guide (p. 960), carefully noting 'according to Coghill'; unfortunately, we've found Coghill's memory to be frequently incorrect when set against documentary evidence.

          We've found no evidence that Dyson participated in the Kolbitar, not even from Coghill. We see, however, that several websites on which one can buy a ready-made term paper on Tolkien state, in sample text, that 'Hugo Dyson who was severely wounded in the war with Tolkien, was probably one of the biggest influences on him'. Oh?

          I'll give this some more thought and see if I can revise the paragraph one more time this week. I was only trying to share some background information on Helen Buckhurst, with whom I'm not familiar, for the readers.

          From the Companion and Guide you could know that in December 1927 Tolkien was appointed the supervisor of Helen McMillan (note correct spelling) Buckhurst, an advanced student, whose thesis was to be The Historical Grammar of Old Icelandic. She was, for a time, a Fellow and English language tutor at St Hugh's College, Oxford. In June 1929, she became godmother to Tolkien's daughter Priscilla (Buckhurst was Roman Catholic). In 1937, she received from Tolkien one of the first copies of The Hobbit, and later Tolkien asked Allen & Unwin to send her each volume of The Lord of the Rings as it was published. All of which suggests a close personal relationship between Tolkien and Helen Buckhurst, but we had too little, we thought -- we'll think again -- to include a biographical entry for her in the Reader's Guide. She had her M.A. already by February 1926, when she read a paper, 'Icelandic Folklore', at a meeting of the Viking Society in London (this is the piece that John mentions in his interview, cited by Doug Anderson in The Annotated Hobbit and subsequently by us in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion; it's available online as part of the Saga-Book). Before that, her 'Anglo-Saxon index' was published in The Corpus Glossary (Cambridge University Press, 1921), and her Elementary Grammar of Old Icelandic was published by Methuen (1925).

          Wayne & Christina
        • Mike Foster
          Thanks, Wayne & Christina. Mike From: Wayne G. Hammond Sent: Sunday, October 23, 2011 5:19 PM To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Re: The
          Message 4 of 7 , Oct 23, 2011
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            Thanks, Wayne & Christina.
             
            Mike
             
            Sent: Sunday, October 23, 2011 5:19 PM
            Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Re: The Coalbiters
             
             

            David wrote:

            These days, I would not take any facts from Grotta, or even from Carpenter, without checking them against Companion & Guide first.

            Grotta's reliability is so often called into question that it isn't safe to trust him on either facts or transcriptions. In using his book, we looked very carefully at anything he said that wasn't said elsewhere, and usually had to dismiss it as too questionable, if not demonstrably false. Carpenter's biography is more reliable by virtue of his access to all of the Tolkien papers and because it was vetted by persons with their own authority, though with Carpenter too we corroborated as much as possible, and caught him out on a few points.

            I don't think there is a definitive list for the Coalbiters (Kolbitar I suppose I should say), is there?

            There is no definitive list for the Kolbitar, as far as we know. Grotta's principal source for his account seems to have been Nevill (note correct spelling) Coghill, from whose testimony (in an oral history recorded soon after Tolkien's death) he extrapolated at length. Coghill said that on occasion, the Kolbitar met at the Eastgate Hotel or in back rooms of local pubs, and we mention this in the Reader's Guide (p. 960), carefully noting 'according to Coghill'; unfortunately, we've found Coghill's memory to be frequently incorrect when set against documentary evidence.

            We've found no evidence that Dyson participated in the Kolbitar, not even from Coghill. We see, however, that several websites on which one can buy a ready-made term paper on Tolkien state, in sample text, that 'Hugo Dyson who was severely wounded in the war with Tolkien, was probably one of the biggest influences on him'. Oh?

            I'll give this some more thought and see if I can revise the paragraph one more time this week. I was only trying to share some background information on Helen Buckhurst, with whom I'm not familiar, for the readers.

            From the Companion and Guide you could know that in December 1927 Tolkien was appointed the supervisor of Helen McMillan (note correct spelling) Buckhurst, an advanced student, whose thesis was to be The Historical Grammar of Old Icelandic. She was, for a time, a Fellow and English language tutor at St Hugh's College, Oxford. In June 1929, she became godmother to Tolkien's daughter Priscilla (Buckhurst was Roman Catholic). In 1937, she received from Tolkien one of the first copies of The Hobbit, and later Tolkien asked Allen & Unwin to send her each volume of The Lord of the Rings as it was published. All of which suggests a close personal relationship between Tolkien and Helen Buckhurst, but we had too little, we thought -- we'll think again -- to include a biographical entry for her in the Reader's Guide. She had her M.A. already by February 1926, when she read a paper, 'Icelandic Folklore', at a meeting of the Viking Society in London (this is the piece that John mentions in his interview, cited by Doug Anderson in The Annotated Hobbit and subsequently by us in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion; it's available online as part of the Saga-Book). Before that, her 'Anglo-Saxon index' was published in The Corpus Glossary (Cambridge University Press, 1921), and her Elementary Grammar of Old Icelandic was published by Methuen (1925).

            Wayne & Christina
          • Michael Martinez
            Wayne and Christina, I appreciate the information. I have revised the paragraph to read thus (linking to both the Viking Society Website and the appropriate
            Message 5 of 7 , Oct 23, 2011
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              Wayne and Christina, I appreciate the information. I have revised the paragraph to read thus (linking to both the Viking Society Website and the appropriate volume):

              Helen Therese McMillan Buckhurst was an Icelandic scholar and friend of J.R.R. Tolkien's whom he met at Oxford; in 1926 she read a paper, "Icelandic Folklore", at a meeting of the Viking Society in London. The Viking Society publications are available online. The Helen Buckhurst paper was published in Volume X – Proceedings. Thanks to Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull for the reference.

              Not quite as robust as the brief biographical note you provided here but I hope I'll be able to return to this topic in a future article.

              And you have added something to my growing list of things to read. :)

              --
              Michael Martinez
              http://www.michael-martinez.com/

              YOU CAN HELP OUR WOUNDED WARRIORS
              http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
            • John Rateliff
              ... As it so happens, I added a paragraph about Buckhurst in the new edition of H.o.H. as part of Appendix V, identifying (insofar as possible) the people to
              Message 6 of 7 , Oct 23, 2011
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                On Oct 23, 2011, at 7:16 PM, Michael Martinez wrote:
                Wayne and Christina, I appreciate the information.  I have revised the paragraph to read thus (linking to both the Viking Society Website and the appropriate volume):

                Helen Therese McMillan Buckhurst was an Icelandic scholar and friend of J.R.R. Tolkien's whom he met at Oxford; in 1926 she read a paper, "Icelandic Folklore", at a meeting of the Viking Society in London. The Viking Society publications are available online. The Helen Buckhurst paper was published in Volume X – Proceedings. Thanks to Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull for the reference.

                Not quite as robust as the brief biographical note you provided here but I hope I'll be able to return to this topic in a future article.

                And you have added something to my growing list of things to read.  :)


                As it so happens, I added a paragraph about Buckhurst in the new edition of H.o.H. as part of Appendix V, identifying (insofar as possible) the people to whom Tolkien gave presentation copies of THE HOBBIT when it was first published. The paragraph on Helen B., who seems to have been an interesting person in her own right, reads as follows:

                Helen Buckhurst, 1894–1963, a resident student, English language tutor, and Icelandic scholar who had been a Fellow and Tutor at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford (1926–1930). Tolkien had been appointed to supervise Buckhurst’s thesis, The Historical Grammar of Old Icelandic, in December 1927 (Scull & Hammond, Companion & Guide Vol. I, page 143), and like so many of his students she became a family friend; she was also a friend of the American medievalist Kemp Malone and his family. An adult convert to Catholicism, in June 1929 she became Priscilla Tolkien’s godmother. At the time of The Hobbit’s publication she was teaching at Loreto College in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, a Catholic girls’ school founded in 1922; her letter of thanks to ‘Dear Ronald’, dated 23rd September [1937], praises The Hobbit as ‘delightful . . . my only complaint is that there are not more illustrations. I only hope it is the first of many such books’ (MS. Tolkien 21, folio 117). See The Annotated Hobbit for a discussion of her paper on ‘Icelandic Folklore’ and the belief that trolls turn to stone in daylight (DAA.80–82).

                   By the way, may I say it's quite the honor for Michael to include me in his interview series; I'm v. much looking forward to the next interview.

                --JDR
              • David Bratman
                ... Both because of the occasional inaccuracies in Carpenter s Tolkien biography (often due to sources unavailable or unabsorbable by him) and because of the
                Message 7 of 7 , Oct 25, 2011
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                  "Wayne G. Hammond" & Christina Scull <Wayne.G.Hammond@...> wrote:

                  > Carpenter's biography is more reliable by virtue
                  > of his access to all of the Tolkien papers and because it was vetted
                  > by persons with their own authority, though with Carpenter too we
                  > corroborated as much as possible, and caught him out on a few points.

                  Both because of the occasional inaccuracies in Carpenter's Tolkien biography
                  (often due to sources unavailable or unabsorbable by him) and because of the
                  brevity of what's intended as a narrative biography, I consider its value as
                  a reference work to have been eclipsed by the Companion & Guide. There is
                  nothing one would want to look up for factual reference in the biography
                  that isn't also in the latter. The biography's value now is as a brief,
                  readable, and reliable account of Tolkien's life, personality, and creative
                  goals. In this it still far outclasses any competing works of its kind.

                  Carpenter's _The Inklings_ has not been superceded in this way. Glyer's
                  _The Company They Keep_, though vital as a deeper and more sophisticated
                  analysis of the Inklings' intergroup relations and influences, is not
                  intended as a full history of the group or as a complete factual reference
                  book.


                  > Grotta's principal source for his account seems to have been Nevill
                  > (note correct spelling) Coghill, from whose testimony (in an oral
                  > history recorded soon after Tolkien's death) he extrapolated at
                  > length.

                  Which Carpenter seems not to have used, and to whatever extent (limited, as
                  you note) it's useful, it was the principal reason to consult Grotta prior
                  to the publication of C&G.


                  > From the Companion and Guide you could know that in December 1927
                  > Tolkien was appointed the supervisor of Helen McMillan (note correct
                  > spelling) Buckhurst, an advanced student, whose thesis was to be The
                  > Historical Grammar of Old Icelandic. She was, for a time, a Fellow
                  > and English language tutor at St Hugh's College, Oxford.

                  This raises a point that puzzles me. She is described as an advanced
                  student on p. 143 (1927) and a former Fellow of St. Hugh's on p. 150 (1929).
                  John Rateliff says she held her position at St. Hugh's 1926-30, so if that's
                  accurate, query "former". Also, if it's accurate, her appointment as Fellow
                  came before her becoming an advanced student, and if not it's hard to cram
                  the Fellowship in between the presumable completion of her thesis and 1929,
                  also suggesting it came before. But this seems chronologically backwards to
                  my limited understanding of practices in these matters, so: more generalized
                  query.


                  "Michael Martinez" <michael.martinez@...> wrote:

                  >I don't think there is a definitive list for the Coalbiters

                  There isn't. Lazo's list of known Coalbiters (Braunholtz, Bryson, Coghill,
                  Dawkins, Gordon, Lewis, McFarlane, Onions, and Tolkien; derived, I suppose,
                  from Carpenter) is the best we have.

                  There's no definitive list of Inklings, either, by the way. Carpenter's
                  list is, again, of known full members, omitting guests and peripherals, and
                  absent anyone we don't have a record of, of whom there could be quite a few
                  in the early years, perhaps.
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