It Appears We’re In the Desert: A Conversation about Arizona, Immigration Law, and Race: Part 2

{NB: None of the following is intended as, nor should it be construed as, legal advice to any person, persons, or group. If you or someone you know requires legal assistance, contact an attorney in your area. The statements made below represent only the personal opinions of this essay’s author}.

In practice, what is known as a Terry stop—an investigative detention of a citizen to confirm or deny an officer’s “reasonable suspicion” that a crime may just have been or be in the process of being committed—is the launching pad for more or less whatever judicial orbit the officer wants to send you into. If the officer orders you to stand in one spot but you move to another you can be arrested (never mind that the very definition of “arrest” is having your freedom of movement curtailed, so a non-arrest Terry stop is already a contradiction in terms). If you run away, regardless of whether you’ve done anything wrong, you can be arrested. If you disobey the officer’s order to produce identification you can, in many states, be arrested. If you start swearing at the officer and there are other people around you can be arrested. If you touch the officer, no matter how lightly or even cordially, you can be arrested. If you hinder, in any way, the officer’s attempt to speak to another citizen you can be arrested. And on and on it goes; the number of ways for an “investigative” stop to end in a citizen being arrested for something having nothing to do with the original reason for the stop numbers in the hundreds or even thousands, not the dozens. Many criminal cases begin with minor traffic violations or minor civilian complaints. And if any of these complaints-cum-investigative stops-cum-arrests should befall an individual who is not a legal denizen of the United States, that individual can, despite not being charged with any criminal offense, be held in a federal ICE (formerly INS) holding cell for months and then deported following an administrative (not criminal) hearing. Read the rest of this entry »

It Appears We’re In the Desert: A Conversation about Arizona, Immigration Law, and Race: Part 1

{NB: None of the following is intended as, nor should it be construed as, legal advice to any person, persons, or group. If you or someone you know requires legal assistance, contact an attorney in your area. The statements made below represent only the personal opinions of this essay’s author}.

Yesterday I was listening to Sean Hannity’s nationally-syndicated radio program. He was savaging Attorney General Eric Holden for having apparently conceded, under Congressional questioning, that he had not yet read the new Arizona statute making it a state-level crime to be in the United States illegally. This, despite the fact that Holder had on more than one occasion registered concern over the law’s potential for promoting racial profiling—which, Hannity pointed out repeatedly to his listeners, the language of the statute explicitly forbade. While I was listening to the show no one called in, or was allowed on the air, to point out to Hannity that racial profiling can no more be “forbidden” than it can be codified. Any statute codifying racial profiling would be nullified by any court in the United States, state or federal, before it could be enacted; likewise, any statute claiming to outlaw racial profiling would be just as toothless and irrelevant, whether or not it passed judicial muster as a mere reiteration of the Fourteenth Amendment.

For years conservatives of Hannity’s ilk have been hard at work turning the cottage industry of spreading misinformation about the criminal justice system into a veritable empire of criminal justice-related misinformation. Dick Wolf’s endlessly syndicated and replicated Law & Order series has done more to intentionally misinform the American public about its system of laws than any determined propaganda campaign of the twentieth century, and I include in this all of the most infamous propaganda campaigns of that bloody century. Those who watch Wolf’s politically-charged tripe regularly are not merely uninformed about the operations of police and prosecutors in the United States, they are in fact less knowledgeable about our national system of criminal justice than those with absolutely no awareness of it whatsoever—for instance, a child of seven living in a lightly-policed suburban enclave somewhere in middle America. Every episode begins with a studied, deliberate lie: police officers, while often courageous, often honorable, and undoubtedly critical players in American society, in no way whatsoever represent “the people,” as we are so sagely informed by voice-over actor Steven Zirnkilton at the beginning of every hour-long Law & Order. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rise of Self-Publishing

By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN (from the NY Times)

I love out-there theories and the people who are seized by them. I’m a sitting duck for crackpots. Maybe that’s why I like the Web.

But even those of us who pride ourselves on never showing skepticism arrive at a crossroads sometimes. Should I really sacrifice 20 minutes of my life to hear out this particular rant (about Google, Obama, the Fed) or politely back away from the ranter?Well, you really sound as if you’re on to something, sir!

In analog times, one sign that it was time to retreat was if a big talker, having declared himself an author, produced his “book” and something about the book just wasn’t . . . booky. Maybe the pages carried a whiff of the Xerox or mimeograph machine. Or maybe the volume — about Atlantis or Easter Island — looked too good, with engraved letters, staid cover, no dust jacket. After a casual examination of the spine or the title page, realization would dawn: self-published.

In this time of Twitter feeds and self-designed Snapfish albums and personal YouTube channels, it’s hard to remember the stigma that once attached to self-publishing. But it was very real. By contrast, to have a book legitimately produced by a publishing house in the 20th century was not just to have copies of your work bound between smart-looking covers. It was also metaphysical: you had been chosen, made intelligible and harmonious by editors and finally rendered eligible, thanks to the magic that turns a manuscript into a book, for canonization and immortality. You were no longer a kid with a spiral notebook and a sonnet cycle about Sixth Avenue; you were an author, and even if you never saw a dime in royalties, no one could ever dismiss you again as an oddball. (read more)

TIRED OF READING: A VIDEO SERIES

Books make me tired. All that reading and turning of pages. Paper cuts, dry fingers. And so, we introduce, Tired of Reading: A Video Series where we’ll feature videos we did and did not shoot, of and about authors we love. Feel free to suggest authors worth noting. Big or small, poet or prose writer. One condition: There has to be a video of them somewhere and we have to be able to get access to it. I think that makes sense.

I. Lauren Groff is the author of The Monsters of Templeton which was published by Hyperion on February, 2008 and debuted at #14 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Her debut novel was well received and heavily promoted by Stephen King, who read it prior to release and and praised it to no end on Entertainment Weekly. The Monsters of Templeton was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers in 2008, and was named one of the Best Books of 2008 by Amazon.com and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Monsters of Templeton is a contemporary tale about coming home to Templeton, a representation of Cooperstown, NY. It is interspersed with voices from characters drawn from the town’s history as well as James Fenimore Cooper‘s “The Pioneers” which is also set in a fictionalized Cooperstown which he also calls Templeton.

Groff has short stories published in The Atlantic Monthly, Five Points, and Ploughshares, and the anthologies Best New American Voices 2008, Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best American Short Stories 2007. All of these stories appear in her collection of Short stories, Delicate Edible Birds which was released on January 27th, 2009.

Her next novel, Arcadia is forthcoming, and she is currently working on a project for Flatmancrooked, to be announced sometime in the near future.

Here’s Lauren discussing Monsters of Templeton

Here is the trailer for Monsters of Templeton

The Big Secret: 10 Indie-Publishers and 10 books You Might Not Have Heard of For All The Wrong Reasons

For all the wreckage falling at the feet of the big houses, and for all the innovation, etc., of the small houses, vestiges of the old publishing world still stand: that is, expensive promotional campaigns and paid-for in-store placement in large retail chains lead to the big sales and in turn, larger audiences. Those titles at the front of Barnes and Noble, carefully stacked, both cover and spine prominently displayed, aren’t there based on merit, worthy or unworthy as they may be. For the most part, big publishers paid for them to be there, positioned just so. Aside from the fact that these are things that small indie houses can’t compete with, it raises some questions of ethics, sure. But this post isn’t aimed at a debate over the capitalism of publishing. Rather, I want to take a moment to point out some houses and books that aren’t front-and-center at Border’s, which may mean you’re missing out. Here are my top ten:

10: Mud Luscious Press & Molly Gaudry’s We Take Me Apart

I don’t read much “experimental” writing as a practice. I also generally steer clear of books with script typefaces on the cover (snooty, I know.) That said, Gaudry’s ambition is admirable and her talent wonderfully evident in this compelling debut that a big house probably wouldn’t have taken a chance on.

From PANK Magazine’s review

We Take Me Apart begins with an homage to Gertrude Stein and could be read as a reinterpretation of the three-line poem, A Carafe that is a Blind Glass.” This approach is an act of pure courage on Gaudry’s part. Only a brave and talented writer would dare mess with the perfection of Gertrude Stein. Add this offense to your favorite childhood fairytale being reimagined and We Take Me Apart reads like a novella about to implode. And yet, as if by magic, the story holds even as the narrative spins out of control.


9: Wave Books & Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents

I covet the sense of authority with which Wave Books publishes its books. For example, I read poetry on occasion, and when that occasion comes along I read Wave’s books. Why? There titles are so consistently good (Zucker being an prime example,) that I needn’t worry about being disappointed. They’ve become a stage upon which new careers can begin to flourish.

from Publisher’s Weekly:

Zucker’s willingness to put her own pain on display may frighten or even disgust some readers, but most will be grateful to find themselves less alone in their own everyday suffering. This is a book for all who seek what Zucker calls ‘the antidote for despair,’ however elusive it may be.


8: Dzanc Books & Laura van den Berg’s What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us

Dzanc is becoming a something of a mini-empire in the indie world, with publications and entities like Best of the Web, Monkeybicycle, The Collagist, Keyhole Press, and Black Lawrence Press under its roof. But even as they grow, they consistently provide a platform for talented and fresh new voices, as is the case with van den Berg.

from Publisher’s Weekly:

In her affecting debut collection, van den Berg taps into her characters’ losses with an impressive clarity. Each of these stories is meticulously crafted, and often the protagonist is recovering emotionally from a staggering life’s blow.

 

7: Les Figues Press & Urs Allemann’s Baby Fucker

I hate to think that it is the fate of indie presses to take all the risks and then lose authors to larger publishers when they’ve been vetted on smaller stages. But, if it is to be our lot, so be it. Allemann will surely be gobbled up by a larger house, but Penguin wouldn’t touch a title like Baby Fucker with a ten-foot pole, regardless of it’s literary force and prowess. Germans have all the fun and culture.

Dennis Cooper:

A stunning, exquisite, perfect, and difficult little benchmark of a novel that makes literature that pre-dates it seem deprived.


6: Tarpaulin Sky Press & Mark Cunningham’s Body Language

Tarpaulin Sky is a press and lit journal–kind of our long-lost cousin. Their books are, by-and-large, extremely good and well-designed. Cunningham’s Body Language stands out on both fronts. His voice is unique and powerful–a poetic force to be reckoned with.

from Prick of the Spindle:

The appeal of Body Language is universal. Always thought-provoking, always enjoyable and unexpected, the combination of topics of math, language and symbolism via the alphabet and the body as a complex system, turns out to be an appropriate, engaging compendium.

 

5: New York Tyrant & Brian Evenson’s Baby Leg: Limited Edition

New York Tyrant is usually just a tri-annual lit journal. But when they get wild, they go all out. How they got Brian Evenson to do a book for them, I wish I knew. Furthermore, whoever came up with making it a limited edition hardcover with Evenson’s smearings of a “blood-like substance” on the front should be applauded.

from Blake Butler:

Via a series of sparely rendered dream loops, each wormed so deep into the other that it is no longer safe to say which might be which, Baby Leg extends the already wide mind-belt of Brian Evenson’s terror parade another mile, and well beyond.


4: McSweeney’s & John Brandon’s Arkansas

Is McSweeney’s still indie? Hmm. I mean, you still have to have a clerk order Brandon’s book at most stores. They don’t readily carry it at the chains. But most people outside of the lit world say “McSwchat?” when I mentioned them in passing. Think what you want about McSweeney’s, but their books are gorgeous, editor Eli Horowitz has that ever-sought-after eye for greatness, and most of the work they publish is, well, really, really good. Arkansas is really, really, really, really, really good. Shit. I mean really good.

from McSweeney’s description:

There are the days: the dappled grounds, the aimless yardwork, the hours in the booth giving directions to families in SUVs. And then there are the nights, crisscrossing the South with illicit goods, the shifty deals in dingy trailers, the vague orders from a boss they’ve never met. Sooner than Kyle and Swin can recognize how close to paradise they are, in this neglected state park in southern Arkansas, the lazy peace is shattered with a shot. Night blends into day. Dead bodies. Crooked superiors. Suspicious associates. It’s on-the-job training, with no time for slow learning, bad judgment, or foul luck.

 

3: Coffee House Press & Laird Hunt’s Ray of the Star

Coffee House is kind of old school and only barely indie, but it’s still a place to go to find some exceedingly powerful new and/or relatively under-the-radar names in literature. Hunt’s Ray of the Star is phenomenal and deserves as wide a readership as anything on the front shelves of Borders. I don’t doubt that Hunt will someday find his books on many a syllabi as required reading for MFA students, and that his books will be reprinted by larger houses, once they catch on.

from Time Out Chicago:

Reminiscent of Camus’ The Stranger, Ray of the Star gives little consideration to the death that has sent Harry reeling, though the way he’s easily sent in various directions by the people he meets hints at a numb, almost deranged wanderlust—the type of confusion that follows deep loss—and it’s this kind of slow burning mania that reminds also of Paul Auster; all of which proves that Hunt, even when on a mad sprint, has what it takes to create timeless efforts.

 

2: Featherproof Books & Blake Butler’s Scorched Atlas

Featherproof is super-dope. Aside from giving away DIY mini-books and having one of the best colophons I’ve ever seen, they’ve also got Butler’s Scorched Atlas, an exceptionally well-written composite novel, pre-distressed and filled with black pages. I am a book design dork, and this design is absolutely superb. Sick. Dope. Dumb. Grand. Featherproof is a beautiful thing.

From Time Out New York:

Butler is an original force who is fearless with form… The design is appropriately disarming, an apt part of the overall barrage by this inventive and deeply promising young author.


1: Hobart & Michelle Orange’s The Sicily Papers

Can I just say, “Fuckin’ Hobart.” I mean, seriously, this book is printed to look like a goddamn passport. The editors at Hobart, Elizabeth Ellen and Aaron Burch, have taste for days and the eyes for talent. Their single-author titles, while rare, are so good that it’s stupid. The Sicily Papers was a find of Ellen’s and what a find it was!

from World Hum by Frank Bures:

The Sicily Papers embodies the aimless joy (of travel) in a way that most travel books don’t. It has the texture of the journey. It has the feel of the unstructured days. And in the end it is almost like being there for real.


And, since this is a list of books I love, I must quickly note Flatmancrooked and the Zero Emission Book, which is James Kaelan’s We’re Getting On. As far as we can tell, this is the first novel ever produced that 1) is entirely recycled and biodegradable, 2) grows trees from its seed-paper-cover, 3) is entirely carbon-neutral, and 4) will be toured by bike up the entire west coast (LA to Vancouver.) We are very proud of the whole project. Plus, it’s a really good book.

And the Finalists are!!!

Flatmancrooked’s First Annual Poetry Prize ended at the close of January. The response was enthusiastic and a bit overwhelming. The editors read thousands of poems, then reread, and read again, whittling them down to this list of semi-finalists that will be included in Flatmancrooked’s Slim Volume of Contemporary Poetry, due out this summer. The editors then read and reviewed some more, read again, had night sweats, and chose these 24 finalists to go off to Mary Karr for the prize selection. These extraordinarily gifted poets will be listed as Finalists for the FMC Poetry Prize 2010 in the forthcoming anthology.



“O Time Thy Pyramids” by James Benton

“On the First Cold Morning in October, My Cat Kills Another Starling” by Heather Lynne Mercer

“WALDEN” by Will Dowd

“Oceanus Pacificus” by James Benton

“Bridges” by Theo Schell-Lambert

“Role Models” by Kimberly Olsen

“Zoology #1″ by Jilly Dreadful

“Crush” by Marina Pruna

“Americanism” by Diego Baez

“Two Dot, Montana” by Micah Ling

“How I Never Want to Have Coffee with You” by Anna Clarke

“Wormwood” by Marissa Bell Toffoli

“Petrichor” by Shideh Etaat

“The Fistulated Cow” by Katie Cappello

“When You Told me You were From Sierra Leone” by Sara Stripling

“Dorothy Comes Home From Work” by Rebecca van Laer

“Tracks” by  Emily  Pulfer-Terino

“LA Confidences” by Cami Park

“Cape Hatteras” by Ali Shapiro

“Konstantin Wakes Up Fifty” by Ronald Jackson

“September ” by Caitlin Gildrien

“The Replacement” by Megan Moriarty

“A Condensed History of Parachutes” by Megan Moriarty

“Stories ” by Sara Stripling



These poems will be available for your reading pleasure, along with work from poetry giants such as Eleni Sikelianos, Forest Gander, Mathew Dickman, Andy Jones, Christopher Erickson, and Kevin Prufer in Flatmancrooked’s Slim Volume of Contemporary Poetics, available Summer 2010.


The World at the Bookstore — An anthology gives authors a first English translation

Alexandra Alter  The Wall Street Journal

Even the most dedicated fiction readers might have trouble naming contemporary authors from Macedonia, Liechtenstein or Slovenia. Dalkey Archive Press intends to change that with its new anthology of “Best European Fiction.”

The international project, the first in a planned annual series, compiles fiction from 32 countries. Apart from pieces from English-speaking countries, all were translated into English for the first time. “There’s a catastrophic shortage of translation in the United States,” says Bosnian-American novelist Aleksandar Hemon, who edited the anthology.

Assembling the collection, which involved finding and translating the stories, took about two years. Mr. Hemon chose pieces from more than 100 translated works. Arts Council England and other European cultural groups helped to fund the project, said Dalkey’s associate director Martin Riker. Dalkey, a nonprofit based at the University of Illinois, is printing 25,000 copies, and plans to expand the project to other continents, starting with Asia.

Mr. Riker hopes the anthologies will spur interest in foreign fiction. Newly translated works accounted for about 3% of all books for sale in the U.S. in 2004, according to Bowker, a company that tracks the publishing industry. Last year, the secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize in literature, caused a stir when he chastised the American literary community for being “too insular.” (Read More)


And the Semi-Finalists Are

Flatmancrooked’s First Annual Poetry Prize ended at the close of January. The response was enthusiastic and a bit overwhelming. The editors read thousands of poems, then reread, and read again, whittling them down to this list of semi-finalists that will be included in Flatmancrooked’s Slim Volume of Contemporary Poetry, due out this summer. And the semi-finalists are . . .


“Crush” by Marina Pruna
“i,eve” by Christy Delehanty
“I Remember” by Justin Alvarez
“hollow phrases” by Diego Baez
“Americanism” by Diego Baez
“Pre-Linguistic Bones” by Gleah Powers
“Akimbo” by Amy Bleu
“Zoology #1″ by Jilly Dreadful
“Two Dot, Montana” by Micah Ling
“How I Never Want to Have Coffee with You” by Anna Clarke
“Wormwood” by Marissa Bell Toffoli
“A Life in Piles and a Hundred Goodbyes” by A. Ruth Macaux
“O Time Thy Pyramids” by James Benton
“Oceanus Pacificus” by James Benton
“Petrichor” by Shideh Etaat
“The Fistulated Cow” by Katie Cappello
“Enlightenment” by Samuel Slaton
“Something Like Five to Seven Years On Average Give or Take …” by Zachary Hill
“When You Told me You were From Sierra Leone” by Sara Stripling
“Dorothy Comes Home From Work” by Rebecca van Laer
“Tracks” by Emily Pulfer-Terino
“LA Confidences” by Cami Park
“Cape Hatteras” by Ali Shapiro
“Editing out the Mistakes” by Kat Jahnigen
“Konstantin Wakes Up Fifty” by Ronald Jackson
“Tend” by Rebecca Keith
“September” by Caitlin Gildrien
“On the First Cold Morning in October, My Cat Kills Another Starling” by Heather Lynne Mercer
“WALDEN” by Will Dowd
“Bridges” by Theo Schell-Lambert
“Role Models” by Kimberly Olsen
“To My Daughter Grace, Nine Years Old” by Christopher Locke
“The Karloff Egg” by James O’Brien
“Post-Op Image, 1984″ by Francis DiClemente
“Recess Beyond the Old Equipment” by David Cooke
“Russian Caravan” by A. Ruth Macaux
“Boston Elizabeth” by Christine Smith
“For the Sun” by Julia Halprin Jackson
“To Sally Hemings, slave lover of Thomas Jefferson” by Khary Jackson
“Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices by Thomas” K ORourke
“Stories” by Sara Stripling
“The Replacement” by Megan Moriarty
“A Condensed History of Parachutes” by Megan Moriarty
“Aftermath” by Brian Adeloye
“Descent into Phoenix” by Kristen Kuczenski
“And Then” by Heather Judy


These poems will be available for your reading pleasure, along with work from poetry giants such as Eleni Sikelianos, Forest Gander, Mathew Dickman, Andy Jones, Christopher Erickson, and Kevin Prufer in Flatmancrooked’s Slim Volume of Contemporary Poetics, available Summer 2010.


Copia Is Coming to Tools of Change

Fresh off a buzz-generating appearance at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the enterprise and consumer electronics firm DMC Worldwide is in New York City showing off Copia, a new Web site offering a reading social network platform and e-commerce that includes a suite of linked digital reading devices set to hit the market this spring. DMC stopped by the Publishers Weekly offices to demo its social reading platform in advance of its presentation at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference set to open next week. 

DMC is a 50-year-old private firm looking to invest in, produce, and market new consumer technologies. DMC Worldwide senior v-p Anthony Antolino said that Copia is the result of the company’s long-term examination of “emerging markets, content consumption, and what makes consumers tick.” Antolino described Copia as a “social reading platform that combines all kinds of content—books, movies, comics, music—and collaborative tools that let people read and enjoy books together, and, of course, it offers commerce.” 

The hub of the Copia network/device venture is the social network,  a Web-based platform that is free to consumers. It will launch a limited beta in March and a public beta by the summer. Antolino said that Copia offers a distinctive online graphical display as well as a search infrastructure that allows readers to discuss and compare books, but that also attempts to visually recreate book browsing.  While Copia offers the usual social networking functionally—connections with like-minded readers; title and subject-focused discussion groups; the ability to compare book lists—the site offers its own nifty and intuitive ways to do so. (read more)

Why Genre Will Prevail, in Peace and Freedom from Fear, and in True Health, through the Purity and Essence of Its Natural Fluids, God Bless You All

from BigOther – re: John M. recently quoting something that Paul wrote at his blog, and re: Roxane’s recent post and the resulting epic thread regarding writing and its worth, I’d like to pick a bit more at the bones of genre fiction.

I love genre, because genres are basically conventions. They’re expectations that both authors and readers (and editors, and sales people) bring to a text—suggestions as to what should be inside, and how it should be arranged. And I dearly love conventions, because they’re the very stuff of communication, and of artistic structure—whether we’re obeying them, or departing from them.

I’ve never really understood what some people mean when they talk about “exploding genres” and “writing between genres,” and so forth, because I myself can think of very little writing that is pure genre. Most literature that I read—even the more conventional things—already exist between multiple genres.

Consider The Lord of the Rings.

On the one hand, it’s a “pure” example of contemporary fantasy fiction. Right? Hell, it’s the cornerstone of contemporary fantasy fiction. And it definitely is fantasy fiction:

Sorrowfully, they cast loose the funeral boat: there Boromir lay, restful, peaceful, gliding upon the bosom of the flowing water.The stream took him while they held their own boat back with their paddles. He floated by them, and slowly his boat departed, waning to a dark spot against the golden light; and then suddenly it vanished. Rauros roared on unchanging. The River had taken Boromir son of Denethor, and he was not seen again in Minas Tirith, standing as he used to stand upon the White Tower in the morning. But in Gondor in after-days it long was said that the elven-boat rode the falls and the foaming pool, and bore him down through Osgiliath, and past the many mouths of Anduin, out into the Great Sea at night under the stars. (The Two Towers, Book V, Chapter 1, “The Departure of Boromir”)

But when we look even more closely, we find that Tolkien’s writing contains traces of other genres. It’s contemporary fantasy, to be sure, but it’s also heavily inspired by Norse mythology, Old English and Middle English literature, German Romanticism, and Victorian children’s literature. Tolkien synthesized these various interests to craft a new kind of fantasy literature that differs from, say, fairy tales.

As Paul wrote:

“Throughout the history of literature, writers have plundered modes, approaches, styles, forms, genres [...] practically every work of fiction you can name has borrowed liberally from history, biography, science, travel, philosophy, other fictions, and so on (and conversely, every work of history, biography, philosophy and such has borrowed liberally from other fictions and the rest). In other words, if interstitial fiction exists, then it is indistinguishable from fiction as a whole.”

And if we look closer, we can find places in The Lord of the Rings where Tolkien didn’t completely blend those disparate genres into a homogeneous fantasy paste. There’s more than one spot where one genre sticks out more than the others, like an undissolved lump of brown sugar waiting inside a cookie. As we read, we find the different genres receding and dominating, their conventions stepping forward at different times to control different aspects of the fiction.

For example, a friend of mine delights in pointing out the following section in Chapter 3 of Book I of the first book, The Fellowship of the Rings:

Just over the top of the hill they [the hobbits] came on the patch of fir-wood. Leaving the road they went into the deep resin-scented darkness of the trees. Soon they had a merry crackle of flame at the foot of a large fir-tree and they sat round it for a while, until they began to nod. Then, each in an angle of the great tree’s roots, they curled up in their cloaks and blankets, and were soon fast asleep. They set no watch; even Frodo feared no danger yet, for they were still in the heart of the Shire. A few creatures came and looked at them when the fire had died away. A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed.

“Hobbits!” he thought. “Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.” He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.

This is the only place in the entire Lord of the Rings epic where the POV switches to a passing, talking fox. My friend argued that this was a trace of an earlier draft of the book, when The Fellowship of the Ring was still The Hobbit Part 2.

(As is widely known, when Tolkien found that he had no interest in writing The Hobbit sequel that his publisher wanted, and was instead writing The Lord of the Rings, he went back and revised even The Hobbit. The later, darker tale that he found himself really wanting to tell altered its more childlike forebear, which became a prequel—just as The Lord of the Rings later became a prequel to The Silmarillion.) (Or so I’ve heard. I’m afraid I haven’t quite finished The Silmarillion.)

Bakhtin tells us that all novels are shaggy monsters—some more than others, to be sure. But all bear traces of their construction, and obey influences from competing literary conventions that may prove difficult to reconcile. All writing inhabits a history, usually multiple histories, and it finds its place(s) within those histories as best as it is able.

Tolkien had other influences as well, some of which came later. Today, we read certain sections of LOTR biographically, looking at it through the lens J.R.R.’s experiences in WWII. Peter Jackson’s film adaptations (and thereby the conventions of 2000s Hollywood cinema) have influenced how many people read (or don’t read) the books. Before that, various sections were appropriated by the hippies; it’s hard to read the Tom Bombadil sections, and some of the Gandalf parts, and a tremendous amount of the hobbit/Shire/pipe-weed stuff, as anything other than 60s psychedelia.

Now, if you’re still with me, a few words about “high” and “low” art in regards to genre. As I mentioned in my first post at this site, T.S. Eliot stole lines from Sherlock Holmes stories while writing the inspiration for the musical Cats—deal with it, lit snobs. As Jeremy M. Davies then pointed out, more Holmes snuck into Murder in the Cathedral. Wittgenstein, around the same time, was sneaking out of Cambridge to watch bad Western flicks. It’s not just postmodernists like Pynchon and Acker who find joy—and inspiration—in popular art.

Or vice versa. Allow me to point out one of my favorite parts of The Lord of the Rings. It was originally pointed out to me in grad school by my above-mentioned friend (hi, friend!) and by my Milton professor.

You’ll recall that in Book VI of Paradise Lost, Raphael relates to Adam what happened when Satan led his followers against God. Both sides, being immortal, found their wounds closing up as soon as they were formed (just like Wolverine’s healing factor!). Yet all of the combatants felt pain, and the thought of endless painful battle put everyone into a funk.

That night, the opposing sides made their camps, and Satan knew he needed to devise some edge:

Deep under ground, materials dark and crude,
Of spiritous and fierie spume, till toucht
With Heav’ns ray, and temperd they shoot forth [ 480 ]
So beauteous, op’ning to the ambient light.
These in thir dark Nativitie the Deep
Shall yield us pregnant with infernal flame,
Which into hallow Engins long and round
Thick-rammd, at th’ other bore with touch of fire [ 485 ]
Dilated and infuriate shall send forth
From far with thundring noise among our foes
Such implements of mischief as shall dash
To pieces, and orewhelm whatever stands
Adverse, that they shall fear we have disarmd [ 490 ]
The Thunderer of his only dreaded bolt.

And so, foreshadowing their imminent fall:

Forthwith from Councel to the work they flew,
None arguing stood, innumerable hands
Were ready, in a moment up they turnd
Wide the Celestial soile, and saw beneath [ 510 ]
Th’ originals of Nature in thir crude
Conception; Sulphurous and Nitrous Foame
They found, they mingl’d, and with suttle Art,
Concocted and adusted they reduc’d
To blackest grain, and into store convey’d: [ 515 ]
Part hidd’n veins diggd up (nor hath this Earth
Entrails unlike) of Mineral and Stone,
Whereof to found thir Engins and thir Balls
Of missive ruin; part incentive reed
Provide, pernicious with one touch to fire. [ 520 ]

And the next day, when the battle resumed:

From those deep throated Engins belcht, whose roar
Emboweld with outragious noise the Air,
And all her entrails tore, disgorging foule
Thir devilish glut, chaind Thunderbolts and Hail
Of Iron Globes, which on the Victor Host [ 590 ]
Level’d, with such impetuous furie smote,
That whom they hit, none on thir feet might stand,
Though standing else as Rocks, but down they fell

The battle turns truly desparate then; both sides even begin throwing mountains at one another. (It’s like The Thing battling The Hulk!)

Tolkien, a tremendous Milton fan, pays homage to this in Book V, Chapter 7 of The Two Towers, “Helm’s Deep.” The plot, briefly: the good guys are holed up in a fortress that’s under seige, but that has never fallen:

‘Nevertheless day will bring hope to me,’ said Aragorn. ‘Is it not said that no foe has ever taken the Hornburg, if men defended it?’

‘So the minstrels say,’ said Éomer.

‘Then let us defend it, and hope!’ said Aragorn.

And at first they successfully hold off the bad guys (Saruman’s forces). But then:

Even as they spoke there came a blare of trumpets. Then there was a crash of flame and smoke. The waters of the Deeping Stream poured out hissing and foaming: they were choked no longer, a gaping hole was blasted in the wall. A host of dark shapes poured in.

‘Devilry of Saruman!’ cried Aragorn. ‘They have crept in the calvert again, while we talked, and they have lit the fire of Orthanc beneath our feet. Elendil, Elendil!’ he shouted, as he leapt down into the breach; but even as he did so a hundred ladders were raised against the battlements. Over the wall and under the wall the last assault came sweeping like a dark wave upon a hill of sand. The defense was swept away.

Two pages later, Aragorn reports:

‘[T]he Orcs have brought a devilry from Orthanc [...] They have a blasting fire, and with it they took the Wall.’

Devilry indeed. Saruman has copied Satan’s solution: to dig into the earth, and to devise gunpowder.

…Ultimately, it does him no good, because just as God sent forth the Messiah in his Chariot to defeat Satan, the chief good guys ride forth in their own Glorie, their “count’nance too severe to be beheld”:

And with that shout the king came. His horse was white as snow, golden was his shield, and his spear was long. At his right hand was Aragorn, Elendil’s heir, behind him rode the lords of the Houise of Eorl the Young. Light sprang in the sky. Night departed.

‘Forth Eorlingas!’ With a great cry and a great noise they charged. Down from the gates they roared, over the causeway they swept, and they drove through the hosts of Isengard as a wind among grass.

The orcs, we’re told, “cast themselves on their faces and covered their ears with their claws.” No doubt, like Satan’s followers,

they astonisht all resistance lost,
All courage; down thir idle weapons drop’d;
O’re Shields and Helmes, and helmed heads he rode [ 840 ]
Of Thrones and mighty Seraphim prostrate,
That wisht the Mountains now might be again
Thrown on them as a shelter from his ire.