Sunday, December 31, 2017


So, I already do this productivity reports in August (i.e., the anniversary of me getting an academic blog), which may be found both here and here, but I decided that a "Calendar Year Productivity Report" would not only be fun but fun -- you know, give myself a sense of achievement that occurs twice as frequently as Christmas, despite the overlap in materials.

Of course, I'll only include things written within this calendar year, although some of it has been fortunate enough to be published rather quickly.

So, without further ado, here's the report:

Everything from January-July 2017
  • "Unraveling The Hobbit's Strange Publication History: A Look at Possible Worlds, Modality, and Accessibility Relations" -- now published in Fastitocalon, 6000 words
  • "J.R.R. Tolkien and 1954 Nomination of E.M. Forster for the Nobel Prize" -- now published by Mythlore, 9000 words
  • Book review of Edmund Gordon's The Invention of Angela Carter, now published in Mythlore, 1500 words
  • Book review of Jad Smith's Alfred Bester, now published in Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, 1500 words 
  • One conference paper on Glen Cook, 1500 words 

 Everything from August-December 2017
  • Essay on Gender/Sexed Violence in Stephen R. Donaldson -- article under review, 14000 words
  • "PRYZQXGL: Or, How to Do Things with Magics Words" -- forthcoming article in The Baum Bugle, 5000 words
  • "Donaldson's Amnion and the Dangers of a Posthuman Future" -- encyclopedia article, forthcoming, 1000 words
  • "Review of Okja by Bong Joon-ho" -- film review forthcoming in Science Fiction Film and Television, 1500 words
Grand total? Four articles written (3 of which will be peer-reviewed), three book reviews, one encyclopedia entry, one conference paper. All of which have been wedged in between my dissertation defense and revisions, moving cross-country to Arizona, and teaching 4 classes for the first time in the fall.

Total publishable words written: 41,000.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Books that Didn't Age Well: L. Frank Baum's Life & Adventures of Santa Claus

The title says it all. I've been reading a lot of Baum books lately in prep for my short article, and I was recommended The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) as a good introduction to many of Baum's fairy creatures. Well, the book's a bit dull and much too cloyingly sweet, but just imagine my horror when I discovered that Baum, with his customary flair for whimsy, decided to just up and insert genocide, racism, and a rationalization  for environmental destruction!


Yep, straight up genocide -- although, of course, it isn't called that. Claus gets kidnapped by a race of evil creatures called Angwas. He escapes, but Claus's friend Ak, the Master Huntsman, visits the Angwas and tells them to stop. His reasoning? "We immortals, no less than mortals like Claus, are superior to you. Do as I say!" The king of the Angwas, naturally enough, refuses, so all the immortals decide to wipe out this race of "evil" creatures from the face of the earth. And it only takes a single short chapter!

Of course, this book appeared well before the Holocaust and even the Armenian genocide of 1919, so clearly we can cut Baum some slack here. But still -- that's why we call it "not aging well."

Oh yes, the racism, this time against Native Americans. It's nothing that unusual for the time period, mind you, but it's still enough to make me wince.  For example, Santa Claus decides to bring toys to "three little children who lived beneath of rude tent of skins," and their "parents were ignorant people who neglected them sadly" (167). Baum never once mentions the word "Indians," but the pictures make the connection pretty clear. Anyway, Baum gives these kids a Christmas tree, which makes them immensely happy for the first time, cuz there's absolutely nothing offensive about that.

This last one is actually pretty innocent compared to the first two ( at least if we ignore the whole end-of-the-habitable-world thing). Here, men start chopping down all the world's forests. You'd think that would irritate the Master Woodman, but not so much cuz "I have but guarded the forests until men needed them for their use" (194).

Modern environmentalists, of course, often rail against the idea that nature is just there for humans to use as they will

None of these three things, mind you, are called "evil." You know what Baum does call evil -- or, more specifically, "one [last] evil following in the path of civilization" (196)?


You heard me right. Apparently, the then-modern prevalence of stoves was causing people to build fewer chimneys. That made Claus's job of entering households harder -- therefore, evil: Q. E. D. Luckily, Claus has some helper fairies. Glad we got that cleared up!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Stephen R. Donaldson and Tolkien

Well, just finished my monster 12,000 article (14k with footnotes) on sexed/gender violence in Stephen R. Donaldson. Sent it off yesterday afternoon. I have high hopes for it, but it was exhausting to write -- not only 2 1/2 months of labor, but a very depressing subject matter. My final draft has the phrases "sexed violence," "rape," and "assault" appear 168 times, and my secondary reading wasn't no picnic either, as you might imagine.

But anyway, I started reading the 3rd book of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and I got to think thinking about SRD and Tolkien himself. Perhaps I should preface this by saying -- and it kills me to do so, since I love SRD -- that The Last Chronicles are really, really, really bad. The first two books are perhaps mediocre; not awful, mind you, but not as fresh or captivating as either of the first two Covenant trilogies. Yet book 3, Against All Things Ending, is really a sucker punch to the soul. I tried reading it about three or four years ago, but couldn't make it past page 100. Very literally, almost nothing happens in those first 100 pages -- yet virtually every sentence is filled with heartache, anguish, and despair. Much like Patricia A. McKillip, Donaldson has always had a tendency toward melodrama and operatic extremity, but somehow in this book he has simply lost all restraint. Here's a sample paragraph from Pg 194:
Until that moment, Covenant had seemed preoccupied with pain, too hurt to react. Yet he heard her appeal. Meeting her gaze, he gave her a look of anguish, stricken and faltering, as if she had asked him to betray himself -- or her. His hair resembled a silver conflagration, as if his thoughts burned with shame.
That last bolded sentence is literally the dumbest thing I've ever read. (What does conflagration hair look like, really?). But the previous sentences are eye-roll-worthy as well. Every once in a while wouldn't have been bad, perhaps especially in a poignant moment in the narrative, but Donaldson goes on like that, paragraph after paragraph, page after page. Show, not tell!

So this combination of re-reading late Donaldson, plus my long essay, has also made me reflect on his relationship to Tolkien. For this, I'll make up a few categories and see how things go:

Sub-creation -- Donaldson or Tolkien?
Tolkien -- and it's not even close. As much as I love The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Donaldson clearly is borrowing all of Tolkien's plot structure. That's not a flaw, mind you, so long as you do it well, which Donaldson. But he doesn't really come into his own until The Second Chronicles. . . . alas, though, The Final Chronicles, in terms of subcreation, has squeezed the lemon dry. There just isn't very much interesting about his world by the third go-around.

Prose -- Donaldson or Tolkien?
Tie. Actually, I hate discussions about prose, since there isn't really a rigorous way to discuss it -- although writers clearly revise their sentences according to some theory of better/worse, critics most often mention prose only to disparage a work they dislike for other reasons. Both Donaldson and Tolkien have both been unfairly maligned for those prose styles; really, though, their styles are just fine.

Intellectual Daringness-- Donaldson or Tolkien?
Donaldson -- but this is tricky. Tolkien was a hell of a bright guy, and he certainly knew pre-modern  century English literature way better than Donaldson does. But he's not nearly as self-consciously literary as SRD. This may possible be a case of bias, since SRD's existentialism seems more far-ranging (although not necessarily more meaningful) than Tolkien's Catholicism, but I give the points to SRD here. 

Plotting-- Donaldson or Tolkien?
Donaldson, slightly, again with the caveat that his plot for the first Chronicles owes a lot to Tolkien. But Donaldson seems better able, in my able opinion, to stretch out a climax much longer than Tolkien. And SRD's greater prolificness gives him much more narrative space to write gripping stories.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Free laptop? Much love to you, U of A!

So, yes -- the University of Arizona just gave all its lecturers free laptops. This is part, I've been told, of their general effort to update the tech for all faculty, and it just so happens that lecturers are being considered faculty for the first time.

Anyway, although this move has apparently been in the works for months, we just got the announcement a few days ago. Just picked mine up, in fact. I've said it before, but it's worth saying again -- I absolutely lucked out in getting hired by such an awesome place. I mean, really . . . a free laptop.  And the exceptionally cool part is that I'd just been about to buy a new one; my current lappy is over four years old and running down.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Latest Tolkien Publication: Fastitocalon

Just received my contributor's copy of Fastitocalon, which is a European journal dedicated to "studies in fantasticism ancient to modern." The special issue is all about world-building & subcreation, and it allowed me to apply to possible worlds theory (as a branch of narrative theory) to the different editions of The Hobbit.

Basically, without delving into any gory details, I think the 1st edition of The Hobbit creates a distinct fictional world which requires study in its own right -- and this world is modally differentiated world from the fictional worlds created by the Revision Phrase (2nd edition text, 1951-1954) and the Assimilation Phase (post-Fellowship of the Ring).

Fun stuff . . . and I actually talked about submitting the original abstract on this blog little over a year ago, here.

Intriguingly, 5 of the 11 contributors were graduate students (two of the articles had dual authors). That number rises to 6 if you count myself, since I'd written my submission prior to defending the diss. 

All in all, it's a nice little volume, and I even recognize a few fellow Tolkien scholars (Robin Anne Reid, Thomas Honegger, Alan Turner, Anahit Behrooz). 

Now, shameful-secret time: I actually had no idea what a "fastitocalon" was, so some time ago I googled it only to realize that I should have known all about it already. It's a medieval sea monster that Tolkien wrote a poem about (published in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil). Kinda embarassing, I admit, that I totally glossed over the fastitocalon in my reading. Also, I belatedly realized, the monster also appears in several Final Fantasy games.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The U of A Writing Program Wins a Major National Award

Well, hot dog! A few days ago, I learned that our Writing Program has been awarded the 2017-18 CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence. (The 4 Cs are the major U.S. rhet/comp organization, akin to MLA for literature people.) Since I'm such a recent addition to the university, this award leaves me feeling somewhat bemused -- especially since many lecturers, TT faculty, and administrators have been advocating hard for years to improve this program. Still, this is major, and I'm excited. Please let me gush for a moment.

Arizona's massive efforts to improve the working conditions and lives of its lecturers was a major deciding factor in the award, according to the notification we received. Really, I've been awed at the many initiatives our Writing Program has undertaken:

  • A major salary hike a few years ago,
  • Ongoing efforts for shared governance in the English Department (i.e., lecturers voting on departmental issues), a promotion plan, and three-year contracts
  • Just this year, an additional $1 million in WP funding to reduce class sizes to 19 students by hiring more lecturers -- a move that directly led to my hiring last summer.
There are a lot of other rhet/comp-y reasons for our program's being singled out, which I'll copy/paste below. (Since the announcement has already been made on the CCCC website, I'm pretty sure I'm not breaking any rules by posting this!) In all honesty, I couldn't have been more lucky to wind up in such a fabulous institution.

"The following are comments provided by the selection committee:
"The committee applauds the efforts within this program to establish meaningful, livable, stable non-tenure track positions with shared governance and opportunities for professional development. The first-year class sizes are 19. The scope of this program is huge, and even though it is largely FYW, it is FYW done well. Ongoing faculty self-assessment and required continued professional development help all instructors maintain an investment in FYW teaching. Courses that adhere around outcomes allow for different kinds of autonomy, even as careful assessment helps highlight how best to reach course goals. The program has integrated and modified many kinds of “best” practices in FYW teaching and learning, from reducing and extending support for less-confident or underprepared students to innovating with placement for all writers (including multilingual writers).
"Indeed, the committee believes that the University of Arizona serves as an exemplary model for peer institutions in a number of ways, including the following: 1) their revision of course content for the FYC sequence, beginning with a focus on a genre approach in the first semester with a focus on a WID approach in the second semester in order to improve students’ ability to transfer writing skills and abilities across contexts; 2) best practices in program placement through a DSP approach, which better responds to the needs of a diverse student body; 3) the different levels of support for a large faculty serving a large number of students, including the greatly improved working conditions of Lecturers and the both required and optional aspects of continued, annual reflective professional development opportunities; 4) the reliance on an outcomes-based approach through portfolio assessment at the course level and data-driven assessment at the program level in order to maintain continuity and quality across a large number of diverse course sections. Additionally, as a result of the number and quality of publications authored by faculty in the program, faculty in U of A’s Writing Program have proved themselves to be model teacher-scholars, not only for others at peer institutions but for the field more broadly."