Saturday, October 5, 2013

Memorials to the First Voyage

Barbara Remington's Covers for the 1965 Ballantine Paperback Edition of LOTR (photo of copies from the 21st printing, 1968; from the Mike is Bored blog, click here for more.  Lobster & Canary does not hold copyright in the images or original artwork in this post; their presentation here falls under fair use, is for purposes of commentary).

We visited the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle last weekend, a compendium of great favorites, uniting Jimi Hendrix and Harry Potter under one roof.   A loving, Bowie-esque hodgepodge of drum kits and Daleks, light sabers and Stratocasters, complete with Captain Kirk's chair from the deck of the Enterprise and Neo's long black coat from The Matrix, the EMP was thronged with pilgrims. 

The first exhibit is an homage to modern fantasy and mythmaking.   And on the hall as you enter are two original paintings:  Barbara Remington's LOTR poster, and the map of Middle Earth by Pauline Baynes.

I gazed long and longingly at the two, transported instantly to a young reader making his first voyages on the bark of Tolkien's story.  Recursive memorials to immersion and the gaining of identity through the loss of time and self.  Places of memory about places we imagine and then inhabit.  Recollection of my own paperbacks with their Remington covers (a slightly later printing of the 1965 edition, the 22nd or 23rd perhaps, from 1969, worn to just the same crinkled state as those pictured above, ultimately read right off the book itself, bound with a rubber band, all now lost).  Memories of the sunlight in the front-room on Concord Place where I first read these, and of the smell of the back-stairs (a slightly ominous corridor, like the entrance to The Old Forest), the solitude of my bedroom where a small lamp provided enough light to read by, late late into the night, but not quite enough to dispel the whispers of the Nazgul from the encompassing dark.  

"Memory installs remembrance within the sacred," to quote Pierre Nora.  "Memory takes root in the concrete, in spaces, gestures, images and objects."

P.S.  This summer I read Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance, a marvelous 2009 anthology edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois.  Vance, like Tolkien (and Le Guin and Peake), looms very large in the minds and memories of many modern fantasy authors; I found Vance only a little later than I discovered Tolkien and Le Guin, and can see and feel where I was when I first followed Cugel the Clever on his adventures and first shuddered at the appearance of Chun the Unavoidable.  Besides the great affection for Vance evident in their pastiches, nearly every author in the collection -- and the line-up is a "who's who" of the current field-- recalls in intimate detail when they first encountered Vance's writing, right down to the specifics of the editions.  For instance, Mike Resnick writes: "One of the very first science fiction books I bought as a kid was Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, in its original paperback edition published by Hillman."  Phyllis Eisenstein remembers paying "75 cents for that Lancer paperback with the odd leathery cover.  Only many years later did I learn that this was its first printing since the scarce 1950 Hillman edition."  Lucius Shepard:  "I first encountered Jack Vance's work in junior high, when I read a paperback edition of The Dying Earth sheathed in one or another textbook (I hated mathematics, so most often I read it during math class)."  Glen Cook speaks of forking over the "outrageous sum" of 75 cents for the Lancer edition at the independent bookstore next to a tavern he frequented.  Tanith Lee still has the English Mayflower edition her mother bought her decades ago, "though by now the pages are brown and many are loose inside the cover."  Dan Simmons stumbled into The Dying Earth and other Vancean worlds in stacks of his brother's Ace Doubles and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, when he was 12, in his uncle's third-floor apartment on North Kildare Avenue just off Madison Street in Chicago, "with me sprawled on the daybed...under the open windows with the heat and street noises coming in...reading Jack Vance."   Howard Waldrop:  "I remember sitting in a green and white lawn chair under a magnolia the summer of 1962, reading...The Dying Earth."   Martin was ten or eleven years old when he "grabbed one of those Ace Doubles with the colorful red-and-blue spines off the spinner rack in the candy store at First Street and Kelly Parkway in Bayonne, New Jersey."  Elizabeth Hand movingly describes "the single most intense reading experience of my life," a rainy Saturday alone in a rented beachfront cottage in Maine the summer before she started high school, devouring doughnuts she had bought with her father and a cover-less copy of  The Dying Earth found in the bottom of a box her mother had brought home from a library book sale.  As  Hand says, speaking I think for most of us:  "It was my madeleine."

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