Monday, 22 August 2022

A BRADBURYIAN BIRTHDAY

 

Remembering the 102nd anniversary of the birth of this great conjuror of words and imagery without whom we might never have tasted Dandelion Wine, A Medicine for Melancholy or The Golden Apples of the Sun; might never have been drenched on The Day It Rained Forever; might never have ridden The Toynbee Convector or met The Illustrated Man; might never have witnessed the launching of The Silver Locusts, learned of the dangers of Fahrenheit 451 or been warned that Something Wicked This Way Comes...

 

[Portrait of Ray Bradbury (from the BS&DW collection) by Barnaby Conrad, Jr. (1922 – 2013) was an American artist, author, nightclub proprietor, bullfighter and boxer!]

 

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

RAYMOND BRIGGS (1934-2022)

 

I am so saddened to learn of the passing of that brilliant artist responsible for some of the most beloved 'graphic storybooks' of the last 60 years: Raymond Redvers Briggs CBE.

Twice-winner of the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal and numerous other awards and honours for being the modest genius who created Fungus the Bogeyman, Father Christmas (and, "Bloomin' 'eck!", Father Christmas Goes on Holiday), When the Wind Blows, Ethel & Ernest: A True Story, Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age and, of course (among many other titles), that glorious enduring, text-less classic, The Snowman.

Oh, what great joy and delight you gave us, Raymond. Thank you!


Tuesday, 26 July 2022

THE RISE AND FALL OF NÚMENOR

If you're eagerly anticipating the September debut of Amazon Prime's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, then you may like to know of this forthcoming publication devoted to J.R.R. Tolkien.'s writing about the Second Age of Middle-earth...

 


J.R.R.Tolkien's
THE FALL OF NÚMENOR  
and Other Tales from the Second Age of Middle-earth
 
Edited by BRIAN SIBLEY
and Illustrated by ALAN LEE

Published by HarperCollins

HarperCollins is proud to announce the publication in November 2022 of THE FALL OF NÚMENOR by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by writer and Tolkien expert, Brian Sibley, and illustrated by acclaimed artist, Alan Lee. The book will be published globally by HarperCollinsPublishers and in other languages by numerous Tolkien publishers worldwide.

Presenting for the first time in one volume the events of the Second Age as written by J.R.R. Tolkien and originally and masterfully edited for publication by Christopher Tolkien, this new volume will include pencil drawings and colour paintings by Alan Lee, who also illustrated The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and went on to win an Academy Award for his work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

J.R.R. Tolkien famously described the Second Age of Middle-earth as a ‘dark age, and not very much of its history is (or need be) told’. And for many years readers would need to be content with the tantalizing glimpses of it found within the pages of The Lord of the Rings and its appendices.

It was not until Christopher Tolkien presented The Silmarillion for publication in 1977 that a fuller story could be told for, though much of its content concerned the First Age of Middle-earth, there were at its close two key works that revealed the tumultuous events concerning the rise and fall of the island-kingdom of Númenor, the Forging of the Rings of Power, the building of the Barad-dûr and the rise of Sauron, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.

Christopher Tolkien provided even greater insight into the Second Age in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth in 1980, and expanded upon this in his magisterial 12-volume History of Middle-earth, in which he presented and discussed a wealth of further tales written by his father, many in draft form.

Now, using ‘The Tale of Years’ in The Lord of the Rings as a starting point, Brian Sibley has assembled from the various published texts in a way that tells for the very first time in one volume the tale of the Second Age of Middle-earth, whose events would ultimately lead to the Third Age, and the War of the Ring, as told in The Lord of the Rings.

The Hobbit was first published in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings in 19545. Each has since gone on to become a beloved classic of literature and an international bestseller translated into more than 70 languages, collectively selling more than 150,000,000 copies worldwide. Published in 1977, The Silmarillion sold more than one million copies in its first year of publication and has gone on to be translated into almost 40 languages.

Brian Sibley says: ‘Since the first publication of The Silmarillion forty-five years ago, I have passionately followed Christopher Tolkien’s meticulous curation and scholarship in publishing a formidable history of his father’s writings on Middle-earth. I am honoured to be adding to that authoritative library with The Fall of Númenor. I hope that, in drawing together many of the threads from the tales of the Second Age into a single work, readers will discover – or rediscover – the rich tapestry of characters and events that are a prelude to the drama of the War of the Ring as is told in The Lord of the Rings.

Alan Lee says: ‘It is a pleasure to be able to explore the Second Age in more detail, and learn more about those shadowy and ancient events, alliances and disasters that eventually led to the Third Age stories we are more familiar with. Wherever I had the opportunity when working on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I tried to imbue pictures and designs with an appropriate antiquity, an overlayering of history and of echoes of those older stories, and The Fall of Númenor has proved a perfect opportunity to dig a little deeper into the rich history of Middle-earth.’

The Fall of Númenor will be published by HarperCollins with a simultaneous global publication date of November 2022, and subsequently in translation around the world.

The streaming series, The Rings of Power, set during the Second Age of Middle-earth, will be released by Amazon Prime in September 2022.


DAVID WARNER (1941-2022)

 
I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of David Warner. It is a sign of our lazy times that he is described in several obituary headlines as 'OMEN and TITANIC actor'. Yes, he was especially excellent in The Omen as the sympathetic investigating photographer who meets an particularly nasty end, but he gave an extraordinary range of performances in many other movie: Tom Jones, Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Straw Dogs, Cross of Iron, Time After Time, The Man With Two Brains, Time Bandits and Tron to mention but a few.

He played many villainous characters but also capable of great sensitivity as can be seen in his portrayal of Bob Cratchit in the US American TV film of A Christmas Carol opposite George C Scott's Ebenezer Scrooge. But (more easily overlooked in our film/tv orientated times) he was also a stellar member of the one of the all time great RSC companies and, under the direction of Peter Hall, was unquestionably the Hamlet of his generation.
 
I was privileged to work with David on three of my BBC radio epics, beginning with my 1985 Sony Radio Award-winning dramatisations of Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan and Gormenghast in which he portrayed a tragic, languid and melancholic Lord Sepulchrave, 76th Earl of Groan. Then, in 2011, when I tackled Peke's trilogy of novels afresh as The History of Titus Groan, he played "The Artist": storyteller, character and what might, perhaps, be best described as a possible 'ghost of Mervyn Peake'; he was wonderfully moving – haunting in fact – and the series won me the BBC Radio Drama Award. I viewed David as my lucky talisman.
 
So, in 2014, I requested the directors of my six-hour dramatization of T. H. White's The Once and Future King to cast David as the mercurial Merlyn: a role he relished and played to perfection – by turn, wise, funny, solemn and playful; He was T. H. White's living-backwards-through-time wizard to a 'T' ('H' and 'W'!).
 
Had any other radio drama commissions come my way, I would have moved heaven and earth to have found him a role! I adored his acting and I loved the man. 
 
With his resigned, lived-in (almost world-weary) features, he was modest and self-effacing, but – to the delight of any dramatist or director – he was a player with a phenomenal, always surprisingly and intriguingly nuanced, talent and it was always a talent that was but lightly worn. He was, I believe, one of the great (and seriously underrated) actors of our time.
 
The signed photo below is one I took of him in the BBC drama studio during the recording of The History of Titus Groan.
 

 

Monday, 25 July 2022

"NEVER LAUGH AT A LIVE DRAGON!"

Today, I took possession of a DRAGON –– if, that is, a mortal ever CAN possess a dragon (myth and legend would suggests NOT).

He (if it is a 'he', I was away when they did "How to sex a dragon") represents The Tolkien Society's Outstanding Achievement Award for 2022. I am thrilled and indebted to the Society for honouring me with this amazing award and for the delightful lunch with many of my long-standing Tolkien friends at which this magnificent creature was entrusted to my care! 


Friday, 8 July 2022

JUDGED BY ITS COVER 1: The Beckoning Lady

This an occasional series of blog posts featuring what I consider to be great examples of book cover-art, starting with this copy (currently up for auction with a slightly battered wrapper) of Margery Allingham's 1955 detective story, The Beckoning Lady.

The splendid enigmatic dust-wrapper design is by the author's husband Philip ('Pip') Youngman Carter, who was himself both a writer of detective fiction as well as the artist responsible for the covers of several other detective writers.

 


Friday, 24 December 2021

WHERE'S JOSEPH?


One of the inspirations for my book Joseph and the Three Gifts was this amazing image – 'The Adoration of the Magi' (sometimes called 'The Star of Bethlehem') – created by Edward Burne-Jones and rendered as a breathtakingly detailed tapestry by William Morris in 1890 to hang in the chapel of Exeter College, Oxford. 

When, a few years back, this Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece was exhibited at Tate Britain, I spent a long time sitting in front of it, contemplating both its miraculous making and the ancient mysteries of which it speaks. 

The focus of the tapestry is clearly Mary, dressed in eye-drawing blues and wine red and separated from the worshiping Magi by the ethereal presence of the floating, green-winged, star-nursing angel.

But what later caught my eye and riveted my questioning mind was the figure on the left of the image: an old man, slightly stooped, clutching a bundle kindling, gathered perhaps to build a fire to warm the mother and babe on a dark, cold night... 

A woodcutter? No, the halo dictates his identity as Joseph, foster father to the Christ child. In the tangled foliage at his feel lies a small hatchet as if dropped in his astonishment – on returning from his fuel-gathering – as he beholds the scene of great nobles bowing before his wife and the baby who looks back at them with old, wise eyes.

What struck me was that Joseph was left out of the central action of the scene: was on the periphery of the tableau: an attendant, but minor, figure in the drama. 

So began my slow discovery that, again and again, in images from great art to all manner of popular depictions – including nativity plays and Christmas cards – Joseph's fate is almost always on the fringes of an event of cataclysmic timelessness...

Some months later, in Venice, the story of Joseph and Three Gifts came to me and led to its eventual publication as a book and recent serialisation on BBC radio.

This Christmas, we received a card from some old friends featuring the Burne-Jones/Morris tapestry –– but in being necessarily truncated to fit the designated envelope-size, guess who got trimmed out of the picture? 

 


Not in this instance, obviously, but – just maybe – for a few readers and listeners I've helped put Joseph back where he belongs in this age-old tale that we love to tell and share year-on-year, century-after-century... 

 

CLICK here to find 'Joseph and the Three Gifts' read by Alex Jennings (5 Episodes available until 21/1/2022)

CLICK here to find the book of the radio series!

 

Thursday, 23 December 2021

O, CHRISTMAS TREE


However pagan its origins, I have never lost (and I hope I shall never lose) my affection for the Christmas Tree: real or artificial it seems to me to be an enduring symbol of enduring life in midst of the bleak death of winter-tide. 

 


Until 2019, our Christmases were for many years celebrated in Venice where our Christmas tree was this small glass tree (hung with Father-Christmas-decorations) made by the skilled craftsman of F.G.B. di Bubacco Giorgio, a little shop occupying the bottom part of a former campanile in Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, just in front of our Venetian home-from-home, Hotel Ala.

 

 

This year our little Santa-tree sits the alongside a Klimt Friendship Tree, made on the Venetian island of Murano, that was the last Christmas gift from a very dear Venetian friend who passed away a few months ago.

 


Knowing that Covid was going to keep us from our much-loved La Serenissima this December, we invested in a new artificial tree which decked out in baubles and other dangling odds and ends looks like this...

 

 

I am especially fond of a set of plastic birds that are now approaching 70-years-old and have been part of Sibley Christmases since I was a very small child. I think they came from F W Woolworth Company, now long-gone but once a popular fixture on pretty much every British high street. 

I dare say, at the time, these birds cost no more than a few pence each, but as they 'fly' around the tree, catching the lights, they bring back so many memories of Christmases long gone: some happy, some sad; some wonderfully celebratory and others, truthfully, better forgotten and laid to rest...


 


 

Every family Christmas tree is, I suppose, a totemic symbol: memorializing in the present, events from the past and carrying them softly, happily – occasionally regretfully, but always hopefully – towards the next new year; the next, as yet unwritten, pages of our future...


Wednesday, 15 December 2021

AWAY IN A MANGER

 

 

Dating from circa 1954, when I was about five years old, this was my first-ever concept of the Nativity. 

It was – and still is – a cheap, naively designed, gaudily and crudely painted, and indiscriminately glitter-splattered plastic product of the type of Christmas decorations that were, at the time, ubiquitously 'Made in Hong Kong'. 

However, to my young eyes, it seemed – and, oddly, still seems – a simply conceived and roughly presented icon that represents the uncomplicated, yet infinitely mysterious truth at the heart of the Christmas story. 

There is the Stable, the Star, Mary, Joseph, the Baby and, for good measure, a newborn lamb or two.

And the tree? Well, possibly (though certainly beyond the imagination of my five-year-old self) a symbol, in its livid greenness, of life and growth; or, perhaps, a nod to the Old Gods of the Greenwood or to the Christmas tree of our modern Western era (the forest wildness tamed and brought into our homes to die as sacrifice to the season); or, again, if not too uncomfortable a concept, an evergreen foreshadowing of the harsh-grained Wood of the Cross...?

 

Sunday, 12 December 2021

A WONDERFUL KNOCKER!

 

The knocker caught [Scrooge's] eye. 

"I shall love it as long as I live!" cried Scrooge, patting it with his hand. "I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its face! It's a wonderful knocker!"