Category Archives: Authors and Books
By Sharon Reily, Reference Department
Early on an English summer morning more than two centuries years ago, a young girl ran away with an obscure poet and the two fled to France. She was seventeen years old. He was twenty-two and left behind a pregnant wife and a child. Depending on how you look at it, this was either the beginning of a sordid affair or the very stuff of romance. Either way, there’s much more to the story. The young man, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was a literary genius and became a celebrated Romantic poet. His lover, Mary Godwin, wrote Frankenstein, one of the most famous novels of all time. Today’s date, July 28, marks the 201st anniversary of their elopement in 1814 and the beginning of their tumultuous life together.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born into an aristocratic family on September 4, 1792. Percy enjoyed a life of privilege and was sent to Eton College when he was twelve. After six years at Eton, where he became known for his anti-authoritarian views and began writing poetry and prose, he entered Oxford University in 1810. At Oxford he and a friend, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, influenced each other’s growing rejection of societal rules. Their collaboration on a pamphlet titled The Necessity of Atheism resulted in their expulsion from Oxford. Percy’s father, angered by his expulsion and refusal to renounce the pamphlet’s atheist ideas, cut him off financially until he came of age two years later. While living in poverty, Percy eloped with sixteen-year-old Harriet Westbrook.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s childhood has elements of “Cinderella,” complete with a malevolent stepmother. Mary was the child of two renowned freethinkers – reformer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women), and William Godwin, noted writer, philosopher, and atheist. Mary Wollstonecraft died days after Mary’s birth on August 30, 1797. William then married Mary Jane Clairmont, a widow with two young children. The new Mrs. Godwin favored her children over Mary and was jealous of William’s attention to her. She made life difficult for Mary and promoted her children’s education at the expense of Mary’s. Despite Mrs. Godwin’s efforts, Mary received an excellent education. She had access to her father’s library, listened to his discussions with other leading intellectuals, and immersed herself in her late mother’s writings. Due to clashes with her stepmother, Mary was sent to live with the Baxter family in Scotland. Here she finally found a loving family, and began to focus on her writing.
On a visit home in 1812, fifteen-year-old Mary met Percy Shelley, an admirer of her father. Percy visited the Godwin home often and became friendly with Mary, whom he recognized as an intellectual soulmate. Percy resented that his wife Harriet, preoccupied with one child and pregnant with another, no longer made him the center of attention.
In 1814, Mary and Percy met again, began spending time together, and fell in love. William Godwin forbade the relationship and Mary promised not to see Percy. But after Percy threatened to commit suicide, she agreed to flee to France with him. Mary’s stepsister, Jane Claire Clairmont, accompanied them. Mary’s stepmother followed in hot pursuit to try to stop the elopement. She caught up with the three at the French port of Calais, but couldn’t persuade them to return with her. When the two lovers ran out of money and returned to England, William Godwin wouldn’t see them, and didn’t speak to Mary for almost four years. Percy’s father, angered by his son’s abandonment of Harriet, cut off his allowance, and Percy had to spend months on the run to avoid creditors.
The couple experienced ups and downs over the next few years. In 1815, Mary was devastated by the death of her premature infant. Their finances improved when Percy received money after his grandfather died. In early 1816, Mary gave birth to their second child, William. A few months later, the couple visited Lord Byron and Mary’s stepsister Jane Claire Clairmont (Byron’s lover at the time) in Switzerland. One rainy afternoon, Byron suggested that his guests each write a ghost story. Only nineteen-year-old Mary finished her story, which eventually became the novel Frankenstein. In Mary’s novel, scientist Victor Frankenstein animates a creature from dismembered corpses. The enormous gentle but hideous creature is rejected and abandoned by Frankenstein. As the creature fails to find the love and companionship it craves, it becomes violent and brutal. Published anonymously in 1818 with a preface by Percy, it became one of the most popular works of the Romantic period.
Good and Bad Times
Percy and Mary returned to England in 1816 to face back-to-back tragedies. Mary’s half-sister committed suicide and a few weeks later, Percy’s wife Harriet killed herself. Harriet’s death allowed Percy and Mary to wed. Percy’s efforts to gain custody of his two children with Harriet were blocked by her family’s claims that his poetry (especially free love and atheism promoted in the political epic Queen Mab) showed him to be an unfit parent. In March of 1818, the Shelleys settled in Italy, where Percy became part of an expatriate artistic community centered on Lord Byron. There Percy wrote some of his best work – Prometheus Unbound, “Ode to the West Wind,” “The Cloud, “To a Skylark,” and “Ode to Liberty.” Sadly, their two children, William and Clara, died a year apart, in 1818 and 1819. Mary gave birth to a son, Percy Florence, in November 1819.
By 1822, the Shelleys had settled on the Bay of San Terenzo in Italy. They were joined by Edward Williams and his wife, Jane. Percy, disappointed in his marriage, began a flirtation with Jane and wrote several poems to her. In June, Mary almost died after the miscarriage of her fifth child. In July, shortly before Percy’s thirtieth birthday, he and Edward Williams drowned when their boat sank in a storm.
Mary devoted herself to caring for Percy Florence, the only one of her five children to reach adulthood. She was also dedicated to maintaining her husband’s literary legacy. She collected and edited Percy’s poetry and wrote his biography. She continued to write the rest of her life, and was able to provide Percy Florence with an excellent education at Harrow and Cambridge University. Mary died of a brain tumor in February of 1851.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department Harper Lee has published a new book, after over 50 years of saying she would never write another book!
There has been some discussion as to whether Go Set a Watchman was published without Ms. Lee’s consent. Her lawyer, for most of her adult life, was her older sister, who passed away a couple of years ago. She did a valiant job of protecting Harper Lee’s legacy. And now with failing sight and hearing, many were questioning whether or not someone was taking advantage of her ill health. The state of Alabama actually investigated claims of elder abuse and interviewed Ms. Lee, but found the claims unfounded. The last we’ve read and heard is that Ms. Lee has all her faculties and does indeed know what’s what and she did indeed authorize the release of her new book.
According to HarperCollins Publishers, which purchased the North American rights to publish Go Set A Watchman, Ms. Lee’s new book was written in the 1950s. “In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman. It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn’t realized it had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.” It was found by Ms. Lee’s friend and lawyer Tonja Carter last fall, in what was described as a secure place. Reportedly, she found the new manuscript attached to an older edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. She thought it was Lee’s first novel; then realized the story was set later, and the characters were older as well.
Go Set a Watchman is set during the mid-1950s, twenty years after To Kill A Mockingbird. Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus. She has to face both personal and political issues as she tries to understand her father better and her own feelings about Maycomb. The title comes from the Bible – Jeremiah 21:6 “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” “ Most critics have said that this quote alludes to Atticus who Scout sees as the watchman or caretaker of Maycomb.
The Wall Street Journal will publish the first chapter online on July 10, four days before the July 14th publication date. For those who’d rather listen than read, WSJ will also be publishing the first chapter of the audiobook, narrated by Reese Witherspoon, that day as well.
And yes, we will have copies of the book available for check out on July 14. You can put a hold on the book now. Read the rest of this entry →
Garfield, the fat marmalade cat we all love, sauntered into our lives on June 19, 1978. Little did we know that he would be even more popular after thirty-seven years!
Jim Davis, Garfield’s creator if you didn’t know, studied art in college and went straight to work for the creator of Tumbleweeds comic strip. He actually started out with a gnat character, but soon realized that there were no comic strips about cats. Enter Garfield. He named the cat after his grandfather (who in turn was named after President Garfield), and based the cynical cat on all the cats he’d ever met, all rolled into one. (Makes you wonder if he ever knew a cat that liked lasagna as much as Garfield does.) It debuted in 41 newspapers. After several months, it was pulled by at least one newspaper; the readers raised such a hue and cry that it was reinstated and was never pulled again.
Garfield so quickly became a sensation that Jim Davis stated Paws, Inc., to manage the worldwide rights of the character. As we all know, there have been books, movies, merchandise and more sold with the famous Garfield grin on them. His company Paws, Inc., has started a philanthropic arm helping with restoring wetlands, forests and prairies. He has won an award from the National Arbor Day foundation for building the first all-natural wastewater plant for commercial use.
So now when you read your daily Garfield carton/comic (and let’s be honest, you always read it) you can enjoy it more now know that Jim Davis is sharing his wealth with the world. And many readers are truly happy that John finally has a girlfriend.
• The Garfield comic strip is read in over 2100 newspapers by at least 200 million people
• Jim Davis does have one cat, named Nermal, and a dog named Pooky
• He enjoys gardening, golf, fishing and being with his family, including grandchildren
• Garfield is the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world, according to Guinness World Records
• Garfield was born at Mama Leoni’s Italian Restaurant, where he developed his love of lasagna
• In 1982, Garfield was on the cover of People Magazine
• John Arbuckle, Garfield’s caretaker, has a job at a Lexus dealership in Tulsa
• Garfield.com is the strip’s official website, containing archives of past strips along with games and an online store (also apps for Android and iOS)
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
156 years ago he was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 22.
In 1876, he began medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with a specialty in treating syphilis. While he was studying medicine, he wrote a few short stories and at least one medical paper. After getting his degree he worked as a physician on two ocean voyages, one, the Hope of Peterhead (a whaling ship) going to Greenland and back and one, The Mayumba, sailing along the West African coast. (This would explain his later interest in the Marie Celeste, a ship found floating on the ocean with no one aboard. No one has yet solved this mystery, although several have made creditable suggestions)
In 1882, he opened his physician’s office in Portsmouth, after briefly having a partner. Since his practice was slow in getting off the ground, he started writing fiction again. In 1890, he went to Vienna to study ophthalmology and soon after graduating, moved his practice to London. He again struggled to bring in patients and again turned to writing. He was married twice and had five children, the last of whom died in 1977!
A Study in Scarlet was his first Holmes and Watson short story. The sequel The Sign of Four soon followed. It is well-known that he based his Holmes character on his former teacher Joseph Bell; even Robert Louis Stevenson recognized the similarity. Early on he wanted to write historical fiction. We all owe a debt of gratitude to his mother, who told him, “You won’t! You can’t. You mustn’t!” He wrote most of his Holmes stories between 1890 and 1893. In December of 1893, he had Holmes and Moriarty plunge off Reichenbach Falls—the outcry was so great he had to bring back Holmes, and went on to write several Holmes and Watson novels. He was successful with his historical fiction novels, written before, during and after his Holmes stories and novels.
He wrote two works on the Boer War, which probably gained him a knighthood from Edward VII. He personally investigated two unsolved cases, resulting in exonerating both of the men convicted of the crimes. His actions in these cases led to legal reform in the U.K.
After the deaths of several members of his family, including his son Kingsley, he fell into depression and became interested in spiritualism, where he found solace from his grief. He died from a heart attack on July 7, 1930. There is a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Edinburgh, close to where he was born. The epitach on his grave stone reads:
Author Conan Doyle
Knight, Patriot and Man of Letters
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
Would you read it in the car?
Would you read it over thar?
Everyone from near and far
Will enjoy Seuss’ latest star.
Although Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, passed away more than two decades ago, his unique and enduring talent keeps yielding amazing treasures. According to the publisher Random House, Geisel’s widow Audrey was remodeling their home after his death in 1991 when she found a box filled with pages of his writing and sketches. It was set aside and rediscovered 22 years later, in the fall of 2013 by Audrey Geisel and Claudia Prescott, Ted’s longtime secretary and friend. Among other work, they found the complete text and illustrations for What Pet Should IGet?
Told in Dr. Seuss’ signature rhyming style and featuring the same brother and sister from his 1960 classic One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, the tale perfectly captures the childhood milestone of choosing a pet and also underscores a valuable life lesson: making a choice can be really hard, but sometimes you just have to persevere. An added bonus to What Pet Should I Get? is an epilogue by the editor that discusses Dr. Seuss’ creative process, his interest in animals, and the fabulous “Seussian” creatures throughout his work.
After Ted died of cancer at the age of 87, Audrey was placed in charge of all publishing and licensing matters, and she remains a fierce guardian of her late husband’s legacy. “While undeniably special, it is not surprising to me that we found this because Ted always worked on multiple projects and started new things all the time—he was constantly writing and drawing and coming up with ideas for new stories,” said Audrey in a statement on the website Seussville.com. “It is especially heartwarming for me as this year also marks twenty-five years since the publication of the last book of Ted’s career, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
What Pet Should I Get? will be published by Random House Children’s Books on July 28, 2015. Of course, you can celebrate this prolific and amazing author at any time by stopping in the Children’s Department at WCPL and checking out our selection of Dr. Seuss titles.
Read them, read them, you will see
They are fun as fun can be!
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (January 27, 1832-January 14, 1898 — and yes, his birthday is this month) was better known by his nom de plume, Lewis Carroll. Although he is remembered primarily for his literary works, Dodgson was also a mathematician, logician, educator, Anglican deacon, inventor, and photographer.
Dodgson’s most famous writings are Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (1865), its sequel Through The Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871, and which includes the poems “Jabberwocky” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter”) and the poem The Hunting of the Snark, all of which are examples of the genre of literary nonsense. Dodgson’s creations were not limited to that genre, however. He also penned several epic poems (Phantasmagoria, also published as Rhyme?And Reason?), poetry collections (Three Sunsets and Other Poems), and numerous writings about mathematics and logic.
Factual information on Dodgson’s life from 1858-1863 is scarce. His personal diaries from that time are sporadic; large portions of some of the volumes are missing, and some years are completely absent. Hence, there are quite a few improbable and controversial stories about him that proliferated and became accepted even without any evidence to support them. It has been suggested by some of Dodgson’s biographers that he had an improper interest in young females; however, his personal diaries and letters reflect that he was keenly interested in adult women, and enjoyed numerous relationships with single and married women, some of which were deemed somewhat scandalous by the social dictates of the Victorian era. Dodgson’s nephew and biographer Stuart Dodgson Collingwood wrote that children appealed to Dodgson primarily because he was an educator at heart, and he saw in them the best slate to work upon. Collingwood also says that Dodgson had an uncanny gift for making even the dullest subjects interesting.
Dodgson’s life changed drastically in many ways after the overwhelming commercial success of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland as the fame of his pen name “Lewis Carroll” spread rapidly throughout the world. He was bombarded with fan mail and often with unwanted attention. Dodgson also began earning significant sums of money from his writing, yet he remained at Oxford in various capacities until his death. The sequel to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland was published in late 1871 (although the title page of the first edition erroneously lists 1872 as the publication date) and was entitled Through The Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. The mood of this book is slightly darker, and perhaps is a reflection of the changes in Dodgson’s life since the publication of the first Alice book.
Whether your taste runs to Alice’s fanciful adventures down the rabbit-hole or through the looking-glass, or to Dodgson’s/Carroll’s beautiful and often biting poetic verse, certainly there are worse ways to spend a winter’s afternoon than curled up with a volume of one of his marvelous creations.
By Howard Shirley, Teen Library Assistant
“Then what is Durin’s Day?” asked Elrond.“
The first day of the dwarves’ New Year,” said Thorin, “is as all should know the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter. We still call it Durin’s Day when the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together. But this will not help us much, I fear, for it passes our skill in these days to guess when such a time will come again.”
The Hobbit, ‘A Short Rest’
Fortunately, while it may pass the skill of Thorin and Co. (who clearly spent more time looking for gold underground than looking up at the heavens), it does not pass our skill to discover the date of Durin’s Day. All one needs is a copy of The Hobbit, a good lunar calendar, and an understanding of what is meant by the terms “Autumn” and “Winter” in the mind of an expert on Medieval English Literature, which Tolkien himself was.
Lunar calendars are easy. Most calendars today already depict the moon’s phases, and if not, the Internet provides easy access to lunar information for any region and day on Earth. At this point, we need only consult The Hobbit to see what characteristics of the lunar cycle are associated with Durin’s Day.
From Thorin’s conversation with Elrond we see that “Durin’s Day” assumes that the moon and sun are visible at the same time in the sky. Such an event is not unusual; indeed throughout the year both the sun and the moon will be visible in the sky together, sometimes at dawn, sometimes throughout the morning or the afternoon, and sometimes at sunset. But which of these moments is meant by Thorin’s description? And since this happens many times in the traditional “Autumn” months of September, October and November, which month is meant and which phase is being described? If we go merely by Thorin’s description, Durin’s Day could cover many days in the year, and potential several days in a row! Yet clearly in the story Durin’s Day is indeed a specific day that happens only once a year (and if you read the story, that fact is crucial to the plot). So any given day when the moon and the sun are seen together is not necessarily Durin’s Day, even if it’s Autumn and even if it’s about to become Winter.
Which Moon Is It?
The first thing to determine is which phase of the moon applies. As it circles the Earth, the moon undergoes different phases depending on the amount of sunlight or Earth-shadow which strikes the moon’s surface. Although the progression is gradual, these are typically referred to as a New Moon (when the moon is on the sunlit side of the Earth and cannot be seen either during the day or at night), a waxing crescent (when the moon is only visible as a crescent shape; waxing means that shape is becoming more lit), a half-moon (equal parts light and shadow, appearing as a semi-circle), a waxing gibbous moon (meaning more than half is lit, sort of like a squished circle), and a Full Moon (all sunlight and no shadow). From this point the lit portion of the moon grows smaller, or “wanes,” giving a waning gibbous moon, a half-moon, a waning crescent moon, and finally back to New Moon again. In this context, “the last moon of Autumn” is not the last night that a moon can be seen before it “disappears” as a New Moon, but rather the entire cycle from New Moon to New Moon. This is important to consider, as this means that Durin’s Day comes as the moon’s cycle overlaps the “threshold of Winter” (the meaning of which we will examine later). Whichever full cycle of moon is in the sky on the last day of Autumn and the first day of Winter before becoming a New Moon again is therefore the “last moon of Autumn.” So the relevant moment of Durin’s Day therefore is when that moon first appears after the New Moon, not when it disappears for the New Moon. (Why isn’t Durin’s Day the date of the phase called the New Moon? Because the moon has to be visible in the sky with the sun in order to be Durin’s Day. The New Moon phase is never visible, so Durin’s Day is never the exact date of the New Moon.)
This is further echoed by The Hobbit when Durin’s Day arrives in the book:
If he lifted his head he could see a glimpse of the distant forest. As the sun turned west there was a gleam of yellow upon its far roof, as if the light caught the last pale leaves. Soon he saw the orange ball of the sun sinking towards the level of his eyes. He went to the opening and there pale and faint was a thin new moon above the rim of Earth.
The Hobbit, ‘On the Doorstep.’
Later in that same scene the book reads:
The gleam went out, the sun sank, the moon was gone, and evening sprang into the sky.
Thus, moonset and sunset occur together in this passage. What we are left with is a visible “new moon—“ obviously the silver sliver of a waxing crescent, not the invisible New Moon—which sets either just before or just after the sun.
Visibility is a debatable issue here, but in general anywhere from 24 to 36 hours after the New Moon the fresh crescent phase will reveal a visible arc. You and I might strain to see this in our overly-lit cities, but in Bilbo’s time and place—sitting on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain, far from any city lights or even the sight of Laketown, that fingernail of moon would be clear to the keen-eyed hobbit.
So, for the moon in question we have the first visible crescent after a New Moon, for the cycle that overlaps with the “threshold of Winter” as the beginning of Durin’s Day. But we’re not done yet…
When’s the Threshold?
This is the single largest point of confusion about dating Durin’s Day. What did Tolkien mean by “Autumn on the threshold of Winter?” Various arguments have been put forth for this. Some go with the date of Winter being the Winter Solstice, placing the “last moon of Autumn” as being the moon cycle that precedes the moon cycle that coincides with the Winter Solstice (usually around December 21st; the date varies each year). Such arguments place Durin’s Day as occurring in the last weeks of November or the first weeks of December.
However, this idea is based on assuming that the Winter Solstice marks the start of Winter. It does not. Rather the Winter Solstice is actually the mid-point of Winter. This may seem odd when you think about things like freezing temperatures and snow, which in the Northern Hemisphere range typically from December through February. But those are merely the climatic effects of the season, not the markers of the season itself. The day of the Winter Solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year. While the effects of winter are just building up steam, as it were, the Earth and Sun are actually progressing back towards Spring!
The text of The Hobbit goes further to suggest that a late November or early December date for Durin’s Day simply doesn’t fit. The “doorstep” of the Lonely Mountain is described as being a hidden, pleasant area adorned with a carpet of grass, and the valley below it as having grass “for the ponies to eat” (The Hobbit, ‘On the Doorstep’). Obviously, this implies living, green grass, as can still be found in middle and late fall, not the dead brown grass of early winter, which would not be refreshing to either ponies, dwarves, or a lone hobbit. Keep in mind, too, that The Hobbit is set in an environment analogous to early 20th century rural Europe, the climate Tolkien was familiar with, where late November and early December are marked by mostly barren and dead vegetation, if not snow-covered ground. Since Tolkien himself drew the mountain as having a snowy peak, presumably year-round, this implies that the lower slopes of the mountain themselves have a significant elevation, and thus would be subject to colder temperatures fairly early in winter. Yes, that’s a supposition, but the likelihood of green grass thriving on a mountain slope in December or even November remains on the thin side. But note also that Bilbo can still see the pale leaves of Mirkwood, even from the heights of the Mountain. Given the distance from forest to mountain, it’s unlikely even a sharp-sighted hobbit could discern leaves on mostly barren trees, as would mark late November. So these natural details imply a climatic season more in line with October or very early November than the onset of climatic winter in December.
So what then determines the “Threshold of Winter” for the dwarves? A clue can be taken from the very nature of Durin’s Day. The key elements of Durin’s Day are not the progress of climate or the changes of the seasonal cycle—neither of which the dwarves would much note, living their lives largely underground—nor even the progression of the stars (as would fascinate the elves), but rather the position of the sun and moon, the sole sources of natural light that would enter the dwarves’ underground halls.
If the progression of the sun and moon are then the method for determining Durin’s Day and the Dwarven New Year, then the progression of sun and moon are probably the determining factor in their dating of the seasons. We can see this significance in the earlier passage where Durin’s Day is first mentioned—when Elrond spies the magical “moon-letters” on Thror’s Map in Rivendell, and notes:
“They can only be seen when the moon shines behind them, and what is more, with the more cunning sort it must be a moon of the same shape and season as the day when they were written… These must have been written on a midsummer’s eve in a crescent moon, a long while ago.”
The Hobbit, ‘A Short Rest’
Clearly for the dwarves, the position of the moon is significant in everything to do with their calendar.
So what does this mean for Durin’s Day and the “threshold of Winter?” It means that the threshold of Winter is based on the position of sun and moon, not on weather. You or I might call it “Autumn” when the first chill hits the air, and we begin to notice the color of the fall leaves begin to rise amid the green. But not a dwarf. A dwarf calls it “Autumn” when the sun and moon say it is Autumn, and Winter when they say it is Winter. We must then go back to look at events like the Summer and Winter Solstices as our marking points. Using these as our guideposts, knowing that the dwarves would define these events as the midpoint of Summer and Winter, we see that the other seasons would be similarly defined. So, are there any solar and lunar events that mark Spring and Autumn? Yes—the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.
The Equinoxes mark the days of the year in which day and night are exactly the same length—clearly an event of significance to dwarves when it comes to the light entering their caverns! The Autumnal Equinox occurs in mid-September, usually around Sept. 21st. Like the Winter Solstice, it marks not the beginning of Autumn, but rather the mid-point of it.
So, to the dwarves, if the Autumnal Equinox is the mid-point of Autumn, and the Winter Solstice is the mid-point of Winter, what then is the “threshold of Winter?” Why, it is naturally the point when the sun is mid-way between Autumn and Winter, occurring sometime in late October or early November. In fact, we celebrate this very point in time today—Halloween. In the original pagan cultures of Celtic and Germanic Europe, the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice marked the time when Winter rose to claim control over the world. It was also a time when the Underworld supposedly opened—an idea whose echoes we see when the last light of Durin’s Day reveals the secret passage into the depths of the Lonely Mountain! (Tolkien, who held the Chair of Medieval Literature at Oxford, knew his mythology.) So is Halloween Durin’s Day?
No. Because while Halloween might be “the threshold of Winter,” it is not necessarily the date when “the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together.” But it is the moon cycle that overlaps Halloween which points us to Durin’s Day. One therefore need only determine what cycle of the moon coincides with Halloween, and then look for the day on which that cycle is first visible in the evening sky—the first night of the new crescent moon, shining alongside the setting sun. This day is Durin’s Day.
And what does that mean for us? Well, according to The Farmer’s Almanac, in 2014, the first visible crescent moon* after the New Moon, with a cycle that overlaps Halloween (“the threshold of Winter,”) is listed by the U.S. Naval Observatory as occurring on October 25, with a moonrise time of 7:39 AM, CDST**, and a moonset time of 6:25 PM, CDST. Sunset occurs at 5:01 PM, CDST. Thus, our Durin’s Day this year is Saturday, October 25th.
So, on that evening, go out and look westward for the thin moon in the early evening sky. And as the sun sets, have your key ready– for a thrush may knock nearby, and the last light of Durin’s Day might reveal a passageway to dwarven gold.
*Although the New Moon is on October 23rd, the following evening of the 24th only 1% of the surface is technically illuminated, which is invisible to the naked eye—even a hobbit’s. On October 25th, the illumination rises to 4%, which is readily visible as a thin crescent, low in the western sky. Moon phase visibility data from Stardate.Org
Moonrise, moonset, sunrise and sunset data from the United States Naval Observatory. You can look up this information for any year using their online table creator.
** Central Daylight Saving Time
All text and illustration references: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by. J.R.R. Tolkien, 70th Anniversary Edition with illustrations by J.R.R. Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2007, Copyright 1995 by The J.R.R. Tolkien Trust Company.
In case you missed our July Twitter Book Club chat, we caught up with PRETTY IN INK author Lindsey J. Palmer and she answered some of our burning questions about her first novel, Pretty In Ink!
- What made you choose to use so many points of view?
I wanted to capture the many voices on the magazine’s masthead as a way to offer a 360-degree view of this complex world. The perspective of a newly hired assistant, for example, is worlds away from the perspective of an executive who’s afraid of getting ousted—so switching between various narrators felt like a rich and interesting way to tell the story while giving voice to this range of viewpoints.
- Which character do you identify with most?
The various characters are a kind of mosaic of my mind—they collectively represent all of the perspectives and opinions and feelings I had at various points during my seven years toiling in the magazine industry. So there’s not one particular character that I identify with more than any other. That said, I did very much enjoy writing the chapter narrated from the intern’s point of view. An office intern has such a unique perspective because she’s at the company but not of the company–she’s got more than a visitor’s pass, but she’s temporary, too, trying out this career to see if it fits. She may be naive about a lot of the inner workings of the office, but the fact that she’s less entrenched affords her a totally fresh viewpoint, which from a writer’s perspective was fun to inhabit after taking on the points-of-view of so many longtime staffers. Also, one might say that the intern in Pretty in Ink has more of a heart than the other characters, and yet she also commits what is arguably the least ethical act of the novel. For these reasons, she was an interesting character to develop.
- What real experiences inspired the various situations in the book?
So many! There are very few specific moments in the book that I pulled directly from real life, but obviously after working for so long at women’s magazines, I not only felt I knew this world like a native, I also believed it would be an ideal backdrop for a novel. So the feel of the world is real, even if the specifics aren’t. Plus, the particular era of magazines that I write about—one in which editor-in-chiefs gets fired when sales are down, setting in motion upheaval and staff reshufflings—is unfortunately quite real. The recession hasn’t ever really ended for print magazines, because of so much competition from blogs and webzines and brands’ own free online content. The basic shape of the plot that unfolds in Pretty in Ink is a fairly common one in the magazine industry.
- Why did you leave so many loose ends at the end of the book, not everything gets resolved for each character? Was this a reflection of one of your themes?
With such a large cast of characters, inevitably not all of their issues are going to be resolved or tied up in a bow. I actually like a novel that leaves a reader wondering a bit at the end. I think it’s fun to imagine what’s going on with certain characters beyond the last page, to make up your own endings.
- What was your reason for including a chapter from Ed’s POV, especially since his is the only male POV included?
A mail person has such an interesting window into an office place. He occupies a place there, but he’s also a visitor and thus can be a voyeur. I wanted Ed’s short chapter to be a vignette that’s a bit of a break from the inner workings of the staff. I hoped his perspective might add a different kind of texture and also provide a sense of scale.
- Why wasn’t there a chapter from Mim’s POV?
I wanted Mimi to remain a bit of a mystery—this was a story more about the staff than about its boss. That said, I did try to get a bit into Mimi’s head. Up until the point when she goes out to drinks with the managing editor, Mimi has been cast as a villain. Out to drinks, she becomes more empathetic and complicated. Despite her position of power, as a new boss she faces insecurity and loneliness. What better way to get her feelings out in the open, I felt, than to get Mimi a little drunk? It was a challenge to write, but a fun one.
- What do you want your readers to take away from this book?
There’s not necessarily a moral to the story, but what I do hope readers take away from the book is a closer consideration of the role of work and the workplace in our lives. Workplaces are worlds unto themselves, with their own rules (both official and unofficial), social codes, vibes, and hierarchies. And the people who populate these worlds have such a range of relationships to them — some see their jobs as merely a means to pay the bills, and others hinge their whole identities on them. There’s no correct attitude to have towards your workplace and your coworkers, of course, but for most of us, these are the places where, and the people with whom, we’ll be spending the majority of our waking hours for most of our adult lives. For that reason alone, it seems worth it to me to think about what that place and those people mean to us, and how we do or don’t survive or thrive in these settings. Offices are frequently depicted on-screen (i.e. in Parks and Recreation, Veep, and The Office), but more rarely on the page. Even if my readers have never picked up a women’s magazine let alone worked as an editor creating one, I hope they’ll be able to relate to some of the work scenarios depicted in the book and, as a result, put some renewed thought into the role that workplaces and coworkers play in our lives.
- Were any characters based off of yourself?
Not really—the cast of characters is a composite of many mixed feelings I and many others have had about the world of women’s magazines.
- Are you working on another book now?
I’m revising my next novel, If We Lived Here, which will be released in April 2015. It’s the story of a couple about to cohabitate for the first time, and they embark optimistically on a home hunt that quickly devolves quite disastrously. The story looks at how we make romantic relationships work over the long run, particularly during times of difficulty, and also how friendships evolve, especially as people’s lives diverge in different directions.
Thanks so much Lindsey!
Join us on TWITTER on Thursday, August 28 when we’ll discuss Allison Winn Scotch’s novel, THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME!