Travels and Tolkien

The journey here yesterday was more hassle than expected. We set off a bit late, and picked up B from her respite care place on the other side of Brussels. At that point I had to decide whether to head for Calais by going north to Ninove and then west via Gent and the coast, or aternatively south to Engien and then west via Enghien, Ath, and Lille. We’d heard a traffic bulletin to the effect that the motorway was closed around Ath shortly after we left home, but then later traffic bulletins didn’t refer to the problem (and did say that the Gent road was pretty congested), so I headed south as it appeared to be the shorter route. We were listening to CDs in the car but the radio is set to interrupt with traffic bulletins as and when it picks them up.

The earlier traffic bulletin was right. Ath was completely closed off as a result of a huge explosion which had killed 15 people, mosty firefighters. The whole surrounding countryside was closed down in a state of emergency; Enghien was full of grim-faced policemen preventing anyone from heading west. It’s odd that the later traffic bulletins made no reference to it; OK we happened to be picking up the Flemish service, but the first one we heard, which did mention the problem, was also in Flemish. Maybe they just asumed everyone was listening to the news – obviously it displaced everything else in Belgian media yesterday (and probably today as well). But we didn’t get the details until listening to the BBC once we were in England.

The upside for us was that our new route took us further south via Mons, and we passed by the front of SHAPE (Supremem Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) which was flying the flags of all the NATO members – now of course including several countries that were either behind the Iron Curtain or part of larger countries or both only 15 years ago. It is rather heartwarming to see visual evidence like that of the reunited Europe. We puzzled for a few minutes about why the alphabetical order semed to have been broken with the Czech Republic between Poland and Romania, and Spain between Denmark and Estonia. Then it occurred to us that this was French orthography – la République Tchèque and Espagne. But it wasn’t consistent for the UK or USA. Now that I think about it, perhaps it was the listing of the countries’ names in their own languages? No, now that I check it out, the Czech for “Czech Republic” is Česka Republika. It must remain a mystery.

We made a mistake after reaching Calais by deciding to press on into the Channel Tunnel immediately and then going for a late lunch at Maidstone service station in Kent. Note for future – the terminal at Calais has a MacDonald’s and is basically child-friendly. Maidstone has a (eurrgh) Wimpy and is not. However one of the Eurotunnel staff took a liking to F, who is now old enough to get really excited by the idea of going into a tunnel under the sea. And let’s face it, it is fundamentally thrilling; when I was his age, the idea of a channel tunnel seemed completely absurd. Now it’s an extraordinarily ordinary thing to do – turn up, drive your car onto the train, and 35 minutes later you’re in England. (Or France, depending.) And we made it to the in-laws’ by about 7.30 UK time, so total journey of around ten hours (probably lengthened by an hour and a half by the explosion in Ath).

Having got here I’ve found the book about Tolkien which I glanced at last summer and that I thought was by Tom Shippey. Turns out it’s not; it was Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien by Paul Kocher, first published in 1972. I skimmed through it this morning (not with sufficient attention to make it worth adding to the booklog) and concluded a) that Shippey’s book is still quite an advance from the Tolkienology of 30 years ago but b) that Lin Carter’s book looks even more crap in comparison with what serious academics were already writing about Tolkien.

I’d like to read more about a) Tolkien and Ireland, b) Tolkien and his wife, c) Tolkien and Robert E Howard. Any suggestions?

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