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Endicott West and Middle Earth

Bessie McNicol
Terri Windling, Delia Sherman & I are selling our beloved Endicott West, the house/arts retreat we all put together in Tucson, Arizona some 13 years ago . . . The letters are flying back and forth across the Atlantic, of course, as we three come to terms with this change in our lives, and say good bye to a past and a vision. In one of them, Terri wrote:

A wise woman I know named Ellen Kushner once said this in an interview in Locus magazine: "Now my generation, we're all hitting late-thirties to late-forties. Our concerns are different. If we stick to fantasy, what are we going to do? Traditionally, there's been the coming-of-age [novel] and the quest which is the finding of self. We're past the early stages of that. I can't wait to see what people do with the issues of middle age in fantasy. Does fantasy demand that you stay in your adolescence forever? I don't think so. Tolkien is not juvenile. It's a book about losing things you loved, which is a very middle–aged concern. Frodo's quest is a middle–aged man's quest, to lose something and to give something up, which is what you start to realize in your thirties is going to happen to you. Part of the rest of your life is learning to give things up."

I don't remember saying all that!  But I do recognize both those thoughts as coming from conversations I had with Michael Swanwick, back when I used to visit him in Philadelphia after Philcon.  We'd stay up late talking, and then he'd drive me around the city, showing me local curiosities and dispensing wisdom and pensées - mostly just posing questions, and chewing on them happily together.

I like to quote my sources, so:  Thank you, Michael.

Fortunately, Mr. Swanwick wrote up his thoughts on Tolkien in a gorgeous essay for Karen Haber's Meditations on Middle Earth.  I invited him to speak about them on my public radio show, Sound & Spirit, for one of the last shows I did, The Lord of the Rings - and, Lo!, someone has transcribed his words and put them up on The One Ring Forum, here!*   (You can also listen to the entire 1-hour radio show - including the Swanwick interview - here.)

Oddly enough, speaking of the LOTR S&S show, I just got FB Friended by a guy in Poland with the rather elegant name of Ryszard Viajante Derdzinski who says, "Your broadcasts are famous among the Polish fans of JRR Tolkien. Thanks to you I discovered The Tolkien Ensemble and Varttina."

Wow.  What goes around . . . certainly goes around!  And Finnish women's neo-trad singers Värttinä can't have too many fans.

*Swanwick quote from Sound & Spirit: The Lord of the Rings:
When my son, Sean, was nine years old he told me I had to read him Lord of the Rings because his friend had LOTR read to him and he was only eight years old so Sean was suffering from major loss of prestige.

It was a really wonderful experience to travel through Middle-earth with my son. Every night at bedtime, for months, we'd follow the Hobbits through Middle-earth. And it was really a great experience for both of us, but... as we read, I realized that Sean was hearing a very different story from the one that I was reading. The story that he was hearing was the same one I read when I was sixteen. It was the greatest adventure story in the world. He really loved it, but... as a forty one year old man, what I was hearing was the saddest story in the world. Everybody in that book is in the process of losing everything they hold most dear. And there's nothing they can do about that. Galadriel mourns the withering of Lothlorien. The Elves are leaving Middle-earth. Ents are slowly dying away as a race and turning back into trees. The Shire is changing and not for the better. Frodo loses more than anybody. At the end of the three books, Frodo has lost everything. He's saved the entire world but there is no place for him in all of Middle-earth. All that he can do is go to the Grey Havens and die.

That was an important book. I probably read it 20 times through. I might even have read it 20 times in a row, straight through. And then, at some point as an adult, I went away from it and I was afraid to come back because I was afraid it would be a children's book. And then, I reread it... it's an adult book. There were depths in it I could not appreciate at 16. Sean couldn't appreciate at 9. And you have to have experienced sorrow and loss to be able to appreciate it. Tolkien knew that, if you want to live in this world, the price you have to pay is, at the end of the ride, you have got to die. But that's okay. That's a small price to pay.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 8th, 2013 03:00 pm (UTC)
I used to devoutly listen to S&S on Sunday mornings, and would tape them on my cassette player (those were the days). The LotR one was a favorite, and I've relistened to them many times.

Because of S&S, I was able to get The Hobbitons' CD; it was the last one they sold, actually. (Or so I was informed when I asked about it.)
Dec. 8th, 2013 03:14 pm (UTC)
As I stumble towards forty (I can reach out at touch it now), and stand poised at a life/career juncture that could take me very far away from all things familiar, all of this really resonates with me deeply and poignantly. Thank you.
Dec. 9th, 2013 01:41 am (UTC)
These are exactly my thoughts. What a timely and important perspective. Good luck with your ventures.
Dec. 8th, 2013 04:32 pm (UTC)
A great book is like that; it will mean different things in different life contexts. I have several books that I periodically reread, mileposts in my life's journey.
Katherine Langrish
Dec. 8th, 2013 09:03 pm (UTC)
That's a lovely and wise post, and even though I shall never visit Endicott West, it's good to know it was there, and nurtured so many artists. And now... it's time to let it go.
Dec. 8th, 2013 09:21 pm (UTC)
I looked at the listing when Emma posted a link. It's a lovely place. I would have loved to stay there. But don't cry for my loss, because I've stayed at DHF many times with Judy, on the other side of Tucson.

Here's to Endicott West! May it find new owners who love it.

Dec. 9th, 2013 05:03 am (UTC)
DHF is splendid too, but it and EWest are entirely different flavors of magical, in ways that I'm hard pressed to explain.

Magic. It happens here, in many forms.
Dec. 8th, 2013 10:54 pm (UTC)
Michael Swanwick says:
Our conversations were exactly as you described them, Ellen, but I should credit an essay by Joanna Russ for the original observation, subsequently confirmed by own experience. I think it's important that I not pass off any of Joanna's thoughts as my own, particularly since she was always careful to give credit to her own sources.
Dec. 9th, 2013 12:56 am (UTC)
On Home & Art...
Maybe it was because I never had the fortune of visiting Endicott West, it had the aura of a mythical place. Yet some places because of their nature and history transcend their physicality. This is how, at this time in my life, I've come to regard my material possessions and my artworks for that matter. Though they may no longer be a physical part of me, they will always remain catalysts in who I become.
Deborah Atherton
Dec. 9th, 2013 05:25 am (UTC)
Great post, Ellen
So true about love and loss. It's funny, though, I always thought Lord of the Rings was incredibly sad, and saddest because it is about the loss of the ordinary things that make life good. It's the part the movies missed almost entirely. But for most of us the losses aren't quite so epic or constant, and sometimes change ends up being good--which is what I hope selling the house will be!
Dec. 11th, 2013 05:31 am (UTC)
I'm sad that Endicott West is going away. I hope it gets good new owners. I wish I'd managed to go there at some point. It's not that I never had a chance; it's that I was never ready to take the chance when it came up.

I'm glad it existed, and that a number of people were able to stay there and write many words.
Dec. 12th, 2013 11:25 am (UTC)
Alas, endicott west...
I'm so glad I did have that one chance to visit Endicott West. It was so magical and peaceful, and inspiring. And the coyote songs! And the javelinas streaming past me as I was up writing on the Bunkhouse porch in the middle of the night! The desert! The moonlight!
The stars!

And let's not forget Deb and Mike, the resident staff. When I emerged from my writer's solitude - oh, what great conversation, and dinner -- and Mike was practicing for an upcoming performance, so: free concert right in the living room.

I just looked at the real estate listing -- seriously? That place is a bargain!

- Rosemary

Edited at 2013-12-12 11:26 am (UTC)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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