Saturday, May 30, 2009


This past week Truman G. Madsen died. I have known him for a long time, and like the many other famous people I have known for a long time, he didn’t know me from Adam’s off-ox. When I first started teaching many years ago, Truman was one of those individuals who was frequently asked to address congregations of religious educators in order that they might be benefited from his experience and wisdom. I don’t think that I ever took exception to anything I ever heard him say; I generally took exception when other people took the things that he said out of context and tried to beat me senseless with them.

At the height of his career, Truman was a professor of “Fried Froth” at BYU, as President John Taylor liked to refer to Philosophy. Truman made something more substantial out of the ruminations of self-instructed men. Frequently, those self-interested, meandering thoughts, regurgitated generation after generation by teachers and students alike at universities around the world, became springboards for something of true import and, best of all, even comprehensible when illuminated by his inspiring enthusiasm and clarity.

I am not certain how many books and articles he has written over the years, but he was prolific. I checked the Deseret Book website a few moments ago and he had 14 titles still in print that they were offering to the public. Amazon had 69 books and 6 DVDs in their listing. Brigham Young University has 7 of his addresses at the university available, beginning in 1965 to 2000. The following is a listing of some of the books that have gained some notoriety during the last forty years or so according to one website.

Joseph Smith the Prophet
Eternal Man
Defender of the faith: The B. H. Roberts story
Christ and the inner life
Five Classics by Truman G. Madsen
The highest in us
Four Essays on Love
Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels
The Radiant Life
The Life and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph
Presidents Of The Church: Insights Into Their Lives And Teachings
Jesus of Nazareth (Volumes 1-4)
The Sacrament - Feasting At the Lord's Table
The Temple: Where Heaven Meets Earth
The Concordance of the Doctrinal Statements of Joseph Smith
Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen
How To Stop Forgetting and Start Remembering
How to be Loved and Beloved
B.H. Roberts : the Book of Mormon and the atonement
Philosopher and the Quarterback
The Commanding Image Of Christ
The Temple in antiquity : ancient records and modern perspectives
Joseph Smith among the prophets
House of God: The Promised Blessings of the Temple
BYU Studies Vol. 10 No. 3, 1970 - Institute of Mormon Studies
Joseph Smith - Ein Prophet?
BYU Studies Vol. 13 No. 4, 1973

As I browsed through the Deseret News this morning I came across a tribute to Truman Madsen in which the author referred to Truman as the “Lion of LDS Letters”.

“What a winsome title,” I thought. “Maybe it’s even apt.”

Being of a rather fanciful frame of mind, I wondered what my epitaph composer would come up with when I shuffled off my mortal coil.

There may be some justification for a glorious title of some kind. I have written as much as anyone on the planet about the invented languages of J.R.R. Tolkien. There have been more than twenty books and about fifty articles published during the last 25 years or so that have had my name affixed to them. I have given papers all over the United States and Canada at conferences and conventions on Tolkien’s linguistic genius, and even appeared at Oxford University for another one of my erudite takes on Tolkien’s style of writing. The Tolkien Society of America graced me with one of their Honorary Doctorates several years ago and the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship gave me one of their annual awards for work that I had done on the “Father Christmas Letters”. At one point I was the undisputed authority on the languages of Middle Earth. One day many years ago, I became somewhat flushed with the reception that some of my writings and addresses had generated and effused to Trillium how wonderful it all was. She, the well-grounded soul that she is, carefully, but quickly put all of my hyperbole into perspective.

In reference to a recent article that I had written for “Mythlore” she said, “Zaphod, what is the circulation of ‘Mythlore’?” I said that I supposed that it was in the neighborhood of 1200 to 1300 copies, sent throughout the world to individuals and libraries alike.

“Now,” she continued, “during the next 20 years or so, how many people do you think will sit down with a copy of ‘Mythlore’ and peruse your deathless prose?” Being conservative, but loyal to the journal of the Mythopoeic Society, I said that I would estimate maybe as many as 10,000 people might devote a little time to the subject.

“Okay, I will give that to you, my dear,” as a smile began to play upon her lips. “Can you give me an idea as to the population of this planet?” I estimated the total to be about 6.5 billion.

“So, the relative importance of your wonderful little piece of word-smithery and the readership thereof…?”

Well, this past week also marked another milestone in my sojourn in obscurity. I began reading Christopher Tolkien’s latest addition to his father’s posthumous works, “The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun”. I had always considered myself to really be quite informed about J.R.R. Tolkien’s life and letters (I can tell you what “J.R.R.” stands for). I had managed to read just about everything available on the man prior to 1982 when I received my PhD on his works and I attenuated that research for the next 25 years. Both my Masters and Doctorate degrees focused on Old and Middle English language and literature in an attempt to understand precisely what Tolkien was about in his creative works. I dabbled in Welsh, Finnish, Gothic, Old Icelandic, and a variety of other languages and bodies of literature because I knew that he had at least a passing interest in them. Reading Christopher’s introduction to the “Legend”, however, revealed to me again how woefully ignorant I have been regarding J.R.R. Tolkien’s career and expertise. I told Trillium after I finished the introductory materials that I felt like I had successfully explored what I thought was Mount Tolkien, only to discover that I had merely taken a few steps out of the Valley and had ventured only a short way into the Foothills.

So, what is the gist of all this?

I have decided to come up with my own epitaph, one that reflects that which has been bestowed upon Truman Madsen. While my long-time acquaintance may indeed be the “Lion of LDS Letters”, I have decided that I have become the “Titmouse of Tolkien Trivia”.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Time Enough at Last

Early this morning I had to make a presentation, one that potentially could have great bearing on the lives of those who live in our neighborhood. It was a presentation that I had spent the last week working on, sometimes in the evenings, sometimes throughout the day. It was a topic that had captured my imagination and burned like fire in my mind. Computer files were involved; translating .csv files into a workable format for MS Word Tables. When I finished all of my preparations, burning CDs and printing hardcopies of the resultant tables and the instructions as to how to use them, I was exhausted. I then spent a great deal of time trying to figure out the best way to present an hour's worth of material in less than 15 minutes. I fussed and agonized about it.

This morning I woke up at 2:30 and really could not get back to sleep. When the alarm went off at 5:30 I was certainly ready to get out of bed. In between, during those three hours, I had a series of dreams which seemed to represent a degree of chaos and frustration in my life. In one scene, my office at the Institute had been boxed up in a haphazard way and everything that I had a place for, was out of place. My office has always been a place of order and peace, a haven for me and my mind, and to have it in disarray was disturbing. In addition, I apparently was expected to prepare a lesson in the midst of all that clutter and deliver it in short order. Needless to say, when I finally realized it was all a dream, I was relieved.... sort of. I think perhaps the thought of having to make the presentation at 6:30 on a Sunday morning in a venue that I had not experienced before, was a little too unnerving. Needless to say when the time for the presentation came, it went off without a hitch and several of those in attendance commented on how effectively the material had been presented in such a short period of time.

Was there a message in my dream? No more than what is self-evident. Much of my office from the Institute is still in boxes in the garage, five years after I brought them home. I guess I really don't have a good place to put the little decorations that made my office my own. At some point I am going to have to dispose of the stuff that I treasured because my students had given them to me. Maybe I can no longer afford to have the clutter in the garage. My den is cluttered enough. I think that I have too many outward reminders of my life and not enough changes in my heart and mind because of the people who gave those things to me. I am going to do better. If the whole house were to burn down and every memento lost in the flames, how could I remember what those people meant to me, or even that I knew them at all? I have to be a different sort of man,one worthy of the friendships those trinkets represent. Perhaps I have to be a better man because of the presentation I made this morning, that I, most of all, should be motivated to be what the presentation addressed.

The other scene in my dream this morning had to do with my glasses. I was ready to make my presentation, everything perfectly in order, when my glasses broke; the ear pieces fell off so that I had to resort to holding them up to my eyes by sticking my index finger on the bridge of my nose. Inconvenient and unnerving. In order to give you a sense for what I felt I will review a Twilight Zone episode that I first saw many years ago. It was called "Time Enough at Last".

A fellow named Henry Bemis, an inveterate reader, is mocked by his family and associates for the types of things that he regularly reads, and even for the fact that he reads at all. Without going into the rest of Rod Serling's agenda in this story, let me just say that in the end, the world is destroyed by atomic warfare, and he is the only person left alive. He had been eating lunch in the bank vault when World War III was fought and lost. He is initially distressed to find himself alone until he discovers that the city library has been spared, with all of the hundreds of thousands of books intact. He is overjoyed, finally having the opportunity to read anything and everything he desired without interruption and criticism. It was then (you guessed it) he inadvertently broke his glasses.

I rejoice in the power of literacy, the ability to hear the minds and hearts of people whom I could not know because of the distance of time and space. To lose that ability because of clumsiness or any other accident was and is horrifying to me. I suppose that is why of all of the Twilight Zone episodes I have seen, that is the one I remember the best.

I feel the same way about losing what little mental capacity that I have through stroke or any other brain damage. In some respects this capacity is like a pair of spiriutual glasses. I wouldn't want to break them. The world likes to mock the way right-minded people think and attributes their morally-based views to some sort of mental aberration. The world also has no hesitancy to explain away faith-oriented approaches to living one's life as the product of a frenzied mind. I would rather not give them any opportunity to explain away why I feel the way I do about serious and sacred things. Were I to have a physical aneurysm of some kind, and were able to maintain my conscious faith, I suspect there would be those cynics who would avow that the wrong part of my brain had been damaged, that had the part that supports my faith been destroyed, there would have been an immediate improvement in my overall performance as a human being.

I am glad that I have eyes to see spiritual things or that I have spiritual glasses, if you will. I can discern the minds and hearts of those around me by reading the things which they have chosen to record, weighing them against those things which I seem to know intuitively. I can watch the world as it interacts with itself, learning to distinguish those things which bring peace and harmony to the world and those things which do not. In simple terminology, I can learn for myself to distinguish between good and evil. I am glad that I am a man of faith, one who believes in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. I can look at my own existence, my place in the world, with depth perception, both sets of eyes functioning properly.

I have retired from the workplace. I have, indeed, "time enough at last" to do the things that I really want to do. I hope that I can always remember that those things that I want to do require me to have "glasses", by which I can see how to set my life's "office" in order, that I might be successful in achieving my heart's desire in peace.