I started studying the fantasy field further when I started buying some new bibliographical resources. Four stand out after all these years. The first I bought was H.P. Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature, in the Dover edition with an Introduction by E.F. Bleiler. Not only were Lovecraft's comments a guide for me in reading older supernatural literature, but E.F. Bleiler's many books for Dover were nearly always standouts. Lovecraft's comments in his essay aren't particularly perceptive (they read like over-written book-blurbs, and indeed they have appeared on many book covers), but overall the books he was interested in were usually worth reading. Some of the books he recommended I found early; some were difficult to find in those pre-internet days.
Another early reading guide was Diana Waggoner's The Hills of Faraway: A Guide to Fantasy, which I bought soon after publication in 1978. A few things I especially liked about it was that it gave intriguing comments about the books it covered, as well as references to critical articles about the authors, and it covered a lot of juvenile fantasy that other books didn't. According to the dust-wrapper blurb, Waggoner was working on a historical novel and a series of essays on popular adult literature. Alas, so far as I know, she published nothing else, though for years I hoped and expected that she would.
Another book from 1979 is Fantasy Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide, by Marshall B. Tymn, Kenneth J. Zahorski, and Robert H. Boyer. It has different strengths from Waggoner's book, and they are in some ways complementary. Boyer and Zahorski's names I already knew for their excellent series of anthologies, beginning with The Fantastic Imagination (1977) and The Fantastic Imagination II (1978), which introduced me to the works of Barry Pain, Kenneth Morris, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and others.
One more important reading guide for me also appeared in 1979, and that is Roger C. Schlobin's The Literature of Fantasy: A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography of Modern Fantasy Fiction. While its comprehensiveness was a matter of debate even in 1979, it was pretty inclusive, and had one feature that I especially liked: for single author story collections, and multi-author anthologies, the title of each story was listed, and that was a real plus when searching for specific stories. This volume also has annotations and entries for bibliographies of some writers, which led me to find further things to read. Roger taught for many years at the North Central Campus of Purdue University, in northwest Indiana. He lived in the town of Chesterton, where I went to high school, but I never knew Roger lived there until after I went away to college. Beginning in the early 1980s, whenever I'd visit Chesterton, Roger and I would meet up, and we became friends. He was one of the founders of the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA), and for a while edited its Journal. He also edited the long-running series of Starmont Reader's Guide to individual fantasy and science fiction writers. Roger passed away at the end of April, at the age of 72, and his passing is one factor leading to this reminiscence. Here is a link to his obituary.
For some years I used Roger's bibliography as another reading list, finding one item to be particularly unknown: Regor Clarkk's The Last of the Sorcerer-Dragons (1944). There is a blurb about the plot:
In this poignant and bittersweet love story, a young professor, on leave in the Gobi desert, discovers the last of a race of sorcerous dragons. The dragons have guarded mankind since its beginnings. The beautiful and compassionate reptile tells the young man the story of man's beginning--a tale stripped of its Christian overtones that is influenced by the medieval love story, Tristan and Iseult, and which retells the Eden myth in a totally new and delightful way. Throughout, the tragedy of the slowly dying race of benevolent dragons is intertwined, and their powers are gradually explained and transferred to the young professor. As she ends her tale, the dragon dies and the man suddenly realizes that he is now the only one with the power to aid mankind. One of the least read and least noticed of all fantasy works.
Sound intriguing? I thought so. But when I learned to use such resources as the National Union Catalog, and the British Museum Catalogue of Printed Books, I could find no trace of it. And looking again I realized that "Regor" is "Roger" spelt backwards, and Roger's middle name was "Clark." Years later I queried him on it, and asked if he had other ghost entries in the book. He replied: "It's the only ghost, and you're the first to find it. Of course, I did go on to write and publish the novel although it's between e-publishers at the moment." At that time, e-books were new, and I didn't pursue getting a copy. Now, it appears that Roger finally self-published it as a book in 2012, priced only $6.63 and titled Fire and Fur: The Last Sorcerer Dragon. It is now, alas, a cat fantasy, which may appeal to some, but not to me (I'm with Tolkien when he noted that cats are among the fauna of Mordor).
To further relate all this to Tolkien, Roger did publish an essay on Tolkien and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances (2001), edited by George Clark and Daniel Timmons. It also appears in Roger's Phantasmoriana: Collected Essays on the Nature of Fantasy and Horror Literature (2013), an oversized book priced at only $10.99.
Sometime in the early 1980s I finally got a copy of E.F. Bleiler's Checklist of Fantastic Literature, which is one of the most consulted books I have. Bleiler was a titanic figure in the field of fantasy and supernatural literature. I remember ordering his Guide to Supernatural Fiction (1983) soon after publication. It's basically a compilation of decades of Bleiler's reading notes about supernatural literature. Years of use has shown me that while I don't always agree with him on specific books, he's certainly on the right track about many of them.
Another titan in the field passed away last week. This being Richard Dalby, one of the best anthologists of Victorian and Edwardian supernatural literature. His first anthology was The Sorceress in Stained Glass and Other Ghost Stories (1971), but it wasn't until the mid-to-late 1980s that he became prolific as an anthologist, often resurrecting excellent stories from obscure magazines. I never met Richard, but knew him only via occasional letters. Mark Valentine has written a memorial of Richard at Wormwoodiana, and I refer readers there to read his more comprehensive account.
Finally, a link to Susan Cooper's recent J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature, held on 27 April 2017 at Pembroke College, Oxford. Cooper touches on the fact that she heard both Tolkien and Lewis lecture at Oxford in the mid-1950s. She sums this up in an interview at her website:
J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were both teaching when I was at Oxford and without a doubt influenced the lives of all of their students. As dons, they had set the rule that the Oxford English syllabus stop at 1832 and that it be heavy on Middle English and writers like Malory and Spenser, so, as a friend of mine says, they taught us to believe in dragons. They were both often to be seen drinking beer in a pub called the Eagle and Child, known as the Bird and Baby. I never personally met Tolkien or Lewis, and I’d never heard of Narnia, but we were all waiting eagerly for the third volume of The Lord of the Rings to come out, and I loved going to Lewis’s booming lectures on Renaissance literature. Tolkien lectured on Beowulf and was rather mumbly, except when declaiming the first lines of the poem in Anglo-Saxon, beginning with a great shout of “Hwaet!”
You can watch the lecture and see some photographs here.