The 2006 FRBR Challenge ended on 15 March. I think enough time has passed that the excitement has died down and we can consider the Challenge soberly.
Here’s what I said when I announced it:
The challenge is: How well does FRBR handle Middle-Earth?
People are using FRBR, some on a small scale, some on a large scale, some by automating the extraction and matching of works from a set of manifestations, some by having people do the work manually, most by a mix of both. They’re all showing that FRBR works and that it helps users. They’re also turning up some problems, points that need clarification, grey areas, and places where the model falls a bit short and needs something added. That’s to be expected.
Applying FRBR to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and everything else) will test the model and give us some ideas about what’s easy to do and what’s hard to do, what’s clearly explained in FRBR and what needs more detail, what FRBR already handles and where it’s lacking, and how to deal with really complicated situations involving digital copies or multiple works in one work. I really do mean everything else: movies, Sindarin dictionaries, the whole megillah.
So here’s what to do: think of something LOTR-related, and, as best you can, describe it as a work, expression, manifestation, and item, and, if you can, explain a relationship it has to a book Tolkien wrote or something inspired by Tolkien’s work. That’s all. Use official FRBR terminology if you want, but you don’t have to. If you can’t think of what the expression is, or the work, just say so and maybe someone else will have a stab at it.
Response from readers was better than I’d hoped for: four people submitted entries and they all won a prize. You’re sorry now you didn’t enter, aren’t you? But you can try next year.
I’ll leave out most of the details here and just concentrate on the works.
- Work: The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
- Expression: The Annotated Hobbit, or There and Back Again, a revised and expanded edition annotated by Douglas A. Anderson.
- Work: The Fellowship of the Ring
- Expression: Either Tolkien’s original text or his revised text
- Manifestation: Unwin Paperback’s second edition (unknown reprinting) of 1966 (ISBN 004823155X)
- Expression: 1993? text edited by Douglas A. Anderson
- Manifestation: Harper Collins, ISBN 007123825
- Manifestation: Collins Modern Classics, ISBN 00712970X
- Work: The Fellowship of the Ring, a game from Iron Crown Enterprises.
- Work: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001 movie directed by Peter Jackson
- Work: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard Glass Goblet (from Burger King in 2001)
- Work: A Guide to Middle-Earth by Robert Foster
- Expression: Author’s edited text, 1971
- Work: The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth: From The Hobbit to The Silmarillion, by Robert Foster
- Expression: Author’s edited text, 1978 (substantially revised version of the above, enough to make it count as a new work)
- Work: A clip-on costume Gandalf beard.
- Work: Nightfall in Middle-Earth by Blind Guardian (a German power metal band), based on The Silmarillion
- Work: The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
- Expression: Tolkien’s abridgement (unknown date), read by Tolkien himself
- Work: The Atlas of Middle-Earth, by Karen Wynn Fonstad
- Work: Quenya Course by H.K. Fauskanger
- Work: Bored of the Rings, by Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney
Here’s how all the works are related. The names of the relationships are drawn from section 5 of FRBR Final Report. (I didn’t get into what Ian Davis and Richard Newman defined in their RDR specification of FRBR.)
- The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings: has successor?
- The Lord of the Rings to The Silmarillion: has successor?
- The Hobbit to The Silmarillion: has successor?
- The Lord of the Rings to The Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers, The Return of the King: has parts
- The Lord of the Rings and The Fellowship of the Ring to The Fellowship of the Ring (game, which involves more than just the events of that one book): has transformation
- The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers to The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson’s movie, which ends with the start of the second book): has transformation?
- The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson’s movie) to the Burger King goblet: ? (has commercial tie-in)
- The Lord of the Rings to a clip-on costume Gandalf beard: ? (has commercial tie-in)
- Nightfall in Middle Earth to The Silmarillion: is complement (autonomous musical work)
- A Guide to Middle Earth to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit: is supplement (referential work)
- The Complete Guide to Middle Earth to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit: is supplement (referential work)
- A Guide to Middle Earth to The Complete Guide to Middle Earth: has successor
- The Atlas of Middle Earth to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit: is supplement (referential work)
- Bored of the Rings to The Lord of the Rings: is imitation (parody)
So, what does that tell us? The entities (work, expression, manifestation, item) are clear enough. What struck me is the difficulty of defining all the relations. Those relations are important. Users will want to know them when they’re searching and browsing.
I’m not sure of the proper term to describe how Tolkien’s books (The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, etc.) all relate. It is not clear how to express the relation of a work to its commercial tie-ins. “Has transformation” covers a vast range of possibilities and would need to be further defined. The list of relations in the Final Report is just a start, I think. If FRBR is to go into widespread use, we’ll want a way to standardize, or at least share, what we call all those relations. Same for work-to-expression relations, expression-to-expression, expression-to-manifestation, and so on, including the relations to people and subjects.
We need to consider both end users and the metadata people when we think about the relations. The metadata people will want a lot of granularity and precision. End users may not — by default a display probably wouldn’t show them a lot of detail, but they might want to see more. How much detail is good? How could the data be stored? How could it be shared? How much can we pull out of, or infer, from existing MARC records?
FRBR is well up to the challenge of mapping out the complicated bibliographic universe that is Middle-Earth. There are some points that need clarification or definition. If Tolkien’s complete writings were FRBRized there would be a lot more questions, probably including many about the expression level. (There’s a working group taking a closer look at expressions, but I have no idea when it will publish something.)
I propose a full-scale test of FRBR by FRBRizing the complete Middle-Earth works of J.R.R. Tolkien, or, for an easier test, FRBRizing the complete works of J.K. Rowling. Rowling’s works are sufficiently well-known and well-documented, even the translations, that it would be a reasonable class project or master’s thesis.