Thursday, October 22, 2020

Next Year's Kalamazoo

 So, it's now official: next year's Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University will be an online-only event. I still plan to attend, albeit now remotely, and am still scheduled to give my paper "Valinor in America: Faerian Drama and the Disenchantment of Middle-earth" -- currently on the back burner while I focus on another project, but I plan to resume where I left off with the coming of the new year.

I'll miss the Tolk folk I get to see at Kalamazoo and catch up on what they're working on; another of the many disruptions caused by the pandemic. Here's hoping for better luck in 2022.

--John R.

P.S.: I forgot to add that the Leeds Medieval Congress, scheduled two months after the Michigan event,  July vs. May, has also been cancelled.

--John R.

--current reading: David Lindsay's unfinished final novel THE WITCH

--current music: Tom Petty


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

TIME's Best 100 Fantasy poll

 So,  this recent discussion of lists of all-time-best fantasy books turns out to be, in a word, timely.

Thanks to Andrew H. for letting me know about TIME magazine's new special issue celebrating the books that get their nod as the 100 best fantasy. I haven't let seen the actual physical issue (assuming there is a paper copy), but the online list can be found here:

For their methodology of deciding which books to include, see

Rather than rating the books, they simply had their panel of experts put them in chronological order.

Said experts include prominant figures such as Neil Gaiman and R. R. Martin, along with a few whose names I know but have read little of their work (e.g. Jemisin) and some I've never even heard of.

As for the books, I've read most of the earlier ones, but past the mid-point of the list it's like I fell off a cliff. Or to put it another way: I've read most of these books up to the mid 1990s, after which my reading becomes more sporadic. Clearly it's classic fantasy, not the contemporary works, that most appeal to me.

But while there's a lot they list that I haven't read, I'm more concerned about a great deal of what I've read that they fail to list, including books and authors I consider the best of the best, like Dunsany. It's that lack that diminishes this list in my eyes.

--John R.

--reading: THE LAST TSAR (resumed)




Sunday, October 18, 2020

Dimitra's List

 So, here's the list compiled from the poll run by Dimitra Fimi, listing folk's favorite fantasy author. On the entirely reasonable grounds that including Tolkien wd dramatically skew the results (as it has in so many past polls of this sort, such as the 1987 LOCUS poll and its later follow-up) he was omitted from the poll. Nevertheless it's striking how this 2020 poll reproduced the basic pattern of Tolkien in a league of his own, Le Guin clearly the most popular non-Tolkien choice, followed by a definite gap before the number three position (in this case Pratchett, the first person knighted for writing fantasy.

My thanks to Dimitra for letting me re-post her findings:

Dimitra's List


171      Le Guin

111      Pratchett


53        CSL

50        Gaiman

45        Hobb

45        Wynne Jones


31        Pullman

28        R. R. Martin

26        Rowling

23        Sanderson


20        Cooper

18        Garner

17        Kay

17        Peake

16        Dunsany

15        Jemisin

15        Jordan

15        McKillip

14        S. Clarke

14        Moorcock


remainder of the top thirty-three: Feist (12), L'Engle (11), Wolfe (10), Eddings (8), Ende (8), Howard (8), Leiber (8), McCaffrey (8), Novik (8), Rothfuss (8), White (8), Gemmell (8), Pierce (8). 


 As for me, I've read all but five of the authors listed, but only four of those named were among the eighteen writers I devoted chapters to in my 'Classics of Fantasy' column --though I wd have included more had the series run longer.

--John R.

--current reading: Woodward's RAGE, Lindsay's DEVIL'S TOR

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Cat Report (Fr. 10/16-20)


We’re off to a great start with the newly reopened Adoption Room, with four out of seven cats finding new homes in the first week: charismatic TOM TOM, bonded pair JULIETTE and ROMEO, and sweet LUCY Grey. That just leaves three cats: ever-affectionate ELLIE (white calico) and the bonded pair of half-grown kittens CLEO (black and white) and MIGHTY MO (brown tabby).

I let everyone out right away. Ellie made herself right at home, dividing her time between the two rooms. The kittens were soon out and exploring (they love the cat-tree). What a difference a week makes. Cleo let me pet her, as long as I didn’t overdo it. Mighty Mo is shy but allowed a little respectfull petting by the end of the shift.

Ellie largely kept to herself so far as the kittens went, but asked for a good deal of attention, alternating between being petted and playing games.  I ran a damp paper towel along her back and sides to take care of any loose fur, which she seems to like, grooming my hands in return (she loves to lick you). She even groomed the laser pointer. Her favorite way of playing with it is to have that little red dot sneak right up next to her, whereupon she does a kind of little hop and lands on it.

The highpoint of Ellie’s activity was her walk (about half an hour). She went along the fish tanks and past the crickets, till she chose a spot with a good view of the front door and sat down the watch the comings and goings. I got the sense she was casing the joint and encouraged her to explore elsewhere. She also wanted to go into the warehouse, which again I discouraged. I think she’s making a mental map of the store and is wondering what’s behind the closed doors.

The kittens are a load of fun, as only kittens can be. They’ve worked out how close they can get to Ellie without provoking a reaction  telling them to back off. They enjoyed the string game, the feather-duster, the laser pointer, the mouse-under-the-cover game, the bite-able toy on the end of a stick, the chopstick, and the peacock feather. Especially the peacock feather, which Mighty Mo decapitated in ten minutes. Mo revealed his inner predator. While Cleo loves to play with toys, Mo carries them off to over beneath the cat stand, where he gnaws on them. 

Rather to my surprise, Cleo loves to be petted, once she gets to know you —she even accepted some tummy rubs, purring all the while. She’s a bit curious about Outside, so keeping her in while bringing Ellie back in from her walk was tricky. I thought it’s a bit soon to try to walk the kittens, thinking it’d be better to wait till they knew (and trusted) me better. Mo is interested in the leash, but in smelling it, not wearing it; Cleo just thinks it’s another toy.

There were a lot of people who swung by to look at the cats, so I think word will quickly spread about adoptable cats once again being available.

—John R.

P.S.: That’s a picture of Ellie, taken by Janice through the glass. I had altogether  forgotten that Ellie had been in our cat-room before, back in December of last year. No wonder she’s familiar with the layout of the store: she must be remembering from before. I even found some old note saying that she was a good walker. Sorry her previous adoption didn’t work out: hope things turn out better for her this time.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

 So, today the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic announced their next event: a centenary celebration of the publication of David Lindsay's A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS. One of those works more acknowledged as seminal that actually read, Lindsay's strange masterpiece* looks to finally be getting the attention it deserves. The three speakers are Doug Anderson, whose name shd be familiar to anyone interested in Tolkien and in fantasy; Nina Allan, a novelist whose work I'm not familiar with; and Robert Davis, who it sounds like will be making connections between ARCTURUS and Philip Pullman's work.

The event takes place via Zoom on Thursday November 19th at ten o'clock to eleven-thirty my time (6pm to 7.30pm Glasgow time). It's one of those register-for-a-free-ticket events; I've already signed up. After all, as one of the relatively few people who has read all seven of Lindsay's novel (even the conclusion of his last one, THE WITCH), this is an opportunity I wdn't want to miss.

Here's a link to the announcement:

--John R.

--current reading: DEVIL'S TOR (1932)

My Newest Publication (Review of TOLKIEN'S CHAUCER)

So, two things of note arrived together in the mail yesterday that, while both interesting an important, cd not be more different:  the newest issue of TOLKIEN STUDIES (Volume XVII) and our Voter's Pamphlet.

The TOLKIEN STUDIES, along with much else of interest, includes my latest publication: a review of John M. Bowers' TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER. Also in this volume was a detailed review of A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, the Flieger festschrift I edited. As usual the volume contains a lot I'm looking forward to looking at more closely. For now the stand out piece is the lead article: a memorial to Christopher Tolkien by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull. And with my long-standing interest in THE LOST ROAD & NOTION CLUB PAPERS I must say Hamish Williams' piece on Numenor and Minoans, Phoenicians, and Atlantians draws the eye.

And then there are the other pieces, the reviews, the Year's Work in Tolkien Studies -- in short, as usual it looks to be full of good things.

--John R. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Top Three Writers (sans Tolkien)

So,  recently I found out about an interesting poll conducted by Dimitra Fimi back in the spring asking people to name their three favorite fantasy writers aside from Tolkien. Here's her blogpost writing up the results:

Also of note is David Bratman's post commenting on this and giving his own favorites and the reasons behind his choices:*

I'm curious what others think and so would like to ask the question again, in a slightly different way: 

Who are your three favorite fantasy authors (excluding Tolkien)? 

Or, if it's easier to choose, what are your three favorite fantasy books (again excluding Tolkien)? 

--John R.

*this is actually where I learned about Dimitra's original post, which I had missed at the time.