Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Re-reading books

So, I've been enjoying going through the expanded edition of LETTERS of JRRT. 

One passage that made me really realize how different the experience of reading differs from reader to reader came in a letter from Tolkien to a reader (11 April 1956; LETTERS page 359).  Tolkien writes (emphasis mine):

. . . I am a very 'unvoracious' reader, 

and since I can seldom bring myself

 to read a work twice I think of the 

many things that I read -- too soon! --

Nothing, not even a (possible) deeper 

appreciation, for me replaces the bloom 

on a book, the freshness of the unread.

 Still what we read and when goes, 

like the people we meet, by fate   

This made me realize who different JRRT's experience is from my own. If I like a book, I will read it again, sometimes repeatedly. Such was the case with WATERSHIP DOWN, FACE IN THE FROST, THE BOOKS OF WONDER, PERSUASION, of course Tolkien, and many another. I don't do it as much anymore, but that's largely because my eyesight is worse and partly because I now have more books available.

It's interesting to note that this is one of the many ways in which Tolkien and Lewis differed. Lewis loved to reread old favorites, and counted occasions when his doctor ordered a few days of bed rest one of life's not so little gifts. This was a trait he shared with his brother Warnie, who from time to time notes in his diary about re-reading specific books.

As for THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS: by this point I have no idea how many times I've read both. I'm always reading them, in a sense.

--John R.

Currrent Reading:

TALKING TO DRAGONS by Patricia Wrede (the sixth time I've read it, according to my notes).


Lucky for Tolkien that his fans didn't feel the same way.

Monday, May 27, 2024

TSR Women of Fantasy Calendar

So, I've been enjoying Steve (Stan) Brown's weekly podcast on the history of TSR as told by people who worked there at some point over the last fifty years, with each weekly episode illustrated by a cartoon rendering of an iconic piece of D&D art.

This week's guest was Karen Conlin (Karen Boomgarden back when I knew her, from '91 to '96). It was good to see her after all these years and to hear her perspective on what TSR was like in back in those times. There was one story I was sure they'd bring up that didn't get told. Thinking back, it was before Stan's time. So I thought I'd share. Here's how I remember it.

A tradition at TSR every Christmas was the Tacky Gift Exchange, in which all the designers and editors who wanted to take part drew names from a hat and then traded presents on the last day before Christmas. There was a mathom that got traded around each year, but as might be expected from a great big room stuffed with creative people a few were memorable. *

This particular year, 1993 or 1994, had seen the release of TSR's WOMEN OF FANTASY calendar, in which the staff artists had outdone themselves in the scantiness of the scanty outfits on display.  Whoever drew Karen's name had an inspiration: he or she got one of these cheesecake calendars, then went through a clothes calendar like Land's End and cut out clothes to cover the inadequate bits. He or she then taped into place the comfy sweaters and sensible slacks. The juxtaposition between what we might call the Caldwell school of illustration and what those characters might actually wear was hilarious.

I wonder if that artifact of the past survives and, if so, who has it.  

--John R.

* P.S. For example, THE LITTLE BOOK OF ELVES, created I think by Rich Baker and given to Colin McComb; it was particularly apt because Colin had just finished PHBR6: ELVES 

Friday, May 24, 2024

Turtle Day

So,  here's a distinction I hadn't known (or needed to): 

Turtle is the all-encompassing name for all creatures of this type.

Tortoises are a subgroup, all of them land animals. 

Terrapin are another subgroup of turtles,  so named by Native Americans. 

Yesterday was World Turtle Day --a holiday I'd not heard of before. Had I thought of it in time, I would have tried to make time to have gone by one of the spots in the area where turtles can be spotted in the wild. Or, failing that, one of the parks or gardens with ponds whose resident turtles can usually be seen.

I've always loved turtles, and had them as pets as a child (bought as baby turtles at Sterlings, the local Five and Dime)* and rescuing them out of the street if I spotted one in peril.** But unfortunately having indoor turtles and cats are a bad mix. 

I did the best I cd, though, for the occasion, stopping by the turtle habitat in the local PetSmart when we spent some time taking care of the Purrfect Pals up-for-adoption cats today.

At any rate, the occasion reminds me that I still haven't read TURTLES OF THE WORLD, a beautifully illustrated book on turtles I bought myself at Elliott Bay Books the last time I was there. I'll have to see if I can devote some time to actually reading it sooner rather than later.

After all, as I think Pratchett said (or was it Gaiman?):  it's turtles all the way down.

--John R.

*Among other things, I earned the Boy Scout Merit Badge for Reptile keeping. I still remember Speedy and Swifty (who were grey rather than green), and my sister's Regina, among others. 

**including, twice, a snapping turtle, which are not to be messed around with. The key is to remember that it's neck is much longer than you'd think, and he can get you from several feet away.


Given my reputation (cf. The Catbite Incident, a.k.a. Thirteen Days in the Hospital), I shd make clear that I've never been bitten by a turtle. 


Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Quasi Moons and Planet 9

So, I was following up on a piece  of astronomical news by Bruce Cordell on his blog about a new designation of asteroids. The original article can explain it better than I could: 



What particularly caught my eye is the piece about Planet X (here called Planet Nine) and the 

long and fruitless effort to locate some evidence that it exists. Instead this new approach is collecting evidence to prove places it's not, planning to solve the matter by process of elimination.


--John R.

The final intriguing bit for me is that observation that they might not find evidence it exists because it might no longer exist, in case they'd be looking for traces it left behind. 

Anyway, an interesting piece for those who like to put on their astronomer hat once in a while.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Author vs. Character

 So, here's an amusing piece I recently ran across called Stab Me Now. The conceit is that an author planning out her new story decides to let the heroine decide what she will do, how she will react to the main events in the enusing story. Right from the start things go not-according-to-plan, as when the main character objects to the fancy clothes the author wants her to dress up in, as opposed to the practical outfit the character wd prefer. Character and Author clash over everything from what weapons she shd carry to her failure to fall in love all over the place.  

It's not fan fic, which by definition is based on the work of others (particularly characters, but usually with setting too). It reminds me of Flann O'Brien for an internet generation.

If you want to give it a try, take a look at


for this and other works by the same author; she seems particularly taken with fantasy armor and the shorthcomings thereof.

--John R.

--current reading: audiobook version of LETTERS OF JRRT, expanded edition (bogged down on the print book, so switching to the audiobook instead).

Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Art of the Triptych (Brust)

So, for those unfamiliar with the triptych, as Brust uses the term this is a rhetorical tool inspired by a feature in medieval church decoration. A medieval triptych is a large central painting flanked by two smaller panels that complement the central image in both style and theme. By analogy Brust's triptych focus on a central figure, with the subsidiary figures chosen for the way they highlight specific elements all three share in common. 

For example, one cd bring together a trio of tempresses centered on Guinever as she appears in The Fall of Arthur, flanked by Lady Bertilak from Sir Gawain & the Green Knight and the Corrigan from The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun. Another triptych cd portray women trapped is failed marriages: Erendis (The Mariner's Wife), Aredhed (Silm), and Miriel (ibid). Or yet another of warrior women, headed by Eowyn (who best exemplifies the role within LotR), flanked by Galadriel in her virago role in her early days (as depicted in UT), and Haleth (also Silm), who unlike the other two remains a warrior-maid throughout her life. 

The possibilities are myriad. I look forward to seeing what scholarship this scholarship inspires.

--John R.

P. S. I'm not aware of anyone else working along these lines these days, but it's interesting to note that one of the earliest books on the Inklings, ARTHURIAN TRIPTYCH by Charles Moorman, used this as its central image in his 1960 book on Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and T. S. Eliot, though it's too long since I read it for me to remember any details.  --JDR


So, a while back I was asked to write a brief Foreword to the new book TOLKIEN'S TRANSFORMATIVE WOMEN: ART IN TRIPTYCH by Annie Brust (Vernon Press, Series in Literary Studies, 2024).  I'm happy to say the book is now out:


Brust's major innovation is to bring Tolkien's works within his legendarium into dialogue with his scolarly work explicating, editing, and translating poems in Old and Middle English -- which was, of course, his life's work at Leeds, Pembroke, and Merton as a working medievalist. Brust suggests we could learn a lot by bringing together in comparison or contrast women from the LotR  (Galadriel, Eowyn, Shelob, Goldberry, Arwen, Rosie Cotton) and the core texts from the legendarium, esp the 1977 Silmarillion and 1980 Unfinished Tales  (Luthien, Melian, Erendis the mariner's wife, Haleth, Aredhel, Ungoliant, Morwen, Nienor, Elbereth, Yavanna, Arien)  with figures from medieval literature (Pearl, Wealtheow, Lady Bertilak, Gudrun, the Corrigan, Gwinever, Grendel's Mother). 

For more on Brust's method, see the next post.

--John R.

P.S.: extra points for anyone who can identify all these Tolkien characters without having to look up any of then,