Wednesday, November 25, 2020


So, I've been reading (or more accurately re-reading) a number of books by  David Lindsay, whose first and most famous book, A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, celebrates its centenary this year. And I was struck by something I had previously passed over without its drawing my attention: a striking parallel between  Lindsay's book and Lewis's THE DARK TOWER. Lewis openly confessed his debt to Lindsay, particularly to OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, but I don't think I've seen anyone extend the influence to include the final, unfinished fourth book of the Ransom series. 

I'm all tied up with other projects right now, but if I were going to write this up I'd focus on one of the most striking things in A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS. Lindsay's work is famous for the way his protagonist grows new organs and appendages once he enters the alien world, the first of which is a breve, described as "something hard on his forehead . . . a fleshy protuberance, the size of a small plum, having a cavity in the middle, of which he could not feel the bottom" (VtA.44) 

This is strongly paralleled by what happens to Lewis's hero:  when Scudamour jumps through the chronoscope, switches places with his double, and arrives in the Otherworld, he acquires a sting growing out of his forehead: "It was broad at the base and narrowed quickly to its point, so that its total shape was rather like that of a thorn on a rose-branch . . . It was hard and horny, but not like bone . . . and . . . [d]ripping with poison" (DT.33). But where Maskull's breve granted him telepathy, The Stingerman's sting converts those he attacks with it into automatons. 

In addition to this major point of the appearance of otherworldly organs on the forehead, three other paralleled elements between Lewis's unfinished work and Lindsay's odd masterpiece might be worth exploring.

First,  the seance that opens Lindsay's book, along with the materialization of a being from the other world into our own, parallels the projection of images from another world that opens Lewis's. MacPhee even has an exchange with Orfieu about the validity or otherwise of psychical research.  

Second, there's the image of the Tower that so dominates Lewis's story, while a similar tower frames Lindsay's work, appearing first as the Observatory early in the book, then reappearing as Krag's tower at the story's climax, containing the long sought for route into the true world, Muspel. 

Third, it might be worthwhile to do something with the theme of doubles: Maskull and Nightspore in Lindsay's book (so that one cannot appear until the other is gone) and Scudamour/the Stingerman in Lewis's.

As I said, I'm too absorbed in something else to write this up and develop the argument. And besides, I've already had my say about THE DARK TOWER in my essay on the interrelations between Lewis's Ransom books, esp the first and fourth one) and Tolkien's two time travel stories.* And I've also already said pretty much what I had to say about A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.**

On the other hand, if anybody has explored / developed the DARK TOWER / VOYAGE  TO ARCTURUS parallels and I just missed teir piece,*** I'd be happy if someone points me to it.

--John R.

*this appeared in TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM, an unofficial festschrift for Christopher Tolkien (2000)

**in my online monthly column CLASSICS OF FANTASY: Lindsay's strange masterpiece was the focus of the sixth essay (January 2003). It's no longer up on the Wizard's site but can still be found online with a bit of internet searching

***I think I've read all the scholarship on DARK TOWER, but you never know

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

William Hope Hodgson: The RPG

So, here's something I had on Kickstarter which has now arrived: the new rpg based on the Sargasso Sea stories of Wm Hope Hodgson. Called GREY SEAS ARE DREAMING MY DEATH, it draws on such classics as "The Voice in the Night" and "The Derelict" to craft a horror-at-sea game. I've now skimmed this but haven't looked at it in detail because (a) I definitely want to play this but (b) one of the other people in my gaming group may opt to run it,* (c) in which case I wdn't want to know any spoilers. But (d) I may wind up running it if no one else wants to be Captain (i.e., DM).

It looks like one of those games with a v. narrow focus, which is what you want in a specialty themed rpg such as this one. I hope they've captured the theme of doomed pluck that is so distinctively Hodgsonian, while at the same time introducing some more readers and gamers to one of the greats (and one of the most overlooked of authors of his era who deserve to be called great).

It staggers me that forty-plus years on from D&D there's still no rpg based on Hodgson's masterpiece, THE NIGHT LAND.** They've borrowed a few monsters Hodgson's other works (HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, the end-of-time NIGHT LAND); a closer look shd tell whether they've successfully integrated this into their late nineteenth/early twentieth century sea setting. One way or the other I'm looking forward to finding out.

--John R.

*This is made all the more probable when I found out tonight that three of the seven people in our Monday night game backed the Kickstarter.

**I initially thought DARK SUN wd be that world but was sadly disappointed to discover it was an uberConan setting instead. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Modernism and the Kitten

So, a while back Janice shared the clip below with me, and I thought it encapsulated what T. S. Eliot was trying to say in the final section of THE HOLLLOW MEN (1925):

Between the idea 

And the reality

Between the motion 

And the act

Falls the Shadow


Sunday, November 22, 2020

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

 So, I had kind of tuned out news about the Tolkien tv series currently in the works, feeling detached from the project once I realized that I was not their target audience (as opposed to the Peter Jackson movies, which I followed closely from v. early on). Which is why I initially missed the announcement that the people working on the Amazon project are looking to hire extras "comfortable with nudity".*  And that they have hired an 'Intimacy Coordinator' to oversee sex-scenes to make sure actors and actresses appearing in them are treated respectfully.

Nude extras is one thing -- say for example a shot of the elves awakening at Cuivienen (I doubt if they were created fully clothed). Hiring an Intimacy Coordinator sends a different kind of message: that this series will be less Peter Jackson and more Game of Thrones. That's not surprising, but it is disappointing.

For a rumination on the issue of nudity in the new series, see the following post from

--John R.

--current reading: LINDBURGH by Scott Berg, a light novel, and David Lindsay's THE WITCH

*BEYOND BREE, Nov. 2020 issue, page 10

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The New Tolkien

So, it's now been officially announced that the next book by Tolkien (that is, the next book of new material by JRRT) will be out in June:

THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, edited by Carl Hostetter (co-editor of TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM).

 The write-up on Amazon doesn't have much information yet, other than that the book is 400 pages and the official release date June 1st.

I gather that this book draws from the period when Tolkien had largely abandoned  or set aside work on his various narratives and was shifting more and more into world-building.  Or to put it another way, rather than a grand narrative here we'll be seeing Tolkien's attempt to set down as much as he cd about Middle-earth. 

I suspect it'll feel rather like LETTERS, where he addressed so many queries from his readers. For those of us who came along too late to write to the Professor and pose questions ourselves, this book just might contain the answers to things we've always wanted to know. 

In short, not a book for the casual fan, but it promises to be full of good things for those of us who want to know all we can about Tolkien's subcreated world. Congratulations to Carl for bringing all this disparate material together. 

I've already pre-ordered my copy.

--John R.

P.S.: Here's the announcement of the news in THE GUARDIAN:

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Roomful of Kittens

 Every cat from last week having been adopted, we started over with a whole new set of cats again yesterday.

Twelve new cats were due to arrive, one of whom had a change of plans along the way to go get fixed. So eleven cats actually reached us, all kittens (most four months old, one litter only three monts old).

Three kittens got adopted already, Pepper and George and I think Saffron, meaning that eight cats (four pairs) were ready to greet me when I arrived at noon today.

All were reluctant to come out, so I petted the various kittens in their cages as much as they’d let me, starting with Poppy,  and left all the cage doors open.  I also let them sniff some catnip sachets and spritzed catnip spray on some of the toys. They didn’t react to catnip as strongly as adult cats usually do, but they were definitely interested. I’d  brought some catnip bubbles, only to realize I cdn’t use them through the mask. 
I got various toys out, which attracted a lot of attention from eight sets of sharp eyes and alert ears.  After that they started coming out one by one. First was PAPRIKA (the orange cat in the big cage) and POPPY SEED (his grey & white partner). Then I lifted out the two adorable puffs of fluff OLIVE OYL and COOKIE DOUGH, the smallest of all our current kittens. They were reluctant at first but quickly got absorbed in all kinds of games, even joining in the bigger kittens’ pouncing games. It took longer, but eventually the all-black and the brown tabby pair (CHIA and SESAME, I think) came out in their own good time and started exploring, though they still avoided petting for the most part. The Presidents (Mr. LINCOLN and THOMAS), the two mostly black tuxedo cat, were the shyest of them all. I finally got Lincoln to let me pet him and got a string game going that drew in Thomas as well. It took most of the two hours checking on them every few minutes, but in the end they both let me pick them up and hold/pet them a little, welcoming petting by the end of the shift. 

It was hard to get Poppy back in the cage at the end of shift (he hid under the cat-stand and went all-limp when I reached in to drag him out. He seemed fine again once back in the cage. The kittens all curled up in pairs of twos and were all sleeping by the time I left.

Health note: one of the little fluff-puffs (Oyl I think) had a little crust in the corners of his eyes. Think I got most of it out, but he didn’t enjoy it.

Also: one of The Presidents (Thomas I think) has a distinctive kink in his tail, about a ninety degree angle. Doesn’t seem to bother him in the least.

Lots of people enjoyed watching the kittens through the windows. I wdn’t be surprised if some of them come back as potential adopters —because who can resist kittens? One woman asked about volunteering and took one of the flyers.

Here’s hoping the mooted adoptions in the works this weekend come through. It’d be nice for these little cats to be having their first smell and taste of turkey in new homes soon.

—John R.

UPDATE, Saturday night 10pm: just learned that five of the eight kittens have now been adopted. Only three to go. --JDR

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Lindsay Event (Glasgow)

So, today was the long-awaited Centenary Seminar in honor of David Lindsay's A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS (1920). The timing wasn't too bad for an overseas event eight time zones away: 6pm Greenwich time and 10 am out here in the Pacific Northwest.

Dimitra Fimi was host and moderator and did a good job setting things up and then moderating the Q&A at the end. 

Of the three speakers, independent scholar Doug Anderson gave a fact-filled overview of Lindsay's life and writing career --a good thing to have if you're new to Lindsay and for those who know some  helpful for clearing up various mistakes in previous accounts. My favorite new fact I learned: J. R. R. Tolkien owned three copies of A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS: one of the 1920 original, one of the 1946 reprint just after Lindsay's death, and one from the 1963 edition that more or less marked  the point at which Lindsay's work came to be more widely known.

Novelist Nina Allan, whose THE RIFT contains some Arcturan echoes, discussed Lindsay's legacy to his fellow science fiction writers. I think my major takeaways from this was inherent in the realization of this being the centenary, that VtA came out at a mid-point between the early days of Verne/Wells and the classic era of science fiction in the 1930s.

Finally Professor Rbt Davis compared Lindsay's work with various theological thinkers and schools of thought, particularly Gnosticism. He quoted a v. interesting passage from a letter he'd received from Philip Pullman regarding both what Pullman sees as Gnostic affinities in his work (the evil imposter-god) and his greatest departure therefrom (Pullman's celebration of the natural world as good, not evil).

Quite a lot of interesting material within a short space, well worth watching.

For those who cdn't make the live event, they've put footage of the presentations up on YouTube:

--John R.