Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Bodleian Tolkien Exhibit Catalogue

So, Thursday we found a note on the door that FedEx had failed to deliver a parcel but wd try again. The next day a heavy (6kg) package arrived from Oxford, being the two catalogues for the just-opened Tolkien Bodleian Exhibit. One, TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH is a four hundred page work showing the more than 180 items that make up the exhibit (an 'item' sometimes being multiple pages, such as several closely related maps or letters. The second is TOLKIEN TREASURES, a smaller a hundred and forty-four page softcover filled with gems from the displays; this one concentrates mostly on the art work with fewer manuscripts, letters, and photographs.
Both are by Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodley's Tolkien Archivist. It'll take time to absorb the riches contained in these books, but a few things do pop out on a first page-through.

First off, this is a beautiful book. It doesn't just reproduce a stunning array from Tolkien's papers but also has a lot of information. The first eighty pages of the book contain six essays by Tolkien luminaries:

J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biographical Sketch by Catherine McIlwaine
Tolkien and the Inklings by John Garth
Faerie: Tolkien's Perilous Land by Verlyn Flieger
Inventing Elvish by Carl F. Hostetter
Tolkien and 'that noble northern spirit' by Tom Shippey
Tolkien's Visual Art by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

There's much here, and in the pages that follow, that I'll enjoy going through and absorbing, esp. since it now looks like I'll be able to see the exhibit after all sometime near the end of its run. I've already been struck by the first page of THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS, by Terence (later Terry) Pratchett's thoughtful fan letter re SWM, by the news that Tolkien was part of the Cretaceous Perambulators (I have to go back now and compare the text given in the little 1983 pamphlet of the same name with Tolkien's draft text on Catalogue p..245), by the realization that Tolkien kept a good deal of his fan letters, or at least a judicious selection of the cream of the crop (e.g.,, the one he got from Iris Murdoch -- didn't spot the one from Mary Renault, alas).

All in all, a wealth of material, highly recommended to anyone interested in Tolkien's life and interested in this extended glimpse into how his mind worked as an author (and artist and linguist).

One particular highlight for me is conclusive evidence that Tolkien had already started work on THE HOBBIT before summer 1930, which I had argued was the no-earlier-than-by date.  Thanks to a mention in Fr. John Tolkien's diary for 1930 we know know JRRT was several chapters into the book by New Year's Day, a few months earlier. So I was wrong about Tolkien's start date, a topic important enough that I'd like to devote a separate post to it.

But for now, and between now and when I'm over there, I'll be reading and re-reading this major acquisition too my Tolkien Library.

--John R.
--current reading: BEYOND NEW HORIZONS

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Danny Kirwan dies

So, yesterday I heard about the death of Danny Kirwan, the chief creative force behind my favorite Fleetwood Mac album, BARE TREES (1972). Kirwan had joined the group when he was eighteen or nineteen and been fired when he was about twenty-two, about the age most folks finish college, mainly for being a mean drunk, and spent most of the succeeding years a derelict. A pity, since I think he was the most talented of all the many talented guitarists to pass through that group in its half-century of existence. I'd even go so far as to say that I think the Kirwan/Christine McVie dominated BARE TREES deserves to be ranked with the much more famous Buckingham/Nicks/Christine McVie FLEETWOOD MAC 'WHITE ALBUM' and RUMOURS. In addition to songs like the title track and 'Child of Mine', Kirwan's best instrumental ('Sunny Side of Heaven')* can be found here as well as well as the playful near-instrumental 'Danny's Chant'. And now the grimly beautiful 'Dust' takes on new resonance: melancholic but melodic.**

When the white flame in us 
  is gone 
And we that lost the world's delight
  Stiffen in darkness
Left alone
  To crumble in our separate night

When your swift hair is quiet in death
  And through your lips corruption 
Thrusts to steal the labour of my breath

When we are dust 
When we are dust  
When we are dust  

--John R.
--today's album: BARE TREES; today's song: DUST; current reading CHASING NEW HORIZONS by Stern & Grinspoon

*even better, perhaps, is the instrumental version of his song 'Dragonfly' as adapted by the London Rock Orchestra
**the lyrics are taken from a Rupert Brooke poem, the latter stanzas of which are rather more hopeful than Kirwan's version. The album also includes the great Christine McVie piece about being on the road, 'Homeward Bound'.

Friday, June 15, 2018

North Texas RPG Con

So, this time last week I was in Dallas, attending the NORTH TEXAS RPG CONVENTION as one of their special guests. I'd been a bit apprehensive about going, giving that a lot of living legends in TSR history wd be there -- like Tim Kask, the original editor of THE DRAGON and later champion for FINIEOUS FINGERS, who I never did meet; and Merle Rasmussen, creator of the original TOP SECRET, who I did.*

As it turns out, folks were very welcoming and I had a great time.** I got to play not one but two sessions of my favorite game (1st edition AD&D), both run by Paul Stormberg, who I knew as a Greyhawk guru and friend of Dave Sutherland in the latter's latter days; we've exchanged the occasional gaming-related email with over the years.

The first game was THE MANSION OF MAD PROFESSOR LUDLOW by Jim Ward. This had appeared in one of the first issues of DRAGON magazine I ever saw (the mid-40s) back when I was just getting into the hobby, years before I met and came to work for Jim. We all played boy (and girl) scouts exploring the weird mansion of a mad scientist; v. Jim Ward-ian.

The second game was the sample dungeon from the original DMG expanded into a full-length module. A great idea, and we had great fun with it. I remember Jonathan Tweet having worked on his own version of this at some point (presumably adapted to third edition) but don't recall if that ever got into print. I'm only sorry we didn't get all the way through (prob. inevitable in a four-hour slot). Anyway, a good time had by all.

The third game was a change of pace: Jeff Grubb running a CALL OF CTHULHU scenario of his own. Inspired by the original Lovecraft story that gives the game its name, it pitted our curious but clueless Miskatonic University college students against Weird Creepy and Violent Supernatural Things Going On. I'd played an earlier version of this a good ten years or more ago but that didn't prevent my enjoying this iteration.

I never did locate the Tolkien gaming room until the last evening of the con (having walked right by it all weekend), when I sat in on a session of The One Ring rpg; from what I saw I'm impressed yet again now good a job they did of crafting a Tolkien-specific rpg. Pity about the (near) tpk.

And then of course there was the Dealers' Room, from which I emerged with a book about Dave Arneson and a recent reprint of DARK TOWER, the first module I ever bought but now in rather dilapidated condition; having a new copy has filled me with the ambition to run it. If I get to go back next year, this wd be my choice of what to run. That, and the old D&D module MAZE OF THE RIDDLING MINOTAURS adapted from solo to group play.***

A good trip, and some great games. We need more events like this one.

--John R.

* more recent luminaries included Jon Petersen, who is continuing the good work of PLAYING AT THE WORLD on his blog, which I definitely need to start checking out on a regular basis.

**it helped to see familiar faces like Jeff Grubb, Steve Winter, and Bill Webb, who I see in my (more or less) weekly D&D game, plus getting to meet some folks I'd previously only known from online.

***my copy fortunately being fully keyed.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

More on the Oxford Exhibit

So, David B. has posted a detailed and appreciative description of the Tolkien Exhibit at the Bodleian:

And John Garth has published a review of the exhibit and relates the thoughts it evoked for him about the interconnectivity of all Tolkien's work.

In addition to the exhibit itself, the Special Events that will accompany it throughout its run have begun:

I don't know the first of the three named speakers (whose name has now rotated out of the updated site), but I'm told by someone who was there that Verlyn and Dimitra were "were brilliant as ever". I don't doubt it.

Reading through David's and Garth's piece has started me thinking that with Tolkien everything we have is at the cost of something else. We wd like there to be more paintings, but we shd know that they'd be at the cost of more stories. Or more stories, but that wd come at the cost of some scholarship. Or more scholarship, but that wd cost us more on the languages. It's all connected, and each piece we have is at the cost of something we don't have.

Or, to put it another way: what we don't have (e.g. SILMARILLION) we don't have because we do have something else (e.g., THE LORD OF THE RINGS).

--John R.
--waiting in the airport for my flight to Dallas and an Old School rpg convention: NTrpgCON

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Most Important Tolkien Event of the Year

. . . is taking place this week in the Bodleian Library. In fact it started today; a major new exhibition of J.R.R.T.'s manuscripts, artwork, and associated items (like his iconic pipe). A full catalogue will be out in a month or two, as well as a shorter, simpler version for those a little less deeply invested in all thing Tolkienian. Wish I cd be there!

Here's a piece in today's GUARDIAN that gives a basis overview:

And here's a brief mention* of the special lectures that accompany the exhibition and turn it into an event:


5 JUNE 2018,

A celebration of Tolkien and his creations, with special guests Dame Marina Warner, Prof Verlyn Flieger and Dr Dimitra Fimi.


I'd love to hear an account of how it all goes.
--John R

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

WotC Days (2001) -- layoffs

So, we had a plumber in last week, which meant we had to move about fifty boxes to the other side of the box room so he could open up the wall and get at the pipes that were misbehaving. This being too good an opportunity to miss, we sorted through several boxes that have lain undisturbed for a long while now, throwing away a good portion of what was in them but plucking out some items of interest, at least to me.

Case in point: a seating chart at Wizards of the Coast, showing who was in which cube. This was clearly in the old building on Lind, not the current location.

This page is of added interest because I marked it up at the time to show who got laid off in the June through July 2001 layoffs, including myself.  I can date it from indicators like the absence here of Jon Pickens, who had been the longest serving department member when he left in the previous round (December 2000), and the presence of Charles Ryan, who came up to join us in Seattle at that point (the only member of Last Unicorn to do so when WotC shut down the offsite autonomous branch). And it's distinct from the next round (which came sometime in 2002, I think), which took out some not marked here, like Dale Donovan.

Not all of the people marked here as leaving the department left the company. Some left on their own dime, like (I think) Thomas Reid, who wanted to concentrate on his novels. Some, like Dave Eckelberry and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes transferred to other departments, like Cards R&D or boardgames. And some, like me and Duane Maxwell, Jason Carl and Owen Stephens, Steve Miller et al, were simply out of luck.

At any rate, a curious historical relic wh. I thought I'd share, since one thing WOTc had in common with TSR was that its inner workings were entirely oblique, so that the outside world was usually completely unaware of who was in-house and who was out-of-house/freelance, and who did what on what project. This gradually changed as the internet made it far easier to keep track of such things, but even as late as when I left for the last time in December 2005 most people who followed the game closely still had relatively little idea of the department as a whole, and who did what on what projects.

Here's the chart:

--who's starting to wrap up my major proofing project and turning my mind to NTrpgCON

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Books at Kalamazoo

So, I usually come back from Kalamazoo with a stack of books, both new books about Tolkien I hadn't seen before and medieval works connected with any of several ongoing projects. This year I brought home an interesting miscellany, mostly catching up on the new releases from Doug Anderson's Nodens Books.

Nodens Books titles:

LATE REVIEWS by Douglas A. Anderson (2018)
—this is the project I've long known under the name OBSCURE DEAD AUTHORS, after a memorable WisCon panel some two decades or so ago. No one knows more about forgotten authors and overlooked books than Doug, and his 'Late Reviews' can pluck out the one thing worth remembering a neglected book for. Really looking forward to reading this one.

THE CULT MURDERS by Leonard Cline (1928) [writing as Alan Forsyth]
—a tragic figure almost wholly forgotten today, Cline wrote a searing work of naturalism (GODSTALK) but is remembered today only for the past-life regression novel THE DARK CHAMBER, which seems to have influenced Lovecraft, esp. in THE RATS IN THE WALL. He also wrote some detective stories while in prison, of which this is one.

—I wrote about this one's title story in my review of Doug's TALES BEFORE NARNIA: it's cited by CSL as an inspiration for his THE GREAT DIVORCE (and probably also provided a key idea for THE DARK TOWER).

SPHINX by David Lindsay (1923)
—the least significant of this author's seven books, but when the author is as extraordinary as Lindsay even his minor works are worth reading, at least once, to see what he was up to. After all, even on a bad day Hieronymus Bosch is still Hieronymus Bosch.

FINGERS OF FEAR by J. U. Nicolson (1937)
—this one I know nothing about, other than that it sounds like one of the thrillers Bertie Wooster enjoys reading. I'm looking forward to reading it sometime when I need a change of pace.

MONK'S MAGIC by Alexander de Comeau (1931)
—another book I know little about but which sounds rather Fersey-ish (as in Mervyn Wall's THE UNFORTUNATE FURSEY). And if this author can capture even a little of Wall's light touch it'll be well worth reading.

FERELITH by Lord Kilmarnock (1903)
—a book I know nothing about, yet.

GOING HOME by Barry Pain (1921)
—I've never read anything by Pain; looks like a good place to start, nice and short

—M. R. James-ian stories of much more recent vintage than most of Nodens Books' releases. Read this one last year on Kindle; now picking up the hardcopy book for easier access..

Aside from the Nodens Books collection, I came home with a few more. Four of the five are gifts, and much welcome.

THE NATIVE AMERICANS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY by Thomas, Miller, White, Nabokov, and Deloria; ed Betty & Ian Ballantine (1993) —a big illustrated picture book.

AUTHENTICATING ANCIENT INDIAN ARTIFACTS by Jim Bennett (2008)—filled with beautiful pictures of flintworks both real and reproduced.

INDIAN MOUNDS OF THE MIDDLE OHIO VALLEY by Susan L. Woodward & Jerry N. McDonald (2002)—lots of little maps of the interior of Indian mounds. Not only interesting in itself, but every D&D player can always use more maps of barrows.

THE SILVER VOICES by John Howard—a gift from someone I got into a long conversation with last year that seemed oddly at cross purposes, at the end of which it turned out he and I were talking about two different authors: John Howard in his case and Jonathan L. Howard (author of the Johannes Cabel books) in mine. Now thanks to his generosity I have a way of comparing the two before next year's Medieval Congress rolls round.

Finally, among the notes in Higgins' INKLINGS & ARTHUR volume I saw a reference to what sounded like a really interesting article that had appeared in a journal (ARTHURIANA) who always have a booth at Kalamazoo, so I made a note to look it up and buy that issue if possible. It was, and I'm looking forward to reading THE LOST ARTHURIAN PLAYS OF ELIZABETHAN ENGLAND. Wish Jim Pietrusz were still with us; I'd enjoy discussing this one with him.

Also, I ordered one book seen at the conf. and it's already arrived, so it shd get at least an honorable mention as an at-Kalamazoo-conference-purchase: TOLKIEN & ALTERITY ed Christopher Vaccaro & Yvette Kisor (the new organizers, starting next year, of the Tolkien at Kalamazoo papers track. The volume is dedicated to Jane Chance, without whom there wd be no 'Tolkien at Kalamazoo', nor the community of scholars it created, nor the three excellent volumes of presentations from the Tolkien track. They have a good group of contributors; I'm particularly looking forward to Verlyn Flieger's THE ORCS AND THE OTHERS. Though I must confess some look to go outside my comfort zone.
We'll see.

--John R.
--who's also ordered a pile of MYTHLOREs to catch up to the current issue, having recently lagged behind, and also order the catalogue for the big Tolkien Exhibit about to be unveiled at the Bodley this week.

UPDATE (W. May 30th)
Make that THIRTY years ago, at least, for that WisCon panel. Thanks to Doug A. for pointing out the time passed. --JDR