Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mithlond Books for 2010

So, the Sunday before Christmas our book group, Mithlond (officially a Discussion Group of the Mythopoeic Society) got together for our annual pick-more-books meeting. We had a good turn out and an enjoyable discussion, and even had a first-time attendee who we hope will join us as a new member. Over tea and a variety of snacks we picked books to read at our monthly meetings throughout the new year. We may swap around some titles as the year goes on, but given last year's example* we probably will get to most if not all of these in 2010. So here's the list:

January: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

February: PRINCE CASPIAN movie

March: THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan

April: PARADISE LOST by John Milton

May: TALES OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR by Katherine Kurtz et al

June: THE SUMMER TREE by Guy Gavriel Kay

July/August: summer break

September: WICKED by Gregory Maguire

October: ERAGON by Christopher Paolini

November: The Tale of Beren & Luthien; The Tale of Turin (from THE SILMARILLION)

December: pick books for 2011.

We meet the third Sunday of every month, so if you find yourself in the Seattle area let me know if you'd like to join in the fun.

--John R.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our Christmas Eve Tradition

So, today we were both off work so we were able to indulge in what has, over the past few years, become our Christmas Eve tradition. Today's one of our feast days, when we depart from our usual low-carb (Atkins) diet and feel free to eat whatever we want. After a pleasant breakfast at Wild Wheat, our favorite local (Kent) restaurant, we drove over to the park-&-ride in Tukwila and took the new SoundTransit train all the way to the end of the line, Westlake Station. This being our third trip on the new train, we are now confirmed fans of Seattle's new, long-overdue, mass transit.

From the downtown station we walked the few blocks over to the Pike Place Market, where we proceeded to poke about for the next few hours, enjoying some street food in the process. Among the places we visited were Mersker's Maps, where I bought not one but two moon-calendars* and looked over some maps of England and Ireland, thinking ahead to our next trip over there in a few years (two & a half years & counting) and trying to find the Bilbo river (in Ireland) and village of Bilbo (in Scotland) I'd recently read about. We also visited Quality Cheese, where we picked up my favorite English cheeses: Cheshire and Double Gloucester and Wensleydale, plus a little St. Andre for variety,** then Frank's produce, where we got a selection of vegetables & fruit, our contribution to Christmas Day dinner. Other stops included Mee Sum for some crab rangoon and sesame balls, Becher's Cheese for some of their signature macaroni and cheese, and a brief stop for a cup of tea apiece (yunnan) at the Perennial Tea Room in Post Alley. Also adding to the experience were a lot of good-humored people, quite a few buskers, and an annoying mime dressed like a Michael Jackson robot. The strangest instrument I saw was a bassoon -- I've never seen a busker with a bassoon before, and had some interest in this as a fellow woodwindist, but he was just setting up when we walked by so I have no idea how good he was or what he played. About the only busker I didn't chip in a bit for was the one with the ukelele singing one of my least favorite songs.

That evening there was cooking (cut corn on my part), and the next day much enjoyment at a Christmas gathering at a friend's (friends') house, where we got to see both folks we hardly ever see except at gatherings like this and others we see almost every game night.

The day after that was uneventful, which was nice, and ended in a well-attended Call of Cthulhu session (seven investigators), the second scenario in a Miskatonic campaign I'm running. They played well and were all alive and sane when we broke for the night; we'll see if their luck holds in the second session, which will probably be this weekend.

And, after that, I was strickened with a cold that's laid me low for days -- hence the lag in postings. All better now, I hope.

--John R.

current anime: SCHOOL RUMBLE (season two), EL CAZADOR DE LA BRUJA

*the link to this product is here ( ), but the image shown doesn't do justice to how neat this poster-calendar is: each day is represented with an image of the moon in its appropriate phase, and all 365 days are shown at the same time. Ours hangs on the landing by the window through which we can watch the moonrise when it's full or gibbous.

**the St. Andre, mysteriously enough, was nowhere to be found when we got home. I hope whoever found it wherever it wound up enjoyed it; shame if it went to waste.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eric Woolfson dies

So, thanks to Jim Lowder (thanks Jim) I learned last week that Eric Woolfson died earlier this month (December 4th) at the age of 64. Better known as Alan Parsons' partner, co-founder of The Alan Parsons Project and co-writer with Parsons of all ten of the group's albums, he was a driving creative force behind one of my all-time favorite groups and helped them create some of the finest concept albums rock music has to offer (I ROBOT, TALES OF MYSTERY & IMAGINATION, PYRAMID, and possibly TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD and EYE IN THE SKY as well).*

Starting with their fifth album, he also sang one or more songs on most of their later albums,** including "Time", "Eye in the Sky", "Don't Answer Me", and "Separate Lives". Since going their separate ways (after GAUDI [1987], Parsons has put out four new albums, one of which (ON AIR) is good enough not just to have been an Alan Parson Project album but to have ranked among their best, while Woolfson drifted more into writing musicals and, recently, revisiting past glories. Of his three solo albums, by far the best (and the only one to feature Parsons) is the first, FREUDIANA [1990], an eccentric collection of songs from the points of view of Freud's various patients.*** The outstanding song here is "Upper Me" (which for years I thought was called "The Other Me"), though "Funny You Should Say That" and "You're On Your Own" have their appeal. If you wondered what an Alan Parsons album would sound like with Leo Sayer and Kiki Dee joining the usual suspects (like Chris Rainbow and John Miles, both of whom are also present), here's your answer: surprisingly enough, it works.

The same cannot be said of POE: MORE TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION [2003], which attempts to revisit the Project's first and most ambitious album with a 'part two' -- but most of the songs here have nothing to do with Poe; "Murders in the Rue Morgue" recaptures the goofy charm of "Funny You Should Say That", but only "The Pit and the Pendulum" is worthy to have been included on the old album. By far the best song is "Train to Freedom", which manages to capture a faux-spiritual vibe somehow.

And just earlier this year I got his latest, rather awkwardly titled ERIC WOOLFSON SINGS THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT THAT NEVER WAS [2009], where he re-records some of songs from MORE TALES along with some rejects from Alan Parsons Project days and newer songs he said would have been on Project albums had the Project not disbanded some twenty years before. Despite its name, this is most emphatically not a genuine Alan Parsons Project album -- for one thing, it lacks any input from Alan Parsons. For another, it lacks one of the hallmarks of the Project and part of their appeal: having a wide range of singers appear on the same album to have a contrast of voices and styles. Instead, all ten songs here are sung by Woolfson in his high, pleasant voice. No standouts at all, I'm afraid.

So, it seems unlikely we'd have gotten another good album out of Woolfson if he'd been spared (by contrast, even the latest and quirkiest Alan Parsons album still has one or two good pieces on it, like "More and More Lost Without You"). But it's sad to see the passing of someone who contributed so much to some of my favorite music. Many thanks, and Rest in Peace.

--John R.

*although my favorite concept album, bar none, remains TARKUS by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer [1971].

**thirteen in all, by my count, over the course of five albums.

*** I owe my discovery of this one to Rich Baker, who loaned me a cassette of it back in our early days together at TSR; it took me the better part of a decade to find the cd (which had to be imported from Germany); Woolfson's later albums I had to order directly from his website.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Visitors (Hawk & Swans)

So, Sunday we were rather surprised to see a hawk in the maple tree outside our dining room/kitchen. Clearly it'd noticed our finch feeder and suet feeder and interpreted this as a buffet for a hungry hawk (not that there are any other kind). Unfortunately for it, word had obviously gotten out and all the finches, chickadees, juncos, red-wing blackbirds, and less frequent visitors had all made themselves conspicuous by their absence. The hawk stayed a good half-hour, for a good bit of which it repeated the somewhat strange behavior of puffing out its wings over and over. I thought perhaps it'd been injured, but Janice was reminded of the way the hawks at the raptor exhibit at the zoo fluff out their feathers to cover prey once they've got it. Perhaps it was anticipating in hopeful fashion, perhaps it was just staying warm. In any case, the only bird it saw was our resident hummingbird, whom I've recently dubbed Goliath (who spent the whole of a bitterly cold week sitting on the dowel beside his feeder, scanning the sky for rivals -- whom I've collectively given the name 'Godot'). Goliath didn't hide but simply got higher up in the same tree as the hawk to monitor the situation, apparently feeling confident that he cd outfly any hawk that didn't get the drop on him. I daresay he's right.

And then, yesterday as I was coming home, I noticed four large white birds in the nearby lake that gives The Lakes their name. It was dusk and I cd only see them briefly as I drove by, but they looked like swans to me -- it might just be possible that they were white geese, but from the way they towered over the ducks they were swimming among I thought not. Then today I saw them again -- except this time there were ten in all. I pulled over and walked back to have a better look: despite the distance, my bad eyesight, and the fading light there was no doubt. I'm didn't know swans were gregarious -- I'd always thought them fiercely territorial, but maybe when they migrating the flock together. Now I'm hoping they stay around for a few days so Janice gets a chance to see them.

In the words of Fats Waller, it just goes to show: one never knows, do one?

--John R.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

How Would Gollum Vote?

So, here's an odd one -- a love/hate self-debate on the Senate health care bill expressed in Gollum fashion, Stinker vs. Slinker. Just another sign of Tolkien's ubiquity as part of our culture, with his characters becoming as familiar as Ebenezer Scrooge or Doctor Watson.

If, like Janice, you'd prefer not to hear more about the health care debate after all these months, better to stop after the opening paragraphs under the following link.

Amusing in a different way was this post a few days back by Viggo Mortensen, who played Strider in the LotR movies but who turns out to have totally internalized Tolkien's message that it's the little people, not the great kings, who really matter, the small hands that turn the wheels of the world:

--John R.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Billboard

So, recently I came across a mention of a deliberately controversial billboard put up by a liberal Anglican church (St. Matthew-in-the-City) in Auckland, New Zealand. It's not so much the billboard itself, which was both funny and extremely disrespectful of Joseph and Mary, that's interesting as has been the response to it. Within hours it'd been defaced, and the comments about it on their website, while including thanks from a few who found its challenge to Biblical literalism* thought-provoking, was dominated by vicious denunciations by self-identified Xians from around the world, not just of the image but specifically of the pastor (which in turn sparked a fair number of smug, condescending responses from Skeptical Inquirer-types). I find it fascinating that people who think they're Xian have no problem putting up controversial signs and billboards all around the country that present their views in the most gruesome, graphic, and in-your-face terms, yet explode in a fit of indignation when anyone who holds a contrary view presents it in the same formats. Or, in this case, the vehemence of those who believe, in contradiction of the Gospels, that Joseph and Mary never consummated their marriage.

At any rate, if you'd like to see an image of the billboard (before it was vandalized), and also to hear the accompanying sermon, or skim over some of the (many, many) comments, here's the link. I'd advise not clicking on it, though, if you're easily offended by irreverent religious cartoons:

Somewhat less controversially, tied to this is a second story about the ongoing collapse of Xianity in England: the number of people who identify themselves as Xians is now just over half the population, and of that half less than a quarter (23%) are Anglicans (that is, about 12-13% of the total population). For a church that used to be mandatory for all English, that's quite a fall, and helps explain much of the turmoil

Lucky for us that Madison won his war to prevent us from having any Established church over here (though he failed in his effort to make churches pay tax like everyone else). And yet the recent move to bar someone who wrote a book blasting Billy Graham from serving as a city councilman in Asheville North Carolina is a reminder that the fights of the 'founding fathers' are never really over.

--John R.
*e.g., the idea that God is white, male, has a beard, and lives in the sky. actually, I must say the explanations by the folks behind the poster show they have as little idea what Biblical literalists believe as vice-versa.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

C. S. Lewis College

So, thanks to a posting on the MythSoc list today, I learned about plans to launch "C. S. Lewis College" on the campus of what is currently the Northfield Mount Hermon school in Northfield, Massachusetts* -- a place with no CSL connection (but then Wheaton, home of the Wade Center, had no Lewis connection before Kilby started the Center there, and that's worked out really well for everyone concerned). The campus was originally founded back in the 1870s by Dwight Moody (of Moody Bible Institute fame) as a seminary for young women --ironic, given Lewis's contempt for women's higher education. This new venture is a curious joint venture between the C. S. Lewis Institute, run by Stanley Mattson,** and Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City based arts & crafts store, who are bankrolling the purchase. The college will be non-denominational Xian ("Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants of all kinds") and focus on a 'Great Books' approach (a la Bloom or Adler); they hope to have the college up and running for the Fall 2012 semester.

The main announcement is here (the gravestones you see at the start of the little film turn out to belong to Dwight Moody and his wife):

For more details about their plans for the college, check here:

And for a nice set of photos of what turns out to be a v. pleasant campus, set alongside the Connecticut River, see here:

--John R.

*Northfield is in north-central Massachusetts, not far from the fictional Dunwich.

**the same people who own the Kilns, CSL's old home outside of Oxford, which they run as a sort of Xian boarding house; for more on the C. S. Lewis Institute & their work, see

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Evil Emanating (Tolkien on Ireland)

So, occasionally Tolkien gets quoted as saying something that strikes me as downright weird. Usually when I come across one of these, I back up and read the context, whereupon I see what he's getting at, and most of the apparent oddity goes away. But sometimes that's not an option.

Case in point: recently for a piece I've been working on, I went back to one of Tolkien's statements we don't know first hand, or even second hand, but only third hand. I first learned about it from a quote in Marjorie Burns' excellent book PERILOUS REALMS, in which she quotes George Sayer as saying the following about "[Tolkien's] reaction to the Irish landscape":

"In a 1979 transcription of a discussion
on J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis,
George Sayer tells a remarkable story
about Tolkien describing Ireland as
'naturally evil.' He could 'feel,' Sayer relates,
'evil coming up from the earth,
from the peat bogs, from the clumps of trees,
even from the cliffs, and this evil
was only held in check by the great
devotion of the southern Irish
to their religion.' "
--Burns, PERILOUS REALMS, page 19*

Unfortunately, as I said, we don't have any place where Tolkien himself wrote down anything like this, at least not that I know of. Nor did Sayer ever put this in his books or one of his memoirs, that I've been able to find. Our sole source for this seems to be a three-way discussion between Sayer, Humphrey Carpenter, and Clyde Kilby that took place at Wheaton in September 1979 -- and, just to complicate things a little further, no copy of the original audiotape of the event seems to survive, only a transcription published in a fanzine a few months later (the January 1980 issue of MINAS TIRITH EVENING STAR).

So there it is: a striking statement, entirely devoid of context, which we only have by a somewhat indirect route. No way to tell how serious Tolkien was when he said it, or how accurately our third-hand record of it represents his thought. But intriguing nonetheless.

--John R.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The New Arrivals: The Tolkien Collector

So, yesterday's mail brought the welcome sight of a well-stuffed packet from Christina Scull which, when opened, turned out to include not one but two new issues of THE TOLKIEN COLLECTOR (#29 & #30). The first covers new* and re-released books by Tolkien and new books about him, while the second is mainly devoted to translations and an extensive piece by Steven Frisby.

In her editorial, Christina talks about their decision not to collect e-books, including the recent & ongoing release of Tolkien's books in e-format: "Sooner or later, limits of money or space force most collectors to redefine the parameters of what they collect. Wayne and I . . . love books as physical objects as much as for their contents, and do not plan to collect e-books if we can help it". She also discusses the death of Pauline Baynes last year and the transfer of Baynes' sketches and working library to Williams College.

I've been a subscriber since issue one, and looking through this digest I always find things I'd not heard about before -- including, this time, the separate publication of the first chapter of THE HOBBIT by itself as a little booklet in 2003. It's also interesting to see how, having been translated into the major European languages, THE HOBBIT is now working its way into an array of less-widely-spoken languages such as Breton, Basque, Georgian, and Luxembourgese, among others, as well as major Mid-Eastern languages like Arabic and Persian (two separate versions).

The books about Tolkien section also rewards the reader: I was unaware that David Collins' young-adult biography of JRRT came in two distinct versions (1992 & 2005), the latter having been re-written by a third party to its detriment. And it would certainly have saved me shelf-space if I'd known ahead of time that Stratford Caldecott's two books SECRET FIRE and THE POWER OF THE RING are actually the same book under two different titles, with the latter having an additional eight-page appendix about the films.

The main interest of issue 30 for most will be Frisby's essay, written in 2003 and finally published here in its entirety, explaining in great detail how to distinguish between the various early printings of THE HOBBIT. This is exactly the sort of thing the late Dr. Blackwelder, who assembled a collection that had every printing of all the Ballantine JRRT paperbacks he cd find, would have loved.

In short, both issues live up to the high standards of the journal's entire run. If you like this sort of thing, you'll be all the happier to get a double-dose at once.


*for example, SIGURD & GUDRUN alone accounts for four separate entries

Tyndarus House?

So, recently I've been reading Greek tragedies (SEVEN AGAINST THEBES, THE CYCLOPS) and Roman comedies (THE CAPTIVES, THE HAUNTED HOUSE), filling in some of the gaps from the last time I read Greek drama, when I took a class in classical lit. back as an undergrad (i.e., plays not assigned then that for one reason or another sounded interesting). Plautus' comedies really do turn out to be just like A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, except not as good (since it's a modern distillation of the whole genre), or THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (where Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, absolutely nailed it). But I was slightly bothered by one character's name, Tyndarus (usually abbreviated TYND in the Kindle version I was reading). It was only after I'd finished the play that it suddenly struck me how close this was to Tindalos, as in 'the Hounds of Tindalos'.

I don't know if 'Tindalos' was inspired by Tyndarus -- I can easily see Lovecraft, who was v. knowledgeable about classical authors (indeed, something of a prodigy), adapting it -- but this particular contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos came not by Lovecraft himself but his friend Frank Belknap Long in the story of the same name [1929], and I don't know much about Long's erudition (or lack thereof).

If the name Tyndarus* did inspire 'Tindalos', then it fits the pattern whereby Lovecraft seems to have derived the name Nyarlathotep from Dunsany's Mynarthitep (from "The Sorrows of Search", in Time & the Gods [1906]), rather than his taking over a real-world name like Nodens (whom he believed to have been a Titan) or Dagon (a non-classical deity).

On the other hand, anyone who's any good at making up names for imaginary places will inevitably make up some combination that resembles a real-world name, whether they're aware of it or not (there are only so many good combinations of consonants and vowels to go around). So the question becomes is this a name like Kor, which Tolkien borrowed from Haggard and put to his own use, or a name like Gondor, which Tolkien invented but which resembles both Twain's Gondour and the real-world city of Gondar in Ethiopia, neither of which seems to have been Tolkien's model**. I suspect it falls in the latter category, but the possibility of its being Long's actual source seemed interesting enough to be worth sharing.

--John R.

*rather than from this play, Long cd also have taken it from the rather more famous King Tyndareus, father of Helen of Troy and at least one of the Gemini Twins (Castor and Pollux).

**the name of The Kingdom of Stone was originally Ond, then Ondor, then finally Gondor in Tolkien's successive drafts.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

C. S. Lewis play comes to Seattle

So, thanks to my massage therapist*, I learned this week that a local Seattle theater company will be putting on a play based on C. S. Lewis's THE GREAT DIVORCE for about a month from late January to near the end of February, 2010.

The place in question is the Taproot Theatre, where we saw SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE by Earl Derr Biggers (better known for writing the six Charlie Chan novels) the year before last, though I'm not sure whether this will be put on by their usual cast and crew or a visiting group (the 'Magis Theatre'), nor whether it'll be in the same theatre where we saw the other play, given that their building was damaged by the Seattle arsonist not that long ago.**

For more about the play, go to the group's website ( and tap the sky-blue & white button "2010 Season"

or you can just click

The show will preview Jan 27th & 28th, followed immediately by their regular run, from Jan 29th thr Feb 27th. According to the taproot site, the play was adapted from CSL's original book by George Drance & the Magis Theatre. I don't know Drance's work, but there's a picture of the cast in costume on his website (see ); apparently Drance himself plays George MacDonald, the narrator's guide. The play has apparently been around since at least early 2007, given the following (brief) review dated Jan. 24th 2007:

We don't get to too many plays, but if I manage to see this one I'll try to make another post about how well they pulled it off.

More later (perhaps).

--John R.

*the talented Mr. John Jackson, who does an excellent job from time to time undoing some of the damage my work-all-day-on-the-laptop lifestyle does to my neck and shoulders:

**for pictures of the damaged theatre, see
For the news story about the presumed arsonist's arrest, see

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'A Milwaukee Adventure'

So, a few years back I surprised Janice with a few of the Harry Stephen Keeler reprints from Ramble House, a small press that started up to bring back into print some of the fantastically rare works by this most eccentric of mystery writers. But I never got around to reading any of these reprints myself until this past week.

The first, Kats I Have Known by O. O. Orange (i.e., Keeler), is a chapter [now reprinted as a booklet] he inserted in an otherwise unrelated novel (in which an imprisoned character has to read this essay in order to find a necessary clue to escape) -- one of Keeler's more notable odd practices as a writer. It's an amusing celebration of thirty cats he'd had during his life, from the one who had a pet turtle to the one who protested so vocally at being bathed that the police arrived, nightsticks in hand, to interrupt the foul murder they thought was being perpetrated within.

By contrast, the second, Adventure in Milwaukee is a 'novello' (as he called it; today it'd be called a novella) written in 1916 and then revised in 1922. It's fairly straightforward so far as Keeler goes: a missing brother, a stolen necklace, a monogrammed stiff collar, a mysterious woman on a train, a dashing would-be hero rather out of his depth, a hypnotist who died before making his volunteers wake up, blackmail, multiple mistaken identities, red herrings a-plenty, and much much more. But it's the capturing of a time and place that make it really stand out for me. Having lived in Milwaukee from 1981 to 1992 (and on its outskirts in Hales Corners for another two years after that before departing for the wilds of Delavan), I was fascinated by this glimpse into an earlier Milwaukee. Most of the places the narrator (a stranger in town, hailing from the apparently fictitious small Wisconsin town of Wauwaukauchee Lake, out past Oconomowoc*) visits were familiar to me, so that I could mentally trace his movements. Many were still there when I first arrived: Wisconsin Avenue and Broadway and East Water, Juneau park and Layton Avenue, Clybourn** and Greenfield and 26th street (which I was somewhat surprised to learn was already a run-down, dangerous neighborhood some seventy years before I briefly lived in it, by which time it had become part of The Core).

There were mental adjustments I had to make--the elm trees he mentions as lining 26th street are long gone, of course: my generation and all those younger have no idea what elm-lined streets look like. A few times I was puzzled by the route he was taking, but later I realized this was because my mental map included the interstates, which wd have destroyed many of the obvious surface-street connections from Keeler's time. More importantly, when he mentions catching the 'Wells car' west out Wisconsin, or the 'Oakland car' north to Park Place (on the upper East Side, the neighborhood in which resided the original of Prospero's house in THE FACE IN THE FROST, according to Jn Bellairs), he's not talking about hailing a cab --something he specifically does at another point, calling it a 'bonded carrier' ("bedraggled privately owned automobiles which operated for the nickels of the public") -- but streetcars, a system of which used to criss-cross the city*** (he describes them as "little faded yellow streetcars"). It's only when he has to venture out into West Allis, which he describes as covered with factories (rather than the residential area of my time), that he resorts to hired cars; presumably the public transportation didn't yet extend that far.

Some things had changed greatly between Keeler's time and mine: Gimbels was still a downtown institution when I arrived (I bought a few D&D modules and stray issues of DRAGON there!), but the old train station had already been demolished and replaced by an uninteresting grey shoebox of a Amtrak Station a mile or so to the west and several blocks south (the historic old station was later commemorated with one of the ugliest pieces of public art I've ever seen) and the Pabst Building, once a major local landmark, had been knocked down the year before I came to town, though it was still a familiar sight to me because its image was painted as a faux-'reflection' on a nearby building. The Southern Wisconsin Near-Beer Company, while fictional, sounded just the right note for the era, and I was rather interested to note the occasional nod towards Milwaukee's German flavor, which took a big hit during WWI (there were major anti-draft riots there). No hint of the xenophobia that gripped most of the nation here (e.g., when they made it illegal to play Beethoven): Keeler treats the various German landladies and innkeepers and would-be society figures as mildly comic, such as Herr Hummel, who runs the hotel his hero stays at, the Wisconsin Strasse Deutscher Gasthof.

Strikingly, Keeler never mentions the Milwaukee River without noting the stink, and at one point mentions "three ill-smelling, oily black canals" in what I think must now be the Menominee valley under the viaduct -- they'd cleaned up the river a good deal by the time I arrived, and around 1989 or so opened the floodgates on the Milwaukee itself, which quickly went from a wide, sluggish river to a much cleaner, swifter, more narrow river.

So, here's a little book I'd love to see the Milwaukee Historical Society reprint, with annotations and illustrations, as encapturing a bygone era.

--John R.
current book: THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley [2009]

*which is a real place. just so you know, if you're not from those parts.
**though it was surprising to hear an address near what would now be 35th & Clybourne described as a new-build area into which the city had obviously just expanded
***and still continued running into the fifties; my friend Jim Pietrusz still remembers the last of them from his childhood, by which point they had become rather bedraggled themselves through deliberate lack of maintenance.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tolkien's Will

So, having recently coming across the Wills of C. S. Lewis, Warnie Lewis, and Owen Barfield* made me want to go back and look at J. R. R. Tolkien's will again. I'd seen this about ten years ago but not been able to make a copy, so the details had become faded in my mind aside from the single most striking passage, and I wanted to get the exact wording of that.

I soon learned that it was available through the excellent Tolkien Shop (TolkienWinkle) in Holland**, who as usual have available the most amazing selection of out-of-the-way Tolkien items (it's not for nothing that their owner combines his Leiden shop with The Tolkien Museum). But since I don't do Paypal, payment turned out to be unexpectedly difficult. When combined with the shipping costs (which was more than the cost of the item itself) and an unfavorable exchange rate (grr), it turned out to be far more than I wanted to pay for a four-page photocopy.

Fall back to Plan B. I asked a friend in England if he could get it and then forward it to me, since it'd both be cheaper and less fuss that way. Turned out he had a much better idea (Plan C): why not just get it from the probate office? So he did -- one for himself and another for me, at a v. reasonable rate. And so a nice clean copy, beautifully embossed by the 'Seal of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice', arrived safely a little before Thanksgiving. [Thanks Charles!]

The Will itself is fairly simple and straightforward. Having been signed on the twenty-third of July 1973, only a few weeks before Tolkien's death (on Sept. 2nd), it would have replaced an earlier will.*** Aside from appointing his executors (his solicitor F. R. Williamson and sons Michael and Christopher, the latter of whom is also designated his Literary Executor) and stating his desire to be buried, the first part of the will is devoted to specific bequests:

--a thousand pounds to the Birmingham Oratory in memory of Fr. Francis (and the Fathers' kindness to JRRT after he was orphaned)
--five hundred pounds to Trinity College, which he hopes wd be used to help out a hard-up undergraduate****
--three hundred pounds to Exeter College
--two hundred pounds to Pembroke College
--two hundred pounds to David Havard, his godson
--a thousand pounds to Joan Baker, his granddaughter

He suggests the bequests to Exeter and Pembroke be used to buy some article of silver for their senior common rooms (which reminded me of the rings Shakespeare asked his friends to buy to remember him by). Exeter was of course his own college as an undergraduate, while Pembroke gave him his first Oxford professorship. I was a bit surprised to find Merton unmentioned, but assume he'd already made other arrangements there before his death.

According to the cover letter from the Probate Registry accompanying the will, his estate was valued at 190,577.60 pounds (gross), or 144,159.29 (net), and the tax bill came to 42,019.50 pounds. After asking that his personal effect be distributed among his family as his executors see fit, he sets up a trust with the remainder of his estate, to be shared equally among his children and their children after them. He also (wisely) urges the executors to keep his copyrights in the family if at all possible.

The one great exception to this are his 'literary assets' ("my library and all my manuscripts typescripts notes and all other articles connected with my work as an author"), which he entrusts (literally) to Christopher as Literary Executor, granting him the right to

"publish edit alter rewrite or complete any work of mine
which may be unpublished at my death or to destroy the whole
or any part or parts of any such unpublished works as he
in his absolute discretion may think fit and subject thereto"

Wow. That's quite a vote of confidence, saying Christopher could publish it, in whole or in part, or destroy it, in whole or in part. His father trusted his judgment, explicitly granting him permission to do whatever he thought right with the mass of manuscripts left in his keeping.

I'm glad he decided not to have one big bonfire, and that he devoted the next third of a century to sorting, transcribing, analyzing, and publishing so much of those papers. The world would be a poorer place if CT had followed the Mary Renault example.*****

--John R.

*** (cf. the Note to Letter #315 [January 1970], which mentions the trust he had set up for his children; there is also mention in an unpublished letter from the 1950s about his having willed his papers to the Bodleian)

****this concern for hard-up students was typical of Tolkien; cf. Jn Lawlor's account.

*****Renault had long-standing instructions to her partner that if she died leaving a work unfinished, her partner was to destroy it -- which she loyally did, despite the anguish it caused her and her personal opinion that the Arthurian novel Renault had half-finished was her best work.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Crows Ate My Pecan Pie

So, being a Southerner, love of pecan pie is part of my heritage. It's one of the things I really miss from before the low-carb Atkins days, and when I'm back home in Arkansas I try to go by the Magnolia Bake Shop and pick up at least one of their little (tart-sized) pecan pies. There are plenty of high-carb recipes that can be re-created in low (or at least lower) carb versions, but the corn syrup (=liquid sugar) plus the high-carb crust that make up two of the three essential ingredients of pecan pie had me stymied.

So, when Janice suggested I try it with Tupelo honey instead of corn syrup, I thought that had real possibilities. I made a low-carb (ground nut) crust, replaced the corn syrup that makes up the bulk of the pie with diabetic-friendly honey, and laid on the pecans on top with a generous hand. Since I wasn't sure how well the honey mixture would set compared with the corn syrup, I made them in tart form in little clear bowls rather than a whole pie (less messy to eat if it came out runny).

The results? Golden Honey Pecan Pie. Pretty good for a first effort: looked and tasted pretty much like pecan pie, but with a distinct dark yellow rather than brown coloration and an aftertaste of honey. So, discovery number one: it's possible to pull this off, though the recipe needs refining. Discovery number two: wow, these things are filling. Next time I should use smaller bowls (maybe the ramekins) so each individual serving is about half this size.

Unfortunately, having made them before Thanksgiving and then shortly afterwards being strickened with flu (which in my case mainly hit the stomach and, shall we say, digestion), I realized today that the two remaining ones have been sitting out on the counter for a week and a half. Having just recovered from stomach distress I didn't want to risk their having started to go bad, but just throwing them out seemed a pity. So, seeing how eager the birds have been the past few days for edibles in these first cold days of hard frost in the morning,* I decided to give them to our fine feathered friends (thinking that scavengers like crows wd have stomaches better suited to deal with any potential problems). First I pulled out all the pecans, washed them off, and chopped them up, thinking that these at least would be welcome. Then I scooped out the gooey center and crumbled ground-nut crust and decided why not? Put them on the other side of a little plate from the nuts and placed it on the ground out back beneath the suet feeder.

An hour later it was all gone. First came the chickadees and the juncos, but I also saw a flicker hanging round and, not long afterwards, a crow flying away from the empty dish. So I did the same with the second tart-pie. And sure enough, when I next checked back the little plate was bare once again.

And that's not even taking into account the goldfinches, juncos, chickadees, and red wing blackbirds (and yesterday a pigeon!) visiting the balcony itself. My work here is done.
For now.

--John R.

*just yesterday morning I'd been horrified to find little drops of frozen blood in the frost atop the balcony railing by our finch feeder. I assume the sudden frost of the night before had damaged one or more little bird's feet, though it seemed clear that whatever had been hurt had been able to move around a good deal. Also the two hummingbird feeders had been frozen, so I microwaved one a bit and cleaned out the other and filled it with fresh hummingbird juice (and was rewarded by seeing a hummingbird at it within a few minutes).
One good thing to come of this, though, was that I put out more finch food than usual to give them a little extra energy against the cold. Which meant I no longer had enough to make it all the way to the weekend. Which meant I had to drive over to Wild Birds Unlimited in Burien and buy some more Finch Mix, during which I got to pet their resident cat, Miss Millie.
On the way back, saw a hungry-looking hawk in a bare tree not too far from here, which made me wonder if on second thought the blood-drops might not have been from a raptor-strike at our feeder. No feathers though.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


So, friend Jeff today pointed out on GrubbStreet* that friend Wolf is the GEEK OF THE WEEK, according to the (late, lamented) Seattle P-I. Congratulations, Wolfgang.

All Hail the Monkey King!

--though I do wonder what that genetically altered algae might be up to now

Here's the link:


current reading: IMPEACHED: THE TRIAL OF ANDREW JOHNSON by David O. Stewart [2009]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

second fan-film released

So, nothing like the flu to make you down tools for a few days.

Better now, but still in the process of un-mushing my brain. In the absence of any more trenchant post, thought I'd pass along the news that they've just released the second fan-film by the folks behind THE HUNT FOR GOLLUM. This one, BORN OF HOPE, tells the story of Aragorn's parents. It's an hour long (though at some points it seems longer) and, simply judged as a piece of fan-fiction, is pretty impressive. The goal is clearly to look exactly like Peter Jackson's LotR films: introductory voiceover, makeup, soundtrack, and general look-and-feel are as much like Jackson's film trilogy as possible (if I read the credits right* they even got their armor from Weta Workshop). The plot of course comes from Appendix A, with the screenplay an impressive piece of pastiche -- most fan fiction doesn't really sound anything like the author being imitated, and most fan films (e.g., all but one of the Lovecraft adaptations I've seen) take over motifs from the original but fail to capture its style. Here they have the style down pat -- but it's not Tolkien's style but Jackson/Boyens/Walsh.

So, if you like this sort of thing, you'll like this example of it v. much. Production values are as high as I've ever seen in an amateur film, much of the photography is beautiful, and it might help tide film-trilogy fans over until the next dose of the real thing is available, still roughly two years off at this point.**

And for Tolkien scholars? Not much here, I'm afraid. The best character by far, and I'd also say the best performance, is the female ranger (and yes, her very presence tells you how far this is from anything Tolkien himself would have written) who in the closing credits turns out rather improbably to be named Elgarain. The story they've chosen to tell here is one Tolkien decided wasn't worth telling in full, but only in synopsis, so their challenge is to prove him wrong. That's a tall order, and I don't think they succeed. It's rather like when the great Kenneth Morris decided to tell, not the great myth of Quetzalcoatl but a story about his parents (THE CHALCHIUHITE DRAGON [circa 1930]). If not even a talent like Morris cd pull it off, I think the deck was pretty much stacked against these folks from the get-go. But it's a pretty impressive effort and, aside from the main character's death by stupidity (while acting entirely out of character, in order for things required by the plot to take place) I'd say it succeeds on its own terms.

If you're interested, here's the website and link to watch the film here:

At the v. least, I'm glad to have learned about 'West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village' near Bury St. Edmunds, a little re-creation of an Old English settlement the filmmakers used as the Dunedain's main town.


*hard to tell, since it kept quitting on me towards the end of the film.

**just today came some news that they've putting off the start of filming a bit while wrestling with the script for the second part, though they still hope to make the December 2011 release date for part one: