Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Taum Santoski XII

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

12. History falls from the Post-Logos, all the results of the creation. After the time of language making, when myth is no longer the sole source of explanation, when philosophy enters in, History occurs.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Taum Santoski XI

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

11. The Logos is the Exlamation and the Myth. In the act of creation the Logos is the sole source and by the Logos word and mind fuse only to split into degenerative and profane things.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Monday, August 29, 2011


So, today I came across the following recent interview of PICTURING TOLKIEN editors Jan Bogstad & Phil Kaveny by Kristin Thompson, herself a contributor to that collection (as am I), on Kristin's website. As fellow members of the University of Wisconsin Tolkien Society (the group that also produced Tolkien scholars Richard West, Matt Fisher, and David Salo), Kristin, Jan, & Phil all go way back. And as the author of the best book on the films, THE FRODO FRANCHISE, Kristin is well-positioned to ask good questions about what differentiates this collection from the others previously released about the films. Here's the piece:

All I'd add is that, as a contributor and bystander to some of the events mentioned in the piece, I know who some of the people in their editorial war stories are, and admit to wholly unwarranted curiosity about the rest. I might add that in the Table of Contents she gives at the end, the author's name follows his or her essay, rather than proceeds it.

--John R., looking forward to the first reviews of the book.

Taum Santoski X

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

10. The Protologos is myth in its birth. And the revelation of Eru reveals the myth of Arda until the time of myth has passed and moved into history of which they have no part but to wait until the cycle brings mythology once more into Arda. This pulsing of myth to history to myth is equivalted to the generational action of philosophy and political structures.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Taum Santoski IX

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

9. In the mythos the Act is expressed by three forms related to language, the Logos. All activity before the pronounced Logos is contained within the Conception, the three themes of Iluvatar propounded to the Ainur, and their Music is the Initialization. This is the Protologos. By revelation Eru shows the Ainur the birth and growth of the Logos.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taum Santoski VIII

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

8. The subcreation of Middle-earth is done upon a course of realization, by artifact, word, and story. These are reducable into four types: the Completed Act, the Potential Act, the Initialized Act and the Concetual Act, each identified by a particular.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Friday, August 26, 2011

Taum Santoski VII

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

[page 2]

7. Tolkien's mythology is the result of four processes, each having a dependency upon the other, the multiplicity in a unity. The Ainulindale is the mythological process; The bulk of The Silmarillion is the mythologizing of history; The Lord of the Rings is the historicized myth and Unfinished Tales is the scholastic/academic media.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Taum's Aphorisms, parts I to VI

So, after a lapse of several days, I'm about to start posting daily entries from Taum's piece that I've dubbed 'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy', though perhaps ' . . . of Tolkienian Fantasy' might have been nearer the mark.

To recap, here's what I make of the first six entries (which, conveniently, take up the first of the four typescript pages). All comments are simply my interpretations and have no authorial authority (which is why I've been presenting the paragraphs without any commentary or apparatus, to allow Taum's work to stand on its own).

(1) whereas I've come to look at Tolkien's world as teleological (that is, the foredoomed disenchanting of Middle-earth to become our everyday world is the most key thing about it)*, Taum sees it as "aetiological". That is, Tolkien's stories are the kind of myth that answers questions about why the world is the way it is: not just 'why do we have day and night' but 'why do we fear the dark?'. Having two races, Elves & Men, gives Tolkien more variables to work with in presenting his themes.

(2) Middle-earth is neither our familiar "present physical world" nor a 'Mirror for Magistrates' recasting thereof but its own coherent, self-contained (literary) reality. This departs somewhat from Tolkien's own description of M-e as our world's mythical past but chimes with Tolkien's rejection of Looking-Glass worlds as truely fairy-stories.

(3) Like Niggle's walking into the distance without finding it becoming mere surroundings, Middle-earth is a 'Golden Age' that will never be reduced to History. As one of his most memorable phrases puts it, "time never brings the Golden Age any closer". However, his statement that "it percolates through 'history' from time to time" sounds like a whiff of Ch. Wms' Logres. Here his and my approach diverge almost completely, but he nicely anticipates a Tolkienian theme that wd be revealed w. the publication not long afterwards of THE LOST ROAD and, much more strongly a few years later, THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS.

(4) Tolkien's chosen medium was language and myth. Taum asserts: "to participate in [Middle-earth's] mythic powers . . . [through the mediation of words] . . . is to re-establish a harmony with the present world." I think this resonates with the "Recovery" and perhaps also "Consolation" from OFS; on the whole, it's Taum's re-statement of Tolkien's "Secondary World".

(5) waxing a bit poetic, he points out that instead of a mish-mash of borrowings Tolkien's world has its own life, "becoming a new thing, not merely a hyrdize [hybridized?] retelling". Taum's focus on the Near East as a major source for Tolkien's myths departs from the familiar array (OE, ON, Celtic, some Roman), all of which can be summed up under his other heading of "ancient Europe".

(6) He defines History as the observation of events, vs. Myth as the perception of events. History is wholly impartial; Myth wholly responsive. I think this is entirely specious; eloquence overwhelming the argument. But perhaps I'm simply not seeing a subtlety here.


And now, back to the real deal:

*cf. my 2004 lecture at the Marquette Blackwelder Conference, "And All The Days Of Her Life Are Forgotten", since published in the Blackwelder memorial volume.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Newest Publication: "Two Kinds of Absence"

So, yesterday my contributor copy for Jan & Phil's new book arrived, PICTURING TOLKIEN: ESSAYS ON PETER JACKSON'S The Lord of the Rings FILM TRILOGY, the latest in a growing line of Tolkien books from McFarland. This one has been in the works for about two or three years, and it's really good to have it in print. For one thing, it gives me a chance to read the other contributors' pieces.

So far I've only read four of the essays: my own (both to see how it holds up and to see if there are any horrific gaffs I overlooked until too late), Verlyn's (which focuses in on the filmmaker's dilemma of having to choose one specific way to depict things that Tolkien left open to each reader's visualization*), Kristin Thompson's (which is rightly the volume opener and sure to spark discussion, esp. since at one point she argues the filmmakers' presentation of one scene is superior to Tolkien's),** and Jan Bogstad's (about Tolkien's horses); next up is Dimitra Fimi's (on folklore in the films). On the whole, and unlike most of the essays in Croft's TOLKIEN ON FILM, the essays here are far less dismissive of Jackson's work; I suspect the two volumes will wind up making interesting complements to each other.

Since I've only read a quarter of the collection so far, for the rest I'll just give a T.o.C. of titles and authors:

Preface -- Bogstad & Kaveny
Introduction -- ibid
Part I: Techniques of Story and Structure
"Gollum Talks to Himself" -- Kristin Thompson
"Sometimes One Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures" -- Verlyn Flieger
"Two Kinds of Absence: Elision and Exclusion in Peter Jackson's LotR" -- JDR
"Tolkien's Resistance to Linearity" -- E. L. Risden
"Filming Folklore" -- Dimitra Fimi
"Making the Connection of Page and Screen in Tolkiens and Jackson's LotR" Yvette Kisor
"It's Alive!: Tolkien's Monster on Screen" -- Sharin Schroeder
"The Materiel of Middle-Earth" -- Rbt C. Woosnam-Savage

Part II: Techniques of Character and Culture
"Into the West" -- Judy Ann Ford & Robin Anne Reid
"Frodo Lives but Gollum Redeems the Blood of Kings" -- Phil Kaveny
"The Grey Pilgrim: Gandalf and the Challenges of Characterization in Middle-earth" -- Brian D. Walter
"Jackson's Aragorn and the American Superhero Monomyth" -- Janet Croft
"Neither the Shadow Nor the Twilight: The Love Story of Aragorn and Arwen in Literature and Film" -- Richard West
"Concerning Horses" -- Jan Bogstad
"The Rohirrim, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Problem of Appendix F" -- Michael Drout
"Filming the Numinous" -- Joseph Ricke & Catherine Barnett

And now, back to reading.

*based on my skim through the book so far, this seems to be a recurrent theme, just as the earlier Croft collection included many discussions of Tolkien's letter re. the Zimmerman script.

**one piece of good news buried in her endnotes is that she's currently at work on a book about THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Start Saving Your Pennies . . .

. . . Nickels, Dimes, Dollars, 'Folding Money', Plastic . . .

So, yesterday came an innocuous little postcard that cd end up costing me a lot of money, given that it announces this year's Antiquarian Book Fair, held once again at the Seattle Center (at the foot of the Space Needle). Visiting the Book Fair is rather like dropping by during Smaug's Open House: things you'd assume cd only be found in a rare books room of some major library are sitting out on shelves or occasionally in display cases. Pay the asking price and walk home with a Kelmscott Chaucer, or a Tolkien letter,* or a copy of Lovecraft's first book, or the original issue of a journal from the 1840s with the first appearance of some Poe story inside, or . . . -- the list goes on and on. Over the years I've picked up Dunsany's THE MAN WHO ATE THE PHOENIX (and I think also JORKENS BORROWS ANOTHER WHISKEY, though there my notes are less specific), Leiber's TWO SOUGHT ADVENTURE (the second Fafhrd & Gray Mouser collection), Hodgson's CARNACKI THE GHOST FINDER (the Mycroft & Moran edition, not the original), the faux-Poe collection THE EXPLOITS OF THE CHEVALIER DUPIN, and two Clark Ashton Smiths: THE ABOMINATIONS OF YONDO and OTHER DIMENSIONS.** In fact, so heavily do my visits to the Book Fair impact the budget that I only go every other year or so (sometimes every third, depending on how the schedule goes).

This year, it's October 8th & 9th. It looks like we'll be in town, and I don't have a deadline that weekend or the following week. So things look good right now; unless something unexpected comes up, I'm expecting to make it this year and see (a) what wonders they've got and (b) what, if any of it, can I afford. We'll see.

--John R.
current reading: PICTURING TOLKIEN, ed. Bogstad & Kaveny.

*that's where we bought my Tolkien letter, an extravagance I've never regretted.

**in addition, at least once I've seen a book at the Book Fair, passed on it, regretted it, and bought it later directly from the dealer (a collection of OSSIANIC tales from 1801). And then again once I saw an interesting book on my initial pass through the hall that was gone by the time I decided I wanted it (a profusely illustrated book on Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest -- I later checked it out from the library and made many, many photocopies from it, but it wasn't the same . . .).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Taum Santoski

August 19th, 1991.
Twenty years ago today.
Rest in peace.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taum Santoski VI

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

6. If myth and history can be broken down into two categories, then their definitions must be different processes. Myth is the perception of events, the feeling of the observer imposed upon the event so far that any "impartiality" is removed. History is then the observation of events, the removal of response to an event so that any opinion of the event cannot be derived.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

'Terrorist Olive Oil' (Poke-em-with-a-Stick-Wednesday)

So, last night I stumbled across a strange little story that startled me about how nakedly racist it was.

The whole tale's ins & outs were too complicated to rehearse here, but basically someone noted how Whole Foods is a good source for Halal (=Islamic Kosher) foods and recommended Muslims shop there for Ramadan. Somehow, as with the people opposed to a mosque's being built in New York City last year, this morphed into charges by some zealots that Israeli products were being pulled off the shelf and that Whole Foods was funneling money to jihadists.

It's weirdly comical to think that someone could use a phrase like "terrorist olive oil" (by which they meant some proceeds might go to a school in the Occupied Territories). But it's bizarre and disturbing to learn that they really mean it, both for the naked racism it shows and for the vast degree of departure from reality involved to create pretexts to vent that hatred. George Wallace and Theodore Bilbo wd be proud.

What a World, What a World, What a World.

Here are some links. The first, expressing the anti-Islam position, comes from a woman who was in the news not all that long back for expressing her pleasure that fellow American Lara Logan had been raped.*

The second is to the quiet, deliberately quaint website for "Canaan Olive Oil", the product that seems to have set off the bugaboo. I'm impressed how many of today's buzzwords they got in: sustainable farming, organic, fair trade, &c., even the wholly appropriate "land of milk and honey".

I know which of these I think does a better job of presenting its best face to the world.

--John R.

*at one point taunting the rape victim with the memorable phrase "Hope you're enjoying the revolution!". Ugh.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taum Santoski V

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

5. Some of Tolkien's myths are derived from those of ancient Europe and the Near East but, being grafted onto a new stock, grow and fructify, becoming a new thing, nor merely a hybridized retelling.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Taum Santoski IV

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

4. Middle-earth is a world in miniature, set up in one man's best form of expression, language and myth; to participate in its mythical powers, through these mediations of words, is to re-establish a harmony with the present world.

—Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Friday, August 12, 2011

And The WInner Is . . . (NPR Fantasy List)

So, turns out the winner of the '100 Best' Sci-Fi and Fantasy books is none other than our old friend THE LORD OF THE RINGS -- the very book I'd have picked as the all-time best myself.
And it won by a huge landslide, as had been the case with the millennium polls, the old LOCUS polls (1987, I think it was), &c. -- in this case receiving about half of all votes cast. And there's an odd symmetry to see Tolkien and Lewis as far apart as possible and still be on the same list, holding the top and bottom positions, respectively, with Tolkien's masterpiece coming in #1 (with 29,701 votes) and CSL at #100 (with 1452). Or, to put it another way, twenty people voted for Tolkien for every one who voted for Lewis (with THE SILMARILLION mid-way between them at #46*).

Partly these results may have been skewed by the exclusions the judges put on the contest: no young adult books (which left out THE HOBBIT, Pullman, &c) explicitly so as to exclude Rowling fans, and no horror to keep Steven King out. They've taken down the list of nominees, unfortunately, but here's more about the rules:**

And for the actual votes and some observations about who won and perhaps why,

Overall I have to say that my top ten didn't fare too well. Here's the full list of all 100 winners:

Of the books I voted for, LotR won at #1 (as is right and proper), but only five of my other top-ten even made the final 100.

#29 THE SANDMAN (Gaiman)

This means that the brilliant BRIDGE OF BIRDS, which I'd unhesitatingly put in the top ten fantasy novels ever written, doesn't even make their top 100. LUD-IN-THE-MIST doesn't surprise me as much, and good as the FAFHRD & THE GRAY MOUSER stories are they've never had the audience of lesser writers like Howard (in a sense, Leiber is to Howard as Clark Ashton Smith is to Lovecraft). TIGANA's absence doesn't surprise me, but I'd have at least expected Kay's most famous work, THE FIONAVAR TAPESTRY, to have ranked.

As for the books that won, it's enheartening to see that four of the top ten went to living writers; a good sign that the genre's still going strong. I've read fifty-six of the books listed (counting at least one book out of a series, not necessarily every sequel).*** Interestingly, while I'd read nine of the top ten, I've only read eleven of the bottom thirty. Does this mean there's more shared experience towards the top of the list and less towards the other end, or is my experience atypical?

--John R.

*Itself a pretty good rejoinder to those who still claim that no-one ever reads it (e.g., folks like those who posted comments at npr's site about 'Tolkein', too ill-informed about his work to even know his name).

**If you click on one of the links at that page, you can get the results of an earlier (2009) poll in which interestingly enough THE HOBBIT beat out THE LORD OF THE RINGS, ranking at #14 and #18 respectively.

***Speaking of which, I'm sure Terry Pratchett wd have ranked much higher had they not picked two of his books at random and instead listed THE DISCWORLD SERIES as a single entry.

Taum Santoski III

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

3. This world of myth, when measured against our world, is in another order of time -- what Frankfort calls "absolute time" -- the mythical past never recedes any further into the distance, as indeed it percolates through "history" from time to time, and time never brings the Golden Age any closer and all the other "Golden Ages" eventually tarnish.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The New Arrivals

So, Tuesday brought not one, not two, but three new books into the house, all of them arriving on the doorstep.

First, there was TATTERS OF THE KING, a CALL OF CTHULHU campaign from Chaosium [2006]. I enjoy reading C.o.C. modules as well as playing them, but have to hold off reading those who others in our gaming group might run (to avoid my Investigator knowing things that wd spoil the mystery). However, I enjoy reading them after playing through them, to see what we missed and how the designer expected things to play out (often widely at variance with what our characters actually did).

In this case, Jeff Grubb (an excellent Keeper)* ran this one a few years back, and while I enjoyed it I found that I cdn't follow it at all. The overall structure of who was doing what to who and why completely escaped me, both while inside the game and afterwards. In part this might have been because of the character I was playing -- I usually play the note-taker of the group who tries to keep track of all the leads, but this time I was having fun with a Bertie-Woosterish survivor of the Great War whose brains had been a bit addled by four years of being shot at, leaving him with an obsession about personalized yacht-sized zeppelins. One of the favorite C.o.C. characters I've ever played, his point of view was not conductive to careful gathering and shifting of evidence; he simply went with the flow, always slightly at a loss and acting more on impulse than careful planning. Hence, buying the adventure now will offer me a chance to read through the whole thing carefully and see if it holds together better in print than it did in the gaming sessions.

Second, there's TOWARD THE GLEAM by T. M. Doran, a book I knew nothing about until a recent discussion on the MythSoc list -- which turned out to be follow-up comments about a book review I hadn't seen, my subscription to MYTHPRINT having apparently silently lapsed recently without my having been aware of the fact. This is the fourth (so far) in the series of recent Novels-With-JRRT-In-Them as a character, this time under the pseudonym 'Mr. Hill' (as in Frodo's 'Mr. Underhill'). Having read Downing's LOOKING FOR THE KING, Hillard's MIRKWOOD, and Michael Ridpath's WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE (of which Ridpath's was by far the best, and Hillard's by far the worst), I'm not likely to baulk at a fourth. Although it was disconcerting to find that once I bought it Amazon filled my 'recommendations' lists with books by the pope (!) -- making the bizarre assumption that people shop by publisher (in this case, Ignatius Press**) rather than author, title, or subject -- the kind of thinking that once got me listed on a conspiracy-theory website as being part of 'the Jesuit conspiracy', whatever that might be (these conspiracy-theorists being so inept they didn't realize I'm a Southern Presbyterian who attended Marquette because of the manuscripts). More on this one down the road a ways when I've had a chance to read it.

And finally, third there's BOOK GIRL AND THE CAPTIVE FOOL by Mizuki Nomura [2006] (tr. Karen McGillicuddy [2011]). This is the third in the 'Book Girl' series, the first two of which were surprisingly unflinching in their dealings with suicide, anorexia, and similar topics; a main issue in the series as a whole is survivor's guilt. I'm looking forward to this third one as well, well aware that though a quick read it'll be no walk in the park. And by the way, now that I've seen both the BOOK GIRL movie and the three 'prequel' ovas that lead up to it, I'm more impressed than ever, esp. by the movie and the one of the ovas that deals with 'Book Girl' herself (since she's not the point-of-view character of the series, that being a traumatized formerly up-and-coming young author who witnessed his best friend attempt suicide because he had more talent than the friend did. ouch.)***

So, plenty of good books still out there, despite the collapse of another major bookstore, and plenty of good reading to look ahead to. Here's hoping the new prescription for glasses I got yesterday from the eye doctor makes the struggles with reading easier. Now to pick out a good set of frames and prepare for the latest round of 'my, these are thick lens, aren't they?'

--John R.
current reading:

*he's running another one on Saturday, in which I get to play my Chicago gangster, Giovanni 'Smokes' Tuscani (a.k.a. Mr. Smokes), who unexpectedly has survived not one, not two, but three Goodman Games pulp cthulhu scenarios -- largely I suspect by assuming his tommy gun won't do much against the monsters (a shoggoth, a dark young, a gnoph-keh), and turning it on the cultists instead. That, and running.

**the same people who did Downing's book. I wonder if they're going to make a habit of this.

***the other two ovas are from the point of view of the friend in question and of a girl who has a crush on the point-of-view character (of which he is entirely unaware).

Taum Santoski II

'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'

2. The events in Tolkien's mythos are located in a world related to but not identical with the present physical world. Nor is Middle-earth a mirror-image world reflecting back the common [>ordinary], but contains its own reality, its own flow of events, its own languages, customs and patterns of behavior, which impinge very efectively, but with a newness and nowness, upon our world.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Taum Santoski (I)

1. The work of Tolkien is aetiological, in that it attempts to make comprehensible the human situation of doubt, fear, and hope. Men and Elves attempt to come to terms with their environment (in two distinct ways) and with the contradiction of their opposing natures in the same environment.

--Taum Santoski, circa 1984

Taum: Twenty Years

And of course August is another anniversary for us, being that August 19th will mark the twentieth anniversary of Taum Santoski's death. Janice and I saw Taum virtually every day during the two long years between the time he was diagnoses as terminally ill and the end, and I think it was his death that really taught me the lesson that a friend is irreplaceable. You can, and will, make new friends, but the memories of time you've shared with those who are gone gets oddly cut off, almost self-contained, once you're the only one to remember it. It was the same with my friend Franklin, who died just within the past year; even though I'd only seen him once since graduate school, it feels v. odd to have so many vivid memories that no one else now remembers. Just one of the things about growing old, but it came as a shock with Taum, who was the same age I was (literally, having been born exactly one month earlier).

Not quite knowing how to commemorate his death, I thought I'd start posting a piece he wrote that's never been published. Back in '83-84 I started reading and thinking seriously about the history of fantasy as a genre and Tolkien's place in it. In the course of our many conversations on this topic, Taum at one point started setting down his own ideas about fantasy. But rather than an essay (the form the opening chapter or Introduction of my erstwhile dissertation would have taken), he set down a sequence of twenty-four aphorisms -- what might be called 'Aphorisms Towards a Poetics of Fantasy'. It was so divergent from my own work that I found it more puzzling than enlightening, but in the interests of those who might be more in tune with Taum's thinking I present it now, in my authority as Taum's literary executor. In order to keep the sequence distinct from anything I might say about it, I'll post each entry separately as its own blog post, labeled 'Taum Santoski (I)', 'Taum Santoski (II), and so forth. I'll be particularly interested to see what, if any, comments these might elicit.

--John R.


So, I wrote a tribute to my cat Parker (May 1989- August 4th 2002), who died nine years ago last week. But after I posted it, somehow ate it, apparently beyond retrieving. Luckily Janice, who knew him better than anyone but me (while fond of her he was always My Cat, just as she's Rigby's Favorite Person), got to see it before it was wiped out. So rather than go through re-creating it again I'll just say: rest in peace, Parker. You are not forgotten.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

NPR's Top Ten

So, a few days back I learned from Jeff's blog (
about the current poll on NPR for people to vote for their top ten science fiction and fantasy books. And not long after, the MythSoc list started up several threads about the list, most of which revolved around definitions of what was (and was not) 'science fiction' or puzzlement where all the newcomers (books published within just the past few years) came from.

My first thought, when I skimmed through the books listed, was that half of my own top ten weren't even available as options. That's when I went back and adjusted my expectations: this wasn't the ten best books ever, it was ten best out of the pre-selected pool, as adjusted by Wolfe, Mendlesohn, & Clute. I'd completely missed the original round, but that didn't mean it wdn't be interesting to see what I thought was the best out of what remained.

Here are the ten I wound up voting for:

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser by Fritz Leiber

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

of these, the only iffy one for me is the Hitchhiker's Guide, which I chose not for the novelizations but the original radio programs for which he wrote the scripts; that sort of puts it in a different medium from the rest.*

As for Bradbury being on my list twice: if you're going to pick a top ten among writers of science fiction and fantasy, you might as well include the best writer of science fiction of them all among your choices. And I suppose they can stand respectively for his work in science fiction (THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES) and fantasy (THE ILLUSTRATED MAN), more or less.

Jeff mentioned how he had trouble trimming his list down; in contrast, my runner-ups were relatively few:

The Deeds of Paksennarion by Eliz. Moon

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

of these, Fionavar got edged out by Kay's TIGANA, while THE SILMARILLION got edged out (in my mind anyway) by THE HOBBIT, wh. shd have been on the list. Whereas the first and last book in Moon's series and the Willis wd have made it into my top dozen.

As for books that SHOULD have been on the list, had its compilers's judgment aligned more with my own, here are the ones I think they really missed the boat by not including:

The Book of Three Dragons by Kenneth Morris

The Books of Wonder by Lord Dunsany

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H. P. Lovecraft

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Hobberdy-Dick by Katharine Briggs

The Hobbit by JRRT

The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

The Night Land by Wm Hope Hodgson

The Well at the World's End by Wm Morris

Of these, I suspect THE HOBBIT and the Pullman got bumped as 'young adult', but there's really no excuse for the others not being better known and more highly valued, alas. Those of us who know and appreciate them really need to spread the word better.**

--John R.

*Gaiman's SANDMAN doesn't post the same problem for me; here I think the impact comes almost entirely from the literary quality of its scripts, not their 'performance' by various illustrators. And it's a masterful working out of a whole new mythology, which is pretty impressive all by itself.

**the same goes for Clark Ashton Smith's TALES OF AVEROIGNE -- if anyone had ever actually published such a book (i.e., collected his 'Averoigne' stories into a single volume).

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Different Kind of Mess

So, I refrained from posting during the Debt Ceiling crisis, mostly because I found the whole thing too alarming and discouraging. But in its aftermath I thought I'd share a few links.

First, to Mr. Krugman on just how bad the resultant deal is. Given that just in the last three days we're already hearing talk about the recovery collapsing, the economy falling back into recession, AND the U. S. credit rating being downgraded anyway,* I'd say he's more Cassandra than not.

By contrast, here's a piece by someone who rather smugly chides those who believed Obama might actually attempt to do any of the things those who voted for him elected him to do. It's one of several pieces that have appeared lately that have made me wonder if it isn't best to think of Obama as essentially a moderate Republican: an essentially decent man dedicated to not rocking the boat, whose ideal audience/potential supporter is David Brooks.

And finally -- and here's why I'm posting at all -- here's the loony take on things: the suggestion that the treasury simply coin two $1,000,000,000,000 platinum coins as a way out of the crisis. I shelve this one with the 'sovereign citizen' loons, but hey, at least it's numismatically interesting:

--John R.

*given how disfunctional the government just showed itself to be, and how incapable of taking even the most obvious steps (i.e., raise taxes on the quarter-million people in this country who are millionaires).

How to Make a Mess

So, anyone can make a mess. But there's something about making a mess in a kitchen that requires a man's touch. Stories about exploding skillets or icing on the ceiling or what happens when you don't have a good grip on the stick blender. And today I'm able to contribute a point-by-point case study.

First, open up the fridge and take out the tupperware container filled with peanut soup.

Make sure you grasp the container so that when the lid suddenly comes off you have a firm grasp on the lid.

When the rest of the container, holding all the soup, surrenders itself to gravity, consider how lucky you are that it lands face up.

That's when another law of physics kicks in, actions and reactions. Or, as what they taught us in eight-grade science would have put it, the potential energy collected by the soup as it fell is converted to kinetic energy once it lands. The container itself no longer being in motion, the soul leaves it and explodes upwards, just like in those line-lapse photos of a raindrop hitting water.

This experiment works best if you use a thick, viscous soup. Even better if it's something that wd stain (say, with a lot of tomato in it). Luckily peanut soup fills the bill on both accounts.

Now, the experiment having run its course, start the clean up. The walls come first, since you want to get that off before it stains. Then the part you can see, splattered on the refrigerator shelves and all the nooks inside the door (since you had the door open in order to take out the soup in the first place). Then tackle all the surfaces you can't see: since it splashed from below, the bottoms of all those shelves in the door (e.g., the one holding the eggs, &c) have each their decorations.

Finally, take care of the pool on the floor.

Then go back and check again; you'll be surprised how many spots you missed on the first go around. Rest assured that in any case you'll be finding random spots of peanut soup hidden here and there for months.

Last of all, warm up what's left of the soup. Enjoy; you might not be getting peanut soup again for a while.

--John R.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


So, yesterday's mail brought my author's copy of TOLKIEN AND THE STUDY OF HIS SOURCES: CRITICAL ESSAYS (formerly 'The Bones of the Ox', taking its cue from Tolkien's Cauldron of Stories in OFS), edited by Jason Fisher, which includes my essay "SHE and Tolkien, Revisited".* This is a re-casting and expansion of my v. first scholarly essay, which appeared in MYTHLORE as far back as the summer of 1981. I was glad to be asked to revise this piece, which seems to get cited a lot over the years. We have so much more material available to us now than then (e.g., LETTERS of JRRT, the HME, the Scull-Hammond chronology), but my basic premise still held, I think, and it was good to be able to include more evidence in support of my conclusions. And it was interesting to revisit a piece written so long ago (thirty years) -- my style and also I think my critical acumen have both evolved over that time.

I'm also glad that I'll now have a chance to read my fellow contributors' essays, which cover a range of subjects from Mesopotamian sources and the Goth/Lombard/Byzantine connection to writers whose lifespans overlapped Tolkien's own like Haggard and Buchan. It's not an exhaustive collection -- it's hard to see how it cd be** -- but it's a good place to start a look at how Tolkien handled his sources (which is as interesting a question as what the sources were).

And of course congratulations to Jason for his first book. Putting together a collection of essays by diverse hands can be like herding cats, and it's a tribute to his organizational powers and stick-to-it-ness that we now have this book. Kudos!

--John R.

*which I delivered at last year's MythCon in Dallas.

**a thought which conjures up visons of a companion volume someday with pieces on MacDonald, Morris, Dunsany, &c.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Stone of Invisibility

So, I've been reading one of the impulse buys I got in the book room at Kalamazoo, THE MAN IN THE MOONE by Francis Godwin, published posthumously in 1638. It's the story of a man who managed to reach the moon by harnessing a bunch of migratory geese together. As one of a cluster of 'visit to other planet' tales from that period,* it pulls together ideas from all over: Godwin's interest in long-range signaling and in secret languages/codes, the 'green children' legend, theories of gravity, &c. Two of Godwin's most interesting ideas involve lunar language and magical stones.

Godwin's explorer, a diminutive Spaniard named Gonsales,** finds that the lunar language consists of musical notes, so that they can communicate through singing melodies; he even uses musical notation to depict it [p. 109]. Later, when upon his return to Earth he finds he's landed in China, he suggests a lot of similarities between Lunar and Chinese (e.g., in the latter's emphasis on pitch and tone).

Gonsales also finds a new colour on the moon (shades of Lindsay's jale and ulfire, and of Lovecraft's Colour, and of Bierce):

. . . how to describe the colour of them . . .

It was neither blacke, nor white, yellow, nor redd,
greene nor blew, nor any colour composed of these.

But if you aske me what it was, then I must tell you,
it was a colour never seen in our earthly world,
and therefore neither to be described unto us by any,
nor to be conceived of one that never saw it.

For as it were a hard matter to describe unto
a man born blind*** the difference
betweene blew and Greene, so can I
not bethinke my selfe of any meanes
how to decipher unto you this Lunar colour,
having no affinitie with any other
that ever I beheld with mine eyes.

Onely this I can say of it, that it was
the most glorious and delightfull, that
can possibly be imagined; neither in truth
was there any one thing, that more delighted me,
during my abode in that new world, than
the beholding of that most pleasing and
resplendent colour. [p. 100]

A few hints made me suspect that this may have been one of CSL's source-books for OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET -- Gonsales' discovery that space is filled with light (apparently a common belief during the period), or that he discovers the Lunar inhabitants to be not just good Xians (Godwin was a bishop, after all) but in an apparently unfallen state, with no murders (it's simply too hard to kill each other, given Lunar vitality) and a peaceful acceptance of death when one's time has come. However, it's clear from editor Wm Poole's apparatus to the book (sixty pages of introduction and forty of appendices, bracketing not quite sixty pages of actual text) that Godwin's was part of a tradition, and I don't know enough about that tradition (though I plan to learn more).

One passage of Tolkienian interest was in Gonsales' description of the new types of rocks he found on the moon; here the editor notes that Godwin is drawing on THE BOOK OF SECRETS attributed to Albert Magnus; a reference to the creation of artificial shining stones might be worth following up on. Of particular relevance, though, is the passage about Stones of Invisibility:

I inquired then amongst them, whether they had not
any kind of Iewell or other meanes to make a man
invisible, which mee thought had beene a thing of great
and extraordinary use.

And I could tell of divers of our learned men
had written many things to that purpose.

They answered that if it were a thing faisable,
yet they assured themselves that God
would not suffer it to be revealed to us creatures
subject to so many imperfections, being a thing
so apt to be abused to ill purposes; and that
was all I could get of them. [p. 112]

--all v. Platonic!

--John R.
current book: THE MAN IN THE MOONE by Francis Godwin [1638]
current audio book: THE DUNWICH HORROR, HPLHS 'radio-play' adaptation (just finished)


*which I suspect I'll start to read my way through, off and on, one by one, prob. stating with Kepler's SOMNIUM [1634]

**referred to on the title page as "Domingo Gonsales, The Speedy Messenger" -- a distant inspiration for Speedy Gonzales, perhaps?

***cf. C. S. Lewis's story of the same name.