Friday, April 27, 2012

Hummingbirds and Smoke Alarms

So, this morning I noticed that the new little hummingbird was spending a lot of time at the feeder, trying to get those last few drops of hummingbird juice out. I'd seen it and another (presumably its parent) at the feeders yesterday, where it seemed to be following the other around. Usually two hummingbirds together do a lot of helicoptering and chasing about; not this time. Today there was only the one, and at one point it even hunched itself down on the rail, v. un-hummingbird-like, as if it were brooding like a tiny chicken.

I'd forgotten to put sugar on the list for last weekend's grocery run, but my conscience got to me and I decided to sacrifice the remaining sugar cubes for the cause, there being enough to make up a small batch. Accordingly, I got things started, and then sat down to have breakfast.

Coming back into the kitchen side of the house after breakfast, I wondered why it looked like a scene out of 'Fog on the Barrow-Downs'. Ah, I thought. Not fog. Smoke. Sure enough, the pan with the sugar-water I'd left simmering and forgotten about was giving forth a considerable plume of smoke, great swaths of which were hanging in the air. I got the pan off the burner and turned the burner off. Only then did the smoke detector, which yowls more often than not when we use the oven, decided to give voice.

I took the pan outside, onto the balcony, and found a place to sit it down where it cdn't do much harm. Then I went back in and started opening up windows and getting the fan going. Luckily there was a strong breeze today, and I soon had it gusting through the apartment, upstairs and down. Taking stock of things afterwards, I discovered that the cats were all calmly sitting upstairs, clearly aware something was amiss but not worried about it. When Janice came home, hours later, she reported that yes, there was still a bit of smokiness she cd smell.

As for the pot, despite some efforts at salvage I think it's a goner. The stovetop is fine. I found four little sugar-packets I'd picked up during my trip, mixed them with a little water, microwaved it, and put it in one of the feeders; the hummingbird came at once (while I was still there at the feeders, which showed how trusty/hungry it was) but didn't seem to like this makeshift-made hummingbird juice. Tough. I've now picked up a box of sugar and will make up a regular batch in the morning.

New resolution: only make hummingbird juice when I'm going to be in the kitchen throughout the whole process, start to finish.

--Despite all of which I had a pleasant and v. productive day. Go figure.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tolkien and Waugh

So, about a month ago, I made a post about Tolkien's disdain for the Nazis in which I observed in passing his being soft on Franco (a comment to which one reader took exception, but which I stand by):

"And there's also the matter of his sympathy for Franco,
whom he saw rather as Defender of the Church
than the fascist tyrant he was."

Now I've come across something from a younger contemporary of Tolkien's who I think might parse things in a way I would not: Evelyn Waugh. I've not been much of an admirer of Waugh's, having found what little I've read of him wholly uncongenial and his personality repugnant (upon learning that Carpenter had written a book about Waugh and his friends, I incautiously replied that I hadn't known he had any). But having been moved by Hitchens' enthusiasm for Waugh in some of his essays in ARGUABLY, I decided to give E.W. another try, tackling a book that I'd read about years earlier in Carpenter that had sounded moderately interesting: THE ORDEAL OF GILBERT PINFOLD [1957], the (autobiographical) story of a man who starts hearing voices.

And not benign voices, a la Barfield's UNANCESTRAL VOICE, but malicious and spiteful voices that accuse him of being homosexual, of being a recent Jewish immigre named 'Peinfeld', of being a has-been as a writer, of being a coward during the war, of being a Nazi sympathizer and blackshirt, of having caused the death of several people, of pretending to achievements he never earned, &c. The voices cajole and threaten, even at their most sinister urging him to suicide. On one of the rare occasions when he attempts to refute things the voices have said to other people (none of whom can hear the voices and so who have no idea what he's talking about), he has the following exchange:

'I was not at Eton,' he said suddenly, with a challenge in his tone.
'Nor was I,' said Glover. 'Marlborough.'
'I never said I was at Eton,' Mr. Pinfold insisted.
'No. Why should you, I mean, if you weren't?'
'It is a school for which I have every respect, but I was not there myself.' Then he turned across the table to the Norwegian. 'I never wore a black shirt in the Albert Hall.'
'No?' said the Norwegian, interested but uncomprehending.
'I had every sympathy with Franco during the Civil War.'
'Yes? It is so long ago I have rather forgotten what it was all about. In my country we did not pay so much attention as the French and some other nations.'
'I never had the smallest sympathy with Hitler.'
'No, I suppose not.'
'Once I had hopes of Mussolini. But I was never connected with Mosley.'
'Mosley? What is that?'
'Please, please,' cried pretty Mrs. Scarfield, 'don't let's get on to politics.' . . .
[p. 125]

What's interesting here is that Penfold/Waugh (and elsewhere it is made v. clear that 'Penfold' is directly based on Waugh himself, who merely gave a light fictional gloss to events that had actually happened to him during a drug-addled phase three years earlier, in 1954) draws sharp distinctions between four separate manifestations of fascism:

(1) Franco, whom he fully supported

(2) Hitler, whom he denies any sympathy with whatsoever

(3) Mussolini, whom he "had hopes of" (presumably early on), &

(4) Oswald Mosley, head of the British fascists (the Blackshirts), whom he firmly distances himself from.

This accords pretty well with Tolkien's apparent support for Franco and well-recorded disdain for Hitler. I don't know of anywhere where Tolkien comments on Mosley or Mussolini, but I doubt he had much use for either, since he was (a) anti-Nazi (unlike Mosley) and (b) anti-imperial (unlike Mussolini). In any case, it's hard to believe Tolkien ever supported Mussolini to the extent Waugh did, the latter having gone out to Abyssinia to write a pro-Mussolini tract during the invasion and overthrow of Haile Selassie's realm.

My own guess is that Tolkien, whose beloved foster-father was a half-Spanish priest (who incidently had died just two years before Franco's war began), reacted strongly and viscerally to reports of Spanish priests being killed by the anti-Franco forces. Indeed, he refers to atrocities against priests in his letter describing Roy Campbell's regaling the Inklings with accounts of the Spanish war (Letters of JRRT p. 96). So, if there's any truth to the idea that Tolkien was 'soft' on Franco (and this one letter's the only proof of it I know, written when he was caught up in Campbell's lies and half-truths), I'd suggest that for him, this was personal: it got in under the radar due to it being all too easy to identify reports of slaughtered priests with Fr. Francis. And in any case I suspect Waugh's drawing firm distinctions between four different manifestations of what I'd lump all together as fascism might offer some insight into something we know all too little about.

--John R.

current reading: THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP (Morley), A NIGHT AT AN INN (Dunsany), ABOVE KER-IS (Walton); current audiobook ARGUABLY (Hitchens)

Another Parting of the Ways

So, last night came the news, from another of the many overlapping worlds I inhabit, that Monte Cook is leaving Wizards of the Coast, where he was one of the three primary designers behind the ongoing Fifth Edition D&D project.


Here's the link:

Wishing Monte all the best and also hoping this doesn't set back fifth edition, or send it off down the wrong track.

--John R.

P.S.: Speaking of fifth edition, I hope the guys who are working on it are reading posts like this one from Steve Winter:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Parting of the Ways

So, now it's official: Doug Anderson is no longer Review Editor for TOLKIEN STUDIES, starting with Vol. IX. I'd heard this a few weeks ago, but now it seems he's also leaving the editorial board as one of the three guiding lights for the journal as a whole. Sorry to hear it. Doug's posted the official word on the whys and wherefores on his blog; here's the link.

The comments are well worth reading too --it's rather horrifying to read that a library can pay $40,000 as subscription for a single major academic journal. I knew things were bad back in my Marquette days in terms of how many journals a college library had to buy, and how much they were charged; they've clearly only gotten worse during the intervening years.

For an independent scholar like myself, it's tantalizing to know there's so much available on Project Muse (a site which comes up rather often when I'm doing research for a specific article), and yet it's inaccessible to those of us not affiliated with a university. And it was rather startling, a year or two back, to find that a book review I'd written for MYTHLORE was available from at $9.95.

In any case, here's best wishes to Doug in his new venture at Nodens Books (the first release from which I ordered a few days ago*). And also good wishes to the remaining editors at TOLKIEN STUDIES for carrying on the good work there. Eight volumes are a record to be proud of, and I look forward to the more to come.

Times change. Good work remains.

--John R.
just finished: THE ORDEAL OF GILBERT PINFOLD (#II.2995)
currently reading: THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Impossibility of Writing Fantasy in 1937

So, I'm making my way through the audiobook version of Christopher Hitchens' last book, a massive (24-disk) collection of essays called ARGUABLY. Given my distaste and dismay at most of Hitchens' political views (he was a Trotskyite who became a neocon, an ardent and obstinate advocate for the Iraq war), I find my favorites by far are the literary essays, which range from Orwell (his hero and role-model) to Rowling and Larsson.

The less I know about an author, the more I find I enjoy what Hitchens has to say about him (or, rarely, her), whereas when I'm familiar with an author's works I become aware of just how skewed Hitchen's portrayal of his work is. For example, it'd be nice to think that Ezra Pound lost his poetic talent at the same time he openly adopted heinous political and cultural views, as Hitchens asserts, but it's also quite untrue -- some of the cantos written when he was a prisoner of war at the end of WWII, and in the asylum afterwards, are heartbreakingly beautiful. There's no good moral to be drawn from this; it's simply a fact of literary history. But against that, I find I have to have a soft spot for anyone who praises Wodehouse as much as Hitchens does, so for that alone much is forgiven.

One particular piece included an interesting quote about fantasy, a topic rarely mentioned by Hitchens:

"A modern fantasy cannot tell the truth
cannot give a picture of life
which will survive the test of experience
since fantasy implies in practice
a retreat from the real world
into the world of imagination"

This comes not from Hitchens himself but is a quote from the now-forgotten Edward Upward, who was a member of Auden's circle back in the early '30s but, unlike Spender and Isherwood and Day-Lewis and MacNeice, wound up fading from view, having put his political views ahead of literature.

The source Hitchens gives is to a book called THE MIND IN CHAINS, edited by C. Day-Lewis in 1937; Upward's contribution was an essay called "A Marxist Interpretation of Life". While the book itself is difficult to find, it turns out that Upward's essay is readily available on-line ( The relevant passage comes on page seven. The context is Upward's claim that, the current (in his day) struggle between communism and capitalism/fascism has reached such a crisis point that it's irresponsible for the writer to do anything besides whole-heartedly embracing communism and writing from that perspective; to write fairy-tales in such a time was simply dooming yourself to irrelevance in a world "which is daily drifting towards a war of unprecedented destructiveness"; elsewhere he refers to "the approach of a new world war" (the earliest I've seen that phrase in print). Here are a few quotes that caught my eye as I skimmed the piece:

"no book written at the present time can be 'good' unless it is written from a Marxist or near-Marxist viewpoint" (emphasis his, to exempt earlier writers such as Shakespeare)

"no modern book can be true to life unless it recognises . . . both the decadence of present-day society and the inevitability of revolution"

"It is possible that the 'fairy' story -- celebrating the triumph of man over dangers and difficulties -- will reappear on a higher, more scientific level" (i.e., after the triumph of Marxism)

"the old forms can no longer adequately reflect the fundamental forces of the modern world. The writer's job is to create new forms now, to arrive by hard work at the emotional truth about present-day reality. He cannot begin to do that until he has in his everyday life allied himself with the forces of the future, until he has gone over to the socialist movement."

"failing to go over [to socialism] must prevent him from writing a good book" (emphasis his)

"a modern fantasy might be a more or less truthful imitation of past fantasies, but it could not be true to the life or our own time as the work of earlier fantasy-writers was to the life of their times"

As a rejoinder, I'm reminded of Dunsany's preface to THE LAST BOOK OF WONDER, where he describes his tales written during WWI as like something he's throwing out of a burning house, of value to himself if to no one else.

The deep irony that just as Upward was declaring the impossibility of anyone's writing fantasy nowadays that could have any kind of relevance to the modern world (he not long afterwards suffered such a creative crisis that he lapsed into silence for decades), JRRT was publishing THE HOBBIT and writing that famous first chapter of THE LORD OF THE RINGS -- a book which infamously got taken as an insightful comment on the recent events of history. And, one might add, that if it didn't change the world, certainly changed the world of literature, though it took a long time to do so.

I'd be surprised if Tolkien picked up Day-Lewis's anthology or ever read Upward's little screed, but it's certainly possible. We know Auden thought highly of Tolkien's lectures, which he attended while an undergrad at Oxford, but we don't know much of what Tolkien thought of Auden at the time, or even if he was particularly aware of this undergraduate that all his fellow undergraduates thought the great poet of his generation. About fourteen years later, it wd be Day-Lewis who defeated C. S. L. for the Professorship of Poetry at Oxford, a coming-of-age triumph for the Auden generation against the forces of reaction in poetry (CSL, like Dunsany, was still in attempting a rear-guard action against the previous revolution in poetry, that of Pound and Eliot, even as Auden's generation was beginning to give way to Larkin's).

Unlikely though it seems that Tolkien would have come across Upward's piece, he might well have heard of it second- or third-hand. In any case, he was obviously familiar with the attitude expressed in it, which is one of those he refutes decisively in his section on Escape in ON FAIRY-STORIES two years later (1939).

Still: an interesting example of attitudes Tolkien faced at the time he set out to create his masterpiece. We're lucky that, like Dunsany, and Eddison, and so many others he went his own way, rather than followed the dictates of those who considered themselves in the know back in the day.

--John R.
just finished: AMERICAN CAESARS by Nigel Hamilton (#II.2994)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Illustrating the Hobbit

So, one of the great things about being a guest of honor at the recent LEOCON I in Commerce, Texas was that I got to attend the presentations of my fellow speakers, and see Doug Anderson's slide-show* of HOBBIT art. I'd seen this twice before, most recently when the second edition of his superb ANNOTATED HOBBIT came out in 2002. But it's an ever-evolving presentation: there were pieces he showed that were new to me, as well as old ones I'd forgotten and many more I'm simply happy to see again.

One of the newer features was the inclusion of Maurice Sendak's sample illustration from the mid-sixties, at a point when he was mooted to produce an illustrated edition (that ultimately came to naught, aside from this one piece),** and he also mentioned a Frazetta HOBBIT piece I hadn't heard of before.*** It's fascinating to see different artists' interpretations, yet I agree with Doug that Tolkien himself is the best illustrator of his own works.

Afterwards, I had a question. If you could have anyone illustrate THE HOBBIT, who would it be? It has to be an artist who was actually alive at the time and theoretically could have done the job -- i.e., not Tenniel or Van Gough, who both died long before the book was published, but someone like Mucha (d.1939) or B. Potter (d. 1943) wd be fair game.

Doug, when I put the query to him, had an inspired choice: S. H. Sime doing Mirkwood. I can't compete with that choice, but after mulling if over a while I opted for Edward Gorey as someone who wd do an interesting, distinctive, and yet somehow possibly get-it-right set of illustrations. As a back-up, it'd have been fun to see what Tolkien's world wd have looked like as illustrated by Hugh Lofting.

So, if you cd pick anyone to illustrate THE HOBBIT, who wd it be?

--John R.

*although, as I think he observed in these days of no more actual slides, it'd probably more properly be called 'a multi-media presentation'. For me, who still dials a phone, 'slide show' will still do.

**cf. my earlier blog post about this one,

***here's the link to a handful of Frazetta Tolkien designs; I think he showed us the one of Gollum paddling his boat with his great big-toed feet.

I'm pretty sure I've seen at least one more years back at The Tolkien Shop's online site, but it was of Gandalf & the Three Walkers meeting with King Theoden at Edoras.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fossil Rim

So, one of the problems with flying in and out of Dallas on my recent trips is that, given how big Texas is as a state, and how bad I've heard the traffic in Dallas itself can be, I find myself wanting to leave wherever I am for the airport hours before I need to be there, just in case there's a delay somewhere along the way and I might miss my ride home. Accordingly, I've been arriving in Dallas with two or three hours to spare before it's time to return the rental car, go through security, &c. Each time I've thought of things it might be interesting to do while in Dallas (like visit the Kennedy assassination museum, or a travelling Genghis Khan exhibit, or the Ft Worth zoo). And each time I've decided to err on the side of caution and given it a miss.

This time, the thing I had my eye on and put off to some hypothetical future trip is a visit to Fossil Rim. This first drew my attention via the posters for it displayed at the Dallas/Ft Worth airport, with great-looking pictures that advertise it as a wildlife safari drive-through; a place where you can see cheetahs laze about in a reasonable approximation of their native habitat and giraffes might poke their noses into your car looking for a tasty morsel.

That sounded great. Then I heard it was also a spot where a lot of dinosaur fossils had been found (hence the name, 'Fossil Rim') and gathered there was an interesting museum there as well. Cheetahs and fossils; better and better.* The only draw-back being the discovery, once I fired up the laptop, that it's not in the Dallas area at all but more than an hour's drive away.

All was not lost, however, given that we planned to drive down that way to and from Austin, making a side-trip either on the way down or (more likely) the way back a possibility.

Then I found out something that put me off the whole thing: that a third feature of the site, in addition to the wildlife safari and the dinosaur fossils, was a Creationist museum. Bad enough that when we took a tour through a Pennsylvania cave few years ago we were subjected to the tour guide's inane comments about Noah's flood having carved all those cave formations -- at least the cave itself was great, and in the gift shop I picked up the best cave map I've ever seen. Here the "Creation Evidence Museum" claimed to feature human and dinosaur footprints found together in the same tracks of stone and similar evidences. Too bad, but that tipped the scales against going by there.

Since getting back and doing a little more research, though, yet another wrinkle has emerged: that this creationist museum isn't actually part of the main park, which is a reputable institution, but something that set up shop outside the gates to take advantage of the genuine fossil site to proselytize their anti-science/anti-evolution point of view. Furthermore, a little more poking about revealed that this particular museum has been denounced and derided by fellow creationists (such as the 'Answers in Genesis' folks) for fraudulent exhibits. Nothing abashed, the Creation Evidence Museum has sponsored a Professor Challenger-style project to find living pteradactyls in New Guinea (why New Guinea? why not!), a mad-scientist scheme to recreate earth's antediluvian atmosphere in a hyperbaric chambers, on the theory that breathing it will enable folks to grow to into Anakim with patriarchal lifespans.

So, now I've swung around and concluded I missed a potentially amusing and interesting site. Maybe another time.

If anyone has made it by Fossil Rim, I'd be interested in hearing what you thought, about the animals, the fossils, and the creationists.

Here's the wikipedia link about the museum:

--John R.

*one minor point about the online site for the place that amused me muchly was a contrast between its having once been the home of dinosaurs and now a good spot for bird-watching -- an ironic juxtaposition, given that more and more scientists are coming round to the position that birds ARE dinosaurs -- not just their descendents, but living species of the same basic category of creatures.

While the Scholar's Away . . .

So, while we were away in the Arklatex, our neighbor Cathy dropped by each day to take care of our three cats (Feanor, Hastur, & Rigby), water the plants (including my pot full of magnolias and the sensitive plants I'd just gotten sprouted), and feed the birds (e.g., restocking the finch feeder and hummingbird tube as needed). When we got back, all seemed well: the cats happy to see us, the plants doing well, &c. The only discordant point was a note she'd left us about the cats having "had some adventure" but everything being "cleaned up", plus something about not being able to "find the bird feet", which I took as some sort of reference to not knowing where we'd put the bird seed.

Not the case, as it turns out. Now that Janice has had a chance to chat with her and catch up on things, we found out the awful truth. One time when she was over here, she let the cats out onto the balcony, which they love and which they're not able to jump down from. When she came back, she found bird parts scattered about our dining room: the inner predator had surfaced in at least one of our cats (probably Feanor, given his past history), with tragic results for at least one bird (probably a goldfinch, again given past history). She heroically cleaned up the mess, but wasn't able to find the little bird's feet. So either they're somewhere inside one of our cats, or we'll come across them at some point, way back behind some furniture or under a bookcase.

Cats. Always an adventure, and the unexpected more often than you'd expect.

--John R.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

T. H. White, Inkling

So, one thing I saw at the H.R.H.R.C. in Austin was a letter from C. S. Lewis to T. H. White. Turns out this is indeed in COLLECTED LETTERS (which I really am going to have to get around to reading some time, however daunted by its vast bulk) but not in its proper chronological place: although having been written in 1947 it's not in Vol. II (1931-1949) but at the end of Vol. III (1950-1963), in the hundred-plus page Supplement of letters left out elsewhere for one reason or another.

Since the letter's readily available there, all I'll say about it here is that it's occasioned by the publication of MISTRESS MASHAM'S REPOSE, which delighted Lewis as much as White's earlier THE SWORD IN THE STONE (wh. I much prefer) had annoyed him. So much so that he wrote White a letter in mock-Swiftian prose -- not as good as the Johnsonian prose of his famous letter to Harwood, or the wonderful Malorian letter to Barfield (cf. MARK VS. TRISTRAM), or the pseudo-medieval letter(s) to E. R. E., but impressive nonetheless.

What really caught my attention, though, was the closing paragraph, wherein Lewis invited White to attend an Inklings meeting if ever he were passing through Oxford:

. . . If your occasions should lead you to these Academick Groves I shall beg leave to make you acquainted with half a dozen madcap fellowes* that have a freer and more masculine taste.** Till then, Sir, may you accept my Gratefull thanks for the Entertainment you have given me and believe me
your oblig'd obedient servant . . .

*this was my reading of the Ms. letter; Hooper in COLLECTED LETTERS prints instead 'Magdalen Fellows'. If I had the original in front of me I might be able to determine which is right; as it is, I give my reading as (a) being what I thought I saw and (b) making more sense, with the caveat that Hooper's certainly better at reading Lewis's handwriting than I am.

**i.e., than the woman mentioned two sentences before in the letter whose review of M.M.R. CSL thought insufficiently glowing.

The idea that T. H. White was invited to attend an Inklings meeting, much as CSL had invited Ch. Wms. eleven years before, tickles my fancy with what-ifs. So far as I know, White never took them up on this, and I'm sure that if he had one of the Inklings wd have mentioned it somewhere. In terms of his personal life, White would have been an uneasy fit for 'the Tolkien-Lewis seance', having been a minor second-generation associate of what people liked to call 'Bloomsbury' (though the same cd be said of Ld David Cecil, who seems to have fitted in well enough). But in terms of his love of the medieval -- translating the Bestiary, writing the most popular twentieth century Arthurian retelling -- he and Tolkien (who wrote four Bestiary poems and an unfinished retelling of the Arthurian myth himself) wd have had plenty to talk about.

Alas for the might-have-beens!

--John R.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Eight hundred posts.

So, here's a new milestone: I've now been blogging for five years, and in that time have done eight hundred posts (this is officially #801). Not all of these got posted (perhaps one-in-ten never gets finished, or I do finish but think better of sending it out -- esp. those having to do with politics), but still it's a pretty substantial amount of material, and a pretty sustained effort for me.

I'm on my way back home now from a weeklong trip that's included a visit home, a family celebration, guest-of-honor-ing at a new small SciFi/fantasy convention, spending a day with the Dunsany manuscripts in Austin, seeing a few hundred thousand bats, and much more. But for now, it's nice to just sit back and reflect on time passing -- nieces growing up; old friends going grey; research trips revisited a quarter-century later, and the like.

current reading: AMERICAN CAESARS by Hamilton (FDR to GWB), THE HUNGER GAMES by Collins (both as ebooks).

--John R.

Friday, April 6, 2012


So, I'd been holding off on posting about an upcoming event until the news went public, only to discover last week that the website of this event is already up online ( and it'd been discussed on Jason Fisher's blog about two weeks ago (

So, here's the news in brief: this weekend, I'm one of the guests of honor at a new little con at Texas A&M in Commerce, Texas (about one-third of the way from Dallas to Texarkana). My fellow guest of honor is my friend Doug Anderson, author of the excellent ANNOTATED HOBBIT. My own talk will be on the relationship between THE HOBBIT and THE SILMARILLION. In addition, Doug, the Dean, and I will be on a Hobbit Roundtable, and Jason Fisher will not only be moderating our two presentations but giving one of his own on Tolkien's sources. The event will be hosted by Robin Reid, for years the organizer of the Tolkien at Kalamazoo tract.

It'll be great to attend the first gathering of a brand new con, to have the chance to combine this with a family visit over in the ArkLaTex, and maybe even have time afterward for a quick (one day) research trip among the Dunsany manuscripts down in Austin (so far as I know, I'm the only Dunsany scholar to have ever made use of them, and it's a LONG time since my last visit [1987]). Maybe we'll even have time to see the famous bats.

It'll also be interesting to return to Commerce Texas, where I'm told we lived for a summer to fulfill a residency requirement while my father was getting his Masters in History (M.S.). I have no memory of the town or campus at all, having been not yet two at the time -- though I do still have a copy of the Master's Thesis he wrote to finish the degree [1960]

So, here's for a safe trip and an interesting weekend ahead. If you're in the area, drop on by and say hello.

--John R.

Monday, April 2, 2012


So, a few weeks ago I got an invitation to attend a gathering of old friends, fellow former employees of TSR, in conjunction with 'GaryCon', a small rpg convention being held in the Lake Geneva area. If I'd been in the area I'd certainly have tried to drop by, but two thousand miles is a lot to travel at short notice, especially in a year that looks to be full of trips: to a Tolkien event in Commerce, Texas next month; Kalamazoo the month after; another gathering in mid-summer, a trip to England in the fall, and one to Marquette in October --plus, of course, such trips due to family emergencies as may arise.

Luckily, as Janice pointed out to me a few nights ago (Tuesday, while I was making us some Moroccan soup, the only dish I know how to make that calls for saffron), Bruce Heard has elected to post three detailed day-by-day accounts of the event, here:

and here:

and here:

Looking through these evokes a lot of nostalgia. TSR was a terrible place to work, in that they gave you far more work to do than you could get done in the time allotted, forcing everyone to work evenings and weekends week after week, month after month, year after year (more than one of my co-worker's marriages fell apart under the strain).

But, contrasted with this, it was a great job because you got to work on D&D all day every day, which was amazing: to do the thing you love as your job makes you one of the luckiest people in the world. And you got to work with the most amazing group of talented, quirky, creative, likable, people-who-get-it co-workers you cd ever ask for. People who loved games so much that in addition to working on games all day they played games during their lunch hour in the Games Library; most were also in at least one, often two evening games that meet weekly after hours.

Looking through Bruce's report, I'm glad to see so many people who were my co-workers could make it for the Lake Geneva event: Bruce himself, Diesel, Dale & Cindi, Jeff Easley (shd I mention that editing WRATH OF THE IMMORTALS was my first solo/non-mentored editing job at TSR?), Jim Lowder (the one TSR employee I'd known long before starting at the company, from his Marquette days), Jon Pickens, Lester, Sue, Jim Ward (originator of the annual telling of the story of The Day That Will Live In Infamy), Skip & Penny (Skip and Jean Rabe being the other two TSR employees I knew before starting work there, from my having helped out with RPGA tournaments at GenCon for several years; the first job I applied for at TSR actually having been with the RPGA, a few months before I landed the editing job), Karen, Harold, Dave Wise, and others. There were other people whom I know but who didn't overlap with my time there, like Margaret Weis and Doug Niles; others I've met or at least seen in person but who wdn't remember me, like Mike Carr (the man who knows where all the bodies are buried) and Frank Mentzer and Tom Wham; and still others who remain for me wholly in the realm of legend, like Tim Kask (the original editor of THE DRAGON, and later of his own successor magazine which I quite liked when I discovered old copies of it a decade or so later) and Dave Megarry (creator of the DUNGEON boardgame), Allen Hammack and Jean Black.

As many people as showed up, there are others I'd love to see at such a gathering who seem not to have made it: Slade Henson, Steven Schend, Colin McColm, Andria Hayday (the best editor/developer they ever had), Miranda Horner, Julia Martin, Roger Moore, &c &c. And some who aren't with us anymore, like the late great Dave Sutherland (TSR employee #6), who had seen it all and was full of stories about the legended past. Luckily, some of my friends from the old days I still get to see on a regular basis: Jeff Grubb, Wolfgang Baur, Steve Winter, Steve ('Stan') Brown, and Monte Cook are all in my gaming group, while occasionally but less often I get to see other friends like Bruce Cordell (whose first TSR product I edited, some fifteen years ago now), Steve Miller, & Rich Baker (who started work there just a week after I did but whose tenure there stretched a full twenty years). In the end its the memories, the friendships, and the publications resulting from all that creativity that remain behind. Thanks to Bruce for stirring old memories, but in a good way.

--John R.
--not older than dirt, but definitely paleolithic.