Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Three Films

So, it seems the rumors (or is that 'rumours'?) were true: Peter Jackson announced yesterday that, having just concluded principal photography on the two HOBBIT movies, he's now decided to go ahead and make it THREE films instead.

Obviously, this will involve new filming, new scripting, new everything. There's much speculation about where he cd break Bilbo's story into three pieces, but I don't think that's what they'll do. Consider: it's only four and a half months until the release date of the first film. Given all the special effects, scoring, editing, &c. they'll have to do, it's too late to change that one much. Besides which it's clear from hints Jackson has been dropping for a while that he really wants to film material from the Appendices (which for all events and purposes means Appendix B, supplemented by Appendix A). So I think the two HOBBIT films will remain pretty much as they are, and that the third film will be a 'bridge' spanning events from the years between Bilbo's return home and the Long-Expected party sixty years later. We know a lot about the events in these years, but since Tolkien chose not to write that story, any movie based on these materials will obviously contain less Tolkien, and more Jackson, than any of the other five. We'll see what they come up with.

Four and a half months to go . . .

--John R.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Another Dunsany Spotting (and Cabell too)

So, continuing my slow slog through Edmund Wilson's fiction* I came across an unexpected mention of Dunsany and Cabell that I thought I'd share.

The passage in question comes in Edmund Wilson's 1929 novel I Thought of Daisy, a dismal roman a clef about life in Greenwich Village featuring characters based on EW's friend John Dos Passos, the love of his life Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wilson himself, and an idealized flapper who is the girl of his dreams. In one scene the point-of-view Wilsonian narrator finds himself in an unfamiliar flat and, characteristically, checks out the bookshelves:

". . . on the shallow mantlepiece, a plaster cast of the Winged Victory; and between two narrow windows, which looked down on the Thirty-fourth Street car tracks, a book case containing, I noted, volumes of D. H. Lawrence, Cabell, Dunsany, and Shaw; George Moore's Memoirs of My Dead Life; Freud's Interpretation of Dreams; Frank Harris's Oscar Wilde; several volumes of Levy's Nietzsche and a whole shelf's array of Dostoevsky."

[1995 paperback edition, page 103]

It's not entirely clear (to me, at any rate) what Wilson means by this assemblage, who seem merely to be popular authors of the time, representing what was fashionable to read in the previous decade. It may be intended as characterization of the apartment owners, the Micklers', but this seems somewhat unlikely: we never do meet Mrs. Mick, who's locked herself in the bathroom, while her husband Larry turns out to be drunken lout, given to waving a pistol around and taking pot-shots at things (like the aforesaid Winged Victory).

More likely, it's simply local color: these are the sort of books you'd find on the shelves of a typical apartment belonging to the sort of folks Wilson hung out with back in the day, a detail transcribed from his notebooks for verisimilitude (of which his 'novel' is full).

Of the nine authors mentioned, Lawrence, Shaw, and Wilde are now firmly ensconced in the canon --which was not necessarily the case when Wilson wrote this passage. Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Freud had already come into their own as major thinkers. George Moore is lesser know today but secure in the second tier (authors you hear about when studying for a degree but probably never actually read).

That just leaves Cabell, whose vogue peaked in 1917 with the banning of JURGEN but whose stock remained high throughout the twenties, and Dunsany, who became famous during the war years as a playwright and who reached the height of his renown around 1919-1920 at the time of his U. S. tour. Interestingly enough, a latter-day sign of their lingering cachet can be found in the fact that the volumes of Cabell and Dunsany in C. S. Lewis's library, the remnants of which are now at the Wade, are American editions formerly belonging to Joy Gresham, who was a native-born New Yorker of the next generation (she wd have been in her early teens about the time Wilson's book on Greenwich Village appeared).

Next up: Dunsany and Fitzgerald.

--John R.

*my advice to anyone thinking of reading I Thought of Daisy? Don't.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The New Rule

So, the new rule is, I'm not to use Janice's sharp knives in the kitchen.

In other news, the stitches come out in ten days.

--John R.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

We Go to See the Pharaoh

So, yesterday we celebrated our anniversary by taking the day off and heading down to the Pacific Science Center (part of the 1962 World's Fair complex, a little north and west of the base of the Space Needle). We've been there once before, a few years back, to see Lucy*; seems we only go there to see really old corpses.

We'd planned to see the Imax film about the pharaohs, then take in the exhibition, but traffic was bad, so that we arrived after the film's start time. Not to worry; the good folks there shifted our times around so we cd go into the Tut exhibit at 12 rather than 12.30 and the film afterwards, starting at 2.30.

Just before going into the exhibit we all watched a short film narrated by Harrison Ford, famous for playing an old tomb robber (which, given what we were about to see, seemed wholly appropriate). Then it was into the exhibit itself. Janice and I had given a pass on the audio tour with headphones; recently we've noticed how it seduces you into a rhythm: pause in front of item, listen to audiotrack, move to next time, repeat. We had a much better experience wandering around, looking at the items in whatever order made sense at the time.

One of the great things about this exhibit, paradoxically, is that there aren't too many items on display. That's not to say there weren't a lot, but that they weren't all crowded together. Instead, the statues were out in the open, surrounded by don't-cross-this-line cords that nonetheless let you get pretty close (a great help, when you're eyesight's not what it could be). Even better, you could walk all the way around almost every item on exhibit, which meant you could compare profiles of statues, see what was carved on the back of a stele, &c.

My favorite item, by far, was a colossal statue of Akhenaten; the bottom half was missing, but they'd mounted it high enough so the king's long, narrow face looked down on us from the appropriate height. Don't think I've ever seen any of the Amarna revolution art in person before, and it was breathtaking. My next favorite, predictably enough, was the decorated stone box containing the remains of Prince Thutmose (Akhenaten's older brother)'s cat. There were three depictions of the cat itself, one in mummified form, and another of it facing a little table piled with nom (including what looks like a whole duck -- this was apparently one well-fed cat). I'm certain the cat's name must be carved among all the hieroglyphs running up and down the box, but no translation was provided, either in the signage nor on the postcard or souvenir book.**

There were many, many other wonderful things to see -- such as a statue of Khafre, builder of the second Great Pyramid of Giza and also, perhaps even more significant, of the Sphinx, which he had carved with his own features -- thus looking at this statue is a great way to see how the Sphinx originally looked, before forty-five centuries or so of wear and tear had their way with it. Side by side with this statue was one of his son Menkaure, builder of the third (and smallest) pyramid of the three. I looked around for one of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid itself, but didn't find one -- then remembered that only a single image of him survives, a little statuette a few inches high, and no doubt far too precious to go out on the road like this.

Another striking item was a head of an Amarna princess with a bizarrely elongated skull. That this was clearly deliberate was shown by another piece in the next room that showed a charioteer with the same mis-shapened skull. Was this the result of deliberate manipulation of infant's skulls to produce a desired effect, as is still done in some countries in the world today, or an artistic effect, or what? V. odd.

Wandering around an exhibit like this, I was v. much struck by how little distance separates us from the people of pharaonic times: the bed, the chair, the sandals, the pretty little gold cup. Things that initially seem odd on second thought aren't that different at all -- for example, there was a statue of one princess who became became a priestess and was said to have married the god: I've known nuns in my time, who undergo a ceremony to become Brides of Christ. The uncomfortable side of this is that while it's all well and good to move statues around, you can't enter the final rooms of the exhibit -- the ones dedicated to Tutankhamun himself -- without being aware you're surrounded by things looted from a tomb. The unwrapped mummy at the very end of the exhibit is an exact replica of the real thing, which is thankfully still in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings -- but I cdn't look at it without thinking of the flowers (not mentioned here) his widow and friends and family strewed on the real mummy before closing the innermost coffin for the last time. Putting a flower in the coffin when saying farewell to a loved one: something people still do today.

All in all, a wonderful exhibit; one of the most visitor-friendly and satisfying I've ever been to. That makes the second Egyptian museum visit of the year, the first having been to the Carnegie when we were in Pittsburgh last month. That display was mainly pots (many of them pre-dynastic) and tools and jewelry, plus a few late-era mummies in mummy-cases near the end. So that collection was focused more towards relatively ordinary people, while the Tut exhibit was pharaohs and family and nobles.

Next up will be the British Museum and the Flinders Petrie (which turns out not to be in Oxford at all, as I'd thought, but at University College London -- not that far from where we'll be staying, fact.***

After that, we moseyed over to the Imax (only the third Imax film I've ever seen, with one of the other two having been on my only previous visit to the Pacific Science Center) -- this one focused more on the royal mummy cache than Tutankhamun; it was distinguished mainly by being narrated by Christopher Lee and by the actress playing Nefertiti being able to walk slinkily in desert sand. That, and one sequence where it showed the face of pharaoh after pharoah and then immediately cut to the temple or monuments or complex that particularly king had constructed.

A short snack later, and we were off to get stuck in traffic (fifty minutes to get from the parking garage to the interstate, which isn't really that far (maybe a mile or so). A short rest, and then meeting up with friends for a quiet, enjoyable meal in view of the sun setting over the Sound. V. nice!

So, if you're at all interested in Ancient Egypt and live in or will be passing through the Seattle area, this exhibit is well worth visiting. Esp. considering how rarely material like this leaves Egpyt. The official name of the exhibit is "TUTANKHAMUN: THE GOLDEN KING AND THE GREAT PHARAOHS", and it's scheduled to stay at in Seattle until January 2013.

And now we're even toying with the idea of revisiting the Field Museum's ancient Egypt display -- probably the single one we're most familiar with, from earlier visits back when we used to live in Wisconsin -- when we're back in the area for my talk at Marquette in October. That'd be five Egyptian exhibits in one year, which sounds pretty good to me. We'll see what we can manage when the time comes.

--John R.

*with Janice's friend Patty, owner of Henry, himself the subject of a previous post.

**I was right: the cat's name was Ta-Miaut ("The She-Cat"); apparently Prince Thutmose was the literal sort. Here's a link to a site showing the cat's box from all directions; the only thing you miss from this is the rich yellow-brown gold color of the box itself. For that, take a look at the second link below as well and scroll down to the bottom of the first page:

***while we're there, I'll have to go by and pay my respects to Jeremy Bentham, if he's still in his glass box (as he was when I was there in '81).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Twenty Years

I am the luckiest man in the world.

Exhibit A: Today is my twentieth wedding anniversary.

Hard to believe, but true.

I rest my case.

--John R.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

6339 songs

So, a few months back* I started listening to the songs on my iPod -- ALL the songs on my iPod -- in alphabetical order. My thinking was that there's a lot of great music there I never listen to because I don't think about it. It's the problem of too many choices: out of over six thousand songs, which ones do I want to hear at any given time? I can always think of a good starting point, but where to go from there? Janice's solution, and it's a good one, is to hit shuffle and enjoy a mix of what the iPod gives her. But that ironically works better with her mini-iPod than with our old 80-gig iPod: too many recorded books on the latter introduce a jarring note, as one song is followed by a randomly-excerted bit of text (some of which inconveniently run over an hour in length), followed by another song; it breaks up the background-music element of my listen-while-you-work routine.

So, I decided to listen to everything, going under the "Songs" option and starting with #1 ("A" by the Bare Naked Ladies) and ending yesterday, early evening, with #6339 ("10538 Overture" by E.L.O.) -- iPod's alphabetization first running through the alphabet (the vast bulk of the songs, ending in #6129 (Herb Albert's "Zorba the Greek"), then things in foreign scripts --I have a fair number of pieces from anime soundtracks with unrecognizable (to me) titles in kanji. Then last of all came numbers, which included not just songs like "867-5309 but also radio station dial numbers (for use in playing it in the car) and audio recordings I'd made (titled by date) at the 2004 Marquette Blackwelder conference and again at another 2007 Tolkien event.

Of course, I didn't feel obliged to listen literally to 6,339 tracks. Some songs are on there multiple times -- which is fine, when listening to them by album, but can be a bit much when listening to them alphabetically, song by song. I think I really did listen to "Hey Jude" five times in a row, but then I really like Hey Jude (na-na-na-naah), while I think I skipped over some of the multiple versions of "If I Had a Million Dollars", good though that song is.

My conclusion? I have a lot of good music on this old iPod. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of Beatles, and McCartney, but surprisingly there's more Warren Zevon and Bare Naked Ladies than I'd expected and somewhat less Alan Parsons Project or Tears for Fears (given that I have all the latter two's albums). Also, there can't possibly be as many tracks for "Pirates of Penzance" and "Les Miserables" as there seemed to be. There just can't.

Also, that I was wise when starting to build my iTunes account all over again on the new laptop after the old laptop's catastrophic failure a few years back, in that now instead of adding a whole album I only add the songs I like and want to listen to from that album -- which may be the whole thing, or may be a single song.

What's next? I think it's time to dip back into my .45s again when I'm at home and downstairs, though for working-by music they require I be working on a project that benefits by frequent interruption -- which is a rare sort of project indeed. More likely I'll devote worktime music to the albums rather than the singles, many of which I never did replace with cds and most of which still play just fine.

And for the iPod, I'll probably do some shuffle within the songs by a specific artist.

And my next music purchase? That'll probably be the new George Harrison album, which I just found out about a few days ago.

Good listening, all.

--John R

*unfortunately, I didn't make any note of the time.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Very Odd Chickadee

Drink, little hummingbird
Drink your fill
If you don't do it
The chickadee will.

--JDR, 7/21-12

So, one day early last week, I think it was, I looked out to see a chickadee on the dowel from which hangs the hummingbird feeder, and a hummingbird buzzing about above, the chickadee clearly watching the even littler bird and trying to figure out what it was and what it was up to. Then the hummingbird, deciding the chickadee was probably not a threat, zoomed in, lapped up a little hummingbird juice, and was off.

What happened then surprised me: once the hummingbird was gone, the chickadee launched itself at the little tube-feeder, clinging to the cap at its base with its little passerine feet. I thought it was going to be in for a rude surprise when it found the tube was full not of sunflower seed chips, like the finch feeder at the opposite end of the porch, but sugar-water. It pecked at the opening a few times and flew off.

But then the next day it was back. No hummingbird around this time, but I saw the chickadee on the dowel, looking all round to see if the coast was clear, then v. deliberately perch on the tube again and take a few sips before once again flying off. A day or two later Janice saw it too, and it's been back regularly since then (we see it about every other day or so, and it no doubt makes trips we don't happen to see).

So, there's something new: a chickadee with a sweet tooth.* More things, Horatio, indeed.

--John R.

P.S.: As for the hummingbirds, saw two go at it twice yesterday, most unusually inside the railing of the deck rather than out over open space. There was much tsking, and some helicoptering, and enough posturing and positioning to do a musketeer proud, but no actual contact (such is not the hummingbird way).

*not that chickadee have teeth, but you know what I mean.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Great Turtle Escape

So, I was glad to read about the 1600 turtles that escaped a turtle farm in Georgia recently, probably not because of turtles-rights advocates but as a side effect of scrap-metal thieves' work. I feel sorry for the turtle farmer, but glad for the turtles -- some of whom wd have been sold to pet stores and others shipped to China (or Chinese markets) to be eaten.

The story got picked up by NPR and the associated press, mainly because people are tickled by the idea of so many of a traditionally slow animal successfully running away. They must never have had pet turtles: anyone who has can tell you they can put on a surprising burst of speed when they want to. My sister and I had a long string of miniature pet turtles when we were growing up, some of whom died and some of whom escaped at various times (e.g., when outside in their summer wading pool if a high wind whipped up and flipped it over), none of whom we ever recovered.*

So, let's hope these made good their escape and remain at large -- though it's certainly bad news for any tadpoles in the region, and might well cut down on the minnow population as well.

Here's a link.

And, just because it's pretty amazing to watch, here's some footage from another site (http://www.themarysue.com/1000-turtles-escape/) that shows a turtle deliberately pushing another, upended turtle back right-side-up again:

--John R.
current reading: WHERE THEY STAND by Rbt Merry (presidential rankings) & I THOUGHT OF DAISY by Edmund Wilson.

*I'd love to have a turtle now, but turtles and cats are a bad mix.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Peter Jackson (et al) interviews

So, now they've wrapped up principal photography on THE HOBBIT -- though of course this is far from meaning they've stopped filming, if the extensive rounds of pick-up filming that characterized the LotR film trilogy are anything to judge by. And there are various bits in the following interviews about Jackson & co. wanting to film more material from the appendices, apparently with the idea of lengthening the two movies rather than adding a third.

Here's the first link (courtesy Janice):

And here's the second link (courtesy Steve B):

Despite the really, really annoying puffery about 3D (which is a nightmare to watch for anyone with really strong glasses, like mine) and Jackson's snooty dismissal of "guys who are in love with the technology of 1927", I found both of these interesting: there's still a ton of work to do, but we're getting into the final stages now, frenzied as those will no doubt be.

Oh, and don't forget to click on the link at the end of the first paragraph of the second piece: although the Comic-Con people are apparently incapable of spelling Tolkien's name right, there's some interesting point in the attached panel report -- such as the (to me) amusing declaration that they're adding a female character not in Tolkien because they want to stay true to the spirit of Tolkien (try parsing that one out) and Peter Jackson's quip when asked if he'll be doing any SILMARILLION movies someday: "I think the chances of me living past 100 are slim". That about sums it up.

Only about five months to go. Wow.

--John R

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

iPads for the Dead

So, the NEWS OF THE WEIRD (by Chuck Shepherd) that gets included in each month's FUNNY TIMES collects together weird news from all over, ranging from the risible to the way out there. Perhaps the strangest of all are those which follow their own logic through to a surreal conclusion. Case in point: for years it's been the custom in China to burn paper money for the use of those who have passed on.* Sometimes other items are burned too -- the film MR. VAMPIRE III has a scene in which two friendly ghosts are given new outfits by their priest-partner burning some paper clothes for them.

But now the dead are getting wired, or so it seems. NEWS OF THE WEIRD** reports that recently paper iPads have become a popular items (selling in Hong Kong for about $3 apiece) to be offered up to the dead at the yearly Qingming (tomb-sweeping) festival. Does this mean the dead will soon be online? All sorts of story ideas there -- though to be fair SERIAL EXPERIMENT LAIN*** already touched on this a decade ago. Still, don't think a novel about e-mails from the dead can be far off; just hope it's given more of a fantasy than a horror treatment (e.g., along the lines of Terry Pratchett's JOHNNY & THE DEAD.

--John R.

*note that the theory is exactly the same as that followed by the pharaohic Egyptians, who buried items with the dead so that the departed cd use their spirit-analogues in the spirit-world.

**THE FUNNY TIMES, July 2012 issue, page 15, 1st column.

***the show opens with a girl jumping to her death from atop a building; a few scenes later, several of her schoolmates (including the title character, Lain) start getting emails from her. The most memorable: when asked what dying felt like, she writes it really hurts!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Final MERPcon Video

As long as I'm posting links, I might as well include Michael Martinez's Guest of Honor speech from the same event (MERPcon IV, 2008): mostly about dwarves as a wandering people, but ranging far and wide, particularly in the question period. No video or audio problems at all, making this one the easiest of the three to watch.

In case I didn't say it before, many thanks to Hawke for arranging the event and inviting me to take part.

And, just because it seems apropos, here's the interview I did with Michael M. for his site, back in October; it was an honor to be included among such interesting people as Jn Garth, Jason Fisher, Douglas Kane, Michael Drout, Wayne & Christina, & Janet Croft; I hope he'll do many more in months to come.

Here's the link:

--John R.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

More MERPcon Video

As long as I'm posting links to footage of me talking, I might as well include this video, also from MERPcon IV (Spokane, 2008), in which Michael Martinez and I do a Question & Answer session that runs 1hr 14 minute & 58 seconds. While I have a clear memory of my 'Brief, Sad History' piece -- having written it, practiced delivering it, and then later posted the text online -- I had only vaguer memories of the Q&A, since it was unscripted and I didn't have any record of its contents.

Until now. And, even though there are some technical glitches with the audio track, I found it interesting to watch an event I took part in but which I didn't remember in any detail. The theme of the conference was Tolkien's dwarves: hence a number of naur-centric questions. Among the topics Michael and I tackled were Egyptian and Hebrew analogues to Tolkien's dwarves, the sudden (circa 1930) shift of dwarves from an evil to a (mostly) good people in the legendarium, my naming Feanor as the most evil of all Tolkien's elves, any sources of mithril outside Moria, the Hobbit/Silmarillion connection, Thor analogues in the mythology, Orcs (and the names "orc" vs. "goblin"), King Bladorthin, the location and population of Dorwinion, the 1960 Hobbit, and our (then-)current projects. I'm glad to say I'd pretty much give the same answers again, though given the chance I'd look up various points rather than have to remember them on the fly. And I found the precision of Michael's knowledge on a wide array of points impressive, as well as enjoyed his ideas (the Egyptian/dwarves connection was interesting and new to me).

It's true the wayward audio track does make for some difficulties: the sound cuts out altogether perhaps a dozen times, but rarely for more than a minute at a time, and many for about fifteen seconds (especially the latter ones); the main exception I noted occurs at 13.45 and lasts until 19.30, or for almost six minutes. These skips cause the sound track to get ahead of the video track but don't affect the comprehensibility of the thing much. If you find the skips bothering you, I advise opening a second window with something browsable but not of absorbing interest which you can click on when the sound cuts out on the Q&A, then go back to the MerpCon video when the sound comes back. That's what I did anyway, and found it worked pretty well (a strategy I borrowed from my wife, who plays solitaire or Carcassone while listening to NPR on her Ipad).

Here's the link to the video of the Q&A:

--John R.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Brief Sad History, Revisited

So, I found out yesterday that my MERP.Con IV guest of honor talk, "A Brief, Sad History of Tolkien Roleplaying Games", is now available online in the form of a one-hour video (actually 67 minute, 58 seconds):

While the text of this has been available online for a long time -- I posted it here in the early days of this blog* -- the actual delivery included many asides and back-and-forths answering questions from the audience. Plus, of course, here you can see something of my show-and-tell, a part of my talk that didn't translate well into the text-only format.

Be warned that there are some technical glitches in the tape, as in a few places where the audio and visual tracks get out of sync, or a few words drop out of the audio track, but these shdn't affect anyone's watching the piece.
Just to clarify one such place: early on there's a place where I talk about Arneson and Gygax that doesn't quite come across: what I said was along the lines that Dave Arneson came up with the idea (for D&D) and then Gary Gygax figured out how to make a game out of it, in the sense of writing rules so that other people could figure out how to play: some skips in the audio track at that point make the sentence a little hard to follow.

Now that we're four years closer to the event of the next Tolkien-based movie, I was interested to see how close my predictions nr the end turned out; close, but not altogether on the mark.

Other than that, I had a great time attending the con, and thoroughly enjoyed writing up the piece; I'm glad to see it made available for those who cdn't be there in Spokane on that hot summer day in 2008.

. . . .

*Here the essay itself, broken into four pieces for easier posting:

Also available is the question and answer

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Rumor

So, here's a tantalizing link, courtesy of the MythSoc list (thanks, "Drussy"):

The Fall of Arthur? Tolkien's long (almost 1,000 lines), unfinished Arthurian poem? The one with clear affinities to the fourteenth century Alliterative Morte Arthur? The one praised by E. V. Gordon, and R. W. Chambers, and C. S. Lewis? That Fall of Arthur?

Dare we hope? I remember Rayner Unwin, when I got to meet with him in 1985, telling me about this as one of the forthcoming projects already in the works, but which wdn't be coming out until some more pressing projects (like the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH series, whose third volume I'd just picked up that same day).*

This is one of the unpublished Tolkien works I've most been wanting to see in print. We'll see if the rumors are just rumors, or if it's really on the way. I'd say the whole thing is wishful thinking (I know the PULP CTHULHU rulebook still gets listed on amazon and similar sites, despite never having been published), but the precision of May 13th 2013 as its release date hints that perhaps it's more than that.

We'll see.

--John R.

*I wound up giving that volume to Owen Barfield, who was interested to hear that Lewis had critiqued some of Tolkien's poetry and was curious to see those comments for himself

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Christopher Tolkien interviewed in LE MONDE

So, a few days ago (July 6th/7th), an interview with Christopher Tolkien appeared in LE MONDE, France's major newspaper. The original piece was only available for subscribers, and though it was possible to buy a single article (for a euro or so, I think), I didn't have time to try to navigate the directions,* what with being busy babysitting a six-year-old and a year-old toddler all weekend. Thanks to links posted by some good folks on the MythSoc list,** I was able to find the original (in French), which was made available for free online after the first few days:***

I've been slowly working my way through this -- my college French being such that while I'm pretty good on the nouns and adjectives I'm often uncertain on the verbs (so many variants due to tense) -- and finding it of great interest. Now, thanks to another post on the MythSoc list (thanks, Jason), a pretty good translation is available. Given that interviews with C.T. are so rare -- the last I can think of is in the 1992 film documentary on JRRT's centenary (the Landseer video), rather than comment on this one I'd just like to help draw people's attention to it; I particularly liked the bit about Christopher Tolkien having no regrets at leaving academia behind.

current reading: A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (1919) by P. G. Wodehouse

* (thinking the potential for error was high, what with them being in French)

**thanks to Vincent F, Paul W, GHC, and Romuald L.

***although this version seems to lack the reproduction of one of Tolkien's maps that apparently accompanied the original (paper version).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Beethoven flash mob

So, Janice was listening to this the other night and kindly shared it with me. Somewhere between the final scene in LET IT BE and Train's video for "Drops of Jupiter". Here's the link.
Don't know about you, but I fd this delightful -- so much so that it goes alongside P.D.Q. Bach's version of Beethoven's Fifth ("New Appreciations . . . ") as my favorite performance of a L.v.B. piece.

Of course, the Sabadell folks are luckier than the Beatles, in that they got all the way through their piece without the police showing up and shutting them down.

--John R.
current reading: TWO BAD ANTS by Van Allsberg [1988]

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The New Arrivals (2nd of 2)

(continued from last post)

The other item was completely different, and represents one of my rare purchases from e-bay. Lately I've been trying to find a copy of the issue of LOCUS (November 1987, I think) in which they reported the results of a poll of the all-time Best Fantasy novels. I had this at one time (twenty-five years ago) but it's long since been lost or buried. The list itself is available online


but I recall that the original also had some information and interesting remarks about the results -- as in, the top book on the Fantasy poll (THE LORD OF THE RINGS) vastly outstripped the winner of the Science Fiction list (DUNE), being the only Fantasy book some science-fiction respondents voted for. The second-place Fantasy winner (and here's where my interest comes in) was THE HOBBIT -- which got more #1 votes for the best fantasy book ever than any other book except LotR, establishing again that Bilbo's story has fans of its own, independently of LotR. Also, that among fantasy writers Tolkien stands in a league of his own: LeGuin's A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA came in what was described as a distant third. I know they redid the poll about a decade later (1998) but haven't seen that verison of the results. I'm sure if they did it again now a number of the books ranked highly in 1987 wd have dropped a good deal or dropped off the list altogether. Which wdn't bother me that much: only three of the books I'd rank as the top ten even made it on their list, and two of those were the Tolkien).

What I did come across, in searching for that elusive 1987 issue, was the J. R. R. Tolkien memorial issue of LOCUS, dated September 14, 1973. In those days, it turns out LOCUS was not the slick magazine we know today but several sheets of greenish paper stapled together in one corner. The first three and a half of its seven pages are filled with memorial tributes by Charlie Brown (LOCUS's editor), Lester del Ray ("Something of joy and delight has gone from us"), L. Sprague de Camp (who briefly describes his meeting with Tolkien), Sterling Lanier (who mentions his dozen or so letter correspondence with Tolkien -- now that wd be interesting to see), Fritz Leiber, Frederick Pohl (who's surprised to like Tolkien as much as he did), and Roger Zelazny. Quite an unusual array to go on record in praise of Tolkien;***** hence my deciding to try to get a copy once I learned of its existence. Here are a few snips:

CHARLIE BROWN: "The world Tolkien created has always seemed too complete and real to me to actually be the work of any ordinary author. I wish I could communicate to you the feeling of wonder I had when I read the first volume in 1954 or the feelings of frustration in the eighteen months between American publication of the first and second volumes. (I couldn't go through it again and ordered the English edition of RETURN OF THE KING direct after that.) . . . I'm looking forward to reading [the forthcoming SILMARILLION], but I don't think it, or any other book can have the impact that LORD OF THE RINGS had on that teen-age introvert nearly twenty years ago."

STERLING LANIER: "His last great legacy to the world, the SILMARILLION, has been saved. He wrote me years ago, that it was done in verse! He seemed puzzled in a mild way, that at the time, no publisher seemed interested in it. I recall asking what he was doing for a comic or light element, since no Hobbits existed this early. He agreed this was a problem, but felt it could be solved. I can't wait."

FRITZ LEIBER: "Tolkien is unsurpassed in his descriptions of subtly eerie solitudes and in his delineations of a manifold variety of true loyalties and comradeships, and of reactions to evil. He gives thoughtful consideration to the reality of villainy in the sword-and-sorcery story, as Charles Williams does in the tale of supernatural terror. Creatures of his imagination such as the ents are marvellous. He casts a long, brightly-edged shadow."

FREDERICK POHL: "I rejoice that my life has been enriched by writers capable of inventing whole worlds for me to explore, and I mourn the passing of one of the greatest of them."

ROGER ZELAZNY: "I came to J. R. R. Tolkien's books at a very unusual time in my life. But then I guess that everyone who has read them and been moved by them has felt the same way. Perhaps it is because they helped to make it an unusual time. He enriched the entire field of fantastic literature with his great story. He changed many of us who passed through his world. And this is the mark of true power -- to make oneself felt so intensely, so pervasively and with such affection. While I was saddened to hear of his passing, it is good to know that his life was long, long enough for him to feel our appreciation of his work and long enough to realize that so many of us are grateful."

The other interesting news in this brief issue is an announcement about the folding of Lancer Books, who did to Rbt. E. Howard's CONAN what Ace and Ballantine together did for J. R. R. Tolkien. That, and a full-page add from T-K Graphics, including a wide array of interesting stuff: Post's ATLAS OF FANTASY and Kocher's MASTER OF MIDDLE-EARTH, Bradley's MEN, HALFLINGS, & HERO WORSHIP and Foster's GUIDE TO MIDDLE-EARTH; Le Guin's FROM ELFLAND TO POUGHKEEPSIE and Rickard's THE FANTASTIC ART OF CLARK ASHTON SMITH (which I had a copy of the latter), and more. I wonder: is there actually anyone out there who has a complete set of their little run of Tolkien monographs? I came along a little too late for that, but know others collected them avidly.

In short: an interesting snap-shot from a vanished era. Well worth the price. Now to put it in a Safe Place where I can find it again, someday when I need it . . .

--John R.

current reading

*****but then Doug Anderson did note, in his contribution to the Blackwelder volume, that it was the science fiction fans who 'got it' when Tolkien was first published and made up a solid, enthusiastic core of his earliest admirers in the U.S..

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The New Arrivals (1st of 2)

So, got back from the trip to Pennsylvania* to find three new items had arrived in two packages while we were gone.

The two that came together were two of Steve Winter's little Old School adventures he's written for the North Texas PRG Con held in the Dallas/Fort Worth area each year. I found out about last year's too late to get copies (they're released in v. small print runs and apparently sold only on RPG Marketplace, where I didn't have an account**), but thanks to a head's up from Steve was luckier this time around.

The first, THE TOMB OF AMEMNES (a D&D Basic/Expert adventure) we'd played through a few months back, an Egyptian-themed adventure where the characters explore a pyramid complex (Nithian I think in Steve's original, though we pretty much ignored all that Hollow World stuff). It was a good one; when he ran it, Steve had us jumping at shadows and second-guessing ourselves into assuming the things we faced there were much more powerful than they really were, with no doubt amusing (to him) results when we wound up being caught flat-footed by the real menace. I enjoyed it thoroughly, as might have been guessed, given my love for all things Egyptian (did I mention that we swung by the Carnegie while in Pittsburgh in order to see the Egypt exhibit there? Or that we're hoping later this month to see the King Tut travelling exhibit that's here in Seattle? Or to take in the Egyptology rooms in the British Museum and, I hope, Flinders Petrie's collection in Oxford when we're in England this fall?)***

The second, THE DEATH OF TLANGESHAN, is that rarest of rpg things, an EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE adventure. Such are rare indeed: I can only think of one offhand, published by Judges' Guild; company after company keeps re-releasing the setting books for Barker's strange world,**** but adventures to play in it are vanishingly scarce. I have the original boxed set from The Dawn of Time (1975), though I only got a chance to play it a year or two ago -- where we died in droves; we were lucky that one character (mine) was a minor noble, and hence brought along so many minions that we had enough to keep replacing player characters with. Steve has told me it's inspired by a Clark Ashton Smith story (always a good thing); obviously I haven't read through this adventure yet, since I hope to play it first -- though it might be a while, given the D&D Next playtest and ongoing Cthulhu campaigns.

(continued in next post)


*which went fine for us, but seemed cursed for various of our friends we'd gone to see, in that mechanical malfunctions kept befalling them: an airplane that cdn't take off because of a flaw in the cabin door's lock, the so-called 'land hurricane that brought on a total power failure in the DC area (bad news to those on breathing machines with a four-hour battery), and (most dramatic of all) a car catching on fire. While being driven. Makes our oven catching on fire, calling 911, and my using an extinguisher in earnest for the first time seems fairly mild in context.

**which is probably just as well, given the amazing rarities they have up for sale. Things I've only ever read about on acanum.com you can actually buy here, if you (a) have the money and (b) don't have other things you need to spend it on, like rent or a mortgage.

***"one of the greatest collections of Egyptian . . . archaeology in the world", according to their own website.

****which is odd, when you think about it, since players for the setting are practically non-existent.

****I'd hoped we might be able to make it to Lord Carnarven's house (the place where they film DOWNTON ABBEY), to see the goodies he stole from Tutankhamen's tomb that were quietly salted away for decades (as I hear the story, his secret gallery was rediscovered in the 1970s or 80s), but apparently that country estate is hard to reach via public transportation (which makes sense, being a country house).

Monday, July 2, 2012

And the Walls Come Tumbling Down . . .

So, as we were up and preparing for our trip, Janice happened to look out the window and called me over. There, at the school behind our place, some heavy machinery was at work, removing the sandbags surrounding the Neely-OBrien elementary school. These sandbags went up in '09, when the dam upstream of us on the Green River got leaky. Three years having passed, the dam having been repaired and tested, it's now time they came down. There have been articles in the local paper (The Kent Reporter) about plans to clear the levees and re-open the bike paths, but this is the first sign we've seen of something actually being done.

So, we're grateful for the sandbags -- the city government did the right thing to put them in place and protect all of us down on the Green River Valley from what could have been a catastrophic flood. Now it's time for them to go, and it's good to see the first step underway.

Pity there's no good use for the sand (which is actually more like fine gravel): too coarse for use in sandboxes or during snow emergencies. Apparently they're going to dump it all somewhere in a great big mound: maybe it'll be near at hand if they ever have to do all this again. Which, hopefully, won't be for a long, long time.

In the meantime, it's good to see things starting to revert to normal.

--John R.

current reading: THE EXPLOITS OF THE CHEVALIER DUPIN by Michael Harrison [1968] (third reading, II.3007), plus Edgar Poe's four detective stories [1840s]

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tree Beavers

So, earlier this week (Tuesday, I think) I noticed something odd, looking down from the balcony at the tree from which we hang the suet feeder -- strips of something lying on the grass. It looked like a lawn mower had gone over a bamboo pole and left it scattered about in bits and pieces.

It wasn't until the next day that I took a closer look, and found that they were strips of bark, like a beaver leaves around the base of a tree it's been gnawing on. This was surprising, since there are plenty of trees I'd think wd be more appealing, not to say handier, lining the little stream that runs nearby, and a solid wooden fence some six feet high separating the path by the stream from this particular tree.

Checking more closely, I found the strips weren't from the base of the tree but higher up, some twenty or thirty feet from the ground, where I could see that a major limb was losing its bark on its top side. It can't have been struck by lightning, since its leaves are still green and unwithered. I can't think of any bird that could strip bark like that. Deer can't reach that high, and anyway wouldn't eat bark when there was fresh green grass growing all around, even if we had deer in our neighborhood, which we don't. Giraffes are right out.

So, thinking it over, I've come up with an explanation I'm going to use until I find out what really happened:

Tree beavers.

It fits the known facts, and passes the truthiness test. Now all I need is some evidence (that is, some other evidence), that tree beavers exist. In these days of Climate-Change deniers,* Creationists, and what-not, how hard can it be?

More later.

--John R.