Friday, November 30, 2012


So, this week Palestine became a nation in the eyes of the international community.

Better sixty-five years late than never . . .

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tolkien and Westminster

So, the news about C. S. Lewis's having a memorial in his honor put up in Westminster Abbey next year, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death, makes me wonder: what are the chances that J. R. R. Tolkien will one day also be so honored? And, if so, when?

At first I thought Tolkien would probably be passed over because the Abbey is, after all, an Anglican institution and Tolkien was Catholic. But then I looked at the online list of who's buried there and all the others who have memorials (a far greater number), and saw that Hopkins, Pope, and Wilde are there, so being Catholic is apparently no bar to membership in this particular v. exclusive club.**

There's also the fact that Tolkien wrote fantasy, which has historically not gotten much respect as a genre -- but Lewis's entry, which seems largely due to the Narnia books, seems an indicator that has changed (Lewis Carroll also got a memorial there, as recently as 1982; Edward Lear is also there). And remember this is a country which recently knighted a man explicitly for writing fantasy (Sir Terry Pratchett).

I suspect the main reason might simply be time. Lewis is being added a year from now, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death, while Tolkien only died thirty-nine years ago. True, Ted Hughes got added last year, only thirteen years after his death, but then he was Poet Laureate, which probably expedites such things. So, I suspect Tolkien's time will come, but not for another dozen years or so.

I guess we'll have to just wait and see.

--John R.

*albeit added a century or two after their deaths: Hopkins in 1975, Pope in 1994, and the notorious Wilde in 1995
**I also noted the presence of several atheists, so apparently Xianity isn't even required

The Cat Report (W. Nov. 28th, 2012)

Today found us with eleven cats in ten cages, just like last week; it's even the same eleven cats. Sorry to hear the kittens' adoption fell through, but v. pleased to see the note about Marie's pending adoption tonight. Finally got to see her special blanket too, which was great -- maybe someone can take a picture of it before it goes home with her?

Although it was the same cats, the room felt v. different when I arrived, because the cats were already all out of their cages and in a mellow and happy mood -- Eva had dropped by to pick something up and, unable to resist their appeals (piteous mews, paws reaching out of cages, &c), let them out and watched them till I arrived. Ashwyn in particular was effusively affectionate, standing up with his paws on your chest or shoulder so he could rub your face. Poor little Claire with her nose also wanted much affection. 

Since pretty much everyone was out except Jane, Niko, and Tarah, we forwent the walks this morning, though later on I did offer Mr. Brothers a brief walk just outside the room (he accepted, then quickly changed his mind). Little Claire decided late in the morning that a walk was no less than her due and insisted upon the point; she eventually got her way and was much admired, though to her displeasure she had to stay next to the cat-room, since the others were still out. 

When I arrived, Edna and Niko were in their cages. Little Clarie was on the half-stand by the door and Tarah beneath.  Ashwyn was on cat-stand #1, demanding love and affection and attention RIGHT NOW. Lemura and Marie were beneath and on the lower level of the cat-stand by the cabinet, with Mr. Brothers on the highest rung. Goblynn was atop the cabinet. As for Samurai and Ninja, their battle-cry was "We're kittens and we're out!" as they tore around with glee up in cagetop land. Once the hanging steps were in place they could come, and go, and just hang out on them to their great satisfaction (not universally shared by the shyer cats in the vicinity). 

Goblynn spent the whole morning sacked out blissfully on my coat atop the cabinet. Marie was here and there, including inside the cabinet. Lemura wanted to see each cat's food and water as it was being emptied out. The two of them get along fairly well, and kept winding up ignoring each other in close proximity (e.g., middle and top levels of the same cat-stand). 

Games: we may not have had satisfactory walks, but we did great on the games front. First there was laser tag atop the cages with Ashwyn and the kittens. Ashwyn really threw himself into the game w. great vigor. By this time he was up in cagetopland, enjoying the box and the catnip therein. We also had a most satisfactory string game, to which we had to add a second string for Mr. Brothers, Lemura, and Goblynn. Later still Mr. Brothers came down and wanted a string game all to himself, but was thrown off by the kittens' rushing in and taking over. Finally I had to put the two kittens into the cage (which was most unpopular; entreaties to my better nature were heartfelt but unavailing) so Brothers cd have a game all his own, wh. he enjoyed w. great satisfaction. Eventually Lady Clarie and the semi-team of Lemura and Marie got interested as well. Marie had a bit of a gopher game, and Tarah a little bit of string game all her own. So on the whole think we more than made up for the walks.

Health Concerns: poor little Claire's nose needs time to heal but should be okay; think it'll probably leave a scar, though. Easy to see how she cd have gotten it; Mr. Ashwyn went for her not once but twice when they were on adjacent cat-stands, even though he had to go out of his way to try to get at her (think he's finally found a cat in the room he can bully; he was also mean to Tarah later on). Mr. Niko had some dried throw-up in his food dish; looked like it was just saliva. 
   Not a major concern, but something we'll need to think about: Both Claire's ear and a paw were kind of dirty, and Tarah has dandruff -- do we need to be thinking about trying to wash them? I cleaned up the ear and paw with just a wet cloth, but that won't solve Tarah's impending problem. Not a big deal now, but may become a problem over time. 

And that's about it for this week.
--John R.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Bird in the Hand . . .

So, today something happened that makes it the kind of day you remember.

It started simply enough: I was out on the balcony, getting ready to fill up the birdfeeder, when a little finch landed on the railing next to me. Noticing how closely it was watching me, and how little fear it seemed to have, I poured some birdseed from the half-empty feeder into my hand and held it out. After a short pause, it flew over and landed in my hand, where it stayed for several minutes, eating seed out of the palm of my hand, occasionally rubbing its beak on my fingers, and towards the end almost dozing off. I stayed as still as I could, though my arm got increasingly wobbly towards the end of it all. Midway through another finch landed nearby and gave the whole proceedings a careful scrutiny but decided it wasn't worth it and flew off again. As for the little finch, I'm sure it was a juvenile goldfinch: it had a spotted tum and the kind of endearingly clumsy movement associated with youngsters newly out on their own. I hope this one has a warm nest and is suitably wary of everybody but me.

And no, I didn't let Feanor Finchslayer (with three to his credit, or infamy, so far) out on the deck unsupervised today, somewhat to his annoyance. I'll make it up to him later.

--John R.

New Zealand live premiere

On tv right now, live streaming from Wellington, is the premiere of THE HOBBIT, movie one.

First came a half-hour set by the musician doing the closing theme music

Then two hours or so (so far) of red carpet interviews

Up next are speeches by Peter Jackson et al.

Here's one of many places where you can find a link:

As soon as it's over, they're planning to re-run it in its entirety.


--John R.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lewis in Poets' Corner

So, this week came the news* that next year C. S. Lewis's name will be added to Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Janice and I were there just two months back, spending much of our last full day in London at the Abbey -- during which we had time to thoroughly explore, watch part of a service, marvel over the British appetite for putting up monuments of Nelson (of which there were already plenty in St. Paul's, not to mention Trafalgar Square), visit the tombs of England's greatest queen (who's buried with her sister, surprisingly enough, considering that the two didn't get on), and generally marvel at the place. And I finally got to see Poet's Corner, which turns out to be a rather modern conceit of eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century figures wanting memorials put up near Chaucer's tomb. Plus some of the people commemorated in the area can hardly be called 'poets' in any meaningful sense (such as Laurence Olivier).

As for Lewis, he was indeed a poet (and at the start of his career quite a good one, though he quickly lost his way**), though it's hard to imagine he's being added to the Poets' Corner on the strength of SPIRITS IN BONDAGE. Critics and scholars rarely gain that eminence either, nor do writers of science fiction or children's books or apologetics. My suspicion is that it's not on the strength of any of these things, but all of them together. Here's the announcement:

Curiously enough, Lewis will not be the first Inkling to be buried in the Abbey; as we were leaving, I spotted the floor-marker naming the first. Anyone who thinks he or she knows whom, post your guess in the comments.

--John R.

*thanks to Wendell W's post on the MythSoc list

**SPIRITS IN BONDAGE is a promising work, but DYMER is dire and thereafter he never took his poetry seriously enough.

The Die Is Cast (The Long Trailer)

So, we've now taken the plunge: yesterday we bought the ticket to see the new HOBBIT movie on opening day. I suppose we'd been holding off in hopes we might hear of someone organizing going as a group to a specific showing at a specific theatre, as was the case with the three LotR movies (where the group was most made up of current and ex-WotC folk). Which might still be the case: back in '01, '02, and '03 we saw each movie twice the same day -- the first time to just enjoy and the second to try to take it all in, looking more for specific details, given that I was asked to review each for the WotC website. That's not the case this time, but I'll still want to review it on the blog, and the watch-it-twice-in-one-day tradition worked so well that it seems a good one to preserve.

So here's where we'll be: Friday December 14th, Kent Station, 11.30 am showing.  No Imax, no 3-d: just plain unadulterated film.

No idea yet where the second showing might be later that day, but we may try for one of the Imax/3d options there. Or not, depending on time and place and availability of tickets.

Meanwhile, thanks to Janice, here's the link to a seven-and-a-half minute trailer created by fans who edited together all the footage shown in the various trailers released so far. There's a lot here I hadn't seen before, so I must have missed a trailer or two along the way. This compilation lacks the pacing of the professionally produced trailers, but you really get a good sense of the movie, though of course an incomplete one,* through watching it. The usual spoiler warnings apply.

I think I'm now at the point where I can recognize each dwarf on sight. 

I'll probably be watching this every day from now till Dec. 14th.

--John R.

*i.e., it naturally focuses the attention on what's included or at least referenced, and so makes it easy to forget about scenes and characters not represented in the trailers.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tolkien Sings

So, it was from a comment on a post earlier this week (thanks, Trotter*) that I learned three new recording of Tolkien reading from THE HOBBIT not only existed but were being made public.  That same day, Janice sent me a link to one of the pieces, which was available online. Here's JRRT himself, not just reciting but actually singing one of the dwarves' songs at Bag End ("That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates"):

Following up on Trotter's information about all three clips being available on the enhanced 75 anniversary edition of THE HOBBIT e-book, we made the discovery that my Kindle is too old for the text-to-audio software to work (it worked when we first got it, so suspect it might still on the older books, but apparently there are compatibility issues with the newer books). But, lest we despair, it turns out that Janice's iPad plays them just fine. Even better, it turns out to have four clips in all (the fourth being the superb "Riddles in the Dark" recording made at George Sayer's house circa 1952) and the three new ones being

(1) "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates" (see above)

(2) "Far Over Misty Mountains Cold"

(3) "Roast Mutton"

The first two are relatively brief: first Tolkien's singing a song and then his recitation of a second, both from Chapter I of THE HOBBIT. The most interesting thing about these is the tune of the first -- I tried to find out, when working on MR. BAGGINS, whether the many songs in THE HOBBIT had actual tunes, and eventually concluded that the answer was 'probably not'. Good to learn, from a most unexpected but unimpeachable source, that I was wrong: some did (though probably not all).

The third is by far the longest, covering the entire troll-encounter scene from Chapter II. Listening to this more or less answers another point that'd long puzzled me: it's often been asserted that Tolkien gave the trolls cockney accents, which seemed out of keeping with their decidedly rural character. Hearing him now, they come across much more like country lumpkins. So, with the addition of this piece, we now have recordings of most of two chapters of THE HOBBIT (II and V) in Tolkien's own voice.  Amazing stuff.

--John R.


ADDENDUM, Sunday November 25th

One thing I forgot to add: I don't know when this extra recording was done, but the text of ROAST MUTTON Tolkien uses is that of the first and second editions, not the third edition of 1966, so presumably it predates the latter. And if we believe George Sayer's story about introducing Tolkien to home recording in 1952,** that means it couldn't date from before that year. A close comparison with the various texts might pin it down more specifically; all I noted was that the mention about policemen is in the text read by Tolkien, as had been the case prior to the third edition, so the recording must date from pre-1966.

**that this is not a professional recording is suggested by the fact that at one point the telephone rings


Friday, November 23, 2012

Pushback (Tolkien Lawsuit)

So, Tuesday I learned* of the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins jointly filing suit against Warner Brothers/New Line/Saul Zaentz/"Tolkien Enterprises" over licensing. At issue is just what rights the 1969 contract grants the licenser. Previously it's generally been interpreted that rights not mentioned in the contract were included, even if they were in categories that didn't exist at the time the agreement was drawn up. This lawsuit reverses that line of reasoning, with the Estate and publisher arguing that the agreement only grants rights that could have existed at the time of the contract.

At that time, 'merchandising' from films or tv shows included things like lunch boxes, t-shirts, posters, jigsaw puzzles, and the like. I remember when I was in third grade at Fordyce I had a 'phaser' from Star Trek (circa 1967-68) that fired little whizzing disks, and a board game based on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (the tv show, not the movie) about the same time.

Nowadays, the things that might be covered by 'movie merchandising' have vastly expanded. For example, the Iron Crown MERP roleplaying game, the Middle-earth: The Wizards collectable card game, and the more recent LotR Online games were not licensed by the Tolkien Estate but Tolkien Enterprises, as movie merchandising, although the link between the MERP game and the 1978 Bakshi horror it was supposedly licensed from is thin indeed (esp. contrasted with the strong, clear links between the Peter Jackson film trilogy and the more recent computer games based upon them). It was also Tolkien Enterprises, not the Tolkien Estate, that came down on a little company named TSR, circa 1974, and forced them to purge names like "hobbit" and "nazgul" and "balrog" and "mithril" from their new little game called DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, even though there was at that time no movie whose rights this usage could have infringed upon: it was pro-active enforcement of rights linked to movies that did not yet exist, or were even in the works.

Thus, the trend over the years has very much been to assume that the rights granted by the contract could be interpreted extremely broadly. And now comes some pushback: what if, instead of a 'loose contructionist' model, a 'strict constructionist' model were applied to the contract, by which it wd grant only very specific and limited rights?  Nowdays contracts often explicitly include rights to mediums not yet in existence, but what if an old contract were taken in the context of the time?  What if a 'movie merchandizing' clause did not grant rights to any new category of merchandizing that might come into existence at some point in the future, but were limited only to merchandizing as understood at the time? Courts have sometimes ruled one way, sometimes the other, when it came to disputes over new categories of rights.** The specific flash-point that seems to have set off this pushback is Tolkien Enterprise's granting Tolkien names and characters to gambling machines. Here's the story:

Be interesting to see how this one plays out, both from the point of view of a Tolkienist and as someone who's worked in the rpg industry where rights and licenses and such are an integral part of the whole edifice.

--John R.

*thanks to Wendell W's post on the MythSoc list

**one famous case being when Wizards released a compilation of all the issues of DRAGON magazine in a cd set (for which there was precedent), only to have some contributors (mainly cartoonists) argue that this constituted a reprint (for which WotC wd need specific item-by-item, case-by-case permissions). That one turned out badly for all concerned: Wizards released the set, then had the ruling go against them, with the end result that the material disappeared down a black hole

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Corn Souffle

And now, a short Thanksgiving break.

So, we had a great Thanksgiving over at our friends (thanks Jeff! thanks Kate!), who once again put on a terrific spread, with the main courses provided by our hosts and various guests bringing side dishes. Janice made not one but two apple pies, as well as appetizers, while my contribution was corn souffle. This seems to have gone down pretty well, since it got eaten up and I had requests for the recipe. Having just sent it off to my fellow guests from yesterday, I thought as long as it's written up and all I might as well post it here. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

--John R.
current reading: Hobbit OFFICIAL MOVIE GUIDE
current audiobook: Martin Shaw's THE HOBBIT

For folks who wanted to know about the corn souffle, it's actually an easy dish to make. Here's the recipe, and also how I make it, which are not exactly the same thing.

The Recipe
1 can corn
2 cans cream corn
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup melted margarine
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 pkg Jiffy Corn Meal Mix.

Mix ingredients together, and pour into a greased 9"x13" baking dish. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

How I Make It
For the past few years, I've substituted frozen corn for the canned corn; the canned corn, esp. the canned cream corn, seemed to me to have an aftertaste I didn't want.
This time I used two 16-oz packages of yellow corn and 1 16-oz package of white corn, just for some contrast. But that turned out to be too much, so I had to take about a cup's worth of corn out. 
I also substitute butter for the margarine, since we don't use margarine anymore (Atkins diet).
Similarly, I 'greased' the pan with butter.

First, I thaw the frozen corn by putting it, a pack at a time, in the strainer and pouring hot water over it. There's no need to cook the corn ahead of time, but it's good to get the chill off; think it bakes more quickly that way.

I dropped the eggs because of Kate's allergies. This meant it needed more liquid to help bind it, so I increased the melted butter to between a cup and a half to two cups: just kept adding it in half-cup portions until there was enough liquid between the butter and the sour cream to moisten all the Jiffy mix. Increasing the amount of sour cream or shredded cheese might also do the trick, but I suspect these might change the taste a little, more than the butter does. Besides, I like butter.

Mix all the ingredients together in a big bowl and stir well. Once everything's mixed together nicely, pour into a baking pan. Really doesn't matter whether you use pyrex or corning ware; whatever you think'll be easiest to clean up afterwards. 

Bake at 350 degrees or a little higher until beginning to brown on the top (that was about forty/forty-five minutes with our oven). If you like it cruncher, bake it a little longer; if you don't, pull it out while the top's still mostly yellow.

It makes a lot, but you can freeze it if you like to parcel out your leftovers. 


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cat Report (Wednesday Morning 11/21-12)

With eleven cats in ten cages, the Cat Room is nice and full again (and, as an added bonus, they all of them seem to be well).

Congr. to sweet Quibble and sassy Gabrielle for finding themselves holms, and the kittens as well.

Since I'm late getting this written up (what with Thanksgiving and all), I'll keep this relatively brie.

EDNA JANE, the newcomer, stayed inside all morning, as did Mr. NIKO. But Edna did let me pet her, and didn't mind when I cleaned the cage around her. What a beautiful, beautiful cat!  Once she's brave enough to be out and about I think she'll attract a lot of attention. As for Mr. Niko, he was calmer about this time, esp. when he realized I wasn't going to make him move. Both enjoyed being petted.

Our other shy cat, TARAH, is finding her niche, avoiding the other cats while doing what she likes best -- which in her case is hanging out at the base of the cat-stand by the door. The other cats seem to have decided she's not a threat and mostly ignore her, which is an improvement over her being picked on.  She does enjoy being petted.

Little Lady CLAIRE is our new walker, v. endearing with her fluffy tail-tip and little squeaky mew.  Her "walks" consist mainly of her going up to the nearest person and asking to be petted, then purring when picked up. She was delighted to find the cat-tree-forest, and also expressed considerable interest in the Banfield area, having discovered that there's a door to the outside there.

Our other semi-walker, MR. BROTHERS, still gets nervous when out; I think he enjoys the status of getting a walk (as something he can lord over the other cats) over the actual walk itself. Once back inside he at once sought out the catnip and was fine from that point on, spending time here and there before mostly settling on the right side of the cagetops.  Oddly enough, he considers Tarah's cube his summer home, and is in and out of it quite a lot. Luckily this time she wasn't there, so all was well. Don't know why he's so interested in this specific cage.

Mr.ASHWYN was his usual vocal self, with more wails than hisses today. Early on (post-catnip) he settled atop the cat-stand furthest from the door. A little later I covered him (all but the head) with a blanket, and he loved it, staying that was the rest of the morning. 

LEMURA and MARIE enjoyed the cat-stands, and being petted, but thought the kittens were a little too active. Each wanted more attention than I wound up giving them; have to make more time for the well-behaved ones next time.

GOBLYNN loves the cage-tops. She went up their early and stayed late, being one of the last to go inside at end-of-morning. She didn't mind sharing the World Above with Mr. Brothers, and he didn't seem to mind her being up their either (it may have helped that she stayed to the left and he to the right, a v. reasonable division of territory). Aside from playing with the ball-in-a-ring game, she had a quiet morning. I'll have to break out the laser pointer for her next time to get a little exercise. 

And that just leaves the two adorable kitten-sister, NINJA and SAMURAI. Both were full of activity and much admired. Eventually Samurai claimed a newly-cleaned cage (Ashwyn',s as it turned out) and snoozed, while Ninja became v. interested in what I was doing, riding on my shoulder and 'helping' me clean the cages. She eventually claimed Lemura's cage, until it was end of morning and time for everybody to go back into their own places -- which they did will relatively little fuss.

Lots of visitors, some of whom are in the 'thinking about it' stage (lost a cat lately, beginning to think of finding a new cat to fill the empty cat-shaped place in their lives), but no serious nibbles.

At one point I got a string-game going that involved about half the cats in the room, w. Marie and Lemura on either end and the kittens in the middle; Mr. Brothers was also deeply interested.

Health concern: Eveyone seemed fine, except for some dried throw-up on Edna's blanket. 

Great news to hear the kittens will soon have a new home. Glad to have made their acquaintance, even briefly, esp. little Ninja.

--John R.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More New Books

So, yesterday's visit to the Barnes and Noble in Federal Way showed that three more of the movie tie-in books have now been released, two of which I picked up (I went by the Barnes and Noble in Tukwila today to pick up the third, but they don't have it -- interesting how the 'Hobbit Table' contents vary from store to store).


This is a simple re-telling of the first HOBBIT movie, plentifully illustrated with photos from the film.* As such, it's the ultimate spoiler: those who want to experience the film with minimal spoilers beforehand shd stay clear of this one till after seeing the movie itself. That said, does a nice job of doing what it does: a glossy teaser for the film before it comes out, and then a useful reminder of what was and wasn't in the movie after the film's release but before the dvd is available.


Somewhat more substantial, but still pretty much focused on spreads with large stills from the film showing people and places from the film. It does the best job I've seen yet of distinguishing between the dwarves, giving a photo and backstory for each (which often differ markedly from what Tolkien tells us about them). I think I'll now be able to tell them all apart, most of the time. The book also contains a few interesting tidbits, like two pages from Bilbo's pocket notebook, or a glimpse into Ori's Book

-  -  -  - -   -   -   -   -
In other news, I took our jar of pennies, into which we throw spare change (despite the name, not just pennies but nickels, dimes, and quarters as well) to the CoinStar machine. It took a long time to process them all, occasionally telling me to stop adding coins while it processed what was already in it.  The total, once it'd all been counted, was $164.72. That's a lot of coins -- but then, it did fill a five-pound honey jar, so maybe I shdn't have been surprised. Since you get less for cash (they deduct their cut) than for a gift certificate, I opted to get the whole thing as credit for Amazon. Now seems like a good time to get several books that have hovered in the 'save for later' portion of my orders basket for several months now, including several Tolkien books. More later.

current reading: Snicket's ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS (#II.3034), Atwood's TRUE STORIES (II.3035), Kempshall's MOVIE STORYLINE (3036A), Fisher's VISUAL COMPANION (3036B) (concluded); Atwood's THE HANDMAIDEN'S TALE (just started), Sibley's OFFICIAL MOVIE GUIDE (just starting)
current anime, new: THE AMBITION OF ODA NOBUNA (on Crunchyroll)
current anime, old: EL HAZARD: THE ALTERNATE WORLD (dubbed, on vhs!)

*and, oddly enough, a few pieces of concept art -- maybe there scenes hadn't been finalized by Kempshall's deadline?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Listening to THE HOBBIT

So, a question came up last week on the MythSoc list about various audio-recordings of THE HOBBIT, and which was the best. I started to answer, then realized it's been a long time since I've listened to some of these. And, come to think of it, pulling them out and listening to them again is a good way to get myself psyched up for the forthcoming (indeed, I think I can now say 'imminent') movie. So below are my impressions of the various audio versions before listening to them again; I'll update this with a second post once I've finished re-listening to them all.

Here are the ones I came up with; if anyone knows of more, let me know and I'll add them to the list.

1. Tolkien's own recording of the scene with Gollum. Wonderful. If only we had a recording of him reading the entire book. But this is v. much a case of counting our blessings, and marvelling over our good luck that he made such a recording, and that it has survived, and been made available to us (orig. on Caedmon Records, since re-released in various compilations and formats).

2. The Mind's Eye radio play.  By far the best adaptation of THE HOBBIT ever, into any medium.  The same cast later did a LotR that is unfortunately not nearly as good, but their HOBBIT is the Gold Standard. Thorin's abilities as a leader throughout the long journey particularly come across in this version.

3. Nicole Williamson, for Argo Records.  Wonderful, but unfortunately abridged. As I understand it, N.W. recorded the entire thing but the record company decided to cut it down to a four-album set. I've always hoped that the deleted bits survived and might be restored someday, but if so there's no hint of it. And Williamson himself having since died, there's no chance he might make a new recording of the whole. Alas.

4. Martin Shaw, for Durkin-Hayes.  Well done, but unfortunately abridged. The abridgment is skillfully done: if you don't know THE HOBBIT well you'll never notice it, but the better you know the story the more you miss the little bits of dialogue and observations by the narrator that were trimmed.  On the plus side, Shaw does a good job with the reading, and it's interesting to hear THE HOBBIT with a non-posh accent

5. Rob Inglis, for Recorded Books.  Uninspired (I find Inglis's voice too monotone for a long story), but has the virtue of being the sole complete recording; all the rest are abridged or adapted. Maybe we'll be lucky enough that the films will be so popular as to cause a new recording to be made by the likes of Holm, McKellen, or Freeman. We can dream, can't we?

6. The BBC radio play. Not to be confused with the BBC radio LotR, which is an impressive piece of work. The BBC HOBBIT is much earlier, more obviously geared to children, and features sound effects that haven't aged well. Not bad, simply not as impressive as their other Tolkien work (which set the bar rather high).

7. Not sure if this really counts or not, but the soundtrack that was released in conjunction with the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT as a two-record set is in fact an abbreviated version of the whole story, with narrative between the songs (and this version was notable for including most of the poems, sung with gusto to Tolkien's original lyrics).

8. Finally, there's the 'text-to-audio' feature on the Kindle. Aesthetically it's dire, but it has the virtue of giving you the entire text just as Tolkien wrote it.

. . . Or at least that's how I remember them. Now to find out how well my memory matches up to the reality, or how much my response may have changed since I last listened to them.

current reading: Lemony Snicket (ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS), Margaret Atwood (TRUE STORIES)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Hobbit EMPIRE

So, Thursday the new (December) issue of EMPIRE magazine arrived from England (think it'll be out over here later this month). This is their special HOBBIT issue, and it was well worth waiting for. They have a special section on THE HOBBIT that runs more than sixty pages, with lots on the cast, the director, the three-film decision, etc. etc. etc. Looks to be really nicely done.

Best of all, from my point of view, is a section on Tolkien himself, and an overview of how he came to write the book. I was interviewed for this, along with Boyens and Shippey, who provides the best description of 'philology' I've ever seen: "language archaeology". Only a little of what I said actually made it in; I think I'm much less quotable than a good source for background -- e.g., I'm pleased to see that they've drawn on my reconstruction of the stages in which Tolkien wrote the book; nice to see my arguments get more widely disseminated.

Even Tolkien lovers who are not so keen on the movies might want to pick up this issue, because it prints a previously unknown picture of Tolkien (p. 106-107).* It's a great photo, one of the best I've seen of him, and clearly taken near the end of his life: outdoors (I think on the grounds of Merton, right next to the old city wall), wearing his glasses (rather unusual for a JRRT photograph), and holding a book (ATB, so the image is definitely post-1962**)

I understand that there will be web extras posted at Empire Online once the issue's officially out over here, so there's also that to look forward to.

For now, I'll be enjoying skimming through this issue, trying to avoid spoilers, and coming to grips with the fact that after all this waiting the film itself is really almost here. With any luck I may even be able to keep all thirteen dwarves straight by the time the film opens.

--John R.
current reading: MURDER IN THE DARK by Margaret Atwood [1983]

*unknown to me, at any rate, and I try to keep up with these things, even before the days of Dr. Blackwelder's TOLKIEN PORTRAITURE.

**I'd guess 1971-73

The Book of Phobias and The Book of Ishness

So, one really interesting book Bijee showed me during our recent visit to Trout Lake was an art book illustrated by one John Vassos, someone I'd never heard of who turned out to be a really important industrial designer of the 1920s through 1950s. If you've seen 'futuristic' furniture or household items from that era, there's a good chance they're by him. Apparently he even designed the look of one of the first commercial tv sets. Anyway, in 1931 he produced a very weird limited edition book called simply PHOBIA. Each spread therein featured a full-page greytone illustration of a phobia.

Now, since phobias are abstract, the goal of each picture is to suggest the state of mind a person suffering from that phobia would have, and express the fear and turning away that accompanies all phobias. Being an acrophobic myself, I can testify that the results are strange and disturbing and fascinating, all at the same time.

While the original book is fairly rare, it turns out there's a recent Dover reprint. But for those who just want to see what the art looked like, here's the link to a website that has most if not all of the book's contents posted:

Two thoughts:

--Being a Tolkienist, I was reminded of Tolkien's somewhat earlier attempt (which Vassos cd not have known about, since it was never published*) to portray abstract states in some of his early artwork, in the pieces he collectively named THE BOOK OF ISHNESS. Some of these pieces have been published in Wayne and Christina's JRRT: ARTIST AND ILLUSTRATOR, but I don't think all of them appear there (cd be wrong about that). While Tolkien's style is nothing like Vassos's, some of Tolkien's topics in pieces like BEFORE, AFTERWARDS, WICKEDNESS, EERINESS, UNDERTENISHNESS strike similar themes, while GROWNUPISHNESS is more light-hearted and THOUGHT reminds me of Sime; it wd have fitted nicely into one of Dunsany's early books (which we know Tolkien was v. fond of).

--Also, being something of a Cthulhuist, if there is such a word, I thought what a good game prop a copy of PHOBIA would be in a CALL OF CTHULHU campaign; it wd do v. well as an example of a Mythos book, disturbing in subtle ways so that just being exposed to its images underminds yr grip on sanity just a little.


current reading: EMPIRE magazine December issue

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tolkien Day at Trout Lake

So, for the holiday weekend we got to go down to Trout Lake, to the High House by the Little White Salmon River, just north of the Columbia River Gorge and south of Mt Adams, to visit for a few days with our friend Bijee.* We'd been planning to do so for months, but a whole string of events conspired to defer the trip each time (including, most regrettably, the death of our co-host Don in April). Good to have finally gone; her High House is one of the nicest spots I've ever visited for working, or visiting, or just hanging out.

One change from previous visits is that since our last time there the new dog had morphed into a no-longer-new dog plus mostly grown puppy. Both are really big dogs, as was the third dog she was watching for a few days while his owners were away, plus the neighbor's dog who just liked to come over and hang out with the others. Add the little dog with an attitude, and you had an interesting pack dynamic. I spend lots of time with cats, so it was interesting to watch dogs sometimes obeying and sometimes pushing the rules.

While we were there, Bijee arranged a Tolkien Day (for Sunday night, November 11th), where some friends, some neighbors, and some people from her book group all came over. Bijee and I both did brief presentations on THE HOBBIT. She did an interesting talk about some of Tolkien's sources and how he used them.  For my own part, I considered talking about ideas Tolkien had for THE HOBBIT that he wound up not using, or perhaps a brief run-down of how Tolkien came to write the book. Then Janice reminded me that Peter Jackson is not the first to attempt to recast THE HOBBIT into the style of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: that wd be Tolkien himself.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the Gollum chapter; the Gollum story as we know it now being very different from what Tolkien first wrote, and published. Thereupon I read out two pages from Tolkien's first draft,** starting with Gollum's failure to answer Bilbo's last question to their parting after Gollum shows Bilbo the way out. It went pretty well; wanted something that didn't require specialist knowledge but did assume you were more or less familiar with the story.

It was a fun evening, and all in all a great visit. I'm already looking forward to next time, and hoping we can soon repay the favor.

Three things that conversation with Bijee convinced me I shd probably add to MR. BAGGINS sometime when I get the chance:

--a little more on THE MARVELLOUS LAND OF THE SNERGS, which I passed lightly over since it had already gotten a good treatment in Doug's ANNOTATED HOBBIT;

--a bit about Morris's ICELANDIC JOURNALS, which seem to have provided some 'local color' for the early stages of Bilbo and company's travels, particularly with the ponies; and

--John Buchan, whose undoubtedly contributed some to the 'Inn at Bree' scenes in LotR but whose retired grocer Dickson McCunn also may have contributed something to Bilbo as reluctant adventurer, a stay-at-home suddenly out on the open road and finding that he thrives on adventure.

current reading: THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF MR. ANDREW HAWTHORN AND OTHER STORIES by John Buchan (short story collection)

*better known in Tolkien circles as Marjorie Burns, author of the excellent PERILOUS REALMS, as well as many essays and articles.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Cat Report (W. 11/14-12)

A (mostly) quiet morning in the cat room, starting off with some walks and ending with (almost) everybody lounging about, snoozing and occasionally being petted and much admired by visitors.

Congr. to SeeConnie and the kittens. We're now back up to a full house with the arrivals of LEMURA, MARIE, and little GOBLYNN.

QUIBBLE had a quiet day, sleeping in her cage until lifted out so I cd clean it, then sleeping curled up small atop the little cat-stand by the door until I eventually put her back. I'm so glad to hear last night that she's been adopted -- I'd begun to fear she's so quiet she'd be overlooked. And while being as patient as possible she really wasn't happy in the cat-room, so glad to know she's headed for a home where I hope she'll receive much pampering.

GABRIELLE, our little black fluff twist-tailed princess who's also going to a home of her own today was doing her victory lap: first a little walk, then much petting and cuddling, then lording it atop the cat-stand by the door. There was much purring anytime I petted her; v. satisfactory for all concerned. I'll miss her, but I'm very glad she'll have a home of her own, probably by the time I post this.

Mr. NIKO was terrified of coming out of his cage and even worried over letting me clean and straighten up around him. Then, once he was convinced all that was over, it was like flipping a switch: seconds after having scratched me (nothing serious) for moving his blankets around he was purring and head-butting and wanting attention -- so long as it was in his safe place. Poor Niko: he certainly doesn't put his best foot forward on the 'adopt me! adopt me!' front.

I wasn't aware that MARIE was a celebrity, having never heard of John Bartlett's video record of her kittens' fostering (I'll have to go back and check it out). That explains a PetsMart employee's telling me she was famous. No idea what may have become of her special quilt. She's certainly a sweet cat: confident and friendly, who enjoyed exploring the room and picking out the spot that suited her best -- which turned out to be the mid-level of the cat-stand by the door, under Gabrielle and above Tarah (see below). Between her fame and her winning personality, she shd find a home quickly.

Mr. BROTHERS has certainly cemented his position of The Boss; he goes wherever he wants and does whatever he wants, ignoring all the other cats as he goes by. Still find it hard to believe he's the oldest cat there: certainly doesn't act like it. Next to exploring he loves catnip best, especially if you put it in a box and there's some things he needs to dig through to get at it. He also enjoys being Up High, and doesn't mind climbing past other cats to get there (much to their alarm). 
   Did have one unpleasant incident late in the morning: he went into Tarah's cage, apparently not knowing that she was in there behind the overhanging blanket. When he did discover her, there was a great to-do: much hissing and growling and swatting. He came out about the time I got there (having been on the other end of the room), then went back in and swatted at her some more. I made him leave and closed the door for her, and he quickly calmed down. Don't know what that was all about; v. unlike him, I thought.

TARAH was her usual quiet self, mostly keeping herself to herself but appreciating a little petting now and then. She's coming out much sooner now, and definitely has a favorite place beneath the cat-stand near the door. Aside from the incident where Mr. Brothers went after her, I'd say she had a good morning. She even came back out on her own later on. I'll have to make time to play with her more next week, now that she's feeling more at home in the cat-room. 

CLAIRE , our little buzz-cut white fluff squeaker, is quite the flirt; the only thing she loves more than attention is more attention. She enjoyed the top of the basket, and being petted thereon, and purring. Much admired by onlookers. Someone asked a question I cdn't answer, so I'll pass it along: what happened to her fur? Obviously it's been shaved, except for her head and legs and tip of her tail, but why?

Mr. ASHWYN has taken to wailing when Brothers gets close, or when he thinks Brothers might get close, or when he thinks some other cat might be sneaking up on him. Accordingly after his morning catnip he enjoyed being atop cat-stand #2, where he was up above it all. He also explored the cage-tops a little, but came back to the cat-stand. In-between he was atop the cabinet messing with the bag of catfood up there; it was not until later that I discovered he'd actually gnawed a hole in the back and helped himself to a little appertif. Taped it back up best I cd, which was not v. well. People continue to be amazed at how big he is. Wish I cd get him to walk, the better to let him show himself off, but the attempts so far haven't proved a success (he's just too scared of being out in that great big store). 

LEMURA is a sweet cat who has opted out from all the drama. She's decided the rondel beneath cat-stand #2 was a nice spot, so she claimed it. Came out and explored from time to time, but each time went back to her new favorite spot. Enjoys attention and doesn't seem to mind being around other cats.

little GOBLYNN is not just polydactyl but our third kink-tail cat (Gabrielle, Marie, Goblynn). She loves to explore and doesn't mind being petted; I held her at one point and she quickly began to doze off. But her favorite thing in the world is a roll of paper towels, especially if it's on its side on the bench, where she can tear into it proper and teach it who's boss. I'll have to try her with the laser-game next time.

Health Concerns: Goblynn was drooling for no apparent reason. At first thought she'd thrown up but no, it was just two long strands of saliva hanging down on either side. Happened two or three times at mid-morning; seemed fine before and after.
   Gabrielle wheezed at one point: sounded v. much like an incipit hairball. Also, she used her dirt-box (pooping) just before I left; I cleaned it up but forgot to record it in the intake/output book.
   Lemura had peed outside the box. Since she'd mostly peed in it, think this was a simple miss.

--And that's about it for this week
--John R.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


THE HOBBIT TAROT, just released, is by the same people who did THE LORD OF THE RINGS TAROT fifteen years ago: Peter Pracownik (artist) and Terry Donaldson (accompanying booklet), with even the same publisher: U.S. Games Systems, who publish an amazing variety of tarot decks, from the classic Rider-Waite tarot (which started the modern tarot tradition*) to my personal favorite, the Morgan-Greer tarot (which makes a great Deck of Many Things, for those playing classic ADandD 1st edition, as well as interesting bookmarks).

Having looked through the deck quickly and read some (but by no means all) of the booklet identifying the characters on each card, explaining the symbolism of details (much of it non-Tolkienian), and giving it divinatory significance, I have to say I'm disappointed. Some of the art is nicely done (the ones the box, front and back, for example, is among the best in the set) but many of them have a kind of plastic look to me.

The art's also inconsistent from card to card: for example, Smaug appears on both major arcana XV (The Devil), in which he destroys Laketown, and XVI (The Tower), in which he lays waste the mountainside. But in one he's portrayed as a winged serpent, completely legless, while in the other he has arms and legs, just as Tolkien described (and showed) him; XXI (The World) shows him with legs again. Similarly, the pictures of Gollum on cards X (The Wheel of Fortune) and XII (The Hanged Man) show a strikingly different figure.  And just to confuse things, Gollum reappears twice more, on card XVIII (The Moon) and the Six of Cups, in both of which he resembles the figure on X, not XII.  A little more consistency in how major characters appeared wd have been nice.

There too, sometimes the description of the card in the booklet doesn't match the art that actually appears on the card, as in XIII (Death), which shows the Great Goblin pierced by arrows, or when the description of card IX (The Sun) says "We see Mirkwood in the distance" and we don't. One of the worst offenders, XI (Justice), is said in the booklet to show Bilbo giving the Arkenstone to the Elvenking, while the card itself shows and entirely different scene, one that never appears in Tolkien's work: Bilbo and Thorin under a tree with a scale; Thorin is hushing Bilbo, while Sting and the Arkenstone lie in the foreground. All v. symbolic, no doubt, but not v. Tolkienian.

Finally, there are the non-Tolkienian elements, as when XVIII (The Moon) refers to the moon as "she", or when XVII (The Star) shows an eight-rayed star over a seven-sided septogram, or when Bungo Baggins is shown with a mustache. Also in this category is the card-back, which shows the One Ring in a pattern with twelve other rings and some tengwar --whereas there are of course twenty Rings of Power altogether, and it's hard to think of a combination that wd fit their pattern (ten in outer positions, surrounding two who are opposing the One).

The set occasionally brings in characters or events that don't actually occur in THE HOBBIT itself but are only known through THE LORD OF THE RINGS (e.g. Smeagol's murder of Deagol, who is here described as his brother). Perhaps the oddest reach is their feeling they had to include some female characters or images when there are no female characters in THE HOBBIT, aside from a mention of the (late) Belladonna Baggins. Their solution is to show Belladonna and Bungo on one card (VI. The Lovers), with Bag End in the background. 

Outside the Major Arcana, the four Queen cards of the various suits show more of their straining to get Tolkien's work to fit their pre-set pattern. The four figures they chose were 

1. The Queen of Cups: Goldberry bathing in a pool by moonlight, watched by Tom. Presumably this is the prelude to his capture of her; the booklet text, weirdly enough, suggests she might be pregnant -- in which case we have to wonder what became of the child over the next eighty-odd years.

2. The Queen of Wands: A lady of Laketown, displaying her wares (a basket of apples). The text suggests a tempress subtext, which seems unlikely given that her customer is a woman herself, apparently older than the apple-vendor.

3. The Queen of Swords: A warg howling at the Moon. The text says this is a female warg, howling for the loss of her kin in the Battle of Five Armies. Pretty far fetched, but there it is.

4. The Queen of Cups: Another lady of Laketown, this time sweeping the grass or reeds by the shore of the lake, daft as that sounds. 

So, too bad: cd have been great, but is neither faithful enough to Tolkien nor appealing enough as a set of images to pull the whole thing off.

I do have to say, though, that of all the things that have come out based on his works over the years, I think Tolkien would have been more upset by these two tarot decks than anything else -- cartoons, films, "pipeweed" smoking, hippy buttons, fan-fiction: the works. What next, the Necromancer's Ouija?

--John R.

*Rider was the artist, Arthur Waite (Charles Williams' mentor in the Golden Dawn) the occultist who came up with the symbology used and its interpretation.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Two Slightly Less New Arrivals

So, it's been two weeks since I picked up two more HOBBIT-related items, but having failed to mention them at the time (M. Oct. 29th), now seemed like a good time.

The first is yet another HOBBIT-themed book with a religious/philosophical/life-advice bent. This time, it's called THE WISDOM OF THE SHIRE: A SHORT GUIDE TO A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE, by Noble Smith. But right away a few things make it stand out. First off, it has a brief Foreword by Peter S. Beagle, who admits to having been "Tolkiened out" in recent years but says he's been stirred to re-reading THE HOBBIT and LotR again by reading Smith's little book. As with so many other of the new HOBBIT-themed books coming out, I've not yet read this one, but in this case I think I'll definitely be doing so at some point: Smith has a relaxed, easy-going tone that's appealing, and contrasts with the earnestness or snarkiness of some other recent efforts. And have to say I'm drawn by chapter titles like "Your Own Personal Gollum" and "Sleep Like a Hobbit". The book ends with "The Hobbit Test", where you get points for things like "You've named one of your pets after a Tolkien character"* (80 points) or "You know what J. R. R. stands for" (100 points), and finally with "Directions for Creating a Small Hobbit Garden" (he recommends "Try Purple or Red Dragon [carrot] varieties in honor of Smaug").

The second is THE HOBBIT TAROT, but I wound up writing so much about this that I'm going to separate it off into its own post.

--John R.

*hi, Feanor!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Last Note on the Election

So, election over. Whew. Nice to see my candidate win the big one, and also to have Nate Silver vindicated for doing the math and calling them as he sees them.

Some disappointments, of course: here in Washington State the gay marriage and legalize marijuana measures passed, which is good,  but unfortunately the Tax Deadbeats and Loot Public Education ones did as well. Many state races were still too close to call for several days, which has become something of a tradition here in Wash. State; good thing Sam Reed was still in charge of counting the ballots this one last election. For a succinct scorecard on who won, see GRUBBSTREET (

Having listened to right-wing talk radio some in the days before, it was even more fascinating in the days immediately after, as they parsed the defeat and looked to assign blame: an Obama get-out-the-vote operation, a timely or untimely hurricane (depending on yr point of view), negative ads (his, not theirs), a brutal primary, demographics. Most seem to think the last is the key, sometimes in apocalyptic terms -- as when one major Conservative tv host declared that White People, having just delivered 72% of the votes, were now the minority (apparently he's math-challenged and thinks 72% is less than 50%).

But the most fascinating of all is the story about the final hours of the Romney campaign. It turns out that he really didn't have a concession speech drafted, so convinced were they in his victory. Their internal skewed polls got things wrong, so much so that they were serious when they decided in the final week to go beyond the main swing states and into Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as well, where the president's internal polls said the challenger was far behind (Nate Silver, for his part, had long since taken them off his list of swing states altogether). For an account of how the endgame played out when the Romney camp were caught off-guard by the actual turn of events, here's a behind-the-scenes CBS report: *

Think about that a moment: we almost had a president who does his research, whose people skew the results to get the answer they like, and who then acts upon that false information with such confidence that he gets his transition team going but doesn't bother to draw up any plan of what he'll do if this projected outcome turns out not to be the case, even to the point of having to ad-lib a concession speech. Translate that into, say, a stand-off with Iran and the prospects are chilling. I'm reminded of Douglas McArthur, one of the two legendary American generals to come out of World War II, reassuring Truman that there was no chance the Chinese wd intervene in Korea, and who was caught completely flat-footed when the Chinese did exactly what they said they'd do and came in waves across the Yalu River. A lot of people died as a result of the general's miscalculation, and when a few months later he made a second bad call and said the Chinese wd never use the Bomb if MacArthur's troops invaded China itself, although Chou En-lai said they most certainly would, Truman had to fire him.

In the event, the brief concession speech Romney gave was the classiest I've ever seen him; maybe for all his flubbs he shd have gone spontaneous more often (hey, it seems to work for Biden). Or maybe not: I was touched by a brief account  of Romney's day-after, when he said goodbye to campaign staff and, already stripped of Secret Service protection, drove off in the back seat of his son Tragg's car.  That is, until I read another account about how Romney staffers trying to get home in the early hours after the election night defeat found that their campaign credit cards had already been disabled. What a petty note to end on.

--John R., wrapping up election 2012 thoughts. Now to get back to Tolkien!

*I shd point out that Josh Marshall of is slightly skeptical; here's his take on things:

The New Arrivals (three more books)

So, three more new books arrived on Wednesday, each part of the current HOBBIT boom. No time to read them yet or even describe them in detail, but wanted to note them before they get buried in the ongoing avalanche.


Given that the hobbit lived before the time of Christ, that his world wd be Xian is unlikely, to say the least. That said, so far as I can tell on a quick skim Brown does a good job of striking a reasonable tone and looking at what emerges from a consideration of the material, rather than trying to impose Xian doctrine or interpretations upon Tolkien's writings; he avoids one-on-one allegorical identifications of the kind that diminish so many books of this kind. The basic premise seems to be that Tolkien's Xianity was sublimated into the world, so signs of its presence will  not overt but subtle -- which is pretty much what Tolkien himself said. Despite the title, Brown* frequently draws in examples from LotR to make his points.
--Looks to be one of the better books of its kind; certainly well-written in any case, though can't know without reading it whether he makes his case. Cover blurb by Joseph Pearce and interior blurbs include ones by Shippey and a guy from


This one hands down wins the award for 'best subtitle', and the editorial apparatus seems to have a nice, breezy tone throughout (the mini-bios in the back are in a section titled ' our Most Excellent and Audacious Contributors'). Nine years ago Bassham and Bronson put together a similar book (THE LORD OF THE RINGS AND PHILOSOPHY: ONE BOOK TO RULE THEM ALL) back at the time of the Peter Jackson movies; now they're doing another timed to match the release of the Peter Jackson HOBBIT. The seventeen essays here range from "'The Road Goes Ever on': A Hobbit's Tao" to "Tolkien's Just War" (looking at JRRT's ideas about 'just war' theory). I expect this book will have the virtue of not just being the same-old, same-old.
--I shd note that this book belongs to a series (series editor: Wm Irwin) of books like HARRY POTTER AND PHILOSOPHY, LOST AND PHILOSOPHY, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO AND PHILOSPHY, THE DAILY SHOW AND PHILOSOPHY, THE HUNGER GAMES AND PHILOSOPHY, et al.; a number of the contributors to this book have also contributed to earlier ones in the series.


With a Brian Sibley book, you pretty much know what you're getting: an eight-and-a-half by eleven sized book, heavy on photographs and relatively light on text. I got this in the hopes that I might actually be able to tell the dwarves apart by the time I go to see the movie, just over a month from now. This one is purely of interest to people who want to see the movie: a lot of pictures of actors in make-up and costume (with the occasional black-and-white photo of what they really look like beneath all that), some (relatively light) information about various places and items, and a quick look at the army of dedicated people who work so hard to achieve just the right effect. So, if you want to see, say, a six-page piece on Radagast or individual profiles of all the dwarves, this is your kind of book.   If you're not interested in the movies, might consider giving it a pass.

--John R.

*who's heretofore mainly been a Narnia guy, with books with titles like INSIDE NARNIA, INSIDE PRINCE CASPIAN, and INSIDE THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Glimpses of Helen Buckhurst

So, one of the people Tolkien gave an author's presentation
copy of THE HOBBIT to when it first came out in Sept. 1937
was Helen Buckhurst (her letter thanking him is now in the
Bodleian).* This is one of the many people among Tolkien's
friends and colleagues about whom we know relatively little.
But the little we do know is interesting; she is the probable
source for the trolls-turn-to-stone-in-sunlight motif in THE
HOBBIT, or at least the likely means by which such tales
reached Tolkien.**

This made it all the more interesting when I ran across Buckhurst's
name not once but twice in recent weeks. The first came in Wm
Ready's THE TOLKIEN RELATION (the first book-length
study of Tolkien), which I was skimming in preparation for my
Marquette talk. In his first chapter, where Ready is trying to put
together a brief biography on Tolkien from all-too-scanty infor-
mation,*** Buckhurst is given as the ultimate source for an anecdote
that reached him second-hand.  Here's the paragraph in question:

Helen MacMillan Buckhurst was an Oxford colleague of Tolkien's,
a godmother in his home. She was an Icelandic scholar, a lover
of Norse myth. Professor Katherine Ball of Toronto University
was a student of hers at Saint Hugh's during the twenties. Helen
Buckhurst told her that Tolkien, on his hospital bed after the war,
resolved to learn Language and the roots of it as his life's work,
and he did. Tolkien was a born teacher, too. Out of his healing 
time Tolkien came, ready to grow in his field.

The second Buckhurst-sighting came in a completely different
context. When reading a piece David Doughan had kindly sent
me about the history of women students at Oxford (thanks,
David!), part of my research in preparation for my upcoming
Kalamazoo piece, I was reminded about the JRRT/Mary Renault
connection. And, going back to the Renault biography David D.
quoted, which I'd read years ago, I found that right beside its
discussion of JRRT (whom Renault's roommate, Kasia Abbott,
remembered decades later as "darling Tolkien") came the following
glimpse of Buckhurst during her time at St. Hugh's, one of the
Oxford's women's colleges with wh. Tolkien was closely
associated (along with Lady Margaret Hall; he seems to have
had much less to do with Somerville, but that might just be
because of lack of surviving evidence):

   In December 1926 it was decided that an English Club 
should be formed with Miss Seaton as President. The other 
English tutor, Miss Buckhurst, gave the inaugural lecture, 
which FRITILLARY**** described as 'an amusing paper 
on Icelandic folklore', a subject very much of the moment 
in Oxford English circles since Tolkien had returned that 
term as the new Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of 
Anglo-Saxon. Although he would no longer be tutoring 
to the women of St Hugh's, they still had every reason to
be grateful for his return. He was a conscientious lecturer,
offering almost double the statutory hours in order to ensure
that his students, female as well as male, covered the entire
subject. Indeed, he was unusual in being notably sympathetic
to women undergraduates. 

Sweetman  [1993], p. 29 (the passage continues with
another page or two about Tolkien's importance in
shaping Oxford at the time)

Now I'm curious whether the centennial history of the college
mentioned by Renault's biographer***** might contain more
glimpses of Buckhurst, or indeed Tolkien. Worth following up
 on at some point. In any case, even given the scrappiness of
these two fragments, seemed worthwhile to share, since I'd
read them both, years apart, and never thought anything of
it, since this was before I knew who Buckhurst was. It's from
the accumulation and putting together of fragments that we
reconstruct what we can or lost eras.

--John R.

*according to Scull and Hammond's CHRONOLOGY (p.439),
she was also sent presentation copies of LotR in due course.
Although they don't include a separate entry on her in their
COMPANION AND GUIDE, she's mentioned several times
-- e.g., that she was Priscilla's godmother (Chr.150) and that
Tolkien directed her thesis, THE HISTORICAL GRAMMAR

**see THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT (2nd ed) p. 80-82, and
p. 110 in the revised one-volume edition of THE HISTORY
OF THE HOBBIT.  Perhaps it's fairer to say Buckhurst seems
to have drawn the motif to his attention and a few years later
the Icelandic au-pair girl have shown him that such stories
were still current, and still worked with a modern English
audience (his own children).

***and, it must be said, getting some things spectacularly wrong
--like saying Tolkien's mother and her sisters were missionaries
to the harem of the sultan of Zanzibar.  Who knows where that
came from.

****FRITILLARY: 'the magazine of the Oxford women's colleges'
(Sweetman, p.25)

EDUCATION IN OXFORD, ed. Penny Griffin. [1986]

The Cat Report (Wend. November 7th, 2012)

A quiet day, overall, in the cat room, with eight cats (plus the two kittens who were off-site):

--little QUIBBLE, our adorable little Siamese, who's really not as old as she acts. Turns out Amy was right: she's more or less toothless, poor thing. Loves to sleep the day away atop one of the cat-stands (in this case, the smaller one near the door). 

--adorable little fluffy black twist-tail GABRIELLA, who went into the rondel under the cat-stand by the cabinet. But first she had a little walk, and some petting, and some grooming (she loves to have her fur combed). On her walk she discovered the huge soft bed-cushions at the far end of the little alley past the rest-rooms, and jumped right up one one and wanted to settle herself down for a nice long nap -- a little fluffy cat in the exact middle of a v. large cushion. Wd have made a great picture.

--matching her is our fluffy white newcomer CLAIRE, who loves attention and makes a great matched set with Gabriella (aesthetically; the two pretty much ignored each other otherwise). Not sure what happened to her fur, but at least it's growing back nicely. These two are really sweet and outgoing economy-sized cats. Gave her a short walk: she tried to figure out what that was all about. Think she'll enjoy being out and about once she gets used to it.*

In contrast to the sweetness and light with the girls, the boy-cats are feeling out territory and pecking order, mostly in a quiet way. Thinking about it, it's fairly rare to have as many boy cats as girl cats (an even split: four of each, or five apiece if we count the kittens). Given that, they're being pretty well behaved. Mr. ASHWYN very much considers himself the boss, with demands to be let out right away whenever anyone enters the room (to be fair, Gabriella and Claire are always willing to join him in demanding their rights to roam the room). He's claimed the cagetops as his special territory, and resents intruders therein. Not that it does him any good. His other favorite thing is a box I brought in with catnip in it. He's really too big for the box, spilling over in all directions, so it sways perilously to and fro while he's digging for catnip in it: at the risk of overusing the word, he was adorable. 

Unfortunately for him, Mr. BROTHERS is also v. interested in the box, and when Ashwyn jumped out he jumped right in and took over. Ashwyn came back and hovered menacingly, to no avail: Brothers simply ignored him and enjoyed a good buzz. They switched back and forth several times over the next hour or so, and finally had a show-down. Ashwyn advanced on Mr. Brothers, who instead of backing down advanced right back. This threw Ashwyn off; apparently he hadn't planned for his bluff not working. He retreated, making ever more menacing noises, which Mr. Brothers altogether ignored as he quietly advanced bit by bit. I managed to talk Mr. Brothers into going back into the box, and things cooled down, but I think Ashwyn's wd-be-boss position may have taken a hit and Mr. Brothers might be moving into that spot.

SEECONNIE , the youngest adult male in the room, had been watching all this from the safe distance of the top of cat-stand #2; a short while later when Mr. Brothers left the box for the cabinet-top, SeeConnie swapped places with him, so that SeeConnie wound up in the box and Mr. Brothers atop the cat-stand, where he got a good round of petting. Ashwyn didn't try to drive him off; think the was a little unnerved by the standoff with Mr.B. and didn't want to risk another blow to the dignity.  Hard to believe that Mr. Brothers is the oldest cat in the room (13); I wd have guessed Quibble. Guess he's just been well-treated until now and she must have had a hard life, gentle and sweet though she is.

The other two cats preferred to stay in their cages, so much so that I had to clean around them. Glad to see Mr. NIKO back with us. He was deeply worried I was going to take him out of his Safe Place, but once he became convinced this was not so he came to the front of the cage and purred and purred and purred. He ate while being petted; he even let me give him a belly rub. To my surprise, turns out he loves the gopher game. Left his cage-door open, but he didn't take the hint.

The other contender for shyest cat, TARAH, was similarly worried about what I'd do, but once her cage was all fixed up she relaxed a bit. Also left her cage door open, and to my surprise about a quarter till twelve she came out on her own and explored a bit near the door, settling down beneath cat-stand #1. I left bad making her go back inside so soon afterwards (she got maybe twenty or twenty-five minutes outside her cage), since think it did her good to come out on her own accord.

And that's pretty much it for the morning.

--John R.

*the other four out-and-about cats also had very brief walks but only Mr. Brothers looked like a potential walker.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What a Week!

So, busy week.

Monday was the D&D Next playtest, where we spent so long re-doing characters to match the latest iteration of the  playtest rules that we didn't actually play. Better luck next week -- except that several of us are tied up then, so it'll really be two weeks before we play again. Assuming the approaching holiday doesn't throw that off.
My note for their next encounter reads: Sheep on a rock.

Tuesday was the presidential election. Woo-hoo. I was on edge all day and excited to watch the coverage that night. So Nate Silver's still right. Good to know. Here's hoping the President is able to enact more of his agenda in the second term than in the first.
   Earlier in the day, I renewed my driver's license. Amazingly enough, I passed the vision test. Which makes me wonder about some of my fellow drivers out there . . .

Wednesday's a quiet evening at home, waiting for the season debut of our favorite show, TOP CHEF. This season's set in Seattle, so there'll be the fun of spotting familiar sights in the background throughout the season.
   And, of course, this morning was my time with the Purrfect Pals cats. Speaking of which, Mr. Pitts is now in one of the adoption rooms, which is good. Unfortunately, it's the one furthest from where I live, all the way up in Mt. Vernon. Still, it's good to know he's safe and sound and being well cared for. Now I just hope he finds a home soon. Here's a link to his on-line posting; if you click on his name you get more information (including the information that I am "a kind man"; good to know).

I'll post this week's Cat Report here once I have time to write it up.

Thursday marks the day of Wayne & Christina lecture at Marquette, the second in their 'Year of the Hobbit' series. If you're interested in Tolkien and anywhere in the area, you shd definitely go to this; Wayne & Christina really know their stuff, and they give a great lecture. I can pretty much guarantee you'll come away knowing something about Tolkien you didn't before.

Oh, and I'll be seeing the dentist that day. I'd rather be seeing friends at a Tolkien event at Milwaukee.

Friday starts a three-day weekend, during which we're looking forward to getting together with a friend we haven't seen in a while.

So, like I said: busy week.

--John R.
current reading: ISLE OF DREAD (D&D adv), and Lemony Snicket's WHO COULD THAT BE AT THIS HOUR?, part one (apparently) of ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Best Flight-Information Video, Ever

So, Janice shared this with me a few days ago, and I thought I'd pass along the fun.


--John R.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Voting (Wrapping Things Up)

So, only a few more races to go, some of them more or less local, some judicial (the hardest of all for me to get a good grip on).

Most important among these are for our two state legislators (apparently our state senator's term's not up for re-election this cycle). Both Orwall and Upthegrove (yes, that really is his name) have done a good job, so that raises the bar for any challenger. And both these challengers, Benge and Metz, wd lose on a tie in my book: Metz for some talk about "reducing Governmental burdens on local businesses" (usually code for 'cut taxes') and Benge both for similar language ("reduce excessive municipal and state burdens") and for his rather bizarre response, when asked about his education, that "American's greatest achievers are self-made" -- which is true enough in one sense, but makes him feel like someone who dodges questions. Do have to say that one aspect of Benge's platform is v. appealing: his advocacy for more urban vegetable gardens and for fruit trees in public parks. Let's hope he gets appointed to some park commission to carry out that part of his agenda.

For the next contest, Sheriff of King County, I have to switch to the other Voter's Pamphlet, which deals with county and city-by-city measures. Here the two candidates -- new appointee Strachan and former dept. spokesman Urquhart are both kind incumbents and both kinda shake-things-up new brooms. Both the Seattle police and the King Co. sheriff's department are badly in need of re-training and de-programing; the question is which of these men is better able to do it. I's frankly torn between the two. I was originally leaning towards Urquhart, but a little digging around turned up an incident where, when the department's spokesman, he helped cover over a nasty case of a deputy smashing a guy's head into a wall, resulting in permanent brain injury. The incident clearly wasn't Urquhart's fault, but his complicity in trying to cover it up is a bad sign. As a result, I think I'll follow Grubbstreet's recommendation, go with Strachan, and hope he does indeed turn out to be the "much needed change agent" he promises to be.

And that just leaves the judges, which are always difficult, since they're theoretically non-partisan -- meaning that they may have party affiliations but don't reveal them during elections. However, this year they've made it easier for us: two of the State Supreme Court positions (Judge Owens* and Judge Gonzalez) and two of the Appellate Court positions (Judge Cox and Judge Appelwick) are unopposed; luckily they all seem to be pretty solid, given their write-ups (one, Cox, even bemoans low-information judicial voting and urges voters to resort to (which Grubbstreet also recommends).

Of the two contested seats, the Supreme Court position seems to have attracted the most attention. Of the two candidates, I'd pick McCloud over Sanders, the latter having been booted off the court in the last election. Leaving aside the red flags in his write-up (a call-out to 'property rights' and backing from the Libertarian Party), a little poking around online reveals that he's what's called by admirers "a character" and by others a loose cannon, who tended to collect a string of official rebukes while on the bench. In short, a dinosaur. Which, contrasted by McCloud's commitment to women's issues makes her v. much the kind of justice I want on the court.

Finally that just leaves the King County Superior Court judgeship, Parisien vs. Washington. Here I initially leaned towards Parisien, but Judge Washington's write-up is ultimately more impressive -- not least because his is positive while hers includes a somewhat incoherent attack on her opponent.** Amusingly enough, it turns Washington is a Marquette grad., but I'm more impressed by his taking part in 'mock trials', which are a great outreach to show folks (esp. students) how our legal system works.  In any case, sounds like he's doing a pretty good job, and so he gets my vote to continue doing so.

And that, at last, is in. Next up: a brief Tolkien-related post (you didn't forget that this is a Tolkien blog, did you?

--John R.

*interestingly enough, from her write-up it turns out she spent years as a tribal judge, for the Quileute and Lower Elwha S'Klallam

**"52% rated the incumbent Chris Washington's legal decision making as unacceptable or poor" -- 52% of what? You can eventually find out the answer, if you go on-line and frame yr query carefully enough, but that really shd have been in the write-up. In any case, it doesn't include his fellow judges, several of whose endorsements he includes in his write-up.

Voting (State Level)

So, once we come down to state and local elections, I start to run into less information to base decisions on. Part of this is from not watching more tv: one night last week when I watched some local news for a change the commercials were flooded with political ads. And there are a few phone calls, a few flyers, and the occasional radio message.

Still, less information still means enough to make decisions. So here's my thinking for the state level.

SENATOR: Cantwell vs. Baumgartner. Heard a little of a radio debate between these two, and happy to report that both were treating the questions and issues seriously. Cantwell was a great disappointment her first term, too timid to take a principled stand on any of the great issues of the day, but she really came into her own with her second term. Now she's seeking a third, and if she carries on as she is now, she'll be a credit to the state. Which is not to say that Baumgartner might not wind up being a good choice for another office down the road; think he's the best the state Republican party has to offer this election season and that we'll be hearing of him again, and in a good way. The one real red flag re. Baumgartner is his citing Michael Medved's endorsement: I've heard enough of Medved's talk radio show to know that anybody Medved wants elected is someone I definitely shdn't be voting for.

CONGRESSMAN: Adam Smith has done a really good job, being especially strong on environmental (green) issues. His opponent, Postma, wants to cut taxes, pay off the national debt (two contradictory goals), "save" Social Security and Medicare, stop inflation (was not aware inflation was currently much of a problem), make the US run entirely on domestic oil & gas, bring the price of gasoline down to $2.00 a gallon (how, he doesn't say), have full employment, etc. Smith is too defense-spending friendly for my taste, but otherwise his record is good, and I prefer a Congressman living in the real world to one who, like Postma, wants to try to legislate fantasies.
   NOTE: Luckily, Reichert's not in my district, so his probable re-election isn't anything I can affect one way or the other.

GOVERNOR: Inslee vs. McKenna. Unfortunately Gregoire, who did a really good job, isn't running for re-election, or she'd get my vote for a third term. Personally McKenna's fairly appealing; he's been working the nerd look really well, with a sort of gosh-wow Bill Gates geekiness. It doesn't surprise me at all to learn he serves on the Boy Scouts area council. Both men have good write-ups, but there are some iffy bits in McKenna's that hint at overly careful phrasing, while Inslee in his supplemental advertising has been pushing support for Green Energy -- a definite plus (Washington state having no oil gas coal but being ideally positioned for wind energy (all that coastline) and solar (all those bright open spaces east of the Cascades).  So it's Congressman Inslee over Attorney General McKenna.

LT. GOVERNOR: Owen vs. Finkbeiner. Here's a dilemma. On the one hand, the incumbent (Owen) has iffy bits in his write-up, where he claims credit for things that seem inherently unlikely to fall within a Lt. Gov's purview. And Grubbstreet did a good job highlighting his underwhelming performance in his job so far. On the other, Dino Rossi (the kind of Republican who gives the state Republican party a bad name) endorses the challenger. Janice points out that Mrs. Finkbeiner is really impressive in her own right, as founder of something called MomsRising (check out If she were running, she'd get my vote, but voting for him on her behalf is, to me, like voting for Schwartzenegger because he married a Kennedy; too strong a likelihood of voter's remorse a few years down the line. Plus, of course, coming from Arkansas I take Lt. Governors v. seriously; that was how the disaster that was Hucklebee got in. So it's Owen, w. reservations.*

SECRETARY OF STATE: Wyman vs. Drew.  Sam Reed, the most highly respected Republican in the state, is stepping down, unfortunately. Both the women running to replace him seem like they'd do a decent job. Of the two, Wyman seems to have the most experience, but Drew's concerns align more with mine (e.g., pledging scrutiny of the initiatives process, promising to fight voter-suppression efforts), so she gets my vote.

STATE TREASURER: McIntire vs. Hanek. Here one candidate (McIntire, the incumbent) is massively more qualified, and the challenger gives a wink to Tax Deadbeats, so this one's easy: McIntire.

STATE AUDITOR: Watkins vs. Kelley. Again, this one is easy: Watkins boasts about his lack of elective experience and his contempt for those who possess it (calling his opponent "a professional politician" is apparently the nastiest label he can think of). He also gives a strong shout-out to the Tax Deadbeats ("Citizens won't allow the legislature to raise taxes" -- excuse me?). Kelley, on the other hand, has a much less dramatic write-up, which nonetheless quietly boasts about how he cut his own pay as a legislature because of the economic downturn -- something I think our legislators, state and national, shd do as a matter of course but seldom do. Less posturing and more leading by example: Kelley.

ATTORNY GENERAL: Ferguson vs. Reagan Dunn.  Yes, 'Reagan Dunn' really is named after the president -- the v. thought of wh. makes me feel old, and wonder anew at the cruel things parents do to their children sometimes. Again here we have a clash of styles, w. Dunn boasting of his TOP SECRET security clearance (how is this relevant?) and promising to make Washington "the best place [in the country] to start a small business and the worst place to commit a crime" -- which is a nice line, but exactly how is the first half of that the Attorney General's job? By contrast, Ferguson comes across as calm, confident, and competent. I'll take competence over bombast any day: Ferguson.  In addition, Dunn (who's currently on the King County Council) has a nasty habit of absenteeism -- I get the sense that he considers the job of Councilman beneath him, which isn't a good sign -- we want an attorney general who's actually going to show up. And finally, GRUBBSTREET reports that lots of out-of-state money is coming in to run negative ads against Ferguson. So, Ferguson it is.

COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC LANDS: Goldmark vs. Didier. An important job that doesn't get much attention, being considerably down-ballot. Goldmark's write-up is all about conservation and sustainable use and renewable resources; Didier's about getting more out of public lands. Didier, who lacks any elective experience, lists as his qualifications being a farmer and football player -- the one of which is relevant, the other not so much. Goldmark is a rancher and volunteer firefighter with advanced degrees is neurobiology and molecular biology. On the surface, both seem acceptable, but I feel a sense of wolf-in-sheep's-clothing in Didier's write-up -- perhaps unfairly, but there it is. So, Goldmark.

SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION: Dorn (unopposed). No red flags in his write-up, and his emphasis on fighting for more education funding is a good sign. He's unopposed, so let's hope he delivers the goods.

and, last and least, INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: Kreidler vs. Adams. Here I'm getting way out into a low-information zone, but luckily the voter's pamphlet helps. Kreidler, the incumbent, strikes a reasoned tone to convey a sense that he's got this down; we're in good hands with him. Adams says Kreidler's been doing the job too long (eleven years) and that, if elected, he'd use the office to undo ObamaCare as much as possible. Declaring his intention to do his best to sabotage federal law at a state level is an excellent reason why he shd never be elected to this, or any other, position. So, Kreidler.

Next up: state legislature, sheriff, and judgeships, which will wrap things up for this election year.

--John R.

*oddly enough, one fairly elaborate flyer we got in the mail urges votes for Obama, Inslee, and Ferguson vs. Romney, McKenna, and Reagan Dunn, but makes no mention of Owen.