Saturday, December 24, 2016


Who would have thought the boldest thing Obama would do in his eight years in office wd be to abstain on one vote?

--John R. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Propaganda as History

So, earlier this week I was startled to come across a piece on Talking Points Memo claiming that it was now well-known that the fault for bringing about World War I was all Germany's.

here's the link.

And here's a string of quotes that more or less sum up the author's thesis:

"our collective understanding of what happened 
during the so-called 'July Crisis' of 1914* 
is basically wrong"

far from being "a ruinous war that none of the powers 
actually wanted but were unable to avoid", 
Marshall claims that "World War I was 
engineered deliberately by Germany"

"the actual war . . . happened because 
Germany wanted to go to war"

a little later he muddles his point somewhat 
by claiming of the Germans that 

"they did not want a war with Great Britain 
[but] were willing to risk it"

This seems to me demented. I'm not a WWI scholar, but I have read a good deal of material relating to the war (or as they used to call it, The War) over the years -- the kind of things everyone with a Ph.D. in twentieth century British literature shd know as the general background to the period and a specific major element in the lives of many of the writers of the period, such as Ford Maddox Ford, Hemingway, Dunsany, and of course Tolkien.**

Contemporary propaganda presented it as a war to end all wars (a concept Tolkien personally scoffed at) or a war to save democracy from Der Kaiser (a rationale seriously compromised by England's alliance with Czarist Russia, the most repressive Great Power of its time).

As far back as the mid 1930s, revisionist history was swinging round to the idea that England had played a large, if not the largest, role in seizing upon the crisis and deliberately turning it into a war.
There is ample evidence that the British Empire (which we shd remember was the largest, most powerful country in the world at the time) saw in Imperial Germany a rival who had to be destroyed while there was still time (exactly the motives Marshall ascribes in his post to Germany). So widespread was this notion that there was a thriving sub-genre of literature in England of England-conquered-by-Germany stories in the years just before the outbreak of the war (for a famous example, see Saki's WHEN WILLIAM CAME). Combine this with the thesis presented by George Dangerfield in his seminal 1935 work THE STRANGE DEATH OF LIBERAL ENGLAND -- that Britain seized upon the continental crisis as a way out of an internal crisis -- and a v. strong case can be made for England's being in exactly the position Marshall claims for Germany.

Of course, it's extremely unlikely it was a simple either/or (good England/bad Germany OR good Germany/bad England). The truth is probably something resembling Geoffrey Wawro's well-argued thesis for both combatants in the Franco-Prussian war a generation before: that both Napoleon III's empire and the rising Prussian state had excellent internal motivations for going to war with each other -- to divert attention away from a failing imperial state in France's case, and to bring independent small German states (Bavarians, Hessians, Saxons, etc) into the fold in Prussia's case -- and were seeking pretexts to trigger that war. Add in France's desire to take back some border provinces annexed by the Germans in 1871, Russia's longterm plan to control the Balkans, Austria's fighting back against what they saw as state-sponsored terrorism on the behalf of Serbia, and you have a case where most of the combatants wanted the war either as a milestone on long-range plans or as offering an opportunity to seize some immediate benefit. None of them had any idea what they were doing, how many millions upon millions they were sending to their deaths. And I'm not sure that knowledge would have stopped them if they had.

Still, it's a fascinating and complex issue, and I'd be interested in hearing what others thought of the It-Was-All-Germany's-Fault thesis.

--John R.

WorldWar I: "It was a group effort".

*i.e., Tuchman's thesis that an interlocking system of alliances more or less inexorably propelled the various nations into war

**not to mention its biggest impact, the death in the trenches of writers like the great poet Edward Thomas, short story writer H. H. Munro ("Saki"), fantasist Wm Hope Hodgson, and too many others to mention

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Latest Publication (on THE FALL OF ARTHUR)

So, yesterday brought in the mail my contributor's copy (plus one extra) of TOLKIEN STUDIES Volume XIII, which includes my essay " 'That Seems to Me Fatal': Pagan and Christian in The Fall of Arthur". This is a piece I presented a part from at Kalamazoo two years back (or was it three?), and a somewhat some substantial excerpt at a symposium later that year; I also read the whole thing out at last year's MythCon in Colorado Springs, not as a main presentation (that was devoted to my guest-0f-honor speech re. Charles Williams' Arthuriad) but as a side-presentation suitable to the Arthurian theme of that conference.

My basic thesis is simple: that a passage in Tolkien's Letter to Waldman sets down succinctly Tolkien's reasons for rejecting the Arthurian mythos as the basis of his own 'Mythology for England'.  It's an idea I've had in mind to do for years, and the long-delayed publication of THE FALL OF ARTHUR finally gave me the opportunity.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of my friend Jim Pietrusz, Arthurian extraordinaire. I wish I'd been able to write this essay a year or two earlier: I'd have loved to have found out what he thought of it.

I also make one other appearance in this year's volume, in that my contribution to the Shippey festschrift (my essay 'Inside Literature: Tolkien's Exploration of Medieval Genres") gets mentioned in the essay-by-essay review of the book, including the following passage:

. . . with seven pages of notes and bibliography,
his scholarship clearly suggests an impressive
depth lurking beneath. Rateliff earns several
scholar points by venturing into other languages
to explore the Tolkien apocrypha, valuable
material, though some of it is unfinished
and all is far less explored than the novels.

I love the idea of racking up some 'scholar points', and think I'll have to figure out a way to put that on a button.

Obviously I haven't had a chance to do more than skim the contents, but thanks to the good folks at the Tolkien Society the full table of contents of the issue can be seen here:

--John R.
current reading: SUMMER OF LOVE: THE MAKING OF SGT PEPPER by George Martin.

The Cat Report (W.12/21-16)

With Lillith’s untimely return to Arlington* and the arrival of three new cats, yesterday morning we had a total of four cats in the Renton cat-room: all-black SHEENA OPRIA (at 12 one of our two senior cats, though she doesn’t look it), 
 Old Man HANK (long lean and very orange; he’s 14 and looks it), lively MARIO (less than a year ald and might best be described as a grey tuxedo cat), and 3-yr-old HELENA (a beatiful little brown tabby who distrusts the other cats and prefers they keep their distance).

Sheena came out right away and spent the morning in her favorite place, on the blanket atop the bins in the back of the room. She was pleased to get some attention (petting) but not interested in any games and definitely wanting to keep her distance from the other cats. She got worked up when Helena jumped in her cage and made herself at home, keeping a wary eye on things until I got Helena to move and All Was Well.

Helena was just as wary if not more so but happily perched atop the little cat-stand when it was placed outside her open cage. She hissed at the other cats if they got what she considered too near, but she didn’t swat or slap at anybody: just a little hiss now and then when she considered it called for. Later in the shift I picked her up and put her atop the tall cat-stand in the outer room, where I was glad to see her settle right down and welcome an array of games: the stick game, the feather-duster game (which she treated as if it’d been a captured bird), the bootlace game, and especially the bug-on-a-stick (‘Da Bug’). She’s quite the little predator, so I was surprised when a woman came in with her two sons and Helena let them all pet her. I conclude that she likes attention, it just has to be the right kind of attention. 

Hank is quite the gentleman, greeting all visitors and welcoming all attention. He has real charisma, and I’m sorry to hear he’s been taken back to the clinic today over some concern re. his teeth. He loved the box I brought in, and was in and out of it repeatedly. But he liked the box-top just as well (it made a nice noisy surface for the bug-on-a-stick to land on and skitter over). Best of all, he thought, was the paper bag. He liked this so much I left it behind for him (folded up and on one of the top shelves). He had a good walk outside: a bit nervous but not panicky. Surprisingly, while he wanted people to pet him inside the room he avoided people when encountering them outside the cat-room. Given how much he loves to explore when in the cat-room I did let him take a peek into the bench when I was putting my bag away: thirty seconds was all he wanted to hop in, sniff the place, and hop back out again. Thereafter he ignored it, in a been-there, done-that sort of way. He does love to play, especially the bootlace game and the bug-on-a-stick. I got one or two tangles out of his tail-fur, but he said he’d prefer someone with a gentler touch to do any more of that that might need doing. Towards the end of my shift he got interested in what was going on outside the cat-room, watching the people outside. He enjoyed being out of his cage, and was unhappy with me for making him go back inside it at the end of my shift. He’s a great cat w. a sad back-story;** hope he finds a good home soon. 

Little Mario is full of bounce. He and Hank are not buddies but tolerate each other remarkably well: Hank didn’t mind Mario playing near him so long but preferred he keep at least a foot away. Mario also had a walk and as jumpy at first, settling down some as the walk progressed. Found out that he’s quite a smart cat: anywhere I took him, he knew exactly where he was in the store as soon as I set him down again, and remembered each area he’d visited before and how they all linked up. He wanted to play all shift, enjoying just about any game he could get. He got a lot of attention from visitors, as did Hank, simply by being outgoing and friendly, greeting every visitor. Not surprised that there was already a hold on him from potential adopters; hope they come back for him soon.  

We had lost of visitors today, including a few who expressed an interest in volunteering; think we’ll definitely be hearing from at least one of these.  

One visitor said she’d adopted a cat from here named Nebb about five years ago; does that strike a cord with anyone?

No health issues aside from those potential ones noted by others.

—John R. 

*Hope her potential adopter isn’t put off by the delay and this adoption does go through later this week). 
   Also hope Mr. Hank gets a clean bill of health and is soon back with us.

**for pictures of all the cats, and a brief bio of what is known about each, cf.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Tollers and Jack

So, about a month ago I posted a bit about a stageplay in the works that was to center on the friendship between J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.;postID=8569072464201792301;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=12;src=postname

Since then I've been in contact with the playwright for the project, who confirms that the project is indeed ongoing. They now have a workable draft (albeit one that will still get some tweaking) and plan to stage the piece -- provisionally called TOLLERS AND JACK -- as part of their 2017/2018 season at Vancouver's Pacific Theatre.

I'll post more as I find out more: all I know for sure at this point is that whenever it does reach the stage we'll try to make one of our rare visits up to Vancouver to see it.

--John R.

current reading: A FIELD GUIDE TO DINOSAURS (Henry Gee) and dipping into EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI (Jung Chang)

current anime: TENCHI

Friday, December 9, 2016

It's Lemon Cupcake Day

Today was lemon cupcake day. Janice and I and the cats enjoyed a quiet day together: she made scones for breakfast, I made soup for supper. The four inches of snow they predicted didn't come off, so we made one excursion: to the Renton Coin Shop, where I picked up the last remaining Presidential Dollar to complete my collection, the Reagan coin. It's been out for a while, but I'd been putting off getting it. I have what I think is the world's only circulated set of these coins: I carry each around with me till the next one comes out, whereupon the old one goes into the coin album. I find I've been reluctant to stop carrying my favorites, while I've been equally reluctant to start in on this or that dastard (Hoover, Nixon, now Reagan). Since US law forbids putting a living person on a coin, we won't be getting Carter, Bush, Clinton, W.Bush, or Obama.

So ends the latest of a string of four failed attempts to revive the dollar coin. I'll be curious to see what the fifth will be.

And now for a quiet evening by the fireplace reading DINOSAURS OF DARKNESS (which I picked up and started reading back in 2004 but only read a few pages in then; now I've restarted from the beginning and am enjoying the whole thing) alternating with watching some old-school anime (TENCHI).  And, later, more cupcakes.

--John R.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Emerson, Lake

So, today came the news that Greg Lake has died, from cancer. Following the late great Keith Emerson's suicide earlier this year (bedeviled by depression and arthritis), that means two of the three men who created my favorite album, TARKUS (1971), are gone now.  And I have to think Carl Palmer, the last and least of the trio, is taking his vitamins and looking both ways at street corners.

The brief obit I saw called out his early days (Court of the Crimson King)* and of all his ELP work mentioned only his bitter little anti-Xmas song "I Believe in Father Christmas" and, of course, "Lucky Man".

I'm grateful to my cousin Sam for having introduced me to their music all those years ago, and to Emerson and Lake and Palmer for all the good music. They were uneven and wildly eclectic, but at their best they were superb. I know I'll be doing a lot of listening to their oeuvre over the next few days.

--John R.
current reading: still the Verne (20,000 Leagues) on and off

*I've always wondered if this was partially inspired by The King in Yellow but have never seen any supporting evidence

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mt. Adams Fumerole

So, now that we've just gotten back from what will probably be our last trip of the year, it's time to attend to some arrears, such as posting more on the blog. In particular, there are various odds and ends I wanted to post on but never got them properly written up at the time.

Accordingly, here are some pictures (by Janice) I wanted to share from our visit with our friends Bijee and Ray in mid-November down to the Trout Lake region (just north of the Columbia River Gorge and just south of Mt. Adams, one of the chains of not-currently active volcanoes that stretch across the state*). During one of our walks, Bijee showed us what is, according to our best guess, a fumerole or volcanic vent, connected somehow to the Mt. Adams system.**  It's currently no longer active, and there's no telling how long it's been there: Bijee only discovered it a year ago, and said it's crumbled a good deal since then. I suspect in another year or so it'll probably be gone.

  The first two photos below shows the mini-volcano in all its glory, while the third has me in the picture for perspective (as you can see, the main part of the fumerole is about twice my height). The last picture shows several rocks from the debris at the base of the mound. which tended to yellow, red, and a brownish orange. Some of the rocks were very crumbly, almost sandstone-ish, while others were rock-solid. One of the smaller, more crumbly rock had a few blackened pine needles in it. And a few had quartz-like crystals.

All in all, an interesting spot I'm glad to have had a chance to visit; thanks to Bijee for sharing.

just finished: THE WHITE DARKNESS

*Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainer, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt Hood across the river down in Oregon

**there are lava tubes running through the area a surprising distance from the mountain itself

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Feanor watches tv

So, thanks to Janice having heard good things about it, we watched the documentary THE LION IN YOUR LIVING ROOM, which I highly recommend.

Midway through it, Feanor got down from Janice's lap, walked halfway across the room, and sat himself down to watch what was going on. I think he was listening more than watching, attracted by a section in which they played a variety of different cat vocalizations; Janice thinks he was mainly looking. In any case, it definitely attracted his attention (usually it's Hastur who watches the tv at odd moments, but she was in another room at the time).

By the way, that's my Sime in the background to the upper left; to the right of it are Janice's two Naismiths.

--John R

The Cat Report (W. November 30th, 2016)

Annabell Lee’s adoption means that there’s just two cats in the cat-room today: LILLITH (8 yr old mature cat, white w. grey) and SHEENA OPRIA (12 yr old senior cat, solid sleek black). They’re no longer in their extended lodging but back in their usual two-unit cages.

Lillith came out at once, as usual, and settled herself in the tube in the outer room. She wasn’t much in the mood to play, but she did have two walks. She’s chatty when out and about, but quiets down when something gets her attention. Her favorite parts of the store are the shelves with the bags of cat litter just to the left of the cat room and the far wall, the quietest part of the store. She was quite interested in the pet beds along that wall, and wanted to try some out for softness and size. 
   Between the walks I discovered that she had some tangles, so set to working on them. She didn’t think much of my technique, but I did get some of the knots worked through; if we do this bit by bit it shdn’t take long to get her fur all nice and untangled.

Sheena has made a lot of progress. Last week she hid in the back of her cage, as far away from me as she cd get. She seemed to like my petting her, but resisted any efforts to get her to come towards the front of the cage (she went and hid in her dirt box each time I tried). This week she came up to the front of the cage right away and enjoyed a good petting. Based on the good advice someone posted this week (sorry; I’ve forgotten who), I moved her over to the top of the cat-stand in the outer room, where she stayed for the next two hours. She loves being petted, arching her back and putting her tail in the air, but has a quick switch when she wants you to stop. She seemed frightened by all the games I offered but did like the catnip. She was so panicked by the collar that I gave up my idea of walking her right away. To calm her back down afterwards I gave her a towel-bath with a wet towel; she followed this up with a proper thorough tongue-based grooming of her own, just to show me how it was done.

In other news, we had a donor who brought by forty cans of wet cat food: brands such as Weruva, Fancy Feast, and Blue Wilderness. I’ve stashed then inside the bench.

Glad to hear the news about Annabell Lee, and Skittles (who I didn’t even meet), and Oscar the rv cat. I have friends who sold their house, bought an r.v., and hit the road with their two cats a year ago, and they report that their cats are doing fine: they watch the outside (which changes every few days) with great interest, but are very emphatic about staying INSIDE where it’s nice and safe. Let’s hope the same proves to be true of Oscar.

Had to say it made my day when I heard that Edison had found a new home. Needing a new home at his age, having been really sick with the kalki, and having lost his bonded partner, he really deserves a break.

No health concerns; both cats seemed to be fine.

—John R.
(written under the scrutiny of my own two cats, sleeping on separate corners of my desk and soaking up the lamplight)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Verne on Verne

So, as I continue to make my way bit by bit through Lottman's biography of Verne, I think the following is going to be my favorite quote from the book:

Mr. Jules Verne is the creator of a new genre 
and has earned a place of his own in 
contemporary literature. A lively storyteller, 
the equal of our finest novelists, he is at the same
 time one of the best scientific minds of our time. 
No one has endowed fiction with greater realism; 
in reading his books one wonders whether they 
are really the product of the imagination.*

The author of this paean to Verne's work is, it turns out, Verne himself. That is, the words above are Verne describing his own work, taken from a circa 1866 blurb he wrote to accompany one of his early novels. I tried to imagine one of the Inklings writing this about his own work and drew a blank  (Wms might think it but I don't think even he wd say it in print).

I think the biggest surprise, to me, is Verne's relationship with his publisher, which was closer to Elvis's with Col. Tom Parker than Tolkien's with Allen & Unwin.  I wd even go so far as to describe most of Verne's writing as Work For Hire. The publisher kept Verne on a retainer, paying him a yearly income that was later re-arranged into a monthly stipend. The copyrights belonged to the publisher, not the author, and the publisher also had great influence over the stories' contents. Sometimes Verne wd pitch a book to his publisher for inclusion in his ongoing series EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGES (in which almost all his books appeared), only to have the publisher reject it. Sometimes the publisher (M.Hetzel) demanded the ending of a book be re-written; in a few cases he assigned Verne a topic (generally it seems for his non-fiction works).  One of Verne's great ambitions, never realized, was to be made a member of the French Academy; I wonder if rumor of his arrangements with his publisher got out and counted against him (given that bias against work-for-hire continues to the present day).

In any case, pecking away at the biography has made me think I really shd at some point read up a bit on the Franco-Prussian war and the resulting Commune. It's also convinced me it's time to re-read one of the classics: TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Here's hoping I can find a good-quality Kindle edition.

--John R.

*JULES VERNE: AN EXPLORATORY BIOGRAPHY by Herbert R. Lottman (1996), p. 119

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I Remember the Memory Wars

So, here's an interesting piece on Repressed Memory Syndrome, and the evidence that 'repressed' memories are all-too-often false memories (that is, that the process designed to recover lost memories creates the memories it's trying to find).  A major figure in that fray has just won a major award, the John Maddox Prize, given to scientists who stand their ground in the face of outside pressure.

My take on this would be that every genealogist knows that people get things mixed up; that things  you'd think everyone would remember get lost while some things get handed down in surprising detail (for example, in my family there are two distinct versions of the story how my great-grandfather died on his way to church,  an event that took place a hundred and two years ago).*

The mutability of memory also came up in Gerald Posner's book on the Kennedy assassination, CASE CLOSED (1993), in which he discusses at one point how witnesses' memories of the event has changed over time.

As an Inklings scholar, of particular interest to me is the collecting, sifting, and evaluating evidence regarding literary events. When did the Inklings first begin to meet? When did Tolkien start THE HOBBIT?  When did he finish the earliest draft? When witnesses disagree -- for example, Fr. John and Michael Tolkien directly contradict JRRT's accounts of THE HOBBIT's origins -- how do we decide which is more accurate? When we have evidence that comes from an unreliable source, do we ignore it entirely or use it with caution?

So, it behooves us to have an awareness of the tricks memory plays. I know I have to watch out myself when quoting something somebody told me decades ago. Stories evolve over time, and it's all too easy to embellish and 'improve' a story if you're not careful.

--John R.
just abandoned: FARHENHEIT FOUR FIFTY-ONE (half-way through). doesn't hold up well on re-reading, all these years later.

*The solution I used was to write down all the information I could when interviewing someone about this or that side of the family, then go back and sort it all out later as best I cd.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A. A. Milne vs. P. G. Wodehouse

So, I've long known about the bad feeling between A. A. Milne and P. G. Wodehouse,* stemming from Milne's accusing Wodehouse of treason for some stiff-upper-lip broadcasts PGW made about the lighter side of being in a German detention camp in the early days of World War II.** Told he'd have to face a tribunal and explain himself when he returned to England, Wodehouse went to New York instead and didn't return to England until thirty years later, when he was invited by the Queen to come and accept a knighthood.

I'd known that Wodehouse, who was famous for his sunny disposition, had let the matter pass aside from writing one short story that created a Milne analogue in order to mock his poetry.

What I had not known until tonight/yesterday is that Wodehouse took a few more digs at Milne, the best of which took the form of a joke that goes something like this:

Wodehouse was once reported to have said 
that he had started a “Try to Like A.A. Milne 
Club.” There were no takers, until one man 
joined, only to resign a week later. “Since 
joining the association,” he explained, “I have 
met Mr. Milne.”

For more details about the two men's uneasy relationship, see

For a much more detailed account of Wodehouse's wartime broadcasts, see the book WODEHOUSE AT WAR, which I think (it's been a long time since I read it) includes at least some of the actual broadcasts in the interest of letting those curious read and decide for themselves.

--John R.
current reading: WOULD I FIGHT, ed. Keith Briant & Lyall Wilkes (1938)

*author of the Winnie-the-Pooh and Bertie-and-Jeeves stories, respectively

**most people don't think creating the rough equivalent of HOGAN'S HEROES is a war crime. Milne however had a job to do at the propaganda department and wanted to make an example of Wodehouse.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How Volcanoes Work, according to Verne

So, I was bemused by the following passage in Verne's THE GOLDEN VOLCANO, written circa  1899. In what I suppose we might call a misinformation dump, he has a character explain how volcanoes work and get it gloriously wrong:

"Volcanoes, as you know, are all -- and this can be definitely 
asserted -- located at the edge of the sea or near it -- Vesuvius, 
Etna, Hecla, Chimborazo -- in the New World as well as the Old. 
The natural conclusion to be drawn from this is that they must 
be in underground communication with the oceans. Water filters 
into them, quickly or slowly, depending on the composition of 
the soil. It reaches the interior fire, where it's heated and turns 
to steam. When this steam, trapped in the bowels of the earth, 
attains a high pressure, it creates an internal upheaval and tries 
to escape to the outside, dragging ashes, slag, and rocks out 
through the chimney, surrounded by swirling clouds of smoke 
and flame. That, without any doubt, it the cause of eruptions 
and probably of earthquakes, too . . ."

All eyes were on the engineer at that moment. The explanation
 he had just given of volcanic phenomena was certainly 
an accurate one.


I don't know if this faux-science was something that's been put forth as a legitimate theory of vulcanology or if it's just an idea Verne had come up with and was throwing out there. I suspect the latter.  I'm pretty sure the realization that Yellowstone is a caldera of a supervolcano came after Verne's time, so we can't fault him there, but there are many volcanos that are a long way from the sea. Maybe it depends on how generously we define "near" the sea to be.

Also, I have to say that after all the build-up I was a little disappointed to find that the mountain of the title was 800 to 1,000 feet tall.

--John R.

THE GOLD VOLCANO: Reading Minor Verne

So, the current book I'm reading is an impulse-read plucked off the shelf of the local library to read while on a trip: THE GOLDEN VOLCANO by Jules Verne --one of the books left unpublished at Verne's death in 1905 and rewritten by his son for posthumous publication.  This edition goes back and strips out all his son's changes, printing the original Verne-ian version for the first time.

I was a big fan of Verne back when I was about ten to twelve, and read (and reread, repeatedly*) all the classics: TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, and, best of all, THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (which I first read way back in 1972).

In later years when I came to reread all these as a adult, I was disappointed both with the writing and with the bogus science involved (given Verne's reputation for writing fact-based extrapolation).  I made a concerted effort to read the newly translated versions of THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, books which I'd heard had been greatly changed by their nineteenth century translators, only to find that I much preferred the old vintage translations over the new scrupulously corrected ones that took pains to have their books accurately represent what Verne wrote. It's a rare case in which I'd say the people who monkeyed with these stories at the time knew what they were doing and actually did improve them.

I've also in recent years sought out minor Verne titles, partly to see if there were any gems I didn't know about and partly because you can get an really good idea of someone's talent by reading their second-tier books).**   Here are the ones I've read:


Given the low quality of all these, I think it's pretty clear that I can give up with a clear conscience and not worry about missing any hidden gems.

I've concluded that if you come across a book by Verne you never heard of, you're probably better off giving it a pass. And when re-reading the old classics like AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS (which I think holds up best of them all), don't bother seeking out the most recently translated one; an old Illustrated Classic will probably do just fine.

--John R.
current reading: THE GOLDEN VOLCANO, by Jules Verne (verdict: don't bother)

*I also read FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON but it didn't grab me and I've never re-read it.

**for example, I'm quite fond of Woolf's NIGHT AND DAY (her attempt to write like Jane Austen), and was fascinated and disturbed by H. G. Wells' MIND AT THE END OF ITS TETHER (his final despairing pessimistic work, in which he decided he'd been wrong to think that mankind could create a better world).

***these two were gifts from my friend, the late Jim Pietrusz.

****I've been trying to remember whether I read TRIBULATIONS OF A CHINAMAN IN CHINA a few years back or simply read a little and then gave up, skimming the rest.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Inklings Murder Mystery ("The Sinister Student", ) SPOILERS

So, I've now finished the fourth of Kel Richards' C. S. Lewis mysteries. This one I think reads better than the rest, simply so far as readability goes. But like the previous books in the series, it does have what was for me an absolute jump-the-shark moment. I think in general if you liked any of those previous books, you'll probably like this one too. And if you didn't like them, there's not much hope for this time round.

First, there's the murder mystery -- which need not be taken too seriously, given that the murder victim is revealed on the back cover of the book. Richards tends to favor wildly improbable methods of murder he pulls out of the hat; in this case the murder weapon and hence murderer are obvious from very early on.

Second, there's the P. G. Wodehouse sections. Whenever Richards' point-of-view character runs into the girl he's sweet on, they lapse into faux-Bertie Woosterisms (what ho, what ho). They even mention by name several times a Wodehouse character (Florence Cray, one of Bertie's onetime ill-matched fiancees). I'm a great admirer of Wodehouse myself, so I'm glad to see that Richards is too, but his imitation shows that it's harder than it looks. In short, Richards is not just not another P. G. Wodehouse: he's not even another P. H.  Cannon.

Two things that are very much to the good in this book, that makes it stand out and made it a more enjoyable read, for me at least, than its predecessors, is the Oxford setting and the inclusion of J. R. R. Tolkien as a character. I'm obviously a soft touch when it comes to books set in Oxford, and much more so when it comes to Tolkien. And for all this faults, Richards does produce a character named 'Tolkien' who actually plausibly resembles the real person of that name -- something many who have written JRRT into their stories as a character have utterly failed at. It's also nice to see a reconstructed Inklings meet (one Thursday night in Lewis's rooms, the other on a Tuesday at the Eagle & Child), with a plausible roster of Inklings in attendance: Lewis himself, Warnie,* Tolkien (who reads them his just-finished last chapter of THE HOBBIT), Nevill Coghill, Adam Fox, and latecomer Hugo Dyson. I'm sorry to see Dr. Havard doesn't make an appearance at either meeting, but then they were an informal group and it wasn't at all odd that one or another of them cdn't turn up at their gatherings, so I just told myself Humphrey was busy at the clinic that week. And while in his previous books Tolkien was just mentioned a time or two, he's a fairly major minor character this time around: after the point-of-view character (Young Morris) and CSL, I'd say Warnie and Tolkien probably show up the most often, often to comment on the ongoing events.

As for the jump-the-shark moment, for me this came when the rather odd visiting researcher who kept trying to meet Tolkien and Lewis, and seemed strangely informed about their works (including ones not-yet-published), turned out to be a time-traveller from the future who'd come back to Oxford 1936  in his tardis specifically to meet those two great writers. His tardis has a functioning chameleon circuit, so it takes the form of a wardrobe, thus giving Lewis the idea of travelling to another world by entering a wardrobe. And while it's clear the traveller isn't Doctor Who himself, he might as well be; he even uses a sonic screwdriver at one point to uncover a clue for Lewis et al. And if I'm reading Richards rightly, it's the time-traveller who's responsible for the famous bargain between Lewis and Tolkien: he certainly accidentally gives JRRT the idea of writing a story about Atlantis.

So, not a turn of events that I saw coming, and not one that I thought improved his book. If it had worked for me, I suppose I'd be calling it jump-the-genre instead of jump-the-shark. I suppose I shd give him points for originality, but is it originality to be the first person to have a really bad idea?

--John R.

*in one rather nice touch, Richards admits in an endnote that he calls Warnie 'the Major', even though he now knows Warnie was still Captain Lewis at the time, simply because it sounds right: Warnie is widely known as 'the Major' among fans of the Inklings.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Abandoned or in Abeyance? (Another Tolkien/Lewis project)

So, while trying to find out more about the Tolkien/Lewis film that I saw at the Milw. Film Festival, I came across mention online of a play about the two men's friendship. Most of what I could find out about it dated to two years back, and I've not been able to find out if the project is still in the works or has drifted off into the last of might-have-beens; I'll give an update if I do find out more.

First, here's the link to the Indiegogo pitch, during which they raised just over $3500, which had been their goal to fund the drafting and development of the play. I'm curious if anyone who backed this project got a copy of the play (the reward for the $75 donation) or the Tolkien/Lewis timeline he compiled (what he called his 'eReseach' and was offering to share at the $250 level).

Next, there's this piece from the Tolkien Library site, which includes an interview with Reed about the project.

Finally, there's this piece from a local (Vancouver-area) source

Putting all three of these together, we learn that the playwright is Ron Reed, who's associated with the Pacific Theatre in Vancouver and has performed in their production of FREUD'S LAST SESSION (he played Freud) as well as elsewhere playing CSL in SHADOWLANDS; he's also in the past written a play about Geo. MacDonald (A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR)

Reed was attracted to the idea of telling the story of Tolkien's friendship with Lewis by the idea that by day Tolkien was the most boring lecturer in the most boring subject at Oxford,*  while by night he was creating what became a a seminal work of great modern literature.

The idea, at least at one point, was for the play to focus on Tolkien & Lewis's friendship: starting when they first met, Tolkien's role in Lewis's conversion (or more properly I suppose re-conversion), Lewis's encouragement of Tolkien's works,** and their drifting apart over differing opinions of each other's works and CSL's marriage with Joy Gresham.

Reed is to be the playwright, while someone named Shauna Johannesen was to be the project's 'dramaturg', which as described by them seems to be roughly what at TSR we called "editing" and which in other contexts I've seen called "development": taking a complete draft and turning it into a polished publishable piece.

The only other interesting detail I could glean was that David Downing was apparently involved in the project in some way, since an autographed copy of his book was being offered as the reward for one of the higher levels of donation in its Indiegogo pitch.

My main questions, after reading what these various websites had to say, are
(1) how far did this project get? Is the a finished play (polished or unpolished)?
(2) if a script does exist, is there any way to get a copy, now that the Ingiegogo pitch has expired?
(3) also, did any of the backers of that pitch see the T/L Chronology? It sounds like a really useful research tool in and of itself?
(4) finally, is this project still in the works, or has it expired and quietly been put aside? I suspect the latter, given that the most recent mention I cd find of it dated back about a year and a half -- but you never know, so if anyone with more information out there is willing to share, I'd be interested in learning more about the current status of this project.

--John R.
current reading: THE GOLD VOLCANO by Jules Verne (posthumous publ.)

*I suspect some, such as Tom Shippey, would object strongly and eloquently to that characterization.

**by which I suppose they mean Lewis being hurt over Tolkien's dislike of Narnia.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

a second Tolkien film (TOLKIEN'S ROAD)

So, while on the subject of Tolkien films, and picking up where I left off a month or so ago, there's another Tolkien film I've seen recently, this one on-line.

TOLKIEN'S ROAD is a short student film, made in 2014. About half an hour long, it's available free on You Tube (apparently there's no way to get it in more permanent form, e.g. on dvd) -- at any rate, not that I've found so far anyway.

To be fair, it's important not to hold this little film to too high a standard: it's not a professional release, it's been made available for free, and the whole thing is pretty much an ambitious student project.

That said, there's nothing in this film to warm the cockles of a Tolkien scholar's heart. This film is terrible. It takes the approach to Tolkien that appears in Humphrey Carpenter's radio play  IN A HOLE IN THE GROUND THERE LIVED A TOLKIEN, in which JRRT wanders about muttering smaggabaggins at neighbors while burning breakfast, and J. I. M. Stewart's fictionalized Tolkien analogue Prof. J. B. Timbermill, who winds up sitting on the green chatting with hippies and motorcycle gang members, completely cut off from reality.

This film's Tolkien wanders around Oxford, occasionally meeting up with C. S. Lewis (we know it's Lewis because Tolkien calls him 'Jack' and he smokes a pipe) as well as running into characters from his mythology all the time. He's haunted by recurring nightmares in which he relives his experiences on the Western Front, seeing his friend G. B. Smith and the rest of the TCBS being bayonetted by orc-faced German officers. This ongoing trauma has prevented him from finishing THE BOOK OF LOST TALES, whereupon a quaint little man with furry feet steals Tolkien's only copy of the (unconvincingly neat and tidy) BOOK OF LOST TALES; the rest of the story is Tolkien's attempt to get it back while distracted by elf-maidens, confronted by what is either a balrog or a black rider, rescued by a Strider-analogue* and a Gandalf look-alike, &c, &c, &c. Like I said, it's quite short (only thirty-five minutes long) but seems a lot longer; it took me three tries to get all the way through it.

In the end, it's not the amateur nature of this production that puts me off, it's their conception of Tolkien. The idea of Tolkien as someone who wandered around with flowers in his hair, blowing off lectures, and generally hallucinating his way through life is so far from my conception of the man that I can't enjoy its presentation here. The character called 'Tolkien' here is closer to the protagonist of "The Sea Bell" than anything like the real JRRT. And  I've found I really care when I see a fictional portrayal of a real person that doesn't in any way correspond to what that person was really like, whether it's the many recent distorted portrayals of H. P. Lovecraft, the longer tradition of thinking that Conan Doyle in real life was anything like Sherlock Holmes (Holmes was far less gullible), and now the depiction of Tolkien as some kind of out-of-it loon. The real person was far more interesting; why not try portraying him as he was, or something at least approximating him.

Here's the link:


*bizarrely, in the 'Prancing Pony' scene the locals sing a song lifted from the LotR Musical (one of the better numbers, luckily)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Another Tolkien BioPic Project

So, thanks to a posting on the MythSoc list  (thanks Douglas), we now know about yet another Tolkien-related film project in the works-- if by 'in the works' we mean is a hopeful spark afloat on the vast sea of films-that-never-get-made.  I've maintained for a while now that we're not likely to see any SILMARILLION movies for a long, long time to come, if ever, and that the likeliest Next Big Thing in the way of Tolkien films would be a biopic. Here's the link:

This announcement is mostly about the writer/director/producers and doesn't provide much in the way of information about the film itself. The following snippet seems to be about all we know at this point about the plot:

"Story follows Tolkien’s early life and love affair with Edith Bratt, whom he later married. The couple lived happily in Oxford, surrounded by friends, but when war broke out in 1914 Tolkien embarked on four years of battle and hardship, an experience that influenced his Middle Earth stories."

This of course bears only a passing similarity to reality, and while we shdn't judge too strictly from an offhand account like this, it suggests that this will be a work of fiction. If we're lucky some historical and biographical fact will find its way into the film, but I wdn't count on it. It'll probably be very pretty, though, given the BBC-style talent involved: I suspect it aspires to be a 'Merchant Ivory' type film.

Fletcher, the author, seems to be full of projects currently in the works but little that's actually come out yet. The piece mentions his having devoted six years to researching the film and interviewing people: presumably this would be Tolkien biographers such as John Garth (given that Tolkien's main biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, has been dead for over a decade now).

Strong, the director, has worked on a number of well-regarded British shows, from DOWNTON ABBEY to DOCTOR WHO.

Shaye and Lynne famously committed New Line to supporting Peter Jackson's LotR films. Though with a projected budget of twenty million dollars we shd see much less here in the way of special effects. And just in case anyone was wondering, no Sir Peter in sight.

As for the second piece, it reveals a lot more of the mindset with which Fletcher intends to approach the project: Tolkien with PTSD (post-traumatic stress) -- or, as they used to call it in Tolkien's time, shell-shock (which, by the way, Tolkien never had: the record is pretty  clear about that). Note that while the first article concentrates on the John Ronald/Edith love story against a background of war, the second (earlier) piece doesn't even mention her.

It'll be interesting to see what becomes of this project, if anything, and who winds up starring in it

Here's the link:

--John R.
current reading: THE GOLD VOLCANO by Jules Verne

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Inklings Discuss . . . Horror Comics?

So, as part of my work on the festschrift, which is ongoing, I had to confirm some quotes and page references today. And you know how it is: you pick up a book to try to locate one specific passage you need and in the process various odds and bits you've never paid proper attention to before catch your eye. And it was that way with me today.

I was looking up something relating to THE HOMECOMING OF BEORHTNOTH and came across a mention of an Inklings meeting that was held at the Eagle & Child in Oxford on November 9th, 1954: exactly sixty-two years ago yesterday. Present were CSL and Warnie, McCallum, Mathews, JRRT, and semi-Inkling Roger Lancelyn Green (to whose diary entry we're indebted for this account). They discussed Tolkien's just-released LotR, and horror comics, and who was the greatest man to come from each country in the British Isles, deciding on Edmund Burke for Ireland, Sir Walter Scott for Scotland, and Shakespeare for England, although there were dissident votes for Pitt or Wellington for the latter spot (apparently the Welsh need not apply).

The first and third topics here sound pretty much in line with the sort of things I'd expect to read that the Inklings were talking about, but the middle topic brought me up short, and I was surprised not to have noticed it before on any previous reading of this passage. We know that Warnie, Lewis, and Tolkien were quite open in admitting that they read and enjoyed works in the then rather disreputable field of science fiction. But that they would be conversant in comic books came as a bit of a surprise, and horror comics at that. I tried to come up with a mental image of Professor Tolkien, or CSL, reading, say, EC Comics, and I admit the image wdn't come. Curious.

Of course it's possible that they were discussing horror comics without having actually read any of them; the topic was a hot one at the time, that being the same year that the notorious book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT came out, which I gather more or less argued that reading comics lead to a life of crime.

So, one of those occasional bits of evidence that challenges our preconceptions. They're good for you, if occasionally disconcerting.

--John R.
most recent viewing: MISS HOKUSAI and THE MARTIAN.
current reading: THE GOLD VOLCANO by Verne.

P. S.
I forgot to include the important detail of what book I was looking things up in when I found this: it was the invaluable Scull & Hammond CHRONOLOGY, page 444.  --JDR

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


So, the newest book by J. R. R. Tolkien was published this past week, on Thursday.

Waiting is hard: my copy is currently on its way to me but the time between the 3rd, when it came out, and the 17th, when it's due to arrive, seems long.

And this even though I've had a copy of the poem itself for years that I've read many times since
getting a photocopy of the original magazine publication back around 1978, when I was in college (thanks Jessica) and making a concerted effort to find and copy all Tolkien's misc. pieces (and all the pieces about him I cd locate with the aid of Richard West's TOLKIEN CHECKLIST). And I like this poem quite a bit: I've written about it (in my contribution to the Shippey festschrift) and even helped organize a dramatic reading of the whole piece (at Kalamazoo, several years back). 

So why am I so glad to soon have the same poem in book form? For one thing, it'll be easier to shelve and keep track of than the photocopy has been (though I mostly solved that problem a few years back by putting the now somewhat battered copy in its own binder, as I also did with other pieces such as "Imram" and "For W. H. A.").* And for another I've been curious to learn whether the volume would contain any other of what we might call Tolkien's medieval poetry (or more accurately, poems in medieval modes), most of which is uncollected, some even unpublished. 

And then, a ray of light: thanks to Janice pointing out that the book was already available on Kindle. As a result, I've been able to get and read it before my (paper) copy has even arrived. And for those who, like me, are curious, here's a quick breakdown of this slim volume's contents:

Note on the Text by Christopher Tolkien
This is followed by Verlyn Flieger's introduction, wh. puts the piece in context (both among Tolkien's other works and from Breton legendry (Villemarque et al)

part one: the published LAY.
just over 500 lines, plus explanatory notes

part two: the two CORRIGAN poems
first poem: about a changeling (76 lines)
second poem: about the witch in the woods, the sinister Fey (104 lines). this piece later formed the core of A&I.

part three: draftings
fragment (29 lines)
manuscript drafts (5 pages and 12 pages)
fair copy (490 lines)
typescript (also 490 lines), with notes re. revisions; probable text-copy for the 1945 publication.

part four:  comparison of specific passages
--sources (Breton, French, English)
--Tolkien variants (e.g., the second Corrigan poem vs. corresponding passages in A&I)

And for the book as a whole?

My advice: pick this one up. Sooner rather than later.

It's a great chance to see a very different side of Tolkien from that on display in, say, FARMER GILES OF HAM or the Hobbit works.

As Verlyn Flieger says in the very first line in her Introduction: "Coming from the darker side of J. R. R. Tolkien's imagination . . ."

--John R.
current reading: THE CURSE OF SAGAMORE by Kara Dalkey

Election Day


Thursday, October 27, 2016

John Oliver re. Third Parties

I've been meaning to add this as an addendum to my earlier political post, but have decided it's too good to bury.

Here's John Oliver giving the minor party candidates, Gary Johnson and Dr. Jill Stern, the same kind of treatment usually reserved for the major party nominees.

His conclusion: things are just as weird at that end of the spectrum. No, really.

Here's the clip, with the usual warnings about (a) language and (b) politics, either of which might offend.

Thanks to Alex W. for letting me know this was out there.

--John R.

Cat Walking Wednesday (10/26-16)

After the weekend Kitten Event, we’re now at five cats in the Cat Room: bonded pair BABY KITTY and ELEANOR MANYTOES, wide-eyed VACA, and newcomers YUKI (kitten mom) and FUJI (kitten).

It was nice to make the latter two’s acquaintance. They definitely seem to be unbonded: Yuki hissed at little Fuji when I held him up to her, and he backed away as soon as he could. Mostly they ignored each other, and neither seemed to distinguish the other from all the other cats in the room.

It was a good day for walking: everyone but Yuki had an outing. Fiirst came little FUJI, who got carried all around the story, taking it all in with big eyes. He rode on my shoulder the whole time, not feeling safe when I occasionally put him down to see if he wanted to do any exploring on his own four feet (the answer each time was no). He was petted for a while by a man in a wheelchair over by the dog-grooming room, and while wary of dogs didn’t seem particularly afraid of them. Think he’ll be leading us on the leash all around the store in another week or two, if he’s not adopted by then.

The next walk was ELEANOR Manytoes, who also got carried around. She gave voice a time or two but on the whole think the change of pace was good for her. Mostly she likes to be atop the higher of the two cat-stands, happy to be petted and happy to be out of her cage for a while, snoozing in her favorite spot.

VACA is by far our best walker of all the cats we have right now. She knew where she wanted to go (towards the back of the store) but didn’t want to get too close to the dogs at Banfield. Showing that she’s pretty smart, she worked out a route around the dogs, then explored the center of the store. She was out a long time and I think thoroughly enjoyed it.

The last walk of the day was BABY KITTY, who clung to me the whole time she was out. I petted and reassured her while carrying her about, but she was still alert to the possibility that something might pounce if she didn’t keep a sharp look-out. Still think the being out and about did her good; she was alert and playful when back in the room. 

I thought about walking newcomer YUKI but didn’t think I’d gained her confidence enough yet to trust me if there were anything that suddenly startled or frightened her. Did pet her and found that while very shy she’s also in need of attention; she rubbed her head against my hand and cuddled up against my arm while being petted. I did lift her out of her cage so I could hold her and pet her, letting her look out the big window in the smaller room (the one with the bench and cat-stands). Two really big dogs came up and Yuki was wary of them but not frightened.

Games: little Fuji wanted to play every game there was, but Vaca also joined in on the action quite a lot. The two of them went wild over the laser pointer, but they thought the feathers and string game were well worth their while too. All the cats wanted petting, some while awake and some while asleep and some both.

The Cricket: at one point Fuji spotted a cricket that’d somehow escaped the fate of crickets and found its way into the cat room. He got very excited and slipped immediately into little predator mode. I helped the cricket get away, but had much to-do to keep him distracted from live prey.

Health concerns: Yuki’s eyes seemed fine but her ears needed some cleaning; we shd keep an eye on them. 

We had several visitors, some in or just outside the cat-room, some encountered around the store while walking. 

—John R.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The New Arrival (2017 Tolkien Calendar)

So, I've known for a while that this coming year's Tolkien calendar would be one of the good ones, featuring Tolkien's own art. Now that it's arrived, it lives up to all expectations -- beautiful reproductions of all nine of his full-page black and white drawings for THE HOBBIT, plus the half-page Mirkwood halftone. I was surprised to see a piece I was pretty sure I'd never seen before (and I've seen a lot of Hobbit art): a black-and-white drawing version of the November image, "Conversation with Smaug".

Turns out I was only surprised because I skipped right to the art and jumped over the v. nice introduction by Alan Lee,* who explains that two of the illustrations are 'new pen-and-ink renditions' of two of Tolkien's watercolors, redrawn by one Nicolette Caven esp. for this calendar. I don't know Caven's work otherwise, but she did a fine job here.**

All in all, an excellent calendar, and one I'm looking forward to hanging up up in my office come the new year.

Also newly arrived is the latest of the C. S. Lewis-as-detective books from Kel Richards. The fourth so far, THE SINISTER STUDENT, which I find I've taken to calling in my head 'Murder at the Inklings'. It repeats the pattern of the first three: from what little I've read of it so far it's notable mainly for including a fictional meeting of the Inklings early on: Lewis, Warnie, Tolkien, Coghill, Fox, and latecomer Dyson, as well as series character Tom Morris and the student of the title, one Auberon Willesden (a modernist who's come so he can feel superior). Tolkien reads them the last chapter of THE HOBBIT. It's rather surprising that Havard isn't there, but then the real-life Inklings and Inklings-as-chacters in Richard's books has always been a casual fit (for example, he calls Warnie 'The Major' throughout, though he was still Captain Lewis before his WW II service).

More on this one when I've had a chance to read it, if more seems merited.

--John R.

current reading
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF CABAL by Jonathan Howard (having now reached about the mid-point)

*Lee traces influence on Tolkien as an artist from Jennie Harbour, Kay Nielsen, Arthur Rackham, Wm Morris, other Pre-Raphaelites, and, rather surprisingly, Rudyard Kipling (one of those many English writers deft with little drawings, like GKG and CSL).

** the other redrawn piece is "Rivendell" (for March).
All five of Tolkien's watercolors for THE HOBBIT are included, but four of them are shrunk down to quarter-page size, leaving only one (Conversation w. Smaug) for full-page full-color glory.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Voter Pamphlet Arrives . . .

So, our Voter's Pamphlet arrived a few days ago, a sure sign the election really is coming at last. Here's hoping it spells the end of Crazy Season, which has been going on for a year and more by this time.

The initiatives I haven't been paying any attention to up to this point, so I have some catching up to do there. Most of them seems to have the 'argument against' mantra of 'we can't afford that; we need all that money for education' -- a good argument but at first glance of dubious relevance. We'll see.

On the other hand, the statewide offices and Senate/Congress ones are all down to just two contestants each, thanks to the primary having weeded out the plethora of minor candidates (the judicial candidates are always tricky but hopefully Grubbstreet will do his usual good job there).

The most important election, the presidential one, by contrast has seven contenders: the only place the minor parties make an appearance. There are the two major parties (Democrat & Republican), two minor parties (Libertarian and Green), and three fringe parties (The Constitution Party, the Socialist Workers' Party, and the Socialism & Liberation Party -- the latter two of whom shd really have combined efforts, so similar are their write-ups).

To tackle the small parties first: the Constitution Party is all about 'sovereignty', as they wd define it. They want an end to foreign wars (something I cd get behind). And foreign aid (which is where we part company). And for us to pull out of the U.N. And abolish the Federal Reserve. And go back on the gold standard. And not only put a stop to abortion but to get Congress to pass laws to prevent the Supreme Court from ever being able to rule on that issue again. Which only goes to show that for all that they call themselves the 'Constitution' party, they don't seem to have much of a grasp of what our Constitution actually is.

As for the two Socialist parties, they really shd have co-ordinated better and made some kind of common cause instead of splitting their micro-share of the electorate. Both want to bring an end to Capitalism, they both want the same three political prisoners freed (none of whom I'd ever heard of). One has a more quirky approach, embracing the cause of Lavoy Finicum (the guy who was shot dead during the Bundy-led Oregon standoff a few months back when he pulled a gun on federal agents) and wants recognition for the good work Cuban 'volunteers' did in Angola back in 1974 or '75 (I forget which; back in the Jerry Ford era anyway). The other includes concern for environmentalism as well as a wide array of specific points, such as shutting down all our overseas bases, cutting Israel loose, and a call for Puerto Rican independence (something the Puerto Ricans don't actually want).

Of the two minor parties, I have sympathies with the Greens and would consider voting for them if I thought they stood the ghost of a chance, which they don't. I don't have any sympathy for the Libertarians, though I must admit their write-up of Gary Johnson makes it sound as if the man could walk on water. good job whoever wrote that up.  Though his boast about being incapable of working with his state legislature (he brags that he cast more vetoes than all the other governors of his state put together) is unsettling. And a few minutes' look at Wikipedia shows that he's a booster of school vouchers (which I view as a way to loot public schools for private ones, making an end run around integration laws in the process) and, what's even worse, private prisons (quite aside from the fact that essential public services shd not be lobbed off to the lowest bidder, private prisons have a nasty record all their own).

That just leaves the two major party candidates, Trump and Clinton. shows Mrs. Clinton with a massive lead, barring some 'October surprise'. We'll soon know which one becomes president.

--John R.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I am licked by a hummingbird

So, file this in the once-in-a-lifetime, here-and-gone moments.

A few days ago I noticed the hummingbird feeder was empty. It'd been low the evening before but I'd decided there was enough to see them through till the next day.* Besides, I didn't want to disturb the two hummingbirds who were sparing over it at the time.

So late the next morniing when I went out and took the little tube feeder down, I opened it up and shook out what little was still in it, making my approximation of the hummingbirds' little tsk sound as I did so.

Almost immediately, a hummingbird appeared and hovered, disapprovingly, a few feet in front of me. Then it darted forward and lapped at the last little dregs of sugar-water still in now-open, uncapped tube I was holding horizontally. Then it lapped the little red cap in my other hand, then the hand itself where a little sugar-water had spilled on it. Then it withdrew back into the nearest tree to observe.

I went back in, cleaned the feeder and refilled it, and took it back outside and hung it in its usual place. I waited a few seconds but didn't see my recent visitor in the trees so I came back inside and looked out the kitchen window.  Sure enough, in about thirty seconds it was back, enjoying as much fresh sugar-water as it wanted, and without any unwelcome crowding. Things the way they shd be, at least so far as it was concerned. A happy ending all round, and for me a memorable experience.

--John R.
current reading: THE LAST APPRENTICE, Book Four.

*Note: it's important to keep hummingbird feeders with at least some hummingbird juice in them this time of year, when the hummingbirds who have decided not to migrate are entirely dependent upon their feeders till spring.

The Cat Report (W.10/19-16)

With the adoptions of Ghostly, Karma, and Juliette,* and leaving their cages free for this weekend’s kitten event, we currently have just three cats: VACA and bounded pair BABY KITTY & ELEANOR. Both the latter came out at once as soon as I arrived and made themselves comfortable atop the taller cat-stand (BK) and bench (E), respectively. Vaca also wanted out but was hesitant, so I put her on the smaller cat-stand and moved it a litle ways off, but still in the same little (front) room. All three wanted attention, and games, and lots and lots of petting. I’d brought in a peacock feather, which Eleanor decapitated within a few seconds; they then played with its dismembered remains, esp. Vaca. All very much at home, which was good to see.

Once they’d settled down came the walks. Vaca went first and also did the best. On her own initiative she explored all the way over to Banfield, wanting to enter each and every room with an open door. Baby Kitty opted for exploring around the bases of the various cat-stands all up and down the row outside the cat-room. Eleanor was very vocal as she got carried all over the store; the one place she got down and explored on her own was inside the little dog-training corral up near the front of the store, which she thought intriguing but a bit alarming too. 

Betty came by with some supplies, whereupon Eleanor starting drawing my attention to the fact that her food dish was empty. That’s when I noticed her food dish and B.Kitty's were completely empty, her litter box (shared with B.K.) was full, and their water dish had a two cat-blankets floating in it. So I cleaned out their litter box and also Vaca’s, put out fresh water for them all, and gave the bonded pair a little nom. Eleanor ate like she was really hungry but did leave a little food in the bowl. Vaca still had some food in her dish.

A few people came in to pet the cats but no potential adopters.

—John R. 

*that makes eight cats so far this month

Looking forward to meeting new cat Chiffon and hoping that the kitten event goes well, for the newly arriving kittens and the current residents as well.

I don't have a picture of Eleanor, Baby Kitty, or Vaca, but here's one of newcomer Tibel Chiffon, looking like she's deciding what she's going to get into next:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Reading Order for CSL's Ransom Books

So, I got a request in the comments for a previous post that I wanted to address in a post of its own, rather than leave it hidden in the comments to a post on a different topic.

The question, which came from 'Falconer', is as follows:

Can you suggest a practical order for reading the Lewis-Tolkien Space-Time stories (for enjoyment)?

It's an interesting question, because the order in which I actually read them isn't the order that I would now read them in if I were coming to them fresh.

My own experience was to read the Ransom trilogy in order of their composition and publication: OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET (which remains my favorite of all Lewis's novels), then PERELANDRA (Tolkien's favorite of Lewis's series, but while I think it more ambitious than OSP I find it far inferior in achievement), then THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH (which I privately call 'That Hideous Novel', which pretty much sums up my opinion of that book). Several years later I learned of the publication a year or two earlier of THE DARK TOWER, which I then hunted down in the Fayetteville public library and read. And of course I read THE LOST ROAD (which I think is underrated) and THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS (another underrated work) as soon as possible -- one of which I actually got to see slightly before publication.

This is of course, partly by happenstance, simply the order of publication. If you were to read then in internal chronological order, it'd go more like this: start with THE LOST ROAD, including the notes and outlines. Next would come OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, then move on to THE DARK TOWER (placing it by its internal chronology). Then I'd revert back to order of composition with PERELANDRA. Then comes THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, followed by THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS, again with the later's associated outlines and notes and ancillary material.

All this presupposes that THE DARK TOWER is a genuine Lewis work, which I believe has been established beyond any reasonable doubt, and also that it was written circa 1944-45 (as I've argued in print), not circa 1938 (as Walter Hooper believed).

My own preferred order to re-read it now, I think, wd be along the lines of LOST ROAD, then OSP, then PERELANDRA and THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, then THE DARK TOWER, ending up with THE NOTION CLUB --that is, pretty much the order of composition, so far as we can determine it.

One thing that might help you decide which order might be best for you: in what order do you read the Narnia books? Publication order? Internal chronology? I hope to never have to read them again, but if I do I'm pretty sure I'll go by publication order again, because that's my default when reading a series: I like to see an author's mind at work as he or she explores possibilities that come to light over the course of a series.

And of course I've long been an advocate of the school of thought that you should be able to read the books in a series in any order,* so in my heart of hearts I'd say the sequence doesn't matter.

Hope this helps.

--John R.
current reading:
--the latest Flavia de Luce novel (just finished);
--The Last Apprentice bk four (resumed)

*I'll often start a book in the middle, read to the end, then go back to the beginning and read to my starting point. I find this works especially well with biographies and not v. well with mysteries.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

That Nobel

So, when on Thursday I heard two disc jockeys discussing Bob Dylan's winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, God as my witness I thought they were joking.

They weren't.

And so the world just got a little weirder, but in a good way.

Though, mind you, if going that route I'd have opted for Lennon-McCartney.

--John R.
(who actually doesn't own a single Dylan record --single, album, or cd. -- but find I have quite a few covers of Dylan songs by other artists)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Chinese Gandalf

So, one of the nice incidentals about being back in Milwaukee again earlier this month was that I had the chance to pick up a copy of THE SHEPHERD EXPRESS, the radical free newspaper formerly known as THE CRAZY SHEPHERD. It was interesting to leaf through it again after a long time. Don't know if they've mellowed or I've become much more progressive, but I found it much more moderate than I remembered. Maybe it's just that Seattle progressive is a bit edgier than Milwaukee progressive.

In any case, one feature I was glad to see was NEWS OF THE WEIRD by Chuck Shepherd. I used to enjoy this back when we took THE FUNNY TIMES, and was amused to find a Tolkien reference therein. Here's the clip:

Leading Economic Indicators
News Corporation Australia reported in 
September the enviable success of a 16-year-
old British entrepreneur, Beau Jessup, who
has so far earned about $84,000 with a simple
online app to help rich Chinese parents select
prosperous-sounding English names for their
babies. Users choose among 12 personality
traits they hope their baby to have, then
received three suggestions (including a list of
famous people with those names). Jessup got
the idea when living in China and noticing
that some babies of the rich were given lame
names, such as "Gandalf" and "Cinderella".

[Sept. 22 2016 issue, p. 37]

I'd be interested to learn if this is for real or some reporter's idea of a joke that made it into print during a slow news days.

--John R.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cat Report (W. Oct. 12th)

Having been away for two weeks, it’s like coming back to a whole new room!  While I was away three cats came and went (Beni the grey, Gabby the tabby, and Felix Panther), while Oscar & Dolly got adopted, as did Princess Matilda (hooray!) and Mr. Bellamy (finally had his turn!) and RAGGEDY ANNE. I’m especially happy about these last three — senior cat Matilda seemed to be getting weary of waiting, Bellamy had been passed over so many times, and I’d been worried about how R.Anne was doing since her near-adoption fell through.

[photo of Mr. Bellamy]

The only cats still with us that I’d met before were our bonded pair, BABY KITTY and ELEANOR, who have gained a lot of confidence: they came out and made themselves at home in the outer room (one on the cat-stand, the other on the bench). Neither wanted a walk; they just wanted to hang out and enjoy being out of their cages.  

Finally got to meet GHOSTLY, who I’d read about a lot. With three adoptions pending I got to see him just in time before he headed out to one of those new homes (which happened that same evening). He’s a great cat: friendly, playful, gentle;  gets along well with the other cats when they’ll let him, and is full of curiousity and a willingness to try something new (whether a walk or exploring out-of-the-way places in the room). He had his first walk — he got the idea at once but we differed about strategy: he thought that the obvious thing to do was to find a safe place behind or under somthing from which to peer out and take stock, and didn’t see why I kept preventing him from doing so. Once back in the room he went exploring, stealing a bite of nom from all the food dishes on the lower level.

[photo of Ghostly]

Of the three new cats, KARMA (a big grey torbie) was talkative and affectionate until I pulled her out of the cage and put her atop the taller cat-stand, whereupon she became a hiss machine. Eleanor jumped up on the level beneath her and got hissed at repeatedly but after a bit decided to just ignore it and settled herself down. Later in my shift Karma calmed down enough that I got the leash on her and took her out for a carry-around walk. She was pretty vocal (except when listening to the birds) and was glad when it was time to get back in the nice safe room. Once she was back in her cage again at the end of my shift, she went back to talking and purring when petted (rather than hissing and swatting). Clearly she really likes people and just as clearly the proximity of other cats winds her up. Once she settles into the room I suspect she’ll declare herself Boss Cat.

JULIETTE (white w. grey) was the shyest of the three newcomers (who I think had all arrived earlier that same morning): she liked being petted inside her cage but from time to time would get spooked and retreat into the other side (w. the litter box). Games within her cage she thought a good thing but again got spooked easily. When lifted out she got back in her own cage as soon as she could. Sweet little cat in need a lot of one-on-one time.

Finally, VACA (white w. black) seemed shy but when lifted out slept quite happily on the blankets in the back corner of the room (atop the litter-containers). She loves being petted and getting attention but for now at least kept her distance from the other cats.

No health concerns that I noted.  

It’s good to be back.

—John R.