Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What's up with that?

So, the song that kept running through my head tonight was "Cabaret".

At least it was the Louis Armstrong version and not Liza Minelli.

Late in the evening I purged it with a playing of TARKUS. There is a god.


current reading: LATE REVIEWS by Douglas A. Anderson (Nodens Books, 2018)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

D&D Podcast (Ben Riggs)

So, I rarely appear in podcasts, but it was pleasant to get a namecheck in Ben Riggs' recent piece delving into the sad history that was DRAGONSTRIKE, TSR's doomed attempt to recast D&D by shifting its target audience to eight-year-olds. *  My contribution falls in the first two or three minutes.

A lot of interesting behind-the-scenes information here, though I hope he'll supplement it with another piece placing it into context with the New Intro Game of the year sequence that TSR sunk money into every year throughout the mid-nineties.

Plus, the even-handedness of this piece is admirable, but doesn't fully convey what a money hole TSR-West, the Hollywood side of the company, was.

Recommended. Here's the link.


V. much looking forward to the book version of the story of TSR's collapse that's coming out of all this research.

---John R.

*and I don't even think he mentions the follow up, filmed but not released, that came a year later: WILDSPACE. Or was it WILDSTRIKE? There used to be a copy in the Games Library but I don't remember what we eventually did with it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Boorman's LotR movie remembered

So, thanks to Janice for the link to a GUARDIAN story re. five weird movies that never got made:
Orson Welles' HEART OF DARKNESS, Jn Boorman's LotR, Le Guin's WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, the original version of ALIEN III, and a mooted sequel to Russell Crowe's GLADIATOR. Here's what the writer of this piece, Tom Huddleston, had to say about the Tolkien film:

John Boorman’s Lord of the Rings

In 1970, The Lord of the Rings was everywhere, its eco-friendly escapism dovetailing neatly with the communal mindset of the post-Woodstock era. A film was inevitable, and rights-holder United Artists turned to John Boorman, a British director with a passion for Arthurian fantasy and – more importantly – a moderate hit under his belt in Point Blank. Joining forces with the young screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg, Boorman turned out a script that covers all three books, runs to 178 pages and is, without question, one of the weirdest documents in existence.
It’s hard to pick a favourite scene. Is it the one where the wizard Gandalf beats Gimli viciously with his staff in an effort to help the dwarf recover his ancestral memories? Or the one where Frodo is invited into Galadriel’s bed, much to the grumbling dissatisfaction of Boromir and Aragorn, both of whom planned to seduce her? Perhaps it’s the 11-page expositional kabuki play in which a small dog representing fate pursues a ball representing the ring, while Sauron (described as “a combination of Mick Jagger and Punch”) looks on.
There are undoubted highlights – the hobbits’ journey out of the Shire is a mushroom-fuelled voyage climaxing in a tornado of whirling petals, an idea Boorman would revisit in Excalibur. But it’s hard to imagine the finished film being anything other than a freaky – if fascinating – failure.

I disagree about a film of Tolkien's work being 'inevitable' -- as subsequent events wd show, it was a long time coming. Having read Boorman's script, which is preserved at Marquette along with several other attempts, I can say that Huddleston does not exaggerate but if anything downplays the deep-rooted weirdness of Boorman's vision; we're lucky this project fell through.

As for the EARTHSEA, I shd note that this is neither the disappointing Studio Ghibli effort nor the horrible tv miniseries but a third, earlier effort with Le Guin herself co-author of the screenplay. I hope that screenplay survives and sees publication someday.

Here's the link to the full story:

current viewing: RE.LIFE (anime)
current reading: Sayers reviews of detective stories; also a revamping of an early D&D module (THE BOTTLE CITY).

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Return of The Cat Report (Halloween 2018)

Back from my trip, I finally got to meet two cats I’d heard so much about: ORLY and EMILIA (especially Orly). Tiffany had both cats out, Orly atop the cat stand and Emilia curled up sleeping beneath it. Having heard that they’re fond of catnip, I gave both some, which pleased them v. much. So I decided to take advantage off their good mood to give walking a try, starting with Orly, so seemed less nippy than expected.

Orly didn’t object to the leash, but being out of the cat-room unsettled her, and there was mewing as I carried her over to the safe (training) room. She was anxious in there too, so after a while we set out exploring. Back in that corner of the store there were a bunch of boxes of merchandise waiting to be put up, and since she seems to like getting up high (as with the cat-stand) I put her up on the boxes. That turned out to be her favorite thing ever. She explored and then inserted herself into a narrow space between boxes where you’d think a cat wdn’t fit. She not only fit but cd turn around in it. She set there, perfectly happy, till I eventually made her go back into the cat-room after about an hour that cdn’t rightly be called a ‘ walk’ so much as an outing.

Once I’d gotten Orly settled back on her cat-stand it was Emilia’s turn. She didn’t protest about the leash but didn’t like being out in the great big store. The mewing started after just a few minutes outside the cat-room, and became loud and insistant before I got her half-way to the training room, so we reversed course and with the help of an employee soon had her safely back in the cat-room. I gave her cat nip again, to help calm her distress, and some to Orly too to avoid jealousies. Then sat on the bench for a good while with Emilia on my lap, purring. She’s a gentle cat who loves lap-time. 

Towards the end of my time there were games for Orly (Emilia’s wasn’t interested). A few visitors but geneally a quiet day (except for the out-of-the-cat-room mewing). Have to say settling in and getting lots of attention seems to be mellowing Orly: she even let me rub the inside of her ears. Orly is clearly the boss cat and Emilia seems to accept that. Hope things stay peaceful in the cat room when the new cat (Miss Miss) arrives.

health concerns: none for Orly, who I thought looked younger than five; without the paperwork I would have guessed more like a three-year-old from her alertness and activity level.

Emilia, on the other hand, although only eight acted like a senior cat. Her nose looks like a cat-scratch that’s now scabbing over. Looks bad but don’t think it’s infected, and she didn’t seem to be in distress over it. Here’s hoping she heals up soon.

—John R.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Gollum Needs Glasses

So, now that I've wrapped up my current research trip among the Tolkien papers in the Marquette Archives, I'm amazed as always by how fluid and flexible the story-line of LotRs was when Tolkien was drafting the book. What really strikes me this time are the small details that seem so out of place, when their spurious sense of inevitability only comes from the fact that Tolkien did in the end pick A instead of B  at a given spot. Like the statement that Bombadil cd have destroyed the Ring, had Frodo but asked --shades of PARZIVAL, perhaps? Or his idea of making the Stone of Erech Aragorn's palantir? Or the mention of Fingon in the Shelob chapter, along with Beren and Turin. Beren and Turin were kept while Fingon was removed --why? Or, to turn the question the other way around, why was Turin kept? Beren and Earendel were famous spider-slayers; Turin seems included as the mightiest of all human warriors.

Or my current favorite, the oddly endearing statement by Frodo that Gollum is night-eyed but near-sighted. I now have a mental image of poor Smeagol with spectacles that I don't think is going away anytime soon.

And in other news, Mr. Mousey, one of my favorites of all the cats to have passed through the cat-room, finally got adopted. Here's hoping he's finally found his happy ending after many months of waiting.

--John R.

--today's song fragment stuck in my head --'in the lobby of a downtown hotel'--eventually expanded itself out to be recognizable as "The Ballad of Danny Bailey". go figure.

current reading (kindle): Evangeline Walton's novelizing of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, which I expect to get me through a good section of my plane ride home tomorrow.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

East Island disappears

So, here's what climate change looks like.

Up until a few days ago East Island, an outlier on the northwest fringe of Hawaii, in a group known as the French Frigate Shoals, was mainly known as a wildlife refuge.

That was before it disappeared, submerged after the battering it took from a recent typhoon.

Before the storm it was about half a mile long and 400ft wide; all that is now underwater.

Anyone else reminded of Verne's Lincoln Island?

Here's a link.


current reading: Tolkien manuscripts, R. H. Benson's THE NECROMANCERS (a Charles Williams novel before there was Charles Williams, except rather better).

Monday, October 22, 2018

Last Chance to See

So, today begins the last week for the TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH exhibit at the Bodleian. So if you're able to go and hadn't made up yr mind, it's now or never. The splendid Exhibit closes on Sunday the 28th.  Even at this point all is not lost, since a slightly trimmed down version of the exhibit opens at the Morgan in New York on January 25th, allowing those in the New England to DC area a in-the-vicinity chance.

And of course for continental types the third and final staging of the exhibit will follow at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, but I don't yet have the dates on that.

--John R.
--current reading: COME ALONG WITH ME by Shirley Jackson and "The Summer People" ibid.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Yesterday We Had Graupel

So, yesterday while driving down to Harvard, Illinois, we drove through a kind of weather I'd never seen before. It wasn't oobleck, but it was strange enough to make me think of one of those articles they occasionally used to run in the FORTEAN TIMES about rare weather events that occur but not often enough for people to recognize them when they do.

We were going warily, having had to detour around the pieces of a split-open fallen-apart fallen tree tangled up with a downed power line while coming through Williams Bay. We'd gotten as far as Walworth when Janice noticed that the fields to our right --that is, to the west-- looked odd. It was almost as if they were covered with fog. But you don't get fog in a high wind, at least not in these parts. There was no smell of smoke. We had no precipitation hitting the windshield yet we cd see what looked like a thin cover of drifting snow blowing across the highway.

It wasn't until we pulled over for me to make a quick dash into a roadside convenience store that things came together. The wind, which was coming in hold-on-to-yr-hat blasts, was suddenly full of tiny snow pellets that looked exactly like fake snow. That is, they looked like tiny individual specks of styrofoam, except these were perfect little spheres.

Within minutes it had melted or blown away. Later, checking online, I found a piece identifying the phenomenon:


So, an unusual sight, and one I'm glad to have experienced.

---John R., in Rockford

Good News for Earthsea Fans

So, thanks to friend Denis I heard the news about the new Le Guin (thanks, Denis). 


According to the write-up on Amazon, this thousand page tome collects together the three volumes of the classic Earthsea trilogy, plus the three lesser and later books, plus the two original short stories that preceded even A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA ('The Word of Unbinding' and, even better, 'The Rule of Names', a real masterpiece by a master), plus an essay (lecture) on the series, plus two new stories I've not read: 'Firelight' and 'Daughter of Odren'.

These days I'm finding it easier to read individual works rather than read the same work in an impressive omnibus (one of the reasons I got rid of the great big book of Amber), but those with younger eyes and  love of Le Guin's work will definitely want this on their shelves.

--John R.

P.S. While poking about putting this piece together I came across the following account of how Le Guin's cat Pard is doing without her. I found it touching and wanted to share, so here it is:


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Racists Chug Milk

So, I was bemused by an article in a recent NEW YORK TIMES about how White Supremacists were seizing upon lactose tolerance as a sign of racial superiority.

That, and being descended from Neanderthals.

And yes, their arguments as described in the article are just as stupid as they sound.

Here's the link.


I think it'd do them a lot of good to read Steven Jay Gould's masterpiece, THE MISMEASURE OF MAN, an account of decades of (failed) attempts to measure human intelligence.

--John R.
--in Rockford

And Uncle Horace too

So, when I put together the first post in this sequence, I hadn't noticed that there are several references to Sir Horace Plunkett, Dunsany's uncle, as well. In fact, Betjeman worked for Sir Horace briefly as his private secretary. And by 'briefly' I mean only for a matter of (I gather four or five) weeks in 1929. At the end of about a month Betjeman fell ill with a nasty flu. While he was in bed recovering,* he recommended a friend to fill in for him, and (long story short) the friend stole the job, offering as justification the opinion that Betjeman wdn't have been able to keep it v. long anyway.

Here's Betjeman's description of Sir Horace, from a letter dated 10 Februry 1929:

I am at the moment Private Secretary to Sir Horace Plunkett 
who in the early eighties was a big man in Agricultural Co-
operation. He is still more than keen on it and being slightly
off his head has written the first chapter of a book of nine 
chapters no less than seventy-two times. He says the same
thing over and over again and rarely completes one of his
sentences which suits my style of thinking. The pay is fair
and the food and travelling excellent. He is in bad health 
at the moment and this hotel** is furnished in that
Japanese style so popular with the wives of Anglo-
Indian Colonels who retire to Camberley . . . (p.52)

Needless to say, Sir Horace was not 'off his head', just clearly suffering from a bad case of writer's block. I've heard him described in all seriousness as one of the great men of his century for his devotion to improving the lot of farmers, particularly in Ireland through the Co-Operative movement. It says a lot about his character that when private airplanes came in when he was already an old man he had someone take him up so he cd better see for himself the patchwork of fields and farms and how they all fit together. As a result, he learned to fly himself when already well into his seventies.

--John R.

*this was back in the days, only a decade after the Spanish Lady,  when folks took flu seriously.

**the Beresford, in Birchington-on-Sea, Kent

Friday, October 19, 2018

Tolkien (Briefly) on Betjeman

So, while looking up to see what Betjeman might have had to say about Tolkien, I quite forgot that Tolkien twice mentions Betjeman in LETTERS.

The first, from a 1954 letter to Raynor Unwin overviewing reviews of FELLOWSHIP, laments

I must say that I was unfortunate in coming into the hands
 of the D. Telegraph, during the absence of Betjeman. 
My work is not in his line, but he at any rate is neither
ignorant nor a gutter-boy. Peter Green seems to be both . . .
(p. 184)

The second comes a few years later, when Tolkien is pleased that THE ADVENTURES OF TOM BOMBADIL is selling surprisingly well, for a book of verse;

[A&U] have made me an advance, since 'T. B.' 
sold nearly 8,000 copies before publication 
(caught on the hop they have had to reprint hastily),
and that, even on a minute initial royalty, means
more than is at all usual for anyone but 
Betjeman to make on verse!
p. 322

From this I conclude that Tolkien seems not to have felt any animus against Betjeman and does not envy his success so much as he enjoys sharing in similar good fortune. As for Eliot, Tolkien seems to have largely ignored his existence. Although the two men's work once almost appeared in the same volume,* one gets the sense of contemporaries living in different worlds like, say, Virginia Woolf and Robert Frost.

--John R.
--current reading: that biography of Fr. Francis (almost done -- thirty pages to go), Tolkien manuscripts.

*Eliot was to contribute an essay on Williams' plays to the memorial volume ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS but ultimately didn't have time to do the piece; this is the volume now made famous by the inclusion of JRRT's OFS**

**a piece of Tolkien's that we know Wms liked.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Betjeman (briefly) on Tolkien

So, my recent post on Betjeman and Dunsany was really a side-trek from my original intent, which was to see if there were any Tolkien references in Betjeman's collected letters. There was one solitary mention that I think's worth sharing, but it's in the context of Betjeman's thorny relationship with C. S. Lewis and thus requires some unpacking.

In brief, Lewis had been Betjeman's tutor at Oxford, and the two men rubbed each other the wrong way. Without going into details, Betjeman blamed Lewis for B's Oxford career being cut short, and for  taking steps to prevent his getting a teaching job elsewhere afterwards. In later years B. referred to CSL as ''My great enemy and ex-tutor Lewis' [p. 389; 1946] and  '. . . Mr C. S. Bloody Lewis, the tutor who sent me down from Oxford' (p. 233, in a 1939 letter to T. S. Eliot, whom Betjeman addressed as 'Dear Poet'). The phrase 'mocks C. S. Lewis' even has its own entry in this volume's  index.

Eventually Betjeman more or less got over his animus for Lewis -- becoming England's most popular, best selling poet might have helped -- though he did not exactly forgive and forget and continued to snipe at CSL occasionally:

'Oh God to be in England . . . 
Yes even for a glance at Lewis
 striding tweed-clad to Headington'
(308; 1942, writing from Ireland) *

What seems to have been a key factor is the lessening of Betjeman's grudge was his writing a long letter to Lewis (p.250-253; 13 December 1939), which he seems to have never actually sent. Betjeman opens by saying he has

'just expunged from the proofs of a preface 
of a new book of poems of mine . . . 
a long and unprovoked attack on you'

After going over the differences between them, he  concludes that he and L. are antithetical in their approach to poetry. He judges that Lewis's poems are 'philosophical or metaphysical or abstract or something I do not understand', whereas he describes his own approach as visual. By this I take him to mean that Lewis's poems are about ideas and Betjeman's are a response to natural beauty and architecture.  This is ironic, given that we know the inspiration for some of CSL's fiction were 'pictures' he found in his mind, and that Lewis mounted a charge against Eliot** almost the same as that which Betjeman is leveling upon Lewis. It's also ironic that the poem B. focuses on as the epitome of what's wrong with Lewis's poetry, 'The Planets', has in recent years been seized upon as The Key to unlocking architectonics supposed to underlie some of his most popular work. B. particularly objects to the line 'Lady Luna in light canoe':

I don't see how anyone who has looked at the moon
can think of it as 'cruising monthly' in a light canoe. 

For Betjeman,
'It seems to me as out of touch as your talk 
about Dragons with Tolkien in a Berkshire bar 
must have seemed to the Berkshire workman'.

Which brings us, by roundabout route, to Tolkien. For this is clearly a reference to the six lines of alliterative verse Lewis created to demonstrate Old English metre:

We were talking of dragons, Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire bar. The big workman
Who had sat silent and sucked his pipe
All the evening, from his empty mug
With gleaming eye, glanced towards us;
'I seen 'em myself', he said fiercely.

Personally, I like these six lines better than I like what little I've read of Betjeman, but I see B's point that trying to impose one poet's aesthetic on another is likely to end badly. And indeed  Betjeman wraps up his critique with the plea that if ever Lewis comes across another student who wants to immerse himself in poetry rather than study philology, would he please send him on to a different tutor, like Coghill?***


*a precursor of 'there goes C. S. Lewis —it must be Tuesday', perhaps?

**I'm away from my books, but I think the poem in question was titled 'A Confession': it was a belated rejoinder to TSE's 'Prufrock'

***B. actually mentions several names, any of whom he considers cd have done a better job than CSL in tutoring him: 'Nichol Smith or Blunden or old John Bryson or Nevill [Coghill]'

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Every Little Bit Helps: HME VIII.98

So, in the work that I'm doing with the Tolkien manuscripts here at Marquette I came across something I thought I'd share. 

I'm now working my way through the various drafts of The Taming of Smeagol (what became the opening chapter of LotR Book IV) and was looking at a semi-legible passage transcribed by Christopher Tolkien (HME VIII.98 Note 5 point 2), who was able to read almost but not quite all of a note Tolkien wrote himself about Bombadil and the Ring. Thanks to the new high-resolution scans of all the manuscript pages, with the ability to zoom in and enlarge (and rotate) the text, today I was able to puzzle it out. Here's the text as printed by Christopher:

Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along [?without 
further]  .......  —if asked!

The missing word is bother(TS I.1): 

Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along [without further]  
bother —if asked!

I have to stress that I was only able to work this out due to Christopher's already having provided the two difficult words without and further, and the ability to greatly enlarge the original without distortion or losing focus. As they say, on the shoulder of giants.

So, another small piece of the puzzle for those who, like me, are happy with a new addition to our knowledge of Tolkien, however minor. Enjoy!

--John R.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Walnut Room

So, the Plaza Hotel, the place where I'm staying during this research trip to Milwaukee (to work with the Tolkien manuscripts in the Marquette Archives therein), has a meeting room off its Art Deco cafe
called The Walnut Room, with wood-paneled walls, a great long table, shelves of books, comfy chairs, and a fireplace. When I first saw it I thought 'Wow. This wd make a great setting to play CALL OF CTHULHU.'

Last Sunday I got to prove that it was true.

When my friend Jim Lowder (who I knew before, during, and after our respective stints at TSR) suggested the possibility of getting together for a game, I immediately thought of the Walnut Room. While Jim made some invitations and gathered a group, I arranged through the hotel to reserve the room for most of the day Sunday (the 14th).

I don't want to give the story away, in case Jim decides to run it again, but I can say I had a great time playing jazz musician S. E. 'Easy' Henderson and hope Chaosium will print it at some point.

--John R.

Here's a picture for posterity; thanks to Jim for sharing. I'm the one in yellow hoisting a cup of tea. Jim is to my right, wearing the green Chaosium shirt. To my left is Dale Donovan, another TSR stalwart from the Old Days. Next to Jim is Ben Riggs, D&D podcaster, who's working on a book about the TSR/WotC buyout. The other three are members of Ben's group, whose names I'd gladly include if I'd thought to write them down at the time. Anyway, good gamers all.

--current reading: THE NECROMANCERS by Rbt Hugh Benson (1909)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Betjeman on Dunsany

So, while I have the resources of the Marquette Memorial Library available to me in the down time from working on my main project (evenings and breaks), I was checking Betjeman's Collected LETTERS for any mention of Tolkien. There's only one sole allusion in the index, which I'd like to devote a post of its own to. But in addition to some things B. had to say about C. S. Lewis (which I expected) I fd several references to Lord Dunsany (which I did not).  Not as scathing as his comments on CSL, for whom B. felt an abiding rancor,  but not anything Dunsany wd have liked to see in print (or indeed out of it).

The first reference comes not directly from B. but from a comment made by the editor of this Life-and-Letters, B's daughter Candida Lycett Green. Describing a weekend stay at Dunsany Castle in the early 1940s, when Betjeman was acting as a kind of cultural good-will ambassador
(his official title was Press Attache to the British Ambassador), Green says

  • He was prepared to listen to the poems of the outrageously conceited Lord Dunsany (to whom JB always referred as 'Lord Insany'), who kept his most recent compositions in his top pocket and brought them out at a moment's notice.  He even sent the manuscript of one of Dunsany's novels to Hamish Hamilton. Literary criticism was not all that Dunsany begged of him either. He wanted help with 'an export license for the shotgun cartridges from England; I can neither work nor exist without any sport or exercise,' he wrote (3 November 1942).  [p.271; emphasis mine]

This sounds to me more like an isolated writer desperate for some feedback.  The general lack of respect for Dunsany's talents and personality pops up again in a mock-letter B sent to tease the wartime censors:

  • I write this down / Dunsany-wise, straight off  (p. 315, letter of 3 May 1943)

Here the allusion is probably a dig at Dunsany's facility with verse and his disinclination to revise anything he wrote. While Dunsany did write a few genuinely moving poems, his reputation as a poet suffered from his disdain for Modernism (he felt English poetry more or less ended with Tennyson) and his failure to restrain himself and refrain when inspiration failed (in THE YEAR, his verse diary, he is sometimes reduced to versifying about what they listened to on the radio that night: hardly the stuff to form a platform from which to challenge Eliot et al)

The third reference is more elusive yet. In a letter of 28 February 1946, Betjeman comments on a friend's critique of the draft of an essay B. has written by saying

  • The remarks of Insany's [i.e., Lord Dunsany] certainly read as though I subscribe to them. The whole point of the paper was to show that I did not. But I will expunge them since they are liable to the interpretation you put on them. (p. 383)

Just what Dunsany's position was seems impossible to recover. I wd suspect it was Dunsany's views on modern poetry, but follow-up remarks indicate that the subject of the piece seems to have been 'the Englishman's approach to Ireland' (cf. the detailed outline on p. 384) and show that B. deleted 'remarks about the nuncio' and also deleted a reference to the idea that 'once a Catholic always a Catholic'.

So far as the nickname 'Lord Insany' goes, this is not Betjeman's invention but was given to Dunsany (presumably without his knowledge) by fellow members of the English faculty of the University of Athens in the early days of World War II, or so I was told by David Abercrombie when I interviewed him in Edinburgh in 1987. Still, it's good to have confirmation, contemporary and in print.  And it forms a useful mnemonic for those who can't remember Dunsany-rhymes-with-Rainy.

At least  B. seems to have liked Dunsany Castle and enjoyed his visit there:

  • In July that summer [?1942] my parents spent the weekend at Dunsany, a great reconstructed mediaeval castle w. a Wyatt-style staircase, swords and helmets, tigerskins and ancestral portraits, set in an undulating park of ancient oaks. JB's favourite place to sleep was in the small attic room decorated w. Celtic art nouveau designs of twisted snakes. [p. 273]

And it's good to know that B. wholly approved of Lady Dunsany, who was a delightful person by all accounts.

  • 'Lady Insany [Dunsany], the wife of the present peer, is the best example of unconscious correctness that I have met. She is also a saint. [p. 525; letter of 2 November 1950]*

--John R.
current reading: JILL by Philip Larkin (1946) and THE MYSTERY OF THE LOST CEZANNE by M.. L. Longworth (2015)

*by 'unconscious correctness' he means instinctive good manners, innate put-you-at-your-ease etiquette

UPDATE 10/13
I thought it went without saying, but perhaps I shd emphasize that Dunsany was, of course, quite sane, he cd just afford to indulge his eccentricities. He had a number of strong opinions, such as being opposed to the mutilation of dog's tails, thinking that lampshades were on upside down (he felt they shd channel light up towards the ceiling, not down towards the floor), and a deeply held belief that table salt was dangerously adulterated (when on a visit he insisted his hostess provide him with ground up rock salt). As he got older, these became hobby horses, but nothing more.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Greg Stafford dies

So heard the sad news today that Greg Stafford died. He was one of the foundational figures in role-playing games, a legendary figure of comparable stature with Gygax and Arneson and Petersen. He was not only the creator of PENDRAGON, one of the finest rpgs ever written -- I put it in my top three, alongside AD&D (1st edition) and CALL OF CTHULHU -- but also founder of Chaosium, one of the few companies from the early days of rpgs to survive down to the present and long known for being a class act in an industry where such a appellation was and is pretty rare. I'm glad I got to meet him once when he was down in Chicago for a visit, an event having something to do with the Arthurian journal AVALON TO CAMELOT.

Here's a link to the Chaosium announcement.


--John R.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Thoughts in a Starbucks

So, Sunday I was in a Starbucks next to what was once Webster's on Downer, one of Milwaukee's finest and much-lamented bookstores, when a song on their  background music sparked the thought:

'Louis Armstrong had so much talent he cd even make jazz sounds good'.

--John R.
--current reading: JILL by Philip Larkens (just started)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

More Aubusson Tolkien

So, thanks to Denis for another bit of film showing the unveiling of the Glorund tapestry and, as an added bonus, TANIQUETIL (The Halls of Manwe) as well, another of Tolkien's iconic paintings from the mythology.  This clip, in French without subtitles, is just under two minutes in length; to see it, scroll down the page that pops up when you click on the link. This time Adam Tolkien puts in an appearance as well; nice to see them both.


Thanks also to Druss, who in a comment on my earlier post sent a link that shows fourteen pieces of Tolkien art: five from THE HOBBIT, two from LORD OF THE RINGS, four from THE SILMARILLION, and three from THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS.

Here's the link:


What a great project. I look forward to the unveiling of new tapestries as they're completed. And I'm grateful to Denis for letting me know not only that such a project was in the works but this far along; many thanks.

Having seen the originals of a lot of Tolkien's art at one time or another (most recently just under a month ago in Oxford), I'm all the more amazed when I think of how small a lot of his pieces are --those from THE HOBBIT are generally the same size as the page of the book they were designed to fit -- and how well they scale up. Magnificent.

--John R.
--in Milwaukee, starting up Week Two tomorrow.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Biggest Shock from First Reading THE SILMARILLION in Sept 1977: evil elves.

 So, I've been thinking back on the initial reception of THE SILMARILLION, and remembering how negative the reviews were and how no one challenged their demonstrably false claim that people might be buying the book but no one was actually reading it: that's not the conclusion that twenty-one consecutive weeks as #1 book on the NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers list wd normally lead to, it being far more probable that word of mouth kept people trying out the book in a widening circle all that fall and winter. 

For my own part, having read the appendices of LotR(parts of it many times) I found the Silmquite readable with only one major flaw: too many names that started with 'F' or 'A': Finwe and Fingolfin and Finarfin and Fingon and Finrod and Feanor, not to mention Aegnor, Angrod, Amras, Amrod,* and Aredhed. Plus of course Celegorm and Curufin and Caranthir. It's like the French kings with too many Louises; more variety among the family names wd make it less difficult to keep track of the large cast of characters (e.g., the fifteen cousins, Finwe's grandchildren, who are the major characters of the Elves wars of Beleriand).  Perhaps the strangest thing about the book, looking back now, is that an author so supremely talented in fantasy nomenclature as Tolkien left us with so many similar sounding names.**

Even so, the solution was easy: I started the book over again as soon as I finished, with the page in the back with the family trees bookmarked for easy reference during that re-read. Though truth to tell it was really only with the third read that I really started to get the hang of it.

As for the story, The Silmarillion itself, I was struck by how many surprises it held even to the most diligent reader of Tolkien's earlier works already in print. 

For example, Feanor is mentioned several times in LotR, most notably in the palantir chapter when Gandalf wishes he cd have seen him at work in person. Here at Marquette I just finished reading the manuscript passage that brings in Feanor in a different context, as the one who made the Three Rings of Earth, Sea, and Sky: one text asserts that Feanor made the Three but it was The Great Enemy who brought them across the great sea to Middle-earth.

Absent from any of these references was any indication of the evil that Feanor did, the long stream of deliberate heinous acts that ultimately destroyed his family and followers and the greater part of his people. And while he was the most evil elf depicted by Tolkien, he was not alone: many of his followers committed horrific acts as well. And yet no hint of evil elves had found its way into THE LORD OF THE RINGS, where the elves have put all that behind them.

To use an analogy, who knew the Vulcans had once all been Romulans?

--John R.
--in Milwaukee, one week in

*whom we learned much later, via HME, never reached Middle-earth at all but died along the way; he essentially becomes his twin brother's imaginary companion, so far as they story is concerned -- which does explain why the two never appear separately or undertake independent action anywhere in the main tale.

**the intended effect, of course, wd have been to convey family kinship through nomenclature, as with Malory's names for the House of Orkney, the five brothers Gawain and Agravaine and Gaheris and Gareth and Mordred, where the first and last go back to much earlier stages of the legend and the others were added later by writers introducing spin-offs to fit a few more knights into an already crowded Round Table. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Aubusson Tolkien

So, thanks to friend Denis (thanks Denis), I found out about what might be named the Tolkien Tapestry Project, whereby the weavers at Aubusson, one of the world's great tapestry makers (who have been in business at least since the early 1500s), have recreated perhaps Tolkien's most iconic painting in tapestry form. With a little poking about on the internet* I turned up film of the unveiling of BILBO COMES TO THE HUTS OF THE RAFT-ELVES (aka THE FOREST RIVER). The film runs about six minutes and is in French with English subtitles.

As a rarity the film features an appearance by  Baillie Tolkien, who has usually kept a low profile but here does a fine job representing the family.

There are also other handwoven Tolkien tapestries in the works: at the end they show a small piece of their next project, Glorund -- a curious choice (I wd have expected Smaug) but an interesting one. Only 7500 woman-hours of weave-work left to go!

Dare I hope that somewhere down the line we'll see the fulfillment of one of my dreams: large-scale recreation of some of Tolkien's art -- THE FOREST RIVER, LOTHLORIAN IN THE SPRING, HOBBITON, SMAUG -- in monumental stained glass? And if so, where wd they be mounted?

Here's the link;


--John R.
current reading: the Stonehenge book (now past the midway point)

*you can get the same result by going to google and typing in 'Aubusson' and 'Tolkien'

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Not the quote I''m looking for

Day Two at Marquette

So, I mentioned in my last post that I was looking for a quote I recall from the George Bernard Shaw play SAINT JOAN, which I read some thirty years ago (along with MAJOR BARBARA, TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD, SHAKES VS. SHAV, and best of all HEARTBREAK HOUSE) and have never been tempted to reread since.

Except that now I need the quote for something I'm working on, which I remember but not precisely enough for quoting --and besides, I need the page number and all for correct citation.

On my first go yesterday I cdn't find the exchange, which I remembered as being about people believing in the flat earth because it fit what they cd see with their own eyes. After all, believing in a round earth involved embracing an abstraction over the immediate and concrete. I was beginning to fear I'd need to read the whole play to find these lines. I did find what seemed to be Shaw's comment on the scene in the Preface:

"She never doubted that the sun went round the earth: she had seen it do so too often."

While this conveys the same sentiment, it wasn't the exchange in dialogue I remembered, and lacked its sting.

Luckily today I found what I was looking for, through the somewhat circuitous route of the Australian Gutenberg Project. Here's the quote:

LA TRÉMOUILLE. And who the deuce was Pythagoras?

THE ARCHBISHOP. A sage who held that the earth is round, and that it moves round the sun.

LA TRÉMOUILLE. What an utter fool! Couldnt he use his eyes?

That's the quote I was looking for, except I remembered them as having mentioned Copernicus, not Pythagoras; good thing I looked it up.

current reading: Stonehenge book, some odds and ends by Shaw.

Monday, October 1, 2018

I'm at Marquette

So, first it rains, then it pours, as they don't say in Bree.

Or in this case, having gotten to see the Tolkien Exhibit in the Bodley on a quick trip to Oxford, today I started a one-month stint with the manuscripts in the Marquette Archive. Today was the first day and it feels like I'm off to a good start, trying to sort out the manuscript sequence that records Tolkien's resumption of work on LotR after his break by Balin's tomb.

I brought with me three book: UNCLE CURRO: JRRT'S SPANISH CONNECTiON, which I'm now reading; the new edition of THE FALL OF GONDOLIN, which I've been looking for the chance to dig down into; and Raymond Edward's underrated TOLKIEN biography, which I skimmed a year or two ago and wanted to read and absorb. Plus a plethora of other titles on the Kindle, where I'm currently reading about recent excavations at Stonehenge and the vicinity. And now two books by Bernard Shaw checked out of Marquette's Memorial Library, one of which is to look for a quote I remember from reading the play SAINT JOAN back in graduate school and the other a collection of short stories (who knew that Shaw wrote short stories?). I've never read one of Shaw's famous Prefaces before, so that shd be interesting.

And after an evening being interviewed about old TSR days I got to wrap up the evening watching a Bodleian podcast (or 'bodcast'): a forty-two minute presentation by Tom Shippey on Tolkien as Morris-ian and philologist*, which I v. much enjoyed. Shippey was in fine form, full of interesting information presented through strong opinions. Highly recommended.

I even learned more about two new forthcoming Tolkien books: TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER by Jn Bowers, which I knew was in the works but nothing more than that about it, and TOLKIEN'S LIBRARY by Cili Oronzo, which was wholely new to me. More good things on the way.

Here's the Shippey link: enjoy


--John R.

*thanks to Bill F. for the link.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Was John Betjeman the new McGonagall?

So, the hotel we stayed in in London was within sight of the Marble Arch.  And in our room was a little brochure giving a brief history of the Arch itself. And in that brochure they reprinted a poem about the Arch by Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman which I thought fell in the so-bad-it's-good category. Here's it is in somewhat abbreviated form.

How beautiful the London air, how calm and unalarming
This height above the archway where the prospects round are charming.
Oh come and take a stroll with me and do not fear to stumble.
Great Cumberland, your place I see, I hear your traffic rumble.
See Oxford Street on my left hand, a chasm full of shopping.
Below us traffic lights command the starting and the stopping.
And on my right the spacious park, so infinitely spacious,
So pleasant when it isn't dark but when it is -- good gracious!
. .  . trodden by unheeding feet a spot which memory hallows:
Where Edgware Road meets Oxford Street stood Tyburn's fearsome gallows.
What martyrdoms this place has seen, what deeds much better undone.
Yet still the greatest crime has been the martyrdom of London . . . 

--JB, 1968

Not having read much of Betjeman's stuff, I can't say how typical this is of him. Was his poetry, and his championing of Victorian erections like the Albert Memorial, all part of a pose, like carrying a teddy bear with him when a student at Oxford?

--John R.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tolk Folk in Oxford and London

So, it was great to see the Tolkien Exhibit in the Bodleian, and I know how  lucky I am that we were able to make it over and take it all in. In addition, I got to see some Tolk folk and spend some time among like-minded people: always a pleasure. We missed out on a few get-togethers (with Dimitra F and Andrew H) when the schedules of when we were free and when they were free just didn't mesh. But we got to spend some time with Yoko (always a pleasure), and John Garth (whom I hadn't seen in quite a while), and Charles N and Jessica Y and David D. I got to meet (briefly) Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodley's Tolkien Archivist who I think was the driving force behind organizing the show. I got to go to John Garth's talk* (looking at the emergence of Tolkien's mythology) and also Stuart Lee's presentation about the 1968 'TOLKIEN IN OXFORD' tv show: he's been able to unearth some missing pieces of Tolkien interview that were filmed but cut before the initial broadcast.

In short: it was a great trip.

And that's not even counting our trip to STONEHENGE,** our following in the footsteps of some of the events in Ben Aaronovich's RIVERS OF LONDON series,*** my getting to pet a semi-tolerant cat in Lecock, or our pleasant stroll in Hyde Park, complete with gawking at the architectural horror that is The Alfred Memorial. And more . . .

By my reckoning this is the 8th time I've been to England (research trips in '81, '85, '87, and 2007; our 1992 Honeymoon AND Tolkien Centenary conference; a quick trip to a friend's wedding in '94; our anniversary visit where we actually got to go places and see things together in 2012, and now this).

And by the end of this trip I found myself already thinking about the when and wherefores of the next time.

--John R.
current reading: THE FIGURE IN THE SHADOWS by John Bellairs (rereading)
current audiobook: another NERO WOLFE mystery (the tenth, more or less right in a row)


** Janice says that on our previous visit to Stonehenge I said 'This is one of the best days in my life'. Going again --and getting inside the circle this time--- felt like an extension of the same day. Wow.

***including seeing a memorial in honor of Sir Charles Chaplin, tthe greatest of all film comedians, and some woodwork by Grinling Gibbons -- who I've heard about for years but never seen anything of his before.

Friday, September 21, 2018

In Oxford☦️

Sept 8th
So, whatever you've heard about the Great Exhibition of Tolkien art and manuscript and artifacts currently being held at the Bodleian, I'm pretty sure it fell short of the truth. This is hands down the best Tolkien Exhibit ever mounted.* And the catalogue is just as impressive: I need to go back and check, but I think there are items in display that aren't in the catalogue and items in the (massive) catalogue that aren't on display.

Any Tolkien fan attending this --and there were a lot of them the day I got to go in, when I think they were admitting them fifty at a time-- will find himself or herself drawn to different treasures, depending on what draws you to Tolkien in the first place. I think three that especially stood out for me were things I'd never seen before: first, the first map of the Shire (which I'd hoped to include in the expanded edition of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT but not been able to pull it off); second, several pages from THE BOOK OF ISHNESS, including ones I'd never seen or seen before (far more vibrant and striking in color than I expected); and third, THE SILMARILLION title page. I'm not sure whether this was for the 1930 Quenta or the 1937 Quenta Silm, not having taken notes at the time, but I was struck by how much it conveyed the sense that THE SILMARILLION was a real book, incomplete or no: a substantial work and not just a smattering of parts.

I'm glad I had two solid hours with it. My friend Yoko, who's on a sabbatical in Oxford working with the Tolkien papers, drops by every day to see the exhibit, which seems to me an entirely reasonable proceeding: wouldn't any of us, given the chance, do the same? Afterwards I got a chance to briefly meet Catherine McIlwaine, who put together both the exhibit and catalogue: just long enough to congratulate her on her superb work.

In short: if you're at all interested in Tolkien, and you get a chance to see it, do so. You'll be glad you did.

--John R.
(belatedly blogging)

*Based on the ones I've seen, and the catalogues of those I missed.
-- Unless you count the very early ones back in the late fifties, where Ready sent out the entire manuscript collection to a few lucky libraries. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Here in Oxford

So, nine hours on the plane was worth it, along with the accompanying jet lag, to find ourselves here in Oxford. Specifically, here in our room at Christ Church, which it turns out rents out rooms during the vacations during term-time. Yesterday I was too tired for much, but we did stroll around in the Covered Market (interesting to compare it with Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which sprawls by comparison. We found the place for the Tolkien Exhibit without any trouble and even gave the gift shop a preliminary poke-about.

On our way back to Christ Church College we took a side-trip and climbed the Saxon tower, where I saw a sheela-na-gig (first time to see one, as opposed to just pictures or drawings of them), touched five of the tower’s six great bronze bells (no longer rung, less out of fear of cracking the bells and more from concern how the vibrations from the bells might shake the tower.  I managed to make myself climb all the way to the roof, where I crouched and enjoyed the  view as long as I cd stand (thus repeating my performance at Bath cathedral the last time we were over here in 2012). One of these days I’m going to make my way to the top of one of these too-tall towers and not be able to make my way back down, like Pickles the Fire Cat, but today was not that day.

After two hours or so of fighting off sleep with less and less success, I finally gave in and turned in around seven o’clock, pm, local Oxford time: about eight hours off Seattle time and our internal clocks.

And twelve hours later I woke up, we breakfasted in the dining hall at Christ Church with a roomful of other visitors, and we headed over to see The Great Exhibit: the biggest, and best, Tolkien display ever mounted. More on that tomorrow.

—John R.
—tired but not jet-lagged,
—Christ Church college, Oxford.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Xikses the Cretan

The Gray Mouser's true name, according to the early abandoned Leiber story THE GRAIN SHIPS, was Xikses of Crete. 

Personally I rather like the idea of the character not having any real name, just a name he's called by: it tells you all you need to know about his childhood -- and his not taking any other name of his own choice says all we need about the kind of person he grew into.


Final preparations for the England trip: re-watching the documentary STANDING WITH STONES (Highly Recommended)

Friday, August 31, 2018

Shirley Jackson's Biblioholism

So, I've finally finished Ruth Franlin's biography of Shirley Jackson (A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE), after picking it up again upon our return from Arkansas.*

In the course of doing so, I came to realize that Jackson and her husband (the critic Stanley Hyman) were biblioholics.** That is, they bought books -- not unusual in people who wrote stories and reviewed books for a living. But the Hymans did so at a scale which suggests that they enjoyed buying books just as much as they did reading them:

"Shirley and Stanley's main source of books, aside from review copies that poured in from The New Yorker and elsewhere, was the Seven Bookhunters. This group of men traveled around the country buying books from secondhand bookstores and reselling them, often at a high markup . . . Whenever Stanley and Shirley needed an obscure, out-of-print or otherwise hard-to-obtain title . . . they put in a special request to Scher*** . . . [who] was 'as familiar with secondhand bookstores . . . as a policeman is with his beat' . . . 
Stanley was accorded the ultimate privilege: every year he accompanied Scher on a book-buying trip, sleeping in cheap hotels or on the benches of railway stations, eating and drinking with Scher's friends along the way, and buying as many as a thousand books."
(Franklin p. 273-274)

As many as a thousand books a year: that's a lot of books. And they seem to have kept just about everything they bought: Franklin reports that at the time of Jackson's death (from a sudden heart attack at age forty-eight) they had at least twenty-five thousand books, maybe more (Franklin p. 273)

Elsewhere it claims that Hyman knew exactly where every book was (p. 79), but I'm skeptical on this point.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that emerged from reading this biography was learning that Jackson in her life time was famous for two kinds of fiction: the unsettling psychological horror of "The Lottery", THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED AT THE CASTLE, and also for comic accounts of life with a houseful of kids (think PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES, which comes from about the same era). Those latter books and stories are entirely forgotten now, but it's interesting to learn of an author with two distinct reputations, one of which endures and the other vanished away.

Three misc. points worth sharing:

(1) here's a self-portrait of Jackson from the Franklin (p. 159):

(2) here's an evocative  fragment from a poem written by Jackson's pen-friend Jeanne Beatty:

make me a charm
  so the dark won't find me
and the frightful things
rise up behind me. 
(p. 433)

(3) finally, here's a witty clip from one of Jackson's short stories:

I have never liked the theory
that poltergeists only come
into houses where there are children,
because I think it is simply too much
for any one house to have
poltergeists and children
--Shirley Jackson, mother of four (p. 304)


*where I'm happy to report that the courthouse square in my hometown now has not one but two coffeehouses. Go Magnolia.

**cf. the hilarious but all-too-true book BIBLIOHOLISM: THE LITERARY ADDICTION

***Louis Scher, the chief Bookhunter

current reading: THE APPRENTICESHIP OF JRRT by Simon Cook; THE FALL OF GONDOLIN ed. Christopher Tolkien; STONEHENCE: A NEW UNDERSTANDING by Mike Parker Pearson.
current audiobook: THE SILENT SPEAKER by Rex Stout (a Nero Wolfe mystery).

Monday, August 27, 2018

Thought of the Day (Evening Edition)

Colds: They're not over when you think they're over.

--JDR, older and a little wiser

And I'm Back

Sorry all for my laggardliness in posting: first I got busy, then distracted, then was off to Arkansas, rounding this all off with a cold that had me going the Dayquil/Nightquil routine. I'm now on the mend and shd be back to posting tomorrow.

Thanks to all for the comments, which shd now all be up; my responses shd also be up sometime tomorrow. 

--John R.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Haster at Sixteen

So, it's been sixteen years since we brought Hastur home from the pet store, a tiny adorably gooney torbie kitten just a few weeks old. Over time she's gone from being our middle cat (of three) to a solo senior.

Happy birthday little Hastur

--John R.

Hastur at her most Salvador Dali-ish, demonstrating her prodigious whiskers

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Is There a Leiberist in the House?

Or, even better, a Fischerian?

I've been trying to sort out which of the early drafts and fragments of Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories have been published in recent years. I know about three:

(1) ADEPT'S GAMBIT, by Leiber, a complete early draft of which was published in 2014 with an extensive commentary by H. P. Lovecraft. I have and have read this.

(2) THE GRAIN SHIPS, also by Leiber: a fragment of a novel set in Hellenic times that was eventually reworked and completed by Leiber and published as THE SWORDS OF LANKHMAR. Apparently this fragment was published a few years ago in a collection of misc. writings by L; I've ordered a copy of said book and shd soon have the answer to that one.

(3) QUARMALL, by Harry Fischer. This was eventually taken up by Leiber and used as the core of his THE LORDS OF QUARMALL. What I'd like to know is if Fischer's early version has ever been published, and if so where.

Anyone know the answer to this one?

--John R.
current reading: still the Franklin/Jackson bio.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Shirley Jackson was One of Us

So, a little more poking about in the Shirley Jackson biography (A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE, by Ruth Franklin) shows that though she does not seem to have written fantasy herself deplored the trend towards realistic children's fiction, having herself grown up on the Oz books. When she discovered that her daughter "had a series of dreams about an imaginary country, Shirley encouraged her to draw maps of it and (perhaps recalling the language she once invented) make up languages spoken there." (Franklin p.166).

The reference to Jackson's invented language harkens back to her college days at the University of Rochester:

Rather than following her syllabi, Jackson pursued 
her own intellectual interests: at one point she spent hours 
devising an invented language called Lildsune, complete 
with grammatical rules, and even wrote poetry in it. 
(Franklin p. 58)*

No wonder she liked Tolkien!

But the story about Jackson I liked best was The Dime of Wind:

When eight-year-old Laurence asked his mother how 
he ought to spend a dime, she suggested that he give it
to the birch tree in front of their house. He promptly went 
outside and asked the tree for a dime's worth of wind. 
To Shirley's amusement, a massive hurricane struck that night. 
"All we could figure was that wind must be very cheap indeed 
for him to get that much for a dime" she wrote.
(p. 166)

--current reading: the Franklin.

*apparently Jackson's Lildsune material is now in the Library of Congress

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Shirley Jackson liked THE HOBBIT

So, a few weekends ago Janice and I took the mass transit up to the waterfront, where we strolled about a while before boarding a ferry over to Bainbridge Island for an afternoon of poking about. We'd done this a few years back and enjoyed it, so doing it again seemed like a good way to vary the routine. It was.

Among the things we did was drop by both of the bookstores we saw, the used books one back up an alley (where they had an india-paper edition of THE HOBBIT, among other items of interest) and the big one right on the main street. Since I'm actively trying to cut down on the number of books coming in while trying to balance them against books going out, I looked but did not buy. And the most interesting thing I looked at was a new biography of horror writer Shirley Jackson.* I think of Jackson as a talented writer whose work I'm not particularly interested in (rather like Flannery O'Connor), so I was intrigued to find two references to JRRT in the index. 

The first passage describes Jackson reading THE HOBBIT to her children:

In the Hyman household,**  intellectual curiosity and creativity were cultivated and nurtured. There was singing around the piano and dancing in the living room and art projects at the kitchen table . . . One year, dismayed to discover the children's lack of familiarity with the Bible, Shirley and Stanley read from it every night at the dinner table. Shirley also read her favorite books aloud to the children at bedtime: the Oz series, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (which she preferred to The Lord of the Rings), fairy tales. (Franklin, p. 168)

-- so not only was THE HOBBIT a favorite book of Jackson's, but we find out she was one of those (a respectable minority) who prefer the earlier book over the sequel.

A second reference to Tolkien is more elusive but even more intriguing, coming during Franklin's discussion of Jackson's correspondence with Jeanne Beatty, a fan who turned into a pen pal. Jackson and Beatty were drawn together by a mutual love of children's fantasy, especially the Oz books. We are told the two women discussed a wide range of books 

"from the Oz books to C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Frank Baker's comic mystery novel Miss Hargreaves, about a young man who invents a fictional character and discovers, to his astonishment and eventual chagrin, that his invention has come to life . . ." (Franklin p. 430).

Unfortunately, Franklin does not include what Jackson said about Tolkien, but it's interesting to note that she was ahead of the curve: the correspondence with Beatty seems to have peaked in 1960 and thereafter fallen off, and Jackson herself died in 1965, just about the time Tolkien was taking off.  

--John R.
--current reading: Ruth Franklin's SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE


**Jackson was also Mrs. Stanley Hyman

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The TSR Product List (con't)

So, to continue:

It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I'm a maker of lists. My most successful and long-running list is undoubtedly my reading list.* But the runner up wd undoubtedly be my list of all rpgs products published by TSR.

I don't remember now whether I'd already started this before coming to work at TSR in 1991** but probably not: I think it was seeing the Games Library, and Mail-Order Hobby Shop, and on other editors' and designers' shelves (esp. Slade Henson's), that made me realize how much TSR had put out that I'd never heard of.

So I started a list, starting with things I had (the AD&D rulebooks, both first edition and second edition, and a bunch of modules).  Each entry gave the item's product code (e.g. X2) if any, title, author, date, and sometimes a brief note --e.g., that RM4 House of Strahd is an update of I6 Ravenloft. Making the list revealed a lot of gaps --if I had C5 The Bane of Llewellyn it meant there was probably a C1 through C4 and might be a C6.***

So the list grew, expanding to cover TSR's other roleplaying games as well, and all TSR novels, pick-a-path books, and miscellaneous items like the Finieous Treasury. And at some point the idea came of publishing it as part of the TRIVIATHALON, released in 1996 to celebrate some occasion that none of the people involved can now remember. As described in my previous post, one side of this poster-sized sheet had 100 tricky questions that tested players' knowledge of the game.**** And the other side was my list.

I had to change some things at TSR's behest. The most important was that I had to remove the author's name from each entry***** and add its stock number instead (e.g. #9058)  --a change I regretted then and now. And all the material on all TSR's other rpgs --TOP SECRET, GAMMA WORLD, GANGBUSTERS, BOOT HILL, AMAZING ENGINE, ALTERNITY, and a handful other more obscure ones-- all had to go; a pity. But it was still a pretty good piece of work, I think, and useful to those like me who wanted a quick listing that gave a sense, backed up by specific detail, of the sheer range of creativity that was TSR's AD&D.

So, it's good to have a copy of this uncredited publication again after all these years.

--John R

*which lists, in order, of all the books I've read all the way through since August 1981 (I just finished book #3454c).

**October 7th, to be precise. It was a Monday. Rich Baker and Thomas Reid started a week later, on the 14th, and Wolfgang Baur a week after that, on the 21st.

***there is.

****this is not to be confused with the AD&D trivia game, which came on cards in a box

*****TSR's execs were at the time big on the idea that it's the brand, not the talent, that attracts the gamers. We all disagreed.

My that's a lot of asterisks

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The TSR Product List

So, I confess that in my slow sort-out of boxes filled with papers and miscellaneous contents I'm not just trying to get things better organized: I'm also looking for a few things that got swept up in the Sea of Stuff.  Like my copy of The Jade Hare or my beat-up old orange cover B3. Palace of the Silver Princess. Or somethings that ought to be in my slender folder of things by and relating to John Bellairs (like the photo of the two of us taken when he was Guest of Honor at the Marquette Tolkien conference in 1987). Or some cartoons by Dave Sutherland I mislaid long ago, Or my run of MYTHLORE, esp. the early issues. Or my list of all TSR rpg releases.

This past week (Tuesday) I hit a jackpot and found a copy not of the original list but of the published version, which appeared as part of the 1996 AD&D TRIVIATHILON. This was a D&D/AD&D trivia contest, held for some special reason nobody seems to remember, that folded out into a double-sided poster-sized sheet. On one side were one hundred questions about the D&D/AD&D game. Some of the questions were relatively straightforward (#39: How many metal coins in a pound? #15: What is the proper name for polar halflings?*). Some were more involved (#27: Lord Ragnar (fighter 16) has 12 hp after fighting six mummies. Deliah (cleric 18) casts every "cure wounds" spell she can. How many hit points could Regnar regain?). And some were downright tricky (#98, which relates to a piece of art I can't reproduce here). My favorite was  #38, which I cd never have guessed:

At a roadside inn, a weary human scout and a dwarf swordsman 
meet a resting halfling cutpurse and a gnome trickster. 
Under 1st edition rules, what do they all have in common?

I remember that everyone in the department donated bits of trivia, and that Steve Winter sorted through and picked out the best, put together the master list with the official list of answers, and was responsible for judging the results. I don't know how many people took up the challenge and sent in filled-out entries, but Steve tells me there was one perfect answer: 100 out of 100 right.

But for all that, it's the other side of the page that most concerns me, because I wrote it.

(continued on next post)

*I don't remember this one without going to look it up, and I edited the book it came from!

No Two Copies of the Same Book

So, thinking some more on The NECRONOMICON and other faux-books such as THE RED BOOK OF WESTMARCH, I was reminded of something Dr. Tim Machan said in a colloquium at Marquette back in the late ‘80s (prob. ’88-‘89). Dr. Machan was a medievalist, a specialist in Old Norse literature who came too late for me to take any of his classes but stood out as being the only member of Marquette’s faculty to take part in the 1987 Marquette Tolkien conference with his excellent piece on VAFTHRUTHNISMAL and RIddles in the Dark.

One of the points he made in his colloquium was to state that, before the advent of printing, there was no such thing as two copies of the same book. Despite the best efforts of the scribe, a copy would introduce errors. Passages would get added, passages would get dropped -- sometimes by oversight, sometimes deliberately. Comments written in the margins had a way of working their way into the main text of the next iteration, while passages that had gotten garbled would be 'fixed' as best the scribe cd manage.

And of course that's in cases when the scribes were trying to be faithful, which was not always the case. Sometimes the scribe thought he knew more than the previous scribe about a particular point and would improve it. Sometimes he was right, sometimes not.

Add to this that the creation of a medieval tome was an expensive business, comparable to buy a luxury car today, and the fact that there were so few copies of medieval texts; only important things got written down, and only the most important among those would still be considered important enough a generation or century later to be copied once the original started wearing out.*  And in the case of a book like THE NECRONOMICON, it has the added disadvantage that it's written by a madman and copied and read by those who are either crazed in the first place (or they wdn't be drawn to its contents) or are driven mad by the extended close contact needed to hand-copy the whole.**

In the case of a benign work like THE RED BOOK, here too we know that the content differs from copy to copy: that the Westmarch (Shire) copy includes material not found in Minas Tirith (Gondor) copy and vice versa. So even where great care is taken to make a faithful transcription, still material gets added and dropped (we're told that most copies omit BIlbo's TRANSLATIONS FROM THE ELVISH).

In any case, another element to consider when conceptualizing what THE NECRONOMICON was like, or expanding the range of what it could have been like. Ironically it supports the original treatment in early editions of the CALL OF CTHULHU game rather well, where a curious Investigator cd pick up any of the major Mythos tomes (NAMELESS CULTS, MYSTERIES OF THE WORM, the NECRONOMICON Itself) and hope to find among its jumbled contents a passage relating to almost any aspect of the Mythos; later attempts to identify the specific contents of a given tome cd actually undercut an accidental bit of verisimilitude.

--John R.

--current song: "Powderfinger"
--current reading: Ryken's Wade Center Hansen Lecture expanded into a book

*for some idea of what didn't survive, see Wilson's THE LOST LITERATURE OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND
**things are a little better when it comes to printed books, since typesetters were notorious for not being able to read the texts they were printing