Sunday, July 14, 2019

The New Arrival: APPENDIX N (The Book)

So, here's one of those cases where I first hear about a book on Monday and have a copy arrive in the mail on Wednesday. Thanks Amazon.

The book in question is APPENDIX N by Jeffro Johnson, the compilation of pieces from an online column. Each essay in the series is devoted to one of the authors included in Gary Gygax's famous Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading in the back of the 1979 1st edition AD&D DUNGEON MASTER'S GUIDE, which completed the three-volume set of the AD&D core rules, still the best roleplaying game ever crafted.

I was wary in that while I haven't come across Johnson's work before, the introduction to his book is written by John C. Wright,* who was one of the Puppies (Sad or Angry, I forget which) who tried to hijack the Hugos a few years.

So far read the essays on Tolkien (of course), Dunsany, Bellairs, and Vance --authors I know well. Next I need to read some about books on the list I've never read. My initial impression is that he's equally enthusiastic about everyone in what is a decidedly mixed bag, ranging from the best of the best (Tolkien) to the bottom of the barrel (e.g. Lin Carter). Looking forward to seeing what he has to say, and if he can make a case for the least promising among them.

--John R.

*to his credit, Wright seems to be a Hodgson fan, judging by his list of published works over on Wikipedia

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Return of Cat Walking Wednesday

So, I'm now back from the trip, settled back in, and back at work --both putting finishing touches on my recent project and resuming work on the project I put aside half a year ago to concentrate on the Kalamazoo piece. Which means that last week (7/3) and this (7/10) I got to go in the place I volunteer and walk cats.

Here are two pictures of The Fine Art of Cat Walking. The first is a picture of Tim Tiger, a senior cat with health issues but worlds of personality; the second shows me walking him.

And here's the actual Cat Report:

Thanks to Kimiko and Gregory, who had all three cats out and in a good mood. TIM TIGER was atop the cat-stand, sweet DUBLIN on a bed on the bench, and LITTLE MARY scampering about on the floor level.

Knowing that they were coming to get Tiger for a ride up to Arlington to check his blood chemistry, I went ahead and walked him first thing, thinking the out and about wd do him  good. He was his usual intreped self, going all over the store looking for spilled treats high and low and winning praise from by-passers and staff. After we came back in, a half-hour or so later, he enjoyed some powdered catnip and then shared a game with Little Mary. They mostly played the string game but also bee-on-a-wire and a little with the feather duster.

Thinking we might get Mary used to walking in stages, I managed to put the collar on her (with leash attached) and leave it there several minutes. She didn’t like it, and rolled around trying to get it off, but she didn’t panic like she did last week, so that’s progress. Anyone who feels up to it might get the collar or harness on her for a few minutes at a time while she’s with us: we may make a leash-walker of her yet.

Sweet Dublin passed on the games but was very happy when someone petted her, and purred loudly to show it. A very gentle cat, perfect for sharing a couch. She was worried towards the end of my shift by noises outside the cat-room (they were moving some pallets around over near the new cat-trees location) and so asked to go back in her cage, where she curled up to sleep.

By that time the driver had come for Tiger Tim. Tiger told us, as clearly as he could, that he didn’t want to go in the carrier. To no avail: in he went. I was admiring how much better he looks than when he arrived, now that his shaved fur is growing back again. Think he’s also less boney, thanks to all the work folks put in finding out what kind of food he likes. Hope he’ll be back with us again after his check-up and status report.

Last to call it a day was little Mary, who climbed up and dozed off atop the cat-stand. By the time I was ready to head out, a little later, she was sleeping the sound sleep of kittens, and it was easy to transfer her into her cage.

No new cats, but I had time to clean out and sterilize Tim Tiger’s cage, so we now have two cats (Dublin & little Mary) and three empty cages (one of them the double-high supersize).

—John R.

P.S.: It’s a little late now, but I have to pay tribute to the now-adopted BEAUTY and CORKIE and GALAXY, all three of whom went on walks last week. Galaxy was v. shy and mostly got carried about. Beauty did better but was clearly nervous, so we didn’t stay out too long. Corky was completely different: she sallied forth and walked all over the store. In fact, she walked on her own all the way from the cat-room to the training room on the far corner of the store, the first cat to do so in my memory. So if there’s a follow-up how-are-they-doing message to B&C’s new owners, we might want to pass along word of Corkie’s unsuspected talent.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Another bit of old TSR art

So, another odd item that turned up in my sort-out is what I think must be the prototype cover for some DRAGONLANCE product (the figure on the left has a Goodmoon-ish look about her). Friend Jeff (a member of the original DL team) suggests it might have been intended for one of the books in the later short-lived 'Murder' line (MURDER IN CORMYR, MURDER IN TARSIS, &c), in which case it cd probably be found in one of the TSR catalogues of the era (circa 1996).

It's just a print-out on glossy paper, unsigned, but it's definitely an Elmore, so I thought fans of his work wd like to see what I presume is a lesser-known example.

--John R.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Lost Dave Sutherland Art

So, here's an example of something turning up unexpectedly. I knew I had a drawing by Dave Sutherland someplace, and I thought it was his picture of Orcus, but it's been misplaced for years.

And now it's turned up. It was among some other misc. TSR art in a box full of calendars --mostly old Tolkien calendars (lots and lots of these) but with some TSR/D&D calendars as well from Lake Geneva days, which must be how they wound up where I found them. Now that they've resurfaced I've put them together with the slender pile of other TSR art so I'll know where it is henceforward.

The Art itself is a long narrow strip, 8 3/4 inches long by 2 1/2 inches tall.

The piece itself is not signed but the matting it came in is. I think Dave, at my request, signed it when I bought it (i.e. the signature dates from 1996, not 1976).

At that night's CTHUHU game I consulted some of my friends from TSR days and one of them, Jeff G., identified it within a matter of minutes as coming from ELDRITCH WIZARDRY, Supplement III to the original three-booklet first edition of D&D. Sure enough, there it is on the bottom of page 45, illustrating the Artifact Queen Ehliss's Marvelous Nightingale.  Since the published version is shrunk down to just 4 1/2 inches by 1 1/4 inch, the reproduction loses a lot of the detail in the cross hatching et al. I can even make out some light blue underdrawing on the original.

As for how I came to have such a thing, that's due to that reprehensible charity auction in December of 1996, when upper management at TSR organized an auction to raise money from their employees for some good cause (I forget what), knowing that they were going to be laying off a significant portion of those employees the end of that week.

From what I can tell, this is one of the two oldest pictures of D&D's Orcus, the other (which I assume predates it) being on page 35 of the same book.

So there it is: unexpected, but welcome. Now to look for a suitable frame and a place to hang it out of the reach of bouncy cats.  It's good to have this as a memento of someone I knew, and liked, and respected.

--John R.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Reliques of WisCons Past

So, more time spent straightening in the Box Room means more things turn up. Some I'm deliberately searching for (I have a shortlist of four or five so far elusive items), others I'd forgotten about until they show up mixed in with other unrelated stuff in one of a multitude of miscellaneous boxes. An example of the latter is a cassette tape recording a panel at the 1986 WisCon over in Madison. The topic was Tolkien's Posthumously Published Work, which we seem to have divided into scholarly works (translations and editions of medieval texts), children's works (Mr. Bliss, Fr. Xmas), and items belonging to the legendarium (The Silmarillion and all that).

While the topic is of perennial interest, more interesting to me in this particular case are the participants: Jared Lobdell, Verlyn Flieger, Richard West, and me.

Haven't had a chance yet to do more than make sure the tape's not mislabeled and that it's still playable (happy to say the answer is good on both counts).  Once I've had a chance to listen to it all the way through a time or two I shd be making another post commenting on this relique of a nearly vanished past: the years from about 1982 through 1989 when Tolkien scholars gathered from all over the area to spend a weekend in camaraderie in conjunction with that year's WisCon. Good times and, on the whole, fondly remembered.

--John R.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Good Omens petition

So, I came late to the GOOD OMENS Petition story, but wanted to contribute my bit.

When twenty thousand people signed a petition demanding that Netflix take down the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman six-part series GOOD OMENS, they overlooked the fact that it's not on Netflix: it's on Amazon.

It's like demanding Coke cancel a flavor of Pepsi.

Here's a quick overview

and a more detailed piece

Checking out their website, we find the group involved, Return to Order, is miffed that after months of posting various petitions trying to get attention for their extremist agenda* they've finally succeeded, only to make a humiliating blunder in a very public way.

Here's the group's website

and their spokesman's comment on the current fiasco

That so many of their followers signed the thing suggests the people who sign their petitions do so blindly, without either reading or thinking about what they're supporting. That a revised petition (redirected against Amazon) got just about the same number of signatures makes me think that number is v. close to their website's total audience.

What's more disturbing is that the website's purpose seems to be to drum up sales for a book (also called RETURN TO ORDER). It's hard to avoid the suspicion that the folks who generate and circulate this stuff are among those in the reprehensible business of making money off of God. Particularly repellent among the earlier posts on their website is a post that crows over the failure of a plan to feed the poor because it was "socialistic".

I admit I have my own reservations about GOOD OMENS. The book is one of my least favorite works by either author, both of whom are among my favorite writers for others of their works.**
And the many, many years it spent in development (nearly thirty) did not bode well. The (mini)series itself had some shortcomings: the scenes with the kids were the low point of the show, closely followed by those with the modern-day witch and also the crusty old witchfinder. I could sum up my reservations by saying that for me this was a six-part series that wd have been improved by being trimmed to five parts.

That said, the two leads were superb. This is the best I've ever seen David Tennant (as Hell's agent Crowley, the serpent from The Garden), and Michael Sheen is even better as his angelic counterpart,  Aziraphale. And the storytelling was great, especially when it focused on the two main characters. They even managed to get in the music by Queen --a toss off running joke in the original book, here elevated into a recurring theme.  The use of humor to critique some of Xianity's more problematic teachings --the very thing the 'Return to Order' lot denounced-- is the work's greatest strength; it reminds me, and in a good way, of Twain's Papers of the Adam Family, CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN, and his (posthumously published) LETTERS FROM THE EARTH, all three of which can be found in the collection THE BIBLE ACCORDING TO MARK TWAIN (ed. Baetzhold & McCullough, 1995).

The series: Recommended.
The petition: not so much.

--John R.
--now back in Kent.

*they seem to view the greatest threat to Xianity and the world today to be not hunger or hatred or violence but novelty-item Jesus toilet seats.

**I'd go so far as to say I think Gaiman the best living author of fantasy, while I've read all but a handful of Pratchett's many books.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

What is this?

So, on the light by the front door of the place I'm staying there's a most unusual structure. You can see it dangling from the bottom right corner, shaped somewhat like a tiny hot-air balloon with the opening at the bottom.

It's clearly a nest of some kind, but what kind of creature made it? It's too small for a bat or even the smallest bird.

My first thought was that it might be a dirt-dobber, though an unusual one. But cautiously touching it reveals its not made of clay dobbing, as I thought, but grey paper, which makes me think it's some kind of solitary wasp. At any rate it's not doing anyone any harm.

Thanks to Janice K. for the photo.

--John R.

Friday, June 28, 2019

C. S. Lewis and the Munich Crisis

So, I've been reading through Stephanie Derrick's new book, THE FAME OF C. S. LEWIS: A CONTROVERSIALIST'S RECEPTION IN BRITAIN AND AMERICA (2018), which draws a strong distinction between Lewis's reputation in the US, where he's mainly thought of as a children's author and an Xian author, vs the UK, where he's primarily considered an academic and 'controversialist' (in the mode of Chesterton, Belloc, and Orwell).

There's much food for thought in what I've read so far (about a quarter of the whole), but one passage in particular stands out. At the time of the Munich crisis in 1938, a fellow Magdalen don, Bruce McFarlane, noted the unusual unanimous feeling among all the Magdalen dons in opposing the pact:

The unanimity of dons is quite unprecedented. Even the President is sound. There's only one Chamberlain supporter in Magdalen—Lewis who is so otherworldly that he thinks the Munich settlement a victory for self-determination. I suggested the same treatment for Ulster & he was quite shocked.
[Derrick p. 55; emphasis mine]

I'm not really sure what to make of this -- whether Lewis was one among the many who thought the prime minister had just achieved Peace in Our Time, or this shd be marked down as an example of just how clueless and ill-informed Lewis was on current events,* or that he here, as so often, was just being a contrarian.


*His brother records having once had a conversation with CSL about the Balkans in which CSL's odd remarks puzzled Warnie mightily, until he realized that CSL thought Tito was the King of Greece.

On the other hand, Lewis came out strongly about Franco's claim that God was on his side in a nasty civil war, so he was capable of reading a complex political situation clearly

I See Lightning Bugs

Or Fireflies, depending on where you hail from.

Last night, coming back to the place we're staying here in Rockford just after twilight, we were lucky that the lightning bugs were just coming out. It was pretty much perfect viewing conditions: warm night, gathering dark, and a total lack of mosquitos.

--John R.
current reading: The Fame of C. S. Lewis

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Weird Tolkien (IV). Morgoth Rapes the Sun

So, there are many stories about the Sun-Maiden (usually called Arien or Urwendi) in Tolkien's legendarium, most of which cohere together pretty well, the most familiar of these being that found in THE SILMARILLION. But from very far back in the legendarium come hints that the sun is in some way diminished or damaged (I'm thinking in particular of the BLT's prophesized Rekindling of the Magic Sun), a point Tolkien stresses in his LETTER TO WALDMAN.*

What strikes me as extraordinary in the Myths Transformed section of MORGOTH'S RING (HME.X.380-381 & 131-132) is that how straightforwardly Tolkien presents Morgoth's rape of Arie, the Maia who ruled the sun, who we are told is "the most ardent and beautiful of all the spirits that had entered into Ea with [Varda]".  Tolkien is usually reticent about such matters, but not here:

. . . afire at once with desire and anger, [Melkor] went to Asa
[The Sun] and he spoke to Arie, saying: 'I have chosen thee,
 and thou shalt be my spouse, even as Varda is to Manwe,
 and together we shall wield all splendour and majesty. Then
 the kingship of Arda shall be mine in deed as in right,
 and thou shalt be the partner of my glory.'

But Arie rejected Melkor and rebuked him, saying:
 'Speak not of right, which thou hast long forgotten.
 Neither for thee nor by thee alone was Ea made; and
  thou shalt not be King of Arda. Beware therefore;
 for there is in the heart of [Asa] a light in which
thou hast no part, and a fire which will not serve thee.
 Put not out thy hand to it. For though thy potency
may destroy it, it will burn thee and thy brightness
 will be made dark.'

Melkor did not heed her warning, but cried in his wrath:
  'The gift which was withheld I take!' and he ravished Arie,
 desiring both to abase her and to take into himself her powers.
 Then the spirit of Arie went up like a flame of anguish and wrath,
 and departed for ever from Arda; and the Sun was bereft
 of the Light of  Varda, and was stained by the assault of Melkor.
And [the Sun] being for a long while without rule . . . grievous
 hurt was done to Arda . . .  until with long toil the Valar made
 a new order. But even as Arie foretold, Melkor was burned
 and his brightness darkened, and he gave no more light,
 but light pained him exceedingly
 and he hated it.

Nonetheless Melkor would not leave Arda in peace . . .

I think this is unique in Tolkien, the only rape scene in the legendarium, and I'm surprised more has not been written about it. For a start, it says worlds that it's only the most evil being in the whole subcreation we are told commits such a deed. And we are told that it was Melkor's intent to "abase" her.

This scene is also remarkable in that it could be read as the only account on record of deliberate murder by one Vala/Maia of another, Arie being so traumatized that she discorporates and leaves Arda for ever.

There is certainly bride-by-capture, evidenced sinisterly in "Shadow Bride" and light-heartedly in Bombadil's seizing Goldberry, with Eol & Aredhel somewhere in-between (we are told that Aredhel was 'not wholly unwilling').  The most famous such episode, appearing in one of the Great Tales (and thus in a key component part of the legendarium) and prominent within that tale through many iterations, is of course Morgoth's decision to force himself upon Luthien when he sees her dancing in his hall, an act alluded to but not explicitly stated.  Luthien saves herself through her spell of sleep. But none of these have the directness and brutality of the Melkor/Sun-Maiden scene.

*[Tolkien's Note:] A marked difference here between these legends and most others is that the Sun is not a divine symbol, but a second-best thing, and the 'light of the Sun' (the world under the sun) become terms for a fallen world, and a dislocated imperfect vision.

--John R
--current reading: Raymond Edwards (plugging along), Stephanie Derrick (well into the second section now)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Weird Tolkien (III). Melkor Makes the Moon

So, wanting to refresh my memory of Tolkien's account of the Making of the Sun and Moon for my Flat-Earth paper at Kalamazoo, I went to the pre-eminent Tolkien astronomer, Kristine Larsen, who pointed me to her paper in the 2005 Aston conference proceedings, where she had addressed these very issues.*

I was familiar with the BOOK OF LOST TALES/SILMARILLION story about the Moon being made out of the last fruit or flower of The White Tree of Valinor but had not made any study of the variant legends, and so had missed the odd story told in Text C* of the AINULINDALE (HME.X) in which it is actually Melkor and not the Valar who makes the moon.

Melkor . . . gathered himself together and summoned all his might and his hatred, and he said: 'I will rend the Earth asunder, and break it, and none shall possess it.'

But this Melkor could not do, for the Earth may not be wholly destroyed against its fate; nevertheless Melkor took a portion of it, and seized it for his own, and reft it away; and he made of it a little earth of his own, and it wheeled round about in the sky, following the greater earth wheresoever it went, so that Melkor could observe thence all that happened below, and could send forth his malice and trouble the seas and shake the lands . . . [T]he Valar assaulted the stronghold of Melkor, and cast him out, and removed it further from the Earth, and it remains in the sky, Ithil whom Men call the Moon. There is both blinding heat and cold intolerable, as might be looked for in any work of Melkor, but at least it is clean, yet utterly barren; and nought liveth there, nor ever shall . . . 

Among the many depictions of the Moon Tolkien made, going all the way back to his 1914 Earendel poem, I think this might be the strangest. But perhaps that's only because it's so much at odds with the familiar Lamps > Trees > Sun-ship and Moon-ship stories. Perhaps if this version had appeared, with variation, since the BLT in various iterations of the myth it too wd seem the established moon-myth in Tolkien's cosmogony.  Certainly there are many moments in his Plot Notes to LotR when Tolkien comes up with what seems to us now just wrong which only feel that way because he did, decisively, decide to go a different way instead.

--John R.
--currently at Rockford
--current reading: Derrick.
--visited a Barnes & Nobel today, my first time in a bookstore this week (last week's being a downtown Williamstown bkstr and the gift show of an art museum).

*Kristine Larsen: "A Little Earth of His Own: Tolkien's Lunar Creation Myths", The Ring Goes Ever On: Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 Conference 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Weird Tolkien (II). Valinor is North America

So, THE SHIBBOLETH isn't that hard to get, appearing in THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE-EARTH  (HME.XII) as it does, but how about J. R. R. TOLKIEN, L'EFFIGIE DES ELFES?*

This French-language publication prints some short pieces by Tolkien, in English, the most interesting of which to me is "The Numenorean Catastrophe & End of 'Physical Arda' ". This asks the question: what became of Valinor/Aman after the enormous upheaval of Numenor's destruction? An excerpt shows Tolkien's line of thinking, leading to conclusions which I don't think I'm alone in finding surprising:

Is Aman 'removed' or destroyed at Catastrophe?

It was physical. Therefore it could not be removed,
without remaining visible as part or Arda or as a
new satellite! It must either remain as a landmass
bereft of its former inhabitants or be destroyed.

I think now . . . best that it should remain a physical
landmass (America!). But as Manwe had already
said to the Numenoreans: 'It is not the land that is
hallowed . . . but . . . the dwellers there' -- the Valar.

It would just become an ordinary land, an addition
to Middle-earth (the European-African-Asiatic
contiguous land-mass) . . . 

Tolkien is unambiguous here, but I find it hard to get my mind around Valinor and Elvenhome, bereft of their former inhabitants, becoming North and South America.

For the part about Aman becoming a new satellite, see my next post.

--John R.
--current reading: continuing the Derrick, which looks more and more like a keeper

*Le Feuille de la Compagnie, No.3, ed. Michael Devaux. I am grateful to Charles Noad for drawing this passage to my attention.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Weird Tolkien (I). Feanor's Seventh Son

Feanor's seventh son never reached Middle-earth
    So, as I said in my last post, there are times reading through the late material in the last three volumes of the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH when I come across passages that surprise me because they're so much at variance with the established story as I know it from the 1977 SILMARILLION and other more familiar sources.

    Take for example Tolkien's statement that only six of the Seven Sons of Feanor ever set foot on Middle-earth.

    The passage in question appears in a philological essay, THE SHIBBOLETH OF FEANOR, which is obstinately about a sound-shift in Quenya that got caught up in the power-politics of the day, especially the cult of personality Feanor built up around himself, but wanders off into nomenclature (re. mother-names and father-names).

    According to the SHIBBOLETH, when Feanor burned the ships upon arriving in Beleriand, he did not realize that his youngest son had decided to spend the night aboard and consequently burned to death in his sleep. Feanor, demonstrating his increasingly irrational behavior, responds not by any recognition of responsibility or expression of remorse for killing his own son but instead orders that no one ever speak of this to him again.

    So we're left with two explanations of this. If this passage represents Tolkien's final thoughts on the topic, then every appearance of Amrod from this point onward in the SILMARILLION narrative shd be altered to remove any mention of Amrod's from them.*

    Or, a more interesting but considerably more unsettling option, we can note that the from this point onward in the SILMARILLION narrative the twins always appear together, one never acting without the other inseparably by his side, and conclude that only Amras is actually there, Amrod always accompanying him like an imaginary friend. I like this option best because of its narrative economy, and it certainly underscores the defiance of reality that underlies the whole Noldorian war-on-Morgoth project.

    Either way, it demonstrates one of Tolkien's concerns in his latter days: to infuse some of the minor characters in the legendarium with personality.**

    --John R.
    --current location: enroute from Boston to Rockford by way of Milwaukee and Harvard
    --current reading: THE FAME OF C.S.Lewis by Stephanie L. Derrick (promising)

    *here I'm using Amras to mean the sixth son and older twin and Amrod the seventh son and younger twin, as they appear in the 1977 SILMARILLION, Tolkien having gone back-and-forth in the SHIBBOLETH over which names belonged to which.

    **another good example being two of Finrod's brothers, Aegnor who is given a little personality late in the development of the legedarium by the addition of a reference to his love for a mortal woman, but not Angrod who is left undefined.

    Thursday, June 20, 2019

    When Tolkien Gets Weird

    So, I've never made a systematic study of the final three volumes of HME, though I've dipped into them a lot over the years. I find that it's when I have a project that involves specific lesser-known items among Tolkien's oeuvre I get to know those works really well.*

    My current project was chosen, in part, so that in the process of researching and writing it I wd become as familiar with this late-period material as I am with BLT I & II, HME IV-V, and the LotR volumes HME VI-IX.**

    And what I'm finding is that occasionally Tolkien will make a statement that strikes me as decidedly odd. In conversation with Tolk folk, I find that even the most well-versed of them might not know all of these offhand, so vast has JRRT's published writings now become. So I thought it might be interesting to devote a short series of blog posts to a run of representative examples.

    • Feanor's seventh son never reached Middle-earth
    • Valinor is North America
    • Melkor made the Moon
    • Melkor Rapes the Sun

    --John R.
    current reading: snippets of many different things.
    current location: Williamstown.
    currently missing: two small black cats.

    *for example, the essay I did on FALL OF ARTHUR, or the one on Tolkien's dwarves a few years before that, or heavy immersion into the earlier iterations of THE SILMARILLION for MR. BAGGINS.

    **I have a different project lined up for later this year that will involve a lot of work with the Appendices drafting

    Tuesday, June 18, 2019

    I Need a Genizah

    So, for years I've been proud of the fact that I had what was, among the folks I knew, the only intact copy of  BROTHERS & FRIENDS, Kilby and Mead's excellent edition of Warnie Lewis's fascinating and endlessly readable diary. Sad to say, that's no longer the case: I had to look up something in it last week and found to my dismay that the binding is now split in multiple place, meaning I have to carefully cradle it when turning pages to prevent it from disintegrating altogether.

    The same fate has befallen my first-edition copy of THE ROAD TO MIDDLE-EARTH:  a thirty-page section of which has come loose, with several more spots about to go where the binding is cracked and partly detached.

    Even some of the HME volumes are beginning to show signs of years of hard usage.

    The problem is that I can't just replace these with new copies because most of them are heavily annotated. And there's also the sentimental value: I've used these books for years and have good memories associated with them. I cd never get rid of my first copy of THE HOBBIT, or the black-cover three-volume LotR with orange, red, and purple Eye of Sauron on the cover: that's where it all began.

    What to do with tattered but precious books?

    And it's not just scholarly books. My copy of WATERSHIP DOWN, one of my favorite books, is falling apart -- I guess I just literally read it to pieces.

    As for D&D books, my original PLAYER'S HANDBOOK, which I bought back in '80-81, is still intact, though its pages are starting to get fragile and apt to tear. Considering the hundreds if not thousands of hours I've spent pouring over this, it's been a great bargain. My original copy of the MONSTER MANUAL is also still holding up well, but the DMG came loose from its cover long ago.

    It was thus a sad surprise that my copy of the current PH, which I've only had for three or four years, is beginning to split. It won't be long before the cracks in the binding break. I'm less attached to the 5th edition rules, but I need a set for our weekly Monday night game.

    --John R.
    location: Logan Airport.
    current reading: various Old School D&D modules from NTRPGcon (bought last year, finally having a good chance to read them now).

    Tuesday, June 11, 2019

    Chu-bu and Sheemish

    So, a few years back Janice created as a gift to me a little booklet, illustrated by our friend Stan!, telling the story of our cat Parker, aka The Cat Who Bit People. It was called PARKER'S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE and might best be described as 'based on a true story'.  I've wanted to return the favor, and a while back fixed on what I thought we be a good medium: a booklet that told two stories at the same time. On the left-hand side of each spread are a few paragraphs from Lord Dunsany's short story "Chu-bu & Sheemish",* illustrated in the top register of the facing right-hand page. The bottom right-hand register tells the story of Parker coping with the addition of another cat, little Rigby, to the household.

    For more on Stan's work, see

    *the booklet includes the whole of Dunsany's story.

    --John R.
    --current reading: unfocused.

    There is none but Chu-bu (there is also Sheemish)

    Monday, June 3, 2019


    So, two weeks ago today we went to the Boeing Museum of Flight to look at their APOLLO exhibit  ( ).

    It you're at all interested in the space program, and especially if you remember the Apollo moon missions from yr childhood, I highly recommend you try to get to this.  Though it'll be hard: general admission tickets had already sold out and we were only able to get in by joining a museum membership. It was well worth it, and we had time beforehand to look over some of their impressive permanent exhibits, such as the one tracing Amelia Earhart's route.*

    In the space program exhibit they've got everything from a cosmonaut's suit (pink) and re-entry capsule (which I mistook for an old-fashioned bathysphere) to a box they brought back moon rocks in (including one of the rocks, in a case next to a photo of it resting on the surface of the moon),** a moon-buggy astronauts used to train in, the console used by mission control (a v. familiar sight to anyone who'd seen the live footage of launches), and much more. Particularly impressive were the pieces of a Saturn V, still the biggest rocket ever built, the culmination of Van Braun and Goddard's work:*** part of it unused, having been intended to launch either Apollo XVIII or XIX, both missions having been cancelled when the space program scaled way back. The other pieces are the burned and scared remains from an actual launch, some of the huge bits that were ejected on the way up and fell off once the first stage of the launch was over, now retrieved from two and a half miles under the ocean by a Jeff Bezos funded project a few years back

    Here's a picture of me next to the Apollo 11 command module, the only part to reach the moon and return (as opposed to the lunar module, which stayed behind on the surface of the moon, and the service module, which burned up in the atmosphere during landing). It's surprisingly large when you see it and yet surprisingly small when you think of fitting three men inside.

    All in all a good exhibit and I'm glad we made it to it. Though to my mild disappointment they weren't selling those little paper some-assembly-required models of the Apollo 11 lunar module that they gave away at the time at Esso stations. I wonder if any of those are left out there somewhere.

    --John R.
    current reading: all kinds of snippets re. JRRT for the paper I'm working on (an expansion and revision of my Kalamazoo piece).
    current viewing: the Pratchett/Gaiman GOOD OMENS miniseries.

    *we had to pass this time on what are to me the most interesting planes staged in the most depressing area: World War I planes (which are great) mounted over a recreating of a Western Front trench (which is harrowing). Luckily, having a museum membership means we're likely to come back several times over the next year or so to poke about more.

    **turns out they were v. concerned about contamination -- not that the moon rocks contained some kind of space-virus, a la THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, but that earth's biosphere wd quickly overwhelm any trace of non-Earth life on or in the moon rock.

    ***they also have a reconstructed V2 , not as part of this exhibit but on permanent display.

    Sunday, June 2, 2019

    SALTMARSH Revisited

    So, the new D&D Adventure/Campaign from WotC is now out, and it's an interesting return to days of old. How old? So old that when the last time these adventures saw the light of day, TSR was still run by Gygax and the Blumes.

    What they've done here is take one of their lesser-known classic adventure series and expanded it into a book-length campaign by the addition of several related adventures that had appeared in DUNGEON magazine over the years.

    Thus the original Saltmarsh trilogy (U1. The Secret of Saltmarsh [1981], U2. Danger at Dunwater [1982], U3. The Final Enemy [1983]) appears here as Chapters II, III, and VI within a larger campaign, GHOSTS OF SALTMARSH. The additional material is Chapter I (describing the village of Saltmarsh, something conspicuously missing from the original 1981 module), Chapter IV "Salvage Operation" (DUNGEON 123 [2005]), Chapter V "Isle of the Abbey" (DUNGEON 34 [1992]), Chapter VII "Tammeraut's Fate" (DUNGEON 106 [2004]), and Chapter VIII "The Styes" (DUNGEON 121 [2005]).

    I've already said what I had to say about U1-U2-U3 themselves in a previous blog post, which can be found here (spoiler alert):

    And I've deliberately refrained from reading this new expanded adventure because I'm hoping our DM, who is one of the authors, will run it for us. We'll see how it goes.

    --John R.

    current viewing: GOOD OMENS (based on the Pratchett/Gaiman book)
    current reading: TOLKIEN by Raymond Edwards (an outstanding but surprisingly neglected work).

    Sunday, May 26, 2019

    TSR Games Library (Lake Geneva Days)

    So, recently I came across some pictures of gamers gaming that I thought I'd share. These were taken in the old Games Library in the TSR building sometime between October 1991, when I came on board, and December 1996, when I walked the plank. Since no one appears in them who came on in 1995-96, my guess is they date from '93-'94.*

    If you've never worked for a game company, you may have wondered what people who write and edit rpgs all day long do on their breaks. The answer is they play games for fun between playing games for work.

    The Games Library was supposed to be our reference library, containing every rpg, wargame, and boardgame TSR had ever produced (though many, esp. the rarer items, had gone missing), as well as many by other companies: many review copies for DRAGON magazine wound up here. Having worked in a library during my undergraduate days,  I took it on myself to organize the Games Library and to add new TSR products as they came out. But mostly it was our dedicated gaming area, where you cd set up a complicated boardgame and still have it be there the next day, and the next, and the next, for however long it took.** It was also a good place to run short scenarios of rpgs: I remember running GANGBUSTERS and BOOT HILL at  one pt when I was educating myself on old before-my-day TSR rpgs.

    Here are the four photos that turned up:

    Photo #1, right to left: Bruce Heard, Jon Pickens, Thomas Reid. For the obscured figure to the right, see photo #4 below. In the background between Bruce and Jon is the infamous Whiteboard.

     Photo #2: Rich Baker (left) and Bill Slavisek (right).

     Photo #3: Colin McComb to the left, with I think Bruce Nesbit on the right.

    Photo #4, left to right: Thomas Reid, Jon Pickens, Bruce Heard, and Steve Winter. An alternate shot of #1, where this time you can see Steve at the right but not Thomas's face to the left.

    I showed these to Steve Winter and Jeff Grubb, who were able to confirm my i.d.s; ironically Steve's face having been the one I cdn't identify on my own. Steve was even able to identify what boardgame they were playing.

    --John R.
    current reading: BOGIE TALES OF EAST ANGLIA (1891; rpt 2019)
    -- the rules to MISKATONIC UNIVERSITY: THE RESTRICTED COLLECTION, which I hope to play later today.

    *Bill Slavisek, who came in about a year after I did, appears, so that narrows it a bit.

    **I remember one BLUE MAX game that ran for weeks.

    Wednesday, May 22, 2019

    The Rest of Kalamazoo XII

    Then came the conference itself.

    I attended all the Tolkien sessions on Thursday and Saturday (that being the grouping this year),
    including the business meeting to plan out proposals for next year's sessions. We came up with some good topics  though I'm not sure how the paper I hope to do wd fit in under the umbrella.

    I also went to the two CSL sessions (back-to-back on Friday)* and the two for Tales After Tolkien (ibid Sunday), though I missed the latter group's business meeting, not having noticed that when they changed the time they changed the location too. I thought both seem to have expanded their target audience with good effect.

    I'm happy to say the overall level of the Tolkien papers was high. There were one or two that I thought cd have done with a tighter focus, but I thought the average was as good as I've seen at Kalamazoo.

    Rather than try to review each paper, I'd like to mention two that stick in my mind a week and more later: the papers by Andrew Higgins and Kristin Larsen, respectively. AH has the knack of writing about Tolkien's invented languages in a way accessible to non-linguists like myself. In this case, he looked at four character's names from THE FALL OF GONDOLIN to see what use Tolkien made of them in the later mythology: Egalmoth, Ecthelion, Glorfindel, and Legolas. Of these, Egalmoth vanished altogether. Ecthelion survived only as the name of a Steward of Gondor (in fact, Denethor's father). Glorfindel resurfaced in LotR, with the original character who had borne that name being brought back to life (literally) to reappear in the later legends (cf. the last chapter of LotR Bk I and the first of LotR Bk II). And Legolas was taken over and applied to a wholly new character, as if the original elf of Gondolin had  never existed. AH concludes that Tolkien valued 'a well-crafted name' and sought to reuse them, using different strategies, when occasion offered.**

    KL's piece, by contrast, was astronomical in focus, looking at Tolkien's fascination with an astronomical event that can't actually take place: the evening star appearing within the dark part of a crescent moon. She found two visual depictions of this in his early watercolors  (see MacIlwaine #65 p.203) and more in descriptions such as the original 1914 Earendel poem. For someone like me who was a serious astronomy hobbyist back in my Scouting days*** this was great stuff, especially since she tied it in with the Ptolemaic system. It's been known since ancient times that the moon is nearer us than any other astronomical body, but apparently a point of contention arose between those who thought Venus and Mercury were within the orbit of the sun, like the Earth and moon, and those who thought they lay outside the sun's circle, like the outer planets Mars and Jupiter and Saturn. After several years of close scrutiny of Tolkien's astronomical bits, she's coming to the conclusion that JRRT wasn't so much concerned to get his astronomy right as to capture his inner vision, possible or not, and that some of the stars and constellations he names may be fantasy invention and not correspond to any real-world equivalents.

    My own paper was the last one in the last session Saturday. I'd finished the draft just before heading out to Kalamazoo but not had a chance to give it a trial read-aloud until Friday night. To my dismay I discovered that it took me twenty-two minutes to read, whereas we only get about fifteen minutes each on a panel. So I went in and did some fairly drastic cuts, shortening it by more than a third. When I mentioned this to the session moderator at mid-day Saturday, she said that actually we had time and it'd be fine if I did the whole piece. Which I did, grateful to not have a choppy delivery the way it wd have been in the abridged version.

    As for the conference as a whole, there was actually a boycott going on in which Medievalists Of Color were staying away in protest over a recent dust-up between those sympathetic to the alt-right and social justice warriors. It was hard to tell if this was having much of an effect or not. On the one hand, the Tolkien sessions were really well attended and pretty much filled the room most of the time. On the other, the dealer's room was really quiet: there didn't seem to be many people book-buying until lateish on Saturday afternoon, when things really picked up.

    Courtesy of Nodens Books (thanks Doug), I was able to have two recent things I worked on available in the book room: the little chapbook CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH, and the Flieger festschrift A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS in both hardcover and trade paperback. Hope the people who picked up one or the other enjoy them.

    Myself I was extremely moderate in my book-buying this year, coming home with only four books I hadn't had when I arrived.First was a hardcover of THAT HIDEOUS NOVEL,**** and second a collection of East Anglia folktales and folklore edited by M. H. James, a cousin of the great M. R. James. Third I picked up a book on the Master himself: MEDIEVAL STUDIES AND THE GHOST STORIES OF M. R. JAMES (by Patrick J. Murphy, 2017). Finally, we made an after conf. visit to the great used bookstore in Three Rivers, a bit south of Kalamazoo itself, where I picked up the fourth, a picturebook I hope to pass along to one of my great-nieces.*****

    For all the papers and panels and interesting new (and old) books, like Kalamazoos before the best of all was lots and lots of Tolkien-talk with my fellow Tolkienists.

    And now to revise my Kalamazoo paper and start making notes for the follow-up piece. And turn back to CLASSICS OF FANTASY, which I had to put aside in mid-revision in order to work on my Kalamazoo paper.

    --John R.
    --still slogging through a dreary Seattle-based urban fantasy but looking ahead to better things, like the (MR) James and (non-MR) James books.

    *organized by Joe Ricke and sponsored by the Lewis Center at Taylor College.

    **this probably accounts for the slightly disconcerting presence in Gondor of some characters with Silmarillion names, like Hurin of the Keys; the name was probably no more unusual in late-Third-Age Minas Tirith than Alexander or Arthur are today.

    ***when I cd still see a lot more stars than is  now the case, though part of that is due to light pollution in these parts.

    ****not a book I'm fond of, but one I occasionally need to reference and the only one of the space trilogy I hadn't had in hardback, the paperback of which is starting to wear out.

    *****yes, I'm getting to that stage where my nieces have nieces.

    Tuesday, May 21, 2019

    The TOLKIEN Biopic

    So, the organizers of Tolkien Day in Kalamazoo arranged for a special showing of the new TOLKIEN biopic to a room full of Tolkien scholars. We were on the whole a skeptical bunch as to whether the filmmakers cd pull it off, but willing to see how it had come out.

    The first thing that struck me was the trees. Tolkien famously said you can't get much about trees into a play, one reason he considered drama inferior to fiction, but the filmmakers showed this is not necessarily the case for film. I don't know whether the director, or cinematographer, or both shd get the credit, but the long loving bits as the camera pans over trees, past trees, and esp. up trees from trunk to branches helped quietly establish a setting that felt Tolkienesque. In fact this one aspect of the film was so successful I'm sorry they didn't do it even more.

    The look and feel of the movie was also a success: it had that Merchant Ivory look about it that captured the place and the time (turn-of-the-century Birmingham). Maybe it's just me, but I find it much easier to relate to shows set in the near-past (say the last century or so), with their familiar clothes, furniture, etc., than to costume drama of earlier periods, which have a certain stagey-ness for me.

    Also of note was the even-handed treatment of how being poor and an orphan deeply restricts a person's options -- I was going to say, in that time and place, but the same applies equally to the modern day. And the movie scores points for not making villains out of the people who stand in Ronald and Edith's way, like Fr. Francis (lacking empathy but comes round in the end) or Mrs Faulkner (the landlady, self-centered but not malicious).

    So much for the good. The not-so-good came from the problem that's bedeviled many a biopic before it: the difficulty of showing on screen an internal process, whether it be art, or music, or writing.  To their credit they tried with the 'cellar door' scene showing young Ronald creating a story out of an invented name.* It's therefore odd that they avoid having any of Tolkien's real drawings and paintings appear, or to use his actual invented languages. Presumably this wd be because of failure to get permissions to do so, but why then are they able to close the film w. the actual first words of THE HOBBIT? Bit of a puzzle, that.

    I also have to admit that I liked the invented (amalgam) character 'Sam' as Lt. Tolkien's batsman. But the scenes of a fever-strickened, delirious Tolkien wandering around No Man's Land at the Somme in the midst of an all-out attack, seeing hallucinations of a Balrog** et al were bizarre. Apparently they wanted to show Tolkien on the battlefield but not have him take part in the battle, but it didn't work at all for me.

    The greatest shortcoming of the film, however, was simply that it was oh. so. slow.  Every scene seemed to go on too long. There's not any particular bits that I'd advocated cuttiing; it's the pacing of the whole that got to me. This movie feels much, much longer than its actual running time.

    Perhaps this is a result of my knowing Tolkien's life-story extremely well, so that I knew everything that was going to happen at the beginning of each scene (the only surprises were the things they made up, which thankfully were surprisingly few). I've heard from some who have seen it who knew nothing of Tolkien's life, and they found the story of the doomed group of Tolkien's friends*** deeply moving.

    So, not a disaster some feared, not the travesty it cd have been, just not the success I'd hoped for.
    On the whole I'll count that as a bullet dodged.

    --John R.

    current reading: Recently finished up a biography of Warren G. Harding by John Dean, part of the Schlesinger presidential series. Disappointing: Dean admires Harding and overdoes the rehabilitation bit.

    Currently trying to force my way through Megan Lindholm's WIZARD OF THE PIGEONS, a mid-eighties urban fantasy set in Seattle that has certainly not aged well and is thoroughly unpleasant to boot (I've already gotten through the cat-mutilation scene and skipped the pages describing in extreme detail what it's like to chop off the heads of a bunch of chickens, including your special pet).

    *for me this scene had echoes of one in A BEAUTIFUL MIND where the main character invents new constellations.

    **unless it's meant to evoke the Sauron of the opening scene in Peter Jackson's FELLOWSHIP.

    ***i.e., the TCBS: John Ronald, Chris Wiseman, Rob Gilson, and Geoff Smith, to whom he paid tribute a half-century later, and one of whom I was fortunate enough to meet.

    Wednesday, May 15, 2019

    Back from Kalamazoo

    So, after a week away I'm now back from Kalamazoo and back at work at my desk again -- much to the cats' satisfaction, as they like to be able to keep track of me.

    It was a busy week -- one of those times when I'm too busy doing something to blog about it. Time to make up the arrears before memories of the details begin to fade.

    First off, I took part in the Tolkien Day event, where we take advantage of so many Tolkienists gathering for the Medieval Congress, where there aren't enough slots for us all to present in, to hold what is essentially a one-day conference. I did my "Tolkien's Meteorite" piece there last year and this year teamed up with Marquette Tolkien Archivist Bill Fliss to tell folks about the manuscript reprocessing project, showing them the new organization I've been working on these last few years, whereby every draft of every chapter of the LotR manuscripts and typescripts is placed in relation to where it goes in the sequence of composition (the horizontal axis) and also in the development of that specific chapter (the vertical axis). Essentially it's like a giant flow chart. Since it has to cover some ten thousand pages, it's pretty large: the mock-up we had for show-and-tell at the presentation is a banner about twenty-four feet long, and that doesn't include the Front Matter (foreword, preface, title pages, tables of contents, ring-verse) and Appendices (which have their own separate line of development). This being a Tolkien project, in homage to the Professor we call it The Tree.

    By the way, several people took pictures of us holding up the banner; if you're one of them, please send me a copy.

    Tolkien Day was followed by The Film. That is, the organizers had arranged for a special showing of the new biopic on Tolkien (called, with admirable directness, TOLKIEN). More on this in a separate post tomorrow.

    --John R.

    Tuesday, May 7, 2019

    Ready for Kalamazoo

    So, the day before yesterday I completed my paper for Kalamazoo, "The Flat Earth Made Round and Tolkien's Failure to Finish THE SILMARILLION'. It's a good feeling to have it all done and printed out, ready for delivery.

    I'm scheduled to deliver it Saturday at 3.30 as the third of three speakers on a panel; as you can see, I'm in v. gd company.

    If you happen to be in the neighborhood, drop by and let me know what you think.

    --John R.

    Session 449 Tolkien’s Legendarium and Medieval Cosmology, Saturday 3:30 BERNHARD BROWN & GOLD ROOM 
    Organizer: Judy Ann Ford, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce Presider: Judy Ann Ford 
    “It Lies Behind the Stars”: Situating Tolkien’s Work within the Aesthetics of Medieval Cosmology 
    Connie Tate, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce 
    Cynewulf, Copernicus, and Conjunctions: The Problem of Cytherean Motions in Tolkien’s Medieval Cosmology 
    Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ. 
    Binding Faerie with the Chains of Time: Tolkien’s Failure to Finish The Silmarillion John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar 

    P.S.: I shd have mentioned that the title of my paper has changed, its focus have shifted somewhat in the writing. Which is unusual for me; usually I have the title for a piece v. early on and it stays the same all the way through publication.

    Wednesday, May 1, 2019

    One Week to Kalamazoo

    So, it's now just one week before I depart for the Tolkien events at the Medieval Congress, which I'm v. much looking forward to. For the past few weeks I've been working away at my paper, hoping that even if not complete I'd still have enough material to fill my time slot. Now I've gotten far enough along that I have more paper than I have time to deliver. So from this point on it's less a matter of finishing my paper than to extract a satisfactory abridgment for presentation. Here's hoping it goes over well.

    --John R.
    --current reading: THE RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY by Jared Lobdell

    Friday, April 26, 2019

    Tolkien Estate on the Tolkien BioPic

    So, the Tolkien Estate is making it as clear as possible (which is pretty clear) that they do not support, endorse, or approve of the forthcoming Tolkien biopic, due out in a few more weeks:

    --John R., who will be seeing it in a room full of Tolkienists. Luckily I don't expect a replay of the time I was present when the Tolkien Society's London smial saw the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT for the first time (around 1985 I think), where I came in for a good deal of blame for being a fellow American of the folks who made it ('Your lot did it!').

    Wednesday, April 24, 2019

    Jared in his element ('It seems to me')

    So, here's a picture of Jared from the 1987 Marquette Tolkien Conference/MythCon in Milwaukee. Jared is on the right, talking with Christopher Tolkien (center) and I believe Charles Huttar (left); I can't identify the figure in the background.

    I looked through our photo albums hoping to find one of Jared as I remember him in my mind's eye: sitting behind a table, delivering a talk or a paper, in which his favorite phrase "It seems to me . . ." wd make its frequent appearance, but this is a thoroughly acceptable substitute.

    I myself met Jared in early 1982: my copy of ENGLAND & ALWAYS is dated W. Febr 3rd 1982 and inscribed to me by Jared on March 6 1982, which was probably our first meeting.

    I'm not certain but I think we met through my having just published my piece "She and Tolkien". As I remember it Jared wrote in to the journal (MYTHLORE) protesting that he'd discussed those same ideas in an not-yet-published book I'd not seen, and earlier made a presentation along those lines at a con I hadn't attended. I hunted down a copy of his book once it was out and, finding out he'd be in Madison, took the bus over.  I'd already made at least one run over to Madison to meet Richard West and attend a meeting of the Univ. of Wisc. Tolkien Society, taking the bus over in the afternoon and the last bus back at night, and I can't now remember whether Jared was at the Tolk. Soc. meeting or whether he was in town for WisCon a short time later.

    In any case, it soon became a regular event for me to go over to WisCon each year to see Richard and Jared and others (such as Matt Fisher, Jan Bogstad, Phil Kaveny). Within a few years we had been joined by Verlyn (circa 1984) and Taum (about the same time or a little later) and others, like Doug Anderson and Paul Thomas and John Aussem.

    Then came the 1983 MARQUETTE TOLKIEN CONFERENCE, organized by Chuck Elston, the Marquette Archivist; Terry Margharita, the Archives' Secretary; and Taum Santoski. I was not asked to present a paper but I did what I cd to help out, including writing virtually everyone who'd published a book on Tolkien to date and letting them know about the conference in case they wanted to attend; several did. Jared was one of the keynote speakers, along with Clyde Kilby, who had actually known Tolkien, and Dr. Joseph McClatchy who taught a course on the Inklings at Wheaton College.*

    I think between them the 1983 Marquette conference and the 1987 MARQUETTE TOLKIEN CONFERENCE (aka The Marquette Mythcon) were the high point of Jared's career as a Tolkien scholar. He was the chairman of the Papers and Panels committee** and had grand plans for publishing a three-volume set of the proceedings through Garland Publishing, where he was now working as an editor: two volumes of Tolkien papers and a third on papers presented at the conference focusing on other authors, like Mervyn Peake, Kenneth Grahame, and John Ruskin. But while the conference was a smashing success (esp. due to the presence of Christopher Tolkien as Guest of Honor***) the proceedings failed to appear, the job at Garland went away, and in the end
    the legacy of our papers & panels committee was some excellent pieces delivered at the conference and some unusually good issues of MYTHLORE over the next year or so.

    After that we still saw each other at WisCons but eventually the charm of being on the same panel with the same people each year began to wear thin. In addition to Jared's self-destructive tendencies,
    which were uncomfortable to witness, he was one of those people who took up all the air in the room. 

    I think for me the breaking point was when I was on a Dunsany panel at WisCon, I think in 1989 but at any rate after I'd started my dissertation on Dunsany. There were three of us on the panel: Jared and Richard West and myself and we had an hour. Jared went first and talked for fifty minutes. Richard went next and rushed through what he had to say in nine. That left me with a single minute in which to thank the audience for coming and to assure them I had things to say about Dunsany, if only there were time.

    After he stopped visiting Wisconsin, and after I stopped going to WisCon and then moved out to the Seattle area, we no longer ran into each other and fell out of touch, aside from the occasional email. These past few days I've tried to remember the last time I saw him. For certain at the 1989 WisCon, that being the last time I was on a panel with him; possibly thereafter at a MythCon or two but I can't be certain about that. But can it really be thirty years?

    In the end I think my strongest memories of him are from being on panels with him at WisCons and MythCons and discussions afterwards arguing this or that point raised during the panel. It was great fun, if a bit odd, to see him advance some striking but ultimately untenable idea in the presence of those like Doug and Taum and Verlyn, all of whom were certainly able to hold their own against him, even when Jared was in full flight. And I almost always learned something I didn't know from the back-and-forth of our conversations, even if we each ended as unpersuaded as ever of the other's position.

    As a final point I shd note that Jared was not only a Tolkien scholar but also published on C. S. Lewis: his book about the Ransom series was notable for his acceptance of THE DARK TOWER as a genuine Lewis work (something on which I agreed with him). He was one of three people I know of who have ventured to predicted how the story wd have ended had Lewis completed it.  He also edited a collection of Charles Williams' book reviews of detective stories which make for enjoyable reading, esp. recommended for those who think of C.W. as a rarified figure. Near the end of his life he'd become interested in Nevill Coghill and Hugo Dyson.

    Looking back on him now I think early on Jared adopted CSL as his role model, for good and for bad. Good, because Lewis was a massively erudite and articulate man, loyal to his friends and with an appreciation of popular fiction as well as 'literature'. But bad in that Lewis was fond of making outrageous and self-evidently false propositions and then using his rhetorical gifts to try to make his audience agree.

    In the end, the Inkling I think he most resembled was not Lewis but Dyson: intelligent, amusing, exasperating.  I'll miss him.

    --John R.

    *Among other things, this conference is memorable because it's there that I met Wayne Hammond, whom I immediately introduced to Richard West, marking the meeting of two great bibliographers.

    **along with Richard West as the committee's Secretary and myself the third member of the three-person committee. If I'd thought of it at the time I'd have given myself the non-title Ordinary Member.

    ***and one of my favorite authors, John Bellairs, as Author Guest of Honor.

    Jared and Calquing / The Fall

     Continuing the theme of Jared's major contributions to Tolkien studies, here's how he described/defines THE LORD OF THE RINGS:

    a six-book, three-decker feigned history that uses the medieval
     technique of polyphonic narrative to tell what is essentially 
    an adventure story in the Edwardian mode

    —ENGLAND & ALWAYS, page ix

    Jared stood out among Tolkien scholars for his belief that LotR was not a fantasy (a genre he did not believe existed) but an old-fashioned adventure novel of the kind written by H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan, Conan Doyle, et al.: in short, though I don't remember him ever phrasing it this way, that LotR had more in common with Conan Doyle than BEOWULF.

    In arguing that Tolkien was influenced to some degree by the popular fiction of his youth, Jared was a leading figure among several fellow Tolkienists exploring the same theme at that time, including Giddings & Holland (who were proposing with reckless abandon that Tolkien's main sources included Victorian popular novels like LORNA DOONE) and myself (my first substantial work of Tolkien scholarship was "She and Tolkien", a close look at elements in Rider Haggard's four-book SHE series that found their way into Tolkien's legendarium).*  But I wd never have gone as far as Jared went. My own researches were into Tolkien's role in the emergence of fantasy: it seemed and seems obvious to me that there was such a genre as 'fantasy', and that the work of writers like Wm Morris, E. R. Eddison, and Lord Dunsany bore a strong family resemblance to what Tolkien was doing.

    Looking back, I think Jared and I had so many good conversations because we disagreed on so much. We had as common ground a strongly-held belief that Tolkien was a great writer whose work deserved, and repaid, close attention, but we disagreed on virtually all the details.

    A good example, and perhaps the most controversial of Jared's theories,  wd be his argument (in Chapter Two of ENGLAND & ALWAYS) that Middle-earth is a prelapsarian world and that some characters like Aragorn, Faramir, and others, are unFallen, while others (e.g. Denethor) are Fallen. As Jared saw it, the Fall came to humankind individually, a process lasting thousands of years and still incomplete at the time of our story.
       For their part, he maintained that the Elves were unFallen as a race: still in a state of Edenic Innocence. When I argued that the behavior of the Noldor in THE SILMARILLION showed otherwise, he responded by asserting that THE SILMARILLION was a collaborative work and that it was impossible to tell which parts were JRRT and which might have been added by CT.**

    Less controversial, but to me more puzzling, was his argument based upon calquing. Jared had borrowed the term from Shippey, whose ROAD TO MIDDLE EARTH had only been out for a year or two and was as-yet almost unknown over here, for his 1983 Keynote Speech opening the Marquette Tolkien Conference, but I found his usage confusing. His prime example was piecemeal translation, such as rendering the word loud-speaker as 'haut parleur'. This is clear enough, and his application of it to LotR essentially pictures that world as a patchwork of piecemeal borrowings --an example might be basing the Shire on a Warwickshire village but Rohan on an Anglo-Saxon kingdom and Gondor as a fading Rome at the end of Empire. All this I get well enough. But I don't understand what Jared means when he says

    "when we say that Sherlock Holmes is a calque, 
    we mean the archtype he represents is, in his character, 
    calqued on the Victorian world of 221B Baker Street"

    --Jared's 1983 keynote speech, draft typescript page 5

    I find myself similarly at a loss when, a page later, he says

    "Chesterton in The Napoleon of Notting Hill 
    and The Man Who Was Thursday wrote calques
    of his own mediaevalism, so to speak, on to the
    modern world: in that sense one might be con-
    sidered a sequel to the other."

    --ibid, page 6

    Finally, at one point in the roundtable discussion of Tolkien,*** Jared seems to extend the meaning of the term even further:

    "fantasy is that particular form of mythopoesis 
    which calques an entire secondary world upon 
    a primary world."

    --typed transcript of Roundtable discussion, page 25

    I have to admit I don't understand what this means. The best I can suggest is that in the end the term 'calque' became for Jared a synonym of 'overlay'.


    *The original piece appeared in MYTHLORE back in 1981; a revised, expanded, and largely rewritten version appeared in Jason Fisher's book TOLKIEN AND THE STUDY OF HIS SOURCES (2011).

    **This argument was, of course, fatally undercut when the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH series began to appear v. shortly afterwards.
       Jared's wariness regarding THE SILMARILLION and his rejection of the authority of Tolkien's posthumously published work was in fact shared by several other prominent Tolkien scholars at the time; Darrell Martin's presentation at this same 1983 conference did much to settle the point decisively.
       Oddly enough, while reluctant to consider THE SILMARILLION as representing Tolkien's thought, Jared would often quote C. S. Lewis's words as evidence to what Tolkien was intending or thinking, taking it as a given that anything Lewis said cd be taken as speaking for Tolkien as well ---an early form of what I've come to think of as Kreeft's fallacy.

    ***The participants were Richard West (moderator), Jared Lobdell, Verlyn Flieger, Darrell Martin, Mike Foster, Deborah Webster Rogers, Wheaton's Dr. Joseph McClatchy, and myself. The three topics for discussion were (1) Tolkien and Xianity, (2) Tolkien and his contemporaries, and (3) Tolkien and Fantasy.

    Tuesday, April 23, 2019

    A picture of Jared

    So, here's a photo of Jared in congenial surroundings, either in the Green Room at the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference (assuming that conf. had a Green Room, which I'm not sure about) or in his suite in Mashuda Hall at the 1987 Marquette Tolkien Conference/MythCon.

    Thursday, April 18, 2019


    So, I'm finding it hard to sum up my friend Jared in a single piece, and have decided to make a series of smaller posts and see how that works.

    As a Tolkien scholar, Jared had three main claims to fame.

    First, he had briefly corresponded as a youth with C. S. Lewis and later J. R. R. Tolkien, writing  a fan letter to each and receiving a reply both times, although unfortunately neither letter survives.

    Second, he had edited one of the earlier books on Tolkien and his works, 1975's A TOLKIEN COMPASS, which is famed for printing Richard West's article on Tolkien's use of interlace narrative in LotR (still one of the best essays on Tolkien all these years later) and Bonniejean Christensen's piece on THE HOBBIT, the first to point out in detail the changes in the Gollum chapter between the first and second editions of that book. And, in those days when the publication of any new material from JRRT himself was prized as a pearl beyond price, Jared's collection included as an appendix GUIDE TO THE NAMES IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS by JRRT himself, a piece the Professor put together for the aid of translators.

    Third, he had set forth his own ideas on Tolkien in a 1982 book ENGLAND AND ALWAYS, which argued that the three most important things about Tolkien were (a) his strong affinity with Edwardian adventure stories, (b) his being a philologist, and (c) his being a (conservative) Xian.

    Jared himself provides a single-page summary of his argument in ENGLAND AND ALWAYS in his later book THE RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY (2005), so I can give this in his own words rather than through the lens of my rephrasings:

    Sequels in the Edwardian Mode: A Problem in Calquing
    In my original study of The Lord of the Rings as as an "adventure story in the Edwardian mode" I defined that mode by a number of characteristics . . . These characteristics, it seems to me, present a particular problem for sequels, or even additional works, by the authors of Edwardian adventure stories. This problem, in turn, suggests some reasons for the nature of The Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales—including their unfinished state—as well as suggesting that it may be worth-while to consider the ways other authors dealt with it, or failed to deal with it. All this is my topic here.

    The characteristics of the adventure story in the Edwardian mode were these: First, the story is framed in familiarity. In this, it is like a fairy-tale, but unlike the fairy-tale, its action is time-specific. Second, the characters are types, though they may rise to the dignity of archetypes. Third, and connected with the second characteristic it is the character of nature, not the character of the actors, that are "realized" (in the French sense of the word). Fourth, the adventurers are not solitary, but they are frequently (in fact, almost universally) a happy few. Fifth, the adventurers are narrated (frequently in the first person) by the most ordinary of the happy few. Sixth, there is a recurring motif (perhaps the recurring motif) of the past alive in the present. And seventh, the world of the adventurers is essentially an aristocratic world. It might also be argued that there are fewer shades of grey in the actions of the characters than we are accustomed to seeing in our present-day world."

    —Jared Lobdell, THE RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY, 2005, p. 167

    More later
    current reading: re-reading (for the fourth time) Jared's ENGLAND AND ALWAYS (1982)

    Monday, April 15, 2019

    Jared Lobdell

    Just heard today from Doug A. (thanks Doug) that my friend and fellow Tolkien scholar Jared Lobdell died a few weeks ago on March 21st. I hadn't seen him in quite a few years but we kept in touch with the occasional email, maybe once or twice every other year. Our most recent exchange had been when I sent him a copy of my little CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH chapbook, thinking he might like it. Working out the timing from when I mailed it, I think it must have arrived just a little too late for him to have seen it.

    I'll try to write up some memories of Jared as I knew him over the next few days.  As The Wife Says: "It's hard to write a short piece on a complicated man".

    --John R.

    Thursday, April 11, 2019

    The Stone Table (unauthorized Narnia)

    So, thanks to Gregory R. and Richard W. for the news about a new, unauthorized, unpublished, and perhaps unpublishable Narnia book: THE STONE TABLE. Written by Francis Spufford, whose work I don't know but is apparently well thought of by those who do, it's set between the events of THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW and THE LION, THE WITCH, & THE WARDROBE.

    Spufford claims to have written it without regard to publishability, then self-published an edition of seventy-five copies, which he gave away to friends, and also allowed friends to post the first two chapters online (which I have not seen). This seems to be flirting with the line between fanfiction and under-the-radar semi-publication, a kind of side-stepping presumably intended to prevent the hammer that smiteth coming down from the Lewis Estate.

    For those who have been around a while, this is reminiscent of how the great Lindskoog-Hooper feud began: a nun wrote an eighth Narnia book and asked Lindskoog's help in getting permission to publish from the Lewis estate. The estate, predictably, said no. Whereupon Lindskoog started an investigation that evolved into a vendetta against Hooper, the man acting as the estate's literary advisor, who'd said no. Let's hope things don't get so badly out of hand this time around.

    Here's how Spufford justifies the project:

    “If you’re going to play with someone else’s toys, then you need to be very clear that they are someone else’s toys. You need to be clear that you’re not profiting by it, that it’s a homage that doesn’t tread on the toes of the real books.”

    For more of a discussion of the issues involved, see

    My own position is that

    (a) Using another author's setting and characters puts the writer doing so in an equivocal position. The results can be interesting and occasionally amusing, but it's not in itself a praiseworthy act or even a neutral one. When kept to the level of fanfic, that self-limiter obviates most of these objections. It's not surprising that the best such efforts have a strong degree of parody in them.

    (b) Eight Narnia books is about seven too many.*

    --John R.
    current reading: THURBER ON CRIME --not as good as WODEHOUSE ON CRIME but amusing.

    *for those concerned that an eighth book wd break the pattern some believe is encoded within the seven-book cycle, this is not in itself a problem for those of us unconvinced that any such pattern exists.