Thursday, November 21, 2019

What I've Been Listening To Lately

So, thanks to friend Stan for the loan of a new two-cd set of the theme song and all the incidental music for JONNY QUEST

I was part of the original audience for this show, but only went back and watched it all the way through a few years ago (the episode that stayed most in my memory is THE CURSE OF ANUBUS, the one with the mummy). I've always loved the theme music, having previously had it only as part of a collection of Saturday morning cartoons themes.*  This included a re-recorded of the Jonny Quest theme by Reverend Horton Heat, whom I don't otherwise know, but unfortunately it segues in mid-track into another song, the dopey 'Stop That Pidgeon" from "The Flying Machines".  So it's nice to get just the theme song as a stand-alone track, and enjoyable to get all the bits and pieces of other music from the show.

Oddly enough, listening to it now, it's clear that there were two prime inspirations for the Jonny Quest music. The first are short punchy jazz themes (like those for Perry Mason and Peter Gunn), with the second a strong dose of Stravenski's RITE OF SPRING. You wdn't think these two wd go together, but in practice the mix (or more properly alternation) works extremely well.

Time to dig out that complete dvd JONNY QUEST set and give it a re-watch, I think.

--John R.

--what I'm reading: BILLION YEAR SPREE by Brian Aldiss (just finished), TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER by John M. Bowers

--what I'm watching: The Impeachment Hearings (or at least as much of them as I can make time for).

*a cd I think I first learned about from Rich Baker.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The S. S. Sphinx

So, in our Saturday night CALL OF CTHULHU game we're slowly making our way through the epic adventure MASKS OF NYARLATHOTEP. Currently our characters have wrapped up the initial stage of the adventure set in 1920s New York City and are now in London in one of those lulls between when Investigators arrive in a new spot and the point when they come across Things Man Was Not Meant to know and flee, clutching the tattered remains of their sanity. And it's pretty clear that if we survive this stage of the adventure it's likely that we'll then make our way to Cairo.

Which is funny, because in real life Janice and I just made plans yesterday to go on a Nile cruise come this spring. And it's altogether possible that I may see the Pyramids in person before my character (Martin Urnst, private inverstigator) sees them in the game.

This was an unexpected trip, one we'd considered years ago and reluctantly decided was unworkable. But now it's suddenly come together. If all goes according to plan half a year or so from now we'll be seeing The Sphinx, the Great Pyramid (and also several others), the Colossi of Memnon, and lots of temples.

More later.

--John R.
current music: The Allan Parsons Project's PYRAMID and EYE IN THE SKY.

Cat Report

Wednesday November 13th.

With the adoption of the oddly named big brown tabby OREO on Friday the 8th (yay for Oreo) and poor little TAZZ being rushed back to the shelter, we're now down to just two cats in the cat-room. Which is just as well, since both little torbie HOPE and black cat KABOODLES are solitaires who prefer to be only cats. They can share a room this size by ignoring each other's presence, but there's no comradery between them.

E&E had both cats in a good mood when I arrived, relaxed but attentive in their respective cages. Both have health issues: Hope's boney lump near her ribs (not a dangerous condition, just a little alarming to someone who picks her up without knowing about it)* and Kaboodle's little tumor on his forehead.

Since I'd heard in one of last week's reports that Hope had actually gone for a walk and done pretty well, I took her out for what turned out to be a good twenty minutes or more on the leash. While she's not a natural walker like Oreo looked likely to be (being confident and curious), she did well. She reacted strongly to some (mid-sized, active) dogs and mostly ignored others (big, quiet).

E&E shared a warning that Kaboodles looks likely to be a door-dasher, and that this morning he'd actually made it out and over towards the water tanks before being retrieved (with thanks to the PetsMart employee who helped). So I tried him on the leash, but he got spooked early on and it took some doing to get him back in the cat-room. I'd recommend his walks be when there are two volunteers so it's quick and easy to open the door and get him back inside if need be. 

Sad news about poor little TAZZ being strickened with Calqui (a viral cat-virus) and rushed back to the shelter for treatment. This is only the third time I've ever seen it: once back in the Tukwila cat room and once here in Renton. I feel bad not to have spotted the warning signs: I had actually wondered if she had calqui but ruled it out after seeing her last Wednesday, since she didn't have the drooling that's been so striking a feature of it both of the other times I'd seen it. Even though obviously not feeling well she welcomed attention, especially gentle petting. It was clear that she wanted to eat but only able to get down canned pate made into a kind of meat-paste slurry (which she came back to several times over three hours).

Question: we had a slim sleek black cat named Kaboodle ('My Pal Kaboodle') in the Tukwila adoption room who loved to climb up in the cabinet and bury himself under the cat-blankets. It says on our newcomer's background information that he's a Return. Is this the same Kaboodle?

--John R.

*our cat Rigby had something similar, which our vet diagnosed as a separated sternum, and it never distressed her or prevented her from being a mighty leaper.

I didn't get last week's session at the cat-room written up, but here's some Sketch-notes for a cat-room report for the previous week 

(Wednesday November 6th)  Arrived about 10.15.

Bonded pair James (Picasso) & Jesse (Leonardo) and also grey torbie EJ had all been adopted during the previous week, leaving just three cats in residence:  HOPE and OREO and TAZZ.
All three were glad to see me and greeted me with friendly mews. Wet food went down well with all three.
   Big boy OREO came out right away. He had a nice long walk and picked up on the rules quickly.
   HOPE stayed in till lifted out, then napped happily on the cat-stand. It was only when I pick her up that realize what a tiny little thing she is (half Oreo's weight).
   TAZZ was not feeling well, as several people had pointed out. She wasn't grooming herself very well and while interested in canned food wdn't or cdn't eat it till mixed with water and made soupy. She felt about the same weight as Hope (seven pounds) rather than the almost ten pounds on her record sheet.  She knows her name and likes to hear it.
   PetsMart employees expressed concern about Tazz's nose; good to know they're keeping an eye on the cats when we're not there.

Tazz, very sweet but not feeling at her best.

Oreo in all his majesty.

Jesse happy to go in the carrier to his new home

James deeply suspicious about this whole cat-carrier thing.

Monday, November 11, 2019


So, I'm thinking about going to GaryCon this next year, the D&D/rpg con held in Gygax's home town every spring. I've never gone, but this year I'll be up at Marquette working on a Tolkien project at about the time the con is scheduled and might be able to drive down to lake Geneva for the day. And it'd be nice to see some familiar faces of folks whose time at TSR overlapped with my own.
Any recommendations, suggestions, opinions?

--John R.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

When the tea flowers bloom

So, it's that time of year again when camellias bloom.

And that includes tea trees, which are a specialized kind of camellia. Here's a picture Janice took of a tea blossom on one of our two little indoor tea plants.


Friday, November 8, 2019

Lovecraft on Charles Williams

So, here's what H. P. Lovecraft had to say after reading two Charles Williams novels, WAR IN HEAVEN and MANY DIMENSIONS, in October of 1934.

Hail, Klarkash-Ton! Under separate cover I'm forwarding Koenig's two Williams books, & I'll be anxious to know what you think of 'em. Essentially, they are not horror literature but philosophic allegory. Direct reproduction of the texture of life & the substance of moods is not the author's object. He is trying to illustrate human nature through symbols & turns of idea which possess significance for those taking a traditional or orthodox view of man's cosmic bearings. It isn't our kind of stuff—for Williams isn't seeking to express the indefinable feeling experienced by man in confronting the unknown. His characters react to the symbolic & patterned marvels according to certain traditional philosophic concepts—not in the natural, irregular fashion of actual life. To get a full-sized kick from this stuff one must take seriously the orthodox view of cosmic organisation. However—I enjoyed the tales objectively, & fancy you will. Send them on to Comte d'Erlette when you're through with them. I doubt if Rimel or Dwyer would care for them. What do you think?  . . . 
Autumn chill is curtailing my outdoor sessions, but the scenery is exquisite.
Yrs for the Stone of Suleiman—Ech-Pi-El. 

DAWNWARD SPIRE, LONELY HILL: THE LETTERS OF H. P. LOVECRAFT AND CLARK ASHTON SMITH, ed. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi (Hippocampus Press, 2017). page 574

Note: Lovecraft was fond of giving his friends slightly facetious nicknames.
Klarkash-Ton = Clark Ashton Smith, the recipient of this letter
le Comte d'Erlette = August Derleth
Ech-Pi-El = HPL, or Lovecraft himself
Rimel and Dwyer were minor members of Lovecraft's circle

Koenig = H. C. Koenig, who had recently gotten in touch with Lovecraft, apparently as part of his campaign to spread the word about the almost totally forgotten Wm Hope Hodgson.

Despite enjoying him as a good read, Lovecraft left Williams out of SUPERNATURAL HORROR IN LITERATURE, his monograph surveying the field, which he was expanding and revising at the time. Doubtless Williams did not make the final cut because Lovecraft had concluded that CW was really not a horror writer at all and also that only committed Xians wd fully appreciate these novels (Lovecraft himself was an atheist and nihilist).

An Alternate Text: 
While typing up the passage from Lovecraft's letter, I belatedly thought to check to see if Joshi had anything to say about this in his monumental two-volume thousand-plus page biography of HPL, I AM PROVIDENCE (2010). Not only does he include the incident, but I had marked the page (Vol. II p. 878) on March 1st 2012,* only to completely forget about it in the intervening years. But it still seems worthwhile to share the DAWNWARD SPIRE text because the 2010 Joshi text both (a) abridges the letter without fully noting where material has been left out and (b) includes words and phrases not found in the 2017 Schultz-Joshi text.

For example, Joshi's 2010 text ends with the sentence

"To get a full-sized kick from this stuff one must take seriously the orthodox view of cosmic organisation--which is rather impossible today."

The closing phrase (which I've highlighted here for emphasis) is altogether absent in the 2017 Schultz-Joshi version. Determining which of the two texts more accurately represents what Lovecraft wrote wd require consultation with the original manuscript of this letter, presumably now in the Lovecraft papers at Brown University.

--John R.

*it was a Thursday

UPDATE (November 11th):
--Thanks to a comment by Magister it's now clear that these are two separate texts: (1) Lovecraft's letter to Smith and (2) Lovecraft's letter to Derleth, one of which is a handwritten copy, by Lovecraft, of the other, with some variations of phrasing. So both are authentic. Good to know.

Lovecraft and The Inklings

So, I've been trying for a long time to find an answer to the two questions:

Did the Inklings ever read Lovecraft?


Did Lovecraft ever read the Inklings?

So far as the first question goes, the answer is: still not proven. We know that Warnie Lewis was a fan of 'scientifiction and read some of the pulp magazines like AMAZING STORIES. And THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS suggests that the Inklings were fairly conversant in science fiction. Certainly there are some echoes of Lovecraftian themes in Tolkien's account of the Things beneath Moria, Lewis's description of the subterranean world far beneath the surface of Venus, and especially Wms' Cthulhesque octopoid-lords of P'o-l'u. Williams was well-versed in fiction dealing with occult themes and was well-positioned to have come across at least some mention of HPL. But resemblance is not proof and the question remains open.

The second question seemed much more unlikely: Lovecraft died too soon, the same year THE HOBBIT came out and a year before OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, neither of which is much like the kind of books Lovecraft read.  

Despite this, the answer turns out to be YES: towards the end of his life Lovecraft read four of Wms' five novels (the sixth and seventh having been published in 1937 and 1945 respectively).

The proof comes in DAWNWARD SPIRE, LONELY HILL (2017), the collected correspondence of  H. P. Lovecraft & Clark Ashton Smith. I was looking through this for something else entirely, evidence of when HPL and CAS first read the work of Wm. Hope Hodgson, to find that the same person who brought the long dead and wholly forgotten Hodgson to Lovecraft's attention also loaned him two novels by Charles Williams (p.566), who in turn passed them on to Smith (.572, 574). 

Of these, Lovecraft preferred WAR IN HEAVEN (.575), Wms' grail novel and my own personal vote for his best book. The editors of the correspondence, Schultz & Joshi, speculate as to which of Wms' novels the other book cd be (.575 Note 4), but actually no speculation is needed, since Lovecraft ends his previous letter "Yrs for the Stone of Suleiman" (.574). Lovecraft had the habit of opening and closing his letters with cryptic, evocative phrases: the letter before had ended "Yrs. for  the sunken monolith of Gnoph" (.573); a subsequent letter describing his reaction to THE NIGHT LAND ends "Yrs for The Watcher of The Northwest" (.587), a clear reference to one of the sinister Great Old Ones -like figures that feature so prominently in Hodgson's book.  And since The Stone of Suleiman is the key magic item around which MANY DIMENSIONS, William's sequel to WAR IN HEAVEN, centers, it seems certain that this was the other book Lovecraft and Smith read in the fall of 1934.

Schultz & Joshi note that C. L. Moore, one of the HPL's disciples, sent him two more Charles Williams books in February 1936: THE GREATER TRUMPS (his tarot novel) and THE PLACE OF THE LION (the danger of Platonic ideals; .575nt4). The one Wms novel Lovecraft didn't read in 1934 and 1936 was thus SHADOWS OF ECSTACY (his worst novel). CW's final two novels, DESCENT INTO HELL (1937) and ALL HALLOW'S EVE (1945), having been published too late for Lovecraft to have had time to read them.

So the answer is: yes. As for what Lovecraft thought of Wms, I'll save that for the next post.

--John R.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The New Arrival: Hope Hodgson

So, the good news is that I now have the Night Shade Books edition of THE GHOST PIRATES, which brings me up to four out of the five-book set of Hodgson's complete fiction.

The bad news is that it's the sole missing volume I really need, the one containing his masterpiece, 
THE NIGHT LAND. Unfortunately the small press that released this set seem to have seriously underprinted the third (GHOST PIRATES) and fourth (NIGHT LAND) volumes in the series, so that these are disproportionately expensive, whether in hardcover or paperback.


On the other hand, in related work I've now been able to establish definitely that Lovecraft and Smith discovered the work of Hodgson in 1934. So I was wrong, back in my 'Classics of Fantasy' column on THE NIGHT LAND when I said that Hodgson's work was a direct influence on Clark Ashton Smith: Smith had already begun his Zothique endtimes series in 1931. It seems to have been convergent evolution, not influence either way. Good to know.

--John R.
--current reading: Brian Aldiss's BILLION YEAR SPREE 

The Chocolate Factory

So, Tuesday Janice and I took a tour through Seattle Chocolate's outlet store and factory floor. Despite the mental image conjured up by old movies, there were no catwalks over vast vats of molten chocolate. In fact the whole upper level (think observation deck) was so solidly built that even an acrophobiac like  myself could look down without too much discomfort towards the various stations in the assembly line below.  It was partly education (about cacao and where it's grown nowadays),* partly publicity for their charities and good works, and partly a chance to see their operation at work. I'm happy to say that the conveyer belts were moved at a deliberate speed, not whizzing by (the former being much better for quality control, which is clearly a big issue with them.

We exited through the gift shop, when had less chocolate in it when we left that when we'd arrived.
And this despite, or perhaps because of, their generosity with samples (nine each all told) at various points along the tour.

The biggest surprise was our tour guide's casually mentioning a prediction that cacao wd go extinct in 2020, since deferred to 2040. Some online checking afterwards showed that this was a what if/worst case scenario, combining the threat faced by all monoculture practices: a fungal disease, climate change, &c.  It seems unlikely this wd wipe chocolate altogether, but I wdn't be much surprised if it were to shift back to being a luxury product.

The moral: enjoy that chocolate bar while you can.

--John R.
--current reading: BILLION YEAR SPREE by Aldiss (1973)

*the Ivory Coast currently being the world's biggest producer

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Third Exhibit

So, the third of three great Tolkien exhibits is now open, in Paris at the Bibliotheque  Nationale, and it sounds spectacular.*

While many items are shared by all three exhibits, following the example set by the two previous exhibitions (the first in Oxford at the Bodleian and the second in New York at the Morgan) the organizers of this third display have customized the presentation, adding items from their own collections to provide a contest for Tolkien's medievalism.

Just as with the other two events, the list of speakers here is impressive: Adam Tolkien opens the weekly series on November 14th, followed by Leo Carruthers on Tolkien: Father and Sons (Nov 21st), Damien Bador on invented languages (Nov 28th), Isabelle Pantin placing Tolkien within his milieu (Dec 5th), and wrapping up with Alan Lee on illustrating Tolkien (Dec 12th). this will be followed by a colloquium on "Tolkien and the War"**

The exhibit runs until February 16th, and it sounds like anyone interested in Tolkien who can make it wd be spending their time wisely.

Speaking of spending money, it sounds as if this exhibit, like the one in Oxford, has not one but two catalogues: a great big one that serves as the main catalogue and a slim volume presenting a good array of highlights. Better yet, the full catalogue is available on, for those who do their travelling in books.

--John R.
--current reading: just finished on book and not yet gotten into the next yet (deciding whether to resume a book I'd set aside or start a new one, while also weighing between what I want to read and what I shd be reading.

*thanks to Mattias G for posting the following link:

the press release towards the end of this piece gives a good idea of the scope of the displays (over a thousand square meters)

**which makes sense, since this is a French exhibition and The War is the one time in his life when Tolkien spent a significant time in France ---albeit under distressing conditions.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


So, the day before yesterday the new Tolkien book arrived from, eight days before I'd expected it.

I've been waiting for this one with more curiosity than most. Usually when a new Tolkien book is coming out I've already been hearing about it and its contents for months. This one could take one of two paths, and I cdn't find out beforehand which it wd be:

(1) a belated publication of the unfinished Tolkien/Gordon edition of Chaucer, sans THE CANTERBURY TALES: introduction, text, glossary, and the partial notes, with a modern-day introduction explaining the circumstances under which the edition was undertaken and why the project collapsed (K. Sisam, I'm looking at you).

(2) a book about the Chaucer project, with extensive quoting (the more the better), along the lines of RING OF WORDS, the book about Tolkien's time at the OED.

As it turns out,  John M. Bowers, the author, followed the second track with what looks, at first glance, like great success.

So, speculation is over. Now for the fun part: reading it.

--John R.

Friday, November 1, 2019

An Evening with Edgar Poe

So, Janice had spotted what sounded like an interesting event being held locally, so on Halloween night she and I made our way up to Renton to see a one-man show presented as an evening with Poe. The concept was that this was one from the poetry readings and lecture series Poe undertook in the summer of 1849 --only a few months before his death, though he had no way to know that (he was only forty). I didn't get the actor's name (I don't think it was on the flyers they had posted up), but his re-creation of Poe solicited subscriptions from the audience for the new magazine he was hoping to launch, THE STYLUS; brought in gratuitous insults aimed at Emerson, Longfellow, and especially Lowell; inveighed against the dominance of writers from England over the fledgling American literature (which at the time of this imagined lecture had only been underway for about thirty years);* and fumed about the old boys' network who praised each other's work (here he was thinking of the New England clique to whom we still devote a lot of American Lit 101 to this day). All pretty accurate and true to Poe's life, so it gets points there.

Although sparsely attended (which ironically made it all the more like the Poe events it was modeled upon) by about two dozen people I found it a v. effective, simple presentation. Set dressing was limited to a chair, a small table, a teapot and teacup and small bowl with some candy in it (there for Halloween, perhaps?), and a few pamphlets. The only special effect was creeping fog (no doubt derived from dry ice) that manifested behind 'Poe' when he was doing a reading, esp. for THE TALE-TELL HEART (the only story of the evening) and THE RAVEN (obviously the stand-out piece, as it was in Poe's time: this was the poem that made him famous). He also did "El Dorado", "Annabel Lee", and the first stanza of "Alone" and "A Dream within a Dream".

I wd have preferred less interactive show (from time to time he exchanged banter with the audience, something that tends to annoy me in shows of this type)**, and there were some teasers, when he announced that he was going to perform a specific piece --most notably EUREKA, Poe's discussion of, among other things, the Big Bang and Pulsating Universe theories--only to immediately change his mind and move on to something else. Having a high regard for EUREKA from having read it back in Marquette days (that is, back in the 1980s) I wd quite have liked to hear it, or more probably parts of it, presented by an actor and professionally trained reader. In fact, I had no sooner gotten home after the show that I ordered an audiobook unabridged reading of EUREKA on cd; it shd be here tomorrow.

All in all, an enjoyable experience, and one I'm glad we found out about in time and decided to attend. I thought his selection of works pretty good, though I wd have liked to have seen him do THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER as well. My main complaint is that the show was quite short. It was supposed to run two hours (or so said the signage in the lobby) but he wrapped it up in just one. Pity: I'd have liked to see more.

It did remind me of a similar event. Years ago, just before we made our way out here to the Pacific Northwest, we saw John Astin (of ADDAMS FAMILY fame) in a similar one-man-show in the Chicago area. That had been a much better performance: Astin did a great job. Poking about a bit now, I see that this must have been EDGAR ALLAN POE -- ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT. The only link I found for it seem to have expired, but here's a link that leads to a clip wherein Astin performs THE RAVEN, which shd give a good idea of the whole:

One of the things I read aloud as part of my speech therapy repertoire is a suite of poems by Poe:*** "The Raven", "Ulalume", "El Dorado", and "A Dream within a Dream", plus sometimes "Alone" (the Poe poem we almost lost) and "Annabel Lee". After seeing last night's performance I'm thinking I shd probably add some of his prose to that -- perhaps THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

--John R.
tonight's music: TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION, the Poe-based first album from The Alan Parsons Project.

current reading: Brad Strickland's AN UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO NEW ZEBEDEE

* thus Poe was slightly older than American literature itself.
**similarly with two Beatles tribute shows we saw a few years back: one put on a concert and the other did a lot of jokes and banter that pretty much got in the way.
***another is either THE WASTE LAND or a suite of poems by Eliot: "Prufrock", "Ash Wednesday" and "The Hollow Men", occasionally swapping out the whole for OLD POSSUM'S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Ahead of the Curve (Tolkien in NCP)

So, while on my recent trip to Arkansas, at the end of a long and exhausting day of travel  I was watching the day's news at my uncle's house when I saw in the news crawl at the bottom of the screen something about the impossibility of long-range space flight. I was considerably sleep impaired at the time, having had an early morning flight, a layover in Atlanta (not the most direct route between Seattle and Little Rock, but by far the best deal) and little sleep the night before that, so I failed to jot down the exactly wording, but assume the story thus referred to was along the lines of the following piece, which I hunted down a day or two later:

This is of course quite similar to what Tolkien had argued back in 1944, where the opening section of his unfinished Time-travel novel, THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS, argued among other things that good science fiction had to hold itself to a standard of scientifically credible fact and singled out starships as an example that failed to meet that criteria. I was away from my books at the time, but now that I'm back at my desk I've searched out some of the salient passages, which are given below.

The chief omission in the following wd be that I've left out the various speakers' names in the give-and-take of the original discussion; these are readily available, for anyone interested in these specifics, in Tolkien's original text (in HME.IX.143ff).


. . . no one has ever solved the difficulty of arriving, of getting to another planet, no more in literature than in life. Because the difficulty is in fact insoluble, I think. The barrier cannot and will not ever be passed in mortal flesh [.162–163]

An author's way of getting to Mars (say) is part of his story of his Mars . . . It's part of the picture.  [163]

I'm talking about credibility . . . I don't think space-ships [exist], or could. And anyway, if you pretend they do, and use them for space-journeys . . . they'll land you in space-ship sort of adventures. [163]

I want to be made to feel that the author has faced the difficulties and not ignored them. [165]

Any one who touches space-travel now has got to be much more convincing:* if indeed a convincing machine is at present possible . . . the problems have become more complex, and not simpler . . . A gravitation-isolator won't do. Gravity can't be treated like that. It's fundamental. It's a statement by the Universe of where you are in the Universe, and the Universe can't be tricked. [166]

Scientists are as prone to wishful thinking (and talking) as other men. [166]

[touching lightly on effects of zero-g (and greatly increased gravity)]: I . . . find it difficult to believe that a machine like our body, made to function under definite earth-conditions, would in fact run on merrily when those were greatly changed—and for a long time, or permanently. [166]
I don't doubt the possibility of sending a rocket to the Moon . . . I'll even admit the eventual possibility of landing undamaged human goods on the lunar landscape . . . But the Moon is very parochial. Rockets are so slow.  . . . even the speed of light will only be moderately useful . . . you'll have to plan for a speed greater than light; much greater, if you're to have a practical range outside the Solar System. Otherwise you will have very few destinations. [167]

[to sum up]:  
[Question]: people cannot leave this world and live, at least not beyond the orbit of the Moon
[Answer]:  I believe they could not, cannot, and never will [169]
[Conclusion]:  a space-travel story ought to be made to fit, as far as we can see, the Universe as it is.

--John R.
--current reading: a Dorothy Sayers festschrift (1993)

*the reference here is to H. G. Wells' Cavorite, which had been part of the Notion Club's discussion

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

chicks, ducklings, baby quail, and beehives

So, the rest of my trip to Arkansas seems to have just flown by. We did make it to Franke's up on the Cantrell Road, my mother's favorite restaurant,* and had a good-sized gathering of the family: in addition to my wife and myself there was my mother, uncle and aunt, sister, brother in law, both cousins on that side of the family and one cousin-in-law. All three of my nieces made it, plus six members of the next generation: two great-nieces, and four great-nephews. The eldest among us was eighty-seven, the youngest about two weeks old (and, with fond great-uncle-ing I must add that both he and his not-yet-two-years-old sister were very well behaved amid unfamiliar surroundings  and mostly unfamiliar people).

Another highlight of the visit was time spent with my sister. The town square has undergone something of a revival recently (the local college is establishing a presence downtown), and we segued from walking around the revivified section to poking around in a few blocks just off the old downtown and not yet restored: the old library building and county jail, the now-derelict coco-cola bottling plant, an alleyway with mimosas and some unfamiliar vines with odd pods, a not-yet-opened local history museum in the Longino House.** The town square was decorated with scarecrows in interesting variety, thanks to a Halloween contest sponsored by local businesses. My sister took pictures of them all; my two favorites were a pair of skeletal bride and groom and a realistic Dorothy Gale, complete with ruby slippers.

One side trip worth mentioning: I'd gone by Atwood's with my mother renewing her stock of birdseed and seen beehives for sale:*** something I don't ever remember seeing in a store before. Janice for her part had discovered that they sold baby chicks, ducklings, and baby quail. I've seen feed stores and some farm/pet stores that sold chicks and baby ducklings before, but baby quail was a new one for me, and I'm glad I got to see it.

All in all, a good trip. I had hoped to make a visit to my aunt on the other (Rateliff) side of the family but through poor planning on my part wound up not having enough time. Next time I'll know better and plan this for the beginning of the trip and not its final day. 

--John R.
--current reading: various bits by Dorothy Sayers

*we've been going there so long that it's now in its fourth location since we started there, back when we actually lived in Little Rock over fifty years ago.
**which has connections with both Logoly and Frog Level, once the local plantation.
 ***bees not included.

Friday, October 18, 2019


So, yesterday I went to the Magnolia Bake Shop (the oldest business in town, dating back to the 1920s) and ordered a german chocolate cake. I've failed at this seemingly simple request the last three times I was in town. One time they told me 'the machine is broken' as the purported reason, which has passed into the category of catchphrase between Janice and myself, shorthand for somebody offering a reason that went beyond ridiculously implausible to verge on the surreal.

Then Janice came up with the great idea of ordering ahead. German chocolate cake? they said. No problem, they said. How about I swing by and pick it up around one o'clock? they said. I gave them till two just to be on the safe side, and not long later was digging in. A major infraction of the low-carb diet, but oh so worth it.

Then it was out to the cemetery to see how the flowers already out there were holding up so we'd know whether we shd add to or replace. Then we went by a florist and picked out what we wanted, to be picked up tomorrow.

Late in the afternoon we went out to Logoly (pronouncd LOW-Go-Lye), once a boy scout camping ground,* then an abandoned park, now a cleaned up state park, v. pleasant for those in need of a long walk. Among things we spotted were cypress knees (which I'd first seen in this park years ago), a little lizard that was not at all afraid of us, a meandering creek, a granddaddy longlegs (which used to be a spider but aren't anymore), deer tracks, and some oddly scorched trees. I looked but did not see any sassafras.

Perhaps the most interesting part was the most historical one. Upon a time, a century and more ago, there was a spa called Magnesium Springs on the site that is now Logoly. The hotel for those who came to take the waters is long gone, destroyed in a fire, and I haven't been able to locate a photograph or floorplan yet. But the old open-air soaking area from the onetime spa survives and has been refurbished, albeit without the water (the water level having since fallen).

Today we took flowers out to the cemetery, where we cleaned up family graves, and spent time at the yard, where I set out some winter pansies in the yard next to the little mimosa. The wildlife I spotted today was either very large or very small. At the large end of the scale were two buzzards or turkey vultures hovering over the neighborhood (common in the area, rare to see in town). The small were grasshoppers (which we also have out in Washington) and crickets (which so far as I know we don't) and a dirt-dobber (which I think was hunting ants). Have to say I'm enjoying the coffee shops that have opened up downtown in the last year or two.

Tomorrow comes the big family get-together, and a planned visit to what I suppose must count as one of my two favorite restaurants.

--John R.
---current reading: still Sayers.

*in my time it was Camp Desoto over near El Dorado we used for our week at summer camp.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

D&D celebrity mini-documentary

So, recently I was thinking of Chauncey Gardner, Peter Sellers' character in BEING THERE,* whose catch-phrase is "I like to watch".

What sparked this was my seeing a short (twenty-minute) documentary online about the growing popularity of watching people play D&D.

Here's a link to a piece including a link to the video:

On the whole I found this an interesting piece that helped put in context the 'Shadows of the Crystal Palace' CTHULHU BY GASLIGHT I watched a while back.

The one point where I had to restrain myself from hooting  in derision was at their claim that Third Edition was hard (true) and  Fourth Edition was hard (true!) but Fifth Edition is easy ("easier" rather than "easy" wd be closer the truth). The unstated implication was that Second Edition AD&D and First Edition AD&D were easy. They weren't. Complicated in different ways, perhaps --easier to start playing but harder to master; more open to customization.

--John R.
--current reading: BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON

*both the original book and the movie based on it: quite different but highly recommended

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


So, I've now arrived in Arkansas for a week's visit, by way of Atlanta.

Last night was some very enjoyable visiting with family up in Little Rock, while today after a late start we drove down to Magnolia.

Tomorrow and Friday will be here around town, while Saturday we're having a big family get-together back up in Little Rock.

Signs  That-Show-You're-Back-In-the-South

--Seeing the first mockingbird of the trip: late morning today in the parking lot outside the Barnes & Noble/Starbucks in Little Rock: it came up and perched near us on a car.

--Coming across Xian faux-rock stations.

--Seeing those weird birds I've never been able to identify* at the Love's truck stop in Prescott.

--Standing next tp  a mimosa: this afternoon in Magnolia on the lot where the family house used to stand.

--John R.
current reading: THE SPIDER STRIKES! by Michael Innes (good concept, but takes forever to get started), also BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON by D. Sayers (re-reading a minor work).

*they look like slim grey grackles but act more like sparrows

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Antiquarian Book Fair

So, I did get to the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair this year, along with Janice and Stan, and spent about four hours looking through many, many interesting books. In the end I came away with three books: one by Clark Ashton Smith, one by H. P. Lovecraft, and one by J. R. R. Tolkien.

The Smith was THE DOUBLE SHADOW AND OTHER FANTASIES (1933). This was actually CAS's first book,* published by Smith himself. It's essentially an oversized (8 1/2 by 11) pamphlet collection of six stories, printed by the local newspaper and sold by Smith by mail-order. I've seen this before but never been able to buy it, given that it's usually been priced at about three times what I paid today. The difference is that most copies are signed and this one isn't. So while it'd be nice to have a signed copy, it's better to have this unsigned copy that I can afford than no copy at all.

The Lovecraft was THE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH, a pamphlet edition from Necronomicon Press. Not as nice as the old Randy Everts edition, but it'll be good to have this copy as a back-up in case the other gets too fragile at some point. I don't think much of Lovecraft's poetry aside from the famous couplet from the Necronomicon, but I make an exception for this sonnet sequence, which makes for a good read-aloud.

The Tolkien was a copy of THE SILMARILLION. I've had a copy of this since it first came out, of course  (I ordered it from Land of Legend in September 1977, just as I was beginning my first semester at Fayetteville). But forty-plus years on my copy is starting to show some serious signs of wear and I'm worried it may come apart. Now it can go into honorable retirement.

Mine was the American first printing first edition while the newcomer is the British first edition, with a much nicer cover (see below). I never have figured out why the US edition had as its cover art a colorized piece taken from THE HOBBIT rather than some of Tolkien's SILMARILLION art like the British edition.

    The best thing about the Book Fair is that you can find interesting books at reasonable prices if you were looking for good reading copies, as well as rare and famous books priced accordingly. For example, they had a copy of a first edition of Poe's THE RAVEN for $15,700. It's rather surprising that there was a three volume first edition LotR in really good original dust jackets for more than double that: $37,500. And these were not signed or inscribed or associational copies: just attractive copies of a much-in-demand book. When the bookseller granted permission for us to take a picture of them, she cheerfully pointed out they were displayed at the most prominent attention-getting spot in the booth for a reason.

Both Janice and Stan said the most expensive item they'd seen was priced at $100,000, but neither cd remember afterwards what book it was. Later that night Janice remembered: a deluxe three-volume biography of Prince Albert (he of the Albert Memorial),** which Queen Victoria presented to John Brown. That she wd give a book glorifying the first love of her life to the second love of her life is odd, but then so is the whole Victoria/Brown story.

I was glad to see Tolkien well represented: two more sets of LotR, an American first of FARMER GILES, a TREE & LEAF, a third-edition HOBBIT with facsimile dustjacket, and two different dealers both offering up the first volume of THE BOOK OF LOST TALES, seeming not to realize this was half of a two-book set. No letters, but I wdn't have been able to afford them anyway. Still, it's always interesting to see what he has to say in each uncollected letter you come across.

And then there were the ones that got away: a nice hardcover of Jack Vance's DYING EARTH (a too much for just a reading copy, and I'm not likely to be doing any work on Vance in the foreseeable future), a first edition of VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS (surprisingly ordinary in appearance, considering what how iconoclastic it is inside), the Arkham House huge omnibus of all four of Hope Hodgson's novels (available from three dealers at widely ranging prices, all of them outside my budget).***

I'm not a collector of CSL but wd like to get more of his literary criticism.**** Last time I'd been on Whidbey Island I'd seen a copy of ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY EXCLUDING DRAMA but been put off by the price; the same copy was here at the show but still expensive ($400), as was another volume from the same dealer: SELECTED LITERARY ESSAYS ($300). I saw a smattering of other Lewis (a set of Narnia) but no Charles Williams at all.

I'd gone in thinking how nice it'd be if there were a booth in there offering rare and unusual rpg items, but as suspected it turns out I'd have to go to other venues than this.

--John R
current reading: GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-reading, third time through)
*and thus I think the first book by any of the three major WEIRD TALES writers.
**one of the most overhonored men in history.
***the same was true of the two Arkham House Clark Ashton Smith collections I don't have.
****I find these days the less seriously I take Lewis the more I enjoy him.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Sounds Strangely Familiar (Gygax and Adams)

So, I've just finished reading WISH YOU WERE HERE, a biography of Douglas Adams by Nick Webb (2003). I'd been surprised by the date, not having realized it'd been so long (2001) since Adams died. It was good to see that Adams was the subject of not one  but two full-length biographies (having pulled this one off the shelf and carried it off and checked it out, I've forgotten the author and title of the other). This one focused on putting Adams into context with other British comic writers of his time (e.g. some mentoring by Monty Python) rather than his fellow science fiction writers (who get far less attention than science fact).

I was glad to have the chance to read this partly because I think highly of Adams' work* and partly because I'm interested in writer's block, and he's one of those authors who suffered from writer's block to an epic degree,** writing little the last decade or so of his life. He did however waste a lot of time trying to get THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY made into a movie, and at one point the author describes Adams' experiences in Hollywood in the late '90s:

"he hung about the production office doing very little. 
This gave him an unfortunate appetite for doing very little
in California, a place where the rewards from a deal
are so mind-boggling that the investment of years of
doing very little (camouflaged, of course, as networking
or contractual foreplay) may seem perversely rational."
p. 205-206

This five and a half year period in Adams' life sounds strongly reminiscent, to me, of Gary Gygax's lost years in the early 80s, when Gygax spent years in Hollywood, living the high life but accomplishing very little.

One thing I learned that I'm glad to know is that, whereas I'd always seen Terry Pratchett as having taken Adams' schtick and shifted it from science fiction to fantasy, Webb shows the dates that prove Pratchett was already writing in his characteristic style before Adams broke into print, he just hadn't had any success with it yet.

All in all an interesting, informative, slightly wistful book, rather like Adams himself.

--John R.

*thanks to Charles N. for having recommended his work to me as far back as 1981
**like Tolkien, but more so because Tolkien never lost his engagement with Middle-earth (to the end of his days he was still engrossed in his invented languages).  Adams completely lost interest in the books his audience wanted him to write (more HITCHHIKER books), whereas he wanted to try new things like DIRK GENTLY (a colossal dud) and STARSHIP TITANIC (which sank without a ripple).

P. S. Fact I didn't know: Douglas Adams' sometime collaborator John Lloyd*** wrote an unpublished novel named GiGax, this being a term he coined meaning 'the greatest area that could be encompassed by the human imagination' (Webb p. 129); he only later discovered that there was a person (our Gary Gygax) who had that name (ibid.130).

***who co-wrote two of the original twelve episodes of the HITCHHIKER radio show when Adams had ground to a writer's-block induced halt.

Monday, October 7, 2019

A question for grammarians (Three Dog Night)

So, the other day I heard Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" on the radio and my attention was caught by the line

"If I were the king of the world
I tell you what I'd do
I'd throw away the cars and the bars and the wars
And make sweet love to you . . . "

Hearing this familiar line in a familiar song (I remember when it was first a hit), it struck me for the first time that car/bar/war was a kind of eye-rhyme. At least that's what I'd call it if I saw it written down in a poem. CAR and BAR definitely rhyme, and WAR is so similar in spelling it looks like it shd rhyme with the other two but actually doesn't. So my question is this: can it be 'eye' rhyme when you don't see it?

--John R.

--who wd gladly go along with getting rid of bars (as a prohibitionist) and wars (as a pacifist), though losing cars wd be hard; despite THE BOVADIUM FRAGMENTS I'd prefer fewer cars (and better public transportation) rather than no cars at all. --JDR

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Well, well, well

So, it's been several years now since I've been able to go to the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. Not from any lack of interest: I've either been out of town or had a prior commitment elsewhere for that weekend. Which is a pity, since it's a real education to see so many interesting and unusual books first-hand.  Occasionally I've saved up my money and been able to buy one or more such books myself. This is where I've picked up most of the smattering of Arkham House books on my shelves,* like Clark Ashton Smith's ABOMINATIONS OF YONDO or one of Derleth's Solar Pons books. And, of course, the Tolkien letter.

 It was also at the Antiquarian Book Fair that I had an odd run-in and even odder conversation with someone whom I later realized had mistaken me for John Bellairs. It's a great place to go with a friend or friends, the better to split up and then later report on our individual finds -- like the year I went with Sue Weinlein and Stan Brown.

This year I was wistful to see the postcard in the mail announcing the time and place for this year's show. At first I thought sure enough it was scheduled so I'd just miss it. Then Janice pointed out that no, its timing would fit just between the trip I'd be getting back from and the next one that swiftly follows.

So, if you like books, and you've got some time on Saturday October 12th, 10am to 6pm, or Sunday October 13th, 11 am to 4 pm, come join the fun at Exhibition Hall at the Seattle Center.** Maybe I'll be lucky enough to see one of the two CAS Arkham House volumes I'm still missing. I know I'll have fun looking -- and in looking to see how high the prices for Tolkien have gotten.

--John R.
current reading: WISH YOU WERE HERE, a biography of Douglas Adams (another author with crippling writer's block).

*most of the rest I picked up from Norwescon, back in the days when I used to go to Norwescon.
**the old World's Fair ground.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Me, Tallking About TSR

So, Wednesday I appeared on a podcast about the events leading up to TSR's collapse.

The podcast is hosted by Ben Riggs, the other guest being ex-TSR and current Chaosium book editor Jim Lowder.*

Here's the audio. Mine is the voice which sounds like it was conjured up by the Witch of Endor when she was having an off-day. I may have oversimplified some but don't think I misspoke. At any rate I learned a lot of interesting things about what was going on behind the scenes in those far-off dark days.

Given that this piece was about the mistakes that laid them low, maybe at some point I shd put together a post celebrating TSR's achievements.**

Thanks to Ben for providing the opportunity and for sharing his discoveries and to Jim for the context.

--John R.
current reading: C. L. Moore's NORTHWEST SMITH stories (only one, the crossover story, left to go), a biography of Douglas Adams (just started), an old golden-age mystery novel (poorish opening, hope it gets better)

*whom I've known since the mid-80s when we were in a terrible Science Fiction class at Marquette (I as a grad student and he as an undergrad/honors student)
**which were many, and tend to go unrecorded

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Tolkien Enterprises vs. Tolkien Estate

So, the thread on TSR and the Tolkien license is still going on over at the Piazzo forum.* Wish I had time to chime in, since there are a lot of interesting comments, not all of which I agree with.**

I do have two observations though.

1. Our lives would all be simpler, and discussions like this one less at cross-purposes, if we could all grasp the difference between Tolkien Enterprises (=Saul Zaentz) and The Tolkien Estate (=the Tolkien family) and remember which controls exactly which rights.

2. My eye was drawn by the following quote:
"To be honest, I had not heard of John D. Rateliff before. I'll have to have a look to see if he has worked on any TSR product lines I like. It sounds like he has some good stories."

This doesn't surprise me, because a good editor is invisible. But, just to toot my own horn,*** game worlds I've worked on during my time at TSR and WotC and Hasbro include

the DOMINARIA setting (an abandoned project)

--in fact, I worked at one time or another on just about every AD&D game world except DARK SUN****

Mostly, though, I worked on core AD&D projects, like the boxed sets NIGHT BELOW and RETURN TO THE TOMB OF HORRORS, as well as the third edition PLAYER'S HANDBOOK (and DMG).

I'm glad he liked my stories.

--John R.

*"When TSR Passed on Tolkien"
**but then you rarely get a good discussion when everyone agrees at the outset
***clarinet, actually
****which was fortunate for me, since that was probably my least-favorite setting

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

a day at Marquette

So, today I started out the day by saving a roly-poly that was trying to cross a busy sidewalk.

Then later on in the Archives I found out there was another transcription in Tollkien's calligraphic hand of The King's Letter, a dual-language (English/Elvish) text but not in tengwar. That makes four tengwar texts and two non-tengwar.

Then this evening I took part in a podcast, the topic of which was the collapse of TSR at the end of 1996.

All in all, a good day. Now if tomorrow I can just get all the texts of The Epilogue (or, more correctly, both versions of The Epilogue) properly sequenced.

Also on the agenda: see if I can do anything about the disconcertedly bloodshot eye I've had for the past few days.

--John R.
--current reading: C. L. Moores stories originally published in WEIRD TALES circa 1937 and some more of the Virginia Woolf story fragments, dating just a few years later (mostly circa 1940), the most interesting of which tells of a man who tries to picture what a woman he doesn't know is like based on the marginalia she has added to various library books he checks out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The King's Letter

So, today was a good day. Yesterday was my first day back in the Archives of this (short) research trip, mostly spent sorting out where I left off and getting myself back into the feel of working with the manuscripts again. Today I got back into the detail work. My first overall goal is to go through the sequencing for the latter part of Book VI, which I put together in haste last time without the usual double-checking. Specifically it was figuring out the best way to represent the complicated tangle whereby the Epilogues spun off from the final chapter and then in turn spun off The King's Lettter, one of Tolkien's fine calligraphic tengwar manuscripts.

Christopher Tolkien states that there are three versions of this document, two of which -- the first  (IX.130) and third (IX.131) texts -- he reproduces in HME.IX. Wayne & Christina pick up on this discussion in ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR (page 201) and reproduce the second text (item #199, page 202).  But there's actually a fourth text, and I was trying to figure out where it fit into the sequence. And just to complicate things a little more today I turned up a fifth text, though this might be the text CT refers to as a 'transliteration' (IX.129), given that it is written in Tolkien's fine calligraphic hand in English and Elvish but not in tengwar.

In other news, last night I got to attend a meeting of the Burrahobbits, my all-time favorite reading group. Which reminds me: the group got its name when we were much amused with Nichol Williamson's readings from THE HOBBIT --still I think second only to Christopher's recordings of some Silmarillion texts.* Now Williamson's performances have been available online, for those who don't have a copy of the old four-record set or indeed a way to play vinyl albums. Here's the link, for which my thanks to Janice:

So, things are off to a good start. The most eventful incident so far was accidently leaving my laptop behind in the Archives at the end of day yesterday. Thanks to one of my fellow researchers working in the Reading Room, who saw me at the bus stop and let me know; a quick dash back from the bus stop up to the top floor of the library revealed that I was in luck: there was still someone inside who'd been keeping an eye out while locking up in case I shd show up again. So I didn't have to spend that evening and the next morning without my electronic devices.**

--John R.
--current reading: continuing the collection of C. L. Moore's NORTHWEST SMITH stories. Also today read some unfinished short stories by Virginia WoolF, which were interesting (I've read virtually all her fiction and essays/literary criticism, and biographical pieces, but a few stray pieces have turned up since I was last in a V.W. reading mood).

*and of course to JRRT himself

**If I had, it wd probably be justice for the time I was babysitting a toddler and had to hear her distraught cries of 'Y-pad! Y-pad!' when it was time to put the I-pad away and sleep.

UPDATED W.9/25-19

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Back in Milwaukee

So, it's been a week and more since I posted last, having been distracted by preparations for my current trip: tomorrow begins a week's work at the Marquette Archives looking at the Tolkien papers. This time the focus will be on the appendices, which will also involve at least some time with the frontmatter as well, the two being linked in various complicated ways.

For now though I've arrived, arranged for some get-togethers with friends, and gotten settled in. Tomorrow begins the mission.

As for the get-togethers, they've already started. I got to play a CALL OF CTHULHU adventure today, downstairs in The Plaza's Walnut Room, which looks exactly like the ideal background for such a game. This was the third of three adventures written and run by Jim Lowder, the only person I know of to have been on the staff of both TSR (back in the old days, immediately preceding and overlapping with my first few months there) and now Chaosium (which in many ways was an anti-TSR).

Tomorrow after the Archives closes I have plans to see my friends the Burrahobbits, a long-running fantasy book group. Wednesday I'm hoping to see Richard West if he can make it over from Madison for the day. And to round the week out I've got plans on Thursday to see RPG blogger Ben Riggs to share some reminiscencing about Lake Geneva days.

Speaking of which, I hadn't realized a discussion was going back and forth online about TSR's decisions to pass on a Tolkien license back in '92 and WotC's later repeating their mistake; thanks to Allan G. for the link.

In the meantime I've been doing a lot of reading, both light (re-reading J.P.Walsh's fourth Peter-and-Harriet novel* and trying out a late-period Heinlein), heavy (HME.XII, H.Young's 'Habits of Whiteness'), and somewhere in-between (C. L. Moore's NORTHWEST SMITH stories, which strike me as Mythos-in-space tales).

And now to make an early night of it so as to be at my best for working with the manuscripts tomorrow.

--John R.

*this is the one that slanders Tolkien; a sort of belated sequel to GAUDY NIGHT.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Secrets of Blackmoor

So, thanks to Doug A. for  the link to an article revisiting the great Arneson-Gygax credit controversy, arguing once again over which man contributed more to the creation  of D&D (and thus all roleplaying games). The article pulls no punches, coming down squarely on the anti-Gygax side. And by 'anti-Gygax' I mean not just Gygax as an interesting person with character flaws who treated people badly but Gygax-as-villain, Gygax as Snidely Whiplash, a figure of melodrama rather than history (most notably in the comments from Rob Kuntz, a former Gygax sidekick). There's plenty to criticize about Gygax, but  this attack wd be more convincing if it recognized his enormous contribution.

Here's the link;

The same may be said of the trailer for the documentary, which can be seen here:

The movie itself, I'm happy to say, adopts a milder tone and is much more devoted to boosting Arneson than in tearing Gygax down (I think Gygax first showed up at the 77-minute mark). It's a long and slow version of 'tell me about your character', but since the people doing so were, for example, the first person to ever play a dwarf in a D&D game, it's worth sitting through. Especially when you consider the people who they get on film: progenitors such as Wesely and Megarry and, through archival footage, some Arneson.  I'm sorry the late Dave Sutherland (the member of the Minneapolis group to most successfully transitioned to Lake Geneva, where he stayed with the company more than twenty years) is totally absent; if he was more than mentioned I missed it. I wish they'd have included interviews with Mike Carr, who again is mentioned a time or two in passing (regarding his being a neighbor of Arneson's yet the two first met at GenCon) with no hint of how important he was to the D&D/AD&D transition.  Oddly enough, the closing credits say they interviewed Tim Kask (the founding editor of THE DRAGON) but didn't use any of that footage.  Perhaps it'll be in the second part to this documentary that they promise at the end.

I can't end without a note about Arneson's dad, who appears several times and is surprisingly eloquent about never having really appreciated what all his talented son and his friends were doing down in his basement every weekend for all those years. I get the feeling the lack of underappreciation ran both ways: old Mr. Arneson mentions being puzzled that his son knew everything about Napoleon's battles (and battles Napoleon might have had, had events in history played out differently) yet had no interest in his own father's first-hand experience in World War II and Korean. That reminded me of a story TSR's Roger Moore told in one of his editorials, the point of which was that wargamers don't want to know what war is like.

So, essential if you want to delve deep into the prehistory of D&D and don't mind doing so through an extremely skewed account.

current reading: just read four books in three days: a Nero Wolfe (re-read) and three Georges Simenon MAIGRET novels (all bad). Now I've started two more: THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE EARTH (HME.XII) and ASTOUNDING, the Campbell/Heinlein/Asimov/Hubbard biography.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The New Arrivals (Cilli, Young, & Nevala-Lee)

So, several books that I've long had on order have begun to arrive, along with a few I only learned about and ordered recently. Here are some first impressions, which I wanted to get down so as to be able to come back and revisit when I've read the books through.

The first of these, in the long-awaited category, is Oronzo Cilli's TOLKIEN'S LIBRARY: AN ANNOTATED CHECKLIST. This is flat-out a great idea: to list every book JRRT is known to have owned or read. And it's one of those dip-able books that you look up something in, to have that make you think of another author or title you want to check, and that leads to another, and so forth. It's like surfing on the net: it's easy to get sucked in in a most enjoyable way. The tricky part comes in with methodology. Cilli addresses this by identifying the evidence for each book as primary source (e.g. the actual book survives with Tolkien's signature) or secondary source (Tolkien quotes from the book). All in all, illuminating and deeply interesting.

The second is  RACE AND POPULAR FANTASY LITERATURE: HABITS OF WHITENESS by Helen Young (2016). Here's a case where the title and subtitle shd have been swapped: HABITS OF WHITENESS is a much stronger, more eye-catching title. I only know Young as the organizer of the 'Tales After Tolkien' track at Kalamazoo's yearly Medieval Congress. This is less a book I expect to enjoy and more one I want to read to prepare myself for dealing with the current hostile environment by seeing first hand what Tolkien's distractors are saying. Surprisingly enough, given her theme, there's no entry for Norman Spinrad or THE IRON DREAM anywhere in the  index; does she not know about this book?

The third is an e-book on the Kindle: ASTOUNDING, a joint biography of John W. Campbell, Robert A. Heinlein,  Isaac Asimov, and L. Ron Hubbard. It comes as something of a shock to find that the one with the most reprehensible ideas was not Hubbard nor Heinlein but Campbell. I'm curious about this one to see what it might have to say about the recent moves to re-name literary awards because of objections to the person after whom the award was named, like the Campbell Award, the Lovecraft 'Howie', and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. The  'Hugo' is still the Hugo, but I wdn't count on its remaining so, given the current trend. In retrospect perhaps Glen GoodKnight was wise in naming his group The Mythopoeic Society and its award The Mythopoeic Award; the Charles Williams Award cd have in the current climate been more problematic.

In any case, that's my first impressions, which I expect will change quite a bit in the course of reading them.

And I have two more to look forward to:  TOLKIEN'S CHAUCER and John Garth's new sites-that-inspired-Tolkien book, both of which are currently 'forthcoming'.

--John R.
current reading: some misc. bits in THE BOOKS OF EARTHSEA; also continuing the C. S. Lewis reception and reputation book (which travels lightly, and tactfully, over issues involving Lindskoog vs. Hooper, and things like Mrs. Moore's role in CSL's private life.).

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The True Shape of a Tree

 So, here's another of Tolkien's late thoughts that show how deeply he considered each aspect of his subcreation that drew his attention during his late metaphysical writings in which he tried to work out how everything worked. This one is particularly fitting, given how it deals with something that he made iconic in his works:* the nature of trees.

[Something] which distinguishes the living from the unliving** is that the living employ Time in their realization. In other words it is part of their nature to 'grow', using such material as is needed or is available to them for their embodiment. So that a living pattern does not exist fully at any one moment of time (as do unliving patterns); but is complete only with the completion of its life. It cannot therefore rightly be seen instantly, and is only imperfectly envisaged even with the help of memory. Only thosewho conceived its pattern and whose sight is not limited to the succession of time can, for instance,see the true shape of a tree.

Comments on 'The Converse of Manwëwith Eru'
(pages 112 & 114; emphasis mine)

* "In all my works I take the part of trees"—JRRT, 1972 (Letters.419)
**e.g., an 'unliving' material such as iron

Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Tolkien Piano

So, for a long time I wondered whether there were any Tolkien pianos left in the world. We knew that Tolkien's ancestors were known for making pianos and, earlier, clocks (and, at least one of them, for writing music). But that was more than a century ago: did any of those old pianos survive? Eventually I heard that yes, at least one had made it down through the years, still in the possession of a member of the family.

And now it appears that total of known surviving Tolkien Pianos has increased to two. I was skimming through the latest issue of AMON HEN when I saw the following notice about someone who had a Tolkien piano, complete with stool, that'd been in his family since 1919, having been made about thirty years before that. And, in an act of stunning generosity,  he wanted to give it away to a good home. Here's his picture of the piano in question: much less utilitarian and more elegant than I had expected.

And here's hoping it finds a good home.

--John R.
--current reading: THE FAME OF C. S. LEWIS by Stephanie Derrick

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Raymond Edwards' footnotes

So, I shd add that quite apart from the quality of  Raymond Edwards' biography of JRRT, I only discovered as I was wrapping it up that he is a footnoter after my own heart.

In his account of Tolkien's early days as a writer, Edwards quotes G. B. Smith's comment that one of Tolkien's poems reminded him the woman who wore all her jewelry after breakfast. Then in Note 46 on Chapter 1 (page 301) Edwards points out that the quip is not original with Smith but had earlier been used "by the poet and critic Arthur Symons about the novelist George Meredith's verse." He then goes on to clarify:

"This Symons should not be confused with
the biographer A. J. A. .Symons (The Quest for Corvo),
brother to the crime writer Julian Symons,
nor any of them with the historian and homosexual
proselytizer John Addington (J. A.) Symonds.
All are roughly contemporary, which does not help."

This even outdoes the note in my Dunsany dissertation distinguishing E. Nesbit (Edith Bland)--the English writer and friend of Dunsany's who first published one of his important works-- from Evelyn Nesbit (the notorious femme fatale at the center of a lurid murder and subsequent scandalous trial).

I bow to the master.
-- JDR

In Praise of Raymond Edwards

So, I've finally finished reading Raymond Edwards' biography of JRRT, which I first dipped into back in 2016 (reading roughly the last third of the book in Marquette Library's copy)* and returned to this summer with a copy of my own, working my way through it in starts and stops. I conclude that it has to be the most under-appreciated work on Tolkien in years: a major work that everybody seems to have ignored. This is what Tolkien biographies should be like, not another rehash of Carpenter but a rounded account that takes into account the wealth of information in the Scull/Hammond CHRONOLOGY and other resources not available when Carpenter was blazing his trails. Edwards is particularly good on Tolkien's academic milieu (just how much time Tolkien spent at his day job), his Catholicism (of great importance, but not the end-all and be-all of everything he wrote), and the difficulties he faced when trying to complete THE SILMARILLION.

It took me a long time to work my way through it because it's one of those books that starts the reader thinking -- I literally stopped every page to consider some point, or go look up some connection. The result was that it was a very slow read for such a reasonably sized book (300  pages not counting the Notes/Bibliography/Index).

An example of the sort of thing Edwards does well can be found in the section titled 'English at Oxford', part five (of seven) of Chapter Two, wherein Edwards follows his previous section's account of what Tolkien was up to during his student days at Oxford with a history of the men who were the philology and literature dons at Oxford, both while Tolkien was a student there (including which ones taught him what) and in the half-century or so before he arrived, setting the stage. Names which tend to swirl by in most accounts here emerge memorably: Richard Rawlinson, Joseph Bosworth, John Earle ('poor old John Earle' Tolkien called him), John Josias Conybeare, Arthur Napier and his sidekick Kenneth Sisam (Tolkien's tutor), Henry Sweet (rumored to be the model for Shaw's Henry Higgins), Walter Raleigh (who championed literature against the dominant emphasis on philology) and his assistant David Nichol Smith (who endured long enough to be an older colleague of Tolkien's), W. P. Ker (known to most of us primarily as a foil in 'The Monsters & the Critics', but so energetic and well-regarded as to have been a don at University College London, and Oxford, simultaneously), and most importantly of all Joseph Wright (Tolkien's hero).  All this, and more, in about eight pages, and judiciously written by one who is himself a philologist and wholly sympathetic to Tolkien's academic endeavors.

I would have thought a book this good would have won all the major Tolkien scholarship awards and become one of those rare books that everybody agrees ought to be ready at hand on your shelf. And I confess myself puzzled that instead it seems to be slipping into obscurity. Is it a case that so many books on Tolkien come out each year now that even a book this good can get lost in the crowd?

Anyhow, a great book: Highly Recommended.

--John R.
--current reading: just resuming a book begun and abandoned in June, when I was on the road.

*I think on the recommendation of Bill F. If so, thanks Bill.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The New Arrival: 2020 Tolkien Calendar

So, after the chaos of trying to get last year's Tolkien calendar, I order mine for this year, from Amazon, as soon as I heard from Janice that it was out.  It arrived today -- a neat trick, since it's not out till tomorrow. Guess there are some advantages of living within walking distance of a major warehouse in a city rich with Amazon locations and facilities.

As for the calendar itself, anyone who's been getting Tolkien calendars for a number of years learns that there are good ones and (God knows) bad ones. This is a good one. Only had a chance to give it a quick skim so far, but it strikes me as vintage Alan Lee. In fact it has a sort of valedictory feel to it.

--John R.

A Thought about Orcs

So, yesterday I was reading through some of JRRT's late metaphysical writings, during which I came across the following passage while looking for something else entirely:

The Valar feared to meddle with the Children . . . Also Eru had forbidden them to coerce their wills, daunting their minds by dread of the power of the Valar, or even amazing them with wonder of their beauty and majesty. But they [the Valar] deemed that since the rule of Arda was committed them, it was within their authority to hinder any creature from deeds of evil, or to restrain it from what might prove hurtful to itself or to others. By 'coercing the will' they understood the dominion or enslaving of the mind of a lesser creature, so that it might say 'I will', assenting to this or that against its true nature and inclination, until it lost, maybe, the power of choice.

The context of this lies in some commentary to The Converse of Manwe with Eru about elvish reincarnation.

What's interesting here is that reversing this line of thought leads to a means that satisfies some of the basics of The Problem with Orcs. What if Melkor the Morgoth, with his love of domination and free of any scruples his fellow Valar might feel as to the consequences of their work, imposed his will on the proto-orcs until they too 'lost, maybe, the power of choice'?

Not altogether satisfactory, but an interesting addition to Tolkien's various attempts (all ultimately unsuccessful) to sort out the problem of a race that is (a) sentient (b) free willed and (c) irredeemably evil.

--John R.
--current reading: J. M. W. TURNER: THE MAN WHO SET PAINTING ON FIRE by Olivier Meslay (another Thames & Hudson, but this one small-sized)

Saturday, August 24, 2019

On This Day in 1981

So, on this day, Monday August 24th 1981, I first saw, and worked with, Tolkien manuscripts. I'd  arrived in Milwaukee by train on the 22nd, having moved sight unseen to a city I'd never visited before and where the number of people there I knew, or had even met, was exactly none. There must have been some paperwork confirming that I'd been admitted to the graduate school and granted a Teaching Assistantship in the English department, but all I remember are two letters I'd received from Chuck Elston at the Archives, the first saying that no, they couldn't send me photocopies of any of their manuscripts, and the second saying that I could certainly look at their Tolkien manuscripts if I came to Marquette in person.

The days leading up to this had been busy ones: my mother dropping me off at the train station in Little Rock late in the afternoon of Friday the 21st (so she cd get well on the way back to Magnolia before dark), my catching the train around midnight and arriving in Milwaukee around six or so the evening of the 22nd, then finding my new apartment (which took a while, due to the inability of the cab driver to find the building). Sunday I either walked or took the bus* down to the Sears on Mitchell Street and got some kitchen essentials, like a set of three or four pots and pans.** Monday I reported to the English Department and started their training for new TAs, which ran the week before classes started (both the ones we'd be teaching and the ones we'd be taking). That same day I went into the Archives for the first time and met both Chuck Elston, the Archivist, and Terry Margherita, the Archives secretary.

My reading list records that I read MR BLISS that day,*** and I still have a complete transcription of that then unpublished work that I made in those early days, followed I think by what I cd transcribe of the two earliest versions of FARMER GILES (which has always been a favorite of mine).

That evening I read John Bellairs'  THE FACE IN THE FROST, for the first of what turned out to be many times. I'd previously known only through a paragraph quoted in my friend Franklin Chestnut's master's thesis, so when I saw it in the university bookstore I bought it right away. It quickly became one of my favorite books (I read it again four days later****); that it gave me nightmares might have been partly to my reading it in a near-empty apartment in a strange city.

And I'm currently making plans for my next visit to Milwaukee in September to spend a week working with the Tolkien manuscripts there. The more things change . . .

--John R.
--current reading: just finished a near-final draft of a Master's Thesis (good!)
--currently reading a small book on J. M. W. Turner, about who I know next to nothing; enjoying this as well.

*I was without a car most of my years in Milwaukee
**one of these later figured in the exploding skillet story, but I'll save that for another time
***it's number seven (#II.7) in my restarted list

Sunday, August 18, 2019

My Reading List

So, on this day in 1975 I started my reading list. The most recent entry thereto (Thursday the 15th)  was book #II.3522  -- and that doesn't include the 536 books I read between August 1975 and April 1981, whereupon my list-keeping was disrupted, causing me to start over with a new numeration that August (August 15th 1981, to be exact. It was a Saturday).

When I started my list I was just about to begin my second year of High School (eleventh grade). My motivation was that I'd read a book and then later forget the author or title. Or I might read one work of a series (say, a mystery novel) and not be sure afterwards which books in that series I had and hadn't read.  By writing down the title, author, and date I read it I was much likelier to be able to find a book again shd I need to.

Not everything I read goes onto the list. Things I left out include books I don't read all the way through, which are many, and audiobooks (despite several efforts to maintain a second list for audiobooks unfortunately it's never really taken). Short pieces are taken on a case-by-case basis, sometimes linked together as a single entry. The list doesn't include rpgs or magazines or correspondence or anything posted online (except for e-books of course, which are included in the main list).

Just for fun, here's a cross-section of books I've read.

#I. 1.  
The first book, forty-four years ago this week: Nicholas Meyer's THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION, the first of what wd prove a wave of new Sherlock Holmes novels not by Conan Doyle.
The next book that followed was THE SAGA OF KING HEIDREK THE WISE, tr. Christopher Tolkien, the first saga I ever read and still my favorite.

#I. 340.  
Forty years ago this week (August 18th 1979):  EARTH AND SKY by The Writers' Guild -- the first (and only) release by a writers group I helped organize while in college, an anthology of student-written poetry and prose.
The previous book before this was G. A. L. Burgeon's THIS EVER DIVERSE PAIR (which I later got autographed by the author, both under that name and his real one, Owen Barfield).
The following book was THE TOLKIEN SCRAPBOOK, ed. Alida Becker.

#II. 1175 & 1176 . 
Thirty years ago this week (Fri Aug 18th 1989): I finished up SOURCERY by Terry Pratchett (Discworld V, not one of his best) and continued on to read that same day the whole of WYRD SISTERS (Discworld VI, my second reading of this much better book). I spent the next few weeks and again in December slogging through David Edding's utterly generic double quintology, finally giving it up after the eighth book in the ten-book series (and I've never been able to make myself go back and force my way through the last two books).

#II. 2167.
Twenty years ago this week (Sun 8/15 - W 8/18 1999): the SORCERER'S SHIP by Hannes Bok (awful! just goes to show not every oldie is a goodie). Far more interesting were the books before and after it: a prose translation of Chretien's PERCIVAL (with the first two Continuations) and Stephen Jay Gould's QUESTIONING THE MILLENNIUM.

#II. 2797.
Ten years ago this week (in three spurts: M 8.17 - Fr 8/21, Sun 8/23-M 8/24, & Sat Sept 6-Sun 6th 2009): THE PLEASURES OF A FUTUROSCOPE by Lord Dunsany (A posthumous publication of his last novel some fifty years after his death. Pity it's so very bad.).

#II. 3522. 
Finished up three days ago (7/10, 7/19, 7/22, Sun 8/11 thr Th 8/15-19):  Jeffro Johnson's APPENDIX N.

Between the 500+ books on the First List and the 3522 books on the Second List, that's well over four thousand books. So far.

--Current reading: starting back on the third of four books that have been left hanging with on-and-off again reading the last two months or so -- two down (#II.3521 & II.3522), two to go.