Tuesday, March 26, 2019

God Bless Good Samaritans

So, a heartfelt thanks to all the good people out there.

For example, those who help people stuck in an upside-down car.

As in, one that had flipped over after being struck by someone running a red light.


I'm glad to say that everyone's mostly alright, thanks to seat belts doing exactly what they're supposed to do.


So today marks two firsts for me. It's the first time I've been in a car that rolled over on its roof, leaving us suspended by our seat belts. And it's the first time I've ridden in the back of a police car (the officers investigating the crash insisting driving me to my hotel).

I hope your day was much less eventful than mine.

--John R.


P.S.: Janice is fine, being in Kent, while I'm in the middle of my research trip here in Milwaukee

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Larry DiTillio Dies

So, I was sorry to hear the news from the Chaosium newsletter (Ab Chaos) that gaming legend Larry DiTillio has died. I never got to meet DiTillio -- one of those legendary figures like Greg Stafford (whom I did meet) or Sandy Petersen or Tom Moldvay -- but I highly recommend his work. Among his many achievements, he wrote what I consider the best rpg adventure ever -- and not the one you're thinking of, either.

That is, DiTillio is famed as the author of the legendary MASKS OF NYARLATHOTEP, widely considered to be the best adventure ever written for CALL OF CTHULHU, one of the most widely loved and highly respected of all roleplaying games (now in its thirty-eighth year and seventh edition). But I personally think that, good as MASKS is, there are other CoC campaigns that are even better (including THE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH and especially SHADOWS OF YOG-SOTHOTH).*

More importantly, DiTillio wrote another rpg adventure that is even better: THE GREY KNIGHT, for PENDRAGON. The first adventure for a new game is all-important to that game's success: it tells the players and DM what sort of things their characters will do in the new game.  In the case of THE GREY KNIGHT, the adventure runs the whole range of knightly activity: jousting in a tournament, courtly intrigue, flirtation, combat against fellow knights, magical trickery, and more. DiTillio's adventure deserves particular praise for not making a too-common mistake of setting the adventure around the margins of the game: Here player-character knights get to meet and interact with major characters in the setting, like Sir Gawain and Sir Tor and Morgan le Fay.  A brilliant piece of work.

Here's a tribute to DiTillio from Chaosium:

https://www.chaosium.com/bloglarry-ditillio-visionary-game-designer-and-writer-19402019?mc_cid=261d358783&mc_eid=e256d16084

--John R.

*I might modify that position if I'd ever actually played MASKS; as it is I've read it (a long time ago now) but only played a small part of it.


The Festschrift is a Finalist!

So, I was happy to learn* that A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS is a finalist for this year's Tolkien Society Award in the Best Book category. The competition is formidable: Catherine McIlwaine's phenomenal MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH catalogue of the Bodleian Exhibit, which I'm on record as saying is a major contribution to Tolkien studies, and THE FALL OF GONDOLIN, Christopher Tolkien's final book, the self-announced conclusion to decades of editing and making available his father's works.  It really is an honor to have been nominated, and to stand alongside two such significant works on their shortlist.

Here's the link to the announcement. Voting is still open until Friday the 29th, so if you're a Society member don't forget to sign in and vote.

https://www.tolkiensociety.org/2019/03/vote-now-for-the-tolkien-society-awards-2019/


And here's more about the awards, including past winners: 

 https://www.tolkiensociety.org/society/awards/

--John R.

current reading: The Music of the Valar, from BLT; 'They Also Serve' (my favorite Mervyn Wall story, closely followed by 'The Hogskin Gloves'), and THE COLUMBIAD (which is both earnest and inept, a bad combination).


*thanks, Paul, for sharing the good news.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Remedy for Nostalgia

So, one of the most interesting things to turn up in my recent round of sorting down in the Box Room is a folder containing correspondence and other material related to my first dissertation topic, the one which went down in flames.

I find that when I think of Marquette these days what I remember is the good-parts version: spending time in the Archives, my fellow grad students, courses from professors I liked, teaching continuing ed. courses (night school) on Tolkien and fantasy, my long-running D&D campaign, &c.

What I tend to forget is the down side,* and the papers in this folder are a reminder of the latter.

Well into my dissertation process, when I'd done a lot of reading and a lot of thinking and come up with a topic and thesis I thought wd make for a good dissertation ('THE EMERGENCE OF FANTASY AS A MODERN LITERARY GENRE'**),  I found myself at an impasse. Two of the people on my three-person committee (including the dissertation director) approved the topic while the third kept requesting changes, requiring me to re-write the proposal time after time for a period of months (almost a year, all told). Eventually she rejected my topic completely, calling it

"unworkable as a project, 
unpublishable as a book, 
and something that would be ripped to shreds 
if any of it did ever get published"

And that, pretty much, was that. I had to start over again with a new topic with a new committee, not including the person who'd given the thumbs down on my previous effort. That turned out to be my Dunsany project, which I enjoyed researching and learned a lot doing, so no regrets there, though the change in topic did set me back and delay my finishing my Ph.D. by several years. 

At the time I was bitter about it, but over time I've become more exasperated than anything else. If that one committee member didn't agree with my thesis and was determined not to approve a dissertation along those lines, as turned out to be the case, why didn't she just tell me at the start?***
It wd have saved a lot of time and bother all round.

And now, back to Tolkien.

--John R.
--current reading: A FLUTTER OF WINGS by Mervyn Wall

*I had a paragraph about the down side here but on second thought deleted it.
**which might just as well have been called The Role of Tolkien in the Emergence of Fantasy as a modern literary genre.

***she told me later she was trying to do me a favor, since I'd never get a job in academia if I kept writing about fantasy and Tolkien.




Monday, March 18, 2019

The First Review for the Festschrift

So, the first review of A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, by Nancy Martsch, has now appeared, in the current (March) issue of BEYOND BREE.  She covers a lot of ground in the space of a single well-packed page, briefly describing and then evaluating each piece. She devotes the most time to the collaborative essay by Hillyard, Cook, Burns, Rohlin, & Stegen on dream and enchantment, which she judges "a significant contribution" our understanding of faerian drama. She concludes with a words any contributor of this volume will be glad to hear:

"This book is a worthy tribute"


--John R.
--first day back working with the manuscripts again.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Why is Tolkien not an 'Anglo-Saxon'?

So, here I am back in Milwaukee for another research trip. But first I wanted to post about a curious passage I came across when reading THE FALL OF GONDOLIN last week (book #II.3500 on the reading list, for those who are keeping count).

The line that caught my eye was Tolkien stating, in a letter to Stanley Unwin,

Unfortunately I am not an Anglo-Saxon

The context in this 1951 letter is Tolkien's recalling the outside reader's report rejecting THE SILMARILLION fourteen years earlier, in which the reader 'allowed it a kind of Celtic beauty intolerable to Anglo-Saxons in large doses'

But why shd Tolkien preface his comments about THE SILMARILLION's refusal to be suppressed with the comment about not being Anglo-Saxon?

Is Tolkien being ironic, along the lines of 'if Anglo-Saxons don't like this kind of stuff, and I do, then I must not be one of them'? I know Tolkien in some times and moods described himself as a Hwicce, but that doesn't seem apropos in this case. Indeed I wd have thought JRRT had a better claim to calling himself an 'Anglo-Saxon' than many, being of Saxon ancestry on the Tolkien side and Anglish descent through the Suffields.

In any case, one of Tolkien's more oblique statements, I thought.

--John R.

current music: THE WHO'S TOMMY (esp. the second half)
current reading: BEREN & LUTHIEN, some Japanese light novels.





Friday, March 15, 2019

Is Jeff Bezos a Tolkien Fan?

So, it's more than a full month since our quick visit to New York to see the Tolkien Exhibit. Accordingly, this seems like now-or-never time to add a brief postscript to my posts about the event.

First off, to repeat: this exhibit is a once-in-a-lifetime event, both in its Bodleian and Morgan iterations, and no doubt in the forthcoming Parisian Exhibit as well. I'm glad I got to go purely for the access to the items on display. But there was more: getting the chance to spend time with Tolkien friends, visiting New York City (albeit briefly) for the first time, hear some interesting talks, and in general enjoy being a Tolkienist among My People.

One interesting side-event took place when during Verlyn's lecture the person sitting next to me (Carl) asked in a whisper if  I recognized the person sitting at the end of the row in front of us. When I said no, he said "that's Jeff Bezos".

As in Jeff Bezos, president of Amazon. The richest man in the world. Sitting in the audience showing every sign of enjoying the talks along with the rest of us.

Later we saw him again at the reception, standing right in front of us during Simon Tolkien's talk about his grandfather, after which Carl spoke to him very briefly (some conversational pleasantry along the lines of 'glad to see you here, Mr. Bezos') and shook his hand. *

Afterwards I did a little digging and found there was precedent in his being at an event at the Morgan:  he had chosen the Morgan as the venue where he announced the release of the Kindle 2 almost exactly ten years earlier (Feb. 9th 2009).

Bezos has Tolkien connections as well, having personally intervened to seal the deal last year when Amazon was negotiating rights to make an ongoing streaming series as a prequel+remake of LotR (also known as 'the billion dollar deal').**

Finally, there was unadvertised presence of several members of the Tolkien family: not only did Simon Tolkien speak at the reception, but I was told that Michael George (JRRT's oldest grandson) was there as well; they also had announced a little earlier in the evening that Priscilla Tolkien had wanted to come but in the end not been able to make it.

Which casts interesting light upon comments made by Douglas Kane on my previous post in which he quotes some intriguing remarks by the head of Amazon Studios, the people who'll be making the new Tolkien adaptations:


[DOUGLAS KANE said]
In a recent article in the Hollywood Reporter, Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke was bizarrely quoted as saying in "early February" that "The Tolkiens are coming to New York, all those estate holders. The older ladies, who are now, I think, in their 80s and 90s. His daughters and the grandchildren, they're coming to New York, and Jeff Bezos, me, Jeff Blackburn, a team of us are going and they've invited us to a dinner and see some art, some creative work that they haven't shown the world yet." Setting aside the rather astounding fact that the head of the studio that is making this secretive new TV show apparently doesn't know how many daughters Tolkien had, it immediately occurred to me that you had mentioned that Simon Tolkien was in New York on February 7 (presumably just after she made this comment in "early February"). Were any other Tolkien family members present at the reception?

All this came on the same day that Mr. Bezos announced that he was the target of attempted blackmail by the NATIONAL INQUIRER,*** and just the week before Amazon abandoned their plans to set up a major new headquarters on Long Island, so there was clearly a lot in the works, both on the Tolkien and the Bezos front, that week in February.


Leads me to suspect that Paul Allen wasn't the only billionaire to be a Tolkien fan.

--John R.


*that I didn't recognize him myself is unsurprising (that pesky face blindness thing again), but then this is me we're talking about, a person who once walked past Kareen Abdul Jabbar at an airport and didn't notice him.

**more on the forthcoming series in an upcoming post

*** https://medium.com/@jeffreypbezos/no-thank-you-mr-pecker-146e3922310f



Saturday, March 2, 2019

NyQuil Days and door-dasher cats


So, having failed to head off a cold, I've spent the last three days trying to ride it out with the help of  rest, punctuated by regular doses of NyQuil. My wandering attention and tired eyes have prevented me from getting much done in the way of reading, unfortunately, though I have made my way through a bunch of anime (some good, some bad). The one good thing about this spell of sickness is the distractions coming in the form of curious inquiry by the new cats (whatcha doing? do Tarkus/Tyburns like it?) who have happily joined me on the couch or in the rocker in trying to sleep my way through it. 

In other news, we've now opened up the garage and box room to Tarkus and Tyburn, the last part of our place that'd been off-limits. They like it. They like it a lot. And luckily they're happy to come back upstairs when the time comes. That just leave two remaining hurdles: the balcony (which Tarkus has visited several times while on a leash; Tyburn after one trial thought it was much too scary) and walks outside (to teach them how to find our place again in case they ever get out by accident).

--John R.

Ubiquitous

So, casual Tolkien references continue to show up in what you might think unlikely places.

As, for instance, in the middle of a recent piece in The Guardian describing harassment tactics used online by anti-vaccine advocates against people who let it be known they support childhood vaccinations.  

Here's the quote, with the key phrase highlighted in bold:


“We are at the point where doctors are creating their own anti-vaxx social media attack response teams to help other doctors” . . .
One such rapid response team is being organized by Dr Todd Wolynn and Chad Hermann, the CEO and communications director of Kids Plus Pediatrics (KPP) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“If you’re being attacked, we’ll light the signal fires of Gondor, and you’ll have pro-science, pro-vaccine cavalry come to your aid,” Hermann said of the nascent project, called  “Shots Heard Round the World”.
And here's the link to the full article it came from:

As with most other such references I've been coming across, this one is marked both by its appearance in a non-literary context and by the (no doubt correct) assumption that it needs no explanation, that the average reader will know what the author's talking about.*

--John R.
--current reading: THE FALL OF GONDOLIN,   an old issue of LOCUS (Sept 2004)


*actually in this case that assumption applies twice, once when Wolynn & Hermann said the line and again when The Guardian quotes it.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Tolkien in New York

So, it's taken me a week, but here's my write-up of the second day of our Tolkien trip to the Morgan event in New York City.

Feeling somewhat drained by the events of the day before, we made a late morning of it on Thursday, February 7th, the second full day of our trip and the one scheduled to end with the big event: the reception.

We had lunch with Wayne and Christina, whom we hadn't seen in far too long (having missed the last two of our once-a-year gatherings), then the four of us went away from the restaurant noise and back in the Library Hotel's Reading Room, a large comfortable area on the second floor with all the comforts: lots of tea, a selection of cookies, chairs around small tables, lots of books, and a generally relaxed, welcoming air, where we caught up on things.

After a break to rest up for the big event -- I'm still trying to learn to pace myself as I get my stamina back -- it was time to head over to the Exhibit.  I didn't take my usual extensive notes but for once just relaxed and enjoyed the lectures.

First up was Richard Ovenden, head Librarian at the Bodleian, who spoke about the Bodleian's history, some recent acquisitions,* and their Tolkien holdings.  Then came Catherine McIlwaine, the Tolkien Archivist (yes, the Bodleian does have a dedicated position just to manage the Tolkien collection, given how large it is** and how frequently consulted); I think she said that 140,000 people came to see this Exhibition while it was at the Bodleian. I think she also spoke about the three central themes of the Oxford exhibit being scholarship, imagination, and family.  Third came Verlyn Flieger, who spoke with her usual eloquence, suggesting that Tolkien has become a lens through which to see the world, and related how Priscilla Tolkien had visited the exhibition when it was in Oxford and been struck by how her father was now far more than a popular writer but had grown to be an international figure. All three then took comfy chairs for a Q&A session, the general theme of which was Tolkien as an international figure, but the only lines that stay in memory were (1) the question from McIlwaine to Verlyn: why Tolkien? why not (say) Isaac Asimov? To which Verlyn responded "Tolkien is better"; i.e. a better writer. (2) McIlwaine describing how Tolkien had a gift for "inventing things we felt like we always knew". and (3) Verlyn describing "the essence of his genius: LOSS".

Then followed the Reception: where we had a clear mix of two groups. Half the people who were there, the conspicuously well-dressed ones, had come because it was an event at the Morgan.*** The other half were there for the Tolkien: they'd come to see the paintings and maps and manuscripts and memorabilia. Myself, I seized this opportunity for a last quick run through to look at a few favorites one more time: comparison between the LotR and Silm maps confirmed the location of Belegost and absence of Nogrod; the presence of Himling as an Iceland-like island and beyond it the Vinland-like TOL FUIN, clearly the surviving remnant of Taur-na-Fuin, the original Mirkwood. And I enjoyed one last glimpse of the 1915 & 1928 Ishnessses and mythological paintings, with their bright vivid colors so unlike his later style and palette. Had they been published in the 1960s they wd no doubt have become favorite black-light posters. I know I wd like to have had them on my walls.

One of the nice things about the occasion is that even though we were far from home there were a number of familiar faces, despite the face blindness, both at the lecture and the reception. Some I see mostly at Kalamazoo: John Holmes (a contributor to the Flieger festschrift), Eric Mueller,**** Yvette Kisor; others at Mythopoeic events like Janet Brennon Croft, and some at both, like John Houghton (with whom I worked as one of the editors on the Shippey festschrift). It was nice to have a little more time with Verlyn and Carl. I got to meet Catherine McIwaithe and congratulate her again both on the exhibit itself and the equally impressive catalogue (which ought to win all kinds of Awards). She told me that one of the criteria when selection a page of manuscript for the display was legibility: it being frustrating for a visitor not to be able to make out what the author had written. That wd explain the inclusion of a lot of examples of his most beautiful calligraphy rather than textually significant scrawls. She also said they'd picked someone who wasn't well-versed in Tolkien to do the initial sort-out of Tolkien's newspaper doodles, so they got visually appealing pieces for display that didn't rely on prior knowledge to appreciate. I looked around for Cathleen Blackburn to thank for her patient replies to many requests for permissions to quote from various Tolkien manuscripts over the years  but I think she had already left.

One really interesting surprise at the end of the evening was a talk by Simon Tolkien, JRRT's grandson, which I enjoyed v. much but cannot now recall any specifics therefrom.

Finally we wrapped up with dinner with Carl Hostetter, Marquette Tolkien Archivist Bill Fliss and his wife Kristin, and the two of us. A nice way to wind down from an eventful and pleasurable evening.

Then it was back to the room for packing up to speed our way to the airport early (v. early) the next morning. Where we in fact arrived so very early that Janice got us re-booked onto an earlier flight, which meant we got back to Seattle early, just as the heavy snow was beginning to fall, and were able to collect the cats from where they'd been boarding and convinced TARKUS and LADY TYBURN we hadn't abandoned them forever after all.

So, a quick trip, but oh so worth it, both for the chance to see these original manuscripts and maps and paintings again and for time with fellow Tolkien scholars. If you get the chance to see this exhibit don't pass it up.

--John R.


--current reading: Brand's new book on Clay, Calhoun, and Webster (a bit disappointing) and Berg's biography of Lindbergh (a book about twice the length needed about a brave and multi-talented man who was a failure as a human being). As far as read-aloud books go I've finished up SPOON RIVER, begun and finished SONGS OF INNOCENCE and SONGS OF EXPERIENCE (been too long since I read some Blake) and am now hesitating between THE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH and Browning (some of the dramatis personae).

*for example, they recently received Robert Bridges' archive, a century past's poet laureate about whom few wd nowadays be interested, did it not contain within it the papers of his friend Gerard Manley Hopkins, which Bridges had taken into safekeeping upon his friend's untimely death.

**I believe she said it took up two hundred boxes, not to mention three hundred books from Tolkien's library. Impressive, esp. when taken together with her reminder that Tolkien was never a full-time writer.

***my wife had a conversation with two well-dressed ladies who said that having seen the exhibit they were now going to read the book.

****hope I got his name right; he's the one behind the Tolkien Art Index project, which he demonstrated at Kalamazoo either last year or the year before and which, besides being nothing short of brilliant, finally realizes one of Dr. Blackwelder's old projects.



Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Day at the Morgan

So, having got the missing suitcase thing worked out, we had a late breakfast and walked down to the Morgan, where I spent the next two and a half hours looking through the Tolkien Exhibit we'd come so far to see (again). The venue is less crowded and the room brighter at the Bodleian, where I suspect the lighting was kept muted to preserve the artifacts (I once saw a William Blake display in what cd only be discribed as a dark room). There were fewer items on display --a t a guess, maybe about half as many. And yet that still left a mort of treasure, as I suspected. I had time to spend with each item, and to linger and look long and hard at some pieces, such as the art and maps, without feeling I was being rude or blocking others from seeing things.

The item that moved me most was the elegant and confident title page for the 1930 Silmarillion, the only complete and finished version of the book, which shows how clear and detailed was Tolkien's vision for the book.

I also loved the early mythological art (circa 1915) and the Ishnesses from about a decade later. For the former I was impressed first by how small they are -- the famous world-ship drawing is about the size of my hand -- and how packed with significant but elusive detail, such as the painting of Kor framed by the Two Trees but the fact that the frame is the trees doesn't come out until you've taken the piece in for a while, or at least that was my experience.

As for the Ishnesses, even though I'd seen these just months before I was struck anew by the brightness and vibrance of the colors (or colours). It felt odd to see Tolkien abandon his usual color palette of green and blue for vivid red and orange. And their inclusion of a tree-drawing Tolkien made when he was twelve established how talented me was, and from an early age.

And of course there were many small details I'd not noticed before, esp in the maps (like one map of Middle-earth that included not just the island west of Lindon formed from the Hill of Himling but had another larger island further to the west (West?): Tol Fuin.  I learned for the first time the location of Belegost but cd not find Nogrod.  And it was nice to see the two pieces of the Moria gate pastel reunited again.

In addition to the items on display, we ran into John Holmes, contributor to the Flieger festscrift (green great/great green) and a regular attendee at Kalamazoo, and learned a lot about his current project, which sounds interesting. Later we had dinner with Verlyn herself, and Tolkien philologist Carl, and got to meet another festschrift contributor, Thomas Hillyard.

Oh, and we got to poke around inside the New York Public Library, which is not only a grand building full of fine art* but also, it turns out, has my book (nice to know). And, later, Grand Central Station, seen no doubt in any number of old movies** but hitherto never brought into focus.


Looking forward to more meetings, and more time with the exhibit, and the panel and afterwards.

--John R.


*one piece that caught my eye was a portrait of the Astor who died on the Titanic, whom I've always showed admirable dignity in the face of disaster.

*as well as the occasional anime: I think BACCANO ends here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

We're in New York City

So, we have a new rule for anytime Janice and I travel together. Henceforth we put one outfit of hers in my bag and one change of clothes for me in hers. That way it'll be easier to cope when one of our bags fails to arrive --that is, if the airline fails to put on the plane a dozen or so people's luggage. Mine among them. Luckily Janice's suitcase made it through fine, but we've had to make a quick run to a nearly store to get some kind of outfit to see me through the shortfall.

On the bright side, here we are in New York City, staying on Madison Avenue in The Library Hotel, which so far promises good things. It apparently gets its name from being right down the street from the NY Public Library, passing by which tonight gave me a chance to see the original great lion statues that are the model for the Mythopoeic Award I got for MR. BAGGINS. The hotel's lobby has lots of bookcases filled with actual, readable books, not faux-book panelling or shelves filled up with sets of lawbooks or agricultural reports or similar reference books of many decades ago nor random junk (I'm looking at you, old omnibus volumes of Reader's Digest). Our own room is assigned a Dewey Decimal relating to architecture and its shelves are well-stocked with books on Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright (lots of these), Art Deco, and the like. And, hidden in a cupboard, a book by Barbara Streisand.

I don't think the cats are enjoying their Cat Hotel nearly as much as this, but it seemed the best option for keeping two door-dashers from staging some kind of Great Escape every time the pet-sitter dropped by to check on them.

Tomorrow: Tolkien.

--John R.
--current reading A RUMOUR OF ADVENTURE: AN INKLINGS STORY by Kees M. Paling (2018)


Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Day the Music Died

So, sixty years ago today Buddy Holly died, age twenty-two, an event commemorated more than a decade later by Don McLean in his classic piece of Americana, the 1971 song "American Pie":

Long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music
Used to make me smile . . .

But February made me shiver
With every paper I deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step.

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widow-bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died . . . 

That said, I have to admit that I like the music of the 1950s far less than that of the 1960s or much of the 1970s. And of the stars of that era (officially Before My Time), the rock-n-roll star I like best wd be Fats Domino, followed by Presley, who at this best was phenomenal (but who often was far below this best). Holly wd I suppose come in third, mainly for "Everyday" and "That'll Be the Day", followed by a smattering of other people (e.g. Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers) for this song or that. I suppose it's Holly's tragedy that he died so young while it's Presley's that he died at the nadir of his career, so we remember him at this worst and Holly at his best.

That said, I have to admit I like "American Pie" better than any song by Holly. And I think it holds up remarkably well, both as a song and as catchy cryptic.  Rather like "Garden Party", from about the same era, in that respect: the song is enhanced by catching the allusions but does not depend on  a listener's understanding it to enjoy it --rather like modernist (Eliot-era) poetry in that respect.

--John R.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

A Lost Arthurian Manuscript

So, when I saw the news that scholars had found seven manuscript fragments* giving a previously unknown variant of the Prose Merlin from the French Vulgate cycle, I thought of my friend the late Jim Pietrusz, collector of all things Arthurian, who had read a vast number of accounts of the various iterations of the Arthurian legends, and how he wd have loved to have read this story about Merlin's exploits.

I suspect there will be discussions of this material at this summer's Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, and at the great medievalist conference at Leeds as well; have to keep an eye out for an eventual translation/edition.

Here's the link.

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2019/jan/30/undiscovered-merlin-tale-fragments-found-in-bristol-archives


--John R.

*equalling, they said, about twenty pages in a modern paperback

Friday, February 1, 2019

Finding that Lost Quote (TotS)

So, this week's work on my current project, the paper for Kalamazoo, ended on a high note when I finally found the quote I was looking for. I was sure it was in Clyde Kilby's little book, but re-reading the relevant sections and re-skimming the rest didn't turn it up. So I cast my net a little wider and, Eureka. There it is, not in Kilby's book as published but in the deleted chapter in which he synopsized the whole SILMARILLION (as it had existed in 1966, based on his notes).

Now that's taken care of it's on to Shippey.  At least here I know where to look (ROAD TO MIDDLE-EARTH, third edition, Chapter 7), thanks to preliminary work on this a few months ago. Here it's more a matter of rereading his discussion of THE SILMARILLION and extracting some memorable Shippey-esque comment from it -- or so I thought. But as sometimes happens with Shippey, reading a passage for one reason made me think of something else that sent me off on a whole new line of thought. We'll see whether it circles back around and turns out to be part of the original topic or insists on becoming the core of a new section.

--John R.
current reading: a Japanese light novel (in translation) and a collection of Charles Addams' cartoons depicting what came to be known as 'The Addams Family'

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The New Supervisors


So, as THE WIFE SAYS, the position of supervising the scholar has now been filled.

We're happy to have Lady Tyburn and Tarkus onboard Team Sacnoth.




--JDR

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Read-Aloud texts

So, over the past year or so my voice has gotten increasingly soft and whispy. Which is something of a problem, since part of what I do is to occasionally present papers on Tolkien at places like Kalamazoo* and symposiums, and I need to be able to speak loudly enough to be heard. I'm also occasionally asked to appear on podcasts. Not to mention that it's a great inconvenience for the barista at friendly neighborhood StarBucks not to be able to hear what I'm ordering (though here the fact that it's almost always exactly the same thing helps).

The solution? Speech therapy. This is mostly a home-exercise course in that the speech therapist takes readings, assigns specific exercises, and suggests equipment that might help (ranging from a decibel meter to I-pad apps), and has me check back in on a regular basis to see what progress I'm making.  At first this involved me counting (typically up to a hundred and back down again), saying the names of days of the week** and months of the year, saying the alphabet (sometimes backwards for the sake of variety, which is harder than you'd think), and the like, all while trying to speak at a specific decibel level. My current exercise involves reading aloud ten minutes once a day, with a borrowed I-pad (Janice's) to measure my average decibel level.

At first I tried something from Tolkien, naturally: a section from the BOOK OF LOST TALES' version of the creation of the Sun and the Moon. That turned out to be a bad choice: too many unfamiliar names, syntax a little baroque for my purposes, and in general finding the content distracting me from the exercise.

Next I tried Henry James, an author I've feel I shd read more of, choosing a book of his I've never read. Luckily I have an old copy of THE AMBASSADORS*** that I set aside as a cat-walking book several years ago and never got back to after a few pages. My renewed effort was no more successful. I found that in this book James indulges in long sentences and long paragraphs with no subordination at all.****

So, casting about for something that was actually written to be read aloud, I settled on THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK. Next came Edgar Poe: a sequence of five or six of his best poems, which improves with repetition. For the past week or so I've been working my way through another Edgar's work: Edgar Lee Masters' SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY.***** I must have read a poem or two from this back in school but came away thinking of him as a second-tier Edward Arlington Robinson with Spoon River as another Tilbury Town. I was wrong about that: it's much more like the graveyard scene in OUR TOWN, except that here each poem is what shd be on his or her tombstone. Some are self-deceptive, some perceptive, some poignant, some deeply ironic, with many offering different perspectives on the same event. And the poems are conversational in tone and shortish, which makes them well-suited to my purpose -- though at this point, approaching the book's mid-point, I'd continue reading it aloud even if it were no longer part of the therapy.

I'm now starting to think ahead and am considering other poetry collections I have that are in slim easy to handle volumes and might make good read-alouds: Lovecraft's Mythos sonnet sequenceTHE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH, Blake's SONGS OF EXPERIENCE , TSE's OLD POSSUM, and a collection of Browning's best known dramatic dialogues. We'll see what works out and what for whatever reason just doesn't.


--John R. current reading: new Edward Gorey biography (just finished: disappointing), short biography of Herbert Hoover (restarting)
current viewing: the third Peter Capaldi season of DOCTOR WHO. so far so good (two episodes in)



*my talk this May is on the role of Tolkien's invented cosmology in his failure to finish THE SILMARILLION, plus taking part in a presentation about Marquette's recataloguing of their LotR Mss currently in the works.
**shades of "The Diary of Horace Wimp", except I don't skip over a day
***with cover art by Edward Gorey, as it turns out --in fact, reading the description of it in the Gorey biography and realizing I own a copy is one of the reasons I thought of giving the James a try in this context
****I love to write long sentences myself, but I'm careful to mark the syntax by identifying all the subordinate elements (sometimes multiple ones in the same sentence, all differently marked) as such.
*****this was another cat-walking book (Hastur, 7/12/14), where what little I read made me decide I shd someday come back and read more, though it's taken me a while.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

John D. Rateliff Sr

January 17th, 1969.
Fifty years ago today.






Miss you Papaw

--JDR Jr.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Tolkien in New York

So, the TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH exhibit that I saw in the Bodleian earlier this year is now opening at the Morgan Library in New York City and, rather to my surprise, we're able to go. So look for us in New York City for what is our first and v. probably only visit to the big city.

It's my understanding that this is a somewhat different selection of manuscripts than what was on display in Oxford, and it'll be interesting to compare the two presentations. Plus, of course, it'll be great to see so many of Tolkien's original pages of manuscript, maps, artwork, and memorabilia. As with the Oxford staging of the papers there are a series of events associated with the Morgan exhibit, most notably a presentation on the 31st by Wayne and Christina.

So, many good things. And it'll be great to have another chance to see again things I saw last time, this time with a new focus.

And of course if you see me go by, stop and say hello.

Here's the link

https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/tolkien

--John R.
current reading: Edward Gorey biography
current viewing: the new WATERSHIP DOWN (just finished)

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Name of Gandalf's Staff

So, last week I got asked a Tolkien question I don't know the answer to.  My physical therapist, while showing me an exercise with two walking sticks, one in each hand, described the motion intended as "you know, like Gandalf with his staffs".  Turns out he had no idea I'm a Tolkien scholar who constantly refers things back to Tolkien.*  Don't know whether he'd gotten the mental image from the book or movie, but in chatting with him briefly before getting back to our exercises he asked me, as a Tolkien expert, what the name of Gandalf's staff was. After all, Gandalf's sword has a name, and his horse: why not his staff?  All I cd say is that I'd never seen it. I may have just overlooked it, but I suspect this is one of those things where, had Tolkien been asked, he cd have produced a name on the spot (probably after a dozen or so trials as he felt his way to it. But in this one case, I think, no one ever asked.  Too bad.

By the way, he was definite about the plural, one in each hand, that being the point he wanted to make re. the movements he wanted me to reproduce. I wondered if somehow he'd seen or heard of the Boorman script, in which Strider carries around The Sword That Was Broken half in each hand (in one hand by the hilt and the other by wrapping cloths around the broken end). But that seems unlikely. Mulling it over, I think his mental image came from various dramatic shots in the film(s) whether Gandalf is using his staff in one hand and his sword (Glamdring) in the other.

Still, interesting to see just how widely Tolkien has spread in our culture. These are good times to be a Tolkien fan.

--John R.
current reading: a shortish biography of Herbert Hoover


*my wife once bet herself how long it'd take one day before I mentioned Tolkien. The answer was about an hour and a half


UPDATE:
THE WIFE SAYS IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

More Odd Lyrics (Similes)

So, sometimes a song makes a comparison that seems dubious.

Case in point: in "Searchin" by The Coasters, a song remembered nowadays mainly by the fact that The Beatles recorded it w. great gusto as part of the Decca Tapes (the 1962 audition where the record company executive told their manager that 'groups with guitars are on their way out'), it includes the rather odd line

Gonna walk right down the street
like a Bulldog Drummond

Even stranger is the line in "Soft-Hearted Hana" by George Harrison, the flip side of his hit single "Blow Away" (circa 1979)

There was someone there beside me
Swimming like Richard the Third

Now there's a mental image I have trouble getting my mind around.


--John R.

--current viewing: THE ROOSEVELTS, by Ken Burns
--current reading: HERBERT HOOVER, by Wm. E. Leuchtenburg (just starting)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Meeting the New Cats

So, there's no way we can replace Hastur. But we can see what we can do about that cat-shaped hole that's opened up in our lives. Originally we were thinking of waiting a few weeks, the first part of which was brightened by Persephone, our friend's cat who came to stay with us for about two weeks while her owner was away.

But no sooner was she gone than the place felt so empty without a cat in it that we started looking for a new cat (or, better yet, a bonded pair to keep each other company). We found a great little cat at a shelter over in Burien, but he was already spoken for. A visit to the local shelter here in Kent let us meet some v. nice cats, but none that seemed to be what we're looking for. So today we drove up to the main Purrfect Pals shelter up in Arlington, where they were having a kitten adoption event. Again we saw some cute cats but none that made us think this is the one. Before we left though the adoption counsellor mentioned that they had another bonded pair in a different building we cd see if we wanted, though they cdn't be adopted until one's injured toe had healed.





Within seconds of Janice's picking up the little girl cat, she had started purring loudly. Her brother took a little more persuasion, but expressed a perfect willingness to be held and petted. The upshot of which is that they'll be coming home with us as soon as the shelter's vet gives it the all clear that the toe is healing nicely, which cd come as soon as Thursday.

Their names, we're told, were Thumper and Stumper, but we'll be calling them TYBURN (or LADY TYBURN) and TARKUS.

--John R.




Friday, January 11, 2019

Today Could Have Gone Better


So, I got to work in my favorite Barnes & Noble/Starbucks today for the first time in a while. I was making some progress on my email and even blog posts when the manager asked if I had a silver Honda.

why yes, yes I do.

because someone just ran into it out in the parking lot and then took off.

So, the day cd have gone better.

--John R.
currently watching and enjoying  the new WATERSHIP DOWN
current reading: still making my way through the (somewhat annoying) Edward Gorey biography.

P.S. Who knew the folks at that Starbucks knew enough of my comings and goings to know which car is mine?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Captain

So, I was sorry to hear the news about the death of Daryl Dragon, better known as 'The Captain' in The Captain & Tennille. Dragon was one of my favorite musicians back in high school and college for whose work I retain a great fondness: I had all the Captain & Tennille albums and listened to them over and over.*

What I liked best about Dragon, who co-wrote many of the songs Tennille sang and played most of the instruments on all their albums, was the texture of the music. By chance I just finished re-listening to an ELECTRIC LIGHTS ORCHESTRA greatest-hits-and-then-some collection, and was struck by how tinny many of the songs sound now: an attempt at the Wall of Sound that now sounds as if you're hearing it from a little transistor radio. I don't get that feeling at all in the songs Dragon worked up: the sound ambiance on them still works.**


In private life Dragon was an extreme introvert, the quiet one, Teller to Tennille's Penn, who almost always wore dark glasses indoors and out since his eyes didn't dilate properly. Son of a famous conductor (whose arrangement of "America the Beautiful" we played in high school band), he was ten years into his training to become a classical pianist while still in his teens when he heard a Fats Domino record and decided then and there that was what he wanted to do with his life. He and his two brothers formed a Beach Boys-type group (called The Dragons) and released their first album, just in time to be swamped by the British Invasion.*** Dragon himself became a member of the Beach Boys' touring band, taking over the keyboard parts that had formerly been played by Brian Wilson. Though never an official Beach Boy he stayed with the band for seven years and left on good terms with them, his closest friends within the group having been Brian Johnston**** and Dennis Wilson.

If you've never heard anything of C&T's music aside from "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "Muskrat Love", or to help erase the memory of the latter, here's a playlist I put together on a cassette years ago that might be a good starting place:

"I'm On My Way" [from DREAM]
"Lonely Nights" [SONG OF JOY)
"Shop Around" [SONG OF JOY]
"Happy Together" [a good cover version of the old Turtles song from MAKE YOUR MOVE]
"Let Mama Know" [the Captain plays banjo!, from COME IN FROM THE RAIN]
"D Keyboard Blues" [a rare Dragon instrumental from DREAM which shows he shd have done more]
"Honey Come Love Me" and "Cuddle Up" [LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER; examples of the extreme simplicity of the love songs that make up much of their debut album. If I were doing this list over I'd probably opt for Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls" instead, also from that first album]
"Do That To Me One More Time" [MAKE YOUR MOVE]
"The Way That I Want to Touch You" [LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER]
"Good Enough" [DREAM]
"Never Make Your Move Too Soon" [MAKE YOUR MOVE]

Looking over that list now, some twenty years later, I shd have included more from COME IN FROM THE RAIN, replacing "Let Mama Know" with "Can't Stop Dancing, "Easy Evil", and esp. the title track. Also worth adding are "You Never Done It Like That and "Back to the Island", both from DREAM and the latter an appropriate swan song to their career. The only song from KEEPING OUR LOVE WARM I might include wd be their cover of the old Motown standard "Until You Come Back to Me".


It's too bad that most people may wind up remembering him from the C&T tv variety show, which he hated for its emphasis on comedy over music, knowing full well how stupid the 'hat jokes' made him appear. His final years were rather sad: he developed a palsy, a tremor in his hands (not Parkinson's but a related tremor), that prevented him from playing his beloved keyboards for the last decade or so. More recently failed joint replacements of both knees left him bedfast. Tennille left him when she cdn't face the stress of being his caregiver (though she apparently returned to resume her role as his caregiver in his final terminal illness). A sad end for someone who made so much happy music.

--John R.
current listening: Captain & Tennille, esp. MORE THAN DANCING, the final C&T album (released after they'd lost their major-recording studio contract); picked this up years ago but only cursorily listened to at the time.
current reading: a biography of Edward Gorey
current viewing: BBC/Netflix WATERSHIP DOWN (just started)


*to be more accurate, I listened to the first five of them over and over, the sixth some, and the seventh (acquired long afterwards as a kind of afterthought) hardly at all.

**though the song selection was sometimes iffy. There's no explaining away the blunder of having the chance to play at the White House for President Ford and the Queen of England, and choosing the novelty song "Muskrat Love" as their contribution.

***one of his brothers, I forget which one, much later formed a half of the duo Surf Punks, whose most memorable song was "The Beach Is Nothing But the Bird's Bathroom -- Watch Out!"



****Captain & Tennille were the first to record another Bruce Johnson tune, "I Write the Songs", the cover version of which by Barry Manilow was a big hit.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Happy Tolkien Day

So, today is Tolkien's birthday (his 127th, to be precise). A good time to dip back into his works and refresh my memory of just why I like his stuff so very much and still after so many years.

The piece that came to my mind this time is his poem "The Dragon's Visit", particularly the original ending:

. . . the moon shone through his green wings
       the night air beating
[As] he flew back over the dappled sea
       to a green dragons' meeting.

We tend to forget just how evocative Tolkien's prose (and, rarely, his verse); it's good to remind ourselves every once in a while.

--John R.


current reading: THE OTHER WIND by Le Guin (a reread, just finished) and BORN TO BE POSTHUMOUS, a biography of Edward Gorey (disappointing).
Recent viewing: YELLOW SUBMARININE (just finished; as weird as ever), THE ROOSEVELTS by Ken Burns, MARY POPPINS RETURNS.


UPDATE: corrected the date

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Hastur is Gone

It's a sad way to start a new year, but my little cat Hastur passed away the morning of the thirtieth. She'd been fading away for several weeks and the good folks at McMonigle's cd do nothing to help her, so we brought her home and spent as much time as we cd with her in her final days, keeping her warm, dry, hydrated, and much petted as she slowly slipped away from us.

I'll probably write more about her later, but for now thought I'd just share a few pictures of Hastur the Master of Disaster over the years (sixteen in all)

--JDR




Hastur put in long hours working at my desk.




The tragedy of the empty food dish.



"The View from Here"


Hastur in old age at her most Salvadore Dali -esque