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