Friday, January 27, 2023

NEW BIOGRAPHY OF WARNIE LEWIS

 


 

So, it's taken me a while, but I've finally made my way through Don King's new book, the first book-length biography of Warnie Lewis. It's not that long (200 pages plus notes) but does a good job of rehearsing the story familiar to those of us interested in the Inklings, expanding on it in the process. There is new information but few revelations: it does not widen our knowledge of WHL so much as deepen it.

 

For example we knew Warnie had served in World War I; King describes his duties, ranks, promotions, and the like, focusing on his experiences as an officer in the service corp --not on the front line but not far behind it either. 

 

Similarly we knew Warnie was a ditchcrawler who loved to take his canal boat on excursions on quiet backwaters throughout the 1930s; King recounts several such trips in Warnie's own words, taken from his now-lost logbooks.*

 

Those reading this book for its C. S. Lewis connection may be distressed over the detailed description of Warnie's alcoholism, binge by binge, and Warnie (and King's) treatment of Janie Moore, the love of CSL's life.

 

First off, there's the oddity of his usage 'Moore'. In his Introduction King explains how, finding it awkward to have two Lewises on his hands (CSL and WHL), he chooses in the pages which follow to call W. H. Lewis, the subject of this biography, 'Warnie', which is standard in Lewis studies. The younger brother, C. S. Lewis, he calls 'Jack' (the family nickname, used by close friends), despite knowing some Inkling scholars wd object to this usage (myself among them) [xiii-xiv].  When it comes to naming the inhabitants of the Kilns in the early 1930s, King calls them Jack (=CSL), Warnie (=WHL), Maureen (Mrs. Moore's daughter), and Moore (=Janie Moore).

 

The last of these four is usually called 'Mrs Moore' by Lewis scholars. But if King felt the need to refer to her by a single-word name, it wd have been better to use her first name, Janie, rather than her last, which has the effect of distancing her from the little community at the Kilns. This is all the more the case because when he comes to introduce Joy Gresham into the family she quickly becomes 'Joy' rather than 'Gresham' or 'Davidman'.

 

It's pretty clear from various accounts that Janie suffered from Alzheimer's (King refers to it both as 'insanity' and as 'dementia') increasingly through the latter half of the 1940s, until she was moved to a nursing home for her final months in 1950-51. It's also clear that her senility was a late development—the description of Janie M's room during the final stages of her Alzheimer's is particularly appalling:

 

On January 17, 1950, some relief came as Bruce —an animal that Warnie had come to despise as much as Moore— died. Warnie related that in the dog's final days, as Moore's mind began to slide more quickly toward insanity, having someone walk Bruce was an obsession for her. Often Moore insisted that Jack take the dog out three times in an hour. Warnie's disgust with the entire matter culminated in his writing: "For months past [Bruce] had [[defecated]] in M's tiny overheated bedroom and stunk out the house. How she stood living in what was practically an open latrine I don't know, but that was her affair . . . . I am resting now in a delicious unaccustomed peace; but I wish Paxford had been able to bury the stench as well as the dog!  (King, p.131)**

 

I have to say that given her limited mobility in her final years (King ascribes it to varicose veins), sharing her room with an incontinent dog makes Mrs. Moore's concern over getting it outside to do its business seems thoroughly justified. One wishes Warnie had stepped up to give his brother a break and just taking on the chore and walked the dog himself. Like I said, distressing.

 

 

Disturbing in another sense is King's suggestion that the Inklings may have unwittingly contributed to Warnie's losing control over his alcoholism. That is, attending two weekly gatherings which both included social drinking, one of them in a bar, cd have caused difficulties. Or, as King puts it:

 

Warnie's downward spiral was quickened 

by the frequency of Inkling gatherings (.146)

 

I wd v. much like this not to be true.

 

Finally, there's what I think the most valuable bit in the whole book: a compiled chart of how many Inklings meetings we have evidence for, broken down year by year (page 142). By his reckoning there are 93 documented meetings, with the years with the most recording meetings are 1946 and 1947 (17 each) with 1944 (16) a close runner-up. By contrast, there was only a single recorded meeting in 1941, 1943, 1952, and 1954, with none at all in 1953. Of course King's standards might differ from others over what qualifies as a 'recorded meeting'.

 

Interesting to see that King's tally confirms what I had long since concluded on my own: that the four members who attended most often, the regulars, were CSL, JRRT, WHL, and Dr. Havard.***  I hope King will return to this compilation and build upon it for a future project; it wd make a good book in itself. 

 

In the end: if you're only going to read  one book on or by the Major, it shd be BROTHERS AND FRIENDS (1985), the edition of his diaries put together by Clyde Kilby and Marj. Mead. And the second shd be King's INKLING, HISTORIAN, SOLDIER, and BROTHER: A LIFE OF WARREN HAMILTON LEWIS.

 

--John R.

 

*Warnie used these as the basis of several articles of advice on ditchcrawling; King discusses and summarizes these in his excellent essay "Warren Lewis: The Soldier Sailor" published in the fall 2021 issue of the JOURNAL OF INKLING STUDIES (Vol.11 Issue 1) pages 58-69.

**In one of the books on Joy Davidman we're told one of the first things she did upon arriving at the Kilns was to do a thoroughgoing cleaning of the Kilns. If King's account is fair then no wonder.

***What evidence we have suggests these were also the ones who attended the longest although King does not address this point.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

A Le Guinian Tolkien quote

 So, as I was finishing up the LeGuin interview book* tonight I came across an unexpected passage:


Writers are often asked, "Why do you write?" 

which is, you know, an impossible question. 

But a lot of them give that very answer.

I wrote it because no one else would, 

and I wanted to read it.  Tolkien, as a 

matter of fact, said that -- he said, "I knew

  nobody else could write it, because 

nobody else knew about Middle Earth."

     --The Gift of Place (1977), page 23*


I've read a lot of Tolkien interviews --all that I cd find-- and this quote's not familiar to me.

I don't think Le Guin just made it up, but if not where did it come from?

What I suspect is that the story about Tolkien and Lewis's bargain to write stories for each other (Tolkien's the time-travel story THE LOST ROAD and Lewis's the space travel book OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET). If that's so then somehow the original story (via LETTERS OF JRRT or Carpenter's biography) must have wandered from its initial context and gotten garbled in the process.

If anyone knows of a more proximate source I'd be glad to hear of it.

--John R.


*THE LAST INTERVIEW, ed. David Streitfeld (2019).  I read the essays in reverse order, which made for an interesting experience.


Monday, January 16, 2023

A Visit to Elliott Bay

 So, it's been a long time since we've last been to Seattle's best independent book store. And by 'long time' I mean pre-pandemic --at first because we were minimalizing social contact as per the directives. Then after the vaccines came and the threat eased because we'd gotten out of the habit of going into places in Seattle. Recently I've been resuming old habits one by one --renewing my university library card, going down to Pike Place Market, and now visiting Elliott Bay up on Capitol Hill.

It being an Occasion, I spent plenty of time poking around. I used to visit this bookstore about once a year; today I wound up getting five books, roughly one per each year I missed.  

1. AERIAL ATLAS OF ANCIENT BRITAIN by David R. Abram. A roughly 10 x 10 square book full of beautiful overhead pictures of Megalithic monuments. This one joins my v. short shelf of similar books.

2. HOW TO BUILD STONEHENGE by Mike Pitts. Another in a long line of people putting forth theories. I consider the issue was solved decades ago by Heyerdahl, but this one looked like a good summation of the current thinking.

3. URSULA K. LE GUIN: THE LAST INTERVIEW, ed. David Streitfeld. This one might be useful in a piece I'm working on.  Pity it doesn't have an index. This is the one I dug out of the bag and read on the light rail ride home.

4. WORDS ARE MY MATTER: WRITINGS ON LIFE AND BOOKS by Ursula K. Le Guin. This one promises to be even more helpful than the proceeding; it too fails to provide an index. 

5. TURTLES OF THE WORLD: A GUIDE TO EVERY FAMILY by Jeffrey E. Lovich & Whik Gibbons. I'll admit that this was an impulse buy spotted as I was wrapping things up. I knew I'd think back and regret it if I left it behind. Beautifully illustrated  (which seems to be a theme for this batch of books).

A book I didn't pick up but made a note for future reference is GHOST AT THE FEAST: AMERICA AND THE COLLAPSE OF WORLD ORDER, 1900-1941 by Rbt Hagan. Even from just the subtitle I can tell this one starkly contrasts my understanding of this period, so I think I might pick this up as a browse-y sort of background reading. Plus it might go well with the Warnie Lewis biography, (currently stalled out halfway through his Great War experiences (in France the whole war long, prob. survived because he was in a Supply unit).

--John R. 









XXXXXXXXXXX

Megalith (aerial photos)

how to build Stonehenge

LeGuin interviews

LeGuin essays

impulse buy: Turtles.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Turmoil and Dismay: The New OGL

 TURMOIL AND DISMAY: The new OGL

 

So, I've been fascinated and dismayed by the turmoil over the rehaul of the Open Gaming License, with all the potential fallout this could bring. Having neither behind the scene knowledge nor any particular insights, I've held off making any comment, other than to observe that historically TSR swung back and forth between two approaches to non-TSR rpgs: to exploit or to suppress (as anyone knows who got a cease-and-desist from Lake Geneva back in the day).  The OGL was a successful attempt to add a third option: co-opt.

 

I'd also note that blow-ups over what third party publishers can/can't do tend to cluster around the run-up to new editions of the game. In this particular case I suspect events are exacerbated by the forthcoming D&D movie, with its potential to be a big money-maker (assuming it's not a replay of the disastrous duds associated with 3e twenty years or so ago).

 

With that in mind, I was struck by Steve Winter's post on Facebook a few days ago, reprinted with his permission (Hi, Steve):

 

 

Many people are expressing dismay that, if small publishers refuse to adopt the new OGL (as they should), and they respond by publishing their own games based on the 5th Edition D&D rules, that the RPG community will fragment into tribes and be irreparably damaged. 

 

This doesn’t frighten me at all.

 

Why not? Because I was a roleplayer in the 1970s. 

 

An aspect of those early years that’s often misunderstood by people who weren’t there is how much wild experimentation was going on in game rules. Once D&D hit, a very quick succession of years brought Empire of the Petal Throne, Traveller, Villains & Vigilantes, En Garde, RuneQuest, Bunnies & Burrows, Starships & Spacemen, Space Opera, Chivalry & Sorcery, Tunnels & Trolls, Arduin, Boot Hill, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, The Fantasy Trip, and countless other indie one-shots I don't recall anymore. 

 

It seemed as if everyone with access to a typewriter and a mimeograph machine put out a newsletter or a digest with their versions of D&D monsters, D&D spells, D&D rules, D&D settings, and entire variant games built on the D&D model. Because so much of it was based on D&D, it all got used with D&D. Some of it was fully compatible, some kind of compatible, some not really compatible at all. Heck, even the different, official iterations of D&D weren't fully compatible with each other. It all got used at the same table regardless. 

 

It was utter chaos, but it also led to a vibrant and exciting RPG community. So I’m not afraid the world of tabletop RPGs will splinter and disintegrate over this OGL fiasco. I think it will become more lively and more creative.

 

 

--I'd just add something else to take into account. During early days at TSR, far from trying to force everyone to play a single system, TSR itself published multiple rpgs, each with its own rules system: DAWN PATROL, BOOT HILL, GAMMA WORLD (itself derived from the one-shot METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA), TOP SECRET, GANG BUSTERS, and probably one or two I'm forgetting.  Other companies varied between having a set of house rules they adopted for use in each game they published (e.g. Chaosium) while others whipped up a new rules system with each new genre of roleplaying game (I think FGU fit in this category).  There's a reason it's a hobby/industry known for its diversity.

--John R.

--current reading: new biography of Warnie Lewis.

 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Edith Blatt

So, thanks to friend Shelly drawing the library's copy to my attention I've now read a new younger-readers biography of Tolkien:   J. R. R. TOLKIEN FOR KIDS: HIS LIFE ANS WRITINGS, by Simonetta Carr.

This book is not bad as such things go, but it's unlikely to establish itself as the standard bio for young readers any more than White, Collins, or Lynch did (all of whom she lists in her bibliography) in their day.  Ddoesn't seem to have actually used these books, instead drawing on much better books by Scull & Hammond and Garth.

So far as a young-reader biography of Tolkien goes, to its credit it gets right that Tolkien was not born in 'Bloemfontain, South Africa'  but in 'Bloemfontain, in what is now South Africa'. A critic or biographer who doesn't understand the distinction is likely to make more, similar sort-of-but-not-quite-right statements throughout the work.

A curious glitch is the author's getting Tolkien's wife's name wrong. It should, of course be Edith Bratt. And that's what the author uses when describing how the two orphans met at Mrs. Faulkner's.  But the next time she appears, in the pages devoted to their re-uniting and courtship, her name is given --and not just once but over and over-- as Edith BLATT.  And later still --I think from the point of her marriage onward-- it's just Edith.

How they come up with the name BLATT isn't at all clear, but some quick googling suggests that the error popped up online through references to the casting in the 2019 TOLKIEN biopic.  And, as is the way with such things, once the error is out there it'll perpetuate itself.* 

There are certainly worse mistakes the author cd make. Mrs. Tolkien's maiden name isn't of crucial importance in the grand scheme of things when trying to understand Tolkien's life and works. But getting it wrong, and inconsistently wrong at that, certainly shows carelessness in the researching and/or proofreading it passed through on its way to library shelves.

As a final note, I shd mention that the book contains '21 Activities' --things like writing in runes or making a kite.

To sum it up briefly: Not bad, but this book doesn't fill the need for a good younger-reader biography of JRRT.

--John R


*How many years did we have to put up with reviewers spelling JRRT's last name as 'Tolkein' (a blunder that's not quite extinct even now, though it's gettiing close to it)?


Sunday, January 8, 2023

Pratchett and Hollywood: A Cautionary Tale

So, I've now finished up Rob Wilkins' TERRY PRATCHETT: A LIFE IN FOOTNOTES. It's very well done, but unsparing: it takes us up to Pratchett's final days as bit by bit he slipped away via Alzheimer's, right up to that last day when he died, his wife holding one hand and his daughter the other, with his cat Pongo at this feet. Be warned that if you've been a caregiver for a fatally ill friend or relative this part may hit hard. I'm glad I read the book, not least because I learned a lot about how Pratchett worked. And it confirmed my feeling, as a long-time reader, that his later books (roughly the final quarter of his career) really were different from the Pratchett whose works I had enjoyed and admired, as dementia made it harder for him to write and more dependent upon assistants.

On a less grim note, the book contains revealing accounts of Pratchett's two disastrous encounters with Hollywood. The first was with SKG (DreamWorks), who wanted to make a major-studio film, directed by Sam Raimi, of one of the Tiffany Aching books. Everything went swimmingly until Pratchett read the script, causing him to explode over their having transformed Pratchett's apprentice witch into a 'disney princess' and cancel the project.*

The second time was when Disney wanted to make a film of MORT.** Again everything went swimmingly, until Pratchett learned just how much he wd be signing away: 

DISNEY

It emerged that if Disney deemed the film a success --the definition of which could apparently even encompass the film making a billion-dollar loss***-- they would be able to exercise a right to all the other Discworld books involving Mort's characters, which is to say anything with the character of Death in it, or, if you will, every DIscworld book apart  from The Wee Free Men and Snuff. They  could also exercise the right to any future use of those characters. And they would also own the right to the use of all of Mort's settings, including Unseen University and the entire city of Ankh-Morpork-- again, both in the past and in the future. In other worlds, by making this one film, Disney would come, in effect, to own DIscworld, both as it stood and as it was still to come.  


Someone involved in the negotiations mentions that Terry would be getting a mere two per cent on all merchandising rights, including any spin-off books --of which there would be many-- with no creative control residing with him

 

Another says I knew it was a deal that could have made Terry a lot of money, but I was also convinced that he would have hated what Disney would have done to his stories and to his characters. I felt in my bones that it was a Faustian bargain, one that Terry would live to regret massively.


Wilkins himself describes the project imploding at a meeting at which you actually saw the deal fall apart in front of your eyes  . . . melted like butter in a pan

 

 Pratchett ultimately found it easier and much more satisfying to work with British tv,**** who filmed several of his works. But the whole experience is eye-opening in that it gives an idea of just how much could be at stake in the negotiations over Tolkien film rights. 


--John R.


*"The feisty, self-determining, intellectually quick Tiffany Aching, had become, in Terry's words, 'a kind of Disney princess, wishing on a star for her dream to come true.

'Get Sam Raimi on the phone' said Terry"

 **One of my personal favorites among the series; I was pleased to learn that it's Gaiman's favorite.

***this wd, I assume, have been an allusion to 'Hollywood Accounting'

****and also BBC radio



Saturday, January 7, 2023

Tolkien is a Gateway Author

So, one more point Pratchett made, as recounted by his biographer, is the experience so many readers of Tolkien find in THE LORD OF THE RINGS  not as an end in itself but as leading them on to other books and kind of books. 

 

"Terry was, of course, by no means alone in spending some of his young years regarding The Lord of the Rings as right up there among the greatest achievements of humanity. But for Terry it seems to have been not just about what the book itself was, but also about what that book opened up beyond itself, the way it sent him to whole other thus far untravelled regions of the library: the mythology section, the ancient history shelves, the history shelves, the archaeology shelves . . . It was an earthquake that sent cracks running off across the surface in multiple directions." 

Different folk's experiences differ,* but to move from discovering Tolkien into searching for 'more like this' is another hallmark of JRRT's impact of his audience.  It was certainly my experience. I read Alexander and Le Guin and Eddison as I shifted from science fiction to fantasy because I was looking for 'more books like Tolkien'.  Tolkien also lead me to BEOWULF and SIR GAWAIN and THE FAERIE QUEENE, Grahame  and Carroll, and so much more (my reading list is well over four thousand books in the last forty-seven years, and counting).

I also read his fellow inklings: Christopher (the first book I read by Christopher being THE SAGA OF KING HEIDREK THE WISE) and CSL and Barfield and Ch Wms.  Not to mention books about these authors and their works, starting with Ready and Carter and Kocher.

Perhaps we shd look more into Tolkien's extraordinary grip on those of his readers he captures.

 --John R.

--current reading: Pratchett biography (nearing the end)


*see for example Paul W's comment on my preceding post