Thursday, August 11, 2022

More on J. S. Ryan

So, a few days ago someone (Paul W) queried my statement that

[Ryan] had the odd distinction 

of having his work dissed 

by Tolkien himself 

(and quite unfairly, I think).   

Deadlines being always with us --or with me anyway-- I don't have time for a full evaluation.

Here's a quick note summing up my evaluation.

J. S. Ryan's position in Tolkien studies was that of one of the first pioneers -- those who wander across a field, making the first beginnings of the paths that others who came after wd follow, eventually becoming established major roads. Except that Ryan never developed paths but remained a wanderer all these long years.



My original copy of Ryan's book, TOLKIEN: CULT OR CULTURE (1969) I find I can't now re-read without the book disintegrating in my hands (something that happened just last week with my copy of Lockley's PRIVATE LIFE OF THE RABBIT). Accordinglyfor purposes of this note I have taken the text from his later collection TOLKIEN'S VIEW: WINDOWS INTO HIS WORLD (Walking Tree Press, 2009).


Ryan's great contribution to Tolkien studies was that he was among the first to stress the importance on Tolkien's great work of myths and legends from Old English, Old Icelandic, medieval Germanic, and Celtic. Tolkien may have been annoyed at Ryan's source-study, but that's more because he disliked source-studies of his work in general, not Ryan's work in particular.  I at least find it hard to disagree with Ryan's statement regarding the effect of all these medieval legends on LotR:


"The sensation is one of dealing with materials 

drawn from archetypal versions of the medieval

 treasure stories".

--I'm sorry to say that my only connection with JSR was indirect: an unfavorable review I did of one of this books. 


Peter Jackson's regrets

 So, I was interested to see a short piece in which Sir Peter Jackson confesses that he wishes he could see his LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT movies as fans cd see it. Just as the chef cannot enjoy the meal, so too P.J. cdn't watch the films without constantly thinking about how they were made, in detail. Mark Twain famously once made a similar point about being a riverboat pilot.

Here's the quote:

On a recent episode of the Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast, Jackson revealed that the most galling thing about making the Lord of the Rings trilogy was not getting to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a fan. “It was such a loss for me not to be able to experience them like everyone else was, that I actually did seriously consider going to a … hypnotherapy guy to hypnotise me, to make me forget about the films and forget about the work I’d done over the last six or seven years, so at least I could sit and enjoy them,” he said.

And here's the link, for those who might want to see the comment in context:

--John R.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

A Class on THE HOBBIT (Flieger / Rateliff)

 So, here's something I've been looking forward to: an online class on J. R. R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT. 

 I'll be co-teaching this one with Verlyn Flieger. 

The name of the class is "The Hobbit: How It All Began" .

It's hosted by Politics and Prose bookstore in D.C. and will meet four times:

    Sunday September 11th

    Sunday September 18th

    Sunday October 2nd, and

    Sunday October 9th.

Each class runs for an hour and a half, from two o'clock to three -thirty Eastern Time.

If you're interested in joining us, here's the link to the official announcement:

--John R

current reading: GAME WIZARDS by Peterson, and excerpts from TALES FROM WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams.

Monday, August 8, 2022

The Cat Report (8/5-22)

 With the adoptions of Meringue the mew-er and that majestic pair Melificence and Skreech, the cat-room seems positively roomy with four cats and four kittens: Miss Lucy, Joshua, Olive, Ella, and kittens Copperfield and Houdini and Sunny D and Tang. 

MISS LUCY got to come out first, as she considers right and proper. She had a nice walk of about thirty minutes, keeping her cool even though there were quite a few dogs out. She’s brave or perhaps optimistic in that when she saw a dog her reaction was to either saunter towards it or hold her ground, depending of the dog’s bevavior. As usual she was a great walker and did her goodwill tour duty. The only point on which we butted heads was her discovery of some short cat-stands with a hollow base near the cat-room door. She’d no sooner seen these than she had to go in one, and we disagreed over how long she shd stay there.

JOSHUA came next. I doubted I’d be able to walk him, but to my surprise while nervous he wasn’t panic-strickened. Most of the time (10 to 15 mintes) I carried him around the area outside the cat-room, but he did walk some on his own. Given his suspicions that Cat-eating Fiends might be about he did well. This marks the first time I’ve been able to give him a walk beyond a reluctant token gesture. 

OLIVE had her turn then, which was similar to her brother’s except she was more nervous.  I picked her up and held her where she could see into the cage room from outside and surprisingly this calmed her down; her heartbeat went from racing to normal. I’m hoping that going for short outings may convince this pair that walks aren’t that scary after all but a interesting break from the cat-room. We’ll see.

The rest of the time was devoted to ELLA and the KittensHOUDINICOPPERFIELDSUNNY and TANG. All came out, except one of the buff-color kittens, who slept through the call for playtime (though he was happy to play catch-up).  Though small the kittens and Ella were enough to fill the room and then some. I had to be careful not to step on anybody as they dashed about in pursuit of some escaping cat toy/prey.

The real revelation was Ella’s coming out of her shell. She played like a kitten, sometimes joining in games and sometimes enjoying toys on her own.  Playful and affectionate. I set up a catnip puzzle for her: a catnip sachet sealed in a little ziplock bag placed in a closed little box of thin cardboard. She managed to open it, sooner than I thought.

The kittens, for their part, lived up to their motto We’re Kittens and We’re Out. They played with each other, their mom, me, a variety of cat toys, and the room itself. They’re far more socialized than just a week ago, happy to be played with and tolerating being picked up, so long as it’s not for long.

—John R.

J. S. Ryan's passing

Sad to hear from Doug A. about the passing of J. S. Ryan, the last survivor I think of that first generation of Tolkien scholars who published books on JRRT as far back as the 1960s.  He had the odd distinction of having his work dissed by Tolkien himself (and quite unfairly, I think).  Here's a judicious evaluation and overview of his long career:

--John R.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Tolkien TV Is Almost Upon Us

"It was  like Tolkien put some stars in the sky

 and let us make out the constellations"  

So, I picked up the new issue of EMPIRE that features the forthcoming RINGS OF POWER as its cover story.  After creeping up on us for so long, the show's debut is almost here, scheduled for three weeks plus a weekend away. Thought I'd go through the piece and adjust my expectations, if need be, one last time.

1. "For the first time on screen, it imagines new characters and events within Middle-earth, instead of simply translating Tolkien's prose."

--um, Tauriel?  

--It's not actually as effective as you'd think to show off your knowledge on a subject and get it wrong.  Not when Tolkien fans are notoriously persnickety.


2. They're aware of the "other hands" quote (Letter to Waldman) and use it as justification for their project: "We're doing what Tolkien wanted".

--Fair enough.

3. "We wanted to do a story in Middle-earth that deserves its own space on the shelf, alongside the novels and films."

-- on the one hand, it's good to be ambitious and go all in, as it were. But the idea that this tv show or the Jackson films are the equivalent of Tolkien's books . . . no. that one just doesn't fly.  

4. One of the showrunners said to think of this not as a tv show with episodes and seasons but as a 50-hour movie

In fact, they think it transcends all previous tv ("This show attempts to surpass all TV that's gone before it")"  Or, in that overused phrase, it's a game-changer. Which suggests hubris.

--just as a personal note: you know you're getting old when the thought of sitting and watching a film for fifty hours straight is appalling.

5. "This show has a lot of action in it -- more so than any television or streaming show that we've seen.  Every episode has set pieces, creatures, battles, and white-nuckle fights to the death."

-- I hope they leave time in there between all the special effects for acting.

6. "Gloom is baked into The Lord of the Rings, the first seeds of which were born when Tolkien was fighting at the Somme in World War I"

--I don't know whether to mark this last point as just plain wrong, as in liable to to cause misunderstanding (Tolkien didn't think of the book until twenty years later) or let it pass as sort of right, in a way ( he did specifically referred to the death of best friends in the Somme in his Preface to LotR.

So, soon. Very soon now.

--John R.

--current reading: GAME WIZARDS book.


Friday, August 5, 2022


So,  this week GenCon is going on in distant Indianapolis. There was a time when I never missed GenCon each year when it came rolling round.*  Now I doubt I'll go again: too far away. And the suspicion I've been away too long.


I first became aware of this monarch of all D&D and RPG gaming conventions  through DRAGON MAGAZINE --probably issue #47 or perhaps #49, when I was still down in Arkansas.  But for a long time it was one of those things I knew about but was out of reach. Even though the gap lessened when I moved up to Milwaukee, there was no way for a grad student without a car or money to spare to get from Milwaukee to Parkside and back due to the complete lack of public transport between Milwaukee, where I was stalking that PhD, and Parkside, where GenCon was being held.

Things changed when GenCon moved to Milwaukee in 1985. Now that it was near at hand (in some years actually within walking distance)  I went every year from 1985 through 2002 (except 1992). Running games, playing games, joining in RPGA events and, once I came on as TSR staff, demos in the castle and panels and all. I'm particularly proud of having put together a panel on women and minorities in the industry (someone had to).

Then I left TSR. Then I was hired back. Then I left again. Then I was hired back again. Then I left again, for the third and last time. I went to all the GenCons until it left Milwaukee. So I've now been away for longer than I was going. I'm glad that the convention has survived, and thrived, and, from what I can tell, is in good hands. But the only conventions I've managed to attend in recent years are on a much smaller scale, like one in Texas I enjoyed greatly and was able to combine with a family visit in the area. Or earlier this year when (thanks to a ride from friend Jim L.)  I was able to attend the TSR reunion at GaryCon in Lake Geneva. 

So, here's hoping this year's GenCon was great and those who attended greatly enjoyed it.

--John R.

--current reading: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF RABBITS (a re-read, almost finished) and GAME WIZARDS (just starting)

* With one exception, chronicled in a chapter of Ben Riggs' book.