Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Edinburgh Tolkien Event (John Borman movie)

So, Tuesday morning I got to watch a Tolkien event hosted by the University of Edinburgh Tolkien Society. Titled "The LOTR film that never was, it was a presentation about the unfilmed John Boorman LotR script.

Here's the description:

A version of Lord of the Rings where the story of the One Ring is told via dance performance? Lord of the Rings but Aragorn marries Eowyn? Lord of the Rings but Frodo and Galadriel have an inexplicable romance? Lord of the Rings but Saruman is the Mouth of Sauron?

If you want to know what this is all about then join us as we explore some scenes of John Boorman's 1970s screenplay for the Lord of the Rings that was (luckily for us) never made into a real movie.

There was a smallish turnout, possibly because the web invitation gave the wrong time for the event, being an hour off (drat those pesky time zones). But it did include, at least for part of the discussion, Janet Brennea Croft (who's written a v. gd article on media adaptations of Tolkien) and David Emerson.

I'd seen the Boorman script before, but that had been several years ago and I was glad to renew my acquaintance. I clearly remembered some of the scenes that made my mind boggle but others had passed into merciful oblivion. And it was fun to see a group of folks, deeply steeped  in their Tolkien, encountering and trying to come to terms with this bizarre stuff.

My Final Verdict:  

We dodged a bullet. Bad as the Bakshi film is, and as much as purists lamented the Peter Jackson films' infidelities, it cd have been far, far worse. And Boorman proves it.


--current reading: Ordway's TOLKIEN'S MODERN READING


Monday, March 1, 2021

Old TSR Boardgames (LITTLE BIG HORN)

 So, here's another early TSR game I haven't played, don't own, and haven't even seen. Once again BoardGameGeek offers at least a glimpse of what the box and some of the components look like:


and Wikipedia quotes some comments Gygax later made about the game, including that it was one of several competing games commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the battle.


Still, it's interesting to add another title to Gygax's list of credits.

sku#: unknown.

--John R.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Old TSR Boardgames (WAR OF WIZARDS)

So, one of the nice things about starting this string of posts about TSR boardgames from the dawn of time is that it casts an interesting light on the company's early days. It also gives me a chance to take a good look at old items in my collection that just sit on the shelf, space I badly need for the Tolkien books. And yet another is the discovery of games I not only didn't have but had never heard of.

A case  in point is WAR OF THE WIZARDS, a Tekumel/EPT spin-off from 1975 (sku # unknown). I've never so much as seen this one, but fortunately Jeff Grubb has put up a post on his GRUBBSTEET blog that gives a good idea of what this game is like: 


For a little more information, some of the basics are given at BoardGameGeek

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/6217/war-wizards )

The main lesson I take away from this one, and from Jeff's observations-- is that it shows TSR didn't really know how to do follow-up product early on. So they experimented with different approaches, took note of what worked and what didn't, and used those lessons to guide their efforts --until the next time, when gaps in institutional memory led to repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

In short: TSR games have never been perfect little bonsai trees but untidy forests that get trimmed back from time to time.

--John R.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Good Writer's Worst Book

 So, I've just been reading Le Guin's TEHANU, and it's got me thinking about what bad books by a good author tell us.* 

For example there's Austen's MANSFIELD PARK, where she has all the elements she usually uses in a novel but in the wrong combination. Or CSL's THE ABOLITION OF MAN, where he argues in favor of indoctrinating the young. Or one of Shakespeare's bottom of the barrel plays like TITUS ANDRONICUS or TIMON OF ATHENS. Logically the only way to avoid having a 'worst book' is to only write one book. And a given writer's worst might still be v. gd.

But when I tried to apply this line of thought to Tolkien I got into difficulties. MR. BLISS or ROVERANDOM might be serious candidates, but is it fair to include posthumous works? If we do exclude posthumous works, then I don't think there's a genuinely bad book in the fairly short list of books published in Tolkien's lifetime: H, LotR, FGH, ATB, T&L, SWM, RGEO. If I were forced to it I might opt for RGEO just because it has so little Tolkien content, but I suspect those interested in Tolkien's invented languages and invented scripts wd object.


--current reading: Ordway, Briggs, light novel

*The inverse phenomenon, of a good book by a bad author, also occurs and is even more interesting, but that's an argument for another day. 

Ordway at the Wade

So, Thursday evening I watched the virtual book launch for Holly Ordway's new book TOLKIEN'S MODERN READING at the Wade Center. They had a three-way set up with Dr. Downing, the Wade's co-director, as host; Archivist Laura Schmidt as moderator; and Ordway as guest. For those who missed it (e.g., anyone in the UK who didn't want to get up in the dead of night) the whole thing is now up on YouTube at any individual's convenience.


Having been on deadline all week I still haven't read more than a fraction of the book in question, so all I can give here are scattered observations and comments. 

First, I'm impressed by her meticulous research. She spends a lot of time at the start of her book explaining her criteria for establishing that Tolkien knew and read a particular book, and it was a major theme of her presentation. A lot of the value of her book is her decision to err on the side of exclusion --if the evidence seems iffy to her, she leaves that item out.

Second, she's better in print than in oral presentation. The book has the advantage of carefully chosen words  in the most advantageous structure, which is hard to beat in an extemporaneous format. 

Third, she's hard on Carpenter. She blames him with having badly distorted the truth by his statement that Tolkien felt English literature pretty much ended with Chaucer.

She is also highly critical of LETTERS for not giving the complete text of each letter. 

She considers Scull & Hammond three-volume set "the gold standard" for its reliability as a resource.

A few misc. points:

--She is certain that JRRT read Newman but cannot prove that he read any specific work of his.

She made some odd remarks on Morris which made me think she was confusing the Romans of THE HOUSE OF THE WOLFINGS with the Huns of THE ROOTS OF THE MOUNTAINS.

Finally, it's dun-SANE-ee (rhymes with rainy) not dUN-sin-ay

--More when I've had time to delve into the chapters that explore specific writers and works.

--John R.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021


 So, today a new book arrived that I heard about from Andrew H.: TOLKIEN & THE CLASSICAL WORLD, edited by Hamish Wms and published by Walking Tree Press (2021) as volume 45 in the Cormare series. This being a seriously under-explored aspect of Tolkien's work despite the occasional attempt to make some headway (e.g. Reckford's 1987/88 essay or Morse's 1986 book) I v. much wanted to see what these folks had to say. So far haven't had time to do much more than skim the table of contents, but I can already tell the first piece I'm going to read: Michael Kleu's "Plato's Atlantis and the Post-Platonic Tradition in Tolkien's Downfall of Numenor", quickly followed by Lukast Neubauer's "Less Consciously at First but More Consciously in the Revision: Plato's Ring of Gyges as a Putative Source of Inspiration for Tolkien's Ring of Power", then the two pieces comparing Gondor/Rohan with Rome/Germanica: Richard Z. Gallant's "The Noldorization of the Edain: The Roman-Germani Paradigm for the Holdor and Edain in Tolkien's Migration Era" and Juliette Harrisson's "Escape and Consolation: Gondor as the Ancient Mediterranean and Rohan as the Germanic World in The Lord of the Rings".

So, it'll take me a while to get to this, but I expect it to be worth the wait.

I wonder if anyone will explore the Trolls/Cyclopes analogy.

--John R.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Tolkien Loved Libraries

So, between my current deadline and time spent sorting out yet more stuff, I haven't made much progress with the Ordway book yet -- though I'm looking forward to her presentation on it at the Wade later this week.

Her essential thesis is that Tolkien read and was strongly influenced by authors who were modern (1850-1970s) rather than medieval. It's a little odd to be told no one thought of this before if like me you're part of a number of scholars who have been working on just that for years. To be fair Ordway is much more nuanced in the book itself than she had been in descriptions of it while it was in the works.

What has caught my eye is the amount of careful research that's gone into this book. For example I learned that Tolkien spoke at the opening of a local library in Deddington, a village between Oxford and Banbury,  as reported by the local paper on December 19th 1956. 

The wealth of books to be found here is food for the mind,

and everyone knows that for the stomach to go without food

for a long time is bad, but for the mind to go without food

is even worse.

("Professor Tolkien's Whimsical Talk", Ordway p.22) 

So that's a new quote, and a nice one, to add to our collections.

More when I've had a chance to read more.

--John R.

UPDATE (T.2/23)

Thanks to Doug A. for the news that this event was reported on Morgan Thomsen's Mythoi blog back in 2012. Here's the link.


Among the admirable amount of detail M.T. includes is that Tolkien closed his remarks by reciting a poem in Elvish ('the musical fairylike language that he invented').

I'm intrigued and a bit puzzled by one quote:

'I have seen visions through the wormholes 

of books printed before Caxton died, and 

from the paintings of skins of animals which

 roamed that Country we don't speak of 

at Wantage before Alfred was born'

(emphasis mine)

--So I wonder: Is 'that Country we don't speak of' the Land of the Dead (home of the Great Majority)? Or does he mean Faerie, a realm which folk are traditionally reluctant to name?

In any case, thanks to Morgan T. for the good work and to Douglas A. for pointing me in its direction.

--Now back to reading the Ordway.

--John R.