Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dunsany VI

This is a story for when it's rained all day, and it rained all day yesterday, and it's going to rain all day tomorrow. Once again the text comes from FIFTY-ONE TALES [1915]


"The Trouble in Leafy Green Street"

She went to the idol-shop in Moleshill Street, where the old man mumbles, and said: "I want a god to worship when it is wet."

The old man reminded her of the heavy penalties that rightly attach to idolatry and, when he had enumerated all, she answered him as was meet: "Give me a god to worship when it is wet."

And he went to the back places of his shop and sought out and brought her a god. The same was carved of grey stone and wore a propitious look and was named, as the old man mumbled, The God of Rainy Cheerfulness.

Now it may be that long confinement to the house affects adversely the liver, or these things may be of the soul, but certain it is that on a rainy day her spirits so far descended that those cheerful creatures came within sight of the Pit, and, having tried cigarettes to no good end, she bethought her of Moleshill Street and the mumbling man.

He brought the grey idol forth and mumbled of guarantees, although he put nothing on paper, and she paid him there and then his preposterous price and took the idol away.

And on the next wet day that there ever was, she prayed to the grey-stone idol that she had bought, the God of Rainy Cheerfulness (who knows with what ceremony or what lack of it?), and so brought down on her in Leafy Green Street, in the prosperous house at the corner, that doom of which all men speak.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Is Your Cat a Vegan?

So, this past week I read an article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/25/vegan-pet-food-is-it-ok-t_n_178880.html) about people who, being vegans themselves, would like for their cats to be vegans too. I can see the logic of this: if you love animals, and don't believe it's right to slaughter them for meat, then it's a bit of a disconnect to think it's alright for them to be slaughtered for petfood (for non-vegans, imagine it's a horse being killed for you to eat, vs. that same horse going to the knackers for your pet to eat, to get something of the same emotional impact). The problem is, like bears we're natural omnivores, evolved to eat almost anything we can get our hands on (one of the great secrets to our success as a species), whereas cats, we're told, are pure carnivores.

Except they're not. Anyone who's a cat owner can testify that while they like meat v. much, especially in the form of small bugs they catch themselves, a great many housecats will gladly help themselves to human food v. much not designed for feline consumption if they happen to find it lying about and unguarded. I remember reading years ago that the main difference between house cats and their wild ancestors is that domestic cats have intestines that are twice as long, enabling them to live off pretty much whatever's available when they have to -- in short, over the past few thousand years they've come part-way along the path from carnivore to omnivore, like us.

Even more to the point, if you give your cats catfood, they're probably omnivores already: most dry catfood is mainly grains (wheat, rice, corn) rather than meat. For example, the Ingredients list on one of the kinds we feed our cats, Hills Science Diet light, lists its ingredients in order from largest proportion to smallest thusly: "brewers rice" (grain), chicken by-product meal (ground-up animal material), corn gluten meal (grain), powdered cellulose (fiber?), ground whole grain corn (grain), chicken liver flavor (note that this is not actual chicken livers but only "flavor"), animal fat (meat), soybean mill run (basically ground hulls, hence I assume fiber), and a lot of additives.

So while that's certainly nothing a vegetarian would want to eat, it's nonetheless far from being what most of us would call "meat", being more grain than animal parts. That being the case, it wouldn't be too far a leap to replace the meat-byproducts with meat-flavored grain. We're almost to that point now; our local health food store, Minkler's in Renton (right across from the Renton airport), carries a vegetarian dog food, though so far as I cd tell they don't have a vegetarian cat food to match it, at least not in stock last time I was there.

So, we'll see. I suspect we'll all gradually shift to cat foods that are more and more vegetable-based, with a bit of meat flavoring to satisfy the carnivore within. And if most cats do eventually switch to a non-meat diet, it'll be because their owners have done the same. We'll see.

--John R.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Tea Cupboard

So, caught up in the spirit of spring cleaning, today I cleaned out, organized, and cataloged my tea cupboard. I don't think it's much of a secret to anyone who knows me that I like tea, and that I drink a lot of it. I used to drink mainly iced tea, but over time I've slowly made the switch to where it's now almost always hot tea instead. When I was in graduate school I used to make up huge pans of very sweet (iced) tea (Lipton, which at that point I considered "the good stuff"), boiled on the stove till it was good and strong and, after the addition of a cup of sugar, when cooled down stored in the refrigerator in old Ragu jars (one batch filled about three and a half jars, as I remember). I remember that when Taum dropped by to talk Tolkien, we'd sometimes go through an entire batch. Nowadays I make up two thermosfuls each morning, almost always from loose tea rather than teabags, and anywhere from three to five pots total over the course of the day, most of it sweetened with Tupelo honey, since I gave up sugar six years ago. As I said, a lot of tea.

And, since I make a lot of tea, I have a lot of different kinds of tea to make. Mostly I've come to favor strong China black teas like Keemun and Yunnan rather than the weaker India teas like Darjeeling and Assam (those we used to buy at the Coffee Trader in Milwaukee were great, but the ones out here are anemic by comparison). Some flavored teas are v. nice (vanilla, licorice, mint), but most seem a bit beside the point (who'd want a tea that tastes like cornflowers, or grapefruit?). Green teas are another kind of drink entirely, and while I love the concept so far as taste is concerned for me they're all just lightly colored warm water. The same applies to "teas" that don't actually contain any tea, like a lot of the herbal teas offered in health food stores -- with the notable exception of sassafras tea, always a delight though v. hard to get in these parts (and usually of poor quality when you do).

Anyway, between having lots of different kinds on hand, from different tea shops and online tea merchants, plus samples and bits I tried and didn't take to but hated to just throw away, the shelves have become rather cluttered over the years. There are actually a few teas in there that I don't remember what they are, nor where they've come from. The past few days I've made a concerted effort to make up and drink some of the little odds and ends (sometimes just enough left for a pot, sometimes for a single cup). Now that I've finally gotten them all listed, it'll be easier when I find a trial tea I like to remember it and where it came from, while those that failed to make an impression won't get replaced; eventually my tea shelves will probably settle down at about half as many teas as it has right now.

In any case, thinking it might amuse folks, here's the Tea List as it stood as of Sunday March 29th. I might mention that I'd already used up a few teas in the last few days: Cameronian [TeaCup; definitely a keeper], Connoisseur's Blend [TeaCup], and Irish Breakfast [MarketSpice]; "Gong Full Black Tea" and something marked "Very Old" [both from the Great Wall Mall], and several single teabags. I've marked my favorites in bold: these are teas I try to always keep a good supply of; a few duplicates among the teabags are marked with asterisks.

Tea List

Keemun [TeaCup]
Yunnan [TeaCup]
Richmond Park Blend [Upton]
Keemun Hao Ya A [TeaCup]
Golden Dianhong [TeaCup]

unidentified tea [gift]
?spiced herbal blend from Wotc [thyme bottle]
Sassafras Tea [gingerpeach teajam jar]
lemon mint tea [small apothocary jar]
sampler: Lapsang Souchong Black Dragon [Upton]
sampler: Yellow Tea jun shan yin zhen [Upton]
sampler: Queen Anne cinnamon spice [TeaCup]
sampler: Ed's energy tea [old TeaCup]
sampler: superSencha Kamakura [Upton]
cinnamon twist Rooibos [Pacific Mist, Kent]
Silk Road [TeaCup]
Melange Noel Christmas Tea [Upton tin]
New England Harvest Blend [Upton red]

East Frisian Blend Sunday Tea (vanilla) [Upton apoth. jar]
vanilla tea, single bag [last remaining remnant from Suburbia]
Organic Ethiopian Spiced Tea [Seattle Centre]
Licorice Spice [Perennial Tea Room, Post Alley]
Bag of Billings Teas [Boston Harbor, bulk teas & accessories]
Namaste x2
Keemun x2.1/4
Irish Breakfast
Lapsang Souchang
Vanilla Cream
Yunnan Supreme

Monk's Temple Tea [old TeaCup]
Classic Oolong [old TeaCup]
Poet's Tea [old TeaCup]

Baker Street Blend [old Upton]

China Tarry: Lapsang Souchong [Victoria Tea Shop]
China Keemun Mao Fang [Victoria Tea Shop]
Assam, decaffeinated [Victoria Tea Shop]
Ceylon, decaffeinated [Victoria Tea Shop]

Williamsburg Fine Tea Darjeeling [really good Darjeeling; gift from Sue Cook]
first row: thirty-seven teas

Hong Tao [Upton]
China Flowery Black (organic) [Upton]
Vietnam Black pekoe [Upton]

Lapsang Souchong [new Upton]

Supreme Woodbridge Puer, pestle-ground [Vital Teas]
Yellow Sweet [Vital Teas]
[Note: far better than either of these was their Canton Red, which I only got a little of, all now gone]

NorthWest Breakfast blend [Market Spice]
Darjeeling [Herbal Tea, Portland]
Prince of Wales Tea [Twinings mini-tin]
Black Dragon Pearl [Teavana]
Cloud of Black Tea [Great Wall Mall]
Keemun Black Tea [Great Wall Mall]
xx [xx]
Southern Style Mint [Market Spice]
Darjeeling [Market Spice]
*sassafras [tin of leftover sassafras clips-- a bit stale now]

Ahmad Tea Set
English Tea Noi (No.1) x1 [Ahmad]
English Breakfast x1 [Amhad]
English Afternoon x1 [Amhad]
Ceylon Tea x2 [Ahmad]
Darjeeling Tea x1 [Ahmad]
Earl Grey Tea x8 [Ahmad]

Constant Comment x5 [Bigelow]

teabags: English Breakfast Tea x6 [Trader Joe's], Lipton x2, Plantation Mint [Bigelow], Earl Grey [Bigelow], Lapsang Souchong Tea [Twinings], Organic Darjeeling [TeaCup mini-sampler], Kenya Mountain [TeaCup mini-sampler], Wallingford Decaffeinated Tea x2

second row: sixteen teas plus fifteen different teabags

teabags: Organic Chai [Tazo], Egyptian Camomile [Fairmont], Orange Jasmine [Mighty Leaf], *English Breakfast Tea [Trader Joe's], pekoe [Royal Cup Tea], *Lapsang Souchong x2 [Twinings], Jardin Bleu [TeaCup mini-sampler], *Lipton x2, Lady Grey x2 [Twinings], Earl Grey x4 [Twinings], Golden Monkey [Upton mini-sampler], *Melange Noel Xmas Tea [Upton mini-sampler], *Awake x2 [Tazo], Simply Mint moroccan herbal teasan [Numi]

box of teabags: Awake x8 [Tazo]
third row: lots of (fifteen different) teabags

Decaf English Breakfast [Market Spice]
Decaffeinated Ceylon English Breakfast [Upton]

total: fifty-two teas plus thirty-two different tea bags

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Bible Teaches . . .

God says: No eating bats!

(Leviticus XI.19)

Some commandments are easier to follow than others.

--John R.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What I've Been Reading

So, since re-reading Gaiman's CORALINE (II.2774) and finally finishing up Graham Hancock's FINGERPRINTS OF THE GODS (II.2775), the books I've been reading have been a miscellaneous lot.

First was XxxHolic: ANOTHER HOLIC (II.2776), a novelization of the 'CLAMP' manga that turns out to be three short stories, not an actual novel. The first is directly derived from a chapter in the manga and episode of the anime (the woman with self-destructive behavior). The second is v. much in the spirit of the manga (a woman gets a cellphone call from her dead friend at the same time every day). And the third ventures far afield (one day Watanuki wakes up and finds he can no longer see spirits -- or Yuko's shop). Interesting, but less so than either the manga (which seems to be building to a climax) or the anime deriving from it.

Next was a book about ex-presidents I'd spotted in Borders but decided it was better to wait and get from the library, CITIZEN-IN-CHIEF: THE SECOND LIVES OF THE AMERICAN PRESIDENTS by Leonard Benardo & Jennifer Weiss (II.2777). It's full of fascinating trivia roughly divided into several topics: the growth of the 'ex-presidency' as a quasi-official institution (they get budget and a staff*), the development of the Presidental Library from FDR & Truman's modest establishments to the bloated policy centers of recent presidents; ex-presidents' fiscal woes (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Grant, Truman) vs. cashing in (Ford, Reagan, Clinton, &c); attempts by ex-presidents to advise or criticize their successors (something few of them have refrained from trying at one time or another); ex-presidents who re-entered politics (JQ Adams in the House, Tyler in the Confederate Congress, A. Johnson in the Senate); and those who devoted themselves to good works (Carter is the shining example here, but also Hayes,** who devoted himself to black education. Who knew?). An interesting book, but not to be relied upon in its details -- there are a fair number of factual errors and other gaffs, most involving dates and generalizations (i.e., the claim that Tyler and Buchanan were distressed by Lincoln's re-election in 1864 -- Tyler*** having in fact died in 1861).

As for my current book, yesterday I started in on UNCHRISTIAN: WHAT A NEW GENERATION REALLY THINKS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY by David King w. Gabe Lyons, a Xian pollster's attempt to convince his fellow evangelicals just how unpopular they've become over the past decade or two (of the fifteen-to-thirty year-olds he polled, 91% considered Xians anti-gay, 87% considered them judgmental, 85% thought them hypocritical) and why. It's a sincere and well-intentioned effort, but it's mildly troubling that (a) a bunch of creationists tracts turned up on amazon when I clicked on this (as in 'readers who liked this book also liked . . .') and (b) the writer himself displays a lot more of the attitudes he deplores than he realizes -- for example, in his assertion that Xians should be anti-gay ("identify homosexual behavior as morally unacceptable"), or his apparent inclusion of Mormans among the unchurched/nonXians he's polling. And of course it's hard to take seriously anyone who praises Charles Colson -- but to be fair, that's Lyons, in his Afterword, not King himself.

And there's no lack of other books still waiting to be read: the Fimi, the Kane, a book on the Black Sea/Noah's Flood theory, &c. Just today the mail brought TOLKIEN'S HEROIC QUEST, by Robert Rorabeck. Although published in the UK, this slim book (128 pages, plus about another twenty pages of notes and bibliography) seems to have originated as a thesis at Florida State University. A quick glance at the mini-biography of JRRT shows up two errors in a page and a half (why on earth did he use Crabbe as his source rather than Carpenter?), and the bibliography is full of odd little gaffs (for example, the author of the Oak Knoll bibliography is given under W as "Waye, Hammond", rather than under H as "Hammond, Wayne"). This does not mean the book itself won't be insightful and interesting; we'll see.

And after that -- FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM, perhaps?

We'll see.


*Before 1958 they didn't even get a pension. Truman, for example, not only didn't get flown home on Air Force One but had to buy his own train ticket, arriving back in Independence more or less broke, & had to move into his mother-in-law's house.

**who I only knew as the "winner" who set the example for Bush v. Gore way back in the stolen election of 1876.

***the only ex-president known to have committed high treason.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The New Arrival: Douglas Kane's book

So, today the mail brought my copy of Douglas Kane's long-awaited ARDA RECONSTRUCTED: THE CREATION OF THE PUBLISHED SILMARILLION. I'd been hearing about this one for a year or two, so it's nice to finally see it in print. Essentially it's a chapter-by-chapter look at how the 1977 SILMARILLION was put together, using the source-material published in THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH. Glancing at it, I'm struck by how much it resembled Darrell Martin's pioneering work presented at the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference, where (when the HME was just getting off the ground) Darrell drew on Kilby's notes to show how specific sections came from specific sources. Aside from that, there's really nothing quite like this out there; Wayne & Christina do devote a separate (lengthy) entry to every chapter of THE SILMARILLION in their COMPANION & GUIDE, but their approach is v. different and, given that there each chapter appears alphabetically under its chapter title, not sequentially as in the original book, the overall effect is completely different. Besides, they focus on the development of each 'chapter' over time, whereas Kane's focus is on exactly where each paragraph and passage came from: to retrace the assemblage so as to get a better idea of the 1977's volume's construction.

Anyway, congratulations to Kane for the publication; more on this one later when I've had more time to look over and absorb it.


The White House has BEES

So, today saw a little story about the First Lady and a bunch of kids breaking ground for the new White House garden. It's nice to see an old tradition return -- there was a time when every great house had its own kitchen garden, and I find it hard to believe that farmers like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson would have preferred all that vast green lawn to some actual growing space. Sounds like they're not planting anything I'd be interested in eating, but more power to them. And, best of all, they're apparently setting up a beehive (no bees, no vegetables) as well. Given the continuing bee die-off underway throughout this country, that's good news, but I can't help wondering what the secret service make of that.
Here's the link, with a nice picture of Mrs. Obama looking game but v. uncomfortable with the rake:


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Scholarship During Wartime

So, the latest issue of BEYOND BREE has a brief mention, in a letter to the editor from Dale Nelson, of a TLS review of a new book called PRINT FOR VICTORY: BOOK PUBLISHING IN ENGLAND, 1939-1945, by Valerie Holman. According to the review, during World War II England and Germany came to an agreement whereby prisoners of war were allowed to take their university exams while in prison camps. In order for them to study, "an international inter-library loan system was organized from the Bodleian Library, using Basil Blackwell's book-dump in Geneva. Two Oxford dons, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, devised -- and marked -- an English Honours degree for 'kriegies' behind the wire".

We already knew JRRT undertook a huge amount of war-work with cadets on accelerated courses prior to their being deployed, and that he organized Lewis, Coghill, Williams, and others as his deputies to do a lot of the lecturing and paper-marking this involved. But this additional program is news to me.

Can this possibly be true -- that the war powers were able to behave with that level of civilized decency in the middle of wartime (1941, to be specific)? I have to admit I know little about what life was actually like in WWII prisoner of war camps aside from Wodehouse's experience, which was anomalous (since he was a civilian caught up in the fall of Paris, not an enemy combatant). I know there was a work camp near Magnolia Arkansas, at least near the end of the war, where German prisoners of war were kept when not working (in chain gangs, I think) on road projects and the like, but I have no idea what their working conditions were like.

Like Nelson, I hope we'll be finding out more about this.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009


So, I love to read books on history and pre-history. And I love to read books which challenge the reigning paradigms, like Bernal's BLACK ATHENA or Rudgley's THE LOST CIVILIZATIONS OF THE STONE AGE. And I love to read things that are way out there, leaving credibility behind. When I was younger, I loved the works of Thor Heyerdahl (KON-TIKI, AKU AKU, THE RA EXPEDITIONS), who insisted ancient people were a lot smarter than we gave them credit for; it's one of my great regrets that I never wrote him a fan letter, although I did meet someone who knew him (Tolkien's secretary, the late Joy Hill, who had a model of the RA he'd given her on her mantleplace). And at one point I devoured the works of Erich von Daniken (CHARIOTS OF THE GODS, &c), who I always thought was better at posing the questions than in answering them. I actually did write to von Daniken once, when I was working on a junior high science fair project based on his work, and he v. kindly replied, sending me three slides of images I'd asked about.

Nowadays I read more history than pseudohistory, but I find both a great source of ideas for D&D adventures and Call of Cthulhu scenarios (STANDING STONE was full of Neolithic relics, while the current CoC adventure I'm running draws on everything from medieval monastic history in the west of England to THE MABINOGION).

Sometimes it can be great fun to juxtapose a reputable and an iconoclastic work: Andrew Robinson's LOST LANGUAGES (fascinating & informative) with Steven Roger Fischer's GLYPH-BREAKER (interesting but utterly unreliable), the current issue of SKEPTIC (smug, self-certain, & self-satisfied) with a recent FORTEAN TIMES (minds a little too open to all the world's wonders), concurrent issues of BRITISH ARCHAEOLOGY (credible) and ANCIENT AMERICA (credulous).*

All of which is a way of leading up saying that I've just finished working my way slowly through Graham Hancock's FINGERPRINTS OF THE GODS. (#II.2775)** I was only dimly aware of Hancock and had not read his work before; now I find he's someone I would have loved reading when I was fifteen. He hits on all the right spots -- the Piri Reis maps, Titicaca, Nazca, Teotihuacan, the Olmecs, Tula, the Maya, Quetzalcoatl -- before shifting his focus in the second half from South and Central America to Egypt, his main focus for the rest of the book. In fact, he follows so closely in Von Daniken's footsteps that it's shameful for him not to give E.v.D. any credit in his own book: Hancock is careful never to mention the name, despite von Daniken's obviously being one of his major sources. He's similarly shy about Heyerdahl, who he quotes three times but is careful not to mention in the main text, only in the endnotes.

In brief, Hancock's thesis is this: there's plenty of evidence scattered around the world of a previous civilization compatible to our own existed in the distant past (say about 12,000 years ago). He concludes that the lost continent of Atlantis is known to us today as Antarctica, it having previously been further north (think the climate of Cape Town or Tierra del Fuego) before having been suddenly shifted 2000 miles towards the pole at the time of the last Ice Age. The survivors of that civilization planted clues in several places around the world so future folk would know of them and be warned that the same thing could happen again (Hancock, writing in 1995, predicts the year 2000 as a likely time for our civilization to be catastrophically upset, when the weight of the ice caps causes the earth's outer crust to slide across the planet's mantle). I don't know why he ignores Sumer, and the Indus Valley, and China, or even the pueblos, but his argument that the Sphinx is fantastically old (not 4500 years old, as Egyptologists think, but more like 12,000 years old) resonates with Lovecraft's Houdini story -- I hadn't realized that HPL had done his homework and was on solid theoretical ground by turn-of-the-last century standards in considering possible the ideas that (a) the Sphinx was already old when the pyramids were built [a forged stele from 500 BC said so], (b) the Sphinx once had a different, not necessarily human face, & (c) there might be caves or some other hollows beneath it. I also didn't know that the Sphinx isn't built by their stacking stones together, like the pyramids, but is a single piece of solid rock carved by their taking away all the stone around it, leaving it still attached to the bedrock beneath and surrounded by its own pit, rather like the Rock-cut Churches of Ethiopa.

Is Hancock convincing? In a word: no. Too many leaps of faith, too much special pleading, too many vaguely re-wording things to make them fit his case (e.g., he presents the Norse account of Ragnorak as their record of what happened in the distant past, like Noah's Flood, ignoring the fact that for the Norse it was v. specifically a prediction about the future). His numerology is particularly unconvincing, even for numerology (where the bar is pretty low). But he describes a lot of fascinating places, and revisits a lot of debunked science from the 19th and early 20th century that's good to know about. There are plenty of interesting ideas to be mined from his work (e.g., the point near the end when he calls for excavations in Antarctica to search for the massive ruins of a lost civilization -- we all know how that turned out in AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS).

For a much more down-to-earth book that argues that 'civilization' -- in the sense of people making fire, living in little villages, growing crops, with a few domesticated animals, weaving, pottery, and perhaps even a simple system of a few recognizable symbols as a kind of ur-writing, and trade-routes stretching hundreds if not thousands of miles -- existed much earlier than is generally thought, see Richard Rudgley's THE LOST CIVILIZATIONS OF THE STONE AGE, which keeps to probability and hence makes a much better case.

--John R.

*the current issue has a piece arguing that Kenniwick Man is not an Amerind but a member of the Lost Tribe of Norden -- except that they forget to tell us what 'the Lost Tribe of Norden' might be, a phrase unknown to Wikipedia and even Google!

**many thanks, Rich, for the extended loan

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Goodbye, P-I

So, today was the last day for the SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, the city's oldest, and by far its best, newspaper.

Having come from an area with a good newspaper (THE ARKANSAS GAZETTE, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi),* and having lived more than a decade in an area with two okay newspapers (THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL and, to a lesser extent, THE MILWAUKEE SENTINEL),** I was glad to make the P-I's acquaintance during my first month or so out here in the Seattle area; I was particularly impressed, early on, with pieces about Washington State's Native Americans and also an expose on Alaska Airline.

I was never a regular subscriber, because when I read a newspaper I read the whole newspaper (aside from the sports and auto sections), and usually wind up clipping out several interesting tibdits -- which (a) takes a lot of time and (b) ends up with a stack of disorganized clippings -- but I picked up and enjoyed a copy from time to time. Therefore my discovery a few years back of the online P-I (www.seattlepi.com) was a welcome one, and it's been high on my bookmark list ever since, though in the last two years or so it had drifted from one of my two primary news sites (along with BBC News at http://news.bbc.co.uk for internat'l events) to being a place I checked a few times a week.

And now the print edition, what we usually think of when we say "newspaper", is gone, and most of the reporters and staff laid off. This shd be good news so far as worries about deforestation goes (has anyone done a study on how the collapse of newspapers might reduce the pressure on paper supply?), but it is the end of something very American: the local quality newspaper. THE SEATTLE TIMES, which has been doing everything it could to drive the P-I under for years, will struggle on for a while, but it's a lesser rag all the way around and is unlikely to pull in much of the P-I's readers. To use a musical analogy, if the Beatles quit touring and recording, how much of their audience would start going to concerts by The Monkees? And, moreover, it's in bad shape itself, like most of the country's newspapers. The two free 'alternate' papers are sad stuff in comparison to Milwaukee's CRAZY SHEPHERD/SHEPHERD EXPRESS, and the local free Kent paper rarely reports any news (focusing instead on 'local color' and puff pieces for local businesses), though the police blotter section remains weirdly fascinating.

So, it's on to the websites we go.

And, in what may be a sign of things to come, on their first day the P-I site has not a story but a link (to the SEATTLE TIMES website!) about a major piece: criminal investigation into the collapse of Washington Mutual:
People forget how much of the 1929 stock market collapse was later proven to be the result of corruption and manipulation, but it poses an interesting question for today. Which is better, executives looting their companies and driving them into bankruptcy, or ineptitude disguised as expertise and rewarded with inflated executive salaries and vast bonuses? Not to say that these two are mutually exclusive . . .


*since bought out by its lesser rival, THE ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT, and sunk accordingly in quality in its current form as THE ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

**since merged into THE JOURNAL-SENTINEL

Monday, March 16, 2009

I Am Reviewed . . .

. . . in German (auf Deutsch)!

So, it turns out that the latest volume of HITHER SHORE (HS.IV), the journal of the German Tolkien Society (Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft, or DTG), has a lengthy review of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT.* Not being able to read German, I resorted to the local library, where with a good German/English dictionary I was able to puzzle out a bit of it. Finding that too slow, I decided to give Babelfish a try, with highly amusing but thoroughly unreliable results akin to the subtitles of some Hong Kong import anime. Online tools having failed me, I resorted to a friend who speaks German**, who finding it sticky going passed it on in turn to his parents,*** who were actually born in Germany (or what was Germany at the time). And now, thanks to their kindness in translating this for someone they've only met a few times, I can see what the reviewer (Judith Klinger) has to say about my book(s).

In general, she seems to be v. pleased to have Tolkien's original text, plot notes, and later additions/revisions (i.e., the 1947 Hobbit, the 1960 Hobbit) --"a valuable edition of the text . . . For Tolkien scholars it is an absolutely essential addition to the previously published literature."-- She's dubious, however, about my having included commentary in the same work as the text: since my commentary could not be exhaustive, she feels I shdn't have attempted it at all. That is, while she's pleased that I present "a lavishly annotated archeology of a text" she would have preferred "a pure text edition".

As for my mini-essays, she thinks --"Occasionally they cut an interesting path through the jungle of connections between the texts. In other cases they are too short to exhaust the topic . . . Inasmuch as these essays do not claim to be complete . . . one has to ask what is the use of this combination of an edition of sources with a discussion of the historical motives (and all this in a limited space). The discussions remain necessarily selective."-- I take her point, but I have to disagree here: that a discussion cannot be exhaustive or definitive doesn't, for me, preclude having a discussion at all. She does think I establish THE HOBBIT's essential connection to Tolkien's larger legendarium --"a multifaceted basis for additional studies of Tolkien’s way of writing, for the development of his mythology and for the position of The Hobbit in his opus. His edition gives important insights: Thus it is obvious that The Hobbit was in no time intended as an independent work without reference to the lost stories of Arda."-- She also thinks I document Tolkien's "extraordinary obstinacy in the construction of a truly credible 'secondary world'."

She is displeased over the typos: fair enough. I would certainly have prevented them, if I could, and have sought to find and correct them since. But she also calls me out for at times drawing on David Salo's A GATEWAY TO SINDARIN --"which is controversial among Tolkien linguists." --. I am of course aware of the criticisms of Dr. Salo's book, and while I do not agree with his stance that an irregular form by Tolkien is a mistake (I don't see how a language's creator can make a mistake of that degree), I don't think that undercuts the value of his book, especially for my purposes.

Finally, I shd point out one minor glitch in the review: Tolkien's biographer is not "Howard Carpenter" but instead the late Humphrey Carpenter.

All in all, an interesting review; many thanks for all who helped me find and read it.


current book: FINGERPRINTS OF THE GODS by Graham Hancock [1995].

*many thanks, Matt, for sending it.
**hi Wolf!
***many thanks, Dr. & Mrs. Baur

Sunday, March 15, 2009


"It was a story, I learned when people began to read it, that children experienced as an adventure, but which gave adults nightmares. It's the strangest book I've written, it took the longest time to write, and it's the book I'm proudest of" --Neil Gaiman

So, Wednesday night we went to see CORALINE, the new movie based on my favorite Neil Gaiman novel. It's been a while since we last went to the movies (W.? DARK KNIGHT?), aside from that one Imax 'documentary' about the Nile, and it was unsettling how empty the theatre was. Did people stop going to movies in the last few months? We saw a grand total of (a) three employees (ticket seller, ticket taker, and at the concession stand), (b) three other people were already seated waiting to see the same movie we were there for, and (c) two more came in after us. That was it: not a single other person in the hall, no one hanging around outside, nothing. Another sign of the Depression, perhaps.

For not having seen a movie in several months, we picked a good one. I think CORALINE the best of all Gaiman's books (I wish it'd won him the Newbery instead of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK), and while they'd changed it a good deal it was a good movie too. The 'animation' was puppet-style, like THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and while I found it a little off-putting at first (I'd have preferred either traditional animation or live-action) I soon adapted. It'd been a while since I'd read the book, and I was surprised by how much I didn't remember -- re-reading it since, I see that a lot of the things I thought I must have forgotten weren't in the book at all but were new for the movie (e.g., the character Whybee*, or all the stuffed Scotties, or Mr. Bobo's acrobatics). The movie is more dramatic, and somewhat more comic, than the book, but I think those were examples of them making good use of the medium to tell the story their way, and that Gaiman's story v. much shone through. In particular Coraline is a v. appealing hero and yet at the same time a v. believable kid,** and both her real parents and her Other parents were appealing in their distinct ways. As we were coming out, Janice said she wished they'd had a movie like that around when she was a kid.

So, a good, possibly great movie that shd lead people back to the undeniably brilliant book. A good show all round.


*though as Janice observed that's a v. Gaiman-esque name; perhaps N.G. had input into the script.
**my favorite scene, I think, was when she made herself a place in her parents' empty bed, which I thought heart-breakingly true-to-life.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dunsany V

Here's one of Dunsany's understated little apocalypses, where more is going on than at first seems. Developed at full length, if might well have fit into UNKNOWN WORLDS a quarter-century later. Once again this comes from FIFTY-ONE TALES [1915].

"Taking Up Piccadilly"

Going down Piccadilly one day and nearing Grosvenor Place I saw, if my memory is not at fault, some workmen with their coats off -- or so they seemed. They had pickaxes in their hands and wore corduroy trousers and that little leather band below the knee that goes by the astonishing name of "York-to-London."

They seemed to be working with peculiar vehemence, so that I stopped and asked one what they were doing.

"We are taking up Piccadilly," he said to me.

"But at this time of the year?" I said. "Is it usual in June?"

"We are not what we seem," said he.

"O I see," I said, "you are doing it for a joke."

"Well not exactly that," he answered me.

"For a bet?" I said.

"Not precisely," said he.

And then I looked at the bit that they had already picked, and though it was broad daylight over my head it was darkness down there, all full of the southern stars.

"It was noisy and bad and we grew aweary of it," said he that wore corduroy trousers. "We are not what we appear."

They were taking up Piccadilly altogether.

--Lord Dunsany

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


So, I've recently been enjoying listening again to my audiotape of John Lawlor's C. S. LEWIS: MEMORIES & REFLECTIONS, read (wonderfully!) by Bernard Mayes.* Last Friday, at Work at John's Day, I was describing how Lawlor says CSL was a person with whom it was pretty much impossible to have a conversation, since he despised 'chat' and always tried to turn any conversation into a kind of debate. Hearing this, Anne Trent made the interesting observation that this sounded rather like Gandalf with his cutting critique of Bilbo's 'good morning-ing' in the opening chapter of THE HOBBIT.

I've never heard anyone make that connection before, but I think she may be on to something here. While in MR. BAGGINS I described Gandalf's determination to take conversational commonplaces literally as Tolkien at his most Carrollingian, now that she's pointed it out there does seem to be a shadow of The Great Knock** here. As Lewis himself said of his mentor, "The idea that human beings should exercise their vocal organs for any purpose except that of communicating or discovering truth was to him preposterous. The most casual remark was taken as a summons to disputation" (SURPRISED BY JOY p. 135-136).

And Lawlor makes clear that, to his pupils at least, Lewis adopted Knock's methods whole-heartedly. He describes CSL as an "unmistakably strident man", for whom all "talk" was argument and cross-examination: "one quickly felt that for him Dialectic supplied the place of conversation"; he was someone who "talk[ed] habitually, as Johnson did, for victory".*** That such an approach was extremely off-putting is shown not just by CSL's description of first meeting Kirkpatrick but by Lawlor's comment that "the young Lewis was at first as dismayed as any of his own pupils at a conversational technique indistinguishable from viva voce**** examination." Lawlor goes on to "deplore" the influence of The Great Knock, going so far as to state that "His meeting with Lewis was perhaps one of the least fortunate in intellectual history." [emphasis mine]

This cannot be the whole truth, of course -- Lewis could hardly have become a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, a man who disliked confrontation, had he treated his peers the way he treated his students, and it's equally clear that his daily interaction with his brother Warnie must have been much more low-key. Still, I know the next time I re-read THE HOBBIT I'll be on the lookout for any other mannerisms Gandalf might have picked up from JRRT's fellow Inkling. Just in case.


*This is the same Bernard Mayes who played Gandalf in the Mind's Eye adaptations of THE HOBBIT and also THE LORD OF THE RINGS back about thirty years ago; he apparently also did the adaptation of LotR himself. Mayes seems to be an interesting character in his own right, at various times being Fr. Mayes, Prof. Mayes, and a co-founder of Nat'l Public Radio (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Mayes) as well as an experienced voice actor.

**aka Lewis's tutor, W. T. Kirkpatrick.

***to be fair, I had suggested that Lewis sometimes 'talked for victory' to Dr. Havard, who denied it, although he admitted that the other Inklings sometimes fell silent more to end the argument that because Lewis had won it. I think he thought that by 'talked for victory' I meant that CSL wd adopt any point of view in order to win, like the Gk sophists (which was not at all my intent), whereas CSL always argued from conviction.

****i.e., an oral defense required to get a degree.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Proto-Inklings?

So, when I recently mentioned Tolkien and Lewis listening to Wagner together, I was operating off of memory. Going back now and looking it up, I see that I mixed together two separate events, the first of which was Lewis's early interest in Wagner, which included his listening to Wagner on gramophone records (i.e., 78rpms) back in 1912 (Hooper & Green, p.32). The second, and more interesting, is the Lewis-Tolkien-Warnie session of early 1934 which seems to me one of the rare glimpses into the interim steps in what turned out to be the coalescence of the Inklings -- or at least one thread of what came to be The Inklings (Lean's Inklings Club and Tolkien's Coalbiters being two others which played their part).

According to Carpenter's account in THE INKLINGS, as well as the passages from Warnie's diary he based this on, December 1933 found Warnie, who had retired and moved into the Kilns about a year before,* complaining about Tolkien intruding into his quality time with his brother ("Confound Tolkien! I seem to see less and less of J[ack] every day"**). Accordingly, as Carpenter puts it, "Knowing Warnie's feelings, Jack took a great deal of trouble not to leave his brother out of anything and, when Tolkien and he decided to spend an evening reading aloud the libretto of Wagner's Die Walkure, Warnie was asked to join them even though he knew no German and could only take part by using an English translation." (THE INKLINGS pages 55-56).

This is obviously directly based on the March 24th and 26th entries in Warnie's diary, the first of which reads "J and I have been for some time intending to ask Tolkien to dinner with us at the Eastgate and to read the Walkure in J's rooms afterwards."*** The event itself is described in terms which sound v. like Warnie's later write-ups of Inklings evenings: "Tolkien, J, and I met by appointment in College at four o'clock to read the Valkyrie . . . When we had had some tea we started on the play, I reading in English and T and J in German. I think our English version must be the acting version, for it fits the German syllable by syllable -- as a result it was I found very easy to follow the others' parts: I did not need prompting more than a couple times. Coming to it with the idea of an opera libretto in my mind, I got a very agreeable surprise. Even in this rather doggerel version it remains a fine play. We knocked off soon after six and T went home, meeting us again at the Eastgate where we had fried fish and a savoury omlette . . . We then returned to J's rooms and finished our play (and incidentally the best part of a decanter of very inferior whiskey). Arising out of the perplexities of Wotan we had a long and interesting discussion on religion which lasted until about half past eleven when the car called for us. A very enjoyable day."****

I think Carpenter is probably right here, and that by bringing Warnie into what had been their two-man meetings, Tolkien & Lewis essentially had the core of the group established but without the group itself. The timing is key: 'Humphrey' Havard told me that he'd joined the group shortly after his move to Oxford in 1934, and subsequent research bears out the timing of Havard's arrival on the scene and his incorporation into CSL's circle of friends. Among the other early members -- Coghill, Fox, and probably Wrenn -- Havard proved the one who stuck with the group longest, longer than Tolkien himself. More importantly, adding a non-academic like Havard***** would have helped prevent Warnie -- himself a gifted self-taught historian -- from being the odd man out among a gathering of dons.

So, one more piece in the puzzle, to help us get a better glimpse at the overall picture.


*Brothers & Friends, p. 95 (entry for Dec. 21st 1932).

**Brothers & Friends, p. 127 (entry for Dec. 4th 1933).

***Brothers & Friends, p. 144 (entry for March 24th 1934). Interestingly enough, this entry reveals that Mrs. Moore had suggested the men meet on a Tuesday ("from her point of view Tuesday would be the best day for us to do it") but that the Tolkiens had other plans, suggesting that the selection of Tuesday as one of the two Inkling meeting days might have been Janie Moore's contribution to the group.

****Brothers & Friends, p. 145-146 (entry for March 26th 1934).

*****Though it's good to remember that Havard, while not an academic, was a learned man, with a background in biochemistry; he was later to spend much of WW II doing medical research to help protect British troops from tropical diseases.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Owl Walk

So, last night* we went on an owl walk, a thing I'd not done before. We'd learned about it from a piece in the HERON HERALD [Dec. 2008, page 5] around the time of Janice's birthday and arranged to take part, thinking it might be interesting and wd certainly be different.

When the night came, we were a little worried by the weather (in addition to turning quite cold it had snowed earlier and threatened to start up again) but still looked forward to the prospect of owling. We made it to the meeting place down next to the Soos Creek Trail, where we discovered that despite the weather they had a good turn out. Although the announcement had said group size was limited to fifteen, we had twenty-one counting the guide, so the little nature center building was packed. First we listened to an audiobook of Jane Yolen's little book OWL MOON, to get a quick course in Owl Walk Etiquette,** then we heard the calls of five owls that live in the area: a Great Horned Owl (the classic who! who!), the Barn Owl (a woman's scream), the Screech Owl (hoo-hoo-hooo-hoo-hooo), the little Saw-Whet (two cries: one rather like a chickadee's alarm call and the other like a crow's complaint), and thrown in at the last moment the Barred Owl (which I forget; I think it sounded a bit like cooing). Then after a little more talk about owls in the area and their habits, we were off, about an hour after gathering.

The actual 'owl walk' portion of the evening involved our walking a bit along the trail through the woods, then stopping while the guide played some owl calls on his little boom box, then looking into the darkness all around hoping to see an owl, all the while staining our ears to see if we heard an owl respond to the calls.*** Then after five or ten minutes we'd move on and walk a while before trying a new spot. Despite my being hopelessly night-blind (so much so that I avoid driving at night whenever possible) I actually didn't have much trouble seeing, between the gibbous moon and the snow on the ground. The stars were quite bright by the time we were done, though from where we were all I cd make out were the handle on the Big Dipper and Arcturus, plus the Gemini; I cdn't find Leo nor Perseus and Orion (the latter two being too close to the horizon behind the trees or already set).

The end result, after two full hours of this, was that the only owls we saw were the four stuffed ones back in the nature center building at the start of the talk, and the only owls we heard were the ones on the recordings and the audiobook. Still, it was a nice night for a walk, and I pretty much never walk in the woods at night (cf. nightblindness above), and I rarely make time to go out and see the stars, as much as I enjoy that, so I had a good evening. We'll probably go back for their Bat Walk this summer, but our next owl watch will probably be a quiet stroll by ourselves up at the Kent Wetlands just north of here.

It has been an interesting week for birds nevertheless: Thursday when coming back from having lunch with a friend I saw a bald eagle flying along the Green River (we do see them occasionally, but this is the first time this year). Then today while heading out to do groceries we saw either a v. large hawk or a smallish eagle sitting in a bare tree near the new bridge. Not quite as exciting as the Pileated Woodpecker Jeff Grubb has been seeing lately, of which I'm frankly envious, but welcome sights nonetheless (although the finches, crows, and chickadees we're feeding wd no doubt beg to differ).

current reading: FINGERPRINTS OF THE GODS by Graham Hancock [1995]

(*technically late last night and early this morning, since it started at 10.30pm and ran till 1.30 am).

(**don't talk once out on the walk, don't use yr flashlight, don't make any noise you can avoid. Above all, don't come back another night and play owl-calls; it upsets the owls no end and can cost them a night's hunting)

(*** I shd have asked where we shd be looking -- i.e. whether owls tend to come in high, or low, or whether it differed from one type to another -- but didn't think of it until we were already in medias.)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A tale of two websites

So, anyone who goes to the web-address listed in the Introduction to MR. BAGGINS (www.JohnDRateliff.homestead.com) now automatically gets re-directed to my new website (www.sacnothscriptorium.com).

Woo-hoo. There's a long-delayed piece of business finally taken care of, thanks once again to Anne Trent's web-skills.

Coming soon: more errata.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wireless, part two

So, here's the final half of the second of Tolkien's two English-language dialogues from 1930, 'Wireless'*


Lesson Thirty: "Wireless"


The Curious Friend [A. Lloyd James]: Well, how's your wireless going?

The Wireless Enthusiast [J. R. R. Tolkien]: Oh, not too badly, though I've had some difficulty lately in getting distant stations. I suppose it's the weather.

ALJ: What station are you trying to get now?

JRRT: I want to pick up Daventry if I can. Do you ever get any of the English stations?

ALJ: I do sometimes, but mine is only a three valve set, and not of the latest type either, so I'm not always successful in getting England.

JRRT: Sh! Here we are. Listen.

ALJ: What is he saying?

JRRT: This is London and Daventry calling the English Isles. He is going to tell us all about the weather, and then there will be a concert from the Queen's Hall.

ALJ: That ought to be very good.

JRRT: It is. Sh! Listen. Can you hear the orchestra tuning up? And now the applause as the conductor walks up to his desk.

ALJ: What are they going to play? Have you got the programme?

JRRT: Yes . . . Here they are as clear as anything. You know this, of course. The Tristan overture by Wagner.

ALJ: Isn't it marvellous? To think that we can sit here in comfort and listen to music hundreds of miles away!

JRRT: Yes, it's very wonderful indeed. Who would have thought it possible, say twenty-five years ago, that we should be able to hear, whilst sitting in our own room, a waltz played in Vienna, a mazurka played in Warsaw, chamber music from London, an opera from Berlin or Rome.

ALJ: And before long, I suppose, television will be as common as broadcasting is to-day.


--while 'At the Tobacconist' had a v. good match between its topic and our mental image of JRRT, at first glance it's rather surprising to find Tolkien talking about something as modern as radio was in 1930. But Tolkien was no Luddite: he drove cars throughout the 1930s and 1940s, took trains, used a typewriter, and made broadcasts on radio. We don't know how much of this script's detail Tolkien was responsible for, but its devotion to music shd also not surprise us: Tolkien loved music, and seems to have been v. well-versed in it -- his wife was a good enough pianist to have considered a career as a professional musician; we have several mentions of him attending concerts in Oxford when occasion offered; and one of the earliest glimpses into what might be the Inklings beginning to coalesce comes in Tolkien and Lewis getting together with Warnie on a regular basis to listen to recordings of Wagner's complete works (which, given from the date that these must have been .78rpms, with only a few minutes' worth on music on each side, was a considerable task).

One way in which this transcript might be misleading it that anyone reading it might well imagine that the various sounds Tolkien and Lloyd James are describing are actually audible in the background. Alas no: there are no sounds of radio-tuning to find a station, an orchestra tuning up, the conductor walking out, or indeed the Wagner: only the two men talking, like Shakespearean actors conjuring up what the audience is supposed to imagine. Even so, the casual allusion to the coming of television in the final line is surprising, and prescient.


*i.e., 'Radio'.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lauching the New Website

So, about two years ago when I was finishing up the Introduction to MR. BAGGINS, my edition of J. R. R. Tolkien's original rough draft Mss of THE HOBBIT, I included the following brief announcement:

"For the use of future scholars who might wish to examine the manuscript readings for themselves, I have deposited at Marquette a copy of my complete line-by-line and page-by-page transcription of all the manuscript materials for The Hobbit in the Archives. I have also deposited a copy of Taum Santoski's unfinished edition [circa 1989] for those who wish to compare his readings with my own. Finally, I will also be establishing a website (www.JohnDRateliff.homestead.com) to list errata and changes as new material become available." (page xxviii, emphasis mine)

Despite my good intentions, a busy schedule and my inner Luddite unfortunately combined to prevent my being able to make good on the promise of getting my website up and running.*

Until now. Thanks to the awesome skills of Anne Trent, I now have my website up and running. You can visit it at www.sacnothscriptorium.com. It's a work in progress, and we'll be adding to it down the road, so let me know if you find any errors or discover any glitches.

And yes, it does include the errata list for HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT: if you find any misprints or errors in H.o.H. not listed here, please let me know so I can add it into the master list. Also, if you sent me in errata and I've listed it but didn't credit you, let me know so I can fix that (some I simply wrote into my reference copy without always indicating the source). In some such cases I'd already found the problem myself, but I know a few shd be credited to readers who sent them in via e-mails or comments to this blog.

So, enjoy.

--John R.

current audiobook: John Lawlor's C. S. LEWIS: MEMORIES AND REFLECTIONS [1998], read (wonderfully) by Bernard Mayes [2001].

*although this blog, launched in late March 2007, has in part filled the gap.