Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Cookie from Jesus

So, while I was in Little Rock, I saw a story in the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE at my uncle's house that was too good to miss, so I picked up a copy of the paper for myself on my way out of town. It got put aside in the hustle and bustle of the trip itself and didn't surface again until I remembered it yesterday and pulled it out of the 'Arkansas' file. The online link to the story ( unfortunately seems to only give the opening paragraph, so I'll summarize the whole.[*]

In the piece, a guest televangelist tells the congregation "The Lord woke me up in the middle of the night. There stood Jesus with a huge tray and the tray was heaped with cookies, and he said 'Kenneth, have a cookie'." To which the televangelist replied "I believe I will".[**]

From this, he extrapolates: if you just have enough faith, God will give you "the desires of your heart: vigorous health, limitless wealth, unending happiness and eternal life -- plus new airplanes and fresh-baked goods." Also, "Christians shd be exempt from the economic downturn". Why? because Jesus "bore the curse of of poverty" so the rest of us wdn't have to. As he sees it, we are "joint heirs with the wealthiest man that exists".

After a bit about just how grossly wealthy his 'ministry' has made him (twenty-million dollar private jet, eighteen thousand square foot 'parsonage', luxury cars, a church with its own natural gas wells, personal gifts of over two million dollars for his seventieth birthday), the article returns to his insistent calls for everybody to give as much money as they can to the church. Apparently the church he was visiting that day has its own 'Donor's Creed', which they chant each Sunday:

The tithe guarantees financial favor.
The tithe guarantees your covenant partnership with God.
The tithe is proof of honor.
The tithe is proof of obedience.
The tithe silences the devourer in your life.
The tithe guarantees consistent harvest on your seed.
The tithe opens the windows of heaven."

That's bad enough, but to make it worse, their resident pastor "urged everyone -- including those facing poverty and hunger -- to dig deep, promising God would supernaturally reward them". And, at the very end of the service, they took up an extra collection, just for the multi-millionaire televangelist.

This strikes me as the so-called 'Prosperity Gospel' -- itself pretty dodgy theologically -- gone mad. Haven't they forgotten the whole 'lay not up treasures for yourself in this world' bit? Not to mention the odd notion that you can force God into financially beneficial contracts.

Somedays my inner Calvinist comes out, and I just have to say: GAH!


*[which appears on pages 1B & 2B of the print edition for Mondy October 12th 2009]

**[Janice's question, when I showed her this story, was 'what kind of cookie?' very practical, those Methodists.]

Friday, October 30, 2009


So, the impending return of Non-Daylight Non-Savings Time (i.e., real time) this weekend has reminded me of an unresolved point from several months back. In my discussions of the time frame of THE HOBBIT I had suggested that the shift of Durin's Day from the first moon of autumn to the last moon of autumn had the unforseen consequence of cramming all the events of the final chapter into a three- or four-week period. (e.g. RETURN TO BAG-END p. 481)

Given the strong emphasis on an astronomical event (Durin's Day), I assumed an astronomical, rather than a folk, usage of "autumn". This was challenged by Andreas Moehn 's review on TolkLang, which I only became aware of some two years after it was posted (see my post of August 24th), and in person by Christina Scull, both of whom disputed my literal reading of "midsummer".

Moehn wrote, regarding my comments on the dating of Durin's Day,

"Rateliff . . . blurs the issue by reading English manuscripts through American glasses . . . he critisizes [sic] Tolkien for calling the solar solstice "Midsummer's Eve" though in fact it was the beginning of summer - but actually, the only problem here is Rateliff's profoundly American ignorance"

For the record, I'm mystified as to why Moehn thought I was criticizing Tolkien when I cited the OED's definition of Midsummer and Midwinter. That was certainly never my intent. In any case, I responded

The point about the disjunction between astronomical autumn (Sept 21st to Dec 21st) and colloquial British usage (August, September, October), which Christina Scull had earlier suggested to me, is more complex and needs to be written up as a separate post.

So, this is my attempt to write up that separate post. There are three relevant pieces of information I know about:

First, here's the OED definition of 'Midsummer' I was working from: "The middle of summer; the period of the summer solstice, about June 21st". This is the word's primary definition, and the OED cites authorities for this usage going all the way back to about 900 AD. It further cites such derivatives as Midsummer Day: "the 24th of June, one of the recognized 'quarter days' in England" and Midsummer Eve/Even: "the evening before Midsummer Day" [OED Compact Edition, Vol I page 1792]

Second, there's the OED definition of 'Autumn'; here's where things begin to get interesting: "The third season of the year, or that between summer and winter, reckoned astronomically from the descending equinox to the winter solstice; i.e. in the northern hemisphere, from September 21 to December 21. Popularly, it comprises, in Great Britain, August, September, and October (J)*; in North America, September, October, and November (Webster); in France, 'from the end of August to the first fortnight of November' (Littre) . . . The astronomical reckoning retains the Roman computation; the antiquity of the popular English usage is seen in the name Midsummer Day, given to the first day of the Astronomical Summer, and in the OE midsumormona[th]** 'June', midwinter 'winter-solstice, Christmas'. [OED Compact Edition Vol I page 144]

*by 'J' here, they mean Samuel Johnson's dictionary. 'Webster' is of course Noah Webster, and 'Littre' turns out to be Emile Littre's DICTIONNARIE DE LA LANGUE FRANCAISE [1863-1877]. I don't think Tolkien is likely to have adopted a French calendar, and in any case am rather surprised to find a French work using a term such as 'fortnight'. I have since done an informal poll among my English friends and so far have not found any who consider August to be part of autumn; whether this represents a shift from Dr. Johnson's time or not, the informal definition of autumn in both England and America now seems to be Sept-Oct-Nov, with August being considered part of summer and December winter.

**this [th] shd really be an edh, but I don't have that OE character on my qwerty keyboard.

In any case, as it turns out we have good evidence from Tolkien himself of his using 'autumn' in a looser sense. Consider the following passage from early on in THE LORD OF THE RINGS:

"in the fine weather [Frodo] forgot his troubles for a while.

The Shire had seldom seen so fair a summer, or so rich an autumn:

the trees were laden with apples, honey was dripping in the combs,

and the corn was tall and full.

"Autumn was well under way before Frodo began to worry

about Gandalf again. September was passing and there was still

no news of him. The Birthday [Sept 22nd], and the removal,

drew nearer, and still he did not come, or send word . . .

"On September 20th two covered carts went off laden

to Buckland . . . The next day Frodo became really anxious . . .

Still Gandalf did not appear."

[LotR Bk I Ch. III: "Three is Company"]

--thus, by this reckoning, autumn is already "well under way" by Sept 21st, the time of the equinox, when celestial autumn begins. This suggests that here at least Tolkien is considering 'autumn' to have begun around the beginning of September, comprising roughly the months of September/October/November rather than the celestial autumn running late September/October/November/most of December.

So, where does that leave us? We know from Chapter XI of THE HOBBIT that Durin's Day that year happened to occur one week before the beginning of winter. Abandoning astronomical fall/winter makes it possible that Tolkien could intended Durin's Day to fall as early as a week before the end of October (if we go with Johnson's definition, which I rather doubt) or a week before the end of November (if we go with the informal American/modern British usage). The latter still leaves the end-story rather crowded, with Durin's Day+the destruction of Lake Town+the mustering of Bard's and the Elvenking's armies+Thorin & Company's building the defensive wall+Dain's march+the goblin-army's muster and march+the Battle of Five Armies+its aftermath+Bilbo & Gandalf's journey back all the way to the far side of Mirkwood all occurring in a four-or-five week period. Better than the two-weeks astronomical autumn/winter would have left us with, but still . . . I find it somewhat hard to swallow that Tolkien would switch between the informal and astronomical usages of the word in the same chapter, particularly when the astronomical event of Durin's Day is so crucial to the plot.

So, I'm willing to be persuaded, and would be particularly interested in hearing from anyone familiar with the August/September/October definition of "autumn".


Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure

So, this book (subtitled "The True Story of a Great American Road Trip") is a good example of why we watch Book TV when we can (unfortunately, we only get it on C-Span on weekends): it introduces us to books and authors we might otherwise never come across, since they're on topics far from our usual interests (e.g., Tolkien).

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, by Matthew Algeo [2009] is a case in point: a delightful, interesting little book about a lost piece of Americana. It tells the story how one day in June 1953, a few months after leaving office, Truman decided to pack a suitcase, get in his new Chrysler, and drive (with his wife Bess watching the speedometer) from his home in Independence Missouri to New York City (where their daughter Margaret lived) and back. After years of being shadowed everywhere he went by Secret Service agents, and only two years after being the target of a major assassination attempt in which two people died (one of the gunmen and one of Truman's guards), he wanted to be just folks again. He and Bess would enjoy the scenary, stop in diners along the way, sleep in whatever motels took their fancy, visit with old friends, and generally enjoy themselves.

And, in the end, it kinda turned out that way. His desire for anonymity quickly went awry, since he and Bess were recognized most places they stopped (though usually not right away -- more like people at the next table looking over and saying hey, that can't possibly be . . . can it?). A few times they succeeded (as marked by gaps in the historical record), but by and large the longer Truman stayed in a place, the more likely it was that someone would recognize him and blow his cover -- especially after word got out and reporters started to cover the story and be on the look-out for the ex-president.

Algeo has also done a good job telling the story, retracing the Trumans' route, recounting local newspaper coverage at the time, and revisiting places they stayed. He even talked to a dozen or so people who met Truman during that trip. I think the most charming story is of the little girl who was working at her father's ice cream stand near Hannibal who always had to keep a sharp eye out for people parking in front of their stand and then going over to the cafe next door. Hence she saw the Trumans arrive, and recognized them at once:

"Dad," the twelve-year-old shouted,
"Harry Truman's out in front.
Do you want me to have him move his car?"

He thought she was mistaken, of course,
but when Bud looked for himself,
he saw that it was indeed Harry Truman.

Bud told Toni to call her sister . . .
and to tell her to bring a camera.

--The upshot of the story was that the Trumans had lunch, and only got recognized by folks in the diner as they were paying the bill, by a former colleague of Harry's from his county judge days ("Why, there's Judge Truman!"), after which he shook hands and signed autographs. Algeo even includes the photograph the twelve-year-old girl took of Truman in his white suit in her father's parking lot about to get into his big black Chrysler and drive off.

The book is full of little stories like that, which don't just show how down-to-earth Truman was (doing his own driving, carrying his own suitcase, chatting with folks he ran into) but how much ordinary people liked him, even when he'd just left office with one of the lowest 'approval ratings' in history (mind you, I think some of our earlier presidents were lucky there weren't pollsters in their day). Even (most of) the various bits of trivia Algeo put in were interesting, like his account of the first fatal traffic accident in the U. S. (Harry Bliss, who was run down by an electric taxi in New York City on Sept 13th 1899 and died the next day), or just how rude Eisenhower was to Truman on the latter's last day in office. The various ups and downs of the Truman/Hoover relationship were also interesting, as was the apocryphal quip about Truman, Hoover, and MacArthur running into each other in a New York elevator:

MacArthur: It's a small world.
Truman: How's the fade-away business?
MacArthur: You should know!

Janice read this one a while back on Kindle, and I just got to it last Friday and Saturday (in a book book, borrowed from our local library), as book #II.2807; highly recommended.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

WotC's Tolkien RPG

So, while I was away, Janice continued working on our long-term project to get everything in the Box Room sorted out and organized.* And among the boxes she opened and sorted through was one with a cluster of roleplaying material most centered around 2001 (give or take a bit) that had long been lost.

Among the goodies unearthed are

--a program book for MonteCon 2001 (the last MonteCon, I think), where I ran BIERCE SPOTS, a 1916 Call-of-Cthulhu scenario in which the Investigators travel to Mexico on the trail of Ambrose Bierce, and a Scooby Doo Cthulhu scenario in which Scooby and the gang come across a spooky old castle called Castle Ravenloft. Now I'll have to look for the notes re. the Bierce scenario, which I thought went really well.

--a program guide for GenCon 2002, the last GenCon in Milwaukee and the last one I went to.

--some early working notes regarding d20 Call of Cthulhu, which I'll put with the rest

--some campaign notes from Shaun Horner's MASKS OF NYARLATHOTEP campaign which he ran the first few months I was in Seattle ("The Friday Night Game"),** the other players being Miranda, Steve Brown ("Stan"), Robert Wiese, and myself; I recall we only got through the first two scenarios (The JuJu Shop and Cairo) and that my private-eye character died spectacularly twice (first by jumping from a train to avoid A Fate Worse Than Death and then, after being sinisterly re-animated, being blown to bits in the Bent Pyramid).

--a page of much older notes from one of the favorite D&D campaigns I ran back in Milwaukee, where at the end of a session I jotted down just what kind of fix the PCs had gotten themselves into and the various ways in which they might get out of it.

But the real prize is a folder containing pretty much all the material generated circa April through October 2000 by those of us in WotC's RPG R&D department for the Tolkien Game we hoped to publish. I've written about this before in connection with my speech at MERP-Con last year ("A Brief Sad History of Tolkien RPGs") but at that time couldn't locate this folder, which has been buried since around 2002. Now it goes on the shelf with the files re. the (similarly abortive) 1992 TSR Tolkien Game. Having now skimmed its contents, I'll be making a new post about that fordoomed project soon, though I won't be able to post the material since it doesn't belong to me.

More soon.


*why yes, the river did rise some today, after yesterday's rain. not that I'm obsessively monitoring it, you understand.

**those first three months, before Janice came out and joined me, I was in three weekly games: the Monday Night Game (which I ran), the Wednesday Night Game (Monte's brave new world campaign), and the Friday Night Game (run by the Horners).

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Publication

So, tonight I was pleasantly surprised to get a pdf copy of my newest publication: "Hubert's Fine Arts",* one of the five component pieces making up A PECULIAR PENTAD, the latest CALL OF CTHULHU release from the good folks at Super Genius Games. On a quick read-through, the whole product looks nice. I'm in good company, my fellow authors being Jeff Grubb, Gwendolyn Kestrel, Thomas Reid, and Jeff Quick. I'll put up a link to the product once it's listed on their website, in case anyone wants to check it out for themselves, but for now I'm enjoying the chance to read over a piece I did more than a year ago (September 2008), under difficult circumstances (which staying in Billings, Montana, waiting for the recovery of someone who'd just been airlifted to a hospital our of Yellowstone Park for a triple bypass), and seeing how it holds up. And, of course, to finally have the chance to read the other contributors' pieces.

Cthulhu adventure sites, complete with characters and adventure hooks. Mmm; them'll's make fine reading for me over the next few days . . .


*pronounced Hu-BEAR's, as in faux-French, not 'HEW-berts', as in Humphrey; I still haven't gotten the knack of getting in the accent marks in this format.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oak Number Three

So, two weeks ago today I arrived in Magnolia for an emergency family trip which, fortunately, turned out not to be as big a crisis as we'd feared (so far, anyway). But it turned out I was there for one event I hadn't been expecting.

When I got into town, my first stop was to drop by and greet my mother at the Wal-Mart where she works. And, as usual, my second stop was to drive by and see the yard, the empty lot where the house I called home from 1969 to 1981 (and revisited many times thereafter, up until about four years ago) used to stand. Most of the (seasonal) flowers I'd planted last time were gone, as expected, and I sadly confirmed that neither the mimosa that came up on its own nor the cherry tree I planted had survived. But the new rose bush and the camellia (to replace the two wonderful camellias that came down with the house) seemed to be doing well, and the little raised bed of day lillies also seemed to have taken root, as well as the violets I dug up along the Ouachita River over in Camden. I made my usual survey of the trees, including the dying stub of one of the oaks, now hollow but having still valiantly put out a few thin straggly limbs just this past year; I'd convinced my mother to leave it standing, since from the holes in it it was obvious that someone, woodpecker or squirrel, was calling it home.

Then, the next day when we got back from our business in Shreveport that'd brought me down, I swung by again, only to find that the tree had come down either the night before (Monday) or earlier that day (Tuesday).* It hadn't done any damage, simply fallen over into the yard, neatly pointing away from the neighbor's driveway and storage shed, and even ending a few feet short of the rose bush. The top had disintegrated with the impact, leaving a limbless trunk perhaps eighteen feet long; investigation showed that only two roots had still been alive and holding the tree in place. My mother wanted to have it chopped up and hauled off, but I was able to persuade her that it'd be better to leave it as a nursery log, so I found someone who came by and maneuvered it into position along (but entirely on our side of) the property line, rather like some folks set out railroad ties. I spent an afternoon picking up the debris and getting it out of the way, cutting off a few roots sticking up the wrong way, and the like. In the end I was rather pleased with the results: the old tree now lies between two of its surviving brethren (Oak #2 and Oak #4), which like Oak #1 fared better than it did when the idiots at AP&L (Arkansas Power & Light) came by a few years ago and cut off all the third tree's limbs, since all four stood near a power line. The other three had some limbs left, enabling them to continue growing, but the tree-butchers lopped off every limb from one tree, effectively dooming it. Gah! I do feel bad about whatever had been living in it -- I found a bunch of yarn inside the debris that'd clearly been somebody's nest -- given that it's a hard time to lose yr home, with winter coming on. Maybe the fallen tree might still do, in a pinch.

Aside from that one old friend finally giving up the ghost, the yard looks pretty good. There are still nine of the original ten trees left: the other three oaks in a line to the left (sadly mangled years ago but having now largely recovered), the main oak out front (which lost some branches at the hands of the folks who knocked down the house but now, some four or five years later, once again thriving so that you can't see the damage unless you know where to look), one oak in the back, the two pecan trees (the big pecan in the back and the little pecan in the front), and the two double pines. All these would have been planted some sixty years or more ago, when the house was first built, and before my grandmother moved into it. In addition, a pine tree that'd grown up in a corner some thirty years ago is now a fairly substantial tree, though dwarfed by the older pines. In addition to the trees, the original forsythia (now a mighty bush) and a few of the nandina survive, as does the bamboo I planted years ago. I also, while I was there, created a second raised bed, this time lined with native stone and filled with daffodils below (for the spring) and pansies above (for my mother to enjoy right now). I'll see next visit how they did.

*I later learned from a neighbor who lives across the street that she'd heard it fall on Monday afternoon, so it'd come down only an hour or two after I'd been by to see it.

Other than that, it was a more eventful trip than I expected -- torrential rain, with several roads closed and one person drowned when her car went off the road in poor visibility (in a second incident, a man managed to climb atop the cab of his truck and was saved). All the more startling, since Magnolia lacks any river and only has a few v. minor creeks. But I missed the real fireworks, which were due to occur the evening of the day I drove back to Little Rock to catch my flight home: ex-Prime Minister Ohlmert's visit to S.A.U. I don't know how many people showed up for his $100-a-person speech (for $200, you cd get yr picture taken with him). I'd thought Ohlmert was in jail following his corruption trial, but apparently not. Odder still, his speech was due to be protested by the Pharisees from the Westboro Baptist Church, who turn out to be anti-semetic as well as homophobes and general loons. Whether they showed up or not I don't know, but at any rate I assume the Prime Minister had a better reception in Magnolia than he did a few days later at another stop in his bank-money-for-the-trial tour, as recorded in the following link:

So, as strange a trip as it was, if my timing had been a little different it cd have been considerably stranger.

current book: THE AGENDA, by Bob Woodward.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I'm in Little Rock > Shreveport > Magnolia

So, now I know why Seattle had such a long dry summer and is having a relatively dry autumn so far -- or at least I know where all the rain's gone.

Arkansas. Or at least to that part of it my family's called home for a long, long time now (since about 1868, when the Rateliffs fled Mississippi during the famines that came in the wake of the Civil War). Specifically, Columbia County, where I am now, which has had thirty-two inches of rain since the beginning of September. Or so I was told when I arrived on Monday. And that was before the downpours on Tuesday, which cut off some roads. The Thursday papers carried pictures of (minor) flooding in Magolia itself. It's stopped now, and the sun came out in a beautiful blue sky today, perhaps marking a return to more usual weather in these parts.


--John R.

current reading: WHAT KIND OF NATION (Jefferson vs. Marshall) by Ja. F. Simon [2002]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

Thought for the Day: Peace is Good.

Follow-up Thought: Perhaps just by being elected, Obama has changed the world for the better?

Corollary: Racism is Bad.

Exhibit A: Erick Erick of writes: "I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota"


Thursday, October 8, 2009

We Declare War on the Moon (with apologiest to H. G. Wells)

So, tomorrow morning we fire a missile into the moon's south pole, to see if we can blow a big chunk of it sky-high in hopes of detecting miniscule amounts of water vapor in the pulverized debris. If so it'll prove that the moon has water -- or had, until we blasted it off into space. If not, then we'll have permanently altered a stretch of moonscape never visited by any astronaut or probe.

It's kind of like when we blew up a comet a few years ago: a kind of careless arrogance towards altering or destroying things in our solar neighborhood. I've always been pretty gung-ho on our space program, but I draw the line at blowing up or blowing pieces off other planets and moons -- though I don't go as far as C. S. Lewis, who held that our planet really ought to be under quarantine to protect neighboring space from us, rather than the other way around. At least it's not as bad as the time they nuked the Van Allen belts, just to see what would happen (good news: not much). At least we got VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (the movie, not the tv series) out of that; I doubt we'll get even that out of our bombing the moon.

Oddly enough, since hearing the news I keep finding myself thinking back to H. G. Wells' THE FIRST MEN ON THE MOON, and wondering whether or not the King of the Selenites would take kindly to our preemptive strike, and what sort of counter-measure(s) his people might set in motion. Guess if a big 'Oy!' and 'you'll get yours!' signals reach us from the moon tomorrow after the blast we'll know.

--John R.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Warnie's Will

So, last Thursday I discovered that the Discovery Institute, the masterminds (based right here in Seattle) behind the modern Intelligent Design movement, have Warnie Lewis's will up on their website. And C. S. Lewis's Will. And Owen Barfield's Will.* I haven't tried to authenticate them but am taking it on faith that these accurately represent the original documents. All are interesting, as you wd expect, but having just spent some time at the Wade looking at Warnie's diary I was particularly interested in the provisions of his will, made in 1969.

The bequest to the Wade we all knew about,** of course, but the legacies to specific people are revealing:

--five hundred pounds to Paxford the gardener [to whom CSL had earlier given a hundred pounds for thirty years' faithful service]

-- a thousand pounds to Maureen Blake, provided she let the Millers continue to live in the Kilns for six months after the Major's death

--a thousand pounds to Frank Henry, his Irish driver

--five hundred pounds to Walter Hooper

--five thousand pounds to Mollie (Maud) Miller and her husband, Len; he later added a codicil providing an additional ten thousand pounds to Mrs. Miller to buy a house of her own with. [CSL had earlier left Mrs. Miller fifty pounds]

--and, in another codicil, a thousand pounds to Jean Wakeman, who'd taken over responsiblity for the Gresham boys after their mother died.

In addition to these, he left two dozen or so books, mostly about Ireland and Northern Ireland, to Mrs. Ruth Parker, along with his grandfather Lewis's diaries and sermons. The bulk of his estate was to be divided between three people: Mrs. Parker, Elizabeth Lewis, and Clare Clapperton, whom I suspect to be his cousins. That his main heirs were all three people I've never heard of before just helped drive home the fact about how being an Inkling scholars leads you to know aspects of a person's life, wh. shd not be mistaken for the whole life.

As I said, interesting.

--John R.

*I've always thought it a pity that the Institute never, so far as I know, made contact with Barfield, who was a longtime advocate of what's currently being called 'intelligent design' (cf. UNANCESTRAL VOICE [1965], probably his masterpiece).

**"all letters, manuscripts, etc." of CSL's "which may be found among my effects", particularly the Boxon material, plus The Lewis Papers, Warnie's own diaries, and an envelope of family photographs.

Open Circle Theatre: Lovecraft 2009

So, it's that time of year again, when the good folks at Open Circle Theatre put on their annual H. P. Lovecraft play. This year it's an adaptation of his sole horror novel, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD. Not only is this one of the better of Lovecraft's tales, but it served as one of the inspirations for the first scenario in the first-published CALL OF CTHULHU adventure, SHADOWS OF YOG-SOTHOTH, specifically the sinister basement beneath the Silver Twilight Lodge. It's been adapted once already, into a bad Vincent Price movie (that is, bad even by the standards of Vincent Price movies) starring Price and Lon Chaney Jr. -- bizarrely enough, re-titled THE HAUNTED PALACE in the theory that more people wd go see a movie titled after a Poe story, even if it had nothing to do with Poe, than if it came from the relatively obscure Lovecraft.

At any rate, here's the link for the show; anyone in the Seattle area interesting in getting together to go see it with me, drop me a line.

John R.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Barfield (and Hooper) Come to the Wade

So, one of the things I found out about during my recent visit to the Wade is that they'll soon be hosting two special speakers: Owen Barfield ('Owen Jr', grandson of the author) and Walter Hooper.

Owen Jr.'s talk about his grandfather's life and works will be at the Wade tomorrow evening (Tuesday October 6th, at seven o'clock). I missed a similar talk in Oxford in 2007, having arrived from Heathrow just shortly before the event started and being too jet-lagged from transcontinental + transatlantic travel to take in a lecture that same evening. A bad call on my part, I've since concluded. Now I miss it again by just a week and a day. Ah well; someday. In the meantime, for anyone interested in the most overlooked of all the major Inklings, this is an event you shd take the extra effort to attend if at all possible.

Nor is that all: on the 26th -- that is, three weeks from today -- Fr. Hooper will be speaking about his forty-six years spent editing C. S. Lewis. I suspect this will be similar to the talk I got to hear him give on the same topic the last day I was in England (in fact, the evening that I shd have spent packing), wh. I enjoyed v. much. There aren't many people left who knew Lewis, and Hooper knows more about him than any other person living, so this shd be quite an event.

Here's the official announcement from the Wade Center website:

And for those who don't know enough about Barfield yet, here's the official website, which shows their progress so far in their welcome campaign to get all of OB's books back in print:*

--John R.

*my own two small recent contributions to Barfieldology are having provided the foreword to EAGER SPRING (having years ago provided the executors with a copy of the text itself) and writing a review of Simon Blaxland de Lange's biography of OB. I still long for the day when ENGLISH PEOPLE sees print, and still hope to get my essay on the Burgeon trilogy (THIS EVER DIVERSE PAIR, WORLDS APART, & UNANCESTRAL VOICE) written up and published ('The Importance of Being Burgeon'). --JDR

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Northwest Tea Festival

So, today I put on tea-colored pants, a tea-colored shirt, tea-colored shoes (and socks), and a tea-colored hat before we went down to the Seattle Center, where we met up with Sigfried and Anne at Internat'l Fountain (which was in fine form, esp. with the small but intense rainbow) before walking over to the Northwest Tea Festival. We'd found out about this a month or so back from Shelly (thanks, Shelly). Never having been to a 'tea festival' before, I didn't know quite what to expect, but we all found it v. pleasant, and I'd gladly go back next year.

When you came in the door, registered, and paid a small entry fee ($5), they gave you not just a little paper bag w. a handle containing various leaflets and some tea samples* but also your own handleless little porcelain cup to keep (measuring it since we got home, I find it holds about two ounces when filled to the brim, so a normal serving is about an ounce to an ounce and a half). The event was small compared to, say, the Antiquarian Book Fair (which I'm hoping to attend there next week), but a good size that you got to visit each of their dozen booths without feeling rushed and sample the free teas brewed up at each without coming away feeling overfull; the crowd was also a nice size -- big enough the fill the place and feel like a decent turnout without being overcrowded (with the noise, heat, and difficulty in getting around that entails).

Among the folks with booths there that I know were Market Spice in Pike Place Market (from whom I picked up a box of Northwest Breakfast teabags, as ours are running low), Teahouse Kuan Yin just west of the University District (from whom I bought one of the teas they were offering tasting samples of, Golden Snail Yunnan), and the Perennial Tea Room in Post Alley.**

Others new to me included Barnes & Watson Fine Teas, from whom I bought a sample of 'Special Black' ('similar to Keemun', it said -- I brewed it up upon returning home and find it a bit mild for my tastes, at least on a five minute brew), where I also bought a COOKING WITH TEA cookbook by Rbt Wemischner & Diana Rosen; Mr. Wemischner was there, doing a cooking demonstration and lecture wh. I much enjoyed (the parts of which I cd hear, anyway), after wh. he v. kindly signed my book -- think the main courses aren't necessarily things we'll be eating a lot of, but the deserts look v. do-able on the lowcarb diet. The folks at the Sa Tea had green teas and rice teas, neither of which I v. much care for (far too mild for me), but they were v. pleasant in explaining the terminology of their teas. Similarly, I enjoyed hearing about the 'Fair Trade Certified' status of their teas from the folks at the double booth for Choice Organic Teas, though I'll have to go online to find out more specifics (such as, who makes up the board that certifies the teas, and where are they located); I picked up another sample, this time an (organic) Oolong teabag from them. I don't remember much about the Whole Foods double booth, nor the TeaClassics --Hancha booth (I think they had out more green tea and/or white teas). The only non-tea booth, Wendy Ann Creations, had tea cozies, pot holders (of which I got a red butterfly one), and catnip mousies (of which I got a blue, having realized that two of our three cats have never had a catnip mouse).

The thing I liked the most that I couldn't bring home with me as a tea-wheel, rather like a poster-sized color chart, which broke down the different tastes you might get in a tea. Rather like the continents in RISK, each category had an overall color, within which the sub-divisions had lighter or darker shades. Thus Fruity or Earthy or Spicy or Vegetal in the middle wheel turned into specifics like orange or forest floor or cinnamon or grassy in the outer wheel. I could see 'tar' or 'smoke' as options (cf: Lapsang Souchong, a v. fine tea indeed but v. much an acquired taste) but was much amused by 'wet rock' as one option, while those with me thought 'fish' was a decidedly bad option in a tea. Its utility was quickly proven, however, when the folks at the (Teahouse Kuan Yin) booth gave us samples of their roasted pu'er, which really was 'earthy'. Normally I don't like pu'er that much, but if this had been available in smaller portions I might have been tempted -- it reminded me of the twenty-minute boils I used to do when making iced tea back in the old days at Marquette. Anne bought a wheel of the roasted pu'er, so perhaps we'll be hearing more about this down the road.

In addition to visiting the booths one by one, they had a stage upon which a man was supposed to be giving a one-man show about Okakura Kakuzo, author of THE BOOK OF TEA (of which I have Taum's copy) -- we started to watch this, but the actor went on so long about himself that we finally drifted away just as he (eventually) started the 'play' itself -- in which the featured character mainly came across as swaggeringly boastful, not at all what I'd expect from a cultured Japanese author. I did enjoy looking at the photographs of tea planations they had posted on the wall nearby, though. If I'd realised there was an art show next door, as seems to be the case (based on the stuff stuffed into our bags), I wd have checked it out.

We also signed up for two events in little curtained-off alcoves that reminded me a lot of the tables where we used to run RPGA events in the basement across the street from MECCA at GenCon in the old days. The first was Teas for Tea Parties by Chris Bolt and Aimee Skeers of the Perennial Tea Room, wh. was v. pleasant. He certainly knew his teas, and was able to answer a question I've been trying to resolve for four or five years now: where in this area can you buy a Tea Plant? After all, camellias grow in these parts, so there seems to be a fair chance that a tea tree could as well, at least as an indoors plant. He gave me three options, and someone else later added a fourth, so I'll definitely be following up on this one.

The second such event was Fine Chinese Teas by Ned & Katherine Heagerty of Silk Road Teas in San Rafael, California. Unfortunately, they were late in starting and so we only got through three of the four teas they intended to prepare for us, and the third barely before time ran out and we had to leave to make room for the next group. Their preparation was more elaborate than at the previous event (rising the cup, carefully adding the tea in just the right proportion, adding the first water, draining it off, adding the second water, stirring the tea with each cup's lid, then pouring the tea into little containers, then filling our little cups), which I think took more time than they had planned on. Too bad (from my purely selfish point of view) we started with the white tea (or was it green?), then an oolong, but of the final two I'm glad we got the Keemun (this being my favorite kind of tea) rather than the pu'er (which, unfortunately, turned out to be the one someone else was looking forward to). Still, an enjoyable event, again from people who clearly knew their stuff: I wound up buying a two-ounce bag of the Yunnan Banna Hong Cha from them, and to our astonishment they gave each of us a little clay teapot to take home --these are of the kind in which you're only ever to make one type of tea in a given pot.

So, between the teas we tasted, the tea we bought or were given as samples, the cup and mini-pot and potholder and cookbook and catnip mousie we brought away with us, and the good company we had while there mixing with like-minded people, I enjoyed our excursion v. much. And it was a nice autumn day to boot.

And now, on to the Book Fair next week. Dare I hope for the Hughart I'm missing?

--John R.

*there were four of these: Whole Leaf Organics' Jade Green; Barnes & Watson's Star Spangled Herbal; MarketSpice's African Red Bush True Vanilla; and Teahouse Kuan Yin's Assam -- Halmari Estate (Janice got the same except that her packet from Teahouse Kuan Yin is Shou Mei Chinese Whole Leaf White Tea)

**Sad to say, my favorite area tea shop, The Tea Cup, wasn't present, but still there were plenty of good things to see and sample.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"My Friend Ronald"

So, while I was at the Wade (but not as a result of my being there), I found out that Arne Zettersten's long-awaited memoir of JRRT has now been published.

Unfortunately, it's in Swedish, a language I don't speak or read. I had assumed it would be in either English (the language of most of Tolkien's readership) or Danish (the author being a professor at the University of Copenhagen). So, here's hoping for an English translation.

In the meantime, if you're a completist not put off by not being able to read the books you collect (in which case you really shd have that Bulgarian biography of JRRT too), or if you can read Swedish (either from being a Renaissance Person or from belonging to the thriving and long-established Scandinavian Tolk folk), I'm told it's available from ( At the least, the cover (a photo of Tolkien in front of an enlargement of Fimbulfambi's Map) looks good; I don't know if the other illos are previously unpublished or not.

For the original post I saw announcing the book, whose full title is TOLKIEN: MY FRIEND RONALD AND HIS WORLDS, see

There's also a brief interview with the author here (; scroll down to the twelfth message for it. Later in the same thread (the twenty-ninth message, I think) comes a table of contents listing of each chapter, which gives a good idea of the book's range, though not of course its flavor.

Given how much I enjoyed Zettersten's talk at the 2004 Marquette Tolkien Conference -- is it five years ago already? -- since published in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: SCHOLARSHIP IN HONOR OF RICHARD E. BLACKWELDER, I've been looking forward to this one. For one thing, Arne comes at it from a perspective no previous writer has enjoyed: a fellow expert in the AB language of the ANCRENE WISSE, the discovery of which was one of Tolkien's supreme scholarly accomplishments, though previous Tolkien scholars (myself included) have more or less ignored it, mainly I think through the lack of linguistic training necessary to properly evaluate and intelligently comment upon it.
If any Swedish-speaking reader has read it, I'd enjoy hearing his or her reaction/evaluation of the book.


Friday, October 2, 2009

A Fragment, Detached

So, last month I mused over some comments C. S. Lewis made about THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS in a 1958 letter, during the course of which he said

[CSL:] "THE HOBBIT is merely a fragment of his myth, detached, and adapted for children, and losing much by the adaptation."

The significance of this, I argued, was its revealing that CSL felt that

[JDR:] "THE HOBBIT originated as part of the legendarium, not as an independent work later incorporated within it. And this from the point of view of someone who read Silmarillion texts before reading THE HOBBIT as well as the first person outside the immediate family to read THE HOBBIT as soon as Tolkien finished it. A good witness to have on the side of those of us who emphasize THE HOBBIT's connections to the legendarium versus those who stress the stand-alone nature of the work."

The next day, I got a comment which asked

['Ardamir':] "Of course THE HOBBIT, as it stands today, is 'merely a fragment of his myth, detached'. But I am not sure if the statement tells us anything about the thoughts C. S. Lewis would have had about it when it was in the early stages of composition. Would you care to elaborate a bit why you think this is a comment 'that THE HOBBIT originated as part of the legendarium, not as an independent work later incorporated within it?"

In the hurry of getting ready for my Wheaton trip, I didn't have time to revisit this, but would like to do so now.

It essentially comes down to Lewis's word choice. A 'fragment' might just be an unfinished work, like Tolkien's LOST ROAD or Lewis's own DARK TOWER. But a work would only be described as 'detached' if it was once part of a whole and has now been removed from its original context, like a leaf torn out of a book. Taken together with 'adapted . . . and losing much by the adaptation', it's clear that Lewis felt THE HOBBIT was essentially part of the legendarium in inception, rather than an add-on or later addition.

This is borne out by another piece by Lewis, the TIMES obituary,* one passage from which reads

"Thus the private language and its offshoot, the private mythology, were directly connected with some of the most highly practical results he achieved [in scholarship and in academia], while they continued in private to burgeon into tales and poems which seldom reached print, though they might have won him fame in almost any period but the twentieth century.

"THE HOBBIT (1937) was in origin a fragment from this cycle adapted for juvenile tastes but with one all important novelty, the Hobbits themselves . . .

"They soon demanded to be united with his heroic myth on a far deeper level than THE HOBBIT had allowed, and by 1936 he was at work on his great romance THE LORD OF THE RINGS, published in three volumes . . . "

If anything, the use of 'from' rather than 'of' strengthens the case. So, from both these statements, I put Lewis down firmly in the Hobbit-originated-as-part-of-the-legendarium school. A well-informed witness to help bolster that case, though of course not the last word.

--John R.

*I have taken my text here from that reprinted as the first item in Salu & Farrell's memorial festschrift, TOLKIEN: SCHOLAR AND STORYTELLER [1979], page 14; emphasis mine.