Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Good Way to Spend Forty Thousand Pounds

So, thanks to Mike Foster (thanks Mike), I learned today that an original Tolkien drawing, of his Aunt Jane's farm where he wrote the first poem in his legendarium (about Earendil, in 1914), is currently being auctioned off by Sotheby's on behalf of his brother Hilary's heirs.

Here's the link:

Quite a nice piece, but given the current state of the exchange rate (the average estimated going price of 40k pounds equals about 67k dollars right about now), and the general rotten state of the economy, I don't think they'll get too many bidders from over here, where most of the Tolkien collectors are. On the other hand, I just read today that England's the one industrialized country whose recovery from the Depression is even slower than ours, so who knows?

Seeing this does give rise to fantasies though of entering into a Tolkien Tontine, where the picture gets passed around every month and the last surviving member gives it to one of the major Tolkien collections, either Marquette or the Wade.

--John R.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Before There Was WorldNetDaily . . .

So, Jeff Grubb at recently posted a disturbing reminder that there's nothing new about anti-government crazies, and he provides a vivid example from the Kennedy years.*

In a way, it's a tradition as old as Jefferson's paranoia about Hamilton (or, later, Burr). It never really goes away, and every once in a while it surfaces into the mainstream.** And it's never pretty.

The latest manifestation, the 'Tea Party'/deathers/birthers/whatever, while ugly, is pretty much par for the course. But there are signs that we may be passing into new territory ("new" for our lifetimes, that is --things have gotten this bad, and worse, in what we naively think of as the good old days***).

First, and most recently, there's the "Psalm 108.9" movement, in which faux-Xians pray for the president's death.

This reminds me very much of a saying of Janice's, that "Anytime an American tells you 'this is a Christian nation', it's a sure sign they're about to go all Old Testament on you".

And second, there's the serious suggestion, about two months back I think, that this country desperately needs a military coup to overthrow the government.

As if losing an election were reason enough to call for an act that would permanently damage our constitutional system. As if that system didn't have its own corrective (impeachment). As if we've had a general since Jackson who rose above mediocrity as president. As if you could dismiss democracy itself -- letting people vote to choose their leaders-- as "gambl[ing] the national survival on . . . political whims".


*I must admit the 'secret wife' bit was a new one on me.

**Heinlein got involved in one iteration, a brief anti-Eisenhower eruption calling themselves 'the true heirs of Patrick Henry'.

***For example, Ambrose Bierce was deeply embarrassed by McKinley's assassination, since he'd been calling for McKinley's death in his newspaper column.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pratchett's Quite Large Brain

So, the October 31st issue of NewScientist includes a two-page spread about Terry Pratchett (complete with a great photo) which ranges from where Sir Terry gets his hats (James Lock & Co of St James, Pall Mall, London --"Ask for a Borsalino.") and how the Discworld gets back its water that spills over the Rim ("It goes over the edge and comes back as rain. I'm not quite certain how . . .") to the progress of his Alzheimer's (he's lost the ability to type and so dictated his latest book). He's now working with a speech-to-text dictation program on his computer that has mastered his accent but not punctuation.

His particular form of Alzheimer's turns out to be Posterior Cortical Atrophy ('PCA', aka Benson's Syndrome), which causes the back of the brain to shrivel. It's his goal to keep active as long as possible, but he's adamant about two points. First, that he wants no part of being a test subject where scientists carefully monitor his decay ("I like vultures . . . at least they have the decency to wait until the donkey has died"). And second, he insists that he shd "be allowed to die how and when he wants", preferring the term 'assisted death' to 'assisted suicide'. That will be a sad day indeed. In the meantime, let's be glad he's still among us, still writing, and still enjoying life:

"I intend to go on living for as long as possible, and no one really knows how long that is, because PCA is rather odd, and also I'm rather odd. I have quite a large brain -- although my teachers would line up to tell you I never used any of it very much -- and so I'll keep going"

And, in case you missed it earlier, the new THE COLOUR OF MAGIC movie (which features Tim Curry as a villain -- ah, it's been too long -- and Sean Astin as an Innocent Abroad) ends with a wonderful Pratchett cameo in which they give him the last word.


favorite quotes from the article:
--"self-made ghettos are hard to get out of"
--"We don't run into too many brick walls" (re. his amazement "at how the universe has opened to our inquiries")
--". . . at least [vultures] have the decency to wait until the donkey has died."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


So, speaking of Tolkien magazines old and new, just this past Saturday came the announcement that the next issue of PARMA ELDALAMBERON (vol. XVIII) is coming out next week (I think the official release date is November 23rd). Since they have smallish print runs, and once they go out of print can remain unavailable indefinitely,* anyone who has even a passing interest in Tolkien's invented languages shd be sure to order a copy sooner instead of later. This particular issue deals both with the primitive elvish root language that underlay Quenya and Sindarin in the same Indo-European (or Indo-Hittite) underlies Latin and Welsh AND with Tolkien's invented scripts. The pre-publication cost is $30: for more information see the link below to the PARMA website.

--John R.

*I missed Volume XIV and never have been able to find a replacement, even after several years' looking.

today's teas: Keemun, Yunnan, & Connoisseur's Blend

Monday, November 16, 2009

Long Ago and Far Away: The New Tolkien Newsletter

So, yesterday I had another go at the box room, and this time amongst the items unearthed (from box #130)* were my copies of THE NEW TOLKIEN NEWSLETTER and some issues of THE FANTASY REVIEW (the latter gifts from Jim Pietrusz and Roger Moore in Days Gone By). The former was, in its time, perhaps the most notorious Tolkien publication out there: it picked up where Giddings & Holland's THE SHORES OF MIDDLE-EARTH [1981] had left off, developing editor Elizabeth Holland's ideas about the secret messages she thought were encoded in THE LORD OF THE RINGS.** A fascinating exercise in source-study by stream-of-consciousness association (they placed the Shire in the Balkans and Lothlorien in Turkey on the strength of the Bolger hobbit family-name sounding like Bulgaria and Galadriel's name reminding them of Galatia, as in The Epistle to the Galatians), the book also pioneered the claim that Tolkien was deeply indebted not just to medieval literature but also to the popular writing of his time and the preceding century -- a subject that both Jared Lobdell (in the first chapter of ENGLAND & ALWAYS [1982]) and I (in my essay on 'SHE and Tolkien' [1981]) had been arguing for at about the same time. Now it's a much more accepted position, but then it was going out on a limb.

What I'd completely forgotten back when compiling my list of publications for Sacnoth's Scriptorium was that I'd written in so many letters trying to bring them round to my point of view that eventually Holland gave me my own column ('John Rateliff's Page') in later issues. There had been some dispute among Tolkien fandom about whether Giddings & Holland were serious or whether they were putting us on, that perhaps the whole thing was a huge hoax; I was soon able to find out that, however extravagant their theories, Holland at least was in dead earnest. I think I might have managed to get her to moderate the tone some later on, but then again I might have been fooling myself; at any rate, we remained on cordial terms and I went out to Bath to pay a visit during my 1985 trip to England, finding her a gracious host and a wealth of information about her home town. She had already at that point suffered one major heart attack (so that she was restricted to the ground floor of her townhouse), and died, I believe, a year or two later. R.I.P.

Which brings me to the point: it turns out I have duplicate copies of two issues: #3 (August 1981) and #4 (March 1982). They're free to the first person who responds in a comment to this post that he or she would like them. If there is a good home for these strange waifs out there somewhere, better they go to it than into recycling.


*This being the arbitrary label slapped on it by the movers when we came out from Wisconsin.

**For his part, her co-author Giddings went off on his own to develop theories about gay relationships between characters in the book; Holland told me she'd had difficulty getting him to leave out of their book his theory that not only Frodo and Sam, but Tolkien and Lewis, had a longtime affair. Giddings' obsessions eventually found expression in the collection J.R.R.TOLKIEN: THIS FAR LAND [1983] which, despite its inclusion of one wonderful essay by Diana Wynne Jones, set an all-time-low for Tolkien essay collections, still unmatched today (although one a few years ago came close).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What Did Lewis Think about 'And Back Again'?

So, thanks to Johan, I learned a day or two ago about an interesting thread on one of the Tolkien forums.* This followed a discussion about Lewis's dislike for the opening chapter of THE LORD OF THE RINGS,** which in turn seems to have been sparked by my own blog post on the topic back in September.*** Both threads have a number of thoughtful comments (e.g., comparing comments Lewis made in letters to those he made in published review), making them well worth reading. Since my opinion was solicited ("In the light of these comments . . . it would be interesting to see what position John Rateliff takes"), and since I'm not a member of that forum, I thought I'd weigh in here (Johan having promised to make a link over there for me).

Basically, the discussion started by citing Lewis's letter to Arthur Greeves in February 1933 about the newly written story Tolkien had just given him to read. I quote the full passage (from THEY STAND TOGETHER page 449) at the bottom of page xv of MR. BAGGINS, but the relevant line comes after Lewis has described the "delightful" time he has had reading it and the "uncanny" feeling that it's just the book Lewis & Greeves would have loved to have read or written when they were growing up: "Whether it is really good (I think it is until the end) is of course another question: still more, whether it will succeed with modern children"

It's that "I think it is until the end" that's in question. What about the ending did Lewis dislike -- or at least feel was not up to what had come before?

The answer, plain and simple, is that we just don't know.

Was it the shift from light-hearted adventure-story to a more serious 'heroic' tone?
--Unlikely, given that Lewis specifically praised this Wind in the Willows to Burnt Njal shift in ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS ('On Stories', page 104).

Was it Bilbo's return from great deeds in distant lands to resume a normal, mundane life?
--Unlikely, given the parallel of Ransom's adventure in OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET ending with a pint in an English pub.

Was it simply that Lewis disliked the depictions of the Shire-hobbits en masse, whether at the Bag End auction or the Long-Expected Party? -- that is, that he disliked the ending of THE HOBBIT for the same reason that he disliked the beginning of THE LORD OF THE RINGS
--This seems to be the simplest explanation, but it's merely a guess on my part; I don't think there's any proof to back it up.

I can even see Lewis's being put off by the 129 pages of typescript being followed by forty-five pages of manuscript draft: perhaps the difficulty of reading Tolkien's hand (though C.S.L. shd have been an old hand at this by that time) got in the way of his immersion in the text and interfered with Secondary Belief.

Still, the one explanation I would reject is that Lewis criticized the ending because the story he read didn't have one. I find it hard to read 'good . . . until the end' as Lewis's attempt to say 'good, but it lacks an ending' (Lewis was, after all, famous for the clarity of his prose). Wayne & Christina, in their contribution to the thread, offer an interesting thought experiment that the 1933 text broke off at the end of the typescript, which was then followed by "some form of summary conclusion now lost". That might be the case, but I'm hesitant to suggest a hypothetic text as a way out of our difficulties unless we can produce some evidence such a text once existed, especially when a literal reading of the evidence avoids the need for one.****

In the end, the theory that THE HOBBIT broke off unfinished isn't supported by any contemporary evidence. Interestingly enough, but a little too late to include in the book, I turned up evidence that Carpenter himself originally thought the book had been completed in the early thirties. In his Biographical Note to the 1976 catalogue for the Ashmolean exhibit of Tolkien's art, DRAWINGS BY TOLKIEN, Carpenter wrote

"his family, now numbering four children, had been instrumental in bringing his mythological imagination somewhat to earth and encouraging it to deal with more homely topics. For them he wrote and illustrated The Father Christmas Letters; and to them he told the story of The Hobbit, completed early in the nineteen-thirties, but not put into print until a happy chance had brought it to the notice of a London publisher some years later" [emphasis mine]

--I'm not sure what, a year later, convinced Carpenter that he'd been wrong and caused him to come up with his theory that there'd been a gap of several years between the death of Smaug and the writing of the final chapters; I wish I'd discovered this passage earlier and written to ask him about it.

So, while I think there's great ambiguity in the story of when Tolkien started THE HOBBIT -- in that the evidence is contradictory and anyone putting it all together has to reject some as mistaken in order to get a coherent picture, I don't think this is the case with the ending of the story, where I'd argue all the evidence we have does fit together and does argue for the lack of such a gap. Obviously, not everyone agrees, and I think Wayne & Christina's post does the best job I've seen of summing up the opposite case.*****

--John R.

****I do suggest at various points in HoH that there might have been another version of Thror's Map that has not survived, since descriptions of the map in the text don't exactly match up to any of the actual surviving maps, but it's possible the 'missing' map never existed.

*****as for the 'hybrid typescript/manuscript', we know of several other examples among Tolkien's texts -- e.g., SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Our Little Orca

So, after our visit to the Whale Museum on San Juan Island, we decided to sponsor a whale (i.e., make a small donation to the whale research people and 'adopt' a specific killer whale). The one we chose (from among those we'd seen two days before) was Calypso (L94),* who was named after Jacques Cousteau's ship.

Well, the latest "Monthly Orca Update" (for October 2009) as well as the whale museum's newsletter (CETUS) both arrived within the last two weeks, and it turns out that Calypso has just had a calf; the tiny new whale (L-113) having been first spotted on October 10th. A photograph of the baby whale, along with his or her uncle Mega (L-41) and mother (L-94), appears on page 3 of the newsletter. They don't name baby whales until they're about a year old, but it's rather nice to have a connection with a wild animal -- and one that isn't (unlike the rhinos, the tigers, and now the koalas) at present in danger of extinction.

Oh, and the mention of names reminds me: they've now given K-42 his (her?) official name: Kelp. I still think Janice's suggestion ("The Answer") was better.

--John R.

*[i.e., she was the ninety-fourth named member of L-pod, the largest of the three resident orca populations, the other two being J-pod and K-pod.]

P.S.: Today's walk: along the east levee of the Green River, from 200th street all the way up to the bridge at 180th -- which turned out to be a lot longer than twenty blocks (each way), given the bends in the river. I finally got to see Brisco Meander Park, which I've noticed on the map for years but which isn't that accessible by car. Nice place. And not protected by sandbags, which they just put across the cut-off point, leaving the park itself unprotected. Pity if it floods.
I also discovered that part of the levee I was walking on had its own name: the Desimone levee, apparently having been rebuilt in 1998, 1999, and 2002 after some flooding back in 1995/96 that I hadn't heard of before, it having preceded my moving out to these parts. Again, nice place, though it's a pity they'd obviously just cut down a whole row of big trees all along the trail.
Yesterday's walk: along the same levee a bit further south, starting from 212th street and walking up as far as 200th.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The New Project

So, a few weeks ago I found out that a project I've been trying to get permission to work on since about 1985 has just gotten approved. Obviously, I'm excited about this, and v. much looking forward to starting in on it around the beginning of the new year. Unfortunately, I can't talk much about it until it's officially announced. So, there will be postings later once things get underway.

In a sense, this is just my way of saying wow, you never know when work you've done in the past will someday pay off, and old might-have-been projects unexpectedly come to life.

No, it's not Tolkien.

More later.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sandbagging the School

So this morning Janice told me I'd see something interesting if I looked out the window.

She was right. There was a huge piece of construction equipment carefully placing giant sandbags around the school (Neely-O'Brien elementary). Unlike along the levees, they were stacking these two high. Obviously they were taking advantage of the students' absence because of Armistice Day to get the job done. Interesting.

This of course comes as part of their second stage of sandbagging. They've already placed them all along our side of the Green River, having finished that up around the beginning of the month (their target date, and the official opening of flood season, being November 1st). At first it didn't look like they were going to give similar treatment to the other (west) bank, which makes sense since West Hill runs close to the river and there aren't nearly as many people between that levee and safety. Still, it seemed a bit hard on the Rivercreek and other developments that have sprung up over there during the last three years or so. Not to worry: looks like they're now at work on that levee as well.

Also in the good news department, a piece in the local Kent paper says that the Army Corp of Engineers now thinks the 1-in-3 chance of flooding here they'd predicted has now changed to a 1-in-25 chance, thanks to the emergency repairs they've been making on the embankment next to the dam. Add in the sandbags, and that little extra margin of safety they provide, and they say that makes it a 1-in-32 chance.

So, while we've been working hard to get ready, it looks like the chances of disaster here are going down considerably. Still, it's a little disturbing to find out that under normal conditions (with the dam fully functional) there's still a 1-in-400 chance of a flood here every year. A fact of life it's better to know about than not.


current reading: ANATHEM by Neil Stephenson

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


So, recently I've been doing a lot of book reviews -- a lot for me, anyway, given that I work slowly -- for TOLKIEN STUDIES, MYTHLORE, and VII. And late last week (Friday I think) the new issue of MYTHLORE arrived, which has not one but two of my reviews.

The first is for Doug Anderson's TALES BEFORE NARNIA [2008], a superb collection of stories and poems by authors who influenced Lewis,* each with a brief headnote explaining that author's connection with CSL. Doug took the unusual tack of organizing the pieces in the order in which Lewis discovered their work, so early influences (McDonald, Nesbit) come first, fellow Inklings (Barfield, Tolkien,** Williams) towards the middle, and later acquaintance (Roger Lancelyn Green, Bill Gresham) at the end. This works remarkably well. Highly recommended if you're at all interested in Lewis's work, and a worthy companion-piece to his earlier TALES BEFORE TOLKIEN [2003].***

The other is for the second Tolkien-themed book from Cambridge Scholars Publishing, TRUTHS BREATHED THROUGH SILVER, ed. Jonathan Himes. Tolkienists on a budget shd be warned that this is a much slighter book (a third of the pages at four times the cost) with only two of its ten essays focused on Tolkien:**** David Oberhelman's brief but enjoyable piece on libraries in Middle-earth and Jason Fisher's ambitious inquiry into whether Tolkien's mythos might incorporate the felix culpa (he draws what I suspect will be the controversial conclusion that the mythology includes theological elements Tolkien himself didn't agree with). Among its other contents, the outstanding ones I think are Shippey's forceful piece comparing Screwtape's use of language to that in Orwell's 1984 and Himes' valiant but ultimately failed attempt to incorporate all the ideas put forth about THE DARK TOWER into a single comprehensive interpretation, covering both its composition and projecting a hypothetical ending.

I had thought these two would exhaust the 'Rateliff content' of this issue, but to my surprise there's also a detailed review of the latest volume of TOLKIEN STUDIES (by Janet Croft, MYTHLORE's editor),which devotes the better part of a page discussing my article therein ("an appreciative and thought-provoking look at Tolkien as a literary artisan highly conscious of every word he put to paper" ). In a phrase, woo hoo! Although, to be fair, if at one point I was "damning of the Jackson films with faint praise" that wasn't my intention -- when I damn somebody, it's emphatic (I once started a review "The author of this book shd be ashamed of herself") or not at all.

And now I still have all the articles left to read: I'm particularly looking forward to the one comparing the Noldor with the Tuatha de Danaan,***** having been convinced for a while now that Tolkien modeled the Eldar of the First Age on Irish myth and the Elves of the Third Age on Welsh mythology.

--John R.

*not just Narnia, but for all his fiction.

**represented by one of my favorites among his poems, the original version of "The Dragon's Visit".

***one real find is C. F. Hall's "The Man Who Lived Backwards" [1938], which turns out to be the story that inspired one important detail in Lewis's THE GREAT DIVORCE [1945]-- CSL himself acknowledged the borrowing but couldn't remember the author or title of the story, which Doug has now unearthed. And, reading it now, it turns out to have in all probability been an inspiration for THE DARK TOWER [?circa 1944-46] as well.

****two other essays deal with Tolkien in passing, including one interpreting LotR from the point of view of 'Celtic Christianity'.

*****by Annie Kinniburgh

Monday, November 9, 2009

Atheists in Seattle

So, when I bought the paper last Wednesday to find out the local election results, I also saw an article about how the Seattle Atheists* were going to have their yearly convention this past weekend.

I was interested to see that Ursula K. Le Guin was to be one of their two featured speakers (the other being Ron Reagan, son of the president). I was rather surprised to see Le Guin's name listed, since I had thought her more of a Taoist than an atheist; in any case, I haven't been able to find a follow-up as to whether or not she actually appeared,* or if so what she said, though I did find a piece from a local tv station confirming Reagan's appearance as the opening keynote speaker


Among the event's promised highlights were its non-prayer breakfast, with its Moment of Bedlam (I suppose in revenge for all those who squirmed during enforced 'Moment of Silence's in early life). Overall I gather folks don't so much mind them getting together, but they do raise hackles (deliberately) through their bumper stickers and by taking out ads on the side of local buses, such as one that reads "Yes, Virginia, There Is No God". That one strikes me as rather silly, though I admit to rather liking "There A Sucker Born Again Every Minute" and especially "Eve Was Framed!"

As for the participants, apparently this is their big yearly event; most of the rest of their time, according to their website, they apparently spend in doing good works, like a recent blood drive and volunteering to man gift-wrapping counters at downtown Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores in support of charities like Children's Hospital. So far as I can tell, locals pretty much ignored the convention (I doubt many knew it even took place, and the few exceptions probably stumbled across a reference to it online or in the paper like I did). But their ads apparently are drawing some attention, irking some among the Faithful, as was of course their intent. Funny how few people who object to a billboard or poster criticizing religion can see that ads advocating religion are really just the other side of the same coin. Not a v. good medium for theological or existential debate, though I suppose dueling ads, like the Xian vs. Darwin bumper stickers war, are better than the real conflicts we used to get in the Bad Old Days.

--John R.

*or, as they officially call themselves, the 'Freedom from Religion Foundation'.

**the events calendar on her website confirms that she had at least planned to attend: I have been lucky enough to see Le Guin two or three times, and can testify that she's an excellent speaker -- interesting, engrossing, and engaging.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Campaigns Have Consequences

So, the election has come and gone and the results were . . . interesting. I was going to do a write-up, but I see Jeff Grubb, whose pre-election recommendations I always find extremely helpful, esp. for less-publicized races and measures, has already done so, so mine'll be a good deal shorter than might otherwise be the case. Here's his post-mortim follow-up:

So far as the local races went, things went pretty well.

Here in Kent we get to keep our mayor. Like most folks, I usually don't pay much attention to city government, but Mayor Cook has done an unusually good job, despite some personal setbacks*, both in championing some things I was dubious about that turned out well (Kent Station, the Showare Arena) and in being on top of the current flood preparations; she deserves another term. Plus of course her opponent had been a member of the school board that provoked the recent Kent teachers' strike in which teachers, parents, and community all united to denounce the superintendent and school board.

Some things that affect us we didn't get to vote on --for example, the proposed annexation of the Panther Lake area up on East Hill into Kent. The residents there got to vote on whether or not they wanted to join us (they did!) but we didn't get to vote on whether we wanted them (we do).

We also didn't get to vote for the Seattle Mayor, though that certainly has a major impact on everyone who lives in the area. The two candidates weren't even included in our Voter's guide, and nary a flyer or robocall came our way, meaning even now I'm pretty uninformed about them both (apparently the main issue was what to do about the viaduct, a topic Seattle leaders have dithered about for eight years now). In any case, I'm glad to see Nickels go because of the Occidental Park incident a few years ago.**

By contrast, the County Executive race (to replace Ron Sims, whom Obama appointed a deputy Cabinet secretary) ended with the inexperienced stealth candidate's defeat: good news there, though the Creationists would disagree. And the tax deadbeats lost for once with Eyman's latest initiative going down to defeat, while the civil rights (domestic partnerships) initiative won, which sorta gives us bragging rights over Maine. Sorta.

As for the national elections, the clear message seemed to be an anti-incumbant one, of which the most interesting was the New York congressional race, where the end result of all the sound and fury was to give Obama an extra vote in the House. My favorite quip was by someone who pointed out that the last time a Democrat represented that region, the best way to get from Albany to Buffalo was by canal.*** Even more interesting is that the defeated party vows to repeat the process that lost them the seat in as many other races as possible. Like I said, interesting.

--John R.

*[like her husband committing suicide in July, and her then finding out he hadn't listed her as co-owner of their business after all]
**[faced by the problem of homeless people hanging around the park, Nickels had a lot of the hundred-year-old trees there cut down, reasoning if he made the park unpleasant enough then people would avoid it. As if street people choose their refuges based on aesthetics. As if ruining the park for everybody wasn't a problem. As if the damage he did could be undone within our lifetimes. What a maroon.]
***[anybody else remember 'I got a mule/Her name is Sal/ . . .'?]

Feeling Good about the Credit Union

So, a while back our bank went under and got taken over by JP Morgan/Chase. I'd originally picked Washington Mutual because I wanted a local bank when I first moved out here, and had been unhappy for a while with its gradual shift into being 'WaMu' (which sounds like a faux-Orca) in attempts to hide its origins. So when it went under, we shifted our main accounts over to the local credit union, where we'd already had some savings accounts for some time.

My reasons included disaffection with Washington Mutual (which shifted its interests more and more into the shaky practices that eventually made it the biggest bank failure in U. S. history) and also a deep aversion to being associated with anything linked to J. P. Morgan, one of the more villainous of the 19th century Robber Barons. And then just yesterday came a story that would have erased any regrets I'd had about the move, if I'd had any:

Basically, this guy deposited some money in his account and then made several debits. Except he didn't know that Chase re-arranged the sequence so that they withdrew the debits first, causing him to have an (artificial) overdraft, allowing them to charge a penalty on each debit, and only then adding in the deposit -- which put him in the red, causing about two dozen more penalties (sometimes up to seven in a single day) by the time he got his next statement.

And this quickly followed up by another story later the same day
about how Chase has agreed to pay the SEC more than seven hundred million dollars as a fine for bribing government officials in Alabama to let them be in charge of issuing what turned out to be some bad bonds. My favorite line in the story? That J. P. Morgan "agreed to refrain from future violations of the securities laws".

So, they not only broke the law, and got caught, and had to pay a fine, but they promise never, ever to get caught doing that again.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Well, This is Different (Plot Diagraming)

So, thanks to Bruce Cordell ( for sending me the link to this odd but appealing little graphic.

I not familiar with the website this is from, but somebody's clearly put a lot of work into it. Now, if they'd only do one for the book as well . . . --though I suppose it wdn't be too hard to adapt this one (fixing such deviations as elves at Helm's Deep, the deaths of Saruman and Wormtongue at Isengard, and Elrond's odd journey south). I had thought they'd made one minor error by having Merry accompany Aragorn et al to The Black Gate, which was certainly not the case in the book, but checking the dvds I find this is just my mistaken memory and that these folks got the movie version right.

I wonder how they'd go about representing MEMENTO?


Sunday, November 1, 2009

2009 Lovecraft Play

So, Thursday Janice reminded we that we hadn't gotten any Halloween candy for trick-or-treaters yet -- an oversight I remedied on Friday. Come Saturday, we were ready.

Total number of trick-or-treaters who came by?


Boy, do we have a lot of candy for gamers come next Cthulhu night, to get them all good and sugared up before the sanity loss begins.

And, speaking of Cthulhu, this afternoon we went and saw this year's Lovecraft play down at Open Circle Theatre, just north of Pike Place Market in 'Belltown'. Unlike last year's play, which was a Cthulhuesque new story they'd come up with on their own, this year they reverted to tradition and adapted one of Lovecraft's stories -- specifically THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, one of his better tales. There was a small turnout -- I counted seventeen people, including ourselves -- and we enjoyed watching it with Anne & Sigfried, who met us there (a few other friends who'd also thought of joining us not having been able to make it for one reason or another).

How did they do? Well, certainly better than Vincent Price in the 1963 movie (not that that's hard). As befits a little theatre, they've pared the cast to the bone, with only three characters: the doomed young man himself, his cousin Jen (who takes over the roles given Charles' father and mother in the original story), and Dr. Willet the narrator; in addition, two voice-actors (played by the two scriptwriters) represent the off-stage psychiatrists evaluating Willet's story and Ward's case. Jen is mainly there so Charles and, later, Willet have someone to talk to, enabling a lot of narration to be turned into dialogue (rather like a Dr. Who companion). All three actors did a good job; young Charles in his looks and mannerisms reminded me a good deal of Peter Davidson's Doctor, which made his later decline into madness all the more effective. The OCT folks have also done everything they could, in their tiny available space, to reduce the number of locations -- v. successfully, I thought. I was particularly curious to see how they wd handle the discovery of the vast caverns, with their multiple chambers and sinister pits (so essential to the plot): a challenge wh. I'm happy to say they pulled off v. well.

If I had a complaint, it'd be that the play's structure v. closely resembled the adaptation of THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE they did a few years ago, probably the highlight of all their Lovecraft plays that I've seen. It worked better then, particularly because of how well their main character/narrator made the switch back and forth between interacting with the doomed farmer and expressing his apprehensions to the audience. Still, if you hadn't seen the earlier play three years ago that wdn't be a problem.

On the whole: good, if you like this sort of thing. And, fortunately, I do.

--John R.