Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Weirdest Story I Read Today

So, just to prove that terrorists are people too, comes the story that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are collecting spare rations to send to victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Amazing. Simply amazing as a tribute to the human spirit.
And if you consider that a fair number, probably the majority, of these are people were arrested or kidnapped, then held and tortured for the better part of a decade, for things they didn't do, it's even more impressive.


Humboldt County Pot Grower Tax Deadbeats

So, this will probably be the last of the posts inspired by our vacation down to see the Redwoods, but a news story I saw in a local paper down there was too good to pass up.

It seems that now, after decades of fighting to legalize marijuana, the people who grow it have now suddenly realized that once it's legal the cost will go down and they'll have to pay taxes on it. You know, just like alcohol after the repeal of Prohibition. And while they're happy to make a living growing dope, the idea of paying taxes to The Man dismays them. Here's the link*

Another reason we either need to bring back Prohibition or end the 'War on Drugs'; our current patchwork system of trying both at the same time is simply not working.


*although in the local newspaper version I saw its title was "Illegal Growers Fear Legalized Pot"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


So, when we visited Ferndale Cemetery -- a v. interesting place, by the way -- among other things we were struck by the number of masonic tombstones and generational family plots, some clearly still in use. It was interesting, and a little unsettling, for example to see the mausoleum where the people whose house we'd stayed in the previous night were buried. There were also quite a few burials with a little marker bearing the initials G.A.R. or N.S.G.W.

'GAR', or Grand Army of the Republic, I know about, this being a Civil War veteran on the Yankee side, the equivalent of the Confederate cross marking a smattering of graves in old cemeteries back home (like my great-great-grandfather's nr Hope, Arkansas). But 'NSGW' was a new one to me. At first I thought it might relate to World War I (something something Great War), but the dates didn't work out for that; most of the people involved wd have been fiftyish at the time Woodrow Wilson's war started. And the Spanish-American war seemed unlikely, while the dates were a bit too late for what used to be called the Indian Wars.*

We were without an internet connection in Ferndale, but once we were back in Crescent City I googled the term and discovered its meaning: the person so designated was a member of the Native Sons of the Golden West, a fraternal order for native-born Californians that dates back to 1875, or about a generation after the Gold Rush. Their website ( talks a bit about their good works and desire to preserve California history.

It was not until I went to The Source of All Knowledge (wikipedia), seeking a second opinion, that their history as the west coast's equivalent to the KKK emerged. Turns out a major part of their purpose was to exclude non-whites from California as much as possible, esp. the Chinese. As late as World War II, they were enthusiastically urging the mistreatment of Japanese Americans. Here's the brief wikipedia entry: . Apparently those Bad Old Days of whipping up Yellow Peril hysteria are long past now; good to know.

Or, to adapt one of my favorite sayings: "half a century does not pass in vain".


*or, as my friend Fan Shen called it, "the most successful genocide campaign in modern history".

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hobbiton USA Is No More

So, one of the stops I wanted to make so long as we were in the area was HOBBITON USA,* a tacky Tolkien-themed tourist trap just south of Phillipsville (pop. 250) near the Avenue of the Giants (the wonderful drive through the southernmost of the four Redwoods state & nat'l parks in the area).

Turns out I was a few years too late. The site is now derelict, with a 'no trespassing' sign by the entrance where you pull off the highway. Had there simply been the closed sign, I wd have been tempted to poke around a bit to see the trail (after all, when was I going to have another chance?), but accompanied as I was by my conscience, I refrained. Still, you can see enough to get a sense of what it's like without entering the site.

From what I assume to have been the parking lot you can see Gandalf standing by the door of Bag End (half the door is missing), two other hobbit-hole's round doors, and the three trolls -- at least one of them v. obviously based on the Rankin-Bass cartoon. Checking google, I see that several folks have posted pictures of the displays we didn't get to see (out of sight up the hill, I assume): Bilbo, a warg trying to climb a tree, spiders and cocooned dwarves, Gollum in his cave, an Eagle, Smaug, Bard and the thrush -- several among them obviously taken from the Rankin-Bass-- and, rather puzzlingly, what looks like Bakshi's Aragorn. In person, it looks more like a miniature golf course than anything, except without as much dignity. No one will really miss it now it's gone, but still I'm sorry not to have seen it in all its awfulness. Let's hope no one ever builds another.

--John R.
current reading: THE PTEROSAURS.
current writing: "Inside Literature" (Kalamazoo paper)

*thanks, David, for letting me know beforehand that it was in the area

UPDATE (4/2-10)
Thanks to all those lucky visitors (David, Monte, Ed) who posted in the comments memories of visiting the spot before it closed. David also published a post about it on his own blog, which is well worth checking out if you haven't already (

One thing I overlooked until reminded of it by some links within links is that the place is featured in RINGERS: LORD OF THE FANS, the Dominic Monaghan-narrated documentary about Tolkien fandom. If you have this dvd from 2005, check out scene 10, which devotes two and a half minutes to touring the place and briefly giving a little of its history (apparently it opened in 1981; from other indications it went into decline after the woman who created it died in 1996). Described as "a living diorama of THE HOBBIT", which seems fair enough, it includes shots of Bilbo and Gandalf at the doorstep of Bag End, someone (a dwarf I assume) treed by a warg, wrapped-up dwarves hanging above Bilbo as he battles a Spider, an Eagle rescue, a castle (?? is this supposed to be Rivendell?), Lake Town*, Gollum's Cave, and the Shire Map. We also get to hear a little of the recorded push-the-button dialogue, which doesn't sound nearly as bad as I'd been expecting (one reviewer said it was obviously recorded by someone who played D&D a lot, as if this were a bad thing).


*"it's only a model!" (by far the cheesiest of all the displays shown -- and yet another internet link featured the company that built the little 'lake' describing how it was done to show the versatility of their product)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

somewhere in the world . . .

Somewhere in the world, they're still playing The Archies on the radio.

And as of this weekend, I know where that is: a little Italian restaurant/pizza joint off Hemlock Street*. The radio was set to an oldies station that so far as I cd tell didn't venture past 1968 or before 1963 or so (the earliest song I heard was "From Me to You", the latest "Sugar Sugar"). This was all the more amusing because I think you cd add the combined ages of any two employees working there and not equal the age of the newest song playing on their sound system.

As it so happens, I actually have the album THE ARCHIES GREATEST HITS -- one of my v. oldest surviving albums, along with THE BEATLES AGAIN (the only Beatles album I have that we bought when it was new), TARKUS (which I bought from my cousin Sam when he decided to buy a new copy), and perhaps one or two others. I hadn't listened to it in ages, but I got it out last night after we returned home and gave it a listen. A few of the songs I had almost entirely forgotten, though a single re-listening brought them back; others I remembered v. well. Of them all I think "Sunshine" is the only one that still holds up as a nice light little pop song (I remember I put it on a tape I took with me when I moved to Milwaukee); pity it never made it into classics status or its own spot on the oldies stations. But the album's still a fun listen, and v. much a period piece; somewhere between the Monkees and the Partridge Family.


*apparently named after the tree, not the poison. Though what we cd observe of Cannon Bay's street naming (a presidential series, not entirely sequential), who knows?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Whale Watching

So, yesterday Janice and I got to whale-watch, sort of, off Point Depoe, through the new binoculars she bought. Here's the little poem I made out of the experience:

I saw a whale
No flukes, no breech,
no sleek black back
Just a puff of breath
Twelve feet high
Three miles away.

They said at the whale-watching center that it'd been a good day: fifty-eight sightings. But there's not much to be seen from shore when the whales swim by three to five miles off. We'll have to try the whale-watching-from-a-boat thing in Gray's Harbor again if we can this spring

just finished: A LION CALLED CHRISTIAN by Anthony Burke & Jn Rendall [1971 & 2009]
just began: THE PTEROSAURS FROM DEEP TIME by David M. Unwin (no relation) [2006]

UPDATE (Sunday March 28th):
After we got back and I had a chance to go online and check out the local news, I found out why we didn't see much at Depoe Bay -- the whales had come up to Elliott Bay instead!

At least one of them had. A good-sized grey whale rounded West Seattle on Saturday, spending several hours in fairly shallow off Alki Beach (to the delight of locals enjoying a day outside) before moving on to near the mouth of the Duwamish -- which further upstream is the same Green River that flows near (say half a mile from) our place. It was last seen last night near Salty's, where we go on special occasions for Seattle's best brunch with Wolf & Shelly and/or Jeff & Kate.

I imagine this is a young whale taking a break on its migration north. Finding a nice quiet bay, it slipped in and poked around a bit hoping to find some nom. There are some shrimp in the Sound, but not a lot I think, so I doubt he'll stay long. Still, an exciting event for all whale-lovers in the area, esp. those fortunate enough to see it for themselves.

Here's a link to the news story and a photo or two of the whale himself:


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Petting the Shark

So, today Janice and I petted a shark (two sharks, actually. they were adorable*). We also got to see some bat mantas (beautiful creatures, and apparently v. gregarious).

That same afternoon, we got to hold and pet a baby leopard (appropriately enough, since they'd been leopard sharks that morning). And also pet a skunk (which took a fascination with my watchband and chewed on it a while. We also got chuffed at, repeatedly, by a v. friendly tiger, and I got smelled or nibbled at by two donkeys, a llama, an emu, a wallaby, and almost an ostrich (Janice pulled me back, worried about a repeat of The Parrot Incident). Plus, we got mobbed by a mixed herd of small deer, goats, rams, and peacocks when we entered, feed-the-animal cups in hands (the place we were visiting uses ice cream cones as cup, so the animals eat the container as well as the pet feed).

Here's hoping we have luck with the whale watching tomorrow . . .


*and apparently more easy-going than housecats. the guide told us that they originally put six fish in the shark tank to be eaten. But when the sharks realized they got fed even without catching the live fish, they started leaving the live fish they shared the tank with alone. Try that trick with well-fed housecats and a room full of little birds, and the outcome wd be less pleasant (for the birds).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


So, the last few days I've been offline, staying at a B&B in Ferndale -- "The Shaw House", a fine old place built in 1854, about the same time my home town was incorporated.

Since last posting, I've found out the body I saw being carried up from the Smith River was a rescue, not the retrieval of a corpse (that'd rather been bothering me the last few days).

I've seen what was once the world's tallest tree, the Dyerville Giant, until nineteen years ago when the domino effect (a misguided botch of a foreign policy back in my youth, but a reality in the world of tall trees) knocked it over. A slender new trunk is sprouting up from the (massive) roots, so let's hope it succeeds and survives.

I've found out that redwoods have astonishing vitality, maybe more than any other tree. I've walked through trees with hollows, including some with the center entirely burned out (like the 'Chimney Tree'); the remaining semi-circle of bark still putting out new branches and needles and carries on living. Trees that have fallen over sometimes turn surviving branches that now happen to point up into new trunks. Trees cut down can grow a circle of new trunks out of the stump, so that when the last of the original trees finally rots away you get what is called a "cathedral tree" of separate but linked trees. Trees that lose their tops put out a radius of new branches to form a platform-like crown (which they've recently discovered has its own ecosystem). Small trees may sprout, grow to twenty or thirty feet, and then wait centuries for a neighboring giant to fall before shooting up to replace them when their chance finally comes. Truly amazing trees.

I've visited a strange cemetery in continuous use for more than a century and a half, set on a hillside, with most 'graves' being family plots entirely covered by huge concrete slabs. Here too was the other 'Shaw House': the mausoleum for the Shaw family, including the builder of our B&B.

I walked more than 10,000 steps today alone, according to my pedometer, even more than yesterday.

I found out you can have yellow violets; they grow wild around the feet of the redwood giants (along with ferns, what looks like shamrocks but are apparently 'redwood sorrel', and others -- there are apparently a lot of huckleberries growing up in the crowns 300+ feet up). Fortunately, I was able to save the old poem with a little work:

Roses are red
Violets are yellow
If you'll be my gal
I'll be your fella.

--John R.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Today, Cats and Trees

Today I saw some of the world's tallest trees and a living relative of the Saber Toothed Tiger (or Saber Toothed Cat, as it's known today). I saw an actual living clone for the first time, and her kitten. I walked on a beach (briefly), and ate things that are definitely not on the diet. In short, a day for big cats, big trees, and big oceans.*

Vacations are a Good Thing.


current books: THE WILD TREES and DEMONS AND MONSTERS (ed. Rick Riordan)

*not that there are any other kind, really.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Tolkienian Echo

So, I continue to make my way slowly through listening to the complete THE FAERIE QUEENE as an audiobook, and having now arrived at the mid-point of Book III was struck by a parallel to a scene in Tolkien. In this passage, Belphoebe the huntress has come across Arthur's squire, Timias, who's suffering from a serious arrow wound. And taking off his mail, here's how she treats his injury (I've modernized the spelling a bit to make things easier):

Into the woods thenceforth in haste she went,
To seek for herbs, that might him remedy;
For she of herbs had great intendiment,
Taught of the Nymph, which from her infancy
Her nourished had in true Nobility:
There, whether it divine Tobacco were,
Or Panacea, of Polygony,
She found, and brought it to her patient dear
Who all this while lay bleeding out his hart-blood near.

The sovereign weed betwixt two marbles plain
She pounded small, and did in pieces bruise,
And then atween her lily hands twain
Into his wound the juice thereof did scruze [squeeze?]
And round about, as she could well it use,
The flesh therewith she suppled and did steep
To abate all spasm, and soak the swelling bruise,
And after having searched the intuse deep
She with her scarf did bind the wound from cold to keep.

--FQ, Bk III, Canto V, stanzas 32 & 33

--according to the notes in my edition [Penguin Classics, ed. Th. P. Roche Jr, 1987 rpt of 1978 ed], this passage marks the first use in English literature of the word TOBACCO,* the plant having only been introduced to England (by Raleigh) six years earlier, in 1584. I've seen some speculation that athelas might be a relative of tobacco, which makes the parallel all the more interesting, whether Tolkien was deliberately echoing this scene or, perhaps, incorporating an iconic moment well known in myth and epic into his tale.

Hard to say. I know that what once seemed to me a clear borrowing from Spenser on Tolkien's behalf got less so the more you look into it. At first, Spenser's use of TANAQUILL for The Faerie Queene herself's name looks a good candidate as the source for Tolkien's TANIQUETIL for the great mountain of Faery -- except that 'Tanaquil' turns out to be a real person, the most famous Etruscan Queen of Rome, wife of one of the Tarquins. So that Tolkien, being a good classicist, cd just as easily have taken inspiration from antiquity as from Spenser's tale. In any case, a parallel worth noting.

The most important thing of all I'd say Tolkien owes Spenser is his example, of writing a serious, sustained, unapologetic work about Faerie and knights and magicians and dragons and enchantments and warrior-maids and steadfast battles of undaunted heroes against unrepentant evil. Shippey seems to think that Spenser wd be anathama to Tolkien because of the allegory; I suspect Tolkien, like myself and most readers, simply enjoy it for the story, ignoring the allegory as much as possible. Most important of all, Spenser's is the last major English author before Tolkien himself to treat Elves w. respect: his Elf-knights are human-sized but better than humans in strength and courage (it's said in praise of The Red-Cross Knight that although human he's as good as an Elf**). So I'd say he was a significant precursor, but whether an influence is an open question.

--John R.

*the OED notes several previous uses -- e.g. in Hakluyt's VOYAGES -- wh. presumably the FQ's present-day editor did not count as "literature".

**Red-Cross turns out to be a human raised as an elf, one of the stolen children who are the other side of the changeling tradition.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Give Me A Ticket For An Aeroplane"

So, today I heard that Alex Chilton died. And, if you're like most people, you're going "Who?"

This is someone who's work you know without knowing the person who did the work. Back in 1967, when he was the lead singer for those one-hit wonders, The Box Tops, he recorded one of the all-time great rock n roll songs: THE LETTER.* I only learned today that he was just sixteen at the time (even George Harrison was nineteen when the Beatles signed their record deal); there's no way anyone hearing that voice would think the singer a high school student. I think it says a lot that while "The Letter" was remade in a truly great cover version, a lovely sprawling mess by Joe Cocker, even Cocker's best can't beat Chilton's original.

So: a moment not of silence but of putting on the .45 and turning it up loud to celebrate good music and thank those who make it.

Give me a ticket for an aeroplane
Ain't got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone
I'm a-going home
My baby just wrote me a letter . . .

R. I. P.


*the only other Chilton song I know being "September Gurls", and that only through the Bangle's excellent cover version, on their second album; he became something of a legend in later years for not having hits.

UPDATE (3/19-10):
Gah! As Ed pointed out in the comments (thanks Ed), I spelled Chilton's last name wrong. It's now been corrected. Sorry for the slip.

Update on Veyne: "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast"


Rereading my post of 3/15, I see that I shd have added one important point of Veyne's: his exploration, early on, of the phenomenon that people can (and usually do) believe in contradictory things. I wish that he had made more of this, because I thought this point was the best thing about his book, but he lets it drift into the periphery of his discussion and never really comes back to make it front and center as I think it shd have been.

Examples he cd have used abound -- for example, the Egyptians believed that the sun was Ra riding across the sky. And that it was the eye of Horus. And that it a ball rolled by a celestial dung beetle. And that it was something inerrantly predictable in its movements. And so forth. In short, they had no problem believing what we wd think of as six impossible things before breakfast.*

Not that we're any different. There are plenty of people who believe the world is five billion years old when thinking geologically and five or six thousand years old when thinking Biblically. C. S. Lewis suggested that Adam & Eve might have been the first hominids to cross over the line into what we wd call "human", a way of thinking that combines Biblical literalism ('there really was an Adam & Eve') with scientific discoveries (Lucy lived a long time before the Genesis story can account for). And we pretty much all think of the sun as rising and setting when we know it does no such thing (Shaw has a character in ST. JOAN dismiss Copernicus' theory that the earth goes around the sun with a phrase something along the lines of "the fool. why doesn't he use his eyes"). Basically Veyne is on to something Lovecraft once called "uncorrelated contents": we none of us put the things we think and believe and know together into a single coherent pattern: that's just not how the human mind works. Hence people adopt contradictory positions, like anti-abortion and anti-euthenasia (because all life is sacred) but pro-death penalty and pro-war (because it turns out the sanctity of life is apparently conditional and can be revoked). And so on.

--John R.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hobbit Tea from Mennonites

So, thanks to friend Steve (hi Stan!), I recently learned that someone had started selling HOBBIT TEAS OF THE SHIRE. And, naturally, I immediately decided to order some -- as someone else pointed out (hi Ed), it's almost as if there were a market made up just of people like me.* I had trouble making the online ordering work** and so eventually just called them up and ordered over the phone. The goods arrived yesterday, and today I've been sampling. Not bad.

There are three favors, each in its own nicely decorated box (which can serve as nice little keepers long after the teabags within are returned to the dust):
(1) Gandalf the Gray Tea
(2) Hobbiton Meadow Mint, &
(3) Bilbo Baggins Breakfast Blend.

The first isn't really tea at all but a chamomile/rooibis blend. I like the idea of chamomile tea but have never really been a fan of the taste, which reminds me of warm grassy water, but it turns out adding the rooibis makes it a little more flavorful. The accompanying text on its box reads Chamomile has for many years grown beside the road leading to Hobbiton from Brandywine Bridge. The flowers are harvested for a soothing tea. While most of the South Farthing has been taken up with the growing of pipeweed, meadows of the red bush still remain, and are much prized as a tea throughout the Shire. Chamomile & red bush tea has been enjoyed by Wood Elves, Hobbits, and even the old wandering wizard dressed in gray.

The second is minty indeed, being a mix of spearmint and peppermint. I prefer black teas with mint in them to straight herbal blends, but think this wd be a gd brew mixed about one-to-two with some black teabags. Have to try that tomorrow and see. The boxtext reads The low places surrounding Bywater supply patches of mint, which are harvested by nearly every Hobbit in the Shire. Some, like the Gamgees, have taken to cultivating the herb in their garden plots, and have come up with a long list of medical benefits for the tea it produces. Hobbiton Meadow Mint is a popular drink in the Shire at weddings and parties.

The third, which I liked best of the three, contains actual tea (definitely a point in its favor in my book), along w. some orange peel, red clover, and cinnamon. The back of the box reads Bilbo Baggins Breakfast Blend did not originate in the Shire. The mixture of tea, orange, and cinnamon was first blended by Bandobras Took during one of his adventures far from home. Young Belladonna Took brought the recipe with her Under the Hill. Her son Bilbo shared the brew with Thorin & Company in the morning as they started off for the Lonely Mountain, and from that morning on, as far and wide as the members of the Company traveled, the brew was known as Bilbo Baggins Breakfast Blend.

Tolkien trivia question #1: can you spot the slip in the name of one of these three teas?

Tolkien trivia question #2: can you spot the slip in the fictional backstory provided for one of these teas?

Tolkien trivia question #3: can you find any surprising feature on the Shire map (see below) appearing on the boxes?

--all of which just goes to show that they're tea-merchants, a small family business, and not Tolkien scholars.

For more on their story, wh. is quite interesting (and where the Mennonite/Amish angle comes in), see the following, wh. I first found reported on The One

One nice little touch is that the article names the three student artists from the Cleveland Institute of Art responsible for the project's art, which I rather like: Yusef Abonamah (who did the Gandalf box), Albert McClelland, & Daniel Farruggia (who I assume were each responsible for one of the other boxes, but I don't know who did which one). Although it doesn't leap out at first, each box also has an attractive folksy map of the Shire that I haven't seen before, although not everything appearing on the map is actually there on Tolkien's original (at least not in the same place!).

For more about the tea, or to order, see their website: (click on the image of Bilbo's round green door to enter the site)

For more on the history of the company involved, and how a family dairy farmer decided to go grow organic mint instead, see

All in all, given that this is an officially licensed product from Tolkien Enterprises (The Saul Zaentz Company), I think that as movie merchandising tie-ins it rivals the Lord of the Nazgul piggybank from the Bakshi horror as Most Unexpected.

*Ed's actual words were "It's like they decided upon a demographic by drawing a circle around John".
**My wife's comment: "Mennonites cdn't make a website work? Go figure!"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Did the Greeks Believe Their Myths?

So, a week or so ago I mentioned in another post that I was finally finishing up Paul Veyne's DID THE GREEKS BELIEVE IN THEIR MYTHS? [1988], a translation of LES GRECS ONT-ILS CRU A LEURS MYTHES? [1983] by Paula Wissing. To which 'Extollager' remarked, in a comment, as follows:


Extollager said...

So did the Greeks believe their myths?

I was struck by Chesterton's remark in The Everlasting Man (I think) to the effect that he doesn't believe they did.

To which I can only say, good question. Veyne's answer is No, But.

And herein lies the problem: while this is a slim book (129 pages, plus another 22 pages of small-font notes), without the repetition and meandering it cd have been slimmer still: I think Veyne cd have said everything he had to say worth saying in twenty pages or so. Here are a few of his main points:

(1) the Ancients thought mythical time had been different from the contemporary time they themselves lived in. So there might have been monsters in the time of Hercules or Odysseus, but not anymore. This reminded me v. much of Kordecki's dissertation, which concluded that folks in the Middle Ages believed in dragons because they had so much evidence (in the form of old stories, including multiple mentions in the Bible, now re-translated away today) that dragons had once existed. But they didn't think they still existed as something you could run into 'nowadays', in their equivalent of modern times. Similarly, I know of some Xian denominations that believe the Age of Miracles ceased with the death of the last of Christ's original disciples, John, at Patmos around 100 AD. Veyne draws the demarcation line as about the time of the Trojan War, after which Gods ceased to appear and epic monsters died out.

(2) Disbelief took the form not of rejecting myths but of trying to rationalize them. For example, by late Hellenic/early Roman Empire times writers and thinkers didn't believe in the Minotaur but instead thought it'd been a person named Taurus who held an important post under Minos (pretty much the solution Mary Renault came up with in her Theseus novel). They didn't doubt that there had once been a king named Minos, just that the supernatural stories connected with him were exaggerations beneath which lay historical facts, recoverable to the sharp-witted. I was reminded of people who try to prove scientifically that the Star Over Bethlehem was some sort of nova or Velikovsky's account of the Parting of the Red Sea. As I understand it (second-hand, never having read Velikovsky), he never doubted that the sea opened up and let Moses and the Israelites pass, then came rushing back and drowned the Egyptians, but instead of a miracle thought it had been caused by a catastrophic planetary alignment (Venus passing too close to the Earth), which occurred again a generation or so later, causing the sun to stand still in the sky (that is, the Earth to stop rotating for a few hours). A modern skeptic wd simply doubt that the Red Sea miracle occurred at all; a non-literalist Xian wd be closer to Veyne's Romans and latter-day Greeks, believing in the people but not the specific events.

Perhaps Veyne's most interesting point is that the Greeks (and Romans) simply cdn't conceive it was all just made up. There must have been a Romulus, a Theseus, and so forth. I'm told there's exactly as much archeological evidence for the existence of King David and Solomon as there is for King Arthur (i.e., none), so perhaps we're not so v. different in what we choose to believe. His passage on the psychology motivating "sincere forgers" -- i.e., folks who at some point made up detailed geneologies out of whole cloth -- is also interesting.

Unfortunately, Veyne's methodology is somewhat suspect. For example, when someone like Aristotle introduces a reference to a myth with "it is said" or some such phrase, Veyne asserts that this means Aristotle is revealing that he doesn't believe a word of it. Well, maybe. But maybe not. It's too subjective a claim to settle such a fundamental point essential to his argument.

Oddly enough, I'd recommend skimming this book and then reading the Endnotes, which are wonderfully detailed and much better written than the main text, which loves to say and unsay and re-say and assert and retract and generally mull out loud over the same points time and again.

So, a fascinating topic, and it'll make you think, but in the end it doesn't really satisfactorily answer its own question.

--John R.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Glozel Est Authentique!

So, today while looking at something else (an obituary of OE scholar Bruce Mitchell), I came across a news article about the death, at age 103, of a French farmer who, back in 1924, set off a controversy still not settled today.

In brief: sixteen or seventeen year old Emile and his family claimed to have found a site that had a remarkable mix of artifacts: pseudo-Phoenician writing, neolithic carvings, primitive pottery, and much much more. Some proclaimed it the find of the century; others an outright fraud. Decades later, modern testings seems to have established that some of the artifacts seem to be genuinely old (though just how old -- Medieval? Classical? Neolithic? -- isn't readily apparent from a quick skim of the material). Definitely a topic worth further research.

My own interest in this stems from the fact that I recognized the name from an old THEATRE OF THE MIND Call of Cthulhu module I bought years ago but have never run. Digging it out again, I'm reminded that it contains two scenarios: GLOZEL EST AUTHENTIQUE! (the title adventure) and SECRETS OF THE KREMLIN, which I do remember running at a MonteCon back around 2001 (short version: given the choice, the Investigators found they'd much rather face the Mythos than Josef Stalin). I'll have to see if we can schedule the Glozel scenario into our Cthulhu group's alternating series of ongoing Cthulhu campaigns.

Here's a link to the Glozel museum here, with images of many of the odd artifacts found at the site.

I'm esp. curious about the writing (not surprising, given my interest in Bernal's CADMEAN LETTERS and Andrew Robinson's LOST LANGUAGES), but cdn't find any readily available account on it (something else to search for). The various carvings and statuary are also interesting; I wondered if any museum reproductions are available, but cdn't find any at the site (but then my French is not the best, so I might have missed it). I'm not likely to find myself in central France anytime soon (or, indeed, ever), but if anyone's passing through and visits the site and museum, I'd be interested in hearing your impressions of it.

And finally, just for fun, here's a rather loopy article on the subject from the FORTEAN TIMES (who are usually more credible and less credulous than this); once the author starts appealing to Graham Hitchcock (who I find like Von Daniken, without the gravitas) and Rennes-le-Chateaux, you know you're wandering off into unchartable waters.

A somewhat more neutral account can be found here:

current reading: TROY AND HOMER by Joachim Latacz (resumed)
current audiobook: THE FAERIE QUEENE, Bk II Canto XII.
current Kindle book: THE BATTLE OF THE LABYRINTH (Percy Jackson, Bk IV).
current manga: SKIP-BEAT

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sometimes a Single Word Says So Much

So, having finished a slim but dense book I've been working my way through for weeks*, along with many distractions to sustained reading, I'm finally returning to other books set aside at various points recently (as well as launching upon some new ones) -- among them CSL's ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, EXCLUDING DRAMA [1954]. While reading further in the "Sidney & Spenser" chapter, I came across one passage that surprised me.

In talking about how Spenser's Prince Arthur (more than anyone else Spenser portrays Arthur as a young, active knight riding about fighting his own battles, not the stationary king who stays at court and whose knights do all the adventuring for him) owed little to Malory and more to the contemporary Tudor tradition that saw him as a near-direct ancestor of Henry and Elizabeth, Lewis writes

. . . Malory's Arthur would not serve the Elizabethans' turn . . . The [Elizabethan] Arthur . . . was a different figure. The same blood flowed in his veins as in Elizabeth's . . . At Henry VII's coronation the Red Dragon of Cadwallader had been advanced, and Henry's son was named Arthur** . . . 'in honour of the British race of which himself was'. Arthur's conquests supported our claims to Ireland.***
--O.H.E.L. pages 381-382
(emphasis mine)

It's the pronoun choice that struck me. It's sometimes said that Lewis considered himself an Irishman, but when he was growing up "Irish" could mean one of three things. (1) There were the (original) Irish, Celts who'd been living there for two thousand years and more, who were for the most part poor, Catholic, and largely excluded from government (at least, before the Easter Uprising, after which Things Changed). These are the people we think of as "Irish" today. (2) There were the Anglo-Irish, descended from English settlers who had started arriving in the 12th century, who were generally well-off, Anglican, and very much in charge (think Yeats, Swift, Dunsany). (3) And there were the Scotch-Irish, descendants of Scots who had moved to north-east Ireland in large numbers starting in the mid-17th century (after Cromwell decided to treat the Irish the way Americans treated Indians), who were mostly middle-class, Presbyterian, and largely confined to the Ulster/Belfast area (today called the "Northern Irish").****

Of these groups, no member of the first would ever refer to the English occupation as "our" claims. That Lewis would do so naturally and apparently un-selfconsciously is a revealing bit of proof that he was more Unionist than Irish, more British than English.***** The same was v. much true of Dunsany, who never did understand people who thought the English and Irish were two separate peoples, who spent half of each year in his castle in Ireland and the other half in his country home in Kent (and who managed both to get shot in the head by the Irish during the Easter Uprising and, a few years later, arrested by the government on suspicion of being too sympathetic to the rebels).

--John R.

*Veyne's DID THE GREEKS BELIEVE THEIR MYTHS? [1983, tr. 1988]

**this prince Arthur, who died without coming to the throne, was Henry VIII's older brother.

***Dr. John Dee, the famed occultist and one of the most gullible men who ever lived, even tried to prove Elizabeth was the rightful queen of France, based on the story of Arthur vs. the Emperor Lucan.

****that Lewis belonged to this group is shown not just by his growing up in Belfast but his having what sounds to American ears like a strong Scottish accent -- surviving recordings of his voice show that he sounded just like Sean Connery impersonating Alfred Hitchcock.

*****cf. Tolkien's assertion, just after CSL's death, that Lewis had been far more of an Ulsterman than CSL ever realized.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Pharisees Are Always With Us . . .

So, a day or two ago I was looking for something else online and came across this:

It's taken me a few days to read through all fifty-six pages of Teri Jeter's piece (only a tiny fraction of which she actually wrote -- see below), which I found an interesting if distasteful exercise. The gist of all this verbiage is to say that Tolkien can't be Xian (i.e., her kind of Xian) because his works don't correspond to the mindset of what she's willing to consider Xian (buttressed by highly selective Bible quotations). In essence, this essay is a Jack Chick booklet without the pictures.

The odd thing about it is that it's mostly just a string of quotes. LONG quotes, sometimes going on page after page -- at one point the citation of third-party material goes on for six and a half pages (all from the same source) with only two brief interruptions* by the "author" of this essay. And for an anti-Tolkien screed, the author seems to have spent a huge amount of time searching out and reading what other people had to say about an author she seems to despise, which is a little weird in itself.

While Jeter's charges against him include the usual litany (magic! fantasy! imagination!), there is a touch of the bizarre here too, as in her counter against claims that THE LORD OF THE RINGS grew out of Tolkien's strong Xian faith: "Can anything be more blasphemous than that?" (p. 15) She's similarly indignant that anyone follow Christ's example and write fables (p. 19), or portray an angel in any nontraditional guise (e.g., Gandalf as a wizard). And she waxes downright poetic on the subject of Tolkien keeping bad company -- by which she means C. S. Lewis:

Jeter: "Mr. Tolkien’s companions and the places he frequented also reflect his lost condition:"

Quoted by Jeter: “It was nurtured by weekly meetings with his friends and colleagues including the philosopher and novelist C.S. Lewis and his brother, W.H. Lewis, and the mystical novelist Charles Williams. The Inklings, as they called themselves, gathered at Magdalen College or a pub to drink beer and share one another’s manuscripts."

Another quote: “In addition, he and Gordon founded a ‘Viking Club’ for undergraduates devoted mainly to reading Old Norse sagas and drinking beer.”

And another: “Tolkien’s friend, drinking partner, and fellow ‘Inkling’ C.S. Lewis is well known…”
Jeter's Biblical citation: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Proverbs 13:20

Jeter again: "J. R. R. Tolkien influenced the writings of the so-called Christian writer, C. S. Lewis:"

--I can see someone like Jeter being suspicious of Charles Williams (who after all really was a practicing occultist, who mingled Xianity with ritual magic), but I can't help but feel sorry for poor old Warnie coming in for his share of her sanctimoniousness. And no, she never does explain why she's so suspicious of CSL, other than that he drank, which is apparently a mark against JRRT and EVG as well.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of mistakes in her piece (it's hard to be accurate about topics you despise, as the example of Edmund Wilson teaches us), such as the claim that G. K. Chesterton was "a colleague" of Tolkiens (p. 21) or that Tolkien's interview with Denis Gueroult as his "last interview" and took place in 1971 (p. 37) [it was in 1964/65 and by no means the last, though certainly the best].** But what are we to make of statements such as that Tolkien was born a Catholic, not a convert (p. 27),*** or (Jeter herself this time) that "while J. R. R. Tolkien was a Roman Catholic at one point in his life, there is absolutely no proof that he was up to his death" (p. 19) -- and, conveniently enough, this is one of the few statements she fails to provide any source for (other than saying this idea has been "put forward by some Xians").

Finally, there's guilt by association: Tolkien includes a version of Atlantis in his works --as did Madame Blavatski, and she was an occultist. Decades after Tolkien's death, someone made a Tarot deck based on his work --wh. wd have horrified Tolkien far more than it does Jeter. Gary Gygax admitted, rather reluctantly, that D&D is massively indebted to Tolkien's works (well, duh) -- and Jeter even reproduces Appendix N: Recommended Reading from the 1st edition DUNGEON MASTER'S GUIDE to prove it. And, of course, there's always rock music to demonize, by way of pointing out that Led Zeppelin once did a Tolkien-inspired song.****

Jeter's conclusion is typical Pharisaical: " I know for a fact that TLOTR will never lead anyone to Christ since 'Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God' (not Tolkien). Neither do I believe any Christian will be benefited or grow in his walk with the Lord by reading TLOTR." (page 49).

So, what are we to make of this? My answer wd be: Not much. Jeter simply flails around and fails to build any kind of coherent case. Really, most of us learn in English 101 that you have to do more than string together a bunch of quotes to make a point, and an author really shd write more than 10% or 20% of her own essay.

Sometimes I like to read things to get insight into a different mindset, however much I might disagree with it (as when I read Dr. Calloway's little book SPIRITS, DEMONS, & THE BIBLE). But if there's a good case to be made for Xians not reading Tolkien, this isn't it.

--John R.

*a total of fifteen words, consisting of one anti-Catholic slur and one framing passage

**nor was Tolkien born in "Bloomsdale in South Africa" (!)

***to be fair, this comes in one of the quoted passages, apparently by Thomas Howard -- I don't know if the gaff is as egregious in the original context

****she even quotes Mike Foster!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Barfield at the Bodleian

So, last week I got word that the massive project of cataloguing all the Barfield Papers in the Bodleian Library is now complete and available online:

Not only is this an amazing resource, but it reveals a great deal we didn't know about Barfield's works before, including the existence of new as-yet unpublished ones. For example,

--short stories. I knew of only two ("The Child and the Giant" and "Dope"); now we have the names of four more ("The Lake of Nix", "The Little Perisher", "A Story for Alexander", "The Superman")

--plays, I knew of four (Orpheus, Medea, Angels at Bay, and Lady Be Careful), three of them unpublished, to which are now added two more: Ye Olde Englande and The Quest of Sangreal, the latter of which sounds particularly interesting (it wd make Barfield the fourth of the four major Inklings to write an Arthurian work).

--A fifty-eight page narrative poem, about which I'd never heard so much as a peep, called The Tower.

--And, perhaps most intriguing of all, a folder containing "Notes Towards a Possible 'Sequel' to My Novel ENGLISH PEOPLE", apparently dating from about a decade after Barfield completed that still-unpublished novel. Given how it's v. much a novel of ideas about the contemporary world at the time it was written, it'd be interesting to see what Barfield thought might happen next to its characters.

Nor is this all: a few miscellaneous items also catch the eye. For example, the description of the manuscript for A CRETACEOUS PERAMBULATOR credits JRRT as the author (mistakenly, I think, given that he's not so credited in the introduction to the published work). Also of note is (Dep. c. 1104.172) what is described as "letter from Walter Hooper about C. S. Lewis' work, 'The Dark Tower', 1974". I'd be interesting to see this one, though we already know pretty much what it says.*

Add to this resource the recent extensive bibliography by Jane Hipolito available on the Barfield Estate's official website ( ), and we have all the tools for some serious Barfield scholarship here. Definitely worth spending some time with the next time I'm at the Bodleian (whenever that may be).


current audiobook: THE FAERIE QUEENE, Bk II (The Legend of Sir Guyon)
*"I showed this fragment to Major Lewis, Owen Barfield and Roger Lancelyn Green and was disappointed to learn that they had never seen or heard of it" -- Walter Hooper, "A Note onThe Dark Tower", The Dark Tower and Other Stories page 92.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tolkien at the Bodleian

So, it turns out there's a special one-day exhibit of Tolkien's original Hobbit art at the Bodleian on Thursday. It's in celebration of World Book Day on March 4th -- an event that's new to me, but sounds like it's one I can support. And it's been my experience that, whenever I see Tolkien's original pieces, I find them full of details that reproductions just don't pick up, like all the delicate shadings of green in some of his forests. So, if you find yourself in Oxford the day after tomorrow, take the time to drop by and treat yourself.

Here's the link: thanks to Jessica for letting me know about this (and to Alan R. for passing along the news to her). As Jessica pointed out, it's a v. nice poster, isn't it? I wonder if the Bodleian gift shop will have it available, as they do some other Tolkien art (mainly postcards, last time I was there)?

current audiobook: The Legend of Sir Guyon (FQ Bk II).