Monday, February 28, 2011


So, yesterday I found out, thanks to a friend in England* about yet another modern-day real-world book featuring Tolkien, or at least his writings, as major elements in the plot -- as in, 'what the world thinks is fantasy turns out to all be true'. This time it's not a Dan-Brown wannabe, as in MIRKWOOD, but a detective novel called WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE, by Michael Ridpath, the first of projected 'FIRE & ICE' series. The amazon site, where it's available for pre-order, has two reviews that praise it to the moon -- suspiciously enough, since the book won't be available until August. Perhaps, although they give no indication as to this, they read the English edition, where it's been out since last summer. Here's the plot synopsis from

"Amid Iceland's wild, volcanic landscape, rumours swirl of an eight-hundred-year-old manuscript inscribed with a long-lost saga about a ring of terrible power. A rediscovered saga alone would be worth a fortune, but, if the rumours can be believed, there is something much more valuable about this one. Something worth killing for. Something that will cost Professor Agnar Haraldsson his life. Untangling murder from myth is Iceland-born, Boston-raised homicide detective Magnus Jonson. Seconded to the Icelandic Police Force for his own protection after he runs afoul of a drug cartel back in Boston, Magnus also has his own reasons for returning to the country of his birth for the first time in nearly two decades - the unsolved murder of his father. And as Magnus is about to discover, the past casts a long shadow in Iceland. Binding Iceland's landscape and history, secrets and superstitions in a strikingly original plot that will span several volumes, Where the Shadows Lie is the first in a thrilling new series from an established master."

Taken along with the recent books by Dowling and Hillard, does this mean we're on the cusp of a flood of Tolkien-as-character/it's-all-real/modern-day Middle-earth fiction like the 'Tolk-clones' explosion of the seventies & eighties? Are Hillard and Dowling and Ridpath the McKiernans and Donaldsons and Brooks of this new decade?

I sure hope not.


*thanks, Jessica

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Yuggoth Again

So, two weeks or so back I saw mention of the purported discovery of a new planet out at the edge of the solar system. Again. This has been going on every few years since at least the early seventies, but hope springs eternal and no sooner is a theory disproven than a new one arguing a slightly different variant replaces it. This time they're calling it TYCHE, and predicting that it's four times the size of Neptune and comes complete with rings and moons, its orbit being way out in the Oort Cloud. Here's the link:

The amusing part about the story is the two scientists' announcement of the discovery, along with the declaration that they're now going to start looking for some evidence to prove their theory. You'd think it'd be the other way around, right? But then the search for PLANET X has been going on for a long time, whether within the orbit of Mercury ('Vulcan'), or on the other side of the sun (called 'Mondath' in DR WHO; I forget what the real-world scientists who proposed the Earth's dark twin called it). Mostly, though, they look beyond the furthest known planet to see what might be out there on the edges of the solar system, which turns out to be stranger and more interesting all the time.

Historically, it's a search with mixed results. Uranus they found more or less by accident, as (somewhat closer to home) was the discovery of Ceres. Neptune was the great success story: predicted by a French mathematician and discovered (after a search lasting, it is said, only a little over an hour) by a German astronomer using his data (although the waters got muddied a bit by an English claim demanding co-credit on dubious grounds).* The search for Pluto went on for decades, and inspired Lovecraft (who'd been a keen amateur astronomer in his youth) to create the cold, dark, sinister world of Yuggoth, to which he prescribed chaotic properties quite unlike any real-world astronomical phenomenon.

Or, as Bellairs' King Gorm puts it when describing recent events in his all-too-interactive magical planetarium:

"We've been having some trouble with Sector 8," he said . . . "A couple of planets are doing a horn-pipe, and before long --apocalypse! I think we must blame the terrible black planet Yuggoth, which rolls aimlessly in the stupefying darkness. Ooop! Watch out!"
[They] hit the floor as a five-pronged comet . . . came whooshing down at them . . ."

--Jn Bellairs, THE FACE IN THE FROST [1969], p. 50

Perhaps they shd name the mythical Tenth** Planet YUGGOTH -- it's only fitting for a mythical planet to have a fictional name.

*cf. "The Case of the Pilfered Plane" by Sheehan, Kollerstrom, & Waff in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN (Dec 2004), wh. produces a strong case for deliberate fraud on the part of the English claim -- the English had all the pieces but didn't put them together until after the fact, when they were assembled to create a credible paper trail for their own claim.

**or Ninth, if you don't count Pluto, which I do.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Verlyn's Book

So, I was delighted on Thursday to see the following post by Jason Fisher about a forthcoming book from Verlyn Flieger:

Ever since I saw Shippey's ROOTS AND BRANCHES, my first thought was "what a great idea" and my second "when will Verlyn put out one?" And now that's come to pass with GREEN SUNS AND FAERIE: ESSAYS OF JRRT. Looking at the table of contents Jason provides confirms that I've read many of these, and heard many others delivered at conferences and symposiums over the years: to have them all collected together in one place will be great. And of course there are some I've missed, so this'll be a good chance to read those as well.

It's already available for preorder on Amazon, with a projected release date of August (just six months away). Horray.

And now, I immediately begin to think of how nice it'd be to see a collection by Wayne & Christina . . .


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Huck Finn: it maketh a mock

So, a few weeks back* I posted about the new bowdlerized edition of HUCK FINN, and how I look askance at the project -- I understand their motivations, but it's a slippery slope (just look at the DOCTOR DOLITTLE books) and those who start down that path rarely end well.

Although they do sometimes produce unintentionally hilarious results, as in two 'politically correct' collections of nursery rhymes I picked up years ago which never fail to bemuse me: POSITIVELY MOTHER GOOSE and FATHER GANDER NURSURY RHYMES. The latter adds a second verse to nursery rhymes to make them end happily (e.g., JACK & JILL), while the former rewrites the original in such a way that their original point is entirely lost -- e.g.

"Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey
Along came a spider who sat down beside her
And brightened Miss Muffet's whole day"

Now thanks to the latest issue of THE FUNNY TIMES (March 2011, page 4), I'm reminded more than ever of the power of mockery to deflate censorship. Here's someone else's take on the bowdlerizing of HUCK FINN that's more succinct and eloquent than I cd ever hope to be (although be warned that the questions at the bottom of the cartoon contain some offensive language; might want to skip those):

I'm mightily impressed by how Bolling, the cartoonist, keeps trumping himself panel after panel -- this is not a set-up for a pay-off at the end, like most strips, but pure gold all the way through. I was particularly taken with "Why, it's African-American Jim!" and "Well, if it isn't Joe 'Who Happens To Be Native American, But Has Many Other Attributes' ", plus the addition of life preservers and helmets to Huck & Jim on the raft -- that really seemed to nail the mindset of the censors. A friend got the giggles over the Federalist/States' Rights panel. Like I said, good stuff all the way through.

Nor is TOM THE DANCING BUG the only one to have some fun over this; that whole page of FUNNY TIMES is devoted to the Twain censorship flap, and includes various other suggestions, one Inklings-related in the form of a retitled THE LION AND THE WARDROBE -- though whether that one's meant to avoid offending wiccans (a la Xander Harris) or anti-witch Xians ('thou shalt not suffer . . . ') is hard to say. The latter, I suspect.

Like I said, a slippery slope.

--John R.
current audiobook: THE BOOK OF ALMA
current reading: OSSIAN REVISITED


*cf. my post of January 6th:

I wound up turning off the comments on this post, but shd point out that at least one person took my up on the suggestion in the Update to post further about the topic on his own blog:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Evil Comes To Town

So, last Thursday (the 17th), I noticed several news vans at the Regional Justice Center in downtown Kent when I swung by on my way to meet up with Janice after work. I had a strong suspicion of what was going on, based on a news story in the local free weekly paper the week before: Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, has coming to town to plead guilty to another murder (his 49th)*

Sure enough, the next morning Janice saw a gaggle of news vans already there when she passed by on her way in at 7.30. And some of them where still there when she got off late that afternoon (say fiveish). I assume a few reporters had been at the RJC the day before to do a little background/set-up for the main story to follow, but given that the arraignment, plea, victim's family speeches, and sentencing wd all be over in just a few hours that afternoon, it's a bit odd the reporters were there for all-day coverage. All I can assume is that they did 'live updates on our breaking story' for dramatic effect. I'm a little surprised Congressman Richert didn't show up for a little speechifying, having parlayed his failure to catch the Green River Killer for twenty years (during which time he murdered seventy-one women) into a political career, but so far as I know he didn't.

As for Ridgeway himself, it's good to know they have him safely locked up for life. It's no less than he deserves. -- though a little disconcerting, reading the terms of his confinement, to realize that they're slightly less harsh than those Bradley Manning has been subjected to for the past seven months without ever even been charged with a crime. Something seems a bit off there.

And, despite the fact he'll never be able to hurt anyone else, it's still chilling to know that someone like this was physically here, that near to where we live, in the here-and-now.

--John R.

*the terms of his plea bargain, according to the article, being that he pled guilty to all the murders where they could find the bodies of his victims -- 48 in all -- and confessed to twenty more where the bodies were never recovered, with the understanding that he'd plea guilty to each that might be found afterwards.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Farewell, Raina

Yesterday heard the sad news that Raina, the Cordell's cat, has died. She was about thirteen and a half.

I first met Raina the first month or so I was in Seattle, living by myself at the Woodcliff Apartments on East Hill in Renton. She was a personable young stray, a beautiful half-grown cat expecting her first litter of kittens, who was happy to be petted and given the occasional treat. She even wandered into my apartment once, having jumped the fence and considered the open sliding patio door an invitation.

I certainly had no objection, being fond of all cats at all times. Unfortunately, this was just a week or so after Parker had flown out (in a carryon bag, escorting Janice on her first visit out to see me, about a month after I'd arrived in the Pacific Northwest myself). And it turned out he had objections to another cat entering his territory. It was bad enough, from his point of view, that he'd had to exchange a house and fenced yard for a little two-bedroom apartment,* but he drew the line at other cats dropping in (which was odd, since he'd tolerated the semi-stray that came with our previous house, Tiffin -- but then Tiffin had been a v. mellow cat).

The first thing I knew about Parker making Raina's acquaintance was a growl and a hiss from down the hall and the sound of much clattering as two cats raced by: Raina in the lead and Parker in hot pursuit. She made the little patio, cleared the (six-foot) fence in a single bound despite being v. much pregnant, and made good her escape.

Not long after that she was taken in and adopted by Bruce & Dee, who provided a good home both to her and her five kittens. And when the kittens were old enough, we adopted one of them: Rigby. Of the other four, Bruce & Dee kept one (Bengal), Lisa Stevens adopted one (Jake), and I think a fireman we didn't know took the other two. For several months we took Rigby down to see her mother and play with her brother once in a while, until one visit when Rigby and Bengal decided each was a stranger. That was the end of that. Poor Bengal, a v. sociable cat who won a contest and had the world's greatest room for a cat specifically designed for him,** died a year or two back, and now we hear Raina is gone as well. Too bad; she was a beautiful cat, and a friendly cat, looking exactly like our little Rigby (herself now our senior cat but still as petite and almost as mighty a leaper as ever) except she had long hair whereas Rigby has shorthair. One other thing Raina and Rigby had in common was that Rigby loved to be chased by Parker; she wd stir him up and then tear away, with him making pretty good speed right behind her. This seemed to make a certain amount of sense, given that he'd actually chased her before she was even born -- and she got away from him that time too. Since Parker died she's tried to get our younger cats, Hastur & Feanor, to chase her, but while they'll express an interest they tend to wind up looking in astonishment in the direction she took; they're just no match for her.

And so goodbye to Raina, a good cat who lived a good life who I'd not seen in a long time but will still miss.

--John R.

*though still more than twice the size of his and my first apartment together, on Kane Place in Milwaukee's Lower East Side.

**since dismantled, I'm told, alas.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Zombies for Christ

So, Janice made an interesting discovery recently during her read-through-the-Bible, which has now reached the Gospels.* There's nothing like reading slowly and carefully to notice things the eye or mind tends to skip over when reading the same book piecemeal, out-of-sequence, and out-of-context -- which is how most of us know the Bible.

The passage in question comes near the end of the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 27, verses 52-53. The context is the events that take place in Jerusalem immediately after Jesus's death:
  • [50] . . . yielded up the ghost.
  • [51] And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.
  • [52] And the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.
  • [53] And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
What's so surprising about this is that I don't think I've ever heard a sermon preached about it. In my own mind, I'd remembered it as ghosts of the hallowed dead appearing and testifying, but Matthew is v. specific that graves open and physical bodies come out of them and walk the city streets. He's silent about what happens to them afterwards, which I admit to wondering about now; the other three gospels don't mention the risen dead at all. The gap between Jesus's death and the dead rising is also an interesting detail, and another thing I'd overlooked.

So, next time there's a zombie parade in town -- which, frighteningly enough, is an annual occurrence in these parts** -- I wanna see 'ZOMBIES FOR CHRIST' t-shirts out there in the crowd. It's only fair.

--John R.

*I'm about a third of the way through THE BOOK OF MORMON, myself -- but then, I'm doing them as audiobooks

**better known as the Fremont Zombie Walk.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

After Deadline

So, no posts this past week because I've been on deadline, which always soaks up all my time and mental energy. Finished it up yesterday and so got to spend the evening decompressing, first with having some friends over for an Anime Night* and then staying up late reading. Today we went for a walk and then had book group; tonight I got together some notes for the project flagging potential concerns --details that might still need changed, bits of missing information, and the like. Tomorrow's the official turnover (wd have been last night, but it's too big to email as an attachment, even when broken into multiple pieces. So tomorrow it's get this project off my desk, straighten up and put away papers and reference books associated with it, and clear the deck for my next project -- in this case, resumption of work on my Kalamazoo piece (abruptly broken off about five weeks ago).

Anime Night
The offerings: KURAU PHANTOM MEMORY (first two episodes), STARSHIP OPERATORS (first episode), NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (random episode from the original 1995 series), and GUNSMITH CATS (first episode). We wd have watched SUMMER WARS but cdn't find a way to play the blueray disk which was all we had available.

Of these, I'd say KURAU went over the best -- that in a hundred years we'll have both flying cars and bicycles sounds more like a believable future than most depictions. But while I find the idea behind STARSHIP OPERATOR a hoot, the depiction of a war sponsored by a news network as a reality-show seemed too bizarre for most. With EVANGELION what struck us was the poor quality of the dub and also how badly the animation held up; with GUNSMITH CATS the photorealism of some elements (e.g., the city streets of Chicago) was what mainly caught our eye.

Although I stayed up late (1.40am) I didn't quite finish my current Kindle book, THE SPHINX OF THE ICE FIELD by Jules Verne -- although the new waterproof cover for the Kindle helped. This is a book I looked for in vain when I first learned about it in the late seventies, read a chapter from in a Chaosium collection about a decade ago, and now easily found for 99 cents for the Kindle (although unfortunately full of typographical glitches, either badly scanned or incompetently typed-in).

For those who haven't read it (which is, frankly, practically everybody), this is Verne's sequel to Edgar Poe's only novel, THE NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM OF NANTUCKET. I'm a great admirer of Poe's original, which I view as a long nightmare the narrator finally wakes up from at the end. Verne's take on it is an odd mix -- at one point he summarizes Poe's tale (a summary which takes up 10% of the length of Verne's whole novel!) and in the main seems to be trying to follow Poe's story closely while trying to make it a little more believable -- but his own portrayal of the antarctic is just as impossible as Poe's despite being written sixty years later when he shd have been able to draw on a lot more real-world discoveries. The idea of a sequel to Poe is an interesting one; too bad it's undone by bad story-telling and bad science.

This is the first time I've read one of Verne's late, lesser-known, works, and the experiment doesn't encourage me to explore more. In fact, having gone to a good deal of trouble to find a faithful modern translation of the last two Verne's I re-read, THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, as opposed to a standard out-of-copyright translation of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, I think I'll opt for the old-fashioned translations henceforth -- I've concluded Verne's appeal comes entirely from the ideas rather than the quality of his prose. That is, he's a Clarke, where the idea is everything, rather than a Bradbury, who actually writes well.

The Beavers of Kent
During our walk, we saw two bald eagles, a flicker, some shy ducks, a bird I mistook for a jay which turned out to be neither jay nor woodpecker, several tiny bushtits (who seem to be back -- perhaps another sign of spring's being on the verge of being here?), and of course crows. We saw more signs of the beaver who seems to have taken up residence in the little creek/drainage ditch that runs alongside our complex. Last week we noticed several small trees that had been chopped down along the creek's sloping bank, which on closer examination turned out to look just like the work of a beaver. Then a few blocks further down towards the Kent wetlands Janice spotted the dam -- a small dam, true, befitting a small creek, but a little too regular to be an accidental jam. We haven't seen the beaver yet,* but it's amazing to think there's one living just a few blocks from here in the narrow space on the creek's gully that runs between 64th street (a four-lane highway) on the one side and a bunch of warehouses. I guess like the raccoons and possums, the crows and the coyote, urban wildlife lives alongside us because there isn't anyplace else left to live.

Book Group
Our Mithlond meeting went really well: a lively discussion both of the book itself (JOHANNES CABAL, DETECTIVE) -- e.g. how nice it is to read a story where the protagonist is smart and well-motivated to do what he does, rather than someone who keeps doing stupid things because the book wd end if he did the obvious and natural thing. The discussion was far-ranging, as usual, but kept coming back (more or less) to the topic at hand. A good session. Plus, of course, the host cat (Max) was his usual delightful self.

--John R.

*actually, now that we've seen the little dam and chewed-down trees, I remember that not long after we moved in here we once or twice spotted something in that part of the creek which I thought was a muskrat (there having been plenty of these in Whitnel Park back in Hales Corners) -- but that was the better part of a decade ago, so I suspect this must be a newcomer looking to establish his or her territory. Here's wishing him luck.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


So, Janice pointed out to me a news story Friday (thanks, Janice!) which included some news about THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT and a link to a somewhat more detailed story (see link to the latter, below).

Sometimes called 'the most mysterious book in the world', this is a unique volume now in the Beinecke at Yale about which almost nothing is known: not its author, or when it was written, or the alphabet it uses, or even what language it's written in. No other example of this writing has ever been found, so there's nothing to compare it with.

Since the manuscript re-surfaced in 1912 (having first turned up in the 1630s, only to vanish again in the 1660s), there have been many attempts to crack the code and translate the text, all to no avail. One school of thought held that it'd been written by Friar Roger Bacon* [d.1294] and later owned by Dr. John Dee** and, possibly, the notorious Edward Kelley, but there was no proof of any of this.

Now, at last, we have something more-or-less definite: carbon-14 dating that shows the paper it's written on dates from the early 1400s -- that is, a little after Chaucer's time, and more than a century after Bacon's death. And it looks like the ink and coloring for the many illustrations and illuminations and decorations are also from the first half of the same century. So that gives us a good idea of the time period, but brings us no closer to knowing who wrote it and what it says.

It's my private belief that it's not only an invented script but also an invented language (like a Sindarin text in tengwar), probably only ever known by one person. I doubt it'll ever be translated, unless another, more accessible, piece in the same script shows up (and after ninety-nine years of searching, and two World Wars devastating Europe, that seems pretty unlikely). Still, it's a tantalizing possibility . . .

Here's the link:

For anyone who wants to know more, I'd recommend M. E. D'Imperio's THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT -- AN ELEGANT ENIGMA (Aegean Park Press, n.d. [circa 1976]), which surveys all that's known and much that's speculated about the manuscript, summarizing the major arguments that have been put forth in favor of this or that theory (including several purported translations). Too bad there's no proper facsimile edition: a few pages are available online, but they're only a fraction of the whole. Not that I cd read it, of course, but it'd be nice to get a sense of the whole for once. And it'd be an interesting thing to have around -- after all, though I've only barely skimmed it, I prize my big facsimile of Casaubon's 1659 edition of A TRUE & FAITHFUL REVELATION OF WHAT PASSED FOR MANY YEARS BETWEEN DR. JOHN DEE . . . AND SOME SPIRITS, this being a transcription of Dee's sessions with Edward Kelley, who claimed to be receiving messages (sometimes in Enochian) from angels.

--John R.

*one of the two heroes of one of my favorite novels, John Bellairs' THE FACE IN THE FROST, as well as the main character of Roger Greene's famous but little-read old play FRIAR BACON & FRIAR BUNGAY [1592?], which tells the story of The Brass Head. In real life, he wrote a wonderful little tract called ON THE NULLITY OF MAGIC, which anticipates Reginald Scot by more than three hundred years.
**one of the two most gullible men who ever lived.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Yesterday, There Were Bees

Just as a quick note, the honeybees were out again -- briefly at least -- yesterday, with three or four of them swarming around the hummingbird feeder. One or two seemed to object to Rigby lying in the sun, but most were concentrating on the task at hand, something bees are v. gd at.

No sign of them today, but then it seems to require the right combination of late-afternoon warming and a little sunshine to bring them out from wherever they lair.

Just to be thorough, if belated, I'd meant to note one other sighting, I think around January 25th, but forgot to note the date. Given how many signs there are now that early spring's not too far away, it looks like they shd make it on their wintering over.

UPDATE, Sun.Feb.13th: and again today, briefly -- though we were distracted from that by what look to be the opening volley in Hummingbird Wars!

Forthcoming publication: SHE AND TOLKIEN Revisited

So, it never rains but it pours, as they say in Bree*

Having started off this string of four posts about recent & forthcoming collections of essays about Tolkien with news of one that includes a piece of mine, I can now round it off with sharing news about another such forthcoming publication that once again includes one of my essays. Horray!

This time the book is THE BONES OF THE OX -- or, rather, it was; the title's now tentatively been changed to TOLKIEN & THE STUDY OF HIS SOURCES: CRITICAL ESSAYS, on the principle that you need to include the word 'Tolkien' in a book on Tolkien so people know, instantly, that it is indeed a book on Tolkien.** It's due to be published by McFarland (yay, McFarland) sometime this fall

Here's a listing of the contents (the numbering is mine):

Introduction by Jason Fisher
1. Why Source Criticism? by Tom Shippey
2. Source Criticism: Background and Applications by E. L. Risden
3. Tolkien and Source Criticism: Remarking and Remaking by Jason Fisher
4. The Stones and the Book: Tolkien, Mesopotamia, & Biblical Mythopoeia by Nicholas Birns
5. Sea Birds & Morning Stars: Ceyx, Alcyone, & the Many Metamorphoses of Earendil and Elwing by Kristine Larsen
6. 'Byzantium, New Rome!': Goths, Langobards, & Byzantium in LotR by Miryam Libran-Moreno
7. The Rohirrim: 'Anglo-Saxons on Horseback'?--An Inquiry into Tolkien's Use of Sources by Th. Honegger
8. Wm Caxton's The Golden Legend as a Source for JRRT's LotR by Judy Ann Ford
9. She & Tolkien, Revisited by John D. Rateliff
10. Reading Jn Buchan in Search of JRRT by Mark T. Hooker
11. Biography as Source: Niggles & Notions by Diana Pavlac Glyer & Josh B. Long

Overall, it's an interesting mix of contributors. Lately there seems to have grown up several more or less distinct groups of people publishing on Tolkien: those associated with Kalamazoo (e.g., Risden, Larsen, Ford), Walking Tree Press (e.g., Honegger), Beyond Bree (Hooker), Cambridge Scholars Publishing (Fisher), et al. This book brings folks from those various threads together into one volume. The presence of Shippey in the lead essay, and also of Diana at the end, welcome in themselves, shd attract attention to the volume.

As for my contribution, this is the piece I was invited to present at this past summer's Mythcon in Dallas: a re-working of the first piece I had published in a juried publication (MYTHLORE), way back in the Summer 1981.*** I've gotten a lot of good comments about it over the years and it seems to get cited more than most things I've done, so I welcomed the chance to go back and revisit it: I think I've gotten better as a writer since I was twenty-two, and there's vastly more information available on Tolkien and his reading now than there was then. I reined in some speculations where I thought I went too far, and added some new claims that hadn't occurred to me back then. And, of course, added a lot of footnotes. All in all, I'm v. pleased w. how it came out, and it seemed to go over well enough at the presentation in Dallas, so far as I cd tell. Once again, I'm really looking forward to the book's publication so I can read all the other essays in it. Many thanks to Jason for putting this together, and for letting me be part of it.

--John R.

current audiobook: THE (FIRST) BOOK OF NEPHI
today's songs: "Dragonfly" by Danny Kirwan & "The Green Manalishi" by Peter Green Splinter Group

*whereas around here they say, 'huh. looks like rain again'.

**shades of the D&D mega-adventure about Orcus which WotC was careful not to tell anybody was about Orcus -- thus preserving the secret but also preventing most of the people who would have wanted to buy an adventure about Orcus from giving it a try.

***i.e., between my graduating from Fayetteville with the Masters and starting at Marquette on the Ph.D., appearing pretty much at the same time as my first research trip to England (the one where I got to meet Barfield and Havard and Wiseman). An exciting time for me, obviously.

UPDATE 2/13-11: It's been pointed out to me that I got the publisher's name wrong; accordingly, I've gone back in and fixed 'Macfarland' to McFarland. Thanks to Jason for catching that. --JDR

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Continuing the current trend of what's turning out to be a string of posts about some newly arrived or just-announced Tolkien books and their contents, here's the Table of Contents for what I think will be a really interesting collection, THE RING AND THE CROSS: CHRISTIANITY AND THE WRITINGS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, ed. Paul E. Kerry; the first book (so far as I know) on JRRT from Fairleigh-Dickinson Press.

Introduction: A Historiography of Christian Approaches to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings by Paul E. Kerry

Part I: The Ring
The Pagan Tolkien by Ronald Hutton
The Christian Tolkien: A Response to Ronald Hutton by Nils Ivar Agoy
Can We Still Have a Pagan Tolkien? A Reply to Nils Ivar Agoy by Ronald Hutton
The Entwives: Investigating the Spiritual Core of The Lord of the Rings by Stephen Morillo
'Like Heathen Kings': Religion as Palimpsest in Tolkien's Fiction by John R. Holmes
Confronting the World's Weirdness: J. R. R. Tolkien's The Children of Hurin by Ralph C. Wood
Eru Erased: The Minimalist Cosmology of The Lord of the Rings by Catherine Madsen
The Ring and the Cross: How J. R. R. Tolkien Became a Christian Writer by Chris Mooney

Part II: The Cross
Redeeming Sub-Creation by Carson L. Holloway
Catholic Scholar, Catholic Sub-Creator by Jason Boffetti
'An Age Comes On': J. R. R. Tolkien and the English Catholic Sense of History by Michael Tomko
The Lord of the Rings and the Catholic Understanding of Community by Joseph Pearce
Tracking Catholic Influence in The Lord of the Rings by Paul E. Kerry
Saintly and Distant Mothers by Marjorie Burns
The 'Last Battle' as a Johannine Ragnarok: Tolkien and the Universal by Bradley J. Birzer

When faced with the vexing question of whether Tolkien was a Catholic (or Xian) Writer or a writer who happened to be Catholic (or Xian), most books on Tolkien & religion simply assert the former; the essays here actually delve into the question from several different points of view. Based on my skimming so far I think the highlights for me may turn out to be the exchange between Hutton and Agoy and the Madsen essay.

Hutton points out that, for an author who was supposed to be strictly doctrinaire, Tolkien showed an awful lot of interest in pagan myth and incorporated a lot of it into his work. Agoy does his best to refute this, but Hutton remains unconvinced. As for the Madsen, she wrote what's probably one of the ten best essays on Tolkien years ago,* and this one looks to be a worthy follow-up: she essentially asks how, if Tolkien is so self-evidently Xian, do so many readers fail to notice that fact? Kerry's introduction is also impressive, attempting to survey all the previous studies of Tolkien from a religious perspective.

So, my feeling is that this book will be a major collection. I'm looking forward to reading through and thinking about all the essays.

--John R.

*though I preferred the original version, which she delivered at the 1987 Marquette Tolkien Conference, to the published one.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The New Arrival: another book about Tolkien

So, yesterday's post brought yet another new book about Tolkien, this time another collection of essays published by Cambridge Scholars Press (also home to TRUTHS BREATHED THROUGH SILVER, ed. by Jonathan B. Himes et al [2008],* and THE MIRROR CRACK'D, ed. Lynn Forest-Hill [also 2008]).**

Having just shared the table of contents from the forthcoming volume I contributed to, it only seems fair to let folks who might be interested know what's in this one as well. I've numbered the chapters in the list below for ease of reference, but they're not so numbered in the book itself.

MIDDLE-EARTH AND BEYOND: ESSAYS ON THE WORLD OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, ed. Kathleen Dubs and Janka Kascakova (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010)

Introduction, by Kathleen Dubs

1. Sourcing Tolkien's 'Circles of the World': Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi, by Jason Fisher

2. Staying Home and Travelling: Stasis versus Movement in Tolkien's Mythology, by Sue Bridgewater

3. The Enigmatic Mr. Bombadil: Tom Bombadil's Role as a Representation of Nature in LotR, by Liam Campbell

4. Tom Bombadil -- Man of Mystery, by Kinga Jenike

5. Grotesque Characters in Tolkien's Novels H & LotR, by Silvia Pokrivcakova & Anton Pokrivcak

6. 'It Snowed Food & Rained Drink' in LotR, by Janka Kascakova

7. 'No Laughing Matter', by Kathleen Dubs

8, 'Lit', 'Lang', 'Ling' & the Company They Keep: The Case of The Lay of the Children of Hurin Seen from a Gricean Perspective, by Roberto Di Scala.

no index, alas.

It's interesting to see a strong Slovak connection here, shared among four of the contributors -- Taum, who was half-Slovak and half-Polish, wd have loved that. I'm rather surprised to see not one but two essays on Bombadil, but these will probably be the first I read among the volume's offerings, along with the one by Jason Fisher (since I know Jason). And it's unusual to see a piece on the alliterative TURIN poem -- the first such I've come across, though it seems the author has written another before. Exactly what a Gricean perspective might be, and how it might usefully be applied to provide insights into Tolkien, are alike a mystery to me -- all the more reason to read the essay, I suppose. I shd warn that like all the Cambridge Scholars Publishing releases I've seen so far this is a rather expensive volume: $52.99 for 145 pages.

In short, something I'm glad to have picked up, but it doesn't immediately bump its way to the top of my reading list, the way some new arrivals do.

current reading: Verne (still)
current audiobook: Kipling short stories (still)

*which I reviewed -- for MYTHLORE, I think. The review seems to be available online at

**which I confess I've not yet read, despite importing a copy via

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Forthcoming Publication: PICTURING TOLKIEN

So, I just got word that I can now share the good news about a forthcoming publication that includes a piece of mine. It's an essay called "Two Kinds of Absence", appearing in the collection PICTURING TOLKIEN, edited by Jan Bogstad and Phil Kaveny and due out from McFarland half a year from now (official release date: July 31st 2011). Here are two links to descriptions of the book, the first at the McFarland website

and the second at

My own contribution (the full title of which is "Two Kinds of Absence: Elision & Exclusion in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings”) examines the claim of Jackson and his co-writers -- that scenes not appearing in the movie nevertheless took place in the film world -- by looking closely at the Bombadil material. In the process, I also take into account how seven previous adaptations (film, audio, and stage) dealt with the Bombadil chapters. It was an interesting mental exercise to distinguish between characters and events that could appear (say, in a hypothetical vastly extended cut) from those that could not, pre-empted when events in the film-world diverge from what happens in the book. It having been some years since I'd written anything about the films (in the extensive three-part review I did at the time the films were released), it was also a good chance to renew my acquaintance with the first film in particular on a v. detailed level.

What's more, I'm pleased to be in such good company: here's a table of contents listing.

Introduction: Jan Bogstad and Phil Kaveny
1. "Gollum Talks to Himself" by Kristin Thompson
2. "Sometimes One Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures" by Verlyn Flieger
3. "Two Kinds of Absence" by John D. Rateliff
4. “Tolkien's Resistance to Linearity" by Edward Risden
5. "Filming Folklore" by Dimitra Fimi
6. “Making the Connection on Page and Screen by Yvette Kisor
7. “It’s Alive!" by Sharin Schroeder
8. The Matériel of Middle-earth" by Rbt Woosnam-Savage
9. "Into the West" by Judy Ann Ford and Robin Reid
10. "Frodo Lives but Gollum Redeems" by Phil Kaveny
11. "The Grey Pilgrim" by Brian Walter
12. "Jackson's Aragorn and the American Superhero Monomyth" by Janet Croft
13. "Neither the Shadow nor the Twilight: the Love Story of Aragorn and Arwen in Literature and Film" by Richard West
14. "Concerning Horses" by Jan Bogstad
15. "The Rohirrim, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Problem of Appendix F" by Michael Drout
16. "Filming the Numinous" by Joseph Ricke and Catherine Barnett

--congratulations and thanks to Jan and Phil for all their hard work assembling these essays and seeing the book through the editing process. I'm really looking forward to the chance to read the other contributions.

--John R.
current audiobook: more Kipling (gah!)
current book: Verne
current music: Bare Trees (Danny Kirwan/Fleetwood Mac)


* for a convenient listing of all four of their books on Tolkien, see


UPDATE 2/13-11: It's been pointed out to me that I got the publisher's name wrong; accordingly, I've gone back in and fixed 'Macfarland' to McFarland. Thanks to Jason for catching that. --JDR

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Most Depressing Book I've Ever Read

So, yesterday I finally finished the audiobook of HUMAN SMOKE by Nicholas Baker, a book I tried to read several months back and had to give up on; it was simply too depressing. A few weeks back I gave it another go, this time as an audiobook, which I've been finding a good way to get through long or difficult books. Even so I had to put it aside twice for weeks at a time.

Why so depressing? Essentially this is the story of the people who saw World War II coming years ahead of time and did everything they could to head it off -- unsuccessfully. Then, once the war starts, it documents the opposing viewpoints of those who want to protect civilian populations and bring the war to an early conclusion vs. those who target civilians for bombing campaigns and death camps and insist on an all-out unconditional-surrender total war. It concludes on December 31st, 1941, when the death camps were just getting started; Baker observes in his Afterword that "Most of the people who died in the Second World War were at that moment still alive."

There are plenty of surprises here, such as the phrase 'The Iron Curtain' being coined by Goebbels to describe English censorship of Britain's newspapers. Or that it was the British, not the Luftwaffe, that started the bombing of non-military targets early in the war. Or that a year and a half before Pearl Harbor FDR had already drawn up plans for the Chinese to firebomb Tokyo, using bombers bought from the Americans, flown by an American pilot, and with an American in charge of releasing the payload.

One thing I wd never have suspected is that Herbert Hoover, of all people, comes across favorably (something I never thought I'd hear myself say): essentially the famine-relief work Truman appointed him to lead in 1945/46 was something he'd been trying to do since the fall of France and the Low Countries in 1940: send food to prevent starvation, especially of children, especially of civilian populations in occupied territories. Churchill had prevented the aid from getting through the Naval Blockade he'd instigated early in the war, on the theory that (a) it might be diverted to feed Germans and (b) the more desperate people became, the more likely they were to rise up and drive out the Germans.

By the same logic, Churchill claimed* that the bombing of civilians in Germany itself would eventually lead to a coup or revolution that wd topple the Nazi regime. Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking bits was the conclusion by the British, about two years into the war, that saturation bombing of German cities wd have no appreciable contribution towards winning the war (since on average they only killed .75 people and wounded 1.25 more per bomber per raid) but decided to keep it up anyway, since they thought it was good for morale. It was particularly disheartening how some people who said they were opposed to the war suddenly reversed themselves -- e.g. Dashiell Hammett after Russia entered the war and Charles Lindberg after Pearl Harbor -- while the Quakers and a few others (e.g. Jeanette Rankin) carried on both opposing the war and trying to mitigate the damage.

What makes this book interesting stylistically is that Baker didn't write it: he assembled and edited it. Its text is made up entirely of quotes or summaries from letters, diaries, newspaper articles, memos, memoirs, speeches, propaganda leaflets, and the like, all arranged in chronological order. He lets the people who caused the chaos and those who had to live through it speak for themselves.

I found his dedication in the Afterword at the very back of the book particularly eloquent:

"I dedicate this book to the memory of Clarence Pickett & other American & British pacifists. They've never really gotten their due. They tried to save Jewish refugees, feed Europe, reconcile the United States & Japan, & stop the war from happening. They failed, but they were right." [emphasis mine]

--and now, on to some lighter, or at least less grueling, fare.

current reading: JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH by Verne
current audiobook: THE MAN WHO WD BE KING by Kipling.

*in general, Churchill comes across quite poorly; it's hard not to conclude that he did everything he cd to bring about the war, then everything he could to expand the war, and finally everything he cd to extend the war as long as possible. Quite a legacy!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mr. Alspaugh

About a month ago I heard the sad news that Mr. Alspaugh, my old scoutmaster, had died. I had not seen him for a long time.

I was one of those who was really into scouting, going to the camporees every spring and fall, summer camp for a week every year at Camp De Soto over near El Dorado, most of the weekend hikes/camping out the Burnt Bridge Road, even one Survival. And of course there were the occasional bigger trips: up to Little Rock for the Quapaw Line Trail [?1970], over to Vicksburg [1971], and even once to Shiloh [1972]. And of course all the way up to the Jamboree in Moraine State Park in Pennsylvania [1973]. I made it all the way to Eagle Scout, plus a sashful of merit badges (from Public Safety to Indian Lore), two palms, and the God and Country Award.

When I first joined Troop 32 -- which must have been around the end of 1969, when I wd have left Webelos, where the scoutmaster had been Mr. Jean* -- it was a large troop, but its numbers dwindled over the years --largely I think because the Powers That Be within Scouting tried to reconfigure and reinvent the Boy Scouts during that era to shift the emphasis from camping and hiking in the countryside (which we enjoyed doing) to doing good works in large cities. I think I joined Troop 32, over at the Methodist Church, rather than the troop over at my own Presbyterian Church because I'd already been in Webelos (the Methodists being the only group which had a Webelos program). I think Mr. Alspaugh's older son, Bill, had already left the troop by that time, but I certainly knew his younger son, Wally (whose nickname, for reasons never made apparent, was Worm).

Too many memories for one post: the Monday night meetings at the scout hut, where we might be called on to recite out our daily Good Deeds for the week. Getting to meet Danny Thomas and, what impressed me much more, Col. Sanders at the Jamboree (Nixon didn't show up, the first time a president had blown off the Scouts' big once-in-four-years-event since FDR). Doing the Mile Swim at camp, and discovering wild huckleberries. Biking around a good deal of Columbia County with Mason Cozart and Jim Polk.** Working on Astronomy and Space Exploration merit badges with Mr. McGee at the college, one of my favorite absent-minded professors. Discovering genealogy through work on another merit badge (for a time I was the youngest member of the So-We-Ar, or Southern Arkansas Genealogical society, of which Mrs. Alspaugh was a member). Carrying along a copy of THE HOBBIT to re-read at summer camp.

Mr. Alspaugh himself remains one of my chief icons for stern-but-fair. I think we often exasperated him, but he never yelled and I only once saw him lose his temper (when some people were horsing around during a flag-lowering ceremony). In daily life he worked at the post office; I remember learning quite by chance once that he was a World War II vet, having served in the Pacific. He was also a man of many talents: years later, when I'd found my grandfather's old Seth Thomas clock and was trying to get it running again, I discovered that he'd once been a clockmaker and he volunteered to undertake the task of cleaning it up (it turned out it'd just wound down when Dr. Smith died nearly thirty years earlier).

One particular memory involved the Order of the Arrow. I got inducted into this, and later reached the middle rank of Brotherhood. Mr A. (as we called him) went all the way to Vigil, and to commemorate the occasion I gave him an Eisenhower silver dollar. Twenty years later, when I saw him for the last time after having been out-of-touch for years (having moved away to graduate school and he having retired from the post office), he pulled out of his pocket a large silvery disk, worn almost smooth, which I cd just recognize as the same 1971 silver dollar; apparently he'd carried it as a good-luck piece ever since (just as I carry a 100-mon coin with me every day).

I'm sorry to hear he's gone, but glad that at 87 years he had a good long life. I wish I'd kept in touch more, but I'm glad I got to see him that last time. I'm glad to have known him, and hope he knew that he meant a lot to a lot of us.

Rest in peace, Mr. A.

--John R.
*whose son, Lane Jean, was with me in scouts and more recently has been Magnolia's mayor.
**now Rev. Polk

And All the Seas with Oysters

So, yesterday I came across a new phrase for the first time: "functionally extinct".

This is not to say there are no more oysters left in the world, but that precipitous decline means they've lost their ecological niche. In many regions, they're dropped to less than 1% of their former numbers; now 75% of all oysters come from just five remaining oyster beds.

This is all the more ironic, since oysters have often been used as an example of nature's fecundity; cf. Avram Davidson's story "Or All the Seas with Oysters", which in turn takes its title from Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Dying Detective". As Holmes lies on his apparent deathbed, he rants ". . . I can't think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem . . . Shall the world, then, be overrun by oysters? No, no; horrible!"

Horrible indeed -- not from an excess of life but from the vast emptiness left behind.

--John R.