Monday, May 27, 2013

A Hankering After Old Games: MYTHOS

So, our friends Jeff and Kate held one of their periodic Game Days this holiday weekend, where there was much gaming and visiting and catching up with folks (and, at the very end, petting of cats). We arrived late, having been to our monthly meeting of Book Group (Mythlond) earlier that same day, where our book was LORD KELVIN'S MACHINE by Blaylock.*  But we still had time for two rounds of INGENIOUS (a tile-placing game I hadn't played before; good one) and, on my part, a quick game of TICKET TO RIDE (I came in third of three). In the invitation, Jeff had said something to the effect of 'bring whatever game you'd like to play', which got me thinking what that might be. I looked at the boardgame shelves both in the closet and box room and saw many fine possibilities (e.g. BLUE MAX, STELLAR CONQUEST, et al), but none that seemed quite right for the occasion, when I saw the boxes of MYTHOS cards and thought: the perfect thing.

I've written elsewhere about MYTHOS, in Jim Lowder's collection HOBBY GAMES: THE 100 BEST (2007), for now I'll just say that this is the CALL OF CTHULHU collectable card game, populated with characters and locations and tomes from Lovecraft's stories. Its best feature is the Adventure card(s) that give a storytelling element to the card game: each grants the player rewards (Sanity points and victory points) but only if the specific other cards it lists have to have been played. It's a great game, by far my favorite of all collectable card games -- but the problem is it's long out of print. And the folks I used to play it with have mostly moved away or I've gotten out of touch with (Lester Smith and Burl at the Game Center in Lake Geneva days; Chris Pramas and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes and Steve Miller and Robert Weise and Ed Stark, among others, as a WotC lunchtime game).

Hence if I were to get folks to play it with me, I'd have to provide the cards -- and to make it workable, they'd have to be in the form of pre-made decks, so that while folks wd need to learn the rules to play they won't have to delve into the minutia of deckbuilding as well. And that meant I'd need a lot of cards.

Luckily, I had a lot of cards. But unluckily, I couldn't find all of them. The Allies and Adventures, Great Old Ones and Monsters and Tomes were all in the closet, right where they were supposed to be. The New Aeon cards were all in the leather box where they were supposed to be. And downstairs I had bunches of semi-sorted cards (gifts from friends who'd I'd played with back in the day, kindly given to me when they got to the stage of cleaning out their own closets), mainly from the Dreamlands set.**  From these I had quite a few Events and plenty of Spells and some Artifacts (enough to play with, though lacking some needed for specific adventures). But there was nowhere near enough Locations, esp. since every deck needed a good assortment. Placing the decks in different locations (e.g., an Arkham deck, a Dunwich deck, an Innsmouth deck, a Mideast deck), something I'd intended all along, lessened the problem but it still just didn't look workable. Then, yesterday afternoon I found the four card-file boxes containing Locations and more Monsters and Artifacts and more Spells, et al.

Put these together with those I'd already found and sorted, pull out those old notes I'd kept detailing specific decks I'd made and played with years ago (when I remembered the rules and individual cards' effects much better than I do right now), and I think we'll be good to go. So next up is merging the sorted cards, making up some sample decks, and re-reading THE ART OF PLAYING MYTHOS get remind myself how gameplay goes and be able to teach it to others who have never played, or if so not for a long long time.

So, not in time for this game day, but definitely got enough interest when I asked around among out CALL OF CTHULHU group to make this do-able at a game day in the future. We'll see how it goes.

--John R.

 *universally judged to be a great disappointment (next month: THE DRESDEN FILES).  

 **(the set which, along with overprinting of the Standard non-collectable dual-deck, sank the game. But that's another story).

My Newest Publication

So,  the latest volume of VII arrived on Wednesday (vol. 29). This is my contributor's copy, mine being the final item in this issue: a short (for me) review of Arne Zettersten's book JRRT's DOUBLE WORLDS AND CREATIVE PROCESS. I'd really liked Zettersten's talk at Marquette as keynote speaker at the Blackwelder conference back in 2004, so I had high hopes when I heard he was writing a book about his relationship with Tolkien and mildly dismayed when it was released not in English but Swedish (the original Swedish title translates as MY FRIEND RONALD, which is actually a far better title). Luckily for those of us who, unlike Tolkien, are not conversant in the modern Scandinavian tongues, they've now (2011) released an English translation of the Swedish original (2008).

When it finally arrived a few months back, I was at first disappointed; it seemed mostly a re-telling of Carpenter with a new little new bits added here and there. But reading the work turns out to be rewarding: Zettersten has some insights into Tolkien as a working medievalist I've never come across before, and into the way Tolkien himself viewed his two careers, as academic philologist and fantasy writer, and their interaction. Plus he conveys, better than I've seen it anyplace else, just how brilliant Tolkien was as a philologist, and how early that manifested itself. He gives a good example of Tolkien's mastery of his field in recalling his (Zettersten's) having once, in 1972, mentioned a crux in a work he was editing (WALDERE, a fragment of an OE epic), only to find Tolkien entirely familiar with the minutia of the text; it later turned out that JRRT had worked through that text in detail himself fifty-nine years before, in 1913, and remembered his own solution to each crux off the top of his head all those decades later. Impressive.

In the end, despite not being the book I wanted, this is a book I'm glad I got and read; it gave me a new picture of Tolkien as he was in retirement, and he himself saw his work and his relationship to it. Recommended!

--John R.
current reading: MEDIEVAL PETS (2012) by Kathleen Walker-Meikle

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Fall of Arthur

So, today's the release date for Tolkien's long-awaited Arthurian poem, THE FALL OF ARTHUR. My copy arrived early this afternoon, but by that point I was already almost finished reading it, having found out it was already available on Kindle last night (around ten o'clock our time). That makes it the first Tolkien book I first read in electronic format. I've been waiting for this one since Rayner Unwin told me it was "forthcoming" back in 1985. As for the poem itself, I enjoyed it much more than I expected (like Poe, I'm really not that much into long poems, and this one runs almost a thousand lines). It probably helped that I read it aloud, Tolkien being an author who paid attention to sound as well as sense. And I found the additional material Christopher Tolkien provided, providing JRRT's outlines and notes (such as they are) as well as many alternate passages that didn't make it into the final version.

Most surprising bit? The explicit linkage of his Arthur story with the legendarium. Didn't expect that as all. Next, that in Guinevere he's produced what I think must be his least sympathetic female character. That should make for some interesting discussions. As should CT's guess at the reason for its abandonment: developments in the mythos, such as the creation of the Numenorean story and The World Made Round drew his attention away from this rewarding but deeply labor-intensive project.

It'll take me a while to absorb all this, obviously, but I'm relieved that the paragraphs I wrote about THE FALL OF ARTHUR in my contribution to the Shippey festschrift (a collection that now seems to be clearing the last of the hurdles that have so long delayed it) isn't superseded or rendered null and void by the publication of the whole.

And it's wonderful to have a new book by Tolkien, and to read more of Christopher's crisp, incisive commentary thereon laying out all the interconnections between the masses of manuscript.

So, a good day to be a Tolkienist!

--John R.

*which is not an Edgar Gorey picture book but a little-known 13th-century Arthurian romance featuring Gawain

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Cat Report (W.5/22-13)

Quite a difference the addition of those four new cats make; the room's suddenly much less, well, roomy. Nine cats in ten cages, but some with personalities to make it feel like it's even more.

*ZENA MEOW (alternating grey and grey-tan stripes) -- well named!  [new]
*CHECKERS (little black cat with white paws) [new]

*MOREO (black, longhair; has white whiskers and individual white toes) [new]
*MARLIE (dark grey, half-tail) [new]

No walks today, since needed to get a feel for what the new cats were like and also the new room dynamic as they sort out favorite spots, the pecking order, allowable proximity, and the like. Three cats stayed in most of the morning: Edna, Moreo, and Boogieman, while all the others came out and either claimed favorite spots (Tattoo, Lemura) or searched around for new ones (Zena, Checkers, Marlie). Bugsy was probably the most active cat in the room -- wish he'd taken better to the collar when I tried it on him last week; think a walk outside wd do him good.

Poor Edna Jane stayed in all morning and didn't budge. She's seen this sort of thing (a roomful of cats) happen before, and I think is waiting for a few of the newcomers to get adopted before she'll feel safe coming out again. She should be better in a week or two. I'm beginning to suspect that she could tolerate being half of a two-cat home, since she tends to avoid trouble rather than seek it out: so long as it was a large enough place that didn't force both cats into too much proximity, think she'd just go her own way and let the other go its.

Lemura was in a playful mood, enjoying the string game, the stick game, being petted, mouse-on-a-stick, and of course cat-nip. She stayed on cat-stand #1 all morning, and was quite put out when finally made to go back in (though as usual she didn't hold a grudge and was soon letting me pet her again). She's another who could be in a multiple-cat household, I think: she's pretty mellow most of the time about the other cats, so long as they don't get in her face.

 Bugsy had been working hard but so far unsuccessfully to establish himself as the boss of the room the last few weeks, somewhat stymied that neither Lemura nor Penny were in the least afraid of him (and poor Boogieman is hardly a challenge; Tattoo kept laying low so that he forgot about her). Now there are so many hissy girl-cats anywhere he goes that he pretty much gave up and headed for the hills: I put him up on the cage-tops, which he loved -- it gave him a feeling of being king of the mountain without having to actually defend said position. 

Boogieman didn't want to come out, so I cleaned up and straightened his cage around him. He did venture out two or three times later in the morning, but each time he ran into someone who hissed at him and he quickly retreated back to the safety of his home ground again. Poor Boogieman, who just wants somewhere he can feel safe, plop himself down in a big cat-puddle, and relax as only a cat can. 

Sweet senior-cat Tattoo was unusually playful today: she got atop cat-stand #2 and stayed there, enjoying catnip (she rolled in it like a kitten) and a good long game of mouse-on-a-stick. Glad she was up high rather than down low, so visitors and passers-by can see her more. 

Her usual place under that cat-stand was taken by new cat Marlie instead, our half-tail kitty. Marlie may be a really smart cat; hard to tell yet. She went right into Moreo's cage to use his box, and he didn't seem to mind. Later she made herself invisible in the rondel below cat-stand #2 and avoided all the hissing. Came out from there a time or two to be petted and look about, then back into a comfy place. She might be a good candidate for walking.

Little Checkers's food dish was empty. She was very friendly, wanting lots of attention and coming up repeatedly to get it, then taking herself off again. Lurked in the bottom of the cabinet for a while, then settled in the small cat-stand on the bench not the basket but the other one). Seems to be quite a young cat, with still some kitten-like behavior. Doesn't much like the other cats, but does love games.

Zena Mew is well-named: she's a talker. Mew and she'll mew back to you; if you don't mew, she'll start up the conversation and carry it on by herself. She went high and crushed my hat by laying on it, then settled for a while in one of the beds up in cage-top land. Learned how to use the steps and went up and down a lot; has lots of energy she needs to burn off. Probably could have used more game-time than I had to spend with her; very sweet cat. Doesn't like other cats. 

Moreo (rhymes with Oreo, I guess) stayed in almost all morning, and when he came out to peer out the door he got trapped by Bugsy getting between him and the cube. They had a stand-off for a while: Moreo would try to move towards his (open) cage, which Bugsy thought was creeping up to attack him, so he'd hiss and Moreo would freeze. After a few rounds of this I got Bugsy to move, Moreo went in (gratefully, I thought), and all was well again with him. He likes being petted. Both of them watched a small dog that passed back and forth for a bit, more alert than alarmed. For all his disinclination to come out, seems to be calm and self-possessed; may try seeing if he'll come out when no other cats are out to disturb him.

health concerns: there was a little dried throw-up in Lemura's cage, and Bugsy threw up shortly after I got there (thin, watery digested food). Both seemed to be feeling fine; think his might have been nerves (i.e., excitement over about-to-be-let-out.

And that's pretty much it for this morning. Not a scratch or a bite, I'm happy to say, and no swatting of cat by cat (though there's certainly more than enough hissing to go round, and some growling as well. Nice to see the pictures of Seymour (et al.). And nice to know Rinaldo the Marvellous and little Maevis The Angry Mouse (the only calico persian I've ever seen) all found homes.

--John R.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I Bit My Teeth

So, this past weekend we went out to breakfast together, and at one point near the end of the meal I bit my teeth.

I'm not sure exactly how that's even possible, much less how it happened. All I know is that somehow my front teeth in the upper and lower jars came together in a way they're not designed for, with the wrong ones on the inside and the outside. After I sorted things out and made sure there were no chips of enamel in my mouth, I turned out to be fine and cd continue the meal, and it's been fine since.

So, I've sometimes accidently bitten the inside of my mouth before, unfortunately, but this was a first for me. And I hope a singularity, never to be repeated.

Other than that, signs of spring/early summer are all around (the first honeybee, the cottonwoods in full drifting 'cotton' mode, dry and hot days alternating with cool and wet, Rigby and Feanor demanding walks). The forsythia and daffodils and violets have come and gone, though the pansies are still doing well; there's also just a few sprays of wysteria. Feanor has been belled as a result of catching and killing another finch (his fifth capture and third kill -- the other two we got away from him in time). Got off a final proofing of one project that'd come back and now deep in finalizing the text, filling out and polishing up the end notes, and creating the bibliography for my Kalamazoo piece, which was well received, I'm glad to say. That'll take a few days yet, esp. given that Thursday is Tolkien/Arthur day. Then I need to do the same for the Valparaiso piece. Haven't had time to write up a full Kalamazoo report, but will try to see what I can do re. same over this weekend. There were a number of good papers and good discussions, so it'd be nice to get some of that done before the memories fade.


current reading: NEUROMANCER by Wm Gibson (1984): disappointing.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

St. Gary of Gygax

So, just found out yesterday from a friend about ADVENTURES DARK AND DEEP, an attempt to project what second edition ADandD would have looked like if Gygax had done it. Haven't seen the results yet, but here's their premise:

What if Gary Gygax had not left TSR in 1985, and had been allowed to continue developing the world’s most famous fantasy role-playing game?

Adventures Dark and Deep attempts to answer that question.

We will, unfortunately, never know exactly what it would have looked like, because Gary Gygax did leave TSR in that year, and others took over the job of designing the second (and subsequent) versions of the game. After that unfortunate episode, he was understandably reluctant to give any advice on how he would have carried the game forward.

However, he did leave behind hints as to the direction he would have taken the game . . . 

The short answer to this alternate-world question is easy: If Gygax had not left TSR in 1985, the company would have gone broke in '87 or '86 rather than 1996-97. But aside from that, their premise is flawed, since by 1985 Gygax was no longer writing the books he was putting his name on; that had ceased after about 1982.

Still, it's an interesting mind-experiment, and those curious about where it might take them can see via the following link:

For myself, I'm still perfectly happy with Gygax's masterpiece, 1st edition ADandD, and would gladly play it anytime I could get a group together, were such a thing still possible in this day and age.

--John R.
current reading: PORTRAIT OF JENNIE --Rbt Nathan (1940), J. SMITH by 'Fougasse' (Queen Mary's Dollhouse, 1922)
today's song: "On the Way" from McCartney II.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Silmarillion Ring?

So, sometimes bits and pieces of British and American fantasy and/or horror can wind up in anime, sometimes in unusual ways --as in the final episode of of the PRINCESS RESURRECTION manga, where two minor characters are shown having tea in a cafe with a Lovecraft-themed name. Or in the latest of the BOOK GIRL novels, where the main character has a dream about the Book Girl turning into Dagon. As I said, odd. And that's not even taking into account the schoolgirl/harem series about Nyarlathotep.

That said, one of the strangest came up recently in a little one-off called Little Witch Academia, a sort of TWEENY WITCHES revisited.

The Tolkien reference comes the 10.19 point, not quite the half-way mark. Some student witches are exploring a labyrinth beneath the witch-school, with whichever witch who brings back the best loot before the deadline winning. One team is far in the lead, having already found

"a mithril mail, a galvorn knife, even a silmarillion ring"

Mithril mail is pure Tolkien -- we even know they got it direct and not via DandD because hey, they spelled it right.

Galvorn knife I didn't catch, and assumed it was something from some video game. My bad; looking it up, I see it's Tolkienian as well, this being the black metal Eol made. No one can remember every detail, but guess it's time I re-read the SILMARILLION again.

The 'Silmarillion ring' is interesting, because they seem to have a Ring of Power mixed up with a Silmaril. I hate to think what the power of uniting a Silmaril with a Ring of Power wd have been, so I'm glad it only occurs as a throwaway line in an anime. It does give the whole passage a sort of 'throw things at the wall in a jumble' sort of fell, though.

Anyhow, the show is amusing fluff; here's the clip, if you'd like to see it for yourself. Thanks to Janice for the link):!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Tale of Two Spocks

So, thanks to Janice for this one -- a film short contrasting Nimoy with The New Guy.

The moment of truth comes a minute and eleven seconds (1.11) into the clip.

Thought for a moment the guy who got out of the third car at the end was going to be Shatner, but that might have been one joke too many.


Kalamazoo 2013 (schedule)

Not sure if I've posted this before, but if so no harm in doing so again: here's the schedule of Tolkien-related events at this year's Medieval Congress, put together by Doug Anderson from the program book (thanks Doug). Today is set-up and check in; events start tomorrow. As you can see, the Tolkien events this year are heavily skewed to the first two days of the conference (Thursday/Friday), with my own bit being Friday afternoon. There are also some Lewis events, but unfortunately those are largely focused on the least interesting part of his work (Narnia). Here's the listing:

Kalamazoo 9-12 May 2013

Wednesday May 8

Noon Registration begins, Eldridge-Fox lobby

Set-up Exhibits Hall, Goldsworth Valley III

Thursday May 9

Exhibits Hall, Goldsworth Valley III  Thursday: 8:00 a.m.–6:30 p.m.

10.00 AM    FETZER 1045 
Tolkien as Medieval Scholar     Presider: Brad Eden
“And they are making songs about him from here to the sea”: Samwise Gamgee
as Medieval English Yeoman     Leigh Smith, East Stroudsburg Univ.
A Historiology for England: Tolkien on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles
John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville
Music of the Ainu, Music of the Spheres: Tolkien and Cosmic Harmonies
Janice M. Bogstad, Univ. of Wisconsin–Eau Claire
Tolkien’s Poetic Scholarship: Old English Meter and Modern Poetry
Anna Smol, Mount St. Vincent Univ.
Tolkien as a Celticist: Views of a “Curtain Raiser” of the O’Donnell Lecture Series
Yoko Hemmi, Keio Univ.

1.30   SCHNEIDER  1280
In Honor of Verlyn Flieger: The State of Tolkien Scholarship (A Panel Discussion)
Presider: Amy Amendt-Raduege, Whatcom Community College
The Geek and the Scholar: Standing Pointy Ear to Mortarboard
Thom Foy, Independent Scholar
Splintered Light and Word: Tolkien’s Myth, Philology, and Faith
Edward L. Risden, St. Norbert College
Whose Myth Is It? Tolkien Scholarship as Interdisciplinary Studies
Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
The Tolkien Scholarship Project
Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Saruman’s Coat of Many Colors: Tolkien’s Exploration of Medieval Theories of
Light  Michael Wodzak, and Vickie Holtz-Wodzak, Viterbo Univ.

3.30   SCHNEIDER  1280
Tolkien and Alterity: In Honor of Jane Chance
Presider: Christopher T. Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont
Medieval Organicism or Modern Feminist Science? Bombadil, Elves, and
Mother Nature  Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
The State of Tolkien and Alterity Scholarship
Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Language and Alterity in Tolkien
Deidre Dawson, Michigan State Univ.
The Alterior Motive: Patterns of Difference and Otherness in Tolkien’s World
Jared Lobdell, Independent Scholar

7.30 SCHNEIDER 1280
Art and Music of The Hobbit
Presider: Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
A Game of Tolkien
Ed Ouellette, Air Univ.
Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: From Children’s Story to Epic Film
Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College
Songs of Peril in The Hobbit
Laura Smith, Signum Univ.
Sub-creation in Action: Music Inspired by The Hobbit
Brad Eden

Friday May 10

Exhibits Hall, Goldsworth Valley III  Friday: 8:00 a.m.–6:30 p.m.

1.30 VALLEY  I   104
Women in Tolkien’s Professional Life
Presider: Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College
“Professor d’Ardenne of Liège has arrived to harrass me with philological
work”: Simonne d’Ardenne as Student, Collaborator, Translator, and Friend of
J. R. R. Tolkien
Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar
The Missing Women: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lifelong Support for Women’s Higher
John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar

1.30  SCHNEIDER 1155
In Honor of Marcia Marzec: Papers by Undergraduates I
Presider: Katherine McMahon
2nd of 4 papers
The Eorl That Could Have Been: Theoden as Tolkien’s Answer to Beorhtnoth’s
Colin Pajda, St. Louis Univ.

3.30  SCHNEIDER 1220
Queer Tolkien
Sponsor: Society for the Study of Homosexuality in the Middle Ages (SSHMA);
Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Presider: Graham N. Drake
Niggle, Smith, and Giles: Medieval as Queer
Stephen Yandell, Xavier Univ.
To All Elf-Friends and Wizard’s-Pupils: “It gets better”: Medieval and Modern
Categories of the Queer in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Christopher T. Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont
Respondent: Jane Chance, Rice Univ.

7.30  FETZER 1045
Tolkien Unbound (Performances) Fetzer 1045
Presider: Robin Anne Reid, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Maidens of Middle-earth: The Silmarillion
Eileen Marie Moore, Cleveland State Univ.
The Waking of Angantyr: A Poetic Drama (Text by
Deborah C. Rogers) based on an Old Norse Saga,
Performed with the Assistance of the Western
Michigan University Department of Theatre
Richard C. West, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison

Saturday May 11

Exhibits Hall, Goldsworth Valley III  Saturday: 8:00 a.m.–6:30 p.m.

12.00 BERNHARD 211
Tolkien at Kalamazoo Business meeting

Sunday May 12

Exhibits Hall, Goldsworth Valley III  Sunday: 8:00 a.m.–12:00 noon

8.30 AM  SCHNEIDER 1120
Tales after Tolkien: Medievalism and Twenty-First-Century Fantasy Literature I
Presider: Carol L. Robinson, Kent State Univ.–Trumbull
Refracted Romance: Re-visioning the Grail Legend in Catherine Fisher’s Corbenic
Molly Brown, Univ. of Pretoria
George R. R. Martin’s Quest for Realism in A Song of Ice and Fire
Shiloh R. Carroll, Middle Tennessee State Univ.
Androgynes, Crossdressers, and Rebel Queens: Modern Representations of
Medieval Women Warriors from Tolkien to Martin
Rachael Mueller, Catholic Univ. of America
The Meaning of the Middle Ages: Fans, Authors, and Industry
Helen Young

10.30 SCHNEIDER 1120
Tales after Tolkien: Medievalism and Twenty-First-Century Fantasy Literature II
Presider: Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar
Pratchett’s The Last Continent and Nominalist Questions
Jay Ruud, Univ. of Central Arkansas
A Divergent Medievalism in Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man Trilogy
Geoffrey B. Elliott, Technical Career Institutes
Black and Liminal in Camelot
Kris Swank, Mythgard Institute
The Hunger Games: Reinterpretation of a Medieval Quest Narrative
Stephanie A. Amsell, Southern Methodist Univ.

Monday May 13
disperse . . . 


Tuesday, May 7, 2013


So, I shd have noted the arrival of the new biography of Father Francis Morgan, which arrived on the 18th. But I've been so busy getting ready for Kalamazoo after losing a week to the cat-bite incident that posts have lagged behind. So let me just quickly note some new arrivals/purchases of interest:

 LA CONEXION ESPANOLA DE J. R. R. TOLKIEN. This looks to be an interesting and consequential book, but I'll have to brush up my long-rusty Spanish to be able to make any headway into it at all. Once I get back I'll try to post a list of chapter titles/topics, the better for folks to see what the book covers.

The second of the two WETA WORKSHOP making-of-the-film books. The first was much more interesting than I expected, so I'm looking forward to making my way through this one too at some point.

3-MINUTE TOLKIEN, by Gary Raymond [2012]. I heard about this one recently on the MythSoc list, and saw that Wayne and Christina have weighed it and found it wanting. Looking through the 'bargain books' (remaindered) shelves at Barnes & Noble turned up a small stack of them (as well as the Tolkien Trivia book I blogged about a while back and the David Day). Thought it'd make for light reading on the plane (varied with re-watching the Peter Jackson HOBBIT). I'm about half-way through, so I'll hold off comment for now.

And finally something really weird: a coffee-table biography of H. P. Lovecraft by S. T. Joshi. I shd have thought HPL the last author to lend himself to such treatment, and Joshi the last scholar to have his work come out in that format. Live and learn.

And so it goes on the eve of the medieval congress, where I'll no doubt find some interesting books I never heard of while looking and failing to find several I'd like to pick up. The book room at Kalamazoo never disappoints, but it's capricious in its discoveries. We'll see what it yields up this year.

--John R.,
in Kalamazoo,
the night before the day before.
(the biggest 'arrival' being myself, at Kalamazoo, completed draft of my paper* in hand)

*8000 words

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Perhaps She's On To Us . . .

So, I've been buried the past week trying to finish my paper for Kalamazoo, and finally finished the draft today. It ran long (8,000 words), so the next task is to abridge it for oral presentation.

In the meantime, here's an amusing passage I came across while researching the piece that I thought I'd share:

"Miss Rogers . . . postponed the compilation of her history Degrees by Degrees, which friends and relatives put together from her papers after her death. Perhaps she resembled other dons, both at Oxford and elsewhere, whose high standard of perfection prevents them from ever bringing a work to completion, and thus compels lesser men and women to confront the accusations of superficiality, inaccuracy, and prejudice which publication normally brings. Silence alone preserves the legend of impeccability and omniscience . . . "

--Vera Brittain, THE WOMEN AT OXFORD: A FRAGMENT OF HISTORY [1960], p. 193.

current reading: NO FOR AN ANSWER (Philip Larkin), THE MIRROR OF KO HONG (Ernest Bramah)

Friday, May 3, 2013

E. M. Forster and C. S. Lewis (SCREWTAPE)

So, a few weeks back (W.4/10) I came across an interesting conjunction between two figures we usually think of as inhabiting different worlds: C. S. Lewis and E. M. Forster. Today Morgan Forster is remembered for his associations with the Bloomsbury Group (as a welcome visitor rather than a core member) and for his epic writer's block -- he wrote four novels between 1905 and 1910, then emerged from silence in 1924 with a fifth; his sixth appeared posthumously almost half a century later, in 1970. But despite his scanty output he was one of the great novelist of his time and cast a long shadow over the early twentieth century --for example, his influence is obvious on Barfield's ENGLISH PEOPLE [1930] and Tolkien's LOST ROAD [circa 1936].

Although Forster ceased writing fiction, he continued to write essays. And he made many radio broadcasts, some have now been transcribed, collected, and published, in THE BBC TALKS OF E. M. FORSTER 1929-1960: A Selected Edition, ed. Mary Lago, Linda K. Hughes, and Elizabeth Macleod Walls [2008]. And, in one particular talk ("Some Books": W. Feb. 3rd 1943; pp.222-226), he discussed C. S. Lewis's new book, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS:

"What's wrong with the world? Three out of four books I'm mentioning try to answer this question. Something is wrong with a war every twenty-five years, national and communal and racial hatred, frightened individuals, people starving in one place while food is being destroyed in another. If we listen to the past we can, as it were, hear that same ugly tune of human failure played quietly. Today it is being played fortissimo, and it is often difficult to listen to anything else. So it is natural that three out of these four books should deal with the question.

  You've probably noticed in books -- and in yourself -- two tendencies. Sometimes when you ask yourself what's wrong with the world, you answer 'It wants reorganising economically. When a basic standard of physical comfort has been achieved, the rest will follow'. And this is the attitude of Mr. Mulk Raj Anand in his "Letters on India", one of the books on my list. At other times you'll answer, 'No it wants a change of heart. When we become different -- and better -- as individuals, then the rest will follow'. That is the attitude of Mr. Gerald Heard, a practising mystic, and a pacifist, in his new book "Man the Master". And a change of heart is also demanded by an orthodox Christian writer, Mr. C. S. Lewis, in his "The Screwtape Letters". Mr. Heard and Mr. Lewis have very little in common. But they both take hold of the psychological end of the stick, as opposed to Mr. Anand who takes hold of the economic end. Which end do you take hold of yourself?

   I will take Mr. C. S. Lewis first. He is an Oxford don, and a layman of the Church of England, and he writes to justify the Christian point of view, and to give the Christian interpretation of what's wrong with the world. Sin is what's wrong, wars and starvation being only a consequence, and although the Creator of mankind is good and omnipotent, men sin because he chose to give them free will, and because they choose to make a wrong use of that will. Mr. Lewis attacks these mysteries in an interesting book called "The Problem of Pain" which I've also been reading, but I won't talk about it here. I will confine myself to a much livelier work, "The Screwtape Letters". But besides being a theologian, Mr. Lewis is as clever as they make 'em, if I may use the expression. He is witty and ingenious, and sometimes recalls the late G. K. Chesterton, though he hasn't Chesterton's robustness. Here is a book of his "The Screwtape Letters" which purport to be written by a devil called Screwtape who has rather a good position in an underground office, and writes weekly to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is on earth, in charge of a mortal, and being young and inexperienced is constantly making mistakes, and driving his patient toward righteousness instead of the reverse direction. Screwtape advises him on each occasion, for instance what to do when the patient quarrels with his mother or falls in love or is converted to a religion. Unfortunately the patient dies in an air raid, when he behaves heroically, and is saved. Wormwood loses his prey and returns to Hell where his affectionate uncle eats him up.

   A couple of sentences which will give you the taste of the book. Screwtape is writing about the Future, and says, it is of all things the least like eternity:

   "Hence the encouragements we have given to all those 
schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific 
Humanism, or Communism which fix men's affections 
on the Future. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future.
 Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present: 
fear, avarice, lust, and ambition to the Future".

   I should have thought that Hope looked to the Future too, and that it is a virtue. However I am not here to criticise either Mr. Lewis or Screwtape, but to indicate the provocative little book which they have collaborated to produce. Mr. Lewis does not believe in progress or that the world will be put right by humanism or by planning. It is wrong because men have sinned, and they have sinned because God has left them free to choose between good and evil, and, tempted by the devil, they have chosen evil. The world, indeed, is not a place to put right. It is a place to do right in.

   Compare with this view the view of Mr. Gerald Heard. Mr. Heard also begins with the unseen. Like Mr. Lewis he believes that the world has gone wrong for psychological reasons, but there the resemblance between them ends, for he believes that the miseries with which we are all surrounded -- the war, the starvation, the mutual hatred -- can be averted if we like, and that now is the moment . . . 

---at this point, Forster devotes two paragraphs to Heard's book and then one to Anand's, his most interesting comment in this part being

. . . I always feel when reading Mr. Heard's books --- and I think I've read them all -- that his analysis of our troubles is convincing, but that his remedies are not.

---Surprisingly enough, it turns out that Heard's ideas are very similar to Barfield's, as expressed in works like UNANCESTRAL VOICE (his masterpiece):  

. . . He [Heard] holds on the evidence of anthropology, that men were once in touch with each other instinctively like a herd of animals, that they have lost touch, thought the development of individuality, and that they must re-establish it or perish

---In the end, Forster sets out the differences between these three books thusly: 

re. Mulk Raj Anand's LETTERS ON INDIA: "his general attitude is "Make people comfortable and then they'll be good". Whereas Mr. Heard's attitude is "Make people good and then they'll be comfortable". And Mr. Lewis's is "Make people good and it doesn't much matter whether they're comfortable or not".

The final section of his review is quite interesting in itself but completely different from what came before: here his book is a collection of letters by Sir Henry Ponsonby, Private Secretary to the Queen (1870ff) -- the man responsible for managing Queen Victoria's schedule. These provide an odd glimpse into a vanished world where the Queen communicated by note: "the Queen . . . did not like seeing people unless she was sure they were going to agree with her", including her own family; thus a constant stream of message-bearers up and down the chilly halls of Balmoral ("Queen Victoria disapproved of fires") carrying messages back and forth between the queen, her children and the staff. Forster concludes

It was a strange job and a strange age -- though I suppose a philosophic observer, or an economic expert for that matter, can see latent in it the evils which have risen to the surface and occupy Mr. Heard and Mr. Lewis and Mr. Anand today. Even in these days the evil melody of war is already being played -- but softly, a sinister undertone.  We today are much more conscious than the rulers and the people of the Victorian era. We know much better what the human race is up against. And it may be that our successors, fifty years hence, will know much better than we do, and will consequently discover solutions. 

--E. M. Forster

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Larkin's Game of 'Spot the Inkling'

So, it's not particularly well known that Philip Larkin, before he became the great English poet of his generation, had begun his career as a novelist, and only abandoned writing fiction when writer's block made it impossible for him to continue. And it's even less know that, in addition to his two published novels, he left several early unpublished and/or unfinished novels, two of them dating from his time at Oxford. Having just read his 'Oxford novel', WINTER TERM AT ST. BRIDE'S, I was amused to see several Inklings references in it, and thought I'd share.

WINTER TERM AT ST. BRIDE'S (written 1943; published posthumously in 2002) is a sequel to Larkin's TROUBLE AT WILLOW GABLES (ibid.), which had been a deliberate attempt to write a 'girls' school' novel (he even wrote an accompanying essay analyzing the genre). This second attempt follows the adventures of some of the same girls as they arrive at Oxford for their first university experiences. One goes all-in for sports, another spends all her time studying, one blows off all lectures for social events, and so forth (which only goes to show how thoroughly women had become acclimatized to Oxford a mere twenty-odd years since first being admitted as full students).

What's amusing from my point of view is a running motif about a new detective story set in Oxford, Edmund Crispin's THE CASE OF THE GILDED FLY [1944]. Crispin is famous today for another novel in the same series (the fourth, SWAN SONG [1947]) including the line "There goes C. S. Lewis . . .  It must be Tuesday" [p.60] as his detective et al. sit in the front room of the Bird and Baby (so called by Crispin, rather than Eagle and Child). In real life, "Crispin" was a friend of Larkin's named Bruce Montgomery, but  THE CASE OF THE GILDED FLY (the first in the series) had appeared pseudonymously, and Larkin gets a good deal of fun out of the fact that in his novel everyone is speculating about who wrote it and assigning various absurdly inappropriate Oxford luminaries to the role of being hidden behind the pseudonym: Nevill Coghill, Lord David Cecil, and C. S. Lewis prominent among them.

[first excerpt, page 198-199]
"Three coffees," said Margaret to the waitress.
   Marie, Margaret, and Mary were in Elliston's next morning at eleven o'clock. Marie had just come from Blackwell's, where she had bought her daily book; Margaret had been pursuing her own private affairs since breakfast-time; while Mary, strange to say, had only just got up. She felt rather hungry.
   "And buns," she added. "Buns for one — or two," she added, catching Marie's eye. "What's the book, Marie? Looks rather a shocker."
   "It's a detective story," said Marie guiltily, displaying the yellow wrapper. "A new one."
   "The Case of the Gilded Fly?  I don't like Oriental things. I suppose it's full of Chinamen and sliding panels."
   "It may be," Marie answered. "I believe it's rather good," she added dubiously. "By Nevill Coghill, you know."
   "Who's he?"
   "Look here, what's the latest but Hilary?" interposed Margaret . . .   

[second excerpt, pages 215-216; Hilary meets 'Diana's Set'] 
   "Now, let's have a little bright intellectual conversation!" commanded Diana, clapping her hands. "Come on, Pam. Say something intelligent."
   "Are you reading an interesting book?" Hilary asked, looking at the beige-and-grey volume* lying face downwards on the thick carpet. "Who's it by?"
   "Oh, it's Lord David Cecil's book," said Diana carelessly, snatching it up. "The Case of the Gilded Fly, you know. I'm half way through it."
   "Diana dear, I'm sure it's not Lord David," said Pam. "Someone was telling me it was C. S. Lewis."
   "Oh no, dear, not C. S. Lewis. It's obvious that 'Fen' is a caricature of Lewis. Fits him to a T. Horribly malicious."**
   "Surely if it were by Lewis it would be about God," suggested Hilary, cautiously exhaling smoke.
   "If it were about God it would have been in the Daily Mirror first," said Pam. "Anyway, there's no place for God in a detective story."
   "Oh, it's a detective story, is it?" said Diana, frowning at the book with renewed interest.
   "As a matter of fact, I think you're all wrong," said Miriam. "Someone told me yesterday, straight from the horse's mouth, that it was by Lord Berners. But do keep it quiet."
   "Well, that would account for the music bits," agreed Diana. "But do you think it's good enough for Berners?"
   "Heavens, I haven't read it," said Miriam, shrugging her shoulders. "Haven't the ghost of an idea."
   "I expect in the end you'll find it was by Stanley Parker," said Pam . . . 

[*note: we're meant to assume Diana is so incredibly swanky that she even has cheap novels recovered in her favorite colors]
[**i.e., Gervase Fen, Crispin's eccentric-professor detective]

[third excerpt, page 219; one of the characters develops an obsession with belts]
   "I've tried everything. I've been long walks. I've been to the theatre and cinema. I've even read detective stories." Here she waved a despairing hand towards a copy of The Case of the Gilded Fly which lay on the mantelpiece. "But nothing does any good. I'm lost. Nothing can save me now."

[fourth excerpt, page 230]
[Here, things begin to get really weird. One character gets so drunk that she wanders out of the story and briefly encounters characters from the previous story ("Willow Gables"), who explain to her that she's in the current story but they're not; then she strays into real-life, where those present include Montgomery himself:]

. . . near the door, a pale girl with distant eyes and pale-rimmed spectacles laid one hand on the arm of her companion, a severe young man with a walking-stick, and said:
   "But what are you going to call it, Bruce dear?"
   "I shall call it," said the young man in the voice of one who has no doubt, "The Case of the Gilded Fly". The pale girl looked uncertain. "It's from King Lear," he added crossly.

---I admit to not knowing Lord Berners, or what the joke as concerning the Daily Mirror, and the editor himself confesses ignorance as to "Stanley Parker"

---Still, I was fascinated by this little spoof. After all, one of the Inklings DID write detective stories, though under his own name: Charles Williams. And both Coghill and Lewis contributed poetry to Oxford magazines pseudonymously. Lord David Cecil never wrote any fiction at all that I know of, but he was someone Larkins and Kingsley Amis never tired of mocking for his aristocratic speech patterns.

---Larkin, by the way, knew Charles Williams slightly and rather liked him as a drinking companion, though he had a v. low opinion of C.W.'s poetry and found him rather a figure of fun for frequently quoting poetry and always getting it wrong (though, as with Rev. Spooner, the degree to which Williams misquoted may have been exaggerated for effect).

---one more element of the joke: everyone in Larkin's novel (written 1943) is reading Crispin's book, whereas the real book came out in '44 and was probably still being written at the time Larkin's characters were making their speculations about its author.

---I suppose we shd count ourselves lucky that Larkin didn't fix on another of his professors who annoyed him, JRRT, for inclusion in this dubious gallery of faux-detective story writers.

--in any case, an amusing glimpse into Oxford personalities when the Inklings were in full flight.

--John R.