Sunday, October 20, 2013

Gary Gygax and the Chili Festival

So, one of the odder things to turn up in the preliminary sorting of old TSR stuff was a clipping from a local news paper of TSR founder and DandD co-creator Gary Gygax judging a local chili contest. I've attached a scan below, but being low-res newsprint the image doesn't reproduce all that well. Gygax is the second from the left.

I have no memory of this clipping at all, or any idea how it found its way into those papers. The date was sometime between February 5th (the date of the contest) and 14th (since, as Jeff Grubb pointed out, there's an add for Valentine's Day on the back), but I don't know the year; probably '95, '96, or '97. Nor do I know where it appeared, other than some local area paper (the classified ads on the back include return addresses for Delavan, where we were living at the time, as well as Elkhorn, where Jim Ward lived, and Whitewater, a little further off). The event was probably held at the Grand Geneva resort (since the contest's name is given as the "Grand Geneva Winter Carnival"), right there in Lake Geneva. I don't know what year this first such event was, but according to their website they're still having it as recently as this past February.*

It's kind of nice, though, to see Gygax in a non-gaming context, and to know he achieved some status as a local figure in his own hometown.

Here's the link:

--John R.
current audiobook: CATCHING FIRE (resumed)
current book: THE PRYDAIN COMPANION (MIchael O' Tunnell), tales of the Tuatha de Danaan (Lady Gregory)


Colin McComb of the Clan McComb

So, I've finally started to tackle the huge job of sorting through all the old boxes of TSR stuff -- not games but all sorts of paper: memos, meeting notes, schedules, galleys, and the like. One of the first things I found were color print-outs of prototype covers for the RAVENLOFT line, which help me more or less date this box to 1995/96, the five products being SERVANTS OF DARKNESS, CHAMPIONS OF THE MIST, the DOMAINS OF DREAD hardcover, THE SHADOW RIFT (which I wound up contributing to), and THE FORGOTTEN TERROR. Also here was a newspaper clipping of Gary Gygax helping to judge a cooking contest, a bunch of old business cards, a departmental survey (more on this in a separate post), two memos from our department's boss chiding the designers and editors for not meeting deadlines, and a sign-up sheet for Colin McComb's going away party. I took this last item and showed it to several fellow ex-TSR/ex-WotC folks, who thought it probably dates from August 1996 (though August 1995 is also a possibility).  Since it records a moment in time like a sort of time capsule, I thought I'd post an image and a transcription here, for those who might be curious about the group of people who produced so much good material back in what is now nearly twenty years ago.

First, here's a picture of me holding up the page in question. This was taken Wednesday night by JD Wiker at Steve Brown's birthday dinner -- just to show that we're still doing the same kind of thing all these years later (three of us on that sheet were actually at this week's dinner).

Next, here's the actual sign up sheet

Finally, here's my transcription of the name, since not all of them come through on the image. I've added some descriptors, but these may not be entirely accurate, since people moved around between jobs (such as Bill Connors and Steve Miller, hired as editors but then moved over to design, or Skip Williams, long a stalwart of the RPGA later moved over to RandD as a designer) and I don't know for certain the exact date of this event (probably 1996, but possibly 1995).  

First column:
Tony Szczudlo [artist]
Skip Williams [RPGA/designer]
Carrie Bebris [editor]
Thomas Reid [editor/creative director]
Monte Cook [designer]
Dori Watry [editor/creative director]
Dan Wenger [marketing, some (freelance?) design]
Lester Smith [designer]
Michelle Vuckovich [editor, periodicals]
David Eckelberry [editor]
Ray Valese [editor]
Val Valese [editor]
Jon Pickens [longtime editor]
Sean (Reynolds, I assume) [computer guy]
John D. Rateliff [editor]

Second column:
Mary Fleming [?]
Miranda Horner [editor]
Steven Schend [editor]
Sue Cook [editor]
Stan! (i.e., Steve Brown) [editor, designer]
Cindi Rice [editor]
William W. Connors [designer]
Shawn Costa [?]
Anne Brown [editor]
Duane Maxwell [designer/editor]
Bruce Heard [scheduling director and freelance coordinator]
Steve Winter [creative director]
Phil Athans [book department[
Doug Stewart [editor]

Third column:
Steve Miller [editor > designer]
Diezel [artist and mapper]
Rich Baker [designer]
David Wise [editor > creative director > department head]
Jeff Easley [artist]
Alan Pollack [artist]

Colin himself, of course, was a designer, and a very good one: one of those overlooked figures like Rich Baker or Bruce Nesmith (or, as editors, Andria Martin and Miranda Horner) who never got nearly enough recognition for just how good they were.  

So, best wishes to Colin here and now, with good memories of there and then.

--John R.

P.S.: By the way, this isn't by any means a complete list of everyone who was in the department at the time -- I can think of a dozen or so more designers and editors whose names aren't on the sign-up sheet -- probably because they had some other commitment that day: Slade and Bill S. and Michele C and Bill O. and Dale and Julia and Bruce C. and Keith and Andria and Karen and Harold and Ed and Roger. And I'm probably still forgetting a name or two even then. It was a big department. --JDR

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ursula K. Le Guin and the Comfy Chair

So, as long as I'm wrapping up some belated posting re. the Puyallup book fair of three weeks ago, I'd be remiss not to mention Ursula K. Le Guin's presentation on Saturday Sept. 24th, the day after Susan Cooper's speech.

The first thing that impressed me is that, rather than having her stand at the traditional podium, they v. sensibly gave her a comfy chair on a small raised platform, so she could sit in comfort and see (and be seen by) the audience at the same time. A nice bit of planning on somebody's part.

I had suspected that, Le Guin having introduced Cooper on Friday night, Cooper wd return the favor by introducing Le Guin on Saturday, but such proved not to be the case (though Cooper was present for Le Guin's event -- Janice spotted her sitting two rows ahead of us.

Unlike Cooper, who gave a talk, Le Guin's was a reading -- primarily of poetry, but ending with some prose as well, followed by a question and answer session.

I'm not as eager a reader of poetry as of prose, though I have been to some wonderful poetry readings in my time (most memorably one by Merwin years ago at Fayetteville). This one was a bit unusual in that I enjoyed the introductions she did framing each individual poem and explaining the circumstances which led to its being written more than I did the poems themselves.* Many, she said, were written in response to challenges posed by a local writing group she's part of, which meets monthly. Most such challenges involve writing in a specific verse form, such as a palindrome (poem #1), sapphics (poem #5), or a villanelle (poem #6), et al.  I assume all six poems she read are in the new Selected/Collected Poems volume they had on sale outside the event (from local bookstore King Books, wh. I'll have to get to one of these days). She ended by reading the first section from one of the TALES FROM EARTHSEA (the first, I think): "Dragonfly" -- which was good, but really didn't grab me. Though it did make me wish Le Guin would record more of her work: she does a really good job of reading it aloud, and the only published examples I know of it are the old Caedmon record vinyl album with "Gwilan's Harp" and "Intracom" on it. It'd be nice, too, to have some of her incisive essays available in her own voice.**

A v. interesting question and answer session following, in which Le Guin several times was asked specific details about the early Earthsea books or THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and rather surprised her audience, I think, by explaining that those were all written a long time ago and the details of the writing process were now hazy decades later. It was honest and unexpected, since so many authors have little stories they like to tell about how they did this or where that came from.*** Le Guin, by contrast, is v. much in the present, focused on the work she's doing now. She's proud of the earlier work, I think (she certainly shd be), but seems content to let it speak for itself.

A few snippets I did jot down (since I devoted less than a page to notes on the reading and three pages to the Q-and-A that followed):

--asked about THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS in the most vague and general of terms ("can you discuss that book?"), she replied "I wrote it a long time ago" and wistfully noted that "everybody always wants to talk about the old stuff". In contrast to the gender issues, which seem v. modern, she noted that the political situation, which owed a lot to the cold war, must seem v. foreign to today's readers, a generation after the Berlin Wall came down.

--asked about film adaptations of her work, she praised the 1980 LATHE for having got things right despite its "incredibly low budget". "Since then, it's been down hill all the way". She did praise a stage play version of LEFT HAND staged in Portland this spring but on the whole had to say "I've been bitten a little bit too often".

--how many books has she written so far? "I honestly don't know", but she does know she's written twenty-two novels. "A lot of stuff".

--someone who wants to be a writer but has trouble getting up in the morning got the advice "write at night". LeGuin herself was kindly to this questioner, whom some authors might have scoffed at, and ended with talking about how much she loves what she does: "I'm happier writing [than] anything else"

--do you know the story before you write it? "A good and big question. With a short story, yes. you have to know what you're doing, what's going on. With a novel . . . "  her advice: "Find your own way: they're all right."

--re having once been remarkable that she, along with Silverberg, were unique in winning both the Hugo and the Nebula: "we were a small, dogged band"

--"I do hear what I write. The sound of it is v. important to me. The cadence and the rhythm."

--re. names: "Ursula" is Latin, for "little bear woman"

--any beloved author, who . . . author and books? "Too many to name!" did single out when she was 26 or 27 "when I heard about this guy Tolkien". Beautiful books. Checked out Volume I. Was back when the library opened in the morning for Volume II. "I don't suppose any book had so much effect on me -- how cd you ever get away from Tolkien?"

--did she know Ishii? No: Ishii died in 1913 and she was born in 1929. Her father felt great sadness about how Ishii's life had turned out and never talked about him. She only learned that amazing story years afterwards by reading her mother's book on it. She did know other native american friends of her father's.

--asked about "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons" from THE LANGUAGE OF THE NIGHT, she protested that this was written decades ago and she "can't really reconstruct the argument" but still agreed with its basic premise. "a writer like Tolkien is for kids? give me a break!" strongly believes in the "absolute necessity to the human race" of imagination

--she does worry a bit about [video] games, where people seem to be "getting it, not doing it", whereas with reading "you do the book". "reading is an exercise of the imagintion" in a way that playing games isn't. "THE LORD OF THE RINGS your mind does. It's enlarging."

--she "always wanted to be a writer. Told and read to and sung to from the cradle on."

This was followed by the book-signing session. I've already mentioned Le Guin's new poetry collection: she also has out a new, two-volume collection of short stories (wh. shd be pretty good, given that she's a master of the science fiction/fantasy short story -- my two favorite EarthSea pieces are the short tales "The Word of Unbinding" and "The Rule of Names"). The night before, for Cooper, you had to buy the book before you could get it signed (or at least buy A book; I think you cd get up to two signed). For Le Guin they relaxed that restriction, fortunately, perhaps because the bookstore's table was more or less sold out by the time the signing started. So the only rules here were to stand politely in line, to have no more than two books signed, and to write out the name of whoever you wanted them signed to on a sticky note so she wdn't have to stop and ask how names were spelled.

Two other people from Mithlond had made it to the reading, Jason Fisher and Gyda, and we had an enjoyable conversation (about Alan Garner, among other things) that made the standing in line time pass quickly. When it came my turn, I'd brought two books to ask her to sign. Years before in Madison at WisCon 1996 I'd gotten her to sign THE LANGUAGE OF THE NIGHT, which I consider her masterpiece, as well as a little handmade book of hers that I think's my favorite: THE ART OF BUNDJITSU. This time I brought a copy of the individual printing of "From Elfland to Pooghkeepsie" I got a few years back (she commented that she didn't see that one often) and asked her to sign THE ART OF BUNDJITSU again, except this time to Rigby, Hastur, and Feanor. She noted the names, guessed correctly that these were my cats, and took pains to spell all three names correctly. She even asked, of Rigby, "as in Eleanor Rigby" and I said yes.

So there it is: how neat is it that Ursula Le Guin signed a book to my cat? I wasn't the only one who thought it was neat and was glad we came: Janice opted out of the line and just waited for me near the end, not too far from Le Guin's signing table. She told me afterwards that Le Guin is the opposite of Jimmy Carter. Carter, when we saw him at the Univ. bookstore a few years back, is a signing machine, who's worked out a system in which he signs books as quickly as possible, with as little contact with the signee as possible.**** Le Guin, by contrast, Janice said took the time to talk at least briefly with everybody who came through the line. That's a memory a lot of us will keep with us for a long time to come.

As for the rest of the second day of the big Puyallup book fair event, we made a brief visit to the 'mini-Comicon' on the other side o the building, where we chatted with friend Stan (Steve Brown) and bought a pair of HEREVILLE graphic novels by Barry Deutsch ("Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl"); he drew a quick sketch inside of the heroine in the first book, HOW MIRKA GOT HER SWORD, for Janice, and of the troll (wearing my hat), in the second book, HOW MIRKA MET A METEORITE, for me. Here's the link to his website for those who want to find out more about, and perhaps support, a local artist:

Finally, there's The Revels, whom we got to hear more of while waiting for Le Guin's reading to start. I decided the best way to describe their music was not madrigals -- what's too early and fa-la-lally in style -- nor barber shop quartets (that's too modern a style). Ballad is not right either (esp. given the multiple-singer approach they favor). There's a slight resemblance to chantys, but not much, and hymns are quite different. Instead, what they do is very like secular caroling. That is, they use the voices and effects you often find in Christmas carols, except that these songs have nothing to do with Christmas.

That's when I had a mini-epiphany. Al of the sudden it hit me: this is what Tom Bombadil is supposed to sound like. Not the village idiot but Fr. Xmas. If you substitute a mental image (or, more accurately, imagine a sound), Tom Bomb. fits much better with someone humming carols to himself than to the kind of singing tried out in previous (audio) adaptations. I'll have to play with this idea some more, but I think I may be on to something. We'll see.

So, short version: If you get a chance to go see Susan Cooper and/or Ursula K. Le Guin, do so. Likewise, Puyallup is nince.

--John R.

current reading: THE HIGH KING by Lloyd Alexander [1968]

*a good example is "The Clydesdale Mare", where the phrase "here in the empty pasture" is good, but more memorable was her mentioning what led her to write the piece: how she and a number of other people who drove by enjoyed seeing a small herd of Clydesdales, somewhere just west of Portland I think she said it was, and then recounting their sadness at the herd's being broken up when its owner died, focusing it through the now-solitary mare left behind when her colts were sold off and entire family scattered.  By contrast, I've heard recordings of Larkin in which the intros and the poems beautifully complement each other, and used to have a tape by Frost in which the intros disastrously undercut the poetry.

**given that some essays were given as lectures, there might well be recordings of these out there I'm just not aware of.

***like someone on a 'classic rock' tour telling stories about how he or she came to write or record this or that famous song

****to be fair, Carter wasn't like that at all when signing books at the Harry Schwartz in the Iron Block Building in Milwaukee back in the early nineties, where he was gracious enough to chat briefly with each person getting a book signed. I suppose he's streamlined his process in the years since. Though even now he does still make a minimum of contact: looking up and locking eyes with the person whose book he's signing.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Janice's Favorite Susan Cooper Story

So, I'd hoped to write up a report about Susan Cooper's talk at the Puyallup book fair
(back on Friday, Sept 24th) but with one thing or another haven't been able to get to it. Now that my memory of the event's starting to fade a bit, thought that instead I'd just share a few of her more memorable remarks I'd jotted down at the time.

--"Demanding, discerning, and intelligent" [I think this was Le Guin's description of Cooper in her opening remarks]

Janice's favorite story, by far, was Cooper's recounting having once taken her kids for a walk in the park when her son, aged about three, stopped and said of his year and a half old sister  "I think it's time [sister] met my friend." When Cooper, puzzled, asked "What friend?", he replied "The Lady with the Books". It turned out he meant the children's librarian at the nearby local library or, as Cooper put it, the treasure house and it's (friendly) keeper.

--why, when there's so much good in us, we human beings do so much evil?

--"I never know what I've written until the publisher tells me what it is" [on writing for 'young adults']

--"[I] discovered . . . the thing I was put here to do" [by writing, she discovered she was meant to be a writer]

-- "when you grow up in the awareness that somebody is trying to kill you" [on personal experience of evil during wartime]

Her most recent book is set against the backdrop of King Philip's War, seeking to answer "the question that won't let me alone": "how could this possibly have happened?" -- that in just a generation or two the friendly relations between native Americans and the Massachusetts bay colonists had degenerated into a disastrous war. The key, she felt, came "when people forsake human doubt for . . . absolute certainty." She later re-iterated "the perils of absolute certainty"

-- "a book is a voyage of discovery, for the writer as much as the reader(s)"

--"I don't write for children. I write for myself."

-- "to shine a small light on [life] . . . "

-- "the unread story's not a story: it's little black marks on wood pulp" [this was Cooper quoting Le Guin, but not sure when U.K.LeG originally said this].

We didn't stay for the book signing, but it was a memorable event, and we were glad we made it.

--John R.
current reading: TARAN WANDERER
current audiobook: CATCHING FIRE

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Imagined Conversations (Le Guin and Cooper)

So, I admit that during the Puyallup book fair event, I found myself wondering if at any point Susan Cooper and Ursula K. Le Guin got together over a cup of strong tea between their two presentations and commiserated with each other over their rotten luck with film adaptations of their books.

On the one hand, Cooper's fantasy THE DARK IS RISING (or THE SEEKER, as it was ineptly renamed by Hollywood) has only been adapted once, not twice. So there Le Guin' gotten twice the pain off the same series. On the other hand, one of the two Le Guin adaptations (TALES OF EARTHSEA) isn't that bad, judged purely as an anime film. It was terrible as an adaptation of Le Guin, but at least it more of less held together as a movie (having been made by Studio Ghibli, the world's greatest animation studio, probably helped). By contrast, the Sy-fi channel EARTHSEA miniseries was (a) terrible, in the sense that it was badly scripted, badly acted, and badly directed: a mess from beginning to end. But on top of this, and even worse, it was also (b) a complete reversal of Le Guin's original, so that the people who serve the forces of Darkness were, bizarrely, recast as the heroic defenders keeping the darkness at bay. Kind of like making Sauron and his Nazgul the good guys, it just didn't make any kind of sense; a real betrayal of the original.

Against this, Cooper had a good book turned into a bad movie, the fate of many writers. More galling, the story was ineptly updated, and Hollywoodized, and (worse) Americanized, so that instead of events playing themselves out in rural England over Christmastide a major scene played out in, of all places, a shopping mall. Even casting the great Christopher Eccleston (best known for having saved DOCTOR WHO) couldn't save this turkey; he's reduced to bombast and cliche villain rants. But what got released bore so little resemblance to her original (they even renamed it) that the resultant film's not likely to cast any shadow over the original book; I suspect people are already forgetting there ever was an adaptation. And in this case, ignorance is bliss.

Then too, Le Guin did mention that she'd seen one good film adaption of her works: the original LATHE OF HEAVEN (which I've never seen myself, but have heard good things about), and also praised some stage adaptations of one or two of her works (LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, I think, and one other). So at least her experience hasn't been all bad -- though it's certainly been bad enough; far more than a writer of her stature shd have had to put up with.

I did imagine the two ladies being joined at some point by the ghost of  Lloyd Alexander, whose CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN were adapted into what was, for a long time, considered the worst animated movie Disney ever made: THE BLACK CAULDRON* (whether it's since been superseded by something even worse, I don't know. I hope not).  A mish-mash of elements from the first two Prydain books (THE BOOK OF THREE and THE BLACK CAULDRON) thrown together with some random fantasy cliches, it's a real mess. There are a few moments where the animation's not bad (e.g. the collapsing castle),** but the character designs are frightful (e.g. the Horned King's minions, who remind me of 101 DALMATIONS' Horace and Jasper gone to seed, or, worse, Gurgi as a shaggy dog rather than a hairy Gollum), the dialogue is banal in the extreme, the plot slipshod, and all the characters either nonentities (Fflewddur) or actively annoying (Taran, the witches, the Horned King's sidekick). Annoyingly enough, the film's provided with not one but two comic sidekicks: the Dark Lord's little goblin herald/lackey and the companions' Gurgi. The only bright spot is Eilonwy: it'd have been a far better movie if they'd ditched Taran and made her the main character (but then, the same's true of the original books as well).

Dire as these examples are, I'm encouraged by the thought that others -- at least some -- have had better luck.   We have seen some good film adaptations of fantasy works -- Diana Wynne Jones' HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (significantly changed from the book, but successful in its own right), more recent works like Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES and, less successfully, the first Percy Jackson book (THE LIGHTNING THIEF (not bad, but not as good as the book, and they changed so much it's sure to badly distort the sequels). I'd include Pullman's THE GOLDEN COMPASS in this category, though sadly it looks like we won't be getting the rest of that series.  And, of course, Peter Jackson's Tolkien.

But I suspect that's been little consolation to Cooper, Le Guin, and Alexander, who deserve better than they've gotten to date.

--John R.

current reading: TARAN WANDERER

*which I'd seen once, years after it came out, and just rewatched for the second and probably last time ever last night.

**Oddly enough, visually it rather resembles the Rankin-Bass RETURN OF THE KING in places and the Bakshi horror in others, probably because of heavy use of rotoscoping, particularly for the Horned King, who jars against the flat backgrounds. Aside from a few set pieces, the animation isn't up to what we'd expect from, say, the original Scooby Doo.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What We Saw at the FIsh Orgy

So, in a normal year we'd have gone to the Tea Festival this past weekend, down at the Seattle Center. But with furloughs and shutdowns and what not, we're on something of an austerity kick right now. So instead of going around various booths and trying (and buying) a lot of teas (plus entry fee, plus parking), we went down to Dash Point (no entry fee, thanks to our year-long pass) and had a picnic on the beach Saturday.* Then on Sunday went to see if we could see the salmon run on the Cedar River.

The salmon come up the river every year, of course, but this is the first time we had advance warning via a posting from Bruce Cordell (thanks, Bruce). The Renton Library, which is built as a bridge right over the river, offers a spectacular view of the river at any time; turns out it also serves as a good viewing platform for watching the salmon directly below. The Cedar River is wide and fast and shallow, having been artificially engineered to be that way back the better part of a century ago by the idiots who re-routed all the rivers in King County (destroying the Black River entirely, leaving behind only one small shallow lake). But it does make for a fine salmon-viewing stream. We walked upriver a bit to a second bridge, and then crossed I-405 (via a pedestrian underpass I'd never known was there) to discover that there's a weir on the river (never seen a weir before, though I've often read about them, most memorably in my favorite Dick Francis novel). Having a variety of places to choose from, we managed to see a lot of salmon over the course of the hour or so we were poking around.

This was all the easier because (most of) the salmon turn bright red when they're swimming upriver to spawn, making them look rather like koi; the rest turn grey, looking and acting for all the world like giant minnows (which, I guess, they are). One of the riverbank docents told us that in addition to the main (Sockeye?) salmon, a few King salmon come up the river too, and that all their nests are identified, marked, and protected. A little later Janice actually spotted what must have been a king salmon (bigger and much longer than the other ones, bright red with pale coloring at either end) making its way under some overhanging foliage, either making a nest or scoping out good spots for one.

I didn't keep any kind of count, but we did see a lot of fish, and thoroughly enjoyed our outing. And while seeing the fish-ladders at the Ballard Locks a few years ago was interesting too, seeing the actual fish, and in natural surroundings like this, was all the better. Plus we learned there's a walking path on the south side of the river extending quite a ways upstream (apparently there's a dog-park up that way) -- something to come back and check out another time -- and that there's a dam some twenty miles up river, at a place called Landsdown.

What struck me most was the sense of seeing something as primal and impressive as birds migrating. And a sense of hope that, no matter how much we mess things up, nature has a way of doing an end-run around us. These salmon, upon a time, used to swim up the Duwamish to where it spit into the Green River and the Black, then up the Black River into Lake Washington, then up the Cedar to their spawning grounds. Now there's no more Black River they swim past the Ballard Locks to Lake Union, then through another set of locks into Lake Washington, and then up the Cedar River from there. Quite a detour, but they manage to work it out. A good thing to see, and a good thing to be reminded of.  And, all in all, a good day.

--John R.

*it wd have been Salt Water State Park, but we missed the turn-off and decided to try Dash Point, where we'd not been in a long time, instead. Some beach crows turned out to be happy with that decision.

current reading: TARAN WANDERER by Lloyd Alexander
current viewing: DUSK MAIDEN OF AMNESIA, MAZES AND MONSTERS, DOCTOR WHO new series season five (next to last story).

Friday, October 4, 2013

More Mad Mountains

So, Doug's comment on my post re. the unmade Del Toro Lovecraft movie led me to some interesting links I wanted to share more prominently than in a comment on a comment; hence this follow-up post.

First, there's Doug's own posting on the Wormwoodiana blog, which I highly recommend:

Essentially I agree with him: the film Del Toro wants to make owes more to THE THING than anything by Lovecraft.

Thanks to the links Doug provided in his post, I was able to find a draft of Del Toro's script for the proposed movie available online via the following site:

If you scroll down on that page, you can see a link to someone else's detailed critique of the film script. I agree with some of what that person says, except that he idolizes Lovecraft and this particular Lovecraft story beyond their deserts, or so I wd argue.

As for the script itself, it makes for some interesting reading:*

My conclusion after reading it: Del Toro has essentially co-opted the framework of Lovecraft's story as the basis for his re-make of the John Carpenter version of THE THING.

re. David's comment: I don't know if Del Toro cd make a Tolkien movie or not, but what I've seen of his work suggests that's not a good match for him. I wd have thought Lovecraft wd be a better fit, but this script suggests otherwise. I confess I do wonder what he might be able to do with A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.

re. Eosphoros' comment: 
It may be as you say; I just have to say that, based on my limited exposure to Del Toro's work, I don't think he'd be a good match for Tolkien. Guess now we'll never know.

--John R.

Dress Like A Hobbit (or Zombie, or Fairy) Day

So, thanks to Allan for sharing the news about a rather strange upcoming event in the area (up towards Carnation, I think), where a sustainable-farms-mean-healthy-waterways group is hosting an event in which they want people to dress up as zombies (to demonstrate an ecosystem gone terribly wrong), or hobbits (exactly the reverse, I think), or fairies ("female spirit[s] of nurturing life"). Scary zombies, jolly hobbits, flighty fairies: sounds like a big treasure hunt with actors in-character to guide visitors at certain points. Given that this area has an annual zombie parade, and that some folks love any opportunity to put on their elf-ears, I suspect they'll get a decent turn-out of volunteers. I'll be curious if any would-be-hobbits show up, though.

Here's the text of the call-for-volunteers:


Thinking about Food Constantly? Want to Get Out of the Shire for a Bit? Feeling Communal?
We need  Hobbits! The "Where Cows Meet Clams" Team is hosting a Zombie-Fairy-Hobbits in the Forest event on Saturday, November 2nd to connect forest stewardship with salmon and Puget Sound.... it's possible hobbits could find more food sources in the river systems that feed into Puget Sound.
On the look-out for scary, energetic and sure footed Hobbits:
10 Hobbits to act like... well Hobbits (eat, drink, laugh, create community)... and
10 Hobbits that can help with naturalist interpretation (hydrology, forest ecology, salmon and Puget Sound)... still short but can take a break from food to share knowledge
Hobbit Code:
·       Must come dressed as Hobbit (or bring with you morning of to dress)
·       Be willing to volunteer
·       Attend a  3-hour onsite training at the gorgeous Carnation Forest on October 20th
Contact: Steve Gersman:; (425) 427-2222 or
Heidi Siegelbaum:; (206) 784-4265

--and here's more about the event:

         Zombies, Hobbits and Fairies
         Calyx Sustainable Tourism
Calling for men and women volunteers 16 or and over to act the roles of Zombies, Hobbits and Fairies on November 2.
The King County Conservation District is hosting a Zombie-Hobbit-Fairy treasure hunt event in the beautiful forests of Camp River Ranch. The event is intended to educate children and adults to connect forest stewardship with salmon and Puget Sound and sustainability of our valuable farms and forests. Come help spread the message of nature along with giving children and adults a fun time.
The legends of zombies, hobbits and fairies all lend themselves to telling a story about the future we will create for ourselves. Zombies embody the fear of the wrong direction we could head towards (destroying nature and ourselves, transmitting diseases across species). Hobbits rely on the purity and availability (and yumminess) of our food system and help to build community, the sticky stuff of solutions. Fairies embody the humor, laughter, magic and belief that keeps us buoyant, positive and light... they are the female spirit of nurturing life.
For each type of character, we need just 10 folks to act like fairies (all instructions about how to dress and act  will arrive after the actor indicates a willingness to volunteer).
For certain roles, an orientation may be required on October 20.
To volunteer, please email Steve at putting "Volunteer Actor" in the subject line or call at 425.427.2222.
         Carnation, WA
         Nov 2, 2013
         Nov 2, 2013

--so, if that calls to your inner hobbit, drop me a line afterwards and tell me how it went.

--John R.
current reading: just finished THE BOOK OF THREE; just starting THE BLACK CAULDRON

Thursday, October 3, 2013

At the Mountains of Madness

So, I was reading a piece within the last few days about "Interesting Movies Stuck in Development Hell" -- one or two of which sound like they would indeed be interesting, but most of which it sounds like we shd be grateful having been spared. One film I'd put in the latter category is Del Toro's big-budget version of H. P. Lovecraft's AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. For one thing, I think this is one of the worst things HPL ever wrote* -- long, repetitive, and endlessly coy in describing what's going on. For another, I haven't been so impressed with Del Toto's work in the past** that I think he'd do a good job on Lovecraft. Those reservations grew when I learned, from reading this piece, that Del Toro plans to cast Tom Cruise as the hero. I tried to sit down and think of a major male star today who's less like a Lovecraftian character than Tom Cruise, and I just couldn't come up with one.

Here's the link. Following some of the links on the link lead to more Del Toro concept art, and some discussion of how PROMETHEUS co-opted some of MOUNTAINS' thunder. So to speak.

--John R.
current reading: THE MAGICIANS AND MRS. QUENT by Galen Beckett (just finished)
THE BLACK CAULDRON by Lloyd Alexander (just started)

*yes, I'm aware this is a minority opinion. Nonetheless, I'll take the DREAM-QUEST over MOUNTAINS anytime.

**I'm one of those who think we dodged a bullet when he dropped out of THE HOBBIT and Jackson took over directing that movie himself.