Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lewis in Poet's Corner

So, another big commemorative event last week was the induction of C. S. Lewis into the select company of British writers honored in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. The actual ceremony was held on the 22nd, that being the fiftieth anniversary of CSL's death. He joins such luminaries as Chaucer, Spenser, and Samuel Johnson, as well as contemporaries like W. H. Auden, John Betjeman, and T. S. Eliot. Of course, Lewis isn't actually buried here: his remains remain where they've been for the past fifty years: in the churchyard alongside his local church in Headington, where he shares a grave with his brother Warnie. Instead, what they did last week as set up a memorial plaque.*

Here's the only picture I cd find of the actual monument. The inscription on it reads in full "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else."'_Corner.jpg&imgrefurl='s%2Bcorner%2Bfifty%2Byears%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=poet's+corner+fifty+years&usg=__rBOtqF0spDIUBYjul3r-WXCihII=&docid=yjkhJv_mnq6LVM&sa=X&ei=so-aUvPKMcyHkQfT4IGYAg&ved=0CFYQ9QEwCQ

Similarly, among the flood of articles about the event I haven't found much on the actual ceremony. From earlier reports I know that Lewis biographer Alister McGrath and Lewis scholar Michael Ward (the 'Narnia Code' guy) were to be among the speakers, and I saw one account that quoted from his stepson, Douglas Gresham, in such a way that  made it clear he was there -- so at least one person who actually knew Lewis was present. I hope Walter Hooper, the person most responsible for Lewis's not vanishing from view in the two decades after his death, was there as well.**

And now, of course, I want to know how long before JRRT gets his own memorial there. If there's some kind of fifty-year rule,*** then we might look to seeing him so honored in 2023, ten years from now. I don't know, however, how Anglican you have to be to make it into Westminster Abbey (which is, after all, one of the major edifices of the Church of England) -- would Tolkien's Catholicism stand in the way? It doesn't seem to have done so in the case of Wilde, a deathbed convert -- though Wilde had to wait the better part of a century. I also get the feeling, from how recently some long-dead poets have been so honored, that it requires some kind of advocacy group pushing to put up a monument; it doesn't just happen.

So, I think Tolkien will be there too one day, but I don't know how long till that time comes. We'll see.


*the same is true of Auden (a great admirer of Tolkien and Ch. Wms, but who seems to have had little contact or common ground w. CSL), Betjeman (who despised CSL for having ruined his academic career), and Eliot (who for CSL represented everything wrong w. 20th century literature). In any event, as I think I noted in a previous post a year or so ago, Lewis is not the first Inkling to be so honored; fellow Inkling Adam Fox is buried here as well -- but because of his ecclesiastical office, not because he was a minor poet.

**as Aldous Huxley, who died on the same day, has vanished from view; once considered a major novelist, now being remembered only for having written a dystopian novel no one actually reads.

***Then too, there are obviously exceptions which make me doubt the fifty-year rule: Auden (d. 1973, the same year as Tolkien), Betjeman (d. 1984), Eliot (d. 1965), and Ted Hughes (d. 1998). Perhaps these all precede the rule or, as in Hughes case as Poet Laureate, are exempt from it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fifty Years On

Interesting past week or so, what with all the anniversaries going on.

Last year I noticed that there wasn't much in the way of commemoration of the Kennedy assassination, which made me wonder if we're finally getting over that national trauma. After all, nobody remembers the Maine. Turns out I was wrong: they were just saving up for the big anniversary this year.

As a historical moment, it's fascinating in that it's well-known (the biggest news story of its time), well-documented (took place before hundreds of eyewitnesses, left behind a mass of forensic evidence, exhaustively researched immediately after the event), and relatively straightforward: Oswald, acting alone, shot Kennedy; Ruby, acting alone, shot Oswald. And yet people just won't believe it.

I've read several insightful comments on-line last week that made a good case for ours being conspiratorial times, and about our unwillingness to accept that someone as obscure as Oswald cd have killed someone as consequential as Kennedy. True enough, but I think they overlooked the element bloody-minded vengeance plays in all this. Since Oswald, the murderer, died within two days of the murder, there's no one left to punish. But for those who believe Oswald was working for someone else, or that another shooter was involved, or even that it wasn't Oswald but a double, the possibility remains that the 'real' killer or the mastermind(s) behind the plot cd still be tracked down and brought to justice.* At this point, I doubt that the conspiracy theories will ever die down, even after everybody involved has long since died from old age.

As for the event itself, so far as I can work out it's the earliest memory I can actually date.  I was too young to really take it in at the time, being not yet five; all I really remember is my father watching Huntley-Brinkley** and being terribly upset over something really bad that had happened.

And as for Kennedy, I think he'll remain one of those volatile figures historians argue about: more popular with the public than with the historians. Like Jackson or Wilson, the different elements of his character, the goods and bads of his actions, don't add up easily; it's hard to get a unified view of his character and achievements. And the what-ifs will always be there to confuse the issue.

--John R.

current reading (among others): WATSON WAS NOT AN IDIOT by Eddy Webb [2013]

*The same mentality holds with M.L.King's assassination, where King's children later posed with his murderer, James Earl Ray, lending their support to efforts to get him a new trial and locate the mythical 'Raoul' whom Ray claimed was the real killer. Oddly enough, everyone pretty much accepts that Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby Kennedy.

**that much-watched bit of film of Cronkite breaking the news wd have passed us by totally, since we would have been watching Huntley-Brinkley instead.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Tolkienian Birthday

Happy birthday to Christopher Tolkien, the first and foremost of all Tolkien Scholars.


A Dunsanyian Moment

So, taking off my Tolkien hat (the brown fedora) for a while and putting on my Dunsany scholar one (perhaps an imaginary fez?), I wanted to note three recent bits of interesting news re. my favorite English (well, Irish) lord and his works.

First, I wanted to draw attention to a recent post by Doug Anderson about Dunsany's little clay soldiers. I've known about these for a long time, thanks to the article "Where Do You Get the Clay" [1945], reprinted in the Owlswick Press volume GHOSTS OF THE HEAVISIDE LAYER [1980].* But Doug's piece is much earlier (1932) and, better yet, illustrated. So for the first time I've been able to see what his clay figures look like -- having previously had to imagine them from the mottos Dunsany assigned to each, like

"Even at fifty he could throw a knife that seldom missed the heart"

"He had a perfect sense of the moment at which to declare war"**

"Had he only had ears, there are no heights to which he would not have risen"

Here's the link to Doug's posting:

Second, seeing this reminded me of Doug's other recent Dunsany post which I'd been meaning to comment on. Surprisingly little of Dunsany's work has been recorded, the only commercial release for years being a Vincent Price record for Caedmon reading four stories. Luckily, they include two of his very best: "The Hoard of the Gibblelins" and "Chu-bu and Sheemish", plus two Jorkens stories, so someone (I've never been able to find out who) was savvy in choosing which stories to record.  Unfortunately, while Dunsany himself did several readings on the BBC, and wrote quite a few radio plays, two of which are quite good,*** very little of these recordings survives. The family has a tape of Dunsany reading some of his poems, and now Doug has pointed out a recent BBC collection of a number of authors reading their own stories, including Dunsany reading a Jorkens story, "The Pearly Beach".  Not one of his best stories, unfortunately, or even among the better Jorkens stories, but it's fascinating to hear Dunsany's voice, which sounds more like a British officer (which, of course, he was) than the Irish peer I was expecting. A nice little bit of history I'm glad to know about. Here's Doug's post with the details:

Third, this seems like a good time to mention that I've recently learned there's a new book out about Dunsany, edited by S. T. Joshi: CRITICAL ESSAYS ON LORD DUNSANY. Apparently this is divided into two parts, the first reprinting contemporary essays and reviews on Dunsany's works, similar to what wd be found in one of the 'Critical Heritage Series' volumes, and the second printing seven modern essays on aspects of Dunsany's work. Whether these new essays are by Joshi or simply collected together by him is unclear from the online description. I hope the latter, since for all his huge contributions to Dunsany bibliography I find Joshi's writings on Dunsany problematic. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, I'd say Joshi views Dunsany as a failed Lovecraft, whereas I view Lovecraft as a lesser disciple of Dunsany. Be that as it may, I'm certainly looking forward to getting and reading this collection; it'll be good to renew my acquaintance with all the old essays I read years ago, back when working on the Dunsany dissertation, and also to see what if the new essays have any interesting insights into his work.  And, as a Dunsanyian, I'm always glad to see a new book come out on Ld D: there are far too few for a writer of such importance.

Here's the link to Amazon's entry on the book:

--John R.
current reading: IRON TEARS (notes and sources), SARTOR RESARTUS (just begun)

*I see from where I signed it on the inside front cover that I got my copy on Friday May 2nd 1986

**an invaluable skill when playing the notorious strategy game DIPLOMACY

***Half of his late collection PLAYS FOR EARTH AND AIR, the 'Air' part, are scripts for his radio plays. Most of these are (bad) adaptations of earlier short stories, but the collection is worthwhile for containing two new radio plays that are quite effective: "Atmospherics", about a man who realizes he's sharing a railway carriage with an escaped homicidal maniac, and especially "Time's Joke", a little lost gem which is better read than synopsized. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

G. K. Chesterton takes a dive

So, about an hour ago I got up from where I was sitting in the living room and precipitated one of those Times When Things Don't Go According To Plan.

In brief, I got up, my book* overbalanced, knocking over my cup of tea (this being me, and sitting down, there's more likely than not to be a cup of tea nearby). Which unfortunately fell onto the tiles in front of the fireplace and shattered into about twenty pieces. And which, also unfortunately, had tea in it at the time. The good news is that

(a) it turns out to have been a good decision that we got tea-colored carpet when the new stuff was put in a few months back.

(b) similarly, choosing the stain-resistant kind was also a good call.

(c) luckiest of all, Mr. Feanor, who was sleeping between my rocker and the fire, wasn't hit by the falling mug nor splashed by the (still-warm, but no longer hot) tea. He was alarmed, but he's unusual for a cat in that he accepts apologies and understands that some things happen by accident.**

So, goodbye Chesterton mug. It's not as spectacular a dissolution as that which befell my Wile-E Coyote cup (drove off with that one on top of the car, and made it three blocks before it slid off), but it'll do. And its demise is not wholly unexpected: it's had a forking crack in it even since shortly after I got it and I figured it was just a matter of time before the crack widened and started seeping tea, at which point I'd have to retire it.  Still, the mug was a souvenir of one of my research trips to Wheaton (in October 2009), so I have fond memories of it associated with that.

Now let's just hope that no similar fate befalls my Poe cup,*** which I've had since Marquette days (e.g., before May 1989): my favorite of all my cups and the one I'd be sorriest to lose.

--John R.
current book: IRON TEARS
current audiobook: just finished THE LIFE OF JOHNSON, just started weird Eric Rabkin lecture series.

*IRON TEARS, a brief history of the American Revolution from the 'meanwhile, back in Britain' point of view.
**he's actually come back now and is stretched out sleeping beside me in the same spot.
***from QPBC

The Return of the Cat Report

So, it's been a while since I've written up one of my cat reports about how the cats up for adopted at the Purrfect Pals cat room near SouthCenter are doing. I've been going in for my Wednesday morning volunteer shift but not writing up the resultant notes. 

Short version: we've had a lot of adoptions in the past month or so: Barney (a little fiesty black kitten), Kailani (a beautiful friendly white pastel cat), Chartreuse (who despite her name isn't green but a bright calico), Spanx (who'd been adopted a few years ago and returned because her owner had to suddenly move to Hong Kong), Amy and Alisha (our bonded pair of half-grown kittens, both torbies), and little Latasha (a playful white-and-black kitten). Not bad, after a slow month before that and several cats, disappointingly enough, returned to the main clinic either for health reasons (e.g. un-lucky Lindy) or to be re-assigned to other adoptions rooms like the one in Kirkland (like Rhoda).

So, here's last week's write-up:

[The Cat Report: W.11/13-13]
With the adoption of Chartreuse, Annette's trip up to the clinic, and the new kittens' arrival on hold, we had eight cats this morning -- increased to nine when Annette returned to us around noon.

Started out the morning with walks: RUNA (who enjoys the one-on-one time more than the actual walking) and MR. CHAN got walks this morning, and Runa got an additional short one at the end of my shift. Both of them did well, though his walk was shortened when he became upset over some noise in the store (very loud creaking from carts as employees moved stuff around) -- made up for this once we got back in the cat-room with a dedicated petting session just for him, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He certainly is quite the purrbox..  ZOE didn't get a walk but got much attention instead, especially with the string game. She's obviously an old hand at it; the kittens paw at one end but she always hooks a claw in the other so it can't get away. By late morning Zoe and Runa and Charlie Chan had claimed the tops of three cat stands near the door and had luxurious snoozes, occasionally interrupted by some petting or (for Runa and especially Zoe) a quick game.

For the five kittens or kitten-cats (LaTasha, BentlySpidge, and The Sisters), I brought in a cardboard box and a paper bag, but I needn't have bothered: they found plenty of games of their own all morning long. Not much to report other than that all five will play together in various combinations, though some more than others. Sometimes the older cats will join in as well, esp. Runa. Bently is the shyest of the lot. Last week LaTasha had claimed the cagetops and run back and forth like a wild thing with great glee, sometimes tromping on little Spidge, who'd burrowed his way under a blanket up there. Today she was quieter and he was going after Amy. I think he's trying to assert his dominance over her. As one of the two male cats in the room, it seems like he's decided he needs to start with one minion and see where things go from there. In any case, Amy learned the sad lesson that if you're going to hide in a box, it's really important not to leave your tail sticking out where anybody could take a nip out of it.

Unfortunately, something happened that got several of the cats upset. I was cleaning out a cage at the time, when suddenly there was lots of hissing and cats running about, including two jumping/falling down from the cage tops and knocking stuff down on other cats' heads. As best as I cd figure out, a large German Shepherd outside the room must have got too close; somebody panicked, and set off a chain reaction. Anyway, no harm done, but Bently and Amy were really frightened and hid for the next hour or so; LaTasha was scared but quickly got over it. Amy squeezed herself below the rondel as her hiding place. Once I'd made sure everybody was alright Bently disappeared. I eventually found him in The Sisters' double cage, where he'd made himself at home. 

Everyone loved their spoonful of wet catfood. Little Spidge had eaten his food dish down to the last few crumbs. 

Last week we had an unusually long string of visitors. This time we were more back to normal. One visitor said she'd adopted her cat from here about a year ago, named Wicked (doesn't ring a bell, I'm afraid). Hope the sad saga of Pumpkin comes to a happy ending. Still, it's good to know that just within the last month Barney, Kailani, Spanx, and Chartreuse all found new homes. Hope it'll be Runa's turn soon.

A little after noon ANNETTE returned, glad to be out of her cat-carrier and back in a familiar place, it seemed to me. Didn't have the heart to put her in her cage right away, so gave them a long time out than I usually would have. In fact, it was nearer 1.30 than one by the time I finally put the last cat back in her cage. 

Health concerns: little Bently had thrown up in his food dish. Other than that, everybody seemed to be okay.

[The Cat Report: W.11/20-13]

With only five cats, it's a pretty empty cat room today. Which suited them just fine: plenty of room to spread out and no crowding. I don't think we've ever had more cat-stands than cats before.

Yay for Latasha's adoption, and Alisha & Amy. Very sorry to hear Charlie Chan has gone back up to the main shelter -- he was doing so well last week. It is nice to see Annette again, and to see her well. And of course looking forward to the three kittens.

Right now out of a total of five cats we have four black cats (Runa, Annette, Spidge, Bentley), with one white-and-black cat (Zoe). Once the kitten arrive, tomorrow we'll have four black cats and four black-and-white cats. And to think that just a few weeks ago it was mostly calicos of one stripe or another.

Since I had plenty of time, I planned to give all five cats walks. But it didn't turn out that way. Runa had her walk, which I think she didn't really enjoy but insisted on as her right. She always knows exactly where the cat room is and can head back to it double-quick when she has a mind to.  Then came Zoe, who did okay but became anxious and started vocalizing with loud cries of distress (RWW! RWW! RWW!). Finally little Spidge was too nervous to enjoy his time outside, instead deciding to climb me with his sharp little claws; think he wanted to perch on my shoulders. After which I decided to waive the walks for our two shyer cats, Annette and little Bentley. 

Next came some serious petting sessions: massaging their backs, get a lot of that loose fur off, and spending time with each cat. The older cats, Annette and Zoe (and also Runa) were especially pleased by this one-on-one attention and purred extravagantly. The two kittens also got attention, but while they liked it they were more interested in tearing about playing and exploring. 

After that came the games: had all five of them playing the string game with a long piece of yarn. They also all voted the feather game a winner. The new automated toy interested the kittens, esp. Spidge (or was it Bentley?). At different times I both covered it with a cat-blanket (which went down v. well indeed) and put it up on the cage-top (where one of the little black kittens played with it till it stopped and then lay down on top of it.  I also confirmed my suspicion that Zoe would like the gopher game: she does, v. much.

Things calmed down a bit near the end of the morning. Annette stayed out more than usual (settling on the mid-level of her favorite cat-stand, rather than down on its bottom rung) and was rewarded by being given a sealed bag of catnip and being invited to do whatever she wanted with it. She was one buzzed kitty by the time she stopped. Little Bentley is still a little hissy towards Spidge, but she's learning to trust me I think -- she used my shoulder as an in-between perch when coming down from the cagetops and enjoyed being petted while she was up there and I was reaching up from below. Runa moved one of the little beds up there so much I moved it down into her cage, where she seemed pleased with it. 

One warning: little Spidge stole my pen at one point and proceeded to settled down like it was prey that needed gnawing. I took it away and gave him a cheaper one, which he soon abandoned. 

No health problems noted. Two small dogs did come up at one point: Runa and Spidge watched them but without alarm. We had a few casual visitors but none serious about adopting; just enjoying seeing cats being cats.

I do note that the cats have gotten clever. When I finally put them back in their cages, several of them (e.g., Annette, Runa)  immediately use their dirt boxes, and if I have time I open those cages again to scoop that out. Which gives those cats a chance to slip back out again for a little while. Today one of them (Runa I think, but it may have been Annette) simply pretended to use her box in order to make that dash and get a few extra minutes' freedom. Clever girl.

Runa has very much established herself as the boss cat of the room.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Survey

So, I continue to unearth items from the old TSR days in my slow progress through the Box Room. These range from the no-longer-of-use-to-anyone (a unopened box of business cards from Sheridan Springs Road) to still-interesting. in a historical kind of way.

One of the more intriguing of the latter is a plastic bag full of print-outs that turn out to be a hundred or so blank copies of a survey, all neatly hole-punched for placing in a binder but all blank. I remember the management at TSR had a great aversion to surveys, since the results inevitably contradicted their pre-formed opinions about our audience.* Nonetheless, I did do the occasional quiet surveys among the staff in the R-and-D department at TSR, to satisfy my curiosity about gaming habits among my co-workers, such as one in which I asked folks which rules they did and didn't use in their ADandD game.**

I forget the context for the survey I've just re-discovered, which is geared more towards habits among gaming groups: probably I printed this up to hand out at a GenCon seminar (circa 1994, '95, or '96). But if that's the case, I don't know why they weren't ever distributed. In any case, I think some of the questions still highly relevant, so I thought I'd share. Here's the Survey:



What was the first role-playing game you ever played?

What is your favorite role-playing game?            Why?

What role-playing game do you play most often?            How often do you play?

Do you ever use modules, or do you make up your own adventures?

Do you ever run the same adventure more than once (i.e., with different groups)?

What's your favorite module of all time?            Why?
Last favorite?            Why?

Have you ever bought the rules to a game because you read and liked one of its modules?

Are there any games you regularly buy just to read, not to play?

How much influence does cover art have on whether or not you buy (or play) a game product?

Outside of a tournament, how often do you run or play a game using pregenerated characters from a module?

What is your campaign's most useful "home rule"?

Does your regular gaming group stay with one game system (e.g., AD&D), or does it "graze", continually moving from one game to another?

Within your group's favorite system, do you rotate between various settings (for example, AD&D's Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, & Planescape; GURPS' Supers, Space, & Horror; Call of Cthulhu's 1920s setting, Cthulhu by Gaslight, Cthulhu Now), or do you stay in the same game "world"?

How does your group usually integrate new characters into an ongoing campaign?

Are they usually 1st-level/unskilled/beginners, or a compatible level with the rest of the party?

How often does the whole group roll up new characters?

How many people are in your regular gaming group?

What's the usual male/female ratio in groups you've played with?

What's the racial mix of your regular gaming group?

How often do you play a character of the opposite sex?

How often do you play a character of a different race (e.g., Caucasian)?

Have you ever played in an all-male or all-female group?
Was it noticeably different from your regular campaign?

Is there more than one GM in your gaming group?            If so, does this affect the quality of play?            Do the various GMs take turns running the same campaign?

When was the last time your group invited someone who'd never played a role-playing game before to join in?


--John R.
current reading: IRON TEARS

*as in one DUNGEON magazine survey, which showed that the average DandD player was the age of a college student or recent graduate therefrom, whereas management was gearing product lines towards an imagined audience of ten year olds

**two rules nobody, but nobody used were encumbrance and weapon speed factor.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Game Designers 'Round A Table

So, Monday night I got together with a bunch of fellow game designers/editors for our monthly meeting. Usually there are about four to six of us, but this time we had an unusually large turn-out: twelve people. Which is great for seeing people I haven't seen in a while but also means  things tend to break up into separate conversations -- in this case, one going on to my left, another to my right, and a third across the table from me. Luckily we had an interesting mix of people, some I've known for years along with some I don't know as well and one or two I think I was meeting for the first time. What struck me most was the thought of how much gaming industry history was sitting around that table, from Jannell Jaquays (whose work goes all the way back to Judges Guild) and Steve Winter (key member of the ADandD 2nd edition team) to Jeff Grubb (developer of the original FORGOTTEN REALMS boxed set), including two of the designers for the still unreleased DandD Fifth Edition, Bruce Cordell and Rob Schwalb.

We were fortunate enough that Bruce took a photo that came out really well:

I'm the one in the green shirt, just to the right of the center of the picture; for other identifications, see Jeff Grubb's write up on his GRUBSTREET blog:

Nice to have a striking momento of a pleasant evening.

--John R
current reading: IRON TEARS: AMERICA'S BATTLE FOR FREEDOM, BRITAIN'S QUAGMIRE 1775-1783 by Stanley Weintraub [2005]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Extended Edition -- summing up

So, now that I've had a chance to watch the new/extended scenes, plus the whole movie over again to see them in proper context, plus all three extra disks' worth of 'making-of' documentaries, I thought I'd share a few final random observations.

--First, watching the documentaries vividly conveyed just how hard making this film was on the actors. It was physically grueling for the dwarves and even more so for the goblins, with costumes that were hot, heavy, and restrictive. Sometimes, when a scene required the dwarves to be water-drenched, their costume and gear weighed well over 100 pounds. For some scenes, at the end of each take those actors who were too exhausted to carry on were to raise their hands so a crew member could come and help them off the set for a few minutes' r-and-r.  The dwarven actors were particularly eloquent about 'The Epic of Scene 88', which is the bit with the dwarves running from rock to rock trying to evade the pursuing wargs and their riders: apparently this involved the actors playing dwarves, in full gear, running back and forth for three days --I think by this they meant a day each at three different (rocky, hilly) outdoors locations. Similarly, the actors in the goblin suits in the Goblin Town scene could barely see, and were so hampered in their movements that it reduced the menace they were supposed to project; after just one day's filming their headpieces were replaced with motion-capture gear, much to the relief of all concerned.

Nor was the misery involved purely physical: Sir Ian McKellan was reduced to tears by the second day of filming when he found himself all alone in a green room acting his part to be later inserted into the dinner at Bag End being acted simultaneously by Bilbo and the dwarves. Luckily this was alleviated by making the next day Ian McKellan Appreciation Day. Technically, though, there's no doubt of the amazing results -- as when Christopher Lee is inserted into the White Council scenes. You'd no more know that one of these four actors was never on the set with the other three than you'd know, listening to a rock song, that one of the key musicians was never in the studio with the rest.

Rather to my surprise, a lot of scenes I assumed were green-screened actually involved some tricky sets, such as the dwarves strung out on the mountain-path. Turns out the most dangerous scene to film, by far, as the Front Porch, where the floor of the mountain-cave collapses in pieces. They were worried the stunt men could really get hurt here, and did a lot of rehearsing and setting up the shot to minimize the risk. One touching little detail from this scene that didn't make the final cut shows Bifur, after the others have bedded down for the night, working with a little dragon toy, v. much like the dragon-kite we see at Dale in the opening of the movie. Nor is this the only little character-building scene with Bifur that got cut; another has him, when riding the eagle, standing up and flapping his arms like wings, much to the alarm of the other dwarf riding behind him. In short, there was a childlike innocence to Bifur's character that didn't make the final film.*

From a filmmaking point of view, it's interesting to learn that Jackson likes to do long takes, often lasting ten minutes or more, shooting a scene over and over in full to provide plenty of shots to assemble a final version from in editing. I suspect this is why he's so good at complex scenes, where there's a lot going on in the background among the other characters besides whoever's the main speaker(s) at the time.

And in the it-shdn't-surprise-me department, we learn that work on the film went right down to the wire. As in, literally done at the last minute: Smaug's eye, the final shot in this first film, still being worked on the morning of the premier.

So, what next? Here are a few spoilers, mostly derived from the extended edition documentary, specifically the penultimate entry in "Appendix 7" (disk four, track 14) called "Home Is Behind, the World Ahead". The first five minutes or so of this are on the final hectic days leading up to the film's release. But then it segues into preview of the next film: brief shots of Legolas, Tauriel, Bard, the Mayor of Lake Town and his sidekick, the Elvenking on his throne, spider-webbed dwarves, dwarves in barrels, the secret mountain-door, Cumberbatch acting out Smaug . . .  Elsewhere I've seen scenes of elves shooting at the barrel-dwarves, orcs and elves fighting in Lake Town, and (most intriguingly) what looks to be wargs attacking Beorn's steading.** In general, it sounds like they're inserted a lot of action scenes, just as with the first movie.

In the end it's simple: if you liked the version of the first HOBBIT movie you saw in theatres, you'll like the extended edition. If not, probably not.  For my part, having just rewatched this first movie I'm now really looking forward to the next film.

--John R.

current audiobook: Boswell's LIFE OF JOHNSON
reading: just finished GOBLIN SECRETS by Wm Alexander [recommended]
reading: just started IRON TEARS, an account of the Amer. Revolution from the British side (part of the subtitle is "Britain's Quagmire").

*One thing about Bifur that did make the extended edition is a brief bit explicitly drawing attention to his brain injury and its results, which was easy to miss in the theatrical release.

**Beorn himself does not appear, but I finally saw what he looks like on Sunday when looking at the movie tie-in HOBBIT calendar for next year.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

2014 Tolkien Calendar

So, Wednesday I finally picked up next year's Tolkien calendar, which I've been eyeing for a few weeks now. I actually like the art quite a lot. It definitely presents THE HOBBIT as a children's book, the opposite pole of  Alan Lee's edition, which I also like. Comparing Catlin's and Lee's illustrated editions is interesting because both pull out elements of the story that are definitely there, but their focus is entirely different: light and fairytale-ish for Catlin, gloomy and mythic for Lee. All in all, a good way of seeing the range of Tolkien's book. I still think Tolkien by far his own best illustrator, but Catlin's is a charming view of Tolkien's world and I'm glad to have it.

Comparing the calendar with the book I now see that the main art piece for each month comes from a full-page color illo in the book, and I've found almost all the smaller pieces in the book as well. Catlin turns out to be good both in miniature and in larger scale -- I particularly like a little picture of a bear watching intently from a distance -- Beorn keeping a wary eye on the dwarves riding his ponies* (H.169).

So, recommended. A good set of art, and a nice new interpretation of Tolkien's world.

--John R.

*which is just as well, considering how badly Thorin and company's ponies fare on the whole.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Five Seconds of Fame

So, having watched the extended version of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED PARTY, I've been working my way through the extras and enjoying the documentaries that make up the third, fourth, and fifth disks in this five-disk set (the first two holding the expanded edition of the movie itself). Last night I started in on Appendices Part Eight: Return to Middle-earth, the fifth and final disk. And, much to my surprise, I saw my book, THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT, briefly appear onscreen.

The context is Richard Armitage, the actor who plays Thorin, discussing how he likes to know a lot about his character, even ideas Tolkien had that he changed his mind on, since the change reveals what Tolkien wanted to convey coming into focus. And what should appear on the screen but a set of five books:

In case the image isn't clear enough, the five books shown in the first image are, from left to right,  THE LORD OF THE RINGS (the one-volume Redbook edition), my RETURN TO BAG-END, my MR. BAGGINS, Doug Anderson's ANNOTATED HOBBIT, and THE HOBBIT itself (a deluxe edition wh. I don't actually have a copy of).   Then, if this weren't enough, a second shot of just my book appears just a few seconds later, which appears in the second image above.

We weren't able to do a screen capture on my laptop (I assume there's encryption on the disk to prevent this), so Janice took a picture of it as it appeared on our tv and then transferred the results to my computer. Have to say I'm pleased at this evidence they did their due diligence in researching THE HOBBIT when making the film, and of course I'm tickled that they chose to show my book onscreen -- always nice to see something that may result in my being able to share my enthusiasm for Tolkien with new readers.

Or, in a word, Woo-hoo!

--John R., w. many thanks to Janice for the photos.

P.S.: To find this section among the documentaries, go to disk five (THE APPENDICES PART 8: RETURN TO MIDDLE-EARTH). Click on the button for "The Company of Thorin". Then on the next screen, click on item #2: "Thorin, Fili, and Kili". The first image appears at about the 1 minute twenty-four second mark, the second at the 1 minute forty second mark.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Shippey Festschrift

So, last night I discovered that a book I've been looking forward to a long time has now gotten near enough to publication that there's a pre-order page on the publisher's website.

I refer to the T. A. Shippey festschrift TOLKIEN IN THE NEW CENTURY: ESSAYS IN HONOR OF TOM SHIPPEY, due out from McFarland early next year.

This isn't the first Shippey festschrift, having been preceded by CONSTRUCTING NATIONS, RECONSTRUCTING MYTH: ESSAYS IN HONOUR OF T. A. SHIPPEY, ed. Andrew Wawn et al [2007], quite an interesting volume in itself. But that focused on Shippey's career as an academic, with the contributions coming from his fellow medievalists (as is traditional for a festschrift). This second volume comes from the Tolkien community, with the contributors being his fellow Tolkienists --esp. those who have taken part in the ongoing Tolkien Track at the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress, which Shippey played a large part in up to his retirement.

Here's the link:

Disclaimer: I'm both an editor and contributor here, my own essay being "Inside Literature: Tolkien's Exploration of Medieval Genres". As we get closer to publication date, I'll see about posting a Table of Contents. But for now, wanted to share the good news that this volume, which has been a long time in the works, is finally near to seeing the light of day.

In the meantime, I did a quick check and see that this will make the seventh of McFarland's collections of essays on Tolkien, and the third to which I've contributed. Quite a nice little line they've built up:


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Give-Peter-Jackson-Money Day

So, Tuesday saw the release of the EXTENDED EDITION of the first HOBBIT movie. And of course that means I had to run an errand to Best Buy to pick it up that same day. Except that they didn't make it easy. When the first film came out on dvd earlier this year, it had its own display stand. This time it was tucked away among the other new releases. Last time they had a stack of copies; this time only a few. Disappointingly for me, they only had two options: blue ray and three-d, and they were out of the blue-ray, having apparently only stocked about four or five copies of each. What I wanted was the dvd: while we have a blue-ray player, I wanted the option to watch this on my computer when travelling. But I certainly didn't want anything in three-d; not only do we not have the right kind of screen for viewing it, but I don't like three-d effects (hard on the eyes).

Which means that, while I want to support our failing megamarts as much as the next guy, I had to pass and made my way up from Tukwila to Renton to the Frye's there, where I found they'd re-arranged all their dvd section since the last time I was there (late August/early September). Once again I was unable to locate where they had the dvd I was looking for, but a helpful employee showed me the spot, and their (modest) display on an end-cap which had all three options: dvd, blue-ray, and three-d. I got the dvd and over lunch did a quick skim through the new/extended scenes, watching the whole thing through that night. Now I'm working my way through the extras, which take up three whole disks by themselves ("Appendix Seven" and "Appendix Eight", respectively).

I know some will be looking at all the new material on this extended edition carefully; thought I'd just quickly list the ones I noticed. All are Spoilers, so avoid if you're planning to watch the extended edition for yourself and haven't yet.

--the Thror/Thranduil scene is slightly longer, showing how the quarrel arose between the elves and dwarves.
--we're shown in a few glimpses how the Men of Dale attempted the defense of their city
--Old Took's party is briefly shown, fireworks and Belladonna and (very) young Bilbo and all. The whole thing only lasts a minute or so.
--we see more of Hobbiton on the day of the Unexpected Party, including Bilbo buying the fish he never gets to eat for his supper that night.
--Bofur's wound and disability are briefly explained
--we get just a little bit more set-up coming into Rivendell.
--the banquet scene at Rivendell continues longer, at first along the same lines as before, with the dwarves very much out of water, but eventually they cross the line to boorish and crass. Who knew they'd been on their best behavior at Bilbo's? We do get to hear another dwarf-song (The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon), not as good as either of the ones we've heard before. later we get glimpses of dwarves bathing in fountains (a scene that in Tolkien's book appears at the Carrock).
--we see Bilbo wandering Rivendell, delighting in the place, and a pleasant little conversation between Elrond and Bilbo. This is by far the best part of all the new material.
--we're told explicitly that there's hereditary madness in Thorin's line, to which his grandfather and then his father both succumbed. I found this interesting, since I made the argument in HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT that Thorin's behavior once he sees the hoard is best explained as a kind of madness. There's also mention made of the Ring of Thrain, the last of the Seven dwarf-rings, and its unknown fate (a clear set-up for events to come in, I assume, the next movie).
--the Great Goblin has another song, but this is one of those cases where less would have been more.
--we see onscreen something we've been told in the ancillary material: that Nori is a thief. We see him nick a salt-cellar at Rivendell, and the goblins who capture him empty out a bag of elven candlesticks and the like.

There are a few other bits, but that's most of it. Some are great, like Bilbo's solitary ramble delighting in Rivendell. Some are bad, like the dwarves acting like members of the Drones Club, or the extra bits of the Great Goblin. Most of the rest are nice little bits, helpful (like the bit about Bofur) but not essential.

All in all, I'm glad to have this.  And of course it whets my appetite for the second film, now only a little over a month away.

More as I work my way through the film-Appendices.

--John R.

Monday, November 4, 2013


So, somewhat to my surprise, the next-to-last story on NPR's Morning Edition on Friday was a report from Necronomicon. As usual with any news piece on a meeting with a fantasy/sci-fi theme, the reporter has included the cliche of talking about people in costume (one of those little boxes you have to check when doing a story of this kind, I guess) and also made fun of the name (whereas I'd say "Necronomicon" is a great in-joke instantly recognizable to the people who'd be interested in attending).

But it was interesting to learn, through the piece, that Providence seems to be accepting HPL as a native son, with a bust of him now in the Athenaeum and the CALL OF CTHULHU silent movie from a few years back being shown there as part of some special exhibit. That's a level of local fame I don't think HPL himself ever seriously dreamed of.  Hope they do put together that walking tour of Lovecraft-associated Providence spots that gets mentioned. And I do have to give them credit that in links from the online version of the story they provide links to pieces that raise some serious issues about HPL and his work, but keep them out of the main story. Bemused by the comments, esp. the one by "Pugmire", who I assume is the Lovecraft scholar of the same name, attacking anyone who criticizes Lovecraft's worst novel as being "illiterate". More interestingly, Pugmire asserts that the Lovecraft volume from Library of America is their best-selling title of all time. That would be surprising, but don't really know where to go to confirm something like that. If true, it wd be deeply ironic, since Edmund Wilson, who was a big supporter of a Library-of-America type project, was a notorious detractor of Lovecraft.

In any case, here's the link:

--John R.
current book: GODS AND FIGHTING MEN by Lady Gregory [1904]
current audiobook: Boswell's LIFE OF JOHNSON [1791]

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On Deadline / Noble Smith's HOBBIT quiz

So, I've been on deadline -- first with one small project that ran long because of multiple interruptions and disruption in the schedule, then with a second small project that got a late start because of overruns on the first.

Now that they're both done (yay, the dance of doneness), I can return to my two ongoing projects, one of which is nearing completion (the one without a firm deadline) and the other of which still has a long way to go.

Which is just a roundabout way of saying: more posts on the way soon, after a bit of an unintended hiatus.

In the meantime, here's a link to a 'ten things you didn't know about THE HOBBIT' piece that showed up on Huffington: Books a few days ago.

I like the phrase about Gandalf's "little pipe-smoking vacation" but don't see the point in mentioning Rankin-Bass's stop-motion work when the work in question (the animated HOBBIT) wasn't stop-motion. Dubious about the comments re 'halfling' and 'bag-end', but the only real error that struck me is the statement that the Tolkien Estate sued TSR; pretty sure it was not the Tolkiens but Saul Zaentz (a.k.a. "Tolkien Enterprsies"), the movie people, who brought the hammer down.

In any case, we're now entering the countdown for the release of the expanded edition of the first HOBBIT movie (Tuesday the 5th), accompanied by a slew of film tie-in books. And soon too the second film (December 13th). Not much longer to wait now . . .

--John R.
just finished: ZEALOT by Reza Aslan
re-started: Lady Gregory's tales of the Tuatha de Danaan
also re-started: Boswell's LIFE OF JOHNSON (audiobook), with disk ten (out of thirty-six)