Friday, February 28, 2014


So, thanks to, et al., the word is now out that a new version of my edition of THE HOBBIT manuscript is on the way. Entitled A BRIEF HISTORY OF 'THE HOBBIT', it'll be about half the length of the full edition (the best text of which is the one-volume HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT [2011]). My goal is to include all the Tolkien from the original edition but to greatly condense my commentary. In short, the end result will be a book with a much greater percentage of Tolkien and a much smaller percentage of Rateliff.

Pursuant to this goal, I'm seeking to correct all the errata I can. So if you're aware of any errata in the one-volume H.o.H. volume --errors new to that edition, or older errors not corrected in it -- drop me a line via the comments and I'll check them against my list.

Here's a link to the listing for the new book:

--John R.

current reading: A GRAVEYARD FOR LUNATICS (Bradbury), TALES OF INSPECTOR LE GRASSE (Henderson)
current audiobook: THE DUNWICH HORROR
current dvd: rewatching THE HOBBIT (part one, extended edition), rewatching CALL OF CTHLUHU (silent movie)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Three books to be on the look-out for

So, as a result of going to Kalamazoo, I've gotten on some university-press book-publishers mailing lists, and I get a more or less steady stream of flyers and mini-catalogues and the like regarding their new and forthcoming releases. Most of these I put aside to look at later, when I get time, and then never do -- since I hate to skim  and it takes more time than I have to spare to read through them in detail. But an appealing little booklet of new and forthcoming releases from Princeton University Press broke the mold, having in its first few pages not one but two books I'd not heard about that I'll definitely want to get; further scrutiny turned up a third towards the back of the little catalogue as well.

The first is 1177 B.C.: THE YEAR CIVILIZATION COLLAPSED by Eric H. Cline [forthcoming, April 2014], about the ravages of the Sea Peoples and how they brought about the collapse of Minoan and Mycenaean culture, as well as those of the Hittites and Babylonians -- everyone, in fact, except the Egyptians, who successfully fought them off.* The fall of Troy is the best-known episode in these events, unless Bernal is right in his suggestion that the Philistines, so well known in the Old Testament, were a branch of the Sea Peoples establishing themselves along the coast of Palestine. Looks to be an interesting treatment of a period I'd like to know more about, making this one look like a win-win proposition.

The second is PHILOLOGY: THE FORGOTTEN ORIGINS OF THE MODERN HUMANITIES by James Turner [forthcoming, June 2014]. It cd be said that Tolkien was The Last Philologist (how's that for a book title for somebody someday?), the last representative of a great tradition in scholarship. Accordingly, learning more about that tradition shd cast some interesting light on Tolkien himself as well as his context.

And the third is THE FIRST FOSSIL HUNTERS: DINOSAURS, MAMMOTHS, AND MYTH IN GREEK AND ROMAN TIMES by Adrienne Mayor [2011 rpt of a 2001 title*]. I've long known (or at least believed) that dragons, giants,  and similar monsters were in part based on the ancients encountering fossils of huge extinct creatures; sounds like in this book Mayor has laid out the evidence for that idea. Replacing general knowledge with specific, and on such an interesting topic too, makes this one sound like a potential keeper.

So, when the book-budget allows, these three will all go on the 'order now' list. Here's hoping they live up to expectations.

current audiobook: THE CALL OF CTHLUHU (short stories by HPL)
current reading: A GRAVEYARD FOR LUNATICS by Ray Bradbury (bad detective novel)

*previous edition's title: THE FIRST FOSSIL HUNTERS: PALEONTOLOGY IN GREEK AND ROMAN TIMES -- which I like rather better than the updated one, but so it goes.

I Shd Read the Local Papers More Often (Poke-em-With-a-Stick-Wednesday)

So, a few days ago I learned through a piece in the freebie local paper, THE KENT REPORTER, that the week before our state's governor, Jay Inslee, put a moratorium on all executions in Washington State. Here's the editorial in favor of the decision:

My take on this is:  Just like that, the world became a better place.

We're still caught up in a twelve-year war that shd have ended eleven years ago

We're still running a gulag to imprison men for life without trial

We're still doing a lot of things we shdn't. But sometimes, we get things right. And this is one of those times. So, good for Governor Inslee.

For a haunting look at a visual presentation of the last words of some recently executed people, see the following link; be sure to scroll down past the story to see the images:


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pictures of Rigby

I've already shared the news that we lost little RIgby, our senior cat, last Friday. I've been meaning to write up a remembrance of her but find I can't bring myself to do so -- too many good memories to choose from, too much grief at the sudden finality of it all. So instead I thought I'd share some photos Janice turned up a few weeks back, of Rigby and Parker together when she was just a little kitten who'd newly joined our household. My memory said that they didn't get along at first, and it was only through a mutual admiration for sitting in Janice's lap, and working out a way they could both do so at the same time while not officially taking cognizance of the other's presence, that they gradually came to terms with each other. I see from these photos that this was not altogether the case: that Parker showed her the ropes from early on and was much more tolerant of giving up his only-cat status than I remembered.

Here are the pictures:

#1. two cats with two bowls = harmony. Or, little cat see, little cat do.
--note Rigby's dappled fur, almost like a fawn's.

#2. harmony, part two: I'll eat while you drink

#3. The best water comes dripping from the sink.
 --'and the Rigby, she was up the slope, taking notice'

#4. And afterwards, there's nothing like a game of D-and-D. and a box. and a comfy couch.

More later

Friday, February 21, 2014

Goodbye, Rigby

Sad to report that our delightful little senior cat, Rigby, died today. She was fifteen and a half and still, until last week, the springiest and best leaper of all our cats. She will be not just missed but mourned.
More later.

--John R.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Cat Report (W. 2/19-14)

So, with the arrival of Ram and Bonfilia last Wednesday, and then Faye a few days later, and then the departure of bonded pair Danali and Sequoia,* that leaves us with five cats in the cat-room: three black (two sleek, one fluffy), one white calico, and one brown (& fluffy).

We started off the morning with walks, as usual. My pal KABOODLE was talky, as usual, but quiets down when he gets interested in something. He enjoyed exploring the cat-stands at the far end of the store but wanted v. much to try out the scratching posts beside them and was baffled by my preventing him from putting them to their rightful use. He loves to climb up and (if not prevented) behind things. Once back in the room he went high and stayed there, lazing happily atop in one of the comfy beds up in cagetop land.
   Health concern: think we need to clean his ears, and that it'll be a two-person job. They must be bothering him, or he wdn't have those self-inflicted scratches on both temples. Hard to see anything in his ears, given how black his fur is, but think he's going to keep trying to scratch that itch until we can swab them out. 

Mr. SCRUFFS was also vocal on his walk, and didn't seem to enjoy himself at all. Afraid he didn't have a v. good day all round; stayed in his cage for the most part, and was v. reluctant even to let me clean it, though he didn't mind when Ramses came in and used his dirt-box, not even when Mr. R. accidently tipped it over and made quite a mess. Have to figure out some way to get him some one-on-one attention before he withdraws too much, but I'm not having much luck so far.

As for the newcomers, all three are friendly cats. BONFILIA, our third solid black cat, is a momma cat found under a deck whose kittens have all been adopted and is now awaiting her own turn. She's quite roly-poly, but think that's probably from recent motherhood. 'Bonfilia' sounds to me like a medicine for osteoporosis, so I've decided to call her BOUILLABAISSE (boo-lee-base).  She had what must have been her first walk ever, to judge from her reaction to it (may even have been her first time with a collar on). So we took it slow, practicing in the room first before going out the door, and didn't stay out long. She purred when we came back in, and hugged the pillar supporting one of the cat-stands, like an uneasy flyer kissing the ground after a storm-tossed flight. She then proceeded to show the rest of the cats who's boss.
   It turns out Bouillabaisse loves the laser-pointer. She and Ramses had quite a game of pursuing that evil little red dot, with Scruffs monitoring the situation from inside his cage and occasionally contributing a swipe. Mostly she likes to hang out near the door.
   Eating: her food dish was completely empty; she may still be eating to feed kittens she no longer has. She loves wet food (as do the other two newer cats, Ramses and Faye; the two older cats don't).
Mr. RAM (RAMSES) looks something like a Maine Coon, but think that's more a case of Maine Cools being descended from fluffy brown cats like him. He's not nearly as big as he looks, under all that fur. He attracted a lot of attention, and no wonder: he's a flat-out beautiful cat. He was very scared but well-behaved on his walk, and keep pretty good track of where he was and how to get back to the room. 
   He loves the laser pointer, but his favorite game is the ping-pong ball. He'll crouch down behind the cat-stand near the door and swat at them as they roll by, sometimes emerging to chase one down the room. He'll keep this up as long as he can keep me playing along on my end.
   Health concern: His dirt box was tipped over, making a huge mess in his cage. His water dish was all gummed up with wet litter. Pretty sure this was an accident; he's heavy enough that when he perches on the side it tips the whole thing half-over. I know because I saw him do it: while I was cleaning up his cube he went into Mr. Scruff's cage and used his box, and it tipped over too. Can we get back the high-sided litter box we've used from time to time? Think that's heavy enough that it wdn't be a problem.

Our third new cat, FAYE, did best of all concerning walks. Think she's a calm cat and nothing much throws her, yet she's also quite shy and wants a nice safe spot, away from the other cats (the top of a cat-stand worked just fine). She looks like she's had a hard life; helped her clean the sleep out of her eyes and also got most of the chin-acne off. Her ears need attention, but I didn't get to that yet -- as with Kaboodle, may be a two-person job (though think she'll take it better than he will). She didn't play any games but enjoyed being out of her cage and also the occasional attention (petting, &c). 

We had lots of visitors, some of whom wanted to come in and pet the cats, other who wanted to know more about them. 

N.B.: the older batch of cats (Kaboodle & Scruffy) don't like wet catfood, but the newer cats (Bouillabaisse, Ramses, and Faye) certainly do.

health concerns: 
Kaboodle's ichy ears
Faye needs help cleaning her eyes and chin. also ears.
Ram needs the high-walled dirt box. knocked his over, and later in the morning tipped over Scruff's as well. 

--John R

*thanks to Cher for posting pictures of "Angelo" (Denali) and "Angelina" (Sequoia) in their new homes today; glad to see them relaxed and happy in their new surroundings. Hope Sequoia finds the towel cupboard in short order.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I am Interviewed for a Podcast (Geek Nation)

So, Thursday I had the interesting experience of visiting a radio station for the first time in years,* thanks to the good folks at KOBOLD setting up an interview w. me to discuss my contribution to the KOBOLD GUIDE TO MAGIC (out next month). So if you'd like to listen to ten minutes of me very much outside my normal environs (e.g., among talk radio DJs). My segment starts about two minutes in and runs for about eleven minutes; we talk about my essay ("Tolkien and Magic") and its theory about the Three Magics (Learned, Channelled, and Innate), about the new HOBBIT movies, and about magic in a roleplaying game setting. Here's the link:

In the meantime, here's a sneak preview of my piece posted on the KOBOLD website a few weeks ago:


--John R.

*aside from an interview for the local Wheaton College radio station a few years back, in connection with MR. BAGGINS, it called up childhood memories of the time, back before I was in first grade, when my father did some moonlighting from his college teaching at Monticello and for a while was a disk jockey at a radio station in another not too-distant town (Warren, I think, though it's been a long time ago and I can't be sure). I remember being much taken with the ticker-tape machine, the only time I think I've seen one, which delivered news bulletins. I don't remember what music my father played, but if he got to choose it then it would have been his two idols, Hank Williams and Roger Miller (both of whom were big influences on his own songwriting).

Sunday, February 16, 2014


So, Thursday I got interviewed for a podcast (more on this later, in another post), after which I took advantage of being downtown to make a side-trip, heading up Capitol Hill for a rare visit to Elliott Bay Books (which I've only visited a handful of times since they moved away from their more accessible but higher-rent spot near Elliott Bay). After looking around a bit, pledging yet again to pick up those interesting-looking new books on Neanderthals and on Stonehenge next time I was here, I headed over to work on the laptop in their cafe, where I got in a good session on my latest project, A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT (more on that one soon too) before it was time to head south if I was to avoid the traffic.

The most interesting new discovery from this visit, on a display table about mid-way between the Stonehenge/Neanderthal et al. shelf and the cafe, was a new edition of SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT from Penguin. I already have several copies of SGGK, various editions and translations, but stopped to have a look-see about whether this particular edition had any Tolkien relevance, as some of them do. To my surprise, there was a sticker on the front cover, a little orange rondel about an inch wide that reads

Classics that
J. R. R. Tolkien's
The Hobbit

After a little more investigation, I found that there are five books in the series, all of which Elliott Bay had on the shelves (is this a great bookstore or what?):

  • SIR GAWAIN & THE GREEN KNIGHT , tr Bernard O'Donoghue
  • BEOWULF, tr Michael Alexander
  • THE ELDER EDDA , Andrew Orchard
    • THE WANDERER: ELEGIES, EPICS, RIDDLES , tr Michael Alexander
    • THE VOLSUNGA SAGA , tr Jesse Byock.

    Nor was this little sticker something that the bookstore had come up with;* the back cover copy of each of these five books stressed the Tolkien connection:

    "Our Legends of the Ancient North are five classics of Norse literature that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien's epic vision in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Reading them brings us as close as we will ever get to the magical worlds of the Vikings and the origins of their twentieth-century counterpart: Tolkien's Middle Earth."

    Note: this cover copy may vary some from volume to volume -- I took the above from the Penguin website, but what I'd written down in my pocket notebook is the phrase "bring us as near as we will ever get to the origins of Tolkien's Middle Earth".

    Here's the link.

    I don't know who at Penguin came up with this idea or was responsible for the selection, but I'd say they made a pretty good collection (it wd have been nice if they'd been able to add Heidrek's Saga or Hrolf Kraki, but I can see the argument for keeping things focused).

    What's really jaw-dropping about this is to see its validation of what we all knew already: for decades now, Tolkien has been the entry point of choice for most medievalists. Most people who read BEOWULF or SIR GAWAIN do so because of the Tolkien connection, and a significant number of them get hooked on the weird and wonderful world that is medieval literature. To see that bluntly stated, and adopted as a selling point by a major publisher in the field, shows yet again how far we've come from the early days, when academia still gave Tolkien a cold shoulder and 'serious' medievalists kept their copies of LotR and H off their office shelves. My, how times change.

    --John R.

    current audiobook: DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS by Ray Bradbury [1985]
    current reading: THE KING'S GRAVE: THE DISCOVERY OF RICHARD III'S LOST BURIAL PLACE AND THE CLUES IT HOLDS, by Philippa Landgley and Michael Jones [2013]
    also: THE LAST UNICORN, by Peter S. Beagle [1968] (re-reading)

    *I now see it appears on each copy in the top row under the following link, though not in the images of the individual volumes beneath

    Saturday, February 15, 2014

    The Cat Report (W. 2/12-14)

    All four cats got walks this morning, and all four gave voice during it. Some (Danali) calmed down after a while and got quieter, others (Sequoia) did not.  My pal Kaboodles and Mr. Danali did the best. 

    I brought a small box with some catnip in the bottom, placing it at the bottom of and behind the cat-stand by the door.

    SCRUFFS immediately claimed the box as soon as it was put out. Later he shifted over to the top of the cat-stand by the door, where he played the gopher game. Later yet he enjoyed laser tag in the area around the door (Danali watched but did not join in). He's still grumpy. Went in early, of his own accord.

    KABOODLE has resumed his old game of burrowing down behind the blankets in his cage, from which he readily emerges when you enter the room. Finding the box occupied, he went into the small stand on the bench that he likes so much, then later inherited the box after Mr. Scruffs had moved on. He objected to going in, as usual, but doesn't hold a grudge.

    SEQUOIA went straight for the blankets in the cupboard, her favorite place in the room. She only emerged when made to, at the end of my shift. Sweet and gentle.

    DANALI remains calm and collected. He likes laying on the floor best, somewhere around the middle of the room. He asked if he could get into the box, and Kaboddle declined to make it available; later, after K. had moved on, he helped himself -- somewhat to Scruff's dismay, it turned out; apparently Mr. Scruffs thought he held a veto over who cd and cd not get in that box. 

    All in all a quiet morning. A number of visitors, but no potential adopters. 

    After my shift was done, the new cats arrived, so I got to meet them briefly. BONFILIA is small and sweet, RAM a gentle giant. Both are fairly young cats. So we're now up to six cats (four male, two female). We also got a new donations box.

    health concerns: there was dried throw-up (catfood) in the bonded pair's cage. Also, felt to me like Scruffy's getting pretty tubby -- do we need to switch him to a diet catfood as well?

    --John R.

    POSTSCRIPT: In the delay before I got this posted, our seventh cat has arrived: FAYE, a white calico whom I've not yet met. 

    Friday, February 14, 2014


    So, as part of my current effort to go back and read some of the classics of science fiction which I'd somehow never gotten around to reading (e.g., RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA and currently A PRINCESS OF MARS), I just finished listening to an audiobook of Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. It's hard to describe the experience of what reading this book is like without getting scatological. Let's just say it feels like I've been sold a bill of goods. It's as if I've long been told that a certain pond was a great place to swim in, the only debate being whether it's best to swim directly across the short way or the long way from end-to-end.* I'd long been put off by the fact that the pond in question looked drab and muddy, decidedly unappealing, but decided to give it a try -- only, when half-way across, to discover it was actually a cesspool.

    I know there are people who love this book. I'm not among their number. I thought it had a pretty good idea (a human raised by Martians) which was buried, first under the poorly written slang used in the opening chapters that hoped to be hip, jive, and with-it, and wasn't. Then once the main story got launched it was continually derailed by the endless blovating of a Heinlein-figure who can't stop talking, and talking, and talking. R.A.H. clearly enjoyed having a mouthpiece through which to air his tendentious views on every matter imaginable (at one point the action stops so the Heinlein figure can deliver a lecture on Rodin's bronzes), but having to listen to all this guff is a bit much. I know there's debate over which is better: the version of the book that was famous in the 1960s, or the significantly longer version released after Heinlein's death. Having persevered through the latter, I can only say that the shorter this book was, the better -- I can't imagine its not being improved by being cut.

    And all this is quite apart from the book's plot, or the content of said tendentiousness, some of which is pretty vile (e.g., Heinlein's comments about rape).

    It's not all bad, just about 95%. The bits set in heaven, obviously inspired by Twain's** CAPTAIN STORMFIELD with a touch of Cabell's JURGEN, were amusing, but only a v. minor element. The parts about someone thinking in Martian and trying to embrace new concepts for which his language has no word were by far the best part of the book -- but the story soon left that behind for its solipsistic Plato. Too bad. Heinlein cd write a good book, but this isn't it.

    So, there's an experience I don't need to repeat again, and a book I don't need to take seriously.

    --John R.

    *e.g., the original edition or the posthumous unedited text, which is significantly longer
    **not someone we associate w. Heinlein; it's easy to forget he was a fellow Missourian

    Saturday, February 8, 2014


    So, I've now finished reading Michael D. Sellers' book JOHN CARTER AND THE GODS OF HOLLYWOOD,* an account of the making of the disastrous 2012 film JOHN CARTER (a.k.a., unofficially, "John Carter of Mars"). It's an interesting read, though for it to have it's full effect you have to agree with Sellers on several points:

    (1) Burroughs was the most awesomest author ever.

    (2) A PRINCESS OF MARS is the most awesomely awesomest of all Burroughs' awesome books.

    (3) the JOHN CARTER movie was a great film that shd have established its own 'franchise'. In particular, there shd have been at least two sequels (he devotes a section towards the end laying out a blueprint of how even at this late date a package cd be put together to fund said sequels).

    (4) the whole project was sabotaged by internal politics and ineptitude at Disney, who didn't bother to promote the film, having written it off as a failure before it was even released.

    The first problem with this is that Disney did promote the film, spending $100,000,000 on it. It's hard to reconcile a hundred million dollars spent on ads with the theme that the studio abandoned it. And this was above and beyond the $250,000,000 the director spent making the movie.

    The second problem is that Sellars has a tendency of overstating claims. For example, he says that

    "In 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs gave us the gift of modern science fiction" 

    What, you may ask, of Verne and Wells? Apparently they're either not influential enough or not "modern" by his reckoning. His belief that Star Wars was heavily influenced by Barsoom seems valid but overstated; the claim that Flash Gordon was created as a Barsoom clone seems improbable.**

    The part that interested me most was his discussion about whether or not this was a faithful adaptation of Burrough's original book. You'd think, given that he self-identifies as a lifelong Burroughs fans who's longed for decades to finally see A PRINCESS OF MARS put on screen, that the issue wd be an important one and that he'd devote a significant portion of his book to discussing it. Such is not the case. He does acknowledge in passing that some people had objections to the scriptwriter (Michael Chabon) and director's complete re-writing of Carter's character,*** but downplays this, apparently in an attempt to unite the Burroughs-fan community behind this film and its potential sequels. Thus he lets pass with little or no comment what seem to me red-button warning signs in the form of the following quotes from various people associated with the film:

    "pleasing the core fan group was not high on the list of priorities"

    "Be respectful, yes. Let them dictate the treatment of the story, no."

    "the fans of the books are always the hardest to please"

    The third of these is simply a truism, the first two shd make chills run up the spine of anyone who is a fan of a book being adapted.

    One thing I'd hoped he wd spend more time on was exploring the thought processes behind the idiots who were responsible for the film's title.  Apparently the logic went something like this:

    (1) You can't use the word 'Princess' in the title, because then no guys will go to see it.

    (2) You can't use the word 'Mars' in the title, because then no women will go to see it.

    (2a) Besides, movies with 'Mars' in the title don't do well at the box office (a dubious maxim showing post hoc propter hoc because Disney had just released a flop called MARS WANTS MOMS)

    (3) The target audience is 10 to 14 yr old boys.

    Hence A PRINCESS OF MARS became JOHN CARTER OF MARS which became just JOHN CARTER -- as neutral and unevocative as they cd have come up with. Pity they didn't go w. Burroughs' original title, UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS.

    In the end it all came down to the expectations games: a movie that cost this much cd only be judged a success by Hollywood accounting if it made back double its costs. This one made a boatload of money -- $280,000,000 gross -- but they'd spent so much making and promoting the movie that this wasn't even enough to break even, leaving them at least $70 million in the hole. The studio cut their loses and announced a $200,000,000 'write down' just days after the movie debued. The general impression seems to be that the Powers That Be at Disney had a bad feeling about this one from early on but cd neither bring themselves to intervene and fix the problem nor to pull the plug, instead deciding to hope they were wrong and it might be a surprise hit. It wasn't.

    But hey, it wasn't a total loss. I loved the use of the old Led Zeppelin song "Kashmir" in the trailer -- in fact, that's the main reason I decided to see the movie (in a typically wrongfooted move, it was left out of the actual film itself). Lynn Collins, who played the Princess of what shd have been the title, does a great Gemma Arterton impersonation. And she has the one good line in the film, when she spots her doppleganger making a break for it: "Stop me! I'm getting away!" But that's a pretty slim return on two hours plus of movie.

    --John R.

    *a play on the title of one of Burroughs' books, THE GODS OF MARS, second in the John Carter/Barsoom series.

    **as Sellars tells the story, Burroughs was in negotiations to launch a Barsoom comic strip when the publishers he was dickering with pulled out and launch a John-Carter clone called "Flash Gordon" instead. The problems with this are (a) Flash Gordon is space opera and bears v. little resemblance to the John Carter books and (b) Flash Gordon's obvious template was Buck Rogers (making this a rare case where the imitation is better than the original), which again is space opera w. little resemblance to Barsoom.

    ***like Jackson's Aragorn, they made the movie John Carter a man filled with self-doubt who hesitates to commit himself, not the confident and self-assured figure of Burrough's book.

    The Cat Report (W. 2/5-14)

    Now that poor Sophie Dori has gone back to Arlington, that leaves us with four cats: KABOODLES, SCRUFFS, DANALI, and SEQUOIA.   Hope Sophie Dori has better luck settling in to the next adoption room -- she's a friendly enough cat when something doesn't set her off, but she just cd not abide sharing a room with four other cats. 

    KABOODLES greeted me with enthusiasm, rubbing and purring and generally signaling that he and I are pals. Quite a change from his extreme shyness those first few weeks. After his talky walk he went up to enjoy the cagetops. We got along great until it was time for him to go back in at noon. By now he was in the short stand on the bench and made clear he had no intention of coming out, so I picked the whole thing up and held it in his cage upside-down till he climbed out, much put out at me for the indignity. Hopefully he'll forgive me by next week.

    MR SCRUFF was equally vocal on his walk, until he got deeply interested in the great big pet-beds along the back wall of the store. He jumped up on one of these and claimed it, then wanted to explore behind it. That last was a no-go, sez I, but he remained much taken with the big cushion, like the one Moreo used to enjoy. Back inside the cat room he settled near the door, as usual. Although he enjoyed chasing the laser pointer's wicked little red dot, the things he likes most are (1) the paper bag, (2) the rather gimpy ping-pong ball I brought in for him, and especially (3) the ping-pong ball IN the paper bag. We played with me sending the ping-pong ball skipping in his direction and him swatting it back my way, like some sort of low-tech pinball. 

    SEQUOIA had a brief walk (mostly carried), just to start getting her used to the idea. Thereafter she enjoyed some petting but quickly made her wishes known. Using me as a human stepping stone, she once more got up among the blankets in the top shelf of the cabinet, and stayed there there next two+ hours, snug as a bug in a rug (to quote Ben Franklin). She came down with reluctance but went into her cage quietly, having declined petting in a lap. Good to see her much more relaxed and at-home in the cat room.

    DANALI got the last of the walks, and I think will do pretty well once he's got a map of the store in his head; right now he's lost out there outside the room and unhappy about it. Once back in he claimed the floor in the middle of the room, from which he could preside over everything. He played a string game at one point (with Scruffs on the other end). He enjoyed being petted, and catnip, and having a box. I think his ears need cleaning, but he wasn't in the mood for me to do much with them, so that'll have to wait till another day.

    All four cats seem healthy. All were v. vocal on the walks. None of them have any interest in canned catfood, though one of the other guy-cats (Scruffs?) was interested in Kaboodle's food, and vice versa. Two of them (Mr. Scruff and Danali) went back into their cages on their own at mid-morning, but eventually came out again. 

    Three out of four cats surveyed agree: catnip in a box is a Good Thing.

    And that's about it for this week. I took a load of cat-blankets home to wash up and bring back tomorrow or Friday. And we might need a new broom; the old one seems to have gone missing (worn out)? 

    --John R.

    Friday, February 7, 2014

    Movies, Films, Adaptations

    So, a few weeks ago my friend Jeff Grubb used an interesting way to differentiate between movies, films, and adaptations. I forget his exact words, but it went something like this:

    --A movie gets enjoyed 
    --A film gets watched 
    --An adaptation gets analyzed 

    Of course, these categories often overlap. Among things Janice and I have gone to lately, I'd put down THOR: THE DARK WORLD as a movie -- entertaining fun, so long as you don't make the mistake of trying to take it seriously. Which is easy enough, given that I'd say no synapses fired at any point during the making of this film. But you cd also look at it as an adaptation, given that it's based on the Marvel comics character.

    THE BUTLER is clearly intended to be a film, self-conscious awards-bait where all the emphasis is on character and contentious issues and the weight of historical events. Too bad its earnestness made it come off as drab and depressing; I cdn't help comparing it with the old tv miniseries of three black servants' lifelong service at the White House (whose name I forget) did a better job.

    An example of a really good adaptation would be THE HUNGER GAMES, where the original author of the books it's based on served as one of the three screen writers, as well as one of the producers (giving her economic clout). It's not a point-by-point transfer from book to screen, but an extremely faithful adaptation that re-creates the same story in a new medium.

    Contrast this with the recent JACK RYAN movie, SHADOW RECRUIT, where the project was a year into development when it first occurred to them to make it a Jack Ryan movie. So, far from being an adaptation of one of Clancy's novels, the whole idea of its being an adaptation is just an add-on.

    So far as the adaptations I care the most about, I'd say the HOBBIT trilogy so far has produced mixed results.  The first movie, AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, is both an adaptation and an action movie, in roughly equal parts. For the second movie, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, there's a  shift to heavy emphasis on action movie -- and a good one at that, but I'd have rather they have more adaptation, not less. Thus the best moments, for me, are the remaining bits of adaptation: Bilbo left behind by barrels, Bilbo w. Smaug, Bilbo's butterflies moment, et al. Now to wait to see which way the third and final movie leans. If the LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy is any guide to go by, the first film will be both the best and the most faithful, the second will depart most widely from the source material, and the third will fall somewhere between the two. In the case of the LotR middle film, the wide departures from the original hurt the story but the film as a whole was redeemed by outstanding performances by Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, and the ever-amazing Andy Serkis. That hasn't been the case with the middle HOBBIT movie -- which means that even more is riding on the third and final film to pull the whole thing together. Come this December we'll know; for now, here's hoping.

    current audiobook: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Rbt A. Heinlein
    current reading: HEIR APPARENT, a life of Edward VIIth.

    Sunday, February 2, 2014

    Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Semi-Expired Copyright

    So, recently Tolkien scholar Paul Thomas posted an interesting piece on his blog,"A Holmes for the World", that looked at the most recent developments in an ongoing case to decide whether Sherlock Homes is or is not out of copyright. Here's the link:

    The point of contention is that the Holmes/Watson stories published before 1923 are now in the public domain, but the Doyle Estate still has control over the last ten stories published after that date (in THE CASE BOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES [1927]). That means anyone who wants to can write a Holmes or Watson or Holmes-and-Watson story drawing on any of the material in the four novels and first forty-six short stories, but would have to get permission from the Doyle Estate to use any detail drawn from those final few stories. The Doyles argue that you can't divvy up a literary character this way: either he or she or it should be copyright-protected or not: all or nothing. The other side points out that copyright law doesn't work this way: it protects specific works, published on specific dates, not elements that spread as intangibles across a body of work. The judge ruled against the Doyles, who have appealed to a higher court, so it now moves up to the Circuit Court.

    On the one hand, it's easy to empathize with the Doyle Estate's position: there's something bizarre in the idea of having simultaneously a public-domain version of Holmes and an Estate-controlled version of the same character. Tolkien himself said once that myth was "alive at once and in all its parts and dies before it can be dissected". Most of us now think of the Holmes series in a more general than specific way, a composite image drawn out of multiple works rather than distinctly story-by-story. For Holmes to be 5/6ths in the public domain sounds distinctly odd to most of us.

    On the other hand, if you could extend copyright indefinitely by authorizing additions to a series, that'd defeat the whole point of public domain: to eventually let works be absorbed into common culture. The Doyles have been making money off Holmes for a hundred and twenty-seven years, and counting, not just through Doyle's long life (he having died in 1930) but the entire lifetime of all his children as well. How long is enough?

    Then too, I think there's danger that the Doyle Estate's argument could turn against them. If the world of 221B Baker Street has to be either all-in or all-out, wholly in the public domain or entirely in the control of the Estate, couldn't you make the argument that the five/sixths in the public domain outweigh the one/sixth still in copyright?

    Of course, all this has applications far beyond just Holmes and Doyle. There are plenty of great characters who are partly in and partly out of copyright, like Bertie Wooster and Jeeves (mostly in), Allan Quatermain (almost entirely out), Agatha Christie's Poirot (almost all in), and The Insidious Doctor Fu-Manchu (evenly split).

    The ideal of split rights to a set of stories also has resonance in Tolkien studies. Famously, the Peter Jackson films are limited to drawing only on THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and can't use any information from, say, Tolkien's LETTERS or UNFINISHED TALES or any of the various Silmarillion texts. It's also easy to see how works in the legendarium cd have slipped into a protected/unprotected split, like the Holmes stories, had Tolkien's copyright for THE HOBBIT and LotR, been thrown into the public domain by the negligence of his publishers -- which almost happened (the so-called Ace Books crisis), and remained unresolved from 1965 to 1993, when a judge finally definitely ruled that the copyright was secure. What kind of pickle wd we all be in if those two works were public domain, yet all the minor works published in the sixties (OFS, LBN, SWM, RGEO, ATB) and all the posthumous works so superbly edited by Christopher Tolkien were all copyright-protected and under the Tolkien Estate's control. That'd be a right mess. Luckily for us all, that's not the case.

    I'm also grateful that, while Tolkien created many of his iconic characters before the 1923 deadline (Earendel, Feanor, Beren, Luthian, Turin), he did not publish any of them until much later. So Tolkien's copyrights shd be secure until at least seventy years after his death -- i.e., in 2043, still thirty years away.

    Returning to the Holmes canon, here are two earlier postings by Paul, which fill in more of the detail behind the case

    And here's a web-site giving regular updates on the case from the guy who filed the lawsuit (the one advocating that the Doyles have benefitted from Holmes long enough, and it's time to give the rest of us a turn):

    --John R.
    current reading: THE HEIR APPARENT: A LIFE OF EDWARD VII, THE PLAYBOY PRINCE [2013] by Jane Ridley