Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Cat Report (W.4/30-14)

Quite a change from just a week ago, with Bouillabasse and my pal Kaboodle having gone up to the main shelter for some health issues and the bonded Chongo-Monya pair having been adopted. With the addition of three new cats, that leaves us with five cats today: Mr. Scruffs (fluffy black), Kaspar (mostly white with black patches), Blackberry (mediumhair black, curly-whiskered and curly-tummied), and the bonded pair Kamryn (sleek, grey) and Firguson (smallish patterned orange).

Started the day off by greeting everyone: there were paws coming out and much pressing themselves against the bars to be petted. I let MR. SCRUFFS out first, in recognition of his seniority. Instead of putting the leash on and taking him out first thing, I instead held him in my lap and petted him. He seemed very pleased with this, purring and even grooming my arm. He had a short walk afterwards, but it was really the one-on-one attention with none of the other cats around that he liked most. Later he went to the top of the cabinet where he ruled and reigned, going back into his cube well before noon of his own accord. Where he watched other cats coming and going into his double-wide but they came and went without incident.

KASPAR had the next turn, and he thought it high time too -- he'd been waiting with his paws hanging out of his cage (a habit of his, I've noticed, that gets a lot of attention from visitors to the cat-room). Once out on the actual walk he seemed hesitant and reluctant, until he ran into a woman with a small child (maybe a year old), both of whom petted him. The woman played with him a little with a cat-toy she was buying (feathers-on-a-stick -- wonder what will her cat or cats at home will think when they smell Other Cat on their new toy). I realized how much Kaspar had liked it when, later in the same walk, I realized he was looking for her, probably to see if he could get another round of attention. After some time spent sprawling on cool concrete, he had to go back in and, much to his annoyance, back in his cage while the others had a turn.  Later he hung out mostly by the door, enjoying that cool breeze, and enjoyed all kinds of games -- the string game, the laser pointer, and especially the feather duster. Later still I put him Up High for a while but he didn't really like it: wants to be down below where the action is. He almost played with Kamryn, in that both would be near each other, taking turns pawing some toy, but not directly interacting. Also noticed he's quite a talker. Tried to work on his chin some (looks almost like a five-o-clock shadow) but need to bring in something like an old toothbrush to do it right. 

Little Miss BLACKBERRY, our own little hiss bomb, has quite the attitude. Mostly I think this is due to being in a new place, the only girl in a room with four boys, and partly because I think she may have been declawed (didn't get a close look at her paws, not wanting to annoy her). She did surprisingly well on her walk, once she got used to the idea, using the opportunity to explore. She likes the string game quite a bit, and had the best response to the feather duster of all, advancing slowly and pushing her face into it till she got a good grip, then biting down and backing up, carrying it off as legitimate prey. This was quite different from Kamryn's technique, which was to high-five it, using both paws to slap it down like a bird or bug in flight. Kaspar just swatted at it any old which way. I put her up on the cagetops to let her take a break from all the hissing and she was all over that cardboard ring thing up there, scratching away with great zest. Later she came down and took up a post in the bottom of the cabinet. She and Kaspar neither one seem interested in the hanging steps, but they both don't mind using my shoulders as a stepping-stone. Kamryn, by contrast, leapt clear over me.
A sweet little cat, once we get her calmed down enough to relax a bit.

KAMRYN and FIRGUSON, our new bonded pair, are really different. Kamryn is the outgoing one, always interested in any game and out and about the whole time. Firguson slipped into the rondel under the cat-stand near the cabinet and stayed there most of the morning. Neither did well on their walks, which were brief and disappointing (mostly consisted of their begging to come back in). Kamryn was all over the place but spent a fair amount of time near the door, like Kaspar. He loves to chase little mice that go skittering by. And the string game. And the feather-duster game. And the laser pointer. In fact, so far haven't found a game he doesn't love. His funniest moment was when he burrowed into the box I'd brought in and energed with his head covered in catnip. He's noticeably bigger than Firgus, and looks a little older too -- are they really brothers?

Here's how I summed them all up to myself:

     Kaspar's a talker, Blackberry a grumbler
     Kamryn loves games, Firgus is shy
     and then there's Mr. Scruffy.

And that's pretty much it for this week. Some visitors who came by and spent time petting or playing with the cats -- one was about to move cross-country with her two cats, another talked about giving insulin to her diabetic cat. None seemed potential adopters, at least in the short term, but figured it was good for the 'socializing' part of my Cleaner/Socializer shift, and for them to spread the word to any friends who were looking for a cat. 

No health issues other than Kaspar's chin. 
I was sorry to hear the folks who'd expressed an interest in adopting Kaspar didn't come back. On the plus side, he was far less nibbly today, so think all the games are burning off some of that energy. In any case, I came away without my hands marked up. 
Here's hoping Kaboodle and Bouillabasse are doing well in their new digs and are feeling better.
--John R.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What I Would Have Asked Moorcock

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I'd actually come up with a question I thought I'd ask Michael Moorcock at the question-and-answer session at NorWesCon if attendance was light and all the serious Moorcock fans had had a chance to ask their questions. As it turned out, the Q&A part of the session was relatively brief, twenty minutes out of an hour-long slot, with the bulk of that hour devoted to a one-on-on interview with Pierce Watters (and a v. good one, I might add). So I didn't get to ask but, since I'm genuine curious about the answer, thought I'd go ahead and post to query in case anyone out there might have any insights.

So here it is in long form: Moorcock is well-known as a Tolkien basher of long standing. He repeats his blast against the sort of soft fantasy he thinks Tolkien represents, the chapbook EPIC POOH [1978], in his book on the history of fantasy, WIZARDRY & WILD ROMANCE [2004]. China Mieville, in his Introduction to the latter work, even singles out how liberating he found Moorcock's denunciation of Tolkien.

And yet, at two spots in the book Moorcock praises the Peter Jackson movies (of LotR of course, the HOBBIT movies at that time having not been more than hinted at). In his brief concluding chapter on where fantasy is today, he writes

"The success of Star Wars meant that more producers 
and directors  became interested in producing unashamedly 
romantic science fiction and fantasy movies. 
With the exception of The Lord of the Rings
few of these have been much good up to now."

--he goes on to dismiss the CONAN movies ("derivative of bad action movies and of bad books derived and debased from Howard's originals" -- a judgment I agree with) and passes over the sword-and-sorcery movies since the late '70s with minimal comment ("generally disappointing" -- which I think too generous), adding "The people who make the movies seem to have no genuine instinct for the form . . . and cannot convince an increasingly sophisticated audience" before concluding "We have progressed . . . from true Romanticism to the infantile nonsense of Grand Guignol. There are signs, with the success of Tolkien's epic, that this will ultimately change" (WIZARDRY AND WILD ROMANCE, pages 144-145; emphasis mine).

It seems from this, then, that he feels Jackson's LotR films offers hope by showing what can be done in to bring fantasy fiction to the screen.

The other reference comes in a chapter on fantasy worlds. Again he starts with Howard, praising the original R.E.H. works and contrasting them with the pale imitations by other hands; the Conan movies he finds "inferior in every way to the originals". From this he segues into STAR WARS, briefly considers and condemns HAWK THE SLAYER and THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER for their cliches and "lack of creative originality", before saying

"The simple minded machismo of the movie Conan is 
a little like that of the movie Tarzan. All potential 
is lost. Happily, with the making of the Tolkien books 
into respectable movie versions, we might hope 
to see an improvement in the ambition and 
execution of heroic fantasy films in the future. 
Good directors, surely, can do more with the material, 
rather than less. We have to hope that the threatened 
schoolboys who tend to dominate Hollywood and seem 
only too eager to indulge their fifth-rate fantasies of 
male violence, will be discouraged as Lord of the
Rings continues to succeed at the box office. 
We can only hope that we no longer have to witness 
a deterioration from the crude, powerful prose of Howard, 
through the increasingly badly-done comic-strip versions, 
to the feebleness of the movies. The magic fades, 
its real achievement going // unrecognized. One longs for 
a good film version, say, of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser,* 
which conceivably might contain dialogue which grown up 
actors would not be ashamed to speak!"  
(p.58-59; emphasis mine)

Thus in both cases he sees Jackson's success as showing how quality fantasy films can be made out of the many classics of fantasy already out there, using the Schwarzenegger CONAN films as a contrasting example of What Not To Do.

My question, then, is simply: what did Jackson do right, in his view, to make Tolkien's story more appealing to him?

--John R.

*amen to that.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Michael Moorcock at NorWesCon

So, last weekend I went to NorWesCon, the local science fiction convention held over in the DoubleTree near the airport. I only make it over there for the day once every three/four years --e.g,  once soon after we moved out here away from WisCon, once during the build-up to the launch for Third Edition, last time was to see at 'Secrets of TSR' panel with a lot of my friends and fellow co-workers talking about the Lake Geneva days. And this time it was to see author Michael Moorcock.

That this wd be a draw for me might seem a bit odd, given that Moorcock is a famous Tolkien-basher, ranking in the company of Edmund WIlson and Germaine Greer: he's not just down on Tolkien but has gone out of his way to belittle Tolkien's fans over the years, most notably in his chapbook essay "EPIC POOH" [1978] (since included in his history/survey of modern fantasy, WIZARDRY AND WILD ROMANCE [2004].*

There too I'm not a great fan of Moorcock's fiction. Back in my Fayetteville days when I started seriously reading fantasy beyond Tolkien and Adams, trying to find out what all was out there and what of it was good and how it all fit together in a grand but little-understood tradition, I asked my friend Franklin if he'd recommend Moorcock's ELRIC series, and his answer was 'you wdn't like them'. Since I found Franklin a good judge of such matters (he introduced me to John Bellair's FACE IN THE FROST; I introduced him to Thorne Smith's NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS), I took him at his word and read other things instead, like Fritz Leiber's FAFHRD/GRAY MOUSER series, or Eddison's WORM, or Dunsany's KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER, or Hope Mirrlees, or Pratt & de Camp, or Myers Myers, or . . .

But then on the other hand, once I was up at Marquette and later at TSR, I'd sometimes hear a friend or co-worker praise Moorcock and urge me to read him,  but suspicion that it was far from my cup of tea kept me from taking their advice. It wasn't until Jim Lowder (hi, Jim!) gave me a set of the six DAW paperbacks that comprised the whole series up to that point (he having upgrade to the hardcovers) that I decided I really shd read the thing, which I did not long after going to Wizards. And while they didn't become favorites of mine, I cd see why others liked them. It seemed to me that Moorcock had gotten ahold of an interesting idea (the story of Elric's death), written it up in a sword-and-sorcery story that both fit into (sword, sorcery) and played off against (decadent rather than primitive, anti-hero rather than hero) the S&S tradition. And it'd gone down well, so he had to write another story just like the first. And then another. And then another. And then another. Till he had six volume's worth, most of them prequels to the original story in the sequence, which told of Elric's death.

So, worth having read once, but not so interesting that I felt any compunction to pick up the additional prequels as they came out, nor to move on to any of his many other series. But not being a fan of his fiction doesn't mean I don't have a sense of Moorcock's importance as a historical figure: he was one of the two people most responsible for the 'New Wave' in science fiction in the sixties and seventies via his advocacy in the journal NEW WORLDS of writers whose work he thought was bringing science fiction up out of its pulp ghetto (his American equivalent being Harlin Ellison, through his DANGEROUS VISION anthologies), replacing the old emphasis on ideas with a new emphasis on style. And given that he's now in his mid-seventies, and the opportunity to see him in these parts was not likely to come around again anytime soon, it seemed like a good idea to go.

So, after arriving and getting through registration, walking around to find the layout of the place (the program book and registration packets lacked any map of the hotel, but to compensate the on-site signage was excellent) and gotten a cup of tea, it was off to the first event: the Q&A.  The G.o.H. was delayed in arriving, and they decided to switch the Q&A with the reading, which had been scheduled to follow. So it wound up with Moorcock reading an alternate-history story about a multinational force slogging their way through Afghanistan, committing and being on the receiving end of various atrocities. This was followed by an interview of Moorcock by Pierce Watters, which did a great job of going over Moorcock's early career. After that came a fifteen or twenty minute Q&A session -- I'd come with a question I wanted to ask, but it was clear that the room was full of people for whom the chance to ask a question of Moorcock wd be a highlight of their lives, so I thought it best to sit quiet. Besides, it was fun watching the devoted fans have their moment in the sun.

That was followed in turn by the book-signing. Not surprisingly, there was a huge long line, and given that they'd left an hour for it in the schedule and there were still plenty of people in front of me as we were nearing that one-hour mark, I thought it likely they'd shut things down before I got to the front of the line. So it goes. But to his credit Moorcock kept right on signing. It was an hour and thirty-seven minutes before I got my three items signed, and he was still going a good ten minutes later before he finally reached the end of the line. I was impressed that, after all these years of doing this and achieving the equivalent of 'rock-star' status within science fiction and fantasy fandom, Moorcock was willing to keep signing until he'd gotten to everyone. Good for him!**

After that came a break, during which time I visited with friends, made a run through the dealer's room (where I was v. pleased to pick up a hardcover of Pratt and de Camp's THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER for just three dollars, and amazed to see the same dealer had roughly half of the entire Ballantine A.F.S. paperbacks for sale), and had another cup of tea (I much approve of this hotel's having a Starbucks in the lobby), then on to the final event, the highlight of the day: a panel celebrating the work of the great, inimitable P. G. Wodehouse.   This was why I came. I knew four of the six people on the panel: Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, Mike Selinker, and Pierce Watters; I didn't know Brooks Peck from the E.M.P., the fifth panelist. But it was the sixth and final panelist who was the big draw for most of the people in the room: Michael Moorcock. Having mainly seen Moorcock in his F. R. Leavis mode, attacking writers he didn't like, it was pleasant to hear him praise a master craftsman who often didn't get his due. Plus, being English and a good generation older than the rest of the panelists, he contributed a perspective that's simply not reproducible in a modern-day admirer. Having read all Wodehouse's Bertie and Jeeves stories myself (as well as the one Jeeves-without-Bertie novel***), I enjoyed the panel quite a lot: the highlight of the show.

After that came some more visiting, watching folks play a new Timeline game (for which I knew two answers in a row, thus earning a wholly undeserved reputation for knowing all when it comes to dates of things), and on to home. An enjoyable day all round.

current reading: THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER [1950 edition] by Pratt & de Camp
current audiobook: Shippey lecture series on Heroes (just finished)

*which is interesting but not nearly as good as his FANTASY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS, written in collaboration with James Cawthorn [1988] -- which in turn shd be read in conjunction with David Pringle's MODERN FANTASY: THE HUNDRED BEST NOVELS [also 1988]

**the three items I had signed were EPIC POOH (suspect he doesn't see a lot of these, given that it was a small print run pamphlet from over thirty years ago), the Cawthorn-Moorcock FANTASY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS, and WIZARDRY AND WILD ROMANCE.

***I've never been able to find the Bertie-without-Jeeves story, which I think exists only as a play, not a novel.

The Cat Report (W.4/23-14)

I'm late in posting last week's Cat Report, but here goes:

Very sorry to hear about Bouillabasse (Bonfilia) and my pal Kaboodle being sent back to the main shelter, she to get over her cold and he because of the scratching in his ears. I think Kaboodle's problem has less to do with allergies and more with the back that he has long, sharp claws on his back feet that I think need trimming. Hope they'll both be coming back to us once they're better. 

It was a quiet and peaceful morning in the cat-room, with mostly well-behaved cats. Aside from Kaspar, whose nibbling got overly enthusiastic as the morning wore on. All the cats had walks, starting with CHONGO, who did pretty well. His sense of direction's not much, but his solution is to pick a direction and move decisively that way, hoping to come across some bit he recognized. He wanted to claim a cat-bed (a sort of pet-couch thing) he found for all his own. Once back in the room he explored, hiding and doing an amusingly  bad job of it, with bits of him sticking out fore and aft. Then he discovered the catnip-laced box and his joy was complete: he placed himself in a too-small box with great satisfaction and stayed there.

MANGA ('Monga') had the next walk: she was nervous being out of the room but did explore a bit. Her favorite part was discovering the row with all the cat-treats; she put her head through a gap in the row and wanted badly to go back behind them and explore. Otherwise all seemed well until she caught sight of The Evil Parrot (i.e., the conure), at which point she fled back to the room. Maybe she has some sort of parrot-phobia? Most of the cats just ignore the birds, aside from Kaspar who goes into stalking mode when they come into view. Back in the room she was here and there and everywhere, but particularly enjoyed the crinkly paper (highly satisfactory to pounce upon) and being up high on the cage-tops.

BOUILLABASSE enjoyed her one-on-one time being petted; her walk consisted  of sprawling on cool cement alternated with sitting quietly and listening to noises from all over the store. I think by the time she was done she had a pretty good idea what other animals lay in every direction. She didn't go far, and purred when she came back in. Later she enjoyed the crinkly paper before moving to the top of the cat-stand near the door, where she snoozed the rest of the morning away. Think she's on the mend from her cold, but not quite over it yet.

My Pal KABOODLE was in good form today. His walk fell into the familiar pattern: I'd carry him around the store, put him down in various places, whereupon he'd make a bee-line straight back to the cat-room. A good sense of direction, this one. About the only thing that caught his attention out there was the stand of cat-stands, which he promptly mounted. Back in the room, he went to up to Cagetop Land, as usual, though he came forward to the edge several times to get some attention or join in a game. He also enjoyed some crinkly paper being put up there (why should the lower-down cats have all the fun?).  I was surprised, and pleased, at one point to discover that he and Mr. Scuffs were lying side-by-side up there, each clearly willing to share with the other. He came down as I was winding things up and got in the basket on the bench but didn't get to stay there long, to his (justified) annoyance. If I'd known he was about to be transferred back up to the main clinic I'd have given him more one-on-one time. Poor Kaboodle. 

Mr. SCRUFFS also had a good day. He had a short walk but without the panic of last time. He was greatly interested in the chirp-room just the other side of the vending machines. Once back in the cat room, he enjoyed the feather duster, and a box with crinkly paper in it. Then he went high, where as noted above I found him curled up next to, but not quite touching, Mr. Kaboodle. Later he came down on his own accord, and put himself atop the cat-stand near the cabinet, where he sat, paws and tail dangling, with great satisfaction. All in all I think he's come out of his gloom from the last few weeks. Now if we can just keep him in this relaxed mood it'll do him a world of good.

Last but far from least we have KASPAR the energy bomb. He did great on his walk, as usual, and went everywhere. Back in the room after a good long poke-about (seems like most of the employees there know his name), he settled down just inside the door, the better to enjoy the cool breeze blowing beneath. He loved the crinkly paper (esp. when it blew in the wind) but was less interested in the catnip box (which was just as well, since some of the more low-energy cats were drawn to it). But his favorite thing of all was the featherduster, which he tackled with great zeal, repeatedly. Unfortunately, this seems to have gotten him all worked up, and his nibbles became a real problem, breaking the skin for the first time. Or it may have been due to The Dog (a Shelty, I think) whose owner brought it over to the cat-room, where it watched and was watched by Kaspar (the other cats just tuned it out) for some time. It was well-behaved, but he ended with his back arched and was trembling before the whole thing was over. Still, he seemed to bounce back quickly. His big news of the day was a man and his grandson who's seen a mention of him on-line and had come in to meet him in person with adoption in mind. The grandson and Kaspar got along well; the grandfather was concerned about the biting. He said he'd come back in that evening with his wife for her to meet Kaspar as well. Hope they did, and that that meeting went well. There's nothing wrong with Kaspar that having a home of his own won't fix -- but then that's true of Kaboodle and Fluffy Scruffy et al. as well.

Health Concerns: 
Bouillabasse sneezed a few times but seemed on the mend. Manga was also a bit sneezy, though Chongo seemed fine.
I was surprised to see that Kaboodle was on sensitive/allergy food, then realized it must be due to the scratches in his ears and on both temples. Looking at his strong rear claws, I suspect that's a factor: that too-sharp claws are a big part of the problem. Hope he soon comes back to us.

we had several visitors throughout the morning
--Sam, who gave Kaspar an extra walk, which he seems to have really enjoyed; good to have a chance to burn off some more of that energy and socialize at the same time.
--a man who said he has eleven cats (eight of them Bengal kittens)
--a man and his grandson, looking at Kaspar (worried about the nibbles)

--John R. 
--written under the supervision of my own Purrfect Pals rescue kitty, Hastur ('The Master of Disaster')

Friday, April 18, 2014

Feanor's Critique

So, even though I'm an independent scholar and work at home, that doesn't mean my work goes unsupervised.
Case in point, the following photograph:


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Cat Report (W.4/16-14)

Great news that Mr. Neighbors has found his own home and made himself very much at home in it already. A happy ending there for a v. charismatic and friendly cat.

That leaves us with two or three old-timers (MR. SCRUFFSMy Pal KABOODLE, and, depending on how you count her, BOUILLABASSE), one relative newcomer (KASPAR), and two new arrivals (bounded pair CHONGO & MONYA, whose names, for some reason, I find really hard to remember and keep straight).

I started off with my SCRUFFY-attitude-adjustment-project, letting him out of his cage before anybody else (despite outraged and beseeching protests from several of the other cats, who said it was No Fair). He was v. much interested in a walk, as in getting out of that room for a while, but too nervous about being on the wrong side of the cat-room door to stay out. What I eventually worked out was to prop the cat-room door open. Then he was quite eager to come out and explore in the area around the room: away from the cages but close to familiar, safe territory. He not only let me pet him but went up to various people nearby to see if they'd give him some attention too. So while it upset the others I think it was worth it to improve Mr. Scruffs' mood (that he's withdrawing into himself some isn't surprising, given how long he's been living in that room). Afterwards he went back into his cage and stayed there, but he was pleased, I think, to have a catnip-laced box in there some of the time. I started to clean his cage around him, intending to leave the half he was on (with the cat-blankets and stand) pretty much as is, but he made my job easier by coming out on his own accord until I had everything neat and tidy for him again. 

KABOODLE was none too pleased to have had to stay in his cage while all those interesting things were going on just outside, but was firm in declining a walk of his own, giving voice when I tried carrying him around for a short guided tour of the store. Instead he preferred to go up to cagetop land, where he stayed most of the rest of the morning, and was prompt in claiming the cat-nip box once Mr. Scruffs was through with it and I moved it up to the cage-tops. He also enjoyed a string game with the leather bootlace. Sometime later Monya went up there, to his apparent astonishment, and he silently stalked her, keeping a close eye on her activities but never moving to engage her. He protested at having to go back in his cage at the end of morning: think an ideal Kaboodle-world would be where he cd come and go in an otherwise catless environment, getting attention when he wanted it and otherwise being left alone in the snooze-spot of his choosing. There's a limit to how much we can re-create that environment in a smallish room with five other cats, but the closer we come the better he likes it.

BOUILLABASSE was in a good mood today and accepted the offer of a walk with alacrity. She didn't really want to go anywhere, though; she seemed to like best rolling on the cool smooth cement floor. Back in the room she got atop the cat-stand by the cabinet and snoozed there the rest of the morning. I got her to purr for me, and she didn't do her old trick of sneaking in the eat out of the other cats' dishes, though it did look as if we'll still have to watch and make sure she's grooming herself properly. 

KASPAR is really coming out of his shell (that didn't take long). He seems to be claiming the boss-of-the-room title, but fortunately without any bullying so far as I cd see: more a matter of holding his ground and insisting the other cats detour around him, rather than moving and getting out of their way. He got very excited while playing with a feather-duster, and later with the string-game (I left the leather bootlace tied to the door of his cage for him to play with). Beware, though: when he gets too excited, or when he feels you need disciplined, he'll nibble on your hand -- not breaking the skin, but might be alarming to a visitor who wasn't expecting it.  He also did some chasing of balls, mostly in the area inside the door in front of Mr. Scruff's cage.  He v. much wanted a walk but I cdn't oblige while the other cats were out, so he had to wait (impatiently) till end-of-shift. Then he proved himself a mighty walker, ranging all over the store. His favorite part was bird-watching, though he was fascinated by the guinea pig as well; not so sure about the fish. So far as the birds went, he was captivated at once and hunkered down in front of their cages, eyes locked on the birds within. The zebra finches didn't like the look of it and quietly took themselves off to gather quietly at the back of their cage. The spice finches, by contrast, were deeply interested in this strangely intent visitor, and came up as close as they cd to the glass to see what he'd do next. An interesting dynamic, each watching the other with considerable interest. Others must have been taking him out for walks as well, for the employees at check-out knew him by name as he went past on his way back to the cat-room.

That just leaves the newcomers, or latest bonded pair, Chongo and Monya. To my surprise the much smaller MONYA was the more confident and inquisitive of the two. She came out and explored, keeping mostly to the area back between the cabinet and the laundry hamper. She hasn't fully worked out the hanging steps but has some idea what they're for. She was briefly up on the cagetops, where she made a face after apparently detecting a smell that appalled her. She too loves the feather duster, leaping upon it in full predator mode. Seems to be a nice cat who'll need a fair amount of attention to burn off all that energy.

As for the other member of the Chongo-Monya partnership, Chongo, the male and bigger of the two, stayed in his cage most of the morning, only coming out a little before noon. He tread cautiously but seems well-behaved. Kaspar was between him and the door to the room, where he wanted to look out, so CHONGO made a growl-pass of Kaspar's position: much rumbling (mainly from Chongo) but no hissing, not aggression: Kaspar let him pass without a swipe of the paw from either side. Let's hope that sets a good precedent of live and let live.  I don't remember if I wanted either of the newcomers, and didn't make any notes re. that: think Chongo was in-and-out and Monya was out for a fairly brief but uneventful walk, but cdn't swear to it.

We had a steady stream of visitors, several of whom were thinking of adopting and checking out these cats to see if they might include The One. One said she'd had a cat who lived to be 21, and another was mourning the loss of her 22-yr-old. My comment: if your cat lives to be 22, you're obviously doing something right. Let's hope we see some of these folks again, esp. the guy who was so taken with Bouillabasse; they seemed like a really good match.

No health concerns, so that's pretty much it for another Wednesday.

--John R.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Civility on the Net ('laundry lists')

So, I've been mulling over recently why there's so much incivility and rancor on the internet. In particular, I was struck by two threads on the MythSoc list a few weeks back, both concerning the recently announced BEOWULF translation by JRRT that's coming out next month.

The first came in response to a query forwarded to the list:

The question is, why wasn't a translation of Beowulf by an Anglo-Saxon scholar published before? Did Tolkien submit it to a publisher in his lifetime? Why did Christopher Tolkien wait so long to publish it, long after *Laundry Lists of Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits: A Comparison with a Note about Dwarf Wives and Runic Laundry Marks*. The fact of its late publication suggests, in the absence of other facts, that it is not good or not interesting.

Now, setting aside the main thrust of the question, and its implication that delay in publication indicates deficiency in merit (a dubious premise*), it's hard for me to read the above and not conclude that it's deliberately insulting. Describing Tolkien's posthumous work as 'laundry lists' is an old joke,** only evoked by those who intend to belittle it. It's the equivalent of people who in the old days would insult TSR by mis-spelling the name 'T$R'. Those of us who worked at TSR took that as a deliberate and gratuitous insult, the proper response to which was to ignore comments from anyone who used it: their self-declared hostility negated any obligation to respond. And that's just the response that several posters on the MythSoc list advocated: that a deliberately insulting question didn't deserve an answer, much less a civil one. And I have to say I pretty much agree with them. Why engage with people who go out of their way to be deliberately unpleasant? And in the unlikely event it's not deliberate, engaging with people whose grasp of basic civility is so weak that they can't tell an insult from a question lacks any appeal.

So much for the deliberate insult. The second example came only a day or two later, in the form of a posting including a link, with the post carefully identifying the piece thus linked to as full of errors. And so it was:

Now, granted that it's a good idea to read any interview in the knowledge that a published interview might not always fully and fairly represented what the person interviewed meant to say, this piece is still full of such flagrant errors that it's hard not to include that here we're seeing an example of what I call 'Low Information Expert' -- when someone's asked for his or her opinion and replies from an assumed position of authority despite not  knowing much about the subject at hand. This time I posted myself, regretfully intemperately, in this second thread.

I think what annoyed me into posting this time, when I'd been able to sit out the first round, were (a)  the multiple and manifold errors in the linked piece and (b) the deliberate insults to Christopher Tolkien included therein. As for the first, it's not true that Christopher Tolkien only learned about the existence of this translation through Michael Drout: Drout found out about them when looking at the material Christopher Tolkien had sorted, organized, annotated, and deposited in the Bodleian Library. It's not true that Tolkien died in the 1980s, nor that the Tolkien Estate is trying to extend the copyright beyond the usual legal limits .*** And I have to say that some of us are looking forward to reading Tolkien's lecture notes on BEOWULF, significant portions of which are said to be included in the new edition.

Leaving aside the errors, I think in hindsight it was the personal attack on C.T. that goaded me into response. Errors are always with us. Snarky comments are always with us. But it's harder to let malicious personal attacks on people you know and whose work you respect pass unchallenged.

As for the larger question, I'm currently on four email lists. One is small and friendly and v. localized in content. A second, somewhat larger one, is friendly and supportive. A third occasionally flames up but a firm moderator keeps us all in line when need be. It's only the fourth, which has minimal and infrequent moderation, that regularly sinks into extended bouts of ill-will and, worse, replays the same arguments, between the same people, on a regular basis.  So it's my conclusion, based on my personal experiences, that internet civility is directly linked to consequences or the lack thereof.


--John R.

current audiobook: Shippey's lectures on Heroism
current reading: WIZARDY AND WILD ROMANCE by Michal Moorcock

*after all, it's only a year since we finally got THE FALL OF ARTHUR.

**it might make an interesting project sometime to try to trace back who was the first smart-alec who thought this one up and what it says about the people who keep reusing it all these years later.

***and in any case the 75-years of standard copyright protection she mentions will carry us all the way to the year 2048 or thereabouts.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Miyazaki's labor of love

So, for weeks now I've been wanting to go see the new Studio Ghibli movie, THE WIND RISES, but the Deadline Gods would have it otherwise. During the current respite, when I'm working on my Kalamazoo paper while waiting on galleys from the BRIEF HISTORY but taking the weekends off to recoup a bit, we finally managed it, driving down to the Grand Cinema in Tacoma. Unfortunately the version they were showing was dubbed into English, but at least it was a pretty good dub, with some surprising voice actors (e.g., Werner Herzog and Stanley Tucci). But then the original Japanese voice casting also seems to have been unusual, with Hideaki Anno (the incompetent genius behind many of Studio Gainax's most famous projects) as the voice of the main character.

Voices aside, the movie was everything you'd expect from the world's greatest living animator. Miyazaki excels at fantasy and slice-of-life re-creations of times past, often combining the two seamlessly into the same film. Nobody evokes times past like Miyazaki, and THE WIND RISES is no exception: he re-creates preWar Japan of the 'twenties and 'thirties with all the detail of a great noir director yet with a warm, soft palette befitting the warm, gentle story he has to tell. At first glance the subject matter -- a biopic of the man who designed the Zero, Japan's WWII-era fighter-planes, used at Pearl Harbor and later in kamakazi attacks near the end of the war -- wd seem an odd choice for Miyazaki. Yet in another sense it's entirely fitting: Miyazaki has shown a fascination with flight and flying machines of all kinds throughout his career, from Nausicaa's single-person hoppers and Kiki's broom to Howl's nightmare flights and, of course, PORCO ROSSO.

In Miyazaki's telling, Jiro Horikoshi is a man obsessed with designing the perfect airplane: unworldly and brilliant, unable to become a pilot himself because of poor eyesight but passionate about everything to do with planes. It's a cruel irony of fate that the people willing to fund his work are the Japanese military, and that his elegant design serves as a weapon of war. It's as if someone decided to make an animated film about the life and career of Werner von Braun, from his early fascination with Goddard's rockets through his war-work on the V2s to his later guiding the U. S. space program, including most notably the race to the moon.

This is a movie filled with planes, both real and imagined (in the many dream-sequences, a number of which feature Jiro's hero, Italian plane designer Caproni), but the real heart of the movie is the touching (and ultimately tragic) love story between Jiro and the girl he meets during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (in itself a stunning piece of animation). The film's more than two hours long, but it certainly doesn't feel like it -- if anything, it feels too short, since it covers Jiro's life in detail up to the mid-thirties and then suddenly jumps ahead to the post-war era for a brief, melancholy meditation upon the waste of war, more or less ignoring the final (postwar) decades of Jiro's life. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter: a great film doesn't have to be perfect, and I know I'll be wanting to see this one again.

They're billing this as the Last Movie for Hayao Miyazaki, one of the world's great directors and without doubt the best creator of animated films.  Let's hope not -- though if Miyazaki, now in his seventies and with a brilliant body of work behind him, feels like he wants to retire, he's certainly earned the right. And this movie is good enough to be worthy of being a great filmmaker's final work. But those of us who admire his work will always want more.

--John R.
current reading: THE FALL OF ARTHUR (re-reading), JOURNEY TO THE WEST (slowly, v. slowly), EPIC POOH.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Cat Report (W.4/9-14)

Not having been able to go in last week (thanks, Samm, for covering for me),  I had some catching up to do this week. Happy that poor shy Faye found a home all her own. I didn't get to meet Hans, who came and went in the meantime, but was delighted to make Mr. Neighbor's acquaintance (and just in time too; glad to hear he's now with his new people). And this morning I also got to meet Kaspar, as well as get to see our resident Three Black Cats: my pal KaboodleMr. Scruffs, and Bouillabasse

Started off the morning with some walks, and discovered that Neighbors is a natural-born walker: brave, curious, and sociable. Kaspar also enjoyed his walk, but the other three didn't -- Bouillabasse was only out a little while, due to their being way too manydogs, big and small, about (I counted eight). Kaboodle was in-and-out, as was Mr. Scruffs -- who was so upset he wdn't let me take the leash and collar off, so he wore them for the next hour or so like an old school tie until he finally let me take them off. 

Kaspar's certainly a talker, who loves string games with a passion. Neighbors went wild over the laser pointer, getting so worked up he forgot to chase it but just tore around the room, occasionally remembering his prey and hunting it down again. Bouillabasse enjoys games too, but she hates to share, and wd interrupt a game to go hiss at Kaspar or Neighbor, just to show them it was her game and they were just onlookers getting in the way. I brought in some catnip bubbles, which fascinated the three younger cats (Neighbor, Kaspar, Bouillabasse), but since one of them knocked over the jar probably won't be doing that again for a while. The peacock feathers were welcomed by one and all; Kaboodle in particular enjoyed them over all other games. I put a catnip-laced box atop the cages which first Scruffs and then later Neighbor enjoyed. Trying to find ways to get Mr. Scruffs in a better mood: being up by himself atop the cabinet, with a modicum of catnip nearby, seems to come closest so far. Kaboodle was upset with me for making him go back in his cage: he clearly wanted to stay out up their atop his cage after all the others had gone in and have the room all to himself for a while, and I cdn't accommodate him on that for as long as he wanted. Maybe I shd let him and Scruffs out first next time, let them establish their territories, and then release the rest one by one. 

Even better would be for those folks who I now hear came in and placed a hold on Mr. Scruffs come back and follow-through on it. He deserves a place of his own after having waited, as patiently as he could, for all these months.

old times revisited: a woman came in who said she'd been the one who adopted Gizmo Doodad, whose name I remember but I've entirely forgotten what he looked like. Gizmo's owner showed me a picture: a big black cat, almost brown in the sun, as if he had a mane. We also had a woman visiting who said she'd adopted a cat from our cat-room about five years ago named SIDNEY HARBOR (now 'Harley'). That was before my time, though I'm glad to know he's doing well: anyone remember him? 

health concerns: Kaspar's chin looks like a bad case of cat acne: it almost looks like a five o'clock shadow. I did what I could, but it'll be a gradual process to get it all clean without making his chin sore. Think his ears might need a little work too, but they're not that bad.  Bouillabasse is cleaning herself up much better -- is it my imagination, or has she lost a little weight? And of course I have to sympathize with Kaspar's bald patches resulting in kind of cat-pattern baldness.

And that's about it for another week.
--John R.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Friend Jim

This is what it feels like to lose an old friend:
A sudden sense of absence.
Thirty years of shared history suddenly remote, cut off.
Thoughts of things you would have said at your next get-together, had there been a next time.
The world getting just a little smaller.

Last week came the news that my friend Jim Pietrusz had died on March 25th after a year-long struggle with melanoma, a year of ups and downs. This is one of those times when the news hits hard and only gets bleaker as the loss sinks in. I didn't get to see Jim often since we moved from Wisconsin, but we'd get together about once a year and catch up on what we'd each been reading. I feel bad that the last time I saw him, about a year ago, our meeting was shorter than planned because of a mix-up on my part, and our next meeting last fall had to be cancel because of a family crisis that sent me scrambling to Arkansas on short notice.

Our paths first crossed as a result of the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference planned by Taum Santoski, Marquette archivist Chuck Elston, and Archives secretary/receptionist Terry Margharita. Although I don't think Jim was at the conference, after it was over Terry M. had the good idea that she and I might teach a Continuing Ed (night school) class on Tolkien; I think this wd have been in the spring of 1984. This went really well, with myself and some of the students gathering after each night class at the local I-Hop for much, much more conversation. After the class had run its course, several of us decided to continuing meeting, among whom were myself, Jim, Jeff Long, Jan Noble (now Jan Long), and Dave Hoose. That group,* now called The Burrahobbits, is still meeting once a month, almost thirty years later, though Jim eventually dropped out of it and I wasn't able to attend meetings after I moved two thousand miles away. I also taught several more Continuing Ed classes, with Jim et al as the core audience, mostly on my own (Tolkien: Beyond The Lord of the Rings; Before Tolkien; After Tolkien) but also in tandem with Jim (fantasy based on fairy-tale and folk-tale), and once Jim taught one himself (on the Arthurian myth). But mostly in those latter years I'd contact Jim when I was going to be in the Midwest, generally once or possibly twice a year, and we'd get-together for lunch or an afternoon discussing books or any of Jim's other myriad interests.

Jim was the most voracious reader I've ever known, and the most dedicated book-buyer. He at some point before I knew him had decided he wanted to own the books he read and read the books he owned, so he started book-buying on a vast scale: several hundred books a year. So many books that in the pre-amazon/bookfinder/ab-libris et al days he had his own shelf behind the counter at Websters' Books on Downer, where they'd special-order books for him and he'd pick up one or two from that holds shelf each time he came in, while at home he had a big wooden box built and placed on his front porch for the mailman to deposit packages in, invariably containing books new and old. It must have been a rare day that didn't bring a new book.

And he was methodical, reading all those books in the order he bought them.** When he moved into a new house (early/mid 90s, I think) he designed a beautifully wood-paneled library, the kind of room every book-lover and dedicated reader dreams of having in his or her own home, but the books soon overflowed his shelves and filled the floor, still all in their proper order. So that whenever I saw him again after an absence, I'd ask "when are you up to?" and he'd reply "April 2009" or something of the sort, the date lagging a few years behind the present. When I first knew him he was only a year and a half or so behind, but as time went by the gap widened and I think it was up to about three years or so last I knew.

And his range of interests was wide: fantasy (which is what drew us together -- he's the one who introduced me to authors as different as Wm Hope Hodgson and Philip Pullman), literature (I still have several volumes of lesser-known works by Conrad he gave me during one of his periodic book-purges of older books he didn't intend to read again to make room for more books), comparative mythology (writers like Eliade and especially Joseph Campbell, whom he rated far higher than I ever would), and, what came to be his dominating obsession (just as my own is Tolkien), King Arthur. Jim had always been interested in the King Arthur legend, but during the early years of our friendship this became his central and abiding focus, and he set out trying to amass a collection of all things Arthurian -- a massive undertaking. I know he had made arrangements for it to go to a university library, I assume as the Pietrusz Collection, so others shd eventually be able to benefit from his pursuit of his bliss (as Campbell wd have put it).

So, I'll miss him. When we first met, I was someone who'd uprooted himself and moved cross-country from Arkansas to Wisconsin, while Jim was a lifelong Milwaukee native who remembered back to the days when Milwaukee had streetcars. He'd also attended Marquette years before I did and so had that shared experience, being fully in agreement over who were the good guys of that department (first and foremost, Dr. McCabe). We also shared a love of cats (his Nimue lived to be twenty, and after her death he had the beautiful wooden box containing her remains put on the windowsill in his library that'd been her favorite spot for sunbeams. We were very different in our approaches and interests, but we shared a lot of common ground, too. And we enjoyed each other's company, and I think the exchanges did us both good. Talking to him, I always learned something I hadn't known before. Now that's over, but I'm glad for all the times we did get together and for all those many conversations.

--John R.

*along with many additions and otherwise over the years, of course

**he did allow himself some flexibility, so that when he came to the first book in a trilogy he'd read the second and third in quick succession -- unless the first proved so hopeless that he moved all three to the discard pile. But then, he said if he didn't buy all three volumes as they came out the second or third might be out of print by the time he got to the first

 ***as well as seminary, early on

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Respite

So, yesterday I finished my turnover on The Big Project, which means I have a little time to come up for air and deal with other things that I'd been neglecting the past few weeks (including blog posts). At least until the reset text comes back and the proofreading begins.

I'll have a new and improved errata list (for the one-volume HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT) up soon. It was longer than I'd have liked, but at least all the items are minor.

Till then, it's errands today, gaming tonight,* and probably going out to a movie (the new Miyazaki) tomorrow. And then back to work again come Monday morning.

--John R.

just finished: JOHANNES CABAL & THE DREAM INSTITUTE (second reading)
just started: THE STORY OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS by Bryan F. Le Beau [1998]

*I'm running a CALL OF CTHULHU scenario set during the Yukon gold rush.