Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tolkien Spotting (COINAGE MAGAZINE)

So, in the long-ago I was a coin collector (I still carry my favorite coin, which my father bought for me when I was in second grade, in my pocket every day*). So of course I was interested when I heard of a stash of old gold coins found out in California last year, but the few news reports I saw were more speculative than informative. So when I saw that the June issue of COINAGE magazine had not one but two features on what they're now calling 'The Saddle Ridge Hoard", it seemed a good enough reason to pick up the magazine and see what coin collecting's like these days (when it seems more about bullion value than anything else).

The articles were both quite interesting, both in their detailed accounts about the finding of the hoard and also details about the coins themselves. But what wound up interesting me most was an unexpected Tolkien reference right in the middle of the first piece, "Gold Is Where You Find It: The Saddle Ridge Hoard" by Tom DeLorey.

After recounting how the finders discovered the hoard, how the coins were stashed, and how much they were worth, the author explains how

The finders prudently wish to remain anonymous, lest would-be plunderers with their own metal detectors descend upon their property in the manner that certain inhabitants of Hobbiton descended upon Bag End at the start of "The Lord of the Rings" This is a very wise precaution on the couple's part, for as J. R. R. Tolkien wrote: "legendary gold (mysteriously obtained, if not positively ill-gotten) is, as every one knows, any one's for the finding -- unless the search is interrupted.   (p. 11)

I was delighted by how apt the citation was, and pleased that it derives entirely from the book, as no such scene appears in the movie.

--John R.

*I also usually carry three more in my back pocket: a 1907 Indian Head Penny, a 2001 Sacajawea, and whatever's the latest presidential dollar (I'm working on having the only circulated set anywhere) -- though I'm lagging behind, my current coin being Wilson -- probably from a reluctance to carry around a coin devoted to a president as bad as Harding.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tolkienian Music

So, thanks to Janice for this link to a beautiful acoustic performance of some of the music from Peter Jackson THE HOBBIT. I've never seen a guitar like this, and was quite surprised to find it's a bass (given how high the pitch is of some of the notes); the 'e-bow' he uses around the mid-way point is also new to me.

Even the best instrument needs material to work on and talent to show it at its best. I think this arrangement and performance shows both.

Here's the link:

current reading: CATCHER IN THE RYE (Salinger), THE WORD FOR WORLD IS FOREST (Le Guin)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


So, a few days ago it was my grandmother's birthday, the first day of summer and longest day of the year. By chance I happened to see a piece about pagan celebrations of the solstice* which (a) made me envy the pagans for just one thing: they get to go up close to Stonehenge on these special occasions, which we Presbyterians do not, and (b) included the following passage which caught my eye:

Some refer to the summer solstice as "Litha," 
a term that may derive from 8th century monk Bede's 
The Reckoning of Time.  Bede names "Litha" 
as the Latin name for both June and July in ancient times.

I'd just been working my way through proofing of the 1960 HOBBIT's section on phases of the moon, in which Tolkien uses the Shire Calendar's reckoning of Midsummer, in which June 30th is followed by Lithe ('the June Lithe'), then Midsummer's Day, then Lithe ('the July Lithe'), so that June 30th and July 1st are four days apart, not one as in our modern calendar. But I'd always just assumed the word 'Lithe' was his own invention. So when I saw this I thought so that's where he got it from. A little checking revealed this was well-known to NeoPagans (most of whom cd probably have told the writer of the article cited above that Bede was giving the Old English names of the months, not the Latin ones.

So, another little example of Tolkien reviving a bit of old medieval lore and unobtrusively working it in to his own fictions.

just finished: VERY FAR AWAY FROM ANYWHERE ELSE, by Le Guin
just started: THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, by Salinger

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Books Neither Coming Nor Going

So, in addition to the two dozen or so books mentioned in my previous post which are on their way out the door, there are also ten or so whose status is currently uncertain; I've pulled them from the shelves because I'm not sure I want to keep them, but I'm not altogether sure I want to get rid of them yet either. So they've been set aside to read before making that decision. Some I've read before, a long time ago, while others have been patiently waiting their turn just as long. Here's the list of this second category of possible non-keepers, in no particular order:

GRAY LENSMAN by E. E. 'Doc' Smith. One of my friends at TSR and WotC (hi, Rich!)  rather liked the once-famous Lensman series and recommended it to me at one point, so sometime later I picked up this volume cheaply at random. Suspect I won't be keeping it, but time I at least tried reading it first.

THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS by L. Frank Baum. I know Baum has his supporters and admirers, but while I've read a fair amount of his work I really only liked the first OZ book.* So again suspect this will be a read and then pass-it-along book.

THE DEVIL'S CHILDREN by Peter Dickinson. Picked this one up on impulse, thinking to try something new, then never have read it. Time to remedy that omission.

MERLIN'S BOOKE by Jane Yolen. Frankly bought this one for the cover, a gorgeous piece of work by my favorite fantasy author, Thomas Canty. So why am I so reluctant to actually read the book?

GLORY ROAD by Heinlein. Read this once and found it forgetable, but don't want Heinlein's attempt at heroic fantasy to pass from my hands without giving it one more try, if only to leave it with a clearer memory of what's in it.

THE MASK OF CIRCE by Henry Kuttner. I'm a great admirer of Kuttner's short stories but haven't heard much good of his novels; I'll let this one be a test case of whether I shd seek out more or stop while I'm ahead.

THE CARNELIAN CUBE by Pratt & de Camp. I remember this only as the last and least of their collaborations. And while I like their stuff, I've really only been keeping this one just for the sake of completism. So I'll re-read it and then judge whether it's good enough to keep on its own merits.

THE WELL OF THE UNICORN by Fletcher Pratt. Oddly enough, as much as I liked the team of de Camp and Pratt, I've never read either of Pratt's two solo novels. Odder still, given the Dunsany connection with this one. In any case, now that I've picked up a hardcover, I don't really need this old paperback anymore, thought I'm a little reluctant to part with it, given that it was a gift from a friend (hi, Charles!).

--all by Le Guin. Back in the seventies and early eighties, when you found a good fantasy author you picked up everything you could find by her. Thus these minor Le Guins, which I'm thinking I cd part with now, though it behooves me to read or re-read them first. Just finished reading ROCANNON'S WORLD, her first book (half an Ace Double), which I'd never read before and will be keeping; now well into THE BEGINNING PLACE, which I'm pretty sure I won't. I also need to read THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, but that can wait for another day, lest I get Le Guin'd out.**

Then of course there's the hardcover of EREGON, which I'm all but certain I won't be keeping but haven't made up my mind as to whether I shd read it first before it goes out the door.

--John R.
current reading: THE BEGINNING PLACE by Ursula K. Le Guin [1980/81]

*I actually fell asleep once while reading an OZ book. Out loud. Though I do admit he comes up with some interesting characters in the later books in the series, like the Hungry Tiger and Tik-Tok Man.

**If I can keep going, I still need to see if I can make myself read ALWAYS COMING HOME, and there are three science fiction novels I shd probably give a try as well: PLANET OF EXILE, CITY OF ILLUSION, and esp. THE DISPOSSESSED, none of which I've ever read.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Books Exiting the System

So, once again I've been going through the shelves and pulling off some books to get rid of. For the most part, these fall into one of two categories. Either they're books I read long ago and don't see myself re-reading, or they're books I bought on impulse years ago and am finally admitting I probably won't ever get around to. As I get older, and being mindful that my eyesight isn't good and won't get better, I find myself starting to think that there's a finite number of books I'll get to read from here on out, and maybe I shd start being a little more selective . . .

Anyway, here's a listing of the latest batch, with some thoughts on each book:

PETER PAN (the novel) by J. M. Barrie. I was never particularly a fan, but thought I shd have a copy handy for reference in case I ever needed to. Doesn't look like that'll be the case, and it's readily available if that shd ever change.

THE FAIRY OF KU-SHE by M. Lucie Chin. I picked this up when I was seeking out everything that reminded me of THE BRIDGE OF BIRDS. I see I bought this one at the late lamented Turning Page in Milwaukee more than twenty years ago and haven't cracked the cover yet, so think this is an impulse buy whose time has passed.

THE FALLIBLE FIEND by de Camp.  Extremely minor de Camp. I'd rather keep the good stuff and let this one go.

THE DREAM YEARS by Lisa Goldstein. An interesting enough read, but find I don't particularly want to re-read it, so it can go.

THE RED MAGICIAN by Lisa Goldstein. I think this was the one that made me decide Goldstein was pursuing a direction in fantasy that didn't particularly appeal to me, despite being well-written.

STRANGE DEVICES OF THE SUN AND MOON by Lisa Goldstein. Bought this when I thought I was going on a Lisa Goldstein kick, but turned out I was wrong about that.

HAWK & FISHER: WINNER TAKES ALL by Simon R. Green. Think I picked this one up off a freebie table at work, so it's not even an impulse buy. The impulse to actually read it never having arrived, it can go.

TRAVELING WITH THE DEAD by Barbara Hambly. The sequel to THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT, which I found an interesting take on vampirism (she posits it's a virus). Picked up this sequel a few years later but never read it, and recently realized it's because for me that first book was sufficient: I don't want to know more about those characters; I want to leave them where they were at the close of the previous novel. So, this one can go. 

STARSHIP TROOPER by Heinlein. Read this one for book group soon after we moved out here. Didn't particularly like it. Didn't like the film supposedly based on it. Don't foresee any need to ever re-read it -- and if one arises, replacement copies will be readily available.*

AT AMBERLEAF FAIR by Phyllis Ann Karr. Picking up this one apparently seemed like a good idea at the time, but never having read it have to admit I'm never likely to in future, so it can go.

FROSTFLOWER AND THORN by Phyllis Ann Karr.  Unpleasantly kinky.

THE IDYLLS OF THE QUEEN by Phyllis Ann Karr. A murder mystery set in Camelot, with Sir Kay as her detective.**

JINX HIGH by Mercedes Lackey. The only Lackey I've read, one of the 'Diana Tregarde' series. If it'd been better, I might have read more, or indeed want to keep this one.

AT THE BACK OF THE NORTH WIND by Geo. MacDonald. The only one of MacD's fantasies I'd never gotten to, now that I've read it I definitely don't want to keep it. When Phillip Pullman accuses C. S. Lewis (a huge fan of MacD's) of celebrating 'a culture of death', this is the kind of thing he's talking about.***

THE GIRL, THE GOLD WATCH, AND EVERYTHING by John D. MacDonald. Once you have the idea behind the story, you don't really need the story itself (which hardly does justice to it). Bought this one at X-Con many years ago (in fact, at the last X-Con I ever went to, right before Taum died). Amusingly, has a Pam Dauber movie tie-in cover.

DREAM SNAKE by Vonda McIntyre. A really good short story turned into a disappointing novel. I'm keeping the short story and letting the novel go.

NEVER THE TWAIN by Kirk Mitchell. Sounded like a clever premise -- a descendent of Bret Harte goes back in time to try to convince Sam Clemens not to take up writing so that his own ancestor will be more famous. But I've never been moved to read it in the more than quarter century since I spotted it on the shelf and picked it up, so think its window has closed for me. 

PARSIVAL by Richard Monaco. This one was recommended to me by a friend (Jim P., I think), but for whatever reason I've never gotten around to it, so now it's falling prey to my 'make some room' mood. Besides, having read Wolfram and Chretien, I don't really need to read a modern novelization of the story.

THE JADE ENCHANTRESS by E. Hoffmann Price. Having read this more than a decade ago and not remembering a single thing about it, and given how much I disliked the other Price I recently re-read, can't face the thought of re-reading this one too. Off it goes to hopefully a more appreciative home.****

RED MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson. Another I read for book group. I rather liked this one --KSR has some interesting ideas, and is good in presenting them --  but never moved on to the second and third in the series, and don't feel any particular desire to re-read this one, so it can go.

THE FALL OF HYPERION by Dan Simmons. Interesting book, also read for book group.  I admire Simmons's ambition for drawing upon some of Keats' lesser known work for his inspiration, but I was fine with just reading the first book and not pressing on to the second and third of the series. And now fourteen years later realize I have no particular desire to re-read the one either. So it can go.

A WIND IN CAIRO by Judith Tarr. I enjoyed some of Tarr's work, but not this one (about a rapist redeeming himself after being transformed into a stallion). If I were to get in a Tarr-reading mood, I'd rather re-read ALAMUT, her best work (of the half-dozen or so I've read).

AGENT OF BYZANTIUM by Harry Turtledove. Enjoyable enough, but not memorable.

THE CASE OF THE TOXIC SPELL DUMP by Harry Turtledove. Faux-hardboiled detective story, read for book group. From what little I remember of it, kind of like Turtledove's equivalent to CAST A DEADLY SPELL or Hambley's BRIDE OF THE RAT-GOD.

THE OLD GODS WAKEN by Manley Wade Wellman. A 'Silver John' novel. The short story collection was great, but the novel's terrible: a dull, overlong mess.

DARKER THAN YOU THINK by Jack Williamson. Recently read, after having it on the shelf for years. Awful. Originally published in UNKNOWN; I can only assume the magazine version was shorter and therefore better.

*my notes say I bought this on my first ever visit to Borders in Tukwila, the same month I moved out to this area from Wisconsin
**she does a good job with Kay, Gawain, and Mordred, but a terrible job with Arthur, Lancelot, Gareth, and especially Merlin; her Guinever is essentially invisible
***a library discard from the Milwaukee public library, just to give some idea how long I carried this one with me through move after move before finally getting to it and finding out how bad it was.
****bought this one on a rare trip to in interesting old bookstore in Auburn with Dale D. (Hi Dale!)

Politics (III)

So, to cap off their week of the General Assembly meeting, the Presbyterians voted to recognize gay marriage as Xian union, and to authorize pastors who live in areas where it's legal to preside at such services. The first of these still needs to be ratified (we Presbyterians have a thoroughly democratic church structure) by the Presbyteries and Synods, but the first apparently takes effect right away.

According to the article linked to below, about four percent of congregations felt the church had gone too far when the Assembly voted to ordain gay ministers three years back and left the church; probably a similar number will leave now and go join a more conservative branch of the church, of which there are several. But looks like the main body is going ahead with this major change.

Here's the link:

--John R.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Classics Illustrated

So, having finally made my way through LAST OF THE MOHICANS (as an unabridged audiobook), I conclude that Mark Twain went easy on J.F.C. in "Cooper's Literary Offenses". All I'd read previously of Cooper, when I was studying for my Master's exams, was THE PRAIRIE, the last of the Natty Bumpo novels, in which he's an eightyish windbag fighting the Sioux out on the prairies. That was an experience I decided I didn't need to repeat anytime soon --- hence the thirty-plus year delay before recently tackling MOHICANS, which did not in any way repay the time spent reading it.

And yet, having said that, I have to admit that there's another Cooper novel I know well, though only in abridged form: THE SPY, a Revolutionary War story about a man despised by his neighbors because everyone thinks is a Tory spy when he's really Washington's most trusted double agent, whose heroic deeds are never known. I know this from the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED version, which we owned and which I read repeatedly. In retrospect, I think this series was a great venue because it abridged the stories but did not rewrite or recast them for a younger audience (as wd be the case nowadays). So faithful were they that I remember, when I eventually came to read ROMEO & JULIET in its complete version in class  (that wd have been in 9th grade, the last year of junior high), being surprised that one speech I didn't recognize in a scene I remembered well.

I had a pretty good stack of these, perhaps twenty or so, all of which are long since lost -- I loaned them to two friends and never got them back. Jotting down some notes and then looking through the listing of them at wikipedia (, I'm surprised by how many of them I remember, and how well I remember specific scenes in them all these years later. At least three I never have re-read in their full, non-comic book versions:

Cooper's THE SPY

Far more common is for me to have first read a story in its Classics Illustrated version and then later (sometimes quite a bit later -- i. e. one or two only in recent years) having read the original in full:

Shakespeare's ROMEO & JULIET
Melville's MOBY DICK and, I think, TYPEE


a few were for some reason less memorable: I think I may have read the following, but can't be sure at this point:


current reading: ROCANNON'S WORLD (LeGuin)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Politics (II)

So, looks like the Presbyterians are on the verge of voting to divest from companies involved in the occupation in Israel-Palestine. It's a relatively small amount of money involved; more a symbolic statement than anything likely to have significant economic impact.

Ironically, of the two news stories I've seen on this, the more neutral and informative was the one on Fox News:

The original piece I saw a few days ago is much more gung-ho about the prospects of divestment:

Should be interesting to see the results from this, if any.


Politics (I)

So, I don't see why people are so upset about Bowe Bergdahl's release. We get an American citizen who's being tortured by terrorists home safe and sound. And at the same time we get five more people freed from the gulag at Guantanamo. Sounds like a win/win situation to me.

current reading: ROCANNON'S WORLD (LeGuin's first novel)

Friday, June 13, 2014

TARKUS is Kaiju

So, as I was driving down from Little Rock listening over and over to my favorite concept album, Emerson Lake & Palmer's TARKUS [1971]  (Side A, three times, back to back) , it suddenly struck me: TARKUS is a Kaiju.

As I've recently learned, Godzilla (Gojira) monster movies (a.k.a. 'men in rubber suits') are called Kaiju ('strange creatures' -- i.e., monster) movies in Japan. Until quite recently I'd only seen two Godzilla films: The original movie (and only that in its Americanized form, with Raymond Burr, who wasn't even in the original Japanese version) once on tv years ago, plus one Godzilla movie in the theaters back around 1970 or so (this I've since worked out to have been MONSTER ZERO, featuring Godzilla vs. King Ghidaroh, the three-headed dragon). I'd also seen the awful American Godzilla film from the late nineties, but frankly like many people most of my knowledge about Godzilla came from the Blue Oyster Cult song of the same name.

Recently, however, we've seen a number of Godzilla films from different eras as part of our occasional anime/movie night (one of our group being an aficionado of, and knowledgeable about, Kaiju, and maybe that growing familiarity with giant-monster movies made me spot TARKUS's affinities with the genre.

Think of it: he's born out of an erupting volcano, making him like unto a force of nature (a standard theme with the kaiju monsters). He looks like a bizarre mix of armored armadillo and halftrack/tank, and his whole story is a series of battles against other, similar monsters. First he confronts Stone of Years, who looks rather like an ambulatory nuclear power plant, and easily crushes him. Next comes Iconoclast, who resembles a fighter jet/ pterodactyl, and is similarly defeated. Third is Mass, an armored grasshopper with missiles, who again is destroyed. Finally comes Manticore. It's also been a theme that each of the monsters Tarkus confronts is larger than the last, they all turn out to be considerably smaller than Tarkus himself (as my cousin Sam, who introduced me to the album, pointed out to me long ago). Manticore, by contrast, is as big as Tarkus himself. He also stands out as the only organic-looking monster in the lot. And their battle turns out very differently: at the climax of the piece, Manticore stings Tarkus in the eye with his poisoned scorpion-tail, and the dying Tarkus plunges into the ocean to become 'AquaTarkus'.   It's a simple, dramatic plot to structure the mostly instrumental piece around; it just took me a while to recognize the pattern, creatures, et al as strongly reminiscent of the Godzilla movies.

Too bad nobody made an animated film of Tarkus back in the day; I'd have watched it.

current reading: A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA (re-reading, for Book Group)
currrent music: Emerson, Lake, & Palmer: TARKUS
current audiobook: THE STORY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE by McWhorter [2004]

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Cat Report (W. June 11th)

We're now up to a pretty full room: nine cats. Luckily they're a fairly tolerant bunch and I was able to have eight of the nine out at the same time (with the ninth, new cat TAWYN, relaxing belly-up in her open cage but firmly declining to come out). I ascribe this overall harmony to MR. SCRUFFS establishing a good tone that keeps the cats tolerant of each other without being friendly.

Started the morning with a round of walks. MITZY said no!, KASPAR (to my surprise) no thanks. PHOENIX was uncertain, enjoying the attention but not the walking bits. BERRY loved it, and went up one aisle and down another, then up and down again, which seemed to establish her bearings and she explored outwards from there. She expressed interest in the pet beds, went in and out among the cat-stands by the wall, peeped at the dogs (one or two of whom came over and peeped back), and ended by watching the birds. At noon I took LEMUR out. He was a bit nervous and a bit noisy, but I wasn't able to find out whether this was because of being outside the room or because someone came up with a small dog on a leash and, every time I moved Lemur away, the person moved the dog closer. So I took the easy option of just taking Lemur back inside the cat-room, where he was fine.

Once the cage-cleaning started, the cats all came out (except Tawny). Mr. Scruffs went back and forth between the floor by the door and the top of the cat-stand near the door. MOLINNI was more relaxed than I've seen her, hanging out near the door and in her favorite basket on the bench. She seemed to want attention but I wasn't able to find any satisfactory way of petting her; she hissed and swatted when I tried. And as for sitting in my lap, she let me know that was, in the words of Monty Python, Right Out. Has anyone else had more success giving her attention? She obviously wants and needs it. 

The box with catnip in the bottom was a big favorite again. Phoenix investigated it first, then Molinni (who was deeply suspicious that It Was All A Trick), then Lemur (who sat in it a good while), then SMOLLY, who declared it her very own and slept in it for a good two hours. Phoenix wound up in her usual spot on the bench and Smolly eventually went back and forth between on the floor in front of the cabinet and over near the main door to the room. Lemur hung out near the door, mostly, though at one point he went exploring back into the corner that holds the laundry.

Berry established herself in her favorite spot, atop the cat-stand by the cabinet, where she got a lot of attention and gloried in it. At one point I was near there doing something else and she reached out to gently tag me with one black paw, asking for more attention. V. affectionate.

Mitzy I put up atop the cages, as usual, which she enjoyed greatly. She explored, then settled down with satisfaction at having her own realm where none of the other cats could sneak up on her. I gave her a little cat on wet catfood* which she devoured, even using her paw to scrape out the little bit left along the edges inside the can. It was good to see her with an appetite. I did badly upset her when getting her down at the end of the morning; must have approached her from her blind side. She was fine once back in her cage on her four feet again, but I'm sorry to have so alarmed her between points A and B.

A second round of a spoonful each of wet catfood did much to reconcile them all to their cruel fate of having to go back into cages; for once Kaspar settled right down back in his cage. Molinni is usually buried behind her blankets when I arrive (rather like Mr. Kaboodles used to do), so this time I gave her a generous overhang to make her little cat-stand a little more private. Tawyn had been v. interested when I'd briefly draped some cat-blankets across the front of her cage, so I wound up leaving one there to give her semi-privacy as well, which I hope helped her feel better about her space. 

And that's about it; several visitors but none that seemed likely adopter prospects. None of the cats seemed ill. I did a little with Kaspar's chin (the cat-acne) but he didn't let me do much there. Berry's ears needed some cleaning, which she was happy to let me do what I could with. 

--John R.

*ProPlanSavor: salmon & rice entree 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Leaving Arkansas

So, my trip to Magnolia was short (five days) but successful. This was a non-crisis trip, a genuine visit, which made for a nice change. I didn't get around to some things (i.e., planting some rose bushes and catejasmine in the yard), and also didn't get to see two of my three nieces and their families (everybody was off and busy elsewhere), but otherwise got through most of the things I wanted to do this trip. I even discovered that Magnolia has a new restaurant that's pretty good, who I hope fare better than the last good new restaurant. 

During the family visits, I found out some interesting things about my grandfather I hadn't known before; amazing how things turn up long after you'd expect any chance of learning new information had long since passed. I also got contact information on a cousin of mine I've never met on the other side of the family who I hope to get in touch with and exchange some family stories there as well. We'll see.

On my way out of town I stopped by to see the yard for one last look, as is my usual custom. Then it was off to swing by the cemetery to visit my father's (and grandmother's) graves; this visit was different in that I stopped next to the cemetery to rescue a turtle that was trying to cross the Old Eldorado Highway. I used to do a lot of rescuing turtles from the middle of the road back when I lived in the area; it's been a while. This particular pond turtle was still wet and, unusually enough, had a hitch-hiker of his own: a small snail hanging on to the top of his shell. Then it was gas-up the car and off back up to Little Rock -- this being the fourth time I've covered that two-and-a-half-hour patch of road this trip, and the first that I didn't have to do part of the trip through torrential rains from a thunderstorm.* And again as usual I pulled over in Laneburg to see if my grandmother Rateliff's house is still standing: it is, though hidden from the road by all the underbrush that's grown up around it. It amazes me that this little country house, which I don't think anyone has lived in since around 1976 or so, is still standing when my other grandmother's house, in which I grew up, is long since gone.

And then it was the usual: return rental car, check in, navigate security, fill up the thermos at Starbucks (yes, the Little Rock airport does have Starbucks, thank you v. much), and then off for the first part of the two-leg flight home, much of which I spent reading JRRT's commentary and notes re. BEOWULF . . . 

--John R.

*at least I now know what the Bryant, Arkansas tornado warning sounds like: a tea-kettle's whistle. And we did see a nice rainbox in Prescott on the drive back on Monday.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

TOLKIEN'S BEOWULF (First Impressions)

So, I've finally had a chance to start in on TOLKIEN'S BEOWULF, the latest and long-awaited publication of JRRT's translation of the earliest surviving major work in English.

This has been out for more than two weeks, but what with one thing and another circumstances have conspired, as they say, to prevent me coming to grips with it before. I knew I had a hardcover on the way (many thanks, H.M.H.!) but cdn't wait, so I also preordered it on the Kindle, where it appeared about ten o'clock of the night before it officially went on sale (I suppose Amazon adopts East Coast time).   Unfortunately, the very next day I had to fly down to California for a quick trip and found that despite my best intentions I was simply too busy to focus on The Beowulf the way I wanted to. I also found the Kindle version glitchy and hard to navigate, though I don't know whether that's an artifact of my Kindle getting rather long in the tooth or something wrong with the electronic version. In any case, the difficulty in reading and extreme deadline pressure (since alleviated) meant that I still hadn't made much progress by the time the actual book (hard copy) had arrived.

Which is, I must say, a thing of beauty. Deep blue-green cover, jewel-like reproduction of Tolkien's famous painting of Beowulf's Dragon on the cover, and two drawings (by Tolkien) of Grendel's Mere on the back cover and inside the back flap, respectively. The latter two in particular are reproduced here much better than has previously been the case, making them much more effective. Plus it's an unexpectedly hefty book: over four hundred packed pages. That Christopher Tolkien, who'll be ninety later this year, can put out such a substantial book is worthy of respect and admiration.

- - - 

So, what's here? First and foremost, Tolkien's prose translation of BEOWULF, which C.T. dates to no later than 1926 -- i.e., the Leeds period. That's a surprise, as I'd always thought Tolkien's prose translation dated from the 1930s. Next comes  a generous (200 page) selection from Tolkien's lecture notes, forming not a general overview of the whole poem but observations on specific points,
such as the kenning "whale's road" (which Tolkien disparages as an inept translation) and the question of whether Beowulf the Dane, Hrothgar's grandfather (who is mentioned early on in the poem but plays no part in it), should actually be called Beow -- the theory being that the scribes mixed up his name with that of the poem's hero, Beowulf the Geat.

After The Beowulf proper come two ancillary works of great interest. First of all comes SELLIC SPELL, Tolkien's reconstructed folk tale version of The Bear's Son's Story, which some (e.g., Tolkien's friend R. W. Chambers) believed underlay the figure of Beowulf as he appears in the epic.* I read this once, many years ago, and am delighted to have the chance to make its better acquaintance now. As an extra added bonus, Christopher Tolkien includes no just SELLIC SPELL in its entirety but also substantial extracts from the earliest draft version, which looks to have some interesting variants.

And then there's  THE LAY OF BEOWULF, which seems to have been written to the tune of "The Fox Went Out" (the same melody Tolkien used for 'The Root of the Boot' aka The Stone Troll). Here again there are two versions, one long and one short, retelling the tale as a ballad. Better than Myers Myers' Ballad of Bowie Gizzardbane, I thought, and overal Interesting Stuff.

And what's excluded? First off, this edition does not include Tolkien's famous MONSTERS & THE CRITICS essay, setting out his views on the poem as a whole (prob. because this is already available) in the essay collection BEOWULF THE MONSTERS & THE CRITICS AND OTHER ESSAYS). Similarly, Tolkien's his essay on translating Beowulf that appeared as the Preface to the 1940 Clark-Hall translation of BEOWULF (the project that first brought Allen & Unwin into contact with JRRT), is also absent; also being available in the aforementioned collection, it's thus prob. excluded here for the same reason.

More surprisingly, Tolkien translated BEOWULF not once but twice, into prose (the version printed here) and into alliterative verse. The alliterative translation is incomplete but substantial, covering about a quarter of the original. It's also quite good, if somewhat more archaic than the prose version, and I'm surprised not to find it included herein. Maybe once I have a chance to actually read through the whole of this new book I'll understand why.

And so, to the book!

--JDR, from Arkansas

current reading: TOLKIEN'S BEOWULF

*and also the figure of Bothvar Bjarki in King HROLF KRAKI's SAGA, the probable inspiration for Medwed Beorn.

Le Chef, c'est moi

So, one of the things I do a lot of when I'm in Arkansas is cooking.
   Friday it was speckled butterbeans and also carrots
   Saturday it was crowder peas and corn souffle as well as peach desert*
   Tonight it's green beans cooked with potatoes and a little onion and bacon, as well as scalloped potatoes (au gratin).
   Still to come, if I can find time for it: spaghetti and also the highlight of it all, vegetable soup.

   All of which makes me wonder: why is it so hard to find vegetables as good as speckled butter beans and crowder peas, when it's so easy to find sub-par vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower and yellow squash. Is it a cultural thing, that only those of us from the South really appreciate some things and the rest of the country, despite much excitement about heirloom tomatoes and the like, hasn't caught on to some of the best vegetables that ever were? Or is it somehow tied in with the long cooking times of Southern style vegetables (an hour at the least for each of the above),** which are currently out of fashion under the current cook-it-as-little-as-possible regime?

   A conundrum.
   Meanwhile, it's back to stirring and making sure things are turning out right.


*this last being a peach jello based dish I originally encountered back in high school History Club but the exact recipe is long lost, so I ad-lib each time.

**except, of course, the desert

current reading: DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY by P. D. James [2011] (a murder mystery sequel to Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE that unfortunately does no credit to James -- Austen she's not).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

ADEPT'S GAMBIT (Leiber & Lovecraft)

So, I've now had time to read ADEPT'S GAMBIT, and Lovecraft's comments thereon, and find myself with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it must have been a tremendous boost to the young Leiber to have an established writer like Lovecraft put so much time and effort into a critique of his work. On the other hand, the substance of Lovecraft's comments are so picayune and pedantic that I can't help but feel sorry for Leiber being on the receiving end of it.

First off, Lovecraft liked the story. But he had objections to specific points, both grammatical and historical. Some are fair enough, such as his skepticism whether Hittites and Philistines were still present (at least by those names) in the post-Alexander Hellenic world in which Leiber's story is set. Some, particularly the points of grammar, are nit-picky in the extreme, such as disapproval of words like "react" ("a somewhat needless modernism") or "unbeknownst" ("there is no such word") or "contact" ("ought never to be used as a verb") or "intrigue" (whose use as a verb "really ought to be discouraged"), much less split infinitives ("in spite of all the modern libertarian ballyhoo in their favor").  Lovecraft mentions (p. 171) having just finished editing and ghost writing 'a manual on "Well-Bred English" for a private school in Washington, DC', and the hypercorrectness shows.

More worrisome. though, are Lovecraft's recommendations. Leiber apparently mentioned having in mind next writing a story about Fafhrd and the Mouser set in early Imperial Rome (the time of Julius and Augustus Caesar). Lovecraft then goes off on books Leiber must read, or have immediately accessible for reference, before he can do justice to the era. Eventually the list runs to no less than thirty-seven books, which he then cuts down to a short list of eleven essentials. No wonder Leiber's response was to abandon the historical setting altogether.

In short, I think a good case can be made out for Lovecraft's being indirectly responsible for Leiber's creation of the world of Lankhmar, Nehwon. I can easily see Leiber thinking that if he was going to have to go through this kind of scrutiny (if not by Lovecraft, then by someone like him) everytime he wrote a historically-based sword and sorcery story, maybe it'd be better to just avoid all the grief and set his stories in a fantasy world, as Howard had done.  Which, of course, is what he did with all the subsequent F&GM stories, to great effect, thus creating the greatest of all Sword and Sorcery series.

Just a thought.  In any case, it's good to have this earlier version of Leiber's tale, and to see Lovecraft's critique (which, to be fair, is generally positive -- e.g., "The novelette is really very much all right just as it is" [p.166], "The farther I read into 'Adept's Gambit' the more I enjoyed it" [p. 164]). And he's spot-on with his wish "Let us hope that your mental collaboration [with Fischer] will give rise to a long sequence of tales about Fafhrd & the Mouser" [p. 172].

And now, having read this, it's made me want to go back and read the whole series -- not in the internal chronological sequence Leiber established in the late '60s* and thereafter, writing a number of fairly weak bridge stories to get the characters from point A to point B, but in the order in which they were originally written, which I shd be able to find out with a little digging. Sounds like a good off-and-on project over the rest of the year.


*probably on the model of the Lancer paperbacks of Howard's CONAN series, padded out to great length (was it twelve volumes?) by Howard pastiche written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. I remember de Camp saying in one of their Forewords that no one could tell which stories were genuine Howard, which were other Howard stories re-written to feature Conan, and which were brand new stories by himself and Carter, when it was painfully obvious to the reader which were which.

N.B: By the way, I did spot one error, but it was (a) relatively minor and (b) among the editorial apparatus, not in Lovecraft's piece: Eddison's THE WORM OUROBOROS was published in 1922, not 1926, as incorrectly stated on page 195 (the latter is the date of the American edition).

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Deadline God

There IS a Deadline God, and I'm calling his alignment as Chaotic Good.