Friday, August 29, 2014

Gygax's List, 1976 version

So, thanks to a comment on my previous post (thanks, Grodog), I've now learned what I never knew before: that an earlier version of Gygax's list had appeared in issue four of THE DRAGON in December 1976. Since not many of us have copies of that issue, and not all that many have a copy of the DRAGON CD-ROM collection of the first two hundred issues, thought I'd reprint the list here for the sake of those, like me, interested in its evolution over time.


Author: From Gary Gygax

Anderson, Poul     Three Hearts and Three Lions
Blackwood, Algernon
Brackett, Leigh
Burroughs, E. R.    John Carter of Mars (etal)
Carter, Lin             Warrior of the Worlds End
deCamp & Pratt     Incomplete Enchanter
                               Castle of Iron (etal)
Farmer, P. J.           Gates of Creation (etal)
Fox, G. F.               Kother the Barbarian (etal)
Howard, R. E.        Conan the Conqueror (etal)
Lanier, Sterling       Hiero's Journey
Leiber, Fritz           Swords of Lankhmar (etal)
Lovecraft, H. P.
Merritt, A.              Creep Shadow, Creep
                               Moon Pool
                               Face in the Abyss
                               Dwellers in the Mirage (etal)
Moorcock, Michael  Stealer of Souls
Saberhagen, Fred   Changling Earth
St. Clair, Margaret  
Tolkien, J. R. R.     The Hobbit
                                The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy)
Vance, Jack          The Eyes of the Overworld
                              The Dying Earth
Weinbaum, Stanley
Wellman, M. W.
Zelazny, Roger       Jack of Shadows (etal)
                               Lord of Light
                               Nine Princes in Amber series

As Allan/Grodog pointed out, only one author here whose name got left out from the DMG list three (two and a half?) years later: Algernon Blackwood, probably best remembered today for THE WILLOWS and THE WENDIGO -- and I don't know if his name was omitted deliberately or through inadvertence.  Curiously enough, this slightly shorter early list includes one book title that got left off the expanded list: Zelazny's LORD OF LIGHT (technically Merritt's FACE IN THE ABYSS got left out too, but I'm assuming it's included under the "et al"). The editing may be a little shaky (et al. is consistently printed as 'etal'), but I give them points for getting the title of Howard's only Conan novel right: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON a.k.a. CONAN THE CONQUEROR, and they also got THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER bit right. At first I'd thought this little list might have been thrown together to fill a gap in the layout of that page, but that's not the case: Kask refers to it prominently in his what's-in-this-issue editorial/introduction.

The newcomers are the late great John Bellairs (whose THE FACE IN THE FROST shaped Vancean magic into something much closer to how it's used in the game), Fredric Brown, de Camp as a solo writer (LEST DARKNESS FALL, THE FALLIBLE FIEND 'et al'), Pratt as a solo writer (THE BLUE STAR), Derleth (presumably for his Lovecraft pastiche/forgeries), Lord Dunsany (perhaps the most influential of all fantasy writers after Tolkien himself), the great Andre Norton, Andrew Offutt (specifically credited for editing a single anthology--why this one, I wonder?), and Jack Williamson.

So, an interesting look back at the roots, not from a gaming perspective but from a fantasy/pulp fiction perspective, genre fiction always having played a huge role in inspiring games, characters, monsters, and scenarios.

--John R.

Tolkien's JONAH, revisited

So, about a month back I was intrigued by news (º2) that TOLKIEN'S JONAH -- that is, his work for the JERUSALEM BIBLE on The Book of Jonah -- is due to be published this fall in THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES.

This project had been announced before as a small book, back in 2009, but that publication had fallen through, unfortunately: for more about that earlier erstwhile publication, see the following informative blog posts by Jason Fisher:

Now someone's trying again, in what seems to be a less expansive and less ambitious form: published in an upcoming issue of a journal.  This isn't a journal I'd seen before, and from their website it seemed difficult to pre-order a forthcoming issue, so I decided to subscribe so as to get both the current issue (Vol. 4 No.1) and the next, which shd have the JONAH piece in it.

So for now I'm awaiting the expected arrival of that issue come October -- which is not all that far away, considering. In the meantime, I've read some of the contents of the issue that arrived -- but I'll save my response to that for another post.

--John R.
current reading: a book on bumblebees by Dave Goulson (A STING IN THE TALE)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

'Inspirational Reading' (5th ed D&D PH)

So, one of the things that immediately drew my eye in the new PLAYER'S HANDBOOK is its update of the classic APPENDIX N: INSPIRATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL READING from the original 1st ed. DMG, a brief listing of some twenty-nine authors whose work had, according to Gygax,* helped inspire the AD&D game. Given that I'm both a fantasy scholar, with a special interest in the history of fantasy,** and an avid gamer, it's obviously a list I've found of great interest

Now, thirty-five years later, we get a new, expanded APPENDIX E: INSPIRATIONAL READING (PH.312) featuring some fifty-seven authors.  So far as I can tell on a quick skim, everyone who appeared in the original list has been grandfathered in, however little some of them (e.g., Lin Carter, Andrew Offutt, Gardner Fox) deserve it. It's thus the new additions who are the most interesting things here. WotC has chosen to celebrate some of their own through the inclusion of TSR authors Hickman & Weis (The Dragonlance Chronicles***) and Salvatore (the Drizzt series). There are some worthy new entries (Lady Gregory's GODS AND FIGHTING MEN, the superb Clark Ashton Smith, McKillip's brilliant FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD), and some not so worthy (Terry Brooks, Glen Cook, Robert Jordan). There are even a few new names of authors I don't know (N. K. Jemisin, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson) -- which just goes to show how I'm getting behind the times****

Of course, with any list what's left out is also revealing. The most serious omission is E. R. Eddison's THE WORM OUROBOROS, a much-admired classic. I'm surprised that Elizabeth Moon's making-of-a-paladin trilogy THE DEED OF PAKSENARRION didn't make it; similarly C. J. Cherryh's four-book Morgaine series, a compelling depiction of someone geased to endlessly pursue a quest, however doomed it might seem. Hughart's THE BRIDGE OF BIRDS, Mirrlees' LUD-IN-THE-MIST, and Briggs' HOBBERTY DICK can all hardly be bettered, quite aside from serving as examples of dramatically different kinds of fantasy, while M. R. James's short stories, although ghost stories, are not only wonderful reading but filled with ideas for any number of adventures centered around hauntings and the unquiet dead. And as for new talent, how about Jonathan Howard's JOHANNES CABAL books, whose antihero protagonist (a brilliant but amoral necromancer) is a fine example of how evil doesn't have to be stupid (and is far more effective, and unsettling, when it thinks to include a contingency plan).

All complants aside,***** it's good to see that the core books that most heavily influenced D&D are here, although a little lost in the crowd: Rbt. E. Howard, Tolkien, and Vance, w. Leiber not far behind. I wdn't recommend reading all the works on this new list (or the original either, for that matter), but trying out the ones that sound interesting is definitely a good idea: there are some real gems here, and plenty more that can inspire a lot of good gaming. And that, after all, is what such lists are all about.

--John R.
current reading: A STING IN THE TALE: MY ADVENTURES WITH BUMBLEBEES by Dave Goulson [2013]

*assuming he and not editor Mike Carr put this list together

**at one time I had an online monthly column on the WotC website called CLASSICS OF FANTASY, each entry in which was devoted to a particular fantasy work or author, highlighting his or her contribution to fantasy and, of course, D&D.

***though for some reason they're careful not to use the word 'Dragonlance' in this entry

****I blame Tad Wms, whose MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN series (800 pages worth of story drowning in 3200 pages of verbiage) was so grueling to get through that it put me off fantasy for the better part of a decade thereafter.

*****I do have to point out that in the entry for de Camp and Pratt's THE COMPLEAT ENCHANTER "and the rest of the Harold Shea series" is redundant, since as the name indicates this book contains the whole five-book series; they're thinking of THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER (an old collection of just the first two stories).

Also, their Dunsany entry is badly messed up; bizarrely enough it includes two e-book knock-offs ('The Essential Lord Dunsany Collection', 'Lord Dunsany Compendium'), both with random selections from among his early books and both leaving out major works such as THE KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER.

My own recommendation, as someone who wrote his dissertation on Dunsany, would be his eight books of fantasy short stories (THE GODS OF PEGANA, TIME AND THE GODS, THE SWORD OF WELLERAN, A DREAMER'S TALES, THE BOOK OF WONDER, FIFTY-ONE TALES, THE LAST BOOK OF WONDER, TALES OF THREE HEMISPHERES) plus one or two of his plays (A NIGHT AT AN INN, perhaps THE GODS OF THE MOUNTAINS); those who prefer novels shd try THE KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Feeding the Turtles and Riding the Rails

So, Saturday we had a busy day. First we went to the Japanese Garden down in the Seattle Arboretum -- both to stroll around and enjoy the view and to feed the turtles. Most people like to feed the koi, which are indeed impressive, but I like the turtles and throw a little of the koi kibble in one direction to distract the fish (and duck) and some in the other direction where the turtle(s) are lurking hopefully. Between turtles in the water, turtles sunning themselves on the rocks, and one on the shore that allowed us to come surprisingly near, I got a pretty good turtle fix. This was all the more welcome since we like to visit here at least once a year yet it's been a while since we made it. So, a good day.

Which got better when we had folks over Saturday night to play CALL OF CTHULHU, continuing the WALKER IN THE WASTE campaign. Suffice it to say sanity was lost and hit points too but all members of the group survived to Investigate another day.

And then for a late night indulgence, we stayed up late (v. late) to watch the debut of the new DOCTOR WHO with the twelfth* doctor played by Peter Capaldi. My initial impression: they've got a good doctor and a good companion (Clara) but the script needs work. Hope they work on that end. In the meantime, I've gone back to where I left off watching the show (near the end of season six) and in bits and pieces am making my way through Matt Smith's final season (which I observe suffers from the same haphazardness of scripting, although Smith's doctor finally began to grow on me somewhere about the mid point of his second season).

And if it weren't enough, we decided to make the weekend not just eventful but memorable and drove down to Elbe (near Mt. Rainer) on Sunday to ride on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad, four passenger cars pulled by an old steam locomotive for an hour's ride from the little town of Elbe (which has a church with an observation window for tourists to peer in) to a half hour's layover in the former logging town of Mineral, and then back again. We'd been in the rear of the last carriage going, but the locomotive repositioned itself during the layover so that we wound up being near the front of the first carriage -- and so well-positioned to walk up and watch the steam engine from maybe about ten feet away (I noticed little coal or oil drops on my shirt afterwards).

Back when I was growing up, when we used to go visit my grandmother, on the drive over from Magnolia to Laneburg we'd pass a sign for the Reader Railroad, an old steam train that took passengers on a local run. I always wanted to give it a try, but we never did. So this feels like a very old itch that finally got scratched. 

So, a good break from the routine, visit a favorite place we'd not seen in a while, get together with friends, see the newest version of what was once a favorite show, go somewhere new and do something new there.  All in all, a most enjoyable weekend.

--John R.

*that is, twelfth according to the new numbering.

P.S.: For those who might be interested in giving it a go themselves, the site for information about the Japanese Garden is

and for the steam train is

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Fifth Edition PLAYER'S HANDBOOK (first impressions)

So, I've now bought my copy of the new PLAYER'S HANDBOOK for 5th edition D&D* (a week ago today, Tuesday the 19th, the first day it was available in bookstores). It'll take a long time to absorb properly;** I expect that even with regular playing (which I hope to continue on an ongoing basis -- it's really felt good to be back playing D&D again after the drought of the 4e years) I'll still be coming across things that are 'oh, they changed that?' for quite some time to come -- D&D being one of those games where the basic concept is easy; it's the plentitude of detail that acts as a check on those trying to game the system. What follows are my first impressions as I skim through the book, trying to get a sense where this new edition fits into the tradition of AD&D (particularly 1st, 2nd, and 3rd edition).

I see from the cover that they've gone for murky this time around -- complicated and dark. I had to read the caption inside to figure out what this was a picture of, despite having played through the adventure this scene comes from. By contrast, I thought the interior art was, on the whole, pretty good -- the chief exception being the horrible picture of a kender they tried to pass off as a halfling (p. 26), while they had a perfectly good picture of a halfling they labelled 'gnome' (p. 35).***

All the standard character races from 1st edition are here, including  the gnomes (who shd have been dropped at the end of second edition but now seems permanently grandfathered in, alas). Also here are the dragonborn (who are there for folks who want to play a wookie but have wandered into the wrong game) and tiefling (who's there for readers of tween supernatural romance). If they were going to include a non-traditional PC race, I with they'd have gone with the Warforged (sentient golems). But these interlopers are easily ignorable; at least this edition contains the half-orc (removed from the nerf'd 2nd edition). Too bad they spent so much space describing all the ethnicities of the Forgotten Realms, since that's pretty much wasted space to everyone not playing in the Realms (which I suspect will be most people).

All the third edition classes are here, plus the warlock -- this latter seems an odd choice, given how it's simply a variant of sorcerer (better they pick one or the other or, better still, neither).  Thieves are still called 'rogues', which is terribly RenFair of them but seems to be locked in since 3rd edition. Wizards have a lot to do and get an interesting spell selection to do it with, so thumbs up there. It's my impression that rangers and fighters are underpowered, but I need to roll up one of each to see if the front-line combat characters can hold their own. I've heard rumors that they've actually made the bard a viable class, which wd be something to see, but a low priority to play.

"You can play a male or female character without gaining any special benefits or hindrances. Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture's expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior . . . 
"You don't need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. . . You could . . . play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. LIkewise, your character's sexual orientation is for you to decide." (p. 121)

--My, how times have changed. While Gygax deserves a lot of credit for the use of "he or she" when describing characters in 1st edition, that got rolled back later under 2nd edition, while 3rd edition compromised with alternating examples by gender. But 1st and 2nd edition were purely heterosexual worlds,**** as was 3e so far as I remember. Now far from being banned by the Code of Ethics gay/transgender characters are explicitly included in the rules. 

Nice to see the classic Alignment system still in place (p. 122),with the addition of a tenth option: 'unaligned', to be applied to animals and others lacking the cognitive ability to make a moral choice. The Backgrounds seem to be pretty random so far as a suite of options for all PCs goes, and the four tables accompanying each (Personality Trait/Ideal/Bond/Flaw) sure take up a lot of space (about seven or eight pages, all told). Good to see them devoting space to material designed to encourage role-playing, but think the results are something only newbies will be using.

Very promising so far. This looks and feels and plays like D&D. It'll need tweaking, but it looks to be far more open to tweaking than the rigid structure of 3rd edition. With any luck we'll see a breakdown of the 'only right way to play the game' that came from D&D being treated with a MtG ideology and a florescence of homerules as people customize this for their home campaigns.

More later

--John R.

*that is, the fifth edition of the AD&D rules, though it's not called that; the fifth edition of the D&D rules, by Troy Denning (and Tim Brown?), came out back in 1991

**though I've already found my first typo (in the sidebar on p. 31 where "chapter 5" shd read "chapter 6")

***THE WIFE SAYS: They had a little problem there with their Gnomenclature

****about the only exception I can think of was in the unofficial JUDGES GUILD module DARK TOWER, by Paul Jaquays, where one evil wizard liked to use magic jar to swap among a collection of bodies of both sexes he kept on hand.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

M. le Comte de Rateliff

So, thanks to Janice for the following link, to a short film called THE DUEL AT BLOOD CREEK [2010]. For the first thirty or forty seconds I thought it was a remake of/tribute to the opening scene of Arthur and his squire from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, leading into the Black Knight/You Shall Not Pass episode, recast into eighteenth century garb. But it turned out the filmmaker (Leo Burton) was up to something cleverer than that. Here's the link (be warned, though, that it includes some unbleeped profanity):

Watching this makes me want to dig out my copy of EN GARDE, one of the earliest rpgs [GDW, 1975], part of the first wave of post D&D-games, when imitators of Gygax and Arneson were trying to expand the concept into other genres (another example being TSR's own BOOT HILL). In EN GARDE,  PCs are gallants in the era of THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and might rise to be Musketeers themselves (or alternately their chief rivals, the Cardinal's Guard), if they live long enough (which, given the lethality of the dueling system, is unlikely).

And, speaking of France in the ancien regime, while looking up something entirely unrelated a few nights ago, I came across a wholly unexpected appearance of the name RATELIFF in an unusual context: one 'M. le Comte de Rateliff' who was, at least according to an online scan of the ALMANACH ROYAL,* one of the 'marechaux de camp** in the French army in Janvier (January) 1770. It's quite unusual to come across folks who spell the name the same way I do (with the silent e), and I've never seen it in a French context before (according to family tradition it's either German altered to sound more English, or English altered to sound more 'American'); it's probably English, one of a number of inadvertent variants of Ratcliffe (which goes way back in England; one of Richard III's chief henchmen, in both Shakespeare's play and real life, was a Ratcliffe).

So, interesting, but not significant. I assume this title 'Comte de Rateliff' vanished, probably along with the family, during the Revolution that followed less than twenty years later. Still, I'll keep my eye out, in case I come across more references to them down the road.

--John R.
current reading: THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA by Philip Roth [2004], the Fifth Edition PLAYER'S HANDBOOK [July 2014]


**which translates literally to 'Field Marshall', but was apparently instead equivalent to a two-star general.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

ex-Wotc, the list

So, all the looking back of my previous post made me curious about how things were going at GenCon and especially how to debut of the new edition of D&D was doing. I found a review on EN World, but after skimming it decided that, having waited so long, it made more sense to wait a while longer and judge for myself when I get ahold of my own copy (which I expect will be within a few days now). However, while poking about I found a sub-site listing "Ex-WotC Employees" (by which they mean people who worked on the rpgs, not Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering folks). I'm glad to discover that such a list exists, and EN World seems like a good place to host it; here's the link.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find I'm not on the list -- editors usually fall below the radar. Reading through it, though, I was surprised to find how many folks got left off. In fact, I'd say this lists represents about half the people who worked at WotC on rpgs (i.e., D&D and a few other one-offs or less prominent games), maybe a little less. So in the interests of adding a little to the historical record, here are some names I can think of off the top of my head, without even pulling products off the shelf to check credits, of some of my co-workers from WotC between 1997 and the end of 2006 who somehow failed to make it onto the extant list. For those who are interested in such things, I've marked those who were also at TSR before coming to WotC that with an asterisk.

*Jon Pickens

*Stephen Schend

*Dale Donovan

Gwendolyn Kestrel

*Cindi Rice

*Miranda Horner

Kij Johnson

Rich Redman

*Ed Stark

*Thomas Reid

*Keith Strohm

*Dave Wise

Brian Campbell

Jason Carl

Another thing I was glad to find (oddly enough, under the same heading of "Ex-WotC Employees") is a list of CURRENT WotC employees in rpg-r&d. I tried to keep up with the comings and goings after I left but quickly lost track of who was in, who was out, who was temping (and thus temporarily in), and who was freelancing (and thus might be either in or out). It's been true of TSR (and later WotC) for most of its history that people outside the company found it almost impossible to keep track of who was on the inside (i.e., who was currently working there and doing what). So it's good to see this listing -- though a little disconcerting to see that out of fourteen names, only five (about a third) seem to be designers or editors, the rest being management of some kind. However, I may have misunderstood the job titles.  It's also interesting to note that the department is now completely post-TSR: there's not a single person dating back to the TSR days still working in WotC rpg-r&d; I think Bruce Cordell and Kim Mohan must have been the last (although both Steve Winter and Steve 'Stan' Brown have temped there recently enough that they might be able to put in a claim for that title).

So, here's hoping the addition of some of the missing names might help provide a fuller picture of the people who oversaw the twilight years of second edition, the launch of third edition (and later reconsolidation as 3.5), and all that followed.

--John R.
just finished: VIRTUAL UNREALITY by Ch. Seife [2014].

Friday, August 15, 2014

How Gygax Lost TSR ("Ambush at Sheridan Springs")

So, today being the mid-point of GenCon, and with the release of the new D&D PLAYER'S HANDBOOK being just four days away, I found myself in a nostalgic mood -- curious if Fifth Edition can undo (some of) the damage from Fourth Edition, eager to find out what out of the many different elements that appeared and disappeared and reappeared in playtest variants over the past two years made it into the final mix, hopeful the end result will be closer to the game I loved to play than the versions available in recent years (say, the last decade and a half).

Next week will tell. In the meantime, I went back and read the recent piece, posted on July 28th, by Jon Peterson, author of the extraordinary history of the creation of roleplaying games, PLAYING AT THE WORLD (which I have but have still not yet read, it being a dense 800+pages). Having documented the stages by which the first rpg came about, and the various roles played by Arneson, Gygax, et al, now Peterson is turning his attention to later events -- in the present case, to the sequence which led to Gary Gygax's ouster at TSR, in an article he calls "Ambush at Sheridan Springs"* (201 Sheridan Springs Road being the familiar address of the TSR Building, where I worked for five years between 1991 and 1996, so these events were long past by the time I came on the scene, though I heard about them piecemeal from employees who'd been there at the time).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Pederson's account is its straightforward, matter-of-fact approach. For example, nowhere in his piece is there a sentence containing the words  'Gygax, cocaine, Hollywood, hot tub business meetings, borrowed blondes'.**  Instead, he presents the facts as he can establish them from the paper trail of stock issues, board meeting notes, and the like. And it turns out that there's a lot of contemporary evidence to build a reconstruction of events upon. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of our hobby, and especially of TSR and D&D.

A few caveats, though. Peterson's decision to accept the evidence at face value enables him to write fairly and dispassionately about events that have for too long been presented in he said/they said mode. But there are perils to being too trusting. Thus, Peterson sets the scene in his opening paragraph as saying that at the time (fall 1985) "they" (presumably the r&d staff at TSR) "were putting the finishing touches on his Oriental Adventures." Except that the full extent of Gygax's contribution to O.A. was (a) saying they shd do such a book and (b) putting his name on the cover. Checking the credits inside show that the book was actually written by Zeb Cook, not Gygax. Somewhat more accurately, in the same sentence Peterson notes how Gygax "was the lead on Unearthed Arcana", yet Gygax put his name on both the cover and in the internal credits as if he were the sole author of all the material therein, which was not the case.  I'd also query the description of the D&D cartoon as a "success" -- I'd say that it was a bad product that damaged the reputation of the game for years to come.

The truly amazing thing that emerges from this essay, for which Peterson deserves great praise, is that Gygax had such tunnel vision. He could see the advantages of making a smart move that put him in an advantageous position (exercising his option to buy 700 shares of stock, giving him a controlling majority) but was completely blindsided when his opponent for control of the company made the same counter-move (exercising their option for a similarly large stock purchase), giving them control of the company. It's like two rivals each taking up a dueling pistol, one party firing his, and then him forgetting that the other person still has a loaded gun. Bizarre.

So, highly recommended. It makes me really look forward to more, and once again confirms that however weighty a tome I really do need to knuckle down and read his history of the hobby.  Here's hoping he turns this later material into a second volume tracing the fate of D&D after its early days.

--John R.

**He also deliberately avoids sensationalizing the story -- for example, when asked in the comments if it's true the first Mrs. Gygax contributed her shares to her ex-husband's ouster, his neither-confirm-nor-deny response is tactful and yet speaks volumes.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

We Take Stay-cation on the Road (wind farms and yurts)

So, having cut short our cross country trip (an extra week away wd have been just too expensive), we got to spend that time doing things closer to home, like riding the camel last weekend at the Bonnie Lake renaissance fair. And for the last two days before it was back to work and back on our normal routine, we took a trip to central Washington (around Vantage) to meet up with our friends Anne and Sig (hi Anne. hi Sig) and visit the Wild Horse Wind Farm. Unfortunately the air quality was so bad they curtailed the tour, which apparently usually ends with going inside one of the towers and looking up at the turbine. I had thought they were afraid particulates in the air from all the wildfires currently raging might damage the equipment, but Janice says no, the air outside was a health hazard. Still, we got to walk around the visitor's center, heard a presentation about the wind farm, and poked about a bit outside. It's an interesting experience to be surrounded by the giant wind towers, slightly weird and sinister in appearance (shades of boom-bodies and sorns) and curious how they respond individually to the wind -- so that at any given time some were quiescent, others just barely turning over, and still others rotating at full speed. Kind of like watching a room full of cats. The visit was made slightly surreal by the arrival, just before the talk began of about two dozen Japanese schoolgirls, a tour group travelling in buses marked 'CWU' (Central Washington University).

From the wind farm we crossed the Columbia and headed towards a winery (an odd place for a Prohibitionist) when we checked into a yurt, with Anne & Sig in the next yurt over. After a gourmet meal in the winery's restaurant we wander around the grounds, including up and down the rows of grapevines. As evening closed in we put out the lawn chairs and sat and waited for the Perseids, although somewhat apprehensive about the effect of the so-called Supermoon on our viewing. It turns out we need not have bothered: the haze from the distant fires was so thick that we couldn't even see the moon, much less the starry sky. There was one bright star overhead (Arcturus?) and the others saw a single meteor flash by (I missed it) before that area was blotted out as well. Still, it was a pleasant night to sit out and look up.

The next morning we had breakfast at the winery restaurant, and concluded that the B-team handled breakfast while the chef exerted himself in the evenings. Then we drove back across the Columbia to Frenchman's Coulee, a spectacular landscape (apparently a dry ancient lake bed) of eroded rocks: basalt columns and dry scree, where (pointed in the right direction by some friendly rock-climbers) we hiked about for an hour or so. It reminded me a bit of the hoo-doos in Yellowstone, but looked even more like something out of Rider Haggard, the sort of landscapes that might have inspired Kor. The one thing we saw that was very much of the modern era was a flight of three DC10s flying in formation -- our guess is that they were on their way to drop water or flame retardant on one of the area's not-entirely-under-control wildfires. We saw this three times, but whether they were the same planes or different planes of the same type doing the same run we cdn't tell.

Biding farewell to the dry stoney landscape, we head to our final stop:  the picnic area next to the ginko petrified forest/ petroglyph site (which we'd gotten to see on an early trip earlier this year: well worth visiting). Anne and Janice both outdid themselves, and we had quite the picnic feast -- again, made slightly odd by the arrival, just about the time we were ready to start eating, of those same three CWU vans with what were probably the same Japanese schoolgirls -- I'm pretty sure I recognized the interpreter from the day before. They seem to have come for the petroglyphs, not the petrified wood, and left after not too long -- only to have one van come back a half hour or so later; I suspect that one student got inadvertently left behind. One highlight of our stop was seeing a herd of little deer-like animals -- antelope perhaps? -- pass through, grazing on the green green (sprinkler-watered) grass that v. much stood out from the surrounding typical western/central Washington dry, bleak landscape.

From there it was goodbye to Anne and Sig for the drive back to west of the mountains, where it was thoroughly typical that we ran into a rainstorm not long after re-entering King Country. The cats were fine and very happy to see us (thanks, Kathy), so All Ends Well.

And Wednesday morning it was back to our normal schedule: Janice to the office, me to a morning of volunteering with cats followed by an afternoon of starting to draft a paper proposal for next year's Kalamazoo, which got sidelined by the arrival of revised proofs for the new edition of my book (about which more later). So, back to work! It was a great vacation while it lasted, and did us both good. It's amazing how many interesting things there are to do in Washington, for the standing stone circle on Whitbey isle to that basalt landscape near Vantage. We're already starting to think about the next time . . .

--John R.
current reading: THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (Vol. 4 No. 1); SKIP-BEAT (manga) vol. 32; VIRTUAL UNREALITY by Charles Seife (about how to tell whether something you see online is true or not).

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Cat Report (W. 8/13-14)

Quite a change after having missed just two weeks. Mr. Scruffs gone after all these months (hope he and Caspar are enjoying their new digs up in Issaquah, and soon get adopted), poor Phoenix back to the clinic for some medical assistance, and Mace having come and gone without my ever seeing him. Glad the spice kittens all found homes -- usual for so many (three) to go together. 

Along with the four cats I knew (MOLINNI, TAWNYMAEBE, and BUXTER) I found the three new cats: PERRY (who's v. friendly, and a great walker) plus the bonded pair BAYOU (a beautiful cat, friendly but still shy of the new surroundings) and ALEXI (a brown tabby terrified of her new surroundings).

Started the morning by giving five of the cats walks, but only Perry-the-Winkle really seemed to enjoy it. She'll be a great walker once she gets to know the lay-out of the store. As it was, she explored and got her bearings, covering the quiet half of the store. She's something of a talker, with a little squeaky mew; reminded me a bit of Pigeon Squeaks from when I first started volunteering. Once the walks were over and I opened up all the cages, Perry committed the faux pas (as Tawny saw it) of getting in Tawny's favorite spot. While Perry snoozed happily, Tawny hovered, checking several times to see if the intruder had gone. Since Molinni had claimed her usual spot in the basket, and Buster and Maebe had taken the top spots on the cat-stands, I made a kind of cave for Tawyn by draping a blanket around the cat-stand she was on (the one near the cabinet), converting its mid-level into one big teepee cave for her. She seemed to like this, and stayed there the rest of the morning.

Both Maebe and Buxter were relaxed and mellow. Neither minds being petted, and doesn't mind the other cats about so long as they all keep a respectable distance. Since we broke them up as a bonded pair I'd thought Maebe was fine with being on her own but Buxter seemed a bit depressed. Doesn't seem to be the case anymore; guess they've both made the transition. 

Molinni, who I suspect is the smartest cat in the room (certainly the most strong-willed and independent) played a little with the laser pointer but mostly wanted to divide her time between her basket and the area around the door. 

Of the new bonded pair, Alexi is in terrified revert-to-feral-cat mode. She let me pet her but it was like she was a million miles away. She sniffed food I put next to her but aside from a lick or two of the wet food didn't seem to eat. I cleaned the cage around her so as not to upset her more than minimally. She was so passive she had drool hanging out of the side of her mouth. Thought about pulling her out and just holding her but decided to not risk upsetting her on what after all is just her second day in the new surroundings.

By contrast, her partner Mr. Bayou is friendly and already starting to settle in. He slips out, explores a little, then gets startled and scurries back into his cage. Then a little while later he does it again. He didn't like being out and exposed atop the cat-stands, but he was much admired by visitors. I'm not surprised: think he's the most beautiful cat I've seen in quite a while.* When he discovered I had CATNIP, all his suspicions of me melted away.

Health concerns: Mr. Bayou sneezed a mighty sneeze twice or maybe three times. Molinni suddenly threw up just as I was leaving. Alexi is lethargic. Other than that, they all seem okay.

Thanks to Shari for covering my shift while I was gone, and then gone again.
--John R.

*and huge. Mustn't forget how huge he is -- he's so long it looks as if there were an extra half-cat inserted between his front and rear sections. Or how funny it looks when he tries to make himself small and comes out as an enormous flat puddle. Or how he wags his fluffy little stump of a tail when happy. Think he's a blue-point Himalayan Manx, a combination I've not seen before.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

BONES OF THE OX wins the Mythopoeic Award!

So, thanks to Janice for the news that TOLKIEN AND THE STUDY OF HIS SOURCES (Jason's original title having been the much better  THE BONES OF THE OX), edited by Jason Fisher [McFarland, 2011] has just won the Mythopoeic Award for Inklings scholarship. As one of the contributors ("SHE and Tolkien, Revisited", a reworking and expansion of a piece I did way back in 1981) I'm very pleased, and I know Jason must be excited to have this, his first book of Tolkien scholarship, recognized.

And there was tough competition too: the newest bid to be the definitive Lewis biography, McGrath's ECCENTRIC GENIUS, RELUCTANT PROPHET, as well as Boenig's CSL AND THE MIDDLE AGES on the Lewis side, and Atherton's and Olsen's books on the Tolkien side. I usually volunteer to be on the award committee but had to sit it out this year, since one of the books I contributed to was a finalist (and, now, winner).* So, obviously, I'm pleased by the news.

Here's the link to the announcement:

Congratulations to all the winners, and all the finalists, and all the nominees.

--John R.

*I also contributed a blurb to Corey Olsen's book on THE HOBBIT, but that's probably within the bounds and hence no conflict of interest.


So, in the interests of equal time (Poe being both a great prose writer and a great poet), here's the least-known of all Poe's major poems and a great favorite of mine.  It's an early work, written about 1829 when he was about twenty, and one we almost lost, given that Poe never published it during his lifetime
(he wrote it in a friend's book as a sort of extended inscription). I think I may have posted this one before, but if so it's been a while and a good poem bears repeating (and re-reading).

The image is a photograph (daguerreotype). Poe only grew the famous mustache the last five years of his life; before that he'd been cleanshaven, with sideburns. But since he became famous in 1845 (about four years before his death) for writing "The Raven", which was an international hit (he dedicated the English edition to Elizabeth Barrett), and since daguerreotypes were only invented in 1839, most of the pictures we have of him (some seventeen in all) are photos taken from near the end of his life.

Here's the picture, followed by the poem:,_1845.png

From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were — I have not seen
As others saw — I could not bring
My passions from a common spring —
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow — I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone —
And all I lov'd — I lov'd alone —
Then — in my childhood — in the dawn
Of a most stormy life — was drawn
From ev'ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still —
From the torrent, or the fountain —
From the red cliff of the mountain —
From the sun that 'round me roll'd
In its autumn tint of gold —
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass'd me flying by —
From the thunder, and the storm —
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a daemon in my view —


So, in my post about Poe the other day, I made passing reference to his little short piece SILENCE, which I consider the first modern fantasy short story. Since it's not one of his better known or frequently anthologized pieces, thought I'd reproduce it here for the benefit of those who are curious.  It was written in early 1833, or possibly late 1832, when Poe was twenty-three years old, making it an early work,* part of his proposed first collection of stories, TALES OF THE FOLIO CLUB.


"Listen to me," said the Demon, as he placed his hand upon my head. "The region of which I speak is a dreary region in Libya, by the borders of the river Zaire. And there is no quiet there, nor silence.

"The waters of the river have a saffron and sickly hue; and they flow not onward to the sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the red eye of the sun with a tumultuous and convulsive motion. For many miles on either side of the river's oozy bed is a pale desert of gigantic water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude, and stretch towards the heaven their long and ghastly necks, and nod to and fro their everlasting heads. And there is an indistinct murmur which cometh out from among them like the rushing of subterrene water. And they sigh one unto the other.

"But there is a boundary to their realm -- the boundary of the dark, horrible, lofty forest. There, like the waves about the Hebrides, the low underwood is agitated continually. But there is no wind throughout the heaven. And the tall primeval trees rock eternally hither and thither with a crashing and mighty sound. And from their high summits, one by one, drop everlasting dews. And at the roots strange poisonous flowers lie writhing in perturbed slumber. And overhead, with a rustling and loud noise, the gray clouds rush westwardly forever, until they roll, a cataract, over the fiery wall of the horizon. But there is no wind throughout the heaven. And by the shores of the river Zaire there is neither quiet nor silence.

"It was night, and the rain fell; and, falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood. And I stood in the morass among the tall lilies, and the rain fell upon my head -- and the lilies sighed one unto the other in the solemnity of their desolation.

"And, all at once, the moon arose through the thin ghastly mist, and was crimson in color. And mine eyes fell upon a huge gray rock which stood by the shore of the river, and was lighted by the light of the moon. And the rock was gray, and ghastly, and tall, -- and the rock was gray. Upon its front were characters engraven in the stone; and I walked through the morass of water-lilies, until I came close unto the shore, that I might read the characters upon the stone. But I could not decypher them. And I was going back into the morass, when the moon shone with a fuller red, and I turned and looked again upon the rock, and upon the characters; -- and the characters were DESOLATION.

"And I looked upwards, and there stood a man upon the summit of the rock; and I hid myself among the water-lilies that I might discover the actions of the man. And the man was tall and stately in form, and was wrapped up from his shoulders to his feet in the toga of old Rome. And the outlines of his figure were indistinct -- but his features were the features of a deity; for the mantle of the night, and of the mist, and of the moon, and of the dew, had left uncovered the features of his face. And his brow was lofty with thought, and his eye wild with care; and, in the few furrows upon his cheek I read the fable of sorrow, and weariness, and disgust with mankind, and a longing after solitude.

"And the man sat upon the rock, and leaned his head upon his hand, and looked out upon the desolation. He looked down into the low unquiet shrubbery, and up into the tall primeval trees, and up higher at the rustling heaven, and into the crimson moon. And I lay close within shelter of the lilies, and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude; -- but the night waned, and he sat upon the rock.

"And the man turned his attention from the heaven, and looked out upon the dreary river Zaire, and upon the yellow ghastly waters, and upon the pale legions of the water-lilies. And the man listened to the sighs of the water-lilies, and to the murmur that came up from among them. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude; -- but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.

"Then I went down into the recesses of the morass, and waded afar in among the wilderness of the lilies, and called unto the hippopotami which dwelt among the fens in the recesses of the morass. And the hippopotami heard my call, and came, with the behemoth, unto the foot of the rock, and roared loudly and fearfully beneath the moon. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude; -- but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.

"Then I cursed the elements with the curse of tumult; and a frightful tempest gathered in the heaven where, before, there had been no wind. And the heaven became livid with the violence of the tempest -- and the rain beat upon the head of the man -- and the floods of the river came down -- and the river was tormented into foam -- and the water-lilies shrieked within their beds -- and the forest crumbled before the wind -- and the thunder rolled -- and the lightning fell -- and the rock rocked to its foundation. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude; -- but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.

"Then I grew angry and cursed, with the curse of silence, the river, and the lilies, and the wind, and the forest, and the heaven, and the thunder, and the sighs of the water-lilies. And they became accursed and were still. And the moon ceased to totter up its pathway to heaven -- and the thunder died away -- and the lightning did not flash -- and the clouds hung motionless -- and the waters sunk to their level and remained -- and the trees ceased to rock -- and the water-lilies sighed no more -- and the murmur was heard no longer from among them, nor any shadow of sound throughout the vast illimitable desert. And I looked upon the characters of the rock, and they were changed; -- and the characters were SILENCE.

"And mine eyes fell upon the countenance of the man, and his countenance was wan with terror. And, hurriedly, he raised his head from his hand, and stood forth upon the rock and listened. But there was no voice throughout the vast illimitable desert, and the characters upon the rock were SILENCE. And the man shuddered, and turned his face away, and fled afar off, in haste, so that I beheld him no more."

             *    *    *    *    *    *

Now there are fine tales in the volumes of the Magi -- in the iron-bound, melancholy volumes of the Magi. Therein, I say, are glorious histories of the Heaven, and of the Earth, and of the mighty sea -- and of the Genii that overruled the sea, and the earth, and the lofty heaven. There was much lore too in the sayings which were said by the Sybils; and holy, holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves that trembled around Dodona -- but, as Allah liveth, that fable which the demon told me as he sat by my side in the shadow of the tomb, I hold to be the most wonderful of all!  And as the Demon made an end of his story, he fell back, within the cavity of the tomb and laughed. And I could not laugh with the Demon, and he cursed me because I could not laugh. And the lynx which dwelleth forever in the tomb, came out therefrom, and lay down at the feet of the Demon, and looked at him steadily in the face.

--I cd explicate this tale, but there's really no need.** And while it's clearly ancestral to works by Dunsany and especially Clark Ashton Smith, both of whom excelled at the prose poem, its key significance is in the frame story. Most 19th century frame stories existed to explain away the magic, to put the impossible within a context that nullified or negated it: from Carroll's 'it was all a dream' to Poe's frequent trick of unreliable narrators. A true fantasy does not explain away the magic, and that's very much the case here: there is a frame, but the frame-story of the narrator's encounter with the Demon is no less fantastic than the story the Demon (probably an efreet) tells.

--John R.

*even though Poe died when he was forty and his career spans only about twenty years from start to finish, there's a clear grouping of early stories which are more hit and miss than his later command of the short story. Thus there are some gems among the early material, but also several flops; the latter become few and far between once he mastered his craft.

**fans of Douglas Adams will recognize it as an early Total Perspective Vortex tale, neoClassicists as a descendent of Pope's "Chaos and old Night"

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Today I Rode a Camel

So, this whole not-being-on-deadline thing could work out. Since Janice and I had originally planned on attending MythCon as part of our trip to the East Coast, she took several extra days off work, which she's now using for a well-deserved rest. Meanwhile, after having back-to-back deadlines since, I think, sometime back in 2012, I'm now enjoying the feeling that while I have several ongoing projects, none of them are tied to a hard deadline.

So, today we went to the Bonney Lake renaissance fair. We'd made it down to this last year and enjoyed ourselves, and the same proved true this year as well: we saw a tournament (the bad guy won, no doubt to get his comeuppance later in the day), saw a wicked funny standup comic who was actually funny (same guy as last year; he's still just as good), browsed in some of the shop-tents (didn't see Gwendolyn's tent, but did see Janice's friend Maiya's), and rode a camel. Her name was Matilda. She's a little dromedary who good-naturedly took the two us us (Janice and I together) around her field twice. So there's something I've never done before that I most unexpectedly got to do.

Then it was back home to face a Where Were You inquisition from the cats, followed by a quiet evening, with Janice reading and myself watching Batman (the 1960s series, which I originally watched back in the day and am now finding highly amusing to re-watch as an adult) and catching up on email. This would have been a CALL OF CTHULHU evening, but the combination of low turnout and my wanting to put more prep time into this, the Seattle leg of their ongoing adventure, caused me to move it back two weeks.

And now, time for an evening reading session myself. I could get to like stay-cations.

--John R.

current book: THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA by Philip Roth

Friday, August 8, 2014

Poe's Grave

So, last weekend we got together with some friends in Bethesda. It was a v. pleasant gathering, and the day after (Monday) Janice and I went up to Baltimore to visit the gravesites (both of them) of one of my favorite authors, Edgar Poe.

Being so close to Baltimore, one of the cities with strong Poe associations (the others being Boston, where he was born, and Richmond, where he grew up). I knew from checking online that the Poe House, where he lived for a time with his aunt and cousin (later his mother-in-law and wife, respectively), is only open on weekends. Still, we went by and looked it over from outside. Both Janice and I had some warnings before we went that it was in a dangerous neighborhood and that walking around there might not be safe. We didn't find it so, and have to conclude that 'dangerous' is code for 'you may see black people'. In fact, the area reminded me of parts of Milwaukee, around the warehouses and old breweries, I used to walk through without thinking twice.

Despite not being able to go inside, we had a good look around outside and in back, and Janice took several pictures for me, including one of me knocking at the door (you never know; a staff member might have been inside who'd at least answer some questions). A friendly French couple on bikes arrived just about the same time as we did, which is not surprising; Poe has always been highly rated in France, where the word-music of his poetry inspired a generation of followers, whereas in America he remained an anomaly.

Before we'd walked to the Poe House we'd stopped by the graveyard where Poe is buried. First, just inside the gate, we saw his current gravesite (shared with his wife and mother-in-law). Then we walked around thought the graveyard -- and an interesting graveyard it is at that -- until we found the original gravesite, next to his grandfather General Poe (also known as Quartermaster Poe, a prominent Revolutionary War era figure). The first of the following pictures shows Poe's grave; the next, the site of his original (unmarked) grave; the third a strange little house-like mausoleum in the cemetery.

I'm really glad we got to go by so I could pay my respects.   I've been an admirer of Poe for decades -- the tea cup I've used almost daily for so long that I can't remember exactly when I got it (it was before May 1989, since I was already using it before my time as a T.A. at Marquette ended) is the QPBC POE mug, and I have the two-volume Mabbott set of Poe's short stories, as well as the wonderful little book by Michael Deas that reproduces every known photo and contemporary portrait of Poe.  He's one of those few authors whose complete works I've read,* including all the surviving correspondence and his book about the Big Bang theory, EUREKA.

When I first came to Marquette and had to pick three 'fields' of English &/or American literature to specialize in, I wanted Twentieth Century British (Tolkien's contemporaries), Medieval (Tolkien's own speciality), and Nineteenth Century American (Twain & Poe). Being told at least two of the fields had to be contiguous, I reluctantly switched Nineteenth Century American to Nineteenth Century British (contemporaries of Morris and Tolkien's other precursors). But it was w. regret that I let go of the chance of working on Twain and Poe.

Poe is just about the only 19th century American author people read without being made to (i.e., for pleasure, as opposed to being assigned it for class) -- the only others I can think of are Twain and perhaps Thoreau.** He's the only major literary figure of the 19th century to be a major figure in both prose and poetry***, a founding father of the detective story, the genre of science fiction, and of course the supreme figure in horror fiction. A serious claim can be made for him as the author of the first fantasy story in the modern sense: "Silence" -- if Tolkien is the father of modern fantasy and Dunsany and Morris its grandfathers, Poe is definitely somewhere back in the family tree as a great-uncle or something of the sort (he was, incidently, one of Dunsany's favorite authors).

Afterwards we headed down and strolled about Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which has disappointedly been converted to a mall with chain stores (Hooters, Barnes & Noble, Hard Rock Cafe) rather than local businesses. We went to the National Aquarium (v. expensive at about $35 per ticket; I had a hard time convincing the teller we're not entitled to the post-65 discount), which bizarrely had an aviary as one level; best thing about their displays were the rays, which I think are becoming my favorite fish.  We also did a self-guided tour of the U.S.S. Constellation, a three-masted sailing ship from the 1850s, which was much bigger than we expected, with much larger captain's and officers' quarters than I'd have guessed.

So, a red-letter day -- a short visit but a good one. Glad we got to make the side-trip.

--John R.

*aside from his book reviews, which I'm planning to tackle soon.

**I wd include Washington Irving, but while everyone knows two (and only two) of his stories -- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the story of Rip Van Winkle -- they generally do so in modernized retellings, not Irving's original tales.

***his only rival here is Hardy, who abandoned novels in 1895 and reinvented himself as a serious poet early in the new century.