Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The D&D Cartoon

So, thanks to friend Stan (hi Stan), the Saturday before last I got to see the D&D cartoon for the first time.

To quote Mr. Marlow: THE HORROR ! THE HORROR!

I've now finished watching the entire series, including the radio-play they recently made out of the unproduced final script* that was supposed to wrap up the whole series. And so I can say with the voice of experience that it's worse than the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT. It's even worse than the Bakshi LORD OF THE RINGS. (It's not worse than the Rankin-Bass RETURN OF THE KING, but then again, what is?)

Which makes it all the more interesting that a number of people involved in making the series, having I suppose paid their debt to society, appear on dvd extras. Rather than avail themselves of some witness protection program offering merciful obscurity for creators of bad shows long forgotten, they candidly discuss their role in creating this monstrosity and bringing it to the screen.

What can you say, really, about a show whose chief claim to fame is that it pioneering the my-career-is-over, I'll-do-cartoon-voices-now mode later perfected by Mark Hammill -- in this case, Donny Most, formerly of HAPPY DAYS (Ralph Mouth), who voices The Cavalier (i.e., a horseman who, bizarrely, doesn't have a horse -- no wonder he complains all the time)?

It's immediately obvious that no one involved in the show knew anything about D&D. None of them bothered to play it, or seem even to have talked to anyone who did. Aside from a few monsters and a skewed collection of character classes (Acrobat? Cavalier?), this is generic fantasy that has little to do with the name and 'property' slapped on it.  That's its greatest failure: a D&D cartoon that completely fails to convey any idea of what D&D is, or its appeal (the anime series THE SLAYERS does a better job on both counts). Gygax is listed as one of the producers, but he's not even mentioned, so far as I could tell, in any of the comments and seems to have had a nil impact on the results (aside from probably being the source of a few monster names, like Hook Horror and Bullywug).

There's plenty more to criticize, of course, from the inappropriate  panty flash in the early episode (no doubt courtesy of the Japanese animators at Toei) to generic annoying comic pet mascot (voiced by Frank Welker, best known as the voice of Fred on SCOOBY DOO) to the same plot being used in more than half of the episodes. And why does the bad guy look like Freddie Mercury on a bad day?

It's not a total loss -- the one episode where the characters get annoyed at being railroaded yet again and go off on an adventure of their own choosing is mildly meta, as is the one when one character says he cd do a better job as DM, and proceeds to show it's true. And we can see from this that one of the two great cliched plotlines re. D&D was already firmly in place: characters playing the game get drawn into the fantasy world (cf. Norton's QUAG KEEP)**   But on the whole it belongs in the Scrappy Doo heap of shame.

And here's a question to leave folks with: in the opening credits (which retell, every episode, the entire story of how the characters came to be drawn into The Realm***) there's a quick glimpse of someone who I think looks like Gary Gygax gone Hollywood. Just as the kids are getting on the ride at the amusement park, take a look at the figure in the background, with black goatee and sunglasses. Friends of mine who actually knew Gygax are skeptical, but I'm still wondering if it might be a tribute/parody of Gary G. that got worked in there.

--John R.
just read: THE LATHE OF HEAVEN [1971] by Le Guin -- great concept, overlong execution; wd have made a great short story.

*a kind of cartoon recasting of The Book of Job; strangely enough, full of continuity error re. the show it's supposed to wrap-up.

**the other is the MAZES AND MONSTERS plot whereby players go mad and think they're in the fantasy world when actually they're just wandering around in a daze.

***this has the advantage for the show's producers that they have ninety seconds less film to animate every week. throw in the thirty-second closing credits and they have two minutes' less work every episode.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Little More about Purple Emperors

So, in my mini-essay in MR. BAGGINS on the butterflies of Mirkwood, I noted that Tolkien does not just mention generic butterflies (as he does with Medwed's bees) but identifies the specific type of butterfly Bilbo sees above the oak-canopy of the forest: the Purple Emperor -- a large, beautiful butterfly that was once widespread in southern and central England but is now all but extinct there.

Unexpectedly, while recently reading Goulson's A STING IN THE TALE: MY ADVENTURES WITH BUMBLEBEES [2013], I came across some slightly sinister associations with their habits.
Here's the passage, coming in a footnote at the bottom of page 203 of Goulson's book:

"These spectacular insects normally hang around the tops
 of oak trees, and so are seldom seen. One old-fashioned 
technique that was used by butterfly collectors was to place
 a well-rotted dead rat on a wood-land ride. Beautiful though
 the butterflies are, they have a macabre taste for the juices that 
leak from such a corpse and are often lured down."

I admit to being curious as to whether Tolkien, a keen observer of nature, was aware of the purple emperor's taste for corpse-juices, and if so whether this contributed to his decision to include them into his description of Mirkwood. I assume not, since the scene of Bilbo and the butterflies has no overt sinister overtones in the book, but the ghoulish habits of their real-world counterparts is interesting, to say the least.

--John R.
current reading: THE LATHE OF HEAVEN by Le Guin [1971]
currently watcing : THE LATHE OF HEAVEN [1980]

MHQ Tolkien

So, sometimes I forget it's a new world we live in. I default back to the days when Tolkien was considered a fringe figure: inexplicably popular but typecast as a fad whose day would soon pass. * Now that he's now well-established as a major twentieth century writer, he's become so much a part of our culture that his name constantly shows up in what would once have been surprising places.

Cast in point: I picked up the latest issue of MHQ: THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF MILITARY HISTORY (Autumn 2014), attracted by its cover article, which claims that T. E. Lawrence's "Arab Revolt" was of negligible military value, mainly a propaganda stunt that eventually bought into its own publicity, with unfortunate results. He similarly dismisses the 'French Resistence' as largely mythical, a face-saving exercise. All this and more (sabotage in Burma, struggles against Rommel) leads up to his main point, where he attributes the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu as due to their belief that they could defeat the Viet Mihn on the cheap, recruiting locals to form guerrilla groups as a counter-insurgency. It's an interesting piece, and all too relevant, whose argument I'll have to mull over -- food for thought.

In any case, having been intrigued by one piece in a journal I wouldn't otherwise have picked up, I thought I might as well skim the rest of the contents to see if anything else interesting showed up. Which is when I came across the photo of J. R. R. Tolkien (p. 15), heading up a short (two-page) article "Men of Letters, Men of War", with a paragraph each highlighting the military experience and literary accomplishments of nine authors who served** in World War I: C. S. Lewis, JRRT, Ernest Hemingway, Rbt Graves, Wilfred Owen (the greatest of the WWI poets, and the only other among these figures whose photo is included), Siegfried Sassoon, Erich Marie Remarque (for his classic ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (whose war record I didn't know about), and Winston Churchill (whom it claims spent a few months in Flanders following the Gallipoli disaster he'd masterminded).

What really made me marvel when I read this was the thought: Since when does Hemingway come THIRD in a list of famous modern authors who served in the War? Back when I was in grad school, he would have automatically come in first on any such list (probably closely followed by a mention of Orwell's volunteering in the Spanish Civil War). Has Tolkien's, and Lewis's, fame really grown so great that it eclipses a figure like Hemingway, universally considered one of the three or four major American twentieth century novelists? That's hard for me to get my mind around: as I said, if true, it'd be a whole new world.

And now to read on, though I really doubt there'll be any more surprises herein to match that one.

--John R.

*Which over time evolved into Soon-ish. Then Eventually. And finally Surely Any Day Now. It's a narrative that goes back more than fifty years now, and to which former Deconstructionist Harold Bloom still clings

**I originally wrote 'fought', but Hemingway of course famously served as an ambulance driver, arguably a higher calling.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


So, I've always vaguely wondered why three of the four seasons have a single simple name ("Spring" "Summer" "Winter") while the fourth has two, both "Fall" and "Autumn".

Checking the dictionary, I didn't find the answer. But I did learn that 'autumn' is Etruscan (though we got it from the French, who got it from the Romans), and means autumn.

I suspect that makes it pretty much the only Etruscan word in common usage in modern English

Live and learn.

--John R.

current reading: THIS PROGRESS by Bernard Acworth (still)

The Cat Report (W. Sept 24th)

Amazed at the five-cat adoption over a two or three day period: The Little Sisters (LITTLE FEET and LITTLE PANTS), tripod lad LEGO, always-gets-overlooked TAWNY, and even special needs PHOENIX. The last is particularly satisfying, given how long she had to wait for her happy ending (since May I think). Can't remember ever having so many adopted in so short a time. 

With  Little Miss Smith (PERRY) back at the clinic (hope she'll soon be better and back with us again), that leaves us with just THREE CATS -- the fewest I ever remember being there. With so few cats, I was able to give them a nice relaxed morning.

We started out with walks: Mollini, then Buxter, then Maebe. Mollini did well with a combination walk and carry. She likes to go up to people but then just sits there, not trying to get their attention by mewing or rubbing against them.  Buxter shows signs of developing into a champion walker: she even stood up to a dog, holding her ground until it retreated. She went all over the store, and explored here and there. Think the part she liked best was going belly-up on the tiles. Never thought I'd be giving her tummy rubs: it was like she was doing her best Moreo impersonation (though about ten pounds lighter). Maebe, by contrast, was no sooner out than she lifted up her voice in lamentations, which grew in volume and frequency until I hastened to take her back inside the cat-room, where she immediately quieted down and relaxed. 

Speaking of mews, Mollini did something strange for her. A large dog (looked something like a black St. Bernard's) briefly came up to the cat-room, looked inside, and then went on off. As soon as she saw it, Mollini mewed and went up to the spot of the glass where it was. Think she was tying to get its attention. I'd just assumed she didn't like dogs, but maybe not?

Plenty of room this morning with only three cats: 

Buxter took up her post in her favorite spot, atop the cat-stand by the cabinet. She was pleased to be petted from time to time, but mostly just wanted to be out of the cage, in a safe comfy spot, and snooze.

Maebe went up to the cagetops, where she climbed inside the unused litter-box with the blanket in it, which she decided was the Best Thing Ever, settling in with great satisfaction and doing her paws up and down. 

Mollini was the one who really blossomed. She started out near the door, both to enjoy the breeze and to play some games. Then as the morning went on began to explore, going back into the corner where the used laundry goes. She was briefly in the basket on the bench but spent most of her time out and about. She and I finally worked out a good way to get her back in her cage at the end of shift: I put the other two back, whereupon she came and sat in front of her cage. I then put the wicker basket in front of her cage and patted it: she jumped from the floor to the basket then from the basket into the cage, and seemed quite pleased with herself.

The only other event of note was that I brought in some catnip bubbles to see how the cats liked it. Maebe was deeply interested, stalking over and standing over them, staring at them until they burst. Mollini was also interested, popping one or two but mostly just tracking them with her cat-radar. Buxter decided they might be Up To No Good and so moved down a level on her cat-stand for better shelter against The Cat-Bubble Menace. I left the bottle in case the new cats on the way might also enjoy them.

Speaking of the new cats, looking forward to meeting Sylvester and Tweety, the new kittens, who I hear arrived Wednesday afternoon after I'd left.

health concerns: everyone seemed fine, but Buxter made a deposit outside her box again. However, she also used her box, so this may not have been a protest so much as distress over a smelly dirt-box. I went ahead and emptied and cleaned out the box so she had all-new litter, thinking this might help. Suggest we make special efforts to keep her box as clean as we can to see if this resolves the problem.

--John R.

P.S.: Wonderful to see two pictures of Tawny, very much at home in her new home, sitting on the arm of the couch and keeping company with her human. That's one contented cat.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Just a Thought

It's just a thought, but what if those guys who've recently been caught trying to get into the White House are repo men here to do a rendition on behalf of the Noble Committee:

They'd like their Peace Prize back.

--John R.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Scots Vote No

So, after an impressively large turnout of just about all eligible voters, the majority of Scots have concluded that eight hundred years of being colonized by the English isn't enough, and can they please have some more.

Be interesting now to see whether the promises made in the final days of the campaign, to give Scotland much more autonomy, are followed up on or quietly forgotten.

--John R.
great, great, great grandson of a Scots emigrant (whence the Presbyterianism).

Mount Adams out my window

So, yesterday I saw a bluebird -- not an indigo bunting (wh. we have in Arkansas) nor a jay, but an actual bluebird.

Today we went for a long walk with two big dogs, wh. is a v. different dynamic from walking cats. Though in both cases it puts the local wildlife to flight.

We saw three natural bridges, as well as the rubble from what clearly had once been a fourth such bridge. These had all clearly once been part of a lava tube, the roof of which had collapsed at all but a few places. The gorge between them was perhaps some fifty feel deep, so it must have been quite a cave in its day.

After that, we went and saw an ice cave (descending into it until I cd stand on and touch the ice--which ominously cracked under my feet), the opening of Cheese Cave (which I descended once years ago but cdn't bring myself to this time, what with the acrophobia, though Janice did), and Butter Cave (which was new to me; I liked it v. much), and Christmas Tree Cave (the stairs going down were all rotten, but we managed to scramble down on the rocks -- you cd get a good idea of a big chamber that must have collapsed, exposing the side-tunnels and alcoves around the edges, but I really cdn't tell which was the main passage).

Then it was back to base, and later a pleasant walk with just the two of us along the Little White Salmon River, which was milky-green from snowmelt and v. cold. Then a quiet evening, dinner, and an early evening -- while I read a little Le Guin (seems appropriate, since today I got a good look at Mt. Hood), some more of the increasingly eccentric Bernard Ackworth, and gave a close skim to one of my pieces that's about to come out soon ("The Missing Women: Tolkien's Lifelong Support for Women's Higher Education")

And tomorrow, more hiking, more visiting, more enjoying being in a Tall House with friends.
And for the cats back home, it's day two of the World Domination Plan.

--John R.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Scots Vote (Poke-'em-with-a-Stick Wednesday)

So, tomorrow is the big day when the Scots get to vote on whether they stay part of the "United Kingdom" or go independent. Be interesting to see how this goes. I suspect the massive fearmongering campaign from the pro-English side will carry the day, but polls seem to indicate the outcome is still in doubt. More later.

--John R.

The Cat Report (W.Sept 17th)

The arrival of LEGO our new three-legged 'tripod cat' and DEXI brought us up to a full house again: ten cats. But Dexi got adopted before I even met her, leaving us with nine and, by the end of my shift this morning, back down to eight.

Started the morning with walks for LEGO (his first walk, I think -- he objected to the collar but found the exploring rather interesting), SMITH / 'Perry'-the-Winkle (who humored me), PHOENIX (who was alarmed but tried not to show it), and MOLINNI (who mistook the glass wall for a door. Twice. Only her dignity suffered).

Back in the room, I discovered that LEGO loves to put himself in a box with catnip and claim it for all his own. He's very friendly with people (myself, visitors, everybody) but hisses when he sees any cat approaching. I think this is not just because his missing leg forces him to stand his ground but that he's the youngest and smallest cat in the room, as well as the only male. He was quite interested in the whole cleaning-up-a-cube business, and supervised closely. A great little cat; despite his injury I think he'll find  home quickly.

Little SMITH [Perry] wanted to go high and then wanted to burrow under not just the pink blanket but under the foam mini-mattress beneath it. She was very pleased with herself when, with a little judicious help from me, she succeeded.  She's been having a lot of trouble lately, throwing up on everybody's shift but mine over the last eight or nine days, so I bought some cat-grass first thing that morning on my way into the PetsMart and put it in her cage with her -- my thought being that if she needed to throw up she might as well do it the old fashioned way, by eating a little grass first. And that by giving her the grass as soon as I arrived there'd be a good chance it'd do its good work before I left. Turns out Cher and Shari arrived to take her up to Arlington for the folks there to see if they can find out what's behind the vomiting (stress? or something physically wrong?).  Hope they'll be able to help her and we'll soon see her back at the cat room in Tukwila. Poor Smith: abandoned by her owner after twelve years so they could have a new kitten instead. Some people . . .

The LITTLE SISTERS (Little Pants and Little Feet) are still shy but came out more, and enjoyed joining in games. They're beginning to suspect that Lego's hisses don't mean they have to run away but just circumvent him. The bolder of the two enjoyed a roll in the catnip.

MAEBE and BUXTER were majestic and mellow, each atop her own preferred cat-stand at opposite ends of the room. Buxter enjoyed snoozing, being petted, and snoozing some more. Maebe enjoyed games -- any game anyone else was playing, she wanted to play too, but without having to move from her comfy spot (what my wife and I call a Lazy Predator).

TAWNY stayed in the first hour or so I was there, then came out and explored a little, played some, and rolled in catnip with great enthusiasm. She and Molinni no longer seem to like the bench -- not sure why. Her back-up place is the mid-level of the cat-stand by the cabinet (between Phoenix below and Buxter above).  She lets me pet her a little now, sometimes.

MOLINNI is standoffish as usual, but calm and well-behaved. She's been here long enough that she knows what she wants; the only things that throw her is other cats sometimes getting in the way of her plans and my wanting to pet her (she would Prefer Not To). She did get quite interested in a game, and took her turn politely.

PHOENIX was her usual quiet self: came out, went directly to rondel, slept curled up in rondel, reluctantly went back in at end of shift. It's not a v. exciting routine, but seems to work for her. Maybe I shd add a petting session for her while she's in her favorite place and see if she likes it.

Great, great, great news that Mr. Scruffs finally got adopted, after nine and a half months (most of it at our cat-room in Tukwila). A happy ending for a great cat who had to wait far too long for his turn to come around, but is enjoying his new home at last.
--John R.

Mr. Scruffs Goes Home

So, for readers of my 'Cat Reports', a few days ago came the great news that Scruffy (a.k.a. MR. SCRUFFS) has now finally been adopted. I forget his backstory -- whether his owner moved away and decided to leave him behind, like Kaboodles (who came in about the same time, and has still not been adopted), or whether his owner lost his home and cd no longer take care of him (which has been the case with several cats this past year), or if his owner simply decided he didn't want a cat anymore about eight years (which unfortunately happens more than you'd think) -- but he himself was a memorable cat: large and black and very much king of all he surveyed. His name was something of a misnomer, since he was in fact well-groomed, with long black hair that had brownish highlights.  The fact that he was the alpha cat yet never bullied the others defused what might otherwise have been battles for dominance: so long as he could hang out by the door, enjoying the breeze that sweeps under it, along with the occasional paper bag, he was content.

It took me a while to realize that he was different from all the other cats who came and went. They all knew, and acted, as if they were in temporary quarters, either making the best of it or (in some cases) very much on edge at the weirdness of living in a cage in a room with up to nine other cats. But Mr. Scruffs was different: watching him I realized this was his home. In his mind, he'd made the adjustment that here was where he lived. It wasn't the home he'd have preferred, but he accepted it and enjoyed what amenities he could.  I found the thought heartbreaking, but I was glad he wasn't turning his face to the wall, so to speak, withdrawing into himself after the days stretched into weeks and the weeks into months.

 He arrived at the Tukwila cat room back in December of last year and stayed until sometime around the beginning of August, when they decided to transfer him to a different spot (Issaquah) -- the idea being that, while they don't want to move them around once they get settled, there comes a point where pretty much everyone who frequents a particular store has gotten plenty of chances to adopt a particular cat if they were going to. And that then a fresh spot in another city gives them a chance to be seen by a new set of people, one of whom might be The One who'll take him home.

 Looks like that did the trick; we heard the good news on the thirteenth, so only about a month and a half after being moved to the new spot, he's finally back in a home of his own.  A happy ending, and testimony that Purrfect Pals' policy of patience really does pay off in the end.  Now if only Kaboodle and Perry ('Smith') and Phoenix could be so lucky.

--John R

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In Praise of Dr. Terry

Late last week the current issue of Southern Arkansas University (SAU*) alumni  magazine arrived. I usually put this aside to skim through later but wind up never getting to, but this time my attention was drawn by the cover story, to the effect that the university president, Dr. Rankin (whom I remember from the days when he and his wife were sponsors of our church youth group), has announced his retirement, effective next year. There was also a tribute (and terrible photo) to the late, multitalented Jake Whitehead, who I remember in the SAU production of A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (I was in the pit band and so saw each night's performance; he was far better than Zero Mostel in the same role). I was interested to see a former junior high/senior high classmate of mine and her husband giving a large check for the 'naming rights' to a pavilion being put up on campus. But the item that really threw me was all but the last line on the last page, listing as among the recently deceased with connections to SAU (students and faculty) "Dr. Robert Terry (Former Professor), Feb. 12, 2014"

I hadn't seen Dr. Terry in years (since about '86, I think), but he was once a big part of my life. I took more classes from him than anyone else during my undergraduate days (May 1977 thr August 1979). I remember taking Classical Roots from Dr. Smalling** (which included reading the Illiad, the Odyssey, Greek tragedies, even a late Greek romance), and both Shakespeare and also Transformational Grammar (where I learned all about sentence structure) from Mr. Whitman, brilliant and sardonic and occasionally scathing. But I took at least three classes from Dr. Terry. Memorably, in one of them where we were to select and critique a famous work of criticism (I think Lowe's ROAD TO XANADU was one***) he let me choose C. S. Lewis's THE ALLEGORY OF LOVE, which I found hard going (never having read the works Lewis was discussing) but was grateful for the chance to slowly read and absorb.

I also owe Dr. Terry a great debt in that he taught the first Tolkien class I ever took. It came about like this: about half-way through my time at SAU (which was accelerated because of CLEP, summer school, and taking 17 hours of credits most semesters****) I found out there was a process by which students cd petition the department to offer a special studies course. The requirements were to get a certain number of students to sign a petition stating that they wd take the course if offered, and to find a faculty member willing to teach it. Dr. Terry was willing, so that semester (fall 1978, I think) we had a course on Tolkien. Since Dr. Terry wasn't a Tolkien expert (though he'd read all the major works), I consulted with him on the syllabus -- what books we'd study and in what order. I know my copy of BEOWULF: THE MONSTERS AND THE CRITICS (the Arden Press facsimile edition) dates from that class. I taught Tolkien in other contexts later -- using THE HOBBIT as the book my freshmen wd write their research papers on at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) in the fall of 1980 or spring of 1981, and again twice at Marquette in the mid & late '80s (including the last semester I taught there, spring of 1991), and taught or co-taught a series of continuing ed. courses at Marquette on Tolkien, on his precursors, on his followers, et al from 1988 through about 1992 or thereabouts.

Dr. Terry also helped me understand part of Tolkien's life that hadn't made much sense to me from Carpenter's biography. Dr. Terry was an outside grader of standardized tests, and spent a few weeks each summer gathered somewhere with other graders, working their way through some 200 tests apiece a day (or at least that's the number that sticks in my memory). Tolkien was famously grading just such a batch of student papers when he fortuitously came up with and wrote down the line of gibberish "In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit".

The last time I saw Dr. Terry was when I asked his advice during the period when I was going through dissertation proposal hell,***** so this wd have been the summer of 1986. I'd hoped he might be able to give me some advice, an outside perspective. In this I was disappointed -- he spent the entire time waxing eloquent on the wonders of Amway, to which he was a recent convert. Still, I'm grateful to Dr. Terry, a great teacher who was willing to help a student pursue his enthusiasm even if it didn't lay along the same lines as his own interests.  I still have THE GOLDEN HIND, the fine collection of Tudor poetry and prose he had co-edited; it's from Dr. Terry's class that I was able to recognize and put a name to Emerson Lake & Palmer's use of skeltonics. I'm sorry that I didn't keep in touch after that, but I'm grateful to have been in his classes, and to have had him as a professor.  I suspect he, more than any other teacher, was responsible for my going into English as my major and subsequently making it my major course of study in graduate school.

So thanks Dr. Terry. Much appreciated. Rest in Peace.

--John R.
current reading: THIS PROGRESS by Bernard Ackworth [1934] (C. S. Lewis's crackpot friend)

*just before I attended, they changed the name from the much more euphonious Southern State College. Alas.

**to my fascination, I found that some of the more bizarre ideas CSL put forth were accepted as standard dogma by Dr. Smalling. It was also Dr. Smalling who, upon finding out that I preferred THE ODYSSEY to THE ILLIAD, replied: you would.

***a book I confess I've still never read.

****looking back, I'm surprised I had time to do all this and two part-time jobs too. As Joseph Conrad wd say: ah, youth.

*****but that's a story I'll save for another day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Cat Report(s)

So, I've been a bit remiss in getting the reports of how the shelter cats up for adoption at the Tukwila PetsMart have been doing these past few weeks; here's an omnibus update

With eight cats, most of them more or less unsociable, it's starting to feel like the room is filling up again.  I got there late today (was almost there when remembered something I'd left at home and had to go back), and stayed till almost 1 to make up for it. Also forwent the walks, except for a brief outing with Alexi (see below).

Janice and I have two cat-stands we'd like to donate, and I brought the first one in today. Didn't want it littering up the area outside, so found a place for it in the room. Cher, if we don't want to keep it for the room, might the shelter or another volunteer like it?

Glad to report that there were no sneezes, no drooling, no throw-up. Aside from Alexi, who's skin and bones, the cats all seem healthy. Bayou's ears are a little dirty, but I helped on that account at least a little.

This time I was sure to let Tawny and Molinni out first so they could claim their favorite places (on opposite ends of the bench). I put Buxter atop the cat-stand by the cabinet and Maebe atop the cabinet itself. Phoenix put herself in the rondel (the lowest level of Buxter's cat-stand), while Perry roamed around the cat-stands near the door. Tawny hissed whenever Perry got atop her basket, and Perry hissed at Bayou to let him know he was to Keep His DIstance, but other than that no dust-ups. I put Bayou atop the cages, and once he'd thoroughly explored it he decided he liked it plenty good. He even figured out how to use the steps to come and go (haven't had them out in a long time, but didn't take him long to work it out). Alexi stayed inside, but I wanted to make sure to clean her cage this time so I lifted her out and put her in Phoenix's cage while I cleaned the double-wide (Phoenix was a little put out, going into her cage two or three times, finding another cat there, and coming back out again; otherwise this plan worked pretty well). 

A little before noon, I pulled Alexi out from where she was hiding, put the leash on her, and took her outside. I sat in the chair just outside the room and held and petted her for ten or maybe fifteen minutes. She initially buried her face in the crook of my arm and trembled, but after a while she calmed down some and started looking around. Think it did her some good to have a change of pace; once back in the room I put her back into her own cube and she ate some dried catfood and also some wet. Think we should watch her intake v. carefully, since she's so very very thin and it'd be easy to miss the signs because of Bayou eating out of the same dishes &c.

The most affectionate cats today were Perry-the-Winkle, who also wins the Most Talkative award. Buxler was also v. affectionate today; she's really mellowed.

There were lots of visitors, particularly from about 11.30 onward. One woman said she'd adopted her cat from here a couple of years ago, though I didn't recognize the name. One couple said they were looking for to adopt but didn't seem to click with any of our cats. I gather this was a preliminary round;  hope they'll come back and try again.

And that's about it for this morning.

--John R.

[didn't write up a report for the next day, Wedn. the 20th, but here's the one for the next week:]


Great news that MR. KASPER has found himself another home, and taken home a play-pal with him. Hope things work out well for him this time: he needs room to run and play and generally just be a cat.  Now if only Mr. Scruffs cd be so lucky.

With MISTY BUMBLE having come and gone without my ever seeing her (taking the cat-stand I donated with her), we're back to eight cats again in the cat room.

Glad to report that there were no throw-ups today, not even a sneeze. Only health concerns are the ongoing concern over Alexi's not eating and Buxter having carefully deposited some feces on a blanket at the front of her cage. 

Gave walks (fairly brief ones) to Perry, Phoenix, and Tawny, and a carry-around to Alexi. The only thing that interested ALEXI was the little forest of four cat-stands placed together. She went under this and immediately perked up, looking around alertly rather than cringing with that haunted look in her eyes. Once back in the room I put her in the top of the cabinet with a blanket or two for cover.  Interestingly enough, after everybody had gone back into their cages at end of shift, when I left the room to dispose of the trash I came back to find her eating from the food-dish; think she thought I'd left for the day and it was safe to come out. And she'd been stretched out across the front of the cage when I arrived, so maybe she comes out more than I'd thought, just not when there's people in the room who might be Cat Eating Fiends.

For his part, BAYOU was very shy today; came out a few times but dashed back in anytime he thought I might go over to that side of the room. Even hissed at me once or twice. Don't know if this was due to his sister's absence or if he was just having an easily-spooked day.

TAWNY was in good form today. I'd been surprised last Wednesday by her coming out of her spot on the bench to join in the other cats' games (she turns out to be good at Gopher and Bug-on-a-Stick). She did the same today, and clearly enjoyed herself pouncing on an old toy called a Cat Dancer I'd found and brought in (more than a decade ago it'd belonged to my cat Parker, who'd been v. fond of it; apparently it hasn't lost its appeal).  She let me pet her just a little, and some visitors as well, but still prefers the hands-off approach. She did explore the room, both last Wednesday and again today, which seems to me like something of a breakthrough. 

MOLINNI mostly stayed on the bench but spent a fair amount of time around the door. She joined in games some but mostly just wanted to look about, without any interference from me, and see what there was to see. She seems pretty comfortable with her routine (aside from going-back-inside time, which she objects to on principle).

MAEBE claimed the top of the cat-stand by the door, where she accepted petting as Her Right and Due, and showed enthusiasm for games, esp. the Cat Dancer (which she shared, alternating, with Tawny). She  was so pleased that she groomed her blanket as well as herself; something of an odd sight. For her part, BUXTER continues to mellow: she spent the morning atop the cat-stand by the cabinet, very pleased to be petted early and often, and deeply reluctant to go back into her cage at the end. 

PERRY was quiet today (aside from her usual chorus of mews when petted). What an adorable cat. I put her up on the cage-tops and she found a spot she loved so much I wound up putting her and all in cage at end of morning. 

Finally, PHOENIX, well-behaved as always, spent the morning in the rondel, which has definitely become her new favorite place. She too was miffed to eventually have to go into her cage but accepted an apology in the form of a small, low-carb treat.

There were some visitors, but they were casual cat-lovers rather than potential adopters. 

And, on a different topic, glad to hear that the HomeAgain microchips are reliable, since that's what my two cats at home have.

--John R. 


(includes notes for Sept 3rd as well)

Didn't get a cat report written up last week (Sept 3rd), when things were still adjusting from the arrival and quick adoption of Bellah and TL (so quickly that I never saw either one), followed in turn by the adoption of Big Bayou and Shy Alexi. Since there were only six cats, I walked them all: those who did best were Buxter and Phoenix by far. Phoenix really is a sweet cat: she saw a PetsMart employee stocking a shelf and went up and rubbed him, purring. As for Buxter, she was baffled by the size and complexity of the store but very willing to explore and enjoy being out. Her favorite part was exploring the cat stands and especially the cat cushions; she even got some belly rubs.  Once back in we had lots of games. Maebe loved the feather duster, proclaiming it Legitimate Prey. Mollini enjoyed a one-on-one game of bug-on-a-stick, except the other cats kept joining in: Tawny, then Perry, then Maebe.  Tawny in fact several times came out to play whatever game was going on; I forget that she's one of the younger cats in the room -- it's nice to see her begin to act like it. At one point Tawny had a game all her own, until Maebe intercepted it; later Perry (whom I've taken to calling 'Smith' -- she just looks like a Smith) and Buxter were like tick and tock, each attacking opposite ends of a string swinging like a pendulum.

This week (Sept 10th) brought two new cats into the mix, bringing us back up to eight: PERRY (Smith), MOLLINI, PHOENIXTAWNYBUXTERMAEBE, and newcomers LITTLE PANTS & LITTLE FEET (or, as I like to call them, the Little Sisters).  No walks, since I wanted time to get a sense what the room was like with the new bonded pair in it. Pleased to say they're all getting along fairly well. Smith and Mollini had a hissing contest at one point, which Smith won, greatly to her satisfaction, but other than that all was quiet: the cats snoozed, explored, played, permitted themselves to be petted, and generally just hung out.  

The two newcomers, LITTLE PANTS AND LITTLE FEET, mostly kept to themselves. The bolder of the two (the bobtailed one -- Feet?) came out several times, explored, and played, dashing back to home base when spooked. The shy one (with the corkscrew tail -- Pants?) stayed in most of the time but came out for a few cautious explores around that side of the room. She was nervous at having to come out when I did their double-wide but didn't panic or anything like that; she just hovered nearby watching my progress until all was ready for her to go back in. One good sign is that before I'd let them out I was playing the bug-on-a-stick game with Smith (with Maebe and Mollini both joining in with enthusiasm), and when it swished past their cage Little Feet reached out and managed to snag it and draw it into their cage, where both sister proceeded to paw and play with it. So even as shy as they are right now they're still interested in games.

PHOENIX had a very quiet day. Didn't want to sit on my lap or be petted; just went to her rondel and stayed there. Maybe a little gloomy? Have to make sure she gets a walk and some one-on-one time next week.

BUXTER was mellow. She went to her favorite place, the top level of the cat-stand by the cabinet, and stayed there all morning (Buxter above, Phoenix below). She enjoyed the occasional pet, stretching and getting into position for what part of her she wanted petted, but sat out the games. 

TAWNY was very playful; any game I started with any other cat she came and wanted to join in, abandoning her basket-on-the-bench to do so. While I was cleaning cages she entertained herself by the door, pouncing on anything stirred by the breeze. She's quite willing to share a game with another cat or two, so long as she gets her turn with whatever they're chasing or pawing (string or bug-on-a-stick or laser pointer). She'll let me pet her a little now but still very much dislikes a hand reaching into her basket -- may be some bad memory there? I always just pick up the basket and elevator-carry her over to her cage when it's time to go back in, which avoids all the upset.

MOLLINI actually let me hold her in my lap and pet her a little when she first came out. She later let me reach a hand out to her, both while she was in her cubbyhole and when out and about, and didn't swat or pull back. She does revert to her don't-touch mode when she thinks she's going to be picked up. Found one trick she really liked: having the short cat-stand before her open cage, so she can sit on it seeing all there is to see but with a quick retreat ready to hand. She spent a lot of the morning playing around the door area and seemed to get along fine with Tawny, Little Feet, and Maebe, though she and Smith exchanged hisses whenever Smith thought Mollini got too close. She loved the crinkly paper, the bug-on-a-stick, the string games, and laser pointer, though looks like bouncing balls do nothing for her. 

SMITH claimed her spot and defended it from all comers (Mollini, who jumped up there unawares and beat a hasty retreat). It turns out she only talks when being petted, whereupon she becomes very vocal. She loves games but wants the game to come to her rather than have to chase after it on her own. She's about the age of my two cats at home, and her play reminds me of theirs: lots of paw action but not much body movement. She loves attention and loves being petted.

MAEBE played string games, bug-on-a-stick, more string games, and yet more string games. Didn't think to try the gopher game, but suspect she'd like that too. All this playing while never leaving the top of the cat-stand by the door, which has become her favorite spot (a nice bookend to her sister Buxter atop the other cat-stand over by the cabinet). She's pleased to be petted, and perfectly willing to nap, but it's the games that made up her favorite part of the morning.

No health concerns this week, though Tawny has developed the odd habit of licking the glass wall, at a spot beneath the cat-stand by the door. She did it three times, but I have no idea what about that particular spot attracts her.

Last week Buxter had once again neatly deposited some feces on the blanket by the door of her cage -- maybe she needs more space. Any chance we cd shift her to the other double cage?  This week there was no repetition, so maybe she's over whatever little protest she felt she needed to make.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Smilde reviews McGrath (Journal of Inklings Studies)

So, one of the most interesting pieces, I thought, in the newest issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES is the review-essay, by Arend Smilde, of McGrath's CSL biography ECCENTRIC GENIUS, RELUCTANT PROPHET. This is one of those cases where the reviewer continually takes the author to task for writing the book he did and not the book the reviewer would have preferred.

That biographer and reviewer are at cross purposes is apparent from the review's first paragraph, where the reviewer expresses bafflement at McGrath's distinguishing his approach from that of other CSL biographies. It turns out the reviewer has no knowledge of the biographies in question -- but that surely is not McGrath's fault, given that the books are well-known and widely circulated. More significantly, McGrath's biography is intended to be half of a two-volume set, the other book being devoted to in-depth discussion of Lewis's ideas. Smilde is aware of this -- he refers to the companion volume by title -- but not having it to hand he choses thereafter to treat the second book as non-existent for his purposes. Given that the reviewer constantly chastises McGrath for not having dealt with this issue or that, one suspects many of the discussions he wishes to see are in fact in the second volume specifically devoted to exploring Lewis's major ideas in depth.

After a single paragraph touching on a few things Smilde thinks McGrath got right, the remainder of the review-essay runs through the far more lengthy list of things he thinks McGrath got wrong. These range from including too much about Tolkien (can't agree with him there, obviously) and too little about Barfield (a valid point. but again I'd want to check the companion book), and far too much about Narnia (I cdn't agree more). Elsewhere he dings McGrath for making an accurate statement without citing a specific piece of evidence to back it up. To McGrath's exploration of Lewis's abandonment of poetry and shift to fiction Smilde responds by denying that Lewis ever underwent a 'shift to fiction' (which seems a plain disregard of the evidence). He is particularly indignant that McGrath never refers to George MacDonald; for my own part, I was shocked that he fails to mention David Lindsay.

But what to make of Smilde's criticism of McGrath for not including in his (extensive but selected) bibliography of secondary works on Lewis's life and thought two dissertations, one by Norbert Feinendegen (2008) and the other by Adam Barkman (2009)?  The answer lies I think in Smilde's other contribution to this volume, an extensive (sixty-page) essay on what is sometimes called C. S. Lewis's 'argument from desire'. In his abstract to this piece, Smilde states that one of his goals for this essay is "an attempt to make the English-speaking world aware of a major contribution to C. S. Lewis studies published in Germany by Norbert Feinendegen in 2008" (p. 33). This suggests to me that Smilde brings up Feinendegen's and Barkman's names, not because he thinks it likely McGrath would have consulted either, but because they're things Smilde wd have cited had he been writing this book.

In the end, I think Smilde views McGrath's work entirely through the prism of the ideal biography Smilde wd like to read, in which the things that interest him would receive the most attention and topics that don't interest him are scanted. Since the reality (the book McGrath actually wrote) does not correspond to the ideal (the philosophical and theological work Smilde wd have preferred), he finds it "a book of uneven quality, with more low than high points". For my part, I'd say it was a v. good book,  albeit w. some shortcomings. While not the definitive Lewis biography we've all been hoping for, it's certainly the best biography of CSL since Green & Hooper. And that's no small achievement.

Finally, since it's always better to read people for yourself than to rely on other people's descriptions of what they wrote, here's a link to an extensive listing of points about McGrath's book that drew Smilde's attention, with Smilde's comments thereon:


I've only skimmed this, but it's quite interesting to see such erudition on display. My favorites among his critiques and comments were

"This book has a total of 257 sentences beginning with Yet"


"This idea does not seem worth committing to paper." 


Monday, September 8, 2014

The Man Who Knew Tolkien (Not Well)

So, the article that most interested me in the current issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (Spring 2014 issue, the first I've seen) is the modestly-titled memoir by E. G. Stanley, "C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as I Knew Them (Never Well)". Stanley had been a student at Oxford in 1948-51, during an era when CSL and Tolkien had abandoned the Eagle and Child for The Lamb and Flag across the street and, occasionally, the Eastgate.  As such, he attended "all the lectures Lewis and Tolkien gave" during that period, as well as "Tolkien's seminar for graduate students and selected undergraduates" from Michaelmas 1949 onward.  This meant he heard Lewis's lecture series Prolegomena to English Renaissance Literature -- what soon thereafter became the core of CSL's long awaited if prosaically named ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY (EXCLUDING DRAMA). Stanley says of  these "I thought them them and think them still the best lectures I have ever heard".

I think the line that most stood out for me in his description of Lewis lecturing was "He was never reluctant to state his views on any work of literature"; he says Lewis was "scathing" -- a word Stanley applies twice to CSL* -- about some well-known works (he does not say which). Lewis was never his tutor, but Stanley notes that his friend Derek Brewer was tutored by Lewis and "never ceased to be afraid of him" -- which tends to confirm Helen Gardner's judgment that Lewis was not a good tutor but a supremely gifted lecturer. Stanley also describes his own later interaction with Lewis when the latter became General Editor of a medieval and renaissance text series Stanley and Brewer started (w. a third colleague named Shepherd), and shows that Lewis was just as unsparing an advisor as he was a tutor.

The section of Tolkien is considerably shorter (some five or six pages out of a twenty-page piece), although he says he knew Tolkien better than he did CSL, as one of less than a dozen attending his seminars for "four or five terms". He describes Tolkien as "usually very patient, very encouraging, very polite, very friendly", except when a student made a philological blunder, to which Tolkien's response was, in Stanley's word, "sharp": Stanley gives two examples of Tolkien peremptorily cutting short students whom he considered were wasting his time. As a scholar, he notes that Tolkien "did not often publish his views, but when he did . . . his contributions were at once recognized as brilliant, because they were wholly original and right.** Some of his ideas were published, with acknowledgment, by graduate students of his", citing d'Ardenne as an example. Although Stanley does seem mildly scandalized that Tolkien "did not regularly revise his lectures", more or less repeating lectures from the 1920s and 30s well into the 1950s, he thought Tolkien's lecturing (e.g., on SGGK) "full of interesting, highly original ideas".  He confirms my long-held suspicion that it was Tolkien's loss of all his teeth, which happened mid-way through Stanley's undergraduate days, that made him truly difficult to understand: "he . . . began his lecture . . . pronouncing the words of his opening sentence memorably with sh for s and the like: 'You shee you can't do shound shangezh with porshelain.' He always pronounced words indistinctly, but he had never pronounced sibilants like that before" [JDR: although to be fair, there's no s/sh hissing in the recordings made later in Tolkien's life, so he must have gotten better-fitting false teeth somewhere down the line, or at least improved with practice].

Stanley also notes that "Tolkien was always friendly and the undergraduates were treated kindly"; he includes a brief second-hand account by someone*** who'd been one of Tolkien's students back at Leeds, in the early days of his teaching career, who "spoke of him with great affection" and "adjured me not to miss any opportunity to hear him or be taught by him. She had been personally spellbound by his teaching" -- an account I wd have worked into my essay on Tolkien' support of women's higher education, had I known of it in time.

Finally, Stanley recounts the last time he met Tolkien, at a 1972 party to celebrate the completion of Burchfield's Supplement to the OED. Although it'd been two decades since they met, Tolkien remembered Stanley and said he'd read S's subsequent work -- a statement Stanley finds hard to believe and chalks down to "Tolkien's great charm and warmth" and wish to be kind, but I see no reason to doubt Tolkien could remember a former pupil, even after so long. Significantly, Stanley ends with "I shall not forget his warmth, his kindness, and his charm at that party, and when others talk of J. R. R. Tolkien, the renowned author of fantasy fiction, I think of Professor Tolkien, the brilliant philologist".

So, an interesting account of how these two gifted but very different men appeared to a particular person at a particular place and time; a valuable glimpse back into a vanished world. Of it all, I was particularly struck by Stanley's twice applying the word 'scathing' to CSL and three times some version of 'kind' ('kind', 'kindly', 'kindness') to JRRT -- the latter of which matches well with John Lawlor's acocunt, among others.

Recommended for all who collect memoirs of CSL (which which I think there are four volumes published now) and JRRT (which we're still waiting for a collection of, but worth the wait once we get it)

--John R.

*Stanley himself can be scathing, as when writing of what he sees as A. J. Bliss's shortcomings as an editor, or when he notes that as an undergraduate he was, in his own words, "arrogantly dismissive" of another Inkling, Nevill Coghill, as a popularizer.

**Stanley gives as one unpublished example Tolkien's explanation for why two words spelled identically the noun 'wind' (breeze) and the verb 'wind' (twist, crank) are pronounced differently

***This was Stanley's own tutor, Stefanyja Olszewska (Mrs Alan S. C. Ross). Scull & Hammond, in their excellent CHRONOLOGY, record Tolkien's being appointed her dissertation supervisor in 1927 at Oxford, but Stanley's account enables us to push her connection w. Tolkien back to her undergraduate days at Leeds. Plus, of course, it's nice to know her full name (and married name) and not just surname plus initial.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Line Up (Kalamazoo Tolkienists)

So, thanks to Doug for pointing out that if you go to the website for the Medieval Congress, there's a photograph of three very familiar faces.


 I don't recognize the person in blue, but the three on the right are

(1) Richard West, author of TOLKIEN CRITICISM: AN ANNOTATED CHECKLIST, one of the very first books on Tolkien (preceded, I think, only by Isaacs & Zimbardo, Ready, and Lin Carter), editor of ORCRIST, longtime member of the University of Madison Tolkien Society (one of the longest lived Tolkien-themed book discussion groups*), and Guest of Honor at this year's Mythcon (a well-deserved honor).

(2) Deborah Webster Rogers, who actually corresponded with Tolkien (see LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, p. 288-289 [Letter #213]), wrote one of the earliest theses on his work, and co-wrote one of the best introductions to Tolkien (for the Twayne English Author series); she was also a contributor to Lobdell's A TOLKIEN COMPASS.

(3) me, listening intently. Wish I knew which session this was, and who was speaking; I'd dig out my notes for that session and re-read them.

I'm curious how this particular picture happened to get chosen, out of all the myriad that must have been available, but I'm pleased and bemused that we look sufficiently scholarly for their purposes.

And having just heard today that my paper topic has been approved, and also that I'll be on a roundtable I was deeply interested in, I'll be going back again next year too (for the eighth in a row, I think). Hope to see you there.

--John R.
current reading (still): A STING IN THE TALE by Goulson [2013]

*now I think in its forty-eighth year

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

More on JONAH

So, thanks to Mike Foster for forwarding the link to more information about the forthcoming publication of Tolkien's JONAH in THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES.  I'd still like to make some comments about the current issue, now that I've had a chance to read some of it, but I'll save that for another post. Here's the link describing the forthcoming Tolkien piece:


Of course, there's another Tolkien/Jonah link I haven't seen mentioned yet in this context, and that is that Tolkien would have been very familiar with the form the Jonah legend took in medieval times: it's retold (with great wit and charm) as PATIENCE, one of the four poems all presumed to be by the same author: the Gawain-poet (also known as the Pearl-poet) -- someone of whose work Tolkien made a special study*

In any case, J.I.S. editor Judith Wolfe's post makes much clearer what we're getting in this new publication: Tolkien's original submission, not the version reworked by another hand and actually published. So this will be an uncollaborative text -- like seeing Warnie's original Biography of CSL rather than the re-edited 'Memoir' published in the original LETTERS OF CSL.  And, given that Wolfe's post includes a facsimile of the first page of a 1955 handwritten JRRT letter to Allen & Unwin that doesn't seem to mention the JONAH project at all (so far as my admittedly uncertain eyesight can make out) but contains plenty of interest about how Tolkien created the final LotR map, it looks as if we'll be getting information on LotR as well as possibly other subjects, in addition to the JERUSALEM BIBLE proper. I'm looking forward to it.

--John R.

*the fourth poem in the manuscript, CLEANNESS (or PURITY), is unfortunately the weakest of the four; far better is a fifth piece (in a different ms. and probably by another hand, probably influenced by the Pearl-poet) called SAINT ERKENWALD, which tackles the problem of the unsaved virtuous pagan and recounts a miracle whereby this injustice is set right, at least in one case.