Thursday, October 30, 2014


So, a small turnout Sunday for Mithlond -- Gyda, Ramon, Jason, Chris and Andy not being able to make it left us with  just four people:  Yvette our host, Allen, Janice and myself. Despite that, we had a good meeting, having all read at least some of the stories, and had a good discussion. One thing we'd already become aware of is that the order in which you read the stories can have a big effect.

For example, I was reading a hardcover (the 'Mycroft and Moran' Arkham House edition), in which the first story is "The Thing Invisible", the one about the haunted knife, while Janice (and Yvette) were reading it on the Kindle, in which the first story is "The Gateway of the Monster/Whistling Room".

The two sequences are as follows:

BOOK: "The Thing Invisible", "The Gateway of the Monster", "The House Among the Laurels", "The Whistling Room", "The Searcher of the End House", "The Horse of the Invisible", plus the three added stories: "The Haunted Jarvee", "The Find", and (last and among the least) "The Hog".

e-Book: "The Gateway of the Monster", "The House Among the Laurels", "The Whistling Room", "The Horse of the Invisible", "The Searcher of the End House", "The Thing Invisible", "The Hog", "The Haunted Jarvee", and "The Find"

This matters because Hodgson carefully manipulates the reader's expectations in the Carnaki stories. In some stories, there's no ghost: the haunting was faked (though the danger may still be real). In others, the ghost is all too real and, more often than not, deadly. And in one story there's both a faked haunting and, as revealed in the climax, a real horror as well. In the arrangement of stories in the book, Hodgson carefully gives a sequence that keeps the reader guessing; in the Kindle arrangement the reader is thrown into the deed end from the get-go.  That Hodgson was wise to keep his readers guessing is amply shown by the Ash-Tree Press volume of Carnacki pastiches, NO. 472 CHEYNE WALK [2002] by A. F. Kidd and Rick Kennett. I tend to enjoy a good pastiche (such as Cannon's SCREAM FOR JEEVES, Harrison's EXPLOITS OF THE CHEVALIER DUPIN, or even Sheila Hodgson's THE FELLOW TRAVELLERS), but in the Kidd-Kennett collection every story follows the same pattern, all the ghosts are real, all are thwarted in much the same manner, and the reader is never left in any doubt that Carnacki will win through.

By contrast, there's much more ingenuity and variety in the original Carnacki stories (six in the original book published in Hodgson's lifetime, nine in the Arkham House and subsequent editions)*: the fact that Carnacki confesses to having been terrified at times during his investigations, only to sometimes later discover he'd worked himself up and the horror was of his own imagining; there's an honesty to that that's appealing. And the mix of real and faked hauntings has a verisimilitude: it stands to reason that not every case a ghost-hunter undertakes will uncover a genuine ghost.  Perhaps the thing that most makes them stand out is Carnacki's use of cutting edge technology, like his Electric Pentagram and later his Prismatic Circle. In this he resembles Bram Stoker. Reading DRACULA today it's easy to miss how tech-savvy his heroes are, employing such then-modern devices as the telegraph, shorthand, and especially Dr. Steward's Dictaphone to solve the case. Stoker even uses an airplane in a daring rescue as the climax in another of his novels, THE LADY OF THE SHROUD, published just six years after the Wright Brothers' first flight.

*of these, three additional stories, "The Hog" is an inept re-write of THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLANDS, "The Haunted Jarvee" is a so-so reuse of the plot-line from THE GHOST PIRATES, and "The Find", the best of the lot, a non-horror tale of ratinocination, perhaps hinting at a direction the series might have taken had the War not intervened.  For years there were doubts about the authenticy of all three, given Derleth's history as a forger.

Probably the biggest revelation to me was Yvette's pointing out that Dodgson, the narrator, was probably a play on Hodgson, the writer; I'd always assumed it was some sort of tribute to Lewis Carroll. That's one of the reasons I love book groups: those times when someone else read the same book I did and got something out of it I didn't which enhances my own reading.

As for the gathering itself, Yvette and James (our co-host) topped off their hospitality with hot cider and most excellent go-off-the-diet-worthy little bite-sized fruit tarts. Better yet, Max (Maximillius) the cat was disposed to be agreeable, not just showing a good deal of interest in the string game but completely eviscerating the little furry mouse tied to one end of the string; later he discovered the cat-nip tea-bag in my satchel and gave himself up to uninhibited indulgence. More surprising, we got to see shy Maya, who came out and took care of what spilled catnip Max had missed, so mellowed out that she actually let me pet her a little. Add to that a friendly encounter with the neighborhood cat when we arrived, and it was a three-cat visit.

Next month our book is something entirely different:  THE SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY by Mary Robinett Kowal, which seems to be another of those works that blends Jane Austen style character-interaction romance with fantasy. Wrede and Stevermer pulled it off with SORCERY AND CECELIA (perhaps because they refrained from too closely coping Austen, simply using her as inspiration rather than a template), while Galen Beckett failed with his MRS QUENT (which came across as an unblended pastiche of Austen, Bronte, and early Dickens --in sequence, not blended into a coherent whole). Here's hoping Kowal has better luck.

--John R.
just finished: FOREIGN DEVILS (a DOCTOR WHO novel featuring Thomas Carnacki)
just started: THE SHADOW OF REICHENBACH FALLS by John R. King (a Holmes/Carnacki crossover)
yesterday's song: RED RUBBER BALL by The Cyrkle
today's song: '65 LOVE AFFAIR by Paul Davis

Friday, October 24, 2014


So, here's a book I knew was coming but didn't know until a few days ago* that it was actually out (as of Oct. 9th): a new, expanded edition of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM BOMBADIL, edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.  I've now ordered a copy, but it'll be a while getting here, since it has to come from the U.K.; as with so many other interesting new editions of Tolkien works, there seems to be no American edition, at least so far as I cd tell.

It seems from the descriptions that this not-quite-Fiftieth-Anniversary edition, like similar expanded editions of FGH, SWM, and OFS, includes the entire text of the original book plus ancillary material of great interest: the earlier versions of the poems where these are known to exist, such as "Looney" (better known as "The Sea-Bell") and "Firiel" (which became "The Last Ship"), not to mention the newly rediscovered original of "Shadow-bride". Of particular interest is the never-before-published "The Bumpus", which developed into "Perry-the-Winkle".

Best of all, Wayne & Christina print for the first time the prose fragment of what wd have been The Story of Tom Bombadil, had Tolkien continued it -- another of those "promising beginnings" as Tolkien himself called them that faltered after a few pages, like the sequel to FARMER GILES (similarly printed for the first time by Wayne & Christina in their extended edition of FGH).

Finally, this expanded edition of ATB adds the third Bombadil poem, "Once Upon a Time", a delightful little piece which seems to have been written just too late for inclusion in the original 1962 edition and instead appeared in print elsewhere a few years later.**  So far as I can tell, they've not included associated poems like "The Dragon's Visit" and "Kortirion Among the Trees", which Tolkien considered including in the 1962 volume but which were ultimately left out for one reason or another (presumably finding it too hard to reconcile them to the 'Red Book' conceit that unifies the otherwise disparate collection). This was particularly unfortunately in the case of "The Dragon's Visit", which is a good deal better than several of the poems which made it in (e.g., "Bombadil Goes Boating", "Princess Mee", "The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon").

One thing I'm very curious to find out, and forgot to ask when I saw them this summer, is whether they've restored the original sequence of the poems Tolkien intended, or kept the revised sequence introduced by his publishers (w. Tolkien's permission) in the second printing (which is after all now of some fifty years' standing). In the original sequence, "Cat" is poem number eleven and "Fastitocalon" is poem number twelve; in the revised sequence, they switch places, so that "Fastitocalon" becomes poem number eleven and now precedes "Cat", which becomes poem number twelve.***

The chief significance of this is that Tolkien when refers in his Preface to poem number twelve . . .

No. 12 is also marked SG [=Sam Gamgee],
 though at most Sam can only have touched 
up an older piece of the comic bestiary lore 
of which Hobbits appear to have been fond" 

. . . he is referring NOT to "Cat" (the current poem number twelve) but to "Fastitocalon" (the original poem number twelve).

If they have not restored Tolkien's original ordering of the poems, then I'll be curious to see if they've changed the faulty reference in Tolkien's Preface, so that instead of "No. 12" it wd instead read "No. 11". And, though this is a lesser point, whether they've been able to restore the spot of color to the illustration of "Fastitocalon" (the tongues of flame from the fatal campfire) which was the root cause of the re-sequencing in the first place. We'll soon see.

Since the book itself's better than any description of the book, here's a link to what seems to be the amazon ( listing for the expanded edition of this appealing little book.

--John R, looking forward to the arrival of my just-ordered copy
current reading: still the Echo-Hawk (only forty pages to go!)

*thanks Doug

**WINTER'S TALES FOR CHILDREN, ed. Carolyn Hillier [1965], along with the revised version of "The Dragon's Visit"; both poems were reprinted a few years later in mass-market paperback by Lin Carter in THE YOUNG MAGICIANS [1969], one of the sixty-five books in Ballantine's Adult Fantasy Series.

***for the reasons why this occurred -- a discovery that I made, ironically enough, when examining Christina's copy of the first printing -- see my article, written in collaboration with Wayne, "'Fastitocalon' and 'Cat': A Problem in Sequencing", which appeared in the August 1987 issue of BEYOND BREE.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ANCHORING THE MYTH (My New Publication)

So, this week I got the good news about my latest publication, the volume THE HOBBIT IN TOLKIEN'S MYTHOLOGY: ESSAYS ON REVISIONS AND INFLUENCES, edited by Brad Eden, is now out.

My contribution is my keynote speech at last year's Valparaiso conference organized by Brad Eden, the essay "Anchoring the Myth: The Impact of THE HOBBIT on Tolkien's Legendarium", which chooses Tolkien's treatment of The Dwarves as a way to trace the (sometimes surprising) ways the older legendarium and THE HOBBIT interact. I spent a lot of time in THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT exploring that interaction, and writing this piece helped clarify my thinking on the issue, and the way Tolkien could have contradictory things going on in different parts of his overarching legendarium -- held in suspension, as it were, until and if he made a decision one way or the other.

The volume doesn't appear to be up on the McFarland website yet (where it'll be the most recent in what's now their eight volumes of Tolkien material, of which I've contributed to four*). However, you can find a link to its listing on Amazon here:

The amazon listing doesn't give the table of contents, but fortunately that appears on Jason Fisher's blog:

As you can see from the T.o.C., I'm in good company.** In fact, the best thing about seeing this book in print, aside from my own excitement about seeing another piece of mine out there where others can read it and react to it, is that now I get to read the essays by all the other contributors. So when my copy arrives it will immediately go to the top of the 'Read This Now' pile.

Many thanks to Brad for putting together the conference, inviting me to speak at it, coming up with the idea of this book, and seeing it through to fruition. 


--John R.

current reading: TOLKIEN IN PAWNEE LAND (Echo-Hawk)

*PICTURING TOLKIEN, THE BONES OF THE OX ('Tolkien and the Study of His Sources'), TOLKIEN IN THE NEW CENTURY (the Shippey festschrift, both as a co-editor and contributor), and now THE HOBBIT IN TOLKIEN'S MYTHOLOGY

** something that can be said of everyone who shares space in a book with Verlyn Fleiger, who gave the other keynote speech.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


So, last Thursday, the final night of our trip, we spent the evening with old friends: The Burrahobbits.*  Here's what Janice had to say afterwards (thanks to JC for permission to forward her post):

Burrahobbits Rule the book group world. Meeting 30 years and counting. Thanks to Jan Noble Long, Jeff Long, David Hoose, Georgie, Greg, and Pat for proving you can go home again. It was great seeing everyone again and picking up where we left off 17 years ago.

This is the book group I helped found, growing out of a continuing ed. class on Tolkien, that still has three of the original members in regular attendance all these years later, plus several other long-timers who came in later, and a cadre of new folks -- though by 'new' I mean people who joined after Janice and I moved to the Seattle area, seventeen years ago now, some of whom have been coming for years by this point. We kept coming ourselves even after we left Milwaukee, driving up from Delavan one night a month, and have kept in touch via email in the years since, though nothing is the same as being there.**  Thus we had a great time drinking tea (Jeff & Jan even provided Tupilo honey!), catching up, remembering deceased members (Jim and Sue), and discussing books good and bad we'd read over the years.  Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the evening, but it left me determined to keep in better touch with what they're reading and, when possible, to read along with their monthly choices.

All hail Burrahobbits!

--John R.

P. S. In the meantime, our current book group (Mithlond) is reading Wm. Hope Hodgson's CARNACKI THE GHOST FINDER this month,*** if anyone in the Seattle area is interested in joining us. I'm enjoying re-reading the original stories -- the best of all the psychic detectives, in my judgment -- and also reading a collection of Carnacki pastiches by other hands (which are enjoyable enough but can't begin to compare to the original). I also have a Doctor Who novel featuring Carnacki and an e-book of Carnacki-meets-Holmes, which I may not have time to get to before the meeting this weekend. 

*originating as an independent group who have since become both a Mythopoeic discussion group and a Tolkien Society smial in addition to still being independently minded. The name comes from our vast amusement of Nicole Williamson's reading of the Troll scene on his record album giving a reading of THE HOBBIT.

**Just to give some idea of how important this group was in our lives, it's where Janice and I met. And we're not the only couple to come out of the group.

***as part of our longstanding tradition to read a horror or ghost story each October

Monday, October 13, 2014

First Edition monsters & the new MONSTER MANUAL

So, before leaving for my trip I had a chance to take a closer look at the new Fifth Edition MM, which is just out.  And what I was most struck with is the degree to which it is dominated by 1st edition monsters.

Just quickly going down the list is redolent of the old days and the game's classic form:

bullywug and bullett. carrion crawler. demons, devils, and even angels (none of that Second Edition hapless evasiveness here).  ankheg and basilisk and beholder; cockatrice, chimera, cloaker. the classic giants and dragons (including that old favorite the dragon turtle, as well as the hydra) and golems. the behir and displacer beast.  doppelganger. shriekers and violet fungi, gorgon and harpy and hellhound. the invisible stalker and the five classic weres, kuo-toa and mindflayer, manticore and owl bear. gelatinous cube and piercer and mimic and roper (which between them killed far more characters than you'd expect). Even the little-used peryton is here, along with the mighty purple worm. all the classic undead. the remorhaz and behir, roper and salamander, shambling mound and sphinx (trimmed from four to just the two, in this case an improvement), and, iconic of iconics, the rust monster.

some come from the letter days of 1st edition (i.e., the FIEND FOLIO and MONSTER MANUAL II), such as the ettercap and galeb duhr, the hook horror and a few others.

About the only true classics I noticed missing were yellow mold and the green slime.

There were a smattering of third edition and 3.5 monsters, but luckily the book is overwhelmingly (say, 90%) dominated by monsters from its glory days.

So, while the new Firth Edition PLAYER's HANDBOOK is strongly reminiscent of third edition in the way it lays out character classes, races, et al., the new MONSTER MANUAL is very much aimed at re-creating a first edition milieu. Just flipping over pages made me want to play.

At this point, no telling what era the DMG (due out in December) will hearken back to. Will it split the difference and take second edition (a.k.a. first edition lite) as its model?  Will it, horror of horrors, try to recapture the look and feel of fourth edition? Or maybe it'll truly be something new and, for the first time, Fifth-Edition-y? Time will tell.

--John R.
current reading: THE BROTHERS CABAL by Jonathan Howard [2014]; TOLKIEN IN PAWNEELAND by Echo-Hawk [2013]

Today Is Not Columbus Day

So, sometimes when you are depends upon where you are.

Case in point: here in Rockford today (Oct 13th) is Columbus Day, a national holiday (which means gov't buildings closed, no post office delivery, most banks closed (hence the English name for them, 'bank holidays'), and the like -- all celebrating the man who discovered America in 1492.

But in Seattle, today is Indigenous Peoples' Day, celebrating not the person who discovered America but the people who were already here long* before he arrived, and memorializing the unmitigated disaster that the European arrival and take-over brought them.

Just another example of how different people can live through very different histories side by side and at the same time.

Here's the link:

--John R.
current reading: THE BROTHERS CABAL by Jonathan Howard [2014]

*and by 'long' I mean not just the 12,000 years traditional archeology has accepted but the revised figures of recent excavation and re-evaluation pushing the date back to double or, possibly triple, that.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Me, with cars

So, during my trip to and after arriving at Milwaukee a week ago tonight, the only thing that didn't go smoothly was picking up the rental car. First the guy at the counter said they didn't have the compact we'd reserved and so he was giving us another car, showing me a picture of a sort of micro-car two-seater with so small a trunk it cdn't have held both our suitcases. So I asked for something bigger, like the car we'd reserved. He was happy to oblige, and after some delay I headed out to pick up the car, only to discover once I got the keys that (a) it was much bigger, being a four-door a good foot longer than our non-compact Honda Civic back home, plus (b) he'd charged me an extra $200 for an "upgrade". I returned the key, went back in, told him I wanted a compact, as originally requested. He said he could do that. More delay, then a new set of papers and I'm heading out into the garage when I check paperwork again and find it's now a $175 extra fee. I return once again the the desk and say I want the original little car he sent me: no upgrade, no extra fee: just what we originally reserved, at the price we reserved it for. Long delay, during which I read, studied maps, and the like. Finally he gives me the re-re-re-revised paperwork, for the original price, and I go outside to find he's given me --not the compact he promised, but a van.  A huge, wallowing, boat of a van.

To be specific, a Chevrolet Grand Caravan, more suitable for transporting the Van Trap Family than for letting Janice and I (and possibly another Coulter) bus around northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.  But by this time it's getting dark, and I have serious doubts about what horrors that person at the counter might visit on me, given another try. So I decide to sail the S. S. Enormous onto the interstate and try to get it to Marquette, where I promptly park it and drive it as little as possible over the next few days, until I go to pick up Janice at the airport on Friday and she quickly masters it.

End of story, except for two pictures.

Here's me and the van I wound up with, followed by the car we saw today at Edward's Apple Orchard (where I picked apples), which, if I had to drive a whale of a car, wd have been my choice: a 1938 Chevrolet.

Oh well. Better luck next time.

--John R.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Week at Marquette

So, I just wrapped up a week at Marquette, spending the days working with the Tolkien collection in the Archives* and the evenings seeing friends from my Wisconsin days I don't get to see nearly often enough.** It was great, and I'm already looking forward to Next Time, whenever that may be. In particular, staying on-campus brought back a lot of memories from the years when I lived on or just-off campus (first in the Abbottsford [1981-83] -- still standing-- and later in the apt on 17th street [1983-87], no longer extant).

As for my research, I spent a lot of time with the John Boorman script for his unproduced LotR movie, finally wrapping up a project I'd worked on in bits over several previous short visits (day trips).  But I also got to spend some time with the 1983 conference papers, and some with the timelines for LotR, and some on miscellaneous things.  I'd wanted to look at the timelines for some time, in part because they were among the material added to the collection after my time at Marquette, so they postdate my knowledge of the collection, Now that I've taken a good look at them and seen just what all might be there, it turns out to be fascinating stuff, in more ways than one. For one thing, they're oddly reminiscent of the Timelines and Itineraries that made up part of the 1960 HOBBIT, which I thought unique in Tolkien's work. I now see that what I worked w. for H.o.H. resembles the early stages of work Tolkien did that ultimately evolved into the TALE OF YEARS. I'll definitely be spending more time with and taking a closer at this material.

And there was one fun moment I wanted to share. Richard West came over from Madison and joined me for a day (Tuesday the 7th), during which time he made an interesting discovery in the course of his own researches. I'll leave the announcement of it to Richard, in whatever he decides is the appropriate time and place, but looking over that same material the next day, in the same box I came across an anonymous article on THE HOBBIT. No author, no place of publication, no date -- just a neat copy of the piece itself.  That attracted my curiosity, given my interest in THE HOBBIT, so I quickly skimmed the piece. It looked familiar. Turning back to the front and skimming again, I realized there was a good reason why: I wrote it. In fact it was one of my CLASSICS OF FANTASY pieces, the next-to-last in the series (#18, December 2003). I so informed the Archivist, and it's now suitably identified and all. But it was a weird moment to find an unknown piece by an unknown author, only to have it turn out to be me.

--John R.
current reading: SUMMER MOONSHINE by Wodehouse (just finished),
THE BROTHERS CABAL by J. Howard (resumed)

*I originally wrote "down in the Archives, but it's been more than a decade, I think, since they moved to the top floor in the new building.

**hi Jim! hi Richard! hi Peter and Mary and Hugh! hi Eileen. And of course all at the Archives

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Advice from C. S. Lewis ("Get a Cat")

No cat report today, since I'm in Milwaukee, but thought I'd share something I came across recently while looking up something else in that vast, fascinating compendium that is the COLLECTED LETTERS OF C. S. LEWIS.   Here's a bit of advice CSL gave his oldest friend, Arthur Greeves, when the latter's dog ("my old friend Peter") was in his final decline:

"P.S.  Get a cat. 
They're more suitable to us 
old people than dogs, 
and a cat makes a house a home."*

I found this striking, coming from a lifetime dog lover like Lewis; clearly he had been won over by his step-cat (that is, his wife's cat, whose name I don't even think we know); a Siamese, I think.

So here's a good tag-line I may add to some of my letters:

"a cat makes a house a home" — C. S. Lewis


current reading: Echo-Hawk, Wodehouse, Boorman, Jenkins, Howard

*COLLECTED LETTERS, Vol. III, p. 1139; letter of March 12th 1960

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

C. S. Lewis's Crackpot Friend (Bernard Acworth)

C. S. Lewis's Crackpot Friend (Bernard Acworth)

So, one thing that does not emerge in reading the Acworth/Lewis letters or Frengren's and Numbers' account is that, to put it bluntly, Acworth was far more wacky than he therein appears.

For one thing, he believed that birds didn't migrate. Instead, he argued, they were blown south by prevailing winds in autumn and then blown back north again when the winds switched direction in spring (THIS PROGRESS, Chapter VI). He  further claims that birds cannot feel the air any more than fish are aware of water, and that thus birds cannot feel wind and are completely unaware of, and thus at the mercy of, air currents. And he believed that cuckoos were not parasitic but philanderers -- that the male cuckoo visited the nesting female bird of another species, made out, and flew away, leaving her to hatch a half-cuckoo/half-host bird hybrid. This theory bears no resemblance to observed reality. Despite his own field being that of submarine warfare, he confidently expounded upon topics such as biology ("the prostitute of the sciences") and theology (a merciful god ensured that the damned enjoy their damnation).

He also argued that animals are incapable of thought. Know no fear. Feel no pain. (Chapter XVII).* This is his solution to the problem of animal suffering that Lewis later wrestled with, unsatisfactorily, in THE PROBLEM OF PAIN. Unfortunately, it defies the personal experience of anyone who's ever had anything to do with animals, whether as a pet, a working animal, farm animals, wildlife observed, etc. Certainly the little bird that I saw  today get flushed from its shrub by a nearby leaf-blower, clipped by a passing car, and drop into the street where it fluttered desperately knew fear and knew pain. I managed to rescue it from the street and held it in my hands while my friend Richard and I tried to find someplace to take it to (like the Sarvey wildlife rescue people back in Renton). But to no avail; we’d just gotten a reference to the local humane society (which seemed a long shot) when it gave a few sudden twists and died -- whether from its original injuries or sheer terror was not apparent. It would be very hard for me to convince myself that despite what little I could do it didn't feel pain and didn't know fear during that last five minutes of its shortened life.

Acworth also held a number of quirky opinions that don't directly concern us but tell us a lot about how seriously we shd take him, like his belief that men had definite Jekyll and Hyde aspects but that women were both at once, or his mockery of Einstein, whom he refused to consider a real scientist -- 'real' scientist, it turns out, make things or discover immutable laws of nature; faux-scientist like Einstein just come up with unprovable theories. Or his argument that trains and electric lights were the right kind of invention (being perfectible), whereas airplanes were the wrong kind (being completely at the mercy of wind and weather). Or his attack on "feminists of both sexes", or his belief that pacifist were hypocrites because they favor bombing campaigns against civilian targets rather than support combat by just and merciful Xian sailors and soldiers. (p. 320)** As is so often the case with Acworth's more bizarre statements, there's really no telling where he got this from; certainly I'm not aware of any pacifists who support bombing people, or who could call themselves pacifists if they did.

But then Acworth complicates things for his readers by his heavy use of straw men for his arguments, and his fondness for slipping into a bizarre parody of what he imagines is the point of view of people he disparages; these passages are often only revealed to be the opposite of what Acworth thinks a few paragraphs later. Reading Acworth's THIS PROGRESS made me realize why in CALL OF CTHULHU it takes weeks if not months to read a Mythos tome -- it's the difficulty in following the chain of thought, so that by the end of a paragraph what seem perfectly straight-forward sentences early in the paragraph must not have meant what they seemed to mean back then, and the whole thing has to be re-read and sorted out. Over and over, for more than three hundred pages. In fact, so tangled is Acworth's presentation of his thought that Ronald Numbers, briefly noting Acworth's theory of bird migration, confesses that he has no idea why Acworth thought the whole thing in any way relevant to the main topic of his books: the evils of Darwinism (THE CREATIONISTS, p. 166)

Although Acworth looks like a lone nut from our perspective, he had ambitions to win converts for his ideas. He was a co-founder of the Evolution Protest Movement [circa 1932 & 1935],*** which gathering up the moribund remnants of The Victorian Institute, a group of first-generation Darwin deniers, and relaunched them with a different (more 'scientific', less overtly religious) focus. As such, he merits an entry in Ronald Numbers' THE CREATIONISTS: FROM SCIENTIFIC CREATIONISM TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN (rev. ed. 2006), with a section titled "The Acworth Circle" (166-170; cf also 171-172 & 175, the latter being a brief account of his encounter with Lewis). And he had a brief moment of notoriety on the national stage when he ran for parliament during World War II with a plan to end the war (immediately make peace with Japan so as to focus all efforts on fighting the Germans) that so incensed Churchill that the prime minister personally urged constituents not to vote for Acworth (they didn't).

Lewis seems to have been well aware of all this. He is blunt in his refusal to Acworth's request that CSL write a preface to his new anti-evolution book, stating that for him to be associated with Acworth's cause would diminish his standing as an apologist and hinder his ability to carry out the good work (COLLECTED LETTERS II.140-141; letter of Oct. 4th 1951).  Even more importantly, Lewis himself describes Acworth in letters as anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-communist, and prone to conspiracy theories -- or, as CSL put it, with bees in his bonnet. Here's how CSL described Acworth to his American friend Dr. Warfield Firor:

"Have you ever heard of Captain Bernard
Acworth R.N., a distinguished submarine
commander in World War I and v. good
Christian of the Evangelical type -- but
his head absolutely buzzing with Bees?
He was with me the other day explaining
that the whole American-English-[U.N.]
set up is absolutely fatal and part of a
plot engineered (so far as I cd. make out)
by the Kremlin, the Vatican, and Jews,
the Freemasons and -- subtlest foe of all
-- the Darwinians . . . But there was a
core of rationality in it. He thinks our
strategy ought to be purely naval, that
we can ruin ourselves by trying to
keep up an army in Europe and, even
so, cannot succeed on those lines."
letter of Dec. 20th 1951).

You would think such a rebuff as Lewis dealt wd have put Acworth off, but apparently not. And here's the part in the whole story that really interests me.

We know, from the correspondence, that the two men actually met at least twice, with Lewis inviting Acworth to come and stay a night with CSL and his brother Warnie. Our evidence for this comes from the earliest of the surviving letters (not included in COLLECTED LETTERS), in which Lewis invites Acworth "to spend a night with me next term" [Sept 23 '44]. That the visit actually took place is proven by a phrase in the second letter: "When do you think of coming to see us again? [Dec. 9th 1944; CL II. 632-633].

A second visit is indicated by CSL's letter to Warfield Firor, in which he says of Acworth "he was with me the other day" (Dec 20 1951; CL III.150). And Acworth's son, on the occasion of turning over the surviving letters to that college library in Belfast, reminisced that "his father sometimes stayed overnight with Lewis and his brother when visiting Oxford"; this is supported by one of Lewis's last letters to Acworth, in which Lewis says "My brother . . . remembers you with warmth & would join me in greetings if he were at home" (Sept 18 1959; CL III.1087-1088).

Note that both these documented visits took place during the fall (Michaelmas) term at Oxford. What I would really like to know, which seems impossible to establish at this late date, is whether these visits were just with Lewis and Warnie or whether they included inviting Acworth to the Inklings. I suspect Acworth was one in a string of interesting characters and fellow authors Lewis invited to a night at the Inklings,**** but can think of no way to prove it, unless further evidence shd turn up.  John Wain observed (in his autobiography, SPRIGHTLY RUNNING) that Lewis had a way of making unusual alliances with fellow Xians on whom he disagreed on many points, such as Roy Campbell*****  If so, Bernard Acworth would become one of those folks.

--John R.
current reading: THE LORD OF THE RINGS: a screenplay, by John Boorman; THE BROTHERS CABAL by Jonathan Howard; TOLKIEN IN PAWNEELAND by Echo-Hawk.

*one of his oddest claims is that if you can get ants to go around in a circle, they'll repeat the circle until they all drop dead of exhaustion. Given how wrong he is about just about everything else, I assume he doesn't know what he's talking about here either.

**does he imagine this is what we got in WW I?

***this group is still in existence, though it now (since 1980) goes under the name Creation Science Movement (CSM)

****although the evening Inklings had ceased by the time of Acworth's 1951 visit, so only the Tuesday pub meets are a possibility there.

*****who was Christian but also a pro-fascist, anti-semite, misogynist, racist, and pathological liar, who liked to hit people.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


So, Friday  I picked up the second of the three core rulebooks for the new Fifth Edition DUNGEONS & DRAGONS at my friendly neighborhood Barnes & Noble.

Skimming through, I find much to be pleased about. Most of the classics are here, including a lot that got sidelined with Third and subsequent Editions. Almost all the iconic 1st edition monsters are here, and only a few that debuted as late as Third. All this is to the good: I'd go so far as to say that the new MONSTER MANUAL is far more redolent of the good old days of 1st edition than is the PLAYER'S HANDBOOK.

More when I've had a chance to do more skimming.

And now to board a plane for Milwaukee, a place where I once played a great deal of D&D, back in the day.

--John R.
currently reading "Filming the Ghost" by Jonathan Howard.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lewis and the anti-Darwinist

So, there's nothing like the internet for links. Several months back, I had no sooner finished reading the piece about CSL's getting his name on a stained glass window in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner, than I noticed link in the sidebar to another story about some Lewis letters going to a Belfast library.

This piqued my interest, because while evolution is of little concern to CSL, it was of central concern to Owen Barfield's views on the evolution of consciousness. Barfield believed evolution was real, but that it had been guided, and that the key event in human history was the emergence of self-consciousness from a previous state of what might be called shared consciousness. And, since Lewis often adopts and repeats arguments and ideas originating in his fellow Inklings, I was curious whether any Barfieldian ideas would appear in the guise of Lewisian phrasing.

Apparently not, now that I've had a chance to read all five of the ten [actually eleven] surviving letters from CSL to Acworth printed in COLLECTED LETTERS,* and also an article based on the discussion of the correspondence, "C. S. Lewis on Creation and Evolution: The Acworth Letters, 1944-1960" by Gary B. Ferngren and Ronald L. Numbers** [1996]:

Against this, it's only fair to cite the rebuttal to Gerngren & Numbers' article by Lary Gilman, "The Shift That Wasn't: C. S. Lewis and Bernard Acworth" [2013], which persuasively argues that the shift in Lewis's position that Acworth's son and Ferngren & Numbers see is unsupported by the evidence:

The simple truth seems to be that Lewis had no problem in believing in both Xianity and evolution, like most Christians. This is best demonstrated by his little rumination, in THE PROBLEM OF PAIN I think it was, about how there must have been a point at which someone crossed the line between 'pre-human/almost-human' on the one side and fully 'human' on the other, with names like 'Adam' and 'Eve' being a handy shorthand for the first individuals to cross that almost imperceptable line.

All of which, it must be stressed, wd have been anathama to Acworth, who was far wackier than the Belfast story or Frengren & Numbers' piece suggests. Now that I've had a chance to get a copy of his most famous book, THIS PROGRESS: THE TRAGEDY OF EVOLUTION [1934], I've discovered that Acworth was so weird that his ideas deserve a post in themselves.

--to be continued

--John R.
current reading: THIS PROGRESS by Bernard Acworth [1934]

*For a full listing, and brief synopsis, of the whole correspondence, letter by letter, see the following link: 

The ones published in letters are those of

Dec 9 '44  (Vol II.632-633) [Belfast #2]

Sept 13 '51 (III.138) [Belfast #5]

Oct 4 '51 (III.149-141) [Belfast #6]

Sept 18 '59  (III.1087-1088) [Belfast #10]

March 5 '60  III.1137-1138 [Belfast #11]

In addition, F & N quote from CSL's letters of Sept '44 [Belfast #1], June 14 '50 [Belfast #4], and Dec 16 '53 [Belfast #8] (the last of these about Piltdown Man), so only three letters (#3, #7, #9, dating to Feb '46, Sept '52, and Dec '54, respectively) are omitted from both sources.

Finally, Lewis mentions Acworth in passing in a letter to Arthur Greeves (Sept 20 1952; III.226) and discusses Acworth's conspiracy-theories dismissively in a letter to Warfield Firor (Dec 20 1951; III.150).

**Numbers is himself the author of a well-regarded book THE CREATIONISTS, a history of the Creationist movement, which I have not read.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Cat Report (W.10/1-14)

Thanks to the quick adoption of TWEETY and SYLVESTER, whom I never got to meet but who look like cute kittens from the pictures, plus the current interdiction on new cats arriving until we get the all clean from the main shelter, we're still at just three cats for now: MOLLINI, BUXTER, and MAEBE. Which turns out to be just the way they like it: all three are revealing personalities previously muted by the crowd but which now really stand out.

With just the three and close to three hours, they each got a good deal of individual attention. The morning started out with walks, of which Buxter's was the longest and Maebe's the loudest. After she'd been out a while, though, Maebe did calm down a little and do some exploring. Mollini's was a mix of prowling (with tail curled under her) and being carried.

Back in the room, Maebe once again showed herself the cat most interested in games, though Mollini comes in a respectable second (watching about as much as joining in). 
Catnip spray (on some of the cat-stands and some of the cat-toys, as well as real catnip, was popular with both Maebe and Mollini. 
Catnip bubbles fascinated Maebe, who stalked them here, there, and everywhere. Mollini watched with interest but mostly just watched. Buxter tried to ignore the unseemly sight of cats chasing bubbles, instead setting a fine example of cat-snoozing atop a cat-stand. Surprisingly, Mollini was more interested in the laser pointer.

Mollini seems to have come to trust people, and no longer swats or hisses at me -- except, of course, for the obligatory protest against going back in the cage, and even here she immediately began exploring the little cave I'd made for her through arranging the blankets. She did more exploring of the far side of the room, as she had last week; think the presence of other cats down on that end had kept her from doing so in the past.

Once walks were over, all cages were clean, and all three cats had gotten games or petting sessions, I did put up the fencing and stood outside the room to keep an eye on things. Only Buxter came out and stayed out; Mollini lay down across the doorway, while Maebe stayed in the room where it was safe. The cats being out on the leash early on and outside the room later did attract a good deal of attention. We did have one visitor who seemed to be in the early stage of looking for another cat, possibly a middle-aged cat like Mollini, to keep her senior cat at home company; hope she'll come back and talk to an adoption counsellor and get to know Mollini better.

Hadn't known that Mollini has a favorite toy: thanks to the fellow volunteer who came by and showed me how much Mollini loves the little sparkly balls, even playing fetch with them. 

And that's about it for yesterday morning. I'm out the next two weeks, so the cat population in the cat-room's likely to be very different next time I see it.

--John R.