Saturday, February 28, 2015

He Lived Long, and Prospered

So, sad to hear the news about Leonard Nimoy, who will always be remembered as 'Mr. Spock'.  I remember seeing the first few episodes of STAR TREK when they were first being broadcast, about the time I started first grade, and finding them terrifying -- in particular people being disintegrated in the teleporter room (at least that's what it looked like to me) gave me nightmares.  I didn't really become a fan until second grade, when I remember us playing Star Trek during recess and everybody wanting to be Mr. Spock --except me, who preferred Scotty or, better yet, Dr. McCoy. But there was no doubt Spock was the breakout character, the Fonzie or Vinnie Barbarino of his day. Spock was the one who taught us all that it was okay and more than okay to be different. And while the original series of Star Trek is now looked on more or less as a campy joke, that's not how we thought of it at the time: we took it seriously. Though Nimoy had a credible career afterwards, he's a good example of someone who got typecast early on, rebelled against it, and eventually came to terms with the career-defining role that made him rich, famous, and the object of much affection.

But just to show that his talents were best spent as Mr. Spock rather than, say, a singer -- and because this being me, there has to be a Tolkien connection somewhere, here he is performing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" in what is, I suppose, the first Tolkien music video. There doesn't seem to be an official version up, but here's one of many found scattered across the net: Enjoy!

And, just for fun, here's an extra: cast members from the Peter Jackson HOBBIT doing a read-aloud of the lyrics of the 'Ballad'

So, goodbye Mr. Nimoy, and goodbye Mr. Spock, and thanks.

--John R.
current (re)reading: THE DARKEST ROAD by G. G. Kay

THE WIFE SAYS: Your examples of breakout characters is dated!
--Fair enough.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Remembering Rigby

A year ago today since we lost Rigby, mighty leaper and determined pursuer of warm comfy places, who went from being a mostly silent cat to quite a talker in her later years. We got to enjoy the pleasure of her company for fifteen years+ but, as Janice pointed out, it wasn't long enough. Here's the last picture we took of her, just before the end.

She was a Good Cat.

Wednesday Morning Cats (The Cat Report 2/18 & 2/25-15)

Wow, what a month. I can't remember one where we've adopted so many cats in such a short time: LITTLES & BIGGSGUNNAR the brown-black furry fellow & GYPSY of the glowing eyes, LEELA one-eye, little HANNAHSUNDAE (whom I never even met), my pal ANUBUS AUGUSTUS and the ever-patient Mr. TIZZY, little SEA GAL (whom somebody pointed out spent less than twenty-four hours in the cat-room before being adopted), and CARMEL The Cat From Oman. We all knew Carmel the celebrity cat wdn't be with us long, so I'm happy I swung by and got to meet him. 

But it really feels good to see Anubus Augustus and Mr. Tizzy finally have their day, both having waited since November -- in fact, both arrived about the time Buxter and Maebe finally found homes. And it'd been heart-breaking to hear of someone's coming in to adopt Tizzy, only to have Tizzy be in a standoffish mood while Gunnar was at his most charming, so that the person deciding on Gunnar (& Gypsy) instead (good news for the bonded pair, bad news for our old jailbird*). Or to have the same thing happen a few days later with Anubus (Gus), with Gus-and-Sundae turning into Hannah-and-Sundae instead. Good news for Gunnar & Gypsy, Hannah and Sundae, but sad news for our bachelor gentlemen. So while I'll miss them (esp. Gus), I'm so glad to see them go.

As for last week (W.2/18th), there's little to report. Last week I had to leave early to make it to a retirement lunch my wife's colleagues were holding for her at her office, but still all four cats (SALEMTIZZYANUBUS AUGUSTUS, and EMMA The Terror) had walks. Salem has learned to stand her ground against Emma, who now just hisses and turns away rather than her previous menacing advance. Tizzy went high on the cat-stand near the cabinet, Anubus went into his favorite place among the blankets on the top shelf in the cabinet, as usual,while Salem and Tizzy were among the cat-stands by the door. So the room was divided between the boy-cats in the back half and the girl-cats in the front, though I doubt they planned it that way. 

The feathers-on-a-string game was popular, with Anubus joining in from inside the cabinet and playing with Tizzy atop the cabinet and Salem down below. Emma doesn't much like the feather duster, but Anubus does. Wish I'd thought to leave it for Carmel, who wd probably have loved it, but I'm sure he'll find plenty to play with in his new home. Salems was really playful for once; she especially loves the string game (but as previously noted you have to make sure she doesn't eat the string). Amused to see Anubus come out of his safe place whenever anyone came into the room, to get some attention before moving back into his special place again.

Janice and I swung by the PetsMart on Sunday and so got to meet little Carmel, who it was pretty clear wdn't be there long, what with all the attention he was getting and all the queries that were coming in from people who'd heard about him online. A delightful little cat -- the only Oriental Shorthair I've ever seen, with beautiful markings; that and his energy levels reminded me of a friend's Bengal.

This week (2/25), we now have just five cats again: SALEMEMMASEVILLE, and bonded pair DOUGAL NATHAN & MIMI NADINE. Salem and Emma both had walks, but I didn't feel like I knew the new cats well enough to take them out of the cat-room. Salem surprised me -- no matter where I carried her in the store, she knew exactly where the cat-room was and the most direct route back to it -- even if that wasn't the way we'd come. She's smarter than she lets on.  Emma made a dash and got out at one point, but luckily I saw her crouch down and prepare to dash, so while I didn't nip it in the bud I still got her before she'd gone more than a few feet. In fact she stopped once she got outside; I think she may have expected the wire-walls to be up and was nonplused to find them gone. Once back inside Salem settled herself down on top of the basket nr the bench, which seems to be becoming a favorite spot of hers. She welcomed attention in the form of the string game and having her back stroked; I brought in a leather shoelace so she'd have something chewable but not anything she'd be likely to swallow. Seems to have worked pretty well. Emma hissed at her once or twice, and even took a swipe at her (luckily she was too far away to connect), but Salem refused to be budged. Good for her!

Speaking of Emma, she was less restless today. She stayed near the door, shifting from atop the tallest cat-stand to down below it. She was very happy to get attention but jealous of all the other cats' getting any. I did manage to get her to sit in my lap for a while and gotten some good purring out of her, but she wouldn't stay long. I think the more we manage to walk her, the more folks might have the chance to meet her and get to know her purry side, rather than the hissing-at-other-cats side she displays too often in the cat-room.

Of the new cats, all three are hiders, though in v. different ways.
SAVILLE, the beautiful yellow striped cat, likes to hide beneath her blankets, just as Mr. Anubus did early on. I made her a nice overhang when I cleaned up her cube, but she was right back under the blanket itself by the end of the morning. However, she was happy to get attention inside her cage. I left the door ajar, and after stayed inside her cage for about an hour she came out on her own accord and explored. After a while I put her up high, and she seemed to enjoy the cagetops. She turns out to love, love, love catnip and settled herself down right on top of the little bagful I'd brought. Not long before noon, as I was jotting down the input/output records, she surprised me by jumping up on the bench and walking over to sit on my lap, purring. V. nice! Think she'll be out and about a lot more as she gets used to the cat-room.

The bonded pair, DOUGAL and MIMI, are about as bonded as you can get. He'd pushed the little stands towards the front of the cage so he could hide behind them; she was cuddled up against him in the blankets. Both are black, but Dougal's fur is fairly sleek while Mimi's is fluffy. He's much bigger than his sister, and she's somewhat roly-poly to boot. He turns out to be painfully shy, not willing to come out all morning and going stiff when I touched him. She on the other hand was shy at first but eventually decided to come out and explore, working her way back behind the laundry bin. Later she came out from there and let me put her on Anubus's shelf, which she quite liked. She's also fond of laps and being petted in laps, or being petted elsewhere. Next time I'll have to try to see how she likes games.

Their double-wide was a mess, from their having tipped over their litter box, which had spilled into one of the water dishes and the nearby food dish as well. Lucky that we put two of each in a shared cage, and in different locations; the other food and water dish were fine. After cleaning up the mess I rotated the litter box into what I hope will be a more stable position; we'll see if I succeeded. Dougal was so afraid that it seemed cruel to haul him out, so I got the cardboard box down from on high and put it in his cage. When he crawled into it, I scooted it over to the cleaned half of their cage, where the spilled litter had been. Then I cleaned up the other end and re-arranged all the blankets. When I started to move the box again, he dashed back to the safety of those blanket-covered little stands. Hope he feels less anxious once he's been with us a few days.  

And that's pretty much it. Had a few visitors; didn't seem to be any serious adopters among them so far as I could tell, but still was glad to help spread the word. Don't think it's jotted down anywhere, but Seville is frightened of small children. 

--John R.

P.S.: Just as a side note, I saw a mention of one of our cats, adopted quite a while ago, in the current Purrfect Pals newsletter, THE PURR (WInter 2015, page 11). The 'Purrfect Endings' section, which gives follow-ups to successful adoptions, includes this piece about one of our Tukwila cat-room cats, OLIVER BOB: 

"My baby GusGus, formerly known as Oliver Bob, has come a long way from the timid and shy cat he used to be. He now talks up a storm and he just ate treats from my hand. He is my cuddle bug -- all 16 lbs of him." 

I remember Oliver Bob well, as a shy, quiet Manx who bit me badly enough that I had to go to the Immediate Care clinic (I'd picked him up, not knowing he'd been injured the day before when a cage door came loose and fell on him; the pain made him suddenly bite me, hard, with one fang punching right through my thumbnail). Glad to know things worked out well for him; sounds like he's found the perfect home.

*Tizzy was found sitting by a highway watching the cars; after his rescue he was fostered in a prison cat fostering program.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


So, following my recent visit to the Root Beer Store, I did a little research during which the two most interesting things I found were (1) its creator back in 1876 first called it Root Tea, which I (being a teetotaler) like much better and think I'll adopt, and (2) I've probably never had any real root beer.

Turns out that back in 1960, the government banned the use of sassafras roots, the main ingredient, after some testing suggested it might be a carcinogenic. The general consensus now, looking back, seems to be that this was overreacting* (a person would have to imbibe massive doses daily over a long period to suffer any harmful effects),** but on the better-safe-than-sorry basis the FDA ban is still in place. Which means that all root beer is brewed with substitutes, either artificial sassafras flavor or similar roots that take their place.

Given that I was only a little over a year old at the time, it seems likely that all the root beer I drank growing up falls on the artificial-sassafras side of this great divide. And checking the labels of all the ones we'd picked up in Puyallup (eleven different varieties from ten different brewers) it seems that they all use the substitutes as well.

This makes sense of something else that's puzzled me ever since I moved up to these parts. I used to love sassafras tea when I was in scouts, digging up my own and brewing it when on camp-outs and sometimes at home as well. When I moved out here and discovered tea shops -- whole shops devoted entirely to selling different varieties of tea, esp. The Tea Cup on Queen Anne Hill (gone but not forgotten) -- one of the first things I did was try to buy sassafras tea, with no success. I could sometimes find sassafras tea bags, but they brewed up a very weak and unsatisfactory tea. Eventually I was able to find some places that sold sassafras directly, not in tea-bags (e.g., down in Pike Place Market), but every time it turned out to be chopped up bark, not roots (the roots being where all the flavor is, and the bark having an unpleasant aftertaste) -- which is kind of like eating corn silks rather than corn.

Now I finally understand why I haven't been able to find good, tea-worthy sassafras, and why the chopped bark substitute is so ubiquitous.

But then I thought: there's this thing called the internet. Maybe there are folks out there who live down south and sell the real thing, sassafras root?

And the answer turns out to be: why yes, there are.

So I've now ordered a small batch of sassafras roots. If they're the real thing I'll know it by the sight (and smell) of them.

When they arrive there will be much tea-making, and either joy, great joy or lamentations bitter and heartfelt. We'll see.

--John R.

tonight's cup: organic Yunnan Black from The Silk Road tea company (all organic, all artisan teas)
tonight's music: The Art of McCartney (on vinyl). tonight's song: Eleanor Rigby, by Alice Cooper.

*see, for example, this little bit on the subject by Dr. Weil, who believes it harmless in moderation:

**one online source estimated you'd have to drink twenty-four gallons of root beer a day to match the dosage that produced ill effects in lab rats in the 1960 test.  Needless to say, that ain't happening.

Monday, February 16, 2015

President's (Presidents') Day

So, one of the holidays that was tepidly celebrated when I was growing up was Washington's Birthday, which was often paired with Lincoln's Birthday; the only sign of either being the occasional store that wd offer a 'Lincoln's Birthday/ Washington's Birthday' sale. Like Arbor Day and Flag Day, it was the kind of holiday that was easy to ignore, stirring up none of the excitement of St. Patrick's Day,* or Easter, or even Groundhog's Day or April Fool's Day. Then they created the Monday Holidays (modeled, I assume, on England's 'Bank Holiday'), combining Washington's Birthday with Lincoln's Birthday, renaming it 'Presidents' Day', and moving it to a Monday that fell between the two.

Or so I thought. But this year I got to wondering: is it President's Day or Presidents' Day?  Does the name of the holiday actually commemorate all presidents rather than just the two most popular ones? Even the really terrible ones, like Harding and Hoover and Nixon (none of whom is ever likely to get a holiday honoring him any other way)?

The answer to that turns out to be complex, but seems to come down to Congress's intent having been to combine the two traditional days honoring Washington and Lincoln into one and to rename them, but the actual bill they passed having in effect moved only Washington's day and failed to officially rename it. In the overall scheme of things it doesn't matter much, since lots of state governments added Lincoln's Birthday as a state holiday that falls on the same day as the national holiday of Washington's Birthday ("President's Day").  Some state have other combinations, the most unusual of which is my home state of Arkansas, where it turns out the holiday honors Washington and also Daisy Gatson Bates -- a name I'm sorry to say I didn't recognize, though once I looked her up I knew immediately why she's so honored: she was the one who organized the integration efforts at Little Rock High against Faubus's obstructionism.**

Personally, I've decided to indulge my inner historian and use the day to commemorate some of our more neglected presidents. Like John Tyler (the one responsible for establishing the precedent that upon the president's death the vice president becomes president, not just 'acting president'), Chester A. Arthur (who was significantly less corrupt that expected), Wm H. Taft (who actually got passed much of the progressive reform legislature Teddy Roosevelt usually gets the credit for), and Calvin Coolidge (who deserves the faint praise of having been better in the office than either the president who proceeded him and the president who followed him, which not every president can say).

So, celebrate the president(s)-of-your-choice day.

--John R.

*When, after all, you'd get hit or pinched if you forgot to wear green. Or sometimes even if you did.

**in my defense, all this took place the year before I was born. Also, no one talked about this when I was growing up. The first I heard about the events in Little Rock in 1957ff was in the mid-eighties when I was already in graduate school up at Marquette. And, I'm sorry to say, despite the valiant integration efforts of Bates and the Little Rock Nine et al, none of the schools I went to in Magnolia, Little Rock, Fordyce, Jonesburo, or Magnolia (again) were integrated until the year I was in sixth grade, 1970-71.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Root Beer Store

So, when we drove down through Puyallup to ride on the old railroad with the steam locomotive a few months back, we spotted The Root-Beer Store on the way, down Meridian Drive,* and vowed to come back and explore further some feast day down the road.** That day duly came, and we had the good luck to arrive on a day when they were doing a taste-testing, so we could try little sampler sips of different artisan root beers. We departed with seven bottles:

Virgil's Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg
Hippo's (1927)
St. John's Brewers (Virgin Isles)
Fritz's (1947)
Dougie's Butterscotch
Sprecher's (two bottles)

Then, unexpectedly, we wound up getting invited to a super-bowl watching party (only the second time I've ever watched the superbowl; it's more fun when you can visit with friend and don't have to watch the game). And as our contribution to the comestibles we decided to take along the root beer. Which went down fine, and left us determined to make another root-beer run when the opportunity offered.

That opportunity came today, carefully scheduled to co-incide with another of their taste-testings. This time we decided both to stock up on a good supply for when we next have people over  (e.g. D&D on Monday night or the new ORIENT EXPRESS Cthulhu starting up next Saturday) as well as a nice little cache for ourselves. Here's what we wound up with:

VIRGIL's Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg [x2]
VIRGIL's (their regular root beer) [x2]
SPRECHER's (our previous gold standard, Milwaukee made, but hard to get out here) [x2]
HIPPO 1927 [x4]
FITZ [x2]

In addition, we decided to try a few new ones, at least two of them due to today's tasting:

BUNDABERG (an Australian upside-down r.b.)

And, just to be true to my six-year-old self, one bottle of FROSTIE's, my favorite when growing up in Monticello, Arkansas.

I shd add that in addition to many, many artisan brews, the store also stocks popular favorites, like A&W and Dad's and Th. Kemper, as well as things related to root beers (sarsaparilla, birch beer, ginger beer, cream soda, &c.), and altogether non-root beers such as Orange Crush and Nehi.  We used to have an A&W stand in Magnolia, but I've never found the bottled version to match up to my memories of the draft on-tap A&W of old, so after some internal debate I passed on that.

The taste-testing was self-guided this time, whereas last time there'd been a knowledgeable store employee pointing out things about the various offerings -- e.g., which had a licorice or caramel undertone, which had more of a kick at the end, and so forth. I also learned, by asking, what's the difference between a sarsaparilla and a root beer: turns out that everything that goes into sarsaparilla is in root beer, but root beer contains more, including some things not in a sarsaparilla.

From the tasting we did today, I'd say the two big categories seem to be smooth and sweet (but sometimes a bit thin) verses strong and with a bite. We tended to prefer the latter.

So, an enjoyable excursion, and a nice low-key day.

--John R.

current reading: THE SUMMER TREE (Guy Gavriel Kay, 1984; doesn't hold up well), THE HOUSE OF THE WOLFINGS (Wm Morris, 1888; holds up remarkably well).

current dvd: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG extras [quite interesting], CAPRICE [1967; awful]

current music: GRINNING STREAK by BareNakedLadies, THE ART OF McCARTNEY (an enjoyable but slightly weird tribute album to Paul McCartney; on vinyl!)

*here's the link to  The Root-Beer Store in Puyallup, which turns out to be one of three in the area (the others being up in Redmond and Lynnwood), as well as a second link giving something of the history behind the store, and how someone who planned to start up brewing his own artisial root beer found out how many local brands were out there and decided instead to start up a store where folks cd come and find all the many wonderful and sometimes slightly weird offerings.

**since one can either drink root beer or be on a low-carb diet, but not both at the same time.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Pictures of me, of cats, of me and cats

So, when THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT came out, one local reviewer* made the comment that I 'carried the full weight of Tolkien scholarship' upon my shoulders -- which inspired friend Stan, ever-talented cartoonist that he is, to visualize what that might be like in his own inimitable way. I was reminded of this just recently when he gave me a t-shirt as a gift with the cartoon proudly displayed across the front. Here's the image:

Janice shared the next image with me and it was too good not to pass along; don't know the original source, other than 'on the internet'.  But it's all too true. 
   The caption is How to summon a Cat Goddess

Finally, just to show how true the Thoth-and-Bast piece was, here's a picture of me working at my desk a few weeks ago, with Hastur helping me out on the laptop:

--John R.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Cat Report (W. 2/4 & W. 2/11-15)

Didn't write up last week's report, and a lot's changed since then already. 

Last week (Feb. 2/4-15) we suddenly went from just four cats (Mr. TIZZYANUBUS AUGUSTUS, and increasingly delightful bonded pair GUNNAR & GYPSY) to eight, with the addition of EMMA JEMIMA (a dark dappled tabby, and a great mew-er), LEELA (a beautiful, fluffy, one-eyed cat with creamy pale soft fur), and bonded pair LITTLES & BIGGS (one of whom was grey and white and the other an ocelot cat, but I never cd figure out which was which). 

The four already there had all more or less settled down and figured out how to more or less harmoniously share the room, with Gunnar more or less in charge, but the newcomers threw things out of kilter.  

Both EMMA and LEELA turn out to be cats who love people and hate other cats. Both are demanding of attention and jealous of other cats. Each arches her back and purrs when petted. Each hisses and growls when she sees another cat, and several times each went up and swatted another cat who got too close (by her definition of 'close').

As for LITTLES and BIGGS, they're big kittens, really: nine months old, almost full size but bouncy and pouncy and full of energy like the kittens they were not so long ago. The little ocelot-cat explored and found a hiding place I hadn't seen a cat in before: in the bottom of the cabinet behind the food-bin. He was proud of himself, and came and went from there several times over the course of the morning.

No walks since I needed the whole morning to get the cats all sorted out and intervene when needed. Everyone got petted and played with, but perhaps not as much as some would have wanted. 

FRIDAY the 6th two friends of mine visiting from out-of-town came by to see the cats and got to put faces on cats they're read about through online cat reports. The cats reported that they both knew all about how to pet a cat properly, though one of them (either Leela or Emma; Emma I think) was in a mood and took a swipe or two at them.  A very pleasant interlude.

THIS WEEK (W. 2/11-15) we were back at eight cats, but not the same eight: LITTLES and BIGGS having been adopted and two more cats having arrived: SALEM and HANNAH.

SALEM is a big, black, solid cat whose owner died, so she's back in our keeping, having originally been adopted out of Purrfect Pals as a kitten. At ten years she's our current senior cat (all the others being in the four-to-six year range). She chose the top of the short cat-stand by the door as her spot, welcoming being petted but otherwise keeping pretty much to herself. She loves the string game but keeps wanting to eat the string, so I had to keep an eye out for that. She has a lot of dander on her lower back so I gave her a quick bath with a wet cloth, which displeased her mightily.  A sweet cat trying to find a new home to replace the one she's lost.

The other new cat, HANNAH, looks a lot like EMMA THE TERROR but couldn't be more different in personality; she's a quiet, friendly, prowl-about little cat. She kept disappearing and reappearing, wanting lots of attention when she was out and then taking herself off for a little down time. She did get interested in the whole cage-cleaning process and came over to supervise, climbing in each cage and watching me clean and move things around from up close. She licked my fingers when I was petting her; v. cute.

LEELA, who'd been v. disruptive to overall harmony last week, had calmed down a lot this week. She spent a lot of her time on the cat-stand by the bench demanding attention (she loves having her back brushed). She's a great hisser-at-other-cats, but much better this week than last. So long as the other cats kept their distance, she didn't mind them being out and about. Demanding of attention and welcomed petting by visitors. She also worked out how to use the steps to come and go from cagetop land. Gunnar and Gypsy are old pros at this and once or twice encountered her going down when they were going up or the other way around, but it wasn't too hard to sort them all out.
Have to say I'm surprised how well Leela copes with the missing eye: she doesn't seem at all skittish about being approached from that side and seems to get around just fine. She certainly doesn't have any problem targeting a string or any other toy she's playing with (nor in thumping someone who jumps up too close right on the noggins).

EMMA THE TERROR can be summed up thusly: loves people: hates other cats. Hisses at other cats on sight. Gave her a brief walk early on and a longer one at end-of-shift: she did really well. When on a walk she loves to walk up and scratch on doors: they may open and whoever's on the other side may give you attention. This actually worked for her, not once but twice. We walked all the way to the far corner of the store and then back again, and it was v. clear she knew exactly where she was and the route to take back to the cat-room. Petted her quite a lot over the course of the morning, and she was out and about the room a lot, keeping on the move (somewhat to the other cat's discomforture when they inadvertently got in her way). Had a terrible time getting her to go back in her cage at end-of-morning. That said, she's really sweet when being petted one-on-one. She'll be a great cat if she can find the right one-cat home.

GYPSY was on the quiet side today -- think she was laying low to avoid all the drama on the other side of the room. She enjoyed going up and down the steps and also being petted, but spent most of her morning on the top of the cat-stand by cabinet being her usual sweet self.

Her brother GUNNAR, on the other hand, came and went and prowled and explored and played and rolled in catnip and generally had a fine time. He's still fascinated by Gus-Gus's spot but no longer tried to take it himself, preferring the shelf below (briefly) before exchanging it for the cushion atop the cabinet. He eventually settled himself down in the latter spot, doing his paws up up and down and generally demonstrating that he was in the catbird seat.
   One thing I've noticed about Gunnar, both last week and this one, is that he's afraid of small children. If a small child comes by and looks through the window into the cat-room, Gunnar will hide, moving around to keep the bench et al between him and the child. Don't know what the story is there, but I've seen it twice now. 
   At one point I was holding him on my lap when Emma jumped down right next to him and he just froze, making little squeaking noises. She went by without noticing him, but it was definitely injurious to his dignity. 

ANUBUS AUGUSTUS GUS-GUS FINK-NODDLE: in and out of the cabinet. Enjoyed being petted while in his special place. Came out to ask for attention each time someone entered the room, then went back into his lair again when they left. Indeed, he was so well hidden that I almost forgot to put him back in his cage when it was time for me to leave. A great cat who's made himself very much at home here.

Mr. TIZZY was his usual laid-back self. He slept on various spots among the cat-stands towards the back of the room (e.g., atop the basket on the bench), showed every sign of enjoying being petted, but didn't initiate anything. I'll make sure he gets a walk next time.

And that basically how the cats were on Wednesday. Very glad to hear the news today (Th. 2/12) that somebody put a hold on Leela and Hannah last night and are to return to adopt them tonight.

--John R.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Scholar Guest of Honor, Mythcon 2015

So, I've been asked to be Scholar Guest of Honor at this year's MythCon -- or, as it's more formally known,  the Forty-sixth annual Mythopoeic Society Conference.

I've attended a fair number of Mythcons before,* all of which I presented at, and even been on the con committee of two and a featured speaker at another. But it's a real honor to be asked to be a Guest of Honor (the Author Guest of Honor being Jo Walton), and I'm really looking forward to the event.

The date:  Friday July 31st through Monday August 3rd.

The place: Colorado Springs, Colorado. I've never been to Colorado before, aside from a fraught layover at the Denver airport,** so this'll take me to a part of the country I've never seen before.

The facility: the Hotel Elegante, a hotel and conference site (looks quite nice).

The author Guest of Honor: Jo Walton -- someone whose work I don't know well, so I'll look forward to getting to know it better between now and the conference.

The theme: The Arthurian Mythos***

Here's the official announcement:

If you're going to be in the area, come join the fun.

--John R.

*1985 in Wheaton, 1987 in Milwaukee, 1992 in Oxford (the Tolkien Centenary conference), 1998 in Wheaton (the CSL and Owen Barfield Centenary conference), 1999 in St. Francis (just south of Milwaukee), and 2010 in Dallas

**I'd broken my glasses and had to try to read the monitors announcing all the gate changes for my flight while switching between my reading glasses (focal length: about one foot away) and my sunglasses (too dark for the available lighting)

***here's hoping they do a readers' theatre presentation of MARK VS. TRISTAN, Lewis and Barfield's little Arthurian romp.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Today is Tiw's Day

So, I was bemused by an article last week about Icelandic pagans (the Asatru Association) building themself a new temple for the first time in a thousand years, to house services for the newly revived worship of the ancient Norse gods (Thor, Odin, Tyr, et al):

What struck me as odd about all this is that their high priest, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, says

he doesn’t pray to the Norse gods 
or worship them in any recognisable sense, 
nor does he believe in the literal truth of the texts 

From the description in the article, their typical gatherings sound more like a book club meeting than a religious ceremony:*

. . .  the group will gather for weekly study 
and for the five main feasts of the year 
when, . . . they will gather around a central fire,
recite the poems,** make sacrificial drink
 offerings to the gods – unlike some pagan groups 
they do not practise animal sacrifice – and feast 
on sacred horsemeat. (. . . “We have caterers.”)

On the other hand, they have their own graveyard and services for weddings and funerals, as well as a naming ceremony that serves the place of baptism, all of which sounds like a religion to me.

In any case, I was particularly struck by this piece because I'm finishing up an essay that early on in it quotes Tolkien's comments about Thor and Odin and why they don't appear in Middle-earth.*** And of course, being a Dunsanian, I was immediately reminded of his short piece "The Return of the Exiles" in FIFTY-ONE TALES [1916], in which the narrator comes across a gathering of men who are holding a sacrifice to recall Thor and Odin and honor them with a blood sacrifice. When the two gods unhappily complain "It used to be men", the worshippers shuffle uneasily, then all turn and look at the narrator, the only outsider among their midst -- who sums up his situation in one masterful phrase:

there are moments when it is clearly time to go, 
and I left then there and then.

--John R.

*a friend to whom I was describing it dubbed it 'Unitarian pagans', which is funny but probably not fair to Unitarians OR pagans.
**they use the POETIC EDDA as their testament -- and if there are some texts in there which seem an odd choice for use in a religious ceremony, the same can be said of the OLD TESTAMENT
***"The man of the twentieth century must of course see that . . . you must have gods in a story of this kind. But he can't make himself believe in gods like Thor and Odin. . . . I couldn't possibly construct a mythology which had Olympus or Asgard in it. On the terms in which the people who worshipped those gods believed." (JRRT 1965 radio BBC interview)

Monday, February 9, 2015

PERILOUS & FAIR (New Arrival/New Publication)

So, Friday brought to the doorstep my author's copy of PERILOUS & FAIR: WOMEN IN THE WORKS AND LIFE OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN (ed. Janet Brennan Croft & Leslie A. Donovan, Mythopoeic Press, 2015). Looks like a v. solid contribution to Tolkien studies, and I'm glad to be a part of it.

For those interested in the topic and wanting more detail, here's the Table of Contents. Those identified as new essays in the Introduction I've marked with an asterisk (*) and given the date for pieces reprinted for this themed collection.

*Perilous and Fair, Ancient and Modern, Luminous and Powerful by Croft & Donovan.

[Part One: ] Historical Perspectives
*The History of Scholarship of Female Characters in J. R. R. Tolkien's Legendarium: A Feminist Bibliographic Essay
by Robin Anne Reid

*The Missing Women: J. R. R. Tolkien's Lifelong Support for Women's Higher Education
by John D. Rateliff

*She-who-must-not-be-ignored: Gender and Genre in The Lord of the Rings and the Victorian Boys' Book
by Sharin Schroeder

[Part Two:] Power of Gender
The Feminine Principle in Tolkien  [1984]
by Melanie A. Rawls

Tolkien's Females and the Defining of Power  [2007]
by Nancy Enright

Power in Arda: Sources, Uses and Misuses  [1996]
by Edith L. Crowe

[Part Three:] Specific Characters
The Fall and Repentance of Galadriel  [2007]
by Romuald I. Lakowski

*Luthien Tinuviel and Bodily Desire in the Lay of Leithian
by Cami D. Agan

*The Power of Pity and Tears: The Evolution of Nienna in the Legendarium
by Kristine Larsen

*At Home and Abroad: Eowyn's Two-fold figuring as War Bride in The Lord of the Rings
by Melissa A. Smith

[Part Four:] Earlier Literary Contexts
The Valkyrie Redux in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: Galadriel, Shelob, Eowyn, and Arwen  [2003]
by Leslie A. Donovan

*Speech and Silence in The Lord of the Rings: Medieval Romance and the Transitions of Eowyn
by Phoebe C. Linton

Hidden in Plain View: Strategizing Unconventionality in Shakespeare's and Tolkien's Portraits of Women   [2006]
by Maureen Thum

[Part Five:] Women Readers
Finding Ourselves in the (Un)Mapped Lands: Women's Reparative Readings of The Lord of the Rings
by Una McCormack

Thus the new articles are the Introduction plus the ones by Reid, Rateliff, Schroeder, Agan, Larsen, Linton, and (presumably) McCormack; the reprints are the ones by Rawls, Enright, Crowe, Lakowski, Smith,  Donovan, and Thum. So I'm in good company.

I shd mention that the front cover art is quite eye-catching: a striking piece of Yavanna Kementari by Ulla Thynell, an artist I don't know whose work I'll need to learn more about. 

Here's hoping this collection sparks some interesting discussion.

--John R.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Sting of the Dark Tower (CSL 'adaptation')


So, I posted some while back about a local group who were working on a radio-play version of CSL's THE DARK TOWER. Thanks to friend Allan (thanks, Allan!) I now have the link to the finished product, "The Sting of the Dark Tower" by Peter Gruenbaum:

Having now listened to the whole thing, I have to report that it's a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's good to see someone adapting a neglected CSL work. On the other, it's a pretty good sign something has gone seriously wrong when said adaptation ends by denouncing the author and urging people not to read him.

This radio-play, which is just over an hour in length, falls into two parts. The first is an adaptation of Lewis's story that pretty much covers the entire surviving fragment. They simplify and change some things but do produce something recognizable as a dramatization of CSL's work. I enjoyed the voice acting as well, for the most part, finding it pretty reminiscent of old radio plays; I'll want to save this one to listen to it again at some point down the line.  The second half goes beyond what Lewis wrote and completes the story, making clear that this is only a possible conclusion and probably not the one Lewis himself wd have come up with. Nevertheless, it represents the only continuation/conclusion I've seen, and thus is of interest for that point alone.*

Ignoring lapses such as Orfieu referring to his friend Lewis as "Clive", or referring to their 1940s version of CSL as "Professor Lewis" (which mainly just goes to show the scriptwriter doesn't know much about CSL, and didn't bother to show the script to anyone who does), it's rather nice to have some dialogue from the former Stingerman in our world and see a bit of how he looks at things (he insists his sting 'brings happiness' to those whom Lewis et al consider his victims). But there's a didacticism on the scriptwriter's part that keeps breaking in inappropriately into Lewis's story, as when the intermittent  frame story interjects a defense of mercy killing or warns against taking pharmaceuticals to treat mental conditions. And however good their intentions, it's purely incredible that CSL wd end the story by expressing his admiration for sassy New Yorker Camilla Bembridge with a toast "To modern women: what would we do without them?"

But I was disabused of the notion that this adaptation had 'good intentions' when the frame story ended by launching into a sudden denunciation of Lewis himself:

Screw C. S. Lewis.
I mean, who cares what he would do?
You know, if you want to read
some old science fiction
you cd do way better than Lewis.

The script then segues into praise for John Wyndham and especially James Tiptree; Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood are also mention in the fade-out.

So, the whole hour-long radio-play turns out to be a set-up to tell Lewis fans (the only people likely to spend an hour listening to an adaptation of a lesser-known CSL work) that they're idiots to waste their time on Lewis and shd instead be reading other people whom the scriptwriter prefers.

So for me the ending spoiled the whole -- which is a pity, since a lot of work clearly went into this. They did a great job of capturing that old radio-drama vibe. And it had some amusing or interesting touches (such as the ex-Stingerman's warm appreciation of our world's fish-and-chips), or the big reveal in the end that the master of the Stingermen is none other than the Othertime's C. S. Lewis analogue. But I found the frame story a whole lot more annoying than it was intended to be, and its conclusion spoilt the whole for me. Too bad.

--John R.

*having myself speculated in print about how Lewis may have intended to conclude the story, and knowing of at least three other such speculations.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A snippy parody

So, while I was massively disappointed in THE WOBBIT, Harvard Lampoon's recent companion volume to BORED OF THE RINGS, there were two bits of interest within it that I thought I'd share.

The first is the passage, near the end of the book, where parody versions of J. R. R. Tolkien ("J. R. R. Toking"), George R. R. Martin ("G. R. R. Marauding"), J. K. Rowling ("J. K. Rousing"), and C. S. Lewis ("C. S. Losing") all show up to try to re-assert control over their creations. The odd thing about this section is that they only bring up Lewis to bash him. When first introduced along with the others we're told he's "the one with no business here" (p. 135). Later, "feeling al little left out of the fun", he jumps into the conversation with a complete non-sequetor ("Did you know I'm a devout Catholic?" asked C. S. Losing"; a footnote to this comment opines "Getting left out of the fun is, debatably, the whole point of Catholicism" (p. 136). His final comment comes immediately after Rowling reveals that she is a woman, and thus has introduced an actual female person into the all-male world of THE WOBBIT; to the cry "She's a woman!" the Lewis-character responds " 'This might go against my Catholic faith,' C. S. Losing let it be known, as if anyone cared what he had to say." (p. 137).

So, all I can conclude is (a) that the Harvard Lampoonians really don't like C. S. Lewis, and (b) that they know next to nothing about him, not even enough to parody him properly -- i.e., such as the fact that he's NOT CATHOLIC.

The second, and far superior, passage comes v. near the end (and yet not near enough), where they re-write Bilbo's first song, "Roads Go Ever Ever On", into an indictment of the modern commercialism of fantasy:

Franchises go ever ever on,
Over-budget and under-seen,
Through sequels that are quickly gone,
And prequels that never should have been . . .
(p. 146)

--And there it is; even a dud can include a passage worth sharing.

--John R.
current audiobook: none
current dvd: DESOLATION OF SMAUG 'Appendix IX' documentaries
current reading: THE SUMMER TREE (GGKay), AS CHIMNEY SWEEPERS COME TO DUST (Flavia de Luce), THE CIVIL WAR (Foote).

Monday, February 2, 2015

A New Idea About Madlener

So, the story's well known from Carpenter's biography how Tolkien bought a picture postcard of a mountain-spirit known as a Berggeist, an old man with a beard and hat, during his 1911 trip to Switzerland and years later wrote on the envelope he kept it in 'Origin of Gandalf'.

Except it's not true, as various Tolkien scholars (most notably Manfred Zimmerman) discovered: the Madlener painting actually dates from the mid to late 1920s and could not have been purchased during that 1911 trip.* The dating is important because there's still some debate about whether Tolkien started THE HOBBIT in the summer of 1930 (as I believe) or sometime in the 1920s (as a minority opinion holds). If we cd date this image and also date when Tolkien first came across it, it might narrow down the field a little.

Now comes a new suggestion breathtaking in its simplicity, in the essay "Merlin, Odin, and Mountain Spirits: The Story of Gandalf's Origins" by Leila K. Norako, in the otherwise somewhat disappointing collection THE HOBBIT AND HISTORY.**  Norako suggests

by saying that Der Berggeist was the origin of Gandalf,
Tolkien could easily have been pointing to the broader 
Rubezahl tradition as source of inspiration rather than
to Medlener's specific rendering of the figure (p. 168)

That is, what if it's not the Madlener image that Tolkien meant by 'Origin of Gandalf' but the thing represented: Der Berggeist itself?  If that were the case then Tolkien's annotation could be entirely accurate and yet be of no help dating THE HOBBIT whatsoever.

Of course we can always assume Tolkien came across this picture at some point after beginning THE HOBBIT and simply though it a good likeness, but I'm reluctant to accept that explanation because it directly contradicts Tolkien's simple and straightforward statement that in some way the Berggeist was the 'origin' of Gandalf.

In any case, an interesting suggestion, I thought; one I've not seen before, and one I'll have to mull over.

--John R.

*For a good account of the Madlener painting, see Doug Anderson's THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT pages 36-39; this book also reproduces Madlener's original in color  on the lower half of Plate 5 (between pages 178 and 179).

**not because the essays aren't well done but because of a kind of diminishing returns: I've read so many essay already on the topics included herein (e.g., Beorn and Bothvar Bjarki) that I already knew most of what they had to tell me.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The New Arrivals (nine books)

So, over the last month or so a number of new Tolkien books have arrived, the greater part of them due to my having taken in the change jar (which formerly held five pounds of Tupilo honey) and exchanged its contents for an voucher. So several newish books that had been parked in my check-out cart at amazon are now here waiting for me to find places for them all on the Tolkien shelves.

THE HOBBIT AND HISTORY, ed. Janice Liedl and Nancy R. Reagin [Wiley, 2014]
subtitled on cover "The Unoffical Movie Tie-In to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies", a subtitle that does not appear on the title page or elsewhere. Its links, such as they are, are more with the second movie (and, to a lesser degree, the first) than the third -- naturally enough, since none of these authors could have seen the third and final HOBBIT film at the time they wrote their essys.
Part of the Wiley Pop Culture and History Series, along with Star Trek and History, Star Wars and History, Harry Potter and History, and Twilight and History, all of them edited either by Reagin or by Reagin and Liedl.
--disappointing, though one essay did have a brilliant suggestion re. Tolkien and the Madlener picture.

--claims that Tolkien, Howard, and Superman (who for some reason didn't make it into the title) are the main inspirations for modern fantasy. If by 'modern fantasy' you mean D&D, then I'd say Parsons is on more or less solid ground, but as a sourcing for modern fantasy in general it's either too narrow (excluding figures like Dunsany) or too wide (failing to recognize Tolkien's pre-eminant position). Have no idea why he threw Superman into the mix. No doubt all will become clear when I have a chance to actually read this.

--One of several recent books to acknowledge that Tolkien was in fact a twentieth century author.
A potentially good topic; won't know until the reading whether Nicolay makes a good case.

--I've recently been seeking out and reading a series of oddball books on Tolkien: new approaches to Tolkien from unusual perspectives.  This one has more charts and diagrams than I expected but at the very least won't be the same-old same-old.

--this is parody by the same folks who published THE UNOFFICIAL HOBBIT HANDBOOK a few years back; looks to me that if you liked that, you'll probably like this as well (and vica versa).

--a rather unusual thematic choice for a book on Tolkien, with an unusual grouping of contributors, some of whom I know from Kalamazoo or recognize their names from TOLKIEN STUDIES, a few of them new to me. The lead essay is by Verlyn Flieger (always a good way to lead a collection of essays on Tolkien, given the opportunity).

--in the abstract, this one sounds to me like Charles Moorman's AUGUSTINIAN CITY revisited; shd make for an interesting contrast to the other recent book on Tolkien and modernism by T. F. Nicolay.

--Of all these, this is the next one I intend to read. I gather it tries to align Tolkien with Belloc's Distributists and to place JRRT within today's political scene and suggest what position he'd take on current issues, which seems to me a forlorn undertaking. In any case, it's been the subject of heated discussion on Joseph Pearce's website, which I plan to hold off reading until I've read for myself the material they're arguing over.

THE WOBBIT by The Harvard Lampoon [2013]. The folks behind the infamous BORED OF THE RINGS [1969] return for an uninspired second try at parodying Tolkien. Only two goodish bits: one an appearance by JRRT, CSL, GRR, and Rowling in an ultimately vain attempt to regain control over their creations and the other a parody of the closing poem; more on these later. All I can say about this book as a whole is that if you enjoyed BORED OF THE RINGS, don't spoil those memories by reading this dreck. And if you didn't like BORED OF THE RINGS, you're not likely to like this wan imitation either.

Finally, there's one new e-publication to note: J. R. R. TOLKIEN's LOST ENGLISH MYTHOLOGY by Simon J. Cooke [2014], the e-equivalent of a T-K Graphics pamphlet or the occasional Tolkien Society booklets. Think we'll probably be seeing more like this in the future.

Also, I shd probably note three magazines as well: the inaugural article from THE JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH (already noted in a post of its own a few days ago), the arrival of the latest issue of VII, and the current EMPIRE magazine (January 2015 issue).  I'd been surprised when the December issue did not feature the release of the third and final HOBBIT movie as its cover story, as had been the case with the previous installments in the movie trilogy. Well, they've more than made up for it with this new issue, which is guest-edited by Peter Jackson himself. Lots of behind-the-scenes information about the making of the movies; definitely intend to get round to some of this once I have time to do more than skim it.

It'd be nice to say that this recent influx of books meant I now had all the new books that've come out in the last year or two, but it wdn't be the truth. There are at least twenty more I know about that I don't have, and no doubt more I haven't heard about yet. Still, there shd be some interesting reading among them -- though it'll take me time to work my way through them.

--John R.
current reading: AS CHIMNEY SWEEPERS COME TO DUST by Alan Bradley (an attempt to re-start his 'Flavia de Luce' series), THE SUMMER TREE (Book One in THE FIONAVAR TAPESTRY) by Guy Gavriel Kay (re-reading for Book Group)
current dvd: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, extended edition, with commentary, plus extras.