Monday, August 31, 2015

Chaosium gets a little less chaotic

So, Chaosium has long been one of those great game companies known on the one hand for producing some of the best rpg products ever made but on the other for being disorganized, even by the standards of our industry -- or, in a word, kinda chaotic in dealing with the practicalities of the business.

Recently founding fathers Greg Stafford (designer of PENDRAGON, one of the best rpgs ever written) and Sandy Petersen (designer of CALL OF CTHULHU, the most long-lived of all non-D&D games, and also the best) returned to the company, installed a new crew of People in Charge, and generally tried to set things on a more orderly footing. The hope is that the new folks might be able to sort things out and get some long-delayed projects done and actually out the door.

One extremely promising sign suggesting they're serious about this their announcement that they're putting Jim Lowder in charge of their fiction line. Jim is not just an experienced editor and anthologizer but has long been an advocate of fair contracts for freelancers. In short, this Bodes Well.
Here's the announcement:

Congratulations to Jim, and high hopes that Chaosium's line of horror short story anthologies.

--John R.

today's song: Big Red Rubber Ball
today's anime: Akagami

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tolkien spotting (Bare Naked Ladies)

So, a few days ago I was listening to the new Bare Naked Ladies album, SILVERBALL, while working at my desk and I thought I heard a Tolkien reference somewhere in there. I assumed I was probably mistaken (when a mind's filled with something, it's easy tend to see references to it even when they're not there). But going back and listening carefully, it turns out I was quite right: there is a LotR reference in the lyrics.

The song in question is the title song of the album (track twelve on the cd), and comes in the second verse:

. . . there and back again
I destroyed the ring . . .

This is only two lines (out of the whole stanza, not long known in Elvwn-lore), which reads in full

Had it all, 
   there and back again,
I destroyed the Ring 

  on the attack again,
The multi-ball

   was on track again,
But I watched it fall 

   through the center drain.

The 'conceit' of the piece (to use a bit of 18th century terminology) is that that singer is the pinball machine and his love is the pin-ball itself (or possibly at times visa versa; the details aren't exactly clear to me), with the song recording several ups and downs in their relationship.  This may even be based on an actual LORD OF THE RINGS pinball machine, though I assume not. In any case, a fun casual reference I thought I'd share.

And speaking of songs, I had the odd experience this week of finding out a song I've known and liked for more than twenty years isn't the song I thought it was but a different piece altogether.

Here's what happened. Back in Lake Geneva days, I picked up a cassette called GOLDEN HITS OF THE EVERLY BROTHERS -- one of those cheap releases that includes some (but not all) of an artist's hits along with a more-or-less random assortment of stuff to fill up the album. In this case the hits included "Wake Up Little Susie" and "(All I Have to Do Is) Dream" but it lacks "Bye Bye Love" (and another of their bests I came across later and liked, "Cathy's Clown"). But such compilations sometimes include a hidden gem you wdn't have learned about otherwise. In this case that was "Poor Jenny", the second track of side two. The words 'poor Jenny' never appear in the song, but that's not that unusual in rock songs.

So now I'm going back and listening to all my cassettes, with the thought of culling them some. After all,  I have some albums (like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's TARKUS) on vinyl, as cassettes, on cd, and on the I-pod. Since a fair number of those cassettes were copies I bought of albums I already had, so I cd listen to them in the care or at work, or ones later superseded by the same songs on cd, it occurred to me that I could open up some space here, after first re-listening to them all to make sure I'm not discarding a compilation I made myself or something with more on it that the label suggests. And it was while during so that, re-listening to the Everly Brothers, that I decided I liked "Poor Jenny" well enough that I shd buy it on I-tunes, where it's be easier to listen to it more often.

Except it turns out that the song they list as "Poor Jenny" is an entirely different song than the one I've known and loved all these years.

A little checking around, and I discover that while the Everly Brothers did indeed record a song called "Poor Jenny" (later picked up and re-recovered by the likes of Rockpile,* among others), it's not the song I know, being instead a song about how a 'wake up little Susie' style date ended up really, really badly, with his date in jail and her father and brother out hunting him down to commit mayhem. Reminds me a little of my father's song "You'd Better Put On Your Hearing Aid Maw, They'll Be Bad News Tonight", but not as good.

A little more digging (I love the internet!) and I found that the song I like is instead called "Since You Broke My Heart" (also covered by others, like The Searchers** and Rory Storm & the Hurricanes***).

All I can assume is that this anthology of songs was put together in a hurry, that at one point it was to include "Poor Jenny" but that fell through for some reason and someone hastily substituted "Since You Broke My Heart" instead. And that this change came too late to change the packaging, which had prob. already been printed.

Or something like that.
In any case, now I get to buy the song I want, and I get to know what the song I like is really called.

--John R.

*whom I mainly know through their outstanding contributions to McCartney's CONCERTS FOR THE PEOPLE OF KAMPUCHEA.
**best known for their one great hit, "Hey There, Georgie Girl"
***in a live recording, early enough that I think that must be Ringo on the drums. Which only goes to show he was lucky to leave the Hurricanes behind, given that Rory H. can't seem to actually sing then the band is playing the line he's singing

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A New C. S. Lewis play in the works

So, having gone to see THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS and then more recently THE GREAT DIVORCE, we've gotten on A List. Which means we get mailings with updates on future plans by the group behind these small-cast plays: the 'Fellowship for Performing Arts'. The latest news from whom is that they have two new plays in the works. The first concerns Martin Luther (MARTIN LUTHER ON TRIAL) -- a bit of a departure from their norm -- but the second is true to form: THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT, described in their letter/flyer as "[a] new theatre piece on C. S. Lewis' journey from atheism to Christianity".

There have been Lewis-based dramatizations before, from Swann's PERELANDRA to the radio-play STING OF THE DARK TOWER. There have even been ones that brought CSL on stage, like Kreeft's BETWEEN HEAVEN & HELL (assuming that's ever actually been staged) and, more recently, the CSL-meets-Sigmund Freud FREUD'S LAST SESSION.  But I don't think the conversion story has been presented in this way before. Shd be interesting.

And I'm sure they'll send us lots and lots of flyers when it's coming to town.

currently reading: Tennyson (it'll take a while, he being in no hurry to get anywhere)

today's quote: When the first shot hit the dock, I saw it coming (Powderfinger)


So, this week saw the release of J. R. R. Tolkien's latest book, THE STORY OF KULLERVO, edited by Verlyn Flieger. This piece has actually been published before, in volume VII of TOLKIEN STUDIES (2010), p. 211-278. But the new edition, presented on its own as a slender, attractive little book (with Tolkien's own Kalevala painting as its cover)  marks its moving beyond a specialty venue to the notice of a wider audience.

For those who have not seen it yet* this presumably includes everything that appeared in the TOLKIEN STUDIES edition:  (1) the text of the unfinished story, (2) Tolkien's brief notes and outline, (3) Flieger's introduction and explanatory notes, and (4) both versions of Tolkien's essay/lecture about THE KALEVALA -- which is just as good as the story.

As if this were not good news enough, there's a very well done video clip of Verlyn Flieger, the editor, talking about the book on the BBC (thanks to Troels on the MythSoc list for the link):

-John R.
current reading: IDYLLS OF THE KING

*this includes me, since I didn't realize there's a time-lag between the UK release (August 27th) and the US one to follow (April of next year) and foolishly didn't pre-order the former. Ah well. 

today's quote: They say that the blues went out of style ('Poor Jenny')

And thanks also to Jessica Yates for the following link to a Radio BBC Oxford piece which replays some of the audio from Verlyn's interview and adds to it an interview with Dimitra Fimi about issues arising from the publication. The Tolkien content starts around the 1 hr 22 m point and runs about six minutes.
Here's the link:

--JDR, who just bought the book -- in the sense of ordering myself a copy from Across the Waters. Along with the forthcoming A SECRET VICE (ed. Fimi and Higgins), and THE ART OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS by Hammond & Scull. Good times coming.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Cat Report (W. 8/26 & W. 8/19)

Quite a change in the cat room this week, with the departure of Mr. PEPPER back to the main shelter. A cat with personality (he reminded me a good deal of Parker), but so distrustful. His people, whoever they were, clearly didn't hold and pet him; he really didn't know how to respond to petting, though he got better as the weeks went by. Hope he's able to find himself a good home through one of the other cat-rooms around the area. 

That just leaves us with six cats, and a lot less confrontation. 

CHESSA, our special needs cat, was her usual sweet self. After getting petted and her fur combed through with the fingers she went for a long walk. She has no particular destination in mind, but I noticed that she likes people; if we came across some she'd follow them, hoping I think to get some attention. Afterwards she went into Brie's room and hung out. She loved the bit of wet catfood just before noon and, unusually, complained when she had to go into her own cage at the end of morning. Having seen a picture of her online with two other cats, one of whom was grooming her, I'm hoping she'll be adopted into a family with another, mellow, cat.
   Warning: she likes the string game, but eats the yarn when you're not looking.

By far the most active cats around were brother SYLVESTER BEAN and sister OKRA, who came out, explored, played, and generally made themselves at home. I made the discovery by chance that both know their name. I usually call him 'Bean', which he ignores, but when I called him 'Sylvester' instead he immediately looked up and over at me. Same with Okra; she also knows, and responds, to her name. After a string game, she settled down happily in the top shelf of the cabinet, while he helped me with each cage I cleaned on the ground level, going in and inspecting and supervising. He's become really affectionate: rode on my shoulders some and at one point came up and rubbed up against my legs, wanting some petting. I was happy to oblige. She also welcomed petting anytime I reached into the cabinet. They've become v. sociable kitties in just a short time. 
    They both played the string game, with yarn. I broke my laser pointer a while back and keep forgetting to replace it; think these two will welcome it back when I do. 

FRUITY PEBBLES, our semi-senior cat, wanted in her basket, as usual. She made it perfectly clear she doesn't like walks. Once I gave up on that idea and let her go back in her basket, with a plentiful catnip supply, she was happy as could be.  What a beautiful cat. 

BRIE also wanted mostly to be left alone in her favorite spot: beneath the cat-stands by the door. She's fond of catnip herself, and rolled in the stuff.  After all the others went back in, she had a bit of a walk, exploring the area in that little alleyway and around the front of the room outside the glass. She growls when other cats come close but it's just a 'stay back, this spot's mine' kind of thing, not aggressive or anything like that. 

That just leaves OLLIE, who continues to harbor suspicions that I'm a cat-eating fiend. He did play the string game some, but retreated back as far as he could into his cage whenever I came near, so I made him a cave with the blankets, which seemed to do him good. I wonder who did what to him, back in his past, to make him so worried. He does love wet catfood, so much he came out from his cave to get some and let me pet him a little. 

LAST WEEK (W. 8/19): didn't get my full cat-report written up, but here are a few notes: 

We had the same seven cats as the week before (Pepper, Cheesa, Bean & Okra, Pebbles, Brie, and Ollie), but the feel of the room was quite different as the new cats settle in and the veteran cats mellow.

PEPPER: much better behaved today. In fact, he was almost charming. After his walk I let him out and put the short cat-stand right in front of his open cage, with steps going up from that to the cagetops. It makes the entrance to the room a bit crowded but improves his mood remarkably to be able to hang out just outside his cage but not in it, and also to come and go between the cagetops. i almost got him to purr.

Most of the cats went to their favorite spots, with Pepper claiming the cagetops but not kicking up too much of a fuss when Okra and Bean went up from time to time. Brie and Pebbles went straight to theirs and stayed there all morning. Ollie actually came out and made a few anxious prowls around the room ; turns out he knows how to use the steps. He wanted to go high, but Pepper sat on the steps and blocked his way -- just as well, perhaps, since I may have had a hard time getting him back down if he did. 
   I'd had a hard time getting Okra and Pepper to go in their cages the week before, so much so that I stopped trying with Pepper and instead distracted him with a game until I'd lured him into a box and was able to scoot him up, box and all, and put him back in his cage. To his credit, he accepted that as a move he hadn't seem coming and settled down.

Everybody but Brie at wet catfood. Bean seemed thirsty. 

Chessa was adorable and affectionate.

Visitors in the Cat Room
Katrina came by and gave Chessa a good long walk which I'm sure did her good. I walked Pepper, who explored warily, checking the location of each bolt-hole if it were to be needed.   Brie explored the area by the office and snack machines thoroughly and wanted closed door open but in lieu of that accepted being able to roll on smooth cool concrete. Pebbles thought it was big and scary out there and wanted to come back in right away.

Had quite a few visitors over the course of the morning, including some that seemed serious adoption prospects, but none of which seem to have led to anything.

Health Concerns
None, really.

As I was leaving, I saw the Humane Society Cat Truck, which I'd never seen or even heard of before, parked near the PetsMart. Turns out they were doing an adopt-a-cat drive from a special van whose sides are clear like windows, enabling you to see inside into the cages with the individual cats (seven in six double-cages). Several were beautiful (esp. the little black one named Firefly) and some seemed sociable; here's wishing them all good luck in finding good homes of their own as well.

--John R.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tolkien & Lewis on BOOK-TV

So, I was surprised on Saturday to turn on Book TV and find them airing a discussion of a new book on Tolkien, Lewis, and the Great War. I came in near the end and cdn't stay to hear out the Q&A period that followed, but I heard enough to make me curious about the rest. So tonight I hunted it down and watched it from beginning to end.

First off, the author is Joseph Loconte, whose name I'd not heard before. This is simple enough of explanation: he's not a Tolkien scholar nor a Lewis scholar but mainly writes books on Xianity and history, which are outside my field. His book's full title is A HOBBIT, A WARDROBE, & A GREAT WAR: HOW J. R. R. TOLKIEN AND C. S. LEWIS REDISCOVERED FAITH,  FRIENDSHIP, AND HEROISM IN THE CATACLYSM OF 1914-1918. It just came out June 30th, the same day as this presentation was filmed.

As for the piece itself, it dealt as much with the aftermath of the War as the war itself, and argued roughly that the experience of heroism on the Front enabled JRRT and CSL to avoid the cynicism of the postwar period. The presentation was pretty good, and if the topic appeals you might want to check out the accompanying link (see below).  But be warned that the whole thesis has a whiff of rearranging biographical events to better suit the author's purpose --Tolkien didn't find or lose his faith in the War, nor did Lewis: that'd come much earlier for Tolkien (when he was twelve) and came much later for CSL (when he was thirtyish). More troubling is that Chuck Colson is mentioned* but not John Garth, which in a presentation on Tolkien and the Great War just seems wrong. But perhaps that's redressed in the book itself.

Here's the link:

The best thing about this, from my point of view, is that Tolkien and Lewis now have a high enough profile that a book about them merits more than an hour on C-SPAN. More evidence of the mainstreaming of Tolkien (and also Lewis) in a way that'd have been unimaginable back in the day.

--John R.

today's quote: "Why shd I whistle when the caged birds sing? (The Soul Cages)

 *to be fair, in a comment from the floor, not as part of the speaker's presentation) 

I'm Back

So, it's been a while since I posted last, having been wholly wrapped up in finalizing my Charles Williams piece (the-project-that-wd-not-end), turning my draft tailored for oral presentation into a finished essay, complete with bibliography and, this being me, quite a lot of notes. I originally overwrote, but with Janice's help managed to cut the piece by about a third, greatly improving its structure and, I think, making clearer the relation of the parts to the whole. Much of this deleted material has been moved to the appendices, where those who are interested can read more about specific points without their interfering in the presentation of the main theme.

Anyway, it's now done and off and provisionally accepted, barring my adding a few more necessary details to the bibliography, which I hope I'll be able to take care of with a quick trip to the Wade next month.  Now on to the next project -- or rather projects, since there are several jostling for attention: a piece I submitted that the editors want me to make some changes on, getting in a proposal for next year's Kalamazoo, and of course the festschrift among them.

For now, though, it's good to be putting a big project behind me and moving on to something else; what I call that new project feel.  Plus, it was high time to put all those Wms and Wms-related books I had piled around the desk, ready at hand to consult, back on the shelves.


current anime: DRAGONBALL Z (yes, really), THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA.

today's quote: "It don't look like they're here to deliver the mail" (Powderfinger)

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Watermelon Ninja

So, still working on the Mythcon report -- but in the meantime thought I'd share some pictures Janice took on Saturday to celebrate our having gotten to the Kent Farmer's Market early and snagged ourselves a real watermelon, with seeds. And a good-sized one too. Decided it deserved dispatch with the sword Janice got me a few years back. Janice decided to record the results, and here they are:

--More later.
current reading: 
MALICE IN THE PALACE (the latest in the Royal Spyness series)
THE DWELLER IN THE MOON POOL by A. Merritt (The Book That Wd Not End)
current anime: STARSHIP OPERATORS (re-watching)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Dunsany Praised

So, the query regarding Hemingway and Dunsany, it occurred to me that the extent to which American writers admired the Irish lord's work deserved being highlighted in a post of its own rather than just the comments on a post devoted to a different topic.  Accordingly, here's a paragraph from my dissertation* that summarizes the tremendous splash Dunsany had over here during his brief vogue just after the War.

*BEYOND THE FIELDS WE KNOW: THE SHORT STORIES OF LORD DUNSANY, Chapter Two: THE BOOKS OF WONDER, section (ix) Lionization, pages 123-124:

"It is hard now to convey just how popular Dunsany was in the decade centering around 1919-1920. Mencken considered it a coup to get his stories for THE SMART SET and to be the one to introduce him to the American public. New York theaters fought over the right to put on his newest play. Film studios in Germany, England, and America tried to negotiate contracts to make movies out of his plays or to have him write scripts for them. F. Scott Fitzgerald includes a scene in his first novel where his young hero goes through a 'Dunsany period' at college (immediately after his PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY stage), when he and a friend take turns reading Dunsany's poetry back and forth to each other.  Ernest Hemingway took his tales along with him on a camping trip and read them aloud to his friends at night around the campfire; in typical laconic fashion, Hemingway contributes the briefest evaluation of Dunsany on records ("He's great").  James Thurber starred in a college production of A NIGHT AT AN INN which was apparently a great success. When J. B. Pond lured Dunsany over on a lecture tour from October 1919 through January 1920 he was feted and lionized, ranked with top authors of the day like Spanish novelist Blasco Ibanez (THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE) and recent Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck (THE BLUE BIRD). Between engagements he spent his time socializing with the Maeterlincks and ex-President Roosevelt's family, and meeting Kahlil Gibran (THE PROPHET), Mencken, and, as he casually remarks on one occasion, "all the poets in America." Everywhere he was deluged by reporters, who wanted his opinions on every topic imaginable. His lectures were packed; they were so successful that Pond made plans for him to tour the West as well as the East. At a lecture in Boston he so impressed one writer in the audience, H. P. Lovecraft, that Lovecraft devoted the next seven years to writing imitation Dunsany. On all sides Dunsany was treated as one of the greatest living writers, by public and intelligentsia alike.
   On the one hand he reveled in it, and on the other it made him uneasy . . . "

--and this does not include things like Joyce's interest in Dunsany's play A NIGHT AT AN INN, nor Yeats' role in launching Dunsany's career as a playwright (Yeats also edited the first anthology of Dunsany's work).

--JDR, 1990.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Back from Mythcon

So, we had a great time at Mythcon and are back safely, and even have been forgiven by the cats. I'll see what I can do in the way of writing up a Mythcon report over the next few days.

--John R.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Return of The Cat Report (W.8/4-15)

Thanks to all for covering me when I was out last week. The convention went great. The week before that I'd arrived at the cat-room to find a black cat (Pepper), a black cat (Gemini), a black cat (Kon-Tiki), a black cat (Bean), a black cat (Okra), and Dobby (who I'd never mistake for any other cat). With Tiki's adoption, Peaches' return, Eddie's adoption and then un-adoption, the arrival of purrbox Fruity Pebbles, and (temporary we hope) departure of both CHESSA and EDDIE both back at the clinic over health issues, we're back at six cats: Mr. PEPPERGEMINI ("Mr. Jimmy")bonded pair BEAN & OKRA, and beautiful gentle FRUITY PEBBLES (a semi-senior cat) and PRINCESS PEACH (Peaches).

Since Mr. Pepper's been in such a foul mood, I decided to see if special treatment would improve his mood. It did. First I let him out first thing when I arrived and let him have the whole room to himself, putting a short cat-stand in front of his cage and petting him then and there. He enjoyed this so much that I put him on the leash and took him out for a long walk. He was nervous at first but then got interested and explored. He even made the discovery that those bags on the shelves were full of food and put a row of them to the smell-test, one by one. When we got back inside we had a game, again just one-on-one, and he loved it. Hadn't known he's v. fond of the string game. I also petted him some more, gave him catnip, and combed my fingers through his fur; the loose fur came off in surprising quantities (shedding for summer, I assume). He even let me rub him down with a wet cloth to get more of that loose fur off.

Once I started letting other cats out his mood changed. He moved from the short cat-stand by his cage to the tall one near the cabinet, and here he showed his other side: objecting with hisses and swats at any cat trying to get up, or down, or pass by his spot on the mid-level of that cat-stand. He also swatted at me any time I went to get some cat dirt or cat food. It's a territory thing, I think. Had a hard time getting him back in his cage at 12.30, only to have him beg to go out again as I was finishing up. I did, and again he was on his best behavior. Although he got spooked shortly after we went out he behaved while out and also upon coming in and (reluctantly) going back into his cage.

My cat Parker was like this: the switch between wanting to be petted and hissing, swatting, or nipping was split-second. The only thing to do was to be watchful, and not to escalate things (since then he'd get really worked up, and angry rather than just briefly annoyed). Think once Mr. Pepper's in his own house he'll settle down a lot.

The other walker today was GEMINI (Mr. Jimmy), our current Boss Cat (luckily he has a sunny disposition). He played all morning, sometimes with a piece of string (which he'd catch in his mouth and reel in, sometimes carrying it off) and sometimes with feathers-on-a-stick. He's a great cat. I was particularly amused by the way he announced himself with a little mrr! whenever he arrived, whether jumping up onto the cage-tops or down from the cage-tops onto the cat-stands or bench. At once point several people (employees) gathered for a discussion about something outside the door to the cat room, and he went over and started talking to them (mrr! mrr! mrr!) from our side of the door, clearly asking to go out and join the conversation. He had a long walk and loved it. He also really enjoyed the catnip I distributed all round after he came back in (as did they all, but esp. Pepper and Jimmy).

Little BEAN followed him around like a little brother and played whatever game Gemini was playing. Glad to see Bean overcome his shyness: he likes being petted but would prefer to be played with. All the cats enjoyed playing w. the feathers and the string, but Mr. Jimmy and little Bean were the most enthused (I'd say those two played Advanced String Game 101). He was out pretty much all morning, while his sister OKRA stayed in, then came out, then went back in, all morning long. She's much the shyer of the two but is starting to gain some confidence; she came out whenever she saw what she thought was a good game going on and retreated when things got hissy from Mr. Pepper.  

PEACHES, a truly beautiful cat, with long fluffy fur like dark-streaked orange marble, decided to go high as her strategy to avoid conflict, spending much of the morning among the blankets in the top level inside the cabinet. She liked it there so much, in fact, that after leaving that spot she returned to it later, climbing over a startled Pepper and launching herself into the cabinet -- only to fail to get a grip on smooth metal shelves and come tumbling right back out again. Luckily she didn't seem hurt, only chagrinned, so I lifted her up and put her where she wanted to go, where she stayed for over an hour until deciding to come out, getting herself hissed at some more (poor Peaches). She ended the morning in a box on the cagetops, which she found restful and a hiss-free zone. 

FRUITY PEBBLES was a little more low-key; she tried several places high and low (inside the basket, atop the cages, under a cat-stand) but didn't seem to find a spot she really liked. Offered her some lap time several times but she wasn't in the mood. I'll have to make sure she gets some one-on-one time and special attention next week. I wonder how she'd do on a walk.

And that's pretty much it. Several visitors, but none who seemed serious prospects for adopters. 

--John R.