Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Return of Poke-em-with-a-Stick Wednesday (Franklin Graham)

So, today saw the news that Franklin Graham, son and heir of the late Billy Graham's evangelical empire, has give up on Republicans, Democrats, and Tea Party-ers alike. Instead he's calling for Xians to run for local office. The goal seems to be to urge "godly men and women" to seek secular power in order to impose a kind of Xian sharia law  (or, in his phrase, "uphold biblical values").

To put it another way, his goal is to unseparate church and state. To subordinate the political to the religious. Which, to my way of thinking, wd be disastrous for the church side of the equation. Trying to channel faith into the pursuit of political power hasn't worked out too well in the past. History has shown pretty clearly that Xianity shows its best side under adversity and has been at its worst when it held temporal power. Do we really want to go down that dark road again?

Here's the link:


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Day at Elliott Bay

So, while mourning bookstores lost, it's good to also celebrate good bookstores that are still with us. And in the case of Elliott Bay Books, which wd certainly have to go on anyone's list of Seattle's best, they seem to be thriving in what I still think of as their new location, atop Capitol Hill. Despite being inconveniently located for us down here in Kent, I make it a point to visit at least once a year, usually around my birthday.Their fantasy/science fiction section is fine, but what I really go for is to look through their shelves on prehistory, early history, and mythology, all of which are excellent. I never fail to find some intriguing book I didn't know about on their well-stocked shelves. This year's new acquisitions are a nicely mixed group:

I. THE SPECTACLE OF THE LATE MAYA COURT: REFLECTIONS ON THE MURALS OF BONAMPAK by Mary Miller & Claudia Brittenham [2013]. A huge coffee-table book, lavishly illustrated, with extensive commentary describing the murals and putting them in context. In many cases they reproduce images twice on the same page: once in color (to see the beauty of the artwork) and once in black and white (for better clarity of seeing what's being shown, given how badly the murals are damaged). Not so much a book for sitting down and reading through as for leaving open and mulling over, occasionally dipping in to read sections and slowly absorb the whole.

II. ROYAL CITIES OF THE ANCIENT MAYA by Michael D. Coe (text) and Barry Brukoff (photography). Another coffee-table book, but this time of a more manageable size. Again it was really the pictures that attracted me here: I've never seen a book on Mayan ruins that so strongly conveyed what it'd be like to be in each of these places. This one is text-light and about half the weight and size of the previous book, so I'll definitely be reading it as well as enjoying the images.

III. LONDON FOG [2015] by Christine L. Corton. A rather odd topic for a book: the great London Fog, particularly during its height in the last half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth, when millions of coal fires in homes combined with river mists and industrial pollution to create  a toxic yellow smog, so thick that at times when out walking in it you wouldn't be able to see your own feet. The book is full of really striking photos and paintings depicting what the fog looked like. both from within and without. Looks to be an interesting read.

IV. CONSTELLATION MYTHS by Eratosthenes and Hyginus, tr. Robin Hard. Ever wonder where all those stories about who became what constellation and why came from? Me neither, but it turns out that at least part of the answer is these works. This one was frankly an impulse buy, thinking it'd be a good book to read in snatches spread out over as long a period of time as it took.

V. A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION: ROMAN BRITAIN, by Peter Salway. Background reading for my current project; I was drawn by a brief discussion of curse tablets, something that's directly relevant to the Nodens evidence. I've started in reading this and already come across a number of interesting things I didn't know, so picking it up was definitely worthwhile.

In addition, there were some runner-ups wh. I might have picked up had the above not already strained the budget: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION TO CELTIC MYTH (which on a quick skim didn't look to contain anything I didn't already know about Nodens), AFTER YORKTOWN (which focused on the two remaining years the international wars we think of as 'the American Revolution' continued after we dropped out of it), and YURIE: THE JAPANESE GHOST (a look at a spooky bit of folklore that sometimes impinges on various anime or manga but which I don't know first-hand other than in obvious sources like Lafcadio Hearn).

And then aside from the Elliott Bay books, some other new arrivals came by post: two 'C. S. Lewis Mysteries' by Kel Richards: C. S. LEWIS AND THE CORPSE IN THE CELLAR (retitled here 'The Corpse in the Cellar') and C. S. LEWIS AND THE COUNTRY HOUSE MURDERS (retitled just 'The Country House Murders'). I learned of these through David Bratman's posts (which I'm no longer able to find the link for, unfortunately). Each attempts (and, I think, fails) to both present a mystery novel in the mode of the 'golden age' while alternating the mystery-solving with theological discussions between CSL and the callow narrator. Richards apparently is fond of writing mysteries using real-life people as his detectives: in addition to this C. S. Lewis series (of which a third has either been published or is soon to be so, and a fourth on the way) there's also at least two books in which his version of G. K. Chesterton solves mysteries. Plus he has several Sherlock Holmes books to his credit (or otherwise, as the case may be), some of them supernatural. And one or two books of apologetics without the fictional guise.

In brief: not the worst Inklings-as-characters novels, but in the bottom half of the list.

The only other new arrival is TOLKIEN AMONG THE MODERNS, ed. Ralph C. Woods. I'd ordered this thinking it'd be interesting to see Tolkien treated as a Modernist (like Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, et al) or anti-Modernist (like Orwell, Larkin, &c). On first glance, however, I can't seem to grasp their definition of modernism -- one essay compares Tolkien to Cervantes (a contemporary of Shakespeare, and hence 'modern' only by a very generous definition); another deals with Nietzsche (later nineteenth century), another with Iris Murdoch (a younger contemporary of Tolkien's who's actually closer to Postmodern than Modern, if we're going by how academia breaks up English literature). There is one piece on Joyce and Tolkien, which is pretty much the only example of the sort of essay I thought wd make up the entire book. In the end I have to admit that a quick glance has left me at a loss as to their definition of Modernism is or how it relates to Tolkien's work. Perhaps a more thorough examination later on will bring clarity.

current Kindle: CARTER & LOVECRAFT by Jonathan Howard.
current viewing: various old DOCTOR WHOs.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bookstore Lost (Milwaukee's Renaissance)

So, thanks to Janice (and also Doug) for sharing the news from Milwaukee that the city's years-long struggle to condemn the legendary Renaissance Books has finally succeeded.

This is sad news, since that's long been a Milwaukee landmark and was the last of the old, run-down, over-stuffed,  jumbled bookstores that downtown Milwaukee was well-stocked with when I first moved up there. Renaissance Books, in an old warehouse alongside the river, was four floors of shelves with books everywhere, many of them decades old. Here's where I stocked up on misc. volumes of James Branch Cabell and filled out my working library of Dunsany books from the library discards on their shelves (the latter appeared a few days after a library sale in which they'd snatched them up for a nickel a volume at the very start of the library sale, then offered them for sale the next week at $10). They also had a smallish area of records, at which I got one or two albums (I think the two Danny Kirwan's solo albums I have came from here).

All this was great, but leaves out the other side: that the building was basically derelict. "Ramshackle" barely begins to describe it: leaning walls, sagging staircases where the steps were only attached on one side, having come off the other; cracks in the wall, floors that tilted. In its latter days, things got worse: books spilling off shelves to lie scattered on the floor and I think they put the top floor off-limits as too unsafe to walk across.

And then there was their bizarre policy of not putting prices in books. Instead, they'd make up a price when you brought the book up to check-out. You'd hand them whatever book(s) you wanted to buy, and they'd glance them over, size you up, and come up with a price. Sometimes it sound fair and sometimes not; I put a lot of books I wanted back because I thought they were asking too much. The whole practice might have fitted in well in a Moroccan market, but I found it endlessly annoying in a Milwaukee bookshop.

All of which made it all the more amazing when Renaissance opened up a branch in the Milwaukee airport (Mitchell Field). It was full of interesting books, like the motherstore, but here they were well-organized, well-shelved, and priced, all in a clean and well-lit room. It quickly became my favorite airport bookstore anywhere, bar none: I stop in there every chance I get when passing to or through Milwaukee.

So, I guess the cry shd be: Renaissance Books is dead; long live Renaissance Books.

But I do hate the thought of all those old books being bulldozed and ending up in a landfill.

--John R.
current reading: Kel Richards' THE COUNTRY HOUSE MURDERS [2014]

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book Thought


The Thought: This book reminded me of TWILIGHT, but not in a good way.

--John R.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Cat Report (W.12/16-15)

With poor Sams and Sugar back at the main shelter to get treatment for their colds, and the recent string of adoptions (CoCo came and went without my ever seeing her), we had just three cats in the cat-room this morning: ZOE GIRL (white and black, fluffy), Mr. DERMOT (fluffy black tuxedo cat), and newcomer FLUFFY (a sort of cream-colored tortoiseshell with very intense blue eyes).  

I started out by offering Zoe and Dermot walks, but both were too scared of the Big Room Outside and asked to come back inside immediately. Oddly enough, Dermot seemed particularly worried at the sound of birds in the distance (they're going to get me!).

Back in the room Zoe settled on the cat-stand near the cabinet while Mr. Dermot moved around a lot. At first he stayed near the door — sometimes on the floor, sometimes on a cat-stand, before shifting to Up High in a box on the cagetops (he knows all about using the steps). Before going up there Dermot let me put him in my lap at one point and purred. I discovered he has dirty ears and cleaned one of them for him, which he didn’t appreciate. He also has a sore on his chin that we’ll need to keep an eye on. Dermot loves games of all sorts, but seems to like feather games best. At one point I had the feathers on a fishing pole swinging back and forth between Zoe at one end of the room and Dermot at the other both batting at it when it came by. But I think his favorite was crunching down on the peacock feather, which is now somewhat worse for wear.

As for Zoe, she sometimes played and sometimes snoozed, sometimes purred and sometimes batted away the extended hand — in short, a typical Zoe-morning. She’s no fan of Dermot but is willing to ignore his existence for the most part, content with a hiss or growl if he gets too close. Her favorite game turned out once again to be the string game, which had her running back and forth the length of the cat-room as well as tearing up her favorite cat-stand in hot pursuit. With Fluffy hidden behind her blankets and Dermot hard to spot up high in his box, Zoe got most of the attention from passers-by.

Our newest arrival, Miss Fluffy, is very shy. She stayed in all morning, hidden under the blankets in her cube but eventually let me re-arrange things so she could peep out without being too exposed. Twice she came over to her food dish and ate a little while being petted. She was adamant about not coming out, so I straightened and cleaned her cube around her. Later on she expressed an interest in joining in with games, so long as it didn’t involve coming out of her cube. She likes the feathers best, but thought string games good too; her favorite seemed to be the gopher game. Interesting to note that Fluffy perked up when Willie arrived for the early afternoon shift and looked much more alert and confident.

heath issues: none, other than Dermot’s ears, and Dermot’s chin.

—John R.

P.S.: Not having written up or posted a cat report for a while, here are the names of other cats who have passed through the Cat Room since I posted last: Mr. Apollo, Lucee, Suri Reese, Hopkins, Grimsley (aka 'Grimsley Addams'), Tazz, Trouble, & Thumper; Louie Louie, Houdini ('Houdin'), James Dean ('Dean'), Miss Timmie, Opus ('Opie'), Purdy Samms & Sugar Baby; Chase & Deuce.

I'm particularly happy that Mr. Apollo, a majestic fluffy grey cat with a lot of presence, found a home after what seemed a long wait; came down to see him one last time when he came by Banfield (the vet's inside PetsMart) to get his checkup a few days after his adoption. Here's hoping that it's Miss Zoe-Girl's turn soon. Also that Samms and Sugar, a bonded pair (Samms is the ten-year-old son of thirteen-year-old Sugar), feel better soon; Samms had been an enthusiastic walker when he first arrived, so his disinterest in going out last week, along with Sugar's lethargy, was a bad sign. It's hard for cats to be looking for a home at that age, so hoping they're soon well and back in the adoption room in hopes of making that right connection with just the right person.


Friday, December 11, 2015

A Bullet Dodged

So, it was with foreboding that I read the news flash about an active shooter on the campus of Arkansas State University.  Luckily, in this case the first responders talked the person down from using either his shotgun or setting off the two propane tanks he'd brought with him.  Here's the initial report from yesterday:

Have to admit that this one hit home, because I used to live in Jonesboro, just off-campus. And though I haven't been back in decades, I still remember it well, and it's chilling to combine those memories with these current events. I had a bit of that feeling at the time of the murders in Colorado Springs a few weeks ago, having just been there a few months ago attending this year's MythCon. But it's different for tragedy to strike a place you've visited once and for the threat to fall on a place where you've lived.

The year we spent in Jonesburo was one of the most miserable in my life, but I do have some good memories from then, and I'm grateful that in this one case tragedy was averted. Time we got serious about getting rid of guns and put an end to this tragedy-of-the-week cycle we're currently trapped in.

--John R.

P.S.: Here's a brief follow-up story.

Colbert again

So. Here's more on the Colbert proudly self-identifying as One Of Us (i.e., someone obsessed with Tolkien), a seven-minute clip in which he not only names THE SILMARILLION as his favorite book but mentions reading second-tier Tolkien works such as FARMER GILES OF HAM (a particular favorite of mine), SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR, and LEAF BY NIGGLE and name-drops people and places such as Arathorn, Lothlorien, Luthien, Beren, and the dungeons of Sauron.

Later in the clip it gets a little weird when it segues into Colbert-as-Atticus-Finch.

Thanks to Janna (forwarded via Janice) for the link.

P.S. Bonus points to Colbert for describing baseball as "like watching grass grow [but] with people
in the way"

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The New Arrival (Studies in Celtic Heathendom)

So, yesterday another of those old books I tend to acquire when researching a piece arrived, the curiously titled  LECTURES ON THE ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF RELIGION AS ILLUSTRATED BY CELTIC HEATHENDOM by John Rhys.* This copy is from the original printing in 1888, based on the 1886 Hibbert Lectures. While old, it's in pretty good shape, and I'm pleased to see two previous owners have written their names in it -- one an old signature, probably of the same era as the book itself, the other being a much more recent bookplate. Mine has now joined them as the third in the series. There's a copy of this book in Suzzallo-Allen, which I've looked through years ago the first time I thought of tackling this project, but it's much more handy to have the book at home ready of access anytime I might need it, rather than being at the mercy of anyone who can get it recalled if they want a look at it (students and faculty of U.W. quite rightly coming before 'friends of the library' like myself).

For the curious, here's the Rhys book in its proper sequence among the other pieces I've assembled over the years which shd between them provide the key sources for my current piece:

by the Rev. Wm Hiley Bathurst (1879)

by John Rhys (1888)

by Arthur Machen (1890)

by T. E. Ellis (1922)

by H. P. Lovecraft (1926)

by R. E. M. & T. V. Wheeler (1932)

Just out of curiosity, can anyone spot the common thread among them?

--John R.
current reading: THE INN AT CORBIES' CAWW (Flieger), A NOBLE CAUSE (Doug Niles)

*this is the same John Rhys whose book CELTIC BRITAIN is probably Tolkien's source for the word 'Ond'/Gond (stone).

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Kickstarter I'm Backing

So, I don't do many Kickstarters -- for one thing, they tend to be on the pricy side and game purchases cut into the buying-books-on-Tolkien budget. And for another I'm not v. plugged in these days to what new projects are currently live (even in the TSR days I was the last to hear any rumor going round).

But there's one project I plan to make an exception for: Scott Gable's THE FAERIE RING. Here's the link describing the project:

This has been in the works for a long time (I did some editing work on it, or perhaps an earlier form of it, years ago) and I'm glad it's now well on its way to seeing the light of day.

The reason I liked it so much was (1st) that it was well-written and (2nd) that it struck me as an original take on the material. I've read a LOT of rpg material based on fairy lore -- after all it's one of the core elements of D&D from the original MONSTERS & TREASURE booklet (1974) onward, as well as being one of the core source-streams that flowed together to make modern fantasy.* But I found Scott's interpretation interesting and disturbing, and he makes some connections that I think are unique, such as linking the Fir Bolg (who are usually treated as just the hapless folk who got caught between the Formorians and the Tuatha de Danaan) to the Wild Hunt.

So, this is one time I'm going to take the plunge and support an interesting-sounding Kickstarter.  They're currently at about one-third what they need to fund the project, with twenty-two days to go. I'll post an update later about how it goes.


*along with medievalism and mythology

The Perils of Resembling Gollum

So, here's one of those weird cases when Tolkien and things related to Tolkien have a major effect on the real world.

Some time ago, a Turkish doctor named Bilgin Ciftci posted pictures of Andy Serkis's Gollum, as he appeared in Peter Jackson's LotR films and the first HOBBIT movie, alongside similar pictures of the Turkish president, Mr. Erdogan, poking fun at the president by drawing attention to the similarities between the way Erdogan and Gollum look.

Trouble is, turns out it's illegal in Turkey to criticize the president, or even to make fun of him. Thus not only has Dr. Ciftci lost his job but he now faces a jail sentence of up to two years.

Dr. Ciftci's defense is to deny that Gollum is an evil character or indeed a bad person, so that comparing him to Erdogan wouldn't be an insult. The judge, being no expert in JRRT's works (nor indeed it seems of film), has decided to appoint a panel consisting of "two academics, two behavioural scientists or psychologists and an expert on cinema and television productions" to consider the matter and report back to him with their literary judgment. With Dr. Ciftci's freedom hanging in the balance depending on what they conclude, their interpretation of the character. Here's a link to how the story was reported in the Turkish press:

Sir Peter has weighed in with the well-intentioned claim that what Ciftci posted are not pictures of Gollum but instead of Smeagol. This is a fascinating argument in itself, since it hinges on being able to tell, from visual clues, which half of a split personality is foremost at a particular given moment. I don't think there's any precedent for this, where a person's freedom hinged on such an intricate piece of literary/filmic interpretation.

In any case, it makes my mind boggle is that Tolkien has now become so mainstream that interpretations of his characters are now the subject of legal cases, with the stakes over the outcome including jailtime.

Here's a link to one version among many of the story, this one highlighting Jackson's efforts on Ciftci's behalf:

--John R.

P.S.: By the way, it looks as if Dr. Ciftci lives in Aydin, a place with a lot of history (like most of Turkey) -- in Biblical (New Testament) times it was called Antioch; further back it was a Lydian city, home to the river Meander (which figures in Homer).

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Peter Jackson yanks our chain

So, I forget if it was Stan or Steve or Jeff who  told me about the teaser clip making the rounds hinting that Peter Jackson was going to be directing an upcoming episode of DOCTOR WHO, but it was definitely Janice who provided me with the link (for which thanks):

What I hadn't been told, until I saw the clip for myself, was the nudge-nudge wink-wink  Jackson had worked in for Tolkien fans: that's a copy of THE SILMARILLION on the desk in front of him. It's hard to see at first, but around mid-clip Jackson's daughter while pretending to look for her dad's glasses on the table picks the book up and waves it around, setting it down more conspicuously where we can see the stick-up notes marking pages in it.

Yes, stick-up notes. As if Jackson were marking it up for some hypothetical Silmarillion movie.  Which isn't going to happen, but which he apparently gets asked about enough that he thought it worth including a tease in this clip.

All of which aside, it'll be interesting to see what Sir Peter does with DOCTOR WHO: the current Doctor is doing a good job in the role (as is Jenna Coleman as his companion, Clara), albeit struggling with oft-mediocre scripts. Here's hoping his second season is an improvement (the first episode, the only one I've seen so far, bodes well).

--John R.

P.S.: Here's a somewhat longer version of the clip:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ten Years

So, I forget the exact day (November 30th? December 1st?), but this week marks the tenth anniversary of my being let go from TSR/ Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro for the third and, it turns out, final time.

I was pretty unhappy about it at the time -- it was the only one of the three that I took personally -- but it turned out to be a blessing, albeit well-disguised. When I'd been laid off the previous time (about a year after Third Edition came out) I'd kept in close touch with my former co-workers and did several projects freelance for WotC* (most notably co-editing d20 CTHULHU). This time I decided, rather than going the freelance route, to devote myself full-time to completing my  edition of THE HOBBIT manuscript ('THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT'), then already many years in the works but slowed by my only being able to work on it evenings, weekends, and vacations.

Since that massive project was completed and published (and gone through two subsequent revisions) I've been really busy with other Tolkien-related projects, including several in the works right now (like the Flieger festschrift). When the schedule's allowed I've done a little rpg work as well, mostly for the good folks at Kobold (with some for SuperGenius and others). But not for WotC -- by their choice, not mine (they simply never returned any of my calls inquiring about possible freelance work). Which is a little sad, but did help me make a clean break and start anew with Tolkien as my main focus. Which has worked out really well.

So here's to celebrate ten years of doing the thing I most want to do, with hopes that I'll be able to continue doing it for a long time to come.

--John R.

*and others, including Green Ronin, Decipher, White Wolf, Guardians of Order, et al

In Moderation (2)

So, a few weeks ago I switched to moderating comments in order to screen out some annoying spam that was targetting my blog. I seem have been successful at that, but shortly afterwards comments stopped coming in altogether. I was sorry about that, as I enjoy hearing what people think, but figured it was just a dry spell.

No so, it turns out. Instead, some upgrades and changes to the old computer in attempts to keep it going seem to have shuffled all incoming comments off into a separate folder I didn't know about (instead of coming to my email in-box, as had been the case). Now that I know where they are, I've posted all the ones that had been silently piling up. I hope to be able to drop the moderating eventually but am keeping it for now, just to make sure the spam has truly gone away.

So, thanks to those who sent in a comment here, a comment there over the past month or so; sorry for the delay in getting them up.

--John R.

UPDATE (Sunday December 6th):
The spam has showed up again, so I'm afraid we'll have the posts moderated for the foreseeable future. By all means send them in; I'll make a habit of checking them daily so they get posted without undue delay.  --John R.