Friday, January 29, 2016

The Shooting in Renton

So, last week the recent spat of gun violence hit home, or very near it, when a man shot a woman in a local theatre --'local' in this case being in the next suburb over, Renton, where we lived the first year or so we were out here. It's a theater I've gone to occasionally, enough to know it's one of the newer, and nicer, in the area.

The gunman owned the gun legally and had a concealed carry permit; he claims he took it to the theatre with him because he wanted to protect himself in case of a theatre shooting, like the ones that have made so many headlines in recent years. Exactly what happened isn't clear at this point, but the end result was that he shot a random moviegoer, then left the scene. She survived, in part because of first aid provided by another moviegoer who'd had military training, but any local reading the story can tell how dangerous the wound must have been by the fact she was taken to Harborview; that's the place with the trauma unit where they take the most direly injured. Here's the link:

So, there it is: bad, but it so easily could have been worse. It highlights how intrinsically dangerous guns are (he's far less likely to have caused so much damage if he'd dropped a knife or hammer).

And since then, we've had another area shooting, this time at a homeless camp up in Seattle itself, in which two people were killed and several more injured; the attackers are still at large: *

Finally, just to once again drive home the lethality of guns, here's a piece that argues that more people have died from being shot than the total number of U.S. dead in all the wars we've fought from the Revolution onward -- about 1.5 million, all told.

One and a half million of us. That's a lot of people. And counting.


current reading: The Rivers of London series, book three

*the most interesting part of this article to me was the Seattle mayor's straightforward acceptance of blame for not having done enough to help the homeless, despite his ongoing efforts. Rare to see a mea culpa like that.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Timothy Leary on Tolkien

So, yesterday I had to pull out an old piece of Tolkieniana: the 1966 issue of DIPLOMAT magazine dedicated to JRRT, complete with hobbit recipes, a condescending and clueless cover article, and the invaluable 'Tolkien on Tolkien' (which told us a lot of interesting things we had no other way of knowing, until LETTERS came along and reprinted it in re-arranged form).

Looking over it again after a gap of quite a few years, the thing I found most fascinating were the testimonials by figures such as Timothy Leary, Richard Burton, Senator Proxmire, and President Johnson's daughter.

Since this issue is long out of print and I don't think its contents are v. easy to access, here's what Leary had to say:

Timothy Leary

   J. R. R. Tolkien is a psychedelic writer. He "turned on" not with LSD but by immersing himself in the study of ancient languages, transcending space and time, leaving the twentieth century, and seeing himself as a pre-Chaucerian scribe. He has returned from his trip and communicated his views in the great mythic work of our time. The Lord of the Rings is a great epic in the Homeric-Joycean vein.

   Like all great mythic sagas, Tolkien's trilogy is written at many levels and has generated countless schools of interpretation, all of which seek the Message. To me, The Lord of the Rings is a morality play-magical statement of the good-evil situation. Evil is power. (Note I do not say "power is evil", a weaker game statement). Evil uses metal, fire, stone, machinery and atomic energy to control, to manipulate, to conquer good. Good for Tolkien is seed, wisdom, freedom, beauty, harmony of growing things. At a time when our planet is in danger of destruction at the hands of mechanical power, Tolkien's poetic and moral message is to cherish the wisdom and freedom which we find around us in the order and beauty of nature.

   To many of us who have followed the "yoga" of LSD, Tolkien's trilogy is vital.

--so, there it is. A bit odd, but I've read worse.

blurbs that never were:

"the great mythic work of our time" (Timothy Leary)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Doug's new blog

So, I was glad to learn of a new blog from Douglas Anderson (his fifth, if I'd keeping count correctly, all running concurrently).* Called A SHIVER IN THE ARCHIVES, it's a good venue for pieces on fantasy, horror, and supernatural fiction. I'm particularly enjoying it for the Dunsany pieces, the first of which contained a real discovery: a description of THE KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER in which Dunsany mentions the story's having taken place about a thousand years ago

In all the work I did on Dunsany, I never came across this important piece of information, for the simple reason that I was working with whatever Dunsany books I cd get, and many times they were library rebounds, or latter-day print-on-demands, or found in somewhat battered condition among the shelves of any number of bookstores in Milwaukee and elsewhere. Most of these lacked dustjackets, and without checking for myself I assumed the missing dustjackets didn't have that much additional information. Doug's discovery proves just how wrong I was.

For a more amusing example of Dunsany's ability to mock his critics and himself, check out the faux-review of his own book he sent his friend and publisher, Putnam:

I'm reminded of a passage on one of Dunsany's poems where he shows the ability to view himself from outside in slightly mocking mode. In the poem "Ode to a Dublin Critic" (in FIFTY POEMS [1929], p. 7), the second and fourth stanzas read

. . .  lesser journalists have said,
   That cannot see such things themselves,
The man is clearly off his head
  To write of things like gods and elves.

From little fountain-pens they wring
   The last wee drop of inky spite:
"We do not like the kind of thing
   That lords," they say, "most likely write."

--John R.

*Doug's other blogs are TOLKIEN AND FANTASY (, WORMWOODIANA, to which he's one of several contributors (, LESSER-KNOWN WRITERS (, BLINKS: READ AND RECOMMENDED, which is also quite new (, and now A SHIVER IN THE ARCHIVES.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Soundtrack in My Head

So, I was interested to read in the following piece on Brian Wilson (late of The Beach Boys)* that Wilson hears music in his head all the time. The article casually mentions that the same is true of some five percent of the population,** then goes on to treat this as if it's freakishly rare (e.g., calling it a 'rare phenomenon').

I wonder if that's true. While I don't have Wilson's talent as a performer or genius as a songwriter, certainly I hear music all the time. It's like having a soundtrack to your own life; it's always there in the background, though I can focus on it to see what song's playing at any given time.  What some people experience as 'earworms'  happens to me all the time, except without the annoyance factor; it's almost always music I like that I hear. I can deliberately choose a specific song, but when I'm not paying attention the music proceeds on its own for reasons of its own. And when I 'tune in' it can take a while for me to recognize which song is playing: it can be pretty much anything from the hook from 'Clap for the Wolfman' to 'Rhapsody in Blue' in its entirety.

So, the article's rather disappointing,*** but the subject is interesting. Here's the link:

current reading: "The Lovely Gods" and "God's Drinking Party" (Canaanite Myths from Ugarit)

*and subject of a poignant tribute by Bare Naked Ladies, simply called 'Brian Wilson' (from their first album, GORDON [1992])

**which these days is what, about a third of a billion people?

***for example, for me the music is one of three things going on in my mind at any given time, and it doesn't make any mention at all of something like that.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

I Love This Headline

So, sometimes a headline tells you all you need to know about a story. Case in point: the following from The Guardian:

"Flock of sheep helps police end 90 minute car chase in New Zealand"

If you want to read the story, here's the link for that. But for me the headline, and the fact that it was a lead item on a national newspaper, was the good part: all the rest was frosting.

current reading: the BAAL cycle

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Someone says nice things about PERILOUS AND FAIR

So, thanks to Leslie Donavan for forwarding me the link to a blogger (N. Whyte or perhaps N. W. Hyte) discussing his or her picks from among the books that have made the 'long list' for the BSFA [British Science Fiction Association] award -- which, I'm happy to learn, include a collection I contributed an essay to: the Mythopoeic Press volume PERILOUS AND FAIR. Here's the link.

And here's the relevant passage:

Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien, eds. Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan

The relative invisibility of women in Tolkien's works is perhaps the most jarring aspect of them to a twenty-first century reader. As Una McCormack points out in the last of these essays, quoting an unnamed conference participant, there are more named horses than named women in The Lord of the Rings. These essays prove that you can write thought-provoking stuff about the flaws in the work you love. Though the case for Tolkien's defence can be made robustly, and John Rateliffe recounts his career of being considerably more active and enthusiastic about educating women (including Mary Renault) than was the norm for his day, C.S. Lewis being a sad counter example. There are a number of other very interesting essays, of which I particularly enjoyed Una McCormack's closing piece on fan fiction and Cami Agan's thoughts on Lúthien and bodily desire. I'm afraid there are a couple of silly pieces as well, one about Valkyries and the other about Éowyn, Twelfth Night and Carnival, but the majority of these are very interesting. (And the last footnote to Robin Reid's introductory bibliographic essay is heart-breaking.)

Reid's note (p. 36), which is indeed heartbreaking, reads as follows:

  "I directed [Stella M.] Ray's thesis* and include it here** for two reasons: first, it is the only work so far to deal in such depth with these four characters;*** second, the summer after she graduated, before she could begin the full-time tenure track job she had been offered, Ray was murdered by her ex-husband, who is now sentenced to death. As a result, plans she had for publishing articles from her dissertation will not occur, although I still hope to edit and publish a posthumous version of her work, with the copyright still held by her family."


*CONSTRUCTIONS OF GENDER AND SEXUALITIES IN J. R. R. TOLKIEN'S THE SILMARILLION and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, of which Reid says "the first (and so far only) of 47 dissertations indexed in the MLA International Bibliography that focuses entirely on female characters in Tolkien's legendarium"

**i.e., in her overview

***Varda, Ungoliant, Galadriel, and Shelob

Poke-em-with-a-Stick (Sunday)

So, for years one of the points gun advocates cd make in their favor was that guns weren't all that dangerous; that cars kill more people than firearms.

Not any more.

In twenty-one states at least,* including the state I currently live in, more people died in 2014 from being shot by a gun than in car accidents.

The deciding factor seems to be that while people have worked hard to make cars safer, guns have gotten more deadly over the same time period.

Food for thought.

--John R.

P.S.: Here's the link, the most interesting part of the article being the state-by-state listings at the end:

*plus the D.C.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Terry Pratchett thinks there's something wrong with my head

So, recently I've been working my way thorough an old issue of THE SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE I turned up in the box room. Bought years ago (April 2002) and only skimmed at the time, it makes for a kind of time capsule. Among other things I read about Pullman's winning the Whitbread award; about an author who'd sold a story to THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS before he was thirty pulling it back now he'd reached the age of sixty (a wise move, given that fourteen years on the book still hasn't appeared); a snippy tirade from the magazine's editor about his refusal to use the term 'sci-fi'; and Michael Moorcock dissing the Peter Jackson movies, and the books they were based on, and more or less the horse they came in on.

More surprisingly, there's a snip from Terry Pratchett dissing Tolkien. It appears in the Newsnotes section as a paragraph under the header 'Other Stuff':

Terry Pratchett
on England's The South Bank Show,
shown on the USA cable channel Bravo, stated, 
"At 17, if you don't think Lord of the Rings is 
the greatest contribution to literature 
there's something wrong with your head. 
If you still think that at 50, 
there's definitely something wrong with your head"

[SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE, ed. Andrew Porter, April 2002 issue, p. 24]

This quote is all the more unexpected, given that the late Sir Terry was well-know for being an unabashed admirer of JRRT's work (and also Tolkien's personal example of answering his fan mail).

I have to say I disagree with both halves of Pratchett's equation, but that's a discussion for another time.

But in the context of finding a piece about how judgments shd change over time which was itself an old quote from someone who's now passed on, it perhaps inevitably got me thinking about Discworld itself, and how well it stands up now, thirty years on. Especially since earlier this week I'd picked up THE SHEPHERD'S CROWN, described on the inside flap of its dust jacket as 'The Final Discworld Novel'.

I was an early adapter, having discovered the series thr my friend Richard West (thanks, Richard) when 'the series' consisted of just two books, and the most surprising thing about it was (a) how amazingly well he skewered the cliches of that era's fantasy and (b) that the first book had a sequel at all, given how thoroughly it seemed to have disposed of its main point-of-view character (by having his adventures on the flat world end with his falling over the edge). Pratchett tends to be one of those authors who people either like a lot, or don't like at all; not much middle ground. I like him a lot, and read through the first thirty books in the series pretty much as soon as I cd get ahold of each one -- and much else besides, including the underrated JOHNNY AND series and the overrated Pratchett/Gaiman collaboration GOOD OMENS. In fact, for a long time I'd read all of Pratchett except one early novel, DARK SIDE OF THE SUN, which I was saving because once I'd read it, there'd be nothing new left of his to read.

Over time, however, I found my attention drifting. The Discworld series had early on split into sub-series (Rincewind's adventures, the Witches, the Death books, the Night Guard) or even sub-sub-series (Tiffany Aching), et al. The books had always been uneven, with hits (THE LIGHT FANTASTIC, MORT, WYRD SISTERS, SMALL GODS, SOUL MUSIC, NIGHT WATCH) and misses (EQUAL RITES, SOURCERY, PYRAMIDS, WITCHES ABROAD, THE AMAZING MAURICE, THE WEE FREE MEN), but it seemed to me that the misses were piling up. It felt like the characters I liked best (e.g., Rincewind) were fading into the background and new series characters I wasn't much interested in (Moist Van Lipwig, Tiffany Aching)  rising to dominate the series in their place.

 So I took a break.  Having, as I said, read all the books up to about MONSTROUS REGIMENT (2003),   I've only read three of the last ten Discworld bks, and only one of the various recent non-series titles (NATION: his angry book). Now, having just read the final book in the series (and the fifth in the Wee Free sub-series), I'm in the mood for some Pratchett again, and plan to read some of the ones I missed (e.g. RAISING STEAM, UNSEEN ACADEMICALS, poss. I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT) as well as re-read a few old favorites. We'll see how it goes: whether Pratchett holds up in the way he doesn't seem to think Tolkien held up (still disagree w. him on that one) or whether a good book is a good book, whenever you read it.

--John R.
just read: THE SHEPHERD'S CROWN, by Terry Pratchett [2015]
currently reading: CELTIC HEATHDOM by Sir John Rhys [1888],  and STORIES FROM ANCIENT CANAAN, tr/ed Coogan & Smith [2nd ed., 2012]

Saturday, January 9, 2016

More New Arrivals

So, books continue to come, via gifts, visits to the bookstore (three different Barnes & Nobles), subscriptions, and that great bookstore in the sky (also known as Amazon).

1. MALLORN, #56. This is the latest issue of one of the most long-lived of all Tolkien journals (rivaled only by the Tolkien-Lewis-Wms themed MYTHLORE). Haven't had time to do more than skim it yet, but there's always something of interest herein. At a first glance, the stand-out piece for me is Jn Doherty's review of Jamie Williamson's THE EVOLUTION OF MODERN FANTASY: FROM ANTIQUARIANISM TO THE BALLANTINE ADULT FANTASY SERIES. I've only skimmed this one, and that in pre-publication form, but I think it might well be the most important work on fantasy in thirty years. Certainly it's up there among the top works giving a plausible and persuasive history of the genre.

2. TOLKIEN'S WORLD: A FANTASY COLORING BOOK. This one was a gift (thanks, Misty): I'd had my eye on the two Tolkien Coloring Books that'd come out earlier this year, and kept going back and forth on whether or not to order them (since they never showed up among the table at Barnes & Noble devoted to the new enthusiasm for coloring books). I was surprised to recognize some of the art, having seen it as long ago as Day's TOLKIEN ENCYCLOPEDIA (1978, I think; poss. '79). Anyway, a welcome addition to the shelves of Tolkien artbooks and related material.

3. BANDERSNATCH: C. S. LEWIS, J. R. R. TOLKIEN, AND THE CREATIVE COLLABORATION OF THE INKLINGS, by Diana Pavlac Glyer. This is a re-casting of Diana's  THE COMPANY THEY KEEP, rather as my BRIEF HISTORY was a condensation of the fuller HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT. I heard a presentation based on this book at this past summer's MYTHCON and have read the original full version (and also before that the thesis it was based on), though not yet done more than skim this third iteration.

4. EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI by Jung Chang. Here's a book Janice read a while back and found interesting. It's one of those books I want to read because I know so little about its topic: a sympathetic biography of an unsympathetic person, the Dowager Empress who ruled China in the dying days of the Manchu Dynasty. She's remembered today as a kind of object lesson in how not to rule a country by the West,* but then that's because it's her enemies who wrote the histories (rather like asking English biographers of Wellington scholars write about Napoleon). Even on a little dipping I've already come across something that fascinated me: we don't know what her name was. She was assigned a name when she entered the Imperial court as a sixteen-year-old concubine in the Emperor's harem, and her original name wasn't recorded.

current reading: Aratus's PHAENOMENA (tr. R. Hard)

*when I'm done with this one, I may finally get around to reading a biography of Nicholas II, the last Czar, which I've had hanging around for years waiting the right time; his even more disastrous reign might make an interesting counterpoint to the Dowager's story.

Poke-em-with-a-Stick (Saturday)

So, amid the disturbing reports of the Saudi's executing forty-seven people in one day came the startling detail that one person, whose sentence seems to have not yet been carried out, had been sentenced to be crucified (most Saudi executions are by beheading). I don't know why that seemed so unsettling, but it does. I think it must be the sheer unfamiliarity with the way others carry out death sentences helps us fool ourselves that our own ways of doing the same thing aren't similarly cruel and barbaric.

Here's a link to the article; the details about the particular case are about three-quarters of the way down through the piece.


current reading: Aratus's PHAENOMENA

UPDATE: I corrected the number of people executed that day from fifty-seven to forty-seven.