Monday, July 25, 2016

Tolkien Definitely Read Burroughs

So, after I posted my previous piece on Tolkien's familiarity with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar work, I've been reminded by several people* that there's much more direct evidence than that of JRRT reading ERB: Tolkien himself says so in a letter about a decade before his death.

Ironically enough, this turns out to be something that I once knew and had since forgotten; following from those reminders I found, by way of Tolkien Gateway, that the relevant information is included in Richard West's TOLKIEN CRITICISM: AN ANNOTATED CHECKLIST [1970], one of the very first Tolkien books I ever read** and for years my bible for tracking down other stuff (pieces by and about Tolkien). Under entry B109, page 34, RW gives Tolkien's reply to a query regarding whether he'd been influenced by Burroughs in his own writing:

"Source hunting is a great entertainment but I do not
 myself think it is particularly useful. I did read many
 of Edgar Rice Burroughs' earlier works, but I developed
 a distaste for his Tarzan even greater than my distaste 
for spiders. Spiders I had met long before Burroughs 
began to write, and I do not think he is in any way 
responsible for Shelob. At any rate I retain no memory
 of the Siths or the Apt."

I haven't read Lupoff's book,*** but Doug points out that the Siths and Apt appear in the third of the John Carter books, which I also have not read (PRINCESS OF MARS being the only one I've read of that series).

So the evidence seems to be that Tolkien read a good deal of Burroughs' works but that like many readers gave up on the various series as they became increasingly formulaic. He definitely read a number of the Tarzan books and some of the Pellucidar books; there doesn't seem to be enough evidence to say whether he read any of the Mars books -- he might have read some and just happened to miss that one volume or he might have given them a pass altogether.

From what I have read of Burroughs' work, I have to agree with Tolkien that I don't see any influence on the Middle-earth stories, but admittedly there's a lot of Burroughs I haven't read so I may be missing something. Still it's nice to be able to confirm another bit of Tolkien's reading and his awareness of his contemporaries.

--John R.

*thanks to Doug for pointing this out, and to both Doug and Charles for providing me with the quote.

**this is back in the day when there were only five books out about JRRT: Isaacs & Zimbardo, Ready, Carter, West, and Kocher, with a sixth (Ryan) reported to be out there but which none of us had ever seen.

***though I have read Fenton's 1967 biography of ERB

Sunday, July 24, 2016


So, I've never made it to 'free comic book day' or 'free rpg day'. But I was sorely tempted this year by the news that Chaosium would be giving away a special one-shot CALL OF CTHULHU adventure, created just for the event and written by Sandy Petersen, the legended creator of the game.*  Accordingly, I was very glad when Chaosium announced after the fact a limited time offer whereby those who hadn't been able to get a copy on free rpg day could order one on-line for the cost of printing.  I did, and it's now arrived and I've had a chance to read through it.

Knowing that the adventure was called THE DERELICT, I wondered if it might have been inspired by one of two famous templates: the Wm Hope Hodgson story of the same name (one of WHH's very
best, if not the best), or the old Jonny Quest episode (in fact, the last one they made.)

Slight  spoiler space here

It turns out they went the latter route, combining inspiration from "The Sea Haunt" (episode #26) with another, more famous, episode: #20 "The Invisible Monster". The result should make a pretty good one-shot Cthulhu night as written. Yet interestingly enough, I can see how this same set-up could easily be adjusted to accommodate the Hodgson option instead, particularly if combined with a theme from "The Voice in the Night", Hodgson's  other best story.

So, a thumb's up on this one: short but focused, and I think it'll be pretty creepy (in a good way) in actual play.  I do plan to throw out the pregen characters (who take up half the text) and let the players come up with their own Investigators and explanation why he or she is aboard that yacht when the scenario begins.

--John R.
current reading: Nevil Shute's last novel
current music: The Jayhawks, "Isobel's Daughter"

*the fact I was getting together with Tolkien friends down in Palo Alto that day certainly more than reconciled me to my choice

Friday, July 22, 2016

Did Tolkien Read Burroughs?

So, as is so often the case,  I was looking something up in one of Tolkien's works (the extended edition of SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR) when I noticed something interesting in its relevance to another of his works (the Flieger/Anderson edition of OFS). And in specific to the latter's listing of fantasy authors Tolkien is known to have read.

In a passage in Tolkien's essay on SWM, he's discussing works that place Faerie underground, as opposed to his own preference, which is to associate it with The Forest.*  In the course of his discussion, he alludes to such tales being "no more credible and no more interesting than Edgar Rice Burroughs['] tales dealing with a vast subterranean world" (SWM, exp.ed., page 86).

The reference here is clearly not to TARZAN or the JOHN CARTER series but to the PELLUCIDAR
series that began with AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1914), the first of six novels sharing the same setting:  a Hollow Earth filled with dinosaurs, humans, and monsters of various kinds.

While Tolkien does not explicitly say he's read the E.R.B. books, I think that'd be the natural interpretation of his being able to pass judgment on them in what sounds like a well-informed personal opinion. It's easy to forget that in addition to being literary men the Inklings, especially Tolkien and Warnie Lewis, were very fond of the pulp science fiction stories of their day. I don't think I've come across Burroughs before as an author whose work Tolkien knew, but it's not surprising.  So, another one to add to the list.

--John R.
--soon-to-be current reading: AT THE EARTH'S CORE, as soon as I have time to download a copy. I know I started to read this once years ago but don't think I made it more than a few pages in. We'll see if I have better luck this time.

*this despite "Ides AElfscyce", which clearly places the elven-lady's abode in a subterranean world lit by a green jewel overhead, and the hidden underground cities that populate Tolkien's SILMARILLION mythos.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


So, Thursday (a week ago today) I learned* of the next new Tolkien book on its way: a new edition of Tolkien's Breton Lay, THE LAY OF AOTROU AND ITROUN, edited by Verlyn Flieger (who's already done editions of SWM, OFS,** KULLERVO). And by the next day I'd already preordered a copy (due out in England on November 3rd).

Given how short this piece is -- only about five hundred lines -- and that the new book is listed as being 120 pages, I assume the volume will probably come with some extras -- introduction, notes, possibly commentary, perhaps printing the earlier (1930) draft for the first time. Since this is Tolkien's re-working of a Breton Ballad, I wouldn't be surprised if his faux-medieval source was reprinted as well, esp. given that it's quite short.  And in any case, the listing on promise a Prefatory Note by Christopher Tolkien.

All in all, a nice chance to have a piece currently available only through interlibrary loan and the like accessible in a format that fits easily on the shelf with Tolkien's other short pieces; something to be able to look forward to. It's a piece I've been interested in for a long time (cf. the section on it in my contribution to the Shippey festschrift), even having organized a dramatic reading of it at Kalamazoo several years ago.

Here's a link with a few details:

Nor is it the only short new book by Tolkien announced as forthcoming: also lists a stand-alone printing of Tolkien's little parable LEAF BY NIGGLE .. Just 64-pages long, it's apparently being released in conjunction with the dramatization of the story, which is currently on tour in the UK.  I'll be pre-ordering this one too -- though I'll have to hurry about it, since it's due out in just a week.

This little book's release means that just about all Tolkien's shorter pieces have now been released, or soon will be.

Again, here's a link for a little more information.

--John R.
--current reading: THE DERELICT by Sandy Petersen
--current music: PAGING M. PROUST by the Jayhawks (a group whose existence I just learned about on Tuesday)

*thanks to friend Andrew (Thanks Andrew).

** (w. Doug Anderson),

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Of Corbins and Corbyns

So, when is a Corbin not a Corbin?  Answer: when he's a Corbyn.

Apologies to all for getting the name wrong in my previous post, and thanks to friend Charles (thanks Charles) for pointing this out to me.

--John R.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Hobbit in Lancaster (and a one man LEAF BY NIGGLE show)

So, for those who can't afford a trip to New Zealand to visit HOBBIT sites, here's something closer at hand -- if you live in England, that is.

In short, someone's putting on a three-hour outdoors performance of Tolkien's story, apparently in the round and in the woods. The setting sounds great, and the whole production something I'd like to know more about, though it's clear they've taken liberties with the story --cf. the picture of wood-elves with Williams the troll (I wonder if he speaks cockney) and Gandalf the Grey in green. Pity they don't include an image of Bilbo, THE hobbit.

THE GUARDIAN give it four stars (out of a possible five). Here's the link:

Also, for those who can get to Scotland, here's a more modest but perhaps more Tolkienesque adaptation of Tolkien's little parable: LEAF BY NIGGLE (a one man show, which THE GUARDIAN also gives four stars out of five):

The production has now gone on the road; for those who might be able catch it, here's the schedule.

It's rather nice to see that their previous production was THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES, which was a major influence on Owen Barfield's final story (EAGER SPRING). I hope both these come over here sometime: I'd like to see either or, better yet, both.

I think these are at the vanguard of what I expect to be a lot of adaptation of Tolkien pieces, and soon of 'an evening with JRRT' type one man shows as well.

--John R.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A good day for progressives

So, the day before yesterday brought two good bits of political news for those of progressive convictions.  First, Bernie Sanders endorsed Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, bringing his aspirational movement into the main fold of the Democratic party and helping to bring said party back from drifting towards neocon territory.  And second, across the water, Jeremy Corbin survived a coup to displace him as the head of the Labour party (a.k.a. 'the Shadow prime minister').  Like Sanders, Corbin is someone who's been fighting the good fight as a voice in the wilderness for a long time who suddenly rose to prominence in the last year or so. In Corbin's case, a suitable analogy would be something like the superdelegates (his fellow MPs) hate Corbin: it's the voters who love him and support his change of direction for the party.

As for the home front, yesterday the latest Voter's Pamphlet arrived in the mailbox (what, ANOTHER primary? Aren't we due a Secondary by now?). More on this when I've had a chance to look through it.  

--John R.
current this, that, & the other: ibid.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

D&D as a period icon

So, saw a piece in THE GUARDIAN today about a new Netflix show, STRANGER THINGS, which apparently heavily features D&D as a way to set the characters and milieu (the story's set in 1983, during the peak of D&D's popularity). I haven't seen the show, having just learned of it today, but will have to make some time to give it a try.

As for the long listing they give of examples of D&D showing up on tv and in the movies, and of well-known figures known to have enjoyed the game, I'm surprised they leave out Colbert in the latter group and the final episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER in the other, in which Xander teaches Giles how to play D&D the night before they face the final apocalyptic struggle that ends the show (the world survives, but the earth literally opens up and swallows Sunnydale, their home town, forever)

Here's the link to the GUARDIAN piece; I'll probably post more once I've had a chance to watch some of the show and form some sort of an opinion about it.

--John R.
current anime: PSYCHO PASS
current manga: Satoshi Kon's OPUS
current reading: 1s ed PLAYERS HANDBOOK

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

U1. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

So, I've been looking closely at 1st ed. AD&D lately to try to see if I can find out why this edition of the game has so much appeal to me—i.e., is it truly as good as I remember it, or am I unreasonably nostalic for the Old Days.

One thing I came across in the process is an unfinished piece I'd been writing for the WotC website  which from internal evidence dates from sometime in 2001.

I'd done introductions for Julia Martin over on the web team, who were making available for the first time ever official e-publications of some long-out-of-print, near-forgotten modules: the original version of B3. Palace of the Silver Princess; the EX-series of Gygax's Alice in Wonderland parodies; L2. The Assassin's Knot (a personal favorite), and I10. Ravenloft II: The House of Gryphon Hill.  I'd been working on a fifth piece in the series which remained unfinished for one reason or another; I no longer remember if the series was cancelled or if it was because WotC and I parted company that summer (or both).  In any case, I greatly enjoyed writing them, and from comments I've seen about them on the web I gather that a fair number of people enjoyed reading them, so thought I'd share this fragment of the unfinished piece.

U1. Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

   Some modules are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness trust upon them.

   Such is the case with the U-series—U1. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (1981), U2. Danger at Dunwater (1982), and U3. The Final Enemy (1983), all written by Dave J. Browne with Don Turnbull. Certainly U1. Saltmarsh made little splash when it first appeared twenty years ago,* far less than others released that same year.[Note 1]  It was published, sold moderately well—certainly enough to justify completing the series by publishing the 2nd and 3rd modules in their turn—and then faded from view. It was never reprinted in a compilation, unlike the Assassin series (A1–4), Hickman's Desert of Desolation (I3–5), Gygax & Schick's S1–4, Gygax's original Giant series from the dawn of time (G1–3, itself later incorporated into the giant-drow-underdark series GDQ1–7 by Gygax & Sutherland), or the massive B1–9. In Search of Adventure.[Note 2]  Instead, it slipped into the oblivion that overtook many another good module of that era as the old inevitably made way for the new.

   In the case of the U-series, however, many years after they had slipped out of print interest in these three adventures was revived when they came to be inshrined in the 'Greyhawk Canon'. Interest in Greyhawk—Gygax's original fantasy world, predated only by Arneson's Blackmoor as the original D&D dungeon—spiked after the GH product line was cancelled in 1993 after years of mediocre sales.[Note 3]  This cancellation galvanized fans of the setting, who scanned every adventure closely for any details it might add to their ever-growing database of the game-world, or any corners it might fill in the none-too-crowded map. Collectors began to offer higher and higher prices for out-of-print modules from the early & mid '80s—not just rare items like the original printing of Lost Tamaochan but those which harkened back to what could now be idealized as a 'golden age'.[Note 4]  Chief among them were the generic AD&D 1st edition modules that, by default, were set somewhere in Greyhawk. Since the U-series had been loosely set in Greyhawk (via a single sentence on page 3 of U1 saying where to place it within the setting), it shared in the GH revival and rose considerably in fans' estimation long after the fact.

   Aside from the cachet they have enjoyed in recent years as part of the classic 1st edition GH canon, do these modules have any other qualities to recommend them—any qualities inherent in the adventures themselves?

   The answer is, yes indeed, quite a lot. For one thing U1 was the first module to actually give the layout of a haunted house. Prior to 1981 there had been dungeons and castles aplenty, and exotic settings from an ice-cavern to a spider-ship sailing through the Abyss, but no one had actually drawn a floorplan for a mansion.[Note5]

   Second, the second stage of the adventure shifts from the old mansion to a sailing ship, and here again U1 broke new ground, giving deckplans for the first time—an immensely useful and lootable part of the adventurer that got reused time and again in homebrew adventures for years thereafter.

   Third, U1 was one of the first adventures that made a serious effort to play with its audience's expectations. Certainly some earlier modules had contained surprises, discoveries that revealed new dimensions as events unfolded (most notably the revelation that a previously unknown race of elves known as drow were the moving force behind the giants' depredations in the G1–3 series). But, by and large, before U1 any time player characters heard about a mysterious haunted house (or tower, or castle, or dungeon), it was a pretty sure bet that when they arrived there they'd find it chock-full of undead—skeletons, zombies, wights, ghosts, whatever. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh changed all that by being downright sneaky: not only was the 'haunted house' not actually haunted,

—and there the text breaks off, followed by two notations

14th cent. English touches.
The UK series (TSR UK)

the draft text ends slightly differently:

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh changed all that.[Note 6]  DMs everywhere now had

the associated notes with this, also unfinished, reads

Note 6. B3, published the same year . . .

The notes are as follows

Note 1. Notable among them being B2. Keep on the Borderlands (the single best-selling rpg module ever), L1. The Secret of Bone Hill, X2. Castle Amber (inspired by the works of Clark Ashton Smith), the launch of the I-series, the reissue of the original Giant modules as G1–3. Against the Giants, the completion of the A-series (A2, A3, A4), and the relaunch of D&D (3rd edition, by Moldvay and Cook, split for the first time into two boxes—'Basic' and 'Expert').

Note 2. Actually this last should properly have been entitled B2–9, since B1. In Search of the Unknown was omitted from the final compilation due to a contract dispute, although the maps accompanying the adventure were inadvertently included.

Note 3. Not revived until five years later, with 1998's Return of the Eight, although an on-line community remained active and vocal in the interim. With the advent of Third Edition D&D in 2000, Greyhawk has once again become the default background in which all generic D&D products are set.

Note 4. Three of these that were in greatest demand by the mid-'90s were the original I6. Ravenloft, T1–4. Temple of Elemental Evil, and the H-series (H1. Bloodstone Pass, H2. The Mines of Bloodstone, H3. The Bloodstone War, and H4. The Throne of Bloodstone).

Note 5. The closest challenger I can find to this claim is Jim Ward's short adventure 'The Mansion of Mad Professor Ludlow', published the preceding Halloween in the October 1980 issue of Dragon magazine, a very odd D&D adventure in which the PCs are modern-day boy scouts exploring a mad scientist's lair. Judges Guild published House on Hangman's Hill by Jon Mattson sometime in 1981, but I have been unable to find out whether it preceded or followed The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh into print. Since other appeared at roughly the same time, it seems clear that neither had any significant influence on the other.

This unfinished piece was written in 2001; 
hence the reference to U1's having been published 
'twenty years ago' would now more accurately read 
'thirty-five years ago'. Similarly, the reference in one 
of the notes to Greyhawk's now once again being the default 
world setting should no longer be in the present tense.

As for where the half-finished piece wd have gone from here, it's clear that I intended to at least mention the English fishing village setting with its attempt at a bit of realism, with excise men rather than generic town guards. Unfortunately this is undercut by the local village being severely undeveloped. Given the amount of time the PCs are expected to be spending here, making it their home base while exploring the area, you'd think they'd have at least named some of the local notables, such as the one who hires the PCs to investigate the nearby haunted mansion, or another town notable who turns out to be in cahoots with the enemy. I also clearly meant to say something about TSR-UK, a semi-autonomous branch of TSR that probably seemed a good idea at the time but is remembered today primarily for the hapless FIEND FOLIO (1980). And I can't imagine I'd have failed to mention some of the interesting ideas that emerge in the second adventure in the series, where alliances can quickly shift when those assumed to be enemies turn out to be potential allies against a greater foe. The ancient leader of the lizard men is a memorable character, but the iconic moment comes when the characters, in the midst of a raid on what they think is the enemies' lair come across two toddlers who are essentially baby monsters: an alignment-defining moment that I think was designed to reign in hack-and-slashers.  

In any case, such was my never-finished piece. I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to the past.

--John R.
current reading: 1st ed. PLAYER'S HANDBOOK

Saturday, July 9, 2016

apologies to Dorothy Sayers? (spoilers)

So, it turns out that one of the notoriously dodgy methods used by Dorothy L. Sayers to kill a character in one of her Peter Wimsey novels may in fact have some science behind it.  A recent piece in the series "Science Question From A Toddler" on the website makes the point that sound waves, audible or not, are  nonetheless real, physical objects. Get too close to a really loud sound and it can inflict real damage --- including at potentially lethal levels.

After defining 'infrasounds' as sounds too low in frequency to be heard by the human ear, they go on to say

. . . extremely loud infrasounds can still have an impact on our bodies. Humans exposed to infrasounds* above 110 decibels experience changes in their blood pressure and respiratory rates. They get dizzy and have trouble maintaining their balance. In 1965, an Air Force experiment found that humans exposed to infrasound in the range of 151-153 decibels for 90 seconds began to feel their chests moving without their control. At a high enough decibel, the atmospheric pressure changes of infrasound can inflate and deflate lungs, effectively serving as a means of artificial respiration.

This will sound somewhat familiar to readers of Sayer's 1934 novel THE NINE TAILORS, in the course of which a man is killed by being locked in a bell tower of an old church, killed by the sound waves of the bells; later Wimsey himself almost undergoes the same fate but is rescued (once again) by his faithful manservant Bunter. As a method of killing a character, it's always ranked towards the dodgy end of the spectrum so far as the classical 'Golden Age' English detective era went: more plausible than the 1930 nonWimsey novel THE DOCUMENTS IN THE CASE (where, unfortunately for Sayers, the key bit of science turned out to be bogus), less plausible than, say, Agatha Christie's 1939 AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

I might add that, any light it might shed on classic murder mysteries aside, the piece has some interesting factoids. The loudest sound in historical times was probably the explosion of Krakatoa. The loudest sound recorded under scientific conditions was made by a first-stage Saturn V rocket during launch. The loudest animal on earth is probably the sperm whale. For those who might be interested, here's the link to the full piece:

--John R.

Friday, July 8, 2016

'stretches incredulity'

So, last week I finished what I'm expecting to be my next publication: an updating of my 2012 speech at Marquette describing how the Tolkien manuscripts came to Milwaukee. I had a lot of fun researching and writing the original presentation, and I've enjoyed going back to it almost four years later and changing it  from an oral to a written form. I even managed to uncover and incorporate some new information about Tolkien's planned visit which I'm looking forward to sharing and seeing what others make of it.

More here after the piece is published, which shd be sometime this fall.

As for the title of this post, that was a phrase I'd used without thinking to describe one of Wm Ready's stories about his interactions with Tolkien. Janice pointed it out when she gave the final piece a read-through for me, and I was torn. On the one hand, I found the phrase strangely evocative. On the other, it's a kind of double negative, and these days those are considered to cancel each other out (unlike in Chaucerian times, when doubling negatives just meant emphasis). So I'm afraid it'll have to come out. Pity, but sometimes a good line has to go by the way in the interests of accuracy.

--John R.
current reading: the 1st ed PH.
current anime; GHOST VILLAGE, VANADIS.
current music: The Smithereens (six albums' worth).

Saturday, July 2, 2016


So, thanks to a friend loaning me the dvd (thanks Stan), I've now had a chance to watch the animated film adaptation of THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKOWN KADATH, which I think among the very best of Lovecraft's stories (second only by his related short story "The Strange High House in the Mist"). This film is based on a graphic novel I've not read, having been put off by the artist's bizarre choice to draw his main character as a pillow-headed doughboy. This is probably symbolic of something, like the protagonist being a everyman figure, but whatever its rationale that aspect of the work totally flopped for me. Unfortunately, it's a feature of the graphic novel they carry over into the film, to its detriment. That aside, I rather like the art style. And I spotted a few things they'd worked into the background in various scene that I wholly approved of.

First, when Randalph Carter takes passage on a boat, we catch a brief glimpse of the boat's sails, which exactly match the striking design by S. H. Sime in his original illustration for The Bird of the River in the 1910 tale "Idle Days on the Yann".

Second, we later catch a glimpse of The Strange High House, although no explanation is given of what it is or why it shd be significant. Just a little reward, I guess, for those familiar with the original who are paying attention.

Third, when Randalph Carter wakes up in his Boston bedroom, we see a Pickman painting on his wall and the titles of several books on a shelf: GREEK M[YTH], SLEEP AND WAK[E? ING?], and finally my favorite: ASTRAL PROJ[ECTION] TO ARCTURU[S] by 'LINDSAY' -- this being an imaginary book that correlates to David Lindsay's weird masterpiece A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS [1920]

In other Cthulhu news, I've now read the new Jacqueline Baker novel THE BROKEN HOURS, which continues the trend of using Lovecraft as a character in a novel. Her effort is much more literary than the other HPL-as-character novels I've read, which try to cast HPL as an action hero. Her depiction of a weird and reclusive figure is far superior, as is her prose, to most such efforts. Unfortunately, her book is marred by two problems.

First, that it pretty much lacks anything resembling a plot. Once Baker has gotten our point-of-view character to Lovecraft's house, the rest of the book cd be summed up as 'spooky things happen'. Then some more. Then some more. Second, the Big Reveal at the end is massively underwhelming. I won't give it away here, but for me the arrival's not worth the journey. Too bad, given that Baker writes quite well.

And just so the British don't feel left out, today I noticed a reference to Great Cthulhu in a piece discussing the current EU-Exit crisis, when someone writing about all the turmoil over who will be England's next prime minister felt moved to say

"It would not be especially outrageous, for instance, to learn that Cthulhu has chucked his tentacles into the Tory contest."

For those who want context, here's the piece -- but be warned that the columnist is intemperate both in content and expression, and uses language that wdn't be allowed in a U. S. newspaper.

--John R.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Somme

So, a hundred years ago today the Somme began -- the most deadly battle in human history. That first day, Rob Gilson, one of the T.C.B.S., died, along with about twenty thousand fellow Britishers: more than double that were wounded.

In a century marked by disasters, it was one of the greatest catastrophes within one of the greatest catastrophes (the War itself).

Tolkien survived largely because his group was being held in reserve for those first few bloody days. By the end of the year another of his best friends, G. B. Smith, would die as well, while Tolkien himself had been invalided back home, spending the next two years in and out of hospitals.

Forty years later Tolkien wd commemorate Gilson and Smith in his foreword to THE LORD OF THE RINGS: "By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead" (the survivor being Christopher Wiseman, who was serving at sea rather than in France).

A sad day to commemorate all who died there, English and German and French.

--John R.