Friday, November 24, 2017

More on Tolkien TV

So, in the week following news of the upcoming (or at least planned) LotR tv series broke, there were a lot more signs of what a big deal this is being seen as, and not just among the more-or-less captive audience of diehard Tolkien fans. It only took a matter of days for the news to move from VARIETY and THE ROLLING STONE to THE NEW YORK TIMES and NPR, with lots of discussion on Tolkien-devoted sites like The Tolkien Society's news page, The One Ring forum, and the MythSoc list.

Why such interest? Well, for one thing it's yet another sign of Tolkien looming ever larger in our cultural zeitgeist. There's a reason for the current struggle to claim JRRT as 'one of our own' going on between the alt-right white supremacist groups and traditional Tolkien fans; everybody wants to claim a popular and influential figure like Tolkien has become. *

For one thing, there's the sheer amount of money involved. It's been a while since I reached the sad conclusion that nothing impresses our culture more than money, and this wd seem to be a case in point. According to THE GUARDIAN, Amazon is putting a billion dollars** into this deal: $250 million to secure the rights, and then another $750 million to actually make the show. Which is apparently projected to run for six seasons.*** Which at more than $100 million per season makes it "the most expensive TV show ever" ****

For another, without my quite being aware of it until recently, the Peter Jackson movies are taking on iconic status. Indeed, reading down into the comments of some of the discussions of the various news stories reveals that there are fans of the Jackson movies worried about the new show spoiling their memories of what are for them classic films they grew up watching. So now the old guard, for purposes of this discussion, is people who watch and re-watch the Jackson movies, for whom New-Zealand-as-Middle-earth is as much a default as ruby slippers and emerald cities*****

I'm starting to notice more and more anecdotal evidence re. the iconic status. Case in point: on Wednesday I picked up THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FANTASY: 50 GREATEST FANTASY FILMS EVER!, one of those special-issue theme magazines that come out from time to time. Their number one choice? THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Here's a list of their top ten, to get a better sense of where they're coming from: THE LORD OF THE RINGS (#1), THE WIZARD OF OZ (#2), WINGS OF DESIRE (the original; #3), LABYRINTH (#4), MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (#5), THE PRINCESS BRIDE (#6), PAN'S LABYRINTH (#7), PRINCESS MONONOKI (#8), SPIRITED AWAY (#9), and JASON AND  THE ARGONAUTS (#10).

And what am I to make of a book I saw on the remainder shelf at Barnes and Noble,  a big beautiful book named LEGENDARY MOVIES (2013)?  This is a substantial work of 600 pages, with text by Paulo D'Agostini, preface by Franco Zeffirelli. ( https://www.amazon.com/Legendary-Movies-Paolo-DAgostini/dp/8854406961 ). And for the cover they chose not Bogart or Orson Welles, Vivian Leigh or Audrey Hepburn, but Ian McKellan, as Gandalf (the white).

As the songwriter once sang, times are a'changing.


--John R.

current viewing: the Japanese adaptation of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (quirky, but better than -- and more faithful than -- the version currently in theatres).

current reading: A TIME TO HARVEST (Call of Cthulhu adventure).
*more on this in another post; it's too big a topic to deal with just in passing

**this is a pretty good investment when you consider that the three Jackson films between them made about ten billion dollars. And presumably Amazon can make their show more economically than Jackson's perpetual reshoot.

***though I haven't seen anything yet to indicate how many shows would be in a 'season'.

****https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/nov/21/amazon-lord-of-the-rings-tv-netflix-disney-apple

*****neither of which appear in the original OZ book.










p.s.: Aunt Jane?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tolkien TV

So,  Monday last week rumors that'd been circling around for a few days became official when the likes of The New York Times (Monday) and NPR (Tuesday) weighed in: Amazon.com had purchased the rights to make a new tv show based on THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

Who knew that this wd be the second-biggest Tolkien-related story of the week? But by Wednesday word had spread, and since been confirmed, that Christopher Tolkien had retired as a director of the Tolkien Estate several months back.

It's hard to overstate Christopher's importance for Tolkien scholarship: the amount of material he has made available and the uniformly high quality of his editions. Having seen firsthand some of the work that went behind the proper sequencing of the LotR papers for HME Volumes VI through IX, I remain deeply impressed, as well as grateful, for the work he's done.

More later.
--John R.

current (second) reading: BEREN AND LUTHIEN (2007)

---

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Man Who Didn't Like Tolkien (Roger Highfield)

So, thanks to Bill F. (thanks, Bill) for drawing my attention to (and providing me with a copy of) the recent obituary of longtime Merton don Roger Highfield, who died on April 13th at the age of ninety-five. A historian of medieval Spain, Highfield was a fellow of Merton College, Oxford  for sixty-eight years -- and thus a colleague, in his younger days, of J. R. R. Tolkien. He was not, however, a fan.

We've long known that some of Tolkien's academic peers disparaged his work (a prominent example being Ida Gordon). I think we can now safely add Roger Highfield's name to that list.* Here's what his obituary has to say about Highfield and Tolkien:

One of the secrets of his longevity may have been his powers of discretion. At one stage he had rooms above JRR Tolkien, one of the college's most illustrious fellows, and he knew him well, not least as a squash partner.

However, when approached by a television producer to discuss his memories of the author of The Lord of the Rings, Highfield played down his connection and suggested that they speak to Bruce Mitchell at St Edmund Hall, who had been taught by Tolkien. After the producer went away happy, Highfield was heard to mutter that Mitchell was a rare bird indeed, because Tolkien was "very lazy and supervised few". His deflection also avoided him having to admit that all he could say of Tolkien was that he was "the worst sub-warden ever", and that Tolkien-mania left him "baffled".

Consulting the Hammond-Scull Chronology, with its many entries detailing Tolkien's work at Oxford, tutoring and lecturing and attending many meetings of many different committees, pretty well refutes Highfield's claim here. But there's more: Highfield's 'favourite anecdote' about an embarrassing incident:

At his funeral at Merton chapel, old dons remembered his favourite anecdote about the time that Tolkien offered to bequeath to the college his original (and therefore highly valuable) manuscript of The Hobbit

Champagne was ordered to mark the occasion, and Tolkien duly handed the thing over to Highfield to the sound of popping corks. When Highfield untied the string and opened the brown paper he found that the great man had wrapped a work in progress up by mistake. He duly asked for it back. "Waste of good champagne." Highfield was heard to mutter as the party gloomily disbanded.

--I've heard this story before, albeit different in the details, but think this is the first time it's had a name assigned to it (Highfield's) or found its way into print. We know from the Ready-Rota letters that by the late 1950s Tolkien's memory of the HOBBIT draft material had grown dim. I suspect that what was in that envelope was what we now call the 1960 Hobbit, material he had drafted after the sale to Marquette in '57-58 but then put aside; given that it was still unpublished at the time of the Merton incident, it's not surprising he needed it back.

As for 'waste of good champagne', I find it hard to believe the college staff, if not the departing dons, wouldn't have taken care of that on their way out.


To leave on a lighter note, Highfield's cheerful malice cd sometimes be v. funny when it hit the mark:


[a friend recalled how] "Roger once told me that in Oxford, if you find yourself talking to a stranger at a party, you have only to ask, 'And how is the magnum opus?' for the floodgates of conversation (or monologue) to be opened. A couple of years later, when he had come on a visit, I inquired, 'How is the magnum opus?' All unsuspecting, he immediately entered into details of what he was working on."


--John R.
current reading: DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE by A. Merritt (1932; so far, mediocre)


*which, I'd like to point out, is far shorter than that of his colleagues who thought v. highly indeed of his works.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Inklings that Aren't (Chesterton and Percy Bates)

So, last week I had recourse to Wikipedia's entry on The Inklings to quick-check something and found some interesting errors in its list of Inklings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inklings

For one thing, it includes someone I've never heard of before named "Percy Bates" as a member of the group. Checking Bates' own Wikipedia entry, I find he was a shipping magnate and director of the Cunard Line (whose most famous ship was probably the Lusitania). There's no mention of the Inklings under his entry, nor in the Inkling entry is there any justification for including him in the list of second-tier members. So this seems to be an error, pure and simple.



For another error, more understandable but just as wrong, the Inklings entry includes G. K. Chesterton's name as someone who visited the group (along with Eddison and Campbell, who really did attend at least a time or two*). While they no doubt wd have been delighted to have had him (and he might have enjoyed this meeting of the minds as well), he never attended even a single meeting.


It's not really an error, but so long as it's going to mention guests, the article might be improved with listing some folks we know did occasionally visit, like George Sayer or Roger Lancelyn Green,

At least they don't make the old mistake of listing Dorothy L. Sayers as a member or visitor.

--John R.


*interestingly enough, T. H White was once invited to visit but never seems to have done so.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

John Wain (IV) -- Havard, Warnie, Tolkien

(continued from previous post)

In addition to his portraits of Lewis, Williams, and Dyson, Wain also gave brief depictions of Havard and The Major:

Of the other Inklings, only his brother and Dyson struck me as sharing Lewis's taste for the ordinary pub, though I am sure Williams, who had beer and sandwiches for lunch every day of his life, had no sort of objection to it as a convenience, as it is to any London man of letters . . . Havard, to be sure, was always expressionless and imperturbable, the man of healing who has looked on life in all its forms and its extremities, and Warren Lewis ('Warnie'), the seasoned officer, much travelled, unsurprised by anything, was gravely courteous and affable, like a Major who has been invited to take a glass in the Sergeants' Mess.

He immediately follows this with more about Tolkien:

Only Tolkien seemed mildly though attractively odd: slight in build beside the bulk of either Lewis, his utterances almost sotto voce by comparison with their deep, measured tones* or the manic sea-lion roaring of Dyson, he stood looking round him with a gnomish, lop-sided grin, irresistibly suggesting a leprechaun that has unexpectedly wandered into human company. He had no objection to conviviality, quaffed his pint of draught cider willingly enough, and yet he always seemed to me to bring with him an atmosphere too fey for the prosaic cheerfulness of an English beer-house, something that belonged in the Hall of the Mountain King.

It's a tribute to Wain's skill as a writer that this exact smile can be seen on Tolkien's face in a surviving clip of film in which Tolkien describes his glee at finding that blank sheet of paper among those he was grading and writing down the first line of THE HOBBIT. Elsewhere I've seen Tolkien described as almost birdlike, by which the writer meant his conversation hopped around from topic to topic, rather than proceeding by measured steps in a logical progression like CSL, which may be part of what Wain is getting at.

In the end, sadly, it was their very own leprechaun, who had wandered from some cleft of the wooded mountainside into their snug haven, who ruined it for them. Without consulting the others, Tolkien went to Charlier Blagrove and asked if they might have the use of the private sitting-room, regularly, every Tuesday. Glad to meet what  he thought were the group's wishes, the landlord opened up the room the next Tuesday and always thereafter. There was no going back. Jack Lewis confided to me, sadly[,] that it had spoilt his Tuesdays for him. 'I miss the sense of meeting in an open tavern.' I was very sorry. He had many problems in his life at this time,** and it seemed needless to rob him of one of his few remaining pleasures.

Personally, I can easily see that the loudest members of the group, like Lewis and Dyson, could prefer the loud outer room, while the quieter ones like Tolkien and Havard might have liked the inner room where they cd be heard. Taken with his earlier comment about Tolkien's being "almost dementedly solipsistic" (I take him to mean that Tolkien was one of those professors who taught his subject rather than his students), I get the sense that Wain is trying to be fair to Tolkien but finding it a bit hard (that 'leprechaun . . . wandered from some cleft of the wooded mountainside' seems to me to include a touch of parody).


One small corrective: Wain says that upon Lewis's marriage to Joy Davidman,  CSL 'made no attempt to introduce his wife into the circle in the bar-room'. This is in error: Lewis did bring Davidman to some of their meetings in the pub, but it was not a success and she stopped coming after only a few attempts.


--John R.
current reading: THE PROUD TOWER (chapter on the Dreyfus Affair)


*surviving recordings show that Lewis's voice sounded a good deal like Alfred Hitchcock, but with a different accent. Imagine Hitchcock being impersonated by Sean Connery and you'll come pretty close.

**since Blagrove died in 1948, this must refer to about that time or slightly before, in the period when Janie Moore's health was failing due to encroaching Alzheimers.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

John Wain (III) -- from a tadpole to a young frog

(con't)


So, the single thing I found most interesting in Wain's account is that at one point he gives the very words with which Lewis invited him to join the Inklings.*

. . .  my getting a First and being elected to a small . . .  Fellowship must have seemed to Lewis to turn me from a tadpole to a young frog, because he beckoned me into the inner bar one Tuesday noon and said, kindly (he was always kind)** but rather formally, 'We meet here every Tuesday at mid-day and in my rooms at Magdalen every Thursday evening: I desire your better acquaintance.' I liked and admired Lewis, though I knew already that his approach to life, and therefore to literature, were not the same as mine, and I thought then and think now that it was a striking piece of good fortune to have one's better acquaintance sought by such a man. . . my relationship with him is not the least of the gifts that Oxford has given me.  



Personae Inklingis
Given my interest is the history of the Inklings, I found this piece a valuable snapshot of the group as it was in its latter days (specifically 1945-1948). For one thing, there's Wain's list of members as they were just before he joined: Lewis himself, Tolkien, Williams, Dr. Havard, 'a couple of Magdalen dons' (whom he leaves unnamed), and Warnie. After Williams died the most significant newcomer was not Wain but Dyson, so the roster wd then have run CSL, JRRT, Harvard, Warnie, Dyson, and Wain.

Wain was deeply impressed by Williams, second only (if indeed it was second) to Lewis.*** Although Wms died before Wain started attending meetings, both here and in his 1962 autobiography Wain asserts that Wms was the most important member of the group and that his absence took a lot out of their discussions. Here's how he phrased it in the Eagle and Child piece:

. . . its personnel underwent two significant changes in the time I observed it. The first was the death of William in 1945. I was, of course, not yet formally admitted to the circle, but I registered the shock it inflicted, particularly to Lewis. Williams was the genius of the group; an unresolved genius, perhaps; a genius, if you will, that never quite came to its real achievement; though on the other hand it could be said that the genius of Williams lay not in what he did so much as in what he was. After he died, something went out of the Inklings.  I think I knew, even at twenty-one, that the group I joined there had a light and warmth rather like those of a gas fire after it has been switched off. The sustaining fuel had been the imagination of Williams. 

Wain then goes on to offer a memorable portrait of Hugo Dyson:

The second change was that Hugo Dyson, an old friend of all the group, came to a Fellowship in Merton in 1945 after twenty years at Reading University . . . and immediately added his presence to the gatherings. No circle of which Dyson was a member could be said to remain the same. He was a raconteur, a barnstormer, a wit if your definition of wit includes knock-down-and-drag-out, a performer to his fingertips. I always felt that he was driven by inward nightmares into an endless routine of conviviality, and indeed his experiences in the First World War trenches had been enough to give a man nightmares for life if he lived a hundred years. The removal of Williams dimmed the radiance of the Inklings' meetings; the accession of Dyson rekindled it, but with a smokier light.

next up: Wain's brief descriptions of Havard and Warnie, and his someone lengthier thoughts on Tolkien

(to be continued)


--John R.
current reading: more of the same three books.


 *or the closest approximation his memory can make of them

**The statement that Lewis was 'always kind' no doubt held true for Wain's relationship w. Lewis himself, though it's not how others of CSL's tutorial students remembered it (e.g. Lawlor, Betjeman, Stanley)

***elsewhere he said he considered C. S. Lewis and Edmund Wilson his role models as critics.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

John Wain (II) -- Lewis's 'Absurd Delusion'

(Wain, continued)

In addition to describing the place and the people who ran it,* Wain devotes most of his piece to talking about the Inklings. I've been wondering for some time why, of all the pubs  in Oxford, did Lewis and Tolkien fix upon the Eagle and Child rather than some place nearer to Tolkien's or CSL's colleges (Pembroke then Merton and Magdalene, respectively). Wain gives as his opinion that Lewis et al chose the Eagle and Child for their weekly meetings for two important reasons. First, that it was an ordinary place, not fancy. In a memorable phrase, Wain writes of Lewis that "He liked ordinary men, and indeed was under the absurd delusion that he was one himself.' I think this might become one of my favorite lines describing Lewis: both insightful and touching.

Second, it was convenient for Havard, whose office was just up the street, and also to the Taylorian, where Wms lectured.

I had known about Dr. Havard's clinic, and for a while now have considered it likely to have been the deciding factor, but not connected the dots about it being so close to where Williams wd be lecturing. Wain is helpful here, as after speculating on why they chose where to meet, he reveals discovering, when still an undergraduate, why the when as well:

Only gradually did I come to realize that there was a regular pattern to these Lewisian visits in that they always took place on a Tuesday at noon. What focused this fact for me was a sense of annoyance that I could not attend Tolkien's weekly lecture on Beowulf without missing Charles Williams on Milton, or Wordsworth's Prelude, or Shakespeare -- these were his three usual subjects. I wanted to attend Williams's lectures because I found them torrentially stimulating; I wanted to attend Tolkien's because I thought they might provide me with something to write down in my Schools paper on Anglo-Saxon literature, a hope that in the end was disappointed, for he was largely inaudible beyond the first row and, if one did manage to catch a few words, almost dementedly solipsistic.

'It's a nuisance', I remarked to Lewis at one tutorial, 'that Tolkien and Charles Williams always seem to lecture at the same time.'

'Yes, Tuesday at eleven,' he replied composedly. 'It's so they can meet at the Bird and Baby at twelve.'

I was evidently meant to gather from this that the requirements of civilized conversation among men of letters had legitimate priority over the requirements of pedagogy, a lesson that was not lost to me. All the same, I noticed that Lewis himself did not lecture on Tuesday at eleven. He took a lot of trouble with his lectures and I believe the capacity audiences he drew were a gratification to him, surely a legitimate one. He had no wish to clash with a crowd-puller like Williams.


Leaving aside Wain's dismissal of Tolkien as a teacher, which I think unfair, this does give some idea of Williams at his peak at Oxford,** and an interesting juxtaposition of Wms vs. Lewis as lecturers, a subject I'd like to know more about.


(to be continued)

--John R.
--current reading: THE PROUD TOWER by Barbara Tuchman (my first time reading one of her books); THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS (re-reading for a project); and A WALK IN WOLF WOOD by Mary Stewart (a gift long ago from Jim Pietrusz).





*One interesting miscellaneous detail: Wain reveals that Blagrove had originally been a horse-cab driver, in the days when such things, now remembered chiefly for their appearance in the Sherlock Holmes stories, still existed.

**Wain was a great admirer of Wms and had little use for Tolkien either as a writer or, it seems, an academic.




Sunday, November 5, 2017

John Wain (I) remembers The Eagle and Child

So, last year when I was at the Archives I got to look through a box of Taum's material that had recently come there by a circuitous route. And among the items of interest* was a 1988 piece from the OXFORD MAGAZINE by Inkling** John Wain called "Push Bar to Open". It's essentially a paean for the Eagle & Child (Wain prefers not to use the nickname 'Bird & Baby', thinking it rather silly). He describes the physical layout of the place (something not I think evident from the much-expanded building it is today) and how the family that ran the place (Mr. & Mrs. & Miss Blagrove) lived upstairs for the most part, though they did have a parlour downstairs that they sometimes allowed customers from the bar to use. Since this is the most detailed description I've come across of the place as it was in the Inklings' day, I thought I'd quote it here:

. . . a few of us, who naturally thought of ourselves as the cognoscenti, preferred the simplicity and quiet of the Eagle and Child. It was a beer house, not licensed for wine or spirits,*** with scrubbed wooden tables and linoleum on the floor, and two rooms, both small. On entering from the street, you were faced with the end of the bar, because you were sideways on to its main length, though 'length' is hardly the word in such a doll's house of a place. This oblong of bar was slightly to your right as you stood inside the door; slightly to your left a door confronted you, habitually closed but occasionally opening to reveal a flight of stairs which led to the family's quarters. Geometrically straight ahead, then as now, was the space left between the wooden partition wall of the staircase and the bar, which ran along this narrow space for some six or eight feet before emerging, less obstructed, into the second room. This had two doors. One, on the left, led into an alley-way at the side of the house from which the street could be gained; the other into a long, open backyard of the type usual in working-class houses, flanked on one side by a brick wall and on the other by a wash-house and, no doubt, in the original design of the place, all the plumbing of whatever description.

The family, Mr and Mrs Bladrove and their daughter, lived their domestic life mainly upstairs, but they must also have lived some of it in the area of the backyard, and in addition they had a parlour, which faced you when you entered the second bar-room. This room was not part of the licensed premises, but during the years immediately following the war, when the clientele increased in number, the Blagroves would occasionally, out of good nature, allow select customers to take their drinks in and sit there, if chairs were scarce or if they wanted to have an interrupted conversation. 


. . . continued in next post

--John R.


*which included, among other things, a photocopy of my second of two letters from Christopher Wiseman, which I must have given to Taum and long since forgotten that I had done so.

**and Angry Young Man, though it made him mad to be called that.

***I take this to mean you cd order beer or hard cider but not whiskey or wine. Wain is explicit that Lewis always ordered cider.







Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tolkien TV Series?

So, I may have been wrong about predicting that the next Tolkien-on-film we see wd be a biopic. VARIETY at any rate is reporting that a LotR miniseries is in the works, possibly to be made by Amazon Studio. Details are lacking, but Jeff Bezos himself is said to be pushing the deal. THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER and ROLLING STONE also each have a piece on the project; the former is pretty good  but I take the latter's account less seriously since they seem unable to tell the difference between the movie people (Tolkien Enterprises, an American firm formerly run by Saul Zaentz) and the Tolkien estate (Tolkien's family, often backed up by his publishers).

Here's the VARIETY piece

http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/lord-of-the-rings-amazon-1202606519/

Here's HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/lord-rings-tv-series-works-1054978

And here's the ROLLING STONE version.

http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/lord-of-the-rings-tv-series-in-the-works-w511077


One thing I was glad to learn, whatever comes out of this, is that the studios have finally settled their lawsuit with the Estate, who objected to Tolkien slot machines, online LotR/H-themed gambling, and other excessive forms of movie merchandising -- following what has now become the established pattern that the studios have only paid up money they owed on the previous project when they've decided to go ahead on a related project.

--John R.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The White Car

THE WIFE SAYS

In May 1992 (2 months before we got married) we bought a white Nissan Sentra. This morning we donated it to Purrfect Pals. More than just the garage is a little empty tonight.


Evil Prayers

So, I was appalled to read in a recent essay on the GUARDIAN site that there are church officials in the Roman Catholic hierarchy praying for the death of Pope Francis.

That some of the same faction are trying to bring an official charge of heresy against Francis seems quixotic by contrast, given the pope's ex-cathedra powers.* But praying for his death because they disagree with the direction in which he's taking the church? That crosses any number of lines.

If I had to come up with a rule of thumb to cover this, it'd be something along these lines:

    Unless your boss is Charles Manson, praying for his or her death is an evil act. 

Here's the piece -- disturbing, but interesting.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/oct/27/the-war-against-pope-francis

--John R.
current reading: memoirs of Clark Ashton Smith (the final section in the new CAS artbook)



* I have to say, though, that I'm bemused by the discovery that the teaching in question appears in a footnote -- footnote number 351 to chapter 8, to be specific.

unknown territory

So, my doctor is retiring.
Does this mean I won't get sick anymore?
Hmm.

--John R.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Art of the E-quel

So, this week I learned a new term I hadn't come across before: the E-quel. A follow-up work that is neither a sequel (written after and published after) nor a 'prequel' (a work written after but taking place before) but a side-story.

It's a useful concept, but I have doubts about its sticking, if only because it sounds too much like 'equal'. Plus we already have side-story, which pretty much does the job.

Here's the link.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/feb/15/philip-pullman-the-book-of-dust-jk-rowling-magic

Having enjoyed the GOLDEN COMPASS movie and been disappointed that naysayers helped stop the second and third films in the series from being made, I was glad to hear that a tv miniseries is currently in the works from the BBC. Let's hope it's a similar quality and fares better.

--John R.
current reading: IN THE REALMS OF MYSTERY AND WONDER (Clark Ashton Smith artbook).

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Something I Didn't Know about C. S. Lewis

So, for purposes of a piece I'm working on I decided I needed a copy of C. S. Lewis's COLLECTED POEMS.* I already had the two Hooper volumes (POEMS, 1964, and NARRATIVE POEMS, 1969, as well as SPIRITS IN BONDAGE, 1919) but wanted this newer edition edited by Don King for its notes and more inclusive collection.

Looking over the volume now that I have it, it's striking how few poems Lewis wrote towards the end of his life. Here's a quick breakdown, starting in 1950.

1950: 3 poems
1951: 2 poems
   January 1951: Janie Moore dies
   February 1951: Lewis fails to become Professor of Poetry
1952: 4 or 5 poems**
1953: 2 poems
1954: 8 or 9 poems
   1954: Lewis switches from Oxford to Cambridge
1955: 1 or 2 poems
1956: 5 poems
   April 1956: Lewis marries Joy Gresham
1957: 1 poem
   March 1957: Lewis marries Joy Davidman
1958: 1 poem
1959: 1 poem
1960: 1 or 4 poems
   July 1960: Joy Lewis dies
1961: none
1962: none
1963: 1 or 2 poems


--John R
--current reading: OUR LADY OF DARKNESS by Fritz Leiber

*its full title being THE COLLECTED POEMS OF C. S. LEWIS: A CRITICAL EDITION, ed. Don W. King (2015), 485 pages.

**the second number in each of these 'or' entries includes one or more doubtfully dated poem(s).


Monday, October 23, 2017

Philip Pullman is a Raven

So, over the weekend I saw an interview of sorts given by Philip Pullman in conjunction with the release of his new book, volume one of THE BOOK OF DUST (a prequel/sequel to HIS DARK MATERIALS). Instead of the give-and-take of a traditional interview, this one consisted of questions submitted by an array of people with Pullman's responses --an arrangement that tends to lead to less spontaneity but also more thoughtful responses.

For me the best takeaways from all this were (1) his answer to the question of what his own daemon would be:

I think she’s a raven. She belongs to that family 
of birds that steal things – the jackdaws, the rooks,
 crows and magpies – and I admire those birds. 
I applaud their enterprising way of dealing with 
the world and their intelligence. I love the way 
ravens fly: they are the most acrobatic and daring
 birds. So I would be very pleased if my daemon 
were a raven.

and (2) looking at his photo accompanying the article and thinking that he looks like a hobbit.

Here's the whole piece:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/22/philip-pullman-my-daemon-is-a-raven-la-belle-sauvage-interview-questions

--John R.
current reading: a mediocre CALL OF CTHULHU module.
my next purchase: LA BELLE SAUVAGE.


P.S. Apropos of the recent discussion here re. Milne, another recent interview w. Pullman reveals the unsurprising fact that Pullman doesn't like Milne. He also has harsh words for Nesbit, and, surprisingly, Grahame. I'm sorry to here he can't appreciate the latter, who laid the ground for Pullman's own work, but so it goes.



Sunday, October 22, 2017

The New Arrivals (CAS & HPL)

So, this week brought two more books in the mail, one I was expecting and one I'd ordered a few months back and forgotten was on its way (though I'm v. glad to have it).

The former is the latest from Nodens Books, THE LAUGHING ELF by Ronald MacDonald. No, not that Ronald MacDonald, but one of the sons of old George MacDonald, author of PHANTASTES and THE LIGHT PRINCESS and the Curdie books. It seems that in addition to Geo. MacDonald's eldest son Greville writing a biography of his parents, Greville's brother Ronald was also an author, of more than a dozen books (two co-written with Ronald's son, mystery writer Philip MacDonald). I'm currently struggling through REMAINS OF THE DAY* and Christopher Milne's autobiography, so haven't had a chance to read this one yet.

The other book, from Hippocampus Press, is a massive (666-page, not counting the appendices) tome containing all the surviving correspondence between H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith: some 330 letters exchanged over a period of fifteen years.

In the old days, scholars looking to find a passage in Lovecraft's selected letters had to wrestle their way through the hundreds of pages of the non-indexed five-volume set of Lovecraft's letters from Arkham House. But in recent years we've seen a new approach: individual volumes, each reprinting Lovecraft's complete exchange with a specific correspondent -- say, all his letters to and from R. H. Barlow (2007) or Donald Wandrei (2002). Or, now, Clark Ashton Smith.

Even though I don't expect to work my way through this for some time to come, the timing is good, since I've just received word that the big book of Smith's artwork is just now shipping: IN THE REALMS OF MYSTERY AND WONDER, from Centipede Press.

So, a good week for the books, if not for the bookshelves. Oh for a tardis of a library. Though I have now reached the point at which there are more books going out than coming in.

--John R.


*a good book for those who think Henry James is too action-packed and plot-driven.**


**THE WIFE SAYS (and I paraphrase): Ain't that the truth

Friday, October 13, 2017

Liverpool is Birmingham!

So, more signs that make it look as if the in-the-works Tolkien biopic may actually happen: they're scouting out sites where they might do location filming. At least that's what I gathered from the following little piece posted yesterday:

https://www.prolificnorth.co.uk/2017/10/new-tolkien-film-to-start-shooting-in-liverpool/

So, many things can and no doubt will go wrong with this project, but it's still live at this point, which is further than any previous such effort got.

And now to find out more about, so as to decide whether or not to watch, the latest 'based-on-a-true-story' film about a twentieth century British author, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

Which, based on Christopher Milne's own account of his childhood in his excellent autobiography, sounds like it's the 'good parts' version, not particularly close to the facts. We'll see.

--John R.
--last day at Archives

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Another Lydney Dog?

So, my forthcoming piece on The Great God Nodens*  includes a section about one among the many mysteries associated with the site of his Temple: lots of dogs, including what's been called the best Roman bronze found in Britain.** Stone dogs, bronze dogs, ceramic dogs, even at least one depiction of a dog on pottery.

It's not surprising then that my attention was drawn to recent news from Gloucestershire, the county in which Noden's temple was found, about the discovery of a bronze dog, one already being associated w. the healing god Aesculapius.***


https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/sep/27/metal-detectorists-unearth-unique-hoard-of-roman-artefacts


What's striking about this report is the secrecy involved. The actual site of the discovery is being kept secret --which suggests that they may think there's more there to be found. The artifacts themselves are not on display but are also being kept at a secret location. We may find out that the discovery was near the site of Noden's Temple, or elsewhere in the Forest of Dean, or somewhere near Gloucester. Time, and follow-up reports, will no doubt tell.


--John R.
current reading: ON EAGLES' WINGS by Anna Thayer


*(or, to be more precise, on the background to Tolkien's piece on Nodens)

**so dubbed by Mortimer Wheeler, who was given to grandiosity

***the idea being that the dog has his tongue out because it's been trained to lick people's wounds in order to promote healing

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Hobbit Camp (1977)

So, thanks to Janice S. for the link to this strange, strange story.

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/hobbit-camps-fascism-italy

Essentially this tells the story of Tolkien's appropriation in the Italy of the 1970s by 'Traditionalism',
a counter counter-culture movement who even staged their own right-wing Woodstock. Which they chose to call "CAMPO HOBBIT", deliberately evoking Tolkien's character. The movement seems to have fallen apart after 1981, but it's disconcerting to see Tolkien's characters used in such a context and for such a purpose.

And equally disturbing to hear that in these days, with the resurgence of white supremacy here and abroad, that this past summer saw a new such gathering forty years on, "Campo Hobbit 40"

The author of the piece, John Last, concludes that

"Middle Earth remains an empty stage onto which ideologues of all stripes can project their politics."

Except, I wd say, it's not. Middle-earth isn't an empty stage: Tolkien has plenty of ideas, strongly and subtly presented, such as his championing of anarchism with the Ents and their Moot, or his critique of apartheid in Bree. You have to willfully misapprehend him, picking and choosing with deliberation aforethought, to get a White Supremacist tract out of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, much less THE HOBBIT.

Given the climate of our times, and previous attempts by various unsavory groups to claim Tolkien as one of their own,* I think we can expect to see more pieces like this. Unfortunately.

--John R.

current reading: ON EAGLES' WINGS by Anna Thayer (2016), a book on Tolkien's use of deus ex machina, and HUEY P. LONG: SOUTHERN DEMAGOGUE OR AMERICAN DEMOCRAFT? ed. Henry C. Dethloff (1967).


*e.g the notorious 'That Noble Northern Spirit'.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Tolkien Spotting: the Italian Princess

So, thanks to the good folks at the Archives (thanks Mark; thanks Bill), I became aware of the passing Tolkien reference in the October/November issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: TRAVELER. In the middle of a piece about Sicily, the author encounters Princess Vittoria Alliata di Villafranca, an expert on the Middle East with a doctorate in Islamic studies, author of several books, "including the Italian translation of The Lord of the Rings" (p. 49). A background in Islamic studies seems to be an unusual mix with translating Tolkien; just goes to show the wide array of interests among Tolkienists, here and elsewhere.

--John R.








Monday, October 2, 2017

I'm at Marquette

So, as of yesterday (after a far too early flight) I'm back in Milwaukee again for another research trip delving into the Tolkien manuscripts here at the Archives. Today was mostly spent reading through  my notes and comparing it against the material I've come to work with -- I have to remind myself where I was when I broke off last time; it takes a while to re-engage with such complex material.

This time rather than staying in on-campus housing I'm in a historic hotel not far from the lake, in a neighborhood with lots of cream city brick buildings all around. A beautiful place that's seen better days but has a lot of character (from what I've seen of them some of the clientele seem to be characters as well). Rather to my surprise, it reminds me of several of my old apartments during my grad school years at Marquette, especially the one on Walker.

So, here's hoping the project goes well, I get lots done, and I don't catch pneumonia like I did last time I came to Milwaukee (which played havoc with my ability to do the research I'd come to do).

--John R.
current music: Alan Parsons & his project, on the I-pod
current reading: THE FIRST FOSSIL HUNTERS, suggesting that legends of the titans and cyclops  and griffins were inspired by Greek and Roman discoveries of huge fossil bones.
current anime: CLASSROOM OF THE ELITE (wrapped up just before the trip)


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Cat-Walking Wednesday

Just two cats in the cat-room this week, so we were able to give nice long walks to both.

Tiffany had both cats out and in a mellow mood when I arrived, each relaxed and sleeping curled up on or by the bench not far from each other in the outer room. 

We walked Avry first. And, as usual, at first she just kept making bee-lines from wherever I set her down back to the cat-room door. While good exercise, this didn’t seem the best use of her out-of-the-room time. So we carried her over to the far side of the store, setting her down in the training room. After exploring for a bit she did her usual little flirting game, rubbing up against things and weaving in and out among the stools and getting her leash tangled up. After a while we opened the door and she walked around that side of the store for a while. She was out for about forty minutes, maybe a bit more.

Then it was Tris’s turn. As usual she greatly enjoyed just being out of the room, rolling belly-up on the tiles. Then she had a good time walking around the near half of the store. She was very sociable, going up and rubbing up against people to get their attention. Be warned, however, that when she’s belly-up she may look like she’s asking for a belly rub, but she’s not. She was also out for a good long spell, about forty minutes or so.

One thing I noticed: either TIffany is a really good cat-walker, or the cats really like having two walkers to one cat, or both. Both cats were much less hesitant to venture into a new aisle or go into a new area than tends to be the case when I walk them one-on-one. 



Health concern: Tris has a lot of little scabs, especially around her neck. Got a few loose ones off; the rest shd come in time. Think she also has a little cat-acne on her chin, but she wasn’t at all interested in my doing anything about it. Her ears seem okay, at least on a quick check. Cleaned up her bottom some with a wet cloth, which was about her least favorite thing in the world.  Also used another wet cloth to remove some loose fur along her back — she wasn’t sure whether she liked that or not. 

Avry seems to be doing well. She definitely likes having the big cage all to herself, especially having the high ground so nobody can sneak up on her.
]

—John R.

Friday, September 29, 2017

This Could Be For Real (Tolkien Biopic)

So, I've been on the record since about the time the HOBBIT films wound down, saying that the next Tolkien film we'd be seeing would not be anything from THE SILMARILLION (to which the studios don't own the rights) or one of Tolkien's minor works (much as I'd enjoy seeing a film of FARMER GILES OF HAM or THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS), but a film about Tolkien himself.

There have been rumors and announcements over the past few years about this person or that person's plan to make such a film, all of which have, so far as I cd tell, evaporated without leaving any trace behind.

The latest such announcement, however, sounds less ephemeral than most:

http://deadline.com/2017/07/jrr-tolkien-film-dome-karukoski-director-the-lord-of-the-rings-the-hobbit-1202134806/

Rather than just someone's announcing they'd like to do such a film, this has an actual director attached to the project (Dome Karukoski), and a pair of scriptwriters (David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford*), and even a production company (Chernin Entertainment, apparently with the backing of Fox Searchlight). Best of all, it has an entry in the imdb: 


The synopsis here reads: "J.R.R. Tolkien, a love lorn soldier, draws from an epic life on his return from the Great War to create one of the greatest works of literature in "The Lord of the Rings"." -- which makes it sound as if somebody owes Humphrey Carpenter and John Garth a credit. The imdb page also gives the film an alternate title:  A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS.


The deadline.com announcement had a more detailed synop: 

"explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a fellow group of outcasts at school. This takes him into the outbreak of World War I, which threatens to tear the “fellowship” apart. All of these experiences would inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-Earth novels."


One description thus focuses on the love story and the other on the TCBS.


Perhaps one thing which makes this iteration seem more real than those preceding it is that this one has an actor attached to it to play the lead part: Nicholas Hoult. 

http://deadline.com/2017/07/nicholas-hoult-jrr-tolkien-movie-the-hobbit-x-men-dark-phoenix-1202135614/

Best known for playing the lovestruck zombie in WARM BODIES, Hoult seems to be making a specialty lately of playing historic figures in a series of recent films: Nikola Tesla, J. D. Salinger, and now Tolkien. More promising, he's also the voice of Fiver in a new adaptation of WATERSHIP DOWN.

Recently they've added an actress to play Edith T as well: Lily Collins  (daughter of musician Phil Collins, formerly of Genesis):

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2934314/?ref_=tt_cl_t1

So at least they got a pair of English actors to play the leads, rather than Americanizing the project.


There are a million things that cd go wrong this this project, assuming it ever gets from "pre-production" (= nobody's filmed anything yet) into actually getting filmed, and even released. But already this is the farthest anyone's gotten on an idea that's been kicking around Hollywood's collective mind ever since the last of Peter Jackson's billion dollar babies left the theatres.


Whether it'll actually be any good is of course impossible to tell at this early stage.

The thing Tolkienists will have to keep reminding ourselves of is that the words "based on a true story" = "this is a work of fiction". 

I expect 'creative embellishments' in a Tolkien biopic to be much harder to take, personally, than any adaptation of his work cd be (esp. since Tolkien himself sold the rights for LotR and H to be made into film, yet eschewed biographical inquiry with some insistence).

In short, we know Tolkien himself wd have hated the v. idea. But it looks like it's coming, if not now and with this team then down the road with another. Those of us who cd look on with equanimity at  the outrage of C. S. Lewis fans at Anthony Hopkins portrayal of CSL in SHADOWLANDS** are about to find it's our turn now.


--John R

*note that only Gleeson appears on the imdb page; can't say whether this is for reasons of space Beresford's leaving the project. Time perhaps will tell.

**or Johny Depp's depiction of J. M. Barrie in FINDING NEVERLAND (which actually made Barrie a good deal more normal that he was)





Thursday, September 28, 2017

Happy Hobbit Day (belatedly)

So, thanks to Janice S. and Janice K. for the following link to a piece in THE ATLANTIC marking the 80th anniversary of the release of THE HOBBIT last week.  It's nice to see a good example of the mainstreaming of Tolkien's work: I was particularly struck by the use (here and elsewhere, in the pieces on Walter Judd's book) of the word legendarium to describe his imaginary world.

The ATLANTIC writer, Vann R. Newkirk II, early on makes clear that he's an admirer of the book, calling it "the best that literature has to offer".

He's not being condescending by describing Tolkien's book as "quaint, virtuous, and tidy" but wants to emphasize how much such hobbitlike virtues stand out in contrast with R. R. Martin's work. It's  also good to see Newkirk acknowledge how deeply Tolkien's work permeates the fantasy genre, establishing the conventions against which later-day writers react. I do think he overstates his case for Martin as the quintessential modern fantasy writer, failing to take into account, say, J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, or Sir Terry Pratchett, or Phillip Pullman, or Neil Gaiman, et al.

To his credit, he gets the importance of the languages, and on one point he certainly gets credit for originality: I don't think anyone has ever compared Bilbo with Mohammed Ali before.

Newkirk does ding the book for "paternalism, imperialism, and racial essentialism" but these do not detract for him from its celebration what he calls "quaint values": "the dignity of humanity, the virtue of generosity, a respect for life, a duty to do good, and  the ways in which brotherhood can be used to move men toward those ideals".

I wish the average piece on Tolkien that comes out in mass market magazines was half as good as Newkirk's piece.

Here's the link:

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/09/the-hobbit-80-years-later/540684/

--John R.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I Am Cited by ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY (online)

So, thanks to friend Stephen  and to Janice K. for the links to two online pieces, one by ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and the other on NPR, on the recently released FLORA OF MIDDLE-EARTH: PLANTS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM by Walter & Graham Judd. (Oxford Univ. Press). At first glance this sounds much like Dinah Hazell's book from about ten years ago (THE PLANTS OF MIDDLE-EARTH: BOTANY AND SUB-CREATION,) which was well-received but seemed on the slight side to me: I'd been hoping for something more along the lines of PHARAOH'S FLOWERS: THE BOTANICAL TREASURES OF TUTANKHAMUN by F. Nigel Hepper, which goes through every piece of plant matter (flowers, woods, seeds) found in Tut's tomb and extrapolated upon what that tells us (e.g. local vs. imported exotic).

Here's the link to the ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY piece, released on August 14th, which includes a good-size excerpt from the book (the entry for 'coffee'):

http://ew.com/books/2017/08/14/flora-of-middle-earth-excerpt/amp/



As for the second piece, it was broadcast on NPR on August 31st and focuses more on the author's explaination of why he did the book; both the original audio program and a transcript thereof are available by pushing the appropriate buttons at the following site:

http://www.npr.org/2017/08/31/547491042/tolkiens-passion-for-plants-moves-botantist-to-create-guide-to-middle-earth



--John R.




Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Doom That Came to Lanhkmar

So, during those final days of editing and fine tuning and formatting on A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, I needed something completely different to read just to give my mind a rest (otherwise I proofread in my sleep, hour and hour, all night long). And I picked Fritz Leiber, author of the best sword and sorcery fiction ever, and read several books of his that've been on my shelves without getting read till now (as well as rereading a few to reconsider my original responses to them).  I find I much prefer him as an author of fantasy than horror or science fiction, and accordingly got rid of some in the end while restoring the rest to a place of pride.

One thing that struck me came in a passage I'd read a number of times before but somehow missed the essential point of. In NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS, his first book (Arkham House 1947) Leiber devotes his Foreword to an account of the creation of the characters Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in a pre-1936 letter by his friend Harry Fischer. He mentions how

"More than ten years ago I opened a letter from
Harry Fischer, wondering what strange conceit
was now in store. The Elder Gods had been pretty
 well worked through.*  Even the overweening
Wischmeiers, destined to be immortalized by a
more trenchant pen,** were temporarily exhausted.

"Sandwiched in the many pages of text,
 I came across the following fragment:

"For all do fear the one known as the Gray Mouser . . . 
[description of G.M. follows]

"Until one [foggy] night  . . . --for the walled city of 
the Tuatha De Danaan called Lankhmar was built 
on the edge of the Great Salt Marsh--  there strode
into the group of lounging bravos a pair of monstrous
men . . . [description of Fafhrd follows]

"Anyhow, they met, and the saga of how the Gray Mouser
 and Fafhrd of the Blue Eyes came to the innermost vaults 
of the City of the Forbidden God and there met death in 
the moment of victory in no common fashion, was begun.

"My imagination was enthralled and I responded with a
fragment hinting at some further exploits of the two strange
 ruffians . . . Episodes took form, such as Conquest Among 
the Baldest Rats, The Seventh Eye of Ningauble, The 
Adventure of the Grain Ships . . . Eventually a very few
 of these got actually completed and found their way into print . . .

"But the saga continues and the innermost vaults of 
the City of the Forbidden Gods still seem far away."

 So, for one thing I failed to note the interesting detail about Lankhmar being a city of the Tuatha de  Danaan --whose legends do indeed mention four exotic cities that had been the Tuatha de's homes before they came to Ireland (albeit that 'Lankhmar' is not given as the name of one). It might be worthwhile to see if this is just a casual association or if the old Irish myths have other deeper connections with Leiber's cycle.

For another I missed the fascinating fact that the first mention of the two heroes is in a story intended to end with their deaths. In short, a story very like several of Dunsany's thieves' tales or, more specifically, Clark Ashton Smith's THE TALE OF SATAMPRA ZEIROS. And yet so far as I can tell Leiber never returned to or finished that first story, which was to have begun and ended the whole sequence.

--John R.
--Magnolia.


*!
**whose?
***I know that 'Grain Ships' supposedly eventually turned into the novel SWORDS OF LANKHMAR, fifth book in the compiled Ace Books series, but don't know if the Ningauble story ever got published

Friday, September 15, 2017

I'm in Arkansas

So, today, without realizing it at the time, I passed near a spot that figures in the legend of Bonnie & Clyde, just north of Waldo, Arkansas, where they released two people they'd kidnapped down in Ruston, Louisiana earlier in the day.* I wanted to post a link to the story, but unfortunately it appears to be behind the local paper's paywall. Anyway, here's the link to the opening lines; I'll post more later if I can find out more details about the incident once I'm back in Kent parts:

http://www.magnoliabannernews.com/news/2017/aug/31/when-bonnie-and-clyde-came-waldo/

--John R.

*April 27th, 1933, about a year before their execution by ambush on May 23rd 1934

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Terry Pratchett's steamroller

So, I see the news today that the latest in the Stieg Larsson Lizbeth Salander series, better known as THE GIRL WHO books, is just out.

Of course it's not written by Larsson, who died more than a decade ago, but instead by a noted biographer named David Lagercranz. Nor does it follow any plot left behind by Larsson; it's wholly new material written to continue the series beyond the point where the author stopped.


The good news is that it seems this continuing of an author's setting and characters that has befallen Larsson will not be Terry Pratchett's fate. In fact, Pratchett felt so strongly about his work being his own, not to be continued by other hands, that he left orders for whatever unfinished books he was working on at the time of his death to be destroyed. Which instruction was just carried out by his estate, with a certain amount of panache: running over his computer's hard drive with a steam roller. And not just any 'steam roller' but an actual antique steam-powered one. Here's the story:


https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/30/terry-pratchett-unfinished-novels-destroyed-streamroller

As someone who was an early adaptor and longtime fan of Pratchett's work,* I'm sorry that there won't be any more of it, but at the same time there are plenty of genuine Pratchett books to read and re-read. And a few, even, that I haven't gotten to yet (having found I didn't care for his later books as much).

--John R.


*(esp. the footnotes)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Twenty Years

So, hard to believe it's been twenty years ago as of the start of September that I moved from Wisconsin to the Seattle area to start my new job at Wizards of the Coast. I'd been hired on to edit the new DOMINARIA roleplaying game, the D&D campaign setting for the world of MAGIC: THE GATHERING, becoming part of a team that consisted of Lisa Stevens, later co-founder of Paizo;  Jonathan Tweet, who went on to gain fame as the chief architect of Third Edition; Jesper Myrfors, the original art designer of MAGIC THE GATHERING; and later Chris Pramas, brought in as a second writer, who eventually left WotC to found Green Ronin.


And yet the project never saw the light of day, having been doomed from the start. I'd known WotC had worked on one MtG rpg before (designed by Mike Selinker and Wolfgang Baur) that something had gone wrong with. What I hadn't known was that the game I was hired to edit was WotC's FOURTH (and final) attempt to put together a MtG rpg, nor that it was just as doomed as all the rest.  Someone over in Card R&D, where the real Powers That Be in R&D were, didn't want an rpg version of Magic to happen, and accordingly it got shot down every time the rest of the department proposed it -- not when it was mooted, mind you, but well-on into the project.*


All water under the bridge (and living in Renton and Kent teaches you a lot about water and bridges). But what stays in my mind, after all these year, is just how much talent was in the room. That, and how it was great fun to be the keeper of the Dominaria globe for a few months. I wonder who has it now.

--John R.
current reading: AN ASTOUNDING ATLAS OF ALTERED STATES by Michael J. Trinklein (just started)

*a similar silent veto applied to our doing any kind of Tolkien game.

"Tolkien In Love"

So, thanks to Andrew F. for the link to this radio drama based on young Ronald Tolkien's courtship of Edith Bratt. Have to confess I haven't made it all the way through it myself; it's well-done but for some reason off-putting.

Here's the link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b091s20g

Apparently it'll still be available on the radio BBC's site to listen to for about another week.

--John R
current reading: "The Highwayman" (1908) and THE CASTLE OF CROSSED DESTINIES by Italo Calvino (1969+197; tr 1976-77)


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Sky is White today

So, the night before last I was quite startled when I went to check on the moon (which I do most nights, when I can manage it) and saw that it was an orangey-red in color, more the tone you get with a partial lunar eclipse than the rising of a harvest moon.

Then yesterday morning the sun was odd too: distinctly red, and casting red sunbeams early in the day. By mid-morning we were getting yellow sunbeams out of a white sky. Over in Des Moines (the Seattle suburb, not the city in Iowa) the sun looked more like the design on the New Mexico flag, except a-symetrical.

Last night came a dim red moon, not visible at all early in the evening, but I think even redder in color.

All this is side-effect of the out-of-control wildfires burning elsewhere in the state, one of which actually jumped the Columbia River Gorge (quite a feat in itself). Every level surface has tiny flakes of ash scattered here and there; the amount of smoke particles in the air was enough to cool down the temperature a little yesterday, which was supposed to have hit the record for hottest day of the year, had the smoke in the air not mitigated it. Reminded me of the definite temperature drop at the time of the eclipse two weeks ago.

It's at times like this that I really begin to understand how the major meteor strike that set off the dinosaur extinction or the effects of a really major Krakatoa-level volcano eruption can produce effects so far away from the actual site of the event.

Here are two pictures, curtesy of Janice: first Monday night's moon and then Tuesday's sun.
















--John R.
current reading: "Where the Tides Ebb and Flow" (1910)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Callooh, Callay

So, all the files for A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS are now in the publisher's hands. Between now and the book's release date I'll make posts here from time to time to keep folks updated on how things are going.

Meanwhile, here's a slightly earlier version of the Table of Contents, from the flyer distributed at Kalamazoo and Mythcon this summer: all the contents are the same as the final one that'll be appearing in the book but their ordering has been slightly rearranged and some of the essay titles have altered slightly.

Here's the link:

http://gabbrohead.com/a-wilderness-of-dragons

--John R.
current reading: "The Hoard of the Gibbelins" (1912)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Oh, Frabjous Day

So, today I made my first turnover on A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS. The first quarter of the book is now in the publisher's hands. Further developments to be posted as they occur.

--John R.
--not yet doing The Dance of Doneness but starting to warm up.

current reading: THE FIRST EMPEROR (coffeetable-size catalogue from the exhibition of Terracotta Warriors I saw in the British Museum in 2007 and then again here at the Seattle Center two weeks ago tomorrow. Interesting but unwieldy.
also, BREAKING CAT NEWS: THE BOOK by Georgia Dunn

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dunsany on taking down statues

So, the current fervor rising out of the events in Charlottesville remind me of a passage in one of Lord Dunsany's plays, IF (1922) -- a sort of MAN WHO WOULD BE KING story about the wild adventures that wd have befallen one man had a small event in his life played out differently.* To cut a long story short, instead of a respectable London businessman he winds up ruler of a small central-asian land, where he tries to impose British values on its v. non-British people, who much preferred their old ways.

In the scene I'm thinking of, our hero is busy doing  paperwork, interrupted from time to time as his most trusted servant brings in idols a few at a time. The Englishman examines each, proclaiming some good gods who can be restored to their temples and condemning the others as bad gods who must be destroyed.  When someone asks him his criteria for why some gods are permitted to remain while others are thrown into the river, he explains that the ones with rusty stains around their mouths are the ones fed human blood in ceremonial sacrifice: hence he purges all of these. At one point, however, he notices that his loyal servant seems uneasy about what they're doing. The servant explains in a quick little exchange that's stayed in my memory all these years:


Daoud: I am sad . . . when the old gods go

John: But they are bad gods, Daoud

Daoud: I am sad when the bad gods go


--John R.



 *(whether he did or didn't take a particular train on the Underground one specific day)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

I'm on Deadline

So, posts have been on the sparse side here the past few weeks, not because I didn't have anything to say but because I'm on deadline. Things shd clear up for me around the end of the month. Till then, I'll post when I can, because there's only so many hours a day I can work on one thing without overload.

And while I'm at it, apologies to those who sent in comments and didn't see them posted. Looks like they're once again going to a side mailbox I check  on an irregular basis, when they shd be going direct to my email. I've just put up the comments that had stacked up, belatedly. For the future I'll just work it into my daily routine to check that Comments mailbox so Comments can go up right away. Sorry about that.

--John R.
current reading: THE BLACK GONDOLIER by Fritz Leiber (half of a two-volume set of his collected horror stories) and a coffee-table book on the Easter 1916 Irish Uprising (picked up at the Marquette bookstore last year but not read till now because it's so unwieldy.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday Cat Walking (8/16-17)

After missing three weeks, I was able to get back in today and walk four out of five cats.

I started out with newcomer PUTT-PUTT, since it sounds from all accounts as if the other cats have been giving him a hard time. He took to it amazingly well, and was brave and curious, exploring all round. Anytime he saw people, he made his way directly over to them and rubbed their legs and asked for some petting. He made a lot of friends out there. His favorite bits, I’d say, were the cricket (who I’m glad to say got away), the catnip toys (which he found on the shelf and wanted to take home with him), and all the attention. He watches dogs carefully but isn’t particularly afraid of them. What a great cat.

AVRY was next, since she loves walking but sometime refuses to come out of her cage if the other cats go out first (I think it’s a pecking order thing). Even though she wasn’t quite first in line, I’m not sure she noticed, being up high on a top ledge the whole time Putt-Putt was out of his cage. As usual she poked about, rubbing her chin on everything (to mark it as her territory, I assume). She did her usual dance in and out among the little stools over in the training room. 

TRIS I didn’t walk but instead put atop the bins, where she happily sprawled, perfectly willing to play any string game or game with the laser pointer I cd offer. She also thought a whiff of catnip was quite nice.

CHESTER came next, since it was clear from reports that he’s been going a bit stir-crazy since his un-adoption and return. To my surprise, he had less confidence than the last time (four weeks ago, but still). He wanted to hang out near the cat-room, lying down and welcoming attention but not wanting to move about much. A lot of people did come up and pet him.

Our other new cat (new to me anyway), OBI, may have been asking to go out on previous shifts, but he had second thoughts once actually out there. He got spooked by store racket (bad luck there) and climbed up to perch on my shoulders. Each time I got him down, he went right back up again, so I wound up cutting his walk short. While we were waiting for an employee to bring a key he lay down in front of the room, where he welcomed petting from three little girls (the oldest of whom was seven). 

What Obi really liked best was the box with catnip in the bottom, which he and Chester circled round and round towards the end of my shift. They wd willingly have spent more time with it, but after staying an extra half-hour I had to wrap things up. I’ll try to remember to bring it back in next week, with some fresh catnip.


No health issues, but Putt-Putt did discover the fake grass over near the aquariums and had to be disuaded from nibbling them; he (and some of the others as well) might enjoy some real cat-grass.


—JDR. 

UPDATE 8/17: Got the great news that OBI was adopted on THursday and is now in his new home. Chester will miss his little buddy but it'll be great for Obi to have a family of his own.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Clark Ashton Smith's CHRONICLES OF AVEROIGNE

So, I've now finished the new Clark Ashton Smith collection from Centipede Press, CHRONICLES OF AVEROIGNE, assembled and edited by Ron Hilger. I'd gotten this about a month ago but hadn't plunged in right away, having been somewhat put off by the art, which didn't do much for me, and editorial comments that made this seem a Lin Carter love-fest.

Now that I've read this all the way through, I found that the excellence of the stories drew me in. And while expensive I have to say it is a real pleasure to hold in the hand a well-bound book, with good quality paper and a cover ("boards"), esp when I took off the dust jacket and only put it back on when I was finished.

I'm glad to finally get all the Averoigne stories together in one volume (which will partially replace the photocopy assemblage I made for myself years ago that's had to serve till now).  Not only are these particular favorites of mine but, as I've said elsewhere, I think this the best story-cycle by Smith, the most brilliant of the WEIRD TALES school; the man who cd out-Lovecraft Lovecraft.*

That said, there were things I found off-putting about this collection.

First off, the first story in the book isn't an Averoigne tale at all but a Poe pastiche different in setting, period, and tone. For me it really set the wrong note.

Second, each story is preceded and followed by a Smith poem.** I'm still undecided about the merits of Smith's poems (let's say the jury is out on that one for now). In this case, while I see the effect they were aiming for, I think these interlinear pieces fail to achieve it. I'd have preferred that they instead inserted in their appropriate places the outlines Smith left behind for three more ultimately unwritten stories in the cycle, as 'legends of Averoigne' or some similar framework. For one thing, this wd have given them a better volume-opener ("The Oracle of Sadoqua",  a tale involving Smith's own Great Old One, Tsthuggua), set in Roman times, than "The Maker of Gargoyles" (chronologically the earliest story in the series).

I'm also puzzled why the editorial material, particularly the Afterword, make so much of Lin Carter, whom they honor as the person who thought of this collection years ago. That's true enough, though to my mind he's the person who had the chance to published this collection back in the early seventies and blew it. The Afterword also devotes much space to arguing that this collection is the closest thing we'll ever get to a Clark Ashton Smith novel (to which I say: not very).

Still: it's good to have this collection at last. I'm still grateful to Tom Moldvay's work for first introducing me to Smith's Averoigne stories. And I'm still v. much looking forward to the book of Smith's art (drawings, paintings, sculpture) that shd be out sooner rather than later, also from Centipede Press



--John R.

current reading: a pair of slim (Osprey) books on the Irish revolution and subsequent Irish Civil War (for background to better understand Dunsany's unfortunate experiences therein).***

current music: Glen Campbell's "Wm Tell Overture" (the man sure cd play guitar). R.I.P. to a fellow Arkansan.


*I've given my own opinion of Smith's Averoigne tales elsewhere (in my CLASSICS OF FANTASY piece on said stories),  so here'll I'll just note a few things about this specific collection.


**except the last poem, which is by Lovecraft and about CAS and Averoigne.

***which included having been shot in the head. 1916 was a really bad year for Lord D.





Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Feanor is gone




FEANOR
December 2002 - August 2017





Friday, July 28, 2017

A Lost Greyhawk Novel (A THIEF IN TH E TOMB OF HORRORS)

So, a few days ago I came across something I'd been looking for since I noticed a few months ago that it'd been misplaced: my copy of an unpublished GREYHAWK novel, A THIEF IN THE TOMB OF HORRORS, by Simon Hawke (1996). Back in the day at TSR, I was asked to make a reader's report on this, since I was editing Bruce Cordell's RETURN TO THE TOMB OF HORROR at the time, to point out any disconnect between the two.* Hawke has gone on to publish many more books, and eventually TSR published an entirely different book on Acererak's Tomb by Keith Strohm (THE TOMB OF HORRORS, in 2002) as part of its short-lived GREYHAWK line. I can't share the novel itself, but I thought some might be interested in my reader's report.


Notes on A Thief in the Tomb of Horror

   Hawke seems shaky on game mechanics -- thus he has the clerics of Atanis casting fireballs after the escaping thief (p. 50) and wavers back and forth over whether Acererak was a wizard or cleric (most of the time referring to him as a "warlord cleric" -- cf. p. 139 but having him cast clearly wizardly spells). Dariene's "leap" spell is clearly dimension door; why give it a different name? He also treats the Drow as patriarchal -- Dariene's father is their "chieftain" (p. 282 and elsewhere) -- whereas from their first appearance they've been described as matriarchal, an amazonian culture if ever there was one.
   His treatment of the tomb was pretty close to the original for the first eighty pages or so, after which it begins to diverge. The last 150 pages or so bear no relation to Gygax's original at all. Among Hawke's additions are multiple levels, multiple tombs (in different but overlapping dimensions), teleportals that suck whole passageways clean, planar portals to various etherial planes (all unpleasant), vast caverns, and a Scrooge-McDuck-style hoard as the final treasure. The monsters are new too: the stalkers (a key element throughout the adventure), the killer tribbles, vampire fairies, six-tongue, and Rodents of Unusual Size. Finally, his treatment of Acererak as a hooded, robed figure who stalks around the tomb zapping people instead of a static demilich is utterly unlike the original characterization.
   All in all, I liked it best when it was good and claustrophobic (roughly the first third), before the thief picked up companions and it turned into a standard dungeoncrawl with all the usual cliches, right down to the wicked woman getting hers in the end (cf. Into the Void, Test of the Twins, Feathered Dragon, etc.). Still, there were good touches -- Dariene's point of view is consistent throughout, and it's refreshing to have an evil character who doesn't rant all the time. I also like the engineer's point of view (p. 119), and the whole treatment of the mosaic passage with its distractions (until the portal opened). I'd have loved to see a character die by literally drowning in treasure in the final cavern (p. 279), sucked down in a pile of shifting gold coins like quicksand. And if Roland were going to be given companions, it'd be more fun to start with ten characters and whittle them down bit by bit, like Ten Little Indians, until there was only him left. Too late for that approach, though.
   All in all, strikingly different from Bruce's treatment in the sequel to the adventure. Maybe should cover the discrepancy, both to the classic adventure and to the concurrent sequel, by changing the epilogue somewhat to reflect that this is the sort of story Roland told after he'd escaped, rather than what actually happened inside? Unless that'd undercut the book too much.
   By the way, real collectors never polish coins (p. 304), since that destroys their value. But the idea works very well in the narrative, so shouldn't change it.

--John R.

In the end, Hawke's book was never published (probably because of TSR's collapse rather than its shortcoming). I used the 'ten little indians' idea in my art order for RETURN TO THE TOMB, though I don't know it anyone noticed: the adventure art starts with a party of ten adventures, whom we see getting killed one by one as the adventure progresses. 

One final note: while preparing this post I was bemused to discover that there's an entry for this book up on amazon, complete with prototype cover art: 


From this I learn that the book was projected to be a hardcover (!) of 352 pages, with a release date of April 1997. Little did they know.


--John R.
current reading: THE FOOD OF THE GODS by H. G. Wells (Kindle)


*my work on that excellent project being cut short when I was laid off during TSR's meltdown at the end of 1996. Steve Winter took over the project, I think after the buy-out and move to Renton, but it may have been during the long months between when TSR ceased releasing any new product but the were kept together as a unit and when they were bought out and shipped west.