Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Gygax Graphic Novel

So, while poking around looking at this and that, I found out that there's a biography of Gary Gygax in graphic novel form due out in a few months (May 9th, to be specific). It's called RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D by David Kushner (text) and Koren Shadmi (art).

I've already put in a pre-order on this item.

Here's a link with a little more information. 

--John R. 

The Yawning Portal

So, I'm so far out of the loop these days that I only just learned last week about the forthcoming new D&D release, a septet of classic adventures adapted to Fifth Edition rules, called The Yawning Portal. According to WotC,* the seven adventures are

  • Against the Giants
  • Dead in Thay
  • Forge of Fury
  • Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
  • Sunless Citadel
  • Tomb of Horrors
  • White Plume Mountain

  • Of these, four are classics: G1-3. Against the Giants (Gygax), C1. Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (Harold Johnson), S2. White Plume Mountain (Laurence Schick), and S1. Tome of Horrors (Gygax again).

    Two more come from the Third Edition Adventure Path: Bruce Cordell's Sunless Citadel and Rich Baker's Forge of Fury (the first and second in that series, respectively).

    The seventh wasn't familiar to me, and a little checking revealed the reason why; it's a new piece they've thrown into the mix (presumably like 'greatest hits' albums tend to have a new song added in the hopes it'll become a hit by being on the album**).

    It's probably no coincidence that all four of those classics ranked high in DUNGEON magazine's polling of "The 30 Greatest Adventures of All Time" (DUNGEON #116, November 2004), coming in at #1 (Giants), #3 (Tome), #9 (White Plume), and #18 (Tamoachan), respectively, albeit with Against the Giants there included in its mashup form as GDQ1-7.

    Personally I never cared much for the Drow series (D1, D2, D3) or its Llothian conclusion (Q1), probably I've only read them and never actually played through the adventures. Same goes for S2: I've heard it praised by enough folks whose opinion I respect (e.g., Bruce Cordell) to conclude I'd like it more if I'd played through it at some point. I did play through G1-G2-G3, which I do have a high regard for.

    Two surprising absences from this greatest-hits update/recap, at first glance, would be I6. Ravenloft (which came in at #3 on the DUNGEON list) and T1-4. Temple of Elemental Evil (#5 ibid.), but one of these has already had its stand-along fifth edition treatment: CURSE OF STRAHD, which came out about a year ago.

    Here's hoping TEMPLE OF ELEMENTAL EVIL gets a reprint as well.

    --John R.

    just finished: MacArthur vs. Truman by H. L. Brand (2016)
    currently reading: a book on octopus intelligence
    just finished: THE STORY OF SAIUNKOKU , second season
    currently watching (w. disappointment) RWBY season four.


    see also


    **a trend started by Paul Simon, with "Slip Sliding Away"

    Tuesday, January 24, 2017

    Have You Hugged Your Local Barnes & Noble Today?

    So, out of the blue Friday week (the 13th) I got an email announcing that one of the area Barnes & Noble has closed. This wasn't one of the ones I go to, being located up in Bellevue's Crossroads mall (that is, some twenty miles away from here), but it's still bad news to see the last major new books bookstore chain diminished by another store. I know some people disparage the 'big box' booksellers for their role in driving out (most of) the independents a decade or two back,* but for me, who grew up in a town without a bookstore, it's a comforting feeling to be able to drop in to a store with so many books I'd like to read right there on the shelf.

    Working at home as I do, I sometimes feel the need to get out and about and work somewhere off-site. And when I do, it's more likely than not that I'll pack up the laptop and the headphones and head over to the nearest Barnes & Noble with a Starbucks inside where, if they're not too busy, I'll get a cup of tea (English Breakfast) and work for an hour or two, until the tea runs out or it's starting to look like they cd use the table.

    So here's hoping it's just that one store's location that led to its closing and that it's not a sign presaging more to come. Books I can get from Amazon (and do. frequently.), but ambiance requires a bookstore.

    --John R.

    *some independents survived, such as Seattle's own excellent Elliott Bay Books, the university book store, and Third Place Books.

    TSR: Who Was Timothy Jones?

    So, last night before our D&D game got going (we're currently fighting our way through the newest iteration of the Ravenloft adventure) we were talking about old, old modules from the dawn of time. Pulling a few off the shelf to see if we could settle an argument about credits, I noticed that the editor of T1. Village of Hommlet (1979) was one Timothy Jones. That's a name I don't remember ever coming across before in mentions of who was at TSR in the early days. He shows up again (as "Tim Jones") as one of the seven editors of Laurence Schick's T2. White Plume Mountain (1979). He's also one of the twenty-one people thanked for their contribution to the game in Gygax's Preface to the PLAYER'S HANDBOOK (1978). Most of those names are well-known to anyone with an interest in the Old Days at TSR; I'm curious why Jones fell off the radar.  The evidence suggests he was a TSR employee, one of the editors, circa 1978-79, but with the exception of the late Dave Sutherland all of the old timers I knew at TSR had come on board in 1980-82. Anyone know anything about his career at, before, and after TSR?

    --John R.
    (TSR 1991-1996, 1997-2001, 2002-2005)

    Thursday, January 19, 2017

    A Connoisseur of Footnotes

    So, I've just finished reading Joseph Lelyveld's HIS FINAL BATTLE: THE LAST MONTHS OF FRANLKIN ROOSEVELT (2016), which I recommend. I've long been puzzled about FDR's running again for that final term, about which there seem to be two schools of thought. One holds that FDR didn't know how sick he was. According to some things I came across when fact-checking a children's biography of Eleanor Roosevelt back in my days with Gareth Stevens, Roosevelt's doctor knew the president was in terminal decline but didn't tell his patient that, nor the family, it being another time with a different conception of doctor/patient relationships -- or such seemed to consensus at the time (this wd have been about 1989-1991). The other idea was that Roosevelt knew he was dying but considered himself irreplaceable and indispensable, unable to hand over the reins to anyone else, who just soldiered on until he dropped.

    Out of Lelyveld's account comes a more nuanced position. Roosevelt knew he was desperately ill (enlarged heart, congestive heart failure, extremely high blood pressure) and that there was very little the doctors cd do for him. But he thought he had more time than he really did. The example of his father was probably strong in his mind: the elder Roosevelt had suffered a debilitating heart attack (at about the same age FDR went into serious decline) from which he never recovered, but by adopting an invalid routine (lots of rest, carefully monitored diet, regular visits to hot spring spas) had managed to live another ten years.  The example of Woodrow Wilson was also before him: Roosevelt knew Wilson well (having been Assistant Secretary of the Navy, back when Secretary to the Navy was a Cabinet position) and may well have concluded that he was not yet as obviously failing as Wilson had been (WW being paralyzed on one side).

    The idea that seems to have been in Roosevelt's mind was that it was unfair to turn over an active war to an incoming president, and that he  needed to stay on till the Axis were defeated and the UN up and running. Then he could step down and turn things over to his Vice President. One aspect of this plan was ousting Henry Wallace as his VP in '44, since he didn't think Wallace was up for the job; out of the half-dozen possibles whose names were mooted, FDR chose Truman as his best likely successor, and actively manipulated the party bosses and convention to get the result he wanted: Senator Truman as his new VP.

    As I said, an interesting book, full of examples of weighing oblique and after-the-fact evidence to try to arrive at the truth of what probably really happened. But it ended on a fun little note for me when I noticed an endnote  that drew my attention.

    The day before Roosevelt died, he called out to a reporter from his passing car "Heigh-0 Silver!"(Lelyveld  p. 320).  The endnote associated with this appears on p. 373:

    . . . Roosevelt was echoing the farewell cry of the Lone Ranger, 
    hero of a popular radio serial, a fighter for justice in the Wild West,
     which would have been familiar to most radio listeners, children
     especially, in that era. Now in their dotage, those who survive
     can be found arguing on the Internet about whether "Heigh-O"
     should be transcribe "Heigh-O," "Hi-ho," or "Hi Yo." 
    Silver was the Lone Ranger's horse.

    What I imagine happened here was that some reader of the Ms queried the spelling of the name, or whether it needed some explanation. Or perhaps Lelyveld himself got that nagging feeling scholars sometimes get that they need to explain something, just in case. And then, once launched on it, the note grew, from the proper spelling of 'hi-ho, Silver!' to an explanation of the context, with an amused aside in the swipe against internet squabbles (by those in their 'dotage'). A superfluous note, but a fine example of the compulsive note-writer's art.

    current reading: HIS FINAL BATTLE (just finished)

    The Car Museum

    So, Monday of last week marked the last day before we went back on the low-carb diet after holidaytide feasting (i.e., eating all our old favorites; anything we want).  And as a way of marking the occasion, we had planned to go to The Museum With The Stupid Name* to see their Star Trek exhibit. Unfortunately, we got a bit of a late start, and baulked at facing Seattle traffic. Default to plan B: a trip down to Tacoma to visit the LeMay car museum.

    We've been here before, but the exhibits change from time to time, and besides it's a really neat place. My favorites remain the Ford Model T and Model A's, which I think just represent in my mind the default of what a classic car shd be like.**  Which is not to say I didn't appreciate the many, many other neat cars they had, particularly the Packards.  The most interesting car was the Stanley Steamer: they had the hood up so you cd see the boiler, and get a sense of just how complicated this car was to drive. There was no sign of a firebox, which was puzzling. It's easy to forget that once upon a time we had a choice: in those early days there were electric cars (reliable start, quiet ride, low mph, limited range/charge), steamers (great cars but more likely to blow up than gas-powered cars), and the gasoline-powered cars (great range, higher speed) whose descendents ruled the road for the next century.

    Among the other notable cars I saw a Crosley (my father's first car was a secondhand Crosley, or so I'm told), their Cord, some 'James Bond' cars as part of a British Invasion exhibit, and much else. I was on the look-out for a mid-50s Plymouth, this being what my grandmother drove before she traded it in for the push-button car, but to no avail.

    As the visit wore on I found snippets of songs about cars ("gee our old La Salle ran great") running through my head. You'd think the line that kept running through my head wd be "they took all the cars and put them in a car museum"*** but no, it was as I was motivating over the hill, sparked by seeing a Coupe DeVille, the very next line being I saw Maybelline in a Coupe DeVille. And sure enough, now that I was looking for it I spotted a V8 Ford not far away, that being the other car called out by name in Chuck Berry's song, one of the first great rock n roll hits (though I prefer Johnny Rivers' cover version, recorded about a decade late). 

    All in all, we spent hours there and had a great time. I've since learned that the original site for the LeMay museum is still open, so we'll have to head down there sometime (our previous visit having been quite some time ago, before they opened the new site).

    Finally, here are some photos the museum took, which I think came out pretty well:

    And here are two that Janice took of the Stanley Steamer.

    --John R.

    current dvd: THE BEATLES Saturday morning cartoon (last seen by me in about '67, when I was seven years old and they were being broadcast new).

    *MOPOP, formerly the EMP; affectionately known as 'Paul Allen's Attic'; the one that looks like kaijun fewmets but includes such interesting exhibits as Stoker's typescript for DRACULA, Buffy's stake ('Mr. Pointy'), and an unpublished letter from J. R. R. Tolkien.

    **got to ride in the rumble seat of a Model A once, and though far from comfortable it was great.

    ***with apologizes to Joni Mitchell

    Tuesday, January 17, 2017

    The Week in Cats

    So, last week I went in and walked the cats (Sheena, Peetie, and Old Man Hank) twice

    It all started Tuesday morning (the 10th) when about a hundred crows all started cawing at the same time, a sure sign something has gone wrong (they were even joined by some seagull keening). Sure enough, checking below our feeder I found an injured pigeon, clearly the victim of a hawk or cat. I managed to get it to the Sarvey animal rescue folks on Rainier, who think it has a good chance of pulling through. Then, since I was already in Renton, I thought I’d swing by and see if any of the cats wanted walking. 

    They did. All three had a turn, followed by Hank having an extra turn, since he seems to have been having a hard time lately. 

    I found out that everyone in the store knows HANK, greeting him by name. He loved being out and about. 

    Old Man Hank

    One important thing I noticed is that Hank is afraid of dogs. I was holding him when a dog went by, and he trembled as long as it was in sight. And that was a smallish, well-behaved dog that never even saw him. So that would tend to suggest that a home with a dog might be hard on Hank.

    Today (W. Jan. 11th) there was more walking. I noticed that HANK has two modes: he mews when anxious or exploring but is quiet when curious/interested or in stealth mode (moving away from a dog, for example).  Also, Hank likes you to talk to him. It doesn’t matter if it’s babble or whatever: he just likes hearing your voice while he’s on the leash.

    Hank had disappeared when I got back to the room after Peetie’s walk, but it wasn’t hard to find him, since one of the cupboard doors that’d been closed when I left was now ajar. Sure enough, he was in there where he’s not allowed, happily sitting on laundry. 

    PEETIE  is getting better at the walks — he no longer tries to get under shelves or the like (Sheela’s also much better about this). But he is undecisive. When put down he’ll go back and forth up and down the same row, unable to decide where to go next. He is getting better at recognizing how to get back to the cat-room from pretty much anywhere on that side of the store. He saw some dogs and, while not pleased, stayed calm enough.  He also purred for me back in the room, and enjoyed the string-and-chain game.


    Sheena does not approve

    When it was SHEENA’s turn, she’s also doing much better. She mostly gets carried around the store: when I put her down, she goes in circles and mews. She clearly has no sense of direction, and no idea where she is in the store or how to get back home again. Think the carry-about is worthwhile, though, for the change of scene and the getting her attention from people in the store. Plus she’s getting less fearful at being out of the room, though still on the anxious side.

    We had some potential volunteers come in today; I gave them flyers. They petted all three cats; Sheena was particularly glad to get attention from them. 

    Here’s hoping all three find homes soon, esp. Hank.

    —John R

    P.S.: Here's a picture of Helena as well.

    Helena (now Daisy)

    Monday, January 9, 2017

    Clyde Kilby's Collected Essays

    So, just before Christmas arrived the new book by the late Clyde Kilby, A WELL OF WONDER: ESSAYS ON C. S. LEWIS,  J. R. R. TOLKIEN, AND THE INKLINGS (ed. Loren Wilkinson & Keith Call; Mount Tabor Books/Paraclete Press 2016). I'd been asked to provide a blurb and had been happy to submit one,* which I'm glad to see they used. Here's  what I said in the blurb:

    As the first decades of Inklings scholarship 
    recede from living memory, it's good to see 
    the papers of an influential critic from that 
    period made available again. Kilby is now 
    mainly remembered for founding the Wade
    Collection, but he was also among the first
    to see the Inklings as a coherent writers' group,
    and the pieces collected herein make the case
    for considering these authors in context
    with each other's work. Perhaps the out-
    standing piece is his short account of
    meeting C. S. Lewis at Oxford in 1953;
    published in 1954, this is one of the earliest
    memoirs of Lewis to see print, and it's good
    for it to see the light of day again after
    more than a half-century.

    In the current book, this piece appears as Chapter 2: "My First (and Only) Visit with Mr. Lewis", p. 16-19.  The two men met for about half an hour, by appointment, in Lewis's office at Magdalen. Lewis was fifty-four at the time and engaged in compiling the bibliography for his O.H.E.L. volume; he talked about all the exercise he got from lugging folios about and disparaged the idea of naming 'periods' of literature, like "the Renaissance" ("an imaginary entity responsible for everything the modern reader likes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries"). They spoke of Palestine, and Lewis expressed a curiosity over whether the re-establishment of Israel (it having been created as a new nation only six or seven years before) wd mean a rebuilding of the Temple and a restoration of sacrifice.

    Questioned about art and Xianity, Lewis pooh-poohed the idea of Christian literature: "He said the same relation existed between Christianity and art as between Christianity and carpentry" -- that is, that a carpenter might be a Xian but this didn't mean that he produced 'Xian carpentry'. Told of Wheaton College's founder's description of a novel as "a well-told lie", he dissented strongly, saying that "one is far more likely to find the truth in a novel than in a newspaper".   They talked a little about the then recently deceased C. E. M. Joad**

    Asked when he might come to America, he was emphatic that this cdn't take place before his retirement. As for a specific invitation to come that very summer, he replied "he had to get some vacation then, and a trip to this country [i.e., the US] would be anything but a vacation." He autographed a book for Kilby, somewhat reluctantly (Kilby does not say which one of CSL's bks it was, only that he had brought it with him). When Kilby expressed a wish to hear Lewis lecture, Lewis first said there were no lectures scheduled (presumably the visit took place during one of the breaks between terms) and teased Kilby for being a "professor [who wanted] to hear a lecture while on vacation". They talked a little about metaphor and then Kilby, fearing to overstay his welcome, departed.

    In addition to the Lewis piece, the volume also gathers together pretty much all the account of Kilby's meetings with Tolkien that had been originally published in Kilby's little book TOLKIEN AND THE SILMARILLION.*** I haven't gone through and compared to see if all that material is now here, but certainly most of it is, making this essay collection a good place to read an account by someone who had the chance to read virtually all of THE SILMARILLION during Tolkien's lifetime.

    There are also a number of essays on Lewis and on Tolkien, largely focusing on Xian aspects or interpretations of their work, as well as an essay apiece on Williams and on Sayers, and at least two on CSL, JRRT, et al being considered together as 'the Oxford Group'

    All in all, well worth having on the shelf.  As an extra added bonus, the dust jacket has a nice picture of four Inklings together: Dundas-Grant, Hardie, Havard, and Lewis. It's a well-known piece, but this is the best reproduction of it I've seen, and its presence here is appropriate, given that Kilby was co-author of the book IMAGES OF HIS WORLD, the first to gather together photos of Lewis and his friends.

    --John R.

    *after all, with the exception of Deborah Sabo I think Kilby and I are the only Tolkien scholars to have been at Fayetteville, Arkansas -- albeit decades apart.

    **whom Tolkien once described as 'Joad of Joad Hall', suggesting that his personality bore more than a little resemblance to Kenneth Grahame's Mr. Toad

    ***herein  titled Chapter 15: "The Evolution of a Friendship and the Writing of The Silmarillion
    At thirty-three pages I think this is the most substantial memoir of Tolkien yet published, aside from the FAMILY ALBUM.

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

    The New Arrival (Kilby's Collected Essays)

    So, I'd started to draft a post two days ago and then decided to put it off till I cd do a more thorough job. Except that it seems that when I went to hit "Save" I accidently hit "Send" instead.

    Sorry about that: I'll have the real post up later today

    current reading: a book by Toni Tennille that shd have been called 'Love Didn't Keep Them Together'
    current dvd: Saiunkoku, Beatles' cartoon show, the James Mason "20000 Leagues"

    Friday, January 6, 2017

    Sales of C. S. Lewis (+BBC CSL piece)

    So,  when posting about best-selling genre authors a few days ago, I shd have noted that JRRT's friend C. S. Lewis also made the top ten, coming in at #6 with estimated sales of 120,000,000 -- which, while about a third of Tolkien's estimated sales, still staggered me. I wdn't have thought the Chronicles of Narnia sold anything like that number. Perhaps those paperback editions of MERE CHRISTIANITY, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, et al, on the Xian shelves of the religious section in stores like Barnes & Noble account for a large portion of that amount. It's certainly not OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET (Lewis is not that widely read among science fiction fans) or, say, THE DISCARDED IMAGE (probably my favorite of Lewis's books, and certainly the one I learned the most from).

    Also, I learned a few days ago (thanks to Andrew F. for the link) that the BBC's Radio Four has a half-hour show devoted to CSL up on their website. Part of their Great Lives series, it discusses the life and legacy of Lewis, with historian Suzannah Lipscomb and chaplain Malcolm Guite praising Lewis while host Matthew Parris presents a slightly more skeptical perspective. Libscomb appreciates that Lewis "approaches the past on its own terms" (a point of view CSL considered a necessary corrective to what his friend Barfield called 'chronological snobbery'). Somewhat to my surprise they cover his liaison with Janie Moore straightforwardly. They also get points in my book for including a snippet of Lewis's own voice along with archival bits by four people who knew him (only the fourth of whom, Humphrey Carpenter, is identified*). Carpenter makes the interesting point that CSL refused to let people talk to him about their private lives for the v. good reason that he might then feel pressure to respond in kind, and (as his more recent biographer McGrath has made abundantly clear) he had excellent reasons for not wanting folks to know about his private life. More importantly, the host, Parris, puts his finger on something that I think doesn't get enough attention in discussions of Lewis's work. Parris said that when reading Lewis he often got the feeling that Lewis wrote with ulterior motives. I've always felt that way myself, and it's seriously gotten in the way of my enjoying such works as A GRIEF OBSERVED and TILL WE HAVE FACES, spoiling a good deal of CSL's work for me.

    So, a positive but not haliographical look at CSL's life, well worth checking out.
     Thanks again to Andrew F's sharing the link.


    --John R.

    *the third is named "Peter", but I have no idea which of the no doubt many Peters CSL knew in his lifetime this might be, nor do I recognize either of the first two voices. At any rate, it was good to hear Carpenter's voice again; his relatively early death was a great loss.

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

    Cat Photos: Helena, Peetie, and Sheena

    So, I don't seem to have a photo of Old Man Hank*, but here are photos of little Helena, Peetie, and Sheena, taken by one of my fellow volunteers and shared among the group:

    --John R.

    *more's the pity, since he has a lot of charisma

    Walking Cats (W.1/4-17)

    So, I didn't write up a cat report last week, but with the adoption of Mario and with Hank's heading up to the clinic we were down to just two cats when I arrived on Wednesday (the 28th).

    SHEENA is big, black, and placid and wants to be left alone by the other cats so she can enjoy her favorite place, a blanket atop the bins just outside her cage. She's what I call a lazy predator in that later on she rolled onto her back and enjoyed a game of laser pointer, happy as a clam so long as she didn't have to actually get up and move around.

    Little HELENA  looks almost like an ocelot cat and is amazingly small for a full grown three-year-old cat. She enjoyed the catnip and played all the games I offered with enthusiasm.  

    Mid-way through my shift two new cats arrived from the shelter: PEETIE (a chunky black-and-white cat with half-mast tail and a love of attention) and Old Man HANK (back from the clinic and demanding to be put back in charge of the cat-room).   It turns out that Helena hates boy-cats. She'd been fine with Sheena over in her corner but got very wound up after the arrival of the two boy-cats, and let fly the hisses when they approached her cat-stand (which by that point she very obviously considered her cat-stand). 

    Even though it was already fairly late in my shift, I went ahead and welcomed Mr. Hank back by taking him for a walk;; think he enjoyed the chance to stretch his legs and have a bit of a walkaround after being in the carrier.

    As for this week (Wedn. the 4th), I was a little late arriving this morning but nonetheless was able to walk all four cats for twenty to thirty minutes each, ranging all over the store. 

    HELENA went first, because I figured she was the one most likely to get wound up by the other cats the longer we waited.

    Then it was SHEENA OPRIA’s turn, followed by PEETIE TEK. Last came HANK, who was inclined to grumble over having had to wait but enjoyed his time out. I think Peetie got the most attention (people like his tail) but pretty much all got noticed and had a chance to explore.

    We had one man in visitiing the cats and asking lots of questions about adopting a single cat or two cats at the same time; he had concerns that one would be lonely but two might not get along. I encouraged him to come back in the evenings and talk to an adoption councilor; hope he does some follow-up. 

    We wrapped up the morning with some games for Peetie and Helena: mouse-on-a-stick, catnip bubbles, bootlace, laser pointer (the last by far their favorite). Helena discovered the catnip in the bottom of my bag just as I was putting them in their cages, so each had to have a pinch. 

    So: Hank considers all the other cats his minions, Helena is v. territorial; Sheena wants to enjoy her spot and Peetie wants to play.

    Health concerns: Hank seems fine, but I noticed he sneezed several time immediately upon coming back into the room from his walk.  Think his ears might need clearing but noticed this too late to do so today.  

    N.B.: Hank likes to steal Peetie’s food.

    --John R.

    Wednesday, January 4, 2017

    A Tolkienian Prayer

    So, thanks to Janice for spotting and sharing with me the following link to a prayer-of-the-day feature on the BBC Radio 4 site


    I thought this piece (by a Dundee chaplain, Rev. Duncan MacLaren) quite nice. Though if allowed one niggle I'd point out that Niggle isn't painting a preexisting Platonic tree. In Tolkien's theology of creativity, Niggle's tree did not exist until he started to paint it.

    Still, this, the one-man play currently touring England and Scotland, and the recent publication of LBN as a stand-alone booklet for the first time have all between them raised the profile of Tolkien's little parable: a Good Thing.

    --John R.

    Tuesday, January 3, 2017

    Happy Tolkien Day

    So, today is Tolkien's birthday.*

    Which makes this a good occasion to share the following list of all-time best selling fantasy / science fiction / horror authors. Top honors go to J. K. Rowling and Stephen King, but JRRT is close behind in third place, and the list's compiler notes that Tolkien's total sales might be much higher than the numbers reported (350,000,000 copies).** Here's the link to the piece:


    And here's the relevant paragraph about Tolkien:

    3) JRR Tolkien (c. 350 million)Tolkien's sales are likewise incalculable: 100,000 copies of a pirated version of The Lord of the Rings were sold in the United States alone in under a year, so the figures for unauthorised versions of the book in other countries are completely unguessable. What remains certain is that The Lord of the Rings is the biggest-selling single genre novel of all time, and possibly the best-selling single novel of all time. More than 50 million copies of the book have been sold since 2001 alone. The 100+ million sales of The Hobbit alone have also been bolstered significantly by the new Peter Jackson movies. If anything, the above figure may well be the most conservative on the list and Tolkien's sales may be vastly more than King's.

    It's unclear to me whether a three-volume set of THE LORD OF THE RINGS wd be counted as one book or three, but "possibly the best-selling . . .  novel of all time" has a nice ring to it. And it's interesting to note that had Tolkien written only THE HOBBIT, its sales alone wd be enough to make him tie with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, and Suzanne Collins for 7th/8th/9th place.***

    As an old-time TSR employee, I was interested to see that shared-world authors get more respect here than they used to get from some bookstores and libraries back in the day: Bob Salvatore comes in at #28 (30,000,000 books) for his FORGOTTEN REALMS Drizzt books)**** and Hickman & Weis tie for #42/43 (22,000,0000) for the DRAGONLANCE Chronicles. And I'm happy to see that my friend Jim Lowder appears at #283 for an impressive half-a-million books.

    TSR authors aside, I'm glad to see that some of the greats like Pratchett (#11; 85,000,000+) and Adams (#17; 50,000,000+) made it. Seeing all these names in a list like this calls out a lot of oddities: that Phillip Pullman's sales for THE GOLDEN COMPASS series are roughly double those of Rbt E. Howards' CONAN books; that Ursula Le Guin and Fritz Leiber are down in the four-million range (#122 & 113, respectively), roughly half their estimate for Ray Bradbury (#87), while Neil Gaiman has 40,000,000+ to his credit (#22; three quarters of this are the graphic novels).

    Less easy to spot are the absences: I cd find no mention of Dunsany, or Eddison, or Hughart, or Morris, or McKillop. Which goes to show that some seminal authors sell in great numbers (e.g. Tolkien) while others are vastly influential but that's not reflected in their sales (e.g. Dunsany).

    All in all, pretty impressive, given that the original print run for THE HOBBIT was, I think, 1250 copies. ***** The seeds of authors like Tolkien have grown into some pretty impressive trees.

    Congrats to all the authors who made the list, and to the many many good authors who didn't.

    current reading: THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR (moral: don't sell fake antiques to the Koch brothers; they're not the forgiving type)

    * (125th, but who's counting?)
    **for which thanks to Janice
    ***I'm sorry to see that BORED OF THE RINGS clocked in at #226, having sold more than a million copies; THE SODDIT (#320) accounts for another 150,000
    ****Ed Greenwood, creator of the Realms, comes in at #149 for around three million books.

    *****my mistake: I see from checking the Hammond-Anderso DESCRIPTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY that the number shd be 1500

    Monday, January 2, 2017

    Good News (SIr Ray)

    So, 2016 was a year that had its ups and down but whose downs are much more vivid in my memory: the unexpected entry into hospice and shortly thereafter death of one of my Tolkien friends, who I'd enjoyed seeing yearly for a quarter-century; various family crises; a health scare that turned out to be just a false positive but nonetheless threw me for a while there; the appalling results of the election; a publication that came back so many times with requests for changes that when the final printed copy finally arrived I cdn't bring myself to look at it; the death, in the final days of the year, of the man I considered the greatest living fantasist.*

    Distinct from this, but still a factor, there's the in-for-the-long-haul feeling in that I'm at the mid-point of two long projects that, while I'm v. excited about and enjoying working on both, still see that there's a lot of work done and a lot of work ahead to bring each to a satisfying conclusion.

    The turn of the new year seems a good time to try to shake off the malaise.

    So, turning instead to some good news for a change, the queen's Honours List this year included a knighthood for Ray Davies, frontman for The Kinks, one of the quirkiest and longest-lived of the British Invasion groups. There were plenty of one-shot wonders in those days, but The Kinks had two: "You Really Got Me" and "All Day & All of the Night". Then a half-decade later they reappeared with "Lola", a more complex song than their early  hits. And about a decade after that they had a final burst of glory (if you can call it that) with the schmaltzy "Come Dancing" (my least favorite of their songs).

    While never stars of the caliber of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or The Who, the Kinks were much admired by their peers, said admiration manifesting itself in somewhat odd ways. The Doors, for example, flat-out plagiarized "All Day & All of the Night", lifting its hook whole for their own "Hello I Love You". And Jimmy Page, renowned as a session musician for years before becoming legend as the founder of Led Zeppelin, used to like to let it drop that he'd been the guitar player on "You Really Got Me"-- something which he now admits was not the case: it was all Dave Davies (Ray's brother and partner in the band).

    Sad to say, while I like (some of) their music, the only Kinks album I own is an old cassette of STATE OF CONFUSION which has seen better days, plus a smattering of songs on old tapes dating back to my Fayetteville days, with only a single song on I-tunes ("Around the Dial").  Accordingly, today I visited I-tunes and added several favorites so I can listen to them on the laptop and i-Pod: "You Really Got Me" and "All Day & All of the Night" for their early hits, "Lola" plus the wicked little "Top of the Pops" and wistful "Ape Man" for their middle period, rounded out by "State of Confusion" and "Around the Dial" for their defiant latter days.

    So, I've been giving the speakers a good work-out today, as the cats can testify, enjoying some good music I hadn't listened to in a while. Nice to be able to celebrate Davies' contribution to rock music and know he's getting some once-in-a-lifetime recognition.

    --John R.
    in process: THE CANTOS by Ezra Pound (forty cantos in so far).

    *Richard Adams, author of WATERSHIP DOWN, the first post-Tolkien fantasy I read and enjoyed.

    Sunday, January 1, 2017

    teeny tiny type

    So, 2016 was the year I became aware of what I'd suspected for some time: that someone has been sneaking into our place and replacing all my books with duplicates that looked exactly the same on the outside but have much smaller type.

    Or, to put it another way: thank god for high magnification low-impact glasses for those of us for whom "near sided" doesn't begin to cover it. And for the 200% Zoom function on my laptop, and the enlarge function on Kindle.

    --John R.