Friday, July 28, 2017


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I came across something I'd been looking for since I noticed a few months ago that it'd been misplaced: my copy of an unpublished GREYHAWK novel, A THIEF IN THE TOMB OF HORRORS, by Simon Hawke (1996).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.

Monday, July 24, 2017

C. S. Lewis at Marquette (a road not taken)

So, I was reminded recently of the role happenstance plays in history. It's no secret but I don't think particularly well known that when Marquette bought the Tolkien Papers in the late 1950s the librarian responsible, Wm Ready, got the idea of buying C. S. Lewis's library as well, and also the late Charles Williams' papers, and asked his English agent, Bertram Rota, to sound out Lewis and the Williams estate.

Obviously, nothing came of these efforts. We don't know the reasons why, though it's interesting to speculate. Both Williams and Lewis were strongly identified with the Anglican Church; did the fact that Marquette was Catholic (in fact Jesuit) influence their decision? In Lewis's case at least he was only sixtyish and had just recently taken up his professorship at Cambridge, where all concerned expected him to stay for a good decade or so to come until his health broke down prematurely a year or two after he turned sixty. That being the case, he'd have wanted to keep his academic library intact for his own use. By the time of his forced retirement due to ill-health in mid-1963 the moment had obviously passed: Marquette had by this time fully stocked its new Memorial Library and Ready had moved on to other projects.

In the end, the Williams papers came to Wheaton many years later, in the '70s. Lewis's correspondence and what survive of his papers form not one but two collections, one at Wheaton and the other in the Bodleian.*  His library was scattered after his death, though a portion of it was later re-assembled and is now at Wheaton.**

Still, it's nice to think of might-have-beens, in which Lewis's library cd have remained intact and come to the same place as Tolkien's manuscripts.

--John R.

*both collections  made the admirable and v. sensible decision to share their holdings, so that photocopies of material at one are available to researchers at the other.

**even Lewis's letter to a Marquette professor, Victor Hamm, back in the '40s, discussing the latter's review of PERELANDRA, is now at Wheaton.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Lord Dunsany on Poets

So, when recently reading the new collection of previously uncollected stories by Lord Dunsany (THE GHOST IN THE CORNER, ed. Joshi & Andersson), I came across a curious remark in the opening paragraph of the story "In the Governor's Palace":

"It was one evening at a university* 
. . . that I heard the story, where twenty or 
so undergraduates, members of some society 
in the University, were gathered together after 
supper to debate the merits of one of those 
lesser poets who lived like lonely stars in 
the dark of the space between the death of Milton
 and birth of Keats"**


Dunsany is famous (or notorious) for his hostility to modern poetry,***  but it's less well known that
while he idolized Shakespeare (cf. his play IF SHAKESPEARE LIVED TODAY) and Tennyson he was also dismissive of many great poets of the past -- most notably Alexander Pope and, so far as I can tell, pretty much all the poets who followed in the restoration and neoclassical traditions. The first half of the eighteenth century is usually called 'The Age of Pope', and with reason, but Dunsany very much bought into the idea that 'verse' is something distinct from 'poetry', and that Pope wrote the former and not the latter.

This dismissal of Pope comes across most strongly in Dunsany's story "The Club Secretary". in the second Jorkens book, MR. JORKENS REMEMBERS AFRICA (1934).**** In this story Jorkens stumbles across (or dreams of; the story leaves both options open) The Elysian Club, a club for poets whose members include all the great poets of all time. Specific poets mentioned as belonging to the club are  Homer, Milton, Tennyson (a particular favorite of Dunsany's), Shakespeare, Swinburne, Herrick, Keats, and Shelley. He also includes his old tutor, Stephen Phillips, but omits Pope, making him one of the servants (the hall-porter, what's these days usually called a bell-hop).*****

I'm inclined to put this down as more evidence of Dunsany's conservative tastes when it came to poetry, of a piece with his praise of Yeats' early poems and apologies for all the Yeats poems by which we remember him today. Still, curious and striking.

--John R.
current reading: old rpg magazines (skimming), THE AVEROIGNE CHRONICLES by Clark Ashton Smith, recently arrived C.o.C. adventure.

*Dunsany himself had wanted to go to Oxford, but his father insisted he attend Sandhurst, the military academy, instead (the English equivalent of West Point).

**Milton died in 1674 and Keat was born in 1795, so that leaves out about a hundred and twenty years.    Wordsworth and Coleridge's LYRICAL BALLADS, the book generally considered to have launched the Romantic movement, came out in 1798, so they're on the right side of the line; presumably Dunsany wd approve of them, and of their contemporaries Shelley, Byron, and Keats.
One major and interesting omission is Wm Blake. By 1795 Blake had already written SONGS OF INNOCENCE, SONGS OF EXPERIENCE, THE MARRIAGE BETWEEN HEAVEN & HELL, and the early Prophetic Books. But then if there was ever a poet who went his own way headless of contemporary movements, it was Blake, so it's possible he's one of those 'lonely stars in the dark'. I suspect it's more likely to have been Th Grey or Wm Cowper, each of whom is remembered today for a few haunting lines.

***among his very last works are a set of dueling articles attacking or defending modern poetry between Dunsany (attacking) and John Ciardi (defending).

****pages 277-284, the next to last story in the book and, it so happens, one of the two Jorkens stories recorded by Vincent Price for Caedmon Records in 1982.

*****one more poet he does not mention here but we have every reason to think thought highly of is Horace, given that he translated THE ODES OF HORACE into a stand-alone book towards the end of his career (1947).

Friday, July 21, 2017

How to Tell if you're in a Tolkien Story ('The Toast')

So, thanks to Janice for this link, which led to a site I thought was awesome. The site allows you to answer the all-important question: of HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE IN A J. R. R. TOLKIEN BOOK?

Of the thirty-three examples they offer up, here are a few of my favorites:

A wizard has roped you into a quest because one of your ancestors invented golf.
Your exhaustive knowledge of whimsical riddles has saved your life on multiple occasions.
You are so adventurous you once walked twelve miles to visit your cousins in a different village, then promptly returned home because the people there were strange and foreign.

You are easily distracted by a workplace crush and are terrible at your job. Unfortunately for everyone, your job is The Moon.

You once fulfilled an ancient prophecy and overturned gender expectations at the same time.
After careful consideration, you have decided not to become a Dark Lord.

I was impressed by the realization that one story cd apply to three different characters if you left the last half of the last sentence off ("it will be mostly your fault").

There were only one or two I thought a little iffy. Great fun; well done.

It turns out the same website has done several other posts along these lines; the best of those I looked at was, hands down,  HOW TO TELL IF YOU'RE IN A VIKING SAGA:

Some highlights from among its twenty-seven entries include

You have started a bloody multi-generational feud by stealing cheese.

You have enraged a family of Sami wizards, who like to stand on your roof and sing all night.
An elderly woman, known for her second-sight, gives you specific instructions to avoid being murdered. You ignore her.

Unlike with the Tolkien, I don't know the right answers to all of these, though I can recognize some.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Gygax's Lost Gnome Novel

So, thanks to friend Jeff (thanks Jeff), here's another data point to add to those already gathered about the Gygaxian gnome; eventually we shd be able to connect the dots together and get a likely scenario re. the D&D gnome's origin.

I had remembered that Gygax published a few chapters of a god-awful D&D novel in the early days of THE DRAGON (later DRAGON MAGAZINE), under the pseudonym Garrison Ernst, which I'd read part of back in the early/mid-90s.* What I'd forgotten was that the name of this aborted novel was THE GNOME CACHE. I don't have a full run of DRAGON, unfortunately,** but luckily I do have the invaluable DRAGON MAGAZINE ARCHIVE reproducing the first 250 issues in facsimile.

Checking it now and reading the whole story, such as it is (seven chapters in sixteen pages spread over seven issues***), I can see it's of historical interest as probably the first piece of fiction set on Oerth (albeit a v. undeveloped version thereof) if of no interest as a work of art.

What is odd, though, is that for a work named "The Gnome Cache" it has no gnomes and no cache. Instead it tells the story of a jerk who robs his father and uses his stolen funds to set off on a life of adventuring.  Picking up a sidekick along the way he has encounters with a group of brigands (whom he briefly joins), works as a caravan guard, barely escapes from an ambush, loses his temper a lot, and wanders around in the woods.

It's not until the last two sentences of the last paragraph of the last chapter that we get a hint of anything possibly relating to the title:

"Great Gods!" expostulated the startled errant.
 "It is a dwarf being pursued by a pack of giant toads
 and weirdly hopping men!"****

This scene is actually illustrated*****

What we're shown here is clearly a dwarf, supporting the idea sent in by Zenopus Archives in a Comment on an earlier post that 'gnomes' were just a kind of dwarf in Gygax's original conception, rather like hill dwarves vs. mountain dwarves:
  (scroll down to the third comment)

Unfortunately for our inquiry, but a stroke of luck for early DRAGON readers, this is the last installment published. The editorial for the next issue mentions (#8 page 3) that, just as had been the case in issue #4, a featured piece had crowded out THE GNOME CACHE for this issue. Editor Tim Kask adds that

 It is expected, however, that that fine tale will resume in #9. 

This turned out not to be the case, and so far as I known no more of THE GNOME CACHE was ever published (or, I suspect, ever written).


*this was back when Roger Moore was the current editor of DRAGON; he let me borrow early issues from the magazine department's reference set, from which I photocopied a lot of interesting pieces. This wasn't among them.

**I'm missing seven of the first ten issues, and a few issues near the end of the journal's long run.

***This is somewhat less than it appears, since some of these are half-pages sharing the spread with ads and the like, as is the wont of magazine fiction.

****THE DRAGON issue #7, page 22. It's probably too much to ask that these wd have turned out to be hopping vampires. I suspect they might be werefrogs, or frog/human hybrids, given that this encounter takes place near Castle Blackmoor, known for its terrible giant frogs.

*****on page 29. If this reference looks a bit off, it's because the story appears on pages 28, 29, and 22 of that issue, so that the conclusion of the chapter comes several pages before the main part of the chapter itself. Such were the complications of lay-out in the early days of TSR periodicals printing

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Night of the Monkey Riot (C.o.C.)

So, just for fun thought I'd share my write-up of the latest session of our CALL OF CTHULHU game. Those who are playing through the first organized play adventure from Chaosium shd avoid the following because of spoilers. This was the fifth session, which rounded up the second adventure in the campaign. Our five Investigators are all Miskatonic University students in the early 1930s. The first adventure saw us doing some fieldwork in remote Cobb's Corners, Vermont -- in which days of collecting folklore and unsettling rumors suddenly came to a head with horrific events which left the survivors happy to put Vermont behind them, hopefully forever. The second adventure deals with the follow-up back at Miskatonic, when some of the missing students (including the dead ones) show up a few days later, apparently none the worse for wear but with their personalities weirdly different. It soon becomes obvious that these are different people in the bodies of our former friends, up to no good.

The five player characters are Aaron (Jeff), Harry (Steve), Michael (Sig), Ruth (Anne), and S. S. (myself). Our Keeper (DM) is Stan. For this particular session Anne & Sig, who play via Skype, cdn't make it, so we just had three PCs. Here's the write-up I made so as to share with Sig and Anne what their characters missed and to remind us all next time what's just happened.

Session Five
Just a quick reminder, in case it’s needed, that we’re not playing this weekend. Should give our characters time to heal up from what will always be known at Miskatonic U. as The Night of the Monkey Riot.

Last session Aaron went to Professor Wilmarth and pretty much spilled the beans about flying crustaceans, sudden personality shifts, and other weird going ons, only to have Wilmarth say he cdn’t do anything based on hearsay. Meanwhile S. S. went to Dr. Armitage, the Librarian, with a tale about a plot by some students to steal some books from the library and burn the rest. He wasn’t having any of it and all but threw her out. One of us — either Harry or Aaron — learned that something was going to happen involving a serum the next day but we cdn’t find out who was taking it or giving it to whom. 
   That night Harry, S. S., and Aaron stole into the science lab and stole* the sample of pasqualium,** which is now hidden in Ruth’s museum (which we used as crash space, in case anyone bad came looking for us at our individual rooms).

The next day all hell broke loose. We later figured out that Lazlo and Clarissa went to the men’s and women’s dining halls and put some kind of serum in the food (so Michael was on to an important clue in seeing Lazlo in the food-preparation area the day before, had we but known to follow up on it). Shortly afterwards students were rampaging about, smashing things and shouting Oook-ook. The three of us were lucky not to be affected, so we raced to the library.  Armitage had assigned two guards to watch over things, but they rushed outside to deal with the riot, leaving the brain-swapped students (Little Rod, Jason, and Gibbons, I think) to fill two sacks of books and douse the place with kerosene. Lazlo appeared up in the balcony, casting shove-spells and setting the kerosene afire. Little Rod (whom we know is really semi-good guy Clarke) carried an innocent bystander to safety. S. S. got doused in kerosene and ran burning from the library, collapsing outside in a burning heap. Harry played the hero, noblely sacrificing his raccoon-skin coat to smother the flames. In all the confusion, the bad guys got away, and Lazlo (we presume) nabbed the books as well.

The aftermath was that thanks to our action the library was damaged but not destroyed. We all survived, though S. S. had to spend the following week in the campus or city hospital recovering from her Major Wound. Professor Lehrmark was found dead the next morning, strapped to a lab table and with the top of his head taken off. The brain was missing.

We got lots of SAN reward for partially foiling the sinister plot, but the bad guys got clean away with everything they wanted except the sample of pasqualium. 

The final scene before the Keeper brought the curtain down was Professor Wilmarth introducing us to someone he thinks we shd meet: a Mr. Pasqual.

So, who’s on for the 21st or 28th?

—John R.

*S. S. has discovered that bobby pins are great at opening just about any kind of lock, so long as you make that Locksmithing roll

**a trans-uranic alien metal found at the site of a meteor strike up in Vermont

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poul Anderson's Troll

So, pursuient to refreshing my memory about where some iconic things in the D&D game came from, I went back and re-read Poul Anderson's THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS, which I remembered liking well enough when I first read it in the early '80s (along with what else I cd find at the time of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series).

At first I thought this was a false trail, especially when I found a giant that turned to stone in daylight (clearly derived from either THE HOBBIT or Norse folklore or both) in Chapter 19 (of 24), towards the end of Anderson's book.

But I was wrong: in Chapter 22 came the troll encounter, and it's very clearly the inspiration for the D&D troll as it emerged a decade or so later. The key detail is its regeneration, something that so far as I know was Anderson's own invention, as well as the fact that only fire-damage can stop this (as our heroes discover by chance).

Chapter XXII.

The troll shambled closer. He was perhaps eight feet tall, perhaps more. His forward stoop, with arms dangling past thick claw-footed legs to the ground, made it hard to tell. The hairless green skin moved upon his body. His head was a gash of a mouth, a yard-long nose, and two eyes which were black pools, without pupil or white, eyes which drank the feeble torchlight and never gave back a gleam.

Ho-o-o . . . 

Like a huge green spider, the troll's severed hand ran on its fingers. Across the mounded floor, up onto a log with one taloned forefinger to hook it over the bark, down again it scrambled, until it found the cut wrist. And there it grew fast. The troll's smashed head seethed and knit together. He clambered back on his feet and grinned at them. The waning faggot cast red light over his fangs . . .

The torso remained. Worst was that task, when Holger and Carahue rolled a thing as heavy as the world toward the furnace heart of the cave, while it fought them with snakes of guts. Afterward he could not remember clearly what had happened. But they burned it.

Its description even matches the late great Dave Sutherland's art:

Sutherland's troll #1 (see upper right)

Sutherland's troll #2 (see lower left)
--he even got the green color right.

While I'm mentioning Poul Anderson, I might note another possible element inspired by his work and incorporated into D&D --in this case, the alignment system.  I'd always assumed that D&D's alignment system, Law vs. Chaos, came from Moorcock's ELRIC stories. Now I see it appeared in a more D&D-ish form in Anderson: not just THREE HEARTS but OPERATION CHAOS as well. I suppose a case cd be made for Roger Zelazny as well, but his Courts of Chaos seem to me to be genuinely chaotic, as opposed to just a synonym for 'bad'.

As for Anderson himself, I remember rather liking THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS when I first read it aside from his shabby treatment of Morgana le Fay. Re-reading it now (and his version of HROLF KRAKI a decade or so back), I think his work has not aged well; de Camp & Pratt had done this sort of thing before, and done it better. The same goes for OPERATION CHAOS (I'd read the short story years ago and thought it fun; the book he's made it into is a good example of more being less) and A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST, which I've had for years but never been able to make myself read before (the hook: the heroes help the bad guys win the English Civil War, and we're supposed to be happy about that).

Time to go read the new Clark Ashton Smith collection instead, methinks.

--John R.
--current viewing: KADO (an anime 'first-contact' story; looks to be a story of ideas, not action).

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Five Cats a'walking (W.7/12)

FIve cats in the cat-room today, all of whom got walks.

Last week I hadn’t been able to get AVRY to come down from on high and out of her  cage,* whereas PENNI climbed me like a ladder before I got three steps from the door, so only the other three (CHESTER, TABITHA, and TRIS) had gotten walks.

Today I accordingly started w. Avry, so she didn’t have time to get out of sorts seeing the other cats out and about. She really blossomed when we got her to the Training Room. She wove in and out of the little stools over and over, rubbed my legs and purred, did her paws up and down, and generally expressed her satisfaction. I even held her belly-up in my lap for ten to fifteen minutes; she was that relaxed. It’s at times like these that I get a sense of what she’d be like in a one-cat home of her own. Remembering how she looked when she first arrived, I was struck by how different she looks with all that fur grown back in. Hope she finds that home soon.

Penni was next, and while it was hard getting the leash on I walked up and down the cat-room carrying her for a few minutes to help get her used to it, and when we actually went out she did better than expected. I carried her pretty much the whole time, but think it did her good to be outside the cage for a bit. Afterwards, remembering that someone said Penni likes the bin-bed in the corner I put her up there. They were right: she stayed the rest of the morning, like a little old princess on her throne. Turns out she loves catnip bubbles and peacock feathers, and I suspect the gopher game wd go down well. Looks like she’s willing to be out so long as the other cats keep their distance.

Tris wanted to explore the various cat-stands and pet beds. She seems to be picking up the rules about walking pretty quick. Glad to report that at one point when she found herself near a dog (somewhat smaller than herself) she behaved well: both she and the dog stated at each other a bit and then went separate ways.  Found out last week that she likes games but she LOVES CATNIP. Just about any form is good: catnip teabags, catnip spray, catnip bubbles . . . It doesn’t seem to make her either pouncy or mellow; she just likes it. A lot. 

Chester had to wait for his walk: he was watching with impatience while Tris and Penni had their turns. Once out he didn’t go as far afield or stay out as long as last week (when he’d been out for about a half hour or forty minutes) but he seemed to enjoy himself and did some exploring. He was unhappy when I put him back in his cage; he clearly felt he hadn’t gotten enough attention or games or time outside the cage. Suspect he’ll demand lot of attention from the next shift.

Finally, Tabitha also had to wait while the shyer cats got out of their cages and got their walks first. She didn’t go too far afield, but enjoyed sniffing the bottoms of each cat-tree in turn. She’s gotten pretty confident about being on the leash and is now one of our best walkers (along with Chester, who’s brave, and Avry, who loves her room). 

most popular cat-toy today: the catnip bubbles, w. Chester (of course), Tris (ibid), and rather surprisingly Penni all keeping a fascinated eye on them but keeping their distance.

no health concerns that I noted. noticed a lot of shedding going on with Avery and Tabitha

—John R. 

*though someone came down from Lynnwood to see her last week and spent a half-hour petting her in her cage.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The New Arrival (CAS)

Just arrived today: THE AVEROIGNE CHRONICLES, ten stories by Clark Ashton Smith, the greatest of the Weird Tales school and a personal favorite of mine.

I've been a fan ever since Tom Moldvay's X2. Chateau d'Ambreville introduced me to Averoigne and Smith's work, sending me to track down the TimeScape editions and, later on, some of the Arkham House originals.

The new book is horribly expensive, as might be expected from a limited-run small-press edition. But I've long wanted the Averoigne stories all gathered together in one volume and finally decided to go for it.

More later, when I've had a chance to look it over some.

--John R.
current viewing: M. R. James shorts on You-Tube.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Dunsany's New Book (THE GHOST IN THE CORNER)

So, the first thing to say is that as a fan of Dunsany's work, I'm very glad to have THE GHOST IN THE CORNER, a collection of some fifty new stories by Lord D. ("new" as in previously uncollected, and in a few cases unpublished), edited by Martin Andersson and S. T. Joshi and just published by Hippocampus Press.

This joins THE LAST BOOK OF JORKENS (2002), THE GINGER CAT & other plays (2005), and PLEASURES OF A FUTUROSCOPE (2003, Dunsany's last novel) as a string of previously uncollected and/or unpublished Dunsany books finally published in recent years, long after the author's death. GHOST IN THE CORNER is particularly interesting in that Joshi & Andersseon say that the section making up the final two-thirds of their own collection was assembled by Dunsany himself as a book in 1956, but he failed to find a publisher. It seems likely, then, that herein we have what Dunsany intended to be his final book.

As a Dunsany scholar, a fan and admirer of his work, I’m v. glad to have THE GHOST IN THE CORNER. Most of these stories I’ve known about and had in photocopy form, but it’s much nicer (easier to read, more accessible) to have them collected into book form.  So Joshi & Anderssen have done us all a good turn here.

That said, I’m one of those who thinks Dunsany’s great work virtually all came in the first decade and a half of his career.  So I see this collection as minor work by a major author — and by major, I mean the finest fantasy short story writer in the language, bar none. But I think he lost his ability to write such stories around 1916 and that this collection shows the degree to which he'd written himself out in the final years of his career. It's as if they were to put out a Tolkien collection made up mostly of Tinfang Warbles.

I do think there are three top-rate stories in this new collection: The Story of Tse Gah (his own take on the Dalai Lama), The Traveller to Thundercliff (the gem of the lot; a deliberate attempt to return to his early style), and At the Scene of the Crime, the last of which (one of his better mysteries) is new to me.  

—John R.
current reading/viewing: various M. R. James short stories.

UPDATE: In the original version of this post I included the line "Unfortunately Anderssen & Joshi nowhere provide the intended title of that erstwhile collection: presumably they don't have this information themselves, though they don't actually say so either way". That was an error on my part. In fact, Joshi and Andersson state clearly in their introduction (THE GHOST IN THE CORNER, page 10) that they do not know what name Dunsany intended. Thanks to Doug A. for drawing this to my attention. --JDR, 7/9-17

Friday, July 7, 2017

Giants in the Earth

So, over the holiday weekend I dug out a cassette tape I thought  had Taum Santoski's talk from the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference on it. It turned out to be Clyde Kilby's guest-of-honor speech instead -- still something I'm v. glad to have but not what I was looking for.

At the end of Kilby's performance, however, Taum's voice comes on as he makes some announcements regarding the following (and final) day of the conference. In particular he calls out all the speakers giving presentations at the conference, and I found myself more and more impressed as the names roll by:

Jared Lobdell*

Karen Wynn Fonstad

Jim Allan

Lyle Dorsett

Mike Foster

Dr.  Blackwelder

Darrell Martin

Gary Hunnewell

Deborah Webster Rogers

Verlyn Flieger

Clyde Kilby.

Dr. Joseph McClatchy

Lester Simons

and Anders Stenstrom (his famous exopoemic/epipoemic/empoemic piece).

That's a lot of talent in one room at one time and place. And there were other luminaries besides the speakers: it was at this conference that I met Wayne Hammond, whom I immediately introduced to Richard West, feeling that Tolkien bibliographers shd get together when the occasion offered. And of course there was Taum himself, just at that point starting to come into his own as a Tolkien linguist and resident expert in the Tolkien manuscripts at Marquette.

All these years later, some are gone (Kilby, McClatchy, Fonstad, Dr. Blackwelder, Lester, Taum himself). A surprising number are still with us thirty-eight years later, many still deeply involved in Tolkien scholarship. It was a smallish conference, but I think it played an important role in bringing together Tolkien scholars who'd been working largely in isolation and creating a kind of critical mass, the effects of which are still with us today, and in a good way.

--John R.
current reading: "Fragments of the Epic Cycle" (so that's where Lin Carter got it all from).

*whose keynote speech helped introduced the ideas of Tom Shippey to an American audience

Heyerdahl Would Be Proud

\So, thanks to Janice for sharing the link to this story about a traditional Polynesian craft sailed by Hawaiians that just completed a circumnavigation of the world:

I like that they took their time, and particularly like the part about asking permission from the local indigenous people wherever they went.

I found this all the more interesting because of my lifelong interest in Thor Heyerdahl, whom I first read along about sixth grade and whose books I read and re-read for years thereafter: KON-TIKI, AKU-AKU, THE RA EXPEDITION.

In more recent times, I was much taken with Geoffrey Irwin's book THE PREHISTORIC EXPLORATIONS AND COLONISATION OF THE PACIFIC (highly recommended), which I first found in the Kent library and later tracked down my own copy of. I came away from Irwin's book persuaded that he was in the right about the Polynesian exploration and settlement of the Pacific as purposeful: carefully planned and skillfully carried out, not a matter of setting out in a random direction and hoping for the best.*

I find myself curious as to what Heyerdahl wd make of this just-completed epic voyage, carried out v. much in the Heyerdahlian manner. On the one hand, he was the great champion who argued that we deeply underestimate prehistoric peoples, many of whom he held to be highly skilled boatmen capable of long voyages across the sea -- whether from Peru to Tahiti (Kon Tiki) or the Mediterranean to the Caribbean (The Ra). And on the other hand, his strongly-held personal thesis was that the Pacific was settled from the east, not the west.** That is, that the peoples of Easter Island &c were descended at least in part (culturally as well as biologically) from explorers who came from the Pacific coast of North and especially South America -- an argument that's now been not so much disproven as rendered moot.

On a personal note, Heyerdahl was one of my heroes for trying to actually find out if his theories were possible by practical experimentation in the field. I cd no longer accept Von Daniken and other 'unsolved mystery' types about the heads of Easter Island, for example, after reading Heyerdahl (AKU-AKU), who showed how the statues were carved, how they were moved, and how they were set up once in position, complete with top-knots. There's also a Tolkien connection, albeit a tenuous one, in that Allen & Unwin was Heyerdahl's publisher. Just was THE LORD OF THE RINGS was A&U's big hit of the 1950s, their great hit of the decade before Tolkien had been KON-TIKI. In fact, the one time I got to meet Joy Hill, she had a copy of one of Heyerdahl's ships (either the RA or, more likely, the TIGRIS) on her mantle, a gift she said from Heyerdahl, who'd become a friend of hers in the course of their dealings at Allen & Unwin.

--John R.

*his chapter on the early (30,000 BC) movements by ship from mainland asia to New Guinea and Australia was particularly interesting --mostly predicated on whether you cd see where you wanted to get to from where you were -- and possibly apropos of arguments re. the early (pre-Clovis) settlement of the Americas.

**I have, but have not read, a copy of his massive tome AMERICAN INDIANS IN THE PACIFIC (Allen & Unwin, 1953) -- though looking at it now I see he includes material on native peoples from near where I now live, like the Makah and Salish.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The World Has Changed

So, yesterday in the foyer of the friendly neighborhood Barnes & Noble I saw that among the display of B&N-published editions of literary masterworks was THE COMPLETE CTHULHU MYTHOS TALES by H. P. Lovecraft.* And to the left of it was TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. And to the right of it was THE ILLIAD & THE ODYSSEY by Homer.

HLP has Arrrived.

--John R.
current reading: Poul Anderson's A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST (dreadful) and fragments of lost Homeric epics (Loeb library)

*the book was shrink-wrapped, so I cdn't tell which tales they'd included, other than that there were twenty-three of them, and that according to B&N's online website they include "The Call of Cthulhu", "The Colour Out of Space", "The Dunwich Horror", "The Shadow Out of Time", and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"