Monday, December 24, 2018


So, thanks to friend Jeff (hi Jeff) I learned about the just-published new novel JEEVES AND THE KING OF CLUBS (nov 2018) by Ben Schott. This may best be described as Wooster and Jeeves without Wodehouse. That is, it has the characters, setting, idiom, plot-elements, and so forth in common with Wodehouse's stories, used by permission of the Wodehouse estate. But it's not by Wodehouse himself.

This makes it one among many such books: I've read a Nero Wolf novel not by Rex Stout, a Perry Mason story not by Earl Stanley Gardner, several Lord Peter Wimsey books not by Dorothy L. Sayer, and any number of of Sherlock Holmes stories not by Doyle. The assumption in all these seems to be that it's the characters (along with some touches of setting) and not the author that make the story. But the experience of reading one of these posthumous continuation series suggests otherwise. I think I read such books out of a hope that, even though the author is gone his or her series might continue. We'll get more, even when we know there's no more 'more'. To borrow one of Tolkien's metaphors, you can assemble the familiar ingredients, but in the hands of any other cook try as you may it's a different soup.

As for JEEVES AND THE KING OF CLUBS, it's enjoyable enough but distinct enough from the originals to be obviously so by design. That is, Schott knows he can't replicate Wodehouse so he doesn't try; he uses the same ingredients to cook up a dish of his own. The essence of the plot postulates that the Junior Ganymede club is secretly a branch of the British Foreign Service and that through it Bertie is being recruited to keep an eye on British fascist Sir Roderick Spode, whose foreign contacts make him a potential genuine menace. Wodehouse wd have turned this into a light frothy farce, the fictional equivalent of a perfect screwball comedy; Schoot plays it straight except for a few carefully staged scenes. More importantly, his Wooster is neither dim nor gullible: he emerges as an intelligent actor within the larger plot, able to interact with others as a rational fellow human beings, as when he winds up minding a lingerie shop with great aplomb for what cd have been a fraught half-hour or when he chats with a mermaid* backstage at a theatre.

In short, an enjoyable read, but it's not Wodehouse.

But then, nobody else is.

--John R.

*that is, an actress in a mermaid suit

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Song I'd Love to Hear Covered by Andy Serkis

So, seeing his Brexit/Gollum piece makes me want to see Andy Serkis put together a music video of the Gollums singing to his Ring the old Miracles hit YOU REALLY GOT A HOLD ON ME.*

Even better if it picks up additional victims of the Ring (Bilbo, Boromir, Ringwraith, &c) with each of the later choruses.

It'd be like the best filksing ever without even having to alter any of the words from the original (though a little judicious pruning might help)

I don't like you
But I love you
Seems that I'm always
Thinking of you
Oh, oh, oh,
You treat me badly
I love you madly
You've really got a hold on me . . .

I don't want you,
But I need you
Don't want to kiss you
But I need to

Oh, oh, oh
You do me wrong now
My love is strong now
You've really got a hold on me. . . 

I love you and all I want you to do
Is just hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me . . .

I want to leave you
Don't want to stay here
Don't want to spend
Another day here

Oh, oh, oh, I want to split now
Just can't quit now
You've really got a hold on me . . .

--John R.
current reading:
JEEVES AND THE KING OF CLUBS (2018), not by P. G. Wodehouse but one Ben Schott

better still if it was the Beatles' version (the late one is best)

Friday, December 14, 2018

Monday, December 10, 2018

Andy Serkis is Amazing

So, Andy Serkis has found a way to channel Theresa May's inner Gollum:

--John R.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Lapidary prose (twenty-five words a day)

So, while revising to my Eddison piece I came across a striking passage that I'd either overlooked before or, more likely, read when the book in question (Paul Thomas's edition of ERE's ZIMIAMVIA) came out (in 1992) and since forgot.

In a passage discussing the composition of THE MEZENIAN GATE, Paul describes how Eddison wrote slowly but persistently, writing and rewriting a passage until he was satisfied with it.* By Paul's estimation,  at times, when working on particularly important passages, Eddison wrote an average of about twenty-five words a day.

Even given the amount of time and energy the War took up during Eddison's final years, that's punishingly slow progress, especially for someone who had taken an early retirement in order to devote whatever time he had left to his books.** It's surprising he got as much down of that final book as he did, and testimony to his persistence.

--at the desk, with Hastur in a box, on the desk, soaking up warm bright lights and accepting a little handheld  bowl of water.

*ZIMIANVIA p. 572-573.
   This is the exact opposite of Dunsany's practice: Lord D. made it a point of honor never to revise his work but to present it just as he had left it once he'd captured the idea in words.

**Eddison walked away from a senior post at the Board of Trade (including, it's said, a probable knighthood); I'm not certain of the date, but it seems to have been about 1939 (with his sudden death coming in 1945).

Lyrics of the Odd

So, I just upgraded an album I like from the cassette to the cd version (which cd be described as shifting from one outmoded format to a slightly less outmoded mode). Relistening to it (it's been a while), I'm struck anew by how much I like the oddity of some of their lyrics. Here are some examples:

You suggested we get married and move into a house
I suggested we jump overboard and live in the lost city of Atlantis . . .
One year later I was transferred to the moon.

and a second example, from later on in the same song

Nineteen tequilas later we had a deal

and a third, from another song on the same album

little bits of Texas are floating up in space

What's particularly appealing to these and others like them from this group is that each line makes sense in context: only the first example uses non-sequitur, and that quite deliberately. It cd be that the tradition of Carroll and Lear is alive and well, it's just abandoned poetry as currently practiced and shifted to lyrics.

So, just out of curiosity, can anybody out there recognize song album and group, without looking it up through a search engine?

--John R. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Hughart's blanket

So, last week I finished up the revisions for my BRIDGE OF BIRDS piece, before moving on to the WORM OUROBOROS piece (which took up most of this week), and prepping the way for UNKNOWN KADATH, which I'll be getting to next week.

While working on the Hughart I was struck by a brief* biographical account he wrote that I hadn't noted before, in which he discusses his struggles with depression, experiences setting mines in the Korean DMZ (with resultant flashbacks), and his love of the Far East. The BRIDGE OF BIRDS, he says, came about because

"I decided . . . to create an alternate world 
into which I could creep on dark and stormy nights
 and pull over my head like a security blanket."

After sharing his revelation that the story had to be 'about love' rather than just a string of exciting incidents (giving as an example Miser Shen's love for his dead daughter), he ends his account with the wish

"I most particularly hope that on dark and stormy nights
some of those readers will be able to crawl into my alternate
world and pull it over them like a security blanket"

This shows how in its inception Hughart's China that never was is an unusually pure example of Escape in the Tolkienian sense.

It also sets Hughart firmly in the group of writers who create secondary worlds first as a private preoccuptation,  an absorbing intellectual and creative activity,  and only secondarily think of publication. A. T. Wright's Islandia is the classic example, but Tolkien himself, who worked on his legendarium for many years before attempting to get it into print, also fits the pattern, with the caveat that when the possibility of publication reared its head he was glad to pursue it.

--John R,

*it fits on the inside front and inside back dustjacket flaps of the 2008 Subterranean Press Master Li/Number 10 Ox omnibus

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Flieger festschrift -- kind words

So, here's a link to some thoughts about A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS by one of our contributors, David Bratman, as recorded in his blog Kalimac's Journal:

Takeaway line: "I come not to review this book . . . but to praise it."

It'll be a while before there are any reviews out there, but I'll try to post news of them as I discover their existence. Nice to know that the original response so far seems altogether positive.

--John R.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

My Newest Publication: a book review of THE INKLINGS & KING ARTHUR

So, the newest volume of TOLKIEN STUDIES (Vol. XV, 2018) arrived today -- always an event, but this is one of those times I'm a contributor, having reviewed the Sorina Higgins edited collection THE INKLINGS AND KING ARTHUR: J. R. R. TOLKIEN, CHARLES WILLIAMS, C. S. LEWIS, & OWEN BARFIELD ON THE MATTER OF BRITAIN. It's a rather lengthy piece (about eight pages), since they allowed me to go with my decision to review the entire book and not just its Tolkien content.

The gist of my review can be found in the first and last two sentences:

[first:] "This is such a good idea for a book that it's surprising no one thought of it before."

[last:] "It's a substantial volume, both in size . . ., price  . . , and the range and quality of its contents: there are three or four essays within each of which would make purchasing the collection a good idea just to get that essay alone.* Recommended."

--John R.

current reading: the latest in the Rivers of London series (more on this later), various essays on E. R. Eddison.

*While I hope my review makes the point that there are a number of good pieces herein, I particularly enjoyed Alyssa House-Thomas's piece on Guinever in THE FALL OF ARTHUR, Charles Huttar's detailed look at Inklings' images of Avalon, and Sorina Higgins' own essay, and overview of the whole volume.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

2019 Tolkien Calendar

So, is there something up with next year's Tolkien Calendar, which is to feature Alan Lee's work from THE FALL OF GONDOLIN? Amazon cancelled my order, saying their stock had run out. Barnes & Noble say they haven't gotten it in yet. Just bad luck on my part?

--John R.
current reading: the new Aaronovich (just out!), with more evidence therein that his master villain The Faceless Man* is a Tolkien fan, even using the G-for-Gandalf rune at one point. Though for some other runes the detective hero points out that the villain is using movie-runes there, not book runes. Which confused me, since I thought they'd gone to a lot of trouble in the movies to use Tolkien's runic system.

*'faceless' rather like Saruman's being Of-the-Many-Colours

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A C. S. Lewis puzzle

So, between the excitement of the new book I edited (A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS) now being out, and caring for a much-loved senior cat now entering her final days (Hastur), seeing a small project off my desk ('Project X'), getting back to my current main project of turning the old online column into a print book (CLASSICS OF FANTASY), and some doctors' visits, it's been an extremely busy holiday season.

Today I was able to take a break to visit one of my favorite haunts: the Starbucks inside the local Barnes & Noble. While visiting the book-selling side of the symbiot, I discovered that among there puzzles section they have a thousand-piece puzzle made up entirely of front covers of C. S. Lewis. This seems to have come out right about this time last year from Re-Mark Puzzles, which at a quick glance looks to be a local Seattle-based company.

There doesn't seem to be a Tolkien equivalent, at least for now. Does this mean the powers that be in the world of jigsaw puzzle making and marketing feel CSL is a greater draw to their core audience? Or simply that they haven't gotten to it yet?

Here's the link:

--John R.
current reading: BRIDGE OF BIRDS: first draft version (just finished; re-reading)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS -- Table of Contents

And here's the table of contents for the Flieger festschrift, listing all the essays with their authors.

Table of Contents 


            John D. Rateliff

Tolkienian Studies 

A Seed of Courage: Merry, Pippin, and the Ordinary Hero
            Amy Amendt-Raduege

Smith of Wootton Major and Genre Fantasy
            David Bratman

Three Stories Holding Hands: The Wind in the WillowsHuntingtower, and The Hobbit
            Marjorie Burns

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Foolhardy Philologist
            Jason Fisher

‘Mythology is Language and Language is Mythology’: How Verlyn Flieger’s Favourite ‘Bumper-sticker’ Works in Tolkien’s Legendarium                                                                                                        
            Andrew Higgins

Do Eldar Dream of Immortal Sheep?: Dreams, Memory, and Enchantment at the End of the Third Age
            Thomas Hillman, with Simon Cook, Jeremiah Burns, Richard Rohlin, & Oliver Stegen

‘A Green Great Dragon’ and J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘Native Language’
            John R. Holmes

Splintered Heroes: Heroic Variety and its Function in The Lord of the Rings 
            Thomas Honegger

Lessons of Myth, Mortality, & the Machine in the Dream State Space-Time Travel Tales of J. R. R. Tolkien and Olaf Stapledon
            Kristine Larsen

‘To Recall Forgotten Gods from their Twilight’: J. R. R. Tolkien's ‘The Name Nodens
            John D. Rateliff

A History of the Acquisition: Marquette and the Tolkien Manuscripts
            Taum Santoski

Seers and Singers: Tolkien’s Typology of Sub-creators
            Anna Smol

Tolkien’s Story of Kullervo: A Lost Link between Kirby’s Kalevala and Tolkien’s Legendarium
            Vivien Stocker

The Rare and Elusive ‘Green, Great Dragon’
            Sandra Ballif Straubhaar

‘A Recognizable Irish Strain’ in Tolkien’s Work 
            Kris Swank

Canute and Beowulf
            Richard C. West

Fliegers Fictions

‘Green Hill Country’: A Scholar’s Tale
            Peter Grybauskas

Words Made Flesh in Avilion: A Romance of Voices
            Paul Edmund Thomas

Identity, Time, and Faerie in Pig Taleand The Inn at Corbies Caaw: An Unexpected Convergence of Realms
            David Wilson Wise

Three Personal Tributes

A Teacher’s Teacher: Verlyn Flieger
            Susan Yager

Music, Time, and Light in the Works of J. R. R. Tolkien and Verlyn Flieger: A Reflection
            Bradford Lee Eden

‘Whose Myth Is It?’: Tolkien Studies as Interdisciplinary Studies
            Kristine Larsen

About the Contributors                                                                                                     



Friday, November 16, 2018


So, here's a list of contributors to the Flieger festschrift:

Amy Amendt-Raduege
David Bratman
Jeremiah Burns
Marjorie Burns
Simon Cook
Brad Eden
Jason Fisher
Peter Grybauskas
Andrew Higgins
Thomas Hillman
John R. Holmes
Thomas Honegger
Kristine Larsen
John D. Rateliff
Richard Rohlin
Taum Santoski
Anna Smol
Oliver Stegen
Vivien Stocker
Sandra Ballif Straubhaar
Kris Swank
Paul Edmund Thomas
Richard West
Dennis Wilson Wise
Susan Yager
--Many thanks to all for the time and effort they put into their essays and recollections.
I'm looking forward to re-reading it myself once I have a copy in bound book form.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


O Frabjous Day!

So, it's been a long time coming, but the Flieger Festschrift A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS is now in print and available on

I'm both the editor and a contributor to this tribute to one of the true greats among the community of Tolkien scholars. And we got some really good essays that I'm glad to see in print.

The hardcover and ebook editions are still to come. From my point of view, it just keeps getting better and better.

--John R.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What's up with that?

So, the song that kept running through my head tonight was "Cabaret".

At least it was the Louis Armstrong version and not Liza Minelli.

Late in the evening I purged it with a playing of TARKUS. There is a god.


current reading: LATE REVIEWS by Douglas A. Anderson (Nodens Books, 2018)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

D&D Podcast (Ben Riggs)

So, I rarely appear in podcasts, but it was pleasant to get a namecheck in Ben Riggs' recent piece delving into the sad history that was DRAGONSTRIKE, TSR's doomed attempt to recast D&D by shifting its target audience to eight-year-olds. *  My contribution falls in the first two or three minutes.

A lot of interesting behind-the-scenes information here, though I hope he'll supplement it with another piece placing it into context with the New Intro Game of the year sequence that TSR sunk money into every year throughout the mid-nineties.

Plus, the even-handedness of this piece is admirable, but doesn't fully convey what a money hole TSR-West, the Hollywood side of the company, was.

Recommended. Here's the link.

V. much looking forward to the book version of the story of TSR's collapse that's coming out of all this research.

---John R.

*and I don't even think he mentions the follow up, filmed but not released, that came a year later: WILDSPACE. Or was it WILDSTRIKE? There used to be a copy in the Games Library but I don't remember what we eventually did with it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Boorman's LotR movie remembered

So, thanks to Janice for the link to a GUARDIAN story re. five weird movies that never got made:
Orson Welles' HEART OF DARKNESS, Jn Boorman's LotR, Le Guin's WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, the original version of ALIEN III, and a mooted sequel to Russell Crowe's GLADIATOR. Here's what the writer of this piece, Tom Huddleston, had to say about the Tolkien film:

John Boorman’s Lord of the Rings

In 1970, The Lord of the Rings was everywhere, its eco-friendly escapism dovetailing neatly with the communal mindset of the post-Woodstock era. A film was inevitable, and rights-holder United Artists turned to John Boorman, a British director with a passion for Arthurian fantasy and – more importantly – a moderate hit under his belt in Point Blank. Joining forces with the young screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg, Boorman turned out a script that covers all three books, runs to 178 pages and is, without question, one of the weirdest documents in existence.
It’s hard to pick a favourite scene. Is it the one where the wizard Gandalf beats Gimli viciously with his staff in an effort to help the dwarf recover his ancestral memories? Or the one where Frodo is invited into Galadriel’s bed, much to the grumbling dissatisfaction of Boromir and Aragorn, both of whom planned to seduce her? Perhaps it’s the 11-page expositional kabuki play in which a small dog representing fate pursues a ball representing the ring, while Sauron (described as “a combination of Mick Jagger and Punch”) looks on.
There are undoubted highlights – the hobbits’ journey out of the Shire is a mushroom-fuelled voyage climaxing in a tornado of whirling petals, an idea Boorman would revisit in Excalibur. But it’s hard to imagine the finished film being anything other than a freaky – if fascinating – failure.

I disagree about a film of Tolkien's work being 'inevitable' -- as subsequent events wd show, it was a long time coming. Having read Boorman's script, which is preserved at Marquette along with several other attempts, I can say that Huddleston does not exaggerate but if anything downplays the deep-rooted weirdness of Boorman's vision; we're lucky this project fell through.

As for the EARTHSEA, I shd note that this is neither the disappointing Studio Ghibli effort nor the horrible tv miniseries but a third, earlier effort with Le Guin herself co-author of the screenplay. I hope that screenplay survives and sees publication someday.

Here's the link to the full story:

current viewing: RE.LIFE (anime)
current reading: Sayers reviews of detective stories; also a revamping of an early D&D module (THE BOTTLE CITY).

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Return of The Cat Report (Halloween 2018)

Back from my trip, I finally got to meet two cats I’d heard so much about: ORLY and EMILIA (especially Orly). Tiffany had both cats out, Orly atop the cat stand and Emilia curled up sleeping beneath it. Having heard that they’re fond of catnip, I gave both some, which pleased them v. much. So I decided to take advantage off their good mood to give walking a try, starting with Orly, so seemed less nippy than expected.

Orly didn’t object to the leash, but being out of the cat-room unsettled her, and there was mewing as I carried her over to the safe (training) room. She was anxious in there too, so after a while we set out exploring. Back in that corner of the store there were a bunch of boxes of merchandise waiting to be put up, and since she seems to like getting up high (as with the cat-stand) I put her up on the boxes. That turned out to be her favorite thing ever. She explored and then inserted herself into a narrow space between boxes where you’d think a cat wdn’t fit. She not only fit but cd turn around in it. She set there, perfectly happy, till I eventually made her go back into the cat-room after about an hour that cdn’t rightly be called a ‘ walk’ so much as an outing.

Once I’d gotten Orly settled back on her cat-stand it was Emilia’s turn. She didn’t protest about the leash but didn’t like being out in the great big store. The mewing started after just a few minutes outside the cat-room, and became loud and insistant before I got her half-way to the training room, so we reversed course and with the help of an employee soon had her safely back in the cat-room. I gave her cat nip again, to help calm her distress, and some to Orly too to avoid jealousies. Then sat on the bench for a good while with Emilia on my lap, purring. She’s a gentle cat who loves lap-time. 

Towards the end of my time there were games for Orly (Emilia’s wasn’t interested). A few visitors but geneally a quiet day (except for the out-of-the-cat-room mewing). Have to say settling in and getting lots of attention seems to be mellowing Orly: she even let me rub the inside of her ears. Orly is clearly the boss cat and Emilia seems to accept that. Hope things stay peaceful in the cat room when the new cat (Miss Miss) arrives.

health concerns: none for Orly, who I thought looked younger than five; without the paperwork I would have guessed more like a three-year-old from her alertness and activity level.

Emilia, on the other hand, although only eight acted like a senior cat. Her nose looks like a cat-scratch that’s now scabbing over. Looks bad but don’t think it’s infected, and she didn’t seem to be in distress over it. Here’s hoping she heals up soon.

—John R.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Gollum Needs Glasses

So, now that I've wrapped up my current research trip among the Tolkien papers in the Marquette Archives, I'm amazed as always by how fluid and flexible the story-line of LotRs was when Tolkien was drafting the book. What really strikes me this time are the small details that seem so out of place, when their spurious sense of inevitability only comes from the fact that Tolkien did in the end pick A instead of B  at a given spot. Like the statement that Bombadil cd have destroyed the Ring, had Frodo but asked --shades of PARZIVAL, perhaps? Or his idea of making the Stone of Erech Aragorn's palantir? Or the mention of Fingon in the Shelob chapter, along with Beren and Turin. Beren and Turin were kept while Fingon was removed --why? Or, to turn the question the other way around, why was Turin kept? Beren and Earendel were famous spider-slayers; Turin seems included as the mightiest of all human warriors.

Or my current favorite, the oddly endearing statement by Frodo that Gollum is night-eyed but near-sighted. I now have a mental image of poor Smeagol with spectacles that I don't think is going away anytime soon.

And in other news, Mr. Mousey, one of my favorites of all the cats to have passed through the cat-room, finally got adopted. Here's hoping he's finally found his happy ending after many months of waiting.

--John R.

--today's song fragment stuck in my head --'in the lobby of a downtown hotel'--eventually expanded itself out to be recognizable as "The Ballad of Danny Bailey". go figure.

current reading (kindle): Evangeline Walton's novelizing of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, which I expect to get me through a good section of my plane ride home tomorrow.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

East Island disappears

So, here's what climate change looks like.

Up until a few days ago East Island, an outlier on the northwest fringe of Hawaii, in a group known as the French Frigate Shoals, was mainly known as a wildlife refuge.

That was before it disappeared, submerged after the battering it took from a recent typhoon.

Before the storm it was about half a mile long and 400ft wide; all that is now underwater.

Anyone else reminded of Verne's Lincoln Island?

Here's a link.

current reading: Tolkien manuscripts, R. H. Benson's THE NECROMANCERS (a Charles Williams novel before there was Charles Williams, except rather better).

Monday, October 22, 2018

Last Chance to See

So, today begins the last week for the TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH exhibit at the Bodleian. So if you're able to go and hadn't made up yr mind, it's now or never. The splendid Exhibit closes on Sunday the 28th.  Even at this point all is not lost, since a slightly trimmed down version of the exhibit opens at the Morgan in New York on January 25th, allowing those in the New England to DC area a in-the-vicinity chance.

And of course for continental types the third and final staging of the exhibit will follow at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, but I don't yet have the dates on that.

--John R.
--current reading: COME ALONG WITH ME by Shirley Jackson and "The Summer People" ibid.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Yesterday We Had Graupel

So, yesterday while driving down to Harvard, Illinois, we drove through a kind of weather I'd never seen before. It wasn't oobleck, but it was strange enough to make me think of one of those articles they occasionally used to run in the FORTEAN TIMES about rare weather events that occur but not often enough for people to recognize them when they do.

We were going warily, having had to detour around the pieces of a split-open fallen-apart fallen tree tangled up with a downed power line while coming through Williams Bay. We'd gotten as far as Walworth when Janice noticed that the fields to our right --that is, to the west-- looked odd. It was almost as if they were covered with fog. But you don't get fog in a high wind, at least not in these parts. There was no smell of smoke. We had no precipitation hitting the windshield yet we cd see what looked like a thin cover of drifting snow blowing across the highway.

It wasn't until we pulled over for me to make a quick dash into a roadside convenience store that things came together. The wind, which was coming in hold-on-to-yr-hat blasts, was suddenly full of tiny snow pellets that looked exactly like fake snow. That is, they looked like tiny individual specks of styrofoam, except these were perfect little spheres.

Within minutes it had melted or blown away. Later, checking online, I found a piece identifying the phenomenon:

So, an unusual sight, and one I'm glad to have experienced.

---John R., in Rockford

Good News for Earthsea Fans

So, thanks to friend Denis I heard the news about the new Le Guin (thanks, Denis).

According to the write-up on Amazon, this thousand page tome collects together the three volumes of the classic Earthsea trilogy, plus the three lesser and later books, plus the two original short stories that preceded even A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA ('The Word of Unbinding' and, even better, 'The Rule of Names', a real masterpiece by a master), plus an essay (lecture) on the series, plus two new stories I've not read: 'Firelight' and 'Daughter of Odren'.

These days I'm finding it easier to read individual works rather than read the same work in an impressive omnibus (one of the reasons I got rid of the great big book of Amber), but those with younger eyes and  love of Le Guin's work will definitely want this on their shelves.

--John R.

P.S. While poking about putting this piece together I came across the following account of how Le Guin's cat Pard is doing without her. I found it touching and wanted to share, so here it is:

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Racists Chug Milk

So, I was bemused by an article in a recent NEW YORK TIMES about how White Supremacists were seizing upon lactose tolerance as a sign of racial superiority.

That, and being descended from Neanderthals.

And yes, their arguments as described in the article are just as stupid as they sound.

Here's the link.

I think it'd do them a lot of good to read Steven Jay Gould's masterpiece, THE MISMEASURE OF MAN, an account of decades of (failed) attempts to measure human intelligence.

--John R.
--in Rockford

And Uncle Horace too

So, when I put together the first post in this sequence, I hadn't noticed that there are several references to Sir Horace Plunkett, Dunsany's uncle, as well. In fact, Betjeman worked for Sir Horace briefly as his private secretary. And by 'briefly' I mean only for a matter of (I gather four or five) weeks in 1929. At the end of about a month Betjeman fell ill with a nasty flu. While he was in bed recovering,* he recommended a friend to fill in for him, and (long story short) the friend stole the job, offering as justification the opinion that Betjeman wdn't have been able to keep it v. long anyway.

Here's Betjeman's description of Sir Horace, from a letter dated 10 Februry 1929:

I am at the moment Private Secretary to Sir Horace Plunkett 
who in the early eighties was a big man in Agricultural Co-
operation. He is still more than keen on it and being slightly
off his head has written the first chapter of a book of nine 
chapters no less than seventy-two times. He says the same
thing over and over again and rarely completes one of his
sentences which suits my style of thinking. The pay is fair
and the food and travelling excellent. He is in bad health 
at the moment and this hotel** is furnished in that
Japanese style so popular with the wives of Anglo-
Indian Colonels who retire to Camberley . . . (p.52)

Needless to say, Sir Horace was not 'off his head', just clearly suffering from a bad case of writer's block. I've heard him described in all seriousness as one of the great men of his century for his devotion to improving the lot of farmers, particularly in Ireland through the Co-Operative movement. It says a lot about his character that when private airplanes came in when he was already an old man he had someone take him up so he cd better see for himself the patchwork of fields and farms and how they all fit together. As a result, he learned to fly himself when already well into his seventies.

--John R.

*this was back in the days, only a decade after the Spanish Lady,  when folks took flu seriously.

**the Beresford, in Birchington-on-Sea, Kent

Friday, October 19, 2018

Tolkien (Briefly) on Betjeman

So, while looking up to see what Betjeman might have had to say about Tolkien, I quite forgot that Tolkien twice mentions Betjeman in LETTERS.

The first, from a 1954 letter to Raynor Unwin overviewing reviews of FELLOWSHIP, laments

I must say that I was unfortunate in coming into the hands
 of the D. Telegraph, during the absence of Betjeman. 
My work is not in his line, but he at any rate is neither
ignorant nor a gutter-boy. Peter Green seems to be both . . .
(p. 184)

The second comes a few years later, when Tolkien is pleased that THE ADVENTURES OF TOM BOMBADIL is selling surprisingly well, for a book of verse;

[A&U] have made me an advance, since 'T. B.' 
sold nearly 8,000 copies before publication 
(caught on the hop they have had to reprint hastily),
and that, even on a minute initial royalty, means
more than is at all usual for anyone but 
Betjeman to make on verse!
p. 322

From this I conclude that Tolkien seems not to have felt any animus against Betjeman and does not envy his success so much as he enjoys sharing in similar good fortune. As for Eliot, Tolkien seems to have largely ignored his existence. Although the two men's work once almost appeared in the same volume,* one gets the sense of contemporaries living in different worlds like, say, Virginia Woolf and Robert Frost.

--John R.
--current reading: that biography of Fr. Francis (almost done -- thirty pages to go), Tolkien manuscripts.

*Eliot was to contribute an essay on Williams' plays to the memorial volume ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS but ultimately didn't have time to do the piece; this is the volume now made famous by the inclusion of JRRT's OFS**

**a piece of Tolkien's that we know Wms liked.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Betjeman (briefly) on Tolkien

So, my recent post on Betjeman and Dunsany was really a side-trek from my original intent, which was to see if there were any Tolkien references in Betjeman's collected letters. There was one solitary mention that I think's worth sharing, but it's in the context of Betjeman's thorny relationship with C. S. Lewis and thus requires some unpacking.

In brief, Lewis had been Betjeman's tutor at Oxford, and the two men rubbed each other the wrong way. Without going into details, Betjeman blamed Lewis for B's Oxford career being cut short, and for  taking steps to prevent his getting a teaching job elsewhere afterwards. In later years B. referred to CSL as ''My great enemy and ex-tutor Lewis' [p. 389; 1946] and  '. . . Mr C. S. Bloody Lewis, the tutor who sent me down from Oxford' (p. 233, in a 1939 letter to T. S. Eliot, whom Betjeman addressed as 'Dear Poet'). The phrase 'mocks C. S. Lewis' even has its own entry in this volume's  index.

Eventually Betjeman more or less got over his animus for Lewis -- becoming England's most popular, best selling poet might have helped -- though he did not exactly forgive and forget and continued to snipe at CSL occasionally:

'Oh God to be in England . . . 
Yes even for a glance at Lewis
 striding tweed-clad to Headington'
(308; 1942, writing from Ireland) *

What seems to have been a key factor is the lessening of Betjeman's grudge was his writing a long letter to Lewis (p.250-253; 13 December 1939), which he seems to have never actually sent. Betjeman opens by saying he has

'just expunged from the proofs of a preface 
of a new book of poems of mine . . . 
a long and unprovoked attack on you'

After going over the differences between them, he  concludes that he and L. are antithetical in their approach to poetry. He judges that Lewis's poems are 'philosophical or metaphysical or abstract or something I do not understand', whereas he describes his own approach as visual. By this I take him to mean that Lewis's poems are about ideas and Betjeman's are a response to natural beauty and architecture.  This is ironic, given that we know the inspiration for some of CSL's fiction were 'pictures' he found in his mind, and that Lewis mounted a charge against Eliot** almost the same as that which Betjeman is leveling upon Lewis. It's also ironic that the poem B. focuses on as the epitome of what's wrong with Lewis's poetry, 'The Planets', has in recent years been seized upon as The Key to unlocking architectonics supposed to underlie some of his most popular work. B. particularly objects to the line 'Lady Luna in light canoe':

I don't see how anyone who has looked at the moon
can think of it as 'cruising monthly' in a light canoe. 

For Betjeman,
'It seems to me as out of touch as your talk 
about Dragons with Tolkien in a Berkshire bar 
must have seemed to the Berkshire workman'.

Which brings us, by roundabout route, to Tolkien. For this is clearly a reference to the six lines of alliterative verse Lewis created to demonstrate Old English metre:

We were talking of dragons, Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire bar. The big workman
Who had sat silent and sucked his pipe
All the evening, from his empty mug
With gleaming eye, glanced towards us;
'I seen 'em myself', he said fiercely.

Personally, I like these six lines better than I like what little I've read of Betjeman, but I see B's point that trying to impose one poet's aesthetic on another is likely to end badly. And indeed  Betjeman wraps up his critique with the plea that if ever Lewis comes across another student who wants to immerse himself in poetry rather than study philology, would he please send him on to a different tutor, like Coghill?***


*a precursor of 'there goes C. S. Lewis —it must be Tuesday', perhaps?

**I'm away from my books, but I think the poem in question was titled 'A Confession': it was a belated rejoinder to TSE's 'Prufrock'

***B. actually mentions several names, any of whom he considers cd have done a better job than CSL in tutoring him: 'Nichol Smith or Blunden or old John Bryson or Nevill [Coghill]'

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Every Little Bit Helps: HME VIII.98

So, in the work that I'm doing with the Tolkien manuscripts here at Marquette I came across something I thought I'd share. 

I'm now working my way through the various drafts of The Taming of Smeagol (what became the opening chapter of LotR Book IV) and was looking at a semi-legible passage transcribed by Christopher Tolkien (HME VIII.98 Note 5 point 2), who was able to read almost but not quite all of a note Tolkien wrote himself about Bombadil and the Ring. Thanks to the new high-resolution scans of all the manuscript pages, with the ability to zoom in and enlarge (and rotate) the text, today I was able to puzzle it out. Here's the text as printed by Christopher:

Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along [?without 
further]  .......  —if asked!

The missing word is bother(TS I.1): 

Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along [without further]  
bother —if asked!

I have to stress that I was only able to work this out due to Christopher's already having provided the two difficult words without and further, and the ability to greatly enlarge the original without distortion or losing focus. As they say, on the shoulder of giants.

So, another small piece of the puzzle for those who, like me, are happy with a new addition to our knowledge of Tolkien, however minor. Enjoy!

--John R.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Walnut Room

So, the Plaza Hotel, the place where I'm staying during this research trip to Milwaukee (to work with the Tolkien manuscripts in the Marquette Archives therein), has a meeting room off its Art Deco cafe
called The Walnut Room, with wood-paneled walls, a great long table, shelves of books, comfy chairs, and a fireplace. When I first saw it I thought 'Wow. This wd make a great setting to play CALL OF CTHULHU.'

Last Sunday I got to prove that it was true.

When my friend Jim Lowder (who I knew before, during, and after our respective stints at TSR) suggested the possibility of getting together for a game, I immediately thought of the Walnut Room. While Jim made some invitations and gathered a group, I arranged through the hotel to reserve the room for most of the day Sunday (the 14th).

I don't want to give the story away, in case Jim decides to run it again, but I can say I had a great time playing jazz musician S. E. 'Easy' Henderson and hope Chaosium will print it at some point.

--John R.

Here's a picture for posterity; thanks to Jim for sharing. I'm the one in yellow hoisting a cup of tea. Jim is to my right, wearing the green Chaosium shirt. To my left is Dale Donovan, another TSR stalwart from the Old Days. Next to Jim is Ben Riggs, D&D podcaster, who's working on a book about the TSR/WotC buyout. The other three are members of Ben's group, whose names I'd gladly include if I'd thought to write them down at the time. Anyway, good gamers all.

--current reading: THE NECROMANCERS by Rbt Hugh Benson (1909)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Betjeman on Dunsany

So, while I have the resources of the Marquette Memorial Library available to me in the down time from working on my main project (evenings and breaks), I was checking Betjeman's Collected LETTERS for any mention of Tolkien. There's only one sole allusion in the index, which I'd like to devote a post of its own to. But in addition to some things B. had to say about C. S. Lewis (which I expected) I fd several references to Lord Dunsany (which I did not).  Not as scathing as his comments on CSL, for whom B. felt an abiding rancor,  but not anything Dunsany wd have liked to see in print (or indeed out of it).

The first reference comes not directly from B. but from a comment made by the editor of this Life-and-Letters, B's daughter Candida Lycett Green. Describing a weekend stay at Dunsany Castle in the early 1940s, when Betjeman was acting as a kind of cultural good-will ambassador
(his official title was Press Attache to the British Ambassador), Green says

  • He was prepared to listen to the poems of the outrageously conceited Lord Dunsany (to whom JB always referred as 'Lord Insany'), who kept his most recent compositions in his top pocket and brought them out at a moment's notice.  He even sent the manuscript of one of Dunsany's novels to Hamish Hamilton. Literary criticism was not all that Dunsany begged of him either. He wanted help with 'an export license for the shotgun cartridges from England; I can neither work nor exist without any sport or exercise,' he wrote (3 November 1942).  [p.271; emphasis mine]

This sounds to me more like an isolated writer desperate for some feedback.  The general lack of respect for Dunsany's talents and personality pops up again in a mock-letter B sent to tease the wartime censors:

  • I write this down / Dunsany-wise, straight off  (p. 315, letter of 3 May 1943)

Here the allusion is probably a dig at Dunsany's facility with verse and his disinclination to revise anything he wrote. While Dunsany did write a few genuinely moving poems, his reputation as a poet suffered from his disdain for Modernism (he felt English poetry more or less ended with Tennyson) and his failure to restrain himself and refrain when inspiration failed (in THE YEAR, his verse diary, he is sometimes reduced to versifying about what they listened to on the radio that night: hardly the stuff to form a platform from which to challenge Eliot et al)

The third reference is more elusive yet. In a letter of 28 February 1946, Betjeman comments on a friend's critique of the draft of an essay B. has written by saying

  • The remarks of Insany's [i.e., Lord Dunsany] certainly read as though I subscribe to them. The whole point of the paper was to show that I did not. But I will expunge them since they are liable to the interpretation you put on them. (p. 383)

Just what Dunsany's position was seems impossible to recover. I wd suspect it was Dunsany's views on modern poetry, but follow-up remarks indicate that the subject of the piece seems to have been 'the Englishman's approach to Ireland' (cf. the detailed outline on p. 384) and show that B. deleted 'remarks about the nuncio' and also deleted a reference to the idea that 'once a Catholic always a Catholic'.

So far as the nickname 'Lord Insany' goes, this is not Betjeman's invention but was given to Dunsany (presumably without his knowledge) by fellow members of the English faculty of the University of Athens in the early days of World War II, or so I was told by David Abercrombie when I interviewed him in Edinburgh in 1987. Still, it's good to have confirmation, contemporary and in print.  And it forms a useful mnemonic for those who can't remember Dunsany-rhymes-with-Rainy.

At least  B. seems to have liked Dunsany Castle and enjoyed his visit there:

  • In July that summer [?1942] my parents spent the weekend at Dunsany, a great reconstructed mediaeval castle w. a Wyatt-style staircase, swords and helmets, tigerskins and ancestral portraits, set in an undulating park of ancient oaks. JB's favourite place to sleep was in the small attic room decorated w. Celtic art nouveau designs of twisted snakes. [p. 273]

And it's good to know that B. wholly approved of Lady Dunsany, who was a delightful person by all accounts.

  • 'Lady Insany [Dunsany], the wife of the present peer, is the best example of unconscious correctness that I have met. She is also a saint. [p. 525; letter of 2 November 1950]*

--John R.
current reading: JILL by Philip Larkin (1946) and THE MYSTERY OF THE LOST CEZANNE by M.. L. Longworth (2015)

*by 'unconscious correctness' he means instinctive good manners, innate put-you-at-your-ease etiquette

UPDATE 10/13
I thought it went without saying, but perhaps I shd emphasize that Dunsany was, of course, quite sane, he cd just afford to indulge his eccentricities. He had a number of strong opinions, such as being opposed to the mutilation of dog's tails, thinking that lampshades were on upside down (he felt they shd channel light up towards the ceiling, not down towards the floor), and a deeply held belief that table salt was dangerously adulterated (when on a visit he insisted his hostess provide him with ground up rock salt). As he got older, these became hobby horses, but nothing more.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Greg Stafford dies

So heard the sad news today that Greg Stafford died. He was one of the foundational figures in role-playing games, a legendary figure of comparable stature with Gygax and Arneson and Petersen. He was not only the creator of PENDRAGON, one of the finest rpgs ever written -- I put it in my top three, alongside AD&D (1st edition) and CALL OF CTHULHU -- but also founder of Chaosium, one of the few companies from the early days of rpgs to survive down to the present and long known for being a class act in an industry where such a appellation was and is pretty rare. I'm glad I got to meet him once when he was down in Chicago for a visit, an event having something to do with the Arthurian journal AVALON TO CAMELOT.

Here's a link to the Chaosium announcement.

--John R.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Thoughts in a Starbucks

So, Sunday I was in a Starbucks next to what was once Webster's on Downer, one of Milwaukee's finest and much-lamented bookstores, when a song on their  background music sparked the thought:

'Louis Armstrong had so much talent he cd even make jazz sounds good'.

--John R.
--current reading: JILL by Philip Larkens (just started)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

More Aubusson Tolkien

So, thanks to Denis for another bit of film showing the unveiling of the Glorund tapestry and, as an added bonus, TANIQUETIL (The Halls of Manwe) as well, another of Tolkien's iconic paintings from the mythology.  This clip, in French without subtitles, is just under two minutes in length; to see it, scroll down the page that pops up when you click on the link. This time Adam Tolkien puts in an appearance as well; nice to see them both.

Thanks also to Druss, who in a comment on my earlier post sent a link that shows fourteen pieces of Tolkien art: five from THE HOBBIT, two from LORD OF THE RINGS, four from THE SILMARILLION, and three from THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS.

Here's the link:éation-contemporaine/aubusson-tisse-tolkien/les-œuvres-de-la-tenture-tolkien

What a great project. I look forward to the unveiling of new tapestries as they're completed. And I'm grateful to Denis for letting me know not only that such a project was in the works but this far along; many thanks.

Having seen the originals of a lot of Tolkien's art at one time or another (most recently just under a month ago in Oxford), I'm all the more amazed when I think of how small a lot of his pieces are --those from THE HOBBIT are generally the same size as the page of the book they were designed to fit -- and how well they scale up. Magnificent.

--John R.
--in Milwaukee, starting up Week Two tomorrow.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Biggest Shock from First Reading THE SILMARILLION in Sept 1977: evil elves.

 So, I've been thinking back on the initial reception of THE SILMARILLION, and remembering how negative the reviews were and how no one challenged their demonstrably false claim that people might be buying the book but no one was actually reading it: that's not the conclusion that twenty-one consecutive weeks as #1 book on the NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers list wd normally lead to, it being far more probable that word of mouth kept people trying out the book in a widening circle all that fall and winter. 

For my own part, having read the appendices of LotR(parts of it many times) I found the Silmquite readable with only one major flaw: too many names that started with 'F' or 'A': Finwe and Fingolfin and Finarfin and Fingon and Finrod and Feanor, not to mention Aegnor, Angrod, Amras, Amrod,* and Aredhed. Plus of course Celegorm and Curufin and Caranthir. It's like the French kings with too many Louises; more variety among the family names wd make it less difficult to keep track of the large cast of characters (e.g., the fifteen cousins, Finwe's grandchildren, who are the major characters of the Elves wars of Beleriand).  Perhaps the strangest thing about the book, looking back now, is that an author so supremely talented in fantasy nomenclature as Tolkien left us with so many similar sounding names.**

Even so, the solution was easy: I started the book over again as soon as I finished, with the page in the back with the family trees bookmarked for easy reference during that re-read. Though truth to tell it was really only with the third read that I really started to get the hang of it.

As for the story, The Silmarillion itself, I was struck by how many surprises it held even to the most diligent reader of Tolkien's earlier works already in print. 

For example, Feanor is mentioned several times in LotR, most notably in the palantir chapter when Gandalf wishes he cd have seen him at work in person. Here at Marquette I just finished reading the manuscript passage that brings in Feanor in a different context, as the one who made the Three Rings of Earth, Sea, and Sky: one text asserts that Feanor made the Three but it was The Great Enemy who brought them across the great sea to Middle-earth.

Absent from any of these references was any indication of the evil that Feanor did, the long stream of deliberate heinous acts that ultimately destroyed his family and followers and the greater part of his people. And while he was the most evil elf depicted by Tolkien, he was not alone: many of his followers committed horrific acts as well. And yet no hint of evil elves had found its way into THE LORD OF THE RINGS, where the elves have put all that behind them.

To use an analogy, who knew the Vulcans had once all been Romulans?

--John R.
--in Milwaukee, one week in

*whom we learned much later, via HME, never reached Middle-earth at all but died along the way; he essentially becomes his twin brother's imaginary companion, so far as they story is concerned -- which does explain why the two never appear separately or undertake independent action anywhere in the main tale.

**the intended effect, of course, wd have been to convey family kinship through nomenclature, as with Malory's names for the House of Orkney, the five brothers Gawain and Agravaine and Gaheris and Gareth and Mordred, where the first and last go back to much earlier stages of the legend and the others were added later by writers introducing spin-offs to fit a few more knights into an already crowded Round Table.