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. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Aubusson Tolkien

So, thanks to friend Denis (thanks Denis), I found out about what might be named the Tolkien Tapestry Project, whereby the weavers at Aubusson, one of the world's great tapestry makers (who have been in business at least since the early 1500s), have recreated perhaps Tolkien's most iconic painting in tapestry form. With a little poking about on the internet* I turned up film of the unveiling of BILBO COMES TO THE HUTS OF THE RAFT-ELVES (aka THE FOREST RIVER). The film runs about six minutes and is in French with English subtitles.

As a rarity the film features an appearance by  Baillie Tolkien, who has usually kept a low profile but here does a fine job representing the family.

There are also other handwoven Tolkien tapestries in the works: at the end they show a small piece of their next project, Glorund -- a curious choice (I wd have expected Smaug) but an interesting one. Only 7500 woman-hours of weave-work left to go!

Dare I hope that somewhere down the line we'll see the fulfillment of one of my dreams: large-scale recreation of some of Tolkien's art -- THE FOREST RIVER, LOTHLORIAN IN THE SPRING, HOBBITON, SMAUG -- in monumental stained glass? And if so, where wd they be mounted?

Here's the link;

--John R.
current reading: the Stonehenge book (now past the midway point)

*you can get the same result by going to google and typing in 'Aubusson' and 'Tolkien'

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Not the quote I''m looking for

Day Two at Marquette

So, I mentioned in my last post that I was looking for a quote I recall from the George Bernard Shaw play SAINT JOAN, which I read some thirty years ago (along with MAJOR BARBARA, TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD, SHAKES VS. SHAV, and best of all HEARTBREAK HOUSE) and have never been tempted to reread since.

Except that now I need the quote for something I'm working on, which I remember but not precisely enough for quoting --and besides, I need the page number and all for correct citation.

On my first go yesterday I cdn't find the exchange, which I remembered as being about people believing in the flat earth because it fit what they cd see with their own eyes. After all, believing in a round earth involved embracing an abstraction over the immediate and concrete. I was beginning to fear I'd need to read the whole play to find these lines. I did find what seemed to be Shaw's comment on the scene in the Preface:

"She never doubted that the sun went round the earth: she had seen it do so too often."

While this conveys the same sentiment, it wasn't the exchange in dialogue I remembered, and lacked its sting.

Luckily today I found what I was looking for, through the somewhat circuitous route of the Australian Gutenberg Project. Here's the quote:

LA TRÉMOUILLE. And who the deuce was Pythagoras?

THE ARCHBISHOP. A sage who held that the earth is round, and that it moves round the sun.

LA TRÉMOUILLE. What an utter fool! Couldnt he use his eyes?

That's the quote I was looking for, except I remembered them as having mentioned Copernicus, not Pythagoras; good thing I looked it up.

current reading: Stonehenge book, some odds and ends by Shaw.

Monday, October 1, 2018

I'm at Marquette

So, first it rains, then it pours, as they don't say in Bree.

Or in this case, having gotten to see the Tolkien Exhibit in the Bodley on a quick trip to Oxford, today I started a one-month stint with the manuscripts in the Marquette Archive. Today was the first day and it feels like I'm off to a good start, trying to sort out the manuscript sequence that records Tolkien's resumption of work on LotR after his break by Balin's tomb.

I brought with me three book: UNCLE CURRO: JRRT'S SPANISH CONNECTiON, which I'm now reading; the new edition of THE FALL OF GONDOLIN, which I've been looking for the chance to dig down into; and Raymond Edward's underrated TOLKIEN biography, which I skimmed a year or two ago and wanted to read and absorb. Plus a plethora of other titles on the Kindle, where I'm currently reading about recent excavations at Stonehenge and the vicinity. And now two books by Bernard Shaw checked out of Marquette's Memorial Library, one of which is to look for a quote I remember from reading the play SAINT JOAN back in graduate school and the other a collection of short stories (who knew that Shaw wrote short stories?). I've never read one of Shaw's famous Prefaces before, so that shd be interesting.

And after an evening being interviewed about old TSR days I got to wrap up the evening watching a Bodleian podcast (or 'bodcast'): a forty-two minute presentation by Tom Shippey on Tolkien as Morris-ian and philologist*, which I v. much enjoyed. Shippey was in fine form, full of interesting information presented through strong opinions. Highly recommended.

I even learned more about two new forthcoming Tolkien books: TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER by Jn Bowers, which I knew was in the works but nothing more than that about it, and TOLKIEN'S LIBRARY by Cili Oronzo, which was wholely new to me. More good things on the way.

Here's the Shippey link: enjoy

--John R.

*thanks to Bill F. for the link.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Was John Betjeman the new McGonagall?

So, the hotel we stayed in in London was within sight of the Marble Arch.  And in our room was a little brochure giving a brief history of the Arch itself. And in that brochure they reprinted a poem about the Arch by Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman which I thought fell in the so-bad-it's-good category. Here's it is in somewhat abbreviated form.

How beautiful the London air, how calm and unalarming
This height above the archway where the prospects round are charming.
Oh come and take a stroll with me and do not fear to stumble.
Great Cumberland, your place I see, I hear your traffic rumble.
See Oxford Street on my left hand, a chasm full of shopping.
Below us traffic lights command the starting and the stopping.
And on my right the spacious park, so infinitely spacious,
So pleasant when it isn't dark but when it is -- good gracious!
. .  . trodden by unheeding feet a spot which memory hallows:
Where Edgware Road meets Oxford Street stood Tyburn's fearsome gallows.
What martyrdoms this place has seen, what deeds much better undone.
Yet still the greatest crime has been the martyrdom of London . . . 

--JB, 1968

Not having read much of Betjeman's stuff, I can't say how typical this is of him. Was his poetry, and his championing of Victorian erections like the Albert Memorial, all part of a pose, like carrying a teddy bear with him when a student at Oxford?

--John R.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tolk Folk in Oxford and London

So, it was great to see the Tolkien Exhibit in the Bodleian, and I know how  lucky I am that we were able to make it over and take it all in. In addition, I got to see some Tolk folk and spend some time among like-minded people: always a pleasure. We missed out on a few get-togethers (with Dimitra F and Andrew H) when the schedules of when we were free and when they were free just didn't mesh. But we got to spend some time with Yoko (always a pleasure), and John Garth (whom I hadn't seen in quite a while), and Charles N and Jessica Y and David D. I got to meet (briefly) Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodley's Tolkien Archivist who I think was the driving force behind organizing the show. I got to go to John Garth's talk* (looking at the emergence of Tolkien's mythology) and also Stuart Lee's presentation about the 1968 'TOLKIEN IN OXFORD' tv show: he's been able to unearth some missing pieces of Tolkien interview that were filmed but cut before the initial broadcast.

In short: it was a great trip.

And that's not even counting our trip to STONEHENGE,** our following in the footsteps of some of the events in Ben Aaronovich's RIVERS OF LONDON series,*** my getting to pet a semi-tolerant cat in Lecock, or our pleasant stroll in Hyde Park, complete with gawking at the architectural horror that is The Alfred Memorial. And more . . .

By my reckoning this is the 8th time I've been to England (research trips in '81, '85, '87, and 2007; our 1992 Honeymoon AND Tolkien Centenary conference; a quick trip to a friend's wedding in '94; our anniversary visit where we actually got to go places and see things together in 2012, and now this).

And by the end of this trip I found myself already thinking about the when and wherefores of the next time.

--John R.
current reading: THE FIGURE IN THE SHADOWS by John Bellairs (rereading)
current audiobook: another NERO WOLFE mystery (the tenth, more or less right in a row) 

** Janice says that on our previous visit to Stonehenge I said 'This is one of the best days in my life'. Going again --and getting inside the circle this time--- felt like an extension of the same day. Wow.

***including seeing a memorial in honor of Sir Charles Chaplin, tthe greatest of all film comedians, and some woodwork by Grinling Gibbons -- who I've heard about for years but never seen anything of his before.

Friday, September 21, 2018

In Oxford☦️

Sept 8th
So, whatever you've heard about the Great Exhibition of Tolkien art and manuscript and artifacts currently being held at the Bodleian, I'm pretty sure it fell short of the truth. This is hands down the best Tolkien Exhibit ever mounted.* And the catalogue is just as impressive: I need to go back and check, but I think there are items in display that aren't in the catalogue and items in the (massive) catalogue that aren't on display.

Any Tolkien fan attending this --and there were a lot of them the day I got to go in, when I think they were admitting them fifty at a time-- will find himself or herself drawn to different treasures, depending on what draws you to Tolkien in the first place. I think three that especially stood out for me were things I'd never seen before: first, the first map of the Shire (which I'd hoped to include in the expanded edition of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT but not been able to pull it off); second, several pages from THE BOOK OF ISHNESS, including ones I'd never seen or seen before (far more vibrant and striking in color than I expected); and third, THE SILMARILLION title page. I'm not sure whether this was for the 1930 Quenta or the 1937 Quenta Silm, not having taken notes at the time, but I was struck by how much it conveyed the sense that THE SILMARILLION was a real book, incomplete or no: a substantial work and not just a smattering of parts.

I'm glad I had two solid hours with it. My friend Yoko, who's on a sabbatical in Oxford working with the Tolkien papers, drops by every day to see the exhibit, which seems to me an entirely reasonable proceeding: wouldn't any of us, given the chance, do the same? Afterwards I got a chance to briefly meet Catherine McIlwaine, who put together both the exhibit and catalogue: just long enough to congratulate her on her superb work.

In short: if you're at all interested in Tolkien, and you get a chance to see it, do so. You'll be glad you did.

--John R.
(belatedly blogging)

*Based on the ones I've seen, and the catalogues of those I missed.
-- Unless you count the very early ones back in the late fifties, where Ready sent out the entire manuscript collection to a few lucky libraries. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Here in Oxford

So, nine hours on the plane was worth it, along with the accompanying jet lag, to find ourselves here in Oxford. Specifically, here in our room at Christ Church, which it turns out rents out rooms during the vacations during term-time. Yesterday I was too tired for much, but we did stroll around in the Covered Market (interesting to compare it with Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which sprawls by comparison. We found the place for the Tolkien Exhibit without any trouble and even gave the gift shop a preliminary poke-about.

On our way back to Christ Church College we took a side-trip and climbed the Saxon tower, where I saw a sheela-na-gig (first time to see one, as opposed to just pictures or drawings of them), touched five of the tower’s six great bronze bells (no longer rung, less out of fear of cracking the bells and more from concern how the vibrations from the bells might shake the tower.  I managed to make myself climb all the way to the roof, where I crouched and enjoyed the  view as long as I cd stand (thus repeating my performance at Bath cathedral the last time we were over here in 2012). One of these days I’m going to make my way to the top of one of these too-tall towers and not be able to make my way back down, like Pickles the Fire Cat, but today was not that day.

After two hours or so of fighting off sleep with less and less success, I finally gave in and turned in around seven o’clock, pm, local Oxford time: about eight hours off Seattle time and our internal clocks.

And twelve hours later I woke up, we breakfasted in the dining hall at Christ Church with a roomful of other visitors, and we headed over to see The Great Exhibit: the biggest, and best, Tolkien display ever mounted. More on that tomorrow.

—John R.
—tired but not jet-lagged,
—Christ Church college, Oxford.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Xikses the Cretan

The Gray Mouser's true name, according to the early abandoned Leiber story THE GRAIN SHIPS, was Xikses of Crete. 

Personally I rather like the idea of the character not having any real name, just a name he's called by: it tells you all you need to know about his childhood -- and his not taking any other name of his own choice says all we need about the kind of person he grew into.


Final preparations for the England trip: re-watching the documentary STANDING WITH STONES (Highly Recommended)

Friday, August 31, 2018

Shirley Jackson's Biblioholism

So, I've finally finished Ruth Franlin's biography of Shirley Jackson (A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE), after picking it up again upon our return from Arkansas.*

In the course of doing so, I came to realize that Jackson and her husband (the critic Stanley Hyman) were biblioholics.** That is, they bought books -- not unusual in people who wrote stories and reviewed books for a living. But the Hymans did so at a scale which suggests that they enjoyed buying books just as much as they did reading them:

"Shirley and Stanley's main source of books, aside from review copies that poured in from The New Yorker and elsewhere, was the Seven Bookhunters. This group of men traveled around the country buying books from secondhand bookstores and reselling them, often at a high markup . . . Whenever Stanley and Shirley needed an obscure, out-of-print or otherwise hard-to-obtain title . . . they put in a special request to Scher*** . . . [who] was 'as familiar with secondhand bookstores . . . as a policeman is with his beat' . . . 
Stanley was accorded the ultimate privilege: every year he accompanied Scher on a book-buying trip, sleeping in cheap hotels or on the benches of railway stations, eating and drinking with Scher's friends along the way, and buying as many as a thousand books."
(Franklin p. 273-274)

As many as a thousand books a year: that's a lot of books. And they seem to have kept just about everything they bought: Franklin reports that at the time of Jackson's death (from a sudden heart attack at age forty-eight) they had at least twenty-five thousand books, maybe more (Franklin p. 273)

Elsewhere it claims that Hyman knew exactly where every book was (p. 79), but I'm skeptical on this point.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that emerged from reading this biography was learning that Jackson in her life time was famous for two kinds of fiction: the unsettling psychological horror of "The Lottery", THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED AT THE CASTLE, and also for comic accounts of life with a houseful of kids (think PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES, which comes from about the same era). Those latter books and stories are entirely forgotten now, but it's interesting to learn of an author with two distinct reputations, one of which endures and the other vanished away.

Three misc. points worth sharing:

(1) here's a self-portrait of Jackson from the Franklin (p. 159):

(2) here's an evocative  fragment from a poem written by Jackson's pen-friend Jeanne Beatty:

make me a charm
  so the dark won't find me
and the frightful things
rise up behind me. 
(p. 433)

(3) finally, here's a witty clip from one of Jackson's short stories:

I have never liked the theory
that poltergeists only come
into houses where there are children,
because I think it is simply too much
for any one house to have
poltergeists and children
--Shirley Jackson, mother of four (p. 304)


*where I'm happy to report that the courthouse square in my hometown now has not one but two coffeehouses. Go Magnolia.

**cf. the hilarious but all-too-true book BIBLIOHOLISM: THE LITERARY ADDICTION

***Louis Scher, the chief Bookhunter

current reading: THE APPRENTICESHIP OF JRRT by Simon Cook; THE FALL OF GONDOLIN ed. Christopher Tolkien; STONEHENCE: A NEW UNDERSTANDING by Mike Parker Pearson.
current audiobook: THE SILENT SPEAKER by Rex Stout (a Nero Wolfe mystery).

Monday, August 27, 2018

Thought of the Day (Evening Edition)

Colds: They're not over when you think they're over.

--JDR, older and a little wiser

And I'm Back

Sorry all for my laggardliness in posting: first I got busy, then distracted, then was off to Arkansas, rounding this all off with a cold that had me going the Dayquil/Nightquil routine. I'm now on the mend and shd be back to posting tomorrow.

Thanks to all for the comments, which shd now all be up; my responses shd also be up sometime tomorrow. 

--John R.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Haster at Sixteen

So, it's been sixteen years since we brought Hastur home from the pet store, a tiny adorably gooney torbie kitten just a few weeks old. Over time she's gone from being our middle cat (of three) to a solo senior.

Happy birthday little Hastur

--John R.

Hastur at her most Salvador Dali-ish, demonstrating her prodigious whiskers

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Is There a Leiberist in the House?

Or, even better, a Fischerian?

I've been trying to sort out which of the early drafts and fragments of Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories have been published in recent years. I know about three:

(1) ADEPT'S GAMBIT, by Leiber, a complete early draft of which was published in 2014 with an extensive commentary by H. P. Lovecraft. I have and have read this.

(2) THE GRAIN SHIPS, also by Leiber: a fragment of a novel set in Hellenic times that was eventually reworked and completed by Leiber and published as THE SWORDS OF LANKHMAR. Apparently this fragment was published a few years ago in a collection of misc. writings by L; I've ordered a copy of said book and shd soon have the answer to that one.

(3) QUARMALL, by Harry Fischer. This was eventually taken up by Leiber and used as the core of his THE LORDS OF QUARMALL. What I'd like to know is if Fischer's early version has ever been published, and if so where.

Anyone know the answer to this one?

--John R.
current reading: still the Franklin/Jackson bio.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Shirley Jackson was One of Us

So, a little more poking about in the Shirley Jackson biography (A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE, by Ruth Franklin) shows that though she does not seem to have written fantasy herself deplored the trend towards realistic children's fiction, having herself grown up on the Oz books. When she discovered that her daughter "had a series of dreams about an imaginary country, Shirley encouraged her to draw maps of it and (perhaps recalling the language she once invented) make up languages spoken there." (Franklin p.166).

The reference to Jackson's invented language harkens back to her college days at the University of Rochester:

Rather than following her syllabi, Jackson pursued 
her own intellectual interests: at one point she spent hours 
devising an invented language called Lildsune, complete 
with grammatical rules, and even wrote poetry in it. 
(Franklin p. 58)*

No wonder she liked Tolkien!

But the story about Jackson I liked best was The Dime of Wind:

When eight-year-old Laurence asked his mother how 
he ought to spend a dime, she suggested that he give it
to the birch tree in front of their house. He promptly went 
outside and asked the tree for a dime's worth of wind. 
To Shirley's amusement, a massive hurricane struck that night. 
"All we could figure was that wind must be very cheap indeed 
for him to get that much for a dime" she wrote.
(p. 166)

--current reading: the Franklin.

*apparently Jackson's Lildsune material is now in the Library of Congress

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Shirley Jackson liked THE HOBBIT

So, a few weekends ago Janice and I took the mass transit up to the waterfront, where we strolled about a while before boarding a ferry over to Bainbridge Island for an afternoon of poking about. We'd done this a few years back and enjoyed it, so doing it again seemed like a good way to vary the routine. It was.

Among the things we did was drop by both of the bookstores we saw, the used books one back up an alley (where they had an india-paper edition of THE HOBBIT, among other items of interest) and the big one right on the main street. Since I'm actively trying to cut down on the number of books coming in while trying to balance them against books going out, I looked but did not buy. And the most interesting thing I looked at was a new biography of horror writer Shirley Jackson.* I think of Jackson as a talented writer whose work I'm not particularly interested in (rather like Flannery O'Connor), so I was intrigued to find two references to JRRT in the index. 

The first passage describes Jackson reading THE HOBBIT to her children:

In the Hyman household,**  intellectual curiosity and creativity were cultivated and nurtured. There was singing around the piano and dancing in the living room and art projects at the kitchen table . . . One year, dismayed to discover the children's lack of familiarity with the Bible, Shirley and Stanley read from it every night at the dinner table. Shirley also read her favorite books aloud to the children at bedtime: the Oz series, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (which she preferred to The Lord of the Rings), fairy tales. (Franklin, p. 168)

-- so not only was THE HOBBIT a favorite book of Jackson's, but we find out she was one of those (a respectable minority) who prefer the earlier book over the sequel.

A second reference to Tolkien is more elusive but even more intriguing, coming during Franklin's discussion of Jackson's correspondence with Jeanne Beatty, a fan who turned into a pen pal. Jackson and Beatty were drawn together by a mutual love of children's fantasy, especially the Oz books. We are told the two women discussed a wide range of books 

"from the Oz books to C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Frank Baker's comic mystery novel Miss Hargreaves, about a young man who invents a fictional character and discovers, to his astonishment and eventual chagrin, that his invention has come to life . . ." (Franklin p. 430).

Unfortunately, Franklin does not include what Jackson said about Tolkien, but it's interesting to note that she was ahead of the curve: the correspondence with Beatty seems to have peaked in 1960 and thereafter fallen off, and Jackson herself died in 1965, just about the time Tolkien was taking off.  

--John R.
--current reading: Ruth Franklin's SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE


**Jackson was also Mrs. Stanley Hyman

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The TSR Product List (con't)

So, to continue:

It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I'm a maker of lists. My most successful and long-running list is undoubtedly my reading list.* But the runner up wd undoubtedly be my list of all rpgs products published by TSR.

I don't remember now whether I'd already started this before coming to work at TSR in 1991** but probably not: I think it was seeing the Games Library, and Mail-Order Hobby Shop, and on other editors' and designers' shelves (esp. Slade Henson's), that made me realize how much TSR had put out that I'd never heard of.

So I started a list, starting with things I had (the AD&D rulebooks, both first edition and second edition, and a bunch of modules).  Each entry gave the item's product code (e.g. X2) if any, title, author, date, and sometimes a brief note --e.g., that RM4 House of Strahd is an update of I6 Ravenloft. Making the list revealed a lot of gaps --if I had C5 The Bane of Llewellyn it meant there was probably a C1 through C4 and might be a C6.***

So the list grew, expanding to cover TSR's other roleplaying games as well, and all TSR novels, pick-a-path books, and miscellaneous items like the Finieous Treasury. And at some point the idea came of publishing it as part of the TRIVIATHALON, released in 1996 to celebrate some occasion that none of the people involved can now remember. As described in my previous post, one side of this poster-sized sheet had 100 tricky questions that tested players' knowledge of the game.**** And the other side was my list.

I had to change some things at TSR's behest. The most important was that I had to remove the author's name from each entry***** and add its stock number instead (e.g. #9058)  --a change I regretted then and now. And all the material on all TSR's other rpgs --TOP SECRET, GAMMA WORLD, GANGBUSTERS, BOOT HILL, AMAZING ENGINE, ALTERNITY, and a handful other more obscure ones-- all had to go; a pity. But it was still a pretty good piece of work, I think, and useful to those like me who wanted a quick listing that gave a sense, backed up by specific detail, of the sheer range of creativity that was TSR's AD&D.

So, it's good to have a copy of this uncredited publication again after all these years.

--John R

*which lists, in order, of all the books I've read all the way through since August 1981 (I just finished book #3454c).

**October 7th, to be precise. It was a Monday. Rich Baker and Thomas Reid started a week later, on the 14th, and Wolfgang Baur a week after that, on the 21st.

***there is.

****this is not to be confused with the AD&D trivia game, which came on cards in a box

*****TSR's execs were at the time big on the idea that it's the brand, not the talent, that attracts the gamers. We all disagreed.

My that's a lot of asterisks

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The TSR Product List

So, I confess that in my slow sort-out of boxes filled with papers and miscellaneous contents I'm not just trying to get things better organized: I'm also looking for a few things that got swept up in the Sea of Stuff.  Like my copy of The Jade Hare or my beat-up old orange cover B3. Palace of the Silver Princess. Or somethings that ought to be in my slender folder of things by and relating to John Bellairs (like the photo of the two of us taken when he was Guest of Honor at the Marquette Tolkien conference in 1987). Or some cartoons by Dave Sutherland I mislaid long ago, Or my run of MYTHLORE, esp. the early issues. Or my list of all TSR rpg releases.

This past week (Tuesday) I hit a jackpot and found a copy not of the original list but of the published version, which appeared as part of the 1996 AD&D TRIVIATHILON. This was a D&D/AD&D trivia contest, held for some special reason nobody seems to remember, that folded out into a double-sided poster-sized sheet. On one side were one hundred questions about the D&D/AD&D game. Some of the questions were relatively straightforward (#39: How many metal coins in a pound? #15: What is the proper name for polar halflings?*). Some were more involved (#27: Lord Ragnar (fighter 16) has 12 hp after fighting six mummies. Deliah (cleric 18) casts every "cure wounds" spell she can. How many hit points could Regnar regain?). And some were downright tricky (#98, which relates to a piece of art I can't reproduce here). My favorite was  #38, which I cd never have guessed:

At a roadside inn, a weary human scout and a dwarf swordsman 
meet a resting halfling cutpurse and a gnome trickster. 
Under 1st edition rules, what do they all have in common?

I remember that everyone in the department donated bits of trivia, and that Steve Winter sorted through and picked out the best, put together the master list with the official list of answers, and was responsible for judging the results. I don't know how many people took up the challenge and sent in filled-out entries, but Steve tells me there was one perfect answer: 100 out of 100 right.

But for all that, it's the other side of the page that most concerns me, because I wrote it.

(continued on next post)

*I don't remember this one without going to look it up, and I edited the book it came from!

No Two Copies of the Same Book

So, thinking some more on The NECRONOMICON and other faux-books such as THE RED BOOK OF WESTMARCH, I was reminded of something Dr. Tim Machan said in a colloquium at Marquette back in the late ‘80s (prob. ’88-‘89). Dr. Machan was a medievalist, a specialist in Old Norse literature who came too late for me to take any of his classes but stood out as being the only member of Marquette’s faculty to take part in the 1987 Marquette Tolkien conference with his excellent piece on VAFTHRUTHNISMAL and RIddles in the Dark.

One of the points he made in his colloquium was to state that, before the advent of printing, there was no such thing as two copies of the same book. Despite the best efforts of the scribe, a copy would introduce errors. Passages would get added, passages would get dropped -- sometimes by oversight, sometimes deliberately. Comments written in the margins had a way of working their way into the main text of the next iteration, while passages that had gotten garbled would be 'fixed' as best the scribe cd manage.

And of course that's in cases when the scribes were trying to be faithful, which was not always the case. Sometimes the scribe thought he knew more than the previous scribe about a particular point and would improve it. Sometimes he was right, sometimes not.

Add to this that the creation of a medieval tome was an expensive business, comparable to buy a luxury car today, and the fact that there were so few copies of medieval texts; only important things got written down, and only the most important among those would still be considered important enough a generation or century later to be copied once the original started wearing out.*  And in the case of a book like THE NECRONOMICON, it has the added disadvantage that it's written by a madman and copied and read by those who are either crazed in the first place (or they wdn't be drawn to its contents) or are driven mad by the extended close contact needed to hand-copy the whole.**

In the case of a benign work like THE RED BOOK, here too we know that the content differs from copy to copy: that the Westmarch (Shire) copy includes material not found in Minas Tirith (Gondor) copy and vice versa. So even where great care is taken to make a faithful transcription, still material gets added and dropped (we're told that most copies omit BIlbo's TRANSLATIONS FROM THE ELVISH).

In any case, another element to consider when conceptualizing what THE NECRONOMICON was like, or expanding the range of what it could have been like. Ironically it supports the original treatment in early editions of the CALL OF CTHULHU game rather well, where a curious Investigator cd pick up any of the major Mythos tomes (NAMELESS CULTS, MYSTERIES OF THE WORM, the NECRONOMICON Itself) and hope to find among its jumbled contents a passage relating to almost any aspect of the Mythos; later attempts to identify the specific contents of a given tome cd actually undercut an accidental bit of verisimilitude.

--John R.

--current song: "Powderfinger"
--current reading: Ryken's Wade Center Hansen Lecture expanded into a book

*for some idea of what didn't survive, see Wilson's THE LOST LITERATURE OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND
**things are a little better when it comes to printed books, since typesetters were notorious for not being able to read the texts they were printing

Sunday, July 8, 2018


So, here's a thought.

I was re-reading Lovecraft's THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS and came across one of those passages that effectively serve as info dumps of the Mythos.

In the story, Vermont farmer Henry Akeley, who has first-hand experience with the Mythos, tells what he knows in a letter to Miskatonic professor Albert Wilmarth, who knows a good deal about such things second hand, from reading the books there in his university's library. Here's how Lovecraft's Wilmarth describes the exchange:

. . . a terrible cosmic narrative derived from the application of profound and varied scholarship . . . I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsthoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R'lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L'mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum . . . worlds of elder, outer entity at which the crazed author of the Necronomicon had only guessed in the vaguest way


I'd always thought of THE NECRONOMICON more as a grimoire than anything else--that being the use Wilbur Whateley puts it to in THE DUNWICH HORROR. But Wilmarth's description makes me wonder: what if THE NECRONOMICON were more like a collection of stories (think Ovid)?  Most of the items in Wilmarth & Akeley's list have a story devoted to it, either by Lovecraft himself, or one of his friends and correspondents, or one of the writers of a previous generation from which HPL directly borrowed. What if we were to think of THE NECRONOMICON as a compilation of stories? Thus WHISPERER is the Yuggoth tale; CALL OF CTHULHU the story about Great Cthulhu and Rl'yeh; DUNWICH HORROR the tale where we learn about Yog-Sothoth; DREAM-QUEST the Nyarlathotep tale, and so forth. The middle part of the list allude to works by writers of the generation before Lovecraft, still alive and writing when Lovecraft was beginning his career: Bierce (Lake of Hali), Chambers (The Yellow Sign), and Dunsany (Bethmoora).

The analogy's not perfect  --so far as I know there's no story about Yian, or some of the other more obscure items towards the end of the list. And the chronology's all off. But it's still striking, and Lovecraft deliberately left some things vague so he cd add to or adjust elements in the Mythos as needed for later stories. The Mythos was open-ended, and to some degree self-contradictory, like a real mythology.

For instance, in what way might Bethmoora come up in Akeley and Wilmarth's pooling of their knowledge? The best way for them to have learned the legend of what happened to this city is to hear it from a deranged cultist (Akeley) or read it in an Arkham book (Wilmarth). And that legend would closely correspond to the actual tale written, and published, by Dunsany (in A DREAMER'S TALES, 1910).  For another example, if a fictional character reading about The Yellow Sign in the NECRONOMICON is learning pretty much the same story as a real-world reader reading Chamber's tale "The Yellow Sign", then the closest approach we can make to replicating the contents of THE NECRONOMICON is to compile an anthology of the relevant tales.

At any rate, that the idea I'm currently playing around with, musing over and seeing where it goes.

--John R.

UPDATE (Th.7/12-18)
My friend Charles N. (hi, Charles) points out in an email that Snorri's PROSE EDDA sounds a better match for Alhazred's NECRONOMICON: cryptic poems with explanatory background added. He further suggests that

many, if not most, of the 'authentic' quotations from the Necronomicon 
were in fact poetry in the original Arabic, but only survived as prose 
in the successive Greek and Latin translations.

We do know there's at least one "chant" in the book, referred to as such by Wizard Whateley (in THE DUNWICH HORROR) as lacking in his damaged copy.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

the children of Lilith

So, sometimes there's a gemstone hidden in the dross.

In this case, the dross is a volume of WEIRD TALES stories by Seabury Quinn, and the gem was a brief passage from a Rossetti poem I hadn't read:

. . . bright babes  had Lilith and Adam
Shapes that coiled  in the woods and waters
Glittering sons  and radiant daughters

And if this were not enough, thanks to the wonders of the Internet I was able to quickly track down and read the entire poem ("Eden's Bower"), in the process finding a second quotable passage that draws a chill, esp. when juxtaposed with the first:

. . . in the cool of the day in the garden
God shall walk without pity or pardon.

--John R.
current reading: "The Whisperer in Darkness" by H. P. L., plus a book of short stories by Seabury Quinn

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Third Silmarillion

So, the day before yesterday one of those annoying online ads along the lines of 'if you liked that, you'll certainly like this' actually came through with something I'm interested in learning about: the forthcoming boxed set of THE GREAT TALES by JRRT, the stand-alone volumes THE CHILDREN OF HURIN, BEREN & LUTHIEN, and the soon-to-be forthcoming FALL OF GONDOLIN, all of them edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee.

I was struck by how this fulfills one of Tolkien's plans for his never-completed book.

Of the several different ways Tolkien thought of presenting THE SILMARILLION, the first was a synoptic QUENTA accompanied by several smaller associated pieces: Annals, the Ainulindale or Valaquenta, Akalabeth and something on the languages, and so forth. This is pretty much THE SILMARILLION as we got it in 1977: a concise, coherent account drawn from multiple layers of drafting.

But another way to see the book is as a collection of disparate materials: poems, tales, annals, essays, histories, philological excursions, and all. Think Translations from the Elvish, by B.B.  And this is pretty much what we got the second time around, with THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH in all its twelve volume glory.

And now another iteration, this one alluded to in his LETTER TO WALDMAN, will see print: the Great Tales each as a stand-alone book in the series known as THE SILMARILLION.* We're fortunate not just that all this material survives and has been published but that we have multiple ways of accessing it to see which suits this reader or that reader best.

These are good times to be a Tolkien fan, or scholar.

--John R.
--current reading: Seabury Quinn stories (bad, but not as terrible as I remembered from a previous try).
--current audiobook: Nero Wolfe.

*all the more so if the rumor proves true and this third volume also includes what little was set down of the fourth and final Great Tale: THE TALE OF EARENDIL, bringing the set to as complete a state as is now possible. In any case, we'll soon know.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

I Was Wrong (The 1930 Hobbit)

So, as I mentioned in my last post, the newly arrived splendidly illustrated catalogue for the current Bodleian Tolkien exhibit, TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE EARTH by Catherine McIlwaine, contains valuable new information about the dating of THE HOBBIT.

For years we've been bedeviled by contradictory information as to when Tolkien started the book: Tolkien's emphatic statement that it was after he moved to the new house on Northmoor Road, vs. his two eldest sons' insistence that it had been at some point while they were still at their previous house (right next door), and therefore sometime between 1926 and 1929. Now we have new evidence which makes the earlier date certain. McIlwaine writes

Tolkien began to write The Hobbit in the late 1920s, 
reading it to his sons in instalments during the evening
in his study, the proper 'place for such amusements'.*
His eldest son John recorded in his diary for New Year's 
Day 1930, 'In the Afternoon we played in the Nursery. 
After tea Daddy read The Hobbit'.
(McIlwaine p. 290)

That about as decisive as anyone cd possibly wish. This is the best kind of evidence: first hand, contemporary, and unambiguous. We're lucky to have it.  I'll have to go back and revise my account in MR. BAGGINS giving the chronology of the book's writing.

My preliminary conclusion in the light of this new evidence is that what we have in JRRT's account of sitting at this study in the new house on a summer's day writing that iconic first sentence of his book is a composite memory. In his 1964/65 Guerroult radio BBC interview he describes a mental image that he now realizes is a 'beautifully worked out pastiche' of his father's house in Bloemfontein with his grandfather's house in Birmingham, features of both appearing in a composite in his memory. Something of the same must have been the case in his memory of creating that first page of THE HOBBIT.

Now if only more evidence wd turn up to help nail down when Tolkien finished the book as well.

--John R.

*quoted from LETTERS OF JRRT, p. 21

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Bodleian Tolkien Exhibit Catalogue

So, Thursday we found a note on the door that FedEx had failed to deliver a parcel but wd try again. The next day a heavy (6kg) package arrived from Oxford, being the two catalogues for the just-opened Tolkien Bodleian Exhibit. One, TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH is a four hundred page work showing the more than 180 items that make up the exhibit (an 'item' sometimes being multiple pages, such as several closely related maps or letters. The second is TOLKIEN TREASURES, a smaller a hundred and forty-four page softcover filled with gems from the displays; this one concentrates mostly on the art work with fewer manuscripts, letters, and photographs.
Both are by Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodley's Tolkien Archivist. It'll take time to absorb the riches contained in these books, but a few things do pop out on a first page-through.

First off, this is a beautiful book. It doesn't just reproduce a stunning array from Tolkien's papers but also has a lot of information. The first eighty pages of the book contain six essays by Tolkien luminaries:

J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biographical Sketch by Catherine McIlwaine
Tolkien and the Inklings by John Garth
Faerie: Tolkien's Perilous Land by Verlyn Flieger
Inventing Elvish by Carl F. Hostetter
Tolkien and 'that noble northern spirit' by Tom Shippey
Tolkien's Visual Art by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

There's much here, and in the pages that follow, that I'll enjoy going through and absorbing, esp. since it now looks like I'll be able to see the exhibit after all sometime near the end of its run. I've already been struck by the first page of THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS, by Terence (later Terry) Pratchett's thoughtful fan letter re SWM, by the news that Tolkien was part of the Cretaceous Perambulators (I have to go back now and compare the text given in the little 1983 pamphlet of the same name with Tolkien's draft text on Catalogue p..245), by the realization that Tolkien kept a good deal of his fan letters, or at least a judicious selection of the cream of the crop (e.g.,, the one he got from Iris Murdoch -- didn't spot the one from Mary Renault, alas).

All in all, a wealth of material, highly recommended to anyone interested in Tolkien's life and interested in this extended glimpse into how his mind worked as an author (and artist and linguist).

One particular highlight for me is conclusive evidence that Tolkien had already started work on THE HOBBIT before summer 1930, which I had argued was the no-earlier-than-by date.  Thanks to a mention in Fr. John Tolkien's diary for 1930 we know know JRRT was several chapters into the book by New Year's Day, a few months earlier. So I was wrong about Tolkien's start date, a topic important enough that I'd like to devote a separate post to it.

But for now, and between now and when I'm over there, I'll be reading and re-reading this major acquisition too my Tolkien Library.

--John R.
--current reading: BEYOND NEW HORIZONS

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Danny Kirwan dies

So, yesterday I heard about the death of Danny Kirwan, the chief creative force behind my favorite Fleetwood Mac album, BARE TREES (1972). Kirwan had joined the group when he was eighteen or nineteen and been fired when he was about twenty-two, about the age most folks finish college, mainly for being a mean drunk, and spent most of the succeeding years a derelict. A pity, since I think he was the most talented of all the many talented guitarists to pass through that group in its half-century of existence. I'd even go so far as to say that I think the Kirwan/Christine McVie dominated BARE TREES deserves to be ranked with the much more famous Buckingham/Nicks/Christine McVie FLEETWOOD MAC 'WHITE ALBUM' and RUMOURS. In addition to songs like the title track and 'Child of Mine', Kirwan's best instrumental ('Sunny Side of Heaven')* can be found here as well as well as the playful near-instrumental 'Danny's Chant'. And now the grimly beautiful 'Dust' takes on new resonance: melancholic but melodic.**

When the white flame in us 
  is gone 
And we that lost the world's delight
  Stiffen in darkness
Left alone
  To crumble in our separate night

When your swift hair is quiet in death
  And through your lips corruption 
Thrusts to steal the labour of my breath

When we are dust 
When we are dust  
When we are dust  

--John R.
--today's album: BARE TREES; today's song: DUST; current reading CHASING NEW HORIZONS by Stern & Grinspoon

*even better, perhaps, is the instrumental version of his song 'Dragonfly' as adapted by the London Rock Orchestra
**the lyrics are taken from a Rupert Brooke poem, the latter stanzas of which are rather more hopeful than Kirwan's version. The album also includes the great Christine McVie piece about being on the road, 'Homeward Bound'.

Friday, June 15, 2018

North Texas RPG Con

So, this time last week I was in Dallas, attending the NORTH TEXAS RPG CONVENTION as one of their special guests. I'd been a bit apprehensive about going, giving that a lot of living legends in TSR history wd be there -- like Tim Kask, the original editor of THE DRAGON and later champion for FINIEOUS FINGERS, who I never did meet; and Merle Rasmussen, creator of the original TOP SECRET, who I did.*

As it turns out, folks were very welcoming and I had a great time.** I got to play not one but two sessions of my favorite game (1st edition AD&D), both run by Paul Stormberg, who I knew as a Greyhawk guru and friend of Dave Sutherland in the latter's latter days; we've exchanged the occasional gaming-related email with over the years.

The first game was THE MANSION OF MAD PROFESSOR LUDLOW by Jim Ward. This had appeared in one of the first issues of DRAGON magazine I ever saw (the mid-40s) back when I was just getting into the hobby, years before I met and came to work for Jim. We all played boy (and girl) scouts exploring the weird mansion of a mad scientist; v. Jim Ward-ian.

The second game was the sample dungeon from the original DMG expanded into a full-length module. A great idea, and we had great fun with it. I remember Jonathan Tweet having worked on his own version of this at some point (presumably adapted to third edition) but don't recall if that ever got into print. I'm only sorry we didn't get all the way through (prob. inevitable in a four-hour slot). Anyway, a good time had by all.

The third game was a change of pace: Jeff Grubb running a CALL OF CTHULHU scenario of his own. Inspired by the original Lovecraft story that gives the game its name, it pitted our curious but clueless Miskatonic University college students against Weird Creepy and Violent Supernatural Things Going On. I'd played an earlier version of this a good ten years or more ago but that didn't prevent my enjoying this iteration.

I never did locate the Tolkien gaming room until the last evening of the con (having walked right by it all weekend), when I sat in on a session of The One Ring rpg; from what I saw I'm impressed yet again now good a job they did of crafting a Tolkien-specific rpg. Pity about the (near) tpk.

And then of course there was the Dealers' Room, from which I emerged with a book about Dave Arneson and a recent reprint of DARK TOWER, the first module I ever bought but now in rather dilapidated condition; having a new copy has filled me with the ambition to run it. If I get to go back next year, this wd be my choice of what to run. That, and the old D&D module MAZE OF THE RIDDLING MINOTAURS adapted from solo to group play.***

A good trip, and some great games. We need more events like this one.

--John R.

* more recent luminaries included Jon Petersen, who is continuing the good work of PLAYING AT THE WORLD on his blog, which I definitely need to start checking out on a regular basis.

**it helped to see familiar faces like Jeff Grubb, Steve Winter, and Bill Webb, who I see in my (more or less) weekly D&D game, plus getting to meet some folks I'd previously only known from online.

***my copy fortunately being fully keyed.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

More on the Oxford Exhibit

So, David B. has posted a detailed and appreciative description of the Tolkien Exhibit at the Bodleian:

And John Garth has published a review of the exhibit and relates the thoughts it evoked for him about the interconnectivity of all Tolkien's work.

In addition to the exhibit itself, the Special Events that will accompany it throughout its run have begun:

I don't know the first of the three named speakers (whose name has now rotated out of the updated site), but I'm told by someone who was there that Verlyn and Dimitra were "were brilliant as ever". I don't doubt it.

Reading through David's and Garth's piece has started me thinking that with Tolkien everything we have is at the cost of something else. We wd like there to be more paintings, but we shd know that they'd be at the cost of more stories. Or more stories, but that wd come at the cost of some scholarship. Or more scholarship, but that wd cost us more on the languages. It's all connected, and each piece we have is at the cost of something we don't have.

Or, to put it another way: what we don't have (e.g. SILMARILLION) we don't have because we do have something else (e.g., THE LORD OF THE RINGS).

--John R.
--waiting in the airport for my flight to Dallas and an Old School rpg convention: NTrpgCON

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Most Important Tolkien Event of the Year

. . . is taking place this week in the Bodleian Library. In fact it started today; a major new exhibition of J.R.R.T.'s manuscripts, artwork, and associated items (like his iconic pipe). A full catalogue will be out in a month or two, as well as a shorter, simpler version for those a little less deeply invested in all thing Tolkienian. Wish I cd be there!

Here's a piece in today's GUARDIAN that gives a basis overview:

And here's a brief mention* of the special lectures that accompany the exhibition and turn it into an event:


5 JUNE 2018,

A celebration of Tolkien and his creations, with special guests Dame Marina Warner, Prof Verlyn Flieger and Dr Dimitra Fimi.


I'd love to hear an account of how it all goes.
--John R