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.