Saturday, June 29, 2019

What is this?

So, on the light by the front door of the place I'm staying there's a most unusual structure. You can see it dangling from the bottom right corner, shaped somewhat like a tiny hot-air balloon with the opening at the bottom.

It's clearly a nest of some kind, but what kind of creature made it? It's too small for a bat or even the smallest bird.

My first thought was that it might be a dirt-dobber, though an unusual one. But cautiously touching it reveals its not made of clay dobbing, as I thought, but grey paper, which makes me think it's some kind of solitary wasp. At any rate it's not doing anyone any harm.

Thanks to Janice K. for the photo.

--John R.

Friday, June 28, 2019

C. S. Lewis and the Munich Crisis

So, I've been reading through Stephanie Derrick's new book, THE FAME OF C. S. LEWIS: A CONTROVERSIALIST'S RECEPTION IN BRITAIN AND AMERICA (2018), which draws a strong distinction between Lewis's reputation in the US, where he's mainly thought of as a children's author and an Xian author, vs the UK, where he's primarily considered an academic and 'controversialist' (in the mode of Chesterton, Belloc, and Orwell).

There's much food for thought in what I've read so far (about a quarter of the whole), but one passage in particular stands out. At the time of the Munich crisis in 1938, a fellow Magdalen don, Bruce McFarlane, noted the unusual unanimous feeling among all the Magdalen dons in opposing the pact:

The unanimity of dons is quite unprecedented. Even the President is sound. There's only one Chamberlain supporter in Magdalen—Lewis who is so otherworldly that he thinks the Munich settlement a victory for self-determination. I suggested the same treatment for Ulster & he was quite shocked.
[Derrick p. 55; emphasis mine]

I'm not really sure what to make of this -- whether Lewis was one among the many who thought the prime minister had just achieved Peace in Our Time, or this shd be marked down as an example of just how clueless and ill-informed Lewis was on current events,* or that he here, as so often, was just being a contrarian.


*His brother records having once had a conversation with CSL about the Balkans in which CSL's odd remarks puzzled Warnie mightily, until he realized that CSL thought Tito was the King of Greece.

On the other hand, Lewis came out strongly about Franco's claim that God was on his side in a nasty civil war, so he was capable of reading a complex political situation clearly

I See Lightning Bugs

Or Fireflies, depending on where you hail from.

Last night, coming back to the place we're staying here in Rockford just after twilight, we were lucky that the lightning bugs were just coming out. It was pretty much perfect viewing conditions: warm night, gathering dark, and a total lack of mosquitos.

--John R.
current reading: The Fame of C. S. Lewis

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Weird Tolkien (IV). Morgoth Rapes the Sun

So, there are many stories about the Sun-Maiden (usually called Arien or Urwendi) in Tolkien's legendarium, most of which cohere together pretty well, the most familiar of these being that found in THE SILMARILLION. But from very far back in the legendarium come hints that the sun is in some way diminished or damaged (I'm thinking in particular of the BLT's prophesized Rekindling of the Magic Sun), a point Tolkien stresses in his LETTER TO WALDMAN.*

What strikes me as extraordinary in the Myths Transformed section of MORGOTH'S RING (HME.X.380-381 & 131-132) is that how straightforwardly Tolkien presents Morgoth's rape of Arie, the Maia who ruled the sun, who we are told is "the most ardent and beautiful of all the spirits that had entered into Ea with [Varda]".  Tolkien is usually reticent about such matters, but not here:

. . . afire at once with desire and anger, [Melkor] went to Asa
[The Sun] and he spoke to Arie, saying: 'I have chosen thee,
 and thou shalt be my spouse, even as Varda is to Manwe,
 and together we shall wield all splendour and majesty. Then
 the kingship of Arda shall be mine in deed as in right,
 and thou shalt be the partner of my glory.'

But Arie rejected Melkor and rebuked him, saying:
 'Speak not of right, which thou hast long forgotten.
 Neither for thee nor by thee alone was Ea made; and
  thou shalt not be King of Arda. Beware therefore;
 for there is in the heart of [Asa] a light in which
thou hast no part, and a fire which will not serve thee.
 Put not out thy hand to it. For though thy potency
may destroy it, it will burn thee and thy brightness
 will be made dark.'

Melkor did not heed her warning, but cried in his wrath:
  'The gift which was withheld I take!' and he ravished Arie,
 desiring both to abase her and to take into himself her powers.
 Then the spirit of Arie went up like a flame of anguish and wrath,
 and departed for ever from Arda; and the Sun was bereft
 of the Light of  Varda, and was stained by the assault of Melkor.
And [the Sun] being for a long while without rule . . . grievous
 hurt was done to Arda . . .  until with long toil the Valar made
 a new order. But even as Arie foretold, Melkor was burned
 and his brightness darkened, and he gave no more light,
 but light pained him exceedingly
 and he hated it.

Nonetheless Melkor would not leave Arda in peace . . .

I think this is unique in Tolkien, the only rape scene in the legendarium, and I'm surprised more has not been written about it. For a start, it says worlds that it's only the most evil being in the whole subcreation we are told commits such a deed. And we are told that it was Melkor's intent to "abase" her.

This scene is also remarkable in that it could be read as the only account on record of deliberate murder by one Vala/Maia of another, Arie being so traumatized that she discorporates and leaves Arda for ever.

There is certainly bride-by-capture, evidenced sinisterly in "Shadow Bride" and light-heartedly in Bombadil's seizing Goldberry, with Eol & Aredhel somewhere in-between (we are told that Aredhel was 'not wholly unwilling').  The most famous such episode, appearing in one of the Great Tales (and thus in a key component part of the legendarium) and prominent within that tale through many iterations, is of course Morgoth's decision to force himself upon Luthien when he sees her dancing in his hall, an act alluded to but not explicitly stated.  Luthien saves herself through her spell of sleep. But none of these have the directness and brutality of the Melkor/Sun-Maiden scene.

*[Tolkien's Note:] A marked difference here between these legends and most others is that the Sun is not a divine symbol, but a second-best thing, and the 'light of the Sun' (the world under the sun) become terms for a fallen world, and a dislocated imperfect vision.

--John R
--current reading: Raymond Edwards (plugging along), Stephanie Derrick (well into the second section now)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Weird Tolkien (III). Melkor Makes the Moon

So, wanting to refresh my memory of Tolkien's account of the Making of the Sun and Moon for my Flat-Earth paper at Kalamazoo, I went to the pre-eminent Tolkien astronomer, Kristine Larsen, who pointed me to her paper in the 2005 Aston conference proceedings, where she had addressed these very issues.*

I was familiar with the BOOK OF LOST TALES/SILMARILLION story about the Moon being made out of the last fruit or flower of The White Tree of Valinor but had not made any study of the variant legends, and so had missed the odd story told in Text C* of the AINULINDALE (HME.X) in which it is actually Melkor and not the Valar who makes the moon.

Melkor . . . gathered himself together and summoned all his might and his hatred, and he said: 'I will rend the Earth asunder, and break it, and none shall possess it.'

But this Melkor could not do, for the Earth may not be wholly destroyed against its fate; nevertheless Melkor took a portion of it, and seized it for his own, and reft it away; and he made of it a little earth of his own, and it wheeled round about in the sky, following the greater earth wheresoever it went, so that Melkor could observe thence all that happened below, and could send forth his malice and trouble the seas and shake the lands . . . [T]he Valar assaulted the stronghold of Melkor, and cast him out, and removed it further from the Earth, and it remains in the sky, Ithil whom Men call the Moon. There is both blinding heat and cold intolerable, as might be looked for in any work of Melkor, but at least it is clean, yet utterly barren; and nought liveth there, nor ever shall . . . 

Among the many depictions of the Moon Tolkien made, going all the way back to his 1914 Earendel poem, I think this might be the strangest. But perhaps that's only because it's so much at odds with the familiar Lamps > Trees > Sun-ship and Moon-ship stories. Perhaps if this version had appeared, with variation, since the BLT in various iterations of the myth it too wd seem the established moon-myth in Tolkien's cosmogony.  Certainly there are many moments in his Plot Notes to LotR when Tolkien comes up with what seems to us now just wrong which only feel that way because he did, decisively, decide to go a different way instead.

--John R.
--currently at Rockford
--current reading: Derrick.
--visited a Barnes & Nobel today, my first time in a bookstore this week (last week's being a downtown Williamstown bkstr and the gift show of an art museum).

*Kristine Larsen: "A Little Earth of His Own: Tolkien's Lunar Creation Myths", The Ring Goes Ever On: Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 Conference 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Weird Tolkien (II). Valinor is North America

So, THE SHIBBOLETH isn't that hard to get, appearing in THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE-EARTH  (HME.XII) as it does, but how about J. R. R. TOLKIEN, L'EFFIGIE DES ELFES?*

This French-language publication prints some short pieces by Tolkien, in English, the most interesting of which to me is "The Numenorean Catastrophe & End of 'Physical Arda' ". This asks the question: what became of Valinor/Aman after the enormous upheaval of Numenor's destruction? An excerpt shows Tolkien's line of thinking, leading to conclusions which I don't think I'm alone in finding surprising:

Is Aman 'removed' or destroyed at Catastrophe?

It was physical. Therefore it could not be removed,
without remaining visible as part or Arda or as a
new satellite! It must either remain as a landmass
bereft of its former inhabitants or be destroyed.

I think now . . . best that it should remain a physical
landmass (America!). But as Manwe had already
said to the Numenoreans: 'It is not the land that is
hallowed . . . but . . . the dwellers there' -- the Valar.

It would just become an ordinary land, an addition
to Middle-earth (the European-African-Asiatic
contiguous land-mass) . . . 

Tolkien is unambiguous here, but I find it hard to get my mind around Valinor and Elvenhome, bereft of their former inhabitants, becoming North and South America.

For the part about Aman becoming a new satellite, see my next post.

--John R.
--current reading: continuing the Derrick, which looks more and more like a keeper

*Le Feuille de la Compagnie, No.3, ed. Michael Devaux. I am grateful to Charles Noad for drawing this passage to my attention.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Weird Tolkien (I). Feanor's Seventh Son

Feanor's seventh son never reached Middle-earth
    So, as I said in my last post, there are times reading through the late material in the last three volumes of the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH when I come across passages that surprise me because they're so much at variance with the established story as I know it from the 1977 SILMARILLION and other more familiar sources.

    Take for example Tolkien's statement that only six of the Seven Sons of Feanor ever set foot on Middle-earth.

    The passage in question appears in a philological essay, THE SHIBBOLETH OF FEANOR, which is obstinately about a sound-shift in Quenya that got caught up in the power-politics of the day, especially the cult of personality Feanor built up around himself, but wanders off into nomenclature (re. mother-names and father-names).

    According to the SHIBBOLETH, when Feanor burned the ships upon arriving in Beleriand, he did not realize that his youngest son had decided to spend the night aboard and consequently burned to death in his sleep. Feanor, demonstrating his increasingly irrational behavior, responds not by any recognition of responsibility or expression of remorse for killing his own son but instead orders that no one ever speak of this to him again.

    So we're left with two explanations of this. If this passage represents Tolkien's final thoughts on the topic, then every appearance of Amrod from this point onward in the SILMARILLION narrative shd be altered to remove any mention of Amrod's from them.*

    Or, a more interesting but considerably more unsettling option, we can note that the from this point onward in the SILMARILLION narrative the twins always appear together, one never acting without the other inseparably by his side, and conclude that only Amras is actually there, Amrod always accompanying him like an imaginary friend. I like this option best because of its narrative economy, and it certainly underscores the defiance of reality that underlies the whole Noldorian war-on-Morgoth project.

    Either way, it demonstrates one of Tolkien's concerns in his latter days: to infuse some of the minor characters in the legendarium with personality.**

    --John R.
    --current location: enroute from Boston to Rockford by way of Milwaukee and Harvard
    --current reading: THE FAME OF C.S.Lewis by Stephanie L. Derrick (promising)

    *here I'm using Amras to mean the sixth son and older twin and Amrod the seventh son and younger twin, as they appear in the 1977 SILMARILLION, Tolkien having gone back-and-forth in the SHIBBOLETH over which names belonged to which.

    **another good example being two of Finrod's brothers, Aegnor who is given a little personality late in the development of the legedarium by the addition of a reference to his love for a mortal woman, but not Angrod who is left undefined.

    Thursday, June 20, 2019

    When Tolkien Gets Weird

    So, I've never made a systematic study of the final three volumes of HME, though I've dipped into them a lot over the years. I find that it's when I have a project that involves specific lesser-known items among Tolkien's oeuvre I get to know those works really well.*

    My current project was chosen, in part, so that in the process of researching and writing it I wd become as familiar with this late-period material as I am with BLT I & II, HME IV-V, and the LotR volumes HME VI-IX.**

    And what I'm finding is that occasionally Tolkien will make a statement that strikes me as decidedly odd. In conversation with Tolk folk, I find that even the most well-versed of them might not know all of these offhand, so vast has JRRT's published writings now become. So I thought it might be interesting to devote a short series of blog posts to a run of representative examples.

    • Feanor's seventh son never reached Middle-earth
    • Valinor is North America
    • Melkor made the Moon
    • Melkor Rapes the Sun

    --John R.
    current reading: snippets of many different things.
    current location: Williamstown.
    currently missing: two small black cats.

    *for example, the essay I did on FALL OF ARTHUR, or the one on Tolkien's dwarves a few years before that, or heavy immersion into the earlier iterations of THE SILMARILLION for MR. BAGGINS.

    **I have a different project lined up for later this year that will involve a lot of work with the Appendices drafting

    Tuesday, June 18, 2019

    I Need a Genizah

    So, for years I've been proud of the fact that I had what was, among the folks I knew, the only intact copy of  BROTHERS & FRIENDS, Kilby and Mead's excellent edition of Warnie Lewis's fascinating and endlessly readable diary. Sad to say, that's no longer the case: I had to look up something in it last week and found to my dismay that the binding is now split in multiple place, meaning I have to carefully cradle it when turning pages to prevent it from disintegrating altogether.

    The same fate has befallen my first-edition copy of THE ROAD TO MIDDLE-EARTH:  a thirty-page section of which has come loose, with several more spots about to go where the binding is cracked and partly detached.

    Even some of the HME volumes are beginning to show signs of years of hard usage.

    The problem is that I can't just replace these with new copies because most of them are heavily annotated. And there's also the sentimental value: I've used these books for years and have good memories associated with them. I cd never get rid of my first copy of THE HOBBIT, or the black-cover three-volume LotR with orange, red, and purple Eye of Sauron on the cover: that's where it all began.

    What to do with tattered but precious books?

    And it's not just scholarly books. My copy of WATERSHIP DOWN, one of my favorite books, is falling apart -- I guess I just literally read it to pieces.

    As for D&D books, my original PLAYER'S HANDBOOK, which I bought back in '80-81, is still intact, though its pages are starting to get fragile and apt to tear. Considering the hundreds if not thousands of hours I've spent pouring over this, it's been a great bargain. My original copy of the MONSTER MANUAL is also still holding up well, but the DMG came loose from its cover long ago.

    It was thus a sad surprise that my copy of the current PH, which I've only had for three or four years, is beginning to split. It won't be long before the cracks in the binding break. I'm less attached to the 5th edition rules, but I need a set for our weekly Monday night game.

    --John R.
    location: Logan Airport.
    current reading: various Old School D&D modules from NTRPGcon (bought last year, finally having a good chance to read them now).

    Tuesday, June 11, 2019

    Chu-bu and Sheemish

    So, a few years back Janice created as a gift to me a little booklet, illustrated by our friend Stan!, telling the story of our cat Parker, aka The Cat Who Bit People. It was called PARKER'S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE and might best be described as 'based on a true story'.  I've wanted to return the favor, and a while back fixed on what I thought we be a good medium: a booklet that told two stories at the same time. On the left-hand side of each spread are a few paragraphs from Lord Dunsany's short story "Chu-bu & Sheemish",* illustrated in the top register of the facing right-hand page. The bottom right-hand register tells the story of Parker coping with the addition of another cat, little Rigby, to the household.

    For more on Stan's work, see

    *the booklet includes the whole of Dunsany's story.

    --John R.
    --current reading: unfocused.

    There is none but Chu-bu (there is also Sheemish)

    Monday, June 3, 2019


    So, two weeks ago today we went to the Boeing Museum of Flight to look at their APOLLO exhibit  ( ).

    It you're at all interested in the space program, and especially if you remember the Apollo moon missions from yr childhood, I highly recommend you try to get to this.  Though it'll be hard: general admission tickets had already sold out and we were only able to get in by joining a museum membership. It was well worth it, and we had time beforehand to look over some of their impressive permanent exhibits, such as the one tracing Amelia Earhart's route.*

    In the space program exhibit they've got everything from a cosmonaut's suit (pink) and re-entry capsule (which I mistook for an old-fashioned bathysphere) to a box they brought back moon rocks in (including one of the rocks, in a case next to a photo of it resting on the surface of the moon),** a moon-buggy astronauts used to train in, the console used by mission control (a v. familiar sight to anyone who'd seen the live footage of launches), and much more. Particularly impressive were the pieces of a Saturn V, still the biggest rocket ever built, the culmination of Van Braun and Goddard's work:*** part of it unused, having been intended to launch either Apollo XVIII or XIX, both missions having been cancelled when the space program scaled way back. The other pieces are the burned and scared remains from an actual launch, some of the huge bits that were ejected on the way up and fell off once the first stage of the launch was over, now retrieved from two and a half miles under the ocean by a Jeff Bezos funded project a few years back

    Here's a picture of me next to the Apollo 11 command module, the only part to reach the moon and return (as opposed to the lunar module, which stayed behind on the surface of the moon, and the service module, which burned up in the atmosphere during landing). It's surprisingly large when you see it and yet surprisingly small when you think of fitting three men inside.

    All in all a good exhibit and I'm glad we made it to it. Though to my mild disappointment they weren't selling those little paper some-assembly-required models of the Apollo 11 lunar module that they gave away at the time at Esso stations. I wonder if any of those are left out there somewhere.

    --John R.
    current reading: all kinds of snippets re. JRRT for the paper I'm working on (an expansion and revision of my Kalamazoo piece).
    current viewing: the Pratchett/Gaiman GOOD OMENS miniseries.

    *we had to pass this time on what are to me the most interesting planes staged in the most depressing area: World War I planes (which are great) mounted over a recreating of a Western Front trench (which is harrowing). Luckily, having a museum membership means we're likely to come back several times over the next year or so to poke about more.

    **turns out they were v. concerned about contamination -- not that the moon rocks contained some kind of space-virus, a la THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, but that earth's biosphere wd quickly overwhelm any trace of non-Earth life on or in the moon rock.

    ***they also have a reconstructed V2 , not as part of this exhibit but on permanent display.

    Sunday, June 2, 2019

    SALTMARSH Revisited

    So, the new D&D Adventure/Campaign from WotC is now out, and it's an interesting return to days of old. How old? So old that when the last time these adventures saw the light of day, TSR was still run by Gygax and the Blumes.

    What they've done here is take one of their lesser-known classic adventure series and expanded it into a book-length campaign by the addition of several related adventures that had appeared in DUNGEON magazine over the years.

    Thus the original Saltmarsh trilogy (U1. The Secret of Saltmarsh [1981], U2. Danger at Dunwater [1982], U3. The Final Enemy [1983]) appears here as Chapters II, III, and VI within a larger campaign, GHOSTS OF SALTMARSH. The additional material is Chapter I (describing the village of Saltmarsh, something conspicuously missing from the original 1981 module), Chapter IV "Salvage Operation" (DUNGEON 123 [2005]), Chapter V "Isle of the Abbey" (DUNGEON 34 [1992]), Chapter VII "Tammeraut's Fate" (DUNGEON 106 [2004]), and Chapter VIII "The Styes" (DUNGEON 121 [2005]).

    I've already said what I had to say about U1-U2-U3 themselves in a previous blog post, which can be found here (spoiler alert):

    And I've deliberately refrained from reading this new expanded adventure because I'm hoping our DM, who is one of the authors, will run it for us. We'll see how it goes.

    --John R.

    current viewing: GOOD OMENS (based on the Pratchett/Gaiman book)
    current reading: TOLKIEN by Raymond Edwards (an outstanding but surprisingly neglected work).