Friday, September 27, 2019

Me, Tallking About TSR

So, Wednesday I appeared on a podcast about the events leading up to TSR's collapse.

The podcast is hosted by Ben Riggs, the other guest being ex-TSR and current Chaosium book editor Jim Lowder.*

Here's the audio. Mine is the voice which sounds like it was conjured up by the Witch of Endor when she was having an off-day. I may have oversimplified some but don't think I misspoke. At any rate I learned a lot of interesting things about what was going on behind the scenes in those far-off dark days.

Given that this piece was about the mistakes that laid them low, maybe at some point I shd put together a post celebrating TSR's achievements.**

Thanks to Ben for providing the opportunity and for sharing his discoveries and to Jim for the context.

--John R.
current reading: C. L. Moore's NORTHWEST SMITH stories (only one, the crossover story, left to go), a biography of Douglas Adams (just started), an old golden-age mystery novel (poorish opening, hope it gets better)

*whom I've known since the mid-80s when we were in a terrible Science Fiction class at Marquette (I as a grad student and he as an undergrad/honors student)
**which were many, and tend to go unrecorded

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Tolkien Enterprises vs. Tolkien Estate

So, the thread on TSR and the Tolkien license is still going on over at the Piazzo forum.* Wish I had time to chime in, since there are a lot of interesting comments, not all of which I agree with.**

I do have two observations though.

1. Our lives would all be simpler, and discussions like this one less at cross-purposes, if we could all grasp the difference between Tolkien Enterprises (=Saul Zaentz) and The Tolkien Estate (=the Tolkien family) and remember which controls exactly which rights.

2. My eye was drawn by the following quote:
"To be honest, I had not heard of John D. Rateliff before. I'll have to have a look to see if he has worked on any TSR product lines I like. It sounds like he has some good stories."

This doesn't surprise me, because a good editor is invisible. But, just to toot my own horn,*** game worlds I've worked on during my time at TSR and WotC and Hasbro include

the DOMINARIA setting (an abandoned project)

--in fact, I worked at one time or another on just about every AD&D game world except DARK SUN****

Mostly, though, I worked on core AD&D projects, like the boxed sets NIGHT BELOW and RETURN TO THE TOMB OF HORRORS, as well as the third edition PLAYER'S HANDBOOK (and DMG).

I'm glad he liked my stories.

--John R.

*"When TSR Passed on Tolkien"
**but then you rarely get a good discussion when everyone agrees at the outset
***clarinet, actually
****which was fortunate for me, since that was probably my least-favorite setting

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

a day at Marquette

So, today I started out the day by saving a roly-poly that was trying to cross a busy sidewalk.

Then later on in the Archives I found out there was another transcription in Tollkien's calligraphic hand of The King's Letter, a dual-language (English/Elvish) text but not in tengwar. That makes four tengwar texts and two non-tengwar.

Then this evening I took part in a podcast, the topic of which was the collapse of TSR at the end of 1996.

All in all, a good day. Now if tomorrow I can just get all the texts of The Epilogue (or, more correctly, both versions of The Epilogue) properly sequenced.

Also on the agenda: see if I can do anything about the disconcertedly bloodshot eye I've had for the past few days.

--John R.
--current reading: C. L. Moores stories originally published in WEIRD TALES circa 1937 and some more of the Virginia Woolf story fragments, dating just a few years later (mostly circa 1940), the most interesting of which tells of a man who tries to picture what a woman he doesn't know is like based on the marginalia she has added to various library books he checks out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The King's Letter

So, today was a good day. Yesterday was my first day back in the Archives of this (short) research trip, mostly spent sorting out where I left off and getting myself back into the feel of working with the manuscripts again. Today I got back into the detail work. My first overall goal is to go through the sequencing for the latter part of Book VI, which I put together in haste last time without the usual double-checking. Specifically it was figuring out the best way to represent the complicated tangle whereby the Epilogues spun off from the final chapter and then in turn spun off The King's Lettter, one of Tolkien's fine calligraphic tengwar manuscripts.

Christopher Tolkien states that there are three versions of this document, two of which -- the first  (IX.130) and third (IX.131) texts -- he reproduces in HME.IX. Wayne & Christina pick up on this discussion in ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR (page 201) and reproduce the second text (item #199, page 202).  But there's actually a fourth text, and I was trying to figure out where it fit into the sequence. And just to complicate things a little more today I turned up a fifth text, though this might be the text CT refers to as a 'transliteration' (IX.129), given that it is written in Tolkien's fine calligraphic hand in English and Elvish but not in tengwar.

In other news, last night I got to attend a meeting of the Burrahobbits, my all-time favorite reading group. Which reminds me: the group got its name when we were much amused with Nichol Williamson's readings from THE HOBBIT --still I think second only to Christopher's recordings of some Silmarillion texts.* Now Williamson's performances have been available online, for those who don't have a copy of the old four-record set or indeed a way to play vinyl albums. Here's the link, for which my thanks to Janice:

So, things are off to a good start. The most eventful incident so far was accidently leaving my laptop behind in the Archives at the end of day yesterday. Thanks to one of my fellow researchers working in the Reading Room, who saw me at the bus stop and let me know; a quick dash back from the bus stop up to the top floor of the library revealed that I was in luck: there was still someone inside who'd been keeping an eye out while locking up in case I shd show up again. So I didn't have to spend that evening and the next morning without my electronic devices.**

--John R.
--current reading: continuing the collection of C. L. Moore's NORTHWEST SMITH stories. Also today read some unfinished short stories by Virginia WoolF, which were interesting (I've read virtually all her fiction and essays/literary criticism, and biographical pieces, but a few stray pieces have turned up since I was last in a V.W. reading mood).

*and of course to JRRT himself

**If I had, it wd probably be justice for the time I was babysitting a toddler and had to hear her distraught cries of 'Y-pad! Y-pad!' when it was time to put the I-pad away and sleep.

UPDATED W.9/25-19

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Back in Milwaukee

So, it's been a week and more since I posted last, having been distracted by preparations for my current trip: tomorrow begins a week's work at the Marquette Archives looking at the Tolkien papers. This time the focus will be on the appendices, which will also involve at least some time with the frontmatter as well, the two being linked in various complicated ways.

For now though I've arrived, arranged for some get-togethers with friends, and gotten settled in. Tomorrow begins the mission.

As for the get-togethers, they've already started. I got to play a CALL OF CTHULHU adventure today, downstairs in The Plaza's Walnut Room, which looks exactly like the ideal background for such a game. This was the third of three adventures written and run by Jim Lowder, the only person I know of to have been on the staff of both TSR (back in the old days, immediately preceding and overlapping with my first few months there) and now Chaosium (which in many ways was an anti-TSR).

Tomorrow after the Archives closes I have plans to see my friends the Burrahobbits, a long-running fantasy book group. Wednesday I'm hoping to see Richard West if he can make it over from Madison for the day. And to round the week out I've got plans on Thursday to see RPG blogger Ben Riggs to share some reminiscencing about Lake Geneva days.

Speaking of which, I hadn't realized a discussion was going back and forth online about TSR's decisions to pass on a Tolkien license back in '92 and WotC's later repeating their mistake; thanks to Allan G. for the link.

In the meantime I've been doing a lot of reading, both light (re-reading J.P.Walsh's fourth Peter-and-Harriet novel* and trying out a late-period Heinlein), heavy (HME.XII, H.Young's 'Habits of Whiteness'), and somewhere in-between (C. L. Moore's NORTHWEST SMITH stories, which strike me as Mythos-in-space tales).

And now to make an early night of it so as to be at my best for working with the manuscripts tomorrow.

--John R.

*this is the one that slanders Tolkien; a sort of belated sequel to GAUDY NIGHT.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Secrets of Blackmoor

So, thanks to Doug A. for  the link to an article revisiting the great Arneson-Gygax credit controversy, arguing once again over which man contributed more to the creation  of D&D (and thus all roleplaying games). The article pulls no punches, coming down squarely on the anti-Gygax side. And by 'anti-Gygax' I mean not just Gygax as an interesting person with character flaws who treated people badly but Gygax-as-villain, Gygax as Snidely Whiplash, a figure of melodrama rather than history (most notably in the comments from Rob Kuntz, a former Gygax sidekick). There's plenty to criticize about Gygax, but  this attack wd be more convincing if it recognized his enormous contribution.

Here's the link;

The same may be said of the trailer for the documentary, which can be seen here:

The movie itself, I'm happy to say, adopts a milder tone and is much more devoted to boosting Arneson than in tearing Gygax down (I think Gygax first showed up at the 77-minute mark). It's a long and slow version of 'tell me about your character', but since the people doing so were, for example, the first person to ever play a dwarf in a D&D game, it's worth sitting through. Especially when you consider the people who they get on film: progenitors such as Wesely and Megarry and, through archival footage, some Arneson.  I'm sorry the late Dave Sutherland (the member of the Minneapolis group to most successfully transitioned to Lake Geneva, where he stayed with the company more than twenty years) is totally absent; if he was more than mentioned I missed it. I wish they'd have included interviews with Mike Carr, who again is mentioned a time or two in passing (regarding his being a neighbor of Arneson's yet the two first met at GenCon) with no hint of how important he was to the D&D/AD&D transition.  Oddly enough, the closing credits say they interviewed Tim Kask (the founding editor of THE DRAGON) but didn't use any of that footage.  Perhaps it'll be in the second part to this documentary that they promise at the end.

I can't end without a note about Arneson's dad, who appears several times and is surprisingly eloquent about never having really appreciated what all his talented son and his friends were doing down in his basement every weekend for all those years. I get the feeling the lack of underappreciation ran both ways: old Mr. Arneson mentions being puzzled that his son knew everything about Napoleon's battles (and battles Napoleon might have had, had events in history played out differently) yet had no interest in his own father's first-hand experience in World War II and Korean. That reminded me of a story TSR's Roger Moore told in one of his editorials, the point of which was that wargamers don't want to know what war is like.

So, essential if you want to delve deep into the prehistory of D&D and don't mind doing so through an extremely skewed account.

current reading: just read four books in three days: a Nero Wolfe (re-read) and three Georges Simenon MAIGRET novels (all bad). Now I've started two more: THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE EARTH (HME.XII) and ASTOUNDING, the Campbell/Heinlein/Asimov/Hubbard biography.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The New Arrivals (Cilli, Young, & Nevala-Lee)

So, several books that I've long had on order have begun to arrive, along with a few I only learned about and ordered recently. Here are some first impressions, which I wanted to get down so as to be able to come back and revisit when I've read the books through.

The first of these, in the long-awaited category, is Oronzo Cilli's TOLKIEN'S LIBRARY: AN ANNOTATED CHECKLIST. This is flat-out a great idea: to list every book JRRT is known to have owned or read. And it's one of those dip-able books that you look up something in, to have that make you think of another author or title you want to check, and that leads to another, and so forth. It's like surfing on the net: it's easy to get sucked in in a most enjoyable way. The tricky part comes in with methodology. Cilli addresses this by identifying the evidence for each book as primary source (e.g. the actual book survives with Tolkien's signature) or secondary source (Tolkien quotes from the book). All in all, illuminating and deeply interesting.

The second is  RACE AND POPULAR FANTASY LITERATURE: HABITS OF WHITENESS by Helen Young (2016). Here's a case where the title and subtitle shd have been swapped: HABITS OF WHITENESS is a much stronger, more eye-catching title. I only know Young as the organizer of the 'Tales After Tolkien' track at Kalamazoo's yearly Medieval Congress. This is less a book I expect to enjoy and more one I want to read to prepare myself for dealing with the current hostile environment by seeing first hand what Tolkien's distractors are saying. Surprisingly enough, given her theme, there's no entry for Norman Spinrad or THE IRON DREAM anywhere in the  index; does she not know about this book?

The third is an e-book on the Kindle: ASTOUNDING, a joint biography of John W. Campbell, Robert A. Heinlein,  Isaac Asimov, and L. Ron Hubbard. It comes as something of a shock to find that the one with the most reprehensible ideas was not Hubbard nor Heinlein but Campbell. I'm curious about this one to see what it might have to say about the recent moves to re-name literary awards because of objections to the person after whom the award was named, like the Campbell Award, the Lovecraft 'Howie', and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. The  'Hugo' is still the Hugo, but I wdn't count on its remaining so, given the current trend. In retrospect perhaps Glen GoodKnight was wise in naming his group The Mythopoeic Society and its award The Mythopoeic Award; the Charles Williams Award cd have in the current climate been more problematic.

In any case, that's my first impressions, which I expect will change quite a bit in the course of reading them.

And I have two more to look forward to:  TOLKIEN'S CHAUCER and John Garth's new sites-that-inspired-Tolkien book, both of which are currently 'forthcoming'.

--John R.
current reading: some misc. bits in THE BOOKS OF EARTHSEA; also continuing the C. S. Lewis reception and reputation book (which travels lightly, and tactfully, over issues involving Lindskoog vs. Hooper, and things like Mrs. Moore's role in CSL's private life.).

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The True Shape of a Tree

 So, here's another of Tolkien's late thoughts that show how deeply he considered each aspect of his subcreation that drew his attention during his late metaphysical writings in which he tried to work out how everything worked. This one is particularly fitting, given how it deals with something that he made iconic in his works:* the nature of trees.

[Something] which distinguishes the living from the unliving** is that the living employ Time in their realization. In other words it is part of their nature to 'grow', using such material as is needed or is available to them for their embodiment. So that a living pattern does not exist fully at any one moment of time (as do unliving patterns); but is complete only with the completion of its life. It cannot therefore rightly be seen instantly, and is only imperfectly envisaged even with the help of memory. Only thosewho conceived its pattern and whose sight is not limited to the succession of time can, for instance,see the true shape of a tree.

Comments on 'The Converse of Manwëwith Eru'
(pages 112 & 114; emphasis mine)

* "In all my works I take the part of trees"—JRRT, 1972 (Letters.419)
**e.g., an 'unliving' material such as iron