Saturday, November 30, 2019

Walk Like an Egyptian

So, this is amazing. I've been curious about how close visitors can get to the Sphinx and Great Pyramids, and came across some video online that suggests the answer is pretty darn close.

Here's the video of the Sphinx walking tour:

The same people have done a similar close-up walking tour of the Great Pyramids, which I include here with the caveat that I haven't watched this one all the way to the end yet.

It promises to be a pretty amazing trip.

current reading:
THE PAPYRUS OF ANI: THE BOOK OF THE DEAD (as a read-aloud for speech therapy)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

an interview from 1999

So, while doing some more sorting, I came across an interview I did back in 1999 which I had completely forgotten about. It was printed in a little digest-sized newsletter, SENSE OF WONDER, published by B. Dalton's (back when there were still B. Daltons') in their June/July 1999 issue.  It's focused on my contribution to the TSR Silver Anniversary series, RETURN TO THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLAND.

The issue also has a feature marking the fifteenth anniversary of DRAGONLANCE and, better yet, a full-page Tolkien piece, interviewing my friends Wayne Hammond & Cristina Scull, whose newest work at that time was ROVERANDOM (their edition of FARMER GILES OF HAM still being forthcoming at the time).

This Silver Anniversary interview is the sort of thing I'd have mention in my blog, except that this piece predates by blog by a good seven or eight years. So I've decided on the principle of better late than never to give it here.

Return to the Keep on the Borderlands--An Interview with John D. Rateliff

Celebrate the 25th anniversary of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS with a return to the setting of the adventure that was named one of the "Best Classic Adventures of All Time" in a recent gamer poll. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS co-creator E. Gary Gygax's original Keep on the Borderlands adventure, first published in 1981, introduced hundreds of thousands of gamers to the hobby. Now, in honor of the Silver Anniversary of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, talented game dsigner John D. Rateliff has crafted Return to the Keep on the Borderlands ($12.95, on sale June), a sequel to this classic adventure, updated for use with the AD&D game. This is your chance to challenge the evil powers that still lurk in the fabled Caves of Chaos . . . and soon will rise to threaten the unsuspecting residents of the isolated outpost of the Keep on the Borderlands. Here's what John D. Rateliff has to say about the Silver Anniversary of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, and the adventure that awaits in Return to the Keep on the Borderlands:

John D. Rateliff: It's been twenty-five years since Dave Arneson and E. Gary Gygax invented DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, the first fantasy roleplaying game. We're celebrating that milestone with the Silver Anniversary series featuring re-releases, remakes, and reprints of classic adventures, updated and augmented with additional new material. There's also a big boxed set coming out this summer with facsimiles of some long out-of-print adventures. It's exciting to get these player favorites back in print again, some for the first time in over a decade.

I was drawn to D&D by my love of fantasy literature, especially the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. I actually have a Ph.D. in fantasy! I was in graduate school (at Bill Clinton's alma mater) when I first discovered D&D at a local hobby store in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I've been playing ever since.

Professionally, I've been working in the roleplaying industry since 1991. I've edited or designed (written) about three dozen adventures, rulebooks, supplements, and boxed sets. I've been pretty heavily involved in the whole Silver Anniversary line -- writing one product, editing another, and play-testing a third, and I've also played a role in the general trend over the past few years for TSR to get back to its roots.

When I got lucky enough to get the assignment to design Return to the Keep on the Borderlands. I was eager for the chance. Years ago I played the original Gygax adventure three times --once as a player and twice as a DM, with different groups.  That's not unusual: Keep on the Borderlands was originally designed to introduce gamers to the system. It certainly did a great job of that --more people have played Keep on the Borderlands than any other roleplaying adventure ever.

My favorite thing about the original adventure was the interaction of the different races in the Caves of Chaos. In those twelve interconnected caves, Gygax presented an interesting pecking order between the goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, and so forth --explaining who kowtowed to whom and why. That sense of how things fit together went a long way to create a fantasy "ecology" and suggested a larger world beyond that original current adventure.

My creation is a sequel to Gygax's original adventure, and his work is my primary source. I focused, first and foremost, on updating his setting and thinking of what might have happened to these places and people in the course of the time that has passed in the world of the game. And, of course, I drew a lot on characters and situations from my own campaigns -- things that were fun for me and the people I played with.

In Return to the Keep on the Borderland, it's been twenty years since heroes cleaned out the Caves of Chaos and made the area safe to live again. However, nature abhors a vacuum, and the caves now have new inhabitants  just as nasty as the old ones.  Currently, the Keep is down to a skeleton garrison, unable to prevent bandits from ambushing travelers or to stop folks from disappearing. Luckily, new adventurers are being drawn to the area by rumors that the cave are once again filled with monsters and treasures. It's becoming a kind of tradition that this is the place where would-be heroes first come to try their luck, just like the famous adventurers of a generation ago. Enter the player characters . . . 

In addition to a rousing adventure, John D. Rateliff's Return to the Keep on the Borderlands includes a special section of advice for beginning Dungeon Masters, detailed descriptions of the Keep and its inhabitants, wilderness encounters with a wide range of classic AD&D monsters, plus room-by-room descriptions of every chamber within the Caves of Chaos. It's time to Return to the Keep on the Borderlands

P. S. : I have to give points to the writer of this little piece, whoever it was, for getting my name right, complete with middle initial.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Names in the OGL SRD

So, re. the editing credit for Under an Angry Star, on a closer look it turns out my name is included after all -- not on the credits page but in the last line of the last page, as part of the System Reference Document,  a one-page version of the Open Gaming License included in all d20 products that lays out in small type the terms of the license. My name is one of thirteen given as writers who contributed to the 3e d20 system. The list is interesting in that the selection and inclusion criteria seem oblique. Here's the whole list:

Jonathan Tweet
Monte Cook
Skip Williams
Rich Baker
Andy Collins
David Noonan
Rich Redman
Bruce R. Cordell
John D. Rateliff
Thomas Reid
James Wyatt
based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson

Of these, the first three names --Jonathan, Monte, and Skip-- were the three core members of the 3e design team, with Jonathan primarily in charge of the PLAYER'S HANDBOOK (and overall of the project), Monte of the DMG, and Skip of the MM.

Rich Baker was originally part of the team till he was promoted to product group leader in charge of THE FORGOTTEN REALMS.
Peter Adkison was also briefly member of the team early on, until persuaded that the development and design process for 3e was intensive enough that he cd run the company or help redesign the game but not both.

The next seven names come not quite in alphabetical order, mine among them. My guess is I'm in there for being editor of the PH and DMG, though in that case Julia Martin my co-editor shd be there too. It's hard to work out the rationale for decisions I wasn't privy to that took place almost twenty years ago, but in any case it's nice to be included. We put in a tremendous amount of work trying to make that the best game we cd, and while my heart will always belong to AD&D (esp. 1st edition) I'm glad to see that for many people 3e and the d20 system in all its multitudinous forms provided them with a lot of good gaming.

--John R.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

My Newest Publication (UNDER AN ANGRY STAR)

So my friend, gaming legend Jeff Grubb, was recently a guest of honor at the Lucca  comics and gaming convention near Florence, Italy. And as part of his guestly duties, they asked him to write and run a new adventure specially for the convention. He wrote it, I edited it, and they translated it into Italian and printed it as SOTTO  UNA  STELLA  FURENTE  ("UNDER AN ANGRY STAR"):

It's quite a fun adventure, and a challenging one combining al-QADIM (a game world Jeff created) with SPELLJAMMER (which Jeff also created) and featuring foes such as the neogi, yak-men, and giff, all of them inventions by Jeff, circa 1989-1994, along with various types of djinn and a few familiar but cleverly disguised monsters. It's been a long time since I edited a D&D project, and I enjoyed this one greatly. In fact, the only down side for me is that the print Italian edition has taken my name off the credits, replacing them with the person who edited the Italian-language edition. Pity, that.

Still, if you love old style D&D and wd like to see a modern exemplar of the craft, I highly recommend this adventure. Oh, and it helps if you read Italian.

--John R.

One feature that shows a nice 'old school' touch on the part of the folks who thought this up and carried it off is that this module has a designator, just like in the glory days of G1, X2, S4, and I6.

These designators were much loved by gamers, who used them as a kind of in-the-know shorthand, but baffled TSR's marketing department, which eventually put the kabosh on them.*

In this case the code is OSA08, which I take to mean Old School Adventure 8. This is confirmed by a slash in the upper left corner with the mixed English/Italian words "Per GDR Fantasy / Old School". And on the back cover are shown the full front covers of the first six in this series (of which, I noted, Jeff's is the 8th), including modules by Zeb Cook ("L'Ultima Battaglia di Re Aemon"), Bill Slavicsek ("La Taverna Ubiqua"), and Douglas Niles ("If Flagello di Giltshire").

*I went ahead and assigned them ones for use in Games Library, right up to the end of Second Edition.

PPS: Here's the back cover of Jeff's module, for those who are interested in seeing more of the context:

Saturday, November 23, 2019

A Comment on a Post (re. Arneson)

So, I just got a comment on my post back in September on the new film documenting Arnesom's role in the creation of D&D. Since the comment seems to come from the filmmaker himself, thought I'd feature it here so as to give the filmmakers a better chance to have their say. Here's their comment:

Secrets of Blackmoor: A D&D documentary said...
Good to see a review.

Not being fully familiar with how Kotaku spins everything, that article was somewhat of a surprise even to myself. I felt some of my comments were a bit out of context as I am sure Rob Kuntz likely feels about his, yet any PR is good PR as the old adage goes.

Arneson is still being vilified by people who have no idea of the extent of his own works in leveraging Role Playing. All they go off of are some really spurious editorials in the Dragon. All those have been disproven, such as Arneson not making anything, How come I have seen piles of his unpublished works? How come Gygax has to see Blackmoor before he offers to collaborate with Arneson on D&D? If D&D is based on Chainmail why is there no role playing it Chainmail?

And if Gygax is such a complete genius why is his company leaking money like a pasta colander and then why does he lose his share in it? I am more partial to saying that Gygax was a genius in his own right, but he had some blinders just as Arneson did in some areas

Anyone who says it's either Arneson or Gygax is really missing the point of studying history. I have my little brown books and they say Gygax and Arneson on them. With our Movie we don't say bad things about Gygax because our focus is how RPG's are invented. The only path of invention goes from Totten to Wesely to Jenkins to Arneson to Gygax.

Because of how Gygax and TSR made Arneson the Target of thes attacks completely erases everyone else. I bet none of you know how Duane Jenkins is. Or Pete Gaylord who played the first wizard.

One can argue rules, but rules are not Role Playing. I could just as easily run an RPG with a chart from Panzer Blitz as any other mechanic and the experience is the same. hmmm... the Panzer Blits dungeon might be a fun spin off.

I hear a lot of people say that the film is skewed. Yet there is no evidence that Gygax invented RPG's. What can we say about Gygax before he works with Arneson? There's no mystery there and nothing to explore. In fact a lot of the stories are just plain hyperbole. The film is about how the play method for RPG's is invented which happens in the Twin Cities between 1963 when Wesely begins to referee weird wargames, and 1971 when Arneson creates Blackmoor, until 1974 when D&D is published.

If you have a problem with our choice of era, go make your own film. Expect to spend about 5 to 10 years and around 200k on it. In fact, consider that others have tried to make an all encompassing D&D movie and they failed because the subject is just too huge to cover it all. The only films to get finished that are D&D related are those that chose to focus on one small portion of a massive event. i.e. Eye of the Beholder only covers the artwork - Smart business people and film makers.

If you want to argue with me, I'm on Facebook at Blackmoor Secrets and Twitter @blackmoor_film. I will say there is little to argue about because Arneson invented the play method we now call the RPG.

The trailer is here:


Having already had my say, I don't have anything to add to this other than to observe that I don't think
I "vilified" Arneson in my post, nor do I put much stock in Gygax's later editorials. In fact most of the filmmaker's comments seem to be directed more towards things I didn't say than what I did. Still, an interesting piece and well worth sharing.

--John R

New Tolkien Inspired Art

So, here's a new piece of Tolkien-inspired art by our friend Stan, the original of which we bought from the artist and post here with his permission:

--John R.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The One State Solution

So, this week the government of Israel took a major step towards bringing about what's generally called the 'One State Solution'.  What's odd is that they intended to do nothing of the sort. I think that in twenty or thirty years this will be looked back on as the turning point, the key event in the merging of Israel and Palestine into a single, unified state.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

--John R.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

What I've Been Listening To Lately

So, thanks to friend Stan for the loan of a new two-cd set of the theme song and all the incidental music for JONNY QUEST

I was part of the original audience for this show, but only went back and watched it all the way through a few years ago (the episode that stayed most in my memory is THE CURSE OF ANUBUS, the one with the mummy). I've always loved the theme music, having previously had it only as part of a collection of Saturday morning cartoons themes.*  This included a re-recorded of the Jonny Quest theme by Reverend Horton Heat, whom I don't otherwise know, but unfortunately it segues in mid-track into another song, the dopey 'Stop That Pidgeon" from "The Flying Machines".  So it's nice to get just the theme song as a stand-alone track, and enjoyable to get all the bits and pieces of other music from the show.

Oddly enough, listening to it now, it's clear that there were two prime inspirations for the Jonny Quest music. The first are short punchy jazz themes (like those for Perry Mason and Peter Gunn), with the second a strong dose of Stravenski's RITE OF SPRING. You wdn't think these two wd go together, but in practice the mix (or more properly alternation) works extremely well.

Time to dig out that complete dvd JONNY QUEST set and give it a re-watch, I think.

--John R.

--what I'm reading: BILLION YEAR SPREE by Brian Aldiss (just finished), TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER by John M. Bowers

--what I'm watching: The Impeachment Hearings (or at least as much of them as I can make time for).

*a cd I think I first learned about from Rich Baker.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The S. S. Sphinx

So, in our Saturday night CALL OF CTHULHU game we're slowly making our way through the epic adventure MASKS OF NYARLATHOTEP. Currently our characters have wrapped up the initial stage of the adventure set in 1920s New York City and are now in London in one of those lulls between when Investigators arrive in a new spot and the point when they come across Things Man Was Not Meant to know and flee, clutching the tattered remains of their sanity. And it's pretty clear that if we survive this stage of the adventure it's likely that we'll then make our way to Cairo.

Which is funny, because in real life Janice and I just made plans yesterday to go on a Nile cruise come this spring. And it's altogether possible that I may see the Pyramids in person before my character (Martin Urnst, private inverstigator) sees them in the game.

This was an unexpected trip, one we'd considered years ago and reluctantly decided was unworkable. But now it's suddenly come together. If all goes according to plan half a year or so from now we'll be seeing The Sphinx, the Great Pyramid (and also several others), the Colossi of Memnon, and lots of temples.

More later.

--John R.
current music: The Allan Parsons Project's PYRAMID and EYE IN THE SKY.

Cat Report

Wednesday November 13th.

With the adoption of the oddly named big brown tabby OREO on Friday the 8th (yay for Oreo) and poor little TAZZ being rushed back to the shelter, we're now down to just two cats in the cat-room. Which is just as well, since both little torbie HOPE and black cat KABOODLES are solitaires who prefer to be only cats. They can share a room this size by ignoring each other's presence, but there's no comradery between them.

E&E had both cats in a good mood when I arrived, relaxed but attentive in their respective cages. Both have health issues: Hope's boney lump near her ribs (not a dangerous condition, just a little alarming to someone who picks her up without knowing about it)* and Kaboodle's little tumor on his forehead.

Since I'd heard in one of last week's reports that Hope had actually gone for a walk and done pretty well, I took her out for what turned out to be a good twenty minutes or more on the leash. While she's not a natural walker like Oreo looked likely to be (being confident and curious), she did well. She reacted strongly to some (mid-sized, active) dogs and mostly ignored others (big, quiet).

E&E shared a warning that Kaboodles looks likely to be a door-dasher, and that this morning he'd actually made it out and over towards the water tanks before being retrieved (with thanks to the PetsMart employee who helped). So I tried him on the leash, but he got spooked early on and it took some doing to get him back in the cat-room. I'd recommend his walks be when there are two volunteers so it's quick and easy to open the door and get him back inside if need be. 

Sad news about poor little TAZZ being strickened with Calqui (a viral cat-virus) and rushed back to the shelter for treatment. This is only the third time I've ever seen it: once back in the Tukwila cat room and once here in Renton. I feel bad not to have spotted the warning signs: I had actually wondered if she had calqui but ruled it out after seeing her last Wednesday, since she didn't have the drooling that's been so striking a feature of it both of the other times I'd seen it. Even though obviously not feeling well she welcomed attention, especially gentle petting. It was clear that she wanted to eat but only able to get down canned pate made into a kind of meat-paste slurry (which she came back to several times over three hours).

Question: we had a slim sleek black cat named Kaboodle ('My Pal Kaboodle') in the Tukwila adoption room who loved to climb up in the cabinet and bury himself under the cat-blankets. It says on our newcomer's background information that he's a Return. Is this the same Kaboodle?

--John R.

*our cat Rigby had something similar, which our vet diagnosed as a separated sternum, and it never distressed her or prevented her from being a mighty leaper.

I didn't get last week's session at the cat-room written up, but here's some Sketch-notes for a cat-room report for the previous week 

(Wednesday November 6th)  Arrived about 10.15.

Bonded pair James (Picasso) & Jesse (Leonardo) and also grey torbie EJ had all been adopted during the previous week, leaving just three cats in residence:  HOPE and OREO and TAZZ.
All three were glad to see me and greeted me with friendly mews. Wet food went down well with all three.
   Big boy OREO came out right away. He had a nice long walk and picked up on the rules quickly.
   HOPE stayed in till lifted out, then napped happily on the cat-stand. It was only when I pick her up that realize what a tiny little thing she is (half Oreo's weight).
   TAZZ was not feeling well, as several people had pointed out. She wasn't grooming herself very well and while interested in canned food wdn't or cdn't eat it till mixed with water and made soupy. She felt about the same weight as Hope (seven pounds) rather than the almost ten pounds on her record sheet.  She knows her name and likes to hear it.
   PetsMart employees expressed concern about Tazz's nose; good to know they're keeping an eye on the cats when we're not there.

Tazz, very sweet but not feeling at her best.

Oreo in all his majesty.

Jesse happy to go in the carrier to his new home

James deeply suspicious about this whole cat-carrier thing.

Monday, November 11, 2019


So, I'm thinking about going to GaryCon this next year, the D&D/rpg con held in Gygax's home town every spring. I've never gone, but this year I'll be up at Marquette working on a Tolkien project at about the time the con is scheduled and might be able to drive down to lake Geneva for the day. And it'd be nice to see some familiar faces of folks whose time at TSR overlapped with my own.
Any recommendations, suggestions, opinions?

--John R.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

When the tea flowers bloom

So, it's that time of year again when camellias bloom.

And that includes tea trees, which are a specialized kind of camellia. Here's a picture Janice took of a tea blossom on one of our two little indoor tea plants.


Friday, November 8, 2019

Lovecraft on Charles Williams

So, here's what H. P. Lovecraft had to say after reading two Charles Williams novels, WAR IN HEAVEN and MANY DIMENSIONS, in October of 1934.

Hail, Klarkash-Ton! Under separate cover I'm forwarding Koenig's two Williams books, & I'll be anxious to know what you think of 'em. Essentially, they are not horror literature but philosophic allegory. Direct reproduction of the texture of life & the substance of moods is not the author's object. He is trying to illustrate human nature through symbols & turns of idea which possess significance for those taking a traditional or orthodox view of man's cosmic bearings. It isn't our kind of stuff—for Williams isn't seeking to express the indefinable feeling experienced by man in confronting the unknown. His characters react to the symbolic & patterned marvels according to certain traditional philosophic concepts—not in the natural, irregular fashion of actual life. To get a full-sized kick from this stuff one must take seriously the orthodox view of cosmic organisation. However—I enjoyed the tales objectively, & fancy you will. Send them on to Comte d'Erlette when you're through with them. I doubt if Rimel or Dwyer would care for them. What do you think?  . . . 
Autumn chill is curtailing my outdoor sessions, but the scenery is exquisite.
Yrs for the Stone of Suleiman—Ech-Pi-El. 

DAWNWARD SPIRE, LONELY HILL: THE LETTERS OF H. P. LOVECRAFT AND CLARK ASHTON SMITH, ed. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi (Hippocampus Press, 2017). page 574

Note: Lovecraft was fond of giving his friends slightly facetious nicknames.
Klarkash-Ton = Clark Ashton Smith, the recipient of this letter
le Comte d'Erlette = August Derleth
Ech-Pi-El = HPL, or Lovecraft himself
Rimel and Dwyer were minor members of Lovecraft's circle

Koenig = H. C. Koenig, who had recently gotten in touch with Lovecraft, apparently as part of his campaign to spread the word about the almost totally forgotten Wm Hope Hodgson.

Despite enjoying him as a good read, Lovecraft left Williams out of SUPERNATURAL HORROR IN LITERATURE, his monograph surveying the field, which he was expanding and revising at the time. Doubtless Williams did not make the final cut because Lovecraft had concluded that CW was really not a horror writer at all and also that only committed Xians wd fully appreciate these novels (Lovecraft himself was an atheist and nihilist).

An Alternate Text: 
While typing up the passage from Lovecraft's letter, I belatedly thought to check to see if Joshi had anything to say about this in his monumental two-volume thousand-plus page biography of HPL, I AM PROVIDENCE (2010). Not only does he include the incident, but I had marked the page (Vol. II p. 878) on March 1st 2012,* only to completely forget about it in the intervening years. But it still seems worthwhile to share the DAWNWARD SPIRE text because the 2010 Joshi text both (a) abridges the letter without fully noting where material has been left out and (b) includes words and phrases not found in the 2017 Schultz-Joshi text.

For example, Joshi's 2010 text ends with the sentence

"To get a full-sized kick from this stuff one must take seriously the orthodox view of cosmic organisation--which is rather impossible today."

The closing phrase (which I've highlighted here for emphasis) is altogether absent in the 2017 Schultz-Joshi version. Determining which of the two texts more accurately represents what Lovecraft wrote wd require consultation with the original manuscript of this letter, presumably now in the Lovecraft papers at Brown University.

--John R.

*it was a Thursday

UPDATE (November 11th):
--Thanks to a comment by Magister it's now clear that these are two separate texts: (1) Lovecraft's letter to Smith and (2) Lovecraft's letter to Derleth, one of which is a handwritten copy, by Lovecraft, of the other, with some variations of phrasing. So both are authentic. Good to know.

Lovecraft and The Inklings

So, I've been trying for a long time to find an answer to the two questions:

Did the Inklings ever read Lovecraft?


Did Lovecraft ever read the Inklings?

So far as the first question goes, the answer is: still not proven. We know that Warnie Lewis was a fan of 'scientifiction and read some of the pulp magazines like AMAZING STORIES. And THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS suggests that the Inklings were fairly conversant in science fiction. Certainly there are some echoes of Lovecraftian themes in Tolkien's account of the Things beneath Moria, Lewis's description of the subterranean world far beneath the surface of Venus, and especially Wms' Cthulhesque octopoid-lords of P'o-l'u. Williams was well-versed in fiction dealing with occult themes and was well-positioned to have come across at least some mention of HPL. But resemblance is not proof and the question remains open.

The second question seemed much more unlikely: Lovecraft died too soon, the same year THE HOBBIT came out and a year before OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, neither of which is much like the kind of books Lovecraft read.  

Despite this, the answer turns out to be YES: towards the end of his life Lovecraft read four of Wms' five novels (the sixth and seventh having been published in 1937 and 1945 respectively).

The proof comes in DAWNWARD SPIRE, LONELY HILL (2017), the collected correspondence of  H. P. Lovecraft & Clark Ashton Smith. I was looking through this for something else entirely, evidence of when HPL and CAS first read the work of Wm. Hope Hodgson, to find that the same person who brought the long dead and wholly forgotten Hodgson to Lovecraft's attention also loaned him two novels by Charles Williams (p.566), who in turn passed them on to Smith (.572, 574). 

Of these, Lovecraft preferred WAR IN HEAVEN (.575), Wms' grail novel and my own personal vote for his best book. The editors of the correspondence, Schultz & Joshi, speculate as to which of Wms' novels the other book cd be (.575 Note 4), but actually no speculation is needed, since Lovecraft ends his previous letter "Yrs for the Stone of Suleiman" (.574). Lovecraft had the habit of opening and closing his letters with cryptic, evocative phrases: the letter before had ended "Yrs. for  the sunken monolith of Gnoph" (.573); a subsequent letter describing his reaction to THE NIGHT LAND ends "Yrs for The Watcher of The Northwest" (.587), a clear reference to one of the sinister Great Old Ones -like figures that feature so prominently in Hodgson's book.  And since The Stone of Suleiman is the key magic item around which MANY DIMENSIONS, William's sequel to WAR IN HEAVEN, centers, it seems certain that this was the other book Lovecraft and Smith read in the fall of 1934.

Schultz & Joshi note that C. L. Moore, one of the HPL's disciples, sent him two more Charles Williams books in February 1936: THE GREATER TRUMPS (his tarot novel) and THE PLACE OF THE LION (the danger of Platonic ideals; .575nt4). The one Wms novel Lovecraft didn't read in 1934 and 1936 was thus SHADOWS OF ECSTACY (his worst novel). CW's final two novels, DESCENT INTO HELL (1937) and ALL HALLOW'S EVE (1945), having been published too late for Lovecraft to have had time to read them.

So the answer is: yes. As for what Lovecraft thought of Wms, I'll save that for the next post.

--John R.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The New Arrival: Hope Hodgson

So, the good news is that I now have the Night Shade Books edition of THE GHOST PIRATES, which brings me up to four out of the five-book set of Hodgson's complete fiction.

The bad news is that it's the sole missing volume I really need, the one containing his masterpiece, 
THE NIGHT LAND. Unfortunately the small press that released this set seem to have seriously underprinted the third (GHOST PIRATES) and fourth (NIGHT LAND) volumes in the series, so that these are disproportionately expensive, whether in hardcover or paperback.


On the other hand, in related work I've now been able to establish definitely that Lovecraft and Smith discovered the work of Hodgson in 1934. So I was wrong, back in my 'Classics of Fantasy' column on THE NIGHT LAND when I said that Hodgson's work was a direct influence on Clark Ashton Smith: Smith had already begun his Zothique endtimes series in 1931. It seems to have been convergent evolution, not influence either way. Good to know.

--John R.
--current reading: Brian Aldiss's BILLION YEAR SPREE 

The Chocolate Factory

So, Tuesday Janice and I took a tour through Seattle Chocolate's outlet store and factory floor. Despite the mental image conjured up by old movies, there were no catwalks over vast vats of molten chocolate. In fact the whole upper level (think observation deck) was so solidly built that even an acrophobiac like  myself could look down without too much discomfort towards the various stations in the assembly line below.  It was partly education (about cacao and where it's grown nowadays),* partly publicity for their charities and good works, and partly a chance to see their operation at work. I'm happy to say that the conveyer belts were moved at a deliberate speed, not whizzing by (the former being much better for quality control, which is clearly a big issue with them.

We exited through the gift shop, when had less chocolate in it when we left that when we'd arrived.
And this despite, or perhaps because of, their generosity with samples (nine each all told) at various points along the tour.

The biggest surprise was our tour guide's casually mentioning a prediction that cacao wd go extinct in 2020, since deferred to 2040. Some online checking afterwards showed that this was a what if/worst case scenario, combining the threat faced by all monoculture practices: a fungal disease, climate change, &c.  It seems unlikely this wd wipe chocolate altogether, but I wdn't be much surprised if it were to shift back to being a luxury product.

The moral: enjoy that chocolate bar while you can.

--John R.
--current reading: BILLION YEAR SPREE by Aldiss (1973)

*the Ivory Coast currently being the world's biggest producer

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Third Exhibit

So, the third of three great Tolkien exhibits is now open, in Paris at the Bibliotheque  Nationale, and it sounds spectacular.*

While many items are shared by all three exhibits, following the example set by the two previous exhibitions (the first in Oxford at the Bodleian and the second in New York at the Morgan) the organizers of this third display have customized the presentation, adding items from their own collections to provide a contest for Tolkien's medievalism.

Just as with the other two events, the list of speakers here is impressive: Adam Tolkien opens the weekly series on November 14th, followed by Leo Carruthers on Tolkien: Father and Sons (Nov 21st), Damien Bador on invented languages (Nov 28th), Isabelle Pantin placing Tolkien within his milieu (Dec 5th), and wrapping up with Alan Lee on illustrating Tolkien (Dec 12th). this will be followed by a colloquium on "Tolkien and the War"**

The exhibit runs until February 16th, and it sounds like anyone interested in Tolkien who can make it wd be spending their time wisely.

Speaking of spending money, it sounds as if this exhibit, like the one in Oxford, has not one but two catalogues: a great big one that serves as the main catalogue and a slim volume presenting a good array of highlights. Better yet, the full catalogue is available on, for those who do their travelling in books.

--John R.
--current reading: just finished on book and not yet gotten into the next yet (deciding whether to resume a book I'd set aside or start a new one, while also weighing between what I want to read and what I shd be reading.

*thanks to Mattias G for posting the following link:

the press release towards the end of this piece gives a good idea of the scope of the displays (over a thousand square meters)

**which makes sense, since this is a French exhibition and The War is the one time in his life when Tolkien spent a significant time in France ---albeit under distressing conditions.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


So, the day before yesterday the new Tolkien book arrived from, eight days before I'd expected it.

I've been waiting for this one with more curiosity than most. Usually when a new Tolkien book is coming out I've already been hearing about it and its contents for months. This one could take one of two paths, and I cdn't find out beforehand which it wd be:

(1) a belated publication of the unfinished Tolkien/Gordon edition of Chaucer, sans THE CANTERBURY TALES: introduction, text, glossary, and the partial notes, with a modern-day introduction explaining the circumstances under which the edition was undertaken and why the project collapsed (K. Sisam, I'm looking at you).

(2) a book about the Chaucer project, with extensive quoting (the more the better), along the lines of RING OF WORDS, the book about Tolkien's time at the OED.

As it turns out,  John M. Bowers, the author, followed the second track with what looks, at first glance, like great success.

So, speculation is over. Now for the fun part: reading it.

--John R.

Friday, November 1, 2019

An Evening with Edgar Poe

So, Janice had spotted what sounded like an interesting event being held locally, so on Halloween night she and I made our way up to Renton to see a one-man show presented as an evening with Poe. The concept was that this was one from the poetry readings and lecture series Poe undertook in the summer of 1849 --only a few months before his death, though he had no way to know that (he was only forty). I didn't get the actor's name (I don't think it was on the flyers they had posted up), but his re-creation of Poe solicited subscriptions from the audience for the new magazine he was hoping to launch, THE STYLUS; brought in gratuitous insults aimed at Emerson, Longfellow, and especially Lowell; inveighed against the dominance of writers from England over the fledgling American literature (which at the time of this imagined lecture had only been underway for about thirty years);* and fumed about the old boys' network who praised each other's work (here he was thinking of the New England clique to whom we still devote a lot of American Lit 101 to this day). All pretty accurate and true to Poe's life, so it gets points there.

Although sparsely attended (which ironically made it all the more like the Poe events it was modeled upon) by about two dozen people I found it a v. effective, simple presentation. Set dressing was limited to a chair, a small table, a teapot and teacup and small bowl with some candy in it (there for Halloween, perhaps?), and a few pamphlets. The only special effect was creeping fog (no doubt derived from dry ice) that manifested behind 'Poe' when he was doing a reading, esp. for THE TALE-TELL HEART (the only story of the evening) and THE RAVEN (obviously the stand-out piece, as it was in Poe's time: this was the poem that made him famous). He also did "El Dorado", "Annabel Lee", and the first stanza of "Alone" and "A Dream within a Dream".

I wd have preferred less interactive show (from time to time he exchanged banter with the audience, something that tends to annoy me in shows of this type)**, and there were some teasers, when he announced that he was going to perform a specific piece --most notably EUREKA, Poe's discussion of, among other things, the Big Bang and Pulsating Universe theories--only to immediately change his mind and move on to something else. Having a high regard for EUREKA from having read it back in Marquette days (that is, back in the 1980s) I wd quite have liked to hear it, or more probably parts of it, presented by an actor and professionally trained reader. In fact, I had no sooner gotten home after the show that I ordered an audiobook unabridged reading of EUREKA on cd; it shd be here tomorrow.

All in all, an enjoyable experience, and one I'm glad we found out about in time and decided to attend. I thought his selection of works pretty good, though I wd have liked to have seen him do THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER as well. My main complaint is that the show was quite short. It was supposed to run two hours (or so said the signage in the lobby) but he wrapped it up in just one. Pity: I'd have liked to see more.

It did remind me of a similar event. Years ago, just before we made our way out here to the Pacific Northwest, we saw John Astin (of ADDAMS FAMILY fame) in a similar one-man-show in the Chicago area. That had been a much better performance: Astin did a great job. Poking about a bit now, I see that this must have been EDGAR ALLAN POE -- ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT. The only link I found for it seem to have expired, but here's a link that leads to a clip wherein Astin performs THE RAVEN, which shd give a good idea of the whole:

One of the things I read aloud as part of my speech therapy repertoire is a suite of poems by Poe:*** "The Raven", "Ulalume", "El Dorado", and "A Dream within a Dream", plus sometimes "Alone" (the Poe poem we almost lost) and "Annabel Lee". After seeing last night's performance I'm thinking I shd probably add some of his prose to that -- perhaps THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

--John R.
tonight's music: TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION, the Poe-based first album from The Alan Parsons Project.

current reading: Brad Strickland's AN UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO NEW ZEBEDEE

* thus Poe was slightly older than American literature itself.
**similarly with two Beatles tribute shows we saw a few years back: one put on a concert and the other did a lot of jokes and banter that pretty much got in the way.
***another is either THE WASTE LAND or a suite of poems by Eliot: "Prufrock", "Ash Wednesday" and "The Hollow Men", occasionally swapping out the whole for OLD POSSUM'S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS.