Saturday, May 23, 2020

TSR R&D staff, Spring 1997

So, a little more of TSR history, this time a list of all the designers and editors and the product groups they were in at a specific point in history. The timing is at the time of the WotC acquisition, circa April 1997, so folks who were laid off in December 1996 like myself are not included. Nor does it take into account the rpg people already on staff out in Renton, like Jonathan Tweet, Kij Johnson, Mike Selinker, and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes.

Of the thirty-one people listed here,* eight decided not to make the move out to Renton in August 1997, and a few more switched to working off-site from back in the Lake Geneva area. These latter drifted away over the course of the next year. Things are complicated by some people, like myself, who were laid off in December 1996 then rehired by WotC in September 1997.

--John R.

*out of a total of eighty-four TSR folks invited to make the move from the old regime at  Lake Geneva to join the new at Renton.

TSR designers & editors, at time of WotC purchase (circa April 1997)

Group I
Thomas Reid
Karen Boomgarten
Bill Connors
Dale Donovan
Julia Martin
Cindi Rice
Steve Schend

Bill Slavicsek
Rich Baker
Jim Butler
David Eckleberry
Kim Mohan

Group III
Harold Johnson
Carrie Bebris
Anne Brown
Steven Brown
Sue Cook
Miranda Horner
Bill Olmesdahl
Ed Stark

Group IV
Steve Winter
Michelle Carter
Monte Cook
Bruce Cordell
Jon Pickens
Keith Strohm
Ray Vallesse
Skip Williams

Bruce Heard (scheduler)
Roger Moore
Sean Reynolds (online)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Dr. Havard's 10%

So, here's a passage I cut from a draft of my recently published piece on Tolkien's failure to finish THE SILMARILLION.

Tolkien’s papers were disorganized to an extraordinary degree, and this trait grew on him in his final years. Yet we should also acknowledge that his internal vision of the legendarium seems to have been much more comprehensive and focused than the physical evidence records. Dr. Humphrey Havard, fellow Inkling and family friend, told me that he thought Tolkien had only ten percent of his legendarium written down. All the rest was in his head. 

I believe Havard based this on the fact that, he said, you cd ask Tolkien about anything in his mythology (I assume by this he meant any name, place, character) and he cd tell you all about it.

This may explain the curious phenomenon mentioned by Christopher Tolkien that his father treated the final chapters of The Silmarillion as finished, requiring only relatively minor revision to reach final form (HME XI 247). The real Silmarillion was in Tolkien’s head, and he seems not to have realized how little of it was recorded in a physical medium (like pen on paper).

I thought this a good explanation back in 1981 which explained a lot of what we knew at the time of JRRT's literary remains. Recently, having worked my way through a lot (not all) of the material in the last three volumes of THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH, I'm rethinking things. It now seems apparent that JRRT wrote down a huge amount of material relating to his legendarium, far more than was known in the decade following his death, many times including multiple drafts of given texts. Also, we have now quite a few examples of his thinking on paper, of ideas emerging in response to questions he'd been asked.

So while I think there's some truth to Dr. Havard's observation, and that JRRT had an enormous amount of carefully though out material about his legendarium in his head, I'm no longer inclined to consider it the whole truth.

Any comment much appreciated.

--John R.

P.S.: Coincidentally, there's quite an interesting article about Dr. Havard in the recent issue of VII, just out from the Wade Center at Wheaton.

Harold Johnson's group, spring 1997

So, this might be a little easier: a group drawing of the folks in Harold Johnson's product group in Spring 1997: post-layoff and pre-WotC. This full page version includes the names of all nine  designers and editors, along with (I assume) the lines they were working on.


--John R.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lake Geneva, spring 1997

So, here's something not as completely different as I'd planned. Today I was going through an old binder and found the following image of nine designers and editors working at TSR between the Xmas layoffs of December 1996 and the purchase of TSR by WotC around April 1997.

Now here's the challenge for any of you grognards out there: can you identify all nine of these faces and match them with their names?


Literary Faces (X)

So, what better way to end than with my favorite picture of my favorite writer?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Steve Winter interview

So, this past weekend I tracked down Peter Adkison's Fireside interview of Steve Winter. Steve was my boss (and a good one too) for most of the five years I was at TSR. Perhaps not surprisingly the part of the interview that interested me most was Steve's account of the decade between his being hired at TSR in 1981 and my own arrival in 1991. After TSR and the Lake Geneva office shut down in 1996-97, Steve and I both worked at WotC and Hasbro, but not I think at the same time.

It's always astonished me that Steve's name isn't near the top of the list when people get together to discuss industry greats, but then he always has kept a low profile. Anyway, I'm glad to have had the chance to watch this and will have to check out other entries in the series;

--John R.
--current reading: THE HOLLOWING by Rbt Holdstock; SYLVIE & BRUNO by Lewis Carroll

Literary Faces (IX)

So, feels like a good time to wind down and wrap up this little 'Literary Faces' series. And for the penultimate entry here's a real challenge: an author we don't have any depictions of at all. And this despite his being widely read from his day to our own. We only know what he looked like from the following description on a Wanted poster:


 a middle siz'd spare man, about 40 years old, 
of a brown complexion, and dark brown coloured hair, 
but wears a wig; a hooked nose, a sharp chin, 
grey eyes and a large mole near his mouth.

 Any guesses?


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Garth at the Wade

So, the Wade Center is hosting a live online event, a talk with John Garth, this coming Saturday. Tickets are free but you have to register ahead of time, I assume to keep from overloading the system. There's basic information about the event here, with more details if you click on the links:

Garth will be giving a preview of his new book, out next month: THE WORLDS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN. I'm looking forward both to the event and the book to follow.

--John R.

Literary Faces (VIII)

So, this time the trick is not to identify the author: his is one of the best-known faces of any author of his time, with hundreds of surviving photographs. But can you identify what's unique that sets this particular picture from all the rest?

And, just for fun, while putting together this post I came across an early picture of our author from when he was in his early twenties. I'd never have known it as him can I come across it out of context.


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Morris in the Morning

So, this morning I got up early --like 4 a.m. early -- to be able to see a Zoom talk on William Morris. Hosted by the William Morris Gallery, a group I hadn't even heard of till the day before,* it was a forty-five minute lunchtime lecture** by assistant curator Ainsley Vinall and focused on the aspect of Morris of most interest to me; 'William Morris's Fantasy Fiction'.*** Here's a brief description of the event.

Something he said that stood out for me was his suggestion that it's best to think of Morris and Tolkien and C. S. Lewis as kindred spirits working along the same lines, rather than treating Morris as the influencer and Tolkien/Lewis as the influenced. The real progenitor of all three, he suggested, was Walter Scott through his Waverley Novels. I've only read one of those, years ago, and didn't think much of it. Clearly it's time I gave it another try: any suggestions as to which one much appreciated.

Also, having read all Morris's fantasy fiction, which dates mostly to the end of his career, and knowing how important Morris's THE EARTHLY PARADISE was in inspiring Tolkien's BOOK OF LOST TALES project, I shd probably go back and read some one of Morris's early verse romances, such as THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JASON, if I can find a good edition.

So, getting up so early wrecked my schedule for the rest of the day, but I'd say it was worth it.

--John R.
--current reading: SYLVIE & BRUNO by Lewis Carroll

*Thanks to D. for the tip

**lunchtime in the UK that is

***I planned to devote a chapter of my dissertation to Morrris as the means through which medievalism became the default setting of modern fantasy, as well as devoting the first column in my 'Classics of Fantasy, series to Morris's masterpiece, THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Literary Faces (VII)

So, another day another great author.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Tolkien's Flat Earth and failure to finish THE SILMARILLION

So, my newest publication is now out, thanks to the good folks at THE JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH:

The full title is "The Flat Earth Made Round and Tolkien’s Failure to Finish The Silmarillion".

This is a piece I've been working on for quite a while. I delivered part of it at last year's Kalamazoo (2019) but expanded it a good deal for this final version.

It looks at various elements and events that combined to hinder Tolkien from finishing THE SILMARILLION in the years 1951-1973. In particular I single out two key factors:

(1) the traumatic breakdown of his efforts to publish the book through Collins, leading to a catastrophic interruption of his work on the book


(2) Tolkien's conclusion that many of the most iconic elements in his mythology could no longer evoke secondary belief in modern-day readers.This most intractable of problems facing him led him into an impasse wherein he decided he must make a major change without being able to bring himself to do so".

That at any rate is the gist of the piece, which is available in its entirety on the JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH site. Enjoy!

--John R.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Literary Faces (VI)

So, the clue for this one is 'Gimli'.

Kalamazoo ('Valinor in America')

So, today wd have been the first day of Kalamazoo,* had the pandemic not intervened and the Medieval Congress been deferred till next year. And I wd have given my presentation by now as part of the first set of sessions starting at ten o'clock this morning.

The title of the session I wd have been part of is

'Medieval World-Building: Tolkien, His Precursors and Legacies'

The papers making up this session, which wd have been moderated by Kristine Swank, were

• 'Tolkien, Robin Hood, and the Matter of the Greenwood' by Perry Neil Harrison

• 'Tolkien's Golden Trees and Silver Leaves: Do Writers Build the Same World for Every Reader?' by Luke Shelton,

• 'Infinity War of the Ring: Parallels between the Conflict within Sauron and Thanos' by Jeremy Byrum, and

 'Valinor in America: Faerian Drama and the Disenchantment of Middle-earth' by myself.

I still need to do a lot on my piece, though I'd already written enough to fill my allotted time; when I get done with my current deadline I need to get back to work on this.

--John R.

*that is, not counting the Tolkien Seminar, held each year the Wednesday before the conference officially starts, adjacent to the official event but not part of it.

Literary Faces (V)

So, here's another. Possibly the best novelist of them all, yet shown here is one of only two contemporary depictions we have of her.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

3.06 am

So, last night (or early this morning, depending on how you look at it), Janice woke me to see the fire. Or, to be specific, the plume of smoke from the fire. It was a few blocks away and we were in no danger, but we cdn't tear ourselves away for the next ninety minutes or so, watching it through the upstairs windows and for  brief time out on the deck.

We didn't have a clear line of sight, so we didn't see the fire itself --that is, the flames-- only the smoke, illuminated by the lights from the fire trucks and first responders, the latter of whom twice walked the perimeter.* But there was a LOT of smoke, and it lasted a surprisingly long time. We weren't sure what building it was that was on fire, but eventually settled on one of the apartment buildings near the pond the other side of the elementary school as likeliest, or perhaps one of the school's outbuildings. If the latter, as Janice pointed out, it wd mean fewer people endangered or at risk of losing everything in their home.

It turns out it was the school after all, specifically, the gym, which is the part of Neely-O'Brien the furthest from our building.

Eventually we went to bed. It's not like we were blase, but it had quickly become clear we were in no danger, thanks to the large grassy field separating us from the school's playground, on the far side of which was the school itself. Plus there's only so long you can stand in the dark peering at something you can't see clearly. The cats, for their part, weren't upset by the activity or smell of smoke but clearly wondered wha we were doing up at such an hour, and followed us from room to room, keeping an eye on us to see what else we might do.

Today we took a walk by the site, and except for several emergency vehicles of various types and a hole in the roof at one place you cd go right by past it and never know about the previous night's excitement.

--John R.

*having seen how bright the fire fighters' flashlights were, we now have superbright flashlight envy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Literary Faces (IV)

So, here's quite possibly the twentieth century's best novelist. At any rate she'd get my vote.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

My Favorite Crustacean

So, for a while there on our daily walks I've spotted at least one, and sometimes as many as three, roly-polies. I've always liked roly-polies: if I had a terrarium, that's what I'd have it in.

I recently found that (1) they're terrestrial crustaceans and (2) despite their similarity in appearance are not related to trilobites.

A close second would be crawdads, which wd require an aquarium, they being aquatic but freshwater crustaceans who mostly inhabited big, persistent puddles. I don't think they live in these parts --at least I don't see the little mudball towers they build to retreat to in dry weather.  I remember them best from our time at Fordyce (when I was in third grade).

It's be nice to have some around, but it wd be just asking for trouble to introduce an aquarium or terrarium into a household with two young, energetic, resourceful small predators (the cats).

--John R
current reading: LAVONDYSS by Rbt Holdstock (1988)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Literary Faces (III)

So, here's someone with a famous name but not a famous face.

--John R.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Literary Faces (II)

So, here's another photo of a famous writer. The last one got identified right away; I'm curious to see how long it'll take for this one.

--John R.

UPDATE (April 28th 2020)
Here's another clue, in the form of an earlier photo, taken almost thirty years earlier: his mug shot taken in 1945 when he was committed to the asylum:


Saturday, April 25, 2020

The New Arrivals (Vaninskaya and Doyle)

So, the newest Tolkien-related books to arrive are UTOPIAN AND DYSTOPIAN THEMES IN TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM by Mark Doyle (on Th 4/15) and FANTASIES OF TIME AND DEATH: DUNSANY, EDDISON, TOLKIEN by Anna Vaninskaya (on Friday the 24th). Both are moderately pricey hardcovers, the Doyle from Lexington Books --their first Tolkien-themed title so far as I know, though they do have a call for papers out for a collection of essays on TOLKIEN AND THEOLOGY* --the Vaninskaya from Palgrave, which has what is by now a well-established line of Tolkien titles (Fimi, Chance, Rosebury, Coutras, Lee & Solopova).

I'm reading the Doyle now, after which comes the Eddison/Dunsany/Tolkien book. I found out not long ago that there's never been a book on Eddison, astonishing as that is; not even one of those little Borgo Press booklets. So here's hoping this volume may help fill that sizable gap in fantasy studies. And as a self-proclaimed Dunsany scholar (one of the few out there) I'm particularly interested in seeing what the TIME AND DEATH book has to say about Dunsany's work. Also, a quick glance at the Tolkien chapter --seventy-five pages pages of text of which fifteen are notes--suggests that she may be a kindred spirit to my own heavily noted style of scholarship.

ADDENDUM: While I was drafting this piece the Tupelo honey we'd ordered arrived --twenty pounds' worth, or about a year's supply.  So make that three new arrivals, not just two:

It joins the ten pounds' worth we still had in the cupboard left over from last year's stockpile. Pity it doesn't grow around here but it can only be found on and around the Florida panhandle.**

--today's music: ELO's "Suite for a Rainy Day"
--current reading: NET EFFECT (Wells), TREASURE ISLAND (Stevenson)

**for a little more about Tupelo honey, check out the L. L. Lanier website

Friday, April 24, 2020

Literary Faces (I)

Back in my Marquette days as a TA (Teaching Assistant) I used to enjoy putting pictures of famous writers up on my office door. I found it interesting to contrast my preconception of what the writer of some significant work looked like with what he or she really looked like.

So I thought it might be fun to post a series of photographs or portraits of famous writers to see if folks cd recognize who they were. Some will be obvious, others less so.

Here's writer #1:

I'll post the answer in a few days in the comments.

--current reading: NETWORK EFFECT by Martha Wells (2020), UTOPIAN AND DYSTOPIAN THEMES IN TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM by Mark Doyle (2020)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Vignettes of Christopher

So, my newest publication is just out: a short memorial of Christopher Tolkien that appears as a Note in the newest issue of MYTHLORE.* It's paired with a piece by Bill Fliss, the Tolkien archivist at Marquette, which gives a brief but fact-filled account of Marquette's interactions with Christopher over the years. I had not known, for example, that Christopher had been in touch with Marquette as long ago as 1974, when he wrote to them seeking a copy of the unpublished EPILOGUE to LotR. As part of his due diligence he needed to consult the Epilogue in case it contained any link or allusion to THE SILMARILLION, upon which he had just embarked.

My own piece, I now see in retrospect, is a series of glimpses of Christopher in different settings, some wholly in keeping with the persona or image we all had of him and others very much at variance thereto. Christopher in an I-Hop the morning the 1987 MythCon ended. Christopher at the Wade in Wheaton. Christopher in the quad at Keble College. Christopher at the Eagle and Child. I wasn't able to marshal my thoughts to write a proper memoir, but it seemed right to share a few memories that so far as I know weren't written down anywhere, or at least not from my perspective.

--John R.

*MYTHLORE #136 (Spring/Summer 2020) pages 125-127; Bill's piece immediately precedes it, on pages 123-125. The two pieces go well together and read as if we'd planned them as complementary pieces, but this is more from good fortune than design.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Thirteen)

Wednesday April 22nd 2020

And with that, our seeing of sights wd have been over and our attention wd have turned to the trip home. The day wd have started with checking out of the hotel, getting to the airport, checking in for our doubly foreign flight (first to Germany and then on to the US). It wd be a long trip, all the way to the US west coast. Once home we shd be greeted by the cats, who no doubt wd have been baffled by the length of our absence. We'd be left with a lot of memories of having been at some amazing places and seen in person things I've  read about since at  least junior high days.

That, at least, was the plan.

And then along came the pandemic.

The tour was cancelled.

We're among the lucky ones: we're well, and safe at home, and about as socially distant as you can get in a densely populated area. But I can't help regretting that the trip didn't come off.

There may wind up being more to the story. We've rescheduled the tour for sometime next year. So if all goes well --i.e., if the pandemic is over and foreign travel safe again--then we may find ourselves amid the Pyramids and Sphinx after all.

We'll see.

--John R.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Twelve)

Tuesday April 21st

So, this wd have been it: the highlight of the trip. If we'd only been able to make a short trip to Egypt, three or four days, this is where we wd have spent it: seeing as much as we cd of the Pyramids at Giza, Saqqara, and Dashur.
And, of course, the Sphinx.

As it is, the tour planned to pack the visit to Giza all into one day.

First would have come The Sphinx. Then the Great Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.

This being Egypt there wd have to be temples: specifically the Sphinx Temple and Valley Temple. -- which wd have been a great way to wrap up our temple tour.

And near at hand, alongside the Great Pyramid, is the boat-pit, where they uncovered Pharaoh's boat and then left it in place.

Since we were not able to be there in person, I consoled myself with the two following video walks, which between them show close views of the entire Sphinx and all three of the Great Pyramids, including a complete walk-around of the Great Pyramid. They're long but highly recommended.

There are two walking tours around the Sphinx, the first at 8 am:

If you want to see the same route but this time with tourists, try the Sphinx at 2.30:

For the pyramids, see them up close and personal here:

You can also go into the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops to the Greeks), but I don't know if our tour wd have allowed enough time for that or not. I hope so.

Then was to come a side-trip to SAQQARA, about seven miles to the south, to see the Step Pyramid of Djoser.

And, about four miles further south at DASHUR stand the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid. Further south still at MEIDUM is the Collapsed Pyramid, one of the most interesting of the whole sequence since it shows what pyramids look like inside. I suspect the trip wd not have ranged far enough to take it in. A pity, since all three were built by the same pharaoh, Sneferu, clearly a man determined to have his own way despite any setbacks.

Visiting as much as we cd of the above was the plan, and I'm sure if we'd had time and our energy levels held out we'd have done more, so long as we were there.

And with that our sight-seeing wd have been over and we wd have begun to turn our attentions to getting back home again.

--John R.

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Eleven)

Monday April 20th

So, this day we wd have said goodbye to our ship, the S. S. Sphinx, and flown from Luxor to Cairo and checked back into a hotel near the Giza plateau. I suspect, from what I can make out from the maps, that the hotel actually overlooked the Pyramids and Sphinx, which wd have been great.

If we had gotten in early enough there might even have been a chance for a quick run over to the Pyramids that afternoon/early evening. Or we might have rested up to make sure we were as ready as possible for the Big Event: the next day's visit getting up close and personal with the Sphinx and Pyramids.

In the words of Sgt Pepper, getting very near the end, with the best still to come.

--John R.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Ten)

Sunday April 19th

So, more temples.

The planned trip wd have had us start the day at Edfu, touring the Temple of Edfu, another of the late (Ptolemaic) temples, this one dedicated to Horus.

From there it'd be downriver to Esna and the Temple of Esna. Then it wd have been downriver a little more, bringing us back to Luxor. There's Luxor light show that night, but I suspect it'll be hard for a modern light show to match the splendor of the ancient temples themselves. In any case, I suspect we'll probably be saving up our strength for the big event to come: Giza.

--John R.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Sometimes You Don't Get the Book You Wanted

So, a few years back* I picked up a book by Humphrey Carpenter I only now finally took time to have a look at: A GREAT SILLY GRIN: THE BRITISH SATIRE BOOM OF THE 1960s --a group biography of the type Carpenter did so well.**

I thought that since I like Peter Sellers (a brilliant but troubled man) on the one hand and Monty Python on the other this wd be a good way to bridge the gap, to see how the talent of the 1950s segued into that of the '60s and the legacy they left behind on the 70s. In particularly I wanted to learn how the Goon Show (whom I had heard much about but seen or heard v. little of their actual work) inspired those who followed.

To my disappointment, that's not what this book is about. Carpenter is primarily concerned with Alan Bennett, who I'd not even heard of, with some attention to Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and David Frost, none of whom I'm especially interested in. There are only passing references to Peter Sellers and his Goon Show partner Spike Milligan, about whom I know only enough to convince me of his importance.*** The Pythons come in only as respectful admirers of a generation later; Douglas Adams, a generation after that, escapes Carpenter's purview altogether.

So, I'll have to come back to this one at sometime down the line when I've gotten over the disappointment that's entirely my own fault: having imagined a book was one thing when it was really another.

Oh well. Even such cursory searching as I did on the internet to get a sense of what Milligan and the Goons were like, coincidently juxtaposed with my watching a documentary about the making of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, made me appreciate just how much of the famous Beatles' humour was their own take on Milligan et al. And I now see that Milligan's trademark was to take a situation, any situation, and within a few steps reduce it to anarchy. It's as if the world were constantly offering him straight lines and he cd never resist delivering the punchline that just popped into his head.

--John R.
--current reading: PAPAL LIES by Wills (finishing up); MYTHAGO WOOD (re-reading); two others.

*Kalamazoo 2012, it turns out


***for a sample of Milligan at work, give a listen to his short skit ("8 o'clock") with the third Goon, Harry Secombe:

The Trip to Egypt (Day Nine)

Saturday April 18th 2020

The trip-that-wasn't wd have continued with an optional side-trip I wdn't have wanted to miss.

Leaving the First Cataract and heading upriver to Abu Simbel on Egypt's southern border wd have brought us to the colossal images of Ramses once carved into a cliff but removed and moved to higher ground when the construction of the Aswan High Dam created Lake Nasser and flooded the original site.

In addition to the row of huge figures, the Temples of Abu Simbel are also the site of the famous carvings depicting the Battle of Kadesh.

After a day seeing Ramses-style huge and impressive, it wd have been back to Aswan and the S. S. Sphinx. Still a lot to see, but I suspect it wd have been at about this point that we'd start thinking of home.

--John R.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Eight)

Friday April 17th 2020

Another day, another temple.

Today the planned trip wd have brought us to Philae Temple, on an island in the Nile, and the Unfinished Obelesk.

Just for a complete change of pace, also on the agenda had been a ride in a felucca (the traditional Nile sailboats).

And with my love of tea I'd been looking forward to Afternoon Tea at the Old Cataract Hotel at Aswan, featured in Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE NILE (both the book and the movie).

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Seven)

Thursday April 16th

So, by now our planned trip wd be reaching the mid-point of the Nile cruise part of the tour. 

As usual, another day wd have brought another temple: in this case, Kom Ombo Temple, which dates from Ptolemaic times.

While we'd have no doubt visited its crocodile museum, temples aside, two highlights of the day wd have been a Nubian tea and an optional bird watching side-trip, by boat, to see birds of the Nile.

--John R.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Six)

Wednesday April 15th

So, this day we would have gone to the Valley of the Kings. While there, we wd have visited the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, one of the few women in Egypt's long history to have ruled as pharaoh in her own right.

If that's not enough, we were also due for a trip to the Colossus of Memnon: two colossal statues that once, back in Roman times, made an eerie moaning noise around dawn. Unfortunately the phenomenon has long since ceased.

Any spare time this day wd most definitely been spent on visiting as much of the Valley of the Kings as we cd managed.

--John R.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Five)

Tuesday April 14th

So, our schedule for this day of the trip, had all gone according to plan, would have found us starting the day at Dendara with a visit to the Temple of Hathor (previously home to the famous Zodiac of Dendara). The zodiac is now in the Louvre but here below is an image of it on a piece of papyrus I bought years ago (I think in a little shop tucked in a corner on the bottom level of the Pike Place Market) -- partly because I wanted to see what a real, if modern, piece of papyrus looked like and partly because it was a striking image of an interesting piece.

Even with such damage the Temple of Hathor is in much better shape than the Temple of Karnak we'd visited the day before, being more than a thousand years newer. Apparently it even has a large image of Cleopatra VIIth carved into one wall.

That afternoon then it wd have been back down the Nile to Luxor, where the afternoon was to be devoted to a visit of the Temple of Luxor. It's a huge and impressive place but I cdn't find a good walk-through of this one, so instead here's a nice twenty-minute sequence of Egyptian antiquity highlights:

Then after Luxor Temple it'd be time to rest up for the next day's big event: The Valley of the Kings.

--John R.
--current reading: Garry Wills PAPAL SINS (resumed)

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Four)

Monday April 13th

So today according to the plan we wd have left Cairo in northern (Lower) Egypt to fly down to Luxor in central (Upper) Egypt, where our ship wd have waiting for us.

Originally this was to be the inaugural voyage of the S. S. Sphinx, then this got switched to the larger S. S. Tosca; now it's back to the S. S. Sphinx. Fine by me. Note that these are riverboats and as such much smaller than the enormous ocean-going cruise ships that keep getting in the news (and not in a good way).

Here in Luxor we were scheduled to stop for a visit to the Temple at Karnak, the iconic Egyptian temple. So much so that when you hear the words 'Egyptian Temple', what come to your mind are probably images of this temple.

Afterwards wd come a start to the actual cruising on the Nile part of our trip, ending up the day at Dendara, home of the famous Zodiac.*

Then in the evening there was to be a 'Folkloric Group Performance', whatever that might be.

Then our first night on the boat, to rest up for the next day's visit to more temples.

--John R.

*which alas turns out to no longer be there, having been looted long ago by the French. Who no doubt can offer up excellent reasons why it was perfectly all right for them to have blasted it out of the temple ceiling and carried it away.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Three)

Sunday April 12th

So, today would have been our first full day in Cairo, staying in a nice hotel and seeing some of the city sights. But as impressive as the Citadel of Salah al-Din and Alabaster Mosque sound, I didn't come to   the site of one of the world's most ancient civilizations to see medieval (the famous fortress) or relatively modern (nineteenth century mosque) sights. That's why the afternoon event is the one I was eager to see on this first day of acting like a tourist: two hours in the great Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (aka the Egyptian Museum).  Just to get an idea of how jam-packed with one-of-a-kind treasures the place is, watch or skim through videos of walk-throughs available on YouTube like the ones linked to below. As you can see, there's so much to see they've split it into two videos:

Ground Floor Level:

Upstairs Level

They not only have most of King Tut's belongings but also a lot of Akhenaten's art and much, much more. There's so much here that even on the video tour there were things I'd have liked to linger over --for example, I'm pretty sure I caught a glimpse of the Narmer Palette.

In short, two hours or so may seem too short a time to take in all the things I'll want to see up close and personal.  not to mention that I'd really like a quick look in the museum book shop just inside the entry doors.

And just one day seems too short a time in Cairo too: with the Sphinx and Pyramids so near (they shd be visible from our hotel), it'll be hard to wait till the end of the tour to see them up close.

That evening there's a dinner cruise on the Nile, so we'll get a good look at one of the world's greatest rivers.

And then the next day it's time to venture further afield.

--John R.
--current reading: various
--current viewing: the National Theatre Company's adaptation of JANE EYRE (streaming)

Sad News about Lady Dunsany

So, thanks to Doug A. for sharing the sad news that Lady Dunsany, who was married to the grandson
of the famous writer,* has died from the corona virus.

Here's a link to the story.

My sympathies go out to the family.

--John R.

*she was married to the late Edward Carlos, 20th baron; the son of Randle, 19th baron (the Lord Dunsany I met); son of Edward, 18th baron (and our writer). The title is currently held by the 21st baron (this Lady Dunsany's son and 21st baron)

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day Two)

Saturday April 12th

So, today we were scheduled to arrive in Cairo and check into our hotel. There was an optional evening side-trip to Alexandria, which we wound up giving a pass. It wd have been interesting to see the site (more or less) of the great lost Library, see the famous harbor (once site of the famous lighthouse), or wander through their antiquities museum. But given that we'd have just come off a long set of flights, it seemed better to devote the rest of that first day in Egypt to resting up for all the activity to come, which was due to start  up the next morning.

(to be continued)

--John R.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Trip to Egypt (Day One)

So, today's the day when we wd have left on our long-awaited trip to Egypt to see the Sphinx, the Pyramids, and so much more.

That, of course, is before the pandemic struck.

We're grateful not to have fallen ill, or gotten over there and been stranded, with no place to stay and no way to get back. But we're rueful to have so much planning just fade away. So since it was already so much on my mind I thought I'd make a series of posts of where we were going to be and what we were going to be doing on the ten days of our trip.

And who knows? We've rescheduled the trip for next year, and if things calm down and stay calm we may yet make it over there. But for now, we'll console ourselves with tracing our steps and best we can with what we were

April 11th.
DAY ONE: Travel

Today  wd have been our big travel day -- first a long flight to Frankfurt, then on to Cairo. Though we leave home the early afternoon of Friday the 11th, with the long flights and time change and moderate layover it'd be mid-afternoon Saturday when we'd arrive -- just over twenty-four hours.

Next Up: we're in Egypt!

--John R.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Auburn Crow

So, all those years of feeding crows has finally paid off.

Thanks to Janice for the photo. We headed down to Enumclaw today to help support a great little local shop, The Pie Goddess, only to unfortunately find it closed. So we walked around the mostly empty streets of Enumclaw, something we've been meaning to do for quite a while now and just never gotten around to. In addition to a variety of local shops (all currently closed, of course) we saw some interesting green spaces and public sculpture, including a Purple Heart park,* a bronze pony, and two huge bronze bulls pulling a log.  Worthy additions to the appealing public sculpture like the Kirkland Crows, the Renton Reader, and the Kent gumballs.**

A monument in the park was a memorial to a planeful of Marines who went down on Mt. Rainer not long after the end of World War II and whose bodies were apparently never recovered: I was surprised to see that one of them was from Texarkana, the town I was born in, though the private was from Texarkana Texas, whereas I'm from Texarkana Arkansas (across the street).

All the time we kept being reminded of how much noticeably larger The Mountain is from Enumclaw, which is not that far a drive from Kent (maybe thirty miles).

On the drive out while passing through Auburn we'd sadly noticed that Proper British Bacon, the shop where I got all my English cheeses, has indeed shut down -- for good, not just the duration of the present crisis. But we also spotted the giant statue of a crow, which we made a point of pulling over on the way back to get a closer look at it. I really liked it. The sculptor's name is Peter Reiquam, and I liked how he not only made an eye-catching and appealing image but clearly knows his stuff. Not only are crows fond of french fries (their favorite scavenged fast food) but they've been proven to have brand loyalty. Given a choice, they go after McDonald's over other brands of fast food french fries --and while the logo is discreetly missing the coloring makes it clear it is indeed McDonald's.

--John R.
---current reading: PAPAL SINS by Garry Wills (which is unintentionally turning into my Easter book)
--current viewing: JESUS CHRIST SUPTERSTAR (tonight)

*Which made me wonder: did Uncle Trig have a purple heart? He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, a disfiguring but not life-threatening injury.

**the kind that fall from trees, not the confectionary.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Reorganizing My Library

So, one thing about staying home and practicing social distancing is that it's helped me concentrate on my current project, as well as provided an impetus to learn some about various online virtual meeting programs.

It's also made for a good time to straighten up my Tolkien shelves. By clearing other things away I managed to add a shelf to those dedicated to books on Tolkien, so that I now have eleven shelves of books about Tolkien in my office. At a rough average of about thirty to thirty-five books per shelf, that's a lot of books (somewhere between three hundred and four hundred books). There's a twelfth of my own Tolkien publications (i.e. MR. BAGGINS, WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, TOLKIEN'S LEGENARDIUM, &c). And this is not counting the shelves of books by Tolkien, shelves for Tolkien journals, a shelf for Tolkien-audio, and a shelf for current projects.*

The main problem with books on Tolkien --and it's a good problem to have-- is that they keep writing new ones. And while I reluctantly gave up trying to get everything a few years ago, there are still interesting and original works coming out that I want to read. So every once in a while I need to integrate the new-ish books into their proper places. I also do some re-arranging to keep essential books, those I frequently consult, ready at hand.

Here's a list of recently added (within the last year or two) or recently moved books:






Christopher Vaccaro & Yvette Kisor, ed. TOLKIEN AND ALTERITY   [festschrift for Jane Chance].



Leslie A. Donovan, ed APPROACHES TO TEACHING TOLKIEN'S THE LORD OF THE RINGS AND OTHER WORKS     [MLA]   [two copies, one hc one tp]





[here I'm reserving a spot on John Garth's new book, due out the month after next, so I won't have to redo the shelving when it does arrive]

Catherine McIlwaine. TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH  [Bodley catalogue]

Vincent Ferre & Frederic Manfrin, ed. TOLKIEN: VOYAGE EN TERRE DU MILIEU





--John R.
current reading: Trilobite book.

*Note that this is also the room that's home to most of my rpgs, with two and a half bookcases filled with D&D rulebooks, boxed sets, and modules, plus another bookcase filled with CALL OF CTHULHU

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Dee Brown wd be proud

So, there's a movement underway to posthumously revoke the medals given to soldiers who carried out the Wounded Knee massacre back in 1890.

Some moments in US history are so iconic, like the events at Wounded Knee or My-Lai, that they need some sort of commemoration. We need to remember both the best and the worst of our history. But I don't think gestures designed to punish people who have been dead a hundred years or so is the way.

--John R.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Inklings and the Mythos (Dale Nelson)

So, I've now recovered the missing issue of MALLORN* containing Dale Nelson's wide-ranging inquiry into possible connections between the Inklings and Lovecraft's circle, "The Lovecraft Circle and the Inklings: The 'Mythopoeic Gift' of H. P. Lovecraft" (MALLORN 59, Winter 2018, pages 18-32). It's a substantial piece, and in it Nelson raises such topics as the following:

Did the two groups read or were they influenced by each other?

   Answer: Lovecraft read two of Williams' novels, Tolkien read one short story by Smith, Lewis may have been influenced by a Wandrei tale. Nelson also suggests that OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET was influenced to some degree by AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (this seems tenuous) and that the psychic transfer in THE DARK TOWER may owe something to "THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME" (an intriguing suggestion). I found the latter idea the most interesting part of Nelson's paper. Also noteworthy, but less developed, is his idea that there are affinities between "SHADOW OUT OF TIME" and THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS.

Did they admire or were influenced by the same authors (e.g. Blackwood)?

   Answer: to some extent, yes. In addition to Blackwood, whom he judges by far the most important shared influence, Nelson considers Dunsany (whom he--quite unfairly I think--calls "the anti-Tolkien"), Hodgson, M. R. James, Machen, and Haggard. He mentions Poe on the one hand and Morris and MacDonald on the other but only in passing: I shd have thought it beyond dispute that Poe was the seminal author for Lovecraft's group; if the Inklings had anyone comparable it wd be Morris and MacDonald.

Is Lovecraft, at his best, 'mythopoeic' as Lewis defined the term?

   Answer: that depends. Nelson compares Lovecraft with MacDonald, Haggard, and Lindsay, concluding that these lesser lights, not the Inklings, were Lovecraft's peers. He briefly considers Robert Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, both of whom he considers inferior to Lovecraft: Howard "wallows in violence and sexual perversity" while Smith he finds "misanthropic and decadent", his work marked by "nastiness".

In the end, he passes judgment, concluding that Lovecraft just wasn't good enough. A major factor in his being disqualified, in Nelson's eyes, from the top rank is HPL's penchant to conclude his stories dyscatastrophically, rather than with an Inklings-like eucatastrophically.

This is a long and discursive piece, its middle section dominated by two and a half pages in small type of extended quotation from THE DUNWICH HORROR and THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.** The digression on Bombadil is one of the better things I've seen on that much-misunderstood figure. I do have to say I thought it surprising that when the author criticizes Lovecraft's prose it's not for his idiosyncratic (eldritch!) vocabulary but his use of demonstrative pronoun ("a certain overuse of that and those): odd choice.

I remember someone at Kalamazoo about eight years ago mooted putting together a collection of papers for a book on TOLKIEN AND LOVECRAFT: Nelson's piece wd have fitted well into such a setting. Unfortunately so far as I know that project never got as far as a Call for Papers. Pity, since I knew exactly what I'd like to have submitted: I 'd have loved to have done a short piece exploring whether there was any plausible connection between the Things Gandalf finds below Moria and the creatures Ransom encounters beneath Perelandra and the things that haunt various dark lairs in certain of Lovecraft's Mythos stories. Which wd be interesting to do, but wd take a lot of work, while there are so many other interesting projects in various stages of completion to see to first.

All in all, Nelson's essay is an ambitious piece: worth reading, but might have been better expanded into a short book. There's just too much here to cover in a single essay.

--John R.

current reading: TRILOBITE!: EYEWITNESS TO EVOLUTION by Richard Fortey (2000; bought 2005, begun and abandoned 2010)

*It came with a TSA tag in it. I now realize it'd gotten misplaced because it arrived right before I went on a research trip and I took it along, thinking I might be able to read it during my down times in the evening. That didn't turn  out to be the case, and it came back unread in the middle of a folder of photocopies and miscellaneous notes, said folder having been unearthed in a big re-arranging of my office recently.

**a single paragraph from each wd have served him better.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Census

So, today I filled out the census form, one of the few truly nation-wide acts a citizen or resident of the U.S. can do.

I'm sure I must have done so before but I can only remember it once, when someone with a clipboard came by when I was living at Kane Place in the smallest of my many small apartments from my student and grad student days. That would be in 1990. The only residents were myself and Parker the cat (then only a year old), who wasn't counted.

Most of my contact with the census has been with censuses past, back when I got interested in family history while in Scouting as a result of working on the Genealogy merit badge. I never did get the badge, for reasons I no longer remember,* but I learned a lot about my ancestry from talking to both my grandmothers and writing to great-uncles and great aunts. I can sum up what I found out like this:

1. We've been here a long time. I could only find one ancestor not born in this country, my great-great-great grandmother, who came over from the Scotch-Irish part of Ireland as a child in the 1790s.

2. We're all Southerns: mostly from Arkansas but also Mississippi and Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky, Virginia, and South Carolina. Even today most of my relatives like in Arkansas or Texas (I'm the outlier here, having lived all over Arkansas but then shifting to first Wisconsin and now Washington state).**

3. Old censuses and similar records are useless in establishing something I really wanted to know: when the name took on its current spelling (Rateliff, with a silent e). That's because just about everybody used to get it wrong, so if you saw a reference to a Ratliff or Ratcliff it was just as likely to be the census-taker's mistake as an accurate record.

It was interesting getting to know a lot of far-flung relatives I'd never met, but I eventually came up against a brick wall, that being the farthest back living memory cd go. I found that lots of people remembered their grandparents' names, so if you cd talk to a member of your grandparents' generation you cd go back as far as yr grandparents' grandparents (that is, your great-great grandparents). But when I came across an ancestor named John Smith I knew that was as far as I was going . . .

--John R.

--current viewing: THE RETURN OF THE KING, all three hours and twenty minutes in one uninterrupted go.

*I still have my old sash, which has forty-six badges, so it was not for lack of diligence.

**Wisconsin because of the Tolkien and Washington for the D&D.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Laptop Bounce

So, the good news is that my laptop bounces when knocked off the top of a three-foot-tall bookcase.

 No harm done.

The bad news is that there's one more place I can't leave my laptop, now that the cats have added it to their leaping repertoire.

 You can't count on being lucky twice.

--John R.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tolkien Reading Day

So, today is Tolkien Reading Day,* a yearly celebration of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. I usually don't take part** but this year through Janice I learned that the Tolkien Collector's Guide site had organized an interesting collection of Tolk folk to read aloud a wide array of Tolkien's works, everything from Verlyn Flieger reading "Aotrou & Itroun" to Dimitra Fimi's seven year old son talking about THE HOBBIT. Even though it was at the last minute, they were good enough to let me join in with a brief  contribution, "The Dragon's Visit" (original version, 1937) at 2.45 today, right at the end of Clifford Broadway's reading of the LotR chapter "The Houses of Healing".

 Here's the link to the description of the event and list of participants:

And now back to my work for the day --wrestling with the various texts of the AINULINDALE.

--John R.

*probably inspired by Bloomsday, held by Joyce scholars each year on June 16th.

**it may not be literally true but it feels like for me the term 'Tolkien reading day' applies to as many of my days as not).

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Soames Museum, or Derleth's pastiche

So, as a side-note to my previous post, another usage in the same Derleth story  ("The Adventure of the Six Silver Spiders" in THE MEMOIRS OF SOLAR PONS by August Derleth. Mycroft & Moran, 1951)  seemed to raise some questions on Derleth's usage of pastiche.

At one point during this story the clues lead Pons and his  dimmer-than-Watson sidekick to The Soames Museum on 16 High Holburn Street. We are told that

The building housed the one-time collection 
of the late Sir Rowley Soames, and such pieces
 as had been added by various donors since his time

Now, this is obviously the Sir John Soane's Museum, the famous London landmark,* located at Lincoln Inn Fields. The usage Soames/Soane's may be a simple slip, and the change in address perhaps forced upon Derleth by the exigencies of the story (Pons has to crack a cipher to learn the location). But why Rowley instead of John? Did he simply not know the given name and popped something in, not having time in those pre-internet days to look it up? Did he simply not care? Or were the changes deliberate, just as his most transparent minimal changes made the Solar Pons stories publishable in the first place without interference from the Doyle estate.

I'm inclined to pass this off as a piece of local color by a Wisconsin author trying to re-create an ambiance of 1920s London, on par with the frequent descriptions of the English countryside which the person being spoken to cd see for himself. But I can't shake the suspicion that Derleth is putting in a proprietary touch here and there.

--John R.

*I've enjoyed enjoyed both my visits to the Soane, once to view the collection and once for a wedding reception. A friend of mine (a major Tolkien scholar) worked here for many years.

UPDATE: I've fixed the typo. Thanks David

Derleth Spoofs Lovecraft?

So, spoiler alerts on this one.

As my current light-reading book,* I've been reading through one of Derleth's Solar Pons collections of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, THE MEMOIRS OF SOLAR PONS. While so doing I suppose I shd not have been surprised to find that at one point he inserts a Cthulhu Mythos reference, but the way he does so struck me as fairly unusual for Derleth.

The context comes in an occult library being offered up at private auction to six bibliophiles, collectors who specialize in occult tomes. The library, assembled by one Comte d'Erlette, is being sold as a whole, all or nothing.  The Mythos comes in with the titles Derleth provides for the books making up the collection: twenty-seven items, those named being THE NECRONOMICON (Olaus Wormius's Latin edition), the Comte d'Erlette's CULTES DES GOULES, Ludwig Prinn's DE VERMIS MYSTERIIS, the LIBER IVONIS, and Von Junzt's UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KULTEN. **

Except, as Derleth's detective points out, none of these books exist. The whole thing is a hoax, designed to get the collectors away from home at the private auction so their own collections can be burgled in their absence.  The detective sums up:

All these books have a precarious existence 
only in the writings of certain minor writers 
of American origin, all apparently followers, 
in a remote sense, of the work of Edgar Allan Poe. 
(ibid.134; emphasis mine). 

He then goes on to debunk the existence of any contemporary 'comte d'Erlette'. This is odd in a puckish sense because d'Erlette is a Frenchified version of DERLETH, which August D. used as a sort of pseudonym for his contributions to the Mythos

Given how Derleth devoted himself to promoting Lovecraft and his circle, primarily by publishing their works through Arkham House, it's a bit surprising to find him dismissing them as "minor writers".  Certainly Lovecraft himself was given to self-depreciation, which often took humorous form when describing his works (cf. his letters to Clark Ashton Smith). Perhaps Derleth is simply adopting a Lovecraftian pose. Still, it's odd to find Derleth in his detective fiction creating a fictional character who asserts the spurious nature of tomes Derleth's characters frequently encounter in his horror fiction.

--John R.

*contrasted with my current all-too-ponderous reading, GRAPES OF WRATH.

**Derleth, MEMOIRS OF SOLAR PONS (1951), "The Adventure of the Six Silver Spiders", p. 132

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Clark Ashton Smith and Middle-earth

So, recently Doug Anderson's TOLKIEN AND FANTASY blog  had an interesting piece up that explored the question of whether Clark Ashton Smith, the best writer of Lovecraft's WEIRD TALES circle, ever read Tolkien.*

Certainly the timing makes this possible, since THE LORD OF THE RINGS was published in 1954 to 1956 and Smith died in 1961. And now Doug has dug up an interview from 2005 in which a friend of Smith's affirms that Smith did indeed read at least some Tolkien (THE HOBBIT and part of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING). The problem is that the witness (now deceased) may be conflating his own opinions with Smith's.

So, an interesting bit of evidence we shd be glad to have, so long as we treat it with due caution. Here's the post:

Reading this makes me think now is a good time to read Dale Nelson's piece on the Lovecraft circle and the Inklings, which I had mislaid but recently rediscovered my copy of last week. It being a topic I've long been interested in but have never turned up much information about, there'll probably be another blog post here once I've had time to give DN's piece the careful reading it deserves.

--John R


*At one time I tried to find out whether Fletcher Pratt (d.1956), Lord Dunsany (d.1957), or James Branch Cabell (d.1958) ever read Tolkien and came up with mixed results: almost certainly not in the case of Pratt, unknown but I think not for Dunsany, and possible but very unlikely in the case of Cabell (despite Edmund Wilson's attempts to interest him in the book).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Tolkien and Fr Murray

So, the newest of new arrivals here are a copy each of the only two volumes of TOLKIEN STUDIES I'd lacked, Volume XIV (2017) and Volume XVI (2019). I'd somehow wound up with two copies of Volume XV (2018) instead, and similarly failed to pick up the newest issue, Volume XVI, when it came out. Now I once again have a full set among my working library of books by and about JRRT and major journals devoted to his work.

As is usually the case when a new Tolkien/Inklings themed journal arrives, there's one piece in these that particularly caught my eye: in this case, Richard West's Note on Fr. Rbt Murray. While brief I think this is a major contribution on a major point in Tolkien criticism: to what degree is LotR a 'Catholic' book and Tolkien a 'Catholic' writer? Tolkien's 1953 letter to Rbt Murray (later Fr. Rbt) contains the oft-cited line

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious 
and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first,
 but consciously in the revision (LETTERS .172)

This is often taken to mean that, however much he denied it elsewhere,* Tolkien intended his work to be read as allegory, not just Christian but explicitly Roman Catholic. It's a revelation, then, to find that the person to whom Tolkien wrote this passage didn't agree with that interpretation at all.

The main substance of this Note is Richard's reproduction of a letter Murray wrote in 1980 in answer to a query from Michael A Witt. In it Murray gives his evaluation on this point:

Tolkien was a very complex and depressed man 
and my own opinion of his imaginative creation 
is that it projects his very depressed view of the 
universe at least as much as it reflects his Catholic faith

. . . I don't think I would care to say more than that
on one level the values underlying Tolkien's imaginative
works are Catholic in a rather mediaeval form. But
I would subsume all theological evaluation under a
literary appreciation of them as works of imagination
inspired by ancient and mediaeval literature . . . 

There is a case to be made about Tolkien the Catholic,
but I simply could not support an interpretation which
made this the key to everything

("A Letter from Father Murray", ed. Richard C. West, TOLKIEN STUDIES XVI.135-136)

 As Richard points out,  '. . . it is of special interest that the person to whom Tolkien wrote that The Lord of the Rings was "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work" himself took that in a very nuanced and cautioned against reading too much into this statement' (ibid. 137)

All in all, I'd call this an important contribution to Tolkien studies (and to TOLKIEN STUDIES).

--John R.
--current reading: THE GRAPES OF WRATH (reminds me of CITIZEN KANE), MR. FAIRLIE'S FINAL JOURNEY (August Derleth pastiche)

*e.g. in the Prologue to THE LORD OF THE RINGS itself (Foreword 10-11)

Monday, March 16, 2020

Marquette, deferred

So, today I wd have started my next two-week research session working with the manuscripts at Marquette. Unfortunately, as with so many things these days, my plans came up against the measures being put in place by universities to protect students, faculty, and staff. In this case, the requirement put in place the day before I was to fly out wd have meant that, coming as I do from a state with confirmed cases of The Virus, I wd need to self-quarantine myself for fourteen days once I arrived. Which wd have eaten up so much of a seventeen day trip that it seemed better to cancel and reschedule when things have reset to normal, whenever that may be, and whatever the new definition of normal.

The good news is that this means I have more time to work on the Kalamazoo piece* -- although at this point it's uncertain whether the Medieval Congress in May will proceed as planned or be conducted remotely or deferred for a year.

As for the big Egypt trip, this definitely won't be going forward as planned, though there are hopeful signs that it has a good chance of being delayed (possibly by as much as a year) but not cancelled.

And the best news at all is that not only are we both well so far but so are friends and family, both here in Washington state and afar (Arkansas, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Sapporo, England). Since I fit into two of the three at-risk groups I'm staying in as much as possible and catching up on a lot of my reading. I can already tell I'm going to miss my once or twice a week visits to Starbucks, which I use when I need a change of pace. But that's a small price to pay if it reduces my chance of getting sick.

And now, back to work.

--John R.

current reading; the latest in Martha Wells' MURDERBOT series

*"Valinor in America: Faerian Drama and the Disenchantment of Middle-earth"

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Fantasy Directory

So, the latest item of interest to emerge from the sea of papers is THE FANTASY DIRECTORY II. This must have been Taum Santoski's copy, since I was never plugged in to the fan network represented by this fantasy-themed apa.*

Looking through it now, it's a fascinating relic of fantasy fandom as it was in circa 1978. The first part, compiled by Paul Ritz, is literally a directory, listing the names, addresses, and interests of individual fans. Some of these are still with us and still active, like David Bratman (guest of honor at this year's MythCon) and Gary Hunnewell. Some have passed away, like Taum Santoski (who provided the cover art).

The DIRECTORY does not only list individual fans but also, casting their nets wide, organizations devoted to writers like Wm Morris, Lewis Carroll, Baum's Oz books, and Dorothy L. Sayers.  Both The Tolkien Society and The Mythopoeic Society are still flourishing,**  others have long since faded away, like the much lamented Fantasy Association.

All in all, a pleasant if slightly bittersweet amble down memory lane.

--John R.
--current reading: THE RAVENMASTER by Christopher Skaife (just finished)

*I in fact discovered the contact information for and got in touch with some of these organizations thanks to Grotta-Kurska's book, which I'm grateful to for that, whatever its shortcomings as a biography.

**unlike their Tolkienian cousins the Sydney University Tolkien Society and the American Tolkien Society (ATS)

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Nile

So, this week we went and picked up our tickets for the big trip.

Here's a picture of our ship, the S. S. Tosca. Basically we're thinking of it as a hotel that moves from place to place, so we don't have to deal with the hassle of checking in and checking out each day. Plus it shd prove handy in case we need some down time.

It's still a while off, but this is really starting to feel real.

Back when we got to go to Hawaii in 2006 my three want-to-see goals were sea turtles, a volcano, and petroglyphs, all of which were more than satisfied, and of course much else besides.

For Egypt, it's the Pyramids, Sphinx, and some temples.

Really looking forward to it.

--John R.

The Washington Post now reports a quarantine on a cruise ship on the Nile. Not our ship and not our tour company, but clearly something we'll have to keep a close eye on.

Thanks to Shelly for sharing the link.

Friday, March 6, 2020

One Hundred Boxes

So, I think I passed a milestone sometime this week. I did a rough count of the boxes that remain to be sorted down in the Box Room, and came up with a result of one hundred boxes. That figure may be off a bit one way or the other, but at least it gives an idea of where things stand: I've made real progress. There's still a long way to go, but I think it may now have something of the feel of a countdown.

My goal, by the way, is twofold: to get the clutter under control and to have the material be accessible. It'll also take up much less space after the sort-out.

I do have a private list in my head of a few specific items that I consider rewards, like the old reel-to-reel tape of his songs my father left behind.* It'll be a happy day when each of these emerges from its matrix back into the light of day.

--John R.
--current reading: RAVENMASTER (not a fantasy novel, as you might guess from the title, but an account by the man who takes care of the Ravens at the Tower of London.

*I do have a cassette copy I made of this in 1978, but it's become increasingly age-distorted over the years.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Elizabeth Warren

So, my first-choice candidate for the Democratic nomination has dropped out. I'll be sorry she won't get to make history by being the first woman elected president, which I think wd have been the probable outcome had she gone up against Trump in the fall. I console myself that she'll still be carrying on her good work in the Senate.

Luckily my second choice (Mr Sanders) is still in the running, and the election here in Washington state is this coming Tuesday. Here's hoping for a good turnout.

--John R.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Name-checking a relic of the past (METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA)

So, I've started reading the new Aaronovitch novel, the latest in the RIVERS OF LONDON series, and found that once again he shows a deft hand at dropping in references to fantasy and sci-fi fan culture.* In this case, a character finds that his co-workers at his new job, a tech company, like to spend their lunchtimes playing rpgs.

The next day . . . 
I managed to ingratiate myself with a number of
mice [=co-workers]  and Victor invited me to join one of the floating role-
playing games that assembled in one of the satellite
conference rooms accessible from the Cage.

"Metamorphosis Alpha," said Victor, when I asked what we were 
playing. Which turned out to be an ancient game from the 1970s with a
horrible resolution mechanic but I'm not a purist about these things.

. . . [Another worker] spotted us playing in the corner of the Cage and came over
to glower at me, and then walked away shaking his head.

"I bet he prefers World of Darkness," said Victor. 

Bonus points here to Aaronovitch for the mention of METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA by Jim Ward, one of the first science fiction games ever published, which led directly to GAMMA WORLD (also by Jim Ward),** one of the earliest post-D&D rpgs from TSR.***

It's clear here that he's referring to the 1976 original and not the Slade Henson version (circa 1993)**** for the short-lived AMAZING ENGINE game. And the scorn W.o.D. gamers felt for those playing older more traditional games is spot-on, and just as funny now as it was then.

I look forward to seeing what else he comes up with over the rest of the novel. He's already worked in more Douglas Adams references than I wd have believed possible.

--John R.
--current reading: Aaronovitch (good), Nicholas Blake (bad).
--currently working on: The Ainulindale.

*like the Tolkien references in several of his earlier books in the series
**who hired me on at TSR back in 1991. thanks, Jim
***I think predated only by BOOT HILL
****which I edited

Friday, February 28, 2020

Tolkien Biopic: The Musical

So, while my attention was drawn to Kickstarter, I learned about several Tolkien-related projects, one of which I wd have subscribed for had I known about it at the time.

I've seen last year's 'based on a true story' film biography of JRRT of course, but hadn't realized there was a musical back in 2016 covering much the same ground, the title of which was either TOLKIEN or UNFOLDING TALES (the latter no doubt meant to echo JRRT's UNFINISHED TALES).

The Kickstarted relic of this project was the Cast Soundtrack of twenty-two songs, a generous sampling can be heard here:

If you're interested in JRRT's biography and the sometimes strange ways it get expressed, or a fan/collector of Tolkien-inspired music, you might want to try to track this down.

--John R.
--current viewing: DEAD OF WINTER, a Chaosium-sponsored CALL OF CTHULHU adventure.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

a William Hope Hodgson kickstarter

So, I've long been an admirer of Wm Hope Hodgson's work since I was first introduced to it by my friend Jim Pietrusz back in the mid-80s.* So it was good news to learn from friends Jeff, Steve, and Stan at the Monday night game that there's a Kickstarter in the works to fund an rpg
based on his Sargasso Sea stories.


From the look of it this is a minimalist rpg, pretty much a one-shot with pregenerated characters that through stretch goals is expandable into campaign mode.

Now if we cd get a Carnaki rpg as well, that wd be something.**

Dare we dream someday of a NIGHT LAND campaign? When I first heard that TSR had a setting called DARK SUN in the works as a follow-up to RAVENLOFT, I was excited by the thought it might be something truly Hodgsonesque, only to get ConanLand instead. Oh well.

--John R.

*for an example of my critique of Hodgson, see my 'Classics of Fantasy' piece on his masterpiece, THE NIGHT LAND (written circa 1905, published 1912).
**there was one in the FORGOTTEN FUTURES line, but that was a good quarter-century ago, and it took minimalism to an extreme.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Tolkien and the Nobel Prize

Now this is interesting.

Thanks to Dunsany scholar Martin Andersson -- who wrote an interesting piece on Lord Dunsany and the Nobel in 2018* -- we now know that Tolkien was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature at least three times:

in 1961, when he was nominated by C. S. Lewis.**

in 1967, when his name appeared on the (alphabetical) long list as #58 of 70 nominees.

and in 1969, when he was #90 on the long list of 103 names.

So far as I know he did not make the short list any of these times.

This was not Tolkien's first encounter with the Nobel prize. Back in 1954 he had served as a nominator rather than nominee, putting forward E. M. Foster, that quintessentially English author, for the honor.  Tolkien was clearly chosen for his position as Merton Professor of English, and it's interesting to note that his nomination of Forster was seconded by Sir David Cecil*** and thirded by F. P. Wilson, all three professors of English at Oxford.

We know that C. S. Lewis put Tolkien's name forward in 1961, no doubt from his status as professor of Renaissance literature at Cambridge.

 The nominator who put in Tolkien's name in 1967 is one Gosta Holm, professor of Nordic languages ("nordiska sprak") at the Univ. of Lunds in Sweden. So I suspect he knew or knew of Tolkien through their shared interest in philology.

link 3 

The nominator in 1969 was R. E. Wycherley, an archeologist and professor of Greek ("grekiska") at Univ. of North Wales in Bangor.

link 4

Of his fellow nominees on the 1969 list, twelve did go on to win the prize:
Samuel Beckett (that same year, 1969),
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1970),
Pablo Neruda (1971),
Heinrich Boll (1972),
Patrick White (1973),
Eyvind Johnson (1974),
Harry Martinson (also 1974),
Eugenio Montale (1975)
Elias Canetti (1981),
Jaroslaf Seifert (1984)
Claude Simon (1985)
and Gunter Grass (though he had to wait for it thirty years, 1999).

Of these, I have to confess that I've read only two: a lot of Beckett (all his plays and even a few of his novels) and one by Solzhenitsyn (his Nobel Prize speech, which we were required to teach to college Freshmen at Marquette).****

Tolkien doesn't have to worry on one account: the Nobel committee is famous, with the hindsight of history, for passing over many of the greats -- such as from the 1969 list not just Tolkien and Forster but also Auden, Frost, Nabokov, Larkin, and, notoriously, Borges.

--John R.

*appeariing in THE GREEN BOOK, vol. 11, 2018.
**the following year CSL nominated Rbt Frost -- an excellent choice and testimony of how highly he rather the New Engander's work
***fellow Inkling, distinguished biographer, and bete noir of F. R. Leavis
****which the students didn't much care for, though at least Solzhenitsyn fared better than Chesterton though perhaps not as well as Bronowki.