Monday, July 27, 2020

Gen Con 1994

So, thanks to Tech Support (thanks Janice), here are the two scans I'd had trouble with earlier. The second has the write-ups of the two panels, while the first lists all the TSR rpg sponsored seminars. I find this one a good indicator of just how many different things we were working on at any given time.


--John R.

"Women, Minorities, & the Game"

So, something else that emerged from my recent sorting through a box of papers relating to the 1994 GenCo is a list (see below) of all the panels TSR staff took part in that year at GenCon in Milwaukee at MECCA and the official description of the two I organized and chaired.

Some other time I'll try to tell the story of our attempt within the department to make TSR's rpgs more appealing to women and minorities. For now I'll just say that for me it culminated in a panel at GenCon with myself as moderater and Mike Pondsmith, Lisa Pondsmith, Lawrence Sims, and a fifth person whose name escapes me* as the panelists. Unfortunately I'm having some trouble with the scanner so here's its official description:

"Women, Minorities, & Games"
What's the role of women and minorities in a hobby dominated by "pale males"? Come and join the lively debate over how to make role-playing games more appealing to these groups.

I don't remember after this many years what points came up in the discussion that followed, other than that I probably opened by sharing my belief that the obvious place to start to make our game more appealing to women and minorities was to remove elements they wd find off-putting.

As for the other panel, it's clearly a precursor of my later CLASSICS OF FANTASY column (2002-2004). At about this same time I did a recommended reading list for the MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH spin-off of the RAVENLOFT setting; this appeared in POLYHEDRON in I think October 1994.

--John R.

--current reading: THE WORLDS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN by John Garth

*it would have been Lisa Steele from White Rose publishing except that she didn't come to GenCon that year.

TSR GenCon 1994: The Crack-Up List (update)

So, a week or two ago I posted a fun little piece I'd come across during some sorting. But I'd meant to do a follow-up piece, giving the second listing that carried on the joke. So here is the original crack-up list with the follow-up, for those who like such things:

--John R.
current reading: BUNNIES & BURROWS (first edition, 1976)

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Heyerdahl May Have Been Right

So, it's decades ago that Thor Heyerdahl came up with his theory that Native Americans of the Pacific coast had the boating technology and skill to reach Polynesia. He even built a replica boat (in this case, a balsawood raft, the Kon Tiki) and sailed it from Peru to Tahiti, as a feasibility test. His work was widely popular but dismissed as pseudoscience; I've always considered him one of the great champions undermining what Lewis and Barfield came to call 'chronological snobbery'.

Now some new research in the form of genetic testing suggests that there was contact, but how much is unclear. The Polynesians certainly had the technology to sail just about anywhere in the Pacific

--cf THE PREHISTORIC EXPLORATION AND COLONISATION OF THE PACIFIC by Geoffrey Irwin (1992; highly recommended)--

while for the Americas' side of the story, about which I know far less,  certainly the Makah and other whale-hunters of the Pacific Northwest had command of large, powerful boats

-- I have Heyerdahl's massive tome AMERICAN INDIANS IN THE PACIFIC (1953) but have not read it.

In any case, somebody took the sweet potato from South America to spread it across the Pacific, which is pretty good proof of more than casual contact.

Here's the link to the recent article.

Tolkien trivia fact: Tolkien's secretary, Joy Hill, was a friend of Heyerdahl's and had a model of one of his boats he'd given her (I forget whether it was the Tigris or the Ra) on her mantlepiece

--John R.

P.S.: While we're on the theme of conventional wisdoms showing a few cracks, the late date (12,000 to 14,000 yrs ago) for humans arriving in the Western Hemisphere becomes more Ptolemaic all the time:

Monday, July 20, 2020

I Am Podcast (Longwinded One)

So, a while back I was asked to appear in a podcast for a Tolkien/gaming site, which seemed an ideal blending of two of my major interests. We recorded the interview and here's the result. Enjoy.

--John R.
--current rereading; WATERSHIP DOWN (first read circa 1974 and reread many times since)

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Primary coming up

So, yesterday our primary ballots arrived for the state election, the most eye-catching element of which is the long list of thirty-six people running for governor. Unfortunately it did not come with the usual voter's pamphlet giving us a brief self-pitch by each candidate, which is usually a good way to sort out the serious candidates from the crazies.

There are two basic ways to deal with managing this unwieldy situation.

Option #1:
—the current governor is doing a pretty good job. Let him carry on doing what he's doing for another four years.

Option #2:
--sort out all the candidates by political party, weed out the weird ones, then check out the online version of the Voter's Pamphlet to learn more about the serious candidates.

Here's my initial sort-out

First off, there are fringe parties, some of which may not actually exist outside the head of the person running: the Stand Up America party, the Propertarianist party, the American Patriot party, the Fifth Republic party, the Cascadia Labour party, the New-Liberty party.

Then there are genuine minor parties who have no hope of winning but want to promote their cause: the Socialist Workers party, the Green party.

Somewhat confusingly, in the non-of the above category we have two "Independent", one "Unaffiliated", and four "No Party". Are these just different ways to say the same thing?

Where things really run off the rails is with the Republican parties (sic). There are fifteen people running as "Republican", three of whom are running as "Trump Republican" and one as "2016 Republican".  I've never seen such chaos on a ballot.

Finally for the Democrats things are nice and simple: five people running, one of which (Gov. Inslee) is all but certain to win.

At any rate this is one election in which 'they're all the same' just isn't a credible response.

--John R.

Update on Amazon (US & UK)

So, here's the happy ending: I had the Garth book before three o'clock the day after I ordered it. I've given it a quick skim; I'm sure I'll post about various odds and end that come up as I read it.

And to give them due credit, the UK amazon processed the cancellation right away, so that's all taken care of as well.

And if that weren't good news enough, the long-awaited packet of my current favorite Yunnan and Keemun finally reached me as well.

And now it's back to reading a slim volume of George Sterling (as a precursor to Clark Ashton Smith) and continuing on WATERSHIP DOWN. In token of which it felt entirely appropriate that on yesterday's walk from here to the local wetlands and back I saw seven rabbits on the way out and twelve on the way back, aa new record.

--John R.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Dunsany's Leaves (Vaninskaya on Dunsany)

So, recently I've been reading the Dunsany section of Anna Vaninskaya's new book on Dunsany, Eddison, and Tolkien. It's rare to find really good criticism of Dunsany, so thought I'd share my critique.

Anna Vaninskaya's Fantasies of Time and Death: Dunsany, Eddison, Tolkien (Palgrave, 2020) is particularly welcome in that while there are hundreds of books on Tolkien, we only have a half-dozen on Dunsany, and none at all on Eddison. This book in part redresses that imbalance. 

Vaninskaya asserts that modern fantasy "did not exist as a category in the British literary landscape, and the British authors under consideration did not know they were writing it." (.1). As she sees it, the genre was created by Ballantine as a 'fuzzy set' centered on Tolkien (.2): "[T]hese writers never constituted a school amongst themselves; each was independent and sui generis" (.3).  While she detects "the deep affinity of method and purpose amongst key early practitioners of the genre" (.8), she believes for most later fantasists, "Their main template was the quest romance rather than the creation myth" (.7). 

Following an exceptionally well-sourced chapter on Morris, MacDonald, and Mirrlees 
as precursors and contemporary dealing with the themes of death and time, she devotes the rest of the book to Dunsany, Eddison, and Tolkien, in that order.

Vaninskaya's critique of Dunsany is particularly welcome because unlike most previous Dunsany criticism she actually analyzes his work, rather than just summarize it (Schweitzer) or depict him as a sort of lesser Lovecraft (Joshi). She more than makes her case for the centrality of Death and Time as the unifying themes that recur again and again in Dunsany's tales, plays, and novels. In the process she also shows how this made him very much a man of his time, an heir to the Romantics (e.g. Shelly) and high Victorians (Swinbourne, Tennyson). She places particular emphasis on Personification, stating flatly that "It is impossible to overstate Dunsany's reliance on this device" (.27). He was "profoundly unoriginal" (.29) in his metaphors and symbolism, taking over traditional ones and making them his own, until by his persistence in repeating them they become central to what he has to say.

She finds this patterning essential to understanding Dunsany's work.

"while it wd not be true to say that once you have read one Dunsany tale, you have read them all—for the fecundity of his imagination was such that each . . . differed indelibly from the rest—it is true that his oeuvre resolves, in the final analysis, into a series of poetic variations on a single set of themes, images[,] and rhetorical devices (.24)

Her analogy is that of a tile-maker who crafts each individual tile by hand. Each resembles the rest but is unique unto itself.  For any Tolkienist it's a short hop from that to "LEAF: by Dunsany". Instead of Tolkien's tree we have in Dunsany no tree but a multitude of individual leaves, each lovingly crafted, each distinctive yet each recognizably Dunsanian. 

To conclude: 
This just may be the book on Dunsany Dunsany scholars have been waiting for.

The best thing about Vaninskaya on Dunsany is that she offers real insights into Dunsany's theme and method, including analysis of individual works, such as The King of Elfland's Daughter (45–51), Dunsany's most famous work, and The Blessings of Pan (51–55), the last of Dunsany's early novels. V's insights made me want to reread books I've not read for decades.

The worst is that there is not more of it (only forty-five pages out of a 262 page book). Obviously, this is a good problem to have. It's not that what we have feels truncated or incomplete. It's just that this is good enough that it leaves us wanting more.

—July 16th 2020 lets me down

So, today I finally gave up waiting for my copy of John Garth's book, THE WORLDS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, to arrive.

I'd pre-ordered this back in May of last year along with two other books (TOLKIEN'S CHAUCER and TOLKIEN'S LIBRARY), both of which arrived in due course.

By mid-May of this year I was hearing that folks were getting copies already, although its official release date was not until June 9th. About this time I got a notice that my copy had shipped and wd arrive on July 8. As usual they included a tracking number that enabled me to follow its progress all the way to the evening of July 8th, when the tracking system said "out for delivery".

Then something seemed to go wrong. The July 8th out-for-delivery notice disappeared and was replaced by one saying it wd arrive between July 8th and 15th. I kept checking the tracking number daily and was still getting notices that it was on the way as late as yesterday, the 15th.

Then today I find a message that "Your package may be lost" and offering me an option of getting a refund. Re-ordering is not an option since the book is, they said, out of stock. So I gave up on, cancelled the phantom shipment, and re-ordered the book this afternoon from their US cousins, They say it'll be here tomorrow.

What makes it worse is that this is twice now they've done this to me. When I'd last ordered the year's Tolkien calendar from them they provided me with a tracking number to trace the shipment's progress, only to discover on the day it wd have been delivered that it was a phantom shipment: as near as I cd make out it had never been shipped.

And the moral is: if you happen to live a mile or so from an amazon fulfillment center you might as well take advantage of it.

--John R.
--current reading: Vaninskaya on Dunsany, Lockley on Rabbits

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

TSR GenCon 1994: The Crack-Up List

So, the box I starting sorting through last week turned out to contain relics from GenCon 1994, the most interesting of which was the following table (posted in the Games Library)*
predicting which of TSR's designers and editors wd snap first from the strain of working on their current projects while at the same time getting everything ready for the panels and playtests they'd be doing at MECCA and all the madness that wd ensue. The two depicted as under the most pressure were Michele Carter (who annotated her own entry: "Sick, a Flint CD project, and GenCon--I'm much closer than 'even odds'") and Julia Martin ("Favorite in a crowded field"). The two voted most stable were Skip Williams ("Former RPGA--this looks like a vacation next to that") and Jon Pickens ("Chosen 'individual most likely to turn out the lights at TSR' for 5 years running"). I'm in there too ("It's always the quiet ones").

Quite aside from all the in-jokes, this is a nice listing off all the folks working on rpgs at the time, with two ringers: Carolyn Chambers, who was one of the Olympians (i.e. executives) with whom we had limited contact (their offices were in a different part of the building and we were encouraged not to go that way), and "Bud Moore", a blow-up life-sized doll, the subject of many tacky jokes.

--John R.
--current reading: a book on rabbits (fiction), a book on rabbits (fact), a book on Dunsany and Eddison and Tolkien, various other things.

*Since Zeb, who left in the first half of 1994, wasn't on the list, and Jeff Grubb, who left around January 1995, is, I'd figured out that this must be for GenCon 1994; I later found a note dating it to August 17th 1994 (a Wednesday).

On re-reading WATERSHIP DOWN

What I'm reading right now:
        --a book Le Guin hated.

What I'm not reading:
   John Garth's new book
        --because my copy has still not arrived.


--John R.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

FIfty Pence for a HOBBIT

So, here's a chipper little story about someone who buys a reading copy of THE HOBBIT in a charity shop  and finds it's a first printing first edition. With dust jacket.

--John R.

current reading: WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams, A WINE OF WIZARDRY by George Sterling, IN THE REALMS OF MYSTERY AND WONDER by Clark Ashton Smith (reproduces his paintings and carvings).

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Tolkien Society Seminar

So, I know where I'll be at 5.45 am tomorrow morning.

 I intend to get up far too early in order to take part in this year's Tolkien Society Seminar. I've only been able to attend this event once before, in May 1987, where Stephen Medcalf, Jessica Yates, Diana Wynne Jones, Geraldine Harris, and myself were the speakers.

Thanks to the Society's decision to hold it online this year, I'm finally able to attend another one after all these years, and I'm looking forward to it.  Though the start time of 4.30 am Pacific Time is just too early for me: I'm hoping to join the fun around 6 am. Of the several events I have marked down to attend I'm particularly looking forward to the Christopher Tolkien roundtable.

If you're both an early bird and interested in Tolkienian adaptations (the theme of this year's seminar), see you there.

--John R.

--current reading: THE AVEROIGNE CHRONICLES by Clark Ashton Smith (2016); FANTASIES OF TIME AND DEATH by Anna Vaninskaya (2020); AVILION by Rbt Holdstock (2009).

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Dunsany's "A NIGHT AT AN INN"

So, we mainly remember Dunsany today as a novelist and short story writer. But in his own time he was primarily known as a playwright. And of his many plays I think the best is A NIGHT AT AN INN, which appeared both in the collection PLAYS OF GODS AND MEN (1917) and as a stand-alone play (1916). Like most of his plays and stories it's quite short (a single act) and features the kind of surprise ending Dunsany did so well (something in which he resembles his contemporary, Saki).

What I had not known, until Doug A. drew it to my attention, is that A NIGHT AT AN INN had been filmed, not for theatrical release but as an episode of the show SUSPENSE as far back as 1949, in the early days of television. What's more, this tv adaptation had starred Boris Karloff as The Toff, a decayed gentleman turned master criminal.

If you're a fan of Dunsany, Karloff, or radio/tv thrillers, give it a try:

--John R.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Vincent Price reads 'Chu-bu & Sheemish'

So, back in the early eighties Vincent Price put his memorable voice to good use and recorded four Dunsany stories for Caedmon Records, including two of Lord D's very best: CHU-BU & SHEEMISH and THE HOARD OF THE GIBBELINS, both from THE BOOK OF WONDER (1912).*

I knew this, and have long prized a now-worn cassette I made years ago of this long out-of-print material. Eventually I managed to find a copy of the album, worthwhile in itself for the extensive liner notes by L. Sprague de Camp recapping Dunsany's career and importance.**

But I did not know that more recently yet someone put one of the Dunsany/Price stories up on You-Tube (thanks to JC for the link). If you've never read this, and are curious about what seems to have been Tolkien's favorite Dunsany story, give it a try:

--John R.
--current reading: FANTASIES OF TIME AND DEATH: DUNSANY, EDDISON, TOLKIEN (Vaniniskya 2020)

*the other two stories, both drawn from the Jorkens series, are of less interest as stories, being overly repetitive, but Price does a good job on them as well.

**one of these days I'll find a copy of THE KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER concept album as well to supplement my cat-scratched copy of that odd but endearing effort.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Jim Holloway dies

So, I was sorry to hear today of the passing of TSR artist Jim Holloway.

Our time at TSR didn't overlap,* but he's one of the artists whose work I was familiar with as a gamer for its appearance in so many of the early D&D/AD&D modules, like Tom Moldvay's X2. CASTLE AMBER. A legendary figure, one of the Giants in the Earth, as it were, he came into his own after he left TSR and became the artist for PARANOIA, a perfect matching of artist and game.

I did get the chance to work with him once, when I edited Jeff Grubb's MARK OF AMBER boxed set (1995), and asked the art director if we cd use Holloway as our freelance artist. The result skewed sillier that I'd hoped but I was still glad to have had the chance to work with him on a project.

Oddly enough I'd been thinking about him last night when I dug out my old copy of CHATEAU d'AMBERVILLE to review its Clark Ashton Smith content; looking it over has got me thinking of running it as a solo game on weeks when my unusual gaming groups can't get together.

--John R.

* he'd been there the early eighties whereas I didn't sign on until a decade later

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Gygax Memorial

So, a few years back there was a campaign to build a Gary Gygax memorial statue in his home town of Lake Geneva. I think I even blogged about it at the time; I certainly tried to buy a copy of the memorial booklet intended to help fund the project, a collection of E.G.G.'s posts in a gaming forum, called CHEERS, GARY.

What with one thing and another, despite raising over two hundred thousand dollars the effort seems to have petered out. But I was reminded of the attempt when I recently came across a profile piece of Gail Gygax, E.E.G.'s widow,* which includes a nice photo of the intended site, as well as concept art of what the monument would have  looked like.

The good news is that while there is no memorial statue, nor likely to be one, there is The Gygax Brick:** an oversized flat brick depicting a dragon perched atop a twenty-sided die, with the words

 “In Loving Memory of 
E. Gary Gygax,

 Creator of Dungeons & Dragons, 
Donated by 
His Family, Friends and Fans.”

--John R.
--current reading: Clark Ashton Smith's poetry

P.S.: If anybody knows where I might borrow or buy a copy of that memorial volume, let me know: the first printing sold out before I cd get one and the promised reprint seems never to have occcurred.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The fairy word for water

So, the day before yesterday I found out quite by chance when looking up something else* that according to the 12th century chronicler Gerald of Wales, the fairy's word for water was ydor and that for salt was halgein. He knew this because he'd talked to a man who in his youth had found the way into the land of the fairies. This young Elidyr had become friends with the fairies, until at his mother's urging he had stolen a golden ball, whereupon the fairies hid the entrance to their land so that he cd never find it again.

What interests me most about this story, other than the detail of two words in fairy-language,** is Gerald's investigative method. Rather than just rely on a rumor, he actually sought out Father Elidurus, who had been known as Elidyr in his youth, and got the story first-hand from him. So our researcher did his due diligence but it still produced what we may call a false positive.

--John R.
current reading: between books

*the 'something else' being the current struggle between celtomania and celtoscepticism
**shades of Rhys's ond and fern

Monday, June 22, 2020


So, news is now out that there's a new book of J.R.R.T. material due out next year (May 27th 2021).  Edited by Tolkien linguist Carl Hostetter, it's called THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, and its four hundred pages gather together many of the short essays Tolkien wrote about his legendarium in the post-LotR period.

If you're like me, the day when we learn about a new Tolkien book on the way is a good day indeed.

Here's a link to a site that seems to be updating the news as more comes to light.

--John R.
--current reading: essays in Celtoscepticism

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Ian Holm Dies

So, I was sorry to hear of the passing of Sir Ian Holm, at the age of eighty-eight; full of years, as they used to say. I know him mainly through his work on Tolkien, which I have a high regard for. I was pleased to see that the NEW YORK TIMES obituary gave equal attention in their headline to his performances as King Lear and as Bilbo Baggins. His well-regarded performance as Frodo in the 1981 BBC twenty-six part radio adaptation also gets a respectful nod.

Here's the link:

--John R.

My Newest Publication, In Brazil

So, here's an unusual occurance for me. A brief piece I did on Christopher Tolkien's passing that had appeared in MYTHLORE has now been translated into Portuguese (with permission) and posted on a Brazilian website, TOLKIENISTA.

It's called  "In Memorian: O Último Inkling".

Here's the link.

--John R.
--current reading: PHENEAS SPEAKS by Arthur Conan Doyle (1927)

Friday, June 19, 2020

Interviewed for a Podcast

So, today I was interviewed for the podcast LONGWINDED ONE, a postcast that combines D&D with Tolkien. Here's the link showing that I'll be in a lot of good company:

If all goes according to plan this shd be posted on July 20th; I'll post an update then.

--John R.
--current reading: PHENEAS SPEAKS by Conan Doyle

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

quote for the day

So, here's a quote I came across that I thought I'd share.

In a 1989 interview, Robert Holdstock described American science fiction magazines of the mid-sixties as

"where ideas were combined with illiteracy"

I wdn't put it that strongly, but I think Holdstock was picking up on something I noticed when trying to get a handle on the key difference between the New Wave of the late sixties and what came before it: writers of the Gernsback and Campbell eras, whose readers judged science fiction on whether a work had a new or interesting idea and not the eloquence of the prose. Some fans even made it a point of honor to disparage writers who wrote well, like Bradbury.

Anyway, thought it was a great quote. Enjoy!

--John R.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

At the demonstration

So, today I went to the Black Lives Matter demonstration in downtown Kent, on the lawn in front of the Justice Center.

I've never been to a demonstration before. My thinking was 'if not now, when?'

I must say that it was a well-behaved group of perhaps a few hundred people with lots of signs, all variants on the same theme: this has got to stop.

The occasion marred only by the fact that due to a poor sound system it was pretty much impossible to hear anything the speaker was saying at any given point.

This was the first time since mid-March I've been out to a place where I knew there'd been a crowd. Unfortunately difficulties with the mask prevented me from being there for the whole two hours; I bailed about a third of the way through. Still I'm glad to have made it. I think it's something my father wd have done if he were here.

--John R.
--today's song: "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones (esp the line 'I went down to the demonstration')

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Book Review (Mark Doyle's UTOPIAN AND DYSTOPIAN)

So, my latest publication is now out, a book review for THE JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH (Volume 9 issue 2).

The book in question is Mark Doyle's UTOPIAN AND DYSTOPIAN THEMES IN TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM (Lexington Books, 2020). In a nutshell, Doyle discusses the utopian/dystopian tradition, suggesting possible sources (Medieval, Victorian, Modern) for Tolkien's use thereof, as expressed through environmentalism, mythology, and politics. I didn't cover it in the review, but he ends with a Coda that looks at moral drift in 21st century adaptations of Tolkien and the Tolkienesque, from the Peter Jackson films through Tolkien-based computer games to GAME OF THRONES.

Here's the announcement

and here's the review itself


--John R.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Saving Tadpoles

So, amid all the distressing news of late, here's a little story that caught my attention.

An Irish girl noticed some tadpoles in a puddle. Fearing that they'd be in a bad way if the puddle dried up, she rescued them and carried them home and put them in a tub. A few days later she went by and saw more tadpoles in the same puddle, so she rescued those too and took them home as well and put them in another tub. Fast forward a few weeks and she has by her estimation 37000 tadpoles in a little wading pool with rocks and greenery. The ones that are starting to grow legs she's been taking and releasing in local ponds and creeks within a two mile radius of her home.

Having attempted the rescue of many a tadpole back in the day, my sympathies are entirely with this frog-rescuer, who I hope has started what may turn into a career of taking care of a lot of overlooked small animals among our midsts.

Here's a link:

--John R.
--current reading: ANCIENT ECHOES by Rbt Holdstock

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Watching plays

So, one of the few positive side effects of the quarantine crisis is that The National Theatre, The Globe, and other companies that specialize in live theater have been broadcasting filmed versions of some really good plays, most of which I'd not otherwise get to see:

Lloyd Webber
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
Jesus Christ Superstar
Phantom of the Opera
'Love Never Dies'
greatest hits concert

Twelfth Night
Anthony and Cleopatra
The Tempest

A Man with Two Governors
Jane Eyre
Treasure Island
This House 

Some of these were amazingly good (Jane Eyre, The Tempest), others bad (Love Never Dies,* Twelfth Night,** Anthony and Cleopatra,*** Treasure Island), and most interesting in some way. I'm happy to have finally gotten to see a staging of MacBeth that includes Banquo's ghost: as I hoped, it was creepy as all get out. And even though their MacBeth was twichy their Banquo, MacDuff, and (pregnant) Lady MacBeth were all v. good.

The only one I've skipped so far is A Streetcar Named Desire (Janice watched it, I took a pass).

Up next: Coriolanus, which I disliked when I read it back in grad student days; I'm hopeful it might have virtues when performed not apparent on the page.

--John R., who'e also been watching an array of less rarified entertainment, from SHIN GODZILLA to Scooby Doo, plus the usual anime.

*a misconceived sequel to PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
**a good play badly performed
***neither a good play nor performance

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

New TOLKIEN STUDIES (Voume XVII) Coming Soon

So, the contents of the forthcoming issue of TOLKIEN STUDIES (Volume XVII) have just been listed on David Bratman's blog:

I have connections with two pieces due to appear therein: a book review I did of TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER by John M. Bowers and a review of a book I edited, A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, the Verlyn Flieger festschrift.

And, as always, there's a lot here I'll want to take in when opportunity offers; I'm particularly looking forward to Wayne and Christina's piece on Christopher Tolkien.

--John R.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

WATERSHIP DOWN in the news

So, thanks to Janice K. and Douglas A. for pointing me at the story about the just-concluded lawsuit between the Richard Adams estate and the filmmaker of the 1978 animated film, Martin Rosen. The estate charged, and the court agreed, that the filmmaker had engaged in a lot of unauthorized licensing, such as an audiobook, as well as keeping the estate's share of royalties from the 2018 remake.

For those who have been following the story of the dispute between the Tolkien Estate and Saul Zaentz and his successors over the years, this may sound eerily similar:

It will be interesting to see what, having regained control over a book that ranks as one of the greatest of all fantasy novels (arguably second only to Tolkien), the Adams estate does with it.

--John R
--current reading: the Preiddeu Annwn

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)