Thursday, December 31, 2020

Is This Barima Opong-Owusu?

So, here's another puzzle from the old TSR in-house newsletter RANDOM EVENTS, this time from the March 1982 issue. The lead article for this one is a first-hand account of what it's like to live through a coup. While the credit is in an odd place, the author seems to be Barima Opong-Owusu of Ghana. I assume Opong-Owusus was a TSR employee at the time,* or else he probably wdn't have been contributing to the employee newsletter. But what role he played in the company I have no idea. Not, I suspect, in the R&D/rpg department, or else I'd have expected to have come across the name at some point, even though it was long before my time.

What surprises me most, given how lily-white a company TSR as I knew it was, that a decade earlier there had been not one but two people of color on staff.

--John R.

*this is suggested by his statement that he wrote up the piece at the request of Jeff Perren

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Who Was Kwesi Nduom?

So, here's a query for those who remember TSR's Lake Geneva days:

Who was Kwesi Nduom? 

All I know is that (1) he was from Ghana and (2) he worked for TSR in 1982.

Is this the same Paa Kwesi Nduom who ran for president of Ghana in 2008?

--John R.

Random Events (old TSR newsletter)

 So, in a discussion Monday night we were talking about the timing of release of various early (mid-seventies) rpgs --that is, the sequence of events of which specific game or game product came out. The RPG Timeline on Wikipedia was surprisingly helpful but of course incomplete.  

In the course of the discussion I was reminded of something from the early eighties--after the period we were discussing but still before my time: the TSR staff newsletter, RANDOM EVENTS

 I had recently unearthed my file of an incomplete but substantial run that I have courtesy of Brian Thaldorp, who presided over the Mail Order Hobby Shop (located between the main part of the TSR building and the warehouse). I don't think Brian gets mentioned much in histories of TSR, but he went way back and was happy to reminisce sometimes about personalities from the past. And at one point, since I was (and am) interested in things like that, he loaned me the Hobby Shop's run of this interesting bit of ephemera, which I photocopied before returning the originals to him; it's this set of photocopies I've relocated.

This particular issue is fairly typical. Only four pages long, it features an account of the recent TSR picnic, as well as some gossip about names expectant TSR parents had picked out for their news sons and daughters. 

Inside is a two-page spread giving the current Org chart (unfortunately without giving the names of the people who filled all those little boxes).

The last page lists local and area businesses who offer a discount to TSR staff.

Like any newsletter, RANDOM EVENTS was hungry for copy, and so far as contributors went the barrier for entry is disarmingly low:

"If you can put a subject and a verb between a capital and a period, 

Random Events wants to hear from you"

--John R.

--current reading: ADVENTURES OF M. DE MAILLY by David Lindsay, TAM LIN by Pamela Dean, and THE WORLD OF CRITICAL ROLE: THE HISTORY BEHIND THE EPIC FANTASY by Liz Marsham

--today's music: THE ARCHIES GREATEST HITS, the most Mr. Bubbly of all bubblegum rock.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Peter Max's Paper Airplane Book

So, years ago my cousin Sam and I discovered the work of Peter Max. He's best known for his work on the Beatles' YELLOW SUBMARINE, but what we liked best was his iconic PETER MAX's PAPER AIRPLANE BOOK. I have vague memories of buying this little book at the Quick-Sack, our local 7/11, probably not too long after it came out in 1971. 

The fun thing about this book was that each page is a paper airplane. You're supposed to pull out the page, fold it as shown, and voila! Paper airplane. There probably aren't too many intact copies, since it was made to be perishable, but I came across one this Christmas and sent it along to my cousin in memory of days gone by.

--John R. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

39% (D&D's Best Year Ever)

 So, one of the most unexpected but welcome bits of news I came across at the end of this year came in a piece about how well D&D is doing. The game is not just surviving but thriving --in fact so much so that Hasbro announced that 2019, the most recent year for which they have a complete record, was D&D's best year ever:

What started as an odd hobby that scared televangelists and censor-ready scapegoaters grew into something as accepted as having a poker night or weekly bowling: all it took is for the kids who loved the game to grow into adults.*

The best news within this good news comes in one of the pie-charts embedded in the article. The first breaks down D&D gamers by age group:

ages 8 to 12: 12%

ages 13 to 17: 13%

ages 18 to 24: 15%

ages 25 to 29: 15%

ages 30 to 34: 19%

ages 35 to 39: 15%

ages 40 to 45: 11%

--although I must note dismay at finding I'm too old to even rank an age category like "and up".

It wd be interesting to compare these percentages with the results of that old DRAGON magazine survey back in the early/mid nineties.

The second comes in the second chart, which breaks down gamers by gender:

male: 61%

female: 39%

 other: 1%

--there have always been women who played the game, but their numbers were few in the early days. Even in the nineties I'd estimate it at about 15%. It's been a long time coming, but for that number to now be hovering around 40% shows that, while slow, real progress can come over time.

--John R.

reading: 'The Search for the Gnome Cache' by Garrison Ernst (Gary Gygax)

music: listening to George Harrison's 'What Is Life'; saw the video for the first time tonight.

*Barnes & Noble weekly newsletter of December 20th 2020 features as its lead item an e-book about the livestreaming group CRITICAL ROLE:

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The D&D Movie

 So, there was a time when fans spoke of good, bad, and Sci-Fi channel bad. 

And within our own niche of fantasy and science fiction there was good, bad, and D&D movie bad.*

But now the powers that be are thinking of giving the whole D&D thing another try:

I admit I shuddered a bit at the reference that the story would  

"take a subversive approach to the game".

This cd mean a witty, ironic take on a typical party of PCs on a typical adventure. Making a mock, as it were. Laughing with us, not at us.

Or it cd mean throwing together a stream of random jokes and pratfalls, with no clue what makes this strange game so appealing to so many.  Laughing at us, rather than with us.

We shd soon know: filming is supposed to take place in the first quarter of 2021. Which wd start a little over a week from now.

I admit I'm curious over one detail: the choice of Belfast as the place to film this. Too modern a city, I wd have thought: not medieval enough.

--John R.

*The writer of the Guardian article puts it well when he sums up the earlier efforts with  "some of you may recall in regret the awful Jeremy Irons movie from 2000, with its two lamentable sequels".

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Note on d'Ambervilles

So, in X2. CASTLE AMBER Tom Moldvay includes a brief note on the relationship between this adventure and Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne stories that, while true, has proved slightly misleading:

Note: The Amber family is not one of Clark Ashton Smith's

creations and does not appear in any Averoigne stories. Their

origin has been traced to Averoigne to aid the continuity of the

module and to ease transition in and out of Averoigne in the course

of the adventure

[p.3, last full paragraph in column one]

It's true that the Amberville line is Moldvay's addition, but the name is one of C.A.S.'s devising, bestowed by him on Francis Amberville, a painter who is the hapless protagonist of "Genius Loci", a modern day story published in 1933 in WEIRD TALES.*

So the name is authentically Smith's, while the family is Moldvay's.


*and later title story for Smith's 1948 Arkham House collection GENIUS LOCI and other tales.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

X2. CASTLE AMBER Revisited

 So, for my birthday this year I got myself a copy of the new Goodman Games edition of X2. CASTLE AMBER (Chateau d'Ambreville). This 270 page hardcover reprints in facsimile the famed Moldvay adventure from 1981 (all thirty-two pages of it), then adapts it to 5th edition rules. I'm glad to see a classic return in a form likely to appeal to the current generation of gamers. And it was nice to get a little call-out for my work on the 1995 remake, MARK OF AMBER. Michael Curtis, the adaptor, ends his Author's Introduction with a paragraph praising the late great Tom Moldvay, then follows with another that reads 

"I'd also like to express my thanks to Aaron Allston, Jeff Grubb, and John D. Rateliff, whose Mark of Amber adventure proved inspirational when expanding upon the original Castle Amber. You three had already ventured where I intended to tread and blazing the trail made it easier for me to follow in your wake."

I see that they've also released an update of B1/B2 and am curious whether it draws any upon my work in RETURN TO THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS. I suspect not. It'd be nice if someone finally went in after all these years and keyed B1.  

In any case, it's nice to sit down and immerse myself in the enjoyable combination of Smith (source material) and Moldvay (creating an adventure from said material).


--current reading; THE BOOK OF ANDRE NORTON (collection of short stories)

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Cat Report (W.12/11-20) --Yellow Kittens

 I missed the message about little Gibbs’ adoption, which gave me an anxious moment at one point when I was trying to add up all the cats scattered around the room and coming up one kitten short. Luckily all was well.

The Yellow Kittens definitely dominate the room. Their mother (ZOLA) seemed overwhelmed by their energy so I gave her the big cage to herself. The three kittens share a four-cage stretch all along the bottom row. 

The two quiet cats, Mr. William and Manicotti, didn’t come out but loved having attention inside their cages. WILLIAM just melts when you pet him, rubbing this face against yours and purring up a storm. MANICOTTI is a little more reserved but shd warm up as he gets used to the room. ZOLA, who's a tiny thing herself (only a year or so old) also loves attention but can’t compete with the kittens when it comes to games, withdrawing from their boisterousness.

The kittens are adorable. They don’t like being petted and are alarmed at the idea of being picked up, but they’re well-socialized and don’t swat or nip. They love games and play them with whole-hearted enthusiasm as only kittens can. One of the kitten took his favorite toy (the bug on a string on a stick) and dragged it off to his lair (wherever that lair was at the time. They all loved the laser pointer and the string game, but bug-on-a-string-on-a-stick was by far their favorite. And it was good to see them get more accepting of some petting just within a single shift; shdn’t be long before they’re fine with it.

Mr. William, by the way, was very happy with the string game, but you have to keep an eye on him and see that he doesn’t try to eat the string, which wd do him a world of no good inside.  He’s really too big for the cage set-up we have him in now (when he stands up the little karenda (sp?) in his cage gets lifted off the cage floor). I offered him a cat-boat bed instead but he seemed to prefer the original set-up, so I defaulted back to that in the end.

I wdn’t be surprised if this whole lot of cats don’t find new homes within a week. Glad that I had a chance to meet them.

—John R.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

David Lindsay (Edinburgh Event)

So, I spent my birthday attending an online conference hosted by the University of Edinburgh, celebrating the work of David Lindsay on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the publication of his best-known book, A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS. 

There were papers and presentations on ARCTURUS, on his lesser known works, and on film and instrumental adaptations (I liked the piano/cello piece). The talk I got the most out of was Doug Anderson's, full of information cogently presented. And it was nice to see the tribute to J. B. Pick, who more or less invented Lindsay criticism. There was also a thoughtful inquiry into why Lindsay is increasingly being categorized as a Scottish writer rather than English. All in all, the standard of presentations was good. One or two pieces seemed to me to fall short of the mark, but to be fair this might have been fuzziness on my part due to time-zone issues.*

Those issues were the inevitable result of my attending (via zoom) an event that was taking place eight time zones away. Thus I had to get up at four a.m. to be ready for the event's start at 1 pm their time (five a.m. my time). Then it ran all the way to six p.m. their time (ten a.m. my time). Luckily I had a thermos full of tea (Yunnan) to see me through.

There were I think about twenty-five people in attendance -- not bad, considering that Lindsay has never been a popular author, being somewhat of an acquired taste. Here's a list of the papers, presenters, and sequence: 


A Voyage to Arcturus and Beyond: David Lindsay’s Visionary Imagination: Wed December 9, 2020




1pm: Introduction: Seán Martin, Louise Milne, Steven Sutcliffe

Session One, 1.10-2.20pm: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) One Hundred Years Later

Chair: Seán Martin


Talk 1/1.10-1.30: Dr J D McClure – ‘Arcturus and After’


Talk 2/1.30-1.50: Dr Louise Milne – ‘Early Twentieth Century Dream Cultures as context for Arcturus


Talk 3/1.50-2.10: Murray Ewing – The Cultural Influence of A Voyage to Arcturus’


2.10-2.20: Questions

Session Two, 2.20-3.30pm: After Arcturus: From The Haunted Woman to The Witch

Chair: Louise Milne


Talk 4/2.20-2.40:  Dr Steven Sutcliffe – ‘The Struggle to Remember in The Haunted Woman and The Violet Apple


Talk 5/2.40-3.00: Dr Andrew Radford – Devil's Tor: Going After Strange Gods’


Talk 6/3.00-3.20: Dr John Herdman - The Witch: David Lindsay's Quest of the Absolute.’


3.20-3.30: Questions


3.30-3.45: Tea/coffee break


Session Three, 3.45-5.15pm: Genre and Media

Chair: Steven Sutcliffe


Talk 7/3.45-4.05: Jan Pick – John Barclay Pick: Keeper of the Flame’


Talk 8/4.05-4.25: Douglas A. Anderson - ‘David Lindsay and the Fantasy Genre’


Talk 9/4.25-4.45: David Power – David Lindsay and Music'


Talk 10/4.45-5.05: Seán Martin – ‘Representing the Unrepresentable: Reflections on Filming David Lindsay’s Sublime’.


5.05-5.15: Questions


Respondant to the Talks 5.15-5.30

Chair: Steven Sutcliffe


Prof Christine Ferguson – ‘David Lindsay and 20th Visionary Fiction’ 

5.30 – 6.00: Questions and Discussion: Chair: Seán Martin

Unlike the Lindsay event a few weeks ago in Glasgow, this one was a paid event and will not be going up on You-Tube, or so I understand. There was mention of a published volume, which wd be a good thing.

--John R.

*I do have to confess my surprise when one comment in the general discussion that followed the event proper suggested that Lindsay's VIOLET APPLE inspired the apple scene in C. S. Lewis's THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW. Not likely, I shd have thought, seeing that Lewis never saw Lindsay's book nor knew of its existence (it was published in 1976, some thirty years after Lindsay's death and a dozen years after Lewis died). I was also dubious of a thread raised in the closing discussion asserting that Lindsay must have taken psychotropic drugs in order to imagine the things that he wrote about, for which there seems to be no evidence whatever.



Monday, December 7, 2020

In Praise of Walter Hooper

So, today came the sad news that Walter Hooper, for many years the literary editor of the C. S. Lewis estate, has died. 

He led a good long life  --he was just a little shy of ninety-- and was one of those people whose work is also their advocation. 

No other single person had a greater effect on Lewis's posthumous publications, many of which Hooper edited. 

His passing marks a milestone, another loss in a year of losses. 

Here's a little poem I wrote in his honor several years back (2008) when he was given an lifetime achievement award by the Wade Center:

How pleasant to meet Walter Hooper

Whose editing work has been super

-lative. Eight thousand pages

Of the Magdalen sage's

Thoughts on paper, now preserved for the ages.


But oh how pleasant to sit over tea

And talk of good books and of good company

He, with his "soft-spoken Southern courtesy"†

And I, with ears wide open.



†the phrase is Tolkien's


Saturday, December 5, 2020

BBC Lovecraft

So, thanks to Andrew Higgins for sharing the news that BBC Radio Four has been broadcasting adaptations of stories by H. P. Lovecraft.

They've adapted three stories so far under the general rubic 'The Lovecraft Investigation', each composed of eight to ten episodes:

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (November 2018, ten episodes)

The Whisperer in Darkness (November 2019, nine episodes)

The Shadow Over Innsmouth (November 2020, eight episodes, plus three bonus episodes)

 The set-up, from what I've listened to so far, is that our two main characters (editor Matthew Heawood and reporter Kennedy Fisher) investigate mysteries with sinister occult overtones. Their podcast, dubbed 'Mystery Machine', is made up of phone messages, audiotaped interviews, and bits of found footage. Purists shd note that the radio program freely adapts Lovecraft's stories, as well as recasting them into the modern era. Thus when Kennedy, one of our two heroes, goes looking for the site where the sinister Dr. Allen had carried out his experiments she finds not the ancestral Curwen Home but a derelict trailer park.

So far I've been enjoying these and I'm looking forward to hearing the rest. I'm curious what the next story adapted will be -- The Dunwich Horror, perhaps?

--John R.

--current reading: RIDERS ON PEGASUS (long poem, by Owen Barfield).

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Northmoor Road Project

 So, just as C. S. Lewis's home, The Kilns, has in recent years been turned into a residential hall and study center devoted to preserving the Lewis brothers' legacy, now it's Tolkien's turn:

The idea of Tolkien's house being preserved is encouraging. And who wdn't want to have the opportunity to attend "a programme of retreats, writing seminars and other cultural events", either onsite or online?

The fear of course is that they'll go too cutesy, of which there are some hints in the initial announcement  (e.g. build yr own hobbit-hole in the garden). Though Tolkien himself might approve of the garden (yard) being restored (though it looks quite nice as is from the glimpses offered in the various views accompanying the online stories).

programme of retreats, writing seminars and other cultural events,

I was a little surprised that of the dozen people who show up in the promo film embedded in the link above I recognized only five: McKellan, Rhys-Davies, Freeman, Jacobi, and Lennox. The other seven I don't know, though the last of them seems to be children's author Julia Golding, who seems to be the driving force behind the project.

Also, I don't do much crowdsourcing (just the occasional Kickstarter), but isn't it unusual for a crowdsourcing project that doesn't make its goal to just keep what money they do raise?

Thanks to Janice for the link.

--John R.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Barfield Event

So, today Signum University hosted a 75 minute event celebrating the publication of a new collection of plays and long poems by Owen Barfield. The presenters include Barfield's grandson (whom I'd corresponded with but not met), who gave a fairly detailed outline of his grandfather's thought; Leslie A. Taylor and Jefferey H. Taylor, co-editors of the new book; David Blakeley, the book's publisher; and moderator Gabriel Schenk. 

The whole presentation is now up on You-Tube:

While the presentation seemed to me a bit unfocused I enjoyed it --there aren't many Barfield scholars out there and it's always interesting to find out what they've been working on.  Unfortunately, no doubt due to time constraints they discussed only the title piece.

The full contents of the book are three long poems (THE TOWER, THE UNICORN, and RIDERS ON PEGASUS) and four plays, three of them forming a trilogy called ANGELS AT BAY and the fourth a standalone piece called MEDEA. 

THE TOWER is a metaphoric one, neither the Dark Tower of Lewis's unfinished novel nor Tolkien's allegorical tower built of old stone. An ambitious undertaking on Barfield's part (originally written circa 1922, rewritten circa 1926-27), part autobiography I suspect and part his personal analogue to Wordsworth's THE PRELUDE. Unfortunately I don't think it fully came off. Of the two other long poems collected here,  I've read one: RIDERS ON PEGASUS, although the version I read was called THE MOTHER OF PEGASUS.* The other, THE UNICORN, is altogether unknown to me. On the whole I think Barfield's plays are better than his poems; he's better at dialogue than verse. ANGELS AT BAY I got to read years ago, thanks to the Wade Collection's Chris Mitchell, and quite liked. MEDEA Is the one I've been waiting for -- we've known for years that it was read to the Inklings back in 1944 (see LETTERS OF JRRT, p. 103) -- so I'm really looking forward to reading this one.**

So, it's rare that we get new never-before-published Barfield. To get such a substantial (over three hundred pages) collection is a boon to Barfield fans and shd interest those interested in the Inklings beyond just Lewis and Tolkien as well.

And now to read . . . 

--John R.

current reading: THE TOWER by Owen Barfield, ADRIFT ON THE HAUNTED SEAS by Wm Hope Hodgson, ed. Douglas A. Anderson.

*A bound photocopy of this book used to be on the available-for-checkout shelves of the Wheaton College Library; I suspect it had been created to be used in a class by Clyde Kilby. At any rate, when I discovered this I checked it out and photocopied the whole thing page by page, then spiral bound the results into a booklet that has been on my Barfield shelf ever since.

**For some reason the editors date this work to the 1970s

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Richard West, R. I. P.

 One of my oldest and closest friends died today from the covid virus. 

A modest and kindly man, I don't think Richard ever realized that he was one of the best of the best of Tolkien scholars.

I will miss him terribly.

Rest in peace.

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Cat Report (Fr. 11/27-20)

Here's a quick update on our current crop of cats.

POPPY SEED and CHIA CAT, the bonded pair of half-grown kittens, are still with us. They’ve overcome most of their shyness and come out right away to make the place their own, playing every kind of game offered to them. POPPY SEED (the black one) loves to get his teeth in a toy and then drag it off to his lair. CHIA loves being petted almost as much as she enjoys playing with her sister. Both come and go in and out of Maya’s place without a second though.

The three new kittens (WALLY, GUS GUS, and FIONA) follow the recent pattern of arriving and being adopted within a day or two, so they were already gone off to their new homes. 

Mother cat MAYA (who’s only a year old herself) is adjusting to being on her own. She’s shy about coming out but loves being petted in her cage. It helps that she has the great big cage which offers lots of shelves to look out in several directions. She let me pick her up and carry her out of her cage but always went back in again when opportunity presented itself. Ninety minutes into my shift she came out to explore on her own and thoroughly checked out the inner room. She poked her head into the outer room a few times but declined to venture into the kitten-playing zone.

Nobody was up for a walk, but everyone got attention and a chance to stretch like only kittens and young cats can do and show off their pouncing.

—John R.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020


So, I've been reading (or more accurately re-reading) a number of books by  David Lindsay, whose first and most famous book, A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, celebrates its centenary this year. And I was struck by something I had previously passed over without its drawing my attention: a striking parallel between  Lindsay's book and Lewis's THE DARK TOWER. Lewis openly confessed his debt to Lindsay, particularly to OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, but I don't think I've seen anyone extend the influence to include the final, unfinished fourth book of the Ransom series. 

I'm all tied up with other projects right now, but if I were going to write this up I'd focus on one of the most striking things in A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS. Lindsay's work is famous for the way his protagonist grows new organs and appendages once he enters the alien world, the first of which is a breve, described as "something hard on his forehead . . . a fleshy protuberance, the size of a small plum, having a cavity in the middle, of which he could not feel the bottom" (VtA.44) 

This is strongly paralleled by what happens to Lewis's hero:  when Scudamour jumps through the chronoscope, switches places with his double, and arrives in the Otherworld, he acquires a sting growing out of his forehead: "It was broad at the base and narrowed quickly to its point, so that its total shape was rather like that of a thorn on a rose-branch . . . It was hard and horny, but not like bone . . . and . . . [d]ripping with poison" (DT.33). But where Maskull's breve granted him telepathy, The Stingerman's sting converts those he attacks with it into automatons. 

In addition to this major point of the appearance of otherworldly organs on the forehead, three other paralleled elements between Lewis's unfinished work and Lindsay's odd masterpiece might be worth exploring.

First,  the seance that opens Lindsay's book, along with the materialization of a being from the other world into our own, parallels the projection of images from another world that opens Lewis's. MacPhee even has an exchange with Orfieu about the validity or otherwise of psychical research.  

Second, there's the image of the Tower that so dominates Lewis's story, while a similar tower frames Lindsay's work, appearing first as the Observatory early in the book, then reappearing as Krag's tower at the story's climax, containing the long sought for route into the true world, Muspel. 

Third, it might be worthwhile to do something with the theme of doubles: Maskull and Nightspore in Lindsay's book (so that one cannot appear until the other is gone) and Scudamour/the Stingerman in Lewis's.

As I said, I'm too absorbed in something else to write this up and develop the argument. And besides, I've already had my say about THE DARK TOWER in my essay on the interrelations between Lewis's Ransom books, esp the first and fourth one) and Tolkien's two time travel stories.* And I've also already said pretty much what I had to say about A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.**

On the other hand, if anybody has explored / developed the DARK TOWER / VOYAGE  TO ARCTURUS parallels and I just missed teir piece,*** I'd be happy if someone points me to it.

--John R.

*this appeared in TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM, an unofficial festschrift for Christopher Tolkien (2000)

**in my online monthly column CLASSICS OF FANTASY: Lindsay's strange masterpiece was the focus of the sixth essay (January 2003). It's no longer up on the Wizard's site but can still be found online with a bit of internet searching

***I think I've read all the scholarship on DARK TOWER, but you never know

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

William Hope Hodgson: The RPG

So, here's something I had on Kickstarter which has now arrived: the new rpg based on the Sargasso Sea stories of Wm Hope Hodgson. Called GREY SEAS ARE DREAMING MY DEATH, it draws on such classics as "The Voice in the Night" and "The Derelict" to craft a horror-at-sea game. I've now skimmed this but haven't looked at it in detail because (a) I definitely want to play this but (b) one of the other people in my gaming group may opt to run it,* (c) in which case I wdn't want to know any spoilers. But (d) I may wind up running it if no one else wants to be Captain (i.e., DM).

It looks like one of those games with a v. narrow focus, which is what you want in a specialty themed rpg such as this one. I hope they've captured the theme of doomed pluck that is so distinctively Hodgsonian, while at the same time introducing some more readers and gamers to one of the greats (and one of the most overlooked of authors of his era who deserve to be called great).

It staggers me that forty-plus years on from D&D there's still no rpg based on Hodgson's masterpiece, THE NIGHT LAND.** They've borrowed a few monsters Hodgson's other works (HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, the end-of-time NIGHT LAND); a closer look shd tell whether they've successfully integrated this into their late nineteenth/early twentieth century sea setting. One way or the other I'm looking forward to finding out.

--John R.

*This is made all the more probable when I found out tonight that three of the seven people in our Monday night game backed the Kickstarter.

**I initially thought DARK SUN wd be that world but was sadly disappointed to discover it was an uberConan setting instead. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Modernism and the Kitten

So, a while back Janice shared the clip below with me, and I thought it encapsulated what T. S. Eliot was trying to say in the final section of THE HOLLLOW MEN (1925):

Between the idea 

And the reality

Between the motion 

And the act

Falls the Shadow


Sunday, November 22, 2020

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

 So, I had kind of tuned out news about the Tolkien tv series currently in the works, feeling detached from the project once I realized that I was not their target audience (as opposed to the Peter Jackson movies, which I followed closely from v. early on). Which is why I initially missed the announcement that the people working on the Amazon project are looking to hire extras "comfortable with nudity".*  And that they have hired an 'Intimacy Coordinator' to oversee sex-scenes to make sure actors and actresses appearing in them are treated respectfully.

Nude extras is one thing -- say for example a shot of the elves awakening at Cuivienen (I doubt if they were created fully clothed). Hiring an Intimacy Coordinator sends a different kind of message: that this series will be less Peter Jackson and more Game of Thrones. That's not surprising, but it is disappointing.

For a rumination on the issue of nudity in the new series, see the following post from

--John R.

--current reading: LINDBURGH by Scott Berg, a light novel, and David Lindsay's THE WITCH

*BEYOND BREE, Nov. 2020 issue, page 10

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The New Tolkien

So, it's now been officially announced that the next book by Tolkien (that is, the next book of new material by JRRT) will be out in June:

THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, edited by Carl Hostetter (co-editor of TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM).

 The write-up on Amazon doesn't have much information yet, other than that the book is 400 pages and the official release date June 1st.

I gather that this book draws from the period when Tolkien had largely abandoned  or set aside work on his various narratives and was shifting more and more into world-building.  Or to put it another way, rather than a grand narrative here we'll be seeing Tolkien's attempt to set down as much as he cd about Middle-earth. 

I suspect it'll feel rather like LETTERS, where he addressed so many queries from his readers. For those of us who came along too late to write to the Professor and pose questions ourselves, this book just might contain the answers to things we've always wanted to know. 

In short, not a book for the casual fan, but it promises to be full of good things for those of us who want to know all we can about Tolkien's subcreated world. Congratulations to Carl for bringing all this disparate material together. 

I've already pre-ordered my copy.

--John R.

P.S.: Here's the announcement of the news in THE GUARDIAN:

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Roomful of Kittens

 Every cat from last week having been adopted, we started over with a whole new set of cats again yesterday.

Twelve new cats were due to arrive, one of whom had a change of plans along the way to go get fixed. So eleven cats actually reached us, all kittens (most four months old, one litter only three monts old).

Three kittens got adopted already, Pepper and George and I think Saffron, meaning that eight cats (four pairs) were ready to greet me when I arrived at noon today.

All were reluctant to come out, so I petted the various kittens in their cages as much as they’d let me, starting with Poppy,  and left all the cage doors open.  I also let them sniff some catnip sachets and spritzed catnip spray on some of the toys. They didn’t react to catnip as strongly as adult cats usually do, but they were definitely interested. I’d  brought some catnip bubbles, only to realize I cdn’t use them through the mask. 
I got various toys out, which attracted a lot of attention from eight sets of sharp eyes and alert ears.  After that they started coming out one by one. First was PAPRIKA (the orange cat in the big cage) and POPPY SEED (his grey & white partner). Then I lifted out the two adorable puffs of fluff OLIVE OYL and COOKIE DOUGH, the smallest of all our current kittens. They were reluctant at first but quickly got absorbed in all kinds of games, even joining in the bigger kittens’ pouncing games. It took longer, but eventually the all-black and the brown tabby pair (CHIA and SESAME, I think) came out in their own good time and started exploring, though they still avoided petting for the most part. The Presidents (Mr. LINCOLN and THOMAS), the two mostly black tuxedo cat, were the shyest of them all. I finally got Lincoln to let me pet him and got a string game going that drew in Thomas as well. It took most of the two hours checking on them every few minutes, but in the end they both let me pick them up and hold/pet them a little, welcoming petting by the end of the shift. 

It was hard to get Poppy back in the cage at the end of shift (he hid under the cat-stand and went all-limp when I reached in to drag him out. He seemed fine again once back in the cage. The kittens all curled up in pairs of twos and were all sleeping by the time I left.

Health note: one of the little fluff-puffs (Oyl I think) had a little crust in the corners of his eyes. Think I got most of it out, but he didn’t enjoy it.

Also: one of The Presidents (Thomas I think) has a distinctive kink in his tail, about a ninety degree angle. Doesn’t seem to bother him in the least.

Lots of people enjoyed watching the kittens through the windows. I wdn’t be surprised if some of them come back as potential adopters —because who can resist kittens? One woman asked about volunteering and took one of the flyers.

Here’s hoping the mooted adoptions in the works this weekend come through. It’d be nice for these little cats to be having their first smell and taste of turkey in new homes soon.

—John R.

UPDATE, Saturday night 10pm: just learned that five of the eight kittens have now been adopted. Only three to go. --JDR

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Lindsay Event (Glasgow)

So, today was the long-awaited Centenary Seminar in honor of David Lindsay's A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS (1920). The timing wasn't too bad for an overseas event eight time zones away: 6pm Greenwich time and 10 am out here in the Pacific Northwest.

Dimitra Fimi was host and moderator and did a good job setting things up and then moderating the Q&A at the end. 

Of the three speakers, independent scholar Doug Anderson gave a fact-filled overview of Lindsay's life and writing career --a good thing to have if you're new to Lindsay and for those who know some  helpful for clearing up various mistakes in previous accounts. My favorite new fact I learned: J. R. R. Tolkien owned three copies of A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS: one of the 1920 original, one of the 1946 reprint just after Lindsay's death, and one from the 1963 edition that more or less marked  the point at which Lindsay's work came to be more widely known.

Novelist Nina Allan, whose THE RIFT contains some Arcturan echoes, discussed Lindsay's legacy to his fellow science fiction writers. I think my major takeaways from this was inherent in the realization of this being the centenary, that VtA came out at a mid-point between the early days of Verne/Wells and the classic era of science fiction in the 1930s.

Finally Professor Rbt Davis compared Lindsay's work with various theological thinkers and schools of thought, particularly Gnosticism. He quoted a v. interesting passage from a letter he'd received from Philip Pullman regarding both what Pullman sees as Gnostic affinities in his work (the evil imposter-god) and his greatest departure therefrom (Pullman's celebration of the natural world as good, not evil).

Quite a lot of interesting material within a short space, well worth watching.

For those who cdn't make the live event, they've put footage of the presentations up on YouTube:

--John R.


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Unfinished Books

So, being a Tolkien scholar, I'm professionally interested in unfinished books. THE SILMARILLION is not the end-all and be-all of Tolkien's literary achievement, and Tolkien wd still have, and deserve, a major literary reputation even had the SILMARILLION never been published, or indeed failed to survive. But we're fortunate to have it.

Even more fortunately we have both THE SILMARILLION as editorially assembled by Christopher Tolkien (1977) as well as the many constitute parts he presented in chronological sequence between 1980 and 2018. And this enables us to witness Tolkien's struggle to find the right form and format to present his mythology, and to compare it to the similar woes of other authors immeshed in parallel difficulties.

Here's I'm thinking not of the kind of unfinished book like Dicken's THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD or Austen's SANDITON, where the author knew where he or she was going and simply had the misfortune to die before reaching the end. Pound's THE CANTOS may fit in this category: the poet certainly failed to provide the grand synthesis at the end that he'd promised at the beginning of the project, but it's impossible to tell whether this was due to a flaw in Pound's schema or failure due to his encroaching mental illness (or both).

I wd also set aside Poe's THE NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM or Coleridge's KUBLA KHAN, where I take the 'incompleteness' as a narrative guise assumed by the author.

Closer is Hawthorne's DOCTOR GRIMSHAWE'S SECRET, where the author flailed around, uncertain of characterization or plot, having a setting and a whiff of an idea he can never come to grips with, no matter how many times he returns to the beginning and tries again (i.e. he knew Dr. Grimshaw had a secret but had no idea what it was). By contrast  Twain's THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER shows an author who knows what he wants to say but can't find the right presentation, struggling between three radically different versions that were editorially assembled after his death, rather like Christopher's SILMARILLION. To give another example, I'm currently reading David Lindsay's THE WITCH, which its author reluctantly put aside, having written himself into a tangle he cd not get out of, that of attempting to present the ineffable in words. It's hard not to feel for an author who desperately wants to finish a work but just can't find the way.

And then there's the work which is not so much unfinished as unbegun: a sort of phantom text that exists mainly in the mind of the writer, with v. little if any of it actually set down on paper (or extant in electronic files). The most notorious example is probably Truman Capote's ANSWERED PRAYERS, excerpts from which he described in detail, consistently, over a long period, yet precious little was found among his papers at his death. To pick another example recently in the news, Harlan Ellison's THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS anthology was frequently announced as 'forthcoming' for the last forty-five years of the editor's life; promises of a posthumous edition are being met with a certain skepticism.

In contrast to works obstructed by writer's block, some works remained unfinished because the author had too much to say and cdn't apply an internal editor, like the main character in the film WONDER BOYS. I understand this was the case with Thomas Wolfe, whose novels were extracted from a wordy matrix by his editor, Max Perkins, but have not looked into that case myself. Certainly Ellison's JUNETEENTH (aka THREE DAYS BEFORE THE SHOOTING) and Foster Wallace's THE PALE KING seems to fit this pattern.

In the end I'd say we're lucky: to borrow Tolkien's analogy not only do we have the soup that is the 1977 SILMARILLION but Christopher Tolkien gave us guided tours of his kitchen for a behind-the-scenes look at how it was all put together (the History of Middle-earth et al).

And we can be grateful that JRRT didn't meet the fate of the writer's-blocked author in Clark Ashton Smith's unsettling story "The Nemesis of the Unfinished".

--John R.

--current reading: Scott Berg's LINDBERGH

P.S. On a personal note, I shd add that the eventual release of the Beach Boy's famous unrecorded album SMILE made my friend Franklin Chestnut very happy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The At Last Dangerous Visions

So, forty-five years or so ago science fiction's enfant terrible, Harlan Ellison, announced as forthcoming the third and final book in his DANGEROUS VISION series (circa 1973), a follow up on DANGEROUS VISIONS (1967) and AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS (1972), which wd sum up and encapsulate the New Wave. And then the book didn't appear. Year after year Ellison wd report on progress of the book, listing stories and authors who wd be included, and announcing a publication date (or, as it turned out, dates, one after another). 

Time passed, authors died, others withdrew their contributions, new ones were added in. So notorious did the unreleased book become that one disgruntled former contributor, Christopher Priest, wrote a chapbook THE BOOK ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER chronicling the history of the project (1987, revised & expanded 1994). Ellison kept promising the book's imminent release and offered no explanation for a delay that stretched from years to decades and ultimately for the remainder of Ellison's life, and then some.

I always assumed that Ellison had given himself a bad case of writer's block by promising that he wd write definitive essays on the contributors and include these in the book, which wd be a comprehensive state-of-the-art presentation of Science Fiction as it ought to be (i.e. New Wave). My guess when I first learned of the interminable delay was that the book wd never be published in H.E.'s lifetime but wd appear, sans essays, some six months or so after his death.

Turns out I was partly right. This last week the Ellison estate (in the unlikely avatar of J. Michael Straczynski, of BABYLON FIVE fame) announced the book will be ready next April (i.e., April of 2021, about half a year from now), or about three years since H.E.'s death. Though note that this is a start-looking-for-a-publisher date, not an actual see-it-in-print publication.

Oddly enough Stracznski reveals plans that will complicate the task of trying to finish up the book. For one thing, a number of works by authors who died in the meantime will be returned to their estates. Some stories are being dropped as too dated. Some new stories are being solicited, presumably to make the collection seem more up to date. And one new story by a new, never before published author will be included, apparently as a publicity stunt. All these changes suggest it'll be a sort of hybrid: some old, some new, ultimately representing neither the New Wave of the 1970s nor the field as it is today. For a critique of difficulties inherent in the project, see David Bratman's comments in his blog:

And for information about the official announcement, see Mike Glyer's ever-trusty and ever-informative FILE 770:

On a personal note, I was glad to hear that Tim Kirk art, apparently commissioned circa 1973-74, wd be included: for those not aware of his work, Kirk illustrated one of the first Tolkien Calendars, setting a high bar that many who followed (e.g. the Hildebrant Brothers) failed to meet.

So, we'll see whether this iteration of this long-promised book sees the light of day.

--John R.

current reading: David Lindsay's THE WITCH (an unfinished book even longer in the tooth than anything by Ellison).

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Cat Report (Friday Nov. 13th)

Poor MAESTRO having gone back up to Arlington over concerns about his not eating (and throwing up much of what he did eat), with five new cats arriving at the same time, once again we had a whole new roomful of cats. 

Of these, two (CINNAMON BUN and ELLIOT) have already been adopted. Sorry not to have met them, but good for them finding new homes so quickly.

That just left three cats by mid-today, with some potential adopters already in the works.

First there’s AUTUMN SPICE , a beautiful, gentle, and lovable Tortoiseshell with lots of long soft fur, orange and black swirled together, more orange than black. She doesn’t like to be picked up and is not a fan of being held but she loves, loves, loves to be petted.  I sat down on the bench and she joined me, even climbing in my lap for part of the time. She let me comb her fur, so that’s what we spent most of her time out of her cage doing.  Decided not to walk her, since I didn’t think I’d be able to pick her up and get her back into the cat room if something upset her.

Finally, she’s a talker. She mews in greeting, when she wants to get your attention, when she wants you to do something, and the like. It’s not chatter so much as conversation. It’s hard for a senior cat to find a new home at age fourteen; here’s hoping she’s soon sharing a couch with her new people.

P.S.: She likes catnip but wasn’t much interested in games, preferring being groomed instead.

ATLAS & MARLY, the bonded pair, and six-month-old former strays, subsequently prison cats. Atlas is the lynx point tabby and much the shyer of the two. Neither of them likes to be picked up or held, but Atlas has a harder time of it.

Marly is the yellow tabby — shy but willing to sneak out several times and explore the place. He loves games, though he’s currently too shy to throw himself into them whole-heartedly. He likes to purr, and his purr helps calm down his partner, Atlas. 

I can’t get Atlas to come out at all, so I petted him in their cage and set up a blanket where he cd get some privacy yet it was easy to see him from outside the cat-room looking in. It took a while, but eventually he joined into a game (the stick game) and showed he’s still kittenish when not overwhelmed by a strange new place.

—John R. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Prison Cats

 So, some of the cats who come to the cat room come from prison -- specifically, the detention center at Monroe, Washington, about thirty-five miles from the cat room.  Here's a recent article describing the program:

Basically these are feral cats, most of them from hoarders and cat colonies. Many have never had an owner so they tend to panic when picked up or touched. The prisoners socialize the animals, holding and interacting with them until they come to associate humans with more than just food.

And since it never rains but it pours (as they say in Bree),* here's another recent story about a joint effort by a number of animal-rescue groups to help offset the lack of community resources to take care of the cat local population in Hilo, Hawaii (on the Big Island). I wdn't be at all surprised if some of these abandoned strays and feral cat-colony cats wind up at Purrfect Pals.

--John R.

--current reading: THE RIFT

*the weather report suggests we'll be able to test this maxim ourselves soon

APPENDIX N, The Anthology

 So, thanks to Doug A. for pointing out the announcement of the forthcoming book APPENDIX N: THE ELDRITCH ROOTS OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS by Peter Bebergal (Strange Attractor Press, 2021). This seems to be an anthology gathering together a selection of titles from the 1st edition AD&D Recommended Reading list --not a discussion of the stories, such as Jeffro Johnson's APPENDIX N: THE LITERARY HISTORY OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (2017), which I believe began life as a series of blogposts. Instead Bebergal is reprinting works by sixteen of the authors so named by Gygax back in 1979.

This "selection of short fiction and resonant fragments" are taken from sixteen authors, of whom eight are named in the article linked to above: 

Lin Carter

Poul Anderson

Fritz Leiber

Jack Vance

Tanith Lee

H. P. Lovecraft

Michael Moorcock

Lord Dunsany.

The write-up also promises that the book will be accompanied by a chapbook novella of A. Merritt's PEOPLE OF THE PIT.

That seems to me a pretty good list, though the scholar in me cannot forbear to point out that Tanith Lee, while worthy of being included on her literary merits alone, did not in fact appear in Gygax's list. This suggests a certain slipperiness for criteria.* And I find myself curious as to the other eight authors might be.

One curious feature of the book is its presentation as a D&D adventure, GG1. Descent into the Temple of Appendix N, clearly a homage to Gygax's D1. Descent Into the Depths of the Earth (1978). 

I think I'll pass on the deluxe 30 Pound version and hold out for the paperback edition to follow.

More on this one when I find out more. I'll certainly be on the look out for a more complete list of authors, and of what works are chosen to represent the authors already announced.

--John R

current reading: THE RIFT by Nina Allan

*Similarly, they speak of Virgil Finlay's having illustrated the chapbook, without mentioning that Finlay has been dead for almost fifty years


Monday, November 9, 2020

A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS is a finalist for this year's Mythopoeic Award

So, last week I saw that the list of finalists for the 2020 Mythopoeic Awards has been announced. 


Here are all five finalists for the award in Inklings Scholarship:

Amendt-Raduege, Amy. “The Sweet and the Bitter”: Death and Dying in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2018.  

Fimi, Dimitri.  Sub-creating Arda: World-building in J.R.R. Tolkien's Work, its Precursors and its Legacies.  Walking Tree Publishers, 2019.  

Johnson, Kirstin Jeffrey, and Michael Partridge.  Informing the Inklings: George Macdonald and the Victorian Roots of Modern Fantasy. Winged Lion Press. 2018


McIlwaine, Catherine. Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford,  Great Britain; England; Oxford, 2018.  

Rateliff, John D. Ed. A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger. Gabbro Head, 2018. 

 I've read or skimmed all but one of these* and can say that we're in good company. 

Congratulations to all the contributors, and to all the nominees.

--John R.

*while I hear good things about the Johnson & Patridge book, MacDonald is a little outside my purview, so it's further down on my must-read list.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Cat Report (Friday November 6th)

So, I didn't post a write-up two weeks ago because I never got my notes written up. And the following week I didn't go in to the cat room because the room was empty: all the cats had been adopted, leaving the room empty. This week the room was filled again on Wednesday the 4th, yet half those cats had already been adopted by the time I arrived yesterday at noon.

Here's a picture of ELLIE ruling the roost in her new home:


Thanks to the quick adoptions of the FINN and POPPY pair (who if I got it right arrived Wednesday midday and were adopted out Friday morning) and of Mr. BEAN (likewise; sounds like a great cat), we were back at three cats by noon today: MAESTRO MISTROFFELEES and bonded pair WINNIE (the little mom, who’s all black) and WIZARD (the kitten, who’s mostly black).

I started by making Mr. Mistroffelees, our twelve year old tuxedo cat, come out. He was so distressed he wet himself while I was pulling him from his cage. Once out, however, he was delighted to have attention, sitting next to me on the bench while purring up a storm. He likes being petted, being held, and catnip, I think in that order. I took him out for a walk, which he liked well enough but seemed to puzzle him. He quickly discovered the row of cat-stands but didn’t understand why he cdn’t climb up and over and behind them. He then discovered the cat-beds and declared all was forgiven, only to give up on me when I wdn’t let him curl up in them either. Still he did fairly well on the leash and I’m glad I got him out for a while.

I petted Wizard and Winnie* a bit in their cage (they were inside the bag and under the blanket, sometimes both in the bag, with little Wizard sometimes up on a self). I left their door open, thinking they might come out on their own. They didn’t, so I eventually made them come out by simply picking out the sack, cat inside. I put the soft tube on a shelf of the cat-stand and little Wizard claimed that spot. I put Winnie-in-a-bag on my lap, then transitioned this into her on my lap with a cat-blanket over her while I petted her some and rubbed her ears some. She was in petrified mode but hope the contact did some good. Eventually she got down and spent the rest of my shift atop the bins, partly covered by her blanket.

So, shy cats to those they do not know or trust, but they show every sign that they’re likely to warm up as they get acquainted with their new surroundings. 

There were lots of people looking at the cats from outside. Hope they spread the word.

—John R.

*ages three months and two years, respectively