Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Dee Brown wd be proud

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


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

--John R.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Inklings and the Mythos (Dale Nelson)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--John R.

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

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

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Census

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--John R.

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

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

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

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Laptop Bounce

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

 No harm done.

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

 You can't count on being lucky twice.

--John R.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tolkien Reading Day

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

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


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

--John R.

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

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

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Soames Museum, or Derleth's pastiche

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

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

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

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

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

--John R.

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

UPDATE: I've fixed the typo. Thanks David

Derleth Spoofs Lovecraft?

So, spoiler alerts on this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

--John R.

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

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

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Clark Ashton Smith and Middle-earth

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

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

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


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

--John R


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

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Tolkien and Fr Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 16, 2020

Marquette, deferred

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

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

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

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

And now, back to work.

--John R.

current reading; the latest in Martha Wells' MURDERBOT series

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

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Fantasy Directory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Nile

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

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

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

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

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

Really looking forward to it.

--John R.

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


Thanks to Shelly for sharing the link.

Friday, March 6, 2020

One Hundred Boxes

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Elizabeth Warren

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

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

--John R.