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.