Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Wilding the Dunsany Estate

So thanks to Doug A. for the news that the current Lord Dunsany (the twenty-first baron, great-grandson of the great writer) is  'rewilding' a sizable chunk of Dunsany Castle's extensive grounds. Hence 700 acres of the 1700 acre pasturage is now growing up with trees and native grasses, providing habitat for a wide range of wildlife, from birds to rare Irish bees to badgers. While the baron has banned not just pesticides but also fertilizer and even paths within the Dunsany Natural Preserve, he has allowed a film shoot for a film he has directed, THE GREEN SEA.

The part of the article that interested me most was the bit about his planting trees:


 “I walk around today and see large trees planted by someone who never got to see them grow. And in turn, I’m planting trees today that I will never see grow.

“But these trees are not for me, these trees are for the young people around us. 

Partly this moved me because if I had land that's what I'd do with it (mimosa, magnolias, and willows), and partly because the time I got to visit Dunsany Castle back in 1987 the road or drive up to the house was lined with beautiful old trees.* When I praised them, Lord Dunsany (Captain Randal, the nineteenth baron), who was driving, commented that they'd been planted two hundred years before, I think it was, and wd be fully grown in about another twenty years. Americans just don't think in those terms.

Here's the link:

--John R.

P.S.: One minor correction: while Sir Horace Plunkett is as important as they say, and probably more so, he was not an ancestor of the current baron but his great-grandfather's uncle. 

*my memory says chestnuts, but I don't think that's possible, unless Irish chectnuts survived the blight that wiped out the American chestnut.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Do Wolves Eat People? revisited

 So, in the mini-essay on wargs (wolves) in MR. BAGGINS, part one of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT (2007), I did a little mythbusting:

"Wolves do not, of course, eat people. But legend and folk-belief has maintained otherwise from time immemorial, from Aesop's fable of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' [sixth century BC] through fairy-stories like 'Little Red Riding Hood' [seventeenth century French] and 'Peter & the Wolf' to the modern day (Saki's 'Esme' and 'The Intruders', Willa Cather's My Antonia , Bram Stoker's Dracula, and any number of Jack London stories). Perhaps the most famous literary account of a wolf-attack prior to Tolkien's occurs in Defoe's Robinson Crusoe [1719] . . ."       page 216

". . . unlike wolves and eagles, bears really DO eat people -- a fact of which Shakespeare was well aware, hence his famous stage direction for one doomed character: 'Exit, pursued by a bear' (A Winter's Tale, Act III scene iii), followed by a gruesome off=stage mauling as the character is torn limb from limb. The largest land predators, bears maul people every year even today."   page 256

I have recently heard that I may well be in error. According to French Tolkien linguist Damien Bador, and quoted from a recent email with his permission:

There is one point where I need to mention that I believe you’re clearly mistaken. On several occasions, you take pains to stress that wolves only attack people in fairy tales, not in reality. As far as I’m aware, this is quite true for the American wolf, but not so much for the European (and Asian) one. Wolf attacks have been rather well documented in Western Europe since the XVIIth century at least and up to the early XXth century (in fact, France is probably the country with the best historical records, stretching from the 1300s up to 1920 and involving nearly 7600 fatal attacks, according to Wikipedia). In a large number of cases, this was linked to the wolf being rabid (which entirely removes its fear of humans), but there were also a large number of non-rabid wolf attacks recorded. Most victims were isolated children and women, especially during the summer, when people encroached upon the wolves’ territories during their pastoral or agricultural activities. What is probably the most well-known series of attacks involved the “Beast of Gévaudan” in mountains in Central France, which involved roughly a hundred fatal attacks from June 1764 to June 1767. While they might have been caused by several animals, most specialists still consider they were performed by wolves, or possibly wolf-dog hybrids (see the very detailed WP page in French on this topic:  

So, it seems that I may have overstated the case. 

Unless Americans are just less tasty than Europeans. 

Thanks to Damien for the corrective.

--John R.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

My Favorite Writers Who Aren't Tolkien

So, last week David Bratman had an interesting post on his blog:

The two questions being asked are

(1) who is your second-favorite fantasy writer after Tolkien? * 

(2) who are your two or three favorites among fantasy writers who came after Tolkien ( post-LotR)?

My answer to Question Number One is LORD DUNSANY, without a doubt.

My answers to Question Number Two wd be THE FACE IN THE FROST by John Bellairs, WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams, and I think THE BRIDGE OF BIRDS by Barry Hughart.

If you'd pick a different author or book, feel free to share in the comments

--John R.

current viewing: McCARTNEY 3 2 1

current reading TOM SAWYER, DETECTIVE

   *this assumes your next-favorite is fantasy, which is not necess. the case. It also assumes Tolkien is yr favorite, which again may not be the case.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Ice Cream War

So, I wdn't have guessed that the latest bone of contention to play a part in the slow-motion war in Israel-Palestine would be . . . ice cream?

--John R.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Brown C-crown Fedoras

So, last week I gave away eleven hats, eight of them brown c-crown fedoras, the other three straw hats (two being fedora-style, the third a wide-brim 'plantation hat*'). I've worn hats for as long as I can remember, and my hat of choice has long been the fedora. I remember being glad when the Indiana Jones movies came out, because they made it easier to find the kind of hat I like (though his are wider of brim than my preferred style). The reason I had so many is that when a hat wears out I retire it and get a new one. Over the years I had built up a considerable stack of old hats atop a row of bookcases down in the boxroom; hats I no longer wear but cdn't bring myself to get rid of.  Janice had suggested donating them to one of the area's theatrical troups for use as props in plays, but then the pandemic hit, complicating everything. In the end, a friend volunteered to take them for use as props in a party game for an end-of-fiscal-year organization. I hope they contribute to an enjoyable event.

It has been interesting just looking over these old hats. The boxes that each hat was stored in bear witness, from the names on the sides, to the sad fact that like a favorite restaurant, a hat shop is not a permanent thing. I had a hat from Donge in Milwaukee's on Old World Third street,** hats from Sacred Feather on State Street in Madison. And I had quite a few hats from Bernie Utze, my favorite of them all, here in Seattle downtown near the Pike Place Market.  

When the last of these went out of business a few years ago I planned ahead and bought three hats, which I thought shd last me a long long time: a hat I wear as my daily hat, a hat to wear when it's raining, and a back-up pristine hat I put aside to take the place of my everyday hat when it wore out somewhere down the line. Beyond that it seems likely that any future hats will probably be selected on-line --not a preferred method but hopefully workable.

Even though I gave away eleven hats, all in one fell swoop, I'm not exactly bereft of hats. In addition to the three Bernie Utz hats described above,  there's my fedora-style straw hat, which is getting a lot of use in this hot, dry summer. There's the straw hat I bought in Hawaii when we visited the rainy part of the Big Island, which endured trips to a volcano, a mountain top, and turtle beaches; one of my most durable hats. There's the handmade crafted hat bought on impulse during a visit to Trout Lake, which looks more like a Shire Hobbit hat and which we haven't actually worn in the year or so since we got them. And finally there's the old brown fedora, one of my all-time favorites, which during all this recent sorting out I decided I'd retired too soon and brought back into service. So that's seven hats I'm keeping.***

Janice, by the way, prefers collapsable hats: easy to carry and put on if the weather changes.

--John R. 

current reading:: Lindop

current viewing: McCartney 3 2 1


*a great hat, but not a style I can really pull off.

**where I had the worst shopping experience of my life, after which I quit going there. Janice, who witnessed it as a kind of innocent bystander, said it was funny.

***there's also the Fez, but it's more a roleplaying game prop than a hat I'd actually wear outside, where people might see me.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Andy Serkis's LotR audiobook

So, I was pleased to hear that Andy Serkis, Smeagol extraordinaire, has recorded an unabridged audiobook of THE LORD OF THE RINGS in three parts (FR, TT, RK), due out September 16th. This is welcome news in that the old Rob Inglis recordings have been long overdue for replacement and also that I expect Serkis to do a bang-up job of it. Here's a sample Smeagol vs. Gollum track:

I hadn't realized until checking some links in connection with this story that Serkis has already released a complete recording of THE HOBBIT almost a year ago. Clearly it's time to update my JRRT audiobooks, my current holdings being a melange of cassettes, cds, audiofiles, and records. I also see there's now an audiobook of UNFINISHED TALES which I hadn't known about. So there's some new to discover and much older material to renew my acquaintance with. More later.

--John R.

--current reading: THE THIRD INKLING (up to 1936, when Williams and Lewis made contact)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Tolkienian Petition

 So, thanks to JC for the link to news about a petition asking Amazon Studios not to give their forthcoming Tolkien series the Game of Thrones treatment, with intimacy counselors and the like.

Given that this pits 50,000 fans against $250,000,000 dollars, I'd call that Quixotic.

 What's more interesting is that the journalist who wrote this piece, Collin Garbaring, clearly put some time in, down to researching the correct titles of papers from the recent Tolkien Society's seminar, and even seems to have watched some of the audience chat and Q&A from that event. He knows who Shippey is, and his significance, and located a credible Inklings scholar (Louis Markos) for a relevant quote. 

For the curious, here's what seems to be the original petition, or two versions thereof, or perhaps two similar petitions, with widely divergent numbers given for sign-ees:

--John R.

--current reading: Lindop's THE THIRD INKLING

--current viewing: THE ROOK 

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Cat Report (Fr. July 9th 2021)


So, all four cats who were in the cat-room (SophiaSunshineTiffany, and Marley) got adopted, switching out our yellow cats and torbie/calicos with black and grey: tuxedo cat TEE, black cat bonded pair TABITHA and TOMMY, and grey cat pair JEREMIAH BULFROG* and JESSE.

TEE is an amazingly friendly and sociable cat. Within five minutes of my meeting her for the first time she was outside on the leash taking a walk. She did well, too, exploring the side of the store centered on the cat room without trying to make any sudden breaks. She liked climbing up on my shoulders, so that sometimes it looked like she was the one walking me. Without wanting strangers to pet her she nonetheless attracted a lot of attention while getting a chance to get out of the cat room for a while. Back in the room she wanted more attention and petting and games (the feather duster was a particular favorite) and went back in her cage reluctantly. 

It was TABITHA and TOMMY’s turn next. He elected to stay in the big cage but came up to the front and welcomed being petted so long as he didn’t have to leave his safe space. He basically cuddled in the cage. His sister Tabitha (the fluffy one) by contrast came out gladly and stayed out. She loved games, esp the string game, but loved being petted even more. She too was displeased to have to go back in her cage, and several times made it clear she’d like to come back out for another round.

This week’s shy cats award goes to JEREMIAH BULFROG and JESSE, neither of whom wd come out, though they purred when petted in their cage. They’re truly bonded: with four cage-sections  (the whole bottom row)  to choose from they slept cuddled together in the same section. I cdn’t tell them apart but they know their names and each will respond to being called by his or her name.

I think as the new cats get used to the cat room they’ll be out and exploring more, at first cautiously and then with more confidence. Don’t think it’ll take too long either.

No health issues that I noted.

One person who admired Tee’s walking said he’d adopted a cat from this cat-room once, named Nikky (just guessing at the spelling). I gathered Nikky is no longer among us but got distracted by the cat-walking and didn’t get any more information.

—John R.

*somebody out there besides me remembers Three Dog Night

Monday, July 5, 2021

Bernard Acworth

So, here's a comment that shd have gotten posted long ago: my apologies to Larry Gilman for the delay.

Since it has been so long, I include here a link back to the original piece on which it was commenting:

And for the record, I think Gilman's piece is an excellent treatment of the subject.

--John R.


Sayers on Tolkien (elliptically)

 So, thanks to David B. for pointing out to me that the full letter I quoted from in my post on Dalfonzo's book DOROTHY AND JACK can be found in Lewis's COLLECTED LETTERS (Vol III p. 689-690). The letter was written on 22/12/55 (that is, December 12th 1955). The bulk of the letter contrasts 'clerks' (who I take him to mean the literati, self-appointed judges) with those who create popular art; he much prefers the latter.

The line that interests me comes in the paragraph that reads in full:

"I hadn't really thought about it before, but of course Tolkien's females are as you describe them. And one couldn't, from internal evidence, diagnose the cause, because so many causes are equally possible."

Hooper's note reads simply "It is not known how Savers described them."

So that adds to the context without, unfortunately, providing the information we most wanted.

The one takeaway for me is that from this we definitely know that D.L.S. read Tolkien -- which might have been well known to Sayers scholars but was news to me, and welcome news at that.

--John R.

--current reading; another volume of the same light novel, more on Lindop's Wms*

*C.W. has just met the love of his life. His wife doesn't know about her yet.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

"Tolkien's females are as you describe them"

So, I found out about a book on C. S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers last year and got a copy to send my friend Richard West, a great fan of both Sayers and Lewis, thinking it might make good hospital reading for him while he was struggling with kidney failure. In the end Richard caught the Covid virus and passed away. I never did get the chance to ask if he ever read this book or enjoyed it, but he was very much on my mind as I was reading it. 

DOROTHY AND JACK: THE TRANSFORMING FRIENDSHIP OF DOROTHY L. SAYERS AND C. S. LEWIS by Gina Dalfonzo is a fairly quick read and relatively light in tone (e.g., a two hundred page book like this wd usually have an index). Here are a few of its more striking points.

First is a long quote in which Sayers states that she felt an affinity with Dante because they shared the same faith, whereas this was not true of herself and Milton (p.41). That struck me as bizarre.

Second, Dalfonzo is willing to consider that CSL had sex with Janie Moore (p.56) but asserts -- on the basis of no evidence at all that I can see -- that CSL cut off all carnal relations at the time of his conversion and henceforth was strictly celibate, from that time till his marriage with Joy Davidman (p.57). She repeats the claim ("a clean break") on p.111, again without citing any evidence.

At one point Dalfonzo has a discussion about Lewis and Sayer's disagreement about CSL taking on the role of 'Everyman's Theologian': "She felt that Jack . . . was a little too prone to step outside his area of expertise" (p.73). Since this was one of the key objections Tolkien had to Lewis's apologetics, it's interesting to see that Lewis himself had struggled with the issue, and at a much earlier date.

Dalfonzo's discussion of Charles Williams (p.109-115) makes it clear she considers him a predator, and it's hard not to agree. I was surprised to be reminded of how short a time Sayers knew Wms (just three years). I'll have to get a look at the appropriate volume of her Collected Letters sometime to read through their correspondence.

Here's a quote I wish we had more context for: 

"I hadn't really thought about it before, 

but of course Tolkien's females

are as you describe them

—(p.118; emphasis mine)

This comes from CSL's reply in a 1955 letter to Sayer, but since Sayer's letter does not survive we have no way of knowing what was her critique, just that Lewis agreed. 

Finally, it's interesting to note that while Sayers and Lewis corresponded for about fifteen years, they only met four times that we're sure of (there may be a few more unrecorded visits). By the end of that time they had grown close enough to confide in each other about the alcoholism of CSL's brother and of Sayers' husband.

--John R.

--current reading: a light novel (=Japanese young adult fiction), and THE THIRD INKLING

Reading Lindop

 So, I've now made some progress on Grevel Lindop's biography of Charles Williams, and the first thing I've noticed is that Lindop makes him sound much more normal, less of an oddball, than previous accounts. He's so far not made much progress on his stated goal of establishing Williams as a major poet, but it's early days yet.

A minor point: I was rather surprised by his descriptions of Wms as 'tall' (twice) and 'lanky'; for some reason I'd had the impression C.W. was slight in build and underaverage in height.

The most interesting content is his suggestion that Wms was not only in Waite's offshoot of the Golden Dawn (the Independent and Rectified Rite*), which focused on Xian mysticism --this has been well  established for a long time-- but probably also belonged to the surviving branch of the core Golden Dawn (Stella Matutina) that continued the original group's interest in ceremonial magic as well (p.66).

Even his Acknowledgments contain bits of interest, such as showing that he drew upon interviews with many people who knew Wms. And then there's his thanks to 'the owners of Charles Williams' tarot cards . . . [who] wish to remain anonymous' (page x). It wd be interesting to see these --I assume these must have been a set of Waite's devising (the so-called Rider Waite Tarot). 

More later, once I've made my way through another good chunk.

--John R.

*later (1915) succeeded by The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross  

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A Card Carrying Member

 So, yesterday my new card from the Tolkien Society arrived (thanks, Jessica), showing that my membership has been renewed for another year. This membership includes a subscription to the journal MALLORN as well as the newsletter AMON HEN, as well as advance notice of events (online and the old fashioned way, in-person). Such as the diversity in Tolkien seminar scheduled for the 4th of July weekend.*

At this point it's looking like I may be able to drop in at some sessions but not the whole event -- though I'll be looking forward to hearing how it goes.

---John R.

--current reading: THE LATE SCHOLAR by Paton Walsh & Savers (re-read) and THE THIRD INKLING by Lindop (which I'm finally getting to, seven years or so since I put it on the shelf)

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

War of the Rohirrim

So, it looks like the forthcoming SECOND AGE Tolkien project that's been in the works at Amazon for a while now may not be the next film based on Tolkien's works to see light of day. Yesterday I learned (thanks D) about an anime version of the Helm Hammerhand story that's in the works.

That seems an odd choice, with all of Middle-earth to choose from. And if they were going to do a Rohirrim story why not go for the big epic, the story of Eorl? Perhaps Helm's reign was the most Games-of-Thronish reasonably self-contained part of the Eorlings legend/history. In any case, without investing too much in this I'll still be interested in seeing how it comes out. And I'm curious what other sidelines they might explore aside from the big story: NUMENOR.

--John R.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Diversity and Counter-Diversity in Tolkien Scholarship

So, I'd been going back and forth over whether to attend this year's Tolkien Seminar hosted by the Tolkien Society. It's a time intensive event, as I found out when I tried to attend the full array of presentations last year (who knew sitting and watching a screen cd be so tiring as the hours drag on?). Plus, the focus of this year's event is outside the range of my work on Tolkien.

But on the theory that it's good to get out of yr comfort zone once in a while, I finally went ahead and signed up this morning.

 Which turned out to be good timing, because this afternoon a friend (hi J.) sent me a link about people who are staging, or trying to stage, a counter-conference, to be held (virtually) concurrently with the long-planned Tolkien Society event. Some information (not much) can be found on the insurgent group's website:

Much more, including discussion, appears on Mike Glyer's site, FILE 770, including that the group organizing the counter-event that has only been in existence for about a week,* making it sound more like a flash mob than a conference:

--John R.

*just to clarify: The Tolkien Society has been around since 1969 or so, and is a registered charity in the U.K. 'Society of Tolkien' is a new group who have formed specifically to protest the Tolkien Society's seminar.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Washington State Initiative: Universal Health Care

So, today we went to the farmer's market (the one down in Auburn, by the giant statue of the giant crow with the giant french fries) for the first time this year. In addition to the biggest beets I've ever seen we also got some peaches from our favorite booth (who used to be over at the Kent market before the latter shut down due to the covid crisis).

The most interesting thing about our trip to Auburn though was the person just outside the entrance to the market asking people to sign a petition. The initiatives and propositions in these parts are sometimes iffy, using deceptive phrasing to trick the voter. But from what I cd tell with a little quick research, this one seems to be pretty straightforward in its goal: do for Washington State what Obama failed to do with health care reform and create a system of universal health care. That's an ambitious goal but very worthwhile. So if the petitioner is still there next week I'll be glad to sign my name as supporting that goal.

The initiative in question is I-1362; Universal Healthcare for Washington State; its backers are using the phrase 'Whole Washington' to designate their movement, as in their website address:

If you're in Washington, you might want to acquaint yrself with what is sure to be a big battle later this year. If you're in another state, you might want to be aware of how health care reform plays out this time and in this place.

--John R..

Saturday, June 19, 2021


So, as of today we have a new national holiday: Juneteenth.

This celebrates an event that I first learned about by a circuitous path. 

Back when I was doing some research into unfinished novels where the author had produced too much material, not to little -- like DOCTOR GRIMSHAW'S SECRET and of course THE SILMARILLION* -- I was intrigued to find that Ralph Ellison, about whose work I knew (and know) very little, after his death in 1994 had left behind a two thousand page draft from which was extracted a 368 page novel called JUNETEENTH (2000).

But as is sometimes the case with posthumously published work, there was criticism of the edited version, and it was replaced a decade later by a much longer, fuller text: THREE DAYS BEORE THE SHOOTING (2010). Being in doubt about which of these two published versions I shd read (because I didn't want to read both) I've wound up reading neither, though I have dipped into the later text and found it uncongenial.

 It was thus by a roundabout way of trying to find out about a novel constructed from remains left behind by an author with writer's block, as a way to better understand JRRT,  that I learned about the historical event celebrated in our new holiday.

--John R.

--current reading: "The Lost Letter", my 2014 piece suggesting a new way to read Charles Williams.

*This also forms the core plot of WONDER BOYS, both the film and novel versions.

Capote's ANSWERED PRAYERS is a good example of the more usual case, where the author claims to have written far more than is found to actually exist after his death. Which, come to think of it, is also like Tolkien.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Cat Report (Fr. June 18th 2021)

So, back in the cat-room after missing just a week, and I find only one cat I knew, all the rest having been adopted. I’m particularly glad that Tika (?Tina) and Kinda (?Kinta) found their new home at last.  And it’s good to hear, if I understood the messages right, there’s a potential adopter due in tomorrow for little Rocky Road, with another standing by to follow if the first adoptor doesn’t work out. Hope tomorrow is his big lucky day.

It’s hard for a kitten to spend so much time in a cage, so I let little ROCKY ROAD out first thing. He bounded about playing with all sorts of toys and generally having fun. He loved the feather duster, which he carried around as a trophy, and the swishy bug-on-a-stick, and the string game. But his favorite was the litter box that’s usually in the big cage. For some reason, I assume to better accommodate such large cats as Sophie and Sunshine, this had been removed, cleaned, and set upside down on the floor in the inner room. ROCKY discovered he could squeeze under it and had fun for the rest of that first half-hour dragging various toy under or out from under his little turtle shell. 

After about half an hour I made him go back in his cage, reluctantly on his part, and let out the bonded kitten pair, BUTTERFINGERS (the little yellow tabby) and SNICKERS (the little brown tabby). After that it was ‘we’re kittens and we’re out’ as they played together, and separately, with me and on their own. They too loved the on-a-stick game, the pingpong games, the claw sharpening cardboards, the string, and the ’turtle’ as a lair. They’re squirmy when picked up but don’t mind a quick pet so long as it doesn’t interfer with their current game. 

Then it was the turn of our two solitaires. Both are dilute torbies, both shy about coming out, but both purrmonsters when petted in their cages.  MARLEY is the one who looks like she’s been splattered with black ink about the face ; TIFFANY is a little greyer about the face, front, and paw. Marley let me pet her some, but Tiffany just melted. 

Finally came the majestic super-sized SOPHIE and SUNSHINE. Sunshine is the shyer of the two and took longer to warm to me; I had to sit inside her cage and pet her from in there. Sophie by contrast was happy to come out and loved the attention of being petted. Think she’s a good candidate for walking but didn’t get to it this time.

Here’s hoping this roomful of cats quickly find new homes.

—John R.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

"The Lost Road as Faerian Drama" (My Newest Publication)

So, it's been a long time in the making, but I'm happy to announce that my essay "The Lost Road as Faerian Drama" (working title: "Valinor in America") has just been published earlier today by THE JOURNAL OF TOLKIEN RESEARCH:

I call it a "speculative look at some of Tolkien's later speculative writings". Part of it I presented at last month's Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, but it was good to get the whole thing over and done and out there.


--John R.


Monday, June 14, 2021


So, the past week or so I've been in Arkansas (and nearby parts of Louisiana and Texas) enjoying a string of get-togethers with family.

And as usual these visits south also include connecting with touchtones like visiting my father's grave and going by the vacant lot where the family home used to be. 

I met some wary but ultimately friendly cats, including at last making the acquaintance of my sister's cat Kashmir (which just goes to show that I'm not the only one in this family to give a cat a name from classic rock, in this case Led Zeppelin). 

Among things I was on the lookout for were mimosas (one of my favorite trees) and magnolias (which do); I saw these but I had forgotten how beautiful the pecan trees were.

I was on the lookout for locusts (cicadas) but was there a bit too early. Didn't see any June bugs, or lightning bugs, though my mother saw one of the latter.

Birds were in fine feather: mockingbirds, blue jays, cardinals, mourning doves, of course. But also buzzards (I'd forgotten how big they are, any they're much less shy than they used to be, calmly sitting by the side of the road doing their scavenging while a foot or two away the cars whiz by). And once again I noted but failed to identify those loquacious birds who hang out at the Love's truckstop at Prescott: blackbirds, certainly, but too large and agile for grackles and too small for a crow; not red-winged blackbirds or startlings. 

And then there was the unexpected, like the Dallas Model A car fanciers who happened to be holding their convention at our hotel. It was great fun walking around the parking lot and taking in the labor-of-love restoration on twenty to thirty antique cars (All Model As). 

We missed the hot air balloons we heard about (suspect their launches had been early in the morning, on a day we didn't do early morning). 

And I can report that the Longview, Texas frozen custard stand we visited one night had the authentic Leon's  machines (most of Leon's revenue stream came from their supplying the machines other frozen custard stands use).

And finally home, to be welcomed by two cats who had been well cared for in our absence but had clearly been lonely. It was a good trip, but it's good to be back in our own place with our own stuff.

--John R.

reading on the trip: DOROTHY & JACK, Steinbeck (restarted), THE LONG WEEKEND (but not the one I was looking for). 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Narnia in Glasgow

So, not surprisingly, a family visit turns out not to be the time for some researched blogging (unless the blogging is about the visit). So I have't had the time to write up the Lewis/Anscombe piece, which is still pending. Instead, here's a bit of C. S. Lewis news for those who might have missed it. 

The University of Glasgow's CENTRE FOR FANTASTY is hosting an event later this month: 

From Spare Oom to War Drobe: A Journey to Narnia with Katherine Langrish

This event is scheduled for Thursday June 17th (about two weeks from now) at 5pm to 6.30 BST (which I make out to be about nine in the morning, Seattle time --a great improvement over the middle of night timing of some transatlantic events).

I haven't read Languish's book, which contrasts the experience of reading Narnia as a child vs. revisiting it as an adult. Perhaps her approach will lift some of my antipathy to the Narnia series. 

Here's the link:

--John R.

--current reading: DOROTHY AND JACk; also a light novel.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Warnie Lewis, ditchcrawler

So, a while ago the new issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES arrived --always a welcome event. The two articles that stood out for me this time around were a piece on Warnie Lewis's experiences as a ditchcrawler -- that is, the owner of a narrow canal boat he used to take little holidays exploring various spots all around Oxford -- and an insightful well-sourced look at the famous Lewis-Anscombe debate.

The canalboat piece is by Don King, who I hope will expand his researches into Captain Lewis (as he was at the time) into a book one of these days. While Warnie's boat sometimes gets a passing mention in his brother's biographies, I had no idea that Warnie wrote several essays about his experiences,* including advice to help others better enjoy their shared hobby and how to cope when things go wrong.

King's article quotes generously from eight essays, which are very much in the voice of W.H.L. as we know it from his journals. The Bosporus, which he had built to order, emerges as a leisurely alternative to the Lewis brothers' walking tours. Unfortunately Warnie only got to enjoy the boat from 1936 through 1939, when wartime restrictions and rationing made it too hard for him to carry on.

The other piece is more complex and I think deserves a separate post of its own (though it'll take me a day or two to get it drafted).

current reading: LETTER OF JOSEPH CONRAD (the bookmark dropped out and had trouble finding my place, so decided to take a hiatus) and a light novel (more portable)

*published in THE MOTOR BOAT AND YACHTING magazine.

The Cat Room Has Kittens


Quite a crowd in the cat room today, even with the two sisters/bonded mother cats pair (Willow and Maple) having already been adopted. We had senior pair TIKA and KINDA, young LEO DECATI,  little ROCKY ROAD (the solitaire kitten, off in a cage of his own), and eight little grey kittens — some light grey, some dark as black; some smooth, some with a bit of fluff; all adorable.

So, a dozen cats in all. First things first, so I got the leash on TIKA and took her out. She didn’t seem to enjoy herself much, but still think the change will do her good in the long run. She mostly sat on the half-high cat stand outside the room and watched everything go by. I also carried her about some. Next came KINDA, who did his usual explorations all over. He got some good comments by staff and customers alike. When he (reluctantly) went back in I put him and his sister back in their cage. Whoever recommended the blanket blocking their vision from the rest of the room was right: both settled down and didn’t do any hissing or growling aimed at the other cats that I heard.

LEO DUCATI had his turn next, and explored even more than Kinda. He turned on the charm and made a big impression on folks he encountered during his explorations. I wanted the kittens to have a turn, so eventually he had to go in and I put him back in his cage, where he settled down.

Then it was Kitten Time. I took them out of their cages one at a time and gave them the run of the place. After that it was kittens everywhere. I liked how they have distinct personalities already in what toy each likes, favorite spots to hide in, tolerance at being petted, and the like. Little Road kept to himself, except when one or two of the grey kittens sought him out to see what game he was playing. He likes to seek out interesting places —say, beneath the cushion atop the bins.

I hope both kittens and senior cats find new homes soon. 

Reminder: Next Friday (the 11th) I won’t be able to come in that day for my usual shift.

—John R.

Monday, May 31, 2021

A New Barnes & Noble Opens in Kirkland

So, I was surprised and pleased last week by news that Barnes & Noble has opened up a new store in Kirkland. Bookstore news over the last few years has mainly been the announcement of stores shutting down one by one: the extinction of Waldenbooks and B. Daltons, the disappearance of Borders (my favorite of the chain bookstores and a great place to work with a laptop and a pot of tea), with Barnes & Noble seeming to be following the pattern.

So, it's nice to get some good news on the bookstore front.  


Look Familiar? (a D&D test)

 So, if the following list looks familiar, you can probably spot the connecting thread between all these publications.

--John R.

PENUMBRA (Atlas Games)

Three Days to Kill—John Tynes


Green Ronin

Death in Freeport—Chris Pramas

Alderac/AEG  (Adventure Boosters) 

   The Last Gods—Kevin Wilson

   The Illusionist's Daughter—Travis Heermann


Fantasy Flight (LEGENDS & LAIRS)

   The Thief's Gold—Brian Wood

   The Weeping Tree—Brian Patterson 


Troll Lord Games

A Lion in the Ropes—Stephen Chenault

The Fantastic Adventure—Mac Golden


Privateer Press

The Witchfire Trilogy, Book One: The Longest Night—Matt Staroscik


Hammerdog Games  (Building Block Adventures) 

The Grande Temple of Jing—Danny O'Neill


Nightmare Game

The Horror Beneath—Eric Metcalf


Wick Press

 What's That Smell?—John Wick


Sunday, May 30, 2021

WotC's Tolkien Game

So, yesterday I came across my file of material relating to Wizards of the Coast's attempt at a Tolkien roleplaying game --or more accurately what parts wd have gone into the core rulebook of Middle-earth as a D&D world. I thought this was gone forever, at best stuck on some twenty-year old floppy, so I'm happy to have unearthed it again.* 

While this file has very little material that wd have gone into the game itself --the Brand team killed the project before it got very far into the actual design stage-- it does have a detailed preliminary table of contents, assignments of who wd draft which chapters, some memos and meeting notes, and the like.

Also with this was the detailed outline I wrote for a trilogy of adventures to go with the Decipher's LotR game, called Cold Waters, Deep. I rather liked this one, so I might go back and work it up sometime to run with my local gaming group if they're amenable to the idea.

Have to say it'll be nice to have the bits and pieces for all three Tolkien rpgs I worked on at some point to be gathered together in one place.

--John R.

*sort of literally -- it was mixed in with a lot of papers relating to various unfinished projects on a lower shelf of the bookcase that collapsed recently. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday Cat Walking (5/28-21)


The addition of three newcomers to our bonded pair already in residence brings our total in the cat room up to five cats: KINTA, TINA, LEO DUCATI, TWIX, and BABY RUTH

Baby Ruth lights up the room.

Since TINA objects strongly to other cats coming into what she considers her space, I had to let the cats out in phases.

First up came the pair of three-month old kittens, ball-of-fire Tortie BABY RUTH and Tabby TWIX, who were adorable. They tried out various games and enjoyed them all. They don’t mind being picked up too much, though the squirming starts if you hold them what they consider too long. They're still very much in the explore everywhere stage.

LEO DUCATI sat quietly in his cage, enjoying a catnip-suffused sachet, until the kittens had to go in their cage and give him a turn at being out. He was so mellow that I took him out for a walk. He did great! — v. self-possessed. He stayed out a long time and wd gladly have stayed out longer.

Finally it was KINTA the Yellow and TINA the Black, time for our semi senior cats. There’s been a good deal of growling and hissing from Tina inside her cage at the uncaged cats passing by, which must have gotten on Kinta’s nerve, since he uncharacteristically hissed at her as they were coming out. He had another long walk and once again did really well. Poor Tina asked for a walk, growled, asked to be petted, hissed, and generally was so worked up by the other cats in her cat-room that I had to pass on walking her. Next time I’ll do her first of all the cats, before she has time to get upset, which has worked well in the past.
We had a lot of lookers and, at the end of my shift, two separate serious inquiries, one for Leo and the other for little Ruth. I gave both would-be adoptees the information on contacting the adoption counsellors. Hope their applications go well. 

No health problems that I noted, but we did have someone who brought a great big dog (a huskie or something of that size) and parked right outside the cat room for a minute or two. Everyone but the kittens took it calmly enough: Twix puffed his tail out a bit and came over close to me, while little Ruth took refuge under the cat-tree, from which she happily came back out when the episode was over.

Amused by a conscientious potential adopter who was concerned that the cat’s information sheets said he ‘enjoyed pets’, since he intended to adopt him into what wd be a single-pet home: I reasured him that this meant the cat liked being petted, not that it wd do best in a home with multiple cats.

—John R.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Jim Pietrusz's bookplate

 So, here's a good reminder from days gone by: a reader who came across two books that once belonged to my friend Jim Pietrusz, identifiable by his bookplate. I have some of Jim's books, thanks to his generosity and that of his wife, Eileen: the particular image below is taken from an edition of LETTERS FROM JOSEPH CONRAD.*

It's good to know Jim's books are still out there, still being read and enjoyed. He'd like that.

Since the Reader's Comment, once accepted, vanishes from among the most recent postings and instead  appeared over on my post about Jim from 2014, I've copied that Comment into the main text of this post, here:

--John R.


Hello, I hope this comment finds you well, John, and isn't a source of some form of grief to bring this post back to mind, but I thought I might share what I believe to be the strange coincidence that led me here: I was recently purchasing original hardcovers of some books I read in my youth (a quartet by Laurence Yep—unwitting but at least semi-appropriate reads for this Asian American Heritage month) and noticed the rear of one of them had a few dates, partly hand-written, partly stamped. By chance, one happened to refer to my fourth birthday. I was reciting this fact in discussion over the phone with a friend, and picked up the sequel I thought had the date to reference it, only to discover it did not have the date of my birth, but a date six days later. Being handwritten, I concluded I'd imagined things, misreading a date into an eminently familiar one through the strange machinations of the subconscious and a kind of confirmation bias. I was finishing off the actual re-read of the first book (Dragon of the Lost Sea, should you be curious), and discovered I didn't imagine it: there it was, below a stamped date, my birthday (plus four years) handwritten in the back of this book I'd purchased used to have a nice, clean hardcover copy for the rest of my life. "What a strange coincidence," I thought: not only my birthday and a close-by companion date in another book from the series, but both previously owned by someone who wrote dates in it at all. A technologically-limited library checking things out to patrons, perhaps? Sated with the knowledge that I'd indeed found my birthday in a book, a perfectly enjoyable coincidence, I got to page 150 in the sequel (Dragon Steel), and noticed that there was a name stamped at the bottom left corner. A sort of confused haze dropped into my brain: Hadn't I just seen a name stamped in the corner just like that? And wasn't it the exact same name?! So I drew the first book back down off the shelf, flipping rapidly through it, and finding that, yes, I had in fact seen it before: on page 150 of each book there was stamped: "JIM PIETRUSZ". A bookplate in the first book re-affirmed this, a gnome or dwarf drawn, woodcut-style, with a cane and carrying books, marked "EX LIBRIS JIM PIETRUSZ". Now utterly mystified, I checked back at where I'd purchased these books from via Abebooks: one came from a bookshop in Houston, TX (in another coincidence, my father's hometown—though with one that size, less surprising on the whole), and the other from a bookshop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I took to the search engines, and I found my way here. While it's hardly a guarantee, there seems to be enough in common here that I suspect these may both have been from your friend Jim Pietrusz--fantasy books, one even drawn from a used home in Milwaukee, and showing the signs of a devoted collector (I've since decided these may perhaps be the handwritten dates of the times the books were read). While I'd hoped to find Jim himself, it seems that's unfortunately not the chance I have, but I thought perhaps it might be good to know that these two, at least, are in the hands of someone who loves the books he once had (now dustjacket-protected by my own hands, even) and set for a happy life of appreciation. I'm sorry for your loss, these many years on, but I hope this is a good, if small and perhaps somewhat distant, tribute to Jim and his love of books and collecting them—even if it's just yet another pile of coincidences and another Jim entirely, I hope such appreciation and treatment of beloved fantasy books might serve to honour him all the same. It's many years late, but thank you for sharing his story and your memories.




*not the one I was nibbling on a few weeks ago but an earlier hardcover edition

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Voice of Reason is . . . Geraldo?

So, I was stunned yesterday to find Geraldo Rivero, of all people, being the voice of reason. One of those world-turned-upside-down moments. But really, when someone says killing children is wrong it's hard not to agree.

--John R.

Cat Walking Friday (5/21-21)

 So, after a week off for Kalamazoo, I was back in the Cat Room yesterday. In the interim a new pair of bonded cats, who didn't get along at all* with our bonded pair In Residence, came and went without my ever seeing them. By all reports having the whole room to themselves again greatly improved the two Resident Cats' mood: TINA and KENDA were both affectionate and demanding of attention. 

KENDA out on his walk.

KENDA went out for a long walk (fifty minutes) and went all over the store, from the far wall to the door leading to the warehouse to the sliding doors to Outside. These got his special attention: he crouched down a good ways off and watched them for a while. He may not be putting together a Great Escape, but we shd keep an eye on him nonetheless. 

He remembers where the aisle with the catnip and cat toys is located, returning to it several times. Also in his explorations he came across the plastic grass for aquariums, which at first he thought was some kind of sick joke but then got interested in. I had a hard time keeping him off of it, so after his walk I bought the twosome a little container of live grass, which they both enjoyed v. much.

He does not like dogs, even small well-behaved ones, making a dignified withdrawal when he saw them.

TIKA also had a walk (maybe fifteen minutes) that was much more low key. She crouched on top of the half-high cat stands just outside the cat-room. At one point she licked the glass from outside: odd behavior I'd not seen before. 

Tina remains the queen of the mood swing and goes from rubbing up against you to  swatting when you respond, but she's well-behaved while on walks. Both have become door dashers.

After the walks Kenda rolled around some belly up and played some. Tika followed me about and Supervised.  It’s amazing how different they are when on home territory than when coping with intruders, esp. Tina.

—John R. 
-- who's beginning to wonder just how long I've been volunteering for the Cat Rooms. Definitely past the ten-year mark.

*to the extent that at one point a representative of each side Gave Battle

Thursday, May 13, 2021

This is Sad (Pokemon)

 So, Pokemon is so popular now that people are being mugged for their cards.

Sad to see something that brought so many so much enjoyment is being pulled from stores' shelves, but good that those stores are taking precautions to protect their employees.

Just another reminder of what a weird world we live in.


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Guy Gavriel Kay Pembroke Lecture

So, thanks to Doug, Andrew, and Dimitra for reminding me about this year's Pembroke Tolkien Lecture. The speaker this year is Guy Gavriel Kay, who famously worked on Tolkien's manuscripts as the junior partner helping Christopher Tolkien put together THE SILMARILLION before launching his own career as a fantasy author (of fourteen novels so far). I wasn't able to watch the live online presentation, but fortunately it's available (at least for now) on YouTube:

He talks some about Tolkien, but it's Dasent's Bones of the Ox he's interested in, not in revisiting his work on THE SILMARILLION. Recommended for admirers of Kay's fiction and for those who enjoy the insights gained from hearing a fantasy author talk about his or her work (in specific, discussing specific passages in specific books, and in general, about fantasy as a genre). Of particular note is his definition of 'magic realism' as a work of fantasy a critic liked.

I know hearing this draws my eye to the fantasy shelves, where the eleven books of his I have include three I've somehow never gotten around to reading, not to mention the three that have come out in recent years that I not only haven't read but don't have.  Maybe it's time I gave his books a try again.

--John R. 

current reading: MISTRESS MASHAM'S REPOSE (1947)

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Hooper elegy

So, I was interested to find the following passage in the Requiem elegy for Walter Hooper, printed in the new volume of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (Vol. XI #1, page 77) 

Walter found himself libelled and abused for his editorial work,

first by those who were jealous of the opportunity he had been 

given, and then by those he considered friends.

The theme of betrayal unfortunately followed him as he got older

and found himself defrauded and abandoned

by those he had come to think of as family.  

Strong words. Unusually so, I thought, for a requiem mass. Maybe a case of 'now or never'?

--John R.

P.S.: There are several other interestnig pieces in this issue --esp..the ones on Warnie Lewis's boating and on the MIRACLES debate from Anscombe's point of view. I'll see if I can find the time during breaks between the Tolkien events at Kalamazoo to make a post thereon.

My own Kalamazoo presentation comes on Friday. Here's hoping it goes over okay.


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

When the Books Came a-tumbling Down

So, sometime during the night the bookshelves holding my more or less complete set of all TSR/WotC 3e +3.5 D&D books and modules* came crashing down. Luckily the bookcase itself stayed upright when the shelves came down and a lot of the books stayed more or less in place in relation to each other, as you can see in the picture below:

To which I shd add that the top shelf shown here (including Forgotten Realms/Eberron) came down as well while I was clearing away the fallen books.

 I'd just reaching the stage where I'm sorting out these books, along with my modest holdings of 4th edition,* in the ongoing cull. I guess they just anticipated me.

--John R.


All those years of marking up those books; this was the books' revenge, to have a go at marking up me. 

*most of what I have of the current, fifth edition I expect to keep

Friday, April 30, 2021

What is This, and Why do I have it?

So, I was doing some more sorting yesterday when I came across the following:

I have no memory of ever having seen this before. It was in a box with a lot of miscellaneous papers, mostly (but not all) associated with the initial d20 boom. Anyone want to claim it, before it goes into that great big sorting box in the sky? 

--John R.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Finished but not Done

 So, unfortunately I was right that just because I'd reached the end of a piece, it didn't mean I was done working on it. In this case, the problem came when I did a practice reading of my essay and found that it took me twenty-four minutes to read aloud. That's a problem, given that each of us on the panel at Kalamazoo has about fifteen minutes.

So I've been trimming, trying to excise sections yet keep the argument as a whole coherent (and, hopefully, persuasive).  Fortunately  a practice reading of the Short Version today came out at sixteen minutes. That's much better. Some more polishing of the new transitions and another practice reading between now and then and we shd be good to go.

Oh, and I've changed the title of my piece, from "Valinor in America" to "The Lost Road as Faerian Drama".

Tarkus's contribution to all this is to prove the old adage that nothing makes a cat want to be in a room than a closed door keeping him out. Or then closing it to keep him in. Or not leaving it open after letting him out again. 

--John R.

current reading: the latest Murderbot book by Martha Wells (good so far but not  as engaging or gripping as most in the series). After I'm done with it (shdn't take long) I plan to go back to Carpenter's book on The Lost Generation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Flieger on Earendel

So, thanks to A. and D. for sending me to the link where I cd watch Verlyn's talk to the Tolkien Society on the 10th. 

It's basically a look at Tolkien's use of negative space in his mythology. Taking Becket's WAITING FOR GODOT as her touchstone, with its characters on stage constantly awaiting the arrival of of someone who never shows up, Verlyn suggests the lack of The Tale of Earendel may be intended. A real mythology needs gaps, lost material, and Tolkien's failure to provide any full text of Earendel's story looks to her as deliberate, particularly (she notes) because Tolkien put in a number of references that shd lead up to the tale but stop short just where the Tale (or Lay) shd start.

I don't think I agree, at least not without going away and mulling over the argument for a good while.* As so often with Verlyn, who asks the difficult questions, it's thought-provoking and very well written. I conclude that we're going to need a third volume of her collected Tolkienian essays, to go with GREEN SUNS and ALWAYS BE A FAIRY TALE, somewhere down the line.

Here's the link:

--John R.

--current reading: Bebergal's APPENDIX N

*I think it's more a matter of ambition on Tolkien's part: he had the habit where he'd no sooner start a Tale than he'd stop and re-plot it as part of some vastly expanded schema (cf. The Lay of Earendel, THE LOST ROAD, &c), after which the original tale in-progress tended to languish.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Happiness Is a full draft (and a Found Reference)

 So, I've now finished the draft of my Kalamazoo piece. It's due to be delivered on the 14th, so I have the better part of four weeks to polish and practice it. 

Plus I wanted to read one of Verlyn's essays that pertains to the same topic. Her piece came out before I'd come up the idea for mine, but was published after. So I held off reading it until I'd finished my own, since I didn't want my piece to be in reaction to hers. Now that I'm reading it I'm glad to find (a) that it's v. good, as expected, and (b) it takes a significantly different tack than I do. So it shd be fine if I just insert a note in the proper place noting (and recommending) her essay.

Speaking of notes, I have one substantial and substantive one I need to add to address a point Janice came up with during one of the many times she let me run parts of the essay by her.

As for 'found reference', I realized as I was wrapping up the piece that I was going to have to search through some twenty pages of Tolkien's late tangled metaphysical writing to try to find a specific point he made, probably somewhere in 'Laws and Customs among the Eldar'. And opening my copy of HME.X I found the passage I was looking for in some ten minutes. And I'd not only remembered the passage correctly, so that it actually made the point I wanted to make, but I'd made a mark next to it in the book way back on 7/16-05 to draw my attention to the passage when I needed it. I'd like to say this is good timing -- it's really serendipity --but whatever it is, it's welcome.

And tomorrow it's back to revision.

--John R.

current reading: APPENDIX N resumed, midway through the Moorcock (which I disliked) and then on through the Lovecraft (in his Dunsanyist mode, but not v. successfully).

Tomorrow will probably be, of all things, Hemingway's poetry.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Who Is 'the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth'?

So, re-reading the Foreword to THE LORD OF THE RINGS last night I was struck by a familiar passage I realized I haven't fully thought through before. After pointing out that his book is not a roman-a-clef allegory of wartime politics of the World War II era, Tolkien gives an alternative summary of how things wd have gone in his book had that been the case:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war

 in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or 

directed the development of the legend, then certainly

 the Ring would have been seized and used against 

Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but 

enslaved,* and Barad-dur would not have been 

destroyed but occupied.  Saruman, failing to get 

possession of the Ring, would in the confusion

 and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor 

the missing links in his own researches into 

Ring-lore, and before long would have made 

a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge 

the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth.  In that conflict 

both sides would have held hobbits in hatred 

and contempt: they would not long have survived 

even as slaves.


Although Tolkien does not name this 'self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth', he offers some clues as to who he, or she, might be.

First, we know that it's not Sauron, who has been defeated and imprisoned.

Second, we know it's not Saruman, since he's acting in opposition to the Ruler as his or her rival.

To this I wd add that the Ruler wd have to have (1) an opportunity to seize the Ring and (2) the stature to be able to wield it**

I therefore come up with a list of seven candidates:***








Of these, I think Boromir and Denethor are the likeliest: the ones most in favor of using the Enemy's weapons against him. Plus of course Boromir actually attempts to steal the Ring, and Denethor makes it quite clear that he wd have used the Ring had it been in his possession. 

On the other hand, that not even Isildur cd master it cd be used to build an argument that sufficient stature requires the new owner of the Ring to have been Maiar, not Mortal. If so, the list of candidates shrinks to just three: Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel -- all of whom are already Ringbearers of the Three Elven Rings.

Set against this is the fact that Sauron seems to most fear Aragorn, once he learns of his existence, and you'd think the Dark Lord wd know better than anyone else who posed the greatest threat to him in terms of pure power politics.

So, though I cd make a case for any of these seven, Denethor gets my vote of likeliest to turn into the next Sauron, with Boromir close behind.

--John R

*This of course wd have been repeating Ar-Pharazon's mistake

 **or it wd just wind up (briefly) in the possession of another Gollum. 

***I exclude Bombadil from this list, for reasons I assume will be obvious

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Her Pet Bee

So, occasionally I like to check out The Dodo, a website largely devoted to stories of people finding and rescuing animals (esp abandoned kittens). Occasionally they do stories about someone helping a wild animal. But I hadn't seen a segment on rescuing a bumble bee before. Here's the piece:

And just because it's good from time to time to revisit the classics, here's the saga of Potato Cat

--John R.

current viewing: HEMINGWAY by Ken Burns (up to 1929). One-third of the way through, and I'm baffled why they didn't do this on The Lost Generation (Pound, Joyce, Fitzgerald) rather than just Hemingway. Might dig out and skim Carpenter's GENIUSES TOGETHER, his book on postwar Americans in Paris. 


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Tolkien Society Awards announced

 So, this year's Tolkien Society awards  for excellence in Tolkien Scholarship have just been announced:

  • Ted Nasmith for best Tolkien-related artwork
    • Verlyn Flieger for best essay: “Defying and Defining Darkness"
    • Best book: JRRT's Unfinished Tales (illustrated edition)

    Congratulations to all the winners, and the nominees as well. Here's the link.

    --John R.

    --current reading: "Plato's Atlantis and the Post-Platonic Tradition in Tolkien's Downfall of Numenor" by Michael Kleu

    Saturday, April 10, 2021

    Two Roads Diverged

     So, today I finally managed to get the Covid vaccination. We were lucky and both got the one-shot Johnson & Johnson, and didn't even have to go more than about two miles away to reach the site.

    Here's hoping others who have been waiting will soon share in our luck.

    Ironically, today turns out to be exactly one year from when we wd have left for our big one-in-a-lifetime trip to see the pyramids and the sphinx, had the world not turned upside down.  I may go back in and rewatch some of the walking tours I dug out at the time we were planning our itinerary.

    --John R.

    --current reading: Kipling biography (just finished)

    --currently watching: The Russian FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

    Friday, April 9, 2021

    The New Arrivals

    So, two new books -- both of them on Tolkien -- have arrived within the last two weeks.

    The first is TOLKIEN & THE CLASSICAL WORLD, edited by Hamish Williams, a substantial volume of four hundred pages. This addresses a topic you'd have thought wd have received a lot of attention before, but oddly has been the subject of just the occasional essay, like Reckford's piece from 1987 on Bilbo and Odysseus. The only previous book I know of on the topic is Morse's slim little volume (circa 1986), which is more a pamphlet than a full size book.  I'm particularly looking forward to the pieces on Atlantis, the Ring of Gyges, and Rohan.

    The second is THE SCIENCE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, edited by Roland Lehoucq, Loic Mangin, & Jean-Sebastien Steyer. Oddly enough, the title page doesn't list the authors of the individual essays; you have to turn to the first page of each essay for that. There's been a book on this topic before (Henry Gee's eminently readable 2004 book, also called THE SCIENCE OF MIDDLE-EARTH) but even a quick glance shows there's much more to say. Another slightly unusual feature of this book is that its contributors seem to mostly have a French background, as opposed the the US/UK background of most writers of books on Tolkien.

    Two other non-Tolkienian titles I'm reading as ebooks are a biography of Kipling (who turns out to be a deeply unsympathetic figure) and a light novel series. 

    Soon there will be the latest in the Murderbot series. In the meantime, Clarke's PIRANESI is waiting in the wings.

    So many good, or potentially good, books waiting . . . 

    --John R.


    Thursday, April 8, 2021

    Soos Creek

    Today I saw not a wicker-man but a wicker-unicorn.

    Talk about mixed signals.

    --John R.  

    Friday, March 26, 2021

    A million dollars won't buy Tolkien's house

    So, the attempt to crowd-fund the purchase of Tolkien's house on Northmoor Road* has fallen through through lack of funding. Their goal was four and a half million pounds but in US money they only got one million dollars pledged out of six million dollar goal. 

    They're currently going with their backup plan of establishing a Tolkien center elsewhere in Oxford which wd offer tours, tea, and talks. The first of these, an online course in writing fantasy, is scheduled for April 20th.

    --John R

    *or to be more accurate, one of Tolkien's houses on Northmoor Road (he'd previously lived next door)

    Thursday, March 25, 2021

     So,  how many copies of THE LORD OF THE RINGS does one man need?

    The answer: apparently, one more:

    --John R. 

    So, I've been reading some Kipling and was reminded of W. H. Auden's belief  that history will forgive an author his or her personal failings so long as the work is good.  That seems to run counter to the current milieu. 


     Time  . . .

    Worships language and forgives

    Everyone by whom it lives . . .


    Time with this strange excuse

    Pardoned Kipling and his views

    And will pardon Paul Claudel

    Pardons him for writing well.

                —W. H. Auden, 1939

    Tuesday, March 23, 2021

    Old TSR Boardgames (DUNGEON)

    So, perhaps the most successful TSR boardgames of them all was DUNGEON, the creation of Dave Megarry,*  which went through at least six editions, the earliest as far back as 1975 (the year after D&D itself debuted) and the most recent almost forty years later in 2014. Part of its longevity was no doubt due to its conveying the feel of a dungeon crawl. This must have made DUNGEON a godsend to those who wanted to play D&D but cdn't find a DM or reliably put together enough people to form a PC party. 

    Once again my cache of this particular TSR boardgame turn out to be a misc collection of incomplete copies which fortunately can be combined to make a playable game.

    FIRST EDITION.  1975  

    --Patch Press, Beloit  (no sku#).

    Like a few of the other early bookshelf boardgames from TSR, this one has a horizontal orientation, changed to the standard vertical orientation in the next edition (cf the same shift between the 5th and 6th editions of Fight In The Sky). Most of those box bottoms are blank but this one is an exception, with a paragraph of text pumping the game.

    My copy has the game board, which someone has carefully  marked up, apparently to show production what color goes with each space. Also in the box are the cards,  pawns, and dice. There's no rulebook, but there is the following intriguing note in with the other components:

    Steve Winter's note to Frank Mentzer.

    When I showed this to some of the TSR alumni I game with, they not only confirmed that 'Frank' wd have been Frank Mentzer, Gygax's right-hand man, but to all our surprise Steve Winter recognized the handwriting of this note to be his own. 

     SECOND EDITION.  date unknown; poss. also 1975.  (sku#1002)

    This box may just be a reprint or variant of the above rather than an 'edition', but in any case combining this with the first edition fortunately enables me to fill out a complete playable set. The box lacks the board and playing pieces (pawns) but contains what seems to be a full set of cards (unpunched), the rulebook, and two copies of the double-sided 'Introductory Game' rules. This version of the rules gives the following credits:

    Game Design: David R. Meggary.  [sic]  

    Consultation and Game Development: E. Gary Gygax. 

    Cover Artwork: Larry Kessling

    Board Artwork: Keith Hill and Richard Hill

    Monster and Treasure Card Artwork: Tracy Lesch

    Printing: Patch Press, Inc.

    NOTE: also in this box is a copy of the rules for the next (third) edition of the game. I'll defer discussion of that till I get to the next section, other than to note that these artists' names are unfamiliar to me; I suspect they were part of the Minnesota gaming contingent rather than belonging to the TSR stable. 

    THIRD EDITION.   1980 or 81? (sku#1010).  ROSLOF COVER. (bottom damaged)

    Here we have an almost playable game: the board (an actual board this time, replacing the earlier postermap), two copies of the rules (each including the 'Introductory Game' rules sheet), cards, two unpunched sheet of chits, pawns, dice, and a 'Gateway to Adventure' 1981 TSR catalogue.

    This box looks much more like a mainstream boardgame, like Monopoly, and less like a hobby game.

    The credits here are a good deal different, and more closely resemble The Usual Suspects:

    Design:  David R. Megarry

    Development: Gary Gygax

    Revised by: Harold Johnson

    Revision Assistance: Gary Gygax, Allen Hammack, Evan Robinson, Lawrence Schich

    Box Cover: Jim Roslof

    Gameboard Revision: Jim Roslof

    Card Art: David S. LaForce, Jim Roslof

    FOURTH EDITION. 'THE CLASSIC DUNGEON'.  1992 (Cover damaged). (sku#1045)

    The thing that most stands out for this edition is the great Keith Parkinson's  cover. That, and the fact that my copy is water-damaged so that artwork is almost entirely obscured.** In fact my copy of the Third Edition's bottom is stuck to the top of my copy of the Fourth Edition's top. 

    A pity, really, since here I've got the whole game: playing board, cards, dice, plastic miniatures (replacing the pawns of old), and digest-sized rulebook. Once again the credits have changed quite a bit:

    Original Design: David R. Megarry

    Development and Additional Design: Jeff Grubb, Steve Winter, Michael Gray, Gary Gygax

    Editing and Rulebook: Scott Haring

    Typesetting: Angelika Lokotz

    FIFTH EDITION. 2012.  WotC.

    I bought this one at the Barnes & Noble at SouthCenter on Monday April 29th 2013 --i.e., a good while after I'd left TSR/WotC/Hasbro for the last time. I played it with Steve Winter and Luis that same night. I liked it, but since it's since sat on my shelf undisturbed for eight years maybe it's time to let someone else enjoy it. Of them all this one is obviously in the best shape and includes all the components: board, rules, cards, tokens, paper stand-up figures, dice.

    The credits once again reflect a generational turn-over of creative staff. 

    Original Design: David R. Magarry

    Development: Chris Dupuis, Jeff Grubb, Steve Winter, Michael Gray, Gary Gygax

    Editing: Jennifer Clarke Wilkes

    D&D R&D Senior Group Manager: Mike Mearls

    --plus another two dozen or so who affected the product in some way (management, art, playtesting)

    [SIXTH EDITION. 2014]

    -- I don't have this edition, but I'm told it's pretty much the same as 5th edition except with different art, more cartoony in style, no doubt in hopes of attracting a younger audience.

    And there it is. If I've left out any editions, let me know.

    --John R.

    --current reading: Ordway, Kipling (REWARDS & FAIRIES), light novel

    *TSR seems to have been unsure how to spell Megarry's name. It's given as Megary on the sides of the first edition box, Meggary on the title page of the second edition rules and in this edition's credits, while the third edition title page and credits give Megarry, which seems to be the actual name.  Meggary was part of one of the two great pools of talent TSR drew on in its inception: he belonged to the Minnesota games who came to be associated with Arneson (the other being the Lake Geneva area games who came to be associated with Gygax).

    **To cut a long story short: when we moved to the house in Delavan I thought the storage shed's roof didn't leak and stored a lot of games in there.  It did.