Sunday, January 31, 2021

Giants in the Oerth

 So, my presentation (via Zoom) about fantasy fiction's influence on the creation of D&D went well.

If you missed the live event last Thursday, here's the link to a You Tube recording of the whole event. 

It starts with a welcome to the event, followed on an explanation of what D&D is for those who are new to the game. Then I do my bit, followed by a Q&A.

I enjoyed putting my piece together and hope those who like me are interested in both fantasy fiction and roleplaying games will find it worthwhile. If there's anything I didn't cover in the Q&A let me know via Comments and I'll do my best to answer it here.

--John R.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

John Garth on Le Guin and Tolkien

So, thanks to Janice for sharing the link to an interesting piece by John Garth, who suggests that Le Guin paid a hidden tribute to JRRT by making "tolk" and "-ien" mean Earth (or stone) + Sea in her invented language created for her EARTHSEA trilogy. Right or wrong (and there seems to be no way to find out now) it's an intriguing idea.

Co-incidentally I'd just re-read THE TOMBS OF ATUAN the day before --the first book of fantasy I read after Tolkien himself, way back in the fall of 1973 (when it was quite a new book). This makes it the first of many books I read after being told it was 'like Tolkien'. And I've always rather unfairly judged by that standard. Re-reading it now for what I think is the fourth (or fifth) time I still find it claustrophobic and oppressive --which is the point, of course, but still doesn't make the experience of reading it any less drab and nightmarish. 

And since I've found out over time that books change depending on what books you've read before and after them,* I now find myself wishing that someone wd do a study comparing Le Guin's TOMBS OF ATUAN with another labyrinth book:: Mary Renault's THE KING MUST DIE, with which I can now see it shares a lot of what I assume are deliberate parallels. 

Source-study and influence are always tricky, though. It would seem clear to me now that Lewis's TILL WE HAVE FACES was very deliberately written in the style and mode of Mary Renault, whose work we know Lewis admired, except that the timing doesn't work out: Lewis's book would have already been written or at least drafted by the time Renault's was published. 

Here's the link:

--John R.

current reading: THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS by Sy Montgomery (2015)

*the old 'statues in the garden' analogy

Monday, January 25, 2021

A Forgotten TSR Project

 So, I've been skimming Flint Dille's memoir of his time in Hollywood. While it disappointing has much less about Gygax than I'd expected, it does have some glimpses of what went so disastrously wrong with TSR West Coast --that is, the first time. 

More interestingly, it makes mention of a project I'd never heard of before: THE SCEPTRE OF SEVEN SOULS. Dille describes this as "a genre-mormorphing story that connected all of TSR's franchises at the time". That is, the story began in a D&D world with a hero-vs.-evil-wizard plot. The wizard escapes at the end of the first episode/story arc, and hero and villain find themselves atop a train in a BOOT HILL setting (the wild west). From there the story(s) continue, taking in a TOP SECRET scenario, a Fu Manchu GANG BUSTERS story, a computer-gone-mad GAMMA WORLD piece, and wrapping up with, of all things, STAR FRONTIERS*

"The MacGuffin of the series was a sceptre forged by seven ancient sorcerers that divided into seven parts. Each part was a portal to a different world. I have no idea whether we thought we could fit all of this into one movie or we were selling them on seven movies or we had a 'back pocket' idea of a TV series". 

This of course sounds like it owes something to the Rod of Seven Parts, one of the powerful Artifacts listed in the AD&D DMG. 

 One hook Gygax & Dille hoped wd serve as a lure to Hollywood Powers That Be was a mooted casting of Orson Welles as the "Dungeon Master" (whether this is the same as the villain of the series is unclear). Plus Dille at least thought it cd be filmed cheaply using already-existing backlots. 

In the end nothing came of the project and Dille confesses that he's either lost or mislaid his copy. So it seems probable that no copy survives. Sad to say, judging from what little we know, I see no sign that had this actually made it to the screen there's nothing in this account that makes me think THE SCEPTRE OF SEVEN SOULS wd have been any less dreadful than the D&D Cartoon or the D&D Movie.   Pity.

--John R.

*That of course equals six. There's a suggestion that fitting in there somewhere as the seventh wd be XXVc (i.e. BUCK ROGERS)--except that came along much later (circa 1990), whereas the project described here is dated by Dille to 1984. This suggests Dille may be conflating events in his memory, as is easy to do.

My Talk on D&D This Thursday

So, just a reminder for folks who may be interested that my talk on D&D's sources in and influence on fantasy fiction is this week.* Specifically Thursday the 28th at 6 pm Greenwich Time (10 am my time). 

The event is jointly sponsored by The Centre for Fantasy & the Fantastic and by The Games and Gaming Lab 

Registration is free, but you have to get a ticket, mainlyas a matter of logistics, so they know how many people to expect.

Here's the link:

--And now back to practicing the delivery and looking up various odds and ends.**

--John R.

*It will surprise no one that Tolkien's name comes up a time or two.

**Yes my piece has footnotes, even though I won't be delivering them. Once a footnotist, always a footnotist.

Two Years Ago for Tarkus and Tyburn

So, Janice reminds me that it's two years ago today that Tarkus and Tyburn came home with us to stay. They were gangly half-cats back then with a lot of kitten still in them. Now they're full size young adults but still energetic, loving a good game, a good warm fire, and the occasional walk. I'm glad they joined us before the pandemic: having them with us has made the quarantine easier to handle.

Though they're not going to like it when we take them in to the vet to get their booster shots sometime soon.

--And now back to practicing my talk for Glasgow.

--John R.

--current reading: THE TOMBS OF ATUAN (just finished) and THE ELUSIVE SHIFT.  Just started THE SOUL OF AN OCTUPUS and PLAYING AT THE WORLD


Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Return of The Cat Room

So, after having been closed for the holidays and Covid crisis, the cat room is now open again for adoptions. I missed last week because of health issues but made it in today (Friday the 22nd). 

Of the five cats they reopened the room with, three had already been adopted and one gone back up to Arlington for health issues. That just left Mr. Loki, who had the room all to himself and loved it. He was out the whole two hours I was there, the first hour walking out in the store and the second playing and getting petted in the cat room. 

Having spent that much time with him one-on-one, I think that instead of ‘Loki’ (god of mischief) his name shd be Mr. Low-Key because he’s so mellow. And while he may not like other cats, he loves people. Over and over during the walk he’d go up to a customer or employee, stopping a little way off. If they spoke to him or held a hand out he’d go over and ask to be petted; otherwise he’d go off in another direction. In short he’s quite the charmer and attracted a lot of attention. Towards the end of the walk, and again later back in the cat room, he went belly-up and asked for belly rubs. For a while I held him belly-up in my lap on the bench. Luckily he’s the kind of cat who tells you when he’s had enough. 

For the rest of the time he got groomed and petted and played with. I can also confirm that he loves catnip, to the extent that he just inhales the stuff. Also that the new arrangement of stuff in the store around the cat room a great improvement, like that row of cat-trees between the cat room and the aquariums. 

Here’s a picture of him just after he’s come out to start his walk and another of him belly-up in my lap. Parker used to do that and wd even fall asleep in that position when I was in the rocker but it's rare.

A great cat who I hope will soon find a home that appreciates him.



Friday, January 22, 2021


Sadness is getting back the Thinking of You card you sent a close friend, returned to you marked deceased.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Happiness . . .

 Happiness is having finished a complete draft eight days ahead of deadline.

Now to spend the next few days polishing, checking the references, writing up the notes, and practicing (and timing) the delivery.

But for now, being more or less done ahead of the deadline is such an unusual experience for me that I thought I shd savor it.

--John R.

--current reading: various stories by Gygax (bad), Gardner Fox (really bad), and Harry Fischer (the jury is out) that appeared in early issues of THE DRAGON.

--Jn Peterson's new book  THE ELUSIVE SHIFT

--various odds and ends relating to things I'm working on.

Friday, January 15, 2021


 So, my softcover hardcopy edition of the new Kickstarted rpg based on the Sargasso Sea stories of Wm Hope Hodgson has now arrived: GREY SEAS ARE DREAMING OF MY DEATH: A William Hope Hodgson rpg by Derek Sotak w. Kevin Ross & J. R. Hamantaschen.

With a boutique game such as this the first requirement for success is to avoid being generic. The more individualistic the better. A game based on a particular author's work shd strive to capture the flavour of that author's world, characters, and plots --in this case, Hodgson's Sargasso Sea stories as recorded in such works as "The Derelict", "The Voice in the Night", "The Stone Ship", THE BOATS OF THE GLEN CARRIG, &c. 

Since I'm hoping to play this game at some point down the road I'm going to hold off reading any of the three adventures (or 'Shanty') included in the rulebook, so lrt's skip over those for now.

The whole game is laid out in one modest booklet of about a hundred pages, of which the following hight points shd give a good idea of the game.

The DM who runs the game is here known as The Captain.

The rest of the PCs all take up positions as members of 'The 'Crew'. 

Players can choose characters from twelve pregenerated roles:

The Bosun, The Captain's Boy, The Carpenter, The Castaway, The Cook, The First Mate, The Fungal Human, The Jonah, The Second Mate, The Shore Dweller, The Surgeon, and The Whaler.

Each character has eight Stats. Instead of the familiar Strength, Intelligence, & Wisdom et al of D&D here we find

Brawn, Nimbleness, Perspicacity, Backbone, Physique, Seaworthyness, Salt, and Mettle.

The designer also provides an example of the combat system and of the overall resolution system.

Miscellaneous points include ships, weapons, available medicines, food and Monsters. 

This lengthy section covers not just the giant squid, octopuses, and giant crabs that populate Hodgson's sea-stories* but ranges further afield to include some creatures found in W.H.H.'s other work: 

Ab-humans (THE NIGHT LAND), Swine-Thing (HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND), The Watchers (THE NIGHT LAND; essentially Great Old Ones) . 

All in all, it looks like a quirky system. The designer's determination to re-name every stat and function in an effort to make the game more distinctive will annoy some and amuse others: to each his or her own.

I'll post again somewhere down the line with an update of what the game plays like.

Dibs on the fungal human.


--current reading: collection of Hodgson stories, the newspapers

*who cd resist the chance to fight a bathypelagic centipede?

Nice Piece in Memory of Walter Hooper

So, came across a short piece in memory of Walter Hooper that I thought did a good job of acknowledging his achievements.  Here's the link to it posted on the Wade Center website (in recognition of his having won their Lifetime Achievement award).

Knowing that he was a great lover of cats (he occasionally made reference to one storied cat named Claire the Meek), I found myself wondering whether he had a cat at the time of his death and what provisions might have been made for her.

--John R.


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Four Myths for Elwin Ransom

 So, I'd been thinking lately about the Biblical myths C. S. Lewis chose as the inspirations for each of the four books in his Ransom series. The myths themselves aren't that hard to identify, but looking back on them now I'm wondering if there's some unifying thread I missed. 

OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET: the legend of War in Heaven and the fall of the Angels 

PERELANDRA: the Garden of Eden on the cusp of the Fall

 THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH: the Tower of Babel

THE DARK TOWER: Cain's children and the Mark of Cain (possibly with a bit of Cain thrown in)

Two of the four come straight out of the Bible, one Old Testament, the other New. One is Apocryphal (Book of Enoch), another part-canonical, part apocryphal. If there's a pattern here I don't see it. Perhaps the Biblical theme is all that was needed. 

Something to ponder over and see if at some point a plausible answer pops out.

--John R.

current reading: THE ELUSIVE SHIFT by Jon Peterson (2020), and ADRIFT ON THE HAUNTED SEAS by Wm Hope Hodgson (assembled 2005)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Robert Frost and TAM LIN

So, I've now finished reading Pamela Dean's TAM LIN, one of Windling's Fairy Tale Series. I thought I'd read this at the time it came out (1991) but it had passed from my memory so thoroughly that I was in doubt about whether I had read it before until I was half way through.

Now that I've read it again I find that, (1) like the other volumes in the series I read, the original ballad or fairy tale is so much better than these adaptations that it undercuts the entire project, and (2) the best thing about them are the Thomas Canty covers --if not his best work then close to it.

That said, I did enjoy this characterization of one minor character:

“the problem with Danny was that he felt the entire human race was so peculiar that no single peculiarity . . . made any more impression on him than any other” (page 234)

Even better was this bit about Robert Frost:

[Thomas said] “But I have other things to do.”

“And miles to go, before you sleep,” said Nick.

“My high-school  English teacher,” said Tina over the back of her seat, “said that line was about death. I never really believed it.”

“You can’t ask Robert Frost,” said Nick reflectively. “He’s dead.”

“What did you think it meant, Tina?” said Thomas, a little hollowly.

“I thought it meant he had miles to go before he slept,” said Tina. “He’s driving a horse through a snowstorm after dark and he’s a long way from home. That’s what it says. It doesn’t say a single thing about death.”

Nick and Janet looked at each other. After a moment Nick said, “While there is a great deal to be said, in the abstract, for that view of poetical criticism, I think it does miss a something in this poem. Did you like it?

“Yes,” said Tina.


“I liked the way it sounded and the way it described the snow. Snow does that.”

“The pleasure of recognition,” said Nick.


“Aristotle validates your reaction.”

“Be quiet,” said Thomas, “leave the girl alone. I don't mind talking about poetry, but I'm damned if I'll talk about critics.”

(pages 164-165)

It’s pretty clear from context in the book that this is meant to make Tina look stupid. But it turns out we can ask Frost, and he'd come down on Tina's side. I used to have an audiotape from the late 1950s  of Frost doing a reading of some of his poems. And in it he insisted that several of his most famous poems, this one among them, were meant to be read literally, with no subtext. Personally I think Frost was having us on, but it does kinda undercuts Dean’s point.

--John R.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

My Talk in Glasgow (D&D and Fantasy Fiction)

 So, my next presentation has now been officially announced: 

D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth

This event is being sponsored by The University of Glasgow's Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic in conjunction with their Games and Gaming Lab. I believe the event is free but that people who take part need to sign up by getting a ticket ahead of time, so the organizers know how many attendees to expect.

The presentation takes place on Tuesday January 28th at 6 pm Greenwich time, or in about three weeks at 10 am my time. It'll be a 'webinar' similar in format with Doug Anderson et al's talk on David Lindsay back in November.* 

I'll be looking at the interconnections between fantasy fiction and Dungeons & Dragons.** If you're interested, drop by on the 28th and see what you think.

--John R.

current reading: TAM LIN (the novel) by Pamela Dean and ADRIFT ON THE HAUNTED SEA, a collection of supernatural sea stories by Wm Hope Hodgson and edited by Doug Anderson.

current music: more of the same.

* now available online at

**and yes, Tolkien plays a crucial role in that process.

Yesterday's Coup

 So, two songs ran through my head yesterday as I watched and read about the attempted coup:

The Lady's Got Potential from EVITA (the recast version)

You Can't Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones in one of their more reflective moods.

--John R.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Tolkien's Birthday

 So, today being Tolkien's birthday, I thought I'd join the Tolkien Society's toast --an annual event but one I've never taken part in before. This year the magic of Zoom made it so much easier for those of us strewn about the map.

As a tea-totaler I hoisted my tea cup filled with tea as my beverage of choice. The event started off with a reading of Bilbo's farewell speech from the opening chapter of LotR, which I enjoyed v. much. There's nothing like hearing Tolkien read aloud to appreciate the quality of his prose.

First came a toast to the queen, which I passed on.

Second  was Absent Friends and the Third  The Professor, both of which I naturally joined in.

Just over two hundred and fifty people took part; those I know included David Bratman, Kristine Larsen, Charles Noad, David Doughan, Denis Bridoux, and probably others I missed.

After the main event was over came a rollover into group chats (I found myself one of eight people in group 17). We were geographically as widely scattered as Hull, London, Ghent, The Canal Zone, and Seattle. Our number included someone looking forward to visiting New Zealand after the pandemic is past and seeing the sites appearing in the Peter Jackson movies. Another had worked on the HUNT FOR GOLLUM fan film. Yet another was a Belgium filmmaker who'd done a short documentary on book collectors that I looked up afterwards and enjoyed viewing online:

In short, I'd say an hour well spent.

--John R.

current reading: TAM LIN by Pamela Dean (1991)

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Reading List

So, I just finished book # II.3622, the 3622nd book in my second (current) reading list: THE WORLD OF CRITICAL ROLE by Liz Marsham, a book about a livestreaming D&D group. 

A year ago at this time I'd just finished up 1177: THE YEAR CIVILIZATION COLLAPSED by Erich H. Cline (II.3548) and TOLKIEN'S LOST CHAUCER by Jn M. Bowers (II.3547), which I reviewed, following these up with a re-reading of THE LAST BOOKS OF H. G. Wells ('The Happy Turning' and 'Mind at the End of its Tether'), II.3549.

Twenty years ago today I was reading Dick Francis's SECOND WIND (II.2281) among a string of John Bellairs/Brad Strickland books (II.2273, 2276, 2278, 2279, 2282).  

Thirty years ago I was reading and re-reading some Wodehouse, e.g. THANK YOU JEEVES (II.1432) and CODE OF THE WOOSTERS (II.1433), preceded by Pratchett & Gaiman's GOOD OMENS (II.1430)* and followed by  Hughart's EIGHT SKILLED GENTLEMEN (II.1434), a gift from my friend Taum.

Forty years ago today I was finishing up Spenser's THE FAERIE QUEENE (I.478), parts of which I read while selling tickets at the local drive-in theatre; followed by the Mutabilitie Cantos the next day, then Wm Blake's THE BOOK OF URIZEN (I.480) and Wilde's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (I.481). I cd read more in those days. Still, the two lists together come to more than four thousand books in forty-five years, which I suppose is not too bad. 

And now, on to #3623 & #3624.

--John R.

*which took twenty-nine of the intervening thirty years to finally get filmed

UPDATE: I originally misplaced the page that tells what I was reading twenty years back but have now found it and inserted a paragraph into the piece where appropriate. --JDR

Saturday, January 2, 2021


 So, I just finished the first book of 2021, THE WORLD OF CRITICAL ROLL by Liz Marsham (2020),* a history of and puff-piece for a livestreaming troupe who have done a lot to popularize D&D. I've only seen one and a half of their shows, both Cthulhu-themed one-offs. I greatly enjoyed their Crystal Palace adventure but tuned out halfway through a second C.o.C. adventure, annoyed by one of the actresses who kept upending the plot to draw attention to her character.

The book itself is largely the history of a Monty Haul campaign fleshed out with 'let me tell you about my character'. I found it of interest as a detailed account of the livestream gaming phenomenon: people watching people play D&D, the players being professional quality actors/actresses and voice-actors/actresses. 

It's fascinating how all the predictions that tabletop rpgs wd inevitably fade away, their audience deserting them for computer gaming, turned out to have got it backwards.** Far from fading out, in-person gaming is thriving, and more people are playing D&D now than ever before.

I wonder what Gygax and Arneson wd make of it all.

--John R.

*II.3622 on the reading list.

**I think 4th edition D&D's main weakness was that rather than playing to its strengths it more or less surrendered and tried to make D&D more like a computer game (and ccg). 

New Year's Resolution: Blog More

 So, I'm not usually much for 'Resolutions', but here're not just one but two for 2021:

First,  to post more here on the blog. My posts have always come in waves, periods of activity alternating with lacuna. Let's see if I can shorten the dry spells.

Second, to read more books --or, more accurately, to finish more of the books I start, since it's only books I read all the way through that get added to the Reading List.

We'll see how it goes.

--John R.

--current reading: CRITICAL ROLL

--today's song "The Ballad of Gillagan's Isle"