Monday, December 27, 2021

Much Activity in the Cat Room (Fr.12/24-21)


What an amazing end of the year it’s been, with so many cats finding new homes in October, November, and now December. I’d no sooner gotten to know Shy VIOLET and sweet PARIS (a tree cat if ever I saw one) than both were in new homes (hurray!) and six new cats arrived (if I’ve got my notes right): CLYDE* and STELLASCORPIO and TAURUS (11 month old little black panthers), BONNY (four month old a little grey tabby) and her partner CASANOVA with his remarkable markings (I’d never seen a Snowshoe before). 

Of these, not only did Clyde get adopted before I’d even seen him, but the same thing happened with Stella. When I arrived for my Friday midday shift at noon to find one of my fellow volunteers  who’d just completed Stella’s adoption. And at the end of the same shift at two o’clock another volunteer came to take care of the adoptions of SCORPIO and TAURUS.

In between I’d let the younger kittens out first (for about an hour), then the older kittens for their turn. I was surprised that the little black panthers were ready to go back into the residences after a half hour or so. So the smaller kittens (Casanova and Bonny) had another turn, which they appreciated. They loved dashing about chasing toys; Casanova in particular likes to drag the toy away. I offered each of the four little cats a walk but got firm refusals all round. I did manage to get the leash on each one for about five minutes or so within the room, thinking it might be a first step towards actual walks to come, kind of like a bike with training wheels. In-between playing with kittens I cleaned and sanitized what I assume had been Stella’s cube.

Lots of people stopping by to look at the cats, who were happy to be on display in the windows.

Now if only our two remaining kittens can find a home over the next week or so what a great finish on the year it’ll be.

—John R.

*my cat Parker, famous (notorious) as 'The Cat Who Bit People', was originally named 'Clyde'; I had renamed him PARKER before finishing the ride home.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

A Voice from the Grave

 So, yesterday I got a message from a friend, Jared Lobdell, who's been dead from three years or so. At first I thought this might be the result of his having set up some automatic notification --something I know happens with Facebook occasionally. But this was an email and there seems to be no particular significance in that particular day. Then too on closer look the message was purposefully vague, almost certainly some spammer's putting together two random email from/to two random people. So, delete unopened. But it has brought back memories of Jared, one of the strangest and most erudite among my Tolkien friends.

--John R,

who will probably be re-reading one of Jared's pieces within the next few weeks  

Friday, December 17, 2021

Cabell's View of American Literature

 So, here's a quote I found in further reading of the Cabell. It comes from a little fable he wrote parodying his experience of being the target of censorship. This view of American literature comes from the 1926 (post-censor challenge) edition of JURGEN.

I was pleased to see that the three figures Cabell singles out include both of my two favorite American authors.

Although it's deeply ironic that Cabell uses the term 'philistine' for point of view he deplores.

--John R.

Jurgen vs. The Philistines: 


'. . . we of Philistia have been pestered by three of these makers of literature. Yes, there was Edgar, whom I starved and hunted until I was tired of it: then I chased him up a back alley one night, and knocked out those annoying brains of his. And there was Walt, whom I chivvied and battered from place to place, and made a paralytic of him: and him, too, I labelled offensive and lewd and lascivious and indecent. Then later there was Mark, whom I frightened into disguising himself in a clown's suit, so that nobody might suspect him to be a maker of literature: indeed I frightened him so that he hid away the greater part of what he had made until after he was dead, and I could not get at him . . .  Still, these are the only three detected makers of literature that have ever infested Philistia, thanks be to goodness and my vigilance, but for both of which we might have been no more free from makers of literature than are the other countries.'


'Now, but these three,' cried Jurgen, 'are the glory of Philistia: and of all that Philistia has produced, it is these three alone, whom living you made least of, that to-day are honored wherever art is honored, and where nobody bothers one way or the other about Philistia.'


'What is art to me [?] . . . I have no concern with art and letters . . . '


Thursday, December 16, 2021

Unsubtle (The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice)

 So, I've been doing a little work on James Branch Cabell lately, which included reading up a bit on The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, the group who tried to get Cabell's book JURGEN banned. The attempt backfired, generating a mountain of publicity in the book's favor and boosting Cabell's career.

All this I had known, but I had not known that the group (boosted, at least early on, by the YMCA) lasted some seventy-five years, and that among its targets were Theodore Dreiser, Margaret Sanger, Mae West, James Joyce, and Edmund Wilson (I suspect in fact that Wilson's interest in Cabell originated from their sharing this in common).

I had also not seen the Society's seal (reproduced above) before. I'll give them credit for one thing: unlike many censors they make no secret of their goals. On the left side of the seal we see a figure (presumably a book seller, printer, or publisher), hands tided behind his back, being arrested by a uniformed police officer. On the right we see a book-burning, as a stern figure tosses more volumes into the flames.


--John R.

--current reading: JURGEN by James Branch Cabell (1919)

--current music: The Kinks (favorite selections)

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Monkees

So, the passing of Mike Nesmith leaves Micky Dolenz (who was lead singer on most of their hits) as the last surviving member of The Monkees, the best of the sixties synthetic groups like Herman's Hermits, The Partridge Family, & The Archies.  In the wake of the British Invasion, record company executives and producers put together faux-Beatles groups whose job was to sound as much like the Beatles of the HARD DAY'S NIGHT/HELP! era as possible. And of all these groups, The Monkees put out the most catchy songs, largely helped by producer Don Kirshner's recruitment of top-notch songwriters (such as Neil Diamond, whose 'I'm a Believer' demo trumps the group's cover version). It was great fun if you were a kid (I was in elementary school and thus part of their target audience). Pity they overstayed their welcome and after their breakup eventually drifted into an endless string of partial-group reunions. As for Nesmith himself, on the one hand I can sympathize with the man whose public life was almost entirely dominated by his self in his twenties, while on the other his surly attitude to his and his partners' achievement wore thin decades ago. 

Still, eight good songs is more than a lot of groups at the time managed. Ironically it's a stronger discography than many a group of the time with more 'authenticity'.

--John R.

Here's a short Monkees' playlist I've been enjoying this week; give them a shot if you enjoy the British invasion era / sixties rock.

The Monkees (theme song)

Last Train to Clarksville

I'm a Believer

Not Your Stepping Stone

Pleasant Valley Sunday

Daydream Believer


     Randy Scouse Git

"In the Tolkien Tradition" follow up

 So, thanks to Mykhalailo Nazarenko, Doug Anderson, and Dale Nelson for sharing the results of their researches into  when 'like Tolkien' blurbs first appeared on early post-Tolkien fantasy novels.

First, Mykhalailo pointed out that the copyright date given in the Ace actually applied not to the Ace paperback (1965) but the original hardcover (1960).

Given Ace's history of pirating books (cf. famously the Ace LotR, that same year of 1965) I shd have been more wary about taking their copyrights page at face volume. Here's what it looks like:

By contrast, the Ace FELLOWSHIP reads


Complete & Unabridged

Cover and title page by Jack Gaughan.

Printed in U. S. A.

One interesting feature of the WEIRDSTONE book is that in addition to the "Tolkien tradition" blurb by Andre Norton* on the front cover, Norton also provided a brief (two-page) introduction which compares Garner to both Lewis and Tolkien as well as classifying fantasy works into two schools: the other worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth and the fantasy incursion into our world that Garner prefers. She is emphatic that WEIRDSTONE is "not a juvenile as this book was first judged".

Even though the mention of Narnia is in passing, this still marks an early linkage between CSL and JRRT as fantasy writers.

For much more information and interesting discussion thereof, cf. the link below to Doug's post: Doug has gone through and identified a list of books published no later than 1969 that fit the criteria of referencing Tolkien as a blurb somewhere on the cover (front or back). Interestingly enough, the earliest entry is still the Garner, even when shifted from 1960 to 1965. 

Here's Doug's post, incorporating some updates, particularly addenda from Dale Nelson

and here's Dale's summing up.

I have to say, there are far fewer such books that I expected. 

Thanks to Doug and Dale et a for sharing their work with us.

--John R.

*there wd be a research project for someone with a lot of time on his or her hands: compiling a list of all the blurbs Andre Norton wrote.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

An Oxford Fantasy Writers Walking Tour

So, a few days ago I noticed on the Bodleian's site this notice about tours they host focused on famous fantasy writers associated with Oxford: Tolkien, Lewis, Pullman, and Carroll. An interesting selection, and one that made me wonder if, just as at one point we got books on the 'Oxford Christians' (JRRT, CSL, & CW), we might at some point get these four linked together thematically in some way.* They'd have to come up with a new name for such a group, though, since with Philip P it cd hardly be called Xian.  Simply 'Oxford Fantasists' perhaps?

*I wdn't be surprised if someone has done a dissertation on the topic already


Oxford’s Fantasy Worlds

From Middle Earth to Narnia, Wonderland to Lyra’s world (and beyond!), join our qualified tour guides on an entertaining family walk around the streets of Oxford.

Explore the city that helped shape some of the most unforgettable worlds in literature and the incredible literary minds behind them.

This walking tour around Oxford will take approximately 90 minutes.

Here's the link

--John R.

--current reading: TWILIGHT OF THE GODS by Richard Garnett (1888; 1940 reduced edition)

Friday, December 10, 2021

"In the Tolkien Tradition"

So, pulling my books off the shelf yesterday to check something before hitting send on my most recent post, I noticed the blurb slipped just below the author's name on the front cover of this one. For those who can't see the small type, here's what it says:

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen


A fantastic novel in the Tolkien tradition

"A prime favorite of mine."


It's the  ' in the Tolkien tradition' part that's interesting. This book (a 1960 Ace paperback) must have been among the first, if not the first, to try to sell a fantasy novel by claiming on the cover that it was like Tolkien or the next Tolkien or that  if you liked Tolkien, you'll love . . .

I wonder how many books have borne some version of that line over the years. Dozens? A hundred? More?  

But to see if so early -- for a book published in 1954-56 to already be used as a milestone/marker in 1960 strikes me as extraordinary, and once again drives home the point that there's only one Tolkien, and his impact was early, massive, and enduring.

--John R.

--current reading: KA by John Crowley


Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Alan Garner Liketh Not Narnia

So, thanks to Doug A. and Janice for drawing my attention the following interview with Alan Garner in a recent issue of The Guardian.

Alan Garner: ‘The Chronicles of Narnia are atrociously written’

The author on the lascivious subtexts of Catullus, mistaking Lord of the Flies for a satanic text and CS Lewis’s ‘totalitarian’ fantasy epics

First Quote: 

The book I could never read again
"I never enjoyed CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. I read the books with horrid fascination. They were, in my opinion, and remain, nasty, manipulative, morbid, misanthropic, hectoring, totalitarian and atrociously written."

Sounds to me like Garner is putting on his Philip Pullman hat here.

I've never been that big a fan of Alan Garner, who I think of primarily as one of the first wave of fantasy writers to follow Tolkien, including Joy Chant and Peter S. Beagle. I read, and liked, THE WEIRDSTONE OF BRISENGAMEN well enough, though I liked what he was trying to do more than the way he'd done it. The follow up book, MOON OF GOMRATH, I thought a falling off but still readable (judgements I stand by on the basis of re-readings). THE OWL SERVICE I disliked quite a lot -- so much so, in fact, that I more or less gave up reading his work at the point, especially since this book had been highly praised by friends who admire AG's work. A good while later I tried either ELIDOR or RED SHIFT, I forget which, and cdn't even get through the first chapter. And then there was some Tolkien-bashing --not much, but enough to put me off his work.

After that I concluded Garner was not the author for me. There were books a plenty by other authors I wanted to read, and Garner seemed to have readers enough.

Fast forward a lot of years and I'm reading TREACLE WALKER, which reminded me of what a novelization of one of Gaiman's comic scripts must have been like. I'm sorry to see his Lewis-bashing, not because I disagree with some of his criticisms but because it came across as a less successful author growsing about a more succesful one.

Second Quote (the ominous one):

The writer who changed my mind

Aeschylus. Reading his Oresteia aged 17 made me aware more than any other text of the power of language, and its examination of matricide came at an opportune moment.

--wait, what? 

--John R.

current reading: KA.


Looking at this another way, you could say that Narnia is a cult and Susan is the only one who got out.

A Marshall France Checklist


I just finished re-reading Jonathan Carroll's THE LAND OF LAUGHS (1980)--a book  it's hard to discuss or even describe without giving away too much of the plot. 

At its simplest it's the story about two people who want to write a biography of reclusive children's author Marshall France. 

If I had to describe it, I'd say this is what we might have gotten if Shirley Jackson had been inspired by Flann O'Brien into retelling the Bill Waterson story.

In the course of this reading (my third time through) I drew up a listing of Marshall France's books and thought the following might prove useful for anyone interested in Carroll's story:

1. The Pool of Stars (1945)

2. Peach Shadows

3. The Green Dog's Sorrow

4. The Land of Laughs  [last published book]

5. The Night Runs into Anna [only partially published]

6. The Galen Journals [unfinished]

Also, just as a bonus and because it becomes tangentally relevant, here are the named movies of Stephen Abbey, in no particular order:

1. Trains Through Germany

2. Cafe de la Paix (1942)

3. (Cancer House)  [title unknown]

4. (Old Sam Vandenburg)  [title unknown]

5. The Beginners

6. A Fire in Virginia

7. Mr. & Mrs Time

All in all, despite a surprisingly unsympathetic main character, a Masterpiece. Highly recommended.

--John R. 

current reading: E. H. Visiak (MEDUSA, 1929)

Saturday, December 4, 2021

A Happy Ending for Simba and Zoe

So, at Thanksgiving over the holiday meal I mentioned to my friend Steve M. how there were two really great cats in the Purrfect Pals cat-room at Renton who'd been there a while,* looking for a new home together. I knew Steve had had a pair of cats (Archie and Edith) who had passed away some years back.  I hadn't known he was thinking of getting new cats, having been cat-less for long enough.  Accordingly he stopped by the cat-room the next day (Friday Nov. 26th), when I was there giving them their turns being walked, that way being out in the store where he could get to pet them and to meet them both. The meeting went well, and he decided to fill out and send in the Preadoption form. That was followed by an interview with the Adoption Counselor. The end result was that his two new cats went home with him on Sunday (the 28th). And from what he says they're settling right in --picking favorite spots to sleep or just hang out, demonstrating where and when they want to be petted (including belly rolls), letting him know their preferred schedule (apparently 6 pm is when they expect supper, apparently something they learned at some now-lost home of their younger days), and so forth. I'm glad that the bonded pair of sandy lion-colored cats, brother SIMBA and sister ZOE, have now found a home; I'm glad friend Steve now has a proper contingent of cats sharing his home.

--John R.

*it's hard for adult cats to compete with adorable kittens