Saturday, November 26, 2022

the Day After Thanksgiving cat report


It was a very busy day within the store, with a fair number of customers (and dogs) that increased throughout the shift. I’m glad to report that our cats who encountered dogs when out walking went on alert but held their ground. We even had one dog make a stress-mess  on the floor outside the cat room, much to the cats’ incredulity.

We currently have eight cats, in four bonded pairs, mostly black:





Of these BONGO had the first walk. Last week he didn’t go far, doing the step-step-plop, step-step-plop, and so forth. This week he went all over the store, walking up to everyone and rubbing against their legs, wanting attention. 

By contrast, BINGO refused to leave the room, much preferring the cat-cave. I meant to go back at the end of shift and give her another try but ran out of time, so it’s be great if someone cd give her some extra attention.

ELANOR and IRWIN outdid themselves in being goodwill ambassadors, venturing all over the store, walking up to people and asking to be petted. Be warned that Irwin is showing great interest in doors, particularly the store’s front door to outside. Clearly he remembers doors from his earlier days as something you walk up to, sit down, and wait for a human to open. As for toys, I think the laser pointer was their favorite. It was a hoot watching them slipsliding around in pursuit.

As for the four kittens (SEVERUS & ONYX, BLOSSOM & BUTTERCUP), we didn’t have any walks here but the gray and black pair had a grand time chasing each other and sampling all sorts of toys (she finds a toy and he claims it). As someone observed, they don’t mind being picked up but don’t like being held. It was hard getting the Onyx/Severus pair to come out, and when they did they at once began exploring and looking for interesting hiding places.

That’s about it, but I have to add how glad I was to see the people who work at PetSmart being so attentive of our cats. At one point when Bongo was walking away from the checkout line where he’d been laying on the charm, I heard the person at the register explaining to the customer in line about bonded pairs. It’s nice to know they’re rooting for the cats too.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.
—John R.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Kuang's Dilemma


So, I was queried in the comments (Hi Paul W) to the effect that using a header like 'Something Kuang got right' implies there are other things she got wrong. It seems like my response to that is better treated in a post of its own (hence this) than in a comment.  --John R.


re. 'Something Kuang Got Right'

It wd be more fair to say I disagree with her than that she got it wrong.


A key fulcrum in the book is the hero's dilemma: if you find yourself part of a repressive regime, one that you've come to feel is a force for evil in the world --such as the British Empire during the Opium War of the 1830s, is it 


(1) better to stay in the organization and work to change it from within




(2) rebel against the group, acknowledging "the necessity of violence".


In Kuang's book the hero vacillates between these two poles for the first half of the book before committing himself absolutely to one of these options  throughout the second half.


A secondary point I wd have expected her to make more of was the issue of collateral damage, but it's a relatively minor concern.



As a pacifist, I'm not sympathetic to "the necessity of evil".  I think violence shd not be our starting point but our last resort. Hence I struggled with this book.


--John R. 

--current reading: THE ROOK

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Something Kuang got right

So, I found a lot of things about R. F. Kuang's BABEL problematic. In retrospect, I shd have kept the book's subtitle, THE NECESSITY OF VIOLENCE, front and center when reading the novel. But one thing I whole heartedly find myself in agreement with are the closing words in her introduction:

"Some may be puzzled by the precise placement of the 

Royal Institute of Translation, also known as Babel. 

This is because I've warped geography to make space 

or it. Imagine a green between the Bodleian Libraries,

 the Sheldonian, and the Radclilffe Camera. Now make

 it much bigger, and put Babel right in the centre.

If you find any other inconsistencies, feel free to 

remind yourself this is a work of fiction." (emphasis mine)

In short, she has followed Pullman's example of basing a story in Oxford but changing some things so that the Oxford described in her book does not correspond in every particular with its real-world counterpart: she alters things as needed for purposes of the story.

--John R.

--Happy Thanksgiving, all

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Lembas is Cornbread

 So, about a week ago I picked up RECIPES FROM THE WORLD OF TOLKIEN by Rbt Tuesley Anderson (Thunder Bay Press, 2020). Tolkien cookbooks and Middle-earth recipes have been around for a long time; I was curious to see how this one handled the balancing act of what to leave out and what to put in, given that Tolkien includes some New World ingredients in his Middle-earth works. Despite the examples in LotR and H (potatoes, tomatoes),  it's disconcerting to see Anderson's claim that lembas is a kind of cornbread.  This he justifies as follows:

According to The Silmarillion, Lembas is first made by Yavanna,

 the Valarian queen responsible for all things that grow on the earth, 

using a special corn that grows in Aman. It is therefore likely that 

Lembas would have been similar in texture and appearance to a 

deliciously comforting cornbread (.54)

This they back up by listing a cup of cornmeal alongside a cup of flour in the list of ingredients (.55).

--It seems pretty obvious here that the folks who put this book together didn't know that in UK usage, which we have no reason to doubt Tolkien follows,  'corn' refers not to New World corn (maize) but is a generic term for grain in general (e.g. wheat).  

As for the claim that maize grows in Valinor, my memory has a vague recollection of a line about 'corn-lands of Numenor' but a quick search of THE SILMARILLION failed to turn it up. 

Cram, by the way, is mainly made of oats (.52).

'Dragon Eggs' (their version of deviled eggs) is described as having 'Chinese-inspired flavors' (.35), which seems to me rather to break the book's premise.

I think they're on much more solid ground when they ascribe Gollum a sushi dish ( .90-91), though I'm doubtful re. Smeagol's access to vinegar and wasabi.

So far as I cd tell, there are no ent-draughts nor any orcish cuisine, which is perhaps just as well.

--John R.

Charles Williams' biographical dilemma

So, while I was thinking about Williams (cf. my last post), I came across a passage by Wms himself that sums up nicely the difficulties faced by Wms and his designated biographer:

When the devoted Raymond Hunt proposed writing his biography,

 Williams sent a brief outline of his life, centering on a paradox: 

his love for Phillis was of immeasurable value, yet it must never

be mentioned. 

'If I were to choose now, I should, I fear, still say: 

"Never, never that. Let all the work go; let us lose Taliessin & the

Dove and the E. P. M. & all—only never that." But 'for god Almighty's

 sake never mention it to anyone unless I say they are safe. And 

especially never to my wife.' And he stipulated, 'no word like

Celia or Celian or Phillida or Phillidan should appear in your MS.

and any reference to the Masques should be small. I don't like 

saying so for myself; I would write it over the earth & sky.

But there are others.'  

Lindop, THE THIRD INKLING, page 324)

The core difficulty here was that Wms wanted his biographer to omit any mention of what he considered the most important event of his life -- the Beatrician moment in which he experienced the love of his life --because he didn't want his wife to find out.

--John R.

Monday, November 21, 2022


 So, recently my attention was drawn to a piece of mine published as far back as 1996: an essay on what I consider to be Charles Williams's best play, a Pentecost piece called TERROR OF LIGHT.* It's an unusual play, in a much more colloquial idiom than most of C.W.'s drama. In fact, it's his only play in prose, which I argued was one reason for its success. Success, that is, as a work of art: it's generally been dismissed by Wms scholars --unfairly, I think.

 I hadn't looked at my essay for years and found the experience of going back and reading it now an interesting one. I think my critique of the play and my arguing that it merits praise stand up well pretty well, thought I think I've improved a good deal as a writer and cd do a better job of it today.**  

This being the first of three pieces I've written about Wms has made me want to go back and reread the other two: 

The second, delivered at the Wheaton Mythcon in 1985 and collected into the informal proceedings from that conference, was my piece arguing that Tolkien and Williams were friends -- which is generally agreed upon today but was going against the consensus at the time.

The third was my Mythcon Guest of Honor speech for the Colorado Springs Mythcon in 2015 where I really went out on a limb, suggesting a whole new way to read Williams that I thought solved a lot of difficulties and contradictions in his life and works.

The first of these three essentially disappeared like a pebble thrown into a puddle.

The second was favorably mentioned in a number of places and helped Inklings scholars get a better understanding of Tolkien's and Williams' relationship.

The third, the most radical and I think most important, had the misfortune to come out right about the time two major books on Ch.Wms. came out, which more or less buried it. But it wd have been a hard sell in any case, since it goes against the current.

Still, it's been interesting to go back and look again at old work. 

--John R.

--current reading: THE ROOK by O'Malley (re-reading), BABEL (just finished), PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE (just started).

*this appears in the volume THE RHETORIC OF VISION, edited by Charles A. Huttar and Peter J. Schakel; my piece was originally titled "TERROR OF LIGHT: Williams' Prose Play", changed by the editor to "Rhetorical Strategies in Charles Williams's Prose Play"

**I had the same experience when I went back and revised "SHE and Tolkien", my first essay of Tolkien criticism (1981 & 2011)

Wednesday, November 9, 2022


So, earlier this week I came across a video on PBS about woodpeckers. It's something my mother wd have loved. Since I can no longer share it with her I thought I'd shared it here. Not only is the content interesting and the nature photography stunning but it confirms that I'd been pronouncing the name of the pileated woodpecker right all these years: 


We've had a resident pair of woodpeckers, a male and female flicker, come up on a regular basis outside our place for as long as we've lived here, over twenty years now. I know they can't very well be the original birds, but they do show how a family of birds can persist so long as their habitat survives.

Here's the link:

--John R.

--current reading: still BABEL

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Doctor Whos

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous.

So, along with watching an excellent live performance of MACBETH, I've been poking around on the net looking at a slew of postings about DOCTOR WHO. This was my favorite show for a long time, but I drifted away in recent years, watching it in spurts. The last episodes I watched came about mid-way through Whittaker's first season. I'm trying to stir up my enthusiasm for another plunge. 

Anyway, in the course of looking at a lot of overviews and best of's and compilation clips hoping to remind myself why I liked this show so much, I came across the following twelve-Doctors-together one-off.

I'd always liked the episodes that included multiple Doctors, so this was very much my cup of tea. Here's the clip:

Have to say I thought they had some good voice imitations, esp Tom Baker, Pertwee, and Troughton (certain others, like Davidson, not as good).  And the figures appearing as companions was a fun touch (e.g. Beatles Paul and Ringo with Troughton, Laurel and Hardy with Smith)

Surprisingly, of all the Doctors Colin Baker, whose tenure marked the bottom of the barrel, came out best here, closely followed by John Hurt's so-called 'War Doctor'.

My favorite Doctors, just so everyone knows where I stand: 

Tom Baker, of course, by a country mile.

Christopher Eccleston, who relaunched the show after it'd died a lingering humiliating death.

John Hurt, who may have had the shortest tenure but made the most of it.

Honorable Mention:  Patrick Troughton, who was better than his scripts.

--John R.

--current reading: BABEL (about a third of the way through, and still don't know where he's going with this).

Sunday, November 6, 2022


 So, today Janice and  I and friend Jeff made our way down to the Armory in the Seattle Center* to see MacBeth, perhaps my favorite Shakespeare.* I'd seen it three times before, I think, and this was by far the best performance. It's a matter of deep personal satisfaction that I finally got to see the ghost. The other stagings all dropped Banquo's appearance at the banquet, instead having MacBest react to various blank spots on the stage. Several film versions make the same cuts, unfortunately. I'd always thought from reading the play that having the audience see what MacBeth sees wd be more effective, and I now feel I was right.  Indeed, they added a new ghost: that of Lady MacBeth, who puts in a silent, chilling appearance before her husband, just as he is receiving word of her (offstage) death.

As for the performances, Banquo was outstanding. Lady MacBeth was very, very good. A standout performance in a second tier role was Lord Ross, who comes across as a reasonable man in a time of tyranny. The witches were a little low-key. The one performance among the major characters that I thought a bit lacking was MacBeth himself.

As an added bonus, we ran into our friend Allan (a former Mithlonder***) at the interval and again after the performance.

Aside from having to wear a mask, a good experience, and one that encourages us to take in more of their plays this year as opportunity offers. 


--current reading: BABEL

*the old 1962 World's Fair ground.

**though AS YOU LIKE IT is a competitor, and Hamlet close behind.

***from back when Mithlond was still meeting on a semi-regular basis.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Cat Photo from the Cat Room

 So,  here are two photos by Janice of one of our new arrivals in the Cat Room, who arrived on Wednesday and got adopted today, along with his partner. 

I barely got to know Spirit Bear and Angus --the one all white, the other all black-- but I'm glad they so quickly found a new home. And it makes more room for the ten other cats and kittens currently in the adoption room:

Tuxedo cat near-senior brother-sister pair BINGO and BONGO, who got their usual walk around the store and lots of attention, which they love.

ELEANOR and ERWIN, the Wobblies (one a bright torbie, the other pastel), who have motor-control problems but don't let that let them down; they too went out for walks.

SEVERUS and ONYX, a pair of deeply shy all-black cats who are still in the hide-under-their-blankets stage, not at all convinced there might not be Cat Eating Fiends about.

There's also the little family group of OLYMPIA (the mother, a year old and just a big kitten herself) and her three kittens, SAN JUAN, ORCA, and BLAKELY, who all came out and played with all kinds of toys and especially each other: Olympia revealed a great love of catnip.

Many thanks to K, my fellow volunteer, for taking care of cat necessities and freeing me up to get the leash on and get the cats out for a stroll to explore the big building, get lots of petting from by-standers, spreading the word of cats in need of new homes.

--John R

I Voted

 So, on Tuesday I filled out my ballot, and Wednesday took it down and dropped it in the drop box down by the Regional Justice Center (a sort of courthouse annex). Election Day itself won't be till next week, but Washington state encourages early voting, which spreads the work of ballot-collecting and counting across several days. 

We're lucky that a lot of the folks on the ballot here are incumbents who've done a good job and deserved re-election. And there were relatively few cranks opposing them: most of these got weeded out in the primary. Instead, the challengers who made it to finalist tended to be of the 'never held elective office'/ 'I-have-no-governing-experience' school of candidates. I've never understood why some people feel that boasting of their inexperience and incompetence is a selling point, but so it goes. 

Now to wait and see what the results will be, here and across the nation.

--John R.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022


 So, Sunday I picked up the new Tolkien Calendar for 2023. I was a bit surprised (and pleased) to see it on the shelves at the Federal Way Barnes and Noble, since for several years now it's been hard to pick up any way other than special-ordering it.

To my surprise, rather than a single-artist themed collection such as we've seen most years, it features a variety of artists, most of whose work I'm not familiar with: 

Kip Rasmussen

Emily Austin

Spiros Gelekas

Jenny Dolfen

Justin Gerard

*Donato Giancola 

Ted Nasmith provides the introductory  essay, which includes this succinct description:

"depictions of scenes from Middle-earth by a growing international collection of artists have never slowed down, and this year's calendar is devoted to celebrating a selection of them."

He also notes that, like Naismith himself, Rasmussen

"believes The Silmarillion can be made more accessible by way of illustrations"

The art itself is a mixed bag, as might be expected from a gathering put together by a group ranging from professionals to semiprofessionals to fan artists. 

I think my favorites are Donato's cover art: the avalanche on Caradhras  (a very well done depiction of a familiar scene) and Dolfen's Fingon vs. Glaurung (March), with a pleasing lighter pallet than I'd expect from that event. I'm still undecided re. Gerard's Morgoth (November): I like the bottom half of the picture (the burning trees) but not the top half (swirly smoke). We'll see if it grows on me.

One final element that struck me came in the artists' mini-bios in the back, which show that two out of six contributors (Gerard and Donato) have worked in the gaming industry. Donato even singles out KEEP ON THE BORDERLINE as one of his influences.**

In addition to the coming year's Tolkien calendar, I also picked up a write-things-down-on calendar for the kitchen. For this I went with the Van Gogh: full of artwork I've mostly seen before in calendars past, but (a) I like Van Gogh --in fact I'd have to say he's one of my favorite artists -- and (b) he's been having a hard time of it lately --is it possible to bully a dead man?

--John R.

current reading: THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD (finished re-reading), BABEL by R. F. Kuang (still in early stages).

*Of these, I know I have at least one of Donato's art books; I think I've seen a good deal of his work on collectable card games as well

**I assume he means it in the original classic form, not the Return to sequel

Thursday, October 20, 2022

A Bear Who Eats Pear (Trout Lake)

So, I'm currently in one of my favorite places, visiting our friend Bijee at the Strange High House near Trout Lake, atop the little gorge of the White Salmon River, about midway between Mt. Adams and the Columbia River Gorge.

The big excitement this year has been the recent sighting of a bear who has raided the little orchard besides the house. I'm rooting for the bear (whom Bijee has nicknamed Gunther), as in hoping it vanishes back into the wilderness that surrounds us, in which it must have been resident all its years, before the local bear-hunters organize a pursuit.

As if a wandering bear with a taste for pears were not enough, I only found out this trip that Mt. Adams is considered  a hotbed of alien activity by those who go into such things:

The ECETI Ranch (which stands for Enlightened Contact with ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) and the Self-Mastery Earth Institute apparently attract people from all over. Their medicine wheel looks interesting but I admit I have no idea what a Pleiadian Circle is or what it supposedly does.

For those interested in seeing how to monetize UFOs, connected with the site there's Liongate, whose icon is a surprisingly Narnian lion ( and an array of offerings. 

Within the last year or two there's even been a movie based on the Aliens-inside Mt. Adam trope --though not having seen this yet I'm not quite certain whether it's more mockumentory or sci-fi/horror fare.

--More on this one when I've had a chance to see (or at least skim) it.

--And now back to on-vacation relaxing. 

--John R. 


Wednesday, October 19, 2022


 So, today the supplement to TOLKIEN STUDIES volume XIX arrived -- in rather battered condition, I'm sorry to say: the cover looks like it's been crumpled then flattened out again. Anyone else have this problem?

Glad to say the book is intact; in this case, condition does not affect contents.

And the content is impressive, and shd be welcome to all serious fans of the book. It's long been known that when the narrative of THE LORD OF THE RINGS split into multiple threads, Tolkien drew up charts so he cd keep track of who was doing what an when. Wm Cloud Hicklin has now edited these columns as THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and it is being released as a stand-alone addendum to the latest volume of TS (XIX).  

I haven't had a chance yet to look over this, but I'm impressed by the clarity of his presentation. I made several stabs towards transcribing this material for my own research in the early 2000s and cdn't arrive at a satisfactory way of transcription among the multiple, oft-altered material. It's good to see Hicklin succeed.

And it's always a good day in my book when we get some new, never-before-published Tolkien mss.

Speaking of which, my copy of Volume XIX itself has not yet arrived. Anyone else having this problem, or am I just impatient?

--John R.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

People Say Nice Things About Me

 So, I've been looking at the catalogue for the currently ongoing Marquette Tolkien exhibition, I was very pleased to see the following description of my contribution to the reprocessing process, in Wm M Fliss's essay "A Journey Down the Great River of Wilderland: Mapping the Manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings". 

The complete collection was digitally photographed in 2016; and a herculean effort commenced to map the drafts and isolated fragments, establishing connections between these manuscript pieces, in terms of both their emergence during the long gestation of The Lord of the Rings and their place within the evolution of individual chapters. The Tolkien scholar and Marquette alumnus John Rateliff has been instrumental in this maping process. Once upon a time, John worked with Taum Santoski to assist Christopher Tolkien in understanding Marquette's manuscripts so that Christopher could write The History of Middle-earth. John, aided by his own long history with the manuscripts as well as by access to the rich body of notes and correspondence between Christopher and Taum, has performed the yeoman's work of fitting these pieces together, work that will be continuously fine-tuned in coming years as other scholars interact with the digital system.   (page 28)

Earlier in the same piece (page 27) appears an image of what the schematic map looks like; a description of its function appears on a few pages later:

The mapping process has identified the various drafts for each chapter and a timeline of their approximate creation. Once all the metadata is inserted into the system, researchers will be able to move from page to page within a draft, from draft to draft, and from chapter to chapter across the entire history of Tolkien's masterpiece. (page 30)

 It's a good feeling to see the result of years of work (about six years by my estimation) be so favorably described. 

My ego is well and truly boo'd.

--John R.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER Episode 8

As an adaptation of Tolkien: Appalling.

As a fantasy film, difficult for me to judge. In any case the final episode was by far the best.

Best characters: Adar and Celebrimbor. They're straightforward about what they want and move towards their goal without undue angst.

Worst characters: the wee twee folk,

Special Penalty: to Galadriel, from  the librarians and cryptkeepers of Eregion.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Quote of the Day: Annwn

 The river was broad and shallow at that place, and singing over innumerable stones; and with many alders on either bank, and great oak-trees beyond the alders, The road ran down through the river between the trees; the sunlight dappled the shallow water there, gleaming down on it  through the leafage.  The two arnies wee on the plain facing each other, one on this side of the river, one on that.

--Kenneth Morris,


Saturday, October 8, 2022

Laconic Review of THE RINGS OF POWER Episode 7

All kinds of darkness.

Enter the Norns (wait, what?).

First major discontinuity looking forward: offstage death of Celeborn.

bonus: Celeborn the Wise as a silver crab. 

Friday, October 7, 2022


So, we got together Sunday for one of our rare meetings of Mithlond, the former Seattle area fantasy book discussion group. The weather being nice, we sat outside and enjoyed seeing what they'd done with their back yard and also got a quick tour of the Tiny House they'd built there ---the first time I'd seen one of these. Don't know how they do it, but they managed to make it look bigger on the inside.

Amid our sipping tea while discussing books and films and plays and a myriad of other things, we got into  a desultory discussion of various birds that came up to their yard, including whether the woodpecker they said they occasionally see was a flicker or a pileated woodpecker. Not long after I made a good case that it was probably a flicker, a pileated woodpecker flew in, circled the yard, and flew off again. 


This marks the first tine I've ever seen a real, live pileated woodpecker.* I've seen a dead one in a parking lot (alas), and I've looked the wrong direction when people I'm with have seen one, including one time back in my Scouting days, when I used to go out on pre-dawn birding with Mr. Stirling Lacy and Dr. Charles Rogers, both of whom I knew from the church.  So I can tell a scissor-tailed flycatcher from a shrike, but birdwatching makes no promises. You just put yourself at a likely spot at a likely time and hope for the best.

Which is why most of my birdwatching these days is v. low-key: watching the hummingbird wars off the balcony, admiring the chickadees and goldfinches and juncos and sometimes a pair of flickers,** keeping an eye out for everything from red wing blackbirds to great blue herons and once in a long while a bald eagle (a pair nests just a mile or so from our townhouse).  And of course I used to feed the crows when I went out but I've scaled back on that a lot in recent years.

Might be a good time to dig out that copy of THE GRAIL BIRD which I bought several years ago but have never read.

--John R.

*It looks just like an ivory-billed woodpecker, except for the color of its bill and not being extinct.

**They've been coming up for as long as we've lived here, so it must be a long line of descendents.

C. S. Lewis is Opaque

So, yesterday I spent hours looking through the third volume of CSL's COLLECTER ESSAYS. And, as has often proved the case,  I didn't find what I was looking for but came across a number of interesting things in the search. For example, I'm not quite sure how to take the following passage from a 1959 letter to the great Arthurian scholar Eugene Vinaver.  (III.1083-1084)

Have you read Tolkien's lecture on Fairy Stories in the volume Essays presented to Charles Williams?  Part of my case against the Celticists wd. be his mixim that 'motifs are a product of analysis' -- not bricks out of which stories are put together but entia rationis ['mental fiction'] into which we analyse them -- rather like the metrical feet or grammatical conjunctions and declensions.

I thought I knew ON FAIRY STORIES pretty well, but this 'maxim' doesn't ring a bell. Could this be an example of what JRRT called 'Lewisification'?**

--John R

--current viewing: RINGS OF POWER

*Hooper's note explains that by Celticist Lewis meant figures like Loomis who explained everything in Arthurian legend as derived from Celtic soures.

**For Tolkien's description of being 'Lewisified', see  LETTERS p.89.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Quote of the Day

It would be an ill thing

if wonders were for the seeing

and we without the seeing them

--Kenneth Morris

"The Story of Pwyll and Rhianon" 

A More Laconic Review of Rings of Power episode 6

 Orcs fight for orcs' rights

Mount Doom Go Boom.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER Episode Six

Laconic Review:


Less Laconic:

The least Tolkien content of any episode yet. 

Adar's backstory.

The orcs go to war. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Dave Arneson sees the future

So, yesterday I found the old Dave Arneson piece I'd been looking for (right where I thought it'd be, and where I thought I'd looked three times already. Apparently not),    A bit disappointing on a quick skim, but I'm nevertheless looking forward to reading it through.

Nearby, also on the JUDGES GUILD shelf, I found a copy of PEGASUS magazine --the Summer 1999 issue. As it turns out, this issue includes an interview with Dave Arneson, in which he makes the memorable pronouncement

Oh, the future's here.  

It turned out to be a lot dumber 

than I thought it was going to be.

I wonder what he'd make of the current D&D boom, as testified to in different ways in these two links,* one about D&D's acceptance in popular culture,  the other about WotC's opening moves in what looks to be the start of work on the next (sixth) edition of D&D.

--John R.

--current reading

*thanks to Janice for the links)


Saturday, September 24, 2022

Less Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER Episode 5 (JDR)

Plots in THE RINGS OF POWER so far: harfoots and Gandalf (if it is Gandalf) and Galadriel the obsessed virago and Numenor and Elrond the accommodating and Gil-galad the not-to-be-trusted and Celebrimbor and the Hadrian's Wall elf and Adar who's probably Sauron and more Numenor and the Aragorn impersonator and Durin and yet more Numenor. 

--John R


Laconic Review of THE RINGS OF POWER, Episode 5 (JC)

 THE WIFE SAYS: The Plot Holes Thicken

Friday, September 23, 2022

Bilbo's Birthday (More Events at Marquette)

 So, more and more people are celebrating September 22nd as Bilbo's Birthday,  joining March 25th (Tolkien Reading Day, pegged to The Downfall of Sauron) and January 3rd (JRRT's birthday).  Which makes this a good time to remind those who can get to Milwaukee that the JRRT: ART OF THE MANUSCRIPT is still ongoing and will continue to do so through most of the rest of the year. A few samples will give an idea:

September 22nd: CARL HOSTETTER's presentation on 'EDITING THE TOLKIENIAN MANUSCRIPT, which I assume will be more or less the piece appearing as his contribution to the Bodley's Christopher Tolkien festschrift, THE GREAT TALES NEVER END.  This was originally scheduled as an in-person event but changed over into a Zoom.

This is followed less than a week later by TOLKIEN: THE PRESENCE OF LAW by Kali Murray of Marquette's Law Department --a subject I don't recall having come across anyone covering before; to come across something new and different makes me sorry I'll miss it.

Speaking of Banquets, just two days later comes a fundraising banquet, THE FALL DINNER.  Bilbo wd certainly have approved.

Another major presentation comes on October 13th: Holly Ordway's TOLKIEN'S FAITH AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF MIDDLE-EARTH.

Then on October 25th comes another presentation by someone at Marquette: this time TOLKIEN AND THE BIBLE by Michael Cover of the Theology Department.

November 5th comes another one I'm sorry to have to miss, a presentation of WORLD-BUILDING: DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, overseen by Marquette alumnus and TSR veteran Jim Lowder.

November 17th comes a piece by John Garth whose title sounds interesting but uninformative: WHISPERING LEAVES: HOW TOLKIEN'S MANUSCRIPTS REVEAL THE SECRETS OF HIS CREATIVITY.

Finally, near the end of the semester brings Garry Canavan of Marquette's English Department --the person at Marquette who teaches the courses I wd have loved to have taken had that only been an option back in my day-- discussing TOLKIEN IN POPULAR CULTURE.

And above and beyond, most important of them all, is the exhibit of the Tolkien manuscripts. I know that if I still lived in Milwaukee I'd be making multiple visits this fall to take advantage of this big event.

--John R.

--finally wrapping up reading the Christopher festschrift; only two essays (Shippey's and Sibley's) to go now.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Meeting Dave Arneson

 So, recently TSR/RPG researcher Ben Riggs published an interesting piece of TSR history: Dave Arneson's proposal to Peter Adkison asking to be hired back at TSR and put in charge of D&D.


"Why D&D's Co-Creator

Didn't Get Hired by

Wizards of the Coast"



Riggs states that this was the last of Arneson's many efforts over the years trying to regain control of the game, all unsuccessful, though Arneson did manage to extract a good deal of cash from TSR over the years. The Great War between Gygax and Arneson is now the stuff of legend, recently set down by RPG scholar Jon Peterson in well-documented glory in his book GAME WIZARDS.


Riggs says this April 1997 gambit was Arneson's last effort along these lines.  As it turns out, I think I can add to this account.  I only met Arneson once that I remember,*  when he dropped by the RPG department at WotC. I don't know who was showing him around, but he came over from the direction of Peter's office, so I assumed he'd been meeting Peter Adkison himself. Arneson was in a good mood, v. pleased as he told us the news that he would be contributing to the new edition of D&D (what came to be known as 3e). This surprised me, because Julia and I were already well into the editing of the PLAyER'S HANDBOOK (working on the skills and spells, I think;  Julia or Jonathan might remember more), and any contribution Arneson might want to make wd have to be in hand pretty soon.  I did not however share this reservation with Arneson; it seemed inappropriate to rain on his parade, put the kibosh on his happy mood, however you want to put it. 


What strikes me as curious about this is that it wd definitely have been after the April 1997 period Ben Rigg's letters date from. Among other considerations, I was laid off from TSR in Lake Geneva at the end of December 1996 and hired back at Gen Con 1997, reporting to work in Ranton in early September 1997.  Arneson's visit was definitely to the Renton building, so it cdn't have been earlier than that.  Working from the other end, my copy of the Third Edition PLAYER'S HANDBOOK is dated Monday June 19th 2000. I know that 3e had an unusually long creation period but can't now remember specific signposts. At a guess, the encounter I'm remembering is likeliest to have fallen about a year before the book's release date --which wd make it circa mid-1999, or about two years after the April 1997 letters.



In the end Arneson contributed nothing to 3e D&D, but Peter's meeting with him clearly made him happy. And it's of a piece with Adkison's making a goodwill gesture to Gygax as well, which resulted in his writing a brief Foreword to RETURN TO THE TOMB OF HORRORS (1998).






*While drafting this post I discovered that I may have met him one other time, at the 1995 Origins in Philadelphia (the only time I've ever been to Origins. Or Philadelphia). Inspired by Petersen's account of Arneson's career in his THE GAME WIZARDS, I did some recent sorting of the remaining rpg collection.  I remembered that somewhere down there I have a copy of THE FIRST FANTASY CAMPAIGN, Arneson's post-D&D Judge's Guild release. I haven't unearthed that  (yet) but I did find a copy of the boxed set ADVENTURES IN FANTASY (Adventures UnlimitedExcalibre), signed by both Arneson and his cowriter, Richard Snider.** 


**not sure how he connects with the Snider who authored the early TSR STAR EMPIRES/STAR PROBE digest-sized games (John M. Snider), nor the one who illustrated the former (Paul G. Snider).


According to my note on the inside box cover this was a gift from Lester Smith ("cJuly '95"), one of TSR's top talents in the mid-90s.


And with this I found THE ADVENTURE OF THE PACIFIC CLIPPER, by Arneson (Flying Buffalo); this one is autographed 


"to John

Dave Arneson



  I remember the con well, but somehow this event has disappeared from my memory, alas.


Friday, September 16, 2022

Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER Episode 4

 Not so much Interlace as Hopscotch.

'Amazon Content Services LLC'

 So, recently I saw a new one-volume LotR with a beautiful golden cover illustrating some scene that I didn't recognize —some ceremony involving an elf, probably in some great underground cavern, was all that I cd make out.


When I turned to the credits page to see whose work this is, I was surprised and  distressed to find there's no artist credited. Instead this striking piece is credited (on the outside of the book, in the bottom left corner, half-buried in the art) to 'Amazon Content Services LLC'. Is this a well-known entity I shd have heard about before now? Or some corporate department within Amazon? For my part, I feel strongly, after all my years as an editor, freelancer, and independent scholar, that it's important that credits accurately reflect who was responsible for what: writing or painting or composing or whatever. Otherwise it's hard to track who actually did what. But the example given here doesn't give me enough information.


Here's the cover:


And here's a close-up of the actual credit (courtesy of Janice).


--John R.

--current reading: THE GREAT TALES NEVER END (John Garth's essay)


Saturday, September 10, 2022

Friday Cat Walking


Photo, by Janice, of Mr. Kramer.

Friday was an unusual day in the cat room. Half of it was devoted to walking cats, the other half to socializing. I was so focused on the cats that I didn’t make any notes, so the following is based on my memory two days later.

A fellow volunteer joined me to pick up some hints re. cat-walking, and we experimented with various combinations of harness, leash, and collar. It was mutual, with us learning about the individual cats while the cats learned what was expected of them when out of the room. The result was good, in that we got all five cats out. Some explored and some hunkered down and some cast a hopeful eye on the cat-beds just outside the room, but on the whole I think being out and about did them good.

It helped a lot that we started with Mr. KRAMER, who struck up quite a conversation with me. First I climbed in his cage and got to know him a bit (this was my first time meeting him), then lifted him out, got the leash on, and we were off. He’s the kind to approach people he meets and offer them the chance to pet him, then he’s off again. Back in the room I only saw one prefunctory hiss (at B&B’s double-cage as he was giving the room a quick inspection). Otherwise he seemed happy just to doze.

Next came our sedate semi-seniors BINGO AND BONGO. One of them (Bongo I think) treated the harness as a thunder shirt, and kept plopping down and looking around. They got a good deal of petting as well. Back in the room they wanted some petting but weren’t enthused about games.

BUTTERS and HOUDIN were unsure about the walking but decided to trust us and did fairly well.  Back in the room they were happy enough to be petted and didn’t much mind being picked up.  What they liked best were games.  The string game seemed their favorite, but they can make a toy out of just about anything. Affectionate but more interest in chasing and pouncing and dragging a toy away than petting. Two great little cats.

And that’s about it. The time just flew —giving the five cats each a walk took up a whole hour. And it’s so much easier to get a cat being walked back into the room if there are two people: one to keep a hand on the cat and the other to deal with the door and lock.

Many thanks to my fellow volunteer for coming and having a practice run for walking some of those cats. 

--John R


Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER Episode 3


Laconic Review of THE RINGS OF POWER Episode 2

 White Cliffs of Dover?

Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER episode 1



So, just a reminder that tomorrow is the first of four classes I'm doing online in collaboration with Verlyn Flieger through the Politics and Prose bookstore in DC

THE HOBBIT: How It All Began

Sunday September 11th at 2 pm Eastern Daylight Time.

The subsequent classees will be aired live on the following dates:

Sunday September 18th

Sunday October 2nd

Sunday October 9th 

For more about the course, check here for the Politics and Prose bookstore's description of the event.

See you tomorrow.

--John R.

Friday, September 2, 2022

The Wife Says


Wait!  What?  Why did no one tell me that my guy can talk about something  other than Tolkien?

Thursday, September 1, 2022


I forgot: I meant to mention that Sustare has a second claim to fame, having given his name to one of the druid spells in the classic 1st edition AD&D PLAYERS HANDBOOK:

    Chariot of Sustarre

cf DRUID SPELLS (7th Level), PH.63. *

  I never had a druid character who made it to 12th level --that is, high enough level to be able to cast 7th-level spells  --in fact the character I'm playing in the campaign I'm currently in, Arrow-Odd, is 7th level and I'm hoping will reach 8th before the adventure ends.

--John R. 

*another example from among many in AD&D's early days is Nystul's magic aura, a 1st level magic-user spell that took its name from Mike Nystul, who worked at TSR briefly during the mid-90s; cf. PH.67  

WATERSHIP DOWN in Glasgow (Sept 2nd & 3rd)

So, this weekend I'll be spending my time at the WATERSHIP DOWN conference being held in Glasgow to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Richard Adams' famous books. One of Adams' daughters, who were the original audience of the story, is due to appear as one of the Keynote Speakers.

Here's the link to the main website:

Here's the schedule detailing who speaks when:

And here's the listing for my piece, which shd be starting at 15.45 Greenwich time (or at 7.45 a.m. Seattle time). 

15.45-16.15 Special Guest: John Rateliff

‘“Unrighteous, Unrabbitlike, and Inhuman”: Le Guin, Adams, and Lockley’ 

Not being able to travel to Glasgow to take part in person, unfortunately, I finished the draft on Tuesday, recorded my talk on Wednesday, and sent it in that same day with a copy of the script (in case they decide to include subtitles).

Tomorrow I'll will be on-line at the time scheduled, in order to be available for Q&A after the broadcast.

I'm looking forward to it. Not only is WATERSHIP DOWN one of my favorite books but it was the first fantasy I read after Tolkien, the book that (after a number of failures) convinced me there were more great works out there, different in mode but a masterpiece in its own right. Not incidently, it figures prominently in my series CLASSICS OF FANTASY. 

I'm really looking forward to meeting fellow admirers of his work. Topics are to include animation/adaptation (the WD film and series), rabbit mythology, Lapine language, and roleplaying games based on Adams' work.  They even have Dennis Sustare and Scott Robinson, authors of the early non-D&D rpg BUNNIES & BURROWS (1976), among the listed presenters. 

In short, I'm glad to be part of this event. There's plenty I want to see here, if only I can cope with the virtual jet lag, some of the conference taking place at hours that are wee.  We'll see. 

--John R.



Monday, August 22, 2022

Quick Schedule for Art of the Manuscript

So, for those who live in the area or can attend some but not all of the events yet to come in connection with the JRRT: ART OF THE MANUSCRIPT currently being displayed at Marquette's Haggerty museum, here's a quick outline of their schedule. In addition to the chance to meet and mingle with the curators in charge of the exhibit, Bill Fliss and Sarah Schaefer, highlights will include talks by 

Carl Hostetter (Sept 22)

Holly Ordway (Oct 13)

John Garth (Oct 17th) 

There's even a chance to learn how to play D&D.

Here's the somewhat abridged schedule:

Upcoming events  

Thursday, September 8 and Friday, September 9

Virtual Symposium: Mythical Pasts, Fantasy Futures: The Middle Ages in Modern Visual Culture
Presented in collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum
To attend the Day 1: September 8 keynote panel, register here.
To attend the Day 2: September 9 symposium, register here.

The visual and conceptual relationships between modern fantasy, popular culture, and the medieval era are a lively area of inquiry in a variety of cultural studies disciplines. They are also the focus of two current or upcoming exhibitions: The Fantasy of the Middle Ages (Getty Museum) and J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript (Haggerty Museum of Art). This online symposium convenes an interdisciplinary group of academics and museum professionals to examine how the Middle Ages appear in the contemporary imagination, and how its aesthetics have inspired a wide variety of media.

Thursday, September 22 (Hobbit Day!), 5 p.m.
Carl Hostetter will present Editing the Tolkienian Manuscript

Registration button

 Read about Carl Hostetter on the Tolkien exhibition programs page

Friday, September 23 through Sunday, September 25
Doors Open Milwaukee/Marquette University Parents Weekend

Registration button


HMA LogoThursday, September 29, 2022, 6 p.m.
The Fall Dinner:  
A Celebration & Tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien

Registration button


Join us for this very special fundraising event celebrating the exhibition, J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript. The evening will begin with a cocktail reception where you can nosh on delicious hors d’ouevres, enjoy live music, and mingle with the exhibition’s co-curators Dr. William Fliss and Dr. Sarah Schaefer. Following an exquisite three-course dinner, enjoy an exclusive opportunity to tour the Tolkien exhibition with the co-curators. Proceeds will benefit the operation of the Haggerty Museum of Art including exhibitions, academic and community engagement, collection care, and administration. Sponsorship opportunities are available and include a wide range of benefits. For more information, please click here.

Friday, September 30, 10 a.m. to noon
Tolkien Reading Gathering: The Hobbit

registration button
Presented in collaboration with Marquette University's On Your Marq program
Relax in a bean bag chair in the exhibition gallery while listening to an excerpt from 
The Hobbit audio book.

Friday, October 7, 5 p.m.

Our History in Manuscripts                                                                                  Performance by the Marquette University Chorus

Taking inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript and the Haggerty Museum of Art's collection of Spanish Antiphonals, the Marquette University Chorus will explore various choral styles throughout history.

Saturday, October 8, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Community Day: J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript

registration button
A fun, engaging free day for all ages presented in collaboration with Milwaukee Public LibraryFirst Stage Children’s Theater, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s ArtsECO program. Taking inspiration from the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, partnering organizations will lead experiences including calligraphy, storytelling workshops, Tolkien trivia, and more.

Tuesday, October 11, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Tolkien Reading Gathering: The Lord of the Rings

registration button

Presented in collaboration with Marquette University's On Your Marq program
Relax in a bean bag chair in the exhibition gallery while listening to an excerpt from 
The Lord of the Rings audio book.

Thursday, October 13, 5 p.m.
Holly Ordway will present Tolkien’s Faith and the Foundations of Middle-earth

Registration button


Read more about Holly Ordway on our programs page

Saturday, November 5, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

World-Building: Dungeons & Dragons

Registration button


Take a journey with us as we explore new realms, fight evil creatures, and attempt to save a Tolkien-inspired world. Learn how to play D&D with expert hosts, then join a game yourself! Participation and spectating tickets are both available.

§  10 to 10:30 a.m. Intro to Dungeons & Dragons

§  10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dungeons & Dragons game sessions

Presented in collaboration with Milwaukee Public Library

Thursday, November 17, 5 p.m.
John Garth will present Whispering Leaves: How Tolkien’s Manuscripts Reveal the Secrets of His Creativity

Registration button

 Read more about John Garth on our programs page