Tuesday, July 5, 2022


 So, thanks again to D.F. for news of the next forthcoming Tolkien book, due out this November: THE FALL OF NUMENOR.  Amazon has relatively sparse information on it: 

--that it is due out in November 

--that it's a fairly substantial volume of 320 pages

--that it'll be edited by Brian Sibley, who's mainly known for his work on audio adaptations of Tolkien's work 

--and that illustrated by Alan Lee, Christopher Tolkien's choice to illlustrate the works he edited.


Fortunately there's more on the Tolkien Society's website:

Clearly this volume extends the BEREN & LUTHIEN and FALL OF GONDOLIN treatment to Second Age/Numenor material. The question is, how far does it go? The only text mentioned by name are the relevant passages from LotR Appendix B: The Tale of Years. AKALLABETH would seem to be essential, and THE FALL OF NUMENOR itself (the one they've taken the title from). But what about THE DROWNING OF ANADUNE?  Or THE MARINER'S WIFE?  

Or, if the goal is to bring to the forefront some of Tolkien's most interesting lesser-known works,  how about his little known time-travel novel, THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS, along with his earlier similar attempt along the same lines, THE LOST ROAD?

One good thing: November's really not that far away, so half a year from now we shd know.

I'll be looking forward to it.

--John R.

Sunday, July 3, 2022


So, here's a new (forthcoming) book on THE HOBBIT due out sometime later in the year from Palgrave/Macmillan, part of their Palgrave Science Fiction and Fantasy: A New Canon.


I had not heard of this one before; thanks to D. for the link:


Having written so much on THE HOBBIT myself, I confess I'm curious what approach Tally will choose. From the online description it sounds as if he's chosen a Marxist approach, which I don't think has been done at book-length before. Probably not my cup of tea, but I'll want to check it out for that very reason.

--John R.

--current reading: Peter Cannon book

The Secret History of D&D

 So, a few days ago I saw that Ben Riggs' book is due out in July. Then I did a double-take and realized that I was reading this notice on the last day of June and that, disguised by an unflipped calendar page, the release is only three weeks away,



This is a book I've been waiting for for a long time. I was one of the people he interviewed, and I was impressed by how great an effort he put into trying to be fair to all sides.  It'll be interesting to see how he puts the anecdotal information, the story as people remember it, together with the contemporary documentation. 


My favorite quote so far, from the interview on the Noble Knight Games site:

"Really, after you get your first box of documents 

from someone requesting to remain anonymous 

that tells a story no one has heard before, it's hard

not to write a book about it"

    —Ben Riggs


current reading: Peter Cannon's Twayne US Authors series one-volume critique of H. P. Lovecraft. Makes for a good refresher, as it discusses pretty much all his stories in chronological order. Also it's v. readable, which makes a good contrast from some heavier fare. 


Friday, July 1, 2022

Cat Report (7/1-22)

(Molly, front and back views at same time)

 Friday JULY 1st 2022. 12 noon to two o'clock


Full house: adult bonded pair, adult solitaire, adult mother-son bonded pair, mother cat with three kittens.




JOSHUA and OLIVE, our black and white adult bonded pair, have settled in after all this time and become comfortable with the room. They came out to explore, did an inspection, and passed judgment. It wasn't too long before they went back into their cages. There they gloried in attention inside their cage, alternating games with petting sessions. 

Note: looks to me as if ears need cleaning, but that might be a two-person job.


Next was ZITA, chirpy as ever, our other veteran who's been with us a while. She particularly enjoyed the string game today, Seemed so relaxed and confident that I took her for a nice walk, about ten minutes. She generated a lot of comment. Then back in for more games. She loves the smell of catnip. She dislikes being picked up—perhaps it's uncomfortable for her? One of my cats, the late lamented Rigby, had a separated sternum, which meant we had to be careful when picking her up not to lift with a hand on her chest.  If Zita has a similar sore spot we might be able to move her more comfortably.


Our other adult bonded pair, newcomers  MALIFICENT and SKREECH, are a big black mother-and-son duo (weighing between fourteen and fifteen pounds each). He's the one with all the long black fluffy fur and she's the slightly smaller smooth mostly black one with some highlights on the face. Both very friendly. He was so relaxed and friendly that I thought I'd try him for a short walk, but he made a squirming motion that got him right out of the leash before I cd get it properly on him. Then he very gently nibbled on my hand—which I took as a pretty clear message how he felt about that. For her bit, after playing and exploring some she went back in the cage, where she head-butted me (head-to-head).


That left MOLLY, the new mamma kitty, and three very energetic kittens. She's not much larger than the kittens. Quite shy and prone to panic but went from hiding in her cat-cave when I arrived to doing a thorough but wary exploration of the room. She was on top of the cat-cave when I left, rather that inside as when I arrived, which I took to be a good sign.


The three kittens loved being out, playing all the games and tearing around the room. They're not fond of being picked  up but think will wear off as they get more socializing. It's difficult to describe, but they'd jamming one of their toys in such a way that it blocked movement between sections of their cages.

The kittens got a lot of attention; don't think they'll be with us long.


--John R.



Monday, June 27, 2022

Edward Gorey and Charles Williams

So, over the past few days I've been reading a collection of interviews with Edward Gorey— ASCENDING PECULIARITY: EDWARD GOREY ON EDWARD GOREY (2001)—in the course of which I came across a reference to Charles Williams in this somewhat unlikely place. The interview in question is a short one, one of the last in the book: a poll conducted by Amazon asking authors what recently published (1998) "book or books they most admired".


Speaking of Sylvia Waugh's Mennyms books, which I'd never heard of before, Gorey compares them to CW:


"In their strangeness they bring to mind 

the fiction of such authors as say, Charles 

Williams and E W. H. Meyerstein;*

 otherwise they are unlike anything

 but themselves"  (p. 229).


Gorey and Williams seem an odd pairing, but then Gorey was a great fan of mystery novels, esp. English, with Agatha Christie his particular favorite. It seems likely Gorey read him for his mysteries, not his poetry or nonfiction prose.


I shd also note that "unlike anything but themselves" is a pretty good summary of Gorey himself.


--John R.



*Meyerstein was what we wd today call an independent scholar, living in Oxford but not affiliated with the university, much admired by young Inkling John Wain.


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Green River strawberries

 So, it's strawberry season again here down in the Green River valley. For a while it was beginning to look like the long string of cool wet weather might prevent the berries from ripening -- a real problem, given that the season is typically only about five weeks long, from the beginning of June to around the Fourth of of July weekend. But the last few days they were able to open and we were quick to take advantage of our good fortune. We got a half-flat (that is, six pints), which sounds like a lot but will go quickly -- there's nothing quite as good as fresh-picked fruit (and fresh picked vegetables). 

Last year the Kent farmer's market shut down completely. This year we heard it'd reopened, but when we swung by we found only one farmer amid lots of booths featuring crafts. Not that there's anything wrong with crafts, but I don't go to a farmer's market for non-farm items.  Last year we went down to the Auburn farmer's market instead, where we found our two favorites of the Yakima farmers who'd fled Kent had set up booths in Auburn instead. There's also news of a second Kent farmer's market this year up on East Hill, so we'll probably stop by there this coming weekend to see if it's more our kind of market.

In the meantime, we've already made some inroads into this week's strawberries and will probably want to restock sooner rather than later.

--John R.

--current reading: this and that.

--current viewing: The January Sixth Commission hearings, day three

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

T. H. White / LIttle Golden Books

Here’s the oddest thing I’ve unearthed in a while, what must be one of the first books I ever owned. My guess is that I probably got it around the time I turned five, which also turns out to be about the time the film came out. I remember that the local supermarket in Monticello, Arkansas had a promotion where at check-out kids got a little plastic ring with a little sword in it you cd pull out and put back in and pull out and put back in and so forth.

This book is signed in what is clearly my mother's handwriting (this being before I learned how to read). 

The only book I think I’ve had longer is a battered copy of PICKLES THE FIRE CAT. This I loved so much that I kept the library copy checked out more or less permanently. I can still remember how every time it was due we took it down to the library, where I wd check it out again. Eventually my parents got me a copy of my own, which later passed down to my nieces and then later still back to me.  It's almost certainly my first book, but not necessarily the one I've had the longest.   

--John R.

Christopher's festschrift

So, last year I pre-ordered THE GREAT TALES NEVER END: ESSAYS IN MEMORY OF CHRISTOPHER TOLKIEN, edited by Richard Ovenden and Catherine McIlwaine and published by the Bodleian (which holds thousand of pages of Tolkien manuscripts edited by C. T. and then deposited in the Library). It's a book I've been v. much looking forward to but I hadn't known the exact release date. So yesterday I did the obvious thing: dropped the Bodley giftshop* a note asking the release date.

And, with admirable promptness, today I have my answer: my copy shd ship to me on June 24th, or the end of next week.  I know it'll take a while to get here, across an ocean and a continent, but it's nice to know that the release date is so near.

For those who have heard about this one but not any details, the names of the contributors shd be enough to show that this volume shd be of interest to just about anyone interested in Tolkien studies: Priscilla Tolkien, Verlyn Flieger, Wayne G. Hammond, Christina Scull, Tom Shippey, John Garth, Carl Hostetter, Stuart Lee, Brian Sibley, Vincent Ferre, and Maxime Pascal.

Having been waiting for this one for so long, I'm really looking forward to its arrival.

--John R.

*For the book for Christopher, see


Note that the Bodley Shop also has an array of interesting Tolkien themed items, which can be viewed HERE:



So, we bought a new car. 

The old car had served us well -- we got it around the time I started this blog (its arrival being announced in one of my earliest posts herein). Being responsible car owners we've re-homed it to a new owner who shd get the good out of it.

I've given up driving, mainly because of the eyes, but Janice drove me over to a nearby park-and-ride (deserted on a Sunday) where I cd get behind the wheel and putter around a bit to get a sense of how it feels. Think this will be a good car for us for a long time to come.

As for Jasper, I was trying to think of a name. Given that it's color is a kind of metallic yellowy green I'd been inclined for Verne when Janice pointed out that this color was officially 'jasper'. So, for the time being at least, Jasper it is.

--John R.

P.S. Thanks to Janice for the picture.

 current reading: Heinlein's TUNNEL IN THE SKY

Monday, June 13, 2022

Lost Tales and The Lost Road

 So, yesterday wrapped up the fourth and final session in Verlyn Flieger's online class 

The Silmarillion: Tolkien's Unfinished Symphony, streamed through the Politics and Prose bookstore in DC.*  I'm glad I signed up, both for the presentation and discussion.

I particularly enjoyed the last session, dedicated to the Akallabeth, Lost Road, and Notion Club Papers, since I've long had a special interest in Tolkien's Atlantis myth. 

Although I'd read (and written about) this material before, the presentation was thought-provoking and the contributions from the students interesting. 

In short: a good course. I'd do this again.

--John R.

current reading: letters of T. H. White (somewhat off-putting). re-reading Heinlein's FIFTH COLUMN (just finished**) and TUNNEL IN THE SKY (just started).

*  https://www.politics-prose.com/class/online-class-silmarillion-jrr-tolkiens-unfinished-symphony-2253

**problematic,  like most of Heinlein. 

Friday, June 3, 2022


 So, thanks to Janice for the link to this story that shows just how amazingly popular, and profitable, our hobby has become.  

It turns out that Wizards of the Coast, which includes Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, is the most profitable part of Hasbro. As in, it brought in eight hundred million ($800,000,000) last year. So much money, in fact, that it's attracting serious investors who'd like to see the ccg/rpg spun off as its own company.

This extreme profitability is all the more believable in that it might explain something that's puzzled me for years. Hasbro has a history of buying highly profitable companies, hollowing them out, and then shutting them down. It looked like they were about to do that to TSR/WotC in 2002, then they seemed to have changed plans and not followed through.  Now I wonder if that had indeed been the plan, but they'd had to call it off once they realized that D&D was, in the words of a TSR vice president back in Lake Geneva days, "a license to print money".  So much so that it's now being picked up to be used on NPR in a segment explaining proxy battles.

And we find we live in a world in which D&D and MtG sales are creeping up in a way that makes me wonder if it'll hit the billion dollar mark.

Have to keep an eye out to see if there's a follow-up piece after the actual shareholders meeting, schedules for June 8th.

Here's the link.


--John R.

--current reading: still T. H. White

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Off Deadline

So, Saturday I finished up a big project that I'd been working on off and on for some time now.

Monday I got the file off to the publisher. It ran to 174 pages, or some 84,000 words -- a fairly substantial volume.

Now to write a mini-bio -- the inevitable accompaniment to any turnover -- and wait to hear back from the publisher. 

In the meantime, I've started the next project, which is much more limited in scope; I expect it to run about 5,000 words and I have about three months to get the work done in. I take it as a good sign that I had no trouble finding the notes and synopsis for this one, right where I put them aside when I sketched out the piece last September.

Also good to learn that some eye trouble doesn't appear to have any major effect my ability to type or read.

More to come as the project makes its way through the printing process.

--John R.

current reading: A NIGHT IN THE LONESOME OCTOBER by Roger Zelazny.

temporarily abandoned book: LETTERS TO A FRIEND by T. H. White (1982)

Wednesday, May 18, 2022


So, last night my friends at the Monday night D&D game shared the news that the new edition of DARK TOWER by Janell Jaquays is now up as a Kickstarter. I'm a big fan of this gem from the legendary Judges Guild --it was actually the first D&D module I bought, and I still have my original copy.

Looks like I'm not the only one who admires this classic. According to the Kickstarter site, with twenty-seven days out the goal of $10,000 has been blown past. The amount pledged is now $318,959 from two thousand, four hundred and thirty-three different people.


On a personal note, I was happy to see my name atop the list of people who contributed essays praising the adventure: Mine was a short piece setting the adventure within the context of those far-off days.

What's in the Book?

Volume one of the three-volume slipcase contains a reprint of the original Dark Tower adventure from 1979, plus introductory essays by John Rateliff, Eric Mona, Justin Alexander, James Maliszewski, Jon Taco Hershberger, Stephen NEwton, and others"

So, glad to see Goodman Games is carrying on their mission to celebrate the old days by making the classics available again, in their original form but also updated or the current rules stystem.

--John R


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Unwin and Tolkien agree

 So, there's the famous episode where JRRT, a year after THE  HOBBIT was published, angrily repudiated Germany's anti-Semitic laws -- specifically by refusing to make an official statement declaring that he was not Jewish, such a statement being required by his prospective publisher for a German edition, which wd have been the first translation into another language (See LETTERS OF JRRT, page 37, letter of 25 July 1938 for details).

I thought I remembered a different incident in which Unwin made his own opposition to anti-Semitic madness clear. It's years ago now since I read Stanley Unwin's autobiography, THE TRUTH ABOUT A PUBLISHER--the title is a play on Unwin's famous polemic about the publishing business, THE TRUTH ABOUT PUBLISHING--and I couldn't find a specific passage I was looking for. 

My memory said that in his autobiography Unwin told the story about foiling Nazi anti-Semitic laws, which forbid anyone  of Jewish ancestry from owning a business. To get around this, Unwin bought three or four German publishers for a token price (say, a pound) . Then at the end of the war he returned them to their original owners for the same token price.

Does anyone out there remember this episode? Am I looking in the wrong place for it (i.e., is it in David or Philip Unwin's autobiography instead)?

Although I wasn't successful in finding the anecdote I wanted, I did find a different passage that shows Unwin, to his credit, as having taken an anti-Nazi stance early on (1933), as opposed to others (like Roy Campbell, who was enthusiastically pro-Hitler at that point). Here's the passage:

It was . . . an interesting indication of the mounting

 indignation at the Nazi treatment of the Jews when,

 in April 1933, I received a discreetly worded letter

 from my good friend Dr Gustav Kilpper, the 

representative of Germany on the Executive, that,

 although it might easily be misconstrued if the

 suggestion came from Germany, they felt that, 

in view of the tension in the atmosphere, it would

be wise to postpone the Brussels Congress to 1934

 . . . It proved, however, too late to do so.

At the Brussels Congress Dr. Kilpper went much 

further than such an enlightened man had any 

justification in doing in defending the Nazis,

 who showed their appreciation by turning him

out of office. Following the Congress he 

urged my son and myself to join him on a

holiday on the Eibsee, which under other 

circumstances we would gladly have done.

 My reply read as follows:

'I very much appreciate your letter of the 11th 

July with its kind invitation. But the news that

 reaches me this morning of the glorification

 of the murderers of my friend Rathenau --

one of the most enlightened and noble-

minded men I have ever met -- makes

 it more than ever clear that Germany 

under the present regime is no place

 for me. That an assassin could be 

regarded in 1933 as a hero is incredible. 

What are we coming to?

[THE TRUTH ABOUT A PUBLISHER, 1960, p.401-402]

The context of this, for those like me who know less about the Weimar republic than Wikipedia does, is something like this: Unwin, who was the leading British expert on international publishing issues, had played a large role in the revival of the International Publishers' Congress, which had lapsed in 1920 just after the end of The Great War. It held biannual meetings with a rotating host city (starting with Paris 1931).  

Rathenau is Walther Rathenau, Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic, the only Jewish member of the Republic, who was assassinated in 1922 by a reactionary anti-Semitic group, the Organisation Consul. The assassins were hunted down: some died in a police shoot-out, others went to prison, and some evaded punishment, so far as I can tell. Following national mourning, a number of monuments were put up in his honor.  Then when the Nazis came to power they knocked down the monuments in Rathenau's honor and replaced them with monuments celebrating his murderers. That's the outrage that had Unwin so worked up.

--John R.

current reading: Thorne Smith's SKIN & BONES -- a minor late work comprised almost entirely in dialogue.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Tolkien Influencers -- a list

 So, thanks to J.E. at  Tolkien Collector's Guide for this link to a post that not only lists twenty-five Influencers but also what each thought about the footage they were shown and their impressions of the Showrunners.


There's a lot of interest here, but it'll take a while to absorb. I am glad to see the event organizers brought in a few voices from Latin America. 

--John R.

Who are the 'Tolkien Influencers'?

So, I know what a Tolkien fan is. And I know what a Tolkien scholar is. Now I've been introduced to a new term: Tolkien Influencer. As in, someone who has an online Tolkien-themed site with a following. Between twenty-five and thirty of whom were flown to London (with a day-trip to Oxford) to watch a twenty-minute clip from the forthcoming Amazon Rings of Power series.

Only a few of them were named in the article I saw,* and I'd be interested to hear who the others were --in particular how many of them are people whose name I know.

Here's the list so far:

Corey Olsen, 'the Tolkien Professor', founder of Signum University

 Shaun Gunner, chair of The Tolkien Society

Justine (last name unknown), as representative from TheOneRing.net

Kaitlyn Facista, of 'Tea with Tolkien' (new to me)

I am bemused to learn that the main purpose of the event seems to have been to reassure the gathered Influencers that Amazon series' special effects will be Peter-Jackson worthy.  That wd never have occurred to me as a major concern. In fact I don't think it'd have made a top ten list, if had a top ten list. Which just goes to show I'm not the target audience. But I remain a curious bystander. And I'm glad these folks got to enjoy a visit to Oxford while they were in the neighborhood, more or less. 

--John R.

---current reading: SKIN & BONES by Thorne Smith (1933)

NEWS OF THE DAY: just finished up the last Tolkien-themed session at Kalamazoo for the year.

* https://www.looper.com/858984/amazons-rings-of-power-presentation-leaves-tolkien-experts-stunned/

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Tolkien Day at Kalamazoo

 So, that’s one day down and the better part of a week to go.

I had trouble logging on to Zoom, and by the time Janice got me straightened out I’d missed half of Kris Larsen’s piece. Which is a pity, given how good her stuff typically is.  This one was on orphans and near-orphans in Tolk.  Then came John Holmes on sinister pointing hands in ISHNESS, Maddo, Thror’s Map, and the RK draft cover. I’d never known there was a word for these (manicula), so I learned something. Third came Joe Ricke on Tolkien's THE HOMECOMING (HBB), looking particularly at the stage directions. I had no idea there were so many versions (fourteen) of this play, with the earliest version (in rhyming verse) accounting for five drafts plus two fragments. And as always I’m glad when a presentation tells me something about Tolkien I didn’t know before.

After a seven minute break for lunch, things resumed with Vickie Holtz-Wodzak suggesting Bram Stoker as a source for several scenes in Tolkien (mostly involving three wolf-attacks).* Then came Robin Reid with an examination of the recent online flame war against the Tolkien Society. I was impressed by her demonstration that it’s possible to discuss contentious events in a measured tone. I was fading by this point and so missed the last event of the day: the latest of Eileen Moore’s “Maidens of Middle-Earth” art songs.

And now comes a break until a Tolkien & Evil panel at two o’clock (my time) this Tuesday.   

Then comes a panel on Tolkien and medieval animals (everything from bats to dragons to bestiary lore) Thursday at six a.m. (gah!), followed later that day (four pm) by a roundtable in honor of Richard West.

Friday brings the business meeting (bright and early at 8 am), followed by THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, a roundtable focused on the new collection of Tolkien material edited by Carl Hostetter (I was supposed to be on this but had to bow out during the chaos of earlier this year).

Saturday wraps things up with a Dante and the Inklings panel, which seems to be folding previous years’ C. S. Lewis at Kalamazoo into the Tolkien at Kalamazoo group. Then things wrap up with a misc. grouping that includes pieces on ’The Dragon is not an Allegory’ (here, here), Sam as Boethian (nice to see a non-augustinian piece), and ’Tolkien, Augustinian Theodicy, and Lovecraftian Evil’ (cd be interesting to see HPL in such august company). 

And then that’d wrap things up for another year.

*She had a point, but I wd have thought S. R. Crockett Tolkien's immediate source. 

Thursday, May 5, 2022


So, while I've been working away trying to wrap up a big long-term project, all kind of Tolkien events have been announced. 

Coming up soon, there's the first Annual Tolkien Lecture at the University of Birmingham, being held Friday May 27th --just three weeks away. The speaker is Dimitra Fimi (a good choice); the topic "I HOLD THE KEY: J. R. R. Tolkien through interviews and reminiscences" (also a good choice).

Here's a short abstract posted online:

“This lecture will meander through several interviews Tolkien gave during his lifetime, as well as reminiscences of people who knew him well (family, colleagues, publishers, friends). Though this material remains uncollected and scattered in various (often obscure) publications, it often reveals fascinating facets of Tolkien's inspirations, creative process, and the construction of a "biographical legend".

I/ve long been interested in this material and so checked to see if I cd watch this remotely, and found that it's an in-person event. And so far as I cd find there aren't any plans to make it available online afterwards. Considering how valuable the material is, and how hit-and-miss peoples' use of it has been, let's hope her lecture gets published at some point down the road.


There's another Tolkien-related event I've just recently learned about, but I'll avoid discussing it because I don't think there's been an official announcement on this one yet.

A big event now close enough to be described as looming is this year's  Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, starting on the 9th (i.e., the beginning of next week) -- even earlier, for those attending the pre-con Tolkien event on Saturday the 7th.  The Tolkien panels at the Congress itself shd run through Saturday the 14th, so I'm hoping to see quite a few of them on Zoom.

Also there's the Flieger Silmarillion classes starting on the 15th (of May; first of four sessions).

And, a little further out, the Marquette Tolkien exhibit in August.

And after that the Watership Down conference in early September:


To sum up:  a lot of good things coming up for the Tolkienist (and fantasist in general) over the next few days, weeks, and months.

--John R. 

current reading: THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH (Pullman), & finding it so far a slog.

I may give up and switch instead to re-reading one of Thorne Smith's screwball comedies in novel form.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Tipping Point

So, this week I've been putting in a lot of time in the ongoing project of sorting things down in the box room. Then Thursday  I made a realization. I'm pretty sure that I'm now more than half way through. There's still a lot to do, but I've gotten more done than remains to do.

Things I've got sorted and out the door include most of the miniatures, and boardgames, and card games, and anime, and manga, and non-TSR rpgs (lots of these), and D&D boxed sets and modules and rulebooks, and lots and lots and lots of books. 

This latest round has involved moving boxes that had been blocking shelves. Now I've got access for sorting my row of Judges Guild modules, plus the shelf of Mayfair Role Aids. Plus what I think are full runs of Chaosium's fiction lines (Cthulhian and Arthurian), not to mention over a hundred old TSR novels, of which I'm keeping eight. And a lot of books, some of them scholarly works on fantasy, going back all the way to my first (abandoned) dissertation topic.  

Many boxes remain, but once I've got the current stacks of books double-checked and boxed up and off that'll open up some space to work. So, progress.

--John R.

current reading: AMONGST OUR WEAPONS (the latest Rivers of London book with its Monty Python title; just finished) and  THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH (Philip Pullman's sequel to HIS DARK MATERIALS; just started).

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Four thousand, two hundred, and fifty Books

So, while I had all the pieces of my reading list out and in one place, I decided to look at things from the other end, starting from the first entry and running all the way up to the present day.

 The first list, starting in August 1975, ran to book #536 when it broke off in April 1981 --not because I decided to quit but because I lost the little notebook that had the most recent entries in it, accidently leaving it on the Underground.  I restarted the list that August (1981) and have kept it going ever since. This second list now runs to 3688 books.

Finally, after I'd lost the entries that shd have made up the most recent entries of the first list, I jotted down all the books I cd remember that I read during that gap. I came up with twenty-six titles -- not all, but better than nothing.

So, while my math skills aren't what they were, I make out the total from all three lists as this:

First List: 536 books

Lacuna: 26 books

Second List: 3689 books and counting.

536 + 26 + 3689 = 4250.*

And counting.


*or, I shd say, 4251, since I finished another book while drafting this post ---STILETTO, the latest by Daniel O'Malley, a disappointing sequel to his excellent, Classics of Fantasy worthy THE ROOK.

Friday, April 22, 2022

1000, 100, & 10

 So, here's a thought experiment.

Suppose you found out you could read another thousand books in your time remaining. What would you read? Would you do anything different in choosing which books to read, once you started to treat books as a non-renewable resource, at least so far as your individual reading goes? Would you do more re-reading of favorites? Or shift more towards works you've never read before?

If a thousand is too large a number, what about a hundred?  This is much more do-able: checking my reading list I find I've read fifty books in the last year. So it's entirely feasible that even someone who reads at about half the rate I do may hit the hundred book mark in four or five years.

Let's get really dire: what if it were ten? We're talking literary hospice here (or desert island disk if you prefer). Would you carefully choose a few favorites, a few you've always intended to get to, and one or two just at random?

For the record, The most recent book I've read is AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS by Flann O'Brien (1939) --my second reading of a book I liked much more the first time around, back in my Marquette days.  It's #II.3688 on the list. So I thought I'd look back and see where I was 1000 books ago.  II.2688 turns out to have been THE REMORSEFUL DAY by Colin Dexter, the thirteenth and last of the Inspector Morse books. I was in Oxford at the time (November 2007), on the fourth of my four solo research trips there, and it seemed appropriate while there to read a book set there.

Pressing on, a hundred books back brings us to July 2020 and #II.3588: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF THE RABBIT by R. M. Lockley.

So, it's taken me fifteen years to read a thousand books.

--John R. 

P.S. Of course some folks don't read all that much, so it's not much of a deal for them. I remember Mick Fleetwood once saying that he'd only ever read two books and liked them both, so he quit while he ahead.But for some of us reading is among the most enjoyable of our hobbies as well as at the core of our work.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A Piece of the True Cross Lost?

So, the most interesting piece of news I saw regarding the sinking of the MOSKVA was that there may have been a piece of the True Cross on board and, if so, presumably now lost in the Black Sea:

So unlikely was the loss of the ship in Moscow’s eyes that in 2020 Orthodox Christian officials said it had been designated to carry a piece of the “true cross,” a relic from the wooden cross on which Jesus Christ is said to have been crucified.

Here's the link for those wanting more context:


--John R.

--who has seen one such fragment*

* but who, when it comes to relics, wd rather have had the chance to see an angel's feather.

A Follow-up to Oldfangled

So, I'm a little late coming to it, but I did want to address Paul W's query a few weeks back in which he queried the absence of four specific authors from my Classics of Fantasy / Suggested Reading List:

I've praised them before, but I wonder that Mary Stewart

Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, or Mary Renault didn't make your list. 

Admittedly, Renault's works might be considered historical fiction 

but they all have magic in them to one degree or another. 

Of these, I haven't read much Renault* but rate her highly based on what I have read. But, as you suggest, I think of her more as a writer of historical novels than as a fantasist. 

The same holds true for Mary Stewart. I have a high regard for her earlier Arthurian novels (THE CRYSTAL CAVE, THE HOLLOW HILLS), not so much for the later ones. In her case the fantasy element is there, but it's not what the books are about. I can see the argument for considering her a fantasy writer but somehow I can't quite make myself believe it.

With Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper's quintologies there's no doubt they're fantasy, and good fantasy at that. It wd have been no great injustice to have included them. It's just that I don't, in the end, think they hold up. Alexander I realized at the time I first read him wd have meant more to me if I'd read him before Tolkien rather than after. I still liked them well enough right up until I read THE MABINOGION (in Patrick Ford's transation). I've found that when it came to Welsh myth and legend the real thing spoiled just about all the adaptation for me --with the exception of Morris's THE BOOK OF THREE DRAGONS, which did make the original column.

Susan Cooper comes even closer, and mainly got left out because the series is uneven and because I find some aspects of how her 'good guys' behave appalling. 

In the end I think fantasy's defining characteristic is the present of magic. It is the literature of the impossible. And without the impossible, for me it's just not fantasy.

Hence after much debate I omitted Daniel Pinkwater's THE SNARKOUT BOYS AND THE AVOCADO OF DEATH (1982) when I started putting together my recommended reading list because in the end it seems to me that while this book comes as close as possible to the line where a book gets so weird it crosses the line to become fantasy, in the end I'd say Pinkwater stays on the not-yet-quite side of the line. 

--John R.

current reading: AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS (1939)

*with those I have mostly being from Taum Santoski's shelves, he being a big fan.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Fantasy without Tolkien

 So, here's an interesting thought experiment: what would fantasy literature look like if there had been no J . R. R. Tolkien?

To which my immediate reply wd be to paraphrase Mark Twain's response when asked what men would be like without women, to which he replied that they'd be 'mighty scarce'.

A more measured response wd note that we'd certainly still have fantasy if Tolkien had died in the Somme in 1916 (as he v. nearly did).  Morris and Dunsany and Eddison, et al. wd still have written THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END, THE BOOK OF WONDER, THE WORM OUROBOROS, &c. But we'd have very little sense that these books belonged together in a genre called 'fantasy'. Aside from writing THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Tolkien's greatest contribution to fantasy was to create a sense that there was such a thing. In THE LORD OF THE RINGS he provided the paradigm that transformed all the rest into precursors and followers. That is not to say THE HOBBIT and THE SILMARILLION were not important. They were. But they lacked the transformative power of his masterpiece.

A second take on this wd be to assume Tolkien survives the Somme and writes all the works he did write in the real world up until circa 1930. That year he for the first and, as it wd turn out, only time in his life, had a complete draft of all the constitute parts that he intended made up the 1930 Silmarillion: the Quenta, the Annals of Valinor, and the Annals of Beleriand. What if Tolkien had devoted the years 1930-1932 to polishing, submitting, and getting published his mythology?

The result, I think, wd have been that THE SILMARILLION wd now be remembered as one of those rare, quirky works like LUD-IN-THE-MIST or THE BOOK OF THREE DRAGONS, magnificent in their isolation. We'd have no HOBBIT, no LORD OF THE RINGS, no 'Tolk-clones but also no shelves in the bookstores labelled 'fantasy/sci fi' 

Anyway, here's the link to the original publication; Thanks to Paul W. for the link.


--John R.

current reading: Evageline Walton's THE CHILDREN OF LLYR (1971)

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Verlyn Flieger at Politics and Prose

 So,  saw that Verlyn Flieger is offering an online class, an overview on THE SILMARILLION.

The course is scheduled to run for four classes on May 15th, May 22nd, June 5th, & June 12th. It's hosted by Politics & Prose bookstore in DC, which I don't think I've ever been to but which has a certain familiarity from back from the days when we used to get Book TV.

I suspect from the title and subject that these talks will in large part derive from INTERRUPTED MUSIC, which I consider her best book.

In any case, the chance to hear what Verlyn has to say about The Silmarillion not being something I'd want to pass up, I just registered.


--John R. 

current reading: HUNTINGTOWER by John Buchan

current music: THE TIPPING POINT: a new album by an old group (Tears for Fears).

Monday, March 28, 2022

TSR Alumni Event

 So, last weekend thanks to the kindness of the offer of a ride there and back from friend Jim Lowder I got to go down to Lake Geneva to join in the TSR Alumni Event at Garycon.  I had a great time and saw a lot of people I hadn't seen since 1997 or thereabouts, as well as some I do keep in touch with.  I even got some new Tom Wham Snits art. A bit overwhelmed right now; I'll try posting some about it when things settle down some*

--John R.

*this being the final week  of my current trip researching in the Archives, things are busy and getting busier.

Bob Foster and Dick Plotz

So thanks to Carl H for this one: a link to a Tolkien Day event featuring two key figures in early Tolkiendom: Robert Foster and Richard Plotz.

Foster is author of A GUIDE TO MIDDLE-EARTH and then later of THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO MIDDLE-EARTH, expanded to include THE SILMARILLION. This was a book so massively useful that Christopher Tolkien himself acknowledged and praised it (in his introduction to the first volume of HME). 

Plotz founded The Tolkien Sociey of America (TSA*), and launched the most successful of all the early Tolkien fanzines: THE TOLKIEN JOURNAL.

It's amazing to get a chance to see fellow Tolkien fans and Tolkien scholars who dropped out of Tolkien studies before I even got into it emerge and tell their stories. Kudos to those who pulled this off for Tolkien Collector's Guide: **

Here's the link



*not to be confused with The Tolkien Society, based in England.

**not to be confused with The Tolkien Collector.

Oldfangled Fantasy: a much shorter list

  So, in contrast to Esquire's brief to catch the latest trends, here's a selection of the classics of the genre. It's what I consider the best of the best, the books I devoted a monthly installment of my old web-column Classics of Fantasy to. It's obviously incomplete; I'm currently working on a Recommended Reading list to cover books I wd have included if the column had run longer  (e.g., The Lord of the Rings). Obviously I don't expected anyone else to agree with every item --it's not that kind of list. But I hope these writers and works can be taken as books I'd recommend to anyone interested in modern fantasy, while also drawing attention to some lesser-read masters.


--John R.


 I. The Well at the World's End (1896)  by William Morris  


 II. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974)  by Patricia A. McKillip      


 III. Ghost Stories of an Antiquarian (1904ff)   by M. R. James


 IV. Swords Against Death (1970)   by Fritz Leiber  


 V. Silverlock (1949)   by John Myers Myers


 VI. A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)   by David Lindsay


 VII. The Bridge of Birds (1984)   by Barry Hughart


 VIII. The Worm Ouroboros (1922)   by E. R. Eddison


 IX. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926)  by H. P. Lovecraft


 X. A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)   by Ursula K. Le Guin


 XI. The Face in the Frost (1969)   by John Bellairs


 XII. The Night Land (1912)   by William Hope Hodgson


 XIII. Watership Down (1972)   by Richard Adams  


 XIV. The Book of Three Dragons (1930)   by Kenneth Morris


 XV. Tales of Averoigne (1929–1938) by Clark Ashton Smith


 XVI. The Books of Wonder (1910, 1912, 1916)  by Lord Dunsany


 XVII. The Hobbit (1937)   by J. R. R. Tolkien


 XVIII. Hobberty Dick (1955)   by Katharine Briggs            


 XIX.  Hour of the Dragon (1936)   by Robert E. Howard


 XX.  The Dying Earth (1950)   by Jack Vance


 XXI  Jurgen (1917)   by James Branch Cabell

Saturday, March 26, 2022

When Is Greenland Not a Greenland?

So, following on from the previous post, in the second of two odd points arising from the hastily jotted thoughts that appear in the HME series as Plot Notes F, Frodo and Sam return home to find the Shire 'spoilt'.  So they do not stay there. Instead

They  go west and set sail to Greenland.

Christopher Tolkien points out the oddity of this but makes clear that the form isn't a misreading. That is, Tolkien didn't actually write green land or Green Land but ran it together as one word, beginning with a capital. 

Despite which it seems clear that here he was not talking about the island between Iceland and Newfoundland, the real world's Greenland, but the 'fair green land' Frodo (and, presumably, later Sam) catches a glimpse of a fair green land as he sails off into the West.


This example is tricky because it seems to be one of those rare times when we can tell what Tolkien meant but it does not seem to agree with what he actually wrote.

--John R.

Sandyman's Biscuit Fastory

So, here  at the end of my first week (of two) at the Archives, I once again marvel at the LotR manuscript collection.  Even after so much time, reading closely through variant versions reveal how differently things cd have turned out at so many points, making the familiar text become strange and new again.

For example, consider two extremely minor details from the end of Plot Note F.

On a penciled scrap of paper placed at the end of PN F we are told that Frodo and Sam in the end come back to find the Shire ruined and the Sandyman house a biscuit factory.

So, why a biscuit factory?  Remember that for English English 'biscuit' usually means what in American English we call a cookie. So decades before the Keebler elfs we find here a passing glimpse of little people going into the cookie industry. If this had been written down two decades later I'd suspect it was linked to the little elf-queen on Noakes's Cake in SMITH OF WOOTON MAJOR, but the long gap of years between makes that seem a stretch.

Is biscuit chosen here for some specific reason, so drive home a particular point? Or is this a random point that briefly popped into Tolkien's head as he was jotting down some notes re. possibilities in the parts of the story he hadn't gotten to yet?

Have to say I haven't got a clue.

--John R.

--current reading:  O'Malley's THE ROOK

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Newfangled Fantasy: A Fifty-Book List

So, thanks to D.A.A., who knows I'm interested in this sort of thing, for having brought this to my attention.  Here's the link.


I've taken the piece on the other end and re-arranged it out of click-bait format to just author, title, and date (when the date was included, which was usually but not reliably present). I've also reversed the polarity of the neutron flow and reversed the sequence so it starts with the #1 book, the one they think the best fantasy novel of all time, and counts down from there. 

I find that I've read eleven of these books. Most of the rest don't particularly interest me, from the descriptions here, any more than any other such listing, book recommended for me by someone who doesn't know me beyond  'likes Tolkien'. Well, they've got me there. 

And having this list may draw me out to read more of these books (I have to admit I've actually never heard of twenty-three of these fifty authors).

With any list of this type, the immediate (and expected) response is to say 'well, what about [X]?', naming a book or two the reader wd have liked to see included. 

But I'm dismayed at how few books from more than twenty years made it through. If what I've been reading all these years isn't fantasy, what is? And if this truly were a fair representation of the fantasy genre as it stands today, then perhaps I've been left behind and it's something else I'm really interested in. "Classic Fantasy" perhaps?  Dunsany and Adams and Hughart, McKillip and Briggs, and a host of others absent here.

Here's Esquire's list

1.  N. K. Jemisin. The Fifth Season (2015)

*2.  J. R. R. Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Rings (1954)

*3.  Ursula K. Le Guin.  A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)

4.  Ken Liu. The Grace of Kings

5.  Nnedi Okorafor. Who Fears Death (2010)

6.  Jin Yong, A Hero Born (1950s, translated more recently)

*7.  Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)

8.  Sofia Samatar.  A Stranger in Olondria (2013)

9.  Madeline Miller. Circe

10.  Rand Miller, Robyn Miller, & David Wingrove. Myst: The Book of Atrus (1995)

11.  Tomi Adeyemi. Children of Blood and Bone. (2018)

12.  Octavia E. Butler (1979)

*13.  Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber (1979)

14.  Gene Wolfe. Latro in the Mist (1986 & 1989)

15.  Amos Tutuola. The Palm-wine Drinkard (1952)

*16.  C. S. Lewis. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

17.  Kenji Miyazawa. Once and Forever (?1930s or before)

*18.  L. Frank Baum. Ozma of Oz (1907)

19.  Robert Jordan. The Shadow Rising (1992) [fourth book in Wheel of Time]

20.  Brandon Sanderson. The Way of Kings 

21.  Victor Lavalle. The Changeling 

22.  G. Willow Wilson. The Bird King 

23.  Naomi Novik. Uprooted

24.  Jeffrey Ford.  The Drowned Life (2008)

25.  Marlon James.  Moon Witch, Spider King

26.  Robert Jackson Bennett.  Foundryside

27.  Keren Lord.  Redemption in Indigo (2010)

28.  Kelly Link.  Get in Trouble (2015)

*29.  Grace Lin.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2010)

30.  Sjón.  The Blue Fox

*31.  Stardust. Neil Gaiman (1999)

32.  Kalpa Imperial. Angélica Gorodischer (2003) [tr. Le Guin]

33.  Kacen Callender.  Queen of the Conquered (2020)

*34.  Philip Pullman.  The Subtle Knife [middle volume from His Dark Materials]

35.  George R. R. Martin.  A Game of Thrones (1996)

36.  Neon Yang.  The Black Tides of Heaven (2018)

*37.  Guy Gavriel Kay.  Tigana (1990)

38.  Brian Catling.  The Vorrh

39.   V. E. Schwab.  A Darker Shade of Magic

40.  Julia Fine.  What Should Be Wild

41.  Ben Loory.  Tales of Falling and Flying

42.  C. L. Polk. Witchmark (2019)

43.  Amber Sparks.  The Unfinished World

44.  Kai Ashante Wilson.  The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps (2015)

45.  Michal Ajvaz.  The Other City  (tr 2009)

46.  P. DjèlÍ Clark.  Ring Shout 

47.  Scott Hawkins.  The Library at Mount Char

*48.  Kazuo Ishiguro.  The Buried Giant

49.  Erin Morgenstern.  The Night Circus

50.  S. A. Chakraborty.  The City of Brass



—current reading: THE ROOK (excellent. recommended).

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Sunday in Milkwaukee

So, Sunday being my first full day on my own  in Mikwaukee this visit, I got together with Dale Donavan, who I used to work with at TSR back in Lake Geneva days (and after), and Ben Riggs, who has written a book (out soon) sharing stories about what it was like to work at TSR.


We went to a Food Truck Park down on the south side of town --a part of town I don't know v. well (despite having lived a year on Walker) and the sort of place I rarely go to (what with not eating sandwiches and all). But I enjoyed it, both the camaraderie and the food (I got ramen). The mini-greenhouses helped on a grey, chilly days.


After Ben had to head off, Dale and I ventured further south to visit a bookstore he'd recommended,  

Voyageur Books out Kinnikinnick. There I not only got to pet a book shop cat but, searching around in their lower level, came across THE SILENT MIAOW, a book I've been looking for in a desulatory way for years. It had been a favorite of my mother's and mine ever since we came across it in the Magnolia Library.  Having forgotten the author's name (ironic, since I've read and enjoy several of his other books) and misremembering how to spell the title probably accounted for my difficulty in finding it.  

I had intended to find it, buy it, re-read it for the first time in many years, and then pass it on to Mama, who I knew had enjoyed it then and would enjoy it now.  But it took me a little too long.  So rest in piece to a lifelong lover of cats, from one to another.

--John R.

Connectivity Issues

 Hi all

The Internet was out at the hotel last night from mid-evening onward.

I hope for better luck tonight, but if you don't see me post tonight, or comment on a comment, you'll know the problem has not yet seen resolution.

--John R., from Marquette's Memorial Library, which has a nice strong signal.

--current reading: THE ROOK (holding up well on a third reading & highly recommended

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Marlon James

So, yesterday I was in the Barnes & Noble in Brookfield west of Milwaukee when the following front cover blurb caught my attention:

"A fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made"  -- Neil Gaiman

 This cover blurb on the book MOON WITCH, SPIDER KING by Marlon James turns out to be an excerpt from Gaiman's longer blurb for M.J.'s previous book, BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF :

“Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the kind of novel I never realized I was missing until I read it. A dangerous, hallucinatory, ancient Africa, which becomes a fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made, with language as powerful as Angela Carter's. It's as deep and crafty as Gene Wolfe, bloodier than Robert E. Howard, and all Marlon James. It's something very new that feels old, in the best way. I cannot wait for the next installment.” Neil Gaiman 

I haven't read any of James' work, though this has put him on my radar and will have me on the look-out to find a good entry point.

I do have to make two observations,  though:

--this kind of flailing around by critics to find something to compare a book to can indicate that you've struck gold (cf. the odd lot cited for early blurbs of LotR). But it's more likely to indicate a desperate casting about to try to find something to say.  The idea of a book that sounds like Carter, Wolfe, and Howard sounds like a book I'd stay away from. 

--it's fascinating to see that still, after all these years, publishers are using the tag-line 'this is like Tolkien' to sell books.

--John R

The Norman Spinrad Option

So, during the recent M. A. R. Barker dust-up I've been surprised that only one or two people have tried to evoke the Norman Spinrad option --that is, that it's all some kind of hoax Barker pulled off. Have to say, I'm not buying it.

Spinrad's book, for those without access to a fifty-year-old paperback,* is an alternate history in which Adolf Hitler gives up politics to follow a career as an artist. He immigrates to America in the 1920s where he becomes a fan favorite for his work on pulp magazines. When he dies in 1953 he leaves behind a science fiction novel that embraces the white supremacy tropes endemic in American science fiction at the time. Spinrad's book provides the frame, with the bulk of the book being Hitler's novel.

The point of Spinrad's book is to make the case that there wasn't much distance between the racism acceptable in the pulps and that accepted in the real world at the time.  It's a valid point but an uncomfortable read, and I'm not sure Spinrad cd have gotten away with it today.

--John R.

*caveat: it's been a long time since I read this one, and some of the details given above may be slightly off.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Neo-Nazis in Tekumel

 So, thanks to Jim Lowder for sharing the news about the big upset that has erupted in the last few days while I've been on the road and only intermittently with online access.

In brief, the late M.A.R. Barker, author of EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE, wrote and published a neo-Nazi novel.

The Link


The Other Link (ENWorld discussion)


Barker was of enormous important to D&D --and hence roleplaying-- for creating an exotic, not to say downright weird, fantasy world, complete with a variety of odd monsters and alien races, bizarre magical technology, a number of gods and cults (some of them highly unpleasant), and even a highly developed invented language. And all this without drawing on the near-ubiquitous Tolkienian medievalism that dominated fantasy (then as now). 

All of which makes it all the odder that Barker's work was much praised but little played. Few read it, and fewer still ever rolled up characters and gave it a try.

TSR used the world of Tekumel as the basis of one of their earliest major releases: the first boxed set supplement in the rpg industry (costing the high-end price of $25 back in 1975), an impressive feat of worldbuilding. 

The fall-out shd be interesting on this one.

--John R.

. . . By a Moose

So, a few days ago I got bitten by a moose. Sort of. Which goes to show a statement can be both true and yet misleading.*

Last night we both had frozen custard, which is a sign that I'm probably in Milwaukee. 

Today we got two treats: an hour browsing around inside the Brookfield Barnes & Noble, and having lunch with friends Jim & Deb Lowder

And tonight I'm staying in one of Milwaukee's fine art-deco hotels -- of which the city has at least five that I know of: The Astor, The Plaza, The Ambassador, The Pfister, and The Marc Plaza (which has been renamed and whose new name I forget; there were some events held here during the final Milwaukee GenCons). 

All this, and it's still two days before the big event: getting back to work with the manuscripts in the Archives.

--John R.

-- current reading: re-reading one of the 'Rivers of London' series (the one that takes place entirely in Germany. That must have been an odd product pitch with his publishers).

*This happened on Wednesday when Janice and I were almost ready with our preparations for the trip and needed to get out and about. So we went for a walk along the Soos Creek Trail. Where among other things we met a overfriendly half-grown puppy named Moose who wanted us to keep petting him so badly he actually gave me a little nip.

This things seem to happen to some of us more than others.



Friday, March 18, 2022

Grybauskas Event

 So, thanks to Janice S. for the link about an upcoming online Tolkien event: a presentation that focused on Peter Grybauskas' new book, A SENSE OF TALES UNTOLD.  Working Zoom events into the regular schedule can be tricky, but I'm definitely planning to attend this one.

This presentation and discussion will be hosted by the Univ. of Maryland university library(s)

on Tuesday April 19th, from 1 pm to 2.15

Here's the link: 


I have, but have not yet read, P.G.'s book. That shd soon change; I brought it with me on my current trip to Milwaukee as downtime reading.  

--John R.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

The Earliest Tolkien radio adaptation (the 1950s HOBBIT)

 So, thanks to Yvette for the link to THE GUARDIAN's piece on the rediscovery of scripts and notes from Terence Tiller's 1955-56 twelve-part radio adaptation/dramatization of THE LORD OF THE RINGS.  We've known about this for a long time -- JRRT discusses his misgivings about the project in two letters to Tiller (cf. LETTERS .253-255) -- but had few details (e.g. that unlike most adaptations of LotR it included Bombadil).* 

The most valuable thing about this re-discovery is that it recovers a page in Tolkien's handwriting in which he offers up a suggested rewriting of a scene. 

The oddest thing about the whole enterprise is Tolkien's pronouncement that his was  'a book very unsuitable for dramatic or semi-dramatic representation' (.255). If he didn't think it was a good idea, then why did he authorize it?

Be that as it may, I look forward to Stuart Lee's piece (and I assume other bits of early Tolkien audio material) on this in the CT festschrift, THE GREAT TALES NEVER END (due out in June), which I'm eagerly waiting.

Here's the link


--JDR., on the verge of another research visit to Marquette

--current reading: between books.

*see LETTERS p. 228 for Tolkien's response to a listener, in which JRRT is driven to the expedience of resorting to exclamation marks (four in one paragraph) to express his dismay over Bombadil's treatment.

Monday, March 7, 2022

A Portrait of Priscilla

So, thanks to friend D. for the link that led to  the following brief memoir. 

In addition to being a nice piece on Priscilla it focuses on a side of her life that often got overlooked --e.g., her work as a probation officer.


I particularly like the painting-portrait of Priscilla in what I think is the drawing room of her house. I don't know if that's a Tolkien Piano in the background but I do recognize the photo of her parents in the garden at Sandfield Road. I get the feeling that many of the items around the edges of the painting have personal significance, like the pieta and the metronome. 

Anyway a nice piece and a nice picture; I've printed it out to insert in my copy of THE TOLKIEN FAMILY ALBUM.

--John R.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Priscilla Tolkien dies

So, I was very sorry to hear about the death of Priscilla Tolkien, the last of JRRT's children, at the age of ninety-two. I have warm memories of two meetings, one in the eighties (1987?) when I was invited out to her house in Summertown where I was served a tisane for the first and only time in my life. The second time (2007) was when she allowed me to treat her to high tea at The Old Parsonage in St. Giles in Oxford, * where she generously helped me work out who were some of the people (family friends) who received author's copies of THE HOBBIT directly from Tolkien himself.

 Whereas most of the Tolkiens valued their privacy, Priscilla Tolkien made herself  the face and voice of the family. It's my understanding that she was the guiding force behind the Tolkien Trust, which gave generously to a multiple of Good Works over many years. At any rate that she was very active in its ministrations. 

And on a personal note, it meant a lot to me to hear that she read, enjoyed, and agreed with my piece on her father's lifelong support of women's education.**

A sad day. A sense of loss even from those who only meet her briefly at an Oxenmoot or similar event. 

Sad too in that she was the last survivor from those who formed the original audience of THE HOBBIT.

--John R.

*I met Walter Hooper at the same spot for tea that afternoon, then rounded off the day by walking up to the Kilns and kindly being shown around by the residents.

**"The Missing Women" in PERILOUS & FAIR, ed Croft & Donovan (2015)

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

My Sister's Tribute to Our Mother

Most of you knew my Mother from church and Walmart. She loved her church family dearly. When she was nominated to serve as an elder she did not feel qualified because there were so many very smart people in the church. Instead of declining, she studied church history for months in order to educate herself and be worthy to serve. She also loved her Walmart family. There were several special friends who she thought of as family. I wanted to share a few things that you might not have known about her. 


John shared her love of music very well, so I’ll just add that she did not like sharps, so she would transpose the music to flats. Only once did a lady remark to Mama that she noticed Mama did not play the music as written. Arthritis in her fingers kept her from playing in later years. The last time I heard Mama play was at Misty’s small wedding at our church in Waskom in 2002. When she learned there was no music, she sat down and played with no practice. It was beautiful. 


Mama spent most of her life in Magnolia, only leaving for a few years once she married my daddy. She was a fun parent when John and I were growing up. There wasn’t much money so she took us to the park, on picnics, on walks to enjoy nature, and many times we’d walk to the store to buy a treat with money from picking up coke bottles. She had a lively imagination and filled our heads with stories and fantasy. She also celebrated every occasion and holiday; a trait she carried on in later years through cards. 


We returned to Magnolia when my daddy died in 1969. She stayed home with us until she began working at Walmart in 1979, where her duties were running the fitting room and answering the phone. A few were amazed at how well she managed 5 phone lines with ease. They didn’t know she’d previously been a professional secretary. She’d worked for The World Book and Montgomery Ward when we lived in Little Rock. I never could take dictation and type as well as she did, and I tried. She could type perfect copy at 100 WPM. 


Mama’s two favorite people in the world were her brother and her son. She was so proud of being Denny Smith’s little sister. She was equally proud of Dr. John and all his accomplishments. These last few years Uncle Denny has called her often and they talk a long time. Those calls lifted her spirits for days. John called faithfully every Sunday. I ran across a notebook she’d used to document her hospital stay in 2013 which illustrates pretty well how she felt about John. She listed the visitors one day which included Kristy and her family, Misty, Stormy, Tommy, and Pam. The last listing in ALL CAPS read “JOHN CALLED.” 


Mama was the daughter of a historian, the wife of a history professor who died while workin on his doctorate, and the mother of a historian. This explains her love of history. She told me as a young girl she discussed current events with her daddy daily. She also loved keeping up with news and politics. She never failed to vote, which she considered her civic duty. 


Mama’s favorite thing was family gatherings. She’s told me for years that family is everything. John and Janice have been great taking her to visit her brother and his family these last few years. I have taken her to our gatherings for many years. This last year she cut down on these trips, saying she just wasn’t up to it. Stormy and Will did give her a ride to Houston for Zach’s graduation, and she made the trip to Misty’s house in Longview with John and Janice this summer. That was the last time they saw my daughter Kristy. She passed away suddenly from cancer on August 15. We were all together for the last time at Kristy’s memorial service in Houston on September 12th. Mama was right. Family is everything.