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.


Two More Tributes to My Mother

So,  my sister and I each delivered a short piece at Mama's funeral.  Not included are the songs performed by her youngest granddaughter and the moving eulogy Dr. Pierre Boumtje delivered.

First, here's my bit. 

Dorris Rateliff


Anyone who knew my Mother knows why I can't remember her without thinking about cats.


• Mama told me that her first memory was when she was three years old, going hand in hand with her daddy to tell the security guard of the college where they were living that her cat had gotten lost and would he please keep a lookout for her and not shoot it.


• She had a love of cats all her life. Among the many who meant the most to her were Fluffy  (her mother's one and only cat), Jim Boy (who officially belonged to the neighbor but preferred to spend most of his time in her house), Tiger (the little bobtail Manx who thought she was a people), and Beauty (who faithfully came up daily to be fed and petted but whose home and owner we never knew). To this should be added the many outdoors cats she took care of and dozens of strays she provided for over the years. I think she never entered a house with a cat in it without wanting to meet and make the acquaintance of that cat.


• She loved music, especially Chopin. I don't know if there's anyone in the congregation who still remembers some seventy years ago when she played the piano at all church services (I take it this was before the Church got an organ)She wanted to donate her time and talent but the Church insisted on giving her a salary —which she promptly turned around and donated back to the Church each week.  Unlike so many who lose interest in the music of their youth later on, Mama stayed true to rock n roll. She loved to tell the story of the time she didn't see Elvis on the Louisiana Hayride, or the time just a few years ago she did see Z Z Top.


•  She also had songs written especially for her. My father, who we called Papaw, was a songwriter. Although he was never able to get them published or recorded, we always sang his songs to pass the time on long family drives. They were a family treasure. One of them that he thought his best was inspired by Mama: "The Thirty-first of June"


I'm gonna marry you, babe

   I'm gonna marry you.

Don't look at me that way, babe

   Every word I say is true.

I'm gonna buy you diamonds 

   And feed you from a silver spoon.

I'm gonna marry you, babe

   The thirty-first of June.


• She was someone interested in the world around her. She always knew the current phase of the moon and noticed which striking stars and planets were currently in the sky. She took note each day of which birds came to her feeder. Her favorite place was the lot on Williamson Street where my grandmother's house used to stand, which she visited daily to look at what flowers might have blossomed since her last visit and just to enjoy  being outdoors where she could, as she said, think her thoughts.


• She was the most generous and most stubborn person I ever knew. I'll miss her terribly.


• Thank you so much for coming to celebrate her life.


My Mother's Death

I had no idea how hard it is to write your own mother's obituary, but this week I've found out. The following represents the best I could do. I drafted it, my sister went through and improved it, I did an edit, a member of the younger generation (Will) gave it a once-over, and here it is, ready for the funeral service and for posting to the local online news site. I hope it conveys something about what made my mother special to so many different people.

Dorris Ann Rateliff 

June 7 1935—February 18 2022 age eighty-six 

Resident of Magnolia since 1944, the daughter of Dr. Samuel Denny Smith, a historian who was the first member of the faculty at what is now known as SAU (Southern Arkansas University) to hold a doctorate, and Mabel Dorris Smith, who worked for many years at Talbot’s on the square. 

She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband John Rateliff, and two granddaughters: Kristy Garrison and Melinda Williams. 

She is survived by her brother Denny Smith, wife Nancy, nephew Dr. Sam Smith, and niece Terri Darling of Little Rock; her daughter Pam Philpot and husband Tommy of Waskom Texas, her son Dr. John D. Rateliff and wife Janice Coulter of Kent Washington; grandchildren Misty Lybarger and husband Kyle, Stormy Sladaritz and husband Will, Allen Hutchins, Tommy Philpot Jr. and wife Whitney; and twelve great-grandchildren. 

She also had many special friends, extended family members, church family, and Walmart family who will miss her dearly. She was a longtime member of First Presbyterian Church of Magnolia, where she served as an Elder. She was also the local voice of WalMart for thirty-four years, who answered the phone for almost all incoming calls. 

She was a generous honorary aunt to many children of her acquaintance, mindful of birthdays and special occasions. 

She loved to collect rocks, each of which came with a memory of the person who gave it to her and where it had come from. She was a lifetime vegetarian and lover of cats. She also loved rock music and thoroughly enjoyed a ZZTop concert a friend took her to in El Dorado in 2017.