Friday, September 30, 2022

Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER Episode Six

Laconic Review:


Less Laconic:

The least Tolkien content of any episode yet. 

Adar's backstory.

The orcs go to war. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Dave Arneson sees the future

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

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

Oh, the future's here.  

It turned out to be a lot dumber 

than I thought it was going to be.

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

--John R.

--current reading

*thanks to Janice for the links)


Saturday, September 24, 2022

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

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

--John R


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

 THE WIFE SAYS: The Plot Holes Thicken

Friday, September 23, 2022

Bilbo's Birthday (More Events at Marquette)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--John R.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Meeting Dave Arneson

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


"Why D&D's Co-Creator

Didn't Get Hired by

Wizards of the Coast"



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


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


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



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






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


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


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


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


"to John

Dave Arneson



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


Friday, September 16, 2022

Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER Episode 4

 Not so much Interlace as Hopscotch.

'Amazon Content Services LLC'

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


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


Here's the cover:


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


--John R.

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


Saturday, September 10, 2022

Friday Cat Walking


Photo, by Janice, of Mr. Kramer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--John R


Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER Episode 3


Laconic Review of THE RINGS OF POWER Episode 2

 White Cliffs of Dover?

Laconic Review of RINGS OF POWER episode 1



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

THE HOBBIT: How It All Began

Sunday September 11th at 2 pm Eastern Daylight Time.

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

Sunday September 18th

Sunday October 2nd

Sunday October 9th 

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

See you tomorrow.

--John R.

Friday, September 2, 2022

The Wife Says


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

Thursday, September 1, 2022


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

    Chariot of Sustarre

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

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

--John R. 

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

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

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

Here's the link to the main website:

Here's the schedule detailing who speaks when:

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

15.45-16.15 Special Guest: John Rateliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

--John R.