Sunday, December 24, 2023

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

re. the C. S. Lewis Correspondence Project

So,  re-reading my most recent post after hitting send I realized I had another point I'd wanted to make. Hence this follow-on post. 

I think this project has a good chance of success because it builds on a model the Wade Center used to good effect for years --certainly before I started going to the Wade (1983ff). They had photocopies of their Lewis letters in row after row of big binders. Inside each binder on the left hand was a photocopy of a page from a letter by CSL. Facing it on the right side was a typed transcription of the same page. When occasion offered --for example, a staff member or work-study student had some time free from other tasks-- she  wd add another batch of transcriptions. This not only made the material more available (not everyone finds Lewis's handwriting easy to read without some practice) but protected the originals from wear and tear. And it was self-correcting, since later users of the material wd point out misreadings and typos. 

I think something similar, aside from the technological advances, likely to serve as a model for this new project. Once the basic procedure is established, a huge project can become manageable, the work divided up among many hands. There's the added bonus that the work becomes useful right away, increasing that utility as long as the project continues.  

The only potential pitfalls I wd be wary of are (1) that this will be a massive amount of work and (2) I hope they have a procedure in place whereby members of the Steering Committee can drop out and new members recruited if needed, to guard against the 'Dead Sea Scroll' effect.

In short: a great idea that looks promising, with an end product that wd be of great use to more than just Lewis scholars. Let's hope things go well. 

--John R.

current reading: "Refuge of Insulted Saints", in HIGH SPIRITS: A COLLECTION OF GHOST STORIES by Robertson Davies

*the title of this post, by the way, comes from an Arlo Guthrie song

Saturday, December 23, 2023

The C. S. Lewis Correspondence Project

So, C. S. Lewis has been one of those authors posthumously prolific. His books were brought back into print, where they have been joined by previously uncollected works, especially literary essays and apologetics pieces. This good fortune for admirers of his works extends to his letters. The original life-and-letters put together by his brother Warnie, with the letters intercut with biographical passages,  never saw print, being recast into a shorter, simpler form by Christopher Derrick (1966).  As far back as 1981, when I first met him, Hooper was already, and already had been for several years, at work on Lewis's COMPLETE LETTERS. This finally came out in the form of the extensive if not comprehensive three-volume set of COLLECTED LETTERS (2000, 2004, 2007), totaling a massive 3999 pages  -- and even this was a Selected, not Complete, collection.

Now comes word of a new, ambitious project to collect together all Lewis's surviving letters into one electronic database. Their estimation is that CSL wrote some 10,000 letters. Of these 3208 appear in COLLECTED LETTERS. Hooper had located another 70 or 80 more by the time of his death (2020), and the editors of the Correspondence Project have by their count expanded that by 732 uncollected letters or fragments.  The goal is to establish a repository accessible to scholars all over the world. 

The group heading up this ambitious project is a team of seven scholars: Norbert Feinendegen, Monika B. Hilder, Bruce R. Johnson, Laura Schmidt, Arend Smilde, Charlies W. Starr, & Jill Walker. I don't know all these names, but the ones I do know lead me to feel the project is in good hands. It's also a good sign that the announcement is being published more or less simultaneously in The JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (from which I derive most of the information above*), VII, MYTHLORE, and SEHNSUCHT. 

The Contact person is Bruce R. Johnson:

It'll be interesting to see how this major project covering years of work by many hands comes out.  I know I've found Hooper's COLLECTED LETTERS of considerable value in my work on Tolkien and other Inklings over the years.


John R.

*Volume XIII.2 (2023)

Friday, December 15, 2023

Distressing News (Diana Paxson)

So, thanks to Doug K and David B for the link to the news about Diana L. Paxson, who has been the victim of a stabbing attack. The short version: she had a close call but shd be alright. The long version: the eighty year old Paxson and her son fought off the attack, which came from a fellow member of Greyhaven (essentially a commune): an artery was nicked but prompt aid from the son saved her. 

Here's the link:

Paxson is mainly known for her close association with Marion Zimmer Bradley: Her best known book, THE WHITE RAVEN (1988), tells the story of the Tristan and Iseult story from the point of view of Branwen, Iseult's maid). Essentially Paxson followed where Bradley's MISTS OF AVALON had led, but Paxson's is the much better book.

 --John R. 

--current reading (Kindle): GIFTED AMATEURS by David Bratman (2023) 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Layoffs: A Christmas Tradition

 So, I was sad to hear the news of 1100 people being laid off at Hasbro. On top of 800 let go early in the year, this totals about a third of their entire staff. They're even going to shut down the corporate headquarters in Rhode Island.

A lot of interesting posts on Facebook reflecting on earlier layoffs, both at WotC (1995) and TSR (1996).  Though I think I still hold the record of having been laid off by that rpg department three times. First by TSR at the end of 1996 when TSR all but shut down. Hired back by WotC at the next GenCon, I was laid off again in June 2001 when they decided they didn't need to hang on to the staff that saw the creation of 3e and the d20 system. Hired back again a year or two later by Hasbro, first briefly as a temp then made full-time, only to be laid off in November 2005 for no particular reason I ever knew.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying there is life after WotC. 

For all who got the bad news, best of luck and best wishes for the next stage, whatever that turns out to be.

Here're two pieces that between them give a pretty good overview of the bad tidings:

--John R.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Tolkien's Little List

So, the  previous post on Tolkien's brief correspondence with the great folklorist Katharine Briggs reminded me of something I'd come across a while back about Tolkien's connection with Briggs.

In Scull & Hammond's excellent CHRONOLOGY, they give an entry mentioning a list of people Tolkien wanted sent an author's complementary copy of SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR (ten in England and three more in America), then move on to give a second list of ten names "to whom future publications should be sent, since he owes them 'a considerable amount for help, encouragement, and gifts . . .' 

    Simonne d'Ardenne

    George Sayer

    Austin and Katharine Farrar

    the Reverend Mother Prioress of Oulton Abbey

    K. M. Briggs

    Professor P. N. U. Harting of Amsterday

    the Earl of Halsbury,

    Professor Clyde Kilby

    Edmund Fuller,

    and W. H. Auden"


It was just their bad luck that Tolkien published v. little during those final years, but the list remains a marker that he held a high opinion of each of these ten --some of them names familiar to any Tolkien scholar, some I confess to never having heard of before (the Reverend Mother and the Dutch Professor). 

--John R.

--current reading: A STRANGER IN OLONDRIA.

A Little Following Up

So, the great Kent internet blackout of 2023 is now over, after essentially what was a long, long day. Nobody physically hurt so far as I've been able to tell, but with massive disruption of people's daily lives. It's sobering sometimes to be reminded how much we depend on our devices, and how vulnerable the system is. Of various reports I found, the Kent Reporter did the best job in reporting facts.

As a personal note, we have friends who live about three blocks down the same street where the sabotage took place, just a few blocks off a busy (4-lane) street, in an area where patches of rural Renton & Kent can still be found here and there. It's by no means a remote area. I suspect the timing of the attack (about 5 am) had a lot to do with how they got away with it.

--John R.

Friday, December 1, 2023

The Day Without the Internet

So, sometime last night or this morning some vandal(s) decided to cut the cables that provides our internet connection.

 They've just gors our re-connected. More when I know more --this is one story, which (as the phrase goes) really gets us where we live.

--John R.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Briggs and Tolkien

So, it feels good to read a case of persistence paying off. Thanks to researcher Katy Makin's willingness to sort through bundles of letters and documents, she found a real treasure: a letter from J. R. R. Tolkien to renowned folklore scholar and fellow author Katharine Briggs. Taken together with two letters in the Bodleian, this letter in the Folklore Society Archive at University College London forms a brief correspondence:  

Briggs to Tolkien, October 11th 1954.  [Bodleian]

Tolkien's reply, 13th October.  [Folklore Society Archive]

Briggs' follow-up, 21st October.  [Bodleian]

This thus falls in the brief period between the publication of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (29th July) and that of THE TWO TOWERS (November 11th). The brief excerpt from Tolkien's letter accompanying this articles reveals that Briggs had two specific critiques. First, she zeroed in on the changes made to try to bring the the Gollum chapter in THE HOBBIT into line w. the new account of those events in the new book (something that did not get satisfactorily resolved until the changes of 1944/47). And second she found it hard to believe that anyone wd run with his hands in his pockets as Bilbo is said to have done.

Regarding Gollum she replies 'I hope you will approve of my treatment of his unhappy psychology'

In addition to the gollum scene she alludes briefly to the return of the king: 'hope this is Aragorn' --a reminded that the third volume's title is more ambiguous than some wd have it. 

I'm particularly glad to learn of Makin's discovery because I've long been certain some correspondence existed between K.M.B. and J. R. R. Tolkien but have never managed to make any sort of methodical search for it.   

The timing of Tolkien's and Brigg's exchange is significant. The first of Brigg's two masterpieces --the novel HOBBERDY DICK (1955)* -- was not yet out, while the other, her best-known work, AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FAIRES (1976)**,  wd not come out until a few years after Tolkien's death. In addition to warm praise of Tolkien's work, Brigg's ENCYCLOPEDIA marked the re-discovery of THE DENHAM TRACTS, with its appearance of Hobbits in the work of a folklore collector in the 1850s.

  TSR clearly used Brigg's DICTIONARY as a major resource for folklore creatures in the D&D roleplaying game.*** The same is true of Wizards of the Coast for Magic: the Gathering; a copy of Brigg's book was in WotC's games library of resource and reference materials.  

Here's the article about Makin's discovery:

--John R.

*We know that CSL read HOBBERDY DICK, though rather condescendingly


***My own copy is starting to disintegrate; a note inside tells me this was a gift from Charles Noad, a detail I had forgotten.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Italy and Tolkienians

So, sometimes admirers of Tolkien find themselves amid surprising company. I was recently reminded of how reception to his work can differ strongly from country to country. For example, while in the U.S. Tolkien's work by and large was embraced by liberals of a hippy/ counterculture cast, in Italy Tolkien was much admired by conservatives (including arch-conservatives). That dichotomy persists, as witnessed to by a major exhibition in honor of his life and works: 


I strongly became aware of this when I attended a small Tolkien conference Robin Reid organized in Commerce, Texas in about 2014 or thereabouts. There I was a panelist with Doug Anderson and an Italian Tolkien scholar whose name I have forgotten, and first heard about right-wing youth camps like 'Camp Hobbit'. 

Looking back at this now, in conjunction with the big new Italian exhibit, this interests me most as yet another piece of evidence about Tolkien having worked himself into the mainstream, even if it's paradoxically slightly different mainstreams. Rather than small displays on college campuses, the past few years have seen high-profile exhibits in Oxford, Paris, New York City, and now Rome. Or as the museum's curator put it, The show, he said, was a watershed moment. 'It has been legitimized' ." This point is driven home by the name-dropping: attendees to the Rome event include the prime minister, the minister of culture, and the economy minister, some of whom got private tours.

An odd moment comes with mention of a wall displaying blurbs praising Tolkien, including one from Ringo (who is not so surprising) and another from Obama, which is. At least I've never heard before anything to indicate that Obama was a fan of Tolkien. Here's the quote:

Mr. Obama was quoted in the exhibit as saying he had moved on from the Hardy Boys

In a second quote, from an interview with student journalists, Obama is reported to have said

. . . that when he was about 13 years old, he started reading 'more serious books' like To Kill a Mockingbird, that made you think a little bit more. They weren't just kind of adventure stories, but they were also, you know, stories that taught me about social problems'

I have to say the part that attracted me most while reading the piece is the news that a photo from Tolkien's Italian costal cruise, of JRRT "posing in a monastery on vacation in Italy" was apparently included --that is if I'm reading the captions rightly. I assume that image is behind the paywall. Pity.

Thanks to Andrew H for the link to the New York Times article 

Those who want to pursue the issue in more depth, including information on the 240 page catalogue (TOLKIEN: UOMO, PROFESSORE, AUTORE)  can find it at the Tolkien Collectors website:,above%20all%20a%20modern%20mythmaker.

--John R.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Tolkien Coin

So, I found out about this from a friend, and then managed to get a copy through the help of another friend. Many thanks to both.

This new commemorative (actual money value: two pounds) shows Tolkien's iconic initial on one side and King Charles on the other (the first coin I've seen showing the new monarch). Three words describing Tolkien appear near the bottom, and their choice is interesting: 




I don't think anyone wd disagree with the first,* and the third is equally appropriate. It's interesting, therefore, to note, that in the accompanying folder that holds the coin Tolkien is described as a Philologist. I suspect the replacement of "Philologist" by "Scholar" on the coin itself is due to the fact that most people don't know what a philologist is. 

The middle term, Poet, is also an interesting choice, and the one I think wd surprise Tolkien the most (albeit pleasantly so). 

There's said to be another inscription on the rim of the coin, but since I can't get the coin out of its holder without damaging the latter, I'll have to take this on faith. The rim-inscription is said to read  Not all those who wander are lost, Bilbo's riddle about Strider, which has become the iconic Tokien quote these days. 

Based on some of the descriptions I saw online I originally thought the coin had tengwar on it, but now that I can take a closer look at it I have to say this seems not to be the case. Pity: to have an invented language/script appearing on a real-world coin wd have introduced an interaction between real-world and secondary world.

--John R.

--current reading: Thr Secret Commonwealth

*Unless they disapprove of Tolkien altogether. Some do.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

THE LETTERS OF JRRT (expanded edition)

So, the big news among Tolk folk this week is the release of the revised and expanded edition of THE LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN. The original book came out in 1981 and ran to 462 pages; this new volume passes the seven hundred page mark (708 to be exact). The new material comes  from restoration of previously abridged passages; I'll particularly be interested in additions of previously unknown or uncollected letters.*

I expect like its predecessor it'll be the most detailed and insightful source for 'Tolkien on Tolkien', both in what Tolkien says about his works in letters to his readers and in autobiographical passages.  

Of course this is not a Complete Letters -- that's probably still a good thirty years off. But the original LETTERS is probably, along with OFS, the work by Tolkien I most frequently consult. And I don't expect that to change.

So, a good day for a major resource to be enhanced and re-released.

I know I'll be working my way through it for weeks to come.

--John R.

*I assume any letter that appeared in the 1981 version will be grandfathered in

Holding a Grudge

So, the most interesting thing I found in the Stoker biography was not about Stoker himself but Sir Henry Irving, whom Stoker served as right-hand man, manager, fixer, and all around alter ego. 

It was Irving's lifelong ambition to be knighted, not so much for the personal honor but to demonstrate that acting was an art on par with writing poetry, composing music, and the like. But when he died, his estranged wife tried to prevent his being buried in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.  Now that I call holding a grudge.*

--John R.

--current reading: THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH by Phillip Pullman.

*she failed, by the way

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

This can't be good

So, have you ever had that experience where you're reading a book and realize halfway through that you've read it before? I had something of the sort happened to me last week, only slightly weirder.

I'd been reading two books, going back and forth between them, when I lost track of where I was in one book. It was the denser of the two but  you think  I'd be able to skim around in it and find where I'd been, but this turned out not to be the case. I eventually picked a spot I felt reasonably certain about, and read on from that point--better to overread than underread, I decided.

In my defense, the book I got lost in is Timothy S. Murphy's new detailed, dense, and complex study of WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON AND THE RISE OF THE WEIRD: POSSIBILITIES OF THE DARK.* I'm glad to see the case made for Hodgson being one of the greats, but I found it a difficult book to unpack. Murphy is capable of committing a sentence like 

We might say that The House on the Borderlands 

(1908) presents a fantastically accelerated 

diachronic overview of deep cosmological

time's abyss as Hodgson imagines it. (Murphy .132)**

The other book, by the way, is BRAM STOKER: A BIOGRAPHY OF THE AUTHOR OF DRACULA by Barbara Belford (1996), which does a good job of showing how Stoker was linked to contemporaries like Wilde, Shaw, Gilbert, and, more surprisingly, Whitman and Twain. Unfortunately Belford has A Theory*** she keeps dragging in without ever really making a case for. Pity.

--John R.

--current reading: resting the brain with the newest Murderbot book, just out on Kindle.

*As a connoisseur of footnotes, I have to say I admire Murphy's ability to pack so much into his title, which essentially consists of title, subtitle, and sub-subtitle.

**I shd note that his book is part of the series Perspectives on Fantasy (2023)

***briefly, that Stoker had a female side he sought to find expression for.

Thanks, Andrew.
If that's the case, wish Belford had been more forthright about that side of Stoker

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Cat Communication

So, thanks to Janice for this one. 

A study by animal behavior researchers in Batesville* shows that cats are expressive. By which they don't means half a dozen expressions but more like 276. A good example of scientists 'discovering' something pretty much all cat-lovers already knew.

The main gap in this project is that they didn't expand it to include cat interacting w. people

Here's the link.

--John R.

*(in the NE corner of Arkansas, within about an hour's drive of Memphis; we lived near here in Jonesburo for about a year when I was growing up)

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Now & Then


So, this will be interesting.

This week they're releasing what's being billed as the last Beatles song. It began life as a poor-quality cassette recording by John from 1979 upon which he'd written "for Paul". Yoko, in an admirable show of generosity, passed it on to Paul, who got together with George and Ringo to see what they cd do.  

This was meant to be the third of three Lennon songs that were featured on THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY part one (the mediocre "Free as a Bird") and part two (the haunting "Real Love"). But when the three surviving Beatles listened to this third song, the sound quality was too poor to be usable; the song was abandoned, and the third volume left with a v. obvious hole in it. 

It was not until recently that Sir Peter Jackson offered up software his people had developed that cd separate John's voice from the piano. Add in some guitar recorded by George in the mid-nineties intended for the third ANTHOLOGY album (circa 1996) along with new material by Ringo and Paul, and 

Here's a twelve-minute documentary account of the story behind the song. It will be of no interest to anyone not deeply interested in The Beatles, but shd be of a lot of interest to those who are. Here's the link:

--John R.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Hodgson vs. Lovecraft (style)


So, recently I've been re-reading Lovecraft's THE DUNWICH HORROR, which reminded me of a post I made about this story a good decade or so back. My parody was a bit unfair, as parodies often are, but I think it makes a valid point: that Lovecraft suffers as a writer of horror because he's too easily frightened. Here's the link:


A particular feature that stands out for me this time is Lovecraft's prose style. Lovecraft criticizes Wm Hope Hodgson for his prose, while committing eccentricities of style himself.


Here's what Lovecraft had to say about Hodgson' prose style:


. . . seriously marred by painful verboseness, repetitiousness, artificial and nauseously sticky romantic sentimentality, and an attempt at archaic language even more grotesque and absurd [than in WHH's earlier book THE BOATS OF THE "GLEN CARRIG"].*


So let's compare Hodgson's invented dialect, which succeeds in distancing his tale into a late 17th through early 18th century framework


And surely I sped forever through the dreadful hours, and went neither to the right nor to the left, neither did I strive to hide in the bushes nor to evade aught, for I knew that the Maid died slowly in mine arms, and there to be no more gain in life, save by speed, that I have her swift to the Mighty Pyramid to the care of the Doctors. And a great and despairing madness grew ever within me **


with Lovecraft's painful attempt to capture yankee hillbilly dialect


Up that in the rudbeyont the glen, Mis' Corey -- they'ssuthin' ben thar! It smells like thunder, an all the bushes an' little trees is pushed back from the rud like they'd a haouse ben moved along it. An'that ain't the wust, nuther. They's prints in the rud, Mis' Corey -- great raound prints as big as barrel-heads, all sunk daown deep like an elephant had ben along, only they's a sight more nor four feet could make.  

[Kindle text]


Whatever these two texts' merits or otherwise in authenticity,*** I wd suggest that Hodgson's is far more readable. 

And then there's Lovecraft's fondness for a few obscure words, such as eldritch, which have achieved the status of self-parody.


--John R.

current reading: Stoker biography.






***Lovecraft did a much better job with the 18th century diction in THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, the best of all his 'antiquarian' tales


Thursday, October 19, 2023

A Saharan Tortoise in the Spinich

 So, here's an odd story about someone who went out to check her garden and found huge tortoise eating her spinach. Clearly someone not given to panic, she contacted her local animal rescue, who have taken it in until it can be rehoused. Here's the link:

--John R.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Giving Agency to Words

 So, this caught my eye in Friday's WASHINGTON POST, and I thought I'd share:

--John R.

--current re-readings: THE MARTIAN by Weir and THE NIGHT LAND by Hodgson

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

An Odd Little Election

So, as I've occasionally commented on before, Washington State elections are purely by mail these days. This makes it easier to vote. All you have to do is take the voter's pamphlet that comes in the mail, read over the candidates' statements of qualifications and endorsements, mark your choices on the official ballot sheet, and mail it in. There's even time to go online and see which candidates have their own websites or look at the flyers different campaigns have put out; sometimes I vote against a candidate based on the toxicity of his or her supporters.

But no system is perfect, and democracy as practiced here sometimes has its absurd aspects. For example. the most recent voter pamphlet, arriving today, listing all the candidates and their pitches reveals that this election only has three races. All judicial, and all unopposed. The state seems to have made the deliberate decision to hold elections often, presumably to get people used to voting often, I worry that having a stream of little elections dilutes the impact having one or two big election wd have.

Here's hoping Washington has an engaged but undramatic election(s) over this next year

--John R.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Seattle's Antiquarian Book Fair (October 14th & 15th)

 So, it's that time of year again when booksellers of old, rare, or unusual books gather down at the Seattle Center to offer up for sale everything from historical documents (e.g., signed letters from presidents and authors*), pulp magazines (need to fill out missing issues of Weird Tales?), and of course old books or those with regional connections. 

In past visits I've found such items as early books by Leiber, Hodgson's CARNACKI THE GHOST FINDER,  and several Arkham House collections by Clark Ashton Smith. 

Perhaps best of all is the discovery of books I didn't know about before running across them at some dealer's display. We're having a busy October of it so far and may not make it this year, but if we do I know that in a few hours of exploring the offerings I'll find more books than I can afford or find space for. We'll see how it goes, esp.  with my current resolve to balance the number of books coming in with that of those going out. 

Here's the link.

--John R.

*It's where we bought our Tolkien letter years ago, before the price shot up

Sir Philip wins the Bodley Medal

 So, fans of Sir Philip Pullman's work will be glad to learn that he is being awarded The Bodley Medal next month. This is the same award given to Christopher Tolkien in 1916. Once again, it's good to see his work in fantasy particularly called out for recognition.

Here's the link describing the event (schduled for November 9th):

And here's a short piece listing previous honorees.

--John R.

Monday, October 9, 2023

TSR R&D Staff, Lake Geneva, 1996

So, the slow sorting continues to turn up items of interest from my years at TSR, Wizards of the Coast, and even (to go further back) Marquette. The latest such is the routing list that circulated among the R&D department (all the game designers and editors). This particular copy was inserted in the May/June copy of PYRAMID (TSR's creatives being interested in the industry as a whole, though management was not). Consider it a snapshot of who was working there at a specific place and time. 

Looking over it now highlights a number of things about the department that didn't get much attention at the time but are striking in retrospect.

First, the department was 100% white. An occasional freelancer might work on a project, but even this was rare.

Second, there were quite a few women who worked as designers and editors (mostly editors) and product group leaders (our lowest level of management, pretty much all of whom had been promoted out of editor positions  --definitely a minority but nevertheless a force to be felt within the department.

Third, this list is not comprehensive: some folks were not interested and had their name taken off the list, like Andria Hayday.

A quick count to the names listed here shows thirty-nine names, the last five of which are RPGA, a sort of mini-department, like books and magazines (DRAGON, DUNGEON). That leaves thirty-four. By my count there are eight women on the list, which makes it 25%. My memory made it about one-third, but I'm glad to see I wasn't too far off.

Given the chaos surrounding TSR's final days, looking back it's hard to keep track over who got laid off in The Great Reckoning (like myself), who survived the Passover Event (December 1996) but chose to stay behind in the Midwest (e.g. Anne Brown, Bill Connors, &c), who was already out in Renton, having survived WotC's initial forays into rpgs, like Jonathan Tweet (Primal Order, Everway, Ars Magica), those who were rehired after the department was reconstituted in Renton (like myself). 

Of these, a number were women: names I can come up with without researching the topic include

Lisa Stevens, Penny Williams, Sue Cook, Julia Martin, Miranda Horner, Michele Carter, Cindi Rice, Gwendolyn Kestrel, Kij Johnson, Jennifer Clark Wilkes*

Given Wizards of the Coast's reputation as more hip and happening than the old guard in Lake Geneva, you'd expect the percentage of women working as D&D designers and editors to rise dramatically. And while I think this was initially the case, it's my impression that their numbers declined steadily throughout the post reboot years. I don't have any documentation for this, simply anecdotal observation from the time, and wd be interested in anyone who can supply a corrective.

--John R.

*Of these I think JCW was the longest survivor, having preceded the arrival of the folks from Old TSR and I think outlasted the last veteran from Lake Geneva days.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

I Buy Dice

[OLD DICE (17)]

[NEW DICE (13)]

So, the last time I was played an rpg in person (CALL OF CTHUHU, Saturday night)* I had so much trouble reading the dice that I've  had to face up: I need to buy new dice. The dice I regularly use, some of which I've been playing with on a regular basis since before we moved out here to the Renton / Kent area (twenty-six years ago now), just aren't visible enough with my aging eyes.  

I've always been a proponent of the school of thought whereby I use uninked dice, primarily black, eliminating the need for a DM screen. But I only rarely DM these days, and then it's usually a one-shot (I'm particularly fond of adapting solitaire scenarios, like ALONE AGAINST THE WENDIGO or GRIMROCK ISLAND) for small groups. 

So,  I used the new dice for the first time Monday night (the last of September), and I'm glad to report they performed magnificently. They're easy to read. The color scheme is one I like (yellow). They rolled purposefully and got on with it, not hesitating as is the case with some dice. For the superstitious among us, they delivered high roles when I wanted them, meaning that I can think of them as lucky dice. I even got to support a local business by buying them in a local game shop in downtown Kent.

So, an all around success. 

--John R.

*as opposed to our weekly D&D Fifth edition game, which is on Discord / Roll 20

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Ten New Books

 So, I love to buy books. And even though I've cut way back I still buy them at the rate of about a book a month. Try to balance this by giving away or otherwise parting with books that have been on my shelves a while and are easy to replace, unlikely for me to use in any project I'm likely to work on at this stage, or that I've had for years without reading yet. 

Here's a list of my most recent book buys, starting from around the beginning of this year, with two more on the way.*

Now to find their proper place of where each shd go on the shelves.


Ten New Books


How to Misunderstand Tolkien: The Critics and the Fantasy Master —Bruno Bacelli [McFarland 2022]


The Mythopoeic Code of Tolkien: A Christian Platonic Reading of the Legendarium —Jyrki Korpula (McFarland 2021)   [series: Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy #75, ed Palumbo & Sullivan]


The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes —Jackson Crawford  [Hackett, 2015]


Two Sagas of Mythical Heroes —Jackson Crawford  [Hackett, 2021]

            Hervor and Heidreks

            Hrólf Kraki and His Champions


J. R. R. TOLKIEN —The Battle of Maldon, with The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth — edited by Peter Grybauskas (Harper Collins, 2023) 


Imagining the Celtic Past in Modern Fantasy —ed. Dimitra Fimi & Alistair J. P. Sims  [Bloomsbury Academic, 2023]        [series: Perspectives on Fantasy] 



Creator of Gods and Men: Lord Dunsany and Fantasy Fiction — S. T. Joshi  (Sarnoth Press, 2019)


Gifted Amateurs and Other Essays on Tolkien, the Inklings, and Fantasy Literature—David Bratman (Mythopoeic Press, 2023)


Beowulf. —tr. Tom Shippey.  ed. Leonard Neidorf  (Uppsala Books, 2023)


Wm Hope Hodgson and the Rise of the Weird: Possibilities of the Dark —Timothy S Murphy  (Bloomsbury Academic, 2023). [series: Perspectives in Fantasy]


--John R.

--current reading: THE NIGHT LAND

*P.S.: This does not count books read on Kindle

**or manga

***or manga read on Kindle

****or audiobooks

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Earthworks in SeaTac

 So, I knew about Earthworks Park in Kent, which incorporates the remnants of the original Mill Creek that once ran off East Hill and across the valley floor  And a few years back I discovered the standing stones of Tukwila (or possibly Renton), near the remnants of the old Black River (now a riparian forest). But until Janice  took me there I today I'd never so much as heard of Robert Morris Earthworks park.

An old gravel pit converted into grassy tiers evocative of Machu Picchu, or perhaps an inverted ziggurat, it's immanently walkable, so long as you don't mind choices restricted to (a) down and (b) up. You can even see Mt Rainier from the rim.

I'd definitely go there again.

--John R.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

 So, for those interested in fantasy as a whole rather than Tolkien's expression of it,  the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic is hosting an event on Thursday October 5th you might want to check out. I'll certainly be going (online) unless something unexpected pops up on the schedule.

Brian Attebery and Matthew Sangster --authors of FANTASY: HOW IT WORKS and AN INTRODUCTION TO FANTASY, respectively-- "discuss the affordances of Fantasy". 

I don't have nor have read either book. Which is a pity given how they're right up my alley so far as  topic goes.

Here's the link:

Also I'm looking forward to the talks and presentations from Oxonmoot being made available online. It's always nice to see one of my pieces be published, but soon I'll be able to see papers by other speakers I cdn't see at the time. I'm really looking forward to that.  --JDR

will be good to see my piece up and for anyone who missed the in-person even buy still wants to hear the piece.

--John R.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Holly Ordway at the Wade

 So, for those interested in JRRT's faith, Holly Ordway (author of TOLKIEN'S MODERN READING, 2021) has a new book out. This time she focuses on Tolkien's spiritual life (with a number of side-steps into CSL). For a quick way to get an overview of the whole book, check out the hour-long talk she gave today at the Wade Center: 

Lecture & Book Signing

"A Hard-Won Faith: Tolkien's Spiritual Journey"
Lecturer & Author: Holly Ordway, Ph.D.

Monday, September 25, 2023 | 7:00 PM
Bakke Auditorium, Marion E. Wade Center
Tolkien is well known as a Christian, but what is less well known is that the story of his spiritual development reveals a dramatic tale of a hard-won faith, involving sorrow and suffering as well as joys and consolations. A devout Catholic, Tolkien also had a deep spiritual friendship with the Anglican C.S. Lewis. Both of these aspects of Tolkien’s faith provide insight into how Christians today can grow in their own spiritual lives.

Join us in-person after the lecture for the book signing. Tolkien's Faith will be available for purchase at the Wade Bookshop.

Sponsored by the Stephen and Marjorie Mead Endowment for Spiritual Formation.
Join Live Stream

And if you want more, Ordway gives a second lecture, again at the Wade, tomorrow:

Join Live Stream

Afternoon Lecture

"Tolkien's Faith and the Formation of Middle-earth"

Lecturer & Author: Holly Ordway, Ph.D.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023 | 4:00 PM
Bakke Auditorium, Marion E. Wade Center

Tolkien declared, “I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories).” His writings were not allegories, so how, then, were his faith and his fiction related? We will explore this question biographically, looking at some of the ways that Tolkien’s dramatic life story, including his being raised by a Catholic priest at the Birmingham Oratory, and his experiences in the Great War, shaped his faith and found their way – in a subtle and complex manner – into his writings. 

Co-sponsored by the Stephen and Marjorie Mead Endowment for Spiritual Formation and Wheaton College Tolkien Society.
Join Live Stream

--John R.

--current reading: still THE NIGHT LAND.

Monday, September 18, 2023

2023 Calendar

 So, having learned my lesson, one year waiting to order my next year's Tolkien Calendar and having a scramble to find out, this time I've gone ahead and gotten the 2024 calendar well ahead of time.

The art is by Alan Lee, who over the years has become if not the official artist of Tolkien's estate and publisher then certainly their preferred one. His somber landscapes have become the standard by which Tolkien art is judged. And if I occasionally feel wistful for a lighter pallet, I think back on the day when the Brothers H. represented JRRT's world and am grateful for how lucky we are.

As for the calendar itself, the theme this year* is Numenor and the Fall of Numenor, with accompanying text provided by Brian Sibley (who goes back in Tolkien studies as far as the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation). And I have to say that it was good to see brighter images in the pictures for March (Aldarion sets forth) and, ironically enough, June (Moria)--the later having the ambiance of old stained glass made up of patterns, not images.

All in all, I'd call this calendar has few surprises but stands as a worthy continuation in its series.

--John R.

--current reading: THE NIGHT LAND

*a good idea to have, by the way

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Cat Report (Sept 15th)

 So, there's been a complete turnover in the cats in the Renton cat room since this time last week. Farewell to ROCKET, our skilled walking cat, and ANA his sister (who desperately wanted out of the room to explore the store but cd never bear to have harness or even collar-and-leash in-room on her). 

 Today we were expecting to find two adult cats and five kittens: JOHNNY (orange two-year-old) and SEAN (Siamese) with the younger generation: SHERBET, MOUSSE, SORBET, BROWNIE, and S'MORES (all four-and-a-half month old kittens). I got these thoroughly confused in my head, not to mention this report, as to who was who.

One kitten, a white calico, was already adopted and gone without our ever seeing her. Sean, the other adult cat (not sure his age, but assuming it was about the same as Johnny's , i.e. two years) was also off to his new home.

Johnny was terribly shy. We tried letting him out first, made cat burritos, tried to interest him in games, and generally give him some socialization, with little success. Looking at his paperwork it sounds like he was originally a stray, and he acts like one when forced into a situation outside his own territory where he doesn't know where he is or what's going to happen to him. There was a lot of defensive growling but no nips or swats. And no games; he just wasn't interested.

Janice rigged up a cat-blanket around three sides of Johnny's cage to give him a little privacy and Safe Place. We also sprayed down his cage with some Feliway. I shd mention that he was sitting in his dirt box when we arrived and under his small in-cage kuranda when we left, which counts as some progress. And while he was on his own he got an impressive amount of his cat-litter scooped out of his dirt box and onto the floors of both parts of his cage. He's learned how to get under the cat litter cupboard in the corner, which is pretty impressive given his size.  

Well, it turns out the kittens must have been watching from their cage from the far end of the room, since three of the four of them got under there today despite our efforts to block it up.

When it was the kittens' turn they made the most of it. One seemed less energetic than the rest and a touch shyer too, and retreated to the topmost shelf of their tall cage, coming down to join in games once in a while when a game attracted his attention. The other three played pretty much non-stop for their entire turn (about an hour and a half).    

And before I forget to put this down: the little orange kitten several times engaged in defensive purring. It was adorable.

--John R.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Dunsany Question #1

So, in my dissertation I made large claims to Dunsany's importance --not just that he was hugely influential (both directly in his own time and secondarily through writers he influenced like Lovecraft and Tolkien) but his work deserves high praise in its own right.

The question arises: if Dunsany is the best of the best when it comes to the fantasy short story in English, who are his peers or near-peers?

--John R.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Time for a New Project

 So, now that my presentation at Oxonmoot is behind me, and I've had a little down time for reading and straightening up the desk a bit, it's time to dig in on the next project(s). 

One (CLASSICS OF FANTASY) is essentially done, though I don't know how long until it's done with.

The other, which I started work on today, is to convert my dissertation into a monograph: BEYOND THE FIELDS WE KNOW: THE SHORT STORIES OF LORD DUNSANY. Here my first task is to re-familiarize myself with the text. Next comes the process of catching up on new Dunsany scholarship from the intervening years (my first impression: there's surprisingly little of it). Then to incorporate the newer material into the older core.  It'll be a lot of work, but to get to work again on a major project centered on one of my favorite authors is something I'm really looking forward to.

So, we'll see how it goes.

--John R.

--current (re)reading: THE BOATS OF THE 'GLEN CARRIG' by Wm Hope Hodgson*

*an author whose work I was introduced to by my friend Jim Pietrusz, who bought (and read) books at a prodigious rate.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Tolkien Fifty Years On

 So, thanks to Janna S. for the following link, a thoughtful musing over Tolkien fifty years after his death.

As someone who's been reading smug snippy pieces attacking Tolkien by newspaper and magazine critics on occasions of significance to JRRT for decades now,* it feels slightly unreal, though welcome, to see the tone being oddly respectful. 

--John R.

*notoriously in the case of the 'Author of the Century' polls

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Nerd Nyron

 So, while we're waiting for the recordings of my various Oxonmoot presentations to become available, I thought I'd share the Coda that wrapped up my piece.

Finally, we have a short text, written by Dr. Havard at the request of Taum Santoski

and named by him  "Professor J. R. R. Tolkien: A Personal Memoir". More a short collection of memories than a full-length article (it fills but a single page of Mythlore), it ends with the baffling statement



"In conclusion,

 I would add that my experience

has resembled or echoed Nerd Nyren's, 

who woke up one day, he tells us, 

to find himself famous. I woke up one day 

to find two of my friends famous,

in many ways a happier discovery."


[Mythlore volume 64 (winter 1990), page 61]


Most of this is clear enough, but what of 'Nerd Nyron'? This little puzzle results from a literary allusion combined with a simple typo. What Havard had actually written was I woke, and found myself famous. This is the famous line of Lord Byron's reflecting his delight at waking up to find himself famous as a result of the runaway success of his new book, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812ff). I myself find Havard's handwriting difficult: apparently Glen GoodKnight, the editor of Mythlore, found it impenetrable. 

—John D. Rateliff


Oxonmoot 2023 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

I Wander from Room to Room

So, my talk went well. Neither Dr. Tarr nor Professor Fether put in an appearance. Now I'm decompressing: catching up on email, jotting down notes of things that came up during the actual delivery, awaiting the chance to find out what people said in the Q&A, and the like. Soon I'll be getting the materials from this project filed away, to clear the deck for the next project.  

But for now it's do a lot of reading and pace about the place, sipping many cups of tea* and petting the cats even more than usual (who are vaguely suspicious of any change in behavior) while recharging and to enjoy the rare feeling of being off deadline.

--John R.

--current (re) reading: THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLANDS by Wm Hope Hodgson. My fourth time reading it, I think: this time as a mix of audiobook and hardcover. 

*Yunnan, mostly; some Keemun

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Last Full Day of Oxonmoot

So, today I gave my keynote speech at Oxonmoot 2023, "Writing to Inklings", in which I presented letters and excerpts from letters in which various members of the Inklings and other, 'Inkling Adjacent' folks, discuss the group (e,g. when they started meeting, what other groups influenced them, books they liked and disliked). It seemed to go down well --at least I got a lot of positive comments posted in their online Zoom meeting's CHAT. Hope I'll have a chance to look at that to get some idea of who was in the audience and what questions they had. It all goes by so fast when you're doing the Q&A.

Tomorrow, the last day of the Moot, features the pilgrimage to JRRT's grave -- appropriately enough: I had forgotten, but today marks the anniversary of J.R.R.T.'s death (in 1973). 

More tomorrow.

--John R.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Putting the Pieces Together

 So, not much posting here on the blog these last few days because I'm now in the final stretch with the Oxonmoot presentation on Saturday. I'm now going through and making what shd be final changes: lots of small adjustments here and there, smoothing over places where a paragraph here or a phrase there had to go. Then it's putting markers in the text so the tech people know when each slide image shd be displayed. Last of all comes the third run-through, timed, to make sure it'll all fit into the time allotted. It's going well, but Saturday's not far away, so here's hoping things go planned.

--John R.

--current reading: Wm Hope Hodgson, 'The Derelict'  

Thursday, August 24, 2023

We have a Draft

 So, the past few days have seen the completion of a rough draft for my Oxonmoot piece.

Now things have advanced to the stage where I'm thinking of it as a first draft.

The focus shifts now to practicing the delivery, to see if it'll all fit in to the time alotted,

and picking out the images that shd be displayed during the power point presentation.

I made a lot of progress with the images yesterday and today. Given that the draft runs a bit over nine thousand words and I have fifty minutes for the delivery (followed by a ten minute Q&A), creating a deliverable text  so I can practice delivering it comes next.

So, a lot of work to do but things look to be on-target a week out. Here's hoping they remain that way.

--John R.

Monday, August 21, 2023


So, Tor Books has announced a new, fiftieth anniversary edition of Patricia McKillip's masterpiece, THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD.

I consider this one of the greatest works of fantasy literature. If I had a top ten list, this wd be on it. Not as well known as the Riddlemaster trilogy, but far better. 

Here's the announcement from Tor. 

And here's the write-up I did of it for CLASSICS OF FANTASY, more than a decade ago now:

--John R.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The Dragon Arrives


So,  today my dragon arrived.  

I'd known he was on the way but not just when he wd reach me,* so the arrival of a hefty package from England took me by surprise. After a deal of unpacking (glad to see they made sure it was well-cushioned before putting it in the mail), it was revealed in all its glory: see above. It's currently installed in the middle of my desk upstairs in my office, so that I have something interesting to look** at when I get stuck when writing and have to mull over different options as how best to proceed.

I've decided to name him Winchester.

This is the physical award that goes with the honor announced a few months ago that I had won the Tolkien Society's Outstanding Achievement award

So many thanks again to the Society for this honor. 

And now it's back at work on my latest piece, to be delivered at Oxonmoot in just about two weeks, which I call 'Writing to Inklings'. Hope those who decide to check it out find it informative and enjoyable. See you (virtually) soon.

--John R.

--current reading: LA BELLE SAUVAGE by Philip Pullman (the first book in his prequel trilogy), which I have almost finished, probably to be followed by the new book on Wm Hope Hodgson.

*plus I'm engrossed in my current project and am approaching the stage in which, like Edward Gorey's Mr. Earbrass I wander from room to room. 

**sometimes it's an Easter Island head, sometimes an old lava lamp, sometimes an hourglass, the occasional hand-sized turtle, or any of a number of rocks I picked up because it looked interesting (in which habit / I am v. much my mother's son),  et al.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

It's Hot

So, it's hot.

Not Texas hot.

Not Arizona hot.

Not sunward side of Mercury hot.

But hot enough.

It'll do. 

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Mr. Scrabble and the Scholar

So, yesterday we drove up to Arlington to drop off a donation for the Black Cat Ball at the main Purrfect Pals shelter. Although we volunteer at the Renton adoption center weekly, we only get up to Arlington once every three or so years. Naturally we took the opportunity to visit the dozen or so cats in the main room. They ranged from please-don't-touch-just now to v. sociable (pet-me-pet-me, pet-me). My favorite* was Scrabble,** a sixteen-year-old strong-minded charmer. As you can see from the picture Janice took, he loves to ride on shoulders, the better to rub one side of your face and purr in your ear. Here's hoping he finds a home where they'll appreciate a cat that really wants to share time with its people.

--John R.

*as in I wd take this cat home if we had the space, which we don't; we cd grow old and decrepit together

**though I'd probably rename him Doctor Tarr after the Alan Parsons Project song and Edgar Poe story

Sunday, August 6, 2023

I Register for GaryCon

 So, I've just registered to attend next year's GaryCon (March 21st through March 24th, 2024), a mecca* of old-school roleplaying gaming. Last year I got to attend the TSR reunion party and see a lot of familiar faces (and other faces once familiar that I hadn't seen in a long time), thanks to the generosity of a ride from friend Jim Lowder, from Milwaukee to Lake Geneva and back again. 

Now I've decided to take the plunge and attend the weekend, and see how many old school games I can work into one weekend.

Any advice on getting the most out of the event much appreciated.

See you there?

--John R.

*not to be confused with Milwaukee's old MECCA convention center, which sadly is no more

Friday, August 4, 2023


 So, I was delighted to see my book THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT share a three-way review in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, in which it is praised with great praise. Of the other two books, I've got one (THE BATTLE OF MALDON / THE HOMECOMING) but read it in snatches and need to go back and read it front to back. The second, Groom's TOLKIEN IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY I have heard about but have not yet ordered: a lack I intend to remedy over the next few days. The third is my own book: it's heartening to see that the reviewer, Liz Braswell, picked up on the crucial point: THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT is an attempt to record and present the creative process. And who wouldn't feel pleased by praise such as this?:

This book belongs on the shelf of every serious 

Tolkien fan --or anyone interested in the hard task

 of creating novels, fitting comfortably alongside 

--Stephen King's "On Writing"

Science Fiction & Fantasy: Tolkien Forever

Reviews of ‘Tolkien in the Twenty-First Century,’ ‘The History of the Hobbit’ and Tolkien’s own ‘The Battle of Maldon.’


Liz Braswell

Aug. 4, 2023 11:08 am ET

N o one has had a greater impact on the genre of fantasy than J.R.R. Tolkien. And it happens that 2023, the 50th anniversary of his death, has become an unofficial “year of Tolkien,” commemorated with three important books on the man, the myth and his legends. 

My introduction to “The Hobbit” was in the late 1970s or early ’80s, visiting my (much) older brother at orchestra camp. All of his fellow campers, long-haired and serene (elves, if you will), were reading the book. By the end of 2003, most of America—not just the odd young- adult musician—was familiar with the world of “The Lord of the Rings” thanks to Peter Jackson and his enormously popular films. 

For the few who remain unfamiliar with the original R.R. of fantasy, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) was an academic first and a novelist second. He held the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, where he was a philologist and literary expert on texts written in a surprising number of European languages. (He also worked on the Oxford English Dictionary, contributing mostly to also worked on the Oxford English Dictionary, contributing mostly to words starting with “wa,” like “waggle,” “waistcoat” and “wake-wort.”) 

The first book in the 2023 lineup will give you a taste of the man’s diverse career and lexical proficiency: “The Battle of Maldon, together with The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth,” edited by Peter Grybauskas. “The Battle” is a fragment of poetry from the end of the first millennium that Tolkien translated from Old English. It tells the story of an aging and possibly foolish Anglo-Saxon chief—Byrhtnoth—who politely but unwisely lets Viking invaders cross the river so that the two armies could battle on dry ground, which dooms the Anglo-Saxons. 

Not to be outdone by his centuries-old peers, Tolkien wrote his own ancient-style poetry. “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son” is about two people looking for the slain Anglo-Saxon leader’s body after the battle, a sort of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” for the Sutton-Hoo set. If you were to choose only one of these new books to gain some insight into the prolific smorgasbord of his multifaceted writing, this is peak Tolkien. 

“The History of the Hobbit,” by John D. Rateliff, is three inches thick and weighs two and a half pounds. (Full disclosure: I did not read every page for this review. I did, however, use it to prop up my laptop while writing it.) All joking aside, this is an intriguing and very punctilious look at the process of writing. One quality that characterizes Tolkien’s fiction is the “inevitability” of the story. Both “The Hobbit” (1937) and “The Lord of the Rings” (1954-55) flow seamlessly from beginning to end, filled with subplots and mythology that make sense and details that track. But it wasn’t originally written so precisely: “The most famous scene Tolkien ever wrote”—the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum—“was drafted in 1944, sent to [publishers] Allen & Unwin in 1947, and published in the ‘second edition’ of The Hobbit in 1951.” What was in Bilbo’s “pocketses” wasn’t even in the original book! (Also, Gandalf’s original name was “Bladorthin.” Yikes.) While not even diving into the “Quenta Silmarillion,” the history of Middle-Earth that Tolkien was working on at the same time, “The History of the Hobbit” includes five different “phases” of the book’s creation, many, many plot notes, and a scheme that shows original word choices along with Tolkien’s final text—which was sometimes penned in on top of rubbed-out pencil. This book belongs on the shelf of every serious Tolkien fan—or anyone interested in the hard task of creating novels, fitting comfortably alongside Stephen King’s “On Writing.” 


And finally comes “Tolkien in the Twenty-First Century: The Meaning of Middle-Earth Today” by Nick Groom. This fascinating book explores “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” from their genesis through all the different major adaptations of the Tolkien “legendarium.” 

It starts off neatly summarizing Tolkien’s life and influences—such as his friendship with W.H. Auden and C.S. Lewis—and explains his guiding belief that languages and words “are custodians of ancient cultures and thus infuse the present with the past.” Yet although Tolkien was a devout Catholic, there is no specific mention of religion, churches or God in his books. Perhaps, Mr. Groom hazards, because “in Middle-Earth . . . the divine is not separated from the commonplace.” The reader will learn a great deal about the licensing of Middle-Earth, a realm I thought I already knew fairly well. There were plans for a “Lord of the Rings” film starring the Beatles, for instance, directed by Stanley Kubrick. Another fever dream of a movie would have had Galadriel seduce Frodo, and a 12-minute animated monstrosity released in 1966 has a princess named Mika and a dragon named Slag. Along with these tidbits of non-Silmarillion history are interpretations and conclusions about the original literature itself. As we learned from “The Battle of Maldon,” Tolkien’s fiction was informed by his scholarship; in “The Return of the King,” Aragorn rallies the troops for a hopeless attack on Mordor, which fits in very nicely with the ideals of Northern courage and the Anglo-Saxon sense of futilely fighting the inevitable. At the same time, one of the strongest themes in “The Lord of the Rings” is the importance of collaboration and friendship. Fellowship, if you will. Saving the world is too great a task for a single hero and must be shared. Mr. Groom goes on to suggest that Tolkien’s fiction could be considered postmodern, as it deals with the “re-enchantment” of a world relentlessly disenchanted by modernism. And while he also rightly points out that “the mediaeval period in the popular imagination had been deeply coloured by Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and its reworkings,” I would like to have seen Mr. Groom poke into how Tolkien not only defined how fantasy literature is written but crystallized it—possibly to the detriment of other visions. 

Each of these very different books offers a brilliant peek or deep dive into very different aspects of the man who changed speculative fiction forever. Choose your own adventure into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. 

P.S.: Thanks to DAA for the link.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Baffled (David Lindsay)

So, I've been re-reading David Lindsay's novel THE VIOLET APPLE and have come to a passage that puzzles me. What I know about girls' education circa 1924 is negligible, but what are we to make of this?

It's the modern female education. A girl is encouraged -- practically forced by her mistresses - to cram for matriculation, while the rest of her time is largely spent on hockey or other violent sports. That means that nervous waste goes on continuously, at the expense of that quiet slow growth of the physical organs so beneficial to young girls, and one might almost add, so essential to a successful marriage later on. Of course, some have to pay for it more than others, and Haidee [Nt1] is one of the unfortunate ones. I expect her nervous system has been so exasperated during her school course that now she is sometimes hardly responsible for her actions. What she wants, she must have -- not tomorrow or the next day, but at once. I blame her mother very much.  She has been a teacher herself, and there is no excuse for her not recognizing the evils of the modern educational methods. The blunder is appalling.

[THE VIOLET APPLE, circa 1924, published 1978] 

--I have to confess that if asked to name major problems bedeviling girls' schools of the era, hockey wd not have been among my guesses. 

--John R.

Nt: (one of the novel's characters)


Oh, you are a boy, aren't you?

Friday, July 21, 2023

I'm Speaking at Oxonmoot (remotely)

 So, I've been invited to give a presentation at at this year's Oxonmoot, only a little over a month away. With Janice's help we came up with what I think will be an interesting topic: my project in the early 1980s to meet or correspond with a number of the surviving Inklings: Nevill Coghill, Owen Barfield, Dr. Humphrey Havard, Lord David Cecil, and a few others. Also included are several others whom we may describe as 'Inklings adjacent', such as the widow of Tangye Lean (founder of the original, undergraduate version of the group) and Christopher Wiseman, the single surviving member of the T. C B. S., the most important of all the writers' groups Tolkien founded before the Inklings. Most of the presentation will consist of me reading aloud some of these unpublished letters, with bridging passages to establish the context. 

--Here's hoping people enjoy.

--John R.