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.