Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Re-reading books

So, I've been enjoying going through the expanded edition of LETTERS of JRRT. 

One passage that made me really realize how different the experience of reading differs from reader to reader came in a letter from Tolkien to a reader (11 April 1956; LETTERS page 359).  Tolkien writes (emphasis mine):

. . . I am a very 'unvoracious' reader, 

and since I can seldom bring myself

 to read a work twice I think of the 

many things that I read -- too soon! --

Nothing, not even a (possible) deeper 

appreciation, for me replaces the bloom 

on a book, the freshness of the unread.

 Still what we read and when goes, 

like the people we meet, by fate   

This made me realize who different JRRT's experience is from my own. If I like a book, I will read it again, sometimes repeatedly. Such was the case with WATERSHIP DOWN, FACE IN THE FROST, THE BOOKS OF WONDER, PERSUASION, of course Tolkien, and many another. I don't do it as much anymore, but that's largely because my eyesight is worse and partly because I now have more books available.

It's interesting to note that this is one of the many ways in which Tolkien and Lewis differed. Lewis loved to reread old favorites, and counted occasions when his doctor ordered a few days of bed rest one of life's not so little gifts. This was a trait he shared with his brother Warnie, who from time to time notes in his diary about re-reading specific books.

As for THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS: by this point I have no idea how many times I've read both. I'm always reading them, in a sense.

--John R.

Currrent Reading:

TALKING TO DRAGONS by Patricia Wrede (the sixth time I've read it, according to my notes).


Lucky for Tolkien that his fans didn't feel the same way.

Monday, May 27, 2024

TSR Women of Fantasy Calendar

So, I've been enjoying Steve (Stan) Brown's weekly podcast on the history of TSR as told by people who worked there at some point over the last fifty years, with each weekly episode illustrated by a cartoon rendering of an iconic piece of D&D art.

This week's guest was Karen Conlin (Karen Boomgarden back when I knew her, from '91 to '96). It was good to see her after all these years and to hear her perspective on what TSR was like in back in those times. There was one story I was sure they'd bring up that didn't get told. Thinking back, it was before Stan's time. So I thought I'd share. Here's how I remember it.

A tradition at TSR every Christmas was the Tacky Gift Exchange, in which all the designers and editors who wanted to take part drew names from a hat and then traded presents on the last day before Christmas. There was a mathom that got traded around each year, but as might be expected from a great big room stuffed with creative people a few were memorable. *

This particular year, 1993 or 1994, had seen the release of TSR's WOMEN OF FANTASY calendar, in which the staff artists had outdone themselves in the scantiness of the scanty outfits on display.  Whoever drew Karen's name had an inspiration: he or she got one of these cheesecake calendars, then went through a clothes calendar like Land's End and cut out clothes to cover the inadequate bits. He or she then taped into place the comfy sweaters and sensible slacks. The juxtaposition between what we might call the Caldwell school of illustration and what those characters might actually wear was hilarious.

I wonder if that artifact of the past survives and, if so, who has it.  

--John R.

* P.S. For example, THE LITTLE BOOK OF ELVES, created I think by Rich Baker and given to Colin McComb; it was particularly apt because Colin had just finished PHBR6: ELVES 

Friday, May 24, 2024

Turtle Day

So,  here's a distinction I hadn't known (or needed to): 

Turtle is the all-encompassing name for all creatures of this type.

Tortoises are a subgroup, all of them land animals. 

Terrapin are another subgroup of turtles,  so named by Native Americans. 

Yesterday was World Turtle Day --a holiday I'd not heard of before. Had I thought of it in time, I would have tried to make time to have gone by one of the spots in the area where turtles can be spotted in the wild. Or, failing that, one of the parks or gardens with ponds whose resident turtles can usually be seen.

I've always loved turtles, and had them as pets as a child (bought as baby turtles at Sterlings, the local Five and Dime)* and rescuing them out of the street if I spotted one in peril.** But unfortunately having indoor turtles and cats are a bad mix. 

I did the best I cd, though, for the occasion, stopping by the turtle habitat in the local PetSmart when we spent some time taking care of the Purrfect Pals up-for-adoption cats today.

At any rate, the occasion reminds me that I still haven't read TURTLES OF THE WORLD, a beautifully illustrated book on turtles I bought myself at Elliott Bay Books the last time I was there. I'll have to see if I can devote some time to actually reading it sooner rather than later.

After all, as I think Pratchett said (or was it Gaiman?):  it's turtles all the way down.

--John R.

*Among other things, I earned the Boy Scout Merit Badge for Reptile keeping. I still remember Speedy and Swifty (who were grey rather than green), and my sister's Regina, among others. 

**including, twice, a snapping turtle, which are not to be messed around with. The key is to remember that it's neck is much longer than you'd think, and he can get you from several feet away.


Given my reputation (cf. The Catbite Incident, a.k.a. Thirteen Days in the Hospital), I shd make clear that I've never been bitten by a turtle. 


Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Quasi Moons and Planet 9

So, I was following up on a piece  of astronomical news by Bruce Cordell on his blog about a new designation of asteroids. The original article can explain it better than I could: 



What particularly caught my eye is the piece about Planet X (here called Planet Nine) and the 

long and fruitless effort to locate some evidence that it exists. Instead this new approach is collecting evidence to prove places it's not, planning to solve the matter by process of elimination.


--John R.

The final intriguing bit for me is that observation that they might not find evidence it exists because it might no longer exist, in case they'd be looking for traces it left behind. 

Anyway, an interesting piece for those who like to put on their astronomer hat once in a while.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Author vs. Character

 So, here's an amusing piece I recently ran across called Stab Me Now. The conceit is that an author planning out her new story decides to let the heroine decide what she will do, how she will react to the main events in the enusing story. Right from the start things go not-according-to-plan, as when the main character objects to the fancy clothes the author wants her to dress up in, as opposed to the practical outfit the character wd prefer. Character and Author clash over everything from what weapons she shd carry to her failure to fall in love all over the place.  

It's not fan fic, which by definition is based on the work of others (particularly characters, but usually with setting too). It reminds me of Flann O'Brien for an internet generation.

If you want to give it a try, take a look at


for this and other works by the same author; she seems particularly taken with fantasy armor and the shorthcomings thereof.

--John R.

--current reading: audiobook version of LETTERS OF JRRT, expanded edition (bogged down on the print book, so switching to the audiobook instead).

Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Art of the Triptych (Brust)

So, for those unfamiliar with the triptych, as Brust uses the term this is a rhetorical tool inspired by a feature in medieval church decoration. A medieval triptych is a large central painting flanked by two smaller panels that complement the central image in both style and theme. By analogy Brust's triptych focus on a central figure, with the subsidiary figures chosen for the way they highlight specific elements all three share in common. 

For example, one cd bring together a trio of tempresses centered on Guinever as she appears in The Fall of Arthur, flanked by Lady Bertilak from Sir Gawain & the Green Knight and the Corrigan from The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun. Another triptych cd portray women trapped is failed marriages: Erendis (The Mariner's Wife), Aredhed (Silm), and Miriel (ibid). Or yet another of warrior women, headed by Eowyn (who best exemplifies the role within LotR), flanked by Galadriel in her virago role in her early days (as depicted in UT), and Haleth (also Silm), who unlike the other two remains a warrior-maid throughout her life. 

The possibilities are myriad. I look forward to seeing what scholarship this scholarship inspires.

--John R.

P. S. I'm not aware of anyone else working along these lines these days, but it's interesting to note that one of the earliest books on the Inklings, ARTHURIAN TRIPTYCH by Charles Moorman, used this as its central image in his 1960 book on Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and T. S. Eliot, though it's too long since I read it for me to remember any details.  --JDR


So, a while back I was asked to write a brief Foreword to the new book TOLKIEN'S TRANSFORMATIVE WOMEN: ART IN TRIPTYCH by Annie Brust (Vernon Press, Series in Literary Studies, 2024).  I'm happy to say the book is now out:


Brust's major innovation is to bring Tolkien's works within his legendarium into dialogue with his scolarly work explicating, editing, and translating poems in Old and Middle English -- which was, of course, his life's work at Leeds, Pembroke, and Merton as a working medievalist. Brust suggests we could learn a lot by bringing together in comparison or contrast women from the LotR  (Galadriel, Eowyn, Shelob, Goldberry, Arwen, Rosie Cotton) and the core texts from the legendarium, esp the 1977 Silmarillion and 1980 Unfinished Tales  (Luthien, Melian, Erendis the mariner's wife, Haleth, Aredhel, Ungoliant, Morwen, Nienor, Elbereth, Yavanna, Arien)  with figures from medieval literature (Pearl, Wealtheow, Lady Bertilak, Gudrun, the Corrigan, Gwinever, Grendel's Mother). 

For more on Brust's method, see the next post.

--John R.

P.S.: extra points for anyone who can identify all these Tolkien characters without having to look up any of then, 


Thursday, May 2, 2024

Two Dark Towers -- a clarification


Looking at the title of my recent post it occurred to me that I might have been inadvertently obscure in my references.

To clarify: DARK TOWER is a D&D adventure, written by Jennell Jaquays, released by Judges Guild in 1980. 

 THE DARK TOWER is an unfinished novel by C. S. Lewis, written circa 1944 but not published until 1977. 

I contributed an appreciation to the recent deluxe edition of DARK TOWER. Years ago (1996 I think) I wrote a piece detailing THE DARK TOWER's origins.

Sorry for the potential confusion.

--John R

Wednesday, May 1, 2024


So,  for several years now we've made a point of visiting the Bonsai Garden, part of the Rhododendron Garden down in Federal Way. Not only is it a fascinating display but the little trees change so quickly that it's best if viewed every four to six weeks or so. Nor is that all: besides the Bonsai, the Botanical Garden as a whole is a quiet, peaceful setting.

Ttat's why I was dismayed to learn that the people who oversee the garden have decided to cut down their biggest and oldest trees:

The RSBG* has some massive trees over 150 feet tall and it's a significant expense in maintaining our plant collection. . . . While we have made substantial progress in shaping the garden tree canopy, work remains. Your gift will allow us to focus on 'problem trees' and do more required thinning and, if necessary, removal.

So I'm torn between wanting to support the Garden as a whole and dismay that they want to use that support to cut down the kind of trees I most want them to preserve and protect.

This is the kind of progress we cd do without.

At any rate, here's a link to the Gardens


--John R

--current reading: looking over old non-TSR D&D modules I've picked up over the years, from the recent GaryCon dealer's room through relics of the Judges Guild era. 

*i.e. Rhododendron Species Botanical Gerden

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

LotR Movies Back in Theatres

So, I just learned that the Peter Jackson LotR movies are due to be back in theatres in June. Since the dates given for this Fantom event are June 8th thr 10th, I assume it's be one film per night for three nights, like this:

June 8th:  


June 9th: 


June 10th:


I'm not sure, but it sounds like it'll be extended cuts --though whether the currently available Director's Cut will be used or a different version I don't know.

I'll certainly be seeing them on the big screen again.

--John R.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Cat Report

Glad to learn that Baseball has gone to his new home and by now is getting to know his new people.

The cat room now has three cats: senior cat Bettie Boop, who tends to toggle between  wanting affection and acting grumpy. She thought about coming out several times but ended up staying in all shift. 

Bonded pair Maverick and Goose couldn’t be more different. The yellow cat (Goose) stayed in the cat-igloo all shift. I reached in and petted him a bit but decided forcing him out wd get everything off on a bad foot

The grey cat (Maverick) had two micro-walks of maybe ten seconds each time. He did pretty good for just-arrived /new place / with people he didn’t know.  He might turn out to be a really good walker once he settles in and becomes comfortable in the new place.

We do have one small puzzle: Goose might be a repeater. Several volunteers remember Goose as having been in our adoption room before, years back. I don’t, but that may be because I was in the Tukwila cat room, not the Renton room. In any case, glad to see Purrfect Pals’ take-them-back policy pays off.

 —John R.


Thursday, April 18, 2024

My Newest Publication: DARK TOWER


So,  one of the things I saw at GaryCon that interested me greatly was the new expanded edition of DARK TOWER, by the late great Jennnell Jaquays.  Not only is this one of the great modules from the early days of D&D, but I'd contributed a short note of appreciation to this new edition.  I won't repeat here what I said there, so I'll just reprint the Table of Contents to give an idea of what the frontmatter is like.

 I got to look at it briefly at the Dealers' Room at GaryCon and am  looking forward to the arrival of my contributor's copy for a longer look. About a year or so ago I had the opportunity to run the original as a short campaign for our regular Saturday night gaming group, who indulged me by letting me run it under the original 1st edition rules. I was quite an experience slipping back into the 1st edition AD&D mindset, and reminded me of just what I liked so much about that version of the game. 

We didn't quite finish it, and I suspect our stopping point where we abandoned the adventure is the same as  many another group: right at the time the lich became aware of our presence and made it clear it was about to enjoy having a new batch of adventurers to let loose his powers and his minions upon. 

So thanks for that moment, Jennell, and thanks for all the quirky NPCs and vivid villains. 

And for those who have never played it, give it a go sometime and get a taste of one of the expressions of oldstyle D&D at its best.

--John R.

Monday, April 15, 2024

This Cat Likes Catnip

So, some cats like catnip and some don't.  Some really, really like it and some can take it or leave it. And then there's some who will abandon all dignity for the chance to really let go.

Witness Boop (Betty Boop), a senior cat currently looking for a new person.

  Others, like Baseball, let you know when the petting session shd end.

Thanks to JC for the photos

--John R.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Writing to Inklings

So, thanks to the Tolkien Society (thanks, Asli), I now have the link to my Oxonmoot paper, recounting my meetings and correspondence with a half dozen or so Inklings or what we may call Inklings-adjacent figures. Included are Humphrey Havard, Owen Barfield, David Cecil, Mrs. Tangye Lean,  J.  I. M. Stewart, and Christopher Wiseman. 

Also, revealed at last is the history behind the notorious 'Nerd Nyren'.

 Included are slides of some previously unpublished photos. Enjoy.


--John R

current reading: uncollected and unfinished ghost stories by M. R. James  (re-reading) 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Judges Guild List

Judges Guild list



So, I like to make lists. 


In part this is probably part of my endless, and essentially unsuccessful, efforts to get organized. But for me it's also a way to get to know the material, on a word-by-word level: to spot connections not otherwise apparent. 


Anyway, seeing the new Judges Guild expanded reprints at GaryCon last week* reminded me of the Judges Guild list I put together a few months back, which I thought I'd share.  It differs from the listing on Wikipedia in that those are alphabetical whereas mine is chronological; my list also emphasizes authors. It's a working document, not as complete or polished as one, now lost, that I did back in Lake Geneva days. But I hope some may find it useful, or at the least enjoy a glimpse back into our hobby's sometimes eccentric roots. **


—John D. Rateliff 

March 25th 2024


*More on this one, my most recent publication, in another post.


**If nothing else it shows just how much Judges Guild churned out at the rate of about a module a month over the course of their relatively brief run. The only two other rpg companies to match them on this I think wd be Mongoose in the early days of 3e/d20, and TSR itself in its later Lake Geneva days.




14. Ready Ref Sheets. For Use w. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. (1978)

            Second Edition: revised, enlarged, in booklet form


#20. The Judges Guild Journal.   Issue 20 (April/May)


48. Wilderlands of High Fantasy—Bill Owen & Bob Bledsaw, 

            w. Marc Summerlott, Debra Bledsaw, & Norma Gledsaw. (1977) 

            six mapsheets.   back cover = City State hex.


52. The Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor—'concepted' by Marc Summerlott. designed by Mike Petrowsky, Craig Fogel, Bob Bledsaw, Mark Summerlott, Bill Owen, & Tony Floren (1981)

            [2 editions]


55. Gen Con IX Dungeon—Bob Blake (?1980).

            Baldemar Castle & Staff of Albalon

            Temple of Diklah & Helm of Valasdum


59. Village Book I: Campaign Hexagon Sub-system. 'guidelines & villages on numbered hex grids'


60. Castle Book I: Campaign Hexagon Sub-system (universal supplement).  n.d.


62. Revised Edition CITY STATE OF THE INVINCIBLE OVERLORD—Bledsaw & Owen. 94p bklet + mapsheets.


#64. The Judges Guild Journal.  issue10 June/July 1978.  [2 copies]


68. War Cry—Dave Petrowsky. new 2nd edition 'Emperor' series


75. Judges Guild Referee Screen.  TRAVELLER.    green screen.


78. The Traveller Logbook—Dave Sering (n.d.).  TRAVELLER


80. Of Skulls and Scrapfaggot Green—Bob Blake (?1977) [GenCon X tournament]


87. Character Codex—Paul Jaquays (1978)


88. DARK TOWER—Paul Jaquays


93. Under the Storm Giant's Castle—ThomasMcCloud (1979)


95. Survival of the Fittest—Michael Mayeau (1979)  solitaire dungeon 


105. Drakne Station—Bill Paley. (1979?)   TRAVELLER.    


107. Broken Tree Inn—Rudy Kraft  RUNEQUEST


113. The Book of Treasure Maps —Paul Jaquays (1979)


[113. The Book of Treasure Maps II—Daniel Hauffe & Rudy Kraft]


114. The Maltese Clue—Paul Karczag (1979)


117. Temple of Ra Accursed by Set—Thomas & Edward McCloud (1979)  


140. Castle Book II. (?1979)


[150] CITY STATE OF THE WORLD EMPEROR. 1980. book  +mapsheet. 

            —Creighton & Bob Bledsaw, w. Rudy Kraft & Clayton Miner.  The City of Spices, 

            • Judges Map (Campaign Map Six, w. Gheu lost Island) 

            • Players Cartogtaphy. (w.Gigabolt Mountains

            • Color City Map

            • SHOPS

            • CITY


160. The Judges Guild Journal. issue #19 (February/March).


180.  The Dungeoneer. issue #16  (March/April 1980).


200. The Judges Guild Journal. issue #20 (April/May).


220. Legendary Duck Tower and other tales. Paul Jaquays & Rudy Kraft. sw.


230. The Dungeoneer. #17 (May/June 1980). interview w. Greg Stafford.  sw.


240. The Fantasy Cartographer's Field Book. 'complete fantasy mapping system'


250. CHIVALRY & SORCERY. Gamesmaster's Shield.  <sw, therefore n.d., no author>


260. Portals of Torsh.  Rudy Kraft. 1980.  lizardmen.  with detached color cover/products list


270. Spies of Lightelf.  Bryan Hinnen.  Wilderness Book Two. 1980. 


280. THE JUDGES GUILD JOURNAL. #21 (June/July 1980).


            ?Mythlogy <boardgame: advertised in DUNGEONEER #17 p 31> 

            ?Witch's Caldron <[Ral Partha set]]: advertised in DUNGEONEER #17 p 34> 


300. Wilderlands of the Fantastic Reaches.  <sw: adv. bk & mapsheet>



            [At about this point, loses TSR License]



310. City of Lei Tabor. Paul Nevins & Bill Faust  [RUNEQUEST]]  (cover credited to 1979


330. Tancred. Dave Sering. [TRAVELLERS, Ley Sector 1232]  (1980)


340. Ley Sector. (maps and booklets). no designer credited, art credited to Ken Simpson.  (1980).


400. The Toughest Dungeon in the World.  Ken St. Andre. (covers 1980). [TUNNELS & TROLLS]


410. The Astrogators Chartbook. 'complete science fiction mapping system'.  1980.


420. The Unknown Gods. by Bob Bledsaw, Mark Holmer, Paul Jaquays, & Mike Petrowsky. 1980


430.  [SUPERHERO 2044]  Hazard. by Robert Bingham (n.d.) [IPSP.ISIS Official Map 7]]


440. Temple Book I  <sw> 


[?470] or [?400]. THE DUNGEONEERS JOURNAL issue #25.(Feb/March 1981


480. Fifty Starbases.  (1981)    TRAVELLER.


490. Glimmerdrift Reaches  [TRAVELLER]  [sw]


500. Doom of the Singing Star  [shrinkwrapped w. Map & Guidebook]   TRAVELLER


530. Ravenscrag — Scott Fulton, assisted by Dave Sering & Steve Crow. 1981. Universal 

            supplement.     [came shrinkwrapped w. map pad (4 maps).]


††540. Nightmare Maze of Jigresh.  EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE.  




• The First Fantasy Campaign. by Dave Arneson. 1977

• City State Campaign Map One. 1977.  

            "Cartography to the Wilderlands about the City State"   (includes Brezal Isle)

• Tegal Manor: Judge's Map 

• Tegal Manor: Players' Map

• Barbarian Altanis: Campaign Map Two  (1977)

   Valley of the Ancients: Campaign Map Three (inid.)  [winedarksea]

• Thunderhold: Castle of the Dwarven King (1976)

• Lenap Campaign: Map Ten (Players' Map)/

            verso = Elphand Lands: Map Nine (Player's Map)  (1978) 

• Mouth of Roglaroon. Brezal Isle.  back blank. 

             City State just below center.  see also 48 

• blank hex sheets.


550. Field Guide to Encounters. by Dragon's Byte. 1982.  two volumes.


560. Portals of Irontooth.  Rudy Kraft. 1981.


570. Lara's Tower.  Kevin Nunn. 1981. 


xxx.  PEGUSUS. Premier Issue.  interview w. Dave Arneson, article on Disease. 


620. PEGUSUS #3. (1981).


630. Dragon's Hall. Jim Simon. 1981. 


640. Marooned on Ghostring. Walter & Dorothy Bledsaw.  nd. [TRAVELLER]


660. Zienteck. Mark Harmon. 1981. 


670. House on Hangman's Hill. Jon Matttson. 1981.


680. The Tower of Indomitable Circumstance.  Corey Cole.  1981


690.  Masters of the Mind. Charles M. Wilson.  1981.


700. Restormel.  Scott Fulton.


710. Amycus Probe. Dave Sering. 1981  [TRAVELLER]


720. Rogue Moon of Spinstorme.  Dave Sering. 1981. [TRAVELLER]


730. Simba Safari. Dave Sering. 1981. [TRAVELLER]


740. Tarkin's Landing.  Dave Sering. nd. unlicensed 'science fiction suppplement'


750. The Illhiedrin Book.  Daniel Hauffe.  <sw>.  1981 


760. Maranantha-Alkahest Sector.  Dave Sering. 1981   [TRAVELLER]


770. Portals of Twilight.  Rudy Kraft.  nd <sw>


790. F'Dech Fo's Tomb. Scott Fulton. 1981 


800. Glory Hole Dwarven Mine.  Edward G. Mortimer. 1981.


820 (1). Heroic Expeditions. Edward R. G. Mortimer. 1981


820 (2). Fantastic Personalities. Bill Paley & Edward R. G. Mortimer.


840. Prey of Darkness. Edward R. G. Mortimer. 1982.


850. Rat on a Stick. George R. Paczolt. 1982. [TUNNELS & TROLLS] 


880. Corsairs of the Turku Waste. Dave Sering


890. Magebird Quest. Dave Sering. [DRAGONQUEST]


900. Heroes and Villians. Edward R. G. Mortimer. [DRAGONQUEST] 


940. Waspwinter. Walter & Dorothy Bledsaw. nd. [TRAVELLER]


960. Darkling Ship. Dave Sering. nd.  [TRAVELLER]


990. The Book of Treasure Maps III. Edward E. G. Mortimer. nd.


1010. Shield Maidens of Sea Rune. Bryan Hinnen & Dan Hauffe.1982. Wilderness Book Three.


1030. Pirates of Hagrost. Bryan Hinnen & Dan Heuffe. nd. Wilderness Book Four.  


1040. Wondrous Weapons. Joseph Weingand. 1982. 


1090. Witches Court Marshes. Bryan Hinnen, Mark Holmer, & Joe Wiengard. 1982.


1100. Caves and Caverns.  John Mortimer.  <circa 1982?>


1130. Druids of Doom. Bill Pixley & Diane Mortimer. 1982. 


1140. Demons of Dundurn. Derek Watson. pt 1 Rood of Parth Series. 


1180. Jungle of Lost Souls—Glenn Rahman (1983).  TUNNELS & TROLLS. solitaire adventure.



            Castle Thrax. Paul Burdick (1985)  [DM-less. Spellbinders Games]


            Tegal Manor. Bill Webb & Thom Wilson, w. Gabor Lux (Frog Gods 2019, 212p hc)


Wednesday, March 27, 2024

My Favorite Story from GaryCon

 So, my favorite story from those I heard at GaryCon, and also the shortest, came from David S. LaForce, a.k.a. DIESEL. Diesel was one of the original three artists who defined TSR's style back in the late seventies and early eighties through their work  on the PLAYER'S HANDBOOK, MONSTER MANUAL, and DUNGEON MASTER'S GUIDE, the other two being David C. Sutherland (DCS)* and Dave Trampier (TRAMP).

Anyway, the story  went like this. 

We were at his booth in the Dealers' room talking about people (designers and artists and editors) from the early days. Most of these I know only as names among the credits but whom he actually knew, and in many cases worked with. One such person, he told me, only worked at TSR for one day. His name was Dave Dorman, who was hired as a staff artist but then had second thoughts. He showed up for his first day of work, a Monday, and told them he'd changed his mind. Then he turned around and drove back to Florida.

I mentioned this story to other ex-TSR folk there at the con, several of whom knew the name, though they'd didn't know of his TSR connection. I did a little checking, and found he went on to a successful career in graphic novels So TSR's loss was comic books' gain I guess.

--John R.

*who I think was TSR employee number six

Thursday, March 21, 2024

GaryCon Begins

So, we're in Lake Geneva and all settled in. Yesterday from 5 to 8 was check in and, while in line, we ran into the first of what shd be many encounters with familiar faces from Lake Geneva days; Ed Stark, Jeff Grubb, Skip Williams, and Michele Carter, plus brief hellos to a half dozen or so. 

I picked up what looks to be an interesting documentary on dvd: THE DREAMS IN GARY'S BASEMENT. And speaking of basements, through a contact of Janice's we got some pictures of what the old TSR building on Sheridan Springs Road looks like inside now.

Today it's a late start, in hopes that starting the con well-rested will make for a better con experience. My first scheduled event, TOWER OF DARK SORCERY, is for the Middle-earth rpg, so it'll be unfamiliar rules along with what shd be v. familiar setting. It's at five o'clock to eleven tonight, so there's plenty of time to see folks and see what the Dealer's Room might be like.

But first, a late breakfast to start things off. 

--John R.

--current reading: M. R. James' THE FIVE JARS (re-reading) and light fare on the Kindle.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Here in Lake Geneva

So, now we're back in Lake Geneva, in time to settle in before the GaryCon* festivities begin. There will be much rolling of polyhedral dice in the days to come. I'm signed in for two events. First, a long session for THE ONE RING, the Tolkien-based rpg, which I've never actually played before, though I have seen it played. Second is a return to Hommlet sequel. Other events I was too late signing up for or cdn't make fit in the schedule, like the Castle Amber** and a Call of Cthulhu adventure that sounded like it had a good set-up.*** 

And in addition to the games is the looking forward to catching up with fellow co-Workers back in TSR days.

Looking forward to it.

--John R.

*One of the few places I can think of where "Then I rolled a two and a five and took Irkust" is a meaningful statement.

  **I actually worked on one of these, back in the day (MARK OF AMBER, circa 1995).

***It's set in a lighthouse, which sounds promising.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Farewell to Jim Ward

 Just heard the sad news that Jim Ward, who was my boss most of the time I was at TSR, has died.

I hadn't seen him in a number of years but had hoped I'd run into him at this weekend's GaryCon, where he was one of the guests. 

Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Delicate Art

 So, thanks to Doug A.  for sending me a piece that recently (Febr 28th) appeared in the NEW YORKER, about the increasing role constructed languages play in today's movies and series: "Dune and the Delicate Art of Making Fictional Languages"  by Manvir Singh. Singh not only provides a good survey of the rise of conlang and its current ubiquity but in the process shows the way Tolkien's use of invented languages set the standard for today's fantasy and science fiction. And in doing so shows yet another way in which Tolkien was ahead of his time. 


To show just how far we've come in sixty years, compare Tolkien's statement that THE LORD OF THE RINGS was essentially "an essay in 'linguistic esthetic' " (Reilly.136) with the abrupt dismissal of any such thought by early Inklings scholar R. J. Reilly, for whom the mere suggestion was absurd.Reilly refuses to even take Tolkien's words seriously:



"No one ever exposed the nerves 

and fibers of his being 

in order to make up a language;

it is not only insane but unnecessary" 




Despite Reilly's confidence, with the benefit of decades of seeing Tolkien's ideas at work in theory and in practice, there seems nothing any more odd in creating languages than composing music or working crossword puzzles. 


People like to say 'Tolkien wd have loved this' or, more often, 'Tolkien is rolling in his grave' --a habit we shd resist when we can. But I have to admit to a bit of envy at seeing there's a biopic coming out this summer that creates a fictional encounter between C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud.  I'd love to hear and see what an encounter (say a one-act play) between Tolkien and some of his fellow language-creators wd have been like. Maybe somewhere down the track someone will be inspired to put together a JRRT-meets-RIchard Plotz play or film. I'd love to see it --though I have to admit my philological skills are miniscule and I suspect like most of the other attendees I probably wdn't be able to follow their discussion. But it's nice to think .  . . 


--John R. 




"Tolkien and the Fairy Story (1963), collected in Isaacs & Zimbardo, TOLKIEN & THE CRITICS (1968).


Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Two Weeks Out

 So,  plans are coming together. We're now two weeks out from GaryCon.  And the trickiest bit is finally behind me. It took a lot of back-and-forthing trying to work out what I wanted to play vs. what was available and at what specific time slot. I got caught off-guard when some of the really interesting - sounding ones filled up more quickly than I expected, but then it cd be argued that's a good problem to have. 

--John R.

current reading: THE TOMB OF AMEMNES by Steve Winter (2011)

Sunday, February 25, 2024

I'm Going to GaryCon

So, I'm going to GaryCon. For the first time ever. Less than a month from now.

It'll be great to see some of my old TSR colleagues from my time there. Also to put a face on folks I know online but haven't met in person.

If you'd like to touch bases, drop me a note in the comments. 

--John R.

   --current reading: THE MOON CHILD by Aleister Crowley (1917) 

Aleister Crowley on Dunsany

 So, I knew that one of Lord Dunsany's books was reviewed by Aleister Crowley. What I did not know until a few days ago is that Crowley critiques Dunsany in passing, in what might have made for an interesting blurb.

The passage in question comes three-quarters of the way through Crowley's occult novel THE MOON CHILD (1917).  Crowley writes 

Lord Dunsany's stories are 

the perfect prose jewels 

of a master cutter and polisher,

 lit by the rays of an imagination 

that is the godlike son 

of the Father of All Truth and Light;

 [page 209 chapter 18: 

The Dark Side of the Moon]

---John R.

--current reading: THE JOURNAL OF JULIUS RODMAN by Edgar Poe (best described as 'Poe does Lewis & Clark').

Saturday, February 10, 2024

KIlby's Nauglamir

 Dear Valmer

Here's what I suggest.

Send me a comment connected to this post. If you'll include yr email address in the unpublished comment, I'll delete said comment and respond to you directly.

--John R.

Three Books

So, I hadn't had a chance to get into a bookstore for a while, and held off ordering from Amazon, that great big bookstore in the sky (or perhaps the ether), since we were away for a brief visit to Rockford / Lake Geneva / & Milwaukee and having books come while we're having mail held is inviting trouble. Once we were back I did a little catching up:


--Read twice before, finding it enjoyable but derivative; this time I thought better of it. After all, if you're going to imitate somebody it might as well be the best (in this case, the ghost stories of M. R. James). Plus the book was written under difficult circumstances (in a prisoner-of-war camp). Jared Lobdell was interested in this book but never articulated why.


--a well-researched new (-ish) biography of R.E.H., creator of Conan. Meant to be a corrective of the de Camp biography and its many shortcomings.


--the back-and-forth correspondence between C. S. Lewis's brother and said a missionary living and working in New Guinea: pen friends who never met. I heard this one read out as a play-for-voices at a Mythcon years ago and enjoyed it then; I expect to enjoy it again now that it's available in book form.

There's a fourth book, by Barfield, but that has not yet arrived.

--John R.

--current reading: Finn's Howard.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Peruvian Tolkien Society

So, recently I found out from fellow Tolkien scholar Erik Mueller Harder* that there is a Peruvian Tolkien Society (La Sociedad Tolkien Peruana), a newly founded group. What's more, they were having their next meet (via Zoom) the very next day. The book they had chosen was THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT. Seeing that I had written that book, Erik thought I might be interested in joining in. Long story short, as my uncle wd say: I contacted them and they invited me to join the meeting. It wound up being an enjoyable time, a book group discussion crossed with a Q&A.  I found them knowledgable and articulate. I was glad to be invited and glad I accepted.

--John R.

*we both worked on the Marquette reprocessing project, though mostly at different times.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Page Turner


So, our local bookstore took a hit this week when during the Great Freeze of January 14th broken waterpipes in an unused room overhead (owned by the bookstore's landlord) caused flooding. Anyone who's seen how books and water don't mix can appreciate the mess that ensued.

They've been a good neighbor in the community, hosting events like 'Nerdcon'. Fortunately they have already announced plans to re-open --in the space about three blocks away until recently occupied by downtown Kent's game store, Game Kastle. Which was the first I heard about the game store's having closed.

For those who wd like to help out as Page Turner works to get back on their feet again, they've opened up a GoFundMe page -- at first set with a goal of $10,000, since bumped up to $20,000.

So, here's hoping that this uses up their year's supply of drama all in one go.

--John R.

P.S. For the sake of full disclosure, this is where I've been taking boxes of my books as I sort through them and send them out the door in the ongoing downsizing.* So I feel a bit sad that books I thought were going to a safe home, not all of whom made it. And I'll have to come up with a good place for the four boxfuls I'm gathered up and set aside for the next time.

*the latest lot is mainly made up of  Robertson Davies and Joseph Conrad 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Tolkien on the sacrament


So, when slowly reading my way through the new edition of JRRT's LETTERS, I find that in some cases I'm more struck by passages we already knew from the 1981 edition than the new material, fascinating though that may be. For example, what are we to make of this passage from Letter to Michael (page 74, #66)?  



Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated,

I put before you the one great thing on earth: the

Blessed Sacrament . . . . . There you will find romance,

glory, honour, fidelity, and the one true way of all

your loves upon earth . . .  Death.


page 74. Letter to Michael (#66)


Unlike (say) Lewis, Tolkien seems to have been less interested in the formal doctrine of the Church (though he was well-versed in it) than he took great comfort in its rites and rituals. This I suspect was at the root of his opposition to the replacement of Latin with the vernacular.*


As for the sacrament, and the priority he assigns to it: is he here relating his experience of being in the presence of God?


--John R.

current reading: two essays by Joseph Conrad on the sinking of the Titanic.


Friday, January 12, 2024

Jannell Jaquays

So, I was saddened to hear of the death of Jannell Jaquays this week. Jannell was one of the titans, someone (like Dave Sutherland or Tom Moldvay or Mike Carr) whose contributions to D&D went back to what was for me the dawn of time but were still around years later when I came on the scene. Jannell wrote the first module I ever bought: DARK TOWER, from Judges Guild --still a favorite of mine* -- which shaped my idea of what an AD&D adventure shd be. 

It was not until years later that we worked together at TSR in Lake Geneva, where her cubical and artist's niche was diagonally across from my cube. This had one unforeseen effect: Jannell, like many of the TSR artists, designers, and editors, liked to listen to the radio when she worked. But unlike most of the folks at Sheridan Springs Road, Jannell listened to Rush Limbaugh: three hours in the morning, and if I'm remembering rightly another three hours in the afternoon. Not to my taste, but that's why God made headphones.

Because we both lived in Delavan, a few miles from Lake Geneva itself, I got to see more of Jannell than wd otherwise have been the case. I remember cat-sitting her cats several times in her big old house a few blocks from our own. Occasionally we wd carpool.

As for Jannell's work, I always appreciated that she did fantasy art in which the figures were fully clothed --which was not the case with the other staff artists. She also was a rare talent in that she was equally skilled in writing (adventures, character-background generators) and painting. 

I'm sorry that we'd pretty much fallen out of contact. After she left TSR I rarely saw Jannell, even though she made the move out to the  Seattle area; just a matter of paths not crossing. The last time was a few years ago at a meeting of the Alliterates, a group to which we both belonged, but I think she had more or less dropped out about the time I was joining.

So, it was a long career. But not long enough. And a friendship, that in retrospect I wish had been closer.

--John R.

*Though I'd read it many times, I only finally ran it about a year ago. It did not disappoint.