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.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Mercion and Aleena

 So, one final thought on these vinyl adventures is a query. When I first looked at them, I was struck by how strongly the character Mercion, the cleric, reminded me of Elmore's drawing of Aleena the cleric in the 4th edition (Red Box). Both date from about the same time (1983 for Elmore, 1984 for the vinyl). I think the image stuck in my mind all these years because it's rare to kill off competent, likable characters. Since the Red Box image is readily available but the vinyl adventure difficult to come by, I've attached a few of the relevant images for comparison.

It was before my time (I didn't arrive at TSR until 1991), but maybe the creative team at TSR in 1983 disliked Lidda, Mialee, Regdar, and the rest as much as the WotC/TSR team at the time of 3e's creation disliked the official iconic characters foisted upon them. Certainly (to cite one parallel) there was residual disdain for the D&D cartoon characters lingering on years after that unfortunate episode in TSR history had faded into the past.

--John R.


Lost Lands of Greyglen

So my question is, do these place-names appear anywhere else, or did Bradon just make them up as he went along?

So, one of the more curious points of QUEST OF THE RIDDLES, the second of the two D&D Kid Stuff recordings from 1984 (a sort of D&D light, with all the role-playing taken out), is the mention of several places that bear no resemblance to any official D&D world I'm aware of. 

Castle Vitalia lay many miles from Stongheart's home, 

through the dark forest of Greyglen, 

across the two rivers of Elfin Valley, and 

high in the rugged mountains of the Copper Dragon. . . . 

After two long nights, the good paladin 

could see the rocky towers of Castle Vitalia 

rising up above the forest threes.

My guess is that they're just made up on the spot, without any authority.

But it'd be nice to know more, if there was more to know.

--John R.

Vinyl D&D




So, here's something I've had for years and never taken a good look at, much less given it a listen. A decade and more before the audio-cd adventures, some of which I worked on (edited Tim Beach's HAIL THE HEROES and wrote the cd script for Jeff Grubb's MARK OF AMBER),  TSR had tried something else along the same lines, albeit less ambitious. This had taken the form of a read-along book with accompanying record (a .45 rpm in size but .33/3 in speed). 


Released by Kid Stuff records & tapes in 1984, there were at least two of these: ATTACK OF THE ASSASSINS (#KSR 839) and QUEST OF THE RIDDLES (#KSR 840). Both are prominently branded as 'DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (TM) BOOK AND RECORDING' with the TSR logo 'used under license'. 


No identification of author or artist appears in the booklet, but the record label itself bears the credit "Written and produced by John Bradon" while the flip side lacks the mention of Bradon but explicitly states that TSR approves this recording.



The book itself strongly resembles a Little Golden Book, for those whose childhoods reach back so far. The simple story contained within has Kelek the wicked sorcerer ordering Zarak the half-orc assassin to kidnap Mercion, a powerful cleric, and then lure Strongheart (the hero of this little tale) into a trap when he comes to rescue her. Other characters either appear briefly (Ringlerun, depicted in the art as a Gandalfian wizard) and Graznak (one of the half-orcs) or remain offstage, like Warduke the villian.


Perhaps the oddest thing about this minor relic of the past is that these two records were from what seems to have been an established series. Others listed in the back of the booklet include Mr. Potato Head and 2001 Space Odyssey, Barbie and My Little Pony. Flash Gordon is here but not Buck Rogers. James Bond 007  makes the list, though I'm curious what they wd have made of Bond's violence and womanizing.


All in all, one of the odder licences TSR tried out during its initial boom.


--John R.


Saturday, January 6, 2024

Speaking of Vinyl . . .

So, before I bought the new single mentioned in my previous post, it'd been a long time since I last bought vinyl. And once again it was The Beatles, specifically The Beatles on the BBC, Part Two, which I rarely listened to,* and that usually on cd for its convenience. 


I still have my old records, and still listen to them, though not as much as I used to.

I'm not sure how many, it never having occurred to me to count them. A quick resort to a measuring tape shows that my old singles fill two shoeboxes of about ten inches each. I have no idea how many .45s that wd be. Similarly the albums take up about four feet of shelf-space, and once again I don't know how many albums that makes. 


I suspect I'll be pulling these out and listening to them a good deal while I'm in the mood.


--John R. 


*though in the last week or so I've been listening to it and finding it much better than I remembered, especially if I skip through the chatty interludes. Think I'll be listening to this quite a bit in days to come.



A New Cat Cafe is on its way

 So, I've been meaning to get this news posted for a while now and kept not getting around to it.

In brief, the outlet mall in Auburn (formerly known as the Supermall) have put up notices that a cat cafe will soon be opening there. The location looks to be right next to the food court -- which shd both make the cat's lives more interesting (all those intriguing smells right next door) and tantalizing (they can smell but not taste).

No word yet of when it might be opening; I'll keep a look out and report back here when there's anything to report.

--John R. 

Friday, January 5, 2024

Cat Report (Friday December 5th)

Just two cats in the cat room today: bonded pair Lucy and Sally (the winsome twinsome). Accordingly, we cd give lots of attention to both cats, who enjoyed being out together the whole two hours.


Given their continued interest in door-dashing, we tried an experiment. We put the collar on Sally early on to see if getting used to it might help. Then maybe a quarter hour later we added the leash and took her out briefly. Very briefly. As in perhaps half a minute. As for her sister, we cdn't even get a collar on her, much less a leash. So, they're interested in the store outside the cat-room but not interested enough to go there.


Afterwards, Lucy took up position atop the cat-stand, where she reveled in the catnip sachet on high. For her part, Sally stayed down below, willing to try any game offered. They both loved The Worm. 


We were surprised by the display of a talent we didn't know they had: crouch down, jump up, get a hold, and climb up the cages, outside or inside the door. It was pretty impressive how quickly they cd act once one of them took a mind to.


Both seemed to wind down at end of the first hour, then got a second wind


A fair number of onlookers and admirers. Got a query asking at what age people can volunteer; Janice gave them the flyer.


HEALTH CONCERTS: Not a cough nor sneeze nor sniffle from either.

 --John & Janice 

UPDATE (Sunday January 7th): both cats were adopted today, so this bonded pair of sisters went home together to their new home.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

I buy Vinyl (Now and Then)

So, I celebrated the end of the year by buying the new Beatles record, NOW AND THEN. And just to add a little something extra for the occasion, I bought the single on vinyl,* not a cd. Whether this assemblage of Beatles motifs counts as a 'new record', or a Beatles record, might be debatable. All I can say is a few days ago I found the song running in my head without my having any say in the matter in the way that songs sometimes do. So I have to conclude that so far as I am concerned here we have something new that nevertheless v. much harkens back into the past: a new single by The Beatle.**

--John R.

*the size of a .33&a 3rd but played at .45; a format mostly used for disco singles back in the day.

**there's precedent for Beatles songs without all four members present on the recording. A few of these made it onto records of the time, such as "The Ballad of John and Yoko", made by John and Paul working together without George and Ringo.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Happy Tolkien Day

So, today would have been Tolkien's one hundreth and thirty-second birthday, old Took that he was.

--John R.

current reading: the expanded edition of LETTERS OF JRR TOLKIEN (which is going to take me a while). So far few surprises but many occasions of being reminded of just where this or that passage came from.