Sunday, July 23, 2017

Lord Dunsany on Poets

So, when recently reading the new collection of previously uncollected stories by Lord Dunsany (THE GHOST IN THE CORNER, ed. Joshi & Andersson), I came across a curious remark in the opening paragraph of the story "In the Governor's Palace":

"It was one evening at a university* 
. . . that I heard the story, where twenty or 
so undergraduates, members of some society 
in the University, were gathered together after 
supper to debate the merits of one of those 
lesser poets who lived like lonely stars in 
the dark of the space between the death of Milton
 and birth of Keats"**


Dunsany is famous (or notorious) for his hostility to modern poetry,***  but it's less well known that
while he idolized Shakespeare (cf. his play IF SHAKESPEARE LIVED TODAY) and Tennyson he was also dismissive of many great poets of the past -- most notably Alexander Pope and, so far as I can tell, pretty much all the poets who followed in the restoration and neoclassical traditions. The first half of the eighteenth century is usually called 'The Age of Pope', and with reason, but Dunsany very much bought into the idea that 'verse' is something distinct from 'poetry', and that Pope wrote the former and not the latter.

This dismissal of Pope comes across most strongly in Dunsany's story "The Club Secretary". in the second Jorkens book, MR. JORKENS REMEMBERS AFRICA (1934).**** In this story Jorkens stumbles across (or dreams of; the story leaves both options open) The Elysian Club, a club for poets whose members include all the great poets of all time. Specific poets mentioned as belonging to the club are  Homer, Milton, Tennyson (a particular favorite of Dunsany's), Shakespeare, Swinburne, Herrick, Keats, and Shelley. He also includes his old tutor, Stephen Phillips, but omits Pope, making him one of the servants (the hall-porter, what's these days usually called a bell-hop).*****

I'm inclined to put this down as more evidence of Dunsany's conservative tastes when it came to poetry, of a piece with his praise of Yeats' early poems and apologies for all the Yeats poems by which we remember him today. Still, curious and striking.

--John R.
current reading: old rpg magazines (skimming), THE AVEROIGNE CHRONICLES by Clark Ashton Smith, recently arrived C.o.C. adventure.

*Dunsany himself had wanted to go to Oxford, but his father insisted he attend Sandhurst, the military academy, instead (the English equivalent of West Point).

**Milton died in 1674 and Keat was born in 1795, so that leaves out about a hundred and twenty years.    Wordsworth and Coleridge's LYRICAL BALLADS, the book generally considered to have launched the Romantic movement, came out in 1798, so they're on the right side of the line; presumably Dunsany wd approve of them, and of their contemporaries Shelley, Byron, and Keats.
One major and interesting omission is Wm Blake. By 1795 Blake had already written SONGS OF INNOCENCE, SONGS OF EXPERIENCE, THE MARRIAGE BETWEEN HEAVEN & HELL, and the early Prophetic Books. But then if there was ever a poet who went his own way headless of contemporary movements, it was Blake, so it's possible he's one of those 'lonely stars in the dark'. I suspect it's more likely to have been Th Grey or Wm Cowper, each of whom is remembered today for a few haunting lines.

***among his very last works are a set of dueling articles attacking or defending modern poetry between Dunsany (attacking) and John Ciardi (defending).

****pages 277-284, the next to last story in the book and, it so happens, one of the two Jorkens stories recorded by Vincent Price for Caedmon Records in 1982.

*****one more poet he does not mention here but we have every reason to think thought highly of is Horace, given that he translated THE ODES OF HORACE into a stand-alone book towards the end of his career (1947).

Friday, July 21, 2017

How to Tell if you're in a Tolkien Story ('The Toast')

So, thanks to Janice for this link, which led to a site I thought was awesome. The site allows you to answer the all-important question: of HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE IN A J. R. R. TOLKIEN BOOK?

Of the thirty-three examples they offer up, here are a few of my favorites:

A wizard has roped you into a quest because one of your ancestors invented golf.
Your exhaustive knowledge of whimsical riddles has saved your life on multiple occasions.
You are so adventurous you once walked twelve miles to visit your cousins in a different village, then promptly returned home because the people there were strange and foreign.

You are easily distracted by a workplace crush and are terrible at your job. Unfortunately for everyone, your job is The Moon.

You once fulfilled an ancient prophecy and overturned gender expectations at the same time.
After careful consideration, you have decided not to become a Dark Lord.

I was impressed by the realization that one story cd apply to three different characters if you left the last half of the last sentence off ("it will be mostly your fault").

There were only one or two I thought a little iffy. Great fun; well done.

It turns out the same website has done several other posts along these lines; the best of those I looked at was, hands down,  HOW TO TELL IF YOU'RE IN A VIKING SAGA:

Some highlights from among its twenty-seven entries include

You have started a bloody multi-generational feud by stealing cheese.

You have enraged a family of Sami wizards, who like to stand on your roof and sing all night.
An elderly woman, known for her second-sight, gives you specific instructions to avoid being murdered. You ignore her.

Unlike with the Tolkien, I don't know the right answers to all of these, though I can recognize some.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Gygax's Lost Gnome Novel

So, thanks to friend Jeff (thanks Jeff), here's another data point to add to those already gathered about the Gygaxian gnome; eventually we shd be able to connect the dots together and get a likely scenario re. the D&D gnome's origin.

I had remembered that Gygax published a few chapters of a god-awful D&D novel in the early days of THE DRAGON (later DRAGON MAGAZINE), under the pseudonym Garrison Ernst, which I'd read part of back in the early/mid-90s.* What I'd forgotten was that the name of this aborted novel was THE GNOME CACHE. I don't have a full run of DRAGON, unfortunately,** but luckily I do have the invaluable DRAGON MAGAZINE ARCHIVE reproducing the first 250 issues in facsimile.

Checking it now and reading the whole story, such as it is (seven chapters in sixteen pages spread over seven issues***), I can see it's of historical interest as probably the first piece of fiction set on Oerth (albeit a v. undeveloped version thereof) if of no interest as a work of art.

What is odd, though, is that for a work named "The Gnome Cache" it has no gnomes and no cache. Instead it tells the story of a jerk who robs his father and uses his stolen funds to set off on a life of adventuring.  Picking up a sidekick along the way he has encounters with a group of brigands (whom he briefly joins), works as a caravan guard, barely escapes from an ambush, loses his temper a lot, and wanders around in the woods.

It's not until the last two sentences of the last paragraph of the last chapter that we get a hint of anything possibly relating to the title:

"Great Gods!" expostulated the startled errant.
 "It is a dwarf being pursued by a pack of giant toads
 and weirdly hopping men!"****

This scene is actually illustrated*****

What we're shown here is clearly a dwarf, supporting the idea sent in by Zenopus Archives in a Comment on an earlier post that 'gnomes' were just a kind of dwarf in Gygax's original conception, rather like hill dwarves vs. mountain dwarves:
  (scroll down to the third comment)

Unfortunately for our inquiry, but a stroke of luck for early DRAGON readers, this is the last installment published. The editorial for the next issue mentions (#8 page 3) that, just as had been the case in issue #4, a featured piece had crowded out THE GNOME CACHE for this issue. Editor Tim Kask adds that

 It is expected, however, that that fine tale will resume in #9. 

This turned out not to be the case, and so far as I known no more of THE GNOME CACHE was ever published (or, I suspect, ever written).


*this was back when Roger Moore was the current editor of DRAGON; he let me borrow early issues from the magazine department's reference set, from which I photocopied a lot of interesting pieces. This wasn't among them.

**I'm missing seven of the first ten issues, and a few issues near the end of the journal's long run.

***This is somewhat less than it appears, since some of these are half-pages sharing the spread with ads and the like, as is the wont of magazine fiction.

****THE DRAGON issue #7, page 22. It's probably too much to ask that these wd have turned out to be hopping vampires. I suspect they might be werefrogs, or frog/human hybrids, given that this encounter takes place near Castle Blackmoor, known for its terrible giant frogs.

*****on page 29. If this reference looks a bit off, it's because the story appears on pages 28, 29, and 22 of that issue, so that the conclusion of the chapter comes several pages before the main part of the chapter itself. Such were the complications of lay-out in the early days of TSR periodicals printing

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Night of the Monkey Riot (C.o.C.)

So, just for fun thought I'd share my write-up of the latest session of our CALL OF CTHULHU game. Those who are playing through the first organized play adventure from Chaosium shd avoid the following because of spoilers. This was the fifth session, which rounded up the second adventure in the campaign. Our five Investigators are all Miskatonic University students in the early 1930s. The first adventure saw us doing some fieldwork in remote Cobb's Corners, Vermont -- in which days of collecting folklore and unsettling rumors suddenly came to a head with horrific events which left the survivors happy to put Vermont behind them, hopefully forever. The second adventure deals with the follow-up back at Miskatonic, when some of the missing students (including the dead ones) show up a few days later, apparently none the worse for wear but with their personalities weirdly different. It soon becomes obvious that these are different people in the bodies of our former friends, up to no good.

The five player characters are Aaron (Jeff), Harry (Steve), Michael (Sig), Ruth (Anne), and S. S. (myself). Our Keeper (DM) is Stan. For this particular session Anne & Sig, who play via Skype, cdn't make it, so we just had three PCs. Here's the write-up I made so as to share with Sig and Anne what their characters missed and to remind us all next time what's just happened.

Session Five
Just a quick reminder, in case it’s needed, that we’re not playing this weekend. Should give our characters time to heal up from what will always be known at Miskatonic U. as The Night of the Monkey Riot.

Last session Aaron went to Professor Wilmarth and pretty much spilled the beans about flying crustaceans, sudden personality shifts, and other weird going ons, only to have Wilmarth say he cdn’t do anything based on hearsay. Meanwhile S. S. went to Dr. Armitage, the Librarian, with a tale about a plot by some students to steal some books from the library and burn the rest. He wasn’t having any of it and all but threw her out. One of us — either Harry or Aaron — learned that something was going to happen involving a serum the next day but we cdn’t find out who was taking it or giving it to whom. 
   That night Harry, S. S., and Aaron stole into the science lab and stole* the sample of pasqualium,** which is now hidden in Ruth’s museum (which we used as crash space, in case anyone bad came looking for us at our individual rooms).

The next day all hell broke loose. We later figured out that Lazlo and Clarissa went to the men’s and women’s dining halls and put some kind of serum in the food (so Michael was on to an important clue in seeing Lazlo in the food-preparation area the day before, had we but known to follow up on it). Shortly afterwards students were rampaging about, smashing things and shouting Oook-ook. The three of us were lucky not to be affected, so we raced to the library.  Armitage had assigned two guards to watch over things, but they rushed outside to deal with the riot, leaving the brain-swapped students (Little Rod, Jason, and Gibbons, I think) to fill two sacks of books and douse the place with kerosene. Lazlo appeared up in the balcony, casting shove-spells and setting the kerosene afire. Little Rod (whom we know is really semi-good guy Clarke) carried an innocent bystander to safety. S. S. got doused in kerosene and ran burning from the library, collapsing outside in a burning heap. Harry played the hero, noblely sacrificing his raccoon-skin coat to smother the flames. In all the confusion, the bad guys got away, and Lazlo (we presume) nabbed the books as well.

The aftermath was that thanks to our action the library was damaged but not destroyed. We all survived, though S. S. had to spend the following week in the campus or city hospital recovering from her Major Wound. Professor Lehrmark was found dead the next morning, strapped to a lab table and with the top of his head taken off. The brain was missing.

We got lots of SAN reward for partially foiling the sinister plot, but the bad guys got clean away with everything they wanted except the sample of pasqualium. 

The final scene before the Keeper brought the curtain down was Professor Wilmarth introducing us to someone he thinks we shd meet: a Mr. Pasqual.

So, who’s on for the 21st or 28th?

—John R.

*S. S. has discovered that bobby pins are great at opening just about any kind of lock, so long as you make that Locksmithing roll

**a trans-uranic alien metal found at the site of a meteor strike up in Vermont

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poul Anderson's Troll

So, pursuient to refreshing my memory about where some iconic things in the D&D game came from, I went back and re-read Poul Anderson's THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS, which I remembered liking well enough when I first read it in the early '80s (along with what else I cd find at the time of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series).

At first I thought this was a false trail, especially when I found a giant that turned to stone in daylight (clearly derived from either THE HOBBIT or Norse folklore or both) in Chapter 19 (of 24), towards the end of Anderson's book.

But I was wrong: in Chapter 22 came the troll encounter, and it's very clearly the inspiration for the D&D troll as it emerged a decade or so later. The key detail is its regeneration, something that so far as I know was Anderson's own invention, as well as the fact that only fire-damage can stop this (as our heroes discover by chance).

Chapter XXII.

The troll shambled closer. He was perhaps eight feet tall, perhaps more. His forward stoop, with arms dangling past thick claw-footed legs to the ground, made it hard to tell. The hairless green skin moved upon his body. His head was a gash of a mouth, a yard-long nose, and two eyes which were black pools, without pupil or white, eyes which drank the feeble torchlight and never gave back a gleam.

Ho-o-o . . . 

Like a huge green spider, the troll's severed hand ran on its fingers. Across the mounded floor, up onto a log with one taloned forefinger to hook it over the bark, down again it scrambled, until it found the cut wrist. And there it grew fast. The troll's smashed head seethed and knit together. He clambered back on his feet and grinned at them. The waning faggot cast red light over his fangs . . .

The torso remained. Worst was that task, when Holger and Carahue rolled a thing as heavy as the world toward the furnace heart of the cave, while it fought them with snakes of guts. Afterward he could not remember clearly what had happened. But they burned it.

Its description even matches the late great Dave Sutherland's art:

Sutherland's troll #1 (see upper right)

Sutherland's troll #2 (see lower left)
--he even got the green color right.

While I'm mentioning Poul Anderson, I might note another possible element inspired by his work and incorporated into D&D --in this case, the alignment system.  I'd always assumed that D&D's alignment system, Law vs. Chaos, came from Moorcock's ELRIC stories. Now I see it appeared in a more D&D-ish form in Anderson: not just THREE HEARTS but OPERATION CHAOS as well. I suppose a case cd be made for Roger Zelazny as well, but his Courts of Chaos seem to me to be genuinely chaotic, as opposed to just a synonym for 'bad'.

As for Anderson himself, I remember rather liking THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS when I first read it aside from his shabby treatment of Morgana le Fay. Re-reading it now (and his version of HROLF KRAKI a decade or so back), I think his work has not aged well; de Camp & Pratt had done this sort of thing before, and done it better. The same goes for OPERATION CHAOS (I'd read the short story years ago and thought it fun; the book he's made it into is a good example of more being less) and A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST, which I've had for years but never been able to make myself read before (the hook: the heroes help the bad guys win the English Civil War, and we're supposed to be happy about that).

Time to go read the new Clark Ashton Smith collection instead, methinks.

--John R.
--current viewing: KADO (an anime 'first-contact' story; looks to be a story of ideas, not action).

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Five Cats a'walking (W.7/12)

FIve cats in the cat-room today, all of whom got walks.

Last week I hadn’t been able to get AVRY to come down from on high and out of her  cage,* whereas PENNI climbed me like a ladder before I got three steps from the door, so only the other three (CHESTER, TABITHA, and TRIS) had gotten walks.

Today I accordingly started w. Avry, so she didn’t have time to get out of sorts seeing the other cats out and about. She really blossomed when we got her to the Training Room. She wove in and out of the little stools over and over, rubbed my legs and purred, did her paws up and down, and generally expressed her satisfaction. I even held her belly-up in my lap for ten to fifteen minutes; she was that relaxed. It’s at times like these that I get a sense of what she’d be like in a one-cat home of her own. Remembering how she looked when she first arrived, I was struck by how different she looks with all that fur grown back in. Hope she finds that home soon.

Penni was next, and while it was hard getting the leash on I walked up and down the cat-room carrying her for a few minutes to help get her used to it, and when we actually went out she did better than expected. I carried her pretty much the whole time, but think it did her good to be outside the cage for a bit. Afterwards, remembering that someone said Penni likes the bin-bed in the corner I put her up there. They were right: she stayed the rest of the morning, like a little old princess on her throne. Turns out she loves catnip bubbles and peacock feathers, and I suspect the gopher game wd go down well. Looks like she’s willing to be out so long as the other cats keep their distance.

Tris wanted to explore the various cat-stands and pet beds. She seems to be picking up the rules about walking pretty quick. Glad to report that at one point when she found herself near a dog (somewhat smaller than herself) she behaved well: both she and the dog stated at each other a bit and then went separate ways.  Found out last week that she likes games but she LOVES CATNIP. Just about any form is good: catnip teabags, catnip spray, catnip bubbles . . . It doesn’t seem to make her either pouncy or mellow; she just likes it. A lot. 

Chester had to wait for his walk: he was watching with impatience while Tris and Penni had their turns. Once out he didn’t go as far afield or stay out as long as last week (when he’d been out for about a half hour or forty minutes) but he seemed to enjoy himself and did some exploring. He was unhappy when I put him back in his cage; he clearly felt he hadn’t gotten enough attention or games or time outside the cage. Suspect he’ll demand lot of attention from the next shift.

Finally, Tabitha also had to wait while the shyer cats got out of their cages and got their walks first. She didn’t go too far afield, but enjoyed sniffing the bottoms of each cat-tree in turn. She’s gotten pretty confident about being on the leash and is now one of our best walkers (along with Chester, who’s brave, and Avry, who loves her room). 

most popular cat-toy today: the catnip bubbles, w. Chester (of course), Tris (ibid), and rather surprisingly Penni all keeping a fascinated eye on them but keeping their distance.

no health concerns that I noted. noticed a lot of shedding going on with Avery and Tabitha

—John R. 

*though someone came down from Lynnwood to see her last week and spent a half-hour petting her in her cage.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The New Arrival (CAS)

Just arrived today: THE AVEROIGNE CHRONICLES, ten stories by Clark Ashton Smith, the greatest of the Weird Tales school and a personal favorite of mine.

I've been a fan ever since Tom Moldvay's X2. Chateau d'Ambreville introduced me to Averoigne and Smith's work, sending me to track down the TimeScape editions and, later on, some of the Arkham House originals.

The new book is horribly expensive, as might be expected from a limited-run small-press edition. But I've long wanted the Averoigne stories all gathered together in one volume and finally decided to go for it.

More later, when I've had a chance to look it over some.

--John R.
current viewing: M. R. James shorts on You-Tube.