Friday, October 13, 2017

Liverpool is Birmingham!

So, more signs that make it look as if the in-the-works Tolkien biopic may actually happen: they're scouting out sites where they might do location filming. At least that's what I gathered from the following little piece posted yesterday:

So, many things can and no doubt will go wrong with this project, but it's still live at this point, which is further than any previous such effort got.

And now to find out more about, so as to decide whether or not to watch, the latest 'based-on-a-true-story' film about a twentieth century British author, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

Which, based on Christopher Milne's own account of his childhood in his excellent autobiography, sounds like it's the 'good parts' version, not particularly close to the facts. We'll see.

--John R.
--last day at Archives

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Another Lydney Dog?

So, my forthcoming piece on The Great God Nodens*  includes a section about one among the many mysteries associated with the site of his Temple: lots of dogs, including what's been called the best Roman bronze found in Britain.** Stone dogs, bronze dogs, ceramic dogs, even at least one depiction of a dog on pottery.

It's not surprising then that my attention was drawn to recent news from Gloucestershire, the county in which Noden's temple was found, about the discovery of a bronze dog, one already being associated w. the healing god Aesculapius.***

What's striking about this report is the secrecy involved. The actual site of the discovery is being kept secret --which suggests that they may think there's more there to be found. The artifacts themselves are not on display but are also being kept at a secret location. We may find out that the discovery was near the site of Noden's Temple, or elsewhere in the Forest of Dean, or somewhere near Gloucester. Time, and follow-up reports, will no doubt tell.

--John R.
current reading: ON EAGLES' WINGS by Anna Thayer

*(or, to be more precise, on the background to Tolkien's piece on Nodens)

**so dubbed by Mortimer Wheeler, who was given to grandiosity

***the idea being that the dog has his tongue out because it's been trained to lick people's wounds in order to promote healing

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Hobbit Camp (1977)

So, thanks to Janice S. for the link to this strange, strange story.

Essentially this tells the story of Tolkien's appropriation in the Italy of the 1970s by 'Traditionalism',
a counter counter-culture movement who even staged their own right-wing Woodstock. Which they chose to call "CAMPO HOBBIT", deliberately evoking Tolkien's character. The movement seems to have fallen apart after 1981, but it's disconcerting to see Tolkien's characters used in such a context and for such a purpose.

And equally disturbing to hear that in these days, with the resurgence of white supremacy here and abroad, that this past summer saw a new such gathering forty years on, "Campo Hobbit 40"

The author of the piece, John Last, concludes that

"Middle Earth remains an empty stage onto which ideologues of all stripes can project their politics."

Except, I wd say, it's not. Middle-earth isn't an empty stage: Tolkien has plenty of ideas, strongly and subtly presented, such as his championing of anarchism with the Ents and their Moot, or his critique of apartheid in Bree. You have to willfully misapprehend him, picking and choosing with deliberation aforethought, to get a White Supremacist tract out of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, much less THE HOBBIT.

Given the climate of our times, and previous attempts by various unsavory groups to claim Tolkien as one of their own,* I think we can expect to see more pieces like this. Unfortunately.

--John R.

current reading: ON EAGLES' WINGS by Anna Thayer (2016), a book on Tolkien's use of deus ex machina, and HUEY P. LONG: SOUTHERN DEMAGOGUE OR AMERICAN DEMOCRAFT? ed. Henry C. Dethloff (1967).

*e.g the notorious 'That Noble Northern Spirit'.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Tolkien Spotting: the Italian Princess

So, thanks to the good folks at the Archives (thanks Mark; thanks Bill), I became aware of the passing Tolkien reference in the October/November issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: TRAVELER. In the middle of a piece about Sicily, the author encounters Princess Vittoria Alliata di Villafranca, an expert on the Middle East with a doctorate in Islamic studies, author of several books, "including the Italian translation of The Lord of the Rings" (p. 49). A background in Islamic studies seems to be an unusual mix with translating Tolkien; just goes to show the wide array of interests among Tolkienists, here and elsewhere.

--John R.

Monday, October 2, 2017

I'm at Marquette

So, as of yesterday (after a far too early flight) I'm back in Milwaukee again for another research trip delving into the Tolkien manuscripts here at the Archives. Today was mostly spent reading through  my notes and comparing it against the material I've come to work with -- I have to remind myself where I was when I broke off last time; it takes a while to re-engage with such complex material.

This time rather than staying in on-campus housing I'm in a historic hotel not far from the lake, in a neighborhood with lots of cream city brick buildings all around. A beautiful place that's seen better days but has a lot of character (from what I've seen of them some of the clientele seem to be characters as well). Rather to my surprise, it reminds me of several of my old apartments during my grad school years at Marquette, especially the one on Walker.

So, here's hoping the project goes well, I get lots done, and I don't catch pneumonia like I did last time I came to Milwaukee (which played havoc with my ability to do the research I'd come to do).

--John R.
current music: Alan Parsons & his project, on the I-pod
current reading: THE FIRST FOSSIL HUNTERS, suggesting that legends of the titans and cyclops  and griffins were inspired by Greek and Roman discoveries of huge fossil bones.
current anime: CLASSROOM OF THE ELITE (wrapped up just before the trip)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Cat-Walking Wednesday

Just two cats in the cat-room this week, so we were able to give nice long walks to both.

Tiffany had both cats out and in a mellow mood when I arrived, each relaxed and sleeping curled up on or by the bench not far from each other in the outer room. 

We walked Avry first. And, as usual, at first she just kept making bee-lines from wherever I set her down back to the cat-room door. While good exercise, this didn’t seem the best use of her out-of-the-room time. So we carried her over to the far side of the store, setting her down in the training room. After exploring for a bit she did her usual little flirting game, rubbing up against things and weaving in and out among the stools and getting her leash tangled up. After a while we opened the door and she walked around that side of the store for a while. She was out for about forty minutes, maybe a bit more.

Then it was Tris’s turn. As usual she greatly enjoyed just being out of the room, rolling belly-up on the tiles. Then she had a good time walking around the near half of the store. She was very sociable, going up and rubbing up against people to get their attention. Be warned, however, that when she’s belly-up she may look like she’s asking for a belly rub, but she’s not. She was also out for a good long spell, about forty minutes or so.

One thing I noticed: either TIffany is a really good cat-walker, or the cats really like having two walkers to one cat, or both. Both cats were much less hesitant to venture into a new aisle or go into a new area than tends to be the case when I walk them one-on-one. 

Health concern: Tris has a lot of little scabs, especially around her neck. Got a few loose ones off; the rest shd come in time. Think she also has a little cat-acne on her chin, but she wasn’t at all interested in my doing anything about it. Her ears seem okay, at least on a quick check. Cleaned up her bottom some with a wet cloth, which was about her least favorite thing in the world.  Also used another wet cloth to remove some loose fur along her back — she wasn’t sure whether she liked that or not. 

Avry seems to be doing well. She definitely likes having the big cage all to herself, especially having the high ground so nobody can sneak up on her.

—John R.

Friday, September 29, 2017

This Could Be For Real (Tolkien Biopic)

So, I've been on the record since about the time the HOBBIT films wound down, saying that the next Tolkien film we'd be seeing would not be anything from THE SILMARILLION (to which the studios don't own the rights) or one of Tolkien's minor works (much as I'd enjoy seeing a film of FARMER GILES OF HAM or THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS), but a film about Tolkien himself.

There have been rumors and announcements over the past few years about this person or that person's plan to make such a film, all of which have, so far as I cd tell, evaporated without leaving any trace behind.

The latest such announcement, however, sounds less ephemeral than most:

Rather than just someone's announcing they'd like to do such a film, this has an actual director attached to the project (Dome Karukoski), and a pair of scriptwriters (David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford*), and even a production company (Chernin Entertainment, apparently with the backing of Fox Searchlight). Best of all, it has an entry in the imdb: 

The synopsis here reads: "J.R.R. Tolkien, a love lorn soldier, draws from an epic life on his return from the Great War to create one of the greatest works of literature in "The Lord of the Rings"." -- which makes it sound as if somebody owes Humphrey Carpenter and John Garth a credit. The imdb page also gives the film an alternate title:  A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS.

The announcement had a more detailed synop: 

"explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a fellow group of outcasts at school. This takes him into the outbreak of World War I, which threatens to tear the “fellowship” apart. All of these experiences would inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-Earth novels."

One description thus focuses on the love story and the other on the TCBS.

Perhaps one thing which makes this iteration seem more real than those preceding it is that this one has an actor attached to it to play the lead part: Nicholas Hoult.

Best known for playing the lovestruck zombie in WARM BODIES, Hoult seems to be making a specialty lately of playing historic figures in a series of recent films: Nikola Tesla, J. D. Salinger, and now Tolkien. More promising, he's also the voice of Fiver in a new adaptation of WATERSHIP DOWN.

Recently they've added an actress to play Edith T as well: Lily Collins  (daughter of musician Phil Collins, formerly of Genesis):

So at least they got a pair of English actors to play the leads, rather than Americanizing the project.

There are a million things that cd go wrong this this project, assuming it ever gets from "pre-production" (= nobody's filmed anything yet) into actually getting filmed, and even released. But already this is the farthest anyone's gotten on an idea that's been kicking around Hollywood's collective mind ever since the last of Peter Jackson's billion dollar babies left the theatres.

Whether it'll actually be any good is of course impossible to tell at this early stage.

The thing Tolkienists will have to keep reminding ourselves of is that the words "based on a true story" = "this is a work of fiction". 

I expect 'creative embellishments' in a Tolkien biopic to be much harder to take, personally, than any adaptation of his work cd be (esp. since Tolkien himself sold the rights for LotR and H to be made into film, yet eschewed biographical inquiry with some insistence).

In short, we know Tolkien himself wd have hated the v. idea. But it looks like it's coming, if not now and with this team then down the road with another. Those of us who cd look on with equanimity at  the outrage of C. S. Lewis fans at Anthony Hopkins portrayal of CSL in SHADOWLANDS** are about to find it's our turn now.

--John R

*note that only Gleeson appears on the imdb page; can't say whether this is for reasons of space Beresford's leaving the project. Time perhaps will tell.

**or Johny Depp's depiction of J. M. Barrie in FINDING NEVERLAND (which actually made Barrie a good deal more normal that he was)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Happy Hobbit Day (belatedly)

So, thanks to Janice S. and Janice K. for the following link to a piece in THE ATLANTIC marking the 80th anniversary of the release of THE HOBBIT last week.  It's nice to see a good example of the mainstreaming of Tolkien's work: I was particularly struck by the use (here and elsewhere, in the pieces on Walter Judd's book) of the word legendarium to describe his imaginary world.

The ATLANTIC writer, Vann R. Newkirk II, early on makes clear that he's an admirer of the book, calling it "the best that literature has to offer".

He's not being condescending by describing Tolkien's book as "quaint, virtuous, and tidy" but wants to emphasize how much such hobbitlike virtues stand out in contrast with R. R. Martin's work. It's  also good to see Newkirk acknowledge how deeply Tolkien's work permeates the fantasy genre, establishing the conventions against which later-day writers react. I do think he overstates his case for Martin as the quintessential modern fantasy writer, failing to take into account, say, J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, or Sir Terry Pratchett, or Phillip Pullman, or Neil Gaiman, et al.

To his credit, he gets the importance of the languages, and on one point he certainly gets credit for originality: I don't think anyone has ever compared Bilbo with Mohammed Ali before.

Newkirk does ding the book for "paternalism, imperialism, and racial essentialism" but these do not detract for him from its celebration what he calls "quaint values": "the dignity of humanity, the virtue of generosity, a respect for life, a duty to do good, and  the ways in which brotherhood can be used to move men toward those ideals".

I wish the average piece on Tolkien that comes out in mass market magazines was half as good as Newkirk's piece.

Here's the link:

--John R.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


So, thanks to friend Stephen  and to Janice K. for the links to two online pieces, one by ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and the other on NPR, on the recently released FLORA OF MIDDLE-EARTH: PLANTS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM by Walter & Graham Judd. (Oxford Univ. Press). At first glance this sounds much like Dinah Hazell's book from about ten years ago (THE PLANTS OF MIDDLE-EARTH: BOTANY AND SUB-CREATION,) which was well-received but seemed on the slight side to me: I'd been hoping for something more along the lines of PHARAOH'S FLOWERS: THE BOTANICAL TREASURES OF TUTANKHAMUN by F. Nigel Hepper, which goes through every piece of plant matter (flowers, woods, seeds) found in Tut's tomb and extrapolated upon what that tells us (e.g. local vs. imported exotic).

Here's the link to the ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY piece, released on August 14th, which includes a good-size excerpt from the book (the entry for 'coffee'):

As for the second piece, it was broadcast on NPR on August 31st and focuses more on the author's explaination of why he did the book; both the original audio program and a transcript thereof are available by pushing the appropriate buttons at the following site:

--John R.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Doom That Came to Lanhkmar

So, during those final days of editing and fine tuning and formatting on A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, I needed something completely different to read just to give my mind a rest (otherwise I proofread in my sleep, hour and hour, all night long). And I picked Fritz Leiber, author of the best sword and sorcery fiction ever, and read several books of his that've been on my shelves without getting read till now (as well as rereading a few to reconsider my original responses to them).  I find I much prefer him as an author of fantasy than horror or science fiction, and accordingly got rid of some in the end while restoring the rest to a place of pride.

One thing that struck me came in a passage I'd read a number of times before but somehow missed the essential point of. In NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS, his first book (Arkham House 1947) Leiber devotes his Foreword to an account of the creation of the characters Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in a pre-1936 letter by his friend Harry Fischer. He mentions how

"More than ten years ago I opened a letter from
Harry Fischer, wondering what strange conceit
was now in store. The Elder Gods had been pretty
 well worked through.*  Even the overweening
Wischmeiers, destined to be immortalized by a
more trenchant pen,** were temporarily exhausted.

"Sandwiched in the many pages of text,
 I came across the following fragment:

"For all do fear the one known as the Gray Mouser . . . 
[description of G.M. follows]

"Until one [foggy] night  . . . --for the walled city of 
the Tuatha De Danaan called Lankhmar was built 
on the edge of the Great Salt Marsh--  there strode
into the group of lounging bravos a pair of monstrous
men . . . [description of Fafhrd follows]

"Anyhow, they met, and the saga of how the Gray Mouser
 and Fafhrd of the Blue Eyes came to the innermost vaults 
of the City of the Forbidden God and there met death in 
the moment of victory in no common fashion, was begun.

"My imagination was enthralled and I responded with a
fragment hinting at some further exploits of the two strange
 ruffians . . . Episodes took form, such as Conquest Among 
the Baldest Rats, The Seventh Eye of Ningauble, The 
Adventure of the Grain Ships . . . Eventually a very few
 of these got actually completed and found their way into print . . .

"But the saga continues and the innermost vaults of 
the City of the Forbidden Gods still seem far away."

 So, for one thing I failed to note the interesting detail about Lankhmar being a city of the Tuatha de  Danaan --whose legends do indeed mention four exotic cities that had been the Tuatha de's homes before they came to Ireland (albeit that 'Lankhmar' is not given as the name of one). It might be worthwhile to see if this is just a casual association or if the old Irish myths have other deeper connections with Leiber's cycle.

For another I missed the fascinating fact that the first mention of the two heroes is in a story intended to end with their deaths. In short, a story very like several of Dunsany's thieves' tales or, more specifically, Clark Ashton Smith's THE TALE OF SATAMPRA ZEIROS. And yet so far as I can tell Leiber never returned to or finished that first story, which was to have begun and ended the whole sequence.

--John R.

***I know that 'Grain Ships' supposedly eventually turned into the novel SWORDS OF LANKHMAR, fifth book in the compiled Ace Books series, but don't know if the Ningauble story ever got published

Friday, September 15, 2017

I'm in Arkansas

So, today, without realizing it at the time, I passed near a spot that figures in the legend of Bonnie & Clyde, just north of Waldo, Arkansas, where they released two people they'd kidnapped down in Ruston, Louisiana earlier in the day.* I wanted to post a link to the story, but unfortunately it appears to be behind the local paper's paywall. Anyway, here's the link to the opening lines; I'll post more later if I can find out more details about the incident once I'm back in Kent parts:

--John R.

*April 27th, 1933, about a year before their execution by ambush on May 23rd 1934

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Terry Pratchett's steamroller

So, I see the news today that the latest in the Stieg Larsson Lizbeth Salander series, better known as THE GIRL WHO books, is just out.

Of course it's not written by Larsson, who died more than a decade ago, but instead by a noted biographer named David Lagercranz. Nor does it follow any plot left behind by Larsson; it's wholly new material written to continue the series beyond the point where the author stopped.

The good news is that it seems this continuing of an author's setting and characters that has befallen Larsson will not be Terry Pratchett's fate. In fact, Pratchett felt so strongly about his work being his own, not to be continued by other hands, that he left orders for whatever unfinished books he was working on at the time of his death to be destroyed. Which instruction was just carried out by his estate, with a certain amount of panache: running over his computer's hard drive with a steam roller. And not just any 'steam roller' but an actual antique steam-powered one. Here's the story:

As someone who was an early adaptor and longtime fan of Pratchett's work,* I'm sorry that there won't be any more of it, but at the same time there are plenty of genuine Pratchett books to read and re-read. And a few, even, that I haven't gotten to yet (having found I didn't care for his later books as much).

--John R.

*(esp. the footnotes)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Twenty Years

So, hard to believe it's been twenty years ago as of the start of September that I moved from Wisconsin to the Seattle area to start my new job at Wizards of the Coast. I'd been hired on to edit the new DOMINARIA roleplaying game, the D&D campaign setting for the world of MAGIC: THE GATHERING, becoming part of a team that consisted of Lisa Stevens, later co-founder of Paizo;  Jonathan Tweet, who went on to gain fame as the chief architect of Third Edition; Jesper Myrfors, the original art designer of MAGIC THE GATHERING; and later Chris Pramas, brought in as a second writer, who eventually left WotC to found Green Ronin.

And yet the project never saw the light of day, having been doomed from the start. I'd known WotC had worked on one MtG rpg before (designed by Mike Selinker and Wolfgang Baur) that something had gone wrong with. What I hadn't known was that the game I was hired to edit was WotC's FOURTH (and final) attempt to put together a MtG rpg, nor that it was just as doomed as all the rest.  Someone over in Card R&D, where the real Powers That Be in R&D were, didn't want an rpg version of Magic to happen, and accordingly it got shot down every time the rest of the department proposed it -- not when it was mooted, mind you, but well-on into the project.*

All water under the bridge (and living in Renton and Kent teaches you a lot about water and bridges). But what stays in my mind, after all these year, is just how much talent was in the room. That, and how it was great fun to be the keeper of the Dominaria globe for a few months. I wonder who has it now.

--John R.
current reading: AN ASTOUNDING ATLAS OF ALTERED STATES by Michael J. Trinklein (just started)

*a similar silent veto applied to our doing any kind of Tolkien game.

"Tolkien In Love"

So, thanks to Andrew F. for the link to this radio drama based on young Ronald Tolkien's courtship of Edith Bratt. Have to confess I haven't made it all the way through it myself; it's well-done but for some reason off-putting.

Here's the link:

Apparently it'll still be available on the radio BBC's site to listen to for about another week.

--John R
current reading: "The Highwayman" (1908) and THE CASTLE OF CROSSED DESTINIES by Italo Calvino (1969+197; tr 1976-77)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Sky is White today

So, the night before last I was quite startled when I went to check on the moon (which I do most nights, when I can manage it) and saw that it was an orangey-red in color, more the tone you get with a partial lunar eclipse than the rising of a harvest moon.

Then yesterday morning the sun was odd too: distinctly red, and casting red sunbeams early in the day. By mid-morning we were getting yellow sunbeams out of a white sky. Over in Des Moines (the Seattle suburb, not the city in Iowa) the sun looked more like the design on the New Mexico flag, except a-symetrical.

Last night came a dim red moon, not visible at all early in the evening, but I think even redder in color.

All this is side-effect of the out-of-control wildfires burning elsewhere in the state, one of which actually jumped the Columbia River Gorge (quite a feat in itself). Every level surface has tiny flakes of ash scattered here and there; the amount of smoke particles in the air was enough to cool down the temperature a little yesterday, which was supposed to have hit the record for hottest day of the year, had the smoke in the air not mitigated it. Reminded me of the definite temperature drop at the time of the eclipse two weeks ago.

It's at times like this that I really begin to understand how the major meteor strike that set off the dinosaur extinction or the effects of a really major Krakatoa-level volcano eruption can produce effects so far away from the actual site of the event.

Here are two pictures, curtesy of Janice: first Monday night's moon and then Tuesday's sun.

--John R.
current reading: "Where the Tides Ebb and Flow" (1910)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Callooh, Callay

So, all the files for A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS are now in the publisher's hands. Between now and the book's release date I'll make posts here from time to time to keep folks updated on how things are going.

Meanwhile, here's a slightly earlier version of the Table of Contents, from the flyer distributed at Kalamazoo and Mythcon this summer: all the contents are the same as the final one that'll be appearing in the book but their ordering has been slightly rearranged and some of the essay titles have altered slightly.

Here's the link:

--John R.
current reading: "The Hoard of the Gibbelins" (1912)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Oh, Frabjous Day

So, today I made my first turnover on A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS. The first quarter of the book is now in the publisher's hands. Further developments to be posted as they occur.

--John R.
--not yet doing The Dance of Doneness but starting to warm up.

current reading: THE FIRST EMPEROR (coffeetable-size catalogue from the exhibition of Terracotta Warriors I saw in the British Museum in 2007 and then again here at the Seattle Center two weeks ago tomorrow. Interesting but unwieldy.
also, BREAKING CAT NEWS: THE BOOK by Georgia Dunn

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dunsany on taking down statues

So, the current fervor rising out of the events in Charlottesville remind me of a passage in one of Lord Dunsany's plays, IF (1922) -- a sort of MAN WHO WOULD BE KING story about the wild adventures that wd have befallen one man had a small event in his life played out differently.* To cut a long story short, instead of a respectable London businessman he winds up ruler of a small central-asian land, where he tries to impose British values on its v. non-British people, who much preferred their old ways.

In the scene I'm thinking of, our hero is busy doing  paperwork, interrupted from time to time as his most trusted servant brings in idols a few at a time. The Englishman examines each, proclaiming some good gods who can be restored to their temples and condemning the others as bad gods who must be destroyed.  When someone asks him his criteria for why some gods are permitted to remain while others are thrown into the river, he explains that the ones with rusty stains around their mouths are the ones fed human blood in ceremonial sacrifice: hence he purges all of these. At one point, however, he notices that his loyal servant seems uneasy about what they're doing. The servant explains in a quick little exchange that's stayed in my memory all these years:

Daoud: I am sad . . . when the old gods go

John: But they are bad gods, Daoud

Daoud: I am sad when the bad gods go

--John R.

 *(whether he did or didn't take a particular train on the Underground one specific day)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

I'm on Deadline

So, posts have been on the sparse side here the past few weeks, not because I didn't have anything to say but because I'm on deadline. Things shd clear up for me around the end of the month. Till then, I'll post when I can, because there's only so many hours a day I can work on one thing without overload.

And while I'm at it, apologies to those who sent in comments and didn't see them posted. Looks like they're once again going to a side mailbox I check  on an irregular basis, when they shd be going direct to my email. I've just put up the comments that had stacked up, belatedly. For the future I'll just work it into my daily routine to check that Comments mailbox so Comments can go up right away. Sorry about that.

--John R.
current reading: THE BLACK GONDOLIER by Fritz Leiber (half of a two-volume set of his collected horror stories) and a coffee-table book on the Easter 1916 Irish Uprising (picked up at the Marquette bookstore last year but not read till now because it's so unwieldy.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday Cat Walking (8/16-17)

After missing three weeks, I was able to get back in today and walk four out of five cats.

I started out with newcomer PUTT-PUTT, since it sounds from all accounts as if the other cats have been giving him a hard time. He took to it amazingly well, and was brave and curious, exploring all round. Anytime he saw people, he made his way directly over to them and rubbed their legs and asked for some petting. He made a lot of friends out there. His favorite bits, I’d say, were the cricket (who I’m glad to say got away), the catnip toys (which he found on the shelf and wanted to take home with him), and all the attention. He watches dogs carefully but isn’t particularly afraid of them. What a great cat.

AVRY was next, since she loves walking but sometime refuses to come out of her cage if the other cats go out first (I think it’s a pecking order thing). Even though she wasn’t quite first in line, I’m not sure she noticed, being up high on a top ledge the whole time Putt-Putt was out of his cage. As usual she poked about, rubbing her chin on everything (to mark it as her territory, I assume). She did her usual dance in and out among the little stools over in the training room. 

TRIS I didn’t walk but instead put atop the bins, where she happily sprawled, perfectly willing to play any string game or game with the laser pointer I cd offer. She also thought a whiff of catnip was quite nice.

CHESTER came next, since it was clear from reports that he’s been going a bit stir-crazy since his un-adoption and return. To my surprise, he had less confidence than the last time (four weeks ago, but still). He wanted to hang out near the cat-room, lying down and welcoming attention but not wanting to move about much. A lot of people did come up and pet him.

Our other new cat (new to me anyway), OBI, may have been asking to go out on previous shifts, but he had second thoughts once actually out there. He got spooked by store racket (bad luck there) and climbed up to perch on my shoulders. Each time I got him down, he went right back up again, so I wound up cutting his walk short. While we were waiting for an employee to bring a key he lay down in front of the room, where he welcomed petting from three little girls (the oldest of whom was seven). 

What Obi really liked best was the box with catnip in the bottom, which he and Chester circled round and round towards the end of my shift. They wd willingly have spent more time with it, but after staying an extra half-hour I had to wrap things up. I’ll try to remember to bring it back in next week, with some fresh catnip.

No health issues, but Putt-Putt did discover the fake grass over near the aquariums and had to be disuaded from nibbling them; he (and some of the others as well) might enjoy some real cat-grass.


UPDATE 8/17: Got the great news that OBI was adopted on THursday and is now in his new home. Chester will miss his little buddy but it'll be great for Obi to have a family of his own.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


So, I've now finished the new Clark Ashton Smith collection from Centipede Press, CHRONICLES OF AVEROIGNE, assembled and edited by Ron Hilger. I'd gotten this about a month ago but hadn't plunged in right away, having been somewhat put off by the art, which didn't do much for me, and editorial comments that made this seem a Lin Carter love-fest.

Now that I've read this all the way through, I found that the excellence of the stories drew me in. And while expensive I have to say it is a real pleasure to hold in the hand a well-bound book, with good quality paper and a cover ("boards"), esp when I took off the dust jacket and only put it back on when I was finished.

I'm glad to finally get all the Averoigne stories together in one volume (which will partially replace the photocopy assemblage I made for myself years ago that's had to serve till now).  Not only are these particular favorites of mine but, as I've said elsewhere, I think this the best story-cycle by Smith, the most brilliant of the WEIRD TALES school; the man who cd out-Lovecraft Lovecraft.*

That said, there were things I found off-putting about this collection.

First off, the first story in the book isn't an Averoigne tale at all but a Poe pastiche different in setting, period, and tone. For me it really set the wrong note.

Second, each story is preceded and followed by a Smith poem.** I'm still undecided about the merits of Smith's poems (let's say the jury is out on that one for now). In this case, while I see the effect they were aiming for, I think these interlinear pieces fail to achieve it. I'd have preferred that they instead inserted in their appropriate places the outlines Smith left behind for three more ultimately unwritten stories in the cycle, as 'legends of Averoigne' or some similar framework. For one thing, this wd have given them a better volume-opener ("The Oracle of Sadoqua",  a tale involving Smith's own Great Old One, Tsthuggua), set in Roman times, than "The Maker of Gargoyles" (chronologically the earliest story in the series).

I'm also puzzled why the editorial material, particularly the Afterword, make so much of Lin Carter, whom they honor as the person who thought of this collection years ago. That's true enough, though to my mind he's the person who had the chance to published this collection back in the early seventies and blew it. The Afterword also devotes much space to arguing that this collection is the closest thing we'll ever get to a Clark Ashton Smith novel (to which I say: not very).

Still: it's good to have this collection at last. I'm still grateful to Tom Moldvay's work for first introducing me to Smith's Averoigne stories. And I'm still v. much looking forward to the book of Smith's art (drawings, paintings, sculpture) that shd be out sooner rather than later, also from Centipede Press

--John R.

current reading: a pair of slim (Osprey) books on the Irish revolution and subsequent Irish Civil War (for background to better understand Dunsany's unfortunate experiences therein).***

current music: Glen Campbell's "Wm Tell Overture" (the man sure cd play guitar). R.I.P. to a fellow Arkansan.

*I've given my own opinion of Smith's Averoigne tales elsewhere (in my CLASSICS OF FANTASY piece on said stories),  so here'll I'll just note a few things about this specific collection.

**except the last poem, which is by Lovecraft and about CAS and Averoigne.

***which included having been shot in the head. 1916 was a really bad year for Lord D.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Feanor is gone

December 2002 - August 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017


So, a few days ago I came across something I'd been looking for since I noticed a few months ago that it'd been misplaced: my copy of an unpublished GREYHAWK novel, A THIEF IN THE TOMB OF HORRORS, by Simon Hawke (1996). Back in the day at TSR, I was asked to make a reader's report on this, since I was editing Bruce Cordell's RETURN TO THE TOMB OF HORROR at the time, to point out any disconnect between the two.* Hawke has gone on to publish many more books, and eventually TSR published an entirely different book on Acererak's Tomb by Keith Strohm (THE TOMB OF HORRORS, in 2002) as part of its short-lived GREYHAWK line. I can't share the novel itself, but I thought some might be interested in my reader's report.

Notes on A Thief in the Tomb of Horror

   Hawke seems shaky on game mechanics -- thus he has the clerics of Atanis casting fireballs after the escaping thief (p. 50) and wavers back and forth over whether Acererak was a wizard or cleric (most of the time referring to him as a "warlord cleric" -- cf. p. 139 but having him cast clearly wizardly spells). Dariene's "leap" spell is clearly dimension door; why give it a different name? He also treats the Drow as patriarchal -- Dariene's father is their "chieftain" (p. 282 and elsewhere) -- whereas from their first appearance they've been described as matriarchal, an amazonian culture if ever there was one.
   His treatment of the tomb was pretty close to the original for the first eighty pages or so, after which it begins to diverge. The last 150 pages or so bear no relation to Gygax's original at all. Among Hawke's additions are multiple levels, multiple tombs (in different but overlapping dimensions), teleportals that suck whole passageways clean, planar portals to various etherial planes (all unpleasant), vast caverns, and a Scrooge-McDuck-style hoard as the final treasure. The monsters are new too: the stalkers (a key element throughout the adventure), the killer tribbles, vampire fairies, six-tongue, and Rodents of Unusual Size. Finally, his treatment of Acererak as a hooded, robed figure who stalks around the tomb zapping people instead of a static demilich is utterly unlike the original characterization.
   All in all, I liked it best when it was good and claustrophobic (roughly the first third), before the thief picked up companions and it turned into a standard dungeoncrawl with all the usual cliches, right down to the wicked woman getting hers in the end (cf. Into the Void, Test of the Twins, Feathered Dragon, etc.). Still, there were good touches -- Dariene's point of view is consistent throughout, and it's refreshing to have an evil character who doesn't rant all the time. I also like the engineer's point of view (p. 119), and the whole treatment of the mosaic passage with its distractions (until the portal opened). I'd have loved to see a character die by literally drowning in treasure in the final cavern (p. 279), sucked down in a pile of shifting gold coins like quicksand. And if Roland were going to be given companions, it'd be more fun to start with ten characters and whittle them down bit by bit, like Ten Little Indians, until there was only him left. Too late for that approach, though.
   All in all, strikingly different from Bruce's treatment in the sequel to the adventure. Maybe should cover the discrepancy, both to the classic adventure and to the concurrent sequel, by changing the epilogue somewhat to reflect that this is the sort of story Roland told after he'd escaped, rather than what actually happened inside? Unless that'd undercut the book too much.
   By the way, real collectors never polish coins (p. 304), since that destroys their value. But the idea works very well in the narrative, so shouldn't change it.

--John R.

In the end, Hawke's book was never published (probably because of TSR's collapse rather than its shortcoming). I used the 'ten little indians' idea in my art order for RETURN TO THE TOMB, though I don't know it anyone noticed: the adventure art starts with a party of ten adventures, whom we see getting killed one by one as the adventure progresses. 

One final note: while preparing this post I was bemused to discover that there's an entry for this book up on amazon, complete with prototype cover art: 

From this I learn that the book was projected to be a hardcover (!) of 352 pages, with a release date of April 1997. Little did they know.

--John R.
current reading: THE FOOD OF THE GODS by H. G. Wells (Kindle)

*my work on that excellent project being cut short when I was laid off during TSR's meltdown at the end of 1996. Steve Winter took over the project, I think after the buy-out and move to Renton, but it may have been during the long months between when TSR ceased releasing any new product but the were kept together as a unit and when they were bought out and shipped west.

Monday, July 24, 2017

C. S. Lewis at Marquette (a road not taken)

So, I was reminded recently of the role happenstance plays in history. It's no secret but I don't think particularly well known that when Marquette bought the Tolkien Papers in the late 1950s the librarian responsible, Wm Ready, got the idea of buying C. S. Lewis's library as well, and also the late Charles Williams' papers, and asked his English agent, Bertram Rota, to sound out Lewis and the Williams estate.

Obviously, nothing came of these efforts. We don't know the reasons why, though it's interesting to speculate. Both Williams and Lewis were strongly identified with the Anglican Church; did the fact that Marquette was Catholic (in fact Jesuit) influence their decision? In Lewis's case at least he was only sixtyish and had just recently taken up his professorship at Cambridge, where all concerned expected him to stay for a good decade or so to come until his health broke down prematurely a year or two after he turned sixty. That being the case, he'd have wanted to keep his academic library intact for his own use. By the time of his forced retirement due to ill-health in mid-1963 the moment had obviously passed: Marquette had by this time fully stocked its new Memorial Library and Ready had moved on to other projects.

In the end, the Williams papers came to Wheaton many years later, in the '70s. Lewis's correspondence and what survive of his papers form not one but two collections, one at Wheaton and the other in the Bodleian.*  His library was scattered after his death, though a portion of it was later re-assembled and is now at Wheaton.**

Still, it's nice to think of might-have-beens, in which Lewis's library cd have remained intact and come to the same place as Tolkien's manuscripts.

--John R.

*both collections  made the admirable and v. sensible decision to share their holdings, so that photocopies of material at one are available to researchers at the other.

**even Lewis's letter to a Marquette professor, Victor Hamm, back in the '40s, discussing the latter's review of PERELANDRA, is now at Wheaton.

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.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Dunsany's New Book (THE GHOST IN THE CORNER)

So, the first thing to say is that as a fan of Dunsany's work, I'm very glad to have THE GHOST IN THE CORNER, a collection of some fifty new stories by Lord D. ("new" as in previously uncollected, and in a few cases unpublished), edited by Martin Andersson and S. T. Joshi and just published by Hippocampus Press.

This joins THE LAST BOOK OF JORKENS (2002), THE GINGER CAT & other plays (2005), and PLEASURES OF A FUTUROSCOPE (2003, Dunsany's last novel) as a string of previously uncollected and/or unpublished Dunsany books finally published in recent years, long after the author's death. GHOST IN THE CORNER is particularly interesting in that Joshi & Andersseon say that the section making up the final two-thirds of their own collection was assembled by Dunsany himself as a book in 1956, but he failed to find a publisher. It seems likely, then, that herein we have what Dunsany intended to be his final book.

As a Dunsany scholar, a fan and admirer of his work, I’m v. glad to have THE GHOST IN THE CORNER. Most of these stories I’ve known about and had in photocopy form, but it’s much nicer (easier to read, more accessible) to have them collected into book form.  So Joshi & Anderssen have done us all a good turn here.

That said, I’m one of those who thinks Dunsany’s great work virtually all came in the first decade and a half of his career.  So I see this collection as minor work by a major author — and by major, I mean the finest fantasy short story writer in the language, bar none. But I think he lost his ability to write such stories around 1916 and that this collection shows the degree to which he'd written himself out in the final years of his career. It's as if they were to put out a Tolkien collection made up mostly of Tinfang Warbles.

I do think there are three top-rate stories in this new collection: The Story of Tse Gah (his own take on the Dalai Lama), The Traveller to Thundercliff (the gem of the lot; a deliberate attempt to return to his early style), and At the Scene of the Crime, the last of which (one of his better mysteries) is new to me.  

—John R.
current reading/viewing: various M. R. James short stories.

UPDATE: In the original version of this post I included the line "Unfortunately Anderssen & Joshi nowhere provide the intended title of that erstwhile collection: presumably they don't have this information themselves, though they don't actually say so either way". That was an error on my part. In fact, Joshi and Andersson state clearly in their introduction (THE GHOST IN THE CORNER, page 10) that they do not know what name Dunsany intended. Thanks to Doug A. for drawing this to my attention. --JDR, 7/9-17

Friday, July 7, 2017

Giants in the Earth

So, over the holiday weekend I dug out a cassette tape I thought  had Taum Santoski's talk from the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference on it. It turned out to be Clyde Kilby's guest-of-honor speech instead -- still something I'm v. glad to have but not what I was looking for.

At the end of Kilby's performance, however, Taum's voice comes on as he makes some announcements regarding the following (and final) day of the conference. In particular he calls out all the speakers giving presentations at the conference, and I found myself more and more impressed as the names roll by:

Jared Lobdell*

Karen Wynn Fonstad

Jim Allan

Lyle Dorsett

Mike Foster

Dr.  Blackwelder

Darrell Martin

Gary Hunnewell

Deborah Webster Rogers

Verlyn Flieger

Clyde Kilby.

Dr. Joseph McClatchy

Lester Simons

and Anders Stenstrom (his famous exopoemic/epipoemic/empoemic piece).

That's a lot of talent in one room at one time and place. And there were other luminaries besides the speakers: it was at this conference that I met Wayne Hammond, whom I immediately introduced to Richard West, feeling that Tolkien bibliographers shd get together when the occasion offered. And of course there was Taum himself, just at that point starting to come into his own as a Tolkien linguist and resident expert in the Tolkien manuscripts at Marquette.

All these years later, some are gone (Kilby, McClatchy, Fonstad, Dr. Blackwelder, Lester, Taum himself). A surprising number are still with us thirty-eight years later, many still deeply involved in Tolkien scholarship. It was a smallish conference, but I think it played an important role in bringing together Tolkien scholars who'd been working largely in isolation and creating a kind of critical mass, the effects of which are still with us today, and in a good way.

--John R.
current reading: "Fragments of the Epic Cycle" (so that's where Lin Carter got it all from).

*whose keynote speech helped introduced the ideas of Tom Shippey to an American audience

Heyerdahl Would Be Proud

\So, thanks to Janice for sharing the link to this story about a traditional Polynesian craft sailed by Hawaiians that just completed a circumnavigation of the world:

I like that they took their time, and particularly like the part about asking permission from the local indigenous people wherever they went.

I found this all the more interesting because of my lifelong interest in Thor Heyerdahl, whom I first read along about sixth grade and whose books I read and re-read for years thereafter: KON-TIKI, AKU-AKU, THE RA EXPEDITION.

In more recent times, I was much taken with Geoffrey Irwin's book THE PREHISTORIC EXPLORATIONS AND COLONISATION OF THE PACIFIC (highly recommended), which I first found in the Kent library and later tracked down my own copy of. I came away from Irwin's book persuaded that he was in the right about the Polynesian exploration and settlement of the Pacific as purposeful: carefully planned and skillfully carried out, not a matter of setting out in a random direction and hoping for the best.*

I find myself curious as to what Heyerdahl wd make of this just-completed epic voyage, carried out v. much in the Heyerdahlian manner. On the one hand, he was the great champion who argued that we deeply underestimate prehistoric peoples, many of whom he held to be highly skilled boatmen capable of long voyages across the sea -- whether from Peru to Tahiti (Kon Tiki) or the Mediterranean to the Caribbean (The Ra). And on the other hand, his strongly-held personal thesis was that the Pacific was settled from the east, not the west.** That is, that the peoples of Easter Island &c were descended at least in part (culturally as well as biologically) from explorers who came from the Pacific coast of North and especially South America -- an argument that's now been not so much disproven as rendered moot.

On a personal note, Heyerdahl was one of my heroes for trying to actually find out if his theories were possible by practical experimentation in the field. I cd no longer accept Von Daniken and other 'unsolved mystery' types about the heads of Easter Island, for example, after reading Heyerdahl (AKU-AKU), who showed how the statues were carved, how they were moved, and how they were set up once in position, complete with top-knots. There's also a Tolkien connection, albeit a tenuous one, in that Allen & Unwin was Heyerdahl's publisher. Just was THE LORD OF THE RINGS was A&U's big hit of the 1950s, their great hit of the decade before Tolkien had been KON-TIKI. In fact, the one time I got to meet Joy Hill, she had a copy of one of Heyerdahl's ships (either the RA or, more likely, the TIGRIS) on her mantle, a gift she said from Heyerdahl, who'd become a friend of hers in the course of their dealings at Allen & Unwin.

--John R.

*his chapter on the early (30,000 BC) movements by ship from mainland asia to New Guinea and Australia was particularly interesting --mostly predicated on whether you cd see where you wanted to get to from where you were -- and possibly apropos of arguments re. the early (pre-Clovis) settlement of the Americas.

**I have, but have not read, a copy of his massive tome AMERICAN INDIANS IN THE PACIFIC (Allen & Unwin, 1953) -- though looking at it now I see he includes material on native peoples from near where I now live, like the Makah and Salish.