Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mithlond Books for 2010

So, the Sunday before Christmas our book group, Mithlond (officially a Discussion Group of the Mythopoeic Society) got together for our annual pick-more-books meeting. We had a good turn out and an enjoyable discussion, and even had a first-time attendee who we hope will join us as a new member. Over tea and a variety of snacks we picked books to read at our monthly meetings throughout the new year. We may swap around some titles as the year goes on, but given last year's example* we probably will get to most if not all of these in 2010. So here's the list:

January: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

February: PRINCE CASPIAN movie

March: THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan

April: PARADISE LOST by John Milton

May: TALES OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR by Katherine Kurtz et al

June: THE SUMMER TREE by Guy Gavriel Kay

July/August: summer break

September: WICKED by Gregory Maguire

October: ERAGON by Christopher Paolini

November: The Tale of Beren & Luthien; The Tale of Turin (from THE SILMARILLION)

December: pick books for 2011.

We meet the third Sunday of every month, so if you find yourself in the Seattle area let me know if you'd like to join in the fun.

--John R.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our Christmas Eve Tradition

So, today we were both off work so we were able to indulge in what has, over the past few years, become our Christmas Eve tradition. Today's one of our feast days, when we depart from our usual low-carb (Atkins) diet and feel free to eat whatever we want. After a pleasant breakfast at Wild Wheat, our favorite local (Kent) restaurant, we drove over to the park-&-ride in Tukwila and took the new SoundTransit train all the way to the end of the line, Westlake Station. This being our third trip on the new train, we are now confirmed fans of Seattle's new, long-overdue, mass transit.

From the downtown station we walked the few blocks over to the Pike Place Market, where we proceeded to poke about for the next few hours, enjoying some street food in the process. Among the places we visited were Mersker's Maps, where I bought not one but two moon-calendars* and looked over some maps of England and Ireland, thinking ahead to our next trip over there in a few years (two & a half years & counting) and trying to find the Bilbo river (in Ireland) and village of Bilbo (in Scotland) I'd recently read about. We also visited Quality Cheese, where we picked up my favorite English cheeses: Cheshire and Double Gloucester and Wensleydale, plus a little St. Andre for variety,** then Frank's produce, where we got a selection of vegetables & fruit, our contribution to Christmas Day dinner. Other stops included Mee Sum for some crab rangoon and sesame balls, Becher's Cheese for some of their signature macaroni and cheese, and a brief stop for a cup of tea apiece (yunnan) at the Perennial Tea Room in Post Alley. Also adding to the experience were a lot of good-humored people, quite a few buskers, and an annoying mime dressed like a Michael Jackson robot. The strangest instrument I saw was a bassoon -- I've never seen a busker with a bassoon before, and had some interest in this as a fellow woodwindist, but he was just setting up when we walked by so I have no idea how good he was or what he played. About the only busker I didn't chip in a bit for was the one with the ukelele singing one of my least favorite songs.

That evening there was cooking (cut corn on my part), and the next day much enjoyment at a Christmas gathering at a friend's (friends') house, where we got to see both folks we hardly ever see except at gatherings like this and others we see almost every game night.

The day after that was uneventful, which was nice, and ended in a well-attended Call of Cthulhu session (seven investigators), the second scenario in a Miskatonic campaign I'm running. They played well and were all alive and sane when we broke for the night; we'll see if their luck holds in the second session, which will probably be this weekend.

And, after that, I was strickened with a cold that's laid me low for days -- hence the lag in postings. All better now, I hope.

--John R.

current anime: SCHOOL RUMBLE (season two), EL CAZADOR DE LA BRUJA

*the link to this product is here ( ), but the image shown doesn't do justice to how neat this poster-calendar is: each day is represented with an image of the moon in its appropriate phase, and all 365 days are shown at the same time. Ours hangs on the landing by the window through which we can watch the moonrise when it's full or gibbous.

**the St. Andre, mysteriously enough, was nowhere to be found when we got home. I hope whoever found it wherever it wound up enjoyed it; shame if it went to waste.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eric Woolfson dies

So, thanks to Jim Lowder (thanks Jim) I learned last week that Eric Woolfson died earlier this month (December 4th) at the age of 64. Better known as Alan Parsons' partner, co-founder of The Alan Parsons Project and co-writer with Parsons of all ten of the group's albums, he was a driving creative force behind one of my all-time favorite groups and helped them create some of the finest concept albums rock music has to offer (I ROBOT, TALES OF MYSTERY & IMAGINATION, PYRAMID, and possibly TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD and EYE IN THE SKY as well).*

Starting with their fifth album, he also sang one or more songs on most of their later albums,** including "Time", "Eye in the Sky", "Don't Answer Me", and "Separate Lives". Since going their separate ways (after GAUDI [1987], Parsons has put out four new albums, one of which (ON AIR) is good enough not just to have been an Alan Parson Project album but to have ranked among their best, while Woolfson drifted more into writing musicals and, recently, revisiting past glories. Of his three solo albums, by far the best (and the only one to feature Parsons) is the first, FREUDIANA [1990], an eccentric collection of songs from the points of view of Freud's various patients.*** The outstanding song here is "Upper Me" (which for years I thought was called "The Other Me"), though "Funny You Should Say That" and "You're On Your Own" have their appeal. If you wondered what an Alan Parsons album would sound like with Leo Sayer and Kiki Dee joining the usual suspects (like Chris Rainbow and John Miles, both of whom are also present), here's your answer: surprisingly enough, it works.

The same cannot be said of POE: MORE TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION [2003], which attempts to revisit the Project's first and most ambitious album with a 'part two' -- but most of the songs here have nothing to do with Poe; "Murders in the Rue Morgue" recaptures the goofy charm of "Funny You Should Say That", but only "The Pit and the Pendulum" is worthy to have been included on the old album. By far the best song is "Train to Freedom", which manages to capture a faux-spiritual vibe somehow.

And just earlier this year I got his latest, rather awkwardly titled ERIC WOOLFSON SINGS THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT THAT NEVER WAS [2009], where he re-records some of songs from MORE TALES along with some rejects from Alan Parsons Project days and newer songs he said would have been on Project albums had the Project not disbanded some twenty years before. Despite its name, this is most emphatically not a genuine Alan Parsons Project album -- for one thing, it lacks any input from Alan Parsons. For another, it lacks one of the hallmarks of the Project and part of their appeal: having a wide range of singers appear on the same album to have a contrast of voices and styles. Instead, all ten songs here are sung by Woolfson in his high, pleasant voice. No standouts at all, I'm afraid.

So, it seems unlikely we'd have gotten another good album out of Woolfson if he'd been spared (by contrast, even the latest and quirkiest Alan Parsons album still has one or two good pieces on it, like "More and More Lost Without You"). But it's sad to see the passing of someone who contributed so much to some of my favorite music. Many thanks, and Rest in Peace.

--John R.

*although my favorite concept album, bar none, remains TARKUS by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer [1971].

**thirteen in all, by my count, over the course of five albums.

*** I owe my discovery of this one to Rich Baker, who loaned me a cassette of it back in our early days together at TSR; it took me the better part of a decade to find the cd (which had to be imported from Germany); Woolfson's later albums I had to order directly from his website.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Visitors (Hawk & Swans)

So, Sunday we were rather surprised to see a hawk in the maple tree outside our dining room/kitchen. Clearly it'd noticed our finch feeder and suet feeder and interpreted this as a buffet for a hungry hawk (not that there are any other kind). Unfortunately for it, word had obviously gotten out and all the finches, chickadees, juncos, red-wing blackbirds, and less frequent visitors had all made themselves conspicuous by their absence. The hawk stayed a good half-hour, for a good bit of which it repeated the somewhat strange behavior of puffing out its wings over and over. I thought perhaps it'd been injured, but Janice was reminded of the way the hawks at the raptor exhibit at the zoo fluff out their feathers to cover prey once they've got it. Perhaps it was anticipating in hopeful fashion, perhaps it was just staying warm. In any case, the only bird it saw was our resident hummingbird, whom I've recently dubbed Goliath (who spent the whole of a bitterly cold week sitting on the dowel beside his feeder, scanning the sky for rivals -- whom I've collectively given the name 'Godot'). Goliath didn't hide but simply got higher up in the same tree as the hawk to monitor the situation, apparently feeling confident that he cd outfly any hawk that didn't get the drop on him. I daresay he's right.

And then, yesterday as I was coming home, I noticed four large white birds in the nearby lake that gives The Lakes their name. It was dusk and I cd only see them briefly as I drove by, but they looked like swans to me -- it might just be possible that they were white geese, but from the way they towered over the ducks they were swimming among I thought not. Then today I saw them again -- except this time there were ten in all. I pulled over and walked back to have a better look: despite the distance, my bad eyesight, and the fading light there was no doubt. I'm didn't know swans were gregarious -- I'd always thought them fiercely territorial, but maybe when they migrating the flock together. Now I'm hoping they stay around for a few days so Janice gets a chance to see them.

In the words of Fats Waller, it just goes to show: one never knows, do one?

--John R.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

How Would Gollum Vote?

So, here's an odd one -- a love/hate self-debate on the Senate health care bill expressed in Gollum fashion, Stinker vs. Slinker. Just another sign of Tolkien's ubiquity as part of our culture, with his characters becoming as familiar as Ebenezer Scrooge or Doctor Watson.

If, like Janice, you'd prefer not to hear more about the health care debate after all these months, better to stop after the opening paragraphs under the following link.

Amusing in a different way was this post a few days back by Viggo Mortensen, who played Strider in the LotR movies but who turns out to have totally internalized Tolkien's message that it's the little people, not the great kings, who really matter, the small hands that turn the wheels of the world:

--John R.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Billboard

So, recently I came across a mention of a deliberately controversial billboard put up by a liberal Anglican church (St. Matthew-in-the-City) in Auckland, New Zealand. It's not so much the billboard itself, which was both funny and extremely disrespectful of Joseph and Mary, that's interesting as has been the response to it. Within hours it'd been defaced, and the comments about it on their website, while including thanks from a few who found its challenge to Biblical literalism* thought-provoking, was dominated by vicious denunciations by self-identified Xians from around the world, not just of the image but specifically of the pastor (which in turn sparked a fair number of smug, condescending responses from Skeptical Inquirer-types). I find it fascinating that people who think they're Xian have no problem putting up controversial signs and billboards all around the country that present their views in the most gruesome, graphic, and in-your-face terms, yet explode in a fit of indignation when anyone who holds a contrary view presents it in the same formats. Or, in this case, the vehemence of those who believe, in contradiction of the Gospels, that Joseph and Mary never consummated their marriage.

At any rate, if you'd like to see an image of the billboard (before it was vandalized), and also to hear the accompanying sermon, or skim over some of the (many, many) comments, here's the link. I'd advise not clicking on it, though, if you're easily offended by irreverent religious cartoons:

Somewhat less controversially, tied to this is a second story about the ongoing collapse of Xianity in England: the number of people who identify themselves as Xians is now just over half the population, and of that half less than a quarter (23%) are Anglicans (that is, about 12-13% of the total population). For a church that used to be mandatory for all English, that's quite a fall, and helps explain much of the turmoil

Lucky for us that Madison won his war to prevent us from having any Established church over here (though he failed in his effort to make churches pay tax like everyone else). And yet the recent move to bar someone who wrote a book blasting Billy Graham from serving as a city councilman in Asheville North Carolina is a reminder that the fights of the 'founding fathers' are never really over.

--John R.
*e.g., the idea that God is white, male, has a beard, and lives in the sky. actually, I must say the explanations by the folks behind the poster show they have as little idea what Biblical literalists believe as vice-versa.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

C. S. Lewis College

So, thanks to a posting on the MythSoc list today, I learned about plans to launch "C. S. Lewis College" on the campus of what is currently the Northfield Mount Hermon school in Northfield, Massachusetts* -- a place with no CSL connection (but then Wheaton, home of the Wade Center, had no Lewis connection before Kilby started the Center there, and that's worked out really well for everyone concerned). The campus was originally founded back in the 1870s by Dwight Moody (of Moody Bible Institute fame) as a seminary for young women --ironic, given Lewis's contempt for women's higher education. This new venture is a curious joint venture between the C. S. Lewis Institute, run by Stanley Mattson,** and Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City based arts & crafts store, who are bankrolling the purchase. The college will be non-denominational Xian ("Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants of all kinds") and focus on a 'Great Books' approach (a la Bloom or Adler); they hope to have the college up and running for the Fall 2012 semester.

The main announcement is here (the gravestones you see at the start of the little film turn out to belong to Dwight Moody and his wife):

For more details about their plans for the college, check here:

And for a nice set of photos of what turns out to be a v. pleasant campus, set alongside the Connecticut River, see here:

--John R.

*Northfield is in north-central Massachusetts, not far from the fictional Dunwich.

**the same people who own the Kilns, CSL's old home outside of Oxford, which they run as a sort of Xian boarding house; for more on the C. S. Lewis Institute & their work, see

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Evil Emanating (Tolkien on Ireland)

So, occasionally Tolkien gets quoted as saying something that strikes me as downright weird. Usually when I come across one of these, I back up and read the context, whereupon I see what he's getting at, and most of the apparent oddity goes away. But sometimes that's not an option.

Case in point: recently for a piece I've been working on, I went back to one of Tolkien's statements we don't know first hand, or even second hand, but only third hand. I first learned about it from a quote in Marjorie Burns' excellent book PERILOUS REALMS, in which she quotes George Sayer as saying the following about "[Tolkien's] reaction to the Irish landscape":

"In a 1979 transcription of a discussion
on J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis,
George Sayer tells a remarkable story
about Tolkien describing Ireland as
'naturally evil.' He could 'feel,' Sayer relates,
'evil coming up from the earth,
from the peat bogs, from the clumps of trees,
even from the cliffs, and this evil
was only held in check by the great
devotion of the southern Irish
to their religion.' "
--Burns, PERILOUS REALMS, page 19*

Unfortunately, as I said, we don't have any place where Tolkien himself wrote down anything like this, at least not that I know of. Nor did Sayer ever put this in his books or one of his memoirs, that I've been able to find. Our sole source for this seems to be a three-way discussion between Sayer, Humphrey Carpenter, and Clyde Kilby that took place at Wheaton in September 1979 -- and, just to complicate things a little further, no copy of the original audiotape of the event seems to survive, only a transcription published in a fanzine a few months later (the January 1980 issue of MINAS TIRITH EVENING STAR).

So there it is: a striking statement, entirely devoid of context, which we only have by a somewhat indirect route. No way to tell how serious Tolkien was when he said it, or how accurately our third-hand record of it represents his thought. But intriguing nonetheless.

--John R.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The New Arrivals: The Tolkien Collector

So, yesterday's mail brought the welcome sight of a well-stuffed packet from Christina Scull which, when opened, turned out to include not one but two new issues of THE TOLKIEN COLLECTOR (#29 & #30). The first covers new* and re-released books by Tolkien and new books about him, while the second is mainly devoted to translations and an extensive piece by Steven Frisby.

In her editorial, Christina talks about their decision not to collect e-books, including the recent & ongoing release of Tolkien's books in e-format: "Sooner or later, limits of money or space force most collectors to redefine the parameters of what they collect. Wayne and I . . . love books as physical objects as much as for their contents, and do not plan to collect e-books if we can help it". She also discusses the death of Pauline Baynes last year and the transfer of Baynes' sketches and working library to Williams College.

I've been a subscriber since issue one, and looking through this digest I always find things I'd not heard about before -- including, this time, the separate publication of the first chapter of THE HOBBIT by itself as a little booklet in 2003. It's also interesting to see how, having been translated into the major European languages, THE HOBBIT is now working its way into an array of less-widely-spoken languages such as Breton, Basque, Georgian, and Luxembourgese, among others, as well as major Mid-Eastern languages like Arabic and Persian (two separate versions).

The books about Tolkien section also rewards the reader: I was unaware that David Collins' young-adult biography of JRRT came in two distinct versions (1992 & 2005), the latter having been re-written by a third party to its detriment. And it would certainly have saved me shelf-space if I'd known ahead of time that Stratford Caldecott's two books SECRET FIRE and THE POWER OF THE RING are actually the same book under two different titles, with the latter having an additional eight-page appendix about the films.

The main interest of issue 30 for most will be Frisby's essay, written in 2003 and finally published here in its entirety, explaining in great detail how to distinguish between the various early printings of THE HOBBIT. This is exactly the sort of thing the late Dr. Blackwelder, who assembled a collection that had every printing of all the Ballantine JRRT paperbacks he cd find, would have loved.

In short, both issues live up to the high standards of the journal's entire run. If you like this sort of thing, you'll be all the happier to get a double-dose at once.


*for example, SIGURD & GUDRUN alone accounts for four separate entries

Tyndarus House?

So, recently I've been reading Greek tragedies (SEVEN AGAINST THEBES, THE CYCLOPS) and Roman comedies (THE CAPTIVES, THE HAUNTED HOUSE), filling in some of the gaps from the last time I read Greek drama, when I took a class in classical lit. back as an undergrad (i.e., plays not assigned then that for one reason or another sounded interesting). Plautus' comedies really do turn out to be just like A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, except not as good (since it's a modern distillation of the whole genre), or THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (where Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, absolutely nailed it). But I was slightly bothered by one character's name, Tyndarus (usually abbreviated TYND in the Kindle version I was reading). It was only after I'd finished the play that it suddenly struck me how close this was to Tindalos, as in 'the Hounds of Tindalos'.

I don't know if 'Tindalos' was inspired by Tyndarus -- I can easily see Lovecraft, who was v. knowledgeable about classical authors (indeed, something of a prodigy), adapting it -- but this particular contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos came not by Lovecraft himself but his friend Frank Belknap Long in the story of the same name [1929], and I don't know much about Long's erudition (or lack thereof).

If the name Tyndarus* did inspire 'Tindalos', then it fits the pattern whereby Lovecraft seems to have derived the name Nyarlathotep from Dunsany's Mynarthitep (from "The Sorrows of Search", in Time & the Gods [1906]), rather than his taking over a real-world name like Nodens (whom he believed to have been a Titan) or Dagon (a non-classical deity).

On the other hand, anyone who's any good at making up names for imaginary places will inevitably make up some combination that resembles a real-world name, whether they're aware of it or not (there are only so many good combinations of consonants and vowels to go around). So the question becomes is this a name like Kor, which Tolkien borrowed from Haggard and put to his own use, or a name like Gondor, which Tolkien invented but which resembles both Twain's Gondour and the real-world city of Gondar in Ethiopia, neither of which seems to have been Tolkien's model**. I suspect it falls in the latter category, but the possibility of its being Long's actual source seemed interesting enough to be worth sharing.

--John R.

*rather than from this play, Long cd also have taken it from the rather more famous King Tyndareus, father of Helen of Troy and at least one of the Gemini Twins (Castor and Pollux).

**the name of The Kingdom of Stone was originally Ond, then Ondor, then finally Gondor in Tolkien's successive drafts.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

C. S. Lewis play comes to Seattle

So, thanks to my massage therapist*, I learned this week that a local Seattle theater company will be putting on a play based on C. S. Lewis's THE GREAT DIVORCE for about a month from late January to near the end of February, 2010.

The place in question is the Taproot Theatre, where we saw SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE by Earl Derr Biggers (better known for writing the six Charlie Chan novels) the year before last, though I'm not sure whether this will be put on by their usual cast and crew or a visiting group (the 'Magis Theatre'), nor whether it'll be in the same theatre where we saw the other play, given that their building was damaged by the Seattle arsonist not that long ago.**

For more about the play, go to the group's website ( and tap the sky-blue & white button "2010 Season"

or you can just click

The show will preview Jan 27th & 28th, followed immediately by their regular run, from Jan 29th thr Feb 27th. According to the taproot site, the play was adapted from CSL's original book by George Drance & the Magis Theatre. I don't know Drance's work, but there's a picture of the cast in costume on his website (see ); apparently Drance himself plays George MacDonald, the narrator's guide. The play has apparently been around since at least early 2007, given the following (brief) review dated Jan. 24th 2007:

We don't get to too many plays, but if I manage to see this one I'll try to make another post about how well they pulled it off.

More later (perhaps).

--John R.

*the talented Mr. John Jackson, who does an excellent job from time to time undoing some of the damage my work-all-day-on-the-laptop lifestyle does to my neck and shoulders:

**for pictures of the damaged theatre, see
For the news story about the presumed arsonist's arrest, see

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'A Milwaukee Adventure'

So, a few years back I surprised Janice with a few of the Harry Stephen Keeler reprints from Ramble House, a small press that started up to bring back into print some of the fantastically rare works by this most eccentric of mystery writers. But I never got around to reading any of these reprints myself until this past week.

The first, Kats I Have Known by O. O. Orange (i.e., Keeler), is a chapter [now reprinted as a booklet] he inserted in an otherwise unrelated novel (in which an imprisoned character has to read this essay in order to find a necessary clue to escape) -- one of Keeler's more notable odd practices as a writer. It's an amusing celebration of thirty cats he'd had during his life, from the one who had a pet turtle to the one who protested so vocally at being bathed that the police arrived, nightsticks in hand, to interrupt the foul murder they thought was being perpetrated within.

By contrast, the second, Adventure in Milwaukee is a 'novello' (as he called it; today it'd be called a novella) written in 1916 and then revised in 1922. It's fairly straightforward so far as Keeler goes: a missing brother, a stolen necklace, a monogrammed stiff collar, a mysterious woman on a train, a dashing would-be hero rather out of his depth, a hypnotist who died before making his volunteers wake up, blackmail, multiple mistaken identities, red herrings a-plenty, and much much more. But it's the capturing of a time and place that make it really stand out for me. Having lived in Milwaukee from 1981 to 1992 (and on its outskirts in Hales Corners for another two years after that before departing for the wilds of Delavan), I was fascinated by this glimpse into an earlier Milwaukee. Most of the places the narrator (a stranger in town, hailing from the apparently fictitious small Wisconsin town of Wauwaukauchee Lake, out past Oconomowoc*) visits were familiar to me, so that I could mentally trace his movements. Many were still there when I first arrived: Wisconsin Avenue and Broadway and East Water, Juneau park and Layton Avenue, Clybourn** and Greenfield and 26th street (which I was somewhat surprised to learn was already a run-down, dangerous neighborhood some seventy years before I briefly lived in it, by which time it had become part of The Core).

There were mental adjustments I had to make--the elm trees he mentions as lining 26th street are long gone, of course: my generation and all those younger have no idea what elm-lined streets look like. A few times I was puzzled by the route he was taking, but later I realized this was because my mental map included the interstates, which wd have destroyed many of the obvious surface-street connections from Keeler's time. More importantly, when he mentions catching the 'Wells car' west out Wisconsin, or the 'Oakland car' north to Park Place (on the upper East Side, the neighborhood in which resided the original of Prospero's house in THE FACE IN THE FROST, according to Jn Bellairs), he's not talking about hailing a cab --something he specifically does at another point, calling it a 'bonded carrier' ("bedraggled privately owned automobiles which operated for the nickels of the public") -- but streetcars, a system of which used to criss-cross the city*** (he describes them as "little faded yellow streetcars"). It's only when he has to venture out into West Allis, which he describes as covered with factories (rather than the residential area of my time), that he resorts to hired cars; presumably the public transportation didn't yet extend that far.

Some things had changed greatly between Keeler's time and mine: Gimbels was still a downtown institution when I arrived (I bought a few D&D modules and stray issues of DRAGON there!), but the old train station had already been demolished and replaced by an uninteresting grey shoebox of a Amtrak Station a mile or so to the west and several blocks south (the historic old station was later commemorated with one of the ugliest pieces of public art I've ever seen) and the Pabst Building, once a major local landmark, had been knocked down the year before I came to town, though it was still a familiar sight to me because its image was painted as a faux-'reflection' on a nearby building. The Southern Wisconsin Near-Beer Company, while fictional, sounded just the right note for the era, and I was rather interested to note the occasional nod towards Milwaukee's German flavor, which took a big hit during WWI (there were major anti-draft riots there). No hint of the xenophobia that gripped most of the nation here (e.g., when they made it illegal to play Beethoven): Keeler treats the various German landladies and innkeepers and would-be society figures as mildly comic, such as Herr Hummel, who runs the hotel his hero stays at, the Wisconsin Strasse Deutscher Gasthof.

Strikingly, Keeler never mentions the Milwaukee River without noting the stink, and at one point mentions "three ill-smelling, oily black canals" in what I think must now be the Menominee valley under the viaduct -- they'd cleaned up the river a good deal by the time I arrived, and around 1989 or so opened the floodgates on the Milwaukee itself, which quickly went from a wide, sluggish river to a much cleaner, swifter, more narrow river.

So, here's a little book I'd love to see the Milwaukee Historical Society reprint, with annotations and illustrations, as encapturing a bygone era.

--John R.
current book: THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley [2009]

*which is a real place. just so you know, if you're not from those parts.
**though it was surprising to hear an address near what would now be 35th & Clybourne described as a new-build area into which the city had obviously just expanded
***and still continued running into the fifties; my friend Jim Pietrusz still remembers the last of them from his childhood, by which point they had become rather bedraggled themselves through deliberate lack of maintenance.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tolkien's Will

So, having recently coming across the Wills of C. S. Lewis, Warnie Lewis, and Owen Barfield* made me want to go back and look at J. R. R. Tolkien's will again. I'd seen this about ten years ago but not been able to make a copy, so the details had become faded in my mind aside from the single most striking passage, and I wanted to get the exact wording of that.

I soon learned that it was available through the excellent Tolkien Shop (TolkienWinkle) in Holland**, who as usual have available the most amazing selection of out-of-the-way Tolkien items (it's not for nothing that their owner combines his Leiden shop with The Tolkien Museum). But since I don't do Paypal, payment turned out to be unexpectedly difficult. When combined with the shipping costs (which was more than the cost of the item itself) and an unfavorable exchange rate (grr), it turned out to be far more than I wanted to pay for a four-page photocopy.

Fall back to Plan B. I asked a friend in England if he could get it and then forward it to me, since it'd both be cheaper and less fuss that way. Turned out he had a much better idea (Plan C): why not just get it from the probate office? So he did -- one for himself and another for me, at a v. reasonable rate. And so a nice clean copy, beautifully embossed by the 'Seal of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice', arrived safely a little before Thanksgiving. [Thanks Charles!]

The Will itself is fairly simple and straightforward. Having been signed on the twenty-third of July 1973, only a few weeks before Tolkien's death (on Sept. 2nd), it would have replaced an earlier will.*** Aside from appointing his executors (his solicitor F. R. Williamson and sons Michael and Christopher, the latter of whom is also designated his Literary Executor) and stating his desire to be buried, the first part of the will is devoted to specific bequests:

--a thousand pounds to the Birmingham Oratory in memory of Fr. Francis (and the Fathers' kindness to JRRT after he was orphaned)
--five hundred pounds to Trinity College, which he hopes wd be used to help out a hard-up undergraduate****
--three hundred pounds to Exeter College
--two hundred pounds to Pembroke College
--two hundred pounds to David Havard, his godson
--a thousand pounds to Joan Baker, his granddaughter

He suggests the bequests to Exeter and Pembroke be used to buy some article of silver for their senior common rooms (which reminded me of the rings Shakespeare asked his friends to buy to remember him by). Exeter was of course his own college as an undergraduate, while Pembroke gave him his first Oxford professorship. I was a bit surprised to find Merton unmentioned, but assume he'd already made other arrangements there before his death.

According to the cover letter from the Probate Registry accompanying the will, his estate was valued at 190,577.60 pounds (gross), or 144,159.29 (net), and the tax bill came to 42,019.50 pounds. After asking that his personal effect be distributed among his family as his executors see fit, he sets up a trust with the remainder of his estate, to be shared equally among his children and their children after them. He also (wisely) urges the executors to keep his copyrights in the family if at all possible.

The one great exception to this are his 'literary assets' ("my library and all my manuscripts typescripts notes and all other articles connected with my work as an author"), which he entrusts (literally) to Christopher as Literary Executor, granting him the right to

"publish edit alter rewrite or complete any work of mine
which may be unpublished at my death or to destroy the whole
or any part or parts of any such unpublished works as he
in his absolute discretion may think fit and subject thereto"

Wow. That's quite a vote of confidence, saying Christopher could publish it, in whole or in part, or destroy it, in whole or in part. His father trusted his judgment, explicitly granting him permission to do whatever he thought right with the mass of manuscripts left in his keeping.

I'm glad he decided not to have one big bonfire, and that he devoted the next third of a century to sorting, transcribing, analyzing, and publishing so much of those papers. The world would be a poorer place if CT had followed the Mary Renault example.*****

--John R.

*** (cf. the Note to Letter #315 [January 1970], which mentions the trust he had set up for his children; there is also mention in an unpublished letter from the 1950s about his having willed his papers to the Bodleian)

****this concern for hard-up students was typical of Tolkien; cf. Jn Lawlor's account.

*****Renault had long-standing instructions to her partner that if she died leaving a work unfinished, her partner was to destroy it -- which she loyally did, despite the anguish it caused her and her personal opinion that the Arthurian novel Renault had half-finished was her best work.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Crows Ate My Pecan Pie

So, being a Southerner, love of pecan pie is part of my heritage. It's one of the things I really miss from before the low-carb Atkins days, and when I'm back home in Arkansas I try to go by the Magnolia Bake Shop and pick up at least one of their little (tart-sized) pecan pies. There are plenty of high-carb recipes that can be re-created in low (or at least lower) carb versions, but the corn syrup (=liquid sugar) plus the high-carb crust that make up two of the three essential ingredients of pecan pie had me stymied.

So, when Janice suggested I try it with Tupelo honey instead of corn syrup, I thought that had real possibilities. I made a low-carb (ground nut) crust, replaced the corn syrup that makes up the bulk of the pie with diabetic-friendly honey, and laid on the pecans on top with a generous hand. Since I wasn't sure how well the honey mixture would set compared with the corn syrup, I made them in tart form in little clear bowls rather than a whole pie (less messy to eat if it came out runny).

The results? Golden Honey Pecan Pie. Pretty good for a first effort: looked and tasted pretty much like pecan pie, but with a distinct dark yellow rather than brown coloration and an aftertaste of honey. So, discovery number one: it's possible to pull this off, though the recipe needs refining. Discovery number two: wow, these things are filling. Next time I should use smaller bowls (maybe the ramekins) so each individual serving is about half this size.

Unfortunately, having made them before Thanksgiving and then shortly afterwards being strickened with flu (which in my case mainly hit the stomach and, shall we say, digestion), I realized today that the two remaining ones have been sitting out on the counter for a week and a half. Having just recovered from stomach distress I didn't want to risk their having started to go bad, but just throwing them out seemed a pity. So, seeing how eager the birds have been the past few days for edibles in these first cold days of hard frost in the morning,* I decided to give them to our fine feathered friends (thinking that scavengers like crows wd have stomaches better suited to deal with any potential problems). First I pulled out all the pecans, washed them off, and chopped them up, thinking that these at least would be welcome. Then I scooped out the gooey center and crumbled ground-nut crust and decided why not? Put them on the other side of a little plate from the nuts and placed it on the ground out back beneath the suet feeder.

An hour later it was all gone. First came the chickadees and the juncos, but I also saw a flicker hanging round and, not long afterwards, a crow flying away from the empty dish. So I did the same with the second tart-pie. And sure enough, when I next checked back the little plate was bare once again.

And that's not even taking into account the goldfinches, juncos, chickadees, and red wing blackbirds (and yesterday a pigeon!) visiting the balcony itself. My work here is done.
For now.

--John R.

*just yesterday morning I'd been horrified to find little drops of frozen blood in the frost atop the balcony railing by our finch feeder. I assume the sudden frost of the night before had damaged one or more little bird's feet, though it seemed clear that whatever had been hurt had been able to move around a good deal. Also the two hummingbird feeders had been frozen, so I microwaved one a bit and cleaned out the other and filled it with fresh hummingbird juice (and was rewarded by seeing a hummingbird at it within a few minutes).
One good thing to come of this, though, was that I put out more finch food than usual to give them a little extra energy against the cold. Which meant I no longer had enough to make it all the way to the weekend. Which meant I had to drive over to Wild Birds Unlimited in Burien and buy some more Finch Mix, during which I got to pet their resident cat, Miss Millie.
On the way back, saw a hungry-looking hawk in a bare tree not too far from here, which made me wonder if on second thought the blood-drops might not have been from a raptor-strike at our feeder. No feathers though.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


So, friend Jeff today pointed out on GrubbStreet* that friend Wolf is the GEEK OF THE WEEK, according to the (late, lamented) Seattle P-I. Congratulations, Wolfgang.

All Hail the Monkey King!

--though I do wonder what that genetically altered algae might be up to now

Here's the link:


current reading: IMPEACHED: THE TRIAL OF ANDREW JOHNSON by David O. Stewart [2009]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

second fan-film released

So, nothing like the flu to make you down tools for a few days.

Better now, but still in the process of un-mushing my brain. In the absence of any more trenchant post, thought I'd pass along the news that they've just released the second fan-film by the folks behind THE HUNT FOR GOLLUM. This one, BORN OF HOPE, tells the story of Aragorn's parents. It's an hour long (though at some points it seems longer) and, simply judged as a piece of fan-fiction, is pretty impressive. The goal is clearly to look exactly like Peter Jackson's LotR films: introductory voiceover, makeup, soundtrack, and general look-and-feel are as much like Jackson's film trilogy as possible (if I read the credits right* they even got their armor from Weta Workshop). The plot of course comes from Appendix A, with the screenplay an impressive piece of pastiche -- most fan fiction doesn't really sound anything like the author being imitated, and most fan films (e.g., all but one of the Lovecraft adaptations I've seen) take over motifs from the original but fail to capture its style. Here they have the style down pat -- but it's not Tolkien's style but Jackson/Boyens/Walsh.

So, if you like this sort of thing, you'll like this example of it v. much. Production values are as high as I've ever seen in an amateur film, much of the photography is beautiful, and it might help tide film-trilogy fans over until the next dose of the real thing is available, still roughly two years off at this point.**

And for Tolkien scholars? Not much here, I'm afraid. The best character by far, and I'd also say the best performance, is the female ranger (and yes, her very presence tells you how far this is from anything Tolkien himself would have written) who in the closing credits turns out rather improbably to be named Elgarain. The story they've chosen to tell here is one Tolkien decided wasn't worth telling in full, but only in synopsis, so their challenge is to prove him wrong. That's a tall order, and I don't think they succeed. It's rather like when the great Kenneth Morris decided to tell, not the great myth of Quetzalcoatl but a story about his parents (THE CHALCHIUHITE DRAGON [circa 1930]). If not even a talent like Morris cd pull it off, I think the deck was pretty much stacked against these folks from the get-go. But it's a pretty impressive effort and, aside from the main character's death by stupidity (while acting entirely out of character, in order for things required by the plot to take place) I'd say it succeeds on its own terms.

If you're interested, here's the website and link to watch the film here:

At the v. least, I'm glad to have learned about 'West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village' near Bury St. Edmunds, a little re-creation of an Old English settlement the filmmakers used as the Dunedain's main town.


*hard to tell, since it kept quitting on me towards the end of the film.

**just today came some news that they've putting off the start of filming a bit while wrestling with the script for the second part, though they still hope to make the December 2011 release date for part one:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Good Way to Spend Forty Thousand Pounds

So, thanks to Mike Foster (thanks Mike), I learned today that an original Tolkien drawing, of his Aunt Jane's farm where he wrote the first poem in his legendarium (about Earendil, in 1914), is currently being auctioned off by Sotheby's on behalf of his brother Hilary's heirs.

Here's the link:

Quite a nice piece, but given the current state of the exchange rate (the average estimated going price of 40k pounds equals about 67k dollars right about now), and the general rotten state of the economy, I don't think they'll get too many bidders from over here, where most of the Tolkien collectors are. On the other hand, I just read today that England's the one industrialized country whose recovery from the Depression is even slower than ours, so who knows?

Seeing this does give rise to fantasies though of entering into a Tolkien Tontine, where the picture gets passed around every month and the last surviving member gives it to one of the major Tolkien collections, either Marquette or the Wade.

--John R.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Before There Was WorldNetDaily . . .

So, Jeff Grubb at recently posted a disturbing reminder that there's nothing new about anti-government crazies, and he provides a vivid example from the Kennedy years.*

In a way, it's a tradition as old as Jefferson's paranoia about Hamilton (or, later, Burr). It never really goes away, and every once in a while it surfaces into the mainstream.** And it's never pretty.

The latest manifestation, the 'Tea Party'/deathers/birthers/whatever, while ugly, is pretty much par for the course. But there are signs that we may be passing into new territory ("new" for our lifetimes, that is --things have gotten this bad, and worse, in what we naively think of as the good old days***).

First, and most recently, there's the "Psalm 108.9" movement, in which faux-Xians pray for the president's death.

This reminds me very much of a saying of Janice's, that "Anytime an American tells you 'this is a Christian nation', it's a sure sign they're about to go all Old Testament on you".

And second, there's the serious suggestion, about two months back I think, that this country desperately needs a military coup to overthrow the government.

As if losing an election were reason enough to call for an act that would permanently damage our constitutional system. As if that system didn't have its own corrective (impeachment). As if we've had a general since Jackson who rose above mediocrity as president. As if you could dismiss democracy itself -- letting people vote to choose their leaders-- as "gambl[ing] the national survival on . . . political whims".


*I must admit the 'secret wife' bit was a new one on me.

**Heinlein got involved in one iteration, a brief anti-Eisenhower eruption calling themselves 'the true heirs of Patrick Henry'.

***For example, Ambrose Bierce was deeply embarrassed by McKinley's assassination, since he'd been calling for McKinley's death in his newspaper column.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pratchett's Quite Large Brain

So, the October 31st issue of NewScientist includes a two-page spread about Terry Pratchett (complete with a great photo) which ranges from where Sir Terry gets his hats (James Lock & Co of St James, Pall Mall, London --"Ask for a Borsalino.") and how the Discworld gets back its water that spills over the Rim ("It goes over the edge and comes back as rain. I'm not quite certain how . . .") to the progress of his Alzheimer's (he's lost the ability to type and so dictated his latest book). He's now working with a speech-to-text dictation program on his computer that has mastered his accent but not punctuation.

His particular form of Alzheimer's turns out to be Posterior Cortical Atrophy ('PCA', aka Benson's Syndrome), which causes the back of the brain to shrivel. It's his goal to keep active as long as possible, but he's adamant about two points. First, that he wants no part of being a test subject where scientists carefully monitor his decay ("I like vultures . . . at least they have the decency to wait until the donkey has died"). And second, he insists that he shd "be allowed to die how and when he wants", preferring the term 'assisted death' to 'assisted suicide'. That will be a sad day indeed. In the meantime, let's be glad he's still among us, still writing, and still enjoying life:

"I intend to go on living for as long as possible, and no one really knows how long that is, because PCA is rather odd, and also I'm rather odd. I have quite a large brain -- although my teachers would line up to tell you I never used any of it very much -- and so I'll keep going"

And, in case you missed it earlier, the new THE COLOUR OF MAGIC movie (which features Tim Curry as a villain -- ah, it's been too long -- and Sean Astin as an Innocent Abroad) ends with a wonderful Pratchett cameo in which they give him the last word.


favorite quotes from the article:
--"self-made ghettos are hard to get out of"
--"We don't run into too many brick walls" (re. his amazement "at how the universe has opened to our inquiries")
--". . . at least [vultures] have the decency to wait until the donkey has died."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


So, speaking of Tolkien magazines old and new, just this past Saturday came the announcement that the next issue of PARMA ELDALAMBERON (vol. XVIII) is coming out next week (I think the official release date is November 23rd). Since they have smallish print runs, and once they go out of print can remain unavailable indefinitely,* anyone who has even a passing interest in Tolkien's invented languages shd be sure to order a copy sooner instead of later. This particular issue deals both with the primitive elvish root language that underlay Quenya and Sindarin in the same Indo-European (or Indo-Hittite) underlies Latin and Welsh AND with Tolkien's invented scripts. The pre-publication cost is $30: for more information see the link below to the PARMA website.

--John R.

*I missed Volume XIV and never have been able to find a replacement, even after several years' looking.

today's teas: Keemun, Yunnan, & Connoisseur's Blend

Monday, November 16, 2009

Long Ago and Far Away: The New Tolkien Newsletter

So, yesterday I had another go at the box room, and this time amongst the items unearthed (from box #130)* were my copies of THE NEW TOLKIEN NEWSLETTER and some issues of THE FANTASY REVIEW (the latter gifts from Jim Pietrusz and Roger Moore in Days Gone By). The former was, in its time, perhaps the most notorious Tolkien publication out there: it picked up where Giddings & Holland's THE SHORES OF MIDDLE-EARTH [1981] had left off, developing editor Elizabeth Holland's ideas about the secret messages she thought were encoded in THE LORD OF THE RINGS.** A fascinating exercise in source-study by stream-of-consciousness association (they placed the Shire in the Balkans and Lothlorien in Turkey on the strength of the Bolger hobbit family-name sounding like Bulgaria and Galadriel's name reminding them of Galatia, as in The Epistle to the Galatians), the book also pioneered the claim that Tolkien was deeply indebted not just to medieval literature but also to the popular writing of his time and the preceding century -- a subject that both Jared Lobdell (in the first chapter of ENGLAND & ALWAYS [1982]) and I (in my essay on 'SHE and Tolkien' [1981]) had been arguing for at about the same time. Now it's a much more accepted position, but then it was going out on a limb.

What I'd completely forgotten back when compiling my list of publications for Sacnoth's Scriptorium was that I'd written in so many letters trying to bring them round to my point of view that eventually Holland gave me my own column ('John Rateliff's Page') in later issues. There had been some dispute among Tolkien fandom about whether Giddings & Holland were serious or whether they were putting us on, that perhaps the whole thing was a huge hoax; I was soon able to find out that, however extravagant their theories, Holland at least was in dead earnest. I think I might have managed to get her to moderate the tone some later on, but then again I might have been fooling myself; at any rate, we remained on cordial terms and I went out to Bath to pay a visit during my 1985 trip to England, finding her a gracious host and a wealth of information about her home town. She had already at that point suffered one major heart attack (so that she was restricted to the ground floor of her townhouse), and died, I believe, a year or two later. R.I.P.

Which brings me to the point: it turns out I have duplicate copies of two issues: #3 (August 1981) and #4 (March 1982). They're free to the first person who responds in a comment to this post that he or she would like them. If there is a good home for these strange waifs out there somewhere, better they go to it than into recycling.


*This being the arbitrary label slapped on it by the movers when we came out from Wisconsin.

**For his part, her co-author Giddings went off on his own to develop theories about gay relationships between characters in the book; Holland told me she'd had difficulty getting him to leave out of their book his theory that not only Frodo and Sam, but Tolkien and Lewis, had a longtime affair. Giddings' obsessions eventually found expression in the collection J.R.R.TOLKIEN: THIS FAR LAND [1983] which, despite its inclusion of one wonderful essay by Diana Wynne Jones, set an all-time-low for Tolkien essay collections, still unmatched today (although one a few years ago came close).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What Did Lewis Think about 'And Back Again'?

So, thanks to Johan, I learned a day or two ago about an interesting thread on one of the Tolkien forums.* This followed a discussion about Lewis's dislike for the opening chapter of THE LORD OF THE RINGS,** which in turn seems to have been sparked by my own blog post on the topic back in September.*** Both threads have a number of thoughtful comments (e.g., comparing comments Lewis made in letters to those he made in published review), making them well worth reading. Since my opinion was solicited ("In the light of these comments . . . it would be interesting to see what position John Rateliff takes"), and since I'm not a member of that forum, I thought I'd weigh in here (Johan having promised to make a link over there for me).

Basically, the discussion started by citing Lewis's letter to Arthur Greeves in February 1933 about the newly written story Tolkien had just given him to read. I quote the full passage (from THEY STAND TOGETHER page 449) at the bottom of page xv of MR. BAGGINS, but the relevant line comes after Lewis has described the "delightful" time he has had reading it and the "uncanny" feeling that it's just the book Lewis & Greeves would have loved to have read or written when they were growing up: "Whether it is really good (I think it is until the end) is of course another question: still more, whether it will succeed with modern children"

It's that "I think it is until the end" that's in question. What about the ending did Lewis dislike -- or at least feel was not up to what had come before?

The answer, plain and simple, is that we just don't know.

Was it the shift from light-hearted adventure-story to a more serious 'heroic' tone?
--Unlikely, given that Lewis specifically praised this Wind in the Willows to Burnt Njal shift in ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS ('On Stories', page 104).

Was it Bilbo's return from great deeds in distant lands to resume a normal, mundane life?
--Unlikely, given the parallel of Ransom's adventure in OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET ending with a pint in an English pub.

Was it simply that Lewis disliked the depictions of the Shire-hobbits en masse, whether at the Bag End auction or the Long-Expected Party? -- that is, that he disliked the ending of THE HOBBIT for the same reason that he disliked the beginning of THE LORD OF THE RINGS
--This seems to be the simplest explanation, but it's merely a guess on my part; I don't think there's any proof to back it up.

I can even see Lewis's being put off by the 129 pages of typescript being followed by forty-five pages of manuscript draft: perhaps the difficulty of reading Tolkien's hand (though C.S.L. shd have been an old hand at this by that time) got in the way of his immersion in the text and interfered with Secondary Belief.

Still, the one explanation I would reject is that Lewis criticized the ending because the story he read didn't have one. I find it hard to read 'good . . . until the end' as Lewis's attempt to say 'good, but it lacks an ending' (Lewis was, after all, famous for the clarity of his prose). Wayne & Christina, in their contribution to the thread, offer an interesting thought experiment that the 1933 text broke off at the end of the typescript, which was then followed by "some form of summary conclusion now lost". That might be the case, but I'm hesitant to suggest a hypothetic text as a way out of our difficulties unless we can produce some evidence such a text once existed, especially when a literal reading of the evidence avoids the need for one.****

In the end, the theory that THE HOBBIT broke off unfinished isn't supported by any contemporary evidence. Interestingly enough, but a little too late to include in the book, I turned up evidence that Carpenter himself originally thought the book had been completed in the early thirties. In his Biographical Note to the 1976 catalogue for the Ashmolean exhibit of Tolkien's art, DRAWINGS BY TOLKIEN, Carpenter wrote

"his family, now numbering four children, had been instrumental in bringing his mythological imagination somewhat to earth and encouraging it to deal with more homely topics. For them he wrote and illustrated The Father Christmas Letters; and to them he told the story of The Hobbit, completed early in the nineteen-thirties, but not put into print until a happy chance had brought it to the notice of a London publisher some years later" [emphasis mine]

--I'm not sure what, a year later, convinced Carpenter that he'd been wrong and caused him to come up with his theory that there'd been a gap of several years between the death of Smaug and the writing of the final chapters; I wish I'd discovered this passage earlier and written to ask him about it.

So, while I think there's great ambiguity in the story of when Tolkien started THE HOBBIT -- in that the evidence is contradictory and anyone putting it all together has to reject some as mistaken in order to get a coherent picture, I don't think this is the case with the ending of the story, where I'd argue all the evidence we have does fit together and does argue for the lack of such a gap. Obviously, not everyone agrees, and I think Wayne & Christina's post does the best job I've seen of summing up the opposite case.*****

--John R.

****I do suggest at various points in HoH that there might have been another version of Thror's Map that has not survived, since descriptions of the map in the text don't exactly match up to any of the actual surviving maps, but it's possible the 'missing' map never existed.

*****as for the 'hybrid typescript/manuscript', we know of several other examples among Tolkien's texts -- e.g., SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Our Little Orca

So, after our visit to the Whale Museum on San Juan Island, we decided to sponsor a whale (i.e., make a small donation to the whale research people and 'adopt' a specific killer whale). The one we chose (from among those we'd seen two days before) was Calypso (L94),* who was named after Jacques Cousteau's ship.

Well, the latest "Monthly Orca Update" (for October 2009) as well as the whale museum's newsletter (CETUS) both arrived within the last two weeks, and it turns out that Calypso has just had a calf; the tiny new whale (L-113) having been first spotted on October 10th. A photograph of the baby whale, along with his or her uncle Mega (L-41) and mother (L-94), appears on page 3 of the newsletter. They don't name baby whales until they're about a year old, but it's rather nice to have a connection with a wild animal -- and one that isn't (unlike the rhinos, the tigers, and now the koalas) at present in danger of extinction.

Oh, and the mention of names reminds me: they've now given K-42 his (her?) official name: Kelp. I still think Janice's suggestion ("The Answer") was better.

--John R.

*[i.e., she was the ninety-fourth named member of L-pod, the largest of the three resident orca populations, the other two being J-pod and K-pod.]

P.S.: Today's walk: along the east levee of the Green River, from 200th street all the way up to the bridge at 180th -- which turned out to be a lot longer than twenty blocks (each way), given the bends in the river. I finally got to see Brisco Meander Park, which I've noticed on the map for years but which isn't that accessible by car. Nice place. And not protected by sandbags, which they just put across the cut-off point, leaving the park itself unprotected. Pity if it floods.
I also discovered that part of the levee I was walking on had its own name: the Desimone levee, apparently having been rebuilt in 1998, 1999, and 2002 after some flooding back in 1995/96 that I hadn't heard of before, it having preceded my moving out to these parts. Again, nice place, though it's a pity they'd obviously just cut down a whole row of big trees all along the trail.
Yesterday's walk: along the same levee a bit further south, starting from 212th street and walking up as far as 200th.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The New Project

So, a few weeks ago I found out that a project I've been trying to get permission to work on since about 1985 has just gotten approved. Obviously, I'm excited about this, and v. much looking forward to starting in on it around the beginning of the new year. Unfortunately, I can't talk much about it until it's officially announced. So, there will be postings later once things get underway.

In a sense, this is just my way of saying wow, you never know when work you've done in the past will someday pay off, and old might-have-been projects unexpectedly come to life.

No, it's not Tolkien.

More later.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sandbagging the School

So this morning Janice told me I'd see something interesting if I looked out the window.

She was right. There was a huge piece of construction equipment carefully placing giant sandbags around the school (Neely-O'Brien elementary). Unlike along the levees, they were stacking these two high. Obviously they were taking advantage of the students' absence because of Armistice Day to get the job done. Interesting.

This of course comes as part of their second stage of sandbagging. They've already placed them all along our side of the Green River, having finished that up around the beginning of the month (their target date, and the official opening of flood season, being November 1st). At first it didn't look like they were going to give similar treatment to the other (west) bank, which makes sense since West Hill runs close to the river and there aren't nearly as many people between that levee and safety. Still, it seemed a bit hard on the Rivercreek and other developments that have sprung up over there during the last three years or so. Not to worry: looks like they're now at work on that levee as well.

Also in the good news department, a piece in the local Kent paper says that the Army Corp of Engineers now thinks the 1-in-3 chance of flooding here they'd predicted has now changed to a 1-in-25 chance, thanks to the emergency repairs they've been making on the embankment next to the dam. Add in the sandbags, and that little extra margin of safety they provide, and they say that makes it a 1-in-32 chance.

So, while we've been working hard to get ready, it looks like the chances of disaster here are going down considerably. Still, it's a little disturbing to find out that under normal conditions (with the dam fully functional) there's still a 1-in-400 chance of a flood here every year. A fact of life it's better to know about than not.


current reading: ANATHEM by Neil Stephenson

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


So, recently I've been doing a lot of book reviews -- a lot for me, anyway, given that I work slowly -- for TOLKIEN STUDIES, MYTHLORE, and VII. And late last week (Friday I think) the new issue of MYTHLORE arrived, which has not one but two of my reviews.

The first is for Doug Anderson's TALES BEFORE NARNIA [2008], a superb collection of stories and poems by authors who influenced Lewis,* each with a brief headnote explaining that author's connection with CSL. Doug took the unusual tack of organizing the pieces in the order in which Lewis discovered their work, so early influences (McDonald, Nesbit) come first, fellow Inklings (Barfield, Tolkien,** Williams) towards the middle, and later acquaintance (Roger Lancelyn Green, Bill Gresham) at the end. This works remarkably well. Highly recommended if you're at all interested in Lewis's work, and a worthy companion-piece to his earlier TALES BEFORE TOLKIEN [2003].***

The other is for the second Tolkien-themed book from Cambridge Scholars Publishing, TRUTHS BREATHED THROUGH SILVER, ed. Jonathan Himes. Tolkienists on a budget shd be warned that this is a much slighter book (a third of the pages at four times the cost) with only two of its ten essays focused on Tolkien:**** David Oberhelman's brief but enjoyable piece on libraries in Middle-earth and Jason Fisher's ambitious inquiry into whether Tolkien's mythos might incorporate the felix culpa (he draws what I suspect will be the controversial conclusion that the mythology includes theological elements Tolkien himself didn't agree with). Among its other contents, the outstanding ones I think are Shippey's forceful piece comparing Screwtape's use of language to that in Orwell's 1984 and Himes' valiant but ultimately failed attempt to incorporate all the ideas put forth about THE DARK TOWER into a single comprehensive interpretation, covering both its composition and projecting a hypothetical ending.

I had thought these two would exhaust the 'Rateliff content' of this issue, but to my surprise there's also a detailed review of the latest volume of TOLKIEN STUDIES (by Janet Croft, MYTHLORE's editor),which devotes the better part of a page discussing my article therein ("an appreciative and thought-provoking look at Tolkien as a literary artisan highly conscious of every word he put to paper" ). In a phrase, woo hoo! Although, to be fair, if at one point I was "damning of the Jackson films with faint praise" that wasn't my intention -- when I damn somebody, it's emphatic (I once started a review "The author of this book shd be ashamed of herself") or not at all.

And now I still have all the articles left to read: I'm particularly looking forward to the one comparing the Noldor with the Tuatha de Danaan,***** having been convinced for a while now that Tolkien modeled the Eldar of the First Age on Irish myth and the Elves of the Third Age on Welsh mythology.

--John R.

*not just Narnia, but for all his fiction.

**represented by one of my favorites among his poems, the original version of "The Dragon's Visit".

***one real find is C. F. Hall's "The Man Who Lived Backwards" [1938], which turns out to be the story that inspired one important detail in Lewis's THE GREAT DIVORCE [1945]-- CSL himself acknowledged the borrowing but couldn't remember the author or title of the story, which Doug has now unearthed. And, reading it now, it turns out to have in all probability been an inspiration for THE DARK TOWER [?circa 1944-46] as well.

****two other essays deal with Tolkien in passing, including one interpreting LotR from the point of view of 'Celtic Christianity'.

*****by Annie Kinniburgh

Monday, November 9, 2009

Atheists in Seattle

So, when I bought the paper last Wednesday to find out the local election results, I also saw an article about how the Seattle Atheists* were going to have their yearly convention this past weekend.

I was interested to see that Ursula K. Le Guin was to be one of their two featured speakers (the other being Ron Reagan, son of the president). I was rather surprised to see Le Guin's name listed, since I had thought her more of a Taoist than an atheist; in any case, I haven't been able to find a follow-up as to whether or not she actually appeared,* or if so what she said, though I did find a piece from a local tv station confirming Reagan's appearance as the opening keynote speaker


Among the event's promised highlights were its non-prayer breakfast, with its Moment of Bedlam (I suppose in revenge for all those who squirmed during enforced 'Moment of Silence's in early life). Overall I gather folks don't so much mind them getting together, but they do raise hackles (deliberately) through their bumper stickers and by taking out ads on the side of local buses, such as one that reads "Yes, Virginia, There Is No God". That one strikes me as rather silly, though I admit to rather liking "There A Sucker Born Again Every Minute" and especially "Eve Was Framed!"

As for the participants, apparently this is their big yearly event; most of the rest of their time, according to their website, they apparently spend in doing good works, like a recent blood drive and volunteering to man gift-wrapping counters at downtown Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores in support of charities like Children's Hospital. So far as I can tell, locals pretty much ignored the convention (I doubt many knew it even took place, and the few exceptions probably stumbled across a reference to it online or in the paper like I did). But their ads apparently are drawing some attention, irking some among the Faithful, as was of course their intent. Funny how few people who object to a billboard or poster criticizing religion can see that ads advocating religion are really just the other side of the same coin. Not a v. good medium for theological or existential debate, though I suppose dueling ads, like the Xian vs. Darwin bumper stickers war, are better than the real conflicts we used to get in the Bad Old Days.

--John R.

*or, as they officially call themselves, the 'Freedom from Religion Foundation'.

**the events calendar on her website confirms that she had at least planned to attend: I have been lucky enough to see Le Guin two or three times, and can testify that she's an excellent speaker -- interesting, engrossing, and engaging.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Campaigns Have Consequences

So, the election has come and gone and the results were . . . interesting. I was going to do a write-up, but I see Jeff Grubb, whose pre-election recommendations I always find extremely helpful, esp. for less-publicized races and measures, has already done so, so mine'll be a good deal shorter than might otherwise be the case. Here's his post-mortim follow-up:

So far as the local races went, things went pretty well.

Here in Kent we get to keep our mayor. Like most folks, I usually don't pay much attention to city government, but Mayor Cook has done an unusually good job, despite some personal setbacks*, both in championing some things I was dubious about that turned out well (Kent Station, the Showare Arena) and in being on top of the current flood preparations; she deserves another term. Plus of course her opponent had been a member of the school board that provoked the recent Kent teachers' strike in which teachers, parents, and community all united to denounce the superintendent and school board.

Some things that affect us we didn't get to vote on --for example, the proposed annexation of the Panther Lake area up on East Hill into Kent. The residents there got to vote on whether or not they wanted to join us (they did!) but we didn't get to vote on whether we wanted them (we do).

We also didn't get to vote for the Seattle Mayor, though that certainly has a major impact on everyone who lives in the area. The two candidates weren't even included in our Voter's guide, and nary a flyer or robocall came our way, meaning even now I'm pretty uninformed about them both (apparently the main issue was what to do about the viaduct, a topic Seattle leaders have dithered about for eight years now). In any case, I'm glad to see Nickels go because of the Occidental Park incident a few years ago.**

By contrast, the County Executive race (to replace Ron Sims, whom Obama appointed a deputy Cabinet secretary) ended with the inexperienced stealth candidate's defeat: good news there, though the Creationists would disagree. And the tax deadbeats lost for once with Eyman's latest initiative going down to defeat, while the civil rights (domestic partnerships) initiative won, which sorta gives us bragging rights over Maine. Sorta.

As for the national elections, the clear message seemed to be an anti-incumbant one, of which the most interesting was the New York congressional race, where the end result of all the sound and fury was to give Obama an extra vote in the House. My favorite quip was by someone who pointed out that the last time a Democrat represented that region, the best way to get from Albany to Buffalo was by canal.*** Even more interesting is that the defeated party vows to repeat the process that lost them the seat in as many other races as possible. Like I said, interesting.

--John R.

*[like her husband committing suicide in July, and her then finding out he hadn't listed her as co-owner of their business after all]
**[faced by the problem of homeless people hanging around the park, Nickels had a lot of the hundred-year-old trees there cut down, reasoning if he made the park unpleasant enough then people would avoid it. As if street people choose their refuges based on aesthetics. As if ruining the park for everybody wasn't a problem. As if the damage he did could be undone within our lifetimes. What a maroon.]
***[anybody else remember 'I got a mule/Her name is Sal/ . . .'?]

Feeling Good about the Credit Union

So, a while back our bank went under and got taken over by JP Morgan/Chase. I'd originally picked Washington Mutual because I wanted a local bank when I first moved out here, and had been unhappy for a while with its gradual shift into being 'WaMu' (which sounds like a faux-Orca) in attempts to hide its origins. So when it went under, we shifted our main accounts over to the local credit union, where we'd already had some savings accounts for some time.

My reasons included disaffection with Washington Mutual (which shifted its interests more and more into the shaky practices that eventually made it the biggest bank failure in U. S. history) and also a deep aversion to being associated with anything linked to J. P. Morgan, one of the more villainous of the 19th century Robber Barons. And then just yesterday came a story that would have erased any regrets I'd had about the move, if I'd had any:

Basically, this guy deposited some money in his account and then made several debits. Except he didn't know that Chase re-arranged the sequence so that they withdrew the debits first, causing him to have an (artificial) overdraft, allowing them to charge a penalty on each debit, and only then adding in the deposit -- which put him in the red, causing about two dozen more penalties (sometimes up to seven in a single day) by the time he got his next statement.

And this quickly followed up by another story later the same day
about how Chase has agreed to pay the SEC more than seven hundred million dollars as a fine for bribing government officials in Alabama to let them be in charge of issuing what turned out to be some bad bonds. My favorite line in the story? That J. P. Morgan "agreed to refrain from future violations of the securities laws".

So, they not only broke the law, and got caught, and had to pay a fine, but they promise never, ever to get caught doing that again.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Well, This is Different (Plot Diagraming)

So, thanks to Bruce Cordell ( for sending me the link to this odd but appealing little graphic.

I not familiar with the website this is from, but somebody's clearly put a lot of work into it. Now, if they'd only do one for the book as well . . . --though I suppose it wdn't be too hard to adapt this one (fixing such deviations as elves at Helm's Deep, the deaths of Saruman and Wormtongue at Isengard, and Elrond's odd journey south). I had thought they'd made one minor error by having Merry accompany Aragorn et al to The Black Gate, which was certainly not the case in the book, but checking the dvds I find this is just my mistaken memory and that these folks got the movie version right.

I wonder how they'd go about representing MEMENTO?


Sunday, November 1, 2009

2009 Lovecraft Play

So, Thursday Janice reminded we that we hadn't gotten any Halloween candy for trick-or-treaters yet -- an oversight I remedied on Friday. Come Saturday, we were ready.

Total number of trick-or-treaters who came by?


Boy, do we have a lot of candy for gamers come next Cthulhu night, to get them all good and sugared up before the sanity loss begins.

And, speaking of Cthulhu, this afternoon we went and saw this year's Lovecraft play down at Open Circle Theatre, just north of Pike Place Market in 'Belltown'. Unlike last year's play, which was a Cthulhuesque new story they'd come up with on their own, this year they reverted to tradition and adapted one of Lovecraft's stories -- specifically THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, one of his better tales. There was a small turnout -- I counted seventeen people, including ourselves -- and we enjoyed watching it with Anne & Sigfried, who met us there (a few other friends who'd also thought of joining us not having been able to make it for one reason or another).

How did they do? Well, certainly better than Vincent Price in the 1963 movie (not that that's hard). As befits a little theatre, they've pared the cast to the bone, with only three characters: the doomed young man himself, his cousin Jen (who takes over the roles given Charles' father and mother in the original story), and Dr. Willet the narrator; in addition, two voice-actors (played by the two scriptwriters) represent the off-stage psychiatrists evaluating Willet's story and Ward's case. Jen is mainly there so Charles and, later, Willet have someone to talk to, enabling a lot of narration to be turned into dialogue (rather like a Dr. Who companion). All three actors did a good job; young Charles in his looks and mannerisms reminded me a good deal of Peter Davidson's Doctor, which made his later decline into madness all the more effective. The OCT folks have also done everything they could, in their tiny available space, to reduce the number of locations -- v. successfully, I thought. I was particularly curious to see how they wd handle the discovery of the vast caverns, with their multiple chambers and sinister pits (so essential to the plot): a challenge wh. I'm happy to say they pulled off v. well.

If I had a complaint, it'd be that the play's structure v. closely resembled the adaptation of THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE they did a few years ago, probably the highlight of all their Lovecraft plays that I've seen. It worked better then, particularly because of how well their main character/narrator made the switch back and forth between interacting with the doomed farmer and expressing his apprehensions to the audience. Still, if you hadn't seen the earlier play three years ago that wdn't be a problem.

On the whole: good, if you like this sort of thing. And, fortunately, I do.

--John R.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Cookie from Jesus

So, while I was in Little Rock, I saw a story in the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE at my uncle's house that was too good to miss, so I picked up a copy of the paper for myself on my way out of town. It got put aside in the hustle and bustle of the trip itself and didn't surface again until I remembered it yesterday and pulled it out of the 'Arkansas' file. The online link to the story ( unfortunately seems to only give the opening paragraph, so I'll summarize the whole.[*]

In the piece, a guest televangelist tells the congregation "The Lord woke me up in the middle of the night. There stood Jesus with a huge tray and the tray was heaped with cookies, and he said 'Kenneth, have a cookie'." To which the televangelist replied "I believe I will".[**]

From this, he extrapolates: if you just have enough faith, God will give you "the desires of your heart: vigorous health, limitless wealth, unending happiness and eternal life -- plus new airplanes and fresh-baked goods." Also, "Christians shd be exempt from the economic downturn". Why? because Jesus "bore the curse of of poverty" so the rest of us wdn't have to. As he sees it, we are "joint heirs with the wealthiest man that exists".

After a bit about just how grossly wealthy his 'ministry' has made him (twenty-million dollar private jet, eighteen thousand square foot 'parsonage', luxury cars, a church with its own natural gas wells, personal gifts of over two million dollars for his seventieth birthday), the article returns to his insistent calls for everybody to give as much money as they can to the church. Apparently the church he was visiting that day has its own 'Donor's Creed', which they chant each Sunday:

The tithe guarantees financial favor.
The tithe guarantees your covenant partnership with God.
The tithe is proof of honor.
The tithe is proof of obedience.
The tithe silences the devourer in your life.
The tithe guarantees consistent harvest on your seed.
The tithe opens the windows of heaven."

That's bad enough, but to make it worse, their resident pastor "urged everyone -- including those facing poverty and hunger -- to dig deep, promising God would supernaturally reward them". And, at the very end of the service, they took up an extra collection, just for the multi-millionaire televangelist.

This strikes me as the so-called 'Prosperity Gospel' -- itself pretty dodgy theologically -- gone mad. Haven't they forgotten the whole 'lay not up treasures for yourself in this world' bit? Not to mention the odd notion that you can force God into financially beneficial contracts.

Somedays my inner Calvinist comes out, and I just have to say: GAH!


*[which appears on pages 1B & 2B of the print edition for Mondy October 12th 2009]

**[Janice's question, when I showed her this story, was 'what kind of cookie?' very practical, those Methodists.]

Friday, October 30, 2009


So, the impending return of Non-Daylight Non-Savings Time (i.e., real time) this weekend has reminded me of an unresolved point from several months back. In my discussions of the time frame of THE HOBBIT I had suggested that the shift of Durin's Day from the first moon of autumn to the last moon of autumn had the unforseen consequence of cramming all the events of the final chapter into a three- or four-week period. (e.g. RETURN TO BAG-END p. 481)

Given the strong emphasis on an astronomical event (Durin's Day), I assumed an astronomical, rather than a folk, usage of "autumn". This was challenged by Andreas Moehn 's review on TolkLang, which I only became aware of some two years after it was posted (see my post of August 24th), and in person by Christina Scull, both of whom disputed my literal reading of "midsummer".

Moehn wrote, regarding my comments on the dating of Durin's Day,

"Rateliff . . . blurs the issue by reading English manuscripts through American glasses . . . he critisizes [sic] Tolkien for calling the solar solstice "Midsummer's Eve" though in fact it was the beginning of summer - but actually, the only problem here is Rateliff's profoundly American ignorance"

For the record, I'm mystified as to why Moehn thought I was criticizing Tolkien when I cited the OED's definition of Midsummer and Midwinter. That was certainly never my intent. In any case, I responded

The point about the disjunction between astronomical autumn (Sept 21st to Dec 21st) and colloquial British usage (August, September, October), which Christina Scull had earlier suggested to me, is more complex and needs to be written up as a separate post.

So, this is my attempt to write up that separate post. There are three relevant pieces of information I know about:

First, here's the OED definition of 'Midsummer' I was working from: "The middle of summer; the period of the summer solstice, about June 21st". This is the word's primary definition, and the OED cites authorities for this usage going all the way back to about 900 AD. It further cites such derivatives as Midsummer Day: "the 24th of June, one of the recognized 'quarter days' in England" and Midsummer Eve/Even: "the evening before Midsummer Day" [OED Compact Edition, Vol I page 1792]

Second, there's the OED definition of 'Autumn'; here's where things begin to get interesting: "The third season of the year, or that between summer and winter, reckoned astronomically from the descending equinox to the winter solstice; i.e. in the northern hemisphere, from September 21 to December 21. Popularly, it comprises, in Great Britain, August, September, and October (J)*; in North America, September, October, and November (Webster); in France, 'from the end of August to the first fortnight of November' (Littre) . . . The astronomical reckoning retains the Roman computation; the antiquity of the popular English usage is seen in the name Midsummer Day, given to the first day of the Astronomical Summer, and in the OE midsumormona[th]** 'June', midwinter 'winter-solstice, Christmas'. [OED Compact Edition Vol I page 144]

*by 'J' here, they mean Samuel Johnson's dictionary. 'Webster' is of course Noah Webster, and 'Littre' turns out to be Emile Littre's DICTIONNARIE DE LA LANGUE FRANCAISE [1863-1877]. I don't think Tolkien is likely to have adopted a French calendar, and in any case am rather surprised to find a French work using a term such as 'fortnight'. I have since done an informal poll among my English friends and so far have not found any who consider August to be part of autumn; whether this represents a shift from Dr. Johnson's time or not, the informal definition of autumn in both England and America now seems to be Sept-Oct-Nov, with August being considered part of summer and December winter.

**this [th] shd really be an edh, but I don't have that OE character on my qwerty keyboard.

In any case, as it turns out we have good evidence from Tolkien himself of his using 'autumn' in a looser sense. Consider the following passage from early on in THE LORD OF THE RINGS:

"in the fine weather [Frodo] forgot his troubles for a while.

The Shire had seldom seen so fair a summer, or so rich an autumn:

the trees were laden with apples, honey was dripping in the combs,

and the corn was tall and full.

"Autumn was well under way before Frodo began to worry

about Gandalf again. September was passing and there was still

no news of him. The Birthday [Sept 22nd], and the removal,

drew nearer, and still he did not come, or send word . . .

"On September 20th two covered carts went off laden

to Buckland . . . The next day Frodo became really anxious . . .

Still Gandalf did not appear."

[LotR Bk I Ch. III: "Three is Company"]

--thus, by this reckoning, autumn is already "well under way" by Sept 21st, the time of the equinox, when celestial autumn begins. This suggests that here at least Tolkien is considering 'autumn' to have begun around the beginning of September, comprising roughly the months of September/October/November rather than the celestial autumn running late September/October/November/most of December.

So, where does that leave us? We know from Chapter XI of THE HOBBIT that Durin's Day that year happened to occur one week before the beginning of winter. Abandoning astronomical fall/winter makes it possible that Tolkien could intended Durin's Day to fall as early as a week before the end of October (if we go with Johnson's definition, which I rather doubt) or a week before the end of November (if we go with the informal American/modern British usage). The latter still leaves the end-story rather crowded, with Durin's Day+the destruction of Lake Town+the mustering of Bard's and the Elvenking's armies+Thorin & Company's building the defensive wall+Dain's march+the goblin-army's muster and march+the Battle of Five Armies+its aftermath+Bilbo & Gandalf's journey back all the way to the far side of Mirkwood all occurring in a four-or-five week period. Better than the two-weeks astronomical autumn/winter would have left us with, but still . . . I find it somewhat hard to swallow that Tolkien would switch between the informal and astronomical usages of the word in the same chapter, particularly when the astronomical event of Durin's Day is so crucial to the plot.

So, I'm willing to be persuaded, and would be particularly interested in hearing from anyone familiar with the August/September/October definition of "autumn".