Sunday, December 28, 2014

Is Jackson's Tolkien series the Best Fantasy Movies Ever?

So, as I said in my last post, I've been thinking over where the two three-part Peter Jackson Tolkien films fit in the grand scheme of things (whereas I usually consider them only from the point of view of their Tolkien content and as an expression of the larger set of All Things Tolkienian). The past few days I've been discussing fantasy films with a lot of friends at various holiday get-togethers, plus of course taking into account the comments made on my previous post by David B. and 'JL' (for which thanks).  The more I think about it, the more I think Jackson's films do indeed have a claim to being among the greatest fantasy films ever made.

Of course, any such judgment partly depends upon what you define as a fantasy film. Based on the strictures he laid down in ON FAIRY-STORIES, Tolkien wd have excluded such classics as the 1939 WIZARD OF OZ because of its frame tale (it's all a dream), which wd apply equally to the much-filmed (never altogether successfully) ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Personally I view fantasy as a large and diverse field with a natural divide into two main groups: the Coleridgeian or secondary world fantasy, which presents a full-fledged fantasy world with its own geography, history, peoples, et al (of which Tolkien is the prime example), and the Wordsworthian or primary-world fantasy, in which magical intrusions make their way into a more-or-less normal everyday world (a great example being the classic film HARVEY).

Of these, it's obviously far easier to film the latter kind, and most of the great fantasy films (HARVEY, BEING THERE, BELL BOOK AND CANDLE) fit this pattern. Films set in fantasy worlds, by contrast, have tended to deserve Tolkien's scorn (to slightly paraphrase his memorable phrase, belief is not so much suspended as hung, drawn, and quartered).

Animation offers one way out --I'd say Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY is hands down one of the finest fantasy films ever made* -- but most animated fantasy is just as bad as live-action fantasy, as exemplified by the dreadful WIZARDS (which shd have shown anyone who was watching that Bakshi was incompetent to make THE LORD OF THE RINGS, which unfortunately he then proceeded to make).

 At the very least, Jackson's accomplishment has shown that full-bore secondary world 'high' fantasy is now well within the reach of modern filmmakers, and that fantasy film no longer has to be judged by LABYRINTH and WIZARDS and CONAN and the like. Thanks to him, we can expect from here on out to see more films with high production values and prestigious casts like THE GOLDEN COMPASS and fewer like WILLOW.

Here's looking forward to more adaptations of major works, and also presentations of original stories, in the years to come.

--John R.
current reading: THE HOBBIT AND HISTORY (con't)

*just as the late Satoshi Kon's PAPRIKA would get my vote as the best science fiction film, and Kon's PERFECT BLUE has to rank pretty far up there when it comes to horror.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Greatest Fantasy Movie

So, I'd no sooner seen the newest and final HOBBIT film than the question came to me: are Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations the greatest fantasy films ever made? Certainly they'd have to be in contention. It cd be argued that, Tolkien being the greatest of all fantasy authors,* someone setting out to adapt his works has a built-in advantage, but I think that wd be to underestimate Jackson's own talents.

I remember when fantasy film meant WILLOW (fun but daft), LEGEND (pretty but boring), or LABYRINTH (muppets and rock stars? really?**) -- in fact, one of the things that got me interested in anime and manga was the realization that there was a lot of fantasy out there, far more than we were getting in US films, only in animated form. It didn't help that what American films were coming out were firmly in the 'B-movie' range, at best. We've come a long way now since then, with fantasy films now very much in the mainstream (the HARRY POTTER series, GAME OF THRONES, Peter Jackson).

Trouble is, I can't judge how great a movie the Peter Jackson LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT are because I can't divorce them from their Tolkien content to arrive at a fair judgment. Similarly, when it comes to what's probably the most famous fantasy movie ever made, THE WIZARD OF OZ, its very familiarity makes it hard for me to judge on its own merits. What wd that film be like to someone who didn't grow up on it as a viewing tradition, year after year, in a society filled with references to it?  And, of course, I haven't seen every fantasy film ever made, nor do I want to, so any judgment has to come from partial knowledge.

But, given those caveats, I'd have to say THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT still wd have to rank at or near the top of the list.

So, the question: what's the greatest fantasy film ever made?

--John R.
current reading: Brodie's LOCATION GUIDE to New Zealand sites filmed in THE HOBBIT movie(s). [2014]

*I think his nearest rival to that claim wd be Lewis Carroll -- whom Tolkien didn't think wrote fantasy. But then Verne didn't think Wells wrote science fiction, so authors may not be the best judges of such things

**to be fair, I've never seen this one all the way through, so it may be much better than the bits and pieces I've seen wd indicate

Sunday, December 21, 2014


So, I'd been apprehensive about seeing the new HOBBIT movie, based on early reviews which praised the film for having jettisoned all the acting bits for one long spectacular special effects sequence of battle scenes (not being terribly impressed by special effects myself, however well done; I prefer plot and dialogue and acting).

I've now seen the film, and liked it better than I expected, and liked it better yet on a second viewing. I don't know how well it'll hold up to repeated viewings, but there's enough of what I like in a Tolkien movie to keep me coming back for more. And, contrary to my expectation, the battle scenes and long set pieces of one-on-one combats didn't pall on rewatching, as I expected them to.

I'll want to see it again (and soon!), but I suspect in the end this trilogy of movies will be like the LotR films: My favorite will be the first one, which sets up the scene and story, introduces the major characters, and relies heavily on the interaction between them. Then the second introduces a lot of new characters and delivers several of the most satisfying scenes and performances. Then the third has to both follow-up and pull together all the ongoing plot threads and at the same time deliver on a climax worthy of all those hours of set-up. Inevitably, the third film in each series draws more on Jackson's innovations (as opposed to Tolkien's original text) than the previous two have done,* meaning there's less for the purist in the final films of each set than in the ones that preceded them.

Even so, 'less' is a relative term, and luckily the claim (as criticism or praise) that it was one long roller-coaster ride turns out not to be true.  The character interaction bits that Jackson does so well (and with such an impressive cast to do it with) are still there, with Martin F's Bilbo and McKellan's Gandalf** and Armitage's Thorin all given a chance to shine. It's quite touching how, as Thorin descends into madness, his friendship with Bilbo (one of the high points of the second film) endures -- which makes Bilbo's betrayal all the harder on him when it comes. The minor roles are also well-done: Galadriel and Saruman and Elrond and even Radagast all shine. The wizard-fu is much better done this time than in the Gandalf-Saruman duel way back in 2001*** and we get a clear sense of just how powerful Galadriel is (despite some regrettable makeup choices). And while he can hardly be called a 'minor role' despite his relatively brief amount of screen time in this third film, Cumberbatch's Smaug is now firmly established as the greatest, bar none, of all the movie dragon's I've ever seen.

Of the other continuing roles, most (Thranduil, Legolas, Tauriel, Azog, Bolg) are just the same here as in the previous film. Frye's Master of Laketown is just as bad, but luckily his performance is soon cut short. Sadly to say, his lackey Alfrid lingers on and on and on with his cringeworthy antics for most of the film's running time. Bard is much better than in the previous film, mainly because they keep him busy so there's less moping around. Pretty much the only new character of note is Dain, here portrayed as a mad-eyed Scot.

The film's greatest departure from the original is the rather baffling omission of any wargs from the Battle of Five Armies. Given that they were one of the five armies from which the conflict gets its name, this seemed an odd omission (for the record, the 'five armies' of the book are the dwarves, elves, men, goblins, and wargs; those of the film are the dwarves, elves, men, orcs of Dol Guldor, and orcs of Mt Gundabad). Its greatest continuity gap is the presence of multiple trolls in the attack on Dale, all moving about in the sunlight with no explanation of how they manage this feat (it cd be rationalized that the book describes the bats as forming a cloud that darkens the day, but that's not the case in the movie, where they just flap around menacingly).

Ironically, the one thing which Jackson did to make this third movie more like the book than the previous two was to the film's detriment. Tolkien does not individualize all the dwarves of Thorin & Company much, whereas Jackson went out of his way in the first film to make each a distinct personality. There was less of that in the second film but it was still present. Now with the third and final film Jackson has reverted to Tolkien's example: of Thorin's companions Kili gets his own subplot, Fili gets enough development to prove he wd have been a good and worthy King under the Mountain, and Balin and Dwalin get a line or two apiece, while the rest fade into anonymity. A pity, given what a good job he'd done with them before. Let's hope the extended edition goes some way to fixing this shortcoming -- and I'm curious to see if, as seems to be the case in that quick glimpse of all the surviving dwarves near the end, Bifur finally gets that stone axe removed from his forehead.

Speaking of proportion, one thing I've seen over and over among the nay-sayers who hated the film (not all of whom have bothered to see it) is the whole argument that these shd have been two movies instead of three, or even a single one-shot film. Some go so far as to try to figure out how many pages of Tolkien's book correspond to how many minutes of film time, trying to quantify the qualitative -- a vain task if ever there was one.   I don't understand this argument at all; it seems to me wholly specious. Let me put it this way: if someone told me I could visit one of my favorite places in the world once, or twice, or three times, the idea that three times was too many and I ought to be satisfied with fewer doesn't, all other factors being equal, make sense. The same applies if they asked if I wanted a cup of my favorite tea -- why wdn't I want a second or third cup, if they were offered and I was still thirsty? I love Tolkien's works, and I'm glad to see more of them, not less. Tolkien himself said the chief flaw of THE LORD OF THE RINGS was that it was too short. I'm glad the original book wasn't abridged before publication as his potential publishers wanted. I'm happy there have been so many posthumous publications, and that the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH SERIES ran to a full twelve volumes. I'm glad Peter Jackson got to do THE LORD OF THE RINGS as three movies, not two or one, and I'm glad he got to do THE HOBBIT as well. Those who hate Tolkien or the Jackson films or both think less is more. For the rest of us more is more, and less is less.

The parallel argument, that if the films were shorter there'd be more Tolkien in them, is demonstrably false.  In the extended editions, which are longer than the theatrical releases, there are scenes from the book that don't appear in the shorter version of the film. A good case in point is the recently released extended edition of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, which includes the scene were Gandalf introduces the party of dwarves two-by-two to Beorn -- an iconic moment in the book that didn't make it on screen in the theatrical release. So there's good evidence that the longer the films, the more Tolkien Jackson gets on screen.

The strongest criticism I can make of this film is that a movie named THE HOBBIT needs more scenes in it starring Bilbo, the Hobbit. When Bilbo's there, my interest is riveted on the screen in a way it's not when Azog, Bolg, Legolas, Tauriel, Bard, or special effects dominate.  It's Bilbo, and Gandalf and Thorin, and the White Council and Necromancer, and Smaug and the other twelve dwarves of Thorin & Company, who made this a film I wanted to watch (and, now, rewatch).

So, in the end: a good film. Not as great as the first and second that preceded it,   but with enough memorable scenes to be worth watching and re-watching for years to come. And a satisfying conclusion to the series as a whole.

As for Jackson's legacy, I think he's proven to us that Tolkien can be filmed, something a lot of people thought impossible until he proved them wrong. For all the things in them that drive purists mad,**** they do capture the essence of Tolkien's books to a degree I wd have thought impossible. And they've now established themselves as classics -- at least, the first (LotR) series has, and it seems likely the second (HOBBIT) one will follow in its footsteps in this, as in so much else. As such, I think it's inevitable that someday these movies will be remade, with a whole new cast and script and director, now that Jackson has proved it possible. Just as we get a new film version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE each generation or so, so too I think with Tolkien.  In any case, it'll be interesting to see. And, if I may make a prediction, I strongly suspect the people who hate Jackson now will hate his successor all the more, and will hold up the Jackson as examples of what he (or she) shd have done, just as some of Jackson's biggest critics began to praise the wretched Rankin-Bass HOBBIT (which they had preciously disparaged) once the Jackson films came out. 

But for now, this is the end of the line. And I must say it's been quite a journey. I think Jackson can be proud of what he's accomplished. 

--John R.
current reading: THE HOBBIT AND HISTORY (slowly)
current music: Big Star (1st and 2nd albums)
current anime: TOKYO ESP

 * just as Tolkien himself started out imitating Morris and Dunsany et al and over the years came to draw less on outside sources and more and more on his own earlier works, so too Jackson tends to became his own main source as each series extends: the great imperative at the end of this movie is to make it both wrap up Tolkien's story and sync up as much as possible with the first of the LotR movies (some of the opening dialogue of which actually plays just before the closing credits).

** it's ironic that McKellan actually comes first in the credits, rather than Martin F., the Hobbit of the title.

***I've decided that my favorite use of all that special effects technology in the film was its enabling a ninety-two years old man (Sir Christopher Lee) to engage in a swordfight

****the dwarven battle pig now has to be added to that list, alongside all the trolls attacking Dale in daylight

Friday, December 19, 2014

McWhorter on Sindarin

So, while I'm working on my review of THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (which I liked better than I expected, and enjoyed more on a second viewing than the first), here's an interim piece I wanted to share, in which linguist John McWhortor (author of THE POWER OF BABEL, which figured prominently in my piece for the Blackwelder festschrift ). It's nice to see Tolkien taken seriously by The Powers That Be (McWhorter is Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University) -- it's a long time now since language-invention was a 'secret vice'.  And I think the key to that transformation was Tolkien's insight that the language has to be used for something before it can capture the imagination. People want to learn Sindarin (et al.) because it's a means of getting deeper into an enormously appealing subcreated world, and I assume to same applies to devotees of Klingon, Dothraki, &c.

Anyway, here's the piece:

--John R.
current reading THE HOBBIT AND HISTORY, ed. Liedl & Reagin (2014)


So, I'm happy to say I've been interviewed for a piece on the new Tolkien film. The interview was yesterday morning, and the piece is already up on SMITHSONIAN.COM:

This is the third of three pieces by the same SMITHSONIAN author, Rachel Nuwer,* concerned mainly with distinguishing the layers of what came from Tolkien (especially when brought in from elsewhere than THE HOBBIT) from what is Jackson's invention. It's also a good place to find out more about what Michael Drout (who wrote his own review, available here**) thinks about the films.

For the two earlier pieces in 'The Tolkien Nerd's Guide to THE HOBBIT', they can be found here ( and here ( Enjoy!


*who's also the author of a number of other interesting pieces on (itself an interesting site in general); check out for a sampling.

** .  I shd note that Drout's judgment of the films is much harsher than mine.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Two Days and Counting

So, tonight Janice and I picked up tickets to the Wednesday morning showing of THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES at Kent Station.

It's been a long wait; hard to think that the day after tomorrow it'll be here.

Tick tock

--John R.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Halfway to Eleventy-One

So, technically I suppose I was half-way to 'Eleventy-one' on my unbirthday six months ago, but close enough.

Another birthday, another milestone; now I probably really do qualify for some of those 'senior discounts'.

This was one of those rare birthdays spent in Arkansas, where I got to see lots of family, with an enjoyable get-together at what for years and years has been my favorite restaurant in Arkansas, Franke's in Little Rock, followed by a gathering at my uncle's, where I was able to show my mother et al me on a dvd (part of the dragon-commentary on the extended edition DESOLATION OF SMAUG). We looked at unexpected family pictures in some old Southern State College yearbooks Mama and I had found a day or two before and did a lot of visiting and catching up.

Janice wasn't able to be with me this trip, but her little book PARKER'S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE was a big hit.

--John R.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Me, in Bremerton

So, I've been asked to give a talk on THE HOBBIT at an upcoming Hobbit Event at the Sylvan Way library in Bremerton. After some thought, I've decided to give a redacted version of my Blackwell-Wiley essay, "THE HOBBIT: A Turning Point", since (a) I don't think many if any people there will have seen the original essay (it having been published only in the U.K. and I myself not having yet received my author's copy) and (b) it places Bilbo's story in context with the rest of Tolkien's work, both mythological and scholarly, a subject I find fascinating; one I've done a lot of work on and which I feel comfortable expounding upon. It'll be followed by a question and answer session, and then some more Hobbit-party-ish activities. So, if you have any questions re. THE HOBBIT, now is the time to come and ask them.

Here's a link to the library's description of the event:

--John R., still in Arkansas (Magnolia)

Friday, December 5, 2014

DMG is out!

So, it'd be remiss of me when passing through Little Rock not to stop by the local Barnes & Noble to check their Tolkien shelves (to see if they had anything I didn't already have),*  refill the thermos, and sip tea while waiting for the thunderstorm to die down. And so I came to discover that, in addition to 100 copies of THE HOBBIT,** they had the new Fifth Edition DUNGEON MASTER'S GUIDE. This completes the long-awaited Fifth Edition rules set, and I have to say I'm impressed. It's certainly better than Fourth Edition and should give 3e a serious run for the money as the best core rules set since 2nd edition.***
   Looking forward to incorporating this new material into our ongoing game.  And to there being an ongoing game these past few years, after the wandering in the wilderness during the period 2007-2011 or thereabouts of not being in a regular D&D campaign.

--John R.

*the answer turned out to be yes: an end-cap had the latest of Brodie's guidebooks to New Zealand sites used in the filming, plus Sibley's 'Battle of the Five Armies' movie guide.

**plus 22 more packaged with sets of LotR

 ***the classic 1st edition still rules supreme as the best iteration of the best rpg. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lewis's Memory

So, I've now finished reading Leslie Baynes's article "C. S. Lewis's Use of Scripture in the 'Liar, Lunatic, Lord' Argument" in THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (Vol 4 No. 2 p. 27& ff), and I think it probably has to be ranked as one of the major essays in Lewis studies. Not for its specific topic and thesis, which are very narrowly focused, but for its larger ramifications.

In brief, Baynes is writing about Lewis's argument, in MERE XIANITY and elsewhere, that it's impossible for anyone to view Jesus as a great moral teacher but a fellow mortal. Instead, Lewis argues, anyone who made the claims about himself that Jesus did could only be a villain, a madman, or God himself. I've never taken this argument very seriously, given that it's self-evidently false: millions of people, from Gandhi to Thomas Jefferson,  HAVE taken Jesus to be a great man but not divine.

Rather than address the question of Jesus's divinity, about which he seems fully in agreement, Baynes's concern is with Lewis's citations from scripture in support in his dictum. He reaches the surprising conclusion that Lewis's argument fails because Lewis quotes inaccurately, conflating the various gospel accounts. And, more seriously, Lewis takes words that appear in the gospels not in their original meaning but as they were defined by church councils in the 4th century. This is startling, because one of the things Lewis is known for as a literary scholar is his insistence that a modern day reader must be aware of the historical meanings of words. That is, if I read Shakespeare or Spenser, I need to be mindful that some words they used have changed meaning over the past five centuries. For me to read those words in the modern sense is to misunderstand what the author from an earlier time is saying. And yet Baynes demonstrates that Lewis does just that when he puts on his theological hat, particularly when it comes to terms like "Son of Man" and "Son of God", which had different meanings in Jesus's time than they did at the time of the church councils that established Catholic orthodoxy.

So, Baynes shoots a hole in Lewis's 'lunatic/liar/lord' theory through the backdoor method of showing that Jesus didn't make the claims Lewis claims he did, and that what Jesus did say meant something quite different from what Lewis thought it did. That's interesting in and of itself, but relatively minor so far as I wd be concerned, since it only applies to one argument Lewis made that I thought floundered under its own incoherence even as he was making it. But to extrapolate from Baynes is to raise a far larger point, with consequences for CSL's literary work: just how reliable was CSL's memory, and how accurate or otherwise are his citations?

Anyone who reads much C. S. Lewis biography comes to be familiar with the claims that CSL had an enormously retentive memory for books.* Yet there's reason to think his memory was less photographic than legend makes it. For example, we know of one case when he was asked about a book he'd read just a few months before about which he could not remember the author, nor the title, and had only a distorted memory of its contents.** What if his memory for literary quotes is no better than Baynes had demonstrated his theological citations to be? Hence, I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has ever checked Lewis's citations against the originals in his scholarly articles, to hear how accurate they turned out to be. I suspect that CSL's literary citations will turn out to be more accurate than his theological ones, but it'd be nice to know.

--John R.
current anime: GOLDEN TIME
current reading: THE SIMON IFF STORIES [1917-1918] by Aleister Crowley

 *In part this may just have been a side-effect of his fondness for re-reading favorite books over and over again; thanks to Janice for that thought.

**This occurred in his first (1942) letter to E. R. Eddison.  I was surprised, a while back, having always read that Charles Williams was venerated by the Oxford undergrads he lectured to, to find he was a figure of fun among the undergrads for his habit of always misquoting poetry. I don't think anything of the sort is true of CSL; merely that he might have been a little less superhuman than is generally believed.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

We have a door!

As of tonight, we now have a newly installed door, the sturdiest we could find, in place of the damaged door from the break-in almost three weeks ago. Now we've cleared out all the boxes we had stacked against the inside of the door, completely filling that section of the stairwell and preventing anyone from getting in (even if they tried kicking the door in, it simply couldn't move with all that stuff filling the space behind it, between it and the wall). The cats have celebrated in their typical fashion: Feanor by going down and wanting in the garage, Hastur by keeping her distance.

--John R.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Profile of Wayne

So, thanks to Jason for sharing the link to a piece on Wayne Hammond that appeared recently in the local college paper. Aside from the first paragraph, in which the student journalist describes his (or her?) dressing up as Bombadil for Halloween, it's a pretty decent profile, and includes a nice description of Wayne & Christina's current project, THE ART OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS. 


--John R.
current reading: A SLIP OF THE KEYBOARD by Terry Pratchett [2014]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


So, yesterday I was surprised by the arrival of a package from England, which turned out to contain an advance copy of my newest publication: an abridged and updated one-volume edition of my massive (thousand-page) HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT. This trimmed down version contains the entire draft manuscript of THE HOBBIT (1930-1932/33), plus the rewritten Gollum chapter (1944 & '47), plus the '1960 Hobbit'. Having heard that some found the size of the full version intimidating, I've been able to shorten the book by cutting back on my commentary, focusing on the most important points rather than exploring all the related by-ways. And of course as always with each new edition I've made corrections and added important new information where possible -- e.g., to the discussion over whether Sinclair Lewis's BABBIT influenced Tolkien's creation of the word 'hobbit' I've added proof that Tolkien was familiar with Lewis's work. I also spent a lot of time improving the index, which is now much shorter. Here's a link to the book's description as it appears on the publisher's website

and here's another to its entry on

N.B. Both these entries give the book as being 592 pages long; actually it's somewhat shorter than that, coming in 542 pages (not counting the index).

The official released date is January 15th.  I'm really looking forward to it -- I'm hoping this new, slimmer edition helps introduce more people to Tolkien's original draft version of the book, and shows them how he put the book together. And, in short, to follow the footsteps of a great writer and see how he created a masterpiece.

--John R.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Cat Report (Fr.11/21-14)

Sp, here's a brief report on how the cats were doing Friday morning (11/21); sorry for the delay in posting, but it's been a busy week.

With the arrival first of the kittens AVALONEA and HAGRYPHUS, and then of bonded pair Siamese-ish TOULOUSE and MONET (whom I keep wanting to call LAUTREC*), we were up to nine cats Friday morning -- close to a full room, but they distributed themselves out harmoniously so that it didn't seem as crowded as it really was. Visitors could stand out side and look through the glass and play a 'Find-the-Cats' game. 

BUXTER looked up and started doing her paws up and down and purring when she saw me through the glass when I arrived. Thereafter she took to her favorite spot, the top of the cat-stand by the door, where she welcomed attention (petting) and games (esp. the string game, and feathers). MAEBE, our other veteran, was up and down: sometimes atop the cat-stand by the cabinet, sometimes up on the cage-tops. She also enjoyed the string game and esp. the feathers. 

Of our Three Shy Cats, little CLOUD made her way, in that quiet, determined way she has, to her safe spot underneath the cat-stand by the cabinet, where she sometimes joined in the feathers game -- a little yellow paw darting out now and then when the feathers went swishing by. I wd say she's the best hider we've got, but on second thought ANUBUS AUGUSTUS (great name!) is probably her match.  After a little petting in his cage, Anubus chose the cubbyhole on the bench, where he blends into the shadows with that solid black coat of his. He's certainly shy, but very alert and welcomes petting -- unlike MONET (LAUTREC), poor thing, who's very shy and withdrawn. Lautrec refused to come out of his cage, shrank back when being petted, and generally showed every sign of being miserable at being in a strange new place. Hope Toulouse's sunny disposition and attention from us help his partner relax and gain some confidence that we're not all cat-eating fiends.
As for Lautrec's brother, TOULOUSE played with kittens, and even groomed them a bit by the end of the morning. Very gentle, very playful, very affectiate. What a great cat; a couple came in and were very taken with him, and he was so happy at the attention he purred for several minutes after they left.  it was fun to see the photo taken since of Toulouse and little Hagryphus sleeping together in the cubbyhole (thanks for sharing), or to hear that he's been grooming both kittens, and even trying to carry them around by the scruff. Is he bonding with the kittens, or is he just that outgoing a cat ('sociable' doesn't seem to do it justice)?

TIZZY, our other mellow-fellow, also played with the kittens, particularly with the ball-in-a-circle toy. Tizzy enjoys attention, but what I think he likes most is to go into the other cats' cages;  at one point he was hanging out with Lautrec in the double-wide on the left, at another in the kittens' double-wide cage on the left. Maybe he just likes the space, being a good-sized cat himself. I took either Toulouse or TIzzy out for a walk at the end of my shift, but I've since forgotten which (and apparently didn't make a note). Whichever one it was, he did really well, paying a visit to the bird side of the store and staying calm when spotting a dog a good way off. 

As for The KittensHAGRY (Hagryphus), the boy, is the one with the tail doubled back at the end. AVALONEA, the girl, has a more subtle distinction:  her tail is longer than usual, as if she had an extra joint or two in her tail-vertebrae. Both love just about every kind of game there is (pity I didn't think to try the laser pointer), and happily played with anyone who'd play with them (i.e., Toulouse and TIzzy). They also were interested in supervising the cleaning of the cages, especially their own and the other bonded pair's. 

There was great interest all around when I got out Anubus's special food, which apparently has a v. appealing aroma for cats. Toulouse was especially interested.  It was good to see each cat's weight added to the file; hadn't realized that Miss Buxter weighs exactly twice what little Cloud does.

Speaking of which, the big news over the weekend was that little Cloud has now been adopted and is now in a home of her own. A happy ending for a shy, sweet little cat. 

--John R.

*and I'm not the only one; a visitor made the same connection.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tolkien's Jonah

So, the current issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (Vol. 4 No. 2) finally arrived a week ago Monday, and it was well worth the wait.

First and foremost, it provides us with a new Tolkien text: his translation of THE BOOK OF JONAH for the England-language version of THE JERUSALEM BIBLE -- not the version published back in 1966, which it turns out was reworked by another hand (one Alan Neame, responsible for imposing a consistent style on the Old Testament section), but the text as Tolkien himself submitted it to Alexander Jones, the project's editor. In addition, an accompanying essay by Brendon N. Wolfe (the J.I.S.'s Tolkien editor) provides background and context to Tolkien's involvement in the project. There are plenty of quotes from Jones's letters to Tolkien, but unfortunately not of Tolkien's side of the correspondence (which wd have figured largely into the previous, unsuccessful attempt to publish Tolkien's JONAH). We learn that Tolkien did a translation of the first chapter of ISAIAH as a sample, though only two verses from this are included in Wolfe's essay. Also, and rather surprisingly, that Tolkien was against using "thee" and "thou" in this project, given that he skews towards the archaic in his own translations. As Jason Fisher has pointed out, Tolkien does use an unusual word at one point, describing the vine that grows to shade the prophet as a "colocynth", a word few readers of his text would have recognized (it's a plant better known as a bitter apple or, most colorfully, the vine of Sodom, a sort of desert melon). Here's the link to Jason's piece (the comments to which are also interesting):

All I have to add to this is that the translation/adaptation of JONAH Tolkien was probably most familiar with, the Gawain-poet's PATIENCE, opts for the familiar and homey over the exotic and strange, calling it a wodbynde (woodbine, a kind of honeysuckle)

Finally, it was news to me that the poet Roy Campbell would probably have been one of the translators but died before beginning work on his section (the 'Song of Songs') --though given Campbell's reputation it might be just as well that his name was not associated with the project.

As for the rest of the issue, it includes what must be one of the final pieces by the late Stratford Caldecott as well as a lengthy piece on CSL's weird claim that Jesus can't be viewed as a great but non-divine teacher; it's interesting to see how Baynes, the author, places Lewis within a tradition that was skeptical of claims for Biblical inerrancy but accepting of the miracles at the core of the Xian story --v. much 'mere Christianity' as Lewis understood it.

Best of all, perhaps,*  is the announcement in the editorial of this issue of a new venture by the folks behind THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES, a series publishing for the first time major works by various Inklings such as Warnie Lewis's MEMOIR of his brother (extracts of which served as a Foreword to the 1966 edition of CSL's LETTERS), the complete GREAT WAR philosophical papers by Barfield and Lewis (presently known only through Lioney Adey's excellent summary and explication), and Barfield's long poem RIDERS ON PEGASUS (a.k.a. 'The Mother of Pegasus'). Here's hoping this series gets established and thrives: not only are all these projects eminently worthwhile but any Inklings scholar or serious fan of their works can easily think of other titles worthy to be added to that list.

--John R.
current reading: THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (comics)

*(aside from the publication of Tolkien's JONAH itself, of course)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What a Week

So, Monday afternoon (a week ago yesterday) I returned home after a good session working on my FALL OF ARTHUR paper on the laptop at the local Starbucks to find a window smashed, a door twisted out of shape, two other doors standing open, and the apartment burgled. My first thought was, is the thief or thieves still inside? My second was, what if the cats got out? With that in mind, I went inside and had a quick look-around: lots of stuff disturbed, some things missing, no sign of the cats or the intruders. So I called 911,* had another quick look inside, and then waited for the police.** The officer arrived within just a few minutes, and after a quick question we went through the townhouse room by room. I mentioned being worried about the cats, who might have been so spooked they bolted through the open doors and, being housecats, didn't know how to take care of themselves once they were outside. The policewoman said, 'well, there's one of them now'. And indeed it was: Feanor came out of wherever he was hiding, probably upon hearing my voice. I still didn't want him to get out, so I put him on the balcony on the other side of the sliding door as a temporary measure. Didn't find Hastur, but suspected she was probably well-hidden, given that she goes to ground whenever friends come over; turned out she was under the bed, so I put Feanor in with her, along with some food and water, on the other side of a secure door.

The officer dusted for fingerprints but said the intruder seems to have worn gloves. We lost a laptop, some binoculars, and a set of silverware still in its original presentation box, none of which we expect to see again. No large items were taken -- nothing that wd have taken two people to carry, or that wd have been conspicuous if someone had been seen carrying it. The officer concluded it was likely a single person with a backpack. I was tasked with writing up a report of everything that was missing, to be submitted by the police along with a case number: brand names and serial numbers are apparently a big help. After the officer left I tried comforting the cats a little, made a hasty start on the list, did a slightly more thorough look-through from room to room, and then went to get Janice.

And now, over a week later, we're still dealing with the aftermath, and will be for weeks to come: getting the broken window fixed, exploring options about making the downstairs more secure, replacing the damaged door, thinking of ways to prevent a recurrence. The folks at the Apple store told Janice how to remotely delete everything on her vanished laptop, which she's done (and just in time too; someone tried to access it the next day). Lots of passwords have been changed, just to be on the safe side.

The week's weirdness didn't stop there. Wednesday afternoon I spent babysitting for the daughter of a friend; we watched anime together (RANMA 1/2) and generally had a good time, but it did mean a hard drive home afterwards in the dark (my night-vision seems to have declined a few more notches since the last time I was up that way at night). Thursday I watched cats at the cat-room, filling in for someone else who'd taken my usual Wednesday shift the day before (thus having enabled me to do the babysitting); Friday we had one of our 'Work-at-John's day'. And through it all the cats were unusually sociable, staying with us and settling in whichever room we were in.

Saturday after a busy week we got together with friends and watched the last Japanese-made GODZILLA movie, which was simply bizarre, an attempt to throw in every monster they cd from every previous such movie, topped off with a soundtrack by Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer fame). Sunday we visited a friend in the hospital; first time I've ever visited a psychiatric ward, which was a strange experience (lots of rules and regulations, some of which you'd expect and others you wdn't). Yesterday and today things have been getting back on track: good progress on the Tolkien paper (which I need to wrap up by the end of the year) and in general things slipping out of on-edge, waiting-for-the-shoe-to-drop mode back into daily life. Monday evening we even had our usual D&D game (we were short a player so our characters ran away a lot).

And yet today, when I thought things really were back to normal they cut down my favorite trees in all of Kent. So there may still be more weirdness in the offing.

In the end, though, we only lost stuff: the only thing that's irreplaceable being the silverware, which had belonged to Janice's parents. The burglar cd have trashed the place, which he didn't. Various small things, of no particular value but irreplaceable because of the memories associated with them, were passed by, for which we're grateful.  Janice and I and the cats are all safe. And we've seen friends going through rough times that makes us realize we're still among the lucky ones. But it'll still be a long time before we altogether get over it.

--John R.
current reading: A HISTORY OF ANCIENT EGYPT and an unpublished dissertation on JRRT.

*I've since been instructed in no uncertain terms that I shd have done this in the opposite order, calling 911 first. Live and learn.

**having been burgled once before, back in my Marquette days, I know that there's a difference between a robbery, which involves a threat of violence, and a burglary, which is simply theft. There's nothing like being on the receiving end of a burglary to make one sympathize with Smaug's point of view.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Cat Report (Th. 11/13-14)

So, with new arrivals we're up to five (soon to be seven) cats: BUXTER and MAEBE, little CLOUD, and newcomers TIZZY and ANUBUS AUGUSTUS; two kittens will join us as soon as they recover from their spay/neutering.

Have to say things were remarkably peaceful. The cats distributed themselves around the room, divvying up favorite spots, then settling down to enjoy a good snooze, all without a hiss or growl among them.

MAEBE (our dark calico) and BUXTER (our tuxedo cat)  were in good form today. Maebe showed off her leaping skills: up atop the cat-stand by the cabinet, a quick walk along the cagetops, and then back across to the top of the cat-stand by the door, which she claimed for her own. Buxter originally chose the top of the other cat-stands but then moved to share the same cat-stand as sister Maebe.  Haven't seen them look so much like a bonded pair since they moved into separate cages. Both were playful as well: Buxter enjoyed the string game and Maebe did as well, but what really got Maeve excited was the gopher game, which she played with enthusiasm.  Buxter had a walk a little before noon: she went bird-watching. I made sure she stayed well back, but her attention was certainly riveted.

Little CLOUD (our little pale yellow mama cat) explored a lot around the cabinet end of the room, having first established a base camp in the rondel under the cat-stand by the cabinet. She was very friendly, even downright gregarious at times, and mewed for attention quite a lot. While still a natural-born burrower (she's going to spend lots of time exploring the backs of closets in whatever home she winds up in) she's really come out of her shell. She doesn't like walks, though; too scary she thinks.

TIZZY (grey and white, with light and dark shades in the grey), whom I think I'll call 'Talker', is one of our two new males: a very vocal cat who talks back if you talk to him. He's on the shy side but does well so long as he has his cage door open to allow for a hasty retreat if something spooks him (which happens a lot). He decided, very reasonably, that he preferred Anubus's larger cage to his own and spent a good time hanging out in there. Loves being petted and talked to (not necessarily in that order).

ANUBUS AUGUSTUS (sleek and solid black, our other new male cat -- and what a great name) was playing with Maebe early on, before even coming out of his cage: she was up high peering down at him and he was reaching up with his paw trying to locate her above him. Once out he took himself up high, staked his claim to the box up there, and stayed in his perch all morning. Very self-possessed cat who knows what he wants and takes the most direct route to get it.

Be interesting to see how the addition of two kittens affects the current harmony.

A fair number of viewers and visitors admiring the cats.

No health concerns: everyone seemed okay.

--John R.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Turtles showing Alligators who's Boss

So, today's post wd have been about Tolkien's JONAH, which finally arrived. But that was before I came home at 2.30 and discovered the break-in; the rest of the day's been spent blocking up the burglar's entry route, making a list of what's missing, and changing a whole lot of passwords.

Have to say, burglars are a lot more fun to read about, in stories by Tolkien and Dunsany, than to experience first-hand.

So, instead here's a picture of turtles.*  Look closely: those are not logs the turtles are sunning themselves on.

I know my own mental image of turtles changed a lot after I saw a clip on the BBC of turtles in an African watering hole chasing down waterfowl that landed there. Clearly the turtles in this picture either think themselves lords of their domain or are certain a life-and-let-live pact exists with their fellow reptiles. Let's hope they're right about that.

--John R.

*thanks to Janice for the picture

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The 2015 Tolkien Calendar

So, this past month or so has been a good month for interesting books arriving, some but by no means all Tolkien related. One of the more interesting non-book but Tolkien-related items is this coming year's Tolkien Calendar. I've been trying to find this at my local bookstores for weeks, ever since the 2015 calendars started to arrive in August/September. I finally gave up on the Tukwila B&N a few days after we got back from our trip, and bought it at the B&N down in Federal Way instead (Th. Oct. 23rd) -- only to see it finally arrive at my local store (which had still not had it as late as W. the 22nd) the next day (Fr. the 24th). So it goes.

The illustrator is Mary Fairburn, whom Tolkien himself observed had a rather hobbitish name, and the story of how she came to illustrate Tolkien is an interesting one -- perhaps rather more interesting than the art itself.

As a young artist, Fairburn sent her work directly to Tolkien back in 1968 in hopes that she might be able to do an illustrated edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Tolkien was much impressed by her work and even purchased some of it for himself when plans for the proposed illustrated edition fell through (not to be realized until many years later with the Folio Society and, later, Alan Lee editions). Fairburn herself didn't keep any of the art, but a number of pieces survive because she gave them to a friend who kept them all these years. This calendar collects together the surviving original pieces, most of which Tolkien saw and approved, plus her re-creation of some of the missing ones.

The best piece by far is the one used as the calendar's cover and again as the image for the month of April: the bottom half is Tolkienesque in its use of contour lines, while the top half is distinctly Sime-ish,* esp about the clouds and sky.

In general I much prefer the older pieces, which are more distinctive in style, as well as more surreal and slightly creepy: the Inn at Bree, the Old Forest, the Bridge of Khazad-dum, the Nazgul over Dead Marshes,** and an unusual Treebeard. Tolkien's favorite was the Mirror of Galadriel, perhaps due to its simplicity and her attention to background.

The more recent ones -- of Rivendell, of the Fellowship climbing the lower tree-covered slopes of Caradhras, of Gandalf riding to Minas Tirith -- look fairy-taleish, more like they're intended for a children's book, and have a lighter, greener pallet. The exception is the Cracks of Doom, which is downright Art Deco-ish.

As an added bonus, the calendar also comes with an interesting essay by Paul Tankard giving a brief bio of Fairburn and a history of the project, quoting from her correspondence with Tolkien, and describing how it faltered under the complications and difficulties of both Tolkien's and Fairburn's lives. A more detailed version of this essay appeared in the TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT at the time of the artwork's re-discovery and can be found at the following link:

All in all, it's good to have Fairburn's story, and the previously unpublished passages from Tolkien's letters. It's nice that Fairburn, now 82 and living in Australia, gets recognition and a little glory for her work. And it's good to see the art, which stands up v. well by comparison with what Tolkien art there was in the late Sixties -- this is even earlier, I think, than Tim Kirk, and of course both earlier and far better than The Hildebrandts.


*I'm thinking about the late Sime here, after he'd retired from illustrating and worked away in his studio at Worplesdon on whatever image pleased him, most strikingly a portrait of John on Patmos.

**this picture is accompanied by a rather defensive note to the effect that "Gollum is painted black, in accordance with at least seven references in The Lord of the Rings" --presumably whoever wrote this note had become aware of Tolkien insistence, in his comments on Pauline Baynes' disastrous attempt to portray Gollum, that Gollum is pale-skinned.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tolkien's Shopping List (and a new poem)

So, thanks to Jason Fisher for sharing the news that a London auctionhouse is about to auction off a previously unknown poem by JRRT ("Aredhel went forth in blossom white"). It's a fascinating little piece which retells part of the story of The White Lady, sister of Turgon and Fingon. From the promising and evocative opening reproduced on the auction-house's website, I hope Tolkien continued the poem elsewhere and that this quick draft of the first stanza and a bit more isn't all we have of it.  Still, even if that's the case, we now have more of it that we did before, and its very existence draws attention to a free-spirited figure who unfortunately plays only a small role in the events of THE SILMARILLION.

And, on the back, we get a quick to-do list. Tolkien-bashers have facetiously been talking about "Tolkien's shopping list" for years: now they'll finally get to see how much we Tolkien fans (who are legion) will pay for it. Plus, of course, an unpublished and previously unknown poem. I know I'd love to own it if I had that kind of money.

And if you do have that kind of money, the auction is scheduled for next Thursday, at one o'clock, in Bloomsbury (London); their estimate is that it'll go for between four thousand and six thousand pounds.

Here's the link:

--John R.
Today's song: "Where is the Walrus?" (Alan Parsons Project)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Cat Report (W. 11/5-14)

Tuesday night's adoption of DIVA/Gracie (go, Diva!), plus Wednesday night's adoption of the kittens FUCHSIA and WYSTERIA, leaves us with just three cats left unadopted in the cat-room: BUXTERMAEBE, and little CLOUD.

The kittens were still very much in evidence, though, when I was there yesterday morning: their motto was we're kittens and we're out, and the older cats all coped with this flurry of activity by going high (Maebe, Buxter) or laying low (Cloud). The later strategy, of Cloud's hiding back in the corner in a nice little nest she made by the laundry hamper, particularly intrigued the kittens, who kept going back time after time to check on her and see if she was still there. Maebe started out on the cat-stand by the cabinet but later shifted herself up to the cagetops, where she did some serious snoozing in the cat-box up there; not even the kittens tearing back and forth up there disturbed her.  Buxter settled in her favorite spot atop the cat-stand by the door, where she luxuriated in my giving her a good, long, deep backscratch. She also enjoyed the string game, and showed a real enthusiasm for the soft pink blanket, coming down from her perch to stand on it and do her paws up and down, purring all the while.

Maebe was also interested in the string game while still on the cat-stand; she put such things behind her when she went up high to settle down to some serious sleeping.

Little Cloud showed real progress since last week: a week ago (10/29) she'd been cowering at the back of her cage. Two days later she let me pet her but really, really didn't want to have to come out of her safe territory (the cage). And now this Wednesday (11/5) she came up to the front of her cage and paraded before I even opened the door, let me pick up and carry her, welcomed being petted, and even went for a short walk (beware her wanting to go under shelves, and the speed with which she makes a dash with that goal in mind). She even cried when I put her back in her cage at noon and had to leave for the day. Think she'll quickly become a very sociable cat, at least with people. I'm surprised sometime at how small she is: she and the kittens are about the same length.

As for the kittens, they played with each other all morning. I forgot to bring their favorite mouse-on-a-stick game, but they made do nicely playing with the little plastic eggs, which went skittering as well as any ping-pong balls could have done. Their favorite, though, was the old yarn-and-chain game, which they pursued with vigor. At one point they found and ate some wet catfood that'd been left up on the cagetops, presumably since the night before; by the time I noticed what they were up to it was too late to stop them. And as before they had no interest in being picked up or petted until they crashed around 11, then welcomed being petted while they slept like only tired kittens can. 

Lots of visitors, some of whom said they'd adopted from Purrfect Pals in the past, and at least one who shares my love of small black cats. One woman had forgotten her cat's pre-adoption name but mistook a photo of Kaspar for him, so that's what he looks like (aside from having a notch out of one ear). Before my time, I think: sound familiar to anybody?  Another had a bonded pair named Tig and Tag, but I'm not sure if those were their original names or not. We also had lots of visitors, cat people who wanted to pet and make much of our cats (which the cats enjoyed), plus a fair number of families that viewed the cats from outside. One woman had a blind cat who's twenty-one and a deaf cat who's seventeen, so clearly she's doing something right.

Forgot one thing I forgot to include in the last (composite) Cat Report: when I was in Friday last week I decided to mix things up and so moved the cat-stands around. This interested and pleased the cats greatly, though it made it hard for me to get around in the room (so I put them all back in their usual places before I left at noon). Gracie/Diva was particularly fond of the cave I made for her by draping a blanket over part of the cat-stand closer to the cabinet, turning the middle-sections into a blanket-cave from which she could see out but others cdn't easily see in.

It's been such an amazing month for adoptions. Here's hoping Buxter and Maebe's turns come soon.

--John R.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


So, yesterday the extended edition of THE HOBBIT movie two, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, came out. I had some trouble finding a copy, having to make two stops and eventually to settle for BlueRay rather than the DVD I'd have preferred. I was not only eager to watch the extended edition itself, particularly the new and expanded (and, in at least one case, re-edited) scenes, but I was curious to see the extras.

You see, I'd been flown down to L.A. (my first time ever visiting that vast city) this summer, where I'd been interviewed about THE HOBBIT by the folks making a documentary to go on the dvd as one of the extras. I was much impressed with their professionalism, and the degree to which they'd done their homework, and in general found it an interesting and enjoyable experience.

Still, that didn't mean any of the resulting footage wd necessarily be included in the final piece. They have a lot of Tolkien scholars to choose from, and any bits from me might well end up on the cutting room floor.

Turns out, though, that quite a lot of it made the final cut. Here's a shot Janice took last night of it playing on our tv.

My contribution is mostly in the dragon piece; I'm impressed how they've woven together lines by Shippey, myself, and John Howe to form a coherent narrative. So far I've only caught one gaff, where I say 'the saga of Bothvar Bjarki' where I shd have said 'the story of Bothvar Bjarki, part of the saga of Hrolf Kraki'. As gaffs go, I can live with it; much less embarrassing than Langland/Gower. 

More later, when I've had a chance to watch the whole extended edition all the way through, as well as all the documentaries and extras.

--John R.
today's song: "I'll Be Your Shelter"
current reading: extended edition of ATB, prehistory of Egypt book.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Cat Report (10/22, 10/24; 10/29, 10/31)

So, while I was away in the Midwest, there was plenty of activity in the cat room. The bonded pair CASTLE and WINDSOR came and went and are now happily settled in their new home. The other new arrivals were Cher's four (mostly black) kittens: WYSTERIA, FUSCHIA, LILAC, and ZENNIA, two of which (Lilac and Zennia) were adopted right away, before my return. The other new arrival was DIVA (who, as a fellow volunteer observed to me, really out to be called Gracie): a smooth-furred grey cat who gives the impression of bulging at the seams.

So the cat population when I got back was good girl MOLLINI, the sisters BUXTER and MAEBE, plus the kittens FUSCHIA and WYSTERIA, plus DIVA-Gracie. I was particularly glad to see Mollini again, who I think I finally figured out: she hated being picked up, and much preferred if I made a path for her to leap from small stand to big stand to her own cage (or vice-versa). She'd become the one cat who really likes to hang out near the door, so she got that territory all to herself (aside from encroachment by the kittens). Buxter and Maebe went to their usual spots (atop the cat-stand by the door and to the cagetops, respectively); Gracie was much worried at being surrounded by all these cats and gravitated towards the middle-levels of the cat-stand by the cabinet. At one point she became interested in going into the cabinet herself, but her leap (not v. far) fell short, and she wentcrashing to the floor. Didn't seem hurt, but also didn't try leaping again. Poor Diva.

And of course there was much activity by Wysteria and Fushia, chasing balls, tearing up rolls of paper towels, chasing feathers, stalking that little red light from the laser pointer, chasing ping-pong balls, pouncing on string,and of course chasing each other. Their favorite toy, bar none, seemed to be the mouse-on-a-stick, which they would catch, bite down on, and then drag away to a spot where they could concentrate on biting it properly. They're natural-born mousers, I'd say -- one of them even figured out how to unhook the 'mouse' from the line, making it easier for them to carry their trophy around.  Cute as they are, they don't seem to want to be picked up or cuddled, but when they finally crash around noontime they welcome being petted, stretching and purring with approval.

The bad news from this week was that the man who adopted BOOGIEMAN last year (Sept. 2013 I think it was) came by in great distress, saying that Boogieman (or 'Bugle Boy' as he'd renamed him) was in failing health, losing weight rapidly and beginning to have trouble walking with the back legs. Sad to say that the vets Cher put him in touch with were unable to help and he died on Tuesday (the 28th). Poor Boogieman. He was one of our most memorable cats, along with his partner in belly-up snoozing outside the room Mr. Moreo. I'm glad he had that year and more of a home of his own before the end.

The next week, the week of Halloween, brought good news to our longest-serving-cat, Mollini, who finally got adopted (the evening of October 24th), after having been here in the cat-room since May.  I'll really miss her, but I'm so glad she's got a home now. I'm sure she's already sitting on the couch next to her new people, teaching them The Rules.

The other great good news was that my pal KABOODLE has also been adopted (as of I think Monday the 27th). He was one of my favorites of all the cats who've passed through the cat-room in the past five years or so; I'd gladly have adopted him if we weren't already at our limit. I felt bad for him when he had to go back to the main clinic for health problems and have been checking the website from time to time to see if he'd gone back on the adoptable list but not seen his name appear. Turns out there was someone else who'd made a connection with him, who'd been checking for his name weekly, and who went and promptly adopted him as soon as he was pronounced good to go. I'm sorry not to have had the chance to see him again, but I'm so glad he finally has that long-awaited home (having waited the better part of a year; according to my notes, he arrived at the Tukwila cat room in early January, and has been up at the main shelter since April).

The main event of this week was the new arrival, CLOUD, a young (maybe a year old, maybe less) pale orange mama cat with an injured eye. I don't think she can see anything out of the left eye, and I think that makes her skittish -- certainly she hisses at the other cats when she notices them, but somethings doesn't seem to know they're there, or how close they are.  The first day (W. 10/29) she cowered in her cage so I didn't force thing, straightened up around her, and generally tried to put her on her ease. By Friday (Halloween) she clearly felt safer and came up requesting attention, ate a little, and actually came out on her own and explored a little. She's still definitely no fan of the other cats, but perhaps she'll reach a live-and-let-live agreement with them soon.

As for the others, BUXTER and MAEBE had  a quiet day in their respective spots. Gracie explored the steps but decided that rather than stepping off onto the cagetops she'd go back down, backwards. As usual when a cat decides to climb down backwards, it didn't work for her as well as she'd hoped. Luckily I intervened and got her down safely. The kittens did better, and one of them quite liked having a route up to new and interesting territory.

No walks for anyone, since Buxter no longer seems to enjoy them and she was the only cat among our current crop I could persuade to go on walks -- Gracie makes a concerted dive to hide under the shelving, the kittens think the leash is a diabolically clever plot of some sort, Maebe yowls despairingly, and Cloud has seemed too spooked already to risk it.

It was good to hear that Moanie and Joanie, who I remember as kittens, are doing well and to see pictures of them as full-grown (and rather beautiful) cats. The only other news of note was that Ginsu's owner came by; said she'd adopted him about five years ago and he's doing fine.

--John R.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bombadil arrives!

So, my copy of the new extended edition of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM BOMBADIL has now arrived*, and I'm glad to say it's an appealing little book. It's a small-sized hardcover, a little shorter and a little wider than a standard mass market paperback (or, to put it another way, about the same size as a cd jewelcase, only a little taller).  There's a lot of material here -- new editorial introduction giving the history of the volume, a reprinting of the entire contents of the 1962 book, an extensive section of commentary reprinting earlier versions of the poems, three pages in tengwar, the all-too-brief fragment of the Bombadil story, and the third, previously uncollected Bombadil poem, along with another (non-Bombadil) poem they suggest might be a precursor to it.

I haven't had time to read carefully all the way through it yet, so here are some first impressions

(1) I was wrong is saying this was a Hammond & Scull volume, like ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR, THE ART OF THE HOBBIT, and the LotR READER'S COMPANION. Instead, it's a Scull & Hammond volume, like ROVERANDOM, the FARMER GILES OF HAM extended edition, and the two volume JRRT COMPANION & GUIDE.

(2) The Story of Tom Bombadil is indeed very short, only three paragraphs long, a mere 262 words -- most of which is devoted to setting the scene in the days of King Bonhedig, long before the days of Arthur. What little we do have is interesting because of its unexpected parallels to the opening of FARMER GILES, and for its contribution of another of Tolkien's invasion sequences; it'll be interesting to compare the one here with that in Tolkien's notes for THE LOST ROAD and also those glimpsed in notes and outlines to THE BOOK OF LOST TALES (esp. in the story of Eriol/AElfwine).

(3)  "The Dragon's Visit" is indeed unfortunately omitted from this expanded edition (as well as "Kortirion among the Trees", which is much less of a loss). The good news is that "Once Upon a Time", the third and final Bombadil poem, is indeed included, along with another (non-Bombadil) poem they suggest might be a precusor to it. I'm dubious both on the merits of the latter and its connection between the two, but still it's good to have another Tolkien poem reprinted where it'll be more accessible to more people.

(4) In the matter of "Fastitocalon" and "Cat", they do indeed preserve the second (revised) sequence but fix two references in Tolkien's Preface so that they now each refer to the correct poem respectively. They were not able to restore the flames to the picture of Fastitocalon, but this is because they reprint all the incidental art within the body of the original book here in black and white.

(5) They describe [p. 20] the original dustjacket as having depicted the mariner from "Errantry"; I have always assumed this is the narrator of "The Sea-Bell". Not only does he and his ship lack any of the panoply so prominently featured in "Errantry" but he actually holds in his hand the sea-shell that awakens the sea-longing in "The Sea-Bell" (he's also incidently sailing past a bell in the sea, ringing on a buoy).

(6) One minor piece of errata: they say [p. 24] that three of the poems Tolkien recorded in 1967 were not used on the Caedmon record POEMS AND SONGS OF MIDDLE EARTH and "were issued only in 2001" as part of the JRRT AUDIO COLLECTION. In fact, "The Sea-Bell" is included on the 1967 Caedmon record. It's omitted from the track listing on the back of the album cover, but does appear on the label of the record itself. I only caught this because I've had this record for years, and sometimes still dig it out and play it (I'm not part of the 'vinyl revival; I just kept all my old records and still listen to them on occasion); this recording has long been a great favorite of mine: one of Tolkien's best readings of what I consider to be his best poem.

More to come: I'll try to do a quick wrap-up final impression piece once I've read all the way through the highly informative treasure trove that is the commentary and notes.

--John R.
yesterday's song: "Cool Night" by Paul Davis
currently reading: THE SHADOW OF REICHENBACH FALLS and ATB expanded edition

* I was going to say, fresh from England, but actually it was mailed from Fife -- and took less time to get here than many of the books I order from the US branch,

Thursday, October 30, 2014


So, a small turnout Sunday for Mithlond -- Gyda, Ramon, Jason, Chris and Andy not being able to make it left us with  just four people:  Yvette our host, Allen, Janice and myself. Despite that, we had a good meeting, having all read at least some of the stories, and had a good discussion. One thing we'd already become aware of is that the order in which you read the stories can have a big effect.

For example, I was reading a hardcover (the 'Mycroft and Moran' Arkham House edition), in which the first story is "The Thing Invisible", the one about the haunted knife, while Janice (and Yvette) were reading it on the Kindle, in which the first story is "The Gateway of the Monster/Whistling Room".

The two sequences are as follows:

BOOK: "The Thing Invisible", "The Gateway of the Monster", "The House Among the Laurels", "The Whistling Room", "The Searcher of the End House", "The Horse of the Invisible", plus the three added stories: "The Haunted Jarvee", "The Find", and (last and among the least) "The Hog".

e-Book: "The Gateway of the Monster", "The House Among the Laurels", "The Whistling Room", "The Horse of the Invisible", "The Searcher of the End House", "The Thing Invisible", "The Hog", "The Haunted Jarvee", and "The Find"

This matters because Hodgson carefully manipulates the reader's expectations in the Carnaki stories. In some stories, there's no ghost: the haunting was faked (though the danger may still be real). In others, the ghost is all too real and, more often than not, deadly. And in one story there's both a faked haunting and, as revealed in the climax, a real horror as well. In the arrangement of stories in the book, Hodgson carefully gives a sequence that keeps the reader guessing; in the Kindle arrangement the reader is thrown into the deed end from the get-go.  That Hodgson was wise to keep his readers guessing is amply shown by the Ash-Tree Press volume of Carnacki pastiches, NO. 472 CHEYNE WALK [2002] by A. F. Kidd and Rick Kennett. I tend to enjoy a good pastiche (such as Cannon's SCREAM FOR JEEVES, Harrison's EXPLOITS OF THE CHEVALIER DUPIN, or even Sheila Hodgson's THE FELLOW TRAVELLERS), but in the Kidd-Kennett collection every story follows the same pattern, all the ghosts are real, all are thwarted in much the same manner, and the reader is never left in any doubt that Carnacki will win through.

By contrast, there's much more ingenuity and variety in the original Carnacki stories (six in the original book published in Hodgson's lifetime, nine in the Arkham House and subsequent editions)*: the fact that Carnacki confesses to having been terrified at times during his investigations, only to sometimes later discover he'd worked himself up and the horror was of his own imagining; there's an honesty to that that's appealing. And the mix of real and faked hauntings has a verisimilitude: it stands to reason that not every case a ghost-hunter undertakes will uncover a genuine ghost.  Perhaps the thing that most makes them stand out is Carnacki's use of cutting edge technology, like his Electric Pentagram and later his Prismatic Circle. In this he resembles Bram Stoker. Reading DRACULA today it's easy to miss how tech-savvy his heroes are, employing such then-modern devices as the telegraph, shorthand, and especially Dr. Steward's Dictaphone to solve the case. Stoker even uses an airplane in a daring rescue as the climax in another of his novels, THE LADY OF THE SHROUD, published just six years after the Wright Brothers' first flight.

*of these, three additional stories, "The Hog" is an inept re-write of THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLANDS, "The Haunted Jarvee" is a so-so reuse of the plot-line from THE GHOST PIRATES, and "The Find", the best of the lot, a non-horror tale of ratinocination, perhaps hinting at a direction the series might have taken had the War not intervened.  For years there were doubts about the authenticy of all three, given Derleth's history as a forger.

Probably the biggest revelation to me was Yvette's pointing out that Dodgson, the narrator, was probably a play on Hodgson, the writer; I'd always assumed it was some sort of tribute to Lewis Carroll. That's one of the reasons I love book groups: those times when someone else read the same book I did and got something out of it I didn't which enhances my own reading.

As for the gathering itself, Yvette and James (our co-host) topped off their hospitality with hot cider and most excellent go-off-the-diet-worthy little bite-sized fruit tarts. Better yet, Max (Maximillius) the cat was disposed to be agreeable, not just showing a good deal of interest in the string game but completely eviscerating the little furry mouse tied to one end of the string; later he discovered the cat-nip tea-bag in my satchel and gave himself up to uninhibited indulgence. More surprising, we got to see shy Maya, who came out and took care of what spilled catnip Max had missed, so mellowed out that she actually let me pet her a little. Add to that a friendly encounter with the neighborhood cat when we arrived, and it was a three-cat visit.

Next month our book is something entirely different:  THE SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY by Mary Robinett Kowal, which seems to be another of those works that blends Jane Austen style character-interaction romance with fantasy. Wrede and Stevermer pulled it off with SORCERY AND CECELIA (perhaps because they refrained from too closely coping Austen, simply using her as inspiration rather than a template), while Galen Beckett failed with his MRS QUENT (which came across as an unblended pastiche of Austen, Bronte, and early Dickens --in sequence, not blended into a coherent whole). Here's hoping Kowal has better luck.

--John R.
just finished: FOREIGN DEVILS (a DOCTOR WHO novel featuring Thomas Carnacki)
just started: THE SHADOW OF REICHENBACH FALLS by John R. King (a Holmes/Carnacki crossover)
yesterday's song: RED RUBBER BALL by The Cyrkle
today's song: '65 LOVE AFFAIR by Paul Davis

Friday, October 24, 2014


So, here's a book I knew was coming but didn't know until a few days ago* that it was actually out (as of Oct. 9th): a new, expanded edition of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM BOMBADIL, edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.  I've now ordered a copy, but it'll be a while getting here, since it has to come from the U.K.; as with so many other interesting new editions of Tolkien works, there seems to be no American edition, at least so far as I cd tell.

It seems from the descriptions that this not-quite-Fiftieth-Anniversary edition, like similar expanded editions of FGH, SWM, and OFS, includes the entire text of the original book plus ancillary material of great interest: the earlier versions of the poems where these are known to exist, such as "Looney" (better known as "The Sea-Bell") and "Firiel" (which became "The Last Ship"), not to mention the newly rediscovered original of "Shadow-bride". Of particular interest is the never-before-published "The Bumpus", which developed into "Perry-the-Winkle".

Best of all, Wayne & Christina print for the first time the prose fragment of what wd have been The Story of Tom Bombadil, had Tolkien continued it -- another of those "promising beginnings" as Tolkien himself called them that faltered after a few pages, like the sequel to FARMER GILES (similarly printed for the first time by Wayne & Christina in their extended edition of FGH).

Finally, this expanded edition of ATB adds the third Bombadil poem, "Once Upon a Time", a delightful little piece which seems to have been written just too late for inclusion in the original 1962 edition and instead appeared in print elsewhere a few years later.**  So far as I can tell, they've not included associated poems like "The Dragon's Visit" and "Kortirion Among the Trees", which Tolkien considered including in the 1962 volume but which were ultimately left out for one reason or another (presumably finding it too hard to reconcile them to the 'Red Book' conceit that unifies the otherwise disparate collection). This was particularly unfortunately in the case of "The Dragon's Visit", which is a good deal better than several of the poems which made it in (e.g., "Bombadil Goes Boating", "Princess Mee", "The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon").

One thing I'm very curious to find out, and forgot to ask when I saw them this summer, is whether they've restored the original sequence of the poems Tolkien intended, or kept the revised sequence introduced by his publishers (w. Tolkien's permission) in the second printing (which is after all now of some fifty years' standing). In the original sequence, "Cat" is poem number eleven and "Fastitocalon" is poem number twelve; in the revised sequence, they switch places, so that "Fastitocalon" becomes poem number eleven and now precedes "Cat", which becomes poem number twelve.***

The chief significance of this is that Tolkien when refers in his Preface to poem number twelve . . .

No. 12 is also marked SG [=Sam Gamgee],
 though at most Sam can only have touched 
up an older piece of the comic bestiary lore 
of which Hobbits appear to have been fond" 

. . . he is referring NOT to "Cat" (the current poem number twelve) but to "Fastitocalon" (the original poem number twelve).

If they have not restored Tolkien's original ordering of the poems, then I'll be curious to see if they've changed the faulty reference in Tolkien's Preface, so that instead of "No. 12" it wd instead read "No. 11". And, though this is a lesser point, whether they've been able to restore the spot of color to the illustration of "Fastitocalon" (the tongues of flame from the fatal campfire) which was the root cause of the re-sequencing in the first place. We'll soon see.

Since the book itself's better than any description of the book, here's a link to what seems to be the amazon ( listing for the expanded edition of this appealing little book.

--John R, looking forward to the arrival of my just-ordered copy
current reading: still the Echo-Hawk (only forty pages to go!)

*thanks Doug

**WINTER'S TALES FOR CHILDREN, ed. Carolyn Hillier [1965], along with the revised version of "The Dragon's Visit"; both poems were reprinted a few years later in mass-market paperback by Lin Carter in THE YOUNG MAGICIANS [1969], one of the sixty-five books in Ballantine's Adult Fantasy Series.

***for the reasons why this occurred -- a discovery that I made, ironically enough, when examining Christina's copy of the first printing -- see my article, written in collaboration with Wayne, "'Fastitocalon' and 'Cat': A Problem in Sequencing", which appeared in the August 1987 issue of BEYOND BREE.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ANCHORING THE MYTH (My New Publication)

So, this week I got the good news about my latest publication, the volume THE HOBBIT IN TOLKIEN'S MYTHOLOGY: ESSAYS ON REVISIONS AND INFLUENCES, edited by Brad Eden, is now out.

My contribution is my keynote speech at last year's Valparaiso conference organized by Brad Eden, the essay "Anchoring the Myth: The Impact of THE HOBBIT on Tolkien's Legendarium", which chooses Tolkien's treatment of The Dwarves as a way to trace the (sometimes surprising) ways the older legendarium and THE HOBBIT interact. I spent a lot of time in THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT exploring that interaction, and writing this piece helped clarify my thinking on the issue, and the way Tolkien could have contradictory things going on in different parts of his overarching legendarium -- held in suspension, as it were, until and if he made a decision one way or the other.

The volume doesn't appear to be up on the McFarland website yet (where it'll be the most recent in what's now their eight volumes of Tolkien material, of which I've contributed to four*). However, you can find a link to its listing on Amazon here:

The amazon listing doesn't give the table of contents, but fortunately that appears on Jason Fisher's blog:

As you can see from the T.o.C., I'm in good company.** In fact, the best thing about seeing this book in print, aside from my own excitement about seeing another piece of mine out there where others can read it and react to it, is that now I get to read the essays by all the other contributors. So when my copy arrives it will immediately go to the top of the 'Read This Now' pile.

Many thanks to Brad for putting together the conference, inviting me to speak at it, coming up with the idea of this book, and seeing it through to fruition. 


--John R.

current reading: TOLKIEN IN PAWNEE LAND (Echo-Hawk)

*PICTURING TOLKIEN, THE BONES OF THE OX ('Tolkien and the Study of His Sources'), TOLKIEN IN THE NEW CENTURY (the Shippey festschrift, both as a co-editor and contributor), and now THE HOBBIT IN TOLKIEN'S MYTHOLOGY

** something that can be said of everyone who shares space in a book with Verlyn Fleiger, who gave the other keynote speech.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


So, last Thursday, the final night of our trip, we spent the evening with old friends: The Burrahobbits.*  Here's what Janice had to say afterwards (thanks to JC for permission to forward her post):

Burrahobbits Rule the book group world. Meeting 30 years and counting. Thanks to Jan Noble Long, Jeff Long, David Hoose, Georgie, Greg, and Pat for proving you can go home again. It was great seeing everyone again and picking up where we left off 17 years ago.

This is the book group I helped found, growing out of a continuing ed. class on Tolkien, that still has three of the original members in regular attendance all these years later, plus several other long-timers who came in later, and a cadre of new folks -- though by 'new' I mean people who joined after Janice and I moved to the Seattle area, seventeen years ago now, some of whom have been coming for years by this point. We kept coming ourselves even after we left Milwaukee, driving up from Delavan one night a month, and have kept in touch via email in the years since, though nothing is the same as being there.**  Thus we had a great time drinking tea (Jeff & Jan even provided Tupilo honey!), catching up, remembering deceased members (Jim and Sue), and discussing books good and bad we'd read over the years.  Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the evening, but it left me determined to keep in better touch with what they're reading and, when possible, to read along with their monthly choices.

All hail Burrahobbits!

--John R.

P. S. In the meantime, our current book group (Mithlond) is reading Wm. Hope Hodgson's CARNACKI THE GHOST FINDER this month,*** if anyone in the Seattle area is interested in joining us. I'm enjoying re-reading the original stories -- the best of all the psychic detectives, in my judgment -- and also reading a collection of Carnacki pastiches by other hands (which are enjoyable enough but can't begin to compare to the original). I also have a Doctor Who novel featuring Carnacki and an e-book of Carnacki-meets-Holmes, which I may not have time to get to before the meeting this weekend. 

*originating as an independent group who have since become both a Mythopoeic discussion group and a Tolkien Society smial in addition to still being independently minded. The name comes from our vast amusement of Nicole Williamson's reading of the Troll scene on his record album giving a reading of THE HOBBIT.

**Just to give some idea of how important this group was in our lives, it's where Janice and I met. And we're not the only couple to come out of the group.

***as part of our longstanding tradition to read a horror or ghost story each October

Monday, October 13, 2014

First Edition monsters & the new MONSTER MANUAL

So, before leaving for my trip I had a chance to take a closer look at the new Fifth Edition MM, which is just out.  And what I was most struck with is the degree to which it is dominated by 1st edition monsters.

Just quickly going down the list is redolent of the old days and the game's classic form:

bullywug and bullett. carrion crawler. demons, devils, and even angels (none of that Second Edition hapless evasiveness here).  ankheg and basilisk and beholder; cockatrice, chimera, cloaker. the classic giants and dragons (including that old favorite the dragon turtle, as well as the hydra) and golems. the behir and displacer beast.  doppelganger. shriekers and violet fungi, gorgon and harpy and hellhound. the invisible stalker and the five classic weres, kuo-toa and mindflayer, manticore and owl bear. gelatinous cube and piercer and mimic and roper (which between them killed far more characters than you'd expect). Even the little-used peryton is here, along with the mighty purple worm. all the classic undead. the remorhaz and behir, roper and salamander, shambling mound and sphinx (trimmed from four to just the two, in this case an improvement), and, iconic of iconics, the rust monster.

some come from the letter days of 1st edition (i.e., the FIEND FOLIO and MONSTER MANUAL II), such as the ettercap and galeb duhr, the hook horror and a few others.

About the only true classics I noticed missing were yellow mold and the green slime.

There were a smattering of third edition and 3.5 monsters, but luckily the book is overwhelmingly (say, 90%) dominated by monsters from its glory days.

So, while the new Firth Edition PLAYER's HANDBOOK is strongly reminiscent of third edition in the way it lays out character classes, races, et al., the new MONSTER MANUAL is very much aimed at re-creating a first edition milieu. Just flipping over pages made me want to play.

At this point, no telling what era the DMG (due out in December) will hearken back to. Will it split the difference and take second edition (a.k.a. first edition lite) as its model?  Will it, horror of horrors, try to recapture the look and feel of fourth edition? Or maybe it'll truly be something new and, for the first time, Fifth-Edition-y? Time will tell.

--John R.
current reading: THE BROTHERS CABAL by Jonathan Howard [2014]; TOLKIEN IN PAWNEELAND by Echo-Hawk [2013]