Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Flieger Festschrift

So, today marks the deadline for getting in paper proposals for contributions to A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, the festschrift in honor of Verlyn Flieger.

We had a lot of good submissions, and over the next few days I'll be getting back to everybody who turned in a proposal.

Many thanks to all who participated.

--John R.

old TSR Art

So, yesterday I took some time out from preparations for our upcoming trip to tackle my room and do some re-organizing there, which was badly needed. All my shelves are bursting at the seams, so earlier this week I'd already moved two shelf-fulls of copies of different editions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS to another room (which will help make room in my office for all the recent new arrivals).

This time I looked at all those rpgs I've never played like MERP (almost a full set), ARS MAGICA, JAMES BOND 007, DOCTOR WHO (the FASA version), et al -- filling half a bookcase in all -- and decided they shd go join the other non-TSR, non-D&D rpgs down in the box room. The only exceptions I kept upstairs, aside from one or two misc. items (e.g., the original EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE boxed set) and a shelf of things I worked on freelance,* are CALL OF CTHULHU (my second-favorite rpg), of which I have a large but not complete set, and PENDRAGON (my third-favorite rpg), which I think I have all of (and recently find myself itching to run again, esp. since I've now found the Beowulf adventure designed for it.

And, of course, the D&D, which fills two and a half bookcases just by itself: everything from first, second, and third edition (rulebooks, modules, sourcebooks, boxed sets), a smattering of fourth edition (not my favorite), and everything that's out so far from fifth edition.

And in the course of all this moving stuff around I found some items of interest. A photo of Janice and myself, taken at least twenty years ago. A picture of a lion carrying a pumpkin. My copies of some really early TSR releases, like the dungeon geomorphs (which I actually played on, before I had any modules), et al. I also found some interesting art: two pieces of original artwork from THE RETURN TO THE TOMB OF HORRORS (which I edited, up to the point where I got laid off, after which Steve Winter took over the task and did a bang-up job of it too). I remember a few months after things got better at TSR (i.e., it got bought out by Wizards of the Coast and I got hired back) the art director coming to me in some distress to ask if I knew what had happened to the art for the project;** they cdn't find any scans that had presumably been made of it the better part of a year before. As it turned out I cd tell them exactly where the art was, or at least where it had been: the two artists had been selling it at their booth at that summer's GenCon, where I'd bought two pieces. The art director contacted the artists, who either still had the pieces in question or were in contact with whoever had bought it, the scans were made, and All Was Well, with RETURN TO THE TOMB I think winning the Origins Award when it came out the next year.

The other old art piece I found was something I not only forgot I had, I forgot it even existed: THE ARTISTS OF TSR: A PORTFOLIO, a folder of twelve art prints by six TSR staff artists, represented by two apiece: Jeff Easley, Larry Elmore, Jim Holloway, Harry Quinn, James Roslof, and Tim Truman. Some of these pieces are v. familiar, like the first, the sleeping vampiric swordswoman from S4. LOST CAVERNS OF TSOJCANTH (Easley) or the Thor-vs.-Jormungandr battle from DEITIES AND DEMIGODS (Roslof), while a few were unknown to me (like Holloway's piece titled 'White Dragon Death'.  I'm surprised Parkinson isn't here, or Otus; the one must have come on a little later and the other departed a little earlier. Perhaps the most amusing part is the drawing on the inside back cover of all six artists as rpg characters; might be amusing to scan and post that sometime.

--John R.

*some of it unpublished, like the material I wrote for Decipher's ROHAN book, or the bits and pieces drafted long ago for PULP CTHULHU.

**my memory says that they didn't have scans of any of the art for the project, but I may be misremembering there and it might have been just the art for the big DM screen that was missing -- which, of course, I had a photocopy of, but that wasn't of good enough quality for them to use.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Chaosium gets a little less chaotic

So, Chaosium has long been one of those great game companies known on the one hand for producing some of the best rpg products ever made but on the other for being disorganized, even by the standards of our industry -- or, in a word, kinda chaotic in dealing with the practicalities of the business.

Recently founding fathers Greg Stafford (designer of PENDRAGON, one of the best rpgs ever written) and Sandy Petersen (designer of CALL OF CTHULHU, the most long-lived of all non-D&D games, and also the best) returned to the company, installed a new crew of People in Charge, and generally tried to set things on a more orderly footing. The hope is that the new folks might be able to sort things out and get some long-delayed projects done and actually out the door.

One extremely promising sign suggesting they're serious about this their announcement that they're putting Jim Lowder in charge of their fiction line. Jim is not just an experienced editor and anthologizer but has long been an advocate of fair contracts for freelancers. In short, this Bodes Well.
Here's the announcement:


Congratulations to Jim, and high hopes that Chaosium's line of horror short story anthologies.

--John R.

today's song: Big Red Rubber Ball
today's anime: Akagami

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tolkien spotting (Bare Naked Ladies)

So, a few days ago I was listening to the new Bare Naked Ladies album, SILVERBALL, while working at my desk and I thought I heard a Tolkien reference somewhere in there. I assumed I was probably mistaken (when a mind's filled with something, it's easy tend to see references to it even when they're not there). But going back and listening carefully, it turns out I was quite right: there is a LotR reference in the lyrics.

The song in question is the title song of the album (track twelve on the cd), and comes in the second verse:

. . . there and back again
I destroyed the ring . . .

This is only two lines (out of the whole stanza, not long known in Elvwn-lore), which reads in full

Had it all, 
   there and back again,
I destroyed the Ring 

  on the attack again,
The multi-ball

   was on track again,
But I watched it fall 

   through the center drain.

The 'conceit' of the piece (to use a bit of 18th century terminology) is that that singer is the pinball machine and his love is the pin-ball itself (or possibly at times visa versa; the details aren't exactly clear to me), with the song recording several ups and downs in their relationship.  This may even be based on an actual LORD OF THE RINGS pinball machine, though I assume not. In any case, a fun casual reference I thought I'd share.

And speaking of songs, I had the odd experience this week of finding out a song I've known and liked for more than twenty years isn't the song I thought it was but a different piece altogether.

Here's what happened. Back in Lake Geneva days, I picked up a cassette called GOLDEN HITS OF THE EVERLY BROTHERS -- one of those cheap releases that includes some (but not all) of an artist's hits along with a more-or-less random assortment of stuff to fill up the album. In this case the hits included "Wake Up Little Susie" and "(All I Have to Do Is) Dream" but it lacks "Bye Bye Love" (and another of their bests I came across later and liked, "Cathy's Clown"). But such compilations sometimes include a hidden gem you wdn't have learned about otherwise. In this case that was "Poor Jenny", the second track of side two. The words 'poor Jenny' never appear in the song, but that's not that unusual in rock songs.

So now I'm going back and listening to all my cassettes, with the thought of culling them some. After all,  I have some albums (like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's TARKUS) on vinyl, as cassettes, on cd, and on the I-pod. Since a fair number of those cassettes were copies I bought of albums I already had, so I cd listen to them in the care or at work, or ones later superseded by the same songs on cd, it occurred to me that I could open up some space here, after first re-listening to them all to make sure I'm not discarding a compilation I made myself or something with more on it that the label suggests. And it was while during so that, re-listening to the Everly Brothers, that I decided I liked "Poor Jenny" well enough that I shd buy it on I-tunes, where it's be easier to listen to it more often.

Except it turns out that the song they list as "Poor Jenny" is an entirely different song than the one I've known and loved all these years.

A little checking around, and I discover that while the Everly Brothers did indeed record a song called "Poor Jenny" (later picked up and re-recovered by the likes of Rockpile,* among others), it's not the song I know, being instead a song about how a 'wake up little Susie' style date ended up really, really badly, with his date in jail and her father and brother out hunting him down to commit mayhem. Reminds me a little of my father's song "You'd Better Put On Your Hearing Aid Maw, They'll Be Bad News Tonight", but not as good.

A little more digging (I love the internet!) and I found that the song I like is instead called "Since You Broke My Heart" (also covered by others, like The Searchers** and Rory Storm & the Hurricanes***).

All I can assume is that this anthology of songs was put together in a hurry, that at one point it was to include "Poor Jenny" but that fell through for some reason and someone hastily substituted "Since You Broke My Heart" instead. And that this change came too late to change the packaging, which had prob. already been printed.

Or something like that.
In any case, now I get to buy the song I want, and I get to know what the song I like is really called.

--John R.

*whom I mainly know through their outstanding contributions to McCartney's CONCERTS FOR THE PEOPLE OF KAMPUCHEA.
**best known for their one great hit, "Hey There, Georgie Girl"
***in a live recording, early enough that I think that must be Ringo on the drums. Which only goes to show he was lucky to leave the Hurricanes behind, given that Rory H. can't seem to actually sing then the band is playing the line he's singing

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A New C. S. Lewis play in the works

So, having gone to see THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS and then more recently THE GREAT DIVORCE, we've gotten on A List. Which means we get mailings with updates on future plans by the group behind these small-cast plays: the 'Fellowship for Performing Arts'. The latest news from whom is that they have two new plays in the works. The first concerns Martin Luther (MARTIN LUTHER ON TRIAL) -- a bit of a departure from their norm -- but the second is true to form: THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT, described in their letter/flyer as "[a] new theatre piece on C. S. Lewis' journey from atheism to Christianity".

There have been Lewis-based dramatizations before, from Swann's PERELANDRA to the radio-play STING OF THE DARK TOWER. There have even been ones that brought CSL on stage, like Kreeft's BETWEEN HEAVEN & HELL (assuming that's ever actually been staged) and, more recently, the CSL-meets-Sigmund Freud FREUD'S LAST SESSION.  But I don't think the conversion story has been presented in this way before. Shd be interesting.

And I'm sure they'll send us lots and lots of flyers when it's coming to town.

currently reading: Tennyson (it'll take a while, he being in no hurry to get anywhere)

today's quote: When the first shot hit the dock, I saw it coming (Powderfinger)


So, this week saw the release of J. R. R. Tolkien's latest book, THE STORY OF KULLERVO, edited by Verlyn Flieger. This piece has actually been published before, in volume VII of TOLKIEN STUDIES (2010), p. 211-278. But the new edition, presented on its own as a slender, attractive little book (with Tolkien's own Kalevala painting as its cover)  marks its moving beyond a specialty venue to the notice of a wider audience.

For those who have not seen it yet* this presumably includes everything that appeared in the TOLKIEN STUDIES edition:  (1) the text of the unfinished story, (2) Tolkien's brief notes and outline, (3) Flieger's introduction and explanatory notes, and (4) both versions of Tolkien's essay/lecture about THE KALEVALA -- which is just as good as the story.

As if this were not good news enough, there's a very well done video clip of Verlyn Flieger, the editor, talking about the book on the BBC (thanks to Troels on the MythSoc list for the link):


-John R.
current reading: IDYLLS OF THE KING

*this includes me, since I didn't realize there's a time-lag between the UK release (August 27th) and the US one to follow (April of next year) and foolishly didn't pre-order the former. Ah well. 

today's quote: They say that the blues went out of style ('Poor Jenny')

And thanks also to Jessica Yates for the following link to a Radio BBC Oxford piece which replays some of the audio from Verlyn's interview and adds to it an interview with Dimitra Fimi about issues arising from the publication. The Tolkien content starts around the 1 hr 22 m point and runs about six minutes.
Here's the link:


--JDR, who just bought the book -- in the sense of ordering myself a copy from Across the Waters. Along with the forthcoming A SECRET VICE (ed. Fimi and Higgins), and THE ART OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS by Hammond & Scull. Good times coming.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Cat Report (W. 8/26 & W. 8/19)

Quite a change in the cat room this week, with the departure of Mr. PEPPER back to the main shelter. A cat with personality (he reminded me a good deal of Parker), but so distrustful. His people, whoever they were, clearly didn't hold and pet him; he really didn't know how to respond to petting, though he got better as the weeks went by. Hope he's able to find himself a good home through one of the other cat-rooms around the area. 

That just leaves us with six cats, and a lot less confrontation. 

CHESSA, our special needs cat, was her usual sweet self. After getting petted and her fur combed through with the fingers she went for a long walk. She has no particular destination in mind, but I noticed that she likes people; if we came across some she'd follow them, hoping I think to get some attention. Afterwards she went into Brie's room and hung out. She loved the bit of wet catfood just before noon and, unusually, complained when she had to go into her own cage at the end of morning. Having seen a picture of her online with two other cats, one of whom was grooming her, I'm hoping she'll be adopted into a family with another, mellow, cat.
   Warning: she likes the string game, but eats the yarn when you're not looking.

By far the most active cats around were brother SYLVESTER BEAN and sister OKRA, who came out, explored, played, and generally made themselves at home. I made the discovery by chance that both know their name. I usually call him 'Bean', which he ignores, but when I called him 'Sylvester' instead he immediately looked up and over at me. Same with Okra; she also knows, and responds, to her name. After a string game, she settled down happily in the top shelf of the cabinet, while he helped me with each cage I cleaned on the ground level, going in and inspecting and supervising. He's become really affectionate: rode on my shoulders some and at one point came up and rubbed up against my legs, wanting some petting. I was happy to oblige. She also welcomed petting anytime I reached into the cabinet. They've become v. sociable kitties in just a short time. 
    They both played the string game, with yarn. I broke my laser pointer a while back and keep forgetting to replace it; think these two will welcome it back when I do. 

FRUITY PEBBLES, our semi-senior cat, wanted in her basket, as usual. She made it perfectly clear she doesn't like walks. Once I gave up on that idea and let her go back in her basket, with a plentiful catnip supply, she was happy as could be.  What a beautiful cat. 

BRIE also wanted mostly to be left alone in her favorite spot: beneath the cat-stands by the door. She's fond of catnip herself, and rolled in the stuff.  After all the others went back in, she had a bit of a walk, exploring the area in that little alleyway and around the front of the room outside the glass. She growls when other cats come close but it's just a 'stay back, this spot's mine' kind of thing, not aggressive or anything like that. 

That just leaves OLLIE, who continues to harbor suspicions that I'm a cat-eating fiend. He did play the string game some, but retreated back as far as he could into his cage whenever I came near, so I made him a cave with the blankets, which seemed to do him good. I wonder who did what to him, back in his past, to make him so worried. He does love wet catfood, so much he came out from his cave to get some and let me pet him a little. 

LAST WEEK (W. 8/19): didn't get my full cat-report written up, but here are a few notes: 

We had the same seven cats as the week before (Pepper, Cheesa, Bean & Okra, Pebbles, Brie, and Ollie), but the feel of the room was quite different as the new cats settle in and the veteran cats mellow.

PEPPER: much better behaved today. In fact, he was almost charming. After his walk I let him out and put the short cat-stand right in front of his open cage, with steps going up from that to the cagetops. It makes the entrance to the room a bit crowded but improves his mood remarkably to be able to hang out just outside his cage but not in it, and also to come and go between the cagetops. i almost got him to purr.

Most of the cats went to their favorite spots, with Pepper claiming the cagetops but not kicking up too much of a fuss when Okra and Bean went up from time to time. Brie and Pebbles went straight to theirs and stayed there all morning. Ollie actually came out and made a few anxious prowls around the room ; turns out he knows how to use the steps. He wanted to go high, but Pepper sat on the steps and blocked his way -- just as well, perhaps, since I may have had a hard time getting him back down if he did. 
   I'd had a hard time getting Okra and Pepper to go in their cages the week before, so much so that I stopped trying with Pepper and instead distracted him with a game until I'd lured him into a box and was able to scoot him up, box and all, and put him back in his cage. To his credit, he accepted that as a move he hadn't seem coming and settled down.

Everybody but Brie at wet catfood. Bean seemed thirsty. 

Chessa was adorable and affectionate.

Visitors in the Cat Room
Katrina came by and gave Chessa a good long walk which I'm sure did her good. I walked Pepper, who explored warily, checking the location of each bolt-hole if it were to be needed.   Brie explored the area by the office and snack machines thoroughly and wanted closed door open but in lieu of that accepted being able to roll on smooth cool concrete. Pebbles thought it was big and scary out there and wanted to come back in right away.

Had quite a few visitors over the course of the morning, including some that seemed serious adoption prospects, but none of which seem to have led to anything.

Health Concerns
None, really.

As I was leaving, I saw the Humane Society Cat Truck, which I'd never seen or even heard of before, parked near the PetsMart. Turns out they were doing an adopt-a-cat drive from a special van whose sides are clear like windows, enabling you to see inside into the cages with the individual cats (seven in six double-cages). Several were beautiful (esp. the little black one named Firefly) and some seemed sociable; here's wishing them all good luck in finding good homes of their own as well.

--John R.