Friday, April 18, 2014

Feanor's Critique

So, even though I'm an independent scholar and work at home, that doesn't mean my work goes unsupervised.
Case in point, the following photograph:


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Cat Report (W.4/16-14)

Great news that Mr. Neighbors has found his own home and made himself very much at home in it already. A happy ending there for a v. charismatic and friendly cat.

That leaves us with two or three old-timers (MR. SCRUFFSMy Pal KABOODLE, and, depending on how you count her, BOUILLABASSE), one relative newcomer (KASPAR), and two new arrivals (bounded pair CHONGO & MONYA, whose names, for some reason, I find really hard to remember and keep straight).

I started off with my SCRUFFY-attitude-adjustment-project, letting him out of his cage before anybody else (despite outraged and beseeching protests from several of the other cats, who said it was No Fair). He was v. much interested in a walk, as in getting out of that room for a while, but too nervous about being on the wrong side of the cat-room door to stay out. What I eventually worked out was to prop the cat-room door open. Then he was quite eager to come out and explore in the area around the room: away from the cages but close to familiar, safe territory. He not only let me pet him but went up to various people nearby to see if they'd give him some attention too. So while it upset the others I think it was worth it to improve Mr. Scruffs' mood (that he's withdrawing into himself some isn't surprising, given how long he's been living in that room). Afterwards he went back into his cage and stayed there, but he was pleased, I think, to have a catnip-laced box in there some of the time. I started to clean his cage around him, intending to leave the half he was on (with the cat-blankets and stand) pretty much as is, but he made my job easier by coming out on his own accord until I had everything neat and tidy for him again. 

KABOODLE was none too pleased to have had to stay in his cage while all those interesting things were going on just outside, but was firm in declining a walk of his own, giving voice when I tried carrying him around for a short guided tour of the store. Instead he preferred to go up to cagetop land, where he stayed most of the rest of the morning, and was prompt in claiming the cat-nip box once Mr. Scruffs was through with it and I moved it up to the cage-tops. He also enjoyed a string game with the leather bootlace. Sometime later Monya went up there, to his apparent astonishment, and he silently stalked her, keeping a close eye on her activities but never moving to engage her. He protested at having to go back in his cage at the end of morning: think an ideal Kaboodle-world would be where he cd come and go in an otherwise catless environment, getting attention when he wanted it and otherwise being left alone in the snooze-spot of his choosing. There's a limit to how much we can re-create that environment in a smallish room with five other cats, but the closer we come the better he likes it.

BOUILLABASSE was in a good mood today and accepted the offer of a walk with alacrity. She didn't really want to go anywhere, though; she seemed to like best rolling on the cool smooth cement floor. Back in the room she got atop the cat-stand by the cabinet and snoozed there the rest of the morning. I got her to purr for me, and she didn't do her old trick of sneaking in the eat out of the other cats' dishes, though it did look as if we'll still have to watch and make sure she's grooming herself properly. 

KASPAR is really coming out of his shell (that didn't take long). He seems to be claiming the boss-of-the-room title, but fortunately without any bullying so far as I cd see: more a matter of holding his ground and insisting the other cats detour around him, rather than moving and getting out of their way. He got very excited while playing with a feather-duster, and later with the string-game (I left the leather bootlace tied to the door of his cage for him to play with). Beware, though: when he gets too excited, or when he feels you need disciplined, he'll nibble on your hand -- not breaking the skin, but might be alarming to a visitor who wasn't expecting it.  He also did some chasing of balls, mostly in the area inside the door in front of Mr. Scruff's cage.  He v. much wanted a walk but I cdn't oblige while the other cats were out, so he had to wait (impatiently) till end-of-shift. Then he proved himself a mighty walker, ranging all over the store. His favorite part was bird-watching, though he was fascinated by the guinea pig as well; not so sure about the fish. So far as the birds went, he was captivated at once and hunkered down in front of their cages, eyes locked on the birds within. The zebra finches didn't like the look of it and quietly took themselves off to gather quietly at the back of their cage. The spice finches, by contrast, were deeply interested in this strangely intent visitor, and came up as close as they cd to the glass to see what he'd do next. An interesting dynamic, each watching the other with considerable interest. Others must have been taking him out for walks as well, for the employees at check-out knew him by name as he went past on his way back to the cat-room.

That just leaves the newcomers, or latest bonded pair, Chongo and Monya. To my surprise the much smaller MONYA was the more confident and inquisitive of the two. She came out and explored, keeping mostly to the area back between the cabinet and the laundry hamper. She hasn't fully worked out the hanging steps but has some idea what they're for. She was briefly up on the cagetops, where she made a face after apparently detecting a smell that appalled her. She too loves the feather duster, leaping upon it in full predator mode. Seems to be a nice cat who'll need a fair amount of attention to burn off all that energy.

As for the other member of the Chongo-Monya partnership, Chongo, the male and bigger of the two, stayed in his cage most of the morning, only coming out a little before noon. He tread cautiously but seems well-behaved. Kaspar was between him and the door to the room, where he wanted to look out, so CHONGO made a growl-pass of Kaspar's position: much rumbling (mainly from Chongo) but no hissing, not aggression: Kaspar let him pass without a swipe of the paw from either side. Let's hope that sets a good precedent of live and let live.  I don't remember if I wanted either of the newcomers, and didn't make any notes re. that: think Chongo was in-and-out and Monya was out for a fairly brief but uneventful walk, but cdn't swear to it.

We had a steady stream of visitors, several of whom were thinking of adopting and checking out these cats to see if they might include The One. One said she'd had a cat who lived to be 21, and another was mourning the loss of her 22-yr-old. My comment: if your cat lives to be 22, you're obviously doing something right. Let's hope we see some of these folks again, esp. the guy who was so taken with Bouillabasse; they seemed like a really good match.

No health concerns, so that's pretty much it for another Wednesday.

--John R.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Civility on the Net ('laundry lists')

So, I've been mulling over recently why there's so much incivility and rancor on the internet. In particular, I was struck by two threads on the MythSoc list a few weeks back, both concerning the recently announced BEOWULF translation by JRRT that's coming out next month.

The first came in response to a query forwarded to the list:

The question is, why wasn't a translation of Beowulf by an Anglo-Saxon scholar published before? Did Tolkien submit it to a publisher in his lifetime? Why did Christopher Tolkien wait so long to publish it, long after *Laundry Lists of Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits: A Comparison with a Note about Dwarf Wives and Runic Laundry Marks*. The fact of its late publication suggests, in the absence of other facts, that it is not good or not interesting.

Now, setting aside the main thrust of the question, and its implication that delay in publication indicates deficiency in merit (a dubious premise*), it's hard for me to read the above and not conclude that it's deliberately insulting. Describing Tolkien's posthumous work as 'laundry lists' is an old joke,** only evoked by those who intend to belittle it. It's the equivalent of people who in the old days would insult TSR by mis-spelling the name 'T$R'. Those of us who worked at TSR took that as a deliberate and gratuitous insult, the proper response to which was to ignore comments from anyone who used it: their self-declared hostility negated any obligation to respond. And that's just the response that several posters on the MythSoc list advocated: that a deliberately insulting question didn't deserve an answer, much less a civil one. And I have to say I pretty much agree with them. Why engage with people who go out of their way to be deliberately unpleasant? And in the unlikely event it's not deliberate, engaging with people whose grasp of basic civility is so weak that they can't tell an insult from a question lacks any appeal.

So much for the deliberate insult. The second example came only a day or two later, in the form of a posting including a link, with the post carefully identifying the piece thus linked to as full of errors. And so it was:

Now, granted that it's a good idea to read any interview in the knowledge that a published interview might not always fully and fairly represented what the person interviewed meant to say, this piece is still full of such flagrant errors that it's hard not to include that here we're seeing an example of what I call 'Low Information Expert' -- when someone's asked for his or her opinion and replies from an assumed position of authority despite not  knowing much about the subject at hand. This time I posted myself, regretfully intemperately, in this second thread.

I think what annoyed me into posting this time, when I'd been able to sit out the first round, were (a)  the multiple and manifold errors in the linked piece and (b) the deliberate insults to Christopher Tolkien included therein. As for the first, it's not true that Christopher Tolkien only learned about the existence of this translation through Michael Drout: Drout found out about them when looking at the material Christopher Tolkien had sorted, organized, annotated, and deposited in the Bodleian Library. It's not true that Tolkien died in the 1980s, nor that the Tolkien Estate is trying to extend the copyright beyond the usual legal limits .*** And I have to say that some of us are looking forward to reading Tolkien's lecture notes on BEOWULF, significant portions of which are said to be included in the new edition.

Leaving aside the errors, I think in hindsight it was the personal attack on C.T. that goaded me into response. Errors are always with us. Snarky comments are always with us. But it's harder to let malicious personal attacks on people you know and whose work you respect pass unchallenged.

As for the larger question, I'm currently on four email lists. One is small and friendly and v. localized in content. A second, somewhat larger one, is friendly and supportive. A third occasionally flames up but a firm moderator keeps us all in line when need be. It's only the fourth, which has minimal and infrequent moderation, that regularly sinks into extended bouts of ill-will and, worse, replays the same arguments, between the same people, on a regular basis.  So it's my conclusion, based on my personal experiences, that internet civility is directly linked to consequences or the lack thereof.


--John R.

current audiobook: Shippey's lectures on Heroism
current reading: WIZARDY AND WILD ROMANCE by Michal Moorcock

*after all, it's only a year since we finally got THE FALL OF ARTHUR.

**it might make an interesting project sometime to try to trace back who was the first smart-alec who thought this one up and what it says about the people who keep reusing it all these years later.

***and in any case the 75-years of standard copyright protection she mentions will carry us all the way to the year 2048 or thereabouts.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Miyazaki's labor of love

So, for weeks now I've been wanting to go see the new Studio Ghibli movie, THE WIND RISES, but the Deadline Gods would have it otherwise. During the current respite, when I'm working on my Kalamazoo paper while waiting on galleys from the BRIEF HISTORY but taking the weekends off to recoup a bit, we finally managed it, driving down to the Grand Cinema in Tacoma. Unfortunately the version they were showing was dubbed into English, but at least it was a pretty good dub, with some surprising voice actors (e.g., Werner Herzog and Stanley Tucci). But then the original Japanese voice casting also seems to have been unusual, with Hideaki Anno (the incompetent genius behind many of Studio Gainax's most famous projects) as the voice of the main character.

Voices aside, the movie was everything you'd expect from the world's greatest living animator. Miyazaki excels at fantasy and slice-of-life re-creations of times past, often combining the two seamlessly into the same film. Nobody evokes times past like Miyazaki, and THE WIND RISES is no exception: he re-creates preWar Japan of the 'twenties and 'thirties with all the detail of a great noir director yet with a warm, soft palette befitting the warm, gentle story he has to tell. At first glance the subject matter -- a biopic of the man who designed the Zero, Japan's WWII-era fighter-planes, used at Pearl Harbor and later in kamakazi attacks near the end of the war -- wd seem an odd choice for Miyazaki. Yet in another sense it's entirely fitting: Miyazaki has shown a fascination with flight and flying machines of all kinds throughout his career, from Nausicaa's single-person hoppers and Kiki's broom to Howl's nightmare flights and, of course, PORCO ROSSO.

In Miyazaki's telling, Jiro Horikoshi is a man obsessed with designing the perfect airplane: unworldly and brilliant, unable to become a pilot himself because of poor eyesight but passionate about everything to do with planes. It's a cruel irony of fate that the people willing to fund his work are the Japanese military, and that his elegant design serves as a weapon of war. It's as if someone decided to make an animated film about the life and career of Werner von Braun, from his early fascination with Goddard's rockets through his war-work on the V2s to his later guiding the U. S. space program, including most notably the race to the moon.

This is a movie filled with planes, both real and imagined (in the many dream-sequences, a number of which feature Jiro's hero, Italian plane designer Caproni), but the real heart of the movie is the touching (and ultimately tragic) love story between Jiro and the girl he meets during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (in itself a stunning piece of animation). The film's more than two hours long, but it certainly doesn't feel like it -- if anything, it feels too short, since it covers Jiro's life in detail up to the mid-thirties and then suddenly jumps ahead to the post-war era for a brief, melancholy meditation upon the waste of war, more or less ignoring the final (postwar) decades of Jiro's life. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter: a great film doesn't have to be perfect, and I know I'll be wanting to see this one again.

They're billing this as the Last Movie for Hayao Miyazaki, one of the world's great directors and without doubt the best creator of animated films.  Let's hope not -- though if Miyazaki, now in his seventies and with a brilliant body of work behind him, feels like he wants to retire, he's certainly earned the right. And this movie is good enough to be worthy of being a great filmmaker's final work. But those of us who admire his work will always want more.

--John R.
current reading: THE FALL OF ARTHUR (re-reading), JOURNEY TO THE WEST (slowly, v. slowly), EPIC POOH.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Cat Report (W.4/9-14)

Not having been able to go in last week (thanks, Samm, for covering for me),  I had some catching up to do this week. Happy that poor shy Faye found a home all her own. I didn't get to meet Hans, who came and went in the meantime, but was delighted to make Mr. Neighbor's acquaintance (and just in time too; glad to hear he's now with his new people). And this morning I also got to meet Kaspar, as well as get to see our resident Three Black Cats: my pal KaboodleMr. Scruffs, and Bouillabasse

Started off the morning with some walks, and discovered that Neighbors is a natural-born walker: brave, curious, and sociable. Kaspar also enjoyed his walk, but the other three didn't -- Bouillabasse was only out a little while, due to their being way too manydogs, big and small, about (I counted eight). Kaboodle was in-and-out, as was Mr. Scruffs -- who was so upset he wdn't let me take the leash and collar off, so he wore them for the next hour or so like an old school tie until he finally let me take them off. 

Kaspar's certainly a talker, who loves string games with a passion. Neighbors went wild over the laser pointer, getting so worked up he forgot to chase it but just tore around the room, occasionally remembering his prey and hunting it down again. Bouillabasse enjoys games too, but she hates to share, and wd interrupt a game to go hiss at Kaspar or Neighbor, just to show them it was her game and they were just onlookers getting in the way. I brought in some catnip bubbles, which fascinated the three younger cats (Neighbor, Kaspar, Bouillabasse), but since one of them knocked over the jar probably won't be doing that again for a while. The peacock feathers were welcomed by one and all; Kaboodle in particular enjoyed them over all other games. I put a catnip-laced box atop the cages which first Scruffs and then later Neighbor enjoyed. Trying to find ways to get Mr. Scruffs in a better mood: being up by himself atop the cabinet, with a modicum of catnip nearby, seems to come closest so far. Kaboodle was upset with me for making him go back in his cage: he clearly wanted to stay out up their atop his cage after all the others had gone in and have the room all to himself for a while, and I cdn't accommodate him on that for as long as he wanted. Maybe I shd let him and Scruffs out first next time, let them establish their territories, and then release the rest one by one. 

Even better would be for those folks who I now hear came in and placed a hold on Mr. Scruffs come back and follow-through on it. He deserves a place of his own after having waited, as patiently as he could, for all these months.

old times revisited: a woman came in who said she'd been the one who adopted Gizmo Doodad, whose name I remember but I've entirely forgotten what he looked like. Gizmo's owner showed me a picture: a big black cat, almost brown in the sun, as if he had a mane. We also had a woman visiting who said she'd adopted a cat from our cat-room about five years ago named SIDNEY HARBOR (now 'Harley'). That was before my time, though I'm glad to know he's doing well: anyone remember him? 

health concerns: Kaspar's chin looks like a bad case of cat acne: it almost looks like a five o'clock shadow. I did what I could, but it'll be a gradual process to get it all clean without making his chin sore. Think his ears might need a little work too, but they're not that bad.  Bouillabasse is cleaning herself up much better -- is it my imagination, or has she lost a little weight? And of course I have to sympathize with Kaspar's bald patches resulting in kind of cat-pattern baldness.

And that's about it for another week.
--John R.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Friend Jim

This is what it feels like to lose an old friend:
A sudden sense of absence.
Thirty years of shared history suddenly remote, cut off.
Thoughts of things you would have said at your next get-together, had there been a next time.
The world getting just a little smaller.

Last week came the news that my friend Jim Pietrusz had died on March 25th after a year-long struggle with melanoma, a year of ups and downs. This is one of those times when the news hits hard and only gets bleaker as the loss sinks in. I didn't get to see Jim often since we moved from Wisconsin, but we'd get together about once a year and catch up on what we'd each been reading. I feel bad that the last time I saw him, about a year ago, our meeting was shorter than planned because of a mix-up on my part, and our next meeting last fall had to be cancel because of a family crisis that sent me scrambling to Arkansas on short notice.

Our paths first crossed as a result of the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference planned by Taum Santoski, Marquette archivist Chuck Elston, and Archives secretary/receptionist Terry Margharita. Although I don't think Jim was at the conference, after it was over Terry M. had the good idea that she and I might teach a Continuing Ed (night school) class on Tolkien; I think this wd have been in the spring of 1984. This went really well, with myself and some of the students gathering after each night class at the local I-Hop for much, much more conversation. After the class had run its course, several of us decided to continuing meeting, among whom were myself, Jim, Jeff Long, Jan Noble (now Jan Long), and Dave Hoose. That group,* now called The Burrahobbits, is still meeting once a month, almost thirty years later, though Jim eventually dropped out of it and I wasn't able to attend meetings after I moved two thousand miles away. I also taught several more Continuing Ed classes, with Jim et al as the core audience, mostly on my own (Tolkien: Beyond The Lord of the Rings; Before Tolkien; After Tolkien) but also in tandem with Jim (fantasy based on fairy-tale and folk-tale), and once Jim taught one himself (on the Arthurian myth). But mostly in those latter years I'd contact Jim when I was going to be in the Midwest, generally once or possibly twice a year, and we'd get-together for lunch or an afternoon discussing books or any of Jim's other myriad interests.

Jim was the most voracious reader I've ever known, and the most dedicated book-buyer. He at some point before I knew him had decided he wanted to own the books he read and read the books he owned, so he started book-buying on a vast scale: several hundred books a year. So many books that in the pre-amazon/bookfinder/ab-libris et al days he had his own shelf behind the counter at Websters' Books on Downer, where they'd special-order books for him and he'd pick up one or two from that holds shelf each time he came in, while at home he had a big wooden box built and placed on his front porch for the mailman to deposit packages in, invariably containing books new and old. It must have been a rare day that didn't bring a new book.

And he was methodical, reading all those books in the order he bought them.** When he moved into a new house (early/mid 90s, I think) he designed a beautifully wood-paneled library, the kind of room every book-lover and dedicated reader dreams of having in his or her own home, but the books soon overflowed his shelves and filled the floor, still all in their proper order. So that whenever I saw him again after an absence, I'd ask "when are you up to?" and he'd reply "April 2009" or something of the sort, the date lagging a few years behind the present. When I first knew him he was only a year and a half or so behind, but as time went by the gap widened and I think it was up to about three years or so last I knew.

And his range of interests was wide: fantasy (which is what drew us together -- he's the one who introduced me to authors as different as Wm Hope Hodgson and Philip Pullman), literature (I still have several volumes of lesser-known works by Conrad he gave me during one of his periodic book-purges of older books he didn't intend to read again to make room for more books), comparative mythology (writers like Eliade and especially Joseph Campbell, whom he rated far higher than I ever would), and, what came to be his dominating obsession (just as my own is Tolkien), King Arthur. Jim had always been interested in the King Arthur legend, but during the early years of our friendship this became his central and abiding focus, and he set out trying to amass a collection of all things Arthurian -- a massive undertaking. I know he had made arrangements for it to go to a university library, I assume as the Pietrusz Collection, so others shd eventually be able to benefit from his pursuit of his bliss (as Campbell wd have put it).

So, I'll miss him. When we first met, I was someone who'd uprooted himself and moved cross-country from Arkansas to Wisconsin, while Jim was a lifelong Milwaukee native who remembered back to the days when Milwaukee had streetcars. He'd also attended Marquette years before I did and so had that shared experience, being fully in agreement over who were the good guys of that department (first and foremost, Dr. McCabe). We also shared a love of cats (his Nimue lived to be twenty, and after her death he had the beautiful wooden box containing her remains put on the windowsill in his library that'd been her favorite spot for sunbeams. We were very different in our approaches and interests, but we shared a lot of common ground, too. And we enjoyed each other's company, and I think the exchanges did us both good. Talking to him, I always learned something I hadn't known before. Now that's over, but I'm glad for all the times we did get together and for all those many conversations.

--John R.

*along with many additions and otherwise over the years, of course

**he did allow himself some flexibility, so that when he came to the first book in a trilogy he'd read the second and third in quick succession -- unless the first proved so hopeless that he moved all three to the discard pile. But then, he said if he didn't buy all three volumes as they came out the second or third might be out of print by the time he got to the first

 ***as well as seminary, early on

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Respite

So, yesterday I finished my turnover on The Big Project, which means I have a little time to come up for air and deal with other things that I'd been neglecting the past few weeks (including blog posts). At least until the reset text comes back and the proofreading begins.

I'll have a new and improved errata list (for the one-volume HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT) up soon. It was longer than I'd have liked, but at least all the items are minor.

Till then, it's errands today, gaming tonight,* and probably going out to a movie (the new Miyazaki) tomorrow. And then back to work again come Monday morning.

--John R.

just finished: JOHANNES CABAL & THE DREAM INSTITUTE (second reading)
just started: THE STORY OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS by Bryan F. Le Beau [1998]

*I'm running a CALL OF CTHULHU scenario set during the Yukon gold rush.