Friday, March 27, 2015

new HOBBIT dvd

So, Tuesday was release day for the dvd of the third HOBBIT movie: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES.* I had my copy by noon and had watched it through (first the documentaries, then the film itself) that night.

This is the theatrical release, presumably with an expanded edition** to follow in November, so it's the same version seen in theatres (by some of us many times), with relatively few extras for now (more, probably much more, will follow in the extended ed.). Having already commented on the film when it came out, I just wanted to note the documentaries for now.

-- a brief piece on how beautiful New Zealand is (no argument there),

-- a short piece on life as an extra

-- a piece pitching the idea that all six films make up one movie, which shd be watched in internal chronological order (that is, starting with UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE, not THE FELLOWSHIP, and ending with RETURN, not FIVE ARMIES). This is by far the most interesting of the extras; it was particularly enjoyable to watch all the short pieces they'd excerpted from the different films and juxtaposed, but I'm not sure they make their case. Accordingly, I've decided I need to watch the whole set all the way through, in that order, to see how it works. Should take a while, but I'll report back how it goes.

-- a piece on how close cast and crew grew over the long months of shooting (lots of hugs in this one)

-- and finally one on the recording of the closing song (630 takes? what is this, Tiffany?)

The thing I'm most undecided about at this point is the end of this film, which seems to pull in two ways: towards concluding Bilbo's story but also trying to set up Frodo's. I think the latter got in the way of the former, but that's something I want to mull over and then revisit.

It will be hard, though, knowing that December will come around and bring no new Tolkien movie with it.

--John R.

*that's Thranduil's elves, Bard's men, Dain's dwarves, Azog's orcs of Dol Guldor, and Bolg's orcs of Gundabad, for those who are counting. Tolkien's five are the dwarves, elves, men, goblins, and wargs (who oddly enough vanish out of the film version).

**though I'm not sure what there is to add at this point. The only loose ends I can see are (1) the removal of the axe from Bifur's head, (2) what happens to Dwalin in the fight on Ravenhill, and (3) the death of Alfrid

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Cat Report (W.3/25-15)

WIth poor SEVILLE still sick up at the clinic (hope she's doing better after two weeks), we were still at six cats yesterday morning: EMMA, PRINCESS, SALEM, LEO, MIMI, and DOUGAL. Last week I'd definitively established that Mimi and Leo do not like walks, though not quite to the epic panic level of poor Mr. Dougal's Great Escape the week before. Princess, on the other hand, likes walks, and Emma positively demands them; she's never happier than when she has someone's undivided attention and the other cats receding in her taillights, so to speak. Salem can take them or leave them, but since she's been in a put-upon mood for several weeks now I made sure she got the one-on-one time outside the cat room as well.

This week being all about giving SALEM some one-on-one attention, I crouched down half-in and half-out of her cage and gave her a long petting session. She purred enthusiastically. After a while she started some behavior I'd heard described but not seen before: she went over to her food dish and started eating and growling at the same time. It was a kind of growl-yeow-yeow, growl-yeow-yeow. Maybe she had to compete with other cats at her last home and this is trash-talk meant to make them back off and let her eat? Quite an odd, but somehow endearing, habit. After her long one-on-one I let the other cats out one at a time. Salem elected to stay in her (open) cage, but up front with her paws out and paying attention to everything, not withdrawn into the back trying to tune everything out. So she's doing better, but she'll need a lot of one-on-one to get over her funk. 

Little PRINCESS was her usual adorable sweet self. I made a lap for Emma and Princess promptly took it, purring and snuggling in. What a gentle, loving cat. Last week I'd made the discovery that she's cold all the time, given her shaven fur and the temperature in the cat-room.  So I put her on the cat-stand and covered her over with a blanket (the soft green one in her cage that looks like a baby blanket), all but just the face. She loved it, and we did it again this week, though this time she pulled her head back under covers as well and slept, snug as a bug in a rug. All you had to do was touch the blanket over her and the purr started up from below. 

Mr. LEO was in an affable mood -- all twenty-one pounds of him! Now that I know how big he is, no wonder he didn't want to be lifted down from on-high last week; my largest cat (Mr. Feanor, formerly twenty pounds but now down to sixteen) also dislikes being picked up. What Leo does like, most definitely, is the two-handed petting maneuver: one hand under the chin and the other towards the back just before the tail. He also likes catnip, a lot. He wasn't interested in the box this week, though, preferring to go back and forth between his open cage and the floor in front of it. At one point Emma came into his cage, while he was in it, to raid his nom, completely ignoring him (which takes a good deal of ignoring); he just watched and she came and went peaceably. 

Sweet EMMA was playful and affectionate, and spent her time divided between snoozing atop the cat-stand by the door and exploring the ground tier of cages (Salem's, Leo's, and Dougal's). Leo and Dougal just watched her and she came and went from theirs without incident, but Salem gave her a warning growl to back off, which she did. We played a little of the gopher game, but mostly today was about petting not playing. She's doing much better about the other cats -- or maybe they're all just learned enough about the others to tolerate at a certain distance. The most surprising thing she did today was put her paw in my mouth. Didn't see that coming. 

MIMI and DOUGAL had a quiet morning. The two were snuggling, as usual, when I arrived, and she groomed him a little while waiting for the cage door to open. Mimi came out and about, as usual, exploring here there and beyond, eventually settling atop the cat-stand by the cabinet. She set her eye on that shelf of blankets and I helped make a space for her there, whereupon she leapt over and settled herself down. Dougal stayed inside but was much calmer, letting me clean his cage around him. Later I lifted him out and put him in the basket on the bench, which he seemed to like -- at any rate, he stayed there, able to look out without being seen. 

The main event of the morning was a young couple who dropped by. They were thinking of adopting and wanted to meet all our cats after watching them a while through the window. Princess immediately sat down in her lap and purred, and Leo came over and got in his lap as well. Little Mimi came down and wanted some loving, and to my surprise Dougal came out of the basket and sat down next to the guy (she called him a cat whisperer, and the evidence bore her out on this). They interacted with everybody except Salem (who stayed inside and watched); even Emma enjoyed some petting (though she didn't go over to ask for it). I gathered they were thinking of getting two cats and needed a little time to make up their minds, and said they'd be back this evening. 

health concerns: Princess had a wheezing fit, but it immediately followed upon one of the other cats (Mimi, I think, or possibly Emma) having used the spot Princess was sleeping on as a stepping stone down from the cage-tops, so I think it was from distress over the unpleasant surprise, not anything actually wrong with her.  Last week Emma had blood in her stool but no sore on her bottom and no signs of distress when using her own (or, in this case, Salem's) dirt box. 
   Discovered last week that Emma has cat acne on her chin (just a bit; not too bad). Detected what I thought was more on Salem's chin, but it turned out to be a scab -- anyone know when she got that sore there? 
   Princess and one of the other cats (I forget which) needs some ear-swabbing.


UPDATE: Glad to learn this morning that they did indeed come back last night and adopted MIMI NADINE and DOUGAL NATHAN. It's so hard for a cat as shy as Mr. Dougal to find a home, but I think he'll be a really loyal affectionate cat once he's settled into a new home and gotten used to his new owners. And little Mima is a sweetheart. I've rarely seen a bonded pair so deeply bonded as these two, and I'm so glad they're going together.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tolkien on the menu

Been away for a few days without an internet connection, So bear with me while I do some catching up.

Friday in Langley on Whidbey Island Janice spotted a JRRT quotation on the back of the menu at the semi-fancy Bistro we were having supper in PRIMA BISTRO. It read:

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world"

--these of course being among the last words of Thorin Oakenshield, but I've never seen them put to this application before, though I do find it apt.

--John R.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tackiest Museum Store gift ever

So, as we were leaving the Pompeii exhibit* down at the Seattle Center last Thursday we went directly from the room with the body-casts of the people who died horribly in the eruption into the exhibit gift shop, where I spotted what I think marks the tackiest museum store gift ever: a little snow-globe of Vesuvius and Pompeii that when shaken re-inacts the eruption by burying the city in ash.


current reading: "The Authority of Old English Poetical Manuscripts" by Kenneth Sisam [1946] and re-reading (after thirty-plus years) a section of BEOWULF AND THE BEOWULF MANUSCRIPT by Kevin Kiernan [1981]

*which is v. good: recommended

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett, Rest In Peace

So today one of my favorite authors died. Peacefully at home, with his loved ones around him and his cat sleeping at his side. Not unexpected, but still sad.
More later.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

KALAMAZOO! (Tolkien at Kalamazoo)

Having now booked my tickets (for plane AND train) for the trip out, I'm now switching into get-ready-for-Kalamazoo mode -- most importantly by working on my presentations, but also going through the schedule to see what Tolkien events are being offered this year, with the results given below.

As you can see, things are clustered on Thursday (four events) and Sunday (two events filling the final half-day of the conf.). Friday is wide open: a good time to visit with people and explore the book room. Saturday is tricky: the only two times where there's double-tracking are the two C. S. Lewis events opposite the 'Tales After Tolkien' events. In the past I've found both well worth going to, and there are specific papers on each I want to see this year -- Kristine Larsen's papers always tell me things I didn't know (and this time it looks to be based on what's probably my favorite CSL book), and both the medieval detectives and animal pain presentations sound intriguing. So, Saturday afternoon will be the tricky part of my schedule.

My own contributions come early (Th. 1.30; the Christopher Tolkien roundtable) and late (Sun. 8.30 am!; the Tolkien as Linguist and Medievalist panel), and I'll be in good company for both. And of course I'll be at as many of the other events as I can manage.

If you're going to be there, be sure to say hi; if I'm not at a panel I'll probably be somewhere around the NODENS BOOKS table in the Book Room. And if I met you last year, forgive me if I walk right by without recognizing you; my mild form of face-blindness means I'm likely to remember our conversation from a few years ago but not what you look like. Sorry about that; just give me a reminder.

--John R

Tolkien as Translator and Translated
Session 33 Bernhard 204
Sponsor: History Dept., Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Organizer: Judy Ann Ford, Texas A&M Univ.–Commerce
Presider: Judy Ann Ford
Tolkien’s Beowulf and the “Correcting Style” Dean Easton, Independent Scholar
Sir Orfeo, the Classical Sources, and the Story of Beren and Lúthien Sandra Hartl, Otto-Friedrich-Univ. Bamberg
Translator and Language Change: On J. R. R. Tolkien’s Translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Maria Volkonskaya, Higher School of Economics, National Research Univ.

Christopher Tolkien as Medieval Scholar (A Roundtable)
Session 49  Valley II Eicher 202
Organizer:  Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar
Presider:  John Wm. Houghton, Hill School
A roundtable discussion with Douglas A. Anderson; John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar; and Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.

Tolkien and Victorian Medievalism
Session 127 Schneider 2355
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.
Presider: Amy Amendt-Raduege, Whatcom Community College
J. R. R. Tolkien on the Origin of Stories: The Pardoner’s Tale Lectures and Nineteenth-Century Folklore Scholarship
Sharin Schroeder, National Taipei Univ. of Technology
Maps and Landscape in William Morris and J. R. R. Tolkien
Amanda Giebfried, St. Louis Univ.
Tolkien’s Victorian Fairy-Story Beowulf
Jane Chance, Rice Univ.

Tolkien’s Beowulf (A Readers’ Theater Performance)
and Maidens of Middle-earth V, “Turin’s Women”
Session 155 Fetzer 1045
Organizer:  Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.
Presider:  Thom Foy, Univ. of Michigan-Dearborn
Tolkien’s Beowulf Thom Foy; Andrew Higgins, Cardiff Metropolitan Univ.; Jewell Morow, Independent Scholar; Deidre Dawson, Independent Scholar; Mark Lachniet, Independent Scholar; Richard West, Independent Scholar; Jane Beal,; Brad Eden
Maidens of Middle-earth V: “Turin’s Women”
Eileen Marie Moore, Cleveland State Univ.

Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Business Meeting
Bernhard 158

Session 442 Bernhard 158
From Frodo to Fidelma: Medievalisms in Popular Genres (A Roundtable)
Sponsor:    Tales after Tolkien Society
Organizer:   Helen Young, Univ. of Sydney
Presider:     Geoffrey B. Elliott, Oklahoma State Univ.–Stillwater
Black in Sherwood: Race and Ethnicity in Robin Hood Media
Kris Swank, Pima Community College
Hedgehogs and Tomb Raiders in King Arthur’s Court: The Influence of Malory in Adventure Games
Serina Patterson, Univ. of British Columbia
The Zombie Apocalypse in the Classroom and Medieval Plague
John Marino, Maryville Univ.
Crimes and Conspiracies in Town and Court: Embodying Late Medieval Life
Candace Robb, Independent Scholar
Found Footage: The Popular Credibility of the Grimms’ Tales
Thomas R. Leek, Univ. of Wisconsin–Stevens Point
Arthuriana for Children: Narrative Integrity and the Medieval in Gerald Morris’s Squires Tales
Alexandra Garner, Bowling Green State Univ.
Medievalism and the Popular Romance Novel
Geneva Diamond, Albany State Univ.

also SATUDAY 1:30 PM
Session 402 Valley I Shilling Lounge
Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis: Sources, Influences, Revisions, Scholarship
Sponsor: C. S. Lewis Society, Purdue Univ.; Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis and Friends, Taylor Univ.
Organizer: Joe Ricke, Taylor Univ.
Presider: Joe Ricke
Ransom as Pilgrim: A Reflection of Dante’s Commedia in Out of the Silent Planet Marsha Daigle-Williamson, Spring Arbor Univ.
Walking beneath Medieval Skies: C. S. Lewis’s Challenge to Modern Minds
Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
The Medieval Sources and Inspiration for C. S. Lewis’s Understanding of Self and Society
Hannah Oliver Depp, Politics and Prose Bookstore/American Univ.
Bridging the Gap between Medieval and Modern Science: The Middle Way of C. S. Lewis
Dennis Fisher, Independent Scholar

Session 501 Bernhard 158
Martin and More: Genre Medievalisms
Sponsor: Tales after Tolkien Society
Organizer: Helen Young, Univ. of Sydney
Presider: Stephanie Amsel, Southern Methodist Univ.
Medievalism, Feminism, and “Realism” in Game of Thrones
Kavita Mudan Finn, Southern New Hampshire Univ.
Save the Cheerleader, Save the World: Yesterday’s Heroism Today
Valerie Dawn Hampton, Western Michigan Univ./Univ. of Florida
Detectives in the Middle Ages? The (Exceptionally) Popular Genre of Medievalist Crime Fiction
Anne McKendry, Univ. of Melbourne
White Hats for White Plumes: The Western as Arthurian Romance Reimagined
Geoffrey B. Elliott, Oklahoma State Univ.–Stillwater

also SATURDAY 3:30 PM
Session 461 Valley I Shilling Lounge
Phantom Limb: The Presence of the Problem of Pain in the Works of C. S. Lewis
Sponsor: C. S. Lewis Society, Purdue Univ.; Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis and Friends, Taylor Univ.
Organizer: Joe Ricke, Taylor Univ.
Presider: Grace Tiffany, Western Michigan Univ.
The Problem of Pain in Perelandra Audrey Schaffner, Abilene Christian Univ.
“A Brutal Surgery from Without”: Freud, Healing, and The Pilgrim’s Regress Chris Jensen, Florida State Univ.
“O Felix Culpa”: C. S. Lewis’s Understanding of the Fall into Sin in The Problem of Pain and Perelandra, with Special Reference to His Medieval Sources
Laura Smit, Calvin College
The Problem of Animal Pain in C. S. Lewis
Edwin Woodruff-Tait, Independent Scholar

Session 525 Schneider 1120
Tolkien as Linguist and Medievalist
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.
Presider: Brad Eden
The First Red Book: An Exploration of Tolkien’s Exeter College Essay Book
Andrew Higgins, Cardiff Metropolitan Univ.
Inter-Elvish Miscommunication and the Fall of Gondolin
Eileen Marie Moore, Cleveland State Univ.
A Scholar of the Old School: Tolkien’s Editing of Medieval Manuscripts
John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar
Immram Roverandom
Kris Swank, Pima Community College

Session 549 Fetzer 1055
Tolkien’s Beowulf
Sponsor:    Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer:    Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.
Presider:   Christopher Vaccaro, Univ. of Vermont
“That does not attract me”: Lang./Lit. and the Structure of Tolkien’s Beowulf Commentary
John R. Holmes, Franciscan Univ. of Steubenville
Can a Geat Be a Knight? Tolkien’s Use of Chivalric Terminology in His Translation of Beowulf
Brian McFadden, Texas Tech Univ.
The Weird Word Wyrd Amy Amendt-Raduege, Whatcom Community College
Beowulf Reimagined: Coming of Age in Tolkien’s Sellic spell Amber Dunai, Texas A&M Univ.

The Cat Report (W.3/11-15)

With poor Seville being transferred back to the shelter for medical attention (hope she's okay),* we're back at six cats: EMMA JEMIMA, SALEM, DOUGAL & MIMA, LEO, and The PRINCESS.

Started off the day by taking shy Dougal out of his cage and holding and petting him. He stayed stiff as a board but didn't squirm or try to get away, so thought I'd try him with a walk. Won't make that mistake again. He hadn't been out long when he got spooked, and then immediately shifted over into full-scale panic. He slipped off the leash as I was trying to get him back in the room and took off running as fast as I've ever seen a cat move. He ran straight across the store, which brought him right up against the dog-room, whereupon there was much barking and unfortunately he turned to the right. And even more unfortunately, someone had left the doors to the warehouse area open, and he went right in. By the time I got to the doors, he'd gone to ground -- a solid black cat hiding in a large area full of dozens of hidey-holes. To make it worse, there was a truck with its cargo area open to the warehouse, and while he cdn't get outside he might have gone in the back of the semi- as well. Fortunately after a few minutes' looking I found him under a bunch of stuff not too far from the door. I asked a PetsMart employee for help, and she (the hero of this story) moved great big bins on rollers while I waited to grab him if he bolted. Luckily he was frozen and made no resistance when I reached back and pulled him out, carrying him immediately back to the cat-room and back into his cage, where little Mimi helped comfort him.
   So, much drama, considerable excitement, a cat-vs.-volunteer race which the cat won, hands down, but in the end no harm done.
   Note to self: no more walks for Dougal. Rather than a pleasant distraction from the cat-room it holds only terror for him, poor fellow.

After that, decided on no more walks for now and instead invited everybody out from their cages. 

PRINCESS MERIDA sat in my lap and enjoyed much petting, after which she shifted over to the mid-level of a cat-stand by the bench. Thinking she might be chilly with her shaved fur I put a blanket over her with just her head sticking out, and she loved it, staying there most of the rest of the morning. She came out towards noontime to demand more petting, and I was happy to oblige.  She had a short walk just after noon and did very well; clearly she knows all about walking on a leash. Either Princess or Emma, I forget which, was out when two smallish dogs came by in rapid succession and neither was bothered by it. Did notice, towards the end of the day, that Princess likes men: she got up and gave a little chirp when a guy came in to look at the cats.

LEO came out all growly and suspicious of the other cats, but he was completely won over by my offer of a box with catnip in it. He climbed inside, I put the box up on the cagetops, and he stayed there the rest of the morning, secure in his bliss. Hadn't realized just how big and how heavy a cat he is till picked him up and boosted him up high; my cat Feanor used to weigh twenty pounds and he was easier to pick up than this. We moved his digs from the middle of the upper row to the middle of the lower row, which should make it easier for him to get in and out when he wants to. His little cat-stand had already been removed and replaced with a soft pad for a cat-bed. Maybe he'd like a little cat-bed/cushion like Boogieman once had?

EMMA JEMIMA was in a good mood. The last out and the longest to stay out, she was very affectionate. She spent most of the morning in explorer mode, having now claimed the whole bottom row (completely ignoring the top row) as hers to explore and graze whenever and wherever she feels like it. She went in all the open cages, sampled their nom,used their litter boxes, and generally made herself at home, mostly ignoring the other cats if present. At one point she sat down next to me and gave herself a good long bath; think that was the happiest I've seen her in weeks.
   Emma had a walk at the end of my shift (stayed a little extra for her, since she'd been so good today and deserved come kind of treat). But what she liked best today, even more than the petting and attention, was crinkly paper. I brought some in and spread it out, and she loved it -- whether being pulled along while riding on it, or pouncing on things swishing back and forth under it, or having it folded over her to make a paper-cat-paper sandwich, she loved it all. I left the paper folded up under the bench for her, though don't know how many more play sessions like that it has in it before it gives out. 

   Health alert: Emma had blood in her stool this morning -- enough to look alarming, but it didn't seem to hurt or distress her at all. Something we need to keep an eye on.

MIMA the perfectly normal cat in a room full of Cats With Issues. She was out and about and playing and exploring and generally being a delightful little cat, as usual. She particularly likes the laser pointer, though she doesn't chase it so much as watch it and pounce when it comes near. I've rarely seen a bonded pair as bonded as she and Dougal; she I first come in in the morning she and he will be side-by-side towards the front of their cage; he only slips into hiding in the back when there are people around (or other cats he thinks might get him). She played with catnip bubbles a bit, but they didn't really do much for her. The bug-on-a-stick was better, but in general she just seemed to want to explore, coming up for attention every now and then.

SALEM is out of sorts, and unlike her more outgoing self of up until just last week. She stayed inside most of the morning and didn't seem to want much attention (petting, playing) in her cage -- although she did join in a game of bug-on-a-stick with Princess (atop a cat-stand), Leo (Up High), and Mimi (near the cabinet), Anytime that little bug came inside her cage she deftly caught it in one paw and held it down while she bit it (quite the predator, she). Have to let her out first next week and give her more one-on-one attention (for example, brushing her back, which she'd really liked before). 
   Dougal took refuge inside her cage while his was being cleaned, and she didn't seem to mind. In fact, she ignored him, just as Seville did last week. Perhaps his passive mode sends a 'no-threat' signal cats pick up on.

--and that's about it for Wednesday morning.

--John R.

*The report later today, now that they've had a chance to check her out up at the clinic, is that she has Calici, poor thing. Know they'll do everything they can to help her. Poor Seville! Now we know why she was acting so different.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Shadow Knew

So, as part of my ongoing off and on read-and-out-the-door project, I've been sorting through our mystery shelves: getting rid of some, putting some on the keeper pile, and reading some to decide which way they go. Looks like we'll be getting rid of about half and keeping about half.  So far most of the Dick Francis and Tony Hillerman have gone, with the Ellis Peters, Rex Stout, and Agatha Christie to follow. Among the read/skim/decide is an mini-omnibus collection of two THE SHADOW novels from 1946 by Walter Gibson ("Maxwell Grant"). I won't be keeping this one, but I'm glad I read it, if only for the Introduction, in which Gibson reminisces about the 'great German airship' fears of 1909 (the UFOs of the day, as Gibson himself points out), and his brief mention of his stories being turned into radio plays:

"[In the summer of 1936] I was working on my 121st Shadow novel in Gray, Maine, when I received word from the publishers, Street & Smith, that arrangements had been made for a Shadow radio series to be based upon my novels. The scripts had been assigned to Edward Hale Bierstadt, who had done the Warden Lawes show, and he was expecting me to contact him on Great Chebeague, one of the largest islands in Casco Bay. So I drove over to Falmouth Foreside and made the trip on the passenger boat, Nellie G. Bierstadt and I spent the day going over his script, which was excellent, and I stayed so late that I had to charter the Nellie G. for a special return trip to the mainland. A thick fog had set in . . ." 

Now, I know the name Edward Hale Bierstadt, as the man who wrote the first book on Dunsany* back in 1917 (revised and expanded edition 1919) and played a large part in bringing Dunsany's plays (and eventually Dunsany himself) to America. But I hadn't known what happened to him after about 1919 or so. Turns out he had a long and varied career, not dying until 1970, but his interests had shifted more from fantasy plays to true crime, becoming something of an expert on the subject. He even wrote a piece on the Scopes Trial. So with his background as a playwright and his interest in criminology, it makes sense that about two decades after his discovery and promotion of Dunsany he'd wind up writing radio plays for a mystery series.

That it should be THE SHADOW -- one of the most famous and fondly remembered of all radio shows, and Orson Welles' first major starring role** -- shows he clearly had some talent. Gibson's brief account I quoted makes it sound as if Bierstadt wrote the very first script, the one which wd have introduced the characters and established the outlines the show was to follow.  I have not been able to confirm this, the online listing of all episodes for the radio-show lacking scriptwriter information for the first few weeks. But from another source I was able to confirm that Bierstadt wrote the scripts for episodes #10 ("CIRCLE OF DEATH", broadcast November 28th 1937) and #12 (THE DEATH TRIANGLE, broadcast December 12 1937), so he definitely had a hand in it, and v. early on.

So, an interesting connection between two unexpected points, Dunsany's otherworldly drama and a legended radio show of the Thirties (and beyond).

--John R.

*there are now six, that I know of.
**with Agnes Moorhead as Margo Lane

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Things I Didn't Know

So, while reading the Christie I mentioned in my previous post, I came across two little bits of information that were new to me

First, in "The Kidnapped Prime Minister", one of the two members of the War Cabinet who come to engage Poirot is described as 'Leader of the House of Commons'. That puzzled me, since I'd always thought the leader of the House of Commons was the Prime Minister. Turns out (thank you, Wikipedia) this is sometimes the case and sometimes not: in recent years, that job has usually been handed off to one of the other major figures in the cabinet. Live and learn.

The other was a different version of a well-known superstition.  At one point in "The Adventure of the Cheap Flat" Poirot observes "It is still regarded as a symbol of good luck if a black cat crosses your path". This was surprising, since I've always heard it the other way round: that it's bad luck when a black cat crosses your path -- which, since I love black cats, I've always considered stuff and nonsense; for me getting to see a new cat is cause for celebration. I wonder if this reversal is a US/UK thing, since I was once surprised, when a bird dropped its business on me when I was out walking with an English friend, to have him say "lucky you". At first I thought he was kidding, but he stuck to his guns, insisting that having a bird poo on you is good luck.

It's sometimes said the English and Americans are one people divided by a common language, but I wonder if it doesn't go a little deeper than that, into unshared superstitions as well.

--John R.
current reading: THE SHADOW (The Mother Goose Murders/Crime Over Casco) [1946]

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Verne on Stage

So, as part of our do-more-things-together, now-that-Janice-has-retired theme, we went up to Everett today to see a play: AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS by Jules Verne (adapted by Mark Brown). We don't get to the area up north of Seattle that much, and don't get out to plays that much, so this made for a good combination.* And despite more traffic than we expected we'd left plenty of time and so got there in good time.

As for the play, the sets were minimal (of the chairs-representing-a-train variety) but sometimes ingenious, the costumes were great (a couple in steampunk outfit in the audience fit right in), and the acting (five people playing thirty-nine parts) was fine. Sadly enough, it was the script that let the team down. The play was not just silly but very silly, with lots of slapstick routines scattered throughout. In short, they played the story for laughs -- so much so that when they had a lighting malfunction half-way through the first half it was impossible to tell if this was part of the play or something gone wrong (their announcement of an impromptu early intermission more or less gave away that it was the latter). And that was too bad, because they had a pretty good cast, I thought. In keeping with what seems to be a trend (cf. the three-man CSL show we saw just last weekend, of the four/five person cast of THIRTY-NINE STEPS we saw during our anniversary trip to London in 2012), there was much doubling up by four of the five actors; only the one playing Phileas Fogg himself was 'in character' all the time.

So, enjoyable enough but disappointing in a could-easily-have-been-so-much-better sort of way.

--John R.
current reading: THE DARKEST ROAD by G. G. Kay [1986] (re-reading for book group; almost done, at last!)

*the last time we'd done both together being to see THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (by Rupert Holmes, of all people) a decade or more back

Friday, March 6, 2015

No Prophet, She

So, occasionally an author comes up with a strangely prescient statement or idea, like the people who predicted Titanic-style disasters before the real one occurred,* or Tom Clancy's idea of someone crashing a highjacked airliner into one of the major public buildings in Washington DC (in his novel DEBT OF HONOR, published in 1994).

This is partly because writers are ingenious people, who come up with all sorts of ideas, likely and unlikely, and partly because if you throw out enough predictions some are bound to come true eventually.

And then there's the even more frequent cases we tend to overlook, where authors made predictions which turn out to be totally, unequivocally untrue.

I spotted something of the sort when reading some Agatha Christie stories recently, in her early book POIROT INVESTIGATES (written 1923-25, collected 1925). In one story set during The Great War, she has a plot-line involving an assassination attempt directed at the Prime Minister, immediately followed by a kidnapping plot. Her two main characters, Poirot and Captain Hastings, discuss the assassination attempt thusly:

   HASTINGS: "I was asking you what you thought of this attempt to assassinate MacAdams"**

   POIROT:  "Enfantillage!" replied Poirot promptly. One can hardly take it seriously. To fire with the rifle -- never does it succeed. It is a device of the past."

   HASTINGS: "It was very near succeeding this time," I reminded him.

   Poirot shook his head impatiently . . .
(p. 108)

And just about forty years later, the most famous political assassination of the twentieth century took place, with a rifle.

So, no cigar.

--John R.

*not as hard as you'd think, given that it was well known that the modern superliners of the time carried far fewer lifeboats than there were people on board (typically enough for half the passengers and crew, or less). H. Rider Haggard even wrote a book about it as far back as 1888, nearly a quarter-century before the Titanic disaster.

**Christie gives her fictitious wartime Prime Minister the name David MacAdam, nicknamed "Fighting Mac" for his ferocious (and, to Christie, wholly admirable) opposition to Pacifist attempts to end the war in a negotiated peace; Christie assumes throughout that any pacifist movement must be funded and controlled by German agents and might lead to "a premature and disastrous peace" (!)

Thursday, March 5, 2015


So, this past Saturday  Janice and I took the light rail (Orca/Link) downtown to the Moore Theatre, where we saw the excellent Beatles Tribute show RAIN last year.

This time we were going for something completely different: a dramatization of C. S. Lewis's least-known novel, THE GREAT DIVORCE (written after his space trilogy and before his Mary-Renault-esque TILL WE HAVE FACES).

As Janice said afterwards, it's not fair to critique the play on the basis of its theological content -- that wd involve reviewing both play and original book together. So let's just note that the play accurately presents Lewis's ideas and arguments as they appear in the original book, often in the same words. To that extent, it's an extremely faithful adaptation.

Just as this same group's* adaptation of THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, which we saw the year before last, was presented as a series of monologues (a good choice), their THE GREAT DIVORCE resolved itself into a sequence of vignettes (again, a good choice on their part). This enabled them to get by with a minimum of cast: it was a three-person show. All three played Lewis himself in the (newly added) opening to the frame-story, wherein he falls asleep in his library, and in the conclusion (as per the book, when he awakens and, here, begins to set down the story at once), and at various points throughout the story for emphasis, sometimes with all three speaking in chorus and sometimes in rapid back-and-forth succession. The rest of the time they usually divided up between one actor playing Lewis (and it kept changing which this was), one playing one of the visiting ghosts, and one playing the heavenly spirit come to offer guidance to that ghost. The ghosts all wore everyday dress (I suppose to help make the connection that they were just like us), the Lewises a suit (far neater than what Lewis himself wd probably have worn) and a dressing gown, and the Spirits a costume that made them look a lot like Liberace (for those whose memories stretch back so far).

The set was minimal, and mainly seemed to serve to emphasis the ghosts' tender feet on the unyielding grass.  Overall the production perhaps emphasized the ingenuity of the three-person cast filling all those roles, switching back and forth as needed so dexterously, over the content of the play itself. It's not their fault that I thought the Spirits came across as remarkably poor presenters of Xian doctrine. Nor could their adaptation overcome my two great objections to the original work: CSL's shabby treatment of George MacDonald by having MacDonald posthumously renounce the cornerstones of his teachings** and CSL's basing his own work on a reaction against a work he confesses to not having been able to understand: Wm Blake's brilliant THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL.

The Short Version: if you like THE GREAT DIVORCE, odds are you'll enjoy this adaptation, which is reasonably faithful, within the constraints of the three-person cast. If you generally enjoy C. S. Lewis's apologetics and haven't read this particular work, I'd recommend it. If you're of two minds about Lewis I'd recommend giving it a try.  If on the other hand his apologetics give you the fan-tods you might as well give this a pass.

--John R.

current task: sorting out mystery novels to go on the out-the-door pile
current reading: an interesting forthcoming book (more about this one later)

*"The Fellowship for Performing Arts"

**shades of Conan Doyle's medium-delivered posthumous conversions of skeptical friends to Spiritualism!

THE WIFE SAYS: Sure, everyone else who gets the fan-tods gets a free pass!

The Cat Report (W. 3/4-15)

Little Sofia having come and gone since last week, there were still two new cats this week, for a total of seven: LEO BRYANT (a great big smooth black cat, very like Salem in appearance) and PRINCESS MERITA (our little lion-colored cat, ten years old and with her fur newly shaved). Both were very shy, which means that along with shy Seville and shyer-than-shy Dougal that just left us with three out-and-about cats: Salem (who kept mostly to herself), Mimi (who explored as usual), and Emma Jemima (who was hostile to both Salem and Seville at different points). 

Of all the cats I think Mimi, Leo, and Salem had the best day, followed perhaps by The Princess. Emma, Seville, and Dougal didn't enjoy themselves much, for one reason or another.

Started out the morning by greeting the newcomers. PRINCESS MERITA is very gentle, very loving. She sat in my lap and purred, doing her paws all the while. I assume her fur must have been all in a tangle to have been shaved off; it's now growing back, so she's covered all over with soft soft buff-colored fuzz. Her coloring and the fact that her head, legs, and tail hadn't been shaved made her look like a tiny delicate lion. After our initial get-to-know-each-other session she went into the basket on the bench and peacefully slept the morning away.

The other new cat, LEO, looks like a great big black tomcat but is actually shy and worried about what the other cats might do to him. We had a great breakthrough when I got out the fresh catnip. He thought catnip, in a box, was the best thing ever. Even though the box was a little too small for him, he stayed in it all the rest of the morning, and was particularly pleased when I put it and him atop the cages. He also loves a leather-string toy that'd been fixed up to dangle in front of his cage.

By mid-morning the cats were distributed thusly around the room: Emma around the cat-stand near the door (sometimes atop it, sometimes down around below). The Princess was in the basket on the bench. Salem, Leo, and Mima were all up high, Salem to the left (over near the door), Leo in his box in the middle, and little Mima over near the cabinet; they seemed content to share, each with his or her own spot. Dougal was in his double-wide, hidden under the blankets, and Seville was in there as well, not knowing she was sharing her refuge with another cat a few inches away.  

MIMA remains a delightful little cat. She explores, she plays, she comes up for attention and welcomes being petted, she goes off and finds comfy spots she likes and settles herself down in them. A perfectly normal little cat in a room full of Cats with Issues.

SALEM was on the quiet side, as usual. She got swatted at by Emma at one point when Emma was atop the cat-stand and Salem on the middle level, but simply flattened herself so Emma couldn't reach her. She seemed much happier once I moved her to the cage-tops, where she could see all without being disturbed by hisses. 
DOUGAL doesn't seem to have made much progress since last week: he's still scared of coming out. At least he wasn't hiding when I arrived, and later he did let me lift him out to clean his cage (turns out he's willing to accept the top shelf in the cabinet as a reasonable substitute, so long as you close at least one of the doors to give him a little privacy). He took it well when Emma poked her head in his cage, and simply hid when Seville moved in (see below). So I don't think he's scared of the other cats so much as the new strange place he finds himself in. 

SEVILLE had a rough morning. She was hidden behind and beneath her blankets when I arrived, as usual. Each time she came out something seemed to go wrong for her and she went tearing back into her refuge. Her worst mishap was being atop the cat-tree by the cabinet and deciding to jump atop the cabinet. She didn't make it, but she did manage to pull all those cans up there down on herself as she plunged to the floor. The door to Dougal-and-Mimi's cage being open she dashed inside and burrowed down one of the little stands. I don't think she knew that Dougal was in the other right next to her, laying low -- at least if she did, she showed no sign of it. Took a good bit of doing to cox her out at noon and back into her own cage next door. 
   That makes three times over two Wednesday's I've seen Seville attempt a jump and fail to arrive where she wanted to get; I can only conclude she used to be able to jump pretty well, can no longer do so, and hasn't realized the fact. Poor Seville! She likes being petted one-on-one but hasn't found any place in the room outside her cube where she feels comfortable or can relax. I'd like to take her out on a walk but haven't tried it yet.

And then there's EMMA, who's having a really rough time of it. She's desperate for attention but so jealous of the other cats that she stalked off if she saw me petting one of the others. She picked on Seville a little, and swatted at Salem a little; the other cats avoided her end of the room. Took her out for two short walks, and both times she really enjoyed being out and about. She displayed a great interest in doors: goes up and scratches on them if they're closed and wants to go through them if there's open. She was particularly interested in the office and the kitchen, especially after she got a glimpse into the kitchen (think she must remember kitchens from her past life). She didn't mind going back into the room after a while, but I felt bad when she had to go back in her cage: she struggled and mewed desperately, and continued to cry for several minutes after I'd closed the door.
   I think it all comes down to territory. She's okay so long as she has about half the room and the cat-stand near the door all to herself, but this forces the other cats into too small an area. Is there any way we can get her to share, or stake out less territory for herself? She's a smart cat, and she loves people, and loves attention. There must be some way to show off her lovable side to visitors and potential adopters, rather than the hissy side. 

Several visitors, but none that seemed likely adopters anytime soon. Katrina dropped by, and the cats loved the extra attention.

--John R.