Saturday, April 21, 2018

Audiobooks on Tolkien

So, I just finished up listening to an audiobook of John Garth's TOLKIEN & THE GREAT WAR, read by Garth itself. And it was so good, it sent me looking for more audiobook adaptations of works on (not by) JRRT. Which in turn reminded me of what an erratic lot it is. I haven't done anything like a systematic search, but even a cursory pokeabout shows how random is the pattern of what has and hasn't been made available in audiobook format.

The Zaleskis: THE INKLINGS 

Shippey: both his seminal books
Flieger: all three of her major books

Raymond Edwards

Some of what is available is as odd as what is not. Thus Carpenter's THE INKLINGS is apparently available, yet his BIOGRAPHY is not. Also, some relatively little-known books Xian audiobooks are out:

Xian audiobooks

I'd like to compile a more complete list than this initial rather random dipping, so if you know of others not mentioned above drop me a line and I'll add them to the list.*

--John R.

P.S. I didn't do a comparable search for CSL and the other Inklings, but I do know McGrath's C. S. LEWIS is available and that I'd recommend it,** while Lindop's THE THIRD INKLING seems not to have an audiobook incarnation.

*and hopefully eventually to listen to them.

**among its other virtues, the audiobook version of McGarth has the surviving bits of Lewis's own voice recordings provided as an audio appendix.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Who would be Shakespeare If there were no Shakespeare?

So, as we were going in to see the play last weekend, Janice asked me an interesting question I cdn't answer: who would be Shakespeare if we didn't have Shakespeare?

That is, given that Shakespeare is generally considered the greatest writer in English,* who would play that role if we didn't have Shakespeare's work?

Thinking it over, I think that in that case subsequent history wd have been  so different that we can't know the answer. It's not a matter of Milton or Keats stepping into that role: without the key figure everything around and after him wd change. To use a more modern analogy, without The Beatles we don't get a British Invasion headed by the Rolling Stones and The Animals: we don't get any British Invasion at all, nor all the things contingent upon it.

On thinking it over some more, I suspect that in such a world English literature wd be far more like French literature -- that is, in the absence of a superlative native tradition English writers wd have looked even more to continental models than they did in the century or so following W.S.'s time. But that of course is just guessing: the real course of altered history wd be so different that we can't do more than just guess at it.

With my interest in the Canon of literature, and the way works migrate in and out of it, I do find myself musing sometimes over who's up and who's down compared to the canon as it was when I was in grad school, especially given the pressure the academy is under to open up and diversify. Who's in and who's dropping out? Tolkien has benefitted by the shifting tides, and is nearer acceptance now than ever before, while I find myself half-expecting to hear that Milton is being edged  towards the exit.

Time will tell.

--John R.

*indeed, Tolkien thought Shakespeare's achievement had been so great it bent English literature towards drama rather than narrative prose (which he much preferred).

Sunday, April 15, 2018

More Shakespeare

So, we've been seeing a lot of Shakespeare lately -- JULIUS CAESAR a while back, and more recently TIMON OF ATHENA (his worst play) and MACBETH (perhaps his best), and now THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.

I was of two minds about whether to go to this one. On the one hand, I remember having enjoyed the Portia scenes. On the other, the parts dealing with the Merchant himself, Shylock, are deeply racist.  Kind of like reading a HUCK FINN where the narrator is of the same mindset as Pap Finn. I didn't know if I'd be able to take it.

Now that I've seen it, it's not the fairy tale challenge + screwball  comedy of the Portia scenes but the nastiness of the antisemitism that stays with me. I found myself wondering what it'd be like if Shylock were black instead of Jewish.  Would that be even harder to take?

At any rate, I'm pretty sure I won't be able to bring myself to watch this one again.

--John R.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

New Tolkien Book Rumored

So, thanks to Doug K. on the MythSoc list (thanks Doug), I've now learned of the news about a forthcoming Tolkien book said to be due out this fall (August 30th, to be precise): THE FALL OF GONDOLIN by JRRT, ed. by CT.

So, how real is this?
Real enough that is taking preorders.* **

Real enough that The Tolkien Society is helping to spread the news.

Real enough that amazon thinks it has 304 pages, making it a fairly substantial volume, about the same size as last year's BEREN AND LUTHIEN.

If there is such a book (as the evidence suggests), then it will probably v. much along the lines of BEREN & LUTHIEN, bringing together into one volume all the existing bits of the various forms of the story: the BLT-era FALL OF GONDOLIN (the only complete version of the story), the wonderful fragment Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin (previously appearing in UNFINISHED TALES), concise but eloquent excepts from the ANNALS, and perhaps a few misc. bits.

Publication of a stand-alone FALL OF GONDOLIN would complete one of Tolkien's unrealized dreams: to publish each of the (three or four) 'Great Tales'*** that underlie the Silmarillion as stand-alone books: the stories of TURIN, BEREN & LUTHIEN, and now THE FALL OF GONDOLIN.  All that wd leave is the (unwritten) TALE OF EARENDEL, the first of them all but the only one never to have any completed form (the longest bit being Bilbo's Lay of Earendel sung in Elrond's hall.

That makes the following excerpt from the Amazon produce description perhaps the best of all:

After a minutely observed account of the fall 
of Gondolin, the tale ends with the escape 
of Túrin and Idril, with the child Eärendel, 
looking back from a cleft in the mountains 
as they flee southward, at the blazing wreckage
 of their city. They were journeying into a new story,
 the Tale of Eärendel, which Tolkien never wrote, 
but which is sketched out in this book from other sources.

That is, it sounds as if Christopher has brought together all the fragments of poetry and the quickly jotted outlines about what wd have appeared in Earendel's story--just as he did in the penultimate chapter of THE BOOK OF LOST TALES Volume II--and placed them all together in a section of their own at the end of the work. I'm looking forward to this part of the prospective book even more than the main Gondolin section.

So, we'll see, and soon know one way or the other whether there will be celebrating or sorrow all round come the beginning of September.

--John R.
--current reading: SUN SPOTS (CoC scenario)

*I got mine in today.

**also at this link is a reasonably informative description of its contents.

***Tolkien was inconsistent whether their were three or four of these; I've tend to include Earendel's story, which raises the total to four.

Saturday, April 7, 2018


So, this week I saw the announcement that Neil Gaiman is involved in a new version of Mervyn Peake's TITUS GROAN/GORMENGHAST being adaptated for the BBC. Given Gaiman's sheer raw talent (he's probably the most talented author working in the field today) this is highly promising, so long as we don't hold his involvement in the disastrous BEOWULF movie against him. Here's the link.

I'll certainly try to watch this once it's available over here, but have to confess that while impressed by Christopher Lee's performance in the previous Peake adaptation a good while back now (2000)* I've never been a big fan of Mervyn Peake. I've tried to like his work for over thirty years now, and by and large failed. Despite having read virtually everything he'd ever written** I've never been able to make it all the way through the middle book of the trilogy -- the story just bogged down in too much Dickensian melodramatics for me so I skipped to the end, read that, decided I didn't care how it had all turned out that way, and put it aside to move on to the third book (the science fiction entry in the series, which I at least found readable***).

Peake has always been an odd-man-out in modern fantasy: one of the first two authors seriously marketed as 'fantasy, like Tolkien' (the other being the far more apt E. R. Eddison); a mainstay of the early entries among Ballantine's ADULT FANTASY SERIES -- despite the fact it's only
fantasy only if you include things like THE PRISONER OF ZENDA or WUTHERING HEIGHTS under that descriptor.

So I'm glad for Peake fans and hope the new show will add to their numbers, but I think it's time to stop thinking of Peake as a fantasy writer. Unless we're talking about things like his nonsense verse**** or his modern-day fantasy novel MR. PYE.***** Fantasy fans and Peake fans alike wd be better off.

--current reading: THE PILTDOWN FORGERY by J. S. Weiner (1956). second reading (orig. c. 1993)

*in fact, what little I watched of it marked the first time I thought I'd seen Christopher Lee put in a top-notch performance -- in retrospect a good indication of how well he'd do in his role-of-a-lifetime performance in the LotR movies which were shortly to follow.

**I did read the other two books in the Titus Groan series, plus the short story 'Boy in Darkness', plus his fantasy novel MR. PYE, plus all the contents of the giant omnibus PEAKE'S PROGRESS, as well as his wife's memoir. The one thing I think I never tracked down was THE RYME OF THE FLYING BOMB.

***its conclusion is by far the best thing about it, but it'd be spoiler to say any more

****which is okay, but he's no Lewis Carroll. He's not even a Lear.

*****which reads rather like a Thorne Smith story gone off-track, and still more like Henry Kuttner's tribute to Smith, "The Misguided Halo".

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Man who Opted Out

So, a while back the NYT had an interesting piece about someone who's chosen to opt out of the current endless political news. He voted, his candidate lost, and he can't put up with the endless back-and-forth shouting that marks our times. As someone who has at times in my life done without a tv altogether, I can sympathize. Sometimes the shouting gets to be too much and you have to just walk away for a bit. I know it probably did me good when we gave up cable tv a year and more back. The next time I'd been on one of my research trips I'd binged, watching four to five hours a night of MSNBC. I wondered if I'd do that again this trip, and the answer has turned out to be no. I've spent the evenings working on a side-project and sometimes just reading and resting up for the next day's session.

As for the subject of the article, he's using his down time to create an ecological area, his own little Walden Pond he hopes to turn into a protected nature park. So he's putting his away-time to good use.

Here's the link:

--John R.

John Bellairs movie

So, thanks to Friend Richard, I just learned that there's a new movie coming out based on the work of one of my favorite authors: John Bellairs, author of one of the best fantasy novels ever written (THE FACE IN THE FROST) and the inimitable ST. FIGETA & OTHER PARODIES.* It's based on THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS -- not his best but probably his best-known work, the start of the Lewis Barnavelt trilogy (later extended beyond the first three books into an ongoing series). Have to say, I'm looking forward to this one. It's due out in September.

--John R.

*which asks the question: Does the olive in the martini break the Lenten fast?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Waiting for the Bus

So, this morning while waiting at the corner of Van Buren and State Street for the bus to bring me from the Lower East Side, where I'm staying (in the part of Milwaukee that still deserves the title 'Cream City'), to Marquette, I saw a peacock cross the road.

 This was surprising, given that downtown Milwaukee's not the sort of place where I'd expect to see an exotic animal wandering around --especially a tropical one, given the bitter cold weather we'd had here last week. I assumed it was an escaped pet, though it certainly seemed very much at ease in its surroundings. Then a second one came and joined it, coming like the first out of the Yankee Hill complex, crossing Van Buren (a major street; luckily traffic was light) and making its way over to a green grassy spot between two apartment complexes.

I asked after I got to the Archives, and they were as surprised as I was by the unlikeliness of free-roaming peacocks in Milwaukee. I asked again at the front desk of the hotel, and the desk clerk said no, he'd never heard of peacocks roaming about, but they did have wild turkeys in the neighborhood.

So that's it. I got to see something really neat -- just not what I thought it was. And at the cost of thinking that Mr. Lacy and Dr. Rogers, who used to take me out birdwatching with them sometimes back in my Scouting days, wd be sadly disappointed if they knew about my decayed bird-identification skills.

--John R.
--working on: Council of Elrond drafts (days) and a book review (evenings)
--current reading: pre-Columbo Dr. Thorndyke stories by R. Austin Freeman (1912)

UPDATE (W. March 28th)
And here's a local news story about Milwaukee's fashionable East Side's urban wild turkeys:

Monday, March 26, 2018

Tolkien Day (unObservant)

So, thanks to Janice S. for reminding me of Tolkien Reading Day, which fell yesterday this year. It's a holiday I honor more in the breech than the observance, in that while I like the idea I tend to forget the actual event when it rolls around each year. Kind of like Arbor Day.* To be fair, I'm probably reading something Tolkien wrote, or something someone wrote about him, or something connected with his life and works, more days than not. So every day is kinda like Tolkien day with me.**

Today was good Tolkien-reading days, here at the Marquette Archives where I'm taking a look at and slowly working through the sequence of MANY MEETINGS and COUNCIL OF ELROND -- the latter one of the two trickiest chapters in the manuscripts. This is Day Six of a ten-day research trip, and despite still-lingering effects of the cold it's been a really good session this time. Here's hoping the next four days go as well, and get me to a good stopping point. 

--John R.

current reading (Kindle): THE SINGING BONE by R. Austin Freeman (1912)

*which these days seems to have been more or less swallowed up in Earth Day.
**just ask Janice C 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

I'm in Milwaukee

So, just arrived in Milwaukee for two weeks working with the Tolkien manuscripts, starting in the morning. Really looking forward to it.

--John R.

current reading: THE INKLINGS AND KING ARTHUR, ed. Sorina Higgins; WAR IN HEAVEN by Charles Williams (fourth reading, I think; this time as my read-on-the-plane book)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Texas in June (NETrpgCon)

So, I wanted to share the news that this June I'll be travelling down to Dallas to attend the NETRPGCON, or North-east Texas role-playing games convention. I've been wanting to go to this for years but other commitments have prevented that from happening. This is the year it finally all came together. I'm really looking forward to it.

First off, playing roleplaying games (esp. AD&D 1st edition, Call of Cthulhu, and Pendragon) is my favorite hobby. And the chance to spend a weekend playing games and watching other people play games and talking with folks about games is my idea of a good weekend.

And second, it's been a long time since I've been to a rpg con. I always used to go to GenCon, but the last one of those I attended was the last one held in Milwaukee, back in 2002. And this one is geared to old games, which are the ones I like best.

Here's a link to general information about the con itself.

And here's a list of guests -- some of whom I worked with back in Lake Geneva days (1991 to 1997), some I know only as legends of the industry who'd worked for TSR back before my day, whom I look forward to meeting:

We have the following confirmed guests at this time (Bill Barsh, Wolfgang Baur, Jobe Bittman, Bob Bledsaw Jr., Jason Braun, David "Zeb" Cook, Chris Clark, Michael Curtis, Darlene, Jeff Dee, Jeff Easley, Matt Finch, Ernest "Skeeter" Green, Allan Grohe, Jeff Grubb, Allen Hammack, Lance Hawvermale, Jack Herman, Jon Hershberger, Alex Kammer, Tim Kask, Doug Kovacs, David "Diesel" LaForce, Stephen Marsh, Frank Mentzer, Erol Otus, Terry Pavlet, Steve Perrin, Stefan Pokorny, Merle Rasmussen, John D. Rateliff, Mike Stewart, Dr. Dennis Sustare, Jeff Talanian, Jim Wampler, Bill Webb, Steven Winter). The lineup usually includes several of the more important figures in the history of RPGs as a whole and Dungeons & Dragons in particular.

So, if you're there and see me wander by, say hi.  If you want to sit down and talk a while, ask me about Tolkien.

--John R.
current reading: Stephen Jay Gould, BULLY FOR BRONTESAURUS (?1992)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


So, Rivendell, the long-running Minneapolis/St. Paul area smial (book group)* recently did something new for their January book-of-the-moth: a web comic. This was one I'd not heard of before, called GUNNERKRIGG COURT, but once I took a look I was hooked. It's science fantasy, about a group of kids attending a rather strange academy. Some have incipient powers (like teleportation), at least one is a mad scientist (the main character's best friend and sometimes roommate), and not all are fully human (like the girl without eyes**). The story starts with them as basically kids (I'd guess first year in junior high) and follows them through the next several years. Unlike many strips, which are locked in an eternal present, here time passes and the characters age, with some interesting consequences when hormones start to kick in. It's clear that there's a well thought out overarching story which the author gives out to us bit by bit, with the implications and consequences of things the characters do only becoming apparent a good deal afterwards (hey, kinda like real life).

The style of drawing changes a lot over the course of the strip; I'd recommend picking a random point and diving in, then if you like it going back to the start and reading straight through. At any rate that's what I did, starting with the chapter where a ghost*** tries to haunt the main character but finds she's unimpressed by anything in his repertoire; she winds up giving him advice on how to make his effects creepier. It's a good, short bit that gives a good hint of the overall flavor of the strip.

Here's the link:


current anime : Antarctica (seasick episode);Death March; Grancrest; Ancient Magus

most recent ebook: A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE, the newest Flavia de Luce novel by Alan Bradley (this series finding its feet again after having ran seriously off the rails a few books back; still a bit of going-through-the-motions though with lots and lots of loose ends).

other recent books: MEDDLING KIDS, a ScoobyDoo gang, grown up, meets Cthulhu Mythos story (great concept, poor execution; THE FOURTH WALL, a murder mystery play by A. A. Milne (poor); DINOSAURS (A Very Short Introduction); and currently a collection of Stephen Jay Gould essays (good!)
**except when it rains.
***whose full backstory we get much later, including how he met his death and why he's haunting the Court.