Thursday, October 30, 2014


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

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

The two sequences are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*thanks Doug

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ANCHORING THE MYTH (My New Publication)

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

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

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

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

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

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


--John R.

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


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

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

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

All hail Burrahobbits!

--John R.

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

First Edition monsters & the new MONSTER MANUAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today Is Not Columbus Day

So, sometimes when you are depends upon where you are.

Case in point: here in Rockford today (Oct 13th) is Columbus Day, a national holiday (which means gov't buildings closed, no post office delivery, most banks closed (hence the English name for them, 'bank holidays'), and the like -- all celebrating the man who discovered America in 1492.

But in Seattle, today is Indigenous Peoples' Day, celebrating not the person who discovered America but the people who were already here long* before he arrived, and memorializing the unmitigated disaster that the European arrival and take-over brought them.

Just another example of how different people can live through very different histories side by side and at the same time.

Here's the link:

--John R.
current reading: THE BROTHERS CABAL by Jonathan Howard [2014]

*and by 'long' I mean not just the 12,000 years traditional archeology has accepted but the revised figures of recent excavation and re-evaluation pushing the date back to double or, possibly triple, that.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Me, with cars

So, during my trip to and after arriving at Milwaukee a week ago tonight, the only thing that didn't go smoothly was picking up the rental car. First the guy at the counter said they didn't have the compact we'd reserved and so he was giving us another car, showing me a picture of a sort of micro-car two-seater with so small a trunk it cdn't have held both our suitcases. So I asked for something bigger, like the car we'd reserved. He was happy to oblige, and after some delay I headed out to pick up the car, only to discover once I got the keys that (a) it was much bigger, being a four-door a good foot longer than our non-compact Honda Civic back home, plus (b) he'd charged me an extra $200 for an "upgrade". I returned the key, went back in, told him I wanted a compact, as originally requested. He said he could do that. More delay, then a new set of papers and I'm heading out into the garage when I check paperwork again and find it's now a $175 extra fee. I return once again the the desk and say I want the original little car he sent me: no upgrade, no extra fee: just what we originally reserved, at the price we reserved it for. Long delay, during which I read, studied maps, and the like. Finally he gives me the re-re-re-revised paperwork, for the original price, and I go outside to find he's given me --not the compact he promised, but a van.  A huge, wallowing, boat of a van.

To be specific, a Chevrolet Grand Caravan, more suitable for transporting the Van Trap Family than for letting Janice and I (and possibly another Coulter) bus around northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.  But by this time it's getting dark, and I have serious doubts about what horrors that person at the counter might visit on me, given another try. So I decide to sail the S. S. Enormous onto the interstate and try to get it to Marquette, where I promptly park it and drive it as little as possible over the next few days, until I go to pick up Janice at the airport on Friday and she quickly masters it.

End of story, except for two pictures.

Here's me and the van I wound up with, followed by the car we saw today at Edward's Apple Orchard (where I picked apples), which, if I had to drive a whale of a car, wd have been my choice: a 1938 Chevrolet.

Oh well. Better luck next time.

--John R.