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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Week at Marquette

So, I just wrapped up a week at Marquette, spending the days working with the Tolkien collection in the Archives* and the evenings seeing friends from my Wisconsin days I don't get to see nearly often enough.** It was great, and I'm already looking forward to Next Time, whenever that may be. In particular, staying on-campus brought back a lot of memories from the years when I lived on or just-off campus (first in the Abbottsford [1981-83] -- still standing-- and later in the apt on 17th street [1983-87], no longer extant).

As for my research, I spent a lot of time with the John Boorman script for his unproduced LotR movie, finally wrapping up a project I'd worked on in bits over several previous short visits (day trips).  But I also got to spend some time with the 1983 conference papers, and some with the timelines for LotR, and some on miscellaneous things.  I'd wanted to look at the timelines for some time, in part because they were among the material added to the collection after my time at Marquette, so they postdate my knowledge of the collection, Now that I've taken a good look at them and seen just what all might be there, it turns out to be fascinating stuff, in more ways than one. For one thing, they're oddly reminiscent of the Timelines and Itineraries that made up part of the 1960 HOBBIT, which I thought unique in Tolkien's work. I now see that what I worked w. for H.o.H. resembles the early stages of work Tolkien did that ultimately evolved into the TALE OF YEARS. I'll definitely be spending more time with and taking a closer at this material.

And there was one fun moment I wanted to share. Richard West came over from Madison and joined me for a day (Tuesday the 7th), during which time he made an interesting discovery in the course of his own researches. I'll leave the announcement of it to Richard, in whatever he decides is the appropriate time and place, but looking over that same material the next day, in the same box I came across an anonymous article on THE HOBBIT. No author, no place of publication, no date -- just a neat copy of the piece itself.  That attracted my curiosity, given my interest in THE HOBBIT, so I quickly skimmed the piece. It looked familiar. Turning back to the front and skimming again, I realized there was a good reason why: I wrote it. In fact it was one of my CLASSICS OF FANTASY pieces, the next-to-last in the series (#18, December 2003). I so informed the Archivist, and it's now suitably identified and all. But it was a weird moment to find an unknown piece by an unknown author, only to have it turn out to be me.

--John R.
current reading: SUMMER MOONSHINE by Wodehouse (just finished),
THE BROTHERS CABAL by J. Howard (resumed)

*I originally wrote "down in the Archives, but it's been more than a decade, I think, since they moved to the top floor in the new building.

**hi Jim! hi Richard! hi Peter and Mary and Hugh! hi Eileen. And of course all at the Archives

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Advice from C. S. Lewis ("Get a Cat")

No cat report today, since I'm in Milwaukee, but thought I'd share something I came across recently while looking up something else in that vast, fascinating compendium that is the COLLECTED LETTERS OF C. S. LEWIS.   Here's a bit of advice CSL gave his oldest friend, Arthur Greeves, when the latter's dog ("my old friend Peter") was in his final decline:

"P.S.  Get a cat. 
They're more suitable to us 
old people than dogs, 
and a cat makes a house a home."*

I found this striking, coming from a lifetime dog lover like Lewis; clearly he had been won over by his step-cat (that is, his wife's cat, whose name I don't even think we know); a Siamese, I think.

So here's a good tag-line I may add to some of my letters:

"a cat makes a house a home" — C. S. Lewis


current reading: Echo-Hawk, Wodehouse, Boorman, Jenkins, Howard

*COLLECTED LETTERS, Vol. III, p. 1139; letter of March 12th 1960

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

C. S. Lewis's Crackpot Friend (Bernard Acworth)

C. S. Lewis's Crackpot Friend (Bernard Acworth)

So, one thing that does not emerge in reading the Acworth/Lewis letters or Frengren's and Numbers' account is that, to put it bluntly, Acworth was far more wacky than he therein appears.

For one thing, he believed that birds didn't migrate. Instead, he argued, they were blown south by prevailing winds in autumn and then blown back north again when the winds switched direction in spring (THIS PROGRESS, Chapter VI). He  further claims that birds cannot feel the air any more than fish are aware of water, and that thus birds cannot feel wind and are completely unaware of, and thus at the mercy of, air currents. And he believed that cuckoos were not parasitic but philanderers -- that the male cuckoo visited the nesting female bird of another species, made out, and flew away, leaving her to hatch a half-cuckoo/half-host bird hybrid. This theory bears no resemblance to observed reality. Despite his own field being that of submarine warfare, he confidently expounded upon topics such as biology ("the prostitute of the sciences") and theology (a merciful god ensured that the damned enjoy their damnation).

He also argued that animals are incapable of thought. Know no fear. Feel no pain. (Chapter XVII).* This is his solution to the problem of animal suffering that Lewis later wrestled with, unsatisfactorily, in THE PROBLEM OF PAIN. Unfortunately, it defies the personal experience of anyone who's ever had anything to do with animals, whether as a pet, a working animal, farm animals, wildlife observed, etc. Certainly the little bird that I saw  today get flushed from its shrub by a nearby leaf-blower, clipped by a passing car, and drop into the street where it fluttered desperately knew fear and knew pain. I managed to rescue it from the street and held it in my hands while my friend Richard and I tried to find someplace to take it to (like the Sarvey wildlife rescue people back in Renton). But to no avail; we’d just gotten a reference to the local humane society (which seemed a long shot) when it gave a few sudden twists and died -- whether from its original injuries or sheer terror was not apparent. It would be very hard for me to convince myself that despite what little I could do it didn't feel pain and didn't know fear during that last five minutes of its shortened life.

Acworth also held a number of quirky opinions that don't directly concern us but tell us a lot about how seriously we shd take him, like his belief that men had definite Jekyll and Hyde aspects but that women were both at once, or his mockery of Einstein, whom he refused to consider a real scientist -- 'real' scientist, it turns out, make things or discover immutable laws of nature; faux-scientist like Einstein just come up with unprovable theories. Or his argument that trains and electric lights were the right kind of invention (being perfectible), whereas airplanes were the wrong kind (being completely at the mercy of wind and weather). Or his attack on "feminists of both sexes", or his belief that pacifist were hypocrites because they favor bombing campaigns against civilian targets rather than support combat by just and merciful Xian sailors and soldiers. (p. 320)** As is so often the case with Acworth's more bizarre statements, there's really no telling where he got this from; certainly I'm not aware of any pacifists who support bombing people, or who could call themselves pacifists if they did.

But then Acworth complicates things for his readers by his heavy use of straw men for his arguments, and his fondness for slipping into a bizarre parody of what he imagines is the point of view of people he disparages; these passages are often only revealed to be the opposite of what Acworth thinks a few paragraphs later. Reading Acworth's THIS PROGRESS made me realize why in CALL OF CTHULHU it takes weeks if not months to read a Mythos tome -- it's the difficulty in following the chain of thought, so that by the end of a paragraph what seem perfectly straight-forward sentences early in the paragraph must not have meant what they seemed to mean back then, and the whole thing has to be re-read and sorted out. Over and over, for more than three hundred pages. In fact, so tangled is Acworth's presentation of his thought that Ronald Numbers, briefly noting Acworth's theory of bird migration, confesses that he has no idea why Acworth thought the whole thing in any way relevant to the main topic of his books: the evils of Darwinism (THE CREATIONISTS, p. 166)

Although Acworth looks like a lone nut from our perspective, he had ambitions to win converts for his ideas. He was a co-founder of the Evolution Protest Movement [circa 1932 & 1935],*** which gathering up the moribund remnants of The Victorian Institute, a group of first-generation Darwin deniers, and relaunched them with a different (more 'scientific', less overtly religious) focus. As such, he merits an entry in Ronald Numbers' THE CREATIONISTS: FROM SCIENTIFIC CREATIONISM TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN (rev. ed. 2006), with a section titled "The Acworth Circle" (166-170; cf also 171-172 & 175, the latter being a brief account of his encounter with Lewis). And he had a brief moment of notoriety on the national stage when he ran for parliament during World War II with a plan to end the war (immediately make peace with Japan so as to focus all efforts on fighting the Germans) that so incensed Churchill that the prime minister personally urged constituents not to vote for Acworth (they didn't).

Lewis seems to have been well aware of all this. He is blunt in his refusal to Acworth's request that CSL write a preface to his new anti-evolution book, stating that for him to be associated with Acworth's cause would diminish his standing as an apologist and hinder his ability to carry out the good work (COLLECTED LETTERS II.140-141; letter of Oct. 4th 1951).  Even more importantly, Lewis himself describes Acworth in letters as anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-communist, and prone to conspiracy theories -- or, as CSL put it, with bees in his bonnet. Here's how CSL described Acworth to his American friend Dr. Warfield Firor:

"Have you ever heard of Captain Bernard
Acworth R.N., a distinguished submarine
commander in World War I and v. good
Christian of the Evangelical type -- but
his head absolutely buzzing with Bees?
He was with me the other day explaining
that the whole American-English-[U.N.]
set up is absolutely fatal and part of a
plot engineered (so far as I cd. make out)
by the Kremlin, the Vatican, and Jews,
the Freemasons and -- subtlest foe of all
-- the Darwinians . . . But there was a
core of rationality in it. He thinks our
strategy ought to be purely naval, that
we can ruin ourselves by trying to
keep up an army in Europe and, even
so, cannot succeed on those lines."
letter of Dec. 20th 1951).

You would think such a rebuff as Lewis dealt wd have put Acworth off, but apparently not. And here's the part in the whole story that really interests me.

We know, from the correspondence, that the two men actually met at least twice, with Lewis inviting Acworth to come and stay a night with CSL and his brother Warnie. Our evidence for this comes from the earliest of the surviving letters (not included in COLLECTED LETTERS), in which Lewis invites Acworth "to spend a night with me next term" [Sept 23 '44]. That the visit actually took place is proven by a phrase in the second letter: "When do you think of coming to see us again? [Dec. 9th 1944; CL II. 632-633].

A second visit is indicated by CSL's letter to Warfield Firor, in which he says of Acworth "he was with me the other day" (Dec 20 1951; CL III.150). And Acworth's son, on the occasion of turning over the surviving letters to that college library in Belfast, reminisced that "his father sometimes stayed overnight with Lewis and his brother when visiting Oxford"; this is supported by one of Lewis's last letters to Acworth, in which Lewis says "My brother . . . remembers you with warmth & would join me in greetings if he were at home" (Sept 18 1959; CL III.1087-1088).

Note that both these documented visits took place during the fall (Michaelmas) term at Oxford. What I would really like to know, which seems impossible to establish at this late date, is whether these visits were just with Lewis and Warnie or whether they included inviting Acworth to the Inklings. I suspect Acworth was one in a string of interesting characters and fellow authors Lewis invited to a night at the Inklings,**** but can think of no way to prove it, unless further evidence shd turn up.  John Wain observed (in his autobiography, SPRIGHTLY RUNNING) that Lewis had a way of making unusual alliances with fellow Xians on whom he disagreed on many points, such as Roy Campbell*****  If so, Bernard Acworth would become one of those folks.

--John R.
current reading: THE LORD OF THE RINGS: a screenplay, by John Boorman; THE BROTHERS CABAL by Jonathan Howard; TOLKIEN IN PAWNEELAND by Echo-Hawk.

*one of his oddest claims is that if you can get ants to go around in a circle, they'll repeat the circle until they all drop dead of exhaustion. Given how wrong he is about just about everything else, I assume he doesn't know what he's talking about here either.

**does he imagine this is what we got in WW I?

***this group is still in existence, though it now (since 1980) goes under the name Creation Science Movement (CSM)

****although the evening Inklings had ceased by the time of Acworth's 1951 visit, so only the Tuesday pub meets are a possibility there.

*****who was Christian but also a pro-fascist, anti-semite, misogynist, racist, and pathological liar, who liked to hit people.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


So, Friday  I picked up the second of the three core rulebooks for the new Fifth Edition DUNGEONS & DRAGONS at my friendly neighborhood Barnes & Noble.

Skimming through, I find much to be pleased about. Most of the classics are here, including a lot that got sidelined with Third and subsequent Editions. Almost all the iconic 1st edition monsters are here, and only a few that debuted as late as Third. All this is to the good: I'd go so far as to say that the new MONSTER MANUAL is far more redolent of the good old days of 1st edition than is the PLAYER'S HANDBOOK.

More when I've had a chance to do more skimming.

And now to board a plane for Milwaukee, a place where I once played a great deal of D&D, back in the day.

--John R.
currently reading "Filming the Ghost" by Jonathan Howard.