Monday, June 26, 2017

Facts That Aren't (Dorothy Sayers)

So, Thursday Janice and I headed up to Seattle to see a play at the Taproot Theater. It's been so long since we've been there that the theater we'd gone to last time (where we saw SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE) has since burned down and they've shifted to a new location (v. nice).

This time we had come to see BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON, having heard it recommended by friend Jeff ( We enjoyed the play -- they didn't quite nail it, but it was good fun nonetheless. But my scholar's soul can't let pass one error in the program book.

In the director's notes (page A2 in the program book), he says 

"Sayers intrigued me -- and as a member of The Inklings
she was surrounded by a cadre of writers like C. S. Lewis 
and J. R. R. Tolkien. Clearly she ran with very smart people"

--the last bit ('very smart people') is true enough, but the part about being an Inkling isn't. In the words of C. S. Lewis, cofounder (w. Tolkien) of the group, "She never met our own club [The Inklings] . . . and probably never knew of its existence" (THE INKLINGS, p. 189). 

All in all, though, an enjoyable evening. I'd gladly go there again. And it got Janice and myself thinking back over the Petherbridge adaptations in the 80s -- is it really that many years ago? -- and the Carmichael ones a decade or so before that. Seeing how many classic mysteries and series have been remade in recent years, I'm surprised these haven't been redone. One can hope . . .

current reading: THREE HEARTS & THREE LIONS (just finished) by Poul Anderson. #II.3380.
ANATHEMATA (read aloud) by David Jones.

my favorite Sayers mystery: STRONG POISON. runner up: prob. NINE TAILORS (despite the silly method-of-murder)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Warnie Trashes Mrs. Moore

So, the most recent volume of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES has arrived, and as always there's at least one piece to which my eye is immediately drawn -- in this case, Don King's piece on a previously unknown (to me, at least) little work by Warnie Lewis, longtime Inkling and C. S. Lewis's older brother: MENS HUMANA (or 'Kilns Table Talk').

It's long been known that Warnie, who lived with his brother and CSL's common law wife, Janie Moore, despised the latter. It's also well-known that Warnie and CSL kept a collection of things their father said* that made him look stupid** -- a prime example being their claim that he believed the ancient Babylonians were Japanese, due to his inability to understand the difference between the words "Sumerian" and "Samurai".

Now, in addition to the 100 sayings that make Albert Lewis look bad, we have seventy-two that make Mrs. Moore look bad. Except we don't: in this case we don't get the whole of MENS HUMANA but excerpts, most of them summarized rather than quoted directly.

As for the individual items, they're a mixed lot. Just as many of the sayings in PUDAITA PIE sound like jokes that flopped, some of the MENS HUMANA sound like misunderstandings, whereas a few are truly bizarre, such as this exchange:

JKM (shouting from hall): 'Warnie!'
WHL (leaves study and appears): 'Well?'
JKM: 'What's the time?'
WHL: '6.45'
JKM: 'Oh rubbish! It's 6.40'
WHL (nettled): 'Well why ask me?'
JKM: Because I thought you'd tell me right'
   (entry # LIX, p. 113-114)

Oddly enough, editor King pretty much accepts Warnie's point of view as his own-- that Moore was a horrible woman: conceited, mean-spirited, snobbish, self-righteous, and petty, as well as "dogmatic, contentious, and irascible". He also conflates the Janie Moore who was suffering from dementia (probably Alzheimer's) in the final four years of her life with the person CSL fell in love with; much of CSL's comments when she was in her final decline sound v. familiar to anyone who's been a caregiver.

All in all, a curious and disturbing piece.

--John R.

*PUDAITA PIE, published the year before last in the journal VII (volume 32, p. 59-67)

**which he wasn't: not only did he have two brilliant sons but seems to have been a voracious reader and was well-known as a sharp-witted Belfast lawyer.

New Arrivals

So, new glasses.

These'll take some getting used to.


current reading: THE GHOST IN THE CORNER (the new book from Lord Dunsany).

The Cat Report (W.6/14-17)

Great news that Mr. BOSCO found a new home. He was a charismatic fellow and I have no doubt he’s already won the hearts of his new people.

That left us with four cats in the cat-room: AVERYMINERVATONKS, and TABITHA

Everyone came out right away except Minerva, who enjoyed games (laser pointer) and petting in her cage. She’ll let you know if she wants you to stop, with a slap if needed to drive home the message. At one point we had quite a ruckus when Tonks jumped into Minerva’s cage, who proceeded to give her the what-for. There was much hissing and much swatting but after Tonks had gotten back out of there she didn’t have a scratch on her — it was intense but unarmed, so to speak. Minerva is the only one who didn’t get a walk -- even though I got her out enjoying herself on one of the cat-stands at one point, she was back in the cage when walk-time came around and I thought digging her out of the cage a second time wd just rile her up and start off the walk on a sour note. I’ll have to remember to start with her next time.

Avery was moody, although I think glad to be back in the big cage now that Bosco's adoption had freed that up again. She spent most of the morning in the outer room, keeping an eye on the other cats and occasionally joining in a game. She had a good walk over in the training room, purring all the time. Her fur’s finally grown out, just a beautiful as expected. Think maybe she needs more one-on-one attention.

Tabitha was charming. She came out right away and curled up on the bench, purring whenever anyone gave her some attention. I can finally tell her from Minerva! (Minerva has an all-black nose). She enjoyed games, but she’s a lazy predator and wants to swat at things that come in range, not to have to chase after it or leave her comfy spot. She had a short walk, mostly a carry, which I cut short after she started mewing. She was happiest when someone sat beside her.

Tonks was adorable. Into everything: wanting to climb in every cabinet, play with every toy, ride on your shoulder, and see if whatever you’re doing is a good game. She had a good walk, especially when she discovered the end-cap with catnip toys: she thought it was a great idea to have them all at her level where she cd sniff each in turn. She wanted to play with everybody, but nobody wanted to play with her except me. What a great little cat.

In the still-new-at-the-Cleaner-thing department: I forgot to check off the boxes on the clipboard. Sorry about that.

health concerns: none, but I did notice that (1) none of the cats ate their wet catfood and (2) they all love to sneak into each other’s cages and use other cats’ sandboxes.

—John R.

UPDATE (Friday morning)
And yesterday comes the news that little TONKS got herself adopted and by last night was settling in, already making herself v. much at home. A happy ending. Here's a picture to remember her by:

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Very Short Gnomish Glossary (non-Tolkien)

So, Tolkien's GNOMISH LEXICON is well-known,* and the Sindarin deriving from it is one of the world's most famous invented languages. Recently I became aware that there was a second gnomish language, this one poorly attested (in fact, we only know two words from it).

I am speaking of course of the once-popular book GNOMES by Wil Huygen (text) and Rien Poortvliet (art), which had a vogue in the late '70s (and was much imitated) but is now I think pretty much forgotten.

I recently tracked down a copy and reread it for the first time in many years, as part of a larger discussion (still ongoing) I've been having with some friends about the origins of gnomes as a player-character race in D&D. It does not stand up well, but I was bemused to find that it does give a little 'Gnomish' in passing.

The first occasion is when we are told about mid-book (GNOMES having no pagination) that the Gnomes' word for 'goodnight' is slitzweitz.

The second occasion comes about a third of the way from the end, on a full page with the header 'Language':

Among themselves gnomes speak their own language. 
But since we come in contact only with solitary gnomes, 
we never hear it. (They can become very difficult 
if asked about their language.) It is certain, however,
that animals understand it. "Goodnight" is slitzweitz
and "thank you" is te diews. We did not progress much
beyond these few words mainly because the gnomes
master man's languages perfectly. And if they cannot
place a word, they immediately ask its meaning. 
Their written language is the ancient runic script.

Beneath this is a picture of a gnome saying "Slitzweitz" = Goodbye
--a slightly different gloss from goodnight but no doubt close enough.

And that's it: I don't know if they made up more words in 'Gnomish' in the books that followed (only the first few of which I read, and that long ago -- definitely a case of diminished returns) but I thought it worth sharing that they at least made the effort. Though I suspect they were inspired more by Richard Adam's WATERSHIP DOWN than JRRT.

--John R.
current reading: PRESIDENT FU MANCHU by Sax Rohmer (1936)**

*among Tolkien scholars, anyway.
**which I bought way back when working on the PULP CTHULHU project but have never read till now.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thoughts While Sorting Gaming Magazines

So, I've been having another go at sorting out the few to keep from among the many to get rid of from among the boxes of gaming magazines. I used to be an avid reader of such magazines, back when there were such things as rpg magazines, before I distanced myself from the industry after I left Wizards for the third and final time. It's been interesting revisiting that lost time when rpg magazines stalked the earth, reading reviews of then-new releases, some of which are now revered as classics, others long since forgotten.

Looking back over the array of rpg journals -- some of which had long runs, others here and gone -- it amazes me just how many journals there were. Each major (and many minor) rpg companies had their own magazine. DRAGON MAGAZINE was always the dominant one: it had an extraordinarily long run and for much of its run was by far the best journal out there, the standard against which all the others were (and shd be) judged.

But it wasn't just TSR's DRAGON* (and its later spin-off DUNGEON, not to mention the RPGA newsletter POLYHEDRON, both of whom had high-quality content, circulations, and longevity that most of DRAGON's rivals wd have envied). Chaosium had DIFFERENT WORLDS. Metagaming had SPACE GAMER. GDW had CHALLENGE. Steve Jackson Games had PYRAMID. Games Workshop had WHITE DWARF. Even Flying Buffalo's TUNNELS AND TROLLS had its own dedicated magazine, SORCERER'S APPRENTICE. There were some rpg magazines that grew into full-scale rpg companies, like WHITE WOLF (White Wolf) and SHADIS (Alderac) and KOBOLD QUARTERLY (Open Design). Sometimes a single game had a whole journal to itself, like MYTHUS MASTERS MAGAZINE, the short-lived MYTHUS newsletter.**

Have to give a special shout-out to a few though, any of which wd be worth revisiting in a post all its own: ARCANE (one of the finest rpg journals ever to see print), INTERACTIVE FANTASY (smart, thoughtful, always looking for boundaries to push, albeit a bit too self-important, prizing innovation above everything else), and THE GAMER (in which editor Scott Haring managed to produce the closest thing to a truly independent rpg magazine -- a feat all the more impressive considering some of the fractious talent he had as regular contributors).

And of course there are a few I simply have a personal fondness for, such as ADVENTURE GAMING (which successfully continued the DRAGON MAGAZINE experience for a time and, more importantly, provided a home for FINIEOUS FINGERS). And then there's GYGAX, the recent attempt to see if the old-school' revival cd carry over enough to support an old-style gaming magazine as well (the answer turns out to be no, not so much).

That said, if anyone out there wd like the first four issues of CASUS BELLI or an assortment of five random issues of SORCERER'S APPRENTICE, let me know and I'd be glad to see them off to a good home).

--John R.
current reading: the two adventures in the new 7th ed. C.o.C. core rulebook.

*of which I have a large, but unfortunately not-quite-complete, run.

**I played an inadvertent role in its demise, but that's a story for another time.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Character Generation (Fayetteville Rules)

So, it's taken me a while, but here are some more of those D&D variant rules being used in early 1980 in Fayetteville, Arkansas: the first version of the D&D rules I learned.

I shd stress that these are for the most part typed, with the exceptions hand-copied.*  Nothing was typeset or xeroxed** from a book or even a magazine. 

Character Generation
Human    01-80
Elf           81-86
Dwarf      87-92
Hobbit     93-95
Gnome    96-97
Other       98-00

Group I     01-65
Group II   66-95
Group III  96-00

Group I
Eagle-Winged Human 01-30
Bat-Winged Human     31-36
Centaur                         37-66
Werewolf                      67-86
Werebear                      87-94
Werelion                       95-96
Wereboar                      97-98
Other were                    99-00

Group II
Common Troll   01-20
Common Ogre   21-44
Cave Troll          45-56
Hill Troll            57-67
Frost Giant         68-78
Fire Giant           79-84
Hill Giant           85-90
Storm Giant        91-96
Mountain Ogre   97-00

Group III
Ogre Mage         01-25
Mountain Troll   26-45
Cave Giant         46-70
Stone Giant        71-99
Hellmarch Troll*      00

   *2% chance of being a troll mage

Social Class
Royal                 00
Noble            90-99
Guildsman    66-89
Townsman    41-65
Yoeman        26-40 [sic]
Serf               01-25

--also on this page, probably just because it fit, are the rules for changing ability scores, lowering one score in order to raise another:

Str to Agil 2:1  not reversible
Str to IQ    2:1  reverible
Str to Wis  3:1       "
IQ to Wis   2:1       "
Wis to Dex 2:1  not reversible***

Next up comes the Characteristic Table, listing all the pluses and minuses you get based on what race your character turned out to be, with the ability scores listed along the top and the character race along the left margin.  The ten characteristics given are Str, IQ, Wis, Dr, Dex, Ag, Voi, Com, Sz, & Con.

For example, a Hobbit (so named) gets no change to Str, IQ, or Wis; +6 Dr, +4 Dex and Ag, no change to Voi and Com, -12 to Sz, and +6 to Con.
By contrast, a Stone Giant got +10 Str, -33 IQ, no change to Wis, Dr, Dex, or Ag, -5 to both Voi and Com, +55 to Sz, and +10 Con.

Also on this page are possible bonuses and penalties for rolling really well or really poorly on characteristics. If you rolled 18, you could roll again. A 16 on this second roll gave you +1 to the characteristic [=19, I suppose]. A 17 gave you +2, and an 18 a +3 and the right to roll again (and so forth). Similarly, if you'd rolled a 3 when generating the character you had to roll again. A 5 on this second roll gave you a -1 to that characteristic [=2, I suppose]. A 4 gave you a -2, and a 3 a -3 and you had to roll again. I'm not sure how a characteristic score of 0 or below worked; hopefully not many had to face that dilemma. 

Also on this page is a note that female characters all get -3 to size, and two more minor random tables

01-75 R
76-97 L
98-00 A

L  01-30   N 31-70   G 71-00
G 01-30   N 31-70   E 71-00

As you can see, this game really believed in random dice rolls.

More to come.

--John R.

(*by me -- my handwriting was more legible in those days)

(**because we didn't 'photocopy' back then)

(***this tends to confirm my memory that you didn't get to arrange the scores: you had to take them in the order rolled. So if you wanted to play a magic-user and rolled a high strength and low intelligence, you were just out of luck)