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Portrait of the band Red Rockers at the UIC Pavilion 1985 OLD PH

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Verlyn Flieger at Politics and Prose

 So,  saw that Verlyn Flieger is offering an online class, an overview on THE SILMARILLION.

The course is scheduled to run for four classes on May 15th, May 22nd, June 5th, & June 12th. It's hosted by Politics & Prose bookstore in DC, which I don't think I've ever been to but which has a certain familiarity from back from the days when we used to get Book TV.

I suspect from the title and subject that these talks will in large part derive from INTERRUPTED MUSIC, which I consider her best book.

In any case, the chance to hear what Verlyn has to say about The Silmarillion not being something I'd want to pass up, I just registered.


--John R. 

current reading: HUNTINGTOWER by John Buchan

current music: THE TIPPING POINT: a new album by an old group (Tears for Fears).

Monday, March 28, 2022

TSR Alumni Event

 So, last weekend thanks to the kindness of the offer of a ride there and back from friend Jim Lowder I got to go down to Lake Geneva to join in the TSR Alumni Event at Garycon.  I had a great time and saw a lot of people I hadn't seen since 1997 or thereabouts, as well as some I do keep in touch with.  I even got some new Tom Wham Snits art. A bit overwhelmed right now; I'll try posting some about it when things settle down some*

--John R.

*this being the final week  of my current trip researching in the Archives, things are busy and getting busier.

Bob Foster and Dick Plotz

So thanks to Carl H for this one: a link to a Tolkien Day event featuring two key figures in early Tolkiendom: Robert Foster and Richard Plotz.

Foster is author of A GUIDE TO MIDDLE-EARTH and then later of THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO MIDDLE-EARTH, expanded to include THE SILMARILLION. This was a book so massively useful that Christopher Tolkien himself acknowledged and praised it (in his introduction to the first volume of HME). 

Plotz founded The Tolkien Sociey of America (TSA*), and launched the most successful of all the early Tolkien fanzines: THE TOLKIEN JOURNAL.

It's amazing to get a chance to see fellow Tolkien fans and Tolkien scholars who dropped out of Tolkien studies before I even got into it emerge and tell their stories. Kudos to those who pulled this off for Tolkien Collector's Guide: **

Here's the link



*not to be confused with The Tolkien Society, based in England.

**not to be confused with The Tolkien Collector.

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  So, in contrast to Esquire's brief to catch the latest trends, here's a selection of the classics of the genre. It's what I consider the best of the best, the books I devoted a monthly installment of my old web-column Classics of Fantasy to. It's obviously incomplete; I'm currently working on a Recommended Reading list to cover books I wd have included if the column had run longer  (e.g., The Lord of the Rings). Obviously I don't expected anyone else to agree with every item --it's not that kind of list. But I hope these writers and works can be taken as books I'd recommend to anyone interested in modern fantasy, while also drawing attention to some lesser-read masters.


--John R.


 I. The Well at the World's End (1896)  by William Morris  


 II. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974)  by Patricia A. McKillip      


 III. Ghost Stories of an Antiquarian (1904ff)   by M. R. James


 IV. Swords Against Death (1970)   by Fritz Leiber  


 V. Silverlock (1949)   by John Myers Myers


 VI. A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)   by David Lindsay


 VII. The Bridge of Birds (1984)   by Barry Hughart


 VIII. The Worm Ouroboros (1922)   by E. R. Eddison


 IX. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926)  by H. P. Lovecraft


 X. A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)   by Ursula K. Le Guin


 XI. The Face in the Frost (1969)   by John Bellairs


 XII. The Night Land (1912)   by William Hope Hodgson


 XIII. Watership Down (1972)   by Richard Adams  


 XIV. The Book of Three Dragons (1930)   by Kenneth Morris


 XV. Tales of Averoigne (1929–1938) by Clark Ashton Smith


 XVI. The Books of Wonder (1910, 1912, 1916)  by Lord Dunsany


 XVII. The Hobbit (1937)   by J. R. R. Tolkien


 XVIII. Hobberty Dick (1955)   by Katharine Briggs            


 XIX.  Hour of the Dragon (1936)   by Robert E. Howard


 XX.  The Dying Earth (1950)   by Jack Vance


 XXI  Jurgen (1917)   by James Branch Cabell

Saturday, March 26, 2022

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So, following on from the previous post, in the second of two odd points arising from the hastily jotted thoughts that appear in the HME series as Plot Notes F, Frodo and Sam return home to find the Shire 'spoilt'.  So they do not stay there. Instead

They  go west and set sail to Greenland.

Christopher Tolkien points out the oddity of this but makes clear that the form isn't a misreading. That is, Tolkien didn't actually write green land or Green Land but ran it together as one word, beginning with a capital. 

Despite which it seems clear that here he was not talking about the island between Iceland and Newfoundland, the real world's Greenland, but the 'fair green land' Frodo (and, presumably, later Sam) catches a glimpse of a fair green land as he sails off into the West.


This example is tricky because it seems to be one of those rare times when we can tell what Tolkien meant but it does not seem to agree with what he actually wrote.

--John R.

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So, here  at the end of my first week (of two) at the Archives, I once again marvel at the LotR manuscript collection.  Even after so much time, reading closely through variant versions reveal how differently things cd have turned out at so many points, making the familiar text become strange and new again.

For example, consider two extremely minor details from the end of Plot Note F.

On a penciled scrap of paper placed at the end of PN F we are told that Frodo and Sam in the end come back to find the Shire ruined and the Sandyman house a biscuit factory.

So, why a biscuit factory?  Remember that for English English 'biscuit' usually means what in American English we call a cookie. So decades before the Keebler elfs we find here a passing glimpse of little people going into the cookie industry. If this had been written down two decades later I'd suspect it was linked to the little elf-queen on Noakes's Cake in SMITH OF WOOTON MAJOR, but the long gap of years between makes that seem a stretch.

Is biscuit chosen here for some specific reason, so drive home a particular point? Or is this a random point that briefly popped into Tolkien's head as he was jotting down some notes re. possibilities in the parts of the story he hadn't gotten to yet?

Have to say I haven't got a clue.

--John R.

--current reading:  O'Malley's THE ROOK

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

1964 - Theatre Four Playbill - The Boys From Syracuse - Cathryn

So, thanks to D.A.A., who knows I'm interested in this sort of thing, for having brought this to my attention.  Here's the link.


I've taken the piece on the other end and re-arranged it out of click-bait format to just author, title, and date (when the date was included, which was usually but not reliably present). I've also reversed the polarity of the neutron flow and reversed the sequence so it starts with the #1 book, the one they think the best fantasy novel of all time, and counts down from there. 

I find that I've read eleven of these books. Most of the rest don't particularly interest me, from the descriptions here, any more than any other such listing, book recommended for me by someone who doesn't know me beyond  'likes Tolkien'. Well, they've got me there. 

And having this list may draw me out to read more of these books (I have to admit I've actually never heard of twenty-three of these fifty authors).

With any list of this type, the immediate (and expected) response is to say 'well, what about [X]?', naming a book or two the reader wd have liked to see included. 

But I'm dismayed at how few books from more than twenty years made it through. If what I've been reading all these years isn't fantasy, what is? And if this truly were a fair representation of the fantasy genre as it stands today, then perhaps I've been left behind and it's something else I'm really interested in. "Classic Fantasy" perhaps?  Dunsany and Adams and Hughart, McKillip and Briggs, and a host of others absent here.

Here's Esquire's list

1.  N. K. Jemisin. The Fifth Season (2015)

*2.  J. R. R. Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Rings (1954)

*3.  Ursula K. Le Guin.  A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)

4.  Ken Liu. The Grace of Kings

5.  Nnedi Okorafor. Who Fears Death (2010)

6.  Jin Yong, A Hero Born (1950s, translated more recently)

*7.  Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)

8.  Sofia Samatar.  A Stranger in Olondria (2013)

9.  Madeline Miller. Circe

10.  Rand Miller, Robyn Miller, & David Wingrove. Myst: The Book of Atrus (1995)

11.  Tomi Adeyemi. Children of Blood and Bone. (2018)

12.  Octavia E. Butler (1979)

*13.  Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber (1979)

14.  Gene Wolfe. Latro in the Mist (1986 & 1989)

15.  Amos Tutuola. The Palm-wine Drinkard (1952)

*16.  C. S. Lewis. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

17.  Kenji Miyazawa. Once and Forever (?1930s or before)

*18.  L. Frank Baum. Ozma of Oz (1907)

19.  Robert Jordan. The Shadow Rising (1992) [fourth book in Wheel of Time]

20.  Brandon Sanderson. The Way of Kings 

21.  Victor Lavalle. The Changeling 

22.  G. Willow Wilson. The Bird King 

23.  Naomi Novik. Uprooted

24.  Jeffrey Ford.  The Drowned Life (2008)

25.  Marlon James.  Moon Witch, Spider King

26.  Robert Jackson Bennett.  Foundryside

27.  Keren Lord.  Redemption in Indigo (2010)

28.  Kelly Link.  Get in Trouble (2015)

*29.  Grace Lin.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2010)

30.  Sjón.  The Blue Fox

*31.  Stardust. Neil Gaiman (1999)

32.  Kalpa Imperial. Angélica Gorodischer (2003) [tr. Le Guin]

33.  Kacen Callender.  Queen of the Conquered (2020)

*34.  Philip Pullman.  The Subtle Knife [middle volume from His Dark Materials]

35.  George R. R. Martin.  A Game of Thrones (1996)

36.  Neon Yang.  The Black Tides of Heaven (2018)

*37.  Guy Gavriel Kay.  Tigana (1990)

38.  Brian Catling.  The Vorrh

39.   V. E. Schwab.  A Darker Shade of Magic

40.  Julia Fine.  What Should Be Wild

41.  Ben Loory.  Tales of Falling and Flying

42.  C. L. Polk. Witchmark (2019)

43.  Amber Sparks.  The Unfinished World

44.  Kai Ashante Wilson.  The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps (2015)

45.  Michal Ajvaz.  The Other City  (tr 2009)

46.  P. DjèlÍ Clark.  Ring Shout 

47.  Scott Hawkins.  The Library at Mount Char

*48.  Kazuo Ishiguro.  The Buried Giant

49.  Erin Morgenstern.  The Night Circus

50.  S. A. Chakraborty.  The City of Brass



—current reading: THE ROOK (excellent. recommended).