Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The New Arrival: GYGAX Magazine

So, the finger's healed up again well enough that I can resume ten-fingered typing. Time to start posting again:

I'd heard to the new 'TSR' and their launch of 'Gygax Magazine' a while back from folks in my gamer group better informed on the latest in the industry than myself. Curiosity got the better of me, so a few weeks ago I ordered a copy. It was a long time in coming, making me wonder if the print run on the first issue had run out or, just possibly, if the stock might have burned up in the recent fire in the Lake Geneva apartment of one of the Gygax brothers who are key players in the 'new TSR'.

Turns out not so; all was well, and the week before last (Th. the 11th, to be specific), it arrived in all its glory.

When I opened the mailer and saw the front cover, it was like a flashback to Lake Geneva days. I knew that 'Gygax Magazine' was a homage to the Good Old Days of DRAGON Magazine, but not that it was a sort of retro-clone. They've done everything possible to make this look like an issue of DRAGON: same typeface, same colors, same fonts, same layout, even same artist (i.e., they've commissioned a new piece v. similar to one that appeared on an actual DRAGON cover by the same artist who did the original).

Among the editorial staff are Tim Kask (the original editor of THE DRAGON, and later of ADVENTURE GAMER, wh. was itself an unofficial DRAGON in all but name*), Luke and Ernie Gygax (E. Gary G.'s sons), Jim Ward (whose roots at the original TSR go all the way back to METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA, arguably the first science fiction rpg, and the man who hired me to work at TSR back in October '91), Len Lakofka (author of the amazing L-series THE SECRET OF BONE HILL and THE ASSASSIN'S KNOT, among my all-time favorite adventures), and other names less redolent of the legended past. Diesel (one of the three original 1st edition MM/PH/DMG artists, the other two having been the late Dave Sutherland and the long-vanished Dave Trampier) and Tom Wham and Jeff Dee are listed among the contributing artists. They're even brought back Phil and Dixie with WHAT'S NEW by the ever amusing Mr. Foglio.

As for the contents, they're a mixed lot --- but then that was always the case with any given issue of DRAGON, too. Among the pieces that caught my eye:

--'The Cosmology of Role-Playing Games by James Carpio. Which deals not with the cosmology of rpgs, as one might expect from the title, but with sorting out a kind of graphic presentation showing the relationships between various generations of roleplaying games. Seeing how many of these names you recognize is a good way to confirm what era you yourself belong to; I myself knew and had played many more games near the core (e.g., Gangbusters) than on the peripheries (some of which I've never heard of, and cdn't swear actually exist without checking).

--Leomund's Tiny Hut, a column that ran for years in DRAGON, revived but with the name bizarrely enough changed to Leomund's Secure Shelter. This renaming is a good example of someone just not getting it: the whole appeal of reviving something old is to recapture its appeal and tap into that nostalgia folks who remember the original feel. Renaming it would be like Trampier reviving his famous old comic but changing the name to "Maggoty". A missed opportunity.

--Ecology of the Banshee. A classic feature that began before the first issue of THE DRAGON (it was carried over from THE STRATEGIC REVIEW), which just goes to show gamers never tire of monsters. This one expands the monster to include Peg Powlers (river-drowners); the art, by one Michael Kwiatkowski, is particularly nice.

--Jim Ward reminiscence strongly reminiscent of those 'Monty Haul' campaign write-ups that appeared in early (and I do mean early) issues of THE DRAGON, long before my time. Except that those were first-person, from the point of view of the characters suddenly swept away to the Starship Warden, whereas this piece is from the point of view of the players and DM.

--Ethan Gilsdorf's "The Future of Tabletop Gaming", an autobiographical description of early Dungeons and Dragon's appeal; bit of a surprise to see him here, since he's not one of the old-timers from early TSR.

--Michael Tresca's "D and D Past, Now, and Next". I found this the most interesting article in the issue, probably because it dealt with a topic of much interest to me: comparing the various editions of ADandD, in this case with particular reference to conversion ease or difficulty between editions. I was intrigued to note that Tresca seems to have blithely disregarded any NDA, given that his discussion includes the still-being-playtested 5th edition. Or perhaps I'm overstrict in my interpretation of NDAs. Still, quite a good piece, and one I'll probably re-read next time I run an adventure from one iteration of the game using the rules from a different iteration.

One column or feature I'm especially glad to see is "The Kobold's Cavern", as sort of mini KOBOLD QUARTERLY ensconced within the new magazine as a feature, edited by Wolfgang Baur himself (who, lest we forget, himself was once editor of DUNGEON in its glory days). Since K.Q. was the best of all the recent rpg/DandD magazines, and had recently wrapped up after a five-year (twenty-three issue) run, it's nice to see it'll carry on in some form.

Finally, there's an Adventure, a grand tradition DRAGON drifted out of, to its diminishment, when they decided to spin off their ready-to-run mini-module of the month into a separate magazine, DUNGEON. Though I enjoyed DUNGEON, esp. in its early days, I always regretted that decision, so it's good to see GYGAX magazine reinstating the old tradition. Haven't read this one ("GNATDAMP: A Sanctuary in the Swamp") yet, but looking forward to it. Oddly enough, there's no author credited in the adventure itself; you have to turn back to the Table of Contents page to find that it's by one Michael Curtis.

In keeping with the general tone of the issue, even the ads look Old School; I particularly liked one for a boxed set of miniatures (metal miniatures: v. old school indeed), clearly meant to recall/evoke the PCs sets TSR did in its early days.

And, at the very end, three comics: WHAT'S NEW with Phil and Dixie -- which proves that shtick still works just as well as it ever did; THE ORDER OF THE STICK, which seems to have run dry and just be going through the motions; and a new one called MARVIN THE MAGE, which I'd characterize by (rarely, for me) using a sports metaphor: a swing and a miss. I'd rather they reprinted a classic from the days of old, but then I suppose that'd require permissions.

Still: all in all, an enjoyable issue. I'll certainly be getting #2, supposedly due out in May.

current reading: THREE GUINEAS by Virginia Woolf [1938] -- not one of her best efforts. Another 'swing and a miss', in fact. Though I'm finding it better than on my one previous reading, circa 1985.

*it even had FINIEOUS FINGERS as its ongoing gamer cartoon, Kask having taken this best of all early DandD cartoons -- indeed, arguably the best DandD/rpg cartoon ever -- with him when he left TSR.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The (Second) Cat Bite Incident

Just for those who are wondering, the cat-bite I got Friday morning is indeed serious, but luckily I took Janice's advice and went to the Immediate Care Center that afternoon and got it seen to. I'm lucky in that it (just) missed the joint, but one fang punched right through my fingernail, which looks awful, and the matching fang from below caused that whole joint of the finger (the tip) to swell up and turn an unlovely shade of purple. The antibiotics twice a day (thank you, modern science) have reversed the swelling and much improved the coloring. Still not back to normal, but much better.

Other than that, I've been taking it easy and giving the antibiotic time to work. I'm keeping the finger warm and dry (except when soaking it in warm epson salts, as per Dr. Epper's suggestion, to help circulation), Not getting much work done, what with nine-fingered typing and all, plus low-energy almost to the point of lethargy.

But hey, it beats the thirteen days in the hospital, six surgeries, multiple trips to the hyperbaric chamber, septic blood poisoning, physical therapy afterwards (ultimately unsuccessful), and the rest from the last time around.

The motto: with a cat-bite, when in doubt, go and get it taken care of. Seriously.

As for poor Oliver Bob, The Cat Who Bit, he's been transferred up to the main shelter, where they're going to check and see if he has an injury we didn't know about that caused such uncharacteristic behavior on his part. Poor O.B.!

And yes, our three have rallied round and spent lots of down time with me, or indeed on me.

current reading: THE WOMEN OF OXFORD by Vera Brittan (1960)
current anime: EF: A Tale of Memories (visually interesting, if narratively sluggish)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Cat Report (W.4/10 and Fr.4/12-13)

Wednesday the 10th we were back up to seven cats again, with the arrival of half-grown kittens MIDLO and CECILLY, a six-months-old bonded pair. Midlo is the lively orange one who's into everything and Cecilly's the shy darkish calico one. Midlo came out after a while, lured by feathers and catnip; Cecilly mostly stayed in, though she watched her brother's game closely. After some chasing after the laser pointer, Midlo spent some time almost playing with Lemura. Eventually all three of them got interested in the box and wound up playing together around the scratching posts at the bottom of the cat stands near the door. 

I offered JANE a walk first thing and she said no, though she did let me pet her a little. She's definitely mellowing. She soon found her way up to the cage tops, where she claimed one of the pink beds (which are surprisingly popular). From there she enjoy first the string game and then feathers. Later she shifted down to inside the short cat-stand on the bench, where she stayed the rest of the morning, by now back into her hands off mode. Of course, she might just not have been feeling well; there was throw-up (digested food) in her cage.

Sweet senior cat TATTOO has named herself  the room's official greeter; I no sooner walk in than she begins to call out and rub herself against the cage bars asking for petting/loving/out! now!/attention. She too refused a walk, settling in her usual favorite place, the rondel beneath the cat-stand by the cabinet. She came out and asked for some attention from time to time, and in general just had a quiet easy-going morning. 
Her water bowl was about half full, so all seems well on that front for now.

MAUI TAT was his usual active self. He had a walk but was v. jumpy, as if he expected that at any moment frogs would fall from the ceiling and land smack on his back. In fact, at one point he jumped when he glanced around and saw me behind him at the other end of the leash: apparently he'd forgotten I was back there. Despite which I think he had a good walk: he explored the men's room and around the water fountain with considerable interest, and of course wanted to go back into the forbidden area off that little alley; he also showed great interest in the fire escape/alarm-will-go-off door near there. Once back in he immediately sought out the catnip I'd brought, fished it out of the box (where I'd buried it in a bunch of paper), and eviscerated the little plastic bag it was in with great satisfaction. After a while letting his paws hang down from the middle-level of cat-stand #1, he went up high, and claimed the other little pink bed (the one nearish the door; Jane had already come down from the other one by now). Here he blissed out, working his paws and purring loudly to proclaim his entire satisfaction with The Way Things Were Going. He got a final treat when Cher dropped by and gave him a walk; turns out he's good at using those hanging steps.

OLIVER BOB had a quiet day and probably would have preferred it even quieter. When I made him leave his cube so I cd clean it, he went underneath Tattoo's rondel; later he decided this wasn't safe enough, whereupon he went into Tattoo's cube and stayed there till end of morning.  

That just leaves LEMURA, who was relaxed early on and playful later. The kittens were fascinated with her, wanting to play but not sure if she'd play along or suddenly go all hissy on them. Luckily she mellowed and they had fun pawing at each other around the cat-stands near the door. She too had a walk, and she too had heard about the frog-falls and kept a sharp look-out for them. 

In general, a quiet, rainy day without many visitors.

A highlight of the day came when a woman dropped by to say she'd adopted a cat (then named ESTELLA, now PURDY) from Cher at this cat room about three years ago. They were doing great; she'd just stopped by to look at our current cats while Purdy was having a check up at the Banfield next door. That was before my time, and looking at the cat-photos we didn't find one of Estella/Purdy, but the woman (whose name was Angela) did recognize Starla, so she must have continued to drop by from time to time afterwards. Anyway, a happy ending that she wanted to share with Cher.

the money box is almost full 


The adoption of MAUI TAT (yay Maui, a great cat) means this morning finds us back down to six cats: E.J., Lemura, Tattoo, Oliver Bob, and The Kittens (Midlo & Cecilly).

The low point of the day was my getting bitten by Oliver Bob (Oww). The high point was taking E. Jane for a good long walk at the start of the morning.

JANE allowed me to pick her up and put the leash on, so off we went first thing for a walkaround. At first she clung to me a cried as I carried her, then the cries stopped as she got more interested in what all she was seeing. Eventually she asked to be put down and did some exploring, particularly wanting to climb up on various pillows and beds and cushions to try them all out. All in all, she did v. well. 

TATTOO also had a walk, except that the rules for walks as she's defining them now seem to consist of dashing from Point X to Point Y, with 'X' being whatever spot I put her down and 'Y' being the cat-room. So her walk was short, after which she went into her rondel, the better to receive any petting or affection I might feel inclined to lavish upon her. What a sweet cat. 

OLIVER BOB did not get a walk, owing to his suddenly going completely feral when I picked him up out of his cage. He bit so hard on my finger before I cd drop him that his fang went right through the fingernail. Ouch. He took refuge in the hollow space inside the short cat-stand on the bench. I got things bandaged up (to keep those spots clean while cleaning up the rest of the cat-cages) and made all the other cats go inside, just to be on the safe side, then cleaned up Oliver's cube and made him go in by lifting the whole stand up and shaking him out into the cage, where he went back into the corner as usual and later buried himself under the blankets. 

Don't know what came over him, given how limp and passive he usually is. I suspect the cage door crashing down on his head yesterday that Bonnie described in her post may have really traumatized him. Either that, or he has some sore spot where I really hurt him just by picking him up -- but if so I've not seen any sign of it till now.

So, everyone, be careful with him for the next few days, and avoid picking him up if at all possible. Here's hoping he soon gets over it.

Poor Oliver Bob.   

Mr. Bob's unexpected antics put a damper on the room; nothing like another cat screaming bloody murder, and meaning it, to make everyone else want to stay in their cages. However, when I asked LEMURA if she'd come out for a big bag of catnip, she responded that why, yes, she would. So she took over the top of cat-stand #1, where she enjoyed the gopher game and the string game too. She enjoyed the gopher game so much that she purred, so loudly I cd hear her from across the room.

Tattoo also came out after a while, but Jane elected to stay in where it was safe, and nibbled her kibble. 

As for the kittens, CECILLY stayed inside all morning, while MIDLO ventured out but stayed close to home base, dashing back in whenever feeling threatened. Cecilly was distressed when I began to take things out of her cage to clean it, so I got the little pink bed they all seem to like so much down from up high and put it in the kitten's double-wide. She loved it, so much so that I left it in there after getting everything else cleaned and straightened up.

We did have one woman come in who was looking for a kitten but didn't want to take a bonded pair; I suggested she check the website to see if there might be a kitten at one of the other adoption rooms that might be right for her. Sounded like she was going to try the Renton store next.

More promising is a woman whose cat died not long ago who was thinking of getting the bonded pair of kittens so each wd have the other for company. She liked both, and Cecilly clearly liked her too, so she said she'd come back in tomorrow with her partner to see how the two of them got along with them both. Here's hoping they really click and Cecilly and Midlo soon have a new home together.

And I think that's about it. Apologies for any typos; O.B. got me on the index finger of my dominant hand, and it's throwing my typing off a bit.

--John R.

P.S. No health problems that I noticed. Tattoo's water had some cat little dissolved in it, but looks like she had drunk some of it before that (maybe a third of a bowl?). She was dis-arranging all her towels when I left, but didn't have time to open things up, convinced her that affectionate as she is she can't come out just now, and tidy them all, so hope it wasn't too bad. Jane also decided she wanted to come out just as I was finishing up, so had to disappoint her as well. Hopefully she'll get a good dose of Up High this evening and tomorrow.

PPS (Friday evening). I've now been to the doctor and he's put me on antibiotics. Looks like I won't be taking a lot of notes or signing my name legibly for the next few days. 
   Fingers. why is it always the fingers.

Friday, April 12, 2013

El Gato del DOOM

So, yesterday it was Feanor's turn to be put on the spot. It all started when Janice took Rigby for a walk. Which meant when they got back in, Feanor wanted a walk (the cats all keep track of such things). Which meant Hastur wanted a walk, sort of (i.e., she wanted it but was worried about what might happen out there in the great outsides). Seeing her hovering near the door, I dug out the other leash and walked Hastur, little knowing the events that were overtaking Feanor outside. But I'll let Janice tell the story.

This evening I put a leash on Feanor and took him for a walk. 
While we were exploring the walking path next to our townhouse, a father and his two young daughters (I'd guess ages 3 and 5) rounded the corner. 
Startled and alarmed to find 3 people between himself and home, Feanor (who weighs in at 19 pounds plus) made himself big. 
The 2 princesses (complete with pink outfits and tiaras) screamed. 
While their father reassured his girls that the el gato (which they knew to be a wild panther on the loose) meant them no harm, I coaxed Feanor towards home. 
Unfortunately the path home led straight towards the princesses. 
As Feanor got closer to them, they screamed. 
And he made himself bigger and then hunkered down. 
To break the impasse, I picked Feanor up and carried him around the corner. 
I set him down but too close to the girls. 
They screamed and we fled towards home.

Poor Feanor!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thunder Cat!

So, Hastur, our middle cat, has her struggles -- overweight, painfully shy around strangers, overgrooms to the point where her belly is completely bare of fur. And from time to time we try things that might help: changing to non-hyper-allergenic catfood, plugging in relax-a-cat air pheromones, and most recently buying her a thundershirt.

While this sounds like a superhero costume, it's actually a snug sort of cat-straightjacket you velcro in place, the idea being that it acts like swaddling a papoose: the tight wrapping relaxes the cat. The name actually comes from being something a pet wd wear during thunder. I suppose going-to-the-vet-shirt and oh-god-strangers-are-in-my-house-shirt didn't make it through the market research testing.

In any case, a week or so ago we got one for Hastur, and have tried it out once a day or so since. Yesterday I returned it to the pet store, admitting failure. I suppose it was a bad sign when, in the instructions, it said not to be alarmed if you cat falls over a lot after you put the thundershirt on. But more to the point is the fact that Hastur hates it: she clearly gets far more worked up about the shirt than the general anxiety that it's supposed to redress. In the end she was running and hiding when she heard the sound of velcro, and Janice was feeling too guilty to put it on her anymore.

And so endeth another experiment. We may just have to accept the fact that Hastur's got obsessive/compulsive problems, but so long as she's functional we shdn't intervene too much (the losing weight part, of course, in another matter, so we still need to work on that).

In any case, preserved for posterity are three pictures of her in costume. Enjoy! --John R.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tolkien and the Elephant

So, here's a little anecdote about Tolkien I don't think is too well known. Came across my copy of it yesterday when looking for something else,* and seemed like a good time to share.

It appears in the unlikely place as an aside in a book review from a 1979 issue of NOTES AND QUERIES. The book being reviewed is a Folk-Lore Society volume, ANIMALS IN FOLKLORE; the reviewer is B. D. H. Miller, about whom I know nothing beyond this piece. In addition to mentioning such interesting-sounding pieces as ' "Historic Dragon-Slayers" from Alexander the Great to Sir John Lambton, who flourished in the fifteenth century' and essays by luminaries like Katharine Briggs (an account of the Muller-Lang war) and H. R. Ellis Davidson, he follows a sentence about J. D. A. Widdowson's "Animals as Threatening Figures in Systems of Traditional Social Control" with a lengthy parenthetical, which reads as follows:

(Professor Tolkien used to relate how 
as a young father he once threatened his son: 
"If you don't eat your porridge, the elephant 
will come and gobble it up," only to find himself 
disconcertingly vindicated when the boy, gazing out 
of the window, exclaimed "But it has, daddy, 
it has!" ; the circus was in Oxford, and animals 
were just then taking a constutional up Pusey Street. 
Did he realize he was operating a System 
of Traditional Social Control?) 

[NOTES AND QUERIES, June 1979, page 246]

The son in question is of course John Tolkien (b. November 1917). Given that the Tolkiens moved to Pusey Street in September 1919 and left there in March/April 1921 (cf. Scull and Hammond' CHRONOLOGY, pages 109 and 116), the event that inspired this little story must date from that sixteen or seventeen month period.

--John R.

THE WIFE SAYS "sounds apocryphal to me!"

*a 1955 review of RETURN OF THE KING, to be precise. Maybe better luck next time.

Waugh and Cabell

So, sometimes you're panning for gold and instead you find an interesting nugget of copper. That's what happened to me recently. I was looking up something in a biography of Mary Renault and found a surprising passage which seemed to quote Evelyn Waugh commenting (negatively, this being Waugh) on Lewis and Tolkien. I was not aware of any evidence that Waugh even knew Tolkien existed, much less passed judgment on him, so this seemed something worth following up.

Accordingly, next time I was at the university library doing research, I dug out the Waugh biography given in the book on Renault as the source of the quote,* and found out it was a false lead. Waugh did indeed express that opinion of certain Oxford types, but he didn't name Lewis or Tolkien: it was Renault's biographer who decided L and T were among the people Waugh was criticizing, and put their names into the context. Which might well be the case, but if so it was a general, not a specific or personal, criticism: the Waugh record remains, so far as I know, Tolkienless.

However (and here's where the nugget of copper comes in), a second Waugh biography I checked just in case** revealed the unexpected information that young Waugh was a great admirer of James Branch Cabell, and that his "first serious attempt at fiction" was heavily influenced by J.B.C. Here's the passage in question:

The result was Evelyn's first serious attempt at fiction. It was a macabre story of death entitled Anthony, Who Sought Things That Were Lost. It was set in a tyrannical grand dukedom of Italy in the year 1848. Harold [Acton] published it in The Broom in June 1923. Fears aroused by the preciosity of the title are fully confirmed by reading.

Of this juvenile work Evelyn wrote that it 'betrays the unmistakeable influence of that preposterously spurious artefact, which quite captivated me at the age of nineteen, James Branch Cabell's Jurgen'. The severe self-judgement must stand, but it is to be noted that Harold, according to his own account, had already begun to convert Evelyn from Cabell towards a worthier model, Ronald Firband. Evelyn's story, gruesomely telling of an imprisoned pair of lovers, and the decay of their passion amid the horrors of the dungeon, and of how the love of 'the Lady Elizabeth' was transferred from 'Count Anthony' to the jailer, and of their murderous end, certainly shows the rubbishy influence of Cabell; but others are evident as well. There are weak echoes of Oscar Wilde's 'Happy Prince' stories, of Edgar Allan Poe, of Firband. Oddly enough the strongest resemblance is to an author whom neither Evelyn nor Harold is likely to have read or even to have heard about then, Frederick Rolfe, 'Baron Corvo'. At that time he was completely forgotten. The story is not by any standards a good piece of writing . . . 
[Sykes, p. 47]

I have to admit I've never read any Firbank -- an omission wh. I shd perhaps rectify -- but I do take exception at Sykes' snide dismissal of Cabell, whom I consider a much better writer than Waugh himself. Not that the synopsis given sounds anything like JURGEN, which is worldly and witty, cynical and salacious. Cabell had his limits, and doesn't lend himself well to imitation, but he also had real talent.

The main surprise is that Waugh would have chosen a famous fantasy author as a role model, and an American at that. As with Dunsany at about the same time, it's easy to forget today how popular, and admired, Cabell was as a writer in the late teens and early twenties of the last century.

By the way, it's my understand that Tolkien did read JURGEN and didn't like it (cynical, salacious, and irreverent not being exactly his cup of tea); Lewis also read it (probably at the urging of Joy Gresham***), as is shown by various passing allusions to the book (e.g., AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM, p. 50), but I can't recall his discussing or evaluating it.

So: a fairly typical mainstream dismissal of a fantasy influence on a major twentieth century British author, but of interest for what it reveals about said fantasy author's influence and wide appeal at the time.

--John R.
current reading: SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES (2013)

*EVELYN WAUGH: THE EARLY YEARS 1903-1939, by Martin Stannard [1986], pages 85-86

**EVELYN WAUGH: A BIOGRAPHY, by Christopher Sykes [1975].

***Joy G. being an admirer of both Cabell and Dunsany.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

THE HOBBIT films as "sausage fest"

So, setting aside the whole Radagast and prequels thing, now that AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is out of theatres, interest is beginning to build in the second of the three HOBBIT movies, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. No trailer yet, at least that I've seen, but here's a description of what Jackson showed folks at a recent 'making of' event:

WARNING: if you've been avoiding spoilers, 
now's a good time to stop reading.

For a more in-depth look, here's a link (posted by Alana Joli Abbott to the MythSoc list on 3/26) that puts things in context more:

The idea of introducing Bard a little earlier harkens back to the similar decision to give Arwen Glorfindel's role in Jackson's FELLOWSHIP; more interestingly, it seems likely to offer chances to juxtapose THE HOBBIT's two kings-in-exile, who share such similar backgrounds and yet end so differently. I can't recall ever seeing a piece comparing and contrasting the two, but it's such an obvious topic, once it's pointed out (like the Theoden/Denethor pairing in LotR, first highlighted by Jane Chance Nitzsche, or the Turin/Tuor pairing noted by the late great Paul Kocher) someone must have worked it up at some point. If not, then this might be one of those cases where Jackson's films send us back to reconsider the text, with his changes helping to highlight why Tolkien did things the way he did in the original.

I do have to say, reading through this list of things that are to appear in the second movie (and mentally adding in all the things I already know are part of the second film from bits and pieces in the production blogs and design books), it seems to cover everything from the Carrock to the death of Smaug. Which really leaves only the Siege of the Mountain and The Battle of Five Armies for the third film -- unless they expand the 'And Back Again' part, which seems rather unlikely. Perhaps the third film will simply be shorter than the first two (say, an hour and a half rather than close to three hours). Time will tell.

Unfortunately, THE HOBBIT recently got drawn into a minor flap set off when at an awards show Dame Helen Mirren (one of the greats) used the occasion to belittle another honoree's speech for not having been politically correct enough (he'd given shout-outs to specific scenes and directors that had inspired and moved him; she criticized him for not including movies directed by women among them). Which prompted film critic Robbie Collin of the TELEGRAPH to take up what he imagined to be Mirren's point and, in passing, denounce Jackson's HOBBIT --which had just won Best Science Fiction/Fantasy film, as well as Best Actor (Martin Freeman)-- as a "tedious fantasy sausage-fest"

I think R. Collin must hail from the F. R. Leavis school of critics, who strongly focus on trying to prevent people from reading (or in this case, watching) and enjoying works of which the critic disapproves. Although elsewhere* he identified himself as a Tolkien purist and criticized the movie for not being faithful enough to the original, now he's reversed himself and is  blasting Jackson for choosing to remain true to the book in keeping with Tolkien's all-male cast of characters. As well criticize PRIDE AND PREJUDICE for its lack of Napoleonic battle scenes as THE HOBBIT for its lack of female characters, sez I.

Jackson himself is of course well aware of the problem of no female characters: note how the scenes at Dale, in Hobbiton, at Rivendell, where he can fill in, include a large number of women.** And the team he's assembled to make these movies are not some Old Boys Club: the scripts are largely by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, as had also been the case with his earlier LotR movies; both women are also among the new film's producers, along with several other women; six of the seventeen assistant directors are women. Maybe R. Collin will be satisfied by the addition of Tauriel in the second movie, a deliberate departure from Tolkien's original to try to redress the imbalance. But I rather doubt it, given that Collin's criticism ignores the simple fact that Jackson's Tolkien films have been hugely popular among women.


current reading: TOLKIEN'S BAG END by Andrew H. Morton (2009)
(quote for today: "In fact, [the real] Bag End was a substantial Elizabethan manor house" --p.18)

*   --He even hates Martin Freeman's Bilbo ("who makes exactly one-third of a good job of portraying the character "), reserving his praise only for Serkis's Gollum.

**there's also some indication that Belladonna Took will appear in the extended edition of AN UNEXPECTED PARTY

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Cat Report (W. 4/3-13)

Five cats in five cages, same as last week: JANELEMURAMAUIOLIVER BOB, and TATTOO.

I was late in arriving, but fortunately having only five cats meant there was still plenty of time to do a lot of socializing. 

I. Walks
I started, after filling the water pitcher, with letting Oliver Bob out first to see if he'd like a walk. He was shy and did his usual going limp when picked up, but didn't protest when I put on the leash. I carried him outside and around the store (particularly the quieter areas). He cried when put down, worried but not panicked. Hope that after a few times of this he'll feel safer and come to enjoy it. 

Next up was Tattoo, who did surprisingly well. We did a combination of being carried and walking, with her getting more comfortable walking the longer we did it. 

After that Maui had his turn, and did great. Being sociable, he went into the pet hotel area and also Banfield (maybe he was just checking out the exits). Even rounding a corner and seeing a Big Dog (part German Shepherd and part something much bigger) didn't make him panic, though he did puff his tail out and make a prudent retreat. The only thing that really rattled him were the fish-tanks: he thought the fish were going to get him. The more walks he gets, the more good it's likely to do him.

Finally Jane was up at the front of her cage when Maui came back in, ready to be let out. She let me pet her, both in the cage and on the short cat-stand, so deciding to risk it I put the leash on, and still she seemed fine. So I opened the door and off we went. She much prefers being carried to walking on her own, but doesn't mind the occasional walking bits. Must feel good to get out of that room after all these months. And the outing clearly did her good: she was still well-disposed to the world when we came back in.

Lemura shd have gotten a fifth and final walk, but Jane made it clear that if I put her back in that cage her sunny mood wd be gone like that, so instead decided to postpone Lemura's walk and let everybody out.

Once everybody was out and about, it was time for catnip. Everyone enjoyed it, but once again Maui went for it in a big way. He particularly enjoyed climbing into the box I'd brought my stuff in and excavating through the paper towels and cat-toys and such to find the main stash. Among the things he had to chew on, he decided my notebook in which I take all the notes for these cat reports was the best. I might bring him a sheet or two of crinkly paper next time to see how he likes that.

The rest distributed themselves about as they saw fit. Jane went into the short stand on the bench, with its opening facing towards the cabinet. Oliver I put atop the cat-stand by the cabinet. Lemura hung around the bottom of the (taller) cat-stand by the door, with Maui on top. Tattoo was the most adventurous, going up atop the cages, where she gloried in the little pink beds (dividing her time between the two of them, one at either end).

III. Play and Pets
Jane played a little with the bug-on-a-string, but mostly she was ready for napping once she was back in. Maui loved the laser pointer from up high. Tattoo played a little as well, and Lemura had a little bit of string game. I still haven't seen Oliver trying to play with Lemura -- he had seemed on good terms with Tattoo, but didn't see that last week or this. I guess different people bring out different sides of him. At least he seemed calmer this time, though still painfully shy.

I did break out the wet catfood fairly early on, rather than at the v. end. It really got their attention. First Jane got some, then Oliver, then Tattoo, then Maui, then Lemura. Think the princess treatment pleased Jane no end. 

Two incidents of note, both involving Maui (he being the most active cat in the room right now). First was his excitement when a small kid came by the room. He passed by and was quickly gone, but Maui ran to the door and watched him as long as he was in sight, crying. Maybe he has good memories of a child in a previous home? Something to watch for.
The other was Maui's unfortunate decision to jump to the top of the second cat-stand, I think with the idea of going to the cabinet-top. When he arrived, he found the top level fully occupied by Oliver, who he'd not been able to see from the ground. Oliver froze, but Maui was so startled that he dropped down a level -- which put him in the mouth of Jane's burrow. Much hissing and growling and no doubt swatting ensued before he cd get away. He seemed fine afterwards, just disconcerted by how badly a simple plan had turned out. 

Finally, a little before noon I put everybody else back (with a second spoonful of wet) and Lemura finally got her walk. She still loves to rub everything in sight, but this time she ignored all the people we came across in favor of exploring. Good to see she's gotten much better with the walks -- think she'll eventually have the whole store marked as her territory.

Health concerns: there was dried throw-up in Jane's cube, a mix of fur and (digested) food. Perhaps a bit of a hairball forming? The area above Lemura's eye looked fine. No other problems spotted.

Have to say, it was great to see the picture of Lemura in a bag, and also the two photos of poor Ashwyn. Many thanks for posting them.

--John R.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Peter Jackson Is Not George Lucas

So, thinking about the Radagast / Jar-Jar comparisons (which popped up in several reviews of AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY back in December, and recently again on the MythSoc list*) actually ties in well with a discussion I was having with a friend (hi, Stan) just after we'd been to see THE HOBBIT again in the budget cinema last Thursday.

Basically, we were mulling over to what extent Jackson's trilogy of HOBBIT films being made as prequels to his LORD OF THE RINGS films of a decade and more before can be considered analogous to Lucas's prequels to his original STAR WARS trilogy.

Having been tremendously impressed with STAR WARS when it first came out, and unimpressed by pretty much all the ones that followed, I was stunned to learn that people approaching the Lucas films for the first time nowadays start with PHANTOM MENACE. I can't imagine how this must skew the viewing experience for seeing the original movie as the fourth in a series. Such viewers know who Darth Vader is the first time he appears -- they've seen the mask and heard the breath at the end of SITH. They know who Leia is as soon as they learn her foster-father's name, and that she and Luke are brother and sister. It must be like people who read THE SILMARILLION before THE HOBBIT: I know there are some, and that the sequence works for them, but it's so different from my own experience that it's hard for me to properly envision it.

Of course, where the analogy between Lucas and Jackson breaks down is that Jackson is adapting pre-existing, well-known books. He varies from the books a good deal in detail (more than I wd like) but keeps to the main overall plot and structure. Plus, Tolkien's HOBBIT is not a 'prequel' to his LORD OF THE RINGS -- THE HOBBIT came first, and LotR was written as a sequel (though Jackson's film HOBBIT is a prequel to his earlier LotR films).

By contrast, Lucas's fourth, fifth, and sixth movies (1999-2005) are indeed prequels to the original STAR WARS (1977) and its two sequels (to be a prequel, a work must be made later but set earlier).

Except that while Jackson has everything that happens in THE HOBBIT already mapped out for him, and knows exactly how it shd sync up with the start of LotR, Lucas just makes up things as he goes along (despite claims to the contrary), creating all kinds of continuity problems for himself in the process. Seeing how careful Jackson is in AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY to touch bases again and again with elements in his LotR films, and how hard he works not to clash in this film with what's already been established in the earlier ones, I suspect the final fit between the HOBBIT films and the LotR films will be as seamless as he can make it.

Also, Jackson's LotR is really just a single very long movie released in three yearly installments (similar to Tolkien's LotR, itself not a trilogy but a three-volume novel), a model THE HOBBIT seems sure to follow. Not so both Lucas's original STAR WARS films (1977-1983)  and the follow-up prequels, which are true trilogies: a set of three linked but essentially stand-alone works. And with longer gaps, both between the trilogies and between the films within each trilogy.

So while I can see some surface similarity, I think the analogy doesn't hold. Lucas is Lucas, and Jackson is Jackson. Luckily for me, I prefer Jackson -- but I still remember the 'Beatlemania' moment when the original STAR WARS came out of nowhere and blew everybody away. If only he'd stopped while he was ahead . . .   As I think Jackson will stop when he comes to the end of THE HOBBIT.

--John R.

current reading: TOLKIEN'S BAG END (Morton), THE LAST YGGDRASIL (Young), SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES (the latest Flavia de Luce novel)