Saturday, July 25, 2015

Some Days You Just Can't Get a Good Watermelon* (a rant)

*with apologies to Adam West.

So, for several days now with Janice's help I've been looking for a watermelon. A real watermelon, the kind with seeds in it.


  • None at Fred Meyers
  • None at Trader Joe's
  • None at Uwajimaya's
  • Sold out at the Kent farmer's market ("we had ten, and they went right away")
  • None at Valley Harvest, which turns out to have gone out of business since our last visit
  • None at Carpinito's
  • None at the Great Wall Mall's Ranch Market


Finally bought one of those seedless abominations, at Uwajimaya, since a mediocre watermelon is better than no watermelon at all. But seriously, what happened to good melons? My standards might be high, since I come from the area that produces the best watermelons in the world (my home town's only some thirty-odd miles from Hope, Arkansas). But still, watermelons without seeds are like those supermarket tomatoes of a few years ago, bred for shipping and not taste. Heirloom tomatoes and local-grown filled in the gap there -- where are the Black Diamonds, Dixie Queens, and the like?

--John R.


My Schedule at MythCon

So, the schedule for events at Mythcon (to be held Friday July 31st through Monday August 3rd at the Elegante in Colorado Springs) is now out.* And I'm signed up to take part in a total of five events:


(1) Friday July 31st, The Aspen Room, 4.30 to 5. 30 pm
This will be a nine-person reading of The Fall of Arthur using Thom Foy's abridged script from last year's Kalamazoo, used with permission.  The performance then went really well so I have hopes it'll be just as enjoyable for folks this time around.


(2) Saturday August 1st, The Summit Boardroom, 9 to 10.15 am
This is the Opening Ceremonies, followed by my Scholar Guest of Honor speech,  "The Lost Letter: Seeking the Keys to Williams' Arthuriad". I'm hoping they'll enjoy my re-assessment of Williams and his work.


(3) Saturday August 1st, The Breckenridge Room, 1 to 2.45 pm
"Reclaiming Tolkien's Women for the 21st Century." This brings together some of the contributors to PERILOUS AND FAIR: WOMEN IN THE WORKS AND LIFE OF JRRT to recap some of the points made there and discuss issues arising therefrom. My contribution thereto is "The Missing Women: Tolkien's Lifelong Support for Women's Higher Education".


(4) Saturday August 1st, The Aspen Room, 4.15 to 4.45 pm
A two-person reading of Mark vs. Tristan by Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis, by JDR and JC. I think this is a little unsung gem, so I'm looking forward to sharing with others who are likely to like this sort of thing as much as I do.


(5) Sunday August 2nd, The Aspen Room, 3.45 to 5 pm
" 'That Seems to Me Fatal': Pagan and Christian in The Fall of Arthur". This is a reprise of the piece I presented an excerpt from  at last year's Kalamazoo, looking at some of the difficulties Tolkien faced in seeing through his conception of the Arthurian myth. It seemed appropriate, given the Arthurian theme of this year's Mythcon.

Of course I'll be at the Awards Banquet to hear Jo Walton's Guest of Honor speech, and throughout the weekend I'll go to as many panels as possible and see as many people as possible, enjoy seeing friends and meeting new people. Really looking forward to it.

--John R.

http://www.mythsoc.org/assets/Mythcon-46-schedule_7.23.15.pdf


just finished book #II.3247,  A. E. WAITE: MAGICIAN OF MANY PARTS by R. A. Gilbert, a biography of Wms' friend and magical mentor Waite, a good accompliment to Gilbert's history of the Golden Dawn (TWILIGHT OF MAGICIANS). I'd read this once before, in a copy borrowed from my friend the late Jim Pietrusz. This time I tracked down a copy of my own; I'll think of Jim any time I re-read or consult it.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Lewis and Sitwell

So, sometimes when working on one thing (Charles Williams' Arthurian poems) you make a discovery, or what seems to be a discovery, on something entirely unrelated (Edith Sitwell's possible influence on C. S. Lewis).

Case in point: having noted CSL extravagant (and, I can now attest, undeserved) praise for Edith Sitwell's 1924 book SLEEPING BEAUTY, I hunted down a copy and read it. And in the course of forcing my way through its doggerel, I found two lines that really stuck out:

Hell is no vastness, it has naught to keep
But little rotting souls and a small sleep
(p. 61)

Now that sounds remarkably like one of the key underlying premises of Lewis's THE GREAT DIVORCE (1945). Or perhaps it's just a coincidence. In any case, I thought it worth sharing.

--JDR

Done!

So, after working away at it full-tilt for weeks, putting aside pretty much everything else (including posting here), I finally finished up my MythCon Guest of Honor speech. Turned out I had more to say than I originally thought, and the finished piece runs to almost ten thousand words, not to mention another three thousand or so in the endnotes (which are still not quite done).

The final title is  THE LOST LETTER: SEEKING THE KEYS TO WILLIAMS' ARTHURIAD.

This is my third (or fourth) piece on Williams, depending on how you count.

The first, "Something Else Remains to be Said", was on Tolkien and Williams' friendship; delivered at the '85 Mythcon in Wheaton and afterwards published in MYTHLORE (I forget which issue).

The second, "TERROR OF LIGHT", was a look at his best play; it was written in 1991 for Huttar and Sckhal's collection THE RHETORIC OF VISION, where it appeared in 1996 under the accurate but uninspiring title "Rhetorical Strategies in Charles Williams' Prose Play".

The third would have been "The Failure of Williams' Arthuriad", which I gave as a work-in-progress at a seminar in Madison in 2000 or 2001, but it was never fully written up or published. It's effectively superseded by my current piece.

Now to practice my delivery and work out which sections can be trimmed to make it work better as an oral piece.

--John R.
current reading: about to be something not by Charles Williams, for a change.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Informative but not comforting

So, yesterday I got a new prescription and, before trying it, for once I read through all the fine print on the accompanying informational sheet. It was informative but not comforting, since it included the words "This medication" and "seldom fatal" in the same line. On the other hand, I now know a lot about just which tests were done on mice, minipigs, and Sprague-Dawley rats (a designation I was previously unaware of). Ignorance isn't bliss, but sometimes knowledge brings no joy.

--John R.

today's song: "I Lie Around" (McCarney, circa 1972)


Priestesses in the Church revisited

So, a good while back I did a little series of three posts on C. S. Lewis's worst essays, the point being that it can be revealing to look at failed works, the worst a really good writer  has to offer (cf. TIMON OF ATHENS or YOU KNOW MY NAME, LOOK UP THE NUMBER). And I argued that the worst of the worst was a little piece of his called "Priestesses in the Church",* explaining why he was against women's ordination.

There Lewis essentially came down to 'if it makes me uncomfortable, it must be wrong' as his ultimate justification for banning women from the priesthood, with 'it's against tradition' as his runner-up. These seem wholly inadequate for something of so great moment; hence my judging his piece such a failure.  So it was interesting to discover that he briefly revisits** the issue in his explication of Charles Williams' Arthurian poems, WILLIAMS AND THE ARTHURIAD, but here his reason is completely different: woman can't be priests because they have periods.


Here's what Williams' says in his poem "Taliessin in the Rose-Garden" (THE REGION OF THE SUMMER STARS, page 27)

       Well are women warned from serving the altar
       who, by the nature of their creature, from Caucasia to Carbonek,
       share with the Sacrifice the victimization of blood.

Lewis's comment on this is, in part, as follows

The menstrual flow in women presents certain problems 
on the scientific level . . . Wms sees it as a 'covenant in the flesh'. 
By it all women naturally share in the great sacrifice. That, indeed, 
is why they are excluded from the priesthood; excluded from the office
 because they thus share mystically in the role of the Victim
(ARTHURIAN TORSO p. 150; emphasis mine).


The reasoning behind this is fairly murky, but has something to do with Williams' linking menstrual blood with the blood in the chalice during communion/mass, which would then involve hypothetical woman priest as taking two roles in the same ceremony. I think. Or something along that line.


I'm curious why, if Lewis believed this, he didn't use this argument in his 1948 article. Maybe he felt he  could address such a topic in a scholarly book but not in a magazine article.

Personally, I think it all comes to "Lewis thinks girls got cooties".

Which is not the most compelling of arguments, then or now.


--JDR
today's song: "LETTING GO" (McCartney, live version)




http://sacnoths.blogspot.com/2008/07/c-s-lewiss-worst-essay-priestesses-in.html


**actually, it turns out to be the other way around: the article was written in 1948, while Lewis's contributions to the book, although not published until 1948, dates from 1946.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Old Times at TSR

So, yesterday I took a break from working on my paper and sorted out some more rpg magazines down in the box room, putting more on the pile to throw away. This time it was old issues of INQUEST and CONJURE, my thinking being that I cd do without price guides for ccgs some twenty years ago.*

I was glad that I skimmed through them first, though, because in the process I found two of the old TSR routing lists, which list all the designers and editors in the creative department at a particular time (mid and late 1995, respectively).

You see, back in the day, a bunch of rpg magazines (WHITE WOLF, SHADIS, &c) circulated through the design & editorial department, along with a box of comics (leftovers from the days when TSR had the Marvel license) and some misc. journals relevant to the industry (LOCUS, SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE), et al. And at one point I volunteered to keep track of them, starting them on their journey through the department desk by desk, for skimming or reading or ignoring, as each person saw fit.

All that's now moot, but the listing is interesting, to me at least, in and of itself for its snapshot of everyone who was in the department back then. For some reason that department has always been surprisingly opaque to those outside it, and most fans (and industry professionals), I've found, have no idea who does what on which projects, who was in-house and who was not, and the like. So here's a little contribution to the historical record.


THE FIRST LIST dates from June 1995, after what had been a remarkably stable department began to change, with the rate of change ever-increasing right up to the December 1996 smash.  Zeb Cook (1994) and Jeff Grubb (Jan 1995) had left the department, Rob King has transferred over to Books, and the big influx of people hired away from West End had just gotten underway (with Ed Stark being its harbinger). It's alphabetical and thus plays no favorites. A few names (Mike Nystul, Bill Olmesdahl, David Gross, Michael Huebbe) were added in while the list was in circulation (i.e., while the particular magazine this list was attached to made its way through the department), so I've gone ahead and included them as representative of a department in flux. A few are struck out, but I've left them in because I can't tell which left TSR and which just wanted not to be on the circulating-journals list. This makes the 'snapshot' a slightly blurry one, but it seemed good to err on the side of inclusiveness.

THE SECOND LIST is from a few months later, October 1995. I was experimenting at the time with different arrangements of the list: alphabetical, reverse alphabetical, by seniority, by reverse seniority, by degree of interest, to see what might work best. This one has added interest, to me at any rate, because it gives members of the department in order of seniority, from stalwarts like Jon Pickens and Steve Winter (who went all the way back to circa 1980-81)** to the newest hire, the now-legendary Bruce Cordell (I was happy to have gotten to edit both Jeff Grubb's final design before his departure and Bruce Cordell's first upon his arrival). Comparing it with the first list, I see that Wolf Baur and apparently also Tim Beach had already departed for Wizards and that the hiring binge had stopped, with Steve Brown (aka 'Stan!') the last of the West End hires and Bruce Cordell the last r&d hire for quite a while, or at least that's how I remember it.

One caveat: I shd point out that some of the names on this second list had been at TSR far longer than their ranking here wd indicate, like Harold Johnson (circa 1980?) and Skip Williams, Kim Mohan and Dale Donovan, who transferred in from other departments; they're given here in the order in which they joined r&d. Also, I've inserted myself into the appropriate spot in the lists.

A lot of talent. A lot of memories. A lot of unpaid overtime. Enjoy!


FIRST LIST (alphabetical, June 1995)
Rich Baker
Wolf Baur
Tim Beach
Carrie Bebris
Karen Boomgarden
Anne Brown
Tim Brown
Jim Butler
Michele Carter
Bill Connors
Monte Cook
Dale Donovan
Andria Hayday
Bruce Heard
Dori Hein (previously Dori Watry)
Slade Henson
Harold Johnson
Julia Martin
Colin McComb
Steve Miller
Roger Moore
Bruce Nesmith
+Mike Nystul
+Bill Olmesdahl
Jon Pickens
Thomas Reid
Steve Schend
Bill Slavicsek
Lester Smith
Ed Stark
Doug Stewart
Ray Vallese
Jim Ward
Sue Weinlein
Dan Wenger
Skip Williams
Steve Winter
David Wise.

[non-departmental:]
Stephen Daniele
Scott Douglas
Rob King
Duane Maxwell
Marshall Simpson
+David Gross
Carolyn Chambers
+Michael Huebbe.



SECOND LIST ("Seniority Has Its Privileges", October 1995)

John Pickens
Steve Winter
Anne Brown
Andria Hayday
William W. Connors
Steven Schend
Slade Henson
Dori Hein (formerly Dori Watry)
Colin McComb
Julia Martin
John D. Rateliff (Oct. 7th 1991)
Thomas Reid
Rich Baker
Michele Carter
Doug Stewart
Lester Smith
Bill Slavicsek
Skip Williams
Sue Weinlein
Monte Cook
Ray Vallese
Harold Johnson
Jim Butler
Steve Miller
Ed Stark
Carrie Bebris
Dale Donovan
Kim Mohan
Bill Olmesdahl
Miranda Horner
Kevin Melda
David Eckleberry
Keith Strohm
Cindi Rice
Steve Brown (aka Stan)
Bruce Cordell

[non-departmental]
Dave Gross
Stephen Daniele
Scott Douglas
Duane Maxwell
Robert Weise

Carolyn Chambers





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--JDR

current reading: WILLIAMS AND THE ARTHURIAD by C. S. Lewis (re-reading)

current music: old cassettes (Boiled in Lead, Blondie)


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


*a stack of CASUS BELLI are next up on the chopping block, being a good magazine in a language I only read haltingly and with difficulty.

**the true antediluvian at TSR back then was Dave Sutherland, employee number six (1976?), who has long since transferred into the mapping department, from which he had produced such masterpieces as the castle map for I6.Ravenloft.