Monday, December 4, 2017

Yesterday I Found . . . (Jim Ward Memo)

So, yesterday while doing a little sorting in the Box Room, I found a memo from towards the end of my TSR days (October 1995), reproduced here:

For those who can't see the image clearly enough, it's from Jim Ward, addressed to Sales & Marketing and Creative Services, dated October 10th [1995], with the Subject line 'Existing Rules'. The full text of the brief memo is as follows:

'Do not change any existing rules of any games or products without my imput. This is causing continuity problems that are hard to impossible to fix after the damage is already done.'

I remember the occasion of this announcement, but the details are gone: I no longer recall what Sales & Marketing had done that upset R&D (the editing and designing department, at the time briefly known as 'Creative Services') so much. They had already botched the release of MYSTARA and bungled that of BIRTHRIGHT, so it's hard to imagine what made the endlessly optimistic everybody-get-along Jim Ward so terse.

In any case,  I do remember that Jim prevailed in this interdepartmental power struggle, making this was one of our rare victories.

--John R.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

This Year's Tolkien Calendar(s)

So, they're getting harder to find, but between luck and persistence I now have both of next year's Tolkien Calendars.

The first is the movie tie-in calendar, though I didn't realize that when I ordered it. I really liked the cover art, which is all I saw from the online image, and had high hopes for the calendar as a whole. Which have now been disappointed. The art, all derived from the LotR movies, makes heavy use of silhouette and collage. I think the intended effect was to evoke some of the desolate landscapes Cor Blok attempted to convey. But I think they all fail, with the notable exception of the cover piece: a striking image of the Nine Walkers* silhouetted against a yellowish background dominated by the Barad-dur and Mt Doom.

What you get in most of these pieces is a silhouette of a character, taken from the film. Within that silhouette is a still of a scene featuring that character. Unfortunately in many cases it's difficult to figure out who the silhouette is supposed to be (luckily they're labelled, but that shdn't have been necessary); in others the image within the frame seem poorly chosen, almost random. Gollum fares best, because the silhouette element is strongest here. They'd have gotten a better result if they'd just used solid-black silhouettes throughout.

The second is Tolkien-themed, and reproduces Alan Lee's art for BEREN AND LUTHIEN. The art is up to Lee's usual high standard, as anyone who got the book these come from (published earlier this year) knows. Sadly, I have to confess that I'm getting tired of Lee's muted pallet. It worked wonderfully for the one-volume edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS; less well for THE HOBBIT or other works. I do like their including a well-chosen quote in Tolkien's own words at the bottom of each calendar page; these help evoke the scene being depicted.

I guess I feel like someone who wanted soup and got served steak instead. Again. It's a fine steak, but I can't help feeling wistful about the soup I'd rather have had.

There are so many fine artists out there I'd like to see do a Tolkien calendar: Thomas Canty for one, with his beautiful art decco style producing a sort of stained glass effect.  Or Michael Whelan might be interesting: he's a fine artist, but would his style accord with Tolkienian characters and scenes? Alas that we'll never see a Tolkien calendar from Keith Parkinson.

What I think would make an even better, more striking calendar, would be to feature Tolkien's calligraphy --scrawled pages that mark significant passages in the stories; careful fair copy; various examples of his invented scripts. Many of these have been published, so reprinting them in such a format would seem imminent doable.

--John R.

current reading: lots of unfinished books all left hanging, including Scott Berg's LINDBURGH (which I'd been wanting to read for some time but not been able to find our copy; it luckily turned up in some sort out/re-organizing I've been doing) -- one chapter of which covers the events that provided the historical inspiration for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

*well, eight of them anyway; Aragorn their rearguard got cut off

Where I'll Be Tomorrow Night (play reading)

So, my friend Jeff wrote a play.

And tomorrow night they're doing a read-through, where a half-dozen or so people sit in a row and read out loud their various assigned parts. It's the first step when rehearsing a play, though in this case there aren't plans to actually stage it yet.

If you have the evening free and want a to enjoy a sharply observed comedy about what it's like to work in today's corporate culture, come join us over in Burien for what promises to be an entertaining time.

Here's information about the event:

"Human Resources"
(A Corporate Comedy)

with the Seattle Playwrights Studio at the Burien Actors Theatre
14501 4th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98166

Monday, December 4th, at 7 PM

Bonus! One of the readers will be our own illustrious STAN!

--John R.
current reading: lots of stuff I'm sorting, like TSR style guides and trademark digests from the early nineties.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Meanwhile, Back in 'Birmingham

So, news of the upcoming Tolkien Amazon tv series has somewhat overshadowed the Tolkien biopic, where the big news is that filming has apparently actually begun. Here are some stills purportedly taken on location:

The actress shown interacting with young Tolkien is Genevieve O'Reilly, presumably during a break while young Tolkien is playing rugby. Interestingly enough, the character she plays isn't named, even on the imdb site (where the actress's name is given but the character name left blank).*

My guess? Aunt Jane.
Though that's just a guess, and it cd just as easily be some reimagined version of Jenny Grove (Edith's cousin and later companion) or that favorite easy-out of 'based on a true story' biopics: composite (i.e. fictitious) character.

Here's another link (like the one above, taken from the Tolkien Society's site), showing some on-location setting (this time in Cheshire) said to feature in the film:

One significant bit of casting since I last posted on the topic is Colm Meaney (Mr. O'Brien, Transporter Chief on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) as Father Francis. I wonder if this means they're making Fr. Francis Irish or if Meaney will be assuming a Welsh/Spanish accent.

Another interesting casting annoucement, for reasons having to do with the character rather than the actor, is the addition of Sam to the list of characters -- no, not the hobbit Samwise Gamgee but apparently Tolkien's batman (aide) during the war.

--John R.

* There's now a wikipedia page for the film, which also omits the character name

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Alt-Right Embraces Tolkien

So, on Monday the NEW YORK TIMES ran a piece on Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama Senatorial candidate, in which the report, Katherine Steawart, devoted several paragraphs to Moore's supporters using Tolkien imagery in support of their cause:

 . . . [they believe] Roy Moore is the hero who will lead the Republican Party to glory.

He stood there with his staff and he pushed back against the forces of secularism and he said, just like in ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ‘You shall not pass,’ when they were going after the Ten Commandments,” Dana Loesch, an N.R.A. spokeswoman, said. Roy Moore, she added, is “the Gandalf of Alabama.”

Steve Bannon was also in Tolkien mode as he exulted over Mr. Moore’s victory in the Republican primary in September. “The hobbits are going door to door in the shire, and they’re getting everybody out,” he gushed.

. . . But they [McConnell & Ryan, et al] haven’t said — and they won’t say — a word about Mr. Moore’s theocratic agenda. Because in their hearts, they know that Mr. Bannon is right about one thing: They need to keep the “hobbits” happy.

It's another sign of Tolkien moving mainstream and finding new fans in new places -- in this case, among gun-lobbyists* and arch-conservative politicians in Alabama -- while at the same time being embraced by fringe groups among the white supremacists (something that's also happening to Taylor Swift, of all people, and to Norse sagas). Maybe Tolkien can at some point form common ground between deeply divided groups. In the meantime, I think we're going to see a lot more in the way of strange bedfellows.

--John R.

*or 'merchants of death', to evoke a name from another era

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Should Tolkien Be Canonized?

Question: Should Tolkien be canonized?
Short Answer: No.

So, I was asked by not one but two people at Thanksgiving what I thought about the move to have Tolkien declared a saint. What movement? was my reply. The next day a few minutes on google reminded me that I'd heard the first rumblings of this a while ago when a group of Tolkien's admirers in Brazil decided to take the first step back in 2015: contact the bishop of Tolkien's own diocese, Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley, who replied that he was hesitant to act on his own authority until the church had officially begun the process.

Accordingly, the pro-canonization group has studied the actual process and are now officially launching their campaign, with a website ( ).  Thanks to Mike Glyer's FILE 770 for his report ( ), "Tolkien: An Unexpected Sainthood" (Oct 25th 2017). For those of us (like myself) who know little about how the church operates in such matters, here are the four stages in the official recognition:
 (1) Servant of God, (2) Venerable, (3) Blessed, and (4) Saint
The current effort is the first step in getting Tolkien declared a Servus Dei (Servant of God).
I'm personally skeptical (coming from a denomination that doesn't do saints), but we'll see how it goes.

--John R.
current reading: A TIME OF HARVEST (CoC), still

The Tolkien Canon just took on a new meaning.

Friday, November 24, 2017

More on Tolkien TV

So, in the week following news of the upcoming (or at least planned) LotR tv series broke, there were a lot more signs of what a big deal this is being seen as, and not just among the more-or-less captive audience of diehard Tolkien fans. It only took a matter of days for the news to move from VARIETY and THE ROLLING STONE to THE NEW YORK TIMES and NPR, with lots of discussion on Tolkien-devoted sites like The Tolkien Society's news page, The One Ring forum, and the MythSoc list.

Why such interest? Well, for one thing it's yet another sign of Tolkien looming ever larger in our cultural zeitgeist. There's a reason for the current struggle to claim JRRT as 'one of our own' going on between the alt-right white supremacist groups and traditional Tolkien fans; everybody wants to claim a popular and influential figure like Tolkien has become. *

For one thing, there's the sheer amount of money involved. It's been a while since I reached the sad conclusion that nothing impresses our culture more than money, and this wd seem to be a case in point. According to THE GUARDIAN, Amazon is putting a billion dollars** into this deal: $250 million to secure the rights, and then another $750 million to actually make the show. Which is apparently projected to run for six seasons.*** Which at more than $100 million per season makes it "the most expensive TV show ever" ****

For another, without my quite being aware of it until recently, the Peter Jackson movies are taking on iconic status. Indeed, reading down into the comments of some of the discussions of the various news stories reveals that there are fans of the Jackson movies worried about the new show spoiling their memories of what are for them classic films they grew up watching. So now the old guard, for purposes of this discussion, is people who watch and re-watch the Jackson movies, for whom New-Zealand-as-Middle-earth is as much a default as ruby slippers and emerald cities*****

I'm starting to notice more and more anecdotal evidence re. the iconic status. Case in point: on Wednesday I picked up THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FANTASY: 50 GREATEST FANTASY FILMS EVER!, one of those special-issue theme magazines that come out from time to time. Their number one choice? THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Here's a list of their top ten, to get a better sense of where they're coming from: THE LORD OF THE RINGS (#1), THE WIZARD OF OZ (#2), WINGS OF DESIRE (the original; #3), LABYRINTH (#4), MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (#5), THE PRINCESS BRIDE (#6), PAN'S LABYRINTH (#7), PRINCESS MONONOKI (#8), SPIRITED AWAY (#9), and JASON AND  THE ARGONAUTS (#10).

And what am I to make of a book I saw on the remainder shelf at Barnes and Noble,  a big beautiful book named LEGENDARY MOVIES (2013)?  This is a substantial work of 600 pages, with text by Paulo D'Agostini, preface by Franco Zeffirelli. ( ). And for the cover they chose not Bogart or Orson Welles, Vivian Leigh or Audrey Hepburn, but Ian McKellan, as Gandalf (the white).

As the songwriter once sang, times are a'changing.

--John R.

current viewing: the Japanese adaptation of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (quirky, but better than -- and more faithful than -- the version currently in theatres).

current reading: A TIME TO HARVEST (Call of Cthulhu adventure).
*more on this in another post; it's too big a topic to deal with just in passing

**this is a pretty good investment when you consider that the three Jackson films between them made about ten billion dollars. And presumably Amazon can make their show more economically than Jackson's perpetual reshoot.

***though I haven't seen anything yet to indicate how many shows would be in a 'season'.


*****neither of which appear in the original OZ book.

p.s.: Aunt Jane?