Sunday, July 27, 2014


Twenty-two years and counting.
As Janice said in a card, it's no longer 'Grow Old with Me' but now 'Grow Older w. Me'
Sounds like a good plan to me.

Tolkien Letters (WRITING Magazing)

So, a few weeks back I learned (from Janice, who'd seen it on Andrew Higgins' blog*) that the most recent issue of WRITING magazine includes an article that quotes some previously unpublished Tolkien letters. Seeing them on-line was great, but I thought it'd be even better to have them in print (there's only so much enlarging I can do on-screen), so I ordered a copy of the magazine, which has now arrived.

The article in question is called "Tolkien on Writing . . . and Me", by Paula Coston, who I'd not heard of before but who has apparently just written her first novel, ON THE FAR SIDE, THERE'S A BOY. though she seems to be more famous for her 'Otherhood movement', which focuses on childless women (though whether childless by choice or not is not entirely clear from my quick skim of their online material).

Here's the link to her book

And here's to one about her 'Otherhood' movement

She also has a blog, in which she briefly recounts her friendship with Tolkien

As for the article, it's charming to hear how Tolkien dealt with letters from a precocious eleven-year-old would-be author (then Paula Iley), her grandparents being next-door neighbors (or, should I say, neighbours) of the Tolkiens at Sandfield Road. Tolkien seems to have taken her poems very seriously, and his comments on them reveal his overriding concern with metre and word-choice. Tolkien was gifted in his ability to write in demanding metres (such as the Pearl-stanza), in which he was dramatically at odds with the literary movements of his lifetime. To young Paula he uses analogy that writing a particular verse form is like playing a game with demanding rules: the true demonstration of skill is to know the rules and yet still deliver a telling blow (or, in his words, "hit the ball with force"). Or, to put it another way, "all verse-writers (who write in regular metres or patterns) . . . know that their imagination may be stirred by the actual struggle to find a rhyme or a word that will fill the place, and they may end by thinking and saying something better than they first intended".

Sometimes there are more personal revealing bits, as when Tolkien writes "I feel sympathy with [her poems], because you seem to be moved by colour, and by day's ending, twilight, evening".  It's rather sad to hear JRRT's account in a January 1969 letter of leaving Oxford: "I have fled from Oxford not wishing to witness any more of its destruction, and being also obliged to escape, to an unknown destination, from the every-day persecution of the press etc." Lamenting the chaos caused by his move,** he writes "My work is delayed and disturbed".

Also of interest is that he repeats the 'green great dragon' story in much the same way as we've seen it before, but with a somewhat different moral: "It was quite a shock, and I have always remembered it, because it was my first introduction to the fact that English (without which I could have said nothing) was not 'mine', and had its own ways".

All in all, a pleasant little addition to our store of knowledge; it was good of Iley/Coston to share them with us (having refused to share them with Carpenter back when he was writing his biography).

--John R.

current reading: Heinlein's GLORY ROAD (ugh), TOLKIEN'S BEOWULF (resumed, again)


**although he does not go into the distressing details here, apparently he fell down the stairs at Sandfield Road and hurt his leg badly, which meant he was in the hospital when the actual move occurred. Which in turn means that he didn't supervise the actual packing of all his papers; this was done by somebody else. With the result that upon arriving at his new house he had no idea where anything was among all those boxes of manuscript and typescript, and seems to have spent the first year or two at Bournemouth simply sorting things out. I personally think any chance JRRT had of finishing THE SILMARILLION vanished when he fell down those stairs in October 1968, though he himself didn't realize it for another two or three years.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

BoBo Shinn

I know somebody who vanished.
Dropped off the face of the earth. Was never seen or heard from again.

This summer marks thirty-six years since BoBo Shinn vanished. Presumably kidnapped and murdered, probably by a serial killer. Her body has never been found. Police, family, and friends know no more now about what happened to her than they did the day she disappeared.

We actually knew her brother, Jay Shinn, who was about my sister's age, better than BoBo herself. He'd taken art lessons along with my sister (who was better at it than I was) and myself from Margie Chamberlain.* That had eventually petered out, but I pretty much knew how to paint in oils by the time I started college. But I wanted to learn how to handle pastels and also watercolor, and that's how I got to know BoBo herself, whose class I attended once a week as one of maybe a half a dozen or so students. I only remember three pictures I completed, the most successful of which was a watercolor of a landscape beneath a green sun.

I was away from Magnolia that summer, up at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (thanks to a modest scholarship from my church, for which I'll always be grateful to Rev. Hoffius) -- my first time away from home for more than a week at a time, in a city I'd never seen before. I loved it: meeting the person I consider my mentor (Dr. T. C. Duncan Eaves), soaking up the resources in a town that seemed filled with bookstores and a huge university library, making contact with an Inkling for the first time (an exchange of letters with Nevill Coghill). But two bizarre events marked that sumer.

The first was the death of my uncle Aubrey (or Uncle Orb, as we called him) -- at sixty-two about average for a Rateliff (of his four brothers, one died in his mid-thirties, one in his mid-fifties, and the other two in the late sixties/early seventies). I felt bad not being able to go to his funeral (being without a car and at the opposite end of the state), but at least all indications were that he died suddenly and peacefully, apparently of an aneurism;  a cigarette he'd lit but not had time to smoke was still in his hand, all one long uncrumbled row of ash.

The other was BoBo's disappearance, which I heard about it on my weekly phone calls home. Whereas what happened to Uncle Orb was obvious and final, everything was up in the air about BoBo. Who left behind everything but the clothes she was wearing, not even taking her purse, keys, car, or shoes. There are some people who choose to just walk away from it all (like the guy whose two years spent hitchhiking around the country is retold in INTO THE WILD). This was not one of those cases.

And finally, this past Sunday, they held memorial services for BoBo, attended by her surviving family, and put up a grave marker for her in the local cemetery (where my father is buried). After all these years, it's a letting go. But it's still unsettling that no one knows who killed her, and where she's buried. And we probably never will.

Rest in Peace.

--John R.

P.S.: thanks to my sister, mother, and Janice, who all forwarded the news as if appeared on the Magnolia Times website and in the Magnolia Banner News paper. Here are the links.

*from Margie Chamberlain, a local character -- but that's a subject for a different post

Another Unfact about Tolkien

So, last night I came across another of those odd claims people make about J. R. R. Tolkien from time to time.  This time it was that JRRT was a friend of Christopher Lee. I'd heard or seen somewhere that Lee was a Tolkien fan from way back who had gotten THE HOBBIT when it was first published, but this degree of contact between the two seemed inherently unlikely.

First off, the venue in which this claim was made is not a promising one.

It comes from the packaging accompanying a cheap compilation of three old horror movies on one dvd (one featuring Vincent Price, one Bela Lugosi, and one Christopher Lee) that I'd bought because the third of these had been the inspiration for a good CALL OF CTHULHU scenario from Pagan P. and I wanted to see how much it owned to its source and how much to their treatment of it. I bought this ten years ago and never opened till now (having in the meantime found a single dvd with the one movie I wanted on it and watched that copy instead, while this copy drifted to a back-shelf until my current watch-and-get-rid-of-phase. Having watched one and skimmed another of the two films I hadn't seen before, I've already added this to the discard/giveaway pile.

Second, there's the actual claim, which is given (under the header VESTIGES FROM THE VINTAGE WAULT) as one of a number of bullet points/ paragraphs of THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THESE CLASSIC FILMS . . . UNTIL NOW! , followed by factoids about Price, Legosi, and Lee, the relevant one of which reads

Christopher Lee
was a friend and
student/historian of
J. R. R. Tolkien long
before portraying the
role of Saruman in 
Peter Jackson's "Lord Of
The Rings" films.

As for the truth of the matter: according to The Source of All Knowledge (a.k.a. wikipedia), Lee in his 2003 autobiography says he once met Tolkien. I haven't yet tracked down a copy of the book to see if there's any more than that, but it's clear that they didn't really know each other. So, a Tolkien fan: Yes. A personal acquaintance, No.

So, a minor point, but it's good to point out 'facts' that aren't when opportunity arises. 
There's a lot of disinformation out there, and reducing its impact is a Good Thing.

--John R.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Cat Report (W.7/23-14)

Very glad to hear the news about Mr. TeaTime's adoption. He was a great, friendly, charismatic cat, so I thought it wdn't be long.
Sad, though, to hear about Kaspar's un-adoption. I wish she'd have given him more time and seen how things sorted out. I assume he's gone to one of the other adoption rooms to give him a chance of starting over in a new setting.

Things were quiet yesterday morning. With only six cats, I was able to give everyone a walk. In some cases this was just a quick out-and-please-let-me-back-in, but even those I held and carried around the store for a bit. We don't have any born walkers like Miss Blackberry, but both Molinni and Tawny are getting better by the week. They've got the rules down and, once they get used to the idea, actually do a little exploring, with lots of petting from me for reassurance.  It's the one time I get to work on cleaning the sleep out of little Miss TAWNY's eyes, and also combing her fur with my fingers to get the loose hair out. I snipped off a few clumps but couldn't do much with the matted fur on her left towards the back. Tawny likes the little collection of cat-stands near the middle of the back wall of the store -- not to climb, but to work her way through the bases of. She's also fine with being held and being petted, so long as it's out on a walk -- once back in the cat-room she goes straight into her nice safe hole and swats at anything that tries to intrude on her privacy. But when not poked or prodded she seemed relaxed for once, with her paws hanging out.

I have noticed that while Molinni and Tawny seems nervous during the walks, those mornings that I carry them around and then let them pokearound on their own four feet they're much more relaxed and in a good mood afterwards, back in the room. This was really evident today with Molinni, who I think ought to be called MOLINNI the Panther, given how she prowls about. She went into her basket as usual but then came right back out and spent most of the morning hanging around with Scruffs near the door and under the cat-stands near the front of the room. She let me pet her a little (not much) and also explored a little, seeming very much confident and in-charge.

PHOENIX, by contrast, had a muted sort of day. I put her up high and she stayed on the cagetops all morning, mostly in the box up there, keeping herself to herself. Felt bad for neglecting her; she didn't like my getting her down and then putting her back in her cage straight away. But she'd enjoyed her walk earlier so maybe she'll forgive me. 

MR. SCRUFFS was in good form, enjoying that cool breeze that comes under the door, putting those scratching posts to good use, and watching the world go by. He was much admired by visitors, especially when at one point he jumped up and arranged himself decoratively atop the cat-stand by the door. He played with Molinni some but mostly they just hung out together (last week they'd had great fun with games, both taking turns to pounce on string or feathers).
It's sounds silly, but I've noticed he's getting two white spots on his fur. Is this from aging? The hair in my own black cat (Mr. Feanor)'s ear has been turning white as he ages, but I've never seen anything quite like this before. Do cats get premature greying?

BUXTER was more approachable today, from her roost atop the cat-stand by the cabinet. I think she's a naturally grumpy cat who, because of that, misses out on her share of attention (petting, being played with, &c). She and her sister seem to me to get along pretty well -- the only exception being last week when I'd put Buxter in (against her will) and then put Maebe in right next to her immediately afterwards; Buxter hissed at Maebe, who made herself small. After a minute Buxter calmed down and Maebe went past her and into the other cubby. While they're not overly affectionate with each other, I think Maebe may know how to handle Buxter better than anyone else. In any case, the combination of (very) short walk, a safe perch well away from the other cats, and some petting and games all her own seemed to be just what Buxter needed.

MAEBE, for her part, was full of surprises this morning. First off she wouldn't come out of her cube the first two hours or so. Then when I made her move so I could clean things up* she made her way to the top of the cat-stand by the door, where she plopped herself down and looked about with great satisfaction. I let her stay out last of all the cats, and took her out for a short walk of her own at the very end. She Gave Voice with that yowl cats only make when they're very, very unhappy. Though she did calm down quickly she clearly wasn't enjoying herself, so we didn't stay long.

--no health concerns. Looks like Scruffs and Phoenix have lost a little weight, though it's always hard to tell from just looking

--tried a new treat, which Scruffs, Molinni, and Phoenix voted the best thing ever; Maebe also liked them.  Tawny and Buxter's response was eh.

--today was focused more on petting than games (whereas last week was just the opposite). A quiet day, but think the cats mostly enjoyed it. Next week I'll try for a more even mix of petting/attention and games/walks.

--John R.

*discovering in the process that someone had messed on the blanket, so I changed them all

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chris Mitchell tributes

I've now written a slightly more formal tribute to Chris Mitchell, which has just been posted at the Wheaton College site. Here's the link. The entries are arranged alphabetically (after the first two, by Wheaton College's president and by Chris's predecessor as Director of the Wade, Lyle Dorsett), so just scroll down to find my contribution.

Having read through these, I'm struck with how many of them make the same points: a good indicator that Chris was the same with people he met and fell into conversation with, not different men in different contexts.  Oddly enough, I think it was Warnie Lewis, as quoted by Diana Pavlac Glyer, who really captured the moment. Writing about the sudden death of Charles Williams, Warnie put it like this:

“Well, goodbye, see you on Tuesday Charles” one says
 — and you have in fact though you don't know it, 
said goodbye forever. He passes up the lamplit street, 
and passes out of your life forever. And so vanishes 
one of the best and nicest men it has ever been 
my good fortune to meet. May God receive him 
into His everlasting happiness.’

--John R.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Story Identified (Davidman's SMOKE)

So, having posted a query to see if anyone out there might recognize a science fiction story Joy Davidman uses, in synopsized form, as a chapter-opener in her SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN [1954/55], I was surprised to have the answer the very next day. Many thanks to Doug Anderson for reposting my query to folks who were able to identify the story in question, and to John Boston for being the font of knowledge that held this particular piece of information and was generously willing to share same.

It turns out Davidman is retelling, probably from memory, a story that had been published in ASTOUNDING back in March 1940: "THE DWINDLING SPHERE" by one Wm. Hawkins. I've never heard of Hawkins before, but a subsequent posting provided a link to the entire story online:

Interestingly enough, this story seems not to have been reprinted or anthologized between its original publication and the date of Davidman's book.* Also, it's clear from reading the story itself that it differs a good deal from Davidman's version, which is thus probably being retold from memory (which might explain why she fails to name the author) or only known to her at second-hand, in a version told her by someone who remembered the gist of the story but not any detail. The most significant departure is that Davidman provides an ending for the story (a brief glimpse of the last human, floating dead in space, after the world has been completely used up by its inhabitants): an ending entirely appropriate and indeed rather better than the one the original author provided, but definitely not taken from the 1940 publications.

And this offers up some interesting possibilities. Did Davidman read this story when it first came out, when she was in her mid-twenties? If so, that wd suggest she was more deeply involved in science fiction than is our general impression of her. Or was the story told to her at a later date, which wd suggest she was plugged in to the science fiction community (fans and writers) more than published accounts have let on. Now that we know her husband knew Heinlein, and Fletcher Pratt, et al, and that Davidman knew Clarke and John Christopher, maybe it's time for someone to research and write up a piece on "Joy Davidman and Science Fiction".

--John R.
current reading: INTO THE WILD by Krakauer  (just finished), FRANZY AND ZOOEY by Salinger (still painfully slogging through), TOLKIEN'S BEOWULF (re-started)

*rpt in MASTER'S CHOICE, ed. Laurence M. Janifer [1966]; THE GREAT SF STORIES 2 (1940), ed Asimov & Greenberg (DAW, 1979); ISAAC ASIMOV PRESENTS THE GOLDEN YEARS OF SCIENCE FICTION, ed Asimov & Grrenberg (1983).