Saturday, August 12, 2017


So, I've now finished the new Clark Ashton Smith collection from Centipede Press, CHRONICLES OF AVEROIGNE, assembled and edited by Ron Hilger. I'd gotten this about a month ago but hadn't plunged in right away, having been somewhat put off by the art, which didn't do much for me, and editorial comments that made this seem a Lin Carter love-fest.

Now that I've read this all the way through, I found that the excellence of the stories drew me in. And while expensive I have to say it is a real pleasure to hold in the hand a well-bound book, with good quality paper and a cover ("boards"), esp when I took off the dust jacket and only put it back on when I was finished.

I'm glad to finally get all the Averoigne stories together in one volume (which will partially replace the photocopy assemblage I made for myself years ago that's had to serve till now).  Not only are these particular favorites of mine but, as I've said elsewhere, I think this the best story-cycle by Smith, the most brilliant of the WEIRD TALES school; the man who cd out-Lovecraft Lovecraft.*

That said, there were things I found off-putting about this collection.

First off, the first story in the book isn't an Averoigne tale at all but a Poe pastiche different in setting, period, and tone. For me it really set the wrong note.

Second, each story is preceded and followed by a Smith poem.** I'm still undecided about the merits of Smith's poems (let's say the jury is out on that one for now). In this case, while I see the effect they were aiming for, I think these interlinear pieces fail to achieve it. I'd have preferred that they instead inserted in their appropriate places the outlines Smith left behind for three more ultimately unwritten stories in the cycle, as 'legends of Averoigne' or some similar framework. For one thing, this wd have given them a better volume-opener ("The Oracle of Sadoqua",  a tale involving Smith's own Great Old One, Tsthuggua), set in Roman times, than "The Maker of Gargoyles" (chronologically the earliest story in the series).

I'm also puzzled why the editorial material, particularly the Afterword, make so much of Lin Carter, whom they honor as the person who thought of this collection years ago. That's true enough, though to my mind he's the person who had the chance to published this collection back in the early seventies and blew it. The Afterword also devotes much space to arguing that this collection is the closest thing we'll ever get to a Clark Ashton Smith novel (to which I say: not very).

Still: it's good to have this collection at last. I'm still grateful to Tom Moldvay's work for first introducing me to Smith's Averoigne stories. And I'm still v. much looking forward to the book of Smith's art (drawings, paintings, sculpture) that shd be out sooner rather than later, also from Centipede Press

--John R.

current reading: a pair of slim (Osprey) books on the Irish revolution and subsequent Irish Civil War (for background to better understand Dunsany's unfortunate experiences therein).***

current music: Glen Campbell's "Wm Tell Overture" (the man sure cd play guitar). R.I.P. to a fellow Arkansan.

*I've given my own opinion of Smith's Averoigne tales elsewhere (in my CLASSICS OF FANTASY piece on said stories),  so here'll I'll just note a few things about this specific collection.

**except the last poem, which is by Lovecraft and about CAS and Averoigne.

***which included having been shot in the head. 1916 was a really bad year for Lord D.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Feanor is gone

December 2002 - August 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017


So, a few days ago I came across something I'd been looking for since I noticed a few months ago that it'd been misplaced: my copy of an unpublished GREYHAWK novel, A THIEF IN THE TOMB OF HORRORS, by Simon Hawke (1996). Back in the day at TSR, I was asked to make a reader's report on this, since I was editing Bruce Cordell's RETURN TO THE TOMB OF HORROR at the time, to point out any disconnect between the two.* Hawke has gone on to publish many more books, and eventually TSR published an entirely different book on Acererak's Tomb by Keith Strohm (THE TOMB OF HORRORS, in 2002) as part of its short-lived GREYHAWK line. I can't share the novel itself, but I thought some might be interested in my reader's report.

Notes on A Thief in the Tomb of Horror

   Hawke seems shaky on game mechanics -- thus he has the clerics of Atanis casting fireballs after the escaping thief (p. 50) and wavers back and forth over whether Acererak was a wizard or cleric (most of the time referring to him as a "warlord cleric" -- cf. p. 139 but having him cast clearly wizardly spells). Dariene's "leap" spell is clearly dimension door; why give it a different name? He also treats the Drow as patriarchal -- Dariene's father is their "chieftain" (p. 282 and elsewhere) -- whereas from their first appearance they've been described as matriarchal, an amazonian culture if ever there was one.
   His treatment of the tomb was pretty close to the original for the first eighty pages or so, after which it begins to diverge. The last 150 pages or so bear no relation to Gygax's original at all. Among Hawke's additions are multiple levels, multiple tombs (in different but overlapping dimensions), teleportals that suck whole passageways clean, planar portals to various etherial planes (all unpleasant), vast caverns, and a Scrooge-McDuck-style hoard as the final treasure. The monsters are new too: the stalkers (a key element throughout the adventure), the killer tribbles, vampire fairies, six-tongue, and Rodents of Unusual Size. Finally, his treatment of Acererak as a hooded, robed figure who stalks around the tomb zapping people instead of a static demilich is utterly unlike the original characterization.
   All in all, I liked it best when it was good and claustrophobic (roughly the first third), before the thief picked up companions and it turned into a standard dungeoncrawl with all the usual cliches, right down to the wicked woman getting hers in the end (cf. Into the Void, Test of the Twins, Feathered Dragon, etc.). Still, there were good touches -- Dariene's point of view is consistent throughout, and it's refreshing to have an evil character who doesn't rant all the time. I also like the engineer's point of view (p. 119), and the whole treatment of the mosaic passage with its distractions (until the portal opened). I'd have loved to see a character die by literally drowning in treasure in the final cavern (p. 279), sucked down in a pile of shifting gold coins like quicksand. And if Roland were going to be given companions, it'd be more fun to start with ten characters and whittle them down bit by bit, like Ten Little Indians, until there was only him left. Too late for that approach, though.
   All in all, strikingly different from Bruce's treatment in the sequel to the adventure. Maybe should cover the discrepancy, both to the classic adventure and to the concurrent sequel, by changing the epilogue somewhat to reflect that this is the sort of story Roland told after he'd escaped, rather than what actually happened inside? Unless that'd undercut the book too much.
   By the way, real collectors never polish coins (p. 304), since that destroys their value. But the idea works very well in the narrative, so shouldn't change it.

--John R.

In the end, Hawke's book was never published (probably because of TSR's collapse rather than its shortcoming). I used the 'ten little indians' idea in my art order for RETURN TO THE TOMB, though I don't know it anyone noticed: the adventure art starts with a party of ten adventures, whom we see getting killed one by one as the adventure progresses. 

One final note: while preparing this post I was bemused to discover that there's an entry for this book up on amazon, complete with prototype cover art: 

From this I learn that the book was projected to be a hardcover (!) of 352 pages, with a release date of April 1997. Little did they know.

--John R.
current reading: THE FOOD OF THE GODS by H. G. Wells (Kindle)

*my work on that excellent project being cut short when I was laid off during TSR's meltdown at the end of 1996. Steve Winter took over the project, I think after the buy-out and move to Renton, but it may have been during the long months between when TSR ceased releasing any new product but the were kept together as a unit and when they were bought out and shipped west.

Monday, July 24, 2017

C. S. Lewis at Marquette (a road not taken)

So, I was reminded recently of the role happenstance plays in history. It's no secret but I don't think particularly well known that when Marquette bought the Tolkien Papers in the late 1950s the librarian responsible, Wm Ready, got the idea of buying C. S. Lewis's library as well, and also the late Charles Williams' papers, and asked his English agent, Bertram Rota, to sound out Lewis and the Williams estate.

Obviously, nothing came of these efforts. We don't know the reasons why, though it's interesting to speculate. Both Williams and Lewis were strongly identified with the Anglican Church; did the fact that Marquette was Catholic (in fact Jesuit) influence their decision? In Lewis's case at least he was only sixtyish and had just recently taken up his professorship at Cambridge, where all concerned expected him to stay for a good decade or so to come until his health broke down prematurely a year or two after he turned sixty. That being the case, he'd have wanted to keep his academic library intact for his own use. By the time of his forced retirement due to ill-health in mid-1963 the moment had obviously passed: Marquette had by this time fully stocked its new Memorial Library and Ready had moved on to other projects.

In the end, the Williams papers came to Wheaton many years later, in the '70s. Lewis's correspondence and what survive of his papers form not one but two collections, one at Wheaton and the other in the Bodleian.*  His library was scattered after his death, though a portion of it was later re-assembled and is now at Wheaton.**

Still, it's nice to think of might-have-beens, in which Lewis's library cd have remained intact and come to the same place as Tolkien's manuscripts.

--John R.

*both collections  made the admirable and v. sensible decision to share their holdings, so that photocopies of material at one are available to researchers at the other.

**even Lewis's letter to a Marquette professor, Victor Hamm, back in the '40s, discussing the latter's review of PERELANDRA, is now at Wheaton.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Lord Dunsany on Poets

So, when recently reading the new collection of previously uncollected stories by Lord Dunsany (THE GHOST IN THE CORNER, ed. Joshi & Andersson), I came across a curious remark in the opening paragraph of the story "In the Governor's Palace":

"It was one evening at a university* 
. . . that I heard the story, where twenty or 
so undergraduates, members of some society 
in the University, were gathered together after 
supper to debate the merits of one of those 
lesser poets who lived like lonely stars in 
the dark of the space between the death of Milton
 and birth of Keats"**


Dunsany is famous (or notorious) for his hostility to modern poetry,***  but it's less well known that
while he idolized Shakespeare (cf. his play IF SHAKESPEARE LIVED TODAY) and Tennyson he was also dismissive of many great poets of the past -- most notably Alexander Pope and, so far as I can tell, pretty much all the poets who followed in the restoration and neoclassical traditions. The first half of the eighteenth century is usually called 'The Age of Pope', and with reason, but Dunsany very much bought into the idea that 'verse' is something distinct from 'poetry', and that Pope wrote the former and not the latter.

This dismissal of Pope comes across most strongly in Dunsany's story "The Club Secretary". in the second Jorkens book, MR. JORKENS REMEMBERS AFRICA (1934).**** In this story Jorkens stumbles across (or dreams of; the story leaves both options open) The Elysian Club, a club for poets whose members include all the great poets of all time. Specific poets mentioned as belonging to the club are  Homer, Milton, Tennyson (a particular favorite of Dunsany's), Shakespeare, Swinburne, Herrick, Keats, and Shelley. He also includes his old tutor, Stephen Phillips, but omits Pope, making him one of the servants (the hall-porter, what's these days usually called a bell-hop).*****

I'm inclined to put this down as more evidence of Dunsany's conservative tastes when it came to poetry, of a piece with his praise of Yeats' early poems and apologies for all the Yeats poems by which we remember him today. Still, curious and striking.

--John R.
current reading: old rpg magazines (skimming), THE AVEROIGNE CHRONICLES by Clark Ashton Smith, recently arrived C.o.C. adventure.

*Dunsany himself had wanted to go to Oxford, but his father insisted he attend Sandhurst, the military academy, instead (the English equivalent of West Point).

**Milton died in 1674 and Keat was born in 1795, so that leaves out about a hundred and twenty years.    Wordsworth and Coleridge's LYRICAL BALLADS, the book generally considered to have launched the Romantic movement, came out in 1798, so they're on the right side of the line; presumably Dunsany wd approve of them, and of their contemporaries Shelley, Byron, and Keats.
One major and interesting omission is Wm Blake. By 1795 Blake had already written SONGS OF INNOCENCE, SONGS OF EXPERIENCE, THE MARRIAGE BETWEEN HEAVEN & HELL, and the early Prophetic Books. But then if there was ever a poet who went his own way headless of contemporary movements, it was Blake, so it's possible he's one of those 'lonely stars in the dark'. I suspect it's more likely to have been Th Grey or Wm Cowper, each of whom is remembered today for a few haunting lines.

***among his very last works are a set of dueling articles attacking or defending modern poetry between Dunsany (attacking) and John Ciardi (defending).

****pages 277-284, the next to last story in the book and, it so happens, one of the two Jorkens stories recorded by Vincent Price for Caedmon Records in 1982.

*****one more poet he does not mention here but we have every reason to think thought highly of is Horace, given that he translated THE ODES OF HORACE into a stand-alone book towards the end of his career (1947).

Friday, July 21, 2017

How to Tell if you're in a Tolkien Story ('The Toast')

So, thanks to Janice for this link, which led to a site I thought was awesome. The site allows you to answer the all-important question: of HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE IN A J. R. R. TOLKIEN BOOK?

Of the thirty-three examples they offer up, here are a few of my favorites:

A wizard has roped you into a quest because one of your ancestors invented golf.
Your exhaustive knowledge of whimsical riddles has saved your life on multiple occasions.
You are so adventurous you once walked twelve miles to visit your cousins in a different village, then promptly returned home because the people there were strange and foreign.

You are easily distracted by a workplace crush and are terrible at your job. Unfortunately for everyone, your job is The Moon.

You once fulfilled an ancient prophecy and overturned gender expectations at the same time.
After careful consideration, you have decided not to become a Dark Lord.

I was impressed by the realization that one story cd apply to three different characters if you left the last half of the last sentence off ("it will be mostly your fault").

There were only one or two I thought a little iffy. Great fun; well done.

It turns out the same website has done several other posts along these lines; the best of those I looked at was, hands down,  HOW TO TELL IF YOU'RE IN A VIKING SAGA:

Some highlights from among its twenty-seven entries include

You have started a bloody multi-generational feud by stealing cheese.

You have enraged a family of Sami wizards, who like to stand on your roof and sing all night.
An elderly woman, known for her second-sight, gives you specific instructions to avoid being murdered. You ignore her.

Unlike with the Tolkien, I don't know the right answers to all of these, though I can recognize some.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Gygax's Lost Gnome Novel

So, thanks to friend Jeff (thanks Jeff), here's another data point to add to those already gathered about the Gygaxian gnome; eventually we shd be able to connect the dots together and get a likely scenario re. the D&D gnome's origin.

I had remembered that Gygax published a few chapters of a god-awful D&D novel in the early days of THE DRAGON (later DRAGON MAGAZINE), under the pseudonym Garrison Ernst, which I'd read part of back in the early/mid-90s.* What I'd forgotten was that the name of this aborted novel was THE GNOME CACHE. I don't have a full run of DRAGON, unfortunately,** but luckily I do have the invaluable DRAGON MAGAZINE ARCHIVE reproducing the first 250 issues in facsimile.

Checking it now and reading the whole story, such as it is (seven chapters in sixteen pages spread over seven issues***), I can see it's of historical interest as probably the first piece of fiction set on Oerth (albeit a v. undeveloped version thereof) if of no interest as a work of art.

What is odd, though, is that for a work named "The Gnome Cache" it has no gnomes and no cache. Instead it tells the story of a jerk who robs his father and uses his stolen funds to set off on a life of adventuring.  Picking up a sidekick along the way he has encounters with a group of brigands (whom he briefly joins), works as a caravan guard, barely escapes from an ambush, loses his temper a lot, and wanders around in the woods.

It's not until the last two sentences of the last paragraph of the last chapter that we get a hint of anything possibly relating to the title:

"Great Gods!" expostulated the startled errant.
 "It is a dwarf being pursued by a pack of giant toads
 and weirdly hopping men!"****

This scene is actually illustrated*****

What we're shown here is clearly a dwarf, supporting the idea sent in by Zenopus Archives in a Comment on an earlier post that 'gnomes' were just a kind of dwarf in Gygax's original conception, rather like hill dwarves vs. mountain dwarves:
  (scroll down to the third comment)

Unfortunately for our inquiry, but a stroke of luck for early DRAGON readers, this is the last installment published. The editorial for the next issue mentions (#8 page 3) that, just as had been the case in issue #4, a featured piece had crowded out THE GNOME CACHE for this issue. Editor Tim Kask adds that

 It is expected, however, that that fine tale will resume in #9. 

This turned out not to be the case, and so far as I known no more of THE GNOME CACHE was ever published (or, I suspect, ever written).


*this was back when Roger Moore was the current editor of DRAGON; he let me borrow early issues from the magazine department's reference set, from which I photocopied a lot of interesting pieces. This wasn't among them.

**I'm missing seven of the first ten issues, and a few issues near the end of the journal's long run.

***This is somewhat less than it appears, since some of these are half-pages sharing the spread with ads and the like, as is the wont of magazine fiction.

****THE DRAGON issue #7, page 22. It's probably too much to ask that these wd have turned out to be hopping vampires. I suspect they might be werefrogs, or frog/human hybrids, given that this encounter takes place near Castle Blackmoor, known for its terrible giant frogs.

*****on page 29. If this reference looks a bit off, it's because the story appears on pages 28, 29, and 22 of that issue, so that the conclusion of the chapter comes several pages before the main part of the chapter itself. Such were the complications of lay-out in the early days of TSR periodicals printing