May 2016
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Save It For Later

All this week PopMatters is counting down the 100 greatest alternative hits of the 1980s. Installments one and two are up, so read ’em and argue. Some of these I’ve never heard of before, so there’s some homework for me, and maybe for you.

Misty Mountain Hop


So this pile of books recently surfaced from the attic of my childhood home. And yes, that is the original edition of Deities & Demigods, complete with Melnibonean and Cthulhu Mythos material.

But I should back up to the end of last year, when I was indulging in some nostalgia for the table-top gaming days of my youth, courtesy of the Art of the Genre blog. A post featuring the I.C.E. module Thieves of Tharbad reminded me of how much I enjoyed the material I.C.E published for the Middle-earth Role Playing game, and wouldn’t it be fun to run game using said material, just for s. and g. but not with MERP because I never much cared for that system… and down the rabbit hole I went, catching up with 25 years of changes in the hobby.

Six months later I haven’t run a game yet but I do have a hard drive full of .pdfs, of games new and old, and I still think it would be fun to run one – live and in person, on the table top, of course. (I know a lot gaming is done online know, but to me the appeal would be to kick it old school.)  I’d love to play any of the following…

Space: 1889

I’m guessing Space: 1889 probably has a limited target audience. There’s probably a limited number of people interested in a John Carter of Mars and Allan Quartermain mash-up, but those that do would really dig the setting for this game. I’ve never actually played it so I have no idea how well the rules work in practice.


I’ve never played Pendragon either but it has the reputation of being one of the best role playing games ever designed. It also has a very specific setting – the world of Uther and Arthur Pendragon, as described in La Morte D’Arthur and other medieval Arthurian romances. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone I know with the time or the interest for this one but it would be a blast to run the Great Pendragon Campaign, and take players through the whole thing,  from the end of Uther’s reign to the fall of Arthur.

Call of Cthulhu

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn – “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

Another award-winning game, designed with a particular audience in mind, that I’ve never played but would really like to try. Looking back, and as a long-time Lovecraft fan,  I’m not sure how I missed this one when it first hit the scene. I can remember seeing Pendragon, and for that matter Stormbringer, in stores, but not Call of Cthulhu.

Trail of Cthulhu also looks very appealing.


…and it gots to be Classic Traveller.

 Dungeons & Dragons

Obviously.  Probably the game it would be easiest to round up some players for, and the one I’m most familiar with. I started gaming when my friend’s dad brought home the Holmes Basic Set, and when I thought ‘but not with MERP’ my mind immediately jumped to ‘but maybe with Dungeons & Dragons.’ And of course I still have all the (hardcover 1st Edition AD&D) books, as you can see above, but then I got to thinking why not go really old school and try playing the original Dungeons & Dragons and that was when I well and truly went down the rabbit hole as I read all about the Old School Renaissance and Retro-clones.  So maybe Blood & Treasure, maybe Swords & Wizardry, or maybe The Gray Book.

If, you know, anyone wants to play.

There Is A Spirit

This exchange was originally posted on January 21st, 2010. I reminded of it by the recent Mad Men finale. I think Herself would agree that not much has changed.

A brief exchange inspired by, and during, an episode of Mad Men.

Me: Do you think our souls are the same age?

Herself: I think your soul is about twelve.

The Shape Of Things To Come


I updated both the reading list and the viewing list, in case you were wondering what I’ve been reading and watching.

Fizz Pop

Eldritch wizardry, courtesy of the local packie.

Top of the Pops

We play a lot of music in our house, especially in the kitchen, and the occasional after-dinner dance party has become a tradition, or at least a habit. But now Dashiell and Madeleine are both old enough to start requesting specific songs.

Dashiell is kind of old school, and likes to race around the kitchen to ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ , which he refers to as ‘Hey Ho.’ He also asks for this classic from the Boston scene of the early 80’s:

Madeleine’s tastes, so far, have been concentrated on the 21st century. She has a fondness for Lordes’ mega-hit ‘Royals‘ and also enjoys this recent but retro sounding tune:

Skeleton Key

I recently added the Annotated Lovecraft (which sadly does not include The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath) to my library, so I dug up this post, originally published in June, 2012.

Once when I was in high school I got sick and had to go to the hospital, for neither the first nor the last time. I was there for several days, and when my parents asked if I needed anything I requested books, of course, by H.P. Lovecraft. At this point I don’t believe I’d ever read a single word by the Gentleman from Providence, but I was aware that he was a contemporary of Robert E. Howard, a fellow contributor to Weird Tales. I devoured the paperbacks my parent’s brought back to my hospital room, and when released went in search of more.

The following year, or maybe the same year – my memory is hazy on when exactly that trip to the hospital occurred – Lovecraft was the subject of the term paper I wrote for my American Literature class. The teacher gave me a ‘B’ which I thought quite generous considering the assignment called for ten pages and I turned in five. The issue was not an unwillingness to put in the time and write, but rather the lack of critical sources to use in crafting the paper. I was limited by the fact that this was back in the 80’s, before Lovecraft had a Library of America edition and Cthulhu was a part of popular (not extreme nerd) culture. Other constraining factors: the lack of the internet and my general cluelessness.

If I’m being honest here, or at least mostly honest, the cluelessness was my chief downfall, as it would be for some time to come. There was plenty of raw material in Lovecraft’s work for a measly ten page term paper, material that should have been obvious to a boy from Massachusetts. Many of Lovecraft’s stories are set in what some call Lovecraft Country, where the real and fictitious New England intermingle, where travelers venture to Salem and Kingsport at their peril. But Lovecraft’s love of this geography we shared decades apart went unnoticed by my callow self and so I received the scarlet B.

Lovecraft’s prose might be rightly considered an acquired taste, but I love the following passage, recently recalled to memory, which demonstrates his affection for New England and his ornate, or florid, style:

For know you, that your gold and marble city of wonder is only the sum of what you have seen and loved in youth. It is the glory of Boston’s hillside roofs and western windows aflame with sunset, of the flower-fragrant Common and the great dome on the hill and the tangle of gables and chimneys in the violet valley where the many-bridged Charles flows drowsily. These things you saw, Randolph Carter, when your nurse first wheeled you out in the springtime, and they will be the last things you will ever see with eyes of memory and of love. And there is antique Salem with its brooding years, and spectral Marblehead scaling its rocky precipices into past centuries! And the glory of Salem’s towers and spires seen afar from Marblehead’s pastures across the harbour against the setting sun.

There is Providence quaint and lordly on its seven hills over the blue harbour, with terraces of green leading up to steeples and citadels of living antiquity, and Newport climbing wraithlike from its dreaming breakwater. Arkham is there, with its moss-grown gambrel roofs and the rocky rolling meadows behind it; and antediluvian Kingsport hoary with stacked chimneys and deserted quays and overhanging gables, and the marvel of high cliffs and the milky-misted ocean with tolling buoys beyond.

Cool vales in Concord, cobbled lands in Portsmouth, twilight bends of rustic New Hampshire roads where giant elms half hide white farmhouse walls and creaking well-sweeps. Gloucester’s salt wharves and Truro’s windy willows. Vistas of distant steepled towns and hills beyond hills along the North Shore, hushed stony slopes and low ivied cottages in the lee of huge boulders in Rhode Island’s back country. Scent of the sea and fragrance of the fields; spell of the dark woods and joy of the orchards and gardens at dawn. These, Randolph Carter, are your city; for they are yourself. New England bore you, and into your soul she poured a liquid loveliness which cannot die. This loveliness, moulded, crystallised, and polished by years of memory and dreaming, is your terraced wonder of elusive sunsets; and to find that marble parapet with curious urns and carven rail, and descend at last these endless balustraded steps to the city of broad squares and prismatic fountains, you need only to turn back to the thoughts and visions of your wistful boyhood.

Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

Hey! Just wanted to register my horror over that thing where Green Day was deemed worthy of entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but not-so-much the Smiths. Cheers!

Things Will Be Different


The poster above was intended to warn all men and right-thinking women of the horrors to be unleashed on the world if women were allowed to vote, and – gasp – smoke in public.

Me I like hats and I like beer, so the establishment depicted is my kind of joint. I’d be happy to  knock back a few at P.J. Gilligan’s.


Seen It Before

I first posted this entry in May of 2011. Earlier this year I read The Broken Road, posthumously published conclusion to the story Leigh Fermor began in A Time of Gifts. I highly recommend all three.

Leigh Fermor, Patrick (1977).  A Time of Gifts. NY: The New York Review of Books. 316 pages.

The Library of Congress cataloging data just inside the cover of A Time of Gifts lists the subject headings of ‘Europe-Description and travel’ and ‘Europe,Central-Description and travel’ but one could just as easily describe it as part memoir and part adventure novel.  Travel writing is not generally my reading material of choice, nor do I take easily to memoir, so I’ve been trying to determine the appeal of A Time of Gifts.  Oddly enough, I decided it was the similarity to The Lord of the Rings that drew me in, and has led me to the sequel, Between the Woods and the Water.  In a letter dated  20 September 1963 Tolkien noted that:

“Part of the attraction of the L.R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist.”*

A Time of Gifts possesses some of that same attraction. In 1933 Leigh Fermor is walking across a Europe the reader knows is a few short years from being swept away. The medieval architecture that inspires him to ecstasies in prose will be bombed to the ground along with the rest of Germany,and many of those who shelter him along the way will be end up trapped behind the Iron Curtain. But through his journey Leigh Fermor affords us a view of an even older Europe, one that largely vanished in the wake of what was then called the Great War. In Austria he is given food and shelter in the schloss of an elderly Count, whose visiting card inspires the following passage:

“After his name was printed: K.u.K. Kammerer u. Rittmeister i.R. ‘Imperial and Royal Chamberlain,’ that is, ‘and retired Captain of Horse.’ All through Central Europe the initials ‘K.u.K.’–Kaiserlich und Koniglich –were the alliterative epitome of the old Dual Monarchy. Only candidates with sixteen of thirty-two quarterings, I learnt later,were eligible for the symbolic gold key that court chamberlains wore on the back of their full-dress uniforms. But now the Empire and the Kingdom had been dismembered and their thrones were empty; no doors opened to the gold keys,the heralds were dispersed, the regiments disbanded and the horses dead long ago. The engraved words croaked loud of spent glories.”

More inspiration to seek out a copy of Roth’s Radetzky March.

*The full text of this letter can be found in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.