'I smiled as I recalled that gloomy day. We had been reading tales of chivalry in the mausoleum. In a fit of nobility I led her outside as the thunder roiled and I stood among the grave markers of unknown mortals -- Dennis Colt, Remo Williams, John Gaunt -- and swore to be her champion if ever she needed one. She had kissed me then, and I had hoped for some immediate evil circumstance against which to pit myself on her behalf. But none occurred.'
-- from 'The Shroudling and the Guisel' by Roger Zelazny


11th of July, 2004


What is fact and what is fiction are often matters that cannot be decided. Have you watched a Punch and Judy show? Did mean old Punch with his murderous intentions towards Judy seem any less alive for you because he was made of cloth and manipulated by a puppeteer? Were you even aware there was a puppeteer? I wasn't, while watching! Is John Gaunt of John Ostrander's Grimjack series any less real than Winston Churchill was? And what about that ever-so-troublesome puppet in Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio? As Jacob Burroughs was quoted in Robert Heinlein's The Number of the Beast as saying: 'Let me tell you, you non-existent reader sitting there with a tolerant sneer: don't be smug. Jane is more real than you are.'

I'm Jack, one of many, many House Jacks and Jills here down the centuries. Some doubt that we really exist, and insist that we are but a story spun by tellers of tales very late at night in hopes of garnering one more pint, a few more coins, or a warm bed. I've no doubt that I exist, but that proves nought, as I might be just part of that tale someone else is telling. . . What is true, what is not, largely depends on what you wish to believe in. And what I've been thinking about lately is how easy it is for that which is not real to be taken for that which is. And how things refuse sometimes -- or ofttimes -- to fit into neat little categories. Like we Jacks and Jills, they defy easy definition. All I know for sure is that all of us are an aspect of the same narrative.

Which brings me to the matter of our new section of reviews. Indeed we review literature, film in all its guises, music, live performances, and even staffers' favourite venues. But what about a tour t-shirt for Eddi and the Fey's War for the Oaks tour? Or Brian Froud and Jessica Macbeth's Faeries' Oracle? Or perhaps a particularly tasteful collection of prints which Charles Vess did for Gaiman's illustrated Stardust? Where do these cultural artifacts fit? In the new section that we are calling the Treasure Trove. The truly weird, incredibly cool, and prolly even quite silly review items that don't fit elsewhere will end up here. It's modeled (in a way) on the Cool Stuff section of Scifiweekly, where they've reviewed everything from the Hellboy action figure to (I kid you not!) the Pigs in Space Playset.

What we will review will depend on what gets sent to us, so expect to be surprised! Our inaugural review for the Treasure Trove is this week's Featured Review of a wonderful set of puppets the good folks at Folkmanis sent us!

From Editor-in-Chief Cat Eldridge: 'It's been an exceptionally good summer for fiction reading for me, with this being one of the better reads. And that's saying something as I've finished not one, but two Charles Stross works (Iron Sunrise and The Atrocity Archives), Kage Baker's Mother Aegypt collection, and Neal Asher's The Skinner novel, to name just some of what I've read! All were excellent but for sheer fun nothing beats reading a Thursday Next novel for the first time. If I may make a comparison of a literary nature, what the Thursday Next series reminds me most strongly of is the metaverse that Robert Heinlein was attempting to create in his later novels, particularly The Cat Who Walked Through Walls and The Number of The Beast.' Now go read his featured review of the new Thursday Next novel from Jasper Fforde, Something Rotten.

Jack here. As I write this, I'm wearin' a Fairport Convention t-shirt (black of course) from one of their late 90s tours. Like so many Green Man staffers, I have a strong liking for that British folk rock band. Certainly Michael Hunter who edits the #$@! finest email newsletter, Fiddlestix, the fanzine of the Australian Friends Of Fairport, is more than merely qualified to review their newest CD, Over the Next Hill. Just savour his opening statement: 'Assuming for a moment that one actually can judge a book or CD by its cover, there are possibly a few clues on the packaging of this new Fairport Convention recording that changes are underway. The most noticeable, of course, is that, with almost a handful of exceptions, this is their first album since 1979 not to be on the Woodworm label; instead it is the initial release of Matty Grooves, a new label set up by Dave Pegg and Simon Nicol. The personal matters which have led to this necessity are documented well enough, but the fact that they have quickly set up this new label must be taken as a positive sign, as indeed could the title of the set be seen as another clue to the band's current mindset. They have gone over many 'hills' through the decades, and as far as ends of eras go -- this is also most likely the last CD to be recorded at Woodworm Studios -- this isn't a bad one! It must be said they have turned the upheaval to their advantage and put together a collection of tracks which is their strongest overall for quite a long time.' So grab a pint of your favourite libation and let's drink deep to Michael as a writer, Fairport as a band, and our good luck to have them both!

In our new section, the Treasure Trove, we're exploring what is often catalogued in modern libraries under the heading of ephemera. This week Matthew Winslow looks at puppets: 'There are few things that can rouse me from my generally lethargic state in the Green Man Breakroom, but the offer of some Folkmanis puppets did the trick. When the illustrious Chief offered them up for review, I threw in my lot and won out over the competitors. And I'm glad I did. Just like the three finger fairies my daughters own, these two puppets are true winners. I have had to restrain all my kids from playing with them long enough for me to do 'research' on them for this review.'

Nathan Brazil says: 'Whenever a writer of fiction has a hit novel, any publisher associated with him scrambles to stick their nose deeper in the trough. What this means is a sequel, and if that too is a hit, the back catalogue is raided. Sometimes this produces unseen masterpieces, while on other occasions the result is a work that, although readable, was written some time before the author had really perfected his craft. This is the case with The Ragwitch, a novel originally published in 1990, five years prior to the first publication of Sabriel, the book that made Garth Nix into a well known author, world-wide.' See why Nathan considers The Ragwitch merely ordinary in his astute review.

Express a deep interest in, or write a stellar review of a book involving, any particular subject, and it's likely we'll come to associate that subject with your name. This explains why, when I [Maria Nutick] think of hoboes, I think of Craig Clarke. This week he takes a look at another book on the mythos: 'The mythology of the hobo is fascinating. We perceive their lives as a combination of freedom and struggle, and their often-celebrated poetry does nothing to quash that idea. Multi-award-winning author Lucius Shepard delves into this world with both factual and fictional results. An article, a novella, and a short story appear together in the themed collection, Two Trains Running.'

'I have,' says Denise Dutton, 'a rather large collection of short stories that take up more than their share of room on my bookshelves. Some are stories about dragons, others describe a single day from the viewpoint of a select number of authors. But most of them are horror. From Edgar Allan Poe’s tales to Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, these collections draw me. I’ll usually down them in one sitting or on a lonely weekend, re-reading the good ones, shrugging off the bad ones, and then crawling into bed to see if any of the stories really got me. And a few of them have. Some of the stories that get me when the lights are out can be found in this collection, a sampler of tales old and new by Richard Laymon.' She explains why the stories in this new Cemetery Dance collection got to her in her review of Madman Stan and Other Stories. Oh, and she picks up an Excellence in Writing Award as well!

April Gutierrez knows more than a bit about Alan Moore and other such graphic storytellers and artists. This week she gives us her take on a new printing of an older work from Moore and Jose Villarrubia: 'Alan Moore, known primarily as a cutting edge comic author (From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Watchmen), is no slouch when it comes to other artistic endeavors. He's written a novel, songs and even poetry. The Mirror of Love is one such foray into the realm of poetry. Originally published in 1988 in comic form (as part of an AARGH!, or Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia, comic anthology) as a protest against England's anti-homosexual Clause 28, Mirror encapsulates the history of same sex love, from pre-history to Sappho to today.'

'Around a summer campfire . . . beneath the covers with a flashlight . . . a candle-lit house during a storm . . . these are all good places for Ask the Bones, a book of scary folktales from around the world, which brings little shivers whether read alone or out loud with others.' Nellie Levine receives an Excellence in Writing Award for her review of this book of tales retold by Arielle North Olson and Howard Schwartz.

The Mythopoeic Society is chock full of learned folk dedicated to preserving the Really Good Stuff for the rest of us. Here Liz Milner reviews Charles Williams' The Masques of Amen House, a worthy though highly specialized piece of literature reprinted by the Society: 'Amen House is the London office of Oxford University Press. It was Charles Williams' workplace from 1908 to 1945. Williams wrote the The Masques of Amen House to entertain his colleagues at the Press. Unlike the pallid parodies of popular songs and movies that many of us endure as part of the Christmas office party ritual, Williams' Masques are highly original allegorizations of people and events at the Press.'

Patrick O'Donnell is taking a break from GMR for a while to work on his own writing. While we'll miss him, of course, we look forward to his return from sabbatical with something for us to review! He leaves us with a look at a couple of ebooks from Lone Wolf Publications: Brian A Hopkins' Wrinkles at Twilight and Steve Beai's Dark Rhythms. Patrick says: 'Technology has brought us a long way in the past 20 years. Cell phones are replacing land lines, and instant messaging, in some cases, has replaced spoken conversation altogether. Personal data assistants have replaced notebooks. CDs have replaced, for the most part, records and tapes. But will 'e-books' read on a monitor ever replace the old-fashioned kind that require page turning? Will microchips, circuitry and LCDs ever replace cardboard, paper and ink? Will the smells of plastic and over-heated processors ever replace the smells of binding glue and musty paper? Ye gods, I certainly hope not. Still, there's no sense in being a Luddite, and testing out the new is one of the best things we can do.'

We have two omnibus reviews of illustrated children's books this week! In the first, Jessica Paige explores three works by Linda Sue Park -- Seesaw Girl, The Kite Fighters, and The Firekeeper's Son -- 'set in an ancient Korea that really was.' Jessica says that '[A]ny of these books would be a nice addition to the shelf, whether gifted to burgeoning readers -- or hoarded for old hands.' And an Excellence in Writing Award goes on Jessica's shelf in the Pub...

Lenora Rose looks at the second set, all written by David Bouchard and illustrated by either Zhong-Yang Huang or Allen Sapp. 'All three books, then,' explains Lenora, 'gained my appreciation in different ways for their use of artistic styles and effects, and different ways of combining with the text. David Bouchard impressed me with the range of styles in which he could write, and the elegant brevity of his words.' Her review of The Mermaid's Muse: the Legend of the Dragon Boats, Dragon of Heaven: The Memoirs of the Last Empress of China, and The Song Within My Heart garners an Excellence in Writing Award.

At Green Man we prefer honesty in our reviews, so it's not necessarily a bad thing when a reviewer admits that he or she is stumped by a work. Such is Kelly Sedinger's experience with a work by Nick Mamatas combining elements of the 50's beat movement history with Lovecraft's Chthulu mythos.'My approach to reviewing,' Kelly notes, 'has always mirrored Roger Ebert's: my task is to report the experience I had in exploring a work, whatever that experience might have been, and to give possible reasons why my experience may have been what it was. My problem with Move Under Ground is twofold: not only can I not figure out any reasons for my experience in reading it, I'm having trouble even figuring out what that experience was.'

'Spider-Man. Batman. Inu-Yasha. Those are the names that spring to mind when I think of comics. I think of brightly-coloured tights, vibrantly-scrawled action scenes spilling over several pages, and cute teenage boys with superpowers. When I volunteered to review Dead Herring Comics, an anthology of graphic tales published by the Israel-based Actus, arrogant youngster that I am, I was half expecting to open the volume and read the works of Stan Lee or Frank Miller. Needless to say, it was quite a shock when I actually opened the book and discovered a type of artwork I was completely unfamiliar with. However, it turned out to be a rather pleasant shock, all in all.' Elizabeth Vail elaborates in her review of Dead Herring Comics.

Ogden Nash penned the popular line 'Candy is Dandy, but Liquor is Quicker.' In Gary Whitehouse's review, it's the liquor which is dandy. Gary does a fascinating writeup of Jessica Warner's Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason, Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History by Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nabhan, David W. Maurer's Kentucky Moonshine, and Col. Joe Nickell's The Kentucky Mint Julep.

Finally, Leona Wisoker experienced a neat bit of synchronicity when the author of Cloak of Obscurity showed up at Leona's monthly writing group just after Leona finished reading her book! Luckily, Leona liked the material: 'At under two hundred pages, this book 'weighs in' as a relatively quick and easy read, lightened with plenty of wry humor along the way. I'm glad I had the chance to read it, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Angela Wade's work.'

Does suburbia make you uneasy for a reason you just can't pinpoint? Denise Dutton might be able to tell you why. Denise has been watching two versions of Stepford Wives, as well as reading the book. Read her review, and let her explain why '...you can bet your life that if I ever get married, I'm gonna take a good, hard look at any suburb my husband picks out. You know, just in case.'

Elizabeth Vail went swinging into the theatre to see Spider-Man 2, which she pronounces 'So very, very good that it made the original look like a cheap knock-off.' Take a look at her review to learn her views of the acting, screenwriting, and and just plain fun of the film.



Letters editor Craig Clarke here. Before we took our three-week break from our usual style of issues, I had only a few letters in the mail can to choose from; but during the short hiatus, this ballooned to the plethora of correspondence that I am just aching to share.

Sometimes it seems that our reviews are magnets for complaints. Since we're not afraid to write exactly what we think, artists will often write in asking just who we think we are to write such a review. Many examples of this kind of thinking can be found just by browsing through our letters archives (just look for the ones with a lot of text).

Though not nearly as harsh as some we have received from artists who shall remain nameless (at least until you find them in our archives), two of our letters this issue illustrate this concept. Richard Carbajal's letter regarding Big Earl Sellar's review of Jackalope's CD Weavings, and Christopher Norman's response to Pat Simmonds' review of Norman's CD, The Caledonian Flute, both provide some pretty heated reading.

Luckily, those aren't the only kinds of letters we receive. Occasionally we'll get one from someone who really seems to appreciate our unbiased look at the arts. Glenn Phillips expresses those sentiments well in his letter regarding Mike Stiles' review of his album, Angel Sparks.

Other artists who seem to appreciate what we do include Barbara Ryan on Peter Massey's review of Iona's Branching Out. Michael William Harrison also appreciated Peter's look at his First Time 'Round album.

We received two letters about Peter's review of the John Bull Band's Alive and Kicking: from Neil Stuart and Robin Boyle. In addition, Mick Buck wrote in to thank Gary Whitehouse for his review of Everybody's Tuned to the Radio: Rural Music Traditions in West Georgia, 1947-1979 and to answer Gary's hypothesis on why it has such a long title.

And then we get letters on myriad other subjects. Some, like Claudia Velasco and Erich McMann, are looking for further detail. Our reviewers are often very well-versed -- sometimes expert -- in the areas they cover and you've just got to be impressed by David Kidney's intensively well-researched answer to McMann's question.

Others offer reminiscences that were triggered by reading GMR: Joe Du Vall simply was reminded of an earlier time by David's omnibus review of the work of King Biscuit Boy. And then there are those who want to let us know that they just came across our site inadvertently while doing something else online, like Loretta Kelley, who found us while spellchecking the name 'Steintjønndalen'.

We appreciate all of these letters and encourage our readers to write in to us, whether they think we're morons or want to tell us what a great job we're doing. So, if you are affected by the work we do, take the time to write in to the reviewer or to the Letters editor, whose email can be reached through the link at the top of the Letters page.

SPike 'ere again, introducin' the music section. While Dave wuz away in Switzerland, I wuz listening to a lot of CLASH!!! We'll be doin' a big Clash issue later in the year! @#$%in' BRILLIANT! Clash books! Clash music! Uncle Joe! The whole story of the English Civil War! But I'm gettin' ahead of meself! Today we 'ave a real cross section of music. We are nuffin' but ECLECTIC!!!(Cat here. We will also be covering Big Audio Dynamite, the group Mick Jones created after the Clash imploded, and the other work of the much missed Joe Strummer. It will be, as SPike notes, @#$%in' BRILLIANT!)

Huw Collingbourne starts us off wif some Classical music. Not bein' a fan of anythin' more classic than my old pair of Wayfarers I know absolutely zero about this music, but Huw knows his stuff. He wuzn't in the best mood when he popped this rendition of Handel's Water Music / Royal Fireworks Music .by Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic in '...but, grouchy as I was when I put the disc into my CD player, I have to admit that I pretty soon found myself in a much more cheerful mood. There's no getting away from the fact that, cliché or not, this is wonderful music. Foot-tapping melodies, indeed!' It cheered Huw up, an' he so convinced the editors they awarded him an Excellence in Writing Award!

Tim Hoke's been listening to a lot of strange stuff! In his first of two reviews this week he looks at...well...let Tim describe it! 'Can you imagine swing spoons playing? Give a listen to the Shillings' cover of Mark Graham's dinosaur requiem, 'Their Brains Were Small,' and you'll hear how it can be done. The other dinosaur song on the recording, the original 'Jurassic Jaws,' also swings. The pastoral 'To The West' is a pretty piece; the whistle plays curlicues among and around the sustained, harp-like tones of the hammer dulcimer.' That's Four Shillings Short's From Ragas To Riches. .Sounds a bit odd to my ears! And then Tim reviews the Barn Owl Band Live CD .! He describes them like this...'The Barn Owl Band is sizable, capable of producing a lot of sound when everyone is playing. It would be overpowering if it were done too much. Wisely, though, these tutti passages are not overused, and when they do appear, you can feel the sudden groundswell of energy (and hear the cheers of the audience). Otherwise, instruments nimbly drop in and out of the mix, always keeping the arrangements interesting, with plenty of tension and resolution. As befits dance musicians, the beat never wavers, although it does swing at times, such as their rendition of the Duke Ellington classic 'It Don't Mean A Thing'. @#$%in' great! Owls, 'tutti' an' Duke Ellington all on one CD!

Now, since Dave (that's David Kidney to you folks) is all rested up after takin' some time off to sample the boiled meats of Lugano he was fit enuff to turn in four different reviews this week. As long time readers know, Dave's had a love/hate relationship goin' wif Eric Burdon for quite awhile. It all stems from when 'is Mum gave 'im a 'House of the Rising Sun' 45rpm for 'is thirteenth birthd'y. His EIWA winnin' review of The Animals' new compilation sounds a winner. 'Eric Burdon's current tour might bring him to a small theatre near you. I think he's playing in Ontario's cottage country next month. Seeing him live might be a risk, but for a good 77 minutes of historic re-mastered tracks, with an informative and well-written essay by Ian MacFarlane, look no farther than Gratefully Dead. Psychedelic, man!' He wuz also taken by Maggie Brown's debut album. Her voice is a revelation, soaring, whispering, trained in southern churches, Texas honky-tonks, roadside bars and picnics. This is bluesy music, funky as all get out, informed by years of struggle, and shaped by the hard life Maggie shared with her disfunctional mother.'

While he wuz in Switzerland Dave (all right, @#$%!!!) DAVID!!! met a bloke from Georgia who gave 'im a self-produced CD. Entitled Essays & Contemplations .Mister @#$%in' Kidney describes it thus, 'there are eleven compositions gathered here. Each one seeks to comment on, or display, an attribute of life on God's green earth...Just right for an hour of meditation.' And finally he discusses the reissue of two early albums by Albert Lee (who should be known to Emmylou Harris and Eric Clapton fans). 'Albert Lee's guitar solos are not self indulgent timewasters, but rather intense, subdued, melodic bursts of magic that punctuate the choruses. Very tasteful.I told ya that we wuz eclectic! An' we ain't half done yet!

 Lars Nilsson must be doin' 'is own laundry! He wuzn't especially complimentary 'bout the new Sara Cox, CD Arrive. 'I would say it is rather anonymous music, which is quite comfortable to have running in the CD player while ironing shirts, but it never really catches your attention.' You should read the review for more details though!

 GMR's resident Celtic specialist John O'Regan (who, by the way, just wrote liner notes for Raven Records' re-issued 2-disc set of Christy Moore LPs) (an' you thought ole SPike wuz jus' anuvver pretty face!). He concludes 'is review by sayin', 'from high energy, uplifting Celtic rock to instrumental virtuosity and low maintenance acoustic original ballads, this is a worthy and entertaining bunch of albums, highlighting Celtic music's overall diversity.' But believe you, me, 'e's got lots more to say about these three albums! Baltinget's Classic; The Fenians' Every Day's a Hooley and Smithfield Fair's Winds of Time. Read it for y'self! .

 Our next Excellence in Writing Award goes to Barbara Truex for her in depth study of a Scandinavian group called Frifot .. 'If there are superstars to be named on the Swedish music scene, I would like this opportunity to nominate Lena Willemark, Per Gudmundson, and Ale Möller, otherwise known as Frifot. The group's CD Sluring is most certainly a masterpiece.' You see, the reviewers 'ere don't all like the same kinda music. It makes fer an int'restin' walk thru the halls!

 Now, I know we've got some older writers workin' 'ere at GMR! Since I joined up I've noticed there's some white hair and some balin' pates, but I never knew we 'ad an 'incipient geezer!' Take a look at Christopher White's article about American Gypsy by Mark Sylvester an' you'll see wot I mean! 'Incipient geezer that I am, a recording like American Gypsy by Mark Sylvester inevitably gets me musing on the way in which technology has changed 'The Music Business.'

Fascinatin' but that's not the end of Mr. White's opinions! He also listened to Eddy Cole's I Know What's Going On .and 'ad this to say about it. '...this more an EP than an LP CD, but I'm not going to complain too much. Going out to eat, if quantity is a priority, I could head to Ton'O'Beef for their Half'A'Heifer special with SpudNuts. Filling? Yes. Satisfying, healthy, or delicious? Not damn likely. But, if quality dining is important and I go to Chez Say Wha for their Petite Nouvelle du Jour, I might still find myself a tad hungry at the end, but, like I Know What's Going On, it sure was tasty.' Chistopher has yet annuver review! Jenny Bienemann's Late Night Elaborations.' .Great, anuvver chick singer! But see what Christopher says...'Jenny Bienemann may be yet another 'Girl with Guitar' tossing her beret into the ring, but on this well designed, self produced, and ably performed disk she demonstrates that she more than deserves to rise above the pack.

 Finally...one more review! We 'ad so many CD reviews turned in this week, our editor held some over for next time, but THIS one by Master Reviewer an' all 'round good guy, Gary Whitehouse is a goodie! Gary combines two compilation CDs in his EIWA winnin' review. No Depression: What It Sounds Like (Vol. 1) and Just Because I'm a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton both featuring a variety of artists performin' country music sound quite intriguin'. Gary writes, 'No Depression magazine is the bi-monthly bible of alternative country music, whatever that is. This disc does a good job of, if not defining alt-country, at least giving some good examples of what it is;' and 'tribute albums can fall into a couple of different traps: the artists either too closely ape the originals or they push them so far outside the envelope that they're unrecognizable. Ideally, the performer paying tribute strikes a balance between the two extremes, which is generally the case on this salute to country icon Dolly Parton. As is nearly universally the case with such encomiums, some tracks work better than others.' 'Enconiums?' Where the @#$% is Dave's dictionary? These people are so @#$%in' smart around 'ere! Maybe some of it'll rub off on yours truly. Til next time...whether it be classical, celtic, country (this one or some other one), blues, folk, singer-songwriter...keep on rockin'.

Green Man wishes to extend our heartiest congratulations to Jasper Fforde for winning the Wodehouse/Bollinger/Everyman award for Best Comic Novel, 2004. He gets the complete Everyman editions of PG Wodehouse's novels, a case of vintage Bollinger, and a live pig currently very happily living in Powys, Wales. (No word from Fforde on what he plans to do with the pig.) His winning novel, The Well of Lost Plots, has as its hero Thursday Next, a literary detective and expectant single mother, who spends her life hiding inside the plots of unpublished bad novels. So join all of us here in the Green Man pub in downing a pint of Dragons Breath XXXX Stout to one of the best writers living today!

 

4th of July, 2004

'Dear Sir (I said), Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons -- 'twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we're made.'
-- poem by J.R.R. Tolkien in answer to a critic


For many of us, J.R.R. Tolkien is the grandfather of fantasy literature. His work stands (along with that of a few others, certainly) in the central fire circle around which current authors spread their own stories. Almost no author of traditional 'high' fantasy today can escape being compared to Tolkien -- certainly no one who uses as characters dwarves, elves or orcs.

When Peter Jackson and his company had the chutzpah (hubris?) to translate the epic The Lord of the Rings into live action films, those of us who read the story almost like our own family history delighted and despaired. Some of those who'd read it and thought, 'What's the big deal?' found the films made the story more appealing to them. And many who'd never read it at all found themselves welcomed into Tolkien's Middle-earth by the gorgeous landscape of New Zealand and the gracious musical compositions of Howard Shore.

Naturally, upon the release of Jackson's three films, Tolkien-related flotsam and jetsam started washing up everywhere. Plastic swords, yes, but also books about Tolkien, about Tolkien's friends, about Tolkien's world. Documentaries, you name it. Some of this Tolkieniana is terrible, or just cheap. But some of it is wonderful.

So we here at Green Man Review have decided to devote an entire issue to reviews of Tolkien-ish things. Books, films -- even music. And, being GMR, we're not looking at just the new stuff, either. Tolkien has been generating homage and attention since he was first published, and we have reviews of some older Tolkieniana here as well.

Matthew Winslow starts us off on a high note with a review of Matthew Dickerson's Following Gandalf: 'Yes, I'm become callous and cynical when an editor approaches me with a new Tolkien-related book to review. What used to be a moment of excitement is now a moment of dread. 'Oh, no. Not another Tolkien study that reads like a freshman term-paper failure.' I am, thus, very, very happy to announce that Matthew Dickerson's Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victories in the Lord of the Rings is one of the best Tolkien-studies books to be published in recent years.' Matthew takes our first Excellence in Writing Award for this enlightening review

'There were two things', explains Deborah Brannon, 'that evolved in tandem as Tolkien came to write his fictional works: the language of his made-up world, and its topography. Indeed, his fictional languages were the inception of his great works of Middle-earth, while the maps he drew were ever considered a necessity. As you will find in the introduction Brian Sibley wrote to accompany John Howe's maps, Tolkien would not hear tell of publishing The Lord of the Rings without an appropriate map. In this collection of maps, John Howe (who also worked on the recent film adaptations) and Brian Sibley have attempted to recognize the importance of maps to Tolkien's world. In their intention to honor, they have not failed: there is no doubt that these maps are beautiful.' Ah, the maps are beautiful...but what else does Deborah have to say about The Maps of Tolkien's Middle-earth?

In the Peter Jackson' films, Gollum is a CGI character based on and voiced by actor Andy Serkis. Serkis kept a record of his work on the films, and published it in a volume entitled Gollum: How We Made Movie Magic. Huw Collingbourne says of Serkis' book: 'In a little over 120 pages, this book takes us through the entire history of Andy's involvement with the Gollum character, from the auditions right through to the release of The Two Towers. While the fairly large format of this book (9.5 in by 7 in) and its lavish colour illustrations may make it look like no more than a glossy souvenir for Lord Of the Rings fans, it is much more than that. It is very much an actor's personal account of his involvement in a ludicrously ambitious technical and artistic experiment.'

The folks at Rough Guides send us an amazingly diverse selection of material. And yes, there is indeed a Tolkien Rough Guide: The Rough Guide to The Lord Of The Rings: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Middle-earth. Faith Cormier says that 'The Rough Guide to The Lord Of The Rings lives up to its promise of giving a thorough overview.'

And from Jack Merry: 'Really odd stuff shows up here in the Library at Green Man if you're not exactly looking for it. I was looking for the BBC recording of The Lord of The Rings that we had reviewed, but didn't find it. I suspect that one of the staffers putting together our all-Tolkien issue has it out for listening right now. (The card catalog refuses to tell me who's got it. Nor will it say why it won't tell me.) What I found instead is a quaint remnant from an earlier, less driven-by-commercial-interest society where quality of production was higher than it is today. This artifact, The Road Goes Ever On -- A Song Cycle, comes from an earlier age, the Sixties, when readers were madly obsessed with Tolkien and his work. Here in this book composer Swann gives Tolkien characters Bilbo, Treebeard, Samwise Gamgee, and Tom Bombadil tunes for their ballads of the road. Tolkien approved of this and added a tune of his own, along with a glossary of Elvish terms and lore.'

Live Performances Editor Liz Milner contributes her wealth of knowledge to this issue with three Tolkien related reviews. Of Greg Harvey's The Origins of Tolkien’s Middle-earth for Dummies the first, she says '[T]here's good information here, but there's also a whole lot of padding and a bit of misinformation.' Leslie Ellen Jones doesn't fare much better, as Liz says of Myth and Middle-Earth: Exploring the Legends Behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings '[T]he whole book feels very rushed and superficial; a masterful summary that is waiting to be fleshed out. The whole time I was reading it, I could hear Treebeard muttering 'hasty, very hasty,' while Merry was anxiously asking whether taking so many shortcuts was a good idea.' Finally, Liz takes an Excellence in Writing Award for her look at a book of Tolkien's essays: 'The Monsters and the Critics is a very rewarding read for a Tolkien geek, but of very limited appeal to a general reader.'

As revered as The Professor is, there are still humorous takes on his work. In 1969 Harvard Lampoon published a parody by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney. This is a book that many people initially found hilarious, but on rereading it, Jonathan Northwood realized that it's not so great, after all: 'At first glance -- when I was much younger -- I was struck by how fresh and punchy it seemed: it had crisp prose, biting satire and astoundingly well-realized caricatures; however, as its 1969 publication date has continued to recede into the mists of time, the story has lost some of its luster, and has managed to acquire a rather nasty odor of banality.' Read his astute review for more on Bored of the Rings.

Another Excellence in Writing Award goes to Lisa Spangenberg for her superb review of a less than worthy book: 'The Real Middle-earth is a reissue of a 2002 book from Sidgewick and Jackson. The author, Brian Bates, has a Ph.D. in psychology, is a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex, formerly of the University of Brighton, the author of a novel The Way of the Wyrd, and co-author with John Cleese of The Human Face, an exploration of psychoanalysis. I had high hopes for this book, which describes itself as 'exploring the magic and mystery of the middle ages, J. R. R. Tolkien, and The Lord of the Rings. I settled down to read it with expectations that, alas, were dashed almost immediately upon opening it. This is a truly idiotic book.'

'It is somewhat sobering,' explains Robert Tilendis, 'to realize that an author of fantasy literature, no matter how much he may deserve the sobriquet 'great,' has generated his own genre of scholarship. And in the scholarship of literature, one is often left asking very nearly the same question that arises when contemplating research funded by the U.S. Department of Defense: 'Was this book really necessary?'' Find out if Ruth Noel's The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth meets with Robert's approval in his extremely interesting review.

There are books on Tolkien's use of language and books on his music; here's a book on his artwork. Wes Unruh looks at Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull's J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator and has this to say: 'I don't think this book is for everyone. There are much more interesting, cohesive ways to be introduced to J R R Tolkien's work, and I would rather have seen an edition of 'The Book of Ishnessess' published, or as complete as possible an edition of Roverandom produced than be presented with only partial elements. And while the text succeeds at showing the effect interplay between words, images, and design had or might have had on Tolkien's creations, it does so more or less in passing than by design.'

Finally, Grey Walker looks at J.E.A. Tyler's The Complete Tolkien Companion: 'If you only have one reference book on Tolkien on your shelf, it ought to be this one. If you have many books on Tolkien, but not this one, you owe it to yourself to complete your collection with The Complete Tolkien Companion.'

Jack Merry recently got to to view Tolkien documentary The Real Middle Earth. Although initially not terribly thrilled with the prospect, Jack ended up pleasantly surprised. He says, 'Now I admit that I groaned at first, muttered somethin' 'about all the shite that Jackson films have loosed upon the buying public such as Gollum bookends and Gandalf hats to name but two products. However I found this DVD to be both pleasantly low-key and well-worth watching.' Read Jack's review, and you'll likely want to see this yourself.

Over the years, we've reviewed several film adaptations of Tolkien's work. Our archives contain reviews of Peter Jackson's versions of The Fellowship of the Ring (including the Special Extended DVD Edition), The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, as well as animated treatments like Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings, and Rankin-Bass' The Hobbit and The Return of the King. We've even covered a film noir rendering of The Lord of the Rings that features Humphrey Bogart (for real!). Be sure to look these over while you're here.

Grey Walker reviews At Dawn in Rivendell, an album of Tolkien's poems and songs set to music by the Tolkien Ensemble, accompanied by Christopher Lee. While 'the musicianship is of the highest possible standard,' Grey says, and 'Christopher Lee could read a recipe for turkey tetrazzini and make it sound ominous and portentous. . . nevertheless, this album gets mixed reactions from me, largely due to that elusive thing, interpretation.' Read Grey's review to see where she agrees and disagrees with the Tolkien Ensemble's interpretations of Tolkien's work.

You might also want to look at some earlier music reviews by GMR reviewers which have Tolkien-related themes, particularly The Starlit Jewel by Broceliande, reviewed by Tim Hoke, Songs of J.R.R. Tolkien by Colin Rudd, reviewed by Rebecca Swain, and Music Inspired by The Lord of the Rings by Mostly Autumn, reviewed by David Kidney.

As Tolkien said, 'Roads go ever, ever on.' Wherever your road takes you, our beloved reader, we hope it brings you back to GMR next week for more reviews of the stuff that makes us all, well, folk.

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Updated 11 July 2004 11:40 GMT (MN)