Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Shit Review of a Shit Book -- Harold Bloom on Harry Potter

By Harold Bloom, a professor at Yale. His most recent book is "How to Read and Why" (Scribner, 2000).

Taking arms against Harry Potter, at this moment, is to emulate Hamlet taking arms against a sea of troubles. By opposing the sea, you won't end it. The Harry Potter epiphenomenon will go on, doubtless for some time, as J.R.R. Tolkien did, and then wane.
The official newspaper of our dominant counter-culture, The New York Times, has been startled by the Potter books into establishing a new policy for its not very literate book review. Rather than crowd out the Grishams, Clancys, Crichtons, Kings and other vastly popular prose fictions on its fiction bestseller list, the Potter volumes will now lead a separate children's list. J. K. Rowling, the chronicler of Harry Potter, thus has an unusual distinction: She has changed the policy of the policy-maker.
Imaginative Vision
I read new children's literature, when I can find some of any value, but had not tried Rowling until now. I have just concluded the 300 pages of the first book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," purportedly the best of the lot. Though the book is not well written, that is not in itself a crucial liability. It is much better to see the movie, "The Wizard of Oz," than to read the book upon which it was based, but even the book possessed an authentic imaginative vision. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" does not, so that one needs to look elsewhere for the book's (and its sequels') remarkable success. Such speculation should follow an account of how and why Harry Potter asks to be read.
The ultimate model for Harry Potter is "Tom Brown's School Days" by Thomas Hughes, published in 1857. The book depicts the Rugby School presided over by the formidable Thomas Arnold, remembered now primarily as the father of Matthew Arnold, the Victorian critic-poet. But Hughes's book, still quite readable, was realism, not fantasy. Rowling has taken "Tom Brown's School Days" and re-seen it in the magical mirror of Tolkien. The resultant blend of a schoolboy ethos with a liberation from the constraints of reality-testing may read oddly to me, but is exactly what millions of children and their parents desire and welcome at this time.
In what follows, I may at times indicate some of the inadequacies of "Harry Potter." But I will keep in mind that a host are reading it who simply will not read superior fare, such as Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows" or the "Alice" books of Lewis Carroll. Is it better that they read Rowling than not read at all? Will they advance from Rowling to more difficult pleasures?
Rowling presents two Englands, mundane and magical, divided not by social classes, but by the distinction between the "perfectly normal" (mean and selfish) and the adherents of sorcery. The sorcerers indeed seem as middle-class as the Muggles, the name the witches and wizards give to the common sort, since those addicted to magic send their sons and daughters off to Hogwarts, a Rugby School where only witchcraft and wizardry are taught. Hogwarts is presided over by Albus Dumbledore as Headmaster, he being Rowling's version of Tolkien's Gandalf. The young future sorcerers are just like any other budding Britons, only more so, sports and food being primary preoccupations. (Sex barely enters into Rowling's cosmos, at least in the first volume.)
Harry Potter, now the hero of so many millions of children and adults, is raised by dreadful Muggle relatives after his sorcerer parents are murdered by the wicked Voldemort, a wizard gone trollish and, finally, post-human. Precisely why poor Harry is handed over by the sorcerer elders to his piggish aunt and uncle is never clarified by Rowling, but it is a nice touch, suggesting again how conventional the alternative Britain truly is. They consign their potential hero-wizard to his nasty blood-kin, rather than let him be reared by amiable warlocks and witches, who would know him for one of their own.
The child Harry thus suffers the hateful ill treatment of the Dursleys, Muggles of the most Muggleworthy sort, and of their sadistic son, his cousin Dudley. For some early pages we might be in Ken Russell's film of "Tommy," the rock-opera by The Who, except that the prematurely wise Harry is much healthier than Tommy. A born survivor, Harry holds on until the sorcerers rescue him and send him off to Hogwarts, to enter upon the glory of his schooldays.
Hogwarts enchants many of Harry's fans, perhaps because it is much livelier than the schools they attend, but it seems to me an academy more tiresome than grotesque. When the future witches and wizards of Great Britain are not studying how to cast a spell, they preoccupy themselves with bizarre intramural sports. It is rather a relief when Harry heroically suffers the ordeal of a confrontation with Voldemort, which the youth handles admirably.
One can reasonably doubt that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is going to prove a classic of children's literature, but Rowling, whatever the aesthetic weakness of her work, is at least a millennial index to our popular culture. So huge an audience gives her importance akin to rock stars, movie idols, TV anchors, and successful politicians. Her prose style, heavy on cliche, makes no demands upon her readers. In an arbitrarily chosen single page -- page 4 -- of the first Harry Potter book, I count seven cliches, all of the "stretch his legs" variety.
How to read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"? Why, very quickly, to begin with, perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. Is there any redeeming educational use to Rowling? Is there any to Stephen King? Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality? For all I know, the actual wizards and witches of Britain, or of America, may provide an alternative culture for more people than is commonly realized.
Perhaps Rowling appeals to millions of reader non-readers because they sense her wistful sincerity, and want to join her world, imaginary or not. She feeds a vast hunger for unreality; can that be bad? At least her fans are momentarily emancipated from their screens, and so may not forget wholly the sensation of turning the pages of a book, any book.
Intelligent Children
And yet I feel a discomfort with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope that my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery, or a nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages. Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? Yes, they have been, and will continue to be so for as long as they persevere with Potter.
A vast concourse of inadequate works, for adults and for children, crams the dustbins of the ages. At a time when public judgment is no better and no worse than what is proclaimed by the ideological cheerleaders who have so destroyed humanistic study, anything goes. The cultural critics will, soon enough, introduce Harry Potter into their college curriculum, and The New York Times will go on celebrating another confirmation of the dumbing-down it leads and exemplifies.

Two Smart Women Shit on Dumb Feminists - Sommers and Paglia

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Im Selling Off My RPG Books - D&D - Runequest - Empire of the Petal Throne and others.

I am selling the RPG material I acquired in recent years, a time in which I chased down well regarded rulesets and modules of which I had been unaware in my youthful gaming. I don't believe there was a single item consistently recommended by those who appeared to know the field that I did not get hold of to see for myself if there was any of the old creative fire within.

My plan is to draw up and post a simple list of what I have and sell it off in lumps of $100/£70 (excluding postage). Postage to the US might be prohibitive so I may offset some of that. The idea is that a potential buyer offers $100/£70 for some items he selects from the unpriced list and sends an email. I will either ignore an email offer or accept it and a buyer can send as many offers as he wants. I have miniatures too which I may use to sweeten a deal but my focus is on selling the books. I think I will use paypal.

I will sign a book for an additional $10 or inscribe a witty insult (if I know you) for $100. The books I am getting rid of are shit but if I know anything about the typical osr gamer they will burst your little brains with awe.


Monday, March 14, 2016

If You Go Down To Aione


In Agonmayar-Aione there are three types of non-human adversary - BeastmenMonsters and Evil Beings:
Beastmen have heads which are recognizably human, with varying degrees of effort, and are very likely to have an upright two legged human form. They commonly have asses ears, wiry beards, the goats horns and hind legs of the Satyr, and the pure strain Satyr forms a sort of aristocracy of consistency among the maniacally fragmented and whimsically reassembled beastmen.
Example: The Mage Dorsinion is domiciled within the Abode of Pri. Falling foul of the martial gambits of a rival Mage Tinton Bwiss, he imprisoned two of Tinton Bwiss's captains and devised idiotic flesh transports for the spirits of those former soldiers. Making long tails from their intestines he placed their former heads upon each trooper's left leg, their tails dangling behind the junction of neck and thigh. These Beastmen remain fully armoured in greaves and helmet. Their tails are not protected and Dorsinion, upon a grim mood, infused the erstwhile intestines with amorous familiarity for each other. The former stalwarts are inseparable and have been heard to murmur together in dark corners a most unpleasant dirge.
Monsters have little intelligence but are the most highly evolved fanged and poison spinous dastards. Of spiders, of scorpions, of snakes and of shapeless sea creatures, vast witless monsters have descended. Monsters are huge stupid ravenous swift murderers. 
Evil Beings & Powers come in various forms but all have an EVIL statistic in the 3-18 range which takes the place of both of the INT and WIS statistics intrinsic to the human perception of reality. 
Evil Beings are disembodied spirits indifferently housing themselves in objects, growths or human beings - the last requiring a contest of possession which is resolved as EVIL vs WIS on the Opposition Table below.
Daemons are shapechangers, malleable of form but with an evil identity inhering in persistent flesh. They can grow attached to the material sensate. Daemons are EVIL, not in a way appreciated even by the nuttiest cultists or psychopaths.
What is called 'ancient' Evil follows a corporeal commitment across ages known as 'fossilization' by Aione Mages. These Evil Powers are a worry to all.

The Opposition Table above is a general purpose stat-versus-stat resolution reference which can be used for wrestling (str), a crisis of leadership (cha) between two officers commanding a platoon, resisting a disease (disease strength vs con), a sage trying to intimidate a mage through superior understanding (int) in the manner of two lawyers.

It is highly non-linear and pinned as follows: 
  • disproportionate reward for high stats
  • always a 1% chance of failure between the supreme human and human dregs.
  • a contest between equally matched opponents is 50-50.
  • always a 1% chance of success between human dregs and the supreme human.

I am introducing the table here because it is used by Evil Beings to overthrow human reason by means of EVIL vs WIS/INT contests. It is the primary psionics or psychic conflict reference table.

EVIL is a stat which stands in place of the human measures of perception of reality INT & WIS and in the 3-18 range is an inhuman statistic. Some rare humans acquire an EVIL of 1 or 2, through lifelong service in torture cults, as insane sexual sadistic killers or glorious tyrants. This is a human analogue of animal intelligence in ravens, dogs and pigs falling short of human 3-18 INT.

In humans EVIL (1,2) is a form of insanity from the human perspective.

EVIL beings are not 'insane'. They do not have Human mentality, they have no INT or WIS. When a human is possessed by an Evil Being the former human personality or character is subjugated into a kind of apparel, superficial and inconsequential. EVIL behind the human mind.

Human Evil (1,2 out of 18) is INDIRECT, acting through the humiliation and anticipation of body terror, pain and mutilation.

EVIL is DIRECT onto the soul. The affect of Evil Powers is transcendental. The human mind is opened and exposed to a crippling vision of reality.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Cervantes - Don Quixote in Nice Editions

I have been reading through Don Quixote in the Putnam translation and I can see why Harold Bloom elevates Cervantes the way he does. At times DQ is as funny as Vance in the Cugel stories or your favourite knockabout farce but he weaves the novel with romantic stories within the story which are straight tragedy. So the Laurel and Hardy escapades (with shit and vomit) cast light on the silliness of the 'true' romances, yet you are left sad at the foolishness of all human endeavor incited by the scent (or stink) of pussy. The strangest thing is how the Don grows on you insensibly from an imbecile to a deep human being; I can't put my finger on where or how this happens.

I have three nice editions:
1:- The Edy Legrand illustrated LEC, translated by Ormsby. 
2:- The 1961 Folio Society edition, Narro illustrated, translated by Putnam.
3:- The Franklin Library Dore illustrated edition translated by Cohen (vol.1 only)

All are fine translations but Putnam seems to me to be the best. The 1961 Folio Society edition has a thin blue leather spine with gold decorations and very thick cloth boards. I removed a small coffee stain from the cover as if from denim trousers. The pages are thick and yellowed with tiny glints as from sand particles. I was initially surprised by the plainness of the table of contents which uses the exact same font, font-size as the body text. But having read through the first volume I know of no other book which *handles* as well, is as comfortable to read, except the Heritage Press War & Peace.

Highly Recommended. 

[Bloom prefers the Putnam translation too which can be read cheaply in the Viking Portable edition.]

[Beautiful wide-hipped young women beset by giants should utter their emergencies in the comments below and if it is not a whiskey day, which takes precedence, I will murder any being your delicate white finger points out.]

[Click on images to enlarge]


Friday, February 5, 2016

4. Borgarknoll - Sons of Armod - Temperature on the Island

A note on the labelling of maps
I am distinguishing between three kinds of maps. The first kind, the 'R-sequence', labelled R1, R2, R3, ... , refers to the realistic colourful maps which I use as a reality base from which I make the second kind, hand-drawn maps, which are labelled as a 'number sequence' 1, 2, 3, ... . The realistic colourful maps are fixed in scale for the whole island of Agonmayar and I mark-up sections by naming features in software whenever I need to. The hand-drawn maps, on any scale, will always have more terrain information - meadow, heath, scrub, wasteland, gravel, lava-field, fen, bog - but are less accurate in terms of distance relationships. The third kind, the 'alphabet-sequence', A, B, C, ..., is used for maps larger in scope than the island.
MAP 2 - Borgarknoll
The words you may not be able to make out: Horses, Meadow, Cattle, Sheep, Corn, Oats, Rye Fields. Below the north grounds where horses roam wild is a river with two islands, to the south is a path which leads to Borgarknoll. Enlarge the image to make out the hall and out-buildings.
3 means in thirties; 2 means in twenties; etc.
Thordia - beautiful in youth though always hard hearted, a harridan with age, bitter after the manslaying of her husband despite recompense under the Law. Contemptuous of her sons, goads them piercing their bluff.

Armod - the most knowledgeable lawyer in the NE. Defended friend Gunlaug who killed Ketil in a skirmish. Generous, temperate and a widely respected priest-chieftain but weary, becoming frail.

Gunnhilda - gentle and peacemaking, and yet a rock for the family. Special bond with her son Kveldulf.

Buthak - brother of deceased Ketil. A baresark (berserk), banished out of Norway from the service of the king's bodyguard for ungovernable parades of violence. Dwells in a ramshackle stone hut on the hill overlooking Borgarknoll. Has begun visiting Borgarknoll for victual and aggressive menacing 'chats'. Close to seven feet tall, he bites his shield till his teeth crack and blood fills his mouth to assuage chance murderous impulses.

Eyvind - his wife died in childbirth. His daughter Alfeida has been fostered out. Wise and fair, he is doomed to shield one foolish and one vicious brother. His friendship with Inulf has soured.

Ordlaf - Inordinate intelligence without judgment and discipline in such an environment as this island is worse than useless so Ordlaf is considered a fool. His outlet in off-humour having become a craze, he is universally disliked. Would have made an exceptional wizard.

Svertvig - Not brave enough on Agonmayar to rape for pleasure, he schemes till his mouth foams over and his eyes twist with plots to outnumber his foes ten-to-one and bash their brains in slowly. A very stupid and very ugly young man.

Inulf - Wise and noble as expected of the eldest son of such parents. His inner life is rich, and his encounter with Pycaro & Vagari had a profound effect on him which he has kept secret. The lure of the mountains of the south has shaken his perception of the world, but his love of family remains strong.

Uva - Very pretty Irish maid. 'Come away to Ireland, Inulf. My father will treat you like a prince.' All the same she has forged deep bonds with Armod and Gunnhilda. She works hard making extravagantly embroidered clothing for the entire family and encourages Kol to emulate his father in every way.

Kveldulf - Dark. Silent. Uncommunicative. An extraordinary athlete. A killer with ease. So intense he makes his parents uneasy. Only Inulf and Gunnhilda are close to Kveldulf.

Hallgerda - Strange and fey, she is taller than her brothers and intimidatingly fair. She looks like she might wield a sword but has no martial spirit, nor does she fear death. Unnervingly calm and penetrating in conversation. Acuminous, she is a powerful poet (though no-one knows it)
High level material

Pycaro & Vagari - Dungeoneers. Have been south several times and believe they have entered Aione. Pycaro is a rogue from the dirtiest city, Rome, formerly an assassin, and Vagari is an adept from Byzantium. As a pair they have been at the core of different parties of foreigners exploring the mountain range Zussayre in the south of Agonmayar.

Pycaro - A-7 W-4 --- Int-16 Cha-17 Dex-17 --- Longbow +3

Vagari - W-8 --- Int-19 --- Books:- Prisons of the Earth's Crust (Vodante). Problems in Subcreation, (Marlowe). Coming to Earth (The Giant, Nefervoovoo). The Foment of Delusion and Fancy (Percedes).

MAP R3 (indicating locations of MAPS R1 & R2)
Why is it so cold in the south?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

3. Combat - Wounds Concept

I have made the decision for combat to split AD&D HPs into Wounds & Hits where Wounds represent the physical damage portion and Hits the luck-experience portion of the old AD&D HPs concept.

So Adventuring Fighters begin with 10 Wounds, 0-lvl man-at-arms through bandit types 7 Wounds and sedentary types including adventuring MUs 4 Wounds. The constitution bonus is added to this once, and once per level beyond the first a point is added. HPs are calculated in the normal way and represent the sum of Wounds and Hits (I always give full HPs at first level hence the value of Wounds).

When HPs are reduced to within the 0 to Wounds band we can describe the physical hurt and location but there is no material effect in game mechanics. HPs reduced to minus Wounds to 0 result in a critical wound as in Warhammer or Rolemaster. HPs reduced below minus Wounds results in instant death.

There are two reasons to distinguish between physical Wounds and luck-experience Hits.

The first is to avoid the unnecesary and tedious combats between, for example, two high level fighters. Imagine two Fighters at full HPs:
F5 con15 HPs-32 Wounds-15 vs F6 con16 HPs-44 Wounds-17
In this case LUCK-EXPERIENCE CANCELS so the contest is between
F5 HPs-15 (ie his Wounds) and F6 HPs-27
The second reason is that it makes no sense that physical wounds and luck-experience 'heal' at the same rate. I think the 1hp per day of rest is fine for wounds but luck-experience ('hits' as I call them) should recover much faster and at the DMs discretion. For the sake of completion, luck-experience 'hits' don't recover as long as Wounds remain below zero.

Critical Hits for Wounds below zero will be fairly basic: head, neck, collar bone, ribs, arm, wrist, guts, hip, groin, thigh, shin. And usually lethal.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

2. Agonmayar - Low Level Campaign Map & Notes

  • The low level stage is heavily influenced by the Icelandic Sagas - Njal, Egil, Grettir - but it should be emphasised that 'low' is not less interesting or less advanced from the point of view of player experience or skill, than 'high'. In fact it may be that the campaign happily concludes within the orbit of that genre.
  • Those Norse skirmishers were lightfooted and agile, leaping about unencumbered though not spurning light supple mail, they could get it but rarely, so long as it did not hamper their movements. Unready AC10; prepared AC8 (light flimsy kite shield and helm); warrior with several years of sea-roving AC6/5 (one lower with kite shield and helm).
  • The thrown spear is a vicious menace and a favourite tactic closing to combat, 1d10 thrown up to strength yards, 1d6 for the usual one-handed poke with shield on left arm.
  • I am making a serious adjustment to HPs to address the slogging nature of fights between higher level adversaries. In essence the luck/experience portion of high HPs cancels as it should. Also, if the majority of HPs beyond 10-15 do not correspond to physical toughness and wounds then those HPs do not heal at the same rate as wounds. I never use scrolls or healing potions, though I do allow herbal concoctions (emphasis on freshness) to have a more than natural healing effect. 
  • The player characters have either settled on the island, in which case they are Fighters and landedmen - homesteaders - independent self-sufficient no nonsense aristocrats, or, they have just arrived in Godafirth on the longship of a wealthy Norse trader and so might be Norse, Celt, Gaul or Roman. 
  • As an example of a Roman adventurer, likely to be of mixed Gaul and Roman blood, a Surveyor is one of several horsed rangers attached to the horsed scouts of a Legion but who reports to an official of the proconsul. His duty is to discover undocumented wizards and ascertain their peculiarity and the nature of their researches. There is a high turnover of Surveyors from the camp of a Legion; those who perform this hazardous inquiry are often murdered but some fall in with a new mentor. R3 has MU1; R7 has MU2.
  • The current and second wave of settlements in the NE of Agr are just over one hundred years growing. This is now the year 107 (I don't use or refer to any other dating system) which is 107 years after the elopement and arrival of GrĂ¡ine & Diarmuid snub-nose and 'priest-friend'. Their descendants still live at Teach Diarmuid. Less important Icelanders had been settling in the NE for ten years before G&D. Disturbingly, the second wave settlers found no living people from the first colonies which had been maturing for more than two hundred years. Diarmuid wrote down what he found at the beginning of his Book of Settlements, 'fire ravaged halls' , 'half-hearted cairns', 'empty silent homes'. 
  • The Giantsway is clearly a road of Roman construction, fringes overgrown with whatever wild grass, woody low bushes or overhanging trees are local where it passes. Now and then, tunneled stone halls bestride the road, lofty intricate shrines to emperors no historian of Rome would recognise.
  • Who knows how long Irish anchorites had clung to the rock slopes of Skjandig, they were there to mildly greet Hrut white-hair of the very first colony when he scaled that mountain. For decades now an abbot has brought order and small comforts to that holy high-place and the wild visionary Irish recluses live on merely in the imagination of some of the younger monks.
  • In fact the mystics retreated south to the vast mountain range Zussayre [but that is high level material]. The closer to Zussayre the greater the fear.
  • On the map, white patches indicate no-go areas - treacherous, impassable, uninhabitable - bogs, marshes, lava fields, deserts of rubble-stones-gravel. The map covers a region of about 60x80 miles.
  • Giants (indicated in NW of Agr on previous map) are strange beings and not related to the creatures in the Monster Manual. I visualise them with the help of two miniatures I have which I will photograph at some time. Their mentality and purposes are things to be discovered by high level adventurers so I won't go into that now. They are seven to eight feet tall and weigh twelve to fifteen hundred pounds. They have Strength and Constitution of 21 or 22 relative to humans so this is how a fight between a Knight of the round Table and a Giant would go (I am not saying that such a fight would interest a Giant). The knight essays the ground between him and the intransigent monster, urging his mount to greater speed, timing the falling point of his lance. The Giant ambles forward welcoming the collision, almost simultaneously the lance shatters on his breast and he smash-tackles the horse breaking its neck, and grasping, lifts the poor beast into the air hurling it groundwards on its back hoping to crush the rider. The knight however has flown through the air and is staggering to his feet with just time enough to draw sword and swing wardingly before the Giant grabs his sword arm with one hand and his head with the other. And pulls. Plate armour prevents his arm from being pulled from its socket before his head is plucked.
  • Focussing next post on some low key events in the NE region arising from reading of the Icelandic sagas.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

1. The People of the Island

I enjoy reading history as literature, less for its own sake, and so I read Gibbon and Herodotus because I trust that what they find interesting I will too, and they think in all encompassing breadth and express themselves with humanity and with the highest degree of art. I am not concerned about inaccuracies or scholarly updates.

The Life underneath, around and above the island of Agonmayar which allows it to breathe derives from those centuries when the irrepressible vigour of wild Germanic tribes pummelled a tired Roman empire from without as it was disturbed within by the whispering psychoactive contagion we know as Christianity. The Life of men is drawn from the poetic recasting of history found in the Poetic Edda, Beowulf and the Volsunga Saga through to the great stories of Iceland, Njal's Saga and Egil's Saga. Five centuries of twilight contorted and condensed to establish the right atmosphere for a game of D&D on an invented island roughly the size of Iceland.

The emperor Augustus proposed a fixed boundary for the empire which did not include the insignificant British island, and when later emperors did arrive to snoop around they had no intention of pushing on to the even more remote island of Ireland. As late as the ninth century, when in Norway Harald Fairhair pursued his aggrandizing new notion of overlordship to become the first king, he provoked an exodus of uncowed, hard-as-nails rude aristocrats to Iceland. When the Norse arrived to this land truly on the edge of the world they found there before them only some Irish monks who upped crosses and scarpered.

Similarly, Agonmayar was a refuge dangerous to reach in ships designed to hug the baroque littorals of northern Europe. While Iceland's population settled in the tens of thousands the fragmentary community of colonists in Agonmayar numbered several thousands only.
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