18 December 2022

Kim Mohan, RIP

I wanted to note (somewhat belatedly) the passing of Kim Mohan.

Among many other things, Mohan was the editor of Dragon during its peak: issues 49 through 114. The “Mohan era” was the true “golden age” of Dragon in my view. (Mohan later became editor again for issues 199-217, but I’m not familiar at all with that period of the publication.)

I started buying Dragon regularly (almost every month) with issue 56. It had a great impact on my early involvement in the hobby. I looked forward to every issue. This was long before the internet age, so Dragon was the main window into the greater “RPG scene” and community. (I also read White Dwarf regularly during this time, which provided some insight into the UK scene. I can’t imagine those years of my life without both publications.)

I stopped reading Dragon around the time that Mohan departed. Not that I paid any attention to such things at the time; rather, by the mid-1980s my RPG focus had shifted to MERP, Call of the Cthulhu, and other non-D&D/AD&D games.

Mohan had an impressively long career in the RPG business: he’s listed as a contributor to the 5th edition D&D Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual.


12 December 2022

Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript

As a huge Middle-earth fan, I was delighted to have seen this excellent exhibit – “J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript” – today at Marquette University.

I thought that I had already seen it before in Oxford in 2018, but it turned out that this exhibit was somewhat different. The one at Oxford had a lot more of Tolkien’s artwork, as well as numerous biographical documents and photographs, whereas this one (unsurprisingly, given its title) focused more on Tolkien’s calligraphy, early drafts, and manuscripts. Nonetheless, there was some overlap in the two exhibits (the Bodleian Library had drawn on the Marquette collection and vice versa). And there were a few pieces of Tolkien’s beautiful art on display (including the troll hill above -- I quite like Tolkien's line work!).


The high point for me was the opportunity to see Tolkien’s original timeline “story board” for The Lord of the Rings – i.e., several pages which follow the days covered throughout the trilogy, broken down at points by character/group (e.g., “Gandalf”, “Sam and Frodo”, “Saruman”, etc.). It was cool to see the events and revisions written in the professor’s own hand. Also on display were Tolkien’s notes on the “stride” of hobbits, as he wanted to calculate how far they could travel in a given day in order to ensure that their journey times were plausible.


I also found it interesting to learn that Tolkien’s concern with carefully drawn maps – maps that clearly (if perhaps unrealistically) identify important landmarks – likely originated in his work as an army signals officer during the First World War. There was a copy of the manual he used during that time on display.


Now you might be wondering why this exhibit is at Marquette University of all places. It turns out that shortly after the publication of The Lord of the Rings the university’s new library director (William Ready) managed to purchase for the university the manuscripts of three of Tolkien’s published works of fiction: The Hobbit, Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Lord of the Rings. The manuscripts arrived in Milwaukee over the course of two years after the purchase, and were later supplemented with additional materials sent to Marquette from 1987-1997 by Christopher Tolkien.  They are now in the “J.R.R. Tolkien Collection” at the university.


[Tolkien created a number of images of the final page of The Book of Mazarbul.

However, the publisher declined them as they would be too difficult to print.]


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).