Tolkien Singing a Song from the Hobbit.

Here is a rare recording of J.R.R. Tolkien singing one of the songs from The Hobbit. The song is from the first chapter of The Hobbit with the dwarves singing “That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates.” Tolkien is not the greatest of poets, but the workman-like verse of this and songs like those at the Prancing Pony sit comfortably in the the campfire melodies of the common Middle Earther.

via A Dribble of Ink

Welcome to the Jungle

They’re making a new Tarzan movie.

I have mixed emotions about that. When my grandfather made that fateful pronouncement that cost him so much money one of the series I went hunting for was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. It took me a few years to collect all 24 of them, and re- reading them occupied many hours of my childhood. My first impression of jungles came from  the rich descriptions of Burroughs. The mysteries of his Dark Continent kept me forever fascinated. But all of that paled before the excellence of the Ape-man himself.

Tarzan is perhaps the best example of  the Noble Savage in all of literature. Lost in the jungle as an infant, Tarzan is raised by Great Apes, or Mangani, as they call themselves, creatures caught in that nebulous place between animals and men. Despite this, Tarzan’s essential humanity allows him to rise above his circumstances.  For example, while the most iconic first contact between Tarzan and human civilization is immortalized by the words, “Me Tarzan, You Jane,” in the novel Tarzan of the Apes, it was the Ape-man who first made contact . . . by letter! John Clayton and his wife knew they were expecting when they began their ill fated journey and packed accordingly. Among their belongings were several children’s primer’s and young reader’s books. As a child, while fleeing the abuses of the ape clan that raised him, the young Tarzan took refuge in his parent’s old shelter, and taught himself to read and write. In all the movie translations of Tarzan, I have never seen any that kept that facet of the original novel.

Another facet of Tarzan rarely seen in the movies is the violence. While Tarzan is a noble savage, he is still capable of considerable savagery. The Mangani are an inherently violent species. Leadership passes in trial by combat. In Burroughs’ Africa death lurks behind every tree, blood soaked and visceral, waiting for the unwary to stumble. Predators stalk through the trees, waiting to take the unwary.  Once again, no movie has truly captured this aspect of the Ape-man. It’s an issue skirted around for the benefit of the audience.  While Tarzan is frequently shown to be more clever than his opponents, rarely is he shown to be mightier, or more savage. In the books it is a completely different story. The Ape-man wins many of his battles by overpowering his enemies, and several more by crossing lines a civilized man would never cross.

It comes down to faithfulness. Hollywood is renowned for ignoring their source material in favor of what hey believe their audience wants to see. In the process, they frequently forget who their audience is. It happens in their comic genre adaptations a depressing number of times, although in recent years they’ve gotten better. They’ve done it to Stephen King, numerous times. They’ve done it to Tom Clancy. And they’ve done it to Tarzan more than once. Honestly, you can’t really blame them. They were targeting an audience as young as I was when I began reading the adventures of the Ape-man. (And yes, there is a huge difference between reading about bloody battle and watching it on a big screen.) And as much as I want to see Tarzan introduced to a new generation,( this time without the surfer-dude moves, thank you Disney,) Just once, I wouldn’t mind seeing a version aimed at me, who first met our hero in his original, literary form.  I want to see a Tarzan who triumphs over his adversaries by being more cunning  than the ones he can’t overpower, stronger than the ones he can, and savage enough to surprise either if it gives him an advantage. That’s the Ape-man I grew up with. This time, that’s the one I’d also like to see on film.

The Oldest 20-sided Die in the World.

Via The Mary Sue, here is the oldest 20-sided die ever discovered. It is from somewhere between 300 and 30 BC.

Ascending Empires

Ascending Empires is a strategy board game for two to four players released by Z-Man Games . It costs $54.99, and is recommended for players 10 and up. The premise is simple. Humanity, driven off Earth by the Great Civil War, flees to the Andromeda galaxy. There four factions settle in the four quadrants of the galaxy, where they turn their starships into cities and build anew. Two hundred years later the four factions re-emerge into the new starscape and pick up where they left off. Players take over worlds, dig for materials, build infrastructure, develop technologies, and do battle amid the stars. The goal of the game is to have the most victory points, which are earned by successfully attacking other players, developing technology first, and holding planets. The more developed the planet, the more points it’s worth.

Setup is easy and takes about 5 minutes. The nine piece board snaps together like a jigsaw puzzle. It fits on a standard card table, but you’ll need somewhere to put your technology track and supply depots. I recommend a kitchen table. Planets are arranged in four predetermined stacks, based on how many people are playing. Each stack is then shuffled and placed randomly in one of four quadrants on the board. There are six different kinds of planets. Homeworlds, where each player starts,  four types of colored worlds, which determine what technologies can be developed there, and asteroids, which can do everything a colored planet can do except research.

Game play is simple and very fast. Each turn a player may take one action. Actions include recruiting, moving, building, developing technology or mining. A player recruits by putting troops on owned worlds.  Building happens by replacing designated troops and occasionally structures with other structures. Mining is simply removing troops  and gaining VPs.

Movement includes launching and landing spaceships. Worlds are claimed by landing spaceships on them. But movement is also where the element of randomness kicks in. Ships are moved by flicking or striking them across the jigsaw assembled board. Ships can flip on their side and roll, sending them far from their intended targets, or ricochet off worlds and carom off into deep space. Any ship that falls off the board is lost. If two ships collide, they are both destroyed. Combat is also part of the movement action, and happens automatically. If the active player outnumbers an enemy in range,  they are destroyed.

Technologies exist in four tiers, each with a different specialty.  Technology trees can improve your offense, your recruiting capacity, your movement, or your defenses. Each technology can only be developed on specific worlds, designated by color. Players have a limited number of research stations available, which forces them to choose carefully which technologies they want to develop. There are advantages to maxing a technology tree out, but there are advantages in diversifying, too.

This game is fast and fun. It takes a bit over an hour to play a complete game, but turns go by very quickly due to the simplicity of the rules. It doesn’t demand deep strategic thinking, but one does have to play smart to win. There are different paths to victory, which makes it nicely replayable.  It is challenging enough to keep an adult interested, and simple enough that that adult can still lose to their child. I give it four dice out of a possible five.

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