Thursday, May 24, 2018

Vincent Price reads Chu-Bu and Sheemish by Lord Dunsany

I've just posted a recording of one of my favourite stories, Chu-Bu and Sheemish, read by one of my favourite actors, Vincent Price. The story is originally from Lord Dunsany's 1912 collection of short stories, The Book of Wonder. Thankfully for lovers of witty imaginative fiction, this collection widely available both online and in print. But the audio-recording by Vincent Price is a different matter. It exists only in a rare LP record released in 1982 which (to my knowledge) has never been reprinted or posted on the web. 

A few months ago I managed to lay my hands on a copy, and I didn't want to keep all the fun to myself. So here it is on YouTube:

And if you want to download it, here is a link to an MP3. (Many thanks to my friend Nathan for helping me digitize the recording from the LP).

If you're wondering who Lord Dunsany was, I can do no better than quote the liner notes of the LP. They were written by the fantasy author and biographer Sprague de Camp:
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Eighteenth Baron Dunsany (1878-1958; rhymes with "rainy") was the kind of lord that many people would like to be if they had a chance. He was six feet four inches tall and sometimes called the worst-dressed man in Ireland... When not roaming the world, hunting foxes in the British Isles or wild goats in the Sahara, serving as a British Officer in the Boer and First World wars, being wounded in the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, and making an abortive entry into politics, Dunsany found time to write sixty-odd books of stories, plays, essays, verse and autobiography. How he accomplished all this with a quill pen we shall never know; he never revised or rewrote.
Dunsany (pictured below) was a great influence on H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin and Michael Moorcock. In his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927), Lovecraft wrote, "no amount of mere description can convey more than a fraction of Lord Dunsany’s pervasive charm. His prismatic cities and unheard-of rites are touched with a sureness which only mastery can engender, and we thrill with a sense of actual participation in his secret mysteries." The power of Dunsany to make the reader feel that he's participating in ancient rites is one of the things I love about Chu-Bu and Sheemish. And indeed, the performance of Vincent Price -- more an incantation than a narration -- only adds to this sense of ritual magic.

And yet at the same time, Dunsany has a light touch. For all his monumental fantasy and epic myth-making, you only have to read a few of his stories before you know that this is a man incapable of taking himself too seriously. The very first words of Chu-Bu and Sheemish encapsulate this sense of self-mockery: "It was the custom on Tuesdays in the temple of Chu-bu for the priests to enter at evening and chant, 'There is none but Chu-bu.'" (I also have a custom on Tuesdays: I eat a bowl of spaghetti.)

he other thing that I love about Dunsany's short fiction is that he is a master of endings. Nearly all his stories conclude not with a twist or surprise, but with a judo-flip -- a complete inversion of all expectations and conventions. His works are like brightly coloured snakes that bite their own tails and then keep eating until everything disappears in a puff of paradox. Without spoiling anything about the story,  Chu-Bu and Sheemish nicely illustrates his talents in this regard.

Well, I hope you enjoy the story and perhaps listen to it while painting some miniatures. And if you do like it, I suspect you will want to look into some of Dunsany's other words. I particularly favour The Gods of Pegana. In any case, may Chu-Bu and his secret priesthood bless you and keep you...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Painted Miniatures for Mice and Mystics II

Winston Churchill once said, "Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat."* I felt that I was doing a lot of re-ratting as I repeatedly painted all the vermin for Mice and Mystics. Last week we looked at the six mouse heroes from the game. This week, I bring you their enemies...

One of the things that I like about Mice and Mystics is that it's got a strong sense of theme. The theme is that mice are so tiny that even household pests are deadly opponents. Cockroaches are scary, but a centipede or a spider is downright terrifying. Likewise, special ingenuity is required merely to climb up on a table or avoid drowning in a gutter. The small scale makes the stakes seem all the bigger.

Above we see the basic monster of the game: the roach. They're like kobolds or goblins in D&D but all the more disgusting because they're real.

Then comes the servants of the evil Queen Vanestra: the rats. They're not quite Jes Goodwin's Skaven, but they are pretty satisfying sculpts in a cartoony sort of way. Chad Hoverter, the sculptor, was wise to place great emphasis on the creepiest part of the rat: their long, fleshy tails.

Here we see the Spider. It's not one of my better paintjobs... a little dim in my opinion, notwithstanding my attempt to spice it up with some orange accents.

And then my favourite miniature of the lot: the centipede. It's mindless, aggressive and hard to kill, reminding me of some of my ex-girlfriends.

Above is the whole lot of vermin together. 

I hope I've piqued your interest in Mice and Mystics. It's an excellent game that offers a lot for both children and adults, as well as for solo players and larger groups. It also returns you to a sense of wonder, where a spider is a major adversary and a button found discarded under a bed may be the only thing standing between life and death.

* The occasion was when Churchill re-joined the Conservative Party after he had abandoned it to join the Liberals almost 20 years before. It's not 100% certain that Churchill actually uttered these exact words, but if it's good enough for the International Churchill Society, it's good enough for me.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Public Service Announcement about Sex Cults and Bad Latin

Mind control, human slavery and brainwashing are all bad of course, but do you know what really aggravates me? Bad Latin. Recently, I've been reading a lot about the alleged sex cult DOS. It's in the news because its two leaders (Keith Raniere and the actress Allison Mack, aka "Chloe Sullivan" from Smallville) have been arrested in New York on a variety of horrendous charges including sex trafficking. In nearly every story on the case, we are told that DOS stands for "Dominus Obsequious Sororium", and that this translates as "Master of the Slave Women".

I'm issuing a public service announcement. For the record, “dominus obsequious sororium” is not Latin for “master over the slave women”. It’s pseudo-Latin (substantially worse than Monty Python's “Romanes eunt domus”). Let's break it down like a Centurion would...

“Dominus” is the correct word for “master”. We can give them that.

“Obsequious” is not a Latin word at all – it is perhaps a sadly misconceived variant of the deponent verb “obsequor” (to be pliant). Even granting this bastardization, the adjective agrees (in the grammatical sense) with “dominus”, which indicates that it is the *dominus* and not the *sororium* that is the pliant one.

“Sororium” is a misspelling of the genitive plural of “soror” (sister). The proper spelling is “sororum” without the “i”. Sororum means “of the sisters”.

So, putting it all together, if you had to render “dominus obsequious sororium” into English, it would be...
“plianticulous master of the sisterrrss”

I hope these people were better at running a cult than they were at Latin grammar.

Quo usque tandem abutere, Allison Mack, patientia nostra?

POSTSCRIPT: I'm annoyed that no one in the media took a few moments to consult with a classicist in order to nail down what this Latin actually meant. After all, it was a source within the cult who came up with both the Latin and the translation. Why would you take a cult's word on anything, let alone paleolinguistics? Shouldn't you be fact-checking that? 

In my zeal to find the origin for the mis-translation, I tracked down the Affidavit of FBI Special Agent Michael Lever, which supported the arrest of Raniere. This seems to be the first publicly available statement that DOS = dominus obsequious sororium = master of the slave women.  But, interestingly to me, Agent Lever includes a footnote to this passage which reads as follows:
According to various sources of information, DOS stands for "Dominus Obsequious Sororium", which at least one DOS slave was told by her master translates to "Master Over the Slave Women." According to a Latin expert I consulted, this phrase is broken Latin ("obsequious" is an English word and the Latin would properly be "obscquicsarum" and "sororium" would properly be "sororum"), but roughly translates to "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions".
Well, I'm glad the FBI cares about getting the details right, even if the media can't be arsed. In any case, stay tuned for more cranky sex-cult/Latin-grammar updates as affairs develop and circumstances may require. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Painted Miniatures for Mice and Mystics

I'm having a good couple days. I just had my birthday, and a few days before that, I clocked 500,000 hits on Oldenhammer-in-Toronto. This old blerg has come a long way since my first tentative posts about the Golden Age of Citadel Miniatures and acne. Thanks to all you readers and friends (many of whom have been with me for years now). And thanks also to the mysterious bots from Israel and Russia, who seem to become possessed of a frenzied desire to tap on my site in the thousands every few months or so.

This week's project is the heroes from Mice and Mystics by Plaid Hat Games. For those of you who have not encountered this delightful game, it's a cooperative dungeon-crawl where 1-4 players control a band of mice heroes. The play combines a rich story, an absorbing setting and a simple but challenging set of rules. Over the course of the campaign, your characters accrue new skills and struggle to obtain (and hold on to!) valuable artifacts (like a sewing needle rapier or a shield made from a button). Although there's a homey fairy-tale quality to the game, it's spiced up with exciting combat and real peril... for example, when I played the full campaign, all my mice drowned in the final climactic catastrophe. 

For those of you who are looking for something simpler than Descent and with better solo-play than Advanced Heroquest, I can't recommend this game highly enough. Of course, the figures are merely board-game quality, being made out of bendy plastic. As a result, my paint-job was pretty fast loose. Well... they could be worse... they could be my speed-painted miniatures from Mansions of Madness (shudder).

Well, without further ado, here are the six heroes...

Prince Collin painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Prince Collin the Leader

Filch painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Filch the Scamp

Nez painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Nez the Tinkerer

Tilda painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Tilda the Healer

Maginos painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Maginos the Mystic

Lily painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Lily the Archer

I suppose animal heroes will soon be all the fashion, now that Osprey has just published a promising skirmish game called Burrows and Badgers. It's like The Wind in the Willows, but with spiked clubs.

Well, in any case, next week we'll take a look at some of the monsters from Mice and Mystics. Thanks for stopping by!

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
        --  "To a Mouse" by Robert Burns (1785)