Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Episode 2: The Black Riders

My adventure in Middle-earth continues, with the second episode of the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. You can read about Episode One here.

The second episode opens up with Gwaihir the Windlord arriving at Orthanc and rescuing Gandalf. I must admit, I found it a bit strange to hear one of the great eagles speak. Although Gwaihir certainly speaks to Gandalf in the book, I  assumed that Gandalf could speak the language of the eagles, not that Gwaihir could speak in the tongues of men. The story continues to follow Gandalf for a bit as he’s dropped off in Rohan, meets Theoden and Grima Wormtongue and eventually rides off on Shadowfax.

The story then cuts to the Black Riders arriving at Orthanac, and getting more or less dismissed by Saruman. However, soon thereafter, they intercept Grima on his way to Orthanc, and it is from Grima that they learn the approximate location of the Shire. The inclusion of this scene is really interesting, because it was written by Tolkien, but does not appear in the The Lord of the Rings. Instead, it can be found in the Unfinished Tales in a section about the Black Riders’ hunt for the ring. It probably shouldn’t be taken as cannon as Tolkien wrote several versions of the journey of the Black Riders (including one where they wipe out a village of the ‘river folk’). I can only assume it was included to give the Nazgul a little more ‘screen time’.

Next we join Frodo, Sam, and Pippin on their way to Crickhollow. As one of my commenters mentioned after the last post, it is a bit hard to get used to Pippin with his rather ‘posh’ accent. Still, it makes him easy to identify in the group of hobbits, which might have been the point. In fact, we stay with the Hobbits for the rest of the episode as they meet with farmer Maggot, arrive at Crickhollow, and push on for Bree and the Prancing Pony.

Although it’s all enjoyable stuff, purists will be saddened by the loss of Fatty Bolger, Gildor Inglorion, and Tom Bombadil, none of whom appear. This last omission is by far the greatest as it is such a wonderful part of the story. Also, without Tom, you don’t get the Barrow-downs, which really is one of the scariest parts of the entire book! It could have made a great episode all by itself. Still, I suppose there were time limitations and something had to go.

One thing we do get, however, is several of the hobbit walking songs, and while none of the principle hobbit actors are great singers, I think this is part of the charm.

At Bree we meet Strider. I have to say, I was a little disappointed when I first heard Strider speak. Played by the well-respected actor Robert Stephens…I don’t know, it just wasn’t quite working for me. However, at this point, I think Strider is putting on a bit of a ‘tough face’, definitely the ranger not the king. I’ll be interested to see if and how the performance changes throughout the series.

High praise does go to James Grout as Butterbur. He just really nails this minor character.

All-and-all, another enjoyable episodes with a few surprises. My tape for this one wasn’t quite as good as the first, and poor famer Maggot went a bit wobbly at one point, but nothing major.

While listening to this episode, I painted up an armoured Haldir figure. Well, I painted him more as a generic high-elf warrior. I struggled with this figure. For my ability and eye-sight, the figure is almost too finely detailed, and initially, with a black undercoat (which I always use), it was hard to figure out what was what.

I knuckled down though, and eventually got the figure to a place I was happy with. I think the decision to go with dark hair was definitely the right one as it helps contrast with all of the gold armour.

Because this figure took me longer than normal to get right, I didn’t manage to finish up an orc to go with him. That’s fine, I’ve still got eleven episodes left. Plenty of time for orcs!

Friday, 13 July 2018

Nightflyers – George R. R. Martin

I am probably one of the few fantasy fans on the planet that has neither watched Game of Thrones nor read any of A Song of Ice and Fire. I won’t go into the long-winded reasons why, but basically, by the time you are my age, you have a pretty good idea of the kind of stories you will like and which ones you won’t.

This doesn’t mean I am against everything Martin has written however, and when I saw Nightflyers on the shelf at the library, I was sufficiently curious to check it out.

Nightflyers is a collection of six science-fiction stories, written by Martin in the seventies and very-early eighties. While these stories all take place in the same universe, they don’t overlap at all. Each one was clearly written to stand alone.

The first thing that is noticeable on reading this book, is that even forty years ago, George R. R. Martin was a master word-smith. His prose even then was a smooth as anyone’s. Of the six stories, I would rate 5 of them as good or great.

Nightflyers – is a classic 'horror in space' novella. Similar in tone and setting to the movie Alien, but a bit more complex. Really good if you are into such stories.

Override – is more of a western, set on another planet, and following a guy who controls a small group of undead miners.

Weekened in a War Zone – The only story in the collection that didn’t work for me. Just a bit too linear, obvious and repetitive for my liking.

And Seven Times Never Kill A Man – What happens when religious fanatics go to war against a group of nearly pacifist aliens? This, apparently. I must admit, I had no idea where this story was headed, but it’s good, and the ending really bent my mind a bit.

Nor the Man-Colored Fires of the Star Ring – A good story with a really neat setting. I saw the ending coming, and it was a tad disappointing, but I enjoyed the ride anyway.

A Song For Lya – Another novella, this time concerned with telepaths, religion, and human interaction with an alien society. This one slowly builds and builds until the reader is presented with a big question about religion. It’s enough to make one uncomfortable, and thus really succeeds.

All-and-all, it’s a very good collection of science-fiction with a couple of really strong stories in it.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

The Shadows of the Past – Episode 1

A few weeks ago, I bought a copy of the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings on 13 audio cassettes. A couple of weeks later, I bought a machine that could actually play audio cassettes. Last night, I finally sat down and listed to the first episode, The Shadows of the Past.

The episodes opens with a quick bit of narrative about Sauron and the rings of power, and then, to my great surprise, begins the story proper with the capture and torture of Gollum in Mordor! The scene is well performed, and as such, makes slightly uncomfortable listening. The tone of this opening is a far cry from Tolkien’s own opening, which focuses on Hobbits and birthday parties!

As an interesting side note, the agent of Mordor who captures and interrogates Gollum is never identified in the narrative, but is named as the Mouth of Sauron in the end credits.

After this opening sequence, the story becomes more familiar. We hear the Gaffer talking with Ted Sandyman about the Baggins, Bilbo and Frodo discussing the coming party, and, soon enough, the arrival of Gandalf.

By this point, the audio had fully sucked me in. The quality of the acting is excellent. Gandalf especially, played by the famous Shakespearean actor Michael Horden, really delivers. In fact, I am left wondering if Ian McKellen studied this performance before taking on the role himself, as his own delivery is remarkably similar (although McKellen perhaps plays him a bit more quick tempered). Ian Holm, as Frodo, sounds so young that he is nearly unrecognizable as the actor who played Bilbo in the movies. If you listen carefully though, you can definitely recognize the young Bill Nighy who plays Sam.

I was glad to hear that the audio stuck to the chronology of the book, and after Bilbo leaves the Shire, seventeen years pass before the story really picks up again. Gandalf returns, identifies the ring, and immediately sets off again. The Gaffer informs us that Frodo and Sam have moved to Crickhollow, with help from his friends Merry and Pippin.

Then, another slight surprise. We return to Gandalf and his encounter with Radagast the Brown. Wisely, the audio decides to follow the movements of Gandalf at this point instead of having them revealed after the fact, as in the book. It was nice to hear Radagast, and not have him sound like a bumbling fool.

The episodes comes to a close with Gandalf’s trip to Orthanc and his betrayal by Saruman the White. It’s a great cliff hanger of an ending, but also provided my only real disappointment of the episode. Saruman has one truly defining characteristic in the books – his voice. It is said to be his most potent weapon. While Peter Howell turns in a fine performance as Saruman in the episode, he just doesn’t have a voice that reaches out and grabs you. Certainly, he doesn’t have Christopher Lee’s memorable voice.

All-and-all, thoroughly enjoyable, and I’m definitely looking forward to episode 2!

As I mentioned before, I am using the listening of this series as a chance and an excuse to paint some of my backlog of The Lord of the Rings figures. For the first episode, I selected the original Radagast figure (before I knew he would appear in the episode!). I love this figure. Thankfully, it was sculpted long before The Hobbit movies, and thus we get a noble and heroic-looking wizard. I decided to paint him more or less, ‘by the book’, which is to say, I used the same basic colour scheme on him that the painters at Games Workshop did. I think it was a good decision; he’s suitably ‘brown’, but there is enough contrast to make it visually interesting.

Since it normally takes me about 2 hours to paint an miniature, and the audio episodes are only about an hour long, I had to continue on for a while after the tape stopped, but I was having fun, so I didn’t mind.

I also decided that with each figure I paint, I’m also going to paint one orc. You can’t have too many orcs, but they aren’t that much fun to paint, at least not in the quick and dirty style I use (which is all they really deserve). This guy is constructed from a Wargames Factory body and head, but arms from the Frostgrave Gnoll kit.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Obsolescent Technology

The word ‘obsolescent’ isn’t used very often these days. I occasionally encounter it when reading military history, usually in reference to a tank or plane that has been superseded by greatly superior models, but that’s about it.

Essentially, obsolescent means ‘in the process of becoming obsolete’. Which is ironic, because it appears to me that the word obsolescent is itself obsolescent. I do wonder if this is because the word is just little known, and thus not often used, or if the cause lies deeper in Western society. Is our society such that nothing these days is obsolescent? Is everything either ‘modern’ or ‘obsolete’? Or, put another way, is the process of society’s adoption of a new, better technology (or idea?) now so fast, that the obsolescent step is skipped, and the given thing goes straight to obsolete?

Anyway, all of that is really just a preamble for the fact that I purchased a Walkman. Okay, it’s not actually a Walkman, it’s a cheap knock-off (or at least it was 20-30 years ago when it was likely produced). I bought it for $10 during my recent trip to America. I only bought it so I can listen to The Lord of the Rings audio I bought a few weeks ago.

I’ve had a quick test-listen, and there does seem to be a slight ‘wobble’ in the sound, but since I have no other way of checking, I don’t know if that wobble is because of the player, the tapes, or even the original recording. Oh well, I’m quite looking forward to trying it out.

There are 13 episodes in the box set. My plan is to listen to them one-at-a-time, painting a new The Lord of the Rings miniature with each episode and taking the time to blog about each one as I go. So something for readers to look forward to (or endure)!

Friday, 22 June 2018

Ogre Smash!

After a bit of a break, I'm back on the painting train, and just finished up this guy. He's a Reaper Bones miniature, sculpted by Bobby Jackson. I picked him up at Adepticon this year. At $3.50 for such a large miniature, it is hard to resist. 

While he'll be my go-to ogre in future games, I also have plans to use him as a troll in my Middle-Earth battles as he fits my vision pretty well. Here's a shot of him towering over a Gondorian ranger!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

A Questionable Purchase?

A few months ago, my friend Nick Eyre was extolling the virtues of the 1981 BBC Audio Drama adaption of The Lord of the Rings. I walked away from the conversation promising that if I ever had the chance to listen to it, I would. 

Well, today I was nosing around an Oxfam charity bookstore, when I found the pictured box set. It’s a rather attractive box, in really good condition. The thirteen cassette tapes inside, each containing an episode of the drama, are also in good condition. It even comes with a small, but high-quality reproduction of the map of Middle-earth, so you can follow the path of the adventure as you listen. With a price tag of £10 (and much of that going to charity), it was more than my Tolkien-obsessed mind could resist.

I am especially attracted to it because Ian Holm, who played Bilbo in the Peter Jackson adaptation plays Frodo in this one. I’m sure that is not a coincidence.

There is only one problem… I don’t own anything that can play an audio cassette, and haven’t for at least 15 years! It’s the worst kind of purchase – something that requires another purchase to actually use! Well, I’m going to ask around of my friends and relatives to see if anyone has something I can borrow. If not, it looks like they are neither difficult, nor overly expensive, to obtain on ebay.

I’ll keep you updated!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Spellcaster 3 – Print on Demand – Now Available!

Good news for everyone who was waiting to pick up Issue 3 of Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine in print format. I have just received the proofs and approved them for sale.

Once again, I am seriously impressed with the quality of the printing.

I especially like this issue in print because the significantly increased page count makes the magazine look like a proper little booklet.

Remember, anyone buying a print copy also gets the PDF version for free, which is especially nice in this case as Ghost Archipelago players will probably want to print out the Ulterior Motives cards.

You can get your copy from

The growing spine width of Spellcaster magazine!