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text 2017-05-26 21:46
Personal Canon - Hobbit and LOTR
The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien,Michael Hague
The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

Author: JRR Tolkien

First Read: 6 or 7 years old.


                I can’t remember when I first read the Hobbit.  I do know when I first read LOTR.  It was when I went with my mom to the eye doctor.  She started reading it to me, and when she couldn’t continue because of the eye drops, I started reading it on my own.  About four years later, I received my own illustrated copy of the Hobbit (with Hague illustrations, so he is my first LOTR artist), and then a few years after that, I brought my own copies of Fellowship, Towers, and King.  When the movies came out, I caved and brought hardcover editions of the trilogy.  Additionally, it is one of the few books where I own multiple versions – not only physical books, but kindle version, audio cassette versions, and Audible files. 


                And that’s not counting the movies.


                But let’s not count those because I will keep bitching about the lack of a thrush.


                I have read the books so many times, that I got a little po’ed when I reviewed the kindle version of LOTR and somebody thought it was the first time I read the books. 


                When I first read the books, I found everything before the Council of Elrond boring and after the first two times I read the story, skipped it for a bit.  I liked the bit at the Ford, but the Council of Elrond was where it was at because it had Elves.  I loved Elves because they had bows like Robin Hood.  Flynn’s Robin Hood was the first movie I saw, the Pyle version of Robin Hood was one of the first books I owned.  Bard was my favorite character in the Hobbit because he had a bow.  You see how it goes.  I also couldn’t figure out why Arwen married Strider because she didn’t do anything but sew.



                While I agree with Pratchett -that if you think LOTR is the greatest book every, you haven’t read it enough, I love this book.  It isn’t perfect, but it holds up well.  And yes, there are parts that don’t quite fit – Tom Bombadil for instance, but their friendship and bonds that run though the novel are the joy of the novel.


                As I got older, I grew to love the Arwen story at the same time I got angry with how it set such a standard of elven maiden giving up immortality to marry a human man, something in reverse that you tend not to see too often.  I realized that there are aspects of the Prof in many characters, perhaps mostly in Eowyn when she complains of being left to burn in the hall when men have more use for it.


                What the Prof did was not only give Britain a saga, a story that Milton wished to do.  He didn’t just simply set the standard for world building or create a template that writers like Terry Brooks would “borrow” (or steal) for years to come.


                It’s humanity.  Really. 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-11-26 00:36
The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

So finally getting around to reading the LOTR series. I've also booked tickets to go and see all extended editions back to back at the cinema in London in a week. 12 and a half hours in total. I hope I have the stamina to make it through, it's been interesting as someone who was a huge fan of the films to finally read the books and see the similarities/differences. I expected it to be wildly different, but I thought as far as book to film usually goes, Jackson and co stayed quite true to the books with slight alterations here and there. I'd wager it's probably to enhance the drama as the ideas moved to screen.


But anyway, back to the books. My favourite section of the whole book is the council of Elrond. I am for better or worse a political animal and I think the discussions over the ring and strategy most likely engaged that part of me. I thought it was the most tastefully written section of dramatic consequence in the book. The back and forth between Aragorn and Boromir and the stern nature of Elrond blend quite nicely to make the dialogue riveting. 


The lore in particular is important. That is what the films struggled with at times, I never felt that the rings of power and their significance was properly fleshed out, although I'm aware the beginning sequence of the fellowship is dedicated to the rings of power and their story. With the books you see Celebrimbor brought into the fold, albeit briefly, as the forger of the Elven rings which he deceived Sauron with, thus hiding them from the rings pull and protecting the Elven elites from becoming wraiths like the kings of men. Then there is this interesting section I think in Lothlorien with Galadriel where she explains that if the one ring is destroyed, the power of the Elven rings will either be freed or wilt with the one ring. Should it be the latter the Elves culture will regress and so they must leave middle earth. It may have been Elrond thinking about it who details this properly, but I'm sure the lady of the wood has her piece on it.


This all goes some way to explaining why the powerful, elegant race of Elves who seem so wise and able are in fact declining and not in a better position to help the others defend middle Earth from the shadow.


One of the other things I noticed in the fellowship was the observations on human character portrayed through the different races. When the company is being led to Lothlorien by the Elves and they insist on blindfolding Gimli because he's a dwarf, at a time when there is an evil lord with the upper hand seeking dominion over all peoples creeping closer to all places of goodness. I just thought that was typical of the short sighted, tribal instincts that we tend to see in our own characters. People willing to forsake the easy, rational choice and the greater good for their own pride and political point scoring. Relishing in petty squabbling and stubborn, blatantly biased view points. 


It's a good lesson on the dangers of division of good people in the face of encroaching danger and the folly of allowing petty, selfish grievances to get in the way of bonds. Further to this never admitting fault or blame, only seeking to look outwards when something goes wrong and point the finger and the division and resentment this causes. All based in a lack of wisdom, reason, empathy and humility.


I think the great strength of this book is its recurring theme. This idea that no matter how bleak things look and how marginalised the purity of the world is there are always things to cling to that can help change the tide. There is always hope no matter how unbelievable the odds seem to be. It doesn’t matter if you’re a minuscule hobbit constantly overlooked and underestimated. There are strengths that aren’t always considered or apparent that can tip the scales in a big way.


This also then leads on to the touching of philosophy and how Tolkien sort of alludes several times to the idea that very slight variations of action or chance would throw the entire fate of middle earth one way. Gandalf says that Frodo was meant to have the ring and that bodes well for the fate of middle earth, suggesting there's a pulling of the strings behind the scenes, but then there are times when it is suggested that if the person's character does not stand up to the test and they do not act the appropriate way to a challenge that will change the outcome of the war between good and evil. There are some spiritual ideas in play. I think as well this is what attracts me to LOTR ahead of A song of Ice and Fire. I find Martin's analysis of humanity to just be profoundly depressing and cynical and I have enough cynicism about the real world to want my fantasy escapism to be filled with the same. 



I have thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship and I look forward to the two towers. Enjoy your weekend my tragically estranged (because I barely use BL anymore like a fool) BL companions.


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review 2016-11-09 17:35
Reread for whatever time
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

This might be sacrilege but The Lord of the Rings is not the best book in the world. Highly influential, yes. Important, yes. Groundbreaking, sure. But Pratchett was correct when he said that if you still think it is the best book in the world than you haven’t been reading enough.

Yet, despite its flaws, and there are many, people keep returning to the book (or books).

Despite the fact that with the possible exception of Sam, the males seem to be neutered and live a world where women are suitably quiet and seem to be little involved in the producing of children. Everyone, for instance, is a son of some guy. And if the evil is so big why doesn’t Elrond recruit the Eagles?

Yes, I know the answer to most of these questions, that Tolkien was drawing on the tradition of sagas and medieval writers. It explains the at times almost overly formal language and the heroic descriptions. But that doesn’t explain the popularity outside of literary circles.

In part, the popularity is the hobbits – not so much Frodo, but Sam, Merry, and Pippin. The trio succeeds because it that sense of brotherhood. Sam, at least, shows some interest outside of the four brothers, but he appears to be the only one. In part, the popularity is because in some ways Tolkien does break tradition – the character of Eowyn, in particular her comments to Argorn about being left in the hall to be burned when there is no more use for her stand out. There is also Sam’s daughter, and Galadriel, whose roles are minor but important. Despite the few female roles, and those largely traditional, the women also don’t spend time crying on male shoulders. Even when Faramir woos Eowyn, he presents understanding which is somewhat different than comfort – Gandalf is the only other one who presents understanding. So, there is that.

There is also a surprising amount of emotion in the book for such formal language. So, there is not too. And unlike Lewis’ heavy handed Narnia, Middle Earth is more about story than about religion. The lessons and themes are regardless of religion, even if Tom seems totally out place.

Reading the series in one volume, in one digital volume was different. And it wasn’t just the easy links to the material in the appendix. In some ways, the digital version was less kind to the appendix, making it harder to skim or dip in and out of them. Still, it is LOTR, and it is like pulling on a pair of worn and happy slippers, holes and all.

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text 2016-10-17 23:45
Birthday Monster Book Haul
Eragon (Inheritance, #1) - Christopher Paolini
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
Die Briefe der Manns: Ein Familienportrait - Thomas Mann,Heinrich Mann,Kerstin Klein,Holger Pils,Klaus Mann,Tilman Lahme
All That I Am - Anna Funder
Claire of the Sea Light - Edwidge Danticat
Der Weltensammler - Ilija Trojanow
The Aeronaut's Windlass - Jim Butcher
Even Dogs in the Wild - Ian Rankin
The Crossing - Connelly Michael
Splinter the Silence (Tony Hill) - V. McDermid

...  thanks to my mom, who gave me a bookstore gift card, my best friend, who raided my Amazon wish list (isn't it nice to know your loved ones know just what you'll be happiest about?) and a few odd things to which I treated myself:


* Die Briefe der Manns (The Mann Family Correspondence) -- newly released

* Anna Funder: All That I Am

* Ilija Trojanow (or Iliya Troyanov, as he's spelled in English): Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds)

* George Simenon: Maigret & Co. (collection of audio dramatizations of Simenon's mysteries)

* Edwidge Danticat: Claire of the Sea Light

* Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut's Windlass

* J.R.R. Tokien: The Lord of the Rings -- the legendary BBC audio dramatization starring Ian Holm as Frodo, Michael Hordern as Gandalf, and Robert Stephens as Aragorn

* T.H. White: The Once and Future King (audio version read by Neville Jason)

* Christopher Paolini: Eragon (audio version read by Kerry Shale)

* Patrick O'Brian: Aubrey / Maturin -- audio versions of the first six novels, read by Robert Hardy

* Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Dozen -- audio adaptations of 12 stories, starring John Gielgud (Holmes), Ian Richardson (Watson), and Orson Welles (Moriarty)

* Val McDermid: Splinter the Silence

* Michael Connelly: The Crossing

* Ian Rankin: Even Dogs in the Wild


... and, also courtesy of my friend, Eric Clapton: I Still Do -- and a kitty coloring book!



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review 2016-09-13 17:12
The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

I decided to read a one-book edition of the classic, just the way it was written. I will however split my discussion between three parts of it. I need to mention that I will not bother hiding any spoilers as I have trouble believing any modern person living in civilized enough parts of the world to have internet access has not read this one or at least has not seen the movies – which for all their faults were decent, but I am not talking about that abomination called the movie version of The Hobbit.


For the very brief synopsis of the plot I will quote Brandon Sanderson’s brilliant description from his Alcatraz series. A furry-legged British guy had to throw his uncle’s ring into a crack in the ground. As I mentioned before I hope everybody and their brother are familiar with the plot, so the only purpose this description serves is pure amusement.


My first time I read this I was quite young. The end of the book (I will refer to this work as a book, not a trilogy) gave me the worst book hangover I ever had before. Much later on I saw the movies and reread it. I matured and became more bitter and cynical. My initial rating of 5 stars still stands. This is a classic of epic fantasy against which all other epic fantasy works were judged up until now and will be judged in the foreseeing future.


There is a reason countless carbon copies of this epic exist – of different quality. Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara comes to mind immediately. It is very much arguable whether it was different enough not to be called a blatant rip-off, but the next two parts of his trilogy were different enough. What would happen if you replace Frodo with a biggest whining asshole you can think of and leave everything else intact: a guy who loves speaking in bad poetry, the Council that gave birth to the Fellowship, and the freaking ring itself? You would get Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson; it gets recommended a lot and for some reason nobody is bothered by its similarities to The Lord of the Rings. These two are just the best-known examples.


It would be very much unfair to call The Lord of the Rings the first work of fantasy. Lord Dunsany, Robert E. Howard, and others were writing what is considered fantasy today way before J.R.R. Tolkien. By the way while style of Lord Dunsany is a little hard to read in modern days, Howard’s Conan is still great. Tolkien was probably the best at world-building in fantasy rivalled only by Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and it took latter 15 huge books to do.


To my complete surprise I found the book an easy read on my second time through. Even the dreaded endless poetry did not bother me too much and no, I did not skip over it. Tolkien’s writing style – when it does not slip into epic-ness in the third part – makes it a nice read.


What follows is my criticism of some occasional flows in otherwise great classic epic fantasy book. I will split it into three parts to keep some semblance of organization.


The Fellowship of the Ring.

I was very curious to discover that Tolkien uses goblins and orcs interchangeably. In The Hobbit Bilbo found the fateful ring in Goblin’s caves. When this story was briefly retold in The Lord of the Rings, goblins became orcs. In modern fantasy these two races are very much distinct. I always imagine goblins to be green guys on a weak side, more like bothersome troublemakers while orcs are brutes with tusks and armed for a battle.


Initially it took Frodo a while to get his behind moving and a because of this a lot of people complain about slow start. I was one of the complainers during my first read, but I found I like the slow-moving beginning the second time around. You will get a big picture of pastoral life in Shire to fully appreciate what would be lost to darkness.


Tom Bombadil gets my award for being the most pointless character ever to grace a work of fantasy. This would be the only part where the movie did better than the original source: the former skipped his parts completely. To quote one of the person who commented on this and who said it much better than I could, “The end of the world is coming and we have a character happily singing songs about himself in his small corner of Middle Earth”. Add to this his annoying habit of speaking in bad poetry and my award is entirely justified.


What the heck happened to Radagast? He was supposed to be a great wizard equal to both Saruman and Gandalf, however after unwittingly sending the latter to a trap he disappeared without a trace.


In my humble opinion this is still the best third of the whole book.


The Two Towers.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but I think Tolkien created the first fantasy trilogy (if you consider his big book being split in three parts by the publisher). In this case he was also the guy who created the first Middle Book of a Trilogy Syndrome case. The idea is that the first book has to have an interesting beginning of a conflict and the last book has to have an exciting conclusion which leaves the second book with the boring job of building a bridge between the two. The Two Towers clearly shows this.


I also do believe that the second part about Frodo and Sam being miserable can be made much shorter without any loss.


I have the impression that while Tolkien tried to show the tragedy of a war, he still glorifies battles if they are fought for the just cause. Much later it was Glen Cook in his Black Company who showed that war is a really dirty business, no matter what side.


The Return of the King.

Once again the part about the misery of Frodo and Sam can be shortened, but not to the extent as in The Two Towers. It looks like the editors were asleep at their job as much at the time the book was written as they are now.


Did anybody else had the impression that Gandalf the White was more useless overall than Gandalf the Grey?


Did you notice that Sauron never ever makes a personal appearance? Tolkien made an excellent job of creating a menacing bad guy without showing him even once.


This was also probably the first time an extremely annoying trope was used: take a pity of a bad guy and let him go only to have him backstab you later (Saruman). This one made an appearance countless times ever since and by now really overstayed its welcome.


The last line of the book is brilliant and is as a perfect ending as it could possibly be. I only found one other fantasy series which came close to this perfection: the aforementioned Black Company by Glen Cook.


This part is shorter as it contains numerous appendices, notes, etc. Reading them actually gave me a headache. They do contain some minimalistic info about the further fates of surviving characters. To make a long story short the mortal guys died with time. There, I saved you troubles of suffering through 200+ pages.


I also realized that Middle Earth is not a nice place to live as wars were raging non-stop through its long history.


In the conclusion I have a seemingly unrelated advice to my American friends. Do you have a tough choice in November between voting for a really bad person and an equally bad person? I will make it easy for you:

Frodo for president

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