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review 2018-01-08 19:52
Letters from Father Christmas ★★★★☆
Letters from Father Christmas - J.R.R. Tolkien,Derek Jacobi,John Moffatt,Christian Rodska

What a treat these letters must have been for Tolkien’s children! Father Christmas (and buddies) corresponded with them throughout their childhood, telling all about his home at the North Pole and including thrilling adventure stories of marauding goblins.


Audiobook version via Audible, competently read by multiple performers. I think I’d prefer to have this in a bound copy, so I could also appreciate the illustrations that decorated the letters.

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review 2018-01-06 06:28
The Two Towers (Lord of the Rings, Vol 2) (Audiobook)
The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien,Rob Inglis

[Sam] wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace - all in a flash of thought that was quickly driven from his mind.


I admit it: This book aggravated me to no end the first time I read it. Where are Frodo and Sam?!!! Who are all these Rohirrim and why are they so obsessed with their horses? No, really, are Frodo and Sam still alive? Who is Gríma and Théoden and why am I supposed to care about them? Ok, I was worried about Merry and Pippin too since they got carried off by the Uruk-hai in the first chapter, but we find out pretty quickly that they're just fine and dandy and then the good professor makes us wait more than HALF THE BOOK to find out what's going on with Frodo and Sam. He is EVIL and CRU-EL. I kept sneaking peeks ahead because I just had no patience for anything going on in Rohan. Gandalf kept flashing his whites at everyone, and Aragorn was practically swooning over his sword and name-dropping his ancestors like there's no tomorrow. Which, admittedly, there could have been no tomorrow, but still!


Where now the horse and the rider?

Where is the horn that was blowing?

Where is the helm and hauberk,

and the bright hair flowing?



NO! WHERE ARE FRODO AND SAM?! You are beautiful, poem, but you are asking the wrong questions. :P


Way back when I first read this, it was my plan to read each book after each movie, but that didn't happen, and I went right into TTT after finishing FOTR. I got to experience the book as its own thing, and got to see just how diabolical and brilliant a storyteller Tolkien was. He ended this book on the cruelest cliffhanger ever (Shelob) and those poor saps who were reading these books as they were originally published had to wait a whole year to find out what happened next. I can't even imagine that. I read ROTK in one day, y'all. 


As aggravating as my first read was, I've learned to enjoy it on rereads. It has some of the best writing in the series, and I was pleased as punch when many of those lines and poems made it into the movie. Treebeard and the Ents are amazing, and Merry and Pippin are just having this whole walk through the park while everyone else is fighting for their lives. Their reintroduction to Gandalf and the Three Hunters was fantastic, and nothing warmed me to Théoden faster than his kindness and genuine interest in the hobbits when they meet.


When we finally get to Frodo and Sam though, holy moly, does Tolkien ramp up the tension even more and keeps it going through to the last sentence. Everything about their journey was so desperate, and knowing that the Dead Marshes were inspired by Tolkien's experiences in WWI made that chapter even more haunting. Gollum alone added a very tense dynamic to the group, and knowing that he was up to no good, despite his oath to Frodo, just made things even more tense. And then - Faramir! Despite the fact that he was nicest guy ever, he still had a job to do and it was fantastic how Tolkien could make us empathize with everyone in those chapters, even when they're all seeing things from their own perspectives and their own goals, or in Faramir's case the rules of his father, the Steward. 


'So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way - to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halfings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune. A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality.'


And show it he does (much more believably than his movie counterpart), and those chapters show how complex this story is and how real and nuanced these characters are.  None of them have easy choices, they have to constantly weigh what they think is right versus what tradition would tell them is right, and it all culminates into "The Choices of the Master Samwise," the most heartbreaking chapter in all of LOTR, at least in my opinion.


Also, Tolkien totally tells us exactly how the Ring is going to be destroyed and it's not a spoiler. :D That's doing foreshadowing right. 


PS - Frodo would never take Gollum's word over Sam's, and Sam would never leave. He made a promise! (Movie vs. book splits make this tricky, but since this is a review for the book, I'm sticking to scenes that are actually in this book, rather than the movie.)


PPS - Cupid playing Éomer was a delight. All the Rohan stuff was great, as was most of Helm's Deep, Éowyn, Gollum, the Dead Marshes, po-ta-toes!, the Palantír scene, etc.


PPPS - The movie has more pluses than minuses, of course, but what's with all the fake-outs deaths? And nothing about Osgiliath makes sense. Gimli has a poetic soul, he's not a punchline. Treebeard was smarter than that. 


PPPPS - Shelob was awesome though. 


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review 2017-12-31 20:56
The Silmarillion
The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien

Watch in amazement as I reduce the wordiest and densest novel of Tolkien's to just five words:


It's all about that bling. :P


Elves and their bling are nearly as bad as a certain dark lord and his bling. 


But seriously, one of the greatest things about LOTR, and to a lesser extent The Hobbit, is that Middle-Earth is a fully realized world. It feels real because it has depth, it has history, and Tolkien understands how to use language to give the various peoples their own traditions and beliefs and philosophies. He understood how geography and topography shaped the people who lived there, and he used his experiences in WWI to inform his works in a way that no others have. Tolkien was a rarity because he was a linguist first and storyteller second, and he didn't have to worry about following or subverting tropes because he created all the tropes. He spent literally the majority of his life creating this world, starting in the trenches during WWI and continuing on to his death. Very few writers come anywhere close to accomplishing that, and even the few who do still don't hold a candle to the Professor. 


Why is all this important to this review? Because if you've ever read The Hobbit or LOTR and wanted to know more about the history that those characters were talking about, or why Elbereth came so readily to Frodo's tongue in dire needs, or why the Light of Eärendil was the Elves' most beloved star, or who the hell Morgoth was, this is the book where Tolkien lays it all out.


No offense to the Professor, but I get why his publisher wasn't eager to use this book as a follow-up to The Hobbit, and I get why even the biggest fans of Tolkien shy away from this book. It is DENSE. Which makes sense because this isn't just a bunch of stories about the beginnings of Middle-Earth. No, these are the myths of the forming of Arda and the histories and myths of the First and Second Ages, and as such they don't read like The Hobbit or LOTR at all. The use of language, while beautiful, is very much reminiscent of scripture in structure. All that's missing is the numbering of section breaks and paragraphs into chapters and verses. (It's a shame Tolkien never did his own translation of the Bible. He wouldn't have put up with all those deletions and additions and convenient rewordings, and he would've fought - very politely and academically, because he's a British professor - with the Pope and all the bishops and ministers and priests about why he's right and they're all wrong.)


And look, I'm usually the first one to yell "show don't tell!" but showing every single story in full that's contained in this book would make it so ridiculously long that Tolkien would still be writing it up in heaven to this day. When he does show though, holy moly, is it amazing! Beren and Luthien, the Children of Húrin, Tuor, Eärendil and Elwing - so many amazing stories. And so many amazing and kickass women. This is honestly why I don't have a problem with Arwen stealing Glorfindel's role in the FOTR movie because look at who her great-great-grandmother is: fricking Luthien Tinúviel, who faced down both Sauron AND Morgoth and walked away from it. If Luthien were still around in the War of the Ring, she could totally simply walk into Mordor. :D 


If you just can't settle down to read this (it took me 13 months to read it the first time around), but you still want to know what's up, check out Jeff La Sala's Silmarillion Primer on TOR here: https://www.tor.com/series/the-silmarillion-primer/. As I'm writing this review, he's currently in the process of doing the primer, so he's only gotten up to "Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor." He keeps it light and fun and has visuals, and while he doesn't go into every detail, he gets most of the highlights and the commenters are equally insightful. 

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text 2017-12-26 02:49
Silmarillion Blues : Quenta Silmarillion : XIX. Of Beren and Lúthien
The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien,Ted Nasmith, Christopher Tolkien

If you've read the main Middle Earth novels, it's hard to remain unaware of Beren and Lúthien.  Their love story is the basis of a cycle we see repeated most notably between Arwen and Aragorn, and a song we hear within The Lord of the Rings.  I'm not going to compare it to Romeo & Juliet, because this isn't a cautionary or satirical play about impulse and naivete that takes place within a single week.  When Tolkien does romance, he goes big.  Realm shaking politics, claims to immortality, and epic trials of valor and devotion.

Our story even starts with the weight of love and grief, as Sauron uses Gorlim's desperate hope that his wife still yet lives to bring about the downfall of Beren's father and his men.  After slaying the orcs that killed Barahir, Beren spends the next few years wandering in solitude and needling Morgoth until a bounty is placed on his head equal to that on Fingon, High King of the Noldor, and orcs flee at rumor of him rather than seek him out for their reward.

Eventually he makes his way out of Dorthonion and towards the Hidden Kingdom, into the land of Lady Melian and King Thingol, passing through Dungortheb, where Ungoliant's children rule.  On coming into this new land he beholds Lúthien, falling into her thrall. Not knowing her name, he thinks of her as Tinúviel, Nightingale, and continued his wandering hoping to find her once again.  Lúthien, to her doom, falls for Beren on her final sight of him, tying her fate to his mortality.

To make things more complicated, Beren is not the only one to fall in love with Lúthien... and daddy dearest is rather protective.  Possibly a bit racist, but it could just be that he's upset at his daughter becoming mortal.  That Beren has the ring of Felagund, causes some pause, and Melian tells her husband that he shall not slay Beren.

And so, Thingol sets Beren on a task doomed to failure.  Retrieve a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown.  While Thingol would honor his word, by his intent he seals himself within the curse of Mandos.  Betrayal is not a pretty thing, and the Silmarils are cursed with an oath of hatred.  Lúthien knows it.  King Finrod Felagund knows it.  Thingol himself knows it, though perhaps the taint the quest spreads among his kind was far beyond what he ever feared.

Things go poorly, including events we have read about in earlier chapters, and in an odd symmetry.  Beren thrown into a pit by Sauron, and Lúthien trapped into a mighty treehouse by her father.  In an act that would impress the Brothers Grimm, she uses magic to grow her hair out and weaves it into a magic robe and into a robe to climb out of her tower from.  She finds little assistance from the Noldor, with Celegorm and Curufin promising help but instead taking her as token to advance their power, Lúthien saved only by the honor of the hound Huan.  Spoiler, Celegorm and Curufin basically try to ruin everything, and even when this backfires do what they can to make everyone else's life miserable.

They win free, as we knew they would in the end, through Lúthien's song and wit, and through the sacrifice of others.  My favorite part of this is where Sauron believes that if he takes on the form of a wolf he can fulfill Huan's doom, and is defeated soundly, his spirit sundered from his flesh, leaving Lúthien to claim mastery of his island.  The nice thing is that in addition to freeing Beren, a whole bunch of captives also see the light of day again.  Of course, they then proceed to cause trouble for their lieges for being upstaged by a maiden... but I feel this also establishes a connection or justification to Eowyn's  blow against Sauron in The Return of the King.

But we aren't done yet, Beren still needs to retrieve a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown.  While I get why he didn't cut out all three stones, I'm wondering why he didn't just grab the whole *crown.*  I'm sure there's some reason.  Regardless, Beren doesn't want Lúthien to follow him into Morgoth's shadow, she says "fat chance," and the wolf takes her side.  Good thing too, I doubt he could have succeeded with out her.  Their quest almost fails, when Carcharoth, the might wolf raised by Morgoth bites off Beren's hand while it holds a Silmaril, and the Morgoth's host awakens.  Fortunately, the Eagles came.

Home is not as it once was when they return.  Lúthien thought lost and with it the light she brings and the Doom playing out.  Melian I feel is less than pleased with her husband throughout this.  Of course, Beren has not the Silmaril with him... but it is in his hand.  The Silmaril and his hand are regained, though it costs Beren and Huan their lives.

I had to re-read the ending of this chapter a few times, going "Wait, did he just die? ... and how long after did Lúthien depart this mortal coil?"  Some how up until now I remained unaware that Beren flat out died and due to Mandos' pity and Lúthien's choice they had a second chance at living together.  I mean, they're Elrond's great-grandparents (...and progenitors of Aragorn's line, but at least there's a significant number of generations before Aragorn comes out).  At first read I was left wondering when they had a chance to reproduce, particularly since Tolkien is not really known for explicit sexy times in his writing.  It looks like this chapter was devoted to how the two of them created the romantic story of Middle Earth, and a romance cycle that is destined to repeat itself, rather than the life they actually lived together.

Source: mee6.xyz/levels/332569573369053185
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review 2017-12-23 03:44
The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, Vol 1) (Audiobook)
The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien,Rob Inglis

The only "unabridged" audio recording of FOTR, my aunt Lobelia! WHERE IS THE PROLOGUE?!!!! That is not only a part of the book but contains some important information for the story you're about to read. Why the fiddlesticks would you leave that out and then call it unabridged? Tricksy, filthy editorses. We hates them, precious.


Ok, I don't hate them, but the point still stands. No tea for them!


It's been too long since I've reread LOTR, and Fellowship is still as awesome as I remember. I really don't get why people think this book is slow or too wordy or hard to read. Black riders, the Conspiracy, Old Man Willow, the barrow-downs, "A Knife in the Dark" and "The Flight to the Ford," the forming of the Fellowship, Caradhras, Moria, the balrog, the breaking of the Fellowship, and of course the scariest creature of them all: Tom Bombadil. :D It's got it all: fun, good times to kick off the adventure, suspense, horror, action, FRIENDSHIP.


"But it does not seem I can trust anyone," said Frodo.


Sam looked at him unhappily. "It all depends on what you want," put in Merry. "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin - to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours - closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo."


Is it any wonder that I, introverted and socially awkward, fell for the hobbits so hard? I could only dream about having friends like that, and the hobbits had them in spades. And is it any wonder why Sam would become my favorite character of all time, not just of this book but of anything ever? He's the only one of the company who isn't any form of nobility or influence, and yet he'll go on to play one of the most crucial parts of the War of the Ring, and he's just super loyal and awesome and squishable. He totally fanboys over the Elves when he finally meets them and comes away with a new understanding of them and his purpose, and literally grows up overnight.


"Do you like them still, now you have had a closer view?"


"They seem a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak," answered Sam slowly. "It don't seem to matter what I think about them. They are quite different from what I expected - so old and young, and so gay and sad, as it were." ... "I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can't turn back. It isn't to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want - I don't rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me."




I adore everything this book chooses to be (minus that whackadoo in yellow boots). Tolkien does so much in such a short space of time, setting up all their characters, all their relationships with each other, constantly raising the stakes and the tension. The Mines of Moria - that chapter is insane. Every time you think things can't possibly get worse - THEY DO. The writing in LOTR is levels above that in The Hobbit, and the characterizations are instantly deep and complex.


This is my favorite book, and favorite movie because I would never have read the books if the movie hadn't been so awesome. I had very few issues with the movie - Frodo being reduced a dude who falls down a lot and Arwen stealing his thunder at the Ford of Bruinen being most of the list. (The lists get longer as the movies go on.) I'm not sorry about losing Bombadil, but I was super bummed about losing the barrow-downs as a result because that chapter is nightmare fuel personified, and it's the first time that Frodo gets to show that seed of courage at the heart of all hobbits, and it was really important that this happened before they met Strider because it gives him a chance to be tested before they have their big bad bodyguard around to help them. And considering PJ gave his moment at the Ford of Bruinen to Arwen, all we get to see him do in the movie before the breaking of the Fellowship is react to things. It's the Hermoine-effect - building up one character to the detriment of another. I love that they gave Arwen screen time, but they could've done that and let Frodo have his moment of awesome.


Anyway, before I write an entire essay:


Rob Inglis's narration is great again. I love being able to hear the songs, and he has a pleasant singing voice. Some of his pronunciations of the names and places are off, but that will only bother the nitpicks. ... Which is so not me. *whistles innocently and strolls away*


But yeah, missing prologue. 1/2 star off.

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