Tag: J.R.R. Tolkien

Review – The Hobbit

Posted September 11, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Once upon a time, I probably revisited this book every few months, and even as an adult it’d probably be once a year or so. And I never did get entirely tired of it, but it felt like I needed to take a break for a while and let it rest, and wait not just to feel idly like reading but to feel an itch to read it.

Well, that time came, and I grabbed my cute little pocket edition and devoured it in three goes (not the single gulp of childhood, but still fairly swift by my current standards). And as always, Tolkien was waiting for me, with his warm, affectionate, amused narration, his pedantic little worries about whether it’s “dwarfs” or “dwarves”, his silly (and less silly) songs and poems… And as always, I thought about how much more there always is to discover. Less so with The Hobbit, yes, but still — this time I found myself really focusing on the geography, for whatever reason, and how come Gandalf’s never taken that particular path to Rivendell, and questions like that.

Also, the wordplay. I never really followed half the “good morning” wordplay Gandalf does in the first chapter as a kid, but this time it jumped out at me.

The thing I love about Tolkien is the scope of his world. He’s reporting one story that passes through a whole world, and it shows in the small details (even when those were later tweaked for The Lord of the Rings, the fact that he had such a big world is what made it difficult to keep it consistent but let stories evolve within it). That and the warmth of his narrative voice will always carry The Hobbit for me, and make it like cuddling up with a big ol’ hot water bottle — and maybe some hot chocolate for good measure as well.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted August 26, 2021 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Bleeds by Ilona AndrewsWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve gone back to my usual habits and I’m reading a couple of books at once: Pen Vogler’s Scoff, for a start, which is slower than I’d maybe expected. It’s all about food and class in Britain, and ye gods, I’d thought my family were snobs but my eyes are getting opened. Then there’s my reread of The Fellowship of the Ring, which feels very slow right now since I only just cleared the Council of Elrond.

Finally, I’m rereading the Kate Daniels series, and I’m now embarked upon book four, Magic Bleeds. I love how Kate and Curran are total idiots and need to communicate properly, yet it doesn’t frustrate me because it doesn’t feel contrived — they’re just that stupid, and carry such a boatload of issues each, that it makes sense things won’t just work between them.

Cover of The Jasmine Throne by Tasha SuriWhat have you recently finished reading?

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri! I really need to sit down and write my review; I’m still sort of digesting it, I think. It felt so chunky and daunting, on the shelf, but it melted away when I sat down for my focused reading sessions each day. Very enjoyable, even though I tooootally called the big secret about Rao’s name.

Cover of Elatsoe by Darcie Little BadgerWhat will you be reading next?

Ooof, no idea. I recently reread The Goblin Emperor so I could start The Witness for the Dead while the details of the world were clear in my mind, so maybe that. Or Elatsoe, which is my next book club read. Or maybe one of the books I got for my birthday — The Chianti Flask looks like a good palate-cleanser in the way most of the British Library Crime Classics are.

How about you?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted August 18, 2021 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

What, me, doing my weekly update in a timely fashion?! Surely you jest.

Cover of The Jasmine Throne by Tasha SuriWhat are you currently reading?

Just two books! I know, it’s a shock — I didn’t intentionally cut down, really, I was just feeling pretty stressed and it happened by itself. So I’m halfway through Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, for a book club read. It’s a bit chunky-looking on the shelf, but I’ve been speeding through it when I sit myself down and focus.

I’m also now rereading The Fellowship of the Ring. I had a bit of an urge to read it, and I decided to just go with it — whims are good!

Cover of The Bone Wars by Erin EvanWhat have you recently finished reading?

The Hobbit, which is for me always the right place to start a Tolkien reread. It’s as cosy as ever (despite going some very un-cosy places), and I still love the narrative voice.

Before that, I DNF’ed The Bone Wars (Erin S. Evan) too soon to even review it (which I normally would) for being a bit too young-feeling and infodumpy.

Cover of Slippery Creatures by K.J. CharlesWhat will you be reading next?

That’s a bit of a mystery, as usual, but maybe not quite so much as usual. I’m really really hoping to get started on Scoff: a History of Food and Class in Britain by Pen Vogler, from my non-fiction pile, and Slippery Creatures by K.J. Charles from the fiction pile. However, I also want to reread the fourth Kate Daniels book soon, and the next Whyborne and Griffin book, and I’ve so far had 10 new books for my birthday, and(!) I want to work on reading more of the ARCs I’ve neglected.

So, um, probably still plenty of mystery.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What’re you reading?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Could Read Again For the First Time

Posted June 23, 2020 by Nicky in General / 18 Comments

Ten years of Top Ten Tuesday! Wow. This week I’m turning to an old one… that I probably did before, knowing my interests. Here are the ten books I wish I could experience again with fresh eyes. I’m mindful that the suck fairy may have visited books I loved when I was less mature, so I’ve steered away from childhood favourites.

Cover of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin Cover of The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien Cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Band Sinister by K.J. Charles

  1. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. Everyone knows I loved this one, I think! I wish I could read it again and then compare notes with myself. Did I love the same characters? Did I suspect the same characters? What different things would I focus on, being a different person now than I was then? Honestly, that goes for all of these, though: I’d love to know how things would stack up if I could experience them anew from where I’m standing now. The Goblin Emperor is a special favourite, though.
  2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. This book has been around for 10 years now, and had 12 reprintings! Whoooa. I remember the first time I read it, it was so compulsive — I had to know what happened, how everything was going to work out, why things we’re happening… I’d love to have that experience again.
  3. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. My mother made me wait to read this until I was eleven, to try and ensure I was mature enough to understand some of the subtleties. I know I didn’t get it all, and my readings of it more recently have been layered with those early impressions, and also with studying it. I’d love to be able to read it for the first time with all the stuff I know now about mythology and Tolkien’s intentions.
  4. The whole Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood. I’ve read all of the Phryne books now, some of them twice, and I’d love to be able to recapture the first time reading them and falling in love with the characters. Some of it’s getting a little too familiar now!
  5. Band Sinister, by K.J. Charles. It was just so sweet and funny and I laughed so much. I’m sure I’m going to enjoy reading it knowing what happens… but I’d love to recapture that breathless ack, how are they going to deal with this?!
  6. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. I’m not sure I can take rereading it in full knowledge of where it’s going, but I remember being so blown away by it.
  7. Fledgling, by Octavia Butler. I feel like I’m better equipped to handle Butler and where her work was coming from now, but I know this book had a lot of impact on me because it was uncomfortable to read. I don’t know if it’s lost that uncomfortableness now… but I don’t feel like it should. I’d like to get uncomfortable all over again, as an older and wiser adult.
  8. A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. The first time I read this book I didn’t love it, and that feels like a waste now. I’d also love to know if it’s something you have to read again to love, or if I was just a crankypants that day.
  9. Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Same! I ended up loving both these series, and yet… did not love the book first time through. I was just drawn back by something to give them another try. I’d love to give them another first try and see what happens!
  10. Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I feel like this one actually gains from rereading, because I felt like I understood it better on a second read, when I’d absorbed more of the world… but also I remember the way it completely grabbed hold of my brain the first time. I’d like to have a clear schedule and a rainy day, and just… give it a second first try.

Cover of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell Cover of Fledgling by Octavia Butler Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan Cover of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Some of these are probably obvious choices, but… it’s not just books I like to reread (actually, I’ve struggled to reread The Sparrow). It’s about recapturing that first impression, and I’ve no idea if I would love all these books the same way if one could do that… but I’d love to find out.

So if I’m ever found with a lost memory… you know what to sit me down with! What would you want to re-experience for the first time?

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Review – The Hobbit

Posted November 15, 2018 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

A long-time love of mine, I reread this because I wanted the Werther’s Originals taste/feel of the book, because stresss (which is over now, hurrah!). The main charm for me lies in what came of it later, along with the paternal and knowing tone of the narrator. The narrative voice has always felt warm to me — cognisant of the characters’ faults, and sometimes gently pointing them out, but always with a deep good-naturedness. And then, of course, there’s the world: perhaps not quite fully realised by the time of writing The Hobbit, but stretching out before and beyond it, even if the brushstrokes are broad.

There are many things tone-wise that don’t quite fit with The Lord of the Rings, and the text itself was revised to fit in with the later material — but so cleverly, playing with the textual history of the story, tying together the real with the imagined. I love all the things Tolkien did with creating texts within his stories: that too is part of what makes his world real, that there are books and histories that are relevant to the world… there are few people who do it quite as well, and it’s always a delight.

Of the story itself: a rather ordinary middle-class hobbit, comfortable in his world of small social engagements, good food and convenience, ends up swept into an adventure involving trolls, goblins, magic rings and (in the end) a dragon. He’s the most clearly delineated of the characters, with many of the dwarves being mere thumbnail sketches: nonetheless, it works (with one or two dwarves picked out for slightly more detail here and there to keep them from being entirely props, and Gandalf being the enigmatically fascinating sorcerer of somewhat unknown motive in the whole affair). It’s definitely pitched more at children, though there’s something about the tone that I think makes it a delight at any age. As a fantasy book, taken alone, it’s not all that astounding. It mingles some lore together, barely hinting at the more cohesive and seriously built world Tolkien would later introduce to us.

In the end, it’s a typical quest story  — it’s Tolkien’s world and his narrative voice that make it for me.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Lay of Aotrou & Itroun

Posted April 14, 2017 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun by J.R.R. TolkienThe Lay of Aotrou & Itroun, J.R.R. Tolkien

I still have a whole rant about the way the Tolkien estate is putting out these books, padded out with excerpts from Tolkien’s drafts, and yet marketing them to a general rather than scholarly audience. If you’re here for Gollums and hobbitses, you’ll be disappointed, though you can see some seeds for and parallels with Tolkien’s later, greater work.

Personally, I was glad to get to read this and the extra material, because Tolkien’s work and scholarship fascinates me. Where he edited his own work, which he did obsessively and meticulously, he rarely puts a foot wrong; in his drafts and rough copies there’s still a lot of beauty and interest. But I’m also interested because this was inspired by a Breton lai, and attempts to keep some of the same atmosphere while dealing with the Breton folklore — though also creating something distinctly Tolkien’s own.

I think it’s a fine piece of work — if you know what you’re going into. Not Mordor, nor Lothlorien (though you might glimpse Galadriel), but perhaps a little bit of Mirkwood.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted February 14, 2017 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

Repost! Since for some reason, WordPress ate the first version.

It’s February 14th, which means it’s Valentine’s Day. Which means that the TTT topic for today is, unsurprisingly, about romance. I’m going to talk about couples-that-might-have-been, and couples-which-aren’t-yet, in books that I love.

  1. Csethiro and Maia, from The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison). Okay, they’re getting married, so the chances are good. But we only just glimpsed the two of them beginning to really come together as a couple. I long to see more of Csethiro protecting him, and Maia respecting her and giving her power and influence in his kingdom, and how that unfolds.
  2. Kim and Aileron, from The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay). Come onnnn, I can’t be the only one who saw that. Kim should’ve stayed in Fionavar; marrying Dave makes no sense at all. But then, Kay is kind of prone to that.
  3. Arthur and Guinevere, from Paths to Camelot (Sarah Zettel). I just love seeing them have a functional, central, mutual relationship without betrayal. We get glimpses of them throughout the four books, but… I want more.
  4. Eowyn and Faramir, from The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). They make sense as a couple, but they have so little time and development. Gimme more!
  5. Alcuin and Anafiel, from Kushiel’s Dart (Jacqueline Carey). It’s not faaaaair.
  6. Phèdre and Nicola, from Kushiel’s Chosen (Jaqueline Carey). I really liked their relationship and wished we saw a bit more of it.
  7. Alan and Matthias, from Blood and Circuses (Kerry Greenwood). Their scenes together with Phryne made me laugh, and I kind of hope that they at least kept up the relationship.
  8. Lin Chung and his wife, from Murder in Montparnasse (Kerry Greenwood). I feel like Lin Chung’s wife deserved a bit more ‘screen time’, so to speak — she and Phryne could have a fascinating relationship, and she seemed pretty interesting as a character.
  9. Rupert and Bryan, from Season of Storms (Susanna Kearsley). Okay, I kind of want them to be my dads, but. The book ends tragically and it’s not fair.
  10. Celia and Marco, from The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). Or maybe I just never wanted that book to end…

And now I kind of want to go and reread all these books.

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Review – The Return of the King

Posted January 31, 2017 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Return of the King by J.R.R. TolkienThe Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien

And so another reread came to an end — somewhat painfully. The first half of The Return of the King is just as epic and well-written as the rest. Aragorn shows his nobility and saves the day, epic battles are fought, the hobbits surprise themselves with their own valour, and the creeping dread of the Nazgul can be felt by characters and reader alike. The battles and the nobility of all the characters are clear, there’s tension and excitement, and some truly vivid images — like Denethor’s hands, holding the palantir, withering in flame.

Even the start of the second part works well: Sam and Frodo practically crawling through Mordor. The despair and the trudging and the dirt and defilement are as vivid as anything written before.

Even their triumph works reasonably well. But it’s as though Tolkien just didn’t know how to end the book. It ends on the Field of Cormallen, then again in Gondor. Then again at Orthanc, and Rivendell, and in Bree, and again in the Shire, and then yet again at the Grey Havens. Each scene makes sense, but it feels like it’s wrapping up… and then it’s as if Tolkien takes a deep breath and plunges on.

It feels a little untidy, even while it ties up all the loose ends. And when you get to the Scouring of the Shire, you just want to yell at him to give Frodo a break already. Thematically, it makes sense. It’s been hinted at from the beginning, and the plot is ready for it. But I don’t feel like the story is. It just doesn’t draw to a close gracefully. ‘And then another thing. And another thing.’ Like being told an anecdote that never seems to end.

I do love The Lord of the Rings passionately, in spite of all its faults… But I skimmed the Scouring of the Shire, this time round.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Two Towers

Posted December 1, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Two Towers by J.R.R. TolkienThe Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

As with The Fellowship of the Ring, it’s hard to know how to review this with objectivity. I’ve been trying to think which of the three sections is my favourite, but even that is difficult; I think the whole they make — and were intended to make, by Tolkien, who did not view them as a trilogy but as a single book — is most important. It’s a little odd in this book to go straight from the whole fellowship at the end of the first ‘book’ to such a fragmented company, spending the whole first half with Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, and then the whole second half with Frodo and Sam. It feels a little unwieldy, like that — I could wish for more alternation between the two.

But really, Tolkien knew what he was doing very well. What I find interesting having read it now is that I know the land of Rohan well, from playing LOTRO. Yet as soon as Frodo and Sam reach the Emyn Muil, I can no longer visualise the world, because I haven’t been there in LOTRO. That says a lot more about me than about Tolkien, though: the physical description is still there, and LOTRO is built on that rich resource. But for me… suddenly, there are no pictures in my head for Mordor. And perhaps that’s for the best!

I always find The Two Towers the quickest read, yet perhaps my least favourite; so much of it is about getting the players into position. But at least it features Faramir, who in the books has a nobility to match Aragorn’s.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Fellowship of the Ring

Posted November 23, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Fellowship of the Ring by TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

It’s difficult to know how to review something I’ve read so many times, and loved so much, with any kind of objectivity. I’ve been through phases with Tolkien: uncomplicated adoration of a plot I could get my teeth into and a mythic world it took work to imagine; disgust at the lack of female characters and the assigning of certain racial characteristics primarily or wholly to evil characters; nose-wrinkling at the moral absolutism; appreciation of the mythic framework and the sheer amount of time that went into the world.

Lately, I’m at the appreciation end — to me, the invented history around all aspects of this, including texts-within-the-text, is just so much fun, and the playing with language is inspired. From Elvish to Klingon (ed. Michael Adams) had a chapter which really made me appreciate the way Tolkien built his languages, including with a sense of history and an understanding of the fact (and the way!) that languages change. We are so ridiculously lucky to have this book, Tolkien’s mind at play on his ‘secret vice’ — it could have remained in his head and been lost, and we’d have been poorer for it.

This time, though, what I noticed mostly was the maps. I’m not a visual person, so I’ve never been good at imagining the sheer scale of the Fellowship’s journey, or understanding the geography. Perhaps unsurprisingly, hours spent riding around the Shire, Eregion and the Gap of Rohan while playing Lord of the Rings Online has given me a much keener sense of the geography (if not so much the scale, since obviously LOTRO isn’t set up to make you take days to cross Eregion). Suddenly it’s much easier to picture, and to realise that Tolkien had a very clear sense of where everything was, even when it came to small scenes. All the details work together — such and such is on the left, so the east wind does [x] — to make it a fully realised sensory experience. You have to have a heck of an imagination to keep all that straight, and for the most part, Tolkien does.

When you know that he also did illustrations for his own books and was a prominent scholar, one whose work on medieval texts is still relevant to undergraduates today, you just have to marvel. The man was a genius, and for all the flaws of moral absolutism and sexism I can see in his work — which nonetheless do make sense in the mythic context he’s creating — I can never again undervalue it. Anybody who dismisses J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is foolish. (Enjoying it is another matter, of course.)

Rating: 5/5

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