Tag: J.R.R. Tolkien


Review – The Fellowship of the Ring

Posted 9 December, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

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

Sorry, J.R.R.: I am going to review the three volumes separately, but it’s really more of a running commentary of what’s on my mind. I don’t actually see The Lord of the Rings as three separate books; the volumes just provide a good place to pause and take stock. And there’s always a lot to take stock of, when you’re reading these books: Tolkien made sure of that. This isn’t the first time I’ve read them for pleasure since my Tolkien module during my MA, but that aspect of my reading is maybe a bit further behind me right now. Still, I can’t not appreciate the extra richness that reading gave me, the breadth of Middle-earth. There’s so much I want to know more about — the Barrow Downs, the world Tom Bombadil first walked in… and not as glimpses, but the way we see them through the eyes of the hobbits or other members of the Company.

One thing that’s easy to forget is the sheer scale of the landscape they cross. People complain that it takes whole pages to get anywhere, but rarely the opposite: that the whole journey between Rivendell and Hollin is done in a page, that Hollin is just a stop on the way to Caradhras and Moria, when again, there’s so much more we could know about Hollin. Two things contributed to me thinking about that this time: one, I play LOTRO. Now thankfully, Lath has a war steed now, so I can cover a lot of ground, but the first fetch quests in the Shire drove me nuts. So much running! And even that is necessarily scaled down, else you’d have to sit back and take literally a day to run across the Shire. Not ideal for an MMORPG. Secondly, I’m part of a Walk to Mordor challenge, and wow. The miles it takes us to get anywhere — we’re barely progressing faster than the Company did, despite the fact that we’re adding everyone’s miles together.

One thing I do feel is the lack of a real Welsh influence here. This is “a mythology for England” (or is it “of England”? I’ve forgotten the exact quote now), not Britain, and all the focus is on the Anglo-Saxon kind of world. You can tell me about the Welsh influences until you’re blue in the face, but what gets me about Tolkien’s world is that absence. The troubled Welsh background is pushed aside — perhaps there in the Dunlendings’ struggle with the Rohirrim, but it’s not like that is a major theme, or that they’re treated with much sympathy.

Which is fair enough, but it does make me sad that Tolkien didn’t fold those issues into his mythology. I would’ve liked to see more of those tensions, that complex history, echoing through Middle-earth as it still does through modern Britain.

Rating: 5/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 11 November, 2014 by in General / 28 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten characters you wish would get their own book”.

  1. Verity Farseer (Realm of the Elderlings, Robin Hobb). Or maybe his wife, Kettricken. Either way, they’re both great characters, I love the idea of “Sacrifice”, and I wish we’d seen more of Verity being awesome. I don’t think there’s really space for a Verity book in the series, and arguably his crowning achievements are in the Fitz books anyway, but for dreaming about, there’s all the time before Fitz is born, or the time Verity spends alone in the mountains before Fitz and company catch up.
  2. Faramir (Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien). I had the biggest literary crush on Faramir; I think he’s one of the strongest characters we see in Middle-earth. He’s as worthy as Aragorn in his way — both consciously resist the Ring — and he had pretty short shift from his father. He deserves more!
  3. Jane Drew (The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper). Arguably Greenwitch is her book, but it’s so short! She’s the only girl in the Six, and it’d be great to see more of her.
  4. Susan Pevensie (The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis). She deserved more than being dismissed as too interested in “lipsticks and nylons”. As of The Last Battle, she’s still alive and there’s room for redemption or reinterpretation of what’s going on with her. I don’t think Lewis could ever have really handled her with subtlety, but you can dream…
  5. Ysanne (The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay). We only briefly see what Ysanne is like and get hints of her history. A story set entirely within Fionavar that ties up some of that would be lovely.
  6. Mel (Sunshine, Robin McKinley). There’s so much mystery around that character that was never resolved. It adds an interesting background to Sunshine, but I think everyone wants to know more about him.
  7. Jasper (A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin). He’s just a plot element, really, to set Ged on his path. He vanishes out of the story and we never really know why he leaves Roke, whether he ever gains some redemption. He’s presented a little too simplistically — I want to know more, even though he’s not a pleasant character.
  8. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones). Because Calcifer.
  9. Anafiel Delaunay de Montrève (Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey). We know a little about his past, and enough about him to sketch in what we need to know, but I’d like to get to know the character close-up, rather than through Phèdre’s eyes.
  10. Prim (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins). We see her through Katniss’ eyes, but it’d be fun to know what Prim’s thinking, what drives her — what little rebellions are in her, against Katniss and for her, as they’re growing up and Katniss is doing all this self-sacrificing. She’s presented as pretty much totally cute, but there’s gotta be more complex things going on.

What about you guys?

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 28 October, 2014 by in General / 2 Comments

Aaand time for another Top Ten Tuesday! This week it’s a Halloween theme — not my favourite holiday, really; I’m a scaredy-cat at heart. Anyway, here’s the theme: “Top Ten Books/Movies To Read Or Watch To Get In The Halloween Spirit OR Top Ten Characters Who I Would Totally Want To Be For Halloween”. Aaand I’m gonna do the latter. Most of them are comics characters, because actually I’m really bad at visualising characters.

  1. Any Avenger. Comics/movies whatever. Especially one like female!Bucky or the Lady Avengers manips. Not that short red hair really suits me for anyone. Gimme a blond wig and I’ll do Carol Danvers? Scarlet Witch maybe?
  2. Batgirl. From Gail Simone’s run. I’d just need longer hair… lots longer. Like it used to be, in fact.
  3. Storm. Even mohawk!Storm. Maybe especially mohawk!Storm.
  4. A female assassin. Shush, Assassin’s Creed counts for this — there’re Assassin’s Creed books too.
  5. Kate Bishop. Young Avengers! We don’t need to imagine a female Hawkeye; we’ve got one. And I’d have a badass bow.
  6. Lara Croft. She has comics! It counts! Badass bow, again.
  7. Eowyn. Shield-maiden style, of course.
  8. Nazca. From The Lies of Locke Lamora. She’s badass and she should be celebrated.
  9. Zamira Drakasha. Scott Lynch again. Ditto!
  10. Sabriel. Or maybe Lirael. From Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy!

Lots of kick-butt ladies. I didn’t deliberately pick them to be mostly the ladies who fight; it’s just those are the ones I can see myself doing better. Not such a fan of the long dresses and so on.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 14 October, 2014 by in General / 16 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want To Visit (whether fictional or real)”. I suspect we’re going to see a fair amount of agreement on this one? I’m betting there’ll be plenty of “Hogwarts”, “Middle-earth”, etc.

  1. Middle-earth (The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien) — imaginary. I didn’t say I was exempt from that.
  2. Tywyn (The Grey King, by Susan Cooper) — real. And Cadair Idris, and… everywhere else that Will and Bran visit.
  3. The Lost Land (ditto) — imaginary. It sounds so amazing, and I want to look in their library.
  4. Fionavar (The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay) — imaginary. Okay, it’d be a little bit like Middle-earth, really. But still.
  5. Camelot (Arthuriana) — somewhere in between. Possibly even both the imaginary courtly version to see the knights of legend, and the nearest real equivalent to see what it was really like.
  6. Scotland (Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy L. Sayers) — real. My mother has actually traced the whole route of solving that mystery. I wanna.
  7. Everywhere (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor) — real. All the travelling Karou does…
  8. London (Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman) — real and imaginary. Okay, London Below sounds pretty dangerous, but also really cool.
  9. Wherever Moomins live (The Moomin comics/books, by Tove Jansson) — imaginary. Because Moomins are cool.
  10. The Clangers’ moon (Clangers, by Oliver Postgate) — imaginary. Because I can totally communicate in whistles and I wanna know what blue string pudding tastes like.

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Review – The Hobbit

Posted 24 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 7 Comments

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

Yesterday — or, by the time this goes live on my blog, the day before yesterday, the 22nd — was Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday, so naturally that constituted the final bit of excuse I needed to reread Lord of the Rings. And it never quite feels right without starting with The Hobbit. It doesn’t have quite the same cleverness that I enjoy with Lord of the Rings — Tolkien hadn’t come up with, or didn’t see the need to explain, his complicated text provenances, for example — but I still enjoy the narration, the sense of being told a story, and the fact that he expects you, dares you, to be on the ball. As a kid, I didn’t notice some of the flaws in Bilbo’s plans at all, but Tolkien’s narration gives you the benefit of the doubt there. Self-deprecating, almost.

I think the reason I dislike the Hobbit films so much is because they are adapting the book I love to blend with the films they’ve made already. I can see why they’re doing that, and why people enjoy it, but I don’t feel the desperate need to rationalise the difference between the tones of the two books. I like my dwarves goofy, the hero’s journey a little less blatant; I like that Bilbo makes his way through all the adventures because he’s a hobbit, with hobbit-sensibilities, not just a hero in hobbit form. I love that hobbits are basically Tolkien taking aspects of himself and letting them run around in this fantasy world without the illusion that of course he’d be the heroic type. It’s still wish fulfilment, but it’s a kind of wish fulfilment where the hero probably would be better off as a grocer or something else quiet, and manages despite that.

I mean, I bet a very small percentage of self-insert fanfics have the sense to admit that in reality, they’re more like the hobbits than the typical heroes. I really enjoy that Tolkien quite blatantly did that with his layers of authorship and the characteristics of hobbits as a race, and didn’t give in to the urge to over-romanticise it — while still making hobbits endearing, funny, brave, worth reading about, still pulling out aspects of character from even the most countrified bumpkin that could make them a hero.

And, let’s be honest, I just don’t understand people who don’t see the skill in Tolkien’s writing, in the way he builds up the world. Even here, where it isn’t taking the main character very seriously, he still takes the world seriously, shadowing it with the threat of the Necromancer, the Ring, the great alliances of the orcs — hinting at twisted dwarves and the complicated history of the elves, deftly bringing in little bits of lore so that they’re natural when we come to them in The Lord of the Rings. Not because he was planning it, but because he knew his world and knew how to show it to the reader.

Rating: 5/5

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Seven Deadly Sins (of reading)

Posted 10 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Quite like this meme which I lifted from Leah @ Uncorked Thoughts.

GREED – What is your most inexpensive book?

Well, aside from all the freebies, bookmooched stuff, etc, I think it’d have been something from a charity shop. I have a copy of Raymond E. Feist’s Magician that cost me 20p, for example. (Why I bought it when I already own it in paperback and ebook is a mystery I’ll leave for you to ponder.)

WRATH – What author do you have a love/hate relationship with?

Philip Palmer. The books of his I’ve loved, I’ve really loved (despite having giant problems with them, in some cases). And then two of his other books were so meh I wanted to shake him.

GLUTTONY – What book have you devoured over and over with no shame?

The Lord of the Rings, of course. Well, and The Hobbit; they come as a pair for me, really, but I’ve probably read The Hobbit more, since Mum wouldn’t let me read LOTR until I was old enough to appreciate it. I could pretty much start it again once I’ve finished it; it’d have to go with me to a desert island.

SLOTH – What book have you neglected reading due to laziness?

An awful lot of books. One example… Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. I’ve had it on my shelves for ages now.

PRIDE – What book do you talk most about to sound like an intellectual reader?

I don’t think I do that much. Maybe Tolstoy’s War and Peace? Which I honestly do love, though. I’d rather show you how smart I am by telling you all about how Tolkien used his sources in The Lord of the Rings, for all that it’s looked down upon by some “intellectuals”. He was a clever, clever man.

LUST – What attributes do you find attractive in male or female characters?

In any characters, male, female or otherwise, it’s compassion and loyalty. I am gaga for the stupidly loyal ones.

ENVY – What book would you most like to receive as a gift?

Other than a first edition of LOTR? Honestly, I’m not too acquisitive about books in that sense — I’m not envious of the books other people have, generally. Sometimes there’s an ARC that makes me flail — like, I missed out on Kim Curran’s Delete when it was on Netgalley, since I expected to be able to buy it soon after, except then there was Strange Chemistry’s demise… Now I’m jealous of everyone with a copy.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 29 July, 2014 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “how many books do you own the most from”. I’m gonna be totally unscientific here and just take some wild guesses.

  1. Jo Walton. I own all her books, often in several formats. I think this one’s a safe bet.
  2. Ngaio Marsh. I have all those omnibuses. Omnibii?
  3. Robin Hobb. I’ve been reading everything she writes since I was, uh, thirteen ish?
  4. Guy Gavriel Kay. Again with the multiple formats.
  5. Ursula Le Guin. I don’t own everything she’s done, and I don’t usually have multiple copies, but I think she might still outnumber eveeeryone else. She’s just so good, I’m willing to try anything she’s done.
  6. Steven Brust. This is Jo Walton’s fault. I haven’t even read most of them yet.
  7. Tanya Huff. This is a guess, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. I’ve bought most of her books, though I haven’t read them all yet.
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien. Everything bar the twelve volume history of Middle-earth, I think. Multiple editions.
  9. The Gawain-poet. Whoever he (or she?) was. I own so many translations — probably at least nine?
  10. The Beowulf-poet. I’m not quite as big a fan as I am of the Gawain-poet, but still. I’ve got a facing translation one, Heaney’s, Tolkien’s… the list goes on.

So, what about everyone else? Strangely, Dorothy L. Sayers does not make the cut, because I borrowed my copies to read.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 28 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

It’s apparently a freebie week for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. I saw someone else talk about the top ten books/series they want to get round to rereading if they have time, which sounds like a good idea. I’m a chronic rereader, with some favourites I never get tired of, but I feel guilty doing it because I have so much I should be reading already!

  1. Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series. I’m actually trying to work on rereading this, since I have the new one as an ARC, but there’s so many books out there, it’s hard to find the time. I remember being utterly enchanted back when I first read the books, though, so I hope the shine hasn’t worn off.
  2. Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone. I just recall finding this one really fun, and enjoying the romance plot.
  3. Cherie Priest’s Cheshire Red books. I love these. I have them to reread, it’s just getting round to it. Adrian is the most badass ex-navy SEAL drag queen you could wish for, and I love the unconventional family Raylene builds up around herself.
  4. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series. I ate these up the first and second time, but it’s been a while now. I’m looking at the new, cheap editions as ebooks and thinking it might be about time. I’m not a big fan of Imriel’s series, but I adore Phèdre and Joscelin, and the politics of it all. “I’ll be damned in full and not by halves” is one of the more memorable quotes in any book I’ve read.
  5. Jo Walton’s Sulien books. Plus A Prize in the Game, which isn’t strictly about Sulien. Asexual protagonist who is a kickass woman in the Arthurian world, what’s not to love? Plus interesting relationships with the people around her. I remember this really fondly.
  6. Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. There’s something about Sunshine and the unrelated Chalice that pull me back again and again. It’s the characters, I think, the way people interact, the way magic works. And the focus on homely things as well, like Sunshine baking and the heroine of Chalice keeping bees.
  7. Guy Gavriel Kay, The Lions of Al-Rassan. Well, actually all of his books (I’m revisiting them in publication order, to watch the development of his style), but especially Lions because I think that’s the only one apart from Under Heaven and the latest that I haven’t read at least twice, and I invariably appreciate GGK’s work more on the second go.
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. This is more or less a permanent state of being for me. Having studied the books, I can see so many more layers and bits of interest than I ever did before. It’s also interesting because I’m exploring the world via a different medium, in Lord of the Rings Online, which no doubt will make me pay attention to different details.
  9. Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. I have the ebooks, all ready for a reread, it’s just getting round to it. I remember enjoying these books a lot, and my partner’s just recently read them and feels the same, so I have high hopes.
  10. Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles. I loved Cornwell’s take on Arthur and his men, and this is another case where I’ve bought e-copies for my collection and for an excuse to reread, and… am taking forever to get round to it. Well, hopefully not forever.

So, what interesting top tens are you seeing around, people? Any you’d like to see me do?

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Review – Tolkien’s Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary

Posted 23 May, 2014 by Nikki in Academic, Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Beowulf trans. J.R.R. TolkienBeowulf: A Translation and Commentary, J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien

I’m full of wonder right now. Not so much at the translation of Beowulf — Tolkien was well-versed in the language and knew what he was doing, and the tone is often reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, which emphasises his attempts to weave his own stories with the old stories of England — but at all the commentary published together here. Pretty much every issue I considered in my undergraduate class/es on Beowulf is touched on here — the pagan aspects, the episodes, potential interpolations, mythic and historic origins — and dealt with in a confident, convincing way. Tolkien’s close reading of the text is exemplary. I don’t feel like I have the knowledge to criticise his work, but I do know that it’s incredibly worth reading.

As with most of the other posthumously published work by Tolkien, though, this isn’t really something for the layman. It’s not exactly technical, but in delves into the minutiae so much. For a translation of the poem for an interested but not greatly knowledgable layman, I’d still recommend Seamus Heaney’s translation as lively, well-considered and interesting. For commentary on the poem, general introductions are still enough. But for anyone who is more deeply interested in Beowulf, then this is an amazing resource. His treatment of the plot of the poem as a short story, ‘Sellic Spell’, doesn’t entirely convince me as a precursor story to Beowulf (it rings very strongly of fairytales, to me, and not so much to a sort of mythic background) but is interesting nonetheless.

In terms of fans of Tolkien’s fiction as well as or instead of his academic work, there are gems here for us too. His translation of Beowulf really emphasises the Beowulfian elements in The Hobbit, and the way he phrases things, though slightly more archaic, is definitely familiar. His commentary mentions words you might recognise from his novels — maþm, OE ‘gift’, for example, as long as you remember that þ = th…

All in all, this may be because of my personal interests and the fact that I have done some academic work on Tolkien, but I think this is generally more valuable than most of the other work brought out posthumously by Christopher Tolkien, and I found CT’s editing most logical and less of a barrier here than ever since The Silmarillion. I got very excited about it, and while I got an ebook to have it right away, I will shortly obtain a hardcover for my collection, and count it worth it.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 20 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I haven’t done the Top Ten Tuesday thing for a while, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but I like this topic — top ten books about friendship.

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin. The friendship between Ged and Vetch, the quiet solid thereness of it… you know for sure that Vetch would never let you down if he could help it.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I actually thought of this because they’ve got it in their list, but it’s still true. Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli… even, in a way, Frodo and Gollum, because Frodo manages to reach out with pity and sympathy to Smeagol.
  3. The Prize in the Game,Jo Walton. Ferdia and Darag. “Your name in my heart,” indeed. (Okay, there’s romantic aspects to that, but I think first and foremost they’re friends.)
  4. The Grey King, Susan Cooper. Bran and Will. The way they fit together, understand each other better than anyone else, and the way they still hurt each other because neither of them is perfect.
  5. Captain Marvel, Kelly Sue DeConnick. Carol and Steve! Carol and Jessica! Carol and Monica!
  6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker. Steve and Bucky. Just, Steve and Bucky. I know this is a movie quote but, “I’m with you till the end of the line.”
  7. The Summer Tree, Guy Gavriel Kay. Paul and Kevin, primarily, although all the bonds between the group are great. Kim and Jennifer, particularly. Just the way there are these deep loves that come entirely out of friendship. Guy Gavriel Kay is also pretty good at this in other books, too, like Tigana.
  8. The Universe Versus Alex Woods, Gavin Extence. Alex and Mr. Peterson. So unlikely, and yet Extence made me believe in it.
  9. Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff. Arthur and Bedwyr. Ouch, ouch. “I could have cried out to him, as Jonathan to David, by the forbidden love names that are not used between men; I could have flung my arms around his shoulders.”
  10. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman. Crowley and Aziraphale. Because of course.

I am a little bothered by the fact that almost all of those are male friendships. It’s partly a function of the books I’ve loved since I was a kid, before I was really choosy in any way about what I read, but still. Rec me your books with female friendship!

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