Saturday, November 30, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: The Ring Goes South (FOTR Ch. 15)

Is it me, or have the chapters suddenly gotten way longer?  Hmm.

So the fellowship sets out at last, and I start to feel that the story is truly getting started.  

A lot happens here, and yet I don't have a lot to say.  The bit on Caradhras is very exciting.  I spend a lot of time there being impressed by Boromir.  He's the one who suggests bringing wood.  He's the one who worries that the snow will be "the death of the halflings" (p. 283).  He's the one who suggests creating a path back down through the snow for the others to follow.  And then he suggests carrying the hobbits through the path.  So the last few pages of this chapter in my copy are full of little smiley faces in the margins, and the occasional heart.  And sometimes a heart with a smiley face inside it if I'm particularly pleased.

Favorite Lines:

"Books ought to have good endings" (p. 266).

Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song (p. 267).

"May the stars shine upon your faces!" (p. 274).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Why is Aragorn is so against going to Moria?  I kind of can't remember.  Has he been there before?

Monday, November 25, 2013


(Warning!  This contains spoilers about events farther on in The Lord of the Rings.  If you're unfamiliar with the whole story, save this to read later.)

by Hamlette

It is no secret that Boromir is my favorite character in The Lord of the Rings.  I must admit that I was initially drawn to him because he is played by Sean Bean in the movies.  In fact, Sean Bean was the whole reason I let my college friends and boyfriend talk me into going to see The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).  I had never read the books and knew nothing about the story.  I'd read The Hobbit in high school and not cared for it, so I had no interest in Tolkien's other works.  But if Sean Bean was in the movie, I'd give it a try.

By the time I'd finished that first movie, I was a firm Boromir fan.  And not just because Sean Bean played him, but because he's precisely the sort of character that draws me.  He's courageous, he's kind, and, let's face it, he's got really broad shoulders (thanks not just to Sean Bean's own lovely physique, but also to a very good costume).  And he's got some moral ambiguity going on, which makes him a lot more interesting to me than straight-arrow Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Eomer, and so on.

But it takes more than courage and broad shoulders to make me truly love a character the way I love Boromir.  I think, more than anything, what draws me to him is his humanity.  He's loyal to his homeland.  He doesn't trust strangers.  He's conflicted, trying to do what he believes is right for Gondor as well as all of Middle Earth.  Trouble is, he's also very, very proud, and he thinks that he knows what's best.

Yes, pride is Boromir's great downfall.  In fact, when we first meet him at the Council of Elrond, Tolkien describes him as "proud and stern of glance" (p. 234).  He's well-known throughout Middle Earth as a mighty and powerful warrior.  Aragorn himself calls him "a valiant man" (p. 269).  Being known far and wide for your deeds of derring-do is not exactly conducive to humility, especially when you're Gondor's Captain-General and next in line to be Steward of Gondor.  

It is this pride in his own strength that proves to be Boromir's undoing.  At the Council of Elrond, he says, "Valour needs first strength, and then a weapon" (p. 260).  He believes he has this strength, of course.  He's the mighty and valiant Boromir, winner of battles and doer of great deeds!  Elrond cautions him that the ring's own strength "is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own" (p. 261).  I think that Boromir believes he has great power, and thinks he can bend the ring to his will.  

And so, of course, Boromir stretches out his hand to take the ring, by force if necessary.  His pride in his own strength is too great for him to realize that the ring wishes only to use him for its own purposes.  He tells Frodo that "true-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted" (p. 389), not realizing that he has already been corrupted by his desire for more and more power.

But he does not get the ring.  And when he realizes what he has done, that his great pride has led to an even greater fall, he weeps.  He cries out, "A madness took me, but it has passed" (p. 390), seeing clearly at last what a terrible thing he has tried to do.  And he repents of his fall, giving up life itself to make amends for his actions.  He dies defending Merry and Pippin, two of what he called "the little folk" and took such care of throughout his time with them.  

Aragorn finds him "pierced with many black-feathered arrows" (p. 404), surrounded by the Orcs he has killed.  And there Aragorn absolves him of his sins, telling him he has not failed, but conquered.  I think here that Aragorn is speaking of more than the dead Orcs that Boromir slew.  He means that Boromir has conquered his own self, for he realized that trying to take the ring was wrong and repented of it.

Some people think Boromir is a villain.  But I think he may be the most realistic character in the whole trilogy -- flawed and faulty, but ultimately heroic.  I think he's a closer representation of us than any of the other characters.  We too trust to our own strength, take pride in our own abilities, and stumble often as a result.  May we also follow Boromir's example by first recognizing when we have done wrong, repenting of it, and then working to fix whatever we may have damaged when we stumbled.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: The Council of Elrond (FOTR Ch. 14)

Man, this is a long chapter with a lot in it.  Where to start?

With Boromir, of course.  Here he is at last, my beloved Boromir, this "tall man with a fair and noble face, dark-haired and grey-eyed, proud and stern of glance" (p. 234).  There's a little smiley heart in the margins of my book here.  I'm not going to say a lot more about him here, as I'm going to do a whole character post about him myself.  So for now I'll just point out that he had traveled for a hundred and ten days, all alone, making his way from Minas Tirith to Rivendell.  I wish I knew what sorts of adventures he had on the way.  That's a long time to be out in the wilderness.

Also, it sounds in this like it was Boromir's idea that he come to Rivendell instead of Farmir, not Denethor's idea.  He says "since the way was full of doubt and danger, I took the journey upon myself" (p. 240), which sounds very nice of him.  And full of pride, which is his besetting sin, but still, nice of him to spare Faramir all that doubt and danger.

I find it interesting that Bilbo, who was hired by Thorin to be a burglar, ends up being called a thief.  Here, Sauron's messenger is quoted as calling Bilbo a thief while talking to Dain, and didn't Gollum call him that too?  Hmm.

Elrond is old!  His memory "reaches back even to the Elder Days" (p. 237).  Holy cow.

Fun factoid about Radagast the Brown:  he's "a master of shapes and changes of hue" (p. 251).  Wouldn't it be cool if they did something with this in the next Hobbit movie?

Saruman reminds me mightily of Hitler.  His voice is his greatest weapon -- here, Gandalf says he was "lulled by the words of Saruman the Wise" (p. 244), and later on he'll tell his companions to beware of Saruman's voice.  Also, Saruman says that his "high and ultimate purpose" is "Knowledge, Rule, Order" (p. 253).  Doesn't that sound kind of Nazi-esque?

Okay, I'll say one last thing about Boromir.  I love how he stands up for Rohan here.  Gandalf and Aragorn discuss whether Rohan might be sending a tribute of horses to Sauron.  Boromir says, "It is a lie that comes from the Enemy.  I know the Men of Rohan, true and valiant, our allies" (p. 255-56).  I love him especially much there.

Favorite Lines:

"'The time of my thought is my own to spend,' answered Dain" (p. 235).

"The might of Elrond is in wisdom not in weapons, it is said" (p. 239).

"If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so" (p. 242).

"And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom" (p. 252).

"May your beer be laid under an enchantment of surpassing excellence for seven years!" (p. 257).

"...only a small part is played in great deeds by any hero (p. 263).

"This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great" (p. 264).

Possible Discussion Questions:  I'm always struck by the fact that Aragorn attends Elrond's council "clad in his old travel-worn clothes again" (p.233).  Why do you suppose he does that?  Is he trying to keep a low profile and not draw attention to himself?  Trying to impress on people the fact that he's good at the whole wandering-around-and-being-brave thing?  Boromir "looked again at Aragorn, and doubt was in his eyes" (p. 241), so clearly he didn't think Aragorn looks particularly kingly.  But why?

Elrond says that "The road must be trod, but it will be very hard.  And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it" (p. 262).  Do you think this is a foreshadowing of what will happen with Boromir (strong) and Gandalf (wise)?

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Valley of Fear" by A. Conan Doyle

Sigh.  This book is not one of the greatest mysteries ever written.  The first half is still enjoyable, as spending time with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is never tasking.  But the second half is all flashback concerning other characters entirely.  The format of flashback-that-explains-everything annoyed me a bit in A Study in Scarlet, but here it feels downright contrived.  I get the impression that Doyle wanted to write an adventure story about lodge members in America, but he had people clamoring for more Holmes stories, so he came up with a way to turn the one into the other.  I have no idea if that's really what was going on when he wrote this, but that's how it strikes me.

The mystery of the first half is a sort of locked-room mystery involving the murder of a well-liked American living in Britain.  Parts of it reminded me a lot of Laura by Vera Caspary, and others made me think of an earlier Holmes story, "The Golden Pince-Nez."  The flashback is all about who wanted to murder that man and why, and it deals with a bunch of murderous members of a band of "freemen" who terrorized a coal mining community in America.  

While only the first half involves Sherlock Holmes, the second half is a good adventure story, with some interesting characters and lots of action.  So it's not by any means onerous to read.

Particularly Good Bits:

Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius (p. 238).

"It is, I admit, mere imagination; but how often is imagination the mother of truth?" (p. 274).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for violence.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: Many Meetings (FOTR Ch. 13)

This may be one of my favorite chapters.  I love peaceful Rivendell, and would love to spend some time resting there myself.

And I find the relationship between Bilbo and Aragorn so sweet.  How Aragorn, with all the things requiring his attention and time, still willingly pauses to help Bilbo compose a song.  And this is not the first time he's done so.

Random note -- Gandalf's eyes are described as "dark," and not as grey!  But Elrond's eyes "were grey as a clear evening," while Arwen has "bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night" (p. 221).

Did you notice that Frodo has now twice been found lying on his face with a broken sword under him?  Gandalf says that's how he was found after the flood passed, and back when Frodo was stabbed on Weathertop, that's exactly how his friends found him then too.  

Favorite Lines:

Frodo lay down again.  He felt too comfortable and peaceful to argue, and in any case he did not think he would get the better of an argument (p. 213).

"There are many powers in the world, for good or for evil.  Some are greater than I am.  Against some I have not yet been measured.  But my time is coming" (p. 214).

Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea.  That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, 'a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all'.  Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness (p. 219).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Do you think there's any significance in Frodo being found twice lying on his face on top of a broken sword?  Also, Bilbo says, "Don't adventures ever have an end?" (p. 226)  Do you think they do, or do they just lead on to more adventures?

Monday, November 18, 2013

My Bookshelves

Emily over at Classics and Beyond participated in a really fun link-up hosted by a blog called Modern Mrs. Darcy.  Basically, it's time to show off our bookshelves and talk a little about where and how we store, organize, and curate our book collections.  So here are mine.

I keep a lot of my books in a room of our house we call the library.  It contains a love seat, a piano, and four-and-a-half book cases.  

We also have two book cases in our dining room, though the top shelf on each doesn't have books on it.  This is where I teach my kids, so there are a bunch of school books and random supplies and general clutter here.  Five of these shelves are full of my husband's books.

And there are three kid-sized cases in the living room.  

And I have twelve boxes of books in the basement with no homes yet.  I may have too many books.  Nah.

Here are close-ups of some of the more interesting shelves. 

Yeah, these are almost all about Hamlet.  And no, I haven't read all of them.  I intend to, but haven't had the chance yet.

 These are all Shakespeare, books about writing, and poetry.

These all have to do with movies and TV shows.  There are some biographies and autobiographies, books about specific shows, general Hollywood stuff.

Here's my fiction collection.  It's mostly organized alphabetically by author's last name, and then multiple books by the same author are alphabetical by title.  Unless there's a series, then the series is in order.  If I have a bunch of books about an author or character, those come after the originals.  So all my Jane Austen-involved books are together, my Sherlock Holmes, etc. 

And the bottom shelf and half the shelf above are all books I haven't read yet, starting after the Wolverine collections.  Well, I've actually read the Elsie Dinsmore books, but I haven't gotten around to toting them downstairs to put in the boxes of young-adult books I have no room for right now.

And here are my history books.  The top shelf is all WWII and the bottom is the rest of history, plus a few random books that don't have another home yet.

I keep my cookbooks in the dining room too, on a little corner shelf that was my great-grandfather's.  I didn't actually realize it was that old until recently, so now I'm treating it a little better than I used to, hee.  Anyway, my cookbooks are on one shelf, and then the bottom shelf is the middle-grade fiction my son getting into.

So that's pretty much all my bookshelves.  I'm glad I got to participate in this link-up, as I love to talk about books!  :-D

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Riders of the Purple Sage" by Zane Grey

I thought I had read this before, but now I don't think I ever had.  Which is silly, because it's one of the most famous western books.  I'm glad I finally got to it!

Jane Withersteen is a wealthy Mormon woman whose expansive ranch is the biggest spread anywhere near the Utah town of Cottonwoods.  She refuses to stop seeing a "gentile" named Bern Venters and marry a Mormon, and the leaders of the town decide to punish her and Venters for this.  Into the fray steps a stranger named Lassiter whose reputation as a Mormon-hater and -killer is known throughout Utah.  He saves Venters' life, then champions Jane Withersteen through everything her enemies can devise as they try to force her into submission.  

This is not exactly an anti-Mormon book -- while the antagonists are all Mormons and use their religion as the reason behind their actions, Jane Withersteen is also a Mormon and relies on her faith to see her through.  I don't know a great deal about Mormonism, just what I learned in catechism class years ago, and what I've picked up here and there since then.  So I don't know how accurate any of this is to the history of Utah and such.  But Mormonism is a big part of the book, and mostly it's not shown in a good light, but as an excuse to basically be thieves and murderers.  Just so you know.

This book hit a lot of sweet spots for me:  secret identities, vengeance and avengers, lonesome heroes, spirited heroines, love that crosses boundaries, and (of course) cowboys and the Old West.  It also has some spectacular descriptions -- Grey creates a vivid world that's almost too fantastic to believe, full of vibrant colors and amazing landscapes.  Nothing is dull or flat or ordinary here -- even the landscape is epic.

I think I could be good friend with Jane Withersteen.  At the very beginning of the book, the narrator tells us that she "wished only to go on doing good and being happy" (p. 4).  That reminds me a lot of me.  She's also stubborn and secretive, but kind and generous.  I like her a lot.

And Lassiter -- my goodness, he's precisely the sort of hero I love.  A loner with a mission of vengeance, dressed all in black, with a lightning draw and a deadly aim, but with "a quaint grace and courtesy that came to him in rare moments" (p. 245).  Yum, yum, yum.

So yeah, very glad I picked this up at the library and have now read it at long last.  I suspect this will become one I reread now and then.

First Sentence:

A sharp clip-clop of iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage (p. 3).

Particularly Good Bits:

Venters looked out upon the beautiful valley -- beautiful now as never before -- mystic in its transparent, luminous gloom, weird in the quivering, golden haze of lightning.  The dark spruces were tipped with glimmering lights; the aspens bent low in the winds, as waves in a tempest at sea; the forest of oaks tossed wildly and shone with gleams of fire (p. 157-158).

So, with his passion to kill still keen and unabated, Venters lived out that ride, and drank a rider's sage-sweet cup of wildness to the dregs (p. 203).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and some language.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: Flight to the Ford (FOTR Ch. 12)

Once again, I'm astonished at the amount of time that elapses in this section of the book compared to the movie.  I've seen the movie more often than I've read the book (though I've read the other two books more often than I've seen the other two movies), so I'm used to all this going much more quickly and Frodo's wound being more quick-acting.  It's the end of their twelfth day out from Weathertop that they meet up with Glorfindel, and they travel with him for another day before Frodo crosses the ford to reach Rivendell.  

Speaking of Glorfindel, I so wish he was in the movies.  I understand the cinematic need to reduce the staggering number of characters, and the modern need to give the women more to do.  But Glorfindel gets totally excluded, while Haldir's role got expanded a lot.  And Haldir's only in the Lothlorien part of the books, while Glorfindel is one of the few who can ride openly against the Nazgul.  And not just ride against them, but actually drive them away from a bridge and chase them!  So unfair.  

Okay, enough grousing.  The movies can't be perfect.  I love them anyway.

The little section with the trolls makes me laugh.  With Merry and Pippin terrified, and Strider just walking up to one and hitting it with a stick -- I like this little light-hearted interlude to lessen the oppressing doom of Frodo's wound.

Speaking of Frodo, I suddenly like him a whole lot more when he refuses to ride Glorfindel's horse to Rivendell and leave his friends behind in danger.  Of course, Glorfindel rightly points out that if Frodo isn't with them, his friends won't be in much danger, but still, it was very noble of Frodo.

Favorite Lines:

"I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey.  First he was a conspirator, now he's a jester.  He'll end up by becoming a wizard  -- or a warrior!"
"I hope not," said Sam.  "I don't want to be neither!" (p. 203)

He almost welcomed the coming of night, for then the world seemed less pale and empty (p. 207).

Possible Discussion Questions:  

Strider says, "it is not my fate to sit in peace" (p. 197).  And yet, isn't his reign after the war peaceful?

Frodo has "an uneasy dream, in which he walked on the grass in his garden in the Shire, but it seemed faint and dim" (p. 197).  Do you think this is just because he's wounded, or has the ring already changed him so much that, even if he gave it up at Rivendell and went home like he expected to do, he would no longer belong in the Shire?

SPOILAGE ALERT concerning stuff in The Hobbit!  In the next chapter, "Many Meetings," there's a list of which dwarves survived the end of The Hobbit.  If you don't want to be spoiled about that, then when you get to the conversation between Gloin and Frodo in "Many Meetings," watch for the paragraph that begins, "And with that Gloin embarked on a long account of the doings of the Dwarf-kingdom."  Don't read the rest of that paragraph or the next two.  Start reading again where it says, "Gloin began then to talk of the works of his people, telling Frodo about their great labours in Dale and under the Mountain."  (All page 223 in my copy.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures" by Claudia L. Johnson

This was a fascinating book, with the kind of deep literary criticism I used to read all the time in college, which was so nice to get back to.  Entwined with the lit-crit is more history than I ever expected.  Not just Jane Austen's own history, or the history of her novels, but the history of the Austen fandom.  In fact, this isn't a book about Jane Austen or about her novels so much as about her fans.  And that's the real reasons I decided to read it, after reading this review on  Because I keep feeling like I'm not the same kind of fan of Austen's books as other people I've met, both in real life and in the blogosphere, and I was hoping this would help me figure out why I feel that way.

The good news is, it did.  The bad news is, it took me a year to read because I kept getting caught up in other books.  But I'm glad I've finished it at last, and will probably use it as a reference book in the future.

There are 5 chapters, an introduction, and an afterword.  There's also an appendix containing three folk tales from the Austen family that Jane herself was likely familiar with.  Here's a quick description of each chapter:

"Jane Austen's Body" discusses fan's reactions to the fact that Jane Austen was a human being with an actual body, not an ethereal literary goddess.  "Jane Austen's Magic" involves the way Victorians viewed Austen's books, often equating them with fairy stories!  "Jane Austen's World War I" talks about how British soldiers in particular looked to Austen's books to give them courage and strength in the face of terrifying war experiences.  "Jane Austen's World War II" details the way that both military and civilians used Austen's books to remind themselves of the heritage they were fighting to preserve.  And "Jane Austen's House" shows how, by collecting relics in some way connected to Austen, her fans seek a sense of closeness with the author.

In the introduction, Johnson defines Janeism as "a self-consciously idolatrous enthusiasm for 'Jane' Austen and every primary, secondary, tertiary (and so forth) detail relative to her" (p. 6).  And while I enjoy her books, enjoy movies based on them, even enjoy books about her or her characters, I don't really revere Jane Austen herself.  She doesn't even quite make it into my top ten favorite authors -- I put her at number eleven here.  So what I have long suspected is true:  I am not "a Janeite."

I'm okay with that.

However, please don't think that Johnson is mocking Janeism or Janeites.  Far from it.  Also in the introduction, she declares that her "aim is not so much to trace Jane Austen's reputation as it is to ponder what loving her has meant to readers from the nineteenth century to the present" (p. 14).  By exploring how Austen's works have been differently appreciated and interpreted over the years, Johnson shows just how deep and multi-faceted those works truly are.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: A Knife in the Dark (FOTR Ch. 11)

I love that we get to see what's going on back at Crickhollow here.  Fatty Bolger has a narrow escape, but it shows that Frodo's subterfuge about moving to Buckland did trick the Enemy, at least somewhat.  I think this is why all nine Ringwraiths aren't after Frodo at the same time, right?

After their own narrow escape, Frodo and company head out into the wilds, and their journey turns uncomfortable, then unpleasant, and finally dangerous.  I find the part with the Neekerbreekers particularly memorable, for some reason.  Probably because they keep the hobbits from sleeping, which makes me feel terribly sorry for them.

I tend to think of Sauron as a Satan-figure, but here we read about "the Great Enemy, of whom Sauron of Mordor was but a servant" (p. 189).  I really need to read The Silmarillion, don't I?  

Favorite Lines:

"What do they live on when they can't get hobbit?" asked Sam, scratching his neck (p. 178).

In that lonely place Frodo for the first time fully realized his homelessness and danger (p. 183-4).

Possible Discussion Questions:

When Strider begins to tell the tale of Beren and Luthien, he says, "It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts" (p. 187).  Do you find this story sad?  Do sad stories ever "lift up your heart?"

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Aragorn: A Guest Post by Birdie

(Warning!  This contains spoilers about events farther on in The Lord of the Rings.  If you're unfamiliar with the whole story, save this to read later.)

by Birdie

Strider, Aragorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, Chieftain of the Dúnedain. A person with so many names and denominators must be special, right? Still, this is not what it looks like when the reader first meets Aragorn in the pages of The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo and the other hobbits are distrustful of him, this mysterious, grim, and weather-beaten man. What can he be more than a homeless wanderer? Even his nickname, Strider, seems to indicate this.

But the hobbits and readers alike soon realize he is much more as his history and destiny slowly unfold. First, he is revealed to be a brave and skilled fighter as he rescues the hobbits from the Nazgûl at Weathertop. As the group arrives in Rivendell, it becomes clear Aragorn is a friend of the elves and even betrothed to the fairest among them:  Arwen, daughter of Elrond. It is in the house of Elrond, as leaders of all the free races discuss what must happen to the One Ring, that Aragorn’s greatest secret is revealed:  he is the heir of Isildur, the last High King to rule both the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. Though 38 generations lie between Aragorn and his legendary forefather, it was said he resembled him more than any before him. His descent gave Aragorn rare skills for a Man, harking back to the race of the Númenor. One is his long lifespan; during the events of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is already in his 80s, but in the prime of his life. Aragorn is strong enough to use the palantir and so get a glimpse of the mind of Sauron. Last but not least, Aragorn is a skilled healer. This was mainly proven when he saved Eowyn and Faramir's lives after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. This was the characteristic that made the people of Gondor recognize Aragorn as the heir to the throne, as it was said: ‘The hands of the King are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.’

Due to his upbringing in Rivendell among the Elves, Aragorn also possesses great wisdom and knowledge of the history and lore of Middle-Earth. Bravery and self-sacrifice are also among Aragorn’s characteristics. He proves this time and time again as he travels with the Fellowship, later with Gimli and Legolas, during the battles of Helm’s Deep, and before the gates of Mordor. Aragorn is always in the middle of the fight -- not standing aside as some commanders would do, but endangering himself by fighting alongside everyone else. His bravery is never shown more than when Aragorn enters the Paths of the Dead, a mountain pass no one has dared enter for centuries as it is inhabited by a long dead army of cowardly Men. This army however, immediately recognizes Aragorn as Isildur’s heir and follows him to aid in the battle.

Besides being a great hero, Aragorn is also just a man. He knows self-doubt and blames himself for the misfortunes which befall the Fellowship under his leadership. Aragorn can be stern and aloof, but also humorous and warm. He builds great friendships with Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits alike and shows great humility in all his relationships. It is no wonder Aragorn is often described as (one of) Tolkien’s Christ-like characters. His story from seemingly unassuming origins (‘All that is gold does not glitter’) to great King is indeed reminiscent of the life of Jesus and can open our eyes anew to many aspects of Christ’s life and lessons.

When at last Aragorn is crowned as King Elessar, it is a wonderful and touching thing to read, more so because as a reader you’ve come to know this wonderful man so well through all his trials and you know no one deserves to be crowned more than Aragorn.

(Hamlette's note -- thank you so much to Birdie for this guest post!  Keep an eye out for more character profiles throughout the read-along.)

Monday, November 4, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: Strider (FOTR ch. 10)

Oh, Strider, you are so lovely.  I like you ever so much more in the books than the movies.  You're grim and strong and wonderful.  And so intriguing, with your half-hinted backstory lingering in the shadows still here.  I remember some of your fellow Rangers showing up later in the books and being all cool and mysterious and just begging to have their own books.  Sigh.  Yum.

But anyway, I love how Frodo goes all suspicious in this chapter.  He thinks Strider is a rascal out to swindle or trap him, he thinks Butterbur forgot Gandalf's message on purpose -- Frodo just doesn't do things halfheartedly, does he?  First he's one hundred percent too careless in the previous chapter, and now he's one hundred percent too suspicious.  Makes me laugh.

Favorite Lines:

"Go on then!" said Frodo.  "What do you know?"
"Too much; too many dark things," said Strider grimly (p. 160).

"A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship" (p. 167).

Possible Discussion Questions:  

I like Strider/Aragorn better in the books than in the movies directed by Peter Jackson.  How about you?  Or do you not see them as being much different?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories" by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I picked up this book because I read the author's blog.  But she doesn't know I bought her book, or that I'm reviewing it.  Or at least, she won't know that until I post this :-)

I just finished the first draft of my first YA western last week, and this book helped me cross the finish line.  I have to admit there are not a lot of westerns published these days, not like there were 70 years ago.  But there are a few, and having this book on my shelf gives me hope that, one day, I'll get mine published too.  

Anyway, this is a collection of seven short stories set in the American West.  Or the Old West.  Whatever you want to call it -- these are western stories about cowboys, okay?  And they are well-written and enjoyable.  I liked some better than others, of course.  My favorite was definitely "The Outlaw's Wife," which had two nice plot twists, one of which I did not see coming at all.  I also really liked "Disturbing the Peace" and "Delayed Deposit."  

"The Outlaw's Wife" is about a pregnant woman who moves to a new town, where everyone knows from her last name that she must be married to a notorious outlaw.  The town doctor and a kindly cowboy are the only people who make any attempt to befriend her.  But not everyone in this story is who they're pretending to be.

"Disturbing the Peace" is about a lonely sheriff who doesn't know he's lonely until a wounded cowpoke convalesces in his jail, and the townsfolk who never had much to do with the sheriff come to visit the cowpoke all the time.

"Delayed Deposit" involves a bank robbery and is probably the most exciting story in the whole book.  Two brothers and the town busybody set out to defeat the bank robbers, with funny and satisfying results.

I bought the paperback, but you can also get a Kindle version, and if you like clean, well-written short stories (and especially if you like westerns), I definitely recommend you get a copy. 

Particularly Good Bits:

"I'll be back shortly," he said.  "Mrs. Ballard's having a baby tonight.  When Cal came and told us Donny had been shot she told me to go along and tend to him.  She said she's had five little ones already and I'm just a formality by now" ("Disturbing the Peace," p. 26).

From the crown rose an ostrich feather that seemed to wave and gesticulate with sentiments of its own whenever her head moved ("Delayed Deposit," p. 127).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some western violence.

Friday, November 1, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: At the Sign of the Prancing Pony (FOTR Ch. 9)

Hooray!  Back to the parts of the book that I love.  And I do love this part -- doesn't Bree sound like a fun place to visit?  Especially the Prancing Pony.  With Strider lurking in a dark corner.  I love him when he's mysterious and shadowy, with his "travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth" and his "high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud" (p. 153).  I wish he would just stay all Ranger-y and cryptic, and we could go about having adventures with him.

Favorite Lines:

"If you want anything, ring the hand-bell, and Nob will come.  If he don't come, ring and shout!" (p. 150)

Possible Discussion Questions:

Tolkien mentions that Strider has "keen grey eyes."  Have you ever noticed that every single human hero in this book has grey eyes?  What is up with that?