Thursday, January 30, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: Treebeard (TTT Ch. 4)

This is such a relaxing chapter after all the tense excitement of the last few.  I don't have a lot to say about it, really.  I think my favorite image is Treebeard standing under his waterfall shower as Merry and Pippin go to sleep.  
"The lights died down, and the glow of the trees faded; but outside under the arch they could see old Treebeard standing, motionless, with his arms raised above his head.  The bright stars peered out of the sky, and lit the falling water as it spilled on to his fingers and head, and dripped, dripped, in hundreds of silver drops on to his feet.  Listening to the tinkling of the drops the hobbits fell asleep" (p. 467).
The Ents are so original, aren't they?  Wizards, goblins, orcs, giant spiders -- you find them other places.  But Ents?  Totally just Tolkien.  However, with their non-hasty ways, they do frustrate me sometimes.  I want to jump up and down and yell, "Get on with it already!"  Which they would not appreciate, I'm sure.

I do find the story of the loss of the Entwives terribly sad.  I always want there to be some bit in the Appendices saying that they returned.  I think because I can identify with the Entwives, who "desired order, and plenty, and peace (by which they meant that things should remain where they had set them)" (p. 465).  I desire that too, especially the last bit.

And I totally forgot that Trolls are counterfeit Ents created by the Great Enemy, even as Orcs are mock versions of Elves.  How could I forget that?

Favorite Lines:

Treebeard rumbled for a moment, as if he were pronouncing some deep, subterranean Entish malediction" (p. 462).

" is easier to shout stop! than to do it" (p. 463).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Do you find the Ents sensible in their slow, cautions ponderings?  Or do you want them to get a move on?  Do you yourself often consider decisions for a long time?

Monday, January 27, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Uruk-hai (TTT Ch. 3)

This is one of the most tense chapters for me.  Poor Pippin and Merry, in the grip of a foe so fierce even Boromir couldn't withstand them.  What chance do two little Hobbits have?

Anyway, this is the chapter where I really start to be a Pippin fan.  Up to now, he's just kind of there, being a bit silly and adorable now and then.  With Merry knocked on the head and mostly out of commission, Pippin steps up and shows he has considerable wits and courage of his own.  He cuts his wrists free and then makes it look like they're still tied, thinks of dropping his brooch to show any followers that he and Merry are still alive, remembers they can eat lembas for strength if they escape, and messes with Grishnakh to make him think they're carrying the ring.  Way to go, Pippin!

And we also learn that Merry is quite fierce -- before Boromir came to their aid when they first encountered the Uruk-hai, "Merry had cut off several of their arms and hands" (p. 434).  Wow!  I'm impressed.

Favorite Lines:

"What good have I been?  Just a nuisance:  a passenger, a piece of luggage" (p. 435).

Evil dreams and evil waking were blended into a long tunnel of misery, with hope growing ever fainter behind (p. 440).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Who do you like better, Merry or Pippin?  Or do you like them both equally?

Friday, January 24, 2014

My Copy of "The Lord of the Rings"

I thought it would be fun to share what my copy of The Lord of the Rings looks like.  This is the only copy I've ever read, and the one I'm using for the read-along.

Yes, it's a movie tie-in cover.  I know there are haters out there who refuse to buy books with movie covers, but I am not one of them.  I bought this on the first day of my college Christmas break back in 2001, a few days after I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring and first fell in love with Middle Earth.  This book was on sale for $10 at a big-box book store, exactly what poor college student me needed.  I love that cover -- the deep blue, the silhouette, the gold writing.  Marvelous.

The first time I read through it, I didn't mark anything.  It took me three years to read it the first time because I didn't want to know what happened before the next movie came out.  So I read only The Fellowship of the Ring that first December, stopping where the movie stops (which is a couple chapters into The Two Towers, but who's counting?).  The next December, I read The Two Towers once I'd seen the movie.  And the December after that, I finally read The Return of the King after seeing the movie.  

And then I didn't read it at all for a year.  But then I read the whole thing in 2005.  And again in 2006 and 2007.  My son was born in 2007, so I ended up skipping a year and not re-reading it until 2009.  And then I somehow skipped several years (probably due to the arrival of two more small time-monopolizers), and this read-along is my first time through the books since 2009.  I know, because every time I read it, I mark it in the back of the book.

As you can see, I use a different color of pen each time, and that's the color of pen I use when making my notes in the book that year.  Yes.  I write in my book.  A lot.  I underline, I make notes, I cross-reference stuff, I draw little symbols in the margins.  Which means some pages now look like this:

(Hmm, guess who's speaking there, that he gets 5 colors of underlining?)

I think that page has all five colors of ink on it!  Not sure how many are like that -- most pages just have one note, maybe two.  Many pages have none.

Why do I mark up my copy like this?  Well, it makes it easier to find parts I love.  If I see stars or hearts, I know that's something I think is important or that I love.

This particular smiley heart marks the first mention of Boromir:

And I mentioned cross-referencing.  Here's how that works.  When I read something that reminds me of another part, I go find that part and write down the page numbers on the corresponding pages.

See how that works?  It's coming in so handy for this read-along, but it always fascinates me to see how Tolkien weaves all these different threads together, sometimes hundreds of pages apart.  In that example above, an idea gets mentioned on pages 50, 356, and 861 -- that's a lot of pages in between!  I'm very in awe of that, as a writer.

Finally, this is the bookmark I'm using this time through.

I have two other Boromir bookmarks, both official merch from back when the movies came out.  This one is made of metal, the picture is somehow printed on, and it's magnificent.  Gets a little fingerprinty once in a while, but a quick swipe on my jeans makes it perfectly shiny again.  Got it on Etsy, love it a whole lot.

So... what does your copy look like?  Is it yours?  A library copy?  Do you write in it?  Do you have a special bookmark you're using?  Please share!  Comment here, or even do your own blog post if you like, and link back to it here.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Riders of Rohan (TTT Ch. 2)

The title of this chapter has a smiley face beside it in my copy.  It's another of my favorites, as you'll see by how many favorite lines I list below.

I'm always so glad that, immediately after taking away my Boromir, Tolkien introduces another of my favorite characters.  I am, of course, referring to Eothain, that paragon of charm and tact and good cheer.  Open-hearted, kindly, friendly Eothain.

You're right, I'm totally not referring to Eothain.  I mean Eomer, of course!  Wonderful Eomer, taller than the others, "in manner and tone like to the speech of Boromir, Man of Gondor" (p. 421).  Hmm, no wonder he's one of my favorites!  Also, Eomer seems to have met Boromir, as he talks about seeing him, calls him "a worthy man" (p. 425), and laments his death.

Side note -- I love so much how every time someone learns about Boromir's death, they loudly mourn his loss.  Here, Eomer says such lovely things that I can't resist quoting them:
"Your news is all of woe!" cried Eomer in dismay.  "Great harm is this death to Minas Tirith, and to us all.  That was a worthy man!  All spoke his praise.  he came seldom to the Mark, for he was ever in the wars on the East-borders; but I have seen him.  More like to the swift sons of Eorl than to the grave Men of Gondor he seemed to me, and likely to prove a great captain of his people when his time came" (p. 425).
(And here you thought that once Boromir had died, I would shut up about him.  Nope!  Not gonna happen.)

Interestingly, it doesn't say here yet what color Eomer's eyes are.  They're described as clear, bright, blazing, and proud, but no eye color is mentioned.  I'm pretty sure they're grey too, though.  Must be mentioned in another chapter.  We shall see eventually!

Know who else is wonderful in this chapter?  Aragorn.  Isn't he cool, listening to the ground to hear how far away the orcs are?  And when they've been hunting for simply days, he's described the same way here as he was back in Moria.  It says here that "Aragorn walked behind [Gimli], grim and silent" (p. 418), and back in "A Journey in the Dark" it says, "In the dark at the rear, grim and silent, walked Aragorn" (p. 302).  It seems I really love Aragorn when he's being grim and silent, as I both that chapter and this are some of my favorite sections.

And I love Legolas in this chapter, don't you?  Seeing such impossible details of things very far away.  I always laugh when Aragorn spots the Riders of Rohan, and Legolas says, "there are one hundred and five.  Yellow is their hair, and bright are their spears.  Their leader is very tall" (p. 420).  Such detail, and so casual about it!

And I love Gimli here too.  He's so sweet!  First he says, "The thought of those merry young folk driven like cattle burns my heart" (p. 414).  And then he's so sad over the fact that Merry and Pippin are probably dead that he says, "My legs must forget the miles.  They would be more willing, if my heart were less heavy" (p. 418).  This, from the stoic Dwarf, is a lot of emotion.  

I think one of the reasons that the Rohirrim are my favorite culture in Middle Earth is pretty well summed up by Eomer here:  "we desire only to be free, and to live as we have lived, keeping our own, and serving no foreign lord, good or evil" (p. 423).  That's a pretty good description of how I want to live my own life.

And we find out here once and for all that the Rohirrim are not giving or sending horses to Sauron.  The Orcs have stolen some, but that is all.  Finally we can put that evil rumor to rest.  Whew.

Favorite Lines:

"Ah! the green smell!" he said.  "It is better than much sleep.  Let us run!" (p. 414)

"Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall" (p. 414).

...Legolas was standing, gazing northwards into the darkness, thoughtful and silent as a young tree in a windless night (p. 416).

"What news from the North, Riders of Rohan?" (p. 421).

"Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?" (p. 424).

"Return with what speed you may, and let our swords hereafter shine together!" (p. 429).

"There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark" (p. 430).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Eomer says that "the Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived" (p. 424).  Do you think that makes sense?  Or would someone practiced at lying be better at spotting other people's deceit?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Shakespeare's Restless World" by Neil MacGregor

I picked this up on a whim at the book store a few days after Christmas.  It was 50% off.  It was about Shakespeare AND history -- how could I resist?  And I'm so glad I didn't!  Because wow, what an enlightening and entertaining book.  MacGregor focuses on twenty different objects and uses them to explain different facets of the world Shakespeare lived and wrote in.  

Why use physical objects to explore both the past and Shakespeare's plays?  MacGregor says that, "objects can do what textual criticism cannot.  They bring into view anxieties not voiced by actors, but which the audience brought with them to the theatre -- anxieties which shaped their response to the dynastic struggles and the foreign wars that they watched being enacted on stage" (p. xiv).  Why focus on Shakespeare's plays instead of just the Elizabethan era?  MacGregor says it's because "everyone can see in Shakespeare the mirror of their own predicament" (p. 284).  These plays speak to us still today, to our own experiences and lives, but it's fascinating to find out how people would have reacted to them when they were originally performed.

Most of the twenty objects date from late 16th and early 17th century England, though a couple predate that time but are related to his plays, and one is a collection of his works called the "Robben Island Bible" because it brought such comfort and solace to apartheid prisoners in 1970s South Africa.  They range from archaeological finds dug up in the Thames' muddy bank to religious relics carefully preserved through the centuries, from a silver Eucharist cup to an apprentice's woolen cap to Henry V's funeral decorations.  Each one gets its own chapter, but they're not the only things MacGregor discusses -- he brings in maps, paintings, historical documents, journals, and so much more, all to explain the significance of those twenty objects.

I enjoyed this book so much, learned so many things from it, that I've added Neil MacGregor's book A History of the World in 100 Objects to my to-read least.  I've gained so many new insights into his plays!  Yes, even into Hamlet, which I've been studying since I was seventeen.  For instance, I'll never again view Hamlet's refusal to drink from the cup Claudius proffers in quite the same way now that I've read how dangerous it was in Shakespeare's day to refuse to drink from the Communion cup in the state-approved church.  I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys either history or Shakespeare.  Or both, like me.

This is my first book read and reviewed for both the History Reading Challenge and the Mount TBR challenge.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"A Memory Between Us" by Sarah Sundin

So I kind of expected that this would be a traditional sequel to  A Distant Melody, the first book in this trilogy.  I thought it would follow the continuing relationship between Walt and Allie.  Instead, it's about Walt's brother Jack, who is also an Army Air Force pilot in WWII, and the way he falls in love with Ruth, who's an Army nurse just like Allie.  In fact, both of them played minor roles in A Distant Melody, and this book obviously has a few mentions of Walt and Allie, since Walt and Jack are brothers.  I'm really wondering now if the third book will be about the eldest Novak brother, Ray, or if it will be split between Walt and Jack and their leading ladies, or what.  Guess I'll have to read it to find out!

I have to admit I have conflicting feelings about this book.  On the one hand, I think it's written even better than A Distant Melody.  The flying scenes inside various airplanes never made me feel like I was being taught something.  The characters' faith feels very organic and real, even better than in the first book.  And the characters are once again complex, believable, and fascinating.  I think I like both Ruth and Jack even better than I liked Allie and Walt, if you can imagine that.

However, I got really angry with Jack at one point, which was obviously how I was supposed to feel, but I don't like getting angry with fictional characters any more than I like getting angry in real life.  So for very personal reasons, I don't think I quite enjoyed this book as much as its predecessor.

I also should mention that some people might be bothered by the fact that Ruth is a rape victim, and she not only has flashbacks to being raped as a teen, but she is harassed and assaulted during the course of the story as well.  For that reason, I would not let a young teen read this.  There's nothing graphic or titillating, but there are unsettling and disturbing things going on.  Be forewarned.

Particularly Good Bits:

A barrage of flak opened about a half mile ahead, like burnt popcorn scattered over the sky (p. 180).

"Forgiveness doesn't require approval," she said.  "God never approves of sin, but he still forgives us" (p. 298).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  A strong PG-13 for themes of assault and rape.

This is my first book read and reviewed for the I Love Library Books challenge.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Departure of Boromir (TTT Ch. 1)

You'd think this would be my least-favorite chapter, right?  Except it's so glorious and brave and wonderful, that I don't hate it.  At all.  It just makes me cry and mourn and frown and glower a lot.

Even in death, Boromir is still magnificent.  He's "pierced with many black-feathered arrows" and "his sword was still in his hand" (p. 404), which means he went down fighting to the last, and oh my goodness, how much I love him here.  He killed at least twenty Orcs, trying to save the Halflings that he'd taken such good care of all along.  

What are his first words to Aragorn?  A confession.  "'I tried to take the Ring from Frodo,' he said.  'I am sorry.  I have paid'" (p. 404).  In fact, this whole scene is a beautiful enactment of confession and absolution.  Boromir realized his sin and repented of it earlier, and now he confesses it and is forgiven.  Aragorn tells him, "Be at peace!" (p. 404), an absolution and benediction in one.  I'm getting all tingly just re-reading it to type this up.

And this is the scene where I start to really like Aragorn so much.  He blames himself for everything going wrong, when he could so easily have denounced Boromir and blamed him.  But he doesn't.  He says, "All that I have done today has gone amiss" (p. 404), while "[t]he last words of Boromir he long kept secret" (p. 409).  Wonderful guy, Aragorn.  

And so they commit Boromir's body to the river and set off after the Orcs.  

And here we encounter another of my favorite themes:  doing what needs doing whether you have any hope of success or not.  Aragorn says here, "With hope or without hope we will follow the trail of our enemies" (p. 410), echoing what he said when Gandalf fell in Moria:  "'We must do without hope,' he said.  'At least we may yet be avenged'" (p. 324).  This theme will pop up again later on, too, when Sam and Frodo reach Mount Doom.  On page 913, it says, "But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength."  I find that so interesting, the idea that having no hope can strengthen your resolve.  It's not how it's supposed to work, right?  You're supposed to keep morale high and encourage people so they won't give up in despair, right?  But it also feels quite true that when you have nothing left to lose, not even hope, you are willing to do almost anything.

Favorite Lines:

"An evil choice is now before us!"
"Then let us do first what we must do," said Legolas (p. 405).

"Maybe there is no right choice," said Gimli (p. 406).

The River had taken Boromir son of Denethor, and he was not seen again in Minas Tirith, standing as he used to stand upon the White Tower in the morning (p. 407).

"In Minas Tirith they endure the East Wind, but they do not ask it for tidings" (p. 408).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Aragorn and Legolas sing a song about Boromir as they set his body adrift.  Aragorn calls him "Boromir the Tall" and "Boromir the Bold," and Legolas calls him "Boromir the Fair."  What do you think those descriptions say about Aragorn and Legolas themselves?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

And the Prize Goes To...

...Carissa!  Congratulations, Carissa, you won the giveaway!  Please check the email address you provided so you can claim your prize.

Thanks for playing, everyone!  I've got something else lined up to celebrate when we finish reading The Two Towers.  Speaking of which, I'll have the next chapter review posted tomorrow, I think.

Congratulations, Carissa!  They're all yours!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"His Last Bow" by A. Conan Doyle

Now that I've finished this, I only have one collection of Sherlock Holmes stories left to read (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes), and then I will have read the entire canon in twelve months.  I started back in March of 2013, so as long as I don't take more than six weeks to read the next one, I'll have achieved my goal.

But anyway, about His Last Bow.  I feel that, on a whole, the stories in this are rather better than in the previous collection, The Return of Sherlock Holmes.  Certainly it has more that I quite enjoyed.  I don't know if Doyle had regained some of his joy for the characters or genre, or if I was just more in the mood to like them.  But I really liked "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" and "The Adventure of the Red Circle," and although both "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" and "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" are gruesome and grotesque, I quite liked them as well.  "His Last Bow" was also enjoyable for its change of pace and leap a few years into the future from the other cases.

I noticed a bit of a change in Holmes and Watson in this book.  Holmes seems weary of the world and its brutalities, and Watson seems tired of Holmes' eccentricities at times.  Holmes also is much more of a law unto himself -- he goes burgling in "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans," and he lets a murderer go free without pointing the police toward him at all in another story.  In the past, he'd let a few criminals go, it's true, but he seems a bit more cavalier this time.  Or maybe just tired of doing all the thinking for the police?  He says, "I think you must agree, Watson, that it is not a case in which we are called upon to interfere.  Our investigation has been independent, and our action shall be also.".  It's true that the police didn't bring the case to his attention, but not called upon to interfere?  Holmes is meting out his own justice now, it seems.

At any rate, it's an enjoyable set of mysteries.  Spending time with my dear 'friends' Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is always pleasant.

Particularly Good Bits:

"My mind is like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was built."  ("The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge")

"What is the meaning of it, Watson?" said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper.  "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear?  It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.  But what end?  There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever."  ("The Adventure of the Cardboard Box")

"Education never ends, Watson.  It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last."  ("The Adventure of the Red Circle")

"Besides, on general principles it is best that I should not leave the country.  Scotland Yard feels lonely without me, and it causes an unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes."  ("The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax")  (This may be my favorite Sherlock Holmes quote ever.)

"Good old Watson!  You are the one fixed point in a changing age."  ("His Last Bow")

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG for dangerous situations, violence, exotic drugs, and suspense.

This is my first book read and reviewed for The Classics Club.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Classics Club Montly Meme: January 2014

The Classics Club does a monthly meme, with a question for whoever is inclined to answer.  This month's meme is:

Which character from classic literature is most important or influential to you and why? Or which character do you most despise and why?

Hmm.  A LOT of classic characters are important and influential to me.  Choosing one is just too hard!  So I'll go with the character I most despise.  And that would be John Thorpe from Northanger Abbey.  He's got absolutely no reason to be vulgar, deceitful, and greedy, other than that he's not a good person.  I find no redeeming qualities in him whatsoever.

Yes, I despise John Thorpe more than Bill Sykes, Cardinal Richelieu, Grima Wormtongue, and countless other classic villains.  Because I can understand those villains, figure out their motives and what drives them, and even pity some of them a bit.  But I don't even want to understand the sort of person who lies constantly, tells strangers a girl is rich so he seems more important because he claims she is interested in him, and decides a girl is going to marry him because she says matrimony in general is agreeable.  He has no sad back story, no terrible childhood, nothing.  He's a jerk because he enjoys being a jerk.

Also, I'm kind of unlikely to run into a Bill Sykes, Richelieu, or Wormtongue in the sort of life I lead, but a lying, vulgar jerk -- I've known those.  And they made me shudder.

(P.S.  Don't forget to enter my Tolkien giveaway here!)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"The Fellowship of the Ring" -- Book vs. Movie: A Guest Post by James

Hello everyone, James The Movie Reviewer from the movie review and all around geek blog J and J Productions. First off, a big thanks to Hamlette for letting me write this guest post for her Lord of the Rings read-along. For this post, I will be detailing a few noticeable differences between the Lord of the Rings books and films, along with providing what I think are likely reasons behind each change and how those changes affect the overall narrative of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

Merry, Pippin and The Hobbits' Naivety

Throughout the course of the Lord of the Rings films, The Fellowship in particular, Merry, Pippin and the Hobbit race in general are portrayed as being a very naive and simple people lacking in common sense. Several scenes attempt to demonstrate the Hobbits' naivety. For example, Merry and Pippin start a fire that Frodo stomps out, throw stones in the Watcher's lake, and misuse Gandalf's fireworks. In the book however, Merry and Pippin are often portrayed as being relatively smart and useful, and by the end of the book trilogy, they are respected heroes among the Hobbits. There are two main reasons that the characters were altered in the film:  to provide comic relief and to provide a better starting point for character development. Throughout the majority of the Lord of the Rings books, there is relatively little humor, and even though the films were generally darker in tone, the films needed some levity, and Merry and Pippin provided the needed moments of humor. On the character development side, starting Merry and Pippin out as fumbling idiots that grow into brave warriors by the end of film demonstrates a more substantial character arc, especially since the "Scouring of the Shire" chapter was removed from the Return of the King film, which is where Merry and Pippin show their development as characters. Overall, the change was mostly necessary when looking at the over-arching ramification the alteration makes to the characters.


In the book, Arwen was only mentioned in passing for the majority of the book with only one or two lines of dialogue through the entirety of the Fellowship of the Ring. She does not play an important part in the narrative. Infamously, Arwen is featured heavily in the films. While some of her scenes with Aragorn were adapted from the appendices, the most likely reason to add more Arwen scenes was both to provide a female character in the plot, as well as give Aragorn a stronger romantic interest. From the standpoint of appealing to more mainstream audiences, adding a romance and a central female is not a bad idea, albeit one that conflicts with the original source material. For the most part however, the scenes that are included are additions to the story that do not affect the overall plot, with exception of Arwen saving Frodo from the Nazgul. In the book, an elf named Glorfindel and his horse, Asfaloth, met the Hobbits and Aragorn on their way to Rivendell. To escape the Nazgul, Frodo rides Asfaloth to Rivendell by himself. In the movie however, Frodo rides with Arwen to Rivendell while being chased by the Nazgul. Upon reaching the River Bruinen, Arwen summons a wave of Water Horses to sweep away the Nazgul, but in the book the horses were summoned by Elrond. Since Peter Jackson decided to place more emphasis on Arwen's character, she needed an introduction, and since Glorfindel is such a minor character, replacing him with Arwen does not drastically change the overall narrative. However, adding more Arwen to the film does cause a change to the overall narrative, although not as much as some have claimed. Overall, the change of adding more Arwen to the film may not have been the best aspect to change, but it certainly was not the worst.

Tom Bombadil

"Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!" Out of all the changes to the original source material, the complete removal of the character Tom Bombadil and the chapters that his character is featured in is the most significant omission in terms of size, but not necessarily in terms of importance to the story. Although Tom Bombadil is an intriguing character who is not affected by the Ring's power, he is not particularly important to the overall narrative. Other than the Hobbits finding their swords, not a lot happens during those chapters that actually affect the characters or the story. The lighthearted, almost cheery, tone of the chapters significantly clashes with the dark and ominous tone of the Nazgul chase in the film that would precede Tom Bombadil’s part in the story. Also, removing Bombadil’s character improves the pacing. Because of both reasons, the change to the source material was certainly warranted. 

Frodo's Age

In the book, Frodo's age at the time of Bilbo's one hundred and eleventh birthday was 33, which is the Hobbit equivalent of a human coming of age. However, seventeen years elapse between the time of Bilbo leaving for Rivendell and Gandalf returning to the Shire, which would make Frodo 50 years of age. Conversely, the movie portrays the time between Bilbo leaving and Gandalf returning with information about the Ring to be much shorter, possibly less than a year. Thus, in the movies, Frodo's age would still be a young adult in Hobbit years. The most logical reasoning behind the change in Frodo’s age in the film is that a younger, less experienced character is more relatable than a middle-aged guy going through the same experiences, although the book version of Frodo was a little more heroic and featured a little less character development in comparison to his movie counterpart. In addition, no one could have played a better Frodo than Elijah Wood. 

(Hamlette's note -- thank you so much for this great guest post, James!  Everyone, don't forget to enter James' giveaway on his blog, and mine right here!)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

LOTR Read-Along Giveaway #1

We did it!  We finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring together!  To celebrate, I'm hosting a small giveaway.  You don't have to have participated in the read-along thus far to enter, but if you have participated, you can get bonus slips of paper added to the virtual hat, as you'll learn below.

What am I giving away?  Two little Tolkien-related goodies:

(I apologize for the crummy lighting.  I didn't want to wait for a nice day to take the photo and thus delay the giveaway.)

One is a little Lego keychain with Frodo Baggins on it.  This is a bit of official LOTR merchandise that I bought at the Lego store -- you can see that the tag is still attached.

The other is a tiny book I bought from the bookstore a while back.  It's called "A Tolkien Treasury" and is edited by Alida Becker, with illustrations by Michael Green and Tim Kirk.  It's actually a collection of little quotes, poems, and songs about Tolkien or Middle Earth by lots of different people.  My favorite bit is a haiku about the Nazgul, but there's all kinds of fun stuff here.  Just an amusing little trifle of a book, really.  Would be a perfect addition to a doll's shelf too!

I'm giving both away to one lucky winner -- you can use the widget below to enter.  But first I'm going to explain the ways you can earn entries a little bit, so they're clear.

First, you can add one of these buttons to your blog's sidebar and link it to this blog (  You automatically get 3 entries that way.  You need to provide a link to your blog so I can see you've added it (or already had it displayed).

Second, follow this blog via Google Friend Connect or Bloglovin'.  Or be following it already!  You need to provide me with the nickname you used when you followed the blog.

Third, post a little something about this giveaway on your own blog.  You need to post it before submitting that entry so you can provide a link to your blogpost to earn that entry.

Fourth, if you've participated in this read-along at all BEFORE NOW, you can get 5 entries with one fell swoop.  You merely need to provide a link to a post that you commented on (or wrote).

Giveaway runs from today through the end of Tuesday, January 14, 2014.  I'll draw a winner on Wednesday.  PLEASE be sure you've provided a CURRENT email address to this Rafflecopter widget so that, when I email the winner, they actually get the notification that they've won!  This is open world-wide, but if the winner doesn't respond to my notification within one week (by Wednesday, January 22, 2014, in other words), I will draw a different winner and they will be out of luck.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(You may have noticed that this says "LOTR Read-Along Giveaway #1."  I'll host another small giveaway when we finish The Two Towers, and another when we finish The Return of the King.)

LOTR Read-Along: The Breaking of the Fellowship (FOTR Ch. 22)

Here we are, at the end of the first book.  Wow.  That took longer than I'd expected.  But it has also been a lot of fun, so if it takes us three months per book, instead of the two I was expecting, who cares?

But anyway, this is such a sad chapter.  Boromir falls under the ring's power entirely, and Frodo spends most of the chapter being afraid to do what he must.  Gloom and doom, doom and gloom.

I was rather surprised that, when everyone is giving Frodo some thinking time, Legolas not only announces he wants the decision to go to a vote, but declares that he would vote for going to Minas Tirith!  I had completely forgotten that, and it just... I don't know.  It feels somehow out of character, to me.  Legolas is usually sort of aloof from the whole affair, just going along to help however he can, and now he's calling for votes and getting almost bossy.  Is this another instance of "the evil of the Ring [being] already at work even in the Company" (p. 392), as Frodo put it?  Or what?

But I love Sam at the end of the chapter, when he explains to everyone just what Frodo's struggle really is, and then figures out Frodo's plan to leave alone and thwarts it.  Dear, dogged Sam.  I especially love this part:  "I'm coming too, or neither of us isn't going.  I'll knock holes in all the boats first" (p. 397).  I so want to hug him there.

As promised, I'm holding a small giveaway to celebrate this milestone!  Please don't enter it, so I can keep the prizes myself.  No, I'm kidding, go here to enter :-)  I'll probably wait until it ends in a week to start in on The Two Towers, but I've got a guest post or two lined up to fill the gap!

Favorite Lines:

"Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing?" (p. 388)

Possible Discussion Questions:

Which two towers do you think the title of the next book refers to?  There's this whole section in this chapter, where Frodo is seeing the world from Amon Hen, and he sees Minas Tirith, "beautiful:  white-walled, many-towered, proud and fair upon its mountain seat" (p. 391).  And then it says that "against Minas Tirith was set another fortress, greater and more strong" (p. 391), which turns out to be Barad-dur, Fortress of Sauron.  And I kind of feel like those are the two towers.  What do you think?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Great River (FOTR Ch. 21)

Oh my goodness.  One chapter left and we'll be done with The Fellowship of the Ring!!!

Okay, anyway, this is not a favorite chapter of mine.  And that's solely because it's where the ring begins to take hold of Boromir and he gets all weird.  Muttering and biting his nails and arguing about everything.  My poor Boromir!  To quote Hamlet, "O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!" (III, 1).  Makes me all sad for him, being seized by the power of this evil thing.

Still, lots of cool stuff going on here.  Especially the Argonath.  I love them in the book, I love them in the movie.  So majestic and grand.

I really like Aragorn in this chapter.  He's the one who fears "that the Dark Lord had not been idle while they lingered in Lorien" (p. 371).  I've been worried about that this whole time, with all the lengthy pit stops they keep making.  Finally, someone else agrees!  Time's a wastin' here, folks!

Also, we learn here from Aragorn how Mordor has been getting horses from Rohan:  he says he's heard that lately, orcs "have dared to cross the water and raid the herds and studs of Rohan" (p. 372).  Why didn't he say so back in Rivendell when Gandalf was recounting Gwaihir's passing along of the scurrilous rumor that Rohan pays a tribute of horses to Mordor?  Back then, Aragorn just said he was sad to hear it, and it was Boromir who stood up for Rohan, saying he would never believe such a thing because "[t]hey love their horses next to their kin" (p. 256).

But anyway, we also have a grand moment here where Legolas shoots one of the Fell Beasts.  Hooray for Legolas!  

And we learn which city Aragorn calls home.  He says here, "How my heart years for Minas Anor and the walls of my own city!" (p. 384).  Back during the Council of Elrond, he just said that such home as he has is in the North.  Just a nice bit of trivia.

Favorite Lines:

"Time flows on to a spring of little hope" (p. 379).

"It is not the way of the Men of Minas Tirith to desert their friends at need" (p. 380).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Does Tolkien ever say what the Fell Beasts are?  Those winged monsters that the Nazgul ride.  In the extras for the movies, Peter Jackson and his helpers call them Fell Beasts, so that's what I call them, but I don't remember if they're ever named in the books.

In Which I Give in and Join the Classics Club

Well, I've done it.  I've joined the Classics Club.  I've been considering it for a while now, but the idea of committing to read fifty books in five years daunts me.  In five years, my kids will be seven, nine, and eleven.  I don't want to look that far ahead!  I think it's the years, not the mileage, that daunts me here.  
But then Ruth from A Great Book Study pointed out that I already have more than fifty classics on my to-read list, so why not go for it?  So I am.  I'm going to try my best to read fifty classics (and review them here) by the end of 2018.  I read a lot of classics anyway, so this should not be a hardship.  

What really made me decide to join was the fact that you're allowed to change your list at any time.  Add titles, subtract titles -- it's all good, as long as you have at least fifty titles at all times.  Also, re-reads count!  That will be my saving point, really, as I love to re-read beloved books.

So I've created a new page called My Classics Club To-Read List, where you'll find all the titles I'm planning to read.  I'll link reviews to that page, like I do with chapter reviews for the LOTR Read-Along.  Speaking of which, I have another chapter read, so better write up my comments on it!

Fellow Classics Club members -- how do you like it?  I see the site has a lot of cool stuff going on, most of which I won't have time for, but is there anything you think I should absolutely check out?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

History Reading Challenge 2014

I've decided to add one more challenge to my plate this year:  a challenge to read some actual history books and not just historical fiction.  It's hosted by a blog called Fanda Classiclit, and you can read more about it here.

I'm aiming for the lowest level, Student, which means reading 1 to 3 actual history books full of facts and nifty stuff.  Here are the three I'm planning to read:

Shakespeare's Restless World:  A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects by Neil MacGregor

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

A Decent, Orderly Lynching:  The Montana Vigilantes by Frederick Allen

I'm also sorely tempted to sign up for the Classics Club, but that requires reading 50 books in 5 years and making a list of them beforehand, and I'm not sure I'm ready for that big a commitment.  Maybe next year.

"The White Company" by A. Conan Doyle

I quite enjoyed this book, though I think that if I had read it when I was 14 or 15 instead of now, I would have absolutely loved it.  I was very into chivalry and knights and swords and castles at that time, and I think I would have read this two or three times, the way I did my favorite books about Robin Hood and King Arthur.  However, I still found it a lot of fun now.  But I got a bit impatient for it to end after the first four hundred pages, as I'd had it out of the library for two months and wanted to move on to more Sherlock Holmes stories.  But I stuck with it, and I'm so glad I did!  The last hundred pages had many thrilling parts, and it ended better than I'd hoped.

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, by now you've noticed that The White Company was written by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  If my math is correct, Doyle was 32 when he published this, which is a year younger than I am right now.  Hmm.  I find that a bit annoying, as I don't have any novels published yet, much less one this ambitious.  (He'd been publishing Sherlock Holmes stories for about 4 years by the time he published this.)  On the other hand, he wasn't the mother of three small children, and I'm certainly not a writer of the A. Conan Doyle caliber, so oh well, machts nicht.

Anyway, this is the story of a young man named Alleyne Edricson and his adventures.  He was raised in an abbey by monks, but when he comes of age, he sets out to learn about the world outside.  After meeting up with a bold archer named Samkin Aylward and mighty ex-monk called Hordle John, Alleyne travels with them to Twynham Castle.  There, a sweet and aging knight named Sir Nigel Loring takes Alleyne on as a squire, and they all set out for France to join the Prince of Wales and help him invade Spain and put an English-supporting Spaniard on the throne.

Alleyne, Sir Nigel, Aylward, and Hordle John have lots of adventures along the way, some of them merry and some of them exciting.  And some of them not particularly memorable, I must admit.  But along the way, I got to be very fond of these four characters, and was firmly convinced that at least one of them would die by the end.  Especially as one or another was always seeming to die, but then actually just unconscious or whatever.  I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, and that's all I'll say about that.

I think that Samkin Aylward was probably my favorite character.  Happy-go-lucky, wise from his time as a soldier, brave, loyal, and a wonderful marksman.  Also, he greatly amused me by tossing French words into his conversations all the time and always swearing by his ten finger-bones.  Not sure why the latter amused me so much, but it always made me grin.  

Alleyne Edricson was prone to be a bit priggish, though he got over that eventually, and wound up quite sturdy and likable.  Hordle John had a habit of being sarcastic and pretending to be stupider than he was, which I quite enjoyed.  

And Sir Nigel Loring was probably the most humorous character of all because he was a short, bald, middle-aged knight who was obsessed with picking fights with other knights to advance his honor or relieve them of a vow of chivalry or bring honor to his lady.  The Lady Loring was described as being too man-like in appearance to be considered even a little bit comely, but Sir Nigel always insisted she was the fairest lady in all Christendom, and was constantly challenging anyone who might seem to disagree at all.  I found their mutual devotion so sweet and, believe it or not, realistic!  Two people that others would laugh at or call odd or ugly, and they love each other so much they see no faults in the each other.  Lovely.

So anyway, rollicking good fun, if a bit oddly paced  in places.  I think when my kids are preteens, I will enjoy reading this aloud to them.

Particularly Good Bits:

"You see, dear heart," said he, "that they will not leave the old dog in his kennel when the game is afoot" (p. 102).

They sat at the lowest depth of human misery, and hugged a bitter comfort to their souls as they realized that they could go no lower (p. 262).

"It is easy, lady, for a man to ride forth in the light of day, and do his devoir when all men have eyes for him.  But in a woman's heart there is a strength and truth which asks no praise, and can but be known to him whose treasure it is" (p. 268).

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