Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

Sam the Spy (J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings)

Saturday, December 25th, 2021

I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. So also this year.

If you are among the lucky readers that get to immerse yourself in The Lord of the Rings regularly, you may have wondered about Sam’s thoughts and reactions in The Shadow of the Past. After Sam’s exchange with Ted Sandyman at The Green Dragon inn at Bywater, we learn that Sam had a good deal to think about (…) He would have a busy day tomorrow (…) But Sam had more on his mind than gardening. After a while he sighed, and got up and went out. When I read this, I used to pause and consider what Sam was thinking about. For some years I thought it was Rose Cotton that was on his mind. But she does not enter the story until the very end. So what is it that bothers Sam so much?

We learn that this is the same time as Gandalf is visiting Frodo. And their exchange about The Ring must be the next morning. When Sam is discovered by Gandalf, eavesdropping outside Frodo’s windows in Bag End, Sam first try to bluff Gandalf, producing his garden shears. Then he quakes and begs mercy and talks like a waterfall. Finally, he shouts of joy, before bursting into tears. Anyone may feel a bit intimidated under Gandalf’s bristling beard and brow, but isn’t this reaction a bit much? Sam is a bit of an emotional type, but shouting of joy, and then crying his eyes out?

We know from A Conspiracy Unmasked that Sam, Merry and Pippin are conspiring against Frodo leaving The Shire alone, and have been for years. Sam is presented as the chief investigator of the group. Here it all comes together. Merry and Pippin has talked Sam into spying on Frodo and Gandalf. It is not strange that he is thinking a lot and planning how to get through with this, even cooking up an alibi of mowing the lawn, and trimming the grass outside exactly the window where Frodo and Gandalf are discussing The Ring. He is even almost caught at one point, where he appears to coincidentally pass along the garden path whistling. Let us repeat that: He actually passes by, whistling innocently. When I read this again, I almost can’t believe Gandalf not seeing through this! When Sam finally is discovered, he actually tricks Frodo and Gandalf into believing that he only coincidentally heard what they were talking about. It is not strange that he first babbles and begs before finally shouts of joy and bursts into tears. He cries in relief of not disclosing the conspiracy. He is not revealed as a spy yet – and luckily, not by Gandalf, or he might actually been turned into a spotted toad.

In Crickhollow, after the conspiracy is finally unmasked, Sam says that Frodo ought to take the Elves advice. Gildor said you should take them as was willing, and you can’t deny it. Frodo’s answer is a bit remarkable unless you have figured out the connection: I’ll never believe you are sleeping again. Here, Frodo is of course pointing to the fact that in Three is a company, while Gildor has a conversation with Frodo, and that while these words fall, Sam sat curled up at Frodo’s feet, where at least he nodded and closed his eyes. But Sam is here still the spy in the group. He only pretends to sleep, and is actually eavesdropping as hard as he can all the time. This is taken up again by Merry in The Palantir: Now Pippin my lad, don’t forget Gildor’s saying – the one Sam used to quote: “Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” Gildor said this to Frodo while Sam was apparently sleeping.

At the end of The Council of Elrond we hear that Sam again is spying and eavesdropping. He suddenly jumps up from the corner where he had been quietly sitting on the floor, and Elrond remarks that the council was secret, and that Sam was not invited.

In Flight to the Ford, Frodo says about Sam that First he was a conspirator, now he’s a jester. He’ll end up by becoming a wizard – or a warrior! And Sam answers: I hope not (…) I don’t want to be neither!. But at least his career as a conspiring spy was rather successful.

Merry Christmas, and a happy new year!

 

 

With great thanks to The Tolkien Professor and his Exploring the Lord of the Rings project, where the role of Sam has been more than thoroughly discussed

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021

I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. So also this year.

I recently got access to the new audiobook recording of The Hobbit, read by Andy Serkis. I have listened through The Hobbit many times before, but then usually the version read by Rob Inglis. While Inglis is still my favorite, Serkis does an excellent job, and of course, his top performance is Gollum. I have read this book perhaps 35-40 times over the last 25 years. I think I never have realized how abolute completely desperate and  crushed Gollum is when he realizes that his precious ring is gone. Also, Serkis’ Bilbo and Gandalf are great.

I’ reccomend this recording as a good alternative to Inglis’ version, just for the Gollum part alone.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Morgoth’s Ring

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

Hva gjorde godeste John Ronald da han var nesten ferdig, og ferdig med å skrive og få publisert Ringenes Herre? Jo, da vendte han tilbake til Silmarillion. Ikke bare for å forsøke å skrive den ferdig. Den livsløgnen hadde ingen tatt fra ham ennå. Men under skrivingen av Ringenes Herre dukket det opp en hel masse nye elementer og kontekst som det var nødvendig for ham å retroaktivt bake inn i legendariet sitt. Mange tenker at fortellingene i Silmarillion dannet bakteppet for den Midtgard vi kjenner fra Ringenes Herre. Men det var like mye omvendt.

Hvor kom egentlig orkene fra? Har de en sjel? Og hva så med sjelene til andre skapninger i Arda? Hvis alvers sjeler lever uendelig etter at kroppen dør, hva da med ekteskap mellom en alv som lever med kropp, og en avsjelet alv som venter i Mandos?

Når vi vet at Verden var rund, og alvene ikke kan lyve; kunne den da være flat en gang i tiden? Hva skjer med opphavsmytene når Tolkien prøver å tilpasse fortellingene til en mer vitenskapelig verdensanskuelse? Hvis sola ikke går i bane rundt jorda, men omvendt, hvordan går det da med fortellingen om Valinors trær og solas tilblivelse? Hva kom først? Og hvis det er omvendt likevel, hvor langt var et Valinoreisk år, målt i sol-år?

Alle disse mennene det blir fortalt om, helter som skurker, burde de ikke stå noe mer om kvinner? Hvordan så Nerdanel, Fëanors kone ut? Hva likte hun å gjøre? Ungoliant, Tolkiens verste monster, hva synes hun om å bli dratt ut av bôlet sitt av Melkor for å gjøre hans vilje?

Hele Silmarillion ble skrevet fra alvenes synsvinkel. Hva synes menneskene om denne “gaven” som Gud gav dem, å eldes og dø i usikkerhet om sin sjels sjebne. Diskusjonen mellom alvekongen og den vise kona, Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth er verdt boka alene.

Så skal det ikke stikkes bort at dette er tungt stoff. Det er mye fortvilt sjelegnag og ren teologi, og mye repitisjon av kjente fortellinger, forholdsvis tørt fremlagt i versjon etter versjon, med Christopher Tolkien i redaktørrollen, komplett med fotnoter, appendix og navneregister til slutt.

Anbefales for de veldig spesielt interesserte.

Terry Pratchett: The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and other stories

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

Da salige Sir Terry var ung skrev han små morsomme historier for den lokale avisa. Veldig morsomme faktisk. I denne samlingen har han blåst støv av avisutklippene, pusset litt på teksten, og lagt dem mellom to permer. Dette er blott til lyst for barn i alle aldre. Genren er en mellomting mellom hysterisk fantasy og skolestil. Anbefales for tennenes skyld. Min favoritt: Novelleserien om det Ville, Ville Vesten – altså Wales, inkludert blødmer som The Great Coalrush, sheepboys, og den strenge sheriffen, jeg mener landsbykonstabelen, som rydder opp i byen fra salen på sin trofaste, eh, sykkel.

Kenneth Grahame: The Reluctant Dragon

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

Da jeg vokste opp var det noen bøker jeg leste igjen og igjen og igjen. Sannsynligvis først og fremst fordi ingen hadde introdusert meg for Tolkien, leste jeg opp igjen Narnia og Robin Hood og Det suser i sivet av Kenneth Grahame gang på gang, hvis jeg ikke hadde annet å pløye gjennom. Jeg tror Det suser i sivet er den eneste boka av Grahame som er oversatt til norsk. Hvis ikke hadde jeg kanskje kjent til The Reluctant Dragon fra før, men av en eller annen uforståelig grunn ser det ikke ut til at den er oversatt til norsk.

Og det er synd, siden dette er en liten skatt av en barnebok. Vår lille helt av en bondesønn er en bokorm, og får heldigvis lov av foreldrene å være det, som seg hør og bør. Og siden han har lest ganske mye, mener han at det er han som bør ordne opp med dragen, da faren, en enkel sauegjeter, finner ut at den gamle dragehulen faktisk er bebodd. Ja, av en drage. Her er det gammel britisk humor og bittelitt moral og visdom i passe porsjoner.

Dette er en ren fornøyelse. Bare synd den er så kort.

Jessica Townsend: Wundersmith: The calling of Morrigan Crow

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

Morrigan survived the initial tests, and was finally admitted into the the Wondrous Society, and secured her citizenship in Nevermoor and The Free State. Now starts her training, or at least, that’s what she is expecting. The first day of school however, she is barely admitted into the school of the Wondrous Society at all. While her fellow students are sent to all kinds of special courses, Morrigan spends her days studying the failed arts of wundersmiths before her. Beeing a wundersmith herself, this is a depressing subject. As her powers and frustrations grow, she needs some kind of venting. Who can teach her the art of controlling Wunder, when neither the school, nor her patron can or will?

Jessica Townsend follows in a classical track writing for young fantasy fans. The rising magical comet pupil enters school. Jill Murphy, Dianna Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, you name them. Now, nothing wrong in giving the young reader well-known knobs to hang her hats on, but they have to be good. Does Townsend succeed? Perhaps. I would love more intrigues and contact between Morrigan, Hawthorn, and the rest of her unit friends, and her enemies. I want relationships to appear and grow. I want more character arcs. I want … just more, I guess. Which means, I would simply like a longer book. Perhaps was it more. Perhaps were there stuff that landed on the cutting board floor. Or perhaps this was all. On the other hand, there is a lot to like. There are humour and sadness. There are songs and poems. I love the teachers, especially the school mistresses. The two-in-one classical Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and/or Gollum schizofreniac style transformation is both disturbing and hilarious. The Ghastly Market is perfectly ghastly, the crooks are evil enough, and the finale is chaotic and overwhelming. The thrown-in whodunnit baffled me, and Morrigan’s frustration of not getting to learn more about who she is and what she can do, is crushingly felt by the reader.

This is a good follow-up of the first book in the series. I hope the next one will fulfill my needs for more character development. And I want a T-shirt with “Introverts Utterly Anonymous” on the front, and “no meetings or gatherings of any sort, ever” on the back.

Jessica Townsend: Nevermoor – The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

In a world powered by wundercraft, a strange nature force that may be harvested for electricity, Morrigan is a child of a priviledged family. Her father is the elected Chancellor of the state, they are rich, and live in a large manor house. The should have been happy. But they are not. Morrigan was born as a cursed child. That means that whatever she does, bad stuff happens around her. The cat dies. The farmers have a bad year with low crops. Somebody falls and break a leg. It is always Morrigan’s fault. In addition, she will only live until she is 12, when the new Age begins. Then, as all they who are listed in the Cursed Child Register, she will die. Not much of a childhood to write home about. At the eve of the age, the Eventide, and also Morrigan’s birthday (and dying day), a strange figure called Jupiter North visits the family, and instead of dying, Morrigan is whisked away on a journey across the borders of the state, and into the wunderful world of Nevemoor. Jupiter saves Morrigan’s life, but her trials have just begun.

Towsends writes funny and originally, sometimes even surprising. Episodically, the story goes from cliff hanger to cliff hanger, so it should be excellent as bedside or holiday read aloud story. The text is full of songs, rhymes, alliterations, puns, strange words, and new words, and goes from very good, to just brilliant! There is never a boring period. Also she writes about children’s feelings. Morrigan is afraid, happy, disappointed, scared, angry, and jealous. The author makes the readers share those feelings. Well done.

As you may perceive, I love this book! I think it was Neil Gaiman who once said that the primary function of a book is to open a portal to another world. And that is why I love books like The Hobbit, Wind in the Willows, The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe, The Earth-Sea series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and that first book in the Harry Potter series (and more or less anything written by said Gaiman). This is a book for that list.

Towsends writes for an audience that has become used to this kind of more or less magical worlds. After the success of the Harry Potter series, and the Tolkien movie (and thus book) renaissance, youth fantasy like the Pullman, Paolini, Riordan, and hey, why not Pratchett, series have bloomed and blossomed, and the readers know what they want. I will not say that Towsends writes after a template, her work is too original for that, but of course she is inspired by J.K. Rowling and other fantasy writers. And Jupiter could be Willy Wonka’s second cousin once removed.

Critics ask if this could this be the next Harry Potter? I’d rather say it’s the next Chocolate Factory. I assume Morrigan will return in a series of books. I look forward to them.

Tolkien’s fan service (J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings)

Monday, December 24th, 2018

I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. So also this year.

When I read through the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring again, I stumbled over all those small things that remind about The Hobbit. Going through them more systematically, it is clear that Tolkien started out wanting to create a sequal, and he uses a lot of small details to bind the first chapters of the new book closely to the previous one.

Starting with the title, A long expected party, of course closely mimicking the Hobbit’s first chapter An unexpected party. During Bilbo’s feast, Gandalf shows off his firework display, as he did on the Old Tooks parties a long time ago, according to The Hobbit. The firework elements themselves reminiscing parts of the story of the Hobbit. The trees of Greenwood the Great (or Mirkwood if you like), complete with butterflies. Then there are the eagles, a thunderstorm, an embattled army of elves with silver spears, and of course, the mountain and the dragon as the Grand Finale. Then Bilbo holds his speech, reminding the bored guests about his coming to Esgaroth on his 50th birthday, before he makes his special exit.

After Bilbo has disappeared in a flash and a bang, and left 144 flabbergasted guests back in the pavillion, we follow him and Gandalf back into Bag End. Here we see him pulling out his old treasures from The Hobbit; His sword Sting, the green cloak and hood that he borrowed from Dwalin (rather too large for him), and of course, his journey’s diary, the actual Hobbit book itself, nicely written into the story, and, as he tells Gandalf, he has written an end for it: “And he lived happily ever after, to the end of his days”, like the book actually ends. Gandalf reminds Bilbo about the will – the contract with Frodo if you like, that should be put on the same place as Bilbo found his own contract 77 years earlier, by the clock on the mantlepiece. He then sets out with dwarves, again.

At Crickhollow, the evening before the hobbits set out together, Merry and Pippin has made a song mimicking the song the Dwarves sang before Thorin and company set out. Out on the road, Frodo and his merry followers visit a tavern, like Thorin’s travelling party is said to have done too. They enter the wilder region, and Frodo and company sees the hills with old ruins on them, just like Bilbo did. After crossing the same stone bridge, they even discover the trolls that Gandalf tricked to stay out until the dawn made them to stone. Finally, the second book of the Fellowship starts with a rest in Elrond’s house, as did Bilbo.

Tolkien’s eye for details gives the fans of The Hobbit great value for their money, and a world full of small well-known nuggets to get comfortable before the quest takes off into the parts of Middle-Earth where they have not travelled before.

Are there more hints of the Hobbit in The Fellowship of the Ring than those listed here? I probably missed a lot of them.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. So also this year.

There is said so much about this book already, so instead of adding more non-interesting chatter to the World, I’d rather again this year show off my latest acquisition to my Hobbit collection: The first Czech edition of the Hobbit: Hobit aneb Cesta tam a zase zpátky. This version is a bit special; its first release came in a country that no longer exists, Czechoslovakia, in 1978. It has strange and gorgeous illustrations by Jiří Šalamoun, resembling a humorous naïve style, almost like children’s drawings, while still with a deep artistic impression.

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Another great addition to my ever growing list of Hobbits.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Friday, December 29th, 2017

I read Tolkien’s “canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, around Christmas every year. So also this year.

One of the most fascinating stories in The Silmarillion is of course the story of Túrin Turambar. He is regarded as one of the major heroes of his age. At the Council of Elrond, Elrond himself lists the great men and elf-friends of old, Hador and Húrin and Túrin and Beren. But while reading through the Silmarillion, there are few among mortal men that have also added so much pain and disaster to the elves. While a great war hero, Húrin was also responsible for the slaying of the greatest hunter of the elves, Beleg Cúthalion, the strong bow. Being the war hero, he turned the people of Nargothrond away from the wisdom of their history, and even their king, and made the hidden kingdom available for the enemy. How many elves were cruelly slain or taken to captivity in Angband because of Turin’s pride? Thousands! Perhaps even tens of thousands? So how come the elves, ages later, still reckoned Túrin son of Húrin as one of the great elf-friends?

In a Nordic saga style stunt, Túrin finally slew his greatest enemy, Glaurung the great fire-breathing dragon. Glaurung had been a continous danger to all peoples of Middle-Earth, and the end of that worm was of course a great relief to all the elves, even Elrond’s ancestors, the kings of Doriath and Gondolin. Also, we must remember that the lives of the elves are different from that of men. When the elves’ bodies die, their spirits go to Mandos, where they sit in the shadow of their thought, and from where they may even return, like Glorfindel of both Gondolin and Rivendell. But when men die, they go to somewhere else, and are not bound to the world. It seems that elves are more willing to forgive and let grief rest for wisdom over time, than are men’s wont. Even the Noldor who survived the passing of the Helcaraxë forgave and united the Noldor of Fëanor’s people that left them at the burning of the ships at Losgar.

Perhaps that is one of the lessons learned from the tragic story of Túrin. From all his unhappy life, good things happened, and afterwards, the elves forgave and even mourned him and his family.