Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

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.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Monday, December 25th, 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.

2017 was a great year for Tolkien fans. It was the 125th anniversary of the Professor’s birth, and the 80th anniversary for the Hobbit. We also got the magnificent news that Amazon will produce a TV series based on “previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings“. So what storylines would that be? A reboot of the 2001-03 trilogy is out of the question, as Peter Jackson explored and extended more than enough already. So, what do we have left? A lot! Let’s have a look.

The Lord of the Rings and its appendices tells stories in several different timelines. Long before (as in hundreds, and even thousands of years) before the main story, just before the main story (like a few decennials), parallel to the main story, and after.

One storyline could follow the ancient history of Gondor and Arnor. There are lots and lots of substories there. If I should pick one I would like to see, it would be the stories of the kings Arvedui of Arnor and  Eärnil II of Gondor, perhaps started with the Firiel incident. There are lots of exciting points to pick up there. Gondor throne heiritage politics, the war against, and the prediction of the downfall of the Witch King, the flight to Forochel, with the disastrous ship’s wreck in the ice, and the loss of the palantiri.

For the “near history” before The War of the Ring, the obvious choice would be a “The young Aragorn” series, where we could follow Aragorn in his many guises, riding with the Rohirrim, going on raids with Gondor against Harad, in and in constant conflict with Denethor. And his love life, of course, with his meeting and very long-term relationship with Arwen. And speaking of Arwen, her family story is a good storyline, with the love of Celebrían and Elrond, travelling from Lorien to Rivendell, and her abduction, and Elladan and Elrohir’s rescue of her from the orcs. Parallel to that, the story I would most love to see, would be, the story of Denethor. His tragic life is worth a season alone. Another storyline from the years just before The War of the Ring, could be Balin’s attempt to retake Moria, and build  a colony of dwarves. Lots of gore and killing of goblins to depict!

Parallel to the War of the Ring, there are a lot of things going on, that are merely mentioned in the book, and completely forgotten in the movies. The fight in Dale. The Ents’ war against the orcs after the capture of Isengard, the loss of Osgiliath and Cair Andros, to name just a few.

And of course, even after the the War of the Ring, and the Return of the King, there are stories to follow up. Aragorn’s “negotiations” for peace with his neighbouring peoples, with armed battle as alternative, supported by Eomer of Rohan. The sweet but bitter death of Aragorn and Arwen. The reign of King Eldarion.

I’m optimistic! This is going to be great!

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. These year, it’s even The Hobbit’s 80th Anniversary, and to celebrate, I have of course read through The Hobbit again.

So many have said so much about this book, so I’d rather show off my newest addition to my Tolkien bookshelf. This is the Swedish 1962 edition of The Hobbit, Bilbo, En Hobbits Äventyr (Bilbo, A Hobbit’s Adventure), and it has quite an interesting history.

In the 50s and 60s, Astrid Lindgren, maybe most famous for her children’s books about Pippi Longstocking, worked as an editor at the department for Children’s literature at Rabén & Sjögren, who published Tolkien’s works in Sweden. Lindgren was very interested in Tolkien’s work, and while she later denied Tolkien as an inspiration for it, she published the quite Lord of the Rings reminiscing Mio my Son in 1954, and later the world beloved classic children’s fantasy novels The Brothers Lionheart and Ronia, the Robber’s daughter.

In the early 60s Lindgren was not content* with the current Swedish translation of The Hobbit, Hompen (translation by Tore Zetterholm, 1947), and wanted to better it. So she opted for a new translation and got hold of Britt G. Hallqvist for the job. For illustrations, she contacted her friend Tove Jansson, now World famous for her Moomin Valley universe. Jansson had already had success with her Moomintrolls, and had previously made illustrations for a Swedish edition of Lewis Carrol’s classic poem Snarkjakten (The Hunting of the Snark, 1959), so a successful publication seemed likely.

Hallqvist translated, Jansson drew, Lindgren published it, and it flopped! Tolkien fans didn’t enjoy Jansson’s drawings much, and the illustrations were not used** again before 1994. By then, the 1962 version was cherished by Tove Jansson fans and Tolkien collectors over the World, and it had become quite hard to find. The 1994 edition was sold out in a jiffy. The illustrations were finally “blessed” by the Tolkien Estate, when they were used for the 2016 Tolkien Calendar.

Jansson’s illustrations were also used in the 2016 Tolkien calendar, which I’m, afraid to say, have not acquired (yet).

I was lucky and found a decent copy of the 1962 edition in a Japanese(!) bookstore on the Net. Now I LOVE this book. Its illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.

20171219_003402.jpg.small

20171219_144844.small

20171219_003429.jpg.small

The destruction of Lake Town and the death of Smaug are my personal favourites

The destruction of Lake Town and the death of Smaug is my personal favourite

It makes a great additon to my ever growing list of Hobbits.

This book makes a great additon to my ever growing list of Hobbits.

It would be a pity to let this book stay alone without decent Janssonic company, so I searched a few weeks, was lucky again and found a nice copy of the mentioned Snarkjakten by Lewis Carrol, and an almost mint copy of the absolutely fantastic (in all meanings of that word) Swedish 1966 edition of Alice i underlandet (Alice in Wonderland). If you enjoy Alice, you will love Janssons’ illustrations, even outshining her work on The Hobbit.

Janssons illustrations of <i>Alice</i> were later used in a lot of versions, among them, Finnish, American, British, and Norwegian editions.

Janssons illustrations of Alice were later used in a lot of versions, among them, Finnish, American, British, and Norwegian editions.

For an intensely interesting read about Jansson’s artistic work on these classics: Read Olga Holownia’s essay at barnboken.net.

That’s it. Merry Christmas and happy Youletide everybody!

*) Neither was Tolkien himself. He specially disliked the translation of Elvish names into Swedish, like Esgaroth -> Snigelby (ie. Snail Town!!!). Also interesting: Svensson, Louise, Lost in Translation? – A Comparative Study of Three Swedish Translations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, Lund University 2016

**) Actually, there were other versions with Jansson’s illustrations; the Finnish Hobbit Lohikäärme-vouri (The Dragon mountain) from 1973, and the updated Finnish translation in 2003. The illustrations were also used in this year’s Finnish 80th Anniversary edition of The Hobbit.

Diana Wynne Jones: Witch Week

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Storbritannia, en gang på 80-tallet. Larwood House er en kostskole, i en verden ganske lik vår egen, med et unntak: Magi finnes, men det er veldig, veldig forbudt. Hekser, både kvinnelige og mannlige, som blir oppdaget, kan bli tatt av selveste inkvisisjonen, for å bli brent på bålet!

En morgen oppdager lærerne at noen har skrevet på tavla: “NOEN I KLASSEN ER EN HEKS”. Dette er selvsagt en forferdelig påstand. Er det en dårlig spøk? Er det en provokasjon? Tyster noen? Er det sant? Det mysser av rykter og hvisking. Her må lærerne ta tak.

Barne- og ungdomsbok med litt girl power. Ikke overraskende er det barna med litt tilpasningsvansker, og ikke alltid dem med flest venner, som er disponert for magiske krefter. Miks inn en del tenåringsintriger, og en god porsjon humor, så har du en strålende bok. Litt mer alvor blir det når inkvisisjonen dundrer inn, men ikke verre enn at vi overlever.

Diana Wynne Jones: The Lives of Christopher Chant

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Det er mangt å bruke drageblod til, hadde det bare ikke vært så vanskelig å få tak i. Dessuten er det veldig forbudt, siden det er et så kraftig magisk stoff. Og det finnes nesten ikke i Verden 12A. I andre parallelle verdener derimot, er det ganske lett å få tak. Man trenger bare noen som kan skaffe stoffet, og noen som kan smugle det fra en verden til en annen. Da vil man bli veldig, veldig rik. Såfremt man ikke blir oppdaget, så klart.

Den unge Christopher Chant er utpekt til å bli den neste Chrestomansi, noe som ser ut til å bli en ensom sjebne. Han drømmer rare drømmer. Det er nesten som om han går inn i en annen verden. Og duverden hvor mye morsomt man kan finne på der. I en av verdenene finnes det f.eks en utrolig søt jente som Christopher har lyst til å bli mer kjent med. At hun også er en gudinne i den andre verdenen skremmer ham ikke. Onkel Ralph er svært interessert i disse drømmene, særlig siden Christopher faktisk kan ta med seg ting fra drømmen og ut i sin egen verden, så Onkel Ralph og Christopher gjør hemmelige eksperimenterer sammen, for forskningens skyld, så klart.

Vi hopper i tid fra Charmed Life, en generasjon tilbake, til Chrestomancis oppvekst. Det er en søt liten historie, litt forutsigbar, men det er så sjarmerende at det ikke gjør noe. Den unge kostskoletrollmannen som roter seg bort i magiske drømmer er et kjent tema i nyere bøker også. Anbefales for dem som liker fantasy for barn.

Diana Wynne Jones: Charmed Life

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

Gwendolen er et fantastisk hekseemne. Naboene vet det, ja hele Coven Street vet det. Lillebroren Eric, stort sett bare kalt Cat, dilter etter, og er egentlig fornøyd med at det er Gwen som får oppmerksomheten. Han trenger den nemlig ikke. Gwen og Cat ble foreldreløse etter en båtulykke, der foreldrene druknet. Og siden Gwen har et slikt fantastisk magisk talent, blir hun ikke overrasket da de blir kalt til å bo på selveste Chrestomanci Castle, den magiske myndigheten for hele England. Det som kanskje er litt overraskende er at Cat også skal være med.

En god start på en fin fantasy-serie med trollmenn og hekser for barn og ungdom. Kult å lese en pre-Harry-Potter-historie i genren. Artig vri med long-world-konseptet, med mange parallelle verdener. Litt gammelmodig i stilen kanskje, men stor underholdningsverdi. Noen litt underlige friheter underveis, feks en detalj: Jeg sliter litt med å se hvilken rolle kirken har i boka. Den er tilsynelatende viktig for landsbyfolket, og Chrestomanci har respekt for den, men hvilken funksjon har en kristen kirke i et magisk samfunn?

Jeg kommer nok til å lese resten av Chrestomanci-serien, tenker jeg.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion; The bigger they are, the harder they fall

Friday, December 30th, 2016

I read Tolkien’s canon every year around Christmas. So also this year.

One of Tolkien’s themes revisited in several of his works, is the fall from greatness.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells us that “Nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.” The all-evil Sauron, the big foe of the world, started out as a good guy, one of the sevants of Melkor. And in the Silmarillion it is told that his master, Morgoth, the black enemy of all elves and men, was once Melkor, the mightiest of the Mayar, the angelic beings of Eru Illúvatar. Instead of serving and building, Melkor rebelled, and in his pride, wanted to rule the world that the Maiar achieved. So Melkor, He who arises in might became he that fell to darkness.

The greatest of the Noldorin elves was Fëanor, for he was “made the mightiest in all parts of body and mind: in valour, in endurance, in beauty, in understanding, in skill, in strength and subtlety alike: of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and a bright flame was in him.” Fëanor makes great works. Tolkien, with his love for language, shows the greatness of him by telling how Fëanor bettered the runes, and created the letters for writing with pen, that were still used by elves and men in Middle-earth, thousands of years later. Even Gandalf recognices Fëanor’s gift for craft, when he feels the desire of the palantír, which he presumes was made by him: “to look across the wide seas of water and of time to Tirion the Fair, and perceive the unimaginable hand and mind of Fëanor at their work, while both the White Tree and the Golden were in flower!” And he even made the silmarills, greatest and most beautiful of all the gems of the World. But Fëanor turns to madness and evil. By his might in words, he turns the Noldor against the Valar, and sets them marching out of the blessed realm of Valinor. He fights and slays his kin at the Swan Havens of Alqualondë. He leaves his followers to shame or a terrible and dangerous march, when burning the stolen ships after crossing back to Middle-earth. He, the greatest of all the Noldor falls, and his fall is great.

Of the Ístari, the wizards, Saruman the White, is the chief and leader. He is the greatest in skill of mind and of lore, and has the gift of turning all to his will by speech. Gandalf calls him the head of his order. Later Frodo will not have Sharkey killed, for “he was great once, of a noble kind, that we should not dare to raise our hands against.” But as Gandalf says, “he will not serve, only command”, and Saruman falls from his noble quest of helping men and elves against Sauron, to become a war-lord, rivaling Sauron himself.

Tolkien’s themes about the great ones who fall, resembles the story of Ikaros, who achieved the gift of flying by gluing feathers to his body by wax, but in his pride, he flew too close to the sun, so the wax melted, and he fell from the sky.

The ones with the greatest power, are always in the danger of taking too much pride of their work and themselves, and turn from serving others in humility, to seeking power and dominion over others. That is evil in Tolkien’s works.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit, illustrated by Jemima Catlin

Monday, December 26th, 2016

I read Tolkien’s “canon”, that is, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, every year. So also this year. There are a lot of things to say about the Hobbit, but this year, I’d just like to show off my new copy of the book, beautifully illustrated by the illustrous illustrator Jemima Catlin.

20170224_183214_small

20170224_183501_small

I picked this up in a used book store, and hey, it was even signed by the illustrator!

20170224_183328_small

I really like Catlin’s style

 

20170226_091331_small

Fits nicely in my growing collection of Hobbit versions.

For Angelica’s use: The Matter of the Mirror (J.R.R Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings)

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

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.

In chapter two of The Lord of the Rings, we find a short note on one of Bilbo Baggins’ relations, the young Angelica. Bilbo leaves her a round convex mirror as a farewell gift, and tags it with “For Angelica’s use”, and the author adds that “She was a young Baggins, and too obviously considered her face shapely”.

Now, a couple of questions arise at once: Why in Middle-earth would Bilbo own a non-flat mirror like this? Is it clown-mirror, left-over from some carneval party, or just some other old strange mathom? One might also worry about Angelica’s reaction. As a youngster, isn’t this a bit harsh from old Bilbo to tease her for her caring about her looks?

A convex looking-glass is of course a woman’s make-up mirror, as the curved surface makes it magnifying. And Bilbo being a bachelor, obviously must have inherited this from his mother, Belladonna Took. As Belladonna was of a wealthy family, and as Bilbo had taken care of her mirror for all the years after her death, it must have been quite a heirloom, and just not another mathom. I presume a frame of victorian style silver plated engravings at least.

So giving Angelica his mother’s mirror, with a tongue-in-cheek joke, would be a kind gift from old uncle Bilbo, and it was probably warmly received by her.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

Around christmas, every year, I read Tolkien’s “canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. So also this year. And this year’s theme from the Silmarillion is … death. How depressing! Or is it?

Several times after his books took off into a success, Tolkien was asked what they were really about. What was the main theme in The Lord of the Rings, and his other texts? One of the answers he gave, perhaps with the tongue in his cheek, was that ultimately, they were about Death. Reading the Silmarillion, this is more visible than in most of the rest of the legendarium. There is death, sure there is, in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but death, and the fear of it, not as present as in the Silmarillion.

Before some unknown happening in man’s existence (hints of a fall to sin exists in Letters and The History of Middle-earth, but this was dropped in the later Silmarillion), death was the gift of God (Eru Ilúvatar) to man. What happens after death, the Elves (that has the point of view in the Silmarillion), do not know, and to them, death by age is a strange thing. As they say in Of the beginning of days: whereas to men, he gave strange gifts. But men should trust Eru, and receive death without fearing the unknown. But Morgoth, the Enemy, brings fright of the everlasting darkness to them, and they tend to envy the elves for their immortality within this world. Accepting death as it comes, and not strive for longer life, is presented by Tolkien as a purity. And it is a common mark of a corrupted society when this does not happen. So when Theoden dies in battle, or Aragorn lies down to rest after all his deeds, this is a Good Thing. But as heraldry and strong elixirs becomes more important than faithfully giving power over to your heir, Gondor wanes.

Most visible in the legendarium is this in Númenor. The first kings of the Land of the Star lives to a very old age, and when their time comes, they give their crown to their heir when he or she comes to age and hood, and then go to rest. And the people followed their king. But as we read in the Akallabêth, when Sauron gets power over the king, the fear of the darkness comes, and the strive to longer life reappears, as their actual life grows shorter. Parallely, we get the kings’ hunger for power, strife between the Númenoreans and enslavement of the people of the coasts. The unwillingness to accept death as a part of life, and a hope, makes the societies of Middle-Earth suffer.

This reappearing mode must have been important for Tolkien, and his catholic christian view shines through: Death is not to be feared. As Aragorn says to Arwen at his deathbed: Behold, we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.