Philip Pullman is known, perhaps infamously, for His Dark Materials trilogy, which has been attacked because of Pullman's atheist beliefs as well as t...more
Philip Pullman is known, perhaps infamously, for His Dark Materials trilogy, which has been attacked because of Pullman's atheist beliefs as well as the endorsement of atheism that book represents. Pullman isn't the only writer to have been attacked due to his view on religion, and I doubt that he will be the last one. Of course, he will undoubtedly be attacked this year because of his new book about Jesus and his buddy Christ.
I find it strange that there was barely a peep about the books until the movie came out.
The problem, as I see it, with such "fame" as Pullman receives is that people get hot and bothered either condemning the work or, justly, defending the work. So hot and bothered that books like Nation get overlooked. In many ways, this is good, for no one is trying to ban the book. In other ways, it is bad, for the book doesn't get the fame it deserves.
Terry Pratchett is a humanist writer of fantasy fiction. He wouldn't call his work literature, but many of his later novels either is literature or rests on literature's mutable border. I've been a huge fan of Pratchett since Wyrd Sisters made me laugh during a very tough time in my life (Thanks Mom, for giving the book to me).
Nation is the best thing that Pratchett has ever written. Nation is Literature.
I'm not sure if Nation was inspired by the Tsunami in Asia and/or Pratchett receiving his medical news. In truth, I don't really care. I do know, for Pratchett himself has said it, that Nation demanded to be told, and he stopped other projects to write it.
Supposedly a children's book, Nation tells the story of Mau who loses his whole Nation, his whole tribe, when a tsunami hits his island home. Eventually, Mau discovers Daphne, a "ghost" girl who was washed up by the same wave. What then follows is part Robinson Crusoe, told from Friday's point of view; part Swiss Family Robinson; part Island of the Blue Dolphins, and part religious and philosophical debate.
Pratchett's novels work because each of his characters is like the reader or like someone the reader knows. His characters are human and contain one or more aspects of everyone. Even Pratchett's most heroic or inhuman characters such as Carrot, Rincewind, or Death, have human traits that effect how they act (remember, Death really likes cats). Here, in this book, Pratchett presents multiple answers to the questions, "Why do bad things happen to good people if there is a just god?" and "How do you feel afterwards?"
Both Mau and Daphne have tragically lost family. Both of their reactions are human, yet different from each other. Both question the idea of god (or in the case of Mau, gods) and faith. Both arrive at different answers. More importantly, Pratchett doesn't preach, he doesn't persuade. He just wants the reader to think, the conclusion is left up to the reader. This makes the book totally honest, for there is no clear cut answer to the first question.
Besides engaging the idea of the god debate, Pratchett touches on another part of creation - where do stories come from? Are stories more than just religion? Is religion more than story? This comes as no surprise to the reader who has read the last two Science of Discworld books.
Despite the tragic and bittersweet events of the story, Pratchett's trademark humor, including footnotes, is present in full force. Like his characters, Pratchett's humor works because it contains an element of human truth. As the following exchange shows:
"Don't look back!" "Why not?" "Because I just did! Run faster!"
The tale of Mau and Daphne is an adventure tale of two teens surviving the aftermath of a natural disaster. They most rebuild. They must outwit cold blooded killers and hungry cannibal as well as the odd Grandfather Bird and tree climbing octopus. It is a thrillingly story that closely, honestly, and fairly examines faith, science and all in between.
Older Review When Nation came out, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't a Discworld novel.
Then I read it.
It's the best thing that Pratchett has ever written.
The one thing about Terry Pratchett, as Lawrence Watt-Evans pointed out, is that the only real difference between his adult books and his children books are the age of his protagonists. There is no reason why an adult shouldn't treat this as a book.
It's a book everyone should read.
I suppose if Pratchett had the reputation or high profile of Philip Pullman or J. K. Rowling, then there would be a huge cry of how this book should be snatched from the hands of impressable children before they learn how to think for themselves. Maybe there is already such an outcry, but I haven't heard anything.
Nation reminds me a bit of Island of the Blue Dolphins, with much more thrown in. Pratchett addresses the big questions of whether or not there is a god, and if there is a god, why do bad things happen? Bad things happen in this book, right from the start. Pratchett deserves credit for not sugarcoating what happens, but for also dealing with the deathes in a way that does not alienate or upset readers (okay, upset them too much).
What Pratchett presents for the reader is a book about what extactly faith and life are. When one reads Pullman, it is quite easy to figure out where Pullman stands in regards to religion. It is not easy to figure out where Pratchett stands. One character has lost his faith, but may or may not be talking to the gods. Other characters have faith. Neither character is seen as stupid or evil because of a belief or lack of belief. In many ways, Nation is a more mature novel about faith than Pratchett's earlier tolerance novel Small Gods.
This a powerful book, and I hope it continues to fly under the radar of those people who think children shouldn't read books that make you think.
For me, Possession is like a bottle of wine or a box of really good chocolate (the really, expensive and sinfully good kind). There is an aboluste bea...moreFor me, Possession is like a bottle of wine or a box of really good chocolate (the really, expensive and sinfully good kind). There is an aboluste beauty in this book, and it seems to lie in the details. How all the characters still in character, the resolution to both romances at the end, all the touches about criticism - all these ring true.
Over the years I have read this book, my favorite character has gone from Maud to Leonora then to both. Leonora, it seems to me, is so much larger than life, and I have to wonder if the character got away from Byatt, if perhaps, she had been intended to be more of "bad" critic than she is.
One of the best and greatest books ever written. Without a doubt, a canon book. Something I re-read every year to year and a half.(less)
Like no doubt many readers, I don't understand some aspects of the publishing industry. I'm not talking about the "who the %$#^&*!!!! thought prin...moreLike no doubt many readers, I don't understand some aspects of the publishing industry. I'm not talking about the "who the %$#^&*!!!! thought printing this was a good idea?" reaction all readers have at one point or the other. What I really don't understand, what I really want someone to explain to me, is why some books are publishing in the UK, Canada, and Australia, but not here in the United States, and why sometimes we have to wait, especially when it is the same publishing company. It's not a translation issue; it doesn't occur with every book. But why did the United States get The Children's Book after everyone else? Why is The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein published later? Is this some subtle revenge for independence and the War of 1812 or the Hollywood farce of the United States getting the enigma machine during WWII?
More importantly, why isn't William Horwood published in the United States?
I first discovered Horwood in 1994 the summer I was in Rotterdam for a month. I was looking for any English book to read that wasn't published in the United States, and lo and behold I found Duncton Tales. I'm a Watership Down nut so of course, I had to buy it. I loved it. Within the next couple years, I had all his books, including one time having to special order from UK online bookstore.
I don't see Horwood in U.S. bookstores. Now and then in a used bookstore, but never, ever in a new bookstore. I don't understand why. I really don't understand why when it comes to Skallagrigg for it is just the type of book that would appeal to many people.
Skallagrigg tells the story of the disabled and society's treatment of them during the 1970s-1980s as well as 1920s-1960s. At times shocking, always poignant, the book tells the story of Arthur (Eddie) and Esther. Arthur is all the Skallagrigg stories that Esther is told, and she wants to find out if the stories are true, for the stories are told only among spastics. Horwood uses this format to examine the issues that families of the disabled and the disabled themselves face.
In America, most people who have finished all the way though high school have at some point read Flowers for Algernonin some way. While Skallagrigg is different it has that same type of appeal. Maybe it is the sex in the novel. I've seen more graphic descriptions, and it is quite clear that when the characters have sex, it really, truly is making love. But maybe that is why. Maybe publishers think Americans are too prudish? Nah, as Esther would say, after all look at the number of romance books that make the best seller list. Additionally, Skallagrigg is like The Speed of Dark. If you liked Dark and/or Algernon, you should seek out this book.
Who knows why this isn't published in the States? Not me, that's for sure.
Skallagrigg is worth seeking out. It is true that Horwood tends to overuse certain character types. Here, for instance, the character of Dilke in the Skallagrigg stories is very similar to a few of Horwood's "bad" moles. It is true that Horwood always comes back to themes of forgiveness and sacrifice. This is undoubtably what make him popular. While it is true that Horwood's Wolves of Time is anti-established religion (at least), Skallagrigg examines faith. Some characters believe; some don't. The faith here isn't just religion, but the human soul as well. Esther, the central character, isn't a saint. In fact, she is down right unlikable at times. She is human. Horwood constructs her in such a way that the reader doesn't feel pity for her, at least not pity that she has CP, but makes and lets the reader see Esther as a character. The CP becomes part of her characteristics, but the reader is taken far beyond that. Esther's father is also handled with a great deal of care. He's not perfect, but he's not a jerk either.
Horwood also develops or showcases how spastics talk among themselves. I don’t have a disabled family member, so I don’t know if Horwood’s portrayal of language is “spot on”, but he apparently does have a disabled daughter, so maybe it is. Regardless, Horwood shows readers a culture that they might not have seen before.
The book also contains wonderful use of the old, old, computer games. Does anyone remember Zork? Those types of computer games. The games where there were no graphics, just typing, and it was like playing D&D on the computer screen. (As an aside, I miss those. You could type in the stupidest things and get the craziest responses. You could be creative). Esther is a programmer. The game becomes central to the plot.
Skallagrigg is well worth seeking out for it is about what makes us human.(less)
I have a thing for animal stories. It is no doubt due to the fact that I read Watership Down at a very young age; I read the cover off that book. Most...moreI have a thing for animal stories. It is no doubt due to the fact that I read Watership Down at a very young age; I read the cover off that book. Most writers that get advertised as heirs to Richard Adams in the genre tend not to live up to the hype. Those that do, like Brian Jacques, tend to tell animal tales in a different way.
William Horwood does and does not do this.
This was the first Duncton book I ever read, even though it is the start of the second Duncton series. I brought when I was in Rotterdam, read it, loved it, and got everything I could find by Horwood before I left.
While Watership Down is a quest tale with rabbits; the Duncton books tend to be more philospoic and religious (though it is hard to say what religion. Horwood, at least in the books, seems to be against forced conversion. There is a Buddist feeling, yet there are Christian overtones. Yet, the reader is not told to BELIEVE OR ELSE! It is more of this is what the moles believe, let's see how it plays out). Despite this thoughtful aspect of the book, there is plently of action.
This book deals with belief and how belief can lead to censorship and control of infromation (can anyone else say South Park). Horwood really examines the agruments on both sides of the issue, and while he comes down on the side of freedom, his moles are aware of just points on the other side (for instance, why does the Duncton System get to keep the Holy Books of Moledom?). Because the moles are diggers, writers, and readers in some ways parts of the story feel like the debate over the Bible when it was first translated.
At the heart of the story are two moles, neither of Duncton, though one, Privet, travels there. Privet and Rooster make an unlikely pair; he is a beast, but she is no beauty. Yet, despite the fact they are fiction and animals, the relationship, all of the relationships, are wonderfully drawn.
Many adults wonder why they should read animal tales, believing that such stories are only for children. Take a look at Chaucer and his chickens, who had sex. Many adults have it wrong. In an adventure story about moles, Horwood gives a thoughtful look at faith and freedom without being preachy or annoying. He lets the characters do it, instead of speaking though the characters.(less)
The Book of Silence triology will always be my favorite Duncton series simply due to the fact that I read it first. This installment reviews the rest...moreThe Book of Silence triology will always be my favorite Duncton series simply due to the fact that I read it first. This installment reviews the rest of Privet and Rooster's back story, Wilhelm's parentage is revealed (to everyone but him), friends are lost and found, and a friend from the first Duncton series makes a cameo.
My editions of these books make constant comparsion to The Lord of the Rings, usually saying that the Duncton books are better. I'm not entirely sure why; the two books have similarites but LOTR is a quest book, a physical quest book. The Duncton books are quest books, but in a totally different way. It isn't a physical quest, but one of the soul. Yes, this does also appear in LOTR, but LOTR is far more of a physical quest with an undercurrent of religion. The Duncton books deal with faith. Bad things happen, but the idea of failure that is present in LOTR is strangely absent. The Duncton moles do perform a quest, for silence.
While some Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, might be upset by the protrayal of the Newborn sect in the first two books of this series, Horwood does not use a simplestic approach. He shows us that there something good in the Newborn sect, in particular though the reaction of beloved characters. Horwood does not go after faith in general; he presents a treatise about how something good can be perverted for something evil.
2012 - Reread - What to add to my original review for this site? I don't. There is something everlasting and yet almost tragic about this book. Thorin...more2012 - Reread - What to add to my original review for this site? I don't. There is something everlasting and yet almost tragic about this book. Thorin doesn't fail but he does not live very long to enjoy his victory, if you can call it his. Perhaps that grey zone is what make the book last.
Some time ago, Harold Bloom went on a Harry Potter rant. He is hardly the only academic to do so. In fact, A. S. Byatt wrote a wonderful essay on how strange and annoying she finds adults who read Harry Potter but disregarding Terry Pratchett . Dr. Bloom said that he doubted that the Potter books would become classic children’s literature in the lines of Alice in Wonderland or The Hobbit.
I think Dr. Bloom is jumping the gun, if you will pardon the overused cliché, in terms of Harry Potter. It’s too early to tell if the Potter books will stand the test of time. I also am not sure if I fully agree with the idea of The Hobbit as an outstanding example of children’s literature. True, I know the publishing story around the book. Everyone, or almost everyone, at this point must know it. I know that I read it before I read Lord of the Rings. Yet, I have always, even as a child, liked LOTR better.
The one thing that makes me think Bloom might be correct in how he sees The Hobbit is the fact that every time I return to it, I see something new. It is a classic, a classic, whether or not one sees it as children’s literature.
The first thing that any reader above a certain age realizes about The Hobbit is the fact that it literally begs to be read aloud, and this no doubt is the reason why everyone sees it as a children’s book. Tolkien’s use of language, in particular his use of rhyme, makes reading this book aloud an irresistible option. From the beginning, from the alliterative name of its central character, Bilbo Baggins, to the rhymes in Gollum’s caves, to the many songs, and even down to the conversations, (especially Gandalf relating the story to Beorn), the novel drips a love of word play and language. This made it particularly easy to adapt the story into a cartoon, as Rankin Bass did. The movie stayed relatively true to the book, though the Wood Elves remind one of green drug addicts for some strange reason. Like some of the passages in Watership Down, The Hobbit contains passages that are memorable for their sheer poetry, and, no I’m not talking about the songs.
The narrator also stands out as well. There is a warm, yet superior tone of voice to the narrator, as if he and the reader are in on some joke that the dwarves, Bilbo, and even Gandalf don’t get. Part of this comes from the quasi saga tone that is used, a tone that comes across far more in LOTR. Part of this seems to come from a sense of humor that is more obvious to an adult and far less obvious to a child. I know that some critics, even some children, have expressed a dislike or a recultance to view this book as a work of children’s literature. The tone of the narrator, at times a gently mocking tone, might have something to do with this. If the narrator sees himself as superior to Bilbo, as superior to the dwarves, then does the narrator see himself as superior to the children who are supposedly being told the story? Children who supposedly would identify with the hobbit and the dwarves simply due to size? What modern child thinks about pocket handkerchiefs and the morning post?
The adult emphasis is elsewhere in the book. It is not hard to see overtones, parallels, or direct references to WWI in this book, in particular when the Five Armies join together. Though, I will admit, I am not entirely sure if I really am suppose to see the dwarfs as Frenchmen (Or maybe the French are the elves and the dwarfs are the Dutch. Hobbits, I know, are English). I also don’t think I’m supposed to see the Goblins as Germans. But one does wonder.
One also wonders about the character of Bilbo who we know must secretly long for adventure. He is resourceful and wily. While he does pull rescues out of the hat, he is not the traditional hero. He doesn’t slay the dragon, and he sleeps though the battle. Okay, he was knocked out, but he missed the whole thing. The only character who comes close to being a tradition hero is Bard, who does heroic actions and has the blood line. But even Bard is not the romantic hero, for he is grim. Bilbo isn’t the traditional trickster hero either. He lacks that slight edge of cruelty that many tricksters have. Additionally, unlike Frodo, Bilbo seems relatively untouched by what he has experienced, unless one counts the whole interaction with Gollum. Bilbo is Bilbo in this book. A hero who succeeds though a mixture of luck and common sense. Bilbo is a unique take on the everyman hero. He does what the reader in many cases would do, he is at the center of the action, but is not the central of the action. He keeps his head because he, like Gandalf, is unaffected by the greed that the hoard causes in everyone else. Mayhap, because he is so childlike, innocent in the heart because unlike Thorin, Bilbo has been untouched by tragedy. Bilbo remains me, a little bit, of Jack the Giant Killer, though not as morally questionable.
Maybe a fairy tale is the point. If we take The Hobbit and LOTR together, as they should be taken, then we have the fairy tale (The Hobbit) and the afterwards (LOTR, much like the musical Into the Woods. Considering the heavy use of myth and legend that makes its way into Tolkien’s world this is not surprising. Most of the characters in this book have a start in the legends of Europe. There have been traditions of bear men (berserkers), of dwarves, of dragons, of wizards, of everything except Hobbits (though we now know that they existed). Even at this early stage, Tolkien is making his mythology for England, and it is quite clear that he loves every minute of it. Neither writer nor narrator lacks a belief in the world. Tolkien’s mythology is far better and far more interesting than Milton’s attempt.
This is believability comes out in Smaug, who will always be one of the most terrifying dragons in literature to me. What makes Smaug terrifying isn’t his power. Many authors have invented many worlds that have far more powerful dragons. Smaug works because he is so evilly smart. During his conversation with Bilbo, Smaug speaks not only to the doubts that echo inside of Bilbo’s head, but those doubts that roll around in the first time readers as well. It is entirely possible that the dwarfs intend to trick Bilbo out of his gold, a fact hammered in by the treatment of the River men after the death of Smaug. Smaug works because like most evil, he speaks to the worm of doubt that exists in everyone. The fact that he is as big as a dinosaur and can breath fire is just a happy bonus.
Smaug would make a good godfather. I can just see him doing a Marlon Brando.
If Tolkien’s work is rightly considered classic, the role of Smaug is one of the major reasons why. Another major reason would of course be the influence that both The Hobbit and TLOR have had on the fantasy that has followed them. From intentional knock offs such as Mithgar; to the parodies, such as the Disc; to simply inspiring other writesr, such as Jim Butcher, a true reader cannot ignore the role of the books.
One final note. I am glad, supremely glad, that both Tolkien and his son have not overly tinkered with The Hobbit. I know that Tolkien went back and made slight changes after LOTR simply to make the story of Gollum work, but he left certain other things alone, the difference in the elves for example. I like that. It is much better than Lucas constantly reworking the Han Solo shooting Greedo scene in Star Wars. Both Tolkiens had the good sense to leave well enough alone. Thanks heavens for that, otherwise a PC Bilbo would be offering pipe weed to Smaug, who would be baking cookies for the orphans. (less)
Do you have an old, worn piece of clothing? Perhaps that sweat shirt that you can’t wear anywhere except to bed or walking your dog? Perhaps it is an...moreDo you have an old, worn piece of clothing? Perhaps that sweat shirt that you can’t wear anywhere except to bed or walking your dog? Perhaps it is an old blanket, a pair of shoes, maybe it’s a stuff animal. Regardless of what it is, every time you touch it or smell it, you feel peace, warmth, or perhaps, even home.
Know what I’m talking about? Good, that’s how The Lord of the Rings feels to me. I don’t how many times I’ve read the trilogy itself, let alone each book. I do know that I had to buy another edition after I wore out my first. (Technically, if you count my borrowing my mother’s copies when I was kid, I’ve had three editions). To me the whole story is like that worn out piece of clothing.
The Lord of the Rings starts with this book The Fellowship of the Ring. Even today, after I must have read the series at least twenty times, I opened the book, and I’m there. I’m in Middle Earth with Frodo and crew.
This is strange because I know, on an intellectual level, that LOTR is not a perfect book or series. In fact, all the flaws are on heavy display in this first part. It’s true, that the story does meander. That the pacing at times is slow. It is also true that Terry Pratchett is correct when he says if you believe the LOTR is the best written book ever, you haven’t read enough (I’m paraphrasing that).
And yet, it is one of three works I return to year after year.
Because it is the THE LORD OF THE RINGS!
At the very least, if you like fantasy literature, you should attempt to read this. Regardless of how one feels about Tolkien’s style, he is highly influential in fantasy literature. Some writers, such as Brooks and McKiernan, have “ripped off” the series. Other writers, such as Tad Williams and Marion Zimmer Bradley, have written in reaction to him.
But influence doesn’t explain entirely the attraction of this work. And this is supposed to be a review of The Fellowship of the Ring, so I best start (and finish at this point) with it. The Fellowship sets the stage and is told in two parts. The first part of the book deals with the flight of Frodo and his friends to Rivendell. The second tells the story of the Nine Walkers as they set out to destroy the one Ring, a device of evil, a power that corrupts. The destruction of the Ring will stop the Dark Lord (No, not Voldemort. This is where Rowling got the idea), and save the land of Middle Earth
The heart of the story, the bulk of this book, is the friendship and courage of the Hobbits. It is the Hobbits that in many ways allow the reader access to the story. There is a very simple reason why. Hobbits are normal. True, they are normal in a big hairy feet kind of a way, but they are far closer to those of us in the real world then elves, dwarfs, wizards, or even, the men that inhabit Middle Earth.
It is from Tolkien that most fantasy derives its treatment of elves. In The Fellowship the reader is introduced to a great many elves (most of who seem to have names starting with the later G). The reader is told a great many things about elves, like the fact that they can run on top of snow and have good eyesight, as well as living forever. Dwarves too have they strangeness, being long lived and short. Even the men, such as Strider and Boromir are different. Boromir is far closer to your everyday human than Strider, who lives long and has a rather interesting family tree. But even Boromir isn’t quite real.
The Hobbits, despite their age and hairy feet, are. Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Samwise are all templates of people the reader might know. I watched Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood at an extremely young age. Therefore, any being that uses a bow is the most awesome creature ever. I like elves. I could marry Legolas, even in his Orlando Bloom incarnation. Yet, I identify more with the Hobbits because they are not warriors. Because, outside of Frodo, they go on the quest for friendship. Not for glory or because the quest is the right thing to do, but because the quest is the right thing to do because of their friendship with Frodo. That is something wonderful. Too often in modern novels the quest is undertaken for an encompassing reason, a save the earth reason. And this is true of everyone who takes it up (outside of the odd twit who goes to get the guy to notice her), but Sam, Merry, and Pippin do it out of loyalty. A friend is in trouble and they want to help. It is this desire, this trait that makes people human. It is one of our most basic instincts, and it is not a bad one.
The Hobbits are also attractive because they are little people in a big world and who doesn’t feel like that sometimes? Unlike The Hobbit, the superior tone of the narrator is not present. The Hobbits could quite easily be overwhelmed by what they encounter, but they are not. They plug away and keep going. There is something human about that. Not a Cunclucian against the waves type of feel, but a life feeling that one does get from the other characters. They are the everyday people in the quest. The everyday solider in the war.
It is also important to remember that The Fellowship is in the tradition of a saga. While The Hobbit seems to be designed to be read aloud, LOTR seems to beg to be told over a fire with a tankard of ale in hand. The style resembles that of the Old Norse sagas and tales that Tolkien draws upon. There is no large of amount of hand wringing, or deep discussions of feelings. It is a quest, and it reads like one. While it is not necessary to have read these old sagas before starting The Fellowship, it does help, at least for older readers, to keep in mind this influence.
Like the Old Norse legends, Tolkien seems to be dealing with the concept of Raganork. While the quest is one to save Middle Earth, it is also a quest with a coast. As the reader reads the book, sentences appear about how so and so will never be in X again. There is the leave taking of the elves. The idea seems not only to be the coming of the Age of Men, but also the presentation of a quieter, gentler end of the world. In some ways, The Fellowship prepares the reader for death in all its raiment’s.
Despite this fading, the world seems real. Not only do the Hobbits, Strider, and Gimli believe in their world, but so does Tolkien, and he paints it so that the reader sees it as well. It is true that the beginning of The Fellowship is little more than a description of Hobbits, but after this, Tolkien world builds and does it extremely well. There are references that the characters know, but the reader doesn’t. Yet, this is done in such a way that the reader doesn’t feel stupid or left out. It is done as it would occur in reality.
There is much to be said for this level of description. It’s more than Tolkien’s world building. In parts of the book there are wonderful sentences that convey want, loss, truth, and love – all in one sentence. Not only that, but in a sentence that works wonderfully well, that doesn’t bang itself over the head of the reader.
It’s also true that in this book, there are not many women. In fact, there are two. And one of them doesn’t say anything. But the one who does. Galadriel rocks! And she has more than one of those wonderful sentences.
The overwhelming theme of The Fellowship is, in fact, Fellowship. At the heart of this book is a wonderful portrait of friendship and sacrifice that moves the reader. It is a rebuke against the idea of a man or a people as an island.
The Two Towers is the second part of LOTR. In this installment, the Fellowship is rent and struggles to survive. This book is made up for mirrors and...moreThe Two Towers is the second part of LOTR. In this installment, the Fellowship is rent and struggles to survive. This book is made up for mirrors and doubling. In the first section, you follow closely the Three Hunters as they hunt their prey across the landscape. With Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, Tolkien presents a group in chase. It feels like a hunt, and it is a hunt of the sagas. There second trinity is made up of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. This second threesome echoes in a way the first. They two are on a quest, not to just save two lives, but to save anyone. It is this trinity; however, who faces the most general and is in some ways a false trinity, for Gollum is a reluctant main.
Other doubling occurs in the novel. The reader is introduced to Faramir, brother to Boromir, and a worthy and true he is. The character of Faramir is also doubled to a degree by the character of Eomer. Both young men serve in dark and dangerous times, both show the worthiness of men, both protect their country. They represent the new order that will come after the War of the Ring.
The sense of change that began in the Fellowship is continued here. There is a sense that Theoden will son give place to his sister-son, Eomer. That he has grown too blind to be an effective leader for much longer. This is not due surely to the influence of Grima Wormtongue (who has the coolest bad guy name ever), but is revealed also in his own character. Look at his treatment, his forgetfulness of Eowyn. When to leave on his war path, he acknowledges Eomer, but is confused when Hama says the people wish to be protected by the House of Eorl. Hama must point Eowyn to her uncle. Shades of Queen Elizabeth II in WWII, perhaps? This theme of disregarding worthiness will also be picked up in The Return of the King.
Eowyn is not the only female in the story, and in this installment, she doesn’t have a very big part to play. The other female in the story is Shelob, perhaps the most controversial female character in Tolkien’s work. After all, she is a deadly female spider and that must mean that Tolkien has issues.
Unless, he is just afraid of spiders and knows that the female is the deadlier of the species.
Joking aside, Towers contains one of the most moving passages anywhere in Tolkien. This passage concerns the character of Gollum. During their trek, Sam and Frodo finally succumb to tiredness, and Frodo falls asleep with his head resting in Sam’s lap. Gollum returns and sees them. Tolkien then writes, “Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.”
And then Sam wakes and ruins the spell. What makes the passage so moving, what the reader knows here but Samwise doesn’t, is Gollum could have been saved there. If Sam had not been Sam, if he had spoken softly, Gollum would have turned from evil. The passage speaks of loss and missed opportunity so poignantly.
Added 12/11/12 - Is just me or is Wormtongue somewhat like Shakespeare's Richard III? It's strange, each time I re-read this series, at least after the release of the Jackson movies, I gain a more respect for the Jackson adaptions, even with the changes in regards to Faramir.
The TTs is the fastest paced of the books because it starts with a hunt. But it is also very emotional because of the father/son relationships that appear as well as those of the brothers in all forms.(less)
**spoiler alert** The Return of the King is the conclusion to the LOTR; its conclusion and its history, for the book is part appendices to the tale. T...more**spoiler alert** The Return of the King is the conclusion to the LOTR; its conclusion and its history, for the book is part appendices to the tale. These appendices include bloodlines and history that is not covered by the trilogy itself or by its prequel, The Hobbit.
In many ways, this book is the best one of the trilogy. It has the most memorable battle in just about any fantasy work, the Battle of Pelennor Fields. It has the most traumatic and heart breaking, yet realistic, end to the quest.
For the best part of this book, in many ways, the best part of the trilogy is the scene where Eowyn confronts the Chief Nazgul to defend her fallen uncle. The best lines ever being, “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.” And don’t forget, she laughs first. I love the fact that Tolkien refers to her as lady or woman, but never girl. I love that. When I first read the trilogy at the age of seven, I couldn’t understand why Aragorn married Arwen. She didn’t do anything in the meat of the story, and Eowyn, she did something big. As I got older and understood more about literature and the inspiration for LOTR, I came to understand and even endorse why Tolkien structured the book this way. In fact, it is fun to see Arwen rob the cradle. (As an aside, why is it usually, mostly, female elves and human males? Would elven males be less likely to give up their immortality, or we can tolerant the age difference in the elf female, but not an elf male with a human woman?). In fact, Arwen’s sacrifice is as brave, if not more so, than Eowyn’s stand. Tolkien may have few women in his story, but he presents them as strong and independent.
It’s undoubtedly true that there is much of Tolkien in the hobbits, but I also think there is something of him in Eowyn. Tolkien is one of the few authors who shows the cost paid by those who stay at home in the time of war. He does this toward the end of the book, but also, most touchingly, with Eowyn when she says to Aragorn, who has bid her stay, “All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more.” How often in history do we focus on the battle and not the resistance or those who make a stand at home? Tolkien returns to theme of Eowyn and the cost of service and duty in the Houses of Healing when Gandalf points out to Eomer what Eowyn faced during her uncle’s illness and subjection to Wormtongue. It is hard not to see a degree of the survivor of WWI and the father who has to watch his children go to war in the character of Eowyn. The conclusion of her story is most lovingly told. It is not often remembered by many critics, but it should be, that Faramir says, “And if she will, then let us cross the River and in happier days let us dwell in fair Ithilien and there make a garden.” He too is giving up his sword. Both Eowyn and Faramir were unvalued in varying degrees, yet each understands very well. Faramir, outside of Gandalf, is the only character in the book to truly understand Eowyn.
While Eowyn allows Tolkien to make comments on the total cost of war, the most heartbreaking aspect of the novel is the end of Frodo’s quest. For Frodo makes it the total way and fails. “But I do not choose not to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!” Frodo says before puting the Ring on. Tolkien is brave enough to allow Frodo to fail. The only reason why the Ring is destroyed is because of the Judas, Gollum, who dies in the height of joy. This use of the temptation of Christ is stunning and heartbreaking. And wonderful.
The use of parallels and doubling is still here. There are the three rulers -Denethor, Theoden, and Aragorn – who represent various degrees of ruling. There is almost a second Ring and a second Gollum in the Scouring of the Shire chapter. This book balances the whole trilogy.
I can still remember when I got this book. It was a Christmas present. I asked for it because Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow had mentioned it. I can'...moreI can still remember when I got this book. It was a Christmas present. I asked for it because Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow had mentioned it. I can't remember if it was in one of Year's Best series, which I proudly own every copy of, or one of their fairy tale books. I remember unwrapping the book, and my mother asking if I was sure I wanted it because it was in the "woman's section" of the bookstore. I didn't, and still don't, understand why that would be a bad thing. I read it that night.
I loved the book so much that I read Carter's other works, that when Burning Your Boats The Collected Short Stories came out in hardcover, I brought it. I ordered the collection of her screenplays from Amazon's UK website because you couldn't find them here in the U.S. It made me into a Carter lover.
For me, this will always be the best Carter. The Bloody Chamber has Carter lush and rich language. My favorite story of the collection is, in fact, the title story. The imagery and description in "The Bloody Chamber" are mind blowing. Carter's version is my favorite version of "Bluebeard". Her ending is embedded in my brain. I can see it.
The collection includes several variations of "Beauty and the Beast' that address the idea of the animalistic. A question of what exactly a Beast is. If you thought Beast in the Disney movie was more attractive before he became the Prince, you will like these versions.
"The Company of Wolves" is perhaps the best known story in the collection. I've taught this story and tend it use it every semester. It is closer to being a folk tale and closer to the older Red Riding Hood than it's sister tale of "Wolf-Alice".
All in all, the tales presented here are wonderfully dark, inviting, and invigorating.(less)
The best advice anyone can get about The Scarlet Letter is to skip the whole introductory bit about the Chapter House, unless you want a degree in Eng...moreThe best advice anyone can get about The Scarlet Letter is to skip the whole introductory bit about the Chapter House, unless you want a degree in English. I love this book; I teach this book, but I have my students skip that introduction. It'll make them hate the book.
Once you have skipped that part, what greets you is a wonderful book about the nature and defination of sin. Is it the outward sin, such as Hester's, that is the worse? Or is it the sin that never really comes to light? The book explores these questions and challenges the reader to explore them as well. For instance, I have seen wonderful debates about how much of a "tramp" Hester really is. (Well, my students didn't use the word tramp, but I don't think the term they used is acceptable for a review).
Hawthorne makes great use of symbolism and as a result, there is always something new when reading this book. (less)
I feel in love with Isak Dinesen's writing in college after reading "The Cloak". When I went to Denmark in 2000, I visited her home and made it a poin...moreI feel in love with Isak Dinesen's writing in college after reading "The Cloak". When I went to Denmark in 2000, I visited her home and made it a point to buy those books of hers that I hadn't been able to find. Ehrengard was the last book that I brought. I read it in one afternoon. It's a great book. It is lighter than many of her short stories; hilarously in some places even. Dinesan's style is still there, you can tell its her work, but there is difference in it. It's more chatty. Ehrengard also has one of the best endings in literature.(less)
To get to Rungstedlund from Copenhagen, one takes a train. One walks from the station, past a farm that seems bred Norwegian Fjords, past a restaurant...moreTo get to Rungstedlund from Copenhagen, one takes a train. One walks from the station, past a farm that seems bred Norwegian Fjords, past a restaurant, to the harbor, where ones turns left. Shortly thereafter, you are at the home of Isak Dinesen. It is a white house surrounded by green. It seems to exist in its own world. When I was there, it wasn’t very crowded, and most of the visitors were older, causing me to wonder if they were coming because of the books or because of the movie with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. After a tour of the house, one can visit Dinesen’s grave. It is set back, along a short path. It rests in a bird sanctuary. There is a stunning beauty and peacefulness about the whole plot of land. Plain on the outside but surrounding underneath. Layered, like Russian nesting dolls with the exception that the smaller ones, the ones buried deep inside, are more beautiful colored. It is a fitting home for Dinesen. It matches her fiction exactly.
For many people, Dinesen’s best work is Seven Gothic Tales or Out of Africa, but for me her best tale collection is Last Tales. This is because it contains the first short story I ever read by Dinesen, “The Cloak”, a story that I fell in love with, that made me hunt down Dinesen’s work.
In some ways, “The Cloak” is like Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger?”. The answer to the key question, the question that reader will ask is left unspoken, unanswered. It is left up to the reader, and the reader’s answer says more about the reader than about the writer, like Stockton’s short story. “The Cloak” is actually the start of a trilogy of stories that deal with the redemption and life of a man called Angelo. The three stories deal with the power of the human soul as well as the power faith. All the stories are haunting and touching. They deal with the soul.
Most of the stories in this collection focus on the aspects of faith and art that coincide, that ran in tandem. This is true from the first story of the collection, “The Cardinal’s First Tale”, which is about an artist who is also a priest. It also is about masks, and who we really are inside.
Then there is “The Blank Page” a wonderful story, very much like “Sorrow Acre” from Winter Tales. In this tale, Dinesen plays with the idea of the bloody bridal sheet as well as how stories become stories and story tellers become story tellers. It is a quiet tale.
“The Caryatids: An Unfinished Gothic Tale” discusses the price of knowledge, the cost of hidden knowledge, and the cost of knowledge that we hid from ourselves. It is a strange, effecting story. Gothic in tone, but human in its ending. As is the story that follows it, “Echoes”. This story is about a singer who has lost her voice, but finds it again.
“A Country Tale” deal with redemption in the sense of justice. What is justice? Can revenge go too far? Slightly similar in vein is “Copenhagen Season”, a dual plotted love story that shows understanding of the human heart, and the consequences that can come.
All the stories in this collection deal with forgiveness, whether it is an ability to forgive someone or an inability to forgiven oneself. All the souls deal with the effect of secrets upon the soul. All the stories deal with art and soul, how faith and art can be one.(less)
Old ReviewGo read Asterix, any of them. Honestly. Even if you're an adult. I read them first when I was a...moreIt's amazing what a pretty nose will get you.
Old ReviewGo read Asterix, any of them. Honestly. Even if you're an adult. I read them first when I was around 8-10, and I return to them periodically. There is one level of humor for adults, another for children. Adults will crack up over every name. Honestly, what isn't funny about a druid named Getafix?
This edition to the series is great. Though there is no pun on Cleopatra's name, there are pretty of comments about her nose. A nice and amusing use of Cleopatra. I enjoyed how the Sphinx lost its nose.(less)
I fell in love with the work of A. S. Byatt after reading her story "The Story of the Eldest Princess". I love fairy tales, but I also am the eldest c...moreI fell in love with the work of A. S. Byatt after reading her story "The Story of the Eldest Princess". I love fairy tales, but I also am the eldest child in my family and always felt a little slighted because in most fairy tales the older children fail. Even after I learned why that was, it still got tiresome. It was refreshing to read a story that approached fairy tales from the viewpoint of an eldest child who knows she is caught in the tale and what that means. It's a wonderful story for any eldest children to read, and, quite frankly, worth the price of the book.
The other stories are good. "The Glass Coffin" appears in Byatt's Possession, and the title story, while slow, is one of those stories that rewards dedicated readers. If you want to read Byatt, but prefer short stories to novels, this collection is worth reading. (less)