Monday, December 30, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: Farewell to Lorien (FOTR Ch. 20)

At the beginning of this chapter, they decide to leave.  It takes them eleven pages in my copy to actually do so.  Lothlorien must be a very charming place indeed!

I always feel so very sad for Sam here, because he missed out on learning how the Elves make rope.  A completely missed opportunity, one he's obviously not going to have again, and one he didn't even have the chance of either accepting or rejecting.  It's just, "Oh, you like making rope?  Too bad we didn't know."  Makes me kind of depressed on his behalf.

Random thing that makes me happy:  Boromir says, "I have myself been at whiles in Rohan" (p. 365).  I love that he's been hanging out there -- he's such a staunch defender of the Rohirrim too, whenever anyone starts in on the whole "I think the Rohirrim have been sending horses to Sauron" nonsense.  See, Boromir is my most beloved character in these books, but I love Rohan more than the other cultures.  Even above the Shire, for the most part.  So I'm very pleased that my favorite character has spent lots of time where I myself would like to be.  In fact, he borrowed a horse from the Rohirrim, possibly the one he says here that he lost when he forded the Greyflood.  He doesn't say he borrowed a horse, but Eomer later mentions that they loaned him one, and that it returned riderless (p. 423).

And so everyone has one last Elvish feast, gets presents, and heads off down the river.  Back on track, after yet another lengthy stay with new friends.

Favorite Lines:

"Maybe the paths that you each shall tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not see them" (p. 359).

"...we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make" (p. 361).

"Memory is not what the heart desires.  That is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zaram" (p. 369).

Possible Discussion Question:  

Are these discussion questions of any real use, or should I just incorporate them into my review?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: The Mirror of Galadriel (FOTR Ch. 19)

Oh my goodness!  Only three more chapters to go before the end of the first book!  As promised, I have a little giveaway planned to celebrate that milestone.  At this rate, I'll be holding it in January at some point.

Also, I probably won't have another chapter read until after Christmas, so if you don't see a new chapter review up for more than a week, don't panic or anything.

So here we are at Lothlorien, hanging out, resting, learning about elves, mourning Gandalf, and seeing a bit of magic.  Sam explains a little of why I probably wouldn't want to hang out at this particular Middle Earth location:  "Nothing seems to be going on, and nobody seems to want it to" (p. 351).  That's supposed to sound restful and contemplative, I think.  To me, it sounds boring and wearisome.  I actually like having things to do and getting them done.

Celeborn gets a lot more to say here than in the movie, doesn't he?  Galadriel says that he "is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings" (p. 347).  Totally not the impression the movie gives!  Which is why, yet again, the books are just better.  

Galadriel tells Frodo, "For the fate of Lothlorien you are not answerable, but only for the doing of your own task" (p. 356).  This time through these books, I'm noticing what a major theme that is, the fact that each person is only responsible for their own task, their own life.  Way back at the beginning of the book, Gandalf told Frodo, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us" (p. 50).  Toward the end, Gandalf will tell Prince Imrahil, Aragorn, Elladan, and Elrohir that "it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till" (p. 861).  I feel like this is supposed to be comforting, that we don't have to try to do everything or be everywhere.  At the same time, it's very sobering, because if we fail to do the task we have in the time we're given, we're failing those who come after us and are depending on us.

Okay, those are all my deep thoughts for the day :-)

Favorite Lines:

The air was cool and soft, as if it were early spring, yet they felt about them the deep and thoughtful quiet of winter (p. 349).

Possible Discussion Questions:  Would you look into the Mirror of Galadriel if you had the chance?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Henry Tilney's Diary" by Amanda Grange

Awwwww.  This is such a sweet book about such a sweet guy.  I smiled the whole way through it, and chuckled or giggled or laughed often.  I think that, of all the characters in all of Jane Austen's books, Henry Tilney is the one I most wish I was more like.  He's almost unfailingly cheerful and funny, and he's always nice and kind.  I try to be all those things, but I don't always succeed.  Anyway, this book showcases all of those good traits, plus lots of nifty background on how Henry Tilney's mother died and other events that happen before Northanger Abbey begins.

And, of course, it also tells the story of his meeting Catherine Morland and falling in love with her.  There's a lot more of his sister Eleanor in this than in the original, and I like her even more now.  (It's not possible for me to like Henry Tilney more, I don't think -- he's already my second favorite Austen hero, second only to Captain Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion.)

If I have one quibble, it's that the backstory for Captain Tilney is a little too sympathetic, giving him a reason to be a total rake and turning his behavior with Isabella Thorpe from appalling to excusable.  I'm not sure why I'm annoyed with that, other than that it all tied up so neatly and made everything so nice, whereas the not-nice sliver of darkness in Northanger Abbey made the lightness of Catherine Morland just that much sweeter.

But that's a minor quibble.  Like the other Amanda Grange books I've read, this is thoroughly enjoyable, a quick read that stays very true to the original characters and story while expanding on them in delightful ways.  After reading this, I'm all in the mood to re-read the original and re-watch the 2007 movie version.  Not sure when I'll have time to do either of those, alas.


Particularly Good Bits:

In the meantime I am winning the respect of my parishioners, who were at first bemused by my sermons but, I flatter myself, now find them refreshing.  Certainly attendance has gone up since I was ordained and took over the living, and it cannot all be because I am young and unmarried (p. 95).

Her reply was everything I could have wished for.  To be sure, she was incoherent, and her sense of obligation and pleasure were so mixed together with an assurance that her heart had long been my own that her words were incomprehensible, but the smile in her eyes told me all I needed to know (p. 245-6).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG.  As innocent as the original, with the loathesome John Thorpe throwing in a couple of swear words (I think -- I didn't actually make notes this time through).

Monday, December 16, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: Lothlorien (FOTR Ch. 18)

Another refreshingly short chapter!  Though one of those in-between chapters, where we spend all our time traveling from one event to the next.

As you know, I love Rivendell.  I think it sounds restful and quiet and calm -- like a library crossed with a spa.  But I don't love Lothlorien.  It's a little too otherworldly for me, I think.  Frodo thinks that "[i]n Rivendell there was memory of ancient things; in Lorien the ancient things still lived on in the waking world" (p. 340).  To be honest, that kind of creeps me out.  My brain says that it'd be cool to be able to interact with ancient things and people, but my instincts want nothing to do with it.  So I don't blame Boromir and Gimli for hesitating to go there.

But anyway, there's one bit here that makes me laugh every time.  When Haldir and his brothers encountered the fellowship, Legolas told Sam that "they say that you breathe so loud that they could shoot you in the dark," which seems really rude, but I just have to laugh because "Sam hastily put his hand over his mouth" when Legolas said that, and then when Legolas, Frodo, and Sam get invited up onto one of the elves' flets, it says "behind came Sam trying not to breathe loudly" (p. 333).  And that amuses me to no end, the image of Sam climbing a rope ladder and spending more energy on breathing quietly than on climbing.

Also, I love the Elvish word for orcs:  yrch.  It sounds like someone saying 'yuck,' which is probably exactly what I'd say if I saw an orc.  After I quit screaming and running away, anyway.


Favorite Lines:

 "We must do without hope," he said.  "At least we may yet be avenged" (p. 324).

"Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him" (p. 339).

"We live now upon an island amid many perils, and our hands are more often upon the bowstring than upon the harp" (p. 339).

"The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater" (p. 339).

On the land of Lorien there was no stain (p. 341).

Possible Discussion Questions:

There's a poignant moment where Merry tells Haldir, "I have never been out of my own land before.  And if I had known what the world outside was like, I don't think I should have had the heart to leave it" (p. 339).  I'm reminded of what Elrond told Pippin when he and Merry didn't want to be left behind.  Elrond said they wanted to go along "because you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead" (p. 269).  However, later on, Aragorn will disagree with Elrond's statement when he says of Merry, "[h]e knows not to what end he rides; yet if he knew, he still would go on" (p. 762).  Who do you think understood the hobbits better, Elrond or Aragorn?  Or does this reflect a change in Merry and Pippin, part of their character arcs?

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Death of a Doxy" by Rex Stout

I think that the first episode I ever saw of the A&E series A Nero Wolfe Mystery was the one based on this story.  Because the actors for that show are most indelibly fixed in my head in these particular roles.

If you've never watched the show, I need to explain that the show is kind of a throw-back to the idea of a local repertory theater group.  By which I mean that while the regulars (Archie, Wolfe, Fritz, Saul, Fred, Orrie, Lon Cohen, and Inspector Cramer) are all played by the same actors all the time, there's another group of actors that all play different characters depending on the story.  For instance, this story has a character named Avery Ballou played by actor James Tolkan.  Tolkan plays 11 completely different characters in other episodes.  So while some series regulars on the show always play the same characters, other series regulars play a different character in every story.  Which took a little getting used to.  And for me, all those regulars are most indelibly stamped in my head as the characters they play in this story.  When watching other episodes, I'll sometimes think, "Oh, her!  She was Stella Fleming."  Or "Oh, him!  He was Avery Ballou."  So I think I saw this one first, and possibly more often than some of the others just because I only had a couple of eps on VHS at first, though I know have both seasons on DVD.  And a t-shirt, which I serendipitously am wearing today.  Hmm.

But enough about the show!  (It's wonderful.  Try to see it.  Swell period costumes, great acting, top-notch plots... sorry, I said enough, didn't I.)  I'm supposed to be reviewing the book here.  I hadn't read it before, so that was an added bonus :-)  But any trip through a Nero Wolfe novel is a delight for me.  I simply love these characters and their world.  Archie Goodwin might be my favorite narrator of all time, even over Philip Marlowe (!) -- he's got such zest and zing, and is generally cheerful.

The plot of this one, as you might have guessed, involves a dead doxy.  "Doxy" being another name for a "kept woman."  The doxy in question was two-timing her sugar-daddy with none other than Orrie Cather, one of the freelance detectives Nero Wolfe sometimes hires to help tail a suspect or gather information, etc.  When the doxy dies, Orrie lands in jail on suspicion of murder.  Wolfe, Archie, and the other tow freelance operatives they sometimes hire (Saul Panzer and Fred Durkin, just so you know) decide they don't believe Orrie did it, and they set out to find out to did.

Particularly Good Bits:

He uttered a French sound, loud, maybe it was a word (p. 142).

Cramer said a word, loud, which I omit because I suspect that some of the readers of these reports are people like retired schoolteachers and den mothers (p. 148).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for allusions to people being in a sexual relationship.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: The Bridge of Khazad-dum (FOTR Ch. 17)

Another of my favorite chapters.  Really, my favorite section of this vast story is the part where the unbroken fellowship is having their adventures.  So basically the two previous chapters and this one.  Not that I don't love the rest, cuz I do, but this is what I love the best.

How calm Gandalf is at the beginning of this chapter.  Everyone gets trapped in the Chamber of Mazarbul, and Gandalf says, "Here we are, caught, just as they were before.  But I was not here then" (p. 315).  It must be so cool to be Gandalf, knowing you can make that big of a difference.


So then we get lots of excitement as we battle some orcs.  And Sam kills one!  "Boromir and Aragorn slew many" (p. 317), Gimli gets one, and then Gandalf takes over and gives them time to flee down the stairs.  He did make all the difference after all!



This picture comes from the moment in the movie when Boromir says, "What new devilry is this?" as the Balrog approaches.  In the book, Gandalf gets that line.  Sorta.  He says, "There is some new devilry here" (p. 320).  Another instance where the script takes a line from one person and gives it to another -- I suppose this time it's because in the movie, Gandalf sort of knows or suspects they'll meet up with the Balrog, so it wouldn't make sense for him to wonder what it is since he's supposed to have some idea already.



The Balrog is just insanely cool.  Horrid and dreadful, of course, but so, so fascinating.  I love how Tolkien describes it:  "Something was coming up behind them.  What it was could not be seen:  it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it" (p. 321).  It's vague and formless, so scary because you can't really make out what it is.

And man, Gandalf's last stand still gets to me, even though I know what happens later.  I've got goosebumps again just thinking about it.  This part is especially awesome:  "It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone:  grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm" (p. 322).  I love how that one image kind of encapsulates the whole book:  one tiny, seemingly helpless bit of resistance against a towering, seemingly all-powerful foe.  Awe-inspiring, I have to say.

Favorite Lines:

There was a rush of hoarse laughter, like the fall of sliding stones into a pit (p. 315).

"You cannot pass," he said.  The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell.  "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.  You cannot pass.  The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun.  Go back to the Shadow!  You cannot pass" (p. 322).

Aragorn smote to the ground the captain that stood in his path, and the rest fled in terror of his wrath (p. 323).

Possible Discussion Questions:

When Gandalf fends off the Balrog back in the Chamber of Mazurbul while everyone else flees, he says he "had to speak a word of Command" (p. 319).  Anyone know what that means, exactly?

BTW, I hope nobody minds that I've kind of slowed down the pace for this.  I'm rather busy playing in the snow, making fudge, and baking gingerbread, not to mention reading endless Christmas books to my kids.  Come January, I'll start doing more than one chapter a week again, I'm sure.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Giveaways!

Hannah is hosting a giveaway on her blog, Reading in the Dark, that is sure to delight all my fellow Austen fans!  She's giving away a copy of the book Two Guys Read Jane Austen, the movie Lost in Austen, and some pretty Austenian postcards and an art print of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.  You have until December 31 to enter, so what are you waiting for?  Go here for all the details, rules, pictures of the prizes, etc.

Also, I've got a giveaway going on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy.  I'm giving away a copy of The Best Years of Our Lives on DVD, and it ends Friday.  Go here for details and to enter.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"A Slight Trick of the Mind" by Mitch Cullin

This is not a happy book.  I didn't like it very well.  I found it quite depressing, to be honest.  I'm not saying it's a bad book, because it's not.  It's perfectly readable, and other people might really like it.  There's a movie version in the works, starring Ian McKellen, which is how I first heard of this and why I read it.

Anyway, A Slight Trick of the Mind is about an aging Sherlock Holmes who is slowly losing his memory.  He's in his nineties and succumbing to the ravages of age, just like anyone else.  He's living in Sussex, tending his bees, mentoring his housekeeper's son, and trying to finish writing up an account of a case he worked on back in London decades ago.  He also spends time reminiscing about his recent trip to Japan, and the author weaves those three sections of his life together to form a cohesive whole by the end.


But, like I said, I didn't like this book.  Seeing a character I have loved for twenty years as a frail, failing old man was very hard for me, and I will not read this book again.  


First Line:

Upon arriving from his travels abroad, he entered his stone-built farmhouse on a summer's afternoon, leaving the luggage by the front door for his housekeeper to manage (p. 3).

Particularly Good Bits:

His ears registered the low, concentrated murmur of the hive -- the sound of which, in that moment, refused to summon his isolated, content years cultivating the beeyard, but, rather, conveyed the undeniable and deepening loneliness of his existence (p. 186).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for themes of death and loss.

Friday, December 6, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: A Journey in the Dark (FOTR Ch. 16)

I'm considering signing everything as "one stray wanderer from the South" (p. 288) from now on.  Totally my favorite description of Boromir.  Just so you know.

This chapter has lots of exciting parts, with the wolves, and then the watcher in the water, and then all the wandering around in Moria.  And once again, I don't have lots to say.  Hmm.  And yet, this and the previous chapter are one of my favorite sections of the book. 

Gandalf says that he "once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs" (p. 299) that were used to open enchanted doors.  So... there must have been a lot of enchanted doors around at one time, and they've just fallen into disuse?  That seems foolish.  I mean, if I had an enchanted door that you could only open with the right password, I think I'd keep using it.  Sounds very handy in case of a siege, for instance.  Or for stockpiling Christmas presents where the kids couldn't get at them.

Once Gandalf figures out how to open the Doors of Durin, he says, "Of course, of course!  Absurdly simple" (p. 300).  This makes me laugh, not for a LOTR-related reason, but because there's a moment in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Dancing Men" where Holmes doesn't want to explain to Watson how he deduced something because he says that once he explains, Watson will say, "How absurdly simple!"  Watson insists that he won't, Holmes explains, and then Watson cries, "How absurdly simple!"  It's a funny moment in the story, and particularly funny in the Jeremy Brett movie version.  So just thought I'd share :-)


Favorite Lines:

"However it may prove, one must tread the path that need chooses!" (p. 289)

"The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears" (p. 290).

"That was an eye-opener, and no mistake!" (p. 291)

In the dark at the rear, grim and silent, walked Aragorn (p. 302).


Possible Discussion Questions:

Okay, what is up with Aragorn and Moria?  It says here that he went there once, and "the memory is very evil" (p. 289).  Is this explained in the appendices, and I've just forgotten because I've only read all of them once, and that was years ago?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter

This is one of those books that make me want to give up writing in despair of ever creating anything that comes close to this kind of mastery.  I'm not saying this is a great book, mind you.  But it's written very, very well, and I admire that.

Jess Walter intertwines the lives of four protagonists and several lesser characters, allowing their connected stories to unfold slowly and not particularly linearly.  Pieces of the puzzle fall into their places at different moments, so that by the end of the book, you have the whole picture.  But in the middle of the book, that picture is very fragmented, and I spent quite a bit of time wondering how it would all mesh.  

Here is the basic story:  In the early 1960s, while Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are filming Cleopatra in Italy, a young actress called Dee Moray leaves the production and ends up at a very small hotel in a very small Italian town.  The hotel's owner, Pasquale, falls a little bit in love with Dee Moray.  And then a whole bunch of stuff happens.  The rest of the story takes place in the present, revolving around Dee's son Pat and the way he tries to piece his fractured life back together.  There's also a WWII veteran trying to write a book, a Hollywood producer's assistant longing to make just one good movie, an aspiring screenwriter searching for meaning in his life, and Richard Burton himself playing a small but significant part.

As you can see, it's a little hard to explain.  The story bounces back and forth from the 1960s to the present, and to points in between too.  But it all makes sense in the end, and even ends pretty happily.  I wasn't very hopeful for a happy ending through most of the book, so I was pleasantly surprised.  This is one of those books where all the characters have problems and issues and hang-ups and are very troubled in their own way.  None of them are very happy through most of the book, and I have to admit the book as a whole is a little too depressing for me to want to read it again.


Particularly Good Bits:

He had never really mastered English, but he'd studied enough to have a healthy fear of its random severity, the senseless brutality of its conjugations; it was unpredictable, like a cross-bred dog (p. 9).

Weren't movies his generation's faith anyway -- its true religion?  Wasn't the hteater our temple, the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together, with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral? (p. 21).

It was curious what trying to speak English had done lately to his mind; it reminded him of studying poetry in college, words gaining and losing their meaning, overlapping with images, the curious echo of ideas behind the words people used (p. 112).

What if the only way to save the ones you love... is to leave them behind? (p. 126).

People can handle an unjust world; it's when the world becomes arbitrary and inexplicable that order breaks down (p. 148).

This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought:  you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life (p. 218).

We want what we want.  At home, she works herself into a frenzy worrying about what she isn't -- and perhaps loses track of just where she is (p. 301).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for sexual situations, drug use, adult dialog, and language.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My First Reading Challenges

I've decided to sign up for two reading challenges for next year.  I know lots of bloggers who participate in such things, and I thought it would be fun to try myself.  So I'm signing up for two of them, both aimed at getting through some of the books on my to-read list.

I keep a reading list on my library's website, and it has ninety-three books on it.  Yes.  Ninety-three.  Clearly, it's time to get serious about digging into those.  So I'm signing up for the I Love Library Books Reading Challenge hosted by the Book Dragon's Lair.  I'm choosing the "chapter book" level for 12 books.  That means I need to check out 12 books from the library and read them over the course of 2014.  I think I can do that.  I might even bump up to a higher level, who knows.  Either way, it'll be a nice chunk out of that reading list.

I also have a couple of shelves-worth of books here at home that I have not read yet.  I'd like to work through a bunch of those too, so I'm signing up for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader's Block.  I'm aiming for the "Pike's Peak" level, which also involves 12 books.  Again, I may surpass that, but between these two challenges, I'll be reading 2 books a month on top of continuing my Lord of the Rings read-along here, and that's probably plenty for this busy mommy.

Many thanks to Ruth for telling me about both of these challenges!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

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

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

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

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


Favorite Lines:

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

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

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

Possible Discussion Questions:

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Boromir

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


Boromir
by Hamlette

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



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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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



Sunday, November 24, 2013

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Lines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Valley of Fear" by A. Conan Doyle

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

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

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

 
Particularly Good Bits:

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

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


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

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

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

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


Favorite Lines:

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

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

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


Possible Discussion Questions:

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

My Bookshelves

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

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




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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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





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


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


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



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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Riders of the Purple Sage" by Zane Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


First Sentence:

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


Particularly Good Bits:

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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


Favorite Lines:

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

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


Possible Discussion Questions:  

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm okay with that.

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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

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

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

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

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


Favorite Lines:

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

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


Possible Discussion Questions:

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Aragorn: A Guest Post by Birdie

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




Aragorn
by Birdie

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



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



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



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



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



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

Monday, November 4, 2013

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

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

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


Favorite Lines:

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

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


Possible Discussion Questions:  

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