Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway

I first read this between my freshmen and sophomore years of college.  I read it directly after The Sun Also Rises, which had entranced me.  In comparison, The Old Man and the Sea disappointed me.  Especially since it is so very famous -- I expected it to be amazing, earth-shattering, life-altering.  And it wasn't.  My expectations for it were so high, after spending so many years reading about how influential and game-changing this story is, that finding out it's a slender, slippery, almost ephemeral story... I felt kind of cheated the first time I read it.  (Basically the same thing happened the first time I read Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  Expectations are not always a good thing.  For me, anyway.)

So I decided I disliked The Old Man and the Sea.  I didn't stop liking Hemingway, and I've read a lot of his novels and short stories since then.  I love his memoir, A Moveable Feast.  But I was firmly convinced TOMATS was overrated and dull.  I never intended to read it again.

But then it kept coming up on blogs I read.  I would mention I like Hemingway, someone would say, "Ugh, I can't stand Hemingway."  I'd ask what they'd read by him, and most of the time, the answer was, "Just The Old Man and the Sea."  So I'd say, "Yeah, I hated that too.  Try something else!  He's not all like that."  But I started to wonder... would I still hate it?  Now that I've read more of Hemingway's works than one novel?  Now that I knew what to expect from it?  Or was it still not to my taste?  

And that's why I'm holding this read-along.  To explore what made this story so influential, why so many people dislike it, and to discover whether or not I still dislike it myself.

To my surprise, I rather enjoyed it.  It's not my favorite book, by any means, but this time around, I found it poignant and uplifting.  A lot of people think Hemingway is depressing, and some of his books do end on a down note (for instance, my two least-favorite of his novels, A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls), but I think TOMATS ended positively.  Although the old man lost the fish's meat and thus couldn't sell it, he still had the evidence of its skeleton to show everyone what a big fish he had single-handedly caught.  And he had the personal satisfaction of being defeated only by sharks, never by his prey or is own self.

For me, the book revolves around the idea of endurance.  The old man, Santiago, endures so much on a daily basis that would drive me nuts!  Hunger, cold, mockery, defeat... and that's before he hooks the biggest fish he's ever seen and endures pain and thirst and cold and shark attacks.  Who can endure the most, him or the fish?  Obviously, it's him -- he outlasts the fish, plain and simple.  At the end, the boy named Manolin tells him, "You must get well fast for there is much that I can learn and you can teach me everything.  How much did you suffer?" (p. 126).  I think that's very telling -- that he mentions learning and suffering in the same breath.  He must learn to endure suffering, and the old man knows how to endure absolutely anything.

Do I think this story is an allegory?  No, I don't.  Mostly because Hemingway said over and over that it wasn't, but also because of something J.R.R. Tolkien says in his introduction to The Fellowship of the Ring:

"I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."
If this was an allegory, then surely there would be only one interpretation of the story.  The old man is a writer, the fish is a story, catching the fish is the struggle of writing a story, the sharks are critics who rip the story to shreds.  But what if the old man is a cook?  The fish is the meal he's making, catching it is the struggle to get everything ready all at once, the sharks are the people who eat it and then don't bother to say thanks.  Or the old man is a mother, the fish is the child she's raising, the struggle is all the work she puts into raising that kid, and the sharks are all the outside influences that try to lure her child away from her.  

You can apply this story to so very many people and situations that, for me anyway, the idea of it as an allegory doesn't work.  For me, anyway.  Are there symbols here?  Sure.  The old man is anyone struggling to do or create or perform something difficult.  The fish is the end product they're struggling toward.  The struggle is, well, their struggle.  The sharks are the opposition that can destroy someone's work or creation.  

Or, as Hemingway said, the old man is just an old man and the fish is just a fish -- you can read it as a straight story of a stubborn, sturdy old man, and it's totally enjoyable that way too.

As for the writing style here, it's a bit different from his other works, but not vastly.  In a letter to Charles Scribner in 1951, he said of this story, "This is the prose that I have been working for all my life that should read easily and simply and seem short and yet have all the dimensions of the visible world and the world of a man's spirit."*  I think it's a bit more studied than his other novels -- there are very few contractions, and the sentences are very simple and straight-forward, for the most part.  I think it works really well because the old man himself is a simple and straight-forward character, and since the story is told from his point of view, the style serves to reinforce the character.  Is it my favorite writing style?  No.  I like his writing much better in A Moveable Feast and By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, but I think it serves his purposes well here.  I did wish he had used a few more commas, though.

Particularly Good Bits:

The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like flag of permanent defeat (p. 9).

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated (p. 10).

I will show him what a man can do and what a man endures (p. 66).

He took all his pain and what was left of his strength and his long gone pride and he put it against the fish's agony and the fish came over onto his side and swam gently on his side, his bill almost touching the planking of the skiff and started to pass the boat, long, deep, wide, silver and barred with purple and interminable in the water (p. 93).

"But man is not made for defeat," he said.  "A man can be destroyed but not defeated" (p. 103).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  One of the cleanest Hemingway stories I've ever read.

This is my thirteenth book read and reviewed for The Classics Club.  It is also my entry for my The Old Man and the Sea read-along, which you can join here.

*I found this quote in an awesome book called Ernest Hemingway On Writing by Larry W. Phillips.

Monday, July 21, 2014

"The Old Man and the Sea" Read-Along

Good morning!  And welcome to the read-along of Hemingway's most famous* story, The Old Man and the Sea.  I'm so glad you could join me!  I think we're going to have some fun, learn a few things from each other, and maybe even make some new friends.

So here's how this will work:  Each of us will read TOMATS and then post our own reviews on our own blogs.  Below, you'll find a list of my suggestions for things you might want to discuss in your reviews, but of course you can choose what you want to write about.  And below those, you'll find a linky widget.  Once you've got your review written, paste your name and your post's URL in the widget.  Then follow the links to read everyone else's reviews and discuss what they thought in their comments!  That last part is very important, because that's how we can do all that fun and learning and friend-making, so please don't forget!

I'll post my own review in a day or so, and link to it on the list too.

Possible Discussion Questions:

+  Have you read The Old Man and the Sea before?  If so, did you like it more or less after this reading than you did before?

+  Have you read any of Hemingway's other works?  If so, how do you like this compared to some of his other writings?

+  What do you think the main point of the story is?  What is Hemingway trying to say here?

+  Some people say this story is full of symbolism, maybe even an allegory.  What do you think things like the old man, the fish, and the sharks could symbolize?

+  In 1952, Hemingway wrote a letter to his friend Bernard Berenson in which he said:  "There isn't any symbolysm [sic].  The sea is the sea.  The old man is an old man.  The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish.  The shark are all sharks no better and no worse."**  Do you think he was telling the truth, or being cagey?  Do you think that sometimes an audience can see more in a story than its author does? 

+  What do you think of the writing style Hemingway uses here?  Do you like it?  How does it add or detract from the story?

+  The Old Man and the Sea is required reading at a lot of high schools.  Do you think this is a good choice for teen readers?  Do you think some other story or book by Hemingway might be a better introduction to his work?

Okay, like I said, you can answer as many or as few of those questions as you like.  You can do a straight question-and-answer post by copying them, or you can just write a review that touches on those things, whatever.  Totally up to you!  When you're done with your review, please link to it here. 

*I have no basis for this claim, I just feel like it's the one everyone's heard of or read.
**I found this quote in an awesome book called Ernest Hemingway On Writing by Larry W. Phillips.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Heads Up: Big Jane Austen Book Giveaway!

Miss Laurie is giving away SIX different books about or by Jane Austen on her blog, Old-Fashioned Charm. Click here or on the button above to learn all about it :-)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Tortilla Flat" by John Steinbeck

Shall I make a shocking confession?  Until this week, I had only read one book by John Steinbeck.  I read Of Mice and Men in high school.  I disliked it enough that I haven't read any other Steinbeck since.  But I decided that after seventeen years, maybe I should give the guy a break.  So I picked this up at the library.  

I didn't actively dislike it, so that's a step up for Steinbeck.  On the other hand, I didn't particularly like it either.  Mostly because I didn't care for the characters, but partly because the blurb on the back cover made it sound a lot awesomer than it was.

Tortilla Flat is a sort of shanty slum place on the outskirts of Monterey inhabitied by Spanish-Mexican-Americans.  After WWI, a man named Danny inherits two houses there.  He invites some friends to live with him, and they spend the book drinking a lot of wine, gossiping, and doing as little work as possible.  They do invite a mentally handicapped man to live with them, which is nice since he was living in an abandoned chicken coop before, but then they proceed to rely on him to go begging scraps from restaurant kitchens to feed all of them.  He was my favorite character, called simply The Pirate even though he wasn't a pirate, and the way they exploited him was pretty shameless and made me dislike the rest of the characters enough that I won't be reading this again.

So.  Yes, Steinbeck can write, but his characters are unpleasant and so is what happens to them.  Still not a fan.

Particularly Good Bits:

Fruit trees were there, bony and black with age, and gnarled and broken with neglect (p. 13).

The afternoon came down as imperceptibly as age comes to a happy man (p. 39).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for all the love-making that gets casually mentioned, and all the drinking.  Probably would just get a PG-13 from the MPAA, though.

This is my 12th book read and reviewed for The Classics Club and my 11th for the I Love Library Books challenge.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Coming Soon to a Precipice Near You

Time for a quick update on the things I've got planned for this blog for the next few months.  First off, of course, The Old Man and the Sea read-along begins next week!  I've decided to do it rather differently than I did the LOTR read-along because this is such a short book.  I'll do a kick-off post on Monday, with a linky thing.  Then everyone who does the read-along can post a review on their own blogs, and link back to it with the linky.  We can all visit each others' posts and comment on them.  I'll also do my own review here, too, which I'll add to the linky list.

Here is the official button for that read-along -- feel free to share on your blogs if you want to!  I created two others too, which you can snurch from here.

Next up will be my second annual Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence!  It will run September 22-28, and be much like last year's.  Giveaways, questions to answer on your own blog, new quizzes, and new games, all revolving around Middle Earth.  I've made some new buttons and banners for that as well -- I know it's still two months away, but I'm already getting excited :-D  Here's one of the new buttons, and you can find all the others (some new, some from last year) here.

And finally, looking far into the future, I'm going to host a read-along of The Hound of the Baskervilles starting on October 1.  It'll be like my LOTR read-along, with posts here for each chapter, though perhaps I'll do a linky at the end for people to share their individual reviews of the book too.  Will it involve a giveaway?  Maybe!

I hope you'll join me for any or all of these adventures!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Vanishing Girl" by Shane Peacock

Of the three "Boy Sherlock Holmes" books I've read so far, this has by far the weakest mystery.  I'd figured out most of it before I was a quarter of the way through.  Since this is a YA book, I'm going to let that slide and continue reading the series.  But the first two were so strong that I do admit I'm disappointed by this one.

Still, there's a lot of good character development.  Sherlock begins the book fame-seeking and vengeful against Inspector Lestrade Sr., and for much of it, I couldn't help but wonder, "Is this glory-hunting boy really supposed to grow up into the Sherlock Holmes who frequently lets Scotland Yard have the credit for a mystery's solution?  Who occasionally requests his name be kept out of reports?"  But by the end, he had matured and realized that, for him, the thrill of discovery is more reward than public recognition.

So while I didn't love this book, I do still recommend the series so far.

Particularly Good Bits:

Life must either be filled with challenges and thrills or... he doesn't want to participate at all (p. 117).

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

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

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Shades of Grey" by Jasper Fforde

Some of you, having read the book title at the head of this post, may have been horribly aghast that someone whose blog you read would ever read That Book.  But then you looked at the author name, and then you saw the book cover image, and by now you've realized that I did not read That Book.  I read this book, an off-beat, speculative fiction kind of novel that defies easy description.

Shades of Grey takes place several centuries in the future, in a strange world few but Fforde could have imagined.  There are flocks of killer swans.  Everyone is terrified of the dark, because very few people can see in it.  Making new spoons is illegal.  And all of society is ordered according to a hierarchy of how much of what color you can see.  People can only see one color, or no color at all, and how much color you can see determines how important you are.

Some kind of cataclysmic event (referred to as The Something That Happened, and never explained in the book) is responsible for changing an advanced version of our world into this strange new one.  Weirdness and mysteries abound, and Eddie Russett, a young Red too curious for his own good, slowly figures some of them out.  He also falls in love with a violent Grey named Jane and gets eaten by a tree. 

By this point, you already know whether or not you'd like this book -- those last two paragraphs have made you either intrigued or annoyed.  So I'm not gong to make any recommendations here.  This was not my favorite Jasper Fforde book, but it wasn't my least-favorite either.  Fforde is clearly making a statement about the arbitrary hierarchies of today's world and the way we treat nonconformists, and probably several other points that I was too dizzied by his wackiness to catch.  In the end, I felt like it was too silly to be a serious novel, and too serious to be a silly novel.  Still, it was a fun read.

Particularly Good Bits:

I didn't set out to discover a truth.  I was actually sent to the Outer Fringes to conduct a chair census and learn some humility.  But the truth inevitably found me, as important truths often do, like a lost thought in need of a mind (p. 1).

I returned home, made sure Jane wasn't in the house, carefully filed the telegram in my valise and then hid under the bed for half an hour before making my way down to the sports fields (p. 254).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for adult dialog and situations (sex is always called "you know," but you know what "you know" stands for).

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Winners! We have winners!

Congratulations to the three winners of the end-of-read-along giveaways!

Chelsea won the DVD copy of the three Lord of the Rings movies.

Jordan won the beautiful vintage poster.

Molly won the lovely illustrated journal.

Many thanks to everyone who participated not only in the giveaway but in the whole read-along!  This has been an exciting and rewarding experience.

And don't forget that I'll be throwing my annual Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence beginning on Bilbo and Frodo's birthday, September 22.  Join us then for give-aways, games, and all sorts of Middle Earth fun!

Monday, July 7, 2014

"The Lord of the Rings" by J. R. R. Tolkien

You'd think that after doing an entire read-along for this trilogy, with chapter-by-chapter discussions, I'd have run out of things to talk about.  And if we were talking about some other trilogy, you'd probably be right.  But I kind of doubt I'll ever run out of things to talk about when it comes to books this rich.  Plus, I can't link to every single chapter review for The Classics Club, so this one will have to do.

As most people know, this is the story of how a young, unimportant hobbit named Frodo Baggins sets out to save the world by carrying an important weapon, the One Ring, to Mount Doom to destroy it.  I'm not going to recap the story in detail here -- either this post would be seventy paragraphs long, or I'd try to stuff everything into a few sentences and not do it justice.  Instead, I'm going to talk about a few things that I found especially interesting this time through.  This was my sixth reading, but the first one in several years.

The one theme that really struck me this time is the idea of continuing to work toward a goal even when you've lost all hope of achieving it.  The idea crops up several times, and Frodo presents it best when he tells Sam, "I am tired, weary, I haven't a hope left.  But I have to go on trying to get to the Mountain, as long as I can move" (p. 897).  I think that's a marvelous description of courage: to keep doing something dreadfully hard, even something that will likely kill you, even though you don't believe you can prevail.  

This time through, I liked and understood both Faramir and Frodo better than I ever had before.  I finally stopped comparing Faramir to his older brother Boromir, who is my favorite character in the whole story, and started considering him on his own terms.  What a stalwart, courteous, gentle man!  And while I will never really love Frodo, I now appreciate the way he presents a picture of our own human weaknesses and failures.  

I'm not going to list any particularly good lines here because I've already listed my favorite lines in every single chapter post for the read-along.  You can find links to all of those here.  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for scary scenes and images, and violence.

This is the eleventh book I've read and reviewed for The Classics Club.

Don't forget to enter the LOTR giveaways here!  They're open through the end of July 8th.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Giveaway Heads-up

Birdie is giving away a copy of My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead on her blog Lady of the Manor.  Go here or click on the image above to enter.  And don't forget my LOTR giveaway ends Tuesday night!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"Longbourn" by Jo Baker

If you love Pride and Prejudice, don't read this book.

Okay, that's a little harsh.  Maybe.  Let me just say that I was glad that this was not about Persuasion, because if it had been, I would have been pretty angry by the end.  I'm kind of angry at it anyway, and P&P only ties with Northanger Abbey as my second-favorite Austen book.  If it had been about Persuasion...

I'm not being coherent, am I?  I'm sorry.  I'll start over.

Longbourn is about the scenes behind the scenes of Pride and Prejudice.  You know how Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead takes place on the edges of Hamlet, so we get to see what the titular characters are doing when they're not obsequiously scraping and bowing to Claudius and Gertrude or trying to weasel info out of Hamlet?  Longbourn is like that, only not funny and charming.  It focuses on the servants who work for the Bennets at Longbourn, particularly a young maid-of-all-work named Sarah.

Sarah is an orphan who was taken in by Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper at Longbourn, and who has grown into a young woman while working there.  The Bennets hire a new footman, James Smith, whom I liked very much indeed.  He was quiet, thoughtful, pensive even.  It's really not a spoiler at all to say that Sarah and James began to fall in love.  

And at first, I liked it so, so well!  The details of their daily lives, all the work that went into making the Bennets comfortable and happy -- I dug that a lot.  How laundry worked, what it took to prepare a meal -- it reminded me of how Austen herself took commonplace, seemingly boring aspects of life and showed how they could be important.  

But then the book took a darker turn.  After the first 150 pages or so, when I was well and truly hooked, when I cared so much about the characters I couldn't bear not to find out how it all ended, unpleasantness seeped in.  Secrets came to light that I didn't want to be there at all, hidden or not.  There was a section about one character's time in the army that was violent, disturbing, and involved some very bad language indeed.  

And the Bennets themselves are not portrayed favorably.  The author bio says that Pride and Prejudice is the author's favorite book, but I would not have guessed it, after reading this book.  She constantly describes them as dull, uncaring, and generally unpleasant.  Even Jane and Elizabeth are presented as oblivious, vacuous, or heedless.  And WHY do so many authors of P&P pastiches insist that once Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy and became mistress of Pemberley, she became frightened of her new position, didn't quite know how to manage servants, turned timid and uncertain?  What???  I've read three or four different what-happens-next P&P tales that do that, and I don't believe it for a minute.

Even Mr. Darcy, who I admit has faults and is not actually my favorite Austen hero, is not portrayed the way I would have wanted.  Sarah keeps thinking of him as "meaty" and is constantly overwhelmed by his presence and sheer size.  Rather weird, to be honest.  I can't see any Darcy fan being pleased.

So.  Clearly, I didn't like this book.  Which makes me sad and angry, because I could have liked it so very much.  I did like it at first.  I was prepared to love it.  I even recommended it to someone, a recommendation I now retract.  I tried to remember whose blog and what post I was commenting on when I said it was good, but I can't find it.  Whoever you were (I thought it was either Kara or Clarissa or Heidi P, but I can't remember now), please don't read this!  I un-recommend it!

But in all fairness, I do need to say that this was written well, although the author had a prediliction for exceedingly long sentences, and sometimes changed POV so quickly I got confused.  The pacing got a bit rocky at the end, getting sluggish and then speeding up too much for my taste.  But the characterizations were great, the details were amazing, and the word use was often surprising and fresh.

Particularly Good Bits:

Sarah, glancing up, hands stuffed into her armpits, her breath clouding the air, dreamed of the wild places beyond the horizon where it was already fully light, and of how, when her day was over, the sun would be shining on other places still, on the Barbadoes and Antigua and Jamaica where the dark men worked half-naked, and on the Americas where the Indians wore almost no clothes at all, and where there was consequently very little in the way of laundry, and how one day she would go there, and never have to wash other people's underthings again (p. 4).

Each day's work trickled over into the next, and nothing was ever finished, so you could never say, Look, that's it, the day's labour is over and done (p. 4).

The loss of his temper was an active thing; like shedding a heavy coat on a hot day, it was a relief to shrug it off (p. 209).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for bad language, adult dialog, semi-explicit sexual situations, and violence.  I wish I had not read it.

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

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"The Return of the King" -- Book vs. Movie: A Guest Post by James

James the Movie Reviewer here, back again with another Lord of the Rings: Book vs. Movie concerning The Return of the King. Please note that I am comparing the Extended Edition of the film to the book.

Aragorn's Sword Reforged

In the film, Narsil is forged into Andúril on the eve of Battle and is given to Aragorn by Elrond. In the book, Andúril is forged right before Aragorn and the Fellowship leave Rivendell. As discussed in the Fellowship of the Ring Book vs. Movie post, Arwen’s role in the films have been greatly expanded, and Peter Jackson originally suggested that Arwen would be the one to give Aragorn Andúril. Fortunately, the scene was changed to Arwen convincing Elrond to reforge the sword for Aragorn. Also, Elrond suggests that Aragorn travel into the Path of the Dead in the movie, not Elrond's son like in the book. If the Aragorn is not going to have Andúril reforged before leaving with the Fellowship, Elrond giving him the sword at this point in his journey is the most effective and powerful way to accomplish it.

Gandalf's Broken Staff

In the Extended Edition, Gandalf briefly confronts the Witch King and the Witch King breaks Gandalf’s staff. It is stated in the book that Gandalf is one of the most powerful beings in Middle Earth and that only Sauron could defeat him. Therefore, the Witch King easily destroying his staff does not make sense in that respect, which is why it never happened in the book.  Also, without this scene in the Theatrical cut, there is no explanation as to why Gandalf does not have his staff in the final battle in the film, although I did not notice that until after watching the Extended Edition. Honestly, the decision to alter the source material is somewhat baffling. Aside from adding another layer of danger for the character, the alteration is mostly pointless.

Saruman's Death

In the Extended Cut of The Return of the King, Saruman's death happened at the Tower of Orthanc, at the hands of Wormtongue. Conversely, in the book, Saruman was killed by Wormtongue in Bag End after the Scorching of the Shire. Since the entire "Scouring of the Shire" chapter was excluded from the film, Saruman's death needed to be moved to another location in the film to tie up loose ends. For some ridiculous reason, this scene was cut from the theatrical version, thus Saruman's fate is left unknown in the theatrical release. Essentially, the change is absolutely necessary if the Scouring of the Shire is left out.

Scouring of the Shire

Out of all the differences between the book and the movie, the Scouring of the Shire might just be the largest, and oddly enough, it was one of my favorite chapters of the book because it was something entirely new and different. Unlike many of the other differences, the Scouring of the Shire is more of an omission than an alteration to the source material. In the book there is an entire chapter about the four Hobbits' return to the Shire and what has happened in their absence. The chapter demonstrates how Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo have grown as characters and warriors since their journey. Merry and Pippin in particular have basically become great warriors, and their military skill led the Hobbits to victory. While this might be a big omission, it is entirely forgivable since it would have only served to make an already long ending even longer. Although it would have been possible to throw this part into the movie, it would have at least taken another 20-30 minutes of extra footage. The Scouring of the Shire is almost another movie in itself! In fact, the movie actually corrects one aspect of the book that annoyed me a bit. In the book, Gandalf and the Fellowship allowed Saruman to escape the Tower of Orthanc, and when meeting Saruman later in the book, Gandalf makes no attempt to stop him. Essentially, Gandalf and the other are indirectly responsible for the Scouring of the Shire. In the end, the change was mostly necessary. Sure it would have been great to have this sequence in the film, but The Return of the King already had so many “False Endings,” another entire story line would have been disastrous to the pacing. On a side note, during the Galadriel scene where the Hobbits look into a possible future, what is shown is essentially what would lead to the Scouring of the Shire.

(Hamlette's note:  Thanks for one last guest post for this read-along, James!  I've really enjoyed reading your well-thought-out reasoning about why certain changes were made for Peter Jackson's movie versions.  Everyone, don't forget to enter the celebratory giveaways here!  Thanks to everyone who made my first read-along such a resounding success.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

LOTR Read-Along Giveaway #3

Good morning!  After a good night's sleep and some lovely antibiotics, I'm feeling soooooo much better already.  And so here is the grand giveaway for the end of the read-along!  This time, I'm actually doing two giveaways, with three different prizes total.  As before, you don't have to have participated in the read-along to enter these, but my goodness, doesn't it help?  You'll get extra points if you joined in the discussions or wrote a guest post, etc.

The first giveaway is for a brand-new copy of all three of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies on DVD!  It's the 3-film collection pictured below.  These are the theatrical versions, not the extended ones.  All three films are rated PG-13 and are presented in the widescreen format.  And these are Region-1 discs, so if you don't live in the US or Canada or have access to a machine that will play Region-1 discs, they won't work for you, I'm afraid.  

I ask that you please DO NOT enter this giveaway if you ALREADY own a copy of these movies!  I'd really like them to go to someone who doesn't already have them, but would like to.  (If your parents own them, but you don't, you're still eligible.)  Make sense?  Good.  If you don't own the movies, then enter for a chance to win them with this widget.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The second giveaway is open to everyone!  And you can totally enter this giveaway if you've also entered the one for the movies.  For this one, I'll be drawing two lucky winners!  One person will get this vintage poster.  It's circa 1988 and features the artwork of James Cauty.  It's 13.5" by 19.5", a really nice size for framing or just hanging on the wall. 

You DON'T get any of my mugs, just the poster ;-)
The whole poster is full of amazing details -- look at the way the artist worked the poem about the One Ring into the border here!
You can see Gandalf's ring, Narya, on his hand.

And the other winner will receive this lovely Tolkien journal:

The cover is like a really stiff paperback -- bendy, but not flimsy.
Every pair of pages inside has "curious illustrations of friends and foes of the Nine Companions," as it says on the cover.  This is Bilbo, I think.  They aren't captioned.
Gandalf!  Obviously.

You can enter for a chance to win one of those with this widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Both of these giveaways run from today through the end of Tuesday, July 8, 2014.  I'll draw three winners on July 9.  PLEASE be sure you've provided a CURRENT email address to the Rafflecopter widgets so that when I email the winners, they actually get the notification that they've won!  Both giveaways are open world-wide, though please note that the DVDs are Region-1 discs.  If any winner doesn't respond to my notification within one week (by July 16, 2014, in other words), I will draw a different winner and the first one will be out of luck.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Grey Havens (ROTK Ch. 19)

We did it.  

To quote Frodo, I'm glad to have my fellow readers with me, here at the end of all things.  Well, not all things, but the end of this read-along and these books.  I'm still rather amazed that we finished the whole thing!  Granted, it took us longer to read them than it took Frodo and Sam to walk all the way to Mt. Doom, but still, we did it.

But enough about us.  This is such a quiet, soft, melancholy chapter, isn't it?  It reminds me of the little coda to Disney's The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh, when the narrator tells Pooh, "All stories have an ending," and Pooh replies, "Oh, bother."  I would cheerfully spend another hundred or so pages reading about life in Hobbiton, and Merry and Pippin's visits to Rohan and Gondor, and Sam's children growing up, and Faramir and Eowyn setting up their household and trying to keep Ioreth from visiting all the time to dispense gossip, and...

But all stories have an ending.  And, as Sam's Gaffer says, "All's well as ends Better!" (p. 999).  I'm not really sad about how everything ends, just the fact that it does end.

Okay, so, on to a few less-pensive thoughts about this chapter.  Tolkien writes that "there were thousands of willing hands of all ages" in the Shire, ready to rebuild!  Thousands!  I honestly tend to think of there being maybe, I dunno, five hundred hobbits all told, but if there were thousands of hands, then there had to be at least a thousand hobbits!  Wow.

I love Sam replacing beloved trees, using his magic dust from Galadriel to better the whole Shire, not just Bag End, or even just Hobbiton.  And then he spends the winter being "as patient as he could, and tried to restrain himself from going round constantly to see if anything was happening" (p. 1000).  I get that way too, wanting to encourage things to grow somehow :-)

And how happy I am that Sam and Rosie get married and move in with Frodo!  What could be better?  Well, okay, Frodo not being changed beyond return would be better, but... I love Sam, and he's happy, so I'm happy.

Or I would be, if the story wasn't ending.

But doesn't it have the best last line ever?  

He drew a deep breath.  "Well, I'm back," he said.

Brilliant.  Wonderful.  "I laughed!  I cried!  It moved me, Bob."  (That's from some VeggieTales or other, I can't recall which.  It's what my college friends and I always said about movies and books we greatly enjoyed.)

Also, notice that it's almost exactly what he said to Farmer Cotton when he returned in the last chapter.  And that waaaaaay back when he stood outside Shelob's lair and debated whether or not to follow Frodo to the tower full of orcs, "[h]e felt that if once he went beyond the crown of the pass and took one step veritably down into the land of Mordor, that step would be irrevocable.  He could never come back" (p. 878).

But yet, he does get to come back.  And Frodo does not, or he doesn't get to stay back.  Hmm.  I think there's something profound here, but it's not quite clicking for me tonight.  Possibly because I'm tired and have strep throat again.  How about you?

Favorite Lines:

And no one was ill, and everyone was pleased, except those who had to mow the grass (p. 1000).

"I have been too deeply hurt, Sam.  I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger:  some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them" (p. 1006).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Did you discover anything new during this reading?  Any little nugget of wisdom, new favorite line, character you suddenly "get," theme you never saw before?

I have an announcement to make!

I'll be hosting another giveaway to celebrate the end of this book!  And it will be a bigger giveaway than before, because we finished not just one book, but the whole trilogy!  However, like I said, I have strep again, and I'm tired, so the giveaway will start tomorrow, not tonight, as I need to get to bed.  Something for you to look forward to tomorrow :-)