Monday, September 30, 2019

"Norse Mythology" by Neil Gaiman

This was amusing, entertaining, and sometimes enlightening.  Neil Gaiman for the win again!

My husband actually got this out of the library because he heard somewhere in his section of the internet that it was really good.  I'd heard the same over here in my section of the internet, so when he finished it, I decided to read it before we took it back to the library.  And then life intervened, and War and Peace intervened, and I had to renew it twice before I got around to reading it.  Sigh.  

Once I actually started it, this was a fast, fun read.  It made me laugh aloud in many places, mostly in scenes involving Thor and Loki.  Y'all know that Thor is my favorite of the Avengers, and I admit I half read this just to get a better grasp of the mythology behind the comics that gave rise to the Thor of the MCU.  Now, this is Gaiman retelling Norse Mythology, and he himself first got into it because of the Thor comics, so... there's a nice circle of common interests there.

Anyway, my son keeps begging to read this, mostly because I laughed so much over it, but he's only 11 and parts of it are pretty graphic about violence, there's some scatological humor, and while there are no described sex-scenes, characters do talk about desiring each other, and they make love and produce offspring, so... I'm making him wait a few years.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Because," said Thor, "When something goes wrong, the first thing I always think is, it's Loki's fault.  It saves a lot of time" (p. 52).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for the aforementioned content.  No cussing that I recall, though.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Winners of the Tolkien Giveaway 2019

Congratulations to the winners of this year's giveaway!  I will be notifying all winners by email as well, but that might not be until tomorrow, as I'm travelling for 12 hours today :-o

Four Tolkien-themed bookmarks -- Skye H.
One "hole in the ground" bookmark -- Deborah O'Carroll
Three "locations" stickers -- Anna & Irene
Three "quotations" stickers -- Bethi
One "be brave" necklace -- Erudessa Aranduriel
One "hope" necklace -- Fawnabelle Baggins
One Sam & Frodo coaster -- Beth G.
One Thranduil candle -- J. L. Mbewe
An Atlas of Tolkien by David Day -- Heidi P.

Thanks for making this party so fun, everyone!  Can't wait to do it all again next year :-)

Answers to the Minor Characters of Tolkien Quiz

Here are the answers to this year's second quiz!  Everyone's scores are below.  How'd you do?

1. Bill Ferny  C. human
2. Dain  A. dwarf
3. Elladin  B. elf
4. Elrohir  B. elf
5. Eothain  C. human
6. Fatty Bolger  D. hobbit
7. Ghan-buri-ghan  F. other
8. Grishnakh  E. orc/uruk-hai
9. Gwaihir  F. other 
10. Haldir  B. elf
11. Hama  C. human
12. Ioreth  C. human
13. Lugburz  E. orc/uruk-hai
14. Nob  D. hobbit
15. Nori  A. dwarf
16. Quickbeam  F. other
17. Shagrat  E. orc/uruk-hai
18. Snaga  E. orc/uruk-hai
19. Ted Sandyman  D. hobbit
20. Theodred  C. human


Erudessa Aranduriel -- 20
Grace T -- 20
MiddleEarthMusician -- 19
Beth -- 18
R.M. Lutz -- 18
Victoria -- 18
IsaacBenjamin -- 17
Bethi -- 16
Gabby A -- 16
Jenelle Leanne -- 16
PioneerGirl -- 15
Anna and Irene -- 14
MovieCritic -- 11

Answers to Creatures of Middle-earth Quiz

Here are the answers to our first game this week!  Scores are below.

1.  Fiery demons who were once Maiar, but followed Melkor and were doomed with him.  Balrogs.

2.  Gray as a mouse, big as a house, with arrow-proof skin and fearsome tusks.  Oliphants/Mumakil.

3.  Tree-like, often tall, rarely hasty beings with deep, dark eyes.  Ents.

4.  Ancient, intelligent, somewhat serpentine beings that like to hoard things.  Dragons.

5.  Watchful, slow-moving trees prone to wrath, with the ability to hide themselves in shadow.  Huorns.

6.  Massive, wolf-like creatures sometimes used as steeds by orcs.  Wargs.

7.  Shape-shifting beings that guard treasure or haunt tombs and use fear and hypnotism to capture unwary travelers.  Barrow-wights/wights.

8.  Monstrous humanoid creatures with very little intelligence but possessed of great strength.  Trolls.

9.  Bred by both Sauron and Saruman, possibly by crossing orcs with men, these brutes have thick legs, bowed backs, and slanted eyes.  Uruk-hai.

10.  Someone who would have died, but is kept somewhat alive by dark sorcery.  Wraiths.  (Ring-wraiths/Nazgul also count.)


Erudessa Aranduriel -- 10
George -- 10
Grace T -- 10
Jenelle Leanne -- 10
MiddleEarthMusician -- 10
Fawnabelle Baggins -- 9
Olivia -- 9
R.M. Lutz -- 9
Anna and Irene -- 8
Skye -- 8
Bethi -- 7
Gabby A -- 6
MovieCritic -- 3

Thursday, September 26, 2019

"Tolkien's World" Coloring Book

Do you enjoy adult coloring books?  I'm kind of addicted to them.  Especially the ones related to some fandom or other that I love.  So it's no surprise that I own several Tolkien-inspired coloring books.  Today, I'm going to take you on a tour of Tolkien's World.  The coloring book version, anyway.

You can actually color the slipcover if you want.  There's a different picture underneath.

The first picture I colored in this was the one I totally bought it for, a portrait of Boromir.  I had so much fun layering different colors on to get his hair and cloak to please me.

The artwork in this book is from several different artists with very different styles.  For some reason, this Smaug picture makes me think of the 1970s.

Here's a lovely Rider of Rohan I colored last month.

There are quite a few two-page panoramic pictures in this, which are a total treat.  I love all the little details!

This slice of the Shire was incredibly fun.

And here are a few pictures I haven't gotten to yet, but am looking forward to.

Have you been enjoying my Tolkien Blog Party this year?  I hope so!  I've only read a smidgen of other people's posts so far, but they've been wonderful, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest!  If you haven't joined yet... what're you waiting for?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Minor Characters of Tolkien Quiz

Second game for this year's party!  Match the name of a minor character from The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings with what Middle-earth race they belong to.  Obviously, there will be more than one character for some races.  Your answers should be in the form of the number that corresponds with the name, then the letter that corresponds with their race.  So, like "21. A" -- make sense?

1. Bill Ferny
2. Dain
3. Elladin
4. Elrohir
5. Eothain
6. Fatty Bolger
7. Ghan-buri-ghan
8. Grishnakh
9. Gwaihir
10. Haldir
11. Hama
12. Ioreth
13. Lugburz
14. Nob
15. Nori
16. Quickbeam
17. Shagrat
18. Snaga
19. Ted Sandyman
20. Theodred

A. dwarf
B. elf
C. human
D. hobbit
E. orc/uruk-hai
F. other

Good luck!  I'll post the answers and your scores on Saturday.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Creatures of Middle-earth Quiz

Good morning!  Here's our first game for this year's Tolkien Blog Party, and it's all about... I was going to say non-human beings, but the elves and dwarves and hobbits aren't human either.  Um.  It's about non-speaking... no, that doesn't work either.  Whatever.  You know what I mean by "creatures," right?

How this game works: read the description of a Middle-earth creature and tell me what creature I'm describing.  As in kind of creature, like "horse," not a specific one like "Snowmane."

1.  Fiery demons who were once Maiar, but followed Melkor and were doomed with him.

2.  Gray as a mouse, big as a house, with arrow-proof skin and fearsome tusks.

3.  Tree-like, tall, unhasty beings with deep, dark eyes.

4.  Ancient, intelligent, somewhat serpentine being that likes to hoard things and can devastate whole towns when roused.

5.  Watchful, slow-moving trees prone to wrath and possessing the ability to hide themselves in shadow.

6.  Massive, wolf-like creatures sometimes used as steeds by orcs.

7.  Shape-shifting beings that guard treasure or haunt tombs and use fear and hypnotism to capture unwary travelers.

8.  Monstrous humanoid creatures with very little intelligence but possessed of great strength.

9.  Bred by both Sauron and Saruman, possibly by crossing orcs with men, these brutes have thick legs, bowed backs, and slanted eyes.

10.  Someone who would have died, but is kept somewhat alive by dark sorcery.

I'll post the answers and your scores on Saturday!  Meanwhile, I'm putting comments on moderation so you can't copy each others' answers.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

A Tolkien Blog Party 2019 -- Kickoff Post

Here I am again!  Back for the seventh year in a row to celebrate all things Tolkien with you for a full week.  Huzzah!

I've already posted this year's giveaway, so don't forget to check that out here!  There are lots and lots of ways to enter, and nine prizes!

This year, we're doing things a little differently.  As always, there's a tag below that you can copy to your own blog and answer there, then put the link to your post in the linky widget at the bottom of this post.  However, this year you can also contribute ANY Tolkien-related post to the party, as long as it is new.  Don't link to stuff you posted like two years ago or something.  But anything Tolkien-related is fair game, doesn't even have to involve Middle-earth.  Review one of his books, talk about the movies, devote a whole post to your favorite character, whatever!  There's no sign-up sheet, just post what you want to and then share your post via the link-up in this post.

Speaking of the tag questions, here they are!  I decided to do a "would you rather" tag this time, just to mix things up a little.  Answer these and expound on them as much as you'd like!

Would You Rather...

1.  ...join Thorin's Company or the Fellowship?

2.  ...ride Shadowfax or an eagle?
3. through Moria or Mirkwood?
4.  ...learn to make elvish rope or mithril chainmail?
5.  ...try to outwit Smaug or Saruman?
6.  ...spend an hour with Grima Wormtongue or Denethor?
7.  ...attend Faramir's wedding or Samwise's wedding?
8.  ...have to care for the One Ring or the Arkenstone for a day?
9.  ...have tea with Bilbo or Frodo?
10.  ...fight alongside Boromir or Eomer?

Don't forget to use as many of these spiffy buttons in your posts as you so desire.

And here's the link-up widget!  Remember, this is for all of your Tolkien posts for this week, not just the tag!

Giveaway for A Tolkien Blog Party 2019

Huzzah!  The partying can now commence!  I hereby present to you the nine prizes for this year's Tolkien Blog Party Giveaway!

ONE winner will receive all four of these Tolkien-themed bookmarks which I bought as printable files from the Etsy shop Mirkwood Scribes, then printed out myself on card stock and laminated with contact paper for extra durability.

ONE winner will receive this "vegan leather" bookmark that I purchased from the Etsy shop A Fine Quotation.

TWO winners will EACH receive ONE set of THREE stickers that I purchased from the Etsy shop Sweet Sequels.  The top three stickers are the "Locations" trio (Lothlorien, Rivendell, Minas Morgul), and the bottom three stickers are the "Quotations" trio ("Courage is found..." "I feel like Spring after winter..." and "All that is gold...").

TWO winners will EACH receive ONE necklace that I made myself.  One necklace says "hope" and has a little leaf charm, and one necklace says "be brave" and has a little sword charm.

ONE winner will receive the Sam and Frodo coaster I got in my Middle-earth-themed book box from Flick the Wick.

ONE winner will receive the two-ounce "Thranduil" candle I received in my Middle-earth-themed book box from Flick the Wick

ONE winner will receive this copy of An Atlas of Tolkien by David Day, which I reviewed here last year.  Please note that this is a USED copy, and has some sticker residue on the front cover, as seen in the above picture.  I think you can scrape this residue off if you're patient -- I just gave up because I needed to take my photos for this post while the light was nice.  Below are a few more images so you know what the back and insides are like.

This giveaway is open WORLDWIDE.  

As always, the main way to gain entries is to participate in the party by contributing a post, either your answers to the official tag or another Tolkien-related post, then adding your post's link to the Mister Linky widget at the bottom of that kick-off post.  But that isn't required!  You can also earn entries by doing other things like commenting, following, and telling me your prize choices.  I do my best to match winners with their choice of prizes, but that doesn't always work out -- that's why I ask for your top three choices.

This giveaway runs through the end of Friday, September 27. I will draw the winners on Saturday, September 28 and post the names of the winners on this blog, as well a notify them by email, no later than Sunday, September 29.

PLEASE make sure your information for the giveaway widget includes your current email address so that if you win a prize, you'll get the email informing you that you won! If you don't reply to my email by Saturday, October 5, I will choose another winner and award your prize to them instead.

Here's the widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I'd never read this book before.  In fact, I never even heard of it until a few years ago.  Then people kept being shocked that I hadn't read it, and it popped up on a few book-themed puzzles that my kids and I did this summer, so I decided it was high time to read it.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this book, to be honest.  It's sweet and cute and melancholy and quirky.  The little prince himself is a bit mysterious, a blend of innocent and wise, curious and reserved.  Definitely otherworldly, which makes sense since he's from a small planet far from earth.

I liked the narrator best, a downed pilot whose plane crashed in the desert.  He encounters the prince and makes friends with him, and they connect over the common understanding that adult humans have difficulty comprehending simple things, and are too caught up in stressful, meaningless tasks to see life clearly.  But just when they're starting to really understand each other, the little prince has to leave.

I'm glad I finally took the time to read this little gem -- I can see why it's considered a classic!  It touches on so many big concepts like life and death, growing up, childhood versus adulthood, and so on.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG because I think many small children might find the ending disturbing.

This is my 37th book read and reviewed for my second go-'round with the Classics Club.

Monday, September 9, 2019

"Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell

After finishing War and Peace, I devoured this fluffy little ice cream sandwich in two days.  Brain needed a snack after all the kale of W&P, it seems.

I liked it a lot.  It was fun.  Fluffy.  Light.  Easy to inhale.  But I also disliked a lot of things about it.  So let's get into that, huh?

I liked that it was a book about people who write fanfiction, and that it showed how people often look down on fanfic, but that fanfic can actually be a very creative, rewarding endeavor.  I've been writing fanfic and sharing it online for 20 years now.  Most of it is for the TV show Combat! (1962-67), though I've written a couple stories involving characters from Angel (1999-2004) getting crossed with Combat! characters, and I co-wrote a follow-up to a Bobby Darin movie once.  But anyway, writing fanfic was a way for me to hone my skills.  Some people say you need to write a million words before you're a good writer.  My fanfic was a huge chunk of my million words.  

I liked that this book was about a shy girl who went to college and had trouble adjusting to it.  I was a shy girl who had a lot of trouble adjusting to college.  Fanfic consoled me.  Friends I made through the fandom for C! consoled me.  I related a lot to that.

What did I dislike?  The abhorrent language, for one thing.  Oh my goodness, so much bad language.  I'm now hesitant to pick up any of Rowell's other books because I was really bothered by the rampant, casual obscenities.

Also, the fanfic in this is slash.  "Slash" in fanfic terms means you take two same-gender characters from a show/book/film and make them a romantic couple. Slash bothers me just like all "shipping" bothers me when people take two characters who are NOT a couple in a movie or show or book and make them a couple.  It's non-canonical and I hate it.  HATE IT, I SAY!

(Happily, there's basically no slash fic in the Combat! fanfic world.  Because people who love my favorite show are sensible people, obviously.)

Also, there's quite a bit of talk about teens being sexually active in college, and I believe that sex outside marriage is wrong, and it is obviously very damaging to some of these characters.  It bugged me, though I liked seeing that it did have repercussions and wasn't just portrayed as harmless.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R.  Very, very R.  I'm kind of appalled that this is marketed to teens, when they wouldn't be able to see a movie with this level of content in the  movie theater.  The one good thing about the content I can say is that there were no actual written-out sex scenes.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

"War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy

How does one even begin to review a book like War and Peace?  A book that's sooooo famous, sooooo long, sooooo... scattered?

Yes.  Scattered.  There, I said it.  This is not a perfect novel, in my opinion, be it humble or otherwise.  I'm not even sure it's a great one.  I haven't really made up my mind about it one way or the other yet.

In Tolstoy's own words, from his 1868 essay "Some Words About War and Peace" (included in my copy as an appendix), this book "is not a novel, even less is it an epic poem, and still less an historical chronicle.  War and Peace  is what the author wished and was able to express in the form in which it is expressed."  Tolsoy insists that "in the recent period of Russian literature there is not a single artistic prose work, rising at all above mediocrity, which quite fits into the form of a novel, epic, or story."  His book is quirky and weird, and that means it's great.  Or, at least, above mediocre.  In Tolstoy's own opinion.

Certainly, the scope of this story is massive, and therefore achieves greatness in that way.  We follow gazillions of characters for decades.  There are so many characters that the people who led the read-along I participated in made us bookmarks that listed the major ones, and many of the minor ones, to help us keep them straight at least a little.  That was invaluable, and I can't think Laura @pixie.hallows and Andrea @miss.havishams.clock enough for it.

(All pics from my bookstagramming)

My husband read War and Peace in college, and his one real remark about it down through the years has been, "After a thousand pages, you've gotten to know Natasha really well."  Want to know something crazy?  I still don't really quite get Natasha.  Actually, not totally true -- I didn't get her until the epilogue.  Then, when she'd gotten married and "let herself go" so she could devote herself to her life as a wife and mother, I got her a little bit.  I understand that brand of relief over not having to go through that whole routine/ordeal of presenting yourself, preening yourself, basically selling yourself that was so much part of her pre-married life.  Once she was married, she relaxed.  Me too.

I keep seeing people criticizing this aspect of the novel, saying they "hate what Tolstoy does to Natasha at the end."  What?  Argh.  That's so annoying.

Look, she was never described as pretty -- in fact, Tolstoy went to great pains to explain that it was who she was inside that made her interesting and attractive, not her face or figure.  So when he says that after having four babies, Natasha "had grown stouter and broader, so that it was difficult to recognize the slim lively Natasha of former days in this robust motherly woman," how is that degrading?  As Mammy told Scarlet O'Hara, when you done had a baby, your waist ain't never gonna be no eighteen inches again.  Tolstoy adds that Natasha's "features were more defined and had a calm, soft and serene expression."  Does not sound like an unhappy, overburdened, squashed-down-by-men sort of person.  She renounces high society in favor of her home and family, and when she got married, she "at once abandoned all her witchery."  She STOPS being artificial.  This is NOT BAD.  

Nobody ever says to her, "Natasha, now that you're married, you need to stop being flirtatious, stop singing and dancing, stop wearing makeup, stop thinking and feeling and understanding the world."  She chooses to abandon certain things and keep doing others.  She finds her vocational calling and fills it, and she feels great satisfaction and pleasure in her vocation.

And I can see how that can be incomprehensible to people in today's society, which pushes us to believe that a woman who devotes herself to being a wife and mother is somehow belittling or wasting or demeaning herself.  Here's the thing, though, folks.  That's a lie.  

Like Natasha, I've had multiple children.  Like Natasha, I have lost my girlish figure.  (Like Natasha, my figure wasn't much to shout about to begin with.)  Like Natasha, I have found great fulfillment and joy in caring for my husband and children.  

Do I have outside interests?  Sure.  I read incredibly long, pedantic Russian novels and then write incredibly long, pedantic blog posts about them.  I write novels.  I'm into Bookstagram a lot right now.  I lead a book club at my church.  I watch a fairly absurd number of movies.  But I don't do everything that I enjoyed before I got married and had kids.  I don't write poetry much anymore.  Natasha stopped singing much.  I'm betting she still sang little ditties and lullabies around the house, but she doesn't study singing anymore.  Possibly because that takes a lot of discipline and practice, both of which require time, and she has other things to occupy her now.  This isn't a sacrifice so much as her recognizing she has other responsibilities now.

Also, Tolstoy never says that only by marrying, settling down, raising kids, and devoting herself to her family, can any woman be worth anything.  This is Natasha's path.  Marya also gets married, but retains her outside interest of helping impoverished, devout people.  She's not shown as being lesser than Natasha because she doesn't throw herself so fervently into her role as wife and mother -- Marya is a different person.  She's reserved and cautious, while Natasha goes whole hog about everything, always.  Tolstoy doesn't seem, to me, to be saying one of them is better than the other.  Not at all.

He does, however, give us a contrasting example in Helene Kuragin, who marries the man her father chooses because he's rich and powerful, then carries on multiple extramarital affairs, becomes pregnant by one of her lovers, and dies while trying to abort her child.  She lives only for herself, and her selfishness ultimately destroys her.  In Helene we have a very blatant condemnation of Russia's high society -- she's convinced that by being popular with them, she's become important, but in the end, she's ignored and forgotten, not mourned or missed.  Tolstoy seems to me to be using her as an object lesson about shallowness and hypocrisy, never really fleshing her out as a character.

Um, anyway.  My favorite parts of this book were actually the parts about the war.  Not the endless pontificating about how Tolstoy understands the true nature of power, history, and human behavior, unlike all those other morons in the world who only think they understand them.  (Dude, chill.)  But the parts about Andrei and Nikolai and Denisov and Kutusov and Tushin and all their fellow soldiers, living life while at war.  That was fascinating.  I love learning about the day-to-day existence of soldiers, no matter what war they're in.  How they learn to cope and carry on, or don't.

My favorite character?  Steadfast, stalwart little Tushin, the artillery officer who's only in a couple parts of the book, but who was just absolutely awesome during those parts.  Loved him to bits.  Would happily read a whole book about just him.

My kids would tell you my least-favorite character was Pierre, but that's not true.  I just complained about him a lot to them because he's such a dolt.  My actual least-favorite was all of the Kuragins in general, as they were icky, and Prince Nikolai Bolkonski.  He was an awful, manipulative, emotionally abusive tyrant, and I rejoiced when he died.  (It's okay to rejoice when fictional characters die, right?)

I feel like Tolstoy's biggest point with this whole book is just exploring how people deal when the worst possible thing happens to them.  Do they crumple?  Freeze?  Fight?  Relax?  And where do they go from there?  It's a question he asks about the Russian people as a whole, in a way -- how do they deal with the French invading their country and repeatedly trouncing them, and what do they do afterward?  As he says at one point, the population of Moscow "awaited the enemy unconcernedly, did not riot or become excited or tear anyone to pieces, but faced its fate, feeling within it the strength to find what it should do at the most difficult moment" (p. 892).

Man, this book is so long that I have lots to say about it, but I think I've hit the main things.  I'm really glad that I've read it, as I've been sort of guiltily avoiding it for basically all my adult life.  No more guilty avoidance! 

I've read War and Peace.  I can read anything.

Particularly Good Bits:

"there is nothing stronger than those two, patience and time, they will do it all" (p.799).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for mostly veiled discussions about people having extramarital affairs and war-related violence.

This was my 36th book read and reviewed for my second go-'round with the Classics Club.