Tag Archives: Lord of the Rings

When You Identify With the Antagonist Instead

Lizzy's nemesis - and the rest of Mr. Bingley's party - arrives at the ball. {PD}

Lizzy’s nemesis – and the rest of Mr. Bingley’s party – arrives at the ball. {PD}

You usually know who you’re supposed to cheer for in a book. Miss Bingley is not the heroine of Pride and Prejudice. Inspector Javert is clearly in the wrong, clinging to an unworkable view of good and evil, in Les Miserables. Gollum is twisted and pathetic, and his better side does not win out in the end. But sometimes, we know we’re not Elizabeth Bennett. Our darker side is sometimes stronger, and we don’t really appear like a heroine to others. And the thought occurs to me that though I don’t like the antagonist, though I know I’m not supposed to be like them – all too often, I am.

Take Miss Bingley. She uses all sorts of manipulative feminine wiles – putting down other females, putting herself in the best light, flattering males she is interested in – which are clearly condemned by both Jane Austen and Elizabeth Bennett. But what female has not been tempting to use stupid tactics like this when faced with other female competition? I’ve certainly let a snarky comment or two escape my lips – and immediately known it was a very Miss-Bingley-ish thing to say. Because the reality is that being Elizabeth, being the character that attracts the interest of very desirable young men despite doing nothing to invite such interest, and despising the young men in question, is very rare. Most men are not brave enough to show interest without encouragement, and so women compete to show interest – often in sad and petty ways. And when you’re not the character of Elizabeth yourself, you often feel tempted to resent the characters that are.

Ugh, I always do wonder what happened to Miss Bingley after the events of Pride and Prejudice, as her characters sort of slides out of the story towards the end. She was driven by circumstances that fortunately we females today don’t have to experience – all of her womanly identity at the time depending on her making a good match. If she didn’t, she was nothing, and possibly poor as well, as she couldn’t work for a living. Would any of us really be more well behaved than she? Which of us, upon discovering a guy we have a strong interest in and whom we thought may return the interest in time, actually be at peace when he suddenly showed signs of interest in some random female he has just met? Miss Bingley showed her resentfulness strongly, and did not look better for doing so. But she really had no way of winning in that situation.

Inspector Javert – I’m treading on shaky ground here, because I have no actually read the gigantic tome known as Les Misérables, but only seen the movie. But from what I know of the character, he has a very black-and-white version of right and wrong. Which I do as well, unfortunately. This, I heartily agree, may not be a failing of many of the readers of this blog, but it is something I struggle with. In theory, I can see the arguments for both sides of morally gray areas (for example, I once wrote a nursing paper on the benefits of safe injection sites, though I know many people who oppose it), and think I feel comfortable reserving judgement on such things. But then, when faced with making a choice in reality – when actually having to take actions that indicate I am comfortable with leaving things in morally gray areas – I struggle. I feel like my soul is torn. Sometimes I snap, and make harsh judgements. Would I, if I had been an inspector at the time the numerous revolutions in France, have acted far more like Javert than Jean Valjean? Maybe I would have, and the thought scares me. If the world was easily divided into black and white, this would be a valid way to think. But it’s not.

And then – there is Gollum, who is probably the most human of the antagonists in Lord of the Rings (well, at times he functions as an antagonist, anyway). Tolkien did not believe in trying to relate to evil, which is why Sauron is always such a far-off and mysterious figure. But Gollum, in a rather relatable way, struggles with trying to be a better version of himself, and falling into his old, sneaky ways. He fails at overcoming his faults – the pull of the ring is too strong. But the beauty of Lord of the Rings is that – Frodo, the hero, fails at this too. He claims the ring at Mount Doom as well, and no character is able to defeat the worst part of themselves on their own. It was only through a providential force stronger than any of the characters (which, Tolkien being Catholic, is likely similar to how he viewed God worked in the world, but probably would’ve resented anyone equating this concept in Middle Earth to God) – a force which worked so Sauron overlooked the weakness of hobbits, and provided Frodo with the pity to save Gollum’s life in the first place – that prevented the end of Middle Earth.*

All too often I am like Gollum, pulled by the same old struggles, and making no progress in improving myself. And I know, on my own, I will not get much better, and likely will just become more selfish, judgemental, and resentful. (But maybe, just maybe, there is more to my story than this… grace and mercy do exist, after all).

I’m not the person I want to be. Literature holds up a mirror to both the best parts of myself, the best parts of what I could be – and also sometimes the worst parts. Sometimes it is important to face up to your worse parts, and admit that they exist. That Jane Austen might not have liked you if she’d met you. That you, too, might’ve claimed the ring as your own.

The power of literature is just this.

* Tolkien talks more about how he worked out this idea in Letter 246, if you’re interested.

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Concerning Hobbits – Why We Love Them

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“You do not know your danger, Theoden,” interrupted Gandalf. “These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and discuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and remote cousins to the ninth degree, if you encourage them with undue patience. Some other time would be more fitting for the history of smoking!”

The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I just really love how clearly hobbits’ character comes through here.

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My Favourite Lord of the Rings Quote

Continuing on my Lord of the Rings theme (or, to be honest, just barely remembering to post today), I have decided to share one of my favourite quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring:

“For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”

I I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eyes was bewildered.

“I liked white better,” I said.

I love how this shows Gandalf’s sense of humour! Lord of the Rings is not all dry, high-minded rambling. (Another example from The Hobbit: “I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me!”) It also illustrates nicely Tolkien’s theme of the contrast between the Wise, and the wisdom of the humbler folk who sometimes turn out to be wiser than powerful people like Saruman.

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Why The Hobbit Shouldn’t Work as a Children’s Book (But Does)

Hobbit Hole, by Jeff Hitchcock. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Generic

Hobbit Hole, by Jeff Hitchcock. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Generic

Something must be wrong with my brain this holidays. I didn’t realize it was Friday till Friday was over, so… this will be a Saturday post instead.

I watched The Hobbit last night, and decided Peter Jackson has my permission to split The Hobbit into five hundred movies if he wants to, and I won’t let the words ‘cash grab’ ever cross my lips. Because it was so much better than I ever thought it would be, and I’d expected it to be good. But watching it got me thinking about The Hobbit in a way I hadn’t before. And I realized it’s really a very weird sort of children’s book. It really shouldn’t work as a children’s book at all, much less be known as ‘great literature.’ Why, do you ask? Well, consider:

1.) The main character is a middle-aged man – er, hobbit

Would you pitch a novel to a publisher featuring a man who suffers a mid-life crisis and ditches his comfortable life for a madcap adventure, as a book for children? Honestly, which of the books on the shelf of the children’s section feature adults much at all, much less as the main character? Accepted wisdom is that books for children should star children. Children shouldn’t be able to relate to the tribulations of a character their parents’ age. And making him a hobbit doesn’t help too much – you have to go into the whole business of explaining what a hobbit is first.

Or maybe it does help. There’s a reason “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…” is such a famous line, after all…

2.) The other main characters are thirteen dwarves with very few distinguishing features or character development.

I read a review for the movie version of The Hobbit the other day, complaining that none of the characters of the dwarves are developed much at all. Then I went to see the movie myself, and I was amazed at how well they managed to differentiate a good handful of the dwarves. Because in the book, there’s hardly any way to keep them apart at all. It’s not recommended to have a billion protagonists in a novel, and this really is one reason why. Thorin Oakenshield gets the most development, and thus the most of my memory’s section on “dwarves in The Hobbit” is devoted to him. Then there’s Bombur, who I mostly remember at the fat one. And Fili and Kili, because they’re the youngest and are brothers. And Dori, Nori and Ori because they come in three for some reason. But characterization-wise? The dwarves from Snow White went through more character development than them.

It should be a death-knell for any book to feature thirteen characters that don’t develop much over the course of the story. Somehow, with The Hobbit, this doesn’t matter.

3.) There are no female characters.

None. No females at all in the book, and one shoe-horned into the movie so far (Galadriel). I presume there are female townspeople in Dale, and female hobbits in the Shire, and female dwarves and elves somewhere in the world of The Hobbit, but none of them are really mentioned. Yet I, as a female, love it. Why is this? Shouldn’t I decry it as a fusty bastion of sexism as the modern young female I am? I have absolutely no urge to, and if the movie had made one of the dwarves a female or something I would’ve been quite mad.

4.) The plot is – somewhat wandering.

I forgot how much time the characters spend in Beorn’s house, without much happening. And how much time they sit outside the door into the Mountain before they figure out how to open it. And how often Bilbo tiptoes down into Smaug’s lair before anything major plot-wise happens. Several of the series of adventures lead nicely into each other (clearly indicated by the chapter title, “Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire” – literal fire, in that case), but some bits lag upon re-reading. And the ending comes out of left field. After a whole book about defeating the dragon, the dragon is defeated and the gold it leaves behind sets into motion an epic battle involving almost all the groups in Middle Earth. It was like Tolkien was revving up for Lord of the Rings a little early, and had to remember he was just writing a children’s adventure story. So he conks Bilbo on the head and has him conveniently wake up when the eagles rescue everyone – a bit of a downer for all readers eager for Tolkien to describe another one of his epic battles. But maybe a little more suitable for the childish and tender ears which presumably this tale was written for? I don’t know, I just know the ending didn’t ruin the book for me. Tolkien never was one for making sure everything ended neatly and happily. The Hobbit has less hints of sadness than Lord of the Rings, but it certainly makes the point that just because you defeated a dragon, doesn’t mean you life is roses from then on. And that’s why it’s a great book.

Yes, it’s a great book. Despite all its flaws – no, forget about the flaws, it does more than rise about them. It breezes past its own flaws without even the acknowledgement that they are there, and before you know it you are swept right along with the characters into a world almost as real as the one you live in. I seriously think Tolkien has spoiled me for any other fantasy, because I can never take any of the world in books I’ve read after as seriously as I can take his. So yes, I felt the least I could do was devote one blog post to The Hobbit.

What do you think of The Hobbit? And have you seen the movie yet?

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Happy Endings vs. Sad Endings

Darcy and Elizabeth. {{PD-US}}

And Everything In Between

Endings are one of the hardest things for me to write. Obviously, I feel the weight of the readers’ expectations—hey, if anyone is reading this, they’re trusting me to end this satisfactorily! And I’ve read so many books where a so-so ending kept the book from becoming great.

But both happy endings and sad endings have pitfalls. Happy endings can come off too unrealistic and gushy. But do a sad ending badly, and no one believes your tragedy. Even done well, a sad ending can be rather—depressing. Really, does nothing good ever happen in life?

As a reader, I’d probably pick the happy ending every time if I have a choice. I can skim over glurge, and have many times, but a sad ending to a book or even a movie can leave me stuck on how it ends for weeks. That’s the point of most sad endings, of course. But I can’t handle every book I read to impact me that much. And, of course, I like to believe that though there are so many terrible things in life, sometimes people end up being happy.

One example of a good happy ending is, I think, (spoiler alerts ahead!) Pride and Prejudice. Yeah, the couple does end up getting together and getting married and all those other cliché happy-ending tropes, but Lydia is still married to Wickham. Her mother is still a fool—endings that are too happy change everyone’s characters into unrecognizable versions of their previous personalities—and her father still has to put up with her (or hide in the library). And as for Elizabeth and Darcy themselves… well, Austen makes it very clear that Darcy has a way to go in managing his pride, so their marriage will not be heaven. But I think it’s exactly those kinds of shots of reality that keep happy endings from becoming, well, too unrealistic.

How shall we call those endings? Gritty-yet-happily-ever-after?

But I think the best compromise between a happy ending and a sad one is a bittersweet ending. When things in life are happy, they’re never completely happy. The best book example I can think of this is Lord of the Rings. The One Ring is destroyed and the Dark Lord is vanquished forever, but Frodo is never the same again. Most characters go on to become leaders or get married, or do something great, but there is something about the world that is changed forever. It’s probably the best mix of the readers’ hopes andcynicism that a novel can achieve.

 

Now, I should go study for exams again. Comment below on what type of ending you prefer!

***

Prince.CharmingLookin' GoodLooking for a story with an ending that won’t devastate you for days? I can promise you that if you find yourself mulling over my ebooks, Prince Charming or Lookin‘ Good, it won’t be because they leave you feeling gloomy on the inside. You can decide for yourself if the endings are happy or bittersweet!

 

Update: Lookin’ Good–a short, five-minute read–is now free at Smashwords.

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Filed under GENERAL Bookish Thoughts, Jane Austen, Lord of the Rings, On Writing

Do You Need to be Younger than 40 to Write Great Novels?

The other day, Little Brown Mushroom Blog linked to an article in the New York Times – an article which claims that most great novels are written by authors under the age of forty. The Little Brown Mushroom Blog was interested in this because they wanted to know if the same was true for photographers. I’m interested in this because I wonder if most great novels truly were written by authors under the age of forty.

Of course, I can’t deny the impressive array of evidence in The New York Times – novels including The Great Gatsby, Moby-Dick, and The Sun Also Rises (unfortunately, I haven’t read every one of these novels, so I’ll go along with the consensus view that all of them are ‘great.’) But I thought a good experiment would be to look at a selection of my favourite books, and find out at what age the authors wrote them.

Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
According to Wikipedia, Tolkien started ‘a new Hobbit’ in 1937, which means he was around forty-five when he started writing it. He didn’t finish till twelve years later. Well, if he could put out three massive tomes of epic fantasy despite being the ancient old age (in writer’s years) of forty-five, there’s hope for all of us. (All of us who are brilliant linguists and university professors, at least).

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis
It’s a bit fuzzy as to when exactly CS Lewis actually started The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but it seems most of it was written 1948-1949. So Lewis would’ve been around fifty years old. Fifty! Another writer bucking the trend! Unless it’s merely British university professor who are clever enough to do this…

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
Here’s a book I absolutely love, which is NOT written by a British professor. Honestly, I’ve read this book hundreds of times over without getting bored. So… it was published in 1986. Wikipedia has no information on when Diana Wynne Jones wrote it, but let’s take a guess and say she started it five years before that. Five years is a long time to write a book, but let’s exaggerate for the sake of fairness… if it took her five years she would’ve been… forty-seven! Well over the alleged age of author senility.

Emma, by Jane Austen
Shoot, she was only thirty-nine when she wrote this. Maybe it’s only fantasy authors who benefit from maturity.

Admittedly, The New York Times article’s point is not to claim there are no late-blooming authors, but rather to refrain from judging authors because they are young, since many younger authors are brilliant. I just needed to reassure myself that my talent doesn’t have a sell-by date. After all, the short story I’m currently working (set in Brazil, by the way) is refusing to end, and the novel I mentioned before has not made a ton of progress in a while. I might be forty before I write anything worthwhile. 🙂

What do you think – does an author’s age matter?

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Filed under Howl's Moving Castle, Jane Austen, Lord of the Rings, On Writing, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Why Scathing Critiques are More Fun To Read

Edmund Wilson – he does look like a critic. (PD – wikipedia.org)

Some of you may be of the opinion by now that I hate Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet and other assorted romances that don’t fit into my standards of “healthy romances.” I assure you I do not. As some of the comments pointed out, classics become known as classics because they relate to something in human experience. Of course they bring up some interesting aspects about human experiences, even though I may not love them as whole-heartedly as I do some other. That said, I can appreciate classic novels and criticize certain points about them at the same time.

All the same, I don’t think I’ve applied a “scathing critique” to any of the novels I mentioned. It might’ve been fun if I had. After all, scathing critiques are more fun to read.

I discovered this exciting fact after going to see Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. I wanted to see what other people thoughts about it, so I went online and started reading people’s reviews. After reading a dozen or so going on about it being “visually stunning” and “breathtaking in scope,” all of which I agreed with, I thought it’d be interested to find out why anyone would HATE it. And so I searched one star reviews. And was occupied for hours reading about how the movie “completely destroyed Tolkien’s vision,” “left out key parts of the novel,” or “turned Gimli into a bumbling buffoon.” All good reviews were alike, but all bad reviews found a way to lambaste, critique, or otherwise rip to shreds movie in their own way.

Not that I agreed with any of this. Well, I agreed with some of it – I just liked the movie in spite of its faults, instead of hating the movie as a result of them (for example, I still can’t understand how Arwen’s character contributes to the movie at all…) But I rediscovered it’s boring to have everyone agree with you all the time. And that people are very inventive when describing something they hate.

For example, most serious Tolkien fans know about the well-known review of Lord of the Rings by Edmund Wilson (‘Oo, Those Awful Orcs’ (1956) – the title itself gets your back up!). It contains such lovely tidbits such as, “ the author has indulged himself in developing the fantasy for its own sake… emphasizing its inadequacies as literature” and “[Auden] comments on the badness of Tolkien’s verse –  [blind] to the fact that Tolkien’s prose is just as bad” and concluding with, “Certain people – especially, perhaps, in Britain – have a lifelong appetite for juvenile trash.”

Oooooooo, so much to outraged at! So much to object to! Yet at the same time… I don’t always have patience for Tolkien’s poetry either (hands up, all of you who skipped ‘Song of Eärendil’ on your first read-through).

Not enough fun for you? Try, “Writers like Tolkien take you to the edge of the Abyss and point out the excellent tea-garden at the bottom, showing you the steps carved into the cliff and reminding you to be a bit careful because the hand-rails are a trifle shaky as you go down; they haven’t got the approval yet to put a new one in.” (Michael Moorcock in ‘Epic Pooh’).  I don’t think that describes Tolkien at all, but you have to admit, it’s a brilliantly amusing metaphor.

 

So, I guess what I’m trying to say in this post is that even when I love a book, I also love to hear why people hated it. I don’t even have to have a chance to defend to book (except maybe to myself in my own head, and to a few long-suffering members of my family) to enjoy it. I know not everyone is like that (see certain Twi-hards), but for me it is all part of the fun.

 

 

To all my faithful readers out there – have you ever done this with books or movies you like, or is it just me?

***Note: This does not mean I’d be incredibly pleased if someone scathingly critiqued my work, but I hope I’d be fair and try to judge if their critique has any basis in fact.***

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Fantasy Round-up

Lately I’ve had people ask how I get inspiration when writing, and one big part of it is – reading other books! Good books show what works, what techniques are out there, and what tropes exist (obviously not for the purpose of blatant copying, that would be pointless). Bad books show what fails horribly, and gives me hope that I can at least do better than that. Since one of the genres I dabble in is fantasy, I thought I’d examine some of the ones I’ve read here.

So, after devouring Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter (no need to recommend them – there’s obviously huge names in fantasy and worth reading), I turned to the rest of the epic fantasy world in an attempt to find something just as good. Either I just got a lot more picky, or nothing could measure up, because I wasn’t really satisfied with what was out there. Feel free to disagree:

–         The Sword of Shannara: This was a lot like Lord of the Rings, except lacking something (Tolkien’s genius?). I did like some of Terry Brooks’ (the author’s) later books a bit better – The Scions of Shannara and Antrax.

–         The Belgariad: I got a little annoyed at how the plot just made the characters run from country to country mostly just for the sake of describing strange new places. I did enjoy Belgarath the Sorceror though, since it was pretty much a condensed version of the original story. I tried the Sparhawk trilogy by the same author, but it bored me and I never finished.

–         The Wheel of Time: This is a very well-known and popular series by Robert Jordan – but maybe a little too long and detailed (I know, I know, the details are why people like it). I think I reached the fifth or sixth book before giving up, and I was a little tired of the frequent mentions of naked women (???).

I found more children’s fantasy books that I enjoyed, actually.

–         Diana Wynne Jones: This is an author who’s written a wide variety of books all in the fantasy vein. She’s just got absolutely unique plots. She also mocks some of the clichés of the fantasy world, with books such as Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. I really loved: Hexwood (somewhat dark), Howl’s Moving Castle and Archer’s Goon (absolutely unique).

–         Artemis Fowl: A very unique hero (or anti-hero, I guess), who steals fairy technology and has to defend himself (a highly original plot). I loved the first two books, and found the series petered out from there, though they are still entertaining.

I have to mention the Chronicles of Narnia here, since they were the first fantasies I ever read and are responsible for sparking my interest in the first place. Puddlegum, in The Silver Chair, is great.

Note: I haven’t posted any of my fantasy writing up here, but maybe that’ll change. 🙂

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