Book Review: A Tolkien Compass

A Tolkien Compass cover

A Tolkien Compass

Edited by Jared Lobdell

Published (paperback): 1975

Read: November 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Partial Synopsis: Contributors analyze Gollum’s character transformation, the psychological journey of Bilbo, the regime set up by Saruman at the end of Lord of the Rings and its parallels to fascism, the books’ narrative technique, and Tolkien’s rich use of myth and symbol.

List of Essays

Contents courtesy of the ISFDB entry for this edition (“Publication: A Tolkien Compass,” n.d.):

My Favorite Essays

I found most of the essays collected in A Tolkien Compass to be intriguing and thought provoking. At least three of them added twenty new books, journals and articles to my to-be-read queue. The notes alone on a couple of the essays were three or four pages in length and sent me down fantastic research rabbit holes. I can’t decide which essay is my absolute favorite, so I’ll list my top five here (in author alpha order):

  • Huttar, Charles A. “Hell and the City: Tolkien and the Traditions of Western Literature”
  • Miller, David M. “Narrative Pattern in The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Rogers, Deborah C. “Everyclod an Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien”
  • Scheps, Walter “The Fairy-tale Morality of The Lord of the Rings
  • West, Richard C. “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings

Honorable Mentions include Agnes Perkins’ “The Corruption of Power” and U. Milo Kaufmann’s “Aspects of the Paradisiacal in Tolkien’s Work”

My Thoughts

A Tolkien Companion, originally published in 1975, amazed me with the depth of insight and scholarship gleaned from the then available works published by Tolkien and about Tolkien’s writing. I saw at least one reference to the manuscripts archived at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Yet, these essays still pre-date the publication of The Silmarillion and the volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Unlike Master of Middle-earth, however, I did not gain any new revelations about Tolkien’s Legendarium, but I did experience profound and thought provoking moments. If I had to choose my favorite essay from the collection, it would probably be Richard West’s “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings” because I had to restrain myself from recording the entire essay as an audio excerpt.

I recommend this to people interested in delving deeper into Tolkien’s writing.

Continue reading “Book Review: A Tolkien Compass”

This Week in Middle-earth

A year ago today, I attended my first Tolkien Studies conference, hosted by the Tolkien Society of Kansas City at Park University.  I even helped re-enact the scene where Frodo is wounded by the Witch-king (I played the part of Wraith #5 in the video taken by Corey Olsen which is no longer available according to Twitch).

IMG_2364I’m looking forward to my second Moot next weekend in Waterloo, Iowa, also called MiddleMoot (because we alternate years between the two locations – back in KC for 2020).

MiddleMoot 2019

A Reader's Companion to the Lord of the Rings by Hammond & ScullAnd since I start off October by celebrating or at least contemplating being another year older, I decided to start a Twitter post series based on the Hammond & Scull Reader’s Companion to The Lord of the Rings, in which the timeline is very accurately tracked as the story unfolds.  So on the morning of September 30th,  the last day of that month, I finished reading “The Uruk-hai” chapter in The Two Towers and picked up the Reader’s Companion to read their research and notes on the same chapter, but instead I wondered what was happening “on this day” in Middle-earth?  So I returned back to the chapter “A Knife in the Dark” from The Fellowship of the Ring and found the corresponding entry for last Monday:  Continue reading “This Week in Middle-earth”

Movie Review: Born of Hope (4 stars)

Born of Hope movie poster

Born of Hope: The Ring of Barahir

Release date: December 1, 2009

Director/Producer: Kate Madison

Official Website: http://www.bornofhope.com/

Watched: late September 2019

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I stumbled across this fan film last week while researching (translation: falling down another Tolkien rabbit hole) the backstory of Gilraen, mother of Aragorn. I am always interested in Tolkien’s female characters because there are so few of them and nearly all of them have surprising agency considering Tolkien’s times. The Tolkien Gateway article for Gilraen includes a link at the very bottom that delves deeper into her tragic tale, gleaned from The Lord of the Rings Appendices and other Legendarium sources: The Tragedy of Gilraen, Aragorn’s Mother

Gilraen probably has the saddest epitaph of any of Tolkien’s characters (except perhaps Turin and his sister):

Onen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim.
“I gave hope to the Dúnedain; I kept none for myself.”

Gilraen could not see the light for the growing darkness and despaired, living only half as long as she should have, as one of the few remaining Dúnedain.

Continue reading “Movie Review: Born of Hope (4 stars)”

More on Mass Market Paperbacks aka One Book That Ruled Them All

I just checked my email and received an eblast from Tor.Com (one of my favorite publishers) which included the article below, which expands on my less-well-researched post from yesterday.

 

ONE BOOK TO RULE THEM ALL

How The Lord of the Rings Changed Publishing Forever

Last week marked the anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday, prompting Alan Brown to take a look back at the 1965 Ballantine paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings, which ushered in a new age for both Middle-earth and the publishing industry—and, of course, helped changed the lives of generations of fans in the process.

[Read more]

Book Review: Meditations on Middle-Earth (4 stars)

Meditations on Middle-Earth

Edited by Karen Haber ♦ Illustrated by John Howe

Essays by Various Authors (see highlights below)

First Edition Published: 2001

Read in January 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Excerpt from St. Martin’s Press Synopsis:

In Meditations on Middle-earth, sixteen bestselling fantasy authors share details of their personal relationships with Tolkien’s mythos, for it inspired them all. Had there been no Lord of the Rings, there would also have been no Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin; no Song of Ice and Fire saga from George R. R. Martin; no Tales of Discworld from Terry Pratchett; no Legends of Alvin Maker from Orson Scott Card. Each of them was influenced by the master mythmaker, and now each reveals the nature of that influence and their personal relationships with the greatest fantasy novels ever written in the English language.

If you’ve never read the Tolkien books, read these essays and discover the depth and beauty of his work. If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, the candid comments of these modern mythmakers will give you new insight into the subtlety, power, and majesty of Tolkien’s tales and how he told them.

Meditations on Middle-Earth is a 2002 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Related Work.

My Favorite Essays

If you read only one or two of these essays, I highly recommend Michael Swanwick’s “A Changeling Returns” and Donald A. Anderson’s “Tolkien After All These Years” – both of which brought tears to my eyes for very different reasons.  The latter also added to my TBR by referencing many non-fiction titles not yet gracing my shelves.

“What he [Sean] heard was the same book I had discovered that sleepless night . . . the single best adventure story every written.  As an adult, however, I found that during my long absence it had transformed itself into something else entirely.  It was now the saddest book in the world.”

Michael Swanwick, “A Changeling Returns” p. 35

“From experience, Tolkien knew that there are only two possible responses to the ending of an age.  You can try to hold on, or you can let go. … Tolkien’s vision of the combined horrors of the twentieth century ended with hope and forgiveness.  This is a book of sad wisdom.”

Michael Swanwick, “A Changeling Returns” p.36-7

Continue reading “Book Review: Meditations on Middle-Earth (4 stars)”

Four Decades of Fellowship

The Fellowship of the Ring

Part One of The Lord of the Rings

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Read in late 1976 or early 1977

Rating:  Five Stars

Review originally published at GoodReads

1976 Ballantine Fantasy Mass-Market Paperback Edition (well read condition with some interior handwritten remarks)

This battered well-read edition of The Fellowship of the Ring still stands on my book shelf, amidst it’s younger, better bound, brother editions. While reading essays contained in Meditations on Middle-Earth, it struck me that nearly all of these authors (many of whom I’ve read and enjoyed their own authorial subcreations), enjoyed a similar life-altering reading experience at about the same point in time as myself.

To confirm my theory (and increasingly dim memory of my life four decades ago), I pulled this paperback off the shelf and became immediately distracted by the notes written to me by my friends on the backside of the covers. No one signed their epigraphs, but I can still decipher the handwriting and put faces to scrawlings. But back to my original quest: The actual publication date of this mass market paperback (also confirmed here at GoodReads): 1976

If I acquired this edition that year, and read it then (which I have no doubt I did), I would have been either 11 or 12 years old (depending on the time of year; my birthday occurs in early October). If I received this edition (and their companions) in the following year (1977) the oldest I would have been reading it would have been 13. But I remember reading Lord Foul’s Bane in paperback (published mid-1978) after reading Tolkien’s masterpiece, so I’m reasonably confident I was either twelve or thirteen when I first visited Middle-Earth. Continue reading “Four Decades of Fellowship”

Returning to Tolkien Depths

For the past eighteen months, the Void that is my job, sucked all my spare time and forced me to back-burner several personal projects, including a deep dive into all things Tolkien.  Back in May of 2017, I had just discovered the local chapter of the Tolkien Society, the Smial of the Withywindle.  Oddly, they were finishing up their group read of Dune by Herbert, which I had also recently re-read via an excellent audiobook edition.  Over that summer, we read The Tolkien Reader and Tree and Leaf.  I threw in Humphrey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography for good measure.  I kept up with our other group readings, but the work project increasingly encroached on my reading time.  I also didn’t let my employment interfere with our inaugural MiddleMoot on October 6, 2018.

20181027_080058

Within a week, I will have reached the final milestone of my epic project and can return to a somewhat slower pace at work.  And not a moment too soon, since the Tolkien Society of Kansas City is also doing a ‘deep dive’ into The Lord of the Rings by reading, concurrently, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the Shadow.  For the first month (November), our plan is to read the first four chapters of each book and discuss it at our next meeting on November 30th. Continue reading “Returning to Tolkien Depths”

Fantastic Fun Friday

I knew going into Friday I would have a very long day ahead of me. I had errands I needed to run first thing in the morning, so I planned to be late to work.  I stayed up past my usual bedtime, keeping my husband company.  We watched the inaugural episode of the new Amazon series “The Tick”, which is a remake of the two other Tick series from the 90s and 00s.  We also watched the latest episode of “Salvation,” which is shaping up nicely.  Not enough science, but plenty of political and personal interactions to keep the layman interested.

I forgot to turn off my alarm but didn’t mind getting up at my normal time of half past five. I did a few minutes of exercise on our elliptical and ran myself through the shower. I avoided logging in to work so I wouldn’t distract myself from the errands I needed to complete. In honor of Monday’s total solar eclipse, I wore my commemorative T-shirt produced by the Astronomical Society of Kansas City. I made sure to grab my ASKC name badge and place it in my car as I would need it for the final event on my Friday schedule.

At half past seven, I left and headed north, with a quick side trip through the car wash, which was surprisingly unbusy so early in the morning. I continued north through Lansing and most of Leavenworth until I reached the old county courthouse. I parked in the Justice Center’s parking lot and serendipitously ran into one of my book club friends on her way to work.

I walked the block back to the old courthouse and grabbed number 45 from the dispenser with about ten minutes wait time before the Treasurer’s office opened. I decided to pay the taxes and fees for my newest vehicle the old-fashioned way – in person and with a handwritten check. The number displayed as being served was 41 so I knew I wouldn’t have long to wait. I made myself comfortable on the old pew-like wooden bench and continued listening to the Dreamsnake audiobook I’d recently checked out via Hoopla.

Continue reading “Fantastic Fun Friday”

Beginning My Deep Dive Into Tolkien

ppp_400x400A dear friend of mine sent me off on a wonderful Tolkien tangent last week when she replied to my Podcast Pickup post and directed me to the Prancing Pony Podcast.  I quickly scanned the last half dozen posted episodes and settled on #038, also entitled “I Will Choose Free Will” – which immediately gave me a Rush earworm.  Not one to be daunted by a nearly two hour podcast (we are dealing with ‘epic’ fantasy here), I gave a listen to the ongoing discussion of The Silmarillion, specifically Chapter 21 and Túrin Turambar.  I pulled out my ebook edition and quickly skimmed Chapter 21 to remind myself of the story.  I really enjoyed the insights and the banter of the hosts.  It took me several days to completely listen to the episode, but by the end I was hooked and a plan began to form in my mind.

I have read The Silmarillion at least three times, possibly four.  My first attempt occurred in high school, followed by a reread during college.  I probably pulled it out for a third reread in the 90s, but with two young kids, I doubt I succeeded a complete journey.  The most recent rereading took a different tack wherein I switched to an audiobook edition, the one read by Martin Shaw.  I adore English voice actors so I had no trouble listening to the entire book twice, in 2010 and again in early 2013.

Having been impressed with the podcast above, my plan now is to begin at the beginning, to rewind back to episode #001, “In Defense of Fantasy” originally released in February 2016.  I’ve requested the recommended reading from my local library (the biography by Carpenter and Tree and Leaf by Tolkien).  I already own the ebook editions of Tolkien’s letters.

I am not going to rush this journey.  The road goes ever on, as any Tolkien fan knows.  I will indulge myself as the fancy takes me, betwixt and between my other reading and listening projects.  I will consider this an ongoing and long running blog posting series and please remember that “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Vanishing Addendum of DVR Highlights

Continuing in the vein of my previous post, I haven’t completely neglected my DVR this January, although it is my last resort for entertainment (see my reference to inferior HD quality provided by satellite subscription).

This week brought back the formidable Agent Carter who is apparently carrying the investigative torch of the mysterious and ancient society obsessed with the portal stone most recently perplexing the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  This is another series Terry rolls his eyes at.  I accused him of not caring for it because it has such a strong female lead.  He protested that was not the case.  I just love period dramas – the costumes, cars, sets, locations, etc.  Besides, we final met Jarvis’ wife (rumor was last season that she was a figment of Jarvis’ imagination).

I’ve dragged Terry along watching the new Syfy original series The Expanse, based on the SF book series of the same name by James S.A. Corey.  Except for one small quibble, I really enjoyed the first book of that series, Leviathan Wakes, and I do plan to eventually continuing reading the books.  I’m enjoying watching the series because good SF television series are few and far between.

But enough science fiction.  How about some epic fantasy?  Enjoyed Terry Brook’s Shannara books, including the original 1977 Sword of Shannara?  Then tune in to MTV (yes I really did just type those three letters) to feast your eyes upon The Shannara Chronicles, which debuted this month.  I’m three episodes in and pretty much hooked.

That’s it for now.  Can’t remember if anything else is forthcoming that I’m interested in.  If you have a suggestion for a show I should try, please leave a comment.

Oh, and Phase I of my weekend work project completed successfully.  Now we wait … so time to watch another episode of Manhattan.