A Tribute to Middle Earth

Today I learned that Christopher Tolkien died.

He was the son of the renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien who many consider the father of modern fantasy. It’s strange because I feel like the world that both father and son built is such an epic legacy, both on the pages and outside of it, that his death feels like the end of an era.

So I thought it would be fitting to talk a little bit about one of my favorite places, and I think one of theirs: Middle Earth.

Map of Middle Earth

I think my first introduction to the world was when I watched Rankin and Bass’ The Hobbit when I was very young. I loved the animation style, the warmth of the characters, and I adored the songs. It’s still a film that I can go back and watch again and again. Of course I had to hunt down the book too and I read that front to back, loving Mirkwood, Thranduil, and Smaug the most.

Fast forward to high school in 9th grade where we were assigned The Hobbit to read for class. I was thrilled! Not only did we cover the book but we also touched on The Lord of the Rings series. It sounded fun, but it didn’t have a dragon in it, and that made me less likely to try it. I was really into dragons as a kid. And every time I tried to read it, the bickering of the hobbits in Hobbiton and the general air of elitism made me reluctant to continue. I knew the series was supposed to be good, but was it worth it?

It wasn’t until I sat down and watched the teaser trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring that I was hooked.

The original 2001 teaser trailer for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It had adventure, fantasy, romance, and incredible monsters too. I remember the whole theater going silent when it came on. Then they announced in the teaser when each of the films would be releasing – unheard of then, and still is now.

As a freshman college student, I was hooked. I ended up reading The Fellowship of the Ring after being blown away by the movie, and read The Two Towers and Return of the King before each of their films came out. This became my favorite fandom for the better part of a decade, and my house is still filled with statues and memorabilia from the series.

Life size cardboard cutout of Legolas from The Lord of the Rings.
Although this isn’t my photo, I do have this cardboard cut-out of Legolas staring over me in the study as I type this.

At bookstores, whole bookcases were dedicated to different collections of the trilogy, movie books, symbolism from the film, toys, etc. I remember seeing books by Christopher Tolkien mixed in too, and naively dismissed the books as him trying to capitalize on his father’s works. What I didn’t know was that he had taken all of the careful research and notes that his father had made and continued the stories where his father could not. I didn’t realize that he strove to match his father’s style in each additional release, and that these books were written specifically for the fans to help get his father’s work out there for them. The series and the fandom originally came out in 1954-1955, and I was a newcomer who didn’t have all the information. Of course, there were no cell phones back then or even reliable internet. Information like that was buried deep in forums or probably in one of the many magazines that featured the series.

J.R.R. Tolkien sparked a love of fantasy in me that today I try to share with others through my books. His son tried to honor his father’s legacy and continue the world as best he could. He protected the integrity of Middle Earth and the Tolkien Estate that he managed was known for having high standards for any adaptations of the books. In fact, it was well known that after The Hobbit trilogy, they famously determined that no more film adaptations were to be made. Now a brand new series is set to film soon for Amazon.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank both father and son for helping to keep this beautiful tapestry of a world alive, and for sharing it with the rest of us. Middle Earth will always be an inspiration to many, and will have a special place in my heart.

Why I Love The Hobbit

I’m a professional woman with a full-time job.

Tonight I’m going to see the midnight showing of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.

Some people think these two statements don’t go together. For some reason folks have a hard time believing that an adult with a full plate of responsibilities would be interested in taking time off to go to a midnight showing of a movie, not to mention a fantasy film. Aren’t there more important things you could do with your time? Couldn’t you just wait to see it at another time?

These aren’t questions that are always stated, but I can still see them in the curious glances and the odd looks I get. People tend to be shocked when they find out that I’m such a big Lord of the Rings fan, at least until I start talking about it. This seems as good a time as any to explain why I have such an obsession with this franchise, and more specifically, the Desolation of Smaug film.

SmaugHow I met The Hobbit

I have to credit my discovery of The Hobbit from watching the Rankin/Bass version. I absolutely loved the songs, the animation, and all the little character quirks. It was a movie that I grew up with and one that I still rank up there on my favorites list along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Last Unicorn, and Flight of Dragons. It was a fun film as a child and as I got older I realized how rare and wonderful it was.

I’m pretty sure I read the book sometime before I got assigned to read it in High School, but I can’t say when that was exactly. I can say that it was one of my favorite reading assignments. It was a topic I could definitely write about.

Riddles in the Dark

My mother was an elementary teacher. Often I found myself in her classroom helping her clean up or wasting time while she finished getting her classroom and paperwork ready for the next day. I’m pretty sure this was common for teacher’s kids. You just get really used to being at school.

I was reading the Hobbit for maybe the second time, and I was going through a phase where I was asking all my sisters the riddles that Gollum asks Bilbo. It was fun to watch them try to figure it out, much as I had when I first picked up the book. It was only natural to follow this fun with writing a riddle on the board for my mother’s class the next day.

They were a group of fourth graders and all of them were curious and confused at the same time. They spent a few minutes at the beginning of class each day while the kids puzzled over what the answer could be. I’m certain my mom helped them out, she did have a class to run after all, but she thought it went over so well that I should put up another the next day. It didn’t take us long to run out of riddles, and we couldn’t find any good ones really online, so we did the next best thing. We started pulling out quotes from the book and put them up instead.

It only lasted a few weeks, but the kids in the classroom loved it. It’s cool that they got to try to unravel some interesting word puzzles. Most of them had likely not read The Hobbit, so they were really at more of a disadvantage than I was as the reader. After all, I could just glance at the next few lines to see the answer. Some of the riddles were tough too. I like to think that a few of those kids looked at words a bit differently after that.

The Tainted Woods of Mirkwood

When I was a kid, I would go exploring through the woods in our subdivision all the time. My sisters and I spent a good chunk of our childhood in the woods exploring, building forts from sticks, and just getting into trouble. The idea that a disease could come across an entire forest, causing a species of enormous, dark creatures to turn it into their new home intrigued me. The fact that they took the form of giant insects was just downright frightening.

That isn’t the only adventure Bilbo has in Mirkwood though. He also has to deal with the wood elves, King Thranduil’s people, who are terribly mischievous. These scenes are reminiscent of fairy lore in how Bilbo is never sure how much of what he’s seeing is real or not. When you do finally meet the people, they aren’t at all how the typical elves are portrayed. Their elven guards don’t always do what they should and the frequent parties cause many to indulge perhaps too much in wine. They are in many ways counter to the typical view of elves. They are more hunters than magic wielders like the otherworldly elves of Rivendell or Lothelorien. They rely on stealth, speed, and guerrilla tactics; which honestly made me like them all the more. After all, those were the same tactics I might use.

King Thranduil is an especially interesting character. There are some in-depth character analyses of him if you’re interested. He is really just as much a villain as Smaug, but he walks that line quite carefully. He has a multitude of reasons for why he does the things he does, definitely moreso than Smaug does, but that certainly doesn’t make his actions less cruel. He’s what I would call a “lovable bad guy”, or any bad guy who doesn’t quite fit the mold. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter is the first character that comes to mind, but there are dozens more.

The Cleverness of Dragons

It’s difficult for me to explain the impact Smaug had on me, being so little when I first watched the Rankin/Bass film. He was unlike most of the villains you saw at the time, and didn’t seem cruel simply for the sake of being so. He was arrogant and greedy, yes, but he was also undeniably clever. If he was allowed to keep what he had stolen, he would have been a rather quiet neighbor. There is a great build-up of Smaug in the novel as this powerful foe, and maybe a few mentions of his keen wit, but it wasn’t revered to the same level as his fire, his ferocity, and his strength. Indeed Smaug shows how dangerous he is not by murdering thousands, not by destroying buildings, and not by burning people alive; he does it through speech. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t done these terrible things, and they are mentioned, but really you don’t see Smaug in his true fury until he speaks to Bilbo.

You realize quickly that it is good that Bilbo is so very familiar with riddles because Smaug is the ultimate riddle. He is described as a one-man army, yet a common thread in the book is that looks and first impressions can be deceiving. He is a foe who has to be cracked with quick words and a sharp mind, not with anything so basic as a sword. He was perhaps the first intelligent, well-spoken, clever enemy that I ever saw, and I absolutely loved him for it.

There Are Flaws

To be fair, The Hobbit itself is not a perfect book. Tolkien wrote it for children, and so it leans more on the comical side compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I was younger, I adored it specifically because it was so very accessible. I couldn’t get through the Rings because it required a different level of concentration, and The Hobbit made for an excellent fantasy gateway drug you could say. Tolkien considered several times writing a more adult version of it, but I believe friends like C.S. Lewis talked him out of it. A second book on the same story, even if it was in a different style, would be overdone and simply felt repetitive, though today many wish he had written it.

Battles happen in The Hobbit, but you don’t really get to see them. You get to see the skirmishes that Bilbo takes part in, but since it is geared for children and Tolkien had seen war, it is completely understandable why he didn’t want to include it in the book. However its absence is keenly felt. It almost feels like a let-down that you aren’t inside the battles like you are in Rings. You know the battles happened, you see the damage and the fall-out, but since you aren’t a part of it, you can feel the censoring. Even kids can pick up on a missing part of the story.

Even still, The Hobbit is one of my favorite books, perhaps the favorite. I still love it even for all its flaws and weirdness. Even with it’s strange gaps and multitude of characters. As a writer I’ve learned that there is no such thing as a perfect book. It’s going to have problems. A book is a child of carefully molded love, and since people come with their own flaws, so do their creations.

So when someone asks me why I’m going to a midnight showing of Desolation of Smaug tonight, I’m going to explain how much the book has meant to me. I’m going to tell them how much I love how the creepy forests of Mirkwood, the caustic King Thranduil, and the silver-tongued Smaug. Or maybe I’ll just save myself the trouble and point to this post.

Elijah Wood + Stephen Colbert = Lulz

Woot! Finally got my writing in today. Yikes, I thought for a little while there that I wasn’t going to be able to get it done in time. Between allergy shots, a late dinner, and having to rush home to help my sis who got locked out of the house – it’s been a busy day! But the writing will flow (much like the spice), and it turned out great by the end of the day.

I wanted to be able to get some writing in while I was waiting at the allergist earlier, so on a whim I grabbed a notebook and found time to write. I realized just how ugly my cursive writing is though. It’s bad when sometimes you have to look at a word for a while so that you can figure out what you meant. x) Oh well! That’s part of the fun of writing by hand, right? The interpretation?

And here’s the hilarious video of Elijah Wood dueling versions of Sting with Stephen Colbert. I just love the way Colbert just practically gushes nerdiness here. And I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t do much better if I was in his shoes! What I wouldn’t give to hear the conversation they have at the end of the show though – darn it!

Elijah Wood on The Colbert Show

Talking about my novel, Suzie just came face to smirking face with Brakkis, the novel’s top baddie. They ended up having their confrontation in a wine cellar of all places – who knew that was going to happen? Certainly not me! I guess that’s part of the charm to writing from the seat of your pants – you get to be as surprised by the events of your novel as your readers are!

Project: The Secrets of Leekston (Working)
Deadline: End of 2011 (Preferably much sooner)
New words written: 2,721
Present total word count: 50,138
Total Word Count for 2011: 132,634


What’s that? I’ve hit the original 50,000 on my novel? Woot! Now just to continue on until my NaNo has the same word quota filled. 😉

A Daring Escape

So I have indeed been working on my NaNo the last couple of days, I just haven’t gotten a chance to update it. I didn’t meet my 2k goal yesterday evening, and ended up calling it quits early due to a headache, but I did pound out an additional 2.5k today. So I think that makes up for it mostly. 😉

Some interesting news today, Empire has released its 10-year anniversary edition of its magazine, in celebration of the first Lord of the Rings film being released. Can you believe that was ten years ago? I’m just thrilled that they’re working on The Hobbit – and it gives me an excuse to buy it for my Nook to read. 😉

Anyway, here are some fun links you should totally go check out. Don’t worry, I’ll be here when you get back.

  • 100 Things You Didn’t Know About LOTR – No, there’s no adult content on this page, so no worries there. I think most LJ Comms just put up that warning as a disclaimer. Here are some of my faves:
    • The Black Gate is shown as two gates because of a typo in the script given to the art department.
    • During the running scenes early in Two Towers, Viggo Mortensen had that broken toe, Gimli size-double Brett Beatty had a dislocated knee and Orlando Bloom had cracked a rib falling from a horse.
    • Two years spent making chainmail will rub off your fingerprints.
  • Slideshow on Who Will Return for The Hobbit
  • Slideshow on The Perils of Bilbo Baggin’s Journey (minus the Mirkwood spiders… *sad face*)
  • And oh yes, some beautiful pictures from a blogger on the set for The Hobbitat Bag End. It doesn’t get much more beautiful than that!

    The Sackville-Bagginses

My updates so far consist of a daring escape from a makeshift jail, and a journey to save a damsel in distress. Okay, so she’s not really your typical damsel, and our two heroes even get into a conversation as to whether she’s worth saving or not, but there you go. Besides nobody wants to go against an angry werewolf mob, do they?

Project: The Secrets of Leekston (Working)
Deadline: End of 2011 (Preferably much sooner)
New words written: 4,511
Present total word count: 44,090
Total Word Count for 2011: 126,586