Tuesday, August 23, 2016

two towers

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers includes books three and four of the six books that make up The Lord of the Rings. Its fun to re-read old favorites because I find new things in the story that didn't necessarily appear the first or even the second time through. I won't get into specifics about those things, both to avoid spoilers, and because many of those things are just a feeling or a sense that I don't remember in previous readings.

I've also read volume 1 of The History of The Lord of the Rings [part of the larger series; The History of Middle Earth, which has something like 12 volumes.] I read the first volume years ago and I'm currently reading the second, so more on that later, but I will say here is that Tolkien spent years drafting, spit balling, brain storming, outlining, and revising the LOTR. The final story is extremely complex, cross referenced, and maybe most importantly, underlain by a backstory so thoroughly wrought that the book reads almost like a history of real events that may have taken place in our own history or one very similar to our own.

Warning: What follows includes some information from the story, which some may not want to read, if you're trying to know nothing of the storyline beforehand.

Book 3 follows the adventures of a portion of the fellowship, across Rohan and eventually to the tower of Orthanc. Book 4 catches us up on the travels of the ring after the breaking of the fellowship, which takes Frodo to the second of the two towers, in Minus Morgul.* This method of tracking different parts of the story exclusively makes it a little harder to keep track of what is happening consecutively elsewhere in the story, but it does a great job of building suspense and keeping the reader engaged.

The Two Towers doesn't just move the story forward, it includes major plot drivers in the overall struggle between our heroes and the evil they're fighting against.

Yeah, read this book. Its one of my favorites.

* I've never been completely sure which two towers the title referred to, and apparently Tolkien was a little unsure on the subject after having come up with the title. He later settled on Orthanc and Minus Morgul, and even did a drawing for the cover, which is now used on certain re-prints. yeah, that's the one I used, even though that's not what my copy looks like

Saturday, August 20, 2016


I'm still playing catch-up from my vacation; I read a few books while I was away and I haven't written about them all yet. One of the things I did do is finish The Hobbit, and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. This is about the first one.

The Fellowship of the Ring is the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, and it contains the first two books. There are six books in all; often broken down into three volumes,* other times, contained in a single volume. The last time I read it, I read a single volume copy. Its a little cumbersome in size, and is slightly different in very minor ways from the three volume version. There are no synopses** necessary in the single volume, as there are at the beginnings of the second and third volumes. When reading the separate volumes, there is no easy access to the Appendices, which are included at the end of the third volume only. And there is also no easy access to the introductory matter, which is included at the front of the first volume.

If you're strict about spoilers, be forewarned that I'm about to mention some elements of the storyline, but there won't be any dramatic reveals of information.

Fellowship begins by catching us up on what Bilbo Baggins has been up to since his adventures chronicled in the Red Book, titled: There and Back Again, better know as The Hobbit. Bilbo's adventures have left him rather well off, and quite comfortable. His old friend, Gandalf the Grey continues to visit him, being concerned as ever with the doings in the Shire, the small, quiet country tucked away on the East-West road, on the way to the Havens. But in the years since their adventure to the Lonely Mountain, Gandalf has been concerned about a quietly rising menace in the world, and it takes a number of years before things actually begin to move in ways that raise his concerns, for not only the Shire, but for all free peoples, everywhere.

Fellowship tells the story of how those feelings of dread finally break upon the sleepy Shire, and Gandalf, and his hobbit friends find themselves in terrible danger, seemingly far beyond their ability to cope with, but as Gandalf has always asserted, hobbits are made of far tougher stuff than their outward appearance may convey.

The wise have determined that by power alone, they can not overcome this evil. It now falls to the hobbits, and a fellowship representing the other free peoples of Middle-earth, to take it upon themselves to do what they can to save Middle-earth from the rising evil in the east.

Of course you should read this book. This is just the first volume of course, and when you're done, you should put it on your shelf so you can read it again. and don't say, I saw the movies. if you saw the movies you don't know the lotr

*  Don't call it a trilogy, Tolkien was pretty clear about that, its a single novel broken down into three parts.
** The synopsis in the second volume, actually includes information that didn't yet occur in the story. It actually takes place in the first part of the second volume. If its your first time through, you may want to skip the synopses all together (for this reason alone!) If you're planning to read all three volumes straight through, you probably won't need any reminders.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Yes, I've read The Hobbit again.

Its been about 3 1/2 years since I read it. It was probably just before The Hobbit movie came out. I had heard, as most probably did, that the movie would be broken into 3 parts, presumably to cash in on the franchise. What could they possible cram in there to fatten (bloat) this story to three movies, we all wondered? Well, junk is what they crammed it full of. It was good to read it then, before the movies, so it would be more in mind. I hadn't really re-read any of the stories for a while. The Lord of the Rings movies came out about 10 years earlier 2000 to 2003, or so. Whereas, The Hobbit(ish) movies came out in 2012-2014.

So lets get back to the real The Hobbit. Without any Legolas (or his flipping girlfriend!) or Radagast and his stupid rabbit sled. surpised we didn't squeeze Alatar and Pallando in there Pete. feeling blue?

Tolkien's first foray into Middle-earth, is essentially a children's story, or what we might call today a young adult story, but that's just because we coddle our children now, and try to protect them from scary stories. You've all seen copies of fairy tales with the scary bits taken out, right? This is not that story.

The Hobbit or There and Back Again, follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who leaves his snug little home, in the village of Hobbiton, without out a hat or a handkerchief, to go on an adventure to the Lonely Mountain, with a group of dwarves he's never met, and an old wizard, whom he has met. This story is at its heart, a reluctant hero story in the same vein as those described by Joseph Campbell. Bilbo doesn't want to be a hero, but he can't resist the temptation put upon him by Gandalf.Its his Tookish side coming through, he tells himself. Maybe that's true, and maybe it isn't, in any case, Bilbo has left the life he knows, and has stepped into the very songs he is so fond of.

But why did Gandalf choose a hobbit? Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and even Aragorn, have the gift of foresight, to varying degrees, but exactly what they see and how it will end is a mystery to even them. In Bilbo's case, Gandalf simply saw that Bilbo would have a roll to play before the end. What end was unclear, but it gets back to Tolkien's unshakable belief in God. C.S. Lewis was his friend and contemporary, and both of their stories were ties back to their believes in the end. Tolkien was just better at separating his believes from his storylines than Lewis was. Not sure? Just look at The Silmarillion. And then look at Gandalf's saying to Bilbo, something like: I think you [Bilbo] were meant to find it [the Ring,] and that is a very encouraging thought.

I guess it is. What I find amazing, is that Tolkien didn't have the LOTR is mind when he wrote The Hobbit, and originally, the ring was no big deal. Christopher Tolkien's analysis of the history of the LOTR is pretty clear, when Tolkien started it, he wasn't sure where his characters were going, or what the danger was that was driving them. He had written the sequel to The Hobbit all the way to Rivendell before the ring struck him as a catalyst that he could use.

Read this book. Right Now. And then read it again and again.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

lotr appendixes

This is not the first time that I've read Tolkien's middle-earth stories. The first time I was in the 8th grade; The Hobbit was assigned for a semester in English class.

I didn't read it.

I wasn't much of a reader at that point, but occasionally the teacher would read aloud to us in class. Typically on Fridays, on when he didn't have a lesson plan. Not only did I love hearing someone read to me, so that I didn't have to read myself I enjoyed the story. But not so much that I would read it myself. That is, until the final exam; I struggled through the final exam because I didn't know the answers to the question being asked, but in this case, I found that I wished that I did. So I ended up reading The Hobbit that summer. it may or may not have been the copy I was supposed to return

My Uncle Steve saw me reading it, or heard that I was, and told me about The Lord of the Rings, and then lent me the three volume paperback set that he had. And I read those too. It I had to guess, I would say that I probably looked at the front matter and back matter in the book, but I probably didn't read it. I did read it the next time I read the books, and that was probably when I was in college or just after.

The second time through, I also read The Silmarillion, but I don't recall if I read it before or after. I think it was after The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I gave them a go again, starting with The Hobbit, reading them to me kids. I don't think we made it all the way through, but I don't remember.

So that 10-15 years ago, or so, and I haven't read them again since, mainly due to the movies coming out. I figured the story would get all muddled with the inconsistencies from the movies. Given how hard Tolkien worked, even after the books were published, to correct minor problems and get the storyline just right, its surprising how different Peter Jackson and company decided to make the movies. I did read the hobbit and the silmarillion in the last couple of years tho

This time through, I've done it differently. I began with The Silmarillion, and then went directly to the Appendices and Index at the back of The Return of the King and read those. This then is a review of the Appendices and the Index, and how it relates to The Silmarillion

In fact, I'm going to recommend to you that this is the way to read the middle-earth stories:
  1. The Silmarillion
  2. Appendices, at the back of the The Return of the King 
  3. The Hobbit 
  4. The Lord of the Rings.
  5. Unfinished Tales, Volumes 1 and 2, etc., thereafter. 
Now, I'm not saying that this is the right way, and any other way is wrong. that's exactly what I'm saying You can read these stories in any order you like. What I will say is that the Appendices make more sense, and are more helpful when read immediately after The Silmarillion, and reading the Appendices first gives a better understanding of the backstory before you read it, and importantly, at least in my case, I often found that it was a little anti-climatic to read the Appendices after I finished the book. It wasn't so much of a chore this way, so I think I got more out of it. There is also information in there about what happens after the story ends, so if you haven't read the series before, there may be some spoilers in there, so be careful.

This recommendation is for experienced readers of the Middle-earth stories only.

There are 6 Appendices: A includes the history of the kings and rulers of the various countries and regions of Middle-Earth, mainly in the third age, B is a chronology which is handy because of the way the story is told, somewhat disjointedly, it clarifies what happened when, C includes hobbbit family trees, D is about calendars, and how they relate, E is about the writing, spelling and pronunciation, and F is about the languages used by the various races in the third age.

Yes, both appendixes and appendices is correct. The latter is used in the LOTR. The latter is also more typical when referring to books or documents.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

notes from the beach

Greenhead fly: used without permission from Yankee Mag
After discussing what a group of flying insects is called (swarm) we got to talking about how some groups of animals have names more specific to the species; a Crash of Rhinoceros or a Murder of Crows, for example. So we tried to think of what group of greenhead flies my be called. So I came up with a Sickness of Flies. Later in conversation, the word plague came up in a different context and I suggested that it could also be a group of flies. I then went to look it up, assuming that it may already be established. I found on Wikipedia that it is a Business of Flies. I get it, they're buzzing busily away, but I don't think 'business' gets at the unwholesomeness of them.

A little while later I got to thinking that greenheads may be closer to horseflies see below so I looked for a suitable horse related word. Herd, haras, or stable didn't seem to work--although a variation of the second option, a Harass of Horseflies does have some promise. I however went to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for what I needed. There are various interpretations but the one I chose is one of the names attributed to the first horseman on the white horse, which gives me: a Pestilence of Horseflies.

So I did a little reading and greenheads are, in fact, a type of horsefly. They populate salt marshes, just like the huge tract of land directly behind the house we're staying in, and they are looking for a blood meal so that they can continue to lay eggs (200 eggs or so at a time!) I say continue to lay eggs, because its just the females that bite, and they only bite after they lay their first batch of eggs. Prior to that: vegetarian. They feed on nectar, etc.

Two last points: the season is apparently mid-July to mid-August (bully for us) and, they prefer to tear you open so that the can lap up the freely flowing blood, rather than poke you like a mosquito. Their mouthparts are so delicate that you don't feel them rip open your skin until they vomit up some digestive juices and anticoagulant onto the wound, which your body recognizes as foreign, and reacts with pain. That's why you're already bleeding when you swat at them.

Edit: Just to be clear, I may not in fact have been the person that actually came up with each of these brilliant ideas, I assume that it was a group effort, for which I am simply taking the credit. 

They say that history is made by the victors, but it may be that history is actually made by the people who write it down.


Sunday, July 10, 2016


So, its The Silmarillion again, eh?

I looked back and found that its only been three years or so since I read this last time. I also see that I read The Hobbit a few months earlier as well, but I didn't go on to read The Lord of the Rings then. It may be ten years or so since I've read them, but that probably has a lot to do with the movies that were made recently. So maybe I'll read them again, now that enough time has gone by that I don't see Legolas and Aragorn memes everyday on the internets.

I've read that Tolkien wanted to create a mythology for England, in the grand traditions of Greek, Roman, Asian, and Norse mythologies. Tall order, but I think he may have done it; and its in The Silmarillion that we can see this more so than in The Lord of the Rings. What smacks more of a mythology that an origin story after all? Buts its more than that; Quenta Silmarillion is the history of Middle-earth, and specifically the story of the Silmarils, whereas the book begins with Ainulindale and Valaquenta: 'The Music of the Ainur' and 'The Account of the Valar', respectively. These two chapters are short, but packed with information about the beginnings of the world. They are, together, like the narration at the beginning of a Shakespeare tragedy; they set the groundwork for the sorrow (and the joy, and triumph) that follows the formation of this new world from out of the void.

So I'm about half way through this re-read, and I had to put some notes down about it, having just finished 'Of Turin Turambar.' One of the most crushingly sad tales in this book. Not daunted by that description? Then there's more for you in the 2007 volume titled The Children of Hurin. The tale in The Silmarillion is just an abbreviated version of all that befalls Hurin's family once Morgoth actively pursues cursing him and his kin for standing up to him and siding with the elves.

More to come!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

life of fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, was a book sale purchase at a library I visited recently to do some work between meetings, rather than return to my office for an hour, only to turn around and drive back to within 5 miles of where I was. I picked up a few books at that sale, more than I usually do at my own library, only because I look at the offerings so often at my library, many of them are the same. I think it may also be true that the same small group of people donate books to the library book sale, and their tastes are well represented there, and may not always align with my own. chick lit is fine, now and again, but romance novels are a bridge too far

A.J. is a bookstore owner on a small island off the coast of my own Massachusetts. Its not quite Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, but its close enough to either to make it clear that’s what the author is talking about. maybe elizabeth islands? its even quieter there A.J. is a smart guy, he just hasn’t had the best of luck. The story follows A.J. through his ups and downs, and while they aren’t earth shattering to us as readers, I’m sure these changes are dramatic enough for A.J.

What makes Fikry’s story interesting enough to warrant a book about it, even one which refers to his life as ‘storied’, is the unlikeliness of more than one of these things happening to the same person, especially when that person lives on a small island off the New England coast. Even more unlikely is how these events all seem to be connected somehow.

Zevin has crafted a sweet, tightly knit, and interesting story about a quiet, book-loving, thoughtful man. But its just good, not great. I’m not sure I know whats missing, but I did find myself reading a few minutes extra to find out what happens next, so it was an enjoyable read, just one that I ultimately didn’t find what I was looking for in.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Remember Willow?

It was a George Lucas (Executive Producer, idea man) movie from 1988 staring Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood, and Val Kilmer as Madmartigan. It was directed by Ron Howard; one of the few Howard movies that bombed.

So why, you might ask yourself, would anyone go to the trouble of making this into a book? And maybe a better question, you might ask, is why did you read it?

Well, you might remember the last book I tried to read. It was a bust, and I was pretty desperate for something to read, but quick. You know that feeling when you take a swig of apple cider directly from the bottle in the fridge, only to discover that its apple cider vinegar? Yeah, that feeling, of needing something immediate, to scour the bad taste from your tongue (brain.) Willow just happened to turn up in the spring cleaning we were doing to prepare for my oldest child's graduation party.

Wayland Drew authored this adaptation, based on the screenplay by Bob Dolman.

I finished it...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen. where's the cover art phil?

Didn't finish it; let's get that out of the way right up front.

I'm not saying it stinks, but what I am saying is that it reads like an unedited ramble. I took a quick look for other reviews to see if I'm crazy. I don't usually do this, I'm not really interested in what others think when I write about a book I've read, but I didn't read this one--not all of it anyways, I ended up reading a bit more than half before giving up in frustration. The New York Times reviewer, Mark Sarvas, called this book meta-Fiction, and went on to say: "As God tests the endurance and faith of the Israelites, Cohen will test the ­commitment of his readers." Amen, brother.

So why has this been described as meta-? This is a book by Joshua Cohen about a writer named Joshua Cohen, who is ghost writing the autobiography of some tech, super-nerd named... wait for it... Joshua Cohen.

Its also meta- because Cohen has inserted whole tracts of the book--chapter after chapter--that reads like an unedited transcript of the recorded interviews between Joshua Cohen and Joshua Cohen, with the main body of the text the disjointed speaking voice of Joshua Cohen, whom he calls the Principal, with the occasional interjection, comment or question by Joshua Cohen [bracketed [for clarity?]] I mean: incomplete sentences, nerdy made-up slang words, improper use of

yeah, like that

Like I said, I'm not saying it stinks.

But I'm not saying that it doesn't, either.

But don't listen to me, remember, I didn't finish it.*

* this is the first book I haven't finished in as long as I can remember. Its been at least twenty years or more. I think I put Fahrenheit 451 a few years ago because it was too depressing at that point and I planned to pick it back up.I won't be giving this book another go.