Sunday, February 17, 2013

lotr history

I picked up copies of The History of the Lord of the Rings years ago, when I saw them in the store and thought they would be fun to read after flipping through them. Christopher Tolkien has become the chronicler and scribe for his late father's works and has published piles of material over the years. I've read a bunch of it, from the Silmarillion to The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, which are mostly Christopher Tolkien compiling, editing, and sometimes annotating his father's unpublished stories and publishing them in his father's name.

The History of the Lord of the Rings is a different kind of endeavor, Christopher has pounded through the old man's original manuscripts for LotR, mostly written by hand, on loose leaf paper in both pen and pencil, and has edited and published them as a peek behind the creative curtain. The first volume in this series (there are 4 volumes in all) traces J.R.R. Tolkien's efforts to write the sequel to The Hobbit. The material covered in this first volume, The Return of the Shadow, would eventually become The Fellowship of the Ring.

Just how to best edit and publish material like this must be a nightmare. As one can imagine, the manuscripts pages are wrinkled, ripped and faded, out of order and often not numbered, and the writing is often edited by J.R.R. Tolkien immediately, in the act of writing, or somewhat later. Multiple times. There are examples of scanned sheets showing text struck through, and inserted; there are scribbles of ideas, things to check, marginal notes, and translations in elvish or dwarvish, as the case may be. Some pages are interrupted by illustrations or maps; and he also apparently would change his mind mid-sentence, and begin again without striking out the previous text at all. The entire story was begun multiple times, with different characters, time periods, and intentions. How Christopher Tolkien made sense of it, and was able to bring it to a printed version at all is beyond me.

I was not particularly surprised to see that much of the original drafts of the story haven't changed much, but there are elements of the story that are dramatically different in their final form than what Tolkien originally conceived. What was surprising is that Tolkien had no idea what his sequel was to be about, yet he started in writing just the same, roughing out chapter after chapter, often in fits and starts, building characters and scenes that end up (in one form or another) in the final story without knowing anything further than the next line. It was stunning to learn that whole conversations were kept and simply given to new characters as the story developed.

Reading the first part of this book a number of years ago actually inspired me to pick up an old story of mine and start writing again. I had been stuck in the narrative, not knowing what was next, or how my story might end. After reading that one of the finest modern myths was written without knowing these things, I actually put this book down without finishing it so I could spend my time writing.

When I picked this book up a week or so ago, my bookmarker was still in there, so I finished it. I've got the other three volumes on the shelf, and I understand that there are further volumes similar to this in the larger, 12 volume collection know as The History of Middle Earth, of which The History of the Lord of the Rings are volumes 6 through 9.


Saturday, February 16, 2013


Friends, its NERAX time.

Here's the skinny:

NERAX 2013
March 20 - 23, 2013
Somerville American Legion Post 388
163 Glen Street
Somerville, MA 02145

Advance tickets available on line or at the door.
I'll be there on Friday, hope to see you there.

Not sure? Here's a little taste from my previous visits

Monday, February 11, 2013

sky so big and black

The Sky So Big and Black, is, as far as I can recall, my first John Barnes, SciFi story. I'm not sure I get John Barnes completely, but the premise in this one is interesting. I may skitter around spoilers here, if you're worried. Barnes has taken a look at what life might be like on mars during a potential terraforming process. The story takes place just about 2097, and pretty well into the terraforming process, so there are lots of people living there, and many of them are making their living as terraformers; ecospectors, is what Barnes calls them.

Barnes isn't fooling around with the made-up words, either. The book is chock full of them. My copy comes from the library book sale, and is actually a discarded library book. Someone has kindly written in one of Barnes's many made-up terms, along with its definition, on the first page of the text, just to be helpful. That word is 'roo', a verb, as in 'lets roo!' or 'man, that was some great rooing!' I can't really tell you how long it would have taken to figure out what it meant; I knew before I started. Another one (which didn't have the definition spelled out by John Q. Public, who borrowed this book in the past) is 'limward.' Adjective, or adverb, and used all over. This book is lousy with 'limward' and I'm not completely sure what it means. As in 'that was some limward rooing we were doing' or, 'I limward wanted to go rooing, posreal. Contract.' Yeah, so, I think you see what I mean. A quick flip to the backmatter revealed no help. Mars dialect? No thank you.

Whining aside, was it good? It was okay. The story seemed pretty well researched, and while I would say it was full-on, Hard SciFi, is was pretty technical. That lent a real-ness to the story that I enjoyed. There was also a cool little sub-plot brewing along in the background that I thought was interesting, if not completely worked out. And, I got a kick out of the old school cover art too. click it, you know you want to

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

high fidelity

High Fidelity is the 1995 novel by Nick Hornby on which the John Cusack movie of the same name was based. I'd seen the movie, but hadn't read the book. I found my copy at the public library book sale, and based on my previous experience* with Nick Hornby (and the movie), I decided to give it a go.

It was a good choice.

Rob Fleming owns a record store in London, which specializes in certain types of collectable, mostly vinyl records. Rob and his two employees are music snobs, with very particular tastes in music, and frankly, can't believe what other people listen to. They might follow you out on to the street to explain why the record you just asked for is not only not available in their store, but why you shouldn't be asking for it in the first place. Or ever listening to it again.

Rob brings this vigor to the over-analyzing he's been subjecting his personal relationships to, for years, and listening to him explain why he hasn't been able to commit makes for some of the funniest and thoughtful dialog I've read on the subject. Rob isn't a sad-sack, neurotic, he is a high-functioning, self-centered tool. And the funny thing is: Rob kind of knows it. One gets the feeling that a part of him may even wish he could change it; be a better man.

There is a fair share of Englishisms that always send me a little around the corner. I have no idea what 'naff' means Nick, give me a chance here. Throw me a bone. But no, I have to look it up. Its not so bad, I guess I learned something new, right?

If you enjoyed the movie, you probably should read the book. If you haven't seen the movie, the book may be even better.

In either case: Read this book

* The other Nick Hornby book I read was A Long Way Down. Not my favorite. It was a little depressing if I remember correctly, but funny in places, and well written.