Monday, August 29, 2016

treason of isengard

The Treason of Isengard is the second in a series of four books, collectively know as The History of The Lord of the Rings, which is part of a larger series of 12 volumes, known as The History of Middle-earth. Christopher Tolkien gives authorship to his father, and claims only editorship for himself. This is typical of these works that he has complied and edited using his father's papers and notes, from The Silmarillion to these books. It may be true that he is editing his father's work, but he has done much more than that in these books as far as I can see. This, much like the first volume I read a few years ago, is a very detailed work of literary analysis and commentary on how the LotR was written, and how the story developed over time, as J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, edited, re-wrote, and re-wrote again, constantly outlining, drafting, brainstorming and then writing again. Every new idea he had, created more and more re-editing work to tie the new and developing storyline back into what he had already written in previous chapters.

Christopher Tolkien has undertaken an astronomical project and researching, organizing and analyzing his father's manuscripts. Most of the writing is on unnumbered, often loose-leafed sheets, scraps, envelopes, and in this book, he describes a large section written on used examination booklets, blue covers and all. Most of the writing is done every quickly in pencil, often in a kind of shorthand, with unfinished words, and then written over in pen directly over the pencil. Sometimes, he went back and erased the pencil so the original writing is lost, or he slipped in papers or strips with edits, drew pictures, editing, adding and crossing out as he went, and then went back and edited again later. Once he was satisfied, he'd then copy out a fair copy in pen in neat handwriting. Often, this copying out was actually done by Christopher Tolkien, who at one point in this book, called himself his father's amanuensis. That's something I don't remember reading before, although I do remember reading that he penned some of the maps based on his father's sketching, and he actually discussed that quite a bit in this book. As amanuensis, Christopher Tolkien is indeed in a rare position to research and interpret his father's writing, being accustomed to reading his writing, and interpreting his shorthand.

This book follows on from the first in the series, and a large part of it is actually dedicated to the completion of the Fellowship. The Two Towers is also examined, and it appears that most of that volume was included in this book, but I won't know for sure until I read the next one. But I'll probably take a break from Tolkien for a while. Its been a long ride, and this book is extremely dense.

If you're a diehard Tolkien fan, AND you're interested in the nitty-gritty of writing, then this book might be for you. Its well written, informative, and exhaustive in its depth. If you're not interested in these things, then I'd skip this one.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

return of the king

The Return of the King is the last volume of The Lord of the Rings. I've already read a large portion of this book, when I read the Appendices ahead of time. Of the three volumes, the first is the largest by far. The last is also large, but there are a lot of pages in the appendices; The Return is about the same size as The Towers.

As a closer, Tolkien crushed it with The Return of the King. This is especially obvious when you read about how he got there (which is what I'm reading right now.) There are so many other ideas he had as he wrote this novel, and while I think many think he took too long to write it, the slow thoughtful process is what resulted in the wonderful story we have now.*

While The Two Towers followed two different story tracks in two separate books, The Return brings the storyline (and the fellowship) back together in a lot of ways. Each member of the fellowship also experiences growth as the story progresses. It would have been easy to have supporting characters that act as straight men, or foils to help the author answer questions the readers may have, or to simply add depth (or entourage) to the story, but Tolkien didn't do that, there are no wasted characters here.**

The ring is a bad thing, its pretty clear. What to do with it is the central theme of the book. What do we do with evil when we encounter it? Bury it, overcome it, or destroy it? Each of these options is examined, but also examined are the consequences of each, including the unintended consequences. What if--this book asks--evil things end up spawning wonderful things, should those things be destroyed with the evil if uncoupling them proves impossible?

That's a hard question. And its ultimately what differentiates The Lord of the Rings from other books in this genre. In every era of Middle-earth, since its making, there has been an evil, brought from without, and balanced by a power for good, set firmly against it. At the end of the third era, when that final bit of the original seed of evil is finally rooted out, so also ends the power that was set against it. Which leaves men alone; inheritors of the fourth age, and all the rest of time, with nothing but mythologies, and the intangible but lasting effects of that original evil, to remind us.

Its not just the sorrow of the elves that pangs, its our own as well.

Read this book.

* There are those who think--and I was one of them years ago--that if Tolkien had written quicker, he would have gotten to more of the stories that he contemplated writing. I read somewhere that Tolkien considered The Lord of the Rings the 'end' of the story, essentially, and there was also a beginning story and a middle story (or stories) that could be told.† Many of these stories were ultimately released in The Silmarillion, and various other books Christopher Tolkien edited and published, such as Unfinished Tales, but if we had his father for longer, perhaps he would have completed these stories himself. I guess that's true, but I don't wish that he'd hurried through the LOTR. If he had, we wouldn't love it the way we do, and perhaps wouldn't care if he'd had the chance to finish the other stories he thought about, if they weren't going to be as good as this book ultimately is.

**Those of you that want to argue about Bombadil can do it outside, before I turn the hose on you. I'm talking about the members of the fellowship, who all have a roll to play, big or small. And each character is fully formed. And no I'm not sure how both he and Treebeard can both be first and oldest. Maybe one's first and the other is oldest; does that fix it? 

†  Please don't. Peter Jackson, I'm looking at you.


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.