Saturday, January 31, 2009

2009 Tolkien Readstravaganza: The History of Middle-Earth Vol. VII: TheTreason of Isengard

The next stop on the Readstravaganza is The Treason of Isengard. While the Return of the Shadow left off at the Tomb of Balin, Treason does not continue from this point. In fact, Christopher Tolkien takes us back almost to the beginning, and we are walked through the fourth phase of writing.

This is a much quicker trek from Hobbiton to Moria than before, but in it we see how Tolkien was struggling with the chronology of events. In fact this is one thing which would consume him throughout the entire writing process. So much so that in the next volume, Christopher added a section entitled 'Notes on Chronology' to almost every chapter just to address the issue. Everytime Tolkien shifted the story the slightest bit it would mean having to go back and revise many other timelines. For instance the question of what delayed Gandalf from meeting Frodo early on in the books was revised many times, and Christopher includes a chart so that readers can see 4 variants on that particular timeline. None of this is terribly surprising. If one is going to write a book, it makes sense to know where particular players were at any given time, but Tolkien went into such depth that he saught to line up not only dates but phases of the moon!

From there, this volume takes us through the rest of Moria, on to Lothlorien, and down the Anduin and the breaking of the Fellowship. As compared to the initial drafts found in the last volume, most of the story comes within a reconizable range of what we know as LOTR. Going further, the book end as Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and Gandalf the White reach the Golden Hall.

One exception to the recognizable nature mentioned above is a narrative dealing with Frodo in the tower within Mordor. It is found within notes on "The Story Forseen from Lorien" This was long before Shelob was brought into the story, but spiders still sting Frodo before he is taken by orcs. The fight between orc-factions is not present and Sam and Frodo escape by going out at the guard room to Minas Morgul, where Frodo is cloaked and sam, dressed as an Orc, must muster up some 'swagger' to get by, but ends up having to fight. There even follows some note on the final hike up Mount Doom.

Finally, this volume has a couple of extra chapters thrown in which don't deal directly with the shaping of the narrative, but with two other very important pieces to the puzzle. The first is a chapter on the "First Map" and comes with some reproductions of that map as done by Christopher Tolkien. Christopher had been utilized throughout the course of the writing of LOTR to help out with the maps, and so this is a very thorough of the revisions that the first map went through. The second chapter of interest is actually the appendix. It deals with languages of middle earth, particularly the development of the rune systems that Tolkien devised. Again, this comes with reproductions of various charts JRRT had made, but more legible and in the hand of Christopher!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

This guy is certifiably batshit insane.

Truly, there is no other way to describe him.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bush vs. Clinton: Joke Telling

Friday, January 23, 2009

What do Doctor Who, Benny Hill and Eminem have in common?

Until recently- nothing. But now this exists, and it is very smile worthy.

Monday, January 19, 2009

2009 Tolkien Readstravaganza: The History of Middle-Earth Vol. VI: The Return of the Shadow

I am not quite sure what exactly these posts will look like. I imagine they will have some review-esque qualities, but am guessing they will be more like summaries or simply an overview of the bits I found interesting.

So, here are some thoughts on the first book of the Readstravaganza. The History of Middle-Earth Vol. VI: The Return of the Shadow. This book is also the first volume in the History of Middle-Earth series to deal with the writing of the Lord of the Rings, and that is why it was the first one I picked up. The volumes that focus on the Trilogy are all set up in the same fashion. Christopher Tolkien has edited and arranged the various manuscripts in a mostly chronological order. He has then given us many long texts and provided various note before after and within them so as to fill out the various details. The best way I can explain it, is that each narrative segment is like a fun house mirror. You are reading something which is still recognizable even though it is extremely distorted from what you recognize as 'reality.' With each version the mirror becomes less and less distorted, and Christopher Tolkien moves from giving full texts, to onl providing texts which differ from the final books.

The first thing that should be said about the content of this book is that it covers what Christopher Tolkien considered the first three phases of writing which ran from roughly 1937 - 1939. In these three years he never got beyond the tomb of Balin in the Mines of Moria, and had only just gotten there, when his work on the book was halted for a year or so. These three phases contain many many revisions of the early chapters. With each phase details came closer and closer to the final form, but the major issues Tolkien seemed to be struggling with were time-lines, names, and geography.

From the start there were questions of whether the sequel to The Hobbit would center on Bilbo, his son, or his nephew. The idea of Bilbo getting married did not last very long and the idea of his nephew having adventures was kept. His nephew at the time was not named Frodo however, in fact the name 'Frodo' first emerged as one of the possible companions for Bingo, as the main character was then named. Bingo stayed Bingo through the first two phases of writing, before the name was finally and permanently changed to Frodo.

Also notable is the fact that none of the hobbits started out in the way we finally know them. There was an Odo, a Folco, and a Marmaduke long before there was a Sam, Merry, and Pippin. When pippin did show up, he was still a hobbit, but he was another nephew of Bilbo's who had disappeared as a young hobbit. He would enter into the story as a ranger named Trotter. He was so named because he was the only Hobbit to wear shoes (wooden ones) after he had been tortured within the realm of Mordor. This is the character who we now know as Strider- Aragorn. It seems Tolkien struggled with the race of trotter for a long time because even after this book he remains a Hobbit long into the next volume of the History.

As I have said most of the book isa series of manuscripts given with commentary. They are something that many people will find quite repetitive and probably confusing and boring. However if you have a large amount of appreciation for the world that Tolkien developed, then you may find similar joy in reading how it came to life in his own mind.

Aside from the manuscripts there are some real gems to be found in the various outlines that Christopher provides at various points in the story. It was these chapters that I found the most exciting and interesting. They are generally free flowing passages that include the brainstorming going on in his head. He will write out a question and then immediately you might see his decision to follow. One example of this is in a chapter entitled 'Queries and Alterations' where the nature of Trotter is discussed:

Rangers are best not hobbits perhaps. But either Trotter (as a ranger) must be not hobbit, or someone very well known: e.g. Bilbo But the Latter is awkward in view of 'happily ever after'. I thought of making Trotter into Fosco Took (Biblo's first cousin) who vanished when a lad, owing to Gandalf. Who is Trotter? He must have had some bitter aquaintance with Ring-wraiths &c.

There are many similar notes and I love how they fill in the chunks between the various drafts. Following this list of questions, the identity of Trotter begins to get played with more and more as Tolkien tried out various ideas.

I mentioned that the story was taken up into Moria, but this is really only half-true. The first three phases dealt primarily with the journey from Hobbiton to Rivendell. Only about 80 pages or so are given to the journey from Rivendell to Moria, with the bulk of that journey being worked upon in the next volume.

It is here that I too must pause. I hope to write about the next volume soon, as I finished that one last week. Now however, I must turn my eyes to the pages of my current book, in an attempt to stay on track!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

2009 Tolkien Readstravaganza

Ultra-Geeky Richie Time. Be warned: If you read this you will no doubt think me insane and dorky in ways you never thought possible before (or it will justify your long held suspicions about me)

I am not one for making resolutions at new years. I never stick with them I do not avoid making goals, I just prefer that they grow out of something naturally rather than arbitrarily set them because the calender tells me I should be.

I say all this because I have just set myself a reading goal for the first six months of the year. Over the last few years my collection of books by and about JRR Tolkien has grown from just the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings to 20+ volumes. It is no secret that I am a huge fan of books and that I am quite proud of my library (which has grown to over 500 books by now). I tend to buy books that i know I will read someday rather than books that I know I will read right away. This is the case with my Tolkien collection. Last year I read through all of the Lord Of the Rings related fiction (Unfinished Tales, Silmarillion, Children of Hurin, Hobbit, LOTR Trilogy etc..).

Earlier this month I decided that it was time I tackle the histories of the Lord of the Rings, and have since decided to expand that to the entire 12 volume set of the History of Middle-Earth, and beyond. I have resolved to read 24 books by the end of June totaling 9,953 pages. This is roughly one book a week and the equivalent of 57 pages a day. When I break it down like this it really isn't much more than 1-2 hours of reading a day. I should note that these totals include indexes which I obviously won't be reading, but since I pulled the page counts from librarything I didn't feel like going back and subtracting the indexes. Even getting rid of them I would still probably be close to 10k pages anyway.

I am fairly hopeful that I can follow through with this goal, mainly because I was already doing it without the goal. I had already finished the 1st volume of the History of the lord of the Rings before I even considered reading through everything else. To date I have read 861/9,953 pages. Given the amount of time that I have put into video games in the last few months, I am more than ready to be turning my attention to something other than the computer. That is actually the biggest threat to my goals. The internet has always provided me with too many moments of "ooh just one more thing to look up." So last night being able to turn off the computer for a few hours and concentrate on a book was a great relief. I find that while 60 pages a day is not so bad, I tend to prefer to do larger chunks of time. I imagine Sundays will be where I get most of my reading for the week accomplished. This probably goes back to my days as a student where I would spend my days off from work at the local coffee shop working for up 10 hours straight. It was more of a necessity then, but now I find that being able to devote large parts of my day to a task is still very rewarding.

So, below is a list of when I hope to be finished with each book on my list. There are actually still a few books that I have had my eye on but have not purchased or added to the list that may end up there before the year is over, but this is a good start.

# History of Middle-Earth VI The Return of the Shadow (Finished)
# History of Middle-Earth VII The Treason of Isengard (16 Jan 09)
# History of Middle-Earth VIII The War of the Ring (23 Jan 09)
# History of Middle-Earth IX (half-volume) The End of the Third Age (30 Jan 09)
# JRR Tolkien: A Biography & the Letters of JRR Tolkien (13 Feb 09)
# History of the Hobbit: Mr. Baggins (20 Feb 09)
# History of the Hobbit: Return to Bag-End (27 Feb 09)
# History of Middle-Earth I The Book of Lost Tales Part 1 (6 Mar 09)
# History of Middle-Earth II The Book of Lost Tales Part 2 (13 Mar 09)
# History of Middle-Earth III The Lays of Beleriand (20 Mar 09)
# History of Middle-Earth IV The Shaping of Middle-Earth (27 Mar 09)
# History of Middle-Earth V The Lost Road and Other Writings (3 Apr 09)
# History of Middle-Earth X Morgoth's Ring (10 Apr 09)
# History of Middle-Earth XI The War of the Jewels (17 Apr 09)
# History of Middle-Earth XII The People's of Middle-Earth (24 Apr 09)
# Tales from the Perilous Realms (1 May 09)
# The Silmarillion (8 May 09)
# The Children of Hurin (15 May 09)
# Unfinished Tales (29 May 09)
# The Hobbit (5 Jun 09)
# The Fellowship of the Ring (12 Jun 09)
# The Two Towers (19 Jun 09)
# The Return of the King (28 Jun 09)

When it comes to blogging, I hope to be able to write some of my thoughts as I go through the histories especially. Since I do like to read in large chunks however, my thoughts get easily muddled and what I find interesting at the beginning of one reading session may be totally forgotten by the end of the session (My mind's default setting seems to be 'sieve.'). I am sure I will be updating my twitter feed often as well, mostly with page counts, but also the occasional quote or thought.

So there it is.

Proof of my insanity, and also of my great fondness for Tolkien. The world he created has taken root in my imagination like nothing else I have ever read. The fact that there are 14 volumes (including The History of the Hobbit) filled with how he wrote and crafted the world, people, languages, and events of Middle-Earth is a testament to how much he poured into it all. If he had merely set about writing a book, then I am sure I would have lost interest years ago. Instead I find myself eagerly returning to his work often and enthusiastically. I have surely set myself a daunting task, but one which I am happy to embrace and embark upon.

UPDATE 01/19/2009: I have updated the total page count. LibraryThing pulls its information from Amazon, which had the incorrect page counts listed for the ISBNs I own. Instead of 10,232, the total is 9,953. I will probably add on the new Tolkien book when it comes out in May to bring me back over 10k again.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire.

I am not sure what to think of this. Comedy Central is making a "Fantasy Comedy" series (a genre everyone has been clamoring for I am sure!)I am honestly not terribly impressed by the trailer, but I could be won over by the actual show. Two things it has going for it are Matt Lucas (from BBC's Little Britain sketch show) and Gimli himself. John Rhys-Davies appears in the trailer, although I am unsure whether that means he is just in a cameo, or will be a recurring character.

It should arrive sometime this spring.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Meet Mr. Smith, the Eleventh Doctor.

The Doctor has gone by Mr. Smith for a long time now, however this is the first time it can truthfully be given as his name.

Today the BBC announced that Matt Smith will take on the role of the Doctor starting in 2010 with the 5th season. David Tennant is going to film some specials that will air throughout 2009, ending with the 2009 Christmas Special.

Matt Smith seemed to come out of nowhere and was not even mentioned as a main contender until yesterday. He is officially the youngest actor to portray the Doctor, and at 26 is even younger than me! He seems quirky enough in this interview that he could make an interesting Doctor, however his age is probably going to be the biggest barrier for most people. I know I was hoping for someone in their 40s/50s, but I am more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and reserve judgment until next year rolls around.