Reading along

I just barely squeaked in under the wire with this one.  I finished The Two Towers at 11:30 on the night of the 31st.  IT WAS EXCITING.  When, you know, when the gates closed?  And Sam?  And Frodo?  You know what I’m talking about?

Well, anyway.  Teresa is done hosting The Two Towers and Maree is taking over.  So here we go.

The last half of The Two Towers covers fewer characters than the first half. For some, this makes Book 4 slower than the rest of the book; others love the intense focus on Frodo, Gollum, and Sam. Where do you stand on this question?

I love all the Frodo, Mordor stuff.  Frodo is a far better character in the books than he is in the movie.  He’s stronger and cleverer, and rereading The Two Towers, I got a bit teary at how brave he was.  And Gollum is one of my favorite characters in all of literature.  I enjoy Gollum.  I think it’s touching when he manages to overcome his worst instincts, and sad of course when he cannot do that.

If you’re a first-time reader (or even a rereader), what surprised you most about this half of the book?

How good Frodo is!  Elijah Wood and his increasingly slow talking in the films made me forget that Frodo is actually not an annoying character.  He’s not quite as hobbity as Bilbo, in some ways (people keep referring to the fact that he looks and acts rather elflike), but he bears up surprisingly well under the weight of the Ring.

Are there any specific moments that stand out as favorites or least favorites in this section?

The moment when, oh, the moment when Gollum kneels down beside Frodo and reaches out to touch him.  And he looks almost like an old tired hobbit, and you know if Sam hadn’t woken up and fussed at him, things could have gone a different way for Frodo and Gollum.  Why did Sam have to fuss at him?  I mean I love Sam and I’d probably have fussed at Gollum if I were he, but that part is saaaaaad.

What are some themes or ideas in this book (or the trilogy as a whole so far) that stand out to you?

Mainly the idea of setting goodness against evil.  The evil in Mordor is incalculably bigger than Frodo and Sam, and yet they’re the only ones who can defeat it.  Sam’s devotion to Frodo, their mutual determination to see their quest through to the end as they promised, these are the things that keep them going and will eventually defeat Sauron.  We see the same thing in the friendship of Legolas and Gimli, how they grow beyond their prejudices and come to be very close friends.  I love it when Gandalf goes to confront Saruman.  We see the trust between Gandalf and Theoden, how it makes them strong, compared with the contempt and mistrust that Saruman and Wormtongue have for each other, which is of course self-defeating.

And the obligatory movie question: Many LOTR readers take the biggest issue with Jackson’s treatment of this part of the trilogy than with any other? Did the changes bother you? Are there any ways in which you think the movie was more effective?

Let’s talk about Faramir, shall we?  My sisters and my sister’s boyfriend and I just finished up with our long-anticipated Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Film Marathon (culminating in my little sister’s being struck down with food poisoning and having a food-poisoned birthday on the 31st), so the films are fresh in my mind.  I think the flashback scenes with Boromir and Denethor and Faramir are very good.  David Wenham and Sean Bean are so good in those parts, and I am a sucker for emotional manipulation through dysfunctional parent/child relationships.  But I DO NOT APPRECIATE all this foolishness of Faramir deciding to take the ring back to Gondor.  He did not behave in that manner!  He was stronger than Boromir.  His word was his bond.  Did Aragorn try to take the ring from Frodo in the films?  No!  So why should Faramir?  They know it would make them all evil, so they are tempted, but they do not take it.

I love that line about Faramir: A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality, and then, I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway.  Not were Minas Tirith falling into ruin and I alone could save her, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory.  No, I do not wish for such triumphs.  Up the House of Húrin!  Why would they change that when it’s already perfect?

Have you read LOTR before? If so, what are you anticipating most re-reading in ROTK? (er … try to avoid spoilers, although I suppose that question makes that a bit tricky)

I am looking forward to Denethor.  Denethor, Denethor!  Because I cannot remember at all what Denethor is like in the books.  It was so sad in the movies when Denethor liked Boromir better, and Faramir was sad, and he lost his brother and his father didn’t like him….But, um, I don’t think that’s how it went in the books.  Did it?  No, right?

Who’s your favourite character in ROTK?  Favorite scene?

STILL FARAMIR.  LOVE FARAMIR.  The scenes I am afraid I do not remember so well.  It has been a while since I read Return of the King.  I was sad about, but nevertheless enjoyed, the Scouring of the Shire, and I of course love Eowyn’s shield maiden brilliance.

Have you seen the movies? Have they coloured your reading of ROTK?  Does reading the books make you want to watch the movies, or run screaming in the other direction?

Already watched ’em.  They were good.  However, by the time it gets to be the third movie, I am mainly watching for Aragorn.  The scenes with Frodo and Sam in Mordor do drag in the third film (mostly; I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of tears in my eyes when Sam says Don’t go where I can’t follow!), whereas Aragorn gets to be all sexy with his steely resolve and his reforged sword.

Onward, onward!  I promise not to leave Return of the King to the very last minute the way I did with The Two Towers and The Fellowship of the Ring.  Seriously.  I’m a reformed character.

Fellowship, Finished

I am so late writing this post!  But the Lord of the Rings Readalong is continuing, and I am combining the end-of-Fellowship questions from Clare and the start-of-Towers questions from Teresa all in one post.  I can do that.

Since we’re dealing with the first third of a novel, instead of the first novel in a series, do you find anything different?

The pacing would be sort of whack if this were the first novel in the series.  Book 1 of Fellowship spends all this time being hobbits and getting the hobbits out of the Shire, and then in Book 2 they go lickety-split through Rivendell and Moria and Lothlorien, and then Frodo and Sam ditch everyone else, and you have no clue what the rest of the Fellowship is doing while Frodo and Sam are ditching them (fighting Orcs, it turns out, or if you are Boromir, getting shot repeatedly while redeeming yourself for your previous naughty behavior).  I think the film of Fellowship found a pace that was far more first-in-a-series than first-third.

Do Books One and Two have significant differences to you?

Book Two went much faster, but I enjoyed Book One more (apart from horrible, horrible Tom Bombadil).  To me, the time the characters spend in places-not-the-Shire is ridiculously short, compared with the time they spend in the Shire.  I kept thinking, Sheesh, slow down, people.  Moria’s not that bad.  It’s atmospheric.  Enjoy it. So Book 2 felt rushed in a way that Book 1 didn’t.

Who’s your favorite character so far into the novel?

I actually felt very fond of Bilbo in this book.  I know he’s not around much, but he’s a darling.  The bit in the Council of Elrond where he offers to take the ring to Mordor is the sweetest moment.  After Bilbo I love Sam, of course, who could fail to love Sam, and I like Boromir a lot.

What surprised you the most?

DID Y’ALL KNOW that Legolas is one of those MEAN ELVES?  Remember those MEAN ELVES from The Hobbit, those elves from Mirkwood that were MEAN and they imprisoned the gang and Bilbo had to pull a cunning trick with his ring and some barrels in order to get them out?  Legolas is one of those MEAN ELVES!  Those elves, they are not only MEAN, but they are also incompetent, because they first let thirteen dwarves walk out of their prisons, and then they lost Gollum.  Nice going, mean incompetent Mirkwood elves.  Elrond should have sent a Rivendell elf for the Fellowship.  Mirkwood elves are plainly no good.

What was your favorite scene?

I always enjoy Bilbo’s birthday party.  The Council of Elrond, maybe my favorite scene in the Fellowship movie, is super boring in the book, apart from the mind-blowing revelation (seriously, I was so surprised) that Legolas is Legolas Mirkwood of the Mean Elf Mirkwoods.

So much for Fellowship.  On to Two Towers.

What’s your past experience with The Two Towers?  If you’re rereading, how does it stack up against the other books?

Last time I read Lord of the Rings, which was in high school or early college so it’s been, ah,  a few years, I liked The Two Towers best.  I love it the best, including the fact that it ends on a wretchedly despairing note.  I like The Empire Strikes Back best out of the Star Wars movies too.  That is just my taste.  I am hoping The Two Towers lives up to my memory.

If you’re a rereader, what are you most looking forward to?

Frodo and Sam in Mordor.  I love those parts.  Love.  I cannot wait for Gollum to show up.

What about the movie?  If you’ve seen it, what did you think of it, and how much do you think it will color your experience with the book?

I liked Fellowship of the Ring best of the films, though it’s my least favorite of the books.  I don’t know whether this is, in fact, an accurate reflection of the respective merits of film and book, or a prejudiced assessment based on my encountering the film of Fellowship before the book, and the books of the other two before the films.  Whatever the case, The Two Towers is not my favorite of the films.  I hate what they did to Faramir, and I do not like the guy they got for Wormtongue, and that foolishness with Aragorn and the Warg and the horse was just totally unnecessary.  On the other hand, Eomer is wonderful (nice teeth on the man), Aragorn continues to be amazing, I love the actor who plays Faramir, and Rohan is bloody gorgeous and so its is violin theme song.  Oh, and I cry every time at the end of the film during the Battle of Helm’s Deep.

There!  Finally!  I managed this post at last.  Now to start reading The Two Towers.

Update on Fellowship

It is now the middle of the month – tell us all how Tolkien is treating you over at The Literary Omnivore:

(omnivore = all standards)

If you’ve been with us since the beginning, how do you feel about the narrator compared to the narrator in The Hobbit?

BETTER.  I didn’t hate the narrating style of The Hobbit or anything, but it didn’t feel like the Middle Earth world.  Reading Fellowship is nice – it starts out sounding rather cheerful and hobbity, like The Hobbit, but more Lord of the Ringsy, and then it slowly gets darker and darker.  By the time Frodo and them get to Bree and meet Aragorn, the tension is crazy.

How’s your pace going? Is it smooth sailing or have you found passages that are difficult to get through?

Excellent!  Totally smooth sailing!  Glorious!  Except for Tom Bombadil.  I hate Tom Bombadil.  He makes me stabby.

If you’ve read this series before, is The Fellowship of the Ring, for the most part, as you remembered? If not, is it what you expected or something else?

Tom Bombadil is exactly like I remember him, the only difference between my memory and the reality being that I didn’t remember how Tom Bombadil WOULD NOT GO AWAY and just when I thought I’d finally got away from him and I could go on to Bree (tension! tension!), and I was so relieved, and Strider was going to show up, TOM BOMBADIL CAME BACK.  Tom Bombadil is awful.  I can’t stand him.  Neil Gaiman is perfectly right, and there is no reason for Stephen Colbert to do that.  Basically this reread has made me realize that my enormous love for the Bree parts is just a reaction against Tom Horrible Bombadil.

Are you using any of the extra features- maps and indexes, for instance – in your book?

I am surprised at this.  I like maps, but ordinarily I don’t use them while I am reading.  Ordinarily I can’t be bothered flipping all the way to the back and front of the books to check out the maps.  In the case of my edition of Fellowship, not only is the map in the back of the book, but it is a massive fold-out one.  Yet for some reason whenever I get confused about where stuff is, (like Bree. And Tom Bombadil’s home SO I MAY BOMB IT) I can be bothered to slither out from under my blankets, prop myself up on pillows, and unfold the entire map to consult it.  Maps!  Maps!  Maps!

In conclusion, I hate Tom Bombadil, and if you have decided to skip out on this readalong because you hate him too, it is perfectly legitimate to skip this book and join back in when we get to The Two Towers.

Review: The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

What do you know?  Life sends such unexpected blessings (and this review contains lots of spoilers).  I reread The Hobbit for the first time since I was small, and didn’t want to stab anybody in the eyes.

Except for the dwarves in the beginning; and then Gandalf throughout because, frankly, who made him the king of the world?  He just gets to decide that Bilbo would be good on an adventure and risk his whole life to get a couple of bags of gold?  When it all works out, Gandalf nods and winks and makes wry comments about how good Bilbo was, but, dude, things could have gone another way.  Bilbo pisses off Smaug rather than intriguing him, you’ve got a dead hobbit on your hands.  I bet Gandalf wouldn’t have done so much wry commenting and winking if that had happened!

The Hobbit is about a little hobbit called Bilbo who mostly likes to sit at home comfortably in his hobbit-hole and drink wine and eat cheese; but he is descended from the family of Took, and the Took in him yearns for adventure.  Gandalf the Wizard senses this (for my feelings on that, see above) and sends him off on an adventure with a pack of dwarves who are questing to take back Thorin the Dwarf’s ancestor’s treasure from Smaug the Dragon, who lives in the Lonely Mountain.  On the way, Bilbo becomes intrepid and brave and clever, and he and the dwarves have all sorts of adventures with spiders and Wargs and Gollum.

The thing about episodic books, of which The Hobbit is one, is that each episode has to really grab you in order to keep you engaged.  Many of the events of The Hobbit don’t matter to the overarching plot, killing the dragon and getting the treasure, except insofar as they all contribute to making Bilbo a little braver.  I like Gollum; I like it when Bilbo cleverly helps his friends to escape the wood-elves; and I like it when Bilbo is chatting to Smaug.  I am neutral on Elrond and the spiders, and on Bilbo’s handling of the Arkenstone.  I do not care for the trolls, the goblin tunnels, the Warg fighting, or the fact that, dude, some random human guy shows up and gets to kill Smaug!

The best thing, to me, was definitely Bilbo himself.  He grows as a character, getting braver and more sure of himself, and ultimately being considered the leader of the expedition, but whatever happens, he is always most interested in getting back to his comfy hobbit-hole.  Towards the end he even kinda sells out Thorin to get himself home faster, which, you know, I understand the sentiment, but I’m not sure I applaud the action.  I am curious to see how he changes between the end of The Hobbit and the start of Lord of the Rings, though.  Having read Lord of the Rings a good seven to eight years after The Hobbit, I remember being confused by references to Bilbo’s backstory.

The Lord of the Rings Readalong continues apace!  Loving the Lord of the Rings Readalong!