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.

Beginning Fellowship

Wow, it has been a long time since I read Lord of the Rings.  I own a shiny hardback box set of them, which I got on sale at Bongs & Noodles for $15, and which I now discover are the editions with fold-out maps in the back.  I want to snip the maps out with careful snips and hang them around my room – except I know my snips would not be tidy, and even if they were, the maps would get all Blue-Tac-y in the corners and need to be folded up and stored next time I move, and eventually I would wish the maps were back inside the books.  My cover looks like this:

It says "Being the first part of THE LORD OF THE RINGS".  I love it when books say stuff like that.

My edition of Fellowship starts out with an introduction that explains that Tolkien made a lot of revisions.  A LOT.  He revised different texts, in different ways, so that different editions ended up with different information.  Including the well-known case of “Estella Bolger”, which the writer of this introduction seems to think everyone knows about.  This is very boring and several pages too long, and could have been condensed so it said this instead:

Dear Reader,

The edition of Lord of the Rings that you now hold in your hands is the best and most authoritative edition of all the editions that have ever been published.

A Bigger Tolkien Geek Than You

Now that I have written this letter, and been all snarky about the introduction guy, I’ve expanded my mental imagining of what it will be like when I meet Tolkien in heaven. The scene now includes the person who wrote this introduction, Douglas A. Anderson, who will have been talking to an interested and appreciative Professor Tolkien when I interrupt, and who will proceed to stand around looking smug until I realize who he is, remember this blog post, and retire in embarrassment.

I am like, ridiculously excited to be reading this again.  Gandalf mentioned Aragorn in passing to Frodo, and I was all Yes!  Aragorn!  Bring it, Tolkien! though in fact, when I am not being all screen-plagued (“gone Hollywood” did not win the word contest although I wanted it to) by Viggo Mortensen hotness, I actually really like Boromir better, in the books.  Because he is more interesting, and Aragorn is heroic but a bit dull.  I am looking forward to seeing Boromir again.

Half(ish)way through The Hobbit

Eva wants to know how we are all faring with The Hobbit, and I must say I am enjoying it a moderate amount, which is a moderate amount more than I was expecting to enjoy it.  At the start of chapter 9, these are my thoughts:

1. When I started out, my reaction was exactly the same as it was when I was eight: I was so indignant on Bilbo’s behalf!  How dare those nasty dwarves come in, and mess up his nice house, and eat all his food, and then be all snotty and dismissive of him when he bravely comes on the quest with them?  Stupid Gandalf.  Totally uncool of him to put that mark on Bilbo’s door without even asking.

2. The elves are a bit camp, aren’t they?  Less grand than they will be in Lord of the Rings?

3. The scene between Bilbo and Gollum is exactly as I remember it.  I even remembered one of the riddles.  I remembered it verbatim!  Alive without breath / Cold as death / Never thirsty, always drinking / All in mail, never clinking.  From when I was eight!  I must have heard it again at some point in the interim.  Nobody’s memory is that good.

4. Bilbo is such a good hero for me!  At first, bless him, he is all nervous and resentful at having to go on the quest, and then he grows more confident and intrepid, without ever being less hobbity and relatable.  He always misses his cosy hobbit-hole and yearns to be back there; he gets a head-cold and is miserable.  Oh, Bilbo, you don’t even know how much I relate to this.

5. I wish Bilbo would stop putting on the ring so cavalierly!  Knowing as I do that the Ring is Bad and wants to rule them all and in the darkness bind them, I feel very uneasy about Bilbo.

The Hobbit is turning out to be rather sweet, after all.  Still it does not please me as much as Lord of the Rings, and I will be happy to move on from all this hobbit adorability at the start of February.  It will be time for some rugged handsomeness from Strider the Ranger.  (It is always time for this.)  (Esp. as Viggo Mortensen plays Aragorn in my head now as well as the movies.)

By the way: You know that phenomenon where Viggo Mortensen owned the role of Aragorn so much that I now can’t think of Aragorn without thinking of Viggo Mortensen?  Where a book character gets taken over in your mind by the actor who played him/her in the movie? If you were going to name that phenomenon, what would you call it?  Go vote for this week’s Bookword Game over at an adventure in reading!  (I am not trying to influence your vote, but I like “gone Hollywood” as in “Aragorn’s gone Hollywood for me”.  :P)

Lord of the Rings Readalong

The Lord of the Rings Readalong started this month!  Hosted by Eva, Maree, Teresa, and Clare, this readalong is starting with reading The Hobbit this month, and we will all read one of the Lord of the Rings books each month subsequently.  Until we run out at the end of April, and then there will be a great mourning across the blogosphere until everyone agrees to read, I don’t know, The Silmarillion.  It is not a challenge.  I have absolutely put my foot down and shan’t join any more challenges than the ones I already have, and this Lord of the Rings Readalong is not one.  It is totally dissimilar.  For one thing, if I fail at it, it will not be the challenge police but the readalong police who will get me.  For another, I have already read all the books in question and will just be revisiting them like old friends.  (Except The Hobbit which I will be revisiting like an insidious old enemy.)

Eva asks: Have you read The Hobbit before? If so tell us about that experience.

OH I WILL TELL YOU.  What happened was, my older sister Anna was in love with J.R.R. Tolkien.  This was back in the day when we were quite small and still shared a room; and she used to chant songs from Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as I was trying to fall asleep.  I would say “NNNNNNNNGGGGG,” and Anna would say, “It’s from Lord of the Rings!” like that should make me feel better.  Since I desperately admire Anna and yearn for her approval, I obediently went and fetched one of her copies of Fellowship and gave it a go, and I found it absolutely unbearable.  The age-old story of so many would-be Tolkien readers: I got to Tom Bombadil and found it impossible to continue.

And if I managed to push past Tom Bombadil by sheer force of will (remember I was only eight or nine and did not possess all that much force of will), I bogged down at the Council of Elrond.  I tried to blame it on being younger than Anna, but the bottom fell out of this excuse the next year, and eventually I concluded that Anna was just smarter than I was, and I would never love Tolkien.  Then she got her own room, and I shared with my younger sister, and instead of All that is gold does not glitter as I was trying to fall asleep, it was more Hey Jenny?  Hey Jenny?  Hey Jenny?  I had a Coke and now I can’t sleep.  BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE.  I’m bouncing on my bed.  Hey Jenny?  I can’t sleep.  I’m bouncing on my bed.

Somewhere in the midst of my insomnia, I managed to read all of The Hobbit and hated it.  I hated how the dwarves came in and made a mess in Bilbo’s lovely house, and I contrarily didn’t like Bilbo for being unwelcoming.  There was just nothing about the book I enjoyed.  In a way it was a relief, because it meant positively that I didn’t enjoy J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing style, and it allowed me to stop worrying about Lord of the Rings.  I quickly contrived to forget everything about The Hobbit except the scene where Bilbo plays the riddle game with Gollum.  That scene has always stuck in my head quite vividly, or at least it seems vivid – I guess I’ll see how well my memory aligns with the actual scene when I reread.

Thus did it come to pass that I rejected Tolkien utterly until the first Peter Jackson film came out and I grew curious about what was going to happen next, and whether the film had been acceptably faithful to the books, and why everyone seemed to think that the eventual saving of Middle Earth was All About Sam, and who Faramir was anyway, and how badass Gandalf was going to be when he came back.  What I did was, I skipped Fellowship and that whole Tom Bombadil mess (figuring the movie would have given me the gist of the action), and went straight through into The Two Towers; and only when I had finished the second two books did I read the first one.  I never returned to The Hobbit.

Until now.

Cue dramatic music.

I have no idea what to expect, though I do feel confident I will still be annoyed at the dwarves’ intrusion into Bilbo’s home.  My understanding is that Hobbit is far more of a children’s book, without the grandstandy (and I say that with love and affection) die-for-what’s-right hero ideal that we get in Aragorn – well, in most of the characters really – in Lord of the Rings.  And there’s Smaug.  I know there is Smaug because other books talk about him, but I do not remember him from reading The Hobbit in elementary school.

I am eager, by the way, to congratulate J.R.R. Tolkien for his excellent job in retconning the changes he made in the Gollum-ring-riddles scene after writing Lord of the Rings.  But I do not expect much out of the conversation.  I expect it will be like this:

Jenny: Hi, Professor Tolkien!  I am Jenny!  I like your books!
Tolkien: *mumble mumble*
Jenny: I just wanted to tell you, when I first discovered that you had to change The Hobbit in order to make it fit with Lord of the Rings, I was sort of sneery.  Then I found out that you retconned the change by explaining that Bilbo originally lied about how it went with Gollum, and was eventually induced to confess the truth.  That is hella clever.  Well done you!
Tolkien: *mumble mumble*
Jenny: And you made up lots of languages, that was incredible, I really admire that.
Tolkien: *bewildering linguist babble*
Jenny: *wishes she had taken more linguistics classes*
Tolkien: I find you disappointing.
Jenny: Kthxbai.

Not sure why I am so bent on having this conversation when I imagine Tolkien to be so mumbly and mean (I imagine him this way not based on those of his letters which I have read, but on Diana Wynne Jones’s description of his lectures and my recollection that he didn’t like the Narnia books).  Maybe I will use that time to go chat with my hero Frederick Douglass and thank him for his tireless efforts on behalf of social justice.