Saturday, June 25, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 1, Chapter 1

This week's late chapter comes to you from the harried mind of someone less than two weeks from helping launch a LARP.

"The Departure of Boromir" is a bit euphemistic, but not wholly inaccurate.

I do love how hobbits are such a consistently underestimated race since they're generally small and keep to themselves.  Without even trying, hobbit "footprints are not easy even for a Ranger to read."  We know they tend towards wicked hand-eye coordination and amazing fortitude.  If they were of interested I can't help but wonder if they'd give elves a run for their money.  On the other hand, that might in many ways defeat the point.  Subtly is  a good part of their power.

Boromir is mourned in soliloquy.  Alas, poor Yorick, etc.  It is what they find among the dead that makes for much more focused conversation.  It's not just a band of orcs, its orcs from different regions of Middle Earth working together, and under the banner of Saruman.

Here, as Gimli remarks, "maybe there is no right choice."  The Fellowship is broken, and several paths lie before them.  However, I think in the end they made both the easy and the right choice, to rescue their friends in unwilling captivity and let Frodo and Sam succeed where as a group might fail.

Jackson (and the acting chops of Sean Bean) this whole film has heavily foreshadowed Boromir's fall, but I want to give him (them) credit for Boromir's redemption.  Very well done.

We're given multiple heroic combat encounters when the orcs come upon the party, and even a brief stay of execution of the mortally wounded man, rather than just aftermath of the confrontation with Boromir.  Seeing our party fight orcs does certainly make for a more visually charged scene, and generally makes everyone seem more heroic.  I also can't fault the decision to show over tell.

Chronologically, the merging of the two chapters make sense, the events themselves overlap.  Ending with both the death of Boromir and the parting of the hobbits gives us an ending with high urgency leading into the changed environment of The Two Towers.  Also, it probably made things easier to kill off Sean Bean in the first movie.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

[Book Review] From a High Tower

From a High Tower (Elemental Masters) / Mercedes Lackey

Like most Grimm's Fairy Tales, Rapunzel isn't necessarily the cheeriest of stories, though the level of darkness depends on the telling.  But, they tend to stay true to several points; a mother with an irresistible craving for rampion or other greens growing in someone else's garden, the thieving father trading away their unborn child, the child growing into a young woman with very long hair who lives in a tower, and a young man climbing the tower and then falling from it.

More or less, that is the opening of From a High Tower, an introduction to the chosen fairy tale inspiration.  Some notable differences exist, such as the benevolence of the "witch" who raises "Rapunzel," the elemental mastery they both possess, and the villainous nature of the "prince" who comes a courting.

The real literary tribute is to that of a German author who wrote fantastical stories of the Wild West with a very loose grasp on actual American frontier life.  The story continues the Elemental Masters story arc started (I believe) in Blood Red, taking place in German with a strong connection to the Schwarzwald Lodge.

There's a good emphasis on the friendships in this story, which is always good.  I feel like the elementals have become increasingly magical-fairy helpers, and I liked them more when they were less human, but that's a personal opinion.  I am however pretty damn fed up with the casual threat of rape to go "HERE is the villain."  Quibbles aside, it fits well within the newer Elemental Masters books (past few years vs. the earlier less defined as a series books).

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of DAW (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 2, Chapter 10

Orcs are near but not an immediate threat, and things are uneasy.  A choice must be made, and the decision rests on Frodo.  Aragorn may lead the Fellowship, but Frodo is the one to decide where the Ring goes. He asks for time to consider and walks off to be with his thoughts

In the woods he feels as if unfriendly eyes are upon him and finds a smiling Boromir instead.  I'm reminded of the comment on meeting Aragorn the first time about the enemy seeming more fair.  Boromir seems more kind and caring than he has before, yet he is firmly under the Ring's influence.  He asks that Frodo consider his council, yet he rejects the council of others, believing that men are of truer heart than elves or wizards (which I find a bit ironic).

The effect of the Ring reminds me of the draw of addiction.  Boromir is definitely pulling on some deep seated feelings and desires, but ones that he knows to keep suppressed because they are not who he is overall.  He is an honorable man.  He is proud, but he also respects authority of those above him.  Even in his madness, his desire that men claim the gift of the ring, he feels that Aragorn should have first claim above himself.  The angry, grasping man he becomes is not his true character.  His shock, confusion, and dismay when he cries "What have I done?" I believe is entirely genuine.

Meanwhile, Frodo has run in grief and terror from Boromir while the Ring takes him on a trip, showing him visions of war across all Middle Earth.  It is a small margin by which Frodo avoids complete betrayal by the Ring, removing it before the Eye ensnares him.

The party itself wishes to journey to Minas Tirith if they could, though Gimli keenly desires to return to the heaven of Lothlorien.  Aragorn attempts to divide the party, allowing most to make way to the city and seeking to improve the chances of success on approaching Mount Doom by reducing the size of those slipping in.  The hobbits kindly tell him where to shove that idea, since there's no way they will willingly abandon Frodo, and Samwise has Frodo's measure spot on, stating that Frodo is working himself up to continuing his quest alone.  That alone is what allows Sam to continue with Frodo, realizing what next steps his dear friend would need to take to split off from the rest.

The film mixes the ending of Fellowship with the beginning of The Two Towers, which has some sense to it.  I'm going to attempt to save the combat and the death of Boromir for next week's review.

Some of the discussions from earlier in the journey down the river take place here, as they prepare to camp for the night.  Path to take, unease at the shadow under which they are operating, and a discovery that both Frodo and Boromir are missing.  Boromir's presence seems natural, as he collects wood for the fire, while Frodo appears at first unreasonably cagey then sensibly cautious as Boromir loses control to the Ring's influence.  Sean Bean does a masterful job, both as a maddened and repentant man.

As Frodo runs he sees visions, but less extensive than those in the book, and Aragorn does find him before he slips away.  He hears the whispers of the ring and rejects its call as he concedes to what both he and Frodo know must happen, the division of the party.  Merry and Pippin also sacrifice, realizing that Frodo is deciding not to hide but to leave, and that they stand a chance at allowing him to keep is freedom.  As for Sam's throwing himself in the river, attempting to catch up to Frodo, that whole scene still manages to choke me up a little.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 2, Chapter 9

I'm really late on this one.  Words just weren't working for me.  We'll blame it on the long ponderous days of travel in this chapter.

Sam could be a bit agoraphobic, or he could just be sensibly paranoid about floating down the river with open plains all around.  I'm going with a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B.  I think anyone sane would be "sensibly paranoid."  Aragorn at the very least counts as such in his fears of the Dark Lord's machinations while the Fellowship rested with the elves.

Much of this chapter is a lull before the storm.

Boromir's resolve is clearly cracking, and his fall is hinted at with all the subtly of a boulder.  We've known the he is prideful and that he holds a belief that the Ring could be turned against the Dark Lord.  He's actually starting to behave in a way that reminds me of Renfield (minus consuming lives).  He's twitchy, shifty, muttering to himself, and compulsively biting his nails.  He's having difficulty not actively stalking Frodo, and it's only Frodo's steadfast support of Aragorn that largely keeps Boromir staying in line with Aragorn's leadership.

This chapter also addresses the elephant in the room, Gollum following the party is now acknowledged and discussed.  Not only has Aragorn known of Gollum, but he has even made attempts to capture their tail.  That method failing, and the secret in the open, they switch to attempts at faster travel and journeying by night.  I'm honestly not sure what they hope to gain by night travel.  Many of the Dark Lord's agents can see in the dark, and Gollum likely sees better in the dark than in light.  And the presence of orcs and a dark flier who's presence touches Frodo's Nazgul-inflicted wound definitely puts true to the lack of safety in night travel.

Portaging is hard work.  We'll just leave it at that.  No one's happy with that part of the trip.

On approaching of the Argonath, the Pillars of the King, we perhaps truly see Aragorn in his royal visage for the first time.  His whole affect changes: his voice seems strange, his posture strong and erect, and a light in his eyes.  In claiming his heritage he assures the safety of the Fellowship in the shadow of the Gates, but then the moment is past and he withdraws back to a state of questioning and uncertainty.  I think Aragorn and Boromir are designed as studies in opposition.  At the core, they want the same thing, the safety of their people and the vanquishing of Sauron.  But they have different relationships with power and even entitlement.  By and large, Aragorn stands true against the Ring, while Boromir becomes more consumed by the Ring and his own self-doubt.

At the end, I find a small bit of amusement.  I know it's not meant as particularly humorous, but i can't get over the final sentence of the chapter. "The last stage of the Quest was before them."

Looking briefly at the film, Jackson found some beautiful locations to shoot the travel down the river, but traveling at night and the discovery of Gollum is removed.  Instead we get cuts of orcs seeking the party, with no daytime river ambush.  The Argonath stand magestic and large, but without the dark gate that so inspires fear in Sam, nor without the change in affect of Aragorn.  We're also saved from the portaging, and Aragorn has set the plan for travel that Boromir espouses in the book, that Gimli's objects to using Aragorn's written word.

Things will come to a head soon.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

20 Books of Summer!

Jumping in on a Summer Reading challenge by Moonlight Reader over on BookLikes.

Not sure how much of this I'll manage to check off, but going with a June 1st starting date (for simplicity) I should be able to manage a bunch of these.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 2, Chapter 8

The fellowship leaves Lorien with personal knowledge gained and group consultation given.  In Gandalf's absence, leadership falls to Aragorn, even if his leadership is neither to Boromir's or his own liking.  I get the strong impression that Aragorn does not wish to bear the mantle of leadership,  adding into his gratitude for the boats and a direction of travel that does not require a decision yet on his part.

The role of the Ring and that of Frodo as the Ring-bearer have weight that's beginning to show.  Clearly Boromir finds the temptation to use the ring against Sauron a compelling one, saying "folly to throw away," before catching himself.  The direction of the Fellowship lies in if they seek alliance or to steal directly into Mordor, and at every encounter the threat by the mere presence of the Ring grows.

The elves are quite generous in sending the Fellowship off.  Lembas, fair cloaks, boats, and even rope.  They also provide the gift of song, with Galadriel singing them down the river and a final meal.  I find this a touching and somewhat tender gesture, one more pronounced for the already apparent diminishing of Galadriel, seen by Frodo as "present and yet remote, a living vision of that which as already been left far behind by the flow of Time." 

In this last parting meal, Galadriel and Celeborn also bear blessed gifts, with a scabbard reminisent of Excalibur's and a token of hope from Arwen Evenstar for Aragorn, precious belts to Boromir, Merry, and Pippin, a bow to Legolas, earth from her garden for Sam, three strands of her hair for Gimli, and the bottled light of the Earendil star for Frodo.  Some gifts may seem odd to the observer, but are perfectly matched to the receiver, whether they know it yet or not.  Gimli's request and Galadriel's acquiescence are more than a courtly gesture, but a token of faith, friendship, and respect between two that should be estranged.  Frodo's gift will serve him well in the face of the encroaching darkness, but it's Sam's gift that is perhaps both seemingly the most mundane and the most touching.

I wonder at the level of deliberation in boat organization.  There is wisdom in putting Frodo (and Sam) with Aragorn, but I wonder how aware members of the party are of Boromir's growing disquiet.  Either Gimli or Legolas would also be well matched with Frodo, but their developed friendship is quite dear.  I also wonder at elves speaking of stranger rumors of forest dangers that they do not fully comprehend.  Armed with foreknowledge I know they speak of the ents, beings long of Middle-Earth, yet in this time seemingly alien to the elves.  It seems that the elves would have a closer relationship with the ents, but perhaps time and strangeness has caused distance between to grow.

The film inserts some extra footage here, in particular a very visually striking scene with Saruman and an uruk-hai.  This was kept relatively brief, but shows us the danger literally chasing the Fellowship.  The actual farewell and gifting has been largely excised, but we see Galadriel hand the vial to Frodo and watch them leave.  As they solemnly paddle down the river, footage of running uruk-hai is cut in while an increasingly martial soundtrack swells.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 2, Chapter 7

Lothlorien may feel like being within a song, but the elves here do not exhibit the same joyful and playful musical inclinations of their brethren in Rivendell.  The whole of Caras Galadhon is great and very fey.  The Lady Galadriel knows more than news brought by courier and word of mouth, and Lord Celeborn could be a diplomat with the care and recognition he takes to acknowledge each of their guests.

The elves here know exactly what it means for Gandalf to have fallen, as they also know the threat of a Balrog.  The danger and loss causes Celeborn to speak without thought, blaming the dwarfs for their delving and rash action on part of the Fellowship.  Galadriel, in her near omniscience, calls Celeborn on his words and wins the adoration of Gimli.  The wisdom of Galadriel goes beyond reading the unspoken thoughts and cautioning against speaking from fear or anger.  Saruman's leadership of the White Council is contrary to her efforts, and as she reflects, things may have progressed quite differently under Gandalf's leadership.

Last chapter I commented on the lack of expressed grief, but our Fellowship and the elves mourn within the safety of the elven wood.  The matter too raw for Legolas to translate the mourning songs of Lorien, and strong enough to move the rarely lyrical Frodo to his own song.  I do understand that before they were under enough threat that they didn't want to stop and mourn, but that does stand a bit counter to all the time taken to explicitly admire the landscapes.  Frodo's comment that "I don't miss Gandalf's fireworks, but his bushy eyebrows, and his quick temper, and his voice," strikes me as perhaps one of the most poignant reflections on loss that I've read.  Yes, his magic was useful, but that's not what really matters when it comes to grief.

Galadriel sees what is unspoken and what is yet to come, through her own power and through tools within her reach.  In particular, she reads and speaks of secret desires, not of lust, but those to admit to may be a sign of cowardice.  For the hobbits, their secret desires are not so unknown, but simply to return to the comfort of the Shire and the lives they once knew.  Boromir won't speak to his, but even without foreknowledge and familiarity with the story one can guess his secret desire speaks to his pride and wish for power.  Her mirror itself shows much, of Gandalf's impending return, of conflict to come, forces moving, and of the Eye ever seeking the Ring.

The Lady also speaks of consequences and willing sacrifice, that the saving of Middle Earth means the diminishing of the elves.  They are truly facing an end of their age, no matter the end of this war.

I do want to commend how well they matched Cate Blanchett to Alan Lee's illustrations, and Lothlorien is gorgeously recreated.  Blanchett isn't quite as fey and ethereal as my mind image of Galadriel, but that's the issue with headcannon.  I picture someone more like Tilda Swinton who always looks fey-touched to my eyes.

The elven mourning song that Legolas declines to translate rings high and pure, more something to be experienced than to pick out the words.  Here Boromir does speak somewhat of Galadriel's voice in his mind, of his fear and his hope, while Galadriel speaks openly of the subtle strength the party holds.

Visually, Galadriel and Frodo at the mirror only lacks the companionship of Samwise to match the book and the artwork of Alan Lee.  The visions themselves, and interpretations differ greatly however.  There is no vision of one who could be Gandalf, but instead visions of the Fellowship splitting and of the Raising of the Shire.  Galadriel explicitly states that the Fellowship is splintering, and that one will attempt to take the ring, unlike her role as vision guide rather than interpreter in the book.  I don't like the 'dark queen' bit, and even before the special effects aged it never struck me as quite right, but Blanchett nails the accepting of her fate and encouraging frodo.