Rest of 2020 and into 2021 ebook roundup post

Geez, this post was sitting in my drafts section of my WordPress for ages. Oops. Let’s see if I can get this finally posted, okay?

Acquired from Kobo during the end of 2020:

  • Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots. SF/Superheroes. Grabbed this once I saw buzz going around about it from the Bitchery, because it sounds awesome: a story about a young woman in a superhero world driven to serious injury as collateral damage in a fight between heroes and supervillains–and nobody cares because she was temping for the villain at the time. So she starts using her own strong talent for data gathering to show how ordinary people are being harmed by the superheroes, until she winds up being a top supervillain’s second in command. I’m here for this!
  • Secrets and LiesRecklessNever TellHidden Sins, and Deception, by Selena Montgomery. All romance/romantic suspense, by Stacey Abrams under her pen name of Selena Montgomery. Bought on general “because damn, Stacey Abrams has been awesome the last several years” grounds.
  • All Together Now, by Alan Doyle. This is Alan’s most recent book talking about his history with Great Big Sea and his life in general. Bought for general “duh, because ALAN” reasons that any Great Big Sea fan will certainly understand.
  • Goldilocks, by Laura Lam. SF. Grabbed this because I liked the last SF novel I read by this author, because this is a plot featuring women, and because the plot in general sounded intriguing.
  • The Last Emperox, by John Scalzi. SF. Nabbed because it was on sale at the time, and because it’s book 3 of his Interdependency series. I liked Book 1 and will look forward to reading this one.

Pre-ordered from Kobo during 2020:

  • While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams. Forthcoming thriller, this time written under her actual name. Bought on same general grounds of “because Abrams is awesome”.

Acquired from Amazon during 2020:

  • The Psychology of Time Travel, by Kate Mascarenhas.

Acquired from Kobo during 2021:

  • The Key to All Things and The Chocolatier’s Ghost, by Cindy Lynn Speer. Gotten because Cindy is a fellow former Drollerie author, and because I quite loved The Chocolatier’s Wife.
  • The Year of the Witching, by Alexis Henderson. I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this one over the last several months, both on Smart Bitches and Tor.com.
  • The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow.
  • Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade. Romance by an author I’ve heard about via Smart Bitches, Olivia Dade, and one of whose books I’ve already read as a library checkout. She seems to have a nice trend going in her books of larger heroines, and plus this particular book is heavily fannish as well.
  • Girl, Serpent, Thorn, by Melissa Bashardoust.

Acquired from Amazon during 2021:

  • Subversive, Radical, and Revolutionary, by Colleen Cowley. Fantasy trilogy. Nabbed this entire trilogy because of this review over on Smart Bitches!

Acquired as birthday gifts this very weekend as I write this post:

  • Middle-Earth: Journeys in Myth and Legend, by Donato Giancola. Wanted this because I’ve seen this man’s art come up again and again in discussions of the Tolkien legendarium, particularly on Tor.com. They have a lovely profile and interview of him over here. And the artist’s own page is here.
  • 1000 airs du Québec et de l’Amérique francophone, by Olivier Demers. if you’ve hung around my site long enough to know how big a Le Vent du Nord fan I am, and also that I’m a fiddle padawan, you’ll know why I had to nab this songbook of tunes from the Quebecois repertoire by one of my top favorite fiddle players from the province. I will very, very much look forward to delving into this in depth. :D

161 total for 2020. 11 so far for 2021.

Bilingual LotR Reread: The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 2 (French commentary)

Been a while since I did a Bilingual Lord of the Rings Reread post! but since I was reminded I needed to continue doing a proper reread thanks to this post over on Tor.com about certain actions of Gandalf, here, let’s get back into this a bit with the French commentary for Chapter 2!

(Notably, the poster on Tor.com was writing about things Gandalf did that really rather made him out to be a jerk, and there’s interesting commentary in the comments about how the movies have influenced Tolkien fandom a lot in that regard. Certainly one of my things about Gandalf turns out to be exactly that, more movie-influenced than book-influenced. More on this to come!)

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Bilingual LotR Reread: The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 1 (French commentary)

Finally, another post in the Bilingual Lord of the Rings Reread series! This post provides my commentary on the French edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, and specifically on Chapter 1.

As I get into the bilingual commentary on these chapters, I’m going to be following a similar format to what I’m doing in the Harry Potter Reread posts. So I’ll be borrowing many of the same headers I’m using on that series!

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Bilingual LotR Reread: The Fellowship of the Ring: Prologue: Concerning Hobbits (French commentary)

Welcome back to my reread of The Lord of the Rings! As I’ve posted in my previous post, this reread is now bilingual, since I’ve been regretting not doing that properly for a while. And since I do have French editions of this trilogy, though not German editions yet, so it’s bilingual instead of trilingual.

To refresh your all’s memories, my commentary post on the Prologue of Fellowship is here. To this, I will now add some commentary about what it says in the French edition! I’m going to do this similarly to how I’ve been doing the Harry Potter reread posts, limiting the lingual commentary a bit so that I can keep the length of the posts down to something manageable.

So here we go! This is mostly going to be a bunch of commentary about various worldbuilding terms, given that they’ll be important once we get into the story proper. Once I’m past the prologue I’ll kick into the format I want to use for these posts.

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LotR Reread is now the Bilingual LotR Reread!

Y’all may have noticed that I’ve been dragging my feet on doing the Lord of the Rings reread posts. This is because I’ve also got the trilogy in French, and I’ve been vexed at myself for not doing a proper bilingual reread since I’ve got the French versions available!

So I’m waking these posts up again, but I’m going to do it moving forward with covering what I can pick up out of the French editions as well. I’m going to format the posts similarly to what I’m doing in the Trilingual Harry Potter Reread–i.e., limiting the lingual discussion to “five general things noted in the French edition” and “five worldbuilding things noted”. This will be in the interests of trying to keep the post lengths down to as reasonable a length as possible, and also to help me actually try to do them in a reasonable time frame.

My next post is going to be a catchup to get to the point where I left off in the English edition, which is to say, the hobbits are about to meet Tom Bombadil.

For the interested, my French edition of The Fellowship of the Ring is this one, or at least has this cover; the ISBN on my copy doesn’t match this one on Goodreads:

La Communauté de l'Anneau (Le Seigneur des Anneaux, #1)

Now that I’ve completed another rewatch of the movies, though, I am now totally in the mood for this. So let’s do this, shall we? Next post is about to drop!

(And the only reason this isn’t a full Trilingual Reread, by the way, is that I don’t own copies of the trilogy in German. YET.)

Concert review: Fellowship of the Ring, by the Seattle Symphony

Title Card
Title Card

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: Seattle is a wonderful town to be a nerd. We’re such a bastion of glorious nerdery that even our symphony hall every so often celebrates hallowed icons of nerddom.
Like, say, doing a showing of Fellowship of the Ring while the Seattle Symphony and Chorale do a live performance of the entire musical score.
Dara and I went to this last night, and I’m here to tell you guys, it was glorious.
First, about their showing of the movie. They did the theatrical cut, not the extended, which I have to admit was odd to watch after so many of my viewings over the years since Fellowship‘s release have been of the extended edition. So I did miss a lot of things that I’d come to expect as part of this movie’s experience, such as Frodo and Sam seeing the elves on their way out of the Shire, Aragorn’s singing a bit of the Lay of Luthien, and a lot of the mileage in Lothlorien (notably, Galadriel revealing to Frodo her bearing Nenya, the Ring of Adamant). Ultimately, though, this was the right choice. The theatrical cut is already pretty long, and they did an intermission as well, which added extra time to the already lengthy amount of time required to be at Benaroya for the show.
Also, they ran the movie with subtitles on. This too was the correct choice, since through a good portion of the performance, the music actually came through louder than the dialogue. I initially found this odd and slightly vexing, but I quickly got over it. For one thing, the point of this show was after all to hear the score being performed live. For another thing, it ain’t like I didn’t already know the movie backwards and forwards.
And, as it happened, watching it with the subtitles on actually gave Dara and me a chance to catch stuff we’d never caught before! Because there are a few moments here and there throughout the movie where characters are throwing off incidental little bits of dialogue that are obscured by surrounding action, and it was delightful to be able to finally catch those.
The first of these was when Gandalf shows up at Bag End, and Bilbo’s rambling on about what he can offer Gandalf to eat as he wanders through his pantry and kitchen. The second was also Bilbo, greeting attendees who show up for the birthday party–at which point I actually finally caught that he greeted Fatty Bolger! (Who, of course, is a notable side character at the very beginning of the book, and who is actively involved in the hobbit conspiracy to get Frodo and the Ring safely out of the Shire.) The third is when the hobbits have just fallen down the hill running away from Farmer Maggot, and the focus is on Frodo looking down the road at the imminent arriving Black Rider, while the other hobbits are nattering in the background about the mushrooms they’ve just discovered. The last is also with the hobbits–this time on Weathertop when Aragorn has had them stop to make camp, and Frodo catches the others cooking on a VERY obvious campfire. I finally caught that Pippin complained about Frodo kicking ash onto his tomato. Ha!
So even though this was the theatrical cut of the movie, it did actually give me a chance to find out new things about it. And that was delightful.
But all of this is of course secondary to the whole point of hearing the live performance of the score.
And oh. My. Gods. It was beautiful. Dara and I happened to be at the very back of the main floor–we had two seats immediately to the left of the sound engineer’s console, as it happened. So acoustically speaking, we weren’t in an optimal spot. But even given that, I was left breathless multiple times just by the added depth and dimension of the score. I own the full extended version of the soundtracks of all three of these movies, and I’ve listened to them multiple times. But listening to them on good headphones doesn’t have a patch on listening to a live symphony do it.
In a live setting, I had the distinct pleasure of catching a lot of little nuances and details of various themes, details that are often (like the aforementioned incidental dialogue) obscured by the action of scenes. A notable example of this is during the Council of Elrond, while everyone on screen is arguing about who should take the Ring to Mordor. The orchestra lays down this little storm of metallic, clanging accents that are very evocative of clashing weaponry, and which are an amazing accent to the visual of Frodo staring anxiously at the Ring and seeing a vision of fire playing along its shape. I could not actually see what they were doing to make those noises–they didn’t sound necessarily like just the horn section–but it sounded amazing.
We had not one but two choirs singing for this performance: the Seattle Symphony Chorale, but also the Northwest Boychoir. I am particularly partial to listening to what the Chorale does, given that two friends of mine and Dara’s are chorale members. And I am delighted to say that the chorales performed splendidly. All the women’s voices came through with a clear sweetness for themes during the scenes in Rivendell and Lothlorien, and there were multiple points where they sang where I thought, again, how wonderful it was to get extra depth and dimension to the score. Likewise, when the men all stood up in Moria, I got a lovely thrill of anticipation as I thought oh shit it’s Balrog time.
Specific props as well to these instrumentalists:

  • The chimes player. I intellectually knew that chimes were present in the score, but in this performance, the chimes were one of the details that stood out with crystalline clarity in the acoustics of the hall.
  • The brass section. They stood out for me in particular when Boromir makes his first appearance in Rivendell, and they kicked in with his theme at that point.
  • The contrabasses. I had an eye on them through many of the deeper themes, like the theme for Isengard/the orcs, and at assorted points in Moria. From my point at the very back of the hall I could barely catch what they were doing, but more than once I saw them doing interesting-looking strikes on their strings.
  • Whatever wind player was doing the Shire theme solos. I wasn’t entirely sure what instrument it was, whether it was a clarinet or an oboe, but it was lovely and reedy.

And speaking of solos, I have got to mention the solos by the vocalists. Alex Zuniga, boy soprano, had an achingly lovely high range. And soprano Kaitlyn Lusk took several solos–notably, during Rivendell for Arwen and Aragorn’s scenes together, and especially at the end over the credits, when she sang the hell out of “May It Be”. And don’t get me wrong, I love the take of that song as sung by Enya. But Lusk had some extra color to her voice that you don’t normally get out of Enya, and that added a whole new layer of nuance to that song for me.
And with Lusk and Zuniga together doing their solos over the credits, well. Let’s put it this way: usually when I watch this trilogy, it takes Return of the King to get me crying over the credits. This time, I cried for Fellowship. Because after hearing Lusk’s solos during the actual movie, I had a very strong suspicion of what she’d do with “May It Be”, and I even sat forward on my seat in anticipation. She did not disappoint in the slightest.
Also worth noting was the audience reactions to various bits of the performance. Laughter broke out for several of the lighter-hearted bits, such as Merry and Pippin raiding Gandalf’s fireworks. And applause broke out for Aragorn taking down the head Uruk-hai in the final battle, just after Boromir’s death. My favorite audience reaction moment, though, was at the very end when Frodo’s standing there by the water, flashing back to his conversation with Gandalf, and you see his indecision on his face. There was a palpable hush in the hall, just before Frodo determinedly closes his fingers around the Ring and continues forward, with the orchestra gliding in to underscore his resolution. Beautiful.
In short, most expensive movie I’ve ever attended–but worth every penny spent on the tickets. My fellow Tolkien fans, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a town where your symphony can put on a performance like this, go. You’ll be happy you did.
And I will absolutely be attending if the Seattle Symphony decides they’ll also do The Two Towers and Return of the King. Because after this performance, I will live in sweet piercing anticipation of hearing “Into the West” sung in Benaroya Hall.

LotR Reread: The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 5: A Conspiracy Unmasked

It has been far too long since I’ve done a post in the LotR Reread, and it’s high time I did something about that. I’ll admit to some reluctance to slog through Tom Bombadil, mind you. But still, no particular excuse for letting it go this long! So let’s get to it, shall we?

Back at the end of Chapter 4, we’d finally gotten Merry to show up, bringing all four of the main hobbit characters on camera at last. And as Chapter 5 opens, the good Meriadoc takes charge of things and brings the others right into…

… an infodump about the history of Buckland. Mercifully, though, it’s a pretty short infodump even by Tolkien’s standards. And I rather do like the namecheck of Gorhendad Oldbuck. Which is a pretty magnificent name, I gotta say. It sounds exactly like the name a hobbit patriarch and founder of a family line should have. Though I also wonder what he got called when he was young. Gorry? Henny? Also curious as to why he renamed himself Brandybuck, unless it’s for the obvious reason of “little dude liked his brandy”, which would after all be very hobbit-like.

Then we cut back to actual action. Comparatively speaking. We briefly have Sam wishing that “Mr. Frodo could have gone on living quietly at Bag End”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: oh my dear Sam. You have no idea.

Worth also noting, particularly after the last couple years that I spent re-reading The Hobbit: it’s Sam here wishing that Mr. Frodo could have stayed at home, not Frodo himself. Which is a bit of a refreshing change of pace from Bilbo constantly wishing he was back in the Shire, innit?

And why hello there Gollum. I’d forgotten that Gollum, following Frodo and the Ring, shows up this early in the story–my last several visits to the tale being in movie form rather than with the actual text. Not that Frodo actually seems to know who or what is following; only that something is. Nor can I blame him for not cluing in, given that it has after all been some years since his last conversation with Gandalf. He can be excused for not immediately realizing that Gollum could still be at large. Especially since he’s had much more recent reason to be wary of Black Riders, enough so that he’s anxious about whether horses can cross the Brandywine.

Though ha, spoke too soon. As soon as the hobbits reach Frodo’s new digs at Crickhollow, Frodo does in fact wish he was really getting to stay there.

I cannot resist my inner MST3K voice putting in “no one will be admitted during the exciting bathing sequence”, ’cause that part of me’s all cripes, can we get on with the actual plot already? Still, it’s pretty charming thinking of Pippin singing at the top of his lungs while he’s taking a bath. Particularly now that Pippin’s voice will be forever provided by Billy Boyd in my head.

One big thing, though, saves this chapter from being useless to me–Merry and Pippin both being all “well duh of course we knew you were about to leave the Shire.” This is not something we get in the movies, which play Merry and Pippin as being way less on top of things at the start of the journey. Movie!Merry and Movie!Pippin pretty much stumble into the quest. Book!Merry and Book!Pippin, on the other hand, are very much on top of things. Merry even knows about the Ring. And to top it all off, Sam is totally in on the plotting, and the three of them together are no match for Frodo’s wobbly resolve to head off all by himself.

We get a second little song in this chapter, and this one’s explicitly a callback to the Misty Mountains song from The Hobbit, and explicitly set to the same tune. Which means that now of course I try to read it and set it to the tune that the Hobbit movies used. I’m not entirely sure that works for me, either. The lyrics don’t quite scan to that melody, and the melody itself is too somber to quite fit the mood of the scene as written.

There are links on YouTube for the soundtrack from the 1977 Hobbit movie, including one for the Misty Mountains song, and that one scans better to the lyrics Tolkien gives in this chapter. Still, that tune is also rather somber given the determined cheer of Merry and the others pledging their assistance to Frodo.

But then, you could also make an argument for a somber tune being appropriate, too–because it’s not like Frodo’s holding back on warning the others that dangerous shit is about to go down. Hell, we even get a dire hint that poor Fatty Bolger isn’t going to be immune from danger either, and he’s the one on tap to stay behind and keep up the pretense that Frodo is inhabiting his new house.

We close with Frodo deciding that he’s setting out at first light in the morning, and everyone retiring to bed. Frodo has a disquieting dream, one which includes a tall white tower. It’s an interesting question as to what that tower is supposed to represent; googling for it, I find multiple links wherein Tolkien fandom discusses this very question. One such is on the Forums at TheOneRing.net here.

Next up: Chapter 6, in which the Old Forest demonstrates that yeah, actually, it’s about as scary as Fatty Bolger was making it out to be.

LotR Reread: The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 4: A Short Cut to Mushrooms

Chapter 4 of The Fellowship of the Ring, I’ll say straight up, doesn’t actually accomplish much for me in the bigger picture of the story. And it’s not a chapter I’m sad to see edited down into near non-existence in the movie.

We have Frodo, Sam, and Pippin having a rather roundabout discussion after the elves, and then several paragraphs of them setting out cross-country. There’s some discussion of the Black Riders, again rather roundabout. And when they reach Farmer Maggot’s farm, we get the backstory of why exactly Frodo’s wary of crossing that particular hobbit’s land. They stay over with Farmer Maggot for a bit, eat dinner with his family, and have a bit more discussion about the Black Riders before finally setting off for the Bucklebury Ferry.

The conversation the hobbits have at the beginning of the chapter is mostly useful for establishing that Frodo is already feeling very ambivalent about bringing anybody with him on this trip–which, okay, yeah, fair call on his part. And it does lead to a bit of early nice character development on Sam’s part, where he gets to process his own reactions to meeting the elves. In particular, we see Sam being surprisingly insightful about what’s to come for him:

“I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want–I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire.”

Oh Sam, dear Sam, you have no idea.

This is really the only interesting bit of character development for me in this part of the chapter, though. Frodo’s ambivalent and Pippin is young and frivolous, but both of these things are things we knew already.

Likewise, we already had the idea that the Riders were looking for Frodo, so the whole stop at Farmer Maggot’s house seems less than useful to me as well. There’s a reference to the Rider Farmer Maggot saw as a “black fellow”, which, while perhaps literally true, is still nonetheless a highly unfortunate word choice when it comes to describing one of your villains. At least to my modern eyes, as opposed to the eyes of readers in Tolkien’s day. And maybe even then.

And we have the second female character who gets any lines in the story: Farmer Maggot’s wife, who has exactly one line of dialogue, and who doesn’t get a name. Farmer Maggot also has sons and daughters, as actually seems perfectly appropriate for a farming family–lots of young hobbits to work the land. None of the Maggot offspring get any lines, though.

I do at least like the backstory of why Frodo is nervous about crossing Maggot’s land, anyway. I.e., his history of having stolen mushrooms from Maggot as a lad, and how the farmer threatened him with his dogs. It only occurs to me now, as I write this, that there’s no indication that hobbits keep small dogs. So if you assume that Farmer Maggot’s dogs are the big, healthy sort of working dog you’d expect to be on a farm in real life, that size of dog would be rather more intimidating to somebody the size of a hobbit.

And it is, admittedly, a bit of a giggle that Farmer Maggot does in fact give them mushrooms for the road.

What’s more important to me at the end of this chapter, though, is that Merry finally shows up. Which means we’ll finally have all four of the plot-relevant hobbits on camera! But, frustratingly, we still won’t pick up the pace quite yet. More on that in the next post, for Chapter 5!

LotR Reread: The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 3: Three is Company

I have talked in previous posts on this series about how in the movies, the events of The Lord of the Rings are a lot faster-paced right out of the gate than they are in the books. And Chapter 3 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “Three is Company”, is a perfect example of this. We start the chapter with this getting explicitly called out, in fact:

“You ought to go quietly, and you ought to go soon,” said Gandalf. Two or three weeks had passed, and still Frodo made no sign of getting ready to go.

In other words, Gandalf has just revealed to Frodo that he has possession of the official Worst Jewelry in the History of Middle-Earth, and that it really needs to be gotten out of the Shire pronto. And yet, neither of them appear to have a particularly urgent definition of “pronto”, given how long it actually takes Frodo to get his shit together and go. That said? I do at least appreciate the symmetry in Frodo wishing to leave on his fiftieth birthday, which is Bilbo’s one hundred and twenty-eighth. It creates a nice little parallel, not only in-universe for Frodo, but out-of-universe for the reader as well. Not that Gandalf actually has a plan yet, though. The best he’s able to advise is “go to Rivendell”.

Which, okay, yeah, not bad advice in the slightest. Given that Elrond is, after all, one of the other bearers of the Three, and getting to Rivendell is a lot more feasible than making it all the way to Lorien to see Galadriel. Still though, you’d think that Gandalf would have been a little bit more forthright about this. Maybe “okay, I’m going to Rivendell to warn Elrond we have a Thing that needs dealing with, come after me as you can, and for the love of Iluvatar KEEP IT UNDER WRAPS”. I would have thought that discovery of the One Ring would have been news that Gandalf might have wanted to, oh, I dunno, report to the White Council.

But as it stands, Gandalf is surprisingly blasé in this chapter! All we get is mysterious mutterings along the lines of “welp I gotta go do a thing, keep up with the plan, BBL”, and that he’s gotten news that disturbs him. I’m very curious as to what news he actually got there, and I say this as someone who has in fact just recently finished this re-read; this is a detail that eluded me as I was charging through, and I’ll be looking for it as I proceed through this posts.

Here’s something else I had totally forgotten: Frodo actually sells Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses! And he goes to the trouble to create a cover story about his going to settle in Buckland. Given the less urgent pacing of events as played out here, I really like this. Taking the time to lay down a proper story is very clever of Frodo.

Fredegar Bolger and Folco Boffin are side characters I’d totally forgotten as well. But it’s nice to see them participating in the plot, as it illustrates that Sam, Merry, and Pippin aren’t Frodo’s only allies in the Shire. Yay for hobbit community! Unfortunate about poor Fredegar being nicknamed ‘Fatty’; that’s not something a modern author would get away with, I feel, and I think I will eschew calling him that myself. (Slightly less unfortunate about Folco, which is only a hop away from Falco, and now I am totally imagining an all-hobbit cover of “Rock Me Amadeus”.)

Lothelia Sackville-Baggins is, I think, the first female character to get speaking lines anywhere in this entire trilogy. By this point she’s a hundred years old, and given that she’s not carrying around the Ring, one expects that she looks rather more aged than Bilbo did at eleventy-one. But she’s certainly not lacking for snark, and I do adore the pithy closing sentence of the paragraph where she appears: “Frodo did not offer her any tea.”

The conversation that the Gaffer has with an unseen other party is our first inkling that Frodo’s whereabouts are of interest. One expects that the unseen party is indeed one of the Nine–though here in the book, it’s played quite a bit more understated than the first appearance of the Nazgul in the films. It would be very easy to read the one-sided conversation that Frodo overhears as being innocuous, and I expect that it was read as just that in the days when the book was still new to its readers. All we get in the way of possible threat is an uneasy feeling on Frodo’s part!

It’s kind of amusing that Frodo calls himself a “poor old hobbit”–where he’s still barely into his adulthood, by hobbit standards!

Also amusing that as Frodo, Sam, and Pippin set out, Tolkien says: “In their dark cloaks they were as invisible as if they all had magic rings.” Let us all now take a moment to be grateful that this was not in fact the case, because otherwise I think the Shire would have been in even more trouble.

We also get a brief passing fox, who actually has a bit of thought dialogue. Given what’s to come, this strikes my eye as out of place, more appropriate to The Hobbit than to this story. But it’s possible, I suppose, that this was Tolkien’s way of maintaining a bit of lighter atmosphere before the stakes start rising and the plot gets more serious.

Frodo wakes up on their trip and thinks, “Walking for pleasure! Why didn’t I drive?” Which also leaps out to my eye as kind of giggle-worthy. Obviously he means something along the lines of a horse and cart, but I still can’t help but imagine Frodo in an actual car. A very small car.

And then, of course, we get the first actual on-camera appearance of one of the Nine. This is, again, played more understatedly than what we get in the movie–there’s no sign of anything supernatural about the description of the horse and rider, just a black-clad man on a black horse. Only the description of his sniffing at the air, and Frodo’s returned unease, hint that something is quite wrong here.

There’s also a bit of unfortunate description, though, as Sam recounts to Frodo what his father had said about his encounter with the stranger: “And the Gaffer said he was a black chap.” This is one of those moments when I have to admit that love Tolkien as much as I do, yes, there were some problematic bits in this trilogy. And that’s one of them. There’s no justification I can come up with that makes that particular word choice work.

On a better note, though, we get a nice walking song. One that I’d honestly like to hear set to music. I’d be curious as to what Howard Shore could do with that song; I hear it as upbeat in tempo, but maybe as a mixolydian mode. Something about the phrases “Tree and flower and leaf and grass, / Let them pass! Let them pass! / Hill and water under sky, / Pass them by! Pass them by!” strikes me as appropriate for a mixolydian mode. Plus, that sequence ends on Pippin singing in a high voice. Which of course leads me to thinking about Billy Boyd singing these lyrics. I think it’d be lovely.

Then we get the encounter with the elves. And I’ve got to admit, I’m of two minds about this whole sequence. On the one hand, it does give us the immortal lines “Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger” and “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes”. And Gildor’s line to Frodo “I name you Elf-friend” has resonated with me all throughout my life, as has “a star shines on the hour of our meeting”. “Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo”, as well as other little snippets of Quenya or Sindarin scattered throughout the text, are certainly influences on my dropping similar snippets into my own work. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t!

And I have to admit to liking the naming of certain stars and constellations, particularly “Menelvagor with his shining belt”. Indicative of Orion, of course, a subtle suggestion that these are stars that people of our modern age would still know.

On the other hand, looking at this with older eyes, both as a reader and as a writer, I have to admit that this sequence serves… pretty much no purpose, except to underscore that the elves are awesome, and we get plenty of that later. We never see Gildor Inglorion again, and we haven’t seen him before, so there’s little to really make us invested in this guy other than “he’s an elf so clearly he’s awesome”. And there’s some echoes of The Hobbit in style here, too, where Tolkien has lines of dialogue that are attributed to the group of elves rather than any particular individual. To my modern eyes this reads as a bit cutesy, but also a bit creepy when you stop to think about it–all the characters in a group uttering the same dialogue? Yeah no.

Though, I also have to take issue with Gildor shrugging off handing Frodo any clue about what the Black Riders are. “Lest terror should keep you from your journey” is a poor excuse, and underestimating Frodo and what he’s capable of. It reads oddly as well now that I’m familiar with the greater urgency of the pace in the movies.

And Frodo calls him out on it, even: “I cannot imagine what information could be more terrifying than your hints and warnings.” In other words: you’re not being helpful, Gildor. Even the hobbit thinks so. And given that we just saw one of the Black Riders earlier in the chapter, it reads to me now as just an excuse to put off finding out what they are.

So I have to admit, I like how the extended cut of the Fellowship movie handled this–just a brief snippet of Frodo and Sam seeing the elves singing as they pass through the woods. There are gems of Tolkien’s prose here. Yet the pacing of this whole chapter is weird to me now, and I’m pleased to be moving on, even if the next few chapters don’t quite pick up the pace yet either.

Next time in Chapter 4: we discover that more hobbits know about Frodo’s plans than he’d thought!

LotR Reread: The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past

The earliest chapters of Fellowship of the Ring are a stretch of the book that diverge the most from the movie. I remember to this day being surprised by the movie version of the tale, and how quickly it has Frodo setting off at Gandalf’s urging; there’s very little sense in the movie of time passing. In the book, though, Frodo does not in fact set out on the great quest for several years.

It’s an interesting pacing decision, and yet another example of things that I don’t think a lot of modern authors could get away with. Many years are covered in Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”, years in which everyone in the Shire has plenty of time to gossip about Bilbo’s disappearance and to form opinions on what it means for Frodo as well. Frodo, too, has time to develop his own reputation for oddity. After Chapter 1’s description of how Bilbo looked amazingly well preserved for a hobbit of eleventy-one, it leaps right out to the reader’s eye that Frodo, too, shows no apparent sign of aging. I can only imagine the Ring going .oO (La la la), biding its time, since we see in this chapter that Frodo has in fact been carrying it around.

We get another community gossip scene, this time led by Sam Gamgee, and giving him fuel to go pay rather closer attention to what’s going on with Mr. Frodo. Pertinent as well that that scene takes place at the Green Dragon!

Most of this chapter, though, is given over to Gandalf’s eventual return to the Shire and his cluing in Frodo about what exactly that shiny golden bauble in his pocket is. And it’s a bit of a weird reading experience, given how heavily the movies are imprinted into my brain now–because every time I read a bit of dialogue that made it into the movie version of Fellowship, the character voices in kick in. But it’s not complete, because the movie script did trim things down considerably. So it’s like I’ve got the movie stopping and starting again in my brain as I read.

Moreover, bits of it keep skipping forward in the movie script. There are things here that actually crop up later in the movies, including the account of how Gollum got the Ring–which we don’t see in the movies until the flashback scene at the beginning of Return of the King. That’s one of the editing decisions on the movie I agree with, on the grounds that it does admittedly strike me as a little weird that Gandalf managed to wring the story out of Gollum in such detail. And it’s more effective to me to see it actually play out in action as opposed to hearing about it after the fact, as one character tells the story to another.

One other bit I recognized as occurring later in the movies is this exchange between Gandalf and Frodo:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Also this quote of Gandalf’s:

“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”

And this exchange as well, re: why Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum:

“What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”

“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand.”

Which just goes to tell me that when the scripts were written by the Lord of the Rings movie team, they recognized so much of the value of Tolkien’s actual dialogue and were prepared to use gems like these elsewhere even as they edited scenes. Editor Anna appreciates the craft of the decisions they had to make there!

When Frodo finally comes to his decision about heading out with the Ring, I must say that I also approve of how the movie tweaked that, too: having Frodo simply say “What must I do?” It focuses his resolve in a way that’s more appropriate to the tighter, more urgent portrayal of the situation in the movie.

And, of course, we have Sam revealing himself as he’s listening in from outside, and Gandalf drafting him for the quest. There’s more of an exchange here too than there is in the film, and a bit more emphasis on Sam wanting to go see elves.

All in all this whole chapter is an exercise in my having an increased appreciation for the editing decisions that went into writing the scripts for the movies–and how aspects of Tolkien’s writing that modern authors would not IMHO get away with got tightened up to better suit the tastes of a modern movie-viewing audience. Still great fun to go back and revisit Tolkien’s original version of these events, though. Particularly the revelation of the writing in the fire!

Next post: Frodo finally gets his hobbit butt in gear and sets out. There are Black Riders! And Elves!