Literary Confessions: Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

So, I am sorry to say that until now I have never sat down and read Lord of the Rings. It doesn’t really make sense – I have always been a huge fan of books and of fantasy. I have been in complete awe of J.K. Rowling since the age of 8. And yet I never really got into Lord of the Rings. I remember reading the first book on a plane many years ago now, but if I remember correctly, I started with the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring, which is an in depth history of the hobbits and the shire. Unfortunately, I was unable to enjoy it as much as I could have since I was most likely jetlagged at the time.

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I have also seen the movies, but I don’t believe I have ever seen one from beginning to end, which means I know a lot about the series, characters, and plot, but not about how it all comes together. The Lord of the Rings is everywhere, and not just because of The Hobbit movie (more on that in a bit). It has been hugely popular since its publication in the 1950’s, and since it is so instilled into our culture, I feel like it is easy to forget how impressive it actually is. 

I read The Fellowship of the Ring this past summer, but then didn’t post a review because I went to camp and did not have time to read The Two Towers. Last week, however, I went to see The Hobbit with a group of friends at midnight, and thought it was a-mazing! Anyone who has not gone to see it yet should definitely plan to do so. I am a fan of Martin Freedman as Waston on BBC’s Sherlock, and I thought he did an excellent job playing Bilbo. It is a very long movie, and The Hobbit is being released in three parts, but I did not find the pacing to be slow or drawn out. The cinematography and scenery are beautiful (as they are with the other movies) and they used much of the same soundtrack from the original trilogy, which I feel like was a must.

Anyway, after being transported fully to Middle Earth during The Hobbit, I decided that now was as good a time as ever to continue my journey and delve into The Two Towers. I will most likely finish it within the next couple of days and am looking forward to getting The Return of the King for Christmas. There are many many things that impress me about this series. First of all, Tolkien has written one hugely long epic of a story that spans the course of 3+ books. Keeping the story going for that length of time, and keeping the interest of his readers is an impressive feat on Tolkien’s part.  What’s more is that he has created a full and extensive history of Middle Earth, along with details about each race of dwarf, elf, hobbit, and human, and created the entire language of elvish, along with many other partial languages to include in the story. Can we just think about that for a second? It fits in with Tolkien’s interests as a Philologist and Anglo-Saxon scholar, but he created a language. Wow. He also proves himself as a writer and a poet through the fine use of language and the poems, songs, and ditties he creates for his characters to sing or recite, which adds another level of history and tradition to his creation. I enjoyed the humor Tolkien puts into his writing as well. I suppose that was not something that I was expecting when I started The Fellowship, but is very witty and cleverly done. It is hard to portray humor in writing, but I would say Tolkien does just that without overdoing it, so that it adds to the atmosphere and character of Middle Earth.

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Speaking of Middle Earth, Tolkien has created probably the most detailed map of a fantasy world that I have ever seen, but that should no longer be a surprise. The fact that a reader can track Frodo’s journey with such detail makes the story even more real than it would be otherwise. It gives the reader a stronger sense of their journey and its length. Something I learned from work is that a writer, editor, and agent have to treat a fictional book world as a real entity for it to be a success. I feel like this was something that I already knew, but I look upon it differently now from seeing it in action. Fantasy won’t become real until it’s creator makes it real. I feel that Tolkien is one of the ultimate examples of this feat. Middle Earth is about as real as it can be without physically existing. I feel the same way about Hogwart’s and the Wizarding World as well, I have just been accustomed to it for much longer. Part of me is excited that I am just reading Lord of the Rings now, and finding out all it has to offer, while another part of me wishes that I had stumbled upon it much earlier. Still, it is something that I plan on revisiting in the future.

I find this impressive, especially now that I am working on my story. I have about two scenes right now that I might post on here once they are ready, and still have tons of question. I am not creating an entire world out of scratch like Tolkien did (at least not at the moment), but there are still questions as to how much fantasy or fiction I am using as compared to historical fact, what kind of book is it, and so on. Dealing with these questions have given me a deeper appreciation for writers like Tolkien or Rowling who create their own worlds. There is so much detail and backstory that must be created, whether the reader sees it or not, for such worlds to become plausible. It is not an easy feat to accomplish, so I just wanted to put my thoughts out there on what Tolkien has created.

Some Thoughts on Dickens

As I said previously, I have been rereading Great Expectations. I have been reading other things as well, but I do plan on returning back to it. I did want to get some thoughts down however, while they were still fresh in my mind.

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This is technically the third time I have read Great Expectations. I read it in Freshman year of both high school and college. However, I found that on this read I was able to pick up on many aspects of the novel that I had not noticed before. When I read the book in Freshman year of high school I remember focusing on scenes and plot, and how they all fit together in the story. There was a lot of discussion of class and society in Dickens’ era and how he interpreted that into his text. When I read it in college it was for a class that only met once a week, and we only spent about one to two weeks on the text which is hardly enough time for a Dickens novel.

This time around I have been able to enjoy the book at my own speed which is a lovely thing to do. I am surprised at how many scenes I remember from 9th grade English class, such as the grime and greece that Pip imagines on the back wall of Jagger’s office from slimy criminals backing into it, or how when Joe visits Pip after he has received his great expectations, Joe’s hat just doesn’t seem to stay on the peg where he hangs it with his coat. Almost as if it doesn’t belong there.

I found what really jumped out at me this time around were the characters. Dickens’ characters are written with an astounding amount of detail and precision. I found myself caring deeply for Joe in his moments with Pip at home when they were “reading” together, or hating Estella for her snarky attitude towards Pip at Miss Havisham’s. Dickens can also set a scene fully and make it real through his text. This is in part due to the realism with which Dickens writes, but also the great amount of detail that he gives to every aspect of his work. At the Dickens exhibit at the New York Public Library it said that Dickens was writing to combat/understand the vastly changing world of 19th century England. One of the plaques at the exhibit stated,

Influenced by the fairy tales and allegories Dickens read in in his youth, villains are exaggeratedly wicked, while heroes and heroines wear almost saintly auras. The author distorts his descriptions of characters’ features and dress, speech and gestures to suggest their inner states of mind and ethical disproportions.

The fairy tale aspects of Dickens work definitely come through in Great Expectations. There is something eerily romantic about Miss Havisham, a woman who wears a dilapidated wedding gown and has stopped her life at twenty minutes to nine, the time that she was left at the alter.

George Orwell has also commented on Dickens’ ability to caputure childhood in his works. This is not something that I would have thought of originally, because Dickens works are always considered to be dense and academic which childhood is not. He does portray Pip, however, with a very relatable innocence that I could remember as a child through his actions and thought processes. Pip is very egocentric, which children are, with a big imagination. For example, when soldiers show up at the door to his house, Pip is terrified they are there to take him away since he stole food from his sister to give to Magwich. It doesn’t cross his mind that they would be there for any other reason. Dickens also describes Pip growing up out of that phase into a young adult very accurately as well. Immediately after Pip finds out about his fortune he sees himself as too good for his sister and Joe, and eagerly awaits the time when he can go to London. A scene that really stuck out to me was,

It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home….Home had never been a very pleasant place for me, because of my sister’s temper. But Joe had sanctified it, and I believed in it. I had believed in the best parlour as a most elegant saloon; I had believed in the front door as a mysterious portal of the Temple of State, whose solemn opening was attended with a sacrifice of roast fowls; I had believed in the forge as the glowing road to manhood and independence. Within a single year all this was changed. Now it was all course and common, and I would not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account (103).

And with that, Charles Dickens is added to my list of Authors That Make Me Stop And Think Because They Are So Good.

Gone Girl

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Gone Girl is the one book that I have heard about constantly since June. Recommendations, articles, conversations – its been everywhere. It took me longer than I wanted to actually buckle down and read it (confessions of a bookaholic) and now that I have I can honestly say that my mind has been blown.

I finished the book last week after not being able to put it down. It is a hard book to review, because there is so much to say about it, but I don’t want to risk ruining the read for anyone.

To start off the basic outline of the book is: Nick is married to Amy. They moved back to Missouri from New York after the both of them lost their jobs, and the two of them are trying to make ends meet. It is their fifth wedding anniversary, and everything is all fine and dandy until Amy disappears from their house. The police come and investigate and the story goes on from there.

Gone Girl is one of those books that stays with you. I keep finding myself having conversations about the book. Gillian Flynn just amazed me. I am not particularly drawn to her writing style, but the story and characters were so complex that I was drawn in immediately. Most mystery novels or TV shows follow the detectives as they uncover clues and solve the case. Gone Girl, however, focuses in on Nick and Amy and their relationship. The detectives end up being minor characters, in a way. Because of this set up the book really turns into a double character study of both Nick and Amy, which I loved.

I was also amazed at the detail with which Gillian Flynn approached the plot of her book. It was hugely impressive. She leads her reader down the exact path that they want them to go. At the beginning of the book I was sure I had figured it out – I knew what happened and how it happened and it was dark and a little twisted (which the book is). It all fit – or so I thought. And then the rug was pulled out from under me and I found myself racing to catch up. Flynn’s details and characters are detailed and thought out to a tee. She has covered all her bases with this one.  As I was reading I kept on thinking “Wow these characters are really impressive”, which easily translates into “Wow this author is really impressive.”

Flynn does not shy away from too many topics in her writing and she is not afraid to create flawed characters. Her characters aren’t very likable, but they spill themselves onto the page in such a way that the reader can’t help but keep reading. It was an interesting phenomenon for me. As I have said before, I enjoy getting into character motivation and the psychology behind it, which is what this book thrives off of! I am trying to touch on everything without giving anything away, which is a challenge, and does not fully give the book justice. I could go on and on about this one. I felt out of the loop before reading it, and now that I have I’m glad that I did. It is definitely a memorable read.