Tag Archives: Hobbit

Finding an Old Friend

Cover to the 1937 first edition, from a drawin...

Cover to the 1937 first edition, from a drawing by Tolkien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve followed this blog, or gone back and some of the old posts, you know that I hold The Hobbit in particularly high esteem. If you haven’t, the reason for this—in a nutshell—is that I had a science teacher in sixth grade (way back in the dim, dark seventies), who read this book to us over the course of the year. I hadn’t really been a serious reader before that, but I see that teacher, a man named Robert Croddy, as being at least partially responsible for me eventually wanting to be a writer.

Thing is, I haven’t picked The Hobbit up in years. Literally. I read it so often when I was a teenager that I kinda burned myself out on it. I remember picking it up to read it one time and getting to about the point where the first movie ends and giving up. I’d just read it far too many times. The excitement was gone out of it for me.

Then, this past weekend, I picked up my hardcover edition that has the illustrations by the author (it’s a Houghton Mifflin edition) and read the first chapter.

I was enthralled.

By modern standards, Tolkien makes a lot of mistakes. For one, he writes in the omniscient mode, and he jumps around in his POVs. He also keeps us at arm’s length from the characters by telling us what they feel or see rather than showing us.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter because his writing is so lyrical, especially in The Hobbit. Probably because he wrote it for his children. LOTR seems to get more heavy and biblical in approach, but The Hobbit is very much an exciting read. His language is more of the everyday variety.

Unfortunately, I have a lot of other reading to do, books I’ve checked out from the library, plus some I own that have been waiting ever so patiently for me. And then there’s the fact that I’m back in school, which requires a lot of soul-stealing reading about things like PHP and JavaScript. Not conducive to creative writing, I can tell you.

But it was good to rediscover the joy and wonder I felt all those years ago when I first heard and read The Hobbit, to immerse myself in Middle-earth again and completely and totally believe it exists as long as I’m reading those pages. Like Bilbo as he listens to the Dwarves tell tales of their history, I too wanted to see the caves and waterfalls. Something distinctly Tookish woke up in me, too. It did it when I was in sixth grade, and it did it again this weekend when I read the first chapter.

I don’t think I’ll completely put this book away. I might not read it consecutively, but I’ll dip into it on a regular basis and re-acquaint myself with the wonders of Middle-earth and the quest for Dwarven gold.

It’s not often we get to rediscover that kind of wonder in our lives.

From inside on of the hobbit holes, on locatio...

Later,
Gil

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Thinking Out Loud

I know, I know: I’ve been inexcusably absent for the past two weeks. I apologize. But sometimes, coming up with anything for this blog is more difficult than writing stories is. The fact is, I just plain drew a blank for two weeks when it came to thinking up something to talk about—and keeping it interesting. I thought of a few things, but I wasn’t even sure if they could maintain my interest, let alone anybody else’s. I’m not 100% sure this one will, but it’s something to write about and let you know I’m still alive and know how to use a keyboard.

 
I like to watch movies. I think I’ve mentioned that before. But I rarely go to theaters to do it. I prefer sitting at home, because I can pause the movie and go to bathroom without missing anything. And it’s cheaper in the long run.
Of course, the downside is that I don’t belong to anything like Netflix, so I can’t rent movies. I’m at the mercy of whatever the library happens to have, and they don’t often get new releases of the type I like. And, since I don’t actually buy many movies—I discovered I have a bad habit of watching most of them only once or twice, at best—that means I miss a lot.

 
All that is to explain why, in the past six months or so, I’ve only seen two movies in the theater: The Hobbit, which I watched in 3D (my first since the awful Jaws 3D), and Iron Man 3 just a few weeks back.

 
But I’ve watched a lot of movies on DVD. I was finally able to see Goodfellas, a picture I’ve wanted to see for a long time. It makes me hope I can find the book Wiseguy that it’s based on. I’ve also watched The Usual Suspects. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it. You won’t regret it. I suspect I’m one of the few people who hadn’t seen it soon after it came out, though.

 
I also recently watched Menace II Society, which took inspiration of sorts from Goodfellas, at least in how it was

 

structured. And, today (Friday, May 31) I watched the original Conan the Barbarian. Yes, the one with Schwarzenegger. I’ve also seen the new version.

 

 

 

This is a very well-known photograph of Robert...

Now, as a Robert E. Howard fan, I’ve read all of his original Conan stories. I own the three-volume set of trade paperbacks published by Del Rey. They have organized these stories (and all of Mr. Howard’s work, as far as I know) in the order they were originally published, even going to the trouble of making sure they are as originally published.
And since I know these stories, and have since I was a teenager, I’m not in full backing of either movie version. I wish someone would come along and treat them with the same respect Peter Jackson treated the J.R.R. Tolkien stories.
Here’s something I realized, though, as I was watching the original: even though it doesn’t follow the Howard stories, it at least has a story. In pursuing Thulsa Doom, Conan has a goal that might have been written by Mr. Howard. For all I know, he would have approved of the movie. But there’s a story there, even if the effects look a little cheesy to us these days, with all the CGI and other slick effects the studios have at their disposal now. And the further back in time you go with movies, the cheesier they look, but the better the stories tend to be.

 
Take something like the Transformers franchise. Sure, you watch these spectacles and you’re taken in by the effects. But if you start really examining these movies, there’s not a lot of substance there. I mean, why are humans even involved? About all they manage to do is run around and try not to be crushed in the battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Beyond that, they’re not much good, really.

 
And the stories? I’ve seen all three movies. They have great effects and impressive titles, but I’m not sure if I could tell you the plotline of any of them. They serve a purpose: they’re good to watch when I want to see a movie I don’t have to think about much. Problem is, I’ve seen them when I was in a mood to be critical and thinking, and all kinds of snags pop up then. I won’t even go into them in this post.

 
On the other hand, movies such as The Lord of the Rings series are highly polished when it comes to effects and production, but they also have the story to back them up. So I watch them again and again and enjoy the hell out of them.

 
And yet it’s movies like the Transformers series that get all the big bucks (don’t even get me started on disasters like G.I. Joe and Battleship).

 
I know I’m saying what we’ve all thought, especially writers. Movies for us are exercises in getting a lobotomy, for the most part. On the other hand, sometimes we’re jealous because, guess what? A movie doesn’t have to worry whether or not it wrote in enough sense of place. It’s a visual medium. Sense of place kinda comes with the territory.

 
But then…think back a moment. Did you read Old Yeller as a kid and cry? For that matter, did you feel sadness or even shed tears when Thorin Oakenshield died at the end of The Hobbit? (Sorry if I spoiled that for anybody.) How many books have you read that moved you in some way or another? Now, how many movies have done the same thing? How many movies have left you reconsidering what you think of the world? Menace II Society did that with me, but not many manage it.

Cover of "Menace II Society"

 
I’m not sure I have a real point here (kinda like some movies I mentioned above). I guess this is more in the nature of a rant, and one that’s gone on too long now. But maybe it’ll also make you think about what you elect to be entertained by. I admit I watch movies like Transformers at times because I do want only to be entertained. But more often than not, I look for the other kind, the kind that move me in some way. And they’re damn rare, in books and movies.

 
Let me know if you have any that moved you.

 
Later,
Gil

 

I Wanna Be A Writer

NPR is in the middle of Round 8 of their Three Minute Fiction contest, which my daughter and I are both entering. If you’re not aware of it, the basic idea is to write flash fiction: a story that can be read in under three minutes. That translates into 600 words or less. While the basic rules don’t change, each round features a different way to write the story. For instance, Round 7 had to have a story where one person came to town and another left. There was a round where a photo was the prompt. This time around, your story has to start with the sentence She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

I don’t usually do well with short fiction. My ideas are too big. Even my “short” fiction isn’t very short. My first attempt ended up at over 11,000 words, a novella entitled “The Voices of Angels.” Subsequent stories have ended up shorter, but 600 words? Man, I’m just getting started with 600 words. Getting wound up, setting the atmosphere for the next scene.

But I digress. The reason I’m bringing up Three Minute Fiction is something that happened over the past weekend. On Saturday’s broadcast, when Weekend All Thing Considered reached their Three Minute Fiction segment, they talked about an eleven-year-old girl who’d emailed them, asking why you have to be eighteen to enter the contest. She’d written a story that met the standards, but because she isn’t eighteen, she couldn’t enter.

So, they brought in one of NPR’s legal eagles to explain that, by entering the contest, you are also engaging in a contract—I believe they called it a continuous use contract—with NPR, and that state laws specified someone under eighteen couldn’t do that. If a minor enters a contest on a cereal box, that’s different. It’s not a continuing use contract, and therefore is perfectly legal. But, because you can go to npr.org and read the winning stories from past rounds, you are entering into one of these contracts with NPR. (As an aside, I’m curious to know if you can resell the story later, or if you give up all rights.)

NPR interviewed the girl, and I have to say that she sounded awfully mature for an eleven-year-old, but so many of them do these days, at least to me. I don’t remember any of my eleven-year-old contemporaries sounding that way, but then, I don’t remember a lot about being eleven years old, either.

The girl—and I wish I could remember her name, but I’m horrible with them, can’t even remember my own characters half the time—said that she wrote the story in about half an hour, that she’d been writing since she was “young,” but that she mostly wrote stories for school assignments and that was more or less it.

NPR decided that, even though she couldn’t enter the contest, they’d go ahead and give her a signed copy of the latest book by the author judging the contest (can’t remember his name, either. I’ve never heard of him before), and they read an excerpt of her story on the air. The grand prize, besides being able to put the win in a query letter, is a signed copy of the author’s book, an interview, and having your story read on-air. So, in essence, this girl got the grand prize already—and the contest doesn’t end until this coming Sunday.

At first, I was a little miffed at this. Sure, okay, she’s eleven, she wrote a good story (I guess—I haven’t been able to read the entire thing), and it’s a bit of a rip that she can’t enter her honest effort because of her age. But, c’mon, man. This is the kind of thing I hate to see: letting someone get something just because they complain.

But I’ve thought about it since (I’m writing this on Sunday the 18th), and now I have to agree that it was the right thing to do. Why? Well, the girl, while she made it clear that she thought she should be able to enter the contest, wasn’t actually complaining. She was asking why she couldn’t enter. She just wanted a good explanation for why she couldn’t submit her honest effort. And when it was explained to her, she accepted it without complaint.

Bravo. Means she’s not a spoiled brat who’s been getting her way with everything. She sounded like a young lady who’s been encouraged by her parents without being coddled. Of course, I’m basing this off a two-minute or less segment. For all I know, she’s a perfect terror most of the time.

But here’s what made me change my mind about what I thought: my daughter has been writing stories since kindergarten. I haven’t had the privilege to see any of those early efforts because I wasn’t in her life then. I won’t go into that story. It’s not germane to this post. But, I have to say, when your kid wants to do the same thing you’ve always wanted to do, and she wants to do it with no influence from you, that’s…gratifying? Amazing? I’m not sure how to describe the emotion I feel. Proud, I guess, is the closest.

Even though I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time, I can’t claim that I’ve wanted it since kindergarten. I’ve admired good writing for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t become a serious reader until I discovered The Hobbit in fifth grade. And I didn’t entertain the idea of telling my own stories until sometime in my teens. That’s just how I developed. Jesi figured it out sooner than I did, but I’m also convinced she’s quite a bit more intelligent than I ever was or will be.

For instance, when I critiqued her ms for The Doc is In, there were times when I’d suggest a way of rephrasing a sentence. I thought that, even though my suggestions were made off the cuff and never edited (except for typos and clarity), I made pretty decent suggestions. No, I didn’t want or expect her to write them exactly as I did—last thing I want is for her to turn her writing voice into mine. And she knows this. But when I got the edited ms back for another going over, I was flat-out amazed at how she’d made her changes. She took what I’d suggested and made the sentences somewhere around 1000% better than what I’d written. I know cause I compared my suggestions with what she’d done.

Thinking about that and about the girl from the NPR story, I had to rethink my original opinion. Jesi is a great writer, and I say that without fatherly bias (well, mostly). I give her my honest opinion on her mss, because to do less would not be true fatherly love. Writing is her dream. I have to be encouraging, but I’m one of her few critics who’ll give her an opinion tempered with love. I know her, and I want her to be the best she can be. I just won’t do it in as cold a manner as editors and agents will as she goes through the submission process.

But what if it had been Jesi, at age eleven, who’d wanted to enter this contest? And what if NPR had ignored her? Would she give up? Eleven can be a tender age, and the age where you can get thrown off pursuing your dream. Jesi is twenty-three now, and she’s handling the rejections pretty well. Not perfect, but who does? It’s discouraging to get rejected time and again, and anybody who tells you different is either lying or pulling a get-rich-quick scam.

Possibly, by acknowledging this girl’s question, NPR has played a part in nurturing a young writer. I can’t tell from her interview if she wants to be a writer the way my daughter and I want it. We want to have writing as a full-time job (and I’ve achieved that, in a manner of speaking, even if my only pay so far is one contributor’s copy), not just as something we do occasionally. This girl sounded like writing is more hobby than occupation, but there’s nothing wrong with that, either. God knows there can be worse hobbies than writing. John Wayne Gacy and Henry Lee Lucas had some pretty bad hobbies, you know. So did Charles Manson.

But maybe, because of what happened, the girl will go from being a casual writer to one who loves the craft and becomes one of our next great writers. They really liked her story at NPR, and whether I agree with their standards of what constitutes a good story or not (they have a very literary bent, to say the least), that should say something about her writing. And it might be the factor that turns her into someone passionate about wordsmithing.

And there ain’t a thing wrong with that.

Writing is a lonely art. We all know that. It’s not self-pity that makes us say that. Most of us long for more solitude to write, even on the days when the last thing we want to do is pound the keyboard. Any encouragement is a good thing for us, because, while we look at our writing as a good thing, at the same time we often doubt if it’s good enough for anyone else to read. We’re our own worst critics.

So Support Your Local Writer. He or she needs it. If they’re published, buy their books, even if they seem expensive (printing costs are crazy). Who knows but what some kid might pick one of our books and become a writer because of it? And that kid might just be yours.

Later,

Gil

Autumnquest

That title is a word I just made up, by the way. If you’ve seen it somewhere else (which wouldn’t surprise me), my apologies for stealing.

I’ve been thinking about this all day. Today is a perfect fall day here: cloudy, cool, and a little rainy this morning. It’s cool enough to be comfortable without needing to actually wear a coat or jacket.

For some reason, autumn always makes me want to read some kind of huge epic fantasy. I think maybe it’s because I originally encountered The Hobbit during the school year, which began in (very) early fall when I was a kid. And, since Bilbo travels across Middle-earth during the fall and winter, I guess I associate fall with fantasy.

The problem I’m having with that this year is that I’ve reached a point where I have a rough time reading straight fantasy. I can do urban fantasy, but when I’m in some completely fantastical world I start losing interest. It’s kinda depressing, really, because I used to love these things. Going to other worlds, whether Tolkien’s Middle-earth with Hobbits or Donaldson’s The Land with Thomas Covenant, was my escape from this world. And, since I used to spend my summers being much busier than I do now (shame on me for not being that way now), fall and winter were the times when I caught up on my reading.

So I guess it’s kind of a Pavlov’s dogs sort of thing. Autumn rolls around and I want to stick my nose in a big, thick book that’s got one hell of an epic story going on in it’s pages.

But I guess I’m a hopeful kind of guy, despite what some people say about me (and you know who you are lol), because I went to my friend’s used book store (this is his last week in business) and picked up The Sword of Shannara and its sequel, The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I read Sword years ago, as I have mentioned previously, and tried to read Elfstones without much luck. It didn’t have the same flavor as Sword to me for some reason, maybe because it wasn’t shaping up to be the same kind of quest fantasy as Sword was. I have several years of perspective now, though, so I think I’ll give it another chance. After all, Brooks has had quite a bit of success with the entire Shannara series of books, judging from how many he’s written (and their claims of being New York Times Bestsellers), so perhaps I should. Yes, they’re considerably older than my general rule 0f not reading things more than a year old (with certain exceptions, of course), but that’s okay. It’s always easy to learn from a successful author, and Brooks is that.

Or, on the other hand, I have a copy of Eragon, which was likewise successful. I’ve seen the movie (which I understand completely butchered the story), but have yet to try the book. Maybe it will be my fall book this year. I also have its sequel, so that’s good. If I like it, I can keep going.

On the other hand, another book I’ve been intending to read is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. I like historical novels (I highly recommend Sarum by Edward Rutherford, if you like them as well), and this one is set in medieval times, so it might fit the bill as well.

Decision, decisions.

And on that note, I think I’ll go eat dinner and decide what book to delve into.

Later,

Gil

PS. The Link Below to “100 Fantasy Novels and Collections Everyone Should Read” also links to “100 Science Fiction Novels Everyone Should Read” as well as “100 Days of Fantasy.” I recommend looking at them. The last is author Ty Johnston’s blogging about the 100 books that influenced him as a fantasy writer, and you can find it here.