Tag Archives: The Hobbit

Big Books

I’ve been encountering something here lately that—to me, anyway—is a bit strange: People think I write big books.

Really? My debut novel, Spree, is a bit longer than I like at 106,000+ words. Startup, due out in June, is currently (it’s undergoing some revision, so the word count will likely bump up a bit) at 90,000+—the ideal length for a crime novel, as far as I’m concerned.

lotr singleI think my books are about average length, maybe even a little short. But you’ve got to keep in mind I cut my teeth on big books. For instance, The Lord of the Rings probably totals close to half a million words, split among three books. But you’ve got to keep in mind that JRR Tolkien originally wrote it as one volume divided into six “books.” His publisher was the one who decided—probably rightly—to divide it up into the trilogy we know today, or so I’ve read. Professor Tolkien never really liked it that way, and, if you’ve got the money to drop on it, you can buy hardback editions that put it in one volume.

But even Professor Tolkien’s “kids’ book,” The Hobbit, is just over 95,000 words long.

And look at Stephen King, a writer famous for producing big doorstops. My two favorite books of his—The Stand (especially the Original and Uncut Edition) and It—are huge. The Stand clocks in at approximately 464,000 words, and I can only find page counts for It, but rest assured it’s almost as big. I’ve read both books more than once, and enjoyed them every time.

Then there’s the Harry Potter series. The first three books aren’t bad, but Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has to be close to as big as the first three put together. goblet of fireAnd let’s not even get started on The Order of the Phoenix. These, too, are kids’ books. And lots of kids read them. Probably more than once.

Now we can argue that some of these are wasted space. I certainly believe the Stephanie Meyer books are—sorry if you’re a fan—and they’re not exactly Louis L’Amour westerns (a writer who was, for most of his career, on the opposite end of the spectrum from the above-mentioned authors, word-count wise). There are folks who don’t like Stephen King, and I’d have to agree with them on some of his later books, but if you criticize The Stand or It, I’ll hit you with one (just kidding; that would be assault with a deadly weapon).

I say: What’s wrong with big books? They’re like a big meal: lots to enjoy there.

I have to admit that my tolerance for long novels has gone down in recent years. I think part of it is switching to reading so many crime novels, which have lower word counts. And it may be that I’m discovering so many books I want to read that I don’t want to take too long on any one of them.

The-Stand-Book-CoverBut I still have a reverence for those huge tomes from my childhood, and I guess I’ll go ahead and keep writing my “big” books.

After all, if you’re gonna tell a story, why not tell all of it (that’s said with tongue firmly in cheek, by the way)?


Goodbye Middle-earth

hobbit_the_battle_of_the_five_armies_ver21_xlg_largeCome December 17th, it’ll be over. With the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, it’s a pretty good bet our cinematic visits to Middle-earth will be done. I mean, in a way, it’s okay. You can still go back and watch roughly eighteen hours of it if you have the extended versions of all Peter Jackson’s wonderful movies, but new ventures are probably on hold. Last I read, the Tolkien family has hated what Jackson did to The Hobbit so much that they won’t grant him rights to anything else. So discussion of a trilogy based on The Silmarillion has been dampened. It’ll have to be someone else, from what I’ve seen online (though thesilmarillionmovie.com claims the idea the Tolkien estate won’t grant Jackson the rights is a rumor only and has never been confirmed officially).

I have mixed feelings about this. I’ve (partially) lived in Middle-earth since I was in sixth grade. That’s close to forty years. And while I can’t claim to have read the books countless times, I have a collection of several different editions (in paperback), and I’ve dipped into it multiple times, at least.

I loved the cinematic The Lord of the Rings. I’m not a purist, and I understand that books and movies are two different mediums: what works well in one won’t necessarily go over in the other. And I really love the way Jackson added in things from other sources to bolster and flesh out some things. He pulled in things from The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales for some background stuff, and I think that made it a richer experience.

As for his version of The Hobbit…well, I’m not as happy. I like them, but he’s thrown in plot details that aren’t in any of Tolkien’s other works, and even created characters that weren’t there—chief among them being Tauriel and the subplot of a possible love interest with one of the dwarves. I could have done without that, because The Hobbit isn’t a love story. I don’t mind the extra stuff with Legolas and the wood elves because he’s showing us things Tolkien told us about or just mentioned in passing.

And at least Jackson makes the elves look as Tolkien described them, unlike that farce of an animated version that came out in the seventies and had elves looking more likeanimated elven king goblins than the tall, slender beings the Professor tells us about.

So what about other ventures into Middle-earth? The Silmarillion is a history of the realm that reads like the Bible and, for me, is hard to get through. Professor Tolkien was a linguist who invented sixteen complete languages for Middle-earth, and The Silmarillion makes for some very dry reading. On the other hand, I have managed to make it about halfway through, and learning about the silmarils and that Sauron was actually just a minor lieutenant to the really bad guy was a pleasant surprise.

But would it translate into a movie? Maybe. There’s a lot of material there, and we could see the creation of the orcs that Saruman tells his first Uruk-Hai about. The Silmarillion is the creation myth of Middle-earth, so the movie maker would have a lot to choose from. It’s not a long book, but it could easily make a trilogy. After all, it describes everything that happened in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in just a few paragraphs. Less than a page, if I remember right.

The_Children_of_Hurin_coverBut, even if we never go back to Middle-earth in new movies, there are still some nine hours to watch, and countless hours rereading the books. I’ve never even dipped into Unfinished Tales, and I own a copy of The Children of Hurin but haven’t even attempted to read it yet. So while I may never again get to see a new rendition of my favorite fantasy realm, I can go again and again if I want to. After all, I went for years with the only real cinematic versions being the vastly inferior animations, one of which was never finished.

I’ll take what I’ve got and be glad of it.


The Wonder of it All

I finally sat down and watched the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (AUJ). I love these movies. Seeing Middle-earth come to life has been a treat for me. Yes, there are a lot of extra things in these new movies that aren’t in the original novel, but as I understand it, most of it comes from other sources that Tolkien wrote. I haven’t read all his works, so I can’t vouch for all of it, and I know that there is at least one total fabrication in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (TDOS), that of the character Tauriel.

I’m sure there are purists out there who are champing at the bit about this kind of thing, but I’m not. Why? Because we all have our individual interpretations of Tolkien’s works. What I see in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings will be different than what the person next to me sees. These movies are simply Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the canon. And who’s to say that the Professor himself wouldn’t approve of what Jackson has done? None of us can know.

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know The Hobbit is near and dear to me. I credit hearing that story as the genesis of me wanting to be a writer. And with the publication of Spree, I’ve fulfilled a dream and a promise. The dream, of course, is to be a published author (and the logical extension of that, a full-time author). The promise? To dedicated my first published book to Robert Croddy, the teacher who read The Hobbit to his 6th grade science class every year. That act woke something in me, a desire to travel to all kinds of places through the pages of books.

One of my favorite scenes in AUJ is the one when they’re still in Bag-End and the dwarves start singing “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold” (at least I’m assuming that’s the song’s title). Hearing that song come alive is a treat to me. But the book does it one better, and I’ll tell you why.

Right at the end of that song—which Tolkien transcribes much more of than we see in the movie—there’s a paragraph that sums up my love of books and how they can transport us. It’s the paragraph I think of any time I think of this ability books have, and it goes like this:

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in the dark caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up—probably somebody lighting a wood-fire—and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again.

Now, for the most part, I’m not a fan of poems, but that passage is pure poetry to me. The images it evokes when I read it go far beyond what words are there. The jewels of the dwarves, the stars shining in a dark sky…and that fire springing up in the wood beyond The Water. There’s something about that image in particular the spurs me, sparks my imagination (no pun intended).

Who is it? Why was the fire lit? What’s out there?

We never find out. All we know is what Tolkien tells us: “probably somebody lighting a wood-fire.” It’s such a simple thing and yet…it’s so grand to me. It embodies all the wonder I’ve spent years chasing in various books, sometimes finding it, more often not. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve found it till after I finish the books. Sometimes it takes some time to realize I’ve found it in a new form, such as when Robert Crais begins exploring the true meaning of friendship in books like L.A. Requiem and Suspect.

But always, always, it comes back to that mysterious somebody lighting a fire out beyond The Water.

As rich and glorious as the Peter Jackson movies are, that single paragraph is far better to me, and I’m not sure why he didn’t include that image in the movie. I’m sure there’s some other passage that means as much to him that was included—we’re running into that personal interpretation thing again. A part of the spirit is there in the way he filmed the dwarves singing the song, and the actors do a splendid job of conveying the longing for home the dwarves feel, the need to go back and reclaim Ereborn.

I have achieved part of my dream: to be a published writer. I will continue to work on fulfilling the rest of the dream of being a full-time writer.

And I hope that someday, in some way, I can write a passage the sparks the fire of creativity the way Tolkien’s simple image of a fire springing to life in the darkness sparked mine. It’s a grand dream, I know, but without such dreams, I don’t think I would have become a writer in the first place.


Another Old Friend

A few weeks back, I wrote about re-discovering an old friend when I re-read The Hobbit, and of how it and a lot of other good books got me through my teen years. Some of those books included Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books (especially the Camber series), some of Andre Norton’s books (Daybreak 2250 A.D. comes to mind, as well as Quag Keep), and quite a few others.

Book cover, Quag Keep by Andre Norton (DAW Boo...

On another front, I spent hours traveling the frontier—whether that frontier was the Blue Ridge Mountains of the 1600s or the West of the 1800s—with Louis L’Amour. Mr. L’Amour was able to transport me to another world just as effectively as Tolkien or Kurtz, except this world was back in time to our discovery of this wonderful continent we live on.

Somewhere in there I discovered Robert Ludlum. I’m not sure anymore what spurred me to try one of his books, though I suspect it was Katherine Kurtz, as strange as that might sound. But there is a connection: intrigue.

Ms. Kurtz’s books were filled with it. It’s a staple of high fantasy, though I didn’t know that term back then. I didn’t know how to describe it, except to say the characters spent a lot of time trying to out-plot one another.

Mr. Ludlum’s characters were likewise engaged, but his stories generally involved the Cold War in some way. I loved reading about how they’d make a call on a payphone and only stay on it for less than two minutes before moving on to another one. How they used false identities, cutouts, and all the other methods of subterfuge that made the cloak and dagger setting so fascinating to me.

When I went into the Army, my reading fell off quite a bit, and for a number of reasons. It started because I simply didn’t have the time. Then I got interested in music and partying (at about the same time, of course) and didn’t have much interest left over for reading. I’d do some along the way, but not a lot.

I started calming down in 1985 and, on one of my trips to the PX to look at their books, I saw this gray book with a Russian submarine on the cover. If I remember right, the first few times I spied this book (no pun intended), I didn’t bother with it. But it kept popping into my mind. I couldn’t bring the title to mind, but I could see that cover.

I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts, and I did so then. Since I couldn’t remember the title, I almost didn’t find the thing. In those days, the PX displayed its paperbacks on racks a lot like you still see in grocery stores, except they didn’t bother to make all the stacks the same book. You had to dig through them to see what was being offered.

I finally found it, picked it up, and in the inside flap (it was one of those with two front covers), one of the blurbs was from President Ronald Reagan.

Cover of "The Hunt for Red October"

That book was The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy.

We lost Mr. Clancy a short time ago, dead at the age of 66. He’d taken a hiatus from writing (I’ve heard it had something to do with a divorce, but I haven’t been able to confirm that), but lately he’s been publishing books at an almost furious rate, as if to make up for time lost.

I haven’t kept up with a lot of his later books, but I can still remember getting wrapped up in Red October, having a hard time putting it down. I was in the military, and here was a book that spoke to me. Sure, it was all naval stuff, so I didn’t know exactly what all this gear was he referred to, but it was still military, and I could identify with it.

I ate it up. And grabbed up Red Storm Rising when it came out. For a long time, I read every new book he published. I loved Clear and Present Danger (which I want to re-read now) because it involved more conventional ground forces like I was familiar with (these days I want to read it because it addresses the clear and present danger of the Colombian cocaine trade from the 80s). The Cardinal of the Kremlin was great because it let me see more of the mysterious John Clark, an

The Cardinal of the Kremlin

operative who was a lot of help to Jack Ryan (Mr. Clancy’s main character) in Patriot Games.

But when I think of Tom Clancy, I always think of The Hunt for Red October. When he wrote that book, he pretty much invented the techno-thriller. And if he didn’t invent it, then he certainly pushed it into the mainstream of thriller readers.

Red October is, for me, another one of those old friends. It’s in a different vein than The Hobbit, not only because it’s not fantasy, but because it’s not necessarily one that made me want to write. At least not as much as The Hobbit did. All the books I’ve ever read have made me want to write in one way or another, either because I wanted to see if I could do as good, or because I knew I could do better (I didn’t finish reading a lot of the latter).

I’m writing this not only because Mr. Clancy died recently, but also because, just a few days ago, I was looking through my bookshelf and saw my copy of Red October. It’s a paperback, gray, with a silver periscope on the cover and a Russian sub in the viewfinder (which also serves as the second O in the word October). I picked the book up, looked at the cover a bit, then opened to the first page:

Captain First Rank Marko Ramius of the Soviet Navy was dressed for the Arctic conditions normal to the Northern Fleet submarine base at Polyarnyy.

Maybe not the most exciting opening sentence ever, and probably wouldn’t pass muster these days, but to a guy in the military during the closing days of the Cold War (though we didn’t know it in 1985), it was an attention-grabber. Here’s the enemy, a captain of a Russian submarine, deploying for duty. And you could bet it wasn’t gonna be a patrol sub. Oh, no. No way. This had to be a missile sub—called a boomer in the trade—carrying nukes to threaten America.

I sat down and read the first few pages and had to force myself to put it back. Even though I’ve read it several times, it still had me wanting to see what would happen next. No, not much happens at first, but it gets intriguing fast when Ramius kills Ivan Putin, the zampolit, or political officer, before they even get fully deployed, then replaces their true orders with some he’s made up on his own.

I see I’m running long with this post, and I hope you’ve stuck with me so far, because I want to say this: if you’ve not read The Hunt for Red October you should give it a try. Yes, the movie with Sean Connery was good, and he portrays Marko Ramius admirably. But as is true in most cases, the book is far richer than the movie could ever be. Even if you’re not a fan of techno-thrillers or even thrillers in general, I think you might find this one engrossing.

Cover of 1986 first edition

Even if you do already know we “won” the Cold War.