The Chestnut Soldier by Jenny Nimmo — This one’s about as good as the first one, I think. It has a more connected story than the second book, with a specifically magical plot that I find pretty interesting. The way she made Evan’s story fit with the legend is clever and compelling.

I love especially how all the heterosexual female characters are so charmed by Evan — even Nain! — that they’re blinded to what’s really going on… and at the same time, the women are the ones that want to make sure he’s all right, putting some restraint on what might be extreme and ruthless tactics on Gwyn’s part. For Nia to be the one that saved him in the end is aaaawesome.

And Gwyn trying so hard to repress his magic that he actually represses his own physical development… and then realizing that magic isn’t as serious and heavy an undertaking as he thought? Adorable. I’m so happy for him when he starts growing again and doesn’t have to renounce magic to do so.

These books mostly got landed with fairly dorky covers, but what can you do?

And throughout the book, I enjoyed spending more time with the Lloyd family. It was great to get to know Nia’s sisters more, and for Iolo to have a bigger part in the story. It’s kinda sad that just when the reader is very comfortable in this community, just when the team’s assembled, the series ends.

I had this edition when I was younger too. The picture is gorgeous, except for everyone looking like 100 dorks. Gandalf not so much, but he’s still wearing blue for some reason.

The Lord of the Rings book 1 by J.R.R. Tolkien (English/German) — For a minute I was thinking about how sweet it is for Gandalf to take time away from his critically important mission to make fireworks for Bilbo’s party — that a friendship can be so important to him, and that he’s allowed to expend time and energy on it.

And while I still believe that’s the case, that Gandalf does have a meaningful attachment to Bilbo and a desire for his happiness, I was then reminded of this bit–

‘After all that’s what this party business was all about, really: to give away lots of birthday-presents, and somehow make it easier to give it away at the same time. It hasn’t made it any easier in the end, but it would be a pity to waste all my preparations. It would quite spoil the joke.’

‘Indeed it would take away the only point I ever saw in the affair,’ said Gandalf.

–and I remembered that Gandalf actually had a specific, mission-related reason to help make sure Bilbo’s party went well. So I lost some of my sense of squee. Still, though, friendship FTW.

In fact I love that Gandalf is so interested in the creation of fireworks in the first place. Because whether or not he uses this skill in the direct line of duty from time to time, you can still call it what it is: a hobby. And that Gandalf has friendships and hobbies says something so important about the world he exists in and the Powers that sent him to Middle-Earth.

Because he’s not a single-minded tool or weapon with a goal that eclipses every other aspect of his existence. He’s an individual allowed to have attachments and preferences, and to love life on Middle-Earth. I find that moving and inspiring.

So one thing I noticed that I’ve never picked up on before plays into something that I have ruminated on in the past (though mostly much later on). This line near the beginning struck me unusually this time around: his closest friends were Peregrin Took (usually called Pippin), and Merry Brandybuck (his real name was Meriadoc, but that was seldom remembered). Because it had never occurred to me before, somehow, that Sam was not Frodo’s friend.

By the end of the story, of course, Frodo and Sam become far more than friends. (And, no, I don’t mean I’m shipping them; I mean their relationship is far deeper than friendship without requiring a specific designation. Do what you will.) But at the start of the story, their relationship is purely that of master and servant.

There are several master-servant relationships throughout the book, and the servants often demonstrate a frame of mind and set of emotions that, quite simply, baffle me. I don’t come from a culture of masters and servants (in the traditional sense, at least). I don’t come from a monarchy. And I’ve never served in the military. Therefore, the soul-deep, seemingly unconditional loyalty and devotion the good servants have toward their masters, and the reciprocal sense of appreciation and responsibility of the good masters toward their servants… well, I see it; I recognize what it is; I just… don’t… get it.

As I mentioned, this usually strikes me much later in the book (specifically in relation to Beregond and Bergil and their attitude toward Faramir), but having realized that this is the deal between Sam and Frodo at the beginning of the story gave me such a better perspective on their interactions this time. Of course he’s Frodo’s servant; I just never really grasped what that meant before.

Also, it allowed me to pick up on the fact that Sam is a lower-class hobbit than Frodo, Pippin, and Merry. When Frodo introduces them at Bree, he says, ‘Mr. Took and Mr. Brandybuck; and this is Sam Gamgee. My name is Underhill.’ And I never considered the significance of that wording prior to this.

And I think that makes Sam, in the long run, a greater hero than ever. It isn’t just a lesser people standing up against the mighty Enemy; it’s the lesser of the lesser people shaking the towers and counsels of the great.

The way the Nazgûl are introduced is absolutely brilliant. At first they can easily be mistaken for normal humans, but pretty well each subsequent encounter increases the otherworldliness about them — not to mention the fear they inspire! Between making you wonder who or what the crap they are and drawing you into their extremely well developed and paced creepiness, their presence creates a steadily escalating tension that climaxes amazingly well on Weathertop. Tolkien could have written unparalleled horror with skills like that.

Incidentally, I find it very interesting that, through Frodo’s eyes while he’s wearing the Ring, we get the only physical description of the Nazgûl as they appear as Men at Weathertop. It makes that scene all the more significant to and interrelated with later climactic scenes involving the Nazgûl.

One aspect of The Lord of the Rings I’ve always loved is the string of helpful people Frodo (and many another character) meets on his journey. The line that gets me every time is when Butterbur, all together the most mundane and ineffectual of normals, discovers that Frodo’s enemies and the beings he so fears come from Mordor, and replies without hesitation to Frodo’s question of whether he’s still willing to help with, “I am. More than ever.”

Not only does this create an uplifting feeling of a bond existing among many disparate and otherwise unconnected people, and hint at the scope of the work Gandalf has done over the many years to inspire them against Sauron, it also sends a subtle thread of hope through the narrative. It gives the sense that, though the Enemy is an unthinkably massive and powerful threat, another force of fate is at work helping many of his opponents connect effectively.

Beyond that, it provides crucial contrast in the feel of the story. Without these moments of comradeship, the entire book would be a bleak and unmitigated plod (tedious withal) through an endless succession of enemies and trials. Riders on the road are followed by Gildor; deathly Nazgûl cries across the Shire are followed by Farmer Maggot; Old Man Willow is followed by Tom Bombadil; and so on. The rise and fall of threat and assistance keeps the pacing snappy and every scene fresh, and builds the overall tension far better than a story without this kind of emotional contrast ever could.

And speaking of Tom Bombadil. Of course there’s endless speculation about what he is, with some saying he must be Ilúvatar and one scholar insisting it’s better not to ask because that destroys the mystery. And, guys, I just think he’s a Maia — and if I’m incorrect, whatever. I love Tom Bombadil. I’ve mentioned in the past how much he resembles my dad; he’s so awesome and funny.

But what I don’t see a lot of is speculation about what Goldberry is. What exactly is a River-Daughter? One might speculate she too is a Maia, except for the sense Frodo gets from her that, in relation to his reaction to elven-voices, less keen and lofty was the delight, but deeper and nearer to mortal heart; marvellous and yet not strange. My mom believes she’s a human, and maybe that’s right: a human with a deep connection to nature, and water in particular. At any rate, she’s badass enough to have attracted the attention of Tom Bombadil the Eldest, so we know she’s something special.

Oh, and what about the willow-man? I’m too curious about all these things, and maybe I should just follow that scholar’s advice, but I want to knoowwww. How do these mysterious figures fit into the world we’ve learned so much about??

Incidentally, I was thinking about how hilarious it would have been if Tom had included his own nonsense words in the rhyme he taught the hobbits in case they needed his help. I can just picture Frodo, in the solemn and frightening atmosphere of the barrow, beginning to call out in a wavering voice, “Ho! Tom Bombadil, ring a dong derry dol!”

This time through, I’ve put everything roughly into chronological order, so I read most of the appendix material between The Silmarillion and The Hobbit. But Of Aragorn and Arwen largely takes place after The Hobbit. I don’t think I’ll do the chronological thing again, because the appendices (and the end of The Silmarillion) jump around so much in the timeline and make it impossible to ever truly get them into chronological order, but it’s been fun to give it a try.

And of course there’s also the consideration that Tolkien put that stuff where he put it for a reason. He was pretty insistent about, for example, the order of the presentation of events in books 3-6; he obviously felt strongly about how things were supposed to be read. But I have to admit, I did kindof enjoy having Aragorn’s history and the story of his relationship with Arwen before book 1 and his introduction there. Yes, it destroys all the dramatic irony in his part in the story, so I certainly see why we’re not really supposed to learn all of that until after the fact, but, as I said before, it’s been fun this time around.

I actually think the story of Aragorn and Arwen is pretty sweet, for a love story that offers barely any characterization and in which a woman is, to a certain extent, treated like property. Imagine you’re a very old immortal elf babe, and this actual baby, a literal 20-year-old mortal guy, pops up and starts calling you Tinúviel. It makes me laugh.

And it gives a different feeling to Strider’s dialogue and attitudes when you’ve just heard about his long struggle and his heart’s desire. It does, as I mentioned, ruin the moments of realization when the friends that know him as a ragged wanderer discover his true attributes, but an altered perspective is fun.

When Sam recites part of the song about Gil-Galad that he learned from Bilbo, Strider remarks that Bilbo did not write it but must have translated it — and adds, ‘I did not know that,’ making it clear that he’s well enough acquainted with Bilbo to be fairly familiar with what he has and hasn’t translated. Yet Frodo, who has no idea that Aragorn knows Bilbo at all, who misses Bilbo terribly and would like to know where and how he is, doesn’t seem to notice this and doesn’t ask about it. An oversight on Tolkien’s part?

Another thing I’ve always loved about The Lord of the Rings is how often secondary and tertiary characters have important roles to play. It helps give the feeling of a wider, more populated and involved world than if only Our Heroes did everything as if someone had hired big-name actors to play them and wanted to give them as much screentime as possible, and it reinforces the idea of allies everywhere that I mentioned before. Glorfindel, for example, for as little as we get to know him, is a great character and an excellent addition to the flight to the ford scenes. (Though I admit, every time I get to that part where he shows up, I want to shout at him, “Be less obscure in your prophesying, you ass!”) There are numerous other examples of this phenomenon throughout the book, and each one of them pleases me.

It interests me when the narration says, Frodo had not the power of Bombadil. Glorfindel later speculates that even Tom could be eventually defeated by the Enemy, but that moment of narration implies at least that, if Tom were to tell the Nazgûl to fuck off, they might actually do it. Still pretty awesome that Frodo tries it, though.

These are probably not all my thoughts about this first part of my favorite book, but they’re all I can remember for sure at the moment. So on to the German and then out.

I still think the translation is a little lazy, that in many cases, though the general meaning is retained, the more specific feel of the sentence is lost. I’m afraid I’m going to have to read with my eyes one of these days, because I think (I could be wrong) the physical copy I have of Der Herr der Ringe is a better translation than these audiobooks. Yet I’m massively enjoying listening to them even with this (possible) problem.

The narrator, who as I mentioned before reads with a lot of spirit and character, might actually annoy me in English, since he’s kinda over-the-top sometimes… but in a language I understand not nearly so well, he’s a lot of fun. His performance of Tom Bombadil was so completely delightful and funny, I had to listen to Tom’s introduction two or three times over and then make my brother (the only person awake at that time) listen to it too. The one thing I really prefer in the English audiobooks, despite the mediocrity of Rob Inglis’s performance, is that he sings the songs instead of just reading them. I love having a melody to attach to them in my head, and a lot of them seem to fit really well.

OK, looks like I’m about done. I feel like there must have been more art experiences in the last two weeks, but I can’t remember thems. Tolkien tends to swallow up most other things for me.


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