Observations About LotR – The Return Of The King

071tfThe Quill to Live team is currently doing a reread of Lord of the Rings because for many of us, it has been awhile since we read it (on average about a decade). I initially thought about doing a review piece, but no one needs to hear another review about LotR to know it is amazing. We all know it is amazing. Instead, I thought I would instead do a compilation of some of the more amusing observations people had about the book, usually having to do with things not being as we remember. This is the third and final entry on The Return of the King, our thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers can be found here:

1) RotK is 50% epilogue – Literally. I never realized as a child how early in the book they destroy the ring (spoilers). Frodo casts the ring into the volcano at around 55% in my version of the book, and the rest of the story is showing the happily ever after. It suddenly makes a lot more sense as to why the movie seemed to have so many endings – because there are so many little vignettes that Peter Jackson was trying to cover.

2) I see what Tolkien meant about his series in the prologue – At the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien states that his series was meant actually as one book but they had to break it up for publication due to size. When reading the first two novels I didn’t think much of this note, but upon reaching Return of the King it becomes a lot more obvious. While the first two books in the trilogy feel like full novels, Return of the King doesn’t really stand on its own. The book breaks down into three sections: the first part is one long protracted battle with the larger party, the middle and smallest section involves Sam finding Frodo and them quickly tossing the ring into the mountain, and the back half of the book is cleanup for the entire series. It very much feels like a continuation of The Two Towers and The Fellowship as opposed to its own entity to me.

3) The book drags a little bit more than its predecessors – This was not a unanimous feeling in our reading group, but a good number of people felt that the middle of Return of the King dragged a lot. There is a section of about 40 pages (which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it sure felt like it to me) where Sam and Frodo are trying to locate the right mountain – and they do this by walking up to about 5 different ones and going “is this it? Nope”. I initially really enjoyed Tolkien spending some time elaborating on Orc culture and fleshing them out as a race more, but I don’t need to be told more than one time that Orc clothing is incredibly uncomfortable and I did not find myself enlightened when Tolkien talked about it the seventh or eighth time.

4) I get it now – My first three thoughts might seem very harsh, because I think LotR has a bunch of writing issues when compared to today’s modern style. However, while I had a bunch of small issues with Return of the King, I also can finally see what everyone sees in it. As you read this series, in particular the finale, you can see a map of thousands of books that it inspired. The landscape of the fantasy genre starts to make more sense, and you can see the source of tons of tropes and philosophies that permeate it. You can see why so many people have tried to emulate these aspects of this trilogy. Lord of the Rings is fun and whimsical, but also serious and philosophical. It is a timeless masterpiece, as I am sure everyone already knew, that is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. If you haven’t given it a read recently, I recommend you check it out again.

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Observations About LotR – The Two Towers

9780547928203_p0_v2_s192x300The Quill to Live team is currently doing a reread of Lord of the Rings because for many of us, it has been awhile since we read it (on average about a decade). I initially thought about doing a review piece, but no one needs to hear another review about LotR to know it is amazing. We all know it is amazing. Instead, I thought I would instead do a compilation of some of the more amusing observations people had about the book, usually having to do with things not being as we remember. This is the second entry on The Two Towers, our thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring can be found here:

1) Aragorn has no chill – “When have I been hasty or unwary, who have waited and prepared for so many long years?’ said Aragorn.” Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Two Towers. That is a line that Aragorn says about halfway through The Two Towers, and it caused explosive laughter. Mostly because Gandalf’s reaction to this is “Aragorn you are right, you are so calm” – to which we ask, are you reading a different book Gandalf? Aragorn needs to calm down, a lot. He is constantly surprising hundreds of armed horsemen on edge by jumping out of bushes, telling the entire kingdom of Rohan to fight him 1v1, and generally making choices that would be likely to get a person stabbed repeatedly just because they scared someone holding a sword. He sounds like the most stressful party member ever, and if my co-adventurer told me his plan was to swagger into the king’s hall assuming he didn’t have to give up his sword since he was also a king…WITHOUT EVER HAVING A CORONATION OR, EVEN MORE, NOT EVEN GOING TO GONDOR BEFOREHAND, I would stab him myself.

2) Faramir is a baller – Boromir’s brother who helps guard Gondor is a lot cooler in the book than I remember. In the movies he is portrayed as just Boromir 2.0, trying to steal the ring from Frodo. But in the books, he is just a regular old human who isn’t even slightly tempted by the ring, making 90% of the cast look pretty dumb. He is a really interesting character who adds a lot of depth and realism to the story. He is the first character I saw to question Aragorn’s claim to being the king, and seems like the kinda guy you would want in charge of an army trying to beat back the forces of evil. He has this practicality to him that is extremely lacking across most of Tolkien’s other characters and makes a really good juxtaposition with pretty much anyone else in the books.

3) The book doesn’t drag where we expected, and does drag where we didn’t – Going into The Two Towers I was really excited for the ents and Helm’s Deep, and dreading Frodo and Sam’s frolic through the swamps. I thought it was going to be hard to get through pages of Sam and Frodo whining to Gollum after experiencing the might and majesty of Saruman vs. everyone. Turns out, the opposite is true. The first part of towers involves a lot of Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas camping – and talking about camping – and retelling the story of how they camped. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that The Fellowship takes place over multiples years, and Towers takes place over like a week. Because of this, Tolkien gets a lot more granular in his story telling. While this is arguably needed, it does make some scenes feel like they last forever, Meanwhile, in the second half of Towers Tolkien amps up the language and poetry so that Sam and Frodo’s journey becomes magical and filled with awe. I could not put down the second half of the book as Sam narrates the bleak landscape and dwindling hope of their cause.

4) Speaking of the first half dragging, the battles are… not great – First off I did not expect to go into this and have the greatest written action scenes of all time. Tolkien is known for his worldbuilding and prose much more than his fights. However, I was really disappointed with the fight at Helm’s Deep. It had so few descriptives and often broke down to “we fought some orcs and killed them”. Based on the movies you would think the battle lasted weeks, when in actuality it was closer to 24 hours. The scenes are confusing and not very satisfying, and I am hoping the battle of Pelennor Fields will step it up a notch in book three.

5) Treebeard is the best, and Sam is still amazing – I love Treebeard, and have since I first met the ents when I was young. I expected to reread Towers and find that my love for him was a bit overzealous, but I instead found it completely justified. Treebeard is just fun every second he is on a page and makes me genuinely happy as I read about him. His story is both interesting and moving, his personality is just smile inducing to be around, and he is just an all around well written character. He was definitely the highlight of book two for me, although Sam continues to be an all star as well. Most of the second book is narrated by Sam, with Frodo taking a back seat as he deals with the delirious effects of the ring. As mentioned in point three, these sections were a lot more exciting than I expected – and most of that is due to Sam’s great narration.

I liked The Two Towers less than The Fellowship this time around, but it was still a great (albeit sometimes slow) read. I am really excited for The Return of the King sometime this month, as I remember almost nothing about it other than they chuck a ring into a volcano at some point.

Observations About LotR – The Fellowship

lotr11The Quill to Live team is currently doing a reread of Lord of the Rings because for many of us, it has been awhile since we read it (on average about a decade). I initially thought about doing a review piece, but no one needs to hear another review about LotR to know it is amazing. We all know it is amazing. Instead, I thought I would instead do a compilation of some of the more amusing observations people had about the book, usually having to do with things not being as we remember:

1) Sam is really obviously the hero of the story – I read LotR when I was 12, and am 27 now. When I was about 18 I remember reading a piece by Tolkien talking about how he actually intended Sam to be the hero of the story, and it blew my mind. What a revelation! Who could have guessed that Sam was the true hero all along? Answer – probably everyone. At 12 I thought it was the cool prince, but reading now it is painfully obvious that Sam is the greatest. When everyone is running around being an egotistical douche, Sam is usually making comments like “all I want is love and peace on Middle Earth, and to see elves and tell them I love them”. He is the most wonderful character in the series, gets shit done, and whenever he is asked a question usually has a profoundly wise answer. He is not the hero we deserve, but the hero we need.

2) The famous “Not all who wander are lost” line that is quoted endlessly actually comes from a much larger poem – And the rest is equally kickass. It is from Aragorn’s prophecy and the rest goes like this:

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

3) Aragorn is a lot less princely, and a lot more crazy homeless person than I remember – When I read LotR I remember thinking Aragorn was the coolest. That was probably some projection on my part, because Aragorn feels like a crazy person who lives in the woods (which he is!) in the books. He’s a lot less romantic and a lot more “can’t have a normal conversation with another person” than I remember. The movie Aragorn with his lush hair, perfect smile, and princely charisma has definitely warped my memory of this crazy ranger who lives in the trees

4) Tolkien has some pretty ridiculous “TL:DR” writing occasionally – For those unfamiliar, TL:DR stands for “too long, didn’t read” and is usually a one line summary of a long piece of writing. Here are some of the major events that Tolkien sums up in a single line: Aragorn randomly reforging his sword, the entire fellowship dealing with the death of Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli going from hating one another to being BFFs, and Gandalf escaping from the death trap atop Saruman’s tower. I would have liked to see all these scenes in more detail, but I also found a lot of humor at their suddenness.

5) Tolkien is actually really funny – It can be hard to realize that Tolkien is actually hilarious, because his prose is usually so complex and occasionally archaic. But after reading a few scenes I took a step back and thought about them and found myself laughing out loud. An example; when the hobbits and Aragorn are being chased by the Ringwraiths, Frodo turns to Aragorn and asks him what is following them and here is a close approximation of how the conversation goes:

Frodo: Hey Aragorn, you are wise and worldly – can you tell us what this scary mystery force is chasing us? I am quite terrified and anything you can tell me about them will make me feel better.

Aragorn: Oh no, you are much better with me not telling you. Like, what is chasing us is so pants-shittingly terrifying that if I told you even a little about what they are and the 11 million ways they will murder and torture you when they catch you, you would be so scared you would LITERALLY die.

Frodo: HOW? HOW WAS THAT HELPFUL? IN WHAT WAY WAS THAT USEFUL INFORMATION, YOU COULDN’T HAVE JUST LIED TO ME? ALSO WHATEVER THEY ARE CANNOT BE SCARIER THAN THAT HORRIFIC DESCRIPTION YOU JUST GAVE.

Rereading the Lord of the Rings has been a lot more fun than we realized, and we recommend you all reread it (or read it for the first time!) when you get a chance. The movies had corrupted my memory of the actual books a lot, and I was surprised to realize how much better many aspects of the story are in their pure original version. Unsurprisingly, Tolkien continues to impress with every read of his masterpiece.

The Masters Of Prose

When talking about the most talented authors, I hear a lot of fans say it comes down to who has the best prose. While I completely disagree that it is the end-all of importance when judging someone’s books, it is none the less an extremely important aspect of every book. Prose is the vessel in which you tell a story, and requests for recommendations of masterful prose have come pouring in. One of the culprits of this surge in prose love is the talented Patrick Rothfuss, a master wordsmith and one of the current kings of the fantasy world. I get daily requests for authors on par with this giant, so I have decided to make a list of the authors I have read that are prose masters and why. So without further delay, in no particular order, let us begin:

cover_ukPatrick Rothfuss – Let’s start with Rothfuss himself as a introduction. Patrick Rothfuss is almost as much a poet as author, and the fact that his character is also poetically inclined only enhances this fact. Rothfuss’s prose feels both beautiful and accessible, which is what makes it such a powerhouse. He describes scenes in vivid detail, but only focuses on the important and does not waste time on the frivolous. With his honed writing and clever direction Rothfuss piques your curiosity and then paints your imagination without a single word wasted. The combination of both beauty and clarity is what makes him so good.

14497Neil Gaiman – Gaiman’s writing always reminds me of Grimm’s Fairy Tales; serious and dark subjects surrounded in whimsy and mystery. There are few authors with prose as imaginative and fun as Neil with his fanciful descriptions and mysterious and silly conversations. Yet these words still pack a punch, with layers of meaning and philosophy built into every single paragraph. Every single time you reread a work of Gaiman’s you will find some new meaning you didn’t see before and find the words more captivating than you remember. He is a thoughtful writer who has induced endless conversations about the complex meanings of stories.

51tpik8k2btlScott Lynch – Lynch has the one of strongest voices I have ever read. When you read any of his books you become the characters he creates, and live their lives. His books are both hilarious and alive. I don’t have a favorite part of any of his novels because if you were to open to any single page and start reading you would find yourself smiling and laughing. His books read like your best friend making you laugh after a rough break up and continue to bring me comfort whenever I need them. His prose will make its way to your heart and warm it with his lovable rogues and perfect humor. I have only found one or two books even close to as dripping with humor as Lynch’s work.

th_b_bennett_cityofstairs_ukRobert Bennett – I have only read one of Bennett’s books, City of Stairs, but it was enough. Bennett has displayed a talent for action, description, and imagination in his prose. His prose has both vivid detail, and an edge of humor, that makes scenes and descriptions both clear, beautiful, and memorable. In addition, in the creation of his original creatures and places he demonstrates a clear talent in helping the reader see his own imagination with clarity and understanding. His outrageous descriptives, dark humor, and use of the present tense in City of Stairs made me feel like I was reading something one of a kind.

61-whhujivl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Joe Abercrombie – Next we have the king of combat and the Escher of the fantasy world, Joe Abercrombie. I think that many in the fantasy world would agree that Abercrombie is one of the, if not the, most clever writers in the genre. There is so much going on in his prose that multiple people can read it, discuss it after, and wonder if they read the same story. Abercrombie’s prose feels like reality instead of a story, and does wonders bringing his tales to life. In addition, there are only a few authors who can write combat prose as well as Abercrombie. Many books feel like people just waving swords, but with Abercrombie you can feelevery sword blow, run every footstep, and take every breathe alongside the warriors in every battle.

828352Terry Pratchett – The world lost a giant when Terry Pratchett passed away last year. I honestly do not feel like I am a good enough writer to describe the power of Terry Pratchett’s prose, so instead for once I am going to refer you to the words of someone else on this list, Scott Lynch, as he describes what it was like to wake up in a world without Terry Pratchett (Warning – It will make you cry).

leguin01Ursula K. Le Guin – Le Guin’s prose is very, very powerful. She writes the kind of novels that make you feel bad about the way you live your life, and cause you to vow to give more to charity. Her prose uses tone and flow masterfully to manipulate your emotions and makes her messages incredibly heavy hitting. She is one of the few authors I have read to move me with just short stories like this one (only four pages long). Her work hits you like a truck full of bricks and is a great choice for someone looking for moving prose.

60211Gene Wolfe – Gene Wolfe writes the most dense, elusive prose I have probably ever read. His works are not on the same continent as “easy reads”. However, while his work requires a huge investment of time and patience, even the smallest snippet of his prose is enjoyable and oversaturated with meaning. You can read a book like Shadow of the Torturer 30 times and still find that each chunk of prose has new secrets that you did not find before. People are still writing books about the depth of his prose 30 years after it was published, so if you are looking for someone who meticulously chooses each word in a sentence/page/chapter/book he is always worth a read.

104089Guy Gavriel Kay – Kay writes mostly standalones, and his release times are infrequent. However, the long waits are always worth it as Kay’s prose will make you feel like you are living in another world or era. Kay is the most transportive writer I have ever read. He spends years studying the cultures and places he writes about so that he can get the details just right. His prose, without fail, takes you on journeys and fully immerses you in the characters lives until they feel like your own. His writing style is also incredibly poetic but also not too dense. This combination creates passages that are deeply moving but don’t require hours of thought to decipher their meaning. If you want to go on a journey, give any of his books a shot.

fellowship-of-the-ringJ. R. R. Tolkien – Tolkien. I feel like I really don’t need to justify why Tolkien is on this list, as Lord of the Rings is accepted as literature by a lot of people. However, I will say this – The Lord of the Rings is the kind of book that everyone wants to say they read, but doesn’t want to actually read. Its combination of popularity and dense prose encourage lots of people to skim through them in order to simple claim they have read it. This is a huge shame, because the prose (and everything) in Lord of the Rings is incredible. Tolkien’s prose is poetically descriptive, deeply laden with metaphors and symbolism, grand and inspiring in scope, and often times surprisingly funny and light hearted all at the same time. There is a reason he will forever be considered one of the all time fantasy masters, if you haven’t take some time and read through his books some time.