If We Were Having Coffee 2

coffeeIf we were having coffee, mine would be iced espresso and milk, unsweetened. I refuse to call it a latte when I make it at home.

I’d talk about the importance of reading to children. I’ve always loved to read, and one of the reasons is that my mother read to me religiously until I was 11 or 12. Always books I was old enough to enjoy, but too young to read myself. She read me The Hobbit when I was six or seven, The Lord of the Rings a couple of years later. That’s probably why I’ve written so many Tolkien articles in the last six months I need a page to keep up with them all.

I started reading my grandson The Hobbit this week. I read him the one-page intro, “What is a Hobbit?” before work one morning. We started on the actual book at bedtime. He listened, enthralled, and asked lots of questions. I think he learned a new word from every page. We got through ten pages before he got too drowsy to listen. He gave up his “last cartoon,” which is a thing we do to transition to lights-out, to listen to the story instead.

**Slight Spoiler**

When Gandalf scratched the mark on Bilbo’s door, my grandson asked what it said. I just told him it was a letter Hobbits don’t know how to read. Later, when the seventh and eight dwarves piled in, I paused and we had this exchange:

Me: So, what did that sign on the door say?

Grandson: “Oh!! It said we’re having an UNEXPECTED PARTY!!” *claps hands in delight*

**End Spoiler

He had no trouble at all picking up on the little subtleties of the text, either. He loved the play on “Good Morning” in Gandalf’s first encounter with Bilbo. And when the sharp knock on the door came after all the Dwarves ringing the bell, he knew it was Gandalf with his staff. We finished the first chapter in one more sitting.

This isn’t quite a faithful adaptation of the introduction, but I have a soft spot for this cartoon because it was my first encounter with Tolkien’s work:

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you it’s difficult to go from posting three or four times a day to only once. We did that at Sourcerer on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, though, because it’s necessary if we want to keep our little operation stable and stay ahead with our content. We posted more than once Tuesday because that’s naturally our busiest day and we had two things that didn’t need to wait. We posted three times on Wednesday for the same reason, although we’ll keep posting Twice on Wednesdays going forward, because the combination of comics and Wordless Wednesday is working very well.

I’d also tell you I think this blog needs a new name. I’ve never been happy with it. It’s just all I could come up with when I set it up. I only want to change it once, because changing one of these blog titles across social media is tedious and time-consuming. Since I’m writing more personal stuff here and using this blog to archive series from all our blogs as well as talking about writing, I’m just not sure the name fits any more.

One more thing, because it’s just too funny. I’ve been blogging for six months, and I’ve had trouble keeping up with other bloggers on WordPress almost from the beginning. In all this time, I’ve been doing it with the reader and the blogrolls. It only occurred to to create a bookmarks folder for blogs and bookmark the ones I visit most often two days ago. I find it hilarious that I’m capable of conceptualizing and creating this complex communication network, but it never occurred to me that using the bookmarks would make my life so much easier.

Those are my thoughts for today. I hope you’ll join me for coffee again next week.  🙂

The Lord of the Rings as History: Who is the Narrator?

I’m writing a long series on The Lord of the Rings for Part Time Monster. If you’d like to catch up on the series, I have an index page for it. I’m doing a close-reading analysis of the text, but rather than read it as a work of fiction and talk about things like narrative structure and characterization, I’m doing a little thought experiment with it. I’m reading it as a work of history.

Every part of Tolkien’s Middle Earth writings have specific authors in the continuity, and Tolkien himself wrote these stories as though he were translating a set of old books into English. This brings up an interesting, and important, question. Just who is the third person narrator of The Lord of the Rings? It’s complicated, and the short answer is: lots of people, many of whom weren’t even alive when the events of the story take place.

The thing you need to understand about it, first and foremost, is that it is written from the perspective of Hobbits. The Wiki description doesn’t quite one_ring_by_lucasmtcapture the nuances, but it gets the chain of authorship correct. The big Wiki’s description contains more details. We’d need to really dig into Tolkien’s drafts to be more specific than this, but here is how I understand the narrative history of LOTR.

  1. Bilbo writes original version of The Hobbit as a memoir.
  2. Bilbo later writes down a lot of material related to the War of the Ring, much of it while the war is going on.
  3. After the defeat of Sauron, Bilbo gives Frodo the book. Frodo organizes it and adds a lot of material of his own, but the poems and things that are obviously translated from the Elvish or taken from deep lore are redbookBilbo’s.
  4. When Frodo sails into the West, he entrusts the book to Samwise, who makes further alterations and eventually leaves it in the possession of his daughter Elanor. That is the the last we see of the original book, and it is not preserved.
  5. Copies are made before the original is lost, the first at the behest of King Elessar (Aragorn). It is annotated and corrected (this is where most of the info in the appendices come from). Faramir writes the tale of Aragorn and Arwen that tells their endings. At some point, the descendants of Merry and Pippin have it copied and archived.
  6. And this is important – from there it survives, in the original languages, to Tolkien’s day. He translates it somehow. So, Middle Earth is not some alternate universe. The story of LOTR is something that happened in our very own world in prehistoric times, which makes it even more surreal than it would be if it were set in another world entirely. Logically speaking, Proto-Indo-European must be descended from Tolkien’s constructed languages. That is a delicious claim for a fiction writer to make, especially when they pull it off.

This is all stuff to keep in mind, as we discuss Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam. The Lord of the Rings was written by Hobbits, filtered by scholars of Gondor, re-copied by Hobbits as a cultural artifact, then finally translated thousands of years later by Tolkien.

(This is a revised version of a section of The Death of Isildur. Posted today because I need to be able to refer to this info without linking to that longer post in the future.)

Credits: Ring Image by lucasmt/DeviantArt Red Book image by Criatura del Bosque/flickr


Rebuilding a Culture of Readers

Thought-provoking article here. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and it’s something I learned as a child. I also never saw a computer until I was 11 or 12. Sometimes I wonder how different I’d be if I’d been born after personal computers became ubiquitous.


Many of you have heard about the study recently released by Common Sense Media that shows US kids and teens are reading less proficiently, less often, and less for pleasure than the same age groups did 30 years ago.   If you’d like to see more details (and you should), please check out the summary article here or the full report PDF file here.

OK, so are you totally shocked?

No, of course not.  You kinda suspected that kids were reading less, right? I mean, there’s streaming video and social media; smart phones and Nintendo DS to distract them. Kids and teens 30 years ago  didn’t have that.

30 years ago, I was seven. If I was lucky, I watched Electric Company with my brother and sister after school and Dallas when Grandma was babysitting. (Sorry to rat you out, Grandma.) Otherwise, I played outside, secretly destroyed Barbies with my brother’s G.I…

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Review: The Benevolence Archives Vol.1

Taylor Grace

I chose to read something out of my genre with this book. I had no idea what to expect for The Benevolence Archives. I was fairly certain it wasn’t going to be romance and I knew it was in English. Everything else was a surprise. And it was a very pleasant surprise.

I loved the intro for this book. I loved it because it was written with humour and in such a kind way–almost humble–that I felt as though the author was a friend, talking to me directly. It also helped me because it set up the setting for the book. Suddenly, I knew where I was and what was going to happen. That introduction eliminated the effort it takes to get into some science-fiction books. I was most definitely in.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the humour. From subtle to quirky, it’s everywhere and…

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A to Z Day 21: Utopian

Utopian stories are set in perfect or near-perfect societies. Writers have created utopias in English for at least 500 years. The term as we use it today comes from Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, which was first published in 1516. You can find antecedents in the practice of creating ideal states, a truly ancient philolosphical practice; and it is interesting that More’s book is both a work of narrative fiction and a social critique of European society.

The opposite of the utopia is the dystopia – a fictional society that has gone terrifyingly wrong. Dystopias are far more popular that utopias in contemporary fiction, and they are often presented as cautionary tales or social criticism. I have to think hard to come up with more than a couple of utopian works without a search enging (More and James Hilton’s Lost Horizon are the only ones that just spring to mind). The list of dystopian works I can name off the top of my head is long. Here are a few (links to their Goodreads pages):

Click for A to Z blog list.

Click for A to Z blog list.

Utopian and dystopian settings are popular in speculative fiction. You could even argue that they are speculative fiction by their very nature, even when they don’t contain a lot of sci-fi or fantasy elements. Some authors even combine them. It’s not uncommon to find writers playing with these concepts by doing things like creating an obvious dystopia but having everyone who lives in it convinced it’s a utopia (well, except for that one guy at the center of the story, and perhaps a few social elites).

Utopias and dystopias work well in film. So well, in fact, that I have an easier time naming dystopian movies than I do naming dystopian books.

A to Z badge by Jeremy of  Being Retro

April A to Z Day 2: Biographical

Biographical information is an important element of writing, for many different reasons.

Click for A-Z blog list

Click for A-Z blog list

If you’re carefulnot to make too much of it, the biography of an author might tell you something about his or her work. Biography can be a powerful nonfiction technique, and it can also generate some interesting fiction.

One of my favorite fictional biographies is Bjorn Larsson’s Long John Silver: The True and Eventful History of My Life of Liberty and Adventure as a Gentleman of Fortune and Enemy of Mankind, which includes references to the events of Treasure Island from Silver’s perspective. In one of my favorite nonfiction books, The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905-1922, Edmond Taylor uses a lot biographical information on important turn-of-the century European figures to explore the causes of World War I.

Then we have autobiography. I often incorporate autobiographical information into my blogging, especially when I’m talking about a big issue or a set of abstract ideas. I find that readers respond to those posts more positively if I can find a way to personalize them. In this post, for example, I explain my vision for the blogs I’m involved with. I frame it as a conversation between Diana and I because I think that makes it more interesting, and above all, more readable than it would be otherwise.

I consider most autobiography to be creative nonfiction, because when one is writing about oneself, it’s nearly impossible to keep from taking at least a small amount of license with the facts as they actually occurred. Many of my favorite blog posts are pieces that read like memoirs.

image by Kindovermatter.com, pinned by Part Time Monster.