LotR Reread: The Shadow of the Past

The talk did not die down in nine or even ninety-nine days.

Tolkien really did write wonderful first lines, didn’t he?

The second disappearance of Mr. Bilbo Baggins was discussed in Hobbiton, and indeed all over the Shire, for a year and a day, and was remembered much longer than that. It became a fireside-story for young hobbits; and eventually Mad Baggins, who used to vanish with a bang and a flash and reappear with bags of jewels and gold, became a favourite character of legend and lived on long after all the true events were forgotten.

It occurs to me that this is … is there a word for an echo that happens before the fact? I’ll make something up: it’s an ante-echo of Sam in Return of the King: “Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales.” Frodo and Sam will be, of course – besides the Red Book of Westmarch, even – but here is a smaller-scale glimpse of that process. Bilbo would certainly have joined Bullroarer Took among the legends of the Shire even if the Party had never happened – but given the Party, and given his flash-bang disappearance from it, the process probably happened a lot faster.

… The general opinion in the neighbourhood was that Bilbo, who had always been rather cracked, had at last gone quite mad, and had run off into the Blue. There he had undoubtedly fallen into a pool or a river and come to a tragic, but hardly an untimely, end. The blame was mostly laid on Gandalf.

He had run off into the Blue, capital B. Into the Wild Blue Yonder. That phrase first makes me think of the Air Force Song (“Off we go, into the WBY”), but one website just defines it as “…a location far away that is appealingly unknown and mysterious.” Far-off mountains are blue; the sky is blue; the ocean is blue; blue is a good color for exploration and the unknown. Had I world enough and time I would go down that rabbit-hole with a vengeance.

Bag End Pantry – illustration by Ra Vincent – used by permission

And how utterly hobbit that the tragic ends the Shire folk envision for Bilbo involved falling into one body of water or another. You know, no one in Middle-earth goes in much for water, really, except for select groups of elves (Cirdan and Earendil spring to mind, the latter being a mariner and the former a shipwright. Oh, and the Teleri, of course. Poor Teleri with their light bows) – but the hobbits (except for those weirdos the Brandybucks) are actively, vehemently anti-water. I say this with “I cordially dislike allegory” firmly in mind: did the Professor dislike water? Something to keep in mind when I finally read the Carpenter biography.

Poor Gandalf. Here he is, slogging the length and breadth of Middle-earth trying to keep everyone – including these foolish halflings – safe to live their little lives … and he finds himself vilified by the whole raft of them. Well, it was all his fault, from Bilbo’s Unexpected Party on.

Here’s another example of Tolkien’s mastery: the book begins with random village folk, talking about what’s going on, including the Party, which leads them to talking about Bilbo (and Frodo). This leads to the entrance of Gandalf on the scene, and, a little like The Hobbit, he joins Bilbo at Bag End for the commencement of everything. And after Bilbo exits with the dwarves, Frodo enters. (I never noticed before that Frodo and Bilbo don’t share a scene, so to speak, until they meet again; their relationship is beautifully delineated without the two of them ever being shown together.) One character leads to the introduction of the next, and the next, and so on. It’s a master class in exposition.

Frodo and Merry were brought in in Chapter One, but both are reintroduced here in Chapter Two. Frodo basically picks up where Bilbo left off, living a lovely bachelor existence, hanging out with his friends and “tramping all over the Shire”. Frodo doesn’t seem to be aging – why? Gandalf told him specifically not to use the Ring – did Frodo ignore the warning? He walks “under the starlight” and enjoys his life to the hilt, and time passes until he’s fifty. But he’s begun to feel twinges of unhappiness that, nice as his life is, there’s a whole world out there with Bilbo wandering in it.

And how amazing is that, when you think about it: Bilbo, at eleventy-one, off walking to Rivendell and beyond like it was a jaunt to the market. Here’s another example of INNB (“I never noticed before”): I’ve always known that Bilbo celebrated his 111st birthday and then left on a journey, but I never thought about it. My mother is 92; she was quite hale until she broke her hip, so maybe six or seven years ago, or if she hadn’t broken that hip, she might have been able to get into hiking shape, but not as easily or eagerly as Bilbo. Maybe hobbits just age better, as well as more slowly. Their twenties are their “tweens”, so comparable to human teens; fifty is more like somewhere in your thirties. Still, ring or no ring, 111 should be ripe old age; you go, Bilbo.

Here’s another ante-echo or two: “[Frodo] found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.” So it has always been in the autumn that he becomes restless and distracted, not just a result of Weathertop and the rest of his adventures. And he has strange dreams, even before the Quest begins. Is this the hand of Iluvatar? (Random note: Microsoft would like to correct “Iluvatar” to “Elevator”.)

The Professor reels the camera back to a broader view of the Shire, and then zooms in on The Green Dragon in Bywater, where Sam is having a pint.

illustration by Ra Vincent – used by permission

‘And I’ve heard tell that Elves are moving west. They do say they are going to the harbours, out away beyond the White Towers.’ Sam waved his arm vaguely: neither he nor any of them knew how far it was to the Sea, past the old towers beyond the western borders of the Shire…

This is something that started two trains of thought going. On one track is how much I’d love to be a Middle-earth archaeologist. It would be tremendous to go do a nice scientific dig around about those old towers – who built them? I’m sure there’s an answer out in the Ardaverse somewhere. Who used to live in what is now the Shire? How long ago? What happened to them? Having read The Silmarillion didn’t do much for my knowledge of Tolkien lore (especially Middle-earth geography). I feel like I’m getting there, though.

The other train chugging along is about these lads of the Shire. Frodo’s explored a bit with Bilbo, but if he ever left the Shire it was a) as I said, with Bilbo, who knew where he was going, and b) for fun, and c) not going very far away, with home warm and comfortable at the end of the journey. I never had the impression that they slept out; I would guess that they always went there and back again within a day, rather like Tolkien and Lewis in their own rambles. They never went to Bree, for example. (Frodo and Bilbo, I mean, though Tolkien and Lewis probably never did either.) Merry has a bit of experience in the Old Forest, and in fact seems rather worldly-wise in comparison to the others – but he has never been as far as Bree either. Frodo knows the maps, and Merry starts paying attention once they’re relevant to him, but Pippin and Sam get nothing from them – none of them have any real concept of the scale of this adventure they’re setting out on. (I’ll come back to that in a later chapter.)

As I mentioned in an earlier Chapter Two post, hobbits aren’t very nice folk going by the depictions here. They’re positively brutal regarding Bilbo, and Frodo as well. But – it’s interesting that the one thing that does not seem to contribute to the neighbors’ opinion of Bilbo and Frodo as odd ducks is the fact that they’re both single. Not once does anyone ever remark that either of them should find, or should have found, a nice hobbit lass to settle down with.

The Green Dragon – illustration by Ra Vincent – used by permission

Ted Sandyman really is a pill. Everything Sam says, he feels he needs to, as a co-worker says, clap-back. ‘Take dragons now.’ ‘No thank ‘ee…. I won’t.’ Jerk. And you’ll want to remember that jerk – he’ll show up again before all’s said and done. Sam’s good-humored about it, though, “laughing with the rest” and giving as good as he gets. I should take a page from his book; he doesn’t let the jerk bother him. He lets Sandyman have the last word, and then just pulls back into himself and ponders the work ahead of him, and wider matters. It doesn’t seem to me that very many hobbits really appreciate the stars, but I get the impression Sam does.

Aaaaand I’m still not finished with the second chapter. Not even counting all the stuff I’ve already talked about in earlier posts.

This go-round:
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/chapter-one-a-long-expected-party/

Previous attempts at the Great LotR Reread:
Intro: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go/
Chapter One: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/lotr-reread-a-long-expected-party/
Chapter Two: https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/lotr-reread-chapter-2-the-shadow-of-the-past/

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LotR Reread: The Shadow of the Past (Prologue)

From the Foreword:

As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches: but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit. The crucial chapter, ‘The Shadow of the Past’, is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels.

48215865bdda39a409286f69d2dfb574-d6213mzI feel for Professor Tolkien. He was accustomed to being published, as an academic, but now abruptly his world was cracked open and exposed to the world at large – the great unwashed. These stories which he’d told only to his children, which he had only shown certain trusted friends, were now public property, and … Let’s put it this way. I’m deeply proud of being what I’ve always called a geek, what others call a nerd. So many of the others I’ve known who love the same things I love have been wonderful people – funny, smart (sometimes brilliant), creative … but I’ve also been to Star Trek conventions and seen the skin-tight uniforms worn by people who really should avoid skin-tight, and I’ve heard the ridiculous questions people feel compelled to ask the actors. (“In episode ( ) the Enterprise traveled 1,701 light years in six days at warp 6, but then in episode ( ) it took only three days to travel 1,861 light years at warp five; did the density of the space-time continuum have an adverse affect on dilithium crystal output?” Which is not an actual example, but not too far off, from what I remember.) I never have been able to figure whether the questions come from a (deeply mistaken) belief that the actor would know everything his character would know and remember every detail of every episode they were in decades previous … or if it they come from a desire to show off. Probably both, depending.

And, of course, fans – and critics – will insist on finding, or attributing, meaning where the author intended none. Fans (and critics) can be a right pain.

Tolkien’s WWI experience was horrific, of course. He was at the Somme. It would be impossible for that not to color every part of his life, including his writing – but it didn’t inform it. The story is the story, not a cordially-disliked allegory.

But I’d bet money that someone has gone line by line through LotR and tried to dig out the WWI influence. “But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” (I use that quote a lot, myself.)

I shall return, to talk about the actual book.

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LotR Reread: A Long-Expected Party

See? I said my LotR reread is still ongoing. Bitter despair will not stand in my way!

I’ve talked about Chapter One before, but … So what? I really intended not to spend any time on “A Long-Expected Party” here at all … and then I found myself writing about it. Because it’s so good.

First, though – even though the prologue is not included in the audiobook I’m listening to, I have to highlight one bit (emphasis mine).

… it has been supposed by some that ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ reflects the situation in England at the time when I was finishing my tale. It does not. It is an essential part of the plot, foreseen from the outset, though in the event modified by the character of Saruman as developed in the story without, need I say, any allegorical significance or contemporary political reference whatsoever.

*glares at Peter Jackson*

I mean, I know. I get it. People already complain about the fact that there seem to be multiple endings to the film, and by the end of however many hours that third hideous film was, people just wanted to get out of the theatre. But … now I’m trying to remember where the quote in my head comes from, and can’t: “Still – that don’t make it right!”

(Is it Bugs Bunny? Tweety Bird – ? Hm.)

But that’s the end of the story. Back to the beginning. And it’s a beautiful beginning. Have you met Bilbo Baggins? Whether or not you have, here he is in all his well-preserved glory – and if you have met him before, this is how long it’s been since then (for him). And right away the setting begins to take on color and shape, as we drop in on a gathering at the Ivy Bush – not the famous Green Dragon. Just for fun I checked: the Green Dragon shows up in the book five times, and the Ivy Bush only twice (once in conjunction with the Dragon). (The bypassed and lamented Golden Perch is – well, it’s irrelevant that it was mentioned three times, since we never get there. I don’t know that I ever pondered it before – that’s perch as in fish, I assume? I think as a kid I might have had an image of a parrot’s perch – perhaps in a gilded cage …And don’t tell me the Professor never thought of that.)

‘Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you, I says to him.’ – The Gaffer.

I’m not sure if this connection ever leaped out at me before, but here the Gaffer sounds like Polonius. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be! Don’t go getting uppity or you’ll regret it! Don’t go messing around with royalty or they’ll get stabby!”

‘Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters – meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come of it.’ Well, no harm does come of it as far as we know, and no good directly either – but what harm did the Gaffer think might come of learning to read and write? I hesitate to make another parallel, especially to current right-wing incumbents, but … in the past two years and change I have been shocked at the level of animosity there is out there to people who seek education. And it’s sad to see the same thing here. I find it surprising, I guess, that given his own way the Gaffer would never have had Sam learn to read. Maybe just because he expected Sam to follow in his footsteps and garden for the Bagginses forever; he’s been doing it for over sixty years, since he was a lad, and his uncle Holman before him, and to think that that continuity might be broken could be alarming. Hobbits not being particularly fond of change and innovation, as a rule.

I love that in that little scene the unnamed stranger who pipes up gets put in his place by the Gaffer. We can talk smack about our Mr. Bilbo, because he’s ours – just you pipe down, you Michel Delvingite.

Ted Sandyman, the miller, is introduced early on too, and while what he says doesn’t seem so awful, the Gaffer’s reactions to him indicate he kind of is. And he’ll be back, more’s the pity.

The Party is Much Anticipated, and happily the weather stays fine despite threatening clouds. There are “dwarves and other odd folk … quartered at Bag End” – who?? They’re mentioned in the same breath as the cooks drafted (draughted) from “every inn and eating-house for miles around”; are dwarves known for their cooking?

The party is one area where I can’t argue with Peter Jackson. Ian McKellen as Gandalf scuttling about with fireworks and chuckling – and dancing! – just makes me happy.

‘Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.’
Gandalf looked curiously and closely at him. ‘No, it does not seem right,’ he said thoughtfully.

Bilbo seems to just think this is a symptom of being a somewhat sedentary centenarian (!) – but it gets Gandalf’s attention. (“Sedentary” as in he hasn’t left the Shire in years, if not decades – not “sedentary” as in he sits in front of a computer and writes about the books he’s read all day. Maybe “stationary centenarian” would be better.) Gandalf has come here in part to probe a little deeper into the weird little mystery that is Bilbo’s pretty souvenir. “You are always badgering me about my ring,” Bilbo says; Gandalf replies, “I had to badger you … I wanted the truth”. So yes, he pestered Bilbo into telling him the truth back during the journey where it was found – but Bilbo’s accusation makes it sound like he has continued to ask about it through the decades. Because, after all – “Magic rings are—well, magical; and they are rare and curious. I was professionally interested in your ring, you may say; and I still am.” Gandalf being who he is, he knows about what magic rings should and should not be out and about in the world. For all the reader knows, any traveler might stumble over a piece of magical jewelry at any time; until we learn more, they might well be thick on the ground. If you’ve read the book a couple dozen times, and then (FINALLY) read The Simarillion, then you start to get a better idea of what Gandalf is thinking here. Because magic jewelry is not thick on the ground, and feeling “stretched” is not a normal product of being eleventy-one and settled.

‘Now, now, my dear hobbit!’ said Gandalf. ‘All your long life we have been friends’. But … they didn’t know each other before that lovely morning when Bilbo awkwardly invited him to tea. Each knew of the other, but they’d never spoken before, as far as I recall.

Bilbo’s unexpectedly violent reaction to Gandalf’s gentle push begins to confirm all of Gandalf’s worst fears. What an extraordinary scene. “Precious”, indeed… It’s so like other sci-fi or fantasy scenes where a parasite of some kind reacts to attempts to separate it from its host. All of which it predates, may I add. But the moment he gives it up, Bilbo feels better. (This might be a point at which the analogy to addiction fails; if you give up smoking or heroin or what-have-you, you’re probably going to feel a lot worse before you feel better.) A little while later, when Frodo comes in and frets a bit after Bilbo, Gandalf tells him “Don’t be too troubled. He’ll be all right—now.” He’s not sure what he knows – but he knows enough to know that.

It was a fine night, and the black sky was dotted with stars. He looked up, sniffing the air. ‘What fun! What fun to be off again, off on the Road with dwarves! This is what I have really been longing for, for years! Good-bye!’ he said, looking at his old home and bowing to the door. ‘Good-bye, Gandalf!’

Why … yes, actually. That’s exactly what I’ve really longed for all these years.


Anyhow. Although he had planned to stay a while and help Frodo with Post-Party cleanup, now that Gandalf has seen Bilbo’s reaction to prodding about giving up the Ring, and his reaction to actually giving it up, he determines to take off immediately to go do research to see if he can check his hunch. He has a bad feeling about this.

‘…Look out for me, especially at unlikely times! …’

Frodo saw him to the door. He gave a final wave of his hand, and walked off at a surprising pace; but Frodo thought the old wizard looked unusually bent, almost as if he was carrying a great weight. The evening was closing in, and his cloaked figure quickly vanished into the twilight. Frodo did not see him again for a long time.

So much happens in this one seemingly mild-mannered chapter! Absolutely all the necessary foundation is laid (in an extremely engaging manner), with just enough foreboding to make the reader worry a little in the next chapter, during the giveaway jocularity.

Sixty years it’s been since the adventures of The Hobbit took place. At the time, Gandalf’s interest was caught by the fact that Bilbo lied about where he found that odd little ring (which, as I think I noted in one of my other “hey I’m rereading LotR” posts, is still lower-case-r “ring”). As time has passed, he has not forgotten about it – but he’s had other things to worry about. Now, though – now he has seen Bilbo tested, in a way, and Gandalf’s gears really start turning. Oh, yes – he’ll be back.

(I confess – I couldn’t resist using Middle-earth travel posters found on Etsy to illustrate this post. I’ve linked back to the original listings – I’d buy them all if I could, but since I can’t, here’s a tiny bit of exposure. If any of the images are yours and you’d like me to take it out of the post, please let me know and I’ll do so immediately.)

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I don’t think I like this update of WordPress; I didn’t mean to upgrade, but it happened. It feels different, and I don’t like it.

Right about now, there’s a lot I don’t like…

Yes, the LotR reread is still going. I just need to sit down and, you know, write; there’s your problem, as they say. Excuses have I none, except – well, honestly, that trip to NYC kind of wrecked me, financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Example towards that last one: there I was in a room full of people who had, like me, sat in front of their computers and taken a test to try to get on Jeopardy, and had done well enough that they got a call. These were people who enjoyed knowledge and learning for its own sake. I … never have that, in everyday life. One girl, still in college, was talking about the study she was doing on Persephone. I got into a discussion with two gentlemen about what the Latin and Greek words for “word” were. This is not the kind of conversation I get to have, ever – well, maybe very occasionally online, but IRL? Never. It was great – but it made the rest of my life look … as bad, as hollow and shallow and empty, as it actually is.

That’s kind of been part of my problem all my life. It’s a thing with introverts, apparently, an impatience with small talk and pointless chatter. I can do it; I do do it when necessary; I hate it, more and more the older I get.

And, too, I’ve never found my “tribe”, my IRL group of nerds and geeks, readers and writers and gamers, who love the same things I do, who can drop a Princess Bride quote one minute and a Star Trek line the next, who take their swear words from Battlestar Galactica and Farscape and the Klingon, who don’t bat an eyelash at the admission that I used to read LotR every year, who understand buying two of the same action figure even though yes I am an adult.

I’ve never found these people – but I know they exist, partly because of Chris Hardwick.

Yes, it’s going to be one of those sorts of posts. It could probably be considered whiny, or self-indulgent, or simply silly. Sorry. I’ll delete it later.


In case you don’t know, Chris Hardwick is a guy who, he says, was like a lot of us as a kid – nerdy, bullied, largely alone in his love of the geeky things. And he grew up and started a podcast, which became an industry, which led to a tv show, which led to another tv show, along with convention panels and commercials and pretty much the perfect job for a less-introverted nerd. As of, say, two weeks ago, he pretty much had it all.

And right now I don’t think there’s much left, because sometime almost two weeks ago an ex-girlfriend posted something somewhere talking about an ex-boyfriend’s abuse of her. And it quickly became clear she meant him, and … within no time at all Nerdist, Hardwick’s former empire (which he sold a couple of years ago), had scrubbed all mention of him from their site; and AMC yanked the second show he hosts (hosted?) until further notice; and the upcoming conventions cut him from their programming.

“We have had a positive working relationship with Chris Hardwick for many years,” the network said. “We take the troubling allegations that surfaced yesterday very seriously. While we assess the situation, ‘Talking With Chris Hardwick’ will not air on AMC.”

He’s denying allegations.

My initial reaction was – there’s no way. It’s not true. She’s lying. Not because I think all women who make this kind of accusation are lying. Not because I’m a misogynist (although there are days). Not because I know a thing about her. No – it was a reflex reaction, because I know Chris Hardwick.

No, not really, of course. I have never met the man. I’ve possibly never been in the same state with him. I’m likely never to meet him (or to have met him?) unless it was for a millisecond at a convention, if I ever go to one of those again. (If he ever goes to one of those again.) I’ve never even read his book (books?) or seen his standup or listened to more than a few of his Nerdist podcasts. But I’ve been watching him be a big giant lovable apparently genuine nerd and nice guy on his show for … what, six years?

Last year sometime Wil Wheaton did an AMA on Tumblr. Hang on: a moment for Mr. Wheaton. I hated Wesley Crusher when the show was on. So much. I was only a couple of years older than he was, and it got old watching this derpy kid save the ship week after week – when he wasn’t putting it in imminent danger (and then saving it). I hated his genius guts. (One word: envy. I was, as I said, only a little older – and I would have sacrificed a village to be where he was, on the bridge of the Enterprise with Captain Picard. Flying the damn ship.) He’s grown up, I’ve grown up, and as of the past quite-a-few years, I like and respect Wil Wheaton a great deal. He’s not Wesley; he’s made me realize that both he and Wesley were badly handled by the show; he’s a tremendous spokesman for geeks and nerds and folks with mental illness, because he suffers from depression and panic attacks, and he’s not afraid to talk about it online. He has probably saved lives.

And his best friend is Chris Hardwick. And during that AMA on Tumblr, he made a rather rightfully irked comment about someone who had sent him, WW, a message telling him something like “tell your friend (meaning Hardwick) to stop being so enthusiastic about everything.” WW gave that about the response it deserved. And, feeling brave, I wrote him …Oh, I found it –

Can you please tell Hardwick … that his genuine enthusiasm and smarts and unabashed geekery – sorry, nerdery – is wonderful to behold and helps to validate my whole life and he should never change? Which of course goes for you too. Thanks.
I tell him this all the time, because assholes on the Internet have made a sport out of attacking him for his kindness, enthusiasm, and genuine happiness.

Kindness, enthusiasm, and genuine happiness. I believed it. I believed in him as a sort of avatar for … everything I’ve always been and never had the chance to inhabit as he has – much less make a living at it. I think I’ve been known to refer to him as my spirit animal. I loved to watch him be kind and enthusiastic and genuinely happy. He knew how lucky he was, and it was great to watch him be lucky – great to watch one of “my people”, the few, the newly proud, the nerds, showing that – hey, look, it can be done.

It just seems like, one after another (and sometimes in groups) everyone in my life, both directly and indirectly (everyone who isn’t my mother), has revealed himself to be, in some way, awful. And now this. I know, with so much else wrong with the world (sheer hatred and sociopathy in the White House, volcanoes, wild fires, floods, global warming, war, famine, pestilence, death), there are plenty of other things I could obsess about, which I could blame for my inability to … move. Do. Pull it together. But I keep going back to this one. Hardwick was possibly the last person I would have expected to go down like this. The last thing he said on every show was “don’t text and drive” (because his mother asked him to) – and “be nice to each other”. (A gentler version of Wheaton’s Law, “Don’t be a dick”.) He was such a good spokesman for nerds everywhere, and seemed to be just what he showed onscreen. Despite my advanced and increasingly jaded years, and all my experience in being let down – still, I’m hurt. Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, and on, and on, and ON – they were hard because I grew up with Cosby, respected the others, enjoyed their performances … this is personal. I feel personally let down, taken in, duped. (And my heart goes out to Wheaton, because whatever I’m feeling must have hit him a thousand-fold.) And so in addition to the hurt, I’m angry.

If it’s true.

And it seems like it is.

And if it’s not true, I’m angry because of the unnecessary hurt, and because it’s not likely he’ll ever get it all back.

But it seems like it is true.

Anyway. This is all part of why I haven’t been able to turn my mind to writing about something I love (in a deeply nerdy and geeky way). I will. It’s just sad. Damn it, Hardwick.

Sad enough that I turned to powerful medicine which I haven’t gone to in years. Enjoy – the video below is one of my favorite things on the planet. (And if you know of anything terrible about Nigel Lythgoe, Adam Shankman, or Bryan Gaynor – don’t, for the love of God, tell me. I don’t want to know.)

And … don’t text and drive. Be nice to each other. Please.

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LotR Reread – no, seriously

There are lots of other things I should be writing right now. I never posted anything about my Jeopardy audition (it went well, I think; I might hear back between now and November 2019, or never). I have approximately eleventy-one book reviews I should be writing and posting. But … instead, I’m kind of excited about The Lord of the Rings, and so that’s what I’m writing about.

It seems that about every two years or so I decide to try and read The Lord of the Rings, and to write about it. I’ll be honest – that latter part is one of the reasons I’ve failed previously; the need to sit and listen or read it when I can also sit and take notes and write up my comments, and then put everything together in an at least semi-coherent blog post, has made it all the harder. That, and past associations I’ve discussed in past posts; I’ve always failed.


Last year I started listening to The Silmarillion. In all my many years as a massive Tolkien geek, I never once made it very far into The Silm. But somewhere (and I honestly can’t remember where) I got my hands on a multi-part mp3 version, read by the rather wonderful (if apparently Aztec-influenced, going by his pronunciation of Taniquetil) Martin Shaw. (Seriously, I’ve tried to track down where it came from – I have no idea.) I also discovered The Prancing Pony Podcast, and with the two gentlemen of the PPP at my back I got about a third of the way through The Silm before I ran out of steam. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago, and lo! I finished! I’m no expert, by any means – but it feels like an accomplishment, having read it. (If anyone would like access to the audiobook, which doesn’t seem to be available at all anywhere, email me at talavera1809 at hotmail etc, and I promise not to bring you down with me if the anti-piracy people confiscate my computer. Hey, it can’t be found legitimately. Can’t stop the signal.)

After The Silm, I listened to a series of lectures by Michael C. Drout, collectively called Tolkien and the West, and it was wonderful. Between listening to him speak – and I really need to talk more about that one day – and to The PPPodcast, I began to remember what it was like to discuss these beloved books with other people who loved them every bit as much as I do. And then … I threw caution – and my tentative reading list for the summer – to the winds, and started listening to FotR.

And there’s no pain this time. I’m able to rather fondly remember that first movie, and the things it did right – and there were a lot of those, in the first movie. I’m not haunted by the terrible things that happened on The Messageboard Which Shall Remain Nameless.

I’m enjoying it.

A lot.

I might make it this time.

I’ve said that before, of course…

In 2013, I wrote this:
Chapter 1 – https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/lord-of-the-rings-reread-here-we-go/
Chapter 2 – https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/lotr-reread-chapter-2-the-shadow-of-the-past/

The second go-round, in 2015, is here:

Ha! In the latter, I said “And if I fail again … well, then, I’ll see you back here in 2019, perhaps.” I’m early!

I forgot there was a third try just a couple of months later:

As I said, the baggage seems to have fallen away, and I’m having a wonderful time in Middle-earth (wish I were there). If I can finish The Silm, I can do this.

I’ll be back.

No, really – I will!

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Heading for Jeopardy: Take Three!

I remember March 6 being kind of a crappy day – but when I got home I decided to take the Jeopardy! test that night instead of waiting until the next night or the one after. And I was honestly shocked at how well it seemed to go. I’ve gotten in the habit of screencapping the test so that I can check my answers, and in the past few tests I’ve averaged I think 30-31 right out of 50. This time? 39. So I was hopeful that I’d get an invitation to an audition for the first time in several years.

I didn’t expect it to come exactly a month later. On Friday, I got the email:

I could wish that it was a little further off, money-wise and planning-wise and, yes, to give me a little more time to swot up on geography and all the usual subjects.

I actually planned to post this yesterday, Saturday, when there would have been a lot more exclamation points, but it turned out to be a rough day. It’s hardly worth mentioning, but I just find it funny (in an unamusing sort of way) that my least favorite person at work showed more interest and excitement over this than … my entire family, barring my mother. Mom has been telling everyone she sees, and said the reactions have been excited. Well, I mean, it’s not like I’m going to get a manicure or something. But it seems likely I’ll be headed to New York on my own. (Unless anyone wants to meet for dinner?)

And I’ll have fun, dammit.

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Murder on the Toy Town Express – Barbara Early

I think I start every review of a cozy mystery pretty much along the same lines: they’re either horrendous or wonderful, with very little in between. I’ve even started developing a list of Cozy Cardinal Sins and tropes. Such as – –

1) Heroine is a small business owner
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. This little shop sounds like it would be viable in real life; it’s run by family; it sells something that legitimately can be lucrative.

2) There’s a love triangle
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Normally this is a bad, bad idea – but it works here. The heroine has genuine affection for both men in her life, and it’s handled in a way that feels fairly realistic.

3) Heroine is surrounded by wise-cracking family, friends, and co-workers.
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because it’s funny. “‘You have a mind like an elephant’s.’ ‘Yeah, wrinkled, gray, and way too much junk in the trunk. But that’s totally irrelephant.’ I rolled my eyes and glared at him. Otherwise, he’d be making elephant jokes all day.” That took the joke and pushed it too far – and it’s so silly I had to smile.

4) Author thinks she’s skilled at sharp, clever, witty
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because she is. “Cathy’s fictional version was a little more embellished, containing spear guns, spies, bikinis, an occasional zombie, and a whole lot of steamy embraces. She insisted readers would need something spicier.” “But Dad had spun his words as adeptly as some cult leader, playing on my pride, my craving for his approval, my sense of justice, and that infernal inherited curiosity. I said nothing, but my next sip of coffee tasted an awful lot like Kool-Aid.” (It was Flavor Aid, but that’s just quibbling.)

5) Author thinks she’s skilled at metaphor and simile
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because she is. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a description of someone’s “stomach tied into a macramé plant hanger” before, and I like it. Oh, and this is lovely: “Jack’s mother was a riddle wrapped in a lemon inside a porcupine.” I want to use that in conversation. One more: “If he’d looked any more sheepish, he’d be eating grass in the fields and sprouting a thick wool coat.”

6) The plot is filled with red herrings and has elements that are over the top, far-fetched
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because Barbara Early can write. And she can plot. She can throw in a few left turns and wacky bits, and fold it into a story that hangs together and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

7) At least as important as the plot (if not more important) is the cast of characters
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because these characters have a depth that you don’t usually see in a light read. The family that runs the toy shop at the center of the series has a legitimate history, and it’s not all Norman Rockwell and jokes. These folks have been through stuff, and Barbara Early obviously feels a real warmth towards them. The beauty is that she writes them so well that I do too.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Perish from the Earth

I keep saying how uncomfortable I am with real people being used as characters in novels … but I keep reading novels in which real people are used as characters. I’m a masochist, I guess? But in this case I found it hard to resist a novel featuring Abraham Lincoln. Come on, I saw Ken Burns’s Civil War during my formative years – as much as any human being can be a hero, he’s always been it for me. By this point in my life I’ve become too jaded to really see anyone as a full-fledged hero (except maybe Janusz Korczak, or Noor Khan), but … still. Lincoln. Afraid as I was of mishandling, I wanted to see him run as a character (to go a bit D&D on you), depicted not as the president, not as the public figure, not as a hero, but as a man. I wanted a book by a really great writer who knows Abraham Lincoln inside and out and can channel his voice, make me learn more about him in all his roles.

Oddly, though, it didn’t feel like there was that much Lincoln in this book. Which I mean two ways: first, he wasn’t the central focus; his friend Speed was. I was interested in Speed – but a novel about his adventures wasn’t what I hoped for. Second … the Lincoln that did appear in the story felt like a cardboard cutout – a paper doll of Young Lincoln moved through the plot as necessary.

I just wasn’t entirely convinced by … any part of this, really. The courtroom scenes felt like something from primetime tv with a thin gloss of 19th century. The story was … fine; it kept me reading through to the end, and no part of it ever annoyed or offended me enough to make me quit. But I don’t feel any need to read more of the series.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Plum Tea Crazy – Laura Childs

In a book I read recently, someone’s “rules for writing and life” are cited – one of which was “don’t use more than two similes per page”. Laura Childs probably doesn’t actually exceed that … but her writing made me realize anew that it’s not the quantity of simile but the quality that counts. For example, Robin McKinley uses lots and lots of similes, and they almost invariably elicit a reaction – they make me smile, or put a lump in my throat, or make me laugh out loud, or make me feel that little click that comes when you see exactly what the author wanted you to see. They’re an art. The similes in this book are … not. They’re different, I’ll give them that (except when they’re clichéd), and they’re colorful (there are lots of monkeys, and even some castanets), but …

The writing just grated now and then. The ninth or tenth time the author resorted to Batman-style sound effects – all caps, exclamation points – and one character (included to be obnoxious) did something outrageously obnoxious (even for him), I closed the book and deleted it. I was at 87% – and a good part of what remained was recipes and an excerpt from the next book. A day or so later I went back to it; I hadn’t DNF’d a book yet this year, and I was close enough to finishing that I figured I might as well. But I didn’t enjoy it.


I mean – who stops in the middle of a supposedly frantic moment to describe the scenery? A man falls off a roof; intrepid amateur detective races down the stairs to check it out; the narrative pauses in the middle of her sprint to dwell on the décor in the garden.


Cardinal sin of the cozy: when the main character tells bald-faced lies about what is obviously a hobby (or else there wouldn’t be a series of books) –

“Haley, we don’t [‘chase all over Charleston trying to solve the latest murder’],” Theodosia said. “And we certainly won’t get tangled up in this one.”

Pants on fire.


Another cardinal sin of the cozy: Remarkably slipshod running of a small business.
“’Who’s minding the store?’ Drayton asked.
“Haley flapped a hand. ‘I was. But don’t worry, everything’s cool.'”

No, it’s not cool if you left the shop completely unattended.

BOOM! (Or, as the camera, er, says, “boom, boom, boom”.)

The characters are more caricatures than anything else. Two of them go from antipathy at first sight to practically weeping in each other’s arms, in the pace of a week. The young man is the very picture of a cliched young man. The gallery owner is the Platonic ideal of the gallery owner. The aforementioned obnoxious journalist fits the mold perfectly. There are few surprises.


As usual, there are lots and lots of nits I could pick. Like … “‘Delicious,’ he said. Only it came out dulishush because his mouth was full.” Isn’t that pretty much how “delicious” is pronounced? Seriously. Dictionary.com: “[dih-lish-uh s]”. Say it a couple of times. Seriously. Oh, and like … why does Our Heroine’s sidekick have such a hard time saying the word “murder” when talking about the murder? And – like … Really? You expect me to swallow (no pun intended) the idea that someone not steeped (pun intended) in a world like this shop might consider a party ruined because you picked a funky tea? And … really? How do you not go directly to the police immediately on receiving a threatening note? (And how could you possibly confuse the smells of cooked onions and cooked potatoes? Have I been doing something wrong?)


In addition to the comic book sound effects – actual examples of which are scattered throughout this review (sorry) – there’s also this:
“Holy Hannah”
“Holy crap”
“Holy cats”
“Holy smokes”
“Holy butter beans”
“Holy buckets”
“Holy sweet potatoes”
“Sweet Fanny Adams”

Holy euphemisms, Batman.

One more Cozy Cardinal Sin: When any character puts on their Captain Obvious hat to remind the audience why a bad cozy mystery is a bad cozy mystery:
“The best thing Theo can do is let her boyfriend, Detective Riley, figure it out. That’s what the City of Charleston pays him for. That’s the smartest thing, the safest thing, to do at this point.”


The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis, Chrissi Hart

I loved Narnia as a kid, of course (though never as much as Middle–earth). I never really revisited it after my teens, though – until now, when one of my Goodreads friends pointed me to the free Chrissi Hart podcast–format reading of the whole series, which I couldn’t resist.

The narration is not the best ever, with occasional (sometimes frequent) misplaced emphasis and eyebrow–raising pronunciation, but it is definitely fond and earnest, by a woman who clearly loves this world – and who has a great voice, an engaging accent, and a facility for character voices that don’t come off as cartoonish. I’m not sure I’d pay for it, but free? I’m not about to quibble.

OK. There’s an elephant in the room (are there elephants in Narnia? If there are lions it stands to reason there might be elephants and giraffes and things…), and I’m going to go blindly poke at it to try to figure out what it is. (Hello, my friend Mixed Metaphor.) A lot of people are turned off the books – or turned on by them – because of the heavy allegory of Aslan as a Christ figure. And I have to say that maybe I’m very obtuse – always possible – but I don’t quite get it. I mean, obviously I see the immortal and beneficent but sometimes terrifying guardian and sometimes leader with healing and other powers. (I’m not that obtuse.) My problem with the parallel is that – well, I don’t see Christ romping and frolicking with his followers, even in the joy of his resurrection.

More importantly, though, is the tenet that Christ suffered and died for all of his followers, present and future – he went to hell so we don’t have to. He did nothing criminal (well, beyond rabble–rousing), but allowed himself to suffer and die to break a pattern and preserve those who believe in him and follow him, accepting punishment on their behalf. Aslan, though – Aslan died for one person: Edmund. Edmund screwed up, and out of ignorance, greed, and pettiness betrayed Aslan (whom he’d never met, so he’s not much of a Judas figure) and his siblings and the cause of the good guys, and because of this by ancient tradition his life is forfeit. And instead of allowing his execution, Aslan takes his place. His death accomplished nothing but Edmund’s salvation; if anything, it was harmful to the anti–Witch cause, because his death and revival and romp meant a significant delay before getting to her home to de–statueify all the scores of creatures trapped in stone at the castle, who were significant in winning the war.

It’s all a bit muddled by the idea that Christmas exists in Narnia (though pretty much only embodied in a gift–giving Father Christmas; Christ has nothing to do with it here).

And really it’s not fair to Edmund. I mean, they’d all heard a bit of talk about Aslan, and the other three were impressed and interested, and even Edmund in his cranky self-absorption must have gotten an idea of what it was all about. But none of them really understood what was really up was until they met Aslan. And Ed never had the chance to do that until later – the Winter Queen got to him first, and punched every button he had. I don’t think any betrayal of Aslan can be held too much against him – he had no idea what he was betraying. There, at least… he certainly betrayed his family. But he honestly didn’t believe in the stakes – it could be argued that he still didn’t quite believe in this fantasy world, entirely.

I’m just glad that (spoiler!) Edmund gets more chances. When all’s said and done, C.S. Lewis’s voice is still very appealing after all these years, and I love these (astonishingly lucky) English children. I’d still rather go to Middle-earth – but Narnia is a lovely place to visit too.

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