Book Review:: Dreamlander, KM Weiland

Dreamlander, KM WeilandDreamlander, K.M. Weiland
Fantasy
544 Pages
Published: November 2012
Goodreads Page
Buy on Amazon.com

Summary::
Chris Redston has always had strangely realistic dreams, but when he went to sleep one night in one world and woke up in another, he began to realize that his dreams were much more than they seemed. In Chicago, Chris is just an ordinary guy, but in Lael, he’s a Gifted. Generally Gifteds, or worldwalkers, only pop up in Lael once a generation, but Chris has the misfortune to be the second Gifted to come to Lael in 20 years. Unfortunately, Chris’ predecessor used the respect and power he had as a Gifted for personal gain and threw the delicate political balance of Lael into war, ruining the Gifted’s reputation and making Chris’ welcome chilly at best.

In Chicago, there are a few who know about Lael (who don’t have the best intentions), and they’re all seeking out for Chris, who is the only one with the power to walk between the worlds. In Lael, Chris finds himself in a world where his very presence is resented and enemies and spies are at every turn. Clumsily, and still in denial, Chris makes the one bad decision that could ruin everything on his first night of world travel. His only ally in Lael is the Searcher, whose life is dedicated to keeping the Gifted safe, and even she is reluctant to trust him. In Chicago, Chris’ friends try to help him, but have no idea the truth of what’s really going on. Chris’ task quickly becomes keeping those he cares about safe, resolving all the problems the Gifted have caused in Lael…and to stop creating new ones.

Review::
I have been a follower of K.M. Weiland’s blog HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com for several years, but I’d never read any of her fiction until now. Needless to say, I was very curious to see how she put her writing advice to practice in her own work, and I was not disappointed. Not only is this book written skillfully, the writing is so good you hardly even notice how good it is. Some may consider that a bad thing, but I consider it the best thing in the action/adventure/thriller genres, where the focus should be 100% on the plot, keeping readers so engaged they can’t bear to put down the book.

The initial idea of the book is intriguing in itself, and the dream-world that Weiland creates is quite dimensional and well thought out. In an epic novel such as this, with conflicts affecting two entire worlds, it can be a challenge to reveal information to readers in a comprehensive way that doesn’t pull from the immediate action of the plot, but in my opinion Weiland was able to do just that in Dreamlander. Another thing epic novels tend to ‘have’ to have, are a whole lot of characters, which is also true of Weiland’s novel. There is the main cast for both worlds, both good and bad guys, and in Lael, there are a LOT of secondary characters and insignificant characters needed to advance the plot. The variety of characters was refreshing; most of them were not strictly good or strictly bad. I’m thinking of Orias as a great example of this. He is the Keeper, who is in charge of delivering an artifact to the Gifted which allows him or her to carry things with them through the worlds. Orias appears to be a morally steadfast character when he is confronted with a scenario he just can’t accept and makes unexpected decisions. Through time, Orias is in a constant internal struggle with guilt, consequence, and fear of what is to come, which become the motivators for his actions. As readers, we are constantly confronted with the question of what choice Orias will make. Will he make the ‘right’ decisions? Are his actions worth it? Will he ever be brave enough to make things right? In his unexpected transformations, Orias is a standout character in the novel. The main character is also a little unexpected. Having him unknowingly make the worst decision possible before he is even aware of what is going on was a clever move. The one character I wasn’t sure about through most of the novel was Eroll, but in the end I understood his role in the story. His role could probably have been tightened up in some way throughout the majority of the novel, but as he’s written it’s not too bad. In fact, that’s the only complaint about the whole book that even comes to mind!

I couldn’t put this book down. I started reading it on my phone when I had a spare moment with nothing to do and didn’t have a physical book around (I got it for free during a promotion on Amazon – kindle version – which I found out about through KM Weiland’s monthly newsletter, which you can sign up for here). When I couldn’t find where my actual kindle was, it didn’t matter – I read the whole thing from the screen of my smart phone. That’s how compelling it was. I couldn’t even pause in my free time long enough to locate the reading device necessary to read it comfortably (I actually still haven’t found it, but that’s beside the point). I read much of it lying across the bed so my phone could charge while I continued to read. I skipped meals and I neglected my husband. It’s that good.

Recommendation::
The pages of this book are riddled with action and conflict; I can’t think of even one moment that could be considered ‘boring’ but it’s more than that. It’s not just an exciting plot line, it’s just plain good writing. For that reason, I think this book would appeal to a large audience, including young readers. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a fast-paced entertaining adventure to get completely immersed into – regardless of if they’ve enjoyed ‘fantasy’ novels in the past. If you’re looking for something engaging to read to re-fire your passion and get back into reading, I think this book could do it. 544 pages may seem like a lot, but it goes so fast you’ll be halfway through before you know it!

Your Turn::
Have you read this book?
Let me know what you thought, post a comment!

The Neverending Story, Michael Ende

The Neverending Story is one of the few movies I have strong memories of as a kid. It’s a wonderful story about an awkward, self-conscious kid who finds his confidence through the magic of a book.

Firstly, if you’re a parent, this is a fantastic book for your children to read. I’d say age 8 is probably old enough to read it, though I don’t have kids of my own, so it’s hard for me to judge maturity by age. I think it would be a fun adventure to read together.

The story is about a little boy, Bastian, who is bullied by some kids around his town. When he is running from them before school in the opening, he takes refuge in an old book shop. Inside is a grumpy old man with a large leather-bound book. When the old man runs to answer a phone call in the other room, Bastian does something against his character and steals the book, leaving the shop before the owner returns. When Bastian gets to school, he can’t bear to go to his classes, so instead he runs up to the attic to read his new treasure.

The text is broken up by italics, where Bastian’s story is italicized and the story in Fantastica is in regular type.
The book is about a grand adventure in the land of Fantastica, which is ruled by the childlike Empress. She is deathly ill and in dire need of help, so she sends out her beloved medallion to a young boy named Atreyu, so that he may be able to find her cure. Atreyu is met with many friends and foes on his journey, and Bastian is as invested in the story as any young kid possibly could be.

Halfway through the book the tone changes entirely; it almost seemed like there were two books, the first half Atreyu’s adventure, and the second half, Bastian’s (once he is transported into Fantastica). Honestly though, Bastian’s part of the story dragged and it took me forever to finish it.

The ending, however, was very good. The adventure solved all of Bastian’s confidence problems, and mended the boy’s relationship with his father, and even made him a new friend, in the form of the book shop owner, who we find out had also travelled to Fantastica once, a long time ago.
I would call this story an epic adventure. Fantastica stretches literally as far as imagination will allow.

Ende does a fantastic job revealing the themes in this book naturally and beautifully. Using his story within a story we are able to see Basitan realize truths about himself and find his own importance in the world, which causes the reader to re-evaluate their own self-worth and confidence. This book also celebrates a child-like imagination by creating the (biggest) villain of Fantastica to symbolize the idea that lack of imagination and adventure is what brings negativity into our lives. I also think these virtures come into full fruition within the first half of the book, and that the second half could have been severely edited or left out entirely, honestly.

I like this book because it sends all the right messages without being too obvious or too ‘kiddie’. I love that over all, The Neverending Story is about how a book can change your life. I can see this book becoming beloved by a child reading it for the first time, especially one who had not yet seen the movie (which stops at the halfway point in the book).

The first half exceeded my expectations, but the second half really never seemed to end. Never End. Get it?

Emma.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is probably the most popular author I can think of. At first, I rolled my eyes and was very hesitant to read anything he’d written…until I did, and jumped right on that bandwagon. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is actually the first work of his I’ve read in print form – the rest I’ve listened to on audiobook. I’ve read Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, Anansi Boys (narrated by Lenny Henry), Stardust, and now, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I read in the beautiful hardback copy::

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(all audiobooks were narrated by the author unless specified otherwise).

Gaiman’s writing style is unmistakeable and quite straight forward, making it easy for all ages to enjoy.

I have to say, of the works I’ve read so far, Neverwhere is quite my favorite. To me, it was the most clever, the most gritty, and had the best sub-plots. The adventure was non-stop and interesting, and the layers of the story fell together perfectly. If you are looking for where to start with Gaiman’s work, that would be my recommendation, although I hear that American Gods is his true ‘masterpiece work’. I’m saving that one to break through my next streak of ‘so-so’ books (you all know what I’m talking about).

I saw an interview with the author when he was promoting The Ocean at the End of the Lane where he said he wrote this book for his wifey, Amanda Palmer (Aw). He said she wasn’t the greatest fan of is usual fantastical style of magic, mysticism, and flights of fancy, but that she preferred stories rooted in the real world. Now, after reading the book, that comment leaves me quite confused. This book is chaulk full of magic and mysticism. So now I’m curious, what did she think of it?

This book is about a young boy’s adventures with a girl a few years older than him (he, 7; her, 11), who lives at the end of his lane. The story is sparked by the sucicde of a man who was boarding with the boy’s family, which leads him to meet the girl called Lettie, who believes she has an Ocean in her backyard that our boy says is the size of a duck pond. Adventure ensues. The book contains alternate worlds, inhuman creatures that cutivate pure evil, and a trio of women (reminescent of the ancient Greek ‘Fates’) who fight against them. It begins with the adult version of the boy looking back upon Lettie’s proclaimed ‘Ocean’ and remembering his boyhood adventures which fill the remaining pages.

I’m disappointed to say this isn’t my favorite of Gaiman’s works. I found a lot of similarities in the tone of this story to that of Neverwhere, which I greatly preferred. This story reminded me of a short story – there weren’t really any sub-plots, but just one boy’s great adventure, and only the things that concerned it were included, making it less complex and difficult to connect emotionally on a deeper level. It didn’t really strike me as an age specific story, although I’m not sure what they marketed it as. I think kids as young as 12 might enjoy this book (so long as they’re not scared by the super-natural).

Taking Gaiman’s other works into consideration, I gave this novella 3 stars on Goodreads. Despite my lack of preferrance to this specific work, I still think Gaiman is one of the greatest authors of our time. His writing style is extrodinarily unique, being both simple and all-encompasing at once (Those of you who’ve read him will hopefully know what I mean by that). I also find it incredible that the stories he writes are enjoyable for literally any age; they’re pure entertainment. I’ve recently ordered a book of his short stoires, Smoke & Mirrors which I’m excited to read. Although The Ocean at the End of the Lane didn’t knock it out of the park for me, I’m still eager to see what kind of clever fantastical world he’ll come up with next.

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Oryx & Crake – A Reading Journal

The last time I reviewed this book on my blog in 2010, I reviewed it together with it’s companion, The Year of the Flood. I don’t want to do that this time, because although Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood take place in the same dystopian future, deal with the same situations, and even contain some of the same characters, they are very different books. When I re-read The Year of the Flood, I may do a comparative study on the two, but for now, let’s stick with just Oryx & Crake.

oryx-and-crake

First, let me outline the setting::

We are somewhere in the distant/yet not so distant/future…society is broken into two major ‘lifestyles’: Compounds and Pleeblands. The Compounds are basically super corporations – ‘products’ have gotten so advanced that the companies literally build city/fortresses for their employees and families to live in to keep them, and their technologies, safe. The Pleeblands are the every-day-man’s slums…basically in Atwood’s projection of the future, the high class went classier and whip-smart and the middle class turned into lower class and lower class became trash…or hamburger. This is a world where biology has advanced so far that newly invented diseases and intelligence theft are what the Compounds are defending themselves against.

The story follows a character named Snowman throughout his lifetime, and through him, we see how the world came to fall. Snowman is quite an odd name – but it wasn’t his only name; in his younger years he was known as Jimmy – the underachieving humorous and womanizing compound kid.
When he was still relatively young, he met his first and only lifelong friend – Crake (not his real name, but his real name is used once only, Glenn). The pair shared some odd interests, which is really a product of their time. These kids are expert hackers in middle school, which makes it possible for them to use Crake’s step-father’s credit card for kiddie porn sites, and online programs like the ‘Nudie News’. We see early on that Crake is obsessive about mastering the things he attempts. One game he obsesses over quite the most has to do with extinct animals, where they each had to pick an extinct animal as a username, which is how Crake got his name (Oryx too, but we don’t meet her for quite some time). These three, Jimmy, Crake, and Oryx, are caught right in the middle of the events that lead to the destruction of the human race, and leave Jimmy to become a miserable, almost zombie-like Snowman.

I don’t want to give away the entire plot, but I hope I’ve shared enough to peak your interest. Atwood always creates such memorable and logical worlds for her novels, and Oryx & Crake is no exception. It is the fist installment of a trilogy – the MaddAddam trilogy, the last edition of which will be published later this year (August 27th in Canada, September 3rd in the US).

Personally I prefer The Year of the Flood, the second installment. Perhaps because I read it first…I actually think the effect of reading the currently published books in reverse order is more interesting. It was pleasing to be able to piece together the story of what had happened without being told out-right. Then reading Oryx & Crake and getting to see exactly what did happen to create the circumstances in the world.

Honestly, I recommend reading these books. There are cliff-hanger endings (as there are in every Atwood I’ve ever read), but they compel you to analyze what happened to the world to get it to the level of degradation it’s in in the novels, and I am always for critical thinking and learning through literature.

If any of you have read either novel, please let me know what you thought of it – will you read the final installment later this year? I definitely am!

Until next time,
•Emma

Doomsday Book, Connie Willis – Overview/Review

Imagine a future England where people no longer get the flu, cats are extinct, and colleges have history programs able to send students back in time. The world Connie Willis creates for several of her novels is complex and highly logical.

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First of all, this novel is the winner of three awards: 1992 Nebula Award for Best Novel; 1993 Hugo Award for Best Novel; & 1993 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

It follows a young history student, Kivrin, on her journey to year 1320 – smack in the middle of the middle ages. It is a controversial ‘drop’ because no one has ever travelled back so far in time. The drop is being run over Christmas Break, and for that reason the drop is being handled by a few people who don’t entirely know what they’re doing. Mr. Dunworthy, Kivrin’s tutor and friend, is justly worried over the whole escapade…as someone who has done quite a lot of time travelling himself, he knew better than to let it proceed, but it was run by a different department/college, so he had no control over it whatsoever. As Kivrin explores the medieval village of Skendgate, ‘present’ England falls under a quarientine for a disease no one has ever seen before, and the technician who ran Kivrin’s drop fell ill – unable to read the ‘fix’ (meaning while Kivrin is expecting to be picked up in two weeks, they have no idea where she actually ended up to find her).

One seeming disaster after another, this novel is both exceedingly creative and intensely researched. The end result is a captivating, suspenseful, and entertaining read.

If you are more interested in Victorian England, I recommend To Say Nothing of the Dog. If the Blitz intrigues you, Firewatch. More World War Two exploration and you should check out Connie’s newest books, Blackout & All Clear.

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After reading all of the above, and several more, I’ve begun to see a pattern in Connie Willis’ suspense writing that has become predictable and a little bit annoying (probably just because I’ve read them so many times and know the outcomes already!). For first time readers, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Connie Willis’ work.

Until next time,
Emma

Stardust, Neil Gaiman – An Audiobook & Movie Review

My favorite thing about (most) Neil Gaiman audiobooks is that they’re narrated by the author. The only one I’ve heard that wasn’t is Anansi Boys, but I really liked that narrator (Lenny Henry) as well. I highly recommend checking if your local library has any of Gaiman’s self-narrated novels – read them while you commute! They’re effortless and ever so pleasant!

Now about Stardust: I bought the movie adaptation of Stardust (Released in 2007) several long years ago now in a $5 movie bin – and LOVED it. It was probably a year later before I’d even heard of Neil Gaiman (around the same time I discovered Goodreads), and a little after that before I connected that the movie Stardust was actually based on a novel of his. I liked the movie so much that I’ve been putting off reading the novel ever since.

Stardust Audiobook Cover

Stardust Audiobook Cover

There is a short (20 minute?) interview of the author at the end of the audiobook where I found out that Stardust was first published as a graphic novel. This intrigues me, I’d love to flip through a copy someday. He talks about how the story has been tweaked since then and how it came to be published in a novel form (this is all before the movie went into production). It seems Stardust was the first audiobook Gaiman recorded himself, which he apparently enjoyed because I’ve listened to Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book read by him already, and enjoyed them both very much :-) I thought the interview was a very good addition to the ending of the audiobook. Many of the questions were not just run-of-the-mill, and seemed very relevant to Gaiman as an author.

So first, the narration: I could tell by listening that this was at least an early attempt at narrating for Neil, I could hear where some of the narration was cut and they started a new clip (they faded it a bit – why?). It didn’t take away from the story, but it was noticeable in some places. As always, listening to the story went very smoothly. Neil’s voice is so relaxing; he has a great accent, but he also has a way of talking almost slowly, it’s like he takes care with each sentence, chewing each word – he’s a phenomenal story teller and a great reader.

I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t seen the movie when I write up this ‘review’ of the novel itself. As I listened I was almost constantly reverting back to the movie and noticing differences.

Stardust Movie Cover

Stardust Movie Cover

The movie captured me very early on. It’s about a ‘parallel’ world of magic with only one entrance from our world: in a gap in an old stone wall in the small English village so named: ‘Wall’. It is set sometime in the late 1800s/early 1900s? The gap in the wall is guarded at all times by someone from the village, and no one really knows what exists on the other side of it (this differs a little bit in the novel) – no one is allowed to cross it. A young man named Dunstan Thorn does, however, slip past and into a strange magical market just on the other side. He meets a beautiful young woman at a shop stall selling flowers, to which she sells him one for the price of a kiss. He finds out she is a slave/servant of the stall owner, who is away at the moment, and she cuts off part of the magical chain that binds her and gives it to Dunstan, which he also keeps (again, difference from the novel) – and they hightail it to the wagon behind her to get it on. Dunstan returns to Wall after his dalliance with only the small flower and the length of magical chain to remember his mistress by…until 9 months later, when a baby basket is pushed through the gap in the wall with his name on it: baby Tristan Thorn.

Fast forward nearly twenty years – and Tristan is now the young man we follow in the story. He promises a beautiful girl from the village that he will fetch her a falling star to win her hand in marriage, and crosses the wall to do so. His father had given him the two trinkets he had from his short trip over the wall, and a small black candle that was in the baby basket he was ‘delivered’ in. The candle is magic. All Tristan had to do was the light it and think of where he wanted to go. He was supposed to be thinking if his mother, to meet her, but Victoria (the beautiful girl) slipped into his mind just as the candle activated and he was transported straight to the fallen star. Of course, over the wall the ‘star’ is not a meteor – that is, a hunk of fused metals and ‘alien’ matter – she is instead, a beautiful woman, played by Claire Daines.

This is only the main plot – there are many sub-plots woven through and around the story that make it complex and magical. There are Unicorns, Witch Queens, Grand Kingdoms, and Ghosts; Pirates, Ancient Runes, Carriages, and Curses. This is an amazing fairy tale adventure for an adult audience, and a beautiful and classic coming if age story with a hint of romance infused.

Now that I’ve read the book, I appreciate more about the movie. They had some incredible actors, first of all: Michelle Pfieiffer, Robert DiNero, Claire Daines, and Charlie Cox. There were appearances by Ricky Gervais, Ian McKellan narrated, and Sienna Miller, who plays the lovely Victoria Forrester.

I found a few movie stills when I searched for the movie cover, so I will include some of them here::

Michelle Pfeiffer's character, the Witch Queen and Ditchwater Sal

Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, the Witch Queen and Ditchwater Sal.

Ricky Gervais' 'cameo' roll as a merchant - he's brilliant.

Ricky Gervais’ ‘cameo’ roll as a merchant – he’s brilliant.

I loved the movie, in short. I’ve recommended many people watch it, and lent it to several friends and family members. I can’t believe it was only $5!

Because of my high opinion of the movie, I had very specific and grand expectations for the novel – and yet, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect (it is Neil Gaiman, after all). One thing is for sure, there are many amazing covers for this novel. Here are two of my favorites::

Stardust 1

Stardust 2

I’ve read quite a few Neil Gaiman novels now, and I feel like I’ve definitely got a hold on his style. Although all of his novels are very different, they are all a little bit the same. This is one of his early(er) works, so perhaps that was part of it, but I just wasn’t blown away by the story. Perhaps it’s the same reason I wasn’t blown away by The Princess Bride book – the movies just blow them out of the water – they’re both amazing.

In a way I think the movie solved some of the conflicts more easily and more gracefully than the book does. The minor characters are much more well rounded in the movie adaptation as well (sorry Neil!). One example of the consolidation of characters and plot points: The Little Hairy Man. (Note: All that I’m about to explain happens in the first quarter of the book, so I don’t count them as spoilers, but you might).

Gaiman wrote a character called the Little Hairy Man. Tristan meets him once he crosses the gap in the wall to find his fallen star. This is where Tristan in the novel acquires the light-travel candle and the length of magical chain he uses to bring the star along back with him (along with a few other useful things, like clothes). In the movie, Tristan’s father, Dunstan, gives Tristan these two essential things before he goes on his adventure. This is the time when he tells Tristan that his mother is from across the wall, and that she provided the candle for him to come and see her when he was able to. The second version makes more sense to me – logically. Why would the little hairy man provide Tristan with the candle and chain, really? They are both extremely valuable. And what better time for Tristan’s father to tell him about his mother (in the book, Tristan thinks that Dunstan’s wife is his mother, and he has a sister. In the movie his father is still a bachelor…it doesn’t explain what Tristan knows of his mother before this).

Besides the small changes like that made by the movie, the rest of it must have been really simple to make, because Gaiman portrayed them so completely and wonderfully in the book – they just had to build the sets and adorn costumes to make the story come to life, the magic was already there.

This and the aforementioned Princess Bride are my two biggest book to movie complaints. I kick myself in both cases for not reading the book first. In both cases, the books were such a perfect outlines for the movies, there was little room for failure, only enhancement, and that they did in both cases very well. I know the book has magic of it’s own, but it was overshadowed by the movie for me, since I’d watched it first. It was almost like the book was an emptier shell of the movie plot. I am sad that that happened :-(

That being said, I LOVE fairy tales and especially ‘grown-up’ fairy tales – if you haven’t read or seen the movie of Stardust (or Princess Bride for that matter), please do. But if you want to read the book at any point, do it first, I’m telling you!

Thanks for reading guys,
See you next time.
-Emma

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien – A Reading Journal

Houghton Mifflin Company Edition(Houghton Mifflin Company Edition)

Although I’ve heard of The Hobbit many times throughout my life, I didn’t read it until recently. I’m not really sure why. I think I started it at least once, because I remember reading about the hobbit hole in the ground and just imagining how awesome it would be to live in a house like that. Round doors, long halls, entire rooms dedicated to holding food and drinks…who wouldn’t want to live in one and have such a leisurely lifestyle?? But that’s about as far as I got. I don’t remember reading anything before the description of Bilbo’s house (there is a brief conversation with Gandalf), learning about Bilbo’s lineage, or anything that happened after probably the second knock at his door. Basically I must have only read three maybe four pages. For some reason I thought I’d read at least the entire first chapter…I’ve come to the conclusion that I either really didn’t like it, or I just slightly didn’t like it and I had something else to read that was more intriguing. The second definitely seems more likely, knowing myself.

You may have seen in my [2013: Goals] post that The Hobbit and its successor, The Lord of the Rings (I will be referring to the book as LOTR and not as a trilogy, because it was separated only for publishing purposes) are both on my to-read list for this year, and are also the only books on my actual goals list. I didn’t want to put too many specific goals on my list, mostly because I really want to accomplish them, and I don’t want to set myself up for failure. This is really the first year I’m doing an actual list of goals, and I want to start off with a feeling of accomplishment and challenge myself a little more as the years go on…nothing wrong with that!

I’ve owned a copy of The Hobbit for quite awhile (the one pictured above), but recently bought a new copy in the same collection as my Lord of the Rings editions.

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My copy is not pristine anymore. I lugged it around in my purse for a week, but I’m not one of those readers who has to have books in perfect condition. I love having books that have been read, experienced, and loved. I like underlining and dog-earing and sticky-noting my books (but I haven’t always done).

I really knew next to nothing about Tolkien, except that he had a fascination with the languages of old, and that it’s said he created an entire language which he uses in the Lord of the Rings (elvish). Already he seemed fascinating to me, so I did a little bit of research about his life (something I’d like to start doing more often)!I

First of all, JRR stands for John Ronald [?] and his last name is pronounced Tol-Keen (I’m guilty of saying Tol-Ken). I found a very helpful summary of his life here, and a great youtube video by WordsOfAReader here, but I will run through some of the things I found most interesting about his life below::

-He was born in South Africa and lived there until he was four, but his parents were English and they moved back there after the death of his father.

– He had a significant and traumatic incident with a large spider with living in South Africa, which may explain some of the tendencies of arachnids making appearances in his work.

-His linguistic talents presented themselves at a very early age. His fascination with words began watching coal cars pass as a child, and he mastered both Latin and Greek very early. He also studied several other languages (German (Gothic), Finnish, Old and Middle English) as well as began to play around with creating his own languages.

-His fascination with an ancient earth, and where the term ‘Middle-Earth’ comes from Crist of Cynewulf (Old English):

“Eala Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended”

Middangerd was an ancient expression for the everyday world between Heaven above and Hell below. (Direct Quote from website mentioned above)

-Tolkien went to war in the early 1900s, fought in trenches, and suffered from ‘Trench Fever’, which he had trouble recovering from. Most of his closest boyhood friends died in the war.

-He had a job working on the Oxford English Dictionary in its early stages, but didn’t stay long and became an Associate Professor of English Language in 1920, until 1925 when he was appointed Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, a lifestyle that suited him.

-He had many published works, mostly smaller books of stories or letters, and a few academic essays, that aren’t very popular in the shadow of his later works.

-The Hobbit was not published until Tolkien was 41, and was extremely successful straight away, and has been ever since. The story evolved as he told it to his four children, and he was encouraged to finish it by all who he shared it with. The story burst forth from the leading sentence of the book: ‘In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit’.

-Tolkien worked on other pieces, publishing ‘Quenta Simarillion’ (Now known as ‘Simarillion’) before being urged by his publisher to focus on a sequel to The Hobbit, which he then did, writing LOTR for 16 years.

Probably what surprised me the most about The Hobbit, before I even started it, is how little I actually knew about the plot. This is one of the most popular young fiction books around, and I’d heard lots of people gush about how good it is, especially since the release of the first Hobbit movie, but I still knew next to nothing. All I knew was that Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, goes on an adventure and Gandalf is there and somehow, someway, Bilbo comes across The Ring. That’s it.

Honestly, I wasn’t as impressed with this book as I’d expected to be. The writing was strangely detached (not in a bad way), that made it just an adventure story rather than an emotional one. We don’t really get to see what the characters are feeling, only what they do.

Bilbo is an unlikely hero and acts as an ‘underdog’ character, which drives the story forward and gives us its only emotional tie in the end. Although we meet other characters with motives and victories, we aren’t led by the writing to care much for their successes emotionally. It is this trait that makes me believe this book would be much better for a younger audience; young readers who still have wild imaginations and read at a slower pace would be able to embellish the adventures that are left quite bare, literally (as in literary).

I guess I learned a little bit about myself as I read this book – I am a reader who craves an emotional connection with her stories. While I can appreciate a stark, bare-bones adventure (it reminds me a bit of Treasure Island in tone or The Lost World, or Journey to the Center of the Earth…that type of story), I just didn’t click with this one. It was good enough to finish, but I’m not sure I’ll read it again.

I’m hoping the The Lord of the Rings is a little more embellished and emotional, but I’m still planning on reading the entire trilogy regardless. Anyone else have a similar feeling reading The Hobbit? Is there any hope for LOTR being more emotionally enthralling?

Keep reading,
•Emma