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Into peril in the depths of Mordor… #ReturnOfTheKing #Tolkien

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If you happened to see my end of April round-up picture, you would have noticed that I did indeed go on to read the final part of the Lord of the Rings, “The Return of the King”; really, having adored my revisit to the first two books in the sequence, there was no way I was not going on to finish off the story!

The second book, “The Two Towers” ended on a massive cliffhanger, with Frodo and Sam in dire straits whilst attempting to get into Morder; however, the first book in this volume focuses on the various peoples who will take on Sauron in battle. Rohan, Gondor and their allies will join together to form a force for good. There are sieges and battles, madness and death, and the returning king will dispense healing. It’s in this part of the tale Aragorn comes into his own, taking command as the king he is and leading his party through the Paths of the Dead, one of my favourite sequences of the whole trilogy. Merry and Pippin play an important part in the narrative too, attaching themselves to two great leaders and proving to be brave hobbits. The Nazgul will meet opposition from an unexpected combatant, Gandalf will continue to rally the troops and this section ends with the armies of the good poised for battle, hoping that their combined forces will distract Sauron and his troops enough to allow the two hobbits to complete their mission.

Meanwhile, all is not going easily for Sam and Frodo. At the end of “Two” Sam had to make some very difficult choices, which seemed to be the wrong ones but actually were probably not; and as events move on in Mordor, with Orcs at every turn, he takes centre stage in the final part of the journey to destroy the One Ring. It’s a difficult and painful trek, which will take every ounce of strength and cunning they have; and needless to say Gollum/Smeagol still has a part to play in the story. More than this I shall not say, except to note that matters build to a dramatic climax which is the perfect resolution.

The book ends with Middle Earth settling itself down into a new era; the King has returned, some elements will fade and leave the world, the survivors of the conflict will need to move on and make themselves new lives – and there is plenty of mopping up to do… This latter element is again one of my best-loved parts of the story, with the “Scouring of the Shire” chapter being a long-term favourite – it’s just so satisfying seeing things being put to right on a small scale, as well as on a large one! The ending of the book brings many farewells and is really poignant in places; and the story comes to end surprisingly quickly, partly, I suppose, because over 100 pages of this volume are appendices, which *are* quite interesting but into which I only dipped this time round.

As with the other two volumes of “The Lord of the Ring”, I was completely absorbed into “Return”; Tolkien’s narrative never flags, his writing is so beautiful and evocative, bringing Middle Earth alive, and the battles, conflicts and race to get to Mount Doom are completely engrossing. Once again, I was living the adventure alongside the characters, who by this point have become dear friends again, and I really didn’t want the book to end. When there is closure for many at the Grey Havens, I experienced the same massive sense of loss I always had when reading these books, having become totally absorbed into a world and characters I’d come to love; and I understand why I went through a phase of going straight back to the start to enjoy the quest from the beginning all over again! I shan’t be doing that at the moment, but I’m certain I *will* read “The Lord of the Rings” again.

I arrived at the end of “The Lord of the Rings” convinced more than ever that it’s Tolkien’s work of genius; I’ve tried reading some of his other works but they never gelled in the same way, and I suspect that that’s because of the hobbits; those little creatures, so very human in many ways, give the reader a way into Middle Earth that isn’t there is the grander tales of his mythologies. I do accept that he had a much bigger world and mythology he was constructing around, and in the background to, this story; but LOTR will always be the star for me. Needless to say, I ended my re-read knocked out and in an emotional state, as well as with a massive book hangover – it took me a while to pull my thoughts about the whole experience together. All I can say is that I’m *so* glad that we chose 1954 for the last club as it finally nudged me into this re-read; and revisiting “The Lord of the Rings” was pure joy from start to finish. If you’ve not read the series, I recommend you have a go – you may well end up as hooked as I am! 😀

#1954Club – following the fellowship into perilous landscapes… #TheTwoTowers #Tolkien

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Well, as you can see, when it came to choosing my last read for the #1954Club, I followed my heart…

I was so immersed in the word of Middle Earth that despite all the other lovely options for 1954, the fact that “The Two Towers” was also from that year and that I longed to continue following the tale of the Ring made it impossible for me to read anything else. So I picked up “The Two Towers” and continued to lose myself in Tolkien‘s wonderful land. I’ll try to involve spoilers when sharing my thoughts, but inevitably plot elements will be discussed so please look away if you haven’t read these books yet!

“The Two Towers” takes up where “Fellowship…” finished, with the group becoming fragmented and under attack from the enemy. The first volume in the sequence, although split into two Books, was pretty much chronological, following the fellowship as they travelled on their quest. “Towers…” is again split into two Books, but each follows a different strand of the tale; the first goes with the scattered companions, following their various battles, encounters and adventures; the second follows Frodo and Sam as they try to carry out the missions they’ve taken on. Neither group will find their journey particularly easy.

Book 1 subdivides the adventures even more; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimly make one party, trying to track Merry and Pippin who have been swept off by the enemy. Encounters with the fierce Riders of Rohan, an unexpected and joyful reappearance and the gaining of new allies are one element; but the adventure of the two Hobbits is one of the most memorable parts of the book, where they gain in strength and bravery as well as meeting some very unusual beings who will turn out to help the forces of good. This is the book where Saruman is dealt with, to a certain extent, and there is hope that the tide will turn in favour of the allies. However, Saruman is only a small foe, compared with others…

Meanwhile, Book 2 finds Frodo and Sam travelling through bleak and horrible landscapes in an attempt to reach Mordor; and they have an unexpected guide with them, one who cannot be trusted. The Hobbits, too, encounter unexpected allies who offer welcome respite; but their road is a hard one, their guide is slippery and their are unknown perils to come. “Towers…” ends again on a cliffhanger moment, with the forces of evil gathering for a final battle, and the quest of Frodo and Sam in danger of failure. Once again, Tolkien leaves the reader breathless and desperate to carry on with the next book!!

It was now past midnight. The sky was utterly dark, and the stillness of the heavy air foreboded storm. Suddenly the clouds were seared by a blinding flash. Branched lightning smote down upon the eastward hills. For a staring moment the watchers on the walls saw all the space between them and the Dike lit with white light: it was boiling and crawling with black shapes, some squat and broad, some tall and grim, with high helms and stable shields. Hundreds and hundreds more pouring over the Dike and through the breach. The dark tide flowed up to the walls from cliff to cliff. Thunder rolled in the valley. Rain came lashing down.

When I read “Fellowship…” I must admit to going through rather like a hot knife through butter; I was loving it so much I raced on. Here, I tried to pace myself a little (though I still find the book a remarkably quick and easy read – perhaps a legacy from having read it so many times!) When it comes to LOTR, the words “sweeping” and “epic” are often applied, and it certainly is a tale which encompasses huge events and a long quest. Despite this, however, it’s a very human story and you never lose touch with the characters, their personalities and destinies. This is perhaps best exemplified in the Helm’s Deep chapter where Tolkien’s narrative is quite masterly; he covers the ebbs and flows of a huge battle which never loses you in rhetoric and always is compelling – he really was a brilliant writer and I was impressed once again by his expert handling of his material. Some parts the reader experiences “live”; some parts are told in retrospect; and Tolkien is always completely in control.

… songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time and their own way: and sometimes they are withered untimely.

What is also quite marvellous is his inventive imagination; more erudite commentators than I will probably be able to provide further info about the sources of much of Tolkien’s creations, but the world he creates, and the living beings he peoples it with, are so original and unforgettable. I also noticed this time round how his tone gradually changes; LOTR starts off in relatively light-hearted fashion, with songs and adventure and only an underlying darkness. However, as the tale develops, characters grow in stature and the peril facing them becomes darker and seemingly more invincible; there are still moments of light-hearted Hobbit humour to lift the mood, but it’s clear by the end of “Towers…” that the world will be changed forever by the events taking place and that some peoples and ways of life will pass from sight forever. Even the songs and lyrics lose their light-heartedness, drawing on ancient myths and legends, or relating dark stories, and I found many of these very affecting.

I have lived to see strange days. Long we have attended our beasts and our fields, built our houses, wrought our tools, written way to help in the wars of Minas Tirith. And that we called the life of Men, the way of the world. We cared little for what lay beyond the borders of our land. Songs we have that tell of these things, but we are forgetting them, teaching them only to children, as a careless custom. And now the songs have come down among us out of strange places, and walk visible under the Sun.

As you can probably gather, I was perhaps even more immersed in this book than the first! The whole reading experience was just a marvellous one and I was once again transported into the narrative, living the events alongside the characters. There’s not a dull moment, the setting is vividly conjured (and helped along by the beautiful map in the back of my edition) and Middle Earth and its denizens are as real to me as they ever were. Tolkien’s prose is really beautiful and evocative in places, in a way I hadn’t perhaps appreciated before, and that lyrical quality runs through the book. I definitely did the right thing in revisiting these stories in the original edition I first read them (although I *do* remember them as being physically bigger – but then, I was a child!!); and thank goodness for the #1954Club giving me that nudge to re-read. It’s quite clear that these books are as precious to me as the ring is to Gollum!!! The only issue now is – do I simply continue to ignore the screaming TBR and carry on with my re-read to journey’s end??

 

#1954Club – embarking on an epic quest with a group of old friends… #fellowshipofthering

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Back in 2017, I shared how I’d tracked down a set of books with great sentimental weight; a battered but just about intact second edition set of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”sequence, which my dad and I had read from the library when I was in my early teens. Although I own my own paperback set, I wanted to revisit them as I’d actually originally encountered them; and at the time I optimistically predicted re-reading them over that summer.

Well, fast forward to 2022 and of course they hadn’t come off the shelf… However, when Simon and I settled on 1954 for our next club it was soon obvious that the first volume in the set, “The Fellowship of The Ring” was published in that year and therefore qualified! Despite the many, many wonderful books jostling for my attention, it just felt that the time was right for me to get reacquainted with Middle Earth; and so finally the sentimental purchase has seen the light of day!

Even if you haven’t read LOTR you possibly know the plot (and this post does discuss certain plot devices, though I don’t know if they can be called spoilers). Anyway, in an earlier story “The Hobbit”, a small furry-footed creature also sometimes called a Halfling stumbled into the world of dragons, dwarves, elves, wizards and treasure. The adventures he had were exciting and sometimes dangerous; but importantly for LOTR, he came into the possession of a magic ring which made the wearer invisible and brought that back to his homeland of The Shire. “The Fellowship of the Ring” opens with a short summary of this story, before going on to return us to The Shire for the start of our quest. Here Bilbo Baggins, the original titular hobbit, has lived in relative peace since his adventures; but he longs to go off on adventures again, despite his increasing age, and plans to leave secretly after celebrating a big birthday along with his nephew, young Frodo. His friend, the wizard Gandalf, turns up to see him off as well as ensuring he passes on the magic ring to Frodo; for Gandalf has learned much about the history of the ring, and has concerns.

The ring, it seems, is not just a magic trinket; in fact it’s a great ring of power and once Bilbo is safely away, Gandalf unburdens himself to Frodo, revealing the very great danger the ring could bring to not only The Shire but also the whole of Middle Earth. Created by an evil power but previously thought lost, that evil eye is now searching for the ring and the world is in peril. Frodo and his good friends Sam, Merry and Pippin are urged to set off on a quest for advice, help and perhaps to even consider destroying the ring. It’s a perilous task which will take him far from The Shire, encountering strange Rangers, Elves, Dwarves, powerful men from the south and all manner of strange creatures. A small peaceable creature is perhaps not the most obvious protagonist for a story this epic, but Hobbits turn out to be stronger and braver than you might imagine…

With a story of this length and complexity I can only really touch on the plot here; but I will say that Tolkien could really come up with, and write, a wonderfully compelling narrative! The rural and countrified Shire, with its tidy and peaceful Hobbit residents, is beautifully realised, and the characters come alive from the start. Yet almost straight away there is darkness; the second chapter, “The Shadows of the Past”, where Gandalf relates the story of the ring, is a marvellous piece of writing which sets out quite clearly the scale of the evil up against which the good characters will come. As the four Hobbits travel on their way, in the first of two books which make up this volume, heading for the House of Elrond, an Elvish haven, they are dogged by chilling foes and there are encounters which make your spine tingle.

The end of the first book ends on a point of high drama – Tolkien was very good at leaving you with a cliffhanger! – and the second book sees the setting up of the titular Fellowship. At this point, we’ve encountered one of my favourite characters, Strider the Ranger, and his development over the books is wonderful to watch. The Elf Legolas and Dwarf Gimli now join the cast and as the group sets off to make its way east they will be beset by danger, not only from Orcs but also from the temptations of the ring. A stop at Lothlorien refreshes them but there are more perils ahead and the Fellowship will be shattered, leaving us on another cliffhanger…

To be honest, I’m not going to be able to give a very rational response to my re-reading of this because it *was* a really emotional experience. I was intensely obssessed by LOTR in my very early twenties, re-reading it over and over, and so many of the events were familiar here; and indeed I felt as if I was encountering long lost friends. However, re-reading is always a time to notice things you haven’t before, and I was struck (as I am with the re-reads of the Narnia books) at just how brilliant a storyteller Tolkien was. His narrative is beautifully paced, his settings magnificiently conjured, and as always I felt as if I was travelling alongside the Hobbits and their friends. It’s the kind of storytelling that completely absorbs you into what’s happening; and I found myself racing through the 400-odd pages in sheer delight.

As the story develops, so do the characters; the peaceful, perhaps slightly funny, little Hobbits soon grow in moral stature, developing bravery and resilience, yet always being realistic – no cardboard cut-out heroes here, Tolkien’s characters can be flawed and full of self-doubt. His world-building was incredibly skilful, and often based on linguistics with whole Elvish languages invented by the authors. He *does* perhaps occasionally overdo it with the lyrics in the volume – I did at one point want to slap Tom Bombadil when he launched into yet another song – but I daresay that’s just me. As I mentioned, Strider makes his debut as a weathered traveller, but as the book progresses he becomes a more powerful figure who is revealed as a warrior of great heritage. The camaraderie which develops between the members of the Fellowship is wonderful to see, and will lead in many cases to unexpected yet firm friendships.

You may not have read the LOTR books, thinking that you don’t like fantasy (and bizarrely I’ve seen the books described as science fiction!!!) But this is world-building at its finest; Tolkien relates this story as if it’s just a section of a greater narrative, and because of his knowledge of myth and legend his story is pitch-perfect, wonderfully rich and completely convincing. I would certainly urge you to have a go and give yourself up to this epic and unforgettable tale; the story is a wonderful read.

So needless to say, I ended the book breathless and was left with a massive book hangover. My brain is telling me that I need to go and read some other books from the TBR, whereas my heart just wants to dive into the next book and follow Frodo, Sam and their friends on the next stage of the adventure. What shall I do?????

Three Things #7… documentaries, REM, and #1954Club!!

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Back in the Land of Pre-Pandemic, I posted several times using a lovely meme thought up by Paula at BookJotter. She called it “Three Things…” and in it we looked at what we’d been reading, looking at/listening to and thinking. It’s ages since I did one of these posts but I thought it might be nice to revisit it, just to catch up with where I am at the moment!

Reading

With the #1954Club coming up this month I have, of course, been exploring and reading books from that year! I am hoping to do some re-reading for this club, including a pair of very emotive books from my youth…

I am, of course, currently taking part in the #Narniathon, and this month’s book is “The Horse and his Boy”, which coincidentally was published in 1954! It’s been a real trip back to the past for me, re-reading these books, as I was quite obsessed with them when I was young. And as I’ve mentioned before, once I’d finished reading these, a family friend gave me a copy of “The Hobbit” which both my dad and I devoured, and we then went on to read “The Lord of the Rings” in lovely hardback editions from the library.

I’ve shared a picture of the set I eventually found to reflect that reading experience, and as “The Fellowship of the Ring” was published in 1954 I’m hoping this will kickstart the re-read of the trilogy – looking forward to what could be an emotional experience!!

Looking at/Listening to

‘Looking at’ could be interpreted a couple of ways: for example, what I’ve been watching either in the form of films, TV or online viewing material. TBH, I’m not much of a modern TV or film fancier, though I do love a classic or a good documentary!

1917 – not good…. / Mythologies – brilliant!

I’ve written about all manner of these in the past, from one which covered the 1917 Russian Revolution (a disappointment), through a thought-provoking look at Britain’s nuclear past (interesting, but scary at the moment) to Professor Richard Clay‘s programmes on Utopias, memes, the French Revolution and Roland Barthes (Clay is always a fascinating and thought-provoking commentator.) I also went back to an old favourite series from 2006, Peter Ackroyd’s The Romantics which sent me off down a rabbit hole exploring my collection of Romantic books! Sadly, BBC4 (my usual source for documentary watching) seems to have ground to a halt with very little new being commissioned nowadays – such a shame.

Ahem. Some of my Romantic books…

However, I have managed the odd interesting prog; current favourite is Grayson Perry’s Art Club, which I love; he and wife Philippa are a joy! Apart from that, I’m reduced to the guilty pleasure of watching Susan Calman being silly at various points round the country… Will no TV channel rescue me from this dreadful dearth of documentaries?????

I also continue to look at and love all kinds of art, and I desperately miss visiting galleries in real life; there has not been much travel in the last couple of years… A current favourite visual artist is Tom Gauld, who cartoons are marvellous; he regularly appears in The Guardian and other publications, and often shares his work on Twitter and Instagram – do give him a look! I’m also very keen on Lachlan Goudie’s work – he has a wonderful website here.

As for listening, a recent repeat on the Beeb reminded me of how much I loved, and still do love, the music of REM – so they’ve been on repeat play lately! The combined vocals of Michael Stipe and Mike Mills are just marvellous – love them!

Thinking

Thinking has in many ways been difficult and painful over the last couple of years; we have had to deal with Brexit, the pandemic and now an awful conflict over in the east. I mostly stick to books on the Ramblings, trying to keep it cheery, because dwelling on the horrible side of life isn’t good for anyone’s mental health. But it’s really difficult to do this in the face of the relentless news broadcasts, the lies and appalling behaviour of those supposedly running the country, the ghastliness of the warmongers and the hysterical headlines in the mass media. I sometimes wonder if it appears that I have my head in the sand here on the Ramblings; I don’t, and my heart breaks for all of these awful situations we’re facing though I do feel powerless to have any effect on world events. So I will keep on sharing my love of books (and anything else which takes my fancy) as that at least I think is a positive thing. Books and reading have always been a consolation, and continue to be so – as long as I can read, I can cope!

So that’s my Three Things… marking where I am in April 2022. What about you? What have you been reading, watching/listening and thinking lately – and how are you coping with reality??

Ushering in Autumn

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That might be a slightly premature heading for a post, but I must confess that when I get to the start of September every year and am contemplating the return to work after the long summer break, autumn does seem just on the horizon – which is not necessarily a bad thing, as it *is* one of my favourite seasons. And let’s face it, the summer weather in the UK hasn’t exactly been brilliant…

I’m not sure that I actually got as much reading done over the summer as I usually do; partly because I was embroiled in “War and Peace” for so long, which did give me a bit of a book hangover. I seem to have found it difficult to focus of late, and as there are limited challenges I’ve set myself this year I’m not always sure what I want to read next. Hence, I suppose, the regular lapses into classic crime!

I had planned a summer re-read of these lovelies, but that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, rethinking things I can see that autumn would perhaps be a nice time to hunker down under a blanket as the evenings become darker and chillier, and get lost in such a big saga. Apart from that, what else is lined up?

Well – poetry, I hope, as I really have let my poetry reading slip and I have so many lovely volumes that I MUST TRAIN MYSELF TO DIP INTO MORE rather than just trying to read them all the way through. Then there’s Pessoa, who again I need to dip into.

Some potential autumn reads..

I have a number of review books lurking for when the moment is right, and there will be the Virago monthly reads which I may join in with if the author appeals, as well as a group guided read of “Agnes Grey”. And on the subject of Virago authors, I really want to read more of the marvellous Margaret Atwood (and perhaps revisit some favourites).

Also coming up in October will be the next of the ‘Club’ reads, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and myself. This time we’ll be looking at 1968 and I have a really surprising number of books lurking for that year, after worrying that there wouldn’t be much that took my fancy.

So lots of autumn treats to look forward to – there *will* be classic crime, there *will* be Russians, but what else – well, that remains to be seen! What plans have you got for autumn reading? And have you any thoughts about any of my possible reading pile or any recommendations??

A sentimental purchase

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I’ve written before about the pivotal effect on me of visiting the local library at a young age; it was a place that opened the door to books we could never afford at home, and I still have memories of my father taking me there to borrow another treasure. One early book that became a favourite was Dr. Seuss’s “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew”, and that came from the library when it was in its old location in our town – down near the river in an old, dark building.

When I started earning I bought my own copy….

The library later moved to a new shiny building in the 1960s style modern precinct built in the middle of town. Inside was all bright and new, and I still made use of it all the time (and kept doing so until I finally moved away from home for good). And it was with books borrowed from this library that I was able to really expand the breadth of my reading and move onto more adult titles in my early teens.

The original Hobbit from 1971 – battered and bruised and just about holding together!

One set of books I read and loved was Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Some friends of the family had seen me reading the Narnia books and suggested I would like “The Hobbit”. They then sent us a copy and both my dad and I devoured it (he was quite a reader and a fan of sci-fi and fantasy). The natural progression was to “The Lord of the Rings” and so we borrowed this from the library – lovely hardback editions in blue-grey (laminated on) dust jackets with gorgeous big fold out maps in the back. We were both transfixed by the books, and I’ve returned to them many, many times over the years, owning my own paperback copies.

However, it’s a while since I read the trilogy, and I developed a hankering recently to revisit it. And I decided I’d like to re-read the books in the format I originally did – hardbacks with a fold out map. A little research online revealed that these were the second edition books from the 1960s and getting hold of a set in decent condition would be very, very pricey, so I put the idea on the back burner – until I recently stumbled upon these…

Yes, they’re very, very battered, and yes there are bits of the dust jackets missing – but this is a sound enough set of the second edition books in readable condition and so I’ll be able to read the books again as I did first time with my dad. And joy of joys, there are lovely intact maps in the back in super condition!

The set was ridiculously cheap and despite the rather bedraggled state of them, I’m happy to have them in the house ready for a summer revisit. OH has kindly covered the books with a mylar-type plastic to keep what’s left of the jackets together and make it easier for me to read. So summer will see a sentimental trip into my past – I’m looking forward to it! 🙂

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