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The Silmarillion

I'm still in a Tolkieny mood after my latest Lord of the Rings re-read so I thought I should give The Silmarillion another try. As with the earlier Tolkien posts, I'm not claiming any expertise, this is purely my personal response.


When I was nine or ten I started to notice that a lot of my favourite authors claimed The Mabinogion as an important influence. So I ventured forth across the wilds of Queen’s Park even unto the Kemptown Bookshop and picked up the Everyman paperback edition, only to discover when I got it home that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Obeying no narrative structures that I’d encountered before, and sometimes consisting of little more than long lists of names, the Welsh legends collected in The Mabinogion contained little on which my imagination could get a grip, and the book was quickly abandoned. But it turned out to be useful practice, because soon afterwards The Silmarillion was published, a new work by my favouritest author of all. I got a nice…
Recent posts

The Arrow of Apollo

The Greek Myths are still going strong in children's books, with centaurs, cyclops (cyclopses?) gorgons, and the gods of Olympus all popping up fairly regularly. Often these days they tend to be  placed in modern settings (by Rick Riordan in his Percy Jackson series, for instance,) or used for humour (by Maz Evans in Who Let the Gods Out? or by yours truly and Sarah McIntyre in Kevin's Great Escape). But Philip Womack's latest novel The Arrow of Apollo plays its mythic goings on absolutely straight and sets them in the time and place they belong.

Actually we're not just in Ancient Greece but also Ancient Italy, for the story opens a generation after the Fall of Troy. It's the tail end of the Age of Heroes; the borderland between myth and history. The gods are departing, and in Lavinium, a city founded by the Trojan Aeneas in Italy, a wounded centaur arrives with news that the evil Python is stirring, plotting to take over once the Olympians have gone. Aeneas's …

Minority Report

After weeks of posts about a seventy year old book, here's one about a twenty year old film. Never let it be said that this blog doesn't have its finger on the pulse of popular culture.

Steven Spielberg is so good that I think I tend to take him a bit for granted. Even when he directs films I dislike - Jurassic Park 2, War Horse, Ready Player One - they always have at least one sequence that’s mind-boggingly well put together (the Winnebago dangling off the cliff-edge, the horses towing that howitzer up the hill, and the Shining pastiche respectively, although the latter did basically convince me that our whole culture is doomed). I guess he's the Alfred Hitchcock de nos jours, a cinematic genius who happens to work in popular, crowd-pleasing genres.

I saw Minority Report around the time it was released in 2002, and liked it. I saw it again this week, and liked it more. It’s aged well, in a way that even good sci-fi movies often don't, and its vision of the future holds…

The Lord of the Rings 9: The Battle of Bywater and the Grey Havens

When I started re-reading The Lord of the Rings recently I thought I might get a blog post out of it, or maybe even two. Now, nine posts later, we finally draw near to the Grey Havens. If you have been, thanks for reading...

So Sauron has been defeated, the War of the Ring is ended, the might of Mordor is destroyed, and Aragorn has taken his rightful place as king of Gondor with Arwen as his queen. Yay! And yet the the tone of The Return of the King becomes tinged with melancholy almost as soon as the Ring is destroyed. For its destruction doesn't just mean the end of the Dark Lord: it also heralds the end of the age of the Elves and the Ents, the age of magic.

John Boorman, moving on from his abortive 1970s Lord of the Rings adaptation to direct the Arthurian epic Excalibur, gave Merlin a line which Gandalf or Galadriel might have said (and perhaps would have, if his version of Middle-earth had reached the screen). 'Our days are numbered. The old ways are passing. The spirits…

The Lord of the Rings 8: Orodruin or Bust!

I am re-reading The Lord of the Rings and blogging about some of the vague half-formed thoughts that it sends flittering, moth-like, across my sensorium...

It's not hard to see why illustrators and film makers have been drawn to The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's writing, especially about landscape, is incredibly visual. Here's Sam, alone on the pass of Cirith Ungol after Frodo's capture by the orcs, getting his first proper look down into Mordor.

Hard and cruel and bitter was the land that met his gaze. Before his feet the highest ridge of the Ephel Dûath fell steeply in great cliffs down into a dark trough, on the further side of which there rose another ridge, much lower, its edge notched and jagged with crags like fangs that stood out black against the red light behind them: it was the grim Morgai, the inner ring of the fences of the land. Far beyond it, but almost straight ahead, across a wide lake of darkness dotted with tiny fires, there was a great burning glow, …

Lord of the Rings 7: Minas Tirith

'This is not a work which many adults will read through more than once,' claimed the historical novelist Alfred Duggan, reviewing The Lord of the Rings when it was published. But I've read it through LOADS of times and now I'm blogging my latest re-read, so what did he know?

And so we come to Minas Tirith, Tower of Guard, citadel of Gondor, seven tiers of fancy white fortifications built against a buttress of Mount Mindolluin, with the Tower of Ecthelion rising a thousand feet above the plain. It seems to me the template on which a whole genre of knock-off fantasy cities has been based - I guess Robert E Howard and people wrote about such places before Tolkien, and perhaps there were cities of equal grandeur on Barsoom, but when concept art threads on Instagram throw up unlikely gold and marble castles built on mountaintops and over waterfalls they always look distinctly Minas Tirithy to me. I'm wondering now if London in Mortal Engines was subconsciously echoing M…

The Lord of the Rings 6: Ithilien and Shelob's Lair

I'm rereading The Lord of the Rings for the eleventy-first time, and blogging my thoughts about it. You lucky people...

So Gollum has led Sam and Frodo to the Black Gate of Mordor, and they've found it shut. They turn south, and their weary journey continues - they have no food except the Elvish Lembas they brought from Lorien, which is getting a bit samey. The landscape is still dreary and ruinous, and now that they are so close to Sauron's stronghold the Ring on its chain round Frodo's neck is getting heavier and heavier - his growing weariness and Sam's concern for him are constant themes in these chapters.
But as always in The Lord of the Rings, after an ordeal there comes respite, a rest, and usually a meal. It seems unlikely that the hobbits will find anywhere to rest so close to Mordor's borders, yet they do: the wooded countryside of Ithilien, which has only recently fallen under the Enemy's control, has not yet been ruined; not only are there rabbi…