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Showing posts from June, 2020

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. First sight of Ithilien, by Ted Nasmith 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,

The Lord of the Rings 5: Helm's Deep and the Emyn Muil

I'm re-reading The Lord of the Rings . Tremble before the hotness of my takes... The Uffington White Horse, c/o Wikipedia Q: How cool are the Riders of Rohan? A: Extremely cool. They combine the outfits and culture of the Anglo Saxons with the expert horsemanship and healthy outdoor lifestyles of the Sioux or the Apache. They were always my favourites when I was young, and now that I'm very much no longer young the only problem I can see with them is that they make the Gondor crowd in The Return of the the King look a bit dull by comparison. But we haven't reached The Return of the King yet: we're still on Book One of The Two Towers , and if you're still reading this, thank you so much! We left Merry and Pippin marching off to war with the Ents, so now it's time for the narrative to loop back to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, who have just met a strange old man in another part of the forest. The strange old man turns out to be Gandalf, who has much impor

The Lord of the Rings 4: Anduin to Fangorn

 These are some idle lockdown musings based on a re-read of The Lord of the Rings . Don't @ me. A 1976 Athena poster designed by Jimmy Cauty (who was only 17 when he drew it.) When I read The Lord of the Rings as a child it came from the library, and there would always be an annoying wait before I could find the next volume. Nowadays, I can go straight from The Fellowship of the Ring into The Two Towers , and the change of pace is remarkable. The Fellowship … started off at a slow ramble, but The Two Towers sets off at a run. The opening sentence is 'Aragorn sped on up the hill.' and the opening chapter is shorter than any in The Fellowship... More importantly, for the first time none of the central characters are hobbits. Frodo and Sam have headed off to Mordor and won’t be heard of again until Book Two, while Merry and Pippin have been nabbed by the orcs. Pausing only to give a suitable send-off to Boromir, who has redeemed himself for his attempt to grab the Ring

The Lord of the Rings 3: Lóthlorien to Rauros

I’m in the middle of re-reading The Lord of the Rings : behold my half-baked thoughts and unconfirmed speculations. There was once a young man from Birmingham who, dismayed by the ugliness and industrialisation of the modern age, fell in love with fairy tales and legends. In later life he would devote himself to the creation of a distinctive imaginary world, where noble and beautiful characters inhabited dream-like landscapes. His name was Edward Burne-Jones , and he was the star of the second wave of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. His paintings are what I think of whenever The Lord of the Rings starts to get a bit Elfy. The Golden Stair by Sir Edward Burne-Jones I don’t know if Burne-Jones's pictures were what Tolkien was thinking of, but I’m pretty sure they’re in the mix somewhere. The Pre-Raphaelites sold well to the newly wealthy merchants and industrialists of the midlands and the north country, so there would have been plenty of examples of their work in Birmingh

The Lord of the Rings 2: Rivendell to Mirrormere

The first post in this little series got a lot more attention than I had expected, so I’ll start this one with a word of explanation: I’m not a Tolkien scholar (or any other sort of scholar). I don’t know very much more than the bare facts about J.R.R Tolkien’s life, and not only have I never read his letters or essays, and I don’t know his books beyond The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (there’s a good reason, I think, why  he never published The Silmarillion and the rest in his lifetime.) But I’ve been reading and re-reading The Lord of the Rings since I was about ten, and these posts are just a record of some idle thoughts that occur to me as I go through it again now that I’m about fifty. The gate of Moria, by Alan Lee By the time we reach the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring we have already walked a long way in the hobbits’ furry footsteps. Book One was packed with incidents, characters and details, and rose at the end to a gripping climactic chase , so Book Tw

The Lord of the Rings 1 - Hobbiton to Rivendell

Bag End, by Alan Lee I’m reading The Lord of the Rings again. My mum read it to me when I was eight or nine, I read it again to myself a few times between the ages of 10 and 15, and now I seem to return to it roughly once every ten years. Coming to it again, I realise how lucky I was to read it before there were any screen adaptations, or even many illustrations. Being asked to picture a world of such detail and complexity in my head was brilliant training for a would-be writer and/or artist. I didn’t always picture it very accurately, of course. Confronted by a female authority figure as powerful as Galadriel, 9-year-old me imagined someone rather matronly, like my school headmistress, and although Tolkien quite clearly describes someone much more Pre-Raphaelite, I can never quite get that first impression out of my head.) Anyway, this post isn’t going to be about Galadriel or any of the events and characters from the later parts of the story, because I want to concentrate on t

Midnight Special

Evening in a motel room somewhere in Texas. Two men are preparing to leave, taking down the bits of cardboard which they have taped, for some reason, all over the windows. The TV shows a news report about an abducted boy. The boy sits in a corner of the room under a bedsheet, wearing blue swimming goggles and ear defenders. We will work out later that one of the men, (Michael Shannon) is his father, and is escaping with him from a cult. The men take the boy outside to where their car is waiting, and drive off, but the desk clerk has recognised them. Listening to police radio channels, they realise the cops are onto them. They pull off the freeway onto country roads. Night has fallen. The driver puts on night vision goggles, switches off all the car's lights, and accelerates into the dark. So begins Jeff Nichols's Midnight Special , a film which I missed completely on its release, and only stumbled across recently on Amazon Prime. I had no idea what it was about, but right

Jojo Rabbit

When I was rambling on about Terrance Malick’s A Hidden Life recently , I was rather disparaging about Jojo Rabbit. That was a bit unfair, because I enjoyed it - it’s funny and engaging, which is pretty much all I ask of most films these days. But when I tried to write about it I found that the weighty subject matter demanded I take it seriously, and I started thinking about a lot of problems which I was happy enough to ignore while I was actually watching it. So first of all, I did enjoy it, and I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t find said weighty subject matter off-putting. And second of all, there will be SPOILERS. As you probably know, Jojo Rabbit is a comedy about a young boy growing up in the final months of Nazi Germany and earnestly trying to fit in with the Hitler Youth and do his bit for the war effort, encouraged by his imaginary friend, a goofy version of Hitler played by director Taika Waititi. Tom Holland, in his excellent book Dominion , points out that Hitler h


Rod Taylor in George Pal's 1960 film of The Time Machine The screenwriter Zack Stentz mentioned recently on Twitter how strange it is that there aren't really any time travel stories before HG Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895.  In Classical myths the heroes sometimes visit the Underworld and meet the shades of their ancestors and great men of the past, but they never actually return to the past itself, or have any chance to influence it. Nor do the heroes of Mediaeval romance, although they encounter all sorts of magic. It seems the notion of stepping into the past or future just didn't occur to storytellers of those times or, if it did, didn't seem to appeal. Which is a shame, because wouldn't a Shakespeare time travel comedy be great? Anyway, I pondered this paradox for several whole minutes, and developed the following half-baked theory. In pre-modern times, the pace of change was very slow. Innovations were comparatively rare, and the world most p