The Last Chapter – A Poem for Frodo

One of the things I owe to Tolkien is inspiring in me a love of poetry. Before I read The Lord of the Rings, I had little interest in reading poetry, let alone writing it. It was the poems of Middle Earth that changed my mind…the way he used poems and songs to emphasize the emotional moments just made it “click” for me.

Early during my poetry exploration, I wrote this poem about Frodo in Mordor. It’s not really how I write poetry anymore, but it was definitely inspired by Tolkien. This seems like the right time to share it. 🙂

The Last Chapter

I wander through this valley of gloom
Seeking the mountain of death
Where has fled my strength, I wonder?
Uttering life’s last breath

So close around is darkness
It is all I understand
The mist around me, in my eyes
The stench of evil land

My greatest hope is victory
A sunrise for my kin
White daisies in the pastures
And gentle summer wind

Nearer and closer have I come
The slopes are at my feet
Somewhere a tower looms in dusk
Waiting for my defeat

If I can but reach that summit
And set my people free
Then I shall die, content and ready
To face the silver sea

Marian H. Rowe
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Tolkien Blog Party 2020 – Tag!

It’s that time of year again—the annual Tolkien Blog Party hosted by Rachel at The Edge of the Precipice blog! I checked and the last time I participated was in 2017. 😮 I’m super excited to join in again this year with some Tolkien-themed posts, starting with this questionaire:

1. What Tolkien character do you think you’re the most like?
Probably Faramir. I can relate to his love of books and music but also having to do things in life he really doesn’t care for. I’m also very loyal, perhaps at times to a fault.

2. What Tolkien character do you wish you were more like?
I would like to be more like Bilbo! He’s got his life sorted out…well, at least till Gandalf showed up. And then after his adventures he comes back rich and settles down reasonably well. If that isn’t life goals, I don’t know what is.

3. What would your dream home in Middle-earth be like?
I would love to live in a tree house in Lothlorien as described in the books. It sounds so stress-free and peaceful! Also I don’t know why they made it blue and gloomy in the movie. It’s described in the book as all golden:

‘There lie the woods of Lothlórien!’ said Legolas. ‘That is the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land. For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold. Not till the spring comes and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey. So still our songs in Mirkwood say.’

The Fellowship of the Ring

4. You get to make a movie of the story of Beren and Luthien!  Who do you cast as the leads?
I have to admit, I have yet to read the book, and I tend to picture them as Aragorn and Arwen. 😉 But I would love to see Mia Wasikowska in a Tolkien film, so maybe I would cast her as Luthien. Unsure about Beren…

5. Have you ever marathoned the LOTR or Hobbit movies?
Not that I can remember, although that would be fun! I have watched them across several days though.

6. Do you have a favorite song or track from the movie soundtracks by Howard Shore?

I love the soundtracks so, so much, and it’s hard to pick one! The ring theme, however, is probably my top favorite. It’s so gorgeous and heartbreaking and mysterious all at once.

7. Which of Tolkien’s characters would you like to be best friends with?
I think Samwise is the obvious choice here!

8. Who of the people in your real life would you want in your company if you had to take the ring to Mordor?
Oh boy. 😆 Well, I love my family but I sure don’t want them to get hurt, so I would have to leave them behind. Of my friends… I guess I’d choose whoever can stand eating lembas for months! (Bonus points if they can speak Elvish.)

9. Have you read any of Tolkien’s non-Middle-earth works?

I read his Father Christmas letters years ago and found them delightful. I’ve also read his poem The Fall of Arthur which was really good!

10. Is there a book by Tolkien you haven’t read yet, but want to?

Pretty much all the remaining Middle Earth books. So far, I’ve just read LOTR, The Hobbit, and The Children of Hurin. I have The Fall of Gondolin on my shelf, though, waiting to be read!

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Slowing Down with Tolkien, Lectio Divina

With all that’s been going on in my life lately, I’ve been finding it necessary to take action to slow down.

I know, that sounds like an oxymoron.  But as a recovering perfectionist and incorrigible planner, I tend to labor over any life changes, even if it’s merely the quest to find a little peace and quiet.  I have learned a few things from this methodical approach, although in reality, just the awareness of trying to slow down has helped lead me into some more practical, if unexpected, steps.

Turning off the “TV”

Prior to all of this, I had (for other reasons) decided to take a YouTube fast for three weeks this past November.  For me, YouTube is the equivalent of cable TV, except that I get to choose the content through a very personalized subscription list.  Typically, I can spend hours just trying to keep up with each channel, and I actually avoid some channels in part because I can’t keep up.

Taking a break was really hard, but very good.  I did not feel particularly happy knowing I was missing out on all my favorite YouTubers, but at the same time, it forced to me do more reading.  It’s probably the reason I managed to finish Kirkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety, a book which was as dry as YouTube is enthralling.

Coming back to YouTube in December, I’d been dreading the “catch up” phase. What I didn’t expect was that my fast had changed my perspective.  Now I see a lot of videos I could watch, but viewed collectively, only some of them stand out as actually interesting.  I feel motivated by this to limit my viewing now and may even unsubscribe from some channels.

A Long-Expected Viewing Party

Something really exciting happened during my YouTube fast.

The local library had the full, extended-edition Hobbit trilogy.  More importantly, the DVDs all arrived for me at once.  Unheard of!

My siblings and I have been watching it over the past few weeks – it’s new to us.  “Extended edition” is by definition “slow,” but in a good way.  It gives you space to really savor each segment and talk about it.   

I don’t know if it’s the “extendedness,” but I love these three films more than ever and in some ways as much as The Lord of the Rings.  It’s really apples and oranges, yet I’m a child at heart, and The Hobbit especially appeals to my love of fairy tales.

You can read about my history with Tolkien here.  I have just started re-reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time.  I don’t know how long it’ll take me – and in the spirit of slowing down, that’s ok.  I just don’t want to wait for the “perfect time.”

The Bible and Lectio Divina

As a Christian, I’ve read the Bible through once or twice, in addition to studying sections of it.  But it’s been a while since I read it regularly, and I’ve found it difficult to get back into it.

During my break from YouTube, I listened to several episodes of The Word on Fire Show, a podcast by Bishop Robert Barron from Los Angeles.  He talks about books on occasion; I think I first stumbled across his talks on YouTube, possibly to do with Shūsaku Endō’s The Silence (a book I have yet to read).  I’m not Catholic, and I don’t agree with all of Barron’s views, but of the episodes I’ve listened to, I’ve found the podcast to be interesting, educational, and well presented.

One of his older episodes is about “5 Ways to Pray Better Today.”  In it, he talks about lectio divina, a method of prayer and Bible reading traditionally used by Benedictine monks.  It’s broken down into four steps (which I paraphrase from Wikipedia):

  1. Lectio (read) – Read a passage of Scripture.
  2. Meditatio (meditate) – Ponder over what you have read.
  3. Oratio (pray) – Speak to God.
  4. Contemplatio (contemplate) – A calm silence.  Bp. Barron describes this step as “contemplative listening to what God wants to tell you.”

Coming from a Protestant background, I had never heard of lectio divina before.  I tried this for the first time the other night, reading John 17

John 17 is one of my favorite parts of the Bible and certainly one of the most beautiful passages of all literature.  Absorbing it slowly and with prayer brought me so much peace.  I think I will continue lectio divina as I re-read the New Testament.

Looking to the New Year

As planned, I’ve read at least 40 books this year.  Much of that was for my podcast, which I highly enjoyed while I had time to do it.  I still want to bring it back next year, though it’s looking doubtful if I will have the energy for it.

I’ve shelved Flannery O’Connor‘s Complete Stories and Václav Havel’s Open Letters for the time being.  Same with Hawthorne’s Complete Tales and Sketches.  I love anthologies, but the best way to read them is at intervals, not all at once.  (I made the latter mistake with Kafka.)

Next year remains open.  How many books will I read?  I don’t know if I want to set a goal.  Ideally I’d like to avoid reading several books at once, which is what happened this year.  Focusing on one book at a time and avoiding multi-tasking – these are going to help me get more out of my reading and enjoy life.

Reading, watching, and writing updates

Reading
Something not immediately evident from this blog is that I’m a recent “fan” (for lack of a more precise word) of Soren Kierkegaard‘s writings.  His book Works of Love changed my life in 2016, but being so profound in topic, it was not a book I felt comfortable writing a review on.  I did review Fear and Trembling, though once again, not delving too deeply as I felt myself inadequate of completely analyzing it. 

I approach philosophy as outsider, not from the “ground up,” so many cross-references are a bit lost on me.  However, there’s something addictive about Kierkegaard in particular that makes the struggle worthwhile.  It’s like listening to the ramblings of a friend who would be incredibly obnoxious if he weren’t so incredibly brilliant, even obviously to outsiders like me.   


The Concept of Anxiety has sat on my bookshelf for a while.  Right now I’m going through a great deal of anxiety (though not the worst I’ve ever experienced, by any means), and it just seemed like the time to read it. 

I can tell you right now I will not be reviewing this book, because once again, it is a bit over my head.  Actually, this is the toughest book of his I’ve read.  I don’t know if it’s the translator or the material itself, but it makes Works of Love and Fear and Trembling seem simplistic by comparison. 

Anyways, as far as I can discern, Kierkegaard’s theme here is multi-layered, but one motif that stands out to me is the idea that anxiety preceded original sin. Maybe “uncertainty” would be a better word for this context.  Really what he’s suggesting is that Adam experienced “the anxious possibility of being able [to sin]” (p. 54) before he ever actually committed sin.  This is equated to freedom or free will.

And that is the simplest takeaway I can offer from this book, thus far.  (I’m over halfway.)

Watching
The other day, I rewatched Horatio Hornblower: Duty (2003), finishing out my campaign to introduce the series to my brother. 

I’d remembered this as my least favorite episode of the eight-episode series, which follows the early career of a Royal Navy officer in the Napoleonic Wars.  Rewatching it much later, I realized it’s not a weak film per se, simply misplaced as the final episode in the series (its being the final episode is clearly unplanned, if the screenplay is any indication). 

The trouble with Duty is that it shows all the faults of a protagonist we’ve come to admire, with minimal distraction to offset the painful human interactions.  Hornblower has never been particularly deft at “soft skills,” but here he’s rather abysmal for nearly the whole ninety minutes, whether he’s (mis)communicating with Maria, his loyal wife, or managing his unwanted political passengers.

On the other hand, if this had merely been the middle episode of a longer series, I think its focus on Hornblower’s faults would be seen as the middle of a character arc, as opposed to somewhat of a letdown.  In fact, trying to forget it was the ending to the series, I could actually appreciate the human drama. 

In other news – I’ll be picking up the extended editions of The Hobbit from the library today.  Haven’t seen them yet, so looking forward to binge-watching them over the weekend (or maybe next weekend).

Writing
By NaNoWriMo standards, I’m quite a bit behind, but my goal is not to reach 50k this year, just to finish my novel.

The trouble I’m having now is that I just finished a major scene but had forgotten I had an outline for it (sigh).  So I either need to rewrite/extend the scene or try to move on without those additional plot twists.

My gut feeling is to move on because I’m starting to get novel fatigue – I have been working on this for three years, so at this point it might be wise to get right to the ending and fill in details later.

She – A Classic, or a Trendy Tale of Obsession?

John William Godward - Atalanta

If the title brings to mind a song by the classic tenor Charles Aznavour, you wouldn’t be far off from the theme of H. Rider Haggard‘s book.  The song’s tender, yet at times worshipful lyrics could be one way to describe the “spell” which She, Ayesha, inspires in those who are privileged (or cursed) to look upon her unveiled face.  As might be expected, those who do so find their lives bound to hers, and, like a drug, she compels them to love her, in spite of her unpleasant ways.

But let’s start at the beginning.  It’s the late 19th century, and young Leo Vincey learns from his adoptive father Horace Holly that he is heir to a special family heirloom, comprised chiefly of an ancient piece of pottery.  The pottery is covered in writing, which tells a grim tale of Leo’s ancient ancestor, Kallikrates, being lusted after and then murdered by a mysterious, white sorceress, who lives in Africa.  Kallikrates’ wife urges her descendants to seek out Ayesha and avenge their father.  Leo, evidently finding life in Cambridge too safe for his liking, decides to go to Africa and see if there’s any truth in the story.  Holly and Job, like the good friends they are, agree to accompany him.

She caverns

What follows is an adventure that is both bizarre and, at times, humorous (both intentionally and unintentionally).  On the one side, you have a classic premise of a search for lost treasure – in this case, lost revenge – and on the other hand, there’s a reverse Sleeping Beauty twist, in which an innocent prince is to be “awoken” by a wicked witch.  This rather unique premise seemed like a good idea for a story, but personally I found its execution to be lacking, both in terms of content and message as well as in the somewhat pedestrian writing style.

In spite of its flaws, Haggard’s novel and the fierce title character influenced both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, who would later create their own “queen” characters not dissimilar to Ayesha.  Fortunately for us, the less savory aspects of She – including its dated handling of race, class, and female characters – were either greatly reduced or replaced in those later works, particularly in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  For more on that (and some other fun facts), please check out my latest podcast episode on Classics Considered, which goes into it in detail.

Overall, I would give She 2.5 out of 5 stars; it’s interesting in a historical and literary context, but not a must-read.  For a stronger “lost world” novel, I’d recommend The Lost World (surprise!) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.