Monday, September 29, 2008

Theory of Corresponding Characters

Let's admit it, Lord of the Rings is the mac-daddy of all subsequent fantasy books. (Were there any fantasy books before Lord of the Rings?) Lord Voldemort is Sauron. Dumbledore is Gandalf. Harry is Frodo. James is Bilbo. Wormtail is Wormtongue. And so on.

If you read that last paragraph carefully, you might think that my knowledge of fantasy books is limited to Harry Potter. Since that's pretty much accurate, I'll have to change my thesis statement: "The Lord of the Rings is the father of the Harry Potter books."

One of the resources I read while writing my college thesis paper pointed out that all the Harry Potter characters had doubles; that is, just about every character has a double that corresponds in characteristics, social status, destiny, and challenges--except that the double is opposite in, shall we say, wickedness-status.

Think about the Lord of the Rings characters in this way. It's especially noticeable about halfway through Book Two of The Fellowship of the Ring: Legolas and Gimli, Merry and Pippin, Frodo and Sam, Aragorn and Boromir.

Gandalf's double is not in the fellowship; his double is Saruman, instead; someone who is totally opposed to the fellowship. This sets him apart from the other members of the fellowship. Not only is he a wizard (duh), but his double is outside the social group they're all traveling in and working with. It's also one of the reasons he dies at the beginning: he doesn't have a companion within the circle, and so he has to be removed from the circle. However, his double is still among the living, and so he must return from the crack of Khazad-Dum. Gandalf himself says that he is Saruman: "I am Saruman; Saruman as he ought to have been." Contrast that with Saruman, who only diminishes and decreases. By the end of the Lord of the Rings, Saruman has become so pathetic that he thinks it's a success to have taken over the Shire (come on! the Hobbits are short! Merry and Pippin grow to become the tallest Hobbits ever at 3'6"!!) and becomes so base that Wormtongue, his pathetic trembling toady, kills him and cuts his throat.

By the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir is dead, which leaves Aragorn free to pursue his destiny. As Boromir grew weak and needy, craving and desiring the Ring, Aragorn grew in strength and majesty. Ironically, he was one who could have mastered the Ring, but he had the wisdom to turn from that temptation and become a glorious king of Men instead.

Legolas and Gimli grow closer together as friends throughout the rest of the story and develop a respectful relationship. They fight battles together, help rebuild Minas Tirith, and even travel together to see beautiful caves (Gimli's most favorite place to be, as a dwarf) and the ancient forest Fangorn (where Legolas feels most at home). Instead of sneering at each other for being different, their respectful friendship permits them to visit each other's favorite haunts and appreciate those haunts, if only out of respect for each other.

Merry and Pippin both set out from the Shire unaware of the journey they would take, both are taken captive by the Urukhai, both become allied with different kings of Men (and miss each other terribly during their separation from each other), clean the Shire upon their return, and their bond of brotherhood becomes so strong that they become housemates at the end of the story.

Frodo's double is Sam. They are both from the Shire, both love the simple life, and are both Hobbits, but their relationship is one of master-servant instead of being true comrades. Frodo's double is also Gollum; at the heart of their relationship is the need for and dependence on the Ring. It's the Precious. The conflict between Sam and Gollum comes from this complexity: Sam is jealous of Gollum's influence over Frodo; Frodo and Gollum share a relationship with the Precious which excluedes Sam; and Sam is not Frodo's social equal, but his servant. Gollum, meanwhile is sick from the Ring. Gollum is Frodo's double, but he is also his own double. The Ring has damaged his personality to such an extreme that he has split in two, which enables him to be his own mirror in the story.

How does the Frodo/Sam/Gollum/Smeagol destiny end? Gollum and Smeagol die in the fires of Mount Doom, leaving Frodo free to be reunited with Sam. However, Frodo himself has been damaged by the Ring and its power, and Sam falls in love with and marries Rosie. Both of these influences serve to isolate Frodo from Sam, and something must be done. Frodo's miserable and isolated in the Shire--and so he leaves, along with Bilbo (another loner!) and Gandalf (also a loner). All the characters who have become isolated from their doubles don't have a purpose in the mortal world anymore, and their destinies lie elsewhere.

This story is brilliantly crafted on so many levels, and this theory of corresponding chracters is only one way Tolkien draws us in, weaves a story around us, and leaves us with that satisfied feeling as we turn the last page.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wuthering Heights First Paragraph

Oooooohkay, so that post was Monday, and it's now Saturday, and I haven't even gotten the darned book off the shelf! Bah! Phooey on me!

Pause for a moment while I go get it and blog the first sentence.
Ready? Ok!
1801--I have just returned from a visit to my landlord--the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.
Woo hoo! Good job, "Currer Bell"! Onward:
This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthopist's Heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name.
Doesn't that just make you want to read on? What's the narrator's name? Why does he/she like the barrenness? Why is the desolation of the landscape so great? Is the desolation of the landscape only cosmetic, or does it reflect a deeper truth about the people who live there? (I admit, these questions are influenced by others' reactions to this book, but only slightly!) Why would Mr. Heathcliff's suspicious eyes make the speaker's heart warm toward him? (That was a clumsy sentence. Oh well. You've just got to deal.) Why were Mr. Heathcliff's eyes made suspicious toward the he naturally suspicious of others, or is the speaker someone to be wary of?

Ok. I'm hooked. Toodles.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Hunt for The Second Book

Whew! After several hunts through our bookcases, I've ascertained that these are books we own that are on The List:

  1. Augustine's Confessions

  2. Beowulf

  3. Bronte's Wuthering Heights

  4. Cervantes' Don Quixote

  5. Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans

  6. Dante's Divine Comedy

  7. Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities

  8. Dickens' David Copperfield

  9. Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

  10. Ellison's Invisible Man

  11. Golding's The Lord of the Flies

  12. Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude

  13. Melville's Moby Dick

  14. Mitchell's Gone with the Wind

  15. Shelley's Frankenstein

  16. Stevenson's Kidnapped

  17. Stevenson's Treasure Island

  18. Thoreau's Walden
Now, for a Random Integer: The winner is...#3, which is Wuthering Heights. Good. I'll actually read that. (I've heard that it's morose and glum to the max. Maybe their melodromatic gloom will cheer me up.)

Grapes of Wrath Fail

I'm ashamed to admit it, after all that rigmarole, but I'm going to have to choose yet another book.

  1. I don't own The Grapes of Wrath.
  2. I didn't buy it at The Big Used Bookstore here in Chattanooga.
  3. I don't want to get it at the library at this time.
  4. To be honest...I don't really want to read it right now! If I don't want to, I won't. book choice is on the way. I promise.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Choosing Book #2: A Conversation with Myself.

I'm done with the Lord of the Rings. What should I read next?

Here's the complete list (it's long, so I made it small). I'm going to eliminate some and then see if I can choose from the remaining:
Alcott's The Young Man's Guide
Augustine's Confessions
Bronte's Wuthering Heights
Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita
Calvin's The Institutes
Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People
Cervantes' Don Quixote
Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans
Dante's Divine Comedy
Darwin's Origin of Species
Delillo's White Noise
Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities
Dickens' David Copperfield
Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov
Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment
Eliot's Four Quartets
Ellison's Invisible Man
Friedan's The Feminine Mystique
Gladwell's The Tipping Point
Golding's The Lord of the Flies
Graham's The Wind in the Willows
Heller's Catch-22
Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls
Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey
Kerouak's Slaughterhouse-Five
Kierkegaard's Christian Discourses
Kingston's The Woman Warrior
Machiavelli's The Prince
Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude
Martel's Life of Pi
Melville's Moby Dick
Mitchell's Gone with the Wind
Morrison's Beloved
Nietzche's Beyond Good and Evil
Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Pizan's The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry
Plato's The Republic
Rand's Atlas Shrugged
Rand's The Fountainhead
Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye
Shalit's A Return to Modesty
Shelley's Frankenstein
Sjoholm's Incognito Street
Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson's Treasure Island
Sun Tzu's The Art of War
Thoreau's Walden
Tolstoy's Anna Karenina
Tolstoy's War and Peace
Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five
Wallace's Ben Hur
Wharton's The House of Mirth
Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

Winner's Real Sex
Woolf's To the Lighthouse
Wright's Native Son

First, eliminate British authors. I want a little bit of well-roundedness. That leaves this list:

  1. Alcott's The Young Man's Guide

  2. Augustine's Confessions

  3. Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita

  4. Calvin's The Institutes

  5. Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People

  6. Cervantes' Don Quixote

  7. Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans

  8. Dante's Divine Comedy

  9. Delillo's White Noise

  10. Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

  11. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment

  12. Ellison's Invisible Man

  13. Friedan's The Feminine Mystique

  14. Gladwell's The Tipping Point

  15. Heller's Catch-22

  16. Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls

  17. Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey

  18. Kerouak's Slaughterhouse-Five

  19. Kierkegaard's Christian Discourses

  20. Kingston's The Woman Warrior

  21. Machiavelli's The Prince

  22. Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude

  23. Martel's Life of Pi

  24. Melville's Moby Dick

  25. Mitchell's Gone with the Wind

  26. Morrison's Beloved

  27. Nietzche's Beyond Good and Evil

  28. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

  29. Pizan's The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry

  30. Plato's The Republic

  31. Rand's Atlas Shrugged

  32. Rand's The Fountainhead

  33. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

  34. Shalit's A Return to Modesty

  35. Sjoholm's Incognito Street

  36. Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

  37. Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

  38. Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

  39. Sun Tzu's The Art of War

  40. Thoreau's Walden

  41. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

  42. Tolstoy's War and Peace

  43. Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five

  44. Wallace's Ben Hur

  45. Winner's Real Sex

  46. Wharton's The House of Mirth

  47. Woolf's To the Lighthouse

  48. Wright's Native Son
Ok. Now, I will see what happens when I get a random integer: #22 is the lucky winner....that's...let me scroll up...Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

...I'm trying again. (read here for the Official List of Excuses: I already started it once. This time I'm wanting to read something I have little to no prior relationship with. I just 'reconciled' with one book.)

Again: 24...that's Melville's Moby Dick.

OooooKay. Yeah, no.

One more try: 38...that's Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. All right. Thaaaat's the one! That's the lucky winner!

Friday, September 19, 2008

More Vocabulary

argent: something silvery or white.

blench: to shrink; flinch; quail.

embrasure: (in fortification) an opening, as a loophole or crenel, through which missiles may be discharged.

ghyll: A ravine.

lave: Archaic. to bathe.

oast: a kiln for drying hops or malt.

peach: To inform on someone; turn informer.

puissant: powerful; mighty; potent.

recking: to take heed of or to have caution.

recreant: 1. cowardly or craven. 2. unfaithful, disloyal, or traitorous.

serried: pressed together or compacted, as soldiers in rows.

tilth: the physical condition of soil in relation to plant growth.

vambrace: Armor used to protect the forearm.

wain: a farm wagon or cart.


"argent." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"blench." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"embrasure." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"ghyll." Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"lave." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"oast." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"peaching." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"recking." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"recreant." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"serried." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"tilth." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"vambrace." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 19 Sep. 2008. .

"wain." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 19 Sep. 2008. .

Why can't I write like this? Oh, Tolkien, you'' are the bomb. Diggity.

(Yes, yes, it's another description. Deal with it; Tolkien is wonderful at description!!)

Sam wanted to have a song composed about his adventures with Frodo, and he got his wish! After all the pain, struggle, suffering...they listen to the song. Read this description of their response:
And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the mistrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.

Seriously...I can't have been the only one ever to have had my attention caught by these phrases!
"wounded with sweet words"
"their joy was like swords"
"where pain and delight flow together"


Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Ballantine: New York, 1955.


After Sam and Frodo succeed in destroying the Ring, they are saved from a terrible volcanic death by Gandalf. They wake, and after they ascertain that they are not dead, Gandalf asks Sam how he is. Read this and take note of the descriptiveness:

"How do I feel?" he cried. "Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel--" he waved his hands in the air-- "I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!"

Whew! Future writers, take note. This is how to describe!


Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Ballantine: New York, 1955.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

P. A. #2

I'm getting a little tired of Tolkien.

There's nothing for it but to read, read, read. I'm determined to read it through!

I've been marking more vocabulary words. I'll write another post about vocabulary words, and then a nice concluding post regarding this [series of] book[s].

Monday, September 8, 2008

P. A.

I started The Return of the King last night. I want to finish in the next few days so I can start another book.

British Vocabulary for a British Mythology

Maybe it's been too long since I've read anything of substance, but I've been coming across words I don't know while reading The Lord of the Rings. (I have a memory for vocabulary and spelling, and if I don't know a word, believe me, it's an Event.)

(Does anyone else get excited about vocabulary? I do. I love learning new words, and memorable words lodge themselves in my mind, along with the way I learned them. These words will always remind me of The Lord of the Rings. Hooray! They're like...intellectual mementos. Others collect sea-shells, or postcards, or pennants, to remember places they've traveled. I, apparently, collect words as knick-knacks.) (If only I could learn to use them as handily!)

My husband pointed out that these words are Middle English. (Because Tolkien was writing a mythology for the British people, you know.) You know what I say to that? "Go ahead on with your clever sassy self, J. R. R.!"

Anyway, here's a list of words from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers that I didn't know. Now I know them.

coomb: deep hollow or valley, especially on flank of a hill.

drabbling: to draggle; make or become wet and dirty.

eyot: An islet, or little isle, in a river or lake.

gangrel: 1. a lanky, loose-jointed person. 2. a wandering beggar; vagabond; vagrant.

holm-oak: evergreen oak of southern Europe having leaves somewhat resembling those of holly; yields a hard wood.

ilex: 1. any tree or shrub of the genus Ilex. 2. a holly.

laund: A plain sprinkled with trees or underbrush; a glade.

mere: A small lake, pond, or marsh.

sward: 1. the grassy surface of land; turf. 2. a stretch of turf; a growth of grass.


"coomb." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 08 Sep. 2008.

"drabbling." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 08 Sep. 2008.

"eyot." Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 08 Sep. 2008.

"gangrel." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 08 Sep. 2008.

"holm oak." WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 08 Sep. 2008. oak.

"ilex." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 08 Sep. 2008.

"laund." Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 08 Sep. 2008.

"mere." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 08 Sep. 2008.

"sward." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 08 Sep. 2008.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Experience of Time

As I've been reading The Lord of the Rings, I've been thinking about the experience of time in books versus the experience of time in movies.

I've watched the 6-hour Pride and Prejudice many times, and decided to re-read the book. It was better. It was slower, had more detail, and seemed more real.

The same is true of the Peter Jackson's movies (which are, let's be honest, totally rad and examples of amazing, excellent big-budget filmmaking!) versus the books themselves. No matter what tricks films do to make us believe more time has gone by than actually has, it still only feels like the tightly budgeted 120 minutes...or, in Peter Jackson's case, the generous 180 minutes per installment.

But in the books, whether it's Austen's Pride and Prejudice or Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, time feels different. I may only have 5 or 10 minutes to sit and read, but it feels more real; it feels less rushed. Clock-time says "It's been 5 minutes!" but my experience of time might be three days of nonstop Orc-chasing with Aragorn, Gimli, and intense moment of Frodo's internal battle to master the Ring...a thousand years of Elf history...several millenia of Ent history...and so on and so forth.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I'm There. (Tolkien's Descriptiveness)

I read halfway through the Lord of the Rings some years ago, and pooped out. I have to say, Tolkien gives sooooo much history, backstory, many, many names of much detailed description.

But this time, I'm making myself slow down and actually read the words he wrote. There's no speed-reading here. There's no surfing and skimming through. It's actual reading.

Guess what I have found? I found myself staying up late last night because Tolkien's description of Lothlorien was so beautiful, I couldn't bear to 'leave.' I also stayed up to keep reading because his descriptions of the Mines of Moria are so haunting that I had to read myself out of the darkness of caves and depths.

I remember being young and visiting the Tom Sawyer cave in Hannibal, Missouri. The tour guide had clearly given many tours already that day, and when she droned about turning the lights off so we could see how dark Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher had it, I didn't really hear her...but I remember the darkness. It was dark, and I can't (with my little talent) describe it other than saying 'It was dark!' But Tolkien had me, with my imagination, in the Mines of Moria, with the threat of the creatures the Dwarfs had awakened, with the Dwarf hero Balin having died of those creatures...I was there, people.

Here are a few paragraphs of description from the end. I'm recalling all the days I've ever been on a river, been near rapids, been in fog, been in dusky evenings. He's got me there. I can see it. I'm there, in my mind.

One by one Aragorn and Boromir carried the boats, while the others toiled and scrambled after them with the baggage. At last all was removed and laid on the portage-way. Then with little further hindrance, save from sprawling briars and many fallen stones, they moved forward all together. Fog still hung in veils upon the crumbling rockwall, and to their left mist shrouded the River: they could hear it rushing and foaming over the sharp shelves and stony teeth of Sarn Gebir, but they could not see it. Twice they made the journey, before all was brought safe to the southern landing.

There the portage-way, turning back to the water-side, ran gently down to the shallow edge of a little pool. It seemed to have been scooped in the river-side, not by hand, but by the water swirling down from Sarn Gebir against a low pier of rock that jutted out some way into the stream. Beyond it the shore rose sheer into a grey cliff, and there was not further passage for those on foot.

Already the short afternoon was past, and a dim cloudy dusk was closing in. They sat beside the water listening to the confused rush and roar of the Rapids hidden in the mist; they were tired and sleepy, and their hearts were as gloomy as the dying day.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 1955: New York, Ballantine.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Fellowship of the Ring: Update One

I'm remembering why, when I set my mind to reading these books last time, I pooped out. Don't get me wrong, it's a great story! I just....[sigh]....there's so very much history, backstory, and detail Tolkien includes in his stories.

Still, it's the very first book and I'm going to pave my way through! Maybe the next book I pick will be more...I dunno...streamlined.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Beginning Lord of the Rings

I already own the Lord of the Rings books, so I'll start with that. In fact, I've begun the first volume at least once, which gives me yet another reason to go ahead and start with that one.

So, off I go.

What this is

So, it occurred to me that my 30th birthday is just around the corner! In some ways, I've already gone through the "Oh. my. word. that's. the. FIRST OVER-THE-HILL! Ack!" wave of emotions because my older sister (and only sibling) already turned thirty a year ago...but still. It's a landmark age, people.

Some people make a pre-bucket list, filled with goals like "I want to go skydiving" and "I'm going to learn to water-ski, make a souffle, and shoot a hole-in-one in golf!" Not me!

Why is that?

1) Those things are expensive, and I'm afraid I can't afford them.
2) Skydiving? Water-skiing? Golf? No thanks. I don't enjoy sports and athletics now, and I'd hardly commemorate my thirtieth birthday happily if I torment myself with a year one failed attempt after another to improve my frustratingly lame gross-motor skills.

The question is, what sort of List is appropriate to me? Those who know me, especially those who have known me a majority of these (nearly) thirty years will say a list of books!

So there it is. I'm reading thirty books (or trying to) before I turn thirty.