LOTR Readalong – The Hobbit

I love the fantasy genre, have read Paolini, and am absolutely in love with Katsa and Po in Graceling.  I’ve read all the books in The Chronicles of Narnia, play World of Warcraft, and I rather enjoyed Goblins! An UnderEarth Adventure.  So when I read about the Tolkein Readalong, I decided to Crash the Unexpected Party.

The Lord of the Rings ReadalongJanuary was the month of The Hobbit with A Striped Armchair.  I got a late start, so I’ve had to hurry a bit to catch up, but I’ve now finished the prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It was a re-reread for me, “the third time pays for all”, as Bilbo says, and my last time on the journey There and Back Again was in early 2008, I believe.  It amazes me how this book was still able to keep me in suspense through goblins chasing them, Riddles in the Dark, the sticky troubles in Mirkwood, imprisonment in the wood-elves city, Bilbo’s battle of wits with Smaug the Dragon, and through the final scene of the book, The Battle of Five Armies.  I so love Tolkein, and I seem to forget how much until I read his work.  Next month will be The Fellowship of the Rings with The Literary Omnivore.

So Eva at A Striped Armchair gave us the following questions:

  • Where are you in the story? So far, has the book lived up to your expectations (for first-timers)/memories (for rereaders)? What’s surprising or familiar?
  • Have you been bogged down anywhere in the book?
  • Let’s talk about the songs…are you skipping over them to get back to the prose? Why or why not?
  • What do you think of the narrator’s voice?
  • Does your edition have illustrations or maps? Have you been ignoring them or referring back to them?
  • Now it’s time to play favourites! Who’s your favourite main character? Who’s your favourite minor character (i.e.: villains, random helpers, etc.)? What’s your favourite scene? Do you have a favourite quote to share?
  • Okay, so here we go :-)

    1.  Where are you in the story? So far, has the book lived up to your expectations (for first-timers)/memories (for rereaders)? What’s surprising or familiar?

    I have just finished the book about twenty minutes ago, after tackling it in about 3 days.  I was a bit burned out by the ARCs that I’ve read this month, and desperately need a fun escape in a comfort read and The Hobbit fit that to a T.  I really do hope to take the next books a bit slower, because it gave me a bit of a brain-ache this way.  As always, it lived up to my memories, and I’ve been running over to YouTube to watch the 1977 Cartoon version of it that I watched repeatedly at my parents naseaum as a kid.  What really surprised me was that, even though I know the story, know what all’s going to happen, and know the outcomes, it can still hold me in suspense.  I was biting my nails and flipping pages, even though I knew they were all going to make it through.  Of course, since it was a reread, it was familiar, and maybe it is the cartoon I watched for all those years that makes it a comfort read for me.

    2.  Have you been bogged down anywhere in the book?

    I did have trouble in the beginning of the book getting started.  I kept falling asleep.  However, that may have more to do with the fact that I was in a nice, warm bed at 12 o’clock at night, with the audiobook playing as I read along.  There is a reason we read bedtime stories to kids to make them go to sleep, and I can tell you it works on 36-year-old moms just as well ;-)

    3.  Let’s talk about the songs…are you skipping over them to get back to the prose? Why or why not?

    Well, as I said, I read along with an audiobook, so I didn’t skip the songs this time, but I never skipped them anyway.  I figure Tolkein put them where he did for a reason and read them (sang them, out loud, even if it drew stares) where he plunked them.  It was a bit different hearing them from the audiobook reader, who also sang them, (but with breaks that I didn’t care for) in that his tunes for them was a bit different than the ones I had sung.  Honestly, it would have never occurred to me to skip them.

    4.  What do you think of the narrator’s voice?

    I have always loved the book’s narrator voice, and I’d have to say that I like the audiobook’s narrator’s voice, as well.  I hope he’s doing the next three, as well.

    5.  Does your edition have illustrations or maps? Have you been ignoring them or referring back to them?

    Yes, my book had both the dwarf map of the Lonely Mountain and the moonrunes that Elrond discovered (lol, I can’t read runes, though, so what does that matter?), as well as a broader map that shows the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood, and the Grey Mountains, as well as Smaug on the Lonely Mountain.  They’re labelled “Thror’s Map” and “Wilderland”, and I referenced them often, especially the one of Wilderland to get a good sense of the directions they took and how far they travelled.  Like Bilbo, I too LOVE maps!

    6.  Now it’s time to play favourites! Who’s your favourite main character? Who’s your favourite minor character (i.e.: villains, random helpers, etc.)? What’s your favourite scene? Do you have a favourite quote to share?

    Ooh, favorites…  I knew this question was coming, so I tried to be prepared, but I just was too into the book to remember to pick them.  Let me see….

    Favorite main character:  Well, of course it’s probably Gandalf.  Do people answer anything else?  Why or how could you have any other favorite than the Wandering Wizard?  Well, maybe Bilbo…  since he is the one about whom the story was written.  Certainly, it can’t be the dwarves, they’re a bunch of pansies who push Bilbo out in front like a Hobbit-shield.  Money-grubbing, short, lazy.. grumble grumble.  I know too many people like them in real life to like them much in the book, especially the pompous, self-important Thorin (though, he does redeem himself in the end).

    Favorite minor character:  Ahh, now this one gives us a much broader choice.  My favorite minor character is, by far, Beorn.  I loved Beorn!  He treats his animals with care and love as if they were his own children, and watches over and guards his friends, too.  Beorn could be called “The Guardian of the Wood”, I think.  And I had forgotten about him until reaching his house after the Eagles had dropped them all at the Carrock.  Beorn has this sense that he could be dangerous (well, and his does transform into a bear, after all), but there’s a gentleness about him at the same time.

    Favorite scene:  My favorite scene had always previously been the barrel-escape scene.  However, this time around, my favorite scene is at the end, when Gandalf and Bilbo begin their journey home, parting company with the elvenking, and Beorn stays with them and protects them.  I don’t know why I’d never paid much attention to him before!

    As for my favorite quote…  There were so many great lines and passages in this book, obviously!  But here’s the one that struck me this time around:

    “The the prophecies of the old song have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

    “Of course!” said Gandalf.  “And why should not they prove true?  Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?  You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?  You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

    “Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

    -The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein, page 330

     

     I found a deep sense of comfort in this passage this time around, and I’m not exactly sure why.  Perhaps it’s the idea that I myself am “quite a little fellow” (or whatever the term for a girl fellow is) in a wide world, and it’s a comfort to know that it all will turn out okay in the end.  Sometimes it feels like I’m battling the forces of darkness just to raise my kids to be honorable, integral, self-respecting, well-mannered, civilized, law-abiding, good citizens.  And though it would be nice to have a wizard helping me along the way, or a bear-man like Beorn to watch over them when they’re not under my own watchful gaze, it is a comfort to know that there is Someone who does keep them, and all of us, and, though we might not understand the hows and whys, there is a Plan that is being worked out for the good of all.

    This counts toward my 451 Challenge.

    Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

    Title:  Northanger Abbey

    Author:  Jane Austen

    published: 1817 (originally)

    ISBN:  9781551114795

    Challenges:  Everything Austen Challenge at Stephanie’s Written Word

    “You think me foolish to call instruction a torment, but if you had been as much used as myself to hear poor little children first learning their letters and then learning to spell, if you had ever seen how stupid they can be for a whole morning together, and how tired my poor mother is at the end of it, as I am in the habit of seeing almost every day of my life at home, you would allow that to torment and to instruct might sometimes be used as synonimous words.”

    “Very probably.  But historians are not accountable for the difficulty of learning to read; and even you yourself, who do not altogether seem particularly friendly to very severe, very intense application, may perhaps be brought to acknowledge that it is very well worth while to be tormented for two or three years of one’s life, for the sake of being able to read all the rest of it.  Consider – if reading had not been taught, Mrs Radcliffe would have written in vain – or perhaps might not have written at all.”

    -Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, pages 123-124

    Northanger Abbey was actually Jane Austen’s first novel, though it wasn’t published until after her death.  It was sold for ten pounds to a publisher who decided against publishing it and returned it to Jane’s brother, Henry, who did finally publish towards the end of 1817 (1818 on the original title page).  The wonderful thing about this book being the first, and almost lost forever, book Austen wrote is that it just oozes with her raw wit and satirical voice.  It displays her sharp tongue and passion about reading, women’s rights and plight in society, and the true value of novels.

    The purpose of Northanger Abbey, besides using the text and characters as a mouthpiece to express Austen’s own thoughts, is to parody the gothic romance novels of her day, with particularly appreciation and affection for Mrs. Radcliffe’s.  Young Catherine Morland is an ingenue taking her first trip to Bath, the place for polite society to see and be seen by each other.  Miss Morland meets Henry Tilney and falls for him by the end of the evening.  However, his quick departure leaves her open to the influences of other new acquaintances, the Thorpes, who are rather vulgar and self-serving.  John Thorpe lies to make himself look better, lies to General Tilney (Henry’s father) about Catherine’s financial outlook, and lies to Catherine about Tilney in order to get her to go with him on a day trip.  Catherine is forced to develop her own judgment and to excercise it.

    When she goes to Northanger Abbey, the family manse of the Tilneys, she begins to stretch these muscles to excess and begins to see a villain in every wardrobe, and a tale of cruelty behind every locked door.  She goes from blindly accepting that everyone is good and does good to deciding General Tilney is a cruel husband who has either murdered his wife or keeps her locked in a dungeon, feeding her gruel every night after the household has gone to bed.

    Originally, I had issue with this sudden flip in personality.  I thought it a weak ploy to be able to parody Radcliffe, et al’s work.  However, after thinking it over, it occurred to me that Catherine was in love with Henry, and because of that wanted to be like him.  In his presence, she defers to his judgment on all things.  But when he’s gone from the Abbey, she tries to reason like him, but ends up over thinking everything to the point of ridiculousness.

    “If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to – Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained.  What have you been judging from?  Remember the country and the age in which we live.  Remember that we are English, that we are Christians… Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?” -Henry Tilney, pages 195-196

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading Northanger Abbey, and found it delightful to read a “new” (to me) Jane Austen.  You know, everyone always reads Pride and Prejudice, and it’s a great book, I won’t argue that.  But I think even those who are less-than-enthused by Austen’s writing can appreciate this book.  It’s not quite as multi-layered as her other novels where people say one thing and everyone knows they mean a completely different thing (“Oh, Mrs Nesbit!  What a lovely frock” really means, “Die, bitch! DIE!!!!”)

    Northanger Abbey is my new favorite Austen book, toppling the long-standing, afore-mentioned Pride and Prejudice (still very much-loved, just second place, now)  AND it has given me a new book crush.  Oh, Mr. Tilney!  *sigh… flutter… swoon* :-D  Also, reading this book was like taking a look back at the teenage version of me.  I was definitely Cathy Morland:  Dense in the way things really work, romantic-minded, and wanted what I read in books to be a reality.  Ah, then I grew up into Elizabeth Bennet/Elinor Dashwood.

    Obviously, I give Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen 5 out of 5 stars :-D

    Emma by Jane Austen

    Title:  Emma

    Author:  Jane Austen

    Paperback:  416 pages

    Date Published: 1997

    Publisher:  Wordsworth Editions Ltd

    ISBN:  1853260282

    The very first subject, after being seated, was Maple Grove, ‘My brother, Mr Suckling’s seat’; a comparison of Hartfield to Maple Grove… ‘Very like Maple Grove indeed! She was quite struck by the likeness! That room was the very shape and size of the morning-room at Maple Grove; her sister’s favourite room.’ Mr Elton was appealed to. ‘Was not it astonishingly like? She could really almost fancy herself at Maple Grove.

    ‘And the staircase. You know, as I came in, I observed how very like the staircase was; placed exactly in the same part of the house. I really could not help exclaiming! I assure you, Miss Woodhouse, it is very delightful to me to be reminded of a place I am so extremely partial to as Maple Grove. I have so many happy months there!’ (with a little sigh of sentiment.) ‘A charming place, undoubtedly. Everybody who sees it is struck by its beauty; but to me it has been quite a home. Whenever you are transplanted, like me, Miss Woodhouse, you will understand how very delightful it is to meet with anything at all like what one has left behind. I always say this is quite one of the evils of matrimony.’

    Emma made as slight a reply as she could; but it was fully sufficient for Mrs Elton, who only wanted to be talking herself.

    -Emma by Jane Austen, pages 217-218

    I finished this book almost a week ago after being stuck in it for about six months.  I’ve wanted to give it time to sit and think about it before making an official judgment by way of a review.  And, while I still say it was the hardest Austen book so far and my least favorite, I have to admit a serious amount of respect for the women of the era.  I’m definitely grateful times have changed since then!

    Long and short of things, Emma Woodhouse more or less grew up the Miss Woodhouse of her father’s home, meaning she was the society keeper.  The golden daughter, beautiful and clever, she has never been denied anything by her father, who’s a bit of a hypochondriac, nor by her governess Miss Taylor, who has just married Mr. Weston in the beginning of the novel.  Emma believes she is responsible for making this match and decides to aim her powers at the single vicar, Mr. Elton.  Her brother-in-law’s brother, Mr. Knightly, however, admonishes her to leave match-making be, to let love take its course, but she doesn’t listen (OF COURSE!) and this sets a series of events into motion that forces Emma to grow up and re-evaluate her own position and judgments and that of those around her. 

    What Austen does in Emma is to recreate the sense of isolation and near-claustrophobic sensations of the life and choices living as an early 19thcentury English woman.  She equates the life of a governess as a polite form of slavery.  She also conveys the sense of captivity and inertial force of the class stratification of the era.  Everyone had a place, and everyone had acceptable and unacceptable pools of “friends” within the system to choose from:  Either their equal or many levels beneaththem so as to help improve them, but no one only a little below them.. lest they degrade themselves.  Those who tried to improve their social standing by latching onto those above them and trying the seem their equal were treated with civil incivility:  Invitations “forgotten,” stories told to remind them where they belong, arguments about things immaterial that vented hostilities and prejudices.

    Emma by Jane Austen presents the parlor life of  emotional constipation and gilded-cage existence without choices beyond who to invite for dinner that ran on and on until death was begged for.  In this day and age, when I can tell my neighbor flat-out, he’s an ass, and go on.  He and I live a life of pretending the other doesn’t exist, which works well.

    The book also conveys the sense of the inescapable lot assigned to a person because of who one’s family is and what they’ve done.  Harriet is a persona somewhat non grata because her parentage is unknown.  She could never expect to marry a gentleman, because no respectable man would take in the chance of social disaster if her father ever turned out to be a criminal or worse.  You are who your grandparents were, and if you screw up your life, you ruin your grandchildren’s chances for a future, destroy your siblings’ reputation and shame your parents. 

    It amounted to a suffocating life where the most seemingly trivial choices could destroy one’s life and reputation.  While Emma by Jane Austen is not one of my favorites, it’s a worthwhile book to read.  I’m glad to have read it, as much as I am glad I’m DONE reading it.  4 out of 5 stars.

    The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

    Title:  The Silver Chair

    Author:  C. S. Lewis

    Paperback:  767 pages

    Publisher:  HarperCollins

    Publish Date:  2001

    ISBN:  0066238501

    Miscellaneous:  The Silver Chair was published fifth in the Narnia Series, but was meant to be read sixth by Lewis.  The copy I have read is in a complete book.

     

    After that all happened quickly.  There was a wild cry, a swishing, dusty, gravelly noise, a rattle of stones, and Jill found herself sliding, sliding, hopelessly sliding, and sliding quicker every moment down a slope that grew steeper every moment…  From the sharp cries and swearing of the other two, Jill got the idea that many of the stones which she was dislodging were hitting Scrubb and Puddleglum pretty hard.  And now she was going at a furious rate and felt sure she would be broken to bits at the bottom.

     Yet somehow they weren’t.  They were a mass of bruises, and the wet sticky stuff on her face appeared to be blood.  And such a mass of loose earth, shingle, and larger stones was piled up round her (and partly over her) that she couldn’t get up.  The darkness was so complete that it made no difference at all whether you had your eyes open or shut.  There was no noise.  And that was the very worst moment Jill had ever known in her life.  Supposing she was alone:  supposing the others… The she heard movements around her.  And presently all three, in shaken voices, were explaining that none of them seemed to have any broken bones….

     No one suggested doing anything.  There was so obviously nothing to be done.  For the moment, they did not feel it quite so badly as one might have expected; that was because they were so tired.

     Long, long afterwards, without the slightest warning, an utterly strange voice spoke.  They knew at once that it was not the one voice in the whole world for which each had secretly been hoping; the voice of Aslan.  It was a dark, flat voice – almost, if you know what that means, a pitch-black voice.  It said:

     “What make you here, creatures of the Overworld?”

     

    -The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, pages 612-613

     

    In The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, we accompany a kinder, more human Eustace Scrubb back to his school, Experiment House, which seems to be a topsy-turvy socialistic school where the bullies are commended for preying on the weak and the Bible, and anything found within It’s covers, is forbidden.  We also meet Jill Pole, one of the weaker ones and somewhat-friend of Eustace, who is crying after being tormented and hiding from Them.  In an effort to comfort her, Eustace takes her into his confidence and tells her of the world of Narnia.  Wanting to visit this other world, the two call on Aslan and ask him to bring them there.  Thus begins the adventures of this, the sixth Narnian book.

     After showing off and causing Eustace to fall from an unimaginable precipice, Jill is given the harder task of keeping the four signs that will help them on their quest to find and rescue the lost Prince Rillian, only son and heir to the now elderly King Caspian. 

     Right away, the two muff (as Lewis says) the first sign:  Eustace was to speak to the first person he saw in Narnia, who would be an old friend, realizing after his boat has left the harbor that King Caspian was with whom he was to speak.  Things continue to go wrong throughout their journey, as they are almost made into a dinner for a giant’s festival and nearly enchanted into forgetting Narnia entirely.

     In the fashion of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Silver Chair is a fast-paced adventure story with the sense of impending doom and close-call escapes.  Unlike the first book, though, there is no great battle in which Aslan himself defeats the evil.  Instead, it is through the unity of the four that gathers their combined strength, as well as the sacrifice of one, that enables them to overcome the evil enchantress.

     Like the previous five Narnias, The Silver Chair is a Christian Allegory, and second only to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in references.  From the four signs Jill is given, to meeting the beautiful Lady of the Green Kirtle with the lilting voice and musical laughter, to the piercing of Aslan’s paw that resurrects and rejuvenates King Caspian, the reader is shown the nature of a called life with a purpose given by the Omniscient, Omnipresent Ruler of all.

     The Silver Chair is by far my favorite Narnian tale.  It is perhaps the best written of the six I’ve read so far, and is the most exciting and inspiring of all thus far.  I love the Owls in this book, and find Lewis’s conversational voice given to them to be a delight that begs to be read aloud.

     

    “Now,” said Glimfeather, “I think we’re all here.  Let us hold a parliament of owls.”

    “Tu-whoo, tu-whoo.  True for you.  That’s the right thing to do,” said several voices.

    “Half a moment,” said Scrubb’s voice.  “There’s something I want to say first.”

    “Do, do do,” said the owls…

    “… I’m the King’s man; and if this parliament of owls is any sort of plot against the King, I’m having nothing to do with it.”

    “Tu-whoo, tu-whoo, we’re all the King’s owls too,” said the owls.

     

    -The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, page 573

      And Puddleglum, part Marvin the Robot, part Eeyore, is a wonderful comic relief (and given the tension in this thrilling adventure, an exceptional one is needed), and is now one of my favorite literary characters.

     

    “Why the dickens couldn’t you have held her feet?” said Eustace.

    “I don’t know, Scrubb,” groaned Puddleglum.  “Born to be a misfit, I shouldn’t wonder.  Fated.  Fated to be Pole’s death, just as I was fated to eat Talking Stag at Harfang.  Not that it isn’t my own fault as well, of course.”

    “This is the greatest shame and sorrow that could have fallen on us,” said the Prince.  “We have sent a brave lady into the hands of enemies and stayed behind in safety.”

    “Don’t paint it too black, Sir,” said Puddleglum.  “We’re not very safe except for death by starvation in this hole.”

     

    -The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, page 650

     

    Puddleglum is that sort of character whom we all know in our own lives:  The one who always thinks of, and points out, the worst of all possibilities.  He is a Marsh-wiggle, a people described as considering every terrible thing that could possible happen, then putting on a brave face in preparation of meeting it.  Those people who seem to almost enjoy spreading the doubt, fear, and negativity, and who “cry wolf” so often that when real danger comes along, they are ignored and their warnings blown off. 

     However, Puddleglum has as much courage and cheek as caution, and without him the quest would have failed time and again.  As Jill describes him, “Puddleglum!  You’re a regular old humbug.  You sound as doleful as a funeral and I believe you’re perfectly happy.  And you talk as if you were afraid of everything, when you’re really as brave as -as a lion.”

     For it’s thrilling drama, fraught with dangers and a wonderful cast of characters, and for the fantastically descriptive writing by Lewis, I give The Silver Chair 5 out of 5 stars, and highly recommend it as the best of the Narnias.

    hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

    Book Club Classics -Classics Meme!

    In order to promote her new site, LitGuides.com (a site dedicated to helping teachers/students navigate classic lit), Kristen over at Book Club Classics has started her first meme – and S. Krishna has tagged me for it! The questions are below, and I’m tagging: Katleen, unfinishedperson, meghan, Mrs. Hall, and Traci.

    1. What is the best classic you were “forced” to read in school (and why)?
    2. What was the worst classic you were forced to endure (and why)?
    3. Which classic should every student be required to read (and why)?
    4. Which classic should be put to rest immediately (and why)?
    5. **Bonus** Why do you think certain books become classics?

    What is the best classic you were “forced” to read in school (and why)?

    The best classic I was “forced” to read was The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I was in 7th grade, and this book was my introduction to critical reading. It was the first time I was taught I could think for myself, not just espouse my parents’ ideas. When I started teaching my daughter to read the same way, The Pearl was our first book. The school’s no longer seem to be teaching logic and reason, only sheep-think.

    What was the worst classic you were forced to endure (and why)?

    Oh gawd! That would be Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I seriously do not think most teenager have the patience for this largely philosophical book. It bored me to tears, and most likely went over my head. I should try to reread it, but I’m just not that masochistic!

    Which classic should every student be required to read (and why)?

    To be honest, and I’m sure this will offend a few people, The Bible. My reason for saying this is, in our Western society, so much of our collective conscious comes from this classic. Shakespeare took from Solomon’s writings, the moralities many books are built around are Judeo-Christian ethics, and most social structures stem from it. We would not be the society we are without The Bible.

    Which classic should be put to rest immediately (and why)?

    I really don’t know of any that should be put to rest. Maybe some should be saved for older ages, but a classic is a classic because it is always relevant.  Even Harry Potter is relevent for all ages (though I don’t think I’d count it as a classic yet.  We’ll have to see how it goes).

    Why do you think certain books become classics?

    As I said above, a classic is always relevant. It’s not restricted to it’s own time or place, but speaks to everyone, everywhere, at any time. It reveals something of humor nature, whether it’s arrogance and assumption as in Pride and Prejudice, or the desire to be important and matter as in Vanity Fair, or the evils of the pursuit of power and control as in Animal Farm and 1984. Sometimes they warn us not to give up our power because of fear as in The Giver and Fahrenheit 451, and some mock society to reveal it’s failings as we read in Candide and Le Tartuffe. They challenge us to think and act, and broaden our views of the world around us.

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