September 19, 2006

Fresh Tolkien book

Houghton Mifflin will publish a new work by JRR Tolkien this spring.

I'm chomping at the bit, tugging at the leash, drooling down my shirt. I'm not worried that Tolkien never finished the story during his lifetime -- if Christopher Tolkien does as good a job editing "The Children of Hurin" as he's done with the multivolume history of the Lord of the Rings and Unfinished Tales, this new book is going to be **amazing**.

May 27, 2006


My first name, Carey, is uncommon. I can count the number of other Careys I've met on only one hand.

According to this site, though, Carey is far from the most unusual name around. In 1990, it ranked 587 on the list of the 1000 most common men's names among all people living in the U.S. There were more Careys in 1990 than there were Grahams, Vinces, and Carters. The most popular decade for the name Carey was the 50s, when it rose to number 382 on the list of most common names. Since then it's fallen off the charts. The last year that Carey broke into the top-1000 list was 1992. Too many parents ditching it for Tyler, I guess.

When I was a kid, I hated my name. Everyone thought it was a girl's name, and no one knew how to spell it. Nowadays I love my first name precisely because it isn't Michael, Jacob, or Christopher. With all apologies to everyone with these popular names, if my first name was Mike, I'd hope to hell my middle name actually was Glorfindel.

It's also cool to find out that the name Carey comes "[f]rom an Irish surname which was derived from Ó Ciardha meaning 'descendent of Ciardha'. The name Ciardha means 'dark' in Gaelic." It isn't that I'm a particularly dark person, physically or otherwise -- it's just relieving to find out that my name isn't Gaelic for "stolid" or "picky-eater." It's almost as cool as my brother's name, Brian, which descends from the Irish king Brian Boru, "an Irish king who thwarted Viking attempts to conquer Ireland in the 11th century. He was victorious in the Battle of Clontarf, but he himself was slain."

Ahh, the noble victor who is later slain himself. Reminds me of Glorfindel of Gondolin (whose battle with a Balrog allowed Tuor and Idril to save the survivors of the fall of Gondolin).

November 21, 2005

The war on what?

Commenting on "the generally unhinged condition of political discourse in America", Brian Leiter nails the bullseye:

One really can't repeat this often enough: there is no "war on terror," not only because you can't wage war on a technique, but because there is no single agent of terrorism motivated by a unitary set of concerns. The whole "war on terror" is a fraud, and anyone who speaks of such a fake war should be laughed out of serious society. [Emphasis in original.]

This is about as non-partisan a bit of common sense as you'll find. That so few people on both the left and right acknowledge it is scary. What happens to a democracy when "we the People" are all out to lunch? We're finding out day by day.

(I don't think Leiter's quite as effective when he describes Bush's characterization of the "enemy" as "a construct worthy of Tolkien." Tolkien's fiction was magisterial, at once awesomely imaginative and profoundly relevant. Bush's fantasy stories, in contrast, are much more pedestrian -- on the level of, say, Sara Douglass' weaker novels. . . .)

August 06, 2005

Role models

I just got back from seeing March of the Penguins, which I thought was an amazing and beautiful film. These penguins endure so much hardship to make sure their chicks are born and survive long enough to return to the sea that we humans can't help but respect them. These filmmakers obviously respect their subjects, and probably love them a little, too.

Vast numbers of penguins seem swallowed up by the hugeness of the harsh antarctic environment, but they're persistent and they stick together so that they can survive. Human behavior is usually more varied than penguin behavior, but when humans are at their best, they can sometimes act just like penguins do. Maybe that's why I shouldn't be surprised that so many scenes in this film reminded me of a Ted Nasmith painting of Fingolfin leading the elves across the frozen wastes of the Helcaraxë:

We humans can choose to act nobly or venally, but it's easier to be noble if we have role models, like Tolkien's elves. Or emperor penguins.

January 23, 2005

Old gods

Julie Saltman points me via email to Brad DeLong's post heaping scorn upon Tom Bombadil.

DeLong thinks Tom is a disaster. It will probably surprise no one that I don't share his esthetic judgment; I think Tom Bombadil is one of the most fascinating characters in LotR. I've mentioned my ambivalent feelings about literary criticism, but I'll point to some of comments on DeLong's post as examples of lit crit's power to enrich one's understanding of art.

My favorite is a part of a longer comment by Troy McClure: "Maybe the old gods weren't all Lovecraftian horrors, perhaps they were beautiful like Goldberry."

So long as thinking and writing about literature leads to provocative gems like this, you won't hear me complaining too much.

January 22, 2005

This explains everything

George W. Bush is gathering all armies to him, to cover the land in a second darkness!

December 14, 2004

ROTK (unabridged)

The last time I cried so much was when I finished reading the rabbit story.

That's how good it was.

(Small spoilers below.)

Continue reading "ROTK (unabridged)" »

December 01, 2004

Return of the King

In just a few days we'll all get to see the richer, fuller, more true-to-the-story version of Return of the King.

Go here and follow the link!
Edit: I just won a small argument about Tom Bombadil's clothing. Blue jacket. Yellow boots. Ha!

November 21, 2004

New Silmarillion

Houghton Mifflin has come out with a new edition of the Silmarillion to match the great box set of the Lord of the Rings that they put out two years ago. The spines of the dust jackets (do dust jackets have spines?) are identically styled, so anyone with the box set, but no Silmarillion, should get this edition. Bellissima!

This edition is very similar to an earlier version which I have. Both are illustrated by the most overlooked of the glorious triumvirate of Tolkien illustrators extraordinaire: Ted Nasmith.

If you've never read Tolkien, and want to know why you should, browse through the paintings on Nasmith's site. His paintings give me goosebumps. Lee conveys the culture, Howe the action, but Nasmith does the landscapes of Middle-Earth better than anyone else. This new version of the Silmarillion just stuffs in new Nasmith illustrations, and that makes it worth getting, even if you already have a few Silmarillions lying around already.

July 13, 2004

October surprise?

This is just a whisper in the wind right now, but we might see the extended edition (the non-truncated edition) of The Return of the King in theaters later this year.

March 01, 2004

Return of the King settles in

I remember the day when my friend Nick first told me that "they" were making a movie out of the Lord of the Rings. We were hiking in Chatauqua Park above Boulder, Colorado, and I remember being excited, but also worried that the movie might suck.

There would be a lot of people who hadn't read Tolkien's book who would form their opinion of Tolkien based on the movie. If the film sucked, this would simply be another excuse to dismiss the story as "just" fantasy, a kid's book, something that didn't deserve much respect. For some reason, I thought it was important that this didn't happen. I'm thrilled when I meet people who know who Aragorn is, or who can tell me how they imagine the battle on Weathertop, or that they like (or hate) Denethor. I suppose for many people, the satisfaction I find in sharing the Lord of the Rings is found by sharing family stories, or Bible stories, or other such things. Your sense of belonging to the culture around you is stronger if you can share common stories, and if this movie was good, maybe a whole lot of people would see it, and maybe some of them would read the books. Maybe Rivendell would settle a little more firmly into the foundation of the culture around me. That was my hope. My fear was that a bad movie would scare people away, and Tolkien would involuntarily become a more private passion.

And then the first film came out, and it was great. It wasn't perfect, but it obviously took Tolkien's story seriously, and that was what was most important. The public seemed to like it, based on how much money it made. It was even nominated for Best Picture. And so was the second one. But they didn't win. By now my hopes were higher; I wanted a real triumph.

Tonight, The Return of the KIng won Best Picture, Peter Jackson won Best Director, and the concluding episode of Tolkien's story is tied for most Oscar wins in one year with Titanic and Ben Hur--eleven. I'm feeling, for some reason, personally triumphant. Because this is something I've wanted for a while.

I can make a reference now to Aragorn or to Gollum in casual conversation, and there's a good chance everyone will know who I'm talking about. When people mention elves, they're sometimes not thinking of the Keebler kind. This is how stories sink in, over time. And I'd like to think Tolkien's story is settling in more or less permanently into our cultural background, helped along by these movies that Peter Jackson made.

February 23, 2004

Return of the King continues to triumph

The Screen Actors Guild has given the Ensemble Award to the cast of The Return of the King. Last week, RoTK was named the best edited dramatic feature film at the ACE Eddie Awards.

The Oscars are this Sunday.

February 16, 2004

Return of the King rolls on

The Return of the King was named Best Picture at the BAFTAs yesterday in the UK. It also won the audience award and was named Orange Film of the Year.

Peter Jackson lost out to Peter Weir (Master and Commander) for Best Director.

Look forward to a more decisive sweep for the Tolkien movie on Oscar night, February 29.

February 15, 2004

Critics betting on Return of the King

New York Times film critics believe that The Return of the King will win the Oscar for Best Picture, and that Peter Jackson will win for Best Director.

Here's hoping they're right!

February 09, 2004

In the good news department...

Peter Jackson has won the Director's Guild Award for The Return of the King.

In the 'Shadowfax gets snubbed' department...

The cinematographers nominated Andrew Lesnie for Fellowship of the Ring (he didn't win), failed to nominate him for The Two Towers, and this year passed him over in favor of the guy who did Seabiscuit.

January 31, 2004

New Blog

Via RangelMD, welcome to There & Back Again, a new blog from Tolkien fan and soon-to-be medical student Matthew Mittiga. In only his second post, he recommends Tom Shippey's J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century.

I've gotta link to this guy.

December 29, 2003

Aragorn has "acute hydrophobia"?

I haven't taken a personality test in a while, so I took this one:

Congratulations! You're Aragorn!

Which Lord of the Rings character and personality problem are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

December 23, 2003

Politics and The Lord of the Rings

Of all the reviews of The Lord of the Rings that I've had the pleasure of reading, none seem so shallow as those which presume to appropriate Tolkien as a spokesman for the reviewer's preferred political ideology. Or, conversely, as an exemplar of the reviewer's most despised ideology:

Can one judge a film with the morals of politics? Is Lord of the Rings seen differently in the United States than it is in Europe where the majority of people were against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? A fable is “a narration intended to enforce a useful truth.” When I look at the Lord of the Rings as the fable its author, J.R.R. Tolkien, intended it to be, I see a world clearly divided into races and regions of leader and followers, I see Calvinist pre-determinism and I see the vindication and veneration of empire unfolding in frame after frame. And I feel the quick burn of shame that I always feel when realising that as a child I was taken in by a “useful truth” that now seems odious.

I've read enough of these futile efforts by now that the method is numbingly predictable.

Continue reading "Politics and The Lord of the Rings" »

December 17, 2003

Is Return of the King the perfect movie?

Thankfully, it's far from perfect. That's why I love it.

A perfect movie would wrap everything up in 2.5 hours, would give us a perfectly-timed climax that doesn't last too long, would emphasize the "main" characters while allowing each "supporting" character to step in at just the right time, would comment on just the right social concerns, with just the right degree of gravitas, and would be directed by Steven Spielberg or Ron Howard.

It would win Best Picture for the year, and would be approvingly referenced by all the movie literati and highbrow critics for years to come.

The Return of the King is too good for all of that. It's imperfect in all the ways that make a movie great. Its numerous failings are all inevitable consequences of its stunning successes. Can't fit that one into a tight little box; no sirree, Bob.

December 16, 2003

Seven stars and seven stones and one white tree

"A sweet fountain played there in the morning sun, and a sward of bright green lay about it; but in the midst, drooping over the pool, stood a dead tree, and the falling drops dripped sadly from its barren and broken branches back into the clear water." (RoTK, p. 27)

The White Tree of Gondor (and, ahem, me) waits for The Return of the King.

December 09, 2003

Sauron makes a contract?

For those studying Contracts (or the Lord of the Rings), this.

December 03, 2003

As Aragorn has begun, so we must go on. . .

"We come now to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin. To waver is to fall. Let none now reject the counsels of Gandalf, whose long labours against Sauron come at last to their test. . ."

--Aragorn, RoTK, Ballantine Books edition, 65th printing, April 1981, p. 192.

And let none now reject the counsel to get tickets for the midnight showing of Return of the King. To waver is to allow all the tickets to be sold, and to be condemned to wait until a later showtime. . .

December 01, 2003

"Best of the trilogy"

The Return of the King has premiered in New Zealand.

Wellington's streets were jammed with 100,000 people standing 15-deep to fete the stars, including Liv Tyler, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen and Elijah Wood. . .

Jackson already has anointed "The Return of the King" as the best of the trilogy. It's also the longest, at 3 hours, 11 minutes. . .

This sends chills up my spine.

November 24, 2003

The Shire?

Stuart Buck points out an article about a Tolkien-inspired subdivision in Wisconsin.

Joseph Niebler, a self-professed J.R.R. Tolkien fan, wants to build The Shire, a neighborhood of 42 $500,000 homes named after the land of the Hobbits in Tolkien's epic tale. With streets named Rivendell Drive, Misty Mountain Parkway and Lorien Court, The Shire would be built on 48 acres of a Superfund site surrounding the former Brookfield Landfill.

November 01, 2003

the Tom Bombadil controversy

Of all the mysteries in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, I'm most fascinated with the question of Tom Bombadil.

People who are only casual readers of Tolkien usually treat him with scorn and derision. Out of context, it's not hard to see why:

"Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!
Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow!
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!"

I mean, come on; this is goofy.

So what are we to make of this conversation during the undeniably weighty council of Elrond:

"'Could we not still send messages to him and obtain his help?' asked Erestor. 'It seems that he has a power even over the Ring.'
'No, I should not put it so,' said Gandalf. 'Say rather that the Ring has no power over him. He is his own master.'"

Or this, from Tolkien's letters:

"...he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely."

Some people even claim that Bombadil is Iluvatar himself!

A wonderful mystery. Check these out:

Enclyclopedia of Arda

What is Tom Bombadil?

Who is Tom Bombadil?

October 18, 2003

64th-best novel ever

The Observer says that the Lord of the Rings is the 64th best novel of all time.

Is Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love any better, at 57th place? I didn't think so.

Thanks to Crescat Sententia for the link.

September 30, 2003

A whiff of grandeur

You should all have a look at the trailer for the third and final Lord of the Rings film. This one has the best chance of winning Best Picture, not only because it will probably be the best film of the trilogy (director Peter Jackson says it's his favorite) but because the Academy will realize that this is the last chance to honor a film project that has changed cinematic history.

It proved you can do a successful big-budget fantasy film. It was the first time a studio had committed $300 million up-front for making three full-length movies. It is the first project to give us a truly believable computer-generated character after realizing the secret wasn't in the computer, but in a human actor (Andy Serkis).

But I love these films for reasons that probably don't matter much to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

These films have lovingly (if not entirely accurately) brought Tolkien's story firmly into the center of public awareness. The smouldering, underground popularity of the Lord of the Rings has burst forth into open flame, and while it will eventually settle down to smouldering again, it's becoming more and more obvious that this story will be one of those few truly permanent works of art to survive the twentieth century. Which makes me happy. Too bad critics like Edmund Wilson and Harold Bloom can't live for 500 years, so they could see how wrong their dismissive criticisms of the Lord of the Rings will turn out to be...