Friday, July 18, 2014

The Hobbit: Ch1 An Unexpected Party

In a hole in the ground there (sometimes) lived a Jeremy. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with worms and smells, nor a dry, sandy hole with nothing to do. It was a basement hole, and that means curiosities.

So many things I want to say about this.

I can't remember being so immediately and totally enchanted by a thing since Star Wars. Holy smoke-rings this is splendid. I have shivers from how completely awesome this is and am 100% sold on the rest of the book to come. Where do I even start on this one, folks?

The narrator. The book is written like it has a narrator's voice, at least in the get-go, and immediately called to mind Grandpa with his book of stories. I'm hearing the narration in my grandfather's voice in my mind's eye. Ear. Mind's ear. Heck, it even sounds like it was written by a grandfather. The tone is sort of storytelling/fairy tale to begin with, but of course things don't stay that way.

Bilbo Baggins! I knew I knew something about the book and there it was. I've heard that name. The whole intro with Bilbo reads like a smile and a nod to The Wind in the Willows, at least the part with Mole meeting Rat. The language is fantastic and evocative, and the art is splendid. Roomie sent me some links to the art from the book, so I'll share with you what I'm seeing. Honestly, though, I could have done this whole chapter with no art, just feeling that cozy hobbit-hole setting. Have you ever experienced a cold April wind in front of a warm, flickering fire after a good meal with a large company? I have! There's something very Cape Bretony about the whole thing, and I love it. It feels homey.

GANDALF. There's another thing I've heard before! That's a name that whips about as often as Merlin's when wizards are mentioned and I never picked up on it. And now I've met Gandalf, and he's a rascal of the highest order, isn't he? :D

I've got to say, the story starts nothing like I'd imagined it would; I figured we'd kick off in, perhaps, a prison, with the hobbit already captured or escaping or the like. Yuck, is Ladyhawke really contaminating this experience? Fuck off, Ladyhawke. Still, for the record, to be perfectly honest, yes that's what I expected. Not this lovely homebody getting flustered and flummoxed - I love this word now, it sounds like something called a Flum Ox was put in your kitchen as a prank and you've got no solutions for it; incidentally there's a lot of words I don't know in this book. Learning! :D - and thoroughly eaten out of house and home by a baker's dozen of dwarves. Dwarves are in this book.

Dwarves are in this book, musical dwarves on a quest to seize back their mountain kingdom from a dragon there is a dragon and his name is Smaug you guys I am so incredibly sold on the dragon and there's also an evil wizard and a family vendetta against same. This IS the classic story, isn't it? Like THE classic story, the one everything else tries to match. The evil wizard, the dragon guarding treasure and eating maidens, secret doors and magic keys, goblins and whatever the hell were-worms are... this book is like I don't know how I want to describe it but it just fills me with happy in all the right spots and we're not even started yet!

Now I don't know to what extent the dwarves are actually dicks, since it's clear that Gandalf didn't keep them in the loop on his burglar recruiting decision, but they're pretty terrible guests, up or down. I'm used to elves being the jerks and dwarves being more... there's a word that's not rude and Roomie's not here right now to tell me, but I think it's like brisk or bunce or something and that's dwarves in D&D. These guys are not those guys. These dwarves are straight-up bad guests at best - though again it's not completely impossible that the not-innocent-in-this-regard-either wizardly chap with the stupidly long eyebrows told them they could belabor Bilbo's hospitality - and in the case of Thorin sink to just about the level of "entitled rectum." That's not just his attitude toward Bilbo, there; it's his way of treating everything. Why didn't this map come to me? Oh my god the horror of having to work for a living from time to time. Yeah, coal mining sucks. I've been to the Miner's Museum, I know all about the crap from that job. Blacksmithing, though? Come on, that's honest work and suited to crafters, and their poem song thing says quite clearly that even though blacksmithing is child's play and dull to them, it's definitely in their skillset. Grr, I'm a dwarf prince and I hate having a job. My solution to the current employment opportunities provided me is to GO KILL A DRAGON. This is the best plan. Also where might I apply to be a Ghostbuster?

There's also a map I love maps and this is the same one from the story itself, I believe. The description is dead on. I'm already fascinated. Had to turn the book sideways, but I'm just poring over it all and flipping out with glee. East lie the Iron Hills where is Dain? What is Dain? Another dragon? A city? A mysterious land? In Esgaroth upon the Long Lake dwell Men. So there will be humans in the book, then. Far to the north lie the Grey Mountains and the Withered Hearth whence came the Great Worms. There's a giant forest, an Elvenking who has Halls, towns called Ford, Elrond, Rivendell, Cannock and Beorn (is Eyrie one too? We'll find out!) and then more in the woods... this is just awesome. And look in the upper right hand corner of the big map: it's called the Lonely Mountain. What a great visual. That's immediately evocative - this one tall, lone mountain with nothing living nearby. Everything is dead and desolate because desolation of Smaug. The dragon has a territory and it is called The Desolation of Smaug. As you can tell, I'm happy about, oh, ALL OF THIS EVER. If only the maps were as good as the rest of the art.

One way or another, this book is shaping up to be incredible and I'm still in the first chapter. What a great way to kick off book reviews. :D


Artwork from my edition of the book this chapter (we couldn't find the first one, sorry):

Good morning!

An unexpected party

24 comments:

  1. Oh I am so glad you like this book! It's just so delightful and full of fun, a great introduction to Middle Earth -- and you caught the bit about it being bedtime stories perfectly -- according to my sources, Professor Tolkien took the bedtime stories he told his children and wrote them up into this book.

    Now, if you go on to read The Lord of the Rings, you'll see that his style in that is much denser and less folk-loric, which some folks dislike, but it's got some of the best sequences of action and heartbreak and just all around awesomeness ever.

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  2. This post is full of joy and happiness. It's magical.
    ...
    Judging by your blissful flipping out at the map and everything else, you MUST read Lord of the Rings first yourself instead of watching someone else's interpretation. Ignore the doomsayers, LotR isn't a hard book to read. Back me up on this, commenting internet people.

    -Anonyman

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    1. I am backing you up here. DO NOT let your Lord of the Rings experience be contaminated by the movies. They basically gutted the books and made a cinematically impressive but extremely shallow... thing out of them.

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    2. I'll back you that reading LotR is worth it.
      However I would watch the Lord of the Ring movies before the Hobbit because they're so much better. IMO
      GP

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    3. I agree with the above posters. You should read The Lord of the Rings before watching it, and the series really isn't that hard to get into. Higher reading level and somewhat different style than The Hobbit, but absolutely nothing you can't handle.

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    4. I've got two words for you that will succinctly explain why Jeremy should prioritize the movies.

      Howard. Shore.

      That soundtrack will blow him away.

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    5. He can listen while reading.

      -Anonyman

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    6. I'm with Anonyman and the others.

      ABSOLUTELY read the Lord of the Rings before letting the films control the way you view the story.

      If you can't wait for the soundtrack, listen to the soundtrack while reading (it is a fabulous soundtrack).

      Interesting anecdote: I've always thought Enya would be perfect for singing on a Tolkien film soundtrack. A friend of mine cried during a scene in LotR while listening to one of Enya's songs (think it was something from Watermark). So I was quite pleased when it turned out that they put Enya on the soundtrack, singing in Elvish, no less...

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  3. I believe the word you were searching for re: typical dwarven attitudes is "brusque."

    Glad to see you're enjoying this so much!

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  4. Not to spoil too much, but it's Carrock, not Cannock.

    And I believe the maps were drawn by Tolkien himself.

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  5. Why do Dragons like to sit on piles of Treasure? Because THIS dragon liked to sit on piles of treasure. Wasn't really a pop culture concept before this.

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    1. Actually Tolkien was riffing off traditional norse-germanic as well as the medieval christian concepts of dragons. Dragons sitting in piles of treasure is a thing in the west for centuries.

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  6. Pronunciation tip (because I know I got it wrong when I read the book): when Tolkien writes an "au" in a name, that's pronounced like the "ou" in "house", not like the "or" in "horse".

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  7. As beautiful as LOTR is in its written form it's also a fair bit less acceptable. I say... give it a try, but the movies might be a better start. Despite the naysayers, what really matters is preserved, just between the lines. Considering you're fairly astute more often than not, I think you'll pick up on it.

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    1. *accessible, not acceptable.

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    2. Don't get me wrong, I think the films are fantastic (especially the first). But if you watch the films first, your reading will be totally coloured by what you've seen, and this, I think, will ultimately serve you ill.

      Read the books. Then watch the films. Both are awesome.

      (I definitely agree that the books are slightly less accessible, though—they are intentionally stuffed with archaic vocabulary and even obsolete grammar. Reading them feels like reading Middle English literature in a way almost no other modern literature does. It's fantastic if you enjoy language, but can be tedious if you do not.)

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  8. Given Noises love of music, I cant wait until he hears the Misty Mountain song from the Hobbit movie (what there was of it, alas)

    The pines were roaring on the height,
    The winds were moaning in the night.
    The fire was red, it flaming spread;
    The trees like torches blazed with light.

    Gives me chills, every time.

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  9. This is awesome. I've no idea how you're going to be able to restrict yourself to 1 chapter per day; I get the feeling you're going to try but you'll end up just gobbling it up over the weekend or something.

    Yes - this is where it all begins. Most of the tropes you take for granted nowadays have their origin here. Welcome to a bigger world!

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  10. I wouldn't worry about going faster than a chapter per day, as long as you keep to a writing goal, such as writing after each chapter. Reading is something you can do independently far easier than watching movies, at least with the system you have set up. If reading brings you joy, do it, and we'll follow along! (Another option: keep 1-2 chapters-worth of thoughts in reserve, in case you have a really bad day.)

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  11. I can't wait to read what you have in store about the Hobbit. Easily one of my favourite books ever. I'd also echo the ones who say you have to read LotR before watching the movies (even though I do like them quite a bit).

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  12. Bilbo Baggins! I heard Leonard Nimoy sing a song about him.

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  13. As to your 'grandfather telling stories' impression: the Hobbit was, in fact, written as a children's book, or at least sold as one. Tolkien had already written the bulk of the Lord of the Rings, and he wanted to get part of it out at least, I think.

    Read the Hobbit, read Lord of the Rings, watch LOTR (extended editions only) watch the Hobbit (I haven't seen the extended editions there, so I can't say if they're worth it yet.)

    Some people bash the movies,some people love them. I'm OK with them. They did make compromises (The Hobbit movies, especially, take some *cough* liberties with the timeline, and then fill in other bits with flashbacks and story fragments from other bits of Tolkien's work) but generally, I think they're good movies, and there the only way a movie could have been made of them. There are some people who wanted a word for word reproduction of the books, probably shot in PBS Shakespeare style, and that wouldn't have worked.

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  14. I too am so glad that you are enjoying this wonderful book. My first memory of this book is as a bedtime story...my mother would read to us every night and I have loved it ever since. I read it to my children, now grown, and I hope that they will read it to theirs when the time comes.

    I agree...read the LOTR books before watching the movies. The movies are good, but as others have said it will colour how you imagine things when you do read. Reading is a much more personal adventure than watching a movie...you shape the story in your mind's eye based on your own life experiences, but once you've seen someones vision, it's hard to see anything else.

    I hope that you have many more enjoyable 'sofa adventures' as you continue to heal.

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