Category Archives: Analysis

Tolkien and Lewis’ Movie Date

When I think of JRR Tolkien’s contemporaries, I usually think of CS Lewis and the rest of the Inklings. I rarely think about what was happening on the other side of the pond — even though that’s where I live.

As anyone familiar with Tolkien knows, he had strong opinions, and that went for his contemporaries. One of those — one I never thought of — is Walt Disney.

Back in the 1937, The Hobbit and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves made their debuts in their respective countries. Since both have always been a part of my life, I never realized that they came out within months of one another and share a protagonist surrounded by a band of dwarves. It’s just fascinating to think about.

While I don’t know what Walt Disney thought of Tolkien’s work, Tolkien certainly wasn’t a fan of him. Neither was Lewis.

Unlike the past several generations, they grew up only knowing the original (and usually darker) versions of fairy tales. To see dwarves — the creatures of Norse mythology — playing jazz and being downright goofy just felt wrong.

I can understand it. When Frozen first came out, I was appalled by just how different the story is from Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale. There are a handful of similar elements, but besides those things, the stories couldn’t be more different. Since then, I’ve warmed up to it (pun only sort of intended) and have come to like it as its own thing, but certainly not as adaptation. “Inspired by,” sure. “Adaptation”? Definitely not.

Needless to say, it was a fascinating read. If you want to check out the full article, it’s available here.

What are your thoughts on different adaptations of films? Have you ever found yourself in Tolkien and Lewis’ shoes?

Why I Believe in the Oxford Comma and a Tidbit on Van Gogh

Today’s post feels very random, but these two links are too fascinating to pass up so why not post them together?

The first is on the importance of the Oxford comma. While some prefer to drop it (and I don’t judge), I prefer to use it for its clarity. As it turns out, the use of the comma has been helpful to some dairy drivers get overtime pay. Read more about that here. (Warning and apology: There’s a smidge of language in it.)

The second is about the Impressionists, specifically Van Gogh. If you thought “Starry Night” was a cool painting before, you’ll never be able to think of it quite the same way. It appears to capture fluid dynamics in action. Read that article here.

And since the video mentioned in the article isn’t linked, it’s here.


What do you think of the Oxford comma? Are you a fan of “Starry Night”?

Movie Adaptations and The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

So I’ve finally seen The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Any time I watch a beloved book turn into a movie, it takes a few days to fully process my thoughts. Of course there are the comments that I give in the moment to the people unfortunate enough to be seated next to me. (In most cases, my mom and husband are the lucky — or is it unlucky? — two.) The rest, though, requires a few days of brewing and some discussion.

Overall, I liked it. While I would still rate The Lord of the Rings films more highly, I still enjoyed it. There are some things that I would have changed if I’d been given a say, and there are moments that I hope will be included in the extended edition because they deserved some screen time, but I can say that for nearly every adaptation I’ve ever seen. And they were balanced out by great moments that I have long been hoping for.

Since I can’t say much more without spoilers (though if there were an expiration date on spoilers, I would think about 76 years should do it :) ), the whole topic has gotten me thinking about movie adaptations in general. There are some that I’ve really loved over the years and some that have earned my deep animosity.

Peter Jackson’s adaptations of JRR Tolkien works are obviously some of my favorites (and if LOTR were video tapes instead of discs, mine would probably be in the early stages of those weird problems tapes used to have from overuse). So is the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. (Six happy hours of banter and the Bennets!) And the newest incarnation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The film is actually the reason I broke out my mom’s old books. To do things right, I read at least the first book before the film, and it’s still a movie I put on in the background when I need to relax and have a good laugh.

One of the worst that I actually watched: Eragon. When a friend bought me the book and the movie, she warned me that the movie was awful, and it was. It’s been years since the one and only time it was in my DVD player, but I remember how far it felt from the book and how easily it glossed over major plot points. No book deserves that sort of treatment. That’s why, when I know it’s bad, I try to just avoid them altogether.

And one of the rare moments in which I enjoyed the movie more than the book: Stardust. While similar for most of the ride, the climaxes are completely different. Since I watched the movie first (which is understandable since I had no idea it was a book), I expected something rather exciting and still quirky. When it turned out to be downright anticlimactic, I left the book puzzled and a bit disappointed. There is a certain appeal at times to anticlimactic endings, but this was less Douglas Adams or Kurt Vonnegut and more a huge sigh from all of the characters as they wandered off saying, “Oh, I give up.”

Obviously, there are many more to talk about, but I’m out of time at the moment.

So, what did you think of the film adaptation of The Hobbit and other books you love?

Writing History

Every time I begin reworking anything in my novels (especially Novel #1), I find myself thinking about things I never considered before. I suppose it shouldn’t be any wonder that it’s been a 15+ year adventure.

Anyways, my most recent musings have mostly centered on history. It’s probably thanks, in part, to reading The Silmarillion. Of course, that should be no surprise. Many of Carrick’s overhauls as a world have come from analyzing the techniques of other writers, especially Tolkien.

In any case, Tolkien’s world – and the worlds of most fantasy authors – are very old. Thousands upon thousands of years. Perhaps it’s in part because our world has thousands of years of history to its name so we’re very familiar with it, or just because it’s the perfect breeding grounds for epic events to grow to mythical proportions.

In either case, for whatever reason, it’s not the road I ended up on so far. The original histories I started to compose in high school only account for 516 years of Carrick’s history. Of course, there’s more to it: a time before the monumental mistake that changed the world completely, but I don’t know much of it. How long was it? What was life like before it? How much have things changed? I used to dodge the question because I would deal with it later. But that’s starting to change. I need to establish this now, before I get in too deep.

This whole musing makes me think of conversations I’ve had with my students lately. As we discuss King Arthur, we’ve talked about what the real man who inspired King Arthur might have been like and how the story could have changed over the years. But this inflation to legendary status doesn’t just happen to stories that are over a thousand years old. After all, the United States has only been in existence for less than 250 years, but George Washington and many of the other Founders are usually thought of with a similar mystique: many people know some facts about them but some things have become more like legends. (George Washington and the cherry tree, anyone?) So there’s plenty of opportunity for anything to grow to legendary proportions, even if it’s only been a few hundred years. Right?

In any case, it’s just one more thing to ponder in this never-ending adventure.

What are your thoughts on writing histories for stories?

The Silmarillion Recap: Quenta Silmarillion (Part XIII)

Now that the Noldor are reunited and have an alliance with Thingol and his people, the Elves are settling in. But secrets are about to change everything.

Part I (Chapter 1)
Part II (Chapters 2-3)
Part III (Chapters 3-4)
Part IV (Chapters 5-6)
Part V (Chapter 7)
Part VI (Chapter 8)
Part VII (Chapter 9)
Part VIII (Chapter 10)
Part IX (Chapter 11)
Part X (Chapter 12)
Part XI (Chapter 13)Part XII (Chapter 13 cont.)

Quenta Silmarillion: Chapter 14-15

Chapter 14 focuses on the boundaries of the Elvish realms at this point in Arda’s history. It can be summed up in the map below.

The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien, 2nd edition, 1999, page 139

The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien, 2nd edition, 1999, page 139

Among these realms, one is unlike any other.

Turgon (one of Fingolfin’s sons) has already established his own realm in Nevrast. But one night, Ulmo (the Vala who loves water) gives him a warning. Morgoth is a more dangerous foe than they all realize. If Turgon wants to keep his people safe, it’s time to create a safer fortress. A secret one.

So, with some direction from Ulmo, Turgon finds the perfect spot amid the Encircling Mountains (though discomfortingly closer to Morgoth’s fortress of Angband) and starts building his new kingdom, Gondolin.

Once it’s ready, he slowly begins gathering his people in Nevrast and secretly transporting them to Gondolin. Before long, Nevrast is completely abandoned, about a third of the Noldor and some of the Sindar (Elves who never went to Valinor with the other Elves) are hidden away in the secret kingdom, and no one outside of the walls knows where they’ve gone. After all, living in Gondolin provides a new level of safety but it comes with a price: once you come in, you’re not allowed to leave again. (Unfortunately for Turgon, though, this rule is occasionally broken… like in the very next chapter.)

While Turgon and his people feel safe in Gondolin, Ulmo leaves with a final warning. Because Turgon is one of the doomed Noldor, Gondolin won’t be safe forever. One day, treason will compromise it and the people within. But that won’t be for quite a while, so Turgon can rest easy for now.

Meanwhile, Galadriel (yes, the Galadriel) has settled into Thingol and Melian’s realm. Since Thingol and Melian never went to Valinor, the only news they have of the Noldor’s time in Valinor comes from the Noldor themselves. Since the beginning, Galadriel has freely spoken to them about everything up until Morgoth kills the Trees. After that, though, she is silent.

This is concerning to Melian. Originally, she and Thingol thought that the Noldor had been sent by the Valar to help them against Morgoth. But that clearly isn’t the case.

One day, Melian confronts Galadriel about it, and Galadriel finally tells more of the story. They have come for revenge on Morgoth, who stole the Silmarils. Though Melian doesn’t know what’s to come, she does know that “the fate of Arda now lay locked in those things [the Silmarils]” (Tolkien 148). She has no idea just how true those words are.

But Galadriel still doesn’t tell Melian everything. She still omits the part about the Noldor killing the Teleri (Thingol’s kin) for their ships.

But that doesn’t last for long. Morgoth himself sees to that. Just as he spread rumors in Valinor that made the Noldor turn against the Valar in the first place, he starts spreading rumors about how the Noldor killed the Teleri for the ships. And, as Morgoth hoped, Thingol finds out about it.

The first time he speaks openly about it, though, is when Galadriel’s brothers have come to visit. As they’re eating dinner, Thingol can’t contain his anger and grief. He’s entertaining those responsible for the brutal slaughter of his people. If he hadn’t met Melian, he would have been there too, and he likely would have been killed as well.

Finrod (Galadriel’s brother) knows that he can’t defend himself, his siblings, or the rest of the Noldor. They made a terrible mistake. He knows that now. But he doesn’t try to throw the blame on Fëanor and his sons alone since they all had a part in it.

His brother, Angrod, however, does try to defend what little honor they have. He makes sure that Thingol knows it was Fëanor’s idea, and he tells Thingol the rest of the story in gut-wrenching detail. And he doesn’t skip over the fact that Fëanor left them to die in the frozen wastelands between Valinor and Middle-earth, ending with “Wherefore should we that endured the Grinding Ice bear the name of kinslayers and traitors?” (Tolkien 150).

Though Thingol is deeply hurt, he sees that Finrod, Angrod, Galadriel, and the others who arrived with them have been betrayed too. In a way, they’ve already paid for their crimes because of the near-impossible road they had to take to reach Middle-earth. So he shows them some mercy. They will stay allies. But Thingol wants some time alone. Galadriel and her brothers leave his realm, leaving Thingol to mourn his fallen kin.

Next week, Aredhel (Turgon’s sister) learns why we don’t wander in Middle-earth alone. (You might get kidnapped and married off to a Dark Elf!)

The Power of Song

As I reviewed the rest of chapter 14 of The Silmarillion for this week’s Silmarillion Recap, I couldn’t help pondering an element that mythology, legends, and fantasy (mostly older fantasy, from my exposure so far) share: the power of song.

When Fingon is faced with jagged rocks, a sea of enemies, and no idea where to go in chapter 14, his first thought is one that would never occur to most modern characters. Instead of fighting his way through the hordes of enemies alone or infiltrating the fortress like a secret agent, he sings an old song that Maedhros knows and listens for his reply. And while it seems a bit ridiculous, it actually works.

This isn’t the only time that J.R.R. Tolkien uses this, either. While it was cut from the film version of The Return of the King, Sam finds himself in the same situation when Frodo is captured. He’s in this enormous tower filled with Orcs, and he has absolutely no idea where Frodo might be. So what does he do? Without even meaning to, he begins to sing. And as his voice echos through the halls, he thinks he hears someone join in the song. It’s not something that Orcs would sing, so he takes heart and follows the echo until he finds Frodo.

Throughout Tolkien’s works, song plays an important role in the plot. In The Silmarillion, it’s used to conjure up a disguise so that two lovers are able to travel straight into the enemy’s lair undetected, and it later changes the mind of the Valar (the equivalent of lesser gods in other mythologies). The Lord of the Rings is filled with it, though one of the most notable mentions would be Tom Bombadil, who sings constantly and sometimes nonsensically but who brings down the terrifying barrows with his words. Not to mention that Arda (the earth in Tolkien’s works) is first revealed as a vision created out of a song. (And don’t forget that his fellow Inkling, C.S. Lewis, used song in the creation of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew.)

It even shows up in historical fiction that I teach at school. The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff is filled with “singing magic.” While it’s never completely clear how it works, the power of song is used by both Brits and Saxons in the late 900’s A.D. — in the years following the Roman’s abandonment of Britain. While the protagonist’s sister refrains from using it when it’s not appropriate, a Saxon princess uses her voice to enthrall Brits and Saxons alike at a feast. Only the protagonist seems to see past the beauty of her and her words and understand how she is using it to manipulate the people around her.

And the examples from mythology, legends, the Bible, other fantasy novels, etc. are so countless that it would be quite a feat to list even a fraction of them.

S.B. Roberts 2014

S.B. Roberts 2014

So what is it with song?

Obviously, there are cultural aspects to it. In cultures that share their stories orally, it makes sense. It naturally adds a cadence to the words and makes it easier to remember. And it’s more aesthetically pleasing. But it’s more than that. Words, especially when they’re spoken, are powerful. Like the “singing magic” from The Lantern Bearers. And when they’re set to music, it makes them resonate with us on a deeper level. I may not know all of the science behind it, but it’s hard to deny when listening to a favorite song. It changes my mood, engages with my emotions, reminds me of other things.

No wonder it’s able to bring hope in the deepest dungeon, captivate listeners, and bring worlds to life.

What do you think about the power of song? Do you know any other great examples? Have you noticed it in other genres as well?

The Silmarillion Recap: Quenta Silmarillion (Part XII) (And The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Movie Trailer!)

Before we begin, the teaser trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is officially available! Yes, I’ve watched it more times than I should admit to. Yes, I know what’s going to happen, but I won’t spoil it for you. What I can say is that, if it’s anything like the book, it has the potential to be a great final movie for the trilogy. (Though don’t ask me what’s up with a downed Gandalf getting a kiss on the forehead from Galadriel. My guess is it’s part of the very important subplot with the Necromancer. But I won’t say anything else.)

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

With Fëanor gone, his sons have sworn to take vengeance on Morgoth, but their first attack hasn’t ended well. The good news: Fingolfin has arrived on the scene and just in time to watch the first sunrise.

Part I (Chapter 1)
Part II (Chapters 2-3)
Part III (Chapters 3-4)
Part IV (Chapters 5-6)
Part V (Chapter 7)
Part VI (Chapter 8)
Part VII (Chapter 9)
Part VIII (Chapter 10)
Part IX (Chapter 11)
Part X (Chapter 12)
Part XI (Chapter 13)

Quenta Silmarillion: Chapter 13 continued

After being abandoned by Fëanor, Fingolfin (Fëanor’s half-brother) didn’t give up on reaching Middle-earth. He, Galadriel, Finrod, and the rest of his posse crossed some of the most inhospitable parts of Arda (the earth) and arrived just after Maedhros (Fëanor’s son) was captured by Morgoth.

This moment also happens to be the first time that the Sun makes its appearance. Morgoth and his servants can’t stand the light, so they hide in the deepest, darkest tunnels of his fortress, Angband. For this reason, no one opposes Fingolfin and his company as they march straight up to Angband and blow the trumpets. But unlike his half-brother, Fingolfin is cautious. After measuring up the enemy, he withdraws to a safe distance where his people can rest and regain their strength after their arduous journey. As they search for a spot, though, Fingolfin comes across Fëanor’s sons and their group. Since the abandonment is still fresh, Fingolfin and his people choose a spot away from Fëanor’s sons and their followers, who are too ashamed and/or bitter to invite them to join them.

Even from his hiding place, Morgoth can clearly see how divided the Noldor (the group of Elves Fëanor and Fingolfin belong to) are and what easy prey they are. With an evil laugh, he unleashes thick, poisonous smog to keep the Noldor at bay and allow his servants to move around more easily.

While most of the Noldor have no interest in resolving their grudge and don’t realize their impending doom, Fingon (Fingolfin’s son) decides that enough is enough. He has heard that Maedhros has been captured, and he remembers what close friends they were before this whole mess started. So he decides to gather his gear and set out alone to save Maedhros.

Fingon isn’t prepared for what he finds hidden behind the mountains. Destruction, sorrow, pain. How will he ever find Maedhros? So he does the last thing that any of us would think of. He begins to sing an old song from Valinor. Incredibly, a voice answers him. Maedhros’s.

Fingon follows the voice and finds Maedhros bound to the top of a precipice. The excitement of finding him soon fades into despair, though, because there’s no way to get Maedhros down. In fact, Maedhros is so hopeless and desperate that he even asks Fingon to shoot him so that he won’t have to continue to live under Morgoth’s torture.

Not knowing what else to do, Fingon draws an arrow and whispers a simple prayer: “O King to whom all birds are dear, speed now this feathered shaft, and recall some pity for the Noldor in their need!” (Tolkien 125-126)

And while he had hoped that this prayer would result in a clean shot, it instead is answered by the arrival of the Eagles. Yes, the Eagles dive in to save the day for the first time in Arda (though certainly not the last). The King of the Eagles (Thorondor) picks Fingon up and takes him to Maedhros. But Maedhros still has a problem: the ring binding his wrist to the precipice can’t be destroyed. When he asks Fingon to kill him again, Fingon comes up with a better plan. He cuts off Maedhros’s hand, and the Eagles fly them to safety.

This mends the relationship between Fingolfin and Fëanor’s people. The Noldor are reunited, and Maedhros returns the crown to Fingolfin (who should be king after Fëanor anyways).

But while things are great amongst the Noldor again, Thingol isn’t so thrilled.

Thingol (who stayed behind in Middle-earth because he met Melian) has been the only ruler (besides Morgoth) in this part Middle-earth, and it seems a bit odd for the Noldor to return without any clear reason. At first, Fëanor’s sons are offended, but Maedhros calms them. (Finally, a calm head among Fëanor’s sons!) Well, all of them except for Caranthir, but he won’t do anything about it until later.

With some time, an alliance of sorts does emerge between the Noldor and Thingol, and they continue to fight against Morgoth. The next few pages are filled with their exploits (including a run-in with a young dragon buddy of Morgoth), but suffice to say that each side tests the other and then prepares for the next encounter. It’s only a precursor for the battles to come.

Next week is all about secrets. One of Fingolfin’s sons builds a secret city, and the secret the Noldor have concealed from Thingol and his people is revealed.