Top Ten Tolkien Tribute for Hobbit Day 2015 (Quotes, Feelings, Fanart, and More!)

 
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”
J. R. R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring
(All quotes and images are copyrighted to Tolkien’s estate, unless credited otherwise)
Have you ever heard a beautiful melody or song, forgotten to note it down, and then tirelessly searched for the half-remembered piece? Maybe you find it, or maybe you find other lovely songs that distract you momentarily. But eventually, if you look hard enough, you stumble across that first piece you were looking for, and it’s like losing something and finding something all at once. Because the searching was half of what you were chasing.
Maybe that doesn’t make any sense, but it’s as close as I can come to putting my feelings about The Lord of the Rings (and all of Tolkien’s works), into words. Which is a strange place for a writer to be! But regardless, every time I pick up The Lord of the Rings, it’s like coming home while catching an even worse case of wanderlust. But maybe I should clarify – it isn’t just LOTR that does that to me – I feel the same way every time I come back from a trip to someplace exciting.
You see, I’m a wanderer by nature. I don’t like to sit still, and as much as I love my home and my kitchen, I am endlessly fascinated by the thought of what might be outside my door. And Tolkien understood that feeling, and put it into words, better than I ever have:

“He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The Fellowship of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien

But a love for wandering isn’t the only writer’s legacy that Tolkien left us. In fact, some of the things that I love best about him are just the things that get him criticized in modern circles. He wrote about the pure and the good, the truly evil, the morally complicated, and he had a deep understanding of the importance of all of those things. In other words, he was quite old-fashioned. And frankly, anyone who says that he had little variation/representation of female characters is only partly right – they’ve obviously never read The Silmarillion.

So to celebrate Hobbit Day (Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday) here are my

Top Ten Favorite Things About Tolkien’s Writing (with quotes and illustrations)

1. Middle Earth

I dare anyone to make it through his books and not be in love with Middle Earth. From Hobbiton to The Lonely Mountain, to Ancient Númenor, Middle Earth is the mythical place I “miss” the most. And I confess that New Zealand is on my top 5 places I must go, because of the movies.

“He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers – thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.” ― Peter S. BeagleThe Tolkien Reader

 

2. Elves

People who know me were probably surprised that this isn’t the first one on the list.
http://dalomacchi.deviantart.com/art/Brothers-in-Beleriand-289711180
©2012-2015 daLomacchi Brothers in Beleriand by daLomacchi on Deviantart.com

I want to be an elf. Specifically, one of Tolkien’s elves. Wise, deadly, gracious, elegant, enigmatic – I think you get the point. A little bit of the Celtic fay folk, a little bit of every wise but dangerous counselor in fairy tales, and a dash of danger make Tolkien’s elves THE BEST. Even when parts of The Silmarillion practically had me shouting at them in anger (I’m looking at you, sons of Fëanor!), it was only because I loved them so much.

‘And it is also said,’ answered Frodo: ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel for they will answer both no and yes.’
‘Is it indeed?’ laughed Gildor. ‘Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.” The Fellowship of the Ring

3.  Tolkien’s Quiet Wisdom

I’ll let him speak for himself here:

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” The Hobbit

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The Fellowship of the Ring

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” The Fellowship of the Ring

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” The Two Towers

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” The Two Towers

“But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” The Return of the King

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.” The Children of Hurin

4. Tolkien’s Love for Language and Words

http://www.buzzfeed.com/lorynbrantz/not-all-those-who-wander-are-lost#.arRMMY0by
Source

See #3 for examples. But what else would you expect from a philologist? The man was in love with language. And I have yet to read anyone who topped him in the invented languages department. It’s more like he rediscovered something forgotten.

And speaking of languages – his translation of Beowulf is splendid (naturally). And if we’re talking poetry and language, look at The Fall of Arthur, or The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.

And the Tengwar – so gorgeous! Source

5. HOBBITS

I personally think that Freeman is a fabulous Bilbo.
No tribute to Tolkien would be complete without mentioning the small, brave, and simple folk of the Shire. Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippen – they’re wonderful characters, and they have more heart and courage than most. And they really do appreciate the good things in life. I’d like to be an elf, but deep down, I know I’m more of a hobbit. I suspect that goes for all of us!

“Good morning!” he said at last. “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.” By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.“What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!” said Gandalf. “Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won’t be good till I move off.” The Hobbit

6. All the Characters

From Tumblr.
I’ve mentioned elves and hobbits, but I haven’t specifically mentioned Faramir, Eowyn, Boromir, Thranduil, Aragorn, Luthien, FINROD, Galadriel, Gandalf, Elrond, Elwing, and I could go on . . . Even the more evil characters (especially in the Silmarillion) are fascinating. And they’re all epic. And epic = good.

7. The Aforementioned Values

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” 

Tolkien had an immense appreciation for all that was great and good in the world: Courage, Honor, Duty, Fidelity. Call me Captain America, but I think we could use some more of it all. And Tolkien’s characters always made me want to be noble, big-hearted, and selfless. There’s a lot to be said for doing your best, being your best, and seeking the best in others.

8. Tolkien’s Love for Nature

Tolkien was a self-proclaimed “tree-advocate.” And all you have to do is read a few chapters of his works to see his love for the natural world. Just contrast the Elves and Orcs, and you’ll see something interesting: Orcs rely on war machines and contraptions, while Elves tend and revere the earth. I don’t know if I was always a nature girl, or if I can blame Professor Tolkien for that too, but it really doesn’t matter. Tolkien was a great advocate of stewardship – of treating Creation with respect instead of taking it for granted. And I don’t know if he really gets enough credit for that.

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.

9. The Worldbuilding

He is the Master of Worldbuilding. See #1. In fact, I was actually thinking of Tolkien when I named this blog. He’s the worldbuilder I aspire to be like.* Look at 1-8, and you’ll see evidence of this. Middle Earth is so vivid and real that thousands of us are homesick for it.

“Home is behind, the world ahead,And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
We’ll wander back and home to bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!”

10. The Heart

I dare you to have dry eyes. One part that the movie did so well.
Again, I think this is pretty obvious from some of the other numbers on this list. But there is love for life, people, culture, history, lore, and all good things in Tolkien’s writing. Don’t believe me? Look at Sam Gamgee.

“Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go” The Return of the King

Honorable Mention: Tolkien’s great appreciation for food. This shouldn’t be undervalued, for sure.

So there you have it: My Top 10 Favorite Tolkien Things! Happy Hobbit Day! (Going to watch Return of the King now)

If you’re a Tolkien fan, what’s your favorite thing about him or his books? Feel free to gush away in the comments (I’ll join you).

Footnotes:
*In case you wondered, the Wordsmith I thought of [when naming my blog] was Shakespeare.

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin (and Why You Should Read It)

My avalanche of 1-3 star reads finally stopped this last weekend, when I picked up Ryan Graudin‘s Wolf by Wolf. Thank you to Little Brown and Co. Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group for this ARC! (Wolf by Wolf will be available October 6th, 2015) Note: Cover and quote might not be final.

Love this cover.
“These were the names she whispered in the dark.
These were the pieces she brought back into place.
These were the wolves she rode to war.” 

I read The Walled City earlier this year, and really enjoyed it. Wolf by Wolf was better, with a tighter story and more developed main characters.  Like with TWC, Wolf by Wolf takes actual history for its inspiration. But this time, there’s a fantasy twist. Here’s a rundown for you:

 

Set in an alternate 1956, Wolf by Wolf imagines a world where the Axis powers reign triumphant, and their victorious alliance is celebrated each year by a cross-country motorcycle race. The 1955 victor was the only girl, Adele Wolfe, and she had a rare opportunity to dance with Hitler himself after winning the race. That up-close look at the elusive Führer is one that resistance groups would gladly die for. But it seems impossible.

Yael, a young resistance member, just might be able to make the impossible happen. A Jewish girl who survived terrible experiments and escaped from concentration camp, Yael can skin-shift, altering her appearance to resemble any girl she has seen. If she can imitate Adele Wolfe, infiltrate the race, and win, Yael might get close enough for a second Operation Valkyrie.

Yael has been trained to fight and survive, and she has spent the last year practicing both racing and imitating Adele Wolfe down to the tiniest detail, but there are two major problems: Luka, who has a bitter romantic history with Adele, and much more serious, Adele’s twin brother Felix. Yael will have to fool them both, and defeat them along with all of the other competitors, if she wants to complete her mission.

 

Alternate history, what-ifs, human experiments, motorcycles, infiltration, how could this not sound amazing? But all that aside, this was a strong novel with an epic concept. And here are five reasons you should read it:

1. Yael. I loved Yael so much. A little Winter Soldier and all survivor, she was sympathetic, hardcore, and brave. She (understandably) had a hard time trusting others, but she wasn’t afraid to love or feel for the people in her past. She wanted to think well of people, and she put her mission ahead of her own interests.

Also, I loved her interactions with Adele’s brother Felix. Felix was brave, adorable, and loyal and Yael really didn’t know how to handle this. Humor, and some surprisingly touching moments, resulted from this. (But she’s not Adele, so, ouch!)

2. The story. I really enjoyed the movie Valkyrie, and I find revolution/resistance novels tend to resonate with me. Wolf by Wolf was definitely character centered, with Yael’s inner war against the Axis ideals, and what it took from her, taking more of the focus than the overall plot. Also, the fact that Yael was Jewish, while important to the story, wasn’t shoved in your face. Likewise with a cast of mainly German and Japanese teens.

3. Alternate history. Though Graudin definitely had to bend and shape history to her story, she did a great job of projecting how the world might have looked if things were different. From the tensions between Germany and Japan, to the disinterest of the US, to the eventual fall of Britain, it felt like she put a lot of time and thought (and research) into this historical fantasy novel.

4. The skin-shifting. I guess this relates to #1. I loved how the story just went with this slightly outrageous premise. I mean, scheming Nazi scientists? But it just worked, and the shifting was worked into the greater themes and character development. Also, Yael’s ability reminded me a bit of X-Men’s Mystique. Yael had similar identity problems due to always wearing someone else’s face. Also like Mystique, she tended to distance herself from her feelings and thoughts because of this.

5. Nothing was neat, tidy, or easy. Everything from the motorcycle race, to the ending, to Yael herself unraveled a bit. There was no quick fix. Especially when it came to playing Adele while dealing with Luka and Felix. Yael was always teetering toward failure, and I really wasn’t sure (till the end) how things would pan out. That’s a rare occurrence.

Minor Quibbles:

Yes, I loved this book so much, but I did have a few tiny issues. Like with TWC, the characters (other than Yael) were a bit thin for my liking. In particular, I would have liked to read more about the Japanese racers (there was some, but I wanted more).

Luka was a James Dean meets Thor type, and I wasn’t particularly interested in reading about him, but that’s purely personal. However, I did like how Yael handled his interactions with “Adele.” Talk about an interesting situation there.

Other than that, this was one of my favorite books this year, and I am so thrilled that she is writing a sequel! The fallout from the ending just begs another round, and Yael is a heroine I would gladly read a series about.

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars. An exciting alternate history with a strong heroine, lots of action, and a fascinating premise. Recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, Valkyrie, The Scorpio Races, The Maze Runner, Code Name Verity and X-Men.

6 Reasons Why You Need to Read Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

Copyright Disney

If you have read anything I posted in the last month, there is a good chance that I referenced  Sunbolt. If you haven’t heard of it, Sunbolt is a fantasy novella by indie author Intisar Khanani (who also wrote Thorn, which I loved).

There was one complication: I loved Sunbolt so much that I couldn’t write anything coherent about it . . .

So I let the dust settle a bit, and here’s my take on Sunbolt:


Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

A review copy of Sunbolt was graciously provided by Netgalley.com in return for a fair and honest review.
Summary from Goodreads.com:

“The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.
When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.”

And that’s just what happens in the first few pages. What follows is a dip into a fascinating, effortlessly diverse world with colorful characters, an intriguing magical hierarchy, and an intricate history. And in less than 200 pages.

Han and I salute you

Here are 6 reasons you should read Sunbolt:

1. Hitomi. She is everything I love best in a hero. She’s brave, smart, and quick on her feet, but she’s not perfect. She is survivor, afraid to stand out or call attention to herself, and yet she holds deep convictions that go against the grain of popular opinion. And she’s an outsider with untrained (read: illegal) magical powers. Sunbolt is her story, but the supporting characters are interesting too, especially Val, which leads me to #2.

2. Breathers.* And fangs, and mages, and . . . you get the idea. All of the usual suspects, from vampires to wizards, are part of Sunbolt‘s fantasy landscape. But they’re interesting! Like the many races and cultures of human characters, they have longstanding feuds, histories, and racial tension/prejudices. I want to know more (especially about the Breathers)!

3. The relationships. Like with Thorn, none of the characters fall into predictable YA relationship patterns. There’s no romance, for instance, and even the friendships are full of tension. I will resist writing more about my favorite developments because, spoilers!

4. The Shadow League. First off, they’re a rebel/resistance outfit called The Shadow League, led by the enigmatic young man known only as Ghost. It’s like the Scarlet Pimpernel took up with the barricade boys from Les Mis (despite how totally counter intuitive that sounds) and all started fighting for freedom from the shadows. Hitomi and her friend Kenta (a Tanuki!**) are part of the league, though they’re not very high up on the ladder, and I loved how they all interacted.

5. The plot/story/world. These are as intertwined as a celtic love knot. Though Sunbolt is basically an origin story, introducing us to Hitomi, her hidden powers, and her world, is also includes a lot of plot elements/threads that I’m hoping to see explored in later installments. There is a lot here for such a small book, and none of it was too much.

6. The writing. I’ll say it again, Intisar Khanani can write. Her prose is elegant, effortless, and never artificial. Her pacing is great, and she has a knack for narrative. In short, the only complain I have about Sunbolt is that it ended. It needs to be the size of The Lord of the Rings. (Not that the story felt incomplete or anything, her writing is too good for that!)

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars. A brilliant fantasy adventure with a strong heroine and an interesting world.

Footnotes: *You’ll have to read the book to find out about Breathers.
**Tanuki: Japanese Raccoon Dog, and a legendary shapeshifter in Japanese mythology
FURTHER READING: If you liked Sunbolt try:
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
The Westmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander
The Blue Sword (or most of her other books) by Robin McKinley