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.

Book Review – Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl (No spoilers)

Because I have not had time* to do a BEA review post, and now it would be sort of pointless, I’m going to review the first ARC (that I have finished) from my BEA haul:

DRUMROLL PLEASE

Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red 

it’s so (appropriately) mysterious that the Goodreads blurb is only this:

“This novel features all the thrilling adventure readers will expect from the Marvel brand, backed up by the young-adult cred of #1 New York Times bestselling author Margaret Stohl. Uncover a new side of the Marvel Universe, accessible to old fans and new readers alike, as Stohl weaves an unforgettable story through the world of the Black Widow.” 

First: This cover is GORGEOUS. My cover is sort of boring (still cool though), without this fabulous artwork ——->

<——–But more importantly, it’s a signed copy 😉 I can forgive it for lacking the awesome art.

  And yes, this ARC was generously given to me by the lovely people at Disney and Marvel press in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Gifs are from Tumblr.com and belong to respective copyright holders.
When I first heard this was happening, I was so excited. Natasha Romanov a.k.a. Natalia Romanova a.k.a Natasha Romanoff a.k.a you get the picture, is one of my favorite Marvel characters (comics and movies) in both the classic and modern Marvel storylines. Her no-nonsense efficiency, her awesome skills, and her troubled past make for a fabulous character in the right hands.
Which leads in to the next part: I read three chapters of Beautiful Creatures once. Suffice it to say that I am not a fan.
I don’t do sappy, drippy, really drippy witch/teenage-angst novels. Period. So I was all, Marvel, really
But then I met Margaret Stohl at BEA. She was fabulous – humble – and filled with trepidation about the general populace reading her take on Black Widow. That made me feel a little better. And she geeked out with us about how awesome Black Widow is in the comics, and then she signed my book.

And honestly, I shouldn’t have worried so much, because I really liked the book.

So people of the world, here is a brief, spoiler free summary of Black Widow: Forever Red

Forever Red starts in Ukraine, 8 years in the past (you can actually read the beginning online). The Black Widow is hunting down her old mentor/trainer, Ivan Somodorov. The mission goes south, but not before Natasha rescues the girl that Ivan was experimenting on, turns the girl over to S.H.I.E.L.D., promises she’ll come if the girl needs her, and leaves.
8 years later, we are introduced to the primary characters (other than Natasha): teenagers Alex Manor and Ava Orlova. Ava is, of course, the little girl that Natasha rescued eight years earlier. Ava had been living in a (dreadful sounding) secure S.H.I.E.L.D. facility before she escaped, and she currently lives in the bottom of a Brooklyn YWCA. Both of them have strange dreams, but Ava’s are about Alex (she’s never met him). Ava has also nurtured hatred against the woman who saved her life, and then left her to fend for herself in a strange world.
But children are disappearing again, and the Black Widow suspects that Ivan survived their confrontation. That means he is after her, and after Ava, so Natasha heads back into the field, and back into Ava’s life. However, things are far more tangled than Natasha realized: her memories are leaking into Ava’s head, thanks to Ivan’s experiments in “quantum entanglement.” Ava absorbs Natasha’s skills, and the Black Widow can’t feel it. As frustrating as this is, it’s also incredibly dangerous. They aren’t the only Entangled pair that Ivan left behind.
To disentangle themselves, Ava and Natasha must find Ivan, face their childhoods, and go back to where it all began. And what does Alex Manor have to do with everything?

My thoughts – without spoilers

5 things that worked:

1. I loved the book’s format. Each present-day chapter is followed by a S.H.I.E.L.D. Line-Of-Duty Death (L.O.D.D.) case document. They are interviews (often with Natasha) and other files that tie into several plot threads. I love how these were worked in to the story
2. Margaret Stohl does a great job with Natasha’s character. She’s the hard edged, sensible, and capable assassin/spy we all love, but she’s also human (but with a very messed up past).
3. Ava and Alex were both likable (surprisingly so), and I was interested in their character arcs. Ava as Natasha’s “mini-me” provided some humor and insight into the Black Widow.
4. The plot. It was old-school spy stuff with gadgets, disguises, mad scientists, and chase scenes, but with an awesome heroine instead of a suave, suit wearing James Bond type.
5. The covert peeks into Natasha’s classified past. Black Widow is mysterious, and that’s one of the things I always liked. I was worried that a novelization would take away too much of that mystery, but it didn’t. Natasha is given just enough history, just enough name-dropping (I didn’t grin stupidly at everyone in the airport when I read a certain case note**), to both reconcile her comic/cinematic character, and leave a lot of interesting openings. Oh, and Coulson is in there a bit 🙂
BONUS: The Russian. I never forgot that I was reading about Russian characters, and it gave both realism and grounding to a book with a crazy mind-meld plot.

5 things that didn’t work as well:

Image Credit

1. While I liked Ava and Alex, and was rooting for them, but they weren’t why I was reading the book. I just didn’t care as much, and I was far more engaged when Natasha was on the scene.

2. This was a minor part of the book, but the predictable Alex/Ava romance (while believable) didn’t do anything for me. Sure, they were cute and not annoying, but (see above), I didn’t really care. But hey, they’re kids.

3. I felt like it occasionally suffered from trying to be too cryptic and mysterious. There were a few details that needed further explanation/examination for the plot’s sake. The only major example of this was all the disappearing children.***

4. Ivan. He had a bit of Marvel Movie Villain Syndrome: Ivan was evil, sadistic, and had quite the past, and yet he felt a little flat. But again, only Loki and Wilson Fisk (Daredevil) have truly escaped this.****

5. This one is 50/50 for me (because sometimes it worked better than others): the constant reminders that we are in a very normal, modern, but alternate Earth where superheroes are an acknowledged thing and Avengers destroyed/saved New York once.

Overall:

4 out of 5 Spiders. 

I’m just one of those annoying people who wanted more Black Widow. Maybe a novel that takes place in the past now? With Winter Soldier or Daredevil cameos?<—YES

Footnotes:
*I know that having time and making time are directly related.
**(not really a spoiler but just to be safe) Black Widow’s file has her age redacted. And there is a footnote that says to reference the files of Rogers, Steve and Barnes, James. Which means that they haven’t thrown out her backstory from the comics. There is still a chance that Natasha will be more like her real age (just rewritten every time) and has trained under the Winter Soldier. So I grinned at strangers ( I was reading in a busy airport, people).
***Seriously, where did all those kids go? If this was really addressed in the book, I must have missed it. I think it was just mentioned in passing toward the end.
****If you count the Winter Soldier as a villain [which in CA:TWS he technically is), then that makes three.

So, have you read this? Will my review be whisked away into secret S.H.I.E.L.D. files even though I avoided spoilers? 

Do you love Black Widow, or think she was less deserving of a novel than other Marvel ladies? 

How do you feel about her treatment in the movies? Would you like to see a Black Widow and Daredevil or Winter Soldier team up in the cinematic/novel/TV universe?