Archive for December, 2014

I like to reread books in December.

January is all about devouring the books I got for Christmas and studying the release calendar while preordering waaaay too many new titles. But in December, it’s nice to revisit old favorites.

Most recently, I’ve been rereading The Hobbit. And yes, everyone has a lot to say about it recently, with the third film leading the box office and fans and critics weighing in all over the interwebz. I haven’t seen Battle of the Five Armies and frankly I don’t plan to while it’s in theaters. I was fed up after the second movie and its 20-minute action sequences.

Rather than face further disappointment, I went back to the novel. It was nice to remember why it’s such a great story–in many ways more appealing than The Fellowship of the Ring, which takes ages to get going and doesn’t really know what it’s about until the last third of the book. The Hobbit knows what it is: an adventure.

The Lord of the Rings has adventures in it, of course, but I will always think of it as a war story. There is much of the political and social to be considered. It has a huge cast and arguably multiple protagonists. The Hobbit is about Bilbo Baggins. Full stop.

Yes, the dwarves are quite important. So is Beorn the bear-man and the elf king and Bard and Gandalf. Even the Necromancer is somewhat important, although not as important as Peter Jackson would make him. (Yes, I know he’s Sauron. The Hobbit is not about Sauron.)

But without Bilbo none of them matter. He shapes the story. It’s his adventure. His development as a hero. And as such, it’s not terribly dark or gritty. Sure, frightening or upsetting things happen. (An awful lot of ponies seem to get eaten in The Hobbit. There’s also the spiders. And the fate of Lake Town.) But tonally it’s incredibly different. It’s charming. It’s funny. It’s whimsical.

Some of that whimsy showed up in the first film. It’s hard to bleed out the good-natured fun of the dwarves’ arrival or the encounter with the trolls. Martin Freeman is hilariously stuffy as Bilbo. And the addition of Sylvester McCoy as Radagast was pretty wonderful. But in his attempts to tie everything neatly to the Quest of the Ring, Jackson saps a lot of the inherent joy out of the middle section of the book. And the third film looks downright depressing. (Yes, yes, yes, things go poorly at the end but it’s not all dragon-song and corruption, is it?)

I have often wondered how Guillermo del Toro’s vision might have been different: whether we would have had two neater films which explore the wonderful weirdness of Middle Earth through Biblo’s eyes, whether the allusions to the plot of Lord of the Rings would have been smart and subtle instead of so ham-handed and overbearing, and whether an extra character like Tauriel would have felt meaningful instead of pandering. Because The Hobbit could have been a great movie (or two). Instead it just feels forced.

But this also seems to be characteristic of epic fantasy recently–particularly in film and television. It seems that in its quest to be taken seriously, fantasy has committed itself to a particular tone and format, à la Game of Thrones. It’s leached itself of fun–of whimsy.

And mind you, it’s not impossible to retain that sense while still addressing weighty topics, e.g., Beasts of the Southern Wild. (It may be, in fact, that the answer to this issue lies in magical realism.) But it seems a shame that heroic fantasy be reduced to one tragic note.

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Until Tuesday, December 30. Have an excellent holiday everyone!

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Project: How to Live on Other Planets: A Guide for Aspiring Aliens

End Date: Jan 12, 2015 2:00pm EST

Prizes: Stickers! An early release e-book (either Kindle or Epub), a trade paperback (dependent on stretch goals), a second copy of the book donated to the library of your choice.

Current Goal: $100

Current Number of Backers: 32

Current Pledges: $555

Why they deserve your support: Because small presses like Upper Rubber Boot Books are awesome! Because science fiction is meant to take on contemporary issues like immigration and help us think deeply and complexly about them. Because there are some seriously talented authors signed on to this project, including the likes of Ken Liu, Sarah Pinsker, and Nisi Shawl. Because you’re definitely getting your money’s work–did you see how many stories are included? And because giving books to your favorite library is beyond brilliant.

Did I donate: $1, as promised!

 

We’re back with the gift guides! Get your ideas for fantasy and science fiction in today’s The Girl Who Loved Zombies doubleheader.

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What do you get for that one friend who eats, sleeps, and breathes World of Warcraft? The Tolkien expert in your life? (It’s pronounced “meeeethrillll.”) The Magic the Gathering all-time champ? Some ideas:

  1. Munchkin. Any and all varieties, expansions, etc.
  2. An epic dragon clock.
  3. This lovely boxed set of Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.
  4. Their very own Harry Potter house robe. Or socks, depending on your budget.
  5. A Feast of Ice and Fire.
  6. Dragon Age tea.
  7. The Witch King battle from The Return of the Kingin Legos.
  8. The Digger omnibus.
  9. Squishable Dick. Go read Looking for Group before you starting giving me odd looks.
  10. The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman.
  11. This Deathwing (WoW) toy from POP.
  12. Shadows Over Camelot.
  13. A Princess Zelda-inspired ring.
  14. This trio of fantasy classics from Jim Henson Studios.

We’re back with the gift guides! Get your ideas for fantasy and science fiction in today’s The Girl Who Loved Zombies doubleheader.

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What’s the best present for your favorite Trekkie? What do you buy the aspiring Viper pilot who has everything? How many lightsabers can one person possibly own? My suggestions:

  1. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy coaster set.
  2. The Battlestar Galatica mug we all need for Monday mornings.
  3. This “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome” shirt in Gallifreyan.
  4. Star Trek Catan.
  5. Their very own (tiny) Delorean.
  6. Lock In  by John Scalzi.
  7. Season One and Two of Orphan Black.
  8. A subscription to Lightspeed.
  9. Starfleet cufflinks.
  10. This Wheatley Laboratories messenger bag.
  11. The Dancing Groot bobblehead. (I’ll take two, thanks.)
  12. Chicks Dig Time Lords Queers Dig Time Lords.
  13. Robot and Frank / Moon Safety Not Guaranteed.
  14. This official NASA shuttle tie.