Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Review: The Children of Húrin

The Children of Húrin The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

9/25/2019: This is a repost for the Tolkien Blog Party 2019. 

Id also like to highlight this essay, which I think is pretty insightful -- it will make more sense if you have read the book, however:

Children of Húrin Is Not Relentlessly Depressing (I KNOW IT DOESN’T LOOK GOOD, BUT HEAR ME OUT) -- by Lintamande

(I am on Tumblr but not very active there. If you'd rather not click the link, here is the important bit:
It’s a hard sell, but I’m going to try to make the case that a) the characters in Children of Húrin have unprecedented-for-Tolkien agency over their choices and leverage to live their values, and b) they go ahead and do that and save tons of lives as a result, and c) this fits into the rest of the legendarium as a testament to the human spirit in the darkest hour, one that sustains their people until the War of Wrath and influences their ability to fight there.

12/22/2018 - I finished reading for the 2nd time.

1/17/2019 - My thoughts on reading this again:

This time I read the physical book, which includes illustrations by Alan Lee. They're all great, but I would have liked to see more of them. (I know Jenny Dolfen has done some of the scenes that Alan Lee skipped, like Turin and Beleg.) I still think that reading this on its own more or less works, but The Silmarillion surpasses it for me, because its most iconic moments make it overall the better book, even though it has parts that are far more dry than this book.

The conversation between Hurin and Morwen in Chapter 1 is one of my favorites: a quiet scene full of foreboding, with some great dialogue.

Chapter 2 of this book is an abbreviated version of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears; the part that is left out covers what happened to the forces from East Beleriand. In a nutshell, what happened is exactly what Morwen was afraid of in chapter 1, that is, the Noldor were betrayed because the doom of Mandos was not done with them yet. And the traitors were the same people who occupy Turin's homeland in this book. 

Some of Turin's character flaws are things he has in common with his mother. Her pride certainly leads her to some bad decisions of her own. However, Turin's refusal to listen to the advice of Ulmo, the only one of the Valar who still gives advice to the Elves and Men in Middle-earth, is not really something I can see Morwen doing. And he does this after Ulmo's blessing on the waters of Ivrin restored him to sanity! Because he is incapable of taking a hint, apparently. I think Beren is a really interesting foil for Turin, as someone who made better choices in similarly difficult circumstances. Tuor in The Fall of Gondolin is harder to evaluate because he is less fleshed out as a character than either of them.

Chapters 6-9, the chapters that cover Turin's time with a band of outlaws and his attempts to reform them into the good kind of outlaws, definitely remind me of both the Robin Hood legend and the Rangers of the North in The Lord of the Rings. I can see why some readers lose patience with Turin; the really frustrating thing about him is that his better qualities rarely make as much of a difference as you would hope, while his bad decisions are disastrous.

my first review, written Dec. 2015:
A quick note on the format - there are no illustrations in the ebook, as there are in the print version, and the maps are hard to read in this format. (However, I already have copies of The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales so I could look at those maps.) I read this as an ebook from Overdrive, with my public library account.

The Children of Hurin collected a story that had already been previously published into one volume. The story is a longer, much more detailed version of the “Turin Turambar” chapter of The Silmarillion, and tells the story of the curse that Morgoth, Sauron’s former boss and the Middle-earth equivalent of Lucifer, put on Turin’s family. The style is a bit simpler than that of The Silmarillion, so it might be helpful to a reader who is interested in tackling that book but having a hard time with the style. Of course, the other problem people have with The Silmarillion is that it’s really depressing — and this is a version of one of the darkest tales in that book. Many elements of the story are inspired by the Volsunga saga and the story of Kullervo from the Finnish Kalevala.

Lord of the Rings blends Tolkien’s different approaches in The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, but I think most people who love LotR lean in one direction or the other. LotR is my favorite of Tolkien's works but The Hobbit, although I like it, hasn't made as deep an impression as The Silmarillion. I don’t consider LotR comforting exactly ... but even though it has a very qualified happy ending, it’s still a happy ending, in that it does make an emotionally convincing argument that suffering will ultimately be vindicated.

And yet these stories (The Silmarillion and COH) make it clear that Tolkien understood that reaction better than he gets credit for, which is satisfying. I cried a few times, but not at the very end - having read most of it before, I found that the disturbing part was waiting for the end.

Turin is a pretty exasperating character - he’s arrogant and makes some really terrible decisions - but I have a lot of sympathy for him anyway. Tolkien goes into much more detail about his childhood here than in The Silmarillion, Morwen has some of same flaws as Turin, but I like her too. Nienor gets more of a role in this version than in The Silmarillion, which I like. She’s a bit more sensible than Morwen, and very much her father’s daughter. I kind of wish there was more about her, but I like what there is.

I have read the Volsunga saga, but don’t really have anything to say about its influence on this story. I really like medievalist Michael Drout’s comment on this connection, though:

“I think that at least one impulse in Túrin is to tell the story of a dragon slayer who isn't some kind of Nietzchean/Wagnerian 'ubermensch' (a piece of evidence, I think, is the inclusion of a dwarf named Mîm). Tolkien detested the kind of heroism that Wagner drew out of the Nibelungenlied and the Völsungr Saga: the hero who is superior in some existential way to everyone else and thus somehow deserves to crush everything in his path. By taking the physically most powerful hero, the original dragonslayer, but putting him under the curse of Morgoth and showing how he suffers, Tolkien approaches the Sigfried story in a very different, and more humane, way.”

There are connections with other legends as well.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: My Autumn 2019 TBR

Metamorphoses by Ovid
I will finish this by November, or maybe sooner. I still need to write a recap for books 13-15, and then my review. I have been reading this one in bits and pieces, starting in January. I love some of the stories, and I will discuss my favorites when I write a review, but I think I prefer The Aeneid as a book.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens 
I really want to read this again for Victober on GoodReads. And I still need to introduce myself in the group over there. I loved this the first time I read it. This is probably my favorite Dickens novel.   

Tales from Ovid: 24 Passages from the Metamorphoses by Ted Hughes
I would like to re-read this now that I am almost finished with Metamorphoses. I liked it the first time, but I remember that it is a bit slanted toward the darkest stories in Ovid, so it might make him seem a bit one-note; the stories have more variation than that.

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny
This is a past group read in the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club on GoodReads. I might read this for Readers Imbibing Peril. It has been on my TBR for a while, and I think I'll like it. A lighthearted "horror" novel. The description: Loyally accompanying a mysterious knife-wielding gentleman named Jack on his midnight rounds through the murky streets of London, good dog Snuff is busy helping his master collect the grisly ingredients needed for an unearthly rite that will take place not long after the death of the moon. But Snuff and his master are not alone. All manner of participants, both human and not, are gathering with their ancient tools and their animal familiars in preparation for the dread night. It is brave, devoted Snuff who must calculate the patterns of the Game and keep track of the Players—the witch, the mad monk, the vengeful vicar, the Count who sleeps by day, the Good Doctor and the hulking Experiment Man he fashioned from human body parts, and a wild-card American named Larry Talbot—all the while keeping Things at bay and staying a leap ahead of the Great Detective, who knows quite a bit more than he lets on. 

I Explain a Few Things: Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda
I have been slowly going through it since March, and I will probably finish in November. And then I think I will pick a few to memorize. I will certainly read more Neruda! He's one of my favorites. 

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

I have read this before, but I want to reread it for a group read soon.

The Complete John Silence Stories
I really want to read more by this classic horror author. I loved The Willows. I might listen to the LibriVox audiobook for this one.

That's seven books, not ten, but I will leave it at that for now!

Review: Farmer Giles of Ham

Farmer Giles of Ham Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

... Or as the subtitle has it: "The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles, Lord of Tame, Count of Worminghall and King of the Little Kingdom"

A fun adventure that turns out to be an elaborate in-joke about some English place names. This is one of my favorite novellas. It is a hoot.

Farmer Giles of the Thames Valley becomes famous for fighting a giant. The king rewards him with a sword, Caudimordax or Tailbiter, that turns out to have a magical property: it cannot be sheathed when within five miles of a dragon. Guess what happens next? Of course he meets a dragon…

Like The Hobbit ,this story started out as one that J.R.R. Tolkien, told to his children. He worked on it over about twenty years until it was published in 1949. This novella is illustrated by Pauline Baynes with annotations by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond.

My favorite quote:
The dragons pricked up their ears. They were hungry, and these rumours were attractive. `So knights are mythical!' said the younger and less experienced dragons. `We always thought so.'

`At least they may be getting rare,' thought the older and wiser worms; `far and few and no longer to be feared.'

This review was written before I started my blog, but I am posting it for the 7th Annual Tolkien Blog Party, hosted by Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 23, 2019

Review: The House on the Borderland

The House on the Borderland The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The House on the Borderland was first published in 1908. This is my entry for the Novella category in the Back to the Classics challenge. According to GoodReads it is 156 pages, under the 250 page limit for the category. It is also my second book for the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge ( I  listened to it as an audiobook from LibriVox.

Synopsis: Two guys visiting Ireland find a manuscript in the ruins of an old house. It is a diary from the last inhabitant of the house, an old man who had lived in the house with his sister and his dog. Most of the story is the contents of the diary.

I read, and, in reading, lifted the Curtains of the Impossible that blind the mind, and looked out into the unknown.

What I liked:
* The descriptions! This book is definitely more about establishing a mood than about character or plot.
* The sense of mystery. The house is a "house on the borderland", a portal to other dimensions. The house is besieged by swine-like monsters, and after that it gets weird. A substantial chunk of the book describes a journey over vast distances of time and space.

Another vast space went by, and the whole enormous flame had sunk to a deep, copper color. Gradually, it darkened, from copper to copper-red, and from this, at times, to a deep, heavy, purplish tint, with, in it, a strange loom of blood.

What I didn't like so much:
* The time-lapse sequence, showing the end of the solar system, seemed derivative of a similar bit in The Time Machine, published ten years earlier. It was memorable, though, so I can't complain too much.
* I didn't notice this when I was listening, but now that I have read some passages it is clear that Hodgson used commas all over the place... this is really excessive, for example:

"A little to my left, the side of the Pit appeared to have collapsed altogether, forming a deep V-shaped cleft in the face of the rocky cliff. This rift ran, from the upper edge of the ravine, nearly down to the water, and penetrated into the Pit side, to a distance of some forty feet. Its opening was, at least, six yards across; and, from this, it seemed to taper into about two. But, what attracted my attention, more than even the stupendous split itself, was a great hole, some distance down the cleft, and right in the angle of the V. It was clearly defined, and not unlike an arched doorway in shape; though, lying as it did in the shadow, I could not see it very distinctly."

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review: Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things

Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), also known as Koizumi Yakumo after gaining Japanese citizenship, was best known for his books about Japan. He was born in Greece and raised in England, and moved to Japan in 1890. Kwaidan is a book of Japanese ghost stories. The last three chapters are studies on Chinese and Japanese folklore about insects (butterflies, ants, and mosquitoes). Most of the tales are collected and translated from old Japanese texts. one of the stories -- Yuki-onna, or The Snow-Woman -- was told to him by a farmer in Musashi Province, and Hearn could not determine whether it had been recorded before.

There are twenty stories in this book. I enjoyed all of them, but my favorites were:

"Of a mirror & a bell:" A woman kills herself and her ghost haunts a bell that was made of the metal from her mirror.
"The dream of Akinosuke:" A man has a dream in which he becomes governor of the mysterious island of Raishu.

Both have twist endings, which I won't spoil.

I found this book on a list of early Gothic novels & ghost stories at GoodReads. This is one of my books for the Back to the Classics Challenge, Category: Classic from Africa, Asia, or Oceania. And it is my first book for RIP XIV, a September-October challenge to read horror, gothic fiction, and suspense.

It is in the public domain, so you can find it at Project Gutenberg.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Readers Imbibing Peril XIV!

This is my second year participating in R.I.P.! From the website:

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:

Dark Fantasy.


I am signing up for...

Peril the Second:
Read two books of any length that you believe fit within the challenge categories.

My books are:

Kwaidan, a book of Japanese ghost stories collected by Lafcadio Hearn

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

And I might join Peril of the Short Story:
We are fans of short stories and our desire for them is perhaps no greater than in autumn. We see Jackson in our future for sure! You can read short stories any time during the challenge. We sometimes like to read short stories over the weekend and post about them around that time. Feel free to do this however you want, but if you review short stories on your site, please link to those reviews on our RIPXIV Book Review pages.

I have started Kwaidan and I will be reviewing it as one book, but I might review some other short stories separately. I will make sure to check out other bloggers’ reviews during the challenge, too.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Review: The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my book for the Back to the Classics Challenge: Category: Read A Tragic Novel.

_The Sound & the Fury_ was Faulkner's fourth novel, published in 1929. It is set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Faulkner wrote 17 books in this setting. The novel centers on the dysfunctional Compson family, former Southern aristocrats who gradually fall into financial ruin and lose the respect of their neighbors. The book starts and ends during a few days in April, 1928 (around Easter).

The novel is separated into four sections.

The first and most fragmented section is from the perspective of Benjy, an intellectually disabled 33-year-old man. (Wikipedia notes that originally, Faulkner meant to use different colored inks to signify chronological breaks.) The second section is told by his brother Quentin, a student at Harvard. The third section is told by the third brother, Jason, the most coherent narrator and the least sympathetic. The last section is a third person omniscient narrative focusing on Dilsey, the Compsons' black cook.

I had to reread the beginning after I finished the book, but I think I was able to follow most of what was going on. Faulkner wrote an appendix that appears in edition I had checked out, which I found helpful for keeping track of the characters. There's also a foreword by Marilynne Robinson, for the Modern Library edition. I recommend it if you have a chance to read that edition; she has some interesting things to say about the significance of Faulkner setting the book at Easter, probably too long to summarize here.

The story is dark, and pretty disturbing at times. Not one of my favorites, but I am glad I read it.

View all my reviews

Review: The Children of Húrin

The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien My rating: 5 of 5 stars 9/25/2019: This is a repost for the Tolkien Blog Party 2019.  ...