Team Go Fuck Yourself, We’re Eagles

So, I was reading this book earlier today (I know, shocker, right?) and even though it was annoying me with weird repetitiveness, I was totally ready to let that stuff go (kinda) until I read this:

WRONG

GODDAMNIT, THAT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED.

And then I had an epic fit of nerdrage that was barely contained totally not contained at all, not even a little before it was time to start writing this post.

Listen.

sam is tired of your shit

  1. “Hur, dur, it’s a PLOT HOLE!”  Yeah, okay.  Let’s say it IS  a plot hole.  Let’s assume that Frodo could’ve just hopped on the Gwaihir Express direct to fucking Mordor from The Shire.  Okay.  That leaves us with approximately 40 pages of book.  Fun!  Except not.
  2. It’s been said before, but THE EAGLES ARE NOT A TAXI SERVICE.  You know what they are?  They’re the eyes and ears of Manwë, fucking KING OF THE VALAR (the Valar are essentially demi-gods, shit, keep up).  Now we know this for suresies, but Tolkien also speculated that they MIGHT be Maiar (lesser gods, like MOTHERFUCKING GANDALF) in bird form.  Oh, you want to ask your brother to give a friend a goddamn piggy back ride for almost 1100 miles?  Mmmmhmmm.
    Yeah, no.

    Yeah, no.

     

  3. ELEVEN HUNDRED MILES  You saw that, right?  (btw, click that link up there, it’ll take you to Eric’s blog where he’s traveling from The Shire to Mt Doom on an elliptical machine – it’s totally worth it)  So, idk how fast a great eagle flies, sorry.  But I do know that a bald eagle can reach speeds of up to 75mph (source) HOWEVER, we have to keep in mind that the eagles would be bearing both Ring and Ring-bearer, so they prolly couldn’t travel faster than 35mph or so without there being a hobbit wreck of some sort.
    ring-laden eagleOkay, so doing that math, that puts them at ~31 hours flying direct with no stops.  NOT POSSIBLE, but even if it were, there’s no fucking way they could fly the entire length of Middle-earth without being spotted by a single one of Sauron’s scouts.  Imfuckingpossible.
  4. They can’t just DROP the One Ring into the volcano. NONONONONO.  They specifically have to take the Ring to Sammath Naur (which holds the Cracks of Doom [still makes me giggle, cos I'm a 12y/o boy]) where the Ring was forged.  Given the size of the Great Eagles, there’s no way one could fit into the Chambers of Fire, so they’d have to land and wait for the Ring-bearer to go toss that shit in.  LIKE NO ONE IS GOING TO NOTICE A GREAT EAGLE JUST HANGING OUT IN MORDOR.
  5. Shut up.  See the title of this post and below.
    Boromir is also sick of your shit

Oh, and this happened:

dean

dean2

The One Where I Tell A Secret And sj Dumps Me Like a Hot Potato

m-e is my bff

So I was having second breakfast in my cozy Hobbit hole when sj asked me if I was interested in writing a post on why I love Middle Earth. What a silly question. Of course. But here I sit at the end of a month of wonderful posts wondering what I have left to add that hasn’t already been said. Nearly every post was my reason. I read them and found myself nodding along. “Yes, that’s me.” “Yep,” “Uh-huh.” “Well said!”

But you don’t want to read 600 words that consists of me nodding my head, do you? I thought not. So why do I love Middle Earth?

It’s hard to compare The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Apples and oranges, Hobbit and elf. One is a children’s story, and one is an epic tome of high adventure. One is about bringing home the gold, the other is about saving the known world. One I came by honestly, one I …

My mom read The Hobbit to me as a child. She read us lots of books. Lots of them. Some have faded from memory, but The Hobbit has not. Maybe it was the importance the book had for her. My mom didn’t read fiction personally, but she felt compelled to share this one with us. Maybe it was the time she spent reading it. It probably took a month to get through, reading a little each night, and a month in a child’s life is like dog years, defying the time continuum. Color that month, color my life. The Hobbit is firmly woven into the fabric of my childhood.

My history with The Lord of the Rings is much somewhat shorter and somewhat checkered. I didn’t discover the trilogy until *ahem* the first movie was slated to come out. Bet you didn’t know that, sj. What is that? The sound of an unfollow? And a pin being shoved into a voodoo doll? OW! Not the armpit! Geez! I’m sorry! I should have told you sooner! Quit! Take the pins! Someone help!

Whew! My secret is out. I feel less dirty. And it all turned out for the best, I swear! I have a written-in-stone policy *** to never see a movie based on a book unless I read the book first. So I did. And the first reading was terrible. As was the movie. Well, not terrible. I just didn’t get it. Maybe because I skimmed the book because opening night loomed ahead. Maybe.  I knew I had missed the mark with Fellowship of the Rings. I hadn’t given it the time it deserved. I went back for a second reading, went through The Two Towers, and emerged on the other side of The Return of the King victorious. And in love. I have read them once a year ever since.

The stories are very different. The tones are very different. The Hobbit is filled with fun. The trilogy is far from fun, the tone is heavy and grim. But they are the same in essence. What do I love about Middle Earth? I love the comfort of a hobbit hole because I am a hairy-toed, barefoot hobbit who loves to eat. I love that the good guys get to win. I love that sometimes I am left feeling pity for the bad guys.  I love that Tolkien is honest in his writing. He doesn’t play dirty, and I can trust him. Even at the end of RotK, that moment when I realized what was going to happen to Frodo and I lay on my bed gutted and weeping, I knew Tolkien loved this character at least as much as I do and was probably crying himself as he finished the scene.

And now, I love being part of a fellowship of my own, a group of people who choose to spend their time in Middle Earth. Perhaps we’re there for the same reason, perhaps not. Maybe we’re off in different directions on adventures of our own, but we’re there. It’s the best part.

.

*** Actually, this policy is not yet written in stone. If there is a stone carver out there willing to take care of it for me, I’d be much obliged.

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”

In December of 2001, I was between high school and college. Health-wise, I hadn’t been doing so well (I’ve had Type 1 diabetes since I was 11) and I was taking a break from school. The first Lord of the Rings movie was about to be released and my mom, knowing how much I love Tolkien, had bought me the books for Christmas so I could re-read them before watching the movie. It was then that my journey with Frodo began.

m-e is my bff

I hadn’t been feeling well for the few weeks before Christmas, and on the day after Christmas, I finally caved in and begged to be taken to the hospital. Even now, it’s sometimes difficult to explain everything that was happening at the time. I had been feeling some nerve pain and had swelling in my legs and feet, but on that day I felt like they were on fire. I knew that diabetic neuropathy was a common complication in diabetics, especially in people who have had diabetes for a while, but it had only been a few years since I was diagnosed, and there seemed to be no explanation for what was happening to me. Having been in and out of the hospital many times since I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I knew the drill, and brought my new book to keep me company and distract me while we patiently waited to be seen. A few chapters (and hours) later, I was sent home, with no explanation or solution for my pain. It was during that time that Frodo and Tolkien became my best friends.

Reading Lord of the Rings became my favorite distraction, and a source of comfort and hope. Over the next several weeks, despite a few more trips to the ER and visits to many different specialists, my pain worsened, with no apparent explanation. But Frodo was there with me, at every doctor’s appointment, during every test, and especially on the nights that the pain was so intense that I couldn’t sleep for more than half an hour out of every 3-4 hours. I felt that if anyone could understand what I was going through, it was Frodo. Like me, he was being weighed down with something that, although no one else could really see it, burdened him immensely. So I traveled with Frodo and he traveled with me. When my skin got so sensitive that wearing anything but the most loose-fitting clothing hurt, when I would have to spray my legs with cold water because that was the only thing that would temporarily soothe the burning pain, when I couldn’t hold a cup of tea because of how badly my hands ached, when I lost my appetite (and along with that, 50 pounds), Frodo was there to remind me that my journey wasn’t over and I couldn’t just give up. He reminded me that I had my own Fellowship, comprised of my family and friends, and that they were there by my side, to cheer me on even during what seemed like the most hopeless of situations.

You wouldn't think this also doubles as a pillow, but when you're sleep deprived and waiting in the ER for hours, it's comfy as fuhhhh.

You wouldn’t think this also doubles as a pillow, but when you’re sleep deprived and waiting in the ER for hours, it’s comfy as fuhhhh.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get easier. In fact, the next 10 months were some of the worst of my life. I was put on seizure medication to help with the nerve pain, but it only made me severely anxious and twitchy. After having blood drawn from a vein in my right hand, the hand swelled up and I could barely move my fingers for the next 8 months. I was exhausted from insomnia and in constant pain. But I think most of all, I was just scared because I had no idea what was going on with my body and no one knew how to help me. I still don’t know what triggered my body to react that way. With some physical therapy, my right hand went back to normal. I still suffer from nerve pain, almost on a daily basis, but I know how to deal with it better now. In some ways, things have gotten tougher for me since then, and but that is why I re-read Tolkien.

Re-reading LOTR reminds me of that time in my life, and it is an experience that I can draw strength from. I read to remind myself to hope, because even when things look grim, it can turn around. I read to remind myself that I have my own Fellowship and that relying on my friends and family doesn’t make me weak, it makes my burden easier to bear, even if it is still my burden. I read because I know that I have a friend in those pages, and I know that he will get through his journey and I will too.

[Nubia doesn't blog, but she's often pretty hilarious on twitter.]

Of Front Doors & Adventures

m-e is my bff

I don’t have the same connection to Middle Earth that some who have written here have. In fact, the only emotionally traumatic thing I can thing of in my life that has to do with Middle Earth is that my mom read The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story waaaaaaay before she should have. The weird thing (about my mom) is that she actually is a Hobbit*, and thus eats and cooks very nearly all the time, is likely to be found barefoot in a garden tending to things to cook and eat, and generally views the world through rose-colored glasses. To the point at hand, I will say something- anything- about a battle in The Hobbit and she will reply “There was a battle?” To her, it was bad and violent and didn’t fit with her Hobbit-hole world, so therefore it didn’t happen, so it was a perfectly fine bedtime story for a baby.

Sheldon Balrog

Do you read Sheldon? You should.

Just the same, I am quite sure she was not prepared for that baby to be me, who sort of revels in darkness and emotional trauma. I am not sure if this is because she read me The Hobbit far too young (I also read myriad other books far before the age where one should read them. I highly recommend this), or if I came this way and the land of Middle Earth coming to me at such a young age was a sort of happy accident.

It’s at this point that I have to confess something, because in kicking around this post, I realized it’s basically the point of it: I am not that huge of a Tolkien fan. Now, that is far from saying I am not a fan, because I love his writing and the story is beautiful and I have read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings more times than I can possibly count, and you know, tried the Silmarillion, but what I have come to realize is I am a Tolkien fan in much the same way I am a Star Wars fan: I sorta like the idea of it more than I like the actual thing. Or, more accurately, I like the universe a lot.

And that’s what makes Middle Earth so great, and doubly so to me as a writer. I adore the wonderful sandbox of it; that the story that is so well-known, so well-loved is really just a sliver of what there is to it. The fact that one’s imagination can run wild along the periphery, with places, events, even characters is, to me at least, even more fascinating than the story.

The setting of Middle Earth has always inspired me, even though I lean towards the science fiction end of the spectrum, but I always wanted to create a universe which was so rich, so full the stories all but wrote themselves- or, more accurately, invited writing. That each event in each story was really just part of something larger, even infinite- because that’s how the real world works, and the best fiction is tied closely to reality.

Even if it has elves, wizards and dragons.

Especially if it has elves, wizards an dragons.

-DESR

*She is also very short, but does not, so far as I am aware, have hairy feet.

D.E.S. RichardDean Smith-Richard lives in the Great Northwest, and writes (mostly) science fiction. You can buy his first short story collection here and read his other ramblings on writing, reading and drinking on his blog. He is a complete snob about food, drink and books, so feels right at home with SJ.

In a hole in the ground there lived…um…me, please.

m-e is my bff

I read The Hobbit as a kid, or had it read to me, I’m not entirely sure. It’s embedded in my consciousness so deeply I can’t put a date on it. But then, so is a lot of fantasy. I know my way around Tamora Pierce’s Tortall. I can keep straight the order of the alternate Englands in Diana Wynne Jones. I have a map of Hogwarts in my heart. I could hide myself in the closets of Jordan College in the Golden Compass, or the backs of wardrobes full of furs in the Professor’s house in CS Lewis, and never be discovered. Hell, there was a time when I actually lived in a storybook landscape. My grandparents had a house on the edge of the real and actual Hundred Acre Wood (which is actually called Ashdown Forest, and is just as lovely as the drawings make it seem, and is crazy historic, yo) and I lived with them when I was very young, and played Poohsticks on Pooh Bridge. And not to rub it in or anything, but while we’re on enchanted woods, my mother lives not too far a drive from the drowned forest of Susan Cooper’s Silver on the Tree.

Submerged_forest_at_Ynyslas_Ceredigion

By Richerman (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

But the place I have always wanted to live is the Shire. No – not the Shire. The place I have always wanted to live is a hobbit hole.

I’m five foot two. I like small snug places, and cozy corners, and nooks and crannies. I once lived in a loft in a converted courthouse in Massachusetts where the ceiling was technically six feet but no one could stand up except for me because of the immense, ornate, massive cherry woodwork ornamenting the ceiling. (This suited me fine.) And then there was the closet with a closet – literally a room the size of a single mattress with a alcove at one end the size of a diminutive refrigerator and a tiny window on one side. And a slanted ceiling, so that, again, no one but me could stand up. I called it the Princess Tent. My six-foot-tall boyfriend went around with a permanent bruise on his forehead, and I’m sure he sympathized with Gandalf in Bag End, forever smacking his towering skull on something while I scurried about blithely beneath. I didn’t care. The smaller the better.

I took issue with many things in Peter Jackson’s films, but the one thing he got right was the hole in the ground. Rivendell, while pleasingly sparkly, always looks a wee bit too chilly and august to me to be the Last Homely House. Let’s not talk about Orthanc. Minas Tirith I’m okay with, but Bag End – now, Bag End is really something. Just do me a favor, will you. Google image search the words hobbit hole. And tell me if there isn’t something in you that thrills with joy at the sight of those tiers upon tiers of fantastic, tiny, cozy houses. There’s something of the treehouse and something of the burrow in them; there’s an animal satisfaction that belongs absolutely to the pleasure of Mole’s snug den in Wind in the Willows and the hidden home of the Borrowers and every other secret, tiny, hidden place that belongs to the best part of childhood – the private place, the sacred space, supplied with snacks and books and telescopes, too small for adults to get at you.

Although I didn’t know it consciously when I was a kid, I knew then as much as I know now that Bag End is the apotheosis of magical childhood haunts. It has, as Tolkien readily points out, everything that could be wanted. And it’s private. Bilbo shares it with no one. In fact, the intrusion of the dwarves is so horrid in part because it is so exactly like having a bunch of vile and pompous grownups come barging in to your quiet roost, or being bowled over by a bunch heedless snotty playmates who were thought to be a good idea by your mother and just don’t understand the special, secret, sacred order of your place.

I still don’t quite understand why it is that we lose our relationship with these radically magical corners when we get old. When you get older, generally speaking you get more privacy, and certainly part of the pleasure of a fort or treehouse as a kid is in the being-alone, or better still the being-ungettable, that comes with a space too small for an adult to climb or crawl into. Once you have a house all to yourself and nobody is there to extract you and make you brush your teeth or share your toys, well, maybe we think we don’t need tiny niches to ourselves because we’ve got whole houses, or at the very least bedrooms, and we feel silly constructing lairs for ourselves when there’s no one to hide from. I’m not, to be honest, entirely sure. And this is in part because my passion for small spaces has never left me.

There is a wonderful book called The Poetics of Space, by the phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, which is dedicated entirely to spaces of this kind. Being French, and poetically inclined, he takes it for granted that we all still love and understand drawers, and attics, and cellars, and shells, and nests as being unique and potent forms of space – because, he says, they shelter daydreaming. The book could be taken as the spiritual blueprint of a hobbit-hole. Why do we all empathize so deeply with Bilbo when he’s dragged out of his cozy hole? After all, we’re raised to think that adventures are what stories are made of, and here’s Bilbo, poor homebody Bilbo, who doesn’t want the least little thing to do with dragons – and when the story starts, neither do I. I’m solidly on Bilbo’s side, digging in my heels, horrified by all this talk of cold, wet, dangerous, and unpleasant things, because I want to stay in Bag End myself. And when Bilbo comes back, the outrage that is the auction hurts, because it’s the greatest possible betrayal – worse than dragon-fire or war is the violation of the snug, warm, magical home.

I built houses in my head when I was a kid; I wanted to be an architect. I didn’t want to build hobbit-holes back then, because, of course, hobbit-holes weren’t real. No, I wanted to be the next Julia Morgan. And when I realized that architects have to go build ugly apartments for years before they get to do anything fun, I lost interest altogether. Until one morning, about four years ago, when my mother sent me this:

simon_dale_hobbit_house

A couple in Wales with no building experience at all had gone and built themselves a hobbit house. (It’s truly delightful.) And just like that, I realized – wait a minute. This is real? It was real. It is, one might say, a thing. All over the world, people who are interested in low-impact, environmentally friendly buildings are creating things that look astonishingly like hobbit houses.

There’s cob houses:

cob_house

Earthships:

earthship

Switzerland’s Earth Houses:

earth-houses-hobbit-holes

…and so many other tiny, beautiful, rounded, smoothed, earthy, cozy, snug, magical hobbit holes for people it’s a little overwhelming, especially when you consider that these houses are extremely eco-friendly, insanely cheap to build, and require basically unskilled labor to create.

That’s right, kids: you, too, could have a Bag End of your very own.

And so the reason that Middle Earth remains my BFF above the hundreds of other fantastical kingdoms of the page is that it’s actually within my reach. I can’t buy an owl in Diagon Alley or choose a pool in the Wood Between the Worlds, but I can have a goddamned hobbit house.

You’ll all come, of course, for tea. I’ll make seed cakes. Lots of them. You bring the harps and song.

[You can find Jericha at Museum of Joy, Insatiable Booksluts, or on twitter.]