Thursday, June 19, 2014

Greatness long overdue

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is definitely a classic for a reason. I admit, I began it in large part to placate my sister and to check off one of those "I can't believe you still haven't read that" books off my list. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I guess I was expecting it to be a little bit more geeky. A conversation I once had sums it up really nicely: it's not fantasy, because it's written to be more believable; the elements of "magic" are not over-the-top impossible, but in a future state of our universe could be seen as plausible. However, they serve more as thematic elements, extensions of the better part of human virtue. It is also written with the air of a historian; Tolkien was really fleshing out the history, culture, and language of a land that he had invented so completely that it could very well exist. Thus it would be more like historical fiction. However, this it cannot be, as that genre is usually rooted in actual historical fact, and as much as we wish it were true, Middle Earth does not actually exist anywhere but the imaginations of we the readers. Thus we concluded in that conversation that The Lord of the Rings is fictional history.

I'm not sure whether I consider it a pro or con, but Tolkien spends and extraordinary amount of time describing the scenery, painting the environment with words descriptive, but not overly flowery. If I had attempted to read this when I was younger, there is no way I would have gotten through it. Those kinds of passages take a lot of concentration for me, especially when they matter so much to the story and the experience of Middle Earth as a whole. I don't know if it was because I wasn't paying attention well enough by that point, but after Lóthlorien, I got really directionally challenged as pertained to descriptions of the compass rose. But as it ultimately doesn't affect the fate of the quest, I contented myself to understand that Mordor lies ahead and it is to that destination that the fellowship is reluctantly moving.

The hobbits are characterized extremely well, especially if one reads the introductory material. They may seem simple folk, but their motivations and culture are nonetheless engaging and understandable and do not give the impression of flat stereotypes. It is interesting that they can be at once so old in years, at yet so young at heart.

The passages pertaining to characterizing Aragorn are exquisite. He is given such an air of mystery, yet you know that behind the shadowy façade, there are incredible depths. He knows so much and has such strength yet reserve, such patience. What I want to know is when he found time to gain such experience and knowledge. And when he sleeps. It seems like he never sleeps. But I guess that is one of the signs of greatness in any good literary leader. Anyhow, when we are first introduced in Bree, I was practically screaming at the hobbits to trust him. Why would they not? Couldn't they feel the good intentions radiating from him? But then, I'm coming from a biased hindsight position.

Getting to Rivendell was a delightful journey, probably the most compelling for me. Glorfindel is such a fantastic character who plays really well off of Strider. It is awesome to see how men and elves really can work together and each can contribute equally to the success of all. The bit where they came across the trolls added a nice levity to an otherwise grave situation and is a nice cameo to The Hobbit who came before.

The council of Elrond was one of my favorite parts. All the elements of the story are woven together in such a way that you get the entire picture of just how grave the situation of the world has become. Yet it isn't pedantic or dull, one character after another droning on and on about what happened in their region. It is all tied together beautifully, centered around the issue at hand and what is to be done with the Ring.

I particularly enjoyed the incident at the pass of Carradras. It was so artfully thought out, and really adds to the validity and characterization of the Ring itself. The concept that the landscape itself is taking sides in preparation for the great conflict to come is beautiful. Along that same vein, the incident in the forest with Tom Bombadil was incredibly intriguing. That there could be anyone so impervious to anything but his own affairs when such a polarizing effect is going on in the rest of the world is interesting. Yet it would take just such a person to be able to care for a place such as the forest, so confusing and befuddling to those with a narrow view of their desired direction of travel. Moria was a good episode, and much as I hate to admit it, the film adaptation was playing through my mind throughout, particularly the soundtrack; that part is very well done, I might even venture to say better than the book.

Tolkien is so enthralled with his scenery and languages that he often fails to develop his characters. Legolas and Gimli were two such characters; it's almost as if he forgot they were part of the fellowship until he decides to through some racial/political bits in and they uses them to spar. You don't get a good sense of where they have come from or what is most important to them.

The songs got a bit longwinded at times. But that's me being picky. In point of fact, I'm rather impressed that everyone is so well-grounded in their traditions and can use that method to transmit their histories to others. It makes me wish we in the real world knew so much about where we have come from and could recount it more artfully than to recite dates, names, and places.

Overall, it is a great book. Great themes: friendship, standing against evil, treachery and betrayal, the corrupting influence of ultimate power, and the virtue found in simple things. Despite my poor initial motivations, I am better for having read it.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

A Desert Adventure

Last week I went shooting with my father. Having amassed a variety of bottles, buckets, and jugs, we decided to go out into the land around the lake so we could cause explosions without fuss. As we're driving around scouting out suitable set up locations, Dad commented that the road seemed rougher than usual, but we didn't make much of it. We finally pulled into an open area next to an old rusted truck that had been deserted long ago and Dad got out to check a hunch. Sure enough, we had a flat.

As we were struggling to figure out how to get the spare off (it was bolted pretty securely to the underside of the bed), pushing off thoughts of succumbing to the same rusty fate as our new-found relic, another truck came by. They were from the County and were sent to look for a particular landmark or some other such business. They asked if we were shooting and would we please not shoot them until they had come back in about 15 minutes. We assured them that we would be occupied at least that long with the tire. We'd made no progress by the time they returned, and they offered to lend a hand. After banging around themselves, they were at as much of a loss as we were. They then offered to drive us into town to either get the old tire repaired or replaced. They seemed nice enough guys, but in Dad's words, we had four choices:

1. We could both get in their truck and leave our truck and all our munitions unattended in the middle of nowhere.

2. Dad could go with them and leave his daughter, the truck, and all our munitions in the middle of nowhere.

3. He could send his daughter with the two complete strangers and stay with the truck and all our munitions in the middle of nowhere.

4. We could send them on their way and be stuck with the truck and all our munitions in the middle of nowhere.

After some consideration and a glimpse of garments on stranger #2, Dad decided the guys were reasonably trustworthy and opted for choice #3. So the tire and I hopped in the rescue vehicle and took off down the road. I knew this was going to be even more of an adventure when I realized as we were driving away that I had left my phone in my car at the parents' house. So I had to content myself with sending positive brain waves back to my dad so he wouldn't worry too much and the consolation that I was armed.

About an hour later, I had found out quite a bit about Carlos and John - schooling, family, occupation, some entertaining anecdotes, and thoughts on travel and history. We'd visited 3 tire shops. At Walmart we learned that the tire was blown so repair was out of the picture, but despite 3 or 4 technicians blatantly sitting around, they were "busy" with 3 cars in front of us so it would take 1.5 hours to fix. No way were were going to sit around for that long, we moved on to a local Joe who, despite advertising "tires" on his building, actually orders in all his tires so he couldn't help us. Third time the charm, Big O Tires fixed us up with an $80 tire in about 10 minutes, the computer taking longer than the actual tire replacement. Back in the "limo," my chauffeurs kindly offered to stop wherever else I wanted - "drink? a show? the airport?" - and after a laugh were back on the road to the lake.

Meanwhile, Dad had taken shelter in the 14" of shade on the north side of the truck lying on the table we brought to put our guns on, worrying that getting back in the truck would cause it to shift off of the jack. I later pointed out that if the truck was going to come off the jack, all the banging around trying to coax the spare off would probably have done it. But water under the bridge. Carlos and John helped us get the new tire on and made sure we were all set before leaving. Come to find out, while we were gone, another car came up to shoot and had also suffered a flat tire. So Carlos and John trotted off to help them. I couldn't help but laugh; I guess they were destined to be the tow truck for the day. I didn't feel real sorry for the other car though - why would you drive a little lime Ford Focus into the wilderness?

Anyway, 2.5 hours later, we were finally able to get some shooting in.
(Yes, this was from a different shooting trip, and yes, my aim has much improved since then.)

Lessons learned:
~ Always prepare for the unexpected. Translation: have tools with you when striking out for the desert
~ Bring water (peanut butter crackers alone tend to do more harm than good) and
~ If you want to practice aim, it might be better to go to a range.

But if your goal is to make things explode, red food dye in water in a salsa bottle is a great way to vent any frustrations from life.