Tag: books

The Hobbit

I mentioned in my last post that I enjoyed reading The  Hobbit by the seashore. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, and felt like I got so much out of it this time through, that I just had to write a blog post on the subject.

 

I’ve only read The Hobbit two or three times. The first couple of times were many years ago, and I liked the book very much, but it never became one of my favorites. I was always much more interested in The Lord of the Rings, despite The Hobbit being much easier to get through! I picked it up again recently because I wanted to read a good adventure story, something that I could just escape into and enjoy on every level. I became engrossed within the first few pages and spent many more happy hours reading through the rest of the book over the course of a week or so. I had forgotten how good it was; I’d known the recent movies fell far short of the mark, and had been wanting to reread the book so I could see how much they got wrong, but I was surprised by just how much fun it was to read and by how much I got out of the story.

 

There’s so much in it! Of course there’s the world, which is one of the richest storyworlds ever. You don’t find out quite as much about it in The Hobbit as in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion, but what you do find is still extremely fascinating and easy enough to get lost in. And then there’s the characters. I’ve heard people say that Tolkien’s characters are flat or boring, but I’ve not found this to be so. For the most part they aren’t  loud and obvious with their personalities, but they certainly do have unique and interesting personalities (although it is true that many of the Dwarves in The Hobbit aren’t very well developed; not that I can make a fuss over that, seeing as there are so many of them!). Bilbo Baggins especially is a great character. He is the sort of hero that I wish we could see more of in modern books, especially books meant for young people–a very normal person, rather fond of comfort, plain of face, without any obviously outstanding qualities. He doesn’t look heroic, and it’s awhile before he starts acting heroic. What makes him great is his nobleness of character and especially his courage, which come out more and more as the book goes on. It’s inspiring to read about him, because if this fat old hobbit who whines about having to leave home without his handkerchief can go on such an adventure, and be so bold and strong, than surely I can, too. Bilbo shows, in a very believable way, how a normal, everyday person has the potential to be the greatest of heroes. I think that is a major reason why reading The Hobbit is such a wholesome experience.

 

One thing that I found interesting about The Hobbit as I reread it this most recent time is how many events occur in the story that were not caused  by the heroes or by the villain. In most modern writing it’s typical for the events of the story to be driven by the actions of the hero and the villain; usually it starts with something caused directly or indirectly by the villain himself, then continues to the hero’s reaction and its consequences, then back to the villain, and so on and so forth, with typically very little influence from outside forces. If a story isn’t that way, then it can run the risk of seeming random, as if too many unconnected events are occurring around these characters–at least, that’s the conventional wisdom on the subject. Yet in The Hobbit, most of the story’s major events do not happen as a result of what the characters are doing (except insofar as the events wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t gone on their adventure), and it still works quite well as a story. The dragon Smaug isn’t even killed by one of the main characters! He’s killed by this random guy from Laketown who happens to be a good archer. In a modern story it would be almost unforgivable for the big bad monster to be killed by someone so totally unrelated to the main characters. In a modern story it would seem far too fortuitous for the adventuring party to be suddenly rescued by eagles, or to come across such helpful personages as Beorn without doing something pretty tough to earn his help. But I think the reason all this works in The Hobbit is that it’s more like real life. In real life, you have very limited control over the events that take place around you. A good deal of what happens is not very much the result of your actions, or the actions of anyone you might consider an enemy, but the result of other people’s lives crossing yours in unexpected ways. And so it feels very authentic when, after all that struggle, the dragon flies off into the blue and is killed by a random stranger, or when the very old legends about the return of the King Under the Mountain result in a warm welcome for the adventuring party in Laketown. There is a life in Middle-Earth and its characters that causes all sorts of wild events,  the same as the life in our Earth and its people does.

 

To me, The Hobbit seems a very true story. It is an excellent example of how fantasy can be as true as life, or truer. I think it has certainly now earned a place amongst my favorite books!

 

~ Jared

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Beauty Isn’t Like Sugar

“Beauty isn’t like sugar.”

So says the character of Fiddle in Dianna Wynne Jones’ excellent novella, The Game. Such a simple, poetic statement, but one with the deepest of meanings.

Now, to give some context, this is what leads up to that phrase: the main character of the story, Hayley, has just met a nameless musician who she calls “Fiddle.” Fiddle, it turns out, is able to traverse the Mythosphere, a sort of extra layer of reality that most people can’t see. The simplest way to explain it is probably to say that the Earth is like a loose, round basket, and the Mythosphere is like a net of fine threads woven between the basket’s gaps. These threads consist of all the myths and legends and stories of humanity, and certain people can see and travel on them. Now, this is Hayley’s first trip into the Mythosphere. She is at first awed by how beautiful and magical it is, and decides that this must be the most beautiful place in existence. Hayley and Fiddle meet a young boy in the forest, who is training a pack of h0unds. The boy and his dogs are happy and cheerful and in love with life. They seem innocent and kind, just another part of the Mythosphere’s beauty. But Hayley and Fiddle eventually make it to another strand in the Mythosphere, one in which several years have passed for the boy. Now, his dogs are hunting him. He has angered a goddess, and her punishment is for the boy to be hunted down and devoured by his own pets. Hayley is, naturally, horrified, and says that she thought the Mythosphere was beautiful. Fiddle’s response: “Beauty isn’t like sugar.”

This struck quite a chord in me. I wished very badly that it had been my character who said that line! I’ve never seen this simple truth stated so plainly, yet poetically–the truth that Beauty is not just the things that look, sound, smell, or taste nice. The truth that real Beauty is deeper, stranger, and more powerful than anyone can ever know. The truth that Beauty is often as sharp as pain, as terrifying as the crushing depths of the sea, as incomprehensible as the inner workings of the Sun. It is, in fact, ugliness itself which makes real Beauty stand out so strongly. Beauty ultimately triumphs over ugliness, because it uses the ugliness to display its own power. There is nearly always something among the ugliness to make it beautiful in some way or another, which means that there are very few–if any–things which are truly not beautiful.

However, there is a lie about beauty that is very prominent in modern culture. The lie is that beauty is like sugar. That beauty is only those things kind, sweet, and attractive. You see it every day in the things that are glorified by society. But is it not true that many of the most beautiful stories have, at their hearts, a deep sadness and melancholy? An evil which stands strong in contrast to the beauty brought about through their endings? And is it not true that some of the most beautiful manifestations of nature–volcanoes and great storms–are not also some of the most deadly?

To sum up: beauty isn’t like sugar. That’s the best way to say it.

Gosh, all my posts are so serious… I never come up with good ideas for light-hearted, amusing ones. :P

~ Jared