"A Tolkien Miscellany"

A Tolkien Miscellany by J.R.R. Tolkien

Is there anything more enjoyable than reading Tolkien and wandering around Middle Earth for a while? If there is I haven't found it. The Lord of the Rings books, and then The Hobbit, are some of the best reading experiences I've ever had. I didn't know what to expect with "A Tolkien Miscellany" and I can't say I loved it all, but overall it was pretty good.

Included in this book are: "Smith of Wootton Major", "Farmer Giles of Ham", "Tree and Leaf", "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" and Tolkien's translations of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", "Pearl" and "Sir Orfeo". The first three are stories, but the chapters of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are written in rhyming verse.

My favourite of the rhymes is "The Last Ship" which is about the last Elven ship leaving the Grey Havens of Middle Earth for Elvenhome. The ship has room for one more and Firiel, an earth-maiden, is invited to join them and must decide whether to go or to stay where she was born.

I found "The Pearl" more difficult to read than the rest of it. I kept tripping over the order of the words. It begins:

"Pearl of delight that a prince doth please
To grace in gold enclosed so clear,
I vow that from over orient seas
Never proved I any in price her peer." 

Then there's:

"Courtesy, I said, I do believe
And charity great dwells you among,
But may my words no wise you grieve."

A bit like talking to Yoda, isn't it? It's not bad for a page or two but this was 101 twelve-line verses. It took some patience. Yoda aside, I'm glad I found this collection. There's some wonderful reading in it for Tolkien fans and I am definitely one of those.  

"Barchester Towers"

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

This is my first Trollope novel and I'm hooked. I loved pretty much everything about it: the writing, the time period, the characters, and the way Trollope turns away from the story every now and then to talk to the reader. As a technique, that can be distracting, and I've read authors who have tediously used it as an opportunity to preach to the reader, but with Trollope it's different. It adds interest and makes the reading that much more enjoyable. I love the language of this book so much he could probably write about tax law and I'd still be happy with it.

The story is set in the village of Barchester and follows the goings-on of the local people. It's character, not plot, driven so anyone looking for a lot of action will be disappointed. The plot involves things like who gets local government and church appointments and who gets romantic with who. Think Jane Austen, not Dan Brown.

I loved the naming of the characters. The haughty lady who thought she was above everyone else was called Mrs. Proudie. The clergyman who couldn't be trusted was Mr. Slope, and Mr. Vellum Deeds was an attorney. Then there was Mrs. Lookaloft, Mrs. Clantantram and Farmer Greenacre. Oh, and Mr. & Mrs. Quiverful, who, of course, had a lot of children. I've found this common with Victorian writers and not at all unique to Trollope but I always find it entertaining.  

What is most appealing to me about this book is Trollope's wit. It's brilliant. He makes the sharpest observations about his characters and their lives without descending into sarcasm or unkindness. Everything he says has an edge, but not an unpleasant one. If you aren't familiar with Trollope's work here's a sample:

"Wise people, when they are in the wrong, always put themselves right by finding fault with the people against whom they have sinned. Lady De Courcy was a wise woman; and therefore, having treated Miss Thorne very badly by staying away till three o'clock, she assumed the offensive and attacked Mr. Thorne's roads. Her daughter, not less wise, attacked Miss Thorne's early hours. The art of doing this is among the most precious of those usually cultivated by persons who know how to live. Who can go systematically to work, and having done battle with the primary accusation and settled that, then bring forward a counter-charge and support that also? Life is not long enough for such labours. A man in the right relies easily on his rectitude, and therefore goes about unarmed. His very strength is his weakness. A man in the wrong knows that he must look to his weapons; his very weakness is his strength. The one is never prepared for combat, the other is always ready. Therefore it is that in this world the man that is in the wrong almost invariably conquers the man that is in the right, and invariably despises him.  .....Poor Miss Thorne was altogether overcome. She knew very well that she had been ill treated, and yet she found herself making apologies to Lady De Courcy. To do her ladyship justice, she received them very graciously..."

I'm glad I discovered Trollope and his books and will look forward to reading more.

Top Ten Tuesday

This week's topic for Top Ten Tuesday is "Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their Own Book". Here's the list of ten characters - some fictional and some real - whose points of view I'd like to read:

1. Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

2. Aunt Ada Doom in Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

3. Lila Ames in Gildead by Marilynne Robinson

4. Mme de Bonneuil in Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

5. James Mortmain in I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

6. Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

7. Miss Hargreaves in Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker

8. Antonia Shimerda in My Antonia by Willa Cather

9. Will Schwalbe’s father in The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

10. Deborah Lacks in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish every Tuesday. Each week they post a new Top Ten list that they hope many other bloggers will join. They request that you link back to their blog on your own Top Tuesday post and add your name to the Linky list so everyone can see your list and they can see yours. I don't take part every week, but when I get a chance and there's a topic that interests me it's fun. Sometimes I find out things about myself that I'm not even aware of until I begin to work on the list.

What would be on your top ten list this week?

"The Seven Last Years"

The Seven Last Years by Carol Balizet

This was my book club selection for October, otherwise I probably wouldn't have read it. There were a lot of "end times" novels in the 70s and 80s and I overdosed on them so I wasn't much looking forward to this one.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing because I find a lot of  "Christian" novels poorly written and predictable. I know I won't win any popularity contests saying that but as a Christian it bothers me that we settle for mediocrity in our novels. There's no reason why we shouldn't have the same high standards as everyone else for our literature, music, movies and art. Anyway, in most of this book I thought the writing was good. It held my attention and at times got quite exciting. The problem was, it didn't stay that way. Just when I'd be really getting into it, I'd come across a passage that fell flat. The dialogue would become dull, the characters would behave in a way that was either a cliche or just nonsensical, and it would seem like I was reading "just another end times novel."

It was odd how the book went from good to poor to very good to boring to exciting to disappointing. I wondered if two different people were writing, the author seemed to have such ups and downs in creative energy, or imagination, or something. I can't the explain the inconsistency, but it's there and it was annoying.

I found the characters similar, too similar, to those in other novels of this type that I've read. Of course, the general story-line was also similar because it's based on the book of Revelation, but there's all kinds of room to expand on it and still stay within the Biblical parameters. Some of what the author chose to do with the plot was interesting but there were a couple of places where I think she went off track and got things absolutely wrong. There was a scene where a man knew he was going to die within minutes and it was implied that it was too late for him now, too late to believe in God, too late to repent and confess. I think Scripture says just the opposite: while there is life, there is hope. If you use your last breath to turn to God, He will hear you and receive you.

I did some research on the author and found her to be quite a controversial character. A strong advocate of home birthing, she recommended no professional medical interference at all, regardless of the circumstances. She also took a strong stand against public education and banking. Her philosophies caused her quite a number of problems, but I won't get into that here. There's lots of information about her on the internet if you want to know more.    

Overall it was an easy read and it was at times fairly interesting. Eventually there will be a last seven years and who knows, they could possibly be a little like the events recounted here, but the bottom line is that I just didn't enjoy it that much.

Top Ten Books I Want To Reread

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten Books I Want To Reread, and though it's a couple of days late, here's my list:

1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy - J.R.R. Tolkein
2. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
3. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
5. The Anne of Green Gables series - L.M. Montgomery
6. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
7. The Singer Trilogy by Calvin Miller
8. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkein
9. The Space Trilogy - C.S. Lewis
10. Old Christmas - Washington Irving

Now that I see the list I realize why I've been putting off rereading. A number of them are series and as much as I want to read them again, I don't want to take the time from new reads. A good problem to have I guess. 

Which ten books would you most like to reread?

Check out The Broke and The Bookish to see which books other people are listing. Anyone is welcome to take part in the meme. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget.