Music to My Ears—Five Years A-Bloggin’

I was sitting at my desk the other day, contemplating what I would have for breakfast, when I suddenly realized, Oh my goodness! My blogoversary passed!

As of February 19, I’ve been blogging for five years. I didn’t think I’d last five minutes, let alone five years. But here I am. Like the proverbial bad penny, I keep turning up. I’m grateful to all of you who discovered this blog and keep coming back. Rest assured, the weirdness will continue. (Or, run away while you still can.)

On with the show. Recently, a friend who is taking a writing class shared the following video with me.

In case you elect to avoid spending almost eight minutes watching the video (though it was well done), its creator, Nerdwriter1, discusses the recurring musical themes (leitmotifs) of the Lord of the Rings movie soundtracks, composed by Howard Shore (movies directed by Peter Jackson, based on books by J. R. R. Tolkien). These are my favorite soundtracks of all time, so of course I had to take a look.

I was already well aware of Howard Shore’s genius. But the video was a lovely reminder of what you get when a powerful musical score is wedded to a powerful story.

   

See, kids? These are CDs. We used to play these back in the day.

On many days, I had the soundtracks playing in the background while I wrote. I can remember writing scenes that matched the tempo of Shore’s compositions. These soundtracks made me want to write the kind of story that would merit a skillfully written score played by an equally skilled orchestra.

So yeah, I love those soundtracks. But not just Howard Shore’s. I love the soundtracks from Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) (movies directed by Christopher Nolan), which were composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. These soundtracks, with their edgy orchestration, are an interesting contrast to the Lord of the Rings soundtracks. But they all have an epic quality that evokes emotion. (If you look at the list of musical selections on the Batman Begins soundtrack, you’ll note that each was named after a bat genus. Also, BATMAN is spelled out.)

    

    

I have music in my head, even as I write this blog post. I’m hearing the horns from The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. Being a blogger is a kind of fellowship. You post something and hope someone will read it. And when someone does, and you get to know that person, relationships are forged. I’ve met many great people through this blog. People like you. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Kitty and her interns. Somebody’s gotta get the coffee.

Batman Begins movie poster from geekynerfherder.blogspot.com. The Dark Knight movie poster from popcritics.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Snow-Fro and Kissy Boo Shoppets are registered trademarks of Moose Toys.

If I Lived in Middle-Earth . . .

First, happy Martin Luther King Day! Today we pause to remember a man who had a dream of racial equality. He didn’t just think about that dream, he acted upon it—though it cost him his life. (For his “I Have a Dream Speech, go here.) Thanks for paving the way, Martin!

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On with my usual inanity (which is oddly fitting in a way). . . .

I had grand plans of writing a poem about Middle-earth for today’s post, but couldn’t get the rhyme scheme right. I’m not like Andy of City Jackdaw who crafts beautifully sculptured free verse or Charles of Legends of Windemere and Patty of Petite Magigue who love to challenge themselves with different types of poems (tanka, rondelet, haiku—you name it). So, I’m settling for prose.

Why was I thinking about a poem about Middle-earth of all places? Well, the other day, as I read an article in Game Informer magazine about a new videogame set in Middle-earth (Shadow of Mordor), I thought about life in Middle-earth. If I could be any of the beings in Middle-earth, which would I choose, if I could choose? (Slight spoilers follow.)

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As you know, Middle-earth is populated by many different groups: wizards (Istari/Maiar), elves, men, dwarves, hobbits, ents, huorns, orcs, goblins, and trolls, not to mention eagles, giant spiders, and wargs. If I rule out ents, huorns, orcs, goblins, trolls, eagles, giant spiders, and wargs, I’m left with the following choices: wizard, elf, human, dwarf, or hobbit. All have their pros and cons.

imagesOf the people groups, hobbits are the smallest in stature. Hobbits don’t have to wear shoes, because of their woolly feet. That’s a big plus for me, since I don’t like to wear shoes. Hobbits also love good food and drink. Another huge plus. But as awesome as Bag End looks on screen, I’m not sure I’d want to live there or any other hobbit hole permanently. I need more windows and more light.

The Maiar/Istari/wizards have tremendous power, which sometimes corrupts them (Saruman and Sauron, for instance). But they get to say cool things like, “Fly, you fools” and “Annon edhellen, edo hi ammen! Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth ammen!” (366 of The Fellowship of the Ring). The latter means, “’Gate of the Elves, open now for us! Doorway of the Dwarf-folk listen to the word of my tongue!” Lest you think, Wow, she’s awesome, ’cause she knows elvish, here is my source: http://www.arwen-undomiel.com/elvish/book.html. Wizards also wield a staff. I’d love a staff!

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The drawback of being a wizard is that some don’t have a settled place of residence and/or are often chased by orcs and other unpleasant creatures (looking at you, Gandalf). Or, they live in a fortress/tower that exudes evil because they’re megalomaniacs (looking at you, Sauron and Saruman). Radagast the Brown, however, seems very sweet, and his house is a haven for animals. But I wouldn’t relish the thought of hundreds of mice taking refuge in my house.

AragornMoving on to men (and women), they can be found in Dale, Bree, Gondor, Rohan, and many other places. There are many noble people in Middle-earth. For example, Théoden, Éowyn, Éomer, Faramir, the men of Númenor (including Aragorn, who smolders at the right), Bard, Beorn, and others. Éowyn, Faramir, and Théoden are among my favorite characters in The Lord of the Rings, so being human has its advantages. But not every human is noble. Some are jerks like the Master of Lake-town (The Hobbit) or sadly flawed like Boromir and Denethor (The Lord of the Rings).

The-Hobbit-FiliAccording to The Silmarillion, dwarves (like Fili here) were created by Aulë, one of the Valar. (For more on Aulë or the Valar, go here or here.) They’re exceptional smiths and miners. Dwarves are shorter than the men of Middle-earth, but taller than hobbits. I can relate to their reputation as fierce fighters, since I’ve had a few fights in my day. Unfortunately, dwarves like to live deep underground. A con for me.

King_Thranduil_portrait_-_EmpireMagElves, like men, were created by Eru Ilúvatar, the one God. Like the Istari, they are tall (a plus) and often lauded for their beauty and grace (another plus). They also have a killer wardrobe (triple plus), thanks to Peter Jackson’s movies, and are great warriors (bonus points). But elves can be pompous (looking at you, Thranduil [photo at the right]). Still, I wouldn’t mind living in the forest of Lothlórien, home of Galadriel (Elrond’s mother-in-law) and Celeborn. It’s a wondrous place, thanks to a special piece of jewelry worn by Galadriel.

IMG_7060Elrond is an interesting blend of elf and human, being the descendant of a human-elf pairing. He has the long lifespan of the elves and the understanding and compassion of the human existence (though he chose the immortal life). Best of all, he has an awesome house—Rivendell/Imladris—that owes its awesomeness to a certain item of jewelry Elrond has.

Turducken_easter06If I lived in Middle-earth, I’d prefer to be a Middle-earth version of turducken (photo at the right)—a combination of different groups. I would be an elf-human-hobbit—tall, beautiful, enigmatic, but with woolly feet. I’d live in Rivendell—the “last homely house” (51 of The Hobbit) and occasionally hang out in Hobbiton and Lothlórien. Best of all, Aragorn and Legolas would drop by for a visit. Hey, like Martin, I can dream too.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Ballantine Books, 1955. Print.
__________. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine Books, 1966. First published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd. in 1937. Print.
__________. The Silmarillion. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1977. Print.

Turducken photo from Wikipedia. Hugo Weaving as Elrond from somewhere online. Lee Pace as Thranduil from lotr.wikia.com. Ian McKellan as Gandalf from tolkienpedia.wikia.com. Martin Freeman as Bilbo movie poster from somewhere on the Internet. Dean O’Gorman as Fili from moviecultists.com. Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn from middleearthnews.com.

If I Had an Eagle . . .

eagle-the-hobbitRiding an eagle is the only way to commute . . . and escape from wargs!

I’ll resist the urge to sing, “I’d hammer in the morning,” since the title of this post reminds me of the song “If I Had a Hammer.”

bald_eagle-normalI’ve been thinking about eagles lately, and not just because my brother claims he saw one as we returned to Illinois after our trip to Houston. I recently watched the extended version of The Hobbit (directed by Peter Jackson) and am currently making my way through the appendices (the behind-the-scenes documentaries). In various forums, I’ve read comments of people complaining about the deus ex machina effect of the eagles in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

According to Wikipedia, deus ex machina is

A plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted themself into a corner” and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or as a comedic device.

You probably already knew that, didn’t you? Getting back to the eagles, I love their intervention in these books and the film adaptations. SPOILERS AHEAD. I read The Hobbit when I was a kid, and can readily recall the immense comfort I felt when the eagles arrived to rescue Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves from burning trees, and later when they showed up during the battle of five armies. As I read The Lord of the Rings (and watched the films), I cheered as Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles, rescued Gandalf from Isengard (Fellowship of the Ring). I woo-hooed as eagles fortuitously arrived during the battle at the Black Gate (The Return of the King), and cried when they carried Frodo and Sam away from Mount Doom. END SPOILERS.

Their presence provided the assurance that all would be well. Now, I realize everyone does not share that sentiment. But I love the fact that when characters are on the verge of death or at the very least, at the end of their strength, help comes from an unexpected source. I can breathe a sigh of relief until the next crisis. And in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the next crisis is always just around the corner.

Help comes from a surprising source in my novel. I don’t use eagles, however. I won’t say what I use, but I wonder if I might be judged in the same way as Tolkien has been. To prepare for the possibility of a deus ex machina backlash from readers, I used foreshadowing earlier in the book so that what happens toward the end is not a total surprise. At least one of the intervening forces makes an appearance early on, so I’m hoping the later arrival feels inevitable, rather than contrived. Also, the intervening forces don’t actually fight the battle at the end. The main characters still have to do that. But these forces are there to provide help and hope in a story with many bleak moments. I included them, because it is a fairy tale after all. 😀

I don’t know about you, but I read to escape. Life is difficult sometimes. So if an eagle wants to appear and whisk someone away from those who would do that person harm, I’m all for it.

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This is not a feather from an eagle, in case you’re wondering. (You probably aren’t.) It kept flopping on my living room floor, so I had to take a photo of it and include it.

What’s your take on the subject? Are you appalled by even the whiff of a deus ex machina ending? Do you employ one in your novel?

Bald eagle from hdwallpapers. Bilbo on the eagle image from The Hobbit.

“Well, I’m back”

Note: If you’re not a fan of spoilers, you might step back from this post in which I discuss the end of The Return of the King.

He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.

If you know The Lord of the Rings, specifically, The Return of the King (book 3), you’ll recognize those words and who said them. I don’t know about you, but I can’t read them without tearing up, no matter how many times I read them. No. Matter. How. Many. Times. Even now. And I have seen Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Return of the King an embarrassing amount of times. Every time I tear up.

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It’s not just the perfection of that ending (and to me it is the perfect ending—so understated). It’s what’s behind it—the knowledge of the arduous journey Sam barely survived and the end of an era. That’s what resonates with me.

I’m rather hobbit-like. And not because I hate wearing shoes. I usually have to be dynamited out of my home and forced to go on an adventure. Bilbo Baggins could take lessons from me on how to cling to a hobbit hole. I’ve got that down to a science.

So I can appreciate the ending Tolkien devised: this weary hobbit returning home without his dearest friend and their mentor, Gandalf. But I finally realize why that ending was so satisfying to me. Though the journey had been difficult for Sam, Frodo, and the other companions, some of whom did not make it back alive, they were forever changed by it. Also, they had lived—really lived, something I don’t quite think I’ve been doing for the last oh ten years or so. Too busy trying to survive the day to day. Too busy also clinging to the fear of inadequacy, rejection, breaking a limb, or whatever else.

Depression changes the color of your life to a washed-out gray. Just getting up in the morning is sometimes difficult for me. So the thought of running from Ringwraiths or giant spiders repels yet excites me, because I don’t quite have those in my life. And when I get to the end of the adventure and Sam goes, “I’m back,” I can’t help thinking, Dude, it was hard, but you lived. Oh how you lived.

Other than heading to graduate school in another state for the last two years, I can’t recall the last adventure I’ve taken. (Well, there was that adventure of trying to find my way home from the unemployment office. . . .) Was it teaching at English Camp that summer in WuJiang, China in 2002? Perhaps. But note the year.

I used to be much more adventurous. I’m not sure how I became so circumspect. So, it’s time to make some changes before I become one of those old people who screams at kids to get off his or her lawn. It’s time I declared my independence from fear, from doubt, from whatever else is holding me back. It’s time I said, “Well, I’m back,” not because I’m relieved to return home but because the old me is back.

What will I do? I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know. How about you? Will you declare your independence with me? And by the way, I hope you have an enjoyable fourth of July! It will be Independence Day on so many levels, won’t it?

Photo of Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee from fanpop.com.