Monthly Archives: October 2012

Flash Fiction: The Mysterious Case of the Marshmallow Mushroom Forest

BeKindRewrite took up a writing challenge from me, and here is the result! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

BeKindRewrite

I wrote this piece for Jubilare, who figured out a way to redeem her awesome points. She gave me a writing challenge. The prompt: “The Mysterious Case of the Marshmallow Mushroom Forest.” No other stipulations. This is what I came up with. I hope you like it, Anne!

The story you are about to read is fiction. The names have been made up to protect no one, because none of the characters actually exist.

The Mysterious Case of the Marshmallow Mushroom Forest

This is the kitchen. Suburbia, USA. A canvas of bacon grease, Kool Aid stains, and Cheerio dust. A place where juveniles come to sneak M&Ms and adults come to swig whiskey when one too many episodes of Spongebob has made them forget they never bought any. A place for cooks, Pinterest addicts, and me.

I carry a bowl.

It’s Tuesday, March 15. It’s a sunny day…

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The Hobbit Read-a-long Chapter 8: Flies and Spiders

My first contribution to The Hobbit Read-a-long!

Ah, Mirkwood.  Stop for a moment to bask in the deep shadows and fill your lungs with that heavy, still air.

Mmmm. It has been too long. There are some places I reach through books to which I return again and again out of sheer love and awe. Mirkwood is one of my favorites. I wonder how many of you who read this, if any, feel the same.

Even in this book, brimming with some of the best fairy-tale elements, this chapter stands out.  We have:

  • Dark enchanted forest
  • Instructions not to stray from the path
  • Water that puts one into an enchanted sleep
  • Enchanted dreams
  • Fey lights in the darkness, luring travelers off the safe path
  • Elven hunt and white deer
  • Eerie voices and laughter echoing in the woods
  • Vanishing faerie banquets
  • Giant spiders

The makings of a fantastic folktale! And it is fantastic!

Tolkien conjures a very ominous place for us, but unlike the realm of Mordor it is not ominous and barren. Mirkwood is filled with life as much as with darkness. It is a beautiful, mysterious, cursed thing, enduring under great oppression. We have a glimmer of green among the shadows, ivy-grown trees, black squirrels in the canopy, a dark hart, a brilliant white hind and fawns, giant oaks, hanging cobwebs, velvety-black butterflies and “endless lines of straight grey trunks like the pillars of some huge twilight hall.”

There are so many wonderful images. This is one of my favorites:

Their feet ruffled among the dead leaves of countless other autumns that drifted over the banks of the path from the deep red carpets of the forest.

Bilbo and Thorin & Co. do not share my enthusiasm, but then I was never forced to travel through the forest, nor have I gotten lost, been attacked by spiders or been imprisoned by elves in it, so I sympathize. Still, I am puzzled by the effects it has on the dwarves.  That they dislike dense forests makes sense, and as they fill their homes with light I assume they are not creatures of darkness. But the fact remains that they live mostly deep underground. Tolkien even mentions this, but passes by it, simply saying that they felt oppressed.

Being of claustrophilic tastes, this stretches my imagination a bit. I can only consider their reaction to Mirkwood stemming from the corruption under which it suffers. No other explanation satisfies me.

The elves in this chapter are more fey-like than in any other. While they irritate me later, I love the ethereal, magical and elusive side they show us here. The whole feel of this section is mysterious and magical.

Apart from my obsession with the setting, I love this chapter for what happens to our hero. This is where Bilbo truly discovers that deeply buried, slow-to-rise courage and daring that Gandalf was so confident he possessed. After this he is never quite the same either in his eyes, or the eyes of his companions.

Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, confronted with a terrifying death, kills a giant spider. Shortly thereafter he rescues 12 of his companions from an entire nest of the same. He kills at least ten spiders, doubtless more. How is that for our little hobbit who, at the words “may never return”, had a fear-induced fit at the beginning of the book!

“I will give you a name,” he said to it, “and I shall call you Sting.”

Bilbo’s experience reminds me of another hobbit who, all alone, in a place even more grim, faces the ancestor of the Mirkwood spiders with the same “sword” and a shining light. Sting, indeed.

Some other thoughts:

Humor continues merrily along in this chapter against all odds, rather like Bilbo (though I wouldn’t call the hungry hobbit “merry”).

Bilbo’s vocabulary seems to be rubbing off on the dwarves. “Confusticate”!

Also, when I first read this chapter I learned several new words for spiders and discovered where “cobweb” comes from.  Who knew?

In this, his first venture into his own Middle-earth, Tolkien calls what will become Valinor, Faerie. I love this!


Contrariwise

Let me get my least-justifiable reason for loving the Dwarves of J. R. R. Tolkien out of the way first.

Like many people, I have a contrary streak. Often, when a storyteller (author, film-maker, etc.) tells me what to think, my mule ears lay back and my heels dig in.

That said, I know that being contrary for the sake of being contrary is as thoughtless as being blindly led. I do not consistently root for the villains in a tale, I do not accept atrocities whilst jeering at characters who make the hard, noble choices. It’s not easy to express what, exactly, I do, so I will give examples. Don’t worry, I will get back to Tolkien in a moment.

The Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling:   I root for Slytherin. I don’t root for them because I like them, but because they are systematically demonized by most of the other characters in the books and largely unredeemed by their author. I don’t desire them to get their way, either.  I want, instead, to see the redemptive qualities I stubbornly believe exist. I cannot accept that they are simply a “bad House.”

James Cameron’s Avatar:  “Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure” (Aliens, 1986).  …well, not really, but I flatly refuse to like or sympathize with the Na’vi because of the two-dimensional characterization of their antagonists and the patronizing way the film tells me exactly what to think. I would like to corner Cameron and scream at him for several hours for trying to bludgeon me into submission with plot.

Most of Western Mythology: Dragons. Why are dragons always manifestations or symbols of evil? I was so upset by this as a child that my imaginary friend was a dragon.

Obviously this is all highly subjective and has little, if any, basis in logic or reason.

Back to Tolkien. From the above, I ought to be talking about Goblins, Orcs, Dragons and their ilk from Tolkien’s mythologies. I do have some similar feelings about them, but that is a rabbit-trail. As far as Tolkien is concerned, I find myself rooting for the protagonists. With few exceptions, Tolkien does a good job of making his characters and his peoples complicated and convincing. He soothes my contrary spirit by giving me what I want: room to make up my own mind.

What first stirred my instincts in defensive favor of the Dwarves was Tolkien’s attitude toward them in The Hobbit.

The Hobbit forms a transition between some of his posthumously-published scribblings in which Dwarves appear rather unsympathetic, and Lord of the Rings which solidifies their place on the Good Side. He obviously likes the Dwarves in The Hobbit, but he also judges their avaricious and insular tenancies harshly without trying to delve deeper.  Until the end, they are also largely ineffectual. I surmise that Tolkien, being pastoral in his tastes, had to stretch himself to understand and sympathize with mythological  Dwarves, whereas he felt very like-minded towards Hobbits and Elves.

I first read The Hobbit as a child and I wanted to defend the Dwarves from the indignant treatment  they suffered at the hands of their author.  For one thing, he seemed to place the Wood Elves more on the side of right than I liked.  I take the book less seriously now, but that first impression set the foundation for my love of Tolkien’s short, bearded delvers.

To recap, I am aware that none of this is logical. I speak merely of first impressions and biases that laid a foundation. Now that my slant is in the open, I will move forward and show why I now love the Dwarves apart from any comparison with other races from their mythos, or from their author’s opinions on them.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


Of the Free Peoples of Arda

I have considered writing this post for a long while. Now, I see, that it cannot be a post. A series of posts it is, then. I will try and keep each one short and to the point, so as not to bore you silly. I would love some discussion, even debate on these matters.

Readers and lovers of the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien are varied set. We are almost as interesting and varied as the peoples and creatures which populate Tolkien’s rich mythologies. Everyone seems to have their favorite race or creature, favorite characters, tales and songs.

My brother’s heart, and seemingly Tolkien’s as well, belongs first to the Elves. My own heart took a very different turn the first time I read the words:

“Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold.”

That’s right. I am one of the relatively rare people whose heart belongs first to the Dwarves of Arda. In following posts I will expound on why.

Tolkien himself did not always love his Dwarves. In his early scribbles they were, at best, materialistic and insular, and at worst, brutal, greedy and cruel. One of the many reasons J. R. R. Tolkien is one of my literary heroes is that he was capable of learning and capable of changing his mind. Mind-changing may not be rare among writers, but as most of what usually remains unpublished for other writers has been exposed to the world in Tolkien’s case, I get to see the process on paper.

So, Tolkien coming to understand and love his Dwarves was a process. I do not think it was a simple process, either. It encompassed a growing appreciation for the “deep places of the world,” and an understanding that love of craftsmanship and precious objects does not always translate into greed, small-mindedness or a hardened heart, and may even point to something far more eternal than wealth and riches. But more on that later.

I am not sure he ever came to love his Dwarves as much as the rest of his Free Peoples, but the fact that I cannot say for certain is comforting. That a Dwarf is welcomed into Valinor speaks volumes and warms my Dwarf-loving heart.

Tracing Tolkien’s journey might be beyond me. There are certainly greater scholars of his work than I. What I can do is show my own journey: how I fell in love with the Dwarves of Arda and what I learned about myself along the way.

In the mean time, have a recording of me reading the Dwarves’ Misty Mountains song from The Hobbit. We shall see if I can get better at it when the time comes for me to record my all-time favorite verse from Arda. :)

The rest of this series can be found here:
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


The Diefenbunker

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

As you can see, this post is not going to be as pretty as its preceding fellows, though it ought to be interesting to anyone who is curious about or remembers the Cold War. This post also suffers from the dreaded Jubilare-has-yet-to-learn-how-to-use-her-camera-indoors disorder. Apologies.

Personally, I do remember the tail-end of the Cold War, or at least the impact it had on the culture into which I was born. Nuclear warfare was the most present threat to humanity, as far as my developing mind was concerned.

Behold, the Diefenbunker, Nicknamed by combining the name of the Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (under whose watch it was built, I assume) and the word “bunker” indicating its purpose as a refuge in case of nuclear war.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

This… is the tunnel that leads from the little building above ground down into the belly of the beast, so to speak. I have a mild phobia of corrugated metal (yes, I am aware how weird and stupid that is) so it took some self control for me to walk through this thing. It was also very cold. Luckily, I like cold.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

We have some spy-fail going on here, apparently. What we need are ninjas. Ninjas know how to keep their HQ under wraps.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Toys! Or at least, I thought they were toys as a child. I wonder how much our society has lost in forgetting (as most of us probably have) how to use these tools.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

The vault. This place was impressive and oppressive all at once (and freezing cold). The door looked like something from a heist-film, and the narrow space surrounding this room made me wonder what kinds of security measures they had in place. Water? Gas? I don’t know, and I am not sure I want to.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012
This one’s for you, Dad!

There was a lot of radio equipment, typewriters, old computers (from early desktop varieties to the kinds that take up whole rooms), teletype machines and many other fascinating gadgets. I particularly liked this setup and the Morse Code keys that were also in the room.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Take a long look at this picture and tell me what is amiss.

As one might expect from a Cold War museum, there was some disturbing stuff in this place. This pantry/morgue was one sober reminder of the very real threat of nuclear war, and war in general.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

And here is the commissary in all of its period splendor! This, too, brings back childhood memories.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

And in case you aren’t feeling peckish, there is a motivational sign! Apologies for the blur.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

And what Cold War museum would be complete without entertainment? I think I can safely say that these games were collected and are displayed as examples from the culture, not as games that would be provided for the inhabitants of the bunker. That would have been cruel.

And that is it for my trip! Well, my friend and I did have a rough time on the way back. Due to storms we missed our connecting flight and literally spent the night in an airport being hounded from place to place by various staff-people. If I can help it, I will never fly into or out of LaGuardia airport in New York again. They were horrible to us! Rude, mean and… well, two people were nice to us, God bless them. Both were janitors.

I am generally thankful for the people who keep our public places clean. I am especially grateful to these two for taking pity on a pair of exhausted and harried strangers.


Ottawa

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

This is my catch-all post for the rest of our time in Ottawa. I will jump around quite a bit.

And no, Germany hasn’t annexed Canada. Our trip happened to coincide with a visit from Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The above horses and Shelob’s fascinatingly deformed little sister below are outside of the National Gallery of Canada.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

My friend and I pre-ordered tickets to view the Vincent van Gogh exhibit there, which was beautiful. The paintings were mostly landscapes and nature-studies, and as usual I had to clasp my fingers behind my back.  Vincent’s painting style makes me want to touch it the surface, but I also don’t want to get arrested, so…

There are, naturally, no pictures of the inside of the museum. We also saw a contemporary Inuit art exhibit including a beautifully hand-carved set of antlers.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

We visited the R.C.M.P. musical ride center, and got to see some of the horses! This is probably more exciting for me than for you.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

I apologize for the wretched quality of the following pictures. As I have said before, I need to figure out my camera’s settings. All of my training was with film cameras. Digital cameras intimidate me.

Anyway, this is the hostel where we stayed in Ottawa. It is an old jail. We took a tour to learn about the jail’s history. It is home to the last functioning (though long-since disused) gallows in Canada. The cells, in their original state are just long and wide enough for someone to stand or lay down. The conditions must have been horrible, and the experience for me was both sobering and fascinating.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

We were in “cell 5” on the 2nd from the ground floor. Walls between the two neighboring cells have been mostly removed, so we were in three-times the space of the original prisoners.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

And we go from jails to cats. I told you I would jump around. So, there is a cat sanctuary beside Parliament. I have no idea why. The kitty below was very friendly. The kitty above didn’t think much of us, though. We do tend to look suspicious and we had no tuna.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

And finally, the below picture represents a tradition my friend had from her previous sojourns into Canada. She counts her trips to Tim Hortons. I must say that I like this chain. Their coffee is reasonably priced and better tasting than Starbucks, they have decent tea (Starbucks, your tea is HORRIBLE, just fyi) and fantastic donuts. On the whole, it is probably better for me if we don’t get a Tim Hortons in my home town. I already have to resist the Donut Den.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

One more post and I will be finished inflicting my travels on you.


Ottawa around Parliament

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Round two of my pictures from Canada posts! This is going to focus on Ottawa, in the area around Parliament. Other sights of Ottawa will appear in the next post.

My first impression of Canada’s capitol city is that it is very beautiful. It has an open feel to it which I like.  I was constantly distracted by interesting architecture, only some of which I am able to share here.

The above photograph is my best shot of the locks of the Rideau Canal, next to the Bytown Museum. None of my pictures of that old building pleased me, therefore I give you a link to their website. I enjoyed the museum, but the best part was the interaction between my party and a staff member taking surveys.  I won’t bore you with the story (it was funnier in person) but my friend and I met up with an Australian couple we know (and later with another friend from the U.K. who lives in Canada), which caused some surprise and confusion throughout the rest of our trip.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012
I took this one for you, Mom. Be amused!

As one might expect, there are some royals around Parliament. Here is Queen Victoria in the most ornate statue arrangement I saw. There is a lion and a lady with garlands at her feet.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012
And this one’s for you too, Mom! ;)

The current monarch, Elizabeth II, has a more subtle (and awesome) representation. Does Queen E. II ride? I am fairly ignorant of the doings of current royalty.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

There are many statues of Canadian leaders as well. Here, we have Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation, and a victim of assassination.  Gulls do not care about such things.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

The young lady below, however, is on the case. She is primly trying to inform McGee that he has something on his head.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Sadly, I have no idea what this delightfully round building behind Parliament (and facing McGee) is, but I love the colorful stonework, and am a sucker for anything that smacks of Gothic Architecture.  Pardon me while I drool over the arched windows and small flying buttresses.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Being Canada, there were members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police around, though few in formal attire. I felt a little bad for these gentlemen, as they were constantly stopped by tourists asking to have a picture taken with them. …and yes, I was one of those people. I am duly ashamed.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Parliament! The sky makes a gorgeous background, no? Again, Gothic arches and decorative stonework (though no flying buttresses).

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

I honestly did not notice the street performer until after I took this shot, but what a perfect touch! Luck of the camera, I guess. I was trying to capture the metalwork on the roof of this bit of the Parliament buildings. It is light and lacy, a strange contrast to the heavy stone structures.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

And here is a poor shot of a gorgeous door. I need to sit down with my camera’s manual and figure out the settings. I know I am not using it to its full potential.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Now I will delve into the stonework on the Parliament buildings. Here, over the main entrance, we have the national animal of Canada, the beaver. Below him, on the posts of the door, are the lion and the unicorn. If it hadn’t been for another carving I will show, this would have been my favorite.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

This guy speaks for himself.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Almost every niche and nook had some interesting carvings. Being the plant-lover that I am, I was thrilled by the variety of flora depicted.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Weird, but great.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

And this. This is the piece that transfixed me! I literally obsessed about getting the perfect shot of it. Just ask my bemused friend. This snail, so beautifully textured, was near the main entrance. I am so glad my friend was with me, because she allowed me to drop briefly out of the line for our tour in order to take this picture. Thank you, my friend, for putting up with me!

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

I took few good pictures inside. Again, I need to figure out the settings on my camera. I cut off the bottom of this picture because there are people in it. I like to avoid posting pictures of random strangers without their permission. This will give you an idea, though, of the beautiful architecture inside. There is also much stained glass.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Halberd window. Need I say more?

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Last and smallest but not least to me. Some stonecrop amid the stones. I took this at the tail end of the changing of the guard ceremony. It takes a ridiculously long time and a lot of formalities to change the guard before the Canadian Parliament; too long to hold my deficient attention, I fear. The tartans were great, though.


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