Tag Archives: reading

Chesterton, Treatment, and Aunthood

When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered by the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Food for thought.

Also, an update on how I am doing. As far as my prognosis goes, things are great. I have been downgraded from an original stage 3, to a stage 0. Basically, I no longer have cancer (thank you, God, for my doctors and my health!).

The combination of medicines primarily responsible for this extraordinary progress are, however, experimental, and so I am undergoing more “tested” treatments as well. I am through, hopefully, with surgery. I am currently undergoing Chemotherapy. I hope that, some day, this part of treatment will not be considered necessary.

It’s Not Fun, but I will make it through. The most annoying part has been the recurring fevers, most likely caused by one of the medications. I’ve lost most of my hair and buzzed the rest. I must say, baldness feels really good.  I am enjoying Fall weather, even if the trees are a little tardy with their colors this year.

My nephew has finally gotten to go home! I have not seen him in person for a while, but his parents supply the family and some close friends with pictures and videos daily. The last one I saw was a photograph of my brother reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar with his tiny son lying against his chest.

I just about died from cuteness overload. I’ve done that several times now. It will take some time for me to wrap my mind around the fact that my brother is a father, and that I am an aunt.

That is all for now!


I Love Dwarves: a recap

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PublicDomain-Pictures.com

In anticipation of Peter Jackson’s second “Hobbit” film, I thought I would pull together some quotes from my series on the Khazâd for those who don’t want to suffer through reading the whole thing. High-Fantasy Dwarves have, and probably always will have, a bad rap that I do not think they deserve. The equation seems to go something like this:

Ugly = unimportant

What a great message for us. Instead of delving into the complexity  that Tolkien eventually created for his Dwarves, the film industry settles for the stereotype that everyone expects, believing that almost no one cares. The unspoken consensus seems to be that, regardless of who we are and what we contribute to the world,  it is our appearance that matters most.

What is it, in human nature, that makes us reluctant to be interested in someone who is, on the surface, unlovely? We preach against judging people by appearances, and yet we do it, often without realizing what we are doing.

Anyway, enough internal examination for one day. If you are curious about my full reasons for loving Tolkien’s Dwarves, scroll to the bottom and take on the full series. Otherwise, I hope you find these excepts interesting.

In some ways, the Khazâd are very like the caves in which they dwell. I find that both are often misunderstood and dismissed as unlovely… The Dwarves, like their underground homes, seem one thing from an outside perspective, but have quite a different character when one delves deeper. They remind me of geodes. On the surface they are hard, rough and unlovely. Within at least some of them (or more likely most of them) there is astounding beauty. If you do not believe me, take a closer look at Gimli in The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the films. Gimli’s character in the films just represents the stereotype most people expect from fantasy Dwarves).

Many readers of Tolkien’s scribblings see the hard surface of the Dwarves and look no deeper. They do not realize the world of imagination they are missing. They cast a geode aside, assuming that something so plain and rough could not possibly harbor anything extraordinary within. The other races of Arda often do the same.

Tolkien’s words suggest a people who, while rugged and shielded in other regards, are hyper-sensitive when it comes to the properties and beauties of the inanimate part of Arda.

From the outside, fascination with the material can look a lot like materialism. Now, some Dwarves from Tolkien’s writing are avaricious and materialistic. There is no denying that. After all, love of matter can become materialism if taken too far. But I believe there is a pure and healthy love of the physical that is not possessive, or hedonistic, or materialistic, and I believe that love is an underlying theme in the character of the Khazâd… It is a short step from loving creation, to wishing to create.

In my recent delving into Tolkien’s work, I kept a record of the objects and places shaped by the Dwarves. I have chosen a few to mention. Some you may know. Some might surprise you.

Angrist: the knife Beren used to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown

Narsil: Sword of the Númenórean kings, broken in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand,  later to become Andúril

Menegroth:  a cooperative effort of Dwarves and Elves

“The pillars of Meneroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers.” – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Nauglamír:

“It was a carcanet of gold, and set therin were gems uncounted from Valinor; but it had a power within it so that it rested lightly on its wearer as a strand of flax, and whatsoever neck it clasped it sat always with grace and loveliness.”  – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

This is a people who hang “flowering stars” on silver necklaces, create “metal wrought like fishes’ mail,” carve stone halls like beech forests, and treasure natural beauty deeply. The pop-culture ideas of elf-craft are probably closer to Tolkien’s idea of Dwarven works than the chunky and rigid images we always see. Not that there isn’t a place for stereotypical Dwarf-architecture. I like that too.

In many “fantasy” books, films, and games, Dwarves are either comic relief; gruff, warlike side-characters; or else the “Big Guy” of the story.  Because the clichés have roots in Tolkien, some assume that Tolkien wrote according to these pop-culture images. His Khazâd are not pretty or dashing enough to garner much attention, and so their subtle complexity is overlooked. In contrast, his equally-complex Elves have gotten so much attention that many people are sick of them, which is also sad.

The Khazâd are secretive. They do not teach their language to others and their true names are never written or told to outsiders. That’s right, we only have nicknames for the Dwarves! It may not help their relationships outside their own people, but I find the secretive aspect of Dwarven society mysterious. I like a little mystery.

The Khazâd are passionate beneath the surface. Cliché Dwarves seem to have three settings: wrathful, dour or rollicking. Tolkien’s writing gives a more balanced picture. His Dwarves show a full emotional range expressed in subtle, sometimes elegant, ways.

Far from the stereotypical “angry Dwarf shout of grief and rage!” that we get in the films, this is Gimli’s reaction on finding Balin’s tomb in Moria:

“Gimli cast his hood over his face.”

And when time came to escape:

“Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.”

He breaks my heart, then gives it back to me whole and makes me smile:

“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram… and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” – The Fellowship of the Ring

Music and song are mentioned repeatedly in relation to the Khazâd. And this from a people in exile whose story, like that of Arda itself, is one of devastating loss and victories that come at great cost. But the Dwarves are resilient, using their outward toughness to protect the gems beneath. Gimli makes me cry and laugh, and his whole race makes me smile.

Original series of Khazâd posts:

Of the Free Peoples of Arda
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


My own medicine

Well, I have been asked to take a dose of my own medicine. In accepting her nomination for the Liebster Award, BeKindRewrite  requested that I answer my own five questions. Considering her thoughtful answers, this request is perfectly fair. She didn’t even tack on any new questions of her own! Yet. Maybe I shouldn’t give her ideas.

For the purpose of answering these questions, I am going to exclude anything Tolkien. This should make my answers less predictable.

1. If you could walk into a book and make a home there, where would that home be, what would it be like, and what sort of people/creatures would you try to befriend? Specifics would be fun and you can give more than one answer if you like.

I would love to live in Brockhall, from Brian Jacques’s Redwall series (I have not read them all). First off, it is in a tree and partly underground. I’ve always wanted to live in a tree and underground. It is located in a woodland, it sounds quite comfortable, and contains delicious food and talking badgers. Sure, one has to face the occasional violent hoard passing through the woods, but that’s life. The world contains squirrel militia, friendly moles and hedgehogs, and playful otters.

I would also like to see P. G. Wodehouse’s stylized 1920’s, but I am on the fence as to whether or not I would like to live there. It might be just a bit too silly.

2. Name a food you have read about, but never eaten, that you have since wanted to try. It doesn’t have to actually exist. What, in the reading, piqued your interest?

Deeper’n’Ever pie. A savory pie made of veggies. It’s fairly mundane, as far as food from a book goes (it is from the above-mentioned Redwall series), but it always sounds so homey, comforting and satisfying.

3. Do you have a favorite plant? If so, what is it and why do you like it so much?

I do. I have several, in fact.

My favorite tree is the Eastern Hemlock. No, it did not kill Socrates. That was a different Hemlock. The Eastern Hemlock is not poisonous. In any case, it is shapely, feathery, smells like spicy, piney heaven, and has pinecones the size of a penny that open or close depending on the humidity. Magnolia Grandiflora and Juniperus Virginiana come in at close seconds.

It is hard to decide my favorite flower, but I will go with the old fashion daffodil. Early, bright yellow with a long, narrow trumpet and a smell unlike any of its compatriots. Sweet, but with just enough bitterness to avoid being sickening. This particular flower, whose cultivar I do not know, is tough as nails and it opens just when I really need some brightness and sweetness after the winter gray.

My favorite non-flower, non-tree, is the Venus Fly Trap. It is kind of creepy, but awesome. I wish #@$#$%#s would stop harvesting them from the wild, else we might lose them all together. If you ever think of buying an insectivorous plant (fly-trap, sundew, pitcher plant) make sure you know where it comes from. Buy only from dealers who make it clear that they propagate their own stock.

4. What fictional character is your favorite hero (male or female), and what villain really scares you and why?

Barring anyone from the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, I would have to say Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. She may not do much that is “heroic” in the story, but she is telling the story, and that is a kind of heroism. I probably love Scout because I can relate to her. I was a similar mix of tom-boy, thinker and impulsive foot-in-the-mouther as a child.

Another hero of mine would be Henry V from William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. I know little about the real man, but the way he is portrayed by the Bard has oft caught my imagination. In his titular play, he shows a wide range of character, sensitive, thoughtful, courageous and stern. He makes decisions that are personally painful to him, because he believes them to be right.

As for a villain who truly frightens me, I would say Jack, from Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. It is telling that I read the book so long ago that I had forgotten his name, and the name of the protagonist. What I have not forgotten is the manipulative, violent, and vicious nature of this boy, that grows worse and worse as he deteriorates, carrying most of the other boys with him into murderous barbarism. Yes, he is only a child. In that sense, he may not be much of a threat, but the inhumanity within humanity that he represents is not to be taken lightly.

5. There is a crossroad at your feet. Behind you lies the path back to home and hearth (wherever that might be). The road directly ahead leads to a city, blue in the distance, settled among hills and on the edge of a bright inland sea. To your right lies a steep climb into old, low mountains clothed in forest and fern. To your left is rolling farmland that eventually flattens out into broad plains dappled by the clouds overhead. You can go as far as you like on any of the roads (even farther than you can see), including back home. There’s no wrong answer, only the where and why.

Ah yes. I know a little more about this theoretical place than the poor people I inflicted it on. It matters little, though, because ignorant or informed, I would go to my right. Mountains you say? Low, old, and covered in fern and tree? That is the road for me. I bet there are even hemlocks higher up, and staghorn lichen and moss.


Dose of Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
.
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
.
Or every man be blind —
.
-Emily Dickinson
.
I’ve been thinking about this poem a lot lately, especially in terms of storytelling. Most of the time, I think, truth is best served straight, but I also think that Emily is right. Sometimes “the Truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind.” It raises interesting questions.

Lord of the Dance (which has nothing to do with pseudo-Irish dancing)

The question we want to ask about Man’s ‘central’ position in this drama is really on a level with the disciples’ question, ‘Which of them was the greatest?’ It is the sort of question which God does not answer.

If from Man’s point of view the re-creation of non-human and even inanimate Nature appears a mere by-product of his own redemption, then equally from some remote, non-human point of view Man’s redemption may seem merely the preliminary to this more widely diffused springtime, and the very permission of Man’s fall may be supposed to have had that larger end in view.

Both attitudes will be right if they will consent to drop the words mere and merely. Nothing is ‘merely a by-product’ of anything else. All results are intended from the first.

What is subservient from one point of view is the main purpose from another. No thing or event is first or highest in a sense which forbids it to be also last and lowest. The partner who bows to Man in one movement of the dance receives Man’s reverences in another.

To be high or central means to abdicate continually: to be low means to be raised: all good masters are servants: God washes the feet of men. The concepts we usually bring to the consideration of such matters are miserably political and prosaic.

We think of flat repetitive equality and arbitrary privilege as the only two alternatives- thus missing all the overtones, the counterpoint, the vibrant sensitiveness, the inter-inanimations of reality.

From Miracles, by C. S. Lewis

Firstly, I am not sure “inter-inanimations” make sense in this quote, but I can find no evidence of it being a typo. There are days when it would be so convenient to send a deceased person a letter and get an answering one, but I guess Lewis deserves a break from correspondence for a while.

Third and lastly, there is a lot in here to unwind before I figure out how much I agree or disagree. Miracles is, by far, the most dense and difficult of Lewis’s works that I have encountered. I am acutely aware that I am not a scholar on his level, which seems to be the target audience. Still, I appreciate the challenge.


Roaring Farce

I mentioned, in my last post, that there was another quote from The Four Loves that I wanted to post. It requires a little introduction.

Lewis is discussing good and bad forms of patriotism. He compares the overtly harmful ‘we are superior and therefore we crush lesser peoples’ to the more insidious ‘we are superior, therefore we are obligated to help lesser peoples by ruling them.’

I am far from suggesting that the two attitudes are on the same level. But both are fatal. Both demand that the area in which they operate should grow “wider still and wider.” And both have about them this sure mark of evil: only by being terrible do they avoid being comic. If there were no broken treaties with Redskins, no extermination of the Tasmanians, no gas-chambers and no Belsen, no Amritsar, Black and Tans or Apartheid, the pomposity of both would be roaring farce.

The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis (the emphasis is mine)

Honestly, I stopped dead when I read this, and I re-read it several times as I let it sink in. The idiotic arrogance of such twisted “patriotism” has been clear to me from an early age, but because of the horrors associated with it, I had never thought about the farcical angle.

I think Lewis is on to something. Pride, greed, lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath and envy… which of these, if stripped of its monstrous consequences, is not simply ridiculous?

Alas that, for now, we cannot laugh for long without weeping.


From The Four Loves

“Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you.”
The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

I’ve been busy, and I will probably be taking an internet hiatus soon. I recently finished The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis. As always, when I read him, I was overwhelmed by his ability to express himself. Over all, I found the book fascinating and enlightening. I also wish I could get in touch with the man and debate some things with him, but ah well.

The above quote is something that struck me, when I read it, for I’ve had just the experience he is talking about. My relationship with God effects every single aspect of my life, even the ones that, on the surface, would seem to have nothing at all to do with spirituality, religion or faith. Prayer effects the taste of an apple and the sound of my cats’ asking for breakfast.

There’s another quote I will share, soon, but I figured I would go ahead and post this one.


Ay, madam, it is common.

I am not alone in this.

I have heard other writers express the same feelings time and again. Many writers battle these extremes.

Sometimes we feel our work is good, even great. Then we are either overcome with fear that it is trash, or we “know” it is trash.

I am at the low ebb of this, and have been for a few weeks. It is disheartening even though I know, in my mind, that it is a cycle. My heart knows nothing of the kind. I am never satisfied with my work, but this is something darker than dissatisfaction.

My muse is active enough. The little monster is happily chewing away at my surroundings and then latching onto me with its sharp little teeth until I write out the results of its feasting. I can only hope those results aren’t shit.

But how does one know? There are great writers, both from the past and the present. There is also a lot of mediocrity, and this has increased as the dissemination of information has proliferated. Yikes, that was verbose. I had a point in there somewhere… oh, yes. Some of those mediocre writers, at least, must have believed that their work was great.

If they could not fairly evaluate their own work, how can I?

Oh mother, I owe you so much for raising me on good literature, but it is a double-edged sword. I know greatness. I have stared at pages, retracing words again and again in wonder.  In order to even put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, I had to tell myself that it was enough to write, that I did not have to compare myself to Wodehouse, Solzhenitsyn, Austen or Shakespeare.

That sufficed when I wrote only for myself and for those who were curious to look over my shoulder. The creation of something to be let loose on the world requires more, doesn’t it?  The last thing I want to do is unleash more mediocrity.

There is pride tangled up in this as well. I don’t want to be mediocre.

Then again, perhaps the greats were in doubt, as well. Does anyone really know, truthfully, whether their creations are worth reading? The helplessness is depressing. Do I have to spit out what I can and trust humanity to sort out the rest?

…Yes. Perhaps I do. The only other option is to bury it.

In reply to that option, I will quote Tycho, from Penny Arcade. He is talking about reactions to offensive materials, but the same principle applies, I think, to mediocrity:

The answer is always more art; the corollary to that is the answer is never less art.  If you start to think that less art is the answer, start over.  That’s not the side you want to be on.  The problem isn’t that people create or enjoy offensive work.  The problem is that so many people believe that culture is something other people create, the sole domain of some anonymized other, so they never put their hat in the ring.  That even with a computer in your pocket connected to an instantaneous global network, no-one can hear you.  When you believe that, really believe it, the devil dances in hell.

A visualization of my muse. Watch your fingers.

A visualization of my muse. Watch your fingers.


“The Hobbit” Read-Along, Chapter 19: “The Last Stage”

And so our read-along of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit has drawn to a close. It has been fun, guys! Thank you!

The Warden's Walk

[Sorry for the lag for this final post of our magnificent Read-Along for The Hobbit. In Melpomene’s absence, I’m filling in to offer my thoughts on the end to Tolkien’s fairy story.]

Chapter 19

The Last Stage

Sing we now softly, and dreams let us weave him!
Wind him in slumber and there let us leave him!
The wanderer sleepeth. Now soft be his pillow!
Lullaby! Lullaby! Alder and Willow!
Sigh no more Pine, till the wind of the morn!
Fall Moon! Dark be the land!
Hush! Hush! Oak, Ash, and Thorn!
Hushed be all water, till dawn is at hand!

So sing the elves in Rivendell, to remind us that even in a world with hardship and grief, death, and gloomy victory, even these shall pass, and dreams may be sweet again, and pillows soft, and water sweet and gentle, and dawn bright and strong.Descent-into-Riv2-port

“Merry is May-time!”…

View original post 700 more words


Happy Hobbit Thanksgiving!

Lets face it, Thanksgiving is a very Hobbitish holiday. Food, family, thankfulness, and more food.

It seems appropriate, therefore, to have one of our chapters from The Hobbit Read-along fall on this day. Here we are, at the next to last chapter, “The Return Journey”.

We have been in the midst of a chaotic battle, but the dust has settled and dear Bilbo, invisible, wakes from unconsciousness, cold, and alone. He wakes to find victory, but not a joyful one. “Well it seems a very gloomy business,” he says. Yes, Bilbo, it is a very gloomy business.

Last chapter, the Dwarves  showed some real character. Now, so near the end, we get more. We see Thorin, faced with death, gaining perspective. Forgiveness and friendship finally outweigh material things to him. This death, and the deaths of Fili and Kili (I am so sad for their parents, if they still live!) bring home to Bilbo the painful reality that adventure and tragedy are closely related.

They buried Thorin deep beneath the mountain, and Bard laid the Arkenstone upon his breast.

“There let it lie till the Mountain falls!” he said. “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after!”

Upon his tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist, the elvish sword that had been taken from Thorin in captivity. It is said in songs that it gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of the dwarves could not be taken by surprise.

There are some interesting details in this chapter, and, in my opinion, some of the best quotes in the book.

In the “interesting” category, I place the fact that Gandalf has his arm in a sling. Gandalf, who will one day fight a Balrog! I know he can be injured, but I really want to know how it happened.

Also interesting is Tolkien’s more relaxed use of language. Just look at his description of Beorn’s roars:

The roar of his voice was like drums and guns.

No shying from modern lingo here!

Now I will conclude with some of my favorite quotes from the chapter.

“How I should have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don’t know. And I don’t know what I should have done with it when I got home.”

Bilbo has become a much wiser hobbit over the course of his adventure. And much more generous, too:

“If ever you are passing my way,”  said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome to come at any time!”

Could there be a more hobbitish farewell?

There is some nice, probably unintentional foreshadowing:

“Farewell! O Gandalf!” said the king. “May you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected!”

Tolkien taunts us with:

“He had many hardships and adventures before he got back.”

And yet he tells us so little! Why, Tolkien, why?!

And finally we have this:

“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!”

Have a happy Thanksgiving day!


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