This week’s reading:
- The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
- Duplicate, Alex Feinman
I re-read the Lord of the Rings (with accompaniments!) every year for my birthday, but this year I’m wondering whether I want to take a few years off. It’s still delightful, but part of me can see the time when it’s no longer a delight. So how do you change tradition? Maybe I’ll read it every other year for a while, until I’m longing to read it more often.
That said, I’m always happy to find something new to think about in the books every year, and this year I ended up with two things to ponder. The first is Tolkien’s pacing. For all the seemingly endless wandering about in Fellowship, he displays remarkable economy in setting up scenes and resolving them dramatically. The battle of Helm’s Deep, for example, is just one relatively short chapter, but it looms far larger in the imagination. I think the trick is actually in how he builds to the big dramatic scenes and not in the dramatic scene itself, but I may have to take another look at the chapters before and after to get a better sense of how.
The other thing I discovered this year (or, more likely, re-discovered) was in a letter of Tolkien’s quoted in the preface to my edition of The Silmarillion. He says, “I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.” To me this is a remarkably visionary statement, foreshadowing not only the great canonical universes (Star Wars, anyone?) but also the rise of fanfic and other amateur canon development. I’ve thought for some time about doing a paper on Tolkien’s influence on ideas of canon and related concepts of creativity, and I wonder if this is a quote to hang a paper on. You know, in all my free time.
The other book I’ve read so far this year was recommended to me by a friend. I wasn’t sure what to think before reading it. Personal recommendation is a plus, but it’s self-published which made me a bit leery. I should have been more trusting, though! Duplicate is a surprisingly original take on the “download minds into a new body” science fiction trope. The adventures of the main character (in all his, er, iterations) are very compelling. Plus I give the author major points for doing some seriously hard-core things that made me go “No WAY!” I didn’t love the ending, which relies on a part of the narrative world not previously well-developed, but I think more world-building would make it feel more satisfying. While I don’t know that this novella needs to be longer, I’d totally buy it in a collection with a few short stories in the same universe. So, Alex Feinman, whoever you are, please keep writing!