The Scouring of the Shire is the opposite of what people think it is

An unusual feature of the The Return of the King, the last book in the Lord of the Rings series, is the amount of time spent on the ending. The ring itself is destroyed around two thirds of the way through the narrative (or halfway if you count the appendices), leaving a huge amount of space for resolutions for characters and wrapping up loose ends. While some people enjoy the closure, others feel it unnecessarily drags on. This is how I felt the first time I read the “Scouring of the Shire”, the penultimate chapter, where the hobbits return to the Shire only to find Saruman and his minions taken it over but they are ejected after a brief battle. It seemed very anti-climactic and petty in comparison to the epic battle for the fate of the world that had just been fought.

However, I did some reading and found that many people enjoy this scene, in fact they argue it is one of the most important of the entire series and were disappointed it didn’t appear in the movies. Pretty much every article and discussion I could find on the chapter tells the same story, that the Scouring of the Shire is based on Tolkien’s experience from World War 1. The chapter is actually about the difficulties soldiers faced when they returned from war and found society had drastically changed while they were gone. It’s a bittersweet ending showing how despite the fact the hobbits fought so hard to protect their homes and preserve the Shire, they return only to find it has irreversibly changed. Some argue Tolkien is actually saying that Frodo failed.

So with this in mind, I realised that I must have missed the nuance during my original reading, so I decided to reread the chapter. Yet I was shocked by what I found, the chapter isn’t about the First World War or the changes society underwent, it is the complete opposite. Continue reading “The Scouring of the Shire is the opposite of what people think it is”

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The Different Themes In GRRM, Sanderson & Abercrombie Novels

On the surface, George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson and Joe Abercrombie tell very similar stories. They write fantasy novels about harsh worlds full of murder, betrayal and conflict, and their characters are often forced into terrible circumstances. They are also excellent writers who create amazing worlds and fascinating characters. For which they are (rightly) some of the most popular and largest selling fantasy writers.

In this post, I will discuss the common themes and features (as I see them) in GRRM’s five A Song of Ice and Fire books, the six books of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law (seven if you count the short story collection), and the ten books Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, Stormlight Archives, Elantris and Warbreaker (eleven if you count the short story collection). That’s not everything they’ve written, but it is most of it and enough to see common patterns. Continue reading “The Different Themes In GRRM, Sanderson & Abercrombie Novels”

A Novel About Esperanto

A while ago I was reading about the Ido-schism when I noticed several Wikipedia pages referenced a book named A Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell, in which the schism was portrayed. As it’s rare to see reference to Esperanto in English, let alone a book about it, I bought the book straight away. It’s not the only English language novel that has Esperanto in it, for example in the Yiddish Policeman’s Union, the main character lives in Hotel Zamenhof which includes a few Esperanto signs like lifto (lift) and one character exclaims “What’s Esperanto for a pile of shit?” (I would suggest fekaĵaro). However, unlike others in books, Esperanto isn’t just mentioned in a throwaway line, it forms a core part of the story.

The book is essentially about three Jewish men and three cities at the turn of the century. Sigmund Freud, L.L. Zamenhof and Kalonymos Kalmish Szapira, in Vienna, Paris and London from 1894-1940. Following this structure the book is divided into three parts, with the middle one heavily focusing on Esperanto. The main character becomes a passionate Esperantist and there are many conversations in and about Esperanto. So is the book any good? Continue reading “A Novel About Esperanto”

Esperanto and Ethnic Conflict Since 1887

Two books have been in my mind lately. Firstly, this week was the 130th anniversary of the publication of the Unua Libro, the first book in Esperanto, which makes it one of the few languages in the world to have a birthday. On the 26th of July 1887, L.L. Zamenhof created an international language that he hoped would bridge the divide between people and reduce ethnic conflict. The second thing is that I have been reading The Vanquished: Why The First World War Failed To End by Robert Gerwarth. The book details the enormous amount of ethnic conflict that erupted after the end of the First World War and continued simmering until erupting again in the Second World War. Continue reading “Esperanto and Ethnic Conflict Since 1887”

Are The Discworld Books Overrated?

Terry Pratchett is one of the most famous British writers and his Discworld series has been read by millions. He has been praised by many as one of the funniest writers and master of the fantasy genre. His books have been hailed as literary classics and it has even been said that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Might Be The Highest Form of Literature on the Planet.

So naturally hearing such praise (and being a fan of Douglas Adams and fantasy), I gave it a go. While I found them enjoyable, I wasn’t blown away. They were good but nothing great. So, I thought maybe I was missing something and wasn’t appreciating him fully (Pratchett hardly has critics so the problem must be with me). Or maybe I just haven’t got to the best book yet. So, I kept reading and in total, I’ve read 13 Discworld books, 7 in the City Watch series (up to Thud!), 3 in the Death series (up to Soul Music), the first 2 of the Moist von Lipwig books and Small Gods (also Good Omens which half counts).

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely brilliant elements, clever ideas and hilarious moments. I have a taste for absurd humour and I love political commentary, so there’s a lot I did like about the books. Yet, I began to suspect that Discworld might be overrated. Such a thought is blasphemy, so I kept it to myself until I read enough books to see that while there are some very good books, there are also plenty of mediocre ones. Continue reading “Are The Discworld Books Overrated?”

How Many Books Will It Take To Finish ASOIAF?

One of the most eagerly anticipated books at the moment is “The Winds of Winter” by George RR Martin, part of the hugely popular A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) series. Millions of people are on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens next in the series and the book will undoubtedly be a bestseller upon release. However, the long waiting time for each book has become legendary as fans grow weary waiting to find out what their favourite characters get up to. It seems the final resolution of this famous and much loved series is always receding further into the distance.

Martin has said that there will be seven books in the series, so after The Winds of Winter, A Dream of Spring will be the final book. However, considering everything that must happen, there is growing doubt as to whether this is true. Looking at the vast number of subplots, character arcs and other events that must happen, it seems impossible for all of it to be wrapped up in just two more books. So how many books will it really take to finish A Song of Ice and Fire? Continue reading “How Many Books Will It Take To Finish ASOIAF?”

What Went Wrong With The Gentlemen Bastard Series?

When The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch was released in 2006 it was a massive hit. Not only did it become a bestseller, but it is also considered something of a modern classic. It won high praise and Lynch was counted among the most promising writers in the fantasy field, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss and Joe Abercrombie. This was an amazing achievement for a first novel, so expectations were high for the rest of the series. Did we have a new classic before us?

Yet, the follow-up books were something of a disappointment. Instead of soaring high, the rest of the series went downhill. Complaints began to pile up about the flaws in the newer books and even fans admitted some problems. Something was missing, some of the brilliance had been lost. Of course, all opinion is subjective and there are probably those who really liked the follow-ups. Yet no one would claim that they are as good as the first one.

Myself, I absolutely loved Lies and consider it one of my favourite novels, yet I was underwhelmed by Red Seas Under Red Skies and Republic of Thieves (although the names are fantastic). The original magic was gone and the plot seemed to wander directionless. A fourth book will soon appear and to be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll bother to buy it.

So, what happened? Where did it go wrong? Continue reading “What Went Wrong With The Gentlemen Bastard Series?”