Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth

        Set in the distant future of Chicago, Divergant is a dystopian young adult novel that focuses around the life journey of sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior and how her one choice drastically shapes her future. The world of Divergent is separated into five factions; Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each faction formed in the aftermath of a great conflict, and were designed to exclude the traits that they felt were responsible for human conflict and highlight the traits that they hoped would bring peace and balance. Erudite blames ignorance, and choose to pursue knowledge. Dauntless blame cowardice, and choose to highlight bravery. Candor blames dishonesty, and pursue a life of truth. Amity blame hatred and violence, and choose to live in peace and harmony. Finally, Abnegation blame selfishness, and therefor choose to live selfless lifestyles. Once children from each faction turn six-teen, they undergo an assessment test that determines which faction they’re most suited for. They then are left with a daunting choice; to choose their own faction would mean security, and to choose another would mean having to leave their families permanently. Beatrice Porter is born into the Abnegation faction, and though she admires their path towards selflessness, there’s something wild and unkempt in her nature that calls her towards the rowdy Dauntless faction. When the day for her assessment arrives, Beatrice does not what know what to expect—though she does expect answers. Instead, she’s left more confused than ever. She has been told she is a Divergent, and warned never to speak of it to anyone. The rest of the book follows Beatrice’s choice to leave her family and become a Dauntless, as well as the consequences to being a Divergent.
     Divergent cleverly addresses a very simple question that most of us have asked or will invariably ask at one point in our lives; what causes evil? In the novel, humans have tried to sort this out for themselves and have naturally come to different conclusions, leading to different factions. Something that both Beatrice and the reader learn however is that no faction is safe from evil, and none have an absolute cure for evil. Evil, like good, is omnipresent. You can anticipate it, guard against it, and fight it—but you can never eliminate it entirely. Beatrice struggles with both the evil present in the world as well as the evils present within herself. In fact, part of what makes Divergent such a good book is that the heroine is not infallible. She does not always do the right thing, even though she was raised to. She doesn’t always do the brave thing, even though she wants to. She isn’t incredibly pretty, or the top student in the class. She excels in some regards and fails in others. She thinks about going home once or twice, and she’s not above crying or screaming. Beatrice is a thoroughly human character, which in tern makes her thoroughly relatable. She also possesses a unique trait—being a Divergent—which makes her journey more interesting. The strength of Divergence as a story is its ability to address human questions in a very human way; through trial and error. Violence is used when necessary, but Roth is never gratuitous or tasteless. She uses enough to get the point across and leaves the rest to the imagination, allowing readers to contemplate their own fears and draw their own conclusions.
       With so many dystopian novels being published nowadays, especially in the young adult section, it’s difficult to sort through the failures, the good attempts, and the greats. I think that Divergent easily comes closer to the greats, with its wonderful characters and though provoking concepts. Why does it never quite make greatness, you might ask? Well, this is due to two chief complaints I have about the story. Firstly, I feel as though there should have been an additional character building moment in the story, sometime in between her first and second fight. I wanted to actually see her try to improve herself. I wanted to see her struggle to do so, and maybe find that a life of being reared to be selfless contradicted her feelings for personal improvement. Her character change, and the fact that she was a much better fighter the second time around without much contextual evidence to support how she became so made the transition a little unbelievable. Secondly, the romance aspect of this book was a little disjointed. I really enjoyed how it was progressing at first. The tendency with most YA’s is to just leap into a romantic plot line, usually by using a half-arsed excuse like fate, destiny, or animal attraction. Roth doesn’t do that, instead letting the romance build and gradually unfurl. The problem is, she spends so much time being careful, that by the time it actually does unfurl it unfurls too quickly. I understand why Roth wanted to establish this relationship, as it creates tension for the climax. However, while I like the relationship between the two characters I find myself not really believing it, because I don’t understand why they like each other as much as they do. Neither of these two points change the fact that this is a good book, but they do keep it from becoming a great book. Overall, Divergent is a solid read. The premise and the characters are interesting, and most importantly it will make you think—which is something this nerd thinks that all books should aspire to do.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nette by Barbara Rayne

       Nette by Barbara Rayne is a fantasy novel based on a very interesting premise. Boys are born with brown eyes, and girls are born with blue. This is how the sexes always fall and have always fallen, until the birth of a brown-eyed girl forever alters the course of the world. Aside from having a genetic anomaly, the girl, named Nette, is the subject of a grand prophecy and the wielder of incredible powers. She is destined to overthrow the corrupt king and bring peace to the land of Sentus, as well as to free the captive souls of the once great kingdom Predious. After the despot king murders her parents out of fear and attempt to murder her, Nette is whisked away by lights of an unknown origin, and raised by them for five years. During this time, she learns that she does not need sustenance to survive, nor can she die. For all intents and purposes, Nette is a superhuman. As she grows into her prophecy and avenges her parents murders, Nette has to struggle with the fear of the people and the spite of nobility.
    I think that this book has a really interesting concept. I haven’t come across a similar idea in fantasy writing before, and the genre desperately needs new ideas. While there are some ideas that can be played with in a seemingly unlimited number of ways, sometimes this fantasy nerds feels as though writers get too comfortable with tropes and cliches. The first few chapters are very interesting. Readers are thrown into a confusing situation, just like the heroine, and they’re motivated to keep reading in order to solve the mystery of the lights and the strange, brown-eyed girl. However, while the writing of the first few chapters is very tight, the narrative unfortunately begins to unravel, worsening as the story progresses. Let’s start with the actual structure of the writing. While not horrible, the overall story lacks substance. What’s frustrating about this is that fact that substance is there—covered up like some forgotten relic or lost puzzle piece. I kept expecting Rayne to develop something more, but almost every time I was met with a brief and abrupt time skip. I also found that the number of typographical errors increased as the story progressed, which was midly annoying and distracting. I understand that Rayne was eager to progress the story, but I believe that by doing it so abruptly and without the use of transitionary devices, she instead created a crowded narrative that left no room for character development. That brings me to another point: the characters never change. The never grow—aside from physically—and they never learn; specifically the main heroine. Nette is a girl who attracts suspicion by simply being. She is almost godlike in nature, able to survive even the most brutal of deaths. Naturally, people fear this strange gift and tend to turn on her like a cliched angry mob with fire and pitchforks. And this angry mob trope happens a lot in Nette. What’s even worse, is that Nette recognizes how unjust the treatment is, and decides to resolve it by becoming exactly what they fear: a superpowerful terror. Now, if this story was meant to chronicle the life of this sort of character I wouldn’t be so opposed to it. However, Rayne makes it quite clear that Nette is supposed to be the hero of the work, and yet she’s entirely unheroic. She kills all how oppose her, throws temper tantrums like the Greek gods of yesteryears, and has absolutely no moral struggle with the fact that she kills left and right. She justifies everything she does, and what’s worse is that everyone else does—that is, the select few characters who aren’t apart of the angry mob. Not only do the main characters never grow, but the rest of the cast are complete stock characters. They’re all designed to fill the stupid, ignorant, and prejudiced antagonist roles. They all turn magically against her at the same moment, and no one actually sees the good she’s doing. These characters are so overplayed that they aren’t human or relatable—they’re just voices in a massive blob designed for the soul purpose of adding conflict to the story. And, once again, the only people who aren’t apart of the angry, stupid mass, blindly worship Nette and accept all of her actions as completely justifiable. It’s okay for her to murder large groups of people who oppose her. It’s okay for her to abuse the power of the blue orb—and object which is never fully explained. It’s okay for her to "cull" those who oppose her, because how dare they oppose their "benevolent" Queen?
      Simply put, Nette is a book full of missed opportunities. The heroine is not relatable, nor is she even likable. She never changes, nor do any of the other characters around her. I would have loved to see her begin as very bitter and filled with self-entitlement, perhaps even believing herself to be a god over the weak masses. She could struggle with her humanity and the inhumanity of the world around her, and the desire to repay unkindness with godly force. And then, over the course of the book, she could learn to see herself through the eyes of the people, and discover that their content was born out of fear—a fear that she was reinforcing through her behavior. Ideally, side characters would have helped her to learn this lesson by showing her that not every single person in the world was afraid of her. Unfortunately, these things never happened. She never changed, for better or for worse. Instead of using her inhuman characteristics to explore the notion of humanity, Rayne instead chooses to make Nette a god-like character with no growth arc and no care for the consequences of her actions. Sadly, this in turn made the entire story un-compelling for me as a reader. Why would I want to read a story whose plot is driven a character I can't bring myself to like? I reiterate, the core idea of this book was very good. If Rayne ever writes a sequel, I might be interested in checking it out to see if she's grown as a writer and learned how to do her ideas justice. Until then though, I have to dubb this one a miss.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wards of Faerie by Terry Brooks



"She was close to breaking at that point, all her preparations and the steeling of her resolve shattered and vanished, and she felt naked and exposed. Everything about her revealed in an instant and nothing left hidden. The dead knew her. The dead could see all she was and all she ever would be, and it was terrifying."

      Wards of Faerie is the first book of Terry Brook’s latest fantasy trilogy, The Dark Legacy of Shannara. As one of the most renowned living epic fantasy authors, Brooks once again delivers a story full of grand odysseys, subterfuge, and hidden surprises—not to mention his colorful host of characters.
   The main plot is simple enough. As with all epics, the lead cast of characters find themselves undertaking a dangerous and life-altering quest, brought on by the impending threat of a government (known as the Federation) intent on destroying the Druid order and colonizing the rest of the free world. However, when the main cast of characters is separated side quests surface, and each group is left pursuing a task no less important than the others.
    The story begins with an elf named Aphenglow, who is member of the Druid order housed at the magical stone fortress, Paranor. She has been searching in Arbolon—city of her kin, the elves—for the whereabouts of lost magics for almost a year, and is just about to relent her task when she stumbles upon a diary written ages ago, in the time of the Faerie. In it, she finds a story of star-crossed lovers, as well as the only documentation of the fabled missing elfstones. Thousands of years ago, these magic talismans all but disappeared, leaving only the blue elfstones and the black elfstone. No one knows what these lost stones do, but they are sure to be powerful. Taking what she knows back to Paranor, the Ard Rhys, Khyber Elessedil—head of the Druid order—embarks on a quest to find the missing relics in order to secure peace throughout the four lands. However, a dark omen hovers over the quest, promising that no one will return unscathed—if they return at all.
     As is always the case with Brooks, this book is engaging and well written. Adept at his craft, Brooks manages to get to the point when the situations requires it as well as indulge in wonderfully detailed descriptions. His characters are interesting and human, as well as diverse and unique. What makes his writing all the more realistic is that none of his characters are truly ever safe from being killed off, even the members of the main cast. This ability to thoughtfully get rid of characters that are usually safe in other tales helps to make Brooks work more engaging, as no character’s fate is certain. And those that do survive one series usually cross over to serve as a bridge for the next, and such is the case with Khyber Elessedil, who was a main character in Brooks’ High Druid of Shannara series. In fact, there are numerous references to his prior works in this novel, most especially to the Voyage of Jerle Shannara series. And this is where my main complaint lies.
     Something I’ve always loved about Brooks’ work is that anyone can pick up a new series and not feel like they’ve missed too much of anything. Even though four series precede this one(excluding the pre-shannara books), enough references are made to past events that anyone new to the world of Shannara can chose to start anywhere. For those of us who have read Brooks' prior books however, some of the common threads seen in Wards of Faerie may prove to be a little too similar for comfort. While Brooks always includes common themes in his books in order to connect on generation of stories to another, some of the commonalties between the Voyage of Jerle Shannara series are a little too heavy handed. Once again, a voyage is being conducted to find missing elfstones. Once again, this voyage is prompted by the sudden discovery of lost information. Once again, this voyage is lead by the Ard Rhys, and once again the Druid is not being entirely forthright to the crew(although to be fair, this trait is simple a fact of life for Druids in the Shannara series). The cast of characters is also somewhat reminiscent of the cast from Jerle Shannara, including a Leah, an eccentric seer, and a shape-shifter. Now, these commonalities don’t make Ward of Faerie a bad book by any means, but they do make it more predictable than usual. Also, to be fair I should clarify that Ward of the Faerie bears similarities to Isle Witch, the first book in the Jerle Shannara series, and not necessarily the entire series itself. This is also the first book in the Dark Legacy series, which leaves the story more time to distinguish itself from that of its predecessors.
    Overall, I quite liked this book. The quality of writing was top-notch as per usual, and the characters are interesting. The story, though a little too reminiscent of the stories of previous series, is still engaging and enjoyable. I finished the book hungering for more, and I have high-hopes for the next book in the series that is scheduled to come out this March. I should also add that a lovely illustration and fold-out map can be found a the end of the book. This is the first time that Brooks has done this, and I sincerely hope that he continues. It was a nice surprise and it added more value to an already valuable purchase.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Hobbit by Vivendi Universal


   In 2003, when the Lord of the Rings film franchise was at the peak of popularity,Vivendi Universal published a game based off of the prequel to Tolkien’s infamous epic, The Hobbit. The game received mixed reviews and modest sales, and has since been forgotten by many.
   I remember seeing a trailer for this game back in 2003. I knew that I had to have it, and sure enough come Christmas of that year I found my winter break entirely occupied with flipping this game. I have played it countless times since—so many times in fact that the disc is scratched and the case is battered. Before writing this review I decided to spend the weekend replaying this title( a great challenge I assure you. Who wants to spend a weekend playing games?). While I still find it as charming as I did back in 2003, I have noticed several quirks and flaws that should be addressed. However, before I descend into the realm of nitpickery, here is a quick overview of the many perks and treats that this game has to offer.

This game was created at a very unique time. Its entire existence was put into play solely because of the success of the Lord of the Rings film franchise, and yet it was not based off of a film adaptation. Because of this fact, the writers of the game had the opportunity to go by the book instead of by a script, which in turn produced a story very faithful to the original. There are very few deviations from the original plot, save for the usual deviations expected in a video game. Naturally, Bilbo was not running around Middle Earth collecting floating gems and random bags of silver. Plotwise however, the story of the game is almost a mirror image of the book save for a few exceptions. One notable difference is the fact that Beorn enters the game at a different point in time compared to the book. Whereas Thorin and Company come across him shortly after being rescued by the Eagles, Beorn does not appear in this game until the Battle of Five Armies. This fact has always irritated me. I understand why meeting Beorn would not merit and active level in the game. However, this game does make a point to mention important events like the company’s stop at Rivendale and Bilbo’s first encounter with the dwarves through a storybook narrative. Why they did not do the same for Beorn has always confused me. This alteration does not really effect the quality of the game, but it is none the less noticeable to any Tolkien fan. Other deviations include added storylines, such as a mystery in Laketown and made-up characters such as a female wood-elf named Liana and a Dalesman named Corbin. However, these characters do not play a particularly important role and instead serve as the impetus for side quests. Aside from the aforementioned changes, there plot of the game is incredibly faithful to the original text. Dialogue is taken directly from the book, characters are wearing the proper attire(hooray for Gandalf’s blue hat!), and easter eggs can be found all throughout the game for any attentive fan to find. Overall, this game is much more faithful than even the 1977 film, which in turn makes it a classic in this nerd’s book.

Character Design

(Forget handkerchiefs Bilbo. PACK A COMB)
   It would be wrong of me not to point out how ridiculous Bilbo looks. The clown hair and smurf blue shirt is both distracting and hysterical. His hair is especially comical when drawn in the story book narratives of the game, and it leads me to wonder if the game developers had gotten into Farmer Maggot’s "special" crop when they penned this design. Still, it’s better than the 1977 film. Aside from Biblo, the rest of the cast are well designed, though some of the dwarves look nearly identical (for instance, Gloin and Oin. Yes, I know that they are brothers. I have four sisters, but we don't all look alike). Gandalf by far has my favorite character design. While I love the way that Ian McKellen appears as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films, I have always been very attached to the idea that Gandalf has a silver scarf and a blue hat. The Gandalf that is featured in this game is almost exactly how I pictured him to look when I first read the book as a child.

Voice Acting/Music

                            (James Horan as Smaug the Defiler and Michael Beattie as Bilbo)
    Video games are not always known for great voice acting. In fact, up until recent years the vast majority of games featured both horrendously written and horrendously acted dialogue. For what was obviously not a very expensive title, The Hobbit boasts some very fine voice acting. Jim Ward(Gandalf) and Michael Beattie(Bilbo) in particular do fine jobs, and additional voices by the famous Dee Bradley Baker can be heard throughout. While the overall appearance of this game is cartoony, I am pleased to report that the voices are very professional.
   Unlike the voice acting, the game’s music isn’t owed any extra praise or considerations. It isn’t bad per say, however it can be very repetitive. During my first play through of this game I actually found myself turning the music off during gameplay. In some of the longer levels the looping background noise can become a major irritant. I’ve also found that most of the game’s glitches stem from the music. While the PC version of this game does not appear to have this problem, the PS2 version is known for succumbing to random bouts of skipping music or out of synch voices. I can’t seem to trace what exactly triggers these glitches aside from music, as I’ve played through the game at different points in time with completely different experiences. Sometimes the sound will be annoyingly glitchy( especially in the "Riddles in the Dark" section of the game) while other times I can get through the entire game without encountering any major kerfuffles. It is possible that this title was developed for the PC first before being converted to a major gaming console, which may account for the glitch discrepancies between the two versions.


     While definitely not one of the more advanced games from the beginning of the century, The Hobbit’s graphics have a whimsical charm. The environments and textures are rather nice—if not a tad limited. The characters a bit blocky, and the movement of faces are choppy and far from seamless. While you’re running around the different levels and kicking goblin but the character graphics aren’t all that bad. They main area in which they struggle is in cutscenes—though there are a few high dimension cut scenes scattered throughout the game in important areas. In some ways, it can be bit jarring to go from limited, blocky animation to something of a higher quality. The developers most likely did not have an abundance of funds to work with and could not afford to make every cutscene of the same caliber. It’s somewhat reminiscent of some of the later Final Fantasy games in this sense, as they too alternate between moderately animated scenes to freakishly realistic ones(though the ‘realistic’ cutscenes in The Hobbit are not nearly as advanced). Overall, the graphics are cartoonish and charming. I especially love the way that Hobbiton is handled.




   This is a simple platform game suitable for even the clumsiest of gamers. The controls are very straight forward and easy to grasp. The most difficult areas of the game tend to be ones that require accurate, timed jumps. The majority of difficult involved does not come from the controls, but rather some awkward camera angles. For most sections of the game, players can move the angles of the screen about to accommodate their assigned tasks or preferences. However, oftentimes when Bilbo will have to make a very awkward jump the camera goes a little nutty. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen to my death because of a wonky camera angle. Once you get used to it and learn a few tricks to negotiate around the angle problem, jumps and aerial maneuvers are pretty simple. The problem is that some gamers may become so frustrated at the wandering camera that they may decide to chuck their controls out of a window and find something else to do. Aside from the camera glitch, this game is very simple. It would be a great choice for someone who isn’t very coordinated and does not want a big challenge. Additionally, a more experienced gamer will find this game to be a good title to unwind with. There is very little fuss involved, unless you’re going for 100% completion of every level, in which case the game can be a bit more challenging. One final thing of note is the time between levels. Depending on what levels you’re heading into, the wait can be ridiculously long. The longest loading screen that I’ve ever timed went well over five minutes, though on overage they take a little under two. Once again, I’m not sure if other versions of the game suffer the same problem, but it is definitely an issue with the PS2 edition.

Easter eggs

   Finally, one of my favorite traits of this game is the abundance of easter eggs to be found by any clever Tolkien fan. I’ve tried my best to compile all of them in the below list, though it is quite possible that I’ve missed a few. If I have, feel free to comment and tell me what they are!

-when you look around Bilbo’s house, you can learn some facts about his family history. There is a picture of his parents, Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took, as well as a picture of his aunt Linda Baggins, his uncle Bingo Baggins, his aunt Belba Baggins, and his gammer Laura Grubb.
-several hobbits out and about in hobbiton are named, including: Sandyman the Miller, Hamfast Gamgee, Bell Goodchild, Sadoc Brandybuck, Hilda Bracegirdle, Holman Greenhand, and Malva Headstrong.
-all of the dwarves were given the appropriate color of hood as described in the book. The colors are: blue w/tassel(Thorin), scarlet(Balin), white(Gloin), green(Bombur), blue(Fili and Kili), brown(Oin), gray(Ori), and purple (Dori and Nori).

Roast Mutton
-The game references the fact that one of their ponies—who was laden with supplies—bolted.
-The Witch-king of Angmar is mentioned periodically throughout the game, especially when the company is in his former territory.

-Arnor is referenced, tying into previous references to the Witch-king of Angmar as Angmar and Arnor were very closely situated.

Over Hill Under Hill
-once again, the game references the Witch-king of Angmar—which is appropriate as the more they travel into the northern Misty Mountains the more of the remnants of the Witch-king they will find. This is also a really clever way to explain why Bilbo finds as many traps and contraptions as he does throughout this chapter.
-it is mentioned that there are old dwarf mines in the Misty Mountains, which are presumably the mines that Bilbo stumbles upon. The most famous mine of the Misty Mountains is Moria, though it’s unclear if the game meant this particular in-game mine to be Moria. Some may argue that Moria lies a bit too far south to have been apart of Thorin and Company’s journey, though in the book the actual pass that is taken through the Misty Mountains is never named, and we know of at least one pass that goes by Moria, which is the Redhorn pass.

Riddles in the Dark
-in this level, there is a fictional dwarf character named Balfor who is of the Iron-hills. Dwarves of the Iron-hills, who are also descended from Durin, play a very important role in the final installment of The Hobbit, as it is the dwarves of the Iron-hills that Thorin asks for aide in the Battle of the Five Armies.

Flies and Spiders
-The Necromancer is mentioned in this chapter, as sections of Mirkwood used to be under his rule. Similar to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings novels, Bilbo’s ring does not protect him against wraiths or creatures of evil.
-The three spider sisters in Mirkwood are said to be either the offspring or close relations to Shelob—the spider that attacks Frodo during the Lord of the Rings.

Barrels out of Bond
while you’re sneaking around the Elvish palace(which is set in a cave, just as it is described in the book), you can hear conversations amongst the elves. They speak of their captive dwarves, the stirrings of the Necromancer, and the White Council.

Inside Information
this is not necessarily an easter egg, but unlike the 1977 film the writers did not fall into the same trap of pronouncing Smaug as "smog".


Gathering of Clouds
-the raven Roac of Ravenhill is seen during the narrative. The ravens of Ravenhill were allies of the dwarves before they were driven from Erebor.


  Most reviewers give this game a rating of 6/10 or 7/10, and I think this is fair. While it may have it charms and cannot be faulted for accuracy, minor glitches can cascade into full game errors, and repetitious music can be thoroughly annoying. If you’re a fan of The Hobbit and happen to fancy a video game every now and then, I do suggest that you give this title a go. If you’re wary of some of the glitches that come with the PS2 version, you can invest in the PC or GBA editions instead. Furthermore, emulators for this game can be found online for those who look hard enough. At the very least this game will be entertaining, and isn’t that point?


Friday, January 4, 2013

Hobbit door necklace by HModine

In a slight detour from reviewing adaptations of the The Hobbit, I’m going to take a moment and review a piece of hobbit inspired jewelry I purchased from Etsy less than a fortnight ago (while any true Tolkien fan will recognize that the door knob in this piece is in the wrong place, it’s still recognizable as being inspired by The Hobbit). This piece, designed to look like a door to a hobbit’s house, arrived in my post box yesterday afternoon and was a pleasant surprise after a long day of work. I was not expecting it to arrive for at least another week, though I’ve often found it to be true that mail is seldom really late, and seldom early—it arrives precisely when it has the means to.



This necklace, sold by HModine, is not as outrageous a piece as I usually buy
; generally speaking I prefer statement pieces or something whimsically colored. However, it is nice to own a few simple pieces for times when your wardrobe is already outrageous enough. Approximately the size of a penny, this darling little pendant is the perfect way to add a touch of nerdiness to an alarmingly un-nerdy wardrobe ensemble. In addition to the necklace, I received a free little pony charm to add at my own discretion! This addition was a complete surprise, and it made me even more satisfied with my purchase. (GET IT? IT'S MYRTLE THE PONY!)


I won’t lie—I am a bird who flies on a very tight budget. Like most college students, I often cannot afford to buy all of the fantastically nerdy things that I would like to. Fortunately, gift cards allow you to buy many things—both practical and impractical. Even had I not had a gift card, I believe that I still would have bought this item eventually, as the price is very reasonable. For $5.50 USD, plus $3-4 for shipping, this piece manages to stay comfortably in the $10 range, which as any poor nerd knows is the ideal range to stay in when making purchases.


As stated earlier, the shipping for this item was both reasonably priced and very timely. Even though I ordered it a few days after Christmas was over, I knew that there was still a good chance that it would be caught up in the post-Christmas rush. Much to my surprise however, it only took me a week to receive my item! I should note that I do live in the U.S., as does the seller, which means that my order arrived more swiftly than an international one. Not only did my order arrive with haste, the seller was also very communicative. They informed me the moment that they had finished shipping my piece and they uploaded a tracking number. I have ordered another item from Etsy from a different seller who has not been nearly as active and professional, so I can say with confidence that HModine is a very safe vendor to do business with.

Final Thoughts

This necklace is cute, wonderfully nerdy, and a lovely addition to any Tolkien fan’s wardrobe.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Tolkien!

Continuing our Fortnight of Tolkien, allow me to invite you to join us in celebrating that august person's birthday. (Or what would have been his birthday had Tolkien lived to be 121 this year.) 

Thanks to the Lord of the Rings films and the long-awaited resuscitation of The Hobbit and its much anticipated sequels, Tolkien's works have re-entered the public spotlight and captured the attention of people worldwide. And while many people would be able to quote Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit at you with no issue in the slightest....

....Not many are as familiar with the actual author. Many people have no idea, in fact, that Tolkien was an expert on Old and Middle English, and for many years was a professor of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) at the venerated University of Oxford. The man was so brainy, in fact, that he actually invented the entire language of Elvish. If you're interested in learning it, feel free to take the course at the University of Wisconsin. (It's taught by the primary linguistic consultant hired by Peter Jackson for the LOTR films--David Salo.) And Tolkien actually picked out who he wanted to play Gandalf, should the novels be made into film; can you believe that he actually chose Christopher Lee (also known as Saruman the White and Count Dooku)? 

So, let's take a gander at Tolkien himself, shall we?  John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa to Arthur and Mabel in 1892 (yes, Arthur and Mabel! Isn't that cute?); when Arthur died from peritonitis (right after I noted how cute that couple was, how ironic, and just when you were all giddy about Arthur and Mabel), the family relocated to Birmingham, England. When Mabel died, J.R.R. and his brother were sent to live with a relative and numerous boarding homes, including a guardian Catholic priest. He received his degree in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic languages, along with classic literature, at Exeter University, and even served as a lieutenant in World War I. 

After marrying in 1916, during his service, Tolkien was relieved of duty thanks to illness and attained a teaching position at the University of Leeds before taking up that professorship at the University of Oxford. It was at Oxford that he formed a little writing group ("The Inklings") that included C.S. Lewis (!) and Owen Barfield. It was also during his time at Oxford that he wrote a bit about "a hobbit," and the idea was conceived.

J.R.R. is top left; C.S. Lewis is top right, bottom right is Charles Williams, and bottom left is Owen Barfield.

The Hobbit was published in 1937 as children's literature, although Tolkien stressed that it was not, in fact, children's literature; he produced about 100 drawings for the novel himself. He continued to work on the LOTR trilogy, basing much of it and Middle-Earth on European mythology. Upon the publication of the trilogy in 1954 and 1955, Tolkien gained a vast throng of followers around the world and his works lodged themselves into history as some of the best-selling works in the world. Here's a fun fact: Thanks to his environmental positions, the author actually became a sort of symbol for the counter-culture in the 1960s.

After Tolkien passed away in 1973, following his wife (1971), his son Christopher took up the mantle of Middle-Earth and finished several of Tolkien's incomplete works for publication, such as The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin, ensuring that J.R.R.'s unpublished projects did not pass away into obscurity. 

So thank you, Tolkien; without you, we wouldn't have the amazing epics that chronicle the events of Middle-Earth. We wouldn't have humorous "One does not simply [X] into Mordor" memes. We would not be privy to the human intelligence you brought forth with your immense creativity and creation of new languages. And we certainly wouldn't have this great giveaway for you to enter! What are you waiting for! Go now! Your fellowship awaits you! 


Doughan, D.  (2002).  J.R.R. Tolkien: A biographical sketch.  The Tolkien Society.  Retrieved from

John Ronald Ruel Tolkien. (2013). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved from

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien


     In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. This sentence alone is one of the most memorable and cherished pieces of childhood. There are very few stories that do not begin with stereotypical phrases such as, "Once upon a time" or "A long time ago", that can manage to embed themselves in a child’s mind. For, as many people undoubtedly know, most children are possessed of notoriously short attention spans. While my mind definitely wandered then—and, I daresay, still wanders now—something about The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien has stayed with me well into adulthood. This book has been a constant companion and comfort to me. It has been a commandant in my darkest hours as well as a pleasant diversion from some of the more mundane aspects of ordinary life. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to review this classic with the unique perspective that comes with early adult life. I should preface this review by admitting that I am biased, and surely blinded by childhood nostalgia. Therefore, I shall not even attempt to rate this book, but rather I shall highlight its triumphs and its flaws to the best of my abilities and let you—my wonderful readers—decide its worth for yourselves.

     As I said earlier, in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. This hobbit was named Bilbo Baggins, and he was considered very respectable. However, his life and respectable reputation were put on the line when the infamous wizard Gandalf the Grey came calling and ferried poor Baggins off on a glorious, and dangerous, adventure. The premise of The Hobbit is very simple. For the rare few who have read Tolkien’s infamous Lord of the Rings trilogy and not its prequel, the simplicity of this tale may come as shock. It is important to remember when reading this story that it was written for a considerably younger audience. Whereas the Lord of the Rings trilogy is filled with enough history and details to make even the most well read of adults dizzy, The Hobbit was always intended as a story for young children. Because of this fact, I know of many Ringers who find The Hobbit dreadfully dull by comparison. I, on the other hand, am glad for its simple plot and straightforward narrative. I was first introduced to this wonderful story when I was seven years old through the 1977 animated feature, and I first read the book when I was nine. If I had not already had the love of Tolkien given to me from The Hobbit, I may never have thought to give the detail-laden Lord of the Rings books a chance. But I digress.

     Chiefly, The Hobbit is about two things: the awakening of something Tookish inside Bilbo Baggins and the quest of Thorin and Company to reclaim their stolen treasure. To be frank, I wasn’t that emotionally involved with the dwarves' plight when I was child. The fact of the matter is, we don’t get to know too much about the dwarves as individuals throughout the story, save for Thorin and Balin. Naturally, I can understand why this is. In a story aimed at children it would be tedious to attempt to individualize and explore all thirteen dwarves of the company. However, I was really struck by just how little attention is given to the rest of the party during this thirteenth re-read of the story. Aside from making a point of assigning them specific colours of cloaks, Tolkien hardly spends any time at all on the personalities of the dwarves. Additionally, I feel as though the dwarves' plight wasn’t as sympathetic as it could have been. The entire focus of the dwarves seems to be the treasure they’ve lost and not the home that was stolen from them. In fact, Tolkien himself writes, "Dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money." While he does go onto write that Thorin and company are more decent in this regard than your average dwarf, I feel that it’s unfortunate that the entire dwarf race was reduced to a love for money. It’s especially unfortunate when you think of epic characters like Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the many deeds and heroic tasks of dwarves cited in the appendices. Though, to be fair Tolkien had not created such a rich dwarvish history yet. So, while the very one dimensional depiction of dwarves(and all of the races, including hobbits and elves) does not change my love of this story, it is noticeable none the less.
      Shifting gears to the tale of Bilbo Baggins, I always appreciate how well Tolkien develops his character. For a children’s story, Bilbo’s personal journey has many dimensions. In the beginning, he complains often and his thoughts are almost always turned towards home. As the story progresses and he faces increasingly difficult tasks such as meeting ravenous trolls and battling sinister spiders, Bilbo’s outlook gradually begins to change. He complains less frequently and seems to become much more invested in the adventure. I specifically love one of the final lines from the famous chapter, "Riddles in the Dark", in which Bilbo has a deciding moment that comes to effect all of Middle Earth many years later:
"He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried it yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All of these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped."
     What’s so effective about this scene is not only the character development on Bilbo’s part—not to mention how well it sets up the Lord of the Rings trilogy—it's how effective Tolkien is at making readers feel for Gollum’s plight. Before this moment, we had known Gollum only as a menacing figure in the dark who sought to eat the story’s protagonist without care or any sort of difficulty of conscious. The fact that Tolkien makes us pity Gollum just as Bilbo comes to pity him is an example of very fine writing. It is important to note that there are two very different version of this chapter, one of which was published in the first edition of The Hobbit and the other, more common version which was revised to fit the events in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There’s a lovely side-by-side comparison of the two versions can be found here. Essentially, Gollum was not originally as menacing and did make good on his promise to help Biblo out of the cave. One can easily see how greatly the earlier accounting would alter the depictions of Gollum in the trilogy, and why Tolkien thought it best to revise this chapter.    

    While Thorin and company encounter many difficulties on their journey, the story culminates in the slaying of Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies. While I do not want to give away the ending for anyone reading this review who has yet to read the book, I will say that It’s both sad and quaint. I’ve always found the particular note that the story ends on to be a bit sudden, but at the same time it’s almost suiting of the brisk pace of the narrative. Ultimately, I can find things to nitpick in almost everything and childhood favorites like The Hobbit are no exceptions. In the end, all I can really say about The Hobbit is this: if you haven’t read it, do so. It’s a wonderful way to ease into the world of Tolkien, especially for those who are intimidated by The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Favorite quote:

"As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shinning in dark caverns. Suddenly, in the wood beyond the water a flame leapt up—probably somebody lighting a wood-fire—and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr.Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again."