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Tag Archive: J.R.R. Tolkien


 

Review by C.J. Bunce

If the Scots abandoned Scotland to nature, it would be the birch that would be the first tree to seize its chance, and a birch forest would walk the streets of Edinburgh.

Thomas Pakenham was referring to a gigantic pioneer birch tree in Rothiemarchus, Scotland, but he may have well been writing about the Ents, the grand, wise, old leafed characters of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.  In his book Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Pakenham reproduces his real-life journey across continents meeting some of the oldest inhabitants of the planet, even if they never actually “walked” the Earth.  In beautiful photographs and stories, he introduces readers to the most noble of Earth’s elders, a chance to marvel in awe at their enormous height, or breadth, of their obvious beauty or strikingly twisted, meandering, slim, or expansive forms.  Pakenham, the 8th Earl of Longford, an Anglo-Irish writer, historian, and tree enthusiast, selected trees “mostly very large, and mainly very ancient, and all with a strong personality,” highlighting the unique qualities unique to each remarkable individual.  His folksy speech and storytelling is refreshingly regional, providing an herbivorous mirror to fellow Brit James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.

To visit these trees, to step beneath their domes and vaults, is to pay homage at a mysterious shrine.  But tread lightly.  Even these giants have delicate roots.  And be warned that this may be your farewell visit.  No one can say if this prodigious trunk will survive the next Atlantic storm–or outlive us all by centuries.

Thomas Pakenham’s photograph of the great Fredville oak, named “Majesty” at least as early as 1820 when it was sketched by artist Jacob Strutt.

And, indeed, even some of the trees pictured in Meetings with Remarkable Trees are no longer around, having succumbed to storm or man-made destruction.  Pakenham’s tome is something profoundly sacred or spiritual.  It’s peppered with historical references, literary allusions to specific trees, and including some very famous trees, whether a thousand years old or more than 200 feet tall.  It seems preposterous humans travel the globe to see manmade creations when we could be on pilgrimages to commune with these ancient living beings.  Sixty trees are grouped by personality: Natives, Travellers, Shrines, Fantasies, and Survivors.  Once you’ve met Pakenham and his craggy acquaintances in this book, you’ll want to move on to accompany the champion of trees on a year in his life in his book, The Company of Trees: A Year in a Lifetime’s Quest.

A different approach to individual trees can be found in photographer Diane Cook and Len Jenshel’s Wise Trees (you’ll find a 16-page preview below).  Some ancient and many not so ancient, the trees in this book include 50 selected from five continents and identified for their historic or inspirational stories.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Lists, and by extension, books with lists, are the stuff that sprout conversation.  Sometimes good conversation, sometimes knock-down-drag-outs, but always something to talk about.  We saw that last month in our look at Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies that Are Out of This World, and it applies to Scott Christianson and Colin Salter’s new audacious work, 100 Books that Changed the World This book is not merely a list of books, but an argument supporting why the authors think each book merits recognition.  After all, with more than 2 million new books published each year (300,000 per year in the U.S. alone) and documented writings going back thousands of years, whittling them all down to 100 is a bit daunting at a minimum.  Grade schoolers, college liberal arts and sciences majors, and everyone else has probably encountered a list like this before, usually styled the “greatest,” “most influential,” or “most significant” books ever written.  Ultimately, readers may find the compilation of 100 books that “changed the world” results in a very similar set of books.

What would make your list?  You can probably list 20 included without much work.  The authors state in their preface that there are 50 books everyone would agree should be included.  Think religion and myths (the Torah, the Bible, the Quran), math and science (Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Newton’s Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica), philosophy and politics (Plato’s The Republic, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man), works of fiction (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), classic children’s books (Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales), works of the often-disputed literary greats (I’m looking at you, James Joyce), and works of long undisputed literary masters like Homer and Shakespeare.  Yes, these are all “givens” for a list like this.  But noteworthy great additions I don’t recall seeing on a list like this before include Louis Braille’s Procedure for Writing Words, Music and Plainsong in Dots, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of TimeAnd no author made the list more than once, except the writers of the Bible, which appears on the list twice: for the Gutenberg Bible and the King James version.

The authors hope their book “makes you question your own choices or ours, or introduces you to a book.”  Criticisms of 100 Books that Changed the World aren’t going to be all that dire as much as simply topics for discussion.  They’re the same critiques of any list or book like this.  Thirty-seven books on the list were written by authors from England, removing the inclusion of any books from some countries.  The list is heavily back loaded, with 26 books from the 19th century and 35 books from the 20th century–explainable in part since the authors didn’t have a lot to select from the first 3,000 years covered.  The oldest book included is the I Ching, roughly 4,800 years old, and the most recent, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein, only four years old.  The late history scholar Robert E. Schofield postulated that historians cannot accurately assess the influence of a historical period unless at least 50 years has transpired, and consistent with that theory, nine books shouldn’t have made the cut, removing books like Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel Maus, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rarely has anyone been able to create a single work that includes so much information in such spectacular fashion about such an epic body of work.  Writer Daniel Falconer has done just that with Middle-earth: From Script to Screen–Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, his new 512-page, exhaustive, encyclopedic chronicle of the making of both of director Peter Jackson’s trilogies adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Never before seen photographs, never before published recollections of cast and crew of the films that all-told would add up to nearly 24 hours of award-winning cinema, garnering seventeen Academy Awards for The Lord of the Rings films and seven nominations for The Hobbit.  Weta Workshop’s Daniel Falconer, who has written some of the best-reviewed books we have looked at here at borg.com, catches up The Lord of the Rings to the coverage he has documented in his books on the making of The Hobbit trilogy, without providing any redundant content from his prior books, including The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles–Creatures & Characters, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers, The Hobbit, Smaug: Unleashing the Dragon, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Art & Design, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Art of War.  In doing so he has created the definitive resource for fans of the films, and fans of the Tolkien books now have a visual, fully-realized geographic resource guide to Middle-earth.

Beginning with a fabulous map of Middle-earth that includes cross-references to the pages of the book where each location is discussed, the reader can take his or her own tour across the film (and book’s) fantasy realm and real-life New Zealand filming locations.  The journeys of Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring from The Lord of the Rings and Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the other Dwarfs in The Hobbit are overlaid so that the reader’s tour sweeps across the landscapes and environments created entirely by concept artists, artisans, and skilled workers of every imaginable category, required to faithfully reflect Tolkien’s and Jackson’s visions.  Even more exciting are accounts, including descriptions and photographs, of places that Jackson filmed, but did not make it to the final cut of the film.  The weight of this task–the task of creating the films and also in creating this hefty document–are reflected in the artistry and organization of every single page.

Along with the primary narrative focusing on selection, planning, building and filming each environment, readers will discover several sidebars covering topics like key characters, races, and creatures, and a veritable how-to guide to making an epic film series that takes readers through breaking down a script, set conceptualization, set drafting, use of “big rigs”–a twist on forced perspective filming, sound design, location scouting, art direction, set construction, set decoration, cinematography, performance/motion capture, building model miniatures, previsualization, aerial and scenic photography, organic sets, the greens department (charged with plant life set dressing), talismans and props, set and prop finishing, post-production, color grading, lighting, shooting on location, using locations responsibly, and creating digital environments.

Throughout the book readers will learn what materials and settings could be re-used from The Lord of the Rings for The Hobbit.  Initially environments were not built to last, but after the success of various filming locations in New Zealand as tourist attractions when filming wrapped on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, many sites were rebuilt to survive past production for The Hobbit films.  This included the creation of 44 Hobbit holes that can be visited today among many other sites.  The journey across the map of Middle-earth will take readers to The Shire, Lands of Arnor, Rivendell, The Misty Mountains, Khazad-dûm, Wilderland, Mirkwood, Lothlórien and the River Anduin, Realms of Rhovanion, Rohan, Enedwaith & Calenardhon, Realms of the North & Wastes of the East, Ithilien & the Morgul Vale, and Mordor and the Shadowed South.

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Warcraft clip

Review by C.J. Bunce

If your only exposure to Orcs is in the J.R.R. Tolkien Middle-earth stories, be prepared for a different look at this fantasy species in Christie Golden’s new novel Warcraft: Durotan, prequel to the upcoming Legendary Pictures Warcraft movie.  We’ve reviewed many franchise tie-in novels over the years here at borg.com and plenty of prequels.  Warcraft: Durotan is a surprisingly original novel, giving us a unique, sympathetic look at what you may otherwise only know as brainless, barbarian fantasy monsters.

Warcraft is of course the film adaptation of the megahit series of videogames.  It opened this weekend internationally to some early box office success.  Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), director of the film and son of the late David Bowie, star of Labyrinth and fan of fantasy films, has said he previewed the film for his father, who was excited about the movie.  We previewed the movie trailer earlier here at borg.com.  It stars Vikings lead actor Travis Fimmel, along with Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper, and Ben Foster.

Warcraft Durotan novel

You don’t need to have any background with the video games to enjoy the prequel novel.  It will be familiar to fans of the games, but deviates from the video game story.  Some fans of the games will like it, some won’t.  Durotan is the son of a chieftain of a clan of Orcs.  When Durotan steps into the leadership role of his clan he must learn to balance the traditions of the past with the very survival of his clan.  Warcraft: Durotan is a solid fantasy story, but it could easily be the story of an actual Native American tribe, a Viking or Highland clan, an Aztec tribe, ancient Spartans, a band of Mongols, or even a family in a Louis L’Amour Old West novel.  Durotan’s trials are the trials of any leader whose people are plagued with crisis after crisis.  Loyalty, bravery, sacrifice, tradition, mythology, and folklore all come into play.

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hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug Bilbo

Review by C.J. Bunce

Like Star Wars or the first of any good trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was almost a standalone story, to be watched over and over again.  And like The Empire Strikes Back, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug jumps rights into the adventure and doesn’t relent until the final cliffhanger at film’s end.  The Desolation of Smaug’s triumph may be a sweeping and epic inclusion of more fantastical settings and strange, new worlds than any film before it, some beautiful in their colorful grandeur, others in their dark creepiness.  And more story and subplots are fit in to keep viewers on the edge of their seats for the whole two hours and forty minute tour.

Dwarves The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug

It’s hard to say if this installment of The Hobbit is better than the first.  It’s a wondrous tale in the same way as the Harry Potter series included the stand-out episode Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Sure, it needs to be seen in the context of what comes before it, but wow, what a great ride in and of itself, almost literally.  We’d seen previews of the great dwarf barrel escape scene, but director Peter Jackson didn’t just squeeze in river ride as an afterthought.  It’s full of good humor and action, something like what we imagine George Lucas intended in his pod race scene, but this effort is successful, focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of dwarves and elves alike, as they dodge the grotesque and foul Orcs under the leadership of two particularly nasty fellows, Azog (Manu Bennett) and Bolg (Lawrence Makoare).  Most of the action is over-the-top, but if you’re in for a penny you’re in for a pound, and the arrows flying and dragon fire ablazing are what any fantasy fan could hope for.

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