A Major Improvement

The Children of Hurin (2007)

I picked up The Silmarillion after reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings on a suggestion from a fellow reader that I was sweet on during my senior year in high school. The other works of J.R.R. Tolkien that I read had been a wonder to experience, but I wanted desperately to know more of the Elves, and to dig into the rich history of Middle Earth that was hinted at in them. The Silmarillion satisfied that curiosity, but left me wondering what the notes that Christopher Tolkien had used to create the compilation that was The Silmarillion had looked like before he had tried to arrange them into a cohesive narrative after his father’s death in 1973. I can only imagine the size of that herculean task, given the scattering of notes that every writer generates over the course of their lifetime.

Many people have complained over the years about the heavy slog that The Silmarillion was for them to read. That was not my experience of the book, but I could tell that The Silmarillion was not the direct works of J.R.R. Tolkien, or rather that the work it represented was not as refined as his later published works had been. I don’t place blame on Christopher Tolkien for this lack of refinement. He had nothing but notes to work from, a loose framework of tales written over several decades, as J.R.R. Tolkien pursued his passion for telling fantastic tales of Elves, Dwarves and Men. Tales that publishers of the time refused to publish for fear that the works simply would not sell.

I wonder what would have happened to his best-loved works, had his earlier passions not be frustrated by recalcitrant publishers? Would we even have the stories of Hobbits, the creation of Hobbiton as a location in Middle Earth, if Tolkien had been satisfied to see his earlier labors rewarded? We’ll never know.

I have wanted to get my hands on the twelve volume set of The History of Middle Earth, what was promised to be the definitive collection of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, published serially from the years 1983 to 1996, since I first heard rumor of its existence. I was desperately trying to stay in the business of architecture by that time, trying to raise two children to boot, and I had little time for reading for fun during those years. But I kept my eye out on the rare occasion that I made it into libraries and bookstores, hoping that I might run across them so that I could at least touch them on a shelf somewhere. I never have had the chance to find all twelve of them at a bargain price, and when I looked on Amazon.com today there are several sets of books listed that promise to be the definitive collection of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, some of them even calling themselves The History of Middle Earth, but aren’t the originally published twelve separate books. All of them requiring more cash than I’m willing to spend just to set them on a shelf in my library.

The back and forth eye motion of reading text on a printed page has gotten difficult, sometimes even producing minor bouts of vertigo when I have tried to push myself to read for any lengthy amount of time. I doubt that I could ever bring myself to go through all twelve volumes of the set all on my own, if I had to read them directly. The last few times I tried reading anything on the printed page I became fatigued so quickly that I had to resort to buying the works on audiobook just to be able to finish them.

When The Wife and I ran across the Children of Hurin on Audible recently, read by Christopher Lee, we both agreed that we needed to get it. She loves Christopher Lee having grown up watching him play Dracula in all the old Hammer films. His narration of Children of Hurin was beautiful to listen to. I couldn’t have asked for a better voice to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s words to life. The story itself is a major improvement on the rough draft of the story that is preserved in The Silmarillion. There is more depth to the work in this form, the story of Turin Turambar and his sister made all the more tragic by the voice of Christopher Lee. It is a credit to both of the authors who have worked on these stories over the course of their lives that this version flows so well from beginning to end. I can’t recommend it highly enough to any Tolkien fan.

TÚRIN TURAMBAR DAGNIR GLAURUNGA

Elfquest

I’ve been a comic book junkie for as long as I can remember. If I had a nickel for each time I heard “this isn’t a library” while reading comic books at the local grocers, I’d be a rich man (if I’d taken better care of the comic books I did buy, I’d also be a rich man) back in my youth I would lay down right under the rack and read as many of the books as I could before they would kick me out.

The Marvel stories were my favorites, with the occasional venture into DC and Batman (I never will understand the attraction of reading stories about an invulnerable flying alien. The Wife is a Superman fan, so I can’t be too critical of the guy. Don’t blame me if I root for Luthor) I could never get enough of X-Men, Fantastic 4, Iron Man, etcetera. Stan Lee presents was pretty much all I had to see, and I was off.

I kicked the addiction when I was about thirty, newly married and with a child on the way, but not before discovering the specialty comics shop, and the wider assortment of stories that could be found there. Stories like Elfquest.

Marvel published what came to be known as The Grand Quest story arc a few years before I stopped collecting, and I picked up the original bound collections for that series as one of the last comic purchases I ever made.

I was almost instantly hooked. Beautiful flowing artwork, engaging characters, an original storyline, what wasn’t to like about it? Maybe it was the Tolkien fan in me, or maybe I just have always had a weakness for elves; whatever it was, my attraction to the stories has outlasted all of my other comic book habits, including the X-Men.

The Daughter stole the collections from me for awhile, and she bugged me for years to get Kings of the Broken Wheel (which I finally did get) only to discover there was even more story that I hadn’t even heard of.

Consequently I was overjoyed to hear from Richard Pini recently, that all of the past issues of Elfquest will be made available online over the course of the next year.

Welcome to the Complete Elfquest Online project. There’s over 6000 pages coming throughout 2008, so if you’re new to the Elfquest universe, or if you want a refresher course on the overall story timeline, go here first. Then check out a comprehensive guide to all the different Elfquest print publications. (A number of the collected print volumes are still available too.)

Check back every Friday, or better yet, join the Elfquest forum and Yahoo’s Elfquest news group for news and announcements.

Original Quest #1-5 has been posted today, as well as a whole host of other storylines I’ve never heard of.

So I can direct the Son to the website when he wants to take down the now rare original bound and colored collections to read them. Which is good. Children are hard on books. They don’t understand the treasures hidden within are quite perishable. I may have to buy hard copies of some of the newer Elfquest stories just so I can have them on hand when the web is down.

Tolkien's War on Science

This time around, I could see where Feanor was coming from, and that he was roundly screwed on all sides by Morgoth and by the Valar. Even though I realized it before, and just didn’t want to face it years ago, it was obvious that JRRT really did not think well of scientists and technologists.

Science Blogs: Dr. Joan Bushwell, “The Tolkienian War on Science” (Wayback Machine link)

Strangely, I saw this attitude while reading Tolkien’s (JRRT) work, but I never made note of it or gave it much credit. Magic is the language of fantasy work, and magic is how all of the creations of Middle Earth are framed. Magic is the technology of fantasy writing. My disagreements concerning global warming, the bugaboo of the left, I will set aside since she gives the Bush administration a few well deserved jabs during the process of revealing her thoughts on the subject. Her insights do put the entire series of stories in a different light than the one that I read them in. Food for thought.

My advice to Feanor: next time, get yourself a phalanx of good patent attorneys. Morgoth will wither in fear at the prospect of litigation.

Joan Bushwell