Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Lord Of the Rings”

#CBR4 Holiday Gift Guide: Your Precocious Nephew/Niece (Review #46, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein)

Let me say this right upfront: I am not a Tolkienophile. I read the Lord of the Rings three times: once as a tween, again as a teenager, and once more as a young adult, and every time I found it for the most part yawn-inducing. Bloated fantasy fiction is not my thing. If I had been J.R.R. Tolkien’s editor, I would have told him to cut it down by at least a third.

Nevertheless, The Hobbit holds a special place in my heart and on my reading list. It is one of two books I believe should be read aloud to every kid (the other one is The Phantom Tollbooth, and if you haven’t read that or had it read to you, I’ll let Michael Chabon tell you why you should). My brother read The Hobbit to me as a young child, and it’s a memory I associate with so many good things in life—comfort, safety, and descriptions of delicious-sounding food. Mostly though, I remember it (and The Phantom Tollbooth) as the first books that didn’t make me feel condescended to. As a child, I was always mildly suspicious that people were talking down to me. I hated that in adults, but I hated it even more in books. It felt like the ultimate betrayal—for books, in which one is supposed to find an escape from reality, to contain the same thinly-veiled condescension that exists in the real world was unthinkable. I loved Roald Dahl for this reason; I also loved The Hobbit. Despite its winks and humorous asides, it never took its characters or its audience less than completely seriously. This is shown nowhere so much as the scope of the novel, and the world Tolkien created for it. Say what you want about Tolkien, but his ability to create a fictional world so vivid that it allows one to forget the world in which they’re actually living is unparalleled. It is this, more than anything else, that makes The Hobbit such a delightful read.

Surely, you’ve heard the plot or at least managed to glean a few details from the relentless trailers for the adaptation playing before every single movie (including, probably, The Hobbit itself). In case you haven’t, the plot centers around the titular hobbit himself, Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is a homebody classic to his species, except for a bit of inconvenient, adventure-hungry Took blood. It is this little-explored side of him that prompts him to accept, if somewhat reluctantly, an invocation to a quest, put forth to him by the friendly wizard Gandalf the Grey. Bilbo goes on an adventure with a tribe of dwarfs to retake the treasure of their former home, the Lonely Mountain, from the dragon, Smaug (a more perfect name for a dragon villain there has never been). From there, the plot bounces along through myriad scrapes and close calls, including the most memorable scene of the book, Bilbo’s introduction to Gollum and his most prized possession, the titular ring of Tolkien’s later trilogy. Even as a child, without having read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I had an accurate sense that the ring’s importance superseded the story in front of me; it was details like that, left out for the reader but not fully explained, that made me feel like I was reading a grown-up book, a book that took me as seriously as I took it.

For this reason, The Hobbit is the book you should get for your precocious niece or nephew—especially if it is their first introduction to chapter books. I would give it to my own precocious nephew if it weren’t for the fact that his parents, both huge Tolkien nerds, have probably already read it to him several times by now. My nephew Timothy is precocious mostly because my sister treats him as if he is; he learned to read at such a young age because she encouraged him to; he speaks like a tiny adult because she treats him with the seriousness of one. Being an introverted middle child, she is very conscious about making her own children feel paid attention to, and treating their thoughts as important ones. Perhaps because of this, Timothy has grown up to be a very serious thinker, and a serious reader. He started reading chapter books at the age of 5, a development which thrilled me, because I had been waiting impatiently for my nephews and nieces to reach the age where we could share books.

Timothy is the perfect candidate for The Hobbit. He loves adventure—Star Wars is his favorite movie—but loves asking questions. He loves it even more if he asks a question that can’t immediately be answered, because it means he can look for it himself. This makes The Hobbit a perfect read for him; self-contained enough to make a satisfying read, but leaving a breadcrumb trail of hints and questions to tantalize the minds of the young and curious. Someday, no doubt, he’ll be old enough to read The Lord of the Rings, which, bloated though it is, will lead him into a world where curiosity and imagination are paramount, and where one can completely lose themselves for as long as they want. He’ll take that message with  him when he grows up, so that if he’s having a rough year, or if it’s getting close to Christmas and he’s feeling old and unspirited, he can pick up The Hobbit and read it again, remember all the things he felt when he first read it. Maybe he’ll buy it for his own niece or nephew, or his own kid, and the joy he gets from seeing them introduced to this world will make him feel young again.

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ElCicco #CBR4 review #46: Darths and Droids by The Comic Irregulars

Darths and Droids  is a free web comic that role playing gamers and Star Wars fans (groups with significant overlap) will love. A group of such guys in Australia began developing this comic in 2007 after being inspired by DM of the Rings — a web comic that imagined Lord of the Rings as played by a bunch of gamers. Darths and Droids is about a group of guys playing a RPG and using the images and characters from Star Wars Episode I but creating an alternate story line. In this imaginary world, Star Wars doesn’t exist but the gamers invent a similar universe in the course of their play. The characters (Qui Gon, Obi Wan, etc) are being played by guys who don’t behave at all as the movie characters but are dead on gamers of the type you might know — the tech fanatic/min-max gamer who loads his character with specialized skills at the expense of more humanizing traits, the guy who just wants to fight and find loot, another guy’s little sister who tags along for lack of a babysitter, and a GM whose best laid plans get completely screwed up by his friends.

The use of actual stills from the movie makes this so much fun to read. I wish they would go back and reshoot the movies using this dialog as it is hilarious and entertaining and Lucas’ characters play against type. Qui Gon is a battle happy treasure hunter, JarJar is a genius, R2 is arrogant, Darth Maul is …. not at all what you would expect. Qui Gon and Obi Wan from the moment they enter the Trade Federation ship ruin the GM’s plan and pretty much act as lawless rogue forces, causing political trouble and unnecessary destruction. Qui Gon immediately wants to search for treasure and steal blasters. Really if you have ever played RPGs you will recognize all of your gaming friends in this comic and if you have GM’d you will commiserate.

Qui Gon is the funniest character. In addition to his distinctly selfish and martial instincts, he has a habit of massacring the GM’s specialized vocabulary (Jedi Knights are Cheddar Monks), trying to “cast spells” instead of using the force (“I summon bigger fish” has become a catch phrase among devotees of the comic), and forgetting what their mission is. The deal he makes with Watto regarding the pod race is so convoluted and ridiculous, you know that true gamers were involved. And the stills used to capture Qui Gon’s expression in any given scene are just laugh out loud funny.

The best scenes involve the introduction of JarJar and later scenes featuring Yoda and the Jedi council. A girl named Sally makes up JarJar from her imagination. “Mesa got biiiig long floppy bunny ears … and a tongue like an anteater. And mesa face is kind of like a pony … and mesa coloured peachy, pinky white!” She also turns the Gunguns into carnivores who prefer human flesh and eventually turns JarJar into a skilled and respected general.

When Anikin (played by a young woman who seems to be the object of all the gaming guys’ fancies) meets Yoda for the first time, there are several truly hysterical scenes. One involves an extensive rif between Yoda and Anikin on the “Fear is the path to the Dark Side” scene. The other is Episode 142, “The Source of the Force, Of Course, Of Course,” which deals with the whole “balance in the force” business and why creating more Jedi via blood transfusions (which Qui Gon does) is a bad idea. Every time I read the last panel in this episode, I laugh out loud.

Each page of the web comic is a numbered episode with a title, and at the bottom of each page is a commentary by the Irregulars along with a transcript of the page. The writer commentaries are often as funny as the comic itself, with ruminations on Star Wars, gamers, other RPGs and more. The writers are still producing this comic, going through every Star Wars movie. Now that Disney has bought out Lucas and is planning to produce more, it looks like they’ll be working for a long time. Yay! This is really funny and creative, and it’s the kind of thing you can put down and come back to later (much like an RPG). It was a nice break to read and now I want to go on a campaign.

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