We’ve made it to the third stage of our Lord of the Rings Read-Along, co-hosted by Stephanie at Chasm of Books! Today we are discussing Chapters 1-6 of Book V of The Return of the King. Please refrain from posting spoilers for any events that occur after Chapter 6. Anyone is welcome to participate and comment, even those not officially signed up for the event. I have posted three discussion questions below, but feel free to bring up other topics and questions, as well!
In Chapter 2 of The Return of the King, we are reminded of how frustrated Eowyn is at always being asked to stay away from the battlefront and lead those of her people who are not fighting. She complained in discussion with Aragorn:
‘Too often have I heard of duty,’ she cried. ‘But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse? I have waited on faltering feet long enough. Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not spend my life as I will?’
‘Few may do that with honour,’ he answered. ‘But as for you, lady, did you not accept the charge to govern the people until their lord’s return? If you had not been chosen, then some marshal or captain would have been set in the same place, and he could not ride away from his charge, were he weary of it or no.’
‘Shall I always be chosen?’ she asked bitterly.
What do you think of this exchange? What point do you believe Aragorn is making about the nature of duty ? Do you agree with him? Does Eowyn’s position in life have any bearing on her responsibilities? (For instance, do you think she is only asked to stay behind because she is a woman and so her assigning her this duty is “unfair”? Or is she asked to stay because she is of noble lineage? If it is “unfair,” does that give her any right to abandon the duty?)
Also, in Chapter 6 we discover that Eowyn is able to kill the Witch-king of Angmar in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, that she is the answer to the prophecy that “no man” can kill the leader of the Nazgul? Does this compensate for her abandoning her duty and position of leadership back in Rohan?
In Chapter 4, readers see the first exchange between Faramir and his father Denethor and witness some family tensions.
‘Much must be risked in war,’ said Denethor. ‘Cair Andros is manned and no more can be sent so far. But I will not yield the River and the Pelennor unfought—not if there is a captain here who still has the courage to do his lord’s will.’
Then all were silent. But at length Faramir said: ‘I do not oppose your will, sire. Since you are robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead—if you command it.’
‘I do so,’ said Denthor.
‘Then farewell!’ said Faramir. ‘But if I should return, think better of me!’
‘That depends on the manner of your return,’ said Denethor.
Why do you think Denethor favored Boromir over his brother? And if Denethor is upset by Boromir’s death, why does he seem so determined to send Faramir to his? What does it say about Faramir that he continues to seek his father’s goodwill and love in spite of the hostility?
Notably, this is the only real parent-child relationship we witness in The Lord of the Rings. Sam quotes his Gaffer often, and Pippin mentions his father in passing, but, in general, parents in the story are either dead or simply absent. Do you think this is intentional on the part of Tolkien? Do you think it is in any way significant?
During the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, we see a stark difference between the fighting styles of the Gondorians and the Rohirrim. The Gondorians seem either sterner, or more depressed. Yet the Rohirrim, even realizing that they are most likely riding to their deaths, experience some type of battle lust. They go into the fight with speeches and songs:
Fey he [Theoden] seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.
Do you think the difference is a matter of their heritage or of their leadership (Theoden vs. Denethor)? Or is a difference of how they have experienced the threat of Sauron? Do their different styles affect how you view either nation?
Goodreads: Mistress Pat
Series: Pat of Silver Bush #2
Publication Date: 1935
Pat Gardener wishes nothing would ever change, but life goes on even at Silver Bush, where Judy thinks of visiting her friends across the sea, a new family moves into Bets’ old house, and Cuddles suddenly blooms into a woman. Pat writes about it all to her best friend Hilary Gordon—the tall tales of the new farmhand, the unexpected visit from nobility, and the new additions to her family. But though she insists that Hilary is nothing more than a friend, she never can bear to tell him about the suitors who come calling for her. The sequel to Pat of Silver Bush.
Every time I reread a Montgomery book I marvel anew at her ability to depict such rich characters and to draw me into their lives. Her stories contain no plots like the ones we might today expect–there are no mysteries to be solved, no quests to fulfill, not even a journey to take. She simply chronicles the everyday happenings of a household and, in doing so, opens our eyes to the beauty and the wonder that surround us all. Even when depicting sorrow and pain, her books seem to offer comfort and hope, reminding us of that great message “You are not alone.” Her stories are like no others I know and they remain elusive when I attempt to pinpoint their unique quality. There’s just something about them, like a warm home or a good friend. They are simply right.
Mistress Pat, of course, is no exception, though is some ways I see it as darker or at least a little sadder than some of her other works. Oh, of course, Montgomery is always darker and sadder than you seem to remember. Anne falling off the roof or sinking in the river are images that have perhaps invaded our cultural consciousness, and Montgomery’s most famous heroine has thus connected the author with ideas of youthful innocence and idyllic childhoods. But there are also the deaths, the partings, and the misunderstandings. The wild, eerie tales about lost or vengeful souls and the petty gossip that reveals the cruel or hard side of certain neighbors. All these things are just as unmistakably Montgomery as her optimistic heroines or her beautiful nature scenes. Even so, there’s something about Pat that makes me mourn a little.
Anne and Emily make their mistakes, but Pat’s simply seem to go on and on, and perhaps the worst part is that she doesn’t even realize it. Her story is interspersed with happy episodes. Judy is back with all her fantastic tales and a new hired man, Tillytuck, joins her to add his own outrageous additions. The two of them in the kitchen competing to tell the best yarn cannot help but entertain. And, of course, there are the beaux who come around, not only for Pat but also for her suddenly grown-up sister Rachel. As Tillytuck observes, they do add spice to life. As if life weren’t exciting enough what with new friends down the road and a projected visit from nobility no less. And yet… And yet. Something about Pat’s life isn’t right and we all know what it is. There’s no Jingle.
Pat somehow deludes herself into thinking that her life is fine, but deep down she, like the readers, must know she’s settling because she thinks she has to. There’s a gaping wound in her story begging to be filled by the friend who has stood by her side for so many years, loving her without ever asking anything in return. One might think that the absence of Jingle (or Hilary, as we must now call him) would be a defect in the work–how can one have a Pat story without Hilary? And yet it all seems to fit so perfectly. Montgomery is describing the trajectory of a life with all its mistakes, its false starts, and its dead ends. She could do no otherwise. She isn’t creating this story. She’s merely telling it.
At least such is the power of Montgomery’s pen that I believe this is so. Everything about the story seems so right that I would never have Montgomery rewrite it, even to spare, if not Pat, at least me. To do so would seem dishonest. After all, real life is seldom all flowers and sunshine. Sometimes the clouds come and sometimes they don’t lift.
Reading Montgomery is a rare experience and one I feel privileged to share. She possessed a unique vision that she shared with the world and, in doing so, invited us all to see anew the mystery and majesty of life. It is incredible that she does so by focusing on what so many others would overlook–ordinary people leading their ordinary lives.
*This post is part of the Year of Re-Reading Challenge being hosted by Lianne at Caffeinated Life.
We’re starting off our month-long Return of the King read-along with an activity post! Answer the questions on the flowchart below to find out where in Middle Earth you might like to live! Then share your results with us in the comments! (Hint: Clicking the chart will lead you to the media file page, where the text will be bigger!) Check back on Sunday, March 9 for our first Return of the King discussion post.
Goodreads: Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters
Princess Aurora and her sister Luna live in an isolated castle by the sea where all sharp objects are forbidden. Like their mother, Aurora suffers under a curse cast when she was a baby: if she touches a sharp object, she will sleep for a hundred years. When the curse takes hold despite all their precautions, Aurora and Luna set off on a quest to find their fairy godmother and change their fate.
I accepted long ago that Diane Zahler’s fairytale retellings lack much depth or subtlety. One could argue that the intended audience justifies a more streamlined approach, though many middle grade books manage to address difficult themes and to introduce complex or even troubled characters while remaining age-appropriate. Still, I have to take Zahler’s books as they are and, while they never impress me enough to make me want to reread them, they serve me well when I want something pleasant and light.
I began Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters knowing I should expect a simple tale featuring standard characters and a plot line that closely adhered to the original story; however, the book still proved a bit of a disappointment after The Thirteenth Princess and A True Princess. While Zahler’s books never struck me as highly original (The Thirteenth Princess, for instance, merely adds the titular thirteenth daughter to the story of “the Twelve Dancing Princesses”), I certainly did not expect Sleeping Beauty’s daughter to suffer from the same curse cast by the same fairy. After all, would not the solution to this problem be the same as it was the first time?
Certainly Zahler tries to mix things up by adding a quest and a sister for Aurora. She even takes modern sensibilities into account and has the hero journey with Aurora so they can get to know each other, rather than fall in love at first sight or just get married because that’s what one does when a stranger awakens you from sleep with a kiss. The additions, however, are not executed with any degree of uniqueness. The quest—a journey by boat to an island while facing sea monsters and stuff—reminded me of plenty of quests I have seen before. The sisters and their relationship is old—Aurora is pretty, good, and a bit vain and thus clashes with her more casual and mischievous younger sibling. The hero. Well, he’s all right, but since none of the characters received much attention, I never felt that I knew him and thus I could not really cheer him on.
I might have overlooked the abundance of overused plot points, except that the entire story hinged on the fact that, in a book filled with recycled elements, the characters actually all forgot they could just modify the second curse in the same manner as they had the first. It seems silly enough that the evil fairy would try the same trick after her first ignominious defeat, but then I’m also supposed to believe that all the characters just threw up their hands and bewailed their fates when she did so? The story is built on a faulty premise and it bothered me the entire time I was reading.
I still plan to continue reading Zahler’s retellings. I like fairytale retellings and I think it’s hard to destroy them completely since the stories on which they are based speak so strongly to readers. However, the market currently seems to be overflowing with retellings many of them are much more compelling, much more original, and much more thought-provoking than the ones offered by Zahler. It may be time for Zahler to step up her game.
As the season for applying to summer publishing internships approaches, I thought I would share some of the interview questions I have been asked while applying to both internships and full-time jobs with publishers. (For reference, I have had exactly one editorial internship with a major publisher and no full-time jobs, but I have had a respectable amount of interviews.)
I have written previous posts with my Top Ten Tips for Getting an Editorial Internships and my Top Ten Things I Learned As an Editorial Intern. If you have any internship/publishing questions I haven’t answered, feel free to ask in the comments, or email me!
- Why are you interested in [specific type of literature]?
- Why are you interested in this publishing company?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- What are your favorite books?
- What television shows do you like to watch?
- What are you reading currently?
- What is a recent book you read that you didn’t like? Why?
- How do you stay organized?
- Are you detail-oriented?
- Describe your ideal work environment.
- What did you learn at your last internship?
- Are you ok with doing a lot of administrative tasks?
- Tell us about your blog.
- Do you have any questions for us?
First Interview (Academic Publishing Internship)
- Read a manuscript proposal. If you would like to acquire it, write a reader’s report to the editor explaining why. If you would not, write a rejection letter addressed to the author.
Second Stage Interview (Children’s Editorial Internships)
- Read manuscript and write a reader’s report.
- Read manuscript and write a reader’s report and jacket copy.
Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is
Top Ten Popular Authors I’ve Never Read
1. George R. R. Martin: But I have seen seasons two and three of Game of Thrones. A lot of fast-forwarding through awkward parts happens….
2. John Green: I’m pretty sure a friend of mine was telling me about him before he was big, so to speak, and yet here I am still. The only person who hasn’t read The Fault in Our Stars.
3. Marissa Meyer: Her books are on my TBR list, though. They look so fabulous and I’ve only heard good things.
4. Brandon Sanderson: I only learned who he is a couple months ago. Oops.
5. Cassandra Clare: I’m still not clear on what her books are about. Vampires and steampunk people?
6. James Patterson: I assume his popularity from the number of books of his that are in the library.
7. Stephen King: I’m under the impression that if I read his books the terror will never allow me to sleep again. Perhaps someone can tell me if this is correct.
8. Nicholas Sparks: Just not my genre.
9. Julie Kagawa: Though I once checked a book of hers out from the library and proceeded not to read it.
10. Stephanie Perkins: I’ve heard her books are excellent, but I don’t read much contemporary YA.
Goodreads: Wieland; Or The Transformation
Clara Wieland is living an idyllic life in rural Pennsylvania, passing her days in intellectual discussions with her brother and his wife. Their peace is interrupted when the group begins hearing disembodied voices, eventually prompting Theodore Wieland to commit murder. An early American Gothic novel.
Wieland may be of interest to students of early American literature or of Gothic novels, but I am going to go out on a limb (actually, forget that; it probably isn’t a risk) and say that the book does not have a lot of mass market appeal. Even avid classics fans may find it a bit dry.
As is typical with much early American writing, Wieland is lacking the type of strong, fast-paced plot that we often associate with good modern literature. While reading, I tried to keep in mind that Brown likely did not intend excitement as one of his primary goals of the book—even if his choosing to write a novel in the Gothic genre implies he was aiming to include at least a little suspenseful creepiness. The problem is that 1) the book really does drag, as any “action” scenes are separated by lengthy chunks of narrator commentary, 2) the existing plot is disjointed, as Brown seem to have changed his mind about the direction of the novel , and 3) the themes presented in the book are not quite thoughtful enough to compensate for how slow the story is. So, Wieland does not quite succeed as either entertainment or intellectual fare.
The introduction of the Oxford World’s Classic edition (the version I read), explains that Wieland includes themes of power, religious fanaticism, and gender roles. All are, in fact, included, but they are not presented in a subtle enough manner that I, personally, had any great urge to pursue them. (For instance, I would never be inspired to write a literature essay about this book.)
Clara, our narrator, gives long philosophical speeches on gender and sexuality. Her views on the matter often tend to the conservative (she needs protection, needs to be pure and have a good reputation, etc.), but her actions occasionally show her to be stronger and more courageous than some would believe of a woman. Similarly, Carwin, a visitor to the Wielands’ home, rambles on for a while about power and its corruptive nature. Readers are essentially asked to decide whether they agree or disagree with the views presented, rather than being left to form entirely original opinions.
The religious fanaticism (primarily embodied in Theodore) is less explicitly expounded upon, which may make it the most interesting for readers to ponder. However, the disjointed nature of the plot means that Brown gives readers either no information on some important aspects of Theodore Wieland’s character, or he gives conflicting information. The story’s biggest mystery is why Wieland commits murder, but, again, readers are essentially given three explanations from which to choose instead of being left to their own devices.
Frankly, I did not love Wieland. I would not discourage anyone from reading it from an academic standpoint, even if I personally did not find it fit my scholarly interests. I would, however, not recommend it to those who primarily read classics for pleasure. The plot is either slow or nonsensical, the characters are generally flat with one or two defining characteristics, and the themes are so explicitly presented (in many, if not all cases) that they do not leave as much room for interpretation as some might wish. The book is not really fun and it is not really complex. There are so many classics that are, that I recommend finding them and passing on this.
This March begins The Return of the King segment of The Lord of the Rings Read-Along being hosted by Stephanie from Chasm of Books and Pages Unbound. All March discussions and activities will be hosted here at Pages Unbound according to the following schedule:
- First Discussion: Chapters 1-6 of Book V
- Second Discussion: Chapters 7-10 of Book V and Chapters 1-2 of Book VI
- Third Discussion: Chapters 3-9 of Book VI
We will be hosting a Twitter chat focused on The Return of the King and The Lord of the Rings in general on Saturday, March 22 in the EST evening. If you think you will be able to participate, please leave a comment letting me know what time(s) you would be available. Also, please invite others and help spread the word! Anyone is invited to chat, including those not “officially” reading along with us!
Goodreads: The Two Towers
Series: The Lord of the Rings #2
The Fellowship is broken. Frodo and Sam have set off alone to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Merry and Pippin have been captured by orcs. The other members face a hard choice: to follow Frodo to the end or to rescue their comrades. Meanwhile, Orthanc and Barad Dûr gather their strength before unleashing their fury upon the world of men.
I have always considered The Lord of the Rings as one book that just happens to be published in three volumes, and so reviewing The Two Towers poses some challenges. Far from acting as a distinct work of art, it forms instead a seamless part of the story as a whole; Tolkien himself, I understand, conceived as the work as one book but was forced to publish it in parts due to paper shortages. Thus, it may come as some surprise to open the second volume in the “trilogy” only to find that it contains no handy recap of past events woven into the summary but instead immediately jumps into events that were still in progress at the close of The Fellowship of the Ring. Peter Jackson evidently felt this was a bit confusing, as well-those who have both read the book and seen the movies will know that one character’s arc is tied up definitively by Jackson by the end of his The Fellowship of the Ring; Tolkien allows this arc to play out longer. So reviewing The Two Towers is, to me, impossible. It would be like reviewing the middle chapters of Moby-Dick or Little Women. Without the full story to give those chapters context, a review would run the risk of being meaningless. It makes more sense to me to offer some reflections on the book and where we as readers are now in the story, having just left Sam and Frodo on the verge of losing everything.
Reading The Lord of the Rings has always been in some sense difficult to me due to the necessity of its switching perspectives. In The Two Towers, Tolkien not only divides the story into two Books (Book III, which follows Aragorn & Co. and IV, which follows Frodo and Sam) but also jumps from character to character within those books. So it is that just as one begins to get comfortable and follow Aragorn on the hunt, Tolkien whisks away to focus on Merry and Pippin. I might be annoyed, except that Tolkien handles it all so masterfully. Not only does he make me care equally about all his characters so that I am always invested (and never thinking, “Oh no. Not him again. Can’t we fast forward a bit?”) but he also positions these transitions strategically. Sometimes he wishes to create suspicion, so we know nothing of the movements of various characters. But sometimes he wishes to create irony, so we know before the Three Hunters what has become of their friends. Somehow the choice always seems right. I would not want to know about the wizard before he appears, but I think that not knowing about Merry and Pippin might border on the over-dramatic (like that time Aragorn fell off a cliff in Jackson’s The Two Towers and was “dead”). Tolkien might be alleging to have discovered this story already told, but there is no denying he translates it for us masterfully, making it his own.
And what a world he introduces to in the process. One might suspect that the middle of such a large book would flag in the middle, but Tolkien keeps it fresh and strong with the addition of new lands, new characters, and new challenges. The journey to Rohan is one of my favorite in the story–though the Rohirrim are considered “lesser” men than the Gondorians, there is no doubt they are strong and bold and fearless. Their is a joy in their ferocity. Everything about them seems young, as if they still have the world to discover and will venture out gladly, willing to make mistakes but pick themselves up again. The men of Gondor may have wisdom but the men of Rohan have the right of the young to be carefree and proud. I love their land and their people and their poetry. Tolkien makes it all come alive.
Of course, other lands are introduced, as well, and there is a special type of magic to them all. From Fangorn Forest to Ithilien, Tolkien makes me feel as if I am really in Middle-earth, walking ancient lands and feeling the wonder and beauty of it all. Aragorn tells the riders of Rohan that the earth is a thing “of mighty legend” and one believes, through Tolkien, that it is true. Thus we pass all too soon to the darkness and ash of Frodo and Sam’s own hard journey.
Frodo and Sam’s story possesses a sort of poignant, pathetic beauty. Frodo is clearly suffering at this point, but feels compelled to go on, to try to do the right thing. One senses that he feels a “doom” upon him, but whether he means this in the gloomy way we now associate with the word or whether he simply means it is his fate and one he cannot escape, he himself may not yet know. It is all the more endearing to see trusty Sam at his side, laboring on through all hardships and always thinking of his master first. Sam knows the fate of the world hangs on his quest, and yet he seems not to know as well. For Sam, all that really matters is Frodo and somehow the fate of the world may end up turning on the friendship of two lowly Hobbits. It is a breathtakingly bold thought, one might not expect to see in an epic fantasy where spells and swords so often solve all problems.
So where do we go from here? Only The Return of the King can tell us. But as we journey forward, we have so many things on which to think, from Frodo’s strange mercy toward Gollum to Sam’s friendship to Pippin’s troublesome curiosity. So many of these things seem small, yet we have seen that in Tolkien’s world there is no small deed, no small word. Fate works in mysterious ways and I doubt that at the time of publication, many saw the ending of this far from standard fantasy quest.
Goodreads: I Will Repay
Series: The Scarlet Pimpernel #3
Ten years ago Juliette Marny swore an oath to avenge the death of her brother upon Paul Déroulède, the man who killed him. The outbreak of the French Revolution now provides her with the perfect opportunity to denounce Déroulède and send him to the guillotine. But can she really revenge herself upon a man she has come to love?
I Will Repay is the second book written by Baroness Orczy in the Scarlet Pimpernel series, though the third chronologically. It delivers all the melodrama and romance of the original while managing to feel fresh; Orczy chooses wisely in removing the focus from the Pimpernel to completely new characters, though of course the beloved Sir Percy makes a guest appearance. Never particularly suspenseful or even serious (despite attempts to depict the terror and frenzy of the French Revolution in what may strike some as overwrought prose), I Will Repay rewards those able to enjoy a sometimes cheesy romance/action adventure for what it is–pure entertainment.
Despite being the kind of book that some might call a guilty pleasure, however, I Will Repay also contains what I consider a trademark of Orczy’s writing–a sharp insight into human nature and the crazy things people sometimes do. Sir Percy’s exploits are thus only secondary to the plot, and those looking for a real swashbuckler may find themselves disappointed. Instead, the focus remains on Juliette as she struggles to reconcile her perceived duty to fulfill her oat with her sense that her oath is wrong, even evil. Orczy dwells a bit too much perhaps on Juliette’s Catholicism, making it seem as if her religion makes her some sort of fanatic, but she does an excellent job addressing the real conflict Juliette feels and the confusion her actions leave behind. After all, if she loves a man, how can she hurt him? Humans are messy, the book seems to say, but you have to take people as they are.
Does the book still contain contrived plot elements, stereotyped characters, and character descriptions we now find politically incorrect and even offensive? Indeed it does and though readers may overlook the first two elements, they may recoil at Déroulède’s dislike of accepting help from a woman or at the depiction of Déroulède’s cousin (born with a crooked spine, she now lives in his household as a dependent/servant and hopelessly devotes her life and love to him). Even knowing that Orczy wrote in a different time, it is not easy to forgive such elements and I found myself sometimes troubled by what I read. After all, if Orczy was capable of providing Déroulède’s cousin with so much depth and emotion, why did she have to leave her with such a horrid ending? And does this cousin’s character stem from her appearance or would Orczy have depicted her as equally naive, jealous, and infatuated if she her back were straight? Such questions continued to nag at me long after I had closed the pages.
And yet I cannot help but admit that I enjoyed the rest of the book. Contrived, melodramatic, and yet full of passion, it swept me along in a fun adventure that made me feel I was right there along with the Scarlet Pimpernel and his merry band. The story never tries to be anything more than it is and I can appreciate that. I needed something light to give me a respite from the more serious reading I was doing and I Will Repay gave me just that.
*This post is part of the Year of Re-Reading Challenge being hosted by Lianne at Caffeinated Life.