My Journey Through Middle-Earth (Guest Post by Nandini)

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the complete schedule here.


My fascination with this fictional land began at the age of ten, when my brother was watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy on TV. I caught only parts of it, but was so intrigued that I borrowed the DVD box-set from a friend and re-watched it in full with my family. I vaguely remember sitting on my bed, trying to recall how the soundtrack went because I was mesmerised. I’d like to believe that I haven’t truly left Middle-Earth since then.

I borrowed the complete unabridged collection of the books from my school library two years later. I finished a majority of it when I had taken sick leave for three days – I distinctly recall taking the bulky book with me when I was waiting to see the doctor at his clinic. I tried to read as many books by Tolkien that I could get my hands on after that and breezed through The Hobbit, The Children of Húrin, Unfinished Tales, The Book of Lost Tales and The Shaping of Middle-Earth. The most obvious piece missing from this list is The Silmarillion, which I plan to finish in March 2017 as a part of my personal celebration of the Tolkien Reading Day.

If someone told me to close my eyes and picture my happy place, it would be Lothlórien. There’s just something magical and ethereal about Middle-Earth that I can’t quite put into words. The strange beauty, the descriptions of the land and the awareness that each rock, tree or creature has its own purpose and will transports me into a place that seems surreal. Reading through the rich prose gives me a feeling of going on a vacation without having left the comfort of my room. I get lost in the pages and when I put down the book, it seems as if I’ve emerged from a dream. I have yet to find another series that has provided such an immersive experience. I am in awe of how detailed the world is; the words make the place come alive in my mind. The characters also make up a large part of why the series is special to me. It is incredible how some characters who only appear briefly in the story are so memorable – take Lady Galadriel or Tom Bombadil, for instance. My favourite of the lot, however, is Samwise Gamgee, who many believe to be the actual hero.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has had such a huge impact on my reading habits and my personality that I consider it to be a part of me. Fantasy became my favourite genre after I fell in love with the trilogy. I’ve talked about it on my blog several times and even dedicated a month-long series to it. My kind and considerate friends gifted me a replica of the Evenstar necklace from the films for my 21st birthday. I found the hardcover movie tie-in edition of The Return of the King quite by accident at a bookstore for a ridiculously low price and I can’t resist the urge to talk about how extraordinarily lucky I was that day. I recently won a quiz that had The Lord of the Rings as one of its five main topics and got all the questions based on it right. I do a marathon of the films and re-read the books every year – it’s almost become a ritual now.

Being such an ardent fan also comes with a sense of responsibility, especially in the digital world where opinions are broadcast on a daily basis. Some comparisons between Tolkien and George Martin’s works have sprung up these days, with debaters being unaware of how different they are and arguing for the sake of winning some sort of popularity vote. Tolkien’s works have also been criticised as being racist or unsuitable for the modern reader. Some of the comments on such topics seem to have no basis in fact and have left me outraged, to be honest. I do realise that I have a personal bias with regard to this, so I try not to respond where I feel this would be an issue. While healthy debates are quite welcome and are necessary, I feel that as a member of this wonderful community of readers who love and respect Tolkien’s works, it is my duty to not descend to the level of trolls and engage with them just to prove a point, which could potentially harm the reputation of other fans across the world. My sole aim is to share the joy of reading that I have experienced and I hope that my journey would encourage another to try out his works as well.

I’d like to conclude by sharing a few lines from my favourite song in the books:

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
–The Road Goes Ever On (The Fellowship of the Ring)

About the Author

Nandini Pages That Rustle

Nandini Bharadwaj, a 21-year-old from Bangalore, India, is an expert at dabbling in a bit of everything. She will graduate as a Telecommunication engineer in May 2017 and wants to earn a PhD someday. When she’s not typing up posts for her blogs, Pages That Rustle and Unputdownable Books, one can find her stuck in a book, watching a movie or marathoning a TV show. She also likes to cook, and her favourite flavour is chocolate. Her biggest dream is to have a packed and organised floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in her bedroom. She can be found online on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Goodreads.

Lord of the Rings Bookmark Set Giveaway

Tolkien Reading Event 2017
Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Giveaway Details

Lord of the Rings Bookmarks

To kick off our 2017 Tolkien Reading Event, we are offering a set of six Lord of the Rings character bookmarks to one lucky reader! The set includes: Arwen, Galadriel, Eowyn, Boormir and Saruman and Gandalf (who are not pictured). The bookmarks are made of laminated cardstock (and the backs are just white).

The character clip art is from CuteGraphicSupply on Etsy. You can always purchase your own and design your own bookmarks if you don’t win the giveaway! The shop also has clip art for other popular fandoms like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars.

Giveaway Rules

  • The giveaway is open internationally.
  • You should be 13 years or older to enter.
  • We will email the winner once the giveaway closes.  The winner will have 48 hours to respond before we pick a new winner.
  • You do not need to be a follower of our blog, though you can get extra entries for this.
  • Anyone found cheating will be disqualified from this and any future giveaways.
  • We are not responsible for lost or damaged prizes.
  • We will not do anything with your address besides ship the prize to you.

Click Here to Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway

Tolkien Reading Event 2017: Introduction and Schedule

Tolkien Reading Event 2017
Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Schedule

More Tolkien Resources

If you can’t wait for this year’s Tolkien posts, you can check out what we’ve done with past Tolkien Reading Celebrations here.

*LotR clip art is from CuteGraphicSupply on Etsy.

Maus I: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

maus-iINFORMATION

Goodreads: Maus
Series:  Maus I
Source: Purchased
Published: 1986

SUMMARY

The son of a Holocaust survivor attempts to come to terms with his father’s history by writing a graphic novel.

Review

Though you may know Maus as that famous comic about the Holocaust, the story told focuses both on Art Spiegelman’s father’s experiences in Europe during WWII and on Art’s own experience of inheriting that legacy.  The work slides through time as it depicts Art interviewing his father Vladek about his past as well as Art navigating his difficult relationship with his father in the present.  His graphic novel is not really meant to memorialize the victims–and indeed Spiegelman seems to have a horror of sentimentalizing the Holocaust–so much as it is meant to allow Spiegelman to work through what it means to be living in the shadows of his father’s memories.

Art’s preoccupations reveal themselves quite clearly in the scene where Vladek’s second wife Mala makes Art a cup of coffee and begins to describe her own Holocaust experience.  Just as she finishes telling Art how her parents died, he jumps up, remembering that his mother’s old diaries might be in his father’s office.  Disconcerted, Mala asks where he is going.  She is trying to work through her trauma by telling her story, but Art is interested only in working through his own trauma, inherited from his parents.

The result is a complex interweaving of past and present as Spiegelman tells his father’s story from his courtship to the war to his parents’ eventually capture and deportation.  It does not sentimentalize the Holocaust nor does it try to speak for all the survivors or make meaning out of tragedy.  It’s the retelling of man’s experiences, what he knew at the time, and of his son’s attempt to make meaning out of those experiences decades later.  And it ever so subtly it reveals how the effects of the Holocaust reach out to cast shadows even now.

4 starsKrysta 64

Classic Remarks: Is Paradise Lost’s Satan a Sympathetic Character?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Do you think Satan from Paradise Lost is at all a sympathetic character?

Paradise Lost

Whenever I see someone comment that Paradise Lost‘s Satan is a sympathetic character, I think they must be referencing the fact that Satan is given interiority in the text, that readers are presented with the rationale Satan uses when he decides rebelling against God is a good idea–justified, right.  After the invocation, the poem opens with a scene of Satan in Hell, rousing the fallen angels who followed him, and promising them great things and a chance to regain Heaven.  He explains that he is powerful too and that to repent now that he is banished would be a disgrace:

“To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deify his power,
Who from the terror of this arm so late
Doubted his empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall” (111-116)

Satan can make moving speeches when he wants to, though he often appeals to negative emotions like hatred.  Readers, to some extent, get to see things from Satan’s perspective, and perhaps that is what some people refer to as “sympathetic.”  However, it’s clear that readers are not actually supposed to be on the side of Satan or think him in any real way wronged by God.  Readers are shown the steps of reasoning that Satan took to make his choices; they are not supposed to ultimately agree with him that they were good choices.

The opening invocation asks: “Who first seduced them [humans] to that foul revolt?” and answers “Th’ infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile / Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived / The mother of mankind” (31-35). These are harsh, judgmental words, and they set the tone for how the narrator and God Himself speak of Satan throughout the text.  Satan is a deceiver, full of pride, sinful.  There’s no “trick” in the text here.  Readers are not supposed to consider the narrator unreliable or question whether God is right.  It is sometimes difficult for modern readers to take religious texts as seriously as the authors and contemporary audience did, but the veracity of God is taken for granted in this text.  Satan is given motivations in the poem, but he is not exonerated from his transgressions because of them.  I don’t think he is a sympathetic character.

If you are participating this week, please leave a link to your post below.

Briana

“Beauty and the Beast”: A Story of True Love or a Problematic Relationship?

Discussion Post

With the anticipated release of Disney’s live-remake of Beauty and the Beast, discussions have been renewed about the potentially problematic nature of the plot.  Critics worry that the story celebrates Stockholm Syndrome and that it teaches girls and women to forgive the men who hurt them, because the message is that if they only love a  man enough, the man will change.  Others however, bristle at the thought that a beloved classic should be read this way.  The story is, in their eyes, about the transformative nature of love.

To be fair to the critics who read Stockholm Syndrome into the plot, Disney’s version does make changes to the fairy tale that make Belle into more of a prisoner than a guest.  The version told by Andrew Lang in his Blue Fairy Book features a Belle who willingly goes to the Beast’s palace because it was her request for a rose that got her father into trouble there.  She is treated respectfully by the Beast, roams freely about the palace, and enjoys talking with the Beast.  She understands him as kind and argues that his ugly appearance is not his fault and does not reflect his personality.  When she requests a visit home, he immediately agrees, though sadly.  She returns willingly because she is worried about him and his well-being.

In contrast, Disney’s Belle is at first locked in a cell, then understood to be a prisoner of the palace with limited movement.  She does not initially like the Beast because he is angry and rude (though, to her credit, she does not put up with his behavior but rather calls him out on it.)  She seems, on the whole, to be more at the mercy of the Beast in terms of her physical agency, though she is not a passive character and makes small resistances throughout the film from refusing to dine with the Beast to arguing her way home.  In trying to make their story more dramatic, Disney does in fact introduce elements that viewers can find troubling and that complicate the narrative of the transformative power of love.

These changes illustrate the challenge inherent in determining what kind of story Beauty and the Beast is, and whether it is productive to think of the story in terms of frames such as Stockholm Syndrome.  The source text for Disney’s version focuses on Belle’s learning to recognize how kind the Beast is, despite his appearance.  Because it is shorter and somewhat sparser (and because Lang’s version at least contains a good amount of dialogue about learning to see past appearances, just in case readers missed the memo), it lends itself  much more readily to the somewhat allegorical interpretation favored by those who defend it.  (An attitude that mirrors that of G. K. Chesterton, who writes in Orthodoxy that: “There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”)  But that message can be lost in translation once Disney makes changes to the story.

In a way, the debate about the possible ramifications of romanticizing Stockholm Syndrome seems to be about two distinctly different texts–one argument is focusing on Disney’s very specific adaptation and the other argument is recognizing the embedded message that is carried over into Disney’s version from the source text.  However, I would go farther and suggest that Disney’s version ultimately does not romanticize Stockholm Syndrome for the simple reason that Belle does not begin to love the Beast until he begins to show he is capable of change.  That is, she does not commit herself emotionally or begin to fall in love until he stops throwing tantrums and shouting and generally being awful and uncouth.

Yes, she is still a prisoner in his castle and, yes, that is a problem.  However, she does not fall in love with the Beast simply because he is there or because she sympathizes with him or his reasons for doing what he does.  She does not  make excuses for his actions or wave aside his anger management issues because he is just “misunderstood” or had a hard childhood or just has some things going on emotionally because it’s difficult being a hideous monster.  She falls in love because he shows himself capable of gentleness and heroism, and because he is willing to learn and to grow.

It’s not a perfect story and if I were to retell it, I would hesitate to make the Beast imprison Belle as he does in the Disney version–not without a more in-depth exploration of how this could impact Belle as she tries to decipher her feelings towards the Beast.  However, I do not think fairy tales are really meant to be taken literally.  They operate on an allegorical level through their sparsity--and the short run time of Disney films mimics that sparsity to an extent.  These movies are not psychological explorations.  They assume that their viewers will take away, in good faith, the idea that qualities such as kindness, caring, and sacrifice are noble things that can make positive impacts on the world.  That’s a message I still believe–and so I can still love Beauty and the Beast after all these years.

What do you think?  Is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast dangerous for children or a positive story about the power of love and looking beyond appearances?

Is It Dangerous to Relax Our Writing Standards When Blogging?

Discussion Post Stars

As bloggers we generally do not hold ourselves to the same writing standards we would if we were writing for school or work.  Blogging is a hobby, a way to relax, so doing rigorous research before posting, providing a Works Cited with at least ten sources all in meticulously correct MLA, and revising the post several times to ensure that the structure is the most effective one we can think of are not expected.  Likewise, we can usually scrape by with providing much less evidence for an argument than we would if we thought the stakes were higher.

However, when we adopt this approach we also lose sight of why we learn to do what we do in school or at work.  That is, we aren’t trained to conceive of an original argument, make sure our sources are credible and objective, and provide sufficient evidence just so we can get an “A” on the paper at the end of the term.  Rather, we are trained to do this because being able to evaluate an argument, to use rhetoric effectively, and to evaluate the arguments and rhetoric of others are important skills that affect our daily lives, even if that just means we can recognize a bad financial decision or a manipulative junk food ad when we see one.  And, of course, the American school system has always been conceived of a way to make individuals into informed and responsible citizens.  Learning to argue, learning how to assess the arguments of others is political.

To tell ourselves that we are able to, in a sense, switch off our brains we are done with the day, home from school or home from work, places us at the mercy of all the messages around us.  Advertisements, Facebook posts, memes, Twitter arguments, and the news media are consistently using rhetoric in service of an agenda.  If we aren’t savvy, we’re likely to buy into whatever we read because it seems, at face value, to be correct (especially if we already agree with the sentiment behind it).  However, not everyone writing on the Internet has researched the topics they are speaking about.  Sometimes people writing on the Internet do appear to have done research–but a closer look reveals the research is dated, from a biased or non-credible  source, or somehow skewed to give a false perception.  As we find ourselves launched into a world of “alternative facts,” it’s important to remember that we are responsible for becoming aware of the rhetoric being used to move us and of learning how to research the facts.  Consistently using the critical thinking skills we have been trained in is how we can effect real change in the world.

We should be bringing our critical thinking skills to blogging and encouraging others to engage with us in lively dialogues about the issues we discuss and the ways we discuss them.  We should be wary about reading posts that make claims that are not true or cannot be backed up by evidence.  We should be careful ourselves to do research so we can prevent ourselves from making false claims.  Likewise, we should be wary of individuals who encourage us to not read, to not assess things from ourselves, to just take the word of the semi-anonymous individual on Twitter.  Blindly accepting claims without asking for evidence, without doing the research ourselves, is dangerous.

We should also be encouraging each other to assess our arguments fairly and to interact with them in critical and productive ways.  We need to be careful about letting our emotions guide our reception of an argument.  It’s possible to support a position and still recognize that some arguments in favor of that position are weak or not based on credible evidence.  Pointing out a flawed argument does not make anyone a bad person or an opponent of the cause.  Rather, recognizing that an argument is flawed can only help strengthen your position.  You cannot convince others to accept your position if it seems to be built on outdated research or biased sources.  You can convince skeptics by piling the evidence on them.

Book bloggers don’t need to all turn into semi-professional researchers overnight. However, we should be encouraging a culture that seeks the truth and that is willing to question, to debate, and to learn–and, yes, to do our own research whenever we see a sketchy claim and before we write any claims ourselves.  We need to be practicing our ability to make an argument and to assess evidence every day.  The skills we need at school and at work are the skills that are going to allow us to make a difference in our communities and in our politics.

Krysta 64