“It Was Pity That Stayed His Hand” (Guest Post by Anne Marie Gazzolo)

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. 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 guest posts and interviews!

As Bilbo Baggins crawls along the goblin tunnels in total darkness, he happens upon a small ring. He puts it in his pocket without much thought and continues on until he hits water. With no way to tell how deep or far across it is, he stops. He does not know he is under surveillance by an unsavory creature. That is, not until he hears it speak of how delicious he would be to eat. So meet two small beings who play such crucial roles in the fate of the Ring. Bonniejean Christensen observes:

J. R. R. Tolkien’s fallen hobbit, Gollum, is an interesting character in his own right, but the changes in his character that Tolkien made between the first edition of The Hobbit in the 1930s and second edition in the 1950s make him one of his most fascinating creations.

. . .

In The Hobbit he is one of a series of fallen creatures on a rising scale of terror. In The Lord of the Rings he is an example of the damned individual who loses his own soul because of devotion to evil (symbolized by the ring) but who, through grace, saves others. (9, 10)

In an earlier draft of The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Frodo of Gollum’s pitiable state before he met Bilbo:

“Don’t you realize that he had possessed the Ring for ages, and the torment was becoming unendurable? He was so wretched that he knew he was wretched, and had at last understood what caused it. . . . Half his mind wanted above all to be rid of the Ring, even if the loss killed him. But he hated parting with it as much as keeping it. He wanted to hand it on to someone else, and to make him wretched too.” (Treason 24-25)

The wizard goes on to say Gollum would not give the Ring to the goblins. After Bilbo comes, the creature sees his chance. Gandalf hints at the other Power at work in his mention both Bilbo and Frodo were singled out as the Ring’s guardians. Through this, Gollum’s life remains safe. If anyone other than Bilbo found the fell object, it would have likely meant the wretched being’s death (Treason 25).

Gollum challenges Bilbo to a high-stakes riddle-game which reveals their respective worldviews. The hobbit speaks of life, light, and beautiful things. In retaliation, Gollum focuses for the most part on death, darkness, and decay. Bilbo likewise counters the wretched creature’s despair with hope. With the hobbit’s life in immediate peril, he cannot think as clearly as he would otherwise. But he need not, as grace provides some of the answers without his conscious thought.

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“The Hands of the King are the Hands of a Healer” (Guest Post by Michael J. Miller @ My Comic Relief)

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. 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 guest posts and interviews!

“The Hands of the King are the Hands of a Healer”-min

This is exciting!  I’ve admired Krysta and Briana’s site for ages and having the chance to write for their Tolkien Reading Event 2019 is an honor.  However, this was also an intimidating post to write.  I am a casual Tolkien reader at best – not reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time until I taught it (and when I say “it” I mean “the films” but I read the books before I taught it so only judge me half as much as you were going to when I said “films”) to my Youth Group about ten years ago.  Reading this site has given me a far deeper appreciation for not only the brilliance of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work but also the devoted nature of his fans.  So I know I’m writing for readers who know their Tolkien.  Yikes.  But I’m always up for a challenge and this gives me an avenue to write about something profound I found in the pages of The Return of the King when I first read it all those years ago – the Houses of Healing.

The Houses of Healing comprise a relatively short part of Tolkien’s work.  However, this scene struck me more than anything else in the entire story when I first read it.  It was the part which left the most vivid impression on me, too.  I think of it often.  I am in awe of the brilliant allegorical work Tolkien accomplishes here.  Obviously, as a Catholic and someone who has spent the last seventeen years – his entire adult life – studying and teaching theology, Tolkien has my respect in a special way.  Tolkien’s faith greatly influenced his life and work, producing one of the most thoughtful and expansive examples of Christian allegory in all of literature with The Lord of the Rings.  For me, the most powerful example of this allegory occurs at the House of Healing.

In The Return of the King, while the Battle of Pelenor Fields rages, Gandalf arrives at the Houses of Healing.  As he’s there, the healers are struggling to help the people brought to them, “But now their art and knowledge were baffled; for there were many sick of a malady that would not be healed; and they called it the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgûl.”[1]  As the people grow sicker and sicker, Gandalf waited and he watched.  “Then an old wife, Ioreth, the eldest of the women who served in that house, looking on the fair face of Faramir, wept, for all the people loved him.  And she said: ‘Alas!  if he should die.  Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say!  For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.  And so the rightful king could ever be known.’”[2]

BOOM.  But it gets better!

Aragorn arrives and when he comes to the Houses of Healing he instantly begins his work.  He heals Faramir,[3]  Éowyn,[4] and Merry[5] using his hands, herbs, and his voice – calling them back to him.  Then, despite his desire to rest, he hears the calls of the people and continues his work:

“At the doors of the Houses many were already gathered to see Aragorn, and they followed after him; and when at last he supped, men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends whose lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the Black Shadow.  And Aragorn arose and went out, and he sent for the sons of Elrond, and together they laboured far into the night.  And word went far through the City:  ‘The king has come again indeed.’”[6]

BOOM.  What makes this – Aragorn being the one able to heal Faramir, Éowyn, Merry, and all the others – so profound isn’t simply the fact that Aragon is the king but rather that he is one of Tolkien’s central Christ figures in the story.  A Christ figure isn’t literally Christ but rather the character(s) who symbolically represents Jesus Christ in some way, shape, or form.  In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien gives his readers three central Christ figures in Frodo, Gandalf, and, of course, Aragorn.  But of all the theological allusions in this story, all the Christological moments, it is this one which is the most significant (at least as far as I’m concerned) because it ties so directly into Jesus’ ministry.

I remember a professor of mine once saying, “What we know for certain about the Historical Jesus could fit on the back of a post card.”  It was not an original insight on his part but rather an oft repeated remark meant to underscore while we know a lot about Jesus, there is very little we can say with absolute certainty as being historically factual.  (Granted, the majority of the truth of scripture doesn’t hinge, and was never meant to, on it being historically factual.  Humanity’s greatest and most profound truths often come clearest in metaphors.)  But one of the things we do know with absolute certainty is that Jesus of Nazareth had a reputation as a mystic healer.[7]  We see reference to Jesus’ healings in the Christian scriptures, obviously, but we also see references to them in Jewish and Roman sources.  This is important from a historical standpoint as Jewish and Roman writers had no need to try to prove Jesus the Messiah or God.

As Historical Jesus theologian Marcus Borg puts it, “He was a remarkable healer: more healing stories are told about him than about anybody else in the Jewish tradition.”[8]  Speaking of Jesus’ technique, theological scholar Albert Nolan writes, “There was certainly a spontaneous concern to make some kind of physical contact with the sick person.  He touched them, took them by the hand or laid his hands on them.”[9]  The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.  By invoking this connection between healer and king, by having Aragorn enter Minas Tirith and immediately begin healing the sick, Tolkien is directly connecting him to one of the most significant and historically verifiable aspects of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

We even see Aragorn employing some of Jesus’ healing techniques.  He lays his hands on Faramir, Éowyn, and Merry and he also speaks to them, calling them back and telling them it will be alright.  While less anchored in historical certainty, this too is something we see highlighted quite clearly in the Gospels.  In both the raising of Lazarus (John 11:43-44) and the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Luke 8:54-56), for example, Jesus calls to the one who has died and they come to him, alive and healthy.  He wakes them with his voice, just as Aragorn does in the Houses of Healing.

To illustrate Aragorn’s kingship in the act of healing is to tie him with knowledge and nuance to the very heart of who Jesus was.  It shows both the depth of Tolkien’s knowledge of his faith and his care in presenting it, placing an appropriately important spotlight on healing in a story of spectacular battles across bloody battlefields.  Obviously, loving this scene the way I do, I was disappointed it didn’t make it into Peter Jackson’s adaptation (there was one extended scene that didn’t even try to present it accurately! (and the movie’s like a zillion hours long! couldn’t they give me fifteen minutes of this??)) but I shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, the book is always better and when it comes to expertly weaving deeply theological threads through a narrative, no one can do it quite like J.R.R. Tolkien.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002), 871.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 876.
[4] Ibid., 878.
[5] Ibid., 879.
[6] Ibid., 881.
[7] Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity, (New York: Orbis Books, 1976), 43.
[8] Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), 31.
[9] Nolan, 37-8.

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About the Author

Michael Miller writes and rambles about comic books and comic book movies (not to mention Doctor Who and Star Wars and whatever else randomly pops into his head) on his blog My Comic Relief. He teaches theology at Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, PA – including classes on Star Wars as modern mythology and the intersection of comic books and social justice. Should it be your thing, you can also find him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief.

My Tolkien Collection (Guest Post by Emily @ Rose Read)

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.

Greetings, weblings! My name is Emily, and I blog over at Rose Read. Here’s a little about me: I am a grad student studying Library and Information Science, though I started out as a high school English teacher. I also work on MuggleNet.com, the #1 Harry Potter fan site, and I co-manage the Apparating Library Book Club for the Harry Potter Alliance. Other than books and blogging, I love musical theater, hiking, dark chocolate, Mumford & Sons, owls, and unicorns. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @enchntdrose or my blog at www.rosereadblog.wordpress.com! Thanks to Briana and Krysta for letting me do a guest post – let’s get started!

Today I’m going to share with you some of my most prized books in my entire personal library: my Lord of the Rings trilogy box set, which is a second edition from 1965. This set has sentimental value as well as being just really pretty. It was given to me after my childhood best friend’s grandmother passed away. My best friend and I would often spend time playing at her grandmother’s house, which was always great because she had the BEST cookies and a really cool old house to explore. One of our favorite places in the house was the basement. I remember it as a very dark, plush lounge, complete with a fancy old bar, fancy plush chairs, and a fancy, giant, old bookshelf. My friend wasn’t much of a reader, but I was always enamoured at the old bookshelf and would spend time just staring at it, afraid to touch any of the old volumes. After her grandmother died, my friend’s mom gave me this set of books from that very collection. The set still has its box and dust covers pretty much pristine. The top edges are tinted and there are pull-out maps in the back of each book. I love them more than a person probably should love inanimate objects. Behold:

Tolkien Books

Fellowship of the Ring

Lord of the Rings

Tolkien Map

Beautiful, no?

I’ve tried my best to find other Tolkien books to match these for the rest of my collection. I managed to find a Silmarillion copy that is from the same publisher, and it’s an American first edition, so it matches pretty well. Unfortunately, I do not have the dust cover, but it’s still pretty:

Tolkien Books

Then I have a first American edition copy of the Book of Lost Tales, which matches the others, too! This one does have the dust cover!

Book of Lost Tales

I sadly do not have an old Hobbit copy, but I do like the edition I have. Also pictured is A Tolkien Miscellany with short stories (that has AWESOME cover art of Smaug) and 3-Minute J.R.R. Tolkien because I am a sucker for pretty illustrated “quick guides” like these.

Tolkien Quick Guides

Tolkien Quick Guides 2

And that’s the extent of my Tolkien book collection. I know it’s probably not as large as the collections of Tolkien fans reading this post, but it is very special to me. I tried to build it around my prized trilogy set, which will forever remind me of the giant old bookshelf and the kindness of my friend’s grandmother. I tried reading different editions once, and it just felt wrong. I love the mustiness of these books and the memories they hold of the dark, plush basement – somehow the smell turns to Gandalf’s pipe-weed, and the dark basement into a candle-lit Hobbit hole, and it’s all part of the magic.

Do you have special copies of any Tolkien books? I know I can’t read any other copies than these!

Whimsical Fairies: Tolkien’s Disowned Poem is My Favorite (Guest Post by Lyse @ Belle Reads)

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.

Early in Tolkien’s career, he published a whimsical fairy poem. It was quite popular at the time, although he eventually came to distance himself from it, as one does with early writing. In the time before his graceful warrior elves were introduced, he portrayed happy little creatures, the elves of fairy tales. He titled the short piece with words that conjure very different images in his well-known books: “Goblin Feet.”  Here is the first stanza:

I am off down the road
Where the fairy lanterns glowed
And the little pretty flitter-mice are flying
A slender band of gray
It runs creepily away
And the hedges and the grasses are a-sighing.
The air is full of wings,
And of blundery beetle-things
That warn you with their whirring and their humming.
O! I hear the tiny horns
Of enchanted leprechauns
And the padded feet of many gnomes a-coming!
O! the lights! O! the gleams! O! the little twinkly sounds!
O! the rustle of their noiseless little robes!
O! the echo of their feet – of their happy little feet!
O! the swinging lamps in the starlit globes.


Tolkien seems to have written the poem for his fiancee, Edith Bratt. And while he may have come to regret it, this poem has always been my favorite of his verses. I do like The Lord of the Rings, of course, and I’ve read Roverandom and portions of The Silmarillion. But “Goblin Feet” is my earliest memory of Tolkien’s writing.

His writing, not of him. I was born knowing about Tolkien. My older sisters were a little obsessed with LOTR. They had movie calendars and all the soundtracks and beautifully matched trilogies. So I knew about Tolkien. But I wasn’t allowed to see the movies (my parents were quite concerned about the violence) and too young to read the books. I tried to join the obsession though. I memorized the track listings from hearing the soundtrack too many times. And I kept all the loose sheets from my sister’s page-a-day calendar. Even now, broody Aragorn graces my wall, reminding me of 2003, which is, now that I think about it, a really long time ago.

Aragorn Poster

So I knew about Tolkien. And when I discovered “Goblin Feet” in my Favorite Poems: Old and New, I was astonished. This was Tolkien just for me. This was Tolkien of the scary orcs and too-old-for-me bloodshed writing about dancing and fairies and everything that warmed my small girl heart. This was Tolkien in a length and lilt that I could memorize and impress adults with. This was Tolkien I could dance and skip and imagine to.

I’m sad–not surprised, but sad–that Tolkien eventually disowned this poem. “Goblin Feet” is the perfect amount of whimsy and earnest awe for small children. And for adults. We could all use more whimsy in our lives. Even today, 10+ years later, this poem reminds me of the little girl who was so yearningly serious and daringly whimsical. She might have been idealized and suppressed over time, hidden by “maturing” and “responsibility,” but I hope she never stops looking for fairies.

About the Author

Lyse was born into a family of Tolkien enthusiasts and proudly displays LOTR art on her mantelpiece. When she’s not doing adulty things, she reads YA & blogs about whatever enters her mind. Follow her blog at https://lyseofllyr.blog/ or follow her on Twitter for hardcore fangirling.

The Book That’s Not Supposed to Exist (Guest Post by Joanna Maciejewska)

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.

The Last Ringbearer

Whenever I watch Aragorn’s coronation scene in The Return of the King, with Eowyn standing in the crowd beside Faramir, I can’t resist thinking: “Poor Eowyn. A victim of the Elven conspiracy!” What an odd thought, you say? Not so much if you have read the book that changed my perception of the coronation scene.

I’m not a devoted Tolkien fan. Yes, I read it when I was young, but before him there were countless other books, including another pioneer writer, Robert E. Howard, and a Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski (if you’ve heard of the Witcher video games, he’s the writer who wrote the books the games were based on), so The Lord of the Rings was just (I can almost hear you gasping!) another fantasy book, and I never fell in love with it. I could probably redeem myself by admitting I loved The Silmarilion much more, but that would likely be countered by the fact I enjoyed the Hobbit movies.

Anyway, I digress. My experience of the Aragorn’s coronation comes from the The Last Ringbearer by Kiryll Yeskov, as opposed to Tolkien.

The Last Ringbearer was fun. Even though it kept the major events that readers know from The Lord of the Rings intact, it depicted the war between Orcs and other races from an entirely different angle. The story focused on the quest to separate the Elven world from the magicless Middle Earth—a mission given to two soldiers from the destroyed Mordor army by a Nazgul, but the more interesting bits were in the background. For example, the poor Orcs were attacked for their attempts of bringing industrial progress and science to the Middle Earth, and their bad and cruel image was nothing more than Elven propaganda aiming to discredit their enemies.

I won’t recount the whole story, as it’s available on Wikipedia (or you might decide you want to read it yourself), but as you might have guessed, in The Last Ringbearer, it’s Eowyn who is Aragorn’s loved one, but he is stuck with Arwen due to Elven plots. In this reimagining of Middle Earth’s history, it’s not the happily ever after one could expect.

What’s even more interesting than the story in the book is… the book’s story.

Even though it’s been published in Russia, and then translated into several languages (including Polish which made it available for me), it’s considered copyright infringement by the Tolkien Estate, so has never been commercially translated or published in English.

I learned about the book’s rough path long after I’d read The Last Ringbearer, and it made me regret I hadn’t paid closer attention to reading this book (which I got from the library), and that I didn’t reread the original work along with it, to discover more interesting tidbits of the alternative story of Middle Earth. All I have left is the memory of the Elven conspiracy that always returns when I see poor Eowyn standing beside Faramir.

But now, after all those years, since my English is much better than when I was young, I might reach for the non-commercial translation available on the net, and once more explore all the details that had escaped me during my first read-through.

What about you? Would you read The Last Ringbearer if it was published in English? Maybe you stumbled upon its non-commercial English translation available online? What did you think of it? Or maybe you agree with Tolkien Estate’s stand on the derivative works and would rather not see this book around?

About the Author

I grew up in Poland, spent over 8 years in Ireland, and I’ve recently moved to Arizona. I have several short stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”, “Magazyn Fantastyczny”, “Esensja”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris).

Visit Joanna at http://melfka.com.

How I Discovered The Fantasy Genre Through Tolkien (Guest Post by E.E. Rawls)

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.

Tolkien Books

Fantasy took on a whole other light for me the day I first met Tolkien’s work: The Lord of the Rings.

It was the year my family moved back to America from Italy—a difficult transition, as Italy had been my home for 6 years, and was the longest we had remained in one place for my dad’s job. That year was a low point in life, and I needed something encouraging, something adventurous, to lift me up. The timing of this could not have been more perfect.

There was a movie coming out in theaters called The Fellowship of the Ring. I knew nothing of it or Tolkien, but my parents seemed pretty excited about it. They couldn’t remember the whole story, so they gave me vague summaries of the series which I didn’t understand at all. But the movie’s preview showed elves and gorgeous mountains covered in snow, so I thought, “Sure, why not. I’ll go see it.” Little did I know what I was in for!

The movie began, with dark enthralling scenery and a melodic voice. My eyes grew wide as I was sucked into another world.

This was fantasy unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I knew I liked fairies and other fantasy-ish things, but I hadn’t been deeply immersed in the fantasy genre until this moment. There were elves who were not the happy helpers of Santa. There were more-than-creepy goblins, trolls, and orcs. Grand places like the Mines of Moriah, and enchanting Lothlorien, and gorgeous Rivendell—places beyond my limited imagination! And there were hobbits, a new race of people who were the smallest of all, and a lot like me. Froddo was the only one brave enough to take on the challenge of destroying the Ring. Small as he may be, and ignorant of combat skills and traveling, yet he was the one person willing to give his life to save the world—and that captivated me. It made me see that, no matter what I lacked in ability, anything was possible if only I put my mind to it.

Once the movie ended (and on such a heartbreaking cliffhanger!), I went straight to the bookstore and bought the whole series and The Hobbit. I could not wait a whole year to find out what happened next! So I read them all within two weeks, and went looking for more great works in the fantasy genre afterward. The Lord of the Rings gave me the escape and time I needed to adjust to a new life situation, and it voiced lessons I would hold close for years.

My favorite quotes are:

“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

“It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.” (This scene touched me so much, I remember the tears in theaters!)

Even after so many years, Tolkien’s world has stuck with me, just as it has for so many of you, and is what encouraged me to begin creating my own worlds through writing. This year I hope to publish my own debut fantasy novel, and all because I went to the theater that day, long ago, and met Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

About the Author

E. E. Rawls is a full-time author currently residing in New England. Europe is the source of her writing inspiration, after having lived in Italy for six years. A time spent road-tripping through the Alps, exploring castle ruins and dungeons, wandering Victorian towns and tucked-away villages, discovering their hidden legends. She now lives off of coffee, games, and bookshelves, with goals to one day master the arts of drawing, riding a dragon, and speaking Tolkien’s language of the Elves.

You follow her blog at  www.rawlse.wordpress.com or sign up for to get exclusive content from her about her projects at http://eepurl.com/2F36f.

Tolkien Lessons: How His Work Influences My Work (Guest Post by Linda White @BookManiaLife)

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.

Tolkien Books

Last year, I attended a local con here called CONvergence. I was an Invited Participant (their caps, not mine) and they asked that I be on at least four panels. I was looking at the schedule and one session jumped out at me right away – Perambulatory Journeys. All I could think of was Tolkien. I mean, I could think of no others.

Curious, I put out a call on Facebook, and lots of folks came back with other suggestions. Who knew? But Tolkien was tops on my list. The conversation at the panel was great, and even delved into Pokemon territory (this was right before the game got hot).

Sometime during this whole process, it hit me that I was, myself, writing a perambulatory journey. I wasn’t trying to copy Tolkien, but my characters needed to get from point A to point B, and since my work is set in Neolithic Great Britain, there weren’t a whole lot of options. They walked.

How long does it take to walk from Salisbury Plain to Orkney? How many obstacles would they encounter? What would happen to them along the way? How would they eat? These were all questions I would have to face. Research. Lots of research. My world was real. I knew that my characters were walking a fixed number of miles. Tolkien had no such limitations. How far was it to Mordor, anyway? In some ways, I kind of envied him. Why hadn’t I been brilliant enough to invent the whole world, even if only to save myself all these bothersome details? But that didn’t fit the story I wanted to tell, so it was a moot question. Would sure have made things easier, though.

And the other obstacles. Crossing water made me research the types of boats that would have been used at the time. I couldn’t just invent it. And for food, I am not going to go ahead and invent something like cram or lamas bread, because really, that’s been done. For me, it ended up meaning a lot of research into the foods that would have occurred naturally – berries and nuts and other hunter-gatherer fodder. But these were real considerations. And Tolkien had to consider them too – if only so that his world would be consistent. He couldn’t have wooden boats used in an area devoid of trees. He couldn’t have too many gentle comforts (think how many times they had to run or were captured and lost everything!). The small thing like Bilbo finding his pipe intact towards the end of his journey made it all that much more touching.

I am rereading The Lord of the Rings right now, and enjoying it. I think I have read it twice before, but it has been years. I am finding swaths that I don’t remember, because the movies are so ingrained on my brain. But those parallels are helpful too. What did the movie makers leave out? Why? What is really necessary to tell the story? It is helpful to look at a story that I know really well (and to be fair, doesn’t have the emotional attachment that I probably have to Harry Potter), and make these comparisons. Then I look at my own work and think, huh. What is this scene doing? How can I set up this bit so that it is useful later? And if I introduce this character just once, and never mention him again, is he really necessary?

So while I don’t want to write the same story – I don’t want to be derivative in any way – there are lessons here. I have realized I have several books about the world, apart from the multiple copies I own of the stories. So complex, and so deep. This time on my reread, I am looking further into the background. I am actually using the books that I have, like A Guide to Middle Earth by Robert Foster and The J.R.R. Tolkien Handbook (which is like an encyclopedia).

Apart from the obvious walking parallels, Tolkien is never far from my mind when I think about writing. If you’ve read the biography by Humphrey Carter (which is excellent), you will know that Tolkien started out with languages, and generally invented the story and the world to give his languages a culture to belong to. It’s absolutely fascinating, especially for me, someone who once tried to build a major in linguistics (it didn’t exist at my college and there weren’t enough classes to cobble one together). He spent years playing with these languages. Then he spent years writing the stories.

Unfortunately, he also spent a lot of time playing solitaire in his study, and every time I think of what he could have been doing instead, it makes me cringe. And I take that as an example for myself, when I find that I am a) spending too much time on bookstagram or Twitter or b) spending too much time diddling about doing things that simply will not matter.

We only have a given amount of time on this earth, and we must use it wisely. And if you’ve got a story to tell, a world to tell people about, do the telling! Don’t fritter away your time. And do the homework. Make it worthwhile.

About the Author

Linda White will be collecting books as long as the floors hold out. And she wants to read them all! She loves beautiful books. Read, travel, hike, book arts, paper crafts. She runs BookMania, an editorial services agency, and Publishing Bones, a website for writers. You can also visit her on Twitter and Instagram.

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.

Movie Review: Star Wars, The Force Awakens (Guest Post)

The Force AwakensInformation

Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer: George Lucas
Release: 2015

Spoiler warning

Today’s guest post is by a disgruntled Star Wars fan who would like to remain anonymous so the fandom can’t track them down and send hate mail. 😉

This movie is an abomination, and an affront to what was once, the holiday special notwithstanding, a dignified franchise. Indeed, this movie is so terrible it makes me reminisce fondly for The Phantom Menace.

For the record, The Phantom Menace was terrible. But at least it was an original sort of terrible. Yes, the pod racing scene was long, boring, and unnecessary. But at least it made logical sense that young Anakin would be a ridiculously amazing pilot, since he was trained to be so. The Force Awakens‘s homage to the pod racing scene, involving, of all things, the Millennium Falcon and a decrepit husk of an Imperial Star Destroyer, is equally long, boring, and unnecessary, but it is additionally completely nonsensical; the audience is forced to believe that poor, impoverished Rey, reduced to selling hunks of metal to keep herself alive, is somehow able to out-fly a couple of TIE fighters the first time she touches the controls. Yes, Darth Maul was a terrible, wooden villain who had a grand total of one line of audible dialogue. But at least he had his moments of awesomeness; the scene where he engages both halves of his double lightsaber alone justifies the price of admission and, in spite of his utter lack of character development, Darth Maul is at least still enough of a badass to dispatch Liam Neeson, of all people, in single combat. The “villain” in The Force Awakens (I forget his name; he was that terrible) is a petulant teenager who combines all the loathsomeness and punchability of Revenge of the Sith era Hayden Christiansen with all the insipid worthlessness of a storm trooper. Finn, a former storm trooper himself (and above that a bad one, who dislikes violence until he begins slaughtering Imperial – ahem, “First Order” – troops en mass), is somehow able to hold his own in a lightsaber duel with our “villain” the second time he touches a light saber. And Rey, the first time she uses a lightsaber, proceeds to whoop his ass so badly that the only thing that will allow him to be Vaderized for the inevitable sequel was a ridiculous deus ex machine involving a chasm with a better sense of plot development than any of the scriptwriters. Say what you want about The Phantom Menace, but at least it wasn’t a hundred and thirty five minutes of things stolen – ahem, homages – from other movies. Heck, The Phantom Menace even had the real Kiera Knightley in it, instead of the cheap, knock-off Kiera Knightley cast in The Force Awakens.

Speaking of homages, a lot of other reviewers have already covered how much this movies shamelessly borrows plot elements from other, better Star Wars movies (like the whole damn plot of A New Hope, from the droid-with-the-valuable-information-lost-on-a-desert-planet premise to the we’ve-gotta-blow-up-the-death-star-before-our-base-gets-blown-up finale). All I would like to add is how much this movie steals from things that are not Star Wars. The scene from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where Saruman looks out over a vast orc army? Yep, that’s in The Force Awakens. The ridiculous “Hail Hydra” guy from Captain America? He’s in there, too, though no longer with the weird alien stuff that made him anything other than a stupid caricature. Hell, even the new, improved hyperspace look is stolen; the blue swirls looked so Dr. Who I half expected to see a TARDIS appear. In fact, even though I hate Dr. Who with a passion, I wanted a TARDIS to appear. That, at least, would have been unexpected.

But a much as I hate the utter predictability of everything from Han’s death to the “villain’s” remarkable escape to the eventual reveal (I presume it will come in the sequels) that Rey is somehow blood related to Luke and Leia (seriously, this “force is strong with this one” only occurring in particular bloodlines pisses me off. Can’t for once the Star Wars universe give us a Hermione Granger? And I don’t even like Hermione Granger – but I digress, back to the review), that is not what irked me the most about this awful piece of dreck. No, my greatest ire is reserved for the premise. What is there to say about the premise? Is it awful? Yes. Could the whole movie have easily been avoided if someone had only force R2-D2 to wake up earlier? Yes. Could the whole movie have been avoided if Luke decided not to throw a hissy fit and leave? Yes. Would the events that inspired Luke to throw his hissy fit have made for a better movie? Yes. Do we ever stop to wonder why Luke is so valuable that the resistance and the Empire – ahem, “First Order” – are willing to sacrifice oodles of blood and treasure to find a map that maybe just maybe might lead to him? J.J. Abrams sure as hell hopes that we don’t. Dare we ask why Luke left a map behind in the first place if he really wanted to go into hiding? Shut up and watch the movie! See, pretty pictures and explosions. You like pretty pictures and explosions, don’t you?

Beyond the ridiculously stupid premise, the plot is full of a large number of inconsistencies and stupid cliffhangers left over to be resolved in the endless stream of sequels to follow. Who the f*** is that old, Obi-Wan looking dude at the beginning? Why the f*** does he have a part of a map that leads to Luke? Why the f*** does Poe think he has the map? If he does, how come the “villain” didn’t get to him first, considering that he and the “villain” obviously have some history? And that’s all in the first five minutes. Surely J.J.Abrams knows we have these questions, too. But you know what his answer is? “F*** you. Buy your advanced tickets to the sequels.” But of course there’s more. Why the f*** can’t C3PO find what part of the galaxy the map fragment is of when it is revealed at the end to take up a good 5% of the total galaxy? F*** you, that’s why! Why the f*** do people think Luke Skywalker is a myth when that motherf***er blew up two motherf***ing death stars a mere thirty f*** years before, destructions that we saw celebrated across the galaxy at the end of Return of the Jedi? F*** you, don’t you remember Luke saying similar things in A New Hope? Not that that made much sense after the prequels revealed that there were these violent-ass and certainly very memorable clone wars that annihilated the Jedi two decades before, or anything, but at least he had the excuse that he had an overprotective aunt and uncle. I’m sure the Rhino-like alien giving Rey just enough credits to avoid dying in the desert wanted to shelter her from the horror of knowing about her father -ahem, Luke Skywalker. (Please, J.J. Abrams, I beg of you; change this now! If you make it that Rey is just some random girl on some random planet, may then I will forgive The Force Awakens the way I have just forgiven The Phantom Menace. Please!)

By this point in the review, you might be asking if there is anything in movie that I like beyond some pretty pictures. In fact, there was one thing I liked quite a bit; I loved how they humanized a stormtrooper. Without him saying a word, we got to watch his moral struggle starting from the moment a bloody handprint got left on his face by a dying comrade. It was beautiful, poignant, and touching. But then it got completely ruined, and it made me all the more pissed off at this atrocious piece of garbage that dares to call itself a Star Wars movie; the helmet came off, and suddenly he was just another thug-busting action superhero, with no moral qualms at all about offing endless waves of dehumanized storm-troopers. There was a great movie here. I would have loved a movie about a storm trooper who had a moral revelation and then tried to flee, passively and without killing anyone, to a haven on the far reaches of the galaxy. It would have been beautiful, but we wouldn’t have had quite so many explosions and quite so many nameless, dehumanized drones being gunned down to the delight of the clapping audience, so of course we got Finn Solo instead. But they could have done something. Hell, they could have at least made a joke about how bad Finn’s aim was or something. But no; as soon as he’s trying to get with knock-off Kiera Knightley – ahem, “with the resistance” – he wields a blaster the way Legolas wields a bow.

Speaking of knock-off Kiera Knightley, her character was also a constant source of irritation to me, and not just because she was an ever-present reminder that I would much prefer to be watching Bend It Like Beckham. I get it; it’s 2015 and every female lead character has got to be an ass-kicking superheroine because damsels in distress are so cliché and oh-please-radical-online-feminists-don’t-accuse-us-of-misogyny. But I hate it. I hate it for the same reason that I hate the damsel in distress – it’s cliché. We’ve seen this act a million times before. When Princess Leia whooped ass in A New Hope, it was original and different. Now every action movie from Mad Max on down to Kung Fu Panda needs a girl who can – without any training or explanation whatsoever – whoop primo ass, and it’s become as stale as the villain’s zany sidekicks in Disney movies. But my dislike for Rey’s ass whooping abilities goes far beyond the fact that it’s cliché. It also craps all over the idea, central to the Star Wars universe, that mastery of the Force requires careful training. By the end of the original trilogy, Luke can whoop serious ass, but that was only after long sessions in the swamp with Yoda. Meanwhile, Rey discovers she can pull Jedi mind tricks ten minutes after she feels the effects of the force on her for the first time; I guess perhaps she was able to leech the power off our insipid, worthless “villain” for some bulls*** reason, but how she had that power? F*** you, that’s how. Similarly, remember that scene in the cave on Hoth when Luke is trying desperately to use the force to summon his lightsaber when it is literally a foot away from his hands? Well, guess what – Rey, without any training, who a day ago thought the Jedi were mythical beasts from legends, can summon a lightsaber from fifty feet away, all while overcoming the power of the “villain’s” own use of the Force. She then proceeds to whoop his ass. Hooray for feminism, I guess.

In all, this movie is garbage, garbage taken from the same pail of worthless “we’ll do anything because you stupid rubes will go see it anyway” s*** that inspired Peter Jackson’s one hour per page adaptation of The Hobbit. If you haven’t seen it, don’t. But of course, like everyone else, you’ve already seen it, and you’re already planning on seeing the next one, even though you know it will also be an insipid, uncreative rehash of other, better movies. But it will be pretty. And it will have explosions.

And with any luck, they’ll finally kill off C3PO in the next one. I’m not hopeful, but then again I haven’t been hopeful since The Phantom Menace, and yet I’ve dutifully gone and given George Lucas my money every time a new one comes out. Maybe the problem is me. Maybe the reason why Lucasfilms continues to dash my expectations of greatness is because I will go and watch his movies regardless of how unoriginal, asinine, and downright terrible they are. Maybe if only I refused to patronize such loathsome excuses for filmmaking, the quality will improve.

Yeah, I know. I’ve already got May 26th, 2017 circled on my calendar. But you do, too, so don’t laugh. Now pardon me while I go vomit up what’s left of my dignity.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (Guest Post)

Charlotte Bronte Banner
We are continuing this week’s Charlotte Brontë feature with a guest post by our friend Denise.  Denise is a librarian and an avid reader.  She has contributed a number of guests posts to Pages Unbound, including reflections on Robin Hood and Tolkien and reviews of The Doomsday Code and The World Above, among others.  See all her contributions here.

Cover of The Eyre AffairInformation

Goodreads: The Eyre Affair
Series: Thursday Next #1
Published: January 1, 2001


Set in an alternative Great Britain, where time travel is a completely normal occurrence and forging great literary works is a punishable crime, this book features Thursday Next, a literary detective whose job is to protect literature from theft, fraud, and sabotage. And the works of sabotage can get pretty ugly, as Thursday finds herself in a battle to save Jane Eyre (both the character and the story) from being destroyed by an adversary with fantastic abilities and a penchant for committing crimes for the sake of committing crimes.


Adaptations can be a tricky thing. Usually, they are loved for being clever and on-point with the spirit of the original, or they are vehemently despised for totally missing that point or being little more than imitation. I’m not sure Fforde’s Eyre Affair fits totally with any of these opinions. I found the story as a whole enjoyably clever, though I can understand arguments that Fforde’s treatment of Jane Eyre misses some key points. Regardless, I became hooked on this series the first time I read The Eyre Affair. But then, it was difficult not to, with the world Fforde has created – where serious discussions of literature are both commonplace and heated; where the lines between fiction and reality are constantly being blurred to the point where fiction as a whole begins to have a life of its own, not to mention the puns! And Fforde’s world just gets better and better as the series goes on.

But we’re celebrating Brontë this week, so on with an examination of Jane Eyre’s place in The Eyre Affair

Despite the fact that the title of the work is The Eyre Affair, Jane Eyre is not dragged into the story (literally) until about halfway through. Fforde’s is a world that loves Jane Eyre, but is unhappy with its ending – a much different one than we are familiar with, where Jane does not go back to Rochester but elects to go with St. John Rivers, though she still refuses to marry him. In a way, The Eyre Affair is also the story of how Jane Eyre got its mostly happily-ever-after ending, with the implication being that some of the things that happen in the novel happen, not because Brontë wrote them that way but because other things entered the manuscript and affected its outcome behind the scenes. “What was Brontë thinking?” is a common sentiment expressed among the characters in the novel. At the same time that some might see something taken from Brontë’s genius with this set-up, I think Fforde is highlighting it. We know the “original ending” is what is really fake, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that no one likes it in the book. I’m sure there are many who wouldn’t like it in our real world either. Ultimately, it’s an interesting thought experiment, like so much else in Fforde’s world. And the changes are still “pure Brontë” as far as this world is concerned; she may as well have originally wrote it herself by the time all is said and done. I do struggle to suspend my disbelief with that claim though, since it is a bit unclear how the structure/understanding of Fforde’s world supports it. It wasn’t the ending in Brontë’s “original manuscript,” after all, and she isn’t shown rewriting her own story. (Though that is, perhaps, a possibility, with all else that is possible in Fforde’s world – the time travel, jumping in and out of book worlds, etc.)

What’s also important to understand about this book is that it is clearly meant to be funny; it is very rare that this world of Fforde’s actually takes itself seriously. I mean – the main character’s name is “Thursday Next”… and the pets everyone just has to have are cloned dodo birds. Even the charming premise that destroying great works of literature is a punishable offense can seem as ridiculous as it is charming within the realms of this text. Just about the only things that are treated with any amount of levity are themes, specifically death – death in the war going on in Thursday’s world, the possibility of losing literary characters, of losing whole stories – and fiction, specifically the ability of story to truly live: an interesting juxtaposition of topics that is brought to the forefront amid the humorous situations and the puns, and all the more so because everything else is funny. Some elements of Jane Eyre’s story are inserted into Thursday’s own story in a comical way, especially pertaining to her love life, but overall Fforde seems to be less interested in the story that Brontë tells for itself. What’s important to The Eyre Affair is Brontë’s impact, which, in turn, provokes several interesting questions. What would happen if we lost Jane Eyre, or any of the great works? If one of our favorite characters ceased to exist, or never existed? And why isn’t literature taken as seriously as it is in this book by the public at large today? Does it deserve to be? Fforde’s world, humor, and passion for literature may have been why I fell in love with these books – but it’s the exploration of these questions, and questions like these in subsequent books, that keep me coming back to the series for more. I highly recommend it to all grammarians, librarians, bibliophiles, science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts, amateur detectives, creative writers, Bronte fans (of course) and everyone else in between.