TBR Chronicles #02

The HakawatiThe Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine has been on my TBR for a while but I had forgotten about it.  It wasn’t until the NBCC Fiction Finalists were announced and Alameddine’s novel An Unnecessary Woman drew my attention that I remembered he had written another book that I’d intended on reading.  I was quite taken by An Unnecessary Woman so without doubt the Hakawati will be read fairly soon.  Euphoria

I added two more novels from the NBCC finalists.  The first being Euphoria by Lily King.  I was drawn to it initially because of its beautiful cover but the blurb was also captivating.  It was inspired by the life of “revolutionary” anthropologist Margaret Mead whom I have never heard of, however, the story is set in the 1930s and tells of a passionate yet destructive love triangle involving three anthropologists.  Ooh la la!

On Such a Full SeaThe second is On Such A Full Sea by Chang Rae Lee.  This novel is set in a future America after much decline.  I like these kinds of books very much so I’m naturally drawn to it but I’m even more inclined to read this one because it’s about a woman who leaves her labour settlement in search of her husband who has mysteriously disappeared and all that she encounters on her dangerous journey.  Sounds like it’ll be a great read.

The Western Canon by Harold Bloom is another new addition to my TBR.  I was inspired to read this as I came across a The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Agesfantastic reading list taken from the appendices of Bloom’s book which includes the most important works in the western canon from the days of Euripides and Plato to the 21st century.  Unfortunately the book itself doesn’t deal with all the works he lists in the appendices only a few he deemed especially important but I’m intrigued to read it since people seem so vehemently divided on Bloom himself.

BeowulfI added one book to my TBR while preparing a FBF on JRR Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings.  It is Beowulf translated by J RR Tolkein.  I have wanted to read Beowulf for myself ever since I saw the film.  I figured there can only be so much you can fit into a film so I’d like to read the epic in its entirety.  When I found out JRR Tolkein had done a translation I was sold.  The Bees

My final addition is The Bees by Laline Paull.  This one I came across on fellow blogger FictionFan’s TBR Thursday post and it sounded so different from anything I’ve come across that I couldn’t help myself.  It is described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games which sounded completely irresistable to me especially since I read The Handmaid’s Tale recently and really enjoyed it.

I’d love to hear what you think of any of these books that you may have read.  Maybe you could save me a bit of time or on the contrary push one of them up to the top of the pile!

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FBF: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein

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The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein

Last week’s Friday Book Feature was #26 of the All TIME 100 Novels list and since we are one quarter of the way through that list I’m going to take a break from it and feature books from another great list; the Telegraph’s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read.

The Lord of the Rings is one of the best selling novels ever written.  It is a hugely popular high fantasy trilogy published in 1954.  After the success of The Hobbit in 1937 Tolkein was persuaded by his publishers to write “a new hobbit” book which he began writing in December 1937.  At the time Tolkein had a full time academic position at the Pembroke College, Oxford and writing of Lord of the Rings was slow going.  It took him from 1937 to 1949 to write the books on and off.  Originally Tolkein planned for The Lord of the Rings to be the first volume of a two volume set with the second being The Silmarillion but his publishers rejected that idea.  Instead, they marketed his book as a three volume set.  Tolkein’s novel was made up of six books so each of the three volumes contained two books.  The original manuscripts, totalling 9250 pages, are now in the JRR Tolkien Collection at the Marquette University. (wikipedia)

LOTRThe three books that make up the The Lord of the Rings are; The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.  They are filled with wonderful characters, beautiful landscapes, and incredible adventures.  The trilogy has been widely translated (about 38 languages) and is beloved by readers all over the globe.  Fans have been so taken by the world Tolkein created that it has heavily impacted popular culture.  Tolkein’s huge success with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has led him to be called the ‘father’ of modern fantasy literature.

Another element that has fascinated readers is the elvish language in Tolkein’s books.  Tolkein was a philologist who was influenced by the Welsh language.  In his essay, English and Welsh, he said:

“If I may once more refer to my work. The Lord of the Rings, in evidence: the names of persons and places in this story were mainly composed on patterns deliberately modelled on those of Welsh (closely similar but not identical). This element in the tale has given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it.”

Tolkein’s books were not only imbued with the magic of his interest in language but also by his interest in the great Norse Sagas and Old English literature.  In fact it may be of interest to Tolkein lovers that back between 1920 and 1926 Tolkein completed a translation of the epic Beowulf from the Old English to Modern English which remained unpublished until 2014.  It is entitled Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary.  The translation is followed by a 200 page commentary which formed the basis of his acclaimed 1936 lecture Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.  I have yet to read Beowulf for myself, long since on my TBR, and I’m going to try and get this translation for myself.

Despite the success of The Lord of the Rings there were those that criticised the work.  Tolkein was a member of a literary group called the Inklings and even within this group there were critics.  Inkling member Hugo Dyson apparently ‘complained loudly at its reading’.  However, long time friend and fellow Inkling, C S Lewis said: “here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart.”

Speaking of hearts, I found this detail so lovely: Tolkein’s wife Edith was apparently the inspiration for the characters  Lúthien Tinúviel and Arwen Evenstar.  Tolkein is said to often have referred to Edith as “my Lúthien”.  The Tale of Beren and Lúthien is the story of the love and adventures of the mortal man Beren and the immortal Elf-maiden Lúthien.  In The Lord of the Rings her story is told to Frodo by Aragorn.  Wikipedia makes mention of a moment between Tolkein and Edith which inspired him to write the meeting of these fictional characters and their love:

While Tolkien was stationed at Kingston upon Hull, he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him in a clearing among the flowering hemlock: “We walked in a wood where hemlock was growing, a sea of white flowers.”  This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien.

Tolkein and Edith are buried together and below their names on their headstone are the names Beren and Lúthien – a testament to their love!

In Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium, Lúthien was the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and forsook her immortality for her love of the mortal warrior Beren. After Beren was captured by the forces of the dark lord Morgoth, Lúthien rode to his rescue upon the talking wolfhound Huan. Ultimately, when Beren was slain in battle against the demonic wolf Carcharoth, Lúthien, like Orpheus, approached the Valar gods and persuaded them to restore her beloved to life.  Shortly after his wife’s death, Tolkien wrote the following in a letter to their son Christopher.

“I never called Edith Luthien – but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire […]”

I have loved Tolkein’s world ever since my dad’s nightly readings of The Hobbit when I was a child.  If you have not already, I highly recommend reading these books.