Interview: Jim Bernheimer, Author of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain

BernheimerConfessionsOfDListSupervillainFolks, Jim Bernheimer has been tremendously entertaining to me with his books and it is with great pleasure that I have him on the blog for an interview. Of course we have to talk books (Heinlein and C. T. Westcott), along with the Harry Potter fanfiction universe, audiobooks, Gryphonwood Press, and lots of other stuff. Sit back and enjoy!

1) On your Goodreads page, you cite such influences and favorites as Tolkien, Heinlein, Poe, and C. T. Westcott. That’s quite a wide range in literature. Will you give a few examples of what about their works caught your imagination?

I first read Tolkien when I was around 10. His descriptions were extremely vivid (look at the way they’re making 3 movies out of a single book!). Robert Heinlein, as far as I am concerned, was the master of the first person narrative. My three favorites have always been Starship Troopers, Glory Road, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The way he got the reader inside the main character’s head is something I’ve always tried to emulate. As for C.T. Westcott, his Eagleheart trilogy gave me the definitive anti-hero in Wil Bucko. He’s a rogue and a scoundrel with an odd streak of nobility. The author’s wit and abrasive, dark humor is an inspiration. Cal Stringel from the D-List Supervillain series is my version of an anti-hero and I owe a debt of gratitude to all three of these authors.

BernheimerPenniesForferryman2) You came out of the world of fan fiction. Mind sharing some of the SFF worlds that you wrote fan fiction about? What about those particular worlds captivated and wouldn’t release you until you had spilled some ink?

I write fanfic under the name of JBern and carved out a decent sized following in the Harry Potter fanfiction universe. I really enjoyed the first 4 books in the series, but for me the wheels started coming off on the series in book 5. There was and still is so much potential in that universe and I still have ideas that I hope to have the time to visit. One of the things I did with fanfic was to be bold and experimental. The first fic I published was my attempt to do a bloody and violent wizarding war a Saving Private Ryan version of the HP universe. It was dark gritty and horribly long by novel standards. Then I wrote another novel length fanfic and the sequel to it all in 2nd person present tense just to try the style that just about everyone and their brother say to never ever do. I also had another story going at the same time in 1st person called The Lie I’ve Lived which cemented the notion in my head that I’m most comfortable writing in that style. (There was one terrible 2-3 month block where I had all three of those stories going at the same time and I was writing in 1st person present, 2nd person present, and 3rd person past tense all at the same time – I do not recommend doing this by the way.) One of the nice things about the fanfic world that helped my development as a writer is that I got lots of feedback in a short period of time. Getting people to read and evaluate what you write is no easy task. Review sites like your own are inundated with requests all the time. For example, the first novel I published on Amazon (Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman) has, at this time, 81 reviews. That’s pretty good. At the peak of my fanfic writing, when I put out a single chapter of one of my main fanfics I would get somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 reviews. The serial nature of fanfiction lends itself to a greater level of feedback. Thankfully, there seems to be less of a stigma surrounding both that and self-publishing these days.

BernheimerPrimeSuspects3) Has your superhero identity as a SFF writer caused any issues with your day job as IT Guru and System Administrator? How do you balance it all with family life?

It’s a delicate balancing act. The writing has never really caused any issues at work since I keep them separate. Most days at lunch, I’ll go sit in my car and hammer out a few hundred words on my smartphone. The majority of Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective mystery was written in that fashion on a slide out keyboard using my thumbs. As for home life, my wife generally lets me know when I’ve been spending too much time on the computer and neglecting my other responsibilities. I won’t lie and say there has never been a rough patch because of my writing, but am eternally grateful that she puts up with a bum like me.

4) Having read a few of your books, I know that some of your characters have flexible moral boundaries. Where has this allowed you to take your stories that you didn’t expect? Have you ever written a scene that made even you squirm?

I try to write as realistically as possible and that’s usually where the flexible morals part comes in handy. It’s really all about suspension of disbelief. If the reader can buy into the fact that Cal Stringel or one of my other characters could do “X” because of the circumstances, then it lets me push the envelope. Early in D-List, Cal has the Olympian Superhero Aphrodite prisoner and is attempting to get her clean from this substance controlling her mind. The plot complication there was that Cal was a criminal with his own festering ball of issues and ill-suited to be anyone’s 12 step partner. From any other perspective other than Cal’s, he tortured her. That was a difficult chapter to write.

BerheimerRider5) Are there other writers in your family and how have they influenced you?

I’ve only met her once in my adult life at a family reunion, but my 2nd cousin is Nora Roberts. Each summer, she hosts a reunion at her house in western Maryland. If I reap one thousandth of the financial success she has managed then I’ll probably be more successful than most writers ever will be. I keep meaning to go back to the next reunion, but events keep conspiring against me.

6) What fictional character or beastie from your own works would you want to meet? Which would you hide from indefinitely?

Of the characters in my books, I probably most want to meet either Cal Stringel (who can invent cool stuff) or Mike Ross (who can speak to ghosts). Since a lot of the short fiction I write is horror, I could see myself hiding from the swamp monster in the short story, Existence, or the various zombies, werewolves, or vampires that I have written. However, if I had to stick with one, it would be that swamp monster.

BernheimerHorrorHumorAndHeroes7) Some of your books are published via Gryphonwood Press and others are self-published. You even took it a step further and self-published some audiobook versions. Print versus ebook versus audiobook – what were the high points and low points for each for you in the self-publishing world?

As long as you keep a positive attitude, there aren’t any low points when it comes to publishing something you’ve written. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

Probably the nastiest criticism I had ever received in the self-publishing world was right at the beginning when I first put out my short story collection, Horror, Humor and Heroes. The reviewer took his time and picked apart every story in the book and while he did like one of them, he then proceeded to use his criticism to launch what I considered to be a personal attack. That experience is one of the reasons why I recommend to all new writers that they should strongly consider the use of a pen name.

When it comes to working with a publisher, the waiting is always the hardest part just like Tom Petty says. Right now, I’m waiting for one of the other Gryphonwood authors to finish proofreading the second Spirals of Destiny Novel, while fending off the fans who are waiting for that long-delayed second installment. As for the audio book world, I’ve had great experiences with Jeffrey Kafer. He’s incredible to work with and I was fortunate to stumble upon him when I was first getting into audiobooks.

8) The New Year is upon us. How do your favorite characters celebrate?

I suppose Cal Stringel would have a small party in what you aptly termed his “Cave of Anger.” Mike Ross would likely be at a larger party filled with both the living and dead. David Bagini 42 would still be wondering how his life had arrived at that particular point.

BernheimerSorceress9) And I always ask this because I am nosy: What new projects or upcoming events can you tell us about?

In the next month, the second book in the Spirals of Destiny series will be released (hopefully), and I’m currently writing the rough draft for the prequel to Cal Stringel’s adventures that will be called, Origins of a D-List Supervillain. I am also working on a short story for an upcoming anthology called Apollo’s Daughters from Silence in the Library publishing that I am really excited about. Both Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston are among the many talented authors who will be working on this project edited by Bryan Young. It’s a companion piece to Athena’s Daughters which features stories from female authors featuring strong female lead characters. When that is completed, I expect to be working on the third D-List novel and then the third Dead Eye installment. That should keep me busy through most of the year. As far as conventions go, I will be attending Marscon in Williamsburg Virginia this month. I am also confirmed guest at ConCarolinas in June. I also to attend the next XCon in Myrtle Beach South Carolina during May and ShevaCon in September. If there is any room, I wouldn’t mind doing a couple more conventions, but we’ll have to see.

Places to Find Jim Bernheimer

Website

Goodreads

Amazon

Interview: Mysti Parker, Author of The Tallenmere Novels

MystiParkerProfileDab of Darkness welcomes Mysti Parker, author of The Ranger’s Tale, Serenya’s Song, and Hearts in Exile. Mysti was kind enough to subject herself to my nosy and prying questions. Enjoy!

1) In your writings, what makes a complex character an essential part of the story? 

Thanks so much for having me here!

To answer this question, it really boils down to my love for character-driven stories. I love writing and reading stories in which the main characters have several options they can take when faced with a challenge. Should they choose option A as opposed to B, it becomes a whole different story. Remember those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?

When characters have to make choices, you really get to know them and what makes them tick. They may even make a choice that goes against their beliefs or morals, but the motives behind it add to their complexity. Their faults and hang-ups get in the way too, adding more layers to their personality. For example, Jayden Ravenwing, one of the leading males in my series, has a weakness for women, and sometimes married women.

‘Mary Jane’ (perfect) characters are boring. Give me a character who’s uncertain, unwilling, bitter, scared, or lonely. I want to see imperfection—moments of selfishness, jealousy, rage, and lust—and then you’ve got a complex character who may or may not rise above the challenges. That doubt keeps you reading (and rooting) for them to succeed!

ParkerRanger'sTale2) The Tallenmere series strongly features elves and romance, so I have to ask: Did you read Tolkien and wonder what was going on behind the scenes with the elves? 

YES!! Those elves were just too perfect, don’t you think? Better than everyone at everything, like those perfect soccer moms who attend every PTA meeting with J. Crew sweaters draped over their shoulders and a Starbucks latte in hand. Ahem…

Tolkien’s elves, though I dearly love them (my God, don’t get me started on Orlando Bloom as Legolas *drool*), they were all so whimsical. I just knew they had skeletons hiding in those tidy closets of theirs, so I decided to expose some of those bones once and for all.

In Tallenmere, elves put on a perfect show for the world around them, but as soon as you step inside their private chambers, you’ll see a whole different act. Pure elven women can give birth to a maximum of three children, but if you listen to the gossip, you’ll find out about all the half-siblings there are, many of whom come from Leogard’s nobility. All the elves tend to be xenophobic and intolerant of every other race, even other elven races. Half-elves like Galadin Trudeaux (A Ranger’s Tale) are especially looked down upon.

In reality, elves are just as imperfect as the rest of us, suffering from petty jealousies, inflated egos, self-doubt, and wanton desires. But, I did keep one aspect of Tolkien’s elves: they’re still very good-looking!

3) In writing your bad guys, do you want the reader to enjoy hating on him/her, or do you want the reader to be waiting for that magical moment when they redeem themselves?

ParkerSerenya'sSongThis really depends on the story. Complex villains are best—those who show more than just a 100% evil attitude. They have to have motives for their actions. Not just “I want to take over the world”. Ok, so maybe they do, but why? Did Mom abandon him? Did Dad get drunk and beat everyone in the family? Did one of their siblings steal all the attention?

Take Sebastian Crowe from Serenya’s Song, for instance. At the beginning of the story, readers just hate him, but as the plot unfolds, we start to see a completely different side of him, one that’s much more than just a big, mean brute.

Just like the main characters, I want to make it obvious that the villains have a choice in their actions. Sure, they may have someone in the background driving their evil deeds, but ultimately the choice is still theirs whether to continue on their path of destruction or not. I think just leaving that question in the readers’ minds is best. Give the villains a little bit of heart, some hints that they could do a 180, but keep the readers wondering (and hoping) until the very end.

4) You’re a gamer, so tell us your addictions: Oblivion? Titan Quest? Assassin’s Creed?

Big fan of the Elder Scrolls series. Currently, it’s Skyrim. Before that, it was Oblivion, and before that, Morrowind. Before all of those, it was Everquest & Everquest II. I’ve also had moments of addiction with Zoo Tycoon 1&2, Webkinz, and several others.

5) If I stumbled in to your Super Secret Writer’s Cave, well, you would need better security, but what would I find? 

My son has some sort of Lego construction on my desk. Some papers are strewn on the floor near the printer. There’s a messy book shelf. Make that two. A few instrumental CD’s scattered by the CD player and a too-full bulletin boards covered mostly with children’s art. A coffee cup with a ring of dried coffee in the bottom (better make more while I’m thinking of it). And copious amounts of dust and cat hair. Crap, now I need to clean…be right back!

ParkerHeartsInExile6) In the Great Mighty World of Fiction, what are 5 creatures you would want to avoid and why? 

Flitters: These are native to the Eastwood Mountains of Tallenmere. Butterfly-sized creatures with cute little pixie faces and pretty patterns on their wings. Just don’t look them in the eye for too long, or you’ll wind up in a paralyzing trance, while they shred you to pieces and have you for dinner.

Vampires: Yeah ok, so they’ve become sparkly lovers in recent years, but seriously—what’s so romantic about a guy biting your neck and drinking your blood?

Were-anything: Same here. If a guy can eat me for breakfast should he so choose, I’d rather not sleep next to him. No offense to the Jacob-lovers out there.

Zombies: This should be obvious. All instinct, some are very strong and fast, and always ravenous. And they smell bad, too.

Angry dragons: In Hearts in Exile at least, they’re usually not a threat unless you cross them or they think you’ve crossed them. There’s an old Haddo saying that goes something like this: “Never break a promise to a dragon; ye won’t live long enough to be braggin’.”

7) In passing nuggets of wisdom on to aspiring writers, what are some non-writing, non-reading activities that you would suggest to improve writing? 

Play roleplaying games like Skyrim. They’re like visual novels in themselves, filled with massive worlds and storylines. They can really get your imagination flowing.

Watch movies—not just for the special effects, but for the stories. See how the plot unfolds, how suspense is built, how the characters react to different situations. You’ll catch some brilliant ideas and some not-so-brilliant ones that will teach you both what to do and what not to do in a story.

Also, travel and visit as many places as you can, even if it’s local, like different restaurants, zoos, museums, parks, etc. You’ll gather all kinds of visual and sensory information that could provide new settings and help spice up your stories!

ParkerHeartsOfTomorrowAnthologyThanks again for letting me be Chatty Cathy for a while. These questions were really fun!

Mysti Parker (pseudonym) is a full time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her first novel, A Ranger’s Tale, was published in January, 2011 by Melange Books, and the second in the fantasy romance series, Serenya’s Song, was published in April 2012. The highly anticipated third book, Hearts in Exile, has already received some great reviews. The Tallenmere series has been likened to Terry Goodkind’s ‘Sword of Truth’ series, but is probably closer to a spicy cross between Tolkien and Mercedes Lackey.

ParkerChristmasLitesAnthologyMysti’s other writings have appeared in the anthologies Hearts of Tomorrow, Christmas Lites, and Christmas Lites II. Her flash fiction has appeared on the online magazine EveryDayFiction. She has also served as a class mentor in Writers Village University’s six week free course, F2K

Mysti reviews books for SQ Magazine, an online specific publication, and is the proud owner of Unwritten, a blog voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband and three children.

Contact the Author:

Blog: www.mystiparker.blogspot.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mysti-Parker/103786449704221 

Twitter @MystiParker

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4625596.Mysti_Parker


A Ranger’s Tale, Tallenmere #1

Serenya’s Song, Tallenmere #2

Hearts in Exile, Tallenmere #3 Available June 3 @ www.melange-books.com

Giveaway & Guest Post: Mythical Creatures

CalcaterraDreamwielderWelcome everyone to this fantastical guest post by Garrett Calcaterra. Yep, he was one a few weeks ago in an interview, chatting about his dogs, good beer, and his books. Please give him a warm welcome again, and sit back and be entertained by his take on mythical creatures in literature. Oh, and yes, we have a lovely giveaway at the end of this post. To enter, leave a comment and for extra points check out the rafflecopters.

Mythical Creatures: Loving Them Means Sometimes Leaving Them Alone

by Garrett Calcaterra

Several readers, after having read my new fantasy novel Dreamwielder, have asked me why I don’t like fantasy creatures. They point to the fact that there are absolutely zero dragons, elves, dwarves, trolls, and orcs in it, and take that to mean I don’t care for them. As it turns out, I do in fact like fantasy creatures, so much so I purposely did not include any of them in Dreamwielder. Let me explain.

As you might expect, I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, and like many others I feel the myriad of creatures Tolkien incorporated are a big reason why Middle-earth is so rich and rife with peril for Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, and their companions. Many of the creatures, of course, were inspired by Norse mythology, a topic Tolkien was well versed in. Dwarves, elves, frost giants, and dragons are all part of Yggdrasil, the tree that represents the nine worlds of Norse mythology. Smaug was also likely based partly on Fafnir, the dragon Sigurd kills in the Volsunga. Other creatures Tolkien created himself. Orcs, for example, were wholly his invention. Balrogs, I’m uncertain of. And really, it’s unimportant what inspired them. Tolkien did such a good job of making them his own, and giving them each their own sense of history and place in Middle-earth, that they became fantasy archetypes in and of themselves. And that’s exactly why I avoided them.

As a reader, I adore the creatures of Middle-earth. Sadly, too many authors over the years have adored them so much they wholesale ripped them off from Tolkien. Now they’ve become cliché landscape of the fantasy world. Fantasy novels with generic elves, dwarves, and orcs are a dime a dozen and unmemorable even when they’re a fun fantasy romp. The writers who have been successful are those who have taken creatures of mythology and literature and made them their own, just as Tolkien did. Anne McCaffrey took dragons and reinvented them by giving them a telepathic link with their human rider. James P. Blaylock took the standard fantasy races of dwarves and elves and made them his own by making them whimsical, witty, and simply hilarious to read about in The Elfin Ship. George R.R. Martin reinvented vampires in Fevre Dream; and in A Song of Ice and Fire he’s taken the overused zombie and recast it as the white walker, a creature far more shrouded in myth, and far more frightening because of it.

CalcaterraBaldairnMotteSo do I like creatures? Absolutely. It’s just as a writer, I  respect them enough to only use them when I can remake them with my own unique vision. I’m a huge zombie fan, but have written only one zombie story, “The Sway of the Dead,” which casts zombie as humans stricken by complacency in a materialistic, consumer-driven world. (The premise was jarring enough to incite the anger of several magazine editors, one of them who went so far as to call my protagonist a vile murderer. I took that feedback as a sign I’d successfully challenged the reader’s expectation of zombies.)

I’m also a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, but as of yet I’ve not had any brilliant ideas to do something innovative with The Great Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth. (My good friend and frequent collaborator, Ahimsa Kerp, did though. Check out Cthulhurotica from Dagan Books for a great story where he puts Nyarlathotep in a hippy commune during the late sixties only to get caught up in free drugs and free love.)

The other notable creatures that are near and dear to my heart as a reader are Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tharks and the white apes from the John Carter books, as well as the dinosaurs and saber tooth tigers from his Pellucidar series. But again, these were Burroughs’ take on Martians and prehistoric beasts. As a writer, I have to rely on my own imagination. In Dreamwielder, that meant sticking primarily with humans, but also a couple of my own twists on mythological creatures. The scent-hounds are part human, part dog, part machine contraptions created by an ancient magic to sniff out sorcerers—as much steampunk invention as they are fantasy creatures. The sinister Wulfram is a shape changer, but nothing like your typical werewolf. He has been transformed by magic to have the ability to take other forms, but the shape changing process for him is gruesome and unnatural.

It’s out of respect really that you’ll find no prototypical fantasy creatures in my writing. I love them, so I leave them alone. And when it comes down to it, human characters offer plenty of strife and conflict all by themselves, just like in real life.

But what are you favorite creatures? What authors have reinvented them and made the fresh and wonderful for you? What authors have defanged them and made them lame?

Places to stalk Garrett Calcaterra

Facebook, twitter, Website, Blog

For the giveaway, Garrett is offering ebook copies of Dreamwielder to 3 winners and then a paperback copy of The Roads to Baldairn Motte. Leave a comment to enter the random drawing – leaving a way to contact you. The ebook giveaway is open international and the paperback copy is open US/Canada due to shipping. For additional entries, enter the rafflecopters below. Good luck! Giveaways close on April 26th.

Giveaway of 3 ebook copies of Dreamwielder (International)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Giveaway of 1 paperback copy of The Roads to Baldairn Motte (US/Canada)

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

JordanEyeOfWorldAudioWhy I Read It: Participated in a read along.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: Epic fantasy aficionados (with reservations, see chit chat below).

Narrators: Kate Reading, Michael Kramer

Publisher: MacMillan Audio (2004)

Length: 29 hours 32 minutes

Series: The Wheel of Time Book 1

If you haven’t heard of this series, then you might be living in a small hole in the ground. Not a nasty hole, but a comfy, hobbitish hole. Yes, I have already started with the jokes. But let me set that aside til a little later. Rand al’Thor and his friends Mat and Perrin live in Two Rivers, a small community of farmers and merchants. They are young and inexperienced in the greater ways of the world. But then Moiraine and her friend/guard Lan turn up asking questions about the history of the place. What follows are creatures out of tales and a chunk of Two Rivers is left burnt to the ground. Moiraine convinces the three young men they must away with her and Lan for not only their safety, but for the safety of the folks of Two Rivers. Soon they are joined by others on a quest to save the kingdom, if not the world, from the Dark One.  The Eye of the World launches the 14 book series that Robert Jordan started and Brandon Sanderson finished this past January (2013).

I read this book back in college when I was 18/19. I had forgotten nearly all of it in between then and now, roughly 1.5 decades. In order for me to review this honestly, I have to get the Tolkien aspect out in the open. I do remember feeling a bit cheated the first time around at how much Jordan took from Tolkien. Tolkien himself borrowed heavily from European myths and hence, much of the fantasy genre has borrowed from him in a typical trickle down effect. Still, the similarities between The Eye of the World and The Lord of the Rings are some of the closest I have found in the fantasy genre. With that acknowledgement, I still found myself getting attached to the main characters and wrapped up in their quest. And yes, grimacing a little every time some character mimicked an Ent line, or an altercation resembled hobbits vs. nazghul, or there was smoking of the leaf.

So all that aside, Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene are all very real, young, and in way over their heads. Moiraine and Lan are mysteries that only unravel a little by the end of the book. Nynaeve, the Wisdom of Two Rivers, was one of my favorite characters – she tracks, rides, heals, and grumbles. I am capable of one of these skills, and I will let you guess which one. The world building was detailed and happened bit by bit, growing as the Two Rivers folks ventured further and further from their home. There were moments of humor or reflection mixed in with the action, making the pacing quite good for a lengthy first book to a lengthy series. Most of the tale is told through Rand’s eyes, which was adequate, but I often found myself wishing for more points of view, especially wanting to hear the inner thoughts of Moiraine.

Michael Kramer narrated like 90+% of the book, as we only had a few short blips of POV from the female characters (narrated by Kate Reading). Both did an excellent job, providing a variety of voices for the multitude of characters in this novel. I look forward to hearing their voices in the next book. This case, I think I found the audioversion more enjoyable than the print simply because I didn’t get hung up on the Tolkien-isms as we were moving right along to the next scene and I couldn’t physically linger over the similarities.

What I Liked: The world building provides depth to the entire world and in turn, each character; even the side characters had histories, etc; the ladies are equally as developed, flawed, and dangerous as the men; Bela the horse gets a spotlight throughout the tale.

What I Disliked: Lots of Tolkien similarities; the dream sequences were a little nebulous for me.

If you’d like a more detailed discussion, check out the Read Along posts. Also, we will be continuing along with Book 2, The Great Hunt (schedule HERE) if you would like to join us.

Part I          Part II

Part III       Part IV

Part V         Part VI

Part VII      Part VIII

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Heldig and The Hobbit in her basket.

Why I Read It: Participated in a great Read-Along over at Snobbery.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy buffs, classic lovers, folks with hairy feet fetishes.

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Company (1997)

Length: 256 pages

Part of me feels like this timeless classic hardly needs a review. But I am going to do it anyway. First off, say ‘Bilbo’ three times fast without snickering. Go on, I will wait over here for the giggles to subside.

I enjoy J. R. R. Tolkien’s works, but I am not a fanatic. For those of you who take him seriously, you may want to avert your eyes from this review.

I really enjoyed The Hobbit. I had not read it since the 6th grade some 20+ years ago. I found all the singing silly and clever at the same time, which I think is appropriate for a children’s book. Gandalf seemed to be a little more tricksy in this novel than in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He did put that secret mark on Bilbo’s door, marking him as a thief and burglar (just what the Dwarves ordered). The Dwarves show up unannounced, in bright, differently-colored cloaks, demanding 5-star hotel service (meal, drink, bed). In some ways, it is the Dwarves that are thieves, stealing Bilbo off to adventure with them. It’s not as simple as ‘get past the dragon that is sitting on our gold’. No! they have to actually make it to the mountain.

There are trolls, and elves, and werebears, and goblins and dark, spooky forests, and spiders of unusual size (SoUS) to over come. And once all that is done and the treasure recovered, the Dwarves have left a long list of ticked off folks and few enough friends. Hence, the War of Five Armies commences. Messy.

All in all, I greatly enjoy Tolkien’s simple plot and expert word play with character and place names. For the linguists out there, Tolkien’s works are riddled with ancient myth and cryptic language references. If you get some of these, you can sit around and feel extra superior as you read your special hardback edition at the cafe while drinking your spiffy fancy tea .

What I Liked: Hairy feet; brightly cloaked Dwarves; talking birds; dogs that can set the table; play on words; the Wargs; the singing; Smaug the dragon; Bard of Lake Town.

What I Disliked: Not a single female anywhere in the book – no female Hobbits, Elves, Wargs, Goblins, birds, ponies…. you get the point. It’s a 256 page long sausage fest.

The Hobbit Read Along Part III

The finale to The Hobbit has arrived (this last section covers chpts. 13-19). While I had remembered the basics, I was still surprised how much this last section pulled at my emotions. Perhaps I am getting to be a little more human with age.

Once again, Snobbery has a great post up with a summary of events from this section along with her entertaining commentary. And she has provided the discussion questions below. Make sure to wander over to her bit of the blogosphere to see what she is up to.

First time readers/non-fanatics:  Did you catch the bit about the Necromancer at the end, and did you figure out who he was?

Yes, I read that bit about the Necromancer. But, no, I haven’t figured it out. I would like to think it is related to the later books (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), so possibly Sauruman. Which would mean that he had gone bad years, decades really, before the whole trilogy got started. I wouldn’t guess Sauron (the big Evil Eye) because I am under the impression that this entity was tied to his power base of evil-doers. Is this referred to in The Simarilllion?

My fellow read and re-readers:  Was the Arkenstone one of the lost Silmarils?  What leads you to that belief?

Ooooo! Now that is a fantastic thought. So, in the trilogy, we get to see 2 Silmarils, both dark spheres. Unless Lady Galadriel’s looking glass is also one, which would mean that a Silmaril could be a number of items. Yet, while folks wanted the Arkenstone, no one had visions with it.

How about we launch an expedition to Middle Earth and Laketown and from there to the foot of the mountain where we can dig the pesky thing up and run some tests. We will need at least 2 Silmaril experts, in case of…..misfortune. Attach resumes and references below.

Now that we’ve finished this book, if you haven’t read Tolkien before – how are you feeling having accomplished this much?  Are you planning on continuing through the rest of the books with us?  For those of you who’ve read it countless times – how is reading this time different than the first (or even the last) time you read it?

There was so much I forgot since my first reading back in the 6th grade – Beorn, the first appearance of the Wargs, the talking Ravens, the Arkenstone, and the auction of Bilbo’s belongings. So this was great to reread it (something I had been meaning to do before the movie came out). Also, reading a book with adult eyes is quite a bit different than reading it with kid eyes. I love that this book was still exceptionally entertaining.

I have read The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the past 10 years, and with farm work in full swing, I think I will have to sit out continuing on with Tolkien for now. But I can definitely make a habit of stopping in over at Snobbery to post a snarky comment or two.

Other Tidbits:

Was there a single female character (even a pony, or eagle, or goblin) in the entire book? Sausage Fest.

In one single line, Tolkien has the word ‘guns’. I had always been under the impression that all these books were staged in a world that was pre-gun technology. So why would the characters know what one sounds like?

The War of Five Armies – was it: A) Dwarves, Goblins, Wargs, Men, Elves or B) Dwarves, Goblins + Wargs, Men, Elves, Eagles?

The Hobbit Read Along Part II

So much, and incredible amount, of stuff happened in chapters 6-12. It’s been well over a decade.. uh.. maybe 2 decades since I read this and I can’t believe some of the things I forgot about.

Snobbery once again is our wonderful host and she has a great synopsis with snarky commentary over at her place, so make sure to check that out. She has also provided the following discussion topics:

Do you think Gandalf is always this impatient with everyone, or does he subscribe to some of the prejudices against dwarves that everyone else in Middle-Earth seems to have?

I think Gandalf is eager to be off on to his ‘other business’. While Thorin is the leader, the dwarves seem to be more of a comity than a chain-of-command lot. I can see why Gandalf has to push them along at times and in some ways pull rank as the All Powerful and Wise Wizard.

For those of you reading the first time, what do you think Gandalf’s “other business” is?  What could be so important that he keeps leaving our party?

Ha! i think Gandalf is bored with the little folks and wants to go visit friends and relatives in the area. Like he mentions a necromancer (perhaps spying is considered ‘other business’) and his brother Radagast. He could also be off collecting herbs and medicinal mushrooms, or dungeon prowling. He is a wizard and part of being a wizard is maintaining a aura of mystery and importance.

Let’s talk about Bilbo’s character.  He’s come a pretty long way from his hobbit-hole and seems to be rising to the various challenges set before him fairly well.  At what point did he (in your eyes) go from being a fraidy-hobbit to the dragon-challenging character we see at the end of this section?

This actually occurred for me in Part I, when he challenged Gollum to the Riddle Battle and in the end had to put on the ring and follow Gollum and then do this brave and challenging thing by leaping over him to get away. But we see more instances of him coming out of his shell. Even simple things that being the sharpest eyes in the party put him in a role of responsibility he wasn’t use to.

Other Tidbits:

I can’t believe I forgot about the Wargs and everyone nearly burning the trees. I did remember the Eagles though.

I can see how the Little Kid Me forgot about Beorn. But I find his character interesting this time around, especially how he treats his animals well. Though having goats and dogs set the table might be a bit much.

Gandalf’s reference to finding a Giant door stopper to plug up the Goblins int he mountain had me laughing.

When the Eagles feed the dwarves and Bilbo, they bring them a small sheep, rabbits, and hares. What is the difference between rabbits and hares? Ear size? Do they taste the same?

The Hobbit Read Along Part I

Heldig in her basket. Yes, those are kitty nibble marks on the corner.

First off, a big thanks to Snobbery for inspiring this reread and letting me join in the fun. She has a most excellent discussion of the first 5 chapters, with pictures. Pretty snazzy. So make sure you make your way over there for the bulk of the fun in sharing this book.

I first read this book when I was in 6th or 7th grade and I am shamed to say I have not read it since. Yet it was such a vivid book that so many parts have stuck with me over the years. Oh, and that silly cartoon that I watched over and over again as a kid with all the singing really reinforced the book.

Last year I listened to this great lecture series (Modern Scholar: Tolkien and the West by Michael D. C. Drout) on iTunes that talked about the influences on Tolkein in crafting his stories and went on to discuss Tolkein’s influence on future generations of writers. It was really enlightening about how Tolkien pulled so much from the old European tales, legends, and pantheons of gods. He crafted The Hobbit and his publisher had a young relative read it to see it was worthy. It was . It took Tolkien decades to come up with a sequel, which became much larger and more serious than a child’s book (The Lord of the Rings trilogy). I find it fascinating that he never did stop writing in this world he created, coming up with languages and complicated histories for each of the races.

Snobbery has supplied us with some insightful questions.

1) Songs.  We’ve had a few already.  Did you read/sing them to yourself, or did you skip past them?

I read them. Singing in bed to the cat seemed silly and she has a tendency to whap my lips if I make too much noise while she sleeps on my chest. I enjoyed them as I felt they helped move the story forward or gave background info/motivations to the characters. Though I will admit the dishes songs (where the dwarves are testing the limits of Bilbo’s hospitality) were a bit silly.

2) For those of you who haven’t read The Hobbit before, what are your first impressions based on these initial chapters?  For those of you re-reading, how has your opinion of these chapters changed since the first time you read them?

To this day, I can still remember that The Hobbit was my first book that featured dwarves. It was such a puzzle to me as I had never met anyone really short up to that point and I found it awesome that a revered book featured these folks that were not the standard tall, bronzed, athletic hero types. We got the Geriatric Hero in Gandalf (this name translates as Elf with Stick, I think), our short, Awkward Bearded Heroes in the dwarves, and the Hesitant And Befuddled Hero Bilbo Baggins. This is definitely not your standard adventure story.

Shortly after reading this book, I watched Willow with Warwick Davis. Awesome movie. Still one of my favorites to this day.

3) How do you feel about the way Bilbo escaped from Gollum/the Goblins?  Was he cheating?  Or did he do what had to be done?  This isn’t a question about the narrative aspects (because we know there would have been no story if he’d been gobbled up right away), but rather do you believe he could have clarified?  Stopped Gollum from trying to guess what he had in his pockets?

Definitely a cheat. But his life was on the line, so I cut him slack. I would have done the same thing myself. Did Gollum truly expect to have his opponent loose and then simply lie down and expose his throat for a death bite? If I ever end up in a Riddle Battle, and I loose, and I am about to be eaten, well…. that is the perfect occasion to pull out the hidden knives. Totally socially acceptable.

Other tidbits:

I have had a hairy feet fetish since I was young. I think it started with this book. (Hey! I can see you looking at me sideways!)

Good thing trolls are an argumentative lot and not that bright. I was really worried that the adventure party number was going to decrease right from the beginning.

At Elrond’s place I loved the description that every kind of hospitality could be had depending on what you liked: songs late into the night, good eating, work. Huh, work? Labor as a source of distraction and fun on your vacation is not something I understood as a kid. But now as a farmer, I get it. I would rather be helping friends/relatives with home repairs, gardening, animals on my little vacation than site-seeing.