Returning to the Shire

I’ve read The Lord of the Rings annually for the past 27 years, and usually The Hobbit along with it.  I’m one of those guys who liked The Silmarillion, though I agree it is a dry read for the most part.  I’ve read Tolkien’s essays on the books, I’ve read other people’s essays on the books, heck, I’ve read Tolkien’s letters, most of which had little to do with anything he wrote.  This is all to say I’m a pretty dedicated Tolkien bibliophile.

That said, I loved Peter Jackson’s movies.  Were there things I wish he’d kept in? Of course.  I won’t bore you with the list, but there were definitely parts I wished had stayed from earlier in the book, especially in light of the drawn-out ending to the third movie.  But unlike many of my fellow bibliophiles, I understand a faithful adaptation would have been much too long and, well, boring.  Some things needed to be cut, some things needed to be shown and not talked about, and bits had to be added because folks want to see some awesome in their fantasy action movie.

I’m seeing the first Hobbit film in about ten days.  I’m taking someone to it on a date, and I want to see it for the first time with her.  So I am subjecting myself to a very specific flavour of internet black-out; basically, any review that contains spoilers will be ignored between now and then.  Not that I’m not familiar with the story, but I’d rather see it fresh, without anyone’s voice in my head while I’m watching.

In some of the non-spoiler reviews I’ve read, though, I hear some criticism of additions Peter Jackson made to the story.  Many folks assume The Hobbit was written to tie in with The Lord of the Rings.  Actually, edits to The Hobbit to bind the two stories more closely came later, and only a few similar characters offered a connection.  In reviews I’ve read it seems that Mr. Jackson has woven elements from The Silmarillion into the film, in order to tie the story closely with LotR.  Most of those reviews have expressed varying levels of disapproval, with a few coming out cautiously in favour.

Obviously I don’t want to sound off too strongly before I’ve seen the film.  But I will make two points.  First, based on LotR I think Peter Jackson has earned a fair amount of latitude from fans.  I could understand some of these issues being raised if this was his first kick at the material, but I’m fairly certain he has shown he has the chops to present Middle Earth by now.  Second, I’m actually glad to hear that some Silmarillion is making it into the movies. I was a bit leery when I heard The Hobbit was being stretched to three films.  I trusted Mr. Jackson to make the call, but given the relative lengths of the books I did worry that a Hobbit trilogy would be, as Bilbo says, “Sort of stretched, like… butter scraped over too much bread.”  So I’m glad to hear additional material was added, and I look forward to seeing how the back-story was woven into the main.

Of course I reserve the right to take all that back once I see the film.  As I also reserve the right to crow about how right I was.  I guess what I’m saying is, I’ll write a review once I’ve seen it, so that is one future post in the bag.

What about you?  Have you seen The Hobbit yet?  What did you (spoiler-free) think?  Feel free to leave comments about the film and/or books in the comments below.  Always happy to talk Tolkien.

Top Three Fictional Worlds I’d Live In

Today is a bad brain day, courtesy of my old friend Seasonally Activated Depression. It would be easy to give in to it, and who knows? The day is young and I might yet. But for now I’m going to push back the SAD with a bit of silly speculation.

When I read fantasy and sci-fi literature as a boy I would often get drawn into the worlds of the stories. I spent many an hour daydreaming of a life in those worlds. I have fished in the Shire, attended concerts at the Harper Hall and drank the night away with my fellow cut-throats at The Vulgar Unicorn (granted, I only had a vague idea of what alcohol tasted like at the time. I assumed wine tasted something like Tahiti Treat. Talk about disappointment.)

I’ve never really stopped thinking about these sorts of things, of course. I’ve always had the “what if” program running quietly in the back of my mind, checking in every once in a while to see how it was running. So when a recent conversation with a pal on Twitter got me thinking about fantasy worlds I have known and loved, it seemed the perfect time to look at the front-runners for my fantasy home. I present to you my top three fantasy worlds I would live in if the TARDIS* ever offered me a lift:

#3 – Thieves’ World:  If you are familiar with the shared world of Sanctuary, created by Lynn Abbey et al in 1978, this may seem an odd choice of locales for setting up a fantasy home (if you aren’t familiar, follow the link).  But Thieves’ World makes the list in large part because of the people.  Don’t get me wrong, I would be excited to live in the city of Sanctuary at the arse-end of the Rankan Empire.  The setting has a gritty, down-trodden feel which, to me, signals the opportunity for success.  After all, if everyone is at rock bottom, there is no where to go but up, right?  And that’s what makes me love the characters.  Jubal of the Hawkmasks, Hanse “Shadowspawn”, Cappen Verra the minstrel, Tempus, Prince-Governor Kadikithis, Hakiem…oh, Hakiem!  I would spend days plying the irascible old story-teller with wine and listening to his tales!  But Sanctuary is filled with so many interesting characters, I honestly don’t see how I would ever be bored.  Given the cut-throat and criminal nature of many of them, my life might not be terribly long.  But boring?  Not possible.

#2 – PernMy love of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern is not a secret. So is it any surprise that Pern makes my top three fantasy homes? The harder choice is when would I want to live on Pern? Do I want to arrive with the original colonists, live sometime during the “interregnum”, or live in a Hold or Weyr during the Pernian “renaissance”? Yeah, trick question. I want to ride a dragon! As a kid it never occurred to me that I would not be a dragonrider. With the wisdom of age I have softened from that stance, I would also happily settle for bonding with a fire lizard or three (I’m not greedy). But beyond considerations of dragons, there is something very appealing about the society of late-period Pern. It has a simple, pastoral quality in which I could immerse myself. Would I like to work out of a weyr or Harper Hall? Sure. But anywhere in Pern would be an adventure I’d be happy to live. And imagine if I was the one to bring TTRPGs to Pern? I could start up a whole new crafting guild! Trading d20 marks for bubbly pies and mead…retirement never looked so good.

#1 – The Shire:  This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows me. While I find the stories rife with problems, the setting of Middle Earth has always appealed to me.  Now that the Ring has been dealt with and things have settled down, The Shire would make a fine forever home. I’d get myself a nice little hobbit-hole on the border near Bree and spend time in The Prancing Pony (are you sensing a drinking theme?). When I needed a bit of adventure I’d go camping on Weathertop or journey to The Last Homely House (yes, I know the elves would be gone, but it would still be a wonderful place to visit). For a change of pace I’d visit Gondor and poke around on the other side of the river, maybe go spider hunting with friends. And similar to Pern, introducing TTRPGs to The Shire would set me up for life. All the hobbits who crave a bit of adventure, but aren’t ready to explore the big, bad world, would eat up something like Tunnels & Trolls. But even better? Board Games. Hobbits would take to board games like a third breakfast. Yes, retiring to The Shire and becoming the weird, old board game maker at the edge of town is my number one fantasy retirement plan.

Sometime down the line I’ll post the top three RPG settings in which I’d like to live.  Bonus points if you can guess which ones they are ahead of time.

So what are your top fantasy worlds?  Drop me a line in the comments…

*One could argue that if I had access to a TARDIS, any of my three choices would just be settling. It could also be argued that Pern shouldn’t be on a list of fantasy worlds. I say, if you’re that keen to argue go hit up 8chan, we’re just having a bit of fun here.