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Jeff LaSala

The Trial of Galadriel

She was warned—that leaving Valinor would mean exile.

She was given an explanation—indeed, it was made clear to all the Elves that following the vindictive Elf Fëanor boded poorly.

Nevertheless, she persisted—for Galadriel, “the only woman of the Noldor to stand that day tall and valiant among the contending princes, was eager to be gone.”

Casual moviegoers might think of her first as that blond Elf lady who bestows kisses on hobbits and gifts to the heroes. Or maybe as that white-clad, stare-eyed woman who wigs out on Elijah Wood and gets all deep-voiced and creepy. But readers know that Galadriel is so, so much more, especially those who have read beyond the trilogy.

[All shall read on and despair!]

The Eagles of Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Special Ops

Much has been said—over and over again and usually with well-intentioned sciolism—about those blasted Eagles in The Lord of the Rings.

There is actually precious little written about Tolkien’s imperious birds of prey, and I suppose that’s why it’s easy to armchair criticize the good professor for his use of them as eleventh-hour saviors. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some important distinctions to make. And what’s not to love about giant raptors? Since the rocs of Eastern legends and Marco Polo’s apocryphal adventures, everyone is fascinated by the idea of big birds, right?

[Read on for a bird’s-eye view]

Revisiting a Horror-Comedy Classic: Gene Wilder’s Haunted Honeymoon

Have you got a favorite movie that was either a total bomb at the box office or no one else seems to have ever seen? I’ve got a few, but given the fact that Halloween is nigh and we recently lost an icon of comedy genius, I’d like to talk briefly about one item high on my list right now: the woefully unsung Haunted Honeymoon, which seldom gets mentioned whenever Gene Wilder himself does. This is my Young Frankenstein, my Willy Wonka. And by that I mean a movie starring Gene Wilder that’s close to my heart. I assume we all have one.

[Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?]

Lúthien: Tolkien’s Badass Elf Princess

I think it’s fair to assert that the trope of the damsel in distress has been falling away in contemporary fantasy for some time, but I’d like to shine a light on one who helped break that literary mold even in the 1970s: Lúthien Tinúviel. This famous Elfmaiden, who stars in the iconic love story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium, didn’t need to be rescued like a video game princess. She broke out of bondage, rescued her own questing boyfriend, and personally took on the big boss at the end of all levels. It’s like… imagine if in the original game, you play as Zelda, and you get to bust her out of Ganon’s prison, find all the Triforce pieces with Link, then fight your way through Death Mountain together.

Let’s be clear. There are innumerable wonderful heroines in the genre, and the list grows every day. I am merely positing that Lúthien, conceptually, is one of the best. This badass heroine rises up from the fairy tale beauty and Eldar privilege of her birthright to get her hands dirty and solve problems like a big girl. She and her mortal betrothed, Beren, are equals even when others around them—immortal and ostensibly wise beings—choose not to see it. They are a two-person army of determination and doom. (To be fair, they do have the help of a magical dog/fifth wheel in their adventures—more on him later.) They are true to one another in the face of every opposition: Lúthien’s own dad, various grudge-bearing Elves, a legion of vile monsters, and a constant barrage of dire prophecies.

[Tarry not! Read on!]

Journeys, Desolations, and Battles: Jackson’s Trifold Hobbit in [Extended] Review

This is an update of a previous post about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films.

Yesterday, the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies played in theaters as a prelude to its release on DVD/Blu-ray. And so with battle cries, the clash of weapons, and then a somber dirge, we have seen the trilogy-that-wasn’t-really-a-trilogy conclude. To be honest, I found it to be a curious admixture of satisfying and unfulfilling; the former because as a film saga, there is both excitement and sufficient closure, and the latter because it would have felt more complete, more “extended,” if Peter Jackson had deigned to drop in a few more looked-for elements from the books. But hey, war goats!

[Read more]

The Unquiet Voice of Saruman

Saruman the White is one of literature’s greatest wizards. Not so household a name in pop culture, perhaps, as Merlin, Harry Potter, or Gandalf himself, but nearly so. Fantasy readers might at least consider him a B-lister like Ged, Kvothe, Raistlin, or Elminster. Though he was set up in J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium as the eldest and most “high” of the Istari, the order of wizards, he plays second fiddle to Gandalf in every way that counts. And he knows it, and it eats him up. It defines him.

[Read on if you would contend with the will of Sauron.]

Journeys, Desolations, and Battles: Jackson’s Trifold Hobbit in Review

Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films get a lot of flak for being overwrought and overlong. Many of the criticisms are valid enough (I have some of my own), some are a matter of taste, and some, I feel, are simply misguided. My view, as a fan of Tolkien first and Jackson second, is that the naysayers are judging the films for what they’re not. They are not a cinematic translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel but an adaptation in the truest sense of the word. And they are specifically an adaptation of events in Middle-earth 60 years prior to Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party which include those covered in The Hobbit and the appendices of The Lord of the Rings.

[Unlike the lost Seeing-stones, all six films are all accounted for at last. Spoilers below!]

Extending The Desolation of Smaug: More Is More

The final installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy—controversial among even Tolkien fans by being a film trilogy at all—is nearly upon us! But although The Battle of the Five Armies is about to begin, the Extended Edition of The Desolation of Smaug has only just arrived.

The theatrical cuts of Jackson’s films are as CliffsNotes to me, where the Extended Editions are the unabridged forms. Marketers tout these editions as “extended,” but you’ll notice these are not called “deleted scenes.” And for good reason. In most cases the Rings and Hobbit “extended” scenes are actually integral to the plot but don’t necessarily provide vital information to the broader movie-going populace. And I get that; many complain that the movies are long enough already, or that they should have been crammed into fewer films. For those of us more invested in Middle-earth—in Jackson’s Middle-earth, to be clear—they’re like comfort food. Tastier and more satisfying.

[Read More]

Concerning Hobbits, On-Screen and Off: Why Jackson and Tolkien Can Peacefully Co-exist

There is nothing so powerful as one’s imagination. We’re readers, we know that. We get it. And yet, sometimes imagination can be offset or complemented by something else. This is, after all, the age of multimedia.

With greed-fueled war on the horizon, and with Smaug, Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities and arguably literature’s most famous dragon, once again on the rampage in the first trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, it’s time to talk about The Hobbits—their juxtaposed film and literary incarnations alike, and why together J.R.R. Tolkien’s and Peter Jackson’s respective legacies are like chocolate and peanut butter combined.

[Read on if you can handle a few spoilers and are not afraid of some fire-drake from the North.]

Hard(boiled) Magic: An Appreciation for Warbound and the Grimnoir Chronicles

Warbound, the third book in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles, is currently up for a Hugo, and rightly so. Given the remarkable diversity of this year’s nominees in various categories—among others, the entirety of The Wheel of Time series, essays and blog posts, and of course, some entries—it makes perfect sense to me that that a magic-infused, high-stakes, and genre-mixing-in-the-1930s tale like this one is a contender for Best Novel. And why not? It’s the bee’s knees.

Like The Return of the King or A Memory of Light (though resembling neither), Warbound isn’t a stand-alone story; it’s the culmination of everything leading up to it: in this case, the three books of the Grimnoir Chronicles. This one in particular demonstrates what seem to be the strong points in Correia’s wheelhouse: every goddamn thing.

[Read on for the spoiler-light scoop on this gun-toting, spell-flinging series.]

What to Expect From the Forthcoming Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

If you’re a Dungeons & Dragons fan, then you may already be aware that the next edition of D&D is swooping in at the end of the summer, courtesy of publisher Wizards of the Coast. Whether you’re up on the latest rules, a cantankerous old grognard, or simply a proponent of the oft-exemplary offshoots, this is still a momentous time for the game and could either reignite or diminish the famous brand. Likely it will do a little bit of both—you cannot please everyone—but my personal hope is that it attracts a wealth of new players to the hobby: kids, teens, adults, whomever! After the “edition wars” and other rules-based schisms that online fans still like to argue about, it remains to be seen whether this iteration of Earth’s original and most iconic role-playing game takes wing.

[Can I cram in a few more dragon metaphors? Let’s find out.]

Uncovered Mirrors: Year Two of Welcome to Night Vale

If you haven’t yet heard of Welcome to Night Vale—the bi-weekly podcast of paranormal fiction produced by Commonplace Books—what underground and/or transdimensional bunker have you been living in to escape the Glow Cloud, and why?

Alex Brown capably introduced you to the podcast last summer shortly after its one-year anniversary because you certainly needed to know about it. But it turns out you need to know more, to learn of what’s transpired since, and how the show’s evolved and transmogrified, because you apparently haven’t been keeping up with it on your own. Sounds like something those jerks from Desert Bluffs would do—not keep up with Night Vale. That’s unwise, reader.

[So let’s uncover the mirror of Night Vale—which you normally shouldn’t do.]