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Jeff LaSala

The Silmarillion Primer: The Creation of Life, Eä, and Everything

In Which Ilúvatar, After Creating the World, Presents Specific-Yet-Vague Plans for the Future, and Melkor Becomes a Rebel Without Probable Cause

The Ainulindalë—“the Music of the Ainur” in Elvish—is a kind of prelude story to The Silmarillion proper. It’s the literal beginning to the legendarium, and though it’s only a few pages long, there’s a lot packed in there! For an author famous for long passages and rich detail, J.R.R. Tolkien does a surprisingly good job at concision with his ancient history. With so much foundational material to grasp—and much of it important for future chapters—I am therefore only going to talk about the Ainulindalë in this article.

To start off, if you can pronounce Ainulindalë (eye-noo-LINN-da-lay), you’re already in great shape…

[Click here and ‘Behold your Music!’]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Journeys, Desolations, and Battles: Examining Jackson’s Trifold Hobbit

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!

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Welcome to the Silmarillion Primer: An Introduction

Welcome to the Silmarillion Primer, wherein I discuss, praise, and adoringly poke fun at J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal work in a series of essays, spanning twenty or so installments, as a prep for its would-be readers. I’d warn you that there will be spoilers, but honestly, spoilers just aren’t a thing to the good professor and he sure wouldn’t have cared (hey man, Frodo lives!). But more on that later.

[Sit and hearken, and be glad.]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

The Greatest Adventure: Tolkien’s The Hobbit Turns 80!

In a hole in the ground lived one of literature’s smallest badasses, Bilbo Baggins, who in 1937 burst onto the scene in a ring of smoke. That’s right: 80 years ago this week, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fur-footed, waistcoat-wearing protagonist went there and back again for the very first time when George Allen & Unwin Ltd. published The Hobbit.

When it first landed, The Hobbit was a hit, and early readers understandably compared it to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because it’s not like the literary scene was exploding with dragons just yet. Disney’s animated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also came out later the same year, so at least there were some people of the short and bearded persuasion on the scene. Although I think we can agree that Thorin Oakenshield is a lot of things, but he sure ain’t Dopey.

[Read away ere break of day!]

Beren and Lúthien and Their Not-So-Little Dog, Too

J.R.R. Tolkien nerds like me already know there’s a new book out—Beren and Lúthien—that again demonstrates that the Professor continues to release great stuff even from beyond the Circles of the World. Now, if you don’t really know much about these two characters, the titular Man and titular Elf, consider delving into their tale at long last! In one of many letters to his publisher, Tolkien had pitched theirs as “the chief story of the Silmarillion,” but more importantly, the tale of these two lovers was extremely close to the heart of the good ol’ Professor himself. Beren and Lúthien are like ripples in the Middle-earth legendarium, touching everything in all directions.

I previously wrote an article about Lúthien showcasing the badassery of the Elven half of this particular celebrity couple (Berúthian?), but this time I’d like to look at the new book itself, discuss some of its outrageous ideas, and admittedly go all fanboy on the real hero of the story (hint: he’s such a good boy). But here’s a sneak peek of Beren and Lúthien:

Sauron’s a kitty-cat and Gimli’s an Elf. Wait, whaaaat?

[Read on to forget the dreadful doom of life!]

Lúthien: Tolkien’s Original 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.

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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.

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