Tag Archives: J R R Tolkien

Ursula Le Guin

Luckily, there are some really great authors in this world; great both as authors, and as persons. I understand that Ursula Le Guin was one of them.

When the news of her death broke earlier this week, I noted two things. One was that everyone had something to say about her. The other was a question to myself, ‘why did I never read any of her books?’

Because I’m afraid I didn’t. I had to look her up to see when her first books were published, in an effort to work out why they didn’t cross my path earlier. I only heard of Tolkien when I was about 16. Everyone read him, but I still haven’t. The odd thing was that he’d never been mentioned, until I was the sort of age when it was the done thing to read Lord of the Rings.

And I would have thought the same would go for Ursula Le Guin. I could have read her in English, but for that I’d have needed to know about her. And I see that only one book had been translated by the time I left school, which presumably explains why no one much talked about her books.

Then, I sensibly married a man who liked Ursula’s books. I thought they looked slightly weird, had no wish to read them, but discovered they were not books I was allowed to take to Oxfam… And the no-Oxfam rule has remained in place all these years.

But my thought this week was why I never tried them later on. I have a dreadful feeling I had catalogued them as ‘those books that sit on the shelf but are not for me.’

I was pleased to discover this article in the Irish Times, by her long-standing fan Adrian McKinty. I like his memories of Ursula and her books. I already knew she had been a fine author and person, but Adrian just proves it.

How to be Shakespeare

This is such a brilliant idea! Here I have two books from the British Library, by Deborah Patterson, on how to be your own William Shakespeare. Or J K Rowling or Tolkien. Or if you want to set the bar really high, Jules Verne or Arthur Ransome.

We’re actually back in the territory of writing in books, which is so tempting, but which could also lead to some less legit scribbling in all sorts of other books than these two. But my fingers are itching, just looking at the – inviting – pages in Deborah’s two My Book of Stories books.

Deborah Patterson, Write your own Shakespearean tales

In ‘write your own Shakespearean tales,’ she introduces old Will’s plays, with quotes and pictures and All Those Lovely Designated Pages For Writing On! So read a bit about dear Hamlet and then see what you can do about beating Mr Shakespeare at his own game.

Deborah Patterson, Write your own adventures

Likewise, in ‘write your own Adventures,’ we meet some of the classics in children’s literature; Alice, Peter Pan, Dorothy, Toad, Harry Potter, the Hobbit and all those others.

And then there are word games and that kind of thing, so really, you are in for a treat, playing and writing, all in one go.

Why am I so old? I was made for these books!

The Hobbit

I never read The Lord of the Rings. I just never wanted to. I listened to the BBC dramatisation, which was pretty good. I had trouble telling who was who, apart from Robert Stephens as Aragorn, who was wonderful. I obviously didn’t see the films either. Although, I seem to have seen the end quite a few times, having managed to walk into the room where the DVD was playing, at the same moment every time. It sort of ends happily, I think?

The only Tolkien I’ve read was the first chapter of The Hobbit – to Son at bedtime – many years ago. Luckily something intervened after that, and the Resident IT Consultant continued the reading.

Daughter likes the LOTR films. She liked the first Hobbit film, too, and wants to go and see the second one. Before doing that she decided to actually read the book. She finished it yesterday.

A little bit later she asked if it was all right for her to say something, and once I’d ascertained I’d not be sad or offended by this something, she had my permission to proceed.

‘The Hobbit was boring,’ she said. I replied I wasn’t surprised. There must have been a good reason I never returned to it.

We sort of came to the conclusion the reason it’s possible to make so many films out of the one book, might be that its boringness requires more fun and exciting stuff to be added. Which makes it longer. Rather like the  two-hour films made of Agatha Christie’s short stories. You pad. And then you pad some more.

J R R Tolkien, The Hobbit

(The cover is nice, though.)

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?

At least there were some children’s books

It’s the Guardian top 100 bestselling books of 2012 I’ve got in mind. Maybe I’m wrong to feel pleased there are 23, or 24 if you count The Hobbit, children’s books in the top 100. It’s children from the Hunger Games age group down to the Julia Donaldson age level, with The Wimpy Kid and David Walliams in the middle.

There are rather a lot of Wimpy Kids and David Walliams books on that list, at the expense of more individual fiction. But if the books have been bought, they have most likely been read too, because that’s the kind of books they are. And that has to count as A Good Thing, surely?

The Hunger Games film caused hundreds of thousands of books to be bought, and if the Bookwitch Towers experience is anything to go by, they were definitely read, and very quickly, too. Not by me. The film was enough. But I recognise that fervour, awakened by a cinema visit. I saw Five On a Treasure Island before reading the books. Almost before I could read, but that didn’t stop me. And look where it got me.

War Horse stage play

Even theatre can cause book buying, as evidenced by Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. I would guess the books are bought by adults, but most likely read by children as well. Or was it ‘just’ the film effect again?

War Horse film

Whereas I am – reluctantly – conceding that it might be mainly adults who bought and read John Grisham’s latest Theodore Boone, simply because they are Grisham fans. Or possibly because they didn’t realise it’s a children’s book.

But what of Terry Pratchett’s Dodger? It comes in the top twenty children’s books in the 100 list, but has not made it into the children’s top twenty. Might that be the adult fan reading everything by their favourite author again?

The fact that Jacqueline Wilson is not in the top twenty, is an indication of how well the film industry sells books. (Did I just say that?)

Wimpy Kid film poster

What makes me happy, is that at least a couple of million readers benefitted from the top twenty titles. I hope they will also be reading other books, lower down in the sales league, and that they will continue reading. Always.

Reflections of DWJ

Once I get going on a topic, there is not stopping me. I was happy to find that there is a new book featuring talks and essays by Diana Wynne Jones, all of which she chose herself during the last months of her life.

It’s a bit like when I read obituaries of people I might have heard of, but knew little about. They sound so interesting that I am furious they had to die before I found out. I’m beginning to favour living obituaries, heaping praise on someone while they are there to enjoy it.

I did know Diana was special, because everyone said so. I just procrastinated. So not only am I rather belatedly setting off on a DWJ-readathon, but I have these marvellous little pieces as well.

Because I wanted to bring Reflections to your attention, and because I want to slowly savour her reflections on the magic of writing, I haven’t yet read every single piece. I am dipping into the book, little by little. And I’ve only now realised I didn’t start where my adviser suggested, with ‘Why don’t you write real books?’

But then, I am quite happy with where I did start. And also with where I went after that.

Neil Gaiman was a fan. Obviously. Diana was very much a writer’s writer, which is why so many admired her so much. Neil has written the foreword to Reflections, while Charlie Butler – another DWJ fan – reflects on this collection. Diana wrote the preface. It’s good that she was able to.

There is a hilarious tale of when the 9-year-old Diana ended up babysitting half the village’s children. And, not too far from that topic, there is an amalgam of school visits that rings so true. (They ought to be ashamed of themselves!) Vomiting at Halloween, children playing in the woods, the mumbling of J R R Tolkien, and how to appreciate your talents all get their own ‘chapters.’

Even if you’ve never heard of Diana, this makes for first class reading.

Young and hot, or perhaps not

Mary Hoffman went on a book tour to America last week, leaving us – her blog readers – with some exciting men to think about. I bet she did that on purpose.

She writes about some very attractive young men in her own books, and I trust Mary has done a lot of research to make our reading experience the best ever. But I am too old for her boys. I simply cannot lust after a teenager. Even setting propriety aside I find I can’t. I need older men.

Like the ones I was too young for when I was a teenager. Except in those days there wasn’t much in the way of teen books, so a girl had to lust after grown older men, or not lust at all. Lord Peter Wimsey is one such example mentioned by Mary. (And don’t tell anyone, but I did like him.)

That’s life. Nothing is ever right.

So, in those days I liked the Scarlet Pimpernel (even without Leslie Howard), and I adored Steven Howard in MM Kaye’s Death in Cyprus and Richard Byron in Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk. Various Alistair MacLean heroes, and Carl Zlinter from Nevil Shute’s The Far Country. (Go on, ridicule me!)

If there were any boys, I have forgotten them, which means they can’t have been all that special.

More recently I have liked Margery Allingham’s Campion, Mr Knightley, and Robert Stephens’s voice as Aragorn in the radio version of Lord of the Rings. There aren’t all that many attractive men in modern children’s or YA books, but there is Lupin. And from an old classic we have Daddy Longlegs.

If I absolutely have to find young men in current fiction they won’t be vampires. Not even faeries (sorry, Seth McGregor). I liked Wes in Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever, and Sanchez in Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan is quite a boy. And now that I think about it, the Cathys (Cassidy and Hopkins) do lovely young ones.

Abby and Ducky

Men on the screen, however, have got easier with age. The ten-year-old me knew it was wrong to be in love with Ilya Kuryakin, 23 years my senior. But he was so cute! And this being a lasting kind of passion, it was David McCallum who got me started on NCIS. He is still very good looking for a man approaching 80. And it was at NCIS I found Very Special Agent Gibbs, a man of the right age. At last. I reckon he is a modern Mr Knightley.


So, for me it is No Thanks to ‘hot young men.’ I need them to be grey these days.

(Link here to an older post about pretty boys. I seem to have grown out of them.)

Feeling small

Meeting people who read ‘worthy’ books can be quite stimulating, albeit a little like a washing machine on too hot a setting. You shrink when you realise quite what an abyss there is between what you read and what they read. The trick is not to let on just how big the gap is.

The trouble is, I don’t have the gift of the gab. I can’t persuade people that I have read Milton, while making them feel ashamed because they haven’t. That sort of bluff is best left to Son.

I’m thinking here of my biannual meetings with Mr P Tuner. He reads. (As if it wasn’t enough that he has a perfect ear for music, and plays the piano very nicely, just like that, as if it’s not difficult at all.) It’s the Bookwitch Towers book room (aka the music room) that usually sets him off. He is under the impression that because we have lots of books, that he and I are similar.

Happily I’ve forgotten most of the worthy books he’s mentioned over the years. I doubt I’ve read a single one of them. Last year I gave him a list of what I read (best of), because he asked. When Mr Tuner called before Christmas he reported on having checked these suggestions out. Very decent of him.

Then he went on to tell me what he was engrossed in. Herodotus. Of course. And a little Edward Gibbon. Apparently his style is witty and modern. (I was once told that Pope was nice and light. I had to disagree.) Finally, for lighter moments Mr Tuner was reading Tolkien’s letters. (He’s never sent me any, so I haven’t.)

It really is fascinating quite how different we are. I might shrink temporarily when I have this kind of conversation, but for the most part I’m happy with what I read. If I weren’t, I’d change. I reckon it’s like with driving. If I suddenly felt the urge to drive a car, I would take lessons. Similarly, should Herodotus strike me as an essential read, I’ll go find him.

I have to say Herodotus seems a good sight more likely than the driving lessons…

Little My and the H₂O

I always worry when I visit School Friend and need to wash my hands. (And I don’t mean her place calls for extra hand-washing, just that one does have to wash one’s hands occasionally.) Her guest hand towel features Little My, and anyone quite so angry looking is a wee bit scary. You know.

Lilla My

But on Sunday I decided it’s not my hands that make her angry, even as I wipe them on her face. It rained. When it stopped raining we wanted to go out and sit on the deck. I was fine, because I have never done the Swedish taking shoes off indoors (and apparently even for stepping out on the deck…) thing, so didn’t mind the H₂O spread out all over. School Friend, however, objected to wet tootsies, so wiped the floor with – you guessed it! – Little My.

That will be why she’s perpetually upset.

Last time chez School Friend I was a little shocked by the new table decoration. It looked anything but child friendly. Or even people friendly. That sword (something LOTR-ish, I gather) is sharp. And on the dinner table. With flowers, but still.

The Sword, and some flowers

Now Pizzabella, the owner of the sword, has her own little flat which we went to inspect the other day. The sword went with her. But, oh dear, it sits on top of a (Billy) bookcase, and I can just visualise how it falls down…

Permanent Rose

Permanent Rose

The room where I sleep where the New Librarian used to reside is now an art studio for School Friend. I sometimes use her desk for my blogging, and was ridiculously pleased to find an old friend on there; Permanent Rose, Hilary McKay’s darling girl.

There are so many uses for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, aren’t there?

The Resident IT Consultant was puzzled to find an ‘unknown’ Mary Hoffman in our hosts’ bookcase and wanted to know which one it was. I told him it’s Falconer’s Knot in Swedish, and if he looked closely he’d find that it had been signed by the author. Just as with the copy of Troy by Adèle Geras, nestling dangerously close (i.e. below) to the aforementioned sword.