Saturday, March 17, 2018

Guest Post: I am No Man, but I'm Still Important

(Note from Hamlette:  This is an essay my niece wrote for the high school literature class I'm teaching her.  It's so good, I'm sharing it with you as part of my Another LOTR Read-Along.  Enjoy!)

I Am No Man, But I’m Still Important
by V. Kovaciny

When reading The Lord of the Rings, many readers have wondered: Where are the female characters? Where is the femininity and romantic love? There are no women in the Fellowship, and feminity is spread thinly throughout the many pages of The Lord of the Rings. Some readers say the women that do appear are stereotypical and distant, and that they let the men do the work and fight the battles. This has caused some readers to criticize Tolkien’s work and even argue that he is sexist. But are these criticisms valid? Is Tolkien really a bigot, or are his readers, fans, and critics being too nitpicky?

The short answer is yes, we are being unjust. Why? Well, fortunately for you, I’m here to discuss several reasons why.

The most obvious evidence is the case of Eowyn. Like Disney’s Mulan, she is told to stay behind and let the men fight the war. She refuses to lie idle while the world is at stake. She is told to lead the kingdom while her male relatives are away. But she longs for the glory of battle and the admiration of Aragorn, so she dresses up as a man to go with them to war. Her disobeyment actually makes her a more well-molded character. By having her be imperfect, reckless and brave, she is more complex and more...human. Her boldness pays off; she and Merry succeed in killing Witch-King, which was a major blow to the Enemy. Lastly, if the men of Gondor and Rohan (as well as Tolkien) were sexist, wouldn’t Eowyn have been scolded for doing a “man’s job”? She was not, and she was praised for her bravery instead of being accused of insubordination.

Another strong woman in The Lord of the Rings is Galadriel. She is certainly not subservient to her husband, Lord Celeborn. They both share a mutual respect and love for the other. Tolkien does not paint her as less important than him. In fact, story-wise, she plays a bigger role than he does. She is portrayed as wise and powerful, and is also the owner of a ring of power, not her husband. Not only that, but she has strong willpower. Unlike several male characters, such as Boromir, Gollum, and even Frodo, she is able to resist the power of the Ring. She is respected by her people and her husband and succeeds in resisting the ring, which many men failed to do. Not exactly weak and frail, is she?

Arwen too, has a strong willpower. She is faced with a difficult choice: immortality or love. In the end, she chooses a mortal life to be with Aragorn. Her dilemma makes her all the more interesting. Her choice just goes to show that she is perfectly capable of thinking for herself.

A short point that should be made is the importance of the Entwives. While not present in The Lord of the Rings, they are important even in their absence. The Ents miss them deeply. Because the Ents and the Entwives had different interests, the Ents neglected and ignored their wives, and their love dwindled. Tolkien is touching on the value of marriage and union, and how without maintaining love, it will fail. Without the Entwives, the Ents are doomed to extinction.

Take a moment to think about the scenarios and the kinds of relationships Tolkien is writing about. Tolkien was in World War 1, and his characters are also in a war. And historically, more men enlist in the military. As for the relationships, The Lord of the Rings is about friendship, not romance. Tolkien is painting a wonderful story of how friendship can stand through trials just as well as romance can. Romance is second to friendship in The Lord of the Rings. In the end, friendship saves the world.

The women in The Lord of the Rings are not depicted as useless and weak. From Eowyn’s courage, Galadriel’s wisdom, and the Entwives’ love, they each play a part in the world of Middle Earth. Don’t let your views of what makes a strong female character ruin this wonderful story for you.

Friday, March 16, 2018

"If I Live" by Terri Blackstock

Well, that didn't take me long, did it?  I'm all done with this book after like 3 days, which means I'm also done with the If I Run series!  

Overall, I liked the series a lot.  Blackstock has an engaging writing style with great energy and flow.  Her characters were human, relatable, and likeable.  Her dialog stayed crisp through the series.  Her pacing got a little lax in a few places -- there were a couple spots where I felt like monkey wrenches got thrown into the plot just to make the books longer.  However, in the author's note at the end of If I Live, Blackstock said that this series was initially inspired by the classic TV series The Fugitive and the way that Dr. Kimball (David Janssen) would find a modicum of peace and comfortability somewhere doing a job or helping someone, maybe even start to make friends, and then the police or the one-armed man would show up and he'd have to flee again.  Once I read that, I was like, "OH!  That's what she was going for.  Okay."  In retrospect, it really did have that feel to it, so if you're a fan of that series (::cough:: Eva ::cough::), you would probably dig the way this is set up.

This book had a lot of nice, believable, non-mushy romance in it to go along with the thrill ride, which was extra fun :-)  I also liked how it didn't end with the end of the manhunt for Casey, but went on to show the aftermath of the whole plot, how it affected not only Casey and Dylan, but people in Casey's family, the bad guys' families, and the families of victims too.  It didn't wind up too quickly, which some suspence novels do, and I liked that.

I didn't like the amount of decision-based theology that this one had, though.  The first two books stayed pretty neutral, theologically, but this one definitely weighed in on the "you have to make a choice/decision to believe in Christ" side in a heavy way.  

(From my Instagram)

As an individual book, I liked If I Live better than If I'm Found, and maybe better than If I Run too, just because it has a very satisfying ending.  As a series, these books gave me a good ride.  I'm going to see if the library has more of Blackstocks books, as I'd really like to try more of her stories.

Particularly Good Bits

"I'm more myself when I'm with you than I've ever been with anybody else" (p. 226).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and suspenseful situations.

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Stairs of Cirith Ungol (TTT 4, 8)

I have nightmares like this chapter. Impossibly steep steps, winding trails going through mountains -- but usually someone's chasing me in those dreams, and at least no one's directly chasing Frodo and Sam here. Still, it's very tense and nail-biting-inducing.

I love the part where Sam and Frodo are talking about their journey like it's part of a story. Partly because they literally are in a story, so it's a neat moment just cuz it's true, but also because a lot of time, I feel like I'm living in a story. And in a way, I am. The ongoing story of people on earth. And the parts I don't enjoy may one day be the parts most worth remembering -- the hard or dangerous or unhappy parts might end up being the most important.

But I'm very sad over the moment where Gollum comes up to the sleeping Frodo and is almost a hobbit-like creature again, quiet and old and pitiable. And then Sam wakes up and speaks less-than-kindly too him and, without knowing it, pretty much sets Gollum's feet irretrievably on a dark path. Phooey.

Favorite Lines:

Frodo and Sam were plodding along with heavy hearts, no longer able to care greatly about their peril (p. 688).

Discussion Questions:

Sam says that all he's hoping for is "plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning's work in the garden" (p. 697). Does going through something hard, or even going away on vacation for a while, make you value normal life more? Or does normal life make you value adventure more?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: Journey to the Cross-roads (TTT 4, 7)

I like how Faramir's farewell to Frodo and Sam includes "the manner of his people, stooping and placing his hands upon their shoulders, and kissing their foreheads" (p. 680). That is exactly how Aragorn said farewell to Boromir when he died, and I love that detail, that Aragorn knew enough of Gondorian ways that he knew how to properly say farewell to a man of Gondor, in the Gondorian custom.

Although we spend most of this chapter slogging on through bleak, unfriendly environs, at the very end of the chapter, we come to an unexpected moment of beauty and hope. The setting sun finds a break in the clouds and sends them a brief beam of actual light. And it lights on a statue, something like the giant statues of the Argonath that the Fellowship passed between in their canoes so long ago. Although the rude inhabitants of Mordor have knocked down its head and painted graffiti all over the rest of it, nature finds a way to heal their hurts just a little. A vine with white flowers gives the fallen king's head a new crown.

And that, to me, is such a gorgeous symbol of Aragorn's whole story. Sauron and his minions may have knocked the rightful kings of Middle Earth off their throne when Isildur was murdered centuries ago. But Isildur's line endured, even though separated from the throne. Son after son lived on in secret, waiting, hoping for the right time to reclaim the throne. And the time has come for one of them, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, to come forth. The sword that was broken is reforged. Aragorn has begun telling people who he is, and folk are showing him allegiance. He's not king yet, just like that statue's head is not yet back on its shoulders. But he's recognizable as royal, like the stone head with a circlet of flowers. "'Look, Sam!' he cried, startled into speech. 'Look! The King has got a crown again!'" (p. 687). It's a great bit of foreshadowing, too.

Favorite Lines:

"A waiting silence broods over the Nameless Land" (p. 679).

"Maybe," said Sam; "but where there's life there's hope, as my Gaffer used to say; and need of vittles, as he mostways used to add" (p. 685).

Discussion Questions:

Sam dreams he's back at Bag End, heavily burdened and tired. Frodo sleeps "unquietly" and mutters Gandalf's name. What do you think their contrasting dreams say about their own mindsets at this point?

Faramir calls the region of Mordor they're about to enter "the Nameless Land" (p. 679). Like "No Man's Land" in World War One, like "He Who Must Not Be Named" in Harry Potter, sometimes the fact that a place has no name or no owner, or their name is not to be spoken, tells us a lot about them. What can we tell about this place from the fact that it has no name?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"If I'm Found" by Terri Blackstock

So, you might have been wondering why, if I loved If I Run so much, it took me NINE MONTHS to read the second book in the trilogy.  I will tell you.  It's because I was waiting for book 3 to be released, because I knew once I finished book 2, I would want to dive right into book 3.  And I was right.  As soon as I finish writing this review, I'm going to start reading If I Live, which came out last week.

All told, I didn't like this one quite as well as book 1.  Partly that's because I tend not to like middle stories in trilogies because they frustrate me with their lack of resolution.  But in this case, it's also because there's an abused, probably molested child at the center of the story.  And ever since I had kids of my own, I've had a really hard time with stories that involve any kind of child abuse, especially molestation.  Even though this is only suspected abuse, and it never goes into detail as to what might be happening to the child, it was still very hard for me to read.  I almost quit reading in the middle, to be honest.  (SPOILER) Happily, by the end of the story the child has been rescued, at least.

The story is a continuation of If I Run, of course, with Casey Cox still running from the corrupt police officers who have framed her for the murder of her best friend.  Dylan Roberts is still on her trail, but he's convinced of her innocence now and is trying to find her so they can pool the evidence they've independently gathered that will take down those corrupt police officers.  Of course, since there's a whole book to go, they don't manage to do more than meet up yet.  Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut they start to develop romantical feelings toward each other, which makes things even more interesting and injects some welcome light into an otherwise bleak story.  Also, Casey is continuing her journey toward faith in God, and Dylan is finding some help in battling his PTSD, so yeah, there's some good news in amongst the bad.

Particularly Good Bits:

I don't know where I am, but when you have no destination, it doesn't really matter if you get lost (p. 3).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, including guns and hand-to-hand fights; for suspenseful situations; for innuendo regarding a man having an extramarital affair; for discussions of suicide; for drug use (shown to be evil); and for alleged child abuse/molestation.  There's no bad language.

This is my 4th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018.  Yay!  I'm a third of the way to my goal already!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Forbidden Pool (TTT 4, 6)

I'm sorry I haven't posted a new LOTR post in almost a week, and I haven't replied to a whole bunch of comments either.  My 10-year-old came down with the flu on Friday, and my 6-year-old came down with it today.  The influenza flu, not the stomach flu.  So my life is filled with doctor visits and medicine and thermometers and trying to keep people hydrated.  :-(

BUT I have 5 minutes before I need to start making supper, so here we go!

I hate this chapter. Hate it hate it hate it hate it. All those warm fuzzies from last chapter? Gone. This is pretty much the only time I truly sympathize with Gollum -- how betrayed he must feel when Frodo coaxes him closer and then strange men pop a bag over his head and tie him up. It's awful! Hate it! Yeah, yeah, it's necessary for the plot and whatever. But I'm still sitting here glaring.

When Faramir says "I will declare my doom" (p. 675) to Frodo and then says he's going to let Frodo and Sam and Gollum go free, I always took that to meant that he was dooming himself to death if Frodo and Co. didn't behave themselves, that it was his doom. Like Eomer letting Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli go with the warning that his own life would be forfeit if they proved false. But that's not it, is it. He's declaring his decision, a doom for them, a verdict. Huh. Fascinating the things you re-understand when you re-read a book!

Favorite Lines:

"It is a place of sleepless malice, full of lidless eyes" (p. 677).

"I must take such paths as I can find" (p. 678).

Discussion Questions:

Do you think there's any way that Frodo could have kept Gollum from feeling so betrayed?

Have you ever re-read a book (or re-watched a movie) and discovered you'd misunderstood something the previous time(s) through?

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"Girl in Disguise" by Greer MacAllister

I've had such a great string of reading luck lately -- book after book that have been awesome!

Girl in Disguise is a fictional book based on the life of Kate Warne, the first woman detective hired by the famous Pinkerton Agency back before the American Civil War.  She walks into the Pinkerton agency to ask for a job, wows Mr. Pinkerton himself, and goes on to become one of his finest operatives.  Her career takes her all over the US and spans decades, though most of the book occurs during the Civil War while she is spying for the Union Army as part of her Pinkerton duties.

I finished reading this and set out to find a non-fiction biography of Kate Warne because I wanted to know just how much of this book was based in reality and how much was made up.  And then I learned something disturbing:

There aren't any biographies of Kate Warne.

In fact, we know almost nothing about her.  We don't even for sure have any photographs of her.  All we know was she existed, she was the first woman detective, Pinkerton hired her and eventually made her head of his female detective division, she worked as a spy for the Union during the Civil War and helped Pinkerton smuggle Abraham Lincoln through Maryland on his way to his inauguration, and that she's buried near Pinkerton and his family.


So much for me learning all about Kate Warne.  Or learning more about her, anyway.  Still, I really, really enjoyed this book and look forward to re-reading it one day.  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for bad language, some violence, and a lot of innuendo and adult situations.  It never crossed the border into explicitness, but it sure danced around that border a lot.