So many books, so little time. (Howards End is on the Landing)

I’ve just finished reading Susan Hill’s – “Howards End is on the Landing”. Any readers who have come across the writings of Susan Hill probably best know her for her novels – of which there are many. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading her fiction, but if she writes her stories in the same enthralling manner in which she wrote this book, I am guessing that she will be a delight to read. I will certainly take a book or two of hers out from the local library to see for myself.

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Howards End is on the Landing is a wonderful book that takes us on a search for E.M. Forster’s book, Howards End, among Susan Hills vast and haphazard collection of books – in many rooms, on many bookshelves and in many piles, in corners or on windowsills, or even in stacks on the stairs. The search leads her to discover many books that she has bought or otherwise acquired over the years and never read. As she continues her search for Howards End, she puts a number of these freshly re-discovered books into a “to read” pile….to be joined by other previously read books that she has a burning desire to read again. She decides to compile a list of 40 books from her own shelves to be set aside to read over the next twelve months. As she shares her collection with us we are given the benefit of Susan’s experience – educated as to which books are worth reading, have stood the test of time, are regarded as either “true” classics….or simply also-rans. And as she educates us she also entertains us – regaling us with personal stories about the books, their stories and about authors she admires, has met and/or worked with along the way. And in some instances how her opinion of some writers, she met, changed over the years. Roald Dahl being a prime example. (Read the book to find out what changed her mind about the great Mr Dahl).

Howards End is on the Landing has set me thinking about a number of book related issues such as, compared with Susan Hill, how little I have read of books that are considered to be “the classics”, how many books there are in existence, and how impossible it is to read them all. It also makes me realise that perhaps I shouldn’t waste what time I have left on this earth by reading what she regards as “pulp fiction” …. and also how many books I have collected or amassed over the years, bought on a whim and gathering dust on a shelf unread and, for now, unloved. BUT how does each person know if a book is worth reading or not, simply by reading the notes on the books cover? Even by looking on line and checking the likes of Goodread’s reviews….they are, after all, just other peoples opinions…their tastes may not be mine….the only way to find out for sure is to read each book.

As Susan Hill writes of her journey through her book collection – “What follows is a description of that journey, which has also and inevitably led to my thinking, remembering, ordering, assessing, my entire book-reading life.” And what a full and interesting book reading life that has been. She also mentions the benefits of “Slow Reading” – saying that some books you can rip through as fast as possible, enjoy the thrill of the ride, absorb a simple story-line and then put the book down never to have the urge to read it ever again….comparable to grabbing a quick burger for a snack (fast food – satisfying the immediate urge, but not a long lasting satisfaction), where as other books should be Slow Reading stories – enjoyed in well chewed mouthfuls….savoured over a long period and digested gradually over time. She will read two or three chapters of, for example, Little Dorrit, or To the Lighthouse, or Midnight’s Children – and then go back and slowly chew over each sentence….see how each paragraph has been put together….mull over how each character is developed….what they say, how they say it….she enjoys examining the complexity of language and style. Slow reading, just like slow food is to be enjoyed and absorbed gradually – not gulped down.

In the final chapter of the book she mentions that we owe it to books to bring them to life by reading them rather than letting them sit like decorations on our shelves, simply looking pretty. “…for a book which is closed and unread is not alive, it is only packed, like a foetus, with potential.”

With this in mind I am going to take a good look at the books I have amassed/collected over the years, which are currently languishing on bookshelves in the dining room, bookshelves in the spare bedroom – which doubles as my office – piled in dark corners, in boxes under beds, in long forgotten cupboards, in boxes and trunks in storage in the garage. Some no doubt never have been read, others will be old favourites which have been taken down from the shelves and read several times….others have merely been dipped into…nibbled at in snack sized bites when time allows. I owe them all another chance, so I’ll do what Susan did and take a journey across the shelves, back in time, to re-discover and reclaim the books I once held dear…and come up with a “to read” list of my own.

I’ll let you know in a future post how I get along and what I find of interest. Meantime enjoy your reading and give life to a forgotten book if you can.

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Noam Chomsky and the “War on Terror” – a look at 2 books of interviews with the great man.

I recently read 2 books of interviews about Noam Chomsky’s take on 9/11 and the events that followed. Here is a brief summary.

Most people will know of Chomsky. He is a well known political activist/commentator, writer and professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT, where he started teaching in 1955. He has written and lectured on many subjects including linguistics, philosophy and politics. He’s not a man who skirts around the issue and has been quite scathing of his countries role in world wide terrorism.

He states that as far as the government of the USA is concerned, terrorism is what is done by others to the united states….not something that the USA actively participates in. He then goes on to name many of the terror events that America has wrought upon other nations around the world in the name of “Freedom & Democracy”…. and what hypocrites the government have been over the years.

The USA have ignored World Court ruling on several occasions. Have gone against United Nations resolutions designed to bring peace to troubled parts of the world and have instead chosen to act unilaterally rather than side with its traditional allies. They refused to sign the Kyoto climate change agreement and more recently pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. They have violated many treaties to further their own global dominance. They have overthrown foreign governments that were opposed to the USA and installed puppet governments in their place….often these puppets becoming dictators who violate the human rights of their citizens…..get too big for their own boots and are in turn kicked out/replaced by the USA again. Thus is their revolving door foreign policy.

It was the Clinton administration back in 1993 that informed the U.N. that the U.S. “will – as before – act multilaterally when possible but unilaterally when necessary” and they have been choosing to ignore their friends and allies ever since in order to pursue their own ends. Bush continued this stance. The USA has become the playground bully. They took over the mantel from Britain, who’s empire crumbled after becoming almost bankrupt as a result of the 6 years of fighting in World War 2.

Since becoming “Top Dog”, the USA has been a quite ruthless bully. It takes war to other countries quite happily, but then becomes shocked and outraged when someone attacks them. September 11 2001 was the first time since the war of 1812 that America’s national territory had been under attack….by which I mean mainland USA, so not taking into consideration the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour back in 1941. Having said that, Hawaii did not become an official US State until 1959.

So, the attack on the Twin Towers was a shock to the system for the USA. They over-reacted, a knee jerk reaction – and committed themselves to the “war on terror” and the needless attack on Iraq….who had nothing to do with the attack in the first place.

A war usually takes place between two or more nations. What happened on September 11 was a crime….not an act of war. It should have been treat as a crime – an act of terrorism perhaps, but a crime all the same. A thorough, non-biased investigation would have helped rather than leaping to the conclusion that somehow Osama Bin Laden from a cave somewhere in Afghanistan had done this horrendous deed and that some how the Iraqi’s were also implicated.

With the majority of the “terrorists” linked to the attack being of Saudi nationality, if a war was going to be declared and retribution taken it should therefore have been against Saudi Arabia…..so why attack Iraq and the Libya? The answer was to overthrow the government of the day – neither of which were friends of the USA, although both at points in the past had been recipients of military aid from the USA…when it had suited the USA to befriend and prop up these dictatorships. So, the “War on Terror” was declared as a smokescreen to mask US foreign policy decisions. Bush, incidentally, originally called it a “Crusade” but on advice corrected this to the war on terror, as crusade brings to mind religious ideals and ethnic cleansing.

But it was not a War on Terrorism – it was a politically motivated means of gaining control of the middle east and its oil supplies. By attacking Muslim targets, the USA fell straight into Bin Laden’s trap. Their actions, in attacking the Muslim world, enraged even the most peaceful followers of the Islamic faith…..creating no end of would be terrorists.

It’s not only in the war on terror that the USA is culpable in the deaths of innocents. Their economic foreign policies – sanctions – against countries who fail to comply with the USA’s “requests” have been responsible for ending trade between allies of the USA and a number of “victimised” nations. For example they stop aid and trade with Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya bringing about death by starvation of millions of civillians – half of which are children. When asked if it was worth these deaths in order for the USA to maintain its political dominance the reply from the Whitehouse…..yes it is.

Such is US foreign policy. In reality the world is full of “grey areas” and yet to the USA policy makers it’s black or white – “you’re either with us or agin’ us” – as they used to say in those old B movie westerns – ….and we retain the right to change our policies, and our friends, as we choose, when we see fit to.

Getting back to Chomsky’s books….In the September 11 book, he was asked if he thought that Bush’s “War on Terrorism” was winnable. His response – I’d love to copy straight from the book, but don’t want to infringe copyright laws so I’ll paraphrase.

He says that in much of the world, the USA is seen as THE leading terrorist state and with good reason. In 1986 they were condemned by the World Court for “unlawful use of force” (international terrorism) – and they were told to adhere to international law. They ignored the World Court on that occasion, as they have done on other matters since. The USA are a rule to themselves and damn anyone who disagrees with them. When terrorist events occur, we should try to reduce any further threat rather than escalate it by knee jerk reactions such as bombing sovereign nations without evidence. When the IRA bombs went off in London and other places in the UK, there was no call by the British government to bomb west Belfast….or to attack the financial backers of this terrorism in Boston – an Irish stronghold. Rather, steps were taken to gather evidence and to take the criminals responsible into custody…..and efforts were also made to remedy the reasons behind the attacks. When the Oklahoma bombings occurred, calls were made immediately to bomb the middle east. It was only when it became clear that the terrorist was domestic…a white US citizen….with links to white nationalism that it didn’t go ahead. BUT there were no calls to bomb Montana or any other state with strong links to the perpetrator. Go back to the 1980’s and the USA “involvement” in Nicaragua. Tens of thousands of civilians died in Nicaragua as a result of violent assault by US forces. This terrorist attack by the USA also brought about the start of an economic war in which a small country like Nicaragua could not compete – it devastated the country and it’s never really recovered. The World Court ordered the USA to stop its actions immediately and to pay reparations to make up for their crime. As usual, the USA ignored the judgement, dismissing it with contempt, upping its destructive actions in Nicaragua. Did Nicaragua respond by sending terrorists to Washington? No…the went to the UN security council and asked them to intervene. The security council put forward a resolution calling on all states to observe international law. The U.S. alone vetoed it. They then went to the General Assembly where this time Israel, USA’s puppy state also opposed a similar resolution to obey international law. These are just a few of many many examples where the USA has dismissed international law and opinion and gone its own “lone wolf” way. It makes it’s own rules because no one else is big enough or powerful enough to make them act responsibly. If that doesn’t define what a Bully is, nothing does.

In his other book “Power and Terror”, Chomsky, as he has done many times in the past, places the 9-11 terrorist attacks in the context of American foreign intervention throughout the postwar decades – in Vietnam, Central America, the middle east and elsewhere. Beginning with the fundamental principle that the exercise of violence against civilian populations is terror, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a well organized band of Muslim extremists or the most powerful state in the world. Chomsky, in uncompromising terms, challenges the United States to apply to its own actions the moral standards it demands of others.

In the book, Chomsky compares US policy with that of Nazi Germany – as an indicator of the current moral and intellectual culture in which we live. He says that it’s something that we should be very concerned about and continues…. The acts of terror that the USA have brought to Central America, the Middle East and certain parts of Africa – they don’t count as Terror. The USA and the west as a whole see these actions as a “just war” or as “counter-terror”. But the same thing gets carried out by foreign parties against the USA or its allies, and it is “most certainly an act of terrorism”. This idea is not something new. It has been the standard line throughout the whole history of European imperialism. The USA are simply carrying on this tradition. So, they do it to us and it’s an act of terror….we do it to them and it’s a just war, it’s counter-terrorism, it’s a civilizing mission, it’s democracy in action, it’s bringing “freedom” to the oppressed. It’s bullshit… but it’s true with even the worst killers in history. If you read Nazi literature, in occupied Europe, they claimed to be quote -defending the population and the legitimate governments against the terror of the partisans (freedom fighters) who were controlled from abroad – close quote. The USA does the same things in modern times by propping up dysfunctional (but friendly to the USA) dictatorships to prevent rebels/freedom fighters/political opponents – call them what you will – from changing the government. It’s happened with El Salvador, Turkey, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Syria (where we have changed sides too many times to be credible)….the list goes on. But lets just take Columbia as an example.

In the 1990’s Colombia’s human rights record was the worst in the hemisphere and yet the USA gave more aid, including military aid, to the Colombian government than to the rest of the nations in the hemisphere combined. Mass murders were committed by government forces (including an incident where chainsaws were used to kill civilians) as evidenced by mass graves. Colombia also had, at that time and beyond, the world record in killing trade unionists and journalists – political murders ran between 10 and 20 per day and thousands of people went “missing” every month. Over 2 million fled the country while other civilians were pushed out of their homes to find refuge in slums without proper sanitation, schools or even the most basic of health care……and yet the USA financed this government, because it suited their short/mid term political and strategic goals. This is the moral decay that Chomsky fears has taken over modern political life.

He doesn’t only condemn the USA in “Power and Terror” – he also has a go at other world powers who, over the years have committed politically motivated atrocities (Britain included). Notable mentions were the German government of Nazi Germany before and during world war 2 – particularly the genocide of the Jews and Romanies – and also the actions of the Chinese government which brought about the deaths – through starvation, due to politically motivated decisions – of 25 million of its citizens.

Both books make interesting and compelling reading….depressing as they are. This is politics as it really is….dirty, low and evil – anything goes as long as we maintain the upper hand.

We owe a debt of thanks to professor Chomsky for being courageous enough to criticize his own and other rogue governments in this manner and to help us see beyond the smoke and mirrors of modern politics usually brought to us by the “bought and paid for” media.

I read things such as these two books from reliable sources like Noam Chomsky and realize that some of the “far fetched conspiracy theories” circulating on line or in publications such as the magazine “Uncensored” are maybe not so wide of the mark after all. It’s a strange and scary world in which to live and yet Chomsky remains upbeat and optimistic that the world is a more “civilized” place than it used to be. Perhaps as the end note of Power and Terror says – “his optimism sustains his life long mission: to bring the facts to the public, in the faith that, armed with knowledge, they will not fail to act”.

Book Review – Surveillance by Jonathan Raban.

I have no idea where to begin in reviewing this book. It was both a delight and a disappointment to read. One of those books you love and hate at the same time.

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I expected, from the title “Surveillance” and from the comments of reviewers on the cover of the book…..such as “The finest, most human, most chilling novel to have emerged in response to these desperate times”…and “Security, preparedness, identity and truthfulness are cleverly dissected in Raban’s disturbing story”…..and “Post 9/11, everyone watches and is being watched….In Raban’s black and brilliant portrait of this adopted city, all kinds of sinister forces filter and manipulate the truth. A wonderfully ironic, disturbing take on the un-privacy of modern life” – that it would be more about surveillance, about both government and individuals prying secretly into the lives of others – as they do do in real life. That it would be about how, post 9/11, the government – of not just America but of other western nations – imposed “security measures” on their citizens in the guise of public safety, but were actually restricting their liberty and freedom of thought, movement and privacy. AND in small measures it was. But very small measures.

In general, I enjoyed the way that the story and characters developed. By the end of the book I really did care about the characters and wanted to know more about how their lives progressed…..IF their lives progressed. But it was a story with more questions than answers and the further into the book I went, the more questions were left unanswered. I kept looking at the thickness of the book, and how much I had read, and thinking that the author wasn’t leaving much space to round off the story and bring it to a reasonable conclusion…..and then it ended very abruptly. Whether this was his plan all the time, or if he had just received a call from his publisher telling him his deadline had been brought forward, I have no idea – BUT it was a very disappointing ending and I felt cheated.

The story begins with a “terrorist threat practice drill” in which an aging bit part actor (Tad) plays one of the victims walks us through the scene. The smoke and booms and confusion – but obviously not a real situation. Tad is gay – his partner of many years has died from aids a few years earlier and to fill that void he frequents the conspiracy pages of the internet and has become a very angry and distrusting person. He has become paranoid about the governments secret agenda and takes very little at face value – so in this respect the title of the book IS valid and I thought that the story would concentrate on this aspect. He goes home at the end of the day to his apartment in Seattle where we are introduced to his neighbour – our main character Lucy a journalist who is about to do a piece on a reclusive author who survived the Nazi death camps of world war 2.

Lucy lives with her daughter who is now 11 years old and who was conceived during a one night stand a motel after meeting a stranger in a bar. They live across the hall from Tad….who has become a sort of stand in father/grandfatherly figure for the daughter. Enter the mysterious Mr Lee, a Chinese immigrant who has just become their new landlord. and who soon becomes “interested” in Lucy and her daughter. Meantime Tad is trying to find out more about Mr Lee.

So, we have several story lines on the go. There’s Tad’s paranoia, Lucy’s story on the reclusive author, Mr Lee and his mysterious background, the relationship between mother and daughter, the unknown identity of the girls father……all the characters relationships with one another. Raban weaves a multiple relationship story and poses many questions about truths and falsehoods which, as a reader – and having been dragged through these relationships and side stories – I expected to have some answers to at the end.

The ending comes suddenly but not altogether completely unexpected as it is hinted at along the way. But it does leave multiple questions unanswered and leaves the reader feeling cheated. I don’t want to give away any actual spoilers – just in case anyone still wants to read the book. It is a good story – to a point – and as I said I did feel a connection to the characters and had become concerned about them and what was going to happen to them…..and then that fucking ending. Excuse my language but that’s exactly what I thought as I turned the final page. Definitely a WTF moment!

I’ve had a quick look on Goodreads to see what others thought of the book and it looks like I am not on my own. One reviewer who gave it one star said “Passed onto me by two friends, both of them gave up after the first two chapters, but I thought, oh it can not be that bad. Yes, it was. Should have listened, I wasted my time reading this, no ending, no final, a book you pick up and throw against the wall with frustration that time, was wasted.”

Another one – this time giving 3 stars said “I was all set to give this four stars–the characterization was tight, the plot moved quickly, and the social commentary on living in a surveillance society was timely and non-hysterical. “‘We are all spooks'”, says one of the characters, and it is an apt statement. The daughter tracks her mother’s alcohol intake, the mother investigates the autobiographical story of a writer she’s doing a profile on, the next door neighbor runs down information on the new owner of their apartment building, and of course the government investigates us all. But then the ending just….struck.

Yet another one star rater said “Opens with a bang, literally, as Homeland Security films an attack video in near-future Seattle for a public safety film (uh huh, we believe that right away). Lucy, single mom and freelancer, is tasked to score an interview witha professor who is enjoying critical success for his memoir as an orphan in post-WWII Europe. Lucy lies to get the interview, winds up befriending the guy, and then discovers he might have made it all up. Meanwhile, lucy’s neighbor may be dying of AIDS while developers attempt to purchase the building they live in.
And that is as far as I got, sorry. The sense of menace and paranoia–helped along by car wrecks that may or may not happened–was minimal (but maybe ratchets up later), but I was just bored to tears. The reviews say the end is surprising and will “outrage” many, but i just didn’t care enough to get there
.”

The author Jonathan Raban’s usual fare is travel writing – fact rather than fiction. It may be best if he sticks to that in the future…..or learns how not to let down his audience.

Noam Chomsky – on Terrorism

Professor Noam Chomsky of MIT – political activist, writer. I am in the process of reading 2 of his books relating to the 9/11 attacks. One is called simply “September 11″… and the other is called “Power and Terror” – post 9/11 talks and interviews.

I will do a review of the books in a few days time. Meantime, here are a few quotes from Professor Chomsky concerning Terrorism…..and the role the USA plays in it.

Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it.”

For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.”

It’s only terrorism if they do it to us. When we do much worse to them, it’s not terrorism.”

The number of people killed by the sanctions in Iraq is greater than the total number of people killed by all weapons of mass destruction in all of history.”

Violence can succeed, as Americans know well from the conquest of the national territory. But at terrible cost. It can also provoke violence in response, and often does.”

Small Acts of Resistance – How courage, tenacity and ingenuity can change the world – Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson

I thought that this book was quite a fitting book to mention in view of what is happening currently in Hong Kong – with the people protesting changes to Hong Kong laws allowing extradition of citizens to mainland China to face charges against the State.

Image result for Book Cover Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World

This little book is full of examples…..around 80 or so very short stories, many of which I knew nothing about, where individuals or groups of citizens have stood up against corrupt government officials and changed the way that their countries legislate. With a forward written by Vaclav Havel – a Czech poet who was banned from publication in Czechoslovakia under the communist state – who helped start the Velvet Revolution which saw the communist regime overthrown in a short and bloodless revolt and Havel elected as President.

It’s a book that shows that ordinary people can make a difference. How the power of the human spirit can defeat and depose dictators by acts of resistance, defiance or even acts of witty disobedience, sometimes in the most dangerous of circumstances.

It’s not only about over throwing governments though, its also about making large corporations rethink their strategy…..to do the right thing….and if they don’t do the right thing, to embarrass the hell out of them.

Some of the hero’s who stood up and were counted in the face of overwhelming odds were murdered for their beliefs….but others then stood in their place. And then there are the whistle blowers – those who defied their own governments to get the truth out – to their own citizens who are being kept in the dark about government corruption – and out to the worlds press. Many got prison time, or worse for their efforts. BUT most of the stories in this book have happier endings. And throughout the book are numerous little quotes that inspire. They tell the story about events that start with a whisper and end with a mighty roar as people power comes of age.

I’ll end with a few of these quotes…..

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” – Martin Luther King Jnr.

“General, your tank is a powerful vehicle. It crashes down forests and crushes a hundred men. But it has one defect: it needs a driver.” – Bertolt Brecht

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” – Elvis Presley

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” – Robert Kennedy, speaking in South Africa in 1966

Goodread’s gives it a very healthy 4.08 out of 5. It’s a very easy book to read. The length of the stories makes it a handy book to dip in and out of when you have a few minutes to spare.

Last Light by Alex Scarrow – book review.

Having recently finished Alex Scarrow’s post apocalyptic novel Afterlight, borrowed from our local library, I happened upon the prequel Last Light.

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Where Afterlight took up the story ten years after Peak Oil – when the oil ran out….Last Light begins a few days prior to the oil crisis and walks us through the terrifying chaos as it unfolds both in London and the Middle-East.

Obviously I should have read Last Light before Afterlight, but it didn’t detract from the story. It was interesting to see how the characters were first introduced to us and then developed as the plot progressed across the two books.

Most post-apocalyptic novels have strong, macho male lead characters, where as in Alex Scarrow’s two novels the main characters are strong – as in mentally strong – resolute women. As the story develops their resilience and fortitude come to the fore. There are a few macho men along the way, but it’s the women who stay the course.

The story starts on a typical run of the mill Monday morning. But within a few days, an apparent combination of accidents and terrorist activity sends the world’s oil supplies in a rapid downward spiral that soon reaches tipping point. Everywhere around the world is affected. Oil keeps the wheels of industry and the actual wheels of trucks and other transport turning. No oil means no imports, means a food shortage, means riots in the street. This is no accident though – it has all been carefully planned by a mysterious group known as the twelve.

Oil engineer Andy Sutherland is stranded in Iraq when things go belly up. He and a few other contractors team up with a company of British soldiers, desperate to find a way home, as life begins to collapse around them. One of the main strong female leads in the story, Andy’s wife Jenny is stuck in Manchester, where she has just had a job interview, fighting desperately against the rising chaos to get back to their children in London as riots, raging fires, looting, rape, and murder become increasingly common. In one short week, London is transformed from the stiff upper lip capital of the western world into disorganised hell.

Meanwhile, an assassin is tracking Andy’s daughter as she may have accidentally seen the men who are responsible for the attacks on oil tankers and refineries – several years earlier – when she walked into the wrong hotel room by mistake. He’ll silence anyone who can reveal the identities of those behind this global disaster. Can Andy get back to London in time to protect his wife and children?

As far as I am aware there are no more books in this series…..which is a real pity. Maybe eventually Alex Scarrow may revisit the Sutherlands for another episode. …I hope so.

Over 1500 readers on Goodread’s have rated this novel – giving it an average of 3.91 out of a possible 5. My own assessment is very similar 4 out of 5…..but then I am a sucker for an exciting post-apocalyptic novel.

Tolkien – The movie

First of all, my apologies for my tardiness. It’s been almost 3 weeks since my last post. As my school report may have said “Not good enough – Could do better”.

A week or more ago I went to the local cinema to see the Tolkien movie. It takes us through the early life of writer, poet, linguist and academic John Ronald Reuel Tolkien – born in South Africa in 1892, died England 1973.

The movie begins just after Tolkien and his mother and brother arrive in the UK following the death of his father in South Africa and takes us on a journey of his life, education, friends, loves, world war 1, his professorship at Oxford University and the writing of his first published book “The Hobbit”.

I don’t want to say too much about the movie as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. From my point of view there were some scenes that seemed to be unnecessary or too long and other scenes or things that happened in his life that were barely touched on…..for example his writing process. I would have liked to have known more about how he first had the idea to write his stories of middle earth. Did the characters come first or the basic plot outline? You don’t really get to know this from the movie.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It certainly tugged at the emotions. I recommend watching it. Rotten Tomatoes only rated it at 51% and yet 86% of viewers enjoyed it. See it for yourselves and make up your own minds.

The scenes from the trenches of WW1 are a reminder of the folly of man, of the waste of young lives and the horror of trench warfare.

In the forming of a “fellowship” with 3 other young and gifted friends at Oxford – where he studied on a full scholarship – you can see where he got the initial seeds may have been sown for the “Fellowship of the Rings”.

A link to the official movie trailer is here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ1vn85iQRE

Tolkien’s passion was languages. He was fluent in many. Words fascinated him – so much so that he invented his own language. And if the movie is to be believed, it was his invention of this “fairy/elvish” language that impressed a Professor at Oxford enough to earn him a scholarship to study “Old English” languages and to later teach at Oxford himself.

He was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford up until the end of WW2, after which he was Professor of English Language and Literature. He was made an O.B.E. by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972 – a year before his death.

The Hobbit – which I remember reading at school as a nine year old – was his first published novel (in 1937), although not the first one he wrote. His first full length novel The Silmarillion – a book that paved the way for the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings – was written in 1926, rejected at that point by the publishers, and not published until 1977 – 4 years after his death – along with other works and essays discovered by his son Christopher.

Thanks to the power of the silver screen Tolkien will mostly be remembered for the spectacular Lord of the Rings trilogy – written and published in 1954 and 55 – brought to vivid life by New Zealander Peter Jackson’s series of movies.

The entire cast do a great job, particularly the two leads – Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins (daughter of singer/song writer Phil Collins). If it comes to a cinema near you…..see the movie – you won’t be disappointed.