The SFFaudio Podcast #337 – READALONG: The Lord Of The Rings (Book 5 of 6) by J.R.R. Tolkien

October 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #337 – Jesse, Julie Davis, Seth, and Maissa talk about The Lord of the Rings Book V (“The War Of The Ring”) by J.R.R. Tolkien (aka the first half of The Return Of The King).

Talked about on today’s show:
Published 60 years ago; research is Jesse’s “security blanket”; The Black Stone by Robert E. Howard; stone of Erech has parallels to the Kaaba in Mecca; Moses’s ill-fated water-rock in Old Testament; the Stone of Scone; palantíri; War? What is it good for? We aren’t fans of all the battles; Éomer’s poetic “all is lost” moment; The Last Samurai and heroic fatalism; World War I; Faramir’s dislike of war; the movies’ over-reliance on spectacle; the power of words; the Lord of the Nazgûl; Éowyn’s badassery; Houses of Lamentation vs. Houses of Healing; the strength of the weakest; parallels between Merry and Pippin; the flaws of film versions of Éowyn–and Faramir; great deeds vs. duty; Éowyn as Old Norse valkyrie archetype; the twisting of the Nazgûl; debating the corporeality of Sauron; Sauron and Denethor use others for their dirty work; Ghân-buri-Ghân and other marginalized figures; woodwoses; no authorized Lord of the Rings fan fiction; Jesse wants public domain story following Gimil and Legolas on postwar adventures; Fifty Shades of Grey as Twilight fanfiction; Tolkien’s scholarly inside jokes; we don’t know our Greek numbers; on foils, parallels, and the integrity of Tolkien’s work; Théoden and Denethor; Gandalf’s healing power, “see the light”; Denethor’s false wisdom; Denethor passages have quality of a Greek tragedy; modern society, like Denethor, can’t see the whole picture; film portrayal of Gandalf whacking Denethor is not canon; Christ parallels and the resurrection of hope; the layering of symbolism; barrow wights and Théoden’s barrow; Korean harvest festival Chuseok; the aggression of the Tolkien estate; the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings animated movies of yore; “the hands of the king are the hands of a healer”; athelas (kings foil) to the rescue!; the king’s power to call the wounded back from the dead; the title of lore master; the last big distraction and self-sacrifice at the Black Gate; on the division of Lord of the Rings into books and volumes; on the pleasures of slow reading; more discourse on Denethor; Pippin and Merry are interchangeable (!?); even Sauron is just one evil power, parallels cyclical historical events in our world (cf. resurgence of Russia under Putin); no spoilers for Maissa!; the Mouth of Sauron’s terms, and what if Gandalf had surrendered?; Hitler, appeasement, and Alexander the Great; envisioning flamethrower guitarist from Mad Max: Fury Road at the Battle of the Black Gate;

Draggy The Dragon with THE RETURN OF THE KING by J.R.R. Tolkien

Eowyn And The Lord Of The Nazgul - illustration by Jim Reid

Ballantine Books - The Return Of The King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Methuen - The Return Of The King by J.R.R. Tolkien

UNICORN - The Return Of The King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #319 – READALONG: The Lord Of The Rings (Book 3 of 6) by J.R.R. Tolkien

June 1, 2015 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600

The SFFaudio Podcast #319 – Jesse, Julie Davis, Seth, and Maissa continue their journey through The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien with a discussion of Book III “The Treason of Isengard” (aka the first half of The Two Towers).

Talked about on today’s show:
Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes instead of six volumes due to paper shortages; surprise, Jesse prefers shorter volumes; Ayn Rand’s thick books, and thin books like Anthem; pocket editions of The Hobbit; small books make us feel like giant Alice in Wonder characters; The Two Towers is the shortest volume, though Return of the King is bulked up by appendices; as a first-time reader, Maissa appreciated the quick pacing; Anthony Boucher’s review claims the volume makes “inordinate demands” on readers; overwhelming back history; the difference of reading review and reading for pleasure; reading at Shadowfax speed!; “hope is in speed”; the poetry of Tolkien’s prose; Anglo-Saxon influence on alliteration in Rohan speech; the beauty of Tolkien’s descriptions; Gimli’s descriptions of the caves; the illegitimate heirs of Tolkien can’t compete with Tolkien’s command of language; the Orcs as comic relief; three factions of Orcs set against the three races of runners; Legolas and Gimli working through their differences; evil by definition does not make alliances; Saruman’s cloak of many colors as a symbol of evil; the Orcs’ lack of coöperation; who is the wandering old man in the hat?; the contrast between the Orc draught and Ent draught, similar to Gandalf’s flask of Miruvor in Book II; the persistent symbolism of waters and drinking in this volume; similarities between Rohan and Anglo Saxon culture; linguistic parallels between the speech of the Rohirrim and Old English; “sister-daughter” and different familial relations in Rohan; the emerging importance of Éowyn; the underpopulation of Middle Earth; parallels between the Third Age of Middle Earth and Europe after the “fall” of Rome; Gondor = Rome to some Tolkien scholars; Dan Carlin’s Blueprint for Armageddon on World War I; the influence of World War I on Tolkien’s writing; flood and trench imagery of Orthanc recalls the devastation of World War I; Middle Earth (and the modern world) is in a time of transition; conversation with Éomer about the persistence of legends; “not we, but those who come after, will make the legends of our time”; people tend not to recognize they’re in a time of transition; Jesse deftly defines “Flotsam and Jetsam” for us and ties them into the book’s backward-looking and forward-looking symbolism; Tolkien’s love of etymology; action like the Ents’ storming of Isengard happens off-stage; Agatha Christie style foreshadowing with Longbottom Leaf; we don’t really care about Helm’s Deep; “Aragorn joined Éomer in the van”; horrible tree puns; Old Forest as the Fangorn of the West; we’re pretty sure the Entwives are hanging out there; the Elves are less interesting than Ents because the Elves are too perfect; the Elves talked the Ents into wakefulness; Shadowfax’s race of horses can understand the speech of men; the pre-speech age of human beings and Koko the gorilla; the Rangers are the detectives of Middle Earth; Voltaire’s Zadie and Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin from The Murders in the Rue Morgue; debate about existence of evidence for the Entwines–stay tuned to the next volume!; finding the Entwives = Mission Impossible (cue theme); the growth (in many ways) of Merry and Pippin; Gandalf’s foresight in allowing them to join the Fellowship; “they are the pebbles that began the avalanche of the Ents’ rising”; the three runners sped 220 kilometers in four days; it proved fortuitous that Pippin found the Palantir; the Palantir is FaceTime with Sauron; Merry and Pippin were key to Boromir’s redemption; return of the black swans–and the eagle!; Ariel in The Tempest by Shakespeare does all the work for Prospero, just like the eagles; Gandalf actually performs magic in “The Voice of Saruman” chapter; the voice in Dune; Gandalf takes over the council of wizards; the blue wizards aren’t present because they’re too “swear-y”; the recurring importance of choice; Tolkien is always on the side of free will; Aragorn’s decision not to follow Frodo; Palantir are the “seven stones” of Gondor’s flag; the Palantir is neither good nor evil; Palantir symbolizes communication of superpowers between the world wars, and the iconic red phone; The Victorian Internet by Tom Standee: the telegraph is the best thing since sliced bread; the lazy visual shortcuts that the movie takes with the Palantir and with Saruman’s influence on Théoden; The Man Who Never Was; meanwhile, Sam and Frodo are slogging through; the inevitable breaking of the Fellowship; the four elements in Gandalf’s death and resurrection; more Lovecraftian weirdness in the bowels of Middle Earth; Gandalf has changed; Norse worm gnawing at the roots of the World Tree; Treebeard as shepherd of the trees; “boom, boom, dahrar!; Net names tell the whole story of things; Freebeard’s bed isn’t for sleeping; Shakespeare’s disappointment at Shakespeare’s sleight-of-hand with the trees of Birnam Wood not actually coming to life in Macbeth; “fear not, till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane” almost perfectly echoed in The Two Towers; nobody does Elves better than Tolkien; the joy Tolkien must have had writing about trees.

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“Aragorn and Legolas went now with Eomer in the van.”

AragornEomerVan

M.E.R.P. - Ents Of Fangorn
M.E.R.P. - Riders Of Rohan illustration by Angus McBride
Ballantine Books - The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

By Seth Wilson

FREE LISTENS REVIEW: The 39 Steps by John Buchan

March 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Review

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan39 steps cover

SourceLibriVox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 4 hours, 20 minutes
Reader: Adrian Praetzellis

The book: Before Dan Brown or The Bourne Identity, John Buchan got the ball rolling in the man-on-the-run conspiracy novel sub-genre in 1915. The 39 Stepsfollows Richard Hannay, a South African mining engineer who has moved to London to start a new life. Hannay finds this new life dreadfully boring until he crosses paths with a secret agent who has uncovered a shocking conspiracy. Soon, the shadowy members of the Black Stone are on the trail of Hannay and he must discover the meaning of the phrase “the thirty-nine steps” before time runs out.

This was a fun light read. The plot relies far too much on serendipitous circumstances to be believable, but the story is exciting and fast-paced enough to let the ridiculous coincidences slide. Buchan strikes the right balance between making Hannay competent enough to be interesting without making him a do-everything superman. I can easily see how this novel became a favorite among soldiers in the trenches of World War I: it’s great escapist fiction.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: As I mentioned in my review of Treasure Island, Praetzellis is probably the best narrator at LibriVox. In fact, I’d put him in the top 10 of all narrators working in audiobooks, professional or amateur. He does wonderful voices for each of his characters, from a deep Scottish brogue to the received pronunciation of government officials. I’ve read this book before in print and don’t remember enjoying it near as much as I did from Praetzellis’s narration.

Posted by Seth

FREE LISTENS REVIEW: The Land that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

January 25, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

Review

The Land that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

SourceLibriVox (zipped mp3’s)
Length: 3 hr, 49 min
Reader: Ralph Snelson

The book: Set during World War I, this adventure novel starts with the sinking of an Allied ship by a German U-boat. Bowen Tyler, his dog, and the beautiful Miss Lys La Rue are rescued by a British tug, then captured by the same U-boat. Through a series of prisoner revolts, double-crosses and sabotage, the U-boat ends up at an uncharted island near Antarctica. Here, they are attacked by dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts.

Sounds like a good, old-fashioned adventure, right? Well, it is for the first two-thirds of the book. The final third consists of Burroughs dragging his characters to an unsatisfying conclusion. As in The Lost World, I expect some amount of pseudoscience in these types of early science fiction adventures, but Burroughs’ mystical version of evolution on the island severely strained my suspended believability. Perhaps the narrative is more fully resolved in the sequels, but after finishing, I felt cheated rather than wanting to know more.

Rating: 6 / 10

The reader: Snelson has a deep voice with an American Southern accent. His reading and recording quality are amateur, but satisfactory. His characters have distinctive, but not silly, voices. Snelson’s matter-of-fact narrating tone doesn’t add much to the story, but neither does he ruin the novel by trying to over-embellish the action.

Posted by Seth

Review of Jeffrey Combs Reads H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West Re-Animator

March 7, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Horror Audiobook - Jeffrey Combs Read H.P. Lovecraft's Herbert West Re-AnimatorJeffrey Combs Reads H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West Re-Animator
By H.P. Lovecraft; Read by Jeffrey Combs
1 CD – 72 Minutes [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Beyond-Books.com
Published: 1999
UPC: 619981033428
Themes: / Science Fiction / Horror / Death / Immortality / Zombies / WWI / 1900s / 1910s / 1920s /

“Human it could not have been — it is not in man to make such sounds.”

The “Herbert West, Reanimator” serial is a cycle of six ghoulish tales inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. This audiobook is an abridged reading of that serial. We first meet the titular Herbert West as a third-year medical student attending New England’s Miskatonic University in 1904. We are introduced to West by an unnamed companion, a fellow student at M.U., who like a Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, narrates the adventures of his fascinating fiend friend. West is the inventor of an extraordinary reagent, one that when injected into the body of a recently deceased person, cause rudimentary living functions to return. West seeks to perfect his reagent, but in order to do this he must find freshly deceased bodies. The six seperate episodes recount the various grusome attempts by West and his bizzarely-loyal companion to do just this. One minor wrinkle, most of the subjects that undergo the “re-animation” process become violent, incommunicative and don’t typically and retain their ‘higher’ mental faculties.

Jeffrey Combs Reads H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West Re-Animator will make you become, like West, utterly fascinated by the desire to know what will happen in the next experiment. What will the dead have to say? Can death truly be conquered? As the unnamed narrator puts it – “I, myself, still held some curious notions about the traditional ‘soul’ of man, and felt an awe at the secrets that might be told by one returning from the dead.” The prose is rich, fast and pregnant with that special adjectival allure that only Lovecraft knew the formula for. Though it appears that Lovecraft himself was not overly-fond of this serial, it makes for a straightforward introduction to his work and I found it appealingly nefariousness.

The abridgement here is relatively minor, and even, I am surprised to say, forgiveable. It appears to have been done to try to smooth out the connectity of the six seperate stories that make up the entire Re-Animator cycle or possibly to make the entire set of tales fit onto just one CD. The original stories offered a recap of the previous instalment’s events, reading them back to back like this, it makes sense that those sections would be disposable. Either way, it is forgivable. Far more disheartening than the abridgement is the addition of sound effects. The sounds are intermittent, completely redundant and nearly ruin the atmosphere the text naturally generates in a reader. Horror stories, if they are well written, generate a mood by words alone. I’d like to say this is just a case of gilding the lily, but that makes it sounds like it was merely superfluous to add in sound effects, and I don’t want to say that. In fact it is far worse than that – the added effects will sometimes completely break the spell that Lovecraft’s words and Combs’ reading of them are weaving together – the sound effects bring the listener out of the story. This is a major flaw.

On the bright side, the reading itself is excellent. Jeffrey Combs is probably best known for his role as Herbert West in the Re-Animator films. You’d probably also recognize his voice and mannerisms from his supporting work. Were he better known I have no doubt he’d have many a stand-up comedian doing impersonations of his unique vocal cadance. Combs has been all over Science Fiction on TV, he even played two recurring characters on the same episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at one point! His reading is of course dead-on. He knows this material well and revels in the loquacious language of H.P. Lovecraft.

Recommended, but with reservations.

Posted by Jesse Willis