Guys, I read the craziest book over the past couple weeks, and I just had to tell you about it.
It’s Werewolf Cop, by Andrew Klavan, and if the title alone doesn’t make you want to read it, I don’t know what to tell you.
From Amazon’s description:
Zach Adams is one of the best detectives in the country. Nicknamed Cowboy, he’s a soft-spoken homicide detective known for his integrity and courage under fire. He serves on a federal task force that has a single mission: to hunt down Dominic Abend, a European gangster who has taken over the American underworld.
In a centuries-old forest under a full moon, a beast assaults Zach, cursing him forever. In the aftermath, he is transformed into something horrible—something deadly.
Now, the good cop has innocent blood on his hands. He has killed—and will kill again—in the form of a beast who can’t be controlled or stopped. Before he can free himself, he’s going to have to solve the greatest mystery of all: How can you defeat evil when the evil is inside you?
This isn’t the type of book I typically read. Crime novels aren’t really my thing, and I generally steer clear of anything horror-related. But Andrew Klavan is one of my favorite podcasters, and I’m generally interested in what he has to say. Plus, like I said, the title intrigued me, so I decided to give it a shot.
And I’m glad I did. I was deeply impressed by this book. Klavan is a fantastic writer. There is a good balance of action and introspection, and the prose is smooth and intelligent without ever becoming pretentious. Heck, I even learned some cool words while reading this book, which is always fun. The characters are compelling, especially the Houston-born, cowboy-type protagonist, Zach Adams. Setting-wise, this book is spot on—a werewolf attack in the middle of the Black Forest in Germany? Awesome!
I wouldn’t have predicted this, but Werewolf Cop was actually an uplifting read. I guess amid the werewolf and shoot-’em-up mayhem I wasn’t expecting so much discussion of good and evil and down-home-old-timey-American values. Zach confronts evil in many different forms—his own sins, the werewolf curse, and Dominic Abend—and in each case it would be so easy for him to take the easy way out, let the “natural man” (or wolf) take over, and blame the universe for the hand he’s been dealt. But in each case he manages—barely—to do what’s right.
Here are some quotes I thought were really interesting:
“Peace would be wonderful, the most wonderful thing,” she said, “if only there were no God. Then there would be no good or evil, nothing to fight over. But there is, you see. There is good and there is evil. And if you will not fight for the good, if you will not suffer for the good, if you will not accept pain even unto the pain of your own damnation for the good, then there is only evil.”
“You know the word liebestod? […] Love-death, it means. A song or story about lovers who must together die. Romeo and Juliet—these you know, yes? But Americans do not tell such stories. Each one is everything to himself there, so I think. And always they believe they will make for themselves the happy ending. They do not know about liebestod.” […]
“And yet it has been like that for me and my country. […] Liebestod. I have sacrificed even my immortal soul to defend her—to defend her from evil and from death—to chase them through the centures of unbelief, alone in my understanding of them. Umsonst. For nothing. I have failed and she is gone. My country…my continent…my culture….”
“It’s just…Well, there comes a time in a person’s life when doing wrong just makes perfect sense to him. And if he hasn’t got…well, something in him—” He knew she was going to say The Word but had amended it to suit his more broad-minded view. “If he hasn’t got something in him that makes him say ‘Well, I don’t care what sense it makes, I’m not doing wrong anyhow,’ then that’s when the Enemy can make his move on him.”
I’d hesitate before reading this book again. There’s some foul language, which isn’t my cup of tea. Predictably, there are some graphic descriptions of people getting mauled by werewolves and chopped up by German gangsters. Also, Zach has an affair (before the story begins) and agonizes over it in way more detail than I’m comfortable with.
(I was also creeped out a few times because in my head the bad guy sounded like the German perinatologist who delivered Dan, and another major character sounded like the chain smoking German lady who runs the local schnitzel establishment, but that’s a personal problem.)
That said, Werewolf Cop is a fantastic book, and I’m glad I read it. I’ll probably give it a solid 4 stars on Goodreads and call it a day.
I’ll leave you with Wagner’s Liebestod, from the opera Tristan und Isolde. It’s appropriate, and worth eight minutes of your time.
To make a long story short, Elissa told me (Tom) she would post a story of hers on the blog if I gave her some adequate incentive. I’ve supported her making more of her writing more available for a long time, so this was a big deal, but my first thoughts—nice dinner date or the like—weren’t cutting it. The offer of a 1000-word Twilight fanfiction piece, though, was instantly accepted. So here it is. Sorry, world.
A Twilight Deleted (?) Scene
(Not clear from which book.)
Bella sat staring at the wall of her bedroom, waiting for Edward to arrive. After four whole hours without his cool touch on her skin, without his beautiful marble figure, without his deific perfection, without his adorable crooked smile…well, it had been agony, but soon Charlie would go to bed and that brief terrible period between the end of school and seeing Edward again would end.
“Maybe it would help if I did anything except basic domestic tasks, school, and reading barely enough classic romance for Mrs. Meyer to be able to allude to it,” thought Bella.
Suddenly, she heard a click outside her window. “Edward! Edward! Edward! Edward! But Jacob, but never mind, so Edward! Edward, Edward!? Edward!” she thought.
He crept into her room as majestically as a lion from the royal zoo.
“Hi,” he said with a crooked smile on his stony, adorable features. His color-changing eyes, which somehow no one else notices despite the undeniable fact that his golden eyes were oh-so-much too delicious to be human, stared at her.
“Hi,” she said back.
“I almost thought I heard your thoughts for once as I was walking up,” said Edward. “Something about needing hobbies, goals, or aspirations?”
“Durrrrrr,” murmured Bella, enraptured.
“Oh well,” said Edward. “Didn’t really think so. Guess your gift of non-discernible thought is still active. Have I mentioned lately how much I want to kill you and suck out every last drop of your blood? It’s so appetizing, like a brownie muffin entirely permeated with the hardest crack cocaine. Did you know that some vampires prefer to kill alcoholic drug addicts for the extra buzz?”
“If I was a vampire, I would just eat endangered species with you and love you forever and ever,” said Bella. “Don’t you want to bite me so we can be together forever?”
“Bella, how many times have we had this conversation?” asked Edward, as he kissed her all up and down her jaw with his perfectly perfect lips. She felt a rush of teenage hormones accompanied by an ineffable feeling that he was The One, although man, those werewolf biceps though…
“Not for a few pages days,” said Bella. “I don’t care about my soul—I’m not using it! Especially here in Forks. Bite me.”
“No,” said Edward. “I’m still thinking I might rather watch you die slowly of old age and then commit suicide in some place that will look really cool when they make a movie out of it…think Italy or somewhere.”
“But then we would only get to experience high school once! I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than sit in classes with you on endless loop, with perfect recall of having done it all before, especially given that as members of your family we will have effectively unlimited funds to do anything else we want. Your family’s life just seems so awesome, you know?” said Bella. “Although I would also like to do some motorcycle cliff-jumping with creepy men outside of bars, just on the side.”
“Bella, don’t do anything dangerous. As you know I control your life, except for I claim to let you do anything you want, but still try to manipulate the heck out of you because this is a textbook abusive relationship, and I couldn’t stand it.” He slowly stroked her left earlobe with his cool finger while she stared at his beautiful marble figure, crooked smile, and Greek god-like features. “Something something I would commit suicide.”
“Durrr,” Bella murmured again. “You’re so old-fashioned,” she said, and ridiculously attractive she mentally added.
“Oh, by the way, some vampire or other is probably going to try to kill you soon,” said Edward. “It’s a tried and true plot device, all part of my conspiracy to make you fall in love with me while popping lots of heads off.”
“Isn’t that a pretty good reason to make me a vampire, Romeo Edward?” said Bella.
“But it would be so hard on your relationship with Charlie. A few more months of non-monster-hood will definitely make it much better when you then ultimately become a supernatural freak and disappear from his life,” said Edward. He kissed her, with all the fiery passion of a thousand dying suns, sending tingles down her spine, but also like a perfect gentleman and with admirable restraint.
She kissed back urgently, trying to seduce him, but Edward pulled away. “Can’t have this until you put a ring on it, my dearest darling Danish,” he said.
“But I just want you to love me forever, and I have hippy-dippy Millennial ideas about how marriage screws up relationships,” she said, admiring his body straight from a Michelangelo sculpture.
“But since I’m almost a hundred years older than you, which isn’t creepy at all, and have fallen inextricably in love you with you primarily because of how good your blood smells, it all makes sense,” said Edward in his silky-smooth voice that was like the sound of baby angels frolicking on a sunny hillside. Bella thought of how sparkly his rock-hard chest was in the sunlight. Sparkle sparkle sparkle mmmmmmm. It was a mystery to her how she enjoyed cuddling a cold, hard object so frequently compared to a stone, but she sure did.
“Durrrr,” she said. “I guess I’m still a bit worried about those vampires coming to kill me, mostly because I can’t stand the thought of them possibly hurting you, but I guess at least I will be the center of attention.” Maybe me and you and Jacob can even be thrown into some really tense relationship situations, she thought.
“Well, how about you go to sleep while I hold you, because that’s not creepy at all, and we can definitely do it consistently for a year in a two-bedroom house without your father ever noticing,” said Edward. He took her hand and the last car in her toy-sized train of thought slowly rolled off the track.
“Durrr,” Bella murmured as she drifted off to sleep, dreaming of creepy foreshadowing.
Note from Elissa: Isn’t this fantastic? Tom is the greatest. Tune in next week as I fulfill my end of the deal.
People have been asking me to review The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (BotFA) since it came out last December. However, we’d decided not to see it in theaters. Since it came out on DVD at the end of March and Dan was born in early April (we actually tried to use the movie to send me into labor, but it didn’t work), a timely blog post just wasn’t going to happen. This weekend we were bored and Redbox had a copy, so here we are.
We did put our youngest Tolkien fan to bed before we got started, to protect his innocent mind.
I watched BotFA with very, very low expectations, so I have to admit I didn’t work up as much rage this time around. I was able to appreciate the few things Peter Jackson did well and laugh at the absurdity of it all. So, for this blog post, we’re going to look at the good, the bad, and the ridiculous.
Like its prequels, BotFA had some redeeming qualities. It was probably worth $1.50.
As always, Martin Freeman is the best part of the movie. I liked nearly every scene Bilbo was in: his interactions with Thorin were great; the acorn scene was cute; the negotiation scene with Bard and Thranduil was well done. You know what would have been great? Tolkien should have just written a book about Bilbo and cut out all that other nonsense. Oh wait…
Sorry, this is supposed to be the positive section. *ahem*
Next on the “stuff that wasn’t terrible” list: This guy.
I liked Dain a lot. He comes riding in with his dwarf army and his battle pig (more on that later) and makes it clear that he won’t take any crap from Gandalf or Thranduil or anyone else. You know what? Just watch it.
Then he leads his army to face down the orcs while the pansy Elves just stand there and watch. Thranduil probably wouldn’t have done anything if he hadn’t been afraid to look bad in front of a bunch of dwarves. Git ‘er done, Dain!
Also, his favorite method of fighting involves headbutting orcs. That’s pretty hardcore. Ironfoot? More like IronHEAD!
I’ll address all the exotic battle steeds used in this movie in the “Ridiculous” section, but the most heart-wrenching part of this movie is definitely the moment when the battle pig goes down. Rest in peace, noble creature.
Finally, the movie’s ending wasn’t bad. We finally get some closure as to Gandalf’s knowledge of the ring, Bilbo finds all his neighbors bidding on his stuff, and the final scene ties this movie in with The Fellowship of the Ring. It was simple, it was sweet, and it worked. This could have been the ending to the Hobbit movie I always wanted.
Now, I know you’re all here to see me angrily rip this movie apart. Never fear, dear readers. There’s plenty of that coming up.
Oh, there was plenty of bad to go around. I ended up with six pages of notes on what was wrong with this movie. Let’s jump right in!
First, let’s talk about the assault on Dol Guldur.
I really wanted to like this scene. I was looking forward to it long before the first Hobbit movie came out. It wasn’t all bad—Elrond’s outfit was pretty awesome. But beyond that, things were extremely disappointing.
First of all, Gandalf is still in his cage. According to movie canon, there’s no reason why he should be out of the cage, necessarily, but it brought back all these unpleasant memories from The Desolation of Smaug. Sigh. Then Galadriel comes in, and you know things are about to get weird.
By the way—what’s with the implied weird romantic subplot involving Gandalf and Galadriel? Why do they keep touching each other like that? Are we all supposed to just forget that Galadriel is a married woman and has a 2700-year-old granddaughter?
But wait—it gets worse. Not only does Galadriel spend the first half of the battle cradling Gandalf in her arms and ignoring the fighting, but when she does get involved, she transforms into the evil swamp hag.
Peter Jackson, you do realize that the Elven rings aren’t evil, right? Sauron had no contact with them, ever. In fact, I’m pretty sure when Celebrimbor hid them from Sauron, he thought, “I’ve got to keep these safe so their bearers don’t become evil swamp hags when they try to use them.” Elves are pretty clever that way.
And of course, the rabbit sled makes an appearance. I guess it wouldn’t be a Hobbit movie without it, but can’t we let it die already?
Anyway, the whole scene lasts about 8 minutes, and probably makes the top 50 most disappointing 8-minute segments of my life.
Tauriel and Legolas
Tauriel continues to drag these movies further down into the muck. She contributes nothing positive, and because she’s around, Legolas has to be around, too. Any scene with either Legolas or Tauriel was painful to watch. Starting with this one:
Oh, Legolas. First of all, how did you think this was going to end? Tauriel defied an (admittedly boneheaded) order from Thranduil, and you tagged along after her. And she was already in the doghouse—of course she’s going to be banished.
Second, the whole “If there is no place for Tauriel, there is no place for me” thing made me throw up in my mouth a little.
To be fair, Legolas spends very little time mooning over Tauriel for the rest of the movie. But that leaves the two of them without a lot to do, as Tauriel’s improbable dwarven love interest is busy hanging out with his bros in the Lonely Mountain. You can’t leave the fangirls without Orlando Bloom for that long, so Lego and Tauriel take a pointless vacation to Gundabad and discover the orc army there.
Why is it pointless, you ask? Because it has absolutely no effect on the outcome of the final battle. How could it? Legolas’ and Tauriel’s warning about this Gundabad army doesn’t exist in the book, and yet somehow, the good guys still win.
Furthermore, with his characteristic laziness, Peter Jackson doesn’t even attempt to make it look like Tauriel and Legolas contributed anything important with this discovery. They warn Bilbo, Bilbo warns Thorin on Ravenhill, Thorin tells Dwalin to call Fili and Kili, and before Dwalin can do anything, the orcs show up and off Fili. As far as I can tell from this jumbled-up, illogical sequence of orc-stabbing scenes, they didn’t provide their information early enough to prevent anything or change the course of the battle at all.
While we’re talking about nonsensical action sequences, Tom wishes me to mention that no piece of masonry would ever act like this:
(Okay, I guess Legolas and Tauriel do kill some important things in that part. They’re still completely unnecessary.)
Let’s move on. Tauriel’s greatest offense continues to be her awkward, improbable romance with Kili. Worse than their awkward flirtations are her whiny, pubescent conversations with Thranduil on the subject. I swear these scenes could have been pulled out of a Twilight movie.
Tauriel: “THERE IS NO LOVE IN YOU!”
Thranduil: “YOUR VAMPIRE LOVE AIN’T REAL!”
Lego: “DAD STAAAAAAHP” (*flashes werewolf abs*)
And then there’s this one:
Cringe-inducing. I almost expected to see Tauriel moping in a chair in front of a window while the camera pans around and the months pass by. There’s a possibilityyyyyyyyyyyy…
The phrase “Still a better love story than Twilight” doesn’t apply here.
And then Legolas throws a hissy fit and refuses to go home for unexplained reasons.
Seriously, someone this delicate has no business in the Fellowship of the Ring.
GANDALF: (reading) “…Speak, friend, and enter. And underneath small and faint is written: TRIGGER WARNING: Orcs in here, bro.”
LEGO: “Whoa whoa whoa! Sorry, dudes. I don’t do orcs. Come on, Bill.”
BILL: (whinnies) Exeunt LEGO and BILL.
The worst part is that Tauriel doesn’t even die at the end. I wanted her to die so badly, maybe even hand in hand with Kili. It would have been so, so satisfying. Instead we’re left to wonder what happens to her, since she’s apparently still exiled from Mirkwood. Oh well. Maybe she died of a broken heart off camera—a girl can hope.
Thorin’s Insanity and “Dragon Sickness”
I want to briefly touch on the fact that Thorin’s greed and corruption were blown up to unreasonable, bizarre proportions, and we’re supposed to believe that it’s all because a giant lizard sat on his money for awhile.
I’m sorry, but this whole “dragon sickness” thing is way overblown. You can be corrupted by greed without any sort of supernatural curse making you go absolutely bat-guano crazy. This is, in fact, the case for most people who are corrupted by greed. Last I checked there weren’t many dragons in Washington, DC, for example.
Seriously, if this treasure is so dangerous, how are the Lake-men supposed to use it to rebuild their town? How is Bilbo able to take some home and become fabulously wealthy? Wouldn’t it make the Lonely Mountain uninhabitable forever? News flash: after the battle, Dain moves right in. But maybe Dain is incorruptible because of his indestructible head and his fondness for porcine steeds.
Even Gandalf is taken in by the supposed “dragon sickness” nonsense. And he’s supposed to be the smartest guy here. And don’t get me started on that “Don’t underestimate the evil of gold” nonsense.
Thorin’s madness culminates in this acid-trip-esque hallucination involving that lake o’ gold I love so much.
I know when I’ve been a moron about something, it takes a weird hallucination to make me see reason. Personally, I prefer to be swallowed up in a lake of hummus. Or maybe pho.
Look, there are a lot of perfectly mundane reasons for Thorin to become corrupted by greed. He’s just regained control of an amazing treasure stolen from his family. The moment he gets it, everyone comes knocking at the door trying to grab it back from him, Rainbow-Fish-style. Normally he’d probably be okay with that, but these people are armed; among them is Thranduil, the jerk who threw him in prison. Human nature is inclined to be stingy under those circumstances; dwarf nature even more so. Thorin simply chooses to indulge these feelings instead of deciding to be the bigger man (uh, dwarf), and so he becomes corrupted. It doesn’t have to be weird, and it doesn’t have to involve “dragon sickness.”
In short, Peter Jackson took a potentially relatable character arc and turned it into a freak show. In other words, it’s business as usual in Hobbit Movie Land. Sigh.
I’m only scratching the surface on what was wrong with this movie. Here are some other things I noticed that didn’t quite generate paragraphs worth of rage:
Gandalf is a total pushover in this movie. He spends the whole time whining when Thranduil won’t do what he wants, and Bilbo is continually getting the better of him. What happened to this guy?
This Asian. I’m all for cultural diversity, but a place as tiny and isolated as Lake-town is just not likely to be that diverse.
Another Billy Boyd song? He’s not even a very good singer.
I hate to say this, but Howard Shore continues to disappoint.
Every time I watch BotFA, there’s a distinct moment in which I can actually feel part of my brain shutting down—the part connecting the movie with the book. See if you can figure out which moment I’m talking about:
If you guessed the were-worms popping out of the hills, you get a gold star! (Ding!)
From that point, I stop registering deviations from the events of the book. I still notice things that are lame or nonsensical, but I can sit back, relax, and revel in the ridiculousness of it all. I almost wish my brain had been overloaded like this earlier in the series, but then I realize that my conscious revulsion has saved me money that might have been spent purchasing DVDs or seeing this abomination in theaters.
As for the were-worms, I don’t think much commentary is needed. I’ll just add that the only basis for the presence of were-worms in Middle-earth is this throwaway comment by Bilbo at the beginning of the book:
“Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.”
This blog post is already way too long, so let’s move on.
What’s with all the animals?
I titled this post “Battle of the Farm Animals” because of the astounding variety of war-steeds used in BotFA. We were introduced to Thranduil’s majestic elk in An Unexpected Journey, but the animal doesn’t really come into his own until this scene:
And then the elk dies, just as I’m starting to like it. Oh well. It still wasn’t as sad as the pig’s death.
The elk and the pig are enough to make one wonder why no one rides horses anymore (okay, so dwarves really can’t, but Thranduil has no excuse). Not to mention the rabbit sled. But wait! There’s more!
(Sorry…you’ll have to skip to about 1:40 in the video)
Where on earth did Thorin and Co. find fully domesticated battle goats, particularly in an area patrolled (until recently) by a giant carnivorous lizard?! Is there some sort of traveling battle farm where people can just buy domesticated animals on which to charge down orcs? How can I get in on this business?
On a more serious note, I’ve just learned that 27 animals died, sometimes in horrific ways, during the production of the Hobbit movies. I’m no animal rights activist, but that’s pretty darn bad. Chalk that up as another of Peter Jackson’s offenses.
Next on our list of ridiculous BotFA elements…
Can we just pause for a moment and consider the fact that this man is named “Alfrid Lickspittle”? That is the actual name of an actual character in this movie.
This man serves no narrative purpose. He just hangs around Bard and annoys everyone around him by saying things like, “Out of my way! Abandon the cripples!” and “Not every man is brave enough to wear a corset.” He’s a completely static character. Why is he in this movie?
As Tom puts it, “Realistically, somebody ought to shank him.”
In conclusion, I liked BotFA much more than Desolation of Smaug, though only because my expectations were outrageously low. It may have had its moments, but for every battle pig there were three were-worms, so the whole business is doomed.
At least the series is over, and Peter Jackson’s reign of terror comes to an end at last. (It does come to an end, right? He can’t possibly be thinking about The Silmarillion, can he? CAN HE?!?!?!?). Also on the plus side, the How it Should Have Ended guys are on point.
To end on a positive note, here’s a goofy picture of Dan that always makes me smile.
Everyone has probably seen those “10 books that have stayed with me” posts on Facebook by now. I’m kind of sad that I haven’t been tagged yet, but I know when people try to think of their most literary friends, I don’t immediately come to mind. I love reading, but I’m not exactly what you’d consider one of them “literary types.” Plus, everyone knows at least three of my top ten books were written by Tolkien, and I guess that isn’t very interesting to some people. However, many of myfavoritebloggers have been talking about books lately, and I want in on the fun!
We’ve already established that my top ten list would be a little boring and predictable, so I’m going to discuss my bottom seven. One of my favorite quotes from my dad is, “Life’s too short to read bad books.”
Facebook Data Science compiled the results of those “Ten Books” statuses, listing the top 100 books according to Facebook users. Tom and I read through this list together; while we were pleased to see that The Book of Mormon was #35, our reaction to much of the rest of the list was the following: “Really. Reeeaalllly. Really? REALLY?!” It quickly became clear that our idea of “good literature” doesn’t match up with that of the rest of Facebook. Most of the books I talk about in this post came from this or similar lists, and they’re all hailed as “great.”
1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This was a school-inflicted experience, and it will probably be a school-inflicted experience for every kid from now until the Second Coming (after which I hope many of the books currently being produced by the Mormon Texts Project supplant some of these so-called “classics” in school curricula).
I would summarize Gatsby this way: “It’s about horrible people being horrible.” This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but seriously, what is this book even about? Rich people having affairs? Something about the American Dream? A cautionary tale about going to Long Island? I just have no idea!
The characters are unrelatable and unlikeable. By the end of the book, there wasn’t a single character I cared about. I was glad when people started dying, and I wished more of them would die. Hey, you might as well kill off the narrator—it’s not like he does anything at all.
I wasn’t a fan of the heavy-handed symbolism. It was just too much. You couldn’t see the forest for the trees—and you couldn’t see the story for the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg.
If you’re in the mood for reading about horrible people being horrible, try Wuthering Heights. This book, at least, has a plot.
2. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
I can’t blame this one on school. I picked up Rebecca by myself after enjoying the black-and-white Hitchcock movie. I was looking for some good timesy Gothic romance, the Kindle version was only $5, and I wanted to use a Mrs. Danvers-like character in my NaNoWriMo book this year. Boy, was I in for an unpleasant surprise.
I expected this book to be creepy and unsettling, and it was—but not in a good way. I felt a little bit depressed and skittish any time I picked it up. I couldn’t place it, but I felt like I was reading something immoral (other than the incident mentioned in the next bullet point). According to the afterword, it seems my subconscious was right. I won’t elaborate, but let’s just say I’m really bad at picking up on themes.
[SPOILER ALERT] Maxim de Winter, husband of the narrator, never faces any legal consequences for murdering his first wife, the titular Rebecca. In fact, when the current Mrs. de Winter learns of this, her first reaction is, “Oh, how wonderful! Maxim isn’t still missing his dead wife! Now we can be in love forever and ever!” Yeah, until you both get to that lake of fire and brimstone. Hitchcock danced around this issue in the movie by having Maxim explain that he was about to shoot Rebecca, but then she fell over and hit her head and conveniently died. As implausible as that is, it’s better than a murderer getting off scot-free.
If you’re looking for Gothic romance, stick with Jane Eyre, which is one of my favorites and won’t leave you feeling icky inside.
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
By the time we read The Grapes of Wrath in 11th-grade English, I was convinced that American literature and I would never be friends. There isn’t enough Mark Twain in the world to make up for all the authors like Steinbeck in our fair country.
Everything Jim Casey says. He’s supposed to be the Christ-figure of the book, and I find that incredibly blasphemous. He’s a preacher who gives up his profession because, in addition to the fact that he has a disgusting habit of fornicating with young members of his congregation, he’s decided that there’s no such thing as sin, and that religion has no answers for people having hard times.
Sadly, nothing in the above bullet point surprised me. Steinbeck was a dirty commie, and he couldn’t keep his destructive ideas out of his book. (I don’t like commies.)
The ending. My goodness, was that really necessary?
All the main characters are from Oklahoma.
I really want to plug The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck here. It tackles a lot of the same themes as The Grapes of Wrath: family relationships, gender, wealth and poverty, etc. In a way, it explores the opposite side of the “American Dream” (in quotes because it takes place in rural China): what do you do when you achieve it? Buck’s characters are engaging, and her writing is lovely—you almost feel like you’re reading Chinese. Why isn’t this one assigned in school?
4., 5., and 6. Anything by John Green (but especially Looking For Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson)
None of these count as “classics,” but they’re popular enough and bad enough that I had to include them here. I could rant for hours about every terrible thing John Green has done. However, the only person contractually obligated to listen to said rant is Tom, so I’ll spare you the whole thing and just focus on the problems with his books. I can’t imagine any responsible parents letting their children read anything by John Green. Apparently he “totally gets what it’s like to be a teenager,” but if this is what teenagers are like, I don’t want my kids to be teenagers.
The language in these books is quite bad.
John Green frequently trivializes pornography, which is never, ever okay.
He also romanticizes teen sex.
All his characters are exactly the same: insufferable hipsters masquerading as nerds. Why should I read about the kind of people I go out of my way not to hang out with?
This one is purely my problem, but I’ve realized I don’t like reading about teenagers unless they have magical powers and/or are trying to save the world. Yawn.
There is plenty of good YA fiction out there. Put down TFIOS, and go reread Harry Potter. Read Allie Condie’s Matched series and learn something about game theory. Not a dystopian futuristic romance fan? I enjoyed the No Safety in Numbers series by Dayna Lorentz—it’s about being trapped in a mall infected with killer flu. In each of these books, stuff actually happens. Yay for YA!
7. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
I can’t even come up with a bullet list for this. I really tried to read this book for senior English. Really. I tried everything. I summarized each paragraph with a post-it note. I read with the book in one hand and a printout from Sparknotes in the other. I read chapters out loud to myself. And yet, as early as a week after we’d finished the book, I realized I couldn’t remember anything about it. Conrad’s writing is just not my cup of tea (my dad feels the same way—ask him about Lord Jim sometime). Plus, he spends pages and pages talking about cannibals, but the cannibals never eat anyone! Talk about disappointing your reader.
I vaguely remember that the story took place in Africa. If you want to read about Africa, I’d recommend Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It’s not great, but it taught me a valuable lesson that has stayed with me for years—yams are a man’s crop. That’s all you really need to know. Plus, Achebe isn’t a fan of Heart of Darkness, either, and called Conrad a “bloody racist” for writing it. I obviously can’t gauge Conrad’s racism one way or the other, but if the Yam Lord thinks he’s a racist, that’s good enough for me.
I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t read classic literature. I’m not even saying “DON’T READ THESE BOOKS!” (except for 4-6). What I’m really trying to say is that while many good books are immortalized as “classics,” not all “classics” are good books. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with you if you made it through high school without enjoying everything (or anything) assigned in English class. It’s okay to be discerning, and it’s okay to disagree with those “100 Best Books of the Century” lists. Designate your own “classics.”
And hey—tell me why you love them! I love comments!
Some of you may find this installment more interesting than the last one; most of you will find it less so. I’ll try to keep it a little shorter and less surly.
This post is technically about the events of the movie that could never occur in Middle-earth, but most of those infractions involve Tauriel in some way. I think the movie would have been…almost acceptable if her entire character arc had simply been omitted (not least because there would hardly be any movie left). I don’t want to be unfair; there is a time and place for non-canonical character insertions…I think. None are coming to mind right now, but I’m sure there are situations where that kind of thing could be done well. However, Tauriel’s insertion is not one of those. She’s pretty and competent, but she doesn’t belong in Middle-earth, and nor do any of the shenanigans in which she is involved. The problem lies not in her character per se, but in the fact that Peter Jackson didn’t put in the effort to create believable, contextual scenarios for the universe he is adapting defiling. Without further ado, here are the main offenses.
1. The awkward and painful romance between Tauriel and Kili
This alone is enough to catapult a worthy Tolkien fan out of the story. I’m sure Jackson thinks he is providing some sort of meaningful social commentary, but it does not make sense in this universe. Elves and Dwarves generally cannot stand each other, due in part to a long and complicated history; but beyond that, romantic feelings such as those hinted at in the movie are fundamentally contrary to the two races’ natures.
It’s time for a little Middle-earth history/theology lesson. This is all in The Silmarillion, if you don’t want to take my word for it.
Eru, or God, delegated the rule of Arda (Middle-earth, etc.) to fourteen helpers, seven men and seven women. They were sort of like angels with great power. One of these was Aulë, the master of all crafts. In the beginning, Aulë was anxious for Eru to create men and Elves so he could love them and teach them his skills. He was so impatient that he created the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves based on hazy ideas of what Eru’s creations would look like. He named them Doc, Sleepy, Grumpy, Bashful…I’m kidding, of course. They were probably all grumpy.
Eru found out what Aulë was doing, of course, and explained that the Seven Dwarves (hehe) had no wills of their own—Aulë could control them, but when he wasn’t thinking about them, they stood still and lifeless. Apparently Aulë hadn’t considered this, but he acknowledged his foolishness and offered to either give the Dwarves to Eru or to destroy them. Instead, Eru gave the Dwarves true life; however, he didn’t change them in any other way, and told Aulë, “often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.” Because Elves (and men) and Dwarves had different creators, their natures were such that they wouldn’t easily get along.
Biologically, this story has some interesting implications. Elves and men are obviously of the same species, because they produce fertile offspring. But I doubt Aulë took that sort of thing into account when he created the Dwarves. Indeed, it seems Elves felt no attraction: the Elvish word for “Dwarves” translates to “the stunted people,” and they often refer to them as “unlovely.” Dwarves appear to feel the same, for the most part. I want to keep this blog g-rated, but let’s just say that if an Tauriel and Kili really formed a romantic relationship, a sane Elf would probably consider Tauriel more similar to Pasiphaë than to Luthien.
…and that’s about all I want to say about that. Moving on!
2. Kili is wounded with a Morgul arrow (and Tauriel is sad!)
My main beef with this scene is that ordinary rank and file orcs get to carry Morgul weapons around and use them at will. Think about it: you have this awesome weapon that can turn anyone into a wraith. If these weapons were widely available, why wouldn’t every single orc, troll, and Nazgul have one? Why is it that only Sauron’s most trusted servant has one in LotR? If these weapons are rare, why not save the one they have for, say, Thorin?
Maybe there’s an alternate explanation: the orcs that aren’t supposed to exist squandered all the Morgul-brand weapons while chasing random Dwarves through the wilderness, until Sauron put his (hypothetical) foot down. “This is why we can’t have nice things!” the Dark Lord hissed. “No more Morgul weapons. Henceforth, they may be used by Nazgul only.”
3. Tauriel knows fancy Elven magic healing spells
Okay, so this is something that probably irked me more than anything else in the movie, and really drove home the “bad fanfiction” vibe. To find what’s wrong with this scene, we have to do a little digging. Tolkien wrote an essay entitled “The Laws and Customs Among the Eldar” (Elves) that was not published during his lifetime. Still, when creating an original Elven character, it might have made some sense to read up on Elven culture, right? Even I read that essay before writing any of my terrible Silmarillion fanfiction (no, I won’t let you read it).
Anyway, the essay offers some interesting insight into the daily lives of Elves, including gender roles, career choices, marriage customs, naming, and even a form of reincarnation. For this discussion, I’ll focus on the first two topics.
With few exceptions, there are no rigidly-defined gender role divisions (there’s a law that only women can make lembas, for example), but there are activities that women or men generally prefer. In “Laws and Customs,” Tolkien gives an example of this:
“For instance, the arts of healing, and all that touches on the care of the body, are among all the Eldar most practiced by the [women]; whereas it was the elven-men who bore arms at need. And the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death, even when lawful or under necessity, diminished the power of healing, and that the virtue of the [women] in this matter was due rather to their abstaining from hunting or war than to any special power that went with their womanhood. Indeed in dire straits or desperate defence, the [women] fought valiantly, and there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals. On the other hand many elven-men were great healers and skilled in the lore of living bodies, though such men abstained from hunting, and went not to war until the last need.”
In LotR, we see Elrond acting as both a warrior and a healer, but the two incidents happen 3025 years apart. He’s had plenty of time to retire from the battlefield and develop the skills needed to (partially) heal Frodo of his own Morgul wound. In contrast, the fact that Tauriel is the captain of Thranduil’s guard (we’ll gloss over the fact that an Elf woman is highly unlikely to have such a job) implies that she wouldn’t have spent much time studying the healing arts, beyond perhaps minor first aid that might come in handy in her line of work—she certainly wouldn’t have developed the kind of skill to treat an injury as serious as Frodo’s or Kili’s. Even if she had extensively studied this level of healing, because she spends so much time in the “dealing of death,” she wouldn’t have the power necessary to apply her knowledge—technique isn’t everything, it seems.
Look, I get it. The Hobbit has no prominent female characters, and only a few are mentioned specifically (Bilbo’s mother Belladonna, Girion’s wife, Fili and Kili’s mother, Gollum’s grandmother—let me know if I’m missing anyone). It would be absurd to expect three movies (three movies?!) to be cast entirely male. For this reason, I didn’t mind seeing Galadriel in An Unexpected Journey (though the portrayal of her character and her mind powers left something to be desired) or even giving Bard daughters (though they didn’t really do anything). But the Tauriel arc is just a farce. Furthermore, aren’t we all tired of love triangles already?
I rarely find it appropriate to give stinging criticism like this without any suggestions for improvement; lest I appear hypocritical, I’ve come up with some ways the screenwriters could have made Part Two more woman-friendly without dismantling the plot so abominably:
Show us Thranduil’s wife. She’s never mentioned by Tolkien, but she must be quite a cool lady to put up with her hot-headed husband and her air-headed son for centuries upon centuries. Show us more of Thranduil’s character through his interactions with his wife, and leave out that weird scene where half his face disappears.
Use Galadriel again—in person. Look, the whole “Gandalf attacks Dol Guldur alone knowing it’s a trap” thing is utter bogus. I don’t want to info-dump from the books again, but Appendix B of LotR says that Saruman (the head of the White Council, who met in Part One) has agreed to launch an attack. This attack was very well planned, and Galadriel would probably have played an integral part—she’s overtly depicted as being there by several artists, and is even more influential in future attacks.
Make Smaug a female. That, at least, wouldn’t require me to ignore everything I know about Elves.
Maybe all this blogging/complaining business is unproductive. Maybe I’ll go write my own screenplay, so that when these movies (movies? Plural?!) are inevitably remade, I can sell it to the producers and make millions. Heck, I’d give it to them for free just to stop Tolkien from rolling around that grave of his.
It’s come to my attention that this blog is too frivolous. It’s time to tackle some meaty, important issues. So, here’s one: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is an abomination.
(I know this is old news, but I had to see it again before launching an attack to make sure I was totally justified. And, because we weren’t willing to spend more than a dollar on it, I had to wait until it hit Redbox.)
First, you have to understand something about Mr. and Mrs. Tom Nysetvold: we really love Tolkien. In fact, Tom and I decided we were interested in each other based on a conversation in which we discovered that I had read more Tolkien than he had. The books are important. Neither of us care for Peter Jackson or a lot of the things he’s done to the LotR trilogy. Despite this, we went to see the second installment of The Hobbit on a cold December night, just after it came out.
My first reaction after the movie was over: “You took me away from studying for this?” (We’d gone on a reading day, and I was being somewhat facetious.)
Tom’s first reaction: “I am so, so sorry.”
It was cringe-inducing. It was so painfully obvious that Peter Jackson had dug himself into this hole with this three movies business and this weird orc subplot and was just trying to throw stuff together in a way that would maximize his money-made to time-spent-reading-the-book ratio. It was fanfiction–really bad fanfiction. Worse, since Howard Shore’s score work was way below his usual excellent standard, I can honestly say the movie did not have one redeeming quality.
If Peter Jackson is greedy enough to turn a 95,000-word children’s book into three movies, then I can be lazy enough to break my analysis into three parts: 1) Things that were terrible because they deviated from the book; 2) Things that were terrible because they could never conceivably happen in Middle-earth; and 3) Things that were terrible because they could never conceivably happen anywhere that obeys the laws of logic and/or physics. We’ll tackle number 1 today.
(Edit: I get the feeling that people are as tired of reading about this stuff as I am of writing about it. In addition, I discovered some major problems with the main argument I was using for part 3, so let’s put this on hold.)
Deviations From the Book: Worst Offenders
Now, I know I have friends who prefer to consider movie adaptations as separate entities from their novels, evaluating the movie on its own merits. That’s perfectly reasonable, and those people are welcome to throw everything I’m about to say out the window. I, however, think differently. I see the original medium as the “soul” of the story, and every subsequent adaptation as just an accurate or inaccurate representation. The only person allowed to make acceptable changes, no questions asked, is the original creator. Even if Desolation of Smaug was a brilliant piece of film (it’s not), I couldn’t appreciate it because it was a poor representation of a great book. (Additionally–and I may lose friends over this–this is the reason I just can’t appreciate the musical Wicked: the book is distasteful, and all the catchy music in the world can’t make up for that).
With that in mind, I’ll only target the most offensive moments in this blog post.
Everything about the way Beorn was handled was disappointing. He is portrayed as this surly dwarf-hating PETA-enthusiast who completely loses his mind and goes on killing rampages, werewolf style, when he turns into this savage bear-beast. Gandalf and crew are on the run from the orcs and have no provisions and nowhere else to go, so they force their way into Beorn’s house and barricade themselves inside, hoping he’ll decide to help the intruders out. Sure enough, Beorn finds his second least favorite type of people sleeping in his house and decides to roll with it. After they’ve explained their story, Beorn criticizes the dwarves for not caring about mice and flies enough, but decides to aid them because he hates orcs more; the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?
In the book, Beorn is more of a general introvert–antisocial, even. He just doesn’t want people in his house. He doesn’t make a habit of inviting friends over, and he certainly doesn’t indulge beggars (like Thorin and Co.). It’s true that he isn’t a huge dwarf fan; however, the reason is never specified, and he seems to recognize that some dwarves are more respectable than others (he even recognizes Thorin’s name and family).
Gandalf knows Beorn can be reasonable when coaxed into a good mood, so he comes up with a very clever plan to get on bear-man’s good side. He approaches Beorn with Bilbo and tells the dwarves to come in pairs, five minutes apart (“Bombur is fattest and will do for two, he had better come alone and last.” You’ve got to love Tolkien). Meanwhile, Gandalf is telling the story of their goblin adventure in the Misty Mountains. He gradually increases the implied number of their party at roughly the same rate at which the dwarves arrive at the house, and with each new arrival Beorn is increasingly intrigued by the story, so he impatiently welcomes the newcomers and urges Gandalf to continue. In the end, Beorn feeds them and puts them up not because he trusts them completely or he’s feeling particularly compassionate, but because Gandalf’s story was so entertaining.
Later, of course, Beorn does some investigating and verifies his guests’ claims, and is all the more willing to help them when he learns they killed the Great Goblin, admitting that his opinion of dwarves has greatly improved. Beorn gives them food and advice, and loans them ponies to get to the Mirkwood.
Why is Beorn’s portrayal a problem? Besides creating obvious inconsistencies–if Bear!Beorn is so unpredictable and dangerous, how does he have the presence of mind to follow them, only attacking if they try to take the ponies into Mirkwood?–Jackson discards a strategic, carefully-considered, diplomatic solution in favor of one in which our heroes push their way into a stranger’s house and presume upon his hospitality. The message Jackson is sending is that any problem that can be solved with a little bit of tact and cleverness is better off solved by brute force and an entitlement attitude. I don’t know about you, but that’s the exact opposite of the message I want my children to take from The Hobbit.
2. Encounter with the spiders
Like Beorn, the spider business was badly handled in the transition from book to movie, and for similar reasons; however, the problems here are greater, because Jackson’s alterations actually detract from Bilbo’s character development–and heaven knows there’s little enough of that in this movie, already. Seriously, the section of the book covered by this movie is supposed to be about Bilbo finally getting his act together and earning the dwarves’ respect through his quick thinking and unconventional skill set (not to mention a certain magic ring). But the movie focuses very little attention on Bilbo, and (to its detriment) gives Martin Freeman hardly any screen time at all.
In the book, after Bilbo kills the spider tying him up, names his sword, slips on the Ring, and discovers more spiders salivating over his friends, he comes up with a clever and manageable rescue plan. Using a combination of expert rock-throwing and insulting songs made up on the spot, Bilbo (wisely INVISIBLE) enrages and draws off the spiders. He frees the dwarves, tells them to fight their way to safety, continues distracting the spiders, and drives them off himself with Sting.
The dwarves don’t only develop respect for Bilbo–they start looking to him for guidance and direction, in lieu of instruction from their missing leaders (Gandalf is off doing his thing, and Thorin has already been captured by the Elves at this point). Bilbo has gained authority by saving his friends and launching a successful attack on creatures much larger and more deadly than he is. Not a bad day’s work for a little hobbit.
Some of these elements are present in the movie (no mention of the word “attercop,” however), but it all starts to go downhill when Bilbo drops the Ring. The rest of the scene centers around Bilbo frantically trying to get the Ring back while his friends struggle outnumbered against the spiders, fighting with this freaky crab thing, and slowly coming out of this Ring-possession-induced haze.
Hold on a minute. The Ring is dormant at this point. The word “ring” is never even capitalized in this book, because it’s only important to the plot as a tool to help Bilbo accomplish his tasks. I’m not even sure Tolkien had conceptualized its nefarious past when he first wrote The Hobbit. I realize Jackson is trying to tie the two trilogies together, but Bilbo’s bizarre reluctance to keep the Ring on is nonsensical.
And then, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, there are Elves.
Sure, let’s sacrifice Bilbo’s character development in favor of letting Orlando Bloom save the day and bring in the fangirls. Bad form, Peter Jackson. Bad form.
Note to random comment-er on IMDB: Don’t try to tell me this is Thranduil’s fëa influencing his body. I know Peter Jackson has no idea what a fëa is.
I was almost too intimidated by the sheer amount of wrong in the Lake-town sequence, but Tom requested a section on it. The best way to sum up what’s wrong with the sequence is that none of its content comes from the book; as a result, it’s disjointed, surreal, and agonizingly slow in the movie.
Tolkien spends very little time describing the most boring part of the story. In my copy, Thorin and Co. are in and out in less than six pages. They make their grand entrance, have a brief tense encounter with some Wood-elves (“Hey! These were our prisoners!” “So what? We’re not talking to you.”), get the people excited, party a bit, collect Lake-town swag, and leave. Bard (the Bowman!) is not mentioned, because he isn’t important at this point–he becomes important later, because of his status as the captain of the town archers and his impressive lineage, but none of that is relevant yet.
At this point, the movie had me simply asking, “Why?!”
Why is all this political garbage necessary? Why make Bard out to be this malcontent rabble-rouser? Why has he been demoted to “Bard the Bargeman”?
What could be a legitimate, plot-driven purpose for leaving four dwarves behind? Don’t you need all the manpower (dwarfpower) you can get against a fire-breathing dragon? Sure, leave the injured guy with the healer, but don’t you care more about your cause than to abandon your company because Thorin made a very reasonable decision? (And don’t get me started on Kili’s “Morgul-blade” injury. That’s a major subject of the next post.)
Why does Lake-town need to be attacked by orcs? Isn’t it going to be attacked by a dragon in just a few hours? Give the poor town a break!
Why are Legolas and Tauriel here? What legitimate, plot-driven purpose could they possibly serve (beyond muddling things up when the dragon finally appears)? (More on my dissatisfaction with Tauriel in the next post.)
I don’t have the answers to these questions. I don’t think Peter Jackson has the answers to these questions.
Well, I think this post is quite long enough. In summary, the alterations Peter Jackson made were not only unnecessary, but simply bad. But worry not, Tolkien purists: more faithful adaptations of the professor’s works exist. In particular, I highly recommend Fellowship! The Musical(the soundtrack can be found on Amazon or on Spotify, if you’re into that) (also, who thinks “Dwarf, Elf, Mithrandir–everyone is welcome here!” would be a great tagline for this blog?). Tune in next time for Part 2.