Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To All Good Irishmen In General

book cover of 


 (Limberlost, book 1)


Gene Stratton Porter

Every spring I come back to one book in particular. It's a spring book; it can't be read with the same resilient ecstasy at any other time of year--at least for this bibliophile in particular.

It's A Girl of the Limberlost.

 A Girl of the Limberlost was my very first Gene Stratton-Porter book, which I received for a birthday gift when I was fourteen. I didn't know if it would be good or not--something about moths and a girl that wanted to go to school. But from the very first chapter I was strangely drawn in to this girl and her struggles (regarding love and otherwise.) Now that isn't today's review, because it was a sequel to another book, but I had to give you my very first impression of the Limberlost, the way it became known to me. In the last few chapters, I was even more strongly attracted to this author because of a cheery, grey-eyed Irishman. His name was Freckles--and I wanted to know more about him. So the very next time I visited a library, I braved the helper in the teen section, and asked if she could please help me find Freckles--because the computer said it was on the shelf. And she very obligingly found it for me. From the beginning chapter I was hooked.

Who wouldn't be? He's Irish.

Plot Synopsis
McClean, Scotchman, and rich partner of a Grand Rapids lumber firm, is in need of a good strong man to help him out. He takes care of felling timber for his company, and he has a position for a strong, burly guard to watch a valuable new piece of land that the firm has purchased. They'll be felling timber there in about a year, but for now they need to guard it from claim jumpers and timber thieves. The only problem is, he gave the job to a teenage boy lacking one hand and thin as a rail. And against all his better judgement, he gave it to the lad to see him win out against adversity. Thousands of dollars of valuable lumber stand in the balance.
Freckles was left a nameless waif on the steps of a Chicago orphanage, a wailing baby lacking one hand and rowed over until he was purple with bruises. Nineteen years later, he's still smarting under the cloud of  'not being wanted' through all the unhappy years of orphanage love. Scared to death in the cool depths of an untouched forest, the loneliness of the city changed to the loneliness of absolute isolation from human society. True, he boards with the Duncans at night, but during the day--and alone in the forest, with all the animal sounds he doesn't know--is cruel torture to his imaginative Irish blood.
Through the winter he fights on against his fear, walking the trail around the claim twice every day to test the fence lines and look for trouble. He befriends the beasts and the birds for lack of human society, and in the spring his life begins to look upward. He has a bit of money in the bank, a few books to learn about the wildlife he sees, and the trust of his beloved Boss, McClean. And then, a few months before his job runs out, the trouble piles up thick and fast. He passes up an opportunity to sell out the Boss--with his fists--and the sneaking spy who offered it to him is out for his revenge. Footsteps left in the muck of the swamp, flying bullets, and relentless saws challenge McClean's wager that he won't find a fresh stump in the Limberlost when he comes to take out the timber in the fall. And amidst all this danger, a beautiful Angel comes to Freckles--the Swamp Angel. A girl of sixteen, who comes with her friend the Bird Woman to help take pictures of the undisturbed wildlife for a nature book.

And his heart falls with such a loud thump at the Angel's feet, that he forever wonders why she never heard it.

Pursued by villains wanting revenge, tortured with the thought of parents who didn't love him and a hand forever lost, honorably loving a sixteen-year-old girl who never seems to notice his disfigurements, Freckles determines to fight out his difficulties with his soul and his honor intact. And just as the sun is rising on his destiny, a falling tree threatens to blight his prospects of love and happiness and life itself.

My Thoughts
To be honest, I was quite perturbed when I was discussing Freckles with someone, only to find that they had laughed at the poor fellow all the way through. Everyone else I have discussed this with has lamented with me. Yes, he's passionate, and he isn't afraid of expressing his feelings. Or to be quite honest, emotions. Freckles isn't afraid of expressing his love for McClean, the man who gave him a name and a job. He loves to praise the Bird Woman and the Angel for being 'out of the common run'. And he isn't afraid to admit--to the appropriate confidantes--that he loves the Angel. He's a bit blind on the question of his parentage, because he's had so long to brood over it alone. But he dearly wants to believe the best of them, whoever they may be. The fact is, Freckles combines the best of both worlds. He's a tender-hearted fellow with an appreciation for the birds and the beasts, and the good character of people he comes in contact with. He's chivalrous to a fault. But just give him the opportunity to stand firm in the face of danger, and he's a very wildcat for fighting stamina. He's a gentleman, and and Irish one at that. With a lovely little accent, droll wit, and beautiful imagery in his descriptions of people and nature, I was enchanted to make a further acquaintance with him after A Girl of the Limberlost.
Being a lumber camp there's language here and there, which I took care of appropriately. But the nice thing about this book is that the men are gentlemen in the presence of ladies. Not an unsuitable phrase passes their lips in the presence of women, whatever may happen after the women depart. And they go out of their way to make sure the ladies feel protected and valued.

Allow me one rant. :) I'll try to make it brief. Gene Stratton-Porter's daughter, Jeanette, tried to write a sequel to Freckles called Freckles Comes Home. I had the misfortune to find it at the library. I don't know who the main character is, but the  spoiled rich boy living in Ireland who forgets the Angel in the whiles of a really really irritating woman is not Freckles. Jeneatte Porter has the audacity to give the Angel a name (you'll never know her christened name in the original books) and make the Angel engage herself to another man because she's tired of waiting for Freckles.And she added in a romance between the Bird Woman and the Angel's father.  Oh, yes, of course it all gets straightened out. But I was quite upset by the end of it, because it didn't seem like Gene Stratton-Porter to do something like that to her men. She isn't the type to have a protagonist with a shining upright character turn into a  lazy effeminate man wasting his time until his twenty-first birthday. I was so relieved to find out it was the daughter's fault; it really bothered me that anyone would write a sequel of that calibre. Fortunately none of the ruckus could be true, because it doesn't fit chronologically in the space between Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost. And even if it did, it wouldn't be in keeping with the character of Freckles, McClean, or the Angel.

Once you know Freckles, you'll be indignant at the idea of such a sequel. It's as bad as the Jane Austen sequels that have romances between Susan Price and Henry Crawford.

This sounds like another blog article sometime. I'll jot the idea down for future reference.

I hope you enjoy the story of Freckles as much as I have. I've walked the Limberlost trail  about six or seven times since my first acquaintance with him. Reading this special story of courage and redemption was an excellent way to start my summer reading for this year.

I leave you with one of his best quotes:

"Nobody ever puts the width of the ocean between me and the Angel. From here to the Limberlost is all I can be bearing peaceable. I want the education, and then I want to work and live here in the country where I was born, and where the ashes of me father and mother rest. I'll be glad to see Ireland...but I ain't ever staying long. All me heart is the Angel's, and the Limberlost is calling every minute."

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, May 25, 2012

In Which Dickens Comes to America

Let's have some fun. :)

After all, this is the year of Dickens' bicentennial, and I have set out to review as many books of his as I possibly can this year. And today's review is unique, in that Dickens writes this time of America. Well, both England and America, but he includes America this time. And it's one of his lesser-known works, but just as much fun (and maybe a bit lighter, if longer) than Great Expectations.

Martin Chuzzlewit.

Suffice it to say, Dickens wasn't impressed with his first visit to America in 1842, and to be honest, I don't really blame him. Such an un-American thing to say, I know; I should have put up my nose with my arms akimbo and said something really crushing, such as: "Well, I should expect you were not prepared, Sir, to behold such signs of National Prosperity as these?" But not wishing to be confused with the Colonel Diver, editor of the New York Rowdy Journal, I will refrain. Besides, my fellow bibliophiles (though never breathe a word of this confession abroad) Dickens was right.

He didn't like our table manners, our tobacco chewing, or our over-heated houses. He didn't like the fact that we produced cheap pirated versions of his books. Very truthful deficiences, and I won't be uncharitable and attribute it to the seasickness he suffered on his journey here. In all of these points, we could stand to use some improvement, even a century and a half later. I wouldn't presume to say anything about pirating copyrights but table manners remains a large issue in our American society.

By far, however, his biggest problem was one that was a problem of the times: the issue of slavary in the states. Due to the inspiring work of William Wilberforce, England had abolished the slave trade and freed the slaves by the time Dickens toured New York and Boston. We were still quibbling over it in Congress, and were nowhere near a conclusion. Dickens called out the Americans in his American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit. And I am grateful to our British brethren for setting the good example that we needed to imitate.

More on his second visit later in this post. But first, the synopsis of Martin Chuzzlewit.

The Story
Old Martin Chuzzlewit is in a quandary. He disinherited his orphan grandson, Martin Jr., for engaging himself to a young lady without his  consent. Old Martin wanted the match, but he also wanted the engineering of it, and when young Martin took initiative, out of the will he went. The quandary is, Old Martin doesn't have a single one of his selfish, scheming relatives that he would like to give his money to. He'd like young Martin back again, but the grandson has his own pride, and isn't about to bend.
Martin Jr. is architectural student of the angelic Mr. Pecksniff, relative to the Chuzzlewits, who is happy to take him in to gain in the good graces of the older gentleman. Pecksniff has two daughters, Mercy and Charity, either of which would do for a match to the young gentleman in question. But when old Martin falls ill at the inn near his home, and orders him to kick young Martin out of his household establishment, Pecksniff agrees and does so. Of course, it is young Martin's fault that he must regretfully request, etc., with all forgiveness of the wrong the young man has done him.
Young Martin sets off for America to make his fortune so that he can afford to marry his dearest love, in company with the jolly Mark Tapley, young inn servant adventurer, who is looking for an opportunity to 'come out strong'. After all, there 'ain't no credit' to being jolly in a comfortable inn, with a lovely woman who has no objection to marrying you. And he wants to settle down knowing that he came out strong and stayed jolly when the worst came to the worst. Accompanying someone desperate enough to travel to America is a very good chance to prove it--if they come back alive from that place.
When Martin arrives, his castles come tumbling down, and amid the swamps of 'Eden' he gives up completely; the full grain of his selfish laziness comes out. Back in England, his Mary is in the whiles of the oleaginous Pecksniff, who thinks that a young bride might fall in with his plans. Dark strands of thievery and murder raise their ugly heads, and it's a guarantee that whoever the unfortunate victim may be, not every character will make it to the conclusion of this classic drama.

File:Seth Pecksniff 85.jpg

Memorable Quotes

All spellings, capitalization, and punctuation marks remain as Dickens originally intended them to be.

A description of the oleaginous Mr. Pecksniff:
 If ever man combined within himself all the mild qualities of the lamb with a considerable touch of the dove, and not a dash of the crocodile, or the least possible suggestion of the very mildest seasoning of the serpent, that man was he." (Martin Chuzzlewit, Chapter 4)

Martin Jr.'s encounter with an upstanding American citizen:
"If this ain't Mr. Chuzzlewit, ain't it!" exclaimed the visitor. "How do you git along, Sir?"
Martin shook his head, and drew the blanket over it involuntarily; for he felt that Hannibal was gong to spit; and his eye, as the song says, was upon him.
"You need not regard me, Sir," observed Mr. Chollop, complacently. "I am fever-proof, and likewise agur."
"Mine was a more selfish motive," said Martin, looking out again. "I was afraid you were going to--"
"I can calc'late my distance, Sir," returned Mr. Chollop, "to an inch."
With a proof of which happy faculty he immediately favoured him.
"I re-quire, Sir," said Hannibal, "two foot clear in a circ'lar di-rection, and can engage my-self toe keep within it. I have gone ten foot, in a circ'lar di-rection, but that was for a wager."
"I hope you won it, sir," said Mark.
"Well, Sir, I realised the stakes," said Chollop. "Yes, Sir."

In which Mr. Chollop discusses his country with Martin and Mark Tapley:
"How do you like our country, Sir?" he inquired, looking at Martin.
"Not at all."
"I am not surprised to hear you say so. It re-quires An elevation and A preparation of the intellect. The mind of man must be prepared for Freedom, Mr. Co." He addressed [this sentence] to Mark.
"A little bodily preparation wouldn't be amiss, either, would it Sir," said Mark, "in the case of a blessed old swamp like this?"
"Do you con-sider this a swamp, Sir? inquired Chollop gravely.
"Why yes, Sir," returned Mark. "I haven't a doubt about it myself."
"The sentiment is quite Europian," said the Major, "and does not surprise me: what would your English millions say to such a swamp in England, Sir?"
"They'd say it was an uncommon nasty one, I should think," said Mark; "and that they would rather be inoculated for fever in some other way."
"Europian!" remarked Chollop, with sardonic pity. "Quite Europian!"

My Thoughts
This Dickens novel is slightly happier in tone than Great Expectations, much as I like the latter. Martin Chuzzlewit was written earlier in Dickens' literary career, before he used his books so heavily as a platform for social and political rebuke. It does have language here and there, but as far as I can recall, the plot themes are unobjectionable, though be aware that murder is a theme, as well as an unhappy marriage in which the husband abuses his wife. You'll enjoy all the little American bits, whether you are American or no, but I do assure you that we have made some mighty strides of improvement since this book was written. At least, I hope so...
It is also interesting to note that the term "Pecksniffian" arose after the publication of this literary masterpiece, in reference to the detestable little architect.

Dickens' Second Visit

Dickens came back to America later in his life, in 1867, after we 'came out strong' on the issue of slavery and emancipation. He was much pleased with what he saw, and changed his opinion of our young republic:

In a farewell speech Dickens delivered in New York shortly before he left the country, he claimed to have found "gigantic changes" for the better in America: "changes moral, changes physical, changes in the amount of land subdued and peopled, changes in the rise of vast new cities, changes in the growth of older cities almost out of recognition, changes in the graces and amenities of life, changes in the Press, without whose advancement no advancement can take place anywhere." He directed that this statement be appended "to every copy of those two books [AMERICAN NOTES and MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT] of mine in which I have referred to America." -Dickens in America, by Joel L. Brattin

I hope that you enjoy as much as I did Dickens' literary portrait of 'the land of the free and the home of the brave'.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Right Kind of Ending (Part Three)

We finished Tolkien on Friday (which, I might state, I would like to do again in future. I forgot to mention the BBC radio dramas, all my favorite quotes, and some very important plot lines.) And today we finish Tuesday's series The Right Kind of Ending, with the discussion of the happy and sad endings.
You might wonder why the ending of a book is so important--after all, most of us would agree that the type of ending, as to whether or not the characters are happy, is very crucial. But tastes differ. Some of us enjoy happy, some enjoy bittersweet, and some (I would think) enjoy the tragedies. If it's a matter of taste, then why develop discuss the whys and wherefores concerning each one?

Simply because Christ is the Alpha and the Omega--the Beginning and the End. And each complete story is a tiny imitation of His Story--the story of mankind's redemption. And we need to make sure that the beginnings and endings are in conformance to His standards.

So let us finish this series by discussing the Happy and Sad endings. And I like to end on a happy note, so let's start with the sad first.

Sad Endings
First of all, how do sad ending differ from bittersweet? After all, the terms are pretty similar. But like all similarities, there is still just enough difference to separate them. Here's how I would do so. Think of someone you love that has died and is now in Heaven.  Their life on earth is ended. We recognize that while we are grieving for our loss, they are rejoicing before the Lord. It's bittersweet because while our grief is legitimate, we place most of the emphasis on their happiness. Now if we recognize their happiness, but placed the emphasis on our grief, then it would simply be sad. Sad endings place the main emphasis on the sacrifice instead of the outcome. The love lost, instead of the love yet to come. The here and now, instead of the Life To Be. And this sad ending is also different from the depressing ending. The depressing ending recognizes nothing worthwhile to come; it's over. The sad ending simply shrinks from the peeking rays of sunshine. It wallows in its grief. It knows that eventually healing will come, but it would prefer that it never does.

So is a sad ending good--worthwhile to read? Well again, it depends on the book, and I'm not sure how many of these I've read. If you'd like to give me a suggestion of a book that fits the above description, I would be interested to look it up. ;) But evaluating the Sad Ending based upon the description only, it focuses on man--man's pain, man's grief, man's sacrifice--rather than the purpose for the pain. And it's never right to live in the grief without recognizing the joy in the loss and giving thanks for the result of the martyrdom. The sad ending doesn't focus on the reward of goodness that God is not unrighteous to forget. Nor does it remind us that our trials are but for a time, that the trials of our faith produce good character, or any comforting reassurances that Biblical works contain. It simply focuses on the here and now, and that's not a Christian way to focus. We're to look at the eternal outcome in everything we do.

Now can we gain some benefits from reading a book like this, to learn by negative example? Well, yes, that is a possibility. And sometimes we do have to learn by negative example. Sometimes the negative outcomes of poor choices are a good warning. The Bible teaches us by both negative and positive examples, so it's a legitimate question. Time and time again in His Word, God lays forth the blessings and the curses, the negatives and the positives. But I think for the most part we should learn from the positive example, so that we do right out of love for our Lord, and courage in the face of difficulty, rather than fear of the consequences. Such Sad Endings have their value upon occasion, but not for a constancy. And they would be better worked into a subplot then as the difficulty of the main character.

I'm still formulating thoughts on this one, so I would love any input, critiquing, or further thoughts on some possible benefits of sad endings.

Happy Endings

Recall, if you will, the first paragraph in my beginning post on this series:

I closed the book I was reading, and sighed happily. I had good reason to, of course, for the couple were going to live, well, not 'happily ever after' for that would imply a fairy-tale type existence. But--yes, I guess that was what it amounted to. Not the cheesy, fluffy, frothy, happily-ever-after, but the good homespun variety. The happily-ever-after with substance in which they love each other even when the loving gets tough, when times are hard, when they don't know where the next meal is coming from.

That kind of happiness.

And I thought to myself, as I closed the book: was that good?

The happy ending has been described as 'the unrealistic' 'the fairy-tale type' 'the icing on the cake' and so forth. But is it so unrealistic as we think?

When I finished this particular book I mentioned, I had a revelation. Just a tiny one. While the bittersweet endings best depict Jesus' work here on earth, the happy endings best depict our future with him in Heaven. Think about it: there can be no bittersweet-ness in heaven, because that implies pain, and we shall have no more pain.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
-Revelation 21: 3-5

 Joy is a good thing.  Pure, unsullied joy is the joy of Christ, and we should not scoff at it as unrealistic when an author depicts it in the form of a happy ending. A happy ending is a true and worthwhile book to spend our time on, for not only does it cultivate an attitude of hope and excitement, but it accurately shows--in a very tiny way--the happiness to come for those who believe in Jesus Christ.

And so, that one day when I was mulling over whether my perfect ending was completely satisfactory, I decided that it was. And I can't wait to read it again. :)

Whatever your endings today, may they point you to the redemption of Christ on earth, and the hope of his glory in Heaven.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Lord of the Rings (Part Three)

The last Tolkien post. I knew it had to come.

Perhaps this reality wouldn't have hit me so hard, if it hadn't been for the fact that I received an adamant automatic notice from the library telling me my LOTR books MUST be returned. After all those weeks, fighting with Frodo...Skulking in the bushes while Ringwraiths rode by...hearing the nasty little footsteps of something behind me and my companion--because after all I was Frodo...until suddenly Tolkien switched me from being Frodo to being someone completely different.

It will happen to you, too.

In the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, you will receive  the commission to destroy the Ring along with Frodo; Tolkien draws you in that way; makes you feel one with this little hobbit; weighs you down with the burden of destroying the force of evil. And as you draw ever nearer to the Cracks of Doom, the burden will grow heavier and heavier--until the last few pages of The Two Towers. Then in book three you will no longer be Frodo; for this is what I experienced, and what other Tolkien readers have experienced before me. Instead, you'll identify with one of the remaining members of the company trying to help the Ringbearer reach his goal, and holding your breath as you watch him lest he give up--or turn back--or die.
So let's make this an absolutely epic finale, to herald the conclusion of Tolkien's masterpiece: The Return of the King

The Story
I don't know if you've noticed, but it gets harder and harder to summarize LOTR without spoilers. :) So forgive generalities, and allow me a few side-notes to explain the important plot bits.

Part Five

After three of the company fight with Rohan's king Theodan at Helm's Deep, (the conclusion of which I couldn't give away) they reunite with the two other companions that are hanging out with the Ents. After a confrontation with the evil Sauruman (remember? He betrayed the good Council and is out to get the ring for himself) in which they entreat him to return to their own side, they retrieve one of the Seeing Stones of Numenor, which is a bit like a magic ball. Unfortunately, one of the company looks into it, and reveals to Sauron, the ultimate dark power, where they are. After this happens, one of the Ringwriaths flies by over their camp, and at the orders of their leader, they break camp to go and rescue Minas Tirith.
Side Note: You might be wondering why everybody rushes off to rescue this city. Why is it important, and where is it? Well, it's the last good stronghold before Minas Morgul, Sauron's stronghold, and if it falls, then Sauron has an open door to making war upon the rest of Middle Earth and the West. Basically, it's the 'locked gate' to keep him from devastating the lands beyond it. This is the country that Boromir, from The Fellowship of the Ring came from, and he wanted the company to go with him to rescue it. Minas Tirith is a kingdom without a king. It's been ruled by the stewards of Gondor for years and years, because they need someone with direct descent from the line of Isildur; Minas Tirith's king. The present steward of Minas Tirith is named Denethor, and he is the father of Boromir and his noble brother Faramir. End of Side Note
Now I'm going to name the company memembers: The three that have stuck together so far, I will call A, B, and C. And the two they were out to look for are D and E. This will make it much easier. :)
Member D looked into the stone. He is taken by a White Rider on a very special horse, Shadowfax, to Minas Tirith. This horse can go faster than the others, and they quickly outstrip Theodan and the riders of Rohan. Arriving at the city, they find that things are not well. The city is preparing for war, but they aren't receiving enough help from their surrounding allies to face the thousands of orcs marching towards them. Faramir, son of Denethor, has not yet arrived with his men. And Denethor seems moody, irritable, and suspicious of Member D's companion, the White Rider. In fact, the White Rider tells Member D to conceal the fact that they have Minas Tirith's king in the company of Theoden's army. Now is not the time. Member D swears allegiance to Denethor and Minas Tirith, and is given a place as a soldier in the army. The orcs draw closer. Faramir appears at the gate, and Denethor sends him off in anger on a suicidal mission to defend the outpost of Pennelor from the oncoming orcs.
Members A, B, C, and E stay with Theoden, but not for long. Member A, who has now taken charge of the Seeing Stone of Numenor, looks into it to challenge Sauron, and draw his attention ever farther away from the frail mission of the Ringbearer. When he returns to his companions, he tells them that he is going on to help Minas Tirith, which is his duty as it's king--and he is going by the way of the Paths of the Dead. None who have taken that path have ever returned. Before he starts, members from the house of Elrond come to place their swords at his command, and they agree to accompany him along with Members B and C. In spite of the passionate appeal of Eowyn, the woman in charge of Theoden's people, he refuses to take her with him.
Faramir returns to Minas Tirith struck by a Nazgul. He is in a coma, and no-one expects him to live. The battle begins on the fields before the city. Denethor looks himself and his still-living son in the tombs of the kings, and orders his servants to set fire around him. The riders of Rohan spur towards the city, and reach the army, only to encounter the head Ringwraith, the King of the Nazgul. One of Theoden's foot soldiers and Member E wage war upon it, as it narrows down on Theoden.
The Paths of the Dead...a mad Steward of Gondor, about to burn himself and his son alive...a lady in disguise in the ranks of Rohan...the members of the company...Minas Tirith. If help does not arrive in time, then Minas Tirith will fall, and Sauron will discover the Ringbearer in his own lands. But if they do manage to hold their own--then at what cost will it be?

Part Six
The Ring and its Bearer draw ever closer to the Cracks of Doom. But something is happening to Frodo, the closer he draws:

Then came at last dreadful nightfall; and even as the Captains of the West drew near to the end of the living lands, the two wanderers came to an hour of blank despair...All this last day Frodo has not spoken, but had walked half-bowed, often stumbling, as if his eyes no longer saw the way before his feet. (His companion) guessed that among all their pains he bore the worst, the growing weight of the Ring, a burden on the body and a torment to his mind. Anxiously, (he) watched how (Frodo's) left hand would often be raised as if to ward off a blow, or to screen his shrinking eyes from a dreadful Eye that sought to look in them. And sometimes his right hand would creep ot his breast, clutching, and then slowly, and the will recovered mastery, it would be withdrawn.

Then Frodo can hold out no longer: while his companion goes without eating and drinking to give him strength to reach his journey's end, and his friends give their life-blood to buy him a few more seconds of precious time--as the Ring grows ever heavier, and his mind draws ever closer to the fine line of throwing it away, or giving in to the pull it has upon his mind and heart for complete mastery-

He can bear it no longer. And his action destroys Sauron's distraction, and brings the Eye straight to where he stands. He only has a few seconds left. And he is powerless to do anything to help himself.

My Thoughts
I would highly recommend reading these books. When you're done, you'll probably want and need to seek out further understanding of Tolkien's imagery, his intentions, and the original syntax of the words he used, so that you won't be confused as to his meaning on certain points. After you've read the LOTR books, I highly encourage you to click here for another bibliophile's review of the LOTR books; she goes into great detail and clarity, even discussing what Tolkien intended with his use of the word "Magic" and some of the events that took place in the books.

I hope you enjoy your journey through Middle Earth as much as I did. Prepare to lose yourself in this breathtaking struggle of good against evil. 

And be sure to read The Hobbit first. :)

Posters used do not necessarily portray the events of The Return of the King or accuratly depict Tolkien's Middle Earth. They are here for flavor only.

Special Edition for Those Who Have Read the Books

I was going to end this post a little differently; I wanted to say "And he slipped on the Ring," but I thought it might not be quite fair to put in that big of a spoiler. I didn't  know until Arwen gave Frodo the little chain that he would be going with the elves. The thought never occurred to me that he would do anything else than seek rest from his labors in the Shire. But the funny thing was, as soon as the Ring fell into the cracks of doom (and I think that was pretty slick the way Gollum went with it. I knew that had to happen.) I became Frodo again. I felt just as weary and sick as he did, and much as I loved Sam, and sad as it was to think of leaving him, I wanted Frodo to find a place of rest. I wept streams of tears as he rode to meet the elves, and one of my family members came in opon me right after I started the last section.

 "I'm okay. (sniff, sniff) It's a great book. (sniff) It's not sad, its just..." What I meant was, it's not a tragic ending; it's a triumphant one. But it was hard to get that point across in the midst of sobs. :)

Totally satisfying. Very well-done. Epic. Good.

Definite read again.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Right Kind of Ending (Part Two)

In last Tuesday's post about the right kind of ending, we discussed four different kinds of endings: The depressing, the sad, the bittersweet, and the happy. Today, we're going to talk about the spiritual implications and values of each type of ending. And I was going to finish it today, but I'm afraid it's simply impossible. :)

The Depressing Ending
When I'm wandering around, crying inside because the characters have no hope for the future, I'm not sure that it has much value. Well, maybe a little. But in thinking over the books I've read with depressing endings--like the death we discussed in the last post the day after the couple's engagement--what is the author trying to say, and what is the reader left with?

"Life is ugly. Life hurts. This is reality."

But God doesn't call us to ugliness, or to hurt. Believe it or not, it isn't reality. Ugliness and hurt, pain and sorrow encroach on the original reality of Eden. God's original created reality was a place of beauty, happiness, love, and fulfillment. He laid the foundation of the world every day of the Creation week by saying 'It is good." Not "Well, sometimes they'll be okay, but there will always be a fly in the ointment. After all, we can't expect perfection." We were perfect--very good. Depression is not reality; it's depravity. So the question would be, should we represent depravity in literature in the form of "Too Late" endings? To discuss this, we have to return to the point in Scripture where Adam sullied reality with depravity.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
-Genesis 3:6-8

God could have said "The end. Adam, it is too late. You made a mistake, and nothing will ever be the right again." But He didn't. In his very first correction, he plants a seed of hope:

"And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring   and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel."

In God's very first reproof, for mankind's very first sin, before he deals with Adam and Eve he promises the overthrow of evil and the hope of Jesus Christ. The first prophecy of the Messiah in all of Scripture is the first part of God's correction after the Fall. He makes these promises in the time of the siege of Jerusalem, in their exile to Babylon, and in the time of pain afterwards. God starts with the overthrow of evil's source and the hope of our salvation before he details the consequences for our present sin. Oh, yes, we are corrected. It hurts. Men and women still suffer the consequences of the Fall. But the point I'm trying to make here, is that we are never corrected without hope. The main theme of the Bible is not "Too late for the sinner," but "Hope in Jesus Christ".

So the conclusion to all this? Well, we can't deny that for some people in the Bible the ending was Too Late. Not everyone accepts the hope God offers. It's a legitimate theme, and a true one. But I would encourage one principle regarding the depressing (or Too Late) ending:

1. It should not be the only theme.
We live as Christians in a world of hope, and everything we do should sing of that hope to others. Even if several characters end in despair, we should be immersing ourselves in a strongly-emphasized message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope that it contains. It's okay if the author includes the theme of Too Late, whether in love, personal salvation, death of a relationship or a person, etc., but they should include it for the purpose of a warning. And the warning should be balanced by the characters who chose the right path, and had a blessed outcome.

Some of this is my own personal thought. It isn't a hard and fast rule. But if anything, I'm simply encouraging that we look at the mindset behind each ending, and evaluate it for what it really is trying to say.

The Bittersweet Ending
This one is quite different. Sure, you may shed a briny drop or two; you may even feel depressed. But you aren't left hopeless, because the main theme of the bittersweet ending is yearning or redemption.

1. Yearning
Though as Christians we are saved by the blood of Christ and have hope for the future, we live in broken bodes. Our frail spirit wars against our self-seeking flesh, and we daily realize that because of the Fall, this present world can no longer satisfy. This broken world is not our home, for it is separated from the Father--and He created us to be one with him.

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ"
-Philippians 3:20

Often the sadness is of the death of a favorite character. But we don't grieve because they have gone Home at last. Our grief is two-fold: first of all, that we must stay behind, and second of all, that the piece of completion this person was in the Body of Christ is now no longer completing us here on earth. Like Frodo bearing the Ring, or Christian bearing his burden, we struggle on, and the loss of every companion makes Heaven more complete, and earth more empty.

Though yearning is often the longing to go Home, we sometimes shed tears (or at least I do) over a character overcoming after a heavy struggle. Why should we cry over triumph? That leads to the second theme of the bittersweet ending, the theme of redemption.

2. Redemption
This is when the character has won. They have accomplished their aim, through the grief of loss, through physical and mental exhaustion, and every form of hardship, and you're left flat-out bawling with the closed book in your hands. Redemption implies cost. We were redeemed through the heavy cost of God's Son. Every lesser imitation of the Messiah theme in literature implies a heavy cost, a sacrifice, that leaves the characters with the golden promise of restoration. But we weep because someone paid a price that no-one else could--and that leaves the characters never the the same again. Often in literature this is the sacrifice of martyrdom.

And both of these things are very Biblical themes indeed.

Next time we'll finish up with the Happy and Sad endings.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Lord of the Rings (Part Two)

Welcome, my friends and fellow bibliophiles, to part two of our Lord of the Rings reviews. :) I am delighted to discuss it today. Parts three and four of this fantastic drama are packaged under the guise of The Two Towers. But in reality, they are in no way separate from book one.

This post is illustrated with movie posters from Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Two Towers. I will put in the disclaimer beforehand that I know they are not completely accurate to the books. (And yes, not all of us like the way he cast Aragorn. Advance apologies. ;) But enjoy them as the 'essence' of Middle Earth, though not always a faithful presentation of Tolkien's stellar works.

So, let's get to it. :)

Part Three
The company that started with Frodo is now minus two, and the remainder are split into three different groups. Frodo is travelling forward on his quest; he hoped to go alone, but one of the company would not allow himself to be left behind. Two of the company are hostages of the orcs, evil servants of Sauron, and three are roaming free to bring help to the two hostages. This group of three, racing against time, orcs, and dwindling food supplies, find help in a meeting with Eomer and the riders of Rohan. Rohan is a land famous for its horses. No one is sure of the King of Rohan's exact loyalties; he's more loyal to himself than anything else. But he resents Sauron's raids upon his horses, and his henchmen are willing to risk their monarch's displeasure to help the trio. When they arrive, they find that their captive friends have already escaped, and fled into the deep forest of Fangorn. The trio return as they promised to greet Rohan's king, and find him in the slimy clutches of his counselor, Grima Wormtongue. They have to convince him of the danger of Sauron's power before he is willing to drive Sauron's orc-hosts from his borders, and important stronghold called Helm's Deep, that, if captured, would play greatly into Sauron's hands. He leaves his people under the lady Eowyn's leadership, and sets out to make war.

Meanwhile, the two company wanderers in the forest of Fangorn come upon an adventure of their own. The head tender of the forest, an Ent, befriends them in their wanderings and tells them of his troubles. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Saurman the white, head of the Council of which Gandalf is part, succumbs to the desire to possess the one Ring of power; he is out to find the Ringbearer (i.e. Frodo) and secure the Ring for his own purposes. Reckless in his evil, he has allowed his orcs to wreak a little havoc in Fangorn, much to the horror of the Ents. The two companions encourage him to call the Ents together, and after a long council, the Ents agree to march upon Sauruman's stronghold, called Isengard, in which his tower Orthanc stands.
Three of the company are surrounded with evil orc hosts at Helm's Deep, with no help in sight. Two more are carried in the arms of Ents, forward to a battle with the third greatest power in Middle Earth. As the intensity builds, their courage rises in the face of despair.

Part Four

Frodo and his companion journey steadily onward towards their goal of destroying the ring. But an unknown creature is following them--and when they find out what it is, the myriad of perplexities escalate to a constant watch against treachery and death. Heavier and heavier the ring weighs on the chain around Frodo's neck. A meeting with Faramir, noble brother of Boromir, speeds them a little way on their journey; but food is running out for them as well as strength to meet the coming struggle. And in a sudden move of hate, their unwanted fellow traveller throws an obstacle in their way in an attempt to make an end to the Ringbearer's quest.

My Thoughts

Tolkien, in The Two Towers, starts twining two themes into the upcoming climax: the first one is mercy. Frodo and Sam have the opportunity to kill a miserable, disgusting little creature that just might try to slip a knife at midnight anyway. But Frodo realizes something that his companion does not: first of all, that it is pity and mercy to refriain from striking without need. And second, that even the tiniest sliver of uncertainty demands that we leave room for hope.
The second theme, a much darker, more suspenseful one, is the crumbling of emotional stamina when the going gets tough. Frodo is drawing closer and closer to the heart of Evil in Middle Earth; he's journeyed a long way. Bruised by orcs, wounded by Black Riders, bearer of an awful token of evil that daily wears him down, he is now starting to fray around the edges emotionally and physically. And I think that holds an important point in the fight for Christian reform. Oftentimes, its when we most need to gear up that we are starting the downward spiral. And that's when we have to find something outside of our own strength to pull us through. In the case of Christians it is the Lord Jesus who gives that to us. And sometimes he sends it through the strength of those around us. Frodo originally wanted to pursue his journey alone; but one of his companions would not let him leave. For two are better than one. When one falls down, the other can pick him up. Frodo didn't know he would need this; but so far its kept him through times of uncertainty. The question that I leave you to find out is whether or not it will carry him through times of betrayal. :)

And here, my friends, is where I leave those of you who have not read this drama. Come back in future, if you would like, after you have filled in some of the puzzle pieces. :) And blessings on your reading journeys this weekend.

Special Edition for Those Who Have Read the Books

One of the best contemplative quotes in The Two Towers is:

Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.

And so, I think Tolkein splits the proper reaction between Frodo and Sam. First of all, we should if at all possible respond with mercy to those around us. And secondly, we should be wary when we know they are not sincere.
Sam Gamgee is just awesome. :) He is one of my favorite characters, and I love the way he takes care of Frodo. Encouraging, yet sympathetic, and a nice resourceful packrat.
I have to admit, with apologies to all Tolkien fans, that the Ents were just a bit slow. With all their Hom Hooms, I got a bit bogged down. And with Treebeard's long story of the Entwives. Very poetic, very well written, but I think I may appreciate it more on a second reading, when I can rest in the knowledge of the Ringbearer's outcome.
And I was glued to the pages in the battle of Helm's Deep. I loved Legolas and Gimli counting heads. Hilarious. Tolkien is nice, because it's not a frilly fairy tale, but it includes lighter humorous passages between Frodo and Sam and Legolas and Gimli, and Merry and Pippin. Even Aragorn unbends a bit here and there.
Carrie-Grace tried in vain to while me away while the orcs stormed the walls.
And it was worth it, all in all, to wade through the Ents. Because they set the stage for the beautiful fifth and sixth books. I wouldn't have them taken out for all their Hom Hooms.

I'm at the Inch homeschool convention in MI this weekend. I would love to meet up with any of my readers who are attending. :)

Have a lovely weekend amongst your books!

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Right Kind of Ending

I closed the book I was reading, and sighed happily. I had good reason to, of course, for the couple  were going to live, well, not 'happily ever after' for that would imply a fairy-tale type existence. But--yes, I guess that was what it amounted to. Not the cheesy, fluffy, frothy, happily-ever-after, but the good homespun variety.  The happily-ever-after with substance in which they love each other even when the loving gets tough, when times are hard, when they don't know where the next meal is coming from.

That kind of happiness.

And I thought to myself, as I closed the book: was that good?

That just about describes me. After I've waded through a gigantic tome, and received the ending I was madly hoping for, and (ahem!) meets (ahem!) and something good happens as a result, I wonder if it was completely satisfying ending perfectly. Even the characters I absolutely detested perished conveniently. Some people have the blessed talent of taking the good things when they come, but oftentimes I am the one over-analyzing them. Where's the fly in the ointment? After all, there either has to be a bit of unrealistic fancy that unravels the whole happy structure, or there must be a negative moral implication in the ending.

They couldn't just be happy. That's not the way life works.

Oh, yes, there's joy in Christ--but it's only with the realization that we live in a sin-cursed world, and our happiness will always be a broken, incomplete kind. We're always going to have plenty of tears thrown in the equation to balance it out. We can just be happy. That's not reality.

So if we can't, then obviously, book characters can't. Othewise the ending isn't realistic, and we can't believe that it hypothetically happened.

Keep reading, I entreat you.

That's what we're going to talk about in this two part series: happy endings, sad endings, bittersweet endings, depressing endings--which are good, and what are their spiritual implications. Let's start with the darkest, and work up to the happiest, because I always like to end on a happy note. :)

First, we're going to start with an example of each type. Don't worry; no titles, so no spoilers.

Depressing Endings
You know the type: where you can read the refrain 'No Hope' 'No Hope' pounded over and over between the lines. Where you can sum it up in two words: "Too Late". I can think of a few I've read, including Haggard, Dickens, and Mary Johnston (Not To Have and To Hold.) I remember picking up a book from the library, and (as is my habit) opening somewhere in the middle to see what it was like. It was a story of a man and a woman, your typical love story. The man loved the woman dearly, but she didn't love him. Through the dark twists and turns of a bloodthirsty villain, and all the ensuing adventures, I kept on flipping pages until I reached the Point of No Return--where I knew I could not start that book at the beginning, and read the whole thing without knowing what was going to happen. And sure enough, in the second-to-last chapter, the man and woman shared a tender scene in the beautiful mountain garden. She finally loved him, and consented to be his wife. Needless to say, he was in seventh heaven. And I thought, well, I'll just finish up the last chapter and then go back and read the whole thing. I was shocked. In the few remaining pages, the villain entered, stabbed the woman, and died himself. She expired in great pain, amidst the tears of her anguished sweetheart. And that was that. I never went back and read the beginning. I couldn't bear to undergo that torment twice.

Sad Endings
Sad endings are not necessarily depressing, for they often hold notes of sweetness, of hope, of relief from pain--or of triumphant martyrdom. Take for instance, the story of a man who has lived for all his life, repentant of former sin, but unforgiven and hunted by those he has offended. He lives repaying good for evil, yet ever on the run from those trying to drag him back to darkness. One by one he touches and restores, heals and blesses the weak and the wicked. He even forgoes revenge when he has the chance of obliterating his foes. There is no release. Over and over, he flees from his established home, moves on, finds others to help and bless. Due to the nature of his foes, there can be no release. Except the great release--Death.

And that is the release he receives. By the end, I was sad to part ways with him, but happy to see him go. For being a devout Christian, he was going to his Father to receive rest and reward for all his labors--freedom from his tormentors.

Bittersweet Endings
Oh, there are many of these. Sometimes 'sad' and 'bittersweet' are hard to separate, but I use this general rule of thumb: if the overarching theme contains heartache that has been healed or put to rest, then that is a bittersweet ending. It's the story where the character didn't make all the right choices, or lost someone they loved, but they repented or healed, and moved on to hope. I didn't used to like these stories--it had to be all happy, or I wanted nothing to do with it. But now I've come to appreciate them more. This is the story of the man who spent his whole life pursuing revenge, wreaking havoc and hate on the people who did him wrong, but who suddenly realizes that his revenge backfired and brought more woe than he ever intended. Innocent people died. Husbands and wives divorced. Men went insane. And he couldn't stop himself--he had held too tightly too long to let his final piece of revenge go. The woman he formerly loved lost her beauty, and her son enlisted in utter poverty. Rich daughters were disgraced. Good men suffered. A whole tier of society crumbled to the dust. And in the end, he saw his work and was appalled. He repented. He used his power to bring as much restoration as he could to the innocents he had wronged, and brought happiness to other deserving friends. And then he left society forever to repent of his actions, taking with him only the person who would be left destitute if he did not let her come with him. It ends with anguish for the past, yet hope of better things for the future--in fact, the last word of the book is the word 'hope'.

Happy Endings
You can probably name these by the score, so I won't give a specific illustration. Happy endings are not necessarily devoid of hardship and suffering in the former pages, but by the end, the hardships are a faint memory. The lady is his wife. The war is diverted. The murderer is caught. The game is won. Poverty has turned to riches, and in some cases back to poverty again, but the characters are perfectly content in their lot. The wilderness is tamed. The wrong is put right.

In Conclusion
Within a book, there are many endings. There is the overarching ending to the main struggle, and then each character and subplot has an ending. Most likely there will be a mix of these different types we've discussed. Some characters will end with 'Too Late'. Some will end in a sweet sadness, like the fragrance of crushed flower petals. Some will end with the word 'hope.' Some will end with their troubles all behind them, and golden pathways ahead.

But which ones are right and which ones are wrong to the Christian bibliophile? And what conclusion did I come to regarding the story I started with?

Come back next Tuesday to find out. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Lord of the Rings (Part One)

Well, my friends, here you have it. We have now mentioned The Hobbit, which is an essential prelude to the Lord of the Rings, and today we can go on to Tolkien's well-known series. I will make the note that I have never seen the movies, and so I will not be able to offer an opinion on them. But if I see them in future, I will let you know. :)

To take my time I'm going to divide up my reviews into three, for the traditional separate volumes. But don't kid yourself; if you decide to read them, they aren't three separate books. The Lord of the Rings is one story, even though for convenience' sake it was broken into three volumes. Read them all at once, for they are only complete all together. (But I really don't have to worry about that, for once you start, you won't stop until you're done. :)

So today, we will talk about The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of The Lord of the Rings. I had the pleasure, though totally unplanned by me, of reading the editions illustrated by Alan Lee. I would definitely like to own these editions at some point. The pictures greatly resemble the movie casting--does anyone know if he drew them after the movies were made?

And I conscientiously started out with reading Prologue: Concerning Hobbits and Other Matters. ;)

The Story

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Part One:

I was thrilled, when I opened to chapter one, to see that I would be hearing more of dear old Bilbo--and Frodo, a delightful new addition. Bilbo is celebrating his eleventy-first birthday, with his adopted heir Frodo Brandybuck, and all the inhabitants of the Shire. At the end of the evening, after the guests have eaten and drunk their fill (and enjoyed some of Gandalf's fireworks), Bilbo puts on his ring and disappears.  He leaves the Shire for good, to spend the rest of his days writing his memoirs with the Elves.

Frodo, his inheritor, lives undisturbed for years until Gandalf returns to the Shire with the tale of the ring. It is the One Ring, the ring of the power of evil, Sauron. And Sauron is out to reclaim it. I won't go into the history of the ring, but leave you to find it out for yourselves. In short, the ring must be carried to the Cracks of Doom in Mordor and destroyed before Sauron can find it. If Frodo does not succeed, then the whole of Middle Earth will be chained under Sauron's evil power.

So he sets out from Bag End to reach Rivendell and take counsel with Elrond. Not alone. His friend, Sam Gamgee, sets out with him, determined not to be left behind, and the hobbits Merry and Pippin come too.
Little by little, Frodo begins to realize the darkness of his quest. Dark horsemen called the Black Riders follow them stealthily,  and they have a legitimate creep factor. And every evil he faces seems to know that he and he alone possesses the Ring. Through disastrous shortcuts, a meeting with old Tom Bombadil, fog, Elves, a belated message from Gandalf, and a meeting with a mysterious guide called 'Strider', they are well on their way in the adventure. After Frodo is pierced by the leader of the Black Riders, time begins to run short. Weary with his wound, which weakens him more and more every day, he must yet overcome it, if he is going to reach Rivendell in time to seek sanctuary and counsel from the Elves.

Part Two:
Though he almost dies, of course Frodo can't quite exit the scene yet. :) At Rivendell the real journey begins. Frodo sets out on his journey into the unknown, and nine companions gather around him:

Thumbnail for version as of 20:25, 25 December 2010
Gandalf the wizard--definitely useful when fighting Balrogs.

File:Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee.png
 Sam Gamgee--faithful gardener and a jolly good fellow.

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Pippin--very nice for the humor factor.

Merry--can't be left behind. Goes with Pippin as an indispensable comrade.

Legolas the Elf--excellent with the bow and for running over snow to find ways of escape.

Aragorn son of Arathorn--a kingly leader who does not hesitate to step up and fulfill his calling.

Boromir--eager to persuade the company to come to his city, Minas Tirith. Seems to take an unusual interest in the Ring.

Gimli the Dwarf--eager to use his axe on some enemy. He and Legolas have some very funny lines together.

And not to be left out:
File:Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins.png
Frodo--a humble little hobbit, rather overwhelmed with his responsibility, but willing to take it on.

And so, Tolkien sets up the cast of characters for the rest of the tale. But as the journey begins, danger turns into tragedy. And by the end of part two, they are no longer travelling all together. I will leave you to find out Who and How and Why.

My Thoughts:

Tolkien's style, his history, and his songs are quite beautiful. While The Hobbit possessed mostly merry ones, and the Lord of the Rings certainly includes the Middle Earth 'folk song' factor, the songs in this trilogy run the gamut from downright morbid to beautifully heartbreaking. Tolkien is one of the writers that leaves you gasping in awe, just with his syntax. He is worth studying more of for anyone who likes to write, or who likes philology. He is truly among the greats in the literary realm.

At first, when I read of Tolkien's account of Frodo's fight with the Ringwraiths, I misunderstood what he meant: [Frodo] bitterly regretted his foolishness, and reproached himself for his weakness of will; for he now perceived that in putting on the Ring he obeyed not his own desire but the commanding wish of his enemies. In reading this, at first I thought that Tolkien was saying that Frodo couldn't help himself. You'll find this a couple of times in the stories. But what Tolkien means in these times is not that the Ring 'forced' itself on Frodo's finger. It finally occurred to me that he is discussing here the fact that we do not always have an inclination to do evil ourselves. Sometimes others desire us to choose evil actions, and their desire is hard for us to withstand. In this case, Frodo didn't hold out long enough to withstand it, and the knife of the Black Rider pierced him.

LOTR is already showing its providential roots in book one: the leaders of the Council, instead of choosing the wisest and the greatest among them to carry the Ring to its fate, (surely the likeliest means to success) choose instead a humble little hobbit, about three feet tall, and not too sure of himself. But the beauty of the Lord of the Rings is that the moral insecurity often found in modern stories is completely non-existent. The characters don't question what's right and what's wrong. They know, and their choice is not to define good, but whether or not they will do it.

In the next two posts we'll discuss more points. I have no special edition today, for those who have read the books, but I anticipate having some thoughts in future. And if I happen to think of any about this book while the Tolkien series is going on, then I will be sure to include them. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Quiet: Hope for the Introvert

I would guess that most of my fellow bibliophiles are introverts.

Just a guess.

Welcome to my first attempt at Blogging for Books from Multnomah Publishers, with the review of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.

Tolkien is on Fridays. :)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Susan Cain knows what she's talking about. A shy college student that managed to survive the very extroverted campus of Harvard Business School, she spent her first career years as a young lawyer scared to death of the talking necessary to her trade. Especially the dog-eat-dog vitriol throwing that often took place in such delicate negotiations. She's an introvert after all. Through many years of counseling clients, coming to treasure her personality, and interviewing well-known researchers in the field of introvert/extrovert psychology, she learned to come to grips with this inner trait, and to value it as a special part of her personality.

But she would be the first to admit, it's not easy living as an introvert in an extrovert world.

From elementary school on up through the career system, our culture has shifted from valuing character to valuing how loudly we can prove our  qualifications. Managers and teachers encourage group collaboration and interaction, organizing desks into pods of seven or more where students are forced to work together, and designing open office spaces with very little privacy. It's supposed to follow the natural system of pollination, where a good idea improves the more people you have discussing it. But for the introvert, this concept is scary, and often forces one of two decisions: either act like an extrovert, or content yourself with being a socially awkward student and co-worker.

Susan Cain set out to change this trend. She divides Quiet into four sections: firstly, the rise of the extroverted culture, how it has affected our daily lives, and its negative connotations for introverts; secondly, the introvert personality itself, its physical characteristics, and the different studies psychiatrists have done on the symptoms of introvert tendencies, with a short detour into famous introverts; thirdly, foreign cultures that value introversion, and how this affects their school grades and society; and fourthly, how to love and live with the introverts in your life (as an extrovert) or how to open up with and value those extroverts in your life (as an introvert).

One of my favorite parts about Quiet was learning about my own personality--oftentimes it's hard for introverts to define or even explain why they act the way they do: the way they think or argue, or emotionally process. It's not always easy being clear to yourself in your own mind, or dealing with the inborn weakness to 'lock up' and hide it all. Time and again, I would read a sentence and excitedly think "YES! That's exactly what I do. That's exactly why I do it." One of the topics I enjoyed reading about was how introverts and extroverts act differently in society. For example, Cain writes that oftentimes introverts recharge best in solitude, while extroverts recharge best with social networking. Introverts start a conversation with the deep personal issues and end with the small chit-chat, while extroverts do just the opposite. And she even covers the issue of introverts and the Internet--how they act differently online than they do in face-to-face contact, and why that is.
Another thing I enjoyed was the scientific discoveries in Quiet. Introverts are literally thinner-skinned then extroverts. Their amygdala-the 'fight or flight' sense-processes differently than extroverts. And there are many other scientific gems which I will leave you to discover for yourself.

I would critique her style on a few points, however. Scattered throughout her book are a few words with negative connotations in our society, often used as swear words, that should from a Biblical as well as professional standpoint have been omitted. Cain is not a Christian as far as I can tell; she is not opposed to 'evangelicals' but makes no claim to it herself. Therefore, some of her conclusions and solutions to the issues introverts face and why they face them are clearly man-centered. I would certainly recommend as a Bible-believing Christian taking the time to evaluate as you go along. Evolution pops up continuously in how she believes the amygdala and other brain processes developed in introverts. I would disagree with her statements, and I took the time to write the correct Creationist-centered points in the margins. I recommend Quiet for older teens and up, and for those who practice careful evaluation with every book they read. Quiet contains much valuable and helpful information, but mixed in with man-centered theology that is not in agreement with the Christian faith, and therefore, should be discarded.

As I took the time to carefully evaluate and refute, I was encouraged by Cain's refreshing encouragement for introverts. Quiet helped me to value my God-given personality and recognize its strengths that are often looked down upon or completely overlooked in America's extrovert culture. It also helped me identify weak tendencies in my daily relationships, that require careful thought and willingness to step outside of my comfort zone to overcome.

I was glad to spend time learning more about this subject, and I hope that other introverts find encouragement to practice the strengths of their personality (looking at it as a gift from God) by using some of the principles that Cain collected and set forth in her latest book.

More Links:

Here's the trailer for Quiet:

To find out more about Quiet and Susan Cain, Multnomah has provided these links for your reading pleasure:

Author Website - The Power of Introverts
Susan Cain on TED
More Info
Read Chapter One
Author Bio

And if you like, you can head on over to my review and rate how much you like it on the website. :)
I received this book for free from the Waterbrook Multnomah blogging for books program. I was not required to give a favorable review.

Lady Bibliopohile

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