10 November 2014

Guest Post: 'Hearkening to the Horns of Hope and Love: What The Lord of the Rings Teaches Us For Today'

Hearkening to the Horns of Hope and Love:
What The Lord of the Rings Teaches Us For Today

by Anne Marie Gazzolo

Hope and love are dominant themes in The Lord of the Rings. These are two of the most desperately needed virtues today in a world entrenched in a culture of death, despair, and lust, due to the instant and 24 hour access the media provides. Those in the Red Book are no more exempt from darkness than we, but the examples of hope, love, courage, and fidelity in the tale give us inspiration and strength to keep going.

One of the most important exercises of hope is Gandalfs for Gollum. He acknowledges the small possibility of this, but it is still there. Because he refuses to abandon it, the Elves in Mirkwood treat him kindly, and Frodo actively works toward it also. We need to have this same hope for those who appear lost, for as Bilbo and Sam point out, Wheres there life theres hope (Hobbit 288, LotR IV:7, 685).

Galadriels words, on one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope (LotR II:8, 367) are also powerful for Tolkiens world as he and his family lived through the dark years of WWII and for our present day which has witnessed so many senseless acts of hatred and violence.

Dimitra Fimi makes note of the shared faith of Tolkien and the poet Francis Thompson and Tolkiens admiration of the mans mystical work, especially noting from The Kingdom of God:

            O World invisible, we view thee,
            O World intangible, we touch thee,
            O World unknowable, we know thee,
            Inapprehensible, we clutch thee! (qtd. in Tolkien, Race 43)

These words remind me of two more times during the War of the Ring where hope is strongly present. As the siege of Minas Tirith is about to start, with no sign of hoped-for reinforcements, Pippin perceives that Gandalf remains joyful inside. The wizard has faith in his Creator and His plans, so he does not perceive just the dire straits of the present but beyond them to the future. Denethor says such hope is but ignorance (LotR V:7, 835). But it is not. It is faith and trust. Because Gandalf hopes, Pippin hopes. This also brings to mind the profound experience that Sam has upon seeing the star in Mordor, which shows him that while he and Frodo toil in darkness on the ground, there is beauty far above that evil cannot touch or mar. The words Thompson uses bring to brighter light the deep hope Gandalf and Sam both have that the present darkness is not all there is.
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06 November 2014

My Thoughts on The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Official Main Trailer

Earlier, Warner Bros. released the official trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The trailer opens somberly with numerous characters addressing Thorin, reminding him of the promises he has made and the terror he has unleashed. We do not see Smaug in this trailer, which leads me to believe his defeat will occur sometime in the first part of the movie, leaving the majority of the film to focus on the titular battle as everyone seeks to defend what they have reclaimed.

We get a quick glimpse of Saruman ("leave Sauron to me") which is probably my favourite part of the trailer. While those who have already read Tolkien's books or seen Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy know that Saruman is working with the Dark Lord, I cannot wait to see more of the White Council and Saruman's growing betrayal of his Order play out on the big screen. Of all the material that's been added, whether it be from the appendices or made up entirely, this is the one I am most interested in. (Sometimes I wish they'd filmed The Hobbit first, just to make the betrayal all the more shocking to moviegoers who have not read any of the books.)

Of course, we also get a glimpse into the Kili/Tauriel romance; he is seen giving her what is presumably his runestone, and later in the trailer we see her tearfully looking up from what appears to be Kili's body. I stand by my belief that it is an unnecessary love story, but at the same time, it will certainly add weight to his death.

As we've come to expect from Jackson and his team, the Battle of the Five Armies is going to be epic – and given that he's had 10 years to improve his skills, I'll wager that this battle will be his most impressive one yet. Between this and the White Council, you can bet I'll be giving this film a chance next month!

Watch the official trailer below and let me know what you think!

04 November 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition Is Now In Stores! (Review)

May contain spoilers  
All images & review copy courtesy of Warner Bros.

The extended edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is out on DVD, Blu-ray™,  and Blu-ray 3D™ today! Featuring an additional 25 minutes of footage and more than nine hours of new special features (including commentary with director Peter Jackson, The AppendicesThe Appendices Parts IX and X, and New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth – Part 2), this edition is a must-have for any Hobbit fan.

While my opinion of the Hobbit films is still rather mixed (I have enjoyed them as standalone films, but not so much as adaptations), I found I enjoyed – for the most part – the extended edition of The Desolation of Smaug. As per usual, Peter Jackson's extras come in small pieces here and there as well as in wholly new scenes. Whatever their form, the extra footage adds more depth to a few characters and situations within the film, hearkening back to Tolkien's original story and enhancing the overall narrative.


One of my favourite scenes was the introduction of the Dwarves to Beorn. Where his presence in the theatrical cut was very limited, almost to the point of being unnecessary altogether, his character in the extended version is deeper and more in keeping with Tolkien's distrustful skin-changer. When he speaks to Gandalf as the Company prepares to depart for Mirkwood, it is clear that he is not just a skin-changer, but instead a being connected more deeply to Middle-earth and fully aware of the growing darkness; hence his willingness to help those he distrusts. Though brief, this conversation adds a heightened sense of dread – not just to the forest but to the film as a whole – which is something I thought was lacking in the theatrical cut. 


The extended Mirkwood scenes are another important inclusion, in my opinion. The Company's journey through the forest was so fast-paced in the theatrical cut that it hardly felt like they had spent any time there at all. Their exposure to the forest's enchanted waters and their ensuing drowsiness helps to prolong the scene and create the illusion that they have been there for an increasingly long time.


Not found in Tolkien's The Hobbit, but still a welcome addition to the story, is Gandalf's encounter with Thráin. I think my favourite scenes in the Hobbit films are those in Dol Guldur: Peter Jackson and his team accurately and appropriately portray the darkness that is overtaking Mirkwood. When Gandalf finds Thráin, he is initially under the Enemy's hold; when he comes to, he is still deeply disturbed by whatever he has endured in the fortress of the Necromancer, but his focus remains on his son, Thorin. For a moment or two, we all probably hope for a father-son reunion – that is, until the Necromancer intervenes and reclaims Thráin.


The only characters to not benefit from the extra material are Alfrid and the Master of Lake Town. While we are given more of a glimpse into just how greedy and materialistic the two characters are, neither of them are in any way likeable – or even pitiable. To see an actor as amazing as Stephen Fry reduced to a character almost as looney and repulsive as The Lord of the Rings films' Denethor is a real shame. There is little room left for sympathy if and when the time comes (spoiler alert!) when the Master succumbs to the dragon-sickness and ultimately dies of starvation after being abandoned by his friends and followers. 

Overall, I enjoyed the extended cut much more than the theatrical. The extra scenes provided more character and setting development, and were engaging enough that the additional runtime is barely noticeable. While I have not yet watched any of the behind the scenes footage, I am looking forward to doing that over the next few days!

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For more details on the extended edition, please view the press release I posted back in August!

Will you be picking up a copy of The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition (or have you already)? Leave a comment and let me know why/why not!

02 October 2014

Guest Post: 'Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Review'

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is now available on PC and all next-gen consoles. While I can't wait to check this game out for myself to see how well (if at all) the narrative fits into Tolkien's canon, I'm stuck waiting until the game's PS3 release on November 18 (I think I'll prefer console to PC, in this case). In the meantime, I am enjoying the game vicariously through friends' reviews and YouTube videos.

Corey Brooks (@LOTRHobbit93 on Twitter), a friend and fellow gamer/Tolkien fan, was kind enough to allow me to host his review of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor here on my blog.


(Note: may contain spoilers, depending on your familiarity with Tolkien's writings)


Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor Review 
by Corey Brooks

One does not simply walk into Mordor. Unless you're the Gondorian ranger Talion. Then it's as easy as Legolas taking down orcs in Mirkwood. Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor is the Middle-earth game many have been waiting for. While Middle-earth in the format of video games has had a rich history (ranging from great to not-so-great outings), none but The Lord Of The Rings Online have truly been amazing and fun games to play for hours on end while vividly bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's world to life. And while I've enjoyed every Middle-earth game that's been released, some have been waiting for a truly great virtual experience set in this world. Shadow Of Mordor has changed this, and definitely set the bar pretty high for future outings of Middle-earth related games.
Photo: Corey Brooks
The game follows Talion, a ranger of Gondor who, along with his family, is slain at the Black Gate of Mordor, where he has been stationed to keep watch over the cursed land. Some SPOILERS will follow on the story, so if you haven't played yet or do not want to be spoiled, then look away! Right off the bat the tone, very brutal and sad as Talion one moment spars with his son, then is being beaten bloody by an orc. I've never actually cried playing a video game before, but the moment Talion and his family are killed, and how he tells his son "I'm right here! Look at me!", really had me balling my eyes out, and matches the emotional scale of Peter Jackson's Middle-earth films. After a heart wrenching opening, Talion is brought back from the dead by a wraith, who after regaining memories of his past, finds out he is Celebrimbor, the greatest smith of the Second Age, and forger of the Rings of Power, and together, they try to find out why this has happened, along the way also avenging the death of Talion's family by the Black Hand, a servant of Sauron. The story is fantastically done, having a nice cinematic feel to it, with brilliant motion capture and voice work by Troy Baker, who portrays Talion. Players will encounter Gollum, and I love the Frodo/Sam relationship that Talion and Celebrimbor have with the gangly creature. Talion also aligns himself with a cowardly orc called Ratbag, who'll do anything to become a warchief, which also will play in Talion's favor amongst the ranks of Sauron's army. Talion and Ratbag's relationship is pure gold, and had me laughing many, many times. 


22 September 2014

Happy Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week!


Happy Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week!

Tolkien Week – a week-long celebration of Tolkien, as the name rightly implies – kicked off yesterday. Today, Tolkien fans celebrate the birthdays of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. In honour of Hobbit Day, I will be reading from one of my favourite books, The Hobbit, and later, enjoying some pumpkin pie and hard cider – and what better place to do so than in my own Shire?

The rest of Tolkien Week typically involves reading more Tolkien, especially in schools, libraries, and bookstores. If you are a parent or teacher, you may consider reading from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings to your children or students (if you haven't done so already). But really, there is no wrong way to celebrate Hobbit Day or Tolkien Week.

I have also prepared a Feast Week post for Middle-earth News, which will go live tomorrow. Here's a sneak peek:


How are you celebrating Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week this year?