Tag Archive | Lord of the Rings

Books That Change Lives

A friend of mine posted on Facebook today about books that change your life. It’s no secret that we all have that special something that awakens a spark in us, and books are often the match that starts the flame. Her post got me thinking of the books I’ve read over the years and whether any of them have had an impact on me. It didn’t take long to think of which one did it, and it brought back a very fine memory.

When I was in my senior year of high school, I was loaded down with AP classes, student government, and prepping for university. There wasn’t much leisure time, and I was one of those teens that insisted on doing everything I could to make my transition to college easier. At the beginning of the school year, I was at the mall and heading out to go home, when I walked past a book store. There, on the front display, was a small shelf of copies of The Lord of the Rings with a cardboard advertisement from the upcoming movie.

It was 2001, so at the time, I hadn’t seen the movies yet. I knew nothing of The Lord of the Rings– in fact, I had never even heard of it! Despite reading tons of books growing up, my fiction was typically revolved around historical stories.

I stopped in my tracks, somehow drawn to the copy of The Fellowship of the Ring that was on display at the window. I can’t really tell you what drew me to it. The cover wasn’t anything fancy. But I felt like I had to see it. As strange as it sounds, I felt like I was meant to read that book.

I’m not one to do things on the whim, and when it comes to money, I don’t like to spend it on something I know I won’t use. But I knew I had to have it. I bought the book, went home, and started to read.

Now, I confess that I didn’t quite read a lot of it at first because homework took priority. Taking four AP classes, alongside a full high school schedule and volunteering, doesn’t leave you with much free time. Also, I may or may not have been going on a Sailor Moon binge at the time, lol! But when Christmas came and I got to see The Fellowship of the Ring movie, I was blown away. Immediately after seeing the film, I picked up the book and read it in a few days.

What followed was a thorough read-through of the trilogy, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia (because you can’t read Tolkien without some C.S. Lewis in there, right?) But after reading The Fellowship of the Ring, a spark lit up inside me.

I wanted to write a story like Tolkien.

Characters like Frodo, Faramir, Eowyn, and Aragorn really resonated with me. All my years of reading books never transported me to a faraway world that made me want to live in it. To say that the stories changed my life and inspired me to be brave and kind is putting it mildly. I wanted to be just like the Hobbits and Elves and Dwarves and Men that I read about. And one day, I wanted to inspire other readers like Tolkien inspired me.

Grant it, my stories are nowhere near the level of Tolkien’s, and probably never will be, but there’s a special something about having your life impacted by such a small thing. Like the One Ring impacting Frodo’s life, Frodo’s story impacted mine (but in a good way). And now that I’m a writer, I hope my stories impact the lives of my readers as well.

Think about your favorite books or stories. What are the ones that have impacted your life?

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Getting a Little Crowded…

So I’m in the process of a re-write of my novel and I’ve noticed how different the story is compared to a year ago when I thought the story was finished.  The plot is deeper, the characters can be more easily related to, hints and clues to the overall story are being put here and there.  I’ve also given minor characters some bigger roles.  All of these changes are helping my story become bigger, better, and stronger.

As I was writing the other day, though, I came upon a bit of a puzzle.  I have a new character who will *eventually* become a big part of the story (this is a planned series so said character was supposed to show up somewhere towards the latter part).  But with the plot going through some major changes, I began to debate with myself-do I want to introduce this character a little earlier than planned?

Normally this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but I’ve got more than one or two main characters.  And if I introduce the new character now, I worry whether it may be too many new names and side-stories for my readers to keep track with.

Recently, my Mom and I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  I was going into the film already familiar with the books and lore while my mom was going into the film as a casual movie-goer.  Throughout the film, I cheered with the appearance of Beorn, Thranduil, Bard, and Smaug, while my mom constantly asked questions.

“Who’s Thorin?”

“Which one was Smaug?”

At the end of the film, I found myself having to explain the story all over again because my mom had trouble following all of the characters and sub-plots.  This doesn’t mean that The Desolation of Smaug was a bad movie (it was actually quite good, at least in my opinion), nor does it mean my mom can’t follow a story line.  It just means that for people who are unfamiliar with Middle Earth, all those characters and subplots may make them feel lost when jumping into the middle of the story with no background knowledge.

After seeing my mom’s experience, it made me start questioning on whether adding more characters to my story was a good decision or a bad one.  Grant it, what I’m writing is nowhere near the scale of Lord of the Rings, but it got me thinking as to whether there is a thing such as too many characters.  Is it possible to have your story too detailed or too deep?

I may not ever know the answer to that question.  I often wonder if there really is one.  It may just depend on the story.  Lord of the Rings, in its vast lore, has many characters that an entire novel can hold just their names, and yet it’s hugely successful.  There have been other stories that have been met with failure because of “too much, too soon.”  But whether full or light on characters, maybe it’s not just the number that is important, but the quality.  Sure, Tolkien had many characters, but they had a high quality about them.  They were exciting, memorable, and unique.  Each reader (or viewer) could find a character they could relate to.

So instead of asking whether I can remember all of my characters, maybe I should ask if I have characters worth remembering?

Fatherless and Faramir: Connecting Life with Story

I’ll never forget the day I saw “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in theatres.

I was sitting on a middle aisle seat next to my cousin, dressed like Frodo and as giddy as a kid in Toys R Us.  The lights dimmed, the film started rolling, and I was instantly swept away with the rest of the audience on our journey to Mt. Doom to destroy the One Ring.  But as strange as it sounds, Mt. Doom, Frodo’s victory, or even the battle at Minas Tirith weren’t the scenes I was waiting for.

I was waiting for the scene between Faramir and Denethor, when the father rejected the son all for his foolish pride.

The scene was powerful, just like it was in the book.  Faramir, begging his father to listen to wisdom in the defense of the city, is overrun by his father’s madness and grief.  Denethor rejects Faramir to his face, saying he wished Faramir’s brother Boromir had lived and Faramir had died.  Faramir takes each accusation like a punch to the gut.  His words are only polite and respectful while Denethor’s are like poisonous daggers.  The steward’s tongue spews hatred for his son, and Faramir can only watch as his shoulders lower, like invisible weights lay heavy upon his back.

The scene had the audience silent, some letting out small gasps of shock.  It was the ultimate betrayal, that feeling of rejection from a father.

And I could only think of one thing.

“I wonder if Dad sees himself as Denethor?”

My Dad and I don’t have much in common.  Then again, I don’t expect us to.  My parents split when I was a baby and my mom raised me by herself.  My dad was absent for the most part (his choice), so we never really got to know each other.  I only remember seeing him once from the time I was in pre-school until high school graduation.  It was the only time he bothered to visit.

But after I graduated, he finally came to see me.  He came back and offered to be a part of my life.  I hesitantly accepted-after all, when someone leaves you once, it’s hard to think they won’t leave you a second time.

Regardless of my initial skepticism, we started to get to know each other.  We emailed each other every day and occasionally talked on the phone.  We found out that we didn’t really have much in common-he was more of a sports and business type of guy and I…well…I was more into the arts, history, and science.  But there was one thing that we had in common, one thing we found we could always talk about: The Lord of the Rings.  It was the one story that made us feel like we were family.

We talked about the plot and the upcoming sequel to “The Fellowship of the Ring”.  We joked and called each other Hobbit names-he was Bilbo and I was Frodo.  He gave me his prized books from college-hard cover bound books for both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” along with his collection of Tolkien’s writings.  When we talked about Middle Earth, it was like we knew each other all our lives.  I finally felt like my dad cared.

But like most real stories, this didn’t have a happy ending.  The relationship didn’t last.  He walked away again and we haven’t spoken since.

Our fallout happened a few months before “The Return of the King” hit theatres.  And so as I sat in the audience, watching Faramir’s face express all the same hurt and sorrow I felt, my hurt swelled to the surface.  I remembered my grief of my own father’s rejection of me that happened not once, but twice this time.  I recognized the tear-filled eyes, the silent look of shock, the urge to seem strong when in reality you’re crumbling to pieces-Faramir’s look had been my own only months before.

And I just sat back and watched.  Watched the only thing my dad and I had in common-this one story-and realized we could no longer share it.  There were no more Bilbo and Frodo jokes.  There were no more discussions about the Elves.  All those happy moments we shared would just simply turned to bad memories.

And I wondered, as he undoubtedly watched “Return of the King”, if he thought the same thing.

What amazes me so much about story is that even the simplest of scenes-like the three minutes we get with Faramir and Denethor-can reach into our very soul and touch us in a way so powerful that we remember that scene for the rest of our lives.  Grant it, my dad was nowhere near as cruel as Denethor (who would send their own son out to face an army of Orcs with just a band of horsemen?) but just the simple fact that it was a story of parental rejection of a child was enough for me to say, “I understand that!  I know what he feels!”  Faramir’s story with Denethor made me connect with my own story with my dad.  It was a reminder that even though it was a fictional character going through this rejection, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my hurt.  It helped me realize that other people understood that feeling of rejection too.

As a writer of narratives, poems, or journals, it’s important to remember that a story (no matter how it is written) is a way to connect with someone’s heart.  Even the smallest of scenes-scenes we may deem unimportant-can have the biggest of impacts on a person.  That’s not to make writers and storytellers feel pressured to write the perfect story that will change the world.  Believe me, that’s not what I’m trying to convey.  Instead, I hope it makes writers realize that no matter what their story is, it’s important.  No matter how big or how little your story is, it’s going to connect with someone.  It’s going to have an impact in someone’s life.  In my case, story reminded me of hurt, but it also helped me heal.

I left the theatre that day pondering the story of Faramir and Denethor.  I came to realize that in the end, Denethor realized he truly loved Faramir, and his grief over Faramir nearly dying in battle was deeper and more maddening than when he lost his eldest, Boromir.  I left the theatre that day wondering, “Is my dad like Denethor?  Will he one day realize that he really does love me and does he regret leaving me and my mom?”

I may never know the answer to that.

But I can write about it.  And maybe one day my story will help someone else who understands it too.  And if my story, and my own understanding of this hurt, helps someone else in the end, then I guess what I went through was worth it.

Creating an Imaginative Universe: The Importance of Setting

Recently the television show “Legend of Korra” aired a one hour special telling the history of the first Avatar, Wan.  I won’t get into too many of the details of the plot here (just in case you haven’t seen it yet), but what I will spoil for you is that the episode is much different from its predecessors in both the Legend of Korra series and Avatar: the Last Airbender.

No longer do we see bustling cities full of people or lush landscapes with unique animals like the so-adorably-cute-you-must-have-one-for-a-pet turtle-duck.  Instead, we see isolated towns living atop giant, living animal guardians.  We see jungles fit for a nightmare.  We see a peaceful oasis where it seems no one wants to leave.  We see a city in the clouds, barren and rocky plains, towering cliffs and isolated stone.  It’s the same world we’ve seen before (there’s still people and firebenders.  Lots and lots of firebenders…), yet it is somehow different.  There’s a unique feel to it, as if the world the characters move in is a whole new world we’ve never seen.  But it’s this uniqueness that breathes imagination into the story.  It’s what sets the story apart from so many others, bringing an element of excitement and wonder to what we, the audience, are witnessing.

Imagine Wan’s journey in learning how to bend all four elements and bring balance to the world if he were only staying in a town.  Would the story have been as effective?  Or even if it was effective, would it still have made the story stand apart?

Setting is the integral background of a story-the part that often isn’t the center of attention or the most popular part of writing, but without it, the story would not be as powerful.  Setting is to storytelling the way the background strokes of a painting are to art.  You can have a lovely picture of a person in the painting, but where he or she is in that picture helps tell the story.  If the person is standing in the middle of a beach, doubtless it is a story of a nice vacation (and it’s a story I want to be in!)  If the person is standing in a church with his or her new spouse, doubtless it’s a story of a wedding.  Where the person is in the picture adds depth and meaning.  If it were simply a blank canvas, the meaning of the picture would be more difficult to interpret.  Why is the person happy in the picture?  Why is the person sad?  Without the background, we might not have any clue.

Other stories have stood apart from others because of a unique setting.  Imagine Star Wars on Earth instead of space and other worlds.  Luke wouldn’t have much of a journey and Chewbacca would look pretty awkward walking down the street.  Imagine Lord of the Rings in a modern city instead of Middle Earth.  Places like Moria, Hobbiton, Lothlorien, and Minas Tirith would cease to exist.  What made Star Wars so unique was the different worlds Luke visited in his journey to become a Jedi-Tatooine, Hoth, even the different space ships.  What made Lord of the Rings stand apart were the many lands inhabited by the Elves, Hobbits, Dwarves, Men, and Orcs.  Their lands were a reflection of who they were.  Without them, would we have been able to understand the ethereal quality of the Elves or the simpleness of Hobbits?

Setting is imagination at its finest.  It’s the area where the writer or artist creates the world in which the characters live and the plot proceeds.  It’s often times the most difficult part of writing, yet it’s also the most rewarding.  It provides us a chance to create a world no one has ever seen, a chance to make dreams become a reality.

It’s the chance to share your imagination with the world.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Thorin Oakenshield

It pains me to admit this, but when I first read “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, I hated Thorin Oakenshield.

After I read it a second time, I still hated him.

And the third time.  And the fourth.

There was just something about him that I didn’t quite get.  He was nothing like Bilbo, all cute and cuddly and innocent.  He wasn’t like Gandalf, powerful and clever.  He wasn’t like Balin, wise and practical for the sake of the Company.  He was just…Thorin.  Rash.  Arrogant.  A gold-hoarder in some ways like the dragon he fought to drive out of the Mountain.

And that’s why I didn’t like him.  He was the epitome of traits I had grown to despise.

Yet just like people in real life, I found myself starting to understand Thorin the more I got to know him as a character.  And that all started when the first Hobbit film by Peter Jackson was released in theatres last December.

I was ecstatic over the movie.  We Tolkien fans waited a long time after the Return of the King to see our beloved Hobbit become a live action film.  When I went to the theatre and saw it, I wasn’t disappointed.  The characters, the setting, and the story was everything I had hoped it would be.

But before I sat to watch the film, I expected to hate Thorin.  I was going in as a Bilbo fan.  (And a secret Thranduil fan.  I mean, the guy is Legolas’ dad!  What fangirl wouldn’t adore him?!)  Then the first sequence of the film started.  There was Bilbo and Frodo talking with Bilbo working on his book.  And then Bilbo began telling the back story of how Smaug invaded Erebor and took over the Dwarven kingdom.

The back story of the Erebor invasion is mentioned briefly in The Hobbit.  We get a glimpse of why Thorin had to leave (yeah, we know there’s a dragon somewhere in that mountain) but we don’t get as much detail about what happened that day except in other stories that Tolkien wrote.  Out first glimpse of Thorin (in the book) isn’t in a detailed cinematic scene of him defending his home and losing everything or feeling betrayed by the Elves.  It’s him showing up at Bag End with a bunch of Dwarves at a frantic Hobbit’s house.

I admit I hadn’t read much of Thorin’s back story when I read The Hobbit all those times.  Yes, books like “Unfinished Tales” and “The Silmarillion” sat on my bookshelf, but being the busy person that I am, I really hadn’t taken the time to read them.  Because of that, I never quite got to know Thorin as I should have.

After seeing the film, I decided to give Thorin another chance.  I familiarized myself with what Tolkien had wrote about Thorin in tales besides The Hobbit.  I re-watched The Hobbit film after it came out on DVD.  And then I decided to read The Hobbit again, this time with familiarity of Thorin’s past.  After I read The Hobbit, I looked at Thorin in a new light.  Before, I only saw the rash and arrogant Dwarf who wanted his gold back.  Now, I saw a hurt and sorrowful king who lost his family and kingdom.  I finally understood the brilliance of Tolkien’s character and how his past connected with his (later) emotional turmoil.  Instead of a villain or anti-hero, Thorin became more of a tragic character for me, and after I finished the chapter where Bilbo sees Thorin after the Battle of the Five Armies, (spoilers!) I cried.  I was honestly sad about Thorin’s fate.

In the end, I knew I had always believed the phrase “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  It’s an analogy that rings true in both literature and real life.  The same thing goes with characters in a story.  Often times, we judge a character by a few actions and think we have him/her pegged.  Sometimes we’re right (Gandalf started off awesome and he was still awesome by the time The Return of the King ended), but sometimes there’s more than meets the eye.  The more we dig into a tale, and into a character’s own personal story, the more we come to know why the character does what he or she does.  We get to know them inside and out-the real person, the real character.  Sometimes, a character can surprise us.

And after I’ve gotten to know Thorin Oakenshield, I’ve come to realize I don’t hate him after all.

And I’m going to bring LOTS of tissues to the final Hobbit movie.