Monday, January 27, 2020

The Collectors

The Collectors by Philip Pullman

This prequel short story to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series opens with Horley discussing a painting sold to him by Max Falcondale with his companion Grinstead, who loves a woman from another world named Marisa van Zee, despite her likely age at the time. The narrative quickly takes a few serious turns, following which is a brief history by Pullman on how he began telling stories, starting with listening to radio serials such as Superman. Overall, this was a fairly enjoyable story, although it most likely won’t make sense to those unfamiliar with Pullman’s main His Dark Materials novels.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Children of Húrin

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This book by Lord of the Rings creator J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the “great tales” set during the First Age of Middle-earth, beginning with a preface indicating that the Elder Days, another term for the First Age, are largely unknown to readers of Tolkien’s magnum opus, with what would eventually become the book commenced by the elder Tolkien during the First World War as part of The Book of Lost Tales. Tolkien’s son Christopher notes that the character of Túrin, one of the eponymous Children of Húrin, was significant to his father, as was Húrin himself and his spouse Morwen, with defining characteristics.

The novel tells of life in their household in the frigid country of Dor-lómin during the fearful years during which Morgoth, the original Dark Lord and Sauron’s precursor, broke the Siege of Angband, before Túrin’s birth. Morgoth had set a curse of hared upon the family because of their defiance, and feared them. This time the Ent Treebeard briefly referenced whilst striding through the forest of Fangorn with Merry and Pippin astride him. Sixth years after the return of the Noldor, which ended a peaceful age, Orcs came from Angband, although the Noldor defeated them.

Tolkien called this the Dagor Aglared, the Glorious Battle, although Elvish lords took warning from it, and effected the Siege of Angband, which lasted nearly four centuries. The origins of Men in Middle-earth are hinted at as well, whom the Atani Elves called “the second” and Hildor “the Followers,” having arisen far in the east of the world near the end of the Elder Days. However, little is known about the earliest history of the Men who entered Beleriand during the Long Peace, during the Siege of Angband and its shut gates. Before the main text, a note on the pronunciation of names is provided.

The novel proper opens with mention of Hador Goldenhead, a lord of the Edain and well-beloved by the Eldar, of which Túrin wishes he were one, being eight years old at the time, during the month of Gwaeron in the reckoning of the Edain, when arms were mustering. Morwen, the daughter of Baragund, hopes to restore all the fiefs of Bëor’s house to his heir, and on the morning of Túrin’s birthday, his father gives him a gift, an Elf-produced knife. Following this is the tale of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, during which Fingon falls, and Morgoth is triumphant.

Under the command of Morgoth, Orcs pile their adversaries’ bodies in a mound on the plain of Anfauglith, with the Eldar terming it Haudh-en-Nirnaeth. Three men find their way back to Brethil through an evil road known as the Taur-nu-Fuin, and when Glóredhel, Hador’s daughter, learns about the fall of Haldir, she grieves and dies. Morwen Eledhwen, silently grieving, becomes pregnant again when Túrin is nine, and sees him becoming a slave to the Easterling Men before he comes of age. The autumn of the Year of Lamentation draws on, and she sends her son to the Elves, to Doriath’s King.

During his time in the kingdom of Doriath, Melian watches over Túrin, although he sees her rarely, and when he turns seventeen, he hears little news from home, ultimately leaving, with Beleg Strongbow coming to Menegroth to seek him. Túrin, believing himself an outlaw, wanders westward, leaving the Guarded Realm and entering the woodlands south of Teiglin, encountering Forweg. Thingol sends many messengers to seek Túrin in Doriath and its outerlying regions, although their search proves vain. Beleg returns to Menegroth, approaching Thingol and Melian, informing them of tidings that had transpired.

Mîm the Dwarf soon enters the story, Túrin meeting him and finding that he doesn’t like bondage, going to the Dwarf’s home, Bar-en-Nibin-noeg, the House of Ransom, and they become friends. Túrin ultimately dons the Helm of Hador to Beleg’s delight, with Morgoth hearing word of Túrin’s wanderings, and his Orcs defiling Bar-en-Danwedh. Túrin advances greatly in the favor of Orodreth, becoming the King’s chief counsellor, with Gwindor’s friendship growing cooler towards him. Morwen ultimately flees from Dor-lómin with her daughter Niënor, traveling to Thingol’s halls. Five years elapse since Túrin comes to Nargothrond, with two Elves, Gelmir and Arminas, of the people of Finarfin, having an errand for the Lord of Nargothrond.

Túrin ventures towards Sirion, and takes the new name Turambar, in High-elven speech meaning Master of Doom, finding appreciation among the woodmen. When the Fell Winter ends, new news of Nargothrond comes to Doriath, with survivors seeking refuge with Thingol, and the dragon Glaurung, whom Túrin had previously confronted, holding Niënor hostage. Turambar eventually weds a woman whom he terms Níniel, the Maid of Tears, and tragedy ultimately terminates the story, after which come a few appendices. indicators on the origin and formulation of the story, a dictionary on the names appearing within the story, family trees, and maps.

Overall, this was a rather unusual tale within the world of Middle-earth, with plenty of fantasy and action, although fans of the main Lord of the Rings books might not appreciate the absence of continuity nods to the chief trilogy of the series. The sheer uniqueness of the names within the story definitely distinguish it from other narratives in the genre, and Christopher Tolkien ultimately did a nice job replicating his father’s style. The structure of the story can be a bit ponderous at times, however, and there are some squicky moments of which I wasn’t aware until I reread my notes on the book, but fans of Lord of the Rings will definitely find reason to celebrate from this work.

Cells at Work!

Hataraku Saibou (TV) 

A semi-educational anime about anthropomorphized cells in a human body, focusing primarily on a female red blood cell and a male white blood cell who deal with various intruders into the body they inhabit. Has clear signs it originated in Japan such as the untranslated opening and ending credits and Japanese signs and labels and such, though most of the Japanese within the series does get subtitles, alongside the English dub. It was fairly interesting, and I don't regret watching it.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Witcher

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Netflix series based on the Polish fantasy book series of the same name, and I generally enjoyed it, and am somewhat interested in the books themselves and maybe the videogames that were adapted out of it.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Once Upon a Time in the North

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This fantasy novella by Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials series, serves as a prequel to his main books, opening with a battered cargo balloon coming out of a rainstorm over the White Sea (a body of water by northwestern Russia), with its navigator, the young aeronaut Lee Scoresby, roughly landing on a town in an island within the body of water, Novy Odense. He and his daemon, a female jackrabbit named Hester, visit a bar and learn about the local politics, with the bears in town, which are actually intelligent, considered a menace.

Lee seeks employment from Harbor Master Aagaard, and dines with the librarian Miss Victoria Lund, with whom he speaks about the forthcoming mayoral election, along with the economist Mikhail Ivanovich Vassiliev. Lee further converses with the daughter of the mayoral candidate Ivan Dimitrovich Poliakov, who promises to deal with the bears as part of his political campaign. One of Poliakov’s bodyguards is the gunslinger Pierre Morton, who once used the surname McConville, and is a hired killer with at least twenty murders to his name. One of the intelligent bears, Iorek Byrnison, wants Lee to help Captain van Breda, with whom Lee wants to travel.

Concluding the novelette is a gunfight with McConville, along with a twist about Hester’s species, with this short story in general being enjoyable, although a databank of the various characters would have been welcome, along with reminders that Hester is a lagomorph. While the narrative does touch upon politics, it doesn’t have a lot of sociopolitical commentary, or even the religious annotation prevalent in the main His Dark Materials series. Regardless, those who consider themselves enthusiasts of Pullman’s fantasy series will be the ones most likely to enjoy this story, and I definitely don’t regret reading it.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Silmarillion

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Lord of the Rings creator J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion is an account about the Elder Days of Middle-earth, or its First Age, sometimes touched upon in The Hobbit and its sequel trilogy. Characters such as Elrond and Galadriel took part in it, with its main antagonist being the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, against whom the High Elves warred for the recovery of the Silmarils, which were jewels created by the gifted Elf Fëanor, and in which existed the Light of the Two Trees of Valinor, which Morgoth would ultimately destroy, the initial Dark Lord decorating his crown with the jewels.

The Silmarillion focuses on the rebellion of Fëanor and his kind against the gods in addition to their exile from Valinor, return to Middle-earth, and conflict against the Enemy. Also within the book are shorter works like the Ainulindalë, a myth of the world’s creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and abilities of each of the gods. The Akallabêth narrates the demise of the island kingdom of Númenor that terminates the Second Age, which also features the conflict against the creator of the Rings of Power, Sauron, and the events that herald the end of the Third Age in the main Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Tolkien’s son Christopher mainly compiled the book with the help of Guy Kay, with a preface indicating that the elder Tolkien wrote a letter to Milton Waldman prior to the publication of the Lord of the Rings series. In the text of said letter, Tolkien asked for a “sketch of stuff” related to Middle-earth, detailing events such as Elwing casting herself into the Sea to save a Jewel that comes to Eärendil, with the power of a great Gem passing to Valinor, and accomplishing an errand at the cost of never being allowed again to dwell with Elves or Men.

The Ainulindalë focuses upon the music of the Ainur, beginning with Eru, the One, called Ilúvatar in Arda, who first creates the Ainur, the Holy Ones, scion of his thoughts, who were with their god before all else saw its creation. Ilúvatar would speak with Ulmo, who has command of the water, and Darkness would soon arise, with the siblings Manwë and Melkor conflicting. The Valaquenta is an account of the Valar and the Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar, describing the seven Lords and Queens among the Valar, and the Maiar, the people of the Valar, with Morgoth arising as an adversary.

The bulk of the text consists of the Quenta Silmarillion, the history of the Silmarils, with the First War beginning before Arda was full in shape, with scarcely anything wandering the earth. In the confusion and darkness of the early world Melkor escaped, with Manwë’s voice coming as a mighty wind, and the ground trembling before the feet of Tulkas. The residence fo the Valar on Almaren is destroyed, and the Valar would construct the city Valmar, known especially for its bells, beginning the Days of the Bliss of Valinor and Count of Time, whilst Melkor dwells in Utumno.

The second chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion tells of the creation of the Dwarves by Aulë in the darkness of Middle-earth, with Aulë intending to teach them his lore and crafts. Keeping them secret from the other Valar. Furthermore, the trees of Kementári would ascend high so that the Eagles of the King could dwell among them. For ages, the Valar would peacefully reside in the illumination fo the Trees past the Mountains of Aman, although all Middle-earth lay in twilight under the stars, with the Valar holding council where Yavanna and Oromë reported troubles from the Outer Lands.

The Valar debate what would be the best course of action to guard the Quendi from the shadow of Melkor, with some among the Eldar migrating westward losing themselves. The Vanyar and the Noldor come over Ered Luin, the Blue Mountains, between Eriador and the westernmost land of Middle-earth, which the Elves would call Beleriand, foremost companies passing over the Vale of Sirion and approaching the shores of the Great Sea between Drengist and the Bay of Balar. One chapter afterward focuses on Thingol and Melian, with the latter being a Maia of the race of Valar, dwelling in Lórien and lending great power to Thingol, himself great among the Eldar.

The Vanyar and Noldor eventually come to the last western shores of the Hither Lands, with Ossë following the host of Olwë, and once they reached the Bay of Eldamar, Elvenhome, Ulmo stayed their voyage. Finarfin has four sons and a daughter, Galadriel, hailed to be the most beautiful maiden in the house of Finwë, with gold-illuminated hair. After the description of the Elven family is the tale of how the Teleri came to Aman, having dwelled in Tol Eressëa through a long age, although the Lonely Isle eventually appealed to them, and forsook the city of Tirion upon Túna.

The Three Kindreds of the Eldar ultimately gather in Valinor and chain Melkor, with Indis’ children and their offspring numbering many, and the Noontide of Valinor gradually concluding. Melkor goes into hiding, with Tulkas and the Valar vainly seeking him, supposing he escaped to his old strongholds in northern Middle-earth. In the Ring of Doom, Morgoth breeds bears, demons, and Orcs, with Fëanor leading the Noldor northward to follow Morgoth. The power of Elwë and Melian increases, with the Elves of Beleriand ranging from the mariners of Círdan to the wandering hunters of the Blue Mountains owning the former as their lord.

During the second age of Melkor’s captivity, the Dwarves cross the Blue Mountains of Ered Luin into Beleriand, with Elu Thingol, King Greymantle, the alternate title for Elwë, seeking to arm his people. After the flight of Melkor, the Valar learn the Noldor pass out of Aman and had returned to Middle-earth, arising and setting forth deeds the counsels they had thought for the redress of Melkor’s evils. The lordship of Morgoth remains uncontested except by the Noldor, with the Younger Children of Ilúvatar waking in Hildórien in the east of Middle-earth, although the Sun first rises in the West, opening the eyes of Men.

Fëanor and his sons came first of the Exiles to Middle-earth, landing in the wastes of Lammoth, the Great Echo, on the outside shores of the Firth of Drengist. Morgoth holds Maedhros as a hostage and plans not to release him unless the Noldor would give up on their war, return to the West, or leave Beleriand into the South of the world. Caranthir’s people and the Dwarves have a reluctant alliance against Morgoth, with Fingolfin, King of the Noldor, having a great feast near the pools of Ivrin whence came the river Narog, with Morgoth wishing to assault him whilst unaware.

The fourteenth chapter tells about the lands into which the Noldor came, north of the western areas of Middle-earth, in addition to how the Eldar’s chieftains held their lands whilst battling Morgoth. In the world’s north, Melkor uses Ered Engrin, the Iron Mountains, as a natural barrier to his citadel of Utumno. The Noldor hold Fingolfin as an overlord, along with his successor Fingon, with their realm being the northern land of Hithlum, feared by Orcs and hated by Morgoth. The chapter also tells about the river Gelion, rising in two sources: Little Gelion, which comes from the Hill of Himring; and Greater Gelion, coming from Mount Rerir.

By the guidance of Ulmo Turgon of Nevrast, the hidden vale of Tumladen was discovered, which lay east of the upper waters of Sirion, in a ring of mountains none except Thorondor’s eagles brave. While the city of Goldolin secretly saw its construction, Finrod Felagund lives in the deep places of Nargothrond, while his sister Galadriel dwells in Thingol’s realm in Doriath. Melian doesn’t believe the Noldor were messengers of the Valar, not long afterward did the Sindar spread tales about the Noldor’s deeds when they came to Beleriand. Thingol, furthermore, has a grudge against Finrod, the son of Eärwen, for his slaying of his mother’s kin.

Aredhel Ar-Feiniel, the White Lady of the Noldor, the daughter of Fingolfin, resides in Nevrast with her brother Turgon, and goes with him to the Hidden Kingdom. Eöl weds Aredhel, and she fades into obscurity; no one said that Aredhel was unwilling to marry, nor that her residence in Nan Elmoth was hateful for years. Maeglin takes Turgon for his lord and king, and takes amazement of Gondolin’s splendor. Three centuries since the Noldor came to Beleriand, during the Long Peace, Finrod Felagund, the lord of Nargothrond, goes east of Sirion and hunts with Malgor and Maehros, Fëanor’s sons.

It is said that Men numbered at first few, with Morgoth fearing the growing power and union of the Eldar, returning to Angband and leaving behind a few servants. Felagund learns from Bëor that many other Men were journeying westward, with the humans coming also into Beleriand. Dreams of the coming of Men trouble King Thingol, with many remaining in Estolad, with a mingling of people there years afterward. During this time, the Haladin stay in Thargelion and proved content, with olden Edain learning from the Eldar art and knowledge, until they surpass Mankind, who still lived east of the mountains and hadn’t seen the Eldar.

Fingolfin, King of the North and High King of the Noldor, noticing his people numerous and strong and that Men allied to them proved fruitful and brave, wants to attack Angband, knowing they were endangered and Morgoth labored deep in the mines he inhabited. When the fall of Fingolfin becomes known, Fingon sorrowfully takes the lordship of the house of Fingolfin and the kingdom of the Noldor, sending his son Ereinion, afterward named Gil-galad, to the Havens. Morgoth’s power overshadows the Northlands, but Barahir wouldn’t flee from Dorthonion, with the sources of Sirion a source of conflict.

The nineteenth chapter focuses upon the love tale of Beren and Lúthien, with the former wandering for four years in Dorthonion as a solitary outlaw, although he befriends birds and beasts that consequentially aided and didn’t betray him, becoming vegetarian and pacifist. Thingol effects the doom of Doriath, with the curse of Mandos ensnaring him. According to the Lay of Leithian, Beren passes through Doriath unhindered, reaching the Twilight Meres and the Fens of Sirion. Leaving Thingol’s dominion he ascends the hills above the Falls of Sirion, where water plunged underground noisily.

King Felagund talks to his people, recalling the deeds of Barahir and his vow, declaring he had obligation to assist the son of Barahir, thus seeking to help chieftains. The same chapter sports the lyrics of the mentioned Lay, with an anecdote about how forthcoming Dark Lord Sauron casts Felagund into a pit, with horror coming to Lúthien’s heart, and Huan devising a plan to aid her. Beren and Felagund lay in Sauron’s pit, their companions dying, with Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel ultimately going free whilst Huan rides north to the Pass of Sirion, the couple arriving at a dale before the Gate of Angband.

Beren and Lúthien return to the northern regions of Middle-earth, residing together for a time as man and woman, until they take up their mortal form again in Doriath. During those times, Maedhros, the son of Fëanor, perceives that Morgoth is not unassailable, with Húrin warning the Noldor of Morgoth’s trickery. Morgoth has triumph in the form of Men killing one another and betraying the Eldar, with fear and hatred aroused among those that should have had union against the Dark Lord. Morgoth focuses his attention upon Turgon, with Húrin brought the before the Dark Lord, defying and mocking him.

The chapter afterward centers on Túrin Turambar, with initial mention of Rían, daughter of Belegund, being the wife of Huor, the son of Galdor, whom she wedded two months before he departed with his brother Húrin to the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Beleg returns to the Thousand Caves, approaching Thingol and Melian and bringing them up to date with their tidings. Deep winter falls upon the river-vales of Amon Rûdh, with the season worsening in Belerian as Angband’s power accumulates. Initially, Túrin’s people don’t know Gwindor, who went out innocent and returned as an aged Man.

However, Finduilas, the daughter of Orodreth the King welcomes him, having loved him before the Nirnaeth, and Gwindor loved Finduilas so much that she termed her Faelivrin, referring to the illumination of the sun on the pools of Ivrin. During that time, when due to the acomplishments of the Mormegil Morgoth’s power stemmed west of Sirion, Morwen flees from Dor-lómin with Nienor her daughter and adventures to Thingol’s halls. Túrin comes with the first winter ice to Irvin, and Finduilas is killed and laid in a tomb named Haudh-en-Elleth, Mound of the Elf-maid, with the Elves singing a lament for the Children of Húrin.

Even after the story of Túrin Turambar, Morgoth didn’t break from evil, and his dealings with the house of Hador had not ended. A seer and harpist named Glirhuin composed a song stating that the Stone of the Hapless shouldn’t be defiled by Morgoth or thrown down. Húrin crosses the Teiglin and passes south an ancient road en route to Nargothrond, seeing far to the east the lonely Amon Rûdh. When Húrin was gone from Menegroth, Melian foresees the doom of Doriath, with a lord of the Green-elves from Ossiriand coming and informing of a Silmaril of Fëanor burning in the woods of Doriath.

While Húrin died in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, during the winter of the conflict his wife Rían birth a child in the wilds of Mithrim, Tuor, whom Annael of the Grey-elves fostered. There also existed a dangerous pass, Cirith Thoronath, the Eagles’ Cleft, walled on its right by a precipice and on the left an abyss into emptiness. Tuor erects a great ship and names it Eärrámë, or Sea-Wing, with Idril Celebrindal sailing West and disappearing from the world. The next chapter focuses on Eärendil, lord of the people dwelling at Sirion’s mouths, who would bear with his wife Elwing Half-elven children Elrond and Elros.

Few among the Teleri willed to go to war, remembering death at the Swanhaven and the desecration of their ships, but they listened to Elwing, daughter of Dior Eluchíl, and sent mariners to bear the host of Valinor east across the sea. Little is known about the march of the Valar north of Middle-earth, since none of the Elves who lived and suffered in the Hither Lands went with them, these things they learning long afterwards from their kin in Aman. Maglor couldn’t endure the pain with which the Silmaril tormented him, and he cast the jewel into the Sea, the Eldar wailing west and never returning.

After the end of the Silmarillion proper is the Akallabêth, narrating the downfall of Númenor, beginning with Men coming into the world in the time of the Shadow of Morgoth, under whose dominion they fell. Manwë shuts Morgoth beyond the World in the Void, ensuring that the Dark Lord cannot return again into the living world while the Lords of the West still had their thrones. Sauron again arises in Middle-earth, returning to the evil that Morgoth had instilled into him. Númenóreans move against the “menace” of the West, using slaves to drive their vessel, with several of the mariners founding kingdoms in Middle-earth.

The last significant chunk of the book’s text relates the story of Sauron the Maia, whom the Sindar in Beleriand named Gorthaur. During the Great Battle and tumults of the fall of Thangorodrim, the earth convulsed, with Beleriand broken and laid waste, and to the north and west many lands sinking below the waters of the Great Sea. In Eregion, the artisans of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, the People of the Jewel-smiths, provide Celebrimbor, son of Curufin, estranged from his father and remaining in Nargothrond when Celegorm and Curufin were driven forth. In other areas of Middle-earth, peace reigned for many years, with only the lands of the Beleriand not savage or desolate.

The towers of Emyn Beraid were not constructed by the Exiles of Númenor, but rather Gilgalad for Elendil, his friend, with the Seeing Stone of Emyn Beraid set in Elostirion, the tallest of the towers. The Exiles establish kingdoms in Arnor and Gondor, and ultimately find themselves in conflict with Sauron, whose own realm, Mordor, laid siege to Gil-galad and Elendil. A great conflict between the Humans, Elves, and Sauron indicated the transition between the Second and Third Ages, with Aragorn, son of Arathorn, an heir to Isildur, leading the Men to victory against Sauron.

Ending the book are notes on pronunciation, an index of names, an appendix about elements in Quenya and Sindarin names, maps, and family trees. Overall, The Silmarillion is definitely a deep tome about the mythos serving as a base for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings franchise, faithfully preserved by his son Christopher after his father’s death. Granted, it is somewhat heavy on lore and a little light on action, but fans of Tolkien’s magnum opus are sure to take great appreciation in it. I definitely don’t regret rereading it, and would very much recommend it to those seeking extensive backstory on the Lord of the Rings series.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Lost in Space

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A reimagining of the 1960s science-fiction television series about a family, the Robinsons, who become, you guessed it, lost in space. Fairly enjoyable, and it's certain to age better than its precursor.