Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pop Quiz: The Hobbit

San Diego Comic Con 2012, Photo by Rudy Eats

You've read the book. More than once. And now you've seen the movie in 3D, IMAX, and HFR. So you should be more than ready to ace this short quiz about The Hobbit. (Or maybe not. I have to confess that some of these questions are for freaks and fanatics--but answers are included.)

1.) How many meals do hobbits regularly eat in a day? (That is, for those that divide the eating continuum into separate events.)

2.) When was Bilbo Baggins born: month, day, year, era? 

3.) Who were Bilbo's parents? 

4.) Where do Bilbo and Gollum meet? (Hint: not in the parking lot of The Green Dragon.)

5) What are the names of the three trolls in this story?  (Hint: Curly is not one of them.)

6.) Where did Tolkien get his dwarf names? 

7.) What does the name Gandalf mean? 

8.) What were the three swords that the dwarves found in the trolls' cave?  

9.) How did Thorin get the name Oakenshield?

10.) Which characters from The Lord of the Rings trilogy appear in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?

1.) Hobbit meals: six, "when they can get them"
2.) Bilbo's birthday: September 22nd, in the year 2890 of the third age of Middle-earth.
3.) Bilbo's parents: Bungo Baggins (father) and Belladonna Took (mother)
4.) Where Bilbo met Gollum: in a cavern beneath the Misty Mountains
5.) The three trolls: Bert, Bill, and Tom
6.) Dwarf names? If you guessed "from the dwarf phone book," you aren't far off. Most are listed as the names of dwarves in the Elder Eddas. "Oin" and "Balin" were created by Tolkien to rhyme with Gloin and Dwalin.
7.) Gandalf. If you guessed "Gray-bearded smoke-ring-blower guy," at least you're trying. Very trying. In Norse, Gandalf means "wand-elf." or "sorcerer-elf."
8.) The three swords: Orcrist, "Goblin-cleaver"; Glamdring, "Foe-hammer"; and Sting (which was technically a knife but just the right size for a hobbit sword)
9.) The name Oakenshield? By using an oak branch as a shield during a battle
10.) Characters from LOTR: Gandalf, older Bilbo, Frodo, Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman, and Gollum. Also, Radagast the Brown--from the book version. Um, am I forgetting any others? 

If you missed more than three questions, you must be spending too much time in the real world. I suggest the following remedy. Treat yourself to another showing of the movie--and you might also enjoy reading The Annotated Hobbit, by Douglas A. Anderson. Lots of fascinating information you don't need to know but really, really want to.

Premier of The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Nerd Mall

Yesterday I talked my poor husband into taking me to a big mall. I thought we'd visit some of the science stores that I remembered from a few years ago.

Epic fail.

We walked and walked past clothing stores, bath and beauty stores, more clothing stores, toy stores, more clothing stores, blah-blah-blah stores, and even more clothing stores 

A couple of times I thought we were getting somewhere. There was a store called "Bare Minerals." Oh boy, I thought. Rocks.

Not rocks. Make-up.

My heart skipped a beat when the sign said "Fossils." I envisioned polished trilobites and chambered nautiluses. Nope. Fossils sells clothes.

No science stores. No book stores. Apparently the mall now caters to well-dressed people with under-fed minds.

How I wish someone would open a Nerd Mall, for all the stuff I can't get at the regular mall. This mall would sell the important things, stuff you really need. . . . 
  • Maps of Middle-earth hand-drawn on aged parchment
  • Star Trek (original series) communicators
  • Action figures of Thor and Loki from The Avengers
  • vintage comic books
  • rock polishing kits (extra nerd points with this purchase)
  • real fossils

  • Tartis and Dalek Christmas ornaments
  • A sonic screwdriver
  • tee shirts with Snoopy writing cartoons
  • a replica of the diary in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade
  • Beatrix Potter prints and figurines
  • Harry Potter glasses

  • elven cloaks
  • suits of armor, chain mail, mithril
  • swords and bejeweled daggers
  • video games based on myth and puzzle-solving
  • DVD's of "The Making of the Making of the Making of LOTR"--with extra footage!
  • a DVD of October Sky with model rocket included
  • math puzzles, word games, trading cards

Oh yeah, and it goes without saying, but just in case it doesn't--BOOKS! This mall would have many book stores, featuring all kinds of wonderful children's picture books, mythology, fairy tales, science fiction, fantasy--and old books and rare books.

Stores would have names like Stones and Bones (archaeology), The Petrified Forest (paleontology), Everything Dickens, Legend & Lore, The Shark's Tooth (oceanography), Once Upon Time (special relativity), Alternate Universe (quantum mechanics), and Inklings, Inc.

In the courtyards, musicians would play and dancers would dance. Potters, painters, and basket weavers would work their arts. You might pause to attend a performance by actors or acrobats or a lecture by a visiting scientist. And there would be plenty of tea and coffee shops where you can ponder the meaning of life and write your novel.

The food court would serve Mr. MacGregor's Garden Salad, Princess-and-the-Pea Soup, Magic Bean Sprouts, Goldilocks' Porridge, Willy Wonka's chocolate bars, Stone Soup, and Snow White Apple Pie topped with Ambrosia Ice Cream.

We have enough malls devoted to the body--it's time for a mall of the mind and the heart. So if anybody has a few million to invest in a great new business proposition, send those checks and money orders to The Stark Raving Mythopath, and maybe next year Christmas shopping will be so much simpler and much more fun. . .at the Nerd Mall.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Secret Life in Letters

Can anyone else remember the days when going to the mailbox was fun because you never knew when you might find something wondrous tucked in among the bills and used car lot ads? Something we used to call a letter?

And will anyone admit to having a secret stash of old letters, perhaps written in a frilly fountain-pen script, kept in a cigar box, treasured forever? Love letters. Or letters from a dear friend. Letters that made a long journey over rivers and mountains and plains to your mailbox, a journey from the sender’s heart to yours.

One of my favorite letter writing adventures happened in high school. My friend Doug went away to Wheaton College, and he wrote to me about his classes and his struggles with his family. I felt like I had a secret life, writing to Doug. No matter how harassing school was sometimes, there was always the possibility that I might come home that afternoon and find another letter from Doug. My mother wasn't quite sure this correspondence was proper, and that made it all the more delicious. 

When it was my turn to go away to college, I remember sitting in classes, writing letters home to Mom and Dad. It was a way for me to process the events of my new life and to preserve the ties with my old life. Years later, when we cleaned out my parents' house for the last time, I found those letters, full of memories, a piece of my younger self preserved in those hand-written pages.

There’s just something wonderful about letters, especially when they are filled with warmth, wit, and cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die confidences. Back in the day, letters from Karen came in her beautiful elven-like script, full of excitement about books and music. Letters from Brenda, written on yellow legal pad sheets, were funny and whimsical. Letters from Steve were typed and literary and questioned the meaning of everything. Oh my gosh, I miss letters so much!

And that is precisely the feeling I get from a novel recommended by my friend Kathy: The Guernsey  Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The story is told entirely through letters written by the characters—Juliet Ashton, a nonfiction writer; Sidney Stark, her publisher; and Dawsey Adams and the other quirky members of a book club on the Island of Guernsey, in the English Channel. The time is post World War II, and Guernsey, occupied by Nazis during the war, has many stories to tell.

The real story opens with a letter from Dawsey to Juliet, written simply because he had stumbled upon a book she used to own. From that simple beginning, a tale unfolds of many acts of courage and defiance during the Occupation, of a girl's doomed love affair with a German soldier, of their daughter being raised by the Literary Society. Juliet will travel to Guernsey and meet her new friends and her new life.

The Chanel Islands

There are special challenges in writing an epistolary novel. The letters must be written in the authentic voices of the characters, and the letters must tell a bigger story that builds to a climax. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society rises to these challenges and succeeds brilliantly.

If like me, you miss the days when people wrote long and lovely letters, just wait for a snowy afternoon and curl up on the couch with a cup of peppermint tea and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.