All posts tagged "fantasy"

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Beyond the Hobbit - the Hidden Corners of Middle Earth

The Hobbit coverThe second part of the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, "The Desolation of Smaug", is now playing in theaters across the country.  If you still need an available library copy to read, try this edition.  But what if you've already read the core published tales of Middle Earth: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion?  What else is out there?


One of my current reading projects is the 12 volume History of Middle Earth series (I'm about to start vol. 6).  This is not, as the name suggests, a chronicle of every event that happened throughout the ages in Tolkien's fictitious world.  Instead, its a "history" of the writing of the published Middle Earth tales.  Together with the earlier Unfinished Tales, this series is Christopher Tolkien's attempt to compile all of his father's earlier drafts and incomplete or miscellaneous Middle Earth writings.  While the series does contain a lot of "dry" pieces (timelines, encyclopedia-like descriptions, and linguistic analysis) there are some narrative gems.  Here are some highlights I've discovered so far for anyone wanting to expand on the original tales:


The Silmarillion - The First Age of Middle Earth

Three tales within The Silmarillion, involving Morgoth's destruction of the final three hidden kingdoms of the Elves, were considered the "centerpieces" of the work by Tolkien.  He often experimented with telling them in different formats, including longer, more intimate, narratives that are closer to The Lord of the Rings in style than the compressed versions that saw publication.

  • The Lays of Beleriand coverThe Tale of Beren and Luthien - Rings readers may recognize this story as one briefly sung by Aragorn about his ancestors in The Fellowship of the Ring.  In The Silmarillion, the story runs only 25 pages with a brief conclusion in a later chapter.  But Tolkien attempted to write a very readable epic poem version of this tale that can be found in The Lays of Beleriand ("The Lay of Leithien").  The poem was left unfinished about two thirds of the way through the story, but it greatly fleshes out the characters and actions of Beren and Luthien.
  • The Tale of Turin Turambar - This 28 page chapter in The Silmarillion, has been expanded to a 200+ page novel - the recently released The Children of Hurin. My favorite of the First Age stories. (for more on this tale, see last year's "Beyond the Hobbit" blog)
  • The Book of Lost Tales, Part 2 coverThe Tale Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin - The Tuor/Gondolin story is given a scant 8 page treatment in The Silmarillion, with Tuor being barely memorable as a character.  However, the earliest version (50 pgs), found in The Book of Lost Tales, Part 2 (page 149), does particular justice to the epic action sequence of the city's fall.  I normally wouldn't recommend a story from this early in the development simply because it would be so out of step with the final version as it evolved over time, but the "Fall of Gondolin" is an exception and seldom contradicts details of the final version in any significant way.  Another later version of the Tuor story can be found in Unfinished Tales (page 17).  In it, Tolkien attempts an even more detailed version that runs for 35 pages, covering about a third of the story up to Turin's entrance to the city.

The Second Age of Middle Earth

Unfinished Tales coverOther than the brief account of the fall of the island kingdom of Numenor found at the end of The Silmarillion, Tolkien's only other writing about the Second Age is "Aldarion and Erendis: the Mariner's Wife" found in Unfinished Tales.  It's an unusual piece in that it doesn't deal with epic events but rather chronicles the slow disintegration of King Aldarion's marriage as his love for the sea constantly pulls him away from his beloved Erendis on voyages of adventure.  Sadly, only sketchy outlines indicate how the abandoned story might have concluded.


The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings - The Third Age of Middle Earth

Highly recommended is "The Quest of Erebor" from Unfinished Tales.  This is a short account by Gandalf of the events leading up to The Hobbit, spoken to members of the Fellowship of the Ring following the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings.  Film-maker Peter Jackson has incorporated much of this material into his adaptation of The Hobbit, along with the very readable histories of the dwarves found in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings"The Disaster of the Gladden Fields", also from Unfinished Tales, is another short interesting piece that relates the death of Isildur and the original loss of the One Ring (before Gollum finds it much much later).  Aside from these two stories, I have yet to run across much material from the Rings-era that I can consider an enthralling read.  But Volume 6 of the History of Middle Earth series will begin the manuscripts from the writing of The Lord of the Rings, so I'll see what else might be uncovered for 2014!

Fantasy with a Little Romance (for young or not-so-young adults)

If you’re a fan of lighter fantasy with a romantic slant for younger adults, you might enjoy these five books:


Sunshine book coverGraceling coverLife After Life cover imageBound cover imageMatched cover


  1. Sunshine by Robin McKinley. When Sunshine, a coffee shop baker, finds herself shackled inside an old mansion, she must draw upon her inner strength to escape. Her fellow captive, Constantine, turns out to be an appealing vampire with common enemies. Sunshine and Constantine become entangled in a complicated, shadowy and sometimes amusing relationship.
  2. Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Katsa lives in a world in which some people are born with natural skills, called Graces. Horrified to learn that her own Grace is the ability to kill, Katsa engages in an adventure to save her realm and answer personal questions about good and evil, love, and redemption.
  3. Matched by Ally Condie. In this dystopian fantasy, Society decides everything, including the person you marry. When Cassia is matched with her best friend Xander, she is relieved… but a glitch in the system causes another face to appear during the matching process, creating confusion and potential danger for Cassia.
  4. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This novel follows the unusual life of Ursula Todd. Ursula has died many times since her birth in 1910, only to be reborn over and over again.
  5. Bound by Donna Jo Napoli. This novel, based on the classic Chinese story of Cinderella, traces the difficult life of Xing Xing and her struggle to cope with the traditions that bind her.


Tell us what you liked or didn’t like about these books in a comment below.  Want librarian recommended books just for you? Check out 5forU, a service for readers.

Talk Like A Pirate Day!

How I Became a Pirate coverAvast, me hearties! This Thursday, Septembarrrr 19th, be Talk Like a Pirate Day! Are ye scallywags prepared?


First ye need to pick up one of me favorite books, How I Became A Pirate by the lovely Melinda Long. This tale will bring a tear to ye eyes, as well as a grand sense adventure. Perfect for yer little ones, and ye'll be yammerin' like a pirate in no time.


Anotharrr favorite of mine be The Pirate Cruncher, written and illustrated by the talented landlubber, Jonny Duddle. After this, you'll no longer want to dress like a landlubber.


Fer the teens (and adults if they like), Pirates! : the true and remarkable adventures of Minerva Sharpe and Nancy Kington, is a true tale about women with pirattitude!

And if yer thirsting fer some more adventarrrr, I reccomend anything from the Cap'n Gideon Defoe, such as The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists.


I then whole heartedly demand that ye get yer family together and watch The Pirates!: Band of Misfits. Done by arrrmazing folks at Aardman Animations, this film will make pirates of all ages roar with laughter. Have yer own ham night and feast like a pirate!


There ye go! Ye now have what ye need to walk, talk, and eat like a pirate! But most importantly, have fun! Pirates are all about havin' fun. And if ye be needing more, check out the endless treasure trove of pirate bounty at ye public library. Yarrrrrr!

Posted by J Novak on Sep 18, 2013 | Comments: 1 |

Game of Thrones

Game of ThronesIt's been six months since the season 3 premier of the hit HBO show Game of Thrones, and everyone still can't stop talking about it! Are you already planning your season 4 premier party for next spring, or still considering checking out the series?


Getting HBO programming before it airs has never been easier, just visit your local library! Game of Thrones is based off of the popular book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin. Begin your trip to Westeros with A Game of Thrones, book one of the series. 

If getting through 800 pages seems a bit daunting, check out A Game of Thrones audio book and listen to this epic story while you multitask.


For those who want to dive into the show, check out Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season and you will be hooked. 


For those who are caught up with the first 2 seasons on dvd, the season 3 will be released February 18, 2014. While that does seem like a long wait, fans can pass the time by checking out some other Game of Thrones related books:


Shot in several countries and one of the biggest budgeted programs currently on television, Game of Thrones is one of the best looking shows on TV. Inside HBO's Game of Thrones gives you an in-depth behind the scenes look at what it takes to bring the worlds of Westeros to life.

And for those who want to dine like a king, check out A Feast of Ice and Fire. This cookbook has many recipes featured and inspired by the books.

Game of Thrones

Last week, HBO released the second season of their massively popular and critically acclaimed series Game of Thrones on DVD and Blu-ray.  And if you have HBO, you probably already know that the third season will premiere on the strategically chosen date of 3-31-13. 


If you haven’t already seen it, or want to watch it again, you can check out Season 1 from your nearest location.   San José Public Library has ordered several copies of Season 2 and they should be appearing on the shelves soon!


The award-winning television show, a surprisingly faithful adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, premiered in 2011 and quickly gathered a mass following that swelled the ranks of already ardent fans of the books.


The first five books of the planned seven-volume series are currently available.  The epic fantasy has been praised for its realism, depiction of political intrigue, morally ambiguous characters, and unpredictability among other things.  Just a warning: Don’t get too attached to any one character.  No character is safe from being killed off, but the series is so good you will just dry your tears and read on.  You can pick up or download any of the five books at SJPL.


If you have already read the books, you can check out the graphic novel, the soundtrack, and the official or unofficial cookbook.  There’s even a book focusing on philosophical issues in the series called Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper Than Swords.



Whether you choose to watch, read, or listen, enjoy immersing yourself in the world of Westeros!

Beyond The Hobbit - Where to Go Next in Middle Earth

The Hobbit book coverThe first part of the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, "An Unexpected Journey", opens this Friday in theaters.  No surprise - interest in the book has increased as evidenced by the amount of hold requests on our library copies (check out this edition if you still need a copy).  So, let's say you've read both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and you want more Middle Earth.  What's next?


The First Age of Middle Earth


The Silmarillion coverTolkien spent most of his career as a writer refining the mythology that would become the "back story" to the published "Rings" era (the Third Age) but these tales only saw publication following his death in the form of The Silmarillion.  This is very much "The Bible" of Middle Earth in both content and narrative approach.  It tells the epic history of the world from its very creation to the end of the First Age as Elves (and later, Men) struggle against the evil forces of Morgoth (the Lucifer figure) and attempt to regain the three holy jewels, the Silmarils, he stole from them. 


Despite its beautiful and ambitious scope, readers familiar with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings can sometimes find The Silmarillion a bit hard to get into.  Because it covers a millennia or so, there is less dialogue, characters are less defined, and events are concise and compressed.  The narrative approach is rather similar to the historical Appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings (you didn't skip those, right?).  The Silmarillion is also lacking a single overall protagonist; instead, characters come and go between chapters as they fall victim to the passage of time and frequent tragic deaths.  There are also no familiar cross-over characters or places from the Rings books (except briefly for Galadriel, and a small role for Sauron); in fact, most of the lands of The Silmarillion no longer exist by the time of The Lord of the Rings.


Tolkien does a lot of "name-dropping", and since everyone and everything tends to have multiple names, I found it useful on my first reading to constantly be double-checking every name reference in a companion book such as The Complete Guide to Middle Earth.  Yes, you get some spoilers, but it also helps keep you focused on the big picture - where things are going and which details you should pay attention to.


Children of Hurin coverIf you find yourself overwhelmed by The Silmarillion and want an experience closer to The Lord of the Rings, try the recently released The Children of Hurin.  This takes the Tale of Turin Turambar, a 28 page chapter in The Silmarillion, and expands it to a 200+ page novel (with big print, for a change).  Hot-headed Turin battles Morgoth's forces but is cursed to unintentionally carry out Morgoth's will, leading to the destruction of one of the three hidden kingdoms of the Elves and Turin's own tragic fate. The story is self-contained enough that it can be enjoyed without knowledge of its place in the greater scheme of events told in The Silmarillion.  Tolkien often attempted to tell stories of the First Age in longer formats like this, but The Children of Hurin is the only one that was complete enough to stand on its own, with a bit of patching.  (You can see the original version with holes intact in Unfinished Tales)


Stay tuned for more highlights of the First Age from Tolkien's incomplete and miscellaneous writings...

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