Thursday, July 23, 2015

Five Thoughts on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Since this (!!!) is coming soon...

... I am talking about The Hobbit today! Who doesn't love The Hobbit? (If you, for some unfathomable reason, do not love it, please do not tell me. It will create feelings of animosity.)

Five Thoughts on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

1. Hobbits are English. 
Hobbits are unfailingly polite and expect the same of others. When they are in a social situation that becomes awkward or uncomfortable, they resort to politeness. When they do not know what to do with themselves, they resort to politeness. When someone says something uncouth or in anger, they resort to politeness. It is their default mode. Martin Freeman does an excellent job of capturing this fundamental character trait of hobbits. Bilbo is much more refined than his dwarvish companions and has a hard time relating to them in the beginning. I like to believe that Tolkien is poking fun at the English and their manners, showing that they do have a place but are not as important as they (and hobbits) seem to think they are.

"Sorry! I don't want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea – any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!"

2. Beorn is a berserk(er).
The first time I read The Hobbit I devoured it, racing to finish it. This time I read at a more leisurely pace so I could notice details I had previously overlooked. Beorn in his warrior aspect was one such detail. The descriptions of him (and his wrath) during the Battle of the Five Armies was so quintessentially Anglo-Saxon/Norse that I cannot believe I missed it the first time. Beorn is my favorite character even though he plays such a small role. He can shapeshift into a bear, lives in a beautiful woodland home with beautiful horses, and has such fighting prowess that he can single-handedly turn the tide of a battle. Awesome.

"He came alone, and in bear's shape; and he seemed to have grown almost to giant-sized in his wrath."

3. Bilbo as thief of the hoard.
Hello, Beowulf allusion! In the Anglo-Saxon poem it is the theft of a cup by an unknown retainer that incites the dragon's wrath against Beowulf and the Geats. Guess what happens when Bilbo takes a cup from Smaug's hoard? One rage-filled dragon awakens to wreak fiery destruction upon the mountain. Bilbo could have taken any number of items from the hoard to prove he had been down there, yet he chooses a cup. Coincidence? Most definitely not.

"He grasped a great two-handled cup, as heavy as he could carry, and cast one fearful eye upwards... His heart was beating and a more fevered shaking was in his legs than when he was going down, but still he clutched the cup, and his chief thought was: 'I've done it! This will show them.'" – The Hobbit

"Therein went some nameless man, creeping in nigh to the pagan treasure; his hand seized a goblet deep, bright with gems... By no means of intent had that man broken the dragon's hoard of his own will, he who thus wronged him grievously but in dire need, being the thrall of some one among the sons of mighty men..." – Beowulf (Tolkien's translation)

4. Companions make or break a quest (or journey, or vacation).
This is the greatest strength of The Hobbit (and LOTR, I suspect). The dwarves need Bilbo and Bilbo needs the dwarves – and everyone needs Gandalf – to survive and complete their quest. Theirs is a relationship forged in the fires of suffering, loss, hardship, and long odds. The dwarves change Bilbo and Bilbo changes the dwarves. Their bond is cemented in a way that few bonds in reality are. Wouldn't it be wonderful if our society were more like the characters in these stories, who stick to the hard path and do not give up when the going gets tough because they know they can count on their friends to help them through (and vice versa).

"This is a bitter adventure, if it must end so; and not a mountain of gold can amend it. Yet I am glad that I have shared in your perils – that has been more than any Baggins deserves."

Y'all. I could go on a 5-page rant on how much I loathed what Peter Jackson did to The Hobbit. The first movie was great, which made the second and third that much more gross. No lie – you can ask my friend, Lauren – I almost got up and walked out of the theater when freakin' Kate from Lost showed up as a girl elf who is in the middle of a LOVE TRIANGLE. I am getting angry just thinking about it. I need to go drink some chamomile tea.

Rereading The Hobbit cemented its place on my top ten favorite books list. It was even better the second time around, which in my opinion is a mark of a great book. If you haven't read it, please do so. As a favor to me. And even if you do not like fantasy, please give it a try. It never hurts to stretch your horizons, as evidenced by Bilbo Baggins :)

Other Posts on The Hobbit
Top Ten Favorite Quotes From The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Bookish Place: Bookstory | Cluj, Romania
What To Do With All Those Gift Cards?!
Top Ten Tuesday: Under Our Tree
Top Ten Things On Our Bookish Bucket List

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tea Time in the Summer

For those of us who are raised in the South, or anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the South, or just anyone who is familiar with Southern stereotypes, the drink of summer is sweet tea. This is not so unusual as summers in the South can be somewhat... intense. Case in point, it was 90F by 10:00 AM yesterday, with the humidity hovering at about 83%. This is my kind of weather. Yes, I realize I am in the minority. I am truly sorry that more people cannot appreciate the heat and thickness and heaviness of the air outside. It feels so much more alive than the air produced by air conditioning. Anyways, this is not a post about weather, believe it or not; this is a post about tea. Another way in which I am a minority is that I do not like sweet tea and never have. Give me hot tea or no tea at all. Just because it is shimmery with heat and humidity outside does not mean I stop drinking this elixir of the gods.

I have discovered two new teas that have made their way into my top five all-time favorite teas. Whether you can drink hot drinks in the summer or not, you need to know about them. Both are from Harney & Sons, though one I have only found at The Fresh Market and the other one I have found at The Fresh Market, Publix, and Barnes and Noble. Both are black teas because that is the best, in my humble opinion. Someone once told me that green teas are better gateway teas because their flavor is not as strong. If you like the taste of grass then by all means, please, go with green teas (Just kidding. There are some pretty good green teas out there, they just aren't my favorites).

The easier to find of the two, and the one more likely to be a gateway tea, is Hot Cinnamon Spice. This tea is the only tea I have ever had that tastes exactly like it smells. If you love cinnamon then you will love this tea. The flavor is so strong that it does not need any type of sweetener.

The second tea is called Paris. This one I drink with a bit of milk and honey. There are several flavors that make up this tea, giving it a robust fullness that is wonderful. A couple of friends have tried this one and loved it so you do not have to take just my word for it :)

I also have two tea-related items to share, though you might hate me for one of them. In Romania there is a sweet old man (actually, I do not know if he is sweet. He seems sweet) that sells honey with these awesome pump tops. He is brilliant and should go on Shark Tank because everyone knows how messy honey is. This top prevents any of that, barring human error. Honey is a wonderful sweetener and much healthier than most other options.

The second is this diffuser. My sweet mother-in-law found this for me at Bed Bath and Beyond, I believe. It is awesome because the shape allows you to use it to stir your tea. I am sure there are hard-core tea enthusiasts who would frown on this but I really like the convenience of it.

Whether you wait for colder weather or, like me, enjoy hot tea no matter the season, I hope you try one of these teas. If you do not like tea, thank you for your patience with this post!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chaucer Takes on the Internet... and Wins

I went to a conference for Medieval and Renaissance studies last month <insert nerd jokes that I've never heard before> to present a paper on an recent adaptation of Beowulf. One of the people on my panel, Jessica, was presenting a paper on a project that she and some of her friends created called Pilgrim's Prize. It is SO neat that I wanted to share it with y'all because y'all need to know it exists.

Pilgrim's Prize as described by Jessica – "Pilgrim's Prize is a year long project supported by the University of Edinburgh. It is a modernized adaptation of The Canterbury Tales told through a variety of online media. It aims to bring the Tales to a digitally savvy audience and mimic the hyper-textual and non-linear narrative style employed so well by Chaucer over six hundred years ago."

Interpretation – This is a modern retelling of The Canterbury Tales through online forums, Twitter, blogs, advice columns, Storify, etc. The creators of the project have split up the characters from the original, created online personas, and have them engaged in a storytelling contest. The characters – and the audience! – are able to interact with one another.

See how awesome that is?! The Canterbury Tales are not the easiest read, though they are well worth the effort. Pilgrim's Prize interprets them for a modern audience in ways that a modern audience understands. Each character has their own Twitter account so you can follow and interact with them. You can read all about the characters on the Artists portion of the website. For those of you who are familiar with the Tales you will be able to figure out who the characters are. For those of you who are not, you will enjoy a clever storytelling competition and hopefully go pick up a copy of the original to read alongside.

Moral of this blog post – GO visit Pilgrim's Prize ASAP. Stop wasting time on Buzzfeed or Facebook or any of the hundred mindless websites out there. If you are a high school English teacher, use this website! It makes the Tales so much more relatable for your students.

*For those of you who do not know what The Canterbury Tales are or do not remember from high school, you can find an overview here.