November 26, 2019

Tolkien Christmas Ideas

With Christmas coming up, we often 'give' and 'receive' gifts.
With quite a few editions of each Tolkien book available, I wanted to showcase some - whether it's for you, or the giftee. There are a few other non-book items as well. I'm also providing links on where to get them:
THE HOBBIT (paperback edition)

This copy is a great edition - whether you need a new one, don't have The Hobbit yet, or are looking to get someone you know into Tolkien. It's paperback, so yes, nothing special - however, it's size dimensions match the other HarperCollins paperbacks. Also, it includes chapter illustrations by David Wyatt, which can be presently found only in this edition.

Online, the official product description may get messed up (some sites list this as an audio edition, others as an illustrated one) so here's the actual features: "This deluxe collector's edition of Tolkien's modern classic is boxed and bound in green leatherette with gold and red foil rune stamping on the spine and cover. The text pages are printed in black with green accents. It includes five full page illustrations in full color and many more in two colors, in addition to Thror's map -- all prepared by the author."
Great if you want a nicer edition of The Hobbit to last for quite a while! Also worth mentioning, is that the design and style of the interior of the book itself is used for the Easton Press edition - minus the Michael Hague frontispiece. Great, alternative, and affordable way to own a special edition!

"The Fellowship of the Ring, part one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic masterpiece, first reached these shores on October 21, 1954, arriving, as C. S. Lewis proclaimed, “like lightning from a clear sky.” Fifty years and nearly one hundred million American readers later comes a beautiful new one-volume collector’s edition befitting the stature of this crown jewel of our list. With a text fully corrected under the supervision of Christopher Tolkien to meet the author’s exacting wishes, two large-format fold-out maps, a ribbon placemarker, gilded page edges, a color insert depicting Tolkien's own paintings of the Book of Mazarbul and exceptionally elegant and sturdy overall packaging housed within an attractive slipcase, this edition is the finest we’ve ever produce."
This would definitely be a treat for anyone that receives it! Also, it goes with The Hobbit collector's edition mentioned above quite well.

How many consider the extended editions to be the definitive version of the film trilogy, I consider these releases to be the definitive soundtrack. I've put the recently released CD+blu-ray sets (sorry, the vinyls are most likely well sold out by now, as they are limited edition) as it's nice owning something. However, depending on your tastes, the complete recordings also exists on digital music sources: Apple Music, Google Play, Spotify, etc...

I mentioned above that the complete recordings are the definitive editions of the soundtracks.....however, that doesn't mean that the standard editions aren't automatically 'not good' because of it. Many of us have listened to these versions music many, many times. I'm showcasing the vinyl edition (which collects all 3 soundtracks in one set) in case anyone missed out on the limited-edition complete recordings vinyl, they can still listen to The Lord of the Rings music on vinyl. Also, these editions exist on a number of formats: CD, and digital, such as Apple Music, Google Play, Spotify, etc.

This is a boxed set that contains matching hardback editions of The Children of Hurin, Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin.

That's all I can think of to mention: some well-known items, and some lesser known ones. I'll close by saying that some other Tolkien books that haven't had that many 'versions' are:
- The Silmarillion
- Unfinished Tales
- The History of Middle-earth (12-book series)
- Tales From the Perilous Realm (Alan Lee illustrated edition)
In closing, here are some great works if you've enjoyed Tolkien:

- THE WHEEL OF TIME by Robert Jordan (The first book in the 14-book series is THE EYE OF THE WORLD)
- STORMLIGHT by Brandon Sanderson (is expected to be 10 books. The first in the series is THE WAY OF KINGS)
- A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE by George R.R. Martin (Is expected to be 7 books. The first book in the series is A GAME OF THRONES)
- THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle
- works by Guy Gavriel Kay

November 23, 2019

Worthy of Note: Hæstingas

I've always loved, and been inspired by various aspects of Tolkien's mythology: not only the in-universe lore itself, but how he came to create the tales. Even in the sense of 'prose' and 'verse.' I do not know much about epic poetry (beats? chanting?) I just enjoying reading them. I've always sort of been inspired to do my own Tolkien-esque poem...a 'lay' if you will.

Somebody else, did just that. They didn't steal my idea, but this is what I would have liked to have done, or something very similar.

The author is James Moffett. Many may know him best for his blog, "A Tolkienist's Perspective". This blog, my own, isn't a Tolkien specific one; however it's a key interest of mine so it gets lots of coverage. What follows is his blog post about the book, and the official description:

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Independently published (Nov. 2 2019) [as far as I'm aware, only available through Amazon]
Language: English
ISBN: 9781072916208

"Well folks, this is it.

The Lay of Leofwin project I briefly posted about over the last few months, has taken a life of its own and been transformed into a book. An actual, published book!

That is the primary reason behind my long absence from this blog.

Without going into too much “behind-the-scenes” detail, the writing process for what would eventually become known as “Hæstingas: A retelling of the valiant fall of England in verse” started almost 3 years ago, with a very rough idea of where I wanted the story to lead to.

Fast-track to today, that story combines three subjects dear to me: fantasy stories, poetry, and the Anglo-Saxon period. Plus, I won’t deny the huge influence Tolkien’s works have had on this too 😀

The synopsis of the book is as follows:

Dragons, mythical beasts, mighty warriors and perilous forests. This is England in 1066. The Anglo-Saxon king, Harold, is bound north to repel a strong force of Norsemen — unaware of the approaching threat upon the southern shores of his kingdom. Among his army of thousands, from noble thegns to battle-hardened housecarls and staunch fyrdmen, is the ambitious, loyal and proud Leofwin. Eager to defend his brother’s kingdom and carve his name in the annals of history, he battles in earnest against famed warriors, ravenous wolves and wicked sorcerers. However, his ambitions soon come to naught when his beloved wife’s life is in danger. His whole world and home are approaching an inevitable downfall.

I’m extremely proud of this work and really hope you get the chance of reading it."

I look forward to reading it. My reading pile is currently quite extensive: I'm working my way through Penguin's Legends from the Ancient North series, after which I'll take The Sagas of Icelanders, and then other sagas that aren't included in Penguin's Sagas. Following that, I will read The History of Middle-earth. My other Tolkien reading afterwards consists of The Children of Hurin, Beren and Luthien, The Fall of Gondolin, Tales From the Perilous Realm, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, Beowulf, The Story of Kullervo and others afterwards.

October 17, 2019

The Lord of the Rings + The Hobbit Coming to 4K

Image result for lord of the rings 4K

A few days ago, the news broke that in Europe there is a listing for The Lord of the Rings + The Hobbit film trilogies coming to 4K.

The date mentioned was June 2020, however 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring.

The article mentions that both theatrical and extended editions would be arriving.

Now, what would I like these release(s) to be like?

Here are some thoughts on how I'd like to see these released on 4K blu-ray (or UHD blu-ray):

- HDR & Dolby Atmos, possibly Dolby Vision as well
- both extended and theatrical editions to be included in the same set: not one set for theatrical, and one for extended.
- 3 releases: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy, and a set with both
- the packaging for The Lord of the Rings to be nearly identical to the 12-disc extended DVD trilogy set from 2004. The Hobbit extended trilogy on DVD also had similar packaging. The blu-ray release had some elements carry over, though it's not quite the same. Replicate the packaging, like how Rhino did in comparison for the complete recordings soundtrack, from the original CD+DVD release to the limited edition vinyls.
- no ads of any kind at the start of any of the discs
- Use a consistent colour tint. Some may have noticed that only the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring (on blu-ray, and some digital avenues) featured a different palette and colouring than the DVDs did. Please get rid of any colouring or tint issues, and possibly use the same company/team that worked on the extended DVDs. There have been some great 4K transfers done by WB lately - the Middle-earth films should be no exception.
- include all the special features, from both previous extended and theatrical sets. If possible, on blu-ray or 4K blu-ray discs, as opposed to DVDs (like what the special features were on for the extended Lord of the Rings boxed set)
- keep the same menus (and design style) that was featured on the DVD and blu-ray editions: very classy.

The 12 disc DVD set from 2004 was the crown jewel in my DVD library. The blu-ray - yes, The Lord of the Rings extended in HD is nice, but the packaging left a little to be desired, as well as the 'forced' ads in front of some of the discs. If the same care goes into the 4K release that went into the original DVD set, I'll be very satisfied.

I truly hope that Peter Jackson or Warner Bros reads this.

October 4, 2019

Hunger Games prequel Novel Officially Announced

The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes (a Hunger Games Novel) by Suzanne Collins

Earlier today, the prequel novel to The Hunger Games trilogy, titled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was announced.

Here is the official - as of now - description:

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (A Hunger Games Novel) will revisit the world of Panem sixty-four years before the events of The Hunger Games, starting on the morning of the reaping of the Tenth Hunger Games.
It is to be published on May 19 by Scholastic, and will be 624 pages.

I imagine many book retailers are now offering pre-orders, so providing an ISBN won't be needed - especially given the popularity of the series.

October 3, 2019

Letters From Father Christmas: Deluxe Edition Details Revealed

Earlier today, details from the forthcoming deluxe edition of Letters From Father Christmas have been revealed.

Here's the info:

ISBN: 9780008327729

"This beautiful, deluxe slipcased edition of Tolkien’s famous illustrated letters from Father Christmas to his children includes for the first time every letter, picture and envelope that he sent them, reproduced in glorious colour. The perfect Christmas gift for Tolkien lovers of all ages.

This classic festive book of Tolkien’s amazing Father Christmas letters written to his children between the 1920s and the 1940s has been reworked into a sumptuous, new deluxe edition. It contains brand new high-quality digital reproductions of his wonderful letters and pictures, including a number them that have never been printed before, a revised introduction by Baillie Tolkien, and a special full-colour, foldout frontispiece.

‘My dear children, I am more shaky than usual this year. The North Polar Bear’s fault. It was the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there has ever been. It turned the North Pole black!’
Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J. R. R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in strange spidery handwriting and a beautiful coloured drawing or some sketches. The letters were from Father Christmas.
They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole:

• How all the reindeer got loose and scattered presents all over the place.
• How the accident-prone Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house into the dining-room
• How he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden
• How there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house!

Sometimes the Polar Bear would scrawl a note, and sometimes Ilbereth the Elf would write in his elegant flowing script, adding yet more life and humour to the stories. From the first note to Tolkien’s eldest son in 1920 to the final poignant letter to his daughter in 1943, this book collects all the remarkable letters and pictures in one enchanting edition. No reader, young or old, can fail to be charmed by the inventiveness of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas."

Looks lie pretty nice. I like how it's a "Christmas-ized" version of the deluxe edition format. For instance: the icicles, the silver and white lettering, the silver ribbon-marker, etc. Also given the style of the slipcase, it looks like it'll fit, height-wise, with the other titles (The Facsimile Hobbit (book from 2016, and the gift set from 2017), The Lord of the Rings 60th anniversary illustrated edition, and the deluxe edition of Jemima Catlin's Hobbit don't go with the rest of the deluxes, in terms of height.

It is highly unlikely that I'll get this edition, though: the paperback (my edition says 2015 on the copyright page, but the release date on some retailers says 2009...) edition will do me just fine :) Though I'd love to get the audio CD narrated by Jacobi.

This looks to be the finalized or definitive edition, as it'll have everything related to Tolkien writing as father Christmas that he ever made, as well as it'll combine all prior releases into one set. I do not believe that the art will be removable though - could be wrong.

I'm also curious which image will be used as the foldout frontispiece they mention: "...and a special full-colour, foldout frontispiece." I think it’ll be two images side by side: “Dressed for the Snow and the Cold” with ‘my house’ (sometimes as one image, but two “panels"). If those are next to each other, than those as the frontispiece could easily be foldout. Or, perhaps, the wider version of "The North Pole" :

September 12, 2019

Looking Ahead to Tolkien in 2020

So what do you think will be the next major Tolkien book? The Great Tales have now been completed, with the recent releases of Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin by way of their own dedicated books.

Future anniversary editions (70th / 75th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings for instance) are expected as are new illustrated editions (while The Hobbit isn’t “new” Jemima Catlin’s illustrated edition is). There’s also collector’s editions, like the edition of Letters From Father Christmas to be released in a few months.

Those out of the way; what could possibly be ‘the’ Tolkien book for 2020?
There is The Book of Ishness, and I doubt enough material exists (though I’d welcome its release) for The Tale of Earendil as its own dedicated book.

Then there’s the Amazon Middle-earth series: while no doubt tie-in books will come out (pertaining directly, and only to the series – like Weapons and Warfare for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy). I would not be surprised if there will be a collected edition (dedicated book) comprised of material from The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and possibly The History of Middle-earth dedicated solely to The Second Age as a “tie in, but not really….” type book.

Who knows what’s in the pipeline for the future? Many weren’t expecting, and thus, surprised – by publications of such works as The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin. There was always mention of the Three Great Tales, but the gap from The Children of Hurin being to published to when Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin were was large enough, many didn’t really consider it or think that they would come.

Then there's the 2021 Tolkien Calendar - I am curious to just find out who will be the artist, and what the theme will be. Usually, the calendar that comes out the year of a major book will be the art for next year. Example: The Children of Hurin came out in 2007. The 2008 calendar (which came out in 2007) reflects that release. I have a feeling that it will be John Howe's,  possibly featuring art from his book, A Middle-earth Traveller.

So who knows what can – and could – come out next year, either completely new or re-packaged or re-edited? It’ll be interesting to see what the next “Tolkien publishing event” will be. Was The Fall of Gondolin truly the end?

Myself I have a few more Tolkien (and Tolkien related) books to get:

- The Hobbit Sketchbook
- A Middle-earth Traveller
- Author of the Century
- A Secret Vice in paperback

August 24, 2019

The Best Translations?

One of the things about great classic works from centuries past (or hundreds of centuries) is that, because they've been around for so long; and the original tales are so good, is that we have numerous translations from the original languages into English. Everyone has different tastes, and some may be in 'verse' or 'prose.'

First up, would Robert Fagles. Fagles has given us amazing translations of 'the three great epics in Western literature.' These would be The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Aeneid. The first of those two are by Homer, and The Aeneid is by Virgil. Due to the immense success of these stories - separate or together - once the Fagles translations came out; it was quite the publishing event. Many people (from general or casual readers to full-fledged scholars) quite enjoyed these. Now, I'm not saying that the Fagles versions are the only good ones because that simply isn't true. However, it appears that Penguin has adopted the Fagles translations as their current standard; though others may be available. Worthy of note is Fitzgerald's, and for prose, Butler's isn't too bad either. There are a vast amount of them. Another name I keep saying come up is Lattimore.

Moving on to other stories, Michael Alexander, Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jesse Byock also offer some great note-worthy versions of the Old Norse stories and myths and Icelandic Sagas. Be sure to check out anything with those names on it.

I should also add that for some of the epic poems, there are 'verse' translations, and 'prose' translations. The format, as well as the translator, is entirely up to the reader's preference. After all, you are the one reading, and should therefore enjoy what you read. Some specific versions may be studied academically - in which case, a particular edition is outlined in the syllabus.

Moving on, Hugo's magnum opus, Les Miserables, finds it's best, and most thorough English translation by way of Charles E. Wilbur. Again, that's not to say that others are bad; just that one is quite good.

Richard Peaver and Larissa Volokhonsky also offer up some terrific translations of some classic Russian literature, such as War and Peace (and other titles by Tolstoy) as well as works by Dostoevsky.

Umberto Eco's versions of the works of Dumas is also said to be a great joy to read.

So which of these is the best translation I've mentioned? And, the ones I've listed, are they the best translation of the original works? That is entirely up to you; though the names I've provided - of translators and works they've translated - are quite good, in many aspects and quite appealing.

In closing, I want to mention that you really can't go wrong with anything offered by Penguin, Oxford World Classics, Everyman's Library or Modern Library. When picking out a version, read some samples by randomly flipping the book open, and Amazon also offers the 'look inside!' feature. Though with Amazon, the 'look inside!' may not match the product you're actually viewing.  

August 14, 2019

Wheel of Time Amazon Series Casting Announcements

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.

Big news day for those looking forward to Amazon's Wheel of Time series - myself included.

We've got our main Two Rivers characters. I'll run through them again, and add the casting of Rosamund Pike.

Rosamund Pike as Moraine:

Marcus Rutherford as Perrin Aybara:

Zoe Robins as Nyanaeve al'Meara:

Barney Harris as Mat Cauthon:

Madeleine Madden as Egwene al'Vere:

Josha Stradowski as Rand al'Thor:

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Seems promising!

Since that I am not overly attached to the books (I own them (in paperback), I read them, and I enjoyed them) I suppose that means that I'm looking forward to the adaptation. Whereas with Amazon's Middle-earth series, I am attached (quite strongly) to Tolkien's works, so my interest in the adaptation is fairly low as of now. I am looking forward to Netflix's Narnia, and HBO's His Dark Materials for the same reason. However of the series I've mentioned, I'm attached to His Dark Materials the most. And its trailer was fairly impressive. And it will be 3 seasons (one per book).

But back to The Wheel of Time.

It will be impossible to make everyone happy, and this casting announcement of proof of that. I believe it will be impossible to faithfully adapt 14, 600 page-plus (in mass market paperback) books to TV. Even striving for as much accuracy as Peter Jackson's extended Lord of the Rings trilogy will be a stretch. In terms of accuracy (if we're going by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings adaptation) expect it to be the same level of accuracy as The Two Towers theatrical edition. Or, some of the Harry Potter films (I'm thinking Goblet of Fire to Deathly Hallows: Part 2). Because of the complexity of the books, challenges of turning one medium into another, the characters, plots etc that run through the series, I expect; if you add everything up, that half of the books will be faithfully adapted. The main thing, though, is that I hope it does well, and catches on. Let;s face it - however The Wheel of Time books may be, they're only really known in the fantasy genre, not 'mainstream' like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones....

I am also looking forward to seeing what type of merchandise comes out. HBO didn't really have much merchandise before Game of Thrones came along.

I've got high hopes for this one, but as ever, I'll reserve judgment until after I've seen the trailer.

I'll close by recommending specific editions of the books which offer the best value for the cost:

July 31, 2019

The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Sketchbooks Limited-Edition Boxed Set Announced

Earlier today, this limited-edition, numbered, slipcased signed edition was announced. Only 3,000 will be printed! Official description follows below:

Presenting two richly illustrated books in one elegant slipcase, this deluxe, limited edition boxed set celebrates in words and pictures the beautiful work that award-winning artist Alan Lee has created for J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Sumptuously bound in full cloth, with a miniature colour image embossed into the front board, each large-format volume overflows with hundreds of delicate pencil drawings and conceptual sketches, and dozens of haunting watercolour paintings, including many brand-new Hobbit paintings and drawings that take us deeper into the magical world of Bilbo Baggins.

This very special set unlocks the secret of how Alan creates his own Middle-earth magic and provides a fascinating insight into the imagination of the man who breathed new life into Tolkien’s vision. It is limited to a worldwide printing of just 3,000 numbered copies and each copy of The Hobbit Sketchbook has been personally signed by the artist.

The ISBN is 9780008367435

At present, only Amazon UK is offering pre-orders. And, since only a specific number are being printed, you might want to grab this while you can. Elsewise, they may be gone.

There is also A Middle-earth Traveller by John Howe worth checking out. Here's hoping in the future there will be a 'Great Tales' set (featuring Alan Lee's art from The Children of Hurin, Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin). Also would be great if a Ted Nasmith Silmarillion Sketchbook were made....

June 26, 2019

Farewell, Dear Friend

Today was a slightly sad day....perhaps I am being overly dramatic, but it was slightly sad.
Today I packed up and boxed my wii u and its games.
I do not yet have a Switch (I most likely will at, or by, Christmas), so it wasn't done to 'make space', but rather because I played the wii u literally to its death. I got it in Sept 2013, and now (June 2019) - it's finished.

What had happened, is that the GamePad can no longer hold a charge. It can charge, but it lasts approx 45 min - 1 hr 15 before The Red Light of Doom comes on, then starts flashing. The problem is, because the wii u 'failed' we got the Switch. Because of that, Nintendo stopped supporting it in 2017. That means no more GamePad battery replacement packs. I wish I had known of the 'extended' battery pack made by Nintendo which gives longer life (both to 'extend' and get a new battery for it.) There are sellers on Amazon, etc but the reviews have been mixed: from "it works!" to "it doesn't." It also doesn't help that the companies that make them aren't Nintendo. This isn't getting a third-party controller, but rather a component of the system.

So the wii u is packed away in storage (there are 'workarounds' with the GamePad issue, but with me getting a Switch sometime soon-ish, it would need to get packed away anyway.) Someday that box may be opened again...
However, not everything from the wii u got packed away: I'm still able to use the HDMI cable (will do so for The Switch's dock) and The Switch supports amiibos. So those are still 'out.'
I still remember the day that I got it. It was the Wind Waker bundle, and I got it in September of 2013. My work contract was going to expire, and if I got renewed or extended, I was going to buy it. Once I found out, I phoned FutureShop, and put it on hold for pick-up that day. Once I was finished work, I headed there, picked it up, and headed home. Over the course of the console's short life, I got some decent games and play time out of it: Mario Kart 8, Smash, Mario Maker some downloaded games, Mario 3D World, and the 'grand finale', The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There were others too, but those are the highlights for me.

It's unfortunate that the wii u died - it had potential, but it just didn't 'catch.' Even the name: most people thought it was an accessory or add-on to the wii, not a whole new console. Then there was how the Gamepad factored in for multiplayer games: for some it can be used as a controller; not so the case others. In that aspect, New Mario U was frustrating multiplayer wise: the controller wasn't a 'controller' but to add blocks. The option to use the GamePad as such in that game should have existed. Plus, as per usual, Nintendo didn't get a lot of support from other developers for it.
With The Switch, Nintendo corrected themselves: no discs, it has a wide array of controller options (though you still need the JoyCons for certain games, so you can't go 100% ProController dedicated; but most games support it. Should be "all" but anyway...). The name isn't 'confusing' like the wii u. Nintendo is marketing and pushing the console, and it's getting tons of support. And it's working. I think within the first year, more Switches were sold than wii us during the wii u's life.

I was initially skeptical when The Switch was announced. I wanted to wait a bit ("hey our older console was a flop. Buy our new one!") but now, my faith is restored. There are a few games I'd 're-buy' on The Switch (hey if my wii u gamepad is truly on its way to the grave, at least I can still play some of the games...) such as Mario Kart. My Mario Kart reasoning is, Nintendo may not make one for The Switch (Mario Kart 9) because it already has one on it - Mario Kart 8 (Deluxe)

So farewell, wii u - you gave me a lot of great time play time, and memories; even. You had a good, loving home; but now it's time to say goodbye. Also, thank you for getting me through a few tough times here and there. over the years.