November 28, 2016

Tolkien Tuesday: Gift Ideas for The Tolkien Society

I am part of the Tolkien Society’s Facebook group. I don’t have an actual Tolkien Society membership (yet… I hope to sign up when it turns 50). As a way of saying thanks, as well as recommending some items to members both newly joined as well as seasoned, I have created this post for them.

No, these aren’t “ultimate collector’s items” or anything elite, expensive, etc, but are targeted at some interests and trends I’ve noticed in the group since I’ve joined.

With that, check out the items below, which are categorized as best as possible:





THE CORE MIDDLE-EARTH BOOKS (or, A Great Place to Start)

Of course, the best place to start any Tolkien collection, is what I like to consider “The Main Middle-earth” books. Now these aren’t all of them, but these give you a very great idea, and reading experience of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The titles (in publication, and my suggested reading order) are: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King), The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. These exist in a few different formats and editions, but it depends on what you’re looking for and hoping to get from your books.

If you’re looking for a matching set : The Hobbit 70th Anniversary Edition, The Lord of the Rings 60th Anniversary Boxed set [includes the Reader's Companion], The Silmarillion hardback, and Unfinished Tales hardback' all from Harper Collins and features cover designs on the dustjackets.

Please note, that The History of Middle-earth was omitted from this section due to its in-depth historical approach and style (multiple versions of the same content, for example) as well as The Children of Hurin and Beren and Luthien; due to them being contained in other works already, which are mentioned in this post, albeit in different forms.


Notable Editions :

THE HOBBIT
 - 70th Anniversary hardback
- Annotated
- Jemima Catlin illustrated hardback


THE LORD OF THE RINGS
- 60th Anniversary Boxed set
- hardback single volume
 





“THE ENHANCED EXPERIENCE” (Enrich Your Reading)

In 1999 I believe it was, there were collector’s editions of The Hobbit and The Silmarillion which came in their own gift boxes. They came with a hardback edition of those respective books, as well as a few extra goodies. Some of the extra goodies are available elsewhere. While not completely identical to what’s offered in those boxes, the content itself is the same.

The maps of Wilderland and Beleriand included, are part of the set called The Maps of Tolkien’s Middle-earth by Brian Sibley and John Howe. Tolkien reading “Riddles in the Dark” form The Hobbit, and Christopher Tolkien reading Beren and Luthien from The Silmarillion are both included in the Tolkien Audio Collection, among other readings.

In addition to those, Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-earth is very handy to have. It may not cover everything (it covers content from The Hobbit - The Silmarillion, which is the core basis of Tolkien's writings) but is still an incredible resource.
  

Also, there's The Lord of the Rings: Reader's Companion. It comes with the 60th anniversary box set, and provides further insight and background info as you progress through the text of The Lord of the Rings. It can be purchased on its own, as well, if you already own The Lord of the Rings in another edition.

BEST EDITIONS OF PETER JACKSON’S FILMS





I’m not going into what people think of Peter Jackson’s films; but for those who are interested in watching them or owning them, I highly suggest the blu-ray extended edition box sets of both trilogies on their own. In terms of technical aspects (audio, screen quality, etc) blu-ray offers the best of what’s currently possible, and you also get quite a lot of bonus materials in both sets. It’s more financially feasible to go for the two separate trilogies (The Hobbit as one box set, The Lord of the Rings as another), than opt for the recently released Middle-earth box set. You get quite a lot for the money spent, even if they don’t fit in one box. Then again, there’s always customizable slipcases…. The same goes for books, as well.
[also, the music from each of the 6 films is exceptional, so do look at the soundtracks no matter how you feel about the films themselves!]


TOLKIEN’S CONTRIBUTIONS: BEYOND MIDDLE-EARTH

These are for those interested in reading non-Middle-earth material, as well as seeing what Tolkien contributed to his fields of study, as well as his own personal interests.

Finn and Hengest
The Monsters and the Critics
[later editions also put "Beowulf" in front of the title] 

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun
The Fall of Arthur 

Beowulf
The Story of Kullervo
A Secret Vice
The Lay of Aortrou and Itroun





FOR THE “SCHOLARS”

These titles are for the Tolkien fans who really wish to dig deep, and delve into the histories and evolution of Tolkien’s writing itself.

The Annotated HobbitThe Lord of the Rings: Reader's Companion / The Lord of the Rings 60th Anniversary Boxed Set
The History of Middle-earth (13 books)
The Tolkien Companion and Guide




MY PERSONAL SUGGESTIONS (A “Best Of” This Post, if you will)

These are what I suggest to look into, a little mix of everything, really, for any Tolkien fan, new or seasoned: 

The Hobbit : Harper Collins 70th hardback, Annotated Hobbit, or Jemima Catlin hardback
The Lord of the Rings:
60th Anniversary Boxed Set with Reader's Companion, or single volume hardback

The Silmarillion:
Harper Collins hardback
Unfinished Tales Harper Collins hardback

The Complete Guide to Middle-earth
, hardback illustrated by Ted Nasmith (Harper Collins)
The Maps of Tolkien's Middle-earth (Harper Collins)
The Tolkien Audio Collection
(Harper Collins)
The Tolkien Audio Collection

I hope that this post was varied and informative. I strived to cover various aspects of Tolkien, as well as different items and editions.

November 20, 2016

"Fantastic Beasts" Spoiler-Free Review




Last night I saw Fantastic Beasts, the new entry into the Wizarding World by J.R. Rowling. This isn't quite a Harry Potter prequel. Well...it is and it isn't. It isn't because it has nothing to do with Harry himself whatsoever. It takes place in 1926, and the Harry Potter films begin in 2001. I know the Potter books take place in the '90s, but how else can you explain the flat screen owned by the Dursleys in Prisoner of Azkaban, or that bridge that collapses in the beginning of Half-Blood Prince? Anyway, so it takes place decades before Harry's born.

Because of that, the film slightly distances itself from Harry and Hogwarts, both by the time period, and the fact that it takes place in New York. This film doesn't 'set up' the main Harry Potter series, though there are some similarities. We are, after all, dealing with the same universe and mythos, so some connections will be there. This is a spoiler-free review, so that's all I'll say for now.

An exciting aspect, is that this is new territory. We don't have existing books or a book series to follow. For example, the novel Half-Blood Prince was published in 2005, and the film Order of the Phoenix came out in 2007, so previous knowledge outside of the films had existed. With Fantastic Beasts, everything is brand new, or has cropped up recently: Ilvermorny (I'm a Wampus!), No-Maj, MACUSA....lots of new entries here.

Now that I've sort of covered the similarities and differences, how is the movie??

Quite good. Actually, it's very good. It is definitely one of the best films of the year, and possibly the best prequel / spinoff I've seen yet. A hell of a lot better than Star Wars Episode I, and better than The Hobbit: Part 1, this is definitely a (sort of) "prequel" done right. It doesn't suffer from 'prequel-itis' [oh, there's no danger because we know these guys make it into the actual 'series']. What I meant by what I just said was, how it works in relation to the "main" series. 

It has its own feel and vibe, and is equally the same and different as Harry Potter all at once. The magic, wonder and amazement are all there. This film draws from Harry Potter's rich and extensive mythology, and this film dazzles with its own unique franchise-building magic.

The visual effects are top-notch, as is the sound and score (I'm listening to the soundtrack right now, actually). The casting is great. Move Emma Watson, my next female celeb crush is Queenie...whoa. Anyway! Everything about this film works just right. I'm hopeful that the next four films maintain this level of quality and that this film being great wasn't just a fluke.

As some of you may recall, I was initially against seeing this film. I admit it. But sometimes, with movies, a certain poster, picture, or trailer can change our minds. I happened to see the right trailer, the one called "final trailer." [the one and only trailer I watched.] and that one convinced me to get interested enough to go see this film at the cinema.

I'm not sure how well this movie would work for anyone that's never seen a Harry Potter movie before. I've seen all the Harry Potters, so nothing went over my head or confused me. Having prior knowledge of the world definitely does help, but I wouldn't say it's "mandatory", but it does enhance one's enjoyment of this film. And if you didn't like the Harry Potter movies, there's a strong chance you may not like this one either.

I'm definitely on board with the other four films in this series. I look forward to seeing Newt's adventures in Paris, in November 2018. Since there will be 5 of these films, I will wait until the box set comes out to buy any of them. If the box set is too pricey, or seems....tacky, then I'll just get them individually all at once once the final film arrives on blu-ray.

8.5 / 10 Recommended to anyone that enjoyed the Harry Potter films and is seeking new magical and wondrous adventures.

November 19, 2016

Yuletide 2016: Fantasy Gift Ideas


I wanted to upload this post pre-Black Friday.

As a geeky blogger, I’ve got some ideas to share with you, which may help your shopping. I understand my blog may have been a bit quiet lately, and when I do post, it’s about books. There will be books here, and other things. But all things geeky that most people will probably love.


So here are some general geeky things I recommend to gift this season!
HARRY POTTER
With Fantastic Beasts now out, the 'mania' seems to have taken off again. While Tolkien will always be my #1 fandom, I'm kicking things off with Harry Potter / Wizarding World first, seeing how things in that fandom have been the most 'active' lately.




Of course, I need to mention the books first and foremost! Like most other books, they exist in various formats and editions. The editions I am recommending, feature artwork by Jonny Duddle. They are the most recent editions, and therefore, the easiest to find because of that. I myself own the hardback box set featuring the black dustjackets, and feature a more 'serious' tone in design and style.

The image above is the paperback boxed set, with the ISBN of 9781408856772 .



The set also exists in hardback, with the ISBN of 9781408856789 .

Finally, there is also illustrated editions by Jim Kay, which feature full page colour illustration pretty much all throughout. So far, only Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets have been released, though it looks like one every so months will be on the way.



There is also the 8 film collection on blu-ray, which is the entire Harry Potter film series in one set. The packaging will remind you of some TV shows that have come out on DVD / blu-ray.

TOLKIEN
Where else to recommend Tolkien other than the beginning of it all? As you may have seen throughout my blog, I've recommended certain editions and formats over the course of time. For gifting, however, I have the perfect edition in mind to start anyone's Tolkien collection



The ISBN for this great edition is 9780007458424. It's a standard paperback, offering nothing too special. Sizewise and design wise, it'll fit well in any library, as well as match most paperback editions of the other Tolkien books; which is great if the person wants to start their Tolkien collection and get other titles (namely The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.)

The opening chapter art is quite nice, as is the cover as you can see. This edition will be included in my 'starter pack' as long as it keeps being printed, and I have people to gift The Hobbit to. 


I also highly recommend the extended edition of The Lord of the Rings on blu-ray. It's the best way to watch the best versions of these movies.


There is also the extended edition of The Hobbit trilogy, which matches The Lord of the Rings one. These versions of the films are much better than the inferior theatrical editions, especially in the case of Part 3, which had a pretty terrible theatrical edition. Sure, the idea of The Hobbit being 3 films is questionable, and the idea that each of those 3 gets an extended edition even more so but with qualms and minor issues, I'll still take the extended trilogy over the theatrical, as they provide a better viewing experience, and feature a cut trilogy-wide arc: that of Thorin's father. 

Both trilogies complement each other quite well, and they match, too. This is the ideal way of owning all 6 movies, is these 2 separate boxed sets.

HIS DARK MATERIALS


Possibly better known as "The Golden Compass Trilogy", these are great tales, and should be read by those that enjoyed Tolkien and Harry Potter. Sadly, the movie wasn't too too good, and kinda flopped. Such is the way of 'don't judge a book by its movie.' This has been described as the "anti-Narnia."

The edition pictured above, is the one I recommend: the ISBN is 9781841593425. It's all 3 books in one phyiscal book (an omnibus, if you will) by the excellent "Everyman's Library." It's a hardback volume, and features extra content at the end of each book known as "Lantern Slides." There also exists a paperback edition, for those who don't like hardbacks. The ISBN for that one is: 9780375847226.

I recommend His Dark Materials to anyone who likes Harry Potter, and / or Tolkien. It didn't "take off" like the other two I mentioned have recently, but don't shy away from these stories because of that.

A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE / GAME OF THRONES


I of course also recommend the Ice and Fire books (pictured above) by George R.R. martin, as well as the seasons of Game of Thrones (which is based on the books) on blu-ray. There are two more books to come: The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. Potentially an 8th, only if the page count for book 7 runs too high.

Now, lately each book has taken about 3-5 years to come out (and no wonder, as these books aren't thin), so hopefully it won't be too much of a long wait for the next book, The Winds of Winter, but expect about 5-7 years for the final book. Lots of time to catch up, though if you'd rather wait for the series to be finished before jumping in, that's understood. There's also a prequel set about 80-100 years before book 1 starts called A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms which I recommend if the giftee owns the 5 books that are out at this moment. Here's hoping that Martin is able to complete both the main series, and the rest of these prequels. Seven Kingdoms collects 3 stories in its own book, and I can see another 2-3 of those types of collections coming. [please note that some of the larger books are split into 2 smaller books in some countries / by some publishers. This was done to make reading them easier, and maintaining the same level of quality on the printing side of things series-wide.]

For the HBO series, Game of Thrones, unless I'm misinformed, it'll be ending in 2018. HBO releases excellent blu-rays of their shows, and Game of Thrones is no exception. You get all the episodes (of course) plus some great bonus material.

MALAZAN

Finally, for the book recommendations there's the Malazan series. the main series complete. The author is also writing a prequel trilogy, with book 3 the next one to come out.

I've yet to read these myself, but I can recommend them in confidence to fantasy fans. I've heard nothing but great things about this series, and that it features possibly the best world-building since Tolkien. Gardens of the Moon is the name of the first of the series, and Forge of Darkness is the first of three prequels.


SKYRIM (SPECIAL EDITION)


Moving on to video games, the game I'd highly recommend is Skyrim (Special Edition). Now, I ONLY recommend the Special Edition to console players. PC gamers, stick with the original. Why's that? While I don't use mods myself, the modding situation is better with the original, and there some texture updates (both official and unofficial) to improve the games' graphics. That said, is it worth it switching over the HD remastered special edition? That's a judgement cal. I'm personally happy with the original game and Bethseda's HD texture pack. If texture packs didn't exist, then I'd recommend PC gamers opt for the Special Edition.

But, if there are PS4 / XBONE gamers out there that have never played Skyrim? To those I recommend the Special Edition. It's an HD remastering of Skyrim, and includes all the content released for the original game. Not sure when Elder Scrolls VI is coming, but this remaster should keep you entertained for dozens of hours until then.

Last, but certainly not least, is the NES Classic. I'm recommending it despite Nintendo and their shortages. This is a real treat, as it includes 30 games pre-loaded on it, and one controller. You won't be able to add or play any ore than those 30, FYI. You should also pick up a separate controller for 'player 2'. The only downside is the length of the controller cord. However, since you'll be using that 'reset' button a lot, maybe Nintendo wants you close to the console. Anyway, due that issue, I'll most likely use this with my laptop.

The graphics / rendering looks much better and vibrant than the NES games downloaded off of the Virtual Console on the wii / wii u / 3DS. Be patient, and don't buy from scalpers, there a few 'waves' of these coming. Nintendo never said this was a limited edition item, so just because it may be sold out, does not mean that it will be forever.

I would like to see other consoles re-released by Nintendo under this 'classic' banner. Super Nintendo for sure, though hopefully the N64 and perhaps even Gamecube may follow suit someday.

So those are my ideas to help you shop either for someone, or for yourself. Hope you enjoyed, and happy shopping! Christmas isn't (only) about the gifts....though I do admit I love the feeling of finding the perfect gift for someone. Hopefully this post (or others) have sparked that feeling in you.

November 7, 2016

Tolkien Tuesday: Illustrated Collection (Gift Idea)

Well, since the holidays are coming up quite quickly, I thought it’d be interesting to do a few posts on gift suggestions or ideas; either for yourself or for gifting. This week, I’m going to focus on the illustrated hardbacks of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (as three volumes) and The Silmarillion. There may be a other 'gift posts' under the Tolkien Tuesday banner.

These were published by both Harper Collins and Houghton Mifflin. They are ‘mirrored’ in all ways except publisher name, like of the other Tolkien books both publishers print. However, it seems that the ones by Houghton Mifflin are still being printed, easier to find, and less pricey than the exact same ones by Harper Collins. The two best places to get these are Amazon.com , or bookdepository.com. Barnes and Noble should also carry them, and there's always other online booksellers.

A box set of all these does not exist. Imagine, though, the cost and weight if it would? Each book is pretty hefty on its own. So without further ado, here is The Tolkien Illustrated Collection.


First up, published in 1997, is Alan Lee’s illustrated edition of The Hobbit. Find it by searching 
9780395873465 . It features cover art, illustrations, and watercolor paintings.




Alan Lee also illustrated The Lord of the Rings, and these editions came out in 2002, individually, or as a boxed set. The ISBN for the box set is 9780618260584 . For the three volumes by themselves, they are:  9780618260515 for The Fellowship of the Ring; 9780618260591 for The Two Towers; and 9780618260553 for The Return of the King. Figure I’d list both the box sets and the books just in case.
Lavishly illustrated in full colour.



Finally, there is The Silmarillion illustrated by Ted Nasmith. This edition came out in 2004, and its ISBN is 9780618391110. It contains almost fifty full-colour illustrations.

All of these match one another very well in terms of design and size dimensions. These illustrated editions are among the best editions of the books to ever be published, and have always been a favourite among fans. They are large hardbacks, so the are definitely suited for 'at home' reading, even more so than a usual hardback would be. The artwork is astounding. Not only are these some of the best Tolkien images, they are among the nicest pieces of art I've ever seen period.  They are definitely a treasure and visual feast, even on the shelf, in any library.

November 4, 2016

Here's to the Weekend

Well the weekend is finally here.

Thank God.

This week seemed to creep and crawl, taking it’s sweet-ass time to get here. It wasn’t without enjoyment or merit, however.

I’ve revised my manuscript thus far, as well as fixed some vocabulary. I’ve added sentence after that so I know where to head to next, or what my parting idea was that I could not fully develop at that time. I’ve done a few blog posts as well, as you might have seen. I’m not intending for this to happen, but it seems every time I do a blog post lately, something about Tolkien pops up!

The book I’m reading is also coming along well. I’m finishing off Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Trilogy, and am on the third book, Excalibur. Once I finish that, I’m not quite sure what I’ll feel like reading. I know what I have that’s unread, it’s just a question of what kind of mood I’ll be in when I finish Excalibur. Will it be Neil Gaiman? Will I finally get around the reading Alice? (I’ve got a sort of collection book that has both stories plus a bit more in it). There’s a couple options but in my review here on the blog for Excalibur I’ll mention what I’ll decide to open up next.

I’m also reading on my Kobo. At work during lunch, and on the bus I’m reading The Elfstones of Shannara still. After I finish that, I’ll read Wishsong, and then something non-Shannara after that.

Haven’t been watching that much TV….been playing a bit of Skyrim here and there as well. My character is level 51, Imperial, heavy armor, no shield, and using a sword as a weapon. My magic is destruction for attack (mostly fire based), restoration for recovery after a fight / during one, and alteration for extra protection going into one. In terms of talent trees, aside from a few perks to enhance destruction, restoration, alteration, one-handed (sword based) and heavy armour usage, I’m also enchanting and smithing. I’m close to unlocking the perk that lets me put two enchantments on one item. As soon as I’m able to do that, I’m going to maximize my stahlrim armour. My gear is pretty good too. Going from Oblivion  into Skyrim, I knew how an Elder Scrolls game ‘functioned’ but your first character in any game (especially Elder Scrolls) no matter how much previous experience you have with previous installments, is more of experimenting as you figure the game out. My first character got to lvl 47 so it wasn’t too bad. I think it was corrupt game saves or something that made start over again, not dissatisfaction with my character. I will say the best way to defeat a tough opponent is this: Marked for death shout, dragon aspect, power attacks.

I’m also gearing up for Christmas, slowly. If finances allow (and so far they have) I always like to finish my shopping by Dec 1, at the latest.  There may have been the odd year that I’ve finished on the 9th or something, but generally, if I can finish before December, I’m happy. If it turns out a few days into December, no big deal. I just prefer to avoid the crowds etc. I’m going to do some shopping + browsing tomorrow morning. So my next bunch of purchases, deliveries etc aren’t for me ultimately! Tomorrow morning I may completely finish someone on my list. There are 1 or 2 I’m still undecided on what exactly to get. The important thing is, I’ve started on everyone!

So that’s what’s going on with me right now.

November 3, 2016

"The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun" Published Today



Today sees the re-publication of a Tolkien book that has been out of print for around 70 years – The Lay of Aortou and Itroun.

The book is edited by Verlyn Flieger, as Christopher Tolkien was likely occupied with Beren and Luthien (which is set to arrive May 2017.) The book will be 128 pages. It is being published in the ebook and hardback formats. At present time, there is no word or listing of a possible deluxe edition coming. My guess is, if one were to exist, it would be published in the deluxe format (slipcased, etc) next year, likely after Beren and Luthien, in the fall or winter (Aug – Dec). I’m going to be wait a bit to get this one. If a deluxe edition comes along, then I shall deem Aotrou & Itroun worthy of owning a physical copy and add it ‘to the shelf’. If no deluxe edition is to exist, then I’ll get the ebook to save space for other books. (Remember, the Tolkien books I have ‘on the shelf’ mirror which titles have a deluxe edition available.)

The title page officially calls the book: “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun together with The Corrigan Poems.” (sort of like how Unfinished Tales is actually “Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth”.)

“Unavailable for more than 70 years, this early but important work is published for the first time with Tolkien’s ‘Corrigan’ poems and other supporting material, including a prefatory note by Christopher Tolkien.
Set ‘In Britain’s land beyond the seas’ during the Age of Chivalry, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun tells of a childless Breton Lord and Lady (the ‘Aotrou’ and ‘Itroun’ of the title) and the tragedy that befalls them when Aotrou seeks to remedy their situation with the aid of a magic potion obtained from a corrigan, or malevolent fairy. When the potion succeeds and Itroun bears twins, the corrigan returns seeking her fee, and Aotrou is forced to choose between betraying his marriage and losing his life.
Coming from the darker side of J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, together with the two shorter ‘Corrigan’ poems that lead up to it and which are also included, was the outcome of a comparatively short but intense period in Tolkien's life when he was deeply engaged with Celtic, and particularly Breton, myth and legend.
Originally written in 1930 and long out of print, this early but seminal work is an important addition to the non-Middle-earth portion of his canon and should be set alongside Tolkien’s other retellings of myth and legend, The Legend of Sigurd and GudrĂșn, The Fall of Arthur and The Story of Kullervo. Like these works, it belongs to a small but important corpus of his ventures into ‘real-world’ mythologies, each of which in its own way would be a formative influence on his own legendarium.”