The reading habits of a bibliovore & Technology Services Librarian
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"Faith in not rational. Do you know what a cathedral is, Chief Engineer?"
"A kind of church," she said. "A big church."
"A church that took centuries to build," he clarified. "And could cost hundreds of lives in the building. A church that represented an absolutely absurd investment for a medieval lord. And yet they got built anyway. For the glory of God."
Grail, p. 292, by Elizabeth Bear
Dust by Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite novels, and was one of the easy selections for when I started doing this book club thing. But while I reread Dust with some frequency, I think I only read Chill (Jacob's Ladder #2) once, immediately after purchasing it. There's a good chance that my reading of it was too colored by my expectations and memories of Dust, a younger me wanting the exact same thing as before, only new and different. Similar to my experiences with American Gods and Anasazi Boys, except Chill is a true sequel.
What I remember is that this is a story of after and of pushing through. The Jacob's Ladder is again in motion, reduced through deliberate effort and through the abuse of its rough relaunch. Similarly, the characters are in a state of flux, challenge, and recovery. Perceval struggles with the unwanted mantle of Captain, the cost of power and conflict, and the ghost of Rein that now lives in the AI of the ship. Tristen and Benedick go from support characters in Perceval and Rein's quest, to a quest of their own as they deal with their own ghosts of a sort.
So, we'll see how this read goes, and I'll attempt to have my review of it up within February!
Wherein Morgoth spreads the misery though puppetry. Releasing Húrin to the world after years of captivity, he aims to increase strife among Men and Elves. His reception is varied, with his own people shunning him as in league with Morgoth. Even the Eagles state that "Húrin Thalion has surrendered to the will of Morgoth." This reception makes me think of Gandalf speaking of how to treat Gollum, and the importance of mercy. I wonder how this story would have changed if people had shown him kindness and acceptance, while acknowledging that Morgoth had his plans for Húrin still. But again, that is often the beauty of the "curses" Tolkien lays against his characters, their fated doom often not of divine or infernal end, but the result of deliberate action and self-fulfilling prophesy.
We some of what could have been, when Melian speaks kindness in face of his twisted perceptions and grief, but it leaves Húrin bereft of purpose and so he passes away. It also happens to late, for a great treasure of the Dwarves is still given unto Thingol, who has the Dwarves set within it the Silmaril. As we have seen so far, nothing involving the Silmarils goes well, with all those who see it desiring to possess it. Those that wished it laid claim, and Thingol responded in anger, provoking the Dwarves to rise against him. Pursuit was given, but two escaped back to their people and reported that they were unfairly slain by order of the Elvenking.
Melian's power was withdrawn from the full realm, which allowed the Dwarves to move forward unheeded until they met the Elven host. They win their way in and take for themselves the Silmaril they coveted, among other plunder. They meet on their leaving Beren, his son Dior, and many Green Elves, and those that fled met the Ents, who we know from The Lord of the Rings can be quite viscous when provoked. The Silmaril is reclaimed and given to Lúthien, Thingol's daughter, and her son, Dior, takes on the mantel of King of Doriath where he rules until the Necklace of the Dwarves with the Silmaril set within is passed onto him upon his parents death. While Lúthien was unassailable, her son had no such protection, and Celegorm and Curufin again raise strife, assaulting Doriath and Dior, losing their own lives, ending those of Dior, Dior's wife, and his sons, and destroying Doriath.
The Sons of Fëanor and their followers fail to claim the Silmaril, secreted away by Dior's daughter and a few survivors of Doriath.
I am not sorry to see the end of Celegorm and Curufin, who again and again have acted as villains in self-interest and in following an oath made to regain the Silmarils. As for the Silmarils, there is not so much a curse upon them as a depressing reminder of the power of avarice and greed, and that seems in line with the type of message and story Tolkien tells again and again in this saga.
Several things drew me to We. Comparison to 1984 is unavoidable, yet it predates it by several decades. A science fiction dystopia written in 1921 Russia that is still being read and discussed today seems like the type of foundation literature I should be familiar with.
The book is definitely an interesting read, pulling on themes we expect to see in any modern literary dystopia with investigation and discussion of what it means to be an individual. It is also difficult to read, a short novel that makes use of uncomfortable descriptions and has passages that are undeniably racist. What remains is to untangle what is relic of the environment in which the book was written, what is an aspect of the horror of the setting, and what is true bias of the author. Philosophically interesting, but for me the discomfort rides heavy even if took minimal space in the text.
So begins another year and another set of books to read, hopefully you'll join me. The selections this time around include three long-overdue rereads, one a sequel to a book I picked my first year, and eight books that have popped up and looked particularly worth reading. There were actually a good half-dozen more titles at various points I had meant to jot down for this list... and apparently never did so. Hopefully they'll come across my desk again some time soon. Otherwise, we'll see how this goes! I only vaguely know what to expect for most of these.
February: Chill / Elizabeth Bear
March: A Wrinkle in Time / Madeleine L'Engle
April: The Sheep Look Up / John Brunner
May: Islands in the Net / Bruce Sterling
If you've read the main Middle Earth novels, it's hard to remain unaware of Beren and Lúthien. Their love story is the basis of a cycle we see repeated most notably between Arwen and Aragorn, and a song we hear within The Lord of the Rings. I'm not going to compare it to Romeo & Juliet, because this isn't a cautionary or satirical play about impulse and naivete that takes place within a single week. When Tolkien does romance, he goes big. Realm shaking politics, claims to immortality, and epic trials of valor and devotion.
Our story even starts with the weight of love and grief, as Sauron uses Gorlim's desperate hope that his wife still yet lives to bring about the downfall of Beren's father and his men. After slaying the orcs that killed Barahir, Beren spends the next few years wandering in solitude and needling Morgoth until a bounty is placed on his head equal to that on Fingon, High King of the Noldor, and orcs flee at rumor of him rather than seek him out for their reward.
Eventually he makes his way out of Dorthonion and towards the Hidden Kingdom, into the land of Lady Melian and King Thingol, passing through Dungortheb, where Ungoliant's children rule. On coming into this new land he beholds Lúthien, falling into her thrall. Not knowing her name, he thinks of her as Tinúviel, Nightingale, and continued his wandering hoping to find her once again. Lúthien, to her doom, falls for Beren on her final sight of him, tying her fate to his mortality.
To make things more complicated, Beren is not the only one to fall in love with Lúthien... and daddy dearest is rather protective. Possibly a bit racist, but it could just be that he's upset at his daughter becoming mortal. That Beren has the ring of Felagund, causes some pause, and Melian tells her husband that he shall not slay Beren.
And so, Thingol sets Beren on a task doomed to failure. Retrieve a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown. While Thingol would honor his word, by his intent he seals himself within the curse of Mandos. Betrayal is not a pretty thing, and the Silmarils are cursed with an oath of hatred. Lúthien knows it. King Finrod Felagund knows it. Thingol himself knows it, though perhaps the taint the quest spreads among his kind was far beyond what he ever feared.
Things go poorly, including events we have read about in earlier chapters, and in an odd symmetry. Beren thrown into a pit by Sauron, and Lúthien trapped into a mighty treehouse by her father. In an act that would impress the Brothers Grimm, she uses magic to grow her hair out and weaves it into a magic robe and into a robe to climb out of her tower from. She finds little assistance from the Noldor, with Celegorm and Curufin promising help but instead taking her as token to advance their power, Lúthien saved only by the honor of the hound Huan. Spoiler, Celegorm and Curufin basically try to ruin everything, and even when this backfires do what they can to make everyone else's life miserable.
They win free, as we knew they would in the end, through Lúthien's song and wit, and through the sacrifice of others. My favorite part of this is where Sauron believes that if he takes on the form of a wolf he can fulfill Huan's doom, and is defeated soundly, his spirit sundered from his flesh, leaving Lúthien to claim mastery of his island. The nice thing is that in addition to freeing Beren, a whole bunch of captives also see the light of day again. Of course, they then proceed to cause trouble for their lieges for being upstaged by a maiden... but I feel this also establishes a connection or justification to Eowyn's blow against Sauron in The Return of the King.
But we aren't done yet, Beren still needs to retrieve a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown. While I get why he didn't cut out all three stones, I'm wondering why he didn't just grab the whole *crown.* I'm sure there's some reason. Regardless, Beren doesn't want Lúthien to follow him into Morgoth's shadow, she says "fat chance," and the wolf takes her side. Good thing too, I doubt he could have succeeded with out her. Their quest almost fails, when Carcharoth, the might wolf raised by Morgoth bites off Beren's hand while it holds a Silmaril, and the Morgoth's host awakens. Fortunately, the Eagles came.
Home is not as it once was when they return. Lúthien thought lost and with it the light she brings and the Doom playing out. Melian I feel is less than pleased with her husband throughout this. Of course, Beren has not the Silmaril with him... but it is in his hand. The Silmaril and his hand are regained, though it costs Beren and Huan their lives.
I had to re-read the ending of this chapter a few times, going "Wait, did he just die? ... and how long after did Lúthien depart this mortal coil?" Some how up until now I remained unaware that Beren flat out died and due to Mandos' pity and Lúthien's choice they had a second chance at living together. I mean, they're Elrond's great-grandparents (...and progenitors of Aragorn's line, but at least there's a significant number of generations before Aragorn comes out). At first read I was left wondering when they had a chance to reproduce, particularly since Tolkien is not really known for explicit sexy times in his writing. It looks like this chapter was devoted to how the two of them created the romantic story of Middle Earth, and a romance cycle that is destined to repeat itself, rather than the life they actually lived together.