Tag Archives: elves

Book Review Saturday – ‘Lords and Ladies’

I can’t let Terry Pratchett’s death pass without looking at one of his masterful Discworld novels, particularly this one, which I love. (Well, I love them all… but you know what I mean).

Image: taken by SJ O'Hart.

Image: taken by SJ O’Hart.

While I was at university studying to complete my PhD, I loaned my original copy of Lords and Ladies to my doctoral supervisor. Cutting a long story short, I never got it back – not because it vanished into the pestilential pit of his office, but because he loved it so much that persuaded me to give it to him as a gift. There was actual eyelash-fluttering involved (and he did buy me a beer to sort-of make up for it), so I had very little hope of withstanding. I relinquished the book, and that was that. For several years – almost a decade, in fact – my Pratchett collection had a hole, right in the middle.

Then, one day, my beloved came home with a small, paper-wrapped package in his hand, which he gave to me without a word. I opened it, and the wonderful red-coloured cover in the photo above came into view. The book I now have is a different edition to the one I gave away, but it hardly matters. My favourite Discworld novel had returned, and I was delighted to welcome it.

Lords and Ladies is a book about the collision between worlds – as so many Discworld books are, in some form or other  – and this collision happens in a lot of ways. On the most basic level we have the world of the Disc coming into contact with the world of the Gentry (or the Shining Ones, or the Fair Folk, or – of course – the Lords and Ladies), as the Elves, the baddies of the piece, have come to be referred to over the years that have passed between their last appearance and the present time. These are not the gentle, wise Elves of Tolkien, by the way; we are not in Lothlorien, here. These are Elves of an entirely different breed. We also have the collision between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ styles of magic, embodied in Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg (who are as old-school as it’s possible to be) who come face-to-face with Perdita (real name: Agnes) and her friends, whose naivety has given them corrupted ideas about the magic they wield. Their ‘new-fangledness’ has led them to dabble in things they do not have the experience to understand, and it is through their attempts to work magic without first learning what it is that the world is left open to the influence of evil. We also have Magrat, the third and youngest of the witches, who leaves behind her magical life (sort of, at least) in order to marry Verence, King of Lancre, a man who began his career as a Fool, and the book explores the relationship between king and people, nobility and commoner, and man and woman, all through their gentle, awkward relationship. In fact, I think part of the reason I love this book so much is because we have a chance to see Magrat as she is, not through the lens of being the ‘third witch’; we see her learning how to defend herself and those she loves against terrifying odds through her own ingenuity and bravery, and not through her magic.

But it’s the story wot matters, and here it is.

in the countryside of Lancre, there is a circle of standing stones known as the Dancers. Birds divert their course so as not to fly  over it; clouds separate and flow around the circle, rejoining again once they’re past it. The weather inside the circle is different to the weather outside it. Once, the stones were guarded and feared, and the grass around them was kept short, and people stayed away. But time passed, and the fear began to dissipate. The grass grew. The old stories were forgotten. Young, unschooled witches begin to have their sabbats around the stones, and careless hunters disturb it by driving animals, against their will, into the gaps between the Dancers. If something goes in, then something must also come out… In this way, the power of the Gentry is awoken, and the Elves finally manage to find the crack in the world which they have long been searching for. It is up to Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, as well as a brave band of Morris Men, to send them back where they came from. For these Elves are not benevolent, or kind, or interested in being guardians or custodians of mankind. Their power is not on the wane. They are cold, and treat humanity as though it were a bug beneath a magnifying lens, and they love to cause pain just to watch what happens. They rejoice in their own power. Over the years, people have forgotten the cold and the cruelty, and remember only their beauty and the glamour they shroud themselves in, and nobody fears them any more – nobody but the witches, at least.

Until they come, and their true nature shows itself…

Everything about this book is a triumph, from the wizards of the Unseen University and their cross-country trip to attend the wedding of King Verence and Ms Magrat Garlick (and the adventures which ensue), to the courtship of Nanny Ogg by Casanunda, the Disc’s second-greatest lover, to Granny Weatherwax’s secret past, to the legend of Queen Ynci whose fearsome iron armour becomes a useful weapon against the Elves. There are scenes which make the reader snort with laughter (like the Stick-and-Bucket dance, or the moment when Verence takes delivery of what he thinks is a guide to ‘marital arts’, but turns out to be something quite different), and there are scenes which chill the blood, and there are scenes which bring tears to the reader’s eyes because they’re so real and moving. And, of course, on every page there are sentences so perfect that you just sigh in admiration as you read.

Every Discworld novel has something to recommend it, and every fan of the series will have their own particular favourite – this is mine. If you haven’t already found yours, I hope you’ll read and re-read the books until you do.

THE TURTLE MOVES.

GNU Terry Pratchett.

Hobbitting On

So the other day, we decided to go to see ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ in the actual cinema.

Exciting enough for a whole *can* of Squee! Image: firefox.org

Exciting enough for a whole *can* of Squee!
Image: firefox.org

I was hoping we’d get a chance to catch it on the big screen, because let’s be honest here. ‘The Hobbit’ is the sort of movie you need to see splashed all over a massive canvas. I really enjoyed the first Hobbit movie, even though I only saw it on DVD, and I’ve been fangirling about the sequel now for quite some time.

Oh, and before I carry on, I’d better clarify something: I was one of those mumble-grumble ‘The Hobbit shouldn’t be three movies, what on earth is Peter Jackson thinking?’ purists when I first heard about the plan to turn this tiny book into a trilogy of blockbusters. Now, however, I have eaten my words with a side order of humble pie, to go. Peter Jackson is a genius, and I cannot wait for the final movie.

**Please note: I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but consider yourself warned…**

‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is brilliant. I can only sum it up by recounting the fact that my husband remarked ‘that didn’t feel like three hours, did it?’ as we were leaving; he is – as he is in most things, of course – entirely correct. This epic movie zoomed along so quickly that by the end I was left clawing for more, let alone thinking ‘Man. What a painfully obvious money-grabbing, story-padding exercise that was.’

Image: the-hobbit.tumblr.com

Image: the-hobbit.tumblr.com

Things I thought would annoy me, like the creation of an entirely new character, Tauriel – who is more important to the plot of the movie than some of the characters from the original book – didn’t end up bothering me at all. Tauriel herself was, I thought, a brilliant character, skilfully portrayed. Tolkien, much as I love him, wasn’t too big on the whole ‘writing parts for women’ thing, so I have no problem with Peter Jackson trying to even up the balance a bit. Tolkien, as a medievalist, wrote his stories in the same vein as the epics – wherein the important thing is the comitatus, or the group of (male) warriors who fight together and the bond between them, not the relationships between men and women – and so it’s to be expected that women don’t do a lot in his canon. Tauriel fights as well as any of the male characters, she’s brave enough to make a choice that genuinely feels conflicted and challenging during the course of the story, and she (potentially) sacrifices something very precious to her in order to remain true to who she is.

The only irritating thing about her is that she is, to an extent, defined by the men in her life – but I don’t want to get too spoilery here.

Well, that's not the *only* irritating thing about her. She's also stupendously gorgeous, of course. Elves are like that, aren't they?  Image: totalfilm.com

Well, that’s not the *only* irritating thing about her. She’s also stupendously gorgeous, of course. Elves are like that, aren’t they?
Image: totalfilm.com

I was, admittedly, slightly annoyed by another thing, which was the pronunciation of ‘Smaug’. I have been saying this word inside my head for over twenty years now, and I’ve always said it like a Bostonian saying ‘smog’, with a long vowel sound in the middle of the word. Apparently, however, that’s wrong. It should be ‘Smowg,’ according to these guys. Luckily, I got used to it fairly quickly – but he’ll always be ‘Smawwwwwwg’ to me.

Howaya. Image: lotr.wikia.org

Howaya.
Image: lotr.wikia.org

The film also drew a lot of criticism for featuring a character from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ who doesn’t appear (as far as I remember, though it has been many years since I last read ‘The Hobbit’) in the original book – I’m talking, of course, about Legolas.

I actually had no problem with this character making a reappearance, mainly because he was always my favourite character anyway – and, yes, this goes back to my reading of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as a twelve-year-old, and has nothing to do with the movies – and I think his portrayal in ‘The Hobbit’ gives a fascinating layer to the character. In ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Legolas is a preternaturally skilled fighter, of course, and a vital member of the Fellowship, but he seems detached and cool and always utterly, remarkably calm. He’s an elf, of course, so this isn’t unusual – they’re not given to huge explosions of emotion – but even so, Legolas seemed a little too graceful and perfect to be relatable or real.

This is not so in ‘The Hobbit.’ In this newer movie, we see a different Legolas – we see him as he originally was, the Prince of Mirkwood, an important character in the ‘LOTR’ universe in his own right. He is rash, impetuous, angry, even arrogant, and I thought that was amazing. He still fights like a whirlwind, but in one excellent scene he comes up against a foe who does not bow before him like a blade of grass in a stiff wind. It was nice, in a strange way, to see Legolas not have everything his own way for once – it’s hard to get behind a hero when all they touch turns to gold. Seeing Legolas struggle made him a far more sympathetic character, and I really enjoyed his portrayal in this film.

Then, of course, there were the dwarves (to use Tolkien’s own spelling!), who are the best part of the movie. Bombur, in particular, was my favourite.

Image: lotr.wikia.org

Image: lotr.wikia.org

Bumbling but brilliant, and brave to his bones, old Bombur stole the show for me. The dwarves aren’t exactly how I pictured them as a reader of Tolkien – some of them are far too handsome, for a start! – but they work flawlessly in the movie all the same. The scene where they are attempting to escape from Mirkwood by floating down a river hidden in barrels is one of the best things I’ve seen on a cinema screen, ever.

So, anyway. If you do one thing this weekend, yada yada. Check out ‘The Hobbit.’ I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s a slice of cinematic wonder.

Happy Friday!