Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blog on Hold

Due to my busy schedule, for the time being I am putting my literature blog on hold.  That doesn't mean that I won't be picking it back up in the future, but just that I'm not able to devote the necessary time to it at the moment.

Thanks for your understanding!

M.R. Michel

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tolkien Weekly #5 - The Saga of Khazad-dûm, Part II

Looking for Part I?  Click here to read it.

The Saga of Khazad-dûm
M.R. Michel


            Thus Flón son of Lûn instructed the Dwarves in the construction of a new mine beneath Mount Caradhras, and they named it Thak-Unrâg in the tongue of Khazad-dûm, which means Darkest Mine.  For when there was not a blazing torch lit in Thak-Unrâg, the darkness was as a thick mire that deadened the senses and brought horror to the mind.  And there was more than one Dwarf that ere the mine was completed succumbed to that murky blackness, and forever lost his wits thereafter.
            Now after twelve cycles of the sun were spent, it came to pass that Flón son of Lûn came to Thak-Unrâg on an urgent mission.  For during the night it was found that those who had been working in the mine during the day had disappeared, and no trace of their bodies could be found.  Thus Flón came with urgency, and he brought with him ten and two of the king’s guard, who were mighty in prowess of arms.  For he thought rightly that something was gravely amiss beneath the stone walls of Caradhras, and it was his desire that word of the disaster might not reach the king’s ear.
            The party descended to the utter depths of the mine, for it was there that the Dwarf miners had vanished.  And when they had come to the place of the mithril-hoard, there came up out of the darkness a foul wind that extinguished the light of the torches.  Then the Dwarves stood for a moment in great fear and confusion, for they did not know what was happening.
            Ere long a smoldering light became present in the darkness, and all of the Dwarves drew their gaze to the flame.  Then words came from the darkness, and they were spoken in Khuzdul, but they were hissed, much as steam rises from the mixing of water and fire.  The guards cowered and Flón son of Lûn pressed his face to the cold, dark stone.
            “Thralls of Aulë, masters of Khazad-dûm, lords of stone:  hear the words of a servant of Morgoth, and tremble.  For uncounted years I have lain here in the darkness of Caradhras, beneath the roots of the mountain; and I slept.  Dark! so dark have been my dreams.  I dreamt that the day of the Elves had waned, and that the kingdom of Men might yet be cast down.  And in my troubled sleep I saw that the land had been cast anew and that I alone of all the Valaraukar yet lived.  And thereafter I saw that the lords of stone had lost their strength and became proud, and that the day of my ascension was nigh. 
            “Hear, thralls of Aulë:  this is that day!  For your greed has destroyed you.  Is there one here among you that might deliver a message to your king?  Speak!”
            Then all was silence besides the whimpering of the guards, and Flón did not lift up his head, for he was in a mortal terror.
            “Is there not one among you named Flón, son of Lûn?  The others spoke of him, and gave assurance that he had the ear of the king.”
            “I am here, foul creature,” quoth Flón. 
            Then the shape in the darkness laughed, and a great stench arose in that underground place.  “Then take to your king these words, wretched stone-worshipper.  Ere darkness has fallen on this mount twenty times, it shall come to pass that King Durin VI shall meet his demise by fire and madness, and the gates of Khazad-dûm shall be broken.  I have spoken!”
            Then an unspeakable terror fell upon Flón and his companions, and they fled from the mine as ones who have lost their wits.  Thus it was that once Flón had returned he was admitted into the presence of the king.  A pallor hung about his face and his eyes were downcast; it was as if a wreath of doom hung about his head.
            Then King Durin VI’s voice rumbled from his throne:  “Speak, Flón son of Lûn!  Why does part of my guard quake in terror, and why are the dwellings of my miners filled with the keening of Dwarf-women?  Speak!”
            Flón opened his mouth, but no words would come out.  Two of the king’s assistants brought him a chair and a chalice of wine, which he raised to his lips and drank from greedily.  Flón let the wine gurgle in his throat and flow down his beard, and when he was finished he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.  Then wicked intent entered his eyes, and his mouth became small and cruel.
            Flón stood up and bowed mockingly.  “O king, do you have need of your servant?  Perhaps you want a report on the amount of mithril that we have mined at the expense of our lives?  No?  Or might it be that the king would seek to comfort the widows of his sisters’ sons, who have lost their husbands and sons for naught?” 
            Then one of the nobles in the court walked up to Flón and struck him across the mouth, so that blood formed at the corner of his lips.  Flón staggered and sat heavily in the chair that had been brought for him.
            “Speak not to the king in such a manner!” The Dwarf-lord cried out, and others echoed his sentiment.  But Flón son of Lûn bowed his head upon his chest.  Afterwards some said that at this time he wept, and others swore that he laughed so mightily that the tears flew down his cheeks like the waters of Anduin the Great, and perhaps they were not wrong.
            “He is coming,” Flón said.  “He shall come on the wing of a shadow, in the heat of a mighty flame, and none shall stand against him.  And then perhaps the king will remember the day not so long ago that his servant Flón, son of Lûn, spoke and advised him to put aside our shovels and hammers.  But now it is too late, and we shall perish forthwith.” 
            Then many of the court were downcast at his words, and questioned Flón closely, but he would speak no more on the matter.  And though the guards were brought one by one before the king and the assembly, none would speak of what they had seen and heard.  It was as if a great spell of terror lay upon them, and they had become dumb.
            “Hear the edict of the king!” quoth Durin VI.  “Henceforth Flón, son of Lûn shall be banished from the kingdom of Khazad-dûm, and shall not know the comfort of his kin.  For he has openly rebelled against the king, and has abandoned his people in their time of need.”
            Then there were many that counseled the king against this rash decision, and Náin I the King’s son was among them.  “For,” he reasoned, “it may be that once the temper of Flón has abated, that he may yet tell us more on this matter, which is of grave import.”  But the king would not hear these words of wisdom, even though they were uttered with his own son’s breath, and Flón was banished from the kingdom forthwith.
            The Dwarf took with him a sack filled with his scant belongings, and ascended the Endless Stair for the last time.  And it is said that when he had passed between the gates of Khazad-dûm, he turned back for a moment and spoke, and his words were but a whisper that were lost in the mountains.
            “Well met, servant of Morgoth!  I leave to you the plunder of our people and the warmth of our hearths.  For as fools we delved into that which was forbidden, and so wrought our ruin.”  Then Flón son of Lûn disappeared into the wilds of the surrounding region, and was never seen again.

This is a fan fiction story set in The Lord of the Rings universe.  
It is Tolkien Weekly #5 on Blaster Bolts & Galaxy Lore.
Your questions and comments are appreciated.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"Project Pope" Review

With a title like Project Pope, I was expecting Simak to craft an intriguing science fiction tale.  Certainly, in the end there are some very interesting aspects that the author broaches.  However, I was quite disappointed that there wasn't a substantial, in-depth discussion on any religious principles.  I thought that the book would cover how machines approach religion, and more adequately peruse questions like, "Do robots have a soul?" and "Are robots capable of love, and if not, can they truly practice faith without love?"  However, in the end, a good portion of Project Pope just boiled down to religion vs. science.  Sadly, this is the route that most science fiction authors seem to take in the end.  The humanistic potential of machines seems to go largely unexplored, outside of a few authors (like Asimov).

However, there were some very entertaining parts of the book.  I felt that different alien intelligences were written quite well; and a collection of motley people that can see into other places and times was certainly an attention grabber.  The aspects of world-crossing reminded me of Asimov's classic The Gods Themselves.  All in all, Project Pope isn't up there with Simak's best work.  But it's not a bad read at all, really.  And not many people can say that they've read a book exactly like this one.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Tolkien Weekly #4 - Your Favorite LOTR Characters

This week we are taking a brief break from The Saga of Khazad-dûm to have a little discussion on our favorite characters in the LOTR universe.  Just give us a name and a bit about why you like the character.  They can be good, evil, neutral -- it doesn't matter!  The characters can be from the extended universe as well -- don't be shy about naming a character from The Silmarillion or The Book of Lost Tales!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tolkien Weekly #3 - The Saga of Khazad-dûm, Part I

 This is Tolkien Weekly #3.  Look for Part II of The Saga of Khazad-dûm next week.  Your thoughts, comments, and predictions are appreciated!

The Saga of Khazad-dûm

M.R. Michel


            The Misty Mountains lie between Eriador in the east and the Valley of Anduin in the west of Middle-earth.  The northernmost peak is called Gundabad and the southernmost is named Methedras.  The kingdom of Khazad-dûm is in the center of the Misty Mountains, and three peaks make up this ancient realm:  Caradhras, or the Redhorn; Celebdil, or the Silvertine; and Fanuidhol, or the Cloudyhead.  Long have the Dwarves dwelt in these halls, and there they have built great works of stone and of precious metals.  In these mountains Durin the Father of Dwarves was awoken by his creator Aulë the Smith of the Valar in the time before the Firstborn were raised by the breath of Illúvatar, and here also the Dwarves waned as a people at the end of the Fourth Age with the coming of the Age of Men.
            It came to pass that in the latter part of the reign of King Durin VI, during the Third Age, there was issued a decree in Khazad-dûm for the procurement of mithril to increase the wealth and status of the dwarves beyond reckoning.  To please their King, the dwarves quarried deep into the roots of Caradhras where light had never shone, and where there walked deep shadows and there dwelt a tangible darkness.  In due time the Dwarves loosed an ancient evil upon the world, and many there were who gave their lives to protect the carven walls of Khazad-dûm.
            This is their tale, steeped partly in glory and partly in sorrow.

            There is a stairway that descends in a spiral from the lofty keep of Durin’s Tower to the lowest extremities of mount Celebdil in the kingdom of Khazad-dûm, and the Endless Stair is its name.  Of all the stone works of the Dwarves this stair is one of their most prized, and no one has ever been able to count its thousands of steps.  Each step was cut with skill and patience, and many Dwarves spent their entire lives upon the construction of this great stair.  Oftentimes a courier would bring news, gems, or gold to and fro upon it, and so it was that Flón son of Lûn ascended from the depths of Celebdil on the Endless Stair.
            He sought an audience with King Durin VI and Náin I the King’s son, who was often by his side to give him advice in matters of the kingdom.  Durin VI sat on a dais known as the Golden Firedrake Throne.  The sides of the throne were made of pure gold, and silver scrollwork was etched upon the scaled cheeks of the dragon.  Its eyes were vibrant, red rubies and its teeth were made from the bones of a lesser firedrake that had been slain during a great battle in the Second Age.  The dragon head clutched a milky pearl the size of a troll fist in the tip if its jaws.  It is said that in times past Durin III had sent an expedition to Gondor past Dol Amroth to the shores of the Bay of Belfalas, and that three dwarves perished in the waters of that bay to find a pearl of untold worth, the Pearl of the Golden Firedrake.
            Thus it was that Durin VI looked down upon his subject from his golden throne and spoke.
            “Why do you come before this throne, Flón son of Lûn?  The mind of a king is not idle, and does not deign to speak on lowly matters.”  King Durin VI spoke haughtily, as one who was steeped in pride, for in his reign no threat had come against the gates of Khazad-dûm and the riches of the dwarves had increased sevenfold. 
            “I come bearing ill news, O king.  Long have your servants delved deep into the roots of Celebdil.  We have mined mithril that has been made into coats of mail and helms of untold worth, and many of us have given our lives in those deep, dark tunnels.  The life of a mining dwarf is not without peril, sire.
            “The vein of mithril that we have been mining since our fathers’ time has been completely tapped out, and we can go no further.  There is no hope of procuring more ore through this route.  It is our wish—”
            “It is your wish?” the king cried out.  “Would you go against the decrees of your king?  I must have mithril, and you will mine it for me!  The glory of this House must be greater than all the splendor of the Elves, so that in Valinor the mighty spirits look across the waters and become jealous of our fair realm. Is there no way to mine more mithril?  Is there no way for you to obey your king?”
            Then Flón looked greatly troubled, for there was a way that the miners might follow the edict of the king, but it was not without peril that they might undertake it. 
            “O king, there is a way, but it is not my place to say whether it might succeed.  In the roots of Mount Caradhras we might find the ore, but it is a dark and dangerous place.  There are drawings…my great grandfather was part of a surveying crew that briefly explored the depths of that place, but they proclaimed it unfit for mining.”
            “Only I might declare what is and is not unfit, Flón.”  King Durin VI looked at his son and advisor, who stood by his side.  “Hear the verdict of the king:  when the Daystar has risen in the East twenty times, you will have established a new mining expansion beneath the roots of Caradhras.  My son Náin will watch over you and keep me informed of your progress.  If my edict is not carried out, then it will go ill with you, Flón son of Lûn.”
            Flón groveled on the ground in front of the Dwarf-lord.
            “Your will is just, sire.”
            Thus it was that Flón son of Lûn was put in charge of mining mithril under Mount Caradhras, and Náin I son of Durin VI reported on his progress; and Flón was given twenty cycles of the sun to accomplish the edict of the king.

Looking for Part II?  Click here to read it.

This is a fan fiction story set in The Lord of the Rings universe.  
It is Tolkien Weekly #3 on Blaster Bolts & Galaxy Lore.
Your questions and comments are appreciated.

Friday, June 28, 2013

More Tolkien Fan Fiction is Coming...

Just a little something to whet your appetite...I'm going to be writing a new Tolkien fan fiction piece that will be unveiled in parts each week during my Tolkien Weekly project (at least for a while).  I won't say much about it just yet, but let's just say that it involves Dwarves.  Keep tuned!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tolkien Weekly #2 - Movies vs. Books

This discussion may be opening a can of worms, but I think that it's something that deserves deliberation.  As a student of literature who also appreciates film, I can't help but wonder if the departure that directors often take from books is warranted. 

Anyways, these are a few of the strongest arguments that I have heard defending it.  I'll try to do a fairly quick and succinct summary:

1)  All of the things that are written in a book can't be translated to a motion picture.  In addition, there are some things that are more easily expounded upon in a film (i.e. battle sequences).
2)  The director is also an artist and has the right to make changes, even if he is using a borrowed work (after all, doesn't a conductor sometimes make changes to the musical score?).  People have argued this for many, many years in different mediums (i.e. changing the end of a Shakespeare play so that it isn't a tragedy).
3)  No matter how hard you try, it just wouldn't be possible to find actors or actresses with the exact same personality traits as characters in a novel.  Each actor or actress brings their own experience to the scene, regardless of how they are supposed to act, and therefore changes the film in subtle ways.

On the flip side, here are some of the arguments that I have heard against it.

1)  Changing large portions of a book is no different than an agency eliminating words, sentences, or scenes in an effort at censorship.  As Ray Bradbury said, "There is more than one way to burn a book."
2)  Differing how characters act, or even introducing new characters, is an insult to both the author and the reader. 
3)  If a book can't be adapted to film without few departures from the original book, then it shouldn't be.  Changing vital parts of a book delivers different messages than the author intended.

With two more The Hobbit movies on the way, I was more thinking along the lines of this recent franchise, but if you want to bring The Lord of the Rings movies into the discussion, feel free to.  Here are just a few guiding questions to help us along.

1)  Has Peter Jackson (director) done a good job of adapting The Hobbit to film?
2)  Where do you stand on the points that I listed above?  Are there any other discussion points that you want to bring up?
3)  What additions are hard to swallow, or what additions might be positive or give the viewer a better understanding of Tolkien's world?
4)  After seeing The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, are you looking forward to the sequel The Desolation of Smaug?

Here's a trailer for The Desolation of Smaug, if you haven't seen it.  It's scheduled to come out on December 13, 2013.

Have at it!  I'll join in the discussion, but I want to see where people stand before I voice my opinions.

M.R. Michel

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Cemetery World" Review

Clifford D. Simak is a name that any hardcore science fiction fan will be familiar with, but for some reason his works haven't become as popular in the present day as some other authors.  Which is a shame, really, because he has some of the best conceptual work that I've come across.  The books that I've read of his have all been phenomenal (City, A Heritage of Stars, and now Cemetery World).

Cemetery World is one of those great, almost unknown works.  On the surface the book appears very simple, but there are a myriad of concepts that push it over the edge.  Imagine a cemetery that covers a good part of a world -- so much so that it becomes known for it.  Who controls the cemetery?  What is going on, and why does our hero and heroine come to this world?  Simak's treatment of machines is one of the most interesting that I've come across.  Given enough time, what boundaries would remain for robots?  Could they become human?  Other concepts that Simak explores include mutation, the aftermath of nuclear war, and time distortion.  He also introduces a new art form -- a machine that captures all of the senses of a new place and can readily replay them for its users.  I recall reading about something like this in one of Niven's short stories, but the two authors approach the matter in different ways.  One last thing.  I don't want to give too much away, but let's say that fans of Bradbury's Hound and Simak's dogs will also find something to like in this book.

All in all, I would recommend Cemetery World as a quick but challenging read.  I know that this is a fairly short review, but I don't want to spoil anything.  Happy reading!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tolkien Weekly #1 - Yavanna Kementári

Yavanna Kementári
 M.R. Michel

Yavanna is one of the Valar, who dwell in the Undying Realms.

Her lovely hair was long and shining bright,
A seemly veil that graced her visage fair;
And from her sprung an otherworldly light,
Like burnish’d gold that has never known wear.
In stature she was as a lofty elm
That spreads its branches proudly to the sky;
She was mistress of Arda’s living realm,
Watching over it with a careful eye.
She was garb’d in raiment of verdant green,
Though often she would take another form;
In all ways she was a fair and just Queen,
And her demeanor was pleasant and warm.
The Lamps spread far and wide their gentle light,
And Yavanna walk’d the land still fair and clean;
There she planted seeds with raptur’d delight,
  And eager they sprouted, growing and green.
Then Melkor came and stalk’d the virgin land,
And by treachery extinguish’d the glow
That gave life to each fresh and forming strand:
And Yavanna wept at this wick’d new woe.
Then she sang a song of sadness and grief
Beside the dark green mound next to Valinor,
Lamenting every dark and withered leaf;
The world had never known its like before.
As she sang Nienna wept in sorrow still,
And her tears fell upon the hallow’d ground;
Then two great Trees grew fast upon the hill,
One with gold girt, the other silver crown’d.
Thus Arda awoke from its troubl’d sleep
And the leaves drank in the light of the Trees;
The vines and mosses began to creep
O’er the jagg’d rocks and blissful leas.
But Morgoth would not let the world at ease,
And he whispered words of guile and of doom;
The Spider with appetite to appease
With spite and hunger began to consume.
She filled her abdomen with the Trees’ life
And the world was cruelly darkened once more;
The two Valar came to arrest the strife
That had arrived upon their holy shore.
One Tree shed a lovely silver flower:
One Tree bore a mature and golden fruit;
Nienna’s tears and Yavanna’s song held power,
And the Moon followed the Sun in pursuit.
Of other deeds and ancient lore there are,
Concerning one so learnéd and so fair;
Her wisdom travels near and journeys far,
And in the forest—one might glimpse her there.
She made the mighty shepherds of the trees
To ward off the axes eager and strong;
She is the Giver of Fruits to the Elves
Though many like to claim her for themselves.

This is a fan fiction poem set in The Lord of the Rings universe.  
It is Tolkien Weekly #1 on Blaster Bolts & Galaxy Lore.
Your questions and comments are appreciated.