Laughter and books make life a little easier

Books read in October


A return to old-fashioned fantasy after the bleak reality of war, nightmares and dystopia of the last couple of months.

Isle Witch by Terry Brooks

Shannara is definitely the series that I’ve been following the longest that is still going (though coming to an end now).

Ilse Witch of the Shannara series is the first in one of Brooks’s many trilogies. I’ve read this book at least twice before, but it’s been long enough that I could only remember general details, rather than specifics. (And I have a very good memory for everything I read, even though I cannot remember my lunch.)

Isle Witch marks a new chapter in Brooks’s epically expansive series. While set in our world’s future (the last time I tried to reconstruct the timeline from the hints spread across the books I concluded it is set at least four millennia in the future) the earlier books was more of a medieval type. This book shows the beginning of a re-industrialisation with more technology and more world-exploring than ever before. I think that tone was already present in the quartet that precedes this novel, but it assumes a more centralised role this time.

In my opinion this is the secret to the series: why it remains popular and not repetitive. The progress portrayed keeps it fresh because this is a world developing instead of stagnating. This provides enough fresh elements for each new set of books to contain a new angle.

And speaking of preceding quartets, I’ve never been up to date with all the published books in the series and can’t really remember the order of all the books, but luckily Mr Brooks’s website is up to date and includes a handy reading order guide.

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

(I wrote this piece on Halloween, so if the dates seem off to you, that’s why.)

It is all thanks to this tumblr blog that The Silmarillion can be part of this post at all. This read-along has been running since July and since then I’ve been reading this book. I’ve been on schedule and I have been significantly (five weeks) behind, but now I have finished two weeks ahead of time, because I wanted to get it out of the way before NaNoWriMo starts. Two internet-community events at the same time would just be too much. 😛

If – if – I finish NaNoWriMo that will be my greatest achievement of the year. But if I don’t, finishing The Silmarillion will get that honour.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to read The Silmarillion for years. I could never do it, to my shame. I’ve made it through Portrait of a Lady, Heart of Darkness, The Amber Spyglass and Beowulf, for heavens’ sake. Why would this book continue to defeat me? I’ve talked about my enduring love for The Lord of the Rings so many times I’m sure everyone is sick of it, so I don’t need to explain why I was even bothering. “Just leave the book alone. Why bother if it is that inaccessible?” I couldn’t. I needed to read it, impossible or no. Turns out, it was much more accessible reading it with other people, and where it used to be boring it was now suddenly engrossing though still difficult.

I think it was the names. There are about 7000 characters and they all have similar-sounding names. Obviously these did not magically go away when reading the book as part of a read-along, but the support of a whole community of fans going through the same problem helped a lot. Also, the reading guide provided as part of the read-along helped an amazing amount.

Like with all Tolkien’s other works (that I have experience with) it started off very slow, but once the plot started falling into place it moves at warp speed. When I read The Lord of the Rings I can point you to the exact passage where I first and finally fell in love (Chapter 11). Not so with this book. I’m not sure, but I think it was somewhere around Chapter 20 where I really started to enjoy myself. Yes, I picked the bloodiest chapter for that. Finally I could remember most of the names without checking the lists and I knew the place-names and settings. If I’d read it faster I’m sure the memorisation part would have happened sooner, but the club’s pace was one or two chapters per week.

The Silmarillion is, of course, a posthumously published work, which explains some of the discrepancies found in the family trees when they are compared to some of the other books in the Tolkien-legendarium. It is a collection of notes and separate chapters written over a lifetime of imagination. This is why you sometimes get forty pages describing a couple of years of a person’s life and then suddenly you get forty years squished into two pages. When this happened I found myself wishing that Tolkien lived to expand on some those summarised ideas because I wanted more details so badly.

At the end of the book I didn’t want it to end. Now I want to read it again.

When I am done with NaNoWriMo I plan to collect the notes that I wrote while reading (a delayed kind of liveblogging) The Silmarillion on tumblr on this blog and will then make sure to link to it in a post.

Please note that I have rated neither of these books. The first one because I generally do not rate re-reads unless something has significantly changed in the time since the last read. And the second because I do not feel qualified to put a rating to The Silmarillion. A) because it was not so much written as posthumously compiled and B) because I feel like I have only begun to scratch the surface of the entire legendarium of stories.


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