22 May 2013

Review: The War of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

Hardcover, 197 pages
Published 2000 (originally 1955)
Acquired February 2011
Read May 2013
The War of the Ring: Being the Fifth Book of The Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien

Each installment of The Lord of the Rings escalates over the previous one: The Ring Sets Out sees very little action happening in the Shire, The Ring Goes South features the Fellowship in some encounters, and The Treason of Isengard moves us to the scale of battles. The War of the Ring, as the title promises, brings us up to all-out war. (However, there's no Ring, oddly enough.) The entire book depicts one long battle, beginning with its buildup, spending several chapters on its actual duration, and then its aftermath. As someone who is not super-into heroic fantasy, I was trepidatious when I realized this, but it turned out to work (more on that later).

The other way in which each installment has shifted is viewpoint characters over time. The Ring Sets Out is driven by Frodo, while The Ring Goes South adds the other members of the Fellowship. The Treason of Isengard removes Frodo and Sam so we just have Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, with occasional peaks at Merry and Pippin. The War of the Ring largely removes Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli as viewpoint characters-- meaning it's largely the Merry and Pippin show! This was what really made this big epic battle work, to tell it from the perspective of two ordinary hobbits.

The War of the Ring's best moments are, as a result, the ones in Pippin's plotline. Pippin has come a long way from the "fool of a Took" that Gandalf used to berate in The Ring Goes South; his service in Minas Tirith comprises one of the best subplots in The Lord of the Rings so far. I was impressed with the newfound maturity he demonstrates in offering his service; it's a very touching moment. All of his interactions with the Gondor military men are great (I love the rumors that spread about warrior-hobbits) and his struggle to stop Denethor from killing Faramir is fantastic. Poor Faramir! You're still the best, no matter what your dad says. The scenes where Denethor tries to kill Faramir and then dies himself are chilling, and though the films let me know that Faramir wouldn't be dying, I can't deny a sensation of suspense at the whole sequence.

Merry gets his own action, of course, contributing to the death of the Witch-King of Angmar. Can I say, though, that the revelation that Éowyn is secretly riding with the Rohirrim is kinda anticlimactic in the novels? She's had like three lines of dialogue as herself. And those happened two books ago. And then Pippin gets in again at the end, which layers a couple good cliffhangers: have Frodo and Sam been killed over in The End of the Third Age, which is happening simultaneously? Is Pippin about to die (even though he's just killed a troll, the little bad-ass)?

There are times where it's men riding horses in manly ways (though Tolkien subverts that) or Aragon talking to ghosts or pirates or something (seriously what was that?), but on the whole The War of the Ring makes an enjoyable masterpiece of fantasy warfare, and I am looking forward to the conclusion. Can't believe I'm there already!

(So is it just a coincidence that Denethor and Théoden are near-anagrams? They're like the same guy. In that they're both old kings.)

20 May 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Prose Fiction #5: Superman: Miracle Monday

Mass market paperback, 205 pages
Published 1981
Borrowed from the library
Read May 2013
Superman: Miracle Monday
by Elliot S. Maggin

I really enjoyed Maggin's first Superman book, Last Son of Krypton, and his second is not quite as good, but it is still very good. If there's anything I didn't like, it's just that the plot takes its time getting off the ground; we're over halfway into the book before Superman even finds out that there's a problem he needs to be solving.

But aside from that, this is essential Superman. Maggin has a way with all the characters, one that makes me regret the fact that I don't think I've ever read a Maggin comic book. I'll have to get on that! He gets them all perfectly, but especially Superman and Lex Luthor.

Though I might disagree with the way Maggin phrases it, that Clark Kent is just a pretense for Superman, the way it plays out in practice is great. I haven't read any of the comics from the era where Clark is a newsanchor for WGBS Metropolis, but the way that Maggin shows him juggling his Clark and Superman roles is perfect. As a big Lex Luthor fan, I also love the way that Maggin writes Luthor: the smartest man in the room, at all times, just never quite grasping an essential moral truth. He's funny, in the sense that the Master on Doctor Who is funny: his plans stagger the mind, but have a certain twisted logic to them.

Also, here's a bit from a description of the prison where Lex Luthor is incarcerated: "Haskell was the ninth warden at this prison in eight years. Four had been fired; two had had nervous breakdowns; one had had a heart seizure after seven months here [...]; and one had turned out to be one of Luthor's many fictional alter egos" (49). That's my Lex!

Lois isn't a big figure in this book, but the scene between Lois and Superman after the Superman/Clark duality has been revealed to the world is the best summation of Lois's character I've ever seen. Even Jimmy Olsen gets his bit!

The triumph of the book is of course in the ending. I don't know if Maggin actually grew up reading Superman comics, but I suspect he did. This book is the work of a man who grew up believing that Superman is the essential, archetypal hero, and that is absolutely right.

Happy Miracle Monday!

17 May 2013

Review: A, A′ [A, A Prime] by Moto Hagio

Comic digest, 207 pages
Published 1997 (contents: 1981)
Borrowed from  the library
Read May 2013
A, A′ [A, A Prime]
by Moto Hagio
English adaptation by Matt Thorn

This collection brings together three works of shōjo manga by Moto Hagio, whose work I previously enjoyed in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. The works in that collection spanned her entire career (1977-2008), whereas these three all come from 1981, and are all set in the same future milieu, where Earth's colonization of the solar system was aided by a genetically engineered raced called "unicorns." Unicorns have a distinctive mane of red hair (hence, apparently, the name), as well as adaptations to make them good early settlers: they can see in infrared, for example, and they are also emotionally detached. The race is largely extinct at the point the stories in A, A′ occur, but they interbred with normal humans, and occasional throwbacks ("atavisms") exist.

In "A, A′ [A, A Prime]," Addy (one of these atavisms) has died after three years on a distant science outpost, and her clone is dispatched to take her place. She and a man there had been in love, and now they must negotiate what it's like for both of them when she doesn't have any memories of their relationship. It's the best story in the book, with a couple standout moments that are both beautiful and melancholy, such as when Addy alone can see a solar flare in the infrared. I'm not sure what to think of the ending, but I think it works in context.

"4/4 [Quatre/Quarts]" is about a teenage boy named Mori who has strong telekinetic potential, but can't seem to harness it except when in the presence of a very isolated unicorn named Trill. The two are drawn to each other, somehow creating a whole in union that neither of them can achieve alone, two emotional isolates who only respond to each other. It's a darker and more disturbing story than "A, A′," with much more tragedy. The unicorns are shown to experience emotions, just not in the way others expect, which leads to tragedy.

The second half of the book is taken up by one longer story, "X + Y," which focuses at first on a unicorn named Tacto and then a college-age Mori. Tacto seems to be male, but his genes indicate that he is XX, but he seems uninterested in his gender anyway. Meanwhile, Mori finds himself falling in love with this boy despite himself. The two face prejudice as well as their own uncertainties, and some dark secrets in Tacto's past. I liked this one, though Tacto's habit of talking in the third person took a lot of use getting used to. Again, much of the difficulty centers on Tacto's own emotional processes, which exist, but aren't quite like a baseline human's. There's some interesting stuff going on with gender here, as well as some beautiful moments involving kite-flying, which Mori has taken up as a hobby since "4/4." The last two pages are gorgeous.

Moto Hagio's art is great throughout, though I think I'm not quite enmeshed enough in the manga tradition to make the character distinctions that are sometimes required of me. Her sf works in a different register to the one than I am used to, and I am glad that I am getting to know it; I look forward to picking up more of her translated work in the future.

15 May 2013

Review: Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman by Marc Tyler Nobleman

Hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2012
Acquired August 2012
Read May 2013
Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
by Marc Tyler Nobleman
illustrated by Ty Templeton

Bill the Boy Wonder is an odd book. It sort of promises to be a biography of Bill Finger, the man who created Batman along with Bill Kane and wrote many, many of his early stories. But it seems that we don't really know all that much about Bill Finger. Much of the book ends up focusing on the credit dispute between Finger and Kane-- if "dispute" is the right word, given that Kane always asserted that he solely created Batman and Finger rarely said anything to contradict that. It's appalling the extent to which Bill Finger's role in the creation of the Bat-Man has been elided, but I don't know if a children's picture book is the place for that dispute to be played out.

It's immaculately researched, though, as the Author's Note at the end makes clear, and it seems unlikely that we'll ever known enough about Finger to create a full-length biography of the man. So this is a nice little tribute, and I'm glad I read it, even if I'm uncertain as to what to do with it beyond that. Ty Templeton's illustrations are great. I've only encountered his art sporadically, but I've always liked it when I've seen it.

13 May 2013

Review: The Ring Goes East by J. R. R. Tolkien

Hardcover, 189 pages
Published 2000 (originally 1954)
Acquired February 2011
Read May 2013
The Ring Goes East: Being the Fourth Book of The Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien

The only members of the Fellowship that we see in The Ring Goes East are Frodo and Sam, hacking slowly and meanderingly through mountains, wastelands, swamps, and caves. Seriously, there's a lot of swamps in this book, and I went into it knowing that and dreading it.

To my great surprise and greater relief, it was better than that. Though the presence of a chapter called "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit" didn't bode well, the book is livened up considerably when Gollum shows up to accompany our heroes, stopping it from being a straightforward journey of two people. Gollum is a great foil to our heroes, and funny too; I had to resist the temptation to continuously read all his lines out loud in a funny voice to my wife. The "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit" chapter is actually a good one, and I did not know that Sam saying "Po – ta – toes" wasn't an invention of the film. (Unfortunately, "boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew" is.)

Anyway, then Faramir shows up. I love Faramir. Faramir is awesome. That is a guy without pretensions who just does his job. If Denethor had sent him to Rivendell, this whole Ring-destroying business would have gone ten times as good-- the Fellowship may not have even broken! I cursed Sam for his foolishness when he revealed Frodo's possession of the Ring to Faramir, but the scene where Faramir reveals that he's not even tempted is great. He's probably my favorite character in The Lord of the Rings who's not a member of the Fellowship.

Though it's not my favorite book of the story, so far, it has what is definitely my favorite sequence: Sam fighting Shelob. Everything in this section is fantastic: Sam's determination, his reaction to the "death" of Frodo. The whole last chapter is a class act; everything in the book up until this point has shown you what an undertaking it is for three people to carry the Ring into the fire, and here, Sam decides that he's going to do it alone. But then Frodo's not dead! Poor guy. And I loved the bit where he charges around the corner to reclaim Frodo from the orcs only to realize that they were much further off than he thought, and they don't even notice him. The Ring Goes East is really the installment of The Lord of the Rings that elevates Sam from comedy assistant to developed, forceful character, and I love it.

There are a lot of other things to like in The Ring Goes East, when they're not slogging through swamps. On the other hand, what's with the totally racist depiction of the Southrons? That's a little troubling. I love Sam's search for an oliphaunt.

But best of all is the page where Sam and Frodo discuss stories. This I'm going to quote in full, because it's all good:
'And we shouldn't be here at all, [said Sam] if we'd known more about it before we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those that went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren't always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?' 
'I wonder,' said Frodo. 'But I don't know. And that's the way of a real tale. Take any one that you're fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don't know. And you don't want them to.' 
'No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that's a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it [...]. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! [...] Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?' 
'No, they never end as tales,' said Frodo. 'But the people in then come, and go when their part's ended. Our part will end later – or sooner.' 
[...] 'Still, I wonder if shall ever be put into songs or tales. We're in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: "Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring!" And they'll say: "Yes, that's one of my favorite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn't he dad?" "Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that's saying a lot."' 
'It's saying a lot too much,' said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. [...] 'Why Sam,' he said, 'to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you've left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. "I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn't they put in more of his talk, dad? That's what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam, would he, dad?"' 
'Now, Mr. Frodo,' said Sam, 'you shouldn't make fun. I was serious.' 
'So was I,' said Frodo, 'and so I am.' (pp. 149-51)
I didn't mean to quote that much (is that fair use?), but now I have, and I stand by it. It's a lovely passage-- from meditation on the nature of storytelling to deep emotional revelation. And every word of it is true.

10 May 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part XVII: Trouble in Mind

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2011-12)
Borrowed from the library
Read May 2013
Birds of Prey, Volume 1: Trouble in Mind

Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Jesus Saiz
Additional Art: Javier Pina
Colorists: Nei Ruffino, Allen Passalaqua, June Chung 
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual

Things have changed a lot since we last saw the Birds of Prey: the Huntress and Lady Blackhawk are nowhere to be seen, and Barbara Gordon is walking again, having resumed the role of Batgirl. Dinah Lance a.k.a. the Black Canary is still wanted for murder, though, and so in order to fight a new threat she's uncovered, she's put together her own "covert ops team run by a bunch of supercriminal hotties": herself, Ev Starling, Katana, and Poison Ivy. And Barbara Gordon wants to help, even if she won't be seen with them in public.

While it's quite a jump from The Death of Oracle to Trouble in Mind (some might say it's a whole new universe), the recognizable threads of Birds of Prey are still there, and Trouble in Mind is their best outing since Tony Bedard's Club Kids. The action is fast without ever being too frenetic, there are some great set-pieces (particularly the train fight), the narration keeps character without ever becoming overwhelming, there's an intriguing mystery. Though the story doesn't fit within this seven-issue volume, it never stops moving, and it doesn't feel decompressed; every chapter adds a new wrinkle or complication to the mix. The story's choppy sometimes, but that's never not on purpose, and it's good comics, serving to disorient the reader in the same way that the characters are.

The characters really shine even though the action doesn't stop moving. Dinah is still recognizably Dinah, an action hero with the right amount of compassion to get the job done, and Ev Starling is a lot of fun from panel one: kind of a crazier version of the Huntress. Both seem to have something lurking in their backstories-- the murder for Black Canary, something we don't quite know yet for Starling. Poison Ivy works surprisingly well. She might be a "villain," but it's obvious that in her own mind and own world she's a hero fighting the good fight, and she integrates well. Katana we don't know enough about yet, but her gimmick is entertaining enough all on its own.

Jesus Saiz also turns out to be the best artist on Birds of Prey since Nicola Scott left. Clean pencils and inks, great with facial expressions, resists the tendency to cheesecacke, draws cool and coherent action. I hope he sticks with this title a long time. (Maybe he'll get the pull to simplify Jim Lee's overly busy redesign for the Black Canary. Just losing the shoulderpads would be an improvement.) Javier Pina fills in for one issue, and proves up to the task, too.

This is my last volume of Birds of Prey for a while: the next volume, Your Kiss Might Kill, is out, but too recently for me to pick up via ILL. It's a series that's had its occasional false start and misdirection, but at its best it's delivered some fun comics with some entertaining characters. I look forward to coming back to it some day, and to picking up more stories about these same characters-- especially Black Canary and the Huntress-- elsewhere.

08 May 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part XVI: The Death of Oracle

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2011)
Borrowed from the library
Read May 2013
Birds of Prey: The Death of Oracle

Writers: Gail Simone, Marc Andreyko
Artists: Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, Guillem March, Inaki Miranda, Pere Pérez, Jesus Saiz, Diego Olmos, Billy Tucci, Adriana Melo, JP Mayer, Eber Ferreira
Colorists: Nei Ruffino, Bob Schwager  
Letterers: Travis Lanham, Dave Sharpe, Swands, Carlos M. Mangual

Like some of the previous Birds of Prey volumes, this is a loose collection of individual stories, so I'll handle them one by one. The first of these is the titular one, "The Death of Oracle," where Barbara decides that these days too many people know there is an Oracle, and that just that bare fact opens her up to too much, and so she executes a masterplan that will allow the world to think that Oracle is dead. Of course, this masterplan goes awry, as the Calculator pulls some unexpected allies in, but not too awry. It's an okay story, with a couple good moments (I love the roles of Savant and Creote in the reconstituted Birds of Prey, and Dove getting drunk for the first time is enjoyable), but mostly it feels like one long fight scene stretched out over four issues. The way the Calculator's henchmen turn on him in the last part comes out of nowhere, too.

It's let down by some inconsistent and often-terrible art. Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes do a good job on the first chapter, and Guillem March isn't bad on the second, but I find Inake Miranda's work to be plastic and artificial, especially his faces, which seems incapable of conveying real emotion, and his linework is all the same thickness. Especially bad is the scene where Oracle reveals the full extent of her plan to Batman, Batman, Batgirl, Red Robin, and Misfit,* and all the characters stand in a succession of poses.

It's also let down by the fact that it doesn't really matter. The Birds don't seem to operate any differently with a "dead" Oracle, and indeed, they're pretty sloppy about keeping her up the necessary appearances, talking about Oracle right in front of villains they're fighting. What's more, at first Manhunter is specifically shown as one of the characters they're deceiving, but by the end of the book, she's not only in on the deception, she knows that Barbara Gordon is Oracle-- something she didn't know before Oracle was "killed." Some heightening of security.

"Which Reason Knows Not Of" continues the development of the flirtation between the Huntress and Catman begun in Dead of Winter. Their interplay is good, though Catman's triple-bluff plan here is a little too complicated to be believable, and I'm not sure why he even wants the result that he gets, which seems unnecessary given how superficial his relationship with the Huntress is.

"Hostile Takeover" is probably the best story in the book, a simple two-issue caper featuring the Birds teaming up with the Question. Fun and not too complicated, just like I prefer my stories, though there are too many characters. (On the other hand, this is the only time Hawk ever feels interesting.) Jesus Saiz does good art on the first issue, though Diego Olmos's backgroundless panels feel phoned-in. I don't get why the Huntress replaces the Black Canary as field leader, though.

The book (and this incarnation of Birds of Prey) wraps up with "War and Remembrance," a two-part callback to the Golden Age. A post-WWII mission of the original Black Canary, the Phantom Lady, and Lady Blackhawk turns out to have modern-day repercussions. A good idea, but ultimately the story's kind of a muddle, and it ends on a lame "joke" where all the characters laugh. Also, since when was the original Black Canary active during World War II? The art is done by like five different people, and I liked some of it.

Ultimately, I don't know how necessary this revival of Birds of Prey was. Though I didn't like the way that the original series wrapped up, this reincarnation seemed to stagger around without clear direction or purpose. And why go to the bother of getting Gail Simone back if you're just going to pair her with an ever-changing cadre of subpar artists?

* Speaking of Misfit, why is this her only appearance in this whole book? She supposedly moved in with Helena during Oracle: The Cure, but we haven't actually seen her since then, and End Run mentioned she was with foster parents. I miss her!

06 May 2013

Review: Urban Realism and the Cosmopolitan Imagination in the Nineteenth Century: Visible City, Invisible World by Tanya Agathocleous

Hardcover, 266 pages
Published 2011
Borrowed from  the library
Read April 2013
Urban Realism and the Cosmopolitan Imagination in the Nineteenth Century: Visible City, Invisible World
by Tanya Agathocleous

Agathocleous's monograph has at its center a great idea: the "world-city" concept, the idea that an individual city can stand in for the shape and state of the entire world. She traces this idea's emergence in the nineteenth century, specifically in the form of novels and other writings about London in the genre she dubs "cosmopolitan realism." It's a great idea, well-articulated, especially in the introduction and the first couple chapters, as well as the last one. There's definitely some potential for our understanding of utopian fiction, which Agathocleous mines for a reading of News from Nowhere, but could apply to many more examples beside.

03 May 2013

Review: Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation, 1830-1864 by Mary Poovey

Trade paperback, 255 pages
Published 1995
Acquired  April 2012
Read September 2012
Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation, 1830-1864
by Mary Poovey

Mary Poovey’s Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation, 1830-1864 examines the way that British society was consolidated in the early nineteenth century, particularly through practices dependent on the metaphor of the “social body,” practices that she refers to with the term “aggregation,” and many of which are scientific practices: “The image of a single culture had begun to seem plausible in 1860… because the technologies capable of materializing an aggregate known as the ‘population’ had been institutionalized for several decades. These technologies included the census… and statistics” (4). These technologies of aggregation are a form of scientific detachment, because they allow aspects of culture to be approached from a distance, not bound up in individuals.

Poovey repeatedly considers the gendered dimensions of aggregation. She seems to predominantly consider the practice of aggregation a male one, perhaps because of the metaphors aggregation employed. In discussing Edwin Chadwick’s Sanitary Report (1842), she points out that his “plan for improving the sanitary conditions, and hence the productivity, of Britain’s working poor cast the city (and society more generally) as a giant body that required a physician’s care” (37); on the other hand, writers such as Charles Babbage employed the metaphor of the social machine or factory (38). Either one of these metaphors makes the detached observer male, for the typical doctor and typical (if not all) factory operator were men. Poovey later generalizes that by the early nineteenth century, “the abstract reasoning of political economy was considered a masculine epistemology, while the aesthetic appreciation of concrete particulars and imaginative excursions was considered feminine” (133). Her discussion of this separation, however, throughout Making a Social Body seems to set up an implicit preference for the feminine epistemology over the masculine: Poovey seems to consistently privilege “the aesthetic appreciation of concrete particulars” and view instances of abstract reasoning with suspicion or hostility, recalling Donna Haraway’s characterization of feminist critiques of objectivity as being only about “what they have meant and how it hurts us.”

In discussing James Philip Kay’s The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester (1832), Poovey characterizes his work as being “[e]mpirical observations of specific instances of working-class distress, gathered and interpreted by a middle-class (white male) expert” (57). The construction of the phrase, especially the parenthetical insertion of “white male” seems to indicate that the reader is mean to take it as read that a middle-class, male examination of working-class subjects is innately flawed.

Poovey presents as an alternative to this “anatomical realism” (74) the actions of Ellen Ranyard, the founder of the Female Bible Mission, which undertook to place a Bible in every home. Though Poovey admits that Ranyard too “contributed to the rationality associated with abstraction” (50), she seems to praise Ranyard for her determination “that the knowledge generated by the mission about the poor should not be used to facilitate either the kind of aggregation that let Chadwick to calculate the tons of waste produced by poor bodies each year or the kind of science whose systematic nature was its chief criterion for its success” (51). Poovey claims that Ranyard was “adapting a practice associated with women to a science dominated by men” and thus “preserved an alternative model of knowledge that challenged the claim to superiority advanced by the science she practiced” (54), but does not really substantiate why Ranyard’s endeavor was superior to the masculine efforts of Chadwick it contrasted against. Chadwick’s work was aimed at reducing the suffering of the poor, even if in aggregate and even if it was unsuccessful; Ranyard’s work resulted in the dissemination of a number of Bibles among the lower classes, but does not seem to have been particularly helpful in reducing the suffering of the poor, either. The praise for Ranyard’s efforts seems to mostly rest on an unquestioned belief that her “feminine” epistemology was somehow superior to the masculine one that it was challenging (but nevertheless being replaced by). Though Poovey’s analysis of the gendering of specific forms of knowledge is useful and strong, the problem I see with Poovey’s approach is that she seems to have bought into the dualism that the nineteenth century set up—only she has just reversed its significance.

01 May 2013

Reading Roundup Wrapup: April 2013

Pick of the month: The Treason of Isengard by J. R. R. Tolkien. Not my favorite installment of The Lord of the Rings so far, but a good one in a month where I didn't read a whole lot. Gimli is awesome, Aragorn sings, Merry and Pippin actually do something smart. What's not to like?

All books read:
1. (The Best of) Shooty Dog Thing by Paul Castle and… Jon Arnold, Elizabeth Burak, Lawrence Burton, Lee Catigen-Cooper, Danielle Ellison, Terry Francis, James Gent, Angela Giblin, Stephen Gray, James Hadwen, Tim Hirst, Arfie Mansfield, Iain Martin, Nick Mellish, Patrick Mulready, Wesley Osam, Richard Parker, Erik Pollitt, and James Powell
2. Mizora: A World of Women by Mary E. Bradley Lane
3. The Treason of Isengard: Being the Third Book of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
4. Birds of Prey: End Run by Gail Simone
5. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George
6. Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland by Harvey Pekar
7. The Annotated Wizard of Oz: Centennial Edition by L. Frank Baum, edited by Michael Patrick Hearn
8. Urban Realism and the Cosmopolitan Imagination in the Nineteenth Century: Visible City, Invisible World by Tanya Agathocleous
9. Iris Wildthyme: The Panda Book of Horror edited by Stuart Douglas and Paul Magrs

All books acquired:
1. Superman: The Music (1978–1988) by Mike Matessino, Lukas Kendall, and Jeff Elridge
2. The Pelican History of England: 3. English Society in the Early Middle Ages (1066-1307) by Doris Mary Stenton
3. The Pelican History of England: 4. England in the Late Middle Ages by A. R. Myers
4. Bernice Summerfield IX: Old Friends by Jonathan Clements, Marc Platt & Pete Kempshall
5. Shooty Dog Thing: 2th & Claw by Paul Castle and Jon Arnold with Colin Brake, Simon Bucher-Jones, Finn Clark, Stuart Douglas, Angela Giblin, James Hadwen, Tim Lambert, David MacGowan, Arfie Mansfield, Chris McKeon, Nick Mellish, Mike Morgan, Cathleen O’Neill, Wesley Osam, James Powell, David Turner, Jo Whineray, and Alex Wilson-Fletcher
6. My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 513

Review: The Treason of Isengard by J. R. R. Tolkien

Hardcover, 252 pages
Published 2000 (originally 1954)
Acquired February 2011
Read April 2013
The Treason of Isengard: Being the Third Book of The Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien

I didn't realize/remember the way that The Lord of the Rings was structured in detail, so I was surprised by intrigued when I discovered that Frodo and Sam were completely absent from this book, which instead follows the adventures of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli and Merry and Pippin following the disintegration of the Fellowship. One of my problems with The Ring Goes South was that there were too many characters caught up in the narrative; the splitting of the Fellowship into three distinct groups gives everyone more space to breathe and become their own people.

Merry and Pippin on their own was fantastic, and I wish we'd gotten to see more of it directly (much of their adventures are reported by the two hobbits to the other characters late in the novel). They turn out to be surprisingly resourceful when captured by the orcs; the bit where they pretend to the have the Ring on them was one of my favorite parts. Their encounters with the Ents, too, are good fun.

Most of the book is spent on the Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli trio (who are later joined by Gandalf), and it is time well spent. Gimli is my favorite character-- always ready to threaten someone with his axe and competing with Legolas over his number of kills, but also grumpy when he thinks Galadriel hasn't sent him a message, and wistful about the beauty of the caverns behind Helm's Deep. (Also, he refuses to sing over Boromir's grave. Unlike Aragorn, who sings every ten pages-- something I have a hard time picturing his film counterpart doing!)

While the Battle of Helm's Deep isn't the spectacle it is in the films, it's still one of the highlights of the books so far. Tolkien shifts his usual style; rather than long passages of description, the events come at us in short sections, sometimes only a couple paragraphs at a time, imbuing both the buildup to the battle and the battle itself with tension and a slight sense of disconnection and choppiness that really works.

Each book of The Lords of the Rings so far has been different to the once preceding it; this one is a high fantasy war story. I don't know if I prefer it to The Ring Sets Out's more rustic tone, but it's well-executed, enjoyable, and fast-paced.