Saturday, 31 May 2014

Bakshi Animated Lord of the Rings Part 4

You may be pleased to hear that we’ve almost finished the kind of extended live blog of the Animated The Lord of the Rings film! This is the penultimate part.

In last week’s edition the Fellowship was formed, they set out for Mount Doom and passed through the Mines of Moria where we were forced to say goodbye to Gandalf. Now the Fellowship are forced to decide what to do without Gandalf.

61. Aragorn and Boromir have a heated debate about whether or not they should go to Lothlorien.

62. A second later we see Galadriel introducing herself, so guess where we’ve gone. She has a husband named Sellaborn, with an uh... interesting haircut. From the side view Galadriel looks kind of pretty but front on she has freakishly large eyes.

63. Aragorn and Frodo listen to a song about Gandalf. It’s sung by children and is so sickly sweet I can practically feel my teeth rotting as I listen to it.

64. There’s a little montage of male bonding as the Fellowship gets over losing Gandalf. The guys practice fighting and archery, Sam sniffs flowers and Legolas and Gimli seem slightly more friendly with each other.

65. Galadriel shows Sam her mirror and we don’t see what he sees, but it can’t be good because he announces that he needs to go home, except he doesn’t. Her mirror doesn’t look very clean, it’s like someone’s put oil in it. On Frodo’s turn he thinks he sees Gandalf except it must be Aruman. The Galadriel shows Frodo her ring; it has rainbow sparkles coming out of it. Pretty.

66. When Frodo offers Galadriel the Ring the film completely misses the point. She laughs and spins and sounds quite happy at the prospect. I don’t think that the person doing Galadriel’s voice really understood what she was saying at this bit because she doesn’t sound like she’s been tested at all, she sounds like a simpering schoolgirl!

67. The Fellowship heads down the river in boats, past the Argonath. It’s all a bit drear.

68. A moment later they’re stopped beside the river trying to work out where they’re going to go next. Frodo wants an hour to make the decision regarding which route they’ll take.

69. Boromir sneaks up behind him. God his skirt is short! He wants Frodo to go to Minas Tirith (except they all call it Mynas Tirith). Also no one in this film is capable of talking without waving their arms around so Boromir spends most of this speech clenching his fists and spreading his arms randomly. It culminates in him asking Frodo for the Ring and then chasing Frodo.

70. Frodo puts on the Ring and disappears and after a moment Boromir realises that maybe his approach wasn’t the best one to take. He returns to the Company where he admits he was a bit of a prat. No one stops to discuss the best course of action (or to tie Boromir up), they all just run away.

71. Sam finally shows some smarts and realises Frodo’ll be heading for a boat. It’s kind of nice the way Frodo and Sam debate where Frodo will go by rowing in opposite directions… at least I think that’s deliberate, otherwise it’s just really bad animation. They agree to go and Gollum follows them.

72. Merry and Pippin run into a bunch of rotoscoped orcs. This bit looks a bit funny because everything has a red tint to it. Boromir rescues them but is hit by a bunch of arrows. He proves that the skirt is just for show and he’s actually a real badass because he just pulls the whole wodge of arrows out and carries on fighting. Merry and Pippin just stand and watch for a moment, then run into the fight and are knocked out.

73. Boromir blows his horn until he’s hit by another arrow that finishes him off. By the time Aragorn finds him he’s feeling remorseful and asks Aragorn to go to Mynas Tirith. He also reveals that the orcs took the Halflings and they’re probably still alive… then he isn’t.

74. Since he’s a Viking he gets a Viking burial, complete with burning torches. Aragorn tells Legolas and Gimli (who’s really tall for a Dwarf) that they’re going for Merry and Pippin. Legolas thinks they’re dead. He’s such an optimist.

75. We’re treated to lots of running, including running in slow motion for some variety. There’s lots of nice scenery there, shame that the actual characters aren’t as well drawn.

76. We then get a really long shot of a bunch of black figures running across the countryside getting closer and closer. We get to see them from all different angles and perspectives which lets us know they’ve got Merry and Pippin and they’re still alive. This is pure padding, we skipped over the Council of Elrond in a couple of minutes but we’ve spent twice as long watching the orcs run! The orcs are obviously unpleasant fellows and it’s revealed they’re taking the hobbits to Isengard. Do do do do dodo do do dooo.

77. Then they’re all off running again.

78. Aragorn finds a little round thing… I’m guessing Pippin’s brooch. They debate whether they should keep running or rest for the night. While Legolas and Gimli debate this Aragorn runs off. Definite leader that one.

79. And then it’s the orcs again, this time being run down by a bunch of rotoscoped riders on horseback, all in a tinted sepia colour.

80. Back to Frodo and Sam who are pleased that they’ve got some rope from the Elves to get them down the cliffs. Sam looks across at Mount Doom. It’s a nice picture, in a creepy, deserted wilderness kind of way.

81. Gollum catches up with them and but they catch him first. He sounds sort of Scottish. Sometimes he looks perfect, just the way I picture him, and other times he looks just, well, weird.

82. Frodo recruits Gollum to their party. Sam does not look impressed by this but when Frodo tells Gollum he’s to lead them to Mordor Sam does produce a piece of rope as if from nowhere to tie him up. Then it’s Gollum’s turn to be thoroughly unimpressed.

83. And back to Merry, Pippin and the orcs who are surrounded by riders. The orcs keep fighting with each other. I’m no tactical expert but I don’t think that’s the most effective way to win a battle.
Legolas, meanwhile, is looking in the direction of the orcs and lamenting the fact that they’re far away. All that guy does is moan!

84. Merry and Pippin pretend that they’ve got the Ring and just as an orc’s about to take them out a Rider gets him first. The hobbits get away which is just as well because all the sepia tinted rotoscoping is kind of hard to focus on!

85. They wander into a river and Merry identifies their location as Fangorn Forest but they have to climb a tree to work out exactly where they are. A voice, who sounds a lot like Christopher Lee (but isn’t), announces his presence and a moment later Merry and Pippin are being carried through the forest by a tree-thing called Treebeard. They’ve got the resonance of his voice right but he doesn’t not look at all like an Ent, it’s kind of comical. Merry and Pippin clap like Treebeard’s just produced a big bowl of mushrooms when they hear him saying he doesn’t like orcs.

86. And who knows where they’re going or what’s going to happen to them because that’s the last time that we see them in this film!

Now don’t expect a proper resolution to this next week because if you do you’ll be disappointed. What you do have to look forward to is a trip to Aydoras, the battle of Helm’s Deep and a teeny bit more of Gollum, Frodo and Sam.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bad Beginning, Chapter 3

Welcome to the third chapter review of Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning. As usual, there may be spoilers ahead…

What Happens?
Count Olaf is just as bad as the children were expecting and his house is no better. Each morning he leaves them a long list of chores to be done by the end of the day. One day they are instructed to cook a meal from scratch for Olaf and his entire theatre troupe. The children have no idea how to cook but luckily Justice Strauss stops by and they ask to borrow a cookbook. Justice Strauss invites them to her library and helps them to find a recipe book with the instructions for making Puttanesca.

Thoughts as I read:

As always, the chapter begins with one of Brett Helquist’s gorgeous illustrations. This time it’s an extreme close up on Count Olaf’s eyes and his spectacular monobrow. It’s all bushy and looks a little like a phoenix which I’m sure is unintentional, but also kind of apt considering the fire theme in the series.

This chapter begins with a short treatise about how first impressions can be entirely wrong, first giving the examples of a painting or cheese, but then going on to explain how Klaus wasn’t particularly fond of Sunny when she was born. As the weeks passed he grew to love her. Aww. This, of course, is all set up for the narrator to reveal that the children’s first impressions of Count Olaf were entirely correct; he’s thoroughly unpleasant and his house isn’t very nice either!

Count Olaf has put all three children into one room, with one bed. Obviously no one actually checked the home was suitable for three children before they were handed over to him. Although presumably there are more than two bedrooms in the house because it seems to be quite large. Violet and Klaus are forced to take turns sleeping on the floor and the bed, while Violet uses the curtains to make a little bed for Sunny.

Removing the curtains means that they’re woken up by the sunlight every morning. I’m so glad we swapped out our thin bedroom curtains for much thicker ones. It’s summer now and I’m still woken up by the light coming in but at least it’s not quite as bright as it used to be.

Anyway, enough about me, back to the Baudelaires, who have no toys to amuse themselves with in their bedroom. Count Olaf has kindly provided them with a pile of rocks. I’d throw them at him. Oh, and there’s another painting of an eye on the wall here too. That brings our count up to four…

We get another fakeout as the text tells us ‘But the children knew, as I’m sure you know, that the worst surroundings in the world can be tolerated if the people in them are interesting and kind.’ Perhaps leading the unsuspecting reader to think that Count Olaf isn’t really too bad. Well, if you thought that, you’d be wrong. Olaf is just as bad as the children thought he would be. And he smells.

Luckily he’s not around too much. Each day he leaves the children a list of jobs to do while he’s out or doing mysterious things up his tower. He’s quite a creepy character so I’m not sure I want to know what he gets up to in his tower! There’s another eye here as well (that’s five) because he sign’s the note with an eye. He’s watching them.

The latest note tells the children that they’re to cook dinner for his theatre troupe, signed with yet another eye (six). He also gives them some money to buy the ingredients. I’m kind of surprised that he gave them money, personally if I were the kids I’d take it, even if it wasn’t a lot, and get the hell out of there.

The flaw in this request is that the children don’t know how to cook. They’ve obviously come from a wealthy family and have never had a reason to prepare a meal from scratch before. Plus, they’re only young, they probably don’t even know how to plan and budget a meal for eleven people. Hell, I’m nearly thirty and I’d struggle to cook an unplanned meal for that number of people!

There’s a bittersweet moment here where Violet deplores the fact that all she can cook is toast and Klaus points out that sometimes she can’t even do that! They remember an occasion when she burned the toast she was preparing as a surprise for their parents, who smelled the smoke and rushed down and cooked pancakes instead. Of course, because I’m reading way too much into this, I realise this shows that they didn’t have smoke detectors in the house and also that the fire which took over the Baudelaire mansion must have spread pretty quickly if they hadn’t been able to get out. Just a thought.

Reminiscing about life before Count Olaf brings the children back to thinking about how much they miss their parents and how much they hate Count Olaf. Violet says ‘They would never let us stay in this dreadful place’ and I wonder whether it’s the parents’ fault for not being more specific in their will, or Mr Poe’s fault for not executing it properly, or if perhaps Count Olaf managed to worm his way into the scenario somehow.

Sunny then says ‘Jook!’ which is one of the few of her phrases not to be defined. It’s either her attempt to say ‘chin up’ like her siblings, or ‘cook’ to remind them of the task set by Count Olaf.

Klaus, ever the bookworm, suggests that a cookbook would tell them how to cook and what they’d need to buy for it. Unsurprisingly there’s no cookbook in the house. Not only are there no cookbooks, there are no books at all. This makes Klaus miserable and I can’t blame him. I hate it when I don’t have anything to read – living in an age of Kindles and Smartphones makes this easier to deal with, but there’s nothing more frustrating than not having a good book when you need one.

They’re interrupted by a knock at the door and they briefly hope that someone might want to visit them. It’s revealed that since their parents died most of their parents’ friends have cut off all contact with the children. On the one hand I think that this makes them very bad friends, on the other hand I can’t help but wonder if maybe Count Olaf is threatening them with something. Perhaps I’m making him more powerful than he actually is and the Baudelaire parents’ friends are just big jerks.

Another eye. The peephole is in the shape of one. That makes seven.

Justice Strauss has popped by to check up on them. At least somebody is. She’s been busy so couldn’t come round soon. I remember when I was first reading these books and trying to work out if everything was a clue… this time around I’ve forgotten so much that I’m still wondering if everything is a clue. Strauss was busy with a case involving ‘a poisonous plant and illegal use of someone’s credit card’ and I’m wondering if either of those two things are going to come back into play later in the story!

Sunny says ‘Yeeka!’ which means ‘How interesting!’ I wonder if that’s like Eureka! Either way Justice Strauss understands Sunny, which I think is a mark of the good guys in this series. I think the good characters understand her and the bad guys don’t, or at least pretend not to.

Sunny shows she likes Justice Strauss by giving her a gentle bite, apparently she bites hard if she doesn’t like someone or if someone tries to give her a bath, hehe.

Justice Strauss asks if there’s anything they want. I think it’s an interesting choice of words here, she says ‘desire’ as opposed to ‘need’. It allows the children to think about things that they really want, which you might be able to argue they don’t necessarily need (like a closet instead of a cardboard box for their clothes). I think this word choice definitely means something. It certainly stuck out at me, but I can’t work out exactly why.

Klaus decides that the one thing they ‘desire’ that they can ask Strauss for is a cookbook. She’s a little surprised at the task they’ve been set, but all the same she invites them round to her house to find a suitable book.

Once again, Justice Strauss’s house is a complete contrast to Count Olaf’s; it’s ‘well-kept’ and smells of flowers. Whereas in my mind Olaf’s house is dark and dingy, Strauss lives in a house which is light and airy. And she has a library, unlike Olaf who doesn’t have a single book to his name, all of Strauss’s books are out on display in a room appointed just for them. Ah.

Justice Strauss gives the children free reign of the library as long as they treat the books well. In the familiar, repetitive refrain the three children each express an interest in a particular type of book; Violet is interested in books on mechanical engineering; Klaus is interested in books about wolves, wanting to learn more about North American wild animals; and Sunny says ‘Book!’ her first actual word in the series, meaning ‘Please don’t forget to pick out a picture book for me.’

The children eventually find a book with a recipe for Puttanesca pasta sauce which seems fairly straightforward to make and so the chapter ends on a bit of a high note. The three Baudelaire children think that perhaps life might just be bearable with Justice Strauss next door, giving them somewhere to escape when things are bad. But as we’re only three chapters into a thirteen book series, I think even someone reading it for the first time will be able to work out that’s unlikely to be the case.

This chapter has seen the story get moving properly. It’s kind of establishing the adults that the children now have in their lives (and the fact that they’re polar opposites of each other). We’re getting to see just how bad Count Olaf can be, which is only setting us up for more bad behaviour from him. But it also shows that the children are quite capable of surviving together, as well as at solving problems as they arise.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Day Zero Project: Read all the Discworld Books

Way back in 2010 I set myself a little challenge, which I decided to include on my Day Zero Project list because as I’d already started it, it seemed like it’d been an easy one to complete. I had acquired every Discworld novel published and so aimed to read them all, in order of publication.

And I managed it.

It took me quite a while, although considering I made my list in 2012 and I finished the challenge in 2013 I maybe didn’t do too badly, although there were quite a few of the books that I’d actually read the year before.

There were quite a few of the Discworld books that I’d read before, but I tended to read them by character series (so I’d read a few of the Death books, a few of the Witches books, a couple of stand-alones, etc.) rather than from beginning to end. Whenever I recommend the Discworld books to people I always suggest that they start with one of those strands rather than with The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. Considering they’re the first in the series, they’re really hard to read and get into.

I discovered quite a few things while I was reading these books:

  • The Rincewind books are probably my least favourite.
  • The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Soul Music, Monstrous Regiment and Going Postal will always be my favourites.
  • I own two signed first editions, one is The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, the other is Hat Full of Sky. I didn’t even know the latter had been signed until I started reading it!
  • There is no bookcase wide enough to hold all of the Discworld books side by side and still fit in my living room.
  • Pratchett books are full of brick jokes, making it impossible to record all of my favourite quotes because it would necessitate copying out half the book in some cases.
  • My favourite series within the series is probably the Watch books; I like the way that the character of Sam Vimes changes from his first introduction right through the series.
  • I need to go back and reread them all again at some point because I think you get much more from them on a repeated reading.
Have you ever tried to read every book in the series? Which are your favourites?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Book 66 of 2013: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

On Boxing Day I realised I was going to need some reading material that would keep me going until the end of the year. It's one of my (many) weird little quirks that I don't like to end a year on an unfinished book. There's something about getting up on the 1st of January and starting a fresh book, or maybe it's not wanting too much baggage from the year before. Whatever the reason, I needed to find a book that I could either read quick enough to move onto another quick read before the year was out, or that I could take my time over and so drag out until New Year's Eve.  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets it was.  
 I've lost track of the number of times that I've read this. I first read the first four when I moved to Scotland and I like to reread them fairly frequently. Earlier in the year I'd read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for my course so this seemed like a good excuse to start rereading all the others.  Of all the books Chamber of Secrets is my least favourite. I like it more now that I've read the later books - particularly Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows - because it obviously links closely to those books and so I can appreciate those more on these rereads. I'm not sure exactly what it was that made me dislike this one. Even on this reread I couldn't pick out what it was that annoys me about it. It just does.  That said, it's really clever the way that it links to the future book. I love to pick out the one line references to things that don't crop up again for another five books. It just shows how much thought and planning went into this series. It's not until going through them on later rereads that you actually pick up on them all.  I do like the way that this book is kind of a mystery, with the kids trying to solve the mystery of the Chamber. All the little clues are given to help follow along with them as they try to work it out. The problem is, there's not really a sense that they won't do it. You know that they're going to get everything worked out in the end because they survived Voldemort in the last book so this time it should be a breeze. I like that this is the final book to follow this pattern and after this one the characters really start to mature.  I think that two of the things that do bug me with this book is Professor Lockhart (who I like a lot more once he loses his memory) and Dobby's hamfisted attempts to get Harry to stay away from Hogwarts. Again, I like Dobby later in the series so I think it's just this actual book.
I did manage to get it finished before the end of the year, at about 10pm on New Year's Eve in fact, so I was able to start a new book at the start of the year. I was particularly impressed because I hadn't done much reading over the Christmas break so I had to read roughly half the book within the space of bout six hours. I did it with time to spare!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Film Review: X-Men Days of Future Past

I probably don't need to tell you this, but I'm a geek. If the constant talk of The Lord of the Rings didn't give me away then the recently acquired Star Wars rats should have. Other favourite geeky topics of conversation include Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett.

Oh, and X-Men.

I enjoyed the cartoon as a child. I guess from an early age I could see the logic in someone being born different (and therefore a mutant) as opposed to being bitten by a spider (why would you get that close?!) but I really fell in love with it when I saw the film as a teenager.

I admit that this may have had something to do with the fact it features a topless Hugh Jackman.

Living on a small island has meant that I've grown used to seeing films weeks (or even months) after they're released, so imagine my surprise when I discovered we were getting the latest X-Men film at the actual time it was released.

This meant I got to go see it on Friday, the actual day it came out!!!!! I'm not sure there are enough exclamation marks in the world to accurately convey how happy this made me.

And now onto my thoughts on the film, in no particular order:


Xavier and Magneto having to work together. Twice!

Timey wimey plot stuff. They have Wolverine go back in time, as opposed to Kitty Pryde, this makes sense though because the person going back is projected into their body in the time they went back to. This would make Kitty something like -30 so Wolverine, who doesn't age, is the obvious choice.

Tyrion Lannister is a bad guy. Well, he doesn't think he is, but he kind of brings about the destruction of humanity so he sort of is by default.

There are so many funny bits in it. The woman sad behind me kept laughing really loudly but it was okay because I was chuckling away too.

BIG SPOILERS AHEAD! (Highlight to read)

I also love the effective retconning of everything from around X2 onwards. It's very clever and it gives them a clean slate to work on, with all the characters at their disposal, for more sequels.

I ended up lying awake after we saw it sorting out things in my head too. Basically 1970s Professor X learns that he needs to let people make their own decisions and that he can't control them. Then there's the surprise reveal at the end (which I was not expecting) that Jean Grey and Scott are now alive in the present day (well, our future).

I think that because Xavier learnt not to control people in the past he realised that shutting off part of Jean's mind to her wasn't the best tactic so he did something different, thus preventing the whole Dark Phoenix Saga. As I was always kind of annoyed at the ending of The Last Stand this makes me quite happy.

Unfortunately I don't have anyone to share my geeky theories with, so you'll just have to listen to my ramblings here. Sorry.

In short, this is up there as my favourite X-Men film. It took me right back to being much younger and making up X-Men games for my younger brother. And now I can't wait to see it again, oh, and I want more. Lots more!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Weekly Rundown: The Rat Babies Edition

Despite being REALLY long, this week has been really good. Particularly the last bit of this week.

You see, yesterday we headed off to the mainland to collect some baby rats. After the last of our girlie rats died we weren't really in a position to adopt any more. Plus all of them had developed mammary tumours which was all kinds of heartbreaking.

But we recently decided to use some of the space in the spare bedroom to store the big rat cage which had been taking up a ridiculous amount of cupboard space. And as it's out of the cupboard we figured we might as well fill it up.

Well, that wasn't the only reason.

Others include my decision to give myself a break from studying until next October, when the course I actually want to do is running, rather than just studying something for the sake of it, so having more free time in the evenings. The fact that I miss having ratties also came into it a lot.

So we picked up little Yoda & Wicket. Aged six weeks and very cute.

They're also very springy! Wicket in particular (the black one) has been nicknamed Wicket the Cricket! Owing to the events causing him to end up on the floor rather than the carry case we were transporting them in.

Yoda is slightly more outgoing than Wicket; he was right up at the front of the cage when we went to meet them and when we put them in their cage at home he kept begging for attention. He's going to be a handful.

At the moment they're both in our baby/hospital cage. It's actually a repurposed hamster cage but it's big enough for two babies and gives us easy access until they're slightly more hand tame. I think Yoda'll be there within the week, Wicket might take a little longer. I'll keep track of progress here.

Other than adopting little furballs of cuteness, this week has been more of the same. After submitting my EMA I've had a wee bit more knitting time, which has been nice.

This is the result:

I've got two more little bunnies to do and then I have to embroider their faces. I'd normally do that when I stuffed them but I forgot. That makes it trickier to hide the ends so I'm putting it off as long as I can!

I've finished reading Bored of the Rings and have moved on to Colin Dexter's Service of All the Dead. I'm enjoying it, but I struggle to follow through Morse's thought processes which makes it harder to solve the mystery on my own.

I'm also ploughing through The Bad Beginning. I'm hoping to start posting these a little more frequently than once a week, either doubling up (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) or alongside other posts. I worry about spamming people but I don't mind blogs that update frequently, I really enjoy having a wife range of posts in my BlogLovin feed.

As the baby rat names might suggest, we're still watching Star Wars films. Most recently was The Empire Strikes Back yesterday. We also got a trip to the cinema in on Friday night (more about that tomorrow). Oh and we're still working through Criminal Minds and The Two Ronnies.

Speaking of which, while we were off the island yesterday I found a copy of And It's Goodnight From Him. The title stuck out at me and upon investigation it turned out to be an autobiography of The Two Ronnies. As it was £2 I snapped it up. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

This week I've got a few things to look forward to, including a day off, taking photos for a concert and bonding with my new babies. And I'm hoping for some good weather for some nice walks with Tara.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Bakshi Animated Lord of the Rings Part 3

I've been blogging my way through the Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings film, it's kind of like a live blog... but not so live.

In the last part of The Lord of the Rings the hobbits arrived at The Prancing Pony pub where they ran into Strider. He recruited himself to their cause and decided to accompany them to Rivendell. This didn’t end well for them though as the Black Riders caught up with them and Frodo was stabbed with a magical disappearing knife/lightsabre.

36. We’re now in Rivendell and it looks kind of rickety perched up on the side of a cliff.

37. Frodo wakes up calling for Gandalf and is promptly told off for his actions at Weathertop (but in a very likeable way). I think Gandalf is one of my favourite characters in this film because he’s so close to book!Gandalf; he uses the exact words from the book here.

38. Gandalf is a little bit upset that Frodo hasn’t asked him why he was late. Come on Gandalf, he’s just woken up from a Morgul blade induced coma. He plays Captain Exposition and tells Frodo Saruman the White is also a bad guy now and that he was saved by Gwaihir the eagle. Clearly Saruman should’ve paid more attention to animals; no word on Aruman’s feelings on the matter.

39. We finally see Bilbo again, reciting poetry to a bunch of badly drawn Elves. Bilbo’s been hanging out here for the last 17 years and he’s really short compared to Frodo.

40. Bilbo can’t believe his Ring is causing all this trouble. He asks to see the Ring and has a bit of a fit with quivery hands and eyes rolling back and I really shouldn’t but I find this bit kind of funny. This is enough to make him feel really guilty about everything. He has a bit of a cry but gets over it quickly as they’re summoned to the Council.

41. Elrond sits on a raised chair at the head of the table. Legs spread. Really lordly.

42. The narrator fills us in about what they talk about at the Council. We cover about fifty pages of the book in around three minutes.

43. Boromir is introducted. He’s a Viking. He has actual horns on him helmet and Brian Blessed’s beard.

44. I really want to ask Elrond to put his knees together. He tells them the Ring’s got to go to Mount Doom to be destroyed which really annoys Boromir. Gandalf says someone needs to take the Ring, kind of implying it’s going to be Frodo. Bilbo volunteers which makes Gandalf snitty because the hobbit is totally missing the point. Luckily Frodo got the memo though and he volunteers looking thoroughly miserable about it.

45. Sam appears from nowhere and gets nominated by Elrond to go with Frodo, I’m guessing this is his punishment for intruding on the so-called Secret Council. Didn’t seem too secret earlier on when Gandalf was announcing it.

46. Bilbo gives Frodo his mail vest, which we know has special properties from the way that it sparkles, and Sting. Frodo really is a giant among hobbits, he’s so tall compared to Bilbo. I don’t think Bilbo really understand what Frodo’s off to do because he tells the younger hobbit to bring back songs and tales, then starts singing to himself while Frodo walks away.

47. A voiceover as the Fellowship struggles through the snow tells us who is who. Notable is Gimli son of Glow-in.

48. The Fellowship pause while Aragorn and Gandalf argue about going to Moria. Gimli opts for Moria because he wants to see his cousin Baylin. I’m quite impressed at Boromir being out in the snow in his little skirt. Must be cold there.

49. So they head for Moria. Gandalf stands in front of the gate speaking all sorts of gibberish. Legolas is pissed at Gimli’s race for making a door which can’t be opened with any of Gandalf’s spell. Yeah, totally Gimli’s fault Legolas. Boromir suggests that maybe they should’ve brought Aruman, which is really helping the situation there, Boromir.

50. At last Gandalf figures out that the password is ‘friend’ which Legolas then explains just in case we’ve not read the book or weren’t paying attention because of Boromir’s little skirt.

51. They’re about to go inside when a tentacle grabs Frodo. Boromir and Aragorn rescue him but we’re treated to a glimpse of a tentacle reaching for Bill the pony. The pony doesn’t move and the shot cuts away so we can only guess that Bill doesn’t return home safe and sound.

52. Inside the mines, which look pretty deserted, they stop for a rest and Frodo sees some glowing green eyes watching them… who could that be?

53. Moria’s a bit of a dump with creepy faces on the wall. Definitely not inviting. Legolas and Gimli start bickering but Gandalf quickly shuts them up.

54. Pippin, who’s now turned blonde, drops a stone in a well while they stop in a guardroom. This sets off a tapping sound. Nothing further happens and they start moving again.

55. Then Gandalf finds a book so they all stop for a storytelling session. The Men identify Orc swords and Gandalf breaks the news to Gimli that cousin Baylin is dead. Gandalf’s voice is quite dramatic as he reads but the character’s movements don’t really match it.

56. Pippin’s all frightened so Gandalf reassures him that they’re going. Except that they then hear party blowers and a bunch of rotoscoped orcs show up for a party. Or a battle. Whatever.

57. The battle’s actually not too bad. The rotoscoping makes the movements look quite natural while there’s much swinging of swords going on. In the midst of it all Frodo takes a spear to the chest. Obviously they can’t kill him here so he gets up and they keep running.

58. This bit is quite funny. Aragorn stops and faces the hoard of orcs following them, warning them to come no closer. So they stop and wave their swords at him. Why did no one else think of just asking them not to chase them?

59. A snarling sound is heard which Gandalf identifies as a Balrog. It looks like one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s flying monkeys but bigger. Much bigger. It’s a gorilla with wings and a flaming sword. We get the classes ‘Fly, you fools’ as Gandalf gets whipped off the bridge and disappears into darkness. I’m sad because he’s the best character in this thing and we’re not going to see him again for ages now!

60. The rest of the crew run out of Moria, briefly stopped by two men in masks… I mean Orcs. Frodo doesn’t want to continue with Gandalf gone to which Aragorn tells him that they’ll have to go on without hope and have vengeance instead… that doesn’t sound very Aragorn-like!

Next week on The Lord of the Rings the remaining members of the Fellowship visit Lothlorien, Boromir almost joins (S)Aruman on the dark side and everyone ends up going their own separate ways.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bad Beginning, Chapter 2

Second chapter of The Bad Beginning from A Series of Unfortunate Events, as before, this is a reread so there may be spoilers ahead.

What Happens?
The children are (obviously) devastated by the loss of both their parents. With their own home destroyed by the fire they are forced to move in with Mr Poe and his family while he makes arrangements for them. Mr Poe arranges for the Baudelaires to go and live with a distant relative named Count Olaf, who the children have neither met nor heard of before. Prior to meeting Count Olaf, they meet his next door neighbour, Justice Strauss, who invites them over to help with her gardening. They are introduced to Count Olaf who not only lives in a very dirty house, but doesn’t look particularly clean himself either and his sole motive for taking the children in seems to have been to get his hands on their money.

Thoughts as I read:

The illustrations in this book make me want to get out a pencil and start drawing (and I’m not really that good at drawing). This chapter begins with a drawing of the ruined house with a great plume of smoke coming up from it. I mentioned it in my post for Chapter 1 that I love Brett Helquist’s illustrations, I actually picked up Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer purely because he was the illustrator.

It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed. If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.

I how true some of these chapter openings are. Poor kids. They are quite understandably depressed in the days that follow, so depressed that they lose all interest in their hobbies. These are then recapped for us, just in case we forgot what they were during the last ten pages.

Mr Poe takes them back to their own house but they just find that everything has been destroyed, there’s nothing left for them to take away. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about children and grief processing so I have mixed thoughts about this. On the one hand this might have been a good idea to show them what has happened, but on the other hand, surely that’s going to add some hefty emotional scarring to what they’ve experienced already.

Mr Poe’s children are Edgar and Albert. I suppose Edgar and Allan would have been too obvious. I wonder whether the name Albert has some other connection to Edgar Allan Poe… Edgar and Albert aren’t particularly nice children, they’re more concerned with the fact that Violet and Klaus are moping around their room (though I can understand them being slightly worried about being bitten by the baby). One of them also just throws chewed bones on the floor, such a charming child.

It’s revealed that Count Olaf has been selected because the Baudelaires’ parents will requested that the children be raised in the most convenient way possible. This is why you should always be really specific and actually name names in official legal documents, especially when they concern who gets to raise your children in the event of a tragedy. On the other hand, I suppose Mr Poe has a point, Count Olaf lives in the city so the children will be familiar with the place. Presumably that would mean they could continue to go to the same school (though school’s never mentioned) and see their friends (no word of them either) so it would allow for the minimum of disruption for them.

Unfortunately the children have never even heard of Count Olaf and Mr Poe is forced to admit that he’s not entirely clear what his relation to the children is: ‘He is either a third cousin four times removed, or a fourth cousin three times removed.’ And he’s basically been picked because of geographic location over familial relationship. I’m sure there’s a family member that the children actually know who would’ve been willing to take them in.

The children question exactly who Count Olaf is and are informed that he’s an actor. I’ve never considered it before but I’m wondering if he’s genuinely a relation at all right now. I might be proved wrong by something else later in the book or series but I know he just wants to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune, perhaps he’s just found a way to make Poe think he’s a relation. I mean, Mr Poe doesn’t seem to be all that hot on these things, does he?

Anyway, enough of my idle speculation.

The Baudelaire’s are sent off to the bedroom to start packing. We get a brief glimpse of what each of the three is doing; it’s a little bit of repetition that’ll become familiar over the course of the series. In this instance Klaus is folding the ugly shirts he’s been bought, Violet’s looking around the room, and Sunny bites Edgar and and Albert’s shoes as a little memento of their time together. I like Sunny.

The very next day Mr Poe takes them to Count Olaf. He basically rushes them out of the house so he can drop them off on the way to work. No gradual introductions here, this is a dump and run. Really, the Baudelaire parents couldn’t have chosen a better executor of their will, could they?

I love the description of the places that they passed on the way to Count Olaf’s house; Doldrum Drive, Fickle Fountain, and ‘an enormous pile of dirt where the Royal Gardens once stood’, sounds like a pleasant city to live in. There’s obviously a story behind the Royal Gardens thing which as far as I remember never comes up here. The journey also places the plot in a bit of a strange place time-wise, Doldrum Drive has both motorbikes and horse-drawn carriages on it; it’s not clear where in history the story takes place… unless it’s somewhere with an Amish population, hence the horse-drawn carriages.

Based on all the warnings on both the back of the book and on the first pages you can’t possibly believe that when the Baudelaire’s get out of the car outside the ‘prettiest house on the block’, and meet a nice friendly woman named Justice Strauss, that things are going to work out well for the children. And they don’t. Justice Strauss is Count Olaf’s next door neighbour and Olaf’s house is a complete dump compared to hers.

The description of the house is brilliant though. It’s dirty with small, dark windows, it all leans slightly to one side and in the very centre of the door is a big eye – I’m going to be looking out for all these eyes during this reread. I know that they keep on cropping up throughout the series. Clearly nobody thought to do a home visit before dropping the children off here. Sunny’s reaction sums up what everyone feels perfectly: ‘Oh’ means ‘What a terrible place! I don’t want to live there at all!’

Count Olaf just sounds thoroughly unpleasant from the get go. Actually reading the description, even though its kind of caricaturish makes my skin crawl a little bit. He sounds like the sort of guy mothers would warn their children to stay away from, with a ‘wheezy whisper’ (great alliteration), he’s tall and thin, the clothes he’s wearing are stained. He’s also unshaven, with a monobrow, and he has shiny eyes which make him look ‘hungry and angry’. I can’t help but wonder whether Mr Poe had any background checks done on Olaf before selecting him as the children’s guardian.

The inside of the house is no better than the outside of the house. It’s all filthy! He even has a bowl of apple cores on one of the tables just inside the door. Why? Just why? That’s not hygienic! For once Mr Poe does notice, so he’s obviously not been here before. Olaf suggests he could use some of the Baudelaire’s money to do the place up but Mr Poe quickly puts paid to that idea – the Baudelaire money is not to be used until Violet is of age.

Olaf’s obviously taken the children in thinking he can get his hands on their money so is a wee bit peeved to learn that it won’t be as easy as that. Violet actually thinks he is about to hit Mr Poe when he reveals that little tidbit of information but he quickly recovers and dismisses the banker. Despite his brief moment of perception when he noticed the dirty house, Mr Poe remains oblivious to Olaf’s desire to thump him.

And just like that Mr Poe is off, telling the children he ‘will continue to see you occasionally’ and that they can find him at the bank. Klaus points out that they don’t know where that is but Olaf shuts him out. Clearly there’s to be no follow-up visits to check up on how they are settling in. So despite Mr Poe’s house smelling weird and Edgar and Albert not exactly making them feel welcome, the Baudelaires are now wishing that they could’ve stayed there instead.

They then spot that Count Olaf isn’t wearing any socks with his shoes and they can see his bare ankle has an eye tattooed on it. The children wonder how many more eyes there are in the house (by my count we’re up to three, including the one on the front cover of the book), they also have a sense that Count Olaf will always be watching them, presumably just waiting for the moment he can get his hands on their money.

This chapter is significantly longer than the first but it covers quite a big chunk of time and introduces the main antagonist for the series, Count Olaf. It also shows that the kids are well and truly on their own now, as if it hadn’t been made clear enough in the first chapter, Mr Poe isn’t much use. But it also introduces another character, the one ray of light, Justice Strauss, who is friendly and pleasant towards the children; she’s someone who might be able to help them in the future.

This is the last of the set up chapters, everything from this point onwards is actual story. Now we know who everyone is, it’s time to see what other unfortunate things are going to happen to them.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Day Zero Project: Get my eyes checked

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had my eyes tested. Mr Click was shocked when we were first married and I revealed that the last time I’d had an eye test was when I was at primary school. I must have been about eight and the school nurse had us stand at one end of the corridor outside the school office with a wooden spoon covering first one eye and then the other, reading a letter chart that she held up at the opposite end of the corridor. That was it.

Since I’ve been with him I’ve been better about it. Plus my job involves working with computers and they stress the importance of having an eye test every couple of years.

Which is how, at my last eye test, I discovered that I have a freckle at the back of my right eye.

I’ve got freckles all over the place, but even I have to admit that it’s a pretty weird place to keep one. Apparently the reason why it’s never been spotted before (aside from my general laxity regarding eye tests) is that it’s in a somewhat awkward position and it’s only recently that they’ve had the equipment to see that far around inside your eyeballs.

This warranted a check up with an ophthalmologist at hospital, who took a nice photo of the inside of my eyeball for me (and even let me keep a copy). And then having to go back six months later to make sure that it wasn’t growing, lest my whole eyeball become one large freckle.

It was a relatively short check up. I got another photo which proved it hadn’t gotten any larger (or smaller for that matter) and so I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I can just have regular eye checks as normal, woo hoo.

And thus far my late night reading in the dark, hours spent staring at computer screens, and preference for crafts which involve working with small and fiddly equipment, has not affected my stellar vision.

Oh, and I’m due another eye test soon.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Book 65 of 2013: Holiday Tales Christmas in the Adirondacks by William Henry Harrison Murray

Another of the Christmas books I got from Amazon for my Kindle in the run up to Christmas. This one was another short one, the better to get through as many as possible before Christmas Day.  
 Holiday Tales Christmas in the Adirondacks is just two short tales set during Christmas time and featuring the characters Trapper John Norton and Wild Bill. Norton lives alone in the woods, hunting and things, when Bill stops by to visit. In both stories they come together and then try to do something for other people who live nearby.  The stories were quite heavy on the religious message, but that was probably because of the time when they were written (1897) and the time when they were set. In some of these older stories the messages can kind of detract from the story itself; these messages fitted into the stories well and didn't come across as heavy-handed as they might have done.  It was a nice quick read. I started it on the 23rd and finished it on Christmas Day, because of the time of year I didn't have much time to actually sit down and read. Although it took a couple of days I was basically done with it in about three sittings. Of the two stories the first was my favourite and I think that one was the quicker read.
I liked the way that it was written, particularly the way that the Trapper spoke. I guess I liked the characterisation and I could imagine exactly the sort of character he was purely from the way that his dialogue was written. He came across as a 'salt of the earth' type of character, not well-educated or intellectual, but with good morals and values.

Maybe not a story I'll revisit in a hurry, but a nice little tale for the season.

Monday, 19 May 2014

EMA Word Cloud

I had originally planned for this post to be about my progress on my EMA, which is due in on Thursday this week, and then to do a word cloud for next Monday. But then I sort of unexpectedly finished it at the weekend.

I started it almost a month ago, after finishing my last TMA I gave myself the Easter weekend to knit and relax, and even when I did start work I didn’t push myself too much. I spent a good three or four days just selecting the books I was going to write about and then using these to go through all the course materials looking for anything that I might be able to use when writing my essay.

Then I sat on it for a few days. It was my birthday weekend so I didn’t feel any compulsion to actually start writing. Plus I had to put together a proposal for my tutor to approve before I could start (this is so they can verify that what you submit has actually been written by you and not anyone else). You’d think that having pages and pages of notes about themes, module materials and theories might make this a little bit easier.

It didn’t.

The problem was that the question was kind of vague. Intentionally so, because you can apply it to pretty much any book in the course. At first I thought it was the fact that I was trying to work without guidance notes telling me exactly which materials I should consult in the construction of the essay, but the more I struggled to get started with something, it suddenly came to me that what I needed was a question.

Luckily Mr Click came to the rescue and helped me to come up with a question which kind of tied together the themes of the books I’d chosen with the actual subject of the essay. From there it didn’t take me particularly long to put together a proposal.

Perhaps wrongly, I started writing the actual EMA before I’d had my proposal approved. It’s not that my tutor took a long time to get back to me. I submitted it on a Sunday and had the go ahead by the Tuesday. It’s just that I had the ideas in my head and wanted to start while the motivation was there. By the following Tuesday I was feeling a lot more lukewarm about the whole thing.

There was a minor hiccough in the form of a sudden revulsion of everything I’d written. Interestingly enough that awful piece of writing which I screwed up and threw in the bin has now taken the shape of my introduction! Once I’d actually sat down to start writing it came surprisingly easily. Too easily in fact, by the time I’d written my introduction and a section on each of my chosen books I was over 10% over my total word count (and that was without any references or a conclusion).

Last Thursday I sat down with the intention of doing some major editing. My target of removing 100 words from each section was a little bit overenthusiastic and I ended up having to do even more trimming on Friday and Saturday. By Saturday I was so desperate to get it done that I was chopping out whole paragraphs if I didn’t think they added anything to my argument. I should add that there weren’t too many of them!

I was adding references as I went so it was a pleasant surprise to see my word count, including references, drop at one point down to 2,922. I’d been so worried that I’d finish up with everything and then have to cut and trim massive chunks out again. I’m normally so good at writing within my word count that the thought of chopping just stressed me out. Once I’d removed so much that it wasn’t so much of an issue I was kind of able to relax into it again.

And now it’s submitted. And I just have to wait anxiously for my results.

I’d better pass. I’ve already booked my long weekend holiday off work for my graduation ceremony.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Weekly Rundow - The School's Out For Summer Edition

This week has felt incredibly long, probably mainly due to the fact that I’ve actually been at work every day for the first time since the beginning of April. I’ve gotten far too used to having my Mondays or Fridays off. At least there’s a bank holiday coming up in another couple of weeks.

My main achievement this week has been getting my EMA completed. I’d aimed to submit it this Tuesday, but after spending best part of Friday evening and most of Saturday working on it, I got it finished. It seems silly to hang onto it knowing all the bad things that can happen to good laptops. I’d rather know it was safe in the hands of the OU instead of sitting on my laptop where anything might happen in the next three days.

So it’s gone and I’m now courseless. It’s quite nice in a way to know that my time is my own now. I can get home from work in the evening and sit with my knitting without feeling guilty, I can read what I want to without feeling guilty about it not being a course book, I can sit and play on my Kindle for hours and hours and not feel bad that I’m not looking up stuff for my course. I always find this a nice feeling at first but as time passes I end up growing restless.

Although hopefully I won’t be completely without a project this summer. We’re hoping to get some ratties again soon. We didn’t replace our girls last year because it just wasn’t practical or fair at the time. Now we’ve got space for them again and I’ve also found two people who are willing to ratsit when we’re off the island… I may have actually talked one of those people into getting rats of their own as well!

Aside from poring over the Readers for my course as I’ve been working on my EMA, I’ve also managed to read a couple of books this week. I mentioned last week that I had started reading Discovering Words, well I finished it last Sunday. It was a very quick read. So I went straight on to Bored of the Rings. Friday night I was about forty pages from the end and I had been so sure that it would be a quick read that I was determined to get it finished. I could barely keep my eyes open but I got it finished and I’ve since moved on to Service of All the Dead by Colin Dexter, the fourth of the Morse series. It’s been a while since I read one of these and I’m looking forward to it.

We’re speeding through The Two Ronnies, onto series ten now. The format of this series has changed slightly and it’s obvious that they’ve got more of a budget than the really early series. It seems a bit shorter as well and I think we’ll be through with it by midway through the week.

We slowed down our viewing speed of Criminal Minds a little this week, but then kind of caught ourselves up a bit towards the end. The slowing down was partly because I was needing to work on my EMA and couldn’t concentrate on writing an essay and trying to solve the whodunit; the speeding up because they frustratingly ended one episode with a cliffhanger (one of the team got shot!) and there was no way I would be able to concentrate on writing an essay without knowing if they were going to make it.

We’ve also carried on watching the Star Wars films. Yesterday it was Revenge of the Sith. It’s one that I’ve seen the least number of times and it’s quite cool to think that we’ll be going on to watch the original trilogy just about a week after the first day of filming Episode Seven. Well, geeky!Click thinks it’s cool.

So what about my plans for the upcoming week?

Well, I’m revelling in the fact that I can watch my deadline go sailing past on Thursday without worrying about it, knowing that I’ve already submitted my EMA. I’m going to be doing a lot of knitting, a lot of reading, and a lot of playing online and catching up. I’ve also got a charity thing on Wednesday and a trip to the mainland to look forward to.

It’s going to be busy, but a relaxing kind of busy, hopefully.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Bakshi Animated Lord of the Rings Part 2

Time for the next instalment of the animated version of The Lord of the Rings.

When we last left off Gandalf had returned to the Shire to tell Frodo that Saw-ron is looking for the Ring before heading off to visit (S)Aruman. (S)Aruman revealed that he had gone over to the dark side and imprisoned Gandalf at the top of his tower. We return to Frodo and Sam as they set out on their journey to Rivendell.

21. Frodo and Sam are joined on their journey by Merry and Pippin, there’s a comment about the fact they aren’t waiting for Gandalf. A noise up ahead is not Gandalf as the hobbits think, instead it’s a Black Rider. He’s suitably evil looking with glowing red eyes. He’s quite scary until he opens his mouth and whines. Yeah, not exactly striking terror into my heart.

22. Sam reveals himself as thoroughly untrustworthy as Merry (with light hair) and Pippin (with dark hair) tell Frodo they know everything about his going away. Frodo’s kind of annoyed but they’re all going with him which Merry and Pippin are happy about; we know they’re happy because they jump up and down clapping, the hobbit way of expressing happiness.

23. At the Prancing Pony are a load of rotoscoped guys enjoying themselves. It’s a little weird seeing them interacting with the cartoonish hobbits. Things progress as in the book, Frodo sings and dances before falling off the table and putting on the Ring. He disappears which upsets everyone in the bar. Meanwhile Merry’s outside being attacked by Black Riders.

24. Strider is waiting for them in their room. He’s got a sort of Native American look but speaks with a BBC English accent. I like that they included the ‘look fair and feel foul’ comment. To prove who he is, Strider pulls out his broken sword and identifies himself as Aragorn son of Arathorn, promising he doesn’t want the Ring.

25. Now the Black Riders get kind of scary. Instead of breaking down doors they just materialise into the hobbit's’ bedroom and start slashing the place up. Definitely creepy. They don’t realise they’re in the wrong room until they’ve finished slashing up the sacks in the beds in place of hobbits. Instead of materialising into another room they have a bit of a rave and then ride off.

26. Aragorn leads the hobbits through the Marshes and lots of other scenery. Frodo gets a telling off for saying he’ll become a wraith if they keep stopping for lunch, he’s a little upset but when he hears a scary noise Aragorn gives him a little cuddle. Aww. Later Frodo gets some love from Sam while Aragorn tells them the story of Beren and Luthien. It’s interrupted by the Riders showing up again.

27. Everyone follows the instruction to stand round the fire, except Frodo who decides this would be a good time to play with his Ring. Aragorn almost catches him but it’s too late, Frodo puts on the Ring and comes face to face with what appears to be a gorilla in a helmet and cloak. It stabs him.

28. True to the book the Rider’s broken sword disappears. Unlike the book it doesn’t dissolve into dust, instead it disappears like a lightsabre going out. Complete with sound effect.

29. Now Frodo is really sick and Sam’s understandably worried. Aragorn gives him medical opinion, the gist of which is that they need to get to Rivendell pretty damn quick.

30. We get some nice jolly music and footsteps on the road ahead. The jolly music kind of gives away the fact that this probably isn’t a Black Rider. And nope, it’s not Glorfindel; it’s Legolas! He looks kind of funny, like a badly drawn Disney heartthrob.

31. As happy as Sam is to see an Elf he’s kind of annoyed that Frodo isn’t getting more time to rest, um Sam, did you not listen when Aragorn told you how urgently Frodo needed to get to Rivendell? Also Legolas knows way more than he should about the Ring.

32. With the Ford of Rivendell in sight a rotoscoped Rider appears, ignores Aragorn and makes straight for Frodo. Frodo’s horse whisks him off to the Ford with the Riders on his tail, leaving him alone, all poorly!sick with a bad guy who wants to kill him. It’s not really clear where this is taking place, there are stones and mists and dramatic lines in the background but everything’s sort of abstract.

33. At a word from the Black Rider everything goes into slow motion. Frodo’s horse collapses and four horsemen of the apocalypse, I mean Black Riders, come out of the sky with lightning behind them.

34. This is obviously a battle of wills between Frodo and the Riders but it’s kind of trippy with lightning flashing and other weird effects. Whatever’s going on, it seems to make Frodo feel better because he and the horse make a run for it, chased by all the Riders.

35. The lead Rider calls to Frodo for the Ring. Frodo tells them where to go (to Mordor, naturally). Then he pulls out his little knife and collapses. The Riders seize their opportunity but as they cross the water a big wave with white horses (literally) knocks them down. This is all a bit much for Frodo and he falls off his horse.

I know I’ve stopped slightly short of the twenty point mark, but here seems like a sensible place to stop. Next up the Council of Elrond and a tragedy in Moria.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bad Beginning, Chapter 1

So here goes, the first Chapter-by-Chapter review of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning. As I mentioned last week, this is a reread for me, so there are likely to be spoilers as I remember things that are coming up in the future, so tread carefully if you’ve not read these before.

What Happens?
Readers are warned against reading the book as the lives of the Baudelaire children are utterly miserable. It starts at the beach where the children have been permission to go for the day. Each child has a defining characteristic; Violet is an inventor, Klaus reads and baby Sunny likes to bite things. Mr Poe, a friend of their parents, shows up to tell them that their parents have been killed in a fire at their house. The children, now orphans, will have to stay with Mr Poe until suitable arrangements can be made for them.

Thoughts as I read:
I like the dedication ‘To Beatrice – darling, dearest dead.’ I only vaguely remember who Beatrice is and I think she gets a mention in the dedication of each book. I’m resisting the temptation to dig another one or two off my bookcase to check at the moment. I like that in three words the dedication sort of sets the tone for what is to come in the story, and the series come to think of it.

Brett Helquist’s illustrations are fantastic. They’re just simple pencil sketches but there’s so much subtle detail in them. Lots of the pictures foreshadow things to come, I remember looking at the pictures at the end of each book (as I got my hands on them) and trying to figure out what was the clue to the next book. Anyway, this is the first book and it has a picture of a fire engine passing the children as they travel to the beach on the trolley.

I like that the book basically begins by telling the reader not to read it. What better way to guarantee that a child will pick it up and read it?
If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.
I also like the way that certain words are defined. Having read a journal article about the series (when I should have been looking for texts I could use in my EMA) I saw that this is actually heavily criticised by some reviewers. I know that it’s a bit repetitive at times, but as I recall it starts out with kind of arbitrary words being defined but then some of the descriptions are bit more tongue-in-cheek or has some sort of relation to events in the story. Like the pictures, foreshadowing is going to crop up in interesting ways, so keep your eyes peeled!
The children are each described by a particular skills that they have; Violet is an inventor, right-handed and ties her hair up when she’s inventing; Klaus wears glasses and is really smart, he likes to read and has a really good memory for things he’s read; Sunny is just a baby, is very small, has four teeth and speaks in strange unintelligible words which actually mean whole sentences. Obviously some of these are going to become important plot points later.
I remember once before when I read these books I tried to keep track of what Sunny said and what it actually meant. I think it was when I was looking for clues to figure out what would happen in later books. As I’ve been reading this time I’ve been jotting down some of the more notable phrases. This chapter has “Gack” which means ‘Look at that mysterious figure emerging from the fog!’
The children then see a strange figure walking towards them with an apparently square head. I vaguely remember the first time I read this, I wasn’t entirely sure what sort of book I was getting myself into. I’d heard them compared to the Harry Potter series (presumably because it was an ongoing series of books about three children, one of whom wears glasses, because aside from that they don’t really have much in common) and so I was expecting something along the lines of that. This description made me think things were going to be a bit more cartoony, if that makes sense.
But it’s okay, the mysterious figure is only Mr Poe, a friend of the Baudelaire parents. His head looked square because of the hat he was wearing. I like that people’s names often mean things in these books, there are loads of literary references (which I’m trying to avoid looking up because I don’t want to spoil myself for things that at the moment I’ve forgotten are coming up, like the Baudelaire’s surname references Charles Baudelaire). Mr Poe’s name is obviously a reference to Edgar Allan Poe.
The man isn’t much fun to be around (the fictional Poe, not the real one, I can’t comment on what he was like to be around unfortunately) because he spends much of his time having coughing fits.
Sunny says “Odo you!” which presumably means ‘How do you do?’ This isn’t actually defined in the text though so I’m just guessing based on what her siblings said when they met Mr Poe.
Mr Poe really sucks at breaking bad news to people. Why on earth would you just tell three children they had become orphans right there on a beach where they’d been having a day out?! I mean, I get that there’s never going to be a right time or place to tell three children that their parents are dead, but there’s got to be a better way to break it to them. In the shocked silence that follows Mr Poe helpfully tells the children, who are still processing this information, that ‘perished’ means ‘killed’, just in case they were confused on that point.
Not only have the children lost their parents and their home, but that home contained a library full of books. I’m not sure if it’s entirely normal, but I always feel a crushing sense of sadness whenever I hear about a library or book shop or anywhere else with lots of books being damaged in some way. All those poor books. I mean, I obviously feel sad when I hear about people being hurt or killed in unfortunate events as well, but I just thought I’d share that thing about the books. Now I’m thinking it makes me sound a bit strange so I’m just going to pretend I didn’t say anything and move on.
Moving on… I love the line “Although he said he was the executor, Violet felt like Mr. Poe was the executioner. He had simply walked down the beach to them and changed their lives forever.” The linguistics geek in me loves the play on executor/executioner and I can’t help but wonder if there’s some etymological link between the two.
And as if things aren’t bad enough for the Baudelaire kids, now the Baudelaire orphans, they have to stay with Mr Poe until things get worked out.
That’s the end of the first chapter. It’s quite a short chapter but it does the trick of introducing everyone and the first of the titular Series of Unfortunate Events. With their parents out of the way, the children are on their own and their fate is in Mr Poe’s hands. I think it’s fairly obvious that they’re screwed.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Day Zero Projects: Listen to every song on my mp3 player & make mood playlists

As with my post a few weeks back I've lumped two items from my Day Zero list together; this time it's the challenge to listen to every song on my mp3 player and make mood playlists from the music on it.

The listening to all the songs thing is a work in progress. Even though I've lost quite a bit of my music, I still have a couple of thousand tracks on my Creative Zen and it takes me a while to get through them all. I stopped listening to it over the winter because I wasn't walking so much with Tara, plus when the weather's bad I'm more concerned about listening for cars coming over the sound of wind in the trees so obviously I need to keep my focus on making sure neither me nor Tara are hit by a car.

That said, I'm still compiling songs to add to playlists to replace the ones that I lost when my Zen threw a wobbly a couple of years ago. Right now the playlist I'm trying to put together is a summer one made up of all the songs that make me think of summer or have a summer feel to them. I want something I can blast out in the car when the sun is shining or to make it feel like it is even if it's pouring with rain out.

It's been nice to go through my music collection for my A to Z Challenge and remind myself of songs that I've not listened to for a while. It's also kind of fun to hear some of the songs that I used to like (and wonder what on earth made me think they were cool).

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Book 64 of 2013: Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

It's a bit of a Christmas tradition to reread Letters From Father Christmas each year in the run up to Christmas, so I slotted it in while I was making my way through the Christmas books on my Kindle.
 It's a collection of letters Tolkien sent to his children, in the guise of Father Christmas, over the course of about fifteen years. He also illustrated all the letters to show the activities of Father Christmas and the North Polar Bear, as well as to give the letters authentic looking postmarks.

Last year I was given a smaller paperback copy of the book, the last few years I've read my large hardback copy which isn't very portable. The version I read last Christmas meant that I could take it to work and read it in my breaks. Although this book is smaller, it's still illustrated and contains facsimiles of the letters themselves. I love the pictures! I would love to be able to draw like that. I love to see all the things he includes in his pictures.

I love how long Tolkien was able to keep going with the letters, I imagine so many parents would fail to find time or a long-term project like that might fizzle out. The care and time he took with them showed how much he loved his children. I also love the way that he gradually built on what had come previously and not only linked to things that the children had experienced, but also to previous letters.

I would have loved to have seen some of the letters the children sent to Father Christmas as well. I don't suppose that they survived and it was just the Father Christmas letters which were preserved for posterity. All the same, there are some that make reference to things that the children obviously mentioned but which we'll never fully get because we don't know what was in the other letter.

In case you haven't noticed from the number of times I've used the word 'love', or some variation thereof, through this post, it's an old favourite. It's one I look forward to returning to each year in the run up to Christmas. I actually make a little space in my reading schedule just for this book. And I think I'll continue to for a long time to come.

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Lord of the Rings: The Ultimate Critical Review - A Review

A couple of years ago Mr Click spotted a book in a charity shop and immediately picked it up for me, mainly because it said The Lord of the Rings on the cover and he didn't think I had it. He was right. I reviewed it way back in March, 2012, here.

Included with the book was a set of two DVDs which covered the topics in the book in greater detail. Once I'd read the book I moved the set from my book bookcase to the DVD bookcase (along with my other collection of Tolkien/The Lord of the Rings DVDs) but never actually got around to watching it. Until around ten days ago, when I'd finished reading The Lord of the Rings and wanted to watch something in the same sort of vein. The Ultimate Critical Review seemed like a good choice.

Imagine my surprise when I popped it into the DVD player and found Graham McTavish narrating the thing.

Now, I'm more familiar with him looking like this:

And had it not been for the fact we'd been watching the special features on the Hobbit blu-ray the week before I probably wouldn't have recognised him!

His role in the set is basically to narrate the story of The Lord of the Rings, giving a fairly comprehensive summary of the events of the book. He's helped along by a beautifully animated map which shows the route that the characters took on their journey.

The main bulk of the material is a series of interviews with various people talking about both possible and known influences in Tolkien's writing. I particularly enjoyed the little interview snippets with two of Tolkien's children, Father John Tolkien and Priscilla Tolkien. It was nice to hear things from their perspective; how bemused their father was by his celebrity status, how Priscilla wasn't quite so involved in the stories because she was that much younger than her brothers.

There were also interviews with other people who knew Tolkien, such as Rayner Unwin and Humphrey Carpenter, discussing his approach to publishing and the way that he worked. I particularly liked Carpenter's summary of Tolkien's writing; he basically said that it was a hobby, the way that other people would build model railways in their attics, Tolkien created Middle-earth. He also suggests that he never really wanted to finish The Silmarillion because then he wouldn't have anything to work on.

It also includes some re-enactments which are heavily edited so you don't get a distinctive look at what the people playing the characters actually look like (it also amused me that one of the actors' surnames is 'Underhill'), as well as music inspired by The Lord of the Rings and artwork by the Brothers Hildebrandt. There are also a couple of interviews with them talking about the way it influenced their art.

The two DVDs total almost 220 minutes of viewing material. On the first disc are the episodes about The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, the second has The Return of the King and some bonus material. The bonus material comprises of three interviews with the Brothers Hildebrandt discussing their art in more detail, a short biography of Tolkien and three songs by Mostly Autumn (which is really good music). I'm seriously tempted to look out for the album it was taken from.

On the whole I really enjoyed watching this set. When I read the book I found it was interesting but lacking in something, the DVDs comprise of all the things I thought the book was lacking. It's definitely a set which needs to be considered in its entirely rather than as two separate things. I'll almost certainly return to it in the future, particularly when I next reread The Lord of the Rings.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Weekly Rundown: The Hypochondriac Labrador Edition

This post is a little bit later in the day because I've spent a good chunk of the day out First Aidering at the local Triathlon. Rather them than me, especially considering we've had glorious sunshine, showers, hailstones and a torrential downpour!

This week has been my longest one in a while. Would you believe that the last time I worked a Friday was the 4th of April?! We have dress-down on a Friday and it’s been so long since I’ve dressed-down that I nearly went to work in my smart trousers! Luckily in the time I spent looking for them I realised what day it was and grabbed a pair of jeans instead.

Next week is going to feel even longer as it’s my first five day week since March! There is one day I finish an hour early than usual though, so that should help speed things along a little.

As it had felt like a longer week than I’ve been used to recently, I was was looking forward to my nice relaxed Saturday. It didn’t happen.

We’d planned to go to the beach after word on Friday but when Mr Click came to pick me up Tara was whining and grumbling, evidently under the weather. The beach trip was cancelled (again) and we took her home and got her settled. The following morning she still wasn’t right though, so we phoned the vet and checked in for another emergency vet appointment.

Tara usually gets a treat after dog training and we’d tried something new which apparently disagreed with her. We were concerned about her sprained hip but the vet wiggled her leg around all over the place and didn’t get a peep out of her. She did have a bit of a temperature and has been diagnosed with being generally under the weather.

We brought her home where, after spending all morning trying to convince us that she was mortally sick, she seemed to feel a lot better; stopped crying, was happier about getting up and moving about, and even trotted into the bedroom to get her deflated ball which she alternately used as a pillow or chewed on for the rest of the afternoon.

I should add that she was perfectly happy at the vet, aside from peeing all over the floor, she just wanted to say hello to our vet and the only thing she was miffed about was getting her temperature taken. She’s on a bland diet at the moment for her sore tummy which means pasta, rice, porridge and boiled chicken. I’m just worried she’s going to expect this from now on!

My other plan for Saturday was to work on my EMA, getting that written and typed. I’d written quite a bit on Monday and then spent Friday getting the last two sections written but had gone well over the word count, so planned to type it up and edit it down some. Well, what with one thing and another I didn’t get home until mid-afternoon so by the time I’d typed it up I didn’t really have the motivation to spend any longer on it.

I’ve got the bare bones of it down now though. It needs a lot of tidying, cutting and referencing but I’ve got ten days to get that done. If I work on a bit each day from now on I should finish it no problem.

Being able to take it slightly easier on the studying front has meant more time for reading. I just finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on Saturday morning so moved straight on to a book called Discovering Words which I think I found in a charity shop years ago. It was way back when I was studying U211 anyway and it’s one from my linguistics section on my bookcase.

Oh, and I’ve been reading The Bad Beginning for my blog posts as well, though that’s taking me longer to get through because I’m doing a sort of close reading of it. It’s interesting to see how my perspectives have changed, particularly since doing EA300. I’m reading a lot more into the orphaned protagonists and concepts of childhood than I’ve noticed before.

Tv-wise, well, we’ve finished watching the second series of Criminal Minds and moved on to the first episode of series three. At the risk of spoiling anyone who hasn’t seen it, this series has started with the departure of another of my favourite characters, but I like the way they’re setting things up for this series so I’m interested to see what will happen next.

We’re also still watching The Two Ronnies. We’re up to series nine now and they seem to be slightly bigger budget episodes so have bigger name stars appearing as their guests. The sets seem a bit more elaborate now as well. We’re getting through them really quickly though so I don’t think it’ll be long before we’re moving on to the next TV series.

Oh, and as last week was Star Wars Day (May the Fourth) we finally treated ourselves to the Star Wars Complete Saga on blu-ray. I’ve been lusting after it for about three years now and Mr Click had never seen the three prequel films. We managed to pick up the original trilogy on video for 75p in a charity shop a couple of years ago but it’s really not the same as watching them on DVD or blu-ray.

We’ve started watching the six films; The Phantom Menace on Friday and The Attack of the Clones yesterday. There’s over forty hours of special features too so I suspect that this set will be keeping us going for several weekends to come!

I just wish I had another weekend right now, to help me recover from the one I've just had!