Utter Darkness

Those of you who also follow me on Medieval Otaku know that I’ve placed that blog on hiatus.  Of course, that need not mean that I shall quit blogging here–though, the thought did cross my mind.  That blog was placed on hold so that I might read more, and how better to may one understand what one reads more than by writing about it–especially if people comment on my ideas?

Big Spider

The following passage of The Two Towers occurs after Samwise’s fight with Shelob and the apparent death of Frodo.  Some people accuse Tolkien of not having very interesting prose or prose which obscures his personality–as Neil Gaiman writes.  While it is certain that Tolkien’s work shines more in conversion and when he wishes to give a place a mythic feel, he can create very powerful prose descriptions which have a direct link to his experience.  Read the following perfectly constructed sentence:

And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.

How many better images of utter despair are there in literature?  How many of these are as succinct?  In a single sentence, images of crushing darkness are added upon one another until the light of the intellect is extinguished.  Black despair presses down on Sam from without, the drawing of the grey hood over his head shows that despair has taken a hold on his mind, and lastly the night coming into his heart saliently conveys the image of darkness as all-encompassing and pervasive.  How much more so when one recalls that this takes place in a lightless tunnel?

Anyone else like how Tolkien names the two traditional seats of thought in this sentence?  The heart and the head are also the two traditional seats of the soul.  The heart and the head, in that they point to the soul or the form of man, show the immersion of his mind in black despair.


Tolkien admitted that Samwise was supposed to represent the average doughboy of WWI.  Tolkien lost all save one of his friends in that awful conflict, and one can’t help but think that this image of despair relates to his tragic experiences in this war.  Perhaps, Tolkien even imagined–like Sam–that his last close friend had died at one point.  Then, all the sense and meaning was taken out of life: “and he knew no more.”

Well, I found this passage really cool, but what do my dear readers think?  Any other ways such grim despair might have been present in Tolkien’s life?


The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Yet another Gaiman book which it sounds like I should read.

Books and travelling with Lynn

Just finished reading The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman which is a beautifully illustrated story.

This really is a gorgeous little book, a reimagined mishmash of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty with a bit of dark and creepy thrown in for good measure.

Now, whilst I do love a good fairytale retold, particularly when they come in such lovely packages, I wasn’t totally bowled over with this one.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a bad book, just not as good as I expected and I think I’ve genuinely surprised myself to be honest because I quite literally usually adore everything that Neil Gaiman does and I practically love him (not in a stalker-lets-boil-the-pets sort of way!)

It is a good story with an interesting twist in the tale and modernised in terms of a Queen coming to the rescue as opposed to a dashing knight in…

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A Little Review of Star Readers from out of the East

After reading fifty or so pages of Star Readers from out of the East by Daniel Nygaard, the reader discerns that it conveys a very similar mood to Dune.  The Parthian Empire, where the majority of the novel takes place, is rife with political intrigue, and the prophecy of a new king stands as the chief motivation for the main characters’ actions.  However, the heroes of Star Readers are really heroes–not power-hungry nobles having an aggrieved status.  I know that I am comparing someone’s first novel to a genre classic, but Nygaard’s book, though suffering from a lack of suspense prior to the climax and a somewhat ponderous writing style, strikes me as the better work.  One expects that Nygaard’s style of writing will improve, and it is admittedly difficult to add suspense when the reader knows the ending.  For the rest of the article, I’d like compare Star Readers to Dune, as I expect that people who liked the latter will also enjoy the former.


Star Readers includes a desert world only slightly more forgiving than Arrakis as its setting.  Not many novels have been set in the Parthian Empire in the First Year of Our Lord, and kudos to Nygaard for the extensive research he accomplished in order to describe this world with such vivid accuracy.  The reader will find that the power struggles within and without the Parthian Empire just as interesting as those of the Fremen and the Padishah Empire.  I could only detect a few historical inaccuracies myself, such as when Nygaard remarks that certain Cataphracts armored their horses in bronze chainmail–this never existed as bronze is not ductile enough to make good ring mail–and when three Roman auxiliaries suddenly come before a city gate.  Now, a standard auxiliary (quinquaganeria) consisted of 500 soldiers–meaning that, if the units were at full strength, a force of 1,500 soldiers were standing before this gate.  Overkill!  But, I would like to emphasize that inaccuracies like this are few and far between: one needs to read Bernard Cornwell in order to find historical novels which are more accurate.


As a final point of comparison, both novels feature a major religious leader.  However, while Paul Atreides becomes a kind of Muhammad setting up a religious and political kingdom by force, the heroes of Star Readers, the Magi, seek someone who wishes to establish a kingdom of the Spirit rather than one of arms.  The focus on the goods of the soul over those of absolute power give Nygaard’s novel no slight edge in my mind–as much of an edge as the soul has over the body.

tres reges

So, do I recommend Star Readers?  Absolutely, though be prepared to read through a very dense book.  But, one is rewarded in taking up this struggle by becoming immersed in a rich and interesting world.  Certain characters stand out as very well rounded, and some of the action is quite fun.  I’m looking forward to more novels from this author in order to see how his style evolves.