The Pony Updates

Hello internet! It’s the first day of a new month so it feels like a good time for a check in.

Today I learned from my co-worker that the reason why “Orlando” (alias for a fourth grader who loves kickball and working on safety patrol) hadn’t been coming to school: his stepfather was deported earlier this week. Orlando is understandably totally freaked out and doesn’t want to leave his mother’s side. He was born here and is a U.S. citizen. The only “solution” or way to help that my co-worker and I could come up with was organizing a food drive among the other staff and teachers–the mom doesn’t want to apply for food stamps, understandably so, because she’s afraid of leaving a paper trail (even though I’m pretty sure proving your citizenship is not required for EBT benefits). There’s a giant sack of rice here in the kitchen floor in a Thai bag, left by my brother’s Vietnamese friend. I think I’m going to lug it in with me tomorrow; it should last them a good while.

Apart from dealing with all of that and more, I’m reading “Lord of the Rings.” I have started this book at least six to nine times in my life, and never made it past Tom Bombadil. I just couldn’t deal with his wife frolicking and singing in the fields. This time around I very nearly gave up at the prologue. I put it down after a few pages and said something along the lines of “I can’t even.” However. I just finished Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the other dozens of Dick, Vonnegut, Gibson and Stanley Robinson novels that I ordered have yet to arrive to my trusty holdshelf there at the Woodstock library (though my email inbox has just annouced that “Blade Runner” made it today). I can’t deal with Infinite Jest, not yet (that might have to wait till the summer, so that I can copy the ancient reading schedules of Infinite Summers in ye days of yore). And so. I find my brain craving escapism, flights of fantasy, immersion. I want what I read to be radically, totally different from what I am living. So I can’t deal with short stories or memoirs or non-fiction right now.

That is why, I guess, I am reading “Lord of the Rings,” in a very beautiful old inscribed copy that my youngest uncle gave to my oldest brother. The book edition is seriously the main reason of why I wanted to read it. There is something about holding an old book in your hand that I just know, deep down inside, a Kindle or any kind of what have you will never, ever be able to capture. The pages are thin and crinkly, and I have to turn them ever so carefully because just imagine how bad I would feel if I ripped one. The maps are in black and red ink and fold out, like it’s an interactive children’s novel. I carry the heavy book around tenderly, not exposing it to the crude tosses and smashes at the bottom of my giant plastic tote bag from Fred Meyer that I’m sorry to say my other library books tend to experience. I dare not open it all the way when I read for fear of cracking its spine and splitting it. Instead I hold it about 1/2-way open, propping it up in the back with my hand, and sometimes I get cramps and aches from the amount of time I have to hold it there. It is a 3 book edition, meaning all 3 books of the series in one, and so that is also nice, because it really makes me feel like I am tackling something Epic and Grand.

And yes, I have made it past Tom Bombadil. So far I have made it all the way to the Council of Elrond. I just peeked ahead to see how many pages I have left in this chapter. It was a LOT. I was a little dismayed, because the characters had already been talking on, and on, and on about things pertaining to Moira, and Gondor, and Elf fathers, and good god, while I totally admire and respect the sheer amount of attention to DETAIL and History and Language that Tolkein has put into these books (is House of Leaves honestly the only rival to this kind of intensely focused universe-making, in terms of sheer QUANTITY of information?) … a little part of me inside my head is screaming “I DONT WANT TO READ 40+ pages about Kings and Elf lineage because none of these people of places EXIST…” I guess they don’t in any kind of fiction, ha, ha, ha. But even more so for Middle Earth. Ahh well. No wonder the first words of the prologue are “This tale grew in the telling.” Consider myself warned, JRR.

But I HAVE been enjoying it. It is definitely an escape. I like the bits with the hobbits, which is the same comment that my father had about the three movies. I like how there’s so many parts of them just walking: going up and down ravines, building campfires, having small (or large!) dinners, trekking hills. It is oh so very British and twee, marching through ye wilderness with your ponies and staves.

Have I mentioned the ponies? Tolkein has so far unexpectedly interrupted the main narrative every one ina while with little pony updates, or brief check-ins regarding each pony’s state of well-being and future fate. I think the pony updates are so far my favorite part of the book. I’m a little sad to think that as Frodo and Sam get closer to Mordor, I doubt there will be many ponies involved (cue lack of pony updates induced sad face).

It is very different from the movies, to say the least. For example, there’s that chase scene in the first movie, in which Arwen gallops Frodo frantically away from the wraiths and smashes them with a magical horses-and-riders water wave in a sequence that I found absolutely THRILLING the first time I saw the film in theaters (ten years ago now! OMG, don’t even get me started…). In the book, this chase scene is about two and a half pages long. So I find it very interesting that the filmmakers were able to extract these very dramatic action sequences from sections in the book that are honestly quite sparse. The Council of Elrond is definitely given a lot more attention (20+ pages… I am glad that they cut this from the film. Good job, screenwriters!). I am also a little worried that as the novel progresses, it will stop paying attention to the Hobbits and instead get caught up in Grandiose Speeches and Battle Descriptions and oh dear, that doesn’t sound as nice as Sam scowling and making a face, or Merry and Pippin being actually quite brave and intelligent, as opposed to buffoon-like as they were in the film (another big difference between the book and the film that I’ve enjoyed). Anyway, we will see. There is definitely still a long way to go, and who knows, maybe the Council of Elrond will deter me completely. But it has been a nice little ride so far.

It turned out later that only one horse had been actually stolen. The others had been driven off, or had bolted in terror, and were found wandering in different corners of the Bree-land. Merry’s ponies had escaped altogether, and eventually (having a good deal of sense) made their way ot the Downs… So they came under the care of Tom Bombadil for a while and were well off… They had to work harder in Bree, but Bob treated them well; so on the whole they were lucky: they missed a dark and dangerous journey. But they never came to Rivendell. (195)

[They] put Frodo on the pony. In the last few days the poor beast had improved wonderfully; it already seemed fatter and stronger, and had begun to show an affection for its new masters, especially or Sam. Bill Ferny’s treatment must have been very hard for the journey in the wild to seem so much better than its former life. (215)

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