Story Starters #7: The Fellowship of the Ring

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

Good morning, everyone, and happy March! This month marks my first anniversary of blogging here at The Story Scientist, and I thought I’d recall where I began, with a book quote analysis of The Fellowship of the Ring. Today, I have rather less of the book to analyze for you all, since the first paragraph is only one sentence, albeit a long one. So let’s analyze!

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This is the version that I have.
  • When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. There’s quite a bit going on in just this one sentence. Firstly, we start with the character of Bilbo Baggins, which makes a good transition into The Lord of the Rings for those who have read The Hobbit. The mention of his “eleventy-first birthday” sets the time of the story as many years after the events of The Hobbit, and the mention of talk and excitement indicates that Bilbo has developed a reputation, which is developed in the next paragraph. And what better way to hook a reader than with talk and excitement? We know something’s going to happen, and setting this sentence as its own entire paragraph gives us a moment to take that in before moving on.

Today’s has been a very short analysis, but really, I love Tolkien (as you may have noticed by my having written two other posts about his books–do check them out if you haven’t read them). And so I leave you until next week.

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Goodbye!

What do you think? Have you read The Fellowship of the Ring? (If not, why on earth–I mean, I highly recommend it.) What do you think of its beginning? Are you hooked by this sentence? Do you have anything to add to my analysis? Tell me in the comments!

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Story Starters #2: The Hobbit

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

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(Just to forewarn you, Mr. Tolkien is perhaps entirely responsible for my love of fantasy. I might gush a bit. And now that you’ve been warned, let’s all gush together. :P)

Hello, and welcome to the second installment of my “Story Starters” blog posts! On the first Saturday of each month, I analyze the beginning of a book, any book, and today, it happens to be a very good book: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

 

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Yes, that’s right: the hobbit.

So let’s jump right in and do a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the first paragraph!

  • In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. This one is pretty self-explanatory. As we’re reading the first sentence (unless we’ve seen the movie first, precious), we are sitting here wondering: what the heck is a hobbit? It’s a great hook; it poses a question that we, the readers, would really like answered. Tolkien gets to that by paragraph three, but he has to give us some hints first, which leads us to sentence two.
  • Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. The first thing that jumps out at me is how long this sentence is. Grammatically, it makes a great contrast with the first sentence; it’s long and meandering and draws us in by Tolkien’s vivid imagery. And it gives us some great hints about what hobbits are not, and by the end, something of what they are. The mention of comfort particularly strikes me as foreshadowing the main character and theme of the book in the very first paragraph. (My analytical writer brain is geeking out right now. I mean, isn’t that foreshadowing just awesome?!?)

And that’s it for this extraordinarily short post. I hope it had enough insights to make up for its brevity.

What do you think? Isn’t Tolkien a genius? Have you read The Hobbit? (If not . . . *shakes head* Just go read it, okay?) Do you have any further analysis that perhaps my tired brain didn’t pick up? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

Book Quote 3: The Silmarillion

. . . Iluvatar spoke to Ulmo, and said: ‘Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of thy clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost! Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth! . . .’

Welcome to my third book quote post on The Story Scientist! (This must mean I’m entering my third month of blogging. Wow. . . .) I post book quote analyses on the first Saturday of the month. I have previously examined quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring and Oliver Twist. Today, I draw from the first part of one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s lesser-appreciated works: The Silmarillion.

This is what my copy of The Silmarillion looks like.

Because this book isn’t so well-known, the excerpt requires a little explanation. Here, Iluvatar (basically God) is talking to Ulmo (angel of water) about Melkor (the devil), up in heaven at the beginning of time. So, let’s see what we, as writers, can learn from this quote!

1. Old-fashioned language can be hard to read. This is probably half of why people struggle with The Silmarillion. Most of it is narrative, more history than story (this is one of the few bits of dialogue in the first part), and the characters tend to talk like Shakespeare. While this is appropriate for Iluvatar, who, as creator, is set apart from the rest of the characters in the book, all the “thees” and “thous” can be hard for the modern reader to wrap his or her head around. If you’re going to use old-fashioned language like this, do it sparingly and, as Tolkien has done it here, in a way appropriate to the characters (as everything really should be written, right?).

2. Philosophical concepts can enhance novels. Look at the quote again. Iluvatar really isn’t just talking about water here. He’s talking about how even the evil spawned by a fallen angel can enhance the good. Melkor brings cold, which creates beautiful frost; he brings heat, which creates beautiful clouds. Iluvatar is saying, in a much grander way, “There’s always a silver lining.”This brings in one of the central themes of this work: good versus evil. It’s great to incorporate big themes into your story like this.

3. Prose should be beautiful. I’ve talked about the eloquence of Tolkien before, but I love it so much, I can’t help but bring it up again. 🙂 The beauty of this prose lends itself to the grandeur of the history Tolkien relates to us in The Silmarillion. So really, this should read, prose should be beautiful if it lends itself to the story (or the piece of description, or whatever it is you’re writing). In this case, it does, so it works well.

That’s all for today! Have you ever read The Silmarillion? Did you like it? Do you think old-fashioned language is hard to read? Do you ever write characters who say “thee” and “thou?” What kind of themes do you enjoy reading about? Tell me in the comments!

My Life This March: In Which I Start a Blog, Have a Spring Break, and Plod Through Edits

That title doesn’t even come close to summing up my life this month. (All right, maybe close. But not quite. The college-student life is so much more hectic than that.)

So I actually technically started the blog at the end of February, but there were no posts on it until the first Saturday in March, when I put up my first book quote post. I was planning to post only on Saturdays, but then Beautiful People happened, so I ended up with a Wednesday post as well. So my current plan is to have my regular four Saturday posts (in order, a book quote, a science post, a book review, and a “my life” post), with a Beautiful People post on the second Wednesday of the month. I look forward to introducing more of my characters to you!

This brings me to another news item. April is a five-Saturday month, which is very exciting, because we get a total of six blog posts instead of five. I am planning to introduce my work-in-progress to you all on April 9th. I am greatly anticipating hearing your thoughts on this.

Speaking of my work-in-progress, I have been trying hard (for seven years . . .) to finish it. This year, I reached the point where I could start doing macro edits on a draft with roughly the same plot instead of having to entirely change the plot yet again. (I’ve done a lot of book surgery in the past.) This month, I took the 300 for 30 challenge over at Go Teen Writers, but changed it to be an editing challenge rather than a writing challenge. Unfortunately, thus far, I have not done well, probably because a) I’m a busy college student, b) I really don’t like editing (I haven’t done it that much), and c) did I mention I’m a busy college student? More on that below. . . .

Since this is my first “my life this month” post, I’ll start by introducing my educational situation in general. I am currently in my second semester of college (that’s university for all you non-American folks), studying genetics at the University of New Hampshire. Since campus is only about 45 minutes or so from where I live, I commute back and forth in a squeaky white Toyota Camry that’s nearly as old as I am. The upside of commuting is that I get to go home and see my family and my cat each day. The downside is that I get up at 5 AM three days a week and 6 AM the other two. (I’m thinking maybe I won’t take an 8 AM lecture next semester. . . .) Anyway, my current classes are General Chemistry II (the aforesaid 8 AM lecture), Calculus for Life Sciences, Introductory Biology: Molecular and Cellular, and Myths and Misconceptions about Nuclear Science. That last one is an Honors Discovery course (UNH lingo for “general educational requirement”), and a really great class. Next month’s science post will be on something I learned about while drafting a paper for that class, so stay tuned!

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UNH in the snow on Monday . . .
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. . . and in the sun on Tuesday

So far, I love UNH. I mean, just look at those pictures. Isn’t it beautiful? (The second one was taken through a window, so I apologize for the glare.) Being that kind of person who thrives on learning, I really enjoy my classes, even though they can be a lot of work. Because they are a lot of work, though, I enjoyed my first real spring break this month.

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DeMerritt Hall, where my nuclear science class meets.

What do I mean when I talk about a “real” spring break? Well, I was homeschooled all my life, up until I went to college, so I just worked on schoolwork through spring breaks and Monday holidays. (I finished earlier in the year that way.) Well, UNH doesn’t have classes for a week in the middle of March, just after the mid-semester point. I was very glad to be able to sleep in (until 7:30 or 8 AM) for a whole week, though I mostly spent my days doing schoolwork, because I had a paper and two lab reports due. (Four classes is actually more like six, since biology and chemistry both have labs.) At any rate, I had a nice spring break, and I am excited to finish up the rest of the semester!

Essentially, what I meant by that ramble was to say that I had a good month. How about you? What were your highlights of this month? Any writing or editing? Any other college (or university) students out there, hanging on until May? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Book Quote 1: The Fellowship of the Ring

“I am sorry,” said Frodo. “But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.”

“You have not seen him,” Gandalf broke in.

“No, and I don’t want to,” said Frodo. “I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.”

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. . . .”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (emphasis added)

Good morning! I thought I’d start off with an analysis of a book quote, and who better to start with than Tolkien?

This is a classic quote, as much as The Lord of the Rings is a classic work of fiction. I’m sure all those of us who are speculative fiction fans have heard it at one time or another. Gandalf often has these wise quotes that I love so much. And today, I thought I would analyze this quote.

What makes the quote above (specifically the bolded words) so effective and so classic? What lessons can we writers learn from Tolkien through this quote?

1. It’s powerful. Tolkien, through Gandalf, is talking about life and death here. Big things. Themes writers deal with all the time. In fact, life and what to do with it is a theme in The Lord of the Rings. This quote, early on, is foreshadowing some things to come. Incorporating important themes can definitely strengthen our work, and using wise characters to allude to them is one good strategy for foreshadowing.

2. It’s eloquent. I will probably say this whenever I analyze a Tolkien quote, and for good reason. I, personally, love to bask in Tolkien’s prose, the soaring beauty, the flowing magnificence of the way he uses words. (See how nice that sounded?) While not everyone’s author or character voices lend themselves to such eloquence, if your voice does, use it. Art is, after all, often meant to be beautiful.

3. It shows who the characters are. Look at that dialogue again. Even if you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings (and if you haven’t, you really should), you can tell something about Frodo and Gandalf from what they’re saying, can’t you? Gandalf clearly dominates the conversation. He “breaks in” a couple times to defend Gollum, and his response to Frodo shows his maturity and wisdom. He’s seen more of the world and the people in it than Frodo has. Frodo is young and inexperienced at this point. He’s frightened. He doesn’t understand why Gandalf would let Gollum live. I’ll try not to give too many spoilers, but this is more foreshadowing, this time about how Frodo will grow in the rest of the book.

This quote, then, is a great demonstration of how powerful “show, don’t tell” is. Without reading anything but a small snippet of chapter two, we’ve gotten to know these two integral characters in this epic work.

(This image is not mine.)

Tell me in the comments: What do you think of this quote? Can you think of a writing lesson we can draw from it that I didn’t list here? Are you a fellow Lord of the Rings fan? Do you have a favorite Tolkien quote?

Thank you for reading, everyone! Come back next Saturday for more from The Story Scientist!