New Trailer: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

The_Hobbit_-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_Teaser_PosterWhile I have yet to see the first installment, and generally disapproved of Peter Jackson’s decision to release this comparatively short story as a trilogy, I would be remiss if I didn’t post about the new trailer. And as you can from see from this 2 minute spot, the next installment promises plenty of action, adventure, and some serious divergences from the source material.

In the last movie, the characters had just survived their encounter with the cave Orcs, Bilbo found the One Ring and “won” it from Gollum, and the company was on its way to Mirkwood. In this installment, things appear to climax when the band of merry dwarves, a hobbit and a wizard reach Smaug’s lair. Some serious changes are showcased with the addition of Legolas (who wasn’t even in the first book), mini battles that didn’t happen, and lots more portentous talk that connects it all to the original trilogy.

And word around the campfire is this is what Jackson really has planned for the rest of the series – Game of Thrones-like diversions from Tolkien’s text that are clearly designed to sex the material up, hint at what was to come with the War of One Ring, and make the whole thing feel like a fantasy miniseries instead of a single story. While I’m sure I’m going to catch the entire trilogy at some point, I might sit the theatrical version out again…

But that’s just me! Enjoy the trailer and, if you’re so inclined, the movie on the silver screen!

How The Hobbit Should Have Ended

It’s been awhile since I checked HISHE, and it seems they tackled a few gems while I was out doing other things. The latest in their lineup is this, a parody on Peter Jackson’s latest adaptation from the Tolkien universe. While I have yet to see the movie, I read the book and am familiar with just about everything the movie did by reputation alone. And I think these guys stuck it pretty good, as usual!

In fact, I would recommend checking out the site when you’re done watching this video and seeing what they did for Lord of The Rings as well. Not only do they tie together, but are a pretty example of how a more sensible ending can cut down on some serious screen time!

Here in the link to the site. Enjoy the video!

A Tribute To Sidekicks

Hey all! Today, I thought I’d cover a topic I’ve been thinking about for some time. Over the few years that I’ve been writing now, something has been missing from this site. I’d payed tributes to franchises, novels, series, movies, heroes, and even robots. But not once have I acknowledged the critical supporting characters who have provided comic relief and made the lives of the heroes that much easier over the years.

And so I present the following list of the top 13 sidekicks from the field of sci-fi, at least the ones that I know of and/or care to acknowledge. Not  a lucky number I know, but I couldn’t bring myself to exclude any of the people here. They are hardly alone in being faithful companions, comedic foils or much needed helpers, but they are the people that I feel capture the full range of side-kick abilities and personalities. Hope you enjoy, and as always, suggestions are welcome, just in case I decide to make further installments.

Abraham Whistler:
This first sidekick comes to us from the Blade franchise where he serves the vampire hunter as mentor, weapons maker, and surrogate father figure. This last aspect is especially important, since it forms the basis of his relationship with Blade. Whereas Blade never had a family, Whistler was robbed of his. Both blame vampires for this travesty, and therefore make the perfect team. Whereas Blade provides the muscle and the daring, Whistler makes the weapons and is the voice of reason.

According to his bio, as provided by the both the Marvel Universe and the movie adaptation, Abraham became a hunter after his family was murdered by a vampire. It was in the course of hunting one evening that he came upon  a teen-aged Blade who was in the midst of preying on a homeless person. After realizing that Blade was a half-vampire (aka. a dhampir), he chose to spare his life and began training him to become a hunter himself.

Like the bad-ass vampire hunter he helped create, Whistler is a man of few words who seems pretty rough around the edges. But, also like Blade, underneath that gruff exterior beats the heart of a man who still seems to care. While he’ll often advise Blade against sticking his neck out or taking unnecessary risks, in the end he’s still willing to go the extra mile to help those in need.

Bender:
From a distance, Bender might seem like a wise-cracking, alcoholic, kleptomaniac robot, but once you get to know him… well, you pretty much realize that’s who is! On top of that, he seems to have a moribund fascination with killing all humans, a theory he has occasionally attempted to put into practice!

However, it would be wrong to say Bender’s a superficial kind of guy. In addition to being terrified of can openers and secretly wanting to be a country-western singer, he’s also shown himself to be pretty sensitive at times. When Fry moved out of their apartment, he went on a Bender of non-drinking, which for him is a very bad thing!

On top of all that, he’s also come through on numerous occasions to save Fry and the crew of Planet Express. Never without complaint, of course, but still. I guess you could say Bender is an exercise in contradiction. An automaton designed to bend girders who excels at not making human lives any easier!

Chewbacca:
Here’s the hairy side-kick who taught us the immutable lesson about living in the Star Wars universe. When you’re in a jam, it’s always good to have a Wookie in your corner! And of the universe’s many Wookies, Chewbacca is probably the best. In addition to being delightfully shaggy, he’s very strong, fiercely loyal, and mechanically inclined. Not a bad guy to have around!

Intrinsic to Chewie’s relationship with Han is the concept of the Wookie life-debt. At some point in the unspecified past, Han came to Chewies aid by freeing him from an Imperial slave-labor camp. As a result, Chewie is bound to Han for life. This is something Chewbacca takes very seriously, as any attempt to put Han is danger is usually met with a severe beatdown! When Han’s family expanded, after marrying Leia later in the franchise, Chewie’s life debt extended to them as well.

Chewie’s past also shows through when it comes to his attitude about restraints. When Luke tried to put some on him, even though it was part of ruse, he didn’t react too well! Beyond that, not much is known, like whether or not he has family back on Kashyyk or elsewhere in the Galaxy. But then again, Chewie doesn’t talk about this stuff. Like most Wookies, he doesn’t talk about himself much, preferring to express himself in a series of warbled utterances or loud growls.

Gabrielle:
The next entry on this list is the faithful, staff-twirling sidekick from the Xena: Warrior Princess franchise. Gabrielle, a former farm girl turned warrior companion, became the model of friendship and loyalty for countless girls and young women all over the world. In addition, numerous Lesbian rights advocates saw her and Xena as examples of the kind of love and dedication that can exist between two women. Whether or not they had this kind of relationship is a matter of speculation; the point is, they did love each other, regardless of whether it was platonic or romantic.

Gabrielle’s story as Xena’s sidekick began in small Greek village after she and her sister were taken as slaves. After being rescued by Xena, Gabrielle wanted to become just like her, in part because she was impressed by her fighting skills but also because she didn’t want to end up in an arranged marriage. The two women became friends and enjoyed countless adventures over the course of their many years together.

As time went on, Gabrielle evolved from being a young, naive girl who stood in Xena’s shadow to being a fully-fledged warrior. Her choice weapon was the staff, but in time, she also incorporated kicking and acrobatic abilities. Eventually, she became a heroine in her own right and was even replaced by the klutzy Joxer as the dependent sidekick.

Harley Quinn:
Here we have an interesting side-kick, one who exemplifies dedication and diabolical intent. A one-time psychiatrist who was brought in to assess Gotham’s criminal mastermind, Dr. Harleen Quinzel soon found herself sympathizing and even becoming enamored with the Joker and helped him escape from custody. Once her involvement was made clear, she fled herself, changing her name to Harley Quinn and becoming the Joker’s full-time assistant.

Making her debut in the Batman animated series, she was quickly incorporated into the DC Comics series. Ever since, she has made numerous appearances in the graphic novels, spin-off shows, and video games. Unlike the Joker’s usual henchmen, she has staying power and the ability to live to fight another day much “Mr. J” himself, as she affectionately calls him.

Though her affection and attachment to the Joker is the picture of obsessive and unhealthy behavior, it is precisely because of this that her loyalty and commitment shines through. No matter what nefarious schemes the Joker gets up to or who he hurts, she sticks by him and always has his back covered!

Kaylee:
Next up, there’s the spunky, charming, cheerful and mechanically inclined engineer of the Serenity! Yes, in the Firefly universe – a universe permeated by thugs, freelancers, mercenaries and privateers – Kaylee is a breath of fresh air and a spot of sunshine. Not what you’d expect in a ship’s mechanic, but that’s an undeniable part of her charm! When it comes right down to it, she is as much at home in coveralls and machine grease as she is in a pretty dress and a parasol.

According to the series, Captain Mal first met Kaylee during a chance encounter when his previous mechanic brought her to the engine room for a little sumthin’ sumthin’! After realizing that she had more talent in her pinky finger than the other dude had in his entire frame, her promptly hired her! Since then, neither Mal nor Kaylee has ever looked back.

On top of all that, Kaylee is quite the romantic. All series long, she held an obvious torch for Dr. Simon Tam, River Tam’s protective brother and the ship’s doctor. Although her early attempts to facilitate a hook-up failed, she later learned that he held the same feelings, but denied them because he was too focused on protective his sister. In the end, they got together, a fitting and happy ending for this pretty ray of sunshine!

R2D2 and C3P0:
Yes, they are technically not a single side-kick, but they come as a pair so I shall not deal with them separately. And when it comes right down it, they really don’t work well on their own since they’re essentially comedic foils for each other. Together, they are the comic relief and workhorse of the Star Wars universe.

Making their debut at the very beginning of the original trilogy, R2 and 3P0 captured people’s hearts as the unlikely duo on whose shoulder’s the fate of the universe rested. Whereas R2 was an astrometric droid, a rolling Swiss Army knife with a stubborn attitude and endless gumption, 3P0 was a prissy, effeminate translator who specialized in protocol and etiquette. Together, they were the robotic odd of the universe!

As time went on, the two bonded and became totally inseparable. In addition, no matter where the main characters took them, they both seemed to always be indispensable. R2 opened doors, interfaced with machines and disabled traps, while 3P0 talked to the natives and advised the group on the safest course of action. While they frequently fought and lobbed insults at each other, their affection for each other was clear. When R2 was damaged during the Battle of Yavin, 3P0 selflessly offered his own components to help fix him. As the franchise expanded after the original trilogy, they even got their own animated show, aptly named Droids.

Robin:
Where would Batman be without his trusty side-kick, Robin, “the Boy Wonder”? Probably dead, to be frank. Yes, this sprightly acrobat has been their for Bruce Wayne on many occasions, pulling his chestnuts out of the fire and taking down the villains who were about to get the best of him. And yet, Batman has gone through several Robins over the years. Only one died, and was even resurrected. But still, that’s a high turnover rate!

The first Robin was known as Dick Grayson, an 8 year old who’s parents were murdered by mobsters, prompting  Bruce Wayne to take him under his wing and teaching him the ways of vengeance and justice. After taking down the man responsible, Batman and Robin went on to have many adventures together until Dick eventually went independent and became Nightwing.

He was replaced by Jason Todd, a young man with a similar backstory. Like Grayson, he was an acrobat who’s family was murdered. But in Todd’s case, he reacted to this trauma by becoming a hard-nosed street kid who stole to survive. After catching him in the act of trying to steal his tires, Batman began to train Todd as his new Robin. Unfortunately, this side-kicks life ended tragically when the Joker killed him and his birth mother with a bomb.  He was resurrected as the Red Hood shortly thereafter, but never reprized the role of Robin.

Thereafter, a string of Robins came and went, but in each case, their basic role and characteristics remained the same. Whereas Batman was always the tall, strapping and bulky hero, Robin was always smaller, faster and slighter of build. And whereas Batman was always the quite, ultra-serious brooding type, Robin could be counted on to tell a joke and crack a joke.

Roger:
Some people might disagree with my choice to include Roger on this list, as he is as much an independent character as a side-kick. However, I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about Roger on this site and this seems like the perfect one! Also known by various personas he’s assumed over the years, Roger is the alien from American Dad that lives in the Smith’s attic, coming down every so often to take part in family affairs and hijinks.

From a passing glance, Roger might seem like a drug-addled, alcoholic sociopath. But there’s a reason for that! In addition to being an avid wine guzzler, coke head, pill-popper, and pansexual weirdo, he’s also reputedly the one who invented disco, the drug ecstasy, Jar Jar Binks, and the man go got the Captain of the Exxon Valdez drunk! Aside from all that, he’s spent the majority of his life avoiding government agents and impersonating colorful men and women.

In fact, Roger is so in love with impersonating other people that fashion montages have become a recurring part of his existence. And while he can certainly impersonate men well enough, his preferred aliases tend to be women. This is in keeping with Roger’s pansexual identity, which seems to involve gender confusion, bi-curiosity, and a total lack of boundaries. In fact, when in women’s constume, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he’s a bit of a tramp!

Many years back, Roger came into the Smith household after saving Stan’s life in Area 51. Since that time, they have had a dynamic not unlike Han and Chewie, where obligation gave way to lasting friendship. Years later, Roger is considered a fully-fledged member of the Smith family, despite his ruinous activities and the high cost of keeping him entertained and under wraps!

Saul Tigh:
Okay, this guy might not be the perfect side-kick, but he’s definitely a rich and interesting character. On the one hand, he’s lived a rather rough and gruff life as a man, participating in the First Cylon War, going through a divorce, then developing a recurring drinking problem. On the other, he was a freaking Cylon and didn’t even know it! So yeah, maybe not the best guy to have in your corner, but he does have his upsides!

According to the relaunch series, Saul Tigh met William Adama in a bar a few years after the First Cylon War. After bailing him out of a close shave with several angry men, the two became fast friends and bonded over their shared experiences. Many years later, when Adama became commander of the Galactica, Saul was appointed as his XO. When the Second War began, he and everyone else were forced back into action.

In time, he became reunited with his estranged wife, a manipulative woman who also turned out to be one of the “Final Five” Cylons. Over the next few years, he maintained his position as XO, continued to have a rocky relationship with her, and never quite shook his drinking problem. In fact, it seemed that whenever times were tough, Saul would turn to the bottle.

Nevertheless, through it all, Saul remained a committed and loyal officer, one could be counted on to whatever what was necessary when the pressure was on. During Cylon offensive, when the Galactica was hit by a tactical nuke, he stepped up and made some tough calls which may have prevented the destruction of the ship. When Adama was shot by Boomer, herself a Cylon sleeper, he stepped into the Captain’s shoes and did his best to keep the fleet together. And when New Caprica became occupied by Cylon forces, Saul led a human resistance that kept up the fight against the occupation until Adama and Apollo could liberate the planet.

All in all, Saul was complicated. He was gruff, short, and had absolutely no patience for people he didn’t approve of. He could also be violent sometimes and was definitely a problem drinker! But he had a good heart and somehow managed to stay sane through it all, even after he learned that he was a Cylon. In truth, a lot of people would probably be dead were it not for this man, which is probably one of the reasons that Adama kept him around. That and the fact that, like Saul, Adama too was a fiercely loyal man.

Samwise Gamgee:
When it comes to dedication, selflessness, and versatility, Samwise Gamgee definitely takes the cake! The noble, stalwart and immensely loyal friend to Frodo Baggins, Sam was the very reason the quest to destroy the One Ring succeeded. Though a bit of a simpleton, his levelheadedness and stout heart were a constant source of strength and support for the Ringbearer. Hell, had it not been for his tireless help, cooking, and ability to come through in a pinch, Frodo would have been dead for sure!

Ostensibly employed as Frodo’s gardener, Samwise became involved in the quest to destroy the One Ring after Gandalf caught him eavesdropping on their little conversation. Before parting company with them, Gandalf instructed him never to let Frodo out of his sight. Sam took these instructions very literally, and thereafter did not leave Frodo alone for one minute! After setting off together, it was Sam who made sure they always had food and their spirits were high.

When Gollum entered their party, Sam never once stopped warning Frodo about him. Though Frodo seemed to think that Gollum had a role to pay or could be redeemed somehow, Sam remained committed to the belief that he was evil and untrustworthy. In the end, he was proven right, but then again, Frodo was in a way too… whatever, it’s complicated!

Towards the end of their quest, when things became truly difficult, Sam came through like never before. When Frodo was paralyzed by Shelob and taken captive by Orcs, Sam risked everything to rescue him, charging headlong into Minas Morgul and kicking the crap out of every Orc that stood in his way. And when Frodo finally faltered under the weight of the One Ring, Sam carried him up the Mountain to the Cracks of Doom.

Through it all, Sam never once complained or considered leaving Frodo’s side. Naturally, some speculate this was because the two were more than just friends. Lousy gossip mongers! But in truth, Sam was just that committed to those he considered friends and what he considered to be right. These are qualities he passed along to his thirteen children after he and Rose Cotton got married. Wow, loyal, friendly, and fertile too! Samwise has got it all!

Wedge Antilles:
When it comes to side-kicks, Wedge has some of the best characteristics of all. He’s loyal. He’s reliable. And best of all, he never dies! In addition, Wedge (who’s name alone makes him cool) is also one of the best pilots in the Rebel Fleet and the co-founder of Rogue Squadron (along with Luke Skywalker). Throughout the original Star Wars trilogy and the expanded universe, Wedge has always been there in his trusty X-wing and other attack craft, providing much needed support and kicking Imperial ass!

His impressive resume includes an assault on the First Death Star, where as a junior officer in Rogue Squad, he provided cover for Luke as he launched the torpedoes that would destroy the terrifying space station. When Imperial Forces attacked Echo Base on planet Hoth, he was there in a speeder and scored a major victory by being the first to take down an AT-AT walker with a tow cable. And finally, he played a major role by helping to lead Rebel Forces to a decisive victory in the battle of Endor.

Because of all this, Wedge gained the reputation of being the greatest pilot in the Galaxy. As the sole survivor of both Death Star runs, he was given command of Rogue Squadron before being promoted to General and given command of an entire fleet. Throughout it all, Wedge never once lost his soft-spoken and humble attitude. It just goes to show you, nice guys really can kick ass!

Zoe Washburne:
And last, but definitely, DEFINITELY not least, there Zoe, the heroine of the Firefly universe. As a veteran soldier, freelance butt-kicker, executive officer, and loving wife, she’s got the whole package, at least when it comes to science fiction heroines. A good woman to settle down with and to have aboard your ship, guarding your precious cargo and your ass. No wonder Mal trusts her with his life, and Wash loves her so!

Having served in the War of Unification as a Browncoat, Zoe served under Mal when he was a Sergeant in the Independents Army. In the end, they were the only two to survive the battle, which bonded them for life. Afterward, she took a job as his XO aboard the Serenity and never looked back. Of all the other crewmembers, she was the only one who routinely referred to Mal as “sir” and obeyed his orders. However, that didn’t stop her from expressing concern over his decisions and letting him know when she thought they were totally stupid!

In the course of her service as XO, she met Wash, the ship’s pilot, and the two fell in love. They got married shortly thereafter, and even talked about settling down and having children (something their lifestyle wasn’t exactly conducive too). Due to her close relationship with Mal, Wash was often jealous of then, which at times caused friction. However, Wash soon realized that his concerns were for naught, as it became clear to him that the loyalty she had towards her commander did not conflict with her love of him.

In short, she’s the kind of woman a man would want as a friend, a sidekick, and a lover. Though tough as nails and the kind of no-nonsense lay who’d kick your ass if you messed with her or her crew, she could still be tender and make her man feel like a man. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge! Know what I mean? Just don’t tell her I said that, she’d kick my ass!

Summary:
So, having looked into all these personalities, I think it’s fair to say that I have some inkling of what makes a decent sidekick tick. In short, I think the following characteristics, alone or in combination, are what add up to a good supporting character, one which the hero is likely to want to keep around.

  1. Loyalty: This, above all, seems to be what makes a sidekick both desirable and endearing to audiences. As heroes undergo their trials and tribulations, they need someone who will stick with them, keeping them on the straight and narrow and making sure they don’t succumb to temptation or their enemies machinations.
  2. Levelheadedness: As the saying goes, “It’s always a true friend who will tell you what you need to hear, even when you don’t want to hear it”. And when it comes to sidekicks, this is not only desirable, its a job requirement. When the heroes life is on the line, the last thing they need is an ego stroke or to be let down easy. And frankly, the view really is better from the cheap seats!
  3. Sense of Humor: And remember, it’s important to keep things light. Whenever the pressure is on, danger is all around, and the tension is palatable, a good wisecrack or a little slapstick is usually in good order. Just refrain from poop jokes or overtly juvenile humor (look at you, Jar Jar!) And if were talking comedy instead of action and drama, the sidekick should be especially comedic! Their antics should inspire hysterical laughter from time to time, even if it’s a little in bad taste 😉
  4. Mad Skills: Remember, just because the hero is the focal point of the story doesn’t mean that you can’t steal the show every once in awhile. In fact, said skillz can pay the billz! And by that I mean a skilled sidekick can come in extremely handy to a hero from time to time. After all, if you’re constantly requiring rescuing, the hero will very quickly grow tired of you and find someone to replace to you! It also doesn’t hurt to have a gimmick, a weapon or characteristic that sets you apart. For example, if the hero is a big, He-Man/Amazon kind of hero, go small and wiry. If they are a smaller, wisecracking personality who relies on their wits more than their physique, be the muscly, enforcer type. It’s also good to carry your own unique brand of weapons. They set you apart and diversify your killing power!

That’s all I got for now. Like I said before, I’m open to suggestions for other candidates. If I can assemble enough, I’ll be sure to do a second installment. Otherwise, expect more of the usual posts dedicated to franchises, concepts, technology, and the latest in science fiction!

LOTR: The Return of The King

At long last, the third and final installment in the Lord Of The Rings series! It feels like such a long time ago that I read this book, and going over the salient points makes me want to re-read the entire series. By this point in things, I felt myself becoming so immersed in Tolkien’s mythical universe that I felt both saturated yet wanting. There was so much there to absorb, and yet the greater mysteries of his world still seemed unknown. No wonder I picked up the Silmarillion and devoured it shortly thereafter. Man that book was dense!

But of course, that was after the third and final installment. As I said last time, the second book really impressed the hell out of me. But it was tempered by the fact that the greatest battles and climaxes were yet to come. Frodo and Sam had yet to reach Mordor and Mount Doom, Gollum’s true role in the Quest was yet to be revealed, and the battle for Gondor and Middle Earth was yet to truly begin. I awaited on these with eager anticipation…

And then it came! The Battle for Middle Earth was joined! The War of the Ring came to its grand climax and was resolved for all time. And here’s the pertinent stuff and what I thought about it…

Plot Summary:
The book opens where the last left off, with Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas returning with Theoden to Edoras to rally their forces and plan for the enxt phase of battle. Though Saruman has been thoroughly defeated, there remains the danger from Mordor, where Sauron is still amassing his armies of Orcs, Southrons and Easterlings and preparing for his assault on Gondor.

At the same time, Sam must find Frodo and rescue him from the grasp of the Orcs. In the wake of Gollum’s betrayal, their Quest has hit a sort of intermission. Until he finds Frodo and returns the Ring to him, it cannot resume, for only Frodo is the true Ringbearer.

Book V: The War of the Ring
Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minis Tirith to speak with Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, and warn him that an attack on the city is imminent. Denethor announces that he knows of Boromir’s death, and Pippin enters Denethor’s service as a repayment for the debt he owes to his son for saving his life. Now in the service of the tower guard, he is given a view of the fields of Pelenner and is able to bear witness to the approaching war.

Meanwhile, Osgiliath falls to the advancing Orcs and Denethor begins to fall into a dark mood. He orders Faramir, the lesser of his two heirs in his mind, the task of retaking it with his forces. Unfortunately, he is mortally wounded and his riders return broken. Denethor falls into a deep, dark state and believes his son is dead. He orders a funeral pyre built for the two of them and asks that they be burnt like the Kings of old as the city becomes encircled by a host of 200,000 Orcs.

To the north, Aragorn and his companions have traveled to the White Mountains to find the Paths of the Dead, a mountain hall where the oathbreakers from the War of the Last Alliance still dwell. Helped by his companions, Legolas and Gimli as well as the “Grey Company” – a group of Rangers from Arnor in the north – he sets out to recruit them.

As Aragorn departs on his seemingly impossible task, King Théoden musters the Rohirrim to come to the aid of Gondor. Merry, eager to go to war with his allies, is refused by Théoden several times. Finally Dernhelm, one of the Rohirrim, takes Merry up on his horse, and secretly rides with the rest of the Rohirrim.

At Minas Tirith, under the leadership of the Witch King of Angmar, the forces of Mordor break through the city’s gates. However, the Rohirrim show up and begin to ride them down. Gandalf arrives in the King’s Hall to confront Denethor and stop him from burning himself and his son.

Denethor cuts the cushion from his thrown and reveals the Palantir inside, and says he has seen visions of the battle which show their ultimate defeat with the arrival of a Corsair fleet from Umbar. Gandalf and Pippin manage to save Faramir from the fires but Denethor is consumed.

The battle appears is poised as the Riders of Rohan are engaged with Orcs and the Southron war Oliphants when the Corsairs arrive. Sauron’s forces initially rejoice at their appearance, but then realize the ships have been commandeered by Aragorn and the host of the Oathbreakers. With these ships and additional troops added to the fight, the host of Sauron is outflanked and near defeat.

However, the Witch King still manages to wound Theoden mortally before Dernhelm intervenes. Dernhelm is also wounded, and then saved when Pippin sticks his sword in the Ring wraith’s leg. Dernhelm removes her helmet and reveals that she is Eowyn, who then strikes the Witch King dead.

The siege is broken, but at a heavy cost. In addition to the death of many warriors, Theoden is dead, Eowyn and Pippin are both seriously wounded, and Faramir himself is still facing death. On top of all that, they know that Sauron is not yet defeated and they will not be able to thwart another attack.

Aragorn is called upon to heal them as well as Faramir. They recover, and Faramir and Eowyn become acquainted as they both convalesce. In time, she forgets her infatuation with Aragorn and learns to embrace Faramir’s gentle and wise nature.

Knowing that it is only a matter of time before Sauron attacks again, and that they do not have the strength to thwart him a second time, Aragorn and Gandalf propose a bold plan. They will attack the Black Gates in order to draw out the host of Mordor, thus clearing the way for Frodo and Sam to reach Mt. Doom unnoticed.

Upon their arrival, they are approached by the Mouth of Sauron, chief amongst his dark emissaries. He dictates punitive terms to the army of Men, and backs it up by claiming that Frodo is dead and shows them his effects as proof. They begin to despair, but Gandalf refuses to believe it, claiming that his is just another of Sauron’s deceptions. Were he in possession of the Ring, says Gandalf, he himself would be coming forward to meet them.

Having been refused, the Mouth of Sauron returns to the Gate and the host of Mordor falls upon them. They appear to be getting overrun, and Pippin is pinned under the body of a Troll after it is killed. All seems lost, just as the Great Eagles begin to come in and fight off the Ring Wraiths…

Book VI: The Return of the King
Sam finds Frodo’s body in the tower of Cirith Ungol. After fighting off his captors, Frodo awakens and takes the Ring from Sam. They descend the stairs into the land of Mordor and steal some Orcish armor and vestments so they can blend in with the host. However, they find the land largely empty as the armies are being called away to deal with a threat at the Black Gate.

Sam and Frodo are absorbed by the host temporarily, but manage to break away and make for the Mount Doom. With the land all but emptied and the eye fixed on the Black Gate, they make their final approach on the mountain itself. They pause temporarily to look back on all they’ve accomplished and the vast distance they’ve crossed, and realize that their Quest is almost over.

Once inside the mountain, and ready to cast the Ring into the Cracks of Doom, Frodo finally succumbs to the power of the Ring and declares he’s keeping it for himself. However, Gollum appears suddenly and tries to take it from him. He bites off Frodo’s finger and claims it, but loses his footing and falls into the Cracks, which consume him and the Ring together. Sauron and the Ring are at last destroyed!

At the Gates, Sauron appears as a dark shadow who tries to reach out and attack the Army of Men. However, his shadow is blown away by the wind, and his forces flee when they realize their master has been destroyed. The Southrons and Easterlings surrender and are given mercy, and the Great Eagles are flown in by Gandalf to pluck Frodo and Sam from the side of the mountain.

Back at Minas Tirith, Aragorn is crowned King and takes Arwen as his Queen. Faramir takes Eowyn as his wife and is given the title of Prince of Ithilien. The White Tree, which has been dying for some time, blossoms and begins to show signs of life. All of Gondor begins to sprout with trees after Aragorn plants and ancient seed, and Gandalf indicates that the Northern Kingdom, where Aragorn’s ancestors used to rule, will be reclaimed and rebuilt.

Frodo, Sam,  Merry and Pippin and are honored as heroes during the coronation ceremony. After a series of goodbyes, they return to the Shire, only to find it in ruins. They learn that Lotho Sackville-Baggins, one of Frodo’s relatives and usually referred to as “The Chief” or “The Boss”, has been oppressing the locals, but himself is being controlled by someone named Sharky. This man has imposed a program of deforestation and industrialization which has left the Shire scarred and near ruin.

After rallying the locals, they confront Lotho and Sharky’s men at the Battle of Bywater. Victorious, they march on Sharky’s hideout and confront Sharky himself, who turns out to be Saruman, accompanied by Grima. Apparently, the name Sharky is an Orcish word which means “old man”, which his Uruk-hai used to refer to him. Obstinate in defeat, Saruman abuses Grima and turns to leave. However, Grima stabs Saruman in the back and is himself felled by many arrows.

Time passes and everyone appears to have settled down happily. However, Frodo is unable to overcome the injuries he sustained at the hands of the Witch King. Eventually, he departs for the Havens where he meets with Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and many Elves, ending the Third Age. They sail into the West, to the lands of Aman, the “Undying Lands”, while Sam returns to the Shire where he is greeted by his wife and daughter, Rosie Cotton and Elanor, and delivers his final spoken words of the book: “Well, I’m back”.

Summary:
Though not as exciting to me as the second book, I nevertheless loved the third and final installment. Naturally, many critics and readers over the years have cited some weaknesses in the book, such as the extended ending where Frodo and his friends return to the Shire to save it from Saruman. This felt like an added climactic moment which occurred after the big one, which can seem a little out of place for a story, even one as epic as this one.

However, it was intrinsic in demonstrating Tolkien’s views on industrialization and labor relations. In short, he was a man who delighted in the natural world, and saw the intrusion of industry and an industrialized workforce as oppressive. And hell, you couldn’t beat the references: “The Boss”, the corrupt workmen, the smokestacks and the ruined countryside. It was like a worker’s pamphlet and a description of 19th century Manchester all rolled into one.

There were several more asides in this book, something Tolkien was famous for. And although they seemed like third act additions, they all seemed to be of particular importance to the author himself. For example, the scene where Theoden and the Aragorn are having an audience with the leader of the Pukel Men in order to find the path through the mountains, this was important in that it showed Tolkien’s views on native peoples, how they have been historically used and abused and were deserving of more respect.

The fact they are asking the help of people that Rohan usually hunts and goes to war with was also an interesting allegory. Much like how the British, French and American colonists called upon their Native neighbours for help in the French and Indian War, the War of Independence, and the War of 1812, Rohan is calling on people it typically considers to be enemies for help against a greater foe. As such, I found the scene quite interesting; and rather than detract from the overall narrative, I felt it added to the richness of Tolkien’s world. An editor would have surely told him to nix it, but that was something else about Tolkien. He refused to let editors tell him what to do, beyond mere spell checks and grammatical corrections.

In terms of the film adaptation, I once again had some issues with how it was done. But to be fair, I was a full-blown Rings geek at this point and saw the book as something akin to canon, so any changes were likely to be seen as just plain sacrilege. Still, it was awesome to witness the battle of Pelennor Fields on the big screen, not to mention seeing Minas Tirith rendered in visual form. These were the big climactic scenes to the story and I approved quite highly with how Jackson rendered it all.

When it came to the battle itself, there was the same conveyance of hopelessness and the feeling that everything was lost, right up until the reinforcements arrive and the day is saved! And personally, I can’t get enough of the scene where the Riders of Rohan start riding down the Orcs! Seeing those ugly bastards get their ranks clobbered was so pleasing after all the people they killed and evil shit they pulled! But of course, the battle got a little hokey after this, as Legolas begins doing his acrobatics and the ghost men show up to the fight.

This latter part wasn’t in the book; the Oathbreakers having done their part to secure the fleet in the first place. Having them also destroy all the Orcs inside the gates of Minis Tirith also made it look like the forces of Gondor did very poorly in the fight, which was really not the case in the book. Granted, they were losing, but their contribution on the fields helped turn the tide of battle and ensured that they still had plenty of foces to send to the Black Gate at the end.

Oh, and that farewell scene between Theoden and Eowyn. All I can say is “Ick!” “I’ve got to save you,” says she, to which he replies “You already have…” Not only was this ripped straight from Return of the Jedi, but it made no sense. How did she save him? Sure, she killed the Witch King, but he’s dying. She didn;’t redeem him the way Luke did his father. So where did the saving come in? What, did she save him from his sexist views? Great, but… you’re still dead, Theoden! Luckily, the fight with the Witch King overshadowed all of that for me. Sure, he too was a bit of a ripoff of Darth Vader, but who cares? He was badass!

Of course, Sam and Frodo’s part in this book was rather truncated. It is for this very reason that Peter Jackson chose to take material from Book IV and place it here, where it could be used to pad their story. However, this worked quite well in the book in that we were brought to a veritable climax when the Book V ended at the Black Gates. With so much hanging in the balance, Book VI manages to carry things on and not keep the reader waiting too long before showing the resolution and tying things up.

That was one thing I didn’t really approve of in the movie, which was the amount of padding they placed in Sam and Frodo’s part. Those who have read the books will know what I mean. The fact that they kept the scenes from Shelob’s Lair for this movie made perfect sense, but the additional parts which didn’t happen in the book – Gollum turning Frodo against Sam, Gollum attacking them twice after betraying them, Frodo falling and getting a vision of Galadriel to help him up – all seemed like needless filler. Oh, and don’t forget the extra added scenes of Arwen looking on and crying, again!

But other than that, zero complaints! Kudos to Peter Jackson for taking on the task of turning one of the best stories of high fantasy and mythos into a full-length movie series, complete with battle scenes that were awesome in their size and scale! And an even bigger kudos to Tolkien, for giving countless generations something which they have been able to enjoy, draw inspiration from, and feel all the richer for having read. Few people have had the same impact as this venerated author, and very few works have ever come to rival its scope and influence.

If you haven’t read it, do it now! Even if you don’t generally approve of fantasy, you’ll find something to love here. I guarantee it!

The Hobbit will be a Trilogy

Some recent news has come in over the wire concerning the upcoming Tolkien adaptation. After much anticipation and a few snippets released from the studio as teaser trailers, Peter Jackson has announced that the upcoming Hobbit movie will in fact be a trilogy. Hints to that effect were dropped at the recent San Diego Comic Con, and now Peter Jackson has gone ahead and confirmed it.

Previously, he had indicated that two films would be needed to adapt this classic story to the big screen, but now it appears that the big time movie director/producer is going to need one more to make it all happen. Citing plot necessity and fan response, Jackson claimed that much of the added footage has to do with origin stories, background and character development for various characters in the story.

After meditating on the decision to go with a third movie or stick to the original plan for two, Jackson contended that, were they not to add in a third film, much about Bilbo, Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the Necromancer, and the climactic Battle of Dol Guldur would go untold. this corresponds to rumors that Jackson has been adding in a great deal of material to the story, relying on the LOTR appendices and background info which comes from that book.

Personally, I’m not sure what to make of this. Granted, it does kind of sound like an attempt to prolong the project and make more money, and Jackson is no stranger to padding movies with unnecessary flashbacks and cheesy cutaways to scenes with Arwen crying. But if Jackson has proven anything at this point, its just how dedicated he is to Tolkien’s creation and how much he wants to bring it all to life. So frankly, I see no reason to doubt him when he says he wants to tell the story and needs more screen time in order to do it.

In the meantime, check out the trailer of the upcoming movie!

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Hello all and happy July 29th! Or, as its known to many fantasy and sci-fi geeks, the day that The Fellowship of the Ring the first volume in the LOTR trilogy was published in 1954. Yes, I learned that just this morning, and thought it was the perfect excuse to finally do the review I’ve been putting off until now. I can only apologize for my negligence in this regard, but let’s face it, this book is kind of a big deal. With this trilogy, Tolkien effectively did for fantasy what Herbert would later do for sci-fi with Dune; that is to say, make people take it seriously.

And even if you’re not a fan of fantasy, you have to acknowledge the incredible debt owed to Tolkien. Not only did he provide a legitimate injection of mythos to the fantasy genre, establish a very real connection between ancient and modern, and provide archetypes which are still used to this very day. On top of all that, Tolkien gave the British people a sense of cultural lore that was all their own, which was precisely what he wanted.

In fact, Tolkien went so far as to say that his motivation in writing “faerie story” was to create a narrative which he felt had been previously missing in British culture. When one looks at ancient mythology, be it Norse, Greek, Roman, Native American or Indo-Aryan, one sees stories and legends that are tied to a culture and contain incredible power for its people. And while the British have their share, Arthurian myth for example, Tolkien felt that this smacked of a Judea-Christian prejudice and did not genuinely reflect the British temperament.

But of course, many literary critics went a step further and claimed that his books contained allegorical similarities to the conflict which had just passed in Europe. Though he began work on his voluminous masterpiece before the war began, much of it was completed during the war years and seemed to possess veiled references to the conflict. Think about it, the nations of Middle Earth (which included the “Men of the West”) were faced with a resurgent evil that came from the East.

The last time they faced it they had been successful, but the unsatisfactory conclusion of that conflict paved the way for a future war. Now, with the evil returning, the nations of Middle Earth found themselves in a weakened posture, but managed to succeed by comign together once more to thwart the evil, this time destroying it permanently. Hell, even the races of Middle Earth themselves could be said to be allegories for real nations – the Elves, Dwarfs and Men constituting the British, French and Americans respectively, while Hobbits were unmistakable representations of the British folk, the hardy little people who made all the difference.

But that is mostly speculation. In the end, Lord of the Rings is so richly detailed and deep that people have been able to discern countless metaphors, allegories and significant passages. In the end, it’s genius lies in the fact that it was both hugely inspired yet immensely original. So without further ado, let’s get down to dissecting the bad boy that started this whole phenomena!

Sidenote: the focus of this review will be the novel itself. Any notes on the movie adaptation come at the end, so don’t expect a running commentary on how the book differed from the movie. All artwork provided is that of Alan Lee, the illustrious illustrator of Tolkien’s work.

The Fellowship of the Ring:
The book opens with a note on Hobbits and a preamble indicating what took place in the previous book, The Hobbit. It also provides some deep background which includes notes on the people of the Shire, their customs, and how Bilbo Baggins came into possession of the One Ring. The story then opens with book I, the first in the six book volume that makes up the single tale of The Lord of the Rings.

Book I: The Ring Sets Out:
In the first chapter, the story returns us to the Shire where Bilbo is waiting up his 111th (or eleventy-first) birthday, while his adopted heir Frodo is coming of age at 33. Bilbo is sparing no expense for the occasion and has even invited Gandalf to attend, as he has some rather important news for him.

This, Gandalf soon learns, is that he intends to take a permanent holiday. He plans to leave everything to Frodo, but doesn’t seem to want to surrender his one prized possession: The One Ring. After a tense confrontation with Gandalf, who convinces to leave the Ring behind, Bilbo departs on his journey and the two promise to meet up again. When Frodo arrives at Bilbo’s house, he is ransacked by relatives who are looking for their share of Bilbo’s wealth.

After they all depart, Frodo is spoken to by Gandalf, during which time he tells him he plans to depart on his own business. He warns Frodo to keep a close watch on the Ring, as he fears the worst of it. Over the course of the next 17 years, he pops in to visit Frodo, and eventually comes to tell him the truth. The Ring, he claims, the One Ring forged by the Dark Lord Sauron to help him conquer Middle Earth.

This provides some additional background on the story, where Gandalf explains to Frodo all about the “War of the Last Alliance”, how Isildur took the Ring for himself, and how it fell from his posession to be lost for ages. He also explains how, in time, Bilbo found the Ring in a cave where a forlorn creature named Gollum had been living with it for centuries. It was this Ring that bestowed Bilbo’s legendary longevity, as it did Gollum while simultaneously poisoning his mind.

He comes at last to the point of the tale: Sauron has risen once again and is gathering his strength at Mordor. But before he can complete his conquest of Middle Earth, he needs the One Ring to which he is bound. Already, his forces found Gollum and learned from him that the Ring was in the Shire, in the possession of one named Baggins. Because of this, Frodo must leave and go to Rivendell, where he will be safe and the fate of the Ring can be determined.

Gandalf must set out on his own too, to consult with the head of his order Saruman at Isengard. He promises to meet up with Frodo again before the summer when Frodo will depart. Frodo’s friend and gardner, Samwise Gamgee, is found overhearing their conversation, and out of loyalty to Frodo, agrees to go with him. When the summer arrives, Gandalf does not show, but Frodo must leave and does so under the pretense that he is moving, and with the help of Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrine Took, they set out for the edge of the Shire.

Along the way, they hear of Black Riders that have come to the Shire and are asking after a Baggins. These are revealed to be the Nazgul (or Ringwraiths), “the most terrible servants of the Dark Lord”. With the help of a party of Elves and the Farmer Maggot, Frodo and his company reach the edge of the Shire and pass into the wilderness. Along the way, they meet more curious folk, such as Tom Bombadil, a strange Hobbit-like creature who seems to be immune to the Ring’s effects.

At last, they come to the town of Bree, where they take a temporary respite at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. After downing a few pints with the locals, Frodo accidentally reveals the Ring when he slips it on and disappears from sight. He is then pulled into a room by Aragorn, who reveals himself to be a friend of Gandalf’s and a friend in their quest. He shows them the sword of Elendil, the shattered remains of the blade that cut the ring from Sauron’s hand, and agrees to take them the rest of the way to Rivendell.

After several days of traveling through the wilderness, they come to the ruins on the hill of Weathertop. During the night, they are set upon by the Nazgul, and after cornering Frodo, the chief stabs him with a cursed blade. Aragorn manages to chase them off, but warns that Frodo must get to Rivendell with all haste, or he will become a Nazgul himself.

As they hurry along, they meet Glorfindel, an Elf warrior from Rivendell who agrees to takeFrodo there with all haste. The Nazgul, all nine of them joined together now, pursue them and attempt to follow them across the Ford of Brunien, the last remaining obstacle between Rivendell and the outside world. However, Elrond sends a wave down the river which smashes the Nazgul into the rocks and ensures Glorfindel’s and Frodo’s escape. However, Frodo collapses and appears to be near death.

Book II: The Ring Goes South
When Frodo awakens, he learns that he is in the House of Elrond in Rivendell, where he has been healed by Elvish magic. Elrond summons the Council which consists of Aragorn and representative of every race on Middle Earth. Frodo is invited to attend, where he presents the One Ring. Gandalf is there too, and explains that he was held up because of a betrayal. Saruman, head of his order, has apparently betrayed them because he desires the Ring for himself. He is not yet in the service of Sauron, and is amassing his own army of Orcs.

Together, they hatch the plan that the only way to defeat Sauron is to destroy the One Ring, which must be cast back into the fires of Mount Doom from which it was forged. Frodo volunteers to take the ring and thus becomes the Ring-Bearer, and Samwise once again vows to stay by his side. Completing the Fellowship are Aragorn and Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor; Legolas, Prince of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood; Gandalf; Gimli the Dwarf; and Merry and Pippin.

Together, they set out south along the Misty Mountain route. However, there attempts to cross are foiled due to snow and avalanches. They debate over what to do next, but it is agreed that they will pass through the mines of Moria instead. Aragorn seems to think this is a risky idea, but Gimli insists that his cousin Balin who rules there will give them safe passage and hospitality.

Once inside, they find the place littered with corpses and overrun by Orcs. Their company finds their way into a side room where Balin’s tomb is located, and where the Dwarves apparently made their last stand. Shortly therafter, the Orcs fall upon them and the company manages to make its way out. However, when they reach deeper into the mines and come upon a bridge leading to the surface, an even greater threat emerges: A Balrog of Morgoth, a creation of darkness and flame from the ancient world.

Gandalf stands against it, but soon finds himself pulled down into an abyss with it. Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship look on in horror, but are forced to flee as more Orcs swarm in to attack them. They make their way out of the mines and Aragorn laments that Gandalf didn’t heed his warnings about passing into the mines. For a long time now, it was feared that the Dwarves lust for Mithril (which was mined in Moria) caused them to dig too deep and disturb what lay down below.

Once free of the mountain, they make for the elf-haven of Lothlórien, where they are sheltered by the rulers Celeborn and Galadriel. As they take their rest, Galadriel speeks to Frodo and provides him with visions of what is to come. He offers her the Ring, which she considers momentarily, but then rejects. The quest falls to Frodo himself, he is told, and he must find a way to destroy it. Before setting out down river, they are given provisions and items for their quest, all of which will prove useful later on.

After setting down at water’s edge, the Fellowship begins to show cracks. After days of becoming edgier and moodier, Boromir finally confronts Frodo and tries to take the Ring from him. Frodo places the Ring on and escapes, and the others scatters to go and hunt for him. Frodo decides that the Fellowship has to be broken, and that he must depart secretly for Mordor. However, Sam finds him before he can leave and insists on coming with him. The two then set off again down river, just as a company of Orcs close in and threaten the camp!

Thus ends the first volume of the Lord of The Rings!

Summary:
Of the three books, I have to declare right off that this was my least favorite. But of course, that isn’t saying much given how impressed I was with book II and III. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel that with this first volume, Tolkien wrote long-winded passages that really weren’t necessary. Of course I could see the point of them. They established background information and detailed the fictitious world in which the events took place.

Nevertheless, so much of Book I felt like interjections and asides that didn’t seem to contribute to the overall storyline. For example, Tom Bombadil’s role in the story has long been a subject of debate. As it was explained to me, he occupies the same category as the Ents and other mythical creatures, in that he is outside the regular events of the story. Whereas the Ents are indifferent to the Ring and the wars for Middle Earth because they are so old, he is also indifferent because the Ring has no power to sway him as it does other creatures.

But in the case of the Ents, they came to be directly involved in the war because they realized that they could not simply sit idly by and let things pass. Tom had no such compulsions or involvement, and aside from being mentioned briefly in Rivendell, has no more role in the story. And unlike certain features which come up during the long journey through the Wilderness, his inclusion also wasn’t a shout out to content from the Hobbit. So really, what purpose did he truly serve?

Second, there was the Fellowship’s journey through the Misty Mountains. It is implied that they are turned back by Saruman’s magic, but it is never established. What’s more, the dangers of going through Moria are hinted at ahead of time, but it appears Gandalf is okay with the idea even though he must have foreseen he would be the one to die. But in the end, it is Aragorn who later laments the decision and questions why Gandalf would be okay with it. It seemed to me that if Moria represented the riskiest choice, Gandalf should have been the one had doubts about it.

Last, there was the point at which the Fellowship breaks. In book I, we see the basic points, Boromir trying to steal the ring, and Frodo leaving with Sam before they Orc party strikes. But it’s not until book II that we realize that such a confrontation took place, that Boromir was killed, or that Merry and Pippin were taken prisoner. In this, and all other cases mentioned, the movie sought to show these things and explain them fully. Quite predictable, but in the case of this first story, I actually felt it worked. But of course that probably has something to do with the fact that this one time I saw the movie first. Were I a Rings geek prior to the first film (as I was for II and III), I might have taken issue with all these changes instead of approving of them.

So far, I feel I’ve been saying only negative things about this book. But let me be clear, it’s only because the story set such a high tone that I was surprised to find that there were any weaknesses at all in this volume. If anything, the flaws are the exception to the rule, which is that Tolkien managed to create a story and and entire world steeped in legend, lore and magic. His main characters are archetypical legends, calling to mind such heroes as Beowulf, Arthur, Lancelot and Merlin, and whose supporting characters call to mind the same kind of comic and tragic figures as Caliban, Launcelot Gobo, and King Lear’s Fool.

And of course, there are the legendary races in the story which continue to dominate the fantasy genre and popular consciousness alike. When it comes to stories, gaming, movies and television, the basic breakdown of Elves, Men, Dwarves, Orcs, Ogres, Goblins, Wizards and Dark Lords is still in effect. Willow was a movie built entirely on Tolkien’s foundation, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and The Golden Compass owed a huge debt to his work, and Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons, and countless other games I can’t even name wouldn’t exist without him.

And the storyline itself is nothing short of genius. Embracing such themes as the “Decline of the West”, the rise of an old evil, the idyllic countryside, the world outside your door, and little people caught in a situation much bigger than themselves, the story was so layered that people could find no shortage of significance and meaning contained within. It’s little wonder then why it has remained so influential and enduringly popular!

Coming up next, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, in that order 😉