Once Upon a Time IX – The Hobbit

Just under the wire, I’ve read my fantasy/folklore/mythology book:  The Hobbit.   I last read this when I was 13 or 14 and when I caught the first movie on TV last week, I realized the only thing I remembered was Gollum and the riddles.   (Also, the birthday party, but that turned out to be in Fellowship, not the Hobbit.)   So that, and the fact it’s only 300 pages long and I believed I could finish it in time, decided me.


Gollum is sort of like the windmills in Quixote, only one chapter, but in a way overwhelms the rest of the book.  I was surprised by a number of things in the book and I’m just going to talk about them, so if you want a spoiler free review, this ain’t it.  But, really, does anyone need me to tell them to read The Hobbit?  Bilbo is, of course, a complete fish out of water, but I was surprised how largely useless the dwarves were.  Planless, under-mapped, under supplied, they’d’ve been dead several times over were it not for Gandalf and then Bilbo.  They do a bit of fighting, but mostly they get captured by everyone between the Shire and the mountain.  They run low on food before they even meet the trolls with apparently no idea on how they’re going to re-supply.  They lose the weapons they happen to gain from the trolls and when they are actually faced with the dragon to kill – the whole reason they set out in the first place – they have zero ideas how to accomplish it.   Apparently, so did Tolkien, because he makes Smaug leave the mountain to the dwarves and attack Laketown where a handy thrush tells a guy how to do it.  Then, naturally, comes the part no one thought about either.   How can 14 trolls defend a mountain full of gold?   Not without help which Thorin rejects because he’s gone treasure-mad.  I can’t say I approve of Bilbo’s solution, but I can’t really blame him either.  Bilbo’s eagerness to live up to his reputation as a burglar causes half their problems in the book, yet he never learns to stop doing that.   Although it is his final burglary that nearly solves the stalemate, but nearly isn’t enough.   It takes an army of goblins to do that.

Despite my love for Martin Freeman, I don’t think I’ll watch the rest of the movies.  I don’t like his style.  Except Forgotten Silver was good.   A fake documentary of a lost filmmaking genius from the early days of film.   Really well done.   Almost believable.   Quite unlike anything else he’s done.  And okay, I liked Tintin.   I’m not even clear on what I dislike about Jackson’s movies, well, except for the parts that are mawkishly sentimental and twee.   The Hobbit was not as twee as I expected, which I was glad about, but there’s just something that fails for me in the story telling.   Perhaps it’s how fake everything looks.

Also, it’s amazingly male-centric.  Tolkien didn’t see the need to put a single female in the entire book as far as I remember.   It’s kind of weird to me.   Then again, if it was influenced by WWI, I could see that would be very male-centric.   Though there were female nurses in WWI, I’m pretty sure.  The way it ends with an enormous, pointless war over a pile of gold did make me think of World War I.


Overall, I enjoyed rereading The Hobbit.  And I want to thank Carl for hosting.  I meant to participate more fully, but at least I did one thing.   (Or two, if I can count both the book and the movie.)

A Small Death in Lisbon

Much to my surprise I went back to one of the books I began in May and had given up on, Robert Wilson’s A Small Death in Lisbon.  It starts off with the death of a 15 year old Portuguese girl whose body is found on the beach, but with pine needles in her hair in an area with no pine trees.   Ze Coelho is a police detective in homicide who’s single with a daughter a little older than the murdered girl Catarina.   There is a parallel story of Nazi gold and wolfram mining which follows a man named Klaus Felsen from Berlin to Portugal and his career in the SS and later in banking.   I’m not sure what to say about this book as it’s not really my kind of thing at all.  Wilson states in an article that the book is about a cycle of revenge and how each act of revenge begets another and each character must decide whether to take revenge or break the cycle.  They can be active or passive, see or ignore.  That’s a very good two sentence summation of the book.   Not many of them choose to break the cycle.   I guess then you wouldn’t have a book, but it’s a long, long line of betrayals, cruelty, violence and general lack of care for one’s fellow man.   Naturally, one expects that of the Nazis, but really, it’s just about everybody.


And what they’re avenging is sometimes hard to make out.    Felsen at one point takes revenge on an Englishman and it’s a little vague why.   Because a woman liked the Englishman better?   She slept with Felsen, not the Englishman.   I don’t know and neither does Felsen, really.   He doesn’t know why he does what he does.   Outside of Coelho’s relationship with his daughter, families don’t count for much.   Some individual relationships in families matter, but overall, there’s a lot of indifference and hostility.   This book is chock full of crimes fully described in lurid detail all of which in the end don’t add up to much of anything.   Motives are questionable at best and more than one character appears to just be psychopathic.   The history of Portugal in World War II is interesting, unfortunate that it isn’t really relevant in the end.

Spoiler:  And why the hell did the murderer drag the body from the pine wood Monsanto park down to the beach?   Stupid thing to do.   Now you’ve got DNA in your car, whereas if you’d just left the body in the park, maybe dragged it behind a bush they’d have had a hell of a time tying you to the crime, I think, and it probably wouldn’t have been found as fast.   Best crime novel of 1999?  Note to self:  Don’t read any more crime novels from 1999.

The Hollow Chest

This blog is in danger of becoming the Stupid Mystery blog.  I’ve just finished The Hollow Chest by Phoebe Atwood Taylor.   How did I find this book?   I don’t recall.  But I like to carry a paperback with me and it was a paperback and annoying as it was, I still wanted to find out whodunnit.  But really, you shouldn’t bother.  For one thing, it’s trying to be funny.  It’s best moments were when Mary would pick up on Witherall’s line of thought and back him up without coaching.  Other than that, the main character, Leonidas Witherall, is an idiot.   He apparently fails to recognize one of the villains, even though he’s the librarian at the school Witherall owns.   He sits talking on a curb with Mary until they’re garotted.  After which they’re perfectly capable of speech.  Hastings is one of the few capable and intelligent characters.  Why she used the name Hastings when there’s a much more famous Hastings out there, I’m not sure.  I could take it as satire, that Witherall is what Poirot would be like if he were a moron and Hastings being the genius crime solver, except that she didn’t do that.   After being smart and useful Hastings is nearly written out of the story.  The cops are boneheads.  Except for the one murder, this is essentially trying to be a loopy, Wodehousian mystery full of stray horses, mistaken identities, absurd chases, hiding from the authorities, very nearly pure goofiness which sounds like it ought to be right up my alley, but it’s just so contrived and unamusing.  Contrived, of course, is not necessarily a problem.   Wodehouse’s books are all contrived and usually delightful.  It’s the trying to be funny and failing I find so painful.  And Witherall’s always saying “m’yes” annoyed the heck out of me.


Sadly, while I’ve read a bit of other books, none has grabbed me and I set each of them aside in search of new and better pastures.   Hopefully this will change and I will be back with recommendations for things to read, not things to avoid.

It was published in 1941 though which makes it eligible for my Golden Age Mystery Bingo card.   I think I’ll go with L6 – features a mode of transportation.   Much of the book is about getting from one place to another by car, bus and taxi, but the big scene includes a horsecar, which I gather was a preliminary to the trolley that included a horse.


I can’t remember where I read about Jefferson Farjeon, nor if anything besides cheap availability caused me to choose Greenmask as my first Farjeon (and possibly my last.)   Published in 1944, it tells the story of a young man named John who’s going hiking in Wales.   He picked a random town to start from and has no notion of where he’s going, but strangely this does not result in him getting hopelessly lost and dying in the middle of Wales.   Before he can do that he runs into Suspicious Characters.    A mysterious short man tells him there’s no hotel around there.   A quarter of a mile later, there’s an inn, complete with hostile innkeeper who tries to talk him out of staying there by saying they’re full.   But in butts this chick he met on the train and says yes, they do have a room and apparently the innkeeper is then powerless to send John on his way.   Why John won’t take no for an answer, I’m not sure, except there’d be no story.   More suspicious characters act suspiciously and John goes over every incident in his mind after it happens.   Sometimes multiple times.  Yes, we know.   We just read it.   Then he meets a new, unsuspicious character and he tells him everything.   It is very fortunate for John that all the crooks act like crooks and the non-crooks don’t.   Because John has a way of telling people he trusts absolutely everything.   He’s a real dope.


So, there’s no real mystery about whose committing the crime(s).   For quite a while there’s a mystery about what crimes are being committed, but that gets solved about halfway through.   It takes until the end to figure out the reason for these crimes and it feels like a very long hike indeed.   Why did I read it?  It was in my purse and I’d pull it out and read a few pages when I had to wait somewhere.   Eventually I got far enough in I wanted to finish.   Presumably Mystery in White is better.   I might try that one, but I think maybe I’ll wait a bit.


The Sadness that is the End of Minithon

It is now 7:04 and the Minithon is over.   It was a good minithon despite my lack of prep, I still managed to be highly distracted and get only a mini amount of reading done.  The Wimbledon Poisoner – about a sad sack English Everyman who gets fed up and decides to poison his wife – starts off well.   It is hard not to eat too many peanut butter pretzel nuggets.  And why is it hard to focus on a book while lazing in a hammock?   I don’t know, but it was very nice out until the rain came.   Read a word.  Stare at a tree.  Read another word.  Wonder why the bird calls are so raucous.  Etc.

Thanks Tika, for hosting and Glynis and Alley for stopping by.  Sadly, for mysterious reasons I can’t seem to comment on most blogs, or I’d comment on yours.  I do read them and enjoy, though.   I hope we all get together for another ‘thon soon.



And I’m not doing well.  Last time I had bought every mini snack that would fit in a cart.  This time I have mini tater tots and pretzel nuggets with peanut butter.  Yay for a balanced diet.  I’m also late, failed to sign up and don’t know what I’m reading.   Possibly more of Pleasure by the Busload in which a group of friends travels around Portugal in a Microbus (can’t get more mini than that) in 1961.   Or there’s The Wimbledon Poisoner, because poison is a small weapon.  Or I bought the Magicians, but don’t know enough about it to justify minithoning it — can I bring it in based on the mini amount of information I have on it?  Someone said it was like Harry Potter for adults.  At any rate I’m here-ish and hope to get a mini amount of reading in.

MiniThon No Date

But mostly just read peoples’ tweets and eat pretzel nuggets.

Catching Up (Cold Comfort Farm)

I can’t believe I haven’t posted since the Readathon.  It’s been a busy month, without a lot of reading, but still.  Unfortunately too busy to join in Beowulf readalong, which would’ve been good as I have long meant to read it and it’s so much easier with others.  Worse, I bombed out of the Trollope reading.  I started The Way We Live Now which I enjoyed the beginning of, but only got maybe 100 pages in.  Instead I read The House Without a Key – the first Charlie Chan novel, which is based on a real Chinese/Hawaiian police detective.  This could be my theme for the year:  Chinese detectives based on real people, except I don’t know if there are any more.   Also, tomorrow is the Minithon.   I shouldn’t join in, but I believe I will.   Maybe I’ll make some progress on something.   At least I can eat mini food.   That’s always a plus.

So, I read for the Readathon – Cold Comfort Farm, a book recommended to me a million years ago which has a movie based on it I highly recommend.  It is a parody of the sort of literature I loathe and never read, but you don’t need to read it to get it, I don’t think.   I saw Precious Bane on TV decades ago and that was more than enough.   The book is quite a bit like the movie except for one confusing aspect.   It was published in 1932 and seems to take place in that year until you get to a point where it mentions a television phone.   Out of the blue, a television phone.   Shaking my head I read on until I got to the Anglo-Nicaraguan War of ’46.   This was too confusing.   This made the speaker in question about 90 years old if it was 1846, which I thought it had to be, but no.   CCF is set in the near future although there are only maybe 3 sentences in the entire book which give a clue to that and they make no sense because there was no Anglo-Nicaraguan war of ’46.   But thanks to Wikipedia I learned the book is set in a nebulous future which was really nothing at all like the future and almost exactly like the time in which it was written.


The thing to do is ignore those few references and just picture them in 1932.   Easy to do as there is no point whatever in having set it in the future and someone should have talked her out of it.   Otherwise, a delightful read in which young Flora, setting out to make her way in the world, decides to live off her relatives.  “Robert Post’s child” which is what she is called by all the residents of Cold Comfort Farm – the Starkadder family – would be a complete fish out of water in this environment except Flora is the sort of fish who changes her environment to suit herself.   Watching her do it is the entertainment of the book and it is highly entertaining as long as you have that sort of sense of humor, which I do.  I might seek out more Stella Gibbons.   I think I have one somewhere.


There’ve always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.


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