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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.