“Hobbit” review and my new artwork

Greetings, everyone! The last couple of months have been more hectic than an ant colony that just found a spilled can of Mountain Dew, but things are going pretty well. I got to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last week, and all I can say is…wow.

Okay, I can say a little more. It’s brilliant. The first film’s weaknesses (which were mostly negligible) are pretty much gone this time around. The story moves at a faster pace, even to the point of feeling too short. The characters have many chances to shine (and in the “barrels on the river” scene, Bombur has a moment of glorious hilarity). Tauriel and Legolas may not have been in the book, but who cares when their perspectives add so much to the tale?

And of course, there’s the dragon. Smaug is very much the star of this movie. He’s so cool-looking, and makes an incredible villain — simply put, he’s a work of terrifying art. Not only is he the best dragon ever put on film, but this is the greatest dragon movie ever made. Move over, Draco and Vermithrax.

Seriously, go see it if you haven’t already.

———————

Oh, and there’s also some new artwork I have been doing. Mini canvases and acrylic paints are godsends, because they give an aspiring artist the chance to try out many techniques and have a finished work sooner. They’re a good way to build up one’s portfolio. I’ve even got clients.

If you asked me six months ago if I’d have clients paying for artwork ($10 for the mini paintings, for the moment), I would have laughed you off. Life holds many good surprises; I’m just trying to process this one.

Ceratosaurus.

Pikes Peak. When you think about it, this is Colorado’s “Lonely Mountain.”

The mini paintings also make neat Christmas ornaments!

The mini paintings also make neat Christmas ornaments!

WP_001846

"Desert Hog," done as a Christmas present for a friend who kindly gave me some new art supplies.

“Desert Hog,” done as a Christmas present for a friend who kindly gave me some new art supplies.

Of course, it's me, so I've got some dinosaurs done, too. From left to right: "Primal Colorado" and "Tyrant."

Of course it’s me, so I got some dinosaurs done, too. Left to right: “Primal Colorado” and “Tyrant.”

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.

The Remaking: A Brief History of the Wolfglen Legacy’s Origins

I thought I could start coming back to this blog with a fresh start, and keep talking about the world for the (still in-progress) fantasy series, The Wolfglen Legacy. I’m impatient to get things off the ground at the moment, but I’ll make sure the books are worth the wait.

In the meantime, here is a condensed history of the world these books will introduce to you. I’ve been working on it off and on since 2004, and hope you enjoy it. I might as well start at the beginning.

The Remaking – Earth’s new start

Toward the close of the 22nd century AD, mankind is crumbling and crippled, on the edge of extinction at his own hands. Wars, nuclear bombs, engineered viruses, and a loss of willpower have pared the ranks of humanity to a few million.

But that is where outside help arrives at last. The creator of this and every other universe, known as The Maker, shows mercy to mankind and gives them another chance. He does this by sending creatures called Founders to Earth, to repair and reshape it. The Founders sculpt new islands and continents, carve out new oceans and rivers. Unforeseen minerals, plants, and animals take shape under their craftsmanship. Structures are given to mankind as well, including cities and towers and deep caverns, as well as structures whose functions are still not recognized.

However, the Founders are not willing to let all their hard work be wasted from mankind nearly destroying himself yet again. They decide to give the remaining humans humbling reminders that they are the Earth’s tenants, and not its landlords. To do this, they remove most fossil fuel deposits to prevent another industrial revolution, lest humanity become capable of destruction on the same scale as before. They even recall the dinosaurs from extinction, and create living, breathing dragons — if you enter a world full of big, strange, wild creatures that weren’t there before, it’s a good reminder that you answer to a higher order.

Earth is not only being renovated for our sake, though. The Maker Himself intervenes more directly by creating new intelligent races, to share the Earth with man as his equals. Five new races are created:

  • Elves, who tend to be even more passionate and aggressive than us, and can live several times as long as a human.
  • Nymphs, an all-female species that look human, apart from the white stripe of hair on their heads.
  • Fairies, two feet high and possessing four leathery wings.
  • Roklew, a green-skinned race of creatures with large, long-snouted heads.
  • Merfolk, more akin to amphibians than fish, who can live in both salt and fresh water.

Humans now have a new world to explore, fill, and share with the five new races. It’s a better world than we had made for ourselves, full of countless mysteries, treasures we never dreamed of…and more danger than we ask for.

It is in dangerous times when the best qualities of these peoples at last come to the forefront. In future millennia, that will become all too clear. And soon that history will be shared as well.

Thank you for your time, and God bless you all.

The Hobbit: Get Ready for Smaug to Desolate

The trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is finally here. Only question is, Why do we have to wait another six months? I can’t get to the theater fast enough for this.

Radagast returns. Smaug is terrifying. Giant spiders and Beorn are finally on our doorstep. Even Legolas is back, and seemingly has a huge role to play (which is awesome!). The cast and crew are bringing a bigger, more epic story than the original book ever could. And even as a Tolkien devotee, I have to admit, I am absolutely delighted with that decision. Everything about this is shaping up into something incredible, and I couldn’t be happier.

Was J.R.R. Tolkien A Racist?

…Or “The Coincidental Christmas.” Coincidental, since I was working on another blog post, detailing the races of my own fantasy world, when this little chestnut slithered back into the light: “Was J.R.R. Tolkien a racist?”

Um…no. No, he decidedly was not. In fact, he wrote an eloquent letter to the Nazi party calling the race doctrine “pernicious and unscientific.”

He certainly had races which thought themselves above the others, like Elves and the men of Numenor. Problem is, as soon as they started forcing themselves on the other races, calamitous consequences were not far behind. This little nuance is often lost on those who consider Tolkien a bigot.

Some will never give up on tarnishing one of the 20th century’s greatest storytellers with racist accusations. Today, on this blessed and sacred holiday, I tripped across one rather shrill blogger, who has decided ahead of time that Tolkien’s racism can be recognized by any rational human being, and that the writer’s defenders are immature, angry little white supremacists. Normally for the sake of objectivity and letting the reader reach their own conclusion, I link to pieces I disagree with. In this case, I will neither do this nor mention him by name. This man is getting no more views or attention on my account.

But I’d like to offer my refutation to his all-too-common accusation in the form of someone else’s words. They put it better than I ever could, and you’ll find the whole excellent piece by Michael Martinez here. This paragraph was especially neat:

“Unfortunately, though many people rise quickly to defend J.R.R. Tolkien against the absurd arguments that his critics raise against him, they fall quickly into the trap of replying to silly provocations — a trap that is designed only to control the conversation. Trust me, I have walked that treadmill more than I want to recall. You cannot win an argument with someone who declares blindly that J.R.R. Tolkien was a racist. At best you can write your own thoughtful explanation of what Tolkien was doing and not respond directly to these sensationalists. That is, after all, what they crave: a passionate response from you and as many other people as they can provoke.”

The accusation will always be around, no matter how ridiculous it is. Never quite goes away. Maybe I’m dropping right into the aforementioned trap by replying at all. But since the accusation is finding more ears in the wake of the Hobbit movie, I thought someone’s insights might be offered against it.

Thanks for your time. And Merry Christmas!

My Return to Middle Earth

Well, I am back from seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. What did I think of it?

Hobbit

Run like the wind to the cinema! Go! Now!

Peter Jackson and company have taken us back to Middle Earth, which of course is already a compelling reason to go see it. But they also fulfilled my hopes and dreams, doing justice to Tolkien’s timeless book while adding layers to the story. I was grinning through most of the film, and was completely enraptured. The performances are astounding, especially the main three: Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen is back and amazing as ever as Gandalf the Grey, and Richard Armitage holds his own as the charismatic, intense king of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. Andy Serkis delivers a Gollum that is even more convincing and remarkable than the one in the trilogy, if that was possible.

Of course, the special effects and landscapes are beyond beautiful (New Zealand is proof that there is a God). The Dwarves are by turns hilarious and rip-roaring awesome. Howard Shore delivers a terrific musical score that stirs the heart and puts visions of dragons and fires and grand adventures in your mind. Really, must I go into detail? It felt like going back home. I could hardly be happier with the result. In fact, I have to confess something that might be blasphemy: I liked it more than the book. There are fewer times when Bilbo is saved by “sheer luck.” He has to rely more on his own wits and the assistance of the Dwarves or Gandalf to get him out of sticky situations. Plus, all of the extra stuff they’re pulling in from Tolkien’s appendices gives the movie a greater epic quality, and heightens the stakes of the main adventure to the Lonely Mountain.

Of course, it seems as if some aren’t nearly as delighted about it. Critics and nerds across the world are in fidgeting rage over this film. Did they kill Gandalf at the end? Nope. Is Smaug the dragon wearing a tutu? We don’t see much of him, but I didn’t notice any pink lace.

Evidently, the reason everyone’s tying their undergarments in a slip knot is the deliberate pace of An Unexpected Journey. Yup. A deliberate pace. All right, if your heart attack is over, I’d like to calmly explain why this shouldn’t earn the movie a paltry 65% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies require an audience who is in it for the long haul. The beginning of this film does require a little patience. And the scene with the three trolls around a campfire, though fun and funny, might have benefited from a bit of extra editing. I grant that much. But why should these count so heavily against the film, when Jackson has made it clear that he will be spinning a much larger tapestry than what Tolkien’s children’s book alone could hold? He is fleshing out Middle Earth itself, casting light on the milieu of Tolkien’s astounding creation.

Given such circumstances, I find a nice slow beginning not only acceptable but arguably necessary. It’s the same reason I didn’t object in the slightest to Return of the King having “too many” endings. I’d just seen ten hours of an epic story unfolding through three movies and dozens of characters. There had better be a lot of endings, so we can be satisfied that each character and subplot gets some kind of resolution even as the larger tale slowly draws to a close.

I’ve been going through Orson Scott Card’s book Characters and Viewpoint (which I highly recommend), and one of the latest chapters I’ve read devotes several paragraphs to showing how Tolkien is a storyteller who focuses on the world, fleshing it out to show us a place so convincing and detailed, you believe it might actually exist. Tidy narratives and compelling characters do sometimes find a place in the setting, but the attention is on Middle Earth itself. This is even true of The Hobbit as a book, which is a shorter adventure tale. Even here, where the plot is much more reined in than Lord of the Rings, Tolkien takes his time to show us the people of Dale, outline the customs of Hobbits, flesh out the family line of Bilbo Baggins, and makes us feel the anguish of the Dwarves whose mountain and treasure has been cruelly stolen by the dragon Smaug. Even here, Tolkien makes the world as much a character as Gandalf or Bilbo or Thorin.

The director and writers are taking their time to set the stage for a grander story, a story I can’t wait to see unfold. I have come to trust this crew of people, given what they accomplished with Lord of the Rings. If they want to tell a larger tale through this new trilogy, they are more than welcome to do so.

Well done, ladies and gentlemen. You have delivered one of the greatest movies of the year, and you captured my imagination all over again.

In Defense of a “Hobbit” Trilogy

Peter Jackson has made it official, now. The Hobbit will be told through another epic film trilogy in Middle Earth.

For better or worse, I am excited and optimistic about this decision. Most of the internet is rejoicing at the news, but given the smaller, tighter focus of The Hobbit as a book, some are rising up to say the trilogy will feel stretched and boring. Film cynics immediately settled into their favorite act of projecting, stating that the studio “just wants more money.” One or two people have thought themselves exceptionally clever by invoking Bilbo’s quote from Fellowship of the Ring: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Perhaps they will be proven right. The movies aren’t out yet, and anything can happen. But, as an optimist, I refuse to go along with the mourning and bemoaning about this development. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy still is made up of my three favorite movies of all time (heck, I’m watching Fellowship right now).

The man and his creative team sweated blood to respectfully bring the spirit of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth to life twelve years ago, and he knew an adaptation of Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain would require the same care and love. I am trusting him to do well with this decision, and I believe him when he says the third movie was motivated not by money or marketing, but by the needs of the story that was coming to life before the camera.

Here’s why I believe him. Tolkien himself once said that his visits to Middle-Earth resulted in “tales that grew in the telling.” Even with Jackson’s films, that was the case with the Extended Edition DVDs, which most Rings fans agree are the superior versions of each movie. Jackson wants to draw on the appendices (published at the end of Return of the King) to supplement Bilbo’s simple adventure story, which he obviously knows doesn’t need three movies by itself. And now that I think about it, my opinion is that three movies are needed, for a simple reason: to immerse viewers in Middle-Earth by showing them a much larger world. Tolkien’s lifetime of work produced a realm that was much more than the adventures of a ragtag group of Dwarves, and later a Fellowship.

No doubt the filmmakers will enjoy even more profits from expanding two films into three, but so what? The richness and depth of Tolkien’s world deserves a better cinematic treatment than a strict, by-the-numbers telling of Bilbo’s side of the story. The films may be part of a trilogy called The Hobbit, but they should show much more than what is seen through Bilbo Baggins’s eyes.

And even if I’m wrong, if the movies are bloated and stretched and Jackson couldn’t quite tell as good a story this time around…well, I would rather have too much of a good thing than too little. Especially when it comes to Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Besides, the more movies Ian Mckellen plays Gandalf in, the better. That’s pretty self-evident.

UPDATE: Here’s an io9 article that helps show why The Hobbit can’t be fully realized in just one movie. If you want to know why Gandalf repeatedly leaves the Dwarves and Bilbo behind, know how the Dwarves started up on this quest in the first place, and have each character become sympathetic and memorable so you actually care about them, the solution is to build your story through multiple films.