A Fully Scientific Review of The Lord of the Rings Films, by a Fantasy Writer Who Somehow Missed The Lord of the Rings Until Now

Yeah, I know. I do remember watching the films about 15 years ago and clearly retained nothing, because watching them recently was a completely novel experience. I knew the basic beats of the story – ring, quest, defeat evil – but never really got round to properly watching or reading them. It took me long enough to get through The Hobbit – can’t remember much of those films either – that I keep meaning to go straight to the audio book of The Fellowship of the Ring. (If you’re new here and were enticed by the title: hi, I’m Francesca and I write stories about magic. My last book included a quest, a dragon and a wizard in a tower so it’s safe to say Tolkien’s influenced my work without me noticing.)

Grab popcorn for this, guys, it’s very scholarly:

The Fellowship of the Ring

  • I don’t think I’d realised Sean Bean was in it
  • But we all knew what would happen to him
  • Excellent creepy costume and atmosphere work with the ringwraiths, 10/10 for nightmare potential had I been paying attention 15 years ago
  • I imagine there was far more of a point to Cate Blanchett’s Extra Ethereal Elf in the novels; on screen I thought that although she’s definitely a good guy, she could have become a bad guy in the right (well, wrong) circumstances. Given the running time we might as well have had 10 more minutes of exploring her character
  • Not sure why none of these men tie their hair back to go into battle. Sweaty necks are hard enough when you’re out for a walk, let alone when you’re wearing a helmet or Defending the Hobbits
  • I mean, come on, Legolas, there’s no way those plaits would have survived all that running
  • Did anyone else really worry what happened to Bill the horse?
  • Kind of felt like Gandalf and Saruman were a bit too stock character wizard-y until I remembered they are the original wizards and therefore VERY COOL
  • I always liked the idea of going to New Zealand but now it is on the list in a serious way, not a ‘one day’ way
  • I was so excited to see Liv Tyler’s elf! I mean she was just there to save Frodo but she seemed to be on such a good character arc, building her mortal life with Not a Worthy King until-

The Two Towers

  • Okay I spoke too soon, I think she’s just lying on a couch a lot?
  • Did not realise the two towers were two separate towers. Not a full on tower-y building that would need to be stormed. Took half an hour to catch up. Fortunately, I still had four years of film left to enjoy the plot!
  • Don’t you love when you have more experience with a meme than with the original work?
gif of Legolas exclaiming, 'They're taking the hobbits to Isengard!'
from Giphy
  • As I write this I’ve remembered that I do have an abiding Lord of the Rings memory! When I was little and the films were being released – Google says I would have been six to eight – I understood that hobbits and dwarfs = small; humans and wizards = tall. I also understood that dwarfism is a thing in real life, so I thought that the people they cast to play hobbits and dwarfs were actors with dwarfism. I was really disappointed to see a news segment or suchlike proving that they cast regular sized people for every role and then CGI-d it! Couldn’t figure out why they didn’t save themselves a job. May have been a very young diversity campaigner
  • Speaking of diversity, are we really meant to believe that in a world where multiple species co-exist, there are absolutely no brown people except for maybe those mercenaries on monster elephants? Dudes.
  • (I am aware that although the films were only made 20 years ago, things are done differently now.)
  • (We’re not going to mention the Bechdel test.)
  • Not sure what the point of the blonde princess was except to provide a handy love triangle for our now-swooning elf and Not a Worthy King

The Return of the King

  • You know what I love? A good battle scene. The noise! The gravitas! It probably helps that now I am old enough to know all the horses were acting
  • Blonde Princess got her (redeeming, cool) stabby battlefield moment!
  • Liv Tyler’s elf did not
  • My brother and I disagreed on whether or not she even needed to exist, but I guess 3 central female parts are the prime amount for a saga with an extended edition running length of 11.5 hours
  • Not sure what was up with the Steward of Gondor and his fiery demise, except as a reminder that yes, the king needed to return sharpish
  • Poor Sméagol 
  • My brother pointed out that although the Eye of Sauron sees all, it can only look in one direction at once. Bit of a design flaw there, your evil lordship, but I feel like it would make a good metaphor for the narrow mindedness of an existence bent on world domination
  • Bowing to the hobbits awwww
  • Speaking of hobbits, I am vagually aware of decades of readers nudging each other and saying ‘are we sure they’re all just friends?’
  • I am with you
  • Clarity, please, Tolkien estate
  • Just kidding, if there’s anything worse than a lack of a character trait in canon text, it’s the author telling us about it years after publication (you know who I’m talking about). I also love stories that are more focused on friendship than romance, so if the ghost of Mr Tolkien is reading, thank you (and fantastic work on the world building, even if I recall The Hobbit being a bit… wordy). I get where all the fan fiction is coming from, that’s all
  • I liked that after the quest ended, the story got a second ending that we can all take home to digest. ‘New chapters’ don’t have to mean no adventure, just different adventure.

I’ve done (minimal) web surfing and although I am not the first person to question the 3:746464748 female:male character ratio, it looks as though the novels are a bit more fleshed out. Maybe I need another watch (and a crack at the books) to absorb the nuances of Éowyn and Arwen’s character arcs and personalities. Sort of wish I’d done this at the start of lockdown because now we’re creeping back into life, I probably have better other things to do. But then, judging by the number of people I encountered this morning who were acting like coronavirus is a thing of the past, we might be back to full lockdown in about two weeks’ time. Is it offensive to say that some people are marginally less bright than orcs? JUST WEAR A MASK AND STAND SEVERAL FEET AWAY FROM ONE ANOTHER.

Only in 2020 could you go from musing about diversity in a decades-old story to comparing the general public to malevolent ogre-creatures for the transgression of standing around.

I’m off to finish writing my next patrons’ story (no dragons, maybe magic). If you enjoyed this Hot Take on a classic, let me know! If I’ve ruined your favourite story, don’t let me know!

Making a Killjoy Jacket Part One

Good afternoon!

In a non-corona world, I’d be headed to Milton Keynes today to see My Chemical Romance for the first time since 2011. Instead I am at home, looking up what happens when you accidentally swallow a cherry pit. I suppose I could conceivably do both.

Anyway, I wanted to commemorate the day, partly as a reminder to myself that I have one year until MCR actually play in Milton Keynes (and therefore one year to get fit enough to dance through a 90-minute set, as thanks to lockdown inactivity I am knackered after a forty minute walk). The other reason is that I think I mentioned in a video back in May that I’ve been customising a jacket for the show?

It’s not finished, and probably wouldn’t have been finished even if corona hadn’t happened… but on the plus side, I now have a year to make it look Very Cool. In fact, even though I’ve only done a couple of embellishments, I think it could be legitimately considered a killkoy jacket.

Before I show you it, I think it deserves some back story: towards the end of last year (or maybe the beginning of this one; I feel like 2020 has gone on for a decade), I came across an initiative by Southend council to encourage clothes swapping. It was in one of the shopping malls, with two council workers plus a couple of racks and bin bags of clothes that people had donated through the recycling system. I’m assuming your council has something similar: you fill a plastic sack clearly marked TEXTILES (our textiles sacks are grey) and leave it on your curb with the other assorted rubbish.

I always wondered what happened to the clothes – I usually only put in garments that are damaged past fixing or donating to that scheme where they give you 50p per kilogram of clothes and ship them to disadvantaged people in eastern Europe. I assumed the fabrics were sorted out and broken down for recycling to be turned into pencils or something. None of my grey textiles sack clothing would be suitable for a clothes swap, but the ones on this stall were in really good nick – some even had tags. Naturally, I stopped for a rummage and found… a military jacket. Not that type of military jacket, MCR fans. The modern-ish type.

I’ve always liked the idea of having a big dark camouflage-y jacket with big pockets, but I am suspicious of anything beige or taupe, which rules out most of them. This jacket, though, was pretty cool. It was originally from New Look, had huge pockets and smelt a bit like cigarettes.

The whole point of the clothes swap was to exchange goods, but as I’d just wandered over with nothing to swap, the ladies on the stall were kind enough to let me take it. I promised I’d be back with my old clothes, but then corona happened, so I might have to wait to fulfill my debt to the universe.

Okay, story’s done, here it is:

green khaki New Look jacket with MCR and Raven Cycle patches
back of dark green New Look jacket
I did wash it before doing anything

I should add that originally, it was just the jacket plus the star patch on the front pocket and the Route 66 badge on the sleeve. It didn’t occur to me to take a picture until after I’d started adding bits.

I already had a Fun Ghoul patch from MCR’s killjoys era that I’d originally planned to put onto a bag but had, inevitably, sat in my sewing box for eight years. To the uninitiated, that’s the yellow patch, it was part of Frank Iero’s killjoy jacket. They don’t sell the jacket or the patch any more but someone put it on Pinterest for posterity if you fancy an eyeball. I thought it might be fun to put the patch on my jacket where it sat on the original.

Earlier this year I snaffled an Aglionby Academy patch which begged to go on something ostentatious. To the uninitiated, that’s the blue patch, a fan-designed logo of the school in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series. I highly recommend you check out the artist, Caroline Dougherty. She helped produce The Major Arcana, a very cool Raven Cycle illustration anthology, as well as being a fantastic artist in her own right. The Algionby patch was actually the first thing I put on the jacket, but it’s a) not centred and b) is peeling a little, so I might redo the whole thing.

In terms of finished design, I want to add a mourning armband that came with the May Death Never Stop You CD, that greatest hits album that Warner Bros put out when MCR ended. It says ‘MCR 2001-2013’ so feels fitting to wear it to an MCR show no one expected to happen. According to the internet, mourning armbands are traditionally worn on the left arm, so I’ve unpicked the Route 66 patch and might pop it elsewhere later:

green jacket with unpicked Route 66 patch and unpicker

The armband is going to take forever to attach because it’s made to fit the Average Man Arm and I have Quite Small Lady Arms, as does the jacket. There’s far more armband than sleeve, but I’ll figure something out. There’s time.

To conclude – because this is reminding me of a proper craft article, haha – the jacket is beginning to feel a lot like something the killjoys would wear on down days. I think Gerard might have worn something green and camo-esque at their return show last year, so it feels fitting to add bits and pieces to mine until Milton Keynes next year. I’m fully planning to wear it around and about, too, because I am not one to look a pocket horse in the mouth. It’s quite nice denim-y material, too, not too heavy for warmer months but not too light to be useful.

I don’t know what I’ll add to the back. My two great artistic loves, MCR and The Raven Cycle, are fully repped, so maybe something mythology-related? Or tarot-related? There are some fantastic patches on Folksy and Etsy, and I have a good collection of enamel pins to add. But first I need to fix the Aglionby patch!

Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas and I will strive to keep you updated.

Look after yourselves!

A note on the last week or so, ish (ft. BLM in case you were expecting, I dunno, a chat about the changeable weather)

I almost didn’t finish this post, although I started it days ago, as I’ve been mulling over both what to say and how to say it. The last thing the world needs is another white person saying, ‘I’ve been educating myself this week,’ or ‘I have signed X petition,’ or ‘I have quite a few BAME characters in my last book,’ as that implies I’m off the hook. I’m not. I also don’t want to tell readers which funds to support – we don’t know each other’s financial situations.

That said, I started Indifferent Ignorance to discuss just that. Little Me saw a lot of ambivalence in society and couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t understand why no one was throwing tables and screaming their lungs out about topics and issues that were so obviously dodgy or horrible and relevant to the lives of millions of people, if not all of us. How did anyone manage to learn about these things and just shrug? So I like to think I’m mindful of the notion that if I don’t speak up about something I perceive as wrong, I’m complicit in allowing it.

So, for the record, although I suspect I will have to say this a great number more times: to my BAME readers and customers, I am so sorry that our realities are so different in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I hope to spend several more decades on this planet, and I’ll do my best to spend them learning how to be a better person than the individuals previously and currently in charge of so many of our governmental and societal systems. I’ll do my best to understand the privilege I was born into. I don’t expect your patience (I’m from a country that’s spent 400 years pretending the slave trade didn’t have any impact on modern-day America; I wouldn’t tend toward patience in your shoes, either) but I hope you’ll let me listen and ask questions where I can, and allow me to learn from any fuck ups as opposed to announcing my ‘cancellation’ on Twitter.

I was going to list some of the ways I’ve been trying to actively help out and educate myself this week, but I sort of feel that implies, once again, that once the protests have ended and the news cycle has moved on, that I will be off the hook because I made a bit of effort for a few days. Anyway, you can all find the relevant petitions and media in about five minutes.

That said, as a novelist I’m never going to stop shouting about how important ‘fictional’ stories are for education-disguised-as-entertainment. So if you’re looking to expand your horizons but also have a break from straight-up news, please consider looking up the following. They are all fantastically interesting, thought provoking insights into someone else’s life even before you consider the race-related commentary:

  • Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo
  • Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series (the TV show is also *chef’s kiss*)
  • Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give
  • Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

I very much plan to decolonise my bookshelf and expand that list. There’s another book I can’t remember the name of that I read in primary school and stuck with me. It may have been by Malorie Blackman but I’m not sure. I’ll have to do some serious Googling because I think I read it circa 2004.

Another note on reading: I looked up a lot of non-fiction books I’m planning to read in my local library catalogue, but they aren’t stocked. It took about 15 minutes to look up half a dozen ISBNs and request them, because they should be available to all of us (I’m fully planning to buy my own copies anyway, but I am limited on money and space, as I suspect we all are). Even if you own a copy of a book you think is really important – and you can do this with any old book, really – it’s worth searching it up on your local library site or shop wish lists, and requesting it if it’s not there. The powers-that-be might then stock it, and will at least know which topics their customers care for, thus helping them improve their displays, marketing, etc.

Finally, a photo of an electricity box (is that what they’re called?). I live in a mostly white, mostly middle class, mostly well-it’s-not-in-our-bubble neighbourhood. I hadn’t seen most of my neighbours before the Thursday night NHS clapping, and I’ve lived here on and off since 2005. But someone thought it worth pasting these posters over every available bollard and box at the local row of shops/cultural-epicentre-even-if-it’s-mostly-coffee-shops-and-estate-agents:

Black Lives Matter posters on electricity box in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, June 2020

I never thought I’d see a civil rights poster in my neighbourhood. I didn’t notice last time I was there if they’d been taken down. I suspect someone will have considered them out of place. But I looked up those books, you might look up those books and my neighbours might have too. That someone took the time to put them up, knowing that they might be completely dismissed as unnecessary or inappropriate, deserves immortalising. I also love that they used FRAGILE tape.

I am off to bed… I can’t believe I thought it’d take me half an hour to finish this. When will I learn that posts always take double the time I expected? Blogs are like building work.

Look after yourselves and see you soon!

700 Blog Posts & Chatting About THE FUTURE… and scones.

My hands have been playing up, so I filmed a wee 17 minute video instead of spending 4 hours writing the equivalent. A free piece of stationery of your choice to anyone who counts the number of times I say ‘er’.

Those links I mention:

Thank you for watching!

Insomniac thoughts on: corona

Evening. Or ‘night’, since it’s gone 10pm? I’ve read a lot lately about how healthy it can be in these Troubling Times™ to stick to a routine, but I’ve also read that the optimum circumstance in which to fall asleep is one in which you are sleepy, so I am writing to you in the hope it sends me to sleep (you’re welcome).

I’m not an insomniac unless something is playing on my mind, so lately bedtime has been more of a vague intention than an actual experience. Will I fall asleep at a quarter to ten, wake up in the middle of the night and doze? Will I be awake at 2am? Who knows! I can’t seem to keep my eyeballs open very well in the day time either, so it’s not like I could embrace this newly night owl-ish me. Also I don’t want to be a night owl. I want my normal life back.

I’ll level with you: when the lockdown lark first started, I didn’t notice any difference. Most of my work is done at home; my final office-based client had just let me go when corona became a real threat. I have a very small circle of friends and an even smaller bank balance. Staying indoors, spending no money, reading a stack of books I’ve been meaning to get to? No problem mate. I’m used to living inside my imagination and spending hours inside my own head, writing or editing or emailing clients fifteen times a day about one paragraph of text and a hyperlink. I thought I’d be all right in isolation, because it’s a fairly normal state for me anyway.

Except it turns out that it isn’t. I can’t pop to the shops and run errands, then come back to my desk refreshed. I can’t take multiple walks a day figuring out a plot device or cooling off when a client has tested my patience. There’s no way to drop in to my nan’s, because I might kill her, and I can’t visit my mum, because it’s illegal. (If this were normal, I wouldn’t be able to visit her anyway because she was supposed to move abroad on Sunday. But if she had moved abroad on Sunday, normal life would be continuing.)

It’s enough to wish I still had a car to pootle about in, because at least it would make getting a change of scene possible. Technically I do still have a car, but I can’t afford to keep one and hate driving anyway, so my mum’s been using it since she sold hers. It’s nice not having to worry about insurance or petrol costs, but ironically the roads are so quiet at the moment that even I might enjoy going over 47 miles per hour on a dry surface.

Point is, I thought I’d do better than this. I have relatively little to worry about because universal credit will, hopefully, prop up my bank balance before that self employed wage thing comes in. There’s a roof over my head and everyone I know who’s had corona-like symptoms has recovered. My part in saving the world is a cushty one; I have internet access and food access, and I live in a safe environment. I reread Anne Frank’s diary a few weeks ago and although I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re feeling really low, it provided me with precisely the perspective I expected and needed. I know, logically, that I’m all right. I didn’t even like my old routine that much anyway.

But I can’t sleep.

I think part of it is the fact we are all living in a SERIOUS CRISIS. The sort not seen since the war, blah etc. There’s no road map, there’s no definite end date, we can’t hug people any more and it turns out way more of us are huggers than we thought. There’s also that sneaking suspicion that since the air is cleaner now, since we’re all managing without haircuts and £12 mojitos, maybe… this is a bit of a wake up call. What’s actually important to us? What do we really want? I think a lot of the time we continue in a mostly forward direction, and then occasionally life chucks something at us that makes us sit down and re-evaluate. Except now the entire planet is having to sit down. Apart from key workers, who we should maybe consider paying a bit more because we’re all feeling guilty that they’re treating covid patients while wearing bin bags, or pulling shifts in manual jobs we never wanted to do for very long. Also shouldn’t we be using this time to start a business and write a book or something?

I’ve done both of those things, and they’re both bloody difficult without the constant worry that venturing outside your house could kill someone.

I am nowhere near where I would like to be mentally. Or physically, come to that. (I can’t believe I miss Southend high street. I’d love the opportunity to hop on a bus or a train and go… anywhere.) But neither is anyone else where they’d like to be. I keep seeing that quote that goes ‘you’re not working from home, you’re trying to work at home during a crisis’ and it sums the whole experience up. We’re living in a weird time, with new conventions and coping mechanisms. I feel like the whole of society is at that point in a film where two highly strung main characters sit in an alleyway and go ‘ugh, aren’t we a pair. Just look at us!’ and then they lose their minds a bit more before coming back to life and normalacy, eventually, by the time the credits roll. Not sure if we’re in a coming of age drama or a dystopian thriller or a horror film. Guess we won’t know until after the credits have rolled. What an ominous thought.

I’m not quite awake enough to edit this with a clear head, and spell check is glitching, so this post probably doesn’t look as shiny as it ought. I definitely don’t have the energy to source an image or some shit for Instagram. I can’t one hundred per cent be sure what I wanted to say when I began writing, except that it feels important to keep communicating. Figuring out this new normal is going to take a while.

I’m about eighty per cent sure I might fall asleep after this. Seventy five per cent? At least I don’t have to be up for anything tomorrow.

In which I revive memories of PE and they are as horrible as you’d expect

Readers, assemble. I need your advice!

I’ve been trying to use all this dead time to do a couple of minor tasks each day, since I have little inclination to do anything really useful (I was chatting to my cousin and we said that being isolated can feel a bit like having a cold – you know your brain cells could stretch that bit further, but they don’t want to).

This afternoon I started organising the drawer in my dresser. A basic case of moving some plasters to live with the other medicine stuff in a cupboard, moving a couple of make up things I don’t use that often to somewhere I can actually see them. It beats thinking about dinner, which let’s be honest is now everyone’s only favourite hobby. Then I came across this monstrosity, which had until a recent tidy-up been hiding in a bag some 10 years after someone gifted it to me:

small aerosol of Impulse Into Glamour Body Fragrance
My nails aren’t nicotine-stained, they were painted yellow last week

I gave it a squirt.

I thought, this is the scent of body odour.

I thought, I am in year nine getting dressed after PE.

I thought, this is the smell of thirty teenage girls who have just been forced to run in circles while a very unfit older lady chats to another unfit older lady on the side line and occasionally shouts at you.

Then I realised: the sweaty smell I notice on myself after a long day in adulthood is anywhere between ‘slightly gross’ and ‘god what did you do.’ But in my head, I’ve always considered it like, oh I guess I’ve done some sweating, good to know my skin works properly, I’m going to carry on with my life. I’d never really associated sweating with the actual term ‘body odour.’ I mean, I’ve inhaled next to some pretty disgusting humans over the years and it’s been a case of ‘oh, that’s a person who doesn’t have access to a home and a shower’ or ‘oh, that’s a person who probably needs prescription deodorant, that must be hard.’

At no point in the last 24.5 years have I inhaled bodily odours and thought holy fuck, someone please saw off my nose.

Until just now when I sprayed Into Glamour into the air and had a proper sniff.

I knew that smell can invoke memories in a way that other senses don’t, and I knew what sweaty human smells like. But I’ve only just realised that deep in my brain, Impulse’s nicely packaged Into Glamour Body Fragrance equals BO.

I’m never spraying it again.

What am I supposed to do with it? It’s still half full (I’m aware this means I probably took it to school in year nine). I know aerosols are flammable – I know a guy who chucked an old can onto a bonfire and it exploded – so is it a good idea to put it into the recycling? Or even the black bin? What if the crushy thing in the collection lorry pierces it and I kill the local bin collectors? No one deserves their last breath to be full of this stuff.

Maybe I should keep it to keep mosquitoes away? Or in case I ever have a date and need the person to leave really quickly? Or maybe I’m the only person who associates Into Glamour with disgusting teenagers and uncomfortable quick changes after PE?

I can’t believe I’m now thinking about PE. I THOUGHT I LEFT YOU IN 2010. I legitimately might have to go for a shower.

Drop me a comment if you have any suggestions for what I can do with this stuff! Let me know if you have any similar smell-memory stories! Oh and if you’re a brand rep from Impulse: it’s not your fault your product has activated some long-forgotten associations. I’m sure some of your other fragrances are lovely. I’m not likely to risk trying them out, though, in case they take me back to year eleven maths or something…

Mildly Good Things That Are Happening in the World 2

The time is ripe for another of these.

  • Remember when the main source of conversation was ‘Poor Caroline Flack. We should all take steps to be kinder, right?’ Now it seems to be ‘Fuck you I want 8,000 toilet rolls.’ BUT. Hairdressers have stopped stocking those bullshit gossip magazines. Ironically, we could probably use them for toilet paper in a pinch.
  • Electronic planes are on the cusp of becoming a reality. Fast, convenient travel without polluting the planet? Sign me up mate. Okay so perhaps it’s not quite on the cusp of reality… more like the cusp of the cusp. But I am confident that with funding (anyone know a billionaire? Someone who invested in loo roll stocks and shares? Or just invested in loo roll?) it will happen.
  • A white, statistically straight millionaire took a pay cut in order to give his employees a raise. The employees were happier. He was happier.
  • Right, I’m mentioning the C word for a minute. There’s a website called Covid Mutual Aid, which helps you find a local groups of people volunteering to help others during these batshit mad times. The groups organise shopping runs for those in isolation and help link people up with goods and resources if they need them (been stockpiling loo roll since 1982? It’s your time to shine, my friend). I’ve joined my local one because if you can’t volunteer to get someone’s shopping when they’re in isolation, then a) you’re a dick and b) seriously what do you do with your life.
  • Following on from that, a lady named Becky has made coronavirus postcards. Pop them through your neighbours’ front doors and let them know you’re there if they need you!

postcard with information for people to fill in in order to offer help during coronavirus outbreak

I may use some of this distancing time to finish up some blog posts I’ve been sitting on. I’ve been thinking of a post about working from home, since I am a seasoned pro at spending the day indoors? Let me know if you’d like my accumulated wisdom. In the mean time, look after yourselves and make sure your grandparents stay at home!