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!

Mildly Good Things That Are Happening in the World

Evening! I feel like I haven’t spoken to you guys since… last decade…

How are the roaring twenties treating you? I’ve got a cold and my Hugely Cool Christmas Present Boots gave me blisters of legendary proportions on one twenty-minute walk, so it’s been a pretty standard January in that respect. In the spirit of looking on the bright side – and providing some much-needed balance to the apocalypse that is the evening news – I thought I’d do a quick bullet point list of good things I’ve encountered so far this year:

graphic reading 'how dirty is your closet'

  • I couldn’t find my old school certificates and was so sure they were hiding in my bedroom that I accidentally Marie Kondo-d every cupboard, shelf and folder I own. I cannot believe how much paperwork I thought was an acceptable amount of paperwork
  • The certificates turned up in my mum’s shed
  • TV is actually really good in January, it’s like they know we’re all indoors
  • My friend Robyn got a new job
  • Little Women is still showing. Even if you’re not a film nerd/classical book person/raging feminist, Little Women is a banger. The costumes! The beautiful settings! Meryl Streep roasting the entire cinema with an eyebrow! Highly recommend it for soul-warming purposes.

I think I need to go and stick my head in a bowl of steam if I’m going to stay awake long enough to watch Silent Witness. Nothing warms me more than a murder mystery and a nice bit of gruesome forensics.

I quite enjoyed making this – I might do another one in February? Or next week if I have to look at more footage of fires/impeachments/the inside of one of my bloody cupboards…

But Which One is the Parody, Actually?

I’m not sure what the electoral college in the US is doing today (or what it does generally) but I am aware that there is a some sort of Trump verification button that needs to be pressed before he can move his gold chandeliers into the White House. As it is 2016, we can assume that the verification people will probably verify him regardless of, well, 2016. But I’m glad this has come of it.

Oh and here’s the original in case you don’t have time to watch Love, Actually. Probably none of us will watch it again because we’ll be running from nuclear war or something.

Happy nearly-Christmas!

Christmas in September, and Other Small Ways I Damn My Soul to Hell

I wasn’t sure of a lot growing up – books disintegrate in the bath some days, but on others they just go crackly and if that’s not a sign the universe is a risky place, I don’t know what is –  but I was sure of one thing: Christmas marketing in September is for wankers. There is a pure and fiery place in hell for the motherfuckers in charge of Clintons and Smiths and Sainsburys who decide to introduce Christmas stock before schools go back. Before Halloween. Before I’m ready to put my shorts away and get out my scarves.

dishonour-andersonhale-tumblrcow-andersonhale-tumblr

Winter is coming, hiss advent calendars and crackers. The year is nearly over, whisper tablecloths and novelty teapots. We want to access your bank account and bleed you dry, murmur the fake Christmas trees.

DIE IN A HOLE, I retort as I browse for factor 15 or Halloween confetti or regular teapots. YOU WILL NEVER CONVINCE ME THAT CHRISTMAS SHOULD START UNTIL AFTER BONFIRE NIGHT.

I feel like this every year. It’s bad enough that Christmas is expensive and loses its magic a bit more every year; I won’t be bullied into buying cheap seasonal cushion covers. And yet recently I’ve realised that I’m well on my way to becoming a giant hypocrite. I preach, but I don’t practise.

Because here’s a fact they don’t pin to gondolas in Debenhams: when you run a shop, even a tiny one on Etsy, Christmas has to start in July at the latest. It has to. Because if you start it any later, you may as spend the rest of the year with your feet up, picturing money you’ll never hold going down the drain.

There’s stock to order and goals to set, last year’s stats to analyse and shipping times to work out. There’s Black Friday game plans and seasonal packaging, contingency plans and Instagram graphics.There’s custom orders versus regular ones, craft fair table decorations and notes on scrap paper as you calculate how much cash you can tie up in products that might sell. If you’re an artist and you carve out time in your day to make art, you carve up that part of the day to become an accountant, a marketing manager, a PR officer, an HR admin – even more than you would the rest of the year. You worry over minute photo details, because that’s where the devil lives, and rewrite product descriptions until you fall in love with a postcard you’ve seen every day for a year. You sign up to newsletters to learn about ‘streamlining your shipping station’ and ‘managing your brand’.

You actually find it kind of fun, because the aim is to earn as much money from your art as you can during the most affluent time of year… and if you were happy just to make the art, you wouldn’t have started an Etsy shop.

By the first of October, you think you’ve got it. You’ve got notes and stock and to do lists and you can picture yourself emerging from the January sales with triumphant fistfuls of profit that make those fourteen hour work days worth it.

And then you remember –

Halloween is in a few weeks. It’s supposed to be your dry run.

You’d better dig out last year’s stats and grab your confetti. The time for targeted marketing isn’t 6th November, it’s now.

bats-and-paper-bags-and-string-they-are-a-few-of-my-favourite-things

You’re all getting little plastic bats if you order from me until the 31st. You might get little plastic snowflakes in November and December. There’s money in the nation’s pockets and I’d rather it went to me than to Debenhams.

I probably deserve to get cheap seasonal cushion covers for Christmas, but I promise I will never try to sell you a novelty tea pot.

A Really Tenuous 6 Degrees of Separation feat. GotG & Troye Sivan

I GOT A NEW KEYBOARD AND LIFE IS GLORIOUS.

It’s been about a thousand years since I did a music post and this week I bought two new records so let’s, like, music video and chill.

Awesome Mix Vol. 1 by assorted people who existed circa 1970

The other day Mum and I saw that X Men/Sky advert and said ‘that tune is in Guardians of the Galaxy. Let’s watch Guardians of the Galaxy.’ Then we said ‘these tunes are the best tunes. Let’s find the soundtrack.’ For the record (ha) I will personally not rest as a screenwriter until I can write anything as good as this:

Neither of us have seen the new X Men yet, but we definitely won’t get Sky.

Blue Neighbourhood by someone who definitely did not exist in the 1970s

The other day I was in New Look and thought ‘this song about youth and partying sounds like it could be by this Troye Sivan guy I’ve heard about.’ Then I spent several days suffering through YouTube ads before cornering a guy in HMV to find Troye’s record. Lil tip: check you can spell an artist’s name before requesting the staff search them. Also, there’s a chance you couldn’t find the CD yourself because you were too short to reach the shelf and didn’t want to upset your takeaway coffee by tiptoeing.

Someone pointed out that this video is basically what Tumblr looks like:

and they ain’t wrong. My favourite songs on Blue Neighbourhood don’t have videos, but they are the same colour as my soul in the same way My Chemical Romance is the same colour as my soul. I’d forgotten what it was like to hear that sort of music for the first time so to celebrate I dyed my hair again and nearly committed to adding more metal to my head. I’m reliving my teenage years. Oh and you should watch these.

Okay I’m gonna go make my pets dinner and dance to the Piña Colada Song. 10 points to the first person to state the six degrees.

Review: ‘About a Boy’, Nick Hornby

This review  is the first that feels a little like cheating because I had actually seen bits of the film on TV, about 10 years ago. All I could remember before starting the novel is that Hugh Grant’s in the film and so’s that guy who went on to be in Skins (I think?). So my memory didn’t spoil it for me and I won’t spoil it for you.

My copy of About a Boy is courtesy of a university I considered attending long enough that they sent me free things. The parcel contained a letter from Nick Hornby advising that every misstep is not, in retrospect, a misstep (coincidentally I have been clinging to this notion since I decided not to go to university). The book itself follows that concept, predominantly through its two protagonists, Will and Marcus. Will has a life most of us live at the weekends. 30-ish and unattached all but the Countdown schedule, he spends days inside cafes and hours in front of the television, and has a work/life balance of pretty much 0% work and 100% chilling out. Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who’s just moved to London with his mum, has a happiness/life balance of about 30/70.

I can’t tell you how Will and Marcus meet, because it’s one of the funniest parts of the story, and I can’t really tell you too much about the supporting characters, because a lot of them hinge around the plot too. I can tell you that the novel contains a dead duck, Kurt Cobain, Christmas songs and some hilarious one liners that made me miss being 12. (Petition to start allowing adults to say exactly what they think just as much as children.)

Review: 'About a Boy' by Nick Hornby

 

The story takes place in the 1990s, and it would be quite different if it were set today (who are the 2010s equivalent of Nirvana?!). It was nice to read something that didn’t mention Facebook, actually, but my favourite thing about the book is that the two protagonists are about as different as two people could get while having quite a lot in common, and it was the alternating of points of view that turned the book into a very gripping story. There are a lot of ironic moments, and a lot of sad moments, because Will is judging Marcus at exactly the same time as Marcus is judging Will. All the characters are quite normal people you would expect to meet out and about, so of course they are actually all bonkers and more fun to read about than most superheroes. So go read.


 

My previous reviews are here; you can support my work by funding me on Patreon every time I review a book here.

God Exists. #Justice4Leo

I would like to thank leap day for the opportunity to eat an extra day’s worth of crispbread. Did anyone else get up today and think ‘I had better make it count since the gods have granted mercy on my workload and blessed me with an extra day to get my shit done’? And did anyone else spend half of that day in a state of ridiculous happiness about Leonardo diCaprio at the Oscars?

Good. I mean, I feel like one of my uncles just won the Academy Award. It’s like he’s risen above the sea of racist family banter and decade-old cliques to slay at the annual murder mystery.

LEO FUCKIN WON AMEN from Villiage Roadshow Pictures
from Villiage Roadshow Pictures

There is a lot of shit in this world, but a small wrong has been righted and somewhere there is a lesson for us all.

Dinner time: ‘If Leonardo diCaprio can wait 22 years for on Oscar you can wait a little longer for dinner to cook young lady’

Customer service: ‘You waited a whole day for your Xbox to arrive? Well come back in 22 years’

Traffic jams: ‘It takes longer to get down the M25 than it did for diCaprio to get an Oscar’

Teachers: ‘Now we know five years seems a long time to study, but it took a certain golden-haired angel two decades to win acclaim for his work, so you just take this B and think about what subjects you want to take at uni’

And the one I’m going to holler at everyone: ‘if Leo waited 22 years to win an Oscar you can wait two fucking minutes for me to get the door’

Oh, the possibilities. Okay I’m going to go read screenplays and exercise and do all the other things I never get round to the rest of the year.

Would You Like that Gift Wrapped? A Question About Customer Service

I must say if I had known how well people would react to a blog about the perils of salad, I’d have opened up about IBS a lot earlier. Watch the cracked tiles for more anecdotes, I guess.

This week I have been wonderfully, amazingly busy packaging up Etsy orders, most of them for Valentine’s Day (or I presume they are, since they’ve nearly all been postcards with puns about the Greek gods) and I’ve also had some lovely feedback from customers – the sort of stuff that makes you smile and stand up a bit straighter. I try to offer the sort of service I’d like to experience myself, like lots of communication about processing times, cute packaging that makes a change from bills, and inexpensive postage. Essentially I’d like to be a more time-and-customer sensitive version of this:

Let me send you cinnamon sticks.

Anyway, I have been thinking about what makes good customer service and how everyone has different standards (the fact a bow wasn’t tied on the cellophane in that clip would have upset some people) and I was wondering if you guys have any horror stories or good experiences to share? In a shop the other day, the cashier complimented my purse but didn’t make eye contact, so it felt like he was trotting out a line more out of general politeness (and because his boss told him to) than because he actually gave a shit. In a ceramics studio in Zante, the proprietor served home made lemonade and gave my friend a free accessory because they were both artists.

Do you expect free lemonade? Do you expect eye contact? Do you secretly want lavender added to every bag ever?