Monday, December 24, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

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When I heard that The Hobbit was being split up into three movies to create a trilogy, I had several worries when I left to go see the movie.

  I was concerned that the book did not have  sufficient scope to merit a trilogy, but this fear turned out to be unfounded. Peter Jackson incorporated material from the appendices of The Return of the King, along with material that is implied in the introduction and text of the Hobbit, to further flesh out the history of the Dwarves. The movie opens with Bilbo explaining the  story of the lost kingdom of Erebor, the ancient home carved into the roots of the Lonely Mountain, where the Dwarves delved down to find the Arkenstone, the heart of the mountain.

The pride and love that the Dwarves feel for their lost home is felt piercingly in this installment of the Hobbit, and their quest is the easier to understand and sympathize with for it.
 The enmity that the Dwarves hold toward the Mirkwood Elves is also covered in greater depth, showing how Thranduriel did not come to the aid of the Dwarves of Durin when Smaug lay waste to their home, thus providing a stronger undercurrent of unrest to the story.

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 The story of Thorin's surname, Oakenshield, is explained as well. The pale orc Azog that Thorin fought with only a makeshift shield of oak in order to reclaim Moria (an attempt that fails) becomes a major antagonist in the movie, lending an urgency to the movie that would have been lacking before. The resurgence of the Necromancer is also given more weight, since the White Council, made up of Gandalf, Galadrial, Saruman, and Elrond, meet in Rivendell  in order to discuss the growing threat, after Radagast the Brown tells Gandalf that the diseased Mirkwood is a result of the necromancer gaining more power.

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  One of my fears concerning this installment of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey lay in the way the filmmakers chose to split up the book: I was afraid that the resulting film would feel choppy, and the ending would be rushed, lacking any closure.
 However, this was not the case, for Bilbo's development from a fellow who "looks more like a grocer than a burglar" to a real member of the Company is explored in the movie.

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 "Nasty uncomfortable things adventures. Make you late for dinner!"

He is introduced as fearing the idea of adventures, but when the Dwarves awake his hidden adventurousness, he runs after the company, though he does forget his pocket handkerchief. Soon afterward, when they make camp for the night, Fili and Kili scare Bilbo by telling him that orcs are nearby, resulting in Thorin's dismissal of Bilbo as "not really belonging to the company."

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 This conversation leads Bilbo to try and prove himself by sneaking into the camp of three churlish trolls in order to rescue some captured ponies, an endeavor that nearly results in the entire company being killed and eaten. Thorin continues to dismiss Bilbo, but slowly, his realization of Bilbo's worth builds, a character development arc that encapsulates the story and gives the entire movie a directness, as well as developing a theme of the small and undervalued finding their inner strength, a theme that was prevalent in the Lord of the Rings.

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Bilbo even leaps to save Thorin after the Dwarf leader is injured and threatened by Azog with beheading, an act of bravery that prompts Thorin to rescind his previous words of rejection and apologizes to Bilbo.

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This final scene brings the narrative full circle, and brings the story to a natural close. I loved The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and look forward eagerly to the next installment.

They had a really cool hobbit-hole at the theatre, so of course I had to try the door.


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pinpoints of sleet fall
arrows of ice, to slay the earth

brittle flowers,
relics of the summer past, try to keep
their heads high
but lose bits of themselves with each
liquid dart that pierces
their browned petals and sticks them fast

to the frozen grass
that quivers under its shield of ice
the bare tree boughs
upraised, embrace the stark white sky
strong, yet bending with
the driving wind, the ice and snow that flurry and fly 

a fire is kindled
within a dark house and light shines out
into the forest
in squares it dances against the sleet

a comfort that helps those within
to forget the storm without. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

The story behind favorite Christmas traditions: What Came First, the Gingerbread House or the Grimms?

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Gingerbread houses are one of the most fun (and beautiful) Christmas decorations.
 But why is gingerbread called "gingerbread," since it bears little resemblance to bread? The name stems from the Old French word "gingerbras", or preserved ginger, a term used in the thirteenth century. The word changed to become "gingerbread" as the English language gained more influence. In the sixteenth century, in some parts of Germany and France, the sweet cake was used to make molded cookies in the forms of animals and human. Two forms of gingerbread originated in Germany: the softer Lebkuchen, used for many Christmas cookies, and the harder form, which is used for gingerbread houses.

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  They saw a beautiful snow-white bird sitting on a bough, which sang... And when its song was over, it spread its wings and flew away before them, and they followed it until they reached a little house, on the roof of which it alighted. And when they approached the little house they saw that it was built of bread and covered with cakes, but that the windows were of clear sugar.
  -Hansel and Gretel, The Grimm Brothers
 It is uncertain whether the Grimm Brothers collected a tale of an original  "house of bread," or if such a house was traditional already, but whether the gingerbread house came first or the Grimm Brothers' collection, the story of Hansel and Gretel resulted in the popularization of the gingerbread house, especially at Christmastime.
Today, there are many competitions in building gingerbread houses all around the world. Some are extremely large, or extraordinarily detailed.

This one is apparently modeled after the medieval city of Carcassone.

 Even I made one this year!

Not as impressive as the Carcassone one, but mine does have a monster mailbox!

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Sunday, December 9, 2012


Image: Tree Roots. Vincent van Gogh. July 1890

sometimes i like to pretend
that i have roots
that stretch fathoms
 into the earth

circling around those
pleistocene bones
grounding me (today)
in hummus and clay

traveling into Hade's realm
and knotting into
other roots, of birch
of elm

i would need many roots to hold me fast
because i might look up at the sky
one night when there is no 
moon to clear away the mist

and just

roots drink deep

as above my head
the burning stars go by)