Author Archives: nate

Hobbit, Incoming

Finally, Peter Jackson is going to make The Hobbit. No word if he or someone else will direct yet.

I would like to take this time to remind everyone just what Gandalf is up to, history-wise, in the time between when he takes his leave of the Dwarves at the edges of Mirkwood and shows up again at the Battle of Five Armies:

He gets together with Galadrial and a bunch of elves (and I believe Saruman and Elrond but I’m too lazy to check) and they all go attack Sauron at the citadel of Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood, which is where he’s skulking at that point.

Of course in The Hobbit this is only alluded to as “driving the sorcerer out of Mirkwood” or something like that. But this is Peter Jackson’s version we’re talking about, so you can be sure that scene is going to get some serious footage.

Kick ass.

Actually, here’s my early prediction: since they’re apparently going to make two movies, the second one being a Hobbit “sequel” with material bridging the time until The Lord of the Rings, I’ll bet they’ll fudge the chronology a bit and have the storming of Dol Guldur as the climatic moment for the second movie.

Children of Hurin

Christopher Tolkien says this book is for people who have read LOTR but aren’t quite up for The Silmarillion — a more accessible glimpse at the elder ages of Middle Earth. He may have misapprehended the average such person’s tolerance for genealogies and offhand references to obscure place names. The Children of Hurin is not the story of Turin Turambar told in a more LOTR-like fashion; it’s the same story as the one in The Silmarillion, but more so. It will remind you far more of Beowulf than anything to do with hobbits. This is a very good thing.

Ratatouille

It’s rare enough for me to see a movie in the theater at all these days, so I know I almost certainly want to get a chance, but I want to see Ratatouille again in the theater so I can savor the visuals with a little more attention than was available in a theater full of the murmur of kids — including my own. It’d be so cool if this won Best Cinematography — is that even allowed?

This is a film about what it means to be an artist, and about art’s crucial ability to elevate us as beings, and, oh yeah, there’s a bunch of funny stuff about a rat in a French kitchen. I want to throw a movie party where we watch this and Big Night and one more — any ideas? — and cook up a really great meal. Who’s with me?

Steve Jobs Is My Master Now

After about seven months of wanting one, I finally got a MacBook Pro. This is my first Mac, so I feel like a naive American tourist in Paris who thinks everything is just beeYOOtiful but doesn’t speak a word of the language. I enjoy using it more and more with each passing hour, although I must be vigilant — Dominic has made it his life’s mission to somehow, some way, get close enough to slobber all over the new hardware.

I find myself calling up Expose and the Dashboard frequently just because it it’s so cool the way the windows slide in and out. And the battery life is simply amazing.

5 Sentences

This is a cool idea.

It doesn’t apply to me as much in terms of getting too many emails. But, like many people, I definitely procrastinate writing things that I know will end up being long, even when they might not even need to be that long.

Would the same principle would work for blog posts? Maybe I’ll try it.

Deathly Hallows – First Thoughts

Nothing but spoilers, be warned!

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Good stuff. While reading I was in the moment pretty much all the time, swept along … Rowling does a fine job of keeping the tension ratcheted way up, but also finding enough pauses in the action, and the right kinds, to keep it from getting downright absurd. When Neville whips out the sword and hacks off Nagini’s head, I do believe I punched my fist in the air and said “Go Neville!”, albeit quietly so as not to wake the sleeping baby.

Each of the latter books has been as much about the past of someone from the elder generation as it has been about Harry and his friends, and this time we get that look at Dumbledore. Maybe a few too many new pieces of information for this late in the series, but it was nice to see him humanized somewhat, and to see his management of secrets and his parceling out of information to Harry as a quirk of his own, sometimes not the best move, and not the blameless prerogative of the Guy with the Beard.

Glad he stayed dead. Glad Harry had to die, if not exactly truly so. In any case his confrontation with death has been inevitable since Book One, and I think Rowling found a way to do it justice.

Who knew that, at the end of the day, one of the most interesting characters in the series would turn out to be Voldemort himself? At the beginning he is just the Dark Lord, then we learn that he is Tom Riddle, who was once a student just like Harry, and upon his return we see him not as a disembodied Sauron figure but a man with a couple very specific agendas – wizard supremacy, staving off death – and some critical blind spots, including a cataclysmic lack of management skills that causes those closest to him, Snape and the Malfoys, to turn against him earlier or later. He’s a lot like James or Sirius or Dumbledore when they were younger, but unlike them he never really grew up, never learned love, and became little more than the inflated version of the playground bully with a pack of followers.

Of course, one running thread through the books is how if you have a staid bureaucracy and a slightly complacent populace, the playground bully type can aggregate a terrifying amount of power. The rise of the Death Eaters to assuming control over the Ministry and even Hogwarts is told step by incremental step over literally thousands of pages, starting with those early glimpses of “Mudblood” racism and Ministry incompetence, and then outright corruption, and then of course the delightfully infuriating Dolores Umbridge, and finally on to the situation in the final book, where Voldemort seizes all the power he needs not because he holds the majority opinion in the wizarding world, but because just enough people are just fearful enough of their own heads to not stick out their necks. The story of those baby steps that lead to authoritarian rule can’t really be told without taking thousands of pages, and I’m glad it’s done here. I just wish it wasn’t so damn relevant.

Snape! Ah, Snape. Always one of my favorites, so I was delighted to find his story arc taking front and center in Book VI, and pleased-if-not-surprised to learn that, yes, he was always on Dumbledore’s side, and yes, he killed Dumbledore so that Draco wouldn’t have to do it. But I was bitterly disappointed that other than those revelations, Snape’s role in Book VII is decidedly minor, and that we don’t get to find out all of those things until after his suddenly and altogether insufficiently dramatic death. And find out through that mother of all plot crutches, the Pensieve, no less. There’s talk about how Snape had the hardest job, keeping his cool as a double agent among the Death Eaters, but we don’t get to see near enough of that job, and we don’t get to see a final exchange between him and Harry at the end.

One thing that I’m glad clicked for me from the beginning of the series is that these books, for all their fantasy trappings, are structured like mysteries. Not “whodunits,” per se, but in each one there’s a riddle or riddles, a question of identity, something to be unraveled, and the attentive reader will find at the end that all those disparate parts will fit together nicely at the end, aided most of the time by a long dialogue between Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore tying up the remaining loose ends. It was clear that in Book VII this was happening on a grand scale, across the whole series, and I’m sure my appreciation for the last book was impaired by the fact that references and connections were coming fast and furious that I only had vague recollections of. (Not once did I ever follow through on my intention of rereading the previous book before starting the new one.) It did make me want to go back and read all the books again to get a deeper sense of how everything fits together. Rowling’s audience for all of this, of course, is the kids who have been reading these books since they were even younger kids, reading them again and again, and whose attention to every last minutiae is rewarded in the end by the fact that all those things they noticed, like how the bartender resembles Dumbledore or how Harry one time put that statue with that diadem on top of that chest, all actually matter in the end. Good for her.

Theodore Tonks Lupin: A new kid in the wizarding world, friend of the Potters. His parents are dead. He has werewolf blood in his veins. Groundwork being laid for future works, anyone?

About Time

The folks at wordpress.com, bless their hearts, introduced MX support for Google Apps locally.  Without getting too technical, it was previously impossible to have polytropos.org mail via Google and also redirect the url to the new blog home without paying someone for hosting.  Now it’s possible.

So the old url for the blog is working again.  And if you missed the fact that it changed and haven’t been here in a while, don’t worry, you haven’t missed much.

All Roads Lead to Her

One of my failed blogging intentions was to do a review of Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel, The Road. (A while back I did do a review of his previous novel, No Country For Old Men, as well as a short McCarthy primer.) But lately it’s been on my mind again, for bizarro reasons that I’ll get to in a second.

The Road is a great book. Father and son wander a postapocalyptic wasteland, the geography of which is the same as McCarthy’s earliest novels, at least on a map. The funny thing is that they’re kind of recognizable, even though everything now is covered in a layer of dust and almost nothing is left. The sere prose that describes the scenes is the connective tissue that links them. This wandering pair are two rare souls that have managed to hold onto their humanity; most of the people they run into have become, to some extent, monsters. McCarthy traced one man’s journey from man to monster in macabre detail in Child of God . . . kind of neat to see him coming back to this theme so very many years later. But for all the connectedness to his earlier works, the bulk of The Road‘s actual text reads like some sort of survivalist primer. Just as NCfOM was taken up with the nitty-gritty of one man’s attempts to stay a step ahead of the law and the bounty hunter, this one makes you feel every pang of hunger as the protagonists try to scrounge for food for just one more day.

Anyhow, there’s plenty more to be said that will take a second reading to properly bring into focus in my mind. I’m not surprised that The Road has achieved quite a measure of popular success. “The apocalypse happened, and a father and son are trying to survive afterward” is, after all, quite a hook. Good Pulitzer prize material (which it won). But I was surprised to walk into the bookstore a few weeks ago and see copies of the book on the counter with big Oprah Book Club stickers on them. Surprised but not flabbergasted. It had already been Pulitzered, after all.

Then yesterday, my head exploded, when I learned (from loyal reader and friend Adam) that . . . but let me back up. Cormac McCarthy, while not a recluse of Pynchonesque proportions, is not a public writer. He steers clear of discussions of his work. His last interview regarding his fiction, to my knowledge, was the one for the New York Times Book Review in 1992 or 3 — and that was given in a car on the way to or from some airport. He’s the kind of guy that’s probably a familiar face at his local bookstore, and shows up for the neighborhood barbeque cheerfully, but just doesn’t go in for the whole national-exposure thing.

Except that on Tuesday, Book Club day, he’s going to be appearing on Oprah.

Cormac. McCarthy. On. Oprah. Oh what a strange, strange world we live in.

Needless to say, this I gotta see. Anyone know when Oprah is on?

(As a footnote, No Country for Old Men was made into a movie — no surprise there — by the Coen brothers — pleasant surprise there — and it was well-received at Cannes. I’m betting that even the quirky Coens gave the thing the filmic ending that the novel carefully skirts, and if so it should make a fine movie. Looking forward to seeing it.)