Literary Pilgrimages: Hobbiton, Middle-Earth (Part 5)

Middle-Earth Literary Pilgrimage
Earlier this year, I spent three months travelling around New Zealand. My primary reason for doing so? Exploring locations in featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, of course! Come along as I revisit what will likely remain my most extensive ‘literary pilgrimage’.

Hobbiton

My final post in this literary pilgrimage series features Hobbiton, home to Bilbo and Frodo, protagonists of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Some might say I’ve saved the best for last. That was my intent when I planned out my trip. Of all the locations one can visit, Hobbiton is the only one preserved as seen in the movies (the set was dismantled after The Lord of the Rings and rebuilt permanently after The Hobbit). I booked the evening banquet tour. The tour is absolutely worth it. You explore Hobbiton by day and by night (as the tour runs from something like 4300PM-7:30PM), and enjoy an impressive hobbit feast in the Green Dragon. I have also read the evening tour only runs one tour at a time – you can see Hobbiton without the crowds of Big Folk, which I found essential to the experience.

Hobbiton is about a 15 minute drive from Matamata. As the bus approached the site, I felt like I was really leaving New Zealand for the Shire. The rolling green hills, trickling brooks, and bright sunbeams set the mood. I felt a bit odd as I walked the paths of Hobbiton. I kept wondering where all the hobbits had gone! It seemed to me that they’d been shuffled out by a real estate agent who wanted to show off their homes to likely buyers (those of us on the tour).  This was one of my most surreal experiences.

Hobbit hole in Hobbiton

View of Hobbiton from Bag End
Looking down over Hobbiton from Bag End. Can you spot the Green Dragon?
No admittance except on party business
An iconic notice…
Bag End, Hobbiton
Anybody home?
Bag End, Hobbiton
Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo
Sam's hole, Hobbiton
If I recall correctly, this is Sam’s hole (note the gardening supplies out front)
Hobbiton
By the time we wandered down to the Green Dragon, the sun had set and the lights of the village were coming on.
The Green Dragon, Hobbiton
Behind the counter at the Green Dragon
Green Dragon, Hobbiton
Enjoying my Sackville Cider. You can enjoy four brews exclusive to this inn.
Hobbit feast, Hobbiton
The meal was one of the most expansively and beautifully prepared I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. I only wish I had been able to eat more!
Inside the Green Dragon, Hobbiton
Choosing a dessert was a difficult task! I had one of the baked apples. I enjoyed reading the notices that were posted up around the inn. The cat looked especially cozy, curled up by the fire.

Walking through Hobbiton after dark was an entirely different sensation. (I don’t have any great photos as I was relying on an iPhone). As we wandered through the village with lanterns in hand, I imagined the hobbits were now home, snug and cozy in their holes. This was an easy thing to imagine as lights came on outside the holes and in the windows. We visited the field were the party tent was set up. We sang the tribute to the Green Dragon that Merry and Pippin sing in The Return of the King. I had a wonderful evening. This tour was the perfect event to round off three months of exploring Middle-Earth.

Jenna's signature

Review: Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Cover of Roses and RotAuthor: Kat Howard
Title: Roses and Rot Format/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: May 2016
Publisher: Saga Press
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
Rating: ★★½
GoodReads | IndieBound | Indigo 

Rose and Rot turned out to be very different from what I expected. I had heard some general things about it around the blogosphere prior to its release date, enough to persuade me to put it on hold without investigating further. Key words that came to mind when I thought of this book were “dark, meaning of art, adults with an awful stepmother, grown up, old moody estate building in background”. Plus, the book received kudos from Gaiman (even though I swear I know by now that him and I rarely have the same taste in books). The premise of the book sounded good enough to grab my interest.

Roses and Rot contained a number of differences from the impression I had somehow formed. Though these differences are not necessarily bad, unfortunately they were not too my taste. The primary difference is that this book has a modern setting and an urban feel. Fae form an integral part of the plot. I am not a fan of modern fairies. They usually give me a weird, uncomfortable feeling. I found the concept of tithe and benefits to be convoluted. I felt this way about a number of the plot points (and the dialogue), actually – like they were contrived, i.e. just there to push the story in a certain direction. (But hold on, aren’t all books like that? I suppose the best books make those contrivances feel incidental.) I didn’t feel any suspense with the fairy plot lines (I did wonder what Imogen and Marin’s relationship would be by the end of the book.)

“Part of the appeal of the Market is its mystery, so there’s no regular schedule, though there are traditional times. The one around Halloween is a spectacle, and there’s always one just before Christmas. But really, it appears when it wants, or when it’s needed. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it really does seem to tbe the best way to explain the randomness.” (51-52)

“Oh, and Gavin says where your charm where people can see it. Especially at the Market,” Marin said, pulling her own hourglass out so it was visible over her shirt.
“Why?”
“It’s like some kind of secret sing. People will ‘treat us well’ because of it, whatever that means.” (97)

The characters often seemed like teenagers. Many times I wanted to roll my eyes at them and say “Aren’t you supposed to be an adult?!” Most of the relationships felt melodramatic to me, especially the relationship between Helena and Janet. I never felt anything sympathy towards Imogen and Marin regarding their mother, who lurks in the background of this story. They often describe how she affected them, but because she’s barely a part of their lives now, I didn’t feel impacted by her awful behaviour. I loved that Ariel was the grounded character in this novel. I would like to read a short story from her perspective.

“When I don’t go to bed at night wondering if the next day is the day she’s going to show up to try to take everything I’ve worked for away from me. That was what she always said: ‘I gave you this, I can take it back.’ And I knew she could.” (204)

My favourite part of this book were the fairy tale excerpts from Imogen’s story. Although I don’t think they were as outstanding comments on Imogen’s talent would lead you to expect, they were much more to my taste. I would love to read more writing from Howard in that genre. Also, bonus points for Narnia reference.

She wasn’t offering Turkish delight from a winter sledge, but I was pretty sure the cookies would still have tasted of betrayal. (86)

The Bottom Line

Roses and Rot sounded like my kind of book, but turned out to be something entirely different. Recommended for fans of urban fairy fantasy, who want to try something a little less urban.

Further Reading

Jenna's signature

Literary Pilgrimage: Visiting Middle-Earth (Part 3)

Middle-Earth Literary Pilgrimage
Earlier this year, I spent three months travelling around New Zealand. My primary reason for doing so? Exploring locations in featured in The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, of course! Come along as I revisit what will likely remain my most extensive ‘literary pilgrimage’.

Queenstown

Queenstown serves as New Zealand’s hub of adventure activities. You can paraglide, jetboat, bungy jump, and visit a variety of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit filming locations! …That’s adventure enough for me. (I did have plans to go mountain biking but I scrapped that to save some cash.) Queenstown was a key hub of filming for both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, making it a must do for any literary pilgrimage like mine. To see all the locations in the area, you would need two or three days. I picked a half day tour hitting the sites that most interested. I took Pure Glenorchy‘s half-day tour.

Frodo and Sam see an Oliphaunt This is the ledge that Frodo and Sam peered over to spot the Oliphaunt in The Two Towers.Rangers cross the river

Although this little river doesn’t look too impressive, I was excited to see how similar it was to the film (where it appears for about two seconds), and to be standing to close to where Faramir stood…

Dead Marshes panorama

Kepler Mire served as the Dead Marshes in the distance shots. We had excellent timing with the weather I loved seeing the fog rising above the marsh. Dead Marshes Jenna in Lothlorien This bit of forest is where the Fellowship first entered Lothlorien and were caught by Haldir and company in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Fangorn mountains

This tour comprised of many small locations that you think wouldn’t be recognizable from the film, but they somehow are…these mountains are great example of that. They appear a few times in distant shots of Fangorn.Fake tree at Beorn's house

See the odd tree out? That’s a fake tree that was erected to stand by Beorn’s house in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I would have loved to get a bit closer to it!

Although I didn’t come away with as many great shots as I would have liked (I had some camera issues ;_;), that made me more grateful for the CD the tour company provided with numerous shots of the locations throughout the seasons. Which of these locations would you like to visit the most?

Jenna's signature

Literary Pilgrimages: Visiting Middle-Earth (Part 2)

 Earlier this year, I spent three months travelling around New Zealand. My primary reason for doing so? Exploring locations starring as Middle-earth in Peter Jackson’s films, of course! Come along as I revisit what will likely remain my most extensive ‘literary’ pilgrimage’.

Twizel

Flag of Rohan
Flag of Rohan used in fliming o.o

My next destination after visiting Mt. Sunday was Twizel. Twizel, a town in the Canterbury region with a year-round population of about 400, played host to thousands more cast and crew for filming of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. This is the greatest battle scene in the trilogy, taking place towards the end of The Return of the King.  I took the two hour tour offered by local tour operator OneRing Tourstour. The location can be accessed via tour only as it is on private property. The vast, grassy fields bordered by mountains were stunning. This was my first tour with other LotR fans, and it was fun to geek out with people from around the world. The tour was very informative. I learnt a few facts I hadn’t heard before. For example, Peter Jackson initially wanted to bring in trained cavalry,  considering Canada’s own RCMP. But that idea was squashed once they realized the horses would have stay in quarantine for something like three months. I recommend this tour for fans who like to learn about the behind-the-scenes and how a big battle is brought to life.

This little water made an appearance as a larger river in The Return of the King, as Gandalf and Pippin travel to Gondor. The camera angle makes the river look much larger than it is.

The vast field – no hints of modern civilization to be found! That’s one of the main reasons this location was chosen. The placement of the mountains was also a factor. I don’t have any photos, but there was one line of telephone polls towards the edge of the field that had to be digitally removed. The road in the photo to the left was built to facilitate filming. The farmer who owns the land requested the crew leave it after filming.

I took this photo atop the ridge from where the Rohirrim make their long-awaited appearance at the Fields. Theoden, their King, gives a rousing speech before leading the charge (clip below). I haven’t watched the films since I returned from my trip. I’m a little wary of being removed from them and thinking too often “I was there!!” But when I watched this clip, I got chills. For me, there’s a sense of history about it – it has the same feel as visiting a real place where a real battle occurred in another age.

I spent ten minutes taking landscape photos while the others had fun going through the costumes and swords. I’m not the sort to dress up, but when I saw one person had donned the full Witch-king costume I couldn’t resist getting caught up in the fun…Yes, that’s a replica of Eowyn’s sword! 🙂 If ever I could pull off a real cosplay, I think I would like to cosplay as Eowyn.

Review: A Song to Take the World Apart by Zan Romanoff

Author: Zan Romanoff
Title: A Song to Take the World Apart
Format/Source: ebook/Publisher
Published: 13 September 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Length: 320 pages
Genre: YA with touch of magical realism
Why I Read: Cover + comparison to Leslye Walton and Jandy Nelson
Rating★★★½
GoodReads IndieBound | Indigo | Amazon
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Hanging out with Chris was supposed to make Lorelei’s life normal. He’s cooler, he’s older, and he’s in a band, which means he can teach her about the music that was forbidden in her house growing up. Her grandmother told her when she was little that she was never allowed to sing, but listening to someone else do it is probably harmless— right? The more she listens, though, the more keenly she can feel her own voice locked up in her throat, and how she longs to use it. And as she starts exploring the power her grandmother never wanted her to discover, influencing Chris and everyone around her, the foundations of Lorelei’s life start to crumble. There’s a reason the women in her family never want to talk about what their voices can do. And a reason Lorelei can’t seem to stop herself from singing anyway.

I have to admit, I was completely baited in to read this book by the comparisons to I’ll Give You the Sun and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. Those novels are two of my favourites in young adult, a category I’m very picky about. I didn’t expect A Song to Take the World Apart to stand up to those two books, but if it was even just a bit like the two, then I could see myself enjoying it. In general, I enjoy magical realism and mythical creatures and ocean settings, and I’m interested to see what can be done with them in a contemporary setting. At first, I wasn’t sure how the plot was going to go. The story starts out a bit slow and very much as typical teen romance. But as Lorelei’s abilities began to play into the plot, the story took on a more serious tone and became the kind of YA I adore.

What I liked most about this book is that the story isn’t just about first love. It’s also about love between friends and family. Lorelei’s best friend Zoe was one of my favourite characters in the book. She helps to ground Lorelei. Lorelei’s brothers, parents, and Oma also play a significant role in the story, just as important as Lorelei’s love interest Chris. Where the story is about teen romance, I appreciated how realistic it felt. I also appreciated how other characters reminded Lorelei that her high school romance was just that – a high school romance, of the sort rarely built to last. I’ve noticed some reviews crying ‘instalove!’ but for me, the development of Lorelei and Chris’ relationship was very natural and how I would expect a young relationship to grow, from my experience. I was so pleased they didn’t get a fairy tale ending. That relationship played out like I wanted it to. With regards to the relationships, I think that’s where this book finds some comparison with I’ll Give You the Sun. The relationships here aren’t as strong or striking but I think they’re just as real.

I also liked how Lorelei experiments with her ability and doesn’t fully know how to control it or use it. She gets caught up in it, as you might expect her to. She has darker moments of negativity where she allows her to use her abilities impulsively and selfishly, as she can’t really imagine the consequences. I thought this worked well as a something of a metaphor for growing up and realizing or learning how we can manipulate ourselves and others for our own greedy desires, even when we’re trying to be decent people. I think this is why I enjoyed the book. It’s not really a love story. It’s a story about growing and finding yourself.
 
When I think of Ava Lavender, I think of the particular and lovely prose. The prose here doesn’t really hold up to Ava Lavender. It’s standard contemporary YA stuff. But there are some great moments, particularly in 1) the descriptions of how Lorelei feels when singing and in 2) some dialogue that captured important concepts.  I wondered how the music scenes would play out, as listening to music can be such a unique and individual experience. Not to mention it’s a very physical thing! Reading a description of music is nowhere near the same as listening to that music. However, Romanoff doesn’t try to describe exactly how or what Lorelei sings. She instead describes the emotions of the experience, which she does very well. As for the dialogue, there were moments that touched on topics I considered important, things that maybe teens don’t hear or talk about enough. That being said, I was frustrated that Zoe and Lorelei (and Lorelei and Chris) don’t have any frank discussions about their relationships. Chris just becomes Lorelei’s boyfriend, without any talk about it. There’s a scene between Lorelei and Chris that I thought implied sex but later on when Lorelei speaks with Zoe, there’s talk about how Lorelei might be jealous because Zoe had sex before Lorelei, and Lorelei doesn’t comment on her own experience (of course the word sex is never actually used). I don’t like the dancing around the subject, though I suppose it is realistic. At that age everything is new and exciting and therefore a bit scary too.

The Bottom Line: Overall, Romanoff makes a solid debut with this contemporary YA tale and its good twist of magical realism. I recommend A Song to Take the World Apart for those who love high school setting YA but could use a little shake-up.

Further Reading: