Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Hobbit and Alan Garner - some fantasy musings

The Hobbit 
 I completely missed the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, yesterday.  I found this wonderful article on why The Hobbit has become so popular, over at The Telegraph: The Hobbit, What Has Made It Such an Endearing Success? It's quite a good article, with some food for thought on myths and legends and sources for fantasy.  The Hobbit was my introduction to Tolkien and the world of fantasy, it will always be dear to me for that, never mind that it is such a fun story, so well-told, so rich that I can read it over and over and never grow tired of it.  That makes it a special book, indeed.

Alan Garner
Over at Reuters, there is a lovely article on Alan Garner and why he wrote the newest book, Boneland, in the Colin and Susan series.  I have been reading The Weirdstone of Brisingamen for the last little bit.  It is even more suprisingly good and deep and dark than I remembered from my long-ago reading of it.  I am enjoying his use of setting, place names, and the people.  I can feel how much the sense of location and the feeling of myth around works its way through the book, and Garner talks about this in the article I linked you to.  He makes a valid point that landscape is necessary to people to not be alienated, that a connection to landscape is needed.  This feeling for how the land is, comes through in his books, and I'd forgotten how strong it is. 

Myth and landscape
Both article talk about myth, and how myth is needed for us as a civilization.  We need stories.  We need adventures and heroes, and to venture into the unknown and come back again.

Myth and landscape.....in fantasy, they are intertwined.  Place, the story of place, how the mountain got it's name, why the river flows in that shape, how long the old tree has been growing in the field. Do you look around your landscape and feel some connection to it? do you watch it through the seasons? Do you feel a sense of home when you come down the road to your place, do the hills and grasses and animals seem to welcome you back?

Animals
 We often have bears, moose and deer even here in Ottawa, when the animals come wandering in out of the fields and forests, looking for food. Here's  a story from two weeks ago, in the west-end of our city: bears chased from west-end neighborhood.  Is it any wonder that so many of our myths and stories feature talking animals, or shapeshifters, or ancestors who are honoured animals? We have skunks, raccoons, and rabbits as neighbors, even here in the middle of the city.  I have seen snakes, frogs and turtles during my many walks in my neighborhood, thanks to the Mud Lake Preserve two blocks from our house. Does a bog creature live in there? perhaps, the water is deep enough.....

Magic and myth in the world
Fantasy is about taking that first step out there, into the wild, out of the city, into the forest, the river, the nature preserve, the countryside, and into myth, and legend, folk-story, fairy tale, the story of encountering the other.  There is magic and myth in the world, and fantasy is our modern storytelling way into remembering it, and finding it again. It was reimagined for the modern age in The Hobbit.  I for one am always grateful for the wonder and imagination that fantasy brings into my life. 

The Hobbit doesn't use the sense of place in the same way that all of Garner's books use, and it's interesting to study them both and see the variety of fantasy at work in both authors.  Both have a rich use of language as well, Tolkien drawing on Norse myths and sagas for his world and frame of storytelling, Garner drawing on Celtic myths and fairy tales for his.  Tolkien is pure story, Garner is language and mood and landscape.  Different kinds of fantasy, both rich and delightful in each of their ways. 

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here on this Saturday night.  Mostly I am musing about fantasy, things being stirred up in my mind by both articles.  Fantasy is one of my delights in reading, and I wanted to share with you some of what I think fantasy needs to be successful, like The Hobbit is.

What do you think?  Have you read either author? Do you find fantasy stirs your sense of wonder and  imaginings?

17 comments:

Carl V. said...

Fantasy is easy to break into reverie about, especially when you are working mythology and Tolkien into the conversation. Although I prefer the more serious tone of The Lord of the Rings, I too have a special place in my heart for The Hobbit because it was my first Tolkien read as well. I read it just before the first LOTR film came out because I wanted that background in my mind going into the film. I have always meant to read it again but now it is so close to the film's release that I'm wanting to go into the film unspoiled as far as little details go.

Susan said...

Carl: Isn't it, though? I was thinking more on it today, looking for links between myth and landscape. It's got hold of my imagination! lol

You have heard that The Hobbit is going to be 3 movies now? Jackson has taken some of the other stories in the Tolkien cycle and included them. I'm still not sure I like this, mostly because The Hobbit is perfect the way it is. We'll see! I will be going to the movie anyway! and hoping for more magic.

Carl V. said...

I'm pretty happy about it because I think it will make for a nice link between the two stories, and for the film will make them seem more like they are part of the same world than the books do alone.

Susan said...

Carl: Interesting way of looking at it, I will keep it in mind. Linking the sets of movies like that to the same world, so the feel is the same. It will be interesting to see how they do it, how the story is told. If they tell us more about Mirkwood and the Elven King, that will be good! And Thorin, of course.

Carl V. said...

Yes, I'm really interested to see what from the appendices they pull in and how much they utilize brief mentions of past events, like happens in Fellowship in regards to things Gandalf did prior to the start of Fellowship, in the story, if at all.

Chris said...

Fantastic post Susan :) Made me warm and fuzzy to read :) And I didn't realize that the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit had passed either! How cool!Hope you're doing well!

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read either author but I'm not much of a fantasy reader.

Anne Simonot said...

I liked your comments on the difference between Garner and Tolkien; thought that was a pretty accurate way to describe their style and their books. I love both authors; and have re-read their works as adults several times. I need to get my hands on a copy of Boneland!

The Willoughby Book Club said...

Great article, thanks for sharing - I hear the big 'Hobbits 2nd breakfast' event went wonderfully!

Cath said...

I've read both, adore The Hobbit and enjoyed the two Alan Garners quite a lot. Apparently he didn't write the 3rd. book for 40 years because he was sick of the two main characters. LOL. Oddly enough I didn't get a huge sense of place in his books but do with The Hobbit. I know... I'm weird.

Susan said...

Carl: I've read most of the other books as well, although it's been many years. I'm not sure how much I remember, but it does give me some idea too, like you, of what they can draw from. I suppose if done properly - using the back story - it could make it so The Hobbit is a real stepping stone to LoTR, by that I mean necessary to understand LoTR in a deeper way....I think we will all be curious and hopeful when we go see The Hobbit!

Chris: thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it, I know you read lots of fantasy too. Have you read any Alan Garner yet?

I am doing ok....it's been quite a year.

bermudaonion: that's ok, maybe some day we can convince you that fantasy is fun to read! lol

Anne Simonot: thank you so much for saying you understand what I was trying to say about the differences between the two authors. I think it's interesting they can be different and so good, both of them. I checked last night and Boneland still isn't available in Canada.

The Willoughby Book Club: ooh, where was that? The Hobbit's second breakfast sounds so delicious and such a fun thing to do!

Cath: LOL is right! you are very dear, and while I was writing my musings, I was thinking, but I get a strong sense of the UK from Tolkien, though what I was meaning in my post, was a sense of land, in the different books. Reading Weirdstone now, I can really feel it, whereas in LoTR I think I can sense the idea of Britishness/land - not quite as specific as in Garner. This could just be me, though! :-)


Stefanie said...

I very much enjoyed your musings. I read LOTR first when I was about 13 and loved it and the read The Hobbit. I am so very much looking forward to the movies. I enjoy fantasy immensely especially of the mythological Tolkein kind.

Susan said...

Stefanie: thanks so much! In the article, I like how the author mentions that modern fantasy is always compared back to LotR, just in the reader's brain, even if they can't help it. The books had such a big impact on fantasy, that it's kind of the mater of fantasy, for now. And because so many have loved it - and those who don't love it can't get through it all - it has pervaded most of fantasy culture one way or another.

I'm very curious how the movies are going to be, and anxious to see them. The conversation with Carl helped me to realize the movies might work, after all :-)

The Willoughby Book Club said...

Susan - I was referring to one of The Hobbit's second breakfasts taking place in London, but I think there were a few across the country...

http://www.hobbitsecondbreakfast.com/take-part/

Susan said...

the Willoughby Book Club: I would really have loved to go to that! When I first read in The HObbit and in LotR how many meals the hobbits ate, I was delighted and secretly wished we could do that here too! lol

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