Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Club: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

2011 was and is to be the year I read Tolkien. Last year my nose was spent buried in the annals of science fiction, but there were certain books who brought in an element of fantasy that I have to admit, I quite adored. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a good example, one that cracked open my mind and let flow in a genre I always scoffed at. Why? Because of the dragons. I thought dragons were so stupid. Dragons and orcs and trolls and all of that crap. Lame. But last year, I did a little turnaround. I started playing this computer game called the Battle For Wesnoth which is all about all that orc-y stuff I hated and got REALLY into it. Then Jenny and I watched the Lord of the Rings series together and though I thought it was OK the first time, I was totally into it this most recent time around. Earlier this year I read the first book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and well, I think that was the perfect set-up for Tolkien.

Why? Because I think Tolkien will be a joy after reading Martin. At least based on my experience reading The Hobbit, which was quite a joyous experience. Unlike Martin, Tolkien injects passion into his prose. Don’t get me wrong, I think Martin is writing a great story full of great, complex characters but the prose has always been the part that makes me reticent to tackle the series 100%. Tolkien on the other hand, well, it’s just so damned spirited I can’t help but love it. The way he persistently breaks down the wall and lets you know that he’s telling you a story, I thought I’d get annoyed with that but I always thought it worked so perfectly with the lighthearted tone of the novel. And though the book was lighthearted, it never felt slight. There was so much adventure, so many harrowing escapes, and so many fierce battles. But still, the book never ceased to be a rollicking good time. I’m sure the Lord of the Rings novels take on a more serious tone, but even so, what I’ve got out of Tolkien so far is that they’re at least not going to be stiff.

Hence, the soundtrack I’ve concocted for The Hobbit is one of carefree, summertime larking about, and when I think of carefree summertime larking about I think of the Kinks, for whatever reason, notably “The Village Green Preservation Society.” Music that is light, but not slight in the least. I felt like the Kinks would produce a nice bonding moment between Bilbo and Gandalf and the Dwarves (note: I THOUGHT about putting a song by the band the Dwarves on the list, but there is nothing remotely sleazy about The Hobbit so I had to pass). It’s also very British, just like The Hobbit.

And then there’s some American music. Songs I pull out for road trips, songs that capture that sense of charted or uncharted adventure in some great push west (or north, or south, or east).

The Kinks “The Village Green Preservation Society”

As I mentioned before, in my head Bilbo and the Dwarves love the Kinks, and this was the sort of theme song I had running through my head as they tramped out of Hobbitton into the Misty Mountains. I know Led Zeppelin are known for their penchant for Tolkien, to the point where they wrote songs about Lord of the Rings, but yeah, I never got a lighthearted sense of adventure from Led Zeppelin ever.

The Kinks – “Strangers”

Wes Anderson used this song so perfectly in his film The Darjeeling Limited. In fact, I’d never listened to the Kinks’ Lola Versus the Powerman and the Money-go-round until I saw the trailer for that movie and realized that the Kinks were much more than their transvestite anthem “Lola.” “Strangers” is a perfect road song for people who are kind of disconnected from each other. It’s lovely and sad and the line “This love of life makes me weak at the knees” ties into the tone of this book like a neat little ribbon.

Beulah – “A Good Man is Easy to Kill”/ “Ballad of a Lonely Argonaut”

I imagine this is what the younger dwarves, Fili and Kili, would put on to piss off Thorin and Balin and all them. “It’s modern music, guys!” they might say. I listened to a lot of Beulah when I was working at CD Tradepost a year ago, until the day someone bought the Coast is Never Clear, which was a very sad day. It’s a perfect road trip album, full of all the energy you need to stave off being at your travelling companion’s throat. “Ballad of a Lonely Argonaut” is the same way, and one I used religiously on my trip to California in 2005. I remember finding this on the person we were staying with’s iPod, putting it on and running and jumping into a pool. It was a wonderful feeling.

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – “Parallel or Together?”

Another great track from another great road trip album. Ted Leo’s The Tyranny of Distance is always the first CD I burn when I’m going on extended vacation. I don’t even know WHY. Maybe it’s the propulsive drums or something, something that illustrates travelling.

Silver Jews – “Random Rules”

Again, another classic American road trip album: American Water. At turns somber, at turns joyous, it’s a perfect mix of the feelings of taking a trip. “Random Rules” is weathered, which is when you think about it, a strange way to start off an album. It’s got that feeling of going 500 miles and just wanting to get to the hotel, but you just keep trucking on until you get there because well, there’s nothing you can do about that. There’s a lot of that in The Hobbit, except there are no rest stops, or McDonalds, just starvation and peril.

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