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Hello?! Am I the only person who is excited—thrilled, actually—that Peter Jackson is turning The Hobbit into three movies?! (FYI, the book celebrates its 75th anniversary on Friday, September 21.) Seriously, I don’t understand all the snarkiness. Genius director: check. Passionate about the source material: check. Proven track record: double and triple check. Jackson won countless awards and honors for The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) film trilogy, including the 2004 Best Picture Oscar for The Return of the King.

Heck, The Lord of the Rings legendarium by J. R. R. Tolkien could have easily been four movies, or six! There were actually six volumes to the series—two per book. So much was left out! The Rangers of the North; the Hobbits’ Second Breakfast (mentioned only in the Fellowship Extended Edition); Mirkwood Forest and its mischievous elves (though we know we will get this in The Hobbit films); the Scouring of the Shire; the true reach and power of the insidious Palantír; the tenuousness of Aragorn’s position as the ‘heir of Isildur among the fiefdoms of men; the storied history and strategic importance of Osgiliath; and also Minas Morgul, which in the book (but not the movie) is one of the ‘Two Towers.’

The mystery and tense uncertainty as the Fellowship wound through the Mines of Moria had me so gripped reading the book, but the The Fellowship of the Ring movie reveals the fate of the dwarves straightaway. I must give Jackson major props, however, for including my very favorite line from the trilogy in both his first and second film. It’s in Moria, when Gandalf is dangling from a precipice in the clutches the Balrog. The rest of the Fellowship hesitates, turning back to help him. “Fly you fools!” he barks, just before he plunges into the abyss.

Most egregiously, however, they cut the wonderful romance of Faramir and Éowyn. Seriously, how could they have left that completely out?! It’s barely referenced even in the Extended Edition. (Yes, I own the Extended Editions of all three movies.) Two of my favorite characters, individually, actually end up together. All in all, there was simply not enough of Faramir in the films.

Still, there is only so much of this epic that could be squeezed into just three movies. If only the extendo craze (which made two films out of the final volumes of both Harry Potter and Twilight) had happened pre-LOTR. I did like the first three Twilight flicks, but Breaking Dawn – Part One was a low point, painful really. If you haven’t subjected yourself, skip it and rewatch Vampires Suck.

I don’t mean to knock or diminish Jackson’s achievement with the LOTR trilogy. All three films are amazing, brilliant, seminal—truly among the best ever made. But, The Return of the King felt to me a tad rushed and left me a teense unsatisfied. I wanted more.

There is so much to cover in The Hobbit. Did I mention that Friday, Sept 21 is the books 75th anniversary? I am so eager to see all of it—every minute! After all, the past few holiday seasons have seen a dearth of blockbusters, with Harry Potter done and James Bond mothballed by MGM’s bankruptcy (until this November 9th—eureka). It’s been a real let down. I am savoring the whole fevered run-up to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which hits theaters on December 14th. Check out the awesome latest trailer! Even better, after that we have two more movies to look forward to … bonus!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Latest Trailer

The Hobbit Movie: Original Announcement Trailer

The Hobbit Movies (Official Website)

The Hobbit (background on the book via Wikipedia)

Tolkien’s Hobbit Celebrates 75th Anniversary

September 22 is Hobbit Day!

Ten Ways to Celebrate Hobbit Day

The Hobbit: What Has Made the Book Such an Enduring Success?

The Hobbit Second Breakfast (via the Wall St Journal)

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hunger tixCall me The Hunger Games hypocrite. Yes, I raced through the books. Yes, I got advance tickets for opening day. (Not the midnight show—not since I slept right through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.) And no, I could not concentrate for much of Friday thanks to the zeitgeist of anticipation via email, Facebook, and Twitter.

The books are hugely readable and addictive. Suzanne Collins offers up lots of great plot twists, which keep them far from predictable. Collins must be commended in hooking, not only girls, but also the elusive non-reading demographic of teenage boys on a story told from the point of view of a schoolgirl. That is a phenomenon in itself. It’s refreshing and exciting to have a strong, determined, and capable heroine, and I know that my teenage self would have loved to read about Katniss Everdeen. Still, I have some real problems with these books.

hunger games 1For starters, the body count is higher than a season of 24. Spoiler alert: pretty much everyone dies. And they die savage, gruesome deaths. Kids—yes, these are kids here. They’re dying and killing each other like something out of the 300. The grisly fate of stylist Cinna in Catching Fire would work great in a pulpy noir novel about Russian mobsters. But, um, this book is aimed at ages “12 and up.” To contrast, in Lord of the Flies, three boys die and it is a really big deal. In The Hunger Games, every kid dies and it is no big deal. At least it seems to be no big deal judging by the hordes of kids (not teens) who packed the theater.

Also, the dispassionate tone of Katniss, the narrator, really unnerved me. She seems fairly anesthetized to all the violence and takes a disturbing matter-of-fact approach to her Death Wish-esque rampage. Gosh, even in Jason in The Bourne Identity (book or movie) seems more conflicted than Katniss, um, as does Darth Vader at the end. When nice guy Peeta dispatches another wounded and helpless tribute (that’s a child/teen competitor), the book plays it off like that was a smart move, as though it were some heroic reach to protect Katniss. Again, little remorse. Even in Saving Private Ryan, the trained soldiers—men who have just been through D-day—find themselves torn about whether to execute their German prisoner.

hunger-games-2This lack of emotion and also the frenetic pacing made me feel like I was reading a video game. Snipers shoot unexpectedly from trees or roof tops, assailants jump out from behind corners, and there’s a constant stream of surprise dangers—fires, rabid mechanical dogs, poisoned gas—that Katniss keeps dodging. Particularly the third book, Mockingjay, feels a bit like “Call of Duty” as Katniss is almost continually shooting at someone. The whole underground trek in the tunnel was dizzying, as menaces popped out at nearly every turn. I had to stop several times during this book, because the choppy pace was so bing, bang, boom that I was getting a headache. My 13-year-old nephew told me that his teacher did not like The Hunger Games because he said it doesn’t offer the same sort of ‘patience and reward’ as traditional books. And I do wonder if kids are getting the same benefits to their comprehension and concentration skills when reading this flash-and-dazzle compared to say, Treasure Island, or eventhe Harry Potter series, which featured plenty of more ruminative passages and lots of complicated plot lines and backstories.

In the film Jennifer Lawrence, who was so striking in Winter’s Bone, added nuance and complexity to Katniss. I liked the character better than in the books. It’s interesting, because there was a bit of an uproar when Lawrence was cast, as Hunger Games fans called her too pretty or too old. But, she nailed it.

I’m not sure how they will handle Katniss as the films progress, but it really bothers me that the books never resolve the difficulties between her and her mother. They have a distant, unsettled relationship which percolates throughout the trilogy, and it was a real let down to have that go nowhere. Katniss is able to forgive and accept Buttercup, the cat she hates, but why not her mother? I must add that I loved the fractious dynamic with Buttercup.

Indeed there are many things to love in these books. Collins delivers memorable characters—Rue, Haymitch, Cinna, President Snow.  Even the tributes who we don’t know that well (Foxface, Glimmer, Thresh) we can visualize clearly. Collins is also a wonderfully descriptive writer and does an amazing job creating the sparkling Capitol, the rundown “Allentown” of District 12, and the workaday poverty of the Seam. You really sink into the world of Panem. Also, it is quite a feat that with only her words, she sort of put me off the smell of roses. I got some right after I finished the last book, and they did smell overly sweet and almost sickly. With each whiff, Katniss’s negative associations came to mind. Now, that’s some pretty impressive wordsmithing.

hunger games 3It was great fun seeing all of this come together on the screen in The Hunger Games movie, which so far seems to be a hit with both the diehard fans and those who’ve never read the book.  I do look forward to the next movie and also the next book by Suzanne Collins, although before I crack the spine, I will brace myself.

The Hunger Games Series Official Site on Scholastic

The Hunger Games Movie

The Hunger Games Wiki Site

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Just had to share this captivating gem of a short film that is “a love letter to books” and showcases “the curative power of the story.” The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore has been nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Full of whimsy, and with a nod to The Wizard of Oz, the film feels like  a booklover’s Up, offering a similar charming, but not corny or saccharin, pull at the heartstrings.

Visit MoonBot Studios for an interactive story app for iPad, a portfolio of stills, and more on the film.  They are also offering it via iTunes.

Huff Post Books Review of The Fantastic Flying Books

Short of the Week Pick

San Antonio Current Critics Pick

LA Times: Morris Lessmore Has Hybrid Animation, iPad App

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I’ve been surprised to hear that many of my friends who saw War Horse—the play on Broadway or the new Steven Spielberg film—did not know that both were based on a wonderful novel by Michael Morpurgo.  For some reason, Morpurgo, who was the Children’s Laureate of the UK, is not that well-known in the states. He has written dozens of children’s books, which are extremely popular in the UK, and indeed, worldwide. Some, like It’s a Dog’s Life and The Butterfly Lion, are geared to early readers. War Horse is one of his several fine young-adult novels.

The story is of Joey, a Devon farm horse, who is drafted into World War I, and Albert, the boy who enlists and vows to find his horse. Morpurgo did not want the book to be partisan, so Joey ends up working in turn on the British and the German sides. We see the humanity, kindness, and brutality of both. Morpurgo paints a picture of how WWI impacted civilians as well as soldiers. The book holds close to historical details, with the new agonies of trench warfare, machine guns, and gas. There’s a moving scene of Joey getting caught in no-man’s-land between the fronts, and also Albert fights in the pivotal Second Battle of the Somme. Morpurgo brilliantly invokes the foolhardy, specious, “charge-of-the-light-brigade” gallantry that would send a cavalry into battle against modern heavy artillery. Whether he is writing about people or animals, Morpurgo creates memorable characters. I particularly loved the gruff but noble workhorse Topthorn.

Another book by Morpurgo that I strongly recommend is Private Peaceful. Also set during WWI, it is an affectionate and wrenching story about Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful and his brother Charlie, who become soldiers together.

After their father is killed in an accident, the two brothers struggle to help their mother keep the family together, now that they no longer have claim to the tenant farm where they live. Morpurgo highlights the resolute and capricious power that the landed gentry had over their laborers—an authority that ultimately forces the brothers off to war at an early age. This class conflict is mirrored by the brutish behavior of some of the officers in the trenches. Again with attention to historical accuracy, Morpurgo focuses on a lesser-known, barbaric injustice faced by many of the rank-and-file soldiers in the British army in the early 20th-century.

The book is told in flashbacks by Tommo, who lied about his age so he could go along when his older brother was drafted. “They’ve gone now, and I’m alone at last. I have the whole night ahead of me, and I won’t waste a single moment of it. I shan’t sleep it away. I won’t dream it away, either.” I was hooked from Tommo’s first line. Also, the pacing that alternated real-time with the past had me ripping through the pages. The countdown felt a bit like an episode of the TV show 24—with the suspense, and the sense of dread, compounding. I finished Private Peaceful in one sitting.

In addition to some lovely vignettes of life in the Devonshire countryside, there is also a charming, understated tween love triangle, which sparkled with the refreshing, best-friend dynamic of childhood romance. Though his books are targeted to young readers, Morpurgo insists they are “stories for everyone.” And I must say I am steadily plowing through them, relieved to find that he is so prolific.

Although the children’s book market has been booming, there is a lot of dodgy, poorly-written, mishmash out there—such as the hackneyed “kitten”, “rainbow”, and “weather” fairy series. And don’t get me started on the fad of celebrity children’s books. Ugh. Do you really want your kids reading this stuff?

Parents looking for quality, compelling books for their children should browse the virtual bookshelf on Morpurgo’s website. Not only are his many books beautifully-crafted with wonderful characters (there are lots of animals and there’s lots of history), but these books are downright satisfying page-turners … for readers of any age.

Fueled by Movie Buzz, War Horse Breaks into Top 50 Bestsellers

War Horse: the Novel

Private Peaceful

Michael Morpurgo’s Virtual Bookshelf and Website

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September 22 is Hobbit Day!  Here are 10 ways to celebrate:

1.) Read or reread The Hobbit. Or share it with a friend.

2.) Go barefoot, as hobbits rarely wear shoes.

3.) Eat Heartily, and don’t miss Second Breakfast at 11:00 am. Hobbits eat six or seven times a day and are particularly fond of apples, blackberry tarts, ripe cheeses, mushrooms, hot soups, cold meats, bacon rashers, scones, potatoes (Samwise Gangee’s favorite) and fruit or meat pies. But, perhaps avoid roast mutton, as that is frequent food of Trolls.

4.) Argue with other Tolkien geeks over whether Hobbit Day actually fell on September 12 or 14, since the Shire Calendar varies from the Gregorian.

5.) Noodle some riddles. Hobbits adore riddles. Bilbo used them to get the best of Gollum in the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter. He later wrote “all that is gold does not glitter” in a telling riddle about Strider, which Gandalf gave to Frodo.

6.) Check out the latest trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hitting theaters December 14, 2012. Or, look behind-the-scenes via The Hobbit movies official blog.

7.) Log onto HobbitDay.com for an all-day online festival with Tolkien experts, readings, and events.

8.) Read about The Hobbit‘s 75th Anniversary:

Bio Close-up: The 75th Anniversary of J.R.R.  Tolkien’s The Hobbit

The Hobbit: What Has Made the Book Such an Enduring Success? (via the Telegraph)

The Hobbit Second Breakfast (via the Wall St Journal)

Why J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit isn’t Just For Kids (via the Wall St Journal)

9.) Have that “Unexpected” or “Long-Expected” Party! Hobbits like to socialize. Well, except Bilbo of course.

10.) Raise a glass of wine (preferably Old Winyards red), “a good deep mug of beer,” or perhaps a restorative cup of tea, and drink “to The Shire!”

September 22 is Hobbit Day!

Bring on The Hobbit Movie Triple Play!

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Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.
–Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Like most muggles, I raced to see Deathly Hallows Part 2. But for me, Harry Potter is really all about the books. I read the first two to humor my niece, but Prisoner of Azkaban hooked me. I joined the crowds for the midnight release of the next four books, and, wow, was it inspiring to see so many kids so jazzed about reading. I admit I had a Larry David moment at the final book party, when I seriously considered taking advantage of the fact that I was a foot taller than most of those elbowing me. But reason prevailed, and I let the kids push past. It was their moment.

Harry Potter Book SeriesIn my day, there was a dearth of books for tweens and early teens. Once you’d outgrown Beverly Cleary, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys, there wasn’t much left. I read and reread Little Women and The Lord of the Rings. And though my sister had lent me Pride and Prejudice, I couldn’t yet appreciate it.

My parents had always encouraged reading, but we hit a few bumps during those years. I got about 30 pages into Jaws by Peter Benchley, before it was confiscated for violent and non-PG content. When my brother brought The Godfather on a car trip, Dad was skeptical. A scowl spread across his face as he flipped through the pages—again not appropriate for a 12-year-old. Without a word, he rolled down the passenger window (Mom was driving) and tossed the book out. Literally (and literary) defenestration. A belated thank you to the local Rotary Club, who had adopted that stretch of highway for cleanup.

After that, Dad got us reading biographies, but now, Harry Potter has spawned a boom in Young Adult literature. Before, when I gave a tween a book (instead of some digital distraction), said child often eyed me with suspicion. Since Harry Potter, my stock has gone up. Now it’s hard to find a book these kids haven’t read. The best gift, however, is the one JK Rowling gave to generations of children … the joy of reading.

Did you like the Harry Potter books better than the movies? Which was your favorite book?

Harry Potter Book Series

JK Rowling Official Site

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

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