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Thursday, August 11, 2011

On re-reading The Lord of the Rings after alternative immersive experiences

This past week I started re-reading The Lord of the Rings. Anyone who knows me knows I am a fanatic about Tolkien's creation, Middle-earth. Shamefully (to me) this is the first time I've read the story since even the Peter Jackson movies came out. My issue has always been, I love The Lord of the Rings, but I'm historically a pretty slow reader and do actually like to read other stuff as well. In any event, I've also always been a fan of including immersive options in my enjoyment of Middle-earth.

In the 80's, Iron Crown Enterprises created Middle-Earth Role Playing. I was (am still) a Dungeons & Dragons player, so didn't really have the time (nor money) to play the game, but seeing the books in the comic book store always grabbed my attention. In hind-sight, many years later, I realize that I likely didn't have the time nor friends for it either, as the rules are pretty rugged and lofty and the few friends I had at the time for D&D don't strike me as having been interested. Anyway, this was around the time of my actually working on my initial read. I'd read The Hobbit in middle school, likely taking my time for about a year, and completed The Lord of the Rings by my sophomore or junior year. I had not seen the Rankin-Bass nor Bakshi animated versions of the source material, though my parents had bought the (very) abridged illustrated book with audio tape that went along with the animated The Hobbit.

In the mid 90's, Iron Crown came out with Middle-earth: The Wizards, a collectable card game. This was a few years after Magic the Gathering had been out, so was trying to capitalize on the craze. I did play this. With a few friends we bought a box of starter decks and a box of booster cards. One of them liked the game and played a few times with me over the course of a couple years, the others either didn't end up liking it, or who knows what, I don't even remember their names really; Trevor and Chuck I think. Over the course of the game's existence, I did end up buying a bunch of cards. I have a nice binder full and a few boxes full. I played in a tournament in Montreal even - got my butt whooped, but it was still worth the 2 hour drive - and was a member of a decent listserv for the game. Did some trading. WANTED to play more, but as with most hobbies I have ever had, most of the friends I tend to make that are close by, have no interest what-so-ever, so I still have that collection and some day perhaps I'll relearn the rules (there were lots, as there were 2 major series and 3 minor (but not small) expansions) and find someone to play. I know there is still an online community that plays via internet methods. I'm not organized enough to be able to create a playable deck without spending hours upon hours of pouring over and admiring each and every card. OC does not mean organized in my case. :(

You want immersive? The second rave I threw was called Middle-Earth: The Rave (1996)! OK, it was just a small rave, but the theme was Middle-earth. The fliers (I'll have to scour for a copy to scan or the original artwork to show) had the DJ names with (my) chosen Wizard/Character names. In one room I had the aforementioned animated features playing on a wall via projection. It was neat. Look here for T-Snake and you'll see a write up about it... I think partly from me and partly someone else???)

By this time, I'm pretty sure I'd completed another read of The Lord of the Rings. It's hard to say. I know I read Fellowship at least once more and at least Two Towers once again. Being a slow reader who loves to read is a torturous thing.

Starting around 1994 or 1995, while I was still a DJ at WRUV-FM, I did an annual broadcast of the BBC radio production of The Lord of the Rings. It is a 13 tape, approximately 12.5 hr edited version of a 26 episode version previously made. My broadcast was pretty popular, covering two days of 7 hour time blocks over a weekend, and for the 2 broadcasts preceding Peter Jackson's Fellowship movie release, it was even more so, because I was participating in a good deal of chatter on Usenet and other locations about speculation over the movies and I was giving updates over the air during the short (~3 minute) breaks between tapes. It was a fun production. Iam Holm was Frodo - in Jackson's movies, Sir. Holm played the role of Bilbo. Nice. One year I had sewn my own beanbag chair together while doing the broadcast. Oh how I miss the days of being allowed to be lazy for that much time.

So comes 2001 and the release of Peter Jackson's version of Fellowship of the Ring, followed by the next two volumes over the next two years. These represent the first of two immersion options that I write this entry for. Jackson and his wife (Fran Walsh)  (and others) did a great job turning what should have been a 24 hour movie into about 12 hours (the extended versions). Obviously there had to be a lot of things cut out and because it was a mass market movie they had to add some stuff that didn't belong, but compared to previous attempts, it was gold. If I had a blue-ray player, I'd possibly buy the BD edition for home viewing of the extended version, but for now I'll settle on the extended DVD set. That reminds me, it's time to plan another marathon event for it. For years, Howard Shore defined the soundtrack in my mind for Middle-earth.

Flash to around January 2007, Lord of the Rings Online goes into some beta form that I managed to get into. I think it was closed beta, I could check my account but it's not important. By April, it was released for real. . Without hesitation I plunked down the dough for the box game and the $199 for a lifetime subscription. I'm a gamer, but I couldn't swallow paying $14 or $9 a month for eternity... and I knew I'd play the game til it got shut down. Good call Chris... still going strong, though with some business model changes. In any event, the point is that I'm not almost weekly (I'm a casual player) almost literally in Middle-earth! I have multiple characters that travel, explore, fight in, quest within, and talk to important people from the world hosting one of the greatest stories ever told. Setting aside some less than happy feelings about Warner Brothers and the way sometimes us founder customers feel treated, I can't recommend this game more for a Tolkien fan.

If you've followed my blog at all, you also know that my son is named in part after "The King"... as Aragorn took on the name Elessar, which is also my son's middle name.

I have made it a goal to learn Sindarin or Quenya and for a while recently actually had a good deal of the Tengwar glyphs learned. Use it or loose it really.

And to top it all off, I discovered a few years ago the band Summoning, a Black/Fantasy Metal band that uses a lot of Tolkien for inspiration, lyrics and themes. If you know ME, METAL??? Well, that's a different story. This isn't your craptastic hairband junk metal.

OK, all of that to point out, I care. And now I'm re-reading the story. This time I have a very different eye. I have experienced the story from many different directions and intentions. Obviously, the most recent incarnations are what stand strongest in my mind, the live action movies and the massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG if you will - LotRO). I'm only about 2/3 through Fellowship, but it's enough so far to see, or more like be reminded of, so many things that have been left out, misrepresented or changed. It's also given me renewed insight into how our memories are so easily altered by new things we see. Reading the chapter at the council of Elrond, the book takes its time to develop the fellowship itself. Most everyone is relatively calm and reasoned. Heck, even Boromir isn't "super angry man". While I'm reading it, I have the movie version pictured in my head. I started to think to myself "huh? Why isn't Gimli attempting to chop the One Ring with his battle axe??" Then, "wait, huh? Merry and Pippin weren't hidding in the shrubs too and Elrond isn't declaring the entire fellowship right away?" Oh how embarrassing. Well, not really, no one will know I forgot the REAL sequence. Oh snap, I just wrote that here... so yeah, um, never mind.. :)
Reading the forums over at there was a thread (or more likely) that talked about leveling their characters taking too long. That annoys me since I take my time and try to enjoy everything... 4+ years with my main character and he's still not maxed out, I'm fine with that. Another commenter pointed out that's just stupid and that the game moves too fast. He rightly pointed out that travel is far too easy and far too fast. My memory failed me for travel time in book, but picturing in mind how I would travel from the Shire to Bree to Weathertop to the Bruinen Gap to Rivendell, I could indeed picture how long it would take my character running or on horse (ahem, pony - he's a hobbit) back. After reading the chapters involved in describing the trek, he was so right! Getting from Bree to Weathertop is a 10 minute pony ride or so, unhindered. I imagine if the characters walked, it could take 30 minutes. That's real time. Game time, I'm sure that's a good deal more - I just never did a translation of game time to real world time.
This comment made me wonder, imagine actually having to trek that same distance and covering that same amount of time. Most would up and quit before starting. I doubt many would play it out without a serious amount of action along the way, but still, having major neighboring game hubs be that far away would be a serious game ender. But imagine if it was REAL! Yeah, it lead me to thinking, imgine a theme park where locations were compressed, but "actors" re-enacted each scene and getting through the whole thing would/could take weeks of coming back for multi-day adventuring (time compressed), some scenes being interactive, others being a fly on the wall. (Maybe we get Bono to produce it? hehe)
I'm certain that as I continue my re-read I'll run into more things that baffle me or anger me, but I have said all along, I've only seen one movie that outdid the book (Hellraiser vs. Hellbound Heart), the rest are the best approximations given funding and people's willingness to sit for as long as it takes to tell every part of the story in the same detail. To make a game interesting, you have to do more than wander, unfortunately for lore-geeks, this means inventing creatures to fight, or embellishing existing ones (or past ones, since by the 3rd age, Smaug was the last great dragon yet the game has more drakes and dragons, and with names). No matter the quirks of the alternate versions, they all provide mental floss for re-reads of the original material, which in turn makes the experience a hell of a lot more interesting for a re-read.

Oh, and I'm of the camp that Tom Bombadil was NOT missed in the theatrical releases. He is in Lord of the Rings Online, as a quest giver, as is Goldberry in limited NPC status.

Now, when is someone going to do appropriate movies for more stories from the Silmarillian. Children of Hurin would be an awesome movie... and if done right wouldn't have kiddies in the theater. Had I the time and perseverance, I'd be more than happy to try to screenplay some of this stuff and put together a crew to produce a fan film. The Hunt for Gollum and Born of Hope are inspiring fan films.

In the end, I actually, truly hope that my son will grow to love these as well and allow me to read them to him before he can read them himself. That Rankin-Bass illustrated booklet version, I've gotten in it twice for bed time stories... that's a start. Now go read a book. But if you've already just re-read The Lord of the Rings, and feel like you need more depth but don't have time to read all the histories, Silmarillion, et al, then I'm certain you can blow plenty of time at the Encyclopedia of Arda or Tolkien Gateway or many a number of places to get your Tolkien or Middle-earth fill.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Rowan Elessar Moran

Today is my son's first birthday. This last year has been amazing. amazingly tiring, amazingly new and amazingly rewarding. Watching him grow, change and become the threat to all things with wires, fur and that look like they will fit in his mouth has been a challenge, but a challenge so worth participating. The first couple of months the poor guy didn't even have a name, so I'm sure he owes us a little hassle, but he did end up with a cool as hell name.
I just wanted to make sure I said something here on my often ignored blog... he deserves plenty of notice from me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

When did I start teaching in China?

Funny, I expect no access to Facebook or MyCrack as school. Facebook is a serious timewaster and MyCrack is filled with bullshit, skanks and annoying people (yes, I still have my account). But blocking Twitter!?! Really? Really!? Really!!
I mostly only created my twitter account so I COULD post to my Facebook from school. Hey, I have things I wanna say during the day. I believe it worked yesterday, but I went to update this morning and ... GONE. Blocked via administrative rules or something. Are you kidding me? How is Twitter something that should be blocked? What next? Blogger?

I guess I should finish this post before they do block it.

President Obama spoke in China recently about how they need to open up the internet and allow free access to more information. There's ALWAYS an inherent danger in allowing access to information, but there's more danger in NOT allowing it - unless you're the one in charge disallowing it so the danger isn't presented to you.
So, I'm slowly feeling like I'm teaching in a little China. FB blocked, MS blocked, Pandora blocked, Twitter blocked. At this point, I expect them to block Faux News, since you'll find more hate and misinformation and danger there than even MyCrack. I'm surprised they aren't blocking google... that would be hilarious.

I'd ask the IT team about it, but frankly, I don't trust there wouldn't be retribution in some form for just ASKING. There's also always the question of "how is this being used for education?" I guess I need to become a follower of some mathematicians to justify the access?

I've only been at a couple school, but I've found the IT teams in high school seem to have a god complex. Block it until it's proven ok... I am Zeus. When I started in the alt-ed program here nearly 3.5 years ago, I wanted a Japanese font installed on my school provided laptop. I wanted it so I could make alternative signs and posts... make a calendar with something different, express numbers a little differently... just have as little fun. I was shot down. "Explain how you can use this for teaching your class" was the essential response. Seriously? Ridiculous! It's a font. It's something outside the box. It ended up being the start of feeling like the I team actually decides how education will work here. I decided to not go over anyone's head, since I don't trust egomaniacs - no telling when they'd just shut down our net access altogether.

Joy. They have returned to making sure those with money have access to what they want. People with smart phones and data plans only need the providers' network and within school, they have access. Because I refuse to pay $30 extra a month for that on my phone, I am denied.

Rant over. I might be silly about this, but I can't be sillier than blocking a micro-blog site.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Extra credit... demands and all.

So, I am a little past my first Geometry class for the day. They have a quiz on some basic constructions. Yesterday I gave them packets for practice. I said "you should make sure you can do all of these and practice them for the quiz tomorrow". Not homework, not a requirement.

Before handing out the quiz, I asked to collect any packets that were completed (in any amount really) and that they can ear some bonus points on the quiz based on how much they completed or tried on the packet. I had at least two in class declare I was being unfair by not telling them it would be for extra credit. Yes... I was chastised for not telling them that the work I strongly suggested they do might count for some bonus points. You know, because some kids today never take responsibility for their own lives - no, we have to do it all for them.

Only a few handed anything in. I was shocked. Those who needed the practice the most didn't bother to practice... and likely it will show on their quiz results. I have a feeling my next block will be much more appreciative of the bonus offer. Hey... someone else getting bonus points will not effect their own grades. But you never know... they can and often do find some reason to complain.

I love my job and I'm loving teaching now in the regular high school, but I'm still baffled by the lack of personal responsibility and accountability.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cash for Chuckelheads

Let me get this straight - and yeah, I'm a little late, as always - people who bought earth and road unfriendly behemouths are getting bailouts??? First irresponsible homebuyers that bought more house than they could afford with stupid moronic adjustable rates were helped in so many ways it hurt - those of us who waited to be responsible before buying a house - in the mind. Sure, there are foreclosures happening anyway, but so what? Not enough. McMansions and un(der)employed homebuyers alike ruined the housing market.

Blah blah... that's an older blog post or two ago.

So, the deal, or so it appears to me as presented on the news nightly. Vehicle owners who have registered vehicles over the last year that get 18 miles per gallon or less are (have been) given rebates for buying new cars with higher MPG ratings. Details.. I don't care about the details. All I know is that the prices of gas came back down and every asshole with a Hummer gleefully pulled it back out. They won't be trading them in becauase they are too stupid and too asshole-y to get rid of their road menace machines, but every other jerk-off who bought a massive vehicle to, you know, get groceries in, threaten other cars' views on the road, or shine their raised headlights brightly in our eyes via the rear view mirror as they cruise up our asses on the interstate doing 80MPH can buy a new car (do over) to not only save them money, but GET THEM MONEY BACK.

I realize this isn't even about getting metter cars on the road. It's about getting car manufacturures back in business. Sucker people into buying new cars and make it look like the bailed out car makers are actually pulling their weight.


Things up front... I am expecting the new homeowner's rebate check in the main within another month or so. It's kinda the same thing, but meant for people who didn't fuck up already and want to do it as right the first time as they can.... oh, and reinvigorate the decaying housing market. Unfortunately, Vermont's market never REALLY crapped out and homeowners tried their damndest to take advantage of buyers - and we found out that you just really cannot trust real estate agents. Did I just say that? Yes I did. Unless you have a contract with an agent for buying your house, they do not have YOU interest at heart, and for a first timer, they borderline criminal (or even violate some ethics codes along the way). Bankers aren't much better. And sellers are lairs.

Ack, WAY off topic.

So yeah, Mr and Mrs "I'm too cool for a fuel efficient car" are getting a break now - a do over. I see many are buying more reasonable vehicles, or is it that the media is only showing those buyers? And what of people who bought the right(er) cars? We bought a Civic. It's not super powerful, but is a good ride. We love it. It's gotten upwards of 38MPG for my interstate commute. We would have gotten a Hybrid Civic, but for the extra 5K they cost and not having moon/sun roofs, it just didn't cut the needs. Current generation hybrids have a good deal more options...a tradein and bonus check from Obama (who I voted for and still really like) would make it a pretty sweat deal... though we paid off the Civic ahead of time, unlike the common debt ridden American.

Welcome to the bail out generation.

Oh, and before and conservative/libertarian jackasses think I'm making good arguments for them... STFU. You're worse for this country than buying out stupid people. Neah!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Almost 6 Weeks Old

The boy is nearly 6 weeks old, so I thought I'd add some thoughts before I forget them.

He doing awesome. He struggled with feeding for a while, frankly being a little too handsy, so we had to consistently swaddle him with his arms at his sides. Thankfully we're able to let him be free most of the time. He goes through fits of being very fussy and crying, but really, it's not too bad. My neice was colicky, so we have it easy in that regard. I find myself laying on the ground staring at him often. He's so cute and the faces he makes while he's sleeping are hilarious. I take pix every day just about, but video is what makes it not look too freaky. It's pretty easy to capture the awkward moments. My phone camera is too damned slow to capture immediate moments, so sometimes when it looks like he's smiling, by the time the camera actually gets the picture, he's moved on to a crooked mouth that makes him look devious at best.
He also seems freakishly strong. He can stand up and hold himself up, even if only for a split second. He rolls over and around. I just hope that means he'll be interested in being active... I'm hoping he'll like running.

The biggest problem? Name. We've still not named him. We cannot agree on a name. It's frustrating and infuriating. I want to name him Strider for a first name, she hates it, but has no counter... just a list. So, we'll argue over it more and eventually figure it out. Thankfully most people have stopped asking. I think they realize that when we pick a name, we'll make it abundtantly clear, likely plastering our facebooks pages with the name, prehaps an ad in the paper, maybe I'll even make a song in the soon-to-be studio downstaris. ;)

We have experienced some surprises, leading to...
Things they apparantly never tell you:
  1. There will be times when you're chaging diapers 2-4 times within 20 minutes - there are days when we easily change 12 times or more. He really doesn't like it when his diaper is wet, even thought it's not wet, since the diapers are amazing at storing things away from the skin. The weight though... I can see that being annoying.
  2. Hiccups... after almost every feeding and subsequent verticalizing/burping, he has hiccups.
  3. Acne!! WTF!?! He's got acne. Poor little guy didn't even get to experience being a pre-teen/tween and he's already got a teen problem?? Damn! I guess it's normal at the 2 and 6 week periods, but this started around 4 weeks... late bloomer or early?
  4. How far can they see? We read books so had an idea, but I think more people need to know... when you're making googly eyes at teh boy from 5 feet away, he likely cannot even see you as a blur.
Feel free to add more in the comments. I'll add more when I remember them or they come about.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Come to Daddy

Yesterday at 1446, my son was born. 7lbs 3oz, 18" and healthy. His mom (my wife) is healthy, he is looking comfy right now and I am happy, tired and hungry.

Oddly, I didn't blog about the pregnancy. We kept it "secret" for about 3 months, so I kinda just got used to not talking about it here. I wish I did... updates of the progress, but he won't mind. It was pretty normal until the end when he went breech and there was a very low amount of amniotic fluid. End result was a two week early urgent (but not emergent) Cesarean Section
We're all still spending time in the hospital... mom will be here until Saturday supposedly.

All this and we closed on a house last Friday and I'll be doing the bulk of the moving this weekend. Yeah, didn't really get around to blogging about that either... I'm a bad blogosphere inhabitant... but as you might guess, things have been busy and I've been guarded about some of the info - the house purchase process was not a simple one, with lots of disappointment and trouble and oddities.

It also means I'm out of school two weeks earlier than expected, which is nice, but not really, as I want to make sure my students are good to go for the semester's end. It also means my pole vaulters might be on their own for the rest of the season... though since I sprained my ankle last week... I've been out of pole vault commission anyway.

So, for some this is the pregnancy announcement and the birth announcement all in one. Joy.
Things are good. Time to be afraid I suppose... but I think I'm ready for it all.