At the end of The Two Towers, if you're not familiar with the plot already, you'd probably believe that this story is not going to end well. Of course, the biggest spoiler of this book is its own title, which Tolkien did not pick. His original choice for the title of the third part of The Lord of the Rings was The War of the Ring, but he was persuaded to change it to the more positive, and arguably more descriptive, The Return of the King. Knowing this history, I'm not entirely certain which title I prefer. However, I am entirely certain that I enjoyed this part of the story just as much as the others.
There is a fair consensus amongst those who come to consensuses about such matters that Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings primarily as a way of exploring Middle Earth - that is, this is what is known as a milieu story, in which the setting, the world, drive much of the plot. In The Two Towers this is on fine display again. One of the more interesting things to do with a copy of The Lord of the Rings is to sit down and look at just how much ground is covered by the various journeys; you then realize just how large a world Middle Earth is, and how small a section is explored in these tales. The distance covered by Frodo and Sam through such great peril and difficulty in the entirety of their chapters in The Two Towers is essentially a tiny corner on the map.
As I said in my review of The Hobbit, during this reread I was surprised by how light that novel is; I suspect that my memory of its tone from my last reading was affected by my intermediate viewing of the movies. Or, perhaps I was merely linking it with the core Lord of the Rings books, which very quickly take on a markedly different tone from their prequel (and yes, I know that technically there is just one "book," which was split into three parts for the convenience of readers and publishers). The implications of a darker turn are heavy throughout even the early chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring, but are pivotally confirmed with the events of the chapter A Knife in the Dark.
Though I've read Timothy Zahn before, and enjoyed his books, this wasn't a book that I sought ought to read. In fact, it wasn't even on my extensive reading list. After finishing Back to Methuselah, nothing on my reading list was really calling out to me to be read, and I happened to see that this piece was in Prime reading on Kindle, which meant I could read it for free. A short, free, light read seemed the perfect thing coming off of a heavier piece like Back to Methuselah, while trying to think of what I actually wanted to read next.
I came across a reference to it when I was looking for the attribution for a quote I was using in an essay for work (that quote is: “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”, in case you were curious), and thought the brief plot summary sounded interesting, so I added it to my list. This despite thinking to myself "self, in all of the George Bernard Shaw books and plays that you were forced to read in school, you hated precisely all of them. Why would you possibly think that you're going to like this one?"
As soon as I saw the cover of this book, I suspected that I was going to enjoy it. I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but when you read enough in a given genre you start to know what styles of covers tend to be associated with the books that you particularly enjoy. This book’s cover evoked the fantasy and science fiction of the 1980s, like Dragonriders of Pern, or Xanth novels; in other words, it reminded me of a lot of the books that I read in middle school, usually by my dad’s recommendation (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, upon research, I discovered that the cover artist is the same for some of these titles). By the time I had finished the first chapter, I was enjoying it as much as anything I’d read in a long time.
One of the wonderful things about this modern age is the fact that so many classic texts are available for free, or for very little, to read instantly on Kindle. That's actually why I first found myself delving deeply into the lesser known works of authors like Jules Verne and HG Wells, and I continue to find it convenient how easily and cheaply I am able to obtain copies of classics. I can't help but think that in another day and age, finding a copy of something like The Story of Burnt Njal would have involved multiple trips to specialty bookstores in the hopes of finding this particular text.
Coming off of the Bhagavad Gita, I had every intention of either a) finding an additional work of Eastern philosophy to read, or b) going into a reread of The Lord of the Rings (since it has been almost ten years now since I last read them, I intend to reread them this year, so expect reviews for those on the site some time this year). Then, somehow, I ended up picking up a copy of Gulliver's Travels, instead. This ended up on my reading list as one of those classics that is frequently referenced by other works, and so I thought it would be valuable to know just what was being referenced.
The title translates from Sanskrit to mean The Song Celestial, and the original was a poem or song featuring a discussion between Prince Arjun and an entity called Krishna, which is a deific being. It has been cited as influential and/or inspirational by many who study or come from India, so I decided a few years ago to add it to my reading list, and am finally getting around to it. One of my goals for some time now has been to familiarize myself more with the culture and history of this region, as it is not something I have previously studied extensively, and reading this poem seemed a better place to start than with the entirety of the Mahabharata.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into this read, as I make something of a point not to read too many reviews before I start a new book so as to not bias myself one way or another from what other people thought. Whatever it was I expected, I found something very different. After I finished it, I did see a review that aligned this book with something like The Iliad, which I think might be the most apt comparison of which I can think. This has a very mythical feel: all of the characters are larger-than-life, both they and their enemies are exaggerated in their powers and personalities, and character arcs are largely absent...