The Children Of Húrin

I’m finally back into a mostly-regular routine, and that includes getting started on my self-imposed book list. Top of the list are three J.R.R. Tolkien titles that I bought almost a year and a half ago for my birthday, and haven’t gotten around to. Last weekend I began The Children of Húrin

First, a little history. It took Tolkien more than a decade to create the world of Middle-Earth and write what we know today as The Lord of the Rings. In the course of this massive project, he created many races of people and wrote complex histories for them. He wrote their languages. Elvish may look and sound like gibberish, but it has rules and vocabulary and grammar just like any language spoken today. The majority of these tales didn’t make it into the trilogy, but they’re vitally important in influencing those events. Some are referenced in the appendices, but not every detail is included.

The events in The Lord of the Rings occur in the Third Age of Middle-Earth.  The Children of Húrin predates these events by thousands of years, occurring in the First Age. The book reads more like a history than a story, at least, stories like I’m used to reading. But the history itself is fascinating, and has helped to expand my understand of the later stories.

Probably the most shocking for me is that Sauron is not the ultimate evil in the world. Sauron began merely as a servant of Morgoth. Morgoth is the central “villain” in The Children of Húrin, as his evil spreads and he attempts to conquer the Men of the North. Morgoth himself is one of the Valar, the beings who created the world, making him essentially a god. His evil grows too large, and the remaining Valar step in to overthrow him and bind him in chains. 

I’ve also always wondered about the elves fleeing Middle-Earth. Why are they leaving? Why now? Where are they going? Why will they be safe there? Most of those questions are answered in this book. Turns out, the elves didn’t originate in Middle-Earth. They appeared there in the far east, and were summoned by the Valar to come west to the land of the gods. Here, the elves branch into several categories, which I won’t go into detail on. Basically, some went, some went and later came back, and some refused the summons and decided to stay. I’m unclear as to why all of the elves eventually leave, unless their continued absence from the Valar causes their powers to weaken.

Much of this information I learned from the preface and introduction to the book, written by Tolkien’s son, Christopher. It seems when he died he left several incomplete manuscripts behind. Christopher Tolkien is working to fulfill his father’s wishes that these stories by published in their entirety, and is attempting to publish them with little editorial work, preserving his father’s words and voice.

Talk to me in the comments. Are you familiar Tolkien’s more obscure works?

Divine By Blood

I finished P.C. Cast’s Divine By Blood this weekend, and I can honestly say I have no intention of ever reading these books again. It wasn’t terrible, truly, I know a lot of people who would probably enjoy it. They’re casual readers, who enjoy light reads and don’t have the same high standards for their books that I do.

If you’ve read my other posts on Divine By Mistake and  Divine By Choice, then you’ll know that I’ve had my reservations throughout this entire trilogy (and, even though it is a trilogy, I’ve had a hard time finding an exact name for it). Even though I was hesitant, I was still a little excited about the third book because it was the only one I hadn’t read before. Once I started, though, I had a bit of a hard time getting into it. I made it halfway through and had to stop for the night, and it took about a day for me to convince myself to pick it back up again.

Overall, my concerns with this one mirror my concerns with the others. The main character, Morrigan (grown-up daughter of Rhiannon), experiences extreme changes in a matter of days and has reactions that I don’t think are believable. She was raised in Oklahoma, and found out about Partholon only hours before she gets drug through a cave and into the other world. Despite this, she is perfectly content to stay in Partholon and take up a new role as priestess to a goddess she didn’t even know existed.

She meets Kegan (a centaur High Shaman who is the mirror of her crush, Kyle, from Oklahoma), and in less than 2 days they’re pledging their love for each other and deciding to get married. Seriously. Nobody falls in love in less than 2 days. Lust, yes. Love, no.

These faults aside, my main issue is with the overall structure of the book. It doesn’t simply tell Morrigan’s story. As the last book in the trilogy, it spends time wrapping up Rhiannon’s story, Shannon’s story, introduces and tells part of Shannon’s daughter, Myrna’s, story, in addition to telling a complete story about Morrigan. It’s a lot to juggle, and it’s a bit messy. I feel like these pieces were simply thrown in to wrap everything up in a neat little bow without giving the stories due diligence or attention.

Morrigan’s story also mirrors Shannon’s, almost exactly. Little details are different, but the basic arc is the same. As I already mentioned, Morrigan is pulled through to Partholon to find herself priestess to a goddess she didn’t know existed. She decides to stay and take up this role with no desire or attempt to find her way back home. There’s one character who knows the truth about where she came from (Alanna for Shannon, Birkita for Morrigan), and coaches her through her responsibilities so she can “fake it till she makes it”. She falls almost instantly in love with a centaur High Shaman, seamlessly adjusting to the fact that centaurs exist.

During her whirlwind relationship with Kegan, they share conversations that are nearly identical to conversations had by Shannon and ClanFintan in Divine By Mistake: Centaurs are real. As a High Shaman, they can shape shift into human form, so they’re perfectly capable of mating with human females. Centaurs run hotter and have more stamina than either a man or a regular horse. Shannon/Morrigan is hesitant about touching the centaur, but is won over by their boundless lust. The act of riding the centaur (like a horse) is an act of extreme intimacy, and is used to draw Shannon/Morrigan in close. It makes sense that new characters would need to learn these things, but it’s painful for the reader, who already knows them, to have to reread everything again.

It’s obvious that I’m not impressed with these books, and my opinion of them has steadily gone downhill with each subsequent one. I will still carry fond memories of Divine By Mistake, since it is quite a unique story and I have good memories of my first time reading it. I’m glad to have read all of them, if only to broaden my reading experiences and have books in this category that I actually have negative opinions of. It was a good learning experience.

Divine By Choice

This weekend I finished Divine By Choice, the sequel to P.C. Cast’s Divine By Mistake (see my thoughts about this one here). I had trepidation about reading this book, because I remembered not liking it very much the first time. Come to find out, I didn’t like it much this time, either.

Once again, Shannon is yanked out of her world (only this time she is yanked out of Partholon and returned to Oklahoma), and has to deal with the mess Rhiannon is leaving in her wake.  There are a lot of things I could point to as reasons why I didn’t much care for it: This book introduces quite a few new characters that we’re supposed to care about, but it doesn’t give us reasons why we should. Shannon falls in love with a man who is the mirror image of her husband within days of knowing him and has a very cavalier attitude about her marriage. She fights the same evil she did in the first book, only pulled through between worlds, which I find lacking imagination. Shannon also suddenly has new magic powers that she conveniently uses once she’s back in Oklahoma to talk to the trees in the forest.

But the main problem I have with it is the weakness of the heroine. Now, I don’t consider myself a modern feminist. But I do enjoy a strong female lead, and I think women as a whole are strong characters who should be written like the well-rounded people they are. Shannon is not a strong female lead in this book. She wasn’t overly strong in the first book, but that can be mostly excused. She’s in a world she doesn’t know and has to learn the rules, so it makes sense that she would lean on other characters who are more experienced. She often showed her compassionate side, and truly desired what was best for her people, which is a more subtle type of strength. In the end, she joined her people in battle, and put herself in harm’s way to save them. While she wasn’t overtly strong, she showed growth, which is what readers need in a protagonist.

In Divine By Choice, though, I saw very little strength from her. To be fair, she begins the story sick from her pregnancy, and her body is physically weak. But even once the sickness abates, she is still helped in and out of the car and is helped to the door by the big strong man. There’s deep snow outside, but instead of walking in it like a big girl, she is either carried (again by the big strong man) or is clutching his arm for assistance. Even though she is back on her home turf, she relies on him to make plans and get her where she needs to go. She asks him to take care of her, to feed her (meaning to swing through the Arby’s drive-through), and to love her.

As I also noted in Divine By Mistake, Shannon doesn’t put a whole lot of effort into discovering how she was brought back into her own world. Clint (her husband’s mirror image) tells her what he thinks happened on his end, but she doesn’t bother to verify his information or figure out exactly what happened. She even waits several days to contact Rhiannon (who she knows is still in the same world), even though Rhiannon would be the perfect person to get information from.

In the final battle, Shannon doesn’t even fight. She gets snatched and stabbed, and watches while Clint saves the day. He summons Native American warriors to kill the evil creature, then sacrifices himself to send Shannon back to Partholon. She literally does nothing.

Overall, Shannon drove me nuts in this book. I have a policy about not putting a book down before it’s finished, and I’ve only rarely broken it. My main goal in reading this book was to bridge the gap before reading the next one, Divine By Blood, which is the only one I haven’t read before. It’s new to me, which makes it exciting, and I’m hoping I truly enjoy it instead of it just being something for me to finish and move on.

Divine By Mistake

This week I’m reading P.C. Cast’s Divine By Mistake (spoilers). I read this book for the first time in college, over the summer while working as a camp counselor. It wasn’t something I would’ve picked out for myself at the time, but one of the other counselors had a copy and I had nothing else to read, so I asked to borrow it.

Reading this book the first time made me blush. It’s officially a fantasy, but carries some definite romance themes. The actual sex scenes are muted, but the lead-ups are graphic and intense. I remember thinking that I didn’t want anyone to know I was reading that kind of trash. My opinion on this has changed. I’m significantly wider read these days, and some of my favorite authors (looking at you, Kelley Armstrong) frequently write sex scenes so much more detailed than Divine By Mistake has. I’m desensitized, so they really don’t bother me anymore.

What struck me this time around was the complete unbelievability of the main character, Shannon Parker. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here’s a basic overview: Shannon Parker is a run-of-the-mill English teacher from Oklahoma. One day she finds herself sucked through a portal into a fantasy world. The people there mirror people from her own world, and she herself is a mirror image of High Priestess and Goddess Incarnate, Rhiannon. Rhiannon, having discovered the mirrored world, traded places with Shannon to escape her own responsibilities.

Shannon awakes to find herself in this new world and everyone believes she is the real Rhiannon. This is where I find her reactions hard to believe. She has a few hours of “holy crap, this is all really weird”, then just kind of decides to go with it. For the next several days as the story unfolds she has fleeting thoughts of “I wonder what’s happening back in my own world” and “Rhiannon is probably destroying my life” but she seems perfectly content to just throw away everything she’s ever known without any notice. There’s no grieving for the relationships she left behind (she just replaces them with the mirrored people in the new world), there’s no crying over the life she lost, and there’s no freaking out over the strange new things she’s thrown into. On her first day, she’s told she’s been exchanged and then marries a centaur. Seriously? I think I would barricade myself in my room, convince myself I’d gone crazy and was locked away in an institution somewhere, or maybe just faint when the troop of centaurs walked into the room. Something more than “well this is my life now, it’s a little weird but I guess I’ll get used to it”.

What also strikes me as strange (and is definitely related), is she never tries to go home. There’s one or two places where she mentions that it’s impossible, but she never even tries to research how the switch happened in the first place. Her maid, Alanna, tells her about the experimentation and ritual Rhiannon performed, but she never seeks to understand it further. She never tries to determine if it can be replicated. She never even expresses a desire to go home. All of which is very unbelievable to me. In time, yes, maybe she could adjust to her new circumstances and come to accept that she can’t go home, but not immediately and not without fighting against it first.

That being said, I did enjoy the book. I’m looking forward to reading the next two, Divine By Choice and Divine By Blood. Once you get past the believability issue, it’s a beautiful story and a lot of fun to read. Shannon’s secret is shared among her close friends, she falls deeply in love with her centaur husband, and she saves her people from both disease and a deadly invasion. Rhiannon’s actions were steeped in selfishness and arrogance, but Shannon is able to turn the situation into something good and wholesome and find her true purpose in life.