Happy Birthday My Favorite Professor

Dear Professor,

Happy Birthday, sir.

You probably don’t remember me since I never took a class with you while you lived. Neither have I sat in the lecture auditorium at Oxford, nor a tutorial in your office.

But I consider myself a student of yours nonetheless. I have read most of your books (got a bit lost on the more obscure ones to be honest) several times, watched the movies (though I’m not sure you  would give academic credit for that), and read numerous books about you and your work.

 

When I write, I see you as someone to emulate, someone who has set the standard. It is not just you of course, please don’t get ahead of yourself; there is Terry Brooks,  Robert Jordan, and some new kids on the block: Christopher Paolini, George R.R. Martin, and Patrick Rothfuss – you would approve of the former, and latter, I am sure.

But as much as I admire them, when faced with an issue writing one of my books, I pause and try and imagine what a certain old Oxford professor would advise me to do.

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But while your books are legendary, your world-building stunning, and your ability to create languages are simply mind-boggling, what amazes me is that you had it in you in the first place: an academic, a somewhat upper-crust Englishman, a traditionalist, a Christian, and a war veteran. Was it the latter? Was what you witnessed on the battlefields of Europe in the First World War the seeds for LOTR? Was this the only way you could find to express the struggle of good .v. evil? 

What happened that fine summer day as you marked term papers? Were you bored? Looking forward to a vacation? Had a pint too many of Eastfarthing at lunch? When you stared at that blank sheet of paper a student had accidentally inserted, what made you scribble: In a hole in the ground there lives a hobbit…

Whatever possessed you, sir, changed the world of epic fantasy forever. Perhaps you should have heeded the advice you gave dear Frodo: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

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I hope you are sitting in a pub up there in heaven, surrounded by wonderful friends – elves, dwarves, hobbits, and even a few humans, most likely friends from The Inklings.  and raising a glass to celebrate his 123rd birthday.

This student thanks you for everything you gave him as a reader and taught him as an author. A very happy twelvety-first birthday, sir! And to celebrate, here is a rendition of Happy Birthday in elvish, the language you created, one word at a time. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition!

Happy Birthday Professor – Oronnad meren allen! 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, is the latest in the series. The story continues.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter(@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

 

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Everyone Wants To Be An Elf

How many times have you uploaded an article or song on the Internet and then got lost surfing through hundreds of comments underneath? Whether discussing politics, sports, or comparing the lead singers of Nightwish, it gets ugly very quickly. If you need to stock your insult arsenal, You Tube comments is the place to go – but a shot of JW or an anger management course might be more effective, long term…just saying, calm down.

Earlier this week, I played a Gothic music play list (that I can’t find now) while I wrote a new chapter for Book 4 of the Wycaan Master series. I made the mistake of perusing the comments and they were eye opening.

Tens of people (and I did not check all 2,000+ comments) wrote why they would love to be an elf. Just for the record, I believe people were imagining Legalos and not Will Ferrell or any of his fine companions.

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But there they were: some frivolous, but many, well, I believe laced with a genuine desire. They seemed to resonate with something deep inside, something lost.

Some spoke of the physical attributes – tall and thin, healthy (have you ever seen an elf sneeze? – they even die beautifully – yes I’m talking about you, Haldir, at Helm’s Deep, I’m sure you remember), long living, nimble, coordinated… 

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Others mentioned emotional attributes – decisive, confident, calm, intelligent, loyal mates (I plan to research this – I did a quick search for the Rivendale Daily Enquirer but they only distribute in the Western Isles).

And there was also an interesting assortment of comments such as: they could trust their leaders; they were in touch with nature… 

When I began writing the Wycaan Master series, it was clear to my sons and me that we didn’t want to make the elves (most of our protagonists) perfect. They get angry, make wrong decisions, feel abashed at that first kiss, and seem more…well human (ouch!).

In fact, one of the comments that surfaced as I read At The Walls Of Galbrieth to my writer’s group wass that I failed to distinguish them as elves. I struggled to do this without stepping into the familiar stereotypes. As I write Book 4, things have become somewhat darker, with the protagonists facing greater personal challenges. I continue to find it difficult to strike a cord between making my elves special without them losing their genuine, vulnerable side.

Finally, as I write this, I am listening to The Hobbit soundtrack. There is a long thread of comments, disagreements, and debate. But this is the comment that caught my eye:

RobbieBjork17 wrote: “Holy Crap that was one_ of the most educated conversations I’ve ever read on youtube…. shoulda known it was going to be Tolkien Fans ;).”

It made me absurdly proud to feel a part of the Epic Fantasy nation.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Quite A Week

It has been quite a week for me. First, thank you to everyone who left such beautiful reviews both on amazon.com and across the pond at amazon.co.uk. In fact, both At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree are doing well there. I’m not sure what happened, but I received over 300 hits on Wednesday in an hour in the early California light. So whoever sparked it – I thank you too. 

I finished my own edit of Ashbar, Wycaan Master Book. 3, and sent it under the scalpel of the Master Surgeon (or Mistress Editor to be more accurate), Monica Buntin. While I wait, it is an opportunity to get back to writing Book 4. I wrote over 40,000 words during the Xmas break and I can’t wait to hit that keyboard – so much easier than a treadmill. I also left a few characters hanging and I need to apologize to them and let them move on.

I discovered, and I realize that 90% of those who read this blog are about to roll their eyes, that J R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were part of a writers critic group at Oxford. It blew my mind and I scuttled off to find a copy of The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, who also wrote a great biography of the Professor. More on this when I actually finish his book.

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Finally, The Hobbit came out on DVD and BluRay. In case you have never heard of this movie, Yahoo Movies offered us two delightful caveats.  I particularly loved their chart to differentiate between the races, but their behind-the-scenes video was cool as well.

_ylt=AsAy3VcY8kcvndsOg1BnmyK4AOB_;_ylu=X3oDMTFpOGpyZm1sBG1pdANCbG9nIFBvc3QgQm9keQRwb3MDMgRzZWMDTWVkaWFCbG9nQm9keUFzc2VtYmx5;_ylg=X3oDMTMyZnNiMWtvBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDZmMyZjgyNWQtMmUwNy0zN2NjLTk2OWEtM2IzNTEyMWQ1MzdhBHBzdGNhdANibG9nc3xt

I couldn’t see how to download it, so please accept The Song Of The Misty Mountain in its place.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

Why Epic Fantasy Can Be So Profound

The Lord of the Rings is a story (or several stories) about elves and dwarves and dragons and quests. And yet, professors sit in their Ivy League towers and dig deep into the story, seeking meaning, analyzing plot and characters, symbolism and analogy.

Grown men and women who read the books 20 or 30 years ago, continue to debate the values and meaning, while counting down the days from one epic movie to another. We reverently pass on the books, DVD’s and walk our children to the movies – a sacred rite of passage.

Here is a documentary that not only analyzes these aspects through a variety of knowledgable men and women with delightful accents, but also the symbiotic relationship between Tolkien with C.S. Lewis. Both men’s motivations and writing, for example, were shaped through their experiences in World War 1. They went on to create two of the greatest epic fantasy series ever. It is thirty minutes that are well worth the time.

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So please, grab yourself a mug of ale, light up the Longbottom leaf, and enjoy a revealing explanation of a unique man who blazed a path for so many who came after him.

As one who owes him so much, I am truly humbled.

One last point: if you have the energy,  browse through the comments under the You Tube video. It is amazing how many people had such difficulty reading the LOTR and yet still have a deep appreciation for the work.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

A Poem In Elvish – J.R.R. Tolkien

This is a rare gem. That an author could possibly make up an entire language is mind-blowing. Yet we often forget that beyond the dragons, swords, and quests, J.R.R. Tolkien created an entire language. As a professor of philology (ancient languages) at Oxford University, Tolkien was already immersed in the mechanics of how a language is put together. 

But the professor took it to another level when he actually made up a language. With the hype beginning to build for The Hobbit movie, this poem surfaced read by the master himself.

Enjoy!

My own elvish is somewhat rusty, so here is a translation of Namarie (Farewell) courtesy of Josh Jones, who goes into greater detail about the when and where.  

Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years
numberless as the wings of trees! The long years
have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead
in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue
vaults of Varda wherein the stars tremble in the
song of her voice, holy and queenly.

Who now shall refill the cup for me?

For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of Stars,
from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like
clouds, and all paths are drowned deep in shadow;
and out of a grey country darkness lies on the
foaming waves between us, and mist covers the
jewels of Calacirya for ever. Now lost, lost for
those from the East is Valimar!

Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe
even thou shalt find it. Farewell!

And, in case you haven’t got enough, here is Tolkien again, reciting the Song of Durin (in English). 

Have a great weekend,

Elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, is due out in January 2013 by Tourmaline Press. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

What Would Tolkien Say?

I wasn’t that surprised when I heard originally that The Hobbit would be expanded into more than one movie. Harry Potter 7 and Breaking Dawn have set the precedence. But I was stunned (pleasantly, I must admit) that somehow the thin, children’s book is going to take as much time as Lord of the Rings, volumes of which are well-known for many attributes, not least that of a competent doorstop.

Still, I thought, in Peter Jackson I trust. LOTR is an amazing movie trilogy, so why not have the hobbit and dwarves trudge through countless woods and mountain ranges. Offer a few character insights, and smoke a few more pipes around the fire. Works for me and I doubt a particular Oxford linguistics professor would have minded.

But, now I hear that Peter Jackson has actually invented some new characters and I must admit to feeling somewhat perturbed. Is J.R.R. Tolkien sitting in his celestial study puffing his pipe furiously? 

It had occurred to me that we are a bit short on the females in this book, less noticeable for a book, but an issue for the screen. This has obviously occurred to Mr. Jackson as well, as he introduces Tauriel, an elven warrior, who according to the info released is head of the elven guard. Lost star Evangeline Lilly plays this fearsome (and no doubt sexy warrior) and she is quoted as saying:

“She is a warrior. She’s actually the head of the Elven guard. She’s the big shot in the army. So she knows how to wield any weapon, but the primary weapons that she uses are a bow and arrow and two daggers. And she’s lethal and deadly.”

While I am the last to complain about introducing any elf, I feel uneasy. And it has nothing to do with her resembling a Mord Sith. I’m feeling rather traumatized, having (after watching Legend of the Seeker on TV) just listened to Wizard’s First Rule – Terry Goodkind – on audio alone in my car, which fleshes out (excuse the extremely accurate pun), the Mord Sith techniques. Let’s just say that if any woman in red leather comes within 50 feet, I’m running.

But the question is not what this humble elfwriter thinks, but what Tolkien would say. I have a number of books on the master, but never met him. However, I can’t help feeling he would not be amused. 

I can’t imagine someone taking my books and inserting new characters. It seems to be one step too far. What do you think? How loyal should Peter Jackson stay to the original work?

When does The Hobbit become The Hollybit?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

The Master Tolkien Left Crumbs For The Hungry

The skeptics (those forced to study his work) and the jealous (those of us who figuratively sit at his feet bashing out epic fantasy novels on our laptops) dismiss J.R.R. Tolkien as a once-in-a-lifetime genius. We couldn’t emulate him even if we wanted to (though of course we do want to). We comfort ourselves that in today’s world of instant gratification, you cannot spend several pages describing a forest, however old and steeped in magic it may be.

I have read a number of books about the master and even began a fictionalized account of his life. I have on my iPod a course from the iTunes University – The Tolkien Professor by Corey Olsen, a professor himself from Washington College.

I want to share a few tips that Tolkien had for writers. This is taken from a post by Roger Colby, an author and English teacher. Mr. Colby never met Tolkien, though thanks to photoshop, he looks like he might have! Judging by his research, he deserved to!

Roger Colby ‘meets’ J.R.R. Tolkien

Mr. Colby spent a month carefully dissecting The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, and underlined every instance where the master of Middle Earth wrote about his process. The quotes are attributed. Any comments belong to Mr. Colby, though I strongly recommend reading the entire article.

1.  Vanity Is Useless

Tolkien writes in a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin on 31 July 1947:

“…I certainly hope to leave behind me the whole thing [LOTR] revised and in final form, for the world to throw into the waste-paper basket.  All books come there in the end, in this world, anyway” (121).

2.  Keep a Stiff Upper Lip

In another letter to Sir Stanley Unwin dated July 21, 1946, Tolkien lists a mound of personal struggles he was facing: being ill, being overworked and missing his son Christopher who was away in the Royal Navy. He put many of his struggles aside, though, and went to writing.

He had to balance his day job with his desire to write epic stories set in Middle Earth. He found time. He made time. It took him 7 years to write The Hobbit. (117). The thing that he writes about most in this period is his struggle to get the work finished on his novels and to balance teaching and his many duties at Oxford College. Apparently he found a way.

3.  Listen to Critics

Tolkien writes to his editor about the comments C.S. Lewis made about The Lord of the Rings: “When he would say, ‘You can do better than that. Better, Tolkien, please!’ I would try. I’d sit down and write the section over and over.

That happened with the scene I think is the best in the book, the confrontation between Gandalf and his rival wizard, Saruman, in the ravaged city of Isengard.”

He writes that he “cut out some passages of light-hearted hobbit conversation which he [Lewis] found tiresome, thinking that if he did most other readers (if any) would feel the same…to tell the truth he never really like hobbits very much, least of all Merry and Pippin. But a great number of readers do, and would like more than they have got” (376).

4.  Let Your Interests Drive Your Writing

Tolkien wrote: “I began the construction of languages in early boyhood: I am primarily a scientific philologist. My interests were, and remain, largely scientific. But I was also interested in traditional tales (especially those concerning dragons); and writing (not reading) verse and metrical devices. These things began to flow together when I was an undergraduate to the despair of my tutors and near-wrecking of my career” (345).

5.  Poetry As A Road to Prose

When Tolkien couldn’t express his thoughts in prose he “wrote much of it in verse.”

He writes “The first version of the song of Strider concerning Luthien,… originally appeared in the Leeds University magazine, but the whole tale, as sketched by Aragorn, was written in a poem of great length” (346).

6.  Happy Accidents

Tolkien writes: “The Hobbit saw the light and made my connection with A. & U. by an accident.” Further: “From The Hobbit are also derived the matter of the Dwarves, Durin their prime ancestor, and Moria; and Elrond.

Mr. Colby: “Sometimes accidents happen, and sometimes those accidents will lead a writer to a publisher or create an entire novel.  Tolkien created entire worlds and then used what he knew of myth and legend to tell iconic, archetypal stories based in those magical places.

Even though he planned everything out meticulously, he still had happy accidents occur that he kept in the final manuscript because they just worked. Sometimes accidents can be blessings.”

7.  Dreams Give Us Inspiration

Tolkien writes:  “In sleep I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands.  It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcised by writing about it.

It always ends by surrender, and I awake gasping out of the deep water. I used to draw it or write bad poems about it. When C.S. Lewis and I tossed up, and he was to write on space-travel and I on time-travel, I began an abortive book of time-travel of which the end was to be the presence of my hero in the drowning of Atlantis” (347).

8.  Real People Make Great Characters

Tolkien: “There was a curious local character, an old man who used to go about sweeping gossip and weather-wisdom and such like.

To amuse my boys I named him Gaffer Gamgee, and the name became part of family lore to fix on old chaps of the kind. At that time I was beginning on The Hobbit. The choice of Gamgee was primarily directed by alliteration; but I did not invent it. It was caught out of childhood memory, as a comic word or name. It was in fact the name when I was small (in Birmingham) for ‘cotton-wool’”(348).

9.  You May Be the Next Best Selling Author

Tolkien relates the following story: “I lived for a while in a rather decayed road (aptly called Duchess) in Edgbaston, B’ham; it ran into a more decayed road called Beaufort. I mention this only because in Beaufort road was a house, occupied in its palmier days, by Mr. Shorthouse, a manufacturer of acids, of (I believe) Quaker connections.

He, a mere amateur (like myself) with no status in the literary world, suddenly produced a long book, which was queer, exciting, and debatable – or seemed so then, few now find it possible to read. It slowly took on, and eventually became a best-seller, and the subject of public discussion from the Prime Minister downwards. This was John Inglesant. Mr. Shorthouse became very queer, and very UnBrummagem not to say UnEnglish. He seemed to fancy himself as a reincarnation of some renaissance Italian, and dressed the part” (348).

10.  Books You Write May Seem Trite

Tolkien writes: “I now find The Lord of the Rings ‘good in parts”(349).

Mr, Colby: “This is to say that upon reading his books years after writing them his writing experience informs him that he is a much better writer than when he published The Hobbit.”

Tribute: Given that I have relied heavily upon the research of Mr. Colby, I would like to promote his own novel as appreciation. The Transgression Box- Roger Colby.

Dornin is known as the village liar…but he will also be their unwitting savior. It all begins when Dornin finds a mysterious object in the forest – a perfect cube of a box – and brings it back to his village. Unsure of its purpose, he hands over the object to the village elders – but during the night he spots a strange fog emanating from the House of Elders, and in the morning, over half of the people of the village have fallen into an unnatural and unending sleep.

Dornin decides he must set off on a quest to destroy the “Transgression Box” in order to save his people. Along the way he will encounter many strange and dangerous places, as he desperately tries to destroy that which must be destroyed for him. The Transgression Box is an allegorical science fiction tale of faith, trust and hope.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at  http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).