July 21, 2014
The CCLaP Showcase: Eric Charles May | Facebook

Eric May, CCLaP Showcase

Join the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography on July 22nd for the second edition of its new reading series and open mic, the CCLaP Showcase. This month’s show features the popular local writer and professor Eric Charles May, reading from his Chicago-set social realist novel “Bedrock Faith,” and will open with six open-mic slots of five minutes apiece (strictly timed). The show will take place at City Lit Books in the Logan Square neighborhood (2523 N. Kedzie), starting at 6:30 pm, and will be recorded in its entirety for rebroadcast on the CCLaP Podcast the following week. To sign up in advance for one of the open-mic slots, drop us a line at cclapcenter@gmail.com. We look forward to seeing you there!

This should be a lot of fun. If you’re in the neighborhood or you just want to hear some great readings, I encourage you to stop by and support us.

July 11, 2014
Book and Brew: Bedrock Faith and Church Street Brimstone IPA

Between heaven and hell, there’s life to kick you in the ass toward one path or another. Whether hedging your bets on faith or preparing your soul for brimstone, there’s always another drink and another story to get you through.

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Bedrock FaithAkashic Books: “After fourteen years in prison, Gerald “Stew Pot” Reeves, age thirty-one, returns home to live with his mom in Parkland, a black middle-class neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. A frightening delinquent before being sent away, his return sends Parkland residents into a religiously infused tailspin, which only increases when Stew Pot announces that he experienced a religious awakening in prison. Most neighbors are skeptical of this claim, with one notable exception: Mrs. Motley, a widowed retiree and the Reeves’s next-door neighbor who loans Stew Pot a Bible, which is seen by Stew Pot and many in the community as a friendly gesture.

With uncompromising fervor (and with a new pit bull named John the Baptist), Stew Pot appoints himself the moral judge of Parkland. He discovers that a woman on his block is a lesbian and outs her to the neighborhood, the first battle in an escalating war of wills with immediate neighbors: after a mild threat from the block club president, Stew Pot reveals a secret that leaves the president’s marriage in ruin; after catching a woman from across the street snooping around his backyard, Stew Pot commits an act of intimidation that leads directly to her death.

Stew Pot’s prison mentor, an African American albino named Brother Crown, is released from prison not long after and moves in with Stew Pot and his mom. His plan is to go on a revival tour, with Stew Pot as his assistant. One night, as Stew Pot, Mrs. Reeves, and Brother Crown are witnessing around the neighborhood, a teenager from the block attempts to burn down the Reeves home. He botches the job and instead sets fire to Mrs. Motley’s house. She is just barely rescued, but her house is a total loss and she moves in with a nearby family. Neighbors are sure Stew Pot is behind the fire. The retaliations against Stew Pot continue, sending him over an emotional ledge as his life spirals out of control with grave consequences. Through the unforgettable characters of Stew Pot and Mrs. Motley, the novel provides a reflection on God, the living and the dead, and the possibilities of finding love without reservation.”

Brimstone IPA, Church Street: “Some traditions are newer than others. Church Street is proud to present our take on the American IPA with this dry-hopped Yakima Valley tribute that’s brimming with Cascade aroma, giving this tangerine-beauty a fruity and refreshing nose—don’t be surprised if you find yourself sniffing more than sipping! Large quantities of late addition hops contribute to the high IBUs, creating a bold bitterness that’s rounded out by notes of citrus and grapefruit with a slightly dry hoppy finish. Cheers!”

July 9, 2014
Book Review: The Serpent’s Game

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The Serpent’s Game, written by A.C. Frieden and published by Avendia Publishing, is a third-person espionage thriller, written from the point-of-view of Jonathan Brooks, a maritime lawyer practicing in New Orleans. As Hurricane Katrina barrels its way toward Louisiana, Jon’s confronted by a ghost from his past—a Russian spy named Mariya who once helped Jon avenge his dead brother, though it came at a psychological cost that inevitably ruined Jon’s marriage and create massive trust issues. Mariya wants Jon to investigate her nephew’s death though, with the storm of the century on the horizon, which spirals into escaping a hurricane, chasing Asian sailors through Panama, and trying to find a Russian nuke before it starts the next world war. Jon’s no expert at espionage though and thrusts his fate into the hands of Mariya and a sultry, young bombshell named Natasha in order to save the free world from a not-so-cold war.

I’m no stranger to the exotic adventure that is espionage. The modern espionage story usually involves jumping into a world not your own, forced to skirt society in order to uncover a secret or disarm an enemy. In a lot of ways, it’s no different than your traditional dungeon crawler fantasy story—those composed of a trek where no soul wanders in order to find buried treasure and forced against the evils erected to protect it. But the espionage story poses greater dangers, like guns and karate, and quite often, a sexier plot with romantic involvements, enemies that tend to be as beautiful as they are cruel, and sleek tools of the trade that bend the plausibility of the modern story into a pseudo-science-fiction narrative. My first interest with espionage began with my childhood love for 007 films—James Bond, a handsome Brit with a gun played by Sean Connery, travels the world to kill villains who threaten the free world, nailing babes on the way and using the technology that rivals what civilians actually use today, in spite of the series being filmed through the 1960’s. It didn’t do much for my perception of women or alcohol abuse at an early age, though it most certainly opened my eyes to the world and what waited out there—new sights, new dangers, new loves. To this day, it seems like me and every other man I’ve met wants to join some equivalent of MI:6 and become a double-oh ourselves. 

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(Why, yes, Moneypenny. I’m keen on a snog.)

Like James Bond, Jonathan Brooks joins forces with the Russians to stop new, evil empires from rising up. The exquisite detail that Frieden puts into every locale made me feel quite sure that he scouted each location as he wrote about them, like the kinds of wallpaper you find in a Stockholm hotel or the transients you encounter in Caracas. I had the pleasure of having A.C. Frieden perform at my literary reading series, Reading Under the Influence, and got to know him briefly—he informed me of his world travels and experiences, and this book is evidence enough of that truth. Compared with other novels in the genre (like the Alex Cross books, by James Patterson), it has exquisite detail to paint pictures that are either beautiful or horrifying, with each new location contrasting against a previously written scene to create a literary slide-show of different landscapes. I felt immersed in Jon’s surroundings, like I’d been there before—and they feel more real because he eschews the cliche expectations of each new venue by throwing us directly into the story and making them feel like a dynamically changing atmosphere contextualized by Jonathan’s adventure and the threat against these places. Even Hurricane Katrina’s havoc on New Orleans is written with such strong, poignant characteristics that each image in the media from that time flooded back to me (no pun intended) as I read, and that tragedy was made all the more tasteful by what Jonathan endured as a result and the sentiments he felt for his home.

The most notable of my espionage experiences came from a video game: Metal Gear Solid. This series doesn’t just carry a very deep, layered story of one soldier’s clandestine journey—it forces you to look around every corner and use each tool of the trade to get through the obstacles, as though you, yourself, are a James Bond or Jonathan Brooks. The main character, Snake, is forced to use his surroundings as camouflage, including different clothing patterns, shadows, and the occasional cardboard box, in order to prevent terrorists or private armies from destroying the free world using bi-pedal tanks armed with nuclear warheads known only as Metal Gear. To enjoy an espionage story in a film or a book is one thing, but to play it is a completely different experience that expanded my interest in the genre, because it taught me that you can’t just walk out with guns blazing—sometimes, you have to put a dude in a choke hold and hide him in a locker to keep his comrades from getting suspicious. I’ve played through at least four of these games and even read a novelization, and as I followed Jonathan Brooks in his adventure, I immediately recognized the names of tools, places, and tactics utilized by the characters because of my own experiences in that world. And, though the novelization of Metal Gear Solid is garbage, the story is just as good as any espionage novel, if not better—I’m looking at you, Patterson.

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(The only books in Snake’s inventory are dirty magazines.)

The big difference between Solid Snake and Jonathan Brooks though is that Snake knows what he’s doing. Jonathan Brooks is a layman—which makes Frieden’s novel that much more compelling. If you don’t know anything about spy shit, you’ll learn it real goddamn quick as Jonathan is introduced to new weapons, new means of hiding your identity, and the dangers that await a clandestine operative. In fact, this novel is a sequel and, because of the time lapse between the two, you don’t even have to read the previous one to understand just what’s going on and who these characters are while Jonathan relearns and remembers everything that happened in the previous book. Though the novel is told mostly from his point-of-view, parts are told from the point-of-views of existing spies, including Sal the assassin, a CIA operative named Sanders, and double-agent Ron. Frieden’s contrast between these professionals and Jonathan reveal two realms of espionage story-telling and, thus, varying the voice of the novel to make it more engaging, and when he start’s in one voice, he sticks to it until the end of the scene. Though we meet Ron and Sal earlier on, Jonathan doesn’t know who they are when he first confronts them, nor does he know anything about them even though the audience does, and in true literary story-telling, we get to discover them from his point-of-view even though we’ve already been immersed in their point-of-view. Many who write in the third-person step outside of their character in these circumstances, though Frieden commits in order to give us the fullest story from Brooks’s point-of-view, while cluing us in on events and information about the other characters as they happen chronologically in chapters dedicated to those characters themselves. Thus, we’re not pulled out of the story mid-chapter, but only when the variation will bring more depth and momentum to the story.

Variations on different spy stories brings me to a different genre of story telling: the espionage parody. With stories like Naked Gun, Austin Powers, Get Smart, and even Inspector Gadget, we see a lot of different retooling of the spy-story for humor purposes. The only parody that captures the reality of a secret agent’s hubris and gluttony, however, is my newest espionage obsession, Archer. Sterling Archer, a secret agent with mother issues is an alcoholic, a womanizer, and only expects the finest of silks to touch his body, though he has the skills to back it up. When put on the front line, he knows how to bust noggins and impress beautiful women, but he also projects the very real fear of being shot at in the human response to danger. And because the story is told from other point-of-views, including a homosexual spy, Ray, and a black, female spy, Lana, in addition to numerous guest spies, we’re absorbed in an ever evolving “dramady” that’s both engrossing and intelligent as it is humorous. This isn’t your every day spy-story—but it does capture the consistency and excitement of a spy story to the fullest effect, in spite of its humorous contexts.

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(Basically, how my co-workers perceive me.)

Because Jonathan isn’t a spy, we get to see the very real danger he feels too. Frieden really captures the anxiety that a normal, though nonetheless brave, man would feel, with lines like, “Fuck me, Jonathan thought as he glanced both ways, looking for any flash of movement. If I make it through this, after every goddamn thing I’ve been through since New Orleans, I’ll probably die of radiation poisoning." He not only captures Jonathan’s immersion into the spy world, but also expresses Jonathan’s very real, tremendous fears in colloquial language as he rolls into a fight with a gun he only barely knows how to use or a metal pipe since, what the fuck, like he has a choice? Often, Jonathan’s responses in some situations are so real that they are funny, including the various occasions where Jonathan will try to crack a bad joke to break the tension. But his thoughts and fears are instinctual and aren’t over-thought. When he has to kill a guy, the author doesn’t spend pages describing how Jonathan feels about it—Jon doesn’t have time to feel more than one line of emotion. He feels like shit, sure, but he’s got to push forward, thus keeping the pace of the book strong as Jonathan progresses from one fucked up situation to another in order to save the goddamn world. He doesn’t weep for the man he killed—he feels pain, of course, but he knows it’s dog-eat-dog and he raises his gun in anticipation of the next challenge that waits him, or otherwise he’d be killed. This not only shows the very real weight in surviving a firefight, but it also illustrates the natural choice that soldiers face when forced to justify their actions in a moment of conflict and move on, because the world doesn’t stop turning to have a pity party with you for what you’ve done to protect yourself. You have to keep fighting.

With Frieden’s great use of colloquial language and travel expertise comes one flaw though—other languages. In this novel, the audience is exposed to Russian and Spanish which, occasionally, don’t come with direct translations. I speak absolutely no Russian and only enough Spanish to work in a restaurant, so the lines of foreign dialogue confused the hell out of me without a direct translation following. In other cases, Frieden summarizes conversations in Korean and Chinese which were perfectly fine, but in an effort to capture authenticity in Jonathan’s point-of-view, he forgoes translations—even though Jon speaks Spanish. To me, this is a huge error—while authenticity is great, it benefits the audience in no way if they, themselves, don’t understand the language. I’m not going to go out and learn Russian or pick up any more Spanish than I’ll need in order to get laid, so in situations like that, I, like most audience members, require some summary of what the characters said after the moments of dialogue. Some of these lines of dialogue aren’t simply without translation, but without direct context until later on—and moments of this novel suffered as I sounded out words to try to distinguish some kind of Latin origin as I read. 


(A.C. Frieden with RUI founder, Julia Borcherts.)

In spite of that though, what we have is a great espionage thriller with full, interesting characters and terrific detail. In fact, it’s one of the best espionage thrillers I’ve read and I am very grateful to Mr. Frieden for reading at my show and giving me a copy, so that I may see more of the world as he saw it. Grab it before the next one comes out.

The Riahi Rating:
★★★★☆
4/5 stars.

About the publisher:
Avendia Publishing is a local publisher, but I can’t tell just what exactly goes on there. According to their website, they publish novels and textbooks, but as far as prose goes, their guideline PDF didn’t work. In fact, glancing at the home-page, it only looks as though it’s been casually updated over the last few years. While I loved the writing of The Serpent’s Game, the editing looked neglectful, with occasions of misplaced words or words that repeat in a sentence. Not really sure what kind of operation they’re running there, but I’m not recommending this one.

July 2, 2014
RUI: Reading Under the Influence JULY 2nd, "LEFT TO MY OWN DEVICES." | Facebook

Tonight, at Sheffield’s in Chicago, the following will be reading at my literary reading, Reading Under the Influence:

NATASHA SAMRENY, writer and performer at WRITE CLUB, MISS SPOKEN, and JUST DICKIN’ AROUND.

DANIEL STORY, poet, writer, reviewer, and Skyrim adventurer.

PETER JURMU, editor at ARTIFICE BOOKS and CATCH UP with stories in HTML GIANTS, ALICE BLUE REVIEW, and RED LIGHTBULBS.

DANIEL LIBMAN, author of MARRIED BUT LOOKING.

$3 dollar cover, $2 domestics. Trivia to win books and drinks.

Sheffield’s, 3258 N. Sheffield, Chicago. 7:30p. 21+

June 19, 2014
Book and Brew: The Serpent’s Game and Snake Dog IPA

No matter where the snake takes you, you’re sure to find yourself immersed in the unknown—like a dog playing a game of fetch though, your story catapults into tragedy when you bite the hand of your master. Sink your fangs in for the ride.

The Serpent’s Game, Avendia Publishing: “You don’t stand and wait as Hurricane Katrina barrels down on New Orleans, unless you don’t have a choice, and maritime lawyer Jonathan Brooks has none. His career in shambles and duty bound to help a figure from his past locate her missing nephew feared drowned in the Mississippi, Brooks is burdened with responsibility and devoid of options. But Mariya is no friend. The sultry Russian provocateur saved his life a decade ago but not without dragging him into a world of murder, mayhem and deceit. As darkness bleeds into the Crescent City, Brooks’ search for the truth behind a body in the river catapults him into an international storm that sweeps into the espionage underworld of Russia, the intelligence centers of Washington, D.C., the politics of North Korea, the waterways of the Panama Canal, the back streets of Havana and the barrios of Caracas—and into the heart of Jonathan’s own darkness.”

Snake Dog IPA, Flying Dog: “IPAs emphasize the heat in spicy foods and smooth out creamy, fatty foods. Flavor notes: Big citrus (notably grapefruit) hop aroma and flavor with caramel malt notes Pairs with: Mexican, Thai, curry, wasabi, buttery and spicy cheeses, exotic fruits.”

June 16, 2014
Book Review: Lord of the Rings, Return of the King

imageThe Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, written by Tolkien and published by Ballantine Books, is the third-person account on the War of the Ring in Middle-Earth, following The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. With Frodo captured by the orcs on the border of Mordor, it’s up to Sam, Frodo’s trusty gardener, to rescue him—but Sam has Frodo’s evil ring at least, to make him invisible and sneak around unnoticed as a means of saving Frodo. Meanwhile, in the plains of Pelennor outside of Minas Tirith, the war is set in full motion after the army of Sauron beats through Osgiliath to siege the seat of the king. The Rohirrim of Rohan ride forth with a prayer to catch the battle in time as Aragorn and his followers pass through the path of the dead in order to meet Sauron’s fleets on their way to Minas Tirith. The fellowship is splintered—Gandalf fights on the front lines of Minas Tirith while Pippin tries to stop Denethor, the crazed Steward of Gondor. Merry rides forth with Rohan, taken on the steed of a brave soldier with fair features who seems strangely familiar, and the two unwanted warriors ride to the front line of battle. Aragorn, followed by Gimli, Legolas, and his people, the Dunedain, call upon old debts to Isildur with ghosts biting at their heels. Sam, using all the wit and courage he never knew he had, invades an orc tower under the guise of an elven saboteur. And Frodo Baggins, the carrier of the ring held responsible with ending evil in Middle-Earth, waits only for death at the torture by those he once promised to defeat.

This is the final chapter of The Lord of the Rings, though, undoubtedly, not the final book in Middle-Earth that I will be submerged in. The pressure is on and the end is nigh, so at these moments more than ever, I can’t help but reflect upon my experiences with The Lord of the Rings leading up to this point. In my blog on The Two Towers, I discussed the influences that kindled my interest in fantasy from the days of my youth and into adulthood, citing various video games and Japanese animations as source exposure to the worlds of magic, dragons, and, uh, dungeons, I guess. But, in spite of other external forces, I’ve always had a strange relationship with The Lord of the Rings—perhaps because how heavily other fantasy stories are invested in the world created by Tolkien in his magnum opus. After all, dwarves, elves, and dragons weren’t defined into a single, unique genre until Tolkien wrote of it. Prior to his publications, these elements were the subject of operas, folktales, and epic poems of a separate age, though many of these were later related as children’s tales to encourage a sense of exploration. By creating a collective of these elements, Tolkien aided in defining the fantasy genre which went on to become the foundation for roleplaying games and, much later, films, video games, and other books. It was also Tolkien that defined character classes, as we perceive them in modern roleplays. Gandalf is a wizard, Aragorn is a ranger, Bilbo is a thief. These became the foundation of modern day character creation choices, and these elements have bled into other gaming genres. Take Mass Effect, for instance: three base classes with several specializations and cross classes, including soldier (like the warrior), biotic (with unique powers like a wizard), and engineer (akin to the thief, with hacking instead of lockpicking and favoring diversion tactics). Though these base roles existed in all forms of combat throughout history, it was Tolkien in particular that made the specific talents of each individual to a small party of heroes seem both romantic and utilitarian. It’s fair to say that The Lord of the Rings, in spite of the high praise it receives, receives only sufficient appreciation for the influence it has made.

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(Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…)

For me, it all began with The Hobbit. I loved the 1977 film as a child—it was probably one of my favorite films, though in a more curious capacity than my other childhood fandoms. Sure, I loved Star Wars and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but The Hobbit, unlike other childhood loves, carried a sense of mysticism about it, both in story and animation. It looked ancient and beautiful and seemed to have sprung out of the depths of imagination itself. Though they made a couple of sequels, including a film of The Return of the King in the same animation, The Hobbit impacted most completely because it was a full story without the necessity of additional components, unlike how each installment of The Lord of the Rings essentially needs the previous installment in order to make any sense. Besides, the animation for The Lord of the Rings original film was disturbing. Either way, the idea of setting out reluctantly on a journey, being the smallest of my party, and yet being the one who overcomes all the obstacles in the end really built my self-esteem, since I was generally the smallest boy, or one of the smallest boys, in school. I related to Bilbo—nay, in my eyes, I always was Bilbo Baggins. To this day, I’d still take Sting over Anduril or Glamdring. 

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(“Share the load, Mr. Frodo?”)

When I first saw the film for The Return of the King, I goaded my brothers by theorizing that Sam and Frodo were, in fact, in love, in spite of Sam’s marriage to Rosie and Frodo’s departure. The idea was that the bond they shared, the sentiment of their journey, extended beyond the shallow romance that Sam undertook. After all, let’s face it—Sam’s a farm boy, through-and-through. Even if he became the mayor of the goddamn Shire, he still needs to pretend to be whatever the close-minded followers of the Shire deem respectable in order to avoid discrimination. Thus, Frodo leaves the Shire as a result of Sam proclaiming love to another, one less deserving. It sounds plausible, right? My brothers didn’t think so. They found the thought uncomfortable, because they were unsuited yet for an era beyond homophobia. I understood that they wanted the traditional expectation of the characters to hold true because of how much they looked to those characters for inspiration, but part of me knew that my brothers were missing out by not opening their minds to the idea of idolizing a homosexual, even if they are hetero. For me it was easy—at the time, all my favorite musicians were androgynous Japanese rock stars with a strong affinity for fan service, if not gay themselves. While I knew I theorized about the Sam and Frodo -ship just to troll, part of me really wanted my brothers to overcome the old-world ideals on homosexuality and look outside the box. In a lot of ways, I really think they did. In any case, The Return of the King was so strangled with CG, that the real story—the real meat and potatoes (po-ta-toes)—is the exploration of that relationship. In fact, in the book, on many occasions, Frodo and Sam hold hands or hold each other in embrace, though very little of that made it into the film. Though it’s probably not the intended canon ending, I think it’s fair to interpret it either way. Even if you’re not looking for a gay hero, you may find one—and if you do, you may come to realize that he’s no less a hero for it. 

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("This madness!" … "THIS. IS. GONDOR.")

Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor isn’t the first The Lord of the Rings game in my repertoire—in fact, in the early years of my drinking binges, my best friend, Jim, and I spent hours playing a game called The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, by Electronic Arts. The plot was fairly negligible, but the game had this great two-player campaign setting where you and a friend could essentially slaughter limitless amounts of orcs to your heart’s content, so long as you don’t make too great an effort to push to the end of the map. Jim and I slayed thousands of orcs at a time with Aragorn and Legolas—we even gave a special title to an attack because of its great use and profound ridiculousness: Aragorn has a sharp, poignant stomp that acts like a kick. The attack is slow, but it provides adequate damage and fends off other nearby enemies while deflecting weak blows. We named it Aragon’s Pimp-Step of Doom. Of all of my memories of The Lord of the Rings prior to actually reading these books, this one is most cherished. While the battle raged on and our drinking binges grew longer and more sad than silly, we still found joy between matches in Halo and playthroughs of Final Fantasy games to kick out a pimp-step. In the fight against Mordor, never forget the hos that Aragorn had to shake down for great justice.

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(You shall have my rum! And my coke!)

The moment we’ve all been waiting for—a quote from my novel in progress. Though I very rarely do this, I’m on my last draft—so I figured I’d clue you in a little on what it is exactly that I’m writing. Besides, the occasion warrants it. The scene is set around a roleplay gaming table in the basement of our protagonist, Rick. Though there’s more context to the chapter than that, I’ll just go ahead and let you read:

“They didn’t even have condoms back then, Corey. They had mackintoshes,” I explained as I sipped Mountain Dew: Game Fuel from The Lord of the Rings light-up goblet from Burger King. Three other chalices sat around the table, all of them lit red from the bottom, to set the eerie, gaming mood. Mine portrayed Frodo, an especially brave halfling. “So you will not rape the siren, whose wail still echoes over the mountainside.”

Wow, look at all that depth. Tolkien could not have written it better himself, I wager. The purpose of this citation, however, is that I owned those goblets! My brothers and I, in our suburb of Aurora, Illinois, went from Burger King to Burger King in order to collect several collections of these. Though I knew little about The Lord of the Rings, I was interested based on the beauty of these fine beverage containers. Leading up to this little treasure hunt and the following release of the film, I played much Dungeons & Dragons and these more than any manner of decoration (including a small replica of a dragon’s skull I felt great pride for) set the mood at our gaming table. We rolled dice between our beverages and sipped gleefully as our characters feasted on the blood of whatever, who cares. It really kind of made you feel like you were there, but I think that’s what roleplay is all about.

My work aside, there’s plenty to take from The Return of the King and just as much that I’d prefer not to take. While the book is the sum of its many parts, the narrative appears halved by the growing tension building to the climactic ending and the ending itself. In fact, to say that half the book is ending isn’t a far off exaggeration. The first half of the book is the great, immense climb to our epic ending—only the ending drags on forever. In a lot of ways, the ending feels necessary, but it overwhelms the struggle of the War of the Ring itself. Our characters find their resolution and then there’s a ceremony, a funeral, another ceremony, another ceremony, a journey, a post-war clean-up, and so on. Tolkien certainly taught me to treasure the finality of a story, though it comes at some cost. At the very least, he ties up all the loose ends, including those that began in The Hobbit.

As a result of a book that’s all tension and ending, there’s essentially no development. One could argue that character evolution occurred in the previous books in the series, but as a stand-alone novel, The Return of the King is without point or purpose. It is tied to the others in the series with such permanence that I couldn’t imagine enjoying it without having read the three Tolkien novels that led up to it. The difference between Strider from the prior book and Aragorn from this one is so insubstantial, I had a hard time believing he was very kingly and imagined only an old ranger in need of a bath taking the crown for himself. At the very most, the only development that came in the characters is the relief that comes with the series finally ending. On the bright side, at least it finally ended, I guess.

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(Looks like the homeless dude who asks me for a cigarette on my walk to work every day.)

Still, the ending, in spite of how long it is, is necessary in the context of the series as a whole and only because I read the other books of The Lord of the Rings prior to The Return of the King, did I find it suitable. With so many threads left hanging in the wind, I wondered whether Tolkien would answer all the questions as the fellowship progressed to their end. He not only answered everything, including questions I didn’t have, but the narrative structure of the ending in itself had its own beginning, middle, and ending, both tying itself up where it began while finishing the entire series up where it started. Tolkien definitely had some idea of how he expected the series to end too—because of the excellent allusion throughout the rest of the series in regard to this last installment, Tolkien brought an ending that was both entirely complete and poetically just. It’s an ending to end all endings and sufficiently completes an otherwise perfect series.

Now if you’re a big nerd like myself, you’ll find the appendices after the novel’s end just as interesting as the story. These illustrate how carefully Tolkien thought though the series, including the history of the races of Middle-Earth, the origins and pronunciations of the languages of its peoples, and completely original alphabets with pertaining sounds to make those words. It also includes back-story on Aragorn and Arwen, in addition to the other Kings of Gondor, Rohan, and Dale. These not only help readers understand the underlying plots of the series more clearly, but it also bridges gaps in the history of Middle-Earth that you learn from the context of The Lord of the Rings narrative. By failing to read these appendices, you’re missing out on whole eras of the world that Tolkien contrived.

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(The Lord of the Bling.)

So they made a film of this book, which apparently clean-swept the Oscars. Back to Jackson once more, we get to see his interpretation of The Lord of the Rings and not an accurate depiction of what Tolkien wrote. On the plus side, the story is mostly true to its source material and everything is made much more beautiful by illustrating and elongating short bursts of story into long, epic scenes. However, Jackson takes some liberties that diminish the value of the original story to a degree that damn-near depressed me as I watched the film. For instance, by killing Saruman at the beginning of the film, short of the context of the way Tolkien wrote it, the poetry of the ending was lost in the contrived magnitude of Frodo’s journey. Contrived, even more than originally, because Jackson even invented some new trickery by Gollum to create conflict between Sam and Frodo, adding only shallow drama to a story meant to be powerful. In spite of these changes though, Jackson delivers a lot of action and supplies a fair amount of badassery on the part of our heroes. But on occasion, even if that badassery feels phony—like an army of ghosts on the fields of Pelennor. Come on, man, did you even read the book? I guess that’s the price you pay when you cut integral characters out to make time for Elijah Wood to make gagging faces on screen.

In any case, it was a wonderful ending to a wonderful series. However, compared to his previous works, like The Two Towers and The Hobbit, Tolkien failed to meet the expectations I had for this book. It was a good ending and a great effort, but it pales in comparison to the profound meaning, exploration, and beauty that Tolkien once painted before.

The Riahi Rating:
★★★★☆
4/5 stars.

Other reviews of Ballantine Books:
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

June 5, 2014

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is set to come out on October 7th. For those of you who follow this blog, that means it will come out well after I finish Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

In spite of that, I would very much like to play Shadow of Mordor in the context of reviewing Tolkien’s world, so I intend to read one of the other supplemental books that Tolkien published on Middle-Earth. Most likely, The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales

Furthermore, in an effort to play fewer video games and read more books, I’m holding off on buying a Playstation 4, though I refuse to play this game on any other obsolete system.

I promise though, I will get there as quickly as possible.In the meantime, enjoy the new trailer.

June 3, 2014

The next book and movie review? You guessed it—The Return of the King. Stay tuned.

June 2, 2014
RUI: Reading Under the Influence JUNE, "WELL DONE." | Facebook

Please join us Wednesday, June 4th to start our tenth year! Our theme? WELL DONE! We’ve got some top notch readers too, including Chris Bowen (author of We Were Giants), Scott Miles (editor of The Best Underground Fiction), A.C. Frieden (author of The Serpent’s Game and Tranquility Denied), and Megan Stielstra (author of Once I Was Cool and founder of 2nd Story.) In addition, A.C. Frieden is also providing appetizers for all of our guests. Food, drinks, trivia, and stories? Hell, it doesn’t get any better than that. Well done, indeed.

$3 entry, $2 domestics. 21+, Sheffield’s (3258 N. Sheffield), Chicago. Starts at 7pm.

May 31, 2014

alterbeing said: When will I be able to read that one novel you were working on?

Great question!

There’s no official release yet. Right now, my first novel is in the final editing stages. I’m having it reviewed by an editor who will give me feedback on things to change, ranging from the usual typographical errors to stylistic choices that can improve the overall tone of the novel. When that’s complete, we begin the process of submitting the novel via query letter to publishers or agents.

This process may take a while, so for the time being, I would more than happily share my novel with you after I complete these last rounds of edits. However, as is wont to happen with growing skill, I do believe one of the other two novels I have been working on will be of more publishable quality upon their completion. The first drafts of both of those novels is expected during the summer of 2014.

Thank you for asking and keep on following.