Archive for the ‘self’ Category

Eve of April Fool’s

March 31, 2014

I turned 32 today. (31st of March, if the dateline borks.)

My celebration was watching the new Captain America movie — not great, but very entertaining, with some interesting things to say about surveillance — and next, it will be watching the newest episode of Cosmos — oh, Neil deGrasse Tyson, if only we were gay, and you were single, twenty years younger, and I an American in your neighborhood and… never mind, it would never work.

Also: an icy glass of cola and heated pizza leftovers from yesterday. It’s not the magnitude of the celebration, but how much you like it, and I know what I like. (Some people think a celebration means a get-together; extroverted freaks, those people. I bantered a while with those who matter, but I don’t do parties.)

I did a spot of homework directing at the university — a set time and a place, and people come to me to ask about problems with their mathematics homework — the audience today was not large, but more than I expected, and my banter was good, my advice sufficient, and my mood excellent, during and after. Even if I’m tired and sick of all when I walk in the classroom door, there’s some fire that makes me much better than I am the instant it’s the time to teach; and it lingers, even after.

Even if adulthood means always being at least a little tired, even if adulthood means you forget your worries by acquiring new ones, even if the future scares me, I’m pretty content right now.

Worse idiots than me seem to get by in life. Maybe I will, too.

I turned 2^5 today; I’m pretty happy.

This blog post was in no way spurred by the fact that I haven’t blogged anything all March and don’t want an empty month.

Old shame: A review of Feist’s Magician

July 17, 2012

Oh, high school. The time when you’re pompous and unaware of it; archaic and unaware of it, cliched and unaware of it; and a windbag without style or self-control… and unaware of it.

Seriously, if I was grading book reviews and this came in, I would kneecap the reviewer.

The assignment probably was, to much grumbling, “Read a book in English and write a short review”; my reaction probably was, “Let me think what books I’ve read in English lately, and which are such as your brain WHICH ARE NOT MY GIANT BRAIN can comperhend!!!


(click to embiggen; also, giant spoilers!)

Raymond E. Feist’s Magician is actually a good book, and not like how this smug, patronizing generic drivel makes it sound like. I would have been either a very bad or a very good professional critic.

(Note: “tms.” is short for tai muuta sellaista, Finnish for “or something like that”. And the grade, ah, I don’t remember what “9/2” was. Nine and a half, out of ten? Surely not nine points out of two! Maybe the teacher’s blood pressure reading. “I could handle pompous, but why prolix, too?”)

Old shame: The Norwegian letter

July 17, 2012

So I’m spending my summer at my parents’, and have been sorting through and throwing away a lot of my old things. These include papers from my high school years — that’d be 1998–2001, three years as usual in a Finnish lukio — and they include this bit from English composition, probably from the innocent instruction of “Write a short formal letter, like you’ve been shown how to”. (Remember this is not “English, as literature and as our mother language”, but “English, as the first foreign language which you’ve been slowly learning for the past five years or so”.)

Then, as now, I could not resist showing off.

The teacher’s correction is be kept for hold. I think I can spot plenty of other errors, too, most of which are inexcusably stupid and the excuse for which is this was a write-quickly, grade-quickly exercise.

(click to embiggen)

Oh, and as the letter probably makes no sense — the blanked-out spots had my real actual contact details, and wouldn’t have helped — well, there was this insider joke about how mathematics, Swedish and similar hard subjects supposedly made your head swell; which was brain oedema (edema, aivoödeema), which was an inherently funny word, and a good reason to laugh when you clutched your head because the idiot Swedish book persisted in teaching you what stavkyrka, oxhjärta and uroxen meant — stave church, ox heart and the primal oxen — and the listening part had some fy fann stuff about repairing space shuttles.

So the patients referred to: they were my posse, and the teacher, she was confused but knew us well enough to suspect the nature of this bit. And I suppose a couple of diligent, otherwise polite weirdoes is better than most alternatives.

More of similar old-shame Scheisse will follow.

Filler: Libraries

July 6, 2012

After my parents, what really made me the me I am was the Finnish library system. You got a card just by writing down your name and a few details, and then you could borrow anything you wanted.

Anything.

Stories of the Three Detectives. Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Jules Verne translations. James Bond books. Clive Cusslers, Isaac Asimovs, books about the history and fall of the Third Reich, and glossy picture-and-diagram books of the greatest battles of all time. Tutorials for DOS and Windows and Unix. Frank Miller’s Give Me Liberty. Milo Manara comics (!) and collections of Finnish editorial cartoons. Travelogues. Guidebooks to visiting Japan, New York and Australia. Histories of England and the Middle Ages. Biographies. The Lord of the Rings, and the Hobbit (the latter through interlibrary loans), the Songs of Distant Earth, the works of Stanislaw Lem. (On reading Lem, I remember getting these pangs of “I see what you did there! You brilliant bastard, I see what you did there!”) Books about exotic writing systems, about ancient Roman ballistae, about the paranormal and psychics and aliens and collections of abductee tales, O’Donnell’s The Bunker (about the last days of Adolf Hitler), endless piles of Enid Blyton books (I liked the Adventure series the best), the whole range of the Dewey decimal system.

Books that, if you had asked an adult and given him or her time to think, probably had bits that were too dark, too violent, too sexy and depressing and horrible and seedy for a child; but I got it all and I’ve never suffered any harm from it.

Really, you can trust me. Have you ever heard of a person lying to make themselves seem better and wiser?

As far as I recall, my parents (or the library lady) never, ever asked me “Do you really want to read that?” or said “I don’t want you to read that.” I was a ghost in the library, I sat down to read what I wanted, I loaned what I wanted, I read all I came across and felt a fancy for, and I must say I feel I’m a much better person because of that than I would have been had there been someone to screen my reading.

I never got into reading classics, classical works, famous books. That’s probably not something to be proud of. I’ve never read Moby Dick, Ulysses, the Catcher in the Rye, or the similar works the English-speaking world values. I’m even more deficient in the Finnish sphere of hoary old valued literature.

I’ve read a few of Shakespeare’s plays, though. That’s why I know the French expression “baise mon cul”, or “kiss my ass”; it was a footnoted version, I was fifteen or sixteen, and I was cackling with laughter.

*

Later, there came the big library in the next municipality over, fifty kilometers added to the twelve to our village. For a few years, dad found something to do there once a month, and I accompanied with a big carpet bag and a shiny library card. There I found Iain M. Banks and David Eddings and Terry Pratchett and the true joys of reading English stuff in the original language. Also, the joy of reading roleplaying game sourcebooks and rulebooks on your lonesome. It’s probably because I could find that entertaining that I ended up studying maths.

Also, our village library was a simple, functional place. This new one was a temple to books.

Filler: Computers

July 4, 2012

Now, how about a word on me and Internet pornography?

I think I first became aware of that because of a book; some kind of a computer-use overview on a loan from the library, by a Finnish author, the usual much-illustrated black-and-white book sold by a small tech publisher at a high price, explaining things at the level of managers, children and other immature folks. It had a section about something, probably the use of trademarked characters by non-trademark-owning persons online, and to illustrate this, it had a softcore porn picture of Ariel, the Little Mermaid.

Let me say in explanation that this book was loaned and read by me; dad had no need for semi-patronizing introductory textbooks like this.

I think I recall having a thought like, “Can things such as this be?” — because though by then the joys of the wrist through pretty much any material featuring a female were familiar to me, it was so weird to see a picture that combined that which was not porn (Disney) and that which clearly was (I think there were titties, or oral sex; something pretty tame, though).

And this stuff, the book said, was to be found online?

Jinkies!

In the years since, I’ve drank deep from all the pornography that the Internet has to offer; I think it has made me a more tolerant, nice and less frustrated person. (Then again, who am I to judge myself?)

*

Before there was the Internet, there were shareware CDs, either sent along magazines or then found in big bins in computer stores. One could have hundreds of shareware versions of games and useful programs, and all manner of text files and clip-art directories and the like. All that was in English; but one managed, mostly through repeated mistakes. The CDs were a treasury: I didn’t understand what most of the contents were, I didn’t have the language or the technical or social experience, but they were full of stuff that people full of passion had done. They were the very definition of cool; they were like a non-interactive Internet before the Internet.

On one CD the pictures folder included a picture, I think it was called “popping.jpg” (or gif?), of a very bodacious young woman in a bikini, and some other smutty pictures.

One happened to be accidentally left behind, extracted, on the computer hard-drive and was found by dad (“But goodness, her tits and everything are showing!”). He asked me about it; I mumbled the utterly transparently bullshitty excuse of an excuse that maybe, uh, maybe it had extracted itself or been extracted along with some other thing; and because he was a good man, he dropped it at that.

I made sure I deleted or hid my discoveries better after that.

(Some young people apparently feel the need to build a cache of porn. I didn’t feel that; there was always more, and fresher stuff, to be found online, just a wave of the mouse away. Plus that stuff can’t be found by a relative.)

Footnote: That was then; now is 18,114 items and 22.6 gigabytes; having your own computer is grand.

Footnote to the footnote: It isn’t pretty when a dull person tries to write a tell-all memoir!

Filler: Beginnings

July 2, 2012

So: will be off to Prague tomorrow, and back on Friday. Don’t expect blogging; do expect expertly timed filler. The filler this time: excerpts from the tedious autobiography of yours truly, tentatively titled “Holy Shit, My Navel is Dirty: Reflections On Being Uninteresting”.

* * *

Everyone thinks they’re special, and the asshole way to finish this sentence would be, “but I know I am”.

I don’t know any such thing; I don’t even think that, all that often. I don’t notice many people like me around; then again, I am not all that perceptive or easy to perceive. Knowing my own habits, I wouldn’t notice myself being around.

Ah well.

*

I was never an inquisitive kid, and this is not an interesting story.

I was a curious kid, that much is true: but that was book curiosity. Picture books about life in the Stone Age; all-text books on the everyday existence of the ancient Romans and the armor of medieval knights. Three Investigators books with the silhouette of Hitchcock on the cover, and stories of a dreamland called California inside, a place where there was a secret base in a junkyard, and improbably young kids had driver’s licences and the licence to roam free.

But I did not have the kind of inquisitive curiosity you see on TV, where a gang of kids roams actual physical places they’re maybe not meant to see.

For the first thing, for that you’d need a gang of kids. I don’t mean I was lonely; I’ve just never felt that need for the constant company of other people that most others seem to have. I’m an introvert; it’s not that I always dislike company, but that it exhausts me, rather than energizing me. I had — have — two siblings, a brother two years younger than me, and a brother three years younger. I’ve never felt the age difference to be significant: sure, we were in different schools, different environments, but it never came to one of us not “getting” something because of our ages.

Or maybe it came to that; like most people, I’ve forgotten 99.9% of my childhood. Of yesterday, too.

Because I was the oldest, I was the first to go into everything. I didn’t feel prepared, usually; there didn’t seem to be books about useful things like “the details of the lower high school” or “how to tell a girl you’re kind of in love with her”.

There probably are books like that; I didn’t find them.

Pie and ash

April 28, 2012

And now, out of the blue, memories! Because I’m entertaining my parents for a couple of days, out in the countryside; and these are two events I wouldn’t have ever known about if they hadn’t told me.

Parents always tell.

Long, long time ago I was a wee toddler playing at the log-squared pile of sand in front of the family house. Meanwhile, inside, mom was baking — brought a freshly-baked pie out to the steps to cool. I waddled there, unwatched, a fistful of sand in hand — the pie went uneaten, and I haven’t become a world-famous cook.

One other time, inside, I was playing in the kitchen-common room. One quarter of which is a massive, red-painted, sheet metal-covered wood-burning oven. Which has a little cover in the very lower parts for the extraction of ash. Like, at toddler height. Then me, waddling closer, no doubt thinking this had to be a secret candy depository for kids — and I am happy to say I have no memory of the taste. Blblbl; maybe that was an unconscious karmic payback for the pie incident.

(And oh, “out in the countryside”? Thanks to dad being a god of computers, and the whole high school-lower high school-complex’s unofficial technology expert in addition to math-phys teaching, there seems to be a new laptop or tablet here every time I come to visit. A 2nd-gen iPad this time; I approve of everything in it except the Appleness, which out of mostly blind ideological hatred I despise. And the Internet connection here, eh, it makes the screen glow and your hair blow back like the curls of a Swedish Eurovision performer.)

Personal statement

January 3, 2012

So today another graduate student asked if I had ever written a personal statement. Apparently she was applying for some thingamajic in the US, and they wanted such a thing.

I hadn’t ever written one, and it became quickly obvious this was supposed to be one of those things where you pile up all positive things about yourself and then smother them in indiscriminate and uncheckable praise of your very own self. (“I am suave, driven and the 26th reincarnation of the Goatse Lama — check that if you can!”)

I decided, just for practice, to write a few for myself. (Not that I’m against others adapting these for their own use; pray tell if any are effective.)

*

PERSONAL STATEMENT

I am a physical God. I trust that is sufficient.

*

PERSONAL STATEMENT

In three years, I see myself the supreme autocrat and dictator of mathematics. My rule shall be that of an iron fist in a glove of chalk-dusty silk; I shall be ruthless and just, with a tendency to settling old personal injuries in a hysterically and cruelly overblown fashion. I shall never forget, or forgive; I shall hound those that have not given me what I have desired; I shall deprive them of their positions, turn down their publications, sneer at their achievements in the pages of the Supreme Mathematical Monthly. I shall drink their tears and find obscene joy in the lamentations of their graduate students as they, teacher and student both, are cast from the arms of the Alma Mater and into the toxic void of the Outer World, to waste and pine in dull jobs of the flesh, waiters and washers and other undesirables of no applicable education, wasted hulks of regret and grief, without any hope of return into the Plus World.

Will you deny my desire, and destroy your future?

*

PERSONAL STATEMENT

To quote a Finnish saying, “my only fault is I lack any.”

I speak three languages, and can fake many more to an audience that doesn’t know any better; I can do the same when talking of literary or obscure scientific or historical subjects. I know the boundary of excitement and disbelief, and as a consequence I know which lies I can tell without arousing suspicion, and how to ingratiate myself with outrageous and obvious lies.

I am handsome and efficient and I never defecate during work hours. I have studied meditation for a decade, and I never eat or drink during work hours; I use the lunch break for cleaning my work area, because that helps me relax. I am always relaxed, yet alert; easygoing, yet punctual. I know a million jokes that don’t insult anyone, the parent organization included; I know one joke that will silence any disruptive workplace buffoon, and drive him or her chastened into rethinking his or her entire sad life. I have used this joke to increase efficiency threefold; in areas, fourfold.

I am polite; I never lose my temper; I can see the point of view of other people, and I am good with children, animals and university students. Plants thrive when I water them; my bosses find me aesthetically pleasing but not sexually tempting (I can provide written testimonials), and I have a winning smile that could have acquitted John Wayne Gacy.

I can use the comma, and the semi-colon correctly, and ironically. My paragraphs are alternately long and short, and my section titling is immaculate. My article naming brims with allure, and if I name a book, it will be starred-reviewed in the New Yorker, in Publishers Weekly and in American Mathematical Monthly.

I have no religion, and thus I will never give moral or ethical objection to anything, or ask for days off; but I believe in a vaguely benevolent God, love Jesus, revere the Bible, and vaguely respect the convictions and personal beliefs of everyone except crazy pariahs, whose lunacies I condemn, vigorously. Additionally, I am discreet, and would never call anyone a “crazy pariah” except people who have no way of protesting or gathering a protest on their behalf, e.g. Terry Jones and Fred Phelps. I shall never utter, in writing, speaking or in thought, any opinion that would bright shame or unwelcome attention to my employer; I will never write, say or think anything that could be interpreted as controversial, political, difficult, startling, symptomatic or new; I am as bland as a very bland thing, and nothing sticks to me. If I should fail, I pledge to immediately fold, to apologize, recant and absolve my employer of any shadow of a doubt of complicity, agreement or support; if I pull the pin on the grenade of public outrage, my body shall be the only casualty for I shall take the blow for the sake of protecting those above me.

I remember everything. I forget nothing. I am implacable. I have no mercy, and I hold no grudges.

I love the poems of Pierre de Ronsard and the essays of Borges; I can dazzle anyone with my analysis of Belgium in the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; I can elevate the level of conversation anywhere, and I can give discreet tips that make everyone in my company appear much smarter than they are; you, dear reader, I can make into an erudite genius of rumor and legend. I can appreciate classical music, wine, sunsets and women in a cultured, non-sexual manner; and if required, I am an expert lover. I have no inhibitions, but I am always in control; I do not break hearts for my love mends wounded souls; I bring people to ecstasy and gently float them down to contentment, and if I so wish no-one will recall my name, face or university affiliation afterwards. I know the French names of a thousand sexual acts, and I can both pronounce them correctly and perform them diligently. I have a fully functional dungeon in my basement and my safe word is “Margaret Thatcher”; and I can find anything erotic if needs be.

I have no children or dependents, but I can borrow my cousin’s if I need to be a family man. I am safe, nice and demure; I crossdress convincingly, and have won a Marilyn Monroe lookalike contest for women; I can do astounding full-body imitations of Brad Pitt, Viggo Mortensen and Peter Dinklage; and I know the difference between a tie and a cravat. I can teach this difference to others; I can teach things I do not know to others; I am an example of such grace that no evil thought can be thought in my presence. I am a walking lie detector, and I can say anything with conviction. I use italics and capitalization in moderation. I can argue the both sides of any argument, and I can win for either side, or both sides. Science and religion are made compatible in my person; I can use and appreciate Windows, Mac and Linux, and printers obey me. I know how to make duplex copies; I can soothe the cranky secretary, and coax any number of transparencies from the box with a flick of my wrist. My handwriting looks like computer print; my computer printing uses a special font designed to cause sensations alike to the memory of childhood countryside sunsets and first love. I have a USB memory stick embedded in my flesh; I am a safe courier, and the TSA has never stopped me. I respect the TSA; I take an enema before flying, always, and I do not wear subversive T-shirts or a belt. I have no piercings, tattoos or drug habits; I do not drink, except clean spring water and whatever is offered to me at public events; and if I smoke, it is because I have been working too fast. Additionally, I have a dry wit that makes world people think I am English, the English think I am a remote-controlled puppet of Stephen Fry’s, and Stephen Fry think I am him, come back from a wiser age of reincarnation and grace.

Finally, I am humble, hard-working and honest.

*

Then again, these are pale things written in the shadow of Ernest Cline’s spoken-word masterpiece.

My family

June 25, 2011

Holiday. Spending time with parents and a brother.

As for what this is like, besides nice, consider this. A car, with me, brother, our father in it. On the radio the selkouutiset start — the Finnish version of “News in Simple English”, except in Finnish, and the name translates as “Clear News”. Immediately, simultaneously, all three of us hit on the question of “What’s unclear news then?” and start jabbering and slobbering like crazy, then realizing what we’ve done laughing like even more utterer fools.

Earlier that same drive, we pass the village that’ll go as Nameless, and a sign advertising a folk music thingie called a Namelessfolk festival. Five seconds pass as I fish for the right German word; then my father steals the right quote I was fishing for: “Ein Namelessvolk, Ein Namelessreich, Ein Namelessfuehrer?”

My father’s side of the family is all like this: four ever-cheerful brothers that all can run verbal rings round anyone, and him the oldest and slyest of them. When one of then turns round years, there will be a serenade; and there will be cringing, too.

I spent my childhood looking up at dad, wondering where that quick wit came, how could it be, and why I was so shy, sullen and timid; then at round twenty I began finding bits of the same in me, and all was joy. It feels really nice when you get someone to laugh; even better when you’ve known a time when talking to someone was a chore because the interests you shared were bound to be zero. Turns out absurd humor is a shared interest for nearly everyone; those it isn’t for, I’m not interested in talking to anyway.

But enough sappiness: As for sauna — well, the sauna-bathing today included us three manfolk coming to the conclusion that there was no way to show our country locality wasn’t in the iron grip of fearsome gangster squirrels. Can’t prove a negative, can you? We even went as far as to mock up soundbites from the highly paranoid investigative TV special that’d break the story, half a stentorian Hannu Karpo thing and half a cousin of a History Channel UFO conspiracy special — “In this, a village dominated by fear, silence reigns. It is a decidedly Finnish kind of omerta, the law of silence, and in the fear only one question remains: whose sauna’s going up in flames next?”

The starter for that conversation — in a sauna on the place of one that’d gone up in flames a few years past — was a different alternative hypothesis for the ignition: father had had an oak vasta (usually them’s made of birch), that being the bunch of twigs you beat yourself with while in that 100-Celsius heat…

Why, is this news to you? This is not madness; this is Finland.

The alternative ignition hypothesis being that though birch vastas cannot be reused, them growing all soggy and yuck, the oak vasta could be washed and dried — it was a very nice one, and it was a shame it had been lost in the fire.

To which I commented: “Well, the used birch ones are dried then burned as firestarters. Maybe the oak one had that built in.”

And much fun was had.

While bathing — also, if you need to get a Finn to talk, get him/her naked and into a humid room of 100 Celsius, and get thee alcohol too — the topic of local celebrities also came up.

There has been, as far as we could recall, two members of the Parliament (Eduskunta) out of our big but poor and thinly populated municipality.

One was known for letting loose a torrent of diarrhea on a Parliament sauna suite couch, and in a separate incident literally making a hotel suite’s furniture into fireplace fodder.

To which my comment was: “And at that point, we thought it could get no worse, huh? And then the next guy was a True Finn.”

Favorites in Tolkien

January 29, 2011

(Someone else could do this post in 500 words. I can’t.)

Happened across a post on Tom Smith’s Livejournal — he is a filk musician who you should listen to; shoo — where he noted J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday (Jan. 3), and listed a few of his favorite bits of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

Just for curiosity, I’ll peek into my cranium and see what I particularly like.

Peek, quickly, without trying to make this a complete list; else its CTRL+A, CTRL+C, CTRL+V.

First, the Hobbit.

  • Bilbo creeping into the mountain, and conversing with Smaug. (I swear if the eventually forthcoming movie screws up the sheer terror of this scene, the malevolent intelligence of Smaug, I’ll… I’ll write a very cross blog post about it.)
  • Thorin losing it over Bilbo’s treachery (“Never again will I have dealings with any wizard or his friends. What have you to say, you descendant of rats?”) — and then the last one Thorin is in. (I admit to liking melodrama more than I should.)

Then, the Lord of the Rings.

  • The Barrow-Wight scene, the parts before that prancing Bombadillo comes to end it.
  • All of Moria, and then the Balrog. (“Ai! ai!” wailed Legolas. “A Balrog! A Balrog is come!” Gimli stared with wide eyes. “Durin’s Bane!” he cried, and letting his axe fall he covered his face.)
  • Dunharrow, and Aragorn and company going towards the Paths of the Dead.
  • The whole of the Battle of Pelennor Fields is a concentration of one awesome scene after another.
    • But especially every which part with the Witch-King.
    • And Eowyn’s yell, of course. I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything stronger than that; because I’m not that young and impressionable I may never do; but this, this is plenty —

      Then out of the blackness in [Merry’s] mind he thought that he heard Dernhelm speaking; yet now the voice seemed strange, recalling some other voice that he had known.

      “Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!”

      A cold voice answered: “Come not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.”

      A sword rang as it was drawn. “Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.”

      “Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!”

      Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.”

      It stays just as awesome after that, but I’d rather not quote the entire chapter.

    • And Eomer’s death wish (To hope’s end I rode and to heart’s breaking: / Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!” These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.) — well, actually pretty much any scene where Eomer speaks during the battle is awesome. (“Eowyn, how come you here? What madness or devilry is this? Death, death, death! Death take us all!”)
    • And then Denethor’s death, and Theoden’s last words are just heart-breaking. (“Farewell, Master Holbytla!” he said. “My body is broken. I go to my fathers. And even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed. I felled the black serpent. A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunset!”)
    • As a note — the movies. Am not happy about what Denethor’s death became there. And was slightly furious over how the Mordor side had no Southron cavalry at all, just foot-orcs and mumakil riders. There went one of my favorite lines, Peter Jackson; the last words of this:

      Southward beyond the road lay the main force of the Haradrim, and there their horsemen were gathered about the standard of their chieftain. And he looked out, and in the growing light he saw the banner of the king, and that it was far ahead of the battle with few men about it. Then he was filled with a red wrath and shouted aloud, and displaying his standard, black serpent upon scarlet, he came against the white horse and the green with great press of men; and the drawing of the scimitars of the Southrons was like a glitter of stars.

  • And oh, the host marching out of Minas Morgul, with Frodo and Sam watching.
  • And oh, the scene at Morannon that begins thus —

    There came a long rolling of great drums like thunder in the mountains, and then a braying of horns that shook the very stones and stunned men’s ears. And thereupon the middle door of the Black Gate was thrown open with a great clang, and out of it there came an embassy from the Dark Tower.

    At its head there rode a tall and evil shape, mounted upon a black horse, if horse it was; for it was huge and hideous, and its face was a frightful mask, more like a skull than a living head, and in the sockets of its eyes and in its nostrils there burned a flame. The rider was robed all in black, and black was his lofty helm; yet this was no Ringwraith but a living man. The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dur he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: “I am the Mouth of Sauron.” But it is told that he was a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the Black Numenoreans; for they established their dwellings in Middle-earth during the years of Sauron’s domination, and they worshipped him, being enamoured of evil knowledge. And he entered the service of the Dark Tower when it first rose again, and because of his cunning he grew ever higher in the Lord’s favour; and he learned great sorcery, and knew much of the mind of Sauron; and he was more cruel than any orc.

    He it was that now rode out, and with him came only a small company of black-harnessed soldiery, and a single banner, black but bearing on it in red the Evil Eye. Now halting a few paces before the Captains of the West he looked them up and down and laughed.

  • And, of course, the Appendices. Because I’m just funny that way. Infodumps can be beautiful, too; witness the beginning of the rule of stewards in Gondor:

    When Eärnur received the crown [of Gondor] in 2043 the King of Minas Morgul challenged him to single combat, taunting him that he had not dared to stand before him in battle in the North. For that time Mardil the Steward restrained the wrath of the king. Minas Anor, which had become the chief city of the realm since the days of King Telemnar, and the residence of the kings, was now renamed Minas Tirith, as the city ever on guard against the evil of Morgul. Eärnur had held the crown only seven years when the Lord of Morgul repeated his challenge, taunting the king that to the faint heart of his youth he had now added the weakness of age. Then Mardil could no longer restrain him, and he rode with a small escort of knights to the gate of Minas Morgul. None of that riding were ever heard of again. It was believed in Gondor that the faithless enemy had trapped the king, and that he had died in torment in Minas Morgul; but since there were no witnesses of his death, Mardil the Good Steward ruled Gondor in his name for many years.

(Tangent: Tolkien was a Catholic, and wrote, consciously I think, Eru Iluvatar, his world’s “God”, as much like the Christian-Catholic God, and the Valar much as his angels, Melkor as his Satan, souls and the nature of evil as he, a religious man, saw them. This does weird things to your head when you’re an atheist. Morgoth remains the monster he is, but the story’s supposed good guys, the Valar, become evil, callous or incompetent, just as the Catholic (or more generally Christian) concept of God is to me. Thus someone who like Feanor is willing to shake a middle finger at both the assigned good and the assigned evil becomes even with all his flaws much more like the hero of the epic.)

Edit: (I think one could even argue that the Silmarillion is the story of Feanor’s actions and their results. Which include wrestling the Noldor from their gentle servitude in Valinor, and end in tragedy: the High Elves are ground down by the other evil, Melkor Morgoth, and thus have to crawl back to their former masters and beg help from those who’ve silently watched the whole humiliation of Beleriandic Wars, no doubt smirking. “Sure we could get Morgoth, but let these uppity elves learn their limits first. They will beg to sit at my feet again before the end. Ha-ha!” Mind you, “one could even argue”. And even with that being done, then there would be a great lot of argument.)

(And could I also mention the “enamoured of evil knowledge” from a quote above? Almost makes me want to write a sequel where the Mouth of Sauron and Gothmog (the Witch-King’s second-in-command) survive the War of the Ring and, free of Sauron’s repressive conservative leash, found a rationalist revolutionary republic of reason in Harad, and sail their ironclads and tanks to conquer Gondor three centuries of progress later. Then it’s to Valinor, and a doom on Mandos and the lot for abandoning Middle-Earth into the grips of Morgoth and his kin — millennia of oppression and a whole world in darkness, and five bent old men is all the elf-lovers are willing to send in help? Down with such neglectful gods! And a genital epithet to you, Middle-Earthen millennia of technological stasis! No such thing as evil knowledge, only evil bastards!)

(“What is this new deviltry?” King Eldarion cried, watching in dismay the flower of Gondor’s youth wilting before Harad’s ill breath. All the while the acrid smokecloud over the enemy grew thicker, and the cracks of their tube-drums continued unabated. “What this exhalation that breathes holes into flesh and steel? Get me my horse! I shall ride with my knights against this confounded People’s Army of Haven of Umbar! Let us see if their ‘cannons’ and ‘rifles’ and ‘barb-wire’ and the like are a match to the blood of Numenor and the blades of Westernesse!”)

(Ahem. Sorry. Back to the general point of liking Tolkien, and some bits and hints over others.)

And in all this there is the faint sadness that there isn’t anything more; though that’s an unusual thing, with the Silmarillion and the History of the Middle-Earth series and all; but that often strikes me no matter what I read or watch: the sense that yes, there is something glorious here, something breathtakingly exciting and interesting… and though it is so very good here, if only it would be better, and there was more of it. Not in the sense of fading repetitions of the same, but all the high points woven into a net of beauty and shock, with the characters and their desires hissing and spitting sparks against each other like steel balls in a mesh sack falling down a flight of stairs. More and more dimensions unfolding, each character becoming less a cartoon but someone described with sympathy and understanding, the vilest and the bravest both; each her own hub in a wheel with a hundred axles, swaying, crashing and breaking as it turns into ever new shapes, crippling flaws and obsessions, disappointments and last stands, reunifications and vows of love, words of anger and happy tears; seeking some stable state which it may never find; but never returning to any spot it has previously occupied.

If only the Mouth of Sauron had had a real occasion to show his cruelty, his rule over the western lands as he wanted it. If only there had been an army marching against Imladris over the High Pass, and dwarves and elves coming together to defeat it, or not. If only the Witch-King and the Balrog had met, and fought with words over command. If only instead of the Quest there had been a web of many victories and losses, and more shades of grey, more ambiguous and less willing to spell out the infallible good and evil of it all. If only the ice-people of Forochel had intruded into the tale. If only we had seen Harad, and Rhun, and more of Numenor before it fell, if only we had a fuller account of the grandeur and foulness of Angband and Utumno, and the fires of Losgar.

If only we’d seen what became of Maglor, left walking the coasts of Middle-Earth singing of loss and pain. Not to solve all the mysteries, but just to add to the web to make it more beautiful.

And the thing is, if there had been more it probably wouldn’t have been as good as this mirage. Even if Tolkien had kept writing his Lord of the Rings-sequel of orc-deeds in King Eldarion’s time (the first and only thirty pages are in The Peoples of Middle-Earth), it probably would have been just a “thriller”, as he felt before setting it aside. (Then again, what’s wrong with thrillers?) One probably should be more content with those jewels one gets; but it’s hard to not pound your fists against the quarry wall, sure there is more potential beauty within… but it’s just not quarried out.