Tolkien Tag!

I have never really engaged with the book blogging community, because I don’t really consider myself a “blogger”, I just write lame lists whenever the mood strikes me (so usually like, once a year) and reviews like once in a blue moon, and I don’t really have the energy to promote my blog or have any sort of presence other than just sharing my stuff with my friends sometimes. So I haven’t really bothered with any communal stuff. But in the recent weeks I have fallen into the very deep hole that is booktube videos on YouTube, and while I doubt I will ever find the self-esteem or energy to get into vlogging (again, I used to do that very haphazardly in my teens), it has inspired me to maybe try a bit more with my blog in the future. Maybe. We’ll see. I do also have a bookstagram account nowadays, but it’s pretty quiet on that front at the moment as well. I just forget to make content, it is what it is. But rambly preamble aside, let’s get into the meat of the matter!

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It is September and the most important day of the year is approaching, and by that I of course mean September 22nd aka HOBBIT DAY! Aka the birthday of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins and the day I fully give up on anything resembling a life here in this realm and head over to Middle-Earth instead. In understandable words: September 22nd marks the beginning of my rereadathon and movieathon of The Lord of the Rings. This tradition got to a sneaky start in, I think 2016 when my best friend Emma and I decided to binge watch the movies to celebrate her birthday in October. And once we’d watched the movies we both agreed that we weren’t ready to leave Middle-Earth and decided to pick up the book as a way to extend our stay. We had both read the book before, but it had been years since my last time reading it and while I remembered that I loved it, I didn’t actually remember that many details. But upon rereading it my love for the book and its story and world were reignited big time, and ever since then Emma and I have read the book and watched the movies every single autumn. So this year will be my fourth annual rereadathon.

September 22nd isn’t always the date when we start because usually we’ve watched the movies first and scheduling conflicts have been a thing, but this year, as Emma is somewhat unfortunately in Australia, I have decided to pick up the book on Hobbit Day and get reading immediately. AND I CAN’T FREAKING WAIT! Not to be a huge nerd, but I honestly start looking forward to this rereadathon in like, June at the latest. Like I’m not saying I spend 11 months of the year just waiting for when I get to start reading LotR again but I kinda do and also shut up. #noshame But since I’m still three days away from my official kick-off date and I don’t intend to jump the gun, I have decided to stoke the flames of my fire of excitement by writing a little about my relationship with LotR and Tolkien in general through the Tolkien Tag, created by booktuber Andrea Heckler. So NOW let’s really stop with the preamble and get started!

1. How does your Middle Earth story begin?

I became aware of The Lord of the Rings at a pretty young age, my big sister and cousin read it when we were children and they were really hyped about it. Initially I, being the contrary little sister, was really negative about the whole thing without having even read it, just to fight the hype, but I think I gave in and tried to read it pretty early on. However – somewhat understandably as I was a quite small child – I was discouraged by the florid, slow prose and intricate worldbuilding and gave it up. I did get all the way to the middle of The Two Towers sometime in my childhood (I’m terrible with remembering years or ages that far back so sorry about the vagueness), but then got stuck and never picked it up again. It wasn’t until I was about 15 or 16 that I gave it another serious try and that time I LOVED IT and ended up devouring it in just a couple of days.

At that point I had already seen the movies (I was only 8 years old when Fellowship was released, so I never made a serious effort to read the books before seeing the movies) and loved them as well, so I guess the book came along relatively late in my Middle Earth story. But despite that anomaly, I’ve been a resident of Middle Earth from a very young age and continue to be so to this day!

2. What is your favorite Middle Earth book?

The Lord of the Rings, obviously. I’m a mainstream bitch, so sue me. I must also admit that LotR and The Hobbit remain the only Tolkien books I’ve read to this day. This year I think I might give Silmarillion a go if my Tolkien frenzy continues after the reread. But honestly I’m not sure any book, of Tolkien’s or otherwise, could compete with LotR. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that has touched me more deeply and stayed with me so long and become such an intrinsic part of my soul and identity as The Lord of the Rings. It really just is the perfect book, in my mind. Having read it every year for three years in a row now I do sometimes worry it’ll lose its charm and power if I read it too often, but that has yet to happen. I hope it doesn’t this year either! Either way probably a good thing to point out that due to the fact that those two are the only ones I’ve read, this tag will be extremely LotR-centric. Also these days I am also That Nerd in the sense that I don’t really think of LotR as three books since that isn’t how Tolkien intended it, so I don’t really think I can choose between its parts as such. But if I could, the answer would probably be pretty much the same as the next question so READ ON!

3. What is your favorite movie?

I swear I try to settle this debate in my head every single year and I never find the answer! For some reason I always think it’s The Two Towers because the last act of the movie is so badass, but then I watch it and remember it’s actually pretty darn boring for the first two thirds or so… And then I’m torn between Fellowship and Return of the King. Both have a lot going for them, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to make a conclusive decision – or if there even is one, but if I absolutely had to choose for some strange reason, under great duress I would say Fellowship of the Ring. Maybe. Ask me again in a few minutes and I’ll have changed my mind! But I really just love the fellowship itself so much! The beginning of the story is just so wonderful and magical and exciting, I love it. Plus the movie itself is just fantastic from a technical standpoint. The sequels totally rule as well, but they do suffer from Hollywood-itis a bit more than the first one. Then again the first one doesn’t have Faramir or Éowyn in them so it has that going against it… Gah, I really don’t know!

(Side note: I only ever watch the extended editions of the LotR trilogy so those are the ones I’m evaluating here. Fellowship is the only one I’ve seen multiple times in its cinema release form since we originally had it on VHS. I’m that many years old. The Hobbit movies I’ve only seen once or twice per movie and if I never have to see any of them again I will die satisfied.)

4. Movies or books?

I’m actually not going to say “books, OBVIOUSLY”, that’s how much fondness I have for the movies (and just to be crystal clear: When I say movies, I mean The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit movies do not exist). My answer is still books, but I don’t roll my eyes at this question at all. Like I said, I saw the movies first, and those were my Lord of the Rings for several years until I was old enough to really appreciate the book for what it is. If I had read the book first and fallen in love with it, I would probably be much harsher on the movies. And don’t get me wrong, when Emma and I watch them it’s like 55% complaining about the foolish changes they made and how they misunderstood some of the characters and relationships (the rest is like 20% crying, 5% laughing at our same dumb injokes every fucking year and 20% going “HOLY SHIT THIS WAS MADE IN 2001 HOW DOES THIS LOOK SO GOOD HOLLYWOOD THESE DAYS COULD NEVER!!!”) and I am painfully aware of the many things they got so very wrong about the books.

So yes, the book is far superior in most senses. But like, it is the original product so it’s probably to be expected that it would tell the story better. However, as an adaptation of such a dense, difficult and deeply beloved book, the movies RULE. I honestly cannot quite believe how lucky we are to have such good movies made of the book. I love the cast so deeply and the love everyone put it into the movies really shines through UNLIKE IN THE HOBBIT TRILOGY WHICH CAN SUCK MY ASS I HATE IT SO MUCH IT CAN BURN IN HELL and I will probably never get tired of watching them. Also best score in all of moviedom.

5. Who are your favorite characters?

How can I even choose?? Don’t do this to me, tag. I could write an essay per character, but I’ll try to contain myself. First of all, Frodo. I think he gets overlooked a lot because for the main character of the story he is quite withdrawn a lot of the time. But oh, how I love him. I’m trying to find the words to explain why I love his character so much but it all sounds so silly and superficial when attached to him. I love that he is not a swashbucking hero or a chosen one type. He’s bookish and intelligent and gentle and resolute and I’m starting to sound like Samwise, aren’t I? I don’t mind at all, because Sam is definitely also my favourite character and I would literally die for him. Quote me on that. He is such a beautiful character and just thinking about him kinda makes me wanna cry so MOVING ON. I love the entire fellowship so freaking much, especially the Hobbits, and also I have to mention Gimli, whose character assassination is definitely among he crimes for which I will never forgive the movies.

Aside from the fellowship I am a devout lover of Faramir and Éowyn, both separately and together. Fun fact: As a child I was a major Éowyn hater because I stanned Arwen so hard and was apparently still under the impression that you can only love one female character, especially if they are seemingly competing for the same man. Plus I was going through an elf phase. But I have since learned the error of my ways and would also gladly lay down my life for Éowyn. They are just the most wonderful characters and their story lines really Hurt Me So Good.

6. What Middle Earth race would you be?

I think some variety of Hobbit because I, too, appreciate the simple things in life and would like to just be a farmer and live in a hole in the ground and have nothing change ever. But honestly Hobbits would probably judge me so hard for being a bookish weirdo, so maybe I wouldn’t fit in super well after all. As a kid I was always the least interested in humans in a fantasy setting because who gives a shit about humans when you have elves, but unfortunately I do think that in the grand scheme of things I would probably just be a human – or I guess Man – in Middle Earth as well. Sigh. I wouldn’t mind living in Rohan, though. ALL THE HORSES.

7. Best actor/character casting match?

Hmm, tough! I don’t actually have many complaints about any of the casting choices in the movies. I mean many of them are very different from the choices I would’ve made, but that’s usually the case with movies anyway. Many of the characters were woefully misunderstood and misrepresented in the films, but that’s usually not the actors’ fault in my opinion. So I don’t really know, hard to pick just one! The four Hobbits in LotR are all great, as are the wizards in particular (I still wish Christopher Lee had been allowed to play Gandalf just for his sake, but he does make a truly fantastic Saruman!) I also really like Sean Bean’s Boromir and David Wenham’s Faramir! They work so well as brothers and really bring out their different characteristics super well! Boromir also happens to be one of the characters I think the movies really successfully developed beyond the source material! I will also deign to acknowledge the existence of the Hobbit movies just long enough to mention how much I love Lee Pace as Thranduil – and in general!

8. What is your favorite place in Middle Earth?

The Shire is really the core of the story in so many ways that I think it is quite naturally my favourite. It’s where it all began and ended, and it was carried along for the whole adventure. I’m making myself emotional just thinking about it! But I also really love Rivendell! And if given the chance to actually go to Middle Earth, I would haul ass to Lothlórien SO FAST you would see a me-shaped hole in the nearest wall. I love forests so much!!!

9. What is your favorite quote from the books or movies?

I HAVE SO MANY. But I will contain myself to just two. The first one being:

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

No points for guessing why that quote has been on my mind a lot these past couple of years… And the second one being:

“I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no.”

Now you must excuse me while I GO CRY MY EYES OUT.

Anyway, this has been a long and rambly tag and I apologise! But this tag did fulfill its purpose in that I am now even more excited to get reading on Sunday! Wish me luck on the emotional rollercoaster I am about to get on and see you on the other side!

Backwards and in high heels: On women, expectations and excellence

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Today has been a wild ride in the Doctor Who fandom.

To be honest I haven’t even been an active part of the fandom for many years, not since I stopped watching the show at the start of season 8. That was when I realised I was over and done with the show, and that watching it gave me more displeasure than enjoyment. I decided that until there was a new showrunner or some other compelling reason, I would not return.

Well…

It seems that both requirements are about to be met.

I consider myself a geek and tend to surround myself with fellow geeks. However, the geek groups I involve myself are always also feminist ones, I cannot stand to have one without the other. And the reason for this was made abundantly clear today, when I made the mistake of partaking in conversation about the Jodie Whittaker being cast as the Thirteenth Doctor in a non-feminist Facebook group dedicated to the show. I was not prepared for the level of hate, prejudice and frankly offensive language I was to encounter there.

In hindsight, I probably should’ve been; really, it was entirely unsurprising – and depressing. I had always known that there were people who opposed the idea of a female Doctor. But somehow even with that knowledge I did not realise how deep the opposition and – let’s be frank here, the disgust – ran. While my feminist geek friends were weeping of joy for finally being represented as the hero of their favourite show instead of the eternal sidekick, people elsewhere were delivering eulogies to the very same show, prophesying its imminent demise because how could it EVER continue to run, let alone be successful, with a women at the centre! I was saddened by the commonness of this reaction. These people were already shovelling dirt over their favourite show simply because the idea of a female lead was that repulsive to them.

The possibility of Whittaker being a good choice for the role did not even register. There was no consideration of her impressive career or trust in the casting process of the show’s production team. She’s a woman, so it’s a done deal, she will never be any good. I mean, wow!

The conversations in that group led me down a dizzying rabbit hole of misogyny and anti-feminist hate speech to the point where a renegade group was founded for feminist DW fans, and I had to take my contribution back to the feminist groups where the tone was slightly less hateful. But even in the feminist groups I could not find complete peace; despite the celebration, there was a constant undertone of concern present in the conversation. The concern being: “Oh my god, what if this goes poorly?!”

This ties into something I’ve been thinking for quite a while now. I consider myself so lucky to be living in a time where feminism is taking leaps in all fields of media, and people are finally starting to find the courage to take risks with female-fronted projects. (I know, what a gamble! Who would’ve imagined people could ever enjoy seeing women in important roles?!) Us women who identify as feminists obviously rejoice in this progress, but every time some new female-fronted project is announced, I see the same conversation happening. “Oh my god, if this isn’t successful, we will never get anything like this ever again!”

It’s truly incredible. Marvel and DC can churn out one mediocre male-fronted superhero movie after another and make millions with each, and no one will ever question if men should make or star in superhero movies. But should Wonder Woman have failed? Well, what do you expect from a female director and a movie about a woman! A dozen silly blockbusters and nostalgic reboots per summer is to be expected, but one movie about female Ghostbusters? Blasphemy, fire and death! It’s almost as if every single piece of media made by or starring women has to prove something on behalf of their whole gender. Because a female director is never just a director. She’s first and foremost female, and every sidestep or downfall of hers is evidence of the larger failings of every single woman on earth.

Twelve and then some male Doctors are allowed to be individual and flawed, and god forbid only somewhat good. But what I fear, and what every feminist DW fan currently crying over this incredible opportunity and new representation fears, is that whatever Chibnall and Whittaker do with the 13th Doctor will automatically be associated with her gender. The Doctor is morally ambiguous? SHAME! The Doctor is tough and manipulative? Too cruel and unlikable! The Doctor is emotional and gentle? Too feminine and weak! It is the minefield every female character has to tread. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, because you’re a girl, darling! Reading people’s comments expressing their “concern” over whether this is just audience pandering and calculated tokenism, and their “hopes” that this won’t ruin the show, I can’t help but to think what they’re actually hoping is that this show fails.

They don’t want a female Doctor to succeed, because that would mean that women possess the same capability for being multifaceted, interesting, funny and brave as men do. It would require admitting that women, in all their femaleness, are also human. Or in this came Time Lords. It would mean that they would have to admit that all their concerns and defences about how “it just would not work with a woman” are actually bullshit and based on nothing but their real life prejudices that they want to recreate in their fiction. They don’t want women to be heroes, because you have to look up to your heroes. And that, as we all know, won’t do.

What I’m saying is that Jodie Whittaker faces one hell of a Catch-22. She would have to be perfect and then some to earn the respect of the fandom gatekeepers, but they refuse to watch her performance because for the crime of being a woman she’s already lost it. And frankly, I’m tired of this.

I’m tired of women having to achieve perfection with every movie, every role and every attempt at creating media for other women and girls who have been deprived of representation for tens and hundreds of years. I’m tired of women having to do everything men do, only backwards and in high heels, as they say about the great Ginger Rogers, to be considered worthy of the same appreciation and success. Mediocrity is a privilege we do not have, because our job is to be constantly proving misogynists wrong about us. And the catch is, they don’t want to be proven wrong. The whole patriarchy we operate in is built on the assumption that they are right, and they have no interest in shaking that foundation. They want to see us fail so they can point a finger and say “HA! I told you a female Doctor/Ghostbuster/Jedi/[add your sacred geek icon here] was a bad idea! It could never work and don’t you ever dare try again!”

And it works. Is it any wonder few women dare to try, when anything less than perfection is met with swift and merciless execution of not just you but the people who would come after you? I am grateful for all the brave women who dare anyway, and push through the obstacles set in their way all the way to the top. I applaud their courage and persistence, but it should not be that hard.

The people who bitch and moan about Whittaker often try to half-assedly convince me that they don’t ACTUALLY hate women, because DUH, equality has already been reached! But it is events like these that go to show that there is still a long, long way to go. We will have equality when Marvel releases five average movies about female superheroes all starring a different white lady called Christie in a row, and still get billion dollar budgets for their next flick. We will have equality when we can have a female version of all our delightful retro franchises and no one gets bullied off of Twitter for it.

And in 2063, after 12 more white female Doctors in a row we finally get a person of colour or a transgender Doctor, we will… Actually you know what, I’m not holding my breath on that one. Progress still has a long-ass way to go.

But who knows. Maybe Jodie Whittaker will pop by in her TARDIS and take me on a trip to find out. She can show me her TARDIS full of bras, I bet it’ll be a hoot…

Introducing… me! And also… this blog!

Hello and welcome to I must give my thoughts, my long-planned and finally actualised review blog!

As a person with a long history of more and less successful blogs, this is my latest attempt at forcing myself to do some writing online. This is also something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while. I have slowly progressed from bullet point list reviews of musicals on Tumblr to short book reviews on Goodreads to finally buckling down and making an actual blog for this stuff and so here it is!

Here are some essentials about this blog in a form of an imaginary FAQ, as no one has asked me anything yet. But if someone did, here’s what they’d probably want to know!

Q: So what will you be reviewing?
A: Oh, who even knows! Books, certainly. Musicals, definitely (if infrequently, because I’m dirt broke). Movies, prooobably. Music, possibly. What I’m saying is that everything is possible, but it’s probably going to lean heavily towards books and musicals.

Q: So will you be reviewing all the new and hip books/movies/shows everyone wants to know about?
A: Heavens, no! Here are the reasons:

  1. My taste in books is pretty erratic and also my access to books relies heavily on the library, so even if I was interested in reading the Newest Biggest Hits, I would probably not get my paws on them for months, so yeah, chances are you won’t hear it here first, whatever it is.
  2. I live in Finland. We get movies like 6 months after everyone else so when something is new and cool here, it’s been out of theatres everywhere else for several months. So I assume everyone else has seen it eons before I even get in line for a ticket.
  3. I’m not a Very Important Person so I don’t get to go to premieres of anything and instead go see shows and such when schedule allows, meaning my reviews can appear a good few months into a show’s run when everyone else has already reviewed it long ago.

Either way, I will blog about things I read/watch/listen to when I read/watch/listen to them, which could be immediately as it’s released or a hundred years late, that is up to chance, I guess!

Q: Admit it, this is just your attempt at making theatres invite you to premieres and stuff and let you see shows for free.
A: Noooooooo………. not at all! *cough* Also that is not a question, you should probably go. (Jokes aside, that would be the dream now wouldn’t it, but I hope to keep reviewing things regardless of whether it gets me any clout in any cultural circles anywhere. But speaking as a poor student with no excess income? I wouldn’t say no to free tickets either… :P)

Q: Will you review things in English only?
A: Probably not. I do wish to improve my writing in Finnish and chances are I will at one point or another use this medium to do so, so if you do not speak Finnish, consider this a fair warning that you might encounter reviews you do not understand if you keep reading my blog.

Q: Will you only post reviews?
A: Also probably not. As the title of my blog suggests, I have a LOT of thoughts to share on a lot of topics, so it is entirely possible that I will write posts addressing things that are not books, movies or musicals – that would be the “life” part in the subtitle. Blogs about feminist issues, for example, are highly likely to happen.

Q: Are you a feminist?
A: Why, yes, yes I am!

Q: Is your blog title a Sylvia Plath quote?
A: It most certainly is! It is from her journals and the full quote is:

“Before I give my body, I must give my thoughts, my mind, my dreams. And you weren’t having any of those.”

Q: Will you be posting frequently?
A: In a perfect world I probably would. But I’m the queen of procrastination and going through a very challenging year at university, so chances are my posts will be few and far between at times – or I’ll post three things per day, with me there’s usually no middle ground.

Q: What else should I know about you?
A: Most of the essential information about me and my interest you will probably find either in my About Me page or my list of Favourites.

So hopefully this will get us started, next up: My review of the National Finnish Opera’s production of The Phantom of the Opera! Look at me being relevant and topical! Hope to see you there!

With love,
Salla / salinewrites