Celtic (and Close Enough) Reads

Background image by Ikaika of Pixabay

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! I don’t know about you, but around our house, for a certain person in particular, this holiday is more special than birthdays and I think maybe even Christmas. This is serious, people. We usually celebrate by cooking up some authentic Irish cuisine for supper (but no, not corned beef and cabbage. There’s a taboo about that around here). How do you make merry on this day, where everyone claims to be, just a little bit, Irish? (My siblings and I have an ─ an ─ Irish grandfather somewhere back there in the greats. It’s enough for us).

Of course, there’s so much more to the Irish culture than clovers and certain, dark beverages. The Celtic history is rich and ancient, sparking the imaginations of generations of lore of grand kings, battles, songs, and glory. And who doesn’t love that knotwork? I know I do!

There are an infinite number of books surrounding Celtic legend and history, but today I want to tell you about the few (woesomely few) that I have read. You’ll probably notice that a good number of them are from the same author, and no, that’s no typo. The man’s a genius and I have really enjoyed his work, but I am looking for more stories from a broader range of authors, so if you know any, please share!

And now, without further adieu:

 The King Raven Trilogy  

I’ve mentioned this series by Stephen R. Lawhead before, but it’s such a good story, wrapping the legend of Robin Hood into Welsh guise. Full of wile, wits, and archery, this is so far my top favorite retelling of the story.

  The Song of Albion Trilogy  

Here’s another one that I fell in love with. The culture in this story is rich, brimming with Celtic epicness, as college student Lewis finds himself transported to the Otherworld, in which the ancient Celts are very real! His destiny becomes intricately interwoven with them as he learns their ways, earns their trust, and, eventually, their loyalty.

After all, one can’t save the worlds all by himself.

What I really loved about this trilogy was how the beginning and the ending merged together to form a loop. Kind of like one of those Celtic knots. Hm.

   How to Train Your Dragon  

Let’s break it up a wee bit and add one from someone else. How to Train Your Dragon is a Viking story by Cressida Cowell. What first began as a children’s story, How to Train Your Dragon has come to span all age groups with its heart. It carried way more depth than I was used to with the age genre (something we’ve been missing and need more of, personally).

It’s a story about growing up. Of becoming a Hero the Hard Way, through struggles, loss, and betrayal. But it also bears throughout the importance of friendship, sacrifice, and doing what is right even when it’s hard.


As the title implies, this book, a standalone novel, is about Patrick. You know, Saint Patrick. The English boy who was taken to Ireland as a slave and then, after getting his freedom, up and went back! It’s been a while since I’ve read this, but it shows us that there is a power out there bigger than ourselves, prompting us to bigger and better things than we could ever do on our own.

  The Pendragon Cycle 

Last one, and again, one of Lawhead’s (I really need to find more by other authors. Any suggestions?) This cycle is the grand legend of King Arthur and Merlin (ah, Merlin) and the quest for kingship. If you’re a fan of all things Arthurian, your experience is not complete without this dozy under your belt. It’s intense and epic and has this awesome sword called Excalibur. Have you heard of it?

There are others on my to-read list as well:

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Let us know! Word of mouth is the best way to share about awesome books, so let’s talk!

Reynwood’s Reviews: The Eagle of the Ninth

Title: The Eagle of the Ninth

Author: Rosemary Sutfliff

My rating: 4 of 5

The Ninth Legion marched into the mists of Northern Britain―and they were never seen again. Four thousand men disappeared and their eagle standard was lost. It’s a mystery that’s never been solved, until now . . .

Marcus has to find out what happened to his father, who led the legion. So he sets out into the unknown, on a quest so dangerous that nobody expects him to return.

My Thoughts:

For some reason it feels like I’ve been having trouble picking really, truly good reads of late (The Children of Húrin aside), and now I have found one. I learned of The Eagle of the Ninth through another author who gave a list of some of her favorites and inspirations for the books that she wrote, so I thought ‘Why not?’.

Why not, indeed. And then, why not sooner?

This is a good story about a young man whose goals in life and dreams of the future change drastically due to unfortunate and unforeseen events. Who he thought he was and what he thought he wanted turn out to be shades of a former life he can no longer return to.

The story follows Marcus Aquila, a young Roman soldier, as he goes from his first Cohort Command in Britain to a lame veteran within a short period of time, his dreams dashed and his prospects rather depressing. Things change, though, when he hears rumors of the lost Eagle of the Ninth Legion ─ his father’s Legion ─ who some twelve years before marched out into the mists of the North and never returned. With the aid of his British-native friend Esca the two young men venture forth into hostile territory to find and retrieve the Eagle. The journey takes them long and far from Marcus’s home, and along the way he discovers the truth of what happened to the lost Legion, as well as his father.

Ere all is ended, friends become enemies, strangers become allies, and the struggles of the heart and body are tested to their limit. For what? Honor. Redemption. And good hunting. Filled with bravery, mettle, and the bonds of true camaraderie, this is one of those stories that sparks ye grand olde heroism, wit, a wile.

I loved the characters (primarily Marcus, Esca, and Uncle Aquila). Marcus had to build a new outlook and dream for his future from the ashes of his former life. His kindness, fairness, and compassion earn him the affections and loyalty of those around him ─ but he’s also a fair bit wily, and when he and Esca go into a ruse together you had best watch out. Those two are the definition of brothers not of blood, but of bond. Coming from two widely contrary worlds, they have yet found kinship. They’re the Legolas and Gimli of the historical Roman Britain world. Jonathan and David. Duncan and Niun. For that I will give this story a five.

When it comes to Sutcliff’s writing, I can easily see why she has been such an inspiration, and indeed I, too have found some in her work. It’s beautiful. The way she depicts the landscapes is vivid, and how she describes light is just wonderful. From candleflame and lanterns to mountain sunsets and evening watchtowers, it’s all just gorgeous.

If you’re a connoisseur of imagery, read this book. Of personal journeys, read this book. Of historical fiction, read this book. Of good, old fashioned daring-do, read this book. If you love reading, READ THIS BOOK. It’s a good book, a good story, and if I haven’t been too obvious already (heh, heh), I really enjoyed it.


I am now trying to be a bit more intentional about my reading, as well as making a more concerted effort to keep reading (because believe it or not, it gets hard to keep up with reading books when you’re writing them). That’s partially why I post these reviews here, to keep me accountable. Reading is the lifeblood of a writer, a huge source of fuel for the forge, and to neglect it is like a student neglecting their studies, a gardener abandoning his garden, a smith forgetting to feed his fire.

So!Now, along with the review I post every month, I’m going to Plan Ahead what I intend to read next and share that, too. Feel free to poke me now and again over the month to see how I’m doing.

In light of that, for this next month I intend to be reading Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn, the first in a quartet called Tales of the Otori. I’m pretty excited about it!

And how about you? What are you reading of late?

A Peek Into Storyworld

March has finally arrived. Do you know what that means? The stirring has begun, and although the battle between winter and spring is long and arduous for the innocents caught in the crossfire, winter will be subdued. Wonder of wonders, the cold and snow will succumb to the damp and mud of spring, which miraculously buds and slowly turns the world green and colorful again.

Guys, I’ll be able to walk outside without shoes. The soft grass and sun-kissed earth beneath my bare feet . . . Best. Feeling. Ever. Can’t wait.

Alas, that season has not yet reached us. On the way, but not yet arrived. In the meantime I plan on sharing a bit more about this new story of mine, although it’s still in the first draft stage (still! Still!!). It’s coming along, though. There are so many details to include and develop. First drafts are so incredibly messy. Really. Sometimes, as a writer, one wonders if this chaos is ever going to make sense. It just takes guts, hard work, and a lot of faith (in the Author and in oneself) to take all the pieces and craft something truly marvelous.

So, today I’m going to talk a wee bit about the world of Falconsbane, and I suppose a bit of context is in order. The story takes place in a small(ish) country known as Phen, which is divided into seven tribal regions (lots of history there that we’re not digressing into. Not gonna. Nope.) The tribal regions and their armed forces is what we’ll be exploring, and today we’re going to Nyan. It’s pronounced NEE-ann, by the way, in case you were wondering.

Nyan is the smallest of the regions, located on the southeastern end of the country. Its east and southern borders are with the nation of Edon, which is hostile towards Phen. All of the eastern nations are, and because of this there is a strong military vein running through the country. Nyan’s branch of the larger Phennish Army is a force known as the Falcons of Nyan. Here’s an image of their crest and motto:

Pretty neat, huh? The falcon is a predatory bird of speed and precision; it’s not the largest aerial predator, but the people of Nyan have always revered its prowess. The bird is surrounded by a ring of seven swords, representing the number of blades each warrior carries and is trained to use. The specific blade pictured is what they call a ‘falcyon’, but the shape and size of their actual array is all across the board. Nor is the falcyon their primary weapon, oddly enough. That honor goes to their prized glaives, which are large-bladed polearms (depicted in the Coat of Arms):

Nyan Falcons are trained to be fierce combatants with every blade they wield and in every range: hand to hand/close range, sword/mid-range, glaive/long range, and horseback. It’s been said that a mounted Falcon is more dangerous than an armored Massan cavalryman (who are basically tanks, but more on them another time). If a Falcon’s blades are its talons, then his horse is his wings, and with that concept in mind the warriors learn to maneuver their horse and weapons as though all parts are a single and synchronized unit.

Intense, huh? Now just imagine, if just one warrior is that potent, what would ranks upon ranks of them be like against an army of foes? These Nyan Falcons are considered by all to be the elite, smallest in number (compared to the other, larger regions) but a force not to be underestimated, lest one find themselves the rabbit.

Their motto, Sanitas Edonta Avin’El, translates into English with the concept of ‘to the glory of Avin’El’ (Avin’El being their national deity). The ‘glory’ bears the idea of victory in battle, indomitable and absolute. It’s a lofty charge, but one they have pursued valiantly for generations, seeking ever to subdue the threat to their land, homes, and loved ones.

Plus, it’s just fun to say. It’s okay, go ahead. Take a deep breath and shout it out with the best of them- Sanitas Edonta!

Hey, everyone! Happy Last Saturday of the Month! How’s your week been? Over here in the Writing Corner we’ve watched the Olympics just about every night since it began ─ there has been some amazing comebacks, shocking defeats, and glorious victories all across the globe, no? And now it’s just about over. It’s a little sad, but after so much excitement and activity (at least for the athletes, coaches, and staff) it’s probably about time for some R&R . . . until all those competitions for the year begin again. I don’t think I would survive all that those people do; it’s simply amazing.

Here in the Writing Kitchen we do things a little differently, concocting delicious meals (sometimes. Come on, people, we can’t win all the time) instead of higher speeds and technical scores. Today I’m going to share a biscuit recipe that’s so easy and yummy you’ll want to make it for every pot of soup, grilled chicken, and roasted meat dish from now on.

Whole Wheat Maple-Butter Biscuits


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter
  • 7-8 tablespoons milk


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (I used the stuff we make at home, and since it’s maple season now it’s about as fresh as it can be!)


  • Gather all the ingredients; set the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  • In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter (if you have a pastry cutter: swell; for those of us who don’t: I’ve read that people use scissors, a pair of knives, or their fingers. I’ve only ever known to use a fork, myself.) Cut the butter in until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Stir in the milk only until moistened, then turn onto a floured surface and lightly knead a few times to make a cohesive dough. Try not to handle it too much because it’ll make a tougher crumb, and we’re aiming for fluffy.
  • Pat or roll the dough to about 1/2 inch thickness (if you like a thinner biscuit roll it to about a quarter inch or third, however you please).
  • Here’s where it gets fun. Normally you’d use a regular biscuit cutter and make nice rounds, and that’s fine. Or you can shape the dough into a square and cut out blocks. But since I learned that you actually can use cookie cutters on non-cookie dough I like to make shapes, and my all-time favorite is the gingerbread man cutter. So here I made man-shaped biscuits, but you can use whatever tickles your fancy. For holiday dinners you could use Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, even St. Patrick’s Day themed cutters. Makes me want to make pumpkin and leaf shaped ones for autumn. Anyway, reroll the scraps and keep cutting until the dough is used up, then place on the baking sheet.
  • For the glaze, melt the butter and syrup in a small pan (or microwave, if that’s your thing), then brush a layer onto the raw biscuits. Bake in the preheated oven for 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and promptly dab any and all remaining glaze over the biscuits while they’re still hot. Serve warm or room temperature.

These biscuits are super good, with a light texture and slightly nutty flavor (because of the wheat flour). The glaze adds a touch of sweet and delicious maple flavor, too that’s different from your usual butter and jam. Give this recipe a try and tell me what you think!


  • The number of biscuits you’ll get depends on the size you cut them; I got six out of this recipe.
  • This is an easy recipe to dock and double, whether you’re cooking for 2 or 80 (bless you for feeding 80 people, though . . .)
  • If you’re not a fan of maple syrup (I’m sorry) or just don’t have any you can use honey (that version is a favorite around this house). Or just good-old plain butter. This is a super versatile recipe.

Background image courtesy of Suju.

Happy belated Valentine’s Day! How did everyone celebrate? Do you go all out with dinner, flowers, and chocolates or just sit at home and blow it off? I know, it’s not for everyone. I’ve never been much of a Valentine’s Day fan, myself, thinking all those school exchanges silly and meaningless. Although when we were younger our mom would make Valentine’s cards for my brothers and I, which were always cute and fun ─ but the best part was without a doubt the chocolate involved. In past years the teens from our church would host a party for the couples, having things like a dessert contest and playing The Newlywed Game. That was always a riot!

Recently I was thinking about some of the couples that I’ve written in my own stories, and that got me thinking about some of the other couples I’ve come across in my reading. So here I want to share with you four of my top favorites (because otherwise we might be here awhile). The best romances, in my (*ahem* humble, of course) opinion, are the ones that aren’t advertised. The ones that are more subplots and subtle over the course of the story, with their good moments and their bad as the characters deal with the world and their circumstances in it.

Which means there probably won’t be any Danielle Steele or Mary Higgins Clark in my future. Just sayin’.

That aside, I will confess that sometimes I do like a little bit of love ─ if it’s done well. After all, humans are creatures designed and made for relationships, and a lonely soul is not an happy or healthy one. The bonds of good old fashioned brotherhood and familial ties usually gets high marks from me, but since it’s Valentie’s Day I’m going to focus today on couples.

Howl and Sophie

Whether you’re a fan of the book or movie, Howl’s Moving Castle has one of the more interesting love stories I’ve come across. I love both the mediums, the book and the movie (I can hear you gasping in shock, by the way), and while the storylines are quite different, both of them are great fun, magical, and heartwarming.

Howl and Sophie first meet on a May Day celebration, but neither knew who the other was, and by the next time they meet, Sophie has been turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. She flees from home and takes refuge in the unlikeliest of places: Howl’s castle, where she meets and makes a deal with the fire demon Calcifer.

At first they don’t really like each other. Sophie has preconceptions of Howl as an awful wizard who eats young girls, finding him immaturish, selfish, and whimsical. Howl doesn’t seem to like Sophie because she’s klutzy and keeps messing things up. They argue and fight quite a bit, but as the adventure unfolds and the more time Sophie spends around him, she comes to realize he’s not so bad after all.

Sophie did not care to think how Howl might react if Fanny woke him by stabbing him with her parasol. “No, no!” she said. “Howl has been very kind to me.” And this was true, Sophie realized. Howl showed his kindness rather strangely, but, considering all Sophie had done to annoy him, he had been very good to her indeed.

Howl’s Moving Castle

By the end we realize that Howl has been working on breaking the spell on Sophie, all the while Sophie has been working with Calcifer to break the spell that was on the demon and Howl. The life Sophie had wanted, one that ‘had a bit more interest than simply trimming hats’, had found her, made her more courageous, and made her an even match for the wacky wizard. Her ‘old age’ gave her some perspective, where she wouldn’t take any of Howl’s nonsense, and when such forces collide sparks are bound to fly. But instead of the usual gushy declarations of love that come out of realized feelings, it happened more like:

“I think we ought to live happily ever after . . . it should be hair-raising,” added Howl.

“And you’ll exploit me,” Sophie said.

“And then you’ll cut up all my suits to teach me,” said Howl.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Now doesn’t that make your heart just go pitter-pat? Or laugh. It made me chuckle.

Hurin and Morwen

I just recently learned of these two in the book The Children of Húrin by J. R. R. Tolkein and his son, Christopher Tolkein. (This story also introduced me to another favorite archer to add to my list, Beleg Strongbow).

Húrin and Morwen (also called Eledhwen) are the parents of Túrin and Niënor, of which the story is largely about, but I was struck by this husband and wife, for the love and trust they shared was strong and lasted through decades of Húrin’s captivity at the hands of Morgoth.

 ‘But I say: Do not wait! I shall return to you as I may, but do not wait! Go south as swiftly as you can  ─ if I live I shall follow, and I shall find you, though I have to search through all of Beleriand.’

─ Húrin, The Children of Húrin

Húrin is a bright and enthusiastic man, both fierce and fearless, and yet compassionate. Morwen is more dour and stern, for the people of her birth and childhood ─ the  House of Bëor ─ had fallen and she bore always that sorrow. She is a proud woman, but also courageous, and in her Húrin confides his thoughts, hopes, confidences, and misgivings. And even though he told her to run were the battle to go awry, her love for him and the desperate hope she carried that he would return overcomes the cool shell of her demeanor.

And her heart still cheated her with hope unadmitted; her inmost thought foreboded that Húrin was not dead, and she listened for his footfall in the sleepless watches of the night, or would wake thinking that she had heard in the courtyard the neigh of Arroch his horse.

─ Of Morwen, The Children of Húrin

Such devotion to one another paints a beautiful picture of what I’ve always believed marriage should look like, and even after so many long and hard years of separation and tribulation they are not strangers when again they meet. I’ll not lie to you, it brought the water to my eyes.

 ‘Eledhwen! Eledhwen!’ Húrin cried; and she rose and stumbled forward, and he caught her in his arms.

‘You come at last,’ she said. “I have waited too long.’

‘It was a dark road. I have come as I could,’ he answered.

The Children of Húrin

Sergil and Lyla

Since this is a list of my personal favorites, I have to add Sergil and Lyla from my own books. While there are many couples to chose from (Tym’Othy and Bertha, Jonquil and Iris, and Kurou and Lan Fen just to name a few), but when I think about it, the relationship between Sergil and Lyla is my absolute favorite, and perhaps because of its subtlety. It’s never mentioned in narrative that they love each other, and not once throughout the story do either of them say “I love you”, but I believe the message is clearly stated through their actions.

Not much is revealed about their history together, only that they’ve known each other for a long time, since it was to Lyla that Sergil went after he found the infant Jonquil and deserted the army. Their friendship has lasted long and through some hard times, but the situation of their lives ─ Sergil’s in particular ─ never really allowed for it to become much more than that.

  “All right then!” Aunt Lyla clapped her hands together happily, but then her face fell. “I suppose you’re all about ready to leave?”

“We are,” Sergil answered.

“All right. Well, I’ve got a few things that I hope will help you on the way.” Out of her apron pocket she pulled a pair of well worn, brown leather gloves. “You left these here a while ago,” she said to Sergil, her cheeks turning pink.

There was a meaningful look passed between the two of them, and Sergil accepted the gloves with a slight, satisfied smile. “Thank you, Lyla.”

A Journey Begins

In days of olde, the throwing down of a gauntlet (or slapping across the face with one) was the issuing of a challenge. Someday I would love to expand on the histories of these characters, but that may be a long time coming, so I’m sharing this ‘backstage’ insight with you all now so you can share in the awesomeness. Not many of you may know this, but Lyla wasn’t always the sweet and peaceable lady she is today. Once upon a time she was a fiery maiden, a no-nonsense country girl that Sergil fell in love with on sight. He was enlisted at the time and traveling, but they met here and again over the years, getting to know each other bit by bit. Then one day decades later he challenged her to marry him, throwing down his gloves. It took a while, but she accepted his challenge, expressed by the returning of his gloves.

Unfortunately, fate and destiny got in the way and it was a long time before they saw each other again ─ and for the last time, too. SPOILERS for all of you who haven’t read the saga yet, but the once upon a time of Sergil and Lyla doesn’t get an happily ever after. That may be another reason why it is my favorite, it’s a tragic story, but perhaps beautiful all the more because of it.

Eugenides and Attolia

Here’s another complicated pair for you. Eugenides, often called Gen, is the royal thief of the kingdom of Eddis. Attolia, birth name Irene, is the queen of the kingdom of Attolia. (Note: the rulers of their respective countries bear the names of their countries ─ the queen of Attolia is referred to as Attolia, the queen of Eddis is known as Eddis, and the king of Sounis is called Sounis ─ the first time I read The Thief I was confused, so now you know so you won’t be confused).

Attolia is a strong ruler; stern, harsh, and merciless. Eugenides is a thief; snarky, clever, and sneaky. How could two such contrasting personalities ever fall in love? Childhood crushes, political unrest, and the inner workings of the human heart.

Eugenides first fell in love with Attolia as a boy when he saw her dancing in the palace garden from his hiding place in an orange tree, but years passed and life happened. Attolia became the ruler of her country, and in order to maintain her control of the throne from the barons she had to become stone cold and brutal. That also applied to her treatment of Eugenides every time she caught him infiltrating her palace (which he did often, but only got caught a few times). Every time she sent him home, he went seriously injured and sick. One time she cut off his hand.

That would make most people shy off, wouldn’t it? But no. Eugenides certainly does bear some fear of the queen, but he’s spirited, frustratingly witty, and on a mission. Not to mention called by the gods. The precedent is to save the three kingdoms on this coast from an invasion of the Medes, forcing a political marriage between the kingdoms of Eddis and Attolia, but underneath it lies a budding romance, struggling to bloom. Eugenides appeals to the loneliness and affections stowed deep inside Attolia’s heart. It takes a while, but his persistence and devotion to her, the things he goes through for her sake and the kingdom, slowly draws her conflicted and convoluted emotions to loving him.

“I have been living with your grief and your rage and your pain ever since. I don’t think- I don’t think I had felt anything for a long time before that, but those emotions at least are familiar to me. Love I am not familiar with. I didn’t recognize that feeling until I thought I had lost you in Ephrata. And when I thought I was losing you a second time, I realized I would give up anything to keep you . . .”

The Queen of Attolia

Ahh, the tugging heartstrings of fragile young people, like delicate flowers that need careful handling. . . . You really need to read the story to truly appreciate the subtleties that go into these two, and it’s totally worth it. Really. These books are some of the absolute best fantasy I’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience.

That’s only four of them, but we could be here all day with others (like Sig and Izumi Curtis from Fullmetal Alchemist, Aragorn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings, or Hoban and Zoe Washburne of the sci-fi space western Firefly).

Did I mention any of your own favorites? If so, which ones? Do you have any other favorite fantasy couples? I’d love to hear about them!

Reynwood’s Reviews: The Children of Húrin

Title: The Children of Húrin

Author: J. R. R. Tolkein, edited by Christopher Tolkein

My Rating: 5 of 5

The Children of Húrin is the first complete book by J.R.R.Tolkien since the 1977 publication of The Silmarillion. Six thousand years before the One Ring is destroyed, Middle-earth lies under the shadow of the Dark Lord Morgoth. The greatest warriors among elves and men have perished, and all is in darkness and despair. But a deadly new leader rises, Túrin, son of Húrin, and with his grim band of outlaws begins to turn the tide in the war for Middle-earth — awaiting the day he confronts his destiny and the deadly curse laid upon him.

My Thoughts:

Oh, boy. I think that’s an accurate place to start. If you love a good tragedy, this is the book for you.

The Children of Húrin is a part of the History of Middle-Earth, taking place long, long, long before the events of The Lord of the Rings as part of the world’s lore. This tale chronicles the life of Túrin son of Húrin, the one man who had dared to defy and scorn  the Dark Lord Morgoth. (Familiar with the ‘Balrog of Morgoth’ from the trilogy? Yeah. It’s that Morgoth. The guy so bad that Sauron was his lackey back in those days).

Morgoth’s hatred for Húrin extended to his children, Túrin and Niënor, in a curse of doom, which was to follow them until the end of their days. Túrin suffered hardship and woe over and over again, dogged by the shadow cast upon him by the Enemy. His life was overshadowed by a dark doom since childhood, when his father was taken captive by Morgoth, his country forfeit to the Dark Lord and his minions, and himself sent away from kith and kin alone to escape thralldom. Yet even so he was determined to overcome the evil curse and master his own destiny. The strength of his will and his honor endeared him to many people, but even so he never stayed long in any one place ere something bad would happen that drove him away. Often enough it was his own temper that got the better of him, prompting him to do less-than-noble deeds, but he and Niënor both were deceived and manipulated by the evil dragon Glaurung, too; lied to and spited in an ever descending spiral of malice.

This tale marks Túrin’s efforts to master his destiny, but in so doing ends up succumbing to it; the epitome of ‘you can’t escape fate’. In that regard I say this is very much a tragedy, that despite his efforts, his desires, and his mighty deeds, Túrin yet fell, hated and grief stricken ─ but not altogether friendless and unmourned.

This is a sad story, but a good one; definitely worth reading. The world that Tolkein creates is vast, filled with beauty and sorrow alike, for what was and is now lost. The characters are vivid and diverse in personality, the narrative is easy to read, and the heart of the story is compelling. I am reminded of what makes Tolkein and his stories so great, and I am grateful to his son for his efforts in bringing to us what his father could not.

Favorite Fantasy Authors: J. R. R. Tolkein

Happy Saturday! This is most everyone’s favorite day of the week, no? (My personal favorite for years, though, has been Thursday, but to each their own). With the coming of February winter has entered its toughest stage here in Upstate, but that just means Spring is that much closer. Despite what many of us tend to believe at about this time, WINTER WILL NOT LAST FOREVER. We don’t live under the White Witch’s rule here. We get Christmas and we get SPRING.

But what do we do in the meantime, while the cold bears its fangs and the snow drifts and plow trucks pass by more often than a three year old at an open candy bar?

Read books, of course! Winter’s downtime is the perfect opportunity to catch up on all that summer reading you said you were going to do but never got to. But with so many great titles and authors out there, from which do you chose?

Well, when all else fails, eeny-meeny-miny-moe is my preferred weapon of choice for those tough decisions. But if you’re a lover of super-epic fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkein is a classic and one of the best places to start. It’s said that Tolkein’s work with The Lord of the Rings revolutionized the genre of high fantasy in his day. His writing bears a kind of poetic quality, transporting the reader to places fantastic and people extraordinary, whose deeds of courage and valor have touched us mere mortals for decades.

Now, for those of us who don’t know (or can’t for the life of us remember from one moment to the next), the J. R. R. of Tolkein’s name stands for John Ronald Reuel ─ a right and fitting mouthful of a name. As it happens, the ‘Reuel Tolkein’ pattern repeats itself quite often in the family for generations. And since I love names, I think that’s just swell.

Throughout Tolkein’s life, even from childhood, his experiences have fueled the inspirations for many of his stories (stating once again that everything around us writers is ore for the forge of storysmithing. So watch out! You might end up in someone’s novel someday). In reading a bit of a biography of him, I learned that Bag End, where Bilbo and Frodo live in the Shire, was actually the name of his aunt’s farm. Scenes from hiking the countryside, places he stayed while learning and teaching at colleges, and even his beloved wife, Edith, had a part to play in Tolkein’s tales.

But while The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillian are all the major works for which J. R. R. Tolkein is known for, he wrote far more, penning many tales of the Middle-earth legendarium as well as poetry, short stories, and translations (such as Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight).

Born in South Africa in the January of 1892, J. R. R. Tolkein grew up the eldest of two sons. He learned to read and write at an early age, even learning the rudiments of Latin, and his love of languages carried through his entire life, even to constructing a few of his own later on.

Tolkein met the love of his life, Edith, at the age of sixteen and married her in the March of 1916. By that time he was a second lieutenant of the British Army in WWI. At one point he lived in Staffordshire while he recovered from illness, and it was at this time that he began working on The Book of Lost Tales, kicking it off with The Fall of Gondolin.

After being demobilized he left the army in 1920 and worked at the Oxford English Dictionary, then later became the youngest professor at the University of Leeds. A few years later he returned to Oxford as Professor of Anglo-Saxon. It was around this time that he wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings.

Then in 1945 he became the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, retaining that post until his retirement. By 1948 he completed The Lord of the Rings, and once the trilogy was published the world of high-fantasy (and the world in general) would never be the same.

As one can imagine, Tolkein became very popular. His friend and fellow Inkling, C. S. Lewis, even nominated him for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His popularity became so great, in fact, that he had to take his phone number out of the public directory and eventually moved himself and his wife, Edith, to a seaside resort.

Edith died in 1971 and on her gravestone he had the name Lúthien engraved, which is a character in his Middle-earth legend of Beren and Lúthien. When Tolkein died in 1973, the name Beren was added to his name on their gravestone.

So J. R. R. Tolkein wasn’t only a creative genius, he was also a romantic, and his passions saturate his work. That’s what makes a story last through the ages: the heart behind the words and the love for the craft of telling stories. Tolkein’s life and work certainly displays that, and if you haven’t read any of his tales, there’s no time like the present!

Of course The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is a wonderful place to start ─ I have read and loved them all, as well as The Children of Húrin ─ but there are so many others to chose from (and there, my friend, I cannot help you. Eeny-meeny-miny-moe, or close your eyes and point). Here’s a (very) brief list of some other tales you could dive into:


Have you read any of Tolkein’s books? Which ones were your favorite, any suggestions? Share in the comments!