Gifted Amateurs and Other Essays: on Tolkien, the Inklings and Fantasy Literature, by David Bratman

Second paragraph of third essay (Top Ten Rejected Plot Twists from “The Lord of the Rings”: A Textual Excursion into the “History of the “The Lord of the Rings””):

We know about these rejects and false starts because Tolkien was a pack rat. He neither burned his rejects nor threw them in the trash; he saved them. Just about all of the drafts and manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings are preserved at the Archives of Marquette University, and a detailed narrative account of the slow crafting and polishing of the tale was stitched together by Christopher Tolkien in the four volumes of “The History of The Lord of the Rings,” a subseries of the 12–volume History of Middle-earth. The volumes are The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard, The War of the Ring, and Sauron Defeated; the Appendices are treated separately in The Peoples of Middle-earth, and will not be discussed in this paper.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever met David Bratman in the flesh, but he was one of those who kept the faith with Livejournal until quite late in the day, and indeed posted a lengthy and well-argued rebuttal to my foolish assertion that Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring is Any Good At All.

I was tipped off to this book of essays by File 770, and grabbed it immediately. I’m a sucker for any serious Tolkieniana, and what I particularly liked about the essays collected here is their chronological scope, from a time before The Silmarillion had been publish to nearly the present day. The shape of the scholarly field has changed a lot in the meantime a there are several telling anecdotes about the early days. If I had to pick two of the Tolkien pieces that really struck me, I think they would be the Top Ten Rejected Plot Twists from The Lord of the Rings, and the exegesis of Smith of Wootton Major.

The other essays include four pieces about the Inklings (two on C.S. Lewis, one on Charles Williams and one on their links with the Pacific), and several on other fantasy topics, including a fascinating piece on Lord Dunsany as a playwright, and a standup encomium of Roger Zelazny. There is also a critique of the Peter Jackson films written presciently before they had actually been released.

There’s a lot of wisdom in these essays, and a fair amount of fun too. You can get the book here.

To Rule in Amber, by John Betancourt

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Do not leave me!” cried the tree.

Third of the four books in the prequel series to Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, by the much less gifted writer John Betancourt. Oberon, our hero, starts to put together a governing regime for Amber, the new magical centre based around the mysterious Pattern. I confess I had lost track of all of his brothers and sisters, and they are pretty indistinguishable as characters – apart from the one who is obviously going to perpetrate a sudden yet inevitable betrayal, and duly does so. Unnecessarily confusing that there is a princess called Blaise here and the original Chronicles had a prince called Bleys. You can get it here.

This was the sf book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is the fourth and (thank God) last of this sequence, Shadows of Amber.