I’m gonna go ahead and rate this past week as an O.K. I got things done, but didn’t get a lot of things done. At the same time progress is progress, and while I’m not satisfied, I’m not upset with the last week’s work either.
This past week I’ve been re-reading The Hobbit. In this re-read I’ve been trying to keep the close reading habits in mind that we’ve been talking about in my grad school seminars – particularly the advice in Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer – while looking at how Tolkien crafts his prose.
I already knew that Tolkien himself is, in a way, a character in the story. As narrator he quips and editorializes from the first page describing Bilbo’s hobbit hole. I hadn’t really been aware, though, of how much this plays into the whole tone of the story.
I’ve read The Hobbit several times, and from a couple different perspectives (most notably viewing Thorin as an Aristotelian tragic hero) but never yet while trying to study his craftsmanship. The writing wanders, with lovely long sentences filled with alliterative lists and images. It’s much more complicated than I expected, syntactically, filled with semicolons and clause after clause after clause in a way I wouldn’t expect from a children’s book – and definitely not a modern children’s book. His vocabulary is a bit simpler, but the writing on a sentence level seems like I’d expect aimed at an adult audience.
The first I remember reading The Hobbit I was probably eight-ish. I don’t recollect many details, but do remember sitting on a couch in a stranger’s house while my sister was in her piano lesson. I think it was the same copy I was re-reading from today; a green little paperback from before the LotR films were around. I’m not certain this is the same copy, but it’s fairly battered, so I’m moderately confident. I recall the book being fairly difficult when I first read it, and taking some time to muddle through.
That’s not so surprising, as I look back now. Unlike a lot of children’s or “middle-grade” fiction, The Hobbit‘s syntax is complex. The childlike-ness of it is brought back in by the oral tone taken on by the narrator. He wanders a bit, occasionally assumes information, and takes a casual tone when editorializing. There’s imprecision when Tolkien glosses information – such as the exact amount of time in Rivendell – and commentary on the cast’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Excess verbiage adds to the illusion.
The Hobbit is basically designed to be an elaborate illusion of the transcribed account of an oral storyteller. It’s fascinating, and I think that’s why it’s so engaging.
I really want to keep reading The Hobbit this week, but I need to put it on hold. I’m due for my fiction seminar’s workshop in about a week and a half (submission on March 12th), so I need to shift gears.
This upcoming week I’m going to jump back to E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros and try doing a close read on a few chapters – in particular, I recall the climb of the great mountain Koshtra Pivrarcha was especially engaging, as well as the wicked King Gorice’s conjuring of a demon in his iron tower – in order to figure out why they were so enthralling. I will be submitting a sample from my own experimental chapter of Jiharel, which began from me trying to mimic Eddison’s style. Going back for the next two-ish weeks and studying Eddison’s prose for tips seems appropriate.
My goal last week was to write everyday, working on a new short story titled “The Fisherman of Orsak.” By my memory, I did so five days out of seven. The document is currently about 1,600 words long, so that’s a little over 300 words each day I wrote.
I’m currently comfortable with how the story’s going – although it might be meandering more than I had foreseen – but I still should be working on getting the daily writing habit back, consistent. I’m going to set a goal of working on “Fisherman” at least a bit each day for this upcoming week.
I’ll also be working on deciding my sample and doing another revision on it from the written chapter of Jiharel. That revision is my main project this upcoming week (since I need it for school), but I want to try getting a little writing done beside it. As best I can tell, being successful and healthy as a writer seems to come from the combination of reading, writing, and revising, all at once. My big struggle last year was that I spent months and months just revising, and got burnt out on the project when I didn’t know how to proceed. It was only when I started writing new material again that, emotionally, I started feeling better about my work.
I also set a goal to work on naming languages a bit last week. I did so, but don’t really have anything to report on it yet. I’m still working on a sounds inventory. I’m not going to set a worldbuilding goal this week, because I want to make sure my revisions takes current priority.
Last Week: Read and process The Hobbit – good processing, about halfway through the book. Write every day on “Fisherman” – wrote five days, need to keep working at that habit. Mucked about with languages a teeny bit.
This Week: Focus on revising a sample of Jiharel for my seminar’s workshop, and re-read parts of Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros to that same purpose. Write every day on “Fisherman.”