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It Can Be Hard To Be Sure If I’m Quoting Or Misquoting

Yesterday, I used a quote from Tolkien about escape and fairy tales. I came across it when double-checking another quote that is commonly accredited to Tolkien:

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?… If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”

It’s a great quote, but is it a Tolkien quote or not? Goodreads says that it is, and thetolkienist says that it most certainly is not – it’s a quote from Ursula Le Guin referencing the Tolkien quote I used yesterday. Since thetolkienist cites a specific origin for each quote, I’m more inclined to believe thetolkienist (Especially given how often some of Tolkien’s works are commonly misquoted around the internet…).

What I don’t understand is how people misquote like that the very first time. Do they do it on purpose? It seems unlikely that they would have a quote like that memorized, which means they’d be looking at a printed source with the correct author. Right?

On purpose or not, it’s hard to trust quotes that you find online. I always try to verify them with multiple sites (preferably ones that give the original context), but even that’s no guarantee. I feel most comfortable posting quotes from published books of quotations (ones that have to go through editors and be verified [theoretically]) or that I’ve checked myself.

But there are so many wonderful quotes online that haven’t made it into a book yet. It’s really hard to resist finding them online. I guess the best I can do is to check them before crediting them to one person or another.

I can only wish that more people would do the same.

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Legendary Heroes: A Fantasy of Poetry & Song

Centuries before books, movies, and electric lighting, people had far fewer options for entertainment in the evening. One major source of entertainment was telling each other stories, stories about exciting adventures and heroes. 9 times out of 10, those stories were told in poetry or song.

That’s something we’ve lost.

It’s not altogether our fault – it happened before we were born. As technology advanced, our stories evolved. The printed word became more and more common (along with the ability to read), and now stories are read much more often than they are told. In the process, the link between stories, poetry, and music has weakened. While some songs and poems still include narratives, using poems or songs as part of a long story is fairly uncommon.

With one major exception.

There is one plot type that traditionally uses both poems and songs within the book and often as part of the plot, and that is the quest (or the hero’s journey). The hero has to go defeat some major evil to avoid catastrophe and through the adventure generally learns or grows in some way. Since this is exactly the type of story people told each other for centuries, it would make sense that the story-telling link to poetry remains strongest in this type of story.

A.K.A. the fantasy genre.

The quest archetype is most common to fantasy, and, really, that shouldn’t surprise anyone. We’re talking about mythologically-scaled heroic adventures, and that can be difficult to accomplish without gods, magic, or magical creatures. Some science fiction novels manage it, but there is a flavor to the story type that is distinctly suited to fantasy.

So is that why there’s such a strong tradition of using poetry and songs within the fantasy genre? Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 5 from The Hobbit, let alone the rest of Tolkien’s books. A few other poetic fantasy authors include Brian Jacques, Susan Cooper, and J.K. Rowling who all use poetry and songs as part of their exposition and setting – when the poems aren’t leaving cryptic clues that are vital to the plot.

Most other genres don’t do this. For many books, if they use any poetry at all, it’s only a line or two that is referenced or used for a specific effect. These heroic sagas not only use full poems but multiple ones within the story. That’s a dramatic difference. Is it only because of tradition and how the stories evolved?

Or is there something about legendary heroes that simply cannot be captured by prose alone?

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Breaking the Fourth Wall on Page, Stage, & Screen

The term “breaking the 4th wall” started with theatre and the concept that the stage was a room with an invisible wall that the audience peeked through to see into the characters’ lives. A character could break the 4th wall by talking to the audience directly, making eye contact with them, or otherwise mentioning that he or she was part of a play.

Despite its origin on the stage, the 4th wall can be used and broken in just about any format of a story (Warning: spoilers).

On Page

The book's better. Just sayin'.

The book’s better. Just sayin’.

Yes, books can break the 4th wall, especially books with narrators (after all, that’s the narrator’s job). For example, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit breaks the 4th wall when the narrator talks directly to the audience – for example, right after Bilbo eavesdrops on the trolls: “Yes, I am afraid trolls do behave like that.” This is a commentary to the audience directly, which breaks the 4th wall. In fact, there is a period of literature where this style of narrative conversation is extremely common (including authors such as C.S. Lewis and E. Nesbit).

Charles Dickens often used s similar device. A Christmas Carol starts by breaking this wall to explain that Dickens doesn’t really understand the simile “dead as a doornail,” but he’s going to use it anyway.

“Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

Stephen King uses this device blatantly in his Dark Tower series with a kind of authorial narrator. This series also has a graphic novel version, which seems appropriate since graphic novels and comics often use this technique. Most often, the narrator does it, but Deadpool’s pretty famous for doing this himself.

Can't ya read?

Srsly, dude? Just google it.

Books without narrators can also have a character make a comment about being fictional, being in a book, being watched, etc. Terry Pratchett and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, are somewhat known for this, but it can happen in any style of book. In fact, even children’s books are known to break the 4th wall. A perfect example of this is The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone (a personal favorite). [Read more…]

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An Author’s Thrill: Recipes from the Worlds of J.K. Rowling & J.R.R. Tolkien

As a reader, it’s always fun to find recipes for foods from your favorite books for movies. I recently came across one for homemade butterbeer, and, of course, many people have tried to recreate Tolkien’s cakes and foods from The Hobbit, including researching the kinds of food that Tolkien would have been familiar with (“Food in The Hobbit).

Thinking about it as an author, though, wouldn’t that have to be a huge thrill? I’m trying to imaging making up a food in a story and having people like my book so much that they try to recreate that food. What a compliment!