Monday, April 30, 2018

Tolkien's Take on a Finnish Myth

The Story of KullervoThe Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A take on a Finnish myth by J.R.R. Tolkien similar to his Silmarillion, only much shorter, narrower in vision, and a good deal more unfinished.

Since my father's side comes from Finland, my ears perk up whenever Finnish things get mentioned. It happens that infrequently. Sort of like how when I grew up in the country and only a handful of cars would drive by our house everyday, so I'd prairie dog it every dang time. Anywho, back to the review...

This edition, edited by Verlyn Flieger, goes the extra length to recoup and curate the essence of Tolkien's attempt at The Story of Kullervo. There is a helpful introduction that sets up the story nicely for the uninitiated. There are reprints of Tolkien's handwritten notes. Following the actually story, which is about 40 pages long, are nearly a hundred pages worth of plot synopses notes and essays regarding Finnish myth. There is more written about the story than the story itself. That's due diligence.

The story is fairly brutal in the good, ol' fashioned sense of the word. Like many old fairy tales, people die often and often in horrible ways. However, in keeping with tradition, Tolkien alludes to the horror rather than give you every bit of the gory details. Sometimes the alluded to scene is so fleeting you have to stop, go back, and reread. On two or three occasions I had a "wait, what?" moment.

The story is not "one for the ages", but it does have that classic and epic mythological feel to it. For story enjoyment, this gets 3 stars from me. But from a production value standpoint, I've bumped the book up a star.

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Orwell Living the Poor Life

Down and Out in Paris and LondonDown and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This reminded me a bit of Thoreau's Walden in that you don't feel like Orwell had to go through with this. It's self-imposed deprivation. However, while Thoreau went on a camping trip to prove he was a hardy outdoorsman and that anybody could and should do it, Orwell put himself through his ordeal in order to investigate a situation. The same problem exists in both circumstances though. Both men could extract themselves at any time if they wished. In Orwell's situation, that means he was only experiencing the details of being poor, not fully feeling the all-but inescapable confinement of being destitute. Knowing you can't get out of a situation has a deleterious affect on one's outlook and actions.

Having said that, Orwell gets as close to the real thing as probably possible in Down and Out in Paris and London. Throughout much of the narrative, he's living hand to mouth with only the clothes on his back for possessions. The going is tough and made tougher by the prejudice people show towards a tramp.

But Orwell's a good storyteller with plenty of tales to tell. His characterizations of some quite colorful characters are a joy. So, while this topic can get heavy at times, there's enough lighthearted fun within these pages to make the reading fairly even.

Because parts of this book were admittedly embellished and other parts are clearly a factual account, it's hard to know how to shelve this and it's not always easy to trust what you're reading. I want to say that it's obvious what's real and what isn't, but seeing how some people fall hard for fake news these days, I'm hesitant to label anything "obvious".

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