Communion Of Dreams


Damned orcs.
December 12, 2012, 2:29 pm
Filed under: Connections, General Musings, Society, Tolkien | Tags: , , ,

This was this morning:

Photo0963

 

Taken from the same vantage point a bit after Noon:

Photo0965

Damned orcs.

Jim Downey

OK, obviously not orcs. Bobcat with a giant rotating cheese-grater type thing. And I’m not annoyed at all — this is the parcel of land next to us (yeah, *that* one), which now belongs to friends. They’re clearing out some of the massive islands of underbrush in preparation for building on the property next year. It needed to be done eventually, but was prompted now by a couple of instances of people hiding stolen vehicles or using those islands as homeless camps. Good to have people who care about what happens to the land next to us.



Final countdown.

We’re in the final countdown of the Kickstarter. Like those old space launches I grew up with, counting down from “T-minus 10” and never being quite sure what would happen.  I’m old enough to remember more than one launchpad failure.

Ten days.

And we’re only at 50% on pledges to the goal.

* * * * * * *

I’ve had several “close calls” in my life, moments when with the slightest difference in luck I probably would have died. This is probably the most dramatic. It’s certainly the most graphic. But there have been others which were  just as close. A bullet which passed some two inches away from my right temple. A fall on a dark night into an unsecured excavation where I missed being impaled on rebar by about a foot. Other occasions, some more my fault than others.

I sometimes joke with my friends that the only explanation is that I’m a cat, and still have a couple of lives to go.

* * * * * * *

Saw an item in today’s paper:

Bank takes ownership of Taylor House

It was one of the first properties designated a local historic landmark. It set an example for high-quality historic restoration. It was a home. It was a bed-and-breakfast.

Now, it’s owned by the bank.

U.S. Bank now owns the house Robert and Deborah Tucker spent years and more than $1 million renovating. The bank foreclosed on the three-story home that contained The Taylor House Inn bed-and-breakfast at 716 W. Broadway on Sept. 17.

I know these folks. Not well, but the jewelry business they had prior to taking on this B&B was just down the street from my art gallery. Small business owners in Columbia’s downtown got to know one another, sharing similar interests and concerns.

I was surprised to hear that the B&B had gone into foreclosure, though I knew that they had declared bankruptcy late last year.

This is a fact of life, particularly with a small business. You can pour your heart & soul into something, only to see it fail. Same thing happened with my art gallery.

But only those who are willing to risk failure have any chance for success.

* * * * * * *

“Dark have been my dreams of late,” he said, “but I feel as one new-awakened. I would now that you had come before, Gandalf. For I fear that already you have come too late, only to see the last days of my house. Not long now shall stand the high hall which Brego son of Eorl built. Fire shall devour the high seat. What is to be done?”

That’s from JRR Tolkien’s The Two Towers, and is the character of King Théoden speaking after coming out of being beguiled by Gríma (Wormtongue). Here’s the adaptation of the scene in the 2002 movie of the same name, with the actual line spoken at about 3:15:

* * * * * * *

Ten days.

And we’re only at 50% on pledges to the goal. Unless we hit the goal, no one is out anything, and the Kickstarter “fails.”

There’s nothing wrong with failure. Like I said, only those who are willing to risk failure have any chance for success. You have to push yourself, challenge yourself. No writer or artist who is worth a damn always plays it safe. Same for any entrepreneur.

Failure hurts. It should. But it isn’t lethal, at least not in the areas I’m talking about. I’ve had close calls. That’s different. In this case, failure means only a delay in being able to complete and publish the next book on my own.

Ten days. We’ll see what happens. Help out if you can.

Jim Downey



Looking back: Welcome to the Hobbit House

While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007).  This item first ran on May 12, 2007.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hobbit House

Gotta love this: a collector of J. R. R. Tolkien artifacts needed a small library/museum to house his collection. His architect decided to do the right thing, and go to the source material for inspiration. The result is a wonderful little Hobbit House, straight out of the books:

Asked to design a fitting repository for a client’s valuable collection of J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts and artifacts, architect Peter Archer went to the source—the fantasy novels that describe the abodes of the diminutive Hobbits.

“I came back my client and said, ‘I’m not going to make this look like Hollywood,’” Archer recalled, choosing to focus instead on a finely-crafted structure embodying a sense of history and tradition.

The site was critical too—and Archer found the perfect one a short walk away from his client’s main house, where an 18th-century dry-laid wall ran through the property. “I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to build the structure into the wall?”

Now, my wife is an architect, so I know a little about this profession, and having a client willing to go along with such a design is a real boon. And as a rare book and document conservator, I appreciate an architect who went to the trouble to make sure that the environment was appropriately climate controlled for the archives. And as a craftsman, I really appreciate the attention to detail by the contractor and his crew – this isn’t just a facade, it’s well-crafted workmanship.

Wonderful, all the way around. I can’t help but think that J.R.R. would be pleased.

Jim Downey

 



Hobbit’s birthday.

“Our Sam says that everyone’s going to be invited to the party, and there’s going to be presents, mark you, presents for all — this very month as is.”

Indeed, presents for all. This Wednesday. July 4th. My birthday, as it happens. In keeping with fine Hobbit tradition (though I am by no means a small person), I’ve scheduled that a promotion day — when everyone can download the Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams for free. My gift to you.

And if you can identify the speaker of the above quote (without cheating and looking it up) and send me an email, I’ll put your name in a drawing for a free signed paperback copy of Communion. Don’t post your answer in a comment — that’d give away the answer — just send it to me at jim@communionofdreams.com before July 5th.

If you would like to give a gift to me in return, all I ask is that you help spread the news of the promotion. I’d like to bump up awareness of Communion of Dreams before I leave on my trip. In spite of the many excellent reviews, sales and promotional efforts last month have slipped. I only managed to give away 2,351 copies of the book, and sold (or had borrowed through the KDP Select program) 259 copies. As a result, the Amazon ranking for the Kindle edition has hovered around 20,000 most of the month, and this morning was #21,932. It’d be great if we could push those numbers back into the low “a few thousand” range.

Likewise, Her Final Year only keeps plodding along, again in spite of excellent reviews. We managed to give away more copies of that book — 2,986 — but only sold 32. And consequently the Amazon ranking has largely been stuck around 200,000 most of the month. There will be a free promotion day on July 14 for HFY — in observation of the first anniversary, or ‘birthday’, of the book being published. Something else to look forward to!

So, happy July, everyone! Be sure to email your answers about the mystery quote soon!

Jim Downey



Scenes from a trip: they’re taking the choir to Isengard!*
December 20, 2011, 12:48 pm
Filed under: movies, Music, N. Am. Welsh Choir, New Zealand, Tolkien, Travel, YouTube

Today is cloudy and a bit grim. No, I’m not talking about being in New Zealand. I’m talking about here, in mid-Missouri. The winter solstice is just a couple days away. And I think I have been putting off this last installment of our New Zealand adventure because I don’t really want it to be over. It was, after all, a far green country.

* * * * * * *

We had breakfast, then waited with other members of the group who were going on a bit of a private tour. No, nothing connected with the Choir. This was a LOTR tour.

Most of my friends and readers will understand exactly what that means. But just in case . . .

Lord Of The Rings was a three-movie adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s epic of the same name. Most people know that it was filmed in New Zealand by director Peter Jackson. And as a result, there is lots of LOTR-related tourism throughout the country. You can easily spend weeks in New Zealand, just doing that. There’s a great book on locations from the movies, if you’re interested.

We opted for occasional mentions from Helen, our Choir guide, combined with this 4 hour specific tour with Pure Glenorchy.

The vehicles rolled up. Four medium-sized SUVs. The drivers/guides were all pleasant, typical Kiwis. We had some laughs over the absurdity of our fandom for the movies/books. But hey, this was probably the only time we were going to make it to New Zealand, right? And where else would you get to:

Visit Lord of the Rings Locations and take a journey with us deep into Middle Earth. Explore Isengard, Wizards Vale, Lothlorien Forest, the Dead Marshes, The Misty Mountains, Ithilien and many more. Stories and secrets will be shared by guides who have a great insight into the filming.

* * * * * * *

We rolled down the highway, heading towards the hamlet of Glenorchy. This is a place about 45km from Queenstown, and is so small it has no police force, two pubs, and a “library” the size of a garden shed which is open two hours a week. When the weather is nice. No, I am not kidding. The Queenstown folk consider it something of a hippie retirement community.

It is also quite beautiful. Here’s a shot looking towards Glenorchy from the highway leading in:

* * * * * * *

As it happened, the driver of our SUV was Mark, the owner of the tour company. Young (late 20s/early 30s), outgoing, and well informed. He knew the locations and a lot of the history of the films quite well, and had fun telling us about related stories. How many people took time off from their regular jobs to go play extras in the films, since the pay was good, they were well fed, and got to be outdoors. How the caterers learned to feed the extras playing Orcs separately from the rest of the crew, since said extras tended to run roughshod over the food like the characters they portrayed. How the local rancher who owned a lot of the property where the filming was done managed to make a tidy profit off licensing his land for use, and so build quite the little odd mansion in the middle of nowhere. And so on.

We stopped first here:

From the best I can tell, we’re standing just about where the tower of Orthanc was in the movies.

And here’s a shot of the current filming for The Hobbit:

Yeah, you can’t really see much. Sorry. But you didn’t see it here first.

* * * * * * *

We next went into the Mount Aspiring National Park, a primeval red beech forest. The location is protected such that it is illegal to take anything out of the park, or to leave anything in it, for environmental reasons.

Which presented some real challenges for the film crews which filmed the scenes with the attack of the Uruk-hai and the death of Boromir, according to our guides. But we saw where Boromir died, then had a pleasant lunch.

Following that, it was back to Queenstown.

* * * * * * *

After dropping off things at the hotel room, Martha and I decided to go up the gondola and enjoy the sights. Here are some pictures:

* * * * * * *

After tromping around Queenstown just a bit following our trip up the gondola, we got back to the hotel in time to meet the rest of the group for our last adventure: taking the TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm.

The steam ship is about to celebrate its centenary, and is a delight to explore for anyone who appreciates old machinery. The trip across the lake was about just long enough to enjoy a pint of beer.

Dinner at the Walter Peak High Country Farm was quite enjoyable, and the view of Queenstown across the lake at sunset gorgeous. The display of “working” dogs and sheep sheering was of little interest to me. I’ve seen both done before, and better, and not at the end of a long trip when I was both tired but not really wanting to leave yet. I decided to forgo another beer on the return trip across the lake.

* * * * * * *

When we got back, there was a final gathering in the hotel dining room for all of us on the tour. A bittersweet farewell not just because the tour was coming to a close, but also because the Choir was going into a period of dormancy. It had a good 10-year run, but now many of the key participants wanted a break. There’s nothing wrong with honest sadness at the close of any adventure, and not all tears are an evil.

* * * * * * *

The trip home was uneventful, less unpleasant than it could have been, even though it was incredibly long. I think that Monday for us was some 42 or 43 hours altogether, until we finally made it in the door and back to life as we know it.

Jim Downey

* From this, of course. Which kept running through my head the whole time we were in that beautiful valley where Isengard was located:



Mastery.
January 22, 2011, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Survival, Tolkien, Writing stuff

I was finishing up some work in the bindery this afternoon, just as I was finishing listening to The Two Towers. And this passage caught my ear:

And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.

When at last the blackness passed, Sam looked up and shadows were about him; but for how many minutes or hours the world had gone dragging on he could not tell. He was still in the same place, and still his master lay beside him dead. The mountains had not crumbled nor the earth fallen into ruin.

That may be one of the most masterful depictions ever written of how someone reacts to the death of a loved one.

Jim Downey



Architecture as shorthand.

What do you visualize when I say “Hobbit”?

How about “Blade Runner”?

Chances are, in both cases you had a mix of images you thought of. But I would wager that you had at least one architectural image both times: of a ‘Hobbit Hole’ and of the Tyrell Corporation’s vast pyramid. In both cases the iconic images help to anchor us in an alternate reality, whether it is Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Ridley Scott’s dystopian LA of 2019. (I’m sorry to say I don’t remember how much description of architecture Philip K. Dick had in his novel from whence Blade Runner is drawn – mea culpa.)

Odd or (paleo-) futuristic architecture has been a common device to help create a sense of setting for SF and fantasy just about forever. Descriptions in text, or images used in movies, quickly communicate that the setting is something different than our everyday world. And even before you get into a book or movie this works. With a movie poster or a book cover the visual image of architecture can instantly convey something about content to the viewer, and when it is well done it both informs and intrigues, and can come to symbolize or summarize the entire story the director or author wishes to tell.

I use architecture this way in Communion of Dreams. There are descriptions of how the US Settlement Authority offices reflect the passive defenses of the chaos following the fire-flu, of how they also incorporate some elements of the new building technologies from space colonization. There are descriptions of the colonies themselves, and of the space stations (both old and new), not to mention Darnell Sidwell’s Buckminster Fuller style dome habitat. There are even descriptions of how homes have evolved somewhat, adapting to a more communal style and drawing on the resources of huge numbers of abandoned buildings.

But the book opens with a small research facility in the ‘buffalo commons‘ out on the Great Plains prairie. I don’t give a lot of description of the station in the book (perhaps that’s something I should change . . . hmm), but envision it as a small, modular unit which could be relocated easily if necessary. Perhaps something like this. Or this. Or even this.

Those are all from a Wired column by Rob Beschizza titled “Small and Fabulous: Modular Living as it Should Be.” (Via BoingBoing.) I can’t say that I would really want to live in any of the dozen designs profiled in the article – but I am a spoiled American in an 1883 Victorian home with about a dozen rooms. Realistically, most of the world lives in much smaller spaces. And when you start considering the cost of transporting materials and managing environmental controls in space, then some fairly radical changes will be necessary.

Architecture, like any art, is a reflection of the society which produces it. Of course, until an architectural style is widely adopted it cannot be said that it is representative of society. As interesting as the various modular homes in the Wired article are, I cannot imagine that they will become emblematic of our society anytime soon. But because of that, they’d be perfect for use in, say, a film adaptation of Communion of Dreams. I wonder what Peter Jackson will be up to once he is done overseeing the production of The Hobbit in 2011 . . .

Jim Downey



DM of the Rings
October 29, 2007, 10:31 am
Filed under: Comics, General Musings, MetaFilter, movies, OOTS, Peter Jackson, Shamus Young, Tolkien, Twenty Sided

I have what can charitably be called an offbeat sense of humor. Most of my family just think that it is strange. Even some of my friends shake their heads. My wife of twenty years occasionally just nods and says, “That’s nice, dear.”

So, in that spirit, consider yourself well warned. But I came across something via MeFi yesterday that had me in stitches: Shamus Young’sThe DM of the Rings.” As he says in the intro to this unusual comic strip:

Lord of the Rings is more or less the foundation of modern D&D. The latter rose from the former, although the two are now so estranged that to reunite them would be an act of savage madness. Imagine a gaggle of modern hack-n-slash roleplayers who had somehow never been exposed to the original Tolkien mythos, and then imagine taking those players and trying to introduce them to Tolkien via a D&D campaign.

And then he goes on to do just that – run through the entire Peter Jackson movie adaptations of the Lord of the Rings books as though it was some Dungeon Master’s D & D game. Brilliantly using screen captures to illustrate the strip (in 155 episodes), he shows how this would play out.

It’s friggin’ hilarious.

I was never much of a hardcore gamer, just did enough in college and a bit after to be familiar with it, understand the humor behind a strip like OOTS. But I’ve long been a huge fan of Tolkien (even though I am not that much into the fantasy genre generally – odd). To see what Young does in juxtaposing the two shows just how absurd each really is in its own right.

So, check it out. But whether you spend the next several hours going through the storyline, or just scratch your head and wonder about me, don’t say you weren’t given fair warning.

Jim Downey



Welcome to the Hobbit House.

Hobbit House

Gotta love this: a collector of J. R. R. Tolkien artifacts needed a small library/museum to house his collection. His architect decided to do the right thing, and go to the source material for inspiration. The result is a wonderful little Hobbit House, straight out of the books:

Asked to design a fitting repository for a client’s valuable collection of J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts and artifacts, architect Peter Archer went to the source—the fantasy novels that describe the abodes of the diminutive Hobbits.

“I came back my client and said, ‘I’m not going to make this look like Hollywood,’” Archer recalled, choosing to focus instead on a finely-crafted structure embodying a sense of history and tradition.

The site was critical too—and Archer found the perfect one a short walk away from his client’s main house, where an 18th-century dry-laid wall ran through the property. “I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to build the structure into the wall?”

Now, my wife is an architect, so I know a little about this profession, and having a client willing to go along with such a design is a real boon. And as a rare book and document conservator, I appreciate an architect who went to the trouble to make sure that the environment was appropriately climate controlled for the archives. And as a craftsman, I really appreciate the attention to detail by the contractor and his crew – this isn’t just a facade, it’s well-crafted workmanship.

Wonderful, all the way around. I can’t help but think that J.R.R. would be pleased.

Jim Downey

Via Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing.