What I Learned Reading The Lord Of The Rings in 2020

Today’s book review is a little bit different. As some of you may know, The Lord of The Rings has been one of my bucket-list books. I started it in January of 2020, and little did I know, this would be the year I needed to read this book.

I’m a believer that books can impact us differently depending on the season of life we’re in. This year reinforced that for me. I had no idea when picking up The Lord of the Rings in January, what the rest of this year would hold!

So here’s a few reflections from my reading journey this year.

1. You never know what the journey ahead holds.

Yes, I knew this one in my head. But sometimes, the heart takes a while to catch up.

In January, The Mister and I were headed across to the South Island of New Zealand for a two week adventure. As I was picking my reading material for our trip, I spied my copy of Lord of The Rings on the shelf.

I’d been a fan of the movies, and had a copy of the book for a long time. Unfortunately, when I first picked up the book I was a much younger reader. I started and finished with the introduction, Concerning Hobbits, and other matters.

So it was with mixed feelings that I threw my copy into my carry on. I was travelling to the home of the films, surely there couldn’t be a better time to pick up the source material for the franchise.

I was right. Reading about Frodo setting off into middle earth, when in the midst of New Zealand’s incredible scenery is a delightfully bookish moment I wont soon forget. I finished off The Fellowship of the Rings while we were away, and started Two Towers.

Then I returned home… and the rest of 2020 happened. COVID-19 was just some distant virus that people were starting to chatter about, but it didn’t personally impact me.

I carried on in my 9-5 job, while continuing to freelance write part time.

Then things got worse. Global pandemic worse.

My country went into it’s first lockdown of 2020 (We’ve just cautiously reopened from our second lockdown as I write this) and I ended up working full time from home. I resigned my retail job and was fortunate enough to have a big enough client base to take my writing and editing career full time.

I was both excited and terrified. So around March, when I got around to picking up Two Towers again, I could relate to Frodo more than I could before. The sense of responsibility, of feeling like a situation is more overwhelming than you can handle, was something myself and many others were beginning to experience.

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

The Lord of The Rings p. 50

This wasn’t the year I’d planned to take my writing career full time. It wasn’t the year I thought I’d say goodbye to colleagues, or be restricted from visiting friends and family in person. This year has taken an emotional toll at time, seeing the suffering of those in my local and global community. That’s when I found my second lesson.

2. We all need our Sams.

Samwise Gamgee is the true MVP of The Lord of the Rings. His faithfulness, courage and good heart has cemented him as one of my favourite literary characters.

Frodo couldn’t have gotten far without Sam. Likewise, I couldn’t have gotten far this year without my own personal Samwise Gamgees. I’m fortunate to have more than one.

No, these aren’t people who literally have the name Sam (though they may be for you). This year I’ve felt grateful for the people in my life who have encouraged me. Who have reminded me what’s important, and helped me refocus and continue on – even when it’s hard. I don’t think I would have had the courage to take this writing and editing gig full-time if it weren’t for my wonderful husband (and best friend) and the other friends who’ve cheered me on.

‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well.’

The Lord of The Rings p.919

This year has been difficult for many. I hope you’ve had some people around you who’ve made carrying your own personal burdens a bit easier.

For me, thank you to my Sam’s who sent me biscuits. Who did zoom board game nights, who sent cards and kind texts. For the Sam’s who watched Netflix parties and made FaceTime calls. You’re all amazing, this year has reminded me just how much.

3. Sometimes it’s not about us.

As I finished The Return of The King in October, my state was still in lockdown. I hadn’t seen friends and family in person for months. But the message of hope and sacrifice at the end of the book (don’t worry I wont spoil) has reminded me that sometimes – we don’t do things for ourselves.

Yes, many of us might be “okay” if we get COVID. But there are those that won’t be. To a certain extent, wearing a mask, social distancing, practicing good hygiene and getting tested are all acts of selflessness. They protect those we know and love, as well as strangers. I’ve been generally encouraged in my immediate community to see people unified to protect the vulnerable.

Yes, this year has shown some terrible examples of separation. Of pain and suffering. But it’s also been a time when neighbours have come together in an era where that’s not always guaranteed. We’ve adapted and gotten creative in how we connect with our community (thanks zoom!).

‘It must often be so…when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.’

The Lord of The Rings – p.1006

The Return of the King wasn’t an easy read. There’s pain and loss and sacrifice. But also hope.

And as 2020 draws to a close over the next two months – I’ve been thinking back to where I was at the start of this year. When I was sitting in a Jucy van, at the foot of fox glacier, my husband and I reading. I couldn’t have predicted what 2020 would mean for us. The challenges it would hold. Nor could Frodo, as he stepped out of the shire.

I’m thankful for the hopeful message of The Lord of The Rings and thankful that this was the year I finally read the book. It a powerful experience, and encouraged me far more than I ever could have foreseen. Tolkien’s faith and storytelling is something I’m grateful to have engaged with this year.

Final Thoughts

Have you read The Lord of The Rings?

What’s something you’ve learnt in 2020?

Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading today’s post. It was a bit of a different review! But in sum, I absolutely recommend The Lord of The Rings.

If you’d like to read more about my travels in New Zealand earlier this year you can check out my post Adventures in Middle Earth.

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The Nutcracker – Alexandre Dumas

How has this week been for you? It’s only a few days out from Christmas day! For many this means hectic shopping trips, last minute baking and madly cleaning the house before the big day.

Today’s book review is a nice quick one, but will hopefully get you in the Christmas spirit! The Nutcracker by Alexandre Dumas.

What’s The Nutcracker about?

Special thanks to Sterling publishing company who does a fantastic introduction to the Nutcracker in my edition!

Sometimes, I find it useful to give some background information when reviewing classic stories. Especially when as interesting as this one!

The Nutcracker as you may, or may not know was originally a novel written by Prussian author Theodore Amadeus Hoffman (Awesome name isn’t it?). The story appeared alongside others of Hoffmans in 1819-1822.

The tale is much more widely known due to its adaptation by Alexandre Dumas in 1845. Duma’s version of the story was titled The History of a Nutcracker and was written for younger children. It was translated from Duma’s French into English over time, and gained popularity.

In the 1890s the story was proposed to be adapted into a ballet and debuted at the St Petersburg Imperial theatre in 1892.

Now, the story is a Christmas time classic and beloved by many!

What’s The Nutcracker really about?

It’s Christmas Eve two children, Mary and Fitz are being gifted their Christmas presents by their parents and godfather.

Mary is gifted a nutcracker and a doll whom she is enamoured with and believes to be special. When Fritz breaks the nutcracker, Mary’s tender heart insists on caring for the broken toy.

However once the clock strikes midnight the room changes and Mary finds herself involved in a battle with mice who are attacking her at the behest of the evil mouse king. Her nutcracker springs to life and a battle ensues.

The remainder of the story that follows involves Mary’s adventures with the nutcracker in a beautiful and fantastical world far distant to her Christmas parlour.

What I liked about The Nutcracker

I first experienced The Nutcracker in the form of the Barbie movie (That gives you an idea of my age!). I loved the magical world and story of The Nutcracker as well as it’s Christmas magic coating and watched that VCR many times.

While I was not expecting the novel to be the same as the Barbie version, or other film versions there was some surprising differences. This it turns out stems from the changes between novel and ballet.

The plot of the ballet and the novel differ, in particular when it comes to the names of the Characters. While the play often has the daughter of the family named Clara, in Duma’s story her name is Mary, Clara is the name of a doll Mary is gifted alongside the nutcracker. While her brother is still called Fitz, the children’s parents are scarcely named or have an active role in the story beyond the opening pages.

The story itself is a delight, perhaps an early forerunner of Pixar’s Toy Story Duma’s brings to life all of Mary’s toys in a convincing and charming manner.

Only 142 pages long this story is short and brimming with Christmas imagery, and magic. It reminds me of childhood, of the imaginings that happen when a child plays with a treasured toy. Of the excitement of receiving presents on Christmas.

What I didn’t like about The Nutcracker?

I honestly really enjoyed this story. I have attempted to read some of The Three Musketeers by Duma’s earlier this year and I find his prose very witty and enjoyable. I found The Three Musketeers to be a little too meandering in plot for my taste, so wondered if The Nutcracker would have that issue with momentum too. However it didn’t!

I’s a classic read that reminds me that even though it was written so long ago, humans haven’t really changed.

Insights into people are enjoyable and The Nutcracker offers some entertaining ones. In particular I found the concept of children dropping hints to their parents about presents, and the attitude of gratefulness at Christmas time to still be a salient one.

‘Let us guess what our parents intend to give us. For my part I told Mamma-but upon condition she would not scold- that Miss Rose, my doll, grows more and more awkward…’

The Nutcracker – Alexandre Dumas

This Christmas

I’ve heard many people wishing recently to ‘get Christmas over with’ and perhaps that’s a sentiment you can relate to. It can be a time filled with stress and busy days.

I hope that this Christmas you have the opportunity to slow down. To return to that feeling of wonder and joy that you might last have experienced on Christmas Eve as a child.

I hope you are able to experience some of the joy and peace of the seasons. Be it under the Christmas tree, a treasured gift or the people you spend time with. My Christmas plans involve celebrating with loved ones the day ‘On which the Redeemer Jesus was born’. (Duma’s phrased Christmas that way and I loved it!)

If you haven’t already, consider picking up a copy of The Nutcracker to read yourself or to your children. My edition is the Barnes and Noble pocketbook edition and it’s lovely! The cover is very pretty and bright.

Thank you

Lastly, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to all my readers of this blog and my freelance writing! 2019 has been an adventure, and as the last few weeks of the year come to a finish I look forward to what next year will bring.

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Little Women review: Mothers day celebrations

Mother’s day is this weekend! That got me to thinking about my mother, and mothers in general… and of course books about mums. That led me to Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott, which I decided to review on the blog today in honour of celebrating of mothers!

My edition of Little Women was printed in 1950 by Temple Press. Isn’t the cover lovely?

What’s the history?

When reviewing a classic book I always enjoy giving a little bit of background. Knowing a bit of history about a book makes the reading of it that much richer, at least for me anyway.

Little Women was written by Alcott in 1868. She wrote the book at the request of her publisher who asked her to write a book ‘for little girls’. It was originally published in two volumes – Little Women and Good wives. While modern editions often combine these two volumes into one book, if you find an old edition of Little Women like mine be aware you might only have half the story you expect to find.

Little Women is considered to be semi-autobiographical with events within the book being inspired by Alcott’s own family and experiences.

What’s it about?

Little Women follows the lives of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. The girls live with their mother, affectionately called ‘Marmee’, in Massachusetts. The girls father is absent, away on duties as a pastor with the American civil war and the book opens as the family faces their first Christmas with him away. As the book continues we see each of the sisters grow up, and deal with the stresses of life, love and friendship. There is tragedy and strength to be learned from each of their journeys.

What I liked?

I first experienced Little Women when I was around ten years old. It was not the book which I experienced first, but rather the 1994 film with Winona Ryder. Say what you will about the film, but I remember loving the story and wanting to know more about the March sisters. I personally identified with Jo March with her passion for books and writing (clearly a natural choice for me!).

As this post is in honour of Mothers day I wanted to reflect on the role of Marmee in Little Women. She’s often overlooked in discussions about this book, with more attention being spent on her daughters. I wanted to say this: Marmee is amazing!

While her daughters are truly wonderful characters, they are being raised by an equally as wonderful woman. Raising children is difficult work, and this woman does it solo in a time period where her options were limited when it came to getting help. She is real with her children, sharing with them the difficulties they face with their father away. Yet, she still provides for them, and works hard to bring them joy.

“Jo was the first to wake in the grey dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago when her little sock fell down because it was so crammed with goodies. Then she remembered her mothers promise, and slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson book.”

Little Women – Louisa Allcott

It’s from Marmee that the girls learn their kindness. It’s from Marmee that they learn to work hard. The role of Marmee in this book is vital in recognising the women the girls grow to be.

What I liked least?

Honestly, I found some of the sisters a bit irritating, but that’s personal preference. I found Amy to be a bit vain, and Beth to be a bit boring. But, all the sisters have their flaws and strengths and what likes me dislike those sisters could be what makes them someone’s favourite character. The fact that I feel emotions towards those characters at all is a sign of a good book.

Final thoughts and recommendation

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories about families. If you enjoy Anne of Green Gables and anything by Jane Austen you’ll probably really like Little Women. If you’ve seen the movie, read the book! It’s not necessarily always better – but it always has something different to offer.

If you’re a mother reading the blog today, thank you. You play a significant role in the lives of your children. For those of you that maybe mothers day is a painful time I recognise that this weekend might be hard. I hope you’ve got the right people around you. Please remember a mother doesn’t have to be biological, but could just be a special woman has been there for you. A mother figure. If you have a mother, or mother figure that you know and love, take time this weekend to thank her. Mothers are awesome!

I’d like to thank my mum (I know you’re reading this haha!) especially for always loving me, and helping me become the person I am today. You’re the best. XX

I hope you enjoyed this review! Have you read Little Women? Which character is your favourite and why? Comment below! I’d love to hear from you!

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Happy reading!

Long weekend read

Easter has arrived! What does Easter look like for you? For me, I celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus with family and friends. We attend church and share Hot Cross buns together. I love this holiday for all it represents about humility, sacrifice and love. On Easter Sunday there is usually an Easter egg hunt where the bunny makes his appearance. Great chance to eat copious amounts of chocolate!

Regardless of your religious views, in Australia we get some public holidays around this time of year. You know what that means… Reading time! The long weekend is a great time to get into that ‘To be read’ pile that lives on our nightstands. I know a lot of people head off camping over Easter and there’s nothing quite like reading by the crackling fire to soothe the soul.

What’s on your TBR pile?

One that was on mine from last year was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s my go to suggestion for anyone going on holidays!

As you can see I’ve fallen in love with the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… So many beautiful editions to choose from!

Some background

 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels between 1887 and 1927. Originally Doyle wrote these stories when he ran his own medical practice in the South of England in 1882 and found business to be slow. The Sherlock Holmes stories were instrumental in assisting to create the ‘detective mystery novel’ – a new genre at the time. 

Why should I read it?

  1. The book is better. Most people are familiar with the character of Sherlock Holmes, the eccentric detective, even if they haven’t read the book. There are countless film and television adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. If you haven’t happened across one of these, you’re bound be able to create a mental image of a tweed wearing, pipe smoking detective with ease. You may be thinking, I know the story. I’ve seen the film. Well!
  2. . It’s an easy read. I didn’t expect to find as much joy and humour in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as I did. I think sometimes literature that was written a long time ago gets a bad rap of being ‘stuffy’ or hard to understand. Granted, there are some classic books that use language that is unfamiliar to us now because of its formality. This book is not like those books. The text is easy to get into. Conan Doyle wrote several of his Sherlock Holmes stories to appear in newspapers as serials. They were written for the everyday person and touch on issues that are common across all humanity. The cases that Sherlock solves we can imagine being presented in modern day society – think spurned lovers and treasure hunters. Solving the impossible murder. The stories are told from the perspective of the long suffering Dr Watson who is just as much an enjoyable character in his own right as Sherlock himself. If you’ve always loved the idea of reading more classic books this is the perfect place to start.
  3. It’s very funny. I mentioned it earlier but it’s worth saying again. You’ll be very amused reading this one. Sherlock Holmes has a particular way of speaking and acting that takes you -and the other characters – by surprise. It’s wonderful seeing the complex threads of the mystery being unwound by his marvellous mind.
  4. It’s short. These stories are perfect for a holiday or long weekend because you can knock out a few stories between all the other activities you’ll be taking part in (we can’t spend the whole time reading if we’re away with others unfortunately). I know a friend who read these some of these stories to his kids before bed!

“I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis, with which he unravelled the problems submitted to him.”

Dr Watson on Sherlock Holmes, The adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

So there you have it! I think this long weekend I’ll be spending some time rereading a few Sherlock Holmes stories. Two of my favourites have got to be: The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle and The five orange pips. Check them out!

What will you be reading this long weekend? Comment below or find me on instagram @stephhuddlestonwriting I’d love to hear from you! Wishing you all a happy and safe Easter.

*special thanks to Gerard Cheshire for his Life and Times section in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Collins classic edition (2016). ( Edition Pictured below) A thoughtful and enjoyable read all on its own.