I’m a movie nerd from small times—my parents had an impressive betamax collection growing up, and a dearth of actual cable led to my worshipping the sacred VCR. In college (okay, and for a few years beyond) I managed an independent video store called Video 21—it was and is a great little rental joint that caters to both FSU’s film school elite and the more salacious tastes of Tallahassee’s underbelly. The stories I could tell of some of our regulars…but that would be akin to breaking the physician-patient privilege, and so mum’s the word. You can learn a lot about people from their taste in movies, is all I’m saying, but then who am I to judge if an otherwise upstanding member of society gets their kicks watching 2 Fast, 2 Furious on a bi-weekly basis?
Right, so I’ve digressed. The point is, while I could make a blog post about the process of writing The Folly of the World, the ins-and-outs of negotiating a blurry historical record with creative license, the unique struggles one faces when working primarily in shades of grey, or even just cataloguing my literary inspirations for the novel, I’d much rather talk about movies. Sure, I could tie all the films I want to talk about into a cohesive essay touching on the salient points of each and the greater cinematic quilt they contribute to, but because certain things are hallowed by usage and consecrated by time (points for whoever gets that reference), I’ll just lay them out in a top ten list instead. The Top Ten what? The top ten films that might vaguely relate to my new novel in ways both obvious and obscure, of course, laid out in an order of my own inscrutable devising. So poke through the list below and see what inspiration you might find for your next movie night, and in the event you’ve already seen them all, well, have I got the book for you.
A flimflam man and a young girl who may or may not be his daughter travel around the dustbowl during the Great Depression, fleecing suckers and exchanging banter. A tough-beyond-her-years youngster and an embittered grifter forging an unlikely bond and possibly finding redemption even as they continue to use one another and anyone else who gets in their way? Uh, no comment.
Kurosawa’s fast and loose play on the Prisoner of Zenda set-up is pretty goddamn great—not the director’s best three hour long samurai epic, but a close second. As war and social upheaval throw a land into turmoil, a lower-class crook takes on the role of an important man and loses himself in the process, to results both tragic and wry. Brilliantly conceived, beautifully executed.
The long-awaited day is almost here! In a few short hours, The Hobbit will be hitting the silver screen. To mark the occasion, we decided to ask several of our Orbit authors with recent and upcoming books what Tolkien’s The Hobbit has meant to them. We hope you’ll also share your own story in the comments below, and if any of you are going to the movie in costume, we’d love to see pictures!
I was introduced to The Hobbit and to Lord of the Rings in high school by the same friend who got me into Dungeons and Dragons (gee, think there was a connection?). While I had been a Star Trek and Star Wars fan for a while, and had read a few sci-fi novels, I had never read anything with the scope of The Hobbit and LOTR. I was totally hooked, and I credit it with giving me another nudge toward growing up to write epic fantasy.
Gail Z. Martin, author of ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS)
I have to admit a shameful secret — I was a late bloomer as far as Tolkien is concerned. While I knew of his work, I’d never read any of it until I was 25. I was introduced to the incredible world of Middle Earth by my then-boyfriend (whom I later had the good sense to marry), Steve. My older sister is a fantasy and science-fiction fan. Without her I don’t think I would have developed a love for either genre. She has in her possession, an illustrated, hard cover, gorgeous edition of The Hobbit that I … liberated from her library for a brief time. Steve couldn’t believe I’d never read it, so it then became a ‘thing’. Every night one of us would read The Hobbit to the other. Mostly he read to me, because he would comment on things characters did, make up voices, and basically make the entire experience wonderful because of his love for the story.
Now, 25 wasn’t yesterday, but there are things about The Hobbit that linger for me. As a small-town (I’m talking mud puddle small) girl, I instantly related to Bilbo. In fact, I’m pretty certain my maternal grandmother was a hobbit. Poor Bilbo was so outside his comfort zone, but he found so much courage inside himself. Who wouldn’t love such a character? Of course finding ‘the’ ring was a big moment in literary history, but I remember the trolls more than the ring. I remember loving the character Beorn, even though I can never remember his name. And despite having a deep-seated crush on Richard Armitage, I think I’d love Thorin no matter who played him, because his character was just so… great. Of course, who can forget meeting Gollum for the first time? In the end, The Hobbit is — literally and figuratively — all about the little guy taking on seemingly insurmountable problems to triumph at the end. But there’s a cost. There’s always a cost. I think what I took away from The Hobbit are two lessons I try to remember in my own writing — 1: It’s the journey, not the destination, and 2: Bittersweet endings are sometimes better than happy ones. Oh, and I guess there was a third as well, though it doesn’t apply to writing – second breakfast is the most important meal of the day. :-) Thank you, Mr. Tolkien.
Kate Locke, author of THE QUEEN IS DEAD (US | UK | AUS)
I can’t recall how or why I first picked up the Hobbit – I suspect one of my brothers left it lying around. I can recall how it inspired my son into reading voraciously, something he still does even now he’s a teen. It was the first proper book he’d ever read on his own, and it was that and the new and unexplored vistas that utterly captivated him.
For years afterwards, every book report that he could get away with was on the Hobbit. Every book he read was compared to it, and most often found wanting. He reads, I sometimes think, to try to rediscover that sudden realisation that the world is a different place, that things and people are strange. He reads because he wants to fall for a world, a story, the same way he did with Middle Earth. It was his first literary love.
As legacies go, I think that’s the best one to hope for – Bilbo and his friends inspired my son to read.
Francis Knight, author of FADE TO BLACK (US | UK | AUS)
The Hobbit is, more or less, the distillation of the purest, deepest of wish of the child (or of any adult who still has a spark of curiosity smoldering away in them, for that matter): the wish that one day, while you’re bumbling through your silly little routine, adventure will walk right up your front path, knock upon your door, and refuse to be turned away.
When I first read the Hobbit, I yearned so much for the leafy, cool shadows of Middle Earth that one summer, in an attempt to recreate that world, I carried a hefty bag of wax myrtle seeds to my grandmother’s house – for she had a much bigger yard than ours – and planted them all over her property, as well as the piney properties of the people on either side of her. Wax myrtles, as it turns out, can be wildly invasive, so within several years the damn things were popping up everywhere; but by then, unfortunately, I was a bit too old to enjoy them properly. I still hope that some child may come along, rest in their shade, and feel, for an instant, a bit more hobbity than before.
Robert Jackson Bennett, author of AMERICAN ELSEWHERE (US | UK | AUS)
In a word, what The Hobbit means to me is Fantasy, with a capital F, for the same reason that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy means Science Fiction in Bullingtonese—my parents had book-on-tape versions of those two novels when I was a kid, and long before I even understood most of what was going on in the stories, I adored the broad strokes and general cadence of the narratives. The Hobbit was actually a radio play version produced by the Mind’s Eye in the late seventies, and to this day I can’t talk about the book without imitating some of the silly voices that imprinted the text on my young brain.
When I was older and read the book on my own I was delighted to discover all the content which had been abridged from the radio play, but my progression to The Lord of the Rings was not met with the same enthusiasm—I found it a colder, less-engaging read. Although with age I’ve grown to appreciate a lot about the trilogy, its epic, fate-of-the-world action and dully black-and-white ethics can’t hold a light of Earendil to The Hobbit’s comparatively small-scale adventures and petty moral dilemmas, at least for this particular Sackville scribe. Like many of my peers, I owe a great debt to Tolkien; he still has a lot to teach, both by his strengths and his failings, and The Hobbit is the text of his that keeps pulling me back, even after all this time, and always with a smile on my face.
Jesse Bullington, author of THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD (US | UK | AUS), available now
Writers, if they’re smart, always cut something out of their books somewhere between first draft and publication. Often, that “something” is “quite a lot of things,” or in some cases, “literally everything except some tangentially related idea.” New material supplants old, or the old is excised simply because it adds nothing to the work, and therefore doesn’t require replacing. With THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD (UK | US | AUS), a conversation with my (brilliant) editor at Orbit led to my taking an early draft of the novel and scrapping a full two-thirds of it, salvaging a superior bit here or there but discarding the bulk. It was the right decision, and the vast majority of those undercooked—and by this point rather spoiled—words will stay where they belong, on the compost heap of my mind, so that the unused odds and ends can fertilize new ideas.
Below you’ll find an exception to my clumsy gardening metaphor; a deleted scene from the novel that I’ve opted to publish here on the Orbit blog, rather than discarding it all together. From my zero draft of THE FOLLY OF THE WORLDuntil midway through the revision process, this short chapter was part of the book. Usually it was the opening of the novel, but I also tried using it as the ending. I was able to fiddle with its placement in the text, and I feel comfortable showing it to you here, for the very reason I ended up cutting it from the book: it fleetingly alludes to a character and events from the novel, but doesn’t directly impact the cast or plot. You might think that this textual isolation would make it an easy choice for the chopping block, but no—for one thing, it adds a potential layer to one of the chapters in the finished novel, and for another, it embodies the spirit of the work in a detached fashion that I find all the more satisfying for its disconnect from (almost) everything else in the book.
Here then, for those of a curious inclination, is a complete, albeit rather rough, deleted scene from THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD. If you give this a read before getting a hold of the novel, feel free to incorporate the events laid out below into the greater tapestry. If you’d rather not, that’s cool, too—if this were in any way vital to the book, it wouldn’t have ended up on the cutting room floor. With no further ado, let us turn to a small town in the medieval Low Countries, and a very bad day for a not all-together-faultless fellow…
Niklaus Manuel Deutsch is an artist all but forgotten in the modern age. I’m not claiming this is some great travesty, for his work, while quite good, is not necessarily outstanding, nor was he particularly prolific. In fact, Manuel abandoned painting and etching in the last decade of his life to focus on poetry, play writing, and one of the trickiest arts of all, politics. Had he stuck with one or two disciplines perhaps he might have produced a single work that endured through the ages, as opposed to creating many worthy but unexceptional pieces that have been swept away in the great flood of history, occasionally bobbing to the surface in this coffee table book or that academic tome on plays of the Swiss Renaissance. Of course, that’s simple conjecture–it’s entirely possible that had Manuel lived an extra thirty years and painted every single day of every single one of them he may never have produced anything more memorable than what we already have of his work. It is possible, uncharitable an observation as it is to make about any artist, that the man was simply not a genius, not a savant, that he was as good an artist as he ever could have been. Read the rest of this entry »
Alchemy is a knot downright Gordian when it comes to finding an entry point for the young scribe trying to introduce his readers to the subject. One solution is to tackle the problem as Alexander would, but this in turn leaves us with a conundrum every bit as frustrating as the one we began with—instead of a compact but impenetrable knot of information, we now have countless loose, frayed ends that are just as likely to take us nowhere as they are to reveal how the intricately assembled whole came to be.
Perhaps the best approach, then, is to do as I have done and open with an overly convoluted and essentially imperfect metaphor for the problem—the encryption of meaning in complex symbolism that references the historical, the mythological, or the biblical is, after all, an essential part of the European alchemical tradition. How else to accurately pass along your wisdom without it being exploited by the unworthy? Read the rest of this entry »
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart had one of my all-time favorite Orbit covers, and I was thrilled to work with Keith Hayes from the Little Brown Art dept. and the illustrator Istvan Orosz on the design. So when I saw that a new Jesse Bullington book was on this list I was really excited at the challenge — and really curious to see where Bullington would go after his violent, revolting, sensibility-offending debut novel (and I mean that all in a good way!) Well, let’s just say The Enterprise of Death does not disappoint on any count — you’ll either love this book, or you’ll want to burn it at the stake.
Like Brothers Grossbart, the story takes place in a specific historical place and time — this time during the height of the Inquisition and Moorish expulsion from Spain in the late 1400s. Not only are there real-life historical characters in the story, there’s also real-life art that’s critical to the story. That’s actually a challenge for a cover designer. Sometimes when you use fine art on a cover it can give the design a very quiet, even static feel. Luckily for me, I don’t think anyone would call Death and the Maiden by Niklaus Manuel Deustch quiet or static.
“Follow our lead,” Ardanuy had told me just before we infiltrated the underground conference. “And save any accusations for the Q and A no matter what slander they sling. Better to take it on the chin than come off as amateur.”
This advice seemed at odds with the example they set, Ardanuy and Dunn both leaping from their seats with canes brandished as soon as Tanzer issued her proclamation. Before I could, as Ardanuy had instructed, follow their lead, both men were swarmed by members of the audience packing truncheons of their own. I stood, resolute in that moment to save my mentors, when something bit my hand and I dropped the pistol Dunn had given me. Staring down in horror, I saw a fat weasel dangling from my palm, blood running down the beast’s greedy throat, and when I moved to tear it away with my free hand I felt tiny, sharp claws settle on my shoulder. I froze. Read the rest of this entry »