15 November 2016

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, UK, first published 1937

This is a wonderful story about Bilbo Baggins and his adventures. Although a story for children – the preface tells us that Tolkien related the story for his children – it has an appeal that goes far beyond the limitations of age. With a primal theme of good conquering evil and the added nuances of the oral tale, it holds the reader's attention from the beginning to the very end. It is both well written and intelligently written (which probably accounts for its universal popularity), and words like Warg and Beorn are not just words pulled out of a hat but all of them have a definite and interesting etymology.

I first read The Hobbit more than forty years ago, and it was, therefore, exciting to reread it. Although I could remember the gist of the story, I had forgotten specific details. I remember loving it when I first read it, and I definitely loved it on this my second reading.

Bilbo Baggins is a simple, ordinary, down-to-earth character (I suppose anyone living under the ground would have to be down-to-earth). He is the hero of the tale, but at all times the reader is very aware of his ordinariness. In his interactions with dwarves, goblins, trolls, elves, eagles, a bear, a dragon and even a wizard, Bilbo always remains Bilbo, torn between the practicality of the home-staying Bagginses and the adventure-loving Tooks. Images of his armchair and his kettle are never very far from his mind.

Photo from the film
Whether Tolkien meant this story to be some kind of statement on our society, or whether it simply evolved as he related it to his children is difficult to say. However, it goes without saying that much of Tolkien's wisdom would have found itself into the story, either consciously or subconsciously. A great read and a must for anyone considering embarking on The Lord of the Rings by the same author.
The book has been made into a total of three (3!) films. 

01 November 2016

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, Japan, 2003

Like all of Murakami’s books (at least all of those I have read to date), Kafka on the Shore does not disappoint. It takes a mixture of ideas and unbelievable situations, blending them together into a novel that may not always seem completely rational but which always pushes the limits of our thinking powers. There are so many possibilities, and nothing is set in stone. It is like a modern-day fairy story.

Photo of Murakami from

The ‘I’ of the book is fifteen-year-old Kafka Tamura (Kafka is not his real name), and when we first meet him, he is preparing to run away from home to escape from his cruel father. He also has a vague hope of finding his mother and sister. In parallel chapters we are introduced to Nakata, who is, as he likes to tell everyone, not very smart, but who has the gift of being able to talk to and understand cats. As the story unfolds, Kafka meets Oshima and Miss Saeki, who both work at a small private library. Bit by bit we learn of Miss Saeki’s past, and connections, both real and unreal, begin to appear. In the parallel story, Nakata is on a mission to find something (though he does not know what it is), and he teams up with a truck driver, Hoshino.

The stories parallel each other at the same time as they are completely intertwined. As in all fairy stories, all the characters experience personal change as a result of the situations with which they are confronted. At the end, we are left a little wiser, possibly a little confused but, without a doubt, richer for having made the journey.