Saturday, December 1, 2012
The Hobbit is a classic hero quest story. It has become the inspiration and template for the modern fantasy genre. And it is an adventure that is filled with wonder, magic, action and vividly memorable characters. These are impressive accomplishments for any story. But considering the fact that The Hobbit was originally intended to be a simple children’s tale, the success of the book is all the more pronounced.
Potential readers who are interested in the entire Lord of the Rings saga would do well to begin their journey with The Hobbit. Although the Lord of the Rings books loosely follows the overall structure of The Hobbit, there is a distinct difference in tone, mood and accessibility. The Hobbit is a simpler tale than The Lord of the Rings. It isn’t nearly as epic. But it is a more efficient, more humorous, more pleasing story.
Frick Collection in New York and compare Holbein’s great portraits of Cromwell and More. More has all the charm, with his sensitive hands and his “good eyes’ stern, facetious twinkle,” in Robert Lowell’s description. By contrast, Cromwell, with his egg-shaped form hemmed in by a table and his shifty fish eyes turned warily to the side, looks official and merciless, his clenched fist, as Mantel writes, “sure as that of a slaughterman’s when he picks up the killing knife.” One of the many achievements of Mantel’s dazzling novel, winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, is that she has reversed the appeal of these towering rivals of the Tudor period, that fecund breeding ground of British historical fiction as the American Civil War is of ours.
Thomas Cromwell remains a controversial and mysterious figure. Mantel has filled in the blanks plausibly, brilliantly. “Wolf Hall” has epic scale but lyric texture. Its 500-plus pages turn quickly, winged and falconlike. Trained in the law, Mantel can see the understated heroism in the skilled administrator’s day-to-day decisions in service of a well-ordered civil society — not of a medieval fief based on war and not, heaven help us, a utopia. “When you are writing laws you are testing words to find their utmost power,” Cromwell reflects. “Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them.” Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” is both spellbinding and believable.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she says, "common themes surfaced again and again."