21 December 2014

A Hobbitish Affair

If there is one thing my crew is good at it's theme parties -- e.g., Dr. Who (Part 1 and Part 2) and our occasional, friendly wizardish group's gathering. We even have parties for things we may not like. In this instance, it was the last of Peter Jackson's cinema renderings of J.R.R. Tolkien's whimsical book The Hobbit: or There and Back and Again. The "not liking" has to do with a simple, even whimsical tale being transmorgified into a bloated, faux epic.

(L) The book I read at age 12.
(R) Movie poster of the latest movie.

It took me years before I would watch Mr. Jackson's The Lord of the Rings. Like many who love the books, I have my own images and ideas of the stories. And since I also was the person who initially processed the original, handwritten LOTR manuscripts for Marquette University's Special Collections and University Archives back in the 1970s, my attachment to the original works by Professor Tolkien runs pretty deep.

When I heard that Mr. Jackson had decided to make three movies out of a slim-volumed tale Tolkien had created as a night-time story for his children, I knew pretty much right away that I wouldn't be seeing them anytime soon.  

But I am a purist, and my aforementioned crew is hardier when it comes to movie adaptations than I. So for each of the 3 movies, we have gathered, hobbit-like, to share much food and much mirth, before those that will head off to the movie theater. This year it was our turn to host the gathering. As it was so close to the December holidays, we made it a combined Christmas and Cinema Party.

Inspired by the presentation approach my brother Architect uses when giving tours of the straw-clay Natural House he designed and built -- which entails posting informative signs throughout the home -- and inspired, too, by the sheer fun of the event, we "decorated" primarily with signs. 

These are the editions I read in high school and college.

The painting on the mantle was done by my sister,
Door County (WI) artist Jan Marie Jablonski.

"Party Tree (Seasonal Variation)"

The wood print behind the tree is
Proud Woman
by artist Judith W. Nelson.

Over the entry to the dining room.

There are three pieces of dragon art in the dining room. Obviously only the one in flight could be Smaug!

Those of you familiar with The Lord of the Rings will recall the mithril-edged Doors of Durin that lead into Moria. 

"Ennyn Durin Aran Moria. Pedo Mellon a Minno. Im Narvi hain echant. Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant i thiw hin."
"The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter. I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs."

Our version, leading thru the doors into the kitchen, where the party buffet was laid out, was much more prosaic.

The most grand piece of all was the oil painting of Lorien of Middle Earth by my sister, Door County (WI) artist, Jan Marie Jablonski, gave to my husband and me as a wedding gift. The signage for this echoed the architect's tradition of the truth window.
"A truth window (or truth wall) is an opening in a wall surface, created to reveal the layers or components within the wall. In a strawbale house, a truth window is often used to show the walls are actually made from straw bales. A small section of a wall is left unplastered on the interior, and a frame is used to create a window which shows only straw, which makes up the inside of the wall.M Many designs exist for truth windows. Glass may be placed over the window, or an openable wooden panel, or it may be a simple framed opening." [Wikipedia entry]

In our case, we imagined the window looking into Middle Earth!

The dining table was elegantly dressed.

Included were sparkling (non-alcoholic) wines from the Prancing Pony pub in Bree and . . .

. . . wee dragons guarding their golden hoards (chocolate coins) as party favors.

Not even the bathroom was overlooked. Though I confess my inner snark emerged. Fortunately, all guests found it amusing.

The meal itself was potluck: 2 large pots of homemade deliciousness: cream of chicken/wild rice soup and midwestern chili (i.e., not too spicy); a fresh vegetable platter; sourdough and French bread with loads of Wisconsin butter; and West Coast smoked salmon and crackers. The dessert was something special. Asked to bring one of his special fruit pies, Architect -- anticipating another murderous Jacksonian cinematic debacle -- demured saying,
"Methinks that, with the experience that we will face and need to endure, we will require something stronger than mere pie. I'm planning a battle dessert."
Said dessert turned out to be a thoroughly decadent, very rich bittersweet chocolate bread pudding topped with hot butter-whiskey sauce!

Thus fortified with good food and good cheer, the movie-goers departed to meet their fate. Two hours later I texted my sister Cee: "So, how was it?"
"Just got out," she replied, "You know . . . we . . . liked it! General opinion! So surprising! Best of the three somehow. And we were so stoked to hate it [like the others] . . . go figure!"
I'm thinking it was the battle dessert that made the difference.

18 October 2014

Making a Fictional World Real, Piece by Piece

"Words ought to be a little wild,
for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking."
~ John Maynard Keynes ~

Worldbuilding is a long time fascination of mine. Watching others craft worlds is a particular delight.These authors are my favorites:
James Gurney's Dinotopia series (See his website for the books here: http://www.dinotopia.com/)
  • Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time
  • Dinotopia: The World Beneath
  • Dinotopia: First Flight
  • Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
Ursula Le Guin (Pretty much anything. She is a Master World Builder.)
(See her website here: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/)
  • The Dispossessed
  • The Left Hand of Darkness
  •  Her Earthsea Trilogy (6 books)
  • Changing Planes
  • The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories
Anne McCaffrey
(See the website for the series here: http://pernhome.com/pern/)
  • Her Pern series, especially the first six published.
  • (The later ones written by her son Todd McCaffrey are a tad mechanistic and lack Anne's flair for description and character.) Full list of titles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Pern_books
Wright, Austin Tappan. Islandia. NY: Farrar & Rinehart, 1942.
(Also available in modern paperback reprints.)

Several years ago Hoja, my friend and creative colleague, and I found ourselves worldbuilding by happenstance.  She and I took to playing Scrabble at family gatherings. To make it more fun, we changed the rules:
  • No keeping points.
  • We had to stick with the 7 tiles of a standard game.
  • The words had to be "invented words".
  • As each word was placed on the board, the player had to provide a "lengthy, detailed, credible faux definition and use the word in a complete sentence."

For our amusement we took a photo of the board at the end of our first game, and then the second.  By the third time we played we realized we both seemed to be pulling our words and their definitions from some shared place. 

It's been three years of worldmaking now. Our imagined place does not yet have a name (I have one in mind but we've yet to agree if that is it.) Based on coffeeshop or dinnertime conversations (often while playing our tile game), we've a general sense of the geography. Hoja says she is going to see if she can sketch out a map of things.

Once we even tried to create the recipe for a food word we came up with for a grain dish. It turned out splendidly! And while making it as part of a meal one evening we discussed the likely regional variations of the dish - which we've both tried making since then.

After a while, using a modern Scrabble set seemed odd. I began to think about what "playing tiles" would be like in our imagined place.

That's all it took for me to want to actually make a game set for us. In doing so, the story continued to make itself. I discovered that our fellow imaginaries like to make their own tiles and playing cloths, or have a set made by a friend or long distant ancestor.  Here is what I made for Hoja and myself. We are still working out the back stories for our respective game sets.

One set of tiles I made using Sculpey plastic clay which I stamped and then painted. I deliberately let the tiles over-bake so they'd look more like old bone.

Hoja's set I made from leather. I had a small stash of cowhide pieces in several colors. I cut tiles from each, hand-lettered them with India ink, and added a splash of metallic gold to make the letters stand out.

The modern cardboard board was replaced by a two-sided fabric playing cloth. One side was made from upholstery fabric with a pattern that could be used for a traditional tiles layout. The reverse was made from some dark blue cotton velveteen. Hoja is fond of ground ivy so I embroidered large ivy leaves on hers. Mine captured another world: the map of Anarres from Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed.

As I sewed and embroidered I thought of the imagined people with whom we might play. This led me to think that the playing cloth might be used for other games as well. So the finished playing set included a stitched bag with marker pieces: sea shells for me, river stones for Hoja.  I found some green dice, a pair for each of us, and finished things up with a pair of varnished chopsticks to hold the tiles during play.

The bags for the tiles, dice, and playing markers I made from an old pair of flannel travel bags for shoes, trimmed short to be more portable.

The sticks were rolled up inside the playing cloth and the roll was then tied with a leather strip.

I couldn't wait until the Yule season to give Hoja her gift! We met at a park overlooking a lake. I told her the story of the games' making. It sparked another round of shared story building: names of people, descriptions of a house one had inherited and was now making her own, and the beginnings of the cartography of the place.

Our land is not perfect, nor are its people. Nor are we as we create it all. And at this point there is no real end goal. Hoja and I have talked about collaborative writing projects, but this land may or may not be the setting for our stories.  And although we've had the chance to see each other since that afternoon by the lake, we've both been terribly busy. We have yet to actually play our now-real fictional game. 

"You can change your world by changing your words....
Remember, death and life are in the power of the tongue."
~ Joel Osteen ~

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